Put Your Head on My Shoulder

by Djinn

I. All Shook Up

Kirk rubbed his eyes, trying not to yawn as he sat on the biobed in sickbay while Bones scanned him. Bones would have his hide if he knew he hadn't been sleeping again. It had been one crisis after another, with VIP visits in between. When was there time to go to the head, let alone grab some shuteye?

"Jim, I'm not liking what I'm seeing here." A stern look, not the look of a friend, but of his physician. 'When was the last time you had some decent rest?"

He gave Bones the signature James T. Kirk "I haven't got time for that now, Bones" wave. As he expected, it got him nowhere, but he saw Chapel try to hide a grin. He met her eyes, shrugged, and grinned back.

"Don't pull her into this, damn it all. If you aren't sleeping, I want to know about it."

"He has been a little busy, Len." She shot Kirk a look he couldn't quite read, but it was gone by the time Bones turned to glare at her. She didn't wilt under the power of the McCoy glower, but then she rarely had in the past.

"I think Doctor Chapel makes an excellent point, Bones. I have been a little busy." Kirk began to slide off the biobed, but Bones stopped him.

"Just a cotton-pickin' minute, Jim."

Suddenly the room was filled with a cool mist and the sound of harps and the cooing of doves filled the air. Bones seemed frozen where he stood, mouth open as if he'd just been gearing up for a rant. The other nurses and doctors in sickbay seemed similarly statue like, except Chapel, who looked around and asked, "What the hell?"

"Not hell or heaven." A lilting voice, belonging to a va-va-va-voom body and exquisite face emerged from the mist.

"Who are you and why are you on my ship?"

The woman smiled at him, a gorgeous, come-hither smile and he found himself softening the question against his will, "I mean, if you feel like sharing that information."

"And are you free for dinner?" Chapel asked dreamily, then seemed to shake herself. "Wait, I don't like girls that way."

He suddenly felt a little dreamy himself. "I could sit in a corner and watch you two eat. Or...do other things."

"You two are so adorable." The very pretty invader took them both in her oh-so-soft arms and squeezed them to her chest.

Kirk was relatively certain he had died and gone to heaven. He thought he heard Chapel sigh.

"Your doctor McCoy means well but I think I have a better way to deal with a too busy boy, James."

He smiled happily, then pulled away. "Wait. What?" He yanked Chapel out of the alien invader's bosom. "Who the hell are you?"

"I'll tell you later. Let's get your vacation started." She didn't wave a wand or snap her fingers or do anything Kirk could see but they were suddenly standing on a beach with sparkling aquamarine water to their right and a row of hotels to their left.

He and Chapel were out of uniform. She looked very carefree in a yellow sundress with her long hair blowing in the sea breeze, held off her face by a white headband. He realized he was wearing light trousers and a soft cotton shirt.

"Welcome to Miami," the invader said, her outfit not having changed. "Circa 1950 or so. I'm not really sure, but it doesn't matter. You're only going to eat and dance and swim and well, whatever else you want to do." She reached into her cleavage—Kirk noticed both he and Chapel seemed riveted—and pulled out a key. "Your room."

"Room singular?" Chapel asked, frowning.

"I don't think that's our main problem, Chris." He looked at the alien. "You can't just leave us here. I have a ship to run. She's needed in sickbay."

"No one will know you're gone. You'll have let's say...two weeks here. No time will pass back on your ship while you're here."

"If this is some Scalosian trick, I don't want any part of it. I saw what happens if you get careless and—"

"Not to worry, little one. I'm not speeding you up, so relax." She kissed him on the forehead, then she turned to Chapel. "I really do envy you."

"Why are we here?" Chapel asked.

"Because he needs a rest."

"Why am I here?"

"Because of all the women on the ship, you're the one he's most himself with. You lucky vixen." She pulled Chapel in for another bosom-to-bosom embrace; Kirk found himself once more transfixed.

"Oh, I almost forgot," she eased away from Chapel and reached back into her cleavage, handing Kirk some paper he recognized as old U.S. currency as well as something that sort of looked like money. "You'll need this. The green is cash. The others are travelers' checks and you can use them for purchases or to get cash. Don't sign them until you want to use them or they're no good. You don't have enough to get another room so I suggest you make do with the one. But live large, otherwise. I recommend the sandwiches at Wolfies and if you like crabs, go to Joe's Stone Crabs. I'll be back for you in a week."

"I thought you said two," Kirk said.

"So, you were listening." She grinned. "Look, I know you think you should figure out some masterfully clever way to get back to your ship. But there's no need. And also no way. You're in the fifties. Just try to...adapt. And have fun."

Kirk wasn't sure what to do.

"And put that money away. I'm not coming back with more if you flash it all over town and get rolled."

"Put it away...?"

"Pocket. You have a wallet. Your driver's license is there. Yours, too, toots, in that little bag you're carrying. No driving for either of you, though. I've seen you drive, mister. You're a menace."

"You've seen me drive...? Wait, when did you—" But she was gone.

Kirk eyed the key. "I guess we should set up a base of operations."

"For...?"

"For getting back to the ship. Or our vacation. Whichever the hell proves more feasible." He stomped off through the sand, admiring the way the soft leather loafers he was wearing moved with every irritated step.


II. The Wayward Wind

Chapel sprawled on the couch in their very nice hotel room, enjoying the breeze coming in from the open door—their balcony faced the ocean. She watched as Kirk paced. She knew she should probably be showing more initiative on the "getting them home" front, but could not think of a single thing to offer as he rattled off possibilities, so settled in to watch him go.

She'd wondered, since this was the 1950s, if there would be two twin beds. She'd always associated that with the timeframe. Some eras stood out and this one did for its prudishness. But whoever designed this room must have figured the residents actually wanted to bump flesh occasionally, because there was only a double bed. And not a particularly spacious one at that. The couch she was on was easy to lounge on but short—neither of them could comfortably sleep on it.

Was it bad and wrong that he was putting his energy toward getting them home and she was pondering sleeping arrangements?

After another hour of him pacing, muttering, stopping, saying "maybeeeeeee," with a hopeful look, more pacing, then a dejected, "No, that won't work," that led to more pacing and muttering, she asked, "Could you sit down for a moment? You're making me dizzy."

He glared at her. "You could help."

"Help do what?" She pretended to pull out a communicator. "Chapel to Enterprise that doesn't exist yet and doesn't probably even know we're gone."

"Maybe they do. Maybe this is an illusion? A test of some kind?" He walked to the balcony and looked over.

"I'm relatively certain you fail if you plunge to your death."

He stomped back in, knocked her feet off the couch, and sat down beside her. "There is no way this is a vacation. Aliens do not just show up on the ship, pluck me and some random crewmember up, and send me on vacation."

She tried not to show him that being deemed random hurt.

"You disagree?"

Obviously she had failed to keep the annoyance off her face. "She had a reason."

"For sending me here? Because I was tired? Please."

She decided that given the mood he was in, it would be the height of stupidity to say she had been thinking more about the alien's comment that Kirk was more himself around Chapel than any other woman on the ship. And since she'd learned a lot since those early days on the ship, when she'd blurted out everything she was feeling or thinking to Spock—usually to his great dismay—she kept her mouth shut.

"What can I do?" she asked, and she let the voice of the doctor creep in, the voice of the scientist. Tried to hide the fact that she, too, was exhausted. That she'd worked like a dog to get her M.D. and then worked even harder to come up to speed to be Decker's CMO. And then had it ripped away—albeit by men she trusted—when V'ger showed up. She felt like she'd been going nonstop since she left the Enterprise the first time. She could really use a goddamn break.

"Let's try to see through this thing. It has to be an illusion. If we can just expose the cracks."

"May I make a suggestion?"

He nodded.

"Don't start a fight or flagrantly ignore posted signage to prove it. If this is the 1950s, they weren't known for tolerance of outliers."

"I don't flagrantly ignore posted signage."

"Vega 14. 'Do not walk on purple squares.'"

"You saw that?"

She started to grin.

"I only touched one with the tip of my boot."

"On purpose." The grin tuned into a laugh. "Starbase 19. Crew softball game. Male restrooms closed for cleaning. The other was distinctly marked for females."

"I had to go."

"Still. You can't pee on a tree?"

"Dignity?" He shook his head. "And I don't start fights."

"Of course not." She shook her head, remembering how many missions he'd come back from with bruises and torn shirts. She dug into the bag the alien had said held her identification. "So who are we, anyway?"

He pulled out his wallet. "James T. Kirk. Convenient. Oh, and I'm from Riverside, also good."

She showed him her ID. "Guess I am, too."

"Christine Kirk. Well, well, well." He got up and yelled at the walls, very loudly. "Nice try, alien woman. You can't manipulate us into having sex for your amusement!"

A sudden pounding on the wall made her jump. She could barely make out, "Keep it down in there," from the room next door.

"Some illusion," she said, as she followed him out.

"Just don't let your guard down," he said as he strode down the hall, in the wrong direction if the elevator was his destination—but she didn't say anything. He'd figure it out eventually. "Don't get too comfortable."


III. The Stroll

Kirk had to admit the alien's version of Miami had the feel, smell, sound, and look of reality, not some advanced program or illusion. Then again, he'd seen some illusions that had appeared mighty real at the time.

He kept walking, Chapel barely keeping up. She was looking around, taking in the people and touching her hair.

"Something wrong?"

"Nobody has long hair. I don't fit in."

Although it was an irrelevant observation, he could see she was right. "Your hair looks great."

"I wasn't fishing for a compliment. It's just interesting. I used to wear a hairdo just like that woman over there, back when I was a nurse."

"You had about a hundred hairstyles when you were a nurse."

"You inventoried my hairstyles?"

"No. It's just you wear your hair a lot more simply now."

She pursed her lips, and he realized he was not necessarily improving his case for not noticing her.

"Anyway, I didn't realize I was so retro back then." She shrugged. "Sorry, anthropology minor kicking in."

"How did you ever get through school, all the specializations you've got?"

"It wasn't easy. Not this last time, especially." She met his eyes. "Fortunately, I'm able to hide my yawns from Len a lot more successfully than you are."

"You're tired, too?"

"Dead on my feet. Which is not to say I don't want to keep death marching through Miami Beach as you determine how to get us home. I know we have to. But..."

He felt a sudden rush of sympathy for her. "I know. I do. I'm starving, are you?"

She nodded. She pointed down the street. "Wolfies. Didn't Ms. Boobilicious say something about this place?"

He nodded. "Maybe because she wanted us there."

"Maybe because they have really good sandwiches?" She looked so hopeful he found himself smiling. "It could be both, sir, couldn't it?"

"It could be both, Chris. What the hell? If she wanted us dead, she'd have killed us already. We're no good if we're so hungry we can't think."

He led her down to Wolfies, bypassed the large central wait-station and wrap-around counter for a booth along the windows, a few down from some people smoking—hell of a lot of people smoked in this era. Chapel slid in across from him, moving closer to the wall than he did, apparently so she could stretch her legs out and rest her sandaled feet on the bench next to him. He found himself idly speculating on the length of her legs, on how they might wrap—

He started playing with the silverware, anything to stop his mind from where it was heading.

A waitress came up and smiled broadly as she handed them menus. "You just missed the lunch rush. Line was around the corner."

"Good timing, then. What's good here?" Kirk asked her with a smile of his own.

"Pastrami's swell today. Ice tea to start?" She looked over at Chapel, including her in the question.

Chapel nodded and said, "I'll have the pastrami. However you make it is fine."

"Make that two," he said, handing the menu back to the waitress. Once she was gone, he studied their surroundings. The lunch rush might be over but the place was still moderately full. No one was paying them any attention, though.

The waitress set their ice teas down and left again. Chapel picked up the sugar pourer and put so much in her tea that he laughed.

"I know, I know. The sugar just goes to the bottom and sits there. I'm nervous. This is what I do when I'm nervous." She squeezed her lemon, held her hand between it and him, and he smiled. "And yes, I'm courteous. Nervous and polite, that's me."

"There's a lot more to you than that." He resumed his study of the restaurant.

"Why would she bring us to Miami? In the 1950s?" Chapel leaned back a bit more.

"I like beaches."

"Who doesn't?"

"Good point." He looked over at her. "I don't often get to spend any time on one. With someone, I mean."

She frowned. "Galicia Murova."

"That was a diplomatic function. She was the sister of the fifth minister. I was being polite."

"Nebron V."

"Do you memorize my every movement?"

"How do you think I got so many damn degrees, sir? I have a very, very good memory."

"Nebron V? Ohhhhhh. That was...not really what I meant to do. The local drink there..."

She started to laugh.

"Nothing happened. Not on Galicia—if it had, we'd never have gotten anywhere with the negotiations: they're very big on chastity, you know? Not on Nebron V, either. I wasn't interested, just a little too inebriated to say no to a moonlight stroll."

"Because you really want the beach? With someone?"

"Not with someone anyone. With someone special."

"Ah. Okay. So Miami beach with a random crewmember." Her expression was tight.

"I did say that, didn't I?"

She nodded and reached for the sugar.

He stopped her. "Not random. Okay? Put the sugar down. Back away from the sugar."

She laughed and put the sugar pourer down.

Their sandwiches showed up and they dug in. The waitress had not lied. The pastrami was out of this world, and the sandwich was so overstuffed he could barely eat it.

"Oh, my God, this is good," she said, as she nibbled on a chip.

"It really is." He realized that he'd completely forgotten all about alien observers or experiments while he'd been eating. Oh, to hell with it. He'd worry about it later.


IV. Don't Be Cruel

They walked back to the hotel via the beach. Chapel carried her sandals in her hands, swinging them and the little purse as she walked in the surf. Kirk walked next to her, quiet, thinking, no doubt, of more ways to not get them home.

She was less and less inclined to look a gift horse in the mouth. Two weeks in a nice place with nice weather and good food was hardly a nightmare. Okay, so maybe he might not have picked her, and she might not have picked him for her vacation mate. But he wasn't the last person she'd have picked. Far from it.

"Let's sit," he said, moving a bit away from the surf and plopping down. "God, it's a beautiful day."

She sat with a little more decorum—funny how these clothes made her move differently. "It is. Manufactured or not."

He nodded. "Whatever this is, I'm not sorry for the break."

"Why did you lie to Len? I scanned you myself when he wasn't looking. You aren't sleeping, are you?"

He shook his head.

"Why don't you just tell him?"

"He'd judge. It's why I usually time my visits for when you're there and he's at lunch. You don't judge."

"Oh, I do. I just don't verbalize my judgments."

He turned to look at her, his expression growing wary.

"You're not quite the same, sir. You're not the man I remember from the Enterprise before."

"You try sitting in admiralty staff meetings and come out the same woman."

"Okay, point taken. But I saw you enough during that time. You're not the same man you were even after those meetings."

"You're her. You're the alien." He started to get up.

"I'm not. I'm just a doctor on your ship who is concerned about your behavior. Since when do you get too inebriated to not be able to say no to a moonlit stroll?"

He sat down. "You could still be her," he muttered.

"Well, you could punch me over and over. And I'd not fight and then you'd know I'm not an all-powerful alien. And while I'm in the hospital and you're in whatever passes for a brig in the 1950s, she'll be wondering what kinds of fools she gave an all-expenses paid vacation to."

"Why do you keep reaching for violence? I'm not violent."

"Got a rise out of you, though. Something needs to. Do you realize how shut down you've been? I see it when I watch you with Len. Or with Spock. They see it."

"Len's an old woman sometimes."

"And Spock?"

"Because Spock came to you and voiced concern?" Kirk looked dubious and angry all at once.

Damn. Spock had voiced it to Uhura, who he was seeing now, and she had told Chapel, but in confidence... "Trust me, I know." She decided to get another rise. "It must be hard. Losing your best friend. Having him turn his back on you, on everything."

"I got him back."

"I know. I was in sickbay when you did. But, he didn't come back for you, did he, sir? He came back for V'ger. It was just a happy accident that things worked out your way." She leaned in. "Do you think about that? Every time you place chess? That he's only on the ship by default? Have you ever told him he hurt you?"

"This is none of your business, Doctor."

"You know I never asked you if you wanted me to stay on the ship once the crisis was over. I just stayed, but you didn't pick me, after all. You demoted me. As fast as you could after you stole the ship from Decker."

She saw something flash across his face. Knew she had hit it on the head. Knew she had also gone way too far.

He pushed himself to his feet. "I don't know what I was thinking. A beach to walk on is great. Someone to share it with? Highly overrated." He stalked off.

She let him.

And once he was out of sight, she realized he had the only key to their room. Their room in the hotel that was just a few buildings down. A room he clearly was not headed to.

She sighed and pushed herself up, brushed off her dress, and trudged through the suddenly too deep sand to the hotel.

At the registration desk, a sweet-faced young man wearing a nametag that said, "Lewis," asked, "May I help you?"

"This is so embarrassing, Lewis, but my husband and I had a miscommunication and he's not here, and I am, and he has the key and..."

"Not to worry. What's your room number?"

She looked down. "I wasn't paying attention when we checked in. He always registers, and when we went up to the room, he opened the door and I was tired from traveling." She opened her purse, fished out her identification. "Does this help?"

"This is fine, Mrs. Kirk."

"Please, call me Christine."

"Oh, ma'am, I'd love to, but it's not allowed when I'm on duty." He gave her another sweet smile and looked through the registration books. "Here we are. James and Christine Kirk. Room 541." He turned, grabbed a key from the shelf of keys behind them and said, "Oh, your husband has a message."

He handed her a piece of paper that smelled strongly of vanilla and rose. It was addressed to Kirk.

"Do you know who left this?"

"No, ma'am." He handed her back her identification. "Iowa, huh? Must be cold this time of year."

"You have no idea."


V. Tequila!

Kirk found the first bar that looked like it served more locals than tourists and plopped himself down on an open stool.

The bartender came by, holding a bottle and said, "Fella, you look like you could use a drink."

"Whatever that is, make it a double."

"Of peppermint schnapps?" The man laughed. "Let me get you something decent. You like Mojitos?"

Kirk gave him the wave of "if it's alcoholic, it's fine."

The bartender got to mixing and soon had a glass in front of him. "Woman trouble?"

"Something like that." He took a sip. Mint, sugar, rum, lime. Not bad. He'd be sick before he was drunk. Probably also not bad.

Especially given that every single thing Chapel had said had been right on, and he was angry as hell at her for it. Not angry enough to hurt her—that wasn't his style—but he didn't want them getting thrown out of their lovely, if potentially fake, hotel for having a screaming match at each other.

Would she scream? He somehow didn't think so.

"If women weren't so easy on the eyes, the world would be a lot better place without 'em," the bartender was wiping glasses down with a not-so-clean rag, and Kirk was suddenly glad he was up to date on his inoculations.

"She's always psychoanalyzing me."

The man made a face. Wrong era, Kirk realized, just a little too early for that to have gone mainstream. "Telling me what makes me tick."

"Oh. I hate that. As if I need some gal telling me that."

"Trouble is, she's right."

Bartender shook his head. The universal sign of men everywhere for "Brother, you are so screwed when you get home."

Home. The hotel. The room that Kirk had the only key to.

Meh. She was so insightful, let her psychoanalyze her way into a new key. Probably take her all of five seconds if the kid he'd noticed when they left was still on duty—she was wearing the hell out of that sundress.

Damn it all, that alien had known exactly what she was doing putting him here with Chapel. The woman he was most himself with? Try the one he wasn't hiding anything from—no matter how much he tried. Then again he hadn't known he had to.

He downed his drink and asked, "What do I owe you?"'

"Seventy-five cents. Going to head back and face the music?"

"I guess so." He left a dollar on the bar. "Thanks for the ear." Even four centuries back, bartenders were bartenders.

"Bring her with you next time. I'd like to see what all the fuss is about."

Kirk just smiled and made his way slowly back to the hotel. He found Chapel in the room, standing and waiting—must have heard the key in the door. She held out a rather fragrant note to him then walked into the bathroom.

At first he thought it was something she'd written, but the flowery handwriting was all wrong. Not to mention the hearts dotting the "I's." The note said: Just this once, let down your guard and enjoy yourself. I think you'll find the reward will outweigh the risk. Love and kisses, A

He assumed A stood for Alien. She had to be listening in on them.

He put the note down, his hands still smelling flowery and like baked goods, and knocked on the bathroom door. "Are you mad at me?"

"Are you drunk?"

"No."

"Then no. Are you mad at me?"

"Yes. For being right."

He heard the door open, no click before the handle engaged—she hadn't locked the door. Brave woman. She walked out, stalked over to the couch, and sat down with her arms crossed in front of her.

He walked over, stood in front of her. "Things are strained with Spock. Not on his end. On mine. You were right."

She looked down.

"And I know you probably heard that he's confused about how I'm acting from Uhura. I'm not blind. I know he's with her. Are you okay with that?"

"She's liked him almost as long as I have. Maybe longer. And he actually likes her back so, realistically, it's probably a match better suited to success."

He sat down next to her, leaned his head back. "It's just. He and I. I just don't..."

"Just say it. You don't trust him."

"But I do. With the ship. With my crew."

"With your heart? With your friendship? He abandoned you. He did it once—will he do it again?"

He put a hand over his eyes and nodded. "I still don't know why he left. And he tries to explain it, but it makes no goddamn sense to me, Chris. It's like he's speaking Vulcan gibberish."

"Maybe you're just so angry, you can't hear him?"

He turned his head so he could meet her eyes. "Maybe. Are you angry with me? For demoting you?"

"Kind of. I studied like a madwoman to try to be ready for Decker. But I didn't want to be CMO."

"No?"

"No. I'd just gotten my M.D. It looked really strange for me to get this assignment. Admit it, you thought we were sleeping together."

He laughed softly. "I did till I saw him with Ilia."

"Everyone did. I told him that's what people would think. He was such an idealistic person. It's why he never saw you coming."

"Do you really think I stole the ship from him?"

"What do you think? That's what matters."

"I lie awake at night, the purr of her engines surrounding me. It's a sound I love, no matter how I got them back. But I think of Will. I recommended him. And then I powerplayed him into irrelevance. He chose V'ger because he needed something that was just his. I'd taken everything."

"No, Jim. Ilia was everything to him. The ship was second best."

He frowned.

"I'm serious. He chose V'ger because of Ilia. You let him do it because you took the ship. Now, you have to live with the fact that you stole it. You have to make peace with that. And I'm, quite frankly, fine with it. That said, if you want me to transfer off, I will."

He reached out, took her hand. "I don't. Who else will tell me when I'm acting like a goddamned jackass?"

She squeezed his hand.

"I don't know what to do about Spock."

"Give it time. Do you think it was easy watching him and Ny? You just have to let your heart settle. You can't keep stirring up the anger and hurt with fights and activity and drunken moonlit strolls with incredibly nasty women—"

"She was nasty. You wouldn't believe what she was whispering in my ear."

Chapel laughed. "Just give it time. Let yourself be human. Let yourself feel. You're trying so hard not to feel that you're going the other direction."

"You're right." He let go of her hand. "I'm sorry I left you on the beach."

"Yes, I was completely at loose ends." She held up a bottle of something called Pepsi he hadn't noticed sitting on the table next to the couch. "Lewis at the front desk sent this up for me. Such a sweet boy." She gave him an evil smile.

Just like he'd said. Wearing the hell out of that dress.


VI. Hot Diggity

Chapel felt the need to lighten the mood a bit in the room, so she got up and walked over to the closet. "So what did our benefactor leave us in the way of fashion." She opened the door and was momentarily struck silent.

He came over. Seemed to take in the number of clothes—for her and him—and said, "Generous. Guess she likes her rats to look nice."

"Guess so. Hey, what did your note say?" She turned, so fast she ended up far too close to him. There was an awkward pause as he reached out to steady her, as she smelled mint and booze on his breath, as his hand traveled for a moment from her upper arm, which he'd grabbed to keep her upright to a more unhurried exploration of her skin.

Then he seemed to realize what he was doing and pulled away.

"I'm sorry. Clumsy of me."

"It's okay." He reached past her, pulled out a very fancy suit. Lightweight, a grayish blue. He touched the tie. "Hmmm."

She laughed. "I went to private school. Hated our uniforms, but I am a pro at tying those things. Now if you want a bow tie, you're on your own, but a Windsor knot I can manage."

He put the suit back, pulled out a black dress. Cocktail length, round skirt, gorgeous chiffon halter straps. The back wasn't as low as a dress from their time might have been, but it looked sexy nonetheless. "Yowza," he murmured.

She laughed. "I think this goes with that." She pointed to a darker suit. "For the blue suit, maybe this?" A pinkish peach dress, strapless, tight in the waist—a perfect hourglass. She slipped around him, walked over to the dresser. The drawers on the left seemed to be filled with things for him. But the ones on the right...

He had followed her. "Well, I guess we know what she thinks we'll be up to."

Negligees. Underwear. And something she wasn't sure what it was. She pulled it out. "Ideas?"

"Swimsuit?"

"Only if I wanted to drown. Thing weighs a ton. Also I'd be flashing everyone." She fingered the straps hanging off what she presumed was the bottom. Straps that looked like they connected to something. "Wait a minute."

She dug around in the drawer, found something that looked like the tights she'd worn with the minidress uniform from the first mission. These were much less durable, seemed made of spider webs. She was sure she'd put her finger through them.

"Do you need an advanced engineering degree to get that thing on?"

"I think so." She fingered the sides. "Does explain how everyone has the perfect proportions. They aren't sucking it in, this thing is doing it for them."

He took it from her, shoved it back in the drawer. "You don't need it. You look fine just the way you are."

"You're sweet. But you really just want to look at the naughty nightgowns, don't you?"

"I do. And since I just faced my inner demons about Spock, humor me."

She pulled out the first one. A pretty little white long silky number. Cut like a Greek goddess gown. "Very nice."

"What's this?" He was fingering something made of black net.

She started to laugh. "They really wore these?"

"Not for long, they didn't." He laughed, too.

The nightie was scandalously short, made of see-through black netting, had a little tie at the neck, and then flared out to hang over the fully exposed body it would rest on. Chapel supposed one could wear it over bras and underwear, although from the look on Kirk's face, that would just be a time waster.

She folded the gowns up and put them away, saying, "I'll look at the rest later," as she shut the drawer.

He let out a ragged breath. "Probably a good idea."

She turned, again found herself much too close. "Am I being the klutz or are you?"

"I think you are."

"You're sure."

He smiled. "No."

She decided not to move back. See what he'd do. "So what did your note say? It was from her?"

"You didn't read it?"

She shook her head. "It wasn't to me."

He studied her as if he didn't believe her, then seemed to accept what she'd said. "She basically told me to settle down. Relax. Enjoy."

"There's nothing we can do, sir."

"Call me Jim, Chris. It's painfully apparent you know me too well to be stuck calling me sir."

"Okay. There's nothing we can do, Jim. And I know it's selfish of me, and probably not very Starfleet, but I'm so tired. I'm tired of working hard, and I'm tired of smiling when I don't mean it. I'm tired of everything. And this is nice. This is not our time, but it feels so good to be here. And I'd like to enjoy it. If you tell me not to, I promise I'll muster up my officer-within and never say another word."

"But you'd like the vacation?"

She nodded.

"So would I." He took a deep breath. "Why do you think I'm fighting this so damn hard? I'd love to just close my eyes and not worry about people watching me, people judging me." He surprised her, reaching for her headband, pulling it off, fluffing her hair so it fell around her face. "You know me and you say you judge me, but I'm all right with that. I don't feel threatened by you."

His eyes were starting to droop. "I'm so tired, Chris."

"Let's go to bed."

He glanced at the bedside clock. "It's 3:30 in the afternoon."

"I don't care. I'm so tired I could sleep for days."

"Wear the white nightgown?"

She laughed. "Right. That's a great idea."

"It's not as if you have sweat pants and a t-shirt at your disposal."

She frowned. "How do you know that's what I sleep in?"

"I saw you coming back late last week. Rand?"

She nodded. "Vid night. Right before she shipped off." Rand, her friend who would have killed to be here with this man, who'd left the ship because she didn't want to go through this again. Chapel was starting to understand why, and she imagined that Rand hadn't ever spent this much time with him.

Chapel walked over to his side of the dresser, opened the middle drawer, and pulled out a pair of dark green pajamas with yellow and blue stripes. "I'll wear the white if you wear these."

"Deal."

She went in the bathroom; he changed in the room. He gave a little knock when he was ready. She stood staring at herself, pondering the wisdom of putting her bra back on for modesty's sake. She looked amazing in this nightgown. Too amazing. A bra would be good—but she hated sleeping in one. Hated wearing the damn things at any time, but they were a necessary evil during regular hours, but not at night. She sighed and opened the door.

He was pulling down the sheets but stopped when he saw her. "Wow."

"I can change. I can put something else on."

"Don't you dare." He smiled. A lovely smile. There was a hint of seduction in it, but mostly just delight. "I'm too tired to ravish you. But tomorrow you might want to rethink your sleepwear choice."

"You chose it."

"Oh, yeah. Good job me." He grinned as he held the covers for her.

She got in and he stared at her a moment longer, then crawled in himself, not touching her but not making a big deal about not touching her. Making this easy.

He leaned in, kissed her on the cheek. "Thank you for psychoanalyzing me. It was no doubt long overdue—but it took guts to do it. And I'm sorry Spock chose Uhura."

As he pulled away, she pondered the thought that she wasn't sorry.

She suddenly wasn't sorry at all.


VII. Wake Up, Little Susie

Kirk woke up. Not the waking from a doze that should have been a real sleep, or the fuzzy-mouthed, hung-over waking of a long sleep induced by too much booze. This was the sleep he remembered from once upon a time, before he left his ship the first time, before he hated his life, before he stole his ship back.

Before he hated himself.

A moan sounded, an arm snaked further around his midsection. He glanced down, saw white chiffon and smiled. Hell of a woman even if she did come loaded with irritating truths.

He had a moment to enjoy how well she seemed to fit against him before she began to wake, before she pulled her arm away, murmured an embarrassed, "Sir, I'm sorry, I—"

"It's Jim, remember? Especially if you're wearing that nightgown when you're saying it." He kept his eyes up and focused on her face when he said it to avoid the creep factor that could go with a statement like that, saw her smile.

"I didn't mean to cuddle, Jim."

"Do you hear me complaining?"

Again the smile. So sweet, almost surprised that he'd compliment her. He supposed she had taken an emotional beating when Spock had chosen Uhura. And to have it be one of her best friends, to need to be happy for her—he understood that, had been there. It wasn't great for the self esteem.

She sighed. "I slept like a baby."

"Me too. It was great."

"I know. Alien sexy lady may end up evil but she has a funny way of warming up to the main act."

"I agree." He turned on his side so he was facing her.

"And is it just me, or are there times when you just feel one with the bedcovers? When they feel like they're molded to you, the perfect warmth, but not stifling. Like you could lie here for hours and be comfortable."

"It's not just you." Although parts of him were saying they could stay in bed for hours doing other things with her than just lying around.

"These are like that." She turned on her side, which brought her into dangerous proximity to James Junior. "Although I have to admit, those bedcover nirvana days are usually when I'm by myself. I'm a little worried that I'm this comfortable with you on day two. Is that part of her plan?"

"What if there is no plan?" He shifted his hips back a little, just to be safe. "What if vacation is all there is."

"Well, then I'm a great big slut." She started to laugh.

"Well, I already am, right? Captain Cock?"

"I hate that name. But yes, I have heard it bandied about for you."

"I like sex."

"I do, too."

James Junior would have done a happy dance if he hadn't already been fully at attention.

"I just haven't had any for a while."

Not fully at attention, after all.

She met his eyes. "And I have to hear about it from someone who has."

"Uhura tells you the gory details?"

"Well, not the goriest of details. But she's happy and things slip out when you're happy. I'd probably have done the same to her without a thought." She sighed. "And the hell of it is, I don't care that much. I'm happy for them. It just..."

"Stings."

"Yeah."

"I know. I have some ex-girlfriends. Important ex-girlfriends. The kind you lived with, not just saw occasionally. It was definitely over when it ended but when I see them with people, it doesn't feel good. And I had some closure. You didn't, right?" He suddenly very much wanted to hear she had not slept with Spock.

She mumbled something.

"What?"

"No, damn it, no goddamned closure. He came to me after Platonius. But it was so clearly driven by that kironide you shot yourselves full of that I sent him away."

"Wow. Self control. You really wanted him back then."

"I really did. I also really wanted him to really want me. So really shut up about it."

He decided not to mention she had brought Spock up in the first place. "I'm starving." He glanced at the clock. Seven a.m. "Breakfast on me in the coffee shop?"

She laughed. "Everything is on you, Mister Moneybags."

"True. Let me pee and then you can have the bathroom." As he got out of bed, he realized he'd said that the way he'd talk to a woman he was comfortable being naked with, not a fellow crewmate he happened to be stranded with. He decided that didn't bother him at all.


VIII. Blueberry Hill

Chapel studied the menu, delighting in the bounty of high-cholesterol delights that lay before her. When the waitress came, she said, "I'd like the Floridian breakfast, eggs over easy. With bacon and can I get a side of sausage?"

"Sure, hon'," the waitress said. "Toast or English muffin?"

"Toast. Oh and hash browns."

"They come with."

"Perfect." She sipped her coffee. The waitress had poured without asking, the orange juice—fresh squeezed—had come with the water.

Jim ordered pancakes with a side of bacon and once the waitress was gone, leaned forward with a grin and asked, "Did we have sex I don't know about? Or do you always work up an appetite in your sleep?"

"Hey, we skipped dinner." She laughed. "Besides, it's all so bad for us. Everything in our time is scrubbed clear of impurities or is made from something more healthy. I'm looking forward to risking a heart attack with each bite." She gave him a smile she knew was a little goofy, was relieved to see him laugh instead of back away slowly.

"You're a kook."

"I probably am."

"It's charming."

"See if you think that in a week."

"Two."

"So, you were listening." She laughed at his expression. "Sorry, that was just such a great line of hers. Who the hell is she, anyway? Have we run into her? I'd ask if she's someone you ticked off but hey, if this is her angry, make her even madder."

He shook his head. "Never seen her before in my life. That I recall." He sipped his orange juice. "Wow. This is good."

"Everything is. It's all so...vibrant, isn't it?"

"It is." He looked out the window the hostess had so nicely seated them by. "For so long on Earth, life was just gray. And now here I am back on it, and it's not gray at all." He met her eyes. "I never thought being off the Enterprise would feel like such a relief."

"Well, as far as we know, we are going back to it. It's a break, not a goodbye."

"True. Still. You were right. I've switched off somehow. Like I'm not happy with myself, with how I got where I got."

"That's actually very understandable."

Why? Because I got there in an underhanded, son-of-a-bitch sort of way."

"Is that what you think?"

"Jesus, is psychology one of your many specializations, too?"

She smiled gently. "I mean, mon capitaine, that you are a good man. I know you—you may think I don't, but I do. And I know how you would feel about what you did, and you just summed it up. I, for the record, don't believe Decker could have gotten us free of V'ger the way you did. So for my sake and the sake of my friends, for everyone on this planet—and for all the other planets you saved since V'ger would not have stopped with us—I'm glad you did it."

"Really?" His smile was terribly tentative.

"Yes, really. But it was an underhanded move. The fact that you were in a such a dark place that you could do it should give you pause. Maybe you should be thinking: how do I avoid ever being in this place again?"

"Good advice."

"I'm great at giving other people advice." She smiled, then moved back so the waitress could put her breakfast in front of her. "Yum."

"I'll be back with a refill."

They dug in, nodding thanks as the waitress refilled their coffees. Chapel moaned in happiness. Bad-for-you food tasted sooooo good. She noticed Jim eying the sausage links.

"Really? You think I'm going to give you one of these?"

"I did save you from V'ger."

"Pass me your plate." He did, and she rolled two of her four links onto his plate.

"Two. Really? I'm touched." And he did seem to be.

"I don't give up food easily. Something you should know about me."

"Duly noted. And appreciated." He took a bite of the sausage. "Ohhh. My grandma used to make it like this. This brings back memories."

She smiled at how young he suddenly looked. Then she lost herself some more in her food.

"Did you see bathing suits when you were going through our fashion stash?" he asked.

"Several styles. Plus what passes for sunscreen in this era, too."

"You want to be a beach bunny?"

She nodded. Then she frowned. "If that alien wasn't lying, if no time passes on the ship while we're here and we do get to go back, then if we come back tanned but didn't leave that way, won't the crew find that odd?"

"That's her problem. If we come back at all."

"You seem copacetic with that concept. You think we're prisoners here?"

"That remains to be seen. But for now, I suggest we eat, swim, sleep, and enjoy ourselves. We're not currently at our best, and if we do need to make a break for it later, we'll do it more effectively if we're well rested, well exercised, and well fed."

"Wow, even Spock could not have rationalized that better."

He grinned at her. "Plus, you know I'm right."

He was right. And it would be fun. Win, win—the James T. Kirk way.


IX. Banana Boat Song

The ocean was perfect, not so warm it was like bath water, not too cold it was uncomfortable for long periods. The sun was shining, the temperature hovering in the low eighties with a nice breeze. He and Chris lay on towels the cabana boy had given them, white towels with the hotel monogram on them, white towels now covered with wet sand and suntan lotion.

Chris was wearing a bikini. Nothing like the kind of their time. This was demure but still managed to be sexy. Red with white polka dots—a high-waisted bottom with a halter top that was cut low—they liked cleavage in the 1950s. Every woman on the beach seemed to not mind showing it. But it was modest cleavage, the kind that made a man think there was more to discover, not that he was seeing everything in one look.

Men's swimming trunks hadn't changed all that much over the centuries. There were those who liked them tiny and tight—he was not one of those. There were those who liked to look like surfers. There were professional swimmers who went with whatever was deemed the most aerodynamic, no matter how idiotic they looked. And then there were the generic swim trunks, which is what most men were wearing here, including Kirk. His were navy. There were two other pair in the room. One dark green. One burgundy. He'd let Chris pick out whatever she thought went best with the red polka dots.

He'd picked out her bikini.

She was wonderfully generous at letting him dress her. Seemed to enjoy it even. God knew, James Junior was getting a kick out of it.

She got up and walked to the water, and he watched every move of her polka-dotted bottom. It was bad, he knew, but he had a feeling she was milking that walk. She turned when she was in the water up to her waist and grinned at him before she threw herself backwards and started to backstroke away with long, effortless strokes. It had not surprised him to learn she'd been on the swim team at her private school. She had the body for it.

It suddenly occurred to him that he had no idea why she'd gone to private school. It wasn't as common as it once was. When she showed no sign of coming in from the water, he went out to her, swimming to where she was, seeing a welcoming smile on her face as she realized it was him.

"I have a question."

"That couldn't wait until I got back?" She grinned.

"I might have dozed off and forgotten to ask. I think we should have a rule for our vacation slash imprisonment."

"Okay?"

"We have a question, we ask the question. No waiting."

"What if it's the wrong moment for the question? What if say you're in the bathroom and I suddenly want to know your favorite color?"

"Okay, some waiting."

"I could forget. Do I have to write things down now?"

"Chris."

"Hey, it's your rule." She laughed and then struggled as he pretended to dunk her. She was nearly as strong as he was, and they ended up wrestling, both going underwater, coming up breathless, arms around each other, James Junior pressed against her leg and—

"Oh, my." She was grinning very wickedly.

"All your damn fault, missy."

"Moi?" She tried to look innocent. Failed utterly, seemed to know it, and laughed. Then she moved, just enough to make it clear she was saying her own little version of hello to James Junior.

"Do that again, and I will have to kiss you."

She did it again. He had to kiss her.

Her arms came around his neck, and they both took a deep breath as they sank under the water, lips frantic on each other, tongues working, finally breaking the embrace to kick back up to the air and breathe.

He found her hand, pulled her closer to shore so they could stand on the sand. "This is a conservative time. People don't kiss like this on the beach for no reason."

She looked a little disappointed. "Understood."

"No, I mean, change to our story. This is a delayed honeymoon for us. Not too delayed, though. We couldn't afford it right after the wedding but now we can. Hence the romance."

"Why delayed?"

"Who changes their identification before the wedding? Our names are the same on our drivers' licenses."

She smiled. "You are so smart."

"Yes, that's why I'm the captain." He pulled her back into his arms, was amazed at how good—no, how goddamned great—it felt to be kissing her. A woman he'd never considered kissing. What the hell was wrong with him?

He kissed her for a long time, then he pulled away. "So my question."

She laughed. "You are not easily distracted."

"Why did you go to private school?"

And suddenly she was shutting down before his eyes.

"Hey, Chris. No, stay with me."

"I don't even know why I keep bringing that up. I never bring that up and I've mentioned it twice to you." She looked like she was going to bolt, kick away from him and make for open water, maybe swim all the way to Cuba or the Bahamas.

He turned her, so she didn't have to look at him, so she was lying against his chest, floating as he walked them along, staring not at him but at the beautiful Miami sky. "Is this easier?" He wrapped his arms around her, was relieved when she held on to them.

She nodded, finally started to talk. "My mom died when I was nine. My dad and I, we never really got along that well. Too alike maybe. I don't know. When she died, I think we both just quit trying. And then he met someone else. She wanted kids of her own and she didn't want me around. He had lots of money, so he sent me away. Private school. Paid for them to keep me on holidays and breaks, too. I read a lot to keep busy. Finished early, actually. Started college a year early."

"I'm sorry."

"People wondered how I could fall in love with my advisor. With someone who was a mentor, a father figure of sorts. How could I not? I'd never had that kind of interest. I was just drowning in it. And it just sort of made sense that Roger loved me, too. Classic transference, no doubt." She rolled over so she was facing him. "Honestly, I've never told anyone about that. Not even Roger. Maybe I thought I owed you after all the probing in your psyche I was doing."

"Maybe you trusted me enough? Maybe you just needed to get it out? Maybe you were tired of keeping it in—as tired as I was?"

"Maybe." She reached out, touched his cheek. "What I said yesterday, despite that, you need to understand something. I have always—will always—feel utterly safe with you. And I have ever since we found Roger. Ever since you kept his secret. Ever since you didn't put me on report for how I acted—"

"I gave you hell in private."

"I deserved worse."

"It was a hard time."

"Would you make those excuses for anyone else?"

He had to think about that. "I don't know. For those I care about, maybe. You never did it again. And you saved me when Janice Lester took my body, when you left that glass where I could get to it, where I could break it and use it to cut my restraints. We're even on that score."

She smiled, rubbed against him gently.

"I take it you want another kiss?"

She nodded.

"If you want it, then kiss me."

Smiling, she moved in, her lips soft, her mouth opening to his. They moved into shore, kissing until they ended up lying in the surf, and he pulled her up and led her back to the towels.

The beach was getting more crowded. A couple had set up umbrellas near them. The man winked at Kirk. "Replaying your own From Here to Eternity moment?"

Kirk nodded in a way that could mean anything.

"Let me guess. Honeymoon?"

Chris sat up, pressing next to Kirk in what was a rather wifely pose. He realized she'd been studying how the women of this time sat, how they moved, how they interacted with their men.

Damned interesting woman.

"I'm Calvin Elliot. This is my wife Barbara."

A blonde woman peeked out from the other umbrella. "Pleased to meet you."

"We're from Poughkeepsie," Calvin said. "Just got here today. Could not wait to get to the beach."

"I'm Jim Kirk. This is Christine."

"Hello," Chris murmured, her voice pitched lower and huskier than normal. "We're from Iowa."

"Sure is nice to have some warm weather, isn't it? It was an awful drive down through Jersey." Barbara was smiling at Christine. "Is this your honeymoon? You both seem so...romantic."

"It is," Kirk said. "Delayed a bit. You know how it goes. Can't always afford it right after the wedding."

"Know it well. I shipped off right after Barbara and I got hitched, didn't I, sweetheart?"

She nodded, then muttered, "Never did get a honeymoon. All these years, still waiting. Simple thing, you'd think. Just book us the honeymoon suite but no..."

Chris's fingers tightened on his legs. He thought she might be trying not to laugh.

Calvin was opening a small cooler. "You want a beer?"

"I'm fine," Chris said, lying down to soak up more sun.

"Sure, why not." Kirk noticed a spot that was burning on her, put more suntan lotion on her—they didn't even try to call it sunscreen—before reaching for the bottle Calvin held out.

"To not being at work," Calvin said.

Kirk clinked his bottle against Calvin's. "I'll drink to that."


X. Tonite Tonite

Chapel relaxed into Jim's arms as they danced, the dance floor crowded but she didn't mind, he had a way of making it feel all their own. Although they had to clear off every time one of the more current dances started—they were definitely not up to some of the fancier steps.

And one was starting up now. They left the dance floor, along with some of the older couples and she laughed. "We're ancient."

"You don't look ancient. You look beautiful."

She smoothed down the pinky peach dress. It made her feel sexy and innocent all at once. Like she'd somehow been whisked back with the knowledge she had now to her prom. If she'd actually gone to her prom.

Jim looked handsome—as if the man could look any other way—in the gray-blue suit. She'd tied his tie for him, and he'd made a game of it, stealing kisses as she'd worked. Never trying for more than that, despite evidence that he wanted her.

And she wanted him. But she was glad he'd waited. They'd know when the time was right.

Now felt like a good time. She could tell she was grinning in a very naughty way because he started laughing and pulled her closer. "Do I want to know what you're thinking?"

"Just how much fun you are."

"That was not what you were thinking." He pulled her to him, kissed her softly—a tender rather than passionate kiss, and she loved that he could do that, that there were so many sides to his affection.

"That I want you."

"Mmmm. Better answer. I want you, too." He pulled her out to the balcony that sat off the dance floor. The concierge at their hotel had told them about this place. Dinner and dancing, great steaks, great music, free champagne for dancers. A server came around with small glasses of champagne and they took one, sipped carefully. She could tell neither of them wanted to get intoxicated.

"What I cannot figure out," he said, as he put his arm around her, drew her down the balcony to where they could see the ocean. "Is why I never noticed you before."

She leaned into him. "I was interested in your best friend. That mattered back then."

"You think it wouldn't matter now?"

She looked up at him. "Well, no, because a. he's with someone else and b. he abandoned you."

"Hmmm."

"Also, you don't tend to mess in your nest."

"I know but I still could have noticed you. I have willpower, but I'm not blind."

"Maybe I'm only pretty in the 1950s," she said, rubbing her nose against his, and she heard him groan as she managed to rub her leg against another part of him. "Or maybe you're just an idiot who can't see a good thing when it's right in front of him."

"I'd say that works both ways. I don't remember you ever taking a break from your Spock fascination to moon over me."

"I didn't. I was a moron, it's true." She leaned in, nuzzled his neck. "It makes sense to me now, since we've been talking about my dad. He and Spock, they're so alike. And I watch Spock with Ny and I see the same thing that I saw when I'd watch my dad with my stepmother. How available he was to her, in ways he never ever would be to me. It's not that he and my dad can't love, it's that they don't love me. Why did it take me so long to see that?"

"Why did it take me so long to admit I'm mad at my best friend? That I don't trust him?"

"Because we're both stubborn. Because we both think we can power through anything. That if we apply enough effort and willpower, there's nothing we can't do."

He nodded slowly. "That's probably true. Is that good that we're both like that?"

She laughed. "As long as we're both pulling in the same direction it is."

The music changed, a softer tune, slow. He put his champagne down on the wide bench that circled the balcony, took hers and put it down, too. She turned and they were dancing, slowly, kissing as they moved, covering no ground, just swaying.

When the song ended, changed to a faster one again, she leaned back, held securely and looked up at him. "You are one very handsome man."

"Yes?"

She nodded. "I would like you to take me back to the hotel."

"You would?" His grin turned teasing. "And get you a room of your own?"

She shook her head.

"And make a bed for myself on the floor out of towels and dirty clothes?"

Again she shook her head.

He pulled her up so she was against his chest and ran his hands down the exposed skin on her back. "And make love to you?"

She nodded.

He pretended to have to think about it, screwing up his face and looking to the sky as if this was a hard decision.

She moved so no one could see them, reached down, found James Junior, reminded him that he was crazy for her, heard Jim groan. Loudly. "Or, my dear, sweet, Jim, you can sleep on dirty clothes."

"Oh, fine, sex it is." He grinned, and she grinned back, and suddenly he pulled her to him, kissing her in a way that was silly and happy and more a game than anything too heavy. "Now, you wench, give me a moment to get my better half down there composed and we can go."

She whistled and drank her champagne while he muttered what she thought was the periodic table. Then he said, "Let's get the hell out of here," and downed his champagne, found a server to leave their glasses with, then strolled with her back to the hotel.


XI. Chantilly Lace

Kirk nearly ran into Calvin and Barbara as he and Chris tried to make it across the lobby to the elevators.

"Don't you look pretty," Barbara said to Christine, who returned the favor.

"Join us for a nightcap?" Calvin was already headed off to the bar.

Barbara smiled. "I'll tell him you had other things to do. Not that he'd remember what those were." She managed to wink and roll her eyes in quick succession, then headed off to join her husband.

"Shall we," Kirk said, taking Chris's hand.

"Get me upstairs before I undress you right here."

"I hate a woman who can't articulate what she wants." He smiled as he pushed the call button, they got on with a family of four and behaved themselves until the family got off on the third floor and then he pushed her against the wall, kissed her deeply.

The car stopped on the fifth floor, and she laughed and pulled him out. They practically ran down the hallway to their room, and he found himself fumbling with the key like a silly teenage. "I swear I'm better than this when it counts."

She grinned and pulled him to her, kissing him while her hand settled over his, turning just right because the door opened and they were inside. "It's easier to do when you're distracted."

"It's easier to do when you're the one distracting me." He moved her back a bit, said, "Hold that thought," then put the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the outside of the door the way he'd seen others hanging, and locked the door.

Then he turned around to look at her. "You really are beautiful."

"No, I'm not."

He closed the gap between the. "Yes. You are." He moved behind her, kissed her neck until she moaned, until she was leaning against him, breathing fast while he held her, his arm under her breasts. He slowly pulled the clips out of her hair so it fell around her in soft waves. He moved back to face her. "I like your hair dark. Classic color, and with your eyes. Gorgeous."

She blushed and looked down. She wasn't used to compliments? He found that charming—and sad. He'd have to rectify that.

He reached over, found the zipper on the side of the dress that his little turn around her had located—never underestimate the value of a good recon mission—and unzipped it. Then he helped her step out of her dress, leaving her in lace strapless bra and underwear that matched her skintone. He was about to undo her bra when she gently cleared her throat.

"You have a comment?"

"There is a definite imbalance in clothed to not clothed in this room. I suggest in the interest of fairness that we rectify that."

He grinned and kicked off his shoes. "Do your worst, my dear."

She took off his jacket, hung it over the back of the chair and picked her dress off the floor and slid it over this jacket. Then she went to work on his pants, taking her own sweet time in unbuckling the belt, in undoing the button, in unzipping the—

"Chris, for the love of God."

She laughed and got the rest done quickly. The pants she set on top of her dress. He was standing in his shirt, underwear and socks. With a devilish look, she pulled down his underwear.

"Hey, that's not fair."

"I wanted to see my friend down there. He's very beautiful, by the way."

And just like that, neither he nor James Junior cared about equity. "Take this damn shirt off me."

She smiled and got it off with the efficiency of the nurse he remembered, then peeled off his undershirt and socks.

"You are overdressed, Chris."

She nodded and moved away from him, toward the bed. He pounced on her, and she squealed as he pulled her to him and had her bra off faster than he thought she expected, letting her breasts spill out.

Good God, she was magnificent.

She suddenly looked nervous.

He tipped up her chin so she had to look at him. "I was a goddamned fool. I mean it. Stunning." He eased off her underwear. Smiled at how her hips curved into her waist. "Goddamned stunning."

They fell onto the bed, kissing and murmuring. She found him with her hand, and he moaned so loudly she stopped and said, "I'm sorry."

"Oh, no, do not ever be sorry for doing that. Please, please, go back to doing that."

She grinned and did what he said, followed it in fact with her lips, with her strong mouth, with her other hand, with him saying, "Chris, Chris, stop now if you don't—" and her shaking her head and him shutting up just in time to—oh, holy God.

She looked up at him, a very satisfied look on her face, and he thought to himself that Spock was a great big fool. Best blow job ever.

"Come here, you," he said, as he pulled her to him. They kissed, and he could taste himself on her, and he decided it was only fair that she be able to taste herself on him, so he kissed his way down her body, repaid the favor, using every skill he knew to make this the best she'd ever had.

Her breasts were flushed a bright red when she finally came down and he smiled. "Just okay?" he asked.

"Words. Too hard. Later."

He grinned and pulled her close, kissing her cheek, because he could see she was still trying to catch her breath. Oh yeah, let some other guy beat that.

She turned and looked at him, her eyes wearing the happy bleariness of a mind-blowing orgasm. "Oh. My. God."

"Yes, I am very good, thank you. As are you, my dear. I think we are very well matched."

She nodded but it came out a little wavery. "I think. I need. Work harder."

He wasn't going to disagree. The idea that she might be able to improve on what she'd already done was making James Junior sit up and take notice.

He pushed her to her back while she was still in the limp, "I'll recover someday but not right now" state, and entered her, moving slowly, building up. He could see her coming back to him, grasping his shoulders, her legs wrapping around him. "There's my girl," he said softly as he began to thrust in earnest.

She was gone, riding the wave, and he watched her, loving the look she got, loving that she was calling his name out, not "Baby" or "Honey" but "Jim."

As he worked to his own completion, her name came without effort. "Chris," "Chris," "Chris," as he pounded inside her. When he was finished, she held him tightly and kissed him and ran her fingers lightly across his back.

"Oh, my God," she whispered. "Two weeks of this? I love that alien. I'm willing to swear fealty to her, Jim. I'm serious: if she shows up now, I'm her slave so long as she lets me keep you."

He chuckled and said, "I'm right there with you, Chris."


XII. In the Still of the Night

Chapel shifted in Jim's arms, felt him kiss her forehead and sighed. The moon was shining on the sea, and she had gotten up and opened the balcony door, so they could hear the sound of the surf.

Usually it was awkward after first sex, but they fit each other so well. No matter how she moved, there was a place for her, comfort. She'd never had that. Not with Roger, not with any of the men she'd been with. It was always awkward, trying to find a place for arms and legs, trying to relax in their arms.

"I have a son," Kirk murmured, and she turned to be sure she'd heard him right. "His name is David. I'm not allowed—his mother didn't want me in his life at all if I couldn't be there full time. What you said. About your father. It made me think of him. How he must feel."

"I'm sorry. Have you met him?"

"No. She's not the kind to change her mind." He closed his eyes. "She made me choose. Space or her—and my son."

She turned, didn't try to touch him, to comfort him, just met his eyes. "That's not a fair choice. Plenty of people have both. She wanted to control you, that's all."

"That's what I told myself. That if I gave ground on that, then it would be something else."

She nodded. "And something else, and something else." She ran her finger down his cheek. "I'm sorry for David, though. Not knowing you. Not knowing how exceptional his father is."

He kissed her, a soft, gentle—almost needy—kiss. "Thank you."

"Just the truth. You would have been a great father. Look how well you take care of all of us on your crew." She kissed him, longer this time, but still gently, still with affection instead of passion. They had time for passion: this sharing was important.

He began to play with her hair, had a strange look on his face.

"What?"

"I could fall in love with you so easily."

"Me, too." She looked away, toward the moon and the gently billowing draperies. "Is that a problem?"

"You're on my crew."

"In medical. The most independent of the departments. And I can relieve you."

"This is true." He didn't seem cheered by her logic. "But crew—I don't do that."

"Do we have to figure it out now?"

He shook his head. "But is it fair to you if we don't?"

"Look, if all we have are these two weeks, then let's not waste the time thinking about how you can't be with me, okay? Let's just enjoy them while we can."

He moved so he was over her, perched on his elbows, studying her. "Are you sure that won't make it harder?"

"Of course it will make it harder. But what kind of idiot doesn't explore this for as long as she can? What kind of idiot has you and doesn't keep you for as long as she can?"

His look softened and she pulled him on top of her, into her. She sighed at the contact, at how good it was.

"There is no way I'm giving this up until I have to." She moved her hips up to meet his thrust, saw him grimace in pleasure. "Unless you disagree with that course of action."

"No disagreement here. Damn the torpedoes..." He seemed to lose himself in a torpedo of his own, and she smiled as she did what she could to make it even better for him—and for herself.

They came in close succession, breathing hard, clutching each other.

"Full speed ahead," she whispered as she stroked him and he kissed her chest. "Full speed ahead."


XIII. Purple People Eater

They ran into Calvin and Barbara in the coffee shop, Kirk decided to repay the beers Calvin had shared on the beach by springing for breakfast. He shot Chris a quick look to make sure she was okay with them joining the other two, and she smiled easily.

"You two have plans for today?" Calvin asked. "We're heading out to the Everglades. Going to ride an airboat. You ever been on one?"

Kirk shook his head. He'd always wanted to go on one. No reverse, just forward. Brakes were for wimps in the swamp, apparently. Although realistically he understood the design and the technical limitations of it when it came to trying to slow quickly.

"I'm game," Chris said softly, her hand finding his under the table.

He squeezed her hand gently, could not get enough of touching her. Wasn't sure what they were doing to do when or if they got back to the ship—for now, he wasn't thinking that far ahead. He was just going to enjoy this, enjoy her, and figure the future out when it came.

"Never have been on one, Calvin. Sure would love to go."

"Well, we didn't drive our Buick down here so it could sit in the parking lot. Let's do it." Calvin looked very happy. "They're supposed to have a real good barbeque for lunch, too. All sorts of native foods."

"Meaning alligator?" Barbara asked, looking dubious.

"And worse." Calvin laughed like a little boy. A very mischievous little boy. Kirk was suddenly reminded of Gary Mitchell.

They agreed to meet in the lobby in fifteen minutes and Kirk and Chris hurried up to their room.

When they got there, she surprised him, pushing him against the door. "Do we have time for a quickie?" She was already making nice with James Junior.

He slid off her shorts and underwear, then his own, hiked her onto the dresser, and found her ready for him. "Been thinking about this?"

"All through breakfast. Now hurry the hell up."

He took her, moving fast, laughing, just like she was, at how silly they were being but enjoying the hell out of it anyway. He found how she liked to be touched from this angle, pushed her over the pleasure cliff, then finding his own way down.

They were both breathing hard, arms wrapped around each other, chuckling softly. "Oh, yeah, I'll be thinking about that all day."

She eased him out of her. "Me, too." She walked into the bathroom, wet a washcloth and tossed it to him and then cleaned herself up before brushing her teeth.

He followed suit, then went in and tried to work around her, spitting when she wasn't. They pulled their shorts back on, he made sure they had plenty of cash, and they put suntan lotion on each other. Then they left to join Calvin and Barbara.

The drive out to the Everglades took a while, but Calvin was funnier than Kirk expected and Barbara was the perfect straight woman, filling in the way only a longsuffering wife could. Chris and he laughed loudly at some of their rants about New York weather, the lack of a good pizza anywhere but New York, and the strange people you found in Miami.

They finally got to the park and they waited in line for tickets then hurried to the airboat rides, skipping the alligator wrestling show.

"Head for a small boat. It's a better ride than one of the big group ones." Calvin was a regular walking tour guide. Not that Kirk minded: so far he was giving good information.

The boats were flat bottomed with three small bench seats set up high and tiered so the driver's seat in the back was higher than the bench in the middle, which was higher than the one in the front. Kirk stepped into the boat, holding a hand out for Chris, then slid onto the middle bench behind Calvin and Barbara who were sitting primly in the front seat. Kirk grinned at Chris as he put his arm around her and pulled her close, then he said, "Do you have something to pull your hair back with? It's going to get really windy and loud. I've read about these things."

She nodded, pulled some kind of elastic out of the bag she carried and had her hair into a pony tail and then a shorter twist. "Better?"

"Perfect."

He leaned in to kiss her.

"Looks like we have a pair of lovebirds," the pilot said as he got on the boat. "Okay folks, I cannot stress this enough, keep your arms and legs inside this boat at all times. If we do see any gators, you do not want to try to pet them."

"Do we look like idiots?" Chapel asked Kirk softly.

"Apparently so."

"Someone must have tried or they wouldn't have to say it, I guess."

"It's a miracle we ever got to space." He grinned and kissed her again, enjoying the freedom of not being anyone but Mr. James Kirk. No one looking over his shoulder. No one checking up on him.

Then again, maybe no one really was checking up on him. Maybe he was the only one doing that these days? He'd stolen a ship, after all—albeit with Command's blessing, but still, all his peers knew exactly what he'd done—and managed to "lose" the former captain in the process. And he'd gotten a commendation not a dressing down. Maybe he could do whatever the hell he wanted.

Within reason. If he stepped too far out of line, he had a feeling the woman leaning against him would let him know in no uncertain terms. But for her to do that, he'd have to let her in. Let her be with him. No hardship there.

He could have his cake and eat it too. Only, that saying never made sense to him. Shouldn't it be eat his cake and have it, too? Unless the originators of the saying were thinking in a nonlinear sense?

"Okay, here we go." The pilot waited until the young man on the docks had untied them and pushed them off with a pole before he eased the propeller on and they started forward.

Kirk found himself smiling as they hit the open saw grass and the pilot let her go. He was glad he'd worn the sunglasses he'd found in one of the drawers, but he wished he had earplugs-the sound of the prop made his ears ache.

Suddenly, he felt Chris pushing something into his hand, little round pellets of some kind. She mimed putting them in his ears and he realized she'd made them out of bathroom tissue she'd put in her purse. He let his eyebrows go up and she laughed and shrugged, then made some for herself and stuck them in her ears. He followed her lead and sighed in relief: they worked great. She reached into the seemingly endless bag and pulled out a pair of sunglasses—very sexy, cat-eye glasses that made him think of sex.

Then again, everything she did right now made him think of sex.

The boat slowed when they were past the saw grass, and the pilot said, "This here is what we call an alligator hole. Everyone stay real quiet and let's see if one surfaces."

They waited, and Kirk saw something that looked too much like a Gorn for his comfort rise over by the shore. He pointed, and the pilot said, "Good eye. Look to your right, everyone. That looks to be a youngster. Probably no more than four or five feet long. They're at their most dangerous at that size. Very nimble. Take your hand off in a second."

They waited but no more came up.

Chris took her earplugs out, said very softly, "I thought this place was teeming with them."

"Not right now. They were overhunted. They almost died out. Will take about thirty years to recover."

"Good?" She smiled. "They're really ugly."

She'd said that loud enough for their pilot to hear. He leaned in. "They haven't changed since prehistoric times. No need to. Why improve on perfection?"

A purple streak flew by them, causing Barbara to shriek and nearly push Calvin out of the boat. Kirk steadied him.

"No cause for concern, ma'am. That's just a purple gallinule. Pretty rare bird, makes its nest out here. Kind of reminds some of a peacock. If you all sit still, it might come up on the boat."

"I don't like birds," Barbara said in a very loud voice. "Let's not sit still, okay?"

Chris patted her. "It's all right. We won't let the bird hurt you."

"Thanks, Christine. You're a real pal." Barbara turned to Calvin and took his arm. "Sorry I almost pushed you in the drink like that."

"S'okay, sweetheart. Jim had my back."

"Let's see if we can find one of the elusive Florida panthers," the pilot said, starting up the airboat again; Kirk and Chris scrambled to get their earplugs back in.

There were, alas, no panthers to be seen. They saw some water snakes, a few more alligators, lots of birds, and a few raccoons.

When the boat docked, Kirk shoved his earplugs into his pocket, saw Chris stow hers in her handbag, and he followed her off the boat. They took in the alligator wrestling show, less wrestling than basic "tire the big reptile out so I can catch him and turn him into stew" techniques learned from the Seminoles.

Then they hit the barbeque. He and Chris skipped the frog legs, although both Calvin and Barbara seemed excited to see them on the buffet. There was catfish, which Kirk had always enjoyed when he'd visited Bones. And the alligator tail meat: was it cliché to say it tasted like chicken?

The barbeque was an adventure. Fielding Calvin and Barbara's questions about where and how he and Chris had met was an even bigger adventure.

On a ship didn't work. Calvin had shipped out—he'd know all the ships, if he was navy. Even if he was one of the other services, he'd know something was fishy about Kirk's story.

At the office? Which one? Where Chris was a nurse, okay, but now a doctor? In this era?

In Space? Ha ha, good one.

Chris kept it simple. "We grew up next door to each other. In Riverside."

Kirk waxed rhapsodic for a moment about his Iowa hometown, then realized he was going on about things that might not be built for 300 years. "What about you?" he asked them. "How did you two fall in love?"

Fortunately, when Calvin wound up, he didn't wind back down. He got them all the way through lunch with a very funny story about how he wooed and won Barbara, with his wife once again playing straight woman.

"You two ready to head back to town?" Barbara asked. "We head down to Key Largo tomorrow morning. My sister lives down there. With her new husband Stan." It was clear from her tone what Barbara thought of Stan. "We decided to catch our breath in Miami before we go down there. I'm so glad we did."

Kirk smiled. "Me, too."

Chris leaned into him and smiled at Barbara. A real smile, one he didn't see her wearing much around the ship anymore. "We'll miss you."

"Believe me, we'll miss you two." Calvin made a face that Kirk thought was not humanly possibly. "Her sister and Stan are a little cuckoo."

"It's true. They say all the nuts roll down to Florida."

Chris started to laugh; he could feel her shaking and started to laugh, too.

"You've never heard that one?" Barbara asked. "Oh, it's so true, I'm afraid."

"All right, let's get this show on the road." Calvin led them back to the car and they listened to the radio on the way back.

As Chris walked with Barbara into the hotel, Calvin slapped Kirk on the back. "You are a lucky man, my friend."

"You have a good thing going on yourself."

"We've settled in." Calvin sighed. "She's resigned herself to me."

"No, take it from me. She loves you. Why don't you surprise her? Take her on a honeymoon someday. Pull out all the stops. I bet she'll remember it forever."

"Is that how you landed she of the legs that go on forever?"

"No. But that's how I plan to keep her." He smiled at the thought. Hell, yes. He planned to keep her. Spock had someone. McCoy could have someone. Why the hell couldn't he have someone?

"Well, I'm going to go gas up the car so I don't have to do it in the morning. You and Christine have a great honeymoon."

"We will." He held out his hand to Calvin. "It's been a real pleasure."

"Same here, Jim. Same here."


XIV. Little Darlin'

"I like them. I'm sorry they're leaving," Chapel said as she opened the door to their room.

"I do, too." He smiled. "I like this era."

"Probably why our alien jailer"—she grinned at the term; did either of them really believe they were being held against their will at this point?—"sent you here."

"Sent us here. You're fitting in quite well, too."

"For now. I'd probably be a little too forward thinking for this place."

"I won't argue with that." He was smiling as he said it, probably because he was not so stealthily removing her clothes.

"And you are doing that because...?"

"We are going to have sex."

"We are?" She put her arms around him to make sure he didn't think she really minded. Kissed him for good measure. "And why are we going to do this?"

"Because you are an inventor as well as a scientist. So many facets to you."

She laughed. "I'd heard about airboats, too. I like being able to hear."

"Good thinking. I should have thought of it myself."

"You were too excited we were going to be on a vessel of some kind to think that far ahead."

He laughed. "This is true." He had all of her clothes off, stood looking at her pointedly.

"Oh, did you want me to do something?"

He nodded.

She grinned, slipped out of his arms, crawled onto the bed, making sure he had a very good view of her rear, then stopped and looked back at him. "Was this what you wanted me to do?"

She'd never actually seen clothes come off as fast as his did. He was on the bed, pulling her to him, up so her back was to his chest, kissing the back of her neck, making her groan as he reached around roughly, finding her, knowing exactly how to touch her to—her legs would have buckled if she hadn't been kneeling. She moaned and he murmured, "That's right, that's right," as she came.

The he eased her down, back to the position she'd been in to begin with, and slid into her.

"Harder, please. Harder."

He let go. Took her the way she wanted, and she could tell he liked it, too. They collapsed together in a heap as he murmured, "Are you all right?" and she nodded.

"I don't usually just pound."

"I know. I wanted you to, though."

"Never let it be said I don't aim to please." He eased off her and pulled her to him so he could kiss her. "And that I don't get a lot back when I do. That felt so good."

"It's primal. Something about it. Feeling your lips on my neck that way. Feeling you behind me. I know humans evolved in a way that meant we could face each other when we have sex, but sometimes it's nice to go back to basics."

"I agree." He smiled. "Does it make me old if I say I could fall asleep right now?"

"No, it just makes you a guy."

"I walked into that one."

"You did." She cuddled against him. "I'm sleepy, too. And I'm full from lunch. We could just stay in bed. Order something if we get hungry later?"

"I like how you think." He kissed her and then moved down to her chest, kissing and sucking. "I like how you taste, too." He kissed his way to behind her ear. "And how you smell."

"I'm not wearing perfume."

"I know." He stared down at her. "I was thinking...if you want to try when we get back to the ship?"

"When, not if?"

He shrugged. "If, then." He seemed suddenly nervous. "Never mind, it was—"

She pulled him down to her, kissed him as tenderly as she could. "It wasn't silly or whatever word you were going to pick. Ask me again. I won't interrupt."

"Do you want to try? When we get back to the ship?"

"Yes. I want that more than anything."

His smile was luminous. She wondered how she had ever not noticed this man.


XV. Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On

Kirk sat on the bed as Chris pulled out various clothing options. He wanted to take her to the bar he'd first gone to when he'd thought he might drown his sorrows. They'd been here a week and he was ready to show the bartender—if he was working tonight—what all the fuss was about. "Nothing too fancy. Maybe a little sleazier?"

She laughed and walked over to the dresser, pulling out the black net number she'd worn several times, over underwear and au naturel. "This slutty enough for you?"

"Too much." He gave an imperious "put it back" wave, and she threw it over his head. He arranged it so he could still see through it and said, "Carry on. Mission parameters: I want men drooling, but not thinking I'm paying for the evening."

She stopped and folded her arms over her chest. "That's insulting."

"It's what every guy wants, deep down in his heart of hearts. That and for you to mother me when I've got a cold. Now look, woman, there must be something."

She tapped her forefinger against her lip—an exaggerated gesture he was coming to know meant she was thinking up something good—and said, "Close your eyes and don't open them till I say. I have an idea."

He closed his eyes and contented himself with inhaling the happy smells of the negligee. There was much rustling and then the sound of clothes actually being put on—she was that sure of her idea? Then she said, "Okay, open your eyes."

He started to grin as he took her in. A white skirt, perfectly respectable, nipped at the waist—and she needed no damn corset to make that look work. A white, fairly deep V-neck pullover sweater. And peeking out just enough to make the V-neck not scandalous and yet oh-so-much-more naughty: her red polka dot bikini halter. She had a red and black scarf tied around her neck and black flat sandals on. "Perfect."

She started to put her hair up, and he said, "No, leave it."

"It's a mess."

It was, too. Wavy and mussed. From the beach. From sex. A beautiful, sensual look not an unkempt mess, and every man in the bar would know why it was that way. "I like it."

"You are very strange." She moved closer. "And what are you going to wear?"

"Black on black. I don't want to upstage you."

She laughed. "You'll look like one of those Neatniks."

"I think it's Beatnik."

"You know what I mean." She pulled him up, kissed him through the black netting. "Red lipstick or nude?"

"Red is too expected."

"I agree." It was her turn to watch as he got ready. She was generous with the wolf whistles as he modeled his look. "You really are one gorgeous hunk of man. Every woman in the place will be jealous of me."

"You say the nicest things. You ready?"

She shoved a few tissues in his pocket and handed him her identification. "I don't want to lug that bag around with me."

He put her card next to his in his wallet and they set out. It was a short walk to the bar and his bartender was indeed on duty. He smiled and nodded in approval when he saw Chris, but said, "What'll it be?" as if he'd never seen Kirk before. Probably an appreciated precaution by some men.

They slid onto stools at the bar. Kirk noticed a good number of men sizing up Chris. "Mojitos." He nuzzled her neck, whispered, "You have a fan club."

She turned, whispered back, "How besotted with you do I have to be?"

He laughed. "Lady's choice."

"That's what I love about you." The word hung for a moment, and then they both just smiled. She leaned in and kissed him very slowly and very thoroughly.

Kirk could have sworn he heard a collective sigh go up from the bar—and not just from the men. "You're winning fans all over the place."

"I think the girly sighs were for you."

He grinned. "If you say so." He turned to the bartender, who was setting down their drinks. "We patched things up."

"So I see. Can't say as I blame you. Nice to meet you, doll."

"Likewise I'm sure."

Kirk shot her a glance: someone had snuck out to one too many matinees when he'd been lifting weights.

She took a sip of the drink. "Mmm. Good."

"I told you." He checked out the rest of the bar—the last time he'd been in here, he'd only paid attention to finding a stool and getting something alcoholic in him. There was a pool table in the corner, currently being used. And a dart board in the other corner, free.

Chris saw him eyeing it. She smiled and said, "I could wipe the floor with you."

"Oh, I don't think so. I was my dorm floor's champ at the Academy."

She shrugged. "Well, if you're afraid to take me on...?"

He picked up his drink and walked over the board. She was right on his heels.

"Your choice of game?" he asked

"Something easy to start. 301?"

"Fine by me." He went to the board, pulled the darts out and held out the six for her to choose her three. "Double in, double out?"

"But of course." She picked the three blue darts, leaving the red for him. "Bulls-eye for start. You throw first."

"You sure?"

She nodded.

He threw. Single bulls-eye. He smiled and nodded to her. "If you want to take a practice throw or anything?"

"No need." She didn't appear to even look. The dart landed in the double bulls-eye.

"Yikes." He glanced at her. "Wipe the floor, huh?"

"And do a dance over you afterwards." She walked over, pulled their darts out and handed him his, then stood behind the line and threw. Double twenty, triple twenty, triple twenty.

One hundred and forty. He was in deep shit. "Very nice."

"Thanks."

He threw his first dart, aiming for the double twenty, hit the single. Damn it. He glanced at her—she was giving Spock a run for his money in stone face. He threw again, got the double this time. Then for the triple, got it. One hundred.

"One sixty one to hit." She smiled. Threw, hit the triple seventeen for fifty-one. Then the triple twenty. That left fifty. She smiled at him, turned and threw the same way she'd done it the first time. Boom—right into the double bulls-eye for fifty. 301 in two turns.

"Best two out of three?" he asked.

"Okay." She seemed to be studying him.

"I'm proud of you, not nursing wounded pride."

"Good." She seemed to relax.

"How'd you get to be such a master?"

Her eyes lost some of their luster when she looked at the board and then back at him. "Remember how I told you my dad paid to have me stay at school over the holidays?"

He nodded.

"Most of the kids left. There wasn't much to do when I got bored with studying. But there was darts. I'm good at the pool table, too. Shuffleboard. Not so much with table tennis. Need a partner for that." She smiled tentatively.

"Table tennis is very much overrated."

"Really?"

He nodded. "Boring. Really boring." He pulled her to him, kissed her tenderly. "So many other more interesting partner activities."

She smiled into his kiss, murmured, "You always know just what to say," when he pulled away.

"Just making it up as I go along."

"Well, you're going great." She touched his cheek. "Now, would you like a fighting chance? We can make it 501, single in and double out?"

"Yes, please?"

She laughed and walked over to a chalkboard he hadn't even noticed—he was used to electronic scorekeepers. "We might even need to keep score for this one." She shot him a very patronizing smile.

When she walked back with her darts, he murmured, "You can count on getting spanked tonight."

"Promises, promises."


XVI. Baby Let's Play House

Nicely buzzed after their mojitos and darts, but not drunk, Chapel walked with Jim along Collins Avenue, checking out the shops that were still open as he tried to pick a place for them to eat.

"Would you look at that?" He was grinning like a fool. "I didn't even notice that the first time I was here."

"Whoa, it's bright." And it was. A bright, gleaming silver, white and red square lighting up the night. "What is it?"

"I believe that's what they called a malt shop."

"I believe those are what they still call teenagers in there."

"We can go in there."

"Jim. Really? They'll think we're some kind of perverts crashing their hangout."

He laughed and pointed to a couple just heading in. "They don't look like teenagers. Come on, Chris, please? I want to share a milkshake." His grin was beguiling and she knew he was fully aware of his powers of persuasion.

"I like vanilla. Gotta warn you."

"That's fine." He took her hand, dashed with her across the street even though there weren't any cars coming—man would seek thrills even when there were no thrills present—and opened the door.

Loud music was going, happy music, and Chapel realized she and Jim matched the malt shop décor really well. They grabbed a booth and sat on the same side. She noticed he picked a booth no one could sneak up on them in. Old habits died hard.

She wished she had her scanner—he looked so happy. So tanned and fit, with none of the tightness in his face, the puffiness under his eyes from no sleep. She'd love to see what his readings were like now.

He turned to her and smiled and said, "I'm going to have something really bad for me," as if it was the greatest thing ever. Then he leaned in and kissed her and said, "I'm crazy about you."

Before she could answer, he reached across her to grab a menu out of the holder, holding it so they both could look at it.

"Cheeseburger, I think. Mmmmm. I wonder if they'll put bacon on that? They have BLTs."

"Careful, you might start a trend before its time."

He laughed. Then he looked over at her. "Not crazy about me? No?' He grinned and went back to his menu.

"You didn't give me much time to answer back."

"By design. Keep it from being rote."

She rolled her eyes. "I love you, too, honey." She said it in a singsong voice, devoid of any real feeling.

"Exactly. I hate that."

"Me, too." She studied the menu. "I'm having egg salad. Or is that going to leave me with really icky breath?"

He shot her a look that was clearly a veto on the egg salad.

"Oh, fine, cheeseburger it is." She turned to him, touched his cheek gently. "And a big basket of fries."

"Yes, definitely fries. Okay, important question. Ketchup on the fries or on your plate so you can dip the fries into it?"

"Please. Who wants soggy fries? Ketchup goes on the plate. I don't want you dictating my ketchup-to-fry ratio."

"Correct answer." He smiled.

She leaned in, put her head on his shoulder. "I'm afraid I'm not crazy about you."

He tensed, clearly waiting.

"I'm afraid I'm falling in love with you."

"I'm not opposed to that."

"No?"

"Not at all. Since you gave the right ketchup answer, but if you hadn't, then we'd have had a problem, lady."

She laughed and snuggled in, felt his arm come around her. The waitress came and he ordered for them. In typical Kirk fashion, he did ask for bacon on his burger. Fortunately, this did not seem to raise any eyebrows, so she murmured, "Me, too," and he ordered some for her burger, too.

They watched as the soda jerk—could that be right? It's what the menu had said. The soda jerk will be happy to consider special requests. Wow, what a job title. They watched as he made their milkshake, one huge glass, two straws, then the waitress brought it over.

She laughed as they drank it the way the kids in the front of the shop were doing. "Big goofball," she muttered to him, and he fluttered his lashes and just kept drinking, his hand on her thigh, not indecently, but damn possessively.

Which she had to admit she liked.

The burgers came and the fries and she passed him the ketchup, which as she'd suspected from watching the other patrons in the restaurant struggling with the things, did not want to come out. He slapped the bottom heartily.

"You realize you're just shocking it back up into the base, right?"

He looked at her with an expression that clearly said, "You can do better?"

"There are two ways that work really well. One is to stick a knife up the damn thing and get the ketchup started."

He gave her a scandalized look. "But that's cheating."

"Which is why I didn't try it: I knew you'd think that. Gimme." She curled the thumb and forefinger of her left hand around the neck of the bottle, held the base with her right hand, and hit the bottle against the ring she'd made of her finger and thumb. After a few good knocks, ketchup began to flow. "The force is all going forward this way."

He was laughing so hard the booth was shaking. "Do you know how obscene that looks? The other diners are watching you."

"I don't care. It works." She stuck her tongue out at him. "I don't see any ketchup on your plate."

He was still laughing as he pushed his plate toward her. "Do it again. I want a replay."

She handed him the bottle. "You do it."

"I'm not doing that. Not in this era. They're not as open as ours." He held out the bottle. "Please, snookums?"

"Oh, my God, you're pathetic." She gave the bottle a few good knocks into the ring of her finger and thumb, and ketchup flowed nicely. "Be a scientist and end up titillating the masses. Just what a girl wants." She deliberately ruined her rant by glancing at him and batting her eyelashes, which just made him laugh harder.

They ate fries, making happy, "Num num" sounds like two little kids. The burgers were greasy and delicious. They fought each other for the milkshake, laughing as they hit parts still too thick to easily go down their straws.

When the food was gone and the milkshake defeated, they sat back in their booth, watching as some of the teens started to dance to songs on what appeared to be called a jukebox.

"Why juke?" she asked.

He smiled. "From the latin: juchere. To jerk or jolt."

"That is not right."

"It was created by Harmonious B. Flat Juke?"

She laughed. "If I had my padd, I could look it up in seconds."

"If you had your padd, we would not be sitting watching a bunch of hormonally challenged kids try not to go nuts in front of the jukebox. We would be on the ship, where music is not quite so colorful—or haphazard. Look, that girl clearly did not get the song she selected."

"Life is like that sometimes."

He nuzzled her neck. "And other times you find yourself with a windfall you never knew you needed or wanted, but now can't imagine living without."

"Really?"

He nodded. "It's crazy, isn't it? It's only been a week."

"A week and how many years? It's not as if we just met." She smiled. "You're the only captain I've ever had."

His expression changed. "There was Decker."

Was he jealous? "He was my captain for how long?"

"But he chose you. Why?"

He was jealous. And he still might think... "We weren't lovers."

"Okay, you said that. But he chose you. He had to have a reason. CMO is someone a captain trusts implicitly. The person who will and must relieve him if the time comes. I wasn't aware you even knew Decker until the announcement was made."

She leaned into his arm, partly because she wanted to see if he would hold her during a conversation like this and partly because she just wanted to be closer to him. He tightened his arm around her.

"I looked him up after his father died. I knew what it was like to lose someone in space. And to have an absent father—I took a chance that maybe he had some of those feelings I did, and I was right. He came to lean on me a bit over the years. Emotionally. Occasionally for professional questions. But mainly I was a like a big sister to him. And to be honest, it was nice to have family. He was the brother I was never allowed to have—my dad had kids with his new wife. I wasn't ever around them much. I'll never understand how my dad could do that to his own flesh and blood."

"I'm sorry." Jim tightened his hold. "I guess I'm a little jealous of Decker."

"I know. But you don't have to be."

"I took away your family."

She turned so she could meet his eyes. "No. V'ger took away my family. You didn't cause V'ger. I don't blame you for what happened to Will. And Will had a hand in that—he wanted Ilia so much. I certainly can't blame him for pining over an alien all these years. And his alien actually loved him back."

He frowned. "Are you still in love with Spock?"

"Was I ever in love with Spock?"

He started to say something and she stopped him. "No, I mean realistically, Jim? Sure, I was infatuated. I was even, maybe, obsessed. But in love? Don't you have to know someone to be in love with them? Don't you have to have spent time and laughed and kissed and seen them at their worst?"

He nodded.

"I was chasing after my father, all over again. A cold, smart man who would never, ever love me. And I'd never know why. And I'd always blame myself, try to get better, smarter, earn more degrees. Be more what he wanted." She shook her head. "The M. D. was for me, by the way. But I may have added a few extra courses in physics in case I ever ran across Spock again."

"Overachiever to the end."

"I was. But I can finally relax. Because I don't feel as if I have to change myself for you." Then she laughed. "Just my clothes to match your whim of the day."

"You don't. I like you the way you are." He smiled. "Although for tomorrow: naughty librarian."

"There is nothing in the closet that will work for that."

"Damn it. We're breaking up, then."

She smiled. Then she reached for the ketchup bottle, made the ring out of her finger and thumb.

"Oh, all right, we're back together."


XVII. Sea Cruise

Kirk stood at the bar on the small dinner cruise ship, getting martinis while Chris stood at the rail, looking amazing in the black halter dress, the skirt billowing softly in the night breeze. He thanked the bartender, walked over to her. The drinks were included—the cruise was a bit of a splurge but this was their last night in Miami by his count, so he wasn't worried about making their money last.

There was a toot from the ship, then they started to pull away from the pier. He put his arm around Chris, sipped the very good martini, and watched as the shoreline slipped by until the ship turned, heading out to sea so the casino could open up.

"We're going to have to come back here in our time," he said.

She turned, leaning back against the railing, doing amazing things to her chest. "I'd like that. I've never been here. Almost came with Roger once but then he decided to go to a conference in Minneapolis instead—in February."

"I hope the food was good." He smiled at her. "Was he good to you?"

She had to think about that longer than he expected. "In the past, I would have said yes without hesitation. I had only my father and some casual boyfriends to compare him to. He was solicitous. He was affectionate—to a certain extent. But he was also controlling." She sipped her drink, thought some more. "Being with you...it's opened my eyes."

"That's a very nice thing to say."

"I don't mean it to be." She laughed. "That came out wrong. I mean, I'm glad it's a nice thing to say, but it really is just the truth. Because unlike with Roger, this feels so good. So..."

"Easy."

"Yeah. Easy." She leaned in, and he met her halfway, kissing her gently. "Like that. You just knew to close the distance."

"Maybe I'm overeager?"

"I don't think so. I think you're good at this. And I don't mean lothario good. I mean very good at being romantic. A keeper, not a one nighter."

"I'm also a brooding, moody son of a bitch when I'm not happy. Nothing romantic about that."

"I know. None of us are just one thing." She played with his hair—her own was up in a French twist that she'd worked quite a while on to make look effortless. "None of us are perfect. But I like how we are together."

"I do, too."

She held up her drink. "To aliens. Who may or may not torture us later."

He clinked his glass gently against hers. "To she who may never come get us."

"Well, if she doesn't, when I was bored alone at school, I memorized a lot of sports trivia. We could get rich betting longshots."

He laughed. "And buying up stock. Guess I should not shoot our whole wad before our two weeks are up?"

"Guess not. But, for what it's worth, I think she's coming back."

"Me, too. I don't know why she'd pop in just to give us a vacation, but I do think that's what she did."

They finished their drinks, gave them to a passing server, and wandered the boat, coming upon a dance floor near the bow of the ship. The band was playing something soft and slow, so he held out his hand, "My lady?"

She went into his arms with a smile, like they'd been doing it for years, not a couple of weeks. They fit together perfectly, and he nuzzled her neck, heard her moan softly, her hand tightening on his. They danced until the steward rang the bell for dinner, where they followed the rest into the grand salon, found a table with other couples, enjoyed talking about safe things: how beautiful Miami was, how nice it was to not be cold, where they'd been to eat or sightsee.

They skipped the casino, found a place to cuddle together in the front and watch Miami come back into view, the city lit up like a jewel in front of them. He noticed she was shivering, and he took his jacket off, laid it around her shoulders.

"I love you," she whispered, not looking at him, as if that would make it easier if he didn't say it back.

He turned her so she had to look at him. "I love you, too."

Her smile was beautiful, so beautiful he had to kiss her. Over and over, and they got lost in the kissing until the ship's horn brought them back to where they were.

"When we get back to the hotel, let's go swimming," she said. "I want to remember that, too."

He nodded. "Whatever you want."


XVIII. Sea of Love

Chapel pulled on the red polka-dotted bikini Jim loved and threw a bathrobe on over it. Jim was waiting in his robe and swim trunks, smiling, hand held out. They walked slowly through the lobby, dropping their key off with the front desk, then slipped their shoes off once they got to the beach, and took their time heading to the water over the cooling sand.

They slipped their robes off and walked into the warm water, swimming easily out, farther out than they usually went.

"Race?"

She laughed. She didn't think she'd wipe the floor with him the way she had in darts. But it would probably be close. "Okey dokey."

"Ready. Set. Go."

They set off, both needing a moment to find their rhythm, but then they were racing in earnest. They both breathed toward the other, so she had a clear view of him and knew he could tell how closely she was trailing him. He hit the shallows about two strokes ahead of her and she laughed and grabbed his leg, pulling him out with her to deeper water.

He didn't fight her, floated easily, until they hit a place where she could stand and then he shook free, stood and pulled her to him. He kissed her and they floated in the water, staring up at the stars—the stars that tomorrow they would be back in. She felt a shiver—what if he decided he didn't want her once they were back there?

"You okay?"

"Just borrowing trouble."

"Don't." He paddled closer to shore, and they sat in the surf, letting the water lap onto them, lying back finally as he pointed out the constellations.

Then he was quiet for a long time, and he reached over and took her hand. "It's so easy being here with you. Part of me wants to stay here."

"I know. Me, too."

"I need to talk to Spock when we get back. Bones, too. I've shut him out, as well, just not to the same extent. I guess...I guess I felt betrayed."

She squeezed his hand but didn't say anything.

He looked over at her. "Have you talked to Uhura about how you feel?"

She smiled, knew it was a sensual smile but couldn't hold it back. "Suddenly, talking about Spock doesn't seem very important."

He grinned at her, then started to laugh softly. "They are going to be so confused if no time really has passed for them. And we come back...like this. So together."

"Will be fun to watch." She rolled over, kissed him. "If we're not going to make love out here, can we take this inside?"

"If I weren't afraid we'd get arrested, I'd make love to you right here. But since I don't relish spending our last night here in jail, let's go inside."

"Officer thinking, sir." She kissed him one last time, then got to her feet, pulling him up with her. They grabbed their robes, retrieved their keys from the front desk, and hurried up to the room, where they put their privacy to very, very good use.


XIX. Book of Love

Kirk sighed happily as Chris snuggled naked against him under the covers. They'd made love almost frantically, as if in unspoken agreement that in case the alien did turn out to be evil, the last thing they'd have done was this, touching, being together.

He kissed her and she moaned happily, her mouth opening under his.

"Did you enjoy your vacation?" The dulcet tones, the smell of roses and vanilla.

He and Chris pulled apart. The bosomy alien sat at the foot of their bed.

When Kirk tried to pull up the sheets, she laughed, "Oh, honey, you've got nothing I haven't seen before, trust me." She sort of reclined over the little bit of bed she was on, managing to look languid and sexy instead of ridiculous. "You two appear to have enjoyed your vacation and then some. I knew you could relax if you put your mind—and other parts—to it."

"What now?" Kirk asked. "You torture us? Now that you've gotten us close?"

She laughed and shook her head. "Why would I want to torture you? Mess up this nice room. The maids here work really hard for very little money." She stood up. "So, you two ready to go home?"

"That's it? We go home?"

"You have to be the most suspicious human ever, James. Oh my goodness." She smiled. "But I forgive you. It was traits just like that one that make me love you so."

"You love me?"

"Well not love-love. More love-appreciate."

He tried once again to place her and failed. "Who are you?"

"Oh, come on. I signed my note."

"With an 'A.' For alien?"

"For Aphrodite, you numbskull. Why would an alien send you to Miami?"

"Why would a Greek goddess send us here?" Chris asked.

"Because your boy here got the annoyance formerly known as Apollo to spread himself on the wind and get out of my and my friend's hair. Do you know how long we tried to do that? Centuries. James here knows him for a few hours and pffff, Apollo's flying for the ether."

Kirk narrowed his eyes. "You weren't a fan of Apollo? Weren't you related?"

"In myth. yes. In reality, no. He was just one of us, landed on Earth, extra special powers. Sure, at first, it was fun to be worshipped, but the rest of us got over that. We came to see we should be using our powers for good, not to terrify the populace into worshiping us. Apollo didn't see it that way."

"I remember. He seemed pretty tied to the 'worship me' gig."

"That was his thing. And you weren't seeing him at his worst, believe me." She shook her head. "We even pretended to spread ourselves on the wind. Thought he would, too. No way he could live alone, we believed. We were wrong. Even once he left Earth, we thought he'd have to do it then. Nope. He waited and waited and waited. And then your ship showed up and we thought: oh, now it's done. Readymade worshippers with pretty human women, which were always his weakness. But nobody counted on you, Captain James 'T. is for Take That' Kirk. You did us a favor and I, for one, pay my debts."

She met Chris's eyes. "And love hasn't been so kind to you in the past, has it, sweetheart? I wasn't lying that you were the one James was most comfortable with, but it pleases me that finally love has treated you right."

"More than right."

"Good attitude. You keep that up once you get back on the ship. This was a gift, and you remember that." She smiled at them and suddenly they were back in their uniforms, standing in the middle of the room. "I'm very proud of you both."

Mist formed and then they were back in sickbay, McCoy was staring at them. "Why are you both over there? And were you that tan a moment ago?"

"No. And I'll explain it all later." Kirk smiled at Chris. "I have a ship to get to know again. Care to mosey up to the bridge, Doctor Chapel? I'm sure Bones can provide you with a handy excuse."

"He usually just heads out with a mumbled 'I'll be back.'"

"Well, that works, too." Kirk grinned. "But before I go, Bones. Scan me."

"You want me to scan you?"

Kirk nodded, and Bones ran the scanner over him, frowning at the readings. "What in blue blazes...?"

Chris peeked over his shoulder. "A perfect physical specimen." Her voice was very husky. "Captain, you wanted me on the bridge."

Oh, how he wanted her on the bridge. Vixen. He waved her on and they left Bones standing open mouthed in sickbay.

"You will explain to him?" she asked.

"I will. Eventually." He stared at her for a moment, grinning like a damned fool, then led her out of sickbay.

Spock was charging down the corridor.

"Or maybe sooner than eventually," Chris murmured.

"Captain. Doctor. I suggest you stop there."

"I can explain."

"His readings are substantially different than a few seconds ago, Spock." Bones was behind them, was standing with his arms crossed. "He and Christine seem positively...giddy."

"Since when is giddy bad?" She looked at Kirk. "Is giddy bad?"

"Giddy is not bad." He smiled tenderly, hoping to irritate Spock just a teensy tiny bit. How could his friend not have wanted her even a little?

Then he turned to Spock. "We ran into one of Apollo's...fellow beings. She was grateful for us ridding the cosmos of Apollo. She held me personally responsible so as reward, she gave me a nice two-week vacation out of time. With Chris. In Miami in the 1950s. You didn't even know we were gone."

"That is a highly unlikely story."

"Scan for fluorocarbons, nicotine, and other 20th century pollutants in our bloodstream. Also check our cholesterol level." Chris told Bones, then grinned at Jim.

Bones scanned them and frowned. "They're elevated enough for a two-week stay."

Spock did not look convinced.

"Would you like to meld with me Spock?" Kirk let his voice dip out of the neutral range he'd been using with Spock more often than not since he'd come back. He let some emotion back in—the emotion he really felt. Anger, hurt, fear that it would happen again. "I can give you all the truth you want. About where I was. About other things, too. Or you can believe me and we can work the other stuff out in a more logically sane manner. Up to you."

Spock's face was stone.

"I'd suggest waiting," Chris said, and her voice was dead, the voice of a little girl finally telling her father to go to hell.

Spock turned to her, a quick move, much quicker than she expected, and she took a step back. Kirk reached out to steady her.

"This is not your affair," Spock said.

"This is very much her affair, old friend. Hey, here's an idea. Maybe you and Nyota and Chris and I can double date?"

Spock looked very confused.

Bones moved forward, as if he was going to step between them all. "Spock, I hate to tell you this, but I'm pretty sure that's Jim."

Chris shot him a glare.

"And Christine."

"We should talk," Spock said, his voice carefully modulated, Kirk thought. "We have much to discuss."

"We should talk, and we will talk, Spock. But Chris and I have some things to do first." He touched Spock's arm gently. Trying to show him there were no hard feelings.

Or maybe wouldn't be, someday in the near future.


XX. All the Way

Chapel stood against the wall of the lift, watching Jim tap his finger against the turbolift wall. "You okay?"

He nodded, didn't stop tapping. "Should that have felt good? Because it didn't."

"Well, it probably should have a little, but you're not really petty and—"

He whirled on her. "You think that was petty?"

"No. Not exactly. You just kind of unloaded a lot at once." She made a sheepish face, not wanting him to unload on her, too.

He surprised her by starting to laugh. "I really did, didn't I? Man. Moderation is not my forte right now." He sighed. "He just made me mad. Dismissing you that way."

"I'm a big girl. I can stand up for myself. Although I loved that you were willing to." She sighed. "Stop lift."

The lift jerked to a halt. "These refits," he said with a wry grin.

"I know." She touched his cheek. "I'm glad you told him. It's just...you were pretty angry when you told him."

"Yeah, I know."

"You have to let the anger go. He left. But he's back. And while I know he will never love me, I am equally certain, he does love you, Jim. You two just need to talk things out. He needs to understand he hurt you, and that you don't trust him. I imagine he's just confused at this point." She started to smile. "But the part of me that isn't very noble loves that you stood up for me, loves that you laid claim to me."

"Yeah?" He waggled his eyebrows.

"Oh, yeah."

He gave her a long, sweet kiss, and then told the lift to resume.

"You realize," she said, "that I have nothing to do on the bridge."

"Just stay for a bit. I want you around."

"Okay."

But when they got up there, Jim fell into what she supposed was his normal rhythm and she wondered just what it was Len found to do up here. There wasn't even a spare chair. Spock came in and said, "Excuse me, Doctor," with a new tone in his voice, one she couldn't read—although part of it probably said, "One doctor loitering up here was bad enough."

She turned and left, went back to sickbay and found Len waiting for her, standing casually in his office doorway, as if that was normal.

"Christine, got a moment for a quick consult?"

She wanted to say no more than anything.

"You do have a moment, just so we're clear, darlin'." He turned and walked into his office.

She followed him in, but didn't sit down.

"Take a load off."

"I'm fine."

"Not planning to dress you down. Does that change your mind?" He got out a bottle of bourbon, poured two glasses.

She sat, took the glass he had poured.

He raised his glass. "I have several toasts. First, to you finally letting go of that green-blooded lug."

"He's with Uhura."

"I know that. The second fact does not necessarily lead to the first, so bully for you."

They clinked glasses and then sipped.

"Second, to Jim Kirk, who has needed someone to love him for a long time—you do love him, right?"

She nodded.

"Well, hallelujah." They clinked and drank again.

"And third, to not just him but you finally getting some damn rest. I've been worried about you but wasn't sure how to bring it up. Every time I tried you slipped away, clever girl that you are." He held up his glass, she touched it and they drank.

"Can I make one, Len?"

"Sure."

"To friends who care, no matter how gruff and cantankerous they may pretend to be."

"Now who the hell could you be talking about?" But he clinked and drank, and then their glasses were empty. He put the bottle back in the cabinet and said, "Okay, then. We have work to do. Crew physicals begin tomorrow so there is all that annoying prep."

She smiled and got up, did indeed lose herself in work. Looked for a message from Jim but didn't see one. They didn't need to always be together—this wasn't vacation anymore. She made her way to her quarters, saw a comm from him that he was going to be on a conference call with Command through dinner, and grabbed something in the mess. He hadn't mentioned after, so she went to bed and figured she'd see him the next day.

She tossed and turned, found the mattress in her quarters—even though it was more ergonomic than the one at the hotel—to be uncomfortable. Missed Jim's arms. The sound of his snoring.

Her internal comm unit rang. She hit it, "Yes?"

"I can't sleep." Jim's voice. Sultry.

"Me, either."

"I think I know the problem. You're in your room and I'm in mine. This will not do. I have a bigger room, but if you want, I'll come to you."

"Yours is much nicer. I'll be by in a second."

"If you want to bring anything over, you know to leave in the drawer I may have just cleaned out for you, that'd be fine."

"You're giving me a drawer. Awww, you're so sweet."

"Remember that when the clothes come off, toots." Laughing he said, "I'll see you soon," and cut the connection.

She grabbed some things, but just a few—she didn't want to look like she was moving in—and shoved them in a small bag, then headed off for Jim's quarters. She was rounding the corner when she saw Ny coming down the hall from her quarters, heading right to Spock's.

"Oh, Christine, wow, this isn't a good time, I'm—"

Chapel stopped at Kirk's door. She gave her friend a real smile—probably the first Ny had seen from her in a while. "It's okay, Ny. I'm not here to see you. Go have fun with Spock. We'll catch up later." She rang Kirk's chime.

"Come in here, you," he said as he pulled her in, and she just had time to see Ny's eyes widen before the door closed.

She let her bag slide to the floor, practically fell into his arms, feeling a great sense of relief as he kissed her, the same way as in Miami, the same feelings flooding her.

This thing between them hadn't gone way. This hadn't been something that just happened there.

He eased away, grinned and said, "I missed you." Then picked up her bag and grabbed her hand, leading her into the personal section of his quarters.

He pulled out a drawer—a middle one. She could imagine the thought process that went into that. Top drawer, he was giving up too much, bottom drawer, too little.

"This is pretty early to be making room for me in here."

"It is. Sooner than I'd do it back on Earth, to be honest. But I think I need to send a message. To me. To you. And to the ship. That she'll be sharing me from now on."

She put the bag in the drawer and closed the drawer—now was not the time to worry about unpacking and staking claim. "How's she taking it?"

"So far so good. Although if she self-destructs while we're sleeping, then we'll know I was wrong on that assessment." He pulled her to him. "Now, come here, you."

She could tell he was in the mood to be possessive, to show the ship and her—but probably most importantly himself—that he could have this, so she melted into his arms, let him do what he wanted.

Fortunately, with this man, whatever he wanted translated into much pleasure for her. As she came down from another climax, he moved on top of her, said gently, "I need to let go. Really let go."

"I'll tell you if it's too much."

He kissed her, deeply, lovingly. And then he started to move. Slowly at first but building, until he was slamming into her saying, "Mine, mine, mine."

It suddenly occurred to her that maybe there was something in his childhood that made possession so very, very important to him. That thought was fleeting, though, as he continued to move and her body responded to him. She came just before he did and they lay collapsed together in a heap, both trembling and sweaty, until he rolled off and pulled her with him.

"Did I hurt you?"

"No." She kissed him softly. "I would have told you."

"Promise me you will."

"Have I given you any indication I don't speak my mind? If you hurt me, I'll speak up." She ran her fingers through his hair. "I am yours. You don't have to doubt it."

His face grew somber. "Love has a way of not sticking around."

"For me, either. But maybe we should stop looking so far ahead. Maybe we should just enjoy the now and let the future take care of itself?"

He smiled. "You are a wise woman, Christine Chapel."

"Every now and then I am." She snuggled in, felt sleep coming for her now that she was safe and warm and in Jim's arms. "I wasn't lying. I really couldn't sleep."

"I didn't try. Was in meetings till I called you. But I'm pretty sure I'd have tossed and turned without you here. It only takes seven days to make something into a habit and we had twice that."

"That's all I am to you?" she asked with a grin. "A habit?"

"Poor choice of words." He pretended to not be able to keep his eyes open. "Sorry, Command, you're breaking up...sleep imminent...cannot continue conversation."

She laughed and settled in closer. "Good night, Jim."

"Night, Chris." He was asleep very quickly; she could tell by the way his breathing changed. "I love you."

She stayed awake for a moment, making a silent pledge to his other girl to share nicely if she would. The ship continued purring so she took that as a good sign.

Closing her eyes, she drifted off. Her dreams were sweet ones.


XXI. A Wonderful Time Up There

Kirk could tell Spock was watching him from his place at the science station. He let him watch for a bit, then got up and walked over. "Report?"

"Everything is clear, sir."

Kirk nodded, then settled in next to Spock, the way he would have before Spock abandoned him, leaning against the terminal. Two friends shooting the shit. "I was thinking we could talk, after shift?"

"Are you sure you will not be busy with Christine?" Spock actually managed to sound like a thirteen-year-old girl.

"Later, I will. But she and I aren't joined at the hip. We're both secure enough not to need that." Joined at other places, though. Ooh la la. Sex on his ship with a regular partner who he cared deeply about was better than he'd ever imagined. A week into this and the thrill was far from gone—in fact, things seemed to be getting better each day. "So you in or not?"

Spock nodded and seemed to be studying Kirk.

"Something on your mind that can't wait till later?"

"You have changed."

"We've all changed, Spock. I've just quit trying to pretend I haven't." He touched Spock gently on the arm, trying to give him a little of the old Kirk back. "I'm not breaking up with you, don't worry." He winked and walked back to his big, beautiful command chair.

He realized Uhura was watching him and he winked at her, too. She gave him a confused smile and turned back to her console, managing not to look at Spock as she did so.

Once shift was over and he briefed his replacement, he nodded to Spock, who had waited for him, and they took the lift to the observation lounge, which had a corner free. Kirk sat, waited for Spock to do so, too.

"Okay, so, I probably need to just say this. When you left, when you ran off to Gol to purge your emotions, I felt like I was one of those emotions. Hell, I felt like I made up a good share of your emotions. So I felt as if you were purging me. And it hurt, Spock. It hurt because you abandoned me."

"But I came back."

"Not for me. You came back for V'ger. Things just worked out in our favor. But they might not have. You might have found your bliss with that machine. And then what?"

Spock's composure dropped, the Vulcan reserve falling off as he seemed to realize what Kirk was saying. "You do not trust me."

"I don't, Spock. Not with me. With my ship, yes. With my crew, yes. With my friendship, with my heart...not so sure."

Spock let out a long breath, nodded as if he finally understood something. "That explains your distance."

"What? You thought you could leave us all behind and not have any consequences? That we'd just welcome you back?"

"Nyota did. Leonard. I believe Christine would have, had I wanted it."

Kirk felt his jaw tighten. He knew a low blow when he felt one hit. But he chose not to react. Primarily because Spock was right: Christine would have, but her reasons would have been far more complicated than just that she desired Spock. And Kirk knew that Spock had no idea of those reasons.

Unless he'd learned of them when they shared consciousness? But he'd surely be throwing that in Kirk's face now, too, wouldn't he?

"They weren't your best friend, Spock. They didn't go through everything we did. They didn't..." He took a deep breath. "You don't get to hurt me that way and walk right back in."

"So I am to assume we are no longer friends?" Spock's eyes shone with something that looked very much like pain.

"No, damn it. You just...have to be patient with me. I don't trust you now, but maybe I will again. Neither of us are the same person we were when we left the ship. I guess we start over. It's probably a good thing that we are seeing women who are best friends. They can help cement our friendship."

Spock frowned, an actual frown, not a Vulcan version of one. "In sickbay, after V'ger. You were happy I was back. When I clasped your hand, when I did not die from the meld."

"Of course I was happy, you idiot. You're my best friend."

"This is most illogical."

"Well, if you don't like it, run back to Gol."

Spock wasn't the only one who could go for the low blow. Kirk could see that his words had found their mark by the way Spock's expression changed. He wished he felt a little bit worse about it.


XXII. I Only Have Eyes for You

Chapel sat across from Ny in the rec lounge. They were waiting for Jim and Spock to join them. Waiting a bit uncomfortably.

"So," Ny finally said, "your boy and my boy are having some issues."

"I know." She studied her friend. "Are we?"

"You tell me."

"It was hard at first, seeing you with him. But I've made peace with it. And I think it would be good for them if we can do more. If we can embrace this. Jim's hurt by what Spock did to him."

"Spock's bewildered by the captain's hurt."

"That's Spock's problem. You surely can imagine how it felt to have his best friend run off, to want to leave his emotions behind. What if he'd done it when you'd been with him? Wouldn't you have personalized it?"

"Spock had his reasons."

"Well, he's not very good at articulating them."

"To you? I wasn't aware he needed to."

"Ny, please. Not to me. To Jim." She sat back with a sound that was half sigh, half groan. "Now they're infecting us."

"Spock choosing me infected us, Christine. We haven't been right since."

"We're fine now. I have Jim. You have Spock. We can make them stronger. If we can just put our own issues behind us."

Uhura looked down. "What if I don't want them stronger? What if I like having Spock all to myself?" She met Christine's eyes. "I'm not saying I like this side of myself. I'm just saying what if?"

"I'd say you're new in love. It's natural to want as much of the person you love as you can get. But if you keep him from his friend now, you'll have a problem later. And it's not who you are."

"Because you're an expert on relationships?" Ny's tone was just this side of mean.

Chapel leaned in. "Has it occurred to you, that while I've let go of my anger and hurt over you and Spock, you have not let go of feeling guilty. You're happy with him Ny. Just be happy with him. Forget about me. Forget about Jim and the legendary friendship coming between you and Spock. It won't. Not if Spock loves you."

Ny took a deep breath. "I do feel guilty. I'd feel the same way if Janice were still here, and I was with the captain."

"You can call him Jim."

"I'll call him Jim when he says to call him that."

Chapel saw the hurt in her friend's eyes, resolved to tell Jim to get on that sooner rather than later.

Ny touched Chapel on the arm. "Okay, moving on. Me with Spock, you with...him." She smiled. "And speak of the devil."

The two men were walking into the lounge. Jim made a small hand gesture which she knew meant "Do you need a refill?" and she shook her head.

"You already have a secret language. I know it's been longer for the two of you than just a week, but it's really strange for the rest of us."

"I know." She smiled at Spock as he came up, made it a friendly smile, nothing left of the infatuated nurse or doctor.

Jim came over a moment later, sat down next to her and put his arm around her. He wasn't hiding this, but he also was being careful—didn't want to do anything to make things uncomfortable for his crew. Affection without passion—they saved that for his quarters, which was fine with her.

The four of them sat in a silence that rapidly grew uncomfortable. Ny finally said, "Any interesting planets for us to visit, sir?"

Chapel dug her fist into Jim's thigh then let up, and he managed to not show any sign on his face that he was in pain. He looked down for a moment—Chapel knew that was a sign he was trying to figure out what the hell she wanted him to do—then smiled and said, "Nyota, for God's sake, call me Jim."

Chapel stroked his thigh just long enough for it to translate to "Good boy."

Ny's smile was brilliant.

"And yes, there are." He seemed monumentally grateful for the subject, talked at length and in very funny terms about some of the places they would be visiting. She played straight man, egging him on to greater heights of absurdity.

It took her a moment to realize they were channeling Calvin and Barbara. Trying to make the other couple feel comfortable.

Jim finished up with, "And then we'll be back on Earth for more refits. Command wants to see how the ship is performing. They have concerns about some of the new configurations."

"Now they tell us?" Ny laughed, an easy laugh finally. And she grinned at Chapel. "Let me guess. You two going to Miami while we're at liberty?"

"The thought had crossed our minds." Jim looked at Spock. "You?"

Spock nodded in the helpless way of a man who has no plans at a time when he really should. Ny managed to give him only a short glare, but Chapel could tell they'd already had words about this.

Chapel turned to Ny. "You should come with us. The water is so blue."

"Was," Jim said softly.

"True. Was. Well, if it's not, we'll find somewhere that is. There must be a beach we can walk on somewhere on our home planet." She saw Spock's face go almost tender and smiled at him. "You think you can stomach being a beachcomber, Spock?"

He looked at Jim, then at Ny. His look so full of love for the two of them, it made Chapel's heart hurt. Then he looked back at her. She expected nothing but saw the same amusement she felt for him. "I believe I could. If it is what we all wish to do."

"It's a date, then." Jim pulled her close, kissed her quickly, the first time he'd done it in public, but she could tell he was very happy with her. "All right, I know Spock and I can play chess but that leaves you two wonderful women out. What do you want to do that's right for a foursome."

Chapel saw the dartboard was free, nodded toward it with her chin.

Jim grinned evilly. "What say we make this a little bit interesting?"

Chapel shook her head frantically at Ny, who frowned, having never witnessed her prowess with pointy flying sticks.

Spock was already standing. "Define interesting, Jim."

"Whoever loses buys dinner the first night."

Again, Chapel shook her head frantically.

"I don't think Christine wants to play sir—Jim." Ny sounded as if she was truly concerned.

"Oh to hell with it. 501. Single in, double out." She stomped out.

"I'm with her," she heard Jim say, a definite note of glee in his voice.

FIN