About What I Said by Djinn

The planet was not a bad place to be temporarily marooned. Decent weather. Plenty of safe water and food that wasn't going to harm Kirk or his landing party. They'd even found shelter from the afternoon rains in the natural overhangs of the cliffs in the area.

He had Nelson, Marietta, and Ikito taking what they needed from the downed shuttle, getting well clear of the site since radiation might start leaking. Spock was busy assessing the damage.

"Any conclusions," Kirk asked, keeping his voice low. "Sabotage?"

"I do not think so, Jim. Incompetence, unfortunately, is more likely. I have seen this mistake before with these refitted shuttles."

Jim rolled his eyes. "You think Decker would have gotten himself stranded?"

"Decker would not have performed maintenance on this shuttle, Jim. It is not your fault this was not done correctly." Spock looked to where Chapel was treating Miller and D'lehr. "Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt."

"That we know of. She hasn't told me if they have internal injuries."

"I do not believe they do. She would have a different expression," Spock said, and Kirk frowned, wondering how the hell Spock knew what kind of expression Chris would have for different occasions.

"You spending time with her?" The question came out very sharp.

Spock did not even look up. "No, but over the years, I have spent a fair amount of time in sickbay and become aware of the myriad of expressions she is capable of when dealing with prognoses." He took some more readings. "Would you be opposed to my spending time with her? Your response just now was highly reactive." He did look up, his eyebrow reaching for the sky.

Kirk gave him the quick, mocking smile that ticked most people off. Spock just went back to work, apparently unperturbed.

The hell of it was he'd be more than just opposed to Spock taking up with Chris—he'd be livid. Even if he had been the one to break up with her once it was clear he was on the ship for good again.

Even if she'd resisted being broken up with.

Even if he'd resorted to saying a rather cruel thing—"you're not really my type, doctor, in case you haven't noticed." Something that hit a significant hot button but was a flat-out lie. If he showed her an album of his important ex-girlfriends, Chris would see that quick-witted women—scientists, preferably—who were attractive but perhaps not beautiful, were exactly his type. And she'd met several of them. If she hadn't been so insecure about all the flashy aliens he'd charmed, she'd realize that.

She'd avoided him ever since, except when work demanded it—like landing parties gone bad—and in her eyes was a deep hurt. Like she'd been a fool to trust him.

He was waiting for the day he saw her with someone else. He was dreading that day.

He took a deep breath and walked over to her. She saw him coming and moved away from the two crewmen.

"How are they?"

"Miller's ribs are broken, but no internal bleeding. D'lehr's injuries are more serious." She motioned for him to walk with her. "His organs are clustered lower—on Sarlevia it makes sense. But he took a hard hit and more than one organ is in jeopardy. He needs to get back up to the ship at once."

"They're sending another shuttle."

"Better than the last one, I hope." She looked at him like it was his fault theirs crashed.

Or maybe he was just projecting?

"Spock knows what went wrong with it. And yes, they'll check it over. I'll send you back up with D'lehr, if you want?"

She shook her head. "Len can handle it. You needed a medical rep on this landing party, didn't you? Or did you just bring me down here to fuck with my head some more?"

He took a deep breath.

"I'm sorry, sir. That was out of line. I'm going to go back to my patients now."

"You do that."

She turned and he touched her arm; she pulled away as if his touch had burned her. "What?"

"Spock is off limits."

"Excuse me?"

"Anyone else you want is fine. But not him. Oh, and not Bones."

She was staring at him open mouthed. "Maybe you should make the whole crew off limits?" She laughed, a confused, bitter-sounding laugh. "Why do you care?"

"It would be awkward—seeing you with them."

"You know, I think this won't get worse, and then you go and prove me wrong. Congratulations, sir, for surprising me yet again." She turned on her heel and stalked off.

He watched her go. He knew he'd just made an ass of himself. He also knew, even though she was hurt and mad, that there was no way she'd go anywhere near Spock or Bones now.

And that's all he cared about. He couldn't have her for himself. He couldn't keep her from having anyone else. But he damn well was not going to watch her with one of his two best friends.

##

The two shuttles descended slowly, dust and grit flying as they got closer to the ground. One of the ships would stay there for the landing party to return to the Enterprise; the other would take D'lehr and Miller back to the ship. Kirk waved the two crewmen's replacements over and told them to help Chris get the injured men onto the shuttle.

She walked past him without a word and once they were safely settled, went to wait with the rest of the landing party.

As the shuttle took off, Kirk turned back, saw Spock handing out padds with assignments of what to survey, what samples to take. After V'ger had destroyed several outposts, Starfleet was looking to establish new ones, and some previously discounted worlds now seemed appealing: the Enterprise was back in the business of surveying.

This world didn't seem like an obvious choice since the radiation patterns in the upper atmosphere, while not dangerous to humans, made it impossible to beam down. But for some activities, being in a place that no one could sneak onto via transporter was very attractive. Kirk had not asked, and didn't expect to be told, what those activities were.

He waited until Spock had given out all the padds, then followed Chris.

She seemed to know he was behind her, waited until they were out of earshot and then turned to look at him. "What now? I can't date Sulu or Uhura, either?"

He held out his hand. "Can we start this day over?"

"I wish we could. I'd have called in sick." She turned and walked off.

He hurried after her. Damn, those longs legs of hers could cover ground. "Would you slow down? And aren't you supposed to be taking readings or something?"

"What about you? Don't you have anything useful to do other than torture me?" She spun and jammed a finger into his sternum. "If you're suddenly relaxing your rule about sleeping with the crew, did you see Marietta? Gorgeous girl. Just your type. Which I, as you so clearly pointed out, am not." Her eyes were hard, but he thought her lips were starting to quiver just a little, and she turned away quickly and walked away even faster. She looked like she was doing something with her communicator.

His suddenly buzzed. "Kirk here"

"Jim, I would be most appreciative of your assistance."

"Are you in trouble, Spock?"

"I am not. I have...something here that is of interest."

Kirk sighed. Chris was getting farther and farther away. "Fine, I'm coming."

It wasn't a short walk. It was made longer by the fact that Spock didn't stay in the place he'd called from. He kept moving. By the time Kirk got to him, he was out of breath from climbing up a steep grade. "Spock, I thought you said you had something of interest."

"I was mistaken."

"You were...? And you couldn't let me know that?"

Spock's eyebrows dipped. "It is a pleasant day. You were not assigned any duties. I thought you would enjoy the walk. You always seek out such activities when on Earth."

He had him there. "It's just..." He sighed. "Never mind. With the damn shuttle crashing, I'm on edge. So, is this world going to work for an outpost?"

"I see no reason for it not to suffice." Spock followed Kirk up to the top of the rise.

"Wow, nice view." He could see the others in the landing party. He found Chris immediately. She was talking to—who the devil was that?

"It would appear Lieutenant Ikito and Doctor Chapel have decided to work together," Spock said, as if knowing exactly where Kirk was looking.

"Not that I care."

"Except that teamwork is essential to the running of a ship."

"Yes. That."

"And morale is, in the case of a human ship, often increased when personal relationships are developed fully."

"Define fully."

Spock's eyebrow rose. "I meant that they could become friends. What did you think I meant?" He started back down the hill.

"That's what I thought you meant." He took one last look at Chris. She was standing awfully close to Ikito. Fully developing that personal relationship, no doubt.

##

Kirk strolled into sickbay, walking as slowly as he could as he looked to see where the hell Chris was. This was the third time he'd been down in a week and she wasn't here again.

"Jim, not that it isn't dandy to see you, but what's the occasion this time?" Bones gave him a questioning look.

"Actually, I wanted to ask Chris something."

"Oh, she's in the lab."

"The lab." Where Spock also had said he'd be when he'd left the bridge. "Special project?"

"Yeah, we needed someone to look at..." Bones frowned. "Why do you care what she's doing?"

"I don't. I mean, as captain of course I care that every member of the crew is productive and happy."

"Well, now that you mention it, she's not all that happy. Hasn't been since you shanghaied me back into service. I'm guessing she probably was in a bit better spirits before you went and demoted her. Doesn't seem to hold it against me, though. You might want to talk to her about it if you haven't already."

"You're reading my mind. That's exactly what I wanted to talk to her about. I'll just go to the lab."

"I think they're in lab four. Or maybe three." He waved Kirk off. "One of 'em, anyway."

Kirk smiled in what he hoped was not a brittle way. There were sixteen science labs on his ship.

He found them in lab seven. They were standing very close, but then they were taking turns looking at what he supposed was a sample. Did Spock usually stand that close to her?

He cleared his throat.

They didn't turn around.

He tried it again.

Chris turned to look at him. "Did you want something?"

"Lieutenant, that is not the way to greet your commanding officer." Spock sounded appropriately disapproving, and Kirk felt some of his tension fade away.

"Sorry, sir. Orders?"

"I'd like to talk to you, Doctor."

Spock handed her something and walked over to him. "Can it wait, Jim? We are at a most delicate stage in this experiment. Doctor McCoy seems most impatient for the results."

"Of course." He motioned for Spock to follow him out into the corridor. "How'd you end up working on this? Did she ask for you?"

"On the contrary. I read some of the articles she published. One of them in particular sparked my interest in collaborating on a new technique for identifying minute quantities of alien bacteria in otherwise inert material. It is fascinating, Jim. And I find she has a most flexible and agile mind."

She had a most flexible and agile body, too. Kirk hoped to God Spock wasn't going to find that out. "Well, I'll leave you two to carry on."

Spock turned to go.

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

Spock stopped, turned, and shot him a questioning glance. "Do you believe we are conducting the experiment in an incorrect manner? Is there some other approach you would prefer we take?"

"Forget I said that."

"As you wish." Spock turned and walked into the lab.

Kirk tried not to sneak a peek to look at Chris, but he couldn't resist. She had her head down, didn't look up when Spock walked back to her. Didn't look up to see Kirk staring at her.

Spock, however, did and shot him another confused look.

Kirk backed away from the door and let it close, then double-timed it to the bridge before he could get himself into any more trouble.

##

Kirk couldn't sleep, pulled on some clothes, and wandered the corridors, smiling at his crew as he worked off some energy. He turned a corner and saw Chris talking to a lieutenant he didn't recognize. Very light blonde hair. Tall—taller than Kirk—but looked like he'd never seen the inside of a gym.

Chris glanced down the corridor, seemed startled to see Kirk staring at her. She said something to the lieutenant and sent him on his way. Then she stood, arms crossed, and stared Kirk down.

He decided if she wanted to play chicken, he was all for it. He strode down to where she stood. "Who was that?"

"You don't know your crew by heart?"

He hated to give her that one, but the truth was he didn't know them all yet. "You know I don't." There, let her chew on that.

"I don't know you at all. I thought you were actually interested in me, but I was oh so wrong." She leaned in. "Turns out I'm not your type." Her voice was sharp and bitter, but there was still lingering hurt in her eyes.

"If you're not my goddamned type, why am I so interested in who you're talking to?" He frowned. That had not been his intended next reply. "I mean..."

"Stop it. Is this fun for you? Play with me some more? See if you can get me to let you back in, so you can break my heart again?" She moved closer. "I thought you were nice. In fact, I thought you were wonderful. But you're not. I don't know what you are." She backed away, as if he were some kind of snake. "And his name is Carrew. He's been on the ship a week, and he was lost. May I go now?"

He nodded.

She turned and nearly ran away from him.

He was fine until he heard her bite back a sob and then he was running after her, dodging crewmembers on duty like an idiot, trying to reach her. He caught her in the turbolift.

"Goddamn it, Jim." She wiped her eyes, not looking at him.

"Computer, hold lift." He moved closer. "Just listen. I lied. I lied about one thing. Not about my rules or not being with you, all right? I have those rules. I can't be with you. But you were fighting me, and I didn't think I could...I had to make you want to leave."

She was inching away from him so he grabbed her hand.

"Chris, Jesus, how can you not be my type?" He touched her cheek. "Think about it."

"I have a better idea. Think about this." She kneed him. Really hard. In the groin.

As he doubled over, moaning in pain, he heard her say, "Computer, resume lift." The turbolift started, then stopped again, and she got out, leaving him alone.

He immediately gasped out, "Computer, hold lift."

It took him a long time before he could breathe right, much less tell it to resume.

##

He found Chris with Spock in the lab the next afternoon. They were hard at work, standing close. Spock shot him what looked like a warning glance.

He ignored it. "I'd like to talk to the good doctor."

"The good doctor is busy," Chris said without looking up.

Spock did not reprimand her this time on the proper way to address her commanding officer.

Kirk folded his arms over his chest. "I could make it an order."

Spock turned and gave him a look Kirk could only read as...disappointed. "Sir, I ask that you do not. We are quite busy."

Sir? Spock was sirring him? And since when were he and Chris a "we?"

"After your shift then, Doctor." He knew his voice was dropping into the tone he'd used at Command, before he got his ship back, before he'd taken up with Chris. During the time when he'd been at his most unhappy. Spock hadn't seen him then.

Spock didn't appear to think much of that tone. "She is joining me for dinner."

At Chris's sudden glance at Spock, Kirk thought this was probably news to her. But she rallied and nodded solemnly.

"Well, hey, let's invite Bones. Get the whole gang together."

"I think not," Spock said, and turned back to the experiment...and Chris.

Kirk felt his blood pressure rising as he stood there. Stood there being ignored. By his best friend and the woman he loved.

Damn it, was the woman he loved with his best friend?

Shit...he loved this woman.

He sighed. "I'll let you get back to work," he said softly, and headed out, not even realizing until he'd gone about a dozen strides that he was walking the wrong way.

##

The gym was packed but everyone moved aside to let Kirk have whatever machine he wanted. For some reason, this irritated the hell out of him. He wanted to be like everyone else, didn't want special accommodations.

They had to wait their turn but they also got to have lovers onboard ship. They got to be happy.

Why the hell couldn't he?

He was not paying attention to what he was doing, too busy feeling sorry for himself, and he lost his grip on one of the machines—a machine he'd loaded too much weight on to begin with. He felt his shoulder pull, managed not to cry out as he felt something tear. The pain was wrenching. He stopped and tried to pretend that nothing was wrong. Reached for his towel and had to stop when the movement caused a shock of pain across his entire side.

He slid off the machine, grabbed his towel with his good hand, and headed to sickbay. It was quiet inside and he saw the conference room was occupied. Great, he was interrupting a beta shift staff meeting.

"Are you hurt?" Chris stood in her office, her expression somewhere between wary and compassionate.

He nodded.

She walked over. "Where?"

"Left shoulder. Working out. Wasn't paying attention."

"Let me guess. A beautiful woman walked in?" Her voice was acid, but her hands were incredibly gentle as she eased him onto the biobed. She got a scanner, began to check him out.

"What are you doing here?"

"Just catching up on reports."

"How was your dinner with Spock?"

"Short."

"Are you with him?" He realized he sounded adrift—almost like a lost little boy—and she looked at him as if she didn't know how to answer. "I'm sorry. It's none of my business."

She sighed and said, "Let me just get your shoulder fixed, okay?"

He nodded.

She worked silently, and he closed his eyes and just drifted, remembering how she was in bed, how she loved to cuddle up against him, how sweet her kisses were. He'd loved going to the park with her, loved how she could make him laugh as they watched people, providing dialogue to what they were doing, not mocking them, just making up crazy adventures for random passersby. Nothing made him laugh back then until she came along.

"I'm sorry, Chris."

"Shhh."

"Do you remember that little girl on the bench in the park? The one you made up the whole gymnastics routine for." He started to laugh. "You made the adults with her the judges, did their critiques in all the crazy accents. I think it was the first time I'd had a good day since I left the ship."

He heard the sound of a stool being pulled over, didn't open his eyes. She kept working on his shoulder.

"Put your knees up," she said softly.

He did as she said, realized she was working on where she'd kneed him in the turbolift and didn't want anyone who might happen by to see. "Thanks."

"This is not because you're forgiven. It's because I'm a sentimental fool." She stopped. "You need to leave me alone. You hurt me when you broke up with me."

"I know. I did it on purpose. I had to get you away from me."

"So you told me the truth. That I'm not pretty enough for you. Not flashy enough."

"That wasn't the truth. That was a lie. Think about it, Chris. You saw Janice Lester. Janet Wallace. Areel Shaw. I know you've met Carol Marcus. I clearly like smart women. Scientists are not a turn off, either."

"I don't know what to believe. And I'm not sure which is worse. That you'd say that to me and it was true. Or that you'd say that to me knowing I'd think it was." She got up, pushed the stool back. "You can go. You're fine."

"I'm not fine. I'm not going to be fine."

"That's not my problem. Or my fault. I was actually happy when I heard you got the ship. I thought we could be together. I should have known better. But like I said: I'm a sentimental fool." She touched his shoulder gently, then walked away.

He finally opened his eyes. "I love you," he said.

She was too far away to hear him; he knew she would be.

##

He avoided her for a week. But he kept seeing her with Spock despite not seeking her out. In the mess, in the corridors. Their dark heads close together, just like in the lab.

He sighed and turned away.

He walked into the rec lounge, the one place he was sure to have some respite from them. But they were here, too, sitting at a table near the bar.

He turned, nearly ran into McCoy. "Bones. I...uh, forgot something."

"Did you now?" McCoy grinned and led him to the bar. "It's on me, tonight, my friend. What's your poison?"

"Arsenic?"

"Bad day at the office, dear?"

Kirk tried like hell to not look at where Spock and Chris were sitting. He knew he failed when McCoy followed his gaze.

"There's something you don't see very often, huh? They're finalizing the report on the experiment."

"Of course they are. In the rec lounge."

McCoy frowned. "What? Do you think they're on a date?"

"Maybe they are." He motioned the bartender over. "Scotch. Make it a double. Bourbon for him."

"You seem a bit distressed over this. Why is that, Jim?"

Kirk just shook his head, took the glass the bartender handed him, and drank a nice solid hit. It burned all the way down.

"It would be sweet, wouldn't it?" McCoy said in a musing tone. "After all this time. Spock finally coming to his senses, realizing what was right in front of him. Christine happy at last."

"Yes, real goddamn sweet." He downed the rest of his drink, called for another.

"You might want to go easy there."

"You might want to not lecture me tonight." He grabbed the refill out of the bartender's hand, downed it in two big gulps.

"Okay, then." McCoy sipped his bourbon. "Anyway, I'm just thinking of how much fun it will be to watch their love grow. See it bloom. I wonder how much affection he'll actually show her in public? Do you think she'll move into his quarters or he—"

Kirk was on his feet and moving toward Spock's table. "I need to talk to her. Sorry to break up your date." He kept his voice low. There was such a thing as decorum.

Spock looked over at her, and she nodded and let Kirk take her hand.

"How much have you had to drink?" she asked as he steered her to a secluded corner of the lounge.

"A hell of a lot. So I need to get out what I've got to say before I'm too far gone to say it right. I...I love you."

She stared at him.

"I love you, and it's killing me to watch you falling in love with Spock—only you've been in love with him, so I guess it's more that it's killing me that he's falling in love with you finally, and you're leaving me."

"You left me."

"That's a technicality. I'm not the one who's falling in love with someone else."

"Who says I fell in love with you in the first place?"

"Didn't you?" He leaned in, studied her. "You never said it, but I thought you did."

She swallowed hard. "Where is this going, Jim?"

He sighed. "I don't know. I really don't. I just...I just feel like my insides are all twisted and that everywhere I turn I see you and Spock. And it hurts. Because I love you. And I don't want to not have you. Why can't I have you?"

"I never said you couldn't."

"I know. I did." He smiled at her, a gamely stupid smile he was sure. "I love you, Chris. We would have been so good together." He touched her hand, let his fingers linger on hers. "You can go back to Spock now."

He wanted to kiss her more than anything but he forced himself to walk, in as straight a line as he could manage, out of the rec lounge and to his quarters. He passed out before he could do anything else stupid.

##

Kirk's head was pounding when he woke up to the sound of his door chime going off. "Go away," he muttered, putting the pillow over his head.

The chime sounded again and he said "Come," in a way that should scare off anyone but the most determined person.

Spock walked in. He held out two white tablets. "Doctor McCoy thought you might need these."

Kirk had the irrational urge to tell him to shove the antitox up his ass, but he took the pills and let them melt under his tongue. The pounding in his head started to ease up.

Spock walked over to his viewscreen. "I am not interested in Christine, Jim."

Kirk blinked and stared at him. "Then why are you with her?"

"I am not with her."

"Then why were you with her in the rec lounge? Why were you so protective of her in the lab? Why are you with her every goddamn time I go to the mess?"

"For several reasons. One is that we are, in fact, working on an experiment. Last night we were finalizing our report—until your latest revelation left her unable to concentrate."

"Oh. Sorry."

Spock turned and studied him. "Jim, I wanted you to think I was with her. I wanted you to be jealous, and I wanted you to decide you could have her."

"You did?"

"I did."

"Why?"

"The night you ended your relationship with Christine was shortly after our encounter with V'ger. I ran into her—quite literally—as she came from your quarters. The telepathic barrage of her pain as we collided in the corridor was overwhelming. I was still quite emotional—and I was still sorting through what I had learned from the meld with V'ger. One thing I knew: a being with dual needs in conflict could never be happy.

"I thought that only applied to myself, but when I listened to her tell me what had happened with you, I realized that you were once again placing yourself in an untenable position. You needed your ship, but you would soon long for that beach to walk on that you once spoke so eloquently about. And once you could not stand to be without it, you would again leave the ship—and me and Doctor McCoy. And we know how that turned out the last time. I wish for a different ending to this voyage."

Kirk stared at him. "You've been pretending? To...protect us?"

"You can have the ship and have love, Jim. You do love her. It's very clear to me, if not to her. She is, understandably, quite confused at this point. She wanted to transfer off. I asked her not to. I told her to give you time, although she said there was no point. But I think there is a point. These are your rules and it is time to explore amendments to them."

"I've thought about it. Usually when I saw her with you." He gave Spock his wryest grin.

"She would welcome it. She loves you."

"When did you become her best friend?" Kirk leaned back in bed, covered his face with his arms. "I don't even know how to get her to trust me."

"I am having breakfast with her in an hour. Why don't you take my place? A public outing. A good start. I would advise you to keep it light."

Jesus God, he was getting relationship advice from Spock.

"The more she understands that she is 'with' you, the more she will trust you."

"I figured that part out on my own."

"I just wanted to be sure as I want the best for her. I have grown fond of her."

"How fond?" Kirk didn't smile when he asked.

Spock's lips ticked up as he rose. "Good luck, Jim."

##

Kirk found Christine waiting in the mess hall. She frowned when she saw him.

"Before you say anything, Spock told me to take his place."

"He did?"

He nodded. "So will you just wait while I get my food and then we can talk?"

She looked like she might bolt.

"Chris, please?"

She finally nodded and he grabbed some coffee and a bagel and got back to her before she could think better of sticking around.

He noticed her coffee was empty. "I'll get you a refill."

"With cream and—"

He met her eyes. "I remember how you like your coffee, Doctor."

She bit back a smile, and he hurried off while he was ahead, bringing her more coffee and sitting down with a smile. He didn't launch right into conversation, took his time getting his bagel evenly spread with cream cheese while she ate her oatmeal.

"Okay," she said softly, "I'll bite. Why did Spock send you?"

"He thinks my rules are stupid." He grinned at her. A real grin. "I'm frankly, given the raging jealousy I've been feeling lately at the thought that you were with him, inclined to agree."

"I'm not seeing him, Jim, so there's no reason to be jealous."

"So he said." He bit into his bagel, chewed it slowly. "And I'm gratified to hear it, by the way. Anyone on the crew you are interested in that I should be aware of?"

"Other than you, you mean?"

"That's what I mean. Do I have a rival?"

"No." She sounded angry as hell when she said it. "But I have one. This damn ship."

"Yeah, well, she's gonna have to share." He grinned again.

She didn't smile back. "I don't believe you."

"I know. But you will."

They ate in silence for a bit, and it was a decent silence, not heavy and full of unsaid, angry things. When he finished his bagel, he got up to get them more coffee, then said, "So I want to talk about the demotion."

She sighed. "I actually thought you did that so I wouldn't be a direct report. So that we could be together."

"That's not why I did it. Although it will work out nicely now that I have."

She looked down. "You didn't like Decker's pick, huh? You never said that when we were together. You were a big cheerleader then. Oh, Chris, you'll be great. For some other captain, apparently. Not you."

"I needed Bones. End of the story."

"I don't like your story."

"I can't help that." He leaned in. "If being CMO is important to you, I can make it happen. Any other ship."

"You want me off?"

"No. But if I deprived you of something you feel you earned, then I'll make it right."

She laughed. "Earned? Holy shit. I just got my M.D. How in the hell did I earn this? I'm not mad I was demoted; I'm relieved. I'm mad that you demoted me."

"Ah. Understood." He smiled. "So you'll stay?"

"As deputy?"

"Yes, but you can be chief girlfriend. And there are no deputy positions, before you ask."

She laughed. "This seems an abrupt turnabout."

"I've been going nuts."

"I understand that because I'd be going nuts if I saw you with another woman."

"So we understand each other."

She started gathering their dishes onto her tray. "No, Jim, we don't. You said you love me, and that felt really good. And it's stupid of me to say it, but I love you, too. But the problem is that you made me feel...inadequate. Ugly, even." She looked down. "I was always gawky as a kid. Never pretty. Never went to a dance. Boys never looked at me twice. I went after men who liked me for my mind. Or my legs—they grew up nice at least."

She met his eyes. "I know what I look like. I'm one of those women that's handsome, not pretty. But when I was with you on Earth, I felt beautiful. I felt wanted. Not for just my brains or my legs. But for the whole package. And then you went and wrecked that." She stood up. "I'm just not sure. Some things go so deep, you know?"

"I didn't mean—"

"I don't care what you meant to do. You hurt me. On purpose. In the way you knew would hurt me the worst. I told you things about my growing up. I let you in on feeling awkward and not very pretty and you used that against me. And frankly, I hate you right now." Her voice was rising and she started to turn red as a few crewmembers turned to look at them. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to say it that loudly."

"It's all right. Every couple fights, don't they?" He smiled at her gently.

"I should have just transferred off," she said as she turned, rushed to dump her tray, and hurried out of the mess.

He went back to his coffee, drinking it in an unconcerned manner as if he and his new/old girlfriend had not just made a bit of a scene in a very crowded mess hall.

##

"I need advice," he said to Spock, pulling him away from the science station and toward the turbolift. "Sulu, you have the conn."

Once the lift doors closed, Spock asked, "Breakfast did not go well?"

Kirk told the computer to halt the lift. "I hurt her. When I told her she wasn't my type, not pretty enough. I hurt her so much she may never let me back in."

"If you were in her position, what would you need to prove you wrong?"

Kirk shrugged. "I didn't mean it. Why can't she see it?"

"Because we all have places that are not fair to target, and you know it. You have done it to me several times to get a rise out of me, all in the name of the mission. You are a master at pressing the right buttons for greatest impact. You have made her feel unattractive, Jim. How will you make her feel attractive?"

"Spock, I'm tired. Maybe this is a mistake. Maybe I should let her go."

"Maybe you should stop being a coward, admit you were wrong, and make this right."

Kirk stared at Spock, his jaw dropping slightly. "Uhhhh."

"I am sorry, Jim, but it is this kind of attitude that led you back to Earth to a job you hated. To a term marriage that was from all accounts dismal. To stealing a ship from a man you recommended. To jettisoning a promising relationship with a woman who is as independent as one can be on a starship under your command, and furthermore is your intellectual equal, all in the name of rules that only you see as necessary. I believe the correct phrase is: get over it."

Kirk knew his jaw dropped open.

Spock took a deep breath. "There is a party in the rec lounge tonight. I know this because I asked Uhura to organize one. I will make sure Christine is there. I suggest you do not drink too much and do pay attention—all your attention—to her. The gossip lines will have the news spread across the ship by morning."

"You think gossip will convince her I find her attractive?"

"No, I think gossip will take care of you having to worry about how the crew finds out the captain has a woman. As far as what Christine thinks, I have seen you seduce a woman, Jim. As if she is the only thing in a crowded room. Has Christine ever experienced this?"

"No, that wasn't how we came together—what we were about."

"Then I suggest you seduce her. With alacrity and great effort. She needs to know there is no other woman in the rec lounge for you but her."

"I'm not sure your big plans are going to pan out, Spock. She hates me."

"She does not hate you. She is hurt. I suggest you employ your somewhat legendary talents in the romantic arena to achieving your goals or she will leave." Spock studied him for a moment, then told the computer to resume the lift and sent it back to the bridge. He got off without saying anything else and went back to the science station.

Kirk realized he would be getting no more relationship advice from his friend. He was profoundly relieved, but also a little adrift.

##

The rec lounge was packed by the time Spock showed up with Chris. Kirk had watched a steady stream of his crew come in. Men and women, pairing up in various combos, all having fun, some looking like they were already together, others looking like they might have some fun for the first time later tonight.

He wanted that, damn it all. He was sick of being alone in the place he loved best.

He sat at the bar, nursing a scotch. Not drinking at all would be out of character, but he had a tall glass of water he was also drinking from. He was not planning on getting drunk tonight. He didn't leave his stool, even when members of his crew—many of them beautiful—asked him to dance. He knew Chris saw him turn down the last one, Marietta as fate would have it. He bit back a smile.

Spock ordered her a drink—when the hell did Spock start knowing what cocktails she liked? Then Spock took his water and left to join another group of more somber participants.

"So," Chris said, "you just turned down a dance. I seem to remember you dancing with whoever asked during our first five-year mission."

"I used to. As long as I danced with everyone who asked, I wasn't choosing anyone."

"I remember." She looked down. "Too bad back then I only had eyes for Spock." She took a solid hit from her drink.

"Don't drink too fast," he said gently.

"Why the hell not?"

"Because I want you light on your feet, not tromping all over mine." He grinned at her but tried to get a large amount of scorch in his eyes.

"Huh?"

"I do plan to dance tonight. Just, not with any of them." He let his mouth turn up into a slow smile. "Unless you object. You do like dancing, don't you? We never did that. Why didn't we do that?"

She looked down. "I never questioned it at the time. After we broke up, I just thought you didn't really want to be seen in your usual haunts with me. That's why we went to the park. Or the cafes. Not the clubs or the fancy restaurants. You were slumming, after all." She took another drink and her hand was shaking as she put her drink down.

"I wasn't slumming. To be honest, I was enjoying not being that guy. I'd spent every night in the clubs before we started spending time together, finding some comfort for an evening that went nowhere or worse went for a few days and then petered out. You were the first honest thing I found on Earth. I wanted you in the sunshine, not in some strobe-lit, mist-filled club."

"You never told me that."

"I never did. I was afraid to open up to you about how unhappy I was because I knew that the moment you left on Decker's ship, I'd go right back to being that person. And I didn't want to. I wanted you to stay."

"Why didn't you just say so?"

"Because you needed to go. You'd worked so hard for it. And Decker needed you." He looked down. "I was never slumming with you. And I'm not slumming now. Come on." He took her hand clumsily in his, led her onto the dance floor before she could change her mind.

This was not the tactic Spock had told him, this was anything but suave, but honesty was what he hadn't given her, and he thought honesty was what she needed right now. And maybe to see him leveled as much as she was.

He'd hurt her. He'd hurt himself, too, long before he broke up with her.

It took them a while to find their rhythm, but then she relaxed in his arms, he nuzzled her hair and whispered in her ear, "I love you. I've missed you. Don't leave the ship. I don't like who I am without you."

The music changed, people switched out around them, but they didn't stop dancing.

"Will you stay?" he asked.

"I'm a sentimental fool."

"Yes, but you're my sentimental fool. And I intend on staying out here for every dance until one of us demands a break. Or you insist on another partner. I don't need one."

She smiled up at him. "Awfully extreme. The rumor mill will be working overtime."

"It's not a rumor if it's true. I'd kiss you right now but that'd be pushing it." He saw by the look in her eyes that if he did kiss her, she'd kiss him right back. "I could kiss you in my quarters, if you wanted to leave with me tonight, after we've made our statement?"

"Just kiss me? Nothing more?"

He grinned. "I may have had other things in mind." He let his hand travel down her back, lower and lower until it was just hovering at the edge of propriety.

"Thrillseeker," she said with a surprised smile.

"Once I'm in, I'm all in."

"That I actually believe." She relaxed against him a little more, looked around the dance floor and then started to laugh.

"What?"

"Chekov just got Marietta on the dance floor."

He saw the two of them dancing, Chekov very earnest and eager, Marietta more restrained. "Do it for me. Please?" He grinned. "But quietly. I don't want anyone to hear."

She was laughing as she pushed herself closer so she could whisper in his ear—they probably looked like they were trying to have sex standing up—and said in a goofy Russian accent, "Larissa, I vish to varn you of the advances of other officers. I vill protect you from them." Then she switched to a sweet voice that was actually spot-on for Marietta. "I haven't really noticed that I needed protection, Mister Chekov. Please, Larissa, call me Pavel. And this is the problem, you see. These other men vill appear innocuous, but you are new, and you need an experienced guide through the interpersonal perils of starship relationships. No, Pavel, I think I need a doctor, you just stepped on my foot."

Kirk had his head buried in her neck, was laughing hard but as quietly as he could. He knew his back was shaking.

She started to laugh, too, and he moved so he could look at her. "As funny as the gymnastics one?"

"No, that was a classic. But this was good."

She laughed again, and her eyes were shining, and he couldn't help it, he kissed her, just a quick kiss but in front of everyone and he suddenly didn't give a goddamn who saw them.

When he pulled away, he said, "Let's see what the rumor mill does with that."

She looked extraordinarily pleased with him. "I'm thirsty—can you get me some water? I suddenly don't want to overdo it on the alcohol."

He smiled, put his arm around her waist, and led her off the dance floor. He ordered her a water, never letting her go and she leaned into him, her hand settling on the small of his back, feeling warm and right there.

Spock walked over, an expression of extreme self-satisfaction on his face. "It is a pleasing party."

"Very nice," Chris said, her hand pressing harder into his back.

"Bang up job, Uhura did. Remind me to give her a commendation." Kirk grinned at no one in particular. God, he felt giddy.

Spock looked at Christine, his eyes very gentle. "May I have this dance?"

She looked at Jim, smiled gently at him, then at Spock, and said, "I'm afraid I'm spoken for this evening."

"Perhaps another evening." Jim winked at him.

"Excellent." Spock sipped his water with an expression that seemed to say he had singlehandedly saved the universe. "And that was not a genuine request. I do not dance."

"I knew that," Chris said. "Years of stalking." She laughed. A clear, happy sound that reminded Kirk of sunlit days when he wasn't angry and this woman was the reason why.

"You were not stalking, Christine."

Kirk frowned. Did that mean Spock was interested in Christine? Did he have to get jealous again? "Weren't you leaving, Spock?"

"Jim," Chris said, but as Spock walked off, no offense apparent, she looked at Kirk, seemed to recognize the expression on his face. "Oh, so I'm not the only one who's insecure."

"Well, you liked him first."

"I barely knew him. Did I know you?"

"You did. You knew the best part of me. Unfortunately, the best part of me is not the biggest part of me."

"I don't think that's true. You make yourself choose. Maybe you can have it all?"

He wanted to have it all right now on top of the bar. How long did they have to stay?

She seemed to be on the same page. "How many more dances before we can be alone?" She slid her hand down his back, and he closed his eyes.

"Don't go much further. And don't expect me to turn around any time soon."

She laughed. "Remember that time when Nogura caught us in the corridors?"

"And you loaned me your med kit to hide certain uhhh protuberances? Yeah, I remember." He grinned at her. "Five more dances?"

"That may not be enough. Seven, I think."

"Seven it is." He reached for his scotch, sipped it lightly. "Lucky number seven."

##

They finished their last dance, both trying not to look like they were about to sprint off to his quarters to have hot monkey sex. Kirk still had his arm around her when they left, and he noticed she got some interesting looks from Uhura and Rand.

"You going to have some explaining to do?"

"Yeah." She didn't sound pleased at the idea.

"You didn't tell them anything?" He hated to think of her going through this alone, but he loved her discretion. That was important to him.

"Nope. They just think I'm angry at you about the demotion."

"They really don't know you, do they?"

She laughed, and it wasn't a happy sound this time. "I don't think they do. We want to think our friends know what we're going through, but they don't. And if we won't tell them, how can they? But then we hold it against them that they don't get it." She shrugged. "I have a feeling this will not help my relationship with them."

"That you're with me?"

"That...and that I didn't tell them our history was the problem." She shook her head. "I don't want to talk about them."

"I don't, either." Their great mood was rapidly evaporating. "We made a pretty big statement in there."

"I know."

"How do you feel about that?"

"It's a lot to take in." She followed him onto the turbolift. "I'm surprised. Happy. Still a bit wary."

"I don't blame you. I know I hurt you. And I'll make it up to you."

"Just don't hurt me again."

"I can't promise that. No one can promise that. The best I can do is to never hurt you that way again." He took her hand, held it tight. "You're going to hurt me, too. It's the nature of relationships. Anyone who says they don't have problems every now and then isn't in a real one."

She smiled.

The lift stopped and he led her off, not dropping her hand, enjoying the feel of it in his, the simple innocence of just holding hands like two teenagers. They passed McCoy who was clearly getting a late start to the party, and he stopped and stared at them.

"Something I ought to know?"

Kirk laughed and said, "Bones, I humbly request the honor to court Chris. You're the closest thing she has to a father."

McCoy hit him on the arm. "What the hell, Jim? I'm not old enough to be her dad. But court away, it's about damn time." He started down the hall, then turned back. "Hey, you didn't leave the party because they're out of hooch, did you? You just want to get to the sex, right?"

Kirk knew he was blushing. "They've still got bourbon, Bones."

"That's what I like to hear. Don't forget to stretch first."

She started to laugh. "I'm going to be ribbed nonstop tomorrow."

"But happily I can tell him to shut up."

"When has he ever listened to you? You're going to get ribbed nonstop tomorrow, too."

"Good point." He palmed open his door, led her in. "So..."

"So."

She seemed to be looking everywhere but at him.

"Hey, what's going on in there?" He tapped her forehead gently.

"I'm just remembering our last conversation in here."

He led her back to where it happened, turned her so she faced the mirror over his dresser. "What do you think?"

"Of what?"

"Of us. We look good together." He wrapped his arms around her waist, pulled up so they made her breasts even more prominent. "They think so."

She laughed. "You always did like them."

"Did? What's this past tense crap?" He studied their reflections. "We're almost the same height."

"Does that bother you?"

"No. I never get a neck cramp when I kiss you."

She laughed again. "Me, either."

"See, win win."

She nodded, but he could tell she still wasn't comfortable yet.

"I want you to do something for me, Chris. I want you to let me play and you do nothing but watch yourself in the mirror. Will you do that?"

"Jim, that's..."

"I'm serious. You can watch me, too, if you need a change of scene." He winked at her. "Just humor me?"

"Okay."

He moved her hair aside, ran his fingers along her neck so lightly he felt her shiver. He glanced in the mirror, saw her relaxing as she leaned into him. He kissed her neck, following the path his fingers had taken, sucking gently, licking when he found a sensitive place. He undid her bra as he kissed around to her throat, then moved back and pulled her shirt off, slipped her bra from her, then went back to kissing her neck, his hands now busy on her chest.

He heard her moan, and sneaked a peak. She had her eyes closed.

"Open your eyes. Look at yourself."

"Jim."

"That's an order, Chris."

She did it. He pulled her closer, had to fight not to pull her around to him, not to kiss her and push her to the floor. Her eyes were half lidded, her cheeks flushed. Her lips were rosy and she was breathing hard, her mouth open just enough to show him how aroused she was.

And he'd barely started touching her.

He played with her hair, mussing it a bit, pulling it a little as he kissed the side of her neck. "What do you see?"

"Me?"

"What do you see?" He turned her, knew he was breathing hard. "I see a beautiful woman. What the hell do you see?"

"You make me that way." She pulled him to her, kissed him frantically. She was ripping off his uniform, and he had her bottoms off in record time, and then he had her up on the dresser, pushing into her as if he could lose himself in her.

He reached between them, touched her the way she liked and she was gone, calling his name out loudly as she came, holding on to him, her short fingernails raking the skin of his back as she held on while he finished.

He leaned against her, both of them panting, and she pulled her hand away, seemed dismayed to find blood.

"Oh, Jim, I'm sorry."

"Don't be. Battle scars." He grinned and went back to nuzzling her neck. "I love you."

"I love you." She whispered in his ear. "This marble top on your dresser is really cold."

He started to laugh. "Is your butt freezing?"

She nodded and he let her off the dresser. "It's a great height, though."

"Perfect. Maybe next time we'll put a towel down so you don't get frostbite."

She smiled and followed him to the bed. They cuddled together, kissing and playing, and he moved her to her back, kissed up her leg until he found his destination of choice, had her moaning in no time and then clenching and calling out. He waited as she came down, and when she tried to pull him up, he said, "Just lie there."

He stroked her belly and her thighs and then began a new attack.

"Jim, it's too soon."

"Shhh." He moved her legs further apart, then a bit more, and heard her sharp intake of breath. "You okay?"

"It's just rather..."

"Open?"

"I was going to say vulnerable."

He smiled. "That works, too." He dipped his head back down, really let go, the way he never had with her before, afraid to give too much, afraid to make her his the way he'd wanted to since she was going to leave him. Why invest that much of himself only to have it torn away?

She began to writhe underneath him. "Don't stop."

He smiled. Stopping was the furthest thing from his mind. He did slow it down a tiny bit, heard her moan in frustration. Then he gave her everything and let her fall and fall and fall. He found her hand, held on as she cried out, nonsense words this time.

He moved up and over her, knew how sensitive she'd be and eased into her. She stared up at him, her eyes so heavy he had to kiss her as he pushed into her.

She wrapped her legs around him, whispered, "Do anything you want."

"We will. We have all the time in the world."

She smiled, met his kiss with one of her own, one full of love, and then rode out his passion as he found his own completion. He wished he could show her how beautiful she looked to him as she lay under him, her skin flushed and hair damp, her eyes closing, her body his.

He rolled to his side, pulled her close, far closer than he'd held her when they'd been on Earth. Even then, even just sleeping, he'd been keeping a distance. She seemed to realize it as she cuddled in, no space between them, and she kissed his neck, murmured, "I love you, Jim."

She was asleep very quickly. He lay awake for a while, happy in his bed, listening to the sounds of his two loves: the purr of his silver ship and the soft breathing of the woman in his arms.

FIN