All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go
"Are you kidding me?" Kirk shook the bars on the cell. "How many goddamn alien zoos can there be in one quadrant?"
"I think the question may be more how many can you find yourself in," Chapel said under her breath, but he heard her and glared at her. "Shutting up now."
She checked out the cell—calling it that was really upgrading it. It was more a hole dug into a dirt wall with bars and a door. There was nowhere to sit, to lie down, to relieve oneself. And no evidence that anyone had been there before. So either they had bang-up cleaners or this was a holding location and short term.
"Zookeeper, get the hell back here. I want to talk terms."
"There are no terms," came booming over a loudspeaker. "We are short on humans. Your species always proves diverting. Resign yourself to your fate."
She crossed her arms over her chest and waited for what she expected would be a doozy of a speech. Kirk didn't disappoint. It was all about free will, human spirit, and the need to make choices for oneself.
"Is this your way of saying you are not attracted to the female? Because we can remove her."
He closed his eyes. "No, that's not what I was saying." He glanced back at her. "I'm not saying I am, Doctor, just so we're clear. But we need to stay together."
She nodded. "Of course, sir." She'd be offended if she'd ever thought of him as a possible mate, but he'd always been the guy Spock would rather hang around with than her. But also a man who'd treated her well, so she wasn't particularly sorry to be stuck with him, and Lord knew he had a great record of escaping these kinds of scenarios. She could do worse.
There was a hum of a transporter and suddenly they were standing in a much bigger enclosure, which was nice. The not so nice part was that they were standing in it buck naked.
She tried to keep her eyes up, which only let her see that the man had clearly hit the gym while he had been tied to a desk job on Earth. He had an easier time covering his naughty bits than she did—she really needed an extra arm or two, her boobs were not what you'd call small.
Even though Kirk was making a valiant attempt to keep his eyes on her face, she thought he was fully aware of just how not small her chest was.
"Humans do not run around naked," Kirk yelled, turning away from her and giving her the most amazing view of his backside. "Your exhibit is flawed."
She forced herself to look at the ground. And not peek. Okay, she peeked once. But nothing after that.
"There is clothing in the structure. You should find it...interesting. The structure will change to fit your choice."
"That's great." He turned and stalked to the structure. "Come on, Doctor."
She followed him, trying her hardest not to look up, but she had to as she crossed the threshold.
Holy God, the man's ass gave new meaning to the word firm. How much working out did it take to get that buff?
He stopped in front of what would have been a closet if it had held clothes and been more than a slight cut out into the wall. Instead of garments, images of Earth garb of various eras were stacked from floor to ceiling.
"I guess we choose one?" He was studying the various images. "Some of these look too complicated to get into without a gaggle of assistants."
"Is that what a group of those is called?" She moved closer, was suddenly aware of how much warmth he was throwing off. "Do these clothes have...backstory?" To the side of the image was a short write-up about who would wear them, and how the man and woman were involved. "Wife, mistress, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law—are they serious? This is like the porn channel."
He shot her a look.
"Not that I have any idea what plays on the porn channel." She pointed to one that said "Estranged lovers reunited" and had relatively familiar clothing from the last century. "Can we please get dressed?"
"Fine." He touched the image and nothing happened. "I imagine they want this to be a mutual choice."
She reached up, touched the image, and was overcome with a wave of dizziness as the structure transformed around them. She felt as if her own personality was being pushed back—still present but no longer in control. Her last dominant thought before someone named Lyra took over was that at least she wasn't naked anymore.
And neither was Kirk. Or Johan. Chapel tried desperately to hold on to what she knew, found that if she didn't fight Lyra, she could stop the process of being pushed entirely into unconsciousness. She thought Kirk was doing the same, saw Johan close his eyes for a moment, then he smiled and said, "Lyra," and looked at her in a way Kirk never had. "My God, I've missed you."
Their clothing stayed on a hot minute.
He had her on the bed, murmuring things about other men and other women and while Lyra understood, Chapel knew that it was all so much romance novel.
What wasn't made up was the fact that she was screwing the daylights out of her commanding officer—or was he screwing the daylights out of her? And by the light in Johan's eyes, she thought Kirk had found the same way she had to stay for the ride.
As Lyra and Johan pledged their undying love—until the next breakup: they seemed both immature and intensely volatile—and had sex over and over, Chapel found herself getting to know Kirk's body in a way she'd never expected to. She wondered how much of the wonderful way Johan touched Lyra was really the famous James T. Kirk touch and how much was backstory.
She supposed, unless they wanted to remain naked—and after this, Kirk might choose that for them—she'd find out.
What seemed like hours later, Chapel woke up in Kirk's arms, naked, on a metal bed with only a mattress that before had been Lyra and Johan's very comfortable and soft reunion bed, all silk and satin.
Kirk pulled her to him and then seemed to realize what he'd done, coming fully awake with a start and nearly pushing her off the bed.
"Hey! Innocent bystander here." She rolled away from him, desperately wishing for a sheet to cover herself with.
"I'm sorry, Chapel."
"Your first scenario was entertaining." The alien voice booming over the loudspeaker was deeply pleased.
"First and last," Kirk said.
She'd been right about the going naked option. She took a deep breath, tried to embrace her inner nudist.
"Noble choice, Captain. Will you continue to choose it after this?"
Chapel felt as if she'd touched a live circuit. Pain shot through her body and she tried to bite back the scream that erupted from her and failed. She knew she was convulsing, felt herself blacking out—and then the pain got worse and her scream changed into something not quite human.
"Stop it. Stop it, damn it."
The pain was gone, but she could barely see, lay trembling, murmuring, "I'm sorry, sir. I'm so sorry."
"In a species that registers so highly in empathy, a companion is often a liability, Captain Kirk. Especially when you have spent the last few hours making love to her—even if it was not you in charge of that activity, still...you felt something, did you not?"
"We are crewmates. That's all." He touched her arm. "Are you all right?"
"No. But I will be in a few minutes."
"She is underestimating her recovery time for your benefit, Captain. We hurt her quite badly, and we will do it again if you refuse to comply with our orders. You have two hours before you must choose another scenario." A clock appeared on the wall of the structure, counting down their time.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered. "It was that last scream, wasn't it?"
"Yes." He sighed and stretched out next to her, as if he'd given up on trying to hide the fact that they were naked. "Were you in Lyra? Or were you pushed out? I felt as if I was being pushed out, but then I managed to hold on."
"Me, too. But not enough to control her."
He nodded. "We should work on that. Controlling. They're our bodies, after all. Who better to control them?" He grinned at her and she felt herself responding despite the unpleasant tingling left over from the alien's pain session. "I guess we're going to get to know each other a lot better, Doctor."
"I guess so." She leaned in, whispered, "How will we know if we're in control?"
He thought about that, started to blush, and she knew she was blushing, too.
"Got to the same place I did, huh?" She looked down. "If it's unpleasant—the idea of having sex with me outside of the scenarios..."
"It's not." He sighed. "After this next scenario we can start setting our normal 'in control' baseline. For now you need to rest." He leaned in and kissed her gently, his lips so tender on hers he left her a bit shaken. "For the record, that's my baseline for 'I'm sorry they hurt you to make me mind.'"
"I like the kiss a lot. Not the reason for it. Do you use that kiss for anything else?" She smiled, trying to make it an easy joke between them, but she had a feeling her voice was more hopeful than it should be.
She pulled him back, kissed him as softly as she could, felt him push back, then open his mouth slightly. They pulled away, and she said, "That's my 'It's okay that they hurt me to make you mind since you were rebelling for a good cause' kiss." She closed her eyes for a moment.
"Sleep while you can, Chris."
She rolled so she was nestled against him, and he wrapped his arms around her. She was gone in moments.
Kirk woke her when the clock was on its last minute, had her out of bed and walking bleary eyed to the wall of images. He murmured, "This one, I think," and put his hand on an agrarian couple from the Tigris-Euphrates valley. Married, one child, no drama from the look of it.
She put her hand on it and the structure changed to a small sun-dried brick house with one room. Screens separated their son, Dag, and his sleeping area from the main room. Their bed was on the far side of the space, more screens giving them privacy.
She was Ena; he was Bar. They lay in bed, talking about the crops, the fine wheat they were growing, what they would buy with the profits. Chapel felt more in control in this quiet companionship than she had with Lyra and Johan's passion. She tried to take more control, tried to make Ena scratch her nose or change position.
Tried and failed.
In his corner, Dag coughed, then called out for Ena. She rose, giving Bar a fond kiss, and Chapel tried to see Kirk inside Bar's gentle smile. She walked the short distance to their son, found him sweating and burning up and called out for Bar in a panic.
The summer fever had found them.
Ena's panic for her son, the deep love she had for him, began to push Chapel out, but then the boy cried out in pain and started to choke, and Chapel found herself surging forward, easing the child into an upright position, helping him clear his throat, but then Ena took over again, telling Bar to boil water and make some of the tea the herbalist had left the last time one of them had the stinging sickness.
Chapel didn't know how the scenario was supposed to end, but she didn't think the aliens had expected to have a doctor in the mix. Unless they adjusted the scenarios based on who they captured?
She had to hope not.
Bar brought the tea and Ena let it cool, then made Dag choke it down—it smelled horrible, probably tasted even worse. She piled the pillows high, and she and Bar sat with Dag, telling him stories of the wheat and how high it was growing until he fell asleep.
Over the next day and night, Ena and Bar forced more tea down their little boy and told him story upon story—as the boy finally made a turn toward health.
Bar was bone tired when he went out to the fields, but the wheat was calling, left alone for so long. Ena called him to evening meal, but he did not answer. She found him later in the far corner of the fields, slipped on a rock, cut on his own sickle, the blade slicing his femoral artery. She knew he would have bled out in seconds.
Leaving her alone. With his son, too young to work the wheat. All alone.
The fields faded around them, the structure coming back into place. Kirk got up from the ground, and Chapel turned and walked away, trying to stop the vicious trembling that had come on when she found his body. It wasn't real—none of this was real.
He caught up with her in three strides, pulled her to him and held her. "It's all right."
She tried to push him away. "I know it's all right. It's not real. That little boy wasn't my son. You weren't my husband. I wasn't going to starve to death—or worse." She turned and nearly spat at him. "Why did you go into the fields when you were that tired? You could have waited."
"I should have. Should have waited."
She suddenly realized he was trembling, too. "Oh my God. You were with him. I'm so sorry. I'm only thinking of me, and you had to be inside of him when he died and then just wait?"
"I'm so sorry." She kissed him gently, and he pulled her closer, wrapped his arms around her.
They were as close as they could get, naked again, and she felt him stirring against her as he held her. She ran her hands under his hair, aiming for comfort more than seduction, but not minding that the caress got a reaction out of him, that he moaned and rested his head on her shoulder and kissed her neck.
She ground lightly against him, and he groaned, then he sank down to the grass, bringing her with him. She ended straddling him, sinking onto him, moaning as she did.
"Chris," he said, as he pulled her down for a kiss, his mouth opening. She felt the kiss down to her toes.
They went slowly, the sex one of excruciating control. "This is how we know," he murmured in her ear.
"I'm inside you, Chris. It's required you call me Jim at this point."
She laughed. "Jim."
"This is how we know. Saying that—it's how we know, too."
She nodded but found words difficult since he had reached down, was helping her along in ways beyond generous. She whispered before it was too late, "Do you want me to be quiet when I come?"
"No. Not like they aren't watching us. Be as loud as you want." He seemed to work even harder on her as he kept his own pace unhurried, clearly trying to draw it out, keep control of something in this place.
She came very loudly. He seemed to love it. He kept moving, his pace still slow and made her come again before he let himself finally go, creating a bit of a racket himself and digging his fingers into her back so hard she thought she'd have bruises, before he collapsed against her.
"This is how we know," she whispered.
He nodded, his head against her chest.
Food appeared next to where they lay on the grass. A picnic that she unpacked and laid out as if they were on a proper date. It was a little odd eating a picnic lunch naked, but having sex took some of the awkward out of that. Neither of them seemed to care about hiding their private parts anymore.
After they ate, he stretched out, his head on her lap. "This okay?"
"It is." She played with his hair, smiled when he moaned a little. "I love this. My aunt used to play with my hair when I was a kid. Would shut me up on long flitter rides."
He laughed. "You have great hands."
"I could say the same of you."
He laughed again. "Well, you're extremely responsive. That helps." He shook his head. "We should not be having this conversation."
"Why? Because you're my boss?"
She chuckled, tried to bite it back. "You realize I don't have a lot of boundaries in that area? Roger was my teacher then my boss when I was his graduate assistant."
"I know. But I do have boundaries."
"Well, maybe you should start easing up on them? Maybe you'd be happier." She went back to playing with his hair. "Think of the mission as one very long flitter ride."
He grinned. "Ah, so you mean with you?"
"No, I mean with every other woman but me." She let her hands slow. "Actually, I'm not sure what I mean. See, I do this. I rush into things."
"Well, it's not as if we just met." He reached up, touched her hands. "Who said to stop that?"
She smiled, went back to the hair playing. "But the sex is new and I'm already making plans for us. When there is no us."
"If the sex we just had is any indication, I wouldn't be opposed to an us." He smiled gently. "You're pretty much my type, you know. I like scientists."
"You do, don't you?"
"Yep. That and naughty librarians."
"I think that's an archetype, not an actual occupation."
"Ah. My mistake." He closed his eyes. "Don't stop doing that and I'll seriously consider your proposal."
"Forget I said it, all right?"
"It's out there. I may ignore it later, but I won't forget it, Chris." He drifted off as she continued the head massage and hair play, and she frowned, unsure why she'd moved so fast—why she always had to.
Prior to being stuck with him here, she'd never considered him as someone to become romantically entangled with. Now she suddenly wanted to make him break all his rules? Rules he hadn't been willing to break for Janice or Ny or any other of the many beautiful women on the crew?
What the hell was wrong with her? And why wasn't he more upset with her?
"Your rest time is over. Choose another scenario," the alien voice said over the loudspeaker.
Chapel walked to the wall, found a mistress in Tudor England and said, "This one. We should get this out of the way now."
Jim frowned but said, "All right," and settled his hand next to hers on the image.
The structure gave way to a large house. Tapestries covered the wall. Chapel was dressed in a lovely burgundy dress with slashed sleeves through which silver showed. Jim was dressed in a black and silver jacket with matching doublet and black hose, his hat decorated with a white feather.
Her name was Katherine but this man, Edward, called her Kat. She had come to his house to keep her cousin, his wife, company. She found her cousin boring.
So did Edward.
They could not say the same about each other. For months they had been circling one another. She had amassed a sizeable number of admirers, even some suitors, despite her lack of a fortune or title. Many of the young men were apparently hoping Edward, who was very rich, would provide a dowry of some sort.
Chapel felt herself settling into this scenario as if she was home, wished it weren't so. She didn't have to fight to not be pushed away—it was as if she and Kat were the same person.
"A walk, Kat?" Edward held out his arm and she took it. "Have you decided on a young man, yet?"
"Both Robert Norris and Mark Cameron interest me."
He waved as if a bad smell were in the air. "Neither is good enough for you."
She noticed he was leading them to the part of the house that was being renovated. The workers were all off today, celebrating at the local fair. She had thought perhaps to go to that later, see which of her young men might be there, might be tempted to buy her pretty things.
"Sir Edward, is this proper? This area of the house is quite deserted."
"I'm tired of this game, Kat. Aren't you?" He took her hand, hurried along, not waiting for her answer.
But then she didn't need to give him one. He knew her too well. When he finally stopped, they were deep into the torn-apart wing and he pulled her to him and kissed her.
His kisses were nothing like the tentative pecks of her callow boy suitors. His arms around her were strong, his lips assured. He was master of the place and she loved that. She wanted that.
She craved that.
He began to undo her clothing—thank God he had a wife so he understood how to disassemble the complicated fastenings—and she stood naked before him. "You are mine, Kat. No matter what happens. No matter who I may allow to marry you. You will always be mine, do you understand?"
She nodded. "I am yours." She eased off his jacket, but was unsure how to undo his doublet. "I've never..."
Chapel almost laughed at the idea of her being a virgin. But once Edward had shown her how to unfasten his clothing, once he had her up against the wall, was easing into her, she actually felt like a virgin again, and marveled that the aliens could do that.
"You will take care of me?" she asked.
"Always. You are mine."
This time the scenario faded around them as they were making love on the floor, their third time having sex—pushing their luck but they could not get enough of each other. He was thrusting hard, saying, "You're mine, Kat, mine," when the trappings of England fell away and they were back in the structure, and instead of pulling away, Jim finished her off, thrusting just as hard but not saying anything until he cried out.
He rolled off her, stared up at the ceiling. "Why did you choose that one? You said we should get it out of the way now. Why?"
"There are things you need to know about me." She lay as he'd left her, didn't try to snuggle up to him. "Roger wasn't merely my boss. It wasn't the simple cliché of younger woman older man." She looked over to see his reaction.
He didn't glance over. "No?"
"He was married to someone. A term marriage but still."
"Term marriages don't mean much." His voice was incredibly bitter and she wondered what he was talking about, resolved to ask him later but for now, she needed to forge on.
"Maybe not, but for his wife they did. He was the one who insisted on it being term."
"Yeah." She took a deep breath. "I stole him, Jim. I slept with him when he was married. I studied everything about him, morphed myself into something he would want, and stole him."
"But you must have loved him? You gave up your career for him, looked for him until you found him."
"I did love him. I went to too much work to get him not to."
She saw him frown. The statement was true, though. She wasn't going to take it back.
"I'm not sure what Spock was. A powerful man, definitely, but an aberration. Not one I could..."
"Such a horrible word."
"Possibly apt. Answer me this. You and Decker. Were you sleeping with him?"
She took a deep breath. "Yes."
He closed his eyes. "I didn't want to believe it. I didn't believe it." He sat up. "I goddamn defended you."
"To the board. When they questioned his insistence on having you. I said you wouldn't do that. What a fucking idiot. Of course you would."
She looked down. "Of course I would. I like powerful men, Jim."
"So do a lot of women. It's that you like to fuck powerful men that bothers me. And now you want me? Do you even see the person? Or am I just the commanding officer? The rank and the power?"
"That's not fair. I didn't have to tell you about Roger. I could have lied about Will—no one is left to tell the truth but me."
He laughed, but it was a bitter sound. "But you know what I want. That's what's makes you so good at this. You know I'd want the truth, that I'd place a premium on that. That I might forgive anything if it was bathed in honesty."
She shook her head. "I'm telling you the truth because that last scenario was the old me. I don't want to be that person. I can change."
"Yes, because it's been all of two months since your lover threw you over for a machine...again."
She tried to laugh, but the sound that came out was more wounded animal. She scrambled to her feet.
"Chris, I'm sorry. I went too far."
"No, that was the damn truth. I'm going outside. Can't go far obviously, but I need to get away from you. From us. From me. From everything. For the next scenario, why don't you pick one where you get to hurt me? An abusive spouse, maybe. Will do you good to get to work out this frustration."
"I don't want to hurt you."
"Well, you just did." She turned and walked out of the shelter.
He found her at the far side of the enclosure, and she wondered if he expected her to be crying. If so, he was going to be disappointed.
"Here," he said, handing her an ice cream cone. "Our captors get whimsical at weird times."
"Are you kidding me?"
"Just eat the damn cone." He took a bite of his. "So, let me share some of my own truths. So we're even."
"You don't have to."
"No, I think I do. It's not fair to have such an imbalance." He sat down across from her. "I was married while I was on Earth. Before I stole the ship from your lover and demoted you."
"How'd you guess?"
"The bitterness in your voice when you spoke of them."
"Yeah. That." He sighed. "She was an admiral. Not a star fucker like you."
She considered slamming her cone in his face, decided it tasted too good and said, "Asshole."
"Probably. Anyway, I was happy for a while. I kind of liked being an admiral. Being important. Making big decisions."
"But not being in space. I can't see you at a desk."
"That became a problem. But only once I found out she didn't consider marriage an exclusive type arrangement."
"Yeah. You do, right? For all you chase down these powerful men—once you have them, you're faithful?"
She considered. "If you take that ill advised crush on Spock out of the equation, then yes."
"We can call him your freebie." He grinned at her. "Theoretical freebie, not actual 'you can cheat with him' freebie."
"Do you care who I cheat with?" She felt a little beat of hope in her chest.
"Quite possibly." He held up his hand. "Do not say one goddamned thing about that."
She kept her mouth shut.
"Once I realized my marriage was a sham, I also saw that my job was, too. Started drinking. A lot. Too much. I think I kept the antitox companies in business. Should have bought stock." He looked down. "I was the worst possible version of myself. If you'd run into me then, you would not have liked me. At all."
"I'm sorry." She studied him. "You must have loved her."
"I don't know if I did. I loved the illusion, I think. The whole normal thing. Wife, hearth, power. Safety."
"When have you ever wanted to be safe?"
"There's a part of me that does. Not a big part"—he grinned, that megawatt smile—"but a part."
"And then V'ger came."
"Yeah. And then V'ger came. Nothing was going to get in my way, Chris. Not a damn thing."
"I understand. Will was crushed. You were his idol. Your recommendation meant everything to him. He didn't understand how you could pull the rug out from under him."
"Did you understand?"
"Absolutely. But then women like me always understand."
"Were you glad I was back?"
She thought carefully about her answer. "I felt for my lover—and I did love him, Jim. And it hurt me when he died. When Ilia showed up, I knew Will and I were done. Anything I was to him was so far behind what he felt for her. But I missed him when he was gone."
"But...as a commander, Will was inexperienced compared to you. I had no lustful feelings for you at the time, but I'd served under you and I knew if anyone could get us home safely, it was you. I would never have told Will this, but I heaved a huge sigh of relief when you took the conn. And that's the truth, sir. Doctor to captain, not woman to man."
"Thank you, Doctor."
She nodded. "Are you still drinking too much?"
"No. The ship cures all."
"Except that." He took a deep breath. "You know how to be discreet."
"It's a point in your favor."
"I didn't know I was still under consideration after our last conversation. And you just called me a star fucker."
"Well the fact that you are one doesn't mean I don't want you."
"Screwed up, isn't it?"
"Very. Not sure I like it."
"Join the club, sister." He went back to his cone. "At least the ice cream's good."
She nodded. "Spock gonna find us soon?"
"I damn well hope so. I don't think I can take many more of your truths."
"It is time to choose another scenario," the alien said, its voice not quite as booming.
"Wow, even the alien is feeling sorry for us, I think." Chapel sighed. "I'm sorry, Jim."
"Don't be sorry. We are who we are. It's not as if you told me you're a mass murderer." He shot her a tired grin. "You're not a mass murderer, right?"
"Yay." He took her hand, squeezed it, then let it go. "Are you going to forgive me if I pick this one?"
She looked up to the one he was pointing at. Gangster and his gun moll. "Missing Sigma Iotia II? Or paying me back for liking powerful men?"
"Gangsters weren't always nice to their women, Jim. Are you taking me up on my advice to get violent?"
He looked dismayed, pulled his hand away. "I didn't think of that. I thought it might actually be fun."
She pushed his hand back, laid her own over his. "Okay."
The change happened before he could react. She saw the concern in his eyes, knew that they might be in for trouble.
Her name was Denise. He was Big Mickey. They were not getting along. Denise was sincerely frightened of Mickey and that fear was pushing Chapel away, more than any other scenario had.
She wondered if Mickey's anger was pushing Jim away—or would it draw him in more. And would that mean he'd be able to mitigate the anger...or embrace it?
Mickey grabbed her, his fingers closing painfully over her wrist. "Denise, where the hell were you this morning? Danny said you snuck out."
"I had to go see my mom. She's sick. I told you that."
Chapel nearly lost her hold in the rush of pure panic: Denise hadn't been with her mom, she'd been with the Feds. She was turning on Mickey, getting him before he could get her.
"Yeah, I had a good talk with your mom. She says she's the picture of health. So why don't you tell me again where you were." He grabbed her hair, forced her to her knees in front of him. She felt as if her wrist was breaking, he had it twisted at such an extreme angle.
"Mickey, I'd never lie to you. Not unless it were for something good, you know that, sweetie." She put her best smile on. "Your birthday's coming up. A girl's gotta shop."
"What'd you get me, then?"
"Nothing yet. Haven't found the right thing." Denise was thinking the right thing would be the electric chair.
Chapel tried to inject a sense of reason into the woman. If she wasn't careful, she'd look like she was gloating, like she had a secret.
Chapel saw Mickey's expression get harder, not softer. She knew she was too late.
"You think you're so smart." He twisted hard and Chapel felt her wrist go.
She screamed and he had her over his lap, twisting her wrist harder as tears streamed down her face.
"Who are you working with?"
"Nobody, Mickey. I love you."
"I will break every bone in your body until you tell me. And then I will kill you. Or I can kill you right now and save me a lot of trouble and you a lot of pain. Which is it, Denise?"
"I ain't working with nobody."
He bent her little finger back. "Really?"
Chapel told her to just tell him. Get this over with. Get her out of this body. She wondered if any part of Jim was enjoying this.
This was her body he was breaking. She hoped to hell the aliens had regenerators—but then Jim had bled out and been none the worse for wear. She should be fine.
She could tell Denise was about to say, "Nobody," and somehow managed to wrestle control from the woman, managed to get her to say, "The Feds," instead.
Mickey shook his head. "Dumb broad." Then he reached into his desk drawer, pulled out his letter opener, and stabbed her in the throat.
He dropped her on the floor next to his feet. It took her a long time to bleed out. He worked the whole time she lay dying.
The scenario faded. Chapel crawled away from Jim, knocking him off her when he picked her up off the floor, having to do it again when he came back. "Get off me."
"Chris, that wasn't me."
"Some part of it was."
"No." He lifted the wrist Mickey had broken, kissed it gently. Pulled her closer, and laid his lips where her throat had been punctured. "That wasn't me."
She threw her arms around him, hugged him as tightly as she could. "I got her to tell him the truth," she whispered. "I wanted it to end so badly."
"I tried to get him to kill you quickly. I couldn't." He kissed her again, then pulled away, kissed her for real, a deep kiss, mouth open, tongue questing.
She pushed him away. "You don't even like me."
"Does that matter to you?"
She slapped him—or tried to. He caught her hand before she could connect. "Yes, it goddamn matters." She felt all the energy go out of her. Tired, she was so very tired. How many more of these scenarios would they have to do before they got a break?
"Why? Why does it matter?"
"Because you know the real me. Roger, Will, even Spock—they never knew the real me. So if they liked me or not, it didn't matter. They liked a construct. But if you like me, then you like me."
"How could Spock not know the real you? You two shared consciousness."
"That? After I came down from the high of having him in my mind and had time to analyze things, I realized he kept so far away from me, even inside my brain, it was laughable." She looked down. "I mean I guess I could be charitable and say he was the perfect gentleman. But it was really more like a germaphobe trying his level best not to touch anything."
"So no deep sharing?"
She laughed. "No shallow sharing. No sharing, period. You know me best now—to your detriment."
"Then let me make love to you. I think we need to get that last scenario out of our heads, don't you?"
He moved in and kissed her slowly, in a way he hadn't up till now, and she realized he was seducing her. For the first time, she was going to see what her captain was so famous for. He kissed down her body, stopping at her chest, lingering there a long time until she begged him to keep moving, and with a smile, he did.
She arched when he finally touched her, his lips, his tongue, his fingers. She was so ready for him, she was gone in moments, but he didn't let up, holding her in place, sending her over the cliff again. He moved up, watched her face as she came down, as she came back to him.
"I do not think I want to give this up," he whispered as he moved and entered her.
"Then don't," she said softly as she wrapped her legs around him, moaning even more as he pushed them up higher, around his shoulders, as he took her harder than she expected, the force mitigated by him saying, "I'm sorry, Chris," as he thrust.
When he finished, she slid her legs down, wrapping them around his hips, keeping him in place even though he showed no signs of wanting to escape. He kissed her tenderly and she rubbed his hair. "I could love you so easily," he murmured. "Is that you or is that us?"
"I think that's us. I'm not that good on my own."
"Don't sell yourself short. You talked your way aboard my ship and it only took you half an hour." He kissed her again, smiling the same way he had then. Then his smile changed. "Maybe it is us. I was never that big a sucker before or after."
She smiled. "I knew you'd let me on. Something told me you'd respond to the finding my lost love angle."
"I expected you to leave after you found Roger. I was surprised you didn't. Chalked it up to Spock."
"Partly that. But I enjoyed serving under you." She squeezed her legs. "Not as much as I am right now, however."
"You made me feel safe."
"There's that word again." He tried to shift, shot her a look when she wouldn't let him go. "Aren't I getting heavy?"
"Yes. But I like this. I feel so...connected to you right now."
"I know." He kissed her, a long, sweet kiss.
It would have been longer and sweeter if the door to the enclosure hadn't been blown in.
Chapel thought they set a new land speed record for two people coming apart from sex. He gallantly stood in front of her, hands in the classic fig-leaf position.
"Mister Spock. How nice of you to drop in."
"Captain. Doctor. I trust you are unharmed."
"We are indeed. I trust you have some clothing for us?"
"I will procure some."
Chapel giggled. "Guess he was not prepared for the 'finding us naked' eventuality?"
"Apparently not. You'd think after all the times..."
"I know." She could feel herself sweating, knew it was nerves. "Do you think it smells like sex in here? Vulcans have better senses of smell, right?"
"It probably reeks in here."
She rested her head against his back for a moment, felt him push against her. Then Spock was back and she stood up straight, took the clothing he tossed to them and put her own uniform back on.
Jim turned around, gave her a strange look.
"This never happened?"
"I wasn't going to say that."
"Okay." She waited. Strangely, she felt more naked with her clothes on than she had before.
"You can still call me Jim, but when we're alone, only. Until we figure this out."
"All right." Would they be alone? She decided not to ask. Did not want to hear the answer if it was no.
"Jim?" Spock, who apparently could call him Jim whenever the hell he wanted, sounded impatient. "Are you ready to go?"
"Yeah. We're ready." He narrowed his eyes, and she wondered if she should read into the fact that he'd made it first person plural instead of singular.
"Let's get the hell out of here, Chris."
Back on the ship, it was as if nothing had ever happened. Jim treated her the same way he always had. Pleasant when he saw her, a smile, a soft "How are you?" but nothing more.
Not the first night, which she spent waiting for him to comm her.
Not the second night, which she also spent by her comm, after she made sure it was working right.
Not the third night, which she spent in the rec lounge, turning down offers to dance and staring at where he and Spock were sitting until Ny finally said, "You really can't let things go, can you?"
It took her a moment to realize her friend was referring to Spock, not the captain.
"You know what, Ny? That was the old me. I can let things go. And tonight since I've got a splitting headache, I'm turning in as soon as I finish this drink." She sipped her vodka tonic and looked around the room. There were at least ten men younger than the captain and equally as good looking. She waited until Spock got up to get more water, threw her drink back, said, "Goodnight" to Ny, and then walked to Jim's table.
She stopped, leaned down, and said softly, "Jackson, Foreman, Garcia, Calendro, Monroe, and I'll leave the other five to your imagination. The old me would be in bed with one of them by now. The new me is just going to turn in. Good night, sir." She straightened up and walked out quickly.
A few minutes later, her chime rang and she smiled. This had been easier than she'd thought.
She opened the door and her smile faded—Spock stood there. "Can I...help you?"
"Jim indicated you might need to talk?"
"I surmised that the aliens put you through something similar to what we underwent with the Platonians?"
She managed to both shake her head and nod tightly—the perfect gesture of ambiguity. She added a shrug for good measure.
"Christine, the corridor is surely not the place to discuss this."
"You want to come in?" She stood aside. "Then by all means, come on in." She waited to see where he would sit, sat as far from him as she could. "Why are you here, now?"
"I saw you talking to Jim just before you left the rec lounge. He seemed...out of sorts so I inquired if all was well."
"You have mastered the monosyllabic non-response as well as he has."
"Med school teaches you lots of things. You said he said to come?"
"He said you probably needed to talk."
"Did he say he meant I needed to talk to you?"
"He did not. I inferred that, given your feelings for me in the past. I believe he intended for me to infer that since he did not stop me when I said I would leave him and come to inquire as to your well being."
She kept her face as stone faced as his used to be. His expression now was actually quite confused. "I'm fine, Spock."
"But you were ill used."
"I'm fine." She leaned in. "And I don't need to talk to you. I...got over you. I'm sorry if that's not what you wanted to hear."
"That answer does not trouble me."
"Then we're fine." She stood up. "And you can go. This has been very helpful, thank you for reaching out."
He frowned, an actual frown, with brows knitted down and mouth pursed. "In what way was this helpful?"
She patted him on the arm. "In the way that I know I have a friend. And if I need help, I can go to you. Can't I?"
"And I didn't know that before. So that's very helpful. And reassuring."
"This is a very strange conversation."
"It really is. Will you do me one favor, Spock?"
"Yes." He sounded a little bit defeated.
She smiled. "It won't hurt, I promise. Tell the captain about our strange conversation. I think he will find it illuminating."
"I do not understand."
"I know. But do it anyway. For a friend. And then, in the future, if he ever asks you to do anything like this again, tell him to go to hell." She leaned up and kissed his cheek. "And tell him I said that, too. Do not leave out that part."
"I know. But you're dealing with humans, my friend."
She went to bed as soon as he was gone. She knew Jim well enough to know there was no way he'd show up that night.
A week later, she was tired of being ignored. There were no more stunts with Spock, thank God, and Jim hadn't tried to sic Len on her in an "any boss in the storm" kind of thing. But he was outdoing himself on the "Chris doesn't exist" front. The last time she'd passed him in the corridors, he hadn't even acknowledged her.
That had hurt.
She was walking from the gym to her quarters, trying not to think about him when the lift opened and he walked out. He took her in but walked right by her, no greeting, not even a nod.
She turned, ready to say something, but she stopped herself. This was his ship. And she'd told him who she really was.
And he clearly didn't like who she really was.
She got back to her quarters, sat down at her desk, and put her transfer request in. She sent it straight to him—he'd know why she wanted off. Hell, he'd probably expedite it, replacement be damned.
Then she just sat, staring at the screen, waiting for it to come back approved so she could start packing. She wanted to cry but she felt empty inside, like tears were for the fake Christines she'd built for Roger and Will, the women they'd fallen in love with. The real Chapel had nothing left inside her.
He didn't respond to the request, and she finally moved from the chair to the bed, lying unsleeping, staring at the ceiling, counting the tiles until her shift started.
She worked through the day, expecting Len to come out and ask her why she was leaving, expecting Jim to come in and tell her to not let the door hit her on the way out—a physical impossibility on a starship, barring malfunction, but still a great saying if you weren't the one it was said to.
She was so tired she felt sick, and she was too keyed up to eat. She drank coffee in the morning, but the caffeine made her sick so she switched to water. By the end of her shift her hands were shaking and she felt dizzy.
She went back to her quarters, sat in front of her computer. Still nothing. She hit the intercom, said softly, "Quarters to quarters only."
The computer replied, "Quarters to quarters only."
"Chapel to Kirk."
She waited, sipping water, getting shakier as the night progressed and he still wasn't there.
Finally, he answered. "Kirk here."
"I sent you something." Her voice was trembling and she hated that: he'd think she was crying.
"I saw it yesterday."
"Can you do something with it please?"
"I'm still thinking about it." He cut the connection.
A moment later, her chime rang. She didn't get up, just said, "Come."
He came in, took one look at her, and said, "Chris," as he crouched down.
"I need to get off this ship." She met his eyes, had trouble seeing him. Why was it so hard to see him?
"Shhh, it's all right." He was easing her up, over to sit on the bed. "When was the last time you ate?"
"I don't know. Lunch yesterday."
He handed her a tissue—was she crying? "Did you get any sleep last night?"
"No. Jim, just approve the damn request. Let me out of here. You don't like me. You don't approve of me. I understand that. I just can't live with it. I need to get off your ship. I can't breathe."
He pulled her into his arms and kissed her, his lips gentle, like that first kiss he'd given her in the zoo. The one that said, "I'm sorry I hurt you."
And it broke her. She really started to cry and was sure he'd push her away, but he only held on tighter.
"Chris, Chris, I'm sorry, but I had to know how you'd act. If I ignored you in a nice way, if I sent Spock your way, and if I wasn't so nice. I had to know. Who were you really?"
"Well, you see. I'm pathetic."
"No, you're not. You didn't sleep with all those—younger, thanks for that—men. You sent Spock back to me the way you should. And you didn't call me out in an empty corridor and make a scene. You didn't force it. You didn't try to seduce me when I wasn't going to let you in. You just...asked to be let off the ship. I didn't expect this, though." He played with her hair and she leaned against him. "I didn't expect you to be so sad."
"I never let anyone see the real me. But I felt safe with you. Even when you were ignoring me but testing me with stupid things like Spock, I still did. But then you weren't even acknowledging me and I didn't feel safe anymore. And I didn't know what I was going to do if you didn't let me off the ship. I couldn't go back to what I was, not on your ship. But I wasn't going to let anyone else in, not as long as I was here. I feel so lost."
"If I let you go, will you go back to being that old Christine?"
"I don't know. Probably."
"Then I clearly can't let you go."
"Come on." He pulled her up, drew her with him to the bathroom, and said, "I haven't eaten either, so clean up, Doctor. I can't be seen in the mess with a woman who has makeup running down her face."
She tried to wipe off the smeared mascara but her hands were shaking. "I'm sorry, Jim. I'm just so tired." She turned and walked back to the bedroom.
He caught her before she got the desk, pulled her into his arms and held her. "It's okay. We'll do the grand coming out some other day. What sounds good? I'll get it for us."
She had to think about it, finally said, "A ham and cheese omelette?"
"I make a great omelette. Eggs are kind of my specialty. Someday, I'll cook them for you." He let her go, went to the bed and turned down the covers. Then he took off her uniform, kissing her gently as he worked. "I'm sorry, sweetheart."
Once she was naked, he said, "Get into bed. I'll be back with dinner."
"What if I fall asleep?"
"Put me on your door."
She walked over with him to the door, added him to the access list, and then let him tuck her in and give her a kiss. "Why are you doing this?"
"Because I want you. And you passed all my tests—and some I didn't even know I had." He leaned in for another kiss and then left her.
She closed her eyes, was asleep in seconds, woke when he came back, crawling into her bed as naked as she, plumping pillows behind her, sharing the enormous omelette he'd had made for them.
"This is better than they usually fix it."
"I have them add dill."
She was so sleepy she could barely keep her eyes open, felt more than saw him put the plate on the floor. "So I can stay—with you, I mean?"
"No, I plan to feed all the crew in bed...naked."
She smiled. "It might increase efficiency."
He laughed. "Even dead tired you make me smile."
"I can make you smile more. Make love to me."
"Tomorrow. You're too tired right now. We're not just about sex, Chris."
"That's nice." She cuddled into him. "I missed you."
"I missed you, too."