The Price of Valor

by Djinn

Kirk doesn't want to walk into the isolation cell, but he forces himself to. Chris is sitting in the corner of the room, head cocked at an almost painful angle, one arm bent as if it's broken.

She sees him and says, "Have you brought cookies?" Her voice is the strange singsong it's been since he got her back from the bastard who believed exploration equaled trespass.

And trespass on his planet required suffering.

"No, no cookies." Kirk has no idea who Chris thinks he is today. But he sits across from her on the padded floor and takes a deep breath. "How are you feeling?"

"I made sunshine out of antimatter." She leans in, a broken smile on her face. "Don't tell. They'll be very irritated with me. They don't like us using antimatter in experiments."

He tries to smile. "It'll be our secret."

"You promised cookies last time." Her look is almost her old one. Accusing and teasing. He's struck by how she can switch to nearly normal for these brief seconds.

And then revert right back to madness.

He gives her a tired smile. "The mess hall was out of cookies. I'll bring some later. The cook is making gingersnaps just for you."

"The thin kind? I love those. With a big glass of milk?"

"Just like that. The way you like it." They used to eat those in bed, crumbs be damned. Washing the spiciness away with the milk. People who think he lives on the edge since he stole his ship back from Decker would have been shocked to see the easy domesticity they enjoyed.

He sleeps alone now. Has for a month. While the woman he loves paces a padded cell. Or worse, sits like this, tangled like a spider, spouting nonsense.

Or worst of all: occasionally making sense. Giving him hope.

"If I'm very good," she says, "will you promise to let me walk in space?"

He closes his eyes. He hates this question. She asks it often. "No, Chris."

"It would be fast. No suit. No mask. Just push off and float." She gives him a smile so beautiful it hurts. "I wouldn't be here anymore. I'd just go to sleep."

She wants to die. She's crazy from what the alien did to her, but she knows enough that she's wanted to die since Kirk got her back.

And the hell of it is that she sacrificed herself for his ship, for his crew, for him. "Someone had to pay," the alien said, so she stepped forward, and the alien beamed the rest of them back.

Kirk loves her for it.

He hates her for it, too.

He hates himself more, though. That he didn't realize the alien would send the rest of them away as soon as she volunteered. That he was stupid enough, even once it was done, to think he could get her back before the alien could hurt her. Spock and Scotty thought so, too. They'd beamed in so easily, beaming her out wouldn't be that much of a trick.

They were wrong. She paid the price. He had to watch.

If he could go back and kill the alien, he would. But Starfleet has warned him off. Told him to lay down some warning buoys and move on.

He can imagine their thought process. So he's down a doctor? Not that big a deal. Not when it might have been him or Spock or Mister Scott. The only other three on the landing party. And why she stepped forward. "You're too important to lose, Jim. All of you—more crucial than I am."

He wanted to argue with her—did argue with her. But she was right and they all knew it—not that it would have stopped him from stepping forward if she hadn't beaten him to the punch and that goddamn alien hadn't beamed them—

So much easier to blame the alien.

Starfleet Command thought it was the logical choice, too. They gave her a commendation for valor; Kirk's still waiting to give her the medal.

They don't know she was his lover. They don't know he's at loose ends without her. They don't know he is fully aware she should be in a Starfleet facility, and yet he can't bear to send her away.

"I love you, Jim." She is, for a moment, his Chris—and she knows him, which breaks his heart. She's staring at him with a look of worry, as if she can read the track his thoughts have taken.

"I love you, too, Chris." He reaches out for her, but she is already gone, head thrown back, rocking against the wall, reciting a periodic table she's made up that appears to be comprised solely of cocktails.

He gets to his feet slowly. "I miss you, Chris."

She doesn't even look at him as he backs to the door and rings for the nurse to let him out.

##

Spock sits across from Christine, trying to make sense of the tangled logic that comes out of her. He wants to give her back to Jim. Wants that more than anything.

He was the one that suggested they explore what he had designated Sardris VIII, but what the alien called simply home. He feels...guilty.

And this woman became his friend, once she was no longer interested in him, once she was his best friend's love.

"Does it hurt?" Christine leans forward, studying his ears. "How did they make them pointed?"

He sighs. "I was born this way. You know that, Christine."

"Hmm." She does not sound convinced. "I invented a song. But if I sing it, the sun will explode."

"Which sun? There are many stars central to stellar systems. Or are you referring to the terran Sol?"

She stares at him. "Your ears must hurt. You sound very cranky." She begins to walk her fingers up the padded wall, singing about a miniscule arachnid and a waterspout.

"I take it that is not the song in question?"

"Of course not. I'm careful. I wouldn't want to hurt anyone."

He frowns, watches her in silence for a long moment, then quietly says, "You were hurt."

She stumbles over the song.

"You were hurt very badly."

"Don't remember."

"I think you do." He leans forward. "The sun...did your sun explode?"

"No sun. No sun exploding."

"You said it for a reason, Christine."

She stares at him, then leans in, and says, "It's a powerful song." They stay like that for a moment, then she yells, "Boo!" and slams herself back into the wall, rocking furiously.

He forces himself to sit, not moving, not reacting to her mania.

Finally, she calms. "There were supposed to be cookies."

"What kind?"

"Gingersnaps."

Jim was asking the cook to make some earlier. He had wondered why. "I'm sure there will be some later."

"Before the sun explodes?"

"I thought you said you were not going to sing?"

"It might explode for some other reason." She curls up like a cat at his feet. "Why can't I go for a walk?"

"Because you want to go for that walk in space."

"I'm tired, Spock."

It is the most cogent thing she's said all day. He takes a chance, lays his hand on her head as lightly as he can, trying to read her. All he feels is the same chaos he dealt with when she first came back, when they thought a meld might be enough to reach her, to bring her back.

"Where would you go on your walk?"

"To the sun."

"The one that is about to explode?"

She nods.

He is sure this means something. He just cannot figure out what it is. He lifts his hand from her head. "You rest."

As he pushes himself to his feet, he hears her ask, "I make him sad, don't I?"

He does not ask her who she means, says only, "He is glad you are alive."

"Big liar." Her tone is almost the one of old, of the woman who teased him from beside Jim's side.

##

Uhura sits down on the padded floor and studies her friend. The captain is too close, wants too much. Spock feels too guilty, will push too hard.

They've told her there's nothing she can do.

But they're boys. What the hell do they know?

"Christine?" She stretches out on the floor, the same way she would if they were having a girls' night in one of their quarters. She lies quietly, humming for a moment, then softly sings, "A kiss on the hand may be quite continental..."

Christine is writing words with her finger on the wall and doesn't stop, but she does softly sing back, "but diamonds are a girls best friend."

Uhura smiles. She rolls to her stomach, rests her chin on her hands. "I miss Jan, don't you?"

Christine ignores her.

She digs a piece of Christine's favorite candy out of her pocket—or it used to be, until she ate too many and got sick. That was during Med School, while the Enterprise was in refits.

"Chapel, bet you can't eat just one." She holds up the white chocolate square.

Christine's reaction is instantaneous, her expression one of disgust.

So some things get a rise out of her. Some things she can even join in with. Other things might as well be silence. This will take a while to figure out what moves her, what doesn't, but Christine helped Uhura after Nomad wiped her memory; this is the least Uhura can do to repay her.

She rolls to her side, studies Christine as she continues to write on the wall. Remembers what it was like watching her friend suffer, watching the captain rush up to the bridge—the alien beamed him and Spock and Scotty back once the choice was made. "The alien made us watch, Christine. It was on every screen. We all knew what you were doing for the others."

Christine's hand falters for a moment, and Uhura takes note of that.

"You were brave. He hurt you so badly." She looks down. "I thought the captain was going to go through the viewscreen to get you. He left the bridge without assigning the conn when you beamed back. He never does that."

"Sun exploding."

"What?"

"The sun exploded. I sang."

"You screamed, Christine. Anyone would have." She moves closer. "No one—not even Spock—could have withstood that in silence. Believe me. He told me that."

"If I sing again, the sun will explode."

"What does that mean, honey?"

"I wrote a poem. See?" She runs her hands over the wall where she's been scrawling her invisible letters. "It's a love poem. To death."

"Why would you write a love poem to death?"

"Death was supposed to come for me, but he didn't. Maybe he needs to be wooed?"

"No, baby. He doesn't need to be wooed. You're not dying."

Christine looks at her, and her eyes are completely lucid. "Sometimes dead things don't fall down right away."

Uhura finally understands the bleakness of Kirk's expression, the utter despair she's caught on his face the last few days. "You're not dead." She watches Christine for a long time, finally says, "I should go. But I'll be back."

"Do you think he'll like my poem?"

"Death isn't coming for you, Christine. The captain won't let him."

Christine's face changes to an expression that matches the captain's in bleakness. Then she turns back to the wall. "I'll try again. Something prettier this time."

##

Kirk sits across the room from Chris; he is exhausted from too many shifts during a diplomatic crisis that required round-the-clock monitoring and a lot of posturing at red alert. The floor is soft, surrounds him, the walls do too, and he closes his eyes.

A moment later he is jarred awake by the feeling of Chris's head in his lap. She has curled up beside him, lies staring up at him. Her eyes, for once, don't seem so crazy or maybe he's just too tired to see her for what she really is. He reaches out slowly, lets his hand settle on her hair.

She smiles. "You finally came."

"I've been here all along."

"No, not you. Him. Just over your shoulder. Death."

Kirk shakes his head. "I chased him away. Again."

"You should stop doing that." She reaches up, puts her hand over where his lies on her hair. "He could give us peace."

"No, Chris. Death isn't peace. Death is just death." He lets his eyes shut. He knows it's not recommended to fall asleep in here with her, but he's too tired to care.

When he wakes, hours later, he's curled around her on the floor like they're a pair of wild animals. He lies there for a long time, before he kisses her neck and leaves her with a murmured, "I love you. I miss you so much."

##

Spock sits with Christine, mirroring her movements. He is irritating her, but it is something he hasn't tried yet, and it is getting more of a reaction than anything else he has done.

She glances over at him as he writes on the wall the way she is doing, stops abruptly and sits very still, staring at him.

"Christine, what do you remember from Sardris VIII?"

Her expression changes. He realizes he has taken her by surprise.

"Were the restraints metal or some kind of polymer?"

For a moment, he can see the face of the woman he knows. And she looks crushed that he would ask her this. "Steel, I think," she nearly spits at him, and then she slams her hand into the wall. Does it again and again.

The fabric is too thick to allow her to injure herself, but the burst of energy seems to have calmed her. She goes back to writing on the wall with her finger.

"Where did the alien strike you first?"

She ignores him. Even starts to sing something, a song about diamonds—an odd choice of subject.

"Christine, why will the sun explode?"

"Sun didn't. No sun."

He frowns. "But if you sing, it will, will it not?"

"I was wrong." She gets up, begins to pace. Then laughs. "I miss Jan, don't you?"

"I did not know Chief Rand well enough to miss her, Christine."

She looks lost, as if she is searching through her memories for something. Finally, she whispers, "Bet you can't eat just one."

He has no idea what she is talking about. Her logic is, as ever, convoluted. He sighs and gets up. "I will see you soon, Christine."

She is still standing there, looking lost, when he glances through the small window once he is outside the cell.

##

Uhura comes in, finds Christine sitting quietly in the center of the room.

"Shhh," she says. "Don't scare him off."

"Who?"

"Shhh. He's—" Suddenly she's up and running the short distance across the cell, stopping as she crashes into the wall, the fabric bouncing her back. She lands on her rear, scuttles back and glares at Uhura. "Damn you. I waited hours for him."

"Who, Christine?"

"Couldn't you see him?" Christine lies down and buries her head in her arms. "I'm tired of being the only one who sees things."

"I'm sorry." She reaches out and strokes Christine's hair. "Can you tell me who he was?"

"He had a piece of me."

"He wasn't death?"

"No." Christine rolls over, stares up at the ceiling. "Pieces of me fell off. Every time I...screamed."

"Does...Jim know that?" It's hard to call the captain by his first name. He's never told her to, but she's afraid she'll knock Christine out of the conversation if she calls him anything else.

"He knows I'm missing. He doesn't know where to look to find me."

"Do you know where to look?"

Christine shrugs. "Not if they're going to run away before I can get my pieces back from them."

"Do you think Spock could help?"

"He looks inside me. The pieces fell off." She curls up, putting her head on Uhura's lap. "Help me find me, Ny?"

It's the first time Christine has called her by name since she's been in this cell. "I will, honey. We'll find you."

"So many pieces." She closes her eyes, her breathing slowing. "Sing to me?"

Uhura sings lullabies and slow, soft songs. She keeps singing long after Christine has fallen asleep.

##

Kirk's had a shitty day and he comes into the cell, sees Chris sitting on the floor, looking as if she's going through an imaginary jigsaw puzzle, and he slides down the wall and puts his head in his hands.

"Where is it?" she asks. "I need it. Give it back. That piece is important."

"Jesus." He pulls his knees up, tries to make himself as small as possible.

He nearly jumps out of his skin when he feels her touch his cheek. Opening his eyes, he sees her studying him, her expression far from lucid but somehow kind—somehow forgiving. When it shouldn't be. Because this is his fault. This is all his fault.

He strokes her hair. "Sweetheart, I'm so sorry."

She leans into his hand.

"I shouldn't have left you there. I should have stayed. I was going to but you got the jump on me—because you always know what I'm going to do. I'm supposed to protect you, not leave you with a...monster." He blinks back tears—tears he's held inside for all this time. Tears that he can't hold back now. He gives up and lets them flow.

She wipes them off his cheeks. "You're missing pieces, too."

"Sure. Okay," he says, and his voice comes out broken.

"No, we'll find them." She leans in, kisses him gently on the mouth, and he knows it's not advisable to let her do that, or to open his mouth to her when she deepens the kiss, but he's so lonely, and he misses her so much, that he does it anyway.

The way she's kissing him, he can almost forget that things aren't the way they used to be. But he mustn't forget that. He can never let himself forget that.

She pulls away and smiles. "I'll look for your pieces, too. They're different than mine."

"Okay, Chris." He takes a deep breath; it's ragged, more a sob than an inhale.

She smiles sadly—the look he grew to know when she was a nurse. The lovely smile that meant compassion and care and no judgment. Then she moves to sit next to him and takes his hand. "It may take me a while to find them. I'm not at my best."

He nods, wipes the tears from his face.

She puts her head on his shoulder, and he wraps his arm around her. They sit like that for a long time.

##

Spock sits in the middle of the cell, watching as Christine carefully paces out a perfect square, making tight right faces as she corners.

"Are you serving a purpose?" she asks, not looking at him, staring down at the ground as she places her feet carefully.

"Are you angry at me?"

"No." She suddenly does an about face. It is perfectly executed and she smiles. She begins to walk the square from the other direction. "Some of my pieces hide this way."

"Is that so?"

She stops, stands very still, then turns her head to look at him. She studies him as if he is an experiment—one that has begun to smell bad.

"Are you sure you are not angry at me?" he asks.

She suddenly smiles and reaches down and to the side, snatching up something. "I've been looking all over for this one."

"I was the one who backed your argument against Jim that it was the logical thing to leave you on the planet. Mister Scott did not."

She ignores him.

He looks down. "I should have stayed. My mental disciplines are stronger."

"I can't find all the pieces." She is standing with her hands on her hips, looking like his mother when she was annoyed with him as a child. "I have enough to do."

"All right." He is not sure what else to say. She looks so aggrieved that he says, "All right, Christine. You do not have to find all the pieces."

She rolls her eyes. "Thank you." Then she resumes her pacing. Her left face is not as well executed as her right face, and he can see by her expression that she knows it.

"No pieces without perfection." She motions for him to stand up. "Left face, mister."

He does one, is a little rusty—it has been a long time since he drilled.

She gives him a look of disgust. "You'll never find yours that way." She practices her left faces for a few minutes then, once apparently satisfied, goes back to her pacing.

"I am sorry, Christine. I need to say that. I know you don't understand what I'm sorry for."

She keeps pacing.

He takes a deep breath. Did he really expect absolution? When he looks at Jim, he thinks his friend blames him in some small measure. But he suspects Jim blames himself most of all.

"Christine, if I could do it again differently, I would."

"Slingshot around the sun, Spock. Just don't let it explode."

He frowns. That actually made sense—of a sort. Even if Starfleet would never sign off on a mission to the past just to save one woman. "I would like to. I would do the computations most carefully."

She gives him a sweet smile, and he feels a pang of regret that he has had a hand in what she has come to.

"Your turns are very precise. Most impressive."

She lifts her head up and smiles as she continues on her way.

##

Uhura sits as Christine goes through a deck of imaginary playing cards, discarding some, keeping others. "Good hand?" she asks.

"I work with what I'm dealt," Christine says and Uhura smiles—Christine is getting more lucid, even if the boys don't seem to be noticing.

But that's okay. The boys have their own issues to deal with, and in Uhura's opinion they aren't doing a bang-up job of that. So she'll just quietly continue on with her project and let them do whatever it is they do with Christine in peace.

Christine hands a couple pretend cards to Uhura, who smiles and says, "Thanks." She places them carefully on the padded floor, then asks, "Did you find more pieces?"

Christine looks down. "A few. It's...it's getting harder."

"Why is that?"

Christine doesn't answer for a long time, just pretend-shuffles and deals, but Uhura waits. Finally, she says, "It hurts."

"How does it hurt?"

Again there is a long silence. Christine reaches over, scoops up the cards she gave Uhura, smiling apologetically and saying, "I need them back. Need a full deck."

Uhura wonders if one of the staff has made a comment about not playing with one. If she finds out that's the case, someone is going to be talking to the angry end of Mama Ny.

She lets Christine play whatever game she thinks she's got going for a few more hands, then asks again, "How does it hurt, honey?"

"They left me." Christine's hands start to tremble and suddenly she throws the pretend cards down, stands up and begins to pace. "I want cookies. Jim said there'd be cookies, but there never are. When will there be cookies?"

Uhura can hardly breathe. She waits for Christine to calm down, and it's a long wait, but finally Christine comes back and sits.

"They left you?"

Christine sits very still, as if moving is suddenly dangerous. She lifts her eyes to meet Uhura's. "I was all alone." Her eyes are too lucid, too knowing, and Uhura is afraid that she might lose her, that this will be too much, so she sits perfectly still and says nothing at all.

Christine swallows, takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "It hurt." She drags the word "hurt" out so it's half whisper, half moan, and Uhura closes her eyes, remembering what she saw on that screen, knowing that hurt does not begin to cover the agony Christine must have felt.

"Does it hurt too much to come back?" It's the question everyone wants the answer to, and once it's out, Uhura isn't sure she should have asked it.

Christine sinks to the floor, almost boneless. "I wish there were cookies."

"There will be. Jim will bring you some."

Christine looks sad. "Pieces gone, too."

"I know, honey. All your men are broken."

##

Kirk is in his quarters, about to go see Chris, when his chime sounds. "Come," he says.

It is Uhura. She comes in almost gingerly, and he realizes this is terra incognita for her.

"Nyota?"

"Sir, take her cookies."

"Excuse me?"

"Christine. She's ready for cookies." She meets his eyes, and he sees pity in hers—hates that he sees that in hers. No anger though, no blame. At least there's no blame. "I've been seeing some progress."

"Have you? Because I haven't."

"Are you in any shape to look, sir?"

Why the hell doesn't she call him Jim in private? Has he really never told her to? "Drop the sir, Nyota. It's Jim."

"Okay. Jim." She smiles, but it's a sad smile, and he knows she shouldn't have had to wait till something like this to be allowed to call him by his first name. "And don't try to deflect. You're not at your best, Jim."

He sighs. "I'm not at my best because I let the woman I love be tortured. What the hell do you expect?"

"I expect you to forgive yourself. She can't hold your pain, too."

He frowns.

"She knows you're in pain. And she's in enough of it herself. You and Spock, you're both beating yourselves up for what happened. Stop it. Now. She doesn't need that. She needs you to be strong. That's what you are to her—don't you know that? She told me once. She said being with you was like coming out into the sun after being inside for years."

He exhales, a short puff that is almost a laugh. "The sun would explode. Spock said she was saying the sun would explode if she sang."

"I know. She said it to me, too. I didn't make the connection at first, either. She's a doctor, under all that damage. Maybe she sees more than we think."

He walks over to the viewscreen. "She nearly died. She's insane."

"She's not as crazy as she was. I can tell you that. She's getting better." She moves to his side and touches his arm. "Do me a favor. Put your pain and your guilt aside for tonight. Take her cookies and milk. And talk to her about the very best times you've had. Nothing painful. Nothing hard. Just the parts where you were happy and she was loved."

"Okay. I can do that." He turns, takes her hands in his. "You're a good friend."

"I'm her best friend." She squeezes his hands tightly. "And I'm your friend, too. We're going to get her back. I know it. I have faith. You need to, too."

"I used to have faith in myself. In not losing. But on that planet: I lost."

"You lost a battle. You didn't lose the war yet. But you will if you persist in wallowing." She gives him a hard look and walks out.

He looks back out at the stars, then takes a deep breath, puts some steel in his spine, and heads to the mess.

They're out of gingersnaps. He gives the cook a hard look and says, "I'll wait."

The cook wisely does nothing other than get the cookies started. A while later, Kirk's headed to the cell with a container of gingersnaps and two milk rations—the kind in safe containers the orderlies won't object to him taking in her cell.

She looks up when he comes in, smiles when he sits and opens the container of cookies. She crawls to him like a cat, which would be disturbing if he hadn't seen her do it in his quarters several times. Chris will get to these cookies the quickest way—getting to her feet wastes time.

"You brought them."

"And milk." He hands her the milk, gives her a grin that he can feel is a real one, then gives her a cookie.

Her smile is luminous and she closes her eyes and sniffs the cookie. "Mmmmmmm."

"Fresh baked. Was afraid I'd have to threaten the cook with court martial to get them, but get them I did."

She smiles again, the happy, beautiful smile. "Still warm." She bites into the cookie carefully, holding her hand under it the way she always does to catch crumbs. Crumbs usually managed to elude her when they were in bed, no matter how careful she was.

"I remember when we first had these in Copenhagen." He stretches his legs out. "We were at Tivoli Gardens, watching the fountains. You bought these crazy cookies when I wanted chocolate chip. Then I made you go get more. I couldn't believe how good they were."

She takes another cookie, is watching his face as he talks, a soft smile growing.

"We walked forever that night. Had coffee on the way back to the hotel. That was the first night we spent together in a hotel room. First night on liberty. We were stopped by that woman who had lost her way and thought we could help her. And of course we did. Do gooders to the end." Is this happy talk? Or is this just leading back to the planet?

"Amelia."

He looks at her. Yes. The woman's name was Amelia. He decides to act nonchalant. "Right, that was her name. Not the brightest of bulbs, but nice. We finally got back to the hotel—we were so tired. Too tired to make love."

"Always morning."

He smiles. "That was your favorite saying. And we put that morning to good use. The maids wondered if they were ever going to get into the room. Housekeeping finally called and asked us if we were going to need our room cleaned."

"No thanks."

Which is what he said to housekeeping. They made their own bed when they finally went out for dinner.

She takes a cookie, hands it to him, then takes another for herself. "Best cookies."

"Yes, yes they are." He takes a bite. "Do you remember any place?" He knows this isn't what Uhura told him to do, but it feels right.

Chris looks down, then back at him, and he thinks he's lost her because she starts to sway. But as he watches her, he realizes she's swaying the way the Sapallan fire dancers did, during a diplomatic function on Sapalla Prime.

"They were amazing dancers." He tries to remember the music. They had one song that played over and over, no matter who was dancing. For four solid hours. It got old very fast, and for the rest of the week, she kept humming it to him to drive him nuts. Ah, he thinks he remembers it, starts to hum it and—

She laughs.

Something in him nearly breaks. In happiness. In relief.

She's in there.

##

Spock sits down near Christine, who is quiet, appears to be almost meditating. "I wish to beg forgiveness."

She does not ask him what for.

"Lieutenant Uhura has made me aware that perhaps my reasons for coming to see you were as much for me as for you. That my methods were more self serving than beneficial."

She turns to look at him. Her eyes are calm. "I've found most of the pieces."

"I see."

"No, you don't." She smiles and she reaches over and touches his hand, and he is struck by the lack of chaos in her thoughts. "I found some of yours, too. It was logical, Spock."

She lets go of him, and he exhales slowly.

She has forgiven him.

But he has still not forgiven himself. "It was unforgivable."

"Logic often is." She points to the floor in front of her. "They're not right yet, though. I'm having trouble with the joins."

"Can I help?"

She looks at him for a long moment, then gets up, walking around the room, touching the walls gently, trailing her hand along as she walks, talking softly—too softly for even him to hear. She works her way back to him, then sits down and says, "Yes, I think you can."

He frowns slightly. "I do not under—"

She is lifting his hand to her face, placing his fingers on the meld points. "I found all the pieces. Put them back for me?"

He slips into her mind easily, almost pulled in by the force of her will, of her need, of the intense energy she has put into getting well while he and Jim have been too busy feeling guilty to notice. But he feels Uhura's touch all over her, realizes that Christine did not recover alone.

Although she would never have begun to get well if she did not have such a wellspring of determination—the same determination that led her to stay on that planet and suffer for them.

He finds the pieces; she did, indeed, locate them all. They are organized well; she is a scientist to the end and he has no problem working with what he finds, gently putting the woman he knows back together.

And when he finishes, he holds her while she weeps because he knows she does not want to cry with Jim, not this way, not from this horrible pain she needs to get out.

She was in agony.

She was terrified.

She felt abandoned.

She wanted to die.

Failing that, madness was simpler.

But she loves Jim. And in her way she loves Spock, too. And he sees Uhura is more than just a friend—she is family.

He sighs and lets her go. "There is someone who needs to see you."

"There is someone I need to see." She kisses his cheek. "Thank you."

"You are most welcome."

"Will you tell Ny that I'm out? I'll see her as soon as I can."

"She will understand. Perhaps I will tell her over dinner."

"That would be an excellent idea."

"Tell Len before you go to dinner. He checks on me every day. He'll want to know I'm okay."

He helps her up, tells the orderlies to let her out, that McCoy can run diagnostics later.

For now, he will take her to Jim.

##

Kirk is in his quarters trying to finish up reports so he can get back to Chris when his chime rings. "Who the hell is it?" He doesn't look up as whoever it is walks in. "This better be good."

"I think you'll think it is."

He stops working, turns and closes his eyes.

"It's me. It's okay. You're not dreaming or hallucinating. I'm back."

He gets up slowly, still afraid that if he moves too fast, he will wake up and find out he has fallen asleep at his desk, is dreaming her into his quarters. "Chris?"

She nods.

"How?"

"Took me a while to get all my pieces back in order—Spock helped with a meld. I'm sorry it took me so long."

"You're...sorry? Oh, sweetheart, no." He forgets about being slow, crosses the room quickly, pulling her into his arms. "God, no, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"Shhh. It's all right. It's done. And I'm all right. I love you." She hugs him, and he kisses her neck and her ear and anywhere he can reach.

He realizes he is holding her too tightly when she moans, and he pulls away, saying, "I'm sorry. Chris, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you." He moves back, moves off her. God, will he ever stop hurting her?

"Really? I work my way back to you and you're going to act like this?" She's got the look he loves, the "take no shit" look that was no doubt what made Decker pick her as his CMO. "You squeezed too tight. It's not like you haven't done that before or you won't do it again." She takes his face in her hands. "Jim, I'm only going to say this once. Get the hell over it."

He pulls her back into his arms. "Getting over it, sir."

She smiles.

"Are you hungry?"

She shakes her head. "I want you. I want to be in our bed."

Fuck the reports. He takes her hand, draws her to the bed. He'll get the hell over it, as she says, but that doesn't mean he won't be very careful with her, as he undresses her, as he makes love to her, as he kisses her afterwards, and cuddles her. As he reaches down and makes her come again, and then again.

Until she finally drops the act she's put on for his benefit and lets him see her pain. He loves her for trying to hide it, but he loves her more for letting him hold her while she cries in his arms.

"Make love to me," she says as she sobs, reaching down, guiding him inside her.

He understands what she wants. That she needs the connection while she lets go. He moves inside her gently, saying, "I love you. I'm sorry. We're okay now. It'll be okay. I'm so sorry."

When he comes inside her, he buries his head in her hair and silently thanks whatever deity is listening for giving her back to him.

They lie wrapped in each other's arms, closer than he thinks they've ever been, as if they're afraid it's all going to get yanked away again. He wonders if they'll ever get over feeling that way.

"I love you, Jim." She kisses him softly. "I came back for you."

"Thank you. I was dying without you."

"I know."

He has the fleeting thought that she was not dying without him, that maybe it was easier for her in that cell than it will be out here. "I love you, Chris. We'll be okay."

And he knows they will. She's strong. Stronger than he is, possibly. She came back. She came back from that.

And they love each other.

And if there's a next time: he won't leave her behind—he'll find another way.

"We owe Ny a lot," she whispers.

"I know. Spock and I were useless."

"Not at the end you weren't. You brought cookies and happy memories. He brought the meld."

"If I'd brought cookies earlier...?"

"I wasn't ready. Neither were you." She relaxes in his arms. "You never stopped coming. No matter how crazy I was. I love you for that."

"I didn't come for you when it mattered." He takes a deep breath. He will take Nyota's advice: he will not wallow. "I won't make the mistake again."

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

"No. We won't. I won't make that mistake again."

She nuzzles his neck. "Let's just agree that we hope that bridge is way down the goddamn road."

"Yes, that I will gladly agree with you on. I never want to see that bridge again." He pulls her closer. "Thank you for coming back. I know you didn't have to."

"I did have to. I love you. And you needed me." She yawns.

Soon he is yawning, too. He tells the room computer to turn the lights off, and he lets himself go for the first real sleep he's had since he got Chris back from the alien. When he wakes, she's sleeping peacefully next to him, and he smiles before he rouses her with a kiss.

The reports can still goddamn wait.

FIN