Not Ready to Make Nice

by Djinn

Part Two

Chapel lay in bed with Jim, nuzzling along his collarbone, running her hand around the back of his neck, up into his hair the way he always liked. She smiled when she hit the sweet spot and he moaned.

He scratched her back lightly, the way she could never get enough of. "So, I rented a house in Tahoe for our leave. Mountains and beach all at once."

She laughed.

"I didn't ask you where you wanted to go."

"The fact you want me to go with you is enough for me." She pulled away so she could see his face. "Maybe I'll get upset over having no say in the destination some other time."

He smiled, but it was a strange smile. "The house is really big. It has a big master suite on one end and about six bedrooms at the other with the common area in between."

"Is the layout important? Will there be a quiz later? Should I know when it was built?" She grinned.

He laughed. "Sorry to be so cryptic. I was thinking...I was thinking we could invite Spock and Nyota. They won't interfere with our activities because I made sure our suite was very, very private."

"Ah, hence the info about the big common area between us and the many other bedrooms. Many rooms, which means they don't have to stay in the same room unless they want to?"

"Bingo." He brushed her hair off her face. "And it's right on the lake, with lots of acreage. Plenty of room to walk if one of them needs time alone. Or if we do." He waggled his eyebrows.

She laughed.

"So, you on board with this plan or do you want it to be just us?"

"I'm on board, but why are you?" It touched her that he wanted to do this, but she wasn't sure what had caused the about face in attitude.

"Something you said." He smiled. "What? I can admit when I'm wrong—did you think I couldn't?" He took a deep breath. "It's going to take me a while—maybe a long while—to be able to look at Spock and not see what he did to you. But...you were right. I did it, too, when I attacked Janice."

"No, Jim. You didn't. Janice got away."

"But I could have done it. I wanted to. And, unlike Spock, I can remember doing it. Vivid details not the haze you say his memories are."

"But also unlike Spock, the odds of you finding yourself that man again are slim to none. He'll repeat the cycle over and over."

"This is true. But he won't repeat the cycle with you. If I have to shoot you off the ship in an escape pod, it won't be with you."

She smiled. "I already told him it would not be with me. I don't care if he bonds with his grandmother, he needs to get this taken care of."

"Grandmother?" He made a funny face. "At any rate, he'll have options."

"Maybe not Ny. She's really mad at him."

"I know. He really hurt her. He really hurt all of us."

"He really hurt himself, too, Jim. And he didn't mean to. I think you need to hold on to that one little fact. He did not mean to."

He nodded. "So I'll let them know tomorrow. If they want to come, there's plenty of room. We'll be there for a week during the refits. They can come or not, as they please."

"It's nice of you. Thank you."

"I miss them. And I miss him, especially."

"I know you do. You must be going through chess withdrawals."

"I am. Sex with you is great and all but a good checkmate..." He laughed at her expression, rolled her to her back, and moved on top of her. "Wait, I may have that backwards."

She kissed him, pulling him closer, moaning as he pushed into her. "I love you, Jim."

His eyes were very gentle. "I love you, too, Chris."

##

Spock sat in the window seat of the Vulcan Embassy, looking out at the garden as he wondered where Nyota was—had she accepted Jim and Christine's invitation to stay in Tahoe?

"Are you moping, Spock?" His mother came and stood behind him, rubbing his shoulders as if he was a small boy.

There was no one in the vicinity—and he found her caress oddly comforting—so he did not tell her to stop. "I do not mope, Mother."

"Really? Because if it looks like a duck and talks like a duck..."

"That saying has never made sense to me."

"It's extremely logical and you know it." She let go of his shoulders and sat down next to him. "I thought you were bringing Nyota by. What happened?"

He shook his head.

"Oh, darling, please tell me you have not broken up with her—or more likely she broke up with you."

"I am unsure of the status of our relationship."

"Well, that's unacceptable. I'd be quite put out with you if I were Nyota. Letting things go on like that."

He felt a surge of frustration and pushed it down. "It is how she said she wished it. 'Give me time,' she told me."

"And how long ago did she ask for time?"

"Several weeks."

"And how long has it been since you ascertained if she still needed it?"

He allowed himself the indulgence of a sigh.

"Ah. Several weeks, perhaps?"

"I took her at her word."

"A most noble thing to do. But Spock, it's a fine line between not pushing and checking out."

He looked down. "I am, as you know, not adept at relationship subtleties."

"Yes, my dear, I know. Do you have any idea where she's spending her leave?"

"Perhaps."

"Can you get there?"

He nodded. He had looked up which transporter stations would be the quickest route and the locale transport to catch to take him to the house.

"Do you want to get there? That's the question, isn't it, my dearest?" She tipped his chin up so he had to look at her. "You seem quite unhappy. I think perhaps you should go fight for her, don't you? If you decide to leave, I'll say your goodbyes to your father."

He nodded. "I should go."

"There's my brave boy." She smiled at him. "Bring her by on your way back. Once you get all your reuniting out of the way."

"I am not sure that will happen this visit. She is very angry at me."

"Well, however long it takes, Spock. Vulcans may be abysmal at romance, but they excel at the long view."

##

Kirk finished building the bonfire, saw Chris bringing beers down from the chiller on the patio, and said, "This is the life."

"A swig of beer, a fire, and thou?" She handed him a bottle.

"Creative paraphrasing." He opened the bottle, held it up and she clinked hers against it, then nestled in next to him on the old log that sat in front of the fire pit, and they watched the sunset color the sky. She wrapped her arms around him and he asked, "You cold?"

"A little. I forgot how much it cools off at night up here."

"I love that it does that. Someday I'm going to have a house in the mountains." He pulled her closer, rubbed her back, trying to warm her up. "Would you like that?"

"I would. Are we making someday plans?"

"Why not?" He kissed her forehead, let his lips linger. Why the hell not?

A soft cough sounded behind them. Kirk turned, saw Spock standing there.

"The house was empty...I knocked."

For a moment, there was a world of discomfort between them. Or maybe it was just the woman he held in his arms that was between them.

Only she wasn't. Not really. Kirk had to let that go. "You don't have to knock, Spock. You're invited. Come sit."

"Do you want some water?" Chris asked.

"I will get it." Spock seemed eager not to put Chris out. "Where is the chiller?"

"Up on the patio," she said, relaxing against Kirk, not appearing to be in any great need to wait on Spock.

Good.

"One down," she murmured, turning and kissing his neck. "You think you'll lure the other one in, too?"

"I don't know. I'm shocked we caught one."

She kissed him. "I'm not. You're craftier than you realize." She smiled at his look. "Neither of them knows if the other one is here. They probably can't stand that. They're both like terriers with bones once there is something they want."

He started to laugh. "That's true." He heard Spock's steps on the gravel, kissed Chris a little more passionately than was really necessary. When he pulled away, she rolled her eyes but didn't say anything.

"You are enjoying yourselves?" was all Spock asked.

"Damn straight, old friend."

"It is a beautiful property."

Chris smiled. "It is. Lots of excellent places to meditate."

"Most agreeable." The look he turned on her was full of affection and Kirk bristled, had to force himself to let it go.

Spock was her friend now. Just because Spock had spent a day and a half fucking Kirk's girl did not mean he wanted more from her than friendship. Just because he had rap—

"Hey." Chris shook his hand where he was holding onto her. Where he was clenching.

"Sorry."

"It's all right," she mouthed.

He kissed her again, not caring how stupid it was. Needing to do it.

Spock gave him a bland look when he finally pulled away, then took a long pull from his water bottle.

"So, you have your choice of rooms. They're all lovely," Chris said.

"Thank you." He looked from her to Kirk. "I mean that sincerely, Jim. Thank you for including me."

"I know I've been distant. I know I'm likely to be a bit of an asshole at times this leave. I'll say that now. I'm still...struggling with this."

"To be expected."

"Right." Kirk looked at Chris. "But she's our true north. Or mine anyway."

"She is yours, Jim. That is indisputable."

Kirk saw how hard Spock was trying, the earnestness in his eyes. "Funny, it didn't feel like that a few weeks ago."

"I know. I regret that deeply." Spock did not look away. "I regret everything that happened. Now and in the past."

"Tell her that, not me."

"I have told her that, Jim. I went to Gol because of that."

"Is that why you went?" Suddenly that decision made a lot more sense.

"In great part. It was not the entire reason."

Chris squeezed his hand, but didn't say anything.

Spock suddenly stood. "If this is uncomfortable, I can leave. You two looked...peaceful before I arrived."

Chris answered before Kirk could. "I still am peaceful. The two of you will never get back to that if you keep avoiding each other. That was the whole point of this leave." She looked at Kirk. "Right?"

He smiled, amused at the tone in her voice. "Right, darling."

"Excellent. Now sit down, Spock, and enjoy the fire." She turned and kissed Kirk. A very passionate, very long kiss.

He wondered if maybe she did have a little something to prove to Spock after all.

##

Uhura took in the house Jim had rented; it was gorgeous. And big enough—just like he'd said—for her to not even have to see Spock if she didn't want to.

If Spock even bothered to show up.

She opened the door, wasn't sure if anyone would be awake so said softly, "Hello?"

"Ny?" Christine peeked around the corner. "You made it. Come in." She enveloped her in a cinnamon-scented hug. "Thank God you're here. Jim got a house with an actual kitchen, not just synthesizers, and now he wants me to make some cinnamon rolls his mom used to bake. And I'm hopeless. Please tell me you can follow a recipe."

Uhura laughed. "You can identify particulates in minute quantities. Why can't you follow a recipe?"

"I don't know. But I can't. Please?" Christine made a pleading face, which was funnier because she had flour on her cheek.

"You're truly pathetic."

"I know. Come in and save me." She tried to take Uhura's bag.

"Don't touch my bag with those cinnamon-spice hands. I'll be right out. Any room down the guest hall is mine, I guess?"

Christine started to smile and shook her head.

"He's here?"

She nodded.

"Oh. I didn't expect that."

"He showed up last night. Took the blue room. In case you want to file that away?"

Uhura shot her a look.

"Or not. Go put your stuff away and save me."

Uhura walked down the hall, saw the door was open to all the rooms, including one that was, indeed, blue. Spock was slipping on his shoes, his hair wet.

"Hi." She sounded more defensive than she meant to.

He looked up. "You came."

"Seems like."

"I am...happy to see you."

She realized that was a concession on his part to phrase it that way. Decided not to reciprocate. "Christine needs me in the kitchen. Seems she can't cook."

"Ah."

She tried to make sense of that response, could read nothing from his face. "Well, I'm going to pick a room."

"I thought the yellow bedroom would appeal to you, so I did not take it. It faces the water and has a lovely bathtub."

She smiled. "I'll check it out. Thanks for saving it for me."

He nodded.

"Do you like cinnamon rolls?"

"The frosting is very sweet."

"If we made some without frosting, do you like cinnamon rolls?"

"I would enjoy them, I believe."

"Okay then." She was suddenly mad at herself for asking. "Not that we're going to do that just for you."

"Of course not. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one."

"Nobody needs cinnamon rolls, Spock." Except apparently Jim. She left Spock and checked out all the bedrooms, saving the yellow room for last.

Spock was right. It was definitely her favorite: the view was spectacular and the bathtub was big enough for two. She almost picked another room to be contrary, but decided that was stupid. It should make her happy that he actually knew what she liked, shouldn't it?

She put her bag down in the yellow bedroom and went to help Christine.

##

Chapel was washing up from breakfast when Jim came in.

He grinned and came up behind her, putting his arms around her. "I said I'd do that."

"I know but I wanted us to get the hell out of their way for a while. Did you get the rowboat ready?"

"I did." He kissed the back of her neck. "Do you think we can make love in it? Cinnamon's an aphrodisiac, you know?"

She laughed. "Does the rowboat have a cloaking device? Because there are already a lot of boats on the water." She'd seen water skiers and flitter-boards all morning.

"Spoil sport." He started to chuckle. "Did you really tell Nyota you can't follow a recipe? You've been trying out new things all week?"

"Shhh. She doesn't need to know that." She put the last plate in the refresher and turned so she was facing him. "Although I still have a couple I want to try."

"Guess you'll have to fess up."

"Hopefully they'll have made up by then. And she'll be more comfortable here so I won't have to resort to deception as a way to make her relax." It had worked though—Ny had liked thinking Chapel couldn't follow a recipe. That bothered Chapel a little more than she wanted to admit. "Or we'll go out."

He took her hand. "While you were doing this, I did load up the cooler. We're all set."

"Ny, Spock, we're going out in the rowboat. See you later." Chapel waited and heard Ny call back, "Okay." Nothing from Spock, but she was sure he was debating the proper response to that, so she let Jim pull her to the beach.

He pushed the boat out a little, and she climbed in, then he pushed it out more and jumped in. "Ready, my lady?"

She nodded and leaned back, trailing her finger as languidly as she could, making him laugh as he rowed them away from shore.

"Yeah, you'll be rowing on the way back, and I'll be the one lazing." He took a deep breath, smiled as he exhaled. "Love it here."

"Me, too." She crawled the short distance to where he sat and kissed him thoroughly. "I love you, too."

"Mmm." He pulled her closer. "Captain's privilege."

"I think you're not the captain on this boat, toots."

"Oh, I am the captain on any boat, my dear." He gave her a stern look, then glanced back at the house. "How do you think they're going to do?"

"I don't know. She's something else when she's mad. And he's sort of the definition of stiff. I guess time will tell. But without us there, they can crash and burn with no witnesses."

He nodded. "Live to try another day." He turned the boat, began to skirt the shoreline, and they looked at the other houses, waving occasionally to people on shore who waved at them. "Friendly place."

She studied him as he rowed, how strong he was, how he seemed so at peace as he moved them across the water.

"What?" he asked with a smile when he caught her looking at him.

"I love how protective you are of me. I know I've been riding you about Spock, but I should say that. Thank you for looking out for me. For caring about how I feel."

"I hate that it happened to you on my ship, Chris. That I didn't know. That you went through that."

"We weren't—"

"I know. We were barely friends back then. But Spock and I were. Bones and I were. Bones missed it. I missed it. Spock hid it. It makes me hurt for you. But it also makes me wonder how many others I missed?"

"Jim, no."

"No, Chris, this was right under my goddamned nose. How many other things happen on my ship—horrible things—that I don't know about?" He stopped rowing. "In the alternate universe, the me of that place had this device that allowed him to see all over the ship. That would be handy—I'd like to get my hands on one of those. Of course, it also allowed him to zap people out of existence, but I wouldn't order that option."

"Jim, when you choose to observe something, you by default choose to not observe a host of other things. Even with your magical device you would still miss stuff. More importantly, Spock didn't assault me because you set a loose moral tone on your ship. Spock raped me because he was in the final stages of the Pon Farr, and none of us knew he should be isolated and not allowed near anything with a pulse. And I was obsessed with him back then. Imagine what I was projecting to a hormonally charged telepath? It was like...bourbon on a bonfire."

"Quoting Bones?"

"It's seems apt."

"Just promise me. If you ever hear anything, even gossip, that something like that has happened to anyone on the ship, you'll tell me."

"Okay." She reached out, took his hand when he reached back. "Stop beating yourself up. You're my hero."

He gave her a sad smile and went back to rowing.

##

Spock found Nyota sitting on the patio, watching a boat—presumably the one Christine said she and Jim were taking—head down the shoreline. "May I join you?"

"Suit yourself."

Spock sat and studied her. When he had first met her, he'd classified her as soft...sweet. But as they'd grown closer, he'd come to understand that underneath the pleasant mask she wore was a streak of hardness that rivaled McCoy's. He'd discovered from the melds they'd shared that she was deeply insecure about certain things, although he'd never brought it up with her.

He was glad now he never had. He thought she needed to hide in the fiction that she did not have any worries. That she was not threatened by Christine—even if she was.

And Christine evidently knew it, had clearly given her the upper hand this morning in the kitchen to increase her sense of security in a house that was, for all intents and purposes, Christine's.

He knew for a fact that Christine could follow a recipe quite well because Jim had told him. Jim loved to eat; Christine loved to cook. It was a fortuitous dovetailing of interests.

The cinnamon rolls had been quite good. Spock had a suspicion, however, that they would have been better if Christine had made them. He would never admit that to Nyota—he might be abysmal, as his mother had said, at romance, but he was not a fool.

"So you're going to just sit there?" Nyota was never patient.

"Did you wish to converse?"

"I didn't say that."

"Then I plan to sit here. It is a lovely view, is it not?"

"It is. And the weather is wonderful, too. Anything else innocuous we can talk about?"

"You said you did not wish to talk."

She started to kick the leg she had crossed over her other one. Never a good sign.

He did not look at her, simply watched the boat with their friends as he said softly, "I miss you."

Her leg stilled.

"I miss you very much. My mother noted my unhappiness without you." He turned to her. "Do you not miss me?"

"Maybe."

He supposed as answers went that a maybe was preferable to a no. He looked back out at the water.

"Yes," she whispered.

He closed his eyes for a moment.

"I miss everything, Spock. I miss you. I miss us—being a couple. Being safe. Why can't I feel safe with you? Why do I have to worry that Christine is going to always be there? But the hell of it is, I don't want to lose the four of us. I like being with them. And she's part of them. Although, frankly, if he wanted to break up with her and be with someone else, that might be fine with me. We could be with whoever else he chooses."

He turned to look at her. "You do not mean that."

"Don't tell me what I mean. You may like her more than I do right now, Spock. You may like her more than I ever will again. Can you live with that?"

He did not look away. "She is blameless in this. Do not hate her for what I did."

"I love you. I have to hate someone, so if not you then it's got to be her, doesn't it? We've had problems for a while, she and I."

"Yes. You have been threatened by her for some time. She does not appear to be threatened by you."

"This is how you win me back?"

"Nyota, I care for you deeply. But you are blaming the wrong person."

"Take what you get, Spock. I played nice this morning. I'll play nice the rest of the time. That doesn't mean I'm not seeing her in your arms when I look at her. That doesn't mean I'm not wondering if she liked being there."

"She did not. I melded with her, gave her distance."

"I thought you couldn't remember it? If you can't, then how do you know what she felt?" She glared at him. "Can you honestly say you are one hundred percent certain she didn't enjoy being with you?"

"I was not myself, but I am relatively certain that my meld did as I intended, that—"

"Relatively. What is that? Seventy-five percent?"

"Ninety-nine point nine."

"I think you're overestimating." She got up. "I'm going for a walk. I'll see you at dinner."

He watched her go. He knew if he went after her, if he said he understood her position, he would probably be welcome to accompany her.

She wanted him back. She was prepared to take out what he had done on Christine.

But that was unfair.

He let her go.

##

Kirk heard banging in the kitchen, came in from the bedroom, and saw Chris taking out pans. "You're going to blow your cover, sweetheart."

"You know what? I want to try this Fesenjan recipe—I found one for squash and eggplant instead of chicken—and lying is stupid."

"Well, since I'm a fan of your cooking, I agree with both points, but how are you going to break it to Nyota?"

"I'll tell her the truth. She looked uncomfortable and I panicked because I thought she was going to leave. So I lied. And I will skip the part about how I knew that having something that she did better than I did would make her feel good enough to stay."

She began to chop and peel vegetables. She was a master with a knife and he liked to watch her work.

"Can I help?"

"Do you mind grinding the walnuts?"

He found a grinder, began to feed in the walnuts. As it whirred away, he asked, "Do you want to talk about your last comment?

"The walnuts?" She glanced over at him.

"Nyota." He grinned at her. "I thought you two were doing better?"

"When she came in from her walk, she had a weird look on her face. She said hello but she can't hide when she's really mad. She thinks she can, but she can't, not from me."

"Should we be talking about her quite so loudly if she's here?"

"She went into town—said she'd be back in a few hours. And Spock's meditating on the beach."

"Ah." He poured out the grinder, showed her how much he had. "This enough?"

She nodded. "Thanks."

"You want some wine?" At her nod, he checked their stock. They had a Beaujolais he'd been waiting to try. He opened it, gave it a taste, and decided it was something she'd like too. He poured them both glasses and took hers over to her. "Have you talked to her about it?"

"She'll talk when she's ready. Not before."

He smiled. He thought Chris taking the reins back in the kitchen might be her way of forcing the conversation to happen on her timetable rather than Nyota's. Ballsy move. It was probably what he would do. But... "At the risk of ticking you off while you're making what will no doubt be a fabulous meal, can I ask why your first instinct was to lie to her?"

She stopped slicing.

"I shouldn't complain, Chris. The objective was to keep her here, and you achieved that. But she was unsure and instead of reaching out to encourage her, you played her. I'm not saying it's not what I would have done in your shoes, but it's kind of a cold move. And it'll have repercussions. She's going to be more unsure now than when she started."

She frowned and looked at him. He thought she might get mad at him, but she seemed to be thinking rather than reacting—the same way she did about Spock, only Kirk liked it when her calm was directed at him. "You're right," she said. "I did play her. I gave her what I knew would keep her here. Didn't even think about it. And hated that she enjoyed it."

"Why did you do it?"

She put the knife down and grabbed her wine glass. He realized her hand was shaking—and it hadn't been before. "I'm angry at her. For a number of reasons."

"Elaborate." He kept his tone mild, sipped his wine as if they had all the time in the world.

"I'm angry that she told me I don't deserve the position I'm in, the office I sit in, the rank I'll get next. That I'm sleeping my way to my next promotion."

He had to bite back a surge of anger on that last one.

"That she pulled rank on me. That she told me she'd always outrank me."

He leaned in, looked her straight in the eye. "She won't."

She met his gaze. "I know." And she looked like she believed it. "But it's more than that, Jim. I'm angry that she won't let go of this idea that I somehow liked what happened. Do you think I did?"

He shook his head.

"But you wonder, don't you? Or you did."

"No, Chris, I don't. I did at first, okay, I'll admit it. But now? No. If you told me it was a romantic interlude, then yes, I might wonder about it. But this wasn't that. I know what I did to Janice. I know what I saw on Tarsus IV when I was a boy. No one enjoys being brutalized, no matter how easy he was on you this time. The best that can be said is that it didn't damage you, and for that I'm very grateful."

She let her breath out slowly as if she'd been holding it. Then she nodded. "Yes. Exactly."

She turned, picked up the knife.

He moved in close, put his arms around her. "But the first time—it damaged you that time, didn't it?"

"It did." She was slicing mushrooms very carefully as she said, "Even with the distance he gave me, there was a long time when I didn't want anyone to touch me. I thought...I thought I'd find a way over it by myself. I eventually had to get some help."

"Not Starfleet?"

"No. Outside. When I was in med school." She leaned back. "And an understanding partner. Not a very good one, but that didn't matter. With help, I found my way back."

"I'd never guess you'd ever had an issue with sex. But promise me—if I ever do anything you don't feel comfortable with..."

"Jim, I'd tell you." She turned her head enough for him to kiss her. "I would tell you, and you never have. I have always felt safe with you." She started slicing with more vigor. "I'll think about what you said, about the lying. I shouldn't do that. It's not a good habit to fall into, playing people."

"No." He gave her a squeeze, then moved around to the other side of the counter and sat on a stool so he could watch her cook. They'd had chicken Fesenjan in a Persian restaurant in Berlin and fallen in love with the sour-sweet taste of the pomegranate-walnut-based stew. He couldn't wait to see how her vegetable version compared.

##

Uhura sat back in her chair, enjoying the pleasant fullness from the fabulous dish Christine had served. "Where did you get this?"

Jim shot Christine a look, then turned to Spock. "What do you say to a game of chess on the patio?"

"Now, Jim?"

"Yes. Right now. I think Christine and Nyota have some things to talk about." He gave Christine a strange smile—one that Uhura thought looked more like "good luck" than anything else—then hustled Spock away.

"What did I say?"

"I didn't order out. I made the dish. I can follow a recipe just fine."

Uhura felt her contentment melt away. "Oh. So you lied to me this morning?"

"I did. I thought you looked a little panicked and I was afraid you were going to run. So I...gave you what I thought would keep you here: one up on me. And we probably need to talk about that."

"We probably need to talk about quite a few things." Uhura bit back the even meaner things that wanted to come out. "Did you practice with Jim? Is that how he knew to flee?"

"No. He's a smart guy. And he called me on the lying. He's in your corner, Ny."

"Well, at least someone is. Spock certainly doesn't seem to be." He could have been, but he'd refused to side with her. Since when were he and Christine such great buddies?

"I don't think this is really about Spock, is it? I think this goes back to what you said in the mess. That's what keeps eating at me. That I don't deserve the job I'm in. But you didn't really mean the job I'm in now, did you? You meant the job I was in before Jim brought Len back. The job Decker put me in: CMO."

Uhura debated getting up and walking out, not having this conversation at all. She could grab her stuff and leave. Put in transfer papers and get off the goddamn Enterprise finally, the way her career counselors had advised her two years ago.

But she wanted to have it out with Christine. She wanted to get some things off her chest. "You're a lieutenant. Show me another lieutenant that's a CMO. It's ludicrous. You said Decker picked you because he liked your attitude during the interview, but I saw the two of you together when you were staffing sickbay. You were simpatico."

"We clicked."

"Oh, you more than clicked. You clearly had history. You were sleeping with him, weren't you?" Why the hell wouldn't Christine sleep with a boss—she'd done it once already with Roger.

Christine laughed—a soft, bitter exhalation of air. "I wasn't sleeping with him during the refits. I was sleeping with Jim."

Uhura felt like she'd been punched. "You said you were his plus one a few times. You never said—"

"He was staying on Earth. I was leaving. What point was there in telling you?"

Uhura stared at her, knew her jaw had dropped, and shook her head. "So you buried it, just like the rape? What else have you not told me about? Do I even know you? Why don't I know that you cook? You and Jan and I went on vacation all the time—you never cooked for us."

"Cooking is domestic. Our vacations were about other things."

"So you only cook for men?" Uhura held up her hands. "This is a tangent I don't even want to explore. Let's get back to Decker. If you weren't sleeping with him, then how did you know him?"

"His father and Roger were good friends. Matt used to try to recruit Roger into Starfleet. It never worked, but he never stopped trying. Since Matt was out on the ship so much, we looked out for Stella and Will. I was like Will's aunt, I guess. A young aunt." She took a deep breath.

"So, I rest my case. You didn't earn your job." She pushed her chair out, got up, and began to pace. "Some of us went to the Academy and busted our asses and did the right thing, over and over and over. And we moved in the way you're supposed to. We got places by working hard and earning what comes next."

"Well, I'm sorry I missed the Academy, Ny. I was too busy getting my degrees."

"Yes, your fifteen trillion degrees." She shook her head and laughed. "So when you got on the ship the first time, you didn't talk your way there. Commodore Decker got you on board to look for Roger. Jim had nothing to do with it."

"Oh, I talked my way aboard Jim's ship. But you're right, Matt helped. He got me into Starfleet with a minimum of red tape." Christine's face flushed, the way it did when she was very angry. "Found a nurse's billet to point me to, but I did the rest. I'm just sorry we were on vacation with Jan when Jim found him and the Constellation. I might have been able to reason with him."

She seemed lost in thought for a moment, then she looked up and her eyes were hard. "And sure, Ny, some people work hard and progress that way—quickly or slowly, depends on the person. And others have opportunities presented based on relationships they've built. It's how the world works, and if you haven't had a chance to forge any ties sitting on the bridge of Jim's ship for most of your career, well, that's not my problem."

"Who are you?"

"I'm who I always have been. It was fine when I was a nurse and an ensign, you could deal with that. But the minute I was a section head, then you started acting weird. And then I got Jim and everything changed."

Uhura clenched her teeth, forcing herself not to say anything.

"What are you really the most jealous of? That Spock had me, or that I have Jim? He wouldn't break his rule for Jan. You never tried to make him notice you like she did, but we both knew—she and I—that you were as infatuated with him as she was."

"And you never were. So why do you end up with him? How the hell did that happen? How do you even deserve him?" She closed her eyes. Damn it all—she had not meant to say that.

"Because he loves me. Because I love him. Because we work. I don't know, Ny." Christine sighed. "Why did you get Spock?"

"Does it bother you?" She studied Christine.

"No. It was more a hypothetical question."

Uhura sat back down. She felt...empty inside. She'd always thought that being able to tell Christine how she felt would make her feel better somehow. Stronger in a perverse way.

But now she felt like there was nothing left to say. "So, what now?"

"Well, we know where we stand. Finally." Christine poured herself more wine, then pushed the bottle to her. "We figure out if we want to still be friends, I guess."

Uhura poured herself another glass and drank a third of it down in the first big gulp. "Yeah. I guess that's what we need to do."

"It's going to be damned inconvenient for our men if we don't."

"Well, not all relationships last. And I don't give you and Jim much of a shelf life." Uhura knew it was too much—too low a blow. And mean rather than true.

Christine stood up slowly and picked up her wine glass. Her expression was as cold as Uhura had ever seen it. "Stay off the patio tonight. In fact, you may want to retire to your room now."

"I'm fine here."

Christine's eyes seemed to go dead, as if Uhura wasn't even there. More than anything it reminded her of how Spock had looked when he'd told her to go get Christine during the Pon Farr.

Why were these two so damn much alike? It was almost a shame they hadn't gotten together and saved her and Jim a lot of trouble.

Christine turned and went out to the patio, closing the door behind her.

##

Chapel stalked past Jim and Spock playing chess and walked down the beach. She kicked off her sandals and walked barefoot into the water, kicking angrily as she waded.

Ny was a problem.

Chapel sighed. If she was honest—and she prided herself on being honest with herself—Ny had always been a problem. Chapel had always kept things from her.

She'd told Jim why Will had chosen her the minute the selection was made. It had never occurred to her not to tell Jim. With Ny it had been second nature to lie about it because Chapel had known she'd be judged: one more way she hadn't fucking earned her place in the Fleet Ny professed to love so damn much. A fleet Ny never explored because she was too busy homesteading on one ship, which was career suicide.

It had taken all of Chapel's self control not to tell her how hard Decker had to fight to get Ny promoted to lieutenant commander. He'd told Chapel about it—primarily because she'd urged him to do it. He'd barely known Ny, had no reason to fight for someone who had resisted any and all career broadening experiences. But Chapel had pushed, and he'd done as she'd asked.

She was Ny's friend, even if Ny probably didn't believe it any more.

But Ny wouldn't appreciate knowing her promotion came as a result of connections. She would want to believe she'd earned it.

And Chapel would let her. It might be the last thing she did for her as a friend. That comment about Jim and her was uncalled for.

"I'm sorry."

She whirled, was shocked to see Ny standing behind her in the wet sand. All her angry surf-kicking must have masked the sound.

"I'm sorry. I went too far. I thought getting all the anger and ugliness out would make me feel better, but now I feel sick inside." She backed up to where the sand was dry and sat down. "My mentors have told me to move on—that I was committing careericide by staying in the same job for so long. I love this job. You know?"

Chapel nodded. "You're really good at it."

"But I've stopped growing. That's what they tell me—and what the perception is. They were shocked that I got promoted again."

Chapel kept her face expressionless.

"So I have this job I love. Working with people I love. Most of whom are also doing the same thing they've been doing. Scotty. Sulu. Leonard. And then there's you and Jan and even Pavel. Trying new things. Even Jim did. He came back but he tried, he did his time. And Spock, in his extreme way."

Chapel smiled.

"I'm not afraid to try new things. I'm just really good at this." Ny looked up at her as if daring her to argue.

"You are. You may be the best at it. But...you'd be really good at other things, too, Ny. And if you never move, no one else can have the job. No one else can ever experience what you love about it."

"Yeah, I've been told that too. You really have been doing personnel stuff, haven't you?" She laughed, then the laugh turned into a sigh. "The hell of it is that I know you and Jan and Pav and anyone else who gets off this ship or tries new things will pass me by eventually. And that makes me so mad."

Chapel left the surf and went over to sit down in the sand, facing Ny.

"My mentors even wanted me to go back to school—a real university, not the Academy—and get a graduate degree. I uh...I really am not eager to see how I don't stack up against you."

"Okay, I'm just going to say this: you're mean when you're hurt, and you've been a real bitch to me lately, but you're also an idiot." At Ny's expression, she held up a hand. "Wait, I'm going somewhere good with this. Do you remember when Nomad wiped you?"

"I'd hardly forget that."

"Wiped, Ny. How fast did you come back?"

"Well, you were helping me."

"Okay, so I'm a swell teacher. It was still your brain and your determination and your ability to make connections and remember things and process complex problems. Jim never wavered. He never said: send her to a facility. He had utter faith in you. Spock never advised him otherwise. Len never told me I was wasting my time. Those three men are the hardest judge of character and talent I know. To have the trust of all three? You would do fine at any university, Ny. Quit being an idiot."

Ny stared at her. "Okay, that really was good." She brushed her eyes. "So what am I supposed to do, you who are so well versed in how to succeed the other way? I want to stay in my job, but I don't want to rot in it."

"You want my help?"

"Yeah, give me some ideas, smart girl." She snapped her fingers. "Show me what you got."

Chapel grinned. "No more party committees. They suck up time and do nothing for your resume. Did you see the engineering notes? Mister Scott is setting up an interdepartmental committee to look at revamping the food synthesizers. It'll be a prototype for the Fleet. That is something you want to be on. High visibility, high impact—and maybe fun."

"You read the engineering notes?"

"I read all the main departmental notes. You never know what gems you might find." Chapel thought. "There's also a new mentoring program being started. You should volunteer to be a mentor."

"Right-because I have so much to offer."

"To an ensign? New to the ship? Of course you do. I signed up for it."

"You did?"

"Hell yeah. Connections, Ny. It's all about relationships. And getting your name out there. And for later, when they say, 'Yeah but she just sat on the bridge,' the answer is, 'No, actually, she didn't. Look at these projects she was involved in.' But make sure they weren't the Valentine's Day party—they will only roll their eyes. Or if you must help out with those, make sure they aren't the only thing and do not sign up to be the chairwoman."

"I ask again: who are you?"

Chapel laughed. "You think I landed Roger with my looks?"

"You know, I always kind of assumed you had. Figured he was a leg man."

Chapel shook her head. "He was a total pushover for community service. And okay he was a leg man." She smiled.

"I'm not sure how much I really know about you and Roger."

"Probably only the bits I wanted you to know. Ask me anything you want. I'll answer it. I'm done hiding."

"That sounds good. But first, can I ask you something that's not about Roger and you answer that?"

Chapel smiled. "I'm really not in love with Spock." She touched Ny on the cheek. "And he's really not in love with me."

"Oh, okay. But I was just going to ask for the recipe for that incredible Fesenjan dish tonight." Ny's expression changed, turned silly, then she began to laugh.

Chapel laughed too. She thought the sound of their amusement probably carried up to Jim and Spock.

Good.

##

Spock watched as Nyota and Christine walked up the gravel path. There was an ease between them that had been missing for some time. He may not have seen it since he arrived back on the ship after leaving Gol.

"Never underestimate the value of a heart to heart," Jim murmured. He looked over at Spock and grinned.

Spock felt something inside him lighten at Jim's smile. His friend was letting him back in; they were playing chess; they were speaking softly about their women the way they used to.

They would be all right. In time.

Jim pulled Christine into his lap and kissed her. Spock looked up at Nyota, wishing for one brief moment that it were in his nature to give her the same thing.

But she was ignoring the other two. "We need to talk."

He remembered what she had said about those four words, felt a pang but took in her expression, the calm way she was standing, the lightness in her eyes. "Of course," he said as he rose.

They left Jim and Christine on the patio; he did not think they noted their abandonment.

Once they were inside the house, she took his hand and pulled him down the hallway, past his bedroom and into hers. She shut the door and pointed to the bed. "Sit down."

He decided not to argue, sat down, and waited.

"What's been going on between you and me may not have really been about you, which does not in any way mean you have a free pass to sleep with Christine at any point in the future. You better get this figured out by your next Pon Farr." She took a deep breath. "We better get this figured out."

He let an eyebrow go up. "We?"

"Yes. We. If...if after everything you've seen you're still interested in there being an us." She took a step closer. "I'm not always nice."

"I was aware of that before. Have you and Christine resolved your issues?"

"No. But we're finally talking about them, not around them."

He felt the first sense of hopefulness since the Pon Farr had taken him. "That is progress, then."

"It is. And I won't be as mean—I'm much better when I'm dealing directly with things. It's when people hide things from me that I get nasty."

"I will endeavor not to hide anything from you. Unless required by Jim or Starfleet."

She smiled. "I have this theory about why I wasn't enough for you. It may be silly, but I need to tell you about it." She took another step closer to him. "Ever since Decker chose Christine for CMO, I've been wrong with her. And that's what we're working through. Because it's not just her I'm wrong with—it's me, too. You were right: I'm threatened."

He held his hand out to her, was gratified when she took it, felt a sense of homecoming at the coolness of her touch, the surge of her emotions into him. "I chose you. I never chose her, Nyota."

"But during the Pon Farr some part of you did. And maybe you always will so long as I don't think I'm as good as she is? So I need to work on that."

"If we were bonded, there would be no question who I would choose."

"I'm not ready for that yet. And neither are you. And besides, the Pon Farr won't happen for years, right?"

"I am unsure how many, but yes."

"Let me fix me. Let me fix this thing with Christine if I can. You'll like me better if I try. And I'll like me better, too." She took the last step that closed the gap between them. "I've missed you so much, Spock."

"As I have missed you." He pulled her down into his lap, kissed her the way he'd wanted to for weeks.

She wrapped her arms around his neck, relaxed into him, her mouth opening, nothing hard or brittle about her anymore. Just the warm, welcoming woman he had fallen in love with.

When they drew away, she grinned and said, "There is a big bathtub in the bathroom."

"Yes. I believe I identified that as a point in this room's favor." He eased her off his lap, began to slowly remove her clothes.

She pulled off his robe and underwear, then took his hand and pulled him into the bathroom. She started the bath, laughing when he drew her back to him and eased her up onto the counter. "Can't wait?"

"I find I cannot."

He made sure she was ready for him, then he was inside her.

He kept an eye on the water level in the mirror—it would not do to flood Jim's rental house—as he made sure Nyota was very happy before he let himself go. Then he let her down in time to turn the water off.

She laughed as she drained some out before they got in, and the sound of her laughter was beautiful to him, one of the things that had drawn him to her in the first place.

As they settled into the water, and she rested against his chest, he said, "I love you, Nyota."

"I love you, too, Spock."

##

Kirk sat by the fire and glanced back as Spock and Nyota moved around the patio, cleaning up another fabulous meal that Chris had made. They were in sync finally. And the looks they shot at each other were the kind that told him they'd be retiring early.

Which was not something he was sorry about since it was a mild night and a new moon—their lovely lake would not be lit up. Kirk grinned and looked over at Chris. "How adventurous do you want to be tonight?"

She started to laugh. "You've been staring at that lake all day. Are you asking me if I want to freeze my ass off skinnydipping with you?"

"That is exactly what I am asking." He watched her, curious to see her reaction.

She laughed. "It's warmer than it's been. What the hell?" She cuddled in next to him. "We can watch the sunset first?"

"Absolutely. And we're going from here, toots. No running inside for robes and towels. Or parkas. Just strip and go."

She laughed and it came out a nervous-sounding giggle. "You're a kook. Are we supposed to make love in the cold, cold water?"

"The water will actually feel warmer than you think. And yes, I'd like to give that a shot, too. But sex in the water can be problematic—it sounds romantic but rarely comes off like you want."

She leaned her head on his shoulder. "I've never tried."

"Are you just saying that?" He wanted to believe her, was surprised how much he wanted it to be true.

"I don't lie to you, Jim. It's something I realized when Ny and I were talking. Other than about the rape and that wasn't a lie so much as an omission—if you'd ever asked me point blank, I don't think I'd have been able to keep it from you."

"Good to know." He kissed her forehead. "So no water sex for Chris?"

"Roger wasn't a big bath guy. And he didn't like to swim. And the guys after him weren't adventurous, which was sort of the point since I was trying to ease my way back into the game."

"And before Roger?"

"Don't laugh at me."

"Nobody before Roger?" Was it bad and wrong that the idea of that made him...happy?

"I was all about studying. And sort of gawky. I grew into my body late in life. And I was a science geek. It didn't really add up to femme fatale. Why do you think I'm such a good cook? I had plenty of time to practice."

"My gain." He moved so he could see her face, traced her cheek. Her hair was lit by the firelight, and it gleamed softly. "So tabula rasa in some ways. I can corrupt at will."

"You can." Her smile was tender, so full of affection it made him feel safe and warm and cared for in a way he hadn't since he and Carol had first started out—before they had gone so terribly wrong.

"I don't mind that idea at all."

"Good." She sighed. "I need to tell you something. It's going to sound weird."

"Oh, joy." He laughed softly.

"Hopefully weird in a good way. It's just...none of us know what tomorrow brings. Or whether relationships will last or not. If you'd asked me a few years ago if Ny and I would be on the verge of hating each other, I'd have laughed at you. If you'd have told me that I'd be in love with my captain, I'd also have laughed. Time...time changes everything."

He nodded. "It does."

"We may grow old together and forty years from now we'll be sitting on a log like this in front of our bonfire in the mountains. Or we may not. One of us could die. Both of us could. Or we could...end."

He nodded, waiting to see where she would go with this.

"However it ends. Whenever it ends. You will always be the love of my life, Jim. You will be the first man I was ever truly myself with, who made me feel beautiful just the way I am." She ran her finger down his cheek. "I pity anyone who has to come after you. They'll never measure up." She looked away, as if suddenly embarrassed. "Too weird?"

"No. Not too weird. And for the record, I vote for the happily ever after plan."

Her smile was luminous.

"I love you, Chris. I can't imagine life without you." He pulled her closer and kissed her tenderly, slowly, his tongue starting a rhythm that he intended to follow with other parts of his body as soon as the damn sun finished setting.

She moaned, and he decided to hell with the sunset; it was nearly dark. He began to pull off her clothes, then stripped off his own, and they ran like two teenagers onto the beach and into the water.

"Oh my God, it's cold," she said.

"Swim," he said. "Race me."

They took off for deeper water and the water did start to feel warmer. As she slowed, he caught her up in his arms, and she wrapped her legs around him as he swam her back to where he could stand. They kissed while they waited for the sky to darken completely and as she moved and stroked and whispered very naughty things in his ear, he felt his lower half coming to life.

He adjusted her a bit, into position, and she moaned as she slid onto him.

"I don't think this water sex is overrated, Jim. The buoyancy factor gives it a unique quality." She kissed him, biting his ear softly.

"Ever the scientist. It's even more pronounced in salt water." He laughed and moved her slowly, trying to hold back, but the idea that they were so exposed was exciting—and he thought it excited her, too. The idea that it was her first time doing this wasn't a turn off, either. "Have you ever done it in a science lab?"

"Ah, the 'Corrupt Chris' campaign is in full swing?" She laughed softly. "Sadly, yes."

"On board my ship?"

"I can't say I have."

"Good." They were definitely going to have to give that never-used science lab on deck seventeen a whirl.

##

Uhura followed the other three through the casino to the elevator that took them to the top floor of the hotel. The restaurant had an amazing vista of the lake, and Jim had reserved a table at the window.

"Bon appetit," the maître d' said, and left them to peruse the menus.

They had escargot listed as a house specialty. And from what the reviews on this place had said—Uhura had looked it up before they had left the house: she liked to know what she was walking into before she got there—they made them really well.

She knew she'd be outvoted again, though.

But they couldn't stop her from ordering a nice, juicy Steak au Poivre. She was sick of vegetarian fare, and Spock was taking her by the Vulcan embassy tomorrow on their way back to the ship, so she needed to get her meat fix now. The review had noted how good the pepper steak was—almost as good as the escargot.

The sommelier came by and Jim looked at her. "Red or white tonight?"

"Red."

He looked at Christine and she nodded without looking up from her menu. Spock was a non-player as usual.

"What do you have that will bowl us over in a red?" Jim smiled at the sommelier, that mega-watt Kirk grin that no one could stand against long.

The man looked like he'd fallen in love. "We have a new Cabernet Franc, underappreciated by the hoi polloi but truly outstanding."

"Never let it be said we're not smarter than the masses," Jim said with a wink to the man. "We'll be brave."

"Excellent." The man hurried off.

"All right. Appetizers—what are we getting?"

Before anyone could say anything, Uhura said, "They have escargot."

"Do we have to take a vote again, Nyota?" Jim gave her a "been there, done that" smile.

She noticed Christine did not look up from her menu. Neither did Spock.

"Fuck the vote," she said very softly, but as clearly as she could.

Jim's eyes went wide, and the other two looked up.

"You two are a voting bloc and we all know it," she said, looking at Jim and Christine. She turned to Spock. "And unless it's rice and beans, I can forget about any help from you. I'll never get what I want, and what I want is escargot. And damn it all, I'm sick of not getting what I want. So I'm going to order them tonight."

Spock and Jim stared at her as if unsure how to respond. Christine grinned and went back to studying the menu.

"Will that not be a lot of...snails for you to eat?" Spock looked as if he knew this was not the time to ask the question but could not help himself.

"I may eat one. I may eat a few. I may eat all the goddamned order. It does not matter. I want my snails." She sat back. "Are we clear, boys?"

They nodded.

"Good. And, just so you understand, this is not how I plan to act the rest of the meal. I am...sick of holding stuff in. Letting it fester inside me instead of speaking my mind. So I'm going to say what I want from time to time in a more direct manner and not be so snide and sideways about it later when I'm too mad to be rational. Doesn't that sound like a plan?"

She saw Christine grin again as she nodded. The boys looked unsure how to answer—as if they weren't sure agreeing with the plan might not be also agreeing that she was often unpleasant.

"At ease, you two. Christine and I understand each other, so you both can relax."

"Yes, yes we do." Christine looked up, smiled at Jim. "I want gougeres."

He started to laugh. "Cheese bread."

"Cheesy puff pastry. Much fancier. Besides, Ny loves them, right?" She winked at Uhura. "And so do the rest of us."

"Fine, we'll get the puffy cheese." Jim looked over at Spock. "You have any special requests, my friend?"

"I am content, Jim."

Uhura put her hand on his knee, was only going to let it sit for a moment to let him know she planned to play nice the rest of the evening, but he put his hand over it and squeezed gently. She smiled as she put down her menu.

She saw Jim lean over and murmur something in Christine's ear. Christine laughed and said something back that made him grin. Then Christine looked up, saw that Uhura was watching them, and for a moment their eyes met.

Uhura remembered telling Christine she didn't think she had a future with Jim. It had been a low blow, especially because it wasn't true.

She let her eyes go soft and smiled gently. Christine's expression changed from wary to something gentler, and she smiled too.

The sommelier coming back with their wine finished the moment, but it was there, it was a good moment. They'd had a few of them since their talk on the beach.

The wine was delicious. Unexpected for something so often overlooked—a wine that was usually mixed in with other varieties, never stood on its own. Uhura could relate.

The appetizers were even better. Especially the escargot.

She ate every damn one of them.

FIN