DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2018 by Djinn. This story is Rated NC-17.

Chasing the Rush

 

By Djinn

 

 

Chapter 1: The Chasers

 

Chapel stared at herself in the mirror, ignoring the bustle in the corridor outside the officers' head.  The conference room she and about twenty others were using for the postmortem on the latest crisis in the sector had excellent soundproofing, allowing them to work despite the noise.  Starbase Fourteen was this sector's version of Grand Central Transport Station, and it was filled with Starfleet officers, as well as ordinary Federation citizens, hurrying to make shuttles, catch up with old friends, or just find a drink and a place to park their butts while they waited for a meeting to start or a ship to show up.  Fortunately for her, the last meeting on her agenda was almost over, and then she'd be boarding her shuttle and heading happily back to earth in a sleeper compartment—Cartwright had let her splurge since she'd been the only one from ops working the floods on Manitar.

 

Leaning in closer to the mirror, she touched the dark circles under her eyes.  She thought she caught the lingering residue of swamp mold, probably permanently embedded in her uniform after three weeks on that sodden world.  All the refreshers in the quadrant weren't going to get out the smell.  Fortunately, Cartwright also indulged her with a hefty uniform allowance. 

 

She studied the dark blue circles—hell, they were more like bruises—and realized she couldn't remember a time over the last few years when they hadn't been there.  And she also couldn't remember when she had stopped seeing them.  Certainly it had been a long time since she'd stared at herself in the mirror like some giddy girl before the prom.  But sitting at the conference table with all those sector command officers, she'd noticed something.  None of them sported circles like hers or like those on the faces of the sector personnel she'd commandeered with Starfleet Command's blessing to help her during the crisis.  In fact, the brass all looked fresh and energetic—and filled with hope.

 

Chapel couldn't remember the last time she'd been filled with hope.  Frowning, she thought back.  Maybe the day Kirk and her friends had gone back in time to go whale watching?  Or maybe when she'd heard that Spock was alive after having given his life for the Enterprise and her crew?  Funny how hope and the Enterprise crew were so inextricably linked in her mind.  She wondered if that was why Kirk couldn't pry himself out of the center seat for long—maybe he only felt any hope when he was on his pretty ship?

 

Another officer came into the head, and Chapel forced herself to stop contemplating her navel—or parts higher—and get back to the conference room so they could wrap the meeting up, and she could get to the lounge.  She'd never drunk this much before pps either.  Hope out, booze in.  Maybe it was a fair trade?  Although hope cost less and didn't require antitox in the morning to get over.

 

She walked back into the conference room, nodding to her temporary crew who were sitting in various stages of exhaustion along the back wall.  Several of them were dozing, their faces peaceful as they waited for the meeting to reconvene.  She smiled, filing that away next to their names in her mind.  They were naturals for ops, and she'd recommend them to Cartwright when she got back to Earth.

 

The meeting finally wrapped up, with the sector brass engaging in hearty self-congratulations even if they hadn't been the ones wading through snake-infested waters to help those affected by the floods.  Chapel could go her entire life without seeing another pair of reinforced hip waders—they may have kept the snakes from getting through to flesh, but they also chafed like crazy.  She turned and saw that her team hadn't moved, were waiting for her to get up before leaving, and she was touched.  This was the good side of ops.  This crazy camaraderie with the team—and this wonderful loyalty to her from them.  It was heady, and not something she'd ever experienced as a doctor.

 

"Well, campers," she said as she walked over to them.  "I guess this is goodbye."

 

They stood, each murmuring various things that made her laugh.  She'd taught them that—laugh, don't cry in the face of disaster, just find a way to make it better and move on to the next thing.  It was a valuable lesson for later, and she'd feel proud if she hadn't also taught the younger ones to chase down a beer with a shot of whiskey.  She figured she was breaking even on the being a good example front.

 

She waited until they'd filed out before she headed for the departure lounge.  It was crowded as hell, and she surveyed it in dismay, searching in vain for an empty table.  She finally spotted one in the far corner, but didn't relish trying to wedge herself between the various members of the Andorian family group that had monopolized the three tables surrounding it.  Especially, when some of them were very young and running around wildly. 

 

"No guts, no glory, Commander," a familiar voice said behind her.

 

"I'll chance it if you will, Captain."  She turned, smiling as she saw the famous Kirk grin grow even bigger.  It was unfair that his smile never dimmed no matter how old he got.  But as she looked at him a little longer, she realized he had some nice dark circles of his own going, and the lines between his eyebrows seemed more pronounced. "Not in the mood to take on the Andorians?"

 

"No, I'm not."  He pointed to the back of the lounge.  "I've got a table, which I may have to fight for if I leave it alone much longer, and you're welcome to share it with me."

 

She followed him back, gratefully dropping the carryall at her feet as she sat down with a happy sigh.

 

"You want something?" he asked, nodding at the bar.

 

After eight straight hours of postmortem meetings, she was ready to drink just about anything they had.  "Surprise me," she said, settling back and closing her eyes for a moment.  She should have been tired enough to fall asleep in the noisy lounge but knew she was too keyed up to rest.  Admiral Cartwright called it the "after emergency rush."  They all got it—the Emergency Ops lifers as they called themselves.  Most people barely lasted six months in ops, leaving gratefully and with the souvenir dark circles under their eyes from being commed in the middle of the night and working round-the-clock shifts for days—or even weeks—in a row.  Then there were the lifers.  Some of the hard-core inner circle had been chasing emergencies for over ten years.  Chapel wasn't sure she'd go that long, but she'd lasted over two years so far and was still gung ho.

 

Kirk came back, holding two glasses of amber liquid.

 

She raised an eyebrow, a remnant of too many years working with Len and trying to mimic Spock.  "Single malt?"

 

"That okay?"  He sounded like he'd put her in for demotion if she said no to Scotch.

 

"More than okay."  She would put herself in for demotion the day she turned down the good stuff.  Lifting her glass, she said, "To unexpected meetings."

 

He tapped her glass lightly.  "When was the last one?"

 

"Your whales," she said, grinning when he grimaced.

 

"They're not my whales."

 

"The lovely Doctor Taylor tell you that?"

 

He shot her a warning look, and shook his head.  But another grin threatened.

 

"Got away, did she?"  She shook her head, making a "tsk-tsk" sound.  "You think they'll stop calling you 'Tomcat' if you keep losing the girl?"

 

He pretended to reach for her drink, as if he was rethinking giving it to her, and she pulled it out of his reach.  He looked surprised, and she laughed. 

 

"Any good ops person has reflexes like a cat when booze is involved.  Especially expensive single-malt Scotch bought by loitering living legends."  She took a sip.  "Loitering living legends—say that three times fast."

 

He grinned again, sipped his own drink.  "You know, Chapel, I think I liked you a hell of a lot better when you were the shy retiring nurse."

 

She laughed again and his grin grow bigger.  "Yeah, where'd she go?"

 

He nodded at her commander's insignia.  "I'd say you lost her on the way to those."  He leaned back, putting his feet up on the chair across from him, and sighed heavily.  "You were working the floods on Manitar?"

 

She nodded.  In addition to those lousy hip waders, she'd be happy if she never smelled silt and bog again.  "Do I smell like a swamp?"

 

"I hadn't noticed."  He sniffed the air loudly, making a strange face and laughing when she pretended to be offended.  Leaning back, he said, "I don't know how you do it.  One crisis after another."

 

She shot him a glance and saw that from this angle the dark circles were even darker.  "Because sitting in the big chair of your shiny new ship is nothing like that."

 

He sipped his drink, shrugging as if to admit she was right.

 

"How is your shiny new ship?"

 

He sighed.  "Not as shiny as the old one."

 

She gave him a sympathetic look.  "She's still an Enterprise.  And she's yours."

 

His look softened.  "That she is."  

 

"And you love it."  She knew his expression, the smile that was trying to break through, the little glint in his eyes.  She'd seen it on her own face plenty of times after a crisis successfully handled. 

 

"I do love it."  He scrunched down a little more, studied her.  "You ever think about coming back?"

 

"You've got everyone else on board, now you want me too?"

 

"You can't tell me you don't miss your friends."

 

He was right.  She did miss her friends.  Uhura and Sulu and Chekov were all with him.  Even Rand had jumped ship to be on the Enterprise—although Chapel suspected Sulu had a lot to do with that; he seemed to have appointed himself Janice's unofficial mentor.

 

"It'd be great to have the old crew back together," Kirk said.

 

"Old is right," she said, rubbing at her back.   Eight hours worth of shifting in the uncomfortable chair in the conference room—not to mention three weeks of plowing through bog—were catching up with her.  She couldn't wait to get to that sleeper compartment, couldn't remember, in fact, the last time she'd gotten six straight hours of sleep, much less slept for the time it would take to get home.  It would feel positively decadent to laze around that long.  "You here for meetings?"

 

He nodded.  "Situation's heating up on the neutral zone again."

 

"I know."  There wasn't much she didn't know these days.  That was almost as addictive as the rush and the camaraderie of ops.

 

"You like that, don't you?  The access?" 

 

"I do."  She studied him.  "So when I burn out on ops, I can come home?"

 

"You can."  He looked completely sincere, and it touched her that it meant that much to him to have his brood safely back under his wing.

 

"If I burn out, I just may take you up on the offer."

 

He smiled, as if he knew she was nowhere close to that.  "I'll keep the porch light on."

 

"You do that." 

 

They drank in silence for a while, and it was a comfortable silence that reminded her of the quiet coffees they used to share when she first started in ops and he was grounded and at the Academy.  She'd be halfway through the night shift and see him sitting in the back of main ops, sometimes with Cartwright, other times alone.  He'd be watching the big board, as if he could get closer to space just by tracking the blips on the screen.  She'd go back and sit with him if he was alone; sometimes they didn't say a word, just watched the ships move across the quadrant.

 

Other times he'd be in the mood to talk.  She'd served under him twice on the Enterprise, but hadn't talked to him very much when they'd been off duty—he'd always been nice to her, but she had not been in his inner circle.  But when he'd sat in ops and joked with her, she'd gotten to know a different Kirk than she'd known before.  She'd gotten to know Kirk the man, not Kirk the legend.  And she'd found out that the man was even more impressive.  And a whole lot of fun.

 

"So how's Spock doing?" she asked.  "Last I saw him he was a little ummm..."

 

"Stiff?"

 

She nodded.  Stiff was the nice way of describing the way he'd been acting. 

 

"He's better.  Not completely there yet, but..."

 

She smiled and could tell what he didn't want to say.  "You feel like you have your friend back not just your first officer?"

 

He nodded and smiled at her with the soft expression that he'd used back in those early days when she'd asked him if he missed the ship. 

 

"I'm glad."  She leaned forward.  "So he really had a brother?"  She remembered what she'd heard of the story and revised the question, "Half-brother, I mean."

 

"He really did."  Kirk's face tightened.

 

"You weren't a fan of big brother, huh?"  She laughed when he shot her a somewhat startled look, as if he hadn't realized he'd reacted.  He'd have to be superhuman not to—Sybok had stolen his ship out from under him.  "Sometimes, I can read you like a book."

 

"I know.  It's why I like talking to you.  Except when I'm lying about my diet."  He studied her again.  "You always keep things close."

 

"Barring hellacious viruses or Platonians, I do tend to."  She shook her head, hated thinking about the Psi 2000 virus.  That had not been one of her finer moments.  But at least with the Platonians she hadn't crumbled—not that she'd been able to fight them, but she hadn't lost sleep over her "performance" in their little floor show the way she had over her embarrassing virus-induced confession of love to Spock.  "Holding things close is a good quality for someone in ops."

 

"And you're calm in a crisis.  That's important too."

 

She smiled.  "Coming from you, I'll take that as a great compliment.  You've weathered more crises than I have, even with the ops stint."

 

"Some days, I feel as if they've weathered me."

 

She waved that thought away.  "You're still the golden boy."

 

He laughed.  "What was it you were just saying about being old?"

 

"Maybe I should have phrased it as older?"

 

"The older golden boy—it's better, but I'm still not sure it has the same ring."  He seemed about to say more, but then turned away, his attention caught by something in the corner of the room. 

 

She followed his gaze, saw he was watching a group of Tellarites intent on working their way through the Andorians to the free table.

 

"Now there's an emergency waiting to happen, Chris."

 

She laughed.  "It's like they're drawn to each other.  Magnetic attraction of the worst kind."

 

He nodded and smiled grimly as one of the Tellarites turned in his chair and snarled at an Andorian youth who accidentally got too close, or who bumped the Tellarite's chair on purpose—it was hard to tell who was baiting whom over there.  One of the Andorian adults stood up, antenna curled down, reminding Chapel of a hissing cat with ears pinned back.  Another Tellarite pushed forward, his snout quivering.  Their voices started to rise, and pretty soon people around them were scooting their chairs back.

 

"It's going to be a brawl," Kirk said.

 

"You're so right."  She lowered her voice.  "I'll bet you the next round of drinks that the Tellarites win."

 

He seemed to be factoring in the sheer number of Andorians—even if some of them were young—against the absolute mass of Tellarite body strength.  "You're on."   He looked at her sternly.  "We're talking single malt.  Not some cheap-ass local beer."

 

"But of course."  She grinned.  This was an old game in ops.  They'd bet on anything that didn't involve body counts.  Even the lifers knew where to draw the line, no matter how hardened they became over the years.

 

"I wish I'd known you when I was younger," he said, winking. 

 

"Yeah, yeah.  That's what all the boys say."  She nodded with her chin toward the belligerents.  All of the injured parties were on their feet, yelling.  "I say contact in five, four, three, two, one—"

 

Thwack!  A Tellarite fist collided with an Andorian chin. 

 

"Good call."  He fell silent, as if rooting for a young Andorian woman who had jumped on the back of one of the Tellarites, hands pounding relentlessly.  "Reminds me of the old days back on the Enterprise," he said, his voice fondly reminiscing.  "Meeting Spock's parents, having delegates stab each other—and me."

 

"Performing dangerous operations in the midst of chaos.  Yes, those were good times," she said, laughing.  "Why do you suppose they hate each other?"

 

"They're conditioned to hate each other?  To hate what's different?"  He looked over at her.  "You work with Matthew, surely you know how dislike can turn into something far more obsessive."

 

"Cartwright can be a one-note wonder at times about the Klingons, I'll give you that.  But the Klingons are hardly innocent in this."  She studied him, wondering how much she should push this.  Surely, Kirk didn't harbor warm and fuzzy feelings for the people who'd killed his son?  But she hated to ruin a perfectly good conversation by bringing that up.

 

He seemed to have no such compunction.  "I can't say I'll ever forgive them for what they did to David."   He looked over at her, his eyes appraising.  "I know you were thinking that, even if you didn't say it."

 

"I was."  She smiled sadly.  "I didn't want to pick at scabs."

 

"I appreciate that."  He shook his head.  "I've known Matthew a long time, and I've never figured out what happened to him to make him so fixated on Klingons."

 

She didn't know either, and it wasn't for lack of trying to get Cartwright to open up about it, especially when he'd had a few too many drinks after some crisis.  He might never tire of the subject, might, in fact, get louder about it the more drinks he had, but he never lost control enough to admit what his beef was with the Klingons.  She only knew it was heartfelt and engrained so deeply it was second nature at this point.  And it wasn't like it ever interfered with his performance, or his ability to lead.  The man was a genius when it came to multi-tasking.

 

"Either you don't know, or you do but aren't telling."

 

"I don't.  He's never told me, either."  She looked back over at the Tellarite-Andorian grudge match.  One of the youngest Andorians was kicking a Tellarite female in the shin as three of the older Andorians tried to wrestle her to the floor.  "Those Andorians are nasty fighters."

 

He grinned.  "And you thought I was a sucker for taking your bet, didn't you?"

 

"It may have crossed my mind."  The brou-ha-ha was getting closer to them.  "You in the mood for a brawl?  It's headed this way."

 

"I'm too old for a brawl."

 

"You sure?  Because I can patch you up and run damage recovery during the post-fight phase." 

 

He laughed.  "Wow, I'm going to take you to every fight I go to from now on."

 

She ignored him.  "Mock now.  But those are handy skills."  An Andorian flew back, a vicious kick from one of the Tellarites sending him into the table in front of them.  It slid heavily into the far wall, carrying the Andorian with it.

 

Kirk picked up their drinks as another Andorian came reeling toward them, sliding across the top of their table before finally crashing into a heap on the floor, narrowly missing their carryalls.

 

"Nice save, Captain."

 

"Thanks," he said as he put their glasses back down.  "And you can call me Jim."

 

She smiled.  All that time in ops over silent midnight coffees and he'd never said that.  She looked around, realized that there were other Andorian heaps on the floor, now being attended to by medics, and that the Tellarites were striding out of the lounge, accompanied by some security.  "Hey, you're just trying to distract me from the fact that I won."

 

He laughed.  "It's possible."

 

"So I can't call you Jim?"  She moved aside a bit so a medic could get to the Andorian behind their table, then threw back her Scotch, and handed the glass to Kirk.  "So nice of you to buy."

 

"Where is that sweet young nurse?"  He drained his own glass.  "And I meant it.  You can call me Jim." 

 

She watched him as he got up and went to the bar for more hooch.  She knew there weren't many he let call him Jim.  It was an honor, and probably a measure of how far she'd come since she joined ops—and how much she had changed. 

 

She sighed.  Sometimes, she wasn't sure that she was changing in an altogether positive way.  She could feel herself becoming hardened to disaster and death in a way that she never had as a doctor.  But the scale of what they saw in ops was so extreme, it was almost a protective measure to get hard, to toughen up.  People who couldn't do that didn't last very long.

 

She decided not to dwell on it.  Not when she wasn't sure she even wanted to do anything about it, or when he was coming back with a fresh drink for her. 

 

"You looked damned serious," he said.

 

"Just contemplating death and disaster."  She sighed again.  "Do you think it's normal to get inured to that?"

 

"I may not be the best one to ask.  I saw too much when I was thirteen, on Tarsus IV."

 

"Kodos's massacre."  She hadn't meant to dredge up something that painful.

 

"There were bodies everywhere."  Swallowing hard, he took a quick sip of his drink.  "You don't forget that.  And I have to say I've seen a lot since then, but I'm not sure anything can ever be that bad."  He looked at her, his eyes narrowing.  "You saw a lot as a doctor.  I was with you for some of those.  But nothing, I imagine, like what you see now?"

 

"No.  Nothing like in ops."  She leaned forward.  "Maybe becoming hard is just our way of protecting ourselves.  Like a callus?"

 

"A callus over the heart?"  His smile faded and turned grim.  "Might explain why we're so spectacularly unsuccessful in love?"

 

"It might."  She'd never thought of it that way.  "Certainly, my best relationship was Roger, and that was pre-calluses."  She frowned.  "If you started developing them at thirteen, then you never really had a chance.  Unless you were dating at twelve, which I might not put past you."  She was glad to see that he was grinning as she wanted to get them back to lighter territory.  She decided to change the subject even more.  "Are you waiting for a shuttle?"

 

"No, the Enterprise will be by eventually.  They're on a relief run to Manitar."  His smile turned devilish.  "You just missed Spock."

 

"I'm over him."  She shot him a very stern glare. Spock was pre-calluses too, but he could never be called a successful relationship. In fact, she couldn't really even call their few interactions a relationship.

 

"Uh huh."  He smiled again, a playful look—unlike Len, he'd never tended to tease her about this, and his ribbing was far more gentle than McCoy's had been.  She knew that Len had often been frustrated with her back when she wore her heart on her sleeve for a totally uninterested Vulcan.

 

Back when she had a heart.  She sighed—thoughts like that were so unproductive.  She still had a heart; it was just covered up with ugly blisters.

 

"What's wrong," he asked softly.

 

"Life changes us."

 

"It does indeed." 

 

"The calluses might be there to protect us.  But I'm not sure they're a good thing."  She met his gaze; he was watching her, a thoughtful look on his face.  "I've erected barriers around more than just my heart, I think.  I'm not sure I let anyone in anymore."

 

"We all do that to a certain extent.  It's called getting older."

 

"Is it?  Or is it called giving up?"  She leaned back in her chair, putting her feet up on the chair he'd been using as a footrest earlier. 

 

"Maybe a little of both?"  He looked down, as if he was thinking it over as she sipped her drink and waited.  "Maybe we find substitutes for letting people in?"

 

"Your shiny new ship, for example?"

 

He smiled.  "I was thinking of that."

 

"I told you.  Like a book."  She narrowed her eyes.  "And mine's the rush of ops?"

 

He nodded.

 

"And maybe, over time, we just get jaded?  Maybe eventually only the rush will do?"

 

He chuckled.  "I feel that way sometimes.  When I'm on the ship, waiting for the next crisis, it's not unease or worry that fills me, it's—"

 

"Anticipation?"  At his nod, she smiled.  "Yeah, I know that feeling.  Are we addicted to the rush?"

 

"Maybe."  He leaned forward, touched under her eyes.  "There's a price though."  Before she could answer, he touched under his own eyes.  "I'm already paying it; you don't have to say it."

 

They sat in silence; she thought he was contemplating the same things she was:  life and death, feeling alive, and how little they connected with anyone anymore. 

 

"Spock never felt this, I don't think.  The rush was never what drove him," Kirk said.

 

"I know.  I think he wanted to make a difference."

 

"You think we don't?"

 

She smiled.  "I think we have fun making a difference."

 

He laughed.  "Well, I'll concede that point."  He looked down.  "I don't think Spock will be with me on the ship forever."

 

"No?"

 

"He's gone a lot already.   Diplomatic things that Starfleet or the Federation pulls him off for.  Sulu's getting a lot of experience as acting first officer."

 

"Well, that's good for Sulu, but I'm sorry for you.  You brought Spock back only to lose him?"

 

"I'm not losing him.  Just having to share him."  He grinned.  "All things change, right?"

 

"They do, Jim."  She saw him smile, and smiled back, even though it felt very strange to call him by his first name.  She sensed he needed that though and was glad she'd done it.  "I think it's when we try to stop change that we get hurt the most."

 

"I think you're right."

 

She glanced over to where the medics were releasing the Andorians.  Security had let the Tellarites back into the lounge, apparently satisfied the fight had been started by both parties.  But she noticed they were keeping the two groups carefully apart. "These guys seem fine with eternal enmity."

 

"It's easy to hate.  Far tougher to learn how to live with someone who's different."  He shook his head.  "And they're both Federation, have been for ages.  How much harder is it going to be for us to ever learn to live in peace with the Klingons?"

 

"Pretty damn hard," she said.  "Some people will never get there."

 

He nodded, and she could tell he was thinking of Cartwright. 

 

She held out her glass.  "To a peaceful future."

 

"Here here."  He held his glass to hers, touching it.  Then he looked away, a small smile starting. "My ride's here.  I guess we can see how over him you really are?"

 

She turned, saw Spock striding through the lounge.  He looked...comfortable.  Like he finally fit in his own skin again.  She was glad for him.  And was relieved to realize that was all she felt for him.  "Hello, Mister Spock," she said as he walked up. 

 

"Commander Chapel.  It is a pleasure to see you."

 

She could feel her eyebrows going up at his choice of words.  He really had loosened up.  "Why, thank you."

 

"The minister of Manitar was most effusive in his praise of you."  He looked down at the chair she was resting her feet on.

 

"Oh," she said, jerking her feet away, then felt bad that she might have left some lingering swamp residue on the padded surface.  She leaned over and brushed off the chair.  "Have a seat, Spock."

 

He sat.  "Thank you."  He leaned back slightly, seemed to be almost at ease.

 

"Do you want a drink?" she asked.

 

"I do not."

 

Finally the old Spock.  "Thank God."

 

Spock's eyebrow rose, and she could hear Kirk laughing. 

 

He turned to Kirk.  "We have new orders?"

 

"We do."  Kirk sighed.  "We're neutral zone bound, I'm afraid.  Hope you're in the mood to patrol?"

 

"I would prefer a diplomatic solution to the problem of the Klingons over a military one.  Or a show of bravado by sending the flagship to prowl the neutral zone."

 

"What?  You don't think spitting over the border is an effective way to get along?"  Chapel smiled at him to show she was teasing.

 

"You are jesting, but your analogy is an apt one."  He steepled his fingers and seemed deep in thought.  "While the Klingons will no doubt enjoy this approach, it will not, in the long run, accomplish anything useful."

 

"And your solution?" she asked.

 

His eyes narrowed.  "Someone must take the first step to extend an olive branch.  It will be the only way to move toward true peace."

 

Kirk smiled, but the expression came off a bit sour.  "Klingons have a habit of hacking away at olive branches."

 

"Yes, that is true.  So we must bring a very long one."

 

She laughed.  "You really think they'll listen to reason?"

 

"The Klingon Empire is crumbling under its own weight."  Spock shook his head, his expression grim.  "The time is not now for rapprochement.  But eventually, I believe they will be ready to hear us."

 

She studied him and realized he was the polar opposite of Cartwright.  Did that mean he was as extreme in his passion to make peace with the Klingons as Cartwright was to rid the universe of them?  

 

The intercom crackled slightly, then an announcer said, "Shuttle one four one is ready for departure.  Boarding will commence in five minutes." 

 

She sighed.  "That's my ride."  She was sorry to go.  It was good to see them again, good to reconnect with her past—especially to find out she wasn't still a slave to a hopeless crush.  She drank the last of her Scotch and saw Kirk smile in approval.  "It's one of the cardinal sins of ops to waste good alcohol," she said to him as she stood.

 

"I like your religion," he said with a laugh.  Getting up, he surprised her with a quick hug.  "Next time, you're buying the booze."

 

She felt him give her a squeeze, then he let her go.  "Sure, Jim...if I happen to lose a bet." 

 

He smiled again, clearly pleased she was calling him by his first name.  "Get some sleep, get rid of those circles."

 

She laughed.  "If only it were that easy."

 

"Yeah.  If only."  He gave her one of his mega-watt grins, the kind that could only be answered with a grin just as big.  He might be getting older, but the man was still damned attractive, dark circles and all.

 

Turning to Spock , she said, "It was good seeing you again.  Good luck with that olive branch."

 

He nodded solemnly.  She started to turn, heard him say, "I believe my protˇgˇ will be working with you on her interim during the Academy break."

 

"Vulcan woman?  Name of Valeris?  Currently first in her class?"

 

"Yes, that is she."  His eyes seemed to soften slightly as he spoke.  "I would appreciate it if you would look out for her."

 

Chapel laughed.  "Spock, with her evaluations and marks, she should be looking out for me."  She saw him start to speak and held up her hand to stop him.  "I'll be glad to look out for her."

 

"Thank you."  He looked at Kirk.  "Are you ready to go?"

 

Kirk nodded, caught her eye and said, "Remember where home is."

 

She smiled.  "I'm not likely to forget."

 

"Even if you're never coming back," he said, laughing a bit.  "Good luck chasing the rush, Chris."

 

"You too."  She watched him walk away with Spock, then he turned as he and Spock got to the door, his hand lifted in farewell.

 

She lifted her own hand.  Once they disappeared, she grabbed her carryall and headed for the shuttle, wondering if Spock had ever in his life chased the rush.  He was a Vulcan; they weren't about the rush.  But maybe that wasn't totally true.  His passion for peace with the Klingons, if he could actually realize it somehow, might result in some kind of rush. 

 

And then there was Valeris—Chapel's willingness to mentor the girl was more because something in Valeris had just seemed to fit in ops than that she would be doing Spock a favor.  Chapel had a feeling Valeris might also live for the rush.  Even if that was a highly illogical thing to think about a Vulcan as obviously gifted as she was.  Or as free of dark circles.

 

Chapel passed the Tellarites and nodded pleasantly to them—probably the only person in the room to do so.  But hell, they'd earned her a free round of very expensive Scotch whisky.  For that she could spare a smile.

 

Yawning, she settled into her sleeper compartment.  She thought about Kirk and the Enterprise—her home with her captain waiting if ops ever got too much.  The ship might be his form of rush, but for her it represented peace.  She wondered what it would be like to practice medicine again, to help people in a gentler way and indulge in quiet research, not rush from one catastrophe to the next. 

 

As she settled down on the bed and pulled the covers over her, she decided it was nice to know that she had a place to land, even if she couldn't imagine doing anything but ops.  Maybe it was in her blood?   She yawned.  Right now, soothing smoky Scotch was making its way through her bloodstream, leaving her relaxed and comfortable and ready to sleep the entire journey home.

 

Home—that's what ops was now.  Maybe it always would be.

 

Or maybe home was that shiny ship with its whisper of a life more peaceful and slow. A life surrounded by the people who were still her best friends.  Maybe Jim had been right, maybe it really was just a function of getting older that she was letting less and less people into her life.  Certainly the fast-paced world of ops wasn't helping that.  She'd bonded with her crew on this latest emergency, but she also knew it was unlikely she'd ever see most of them again.  It was a fake kind of friendship, these intense relationships that fell apart as soon as the crisis was over.

 

But there was attraction in that too.  Like the rush of the emergency, you could keep skipping from one to the next, never having to come down and evaluate what your life was really like.  You never had to ask yourself what you were doing or where you were going.  Or if you were alone.

 

And someday her time for chasing disasters would be over.  What would she find then?

 

She smiled and rolled over, telling the computer to turn the lights off.  If it was in the next year or so, she'd find Kirk and the Enterprise waiting for her.

 

If it was later, she'd cross that bridge when she came to it.  Providing there was a bridge.  If there wasn't, she'd don those nasty hip waders and ford the future herself.

 

In the meantime, she had the next emergency to rest up for.

 

 

 

Chapter 2: Beginnings

 

Chapel was in the officers' lounge, kicking back with a tequila and tonic when she felt warm breath on her ear, and an amused voice asking, "Still chasing the rush?"

 

She chuckled.  "I am.  Sit down, Jim, and chase it with me."

 

Kirk took the seat across from her, smiling happily as he leaned forward.  "Two times in one month, this has to be a record."

 

"I saw that you were due back and wondered if I'd see you."  She found herself grinning at him. 

 

He was grinning right back.  "You thought I'd look you up?"

 

"I wasn't sure.  I hoped so."

 

"Well, here I am."  He motioned for the waitress.  "Glenfiddich."

 

"Still drinking good single-malt Scotch?"  She smiled and took a sip of her drink.

 

"There's a reason it's a classic.  What's that?  Gin and tonic?"

 

"Well, you got the tonic part.  Tequila."

 

He laughed.  "Ooh, living dangerously." 

 

The waitress set his drink down, flirting outrageously as she did so.  "I get off at oh one hundred, Captain Kirk."

 

He smiled pleasantly at her.  "I'll keep that in mind."

 

Once the woman was gone, Chapel asked, "Will you?"

 

"What?"

 

"Keep that in mind?"

 

He took a sip of his Scotch, then looked at her.  "Should I?"

 

She laughed, a little surprised that he was putting her on the spot this way.  But he didn't look away, and she realized that her heart was beating very fast, and her eyes were narrowed, and she was biting her lower lip.  All things that happened in ops, when the situation was heating up.  When she was riding the rush.

 

"No," she said.  "I don't think you should keep that in mind."

 

He smiled and looked like he might be riding the rush, too.  She realized that asking her had sent him out on a limb—where it was very scary as he risked being shot down.

 

She leaned forward.  "Did you think I'd say no?"

 

"You said you weren't letting people in these days.  I wasn't sure if that included a fellow rush addict, or not, but I hoped for me you might make an exception."  He shrugged, was playing it casual and she let him get away with it.

 

She held her glass up to him.  "To addicts everywhere."

 

"Forget the others.  To us."  His eyes were intense, his grin only half there.

 

"You really don't want to be in this bar right now, do you?"

 

He shook his head slowly.  "My only reason for being in this bar was to find you."

 

She felt herself flush with pleasure at such directness.  Being seduced by Captain Kirk was a rush.  She finished her drink and put it down.  "Do you want to leave?"

 

"Yes."  He threw back his drink, and she laughed.

 

"What will the waitress think?"

 

"I don't know, and I don't much care."  He gestured for the woman, signed their tab and apparently left her a big tip from the smile he got back from her.  "Thank you," he said gently, then turned away.

 

The woman looked at Chapel like she was the luckiest girl in the universe.

 

Maybe she was?

 

He stood and held his hand out, and Chapel took it, laughing again as he pulled her close and wrapped his arm around her.

 

"So you thought I might say yes?"  She looked over at him, her own arm stealing around his waist as they walked out of the lounge.

 

"I wasn't sure.  I just decided to be brave."

 

She leaned in and kissed his cheek.  "That's so sweet."

 

"I can be sweet."  He gave her the sappiest look possible but couldn't hold it for long.

 

They both started to laugh. 

 

"I bet you can be other things too," she said.

 

"I bet you're right."  He looked over at her.  "Care to wager?"

 

"Hmmm.  What should we wager on?"

 

He started to grin—it was a very, very mischievous expression.

 

"What in the hell are you thinking, Jim?"

 

He seemed to be sizing her up, as if deciding whether he could say what he wanted to.  He finally leaned in, whispered, "Whoever comes the most times has to buy the drinks the next time we're in a bar."

 

"Ooh, what a nice bet.  It's good to win, it's even better if you lose."

 

"Exactly."

 

She narrowed her eyes.  "Is this a bet you've made before?"

 

He shook his head, and his eyes were so sincere that she decided to believe him. 

 

"My place, sir?" she asked, putting her best Command voice on.

 

"Officer thinking, Commander."  He pulled her closer.  "Is your place far?"

 

She grinned at the sound of impatience in his voice.  "Didn't you know?  I live on Prince Edward Island.  It will take us one continental and three local transports to get there, plus a boat and a goat cart."

 

He was not amused.

 

"Or maybe I live just around the corner?"  As his look cleared, she laughed.  "Yes, I think that's right.  I live just around the corner."

 

It was a short walk.  She pulled him after her into the entrance, met no resistance when she tugged him into the elevator, or when she pulled him into her arms after the doors closed.  His arms closed around her, drawing her against him firmly, his lips touching down on hers lightly at first, then with more pressure as her mouth opened.

 

She was dimly aware of the car slowing, and the doors opening. 

 

"Looking good, Christine," said Barry, her very good but very gossipy friend from down the hall.  "Did you want to get out or shall I just hang up an out-of-service sign and let you two go at it right there?"

 

She pulled Kirk out of the car, pushed Barry in.  "Bye."

 

"Don't stop on my account.  Or hey, maybe I could watch?  Or join in..."  Fortunately, the car door closing stopped any further suggestions.

 

"Where is your damn apartment?"  Kirk's hands were roaming up her stomach, toward her chest.

 

"This way." 

 

They nearly tripped as they tried to traverse the hall while still kissing.  She keyed her door open, and he urged her inside.  Locking the door, she pushed him against the wall, kissed him urgently as he began to make short work of her uniform and then his own.

 

She pulled him down the hall.  The first room they came to was the bathroom, and he pushed her inside, turning on the lights and urging her up onto the counter.  Then he was inside her, and she groaned at the feeling as he began to move.

 

She'd had plenty of lovers the last few years.  None of them had meant much to her, but they'd ensured that she was not out of practice.  But something about this, about the way he was holding her, the way his hands played with her hair as he gently took it out of the clips, the way his lips touched hers with such passion was different.  Was more.

 

It was home and security.  And it was a rush.  It was both at once. 

 

She'd never found both at once before.

 

"Chris," he murmured, as he pulled away.  "God, Chris."

 

She stroked his face, wondering if her expression was as tender as his was.  She pulled him to her, kissing him again, her mouth opening, exploring his, letting his tongue in to learn her feel and taste.  She heard him groan, then his hands dropped, going lower and lower until he was touching her.  He didn't stop kissing her and she began to moan as his fingers teased her, his other hand going around to clutch her ass, squeezing in a way that was both painful and pleasurable.  She could feel herself losing control, then she came, breathing her pleasure into his mouth. 

 

When he finally pulled his face away, he said, "One for you."

 

She began to use muscles that weren't normally talked about in exercise class.  His eyes widened, then he threw his head back.  His thrusts grew wilder, and he was moaning something.  She realized it was her name. 

 

As he came, she said softly, "And one for you."

 

He held her close, breathing harshly.   "Damn."  His lips touched down on her neck, then her shoulder, while he rubbed her back lightly in a way that made shivers run down her spine.  "I knew it would be good."

 

She waited for him to pull away, then ran her fingers through the sides of his hair, watching as he closed his eyes at her touch.  "So did I."

 

"Have you been thinking about it?"

 

"I may have been."

 

He grinned.  "Have you been thinking about it at night when you're in bed?"

 

"Maybe."

 

"Have you been thinking about it actively?"  He took her hand, gently moved it between them, and began to make her touch herself. 

 

She laughed.  "Yes."  She pushed his hand toward him, wrestled her fingers free from his grip and turned the tables on him, making him touch himself.  "What about you?  Did I figure in any late night fantasies?"

 

"Oh, yes," he said, as he pulled his hand and other bits free.  Letting her get off the counter, he said, "Where is your bedroom, anyway?"

 

"Let me give you a tour," she said, as she took his hand and led him from room to room.  She could tell he was sizing things up for sex.  "Just how many times were you thinking of for this bet?"

 

He smiled; the look sent a frisson of warm pleasure straight to her groin.  "As many as we want."

 

She opened the door to the bedroom.  "Here we are," she said, leading him to the bed.

 

"Sit down."  Once she was sitting on the bed, he pushed her down so she was lying on it, with her legs dangling over.  Moving her legs apart, he knelt.  "How many were you thinking, Chris?" he asked as began to explore with his fingers, then added his tongue to the mix.

 

"Oh God, I don't care, just don't stop."

 

He didn't stop.  Not until she was crying out, her hands trying to clutch his hair, her nerves on fire as they exploded. 

 

"That would be two."

 

She lay there like a rag doll as he pushed her back a bit and turned her, then lay down next to her.  "Do I have to move?" she asked.

 

"Not just yet."  He kissed her gently.  "What we talked about on Starbase Fourteen resonated with me for a long time afterwards, Chris."

 

She turned to look at him and was surprised to see a profound tenderness in his expression.  She leaned into him, kissing him softly.  Then did it again just because kissing him felt so goddamned good.

 

"I've been keeping people out too," he said.  "I didn't try very hard with Gillian.  I could have found her if I'd wanted to, but I never did.  And there've been others.  But I've shut them out."  He leaned in and kissed her again.  "Nasty calluses."

 

She nodded, rubbed her hand over his chest as if she was rubbing them away.  "Let me help you with those?"  She smiled gently, inviting him to take that any way he wanted to.

 

"You already have."  He ran his hand over her chest.  "Why are we so bad at love?"

 

"I don't know."  She smiled as his hands moved off her chest and down low again.  "You can't be serious."

 

He laughed.  "I want my free Scotch.  I'm two in the hole with you already as far as bar bills go."  His fingers were dancing over nerve endings she thought should be dead as a doornail.

 

Apparently the nerve endings did not agree.  A few moments later, she was crying out again.

 

He lay back with a very happy grin.  "Three to one, my dear.  Shouldn't you get busy?" 

 

She forced herself out of the lethargic haze he was leaving her in and crawled on top of him.  "Yes, I think I should."

 

Not too long later, she leaned down and said, "Make that three to two."

 

He sighed a very happy sigh.  "Okay."  Pulling her down to kiss him, he hugged her close as she lay on top of him.  "This is nice."

 

She smiled.  "It is."

 

"I used to think about this.  Back when I was assigned to the Academy and you were new to Ops.  Those nights we'd sit in silence?  Sometimes I'd be thinking about the ship, but other times I'd be thinking about taking you to my bed."

 

"Why didn't you?"

 

He pursed his lips.  "Antonia had just left me for going back to Starfleet.  I thought you were still in love with Spock."  He shrugged.  "I was enjoying our friendship and didn't want to ruin it."

 

"I know. I thought about you sometimes, too."  She nuzzled his neck, getting to know the smell of him, the sharp spicy tang that his skin seemed to give off all on its own.  "You smell so good."

 

He played with her hair as she continued to kiss him.  "You're sure you're not still in love with Spock?"

 

She pulled away from his neck and looked at him sternly.  "I'm sure."  Then she leaned down and kissed him, pulling out all the stops and giving him the Christine Chapel super duper kiss.

 

He groaned, and she could feel other parts of him responding in a different way, so she leaned in and did it again.  "Care to go for three, Captain?"

 

He rolled her over, pinning her as he kissed her. "Yes, I would."  He moved against her, rubbing against her lower extremities in a way that seemed rather deliberately targeted.  She tried to shift out of the way, and he laughed.  "But I thought we might go for four on your end first."

 

"Damn it, Jim."  She tried to move, felt him pin her arms down again.  "Oh, God," she said, as she felt her traitorous body rush toward the "drinks are on me" cliff.  "Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God..."

 

He followed her over the cliff at least. 

 

"Four to three?" she asked.

 

"Yep."

 

"What happens if one of us loses track?"

 

He moved off her, cuddling against her side.  "What are the odds that one of us will lose track?"

 

She laughed.  "Slim to none."

 

His laugh was more an exhale, warm air hitting up against her ear and causing her to shiver.  She rolled so she was facing him, and he pulled her closer, his leg looping over hers to keep her near.

 

"I could get used to this," she said.  It was a risky thing to say, and she could feel her heart rate rising as she waited for his response.

 

She didn't have to wait long. "So could I," he said gently, kissing her to punctuate the point.  "I'm here for a week."

 

"I know."  She suddenly felt strange, wanted to pull him closer—even if that was physically impossible—and ask him to at least come back tomorrow. 

 

And the next day.  And the day after that.

 

He pulled away enough to watch her face as he asked, "You want me to go look up that waitress tomorrow?"

 

She shook her head.

 

"No?"

 

"No."  She touched his lips with her finger, tracing them and smiling when he captured her finger, pulling it into his mouth and sucking gently.  "No, I want you to look me up again."  Her heart was racing as she put herself on the ledge.  She laid her hand on his chest, could tell his was racing too.  "Scary, huh?"

 

He nodded with a smile that was such a beautiful expression that she had to kiss his lips, trying to taste his smile, trying to pull it into herself.  Then she slid down, kissing her way to parts slightly less expressive but just as happy.  Or on their way to getting just as happy.

 

"What are you doing, Miss Chapel?"

 

"Whatever the hell I want to, Mister Kirk," she said, then speech became a bit difficult.

 

For him too.  He was making noise, but only the very charitable would call what was coming out of his mouth words.  He got louder, and louder, and then the only sound was his breathing.

 

And her saying, "Four up, Jim."

 

He nodded, words seemingly not available to him. 

 

She noticed his toes were curling and considered that a testament to her prowess.  "It's nice losing, isn't it, love?"  She suddenly realized what she'd called him, waited to see what he'd do.

 

One eye peeked open, and he smiled.  "Yes it is, love," he said.  

 

She smiled too, felt his hand clasp hers, the touch somehow not sexual at all, strictly emotional. 

 

"We're in deep trouble," she said, never taking her eyes off him as her heart threatened to beat right out of her chest.

 

"I think so."  Pulling her back down next to him, he kissed her forehead.  "We're pros at emergencies, Chris. We'll be fine." 

 

She grinned and let him hold her and kiss her and make her feel loved. 

 

He ran his finger along the skin under her eye, then kissed the same place.  "No more circles."

 

She knew they were still there, could see his were still there.  But she laughed anyway. 

 

He began to kiss his way to her chest.  "Not that I don't love kissing your lips, Chris.  But I'm going for the money here."  His hands began to tickle her sides in a soft touch, causing her to squirm.  He stopped after a moment, laughing as she quit trying to escape.  "So responsive."  He pushed himself to his knees.  "Roll over."

 

She did what he said, felt his hands begin to run down her back, then down farther to her ass.  He pushed her legs apart, told her to lift up.  Then he was reaching under and forward, touching her the same place as before but from this new angle.  She felt her body reacting, pushed herself up higher to let him have better access.

 

"That's my girl," he said, amusement lacing his voice.

 

She knew that she was going to lose to him, didn't care as long as he kept touching her.  She was even louder than before as she cried out his name, and was trying to think up a counter when she felt him move so he was kneeling between her legs.  Then he pulled her up, taking her from behind.  She smiled; someone had lost track of the game.  Pushing back, meeting him as he thrust, she charted the sound of his breathing, the harsh rasp of her name as he called out for her. 

 

He collapsed on top of her.  Then he said, "Oh, crap."

 

She giggled.  It was a strange sound, filling the bedroom, and he laughed when he heard it.  How many years had it been since she giggled?

 

He kissed her neck.  "You're wonderful." 

 

She couldn't kiss him back, just moved to give him better access to her face and he kissed her cheek.  "You're pretty damn wonderful yourself."  She reached up, her hand finding his where he was holding her shoulder and giving it a squeeze.  He kissed her hand.

 

Groaning a little, he pulled out and lay next to her on his side, watching her.  He smiled, touched her hair, smoothing it off her face.  "I do want to see you tomorrow."

 

She nodded and knew her look was as intense as his.  "I want that too."

 

He moved and groaned again.  "You may, however, have to call the medics when we're done." 

 

She tried to move and groaned too.  "Or maybe we could call ahead and reserve them?"

 

"Ah, see, that Emergency Ops stint is paying off in so many good ways.  Pre-crisis planning."  He pulled her closer to him, so she was snuggled against him.  "What's the score?"

 

"You know what it is."

 

"Oh, yeah.  Five up."

 

Their lips met, and she felt a surge of protectiveness and tenderness and sheer terror surge through her.

 

It would be so easy to fall in love with him. 

 

He was watching her with a similar look, as if he was having the same thoughts.  "Deep, deep trouble," he said, as he moved his hand down and began to tease her again.

 

She closed her eyes, surrendering to his fingers.

 

It was going to be a hell of a long night.  In the nicest possible way.  She almost hoped she lost.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3: Discovery

 

Kirk glanced over at Spock as they prepared to transport to Earth. As far as he knew, his friend was heading over to the Vulcan Embassy to see his parents. Spock hadn't mentioned getting together, and Kirk wasn't encouraging him on that score. He felt slightly guilty, but Spock saw him all the time on the ship. Chris only got him when he was home on leave.

 

Or when she was out on some emergency. She was damned clever at finding reasons to get close enough to hook up with him for a few days. Days he invariably ended up tired and sore from, but very, very happy. By mutual consent, they'd put an end to their little pleasure wager, had to before they killed each other with sex. Not that it would have been an unpleasant way to go...

 

She was...exhilarating. A rush. His heart beat crazily when he thought about her, and he felt like a teenager again. Some parts of his body seemed to revert to a teenager when he was around her. He fought to hide a grin. She was certainly seeing him at his best.

 

"You are looking forward to leave, Jim?"

 

Was that a twinkle in Spock's eye?

 

"I am. You?"

 

"Yes." Spock waited until the beam had caught them up and spun them back out again on the transporter platform of Starfleet command to say, "Say hello to Commander Chapel for me."

 

Kirk shot him a look.

 

"She is on the ship a great deal for someone who is not crew. I did not assign her guest quarters the last time she visited, and neither of you noticed." At Kirk's look, he lifted an eyebrow. "It would have been a waste of resources on my part as the quarters would only have gone unused."

 

That was definitely a twinkle.

 

Kirk fought a grin again, lost and let the smile go. "You missed out when you turned her down all those years ago, my friend. She's quite something."

 

Spock nodded, but Kirk could tell he was not supporting what he'd said so much as just being agreeable. "If you are happy, then perhaps it is best that I did not accept her overtures?"

 

"You may have a point, Spock." Kirk smiled, glad that he could share his excitement, his happiness. "She does make me happy."

 

"I know, Jim. I imagine you make her very happy too." Spock's eyes were soft, the way they always were when he was happy for his friend, even if he'd never admit to that emotion. "Go. Enjoy your leave with her. I will see you back on the ship."

 

Kirk reached out and laid his hand on Spock's arm. "I'll see you." He suddenly wanted to share his happiness with Spock and wished Spock would find some of that. "Why don't you go see Valeris while you're here? You talk about her quite a bit, you know."

 

Spock's lips lifted slightly. "She will be at dinner tonight."

 

Kirk grinned again, nodding in approval. "You smooth operator, you."

 

"Go, Jim." Spock shook his head slightly, as if in embarrassed dismay, then headed in the opposite direction, toward the exit that was closest to the embassy.

 

Kirk hurried down the hall, using the manner he'd perfected during his stints on Earth to avoid stopping when he ran into someone he knew. He set his jaw as if he was rushing off to the next crisis, barely looking away from the long hallway ahead of him as he nodded and murmured pleasantries to old friends and colleagues.

 

If they weren't Chris, he didn't want to stop to talk to them.

 

He saw Ops ahead and slowed down a bit as he saw Chris and Cartwright talking near the entrance. Her face lit up when she saw him, and he could feel his own smile growing wider.

 

"You here for a reason, Jim?" Cartwright winked at Chris.

 

She smiled back at her boss; her smile grew broader as he laughed and left the two of them alone. She turned to Kirk. "Hi."

 

"Hi." He wanted to pull her into his arms, wanted to kiss her long and hard and with all the passion that he had in him.

 

"I'll just be a moment, okay?" She smiled again, and he noticed that the circles under her eyes were so dark they were nearly purple. She seemed unusually pale, too. "Jim?"

 

"Sure. I'll wait here." He watched as she walked into ops; she didn't seem to have her usual energy. When she came out, he asked, "Are you okay?"

 

"Of course. Other than dying because I can't touch you the way I want to in the middle of Ops." The smile she gave him belonged to the minx he was getting to know better and better the more time he spent with her. He relaxed. She was probably just tired. He'd try to let her get a little sleep during this visit.

 

"So you don't want to attend this five-hour lecture I saw advertised on various baffling materials and their uses for conference room acoustics?" he asked.

 

She laughed. "I know it's a hardship, but do you think we can skip that one?"

 

He made a sad face and shook his head as if it was a great tragedy. "I don't know. Lectures like that don't come around twice in a lifetime."

 

She moved very close and whispered in his ear, "Lectures like that don't come at all."

 

He could feel certain parts of his body stridently agree with her. "You have a point. And could you stand in front of me for a moment?"

 

She looked down.

 

"Don't do that."

 

"I'm sorry."

 

He grinned. "No, you're not." He nodded, pretending she was telling him something profoundly interesting and possibly very serious as several admirals passed them on the way to Ops. "You are such trouble. I had no idea."

 

She grinned, but again something seemed off.

 

"Chris?"

 

She glanced down and said, "Let's go, okay?" She sounded very needy, but in that good, "I'd like to rip your clothes off" way. She didn't wait for him, just turned and set off.

 

He hurried after her, catching up easily and laughing as she grinned sheepishly. "Happy to see me, Chris?"

 

"You have no idea."

 

The walk to her apartment seemed to take forever. As they turned into the entrance, the neighbor who'd caught them kissing in the elevator came out. "Christine. And mystery man. Ooh, but this is delicious." He kissed Chris on the cheek, seemed about to do the same to Kirk but thought better of it when he saw the expression on Kirk's face. "Oh, go get a room, why don't you?!" Winking at Chris, he turned and walked down the walk. Then he turned and blew Kirk a kiss.

 

Kirk burst out laughing. "Is that an act?"

 

She nodded. "He's a frustrated actor." She smiled at him. "Why are we talking about Barry?"

 

"I have no idea. Let's get upstairs."

 

The elevator seemed unusually slow and the hall extra long as he followed her. She opened the door, reaching back for him before she walked through and pulled him in. He locked the door behind them and when he turned, he saw that she was already moving down the hall, toward the bedroom. She was lying down by the time he caught up with her, and she held out her hand, tugging him down next to her. She turned slowly, so they faced each other, and leaned in, her mouth finally touching down on his.

 

Closing his eyes and pulling her to him, he heard her moan sharply. Her kisses were almost frantic, and she seemed to be breathing raggedly. He pushed her onto her back and moved over her. Lowering himself onto her, he kissed her again, and heard her moan a second time.

 

The sound was sharp again; something wasn't right.

 

He pulled back then leaned onto her again, but this time watched her face as his body pushed hers into the bed.

 

She winced. Then she looked panicked when she realized he'd seen her do it. "Jim, I—"

 

"Shhh." He eased off of her, gently pulling her uniform top up. He saw the unmistakable shiny pink skin that could only mean she'd had some regeneration done. He traced the dermal regenerate as it went from one side of her abdomen to the other, under her breasts and extending a few inches down. "You want to tell me what happened?"

 

She looked as if she was about to cry. He reached up, his hand going under her hair, to rub her neck the way she liked, and he felt more new skin. He crawled over her, careful not to put his weight on her, and moved her hair out of the way as he pulled her uniform collar down. A line of new skin went from her collarbone, up her neck, and around under her ear.

 

"Jesus. Chris. What happened?"

 

She looked away. "I had a bad day at the office."

 

"I'll say." He leaned down, kissed the new skin, following it down to her collarbone. "Were you going to tell me?"

 

She shook her head.

 

"And why not?"

 

She swallowed hard, then turned away and stared at the door.

 

He couldn't remember her ever turning away from him. He gently touched her chin, pulling her back, forcing her to look at him. "Did you think I wouldn't want to see you if we couldn't have sex?"

 

She shrugged; the gesture seemed even more helpless when her eyes filled with tears. Pulling away from him, she tried to turn her back to him. "I'm sorry. I've made a mess of this."

 

He stopped her from turning, saw her wince and murmured, "Chris, I don't want to hurt you, but don't pull away."

 

"I wanted this so much. I did." She stopped and seemed to be fighting for control.

 

"We're not just about sex, Chris."

 

"Well, I knew I wasn't, but I wasn't sure about y—" She looked away. "I just wanted to see you so bad. I was afraid to tell you what happened."

 

He studied her, then brushed her hair away from her face. She seemed to calm under his touch, like one of his horses. He leaned in and kissed her cheek, moving down to kiss the new skin again. "I could have lost you."

 

She sobbed but said nothing.

 

"Chris, what happened?"

 

She slid closer to him, wincing a little as she moved. "We were on Denarus. Trying to help with the post-peace clean up. Not everyone was for peace, though. They have these really nasty knives. The edges are serrated." She sobbed again. "They hurt." Then she turned toward him, burrowing against him as if she wanted to crawl inside. She was weeping.

 

He pulled her as close as he could and held her as she cried, murmuring that it would be all right, that he was there, that he had her. All he could imagine was what it would have been like to beam down and not find her waiting, to find out that she'd been killed. A sick, roiling feeling rose in his stomach, and he found a way to pull her closer.

 

When she finally stopped crying and looked up at him, her face a mess of tears, he kissed her gently, tenderly. She kissed him back, so much love and fear and sorrow in her touch that he wanted to stay with her forever just to keep her safe.

 

She pulled away a little and brushed at her face. Pushing her hands away, he cleaned up her tears with kisses and his fingers.

 

She began to smile, but the look was a little embarrassed. "I haven't cried. Not once. You show up, and I just lose it."

 

He smiled, watching her face for a moment, then he leaned down and kissed her again lightly, before saying, "Maybe it's because you know you don't have to be strong with me." He touched under her uniform, his hand lightly tracing the new skin.

 

"I was so scared, Jim. I thought I was going to die." She laughed, the sound coming out almost like a sob. "And I was so mad that I was going to die when I was finally happy."

 

He smiled, brushing her hair back, stroking her cheeks. "I would have been very mad at you if you had died."

 

"You would have?"

 

He nodded. "Do you know why?"

 

She shook her head, a tremulous smile playing at her lips.

 

He kissed her softly, letting his tongue lazily trace her lips. When he heard her groan, he pulled away. He stared down at her, then smiled.

 

"Why, Jim?"

 

"Because I love you." He should have told her that before. What if she'd died without knowing how much she meant to him?

 

He touched her lips with his finger, tracing her cheek, her eyes, watching as she closed them, then opened them.

 

She had tears in her eyes again.

 

"I love you so, Chris."

 

"Oh, Jim." She pulled him down, crushing him to her.

 

He knew he had to be hurting her, but she didn't let go of him, just kissed him with a passion that seemed as tender as it was frenzied.

 

When she finally let him up, she said, "I love you, too." It was her turn to stroke his face, to play with his hair the way he liked. "I needed to see you so badly."

 

"Next time you're hurt, you tell me." He turned a stern glare on her. "You understand me, Commander Chapel?"

 

She looked very contrite. "I understand you, Captain Kirk."

 

"Good." He propped up some pillows, so that they'd both be comfortable as they cuddled, then pulled her gently to him, waiting until she found a comfortable position before wrapping his arms around her.

 

He never wanted to let her go.

 

"I think we can still do it," she said softly.

 

"Mmm hmm." He kissed her lightly, tenderly. Her lips were so soft, and he smiled as he lost himself in them.

 

"If we're careful, I mean. We can—"

 

He put his finger on her lips. "Chris. Shut up."

 

She looked startled.

 

"We can try sex tomorrow. Tonight, I want you to rest. Just let me take care of you, all right?"

 

Her smile was one of quiet happiness. "Okay." She settled in against him, her lips finding his again. "But I wanted to take care of you."

 

"You can take care of me next time," he said, as he kissed her some more. He thought he could kiss her forever. "I love you," he said again. It felt good and right and like coming home to say it to her.

 

Her smile was a beautiful thing. "I like to hear you say that."

 

"I like to say it to you." They kissed for a long time, then he gently pushed her head down against his shoulder.

 

She relaxed against him, let him touch and stroke and rub her until her eyes began to close. "Not much of a leave for you."

 

"It's the best leave. We're together."

 

She nodded sleepily. "We will have sex tomorrow, Jim."

 

"Yes, dear." He saw her smile at that and wanted to kiss her again but didn't want to disturb her. Not when her eyes were closing, and her breathing was slowing, and she was finally falling asleep in his arms.

 

The tenderness that filled him for her was nearly overwhelming. He felt a strange panic at that thought of losing her, wanted to tell her to come back with him to the ship, where he could keep her safe. Which was idiotic. They both knew his ship was a more dangerous place then her Ops.

 

Usually. Not this time though.

 

He held her, watching over her for a long time, before he finally fell asleep too.

 

 

Chapter 4: Shared Horror

 

Chapel wiped sweat off her forehead, trying to stop it from dribbling into her eyes. She pushed herself up wearily, moving on to the next group of bodies. She saw Cartwright beam in—he must have found a very fast ship to get back this quickly from Starbase Five-One-Two. He stood on the edge of the field, surveying the carnage, then turned and walked into the command post. A moment later he came out with a tricorder and started to work.

 

"I thought he'd say something to us," Lieutenant Barker said. She kept her back turned to the field, as if she could shut out the sight.

 

Nothing could shut out the smell. Chapel saw Barker swallow convulsively and hoped to God if she was going to throw up she did it downwind. The woman had already thrown up—every day they'd been out working among the dead. Chapel had started out sympathetic, but Barker's friendly fire of vomit and her intermittent crying jags were wearing on her nerves.

 

"What is there to say?" Chapel shot her a look that was probably harder than it needed to be. But she was tired of coddling her. Barker was soft—way too soft. "You want a pep talk at a time like this?"

 

The lieutenant turned away, but not before Chapel saw her eyes fill with tears. Chapel moved away from her and got ready to go to work on the next pile of corpses. She didn't have time for this, not when there were bodies that would soon be buried in mass graves, bodies that would never be identified if they didn't hurry.

 

"I'm not like you," the woman whispered. "I still have a heart."

 

Chapel could feel her face tighten. "Lieutenant Barker," she snapped, her voice the one she'd perfected working too many emergencies. "Look over there." She pointed to where the family members of the missing—many of whom were probably lying on this field or the other spots around the planet—were standing. "You think they care about your heart? Or my lack of one? All they want to know is if the person they love is out here. If we don't work fast, we lose our chance to ID the bodies. The burial crew is waiting."

 

Without a word, Barker hurried down the line. Her mouth was set, but Chapel saw another tear go down her cheek.

 

"Think she'll make it?" a familiar—if entirely unexpected voice—asked.

 

She turned and saw Jim staring at her. He wasn't smiling, but there was something in his eyes that lightened as she sighed in relief. She felt a lightening too, as if half the burden of working on this hellish field was lifted by his being there. "Jim." She wanted to sink into his arms, but there were bodies getting riper by the minute. She started to turn back to them, but Jim stopped her, his hand gentle on her arm.

 

"Cartwright explained the job to me when he hitched a ride back here with us. I want to help." He pulled out a tricorder, then pointed toward the far side of the field. "We all do."

 

She saw Len and Spock working together, other members of the Enterprise crew spread out along the field. She saw one of them lean down, then quickly turn away, throwing up into the grass at the edge of the massacre site. She felt sympathy well up in her for this unknown crewman—sympathy that she couldn't seem to muster up for Barker anymore.

 

Jim crouched down beside her, going to work. She saw him swallow hard but otherwise he didn't react to the gore.

 

"I sent teams to help out at the other sites, too," he said.

 

"Then we might actually get done tonight." She had worried that Cartwright wouldn't find reinforcements to help out. Normally, she and her teams would have worked through the night and into the next day, but the Forleri had very strict burial practices, and the relief team had promised to let them take their dead after sundown for a mass burial. "Thank you."

 

"You know you don't have to thank me." He shot her a look. "I would have come even if you weren't here."

 

She knew he would have too. He was like that. Ready to help. "I'm glad I was here though."

 

He smiled slightly. "So am I. I've missed you."

 

She nodded. It had been months—emergencies that always seemed to be at opposite sides of the quadrant had conspired to keep them apart.

 

"You didn't answer my question." He looked down the row at Barker. "Is she going to make it?"

 

"Why? Do you think I was too hard on her?"

 

"Did I say that?" There was no censure in his voice, no irritation.

 

She moved around the pile, to the next body. She fought down bile—more parts missing on this one than present. But still enough DNA to add to the database they were compiling. The database that would crosscheck what they found against the samples that were on file of the missing friends and family of those now clustered against the fence that separated the killing fields from less horrific areas. "No," she finally said. "She's not going to make it. She still has a heart."

 

His expression stayed even. "So do you, Chris."

 

"You so sure of that?"

 

He nodded, smiled slightly. "I have it on good authority." His smile faded. "She's a child. Don't let her words eat at you." He looked out at the corpses that seemed to go on forever. His breath, as it came out, was a little ragged. "Just like Tarsus IV."

 

"I'm sorry."

 

He nodded.

 

They worked in silence for a long time, moving from group to group. As they crouched down near each other, he leaned in slightly, his shoulder bumping up against hers. She felt as if his warmth suffused her, just from the slight contact. She looked over at him, saw him look back, a sad smile on his face.

 

"I'm glad you're here," she said softly. The heart Barker thought Chapel didn't have seemed to beat more firmly just because Jim was close to her. "Captain Kirk to the rescue." She gave him a small smile.

 

"You're hardly a damsel in distress." He touched her neck, where she'd been cut on Denarus. "At least, not this time."

 

She reached up and touched his hand, letting her fingers linger on his for a self-indulgent moment. "Nope, not this time. But that doesn't mean I don't need you."

 

His eyes were very tender as he said, "I know." Then he turned back to the bodies.

 

Barker came back. "Commander, I need a break."

 

Chapel didn't look up. "Fine."

 

"I just need a few minutes—"

 

Chapel's looked up, frowning slightly. "I said fine. You don't need to explain why you need a break."

 

Barker's eyes filled with tears. She looked at Jim as if he'd offer her some sort of comfort. He looked back at her blandly, his face giving nothing away.

 

"Barker, take your break and then get back to work." Chapel struggled to keep her voice gentle. She was dead tired and had no patience for someone who was going to get upset at the least little thing. Jim was right; Barker was a child.

 

Barker nodded and hurried away.

 

"Were we ever that young?" Jim asked.

 

Chapel sighed. "I might have been." She met his eyes. "But it was a long time ago. Too long."

 

He nodded. "Get rid of her. She'll do fine on a starbase somewhere." He sighed. "Not everyone's meant for the rush." He looked out on the field again. "Or this—the rush's evil twin."

 

She nodded. "I'll transfer her tomorrow."

 

"It's the best thing for everyone concerned." He went back to work. "It's one of the few things I hate about being captain. Having to watch as I break someone's heart when I transfer them off. But we have to have people we can trust to weather a crisis, not fall apart in it."

 

"Preaching to the choir, love."

 

He laughed, the sound barely a puff of escaping air. "I'm glad you're not that sweet young nurse anymore. The grizzled commander is much more simpatico."

 

She could feel her mouth curl up in a crooked grin. "That's not what you said on Starbase Fourteen. And...grizzled? Nice image."

 

He shot her a look that under normal circumstances probably would have been sizzling. Here, among all the dead, it was only a promise of what would come later. "Grizzled is good. Trust me."

 

"You're one weird man, Jim."

 

"Probably true." He led her to the next group.

 

She realized they were reaching the last of the piles. She hadn't thought they'd ever finish the identification process before the sun set. It was heading for the horizon, but still high enough that they'd be able to gather the data they needed before it was dark and the planet's inhabitants—those who were left after the terrible bloodletting—took their dead away.

 

They worked in silence, finally finishing together at the end of the field. The sun was setting behind them as they stood.

 

Jim looked out on the fields; he was quiet for a long time. Then he sighed. "That this kind of thing still happens. That it can happen..."

 

She moved toward him, her arm against his. He found her hand and squeezed.

 

"Have you ever talked about it?"

 

He nodded. "To counselors. Lots of those when I was a kid. Everyone was so afraid of post-traumatic stress."

 

She smiled. "And I'm sure you told them exactly what they needed to hear."

 

He looked at her.

 

"Jim. Have you ever really talked about it?"

 

His lips tightened, as if he was considering the answer—how best to lie. Then he looked down. "No."

 

"I didn't think so." She squeezed his hand. "If you ever want to. Now, or later. I'm here."

 

He let her hand go, but turned to look at her, his eyes seemed both lost and utterly relieved, as if for one moment he knew he didn't always have to be strong. Then he smiled, and the moment was gone. "Thank you."

 

"You don't have to thank me. I love you."

 

"Let's get the hell out of here," he said as Cartwright opened the gates that would let those who waited in. Small vehicles that had been parked behind the people followed them in, ready to carry the dead back. "It'll take them a hundred trips if that's all they have," Jim said, and she wondered if he was thinking of offering the transporters.

 

"It's how they want it. They don't want any help from us."

 

"They never do." His voice was far away—as far as Tarsus IV.

 

"I know. Let's go." She walked toward where Len and Spock were talking with Cartwright.

 

"Christine. It's good to see you, although I wish it were under more pleasant circumstances." Len kissed her, hugging her tightly before turning a worried eye on Jim. "You okay?"

 

"Sure." His voice was normal, and his gaze was that of the stalwart captain of the flagship, not a traumatized kid.

 

She suddenly loved him more than ever.

 

"You mind if I take Chris up to the ship for the night?" he asked Cartwright.

 

"She's earned a break from this place. I'll see you in the morning." Cartwright smiled at them both, turned to include Len and Spock. "Thank you."

 

"It was the right thing to do," Jim said, turning to watch as the Forleri gathered up their dead.

 

It wasn't a pretty sight, and Chapel turned away.

 

"Let's go," he said gently, as he opened his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise."

 

"Enterprise here, sir."

 

"Four to beam up."

 

The planet shimmered out of existence, and the warm brilliance of the ship appeared. The first thing Chapel noticed was the smell—or lack thereof. Until they moved, and then she could smell death in the air, from their clothes, their hair, their skin. She couldn't wait to get in Jim's shower and scrub herself and him clean.

 

He urged her off the pad and into the corridor; his hand on her hip was warm and familiar. "I'm sure you gentlemen will understand if I say we're not hungry."

 

Len nodded, and Spock looked at her. "It is good to see you, Christine."

 

His expression seemed filled with approval. Or maybe it was just relief that he no longer had to dodge her.

 

"Same here, Spock. Thanks for the help down there." She couldn't imagine what that field had been like for someone with an enhanced sense of smell.

 

He nodded agreeably, and walked away with McCoy.

 

"Shower?" Jim asked softly.

 

"Please God, yes." She followed him quickly to his quarters, was about to throw her uniform in the refresher when he grabbed it and threw it into the recycler. "I'll get you another one," he said at her look as he threw his own uniform into the recycler. "I never want to wear that one again."

 

She nodded. She would have destroyed hers as soon as she got home.

 

He pulled her into the shower, and they stood under the water, letting it pound them before running soap over each other and pouring shampoo through their hair. He let the water flow over them for a long time.

 

"You're going to use your whole ration in one night."

 

"I'm not rationed," he said with a grin. "Captain's privilege."

 

Her eyes narrowed. "You never told me that."

 

"Would you have ever gotten out of the shower if I had?"

 

Smiling, she rinsed any final bits of shampoo out of her hair. "Probably not."

 

He pulled her to him and kissed her. She relaxed against him, letting him set the pace, running her hands up and down his back as warm water splashed down her own until he reached around and turned it off.

 

At her moan of complaint, he laughed softly. "I want to get you to bed," he said, pulling her with him out of the shower. He toweled her off, then dried himself. "You do want to go to bed?"

 

"Oh, yes," she said, surprised at the huskiness of her voice, at how much she wanted him despite the terrible horror they'd just spent the day examining far too closely. Or maybe it was because of it—some reaction that wanted to counter the awfulness and the death. In the most life-affirming way they could think of. By loving each other.

 

She followed him to his bed, sank down on top of him, and gave herself over to getting to know his body again. He watched her as she kissed her way down his chest. His eyes, as she looked up at him, were so tender it made the breath catch in her throat.

 

He pulled her up, then pushed her, so she was on her back. He stared down at her, his hand tracing her cheek before kissing her gently. "You have a heart, Chris."

 

"With you, I do." She reached up and ran her fingers through his hair. "I'm not so sure about other times."

 

He moved over her, pushing gently, his body joining with hers with exquisite slowness. "As long as it's here with me, I don't much care about the rest of the times." He smiled as he began to thrust, his body moving in and out, again with such slowness that she shuddered at the feeling.

 

"God, Jim."

 

"Lay still," he said, moving even slower. "Just feel it." He leaned in, kissing her lips then kissing his way to her ear. "Feel how much I love you," he whispered as he moved in and out with such deliberate intent that she moaned softly.

 

"Don't move," he said again, his lips finding hers, his tongue exploring her mouth, twisting with her own. He pushed deep, then lay still. Pulling his lips away from hers, he looked down at her and smiled. "Don't move," he said again.

 

She could feel her body reacting to his stillness, the feel of him so deep inside her. She began to shudder, her moans turning into louder cries as she clenched around him over and over again. He called out too then, his hands clutching hers as they both came.

 

She opened her eyes and saw him smiling in something that was part satisfaction, part awe.

 

"I love you," she whispered as she pulled him close enough to kiss.

 

They kissed for a long time. When he pulled away, he frowned slightly, then gently wiped her face.

 

She realized she was crying. What the hell had just happened? Not that she minded. She'd never felt so...loved. She'd also never felt so vulnerable.

 

He touched her lips, tracing them. His eyes were very far away again.

 

"The smell was the same on Tarsus IV," he said softly. "Only there wasn't anyone to hold me then."

 

He tried to shift off her, and she wouldn't let him. At his look, she wrapped her legs around him, holding him inside her. Then she waited.

 

He relaxed against her, but he seemed to be trying to find a way to be comfortable and not put his full weight on her.

 

She hugged him close and kissed his cheek. "I love you, Jim," she said. Then she let him go.

 

Rolling off her, he pulled her with him until she was nestled securely in his arms. They kissed for a while, their lips soft and their tongues lazy as they touched and tasted and loved. She heard him sigh, but he didn't say anything.

 

"Was it as hot there?" she said into the stillness.

 

He didn't answer for a long time. And she didn't press him. Just lay in his arms and traced nonsense words on his arms as he kissed her hair, his breath warm on her ear.

 

"It was hotter," he finally said.

 

Then he told her everything.