~ Dael ~
Ignoring their joined screen for a moment, Uhura glances at the young woman at her side.
"I feel like I've been soliloquizing for hours," she says. Actually, it's been exactly twenty-three minutes – being with a Vulcan will do that to your time sense – but even that span is too long for any normal human discussion.
Do I bore you? Uhura could ask, but she's pretty sure there are other reasons for the traces of hidden concerns on her visitor's features. From various communications, Uhura knows that it had needed every ounce of Jim's charm and persuasion to get her onto the ship, not wanting to leave her alone on Earth for the time of waiting, but if being here turns out to be a source of stress for the girl, then Uhura wouldn't mind kicking his ass for it.
"Do you want to talk?"
Tearing her unfocused gaze away from the screen, Dael turns towards her. Like every time, there's a brief, strange emotion running through Uhura; for everyone who'd been on the bridge of the Enterprise on that eventful day when the universe changed, these Romulan patterns had been etched into their memories by loss and pain. But if Pike and Jim could live with that, she could too, and so the face instantly morphs into that of a very unique and actually quite beautiful human.
And not a very happy one.
"You can talk to me about anything you want," Uhura says. "I mean it," she adds gently when Dael hesitates. "I'm the Head of Communications – I know things before they happen. And I knew about Jim's and Leonard's relationship with Pike right from the start. We're friends. So if there's anything you want to speak about, this is a good time for it."
They're alone, having ended up in the small meeting room in the search of a quiet place to tackle an encrypted Romulan communiqué.
"Don't they treat you right?" Uhura asks brashly. It's not a secret that Leonard hasn't always been dealing well with Dael's existence, which she can understand and still dislike.
"Oh no, they do. They go out of their ways to make me feel comfortable. And I don't mind spending some time on the Enterprise, it's a beautiful ship and I can understand why Christopher and Jim are both so obsess– dedicated to her."
Uhura smirks. "Obsessed fits the bill. Not all captains are like this, but they're quite similar in that regard. Though I've got to say, we all are a little obsessed with her, and sometimes probably too proud of being a part of this crew, working under our great captain." She'd tried to make it sound funny, but Dael just nods.
"Yes, I noticed how much Jim is loved here. It's got to be great to be a part of such a family."
"Well – I'd say by extension, you're a part of this family too."
"Thanks for saying that, but…no." Dael looks down on her hands, lightly folded in her lap. "I'm not a part of this, and if anything goes wrong, I'll leave."
"What do you mean, goes wrong?" Uhura asks with a frown.
Dael shakes her head, looking away.
"If anything went wrong with Pike? I thought he's in therapy, and things are looking up."
"Yes, he's doing what I wanted him to do, and I'm thankful for that and I'm sure he'll be better off in the end," Dael says tonelessly. "If it's successful, he'll probably be more himself than he'd been for the last years."
Uhura slowly starts to understand. "And that concerns you?"
Dael sighs, looking back at her. "Our relationship went against anything he would've done in the past. None of his friends understood what he saw in me, and chances are once he's recovered, he won't understand that anymore either."
She might be right, flashes through Uhura's mind. But what she says is, of course, something else, because she's an optimist and always fared better with believing in success. Even in such illogic areas as love.
"I can understand your worries. On the other hand, sometimes people change, you know? From what I understood, he hadn't had a very fulfilling personal life before the relationship with Leonard and Jim, and being in it, he probably noticed what he might have missed out on all those years of his career."
"He needed me for a while. If he's recovered and the need is gone, I'll be gone too. I wouldn't want him to stay with me out of a feeling of obligation."
"Where would you go?"
"I don't know. I don't mind. Just away. I've got a free-floating passenger ticket for a major space route provider. I could depart any time." It's the calm way Dael speaks that convinces Uhura that she'd really see that through.
"They wouldn't deal well with it," Uhura says. "Jim and Leonard."
Dael shakes her head, now smiling a little. "Oh, they would. Jim's got all he needs right here, and Leonard – he's got Jim, and if he wanted, he'd have Christopher too, I'm sure."
"And you? How would you deal with it?" Uhura squarely looks at her.
"I've learned how to build my own family. I can do that again, I've got time." Dael takes her hand. "I didn't want to tell anyone about my plans, and if I leave, I'll tell them my reasoning in due time. So please, don't discuss it with them."
"I won't, I promise." Uhura squeezes Dael's cool fingers. "But you've got to promise me something too."
"Don't just run away. Give Pike a chance before you make any decision."
"Of course. I don't want to leave him." Dael smiles, the tension of minutes ago mostly gone from her face. "I love him, and no matter what happens… we had a great time together."
"I'm glad," Uhura says warmly. She stands back as Jim comes in with a boyish smile to pry Dael away from their work, watching them leave with a sigh before calling Spock.
"Beloved," he says, his answer signaling her that he's alone and unoccupied.
"Honey…" she says, and he's become very good at reading her voice and so she doesn't need to add come and get me, I need a warm gentle touch and a coffee. He just says "I'll be with you in five minutes" and switches off.
Four weeks later, Uhura receives a note from Dael, and in the first moment, she's shocked by the black and white drawing of a spaceship passing the rings of Saturn.
Then she reads the text and smiles.
Somebody else got my ticket. I don't need it.
~ Leonard ~
Chapel's quite sure she wasn't approaching her boss overly quietly, but when she's next to his console, he startles and stares up at her like a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
"Anything wrong?" she asks.
"No, nothing, just wanted to make sure Dehner has another hour for me later today."
"Ah. Any new research papers?"
Okay, now she's curious. Elizabeth Dehner had been a part of the crew for a few months before settling down on the station here and going back to psychological research, mostly Esper-related. Not exactly McCoy's main area of interest.
"I need someone to talk. In a professional capacity," he says.
Chapel waits. She's good at waiting.
"I need a few hours of coaching," McCoy says exasperated.
"Hmmm." She hums thoughtfully.
"I know, I know. I'm the man who needs to get dragged to a shrink session by his hair, kicking and struggling every bit of the way. But I really need someone to whack my head and make me see the light."
"If you're that far gone that you go to see someone by your own free will, it must be really bad." She doesn't suggest the reasons. She has lived through the Big Crisis between McCoy and Kirk during the communications blackout, and can't help thinking at times that so many people don't manage to live successfully with even one partner, why would anyone try two or three at once?
"The subconscious is a dark place," McCoy mutters. "Nasty stuff's hiding there, and when it comes out, it's not nice."
"Usually, all you want to say comes directly out of your mouth," Chapel challenges him teasingly.
"The bad thing is, I really believed I was good with Dael."
Dael, the stick-thin ghost with Romulan tattoos. Now that Chapel has met her in person a few more times, she understands why men (or women, rumors have it) might fall for her, as she's definitely a very unique character and old beyond her years when she opens her mouth (which she does only infrequently). It's still strange to imagine that both Pike and Jim would start a relationship with this boyish girl, and she could sympathize with Leonard's adjustment problems.
"I've had one relationship go to hell because I couldn't deal with the fact that you don't get to own your partner, and I'm not going to let it happen again."
"She had a single one night stand with an ex-colleague. She trusted me enough to tell me, but I couldn't get over it. Over time, I got obsessive up to the point of stalking her, and the worse I got, the more she ran away from me, of course. Other things happened and I lost it over too much alcohol, and when I got clear again, she'd left and gotten a restraining order for me. I violated it a few times which led to me being practically shoved out of the county."
McCoy looks up at her. "It's not a happy story, Chapel. And I don't want to relive that shit. I seemed to be good with Jim's various hookups, and had enough of mine, but once that thing with Chris was getting serious…" He stops, looking miserable and guilty.
"Well, if you constantly think you need to – I don't know – bend yourself and ignore your own feelings to make this work, maybe it's not right for you," Chapel says slowly.
McCoy shakes his head. "The matter is, it is right for me. I'm better with Jim and Chris in my life. I need to change, not them. I know I can. Tonight, Dael and I will go on a date. I booked the back half of the observation lounge for a dinner for two. I want to get to know her better."
"Is that something Dehner came up with?"
"No, it's been a suggestion by Jim ages ago. I wish I had done that a lot earlier. I'm really glad Dael forgave me for my behavior as of late – well, at least enough to dine with me." He smiles sadly.
"Well, time to go and see Liz." He gets up, stretching his shoulders. "I didn't tell anyone that I'm seeing her for coaching, so please – keep it quiet."
"Of course," Chapel replies. "Have a good time!" she calls after him.
He waves his hand and shrugs a little, as if good time wasn't in the book.
There's a birthday party three days later, and while the captain leaves early, Leonard and Dael stay a little longer.
It looks like they've settled any disagreement, Chapel thinks when she sees them in a face-to-face embrace later, hidden in a corner, Leonard running a gentle hand over Dael's facial tattoos, Dael having her hands firmly on his ass.
On the next morning's breakfast table, grapevine has it that Dael has finally moved into the Captain's and McCoy's quarters.
"Here's to complicated love," she toasts with her orange juice, and everyone joins in with a knowing smirk. They're all committed to their reigning couples, but they're still not above gossiping and smiling about them once in a while.
~ Jim ~
They sit together over their PADDs, reviewing crew member evaluations.
At least that has been the general idea of the meeting, but Spock finds the captain's eyes frequently drifting away from the material.
"Captain?" he says to gain Kirk's focus. "You seem uncharacteristically distracted. Does anything trouble you?"
Kirk's blue eyes meet his gaze. "Trouble? No, not really."
"Then not so much trouble as – future plans?" He had noticed the various communiqués the captain had received over the last days.
"Indeed." Kirk puts the PADD down, folding his hands on the table. "I didn't tell anyone else, but – Illyon offered me a ground position in HQ. Actually, she'd offered to make me her right hand."
It would be a great career advancement for Kirk, and could be considered a great honor. But Spock has known Kirk for too long.
"A ground position?" he says, letting a hint of disbelief slip in.
"Yeah, I know. Not exactly the dream of my life. But I thought hard and long about it, and if need be, I'd accept it. I don't have to tell you about crossroad moments – we've had our share. And this, this… fucking waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Chris to come back from his treatment – it's a critical moment. Maybe he doesn't need any of us anymore, or maybe he needs us even more than before, maybe in another way – I don't know. If we find out that the best thing would be staying on Earth all together, I want to be prepared. I don't want to see Bones and Dael suffer because I'm so obsessed with chasing my dream here… and frankly, I can't imagine being here without Bones on my side. I need him."
Spock raises a brow. "I am not under the impression that the doctor would want to leave you."
"He's been close to doing so already once. All those moments in which he's got to save me… it's eating him. It's gotten better but never really easy. He's in space because of me; being on Earth would still be his first choice." Kirk sighs. "I already checked out a few possible pieces of land to acquire, just in case."
"You want to live in the countryside?" Spock's disbelief grows. He remembers some of Kirk's Iowa stories and had been under the impression that his friend had no love to spare for rural living.
"Not very logical, is it?" Kirk smiles. "But deep inside of me, there's a romantic who thinks that the four of us living together on a farm could be really awesome."
"And never boring, I assume."
Chuckling, Kirk agrees. "No, never."
"Still, it would not be like in space."
"One day there might come the moment when you've got to choose between space and your family," Kirk says darkly, and Spock is suddenly aware that this statement speaks more about Jim's past than the future, "and if you really care about them, you've got to choose them over anything else. Otherwise, everyone suffers." There's a certain finality in Kirk's voice, signaling the end of this discussion.
"Let's get back to these evaluations." He picks up the PADD.
"Yes, Captain," Spock states, making a mental note to evaluate his own options, should Kirk leave the Enterprise.
Five weeks later, Kirk enters the bridge with a spring in his step.
"Buckle up, Bones," he says when passing his husband and CMO, slapping his shoulder – then twinkles at Spock before taking a seat.
The ritual of good luck is performed. The captain is ready.
With a feeling of contentment, Spock turns towards Uhura, who smiles and shakes her head.
All is well onboard the Enterprise as she departs for her next, long mission.
~ Chris ~
"Don't inform my contacts," he rasps as the emergency med team collects him from the embassy. He's quite out of it but that's the one thing he absolutely needs to make sure they know, and he repeats it, don't inform my contacts unless I'm dead, don't inform them, don't tell anyone…
He comes to in StarFleet Medical– he assumes – and maybe there's Naaz around but he's not sure, maybe not, he's pulled her off his case back then, now he wishes he didn't.
Medical jargon's floating around him, carrying him back into unconsciousness.
"You've developed some really stupid habits," John's voice snarks when he opens his eyes again, and he smiles.
"Not too bad this time," he says as he notices that he's on a normal bed, nothing around his head that keeps him from moving to look at his friend.
"Well, from what I could understand they had to reset some of your implant's settings. Obviously your treatment changed your brain chemistry. Guess that's a good sign – isn't it?"
"Hope so." Chris frowns. "I advised them not to contact anyone unless I die."
"Sorry, sweetheart, I've got you under permanent surveillance," John says, completely unapologetically. "Not going to let you get killed on my watch."
Chris shakes his head.
"At least not by anyone but myself," John adds, just when medical personnel enters the room.
It sounds like a joke, but it isn't. Despite the promise Chris once gave to the doc that he wouldn't arrange for any plug pulling, he'd done just that before his treatment, visiting his lawyer with John. His lovers deserve better than to be emotionally tied to him if things hit rock bottom once more.
Three months waiting. If it's still hopeless, let me go.
I'd hate doing it, but I would do it.
And that's why I wanted to give that job to you, John. You're the only one I trust with this.
Chris gets released at his own risk an hour later. He's almost steady on his feet but doesn't mind John's supporting hold.
"Where to?" John asks when he's seated in the car.
"You know where."
At the embassy, T'Sol is waiting for him. Chris is half expecting her to refuse further treatment; he's definitely a critical patient, and doubts the Vulcans would want to have a dead Admiral at their hands. But she only quietly nods and offers him her arm.
"See you soon, John. And – thanks."
Four weeks later, in a drunken moment, John speaks about their agreement within hearing range of the tribe.
Leonard rips him a new one.
Chris doesn't mind, only smiles – and never revokes it.