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The Vow

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2256.76

As long as Christine Chapel lived, she would never, ever forgive James T. Kirk.

“Captain,” she said through gritted teeth, the honorific sounding more like an epithet in her tight voice, “I request - no, demand - that I be allowed on this mission.”

“Request denied - again,” Kirk said flatly, crossing his arms and staring Christine down from the transporter pad. He and the rest of the away team wore specialized suits created by Scotty for just such occasions, when the atmosphere and planet itself were just as dangerous as the opponents they were sure to face on the surface. Kirk’s, a dull gold that bore the Starfleet insignia, rank stripes, and two solid tanks of oxygen on his back - just in case the air filtration device worn over the nose and mouth gave out - fit him a little loosely around the chest, as it had been Lieutenant Carrigan’s before Kirk requisitioned it.

“And why is that? I’m well-qualified and you know it,” she snapped, her blue eyes gleaming with inner fire.

“Captain Kirk is correct, Nurse Chapel,” offered Mr. Spock from Jim’s side on the transported pad. “You are too close to the situation and may make an emotional decision while planetside, to the detriment of yourself or others.”

“‘An emotional decision?’” Christine laughed shrilly. “I damn well would, Mr. Spock! I’d make ten thousand emotional decisions for Nyota Uhura, one of them being to come along on this rescue mission. Doctor -”

“Now don’t be cozyin’ up to me, here, Chris,” McCoy warned. He, too, wore the horrible jumpsuit the others donned so easily. Leonard looked quite uncomfortable in his, plucking at the tight neckline that constricted his throat. “I want you to be here, to be prepared for our return. Nyota’s counting on you,” he added softly.

Christine swallowed and refused to release the tears that gathered behind her eyes.

“Fine,” she said eventually. She stepped back and crossed her arms, glowering at the six officers who made up the rescue party. “Fine. But if I’m less than satisfied with the nature of your return -”

“I know,” Captain Kirk said, and his voice was gentle and understanding, the way that Christine couldn’t handle. She looked away as they beamed down.

Long minutes stretched before her. She paced the length of the transporter room, saw how nervously the engineering officers looked at each other and back to her as she drew close and then stalked away over and over. All five feet, six inches of her was quivering with anxious energy. It took every ounce of self-control to restrain herself from reaching for the communicator on the wall; keep all unnecessary communication off the party’s channels, she heard Kirk saying for the umpteenth time in her head. She knew it was a warning for her specifically and tried to feel even a sliver of gratitude for the Captain’s tact in this one instance. They’ll call if something happens, she thought. No news means good news.

Sudden crackling on the communicator made her jump like a startled cat. Christine was there before the young communications officer - Ensign Juarez, or something like that - could do her job.

“Coming upon the Klingon compound,” Kirk’s whispered voice said. Chris bit her lower lip to keep from crying out in frustrated agony. “Shift change. We’ll wait for our opening.”

No! Go now! Christine wanted to scream. She clenched her fists and remained silent. Surprise was of utmost importance, but every cell in her body warned her that each moment was precious, and any wasted time meant Nyota’s life hung in the balance.

After feeling the seconds slip past her skin like so many rough grains of sand, Christine exhaled when Kirk announced that they were stealing through an unwatched gate.

“Careful,” he cautioned the other officers on the team. “Klingon surveillance is extremely heightened due to the presence of a Starfleet Officer. Watch for any heat-registering devices and sonar scanners. Chekhov’s energy impulses have scrambled all video and audio surveillance equipment, but we have to be on our guard just the same.”

Christine felt like grabbing the communicator out of Ensign Juarez’s hands and shouting that Starfleet Officer is my wife! But she planted herself to the floor and waited.

She closed her eyes when Mr. Spock warned in a quiet voice that he could hear two Klingons walking down a hallway to their left. She slowed her breath when he took them out with his phaser set to kill. She thinned her lips when Lieutenant Tan announced from a preliminary scan of the compound that the target was one hundred yards ahead and to the right. She rolled her neck when they arrived and Captain Kirk gasped, then said target acquired in a voice too small and too tight to be alright. She clenched her jaw when a rough Klingon voice cried out and was cut short, and dug sharp nails into her palms when Mr. Spock said mission compromised, prepare to evacuate immediately in a voice too calm and too determined to be routine.

“Scotty, prepare to beam seven aboard,” Kirk’s voice came, thin and gasping, through the communicator. Chris’s body was tensed, coiled to spring. Every nerve was on fire, every instinct wept to be a part of the action. Instead, she set her face sternly to the transporter equipment where Monty and his engineering lackeys huddled expectantly. They exchanged a look, and Christine nodded fiercely before focusing her attention to the pad where any moment the party would land.

“Transporter room to bridge,” Monty hailed. When Hikaru answered, he said: “Prepare to jump to warp five at my command, Mr. Sulu.”

“Warp five?” Sulu asked incredulously.

“Aye, lad,” Monty said, eyeing Christine’s rigid form. “For Nyota.”

“Copy that,” Sulu confirmed after only a moment’s hesitation. “Three Federation vessels outfitted with the newest war gear standing by at Yorktown for backup, should the Klingons pursue.”

“Copy,” Monty said, then hung up. He faced Chris and spoke quietly.

“We’ve got her, lass,” he said simply. She just nodded curtly, keeping her eyes glued to the transporter pad.

“Now, Scotty!” Kirk yelled through sounds of phaser fire and screams. “Now, now, now!”

“Beaming aboard, sir,” Monty grunted, fingers flying over the board. With sure movements and practiced ease, the Scotsman made seven figures appear on the transporter pad like magic.

Christine rushed to them, followed by three other nurses and Dr. M’Benga, and only barely heard “Warp factor five now Mr. Sulu!” and shouting and wailing coming from injured party members. She could only cup Nyota’s cheek in one hand as Mr. Spock held her in his strong arms, look down in horror at her gaunt body, awash in dark and foul-smelling blood. Spock laid her gently on a waiting hovorbed, and Christine took her wife’s limp hand as M’Benga and Nurse Righlin rushed her away to surgery.

**********************************

2256.71

“Wake up, sleeping beauty.”

The sleep-tinged voice drew her out of unconsciousness unwillingly. Christine huffed and turned her face inward, toward the pillow, trying to drown out the intruder. Nyota just laughed and snuggled in closer, pressing kisses to her cheek and temple.

“No, no going back to sleep, you,” she grinned, and Chris felt her kneel at her side.

“But ‘m tired,” Christine moaned, opening one eye and looking up at her too-cheerful wife over her shoulder. “Leonard’s a taskmaster. Five more minutes.”

Nyota sat astride Christine’s back and plopped onto her bottom. “Nope,” she said, and Chris could hear the grin in her voice. “Come on, get up. It’s time for breakfast, you goof.”

Christine groaned and turned onto her back, hoping to throw Nyota off. Instead, she sat astride Chris’s tummy. Her brown eyes glinted with glee, and she looked awfully pleased with herself.

“What time is it?” she asked grumpily. Nyota didn’t answer; instead she leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss to her wife’s lips, then another. When Chris closed her eyes and leaned up for a third, Nyota moved away with a giggle.

“You terror,” Chris grumbled, opening her eyes to glower at her wife.

“Yes,” Nyota agreed smugly. She swung her leg over Christine’s body and jumped off the bed. “Come on, Chris! Let’s enjoy our day off together!”

“I am,” Christine whined, curling up in bed.

“I’ve got Deck Five’s holosuite reserved for us for the next two hours,” Nyota said impatiently, practically stamping her foot. “Do you know how many people I had to bribe to get this spot? It’s prime real estate, babe! Plus I programmed it for a Risan beach. Come on! I’ve been waiting for a day off with you for weeks!”

With much grumbling and complaining, Christine finally got out of bed. Nyota beamed, shoved Chris’s bikini in her arms and ordered her to change, then bustled around their room to get everything they may need packed into a beach bag. With sundresses on over their swimsuits and a heavy beach bag slung over Nyota’s shoulder, they clasped hands and prepared to leave their room for a sunny beach vacation.

“Bridge to Lieutenant Uhura,” blared the comm on the wall.

Nyota bit her lip as Christine tugged her hand. “Let’s pretend we didn’t hear it,” she whispered. “It’s our day off.”

“Yeah. It’s probably nothing,” Nyota said, her voice full of false cheer. The door opened before them, but before they could take a step out into the hallway the comm crackled again.

“Bridge to Lieutenant Uhura, report immediately. You are urgently needed at Communications.”

“Fuck!” Nyota swore, then sighed. She pressed a finger to the wall comm and said, “Lieutenant Uhura here. I’ll be to the bridge in five.”

“I’m sorry, honey,” Christine said, genuinely sad as Nyota let the beach bag drop to the floor. “I know how hard you worked to get that holosuite.”

“Yeah. At least you get to go back to bed, though,” Nyota said with a sad twist of her lips. Christine kissed her softly, once, twice, and pressed their foreheads together.

“I’d much rather be there with you,” she said, voice husky and low.

“Stop it, you,” Nyota grinned as she stepped away. “I’ve got to go to work, you can’t just say things like that to a girl.”

Chris watched appreciatively as her wife stripped out of the bright red bikini. When she turned around, dressed in her work uniform, Nyota kissed her once more before walking out. Christine sighed heavily and fell backwards on their bed. At least she could spend some time lazing around, catching up on sleep -

“Chris, it’s McCoy,” said the wall comm.

“No,” she said firmly, burying her face in the pillow.

“I know it’s your day off but I need you to come in. Chris?”

With a dramatic groan, she reached for the wall comm and said, “Chris here. I’ll be down in ten.”

“Not to medbay,” McCoy said. “Meet me in the briefing room.”

The briefing room? Christine frowned and dressed as quickly as she could, then hurried out the door.

When she arrived, the briefing room was jam-packed; it seemed like anyone who had a hand in running operations of any kind aboard the Enterprise was present. Chris caught Nyota’s eye across the room where she stood with the rest of the senior bridge crew. She shrugged at Christine, who raised an eyebrow in question.

“Alright, everyone, listen up.” Captain Kirk’s voice rose over the general din and quieted everybody. Christine sidled up next to Dr. McCoy.

“What’s up, boss?” she whispered. He shrugged as Kirk began speaking again.

“We’ve just received word from Starfleet Command that we’re being sent on an urgent rescue operation just inside the Neutral Zone, so we’ll need all hands on deck and at high alert. Mr. Spock?”

The tall First Officer stepped forward and explained their mission. A zoological team had been exploring a class M planet near the Neutral Zone when three Klingon vessels approached with new cloaking technology, catching the group of scientists by surprise. The team was now being held hostage on a nearby Klingon base, and Starfleet still had not heard from the kidnappers regarding a ransom demand.

“As the Enterprise is the nearest Federation vessel outfitted with weaponry graded sufficiently enough to engage enemy combatants, Starfleet has requested our presence and an attempt, on our part, to rescue the hostages,” Mr. Spock finished mildly.

Commander Goldstein, the Head of Security and Offensive Operations, stepped forward.

“Security will head this rescue effort, obviously. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock will be leading the mission from the bridge. Lieutenant Briggs from Engineering, Lieutenant Uhura from Communications, and Ensign J’akagh from Medical will join myself and three other Security officers on the away team in an effort to make this mission as successful as possible. If you have further concerns or wish to be a part of the mission, please see Captain Kirk.”

Kirk nodded to Commander Goldstein and clapped his hands once, startling Christine out of her anxious thoughts. “The rescue party will engage at approximately 1300 hours. Be prepared to standby. Dismissed.”

As the others filed out of the room, Christine caught Nyota’s wrist and held her back.

“Are you insane?” she hissed.

Nyota simply straightened.

“What?” she asked, defensive. “Don’t you think I can do it?”

“Of course you fucking can, but that doesn’t mean you should. Why the hell are you on this landing party anyway? Don’t you usually stay on the bridge for… you know, communication purposes?”

Nyota bristled, and Christine knew she chose her words poorly. They’d just had another fight about Christine not paying enough attention or caring about Nyota’s job.

“As First Communications Officer, it’s my job to be well-versed in all areas of communication, including multiple languages,” Uhura said coldly. She jerked her wrist out of Christine’s grasp. “Besides, Captain Kirk suggested I join the team. He said they could use my expertise in Klingon.”

“That’s what they have fucking Universal Translators for,” Christine snapped. “Babe, don’t go. It’s too dangerous, you could get seriously hurt or -”

“Christine, I’m going,” Nyota said, eyes flashing. Then her face softened. “You know I’ve wanted to be a part of more missions, Chris. This is exactly the opportunity I’ve been looking for. Why don’t you support me?”

Chris rubbed her face and suppressed a groan. “I do support you, honey,” she said, trying to make her tone as soft as possible and struggling. “But can’t you start with a mission a little less - I don’t know, lethal?”

Nyota just took Christine’s shoulders and shook her gently. “Chris, I’m a big girl. Plus, I signed up for Starfleet, same as you, same as Captain Kirk, same as Commander Goldstein. I knew what I was getting into - the danger, the risk. And this is what I want. Please don’t be mad. Just be waiting for me when I get back. Plus, I’ll wear that lacy thing tonight if you don’t make a scene,” she purred, and Christine bit her lip when Nyota leaned in close.

“Fuck - fine,” she sighed. “But if you get even a scratch, I’ll gouge Kirk’s eyes out, and you’re never going on an away mission again.”

Nyota laughed and kissed Christine on the mouth.

“That’s the spirit,” she teased, and then rushed out of the briefing room to find Commander Goldstein and prepare for their mission.

When Christine turned, she found the room mostly empty except for Leonard, who was leaning against the wall, waiting for her.

“What do you want, old man?” she asked, gruffly affectionate.

Leonard just smiled sadly and shook his head. “I know what that feels like,” he said softly. “Whenever Jim and Spock go on one of those damn missions, my stomach gets all queasy and knotted up inside. I ask myself, every time, is this it? Is this the time they go and don’t come back? You just gotta trust that she knows what she’s doing. Plus, Jim wouldn’t send her down if he didn’t think she was capable. I promise.”

Christine crossed her arms and walked over to the doctor, leaning up on the wall with him. “It’s not that I don’t think she’s capable,” she said, staring at the floor. “It’s just - there’s so much that could go wrong. And she’s not experienced enough. Klingons are unpredictable, cruel, violent. I knew what I signed up for, joining Starfleet. But I -” she swallowed and finally allowed herself to look up at Leonard. “You just don’t think about what it might mean, sacrificing everything,” she said thickly. “I’m willing to lay my life down. But I’m not willing to risk hers.”

He slung an arm around her shoulders, knowing from years of working together how best to comfort Christine Chapel.

“I know,” he said quietly, into her hair. “That’s the problem for me and you. We thought we were lone wolves until we came up to the stars. Then we found that we weren’t so lonely, that there were others we could care about even more than we cared about ourselves. But it ain’t worth it to ponder over what ifs and dramatic scenarios. We’re the practical ones; we’ll let the dreamers play hero in the void and then patch them up when they get home.”

He turned and guided them to the hall where they made their silent way to Medical.

***********************************

2256.76

When Geoff told her sternly to stay here and don’t even think about coming in before I get you outside the surgery suite, Christine had adamantly not listened. She’d turned around and determinedly set to work cleaning up the other members of the away party, distracting her anxious brain from the frantic thoughts that threatened to consume her. Christine patched up severe gashes, treated chemical burns, hell, even talked one of the security officers down from a full-blown panic attack. And when there was no one else to take care of, when she peeked at the PADD hanging from Leonard’s office door and saw that the surgery suite was still in use, she grabbed the hardiest cleaning solutions she could find and scrubbed down every surface with military precision.

Spock and Leonard found her hours later kneeling on the hard floor, scouring a final bit of linoleum with righteous fury, her hands raw and cracked and bleeding at the edges of her nails.

“Jesus Christ, Chris,” Leonard muttered, motioning for Spock to put her on one of the unused biobeds. Spock, to his credit, simply guided her by lifting her arm gently. He took the sponge out of her grasp and put away the cleaning supplies as Dr. McCoy examined her.

Christine blinked at the softness with which he touched her hands, bathing them in a soothing solution and then applying a cool, clear lotion over her palms, fingers, and wrists. It was only when he began using the dermal regenerator that she let loose one of the sobs that had desperately been trying to escape her throat.

“Oh, Chris,” McCoy said, and set aside the regenerator to wrap her in a hug.

It felt like hours later that she pulled away from her boss. Spock stood behind them, staring at his shoes with a blank expression on his face. The doctor picked up the regenerator to finish working on her hands; Chris let him, guiltily noting the wet patch on his shoulder where she’d rested her head.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured, looking down at the angry red skin. McCoy snorted.

“Ain’t nothin’ to be sorry for,” he said, staring resolutely at the work in front of him. He glanced up, once, to see Christine’s puffy, red eyes and pale face, and then dropped his gaze again to her hands. “It’s a natural response. To trauma.”

Trauma. And she hadn’t even been the one to… God, what had happened to Nyota? She hadn’t even really seen her wife before she was whisked away to surgery.

“How is she?” Christine asked, because she had to focus on something other than the nightmares that ran through her head whenever she thought about what might have happened to her wife on that goddamned mission.

Leonard was silent for a long moment.

“Chris,” he sighed, and took her arms in his hands, and her heart sank. She’d done the same thing so many times before - taken hold of waiting mothers and spouses when she knew the worst news was coming, when she knew they needed the kind of support she could never provide.

“It’s - they didn’t just torture her, physically,” he said, hesitating before each word to find the right way to say the unspeakable. “I think they - well, they did something to her mind. I’m not gonna lie to you; it’s bad. Nyota doesn’t recognize us. Any of us. Me, Geoff, Zeta. Well, she knows who we are, but she - she thinks we’re Klingons in disguise.”

“Klingons,” she said numbly. Her brain raced; mental torture wasn’t unheard of. How many times had she read case notes of different patients of various races undergoing vicious mental torment? How often had she attended conferences where the focus was on healing the wounded psyches of veterans, victims, survivors?

How come she couldn’t remember a single successful case?

“Chris.” Dr. McCoy’s voice seemed to come out of deep waters. She clenched her fists and breathed deeply, closing her eyes and forcing breaths in and out of her chest. Christine Fucking Chapel was not going to buckle under this. She’d done battle before with worse and come out the other side the victor.

“I need to see her,” she said, her eyes opening. Leonard stood before her, his warm blue gaze full of concern. Christine heard Spock shift uncomfortably somewhere behind them.

“Chris,” Leonard repeated, and she noted faintly that his voice seemed too soft, too comforting. No. That was the tone she used with family members who wouldn’t accept the inevitable, who threatened and wept and screamed until the shock wore off and they finally understood that they would never get their loved one back.

“I need to see her,” she repeated, and tried to stand. The doctor kept her grounded on the biobed with a firm grip on her shoulders.

“I can’t let you do that,” Leonard said. Somewhere in the back of her mind she was downright rankled at being on the receiving end of his maddeningly calming bedside manner. “I gave her a heavy sedative; she’s sleeping right now, and needs to rest for quite some time before she’s ready for the kind of extensive therapy she’ll need. And…” he trailed off, hesitant. “And honestly, Chris, I think - I think it would be pretty damaging to both of you if you saw her right now.”

Desperate tears formed in her eyes.

“What was it you said? About the heroes playing among the stars, and us patching them up when they come home?” Her voice trembled as she searched McCoy’s face. “Can I patch her up this time?”

Leonard shut his eyes and grimaced. He wiped at his face with the back of his hand.

“I can give you something to help you sleep,” he said finally. He didn’t meet her gaze. “You need rest. I’ll walk you to your quarters.”

When he left her with a hypo and orders to call him at any time for any reason, Christine just stood inside her doorway. She stared at their room, the tiny quarters she shared with her wife. The bed was made up, messy but workable; their living area tidy just as Nyota preferred it, a throw blanket her mother wove hanging decadently off the couch just so. At the far end, Christine had set up a small library of CD-ROMs, old-style, the kind Nyota went crazy for. There were all kinds of genres, from 20th century rock to the newest Andorian wave-synth that absolutely drove Christine up the wall but Nyota loved so much. It all looked familiar. But it felt strange, unwelcoming. Without Nyota’s presence, what did any of it matter? Without Nyota, it wasn’t home. It was just random quarters.

She began to pace, then cry, and when she couldn’t stand it anymore she curled up on the floor against the wall and fell asleep in her dirty scrubs; then she woke up just to cry some more, and felt lonelier than ever. She felt like a little girl again, waiting for someone to come comfort her.

No one came.

*************************************

2256.71

Christine frowned at the viewscreen before her. It was filled with the heavy green mass of the Class M planet below and steady white stars beyond. The sleek shuttle that held her wife and the other members of the away party seemed to float down to the planet’s whirling atmosphere, listless and unhurried. In reality, she knew, their shuttle was moving at incredible speeds so as to not crash-land on the planet’s surface. It was just her perspective from the much larger Enterprise that made it seem so quaint.

The senior bridge members at their respective stations largely ignored her presence. Only Leonard gave her a sense of comfort as he patted her arm.

“This seems a simple mission,” he assured her. “She’ll be back before dinner.”

“Rescue missions are never simple,” Christine said, side-eyeing the doctor. “But thank you for trying to make me feel better.”

Leonard shrugged and smiled. “Hey, I remember being newly married, especially to adrenaline junkies.”

They looked over to where Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock stood with Lieutenant Gatsby, speaking in low tones. Jim broke away after a moment and leaned over the helm where Ensign Chekhov was still inputting data. He murmured something to which the Ensign responded; then, with a last look around the bridge, Kirk strode over to the Captain’s chair and plopped down heavily.

“Okay, the shuttle has landed,” he announced, placing his hands on the arms of the chair with deliberate movements. “Commander Goldstein, how’s it looking out there?”

There was a brief crackle over the comm, and then the viewscreen went white. After a moment of adjustment the Commander’s face peered out at them, and his voice came clearly over the communicator.

“We landed in a thick forested area, well-hidden from the Klingon camp,” Goldstein said. The camera adjusted; he was wearing it on his forehead, Christine realized. Now they could see outward, what Goldstein saw. Trees with wide trunks and gray bark surrounded the landing party. It was foggy, and the sky was a muted green; great billowing clouds soared above them at a rapid pace, seemingly only a few feet from their heads. When Commander Goldstein turned, Christine was able to see the shuttle and the last of the security officers stepping outside. Immediately she found Nyota’s form among the rest. She was relaxed, looking curiously around her, and a phaser was held at ready position by her side.

Goldstein’s voice brought Christine back to the present. “We’ll make our way a quarter mile to the northeast, and then we should arrive at the Klingon camp’s far side. From initial scans, it looks like that’s where the hostages are being kept.”

“Excellent work,” Captain Kirk said. His voice was steady and commanding. Christine glanced over, saw his back ramrod straight in the Captain’s chair and his face tight, an impassive mask. “Remember, this is a strictly non-confrontational rescue mission. Get in and get out as quickly as you can, with as little contact with foreign hostiles as possible. Scotty has your signals locked in if an emergency beam-up is necessary. Unfortunately, atmospheric conditions aren’t the best for it, but he assures us he can do it in a pinch.”

“Copy that,” Commander Goldstein said, and then for the next few minutes there were no distinct voices as the party moved quietly through the trees, following Lieutenant Briggs and their Interstellar Coordinate Positioning System (ICPS) to the Klingon camp. Chris impatiently craned her neck, as if that would help her see Nyota through the viewscreen. McCoy noted her action and chuckled, but didn’t say anything.

“Approaching the Klingon camp,” Goldstein whispered. “The last tent to the left is heavily guarded.”

“Four heat signatures inside, sir,” Lieutenant Briggs said off-camera.

“Can we hear what’s going on in there from that distance? Uhura?” Kirk asked, shifting slightly in his chair. Chris swallowed and clenched her fists, both proud and terrified for her wife.

“Yes, sir, one moment,” Nyota’s voice came faintly over the comm. There was rustling, and then stillness. Finally Uhura reported:

“There are two languages being spoken in the general vicinity of the tent, sir. Klingon - I’m guessing that’s the guards - and Federation Standard. The Standard has a distinctly Andulite accent.”

“That’ll be the scientists,” Kirk said. His mouth was in a firm line and his brows furrowed with concentration. “Commander, are you and your officers ready with the distraction?”

“Aye, sir,” Goldstein said. He turned, and the viewscreen showed a flash of trees, then the faces of the rest of the party. The Commander motioned to the security personnel, who whipped out hand-held rocket launchers from their bags. The other three who were not from Security gripped their phasers tighter. Christine felt a little guilty for not caring very much about Ensign J’akagh in that moment; they were co-workers, after all, and the Ensign had looked up to Chris a lot since ze boarded the Enterprise. But Nyota was her only concern at the moment. She was at the center of Christine’s focus. Everything else fell away.

“At my command,” Goldstein ordered, “shoot the launchers toward the front of the camp. Set range 150 meters. Power levels maximum. Ready? Engage!”

Soft hissing told the bridge crew who looked on that the rocket launchers had been fired. A moment later they heard a muted boom, followed by a larger echo. The feed on the viewscreen lit up with the explosion; moments later the team rushed to the abandoned tent. The next few minutes were a blur: Commander Goldstein spoke calmly but commandingly, ordering the scientists to follow them. He grunted, and one of the scientists screamed as Ensign J’akagh cried, “He’s hit!” The security officers yelled at the rest of the team to take the scientists and run. Chris caught sight of J’akagh’s hairline in the bottom right-hand corner of the viewscreen as ze helped the wounded Commander limp toward the tree line. Only ten meters left before they were under the cover of the forest. Five. The viewscreen went dark, then fizzled brightly back to life.

“Commander,” Kirk called out, gripping the arm rests of his chair tightly. Chris looked to him with wide eyes. Sweat stood out on his forehead as his gaze tried to pierce the viewscreen to see what was going on out there. To her left, Leonard tensed and shifted.

“Commander, come in!” Kirk demanded again.

“Captain, this is Lieutenant Yasad,” one of the security officers panted. She stepped into the camera’s view. “We’re heading back to the shuttle. Commander Goldstein is injured but alive. All personnel are accounted for. Standby for mission update.”

“Excellent work, Lieutenant,” Kirk said, still tense in the Captain’s chair. “Ensign J’akagh, report on the Commander’s status.”

“The Commander took phaser fire to his lower abdomen, sir,” J’akagh’s high-pitched voice said over the comm. Ze sounded nervous. “He’s unconscious right now, sir, but he’ll be okay, if we can get him back to the ship in time.”

“Then get him back to the ship in time,” Kirk said grimly.

The viewscreen showed one of the security officers and Lieutenant Briggs leading the four scientists into their shuttle. Ensign J’akagh and Lieutenant Yasad helped Commander Goldstein inside; Yasad yelled to get moving, and for the scientists, who were huddling in the middle of the shuttle, to move out of the way so they could lay Commander Goldstein down and tend to his wounds.

“Where’s Nyota?” Chris whispered, more to herself than anyone else. Her eyes flicked from one officer to another on the viewscreen. The picture shuddered and convulsed as the shuttle began to rise.

“Where is Nyota Uhura?” she asked louder. She stepped forward, her eyes wide and searching. Captain Kirk stood from his chair and went to her side.

“Lieutenant Yasad, report,” he ordered. “Where is Lieutenant Uhura?”

A moment’s silence stretched into infinity. Chris held her breath, somehow knowing exactly what Lieutenant Yasad was going to say, hoping against hope that she wouldn’t.

“Lieutenant Uhura is not present, Captain,” she said, voice breaking. “She was right behind me, I know it -”

“Go back,” Christine demanded. Tears pooled in her eyes. “Go back and get her, before it’s too late.”

“Shuttle clearing the atmosphere, Captain,” Sulu said quietly from the helm.

“Beam her up,” Chris shouted, turning to look at Captain Kirk. His face was hard, but his eyes were as expressive as ever. She couldn’t stand the pity behind them, so she looked back at the First Officer who stood stoically behind the Captain’s chair.

“Monty has her signal, right? He can beam her aboard. Tell him to do that,” she said.

“Bridge to engineering,” Kirk called, tapping the intercom on the Captain’s chair.

“Engineering here, sir,” the Scotsman’s voice came.

“Do you have a lock on Lieutenant Uhura’s signal? An urgent beam-up is needed,” Kirk said. He met Christine’s eyes, then looked away a moment later. She barely registered that fat tears fell onto her cheeks.

There was silence. More of that wretched silence between Chris and the information she so desperately needed. Then:

“No, Captain, the signal is too weak. If I try to beam her aboard now I’ll just scramble her atoms.”

“Send them back down,” Christine hissed. “Send them down there for her, now.”

The bridge crew had gone deathly silent. The comm from the rescue party crackled and hissed in the background, but no one made a move to quiet it.

“Nurse Chapel, I -” Kirk looked lost, his face full of regret. “We’ll get her, I promise. But -”

“Sir, reports show three incoming Klingon vessels,” Sulu called out. The ship shuddered, and a loud screech sounded not a moment later. “We’ve been hit, sir. Decks Five and Seven report serious injury. Casualties - two, possibly more. Shields at 75%.”

Kirk bit his lip, looking from the now-clear viewscreen to Christine. He shook his head slightly. Chris’ eyes narrowed.

“Warp factor three, Mr. Sulu,” he said quietly. “Get us out of here, to the nearest starbase.”

“And what about Nyota?” Chris asked, soft voice belying the rage roiling in her chest.

“We will get her, Christine,” Jim said, placing his hands on her shoulders. “Trust me, it pains me to leave her behind, but -”

“If it was Spock or Leonard, you’d be down there in a heartbeat,” she said, her voice cold and dripping with poison. “And if your positions were reversed they’d be after you, too.”

“Chris, come on,” McCoy said gruffly, tugging her arm. She locked eyes with the Captain as the doctor walked her away from the bridge, not once blinking or releasing Jim from her gaze until the turbolift door closed, cutting him off from her sight. When the door hissed shut she collapsed against Leonard and wept quietly as he stroked her hair and attempted to comfort her.

***********************************

2256.76

Spock paused in front of the door to his shared quarters with the Captain and CMO. He had to admit to himself that Nurse Chapel’s emotionalism was difficult to bear in the quiet stillness of medbay. He still heard her sobs echoing in his mind, muffled though they were by Leonard’s shoulder, and shivered. While he was surrounded by humans and considered himself for the most part immune from their demonstrative sensibilities, Christine’s outburst had rattled him, for Spock knew that, had the tables been turned and Jim or Leonard had been the one held captive by enemy combatants, he, too, would be insensible with grief until they were returned to him.

Upon entrance, Spock found the lights dimmed and the temperature of the room quite cold. A quick glance told him that Jim sat alone at his desk with a bottle of some liquor that Leonard most likely stashed away.

“Computer, raise temperature by five degrees Centigrade,” he murmured as he strode over to the Captain.

Jim was slumped in his seat, elbows on the table before him. Spock reached out and felt his forehead; instead of a burning fever or some other sign of ill health, he found the skin cool and dry to his touch.

“I’m fine, Spock,” Jim said tiredly. He leaned back in his chair with a heavy sigh. Spock noted that he did not meet his eyes.

“James, you are not well,” Spock said quietly but firmly. He lifted Jim bridal-style and deposited him gently on their bed. He began to unlace the black boots, removed his socks, trousers, the gold uniform shirt. When Jim was undressed to black boxer-briefs and his black undershirt, Spock paused to watch his face. He was unresponsive to Spock’s touch, his face a blank slate.

“Ashayam,” Spock murmured. He knelt before Jim and took one hand in his. With the other he stroked Jim’s face and temple, taking care to avoid the meld points. Spock sought out Jim’s gaze and was finally rewarded with a single look, pleading and desperate. His eyes were filled with tears.

“I should have done more,” he confessed with a trembling breath. “I should have ordered someone, anyone, to go back for her, I -”

He ducked his head when they heard McCoy came in. Spock watched as Leonard, confused, took in the dim room and then found them at the edge of the bed. Hesitantly, he walked toward them and sat next to Jim, slinging a comforting arm around him. Jim finally broke down then, wept in their presence like he only could when they were both there for him.

Spock heard Leonard’s low, soothing voice speak nonsense into Jim’s hair: “I know;” “Hush now, it’s alright;” “That’s it, let it out.” It made his heart drop in his side when he realized that Leonard was comforting their husband as he would Joanna.

When Spock deemed that the worst of the crying fit was over, he wiped at Jim’s tears with the hand that still held his face.

“Jim,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper, as if anything louder would break the sacred space. “None of this is your fault.”

“That’s right,” Leonard said, rubbing soothing circles into Jim’s back. Jim rested his head on Leonard’s shoulder - the second person to do so tonight, Spock realized - and shuddered.

“I’m the Captain,” he muttered, voice hoarse and raspy with crying. “I’m responsible for everything. Everything. I should have done more for Nyota, it’s my fault that she’s - she’s -”

“Ain’t nothin’ we can do now about that,” Dr. McCoy said firmly. He lifted Jim’s head to look him in the eye. “And if Uhura was in her right mind, you know she’d tell you to knock it the hell off. All the what ifs, the shoulda, coulda, woulda’s, they mean jack shit right now, Jim. Listen to me: I know what that feels like. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to regret shit that’s happened to my patients, to… to my family.” His voice cracked, but he continued: “If I know one thing though, it’s that our responsibility, afterwards, is to move on. Really move on. Dwelling in the past ain’t helped nobody. God knows, Christine doesn’t need your pity; she needs her Captain to show her - to show all of us - how to move forward.”

Spock felt compelled to speak, too, to offer verbal comfort alongside his husband.

“I agree with Leonard,” he said, “and I would say this to you as well, James: the mission was fraught with danger, and you commanded it to the best of your ability. Without your guidance, it is statistically likely that at least thirty-four point seven more crew members would have faced fatal casualty on the field.”

Jim tried to speak, tried to tell them the weight of their words, but was overcome with emotion once more. Spock lay him on their bed, and both he and Leonard stripped quickly to their underclothes to lay with him, the doctor to his back and the First Officer facing him. He fell asleep quickly, the burden of his tears weighing him down into unconsciousness.

Spock stroked Leonard’s bare arm that hugged Jim’s middle and peeked over the blond head to find the doctor crying, as well.

“Leonard?” he asked softly, so as not to wake Jim.

“Sorry, Spock, I know you’ve had damn near your fill of human emotionalism for today,” the doctor replied, and swiped roughly at his cheeks. Spock simply took his face in hand, as he had with Jim, and tenderly wiped stray tears with his thumb.

“There is no need for an apology where no harm has been done,” he said solemnly.

Leonard chuckled, something not borne of humor or lightheartedness, but dark and desperate.

“I know, I know,” he said. He sniffled and nuzzled his unshaven face into Spock’s hand, seeking out the comfort that his husband offered.

“It’s just - she’s bad, Spock,” he whispered. Spock felt tears gather wetly into his palm, but he stayed still. “I don’t know if she’ll ever be herself again. And I know we just told Jim it ain’t his fault but -”

“You also feel responsible,” Spock finished quietly. Leonard simply nodded.

“There is no shame in that,” Spock said slowly. He shifted so that he could hold Jim in his arms and also hug Leonard. “I, too, feel responsible for Nyota’s condition and Christine’s extreme reactions. It is illogical; however, their pain becomes my pain because we are friends.”

Leonard made a soft noise in the back of his throat. “Friends?” he grunted.

“Are you surprised?” Spock asked. He stroked his thumb along Leonard’s thick eyebrow and down the curve of his nose. “I consider myself close friends with Nyota and Christine. The five of us have dinner together regularly. That is a habit of friendship.”

“I guess sometimes even I still have trouble recognizing how you show affection,” Leonard said. His voice had become somewhat more slurred as sleep came upon him.

Spock smiled his little half smile, the one he reserved only for his husbands. “Indeed, ashayam. I hope there are many years ahead of us still for you to understand me better.”

Leonard was too tired to make a joke about hope being an emotion, so he simply snuggled in closer to Jim and felt Spock draw small figures and words into the skin of his shoulder as he drifted off to sleep.

As for Spock, he lay awake for many hours still, counting his husbands’ breaths, feeling their skin warm under his hands, listening to the small hitches in their throats that indicated they dreamt. With each moment that passed he felt a weight on his chest. It was only thanks to chance that Nyota, not Leonard or Jim or himself, was captured and tortured so cruelly. It was due to the randomness of the universe that it was not he who wept this night over such a loss.

These thoughts troubled him and made him curl up even more securely into the two men beside him.

*************************************

2256.73

“It’s been two days, Jim,” Christine said. She knew she didn’t present the best picture, what with her red-rimmed eyes and sallow face, but she couldn’t have cared less.

“I know, Chris,” Captain Kirk sighed. He crossed his arms. “I know. We’re working on it with the Admiralty.”

“Fuck the Admiralty,” she spit, not caring that several crew members in the mess hall gawked at her. “I want to know what you have planned to bring Nyota back.”

Jim frowned. He hesitated for half a second, then sighed again and motioned tiredly with his hand. “Come on,” he said, and walked away. Chris followed doggedly, nearly jogging to keep up with his long legs at times. They passed through twisting hallways and rode down four decks before the Captain invited her into his ready room.

When the door closed behind them, Jim took a seat behind the desk and pulled up a dark screen on his desk PADD. Christine remained standing.

“This is all extremely confidential information,” Kirk warned with a glance.

Christine snorted. “Who am I gonna tell? My wife?” she asked.

The Captain grimaced.

“Our sources indicate that Nyota’s been taken to a secret Klingon base just outside the Neutral Zone,” he began. His fingers worked over the PADD screen to pull up a map of the star system, with one small planet highlighted in orange. “Theta 45-01 is a sister planet to the Class M we pulled those scientists off of. The Admiralty’s suspected for some time that the Klingons have had a presence nearby, but haven’t had any proof.”

“Here’s our proof,” Chris murmured as she studied the map.

Jim grimaced again.

“The Admiralty tells me there’s no way we can get close without arousing suspicions from either the Klingons or the Romulans,” he continued. Christine opened her mouth to argue, but he held up a hand to stop her. “I, however, don’t believe in no-win scenarios,” he said.

She eyed him doubtfully. “What are you planning?”

When he finished speaking, Christine rubbed her face and leaned heavily against the desk.

“And they say I’m going crazy,” she murmured to herself.

Jim stood. “I know it’s… far-fetched,” he said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “But I can’t just leave Nyota out there. I don’t care what the Admiralty says. If Starfleet decides they don’t want their Golden Boy anymore after this, I’ll - I don’t know, I’ll tell them to suck my dick and start over on Earth, or Vulcan, or some weird nudist commune.” Christine chuckled and shook her head. Jim smiled lopsidedly.

“I’m going to do whatever it takes to get Nyota Uhura back,” he said quietly. “I hope you know that, Christine. We won’t abandon her, I promise.”

Three days later and there was still no sign that Kirk’s plan was any closer to being successful. Christine had kept quiet about it upon his request; he didn’t want to take any chances that the Admiralty might hear about his idea and put a stop to it. Still, Chris felt anxiety growing in every hour that passed.

On the third day, Chris was organizing sterile sharps for the second time in two hours when the comm on the wall blared at out her, making her jump and drop what she was holding.

“Bridge to Nurse Chapel,” Spock said. She scrambled to press the intercom button.

“Chapel here,” she replied, breathless. Her heart beat at warp eight.

“The Captain requests that you meet us in the transporter room in five minutes.” Spock’s voice, so aloof, made her want to cry with relief.

“Yes, sir, will do, sir,” she said, and released the intercom.

In less than two minutes, Chris raced down to the transporter room, out of breath and lighter than air. Finally they were making progress, and Nyota was one step closer to safety.

Captain Kirk turned as she entered. He had already donned the safety suit that made him look like a deflated rubber duck.

“Excellent, we’re all here,” he said, nodding to her in greeting. She nodded back curtly.

“Now, as I was saying,” Jim turned back to the three security personnel, as well as Spock and Leonard, who stood on the transporter pad. “This mission is simple and clear. Beam down into the compound. Once there, locate and retrieve Lieutenant Uhura. Then beam back aboard and run like hell. Any questions?”

“I have several,” Christine rose one hand, alarmed. “Do you know where Nyota is in this compound? How many Klingons are in there? How are you gonna get around them all? Are you sure you’ll be able to beam down and back safely? Where -”

“Nurse Chapel.” Captain Kirk cut her off. “I’m not going to lie to you - this is going to be hairy. But according to Spock’s calculations, this may be our best chance to get to her. The security team, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and I all know what chances we’re taking right now.”

Christine leveled all six of them with a steady gaze. When she was satisfied, she crossed her arms.

“Okay. I’m going with you,” she declared.

Spock simply tilted his head in the way that meant humans are so fucking illogical, and Jim blew out a breath.

“Chris,” he began, but she interrupted him.

“I have a lot of expertise on the field, and I understand this mission’s significance very well. It’s my wife out there, and I need - I need to go get her,” she said, her voice softening at the end.

Kirk shook his head.

“Denied, Nurse Chapel,” he said with a pitying look in his eyes. “I need you to stay up here and wait. I know it’s hard, but -”

“Captain, I request - no, I demand - that I be allowed on this mission,” she said between gritted teeth.

“Request denied - again,” Kirk said firmly, folding his arms.

She seethed. And waited.

***********************************

2256.78

“Medbay to bridge,” the Captain’s intercom squawked. Kirk looked up at Mr. Spock, eyebrows furrowed. Spock tilted his head slightly, his version of a shrug.

“Captain Kirk here,” he said, tapping a button on the Captain’s chair.

“Uh, sir, there’s… a situation happening down here. Um, I wouldn’t - that is, usually I would -”

“What is it?” Kirk generally never interrupted his subordinates, but could be a matter of urgency. What if it was about Nyota?

“Sir, Dr. McCoy requests your presence down here,” the voice said, tinny and nervous.

Jim exchanged a look with Spock and murmured, “I’ll be there in five. Kirk out.”

He handed off the conn to Lieutenant Sulu and motioned for Mr. Spock to follow him. When their turbolift landed on Deck One and the doors swished open, they both heard indistinguishable yelling coming from medbay’s general direction. Jim tore out of the lift, Spock right behind him. He motioned for a security officer nearby and waved her over, shouting, “Request four backup personnel in medbay, at once!”

Jim nearly slid past the double-wide doors leading into medbay. He burst in and followed the sound of shouting that came from Bones’ office.

“...you can’t keep me from her forever!” he heard, and his heart dropped. Christine.

“I’m not keeping you from her forever,” Bones snapped. Jim punched in the Captain’s override code and practically fell into his office.

“What’s going on? I was called for,” he panted. Spock was at his side a second later. Anyone who didn’t know him like his husbands would have said his face was emotionless, but Leonard could read the concern in his eyes like a book.

Christine sobbed from the middle of the office. Now that Jim had a chance to look at her, he was taken aback. Her eyes were puffy and red from crying. Her usually perfectly coiffed hair was messily pulled back in a headband. Her skin was pale, and she looked gaunt.

“I will see her!” she cried, her voice broken by sobs. She swallowed and swiped at her face, attempting to quell her emotional outburst. “I have to see her. You can’t hide her away forever!”

“Christine,” Leonard said, and Jim could hear in his voice that he was struggling to muster all his patience and compassion. “We’re not hiding her from you, but you - you just can’t see her yet. It’ll take time.”

“I know, and that’s why I have to be with her,” Christine begged. “It’ll take her time to heal but it’ll be quicker if I’m there with her, you don’t understand -”

“Sir, do you need us?” a security officer called from outside the office door.

Chris craned her neck and saw the four officers standing there warily. She laughed through her tears. Spock shivered at the sound.

“Did you call security on me? You called security on me! You really don’t want me to see my wife, do you?”

“That’s not it - you’re dismissed, go,” Kirk ordered the security team. “Chris, that’s not it at all, it’s - they’re - you -”

“I called them,” Spock said quietly, stepping forward. Chris sniffled and stared at him, as did his husbands. “It was my mistake, Nurse Chapel. Please forgive me. Now, please, tell me - calmly - what it is that you are here to speak with Leonard about?”

Christine took a steadying breath and scrubbed her face. When she looked back at Spock, she seemed even more tired than before.

“I want to see Nyota,” she hiccuped. “I want -” she was interrupted by another hiccup, so she took a deep breath to calm herself. “I need to see her. It’s been two days, and - and nobody will tell me anything, but that’s my wife, and -”

“I understand,” Spock said, his voice still quiet and collected as Christine’s rose wildly, “that Lieutenant Uhura is nonresponsive. Is that correct, doctor?”

It took Leonard a moment to understand that he was being spoken to, but he shook himself and finally said, “Yeah, yeah. She’s, uh, not completely unresponsive - she still thinks we’re Klingons disguising ourselves as her friends. So she responds, it’s just… not a positive response.”

“Therefore, it seems unwise to me to send you, her wife, into a room with her, where Lieutenant Uhura will undoubtedly mistake you for a Klingon hostile and respond negatively. This would not only harm her psyche further, but in turn would harm yours, as well. Is that not so?” Spock asked.

Christine shook her head and pursed her lips. She centered herself with a heavy exhale.

“You might be right,” she whispered. Clearing her throat, she continued, her voice growing stronger: “It might very well be bad for the both of us if I go in there. But you’ve tried everything else, and we’re still a week away from the nearest starbase with the kind of medical technology Nyota needs. I’ve got to try, if for no other reason than this.” She held up her left hand for them to see. On her fourth finger, a simple titanium band reflected the soft lighting of Dr. McCoy’s office.

“I made a promise,” she said, her voice cracking. “I vowed to be there for Nyota Uhura for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health until death do us part. And death hasn’t parted us yet. Please, I am begging you,” she whispered, “please let me see my wife.”

The three of them hesitated, silently communicating through their bond. Finally Leonard sighed and nodded.

“You’re right, Chris,” he said tiredly. “If it was Jim or Spock in Nyota’s place, there isn’t a damn rock I wouldn’t turn over to find the cure, and there sure as hell wouldn’t be a person in this universe who could keep me from them.”

Overcome with emotion, Christine simply hugged him tightly. She released him a moment later, wiped her eyes, and set her shoulders.

“Let’s go,” she said. Spock wondered once again at how mercurial humans were. One moment they wept, the next they shouted, and then in the blink of an eye they could be as calm as a Vulcan.

She and Leonard washed their hands thoroughly per medical protocol. The four of them then walked into the private suite where Nyota was being kept. A waiting area with a one-way viewing window looked into the Lieutenant’s room. Christine squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, refused to let any tears fall or sobs escape. She had to be strong.

Nyota was handcuffed to a wide biobed. She looked hollow as she lay there, limpid eyes staring up at the ceiling but seeing nothing. Her mouth moved ever so slowly.

“What’s she saying?” Chris whispered.

Instead of replying, Leonard reached over to a small switchboard and turned the volume dial up. Small speakers under the viewing window came to life, transmitting sound from microphones in Nyota’s room.

“Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, Communications Officer First Class,” she murmured slowly. “Serial ID: five seven seven one Alpha Tango Delta four one seven.” Christine strained to hear her; moments later she repeated herself, then again, each time so slowly and quietly that Chris wasn’t sure if she was hearing her correctly.

“Is she…?”

“Name, rank, serial ID number,” Jim answered quietly. “The only information Starfleet allows captured officers to give out.”

Chris shut her eyes to force the tears that fought to escape back.

“You don’t have to do this,” Leonard said from her right.

“Yes, I do,” she replied, opening her eyes and staring fiercely at her wife through the viewing window. “I absolutely do.”

Moments later, Christine stood behind the door that led to Nyota’s room.

“Good luck, Chris,” the Captain offered. “If you need us, holler.”

She simply nodded, then pressed a button on the wall panel to allow her access to her wife.

Christine thought she would have felt… different as she walked into the room. Like an alien entering a new world. Instead, it felt like she was walking into her quarters with Nyota waiting for her. The only strangeness was the repeated whispers coming from the bed.

She called out Nyota’s name softly as she approached.

Nyota paused her recitation. Christine heard a trembling intake of breath.

“Chris?” Her voice was weak and cracked.

“Yes, darling, it’s me,” Chris said, and she couldn’t stop the tears from dripping down her cheeks.

“You can’t be here,” Nyota said. She sounded desperate and hopeless, and Christine’s heart cracked that much more. “Not you, Chris, please, not you.”

Christine stood next to the bed now, looking down on her wife. Her supine form was no longer limp but tense, as if she was ready for a fight, and her eyes darted around the room quickly.

“It’s really me, honey,” Chris cooed, reaching out a hand to brush the hair out of Nyota’s face. “I’m really here.”

“Fuck you,” Nyota snarled. Without warning, she strained against the restraints and writhed on the biobed, struggling to escape. “Fuck all of you. I’ll fucking kill you, do you hear me? Don’t fucking touch me, you piece of shit motherfucker -”

“Nyota, it’s me,” Chris sobbed. She cradled her hands to her chest, feeling lost.

Nyota laughed shrilly and lashed out against the cuffs.

“You think I’ll fall for that again? Do you think I’m stupid? Do you think I don’t know what you’re doing, you goddamn beast? Fuck you! Fuck you. Why don’t you look me in the eye with your own face, huh? Why hide behind someone else, you fucking coward?” Nyota’s voice rose with every word until she was screaming. Christine was sure her throat was raw, but she didn’t stop or take a breath until spittle flew from her mouth and foam gathered at the seams of her lips.

Christine stepped toward the bed once more. She didn’t know what she was doing; blinded by tears and the grief that ripped its way through her chest, she felt like she saw herself move from outside her body.

“Baby, Nyota, honey, it’s really me,” she said again. Chris gripped her face tightly in both hands, trying to force Nyota to look into her eyes.

Instead Nyota bit into her arm - not hard enough to draw blood, but definitely deep enough to bruise. With a hiss, Christine withdrew her hands to the sound of her wife laughing cruelly from the bed below.

“Serves you right,” Nyota taunted, brown eyes gleaming with vicious glee. “Don’t fucking touch me again. Get out of my sight, you bastard. Get out! Leave! Go!”

Chris had half a mind to turn and run back to where Spock, Leonard, and Jim waited for her. She glanced at the one-way window, could almost see how they were staring back. She knew Leonard was yelling at her from inside the waiting room to get her ass back inside so they could re-group and try a different tactic.

But she couldn’t go. Not if she wanted to help Nyota. So she took a deep breath and looked at her wife, who still thrashed about on the bed and screamed at her to leave.

“My dove,” she said, quietly so Nyota had to lower her voice to hear what she had to say. “Dearest heart. My sweet love. Come back to me.”

Christine would call her back from madness one endearment at a time if she had to.

Nyota stilled, limbs stiff and unyielding. Her breath trembled.

“You’re in my head. You’re in my head and you’re making Christine say those things. Get out of my fucking head!” She screamed the last words, thrashing about on the biobed so violently that Chris half-feared it might flip over and crush Nyota with it.

“Nyota, I’m real, nobody’s making me say anything,” Christine said, placing her hands on her wife’s forearms to still her once more. “Listen: I know you better than anyone, right? What did we do on our first date?”

Breathing heavily, Nyota just stared back at her. Her big, brown eyes scanned Christine’s face, and she didn’t speak.

“We were on a shore leave, remember?” Chris smiled as best as she could; it probably ended up looking like a tight grimace. “We had two days on Earth. I took you to New Boston and had that shrimp scampi that gave me food poisoning. Remember? You took me back to the hotel we were staying in and took care of me that whole night. You didn’t leave once, even though I was puking like my life depended on it. And you said - God, what was it you said? Something like, ‘If this is what your first dates are like, your second dates must be fucking riots.’” She laughed a little, a sad chuckle.

“And when we decided to date, for real, and we had to tell Jim. Oh, my god, that was - that was something.” Christine shook her head and smiled faintly. She rubbed her thumbs in soothing circles on Nyota’s skin. “He was the worst, do you remember? He asked me what my intentions were towards you. Bastard.” This time when she laughed, a sob escaped alongside it.

Nyota was completely still. Her face was pained, like she was struggling to understand, but she still didn’t speak.

“Oh, and what about that time the Andorian ambassador was hitting on me, and you had had enough and you came up to me and dipped me down low and kissed me right in front of him?” Chris laughed, choking on tears. “Oh my god. Leonard has never let me forget it. He brings it up every other day. Or - do you remember when I proposed? We’d talked about getting married sometime in the near future, and I went ahead and bought a ring on shore leave when we were on Risa, and that night on the beach I couldn’t wait anymore and I brought it out and asked you to marry me? And you started laughing and crying and pulled out a ring that you’d bought for me?” Christine was giggling and sobbing all at once, tears falling into her open mouth. She was now leaned over Nyota, lightly touching their foreheads together. Still, Nyota didn’t move.

“Please, Nyota, please come back to me,” Christine whispered. “I’m here; I’ve waited for you for so long. My love, my sweetest, my darling, please -”

“How do I know?” Nyota croaked. Chris pulled back just enough to see her face more clearly. She was surprised to find tear tracks that matched her own.

“How - I can’t trust it,” Nyota whimpered. “I can’t, it can’t be - please don’t hurt me while you look like her, I can’t -”

“I swear it on my life, Nyota Uhura; it’s me, your Christine, and I will never, ever hurt you,” Chris said fiercely. She cupped Nyota’s face in her hands gently, so, so gently, and passed her thumb over the high cheekbones, the bridge of her nose, the sweat-slicked temples. “My sweet love, I will never hurt you. I made a promise, remember?”

Christine sat on the edge of the biobed gingerly, taking care not to sit on any of the tubes coming out of the frail body below her. She lifted her left hand once more, this time showing Nyota her wedding ring.

“You and me, we stood up in front of all our friends and family and the fucking stars,” she said. “I vowed to love you, cherish you, protect you, to never do you harm. I gave you my word that nothing would come between us. Do you remember?”

Nyota swallowed, glanced from the ring to Christines’ face, nodded tersely.

Chris let herself smile just a little bit. She reached forward, slow and steady so as not to startle Nyota, and stroked her cheek with feather-light touches. At first, Nyota flinched every time fingertips made contact with her skin. After some time she became used to the soft sensation and leaned into it.

“Can I lay here with you?” Chris whispered. Nyota’s relaxed limbs became tense once more, but she nodded again and watched closely as Christine carefully lay down close to, but not touching, her wife’s frail brown body.

All they heard for several quiet minutes was their breathing - shallow and quick for Nyota, deep and even for Chris - and the soft murmur of medical equipment running in the background. Christine forced herself to simply lie still, to not run her hands over every square inch of her wife to reassure herself of Nyota’s presence, to not cling tightly to her and weep like she so desperately wanted to do. Instead, she pulled her knees in closer to her own chest and wrapped shaking arms around her legs.

“Am I dead?” The small voice broke through Christine’s thoughts, and it took her a moment to understand.

“No,” she replied, just as softly. She looked over and found Nyota’s eyes, filled with tears, searching her face as if it held secrets.

“Am I dreaming?”

Christine shook her head. She felt helpless.

“I had dreams,” Nyota murmured. “I dreamed that I would wake up to see you smiling or hear you singing.” Her arms shifted and tugged at the restraints; she looked surprised to see them there.

Christine lifted her head slightly and looked to the viewing window.

“Leonard?” she asked, hopeful. Even without a bond, she knew he understood what she was asking for; she just hoped he would agree.

She got her answer after a long moment of waiting - no doubt Spock and Jim felt that what Christine proposed was too dangerous. Still, the tiny hiss of hydraulics releasing and the click of Nyota’s restraints falling away told her that Leonard was on her side.

“You’re not dreaming,” Chris murmured. She watched Nyota lift her arms and stare at them in wonder. “It’s all real. You’re home, my love.”

Nyota turned to look at her. She hesitated, then curled herself up next to Chris until their noses touched and knees knocked together.

“Home,” she repeated.