"Cadet Mitchell, see me after class."
"Yes, sir," Mitchell answered sullenly. He wished Jim Kirk would get off his back. Why was he so damned insistent that he, Gary Mitchell, ace his stupid history course? Probably because it would look bad if the teacher's own roommate flunked it. What a drag! He had come to the Academy for the challenge of the future, not the relics of the dusty past.
"Gary, I'm really disappointed in your last paper. I couldn't see where you'd put any effort at all into it. You know I've got to flunk you on it. You'll have to re-write it, and damn it, do some research this time!"
"Jim, you can't flunk me on that paper! You know I've got my computer project coming up. I don't have the time to do the thing over again. C'mon, ease up, just this once, roomie!"
Kirk's eyes flashed in barely controlled anger. "Don't presume on our living arrangements to give you any special treatment, Cadet," he snapped. "If you'd put one-quarter of the effort into that last paper as you do on running around after women, you'd have made at least a B!" He glanced at the clock. "Let's walk; I've got a class to get to." They headed for the door.
"Jim, look. I'll re-do that paper. And just the way you want. But you've got to hold out that F until this other thing is over. Then I can put the time into it."
Kirk shook his head. "Gary, one of the big purposes of the Academy is to teach cadets how to use their time wisely--all their time. You've wasted more than your share since your first year here. There'll be no extension on the paper."
Mitchell was about to lose control, something he'd never done with Jim Kirk before in the four years they'd known each other. But he saw his graduation plans beginning an ever increasing slide away from him, and somehow, he had to stop it.
"Jim, I..." He paused and inhaled deeply as his eyes drifted over Kirk's shoulder. "Would you look at that, roomie!" Kirk turned and looked in spite of himself. A female first year cadet had turned out of a side corridor and was walking away from them. Sleek, black hair, pulled back, fell to her waist, and her walk was enough to drive any thoughts of Mitchell, history, and the Academy from Kirk's mind.
"Um-umm! Now that's what you need, buddy!" Mitchell nudged him, an impish grin on his face. It was a mistake. Kirk grabbed him by the shoulder and practically shook him.
"Blast it, Gary; that's what's making you flunk out of almost half your classes! If you spent any of the time you throw away on women on studying, you'd be in the top third of the class! What's wrong with you?!" he released Mitchell, who stepped back abruptly, surprised. Kirk had never reacted strongly to his cavorting.
"Jim, I--" He couldn't explain; damn it, he didn't have to! The best defense is a good offense.
"What's wrong, Kirk? Don't you like women any more? You used to have a pretty good rep. Tomcat, they said your middle name was. I even heard you and Lystra Davis were an item your freshman year. Did Ruth take it out of you, as it were?"
The air crackled with the irony in Mitchell's voice; Kirk met his eyes steadily. "I like women fine, Cadet. I happen to have certain goals that no one is going to interfere with. I would suggest you set a few for yourself. There'll be no extension on that paper, and you'd better have at least a B if you want to pass my course." He saluted smartly and set off down the corridor, leaving Mitchell without the time for a snappy comeback.
"No one's going to distract you, eh, oh perfect Starfleet one? We'll see. We'll--just--see!"
"Carol, you've got to help me out here!" Mitchell had the woman cornered in the hospital cafeteria and had no intention of letting her pass until she agreed to his request.
"Gary, I thought I made it clear to you when we last met that, basically, I didn't want to lay eyes on you again!"
"Look, I know I can be a little pushy sometimes, but I'm not asking for me! I got the message. It's for my roomie. I'm worried about him. He's got book fever--you know, one's growing off the end of his nose all the time! He needs some time off. I thought you might want to spend a nice evening with friends for a change, you and Jim, me and Sue. C'mon, Carol, we'll cut out soon if you don't want to have to look at my ol' mug--what do you say?"
"I say I don't know how Sue puts up with you. I thought she had better taste! Jim who?"
"My roomie, Jim Kirk. Hottest cadet in the senior class."
The light tone belied the bitterness in Mitchell's voice. His roomie always seemed to be in the track where he, Gary Mitchell, thought he should be. Well, maybe after tonight, a few tracks will open up.
"Kirk? Why does he need you to fix him up? I hear he's quite adept at that himself." Her voice implied that that wasn't all she had heard.
"Maybe he used to be. But he's been with one woman for more than a year, that is until she dumped him and broke his heart. Since then, he hardly has gone out for coffee with a woman in two months. I'm just afraid he's driving himself into the ground. Everybody must need some kind of outlet besides work and study."
"Maybe," Marcus said guardedly, "Oh, hell, I'll go. But don't expect me to stay for even thirty minutes if I don't like him. I've had enough of obnoxious men. And speaking of such, may I get up from this booth? I have some cultures to check."
Mitchell waved her out. "Madame, if I had a cape, I'd let you walk on it. Carol, seriously, I don't think you'll regret it."
But I sure hope Jim will, he finished the thought as Marcus headed for the lab.
"Jim! Jim! Where are you?" No answer. "Jim, I don't see how someone your size can lose themselves in a nine by twelve cubicle, shared by one other handsome, manly cadet--namely, me, so--where are you?"
"Here, Gary." A pile of books and papers that covered the length of the study desk and stood eighteen inches high moved slightly, revealing an intense young face and a slightly exasperated expression.
"Can't you see I'm trying to study? I've got that bitch of an astrophysics midterm in four days! And I've got a history class to teach, remember?" Mitchell ignored the pointed reminder."Jim, you'd ace that course with half of the studying you've done! I've got good news for you, boy, good news! We're partying tonight, and I've got the perfect girl for you!"
Jim Kirk rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "Gary, did you listen to one word I said this afternoon? Besides, as well as we get along as bunkmates, you should know by now that we do not have the same taste in women! That last one you fixed me with had all the grace and charm of a Vulcan sehlat--and its breath besides!"
"Okay, okay, she was a dud, I'll admit. But that was just a return favor for Jergens. This one I picked out just for you--you old stack of books with legs. She's a real brain! Senior lab tech over at the bio-engineering facility. Blonde, blue eyes, long legs..." He trailed off deliciously, but saw he was losing his audience. "C'mon, old buddy. I had to talk to her for thirty minutes before she'd even agree to take the time off to give you the time of day. And I'm sure it's only because she's Sue's best friend. You've got to make good on this one. And whatever you say, you need the time off and you know it."
Kirk blinked his gritty-feeling eyes and sighed. Mitchell was right--for once. Good ol' Gary.Without him as a roommate, he'd have driven himself into nervous prostration by now. "Okay, bunkie, I'll go. How much time to get ready?"
"Give me strength!"
She was magic, pure and simple. Cool, clean, and damned smart. Probably that was the most attractive thing about her, he thought later, when he could think again.
She wore an ice-blue sheath of some elusive, silky material, and it off-set her silvery blonde hair and deep blue eyes so much so that is took his breath away. Despite Mitchell's urgings of a good first impression, Kirk felt like he had three feet, the third one of which constantly got in the way of the other two.
Upon their introductions, he seemed not to remember his name, but if she noticed, she never let on, putting him instantly at ease with an amusing comment about Mitchell's conversation with her earlier.
They warmed to each other immediately. Both strong and intelligent, they had each been submerged in their respective career plans, and now, to find someone else who understood and could share the other's own brand of dedication was like cool water on parched soil.
You understand, you feel the same way I do, you know was an undercurrent all evening, generating an electricity so tangible between them that they were hesitant to touch for fear of sparks. Gary and Sue, left to their own mundane devices, faded into the background.
"So you see, Carol, command is really a blend of everything. A captain has to know enough about all the systems to be able to ask the right questions of his crew. I've already learned a lot, but there's so much more, so much..." He trailed off, and stared into his drink, then looked her in the eyes.
"But I've been talking 'shop' all night--and you just asked me one simple question. Sorry, I tend to do that a lot!" he said ruefully.
"Ah, that's okay, Jim. That's one of my own failings. Everyone in the lab says I can't even gossip unless I'm talking about the latest in DNA research or bacteria cultures. You know how it is. You know, command sounds challenging, but I don't need that kind of hurdle. Everything I could ever want is right where I am in bio-engineering. Just think, Jim, one day, man will be able to wipe out hunger, over-crowding, disease...but now look who's talking shop!"
They chuckled, their heads bending toward each other in shared mirth. Kirk took her hand lightly. "Enough work, as my friend, Gary, over there is so fond of saying! Who do you like in the game Saturday?"
"The one between the Academy and the Facility? You have to ask?" She leaned back against the soft material of the booth. "You've got something up your sleeve, Jim Kirk, I can tell."
Kirk grinned his famous grin that had disarmed, and ultimately, disrobed not a few of the fairer sex. "Afraid to take a chance, my lovely? How about double or nothing?"
Her competitive spirit was aroused. "Done!" she exclaimed, feeling somehow, somewhere in this night, she had crossed an invisible, irrevocable line.
Thinking back, the beginning seemed so usual, so boy-meets-girl. They began to spend more and more time together, still very conscious of their various commitments, but somehow, they became less important in light of the new feeling that grew between them.
Kirk was not sure he liked the change in his attitude towards his classes and other Starfleet duties, and sensed the same pull in Marcus. They had lingering dinners; she spent time in his room at the Academy, but as yet they had not spent the night together, indeed, the strangest thing of all to him was that they hadn't even made love.
Two nervous pseudo-lovers, he scoffed in his mind, but he knew it was more than that, that it was a kind of fear, another line to cross. And once that line was behind them, there was no going back. Oh, they wanted each other; they had never tried to deny that, even from the first night, but what remained unspoken was the depth of feeling, the quality of want, yearning for commitment. The question that was always there, can we have what we want?
Mitchell had double duty and would not be back in the room until after classes the next day. Marcus had agreed to come over and help Kirk study for an advanced organic chem test--one of his weaker subjects. They had been at it for several hours, the remains of a hastily eaten dinner strewn around the room, when Kirk straightened up.
"I think I've got the proto-alkyds separated in my mind, now. And everything else is clear enough. Carol, you ever think about giving up research and going into teaching? This is the first time this stuff's been clear to me since the beginning of the term."
She smiled, stretching leisurely. "Well, I think I have a rather apt pupil. And you must admit. You have a bit more reason to pay attention to me that just the everyday student!"
He got up from his desk and went around to where she sat. Almost absently, he began to massage her neck. She bent her head so he could work more easily, and suddenly he stooped, grabbed her around the waist, lifted her out of the chair, and tumbled them both on the bed.
"Jim!" she shrieked in mock distress. "What's come over you?"
"Well, I'm tired of studying, so I thought I'd play for a while."
"Un-hmmm. With you." He began to kiss her neck, just under the chin. Since they had been seeing each other, he had learned that it was one of her most sensitive spots. Her hands came up to push him away, but stayed to sculpt his face.
"Your test..." she murmured.
"I'm not worried. Why should you?" His lips moved down her open collar and back up, finding her welcoming mouth. Her hands played lightly over his body, increasing his desire with their feather-light touch.
"I don't think I can wait any longer. I want you so badly."
"I know I can't wait. Don't want to. Please stay."
That simply, they became lovers, and, as in the other areas of their relationship, they complemented each other perfectly. Frighteningly so.
Because of Academy regulations, they could not live together. But Gary Mitchell, delighted to see his bookworm roommate "having some fun" and letting his pressure on his performance in class lessen, discreetly moved in with a cadet whose roommate had flunked out. As a result, Marcus shared Kirk's narrow bunk many nights. And never had it seemed less crowded.
"I can't get enough of you, you witch!" Kirk covered her neck with small, quick kisses. She soaked them up.
"That's okay. I've got a lot to give, and anyway, I would say that you're about ready for another dose, wouldn't you, Captain?"
"You're the science officer--how would you measure the situation?"
Their plans evolved and meshed easily. "When I'm Captain," or "When I have my lab" were frequent beginning of many of their after-love driftings. They shared their dreams and ambitions as easily as they shared their bodies and the trust grew between them daily.
As idyllic as the first blush of physical fulfillment was, there were rough spots, scheduling problems that, though they had talked about such things in a mature, reasonable way before they were problems, were much less easy to deal with when they actually occurred.
"Carol, it's been weeks since I've seen you--can't you come over?" Even the impersonal viewscreen could not distort her loveliness. He hungered to feel that cool flesh moving and warming under his eager fingers."It's only been two weeks, and I'm sorry, Jim. But we're on the verge of a breakthrough here. I won't be able to leave for at least thirty-six hours. Why don't you bone up on your Nav course? You said you were falling behind."
Because I'm thinking about you all the time, he thought angrily. But she was right, as usual. He quelled the small bubble of resentment rising in him. "Okay, Science Officer, I'll hit the star charts. Call when you can, or better yet, just come over."
"You got a deal, Captain!"
He was in the middle of cramming for an organic chemistry final when she buzzed him more than three days later.
"Jim, it's a go! We got positive results. I'm coming over--we'll celebrate the best way!"'
"Whoa, now I've got the conflict. I just realized that I skipped four chapters in Dopher's course. I gotta make them up tonight or else!" He got a strange niggling sense of satisfaction watching her elation dim.
"Oh. Well, of course. I'm sorry, Jim, I just assumed...Hey, look--I've got the next few off. Call me as soon as your test is over, and we'll both celebrate, okay?"
He was back right again, all the odd little pulling, tearing feelings gone as though they had never been.
"You bet, Science Officer. And, hey--I know how much that project meant to you. I'm damn proud of you, Carol!"
Her face lit up again. "I love you, Jim," she said softly, and switched off before he could respond, or even react. Despite his best efforts, it was an hour before he lost himself in hydrocarbons again.
Their brief hiatus from each other was over. Marcus' experiments were incubating nicely, leaving her with more free time than she had had in years. Kirk also was on a brief break from studies, and rather than take the time to make a trip somewhere, they just decided to "bunk in" at Marcus' apartment.
"Well, it ain't much, but it's home." Because of the distance between her place and the lab, and the proximity of her office to Kirk's quarters at the Academy, Kirk had never seen the place before. He looked around in admiration. Her apartment was as coolly lovely as the lady herself. Uncluttered to the point of austerity, the rooms were softened by the rich sea colors of the walls and by the absorbing softness of the furniture.
"Carol, you amaze me! This looks like something out of a model video!"
"Flatterer. Actually, I'm here so seldom, I wanted something that was easy to care for, and this works. Hungry?"
He slipped his arms around her. "Always. But not for food."
She rested against him comfortably for a moment. He thought that he couldn't want anything else but her. A tall ship... She pulled away briefly and looked into his eyes.
"I thought this would be a good time to take stock, Jim. To talk."
Her serious tone worried him. "But, Carol, everything is fine. We don't fight, we're great in bed..." He thought briefly back to their last hurried phone conversation. "And--I love you, Carol."
Since her blurted admission of her love for him, the subject had not come up again, but had been in both of their minds. Her whole body relaxed, slumped almost, and she gathered him into a fierce hug.
"Oh, Jim, I was so scared. Thought I'd made a complete fool of myself! Me, the cool, level-headed scientist losing it for a cocky Starfleet wonder boy! Are you sure, Jim?" She was dead serious again.
"Of course. And what do you mean, 'wonder boy'?"
"As if you didn't know! I hear the scuttlebutt. You're going places, my dear--far places. That's why we have to talk."
"Well, talk. I'm perfectly satisfied with things the way they are."
"Me, too! But, Jim, things won't always be 'as they are.' Bluntly speaking, what happens when you graduate, get your commission and warp out of my life--our lives, now?"
The thought hit him--hard. He simply had not thought of the future in any terms other than "when I'm Captain" and the trail leading thereto. Hadn't considered the years in space, away from home, away from all that was familiar, the duty, the responsibility...but give up Carol? No, he couldn't do that either.
"Well--we could get married." The words were out of his mouth as though they had been waiting behind his teeth, waiting to leap, unasked, as soon as the opportunity presented itself. He felt as shocked as she looked, but the thought felt right, and he didn't hide from it. Yes--Marcus with him through the stars. It could be. It would.
She continued to stare at him in utter disbelief. "Married? Oh, Jim, that's no answer. If we did get married, I'd want to see you more than every year or so on home leave, and..."
"Well, who says you have to stay here on Earth? You could easily get a science position on any ship. Sure, you don't have Academy training, so you'd be out for command, but hell, Carol, your creds are as impressive as any I've seen. Married couples ship out all the time! What do you say?"
"Oh, Jim, I can't say anything now! Look, let's forget about Starfleet, let's forget about the lab, let's just eat supper, then spend a wonderful next few days together. What do you say?"
"I say we forget supper."
Thinking back, months, years later, analyzing the un-analyzable, Kirk knew that time was a turning point for them. The marriage idea grew on him, and he continued to push it, and Marcus, while not giving a definite 'no' answer, managed to divert serious talk about it at every turn. On the surface things were as always, but a rift was growing, and it hurt.
They lay in Kirk's bunk, enjoying the evening, just being together quietly, for the first time in days. "Graduation isn't too far away," Kirk murmured, his face partly covered by Marcus' hair.
"I know." The last couple of days she had been strangely quiet, answering questions in monosyllables, if at all. Her lovemaking had grown, if possible, more passionate, but she, her self that had always been so open to him, was now remote and closed off. He nudged her.
"Think you can plan a wedding in six months?"
"What?!" she sat upright, flinging his arm off.
"Well, you haven't said 'no,' so I figured it was 'yes'." He sat up and began to stroke her back. She practically leapt from the bed at his touch, and strode to the chair, gathering her clothes as she went. She was dressed almost instantly.
"Carol? What's wrong? What did I do?"
"Do? Do? Nothing! Everything's going according to plan, isn't it? A commission, a ship, and a wife tacked on to one of the little science labs onboard. A pet project to set an example for everyone else to follow..." Her voice had risen almost to a scream.
He stared at her, empty mouthed. He had never seen her this way, temper raging completely out of control. He could think of nothing to do or say that would soothe her or stop the flood of bitter words.
She drew a deep, shuddering breath. "I'm sorry, Jim. I guess I'd better go." She made for the door.
"Carol?" She stopped, but did not turn. "Can I call you in a day or so?" His voice sounded meek even to himself. She turned to him, and he saw the tears on her face.
"Yeah, Jim, I'll be okay in a little while. Bye." She was out the door, and it was a long time indeed before Kirk could get to sleep.
"Carol? Are you feeling better?" He had almost not called her, to see if she would get in touch with him, but he had decided not to play games. He loved her, and he wanted her with him. He would do what he needed to do to ensure that. She was literally a different person, the outburst of a few nights ago might never have occurred.
"Hi, Jim! Just listen to this--my cultures have doubled their growth rate! And that's in a vacuum! Just think, once I put them in the new matrix we've developed..." She trailed off sheepishly.
"Sorry--talking shop again. But, yes, I'm all better. But I need to talk to you."
"Same here. Listen, I was going to surprise you, but I thought maybe I'd better talk it over with you first. You know that we have a term break in a month, and then it's back to the grindstone till graduation? Well, I got my uncle's place on the beach. A three-room cottage, sun porch, sailboat, private beach...what do you say? Is four weeks enough notice? We could go and really get things straight between us."
"Oh, yes, Jim! That would be wonderful! And yes, I can get everything farmed out for--how long will we stay?"
"Got a five-day break in classes and weekends on both sides."
"Okay--but..." Her face fell.
"What is it, Carol?"
"I--don't think I'd be able to see you hardly at all before then. Can we just agree to have a glorious reunion? I'm so swamped now...is that okay?"
He didn't like it, but he knew she had been putting off some lab work to spend more time with him, and he owed it to her. "Sure, babe. I'll even plan the menus!"
"Hey, I want to have fun, not be sick for a week! Oh, Jim, I'll be there with bells on! And Jim, I do love you."
"I love you, too." The screen darkened, and he knew he'd have to live on that for four weeks.
Salt spray spewed over the bow of the small sailboat, misting its two passengers. The woman at the tiller gazed steadily at the shifting sails and the fast lightening sky. Sailing into the sunrise was beginning a whole new life.
Kirk watched Marcus as intently as she watched the boat. Since he had taught her to sail their first day at the shore, she had surpassed him in both ability and sheer desire to be on the sea.
Their days here, alone finally, blessedly alone for almost the first time since they had known each other, were drops of pure gold in their lives. Time was precious to them, and they tried somehow to fit all the fun and playing and laughter of a months-long relationship into ten days. Responsibilities ate their lives, and there was so little time to play. Kirk, especially, reveled in their aloneness, feeling for the first time that she truly belonged to him.
"You sail like you make love." She looked up from her work, fastening a level, almost somber gaze on him. Only for a moment, then she smiled, brighter than the dawning sun, but he felt chilled.
"How's that, Jim?" her voice was teasing.
"Passionately and with great skill. You're beautiful, Carol."
She looked down quickly, embarrassed, or... He noticed a tear on her face and slid over to where she was anchored in the tiller's seat.
"Carol, what is it?"
Carefully, and with consummate ease and grace, she brought the small craft into the wind, lowered the sail handily, and dropped the small anchor. They were marooned on a sea of molten glass.
The brief spate of work had dried her tears. She turned to him with a serious but calm face. "Jim, I...I wasn't going to tell you, but then I thought I should. We're both responsible, and we should both know."
"Carol, know what? What's wrong for God's sake?"
"Nothing really, I guess. I'm pregnant."
He sensed a shrinking back in her, though she didn't physically move--as though she expected him to actually attack her. He moved toward her, almost out of reflex, then froze when he saw her face, tight and pinched and small.
"I don't know what to say." He held out his arms to her, and after a brief hesitation, she flew into them. He held her close, feeling the live, lithe, slimness of her. She was so precious to him, her lovely body, her infinite mind, No one had ever challenged him as a person the way she did. He felt he was better for having known her. And he knew, sinkingly, that he could not let her down.
"We'll be married, of course. You can't say 'no', now. I've got a full lieutenant's commission, but I don't have to ship out. I could finagle a desk job..." He trailed off. A desk job... After years at the Academy, after preparing, sweating, cramming, aching to get into space, to the stars, a desk job--was that his destiny?
No! His whole being cried out against it, but his small, inner do-what's-right voice said 'yes.' Inexorably--Yes.
Marcus had straightened up when his voice altered. No tears now, and the beginnings of a smile played on her lips. "You didn't even ask me if I want the baby, Jim."
"You don't want it? Our baby?" he blurted, more surprised at first, then with a sudden pain that cut like a knife--our child.
She cupped her face in her two hands. "Of course I want this baby. I'll be honest, though. It was an accident, and quite a surprise. I didn't plan this, Jim; I want you to know that from the first. I'm very careful about my contraceptives because I've always tested high on fertility level. I either got a bad batch last time, or you, sir, must be very potent. Or both." She changed the subject.
"But, Jim, you can't give up space, I would never ask you to do that. In six months you'd hate your desk job, you'd hate Earth, and more importantly, you'd hate me and the baby."
He bowed his head in light of the truth. She knew him better than he knew himself. How could he let her go?
"Carol, you know you could get a position as a science officer! Any ship would take you! We could wait till I got assigned, then you could come aboard after the baby. What do you say?"
"That's an old argument, Jim. And just what do we do with the baby? Besides, there's the Project. I have to think about that."
The Project was always in capital letters when Marcus talked about it. The Project was her pet.
"But you could work on that in the ship's labs!" His voice cracked in his effort to convince her.
"Yes, and be distracted at every turn by soil analyses, and exo-autopsies, and smear cultures, and everything else. Jim, I'd never get anything done. I'd go nuts! What I'm working on now, and it's just the very, very beginning, mind you, could very well change the entire course of history. I can't give it up before I've even begun!"
But you can give me up, he thought dully. "What about the baby?"
"What do you mean?"
"Can you take enough time from your precious Project to raise a child?"
"Can a starship captain?" she shot back bitterly. "Oh, yes, you'll be a captain, I don't doubt that one bit. No one who saw you and Thrax win the Antares Two Million could doubt that. And where's the time in the center seat to play with a baby? At least in a lab I don't have to worry about him being blown up by the Klingons!"
Her eyes flashed with that special fire that made her so dear to him. Even in his anger, he wanted to hold her, to crush her to him in passion. But he hesitated. She carried new life in her now, and deserved all his respect.
"Carol. Let's not fight, please let's not. We'll work this out, won't we? We always have before. We can. Look, the sun's just up. Let me unfasten this for you." He swiftly unhooked her bikini top, baring her to the golden dawn, save for her brief bottoms. Was it his imagination, or were her breasts already beginning to swell with milk?
His desire was mounting, wiping all the worries of the future away. All he thought of was this woman--his. Carrying a child--his. She fit herself into his arms as though she had been specially molded for them. He buried his face in her neck.
"Is the boat steady enough?"
"Working it out" became an uneasy truce. Marcus, her experiments taking off, became responsible for the efforts of several junior lab techs, and had less and less free time for anything other than bare survival necessities.
Her pregnancy wore easy on her, but the strain of feeding another life began to show, despite her general health. She craved sleep the way other woman claimed to crave pickles and ice cream, and even had a small cot installed in her storage room.
Kirk's Academy life demanded more of his time, and, it seemed, his very soul. He gave gladly, seeing his dream of the stars about to be fulfilled, but Marcus was there, always in the back of his mind, holding him to Earth as surely as the Earth held the moon in its orbit.
Their time together dwindled to brief phone conversations and a precious snatched dinner here and there, but occasionally they stole an entire evening together.
"Carol?" They lay in her comfortable (large) bed, he cradling her against his chest. He absently stroked her belly, which in the four months since her announcement, had swollen noticeably.
"Ummmmm?" As usual these days, she was on the verge of sleep.
"Did you ever think of--not having the baby?" More and more the question bothered him. What if he had never known? She rolled over and put her arms around his neck. Faintly, he felt a light flutter against his stomach.
"Well, yes. It was the first thing I thought. You know--just a few minutes on the table, and everything would stay the same. You'd never have known."
"What stopped you?"
"Yeah. We're good together, Jim. We were from the start. We click. When I got the test results, I thought, Damn, what a nuisance, but then I realized that this--" She patted her stomach "--was the ultimate us. And I wanted it. I may not have you much longer, but I'll always have this."
He held her to him, afraid to talk, afraid his voice would break and reveal his fear of losing her. Slowly, he regained control. "Carol, please marry me. If we have the commitment, we can work our problems out. I know it."
She sat up, cross-legged, her back to him. "Jim, that's not the answer, and I know you know it. Don't you think I want to? I want you. But the part of you I want most belongs light years away from here. And the part of me that you want is even as we speak worrying about the weaker cultures that she exposed to the ultraviolet this afternoon.
"We understand each other. Maybe too well. But we want too much. We want it all. And neither of us can give that to the other. You know that."
He did. He had tried to deny it for weeks, for months, but now he couldn't. He resented, even hated the time she spent at her work, the work that took her away from him, but he knew that were she less dedicated, consumed in her work, that he would not love her as much.
"Guess you're right, lady. You usually are. I just love you so much..." He could not continue. She turned, and he saw the long held-in tears, silvery tracks in the street light coming in through the parted curtains.
"Oh, Jim, I love you, too!" They held each other tightly, passion quiescent under the weight of an inevitable parting. Finally they drew apart and began to dress in unspoken agreement. Kirk went about the room, collecting the few belongings that had accumulated in the past months--a tooth brush, bathrobe, some old clothes.
"You will come to commencement, won't you?"
"Try and keep me away."
"Carol, about the baby--I want to help. To do what I can to be a father. I want you to know that."
"I do know. We'll see." They had arrived at the door and stood awkwardly.
"I--uh--I guess I'll be talking to you."
"Of course. I'll let you know how I'm doing."
Reassurances, vague promises that would not be kept. A clean break, a clean cut heals faster than one that festers. He leaned down and barely brushed his lips against hers.
"Bye, Science Officer."
As he walked down the hall, he felt that a large part of his life had ended, not with a bang or a whimper, but with the sound of a softly closing door.
The commencement ceremonies held a slow, solemn beauty all their own. Until the last moment when the cadets officially became junior officers, and the age-old chaotic tradition of hat-tossing and screaming reigned supreme. No one outdid James T. Kirk in volume or height. After the first festivities, Marcus and Kirk walked a bit apart. Marcus was heavily pregnant now, her face clear and shining, hair lustrous. Kirk thought she had never been more dignified.
"Carol, you are absolutely stunning!"
She blushed. "Captain, you're drunk with success. I am a fat old pregnant cow!"
"The only word in that description that I agree with is 'pregnant.' How are you? Really."
"I'm fine, Jim. All the tests show good. And I feel just as I always have. I'm just a bit clumsy at times."
"What's it gonna be?"
"Aside from normal and healthy, I don't know. I asked them not to tell me. I want a surprise."
"What do you want?"
"I think a boy. Have since I first found out. In fact, I haven't even picked out a girl's name."
"What name did you pick for a boy?"
She faced him squarely. "David James Marcus."
"I see. Well, I guess I should be glad you included me at all."
She whirled at his tone, but seeing the real hurt in his face, she relented. "It's for good reason, Jim. People have been understanding about me, but children can be especially cruel. If he and I had different names, people would ask questions, make up stories..."
"Are you going to tell him about me at all?" He was angry now and making no effort to hide it. It reflected her own feelings.
"I don't know."
"Well. I guess you know from talking to my mother that I'll be shipping out in ten days."
"Yes. She told me. She's very proud of you. I know she wonders about the baby, but she didn't ask. And I didn't tell her. And I'm proud of you, too, damn it! Your dream is coming true, isn't it, Jim?"
He read real admiration and respect in her silver-blue eyes, and his anger melted. "Yeah. I'm finally going. Finally. God, it feels so good, Carol. You just wouldn't believe..." The old, enthusiastic, conquer-the-world tone was back in his voice, and better, it was back in his soul. He stopped and grinned at her. "On the other hand, I bet you do know how I feel."
"Yep. Jim, your mom, Thrax, Spock, Lystra and Gary are over there waiting--and not too patiently, if I judge Gary Mitchell's expression. Come on."
"Lieutenant Kirk, report to Captain Garrovick in Briefing Room Six. Lieutenant Kirk," came the address over the loud speaker. Kirk quickly made his way to the briefing room. Garrovick was not a man to be kept waiting.
"You wanted to see me, sir?" Lieutenant Kirk asked.
"Yes, Kirk, at ease. I've go some news for you, boy."
"Yes, indeed. I'm sure that this important event has slipped your mind with all the hustle of a new commission and your forthcoming assignment to Neural, but you're the father of a healthy, eight and one-half pound baby boy! Congratulations!"
Kirk stared at him, hearing, but not comprehending. Him? A father? Carol! Oh, Carol, I should have been there with you! With him.
Captain Garrovick shoved a chair behind Kirk's slowly bending knees. "I see you're overwhelmed with the whole thing, so I pulled a few strings. If you hop on the shuttle that's leaving for repairs in about an hour, you can be on Starbase Seven tomorrow and on Earth the day after that. Well?"
Kirk snapped out of it. "Oh, yes! Yes, sir, I really appre--"
"Never mind, never mind. I have a son, too, you know. Go on, get packed!"
"Oh, God, Carol, he's beautiful!" Kirk's voice was a whisper of awe. The tiny boy was tucked deftly in the crook of his mother's arm. Marcus had already left the hospital when Kirk arrived, so he had knocked on her door, hesitantly, since he had sent no advance notice. But she had welcomed him readily.
"Look at his fingernails! He really has fingernails!" The minuscule hands clasped and unclasped spasmodically. David was awake and quiet, looking around and taking stock.
"Don't you want to hold him?" Marcus' voice was teasing.
"I don't know. He's so...little."
"C'mon, he won't break. Here!" She thrust the baby out and instinctively he cradled the infant to him. He felt so incredibly warm and alive. Me, he thought, part of me. Us. He looked up at Marcus and back at David.
"Your chin. And your temper."
"Uh-uh. Our temper!"
"Right again, Captain. Well, Jim, is it all it's cracked up to be? Space, I mean. The Service?"
He shifted David to his other arm, looked down at him and at the woman in the bed. He opened his mouth to tell her of the wonders he had seen, the places yet to go, and knew then that their time together was fully over. Even with her, he couldn't explain the unexplainable. He shut his mouth.
"Yeah," he said softly, nuzzling David's chicken-fuzz hair. The child smelled so clean--so new. He handed the baby back to Marcus. "Are you doing okay, do you need anything? Money, groceries...?"
"No, Jim, I'm fine. My work has progressed steadily since you've been gone. I've had a raise, and even put in for a funding grant. I've got a six-week leave, and I've lined up a live-in. We'll do fine."
"Yep," he agreed, "we will."
She looked up at him, her eyes soft, but without tears. "David makes up for a lot, Jim. He'll always be us."
"I guess there's no way you would..." He stopped and smiled wryly. "Had to give it one last try, Science Officer."
"I know, Captain."
"Just one question, Carol--are you going to tell him?"
"I don't know. There's time for that. But if--when--I do, I want it to be my time."
Resentment flared briefly. She would. Of course. That was Carol Marcus through and through.
"I have three more days, but maybe it's better if I go now..." The aching sadness was back. Saying goodbye to her would never be easy.
"Jim, I do love you. I think I always will. Damn it, I wouldn't have had just anybody's baby, you know!" Anger to cover hurt, humor to cover the pain of a lingering loss. He reached down and stroked her hair.
"I know, Carol. Oh, believe me, I know." There was nothing else to do but let himself out after kissing David one last time.
The trip back was uneventful, and Captain Garrovick, seeing Kirk's set face, did not comment on his early return to duty.
As the years passed, there were communiqués, some holograms, occasional visits with baseball and zoo trips, David grew strong and healthy, Marcus became well-respected, even famous in her field.
And on David's ninth birthday, just after an especially good visit, he received a stargram: "Have contracted with Starfleet on special project. Will be moving operations to Starbase Fifteen. What a twist, me in space! Will send details later. Love!"
The last message. Nothing followed. He toyed with the idea of contacting the base to see if she was still there, but declined. If she wanted him, she could damn well find him.
And now, the final turn. She, on Regula One, in space, working there in plain sight of that breathtaking Mutara Nebula, and he, deskbound, old, used up. How had it happened, she flourishing into middle age, and he already past his prime?
He shook himself as the turbolift slid to a halt. The message that a call from Marcus was waiting had shaken him. In a seconds-long lift ride, he had relived half a life. After all this time, why now would she be calling? "Oh, Carol..." The 'might have beens' clamored noisily in his head.
McCoy at his side--"It never rains, but it pours." His usual feeble attempt at humor. Sometimes Spock was right about him.
Kirk whirled. "As a physician, you of all people should know the danger of reopening old wounds." He marched to his cabin, steeling himself for what he feared would be the most difficult confrontation of his career. He was only too right...
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