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Chapter Notes: Captain McAfee attends a funeral and has an awkward meeting with Captain James T. Kirk.

Chapter One

Stardate 4739.6 (28 August 2268)
Starfleet Academy, San Francisco, Earth

Captain McAfee walked briskly across the Academy quad, passing the Tucker Engineering Building and two new dormitories before nearing her destination, the old faculty office building that dated back to the original Presidio.

A few students nodded in greeting but quickly made way, seeing the flinty look in her eye. Captain McAfee was not in a good mood.

A cadet carrying a dummy phaser rifle and walking off demerits, paused and offered a rather smart rifle salute. McAfee grunted but continued her resolute march to her office.

Inside, the old building was considerably darker and cooler than the sunny summer day she left outdoors. Eschewing the turbo-lift, she stepped quickly up the old wooden stairs, her bootfalls echoing in the stairwell as she worked off nervous energy.

Finally, on the fourth floor, she moved down the carpeted hallway until she came to a tall, wooden door with frosted glass. Adjacent to the door was a sign with the room number and her name. She opened the door, and managed not to slam it once she was inside.

Her office spoke of an old and rich academic heritage. The paneled walls gleamed and tall bookcases contained eclectic items from numerous worlds. Awards, citations, family holo-pics and even a few actual books vied for space on the shelves. McAfee’s two diplomas, one from the Academy, the other a Master’s degree in Interstellar Relations from Columbia University, adorned a wall near the single tall window.

She unfastened the collar of the uncomfortable dress uniform tunic and settled into the large, leather chair behind the old oak desk that was centered in the office. She paused a moment, frowning in thought, then opened the bottom right-hand drawer revealing a bottle containing a glowing blue liquid. She retrieved the bottle and a glass from the drawer and stared at for a moment. With a sigh, she placed the glass and the bottle back in the drawer and closed it.

Leaning back in the chair, she relished the cool leather against her neck. The funeral for Captain Jeff Harris had ended a little over half an hour earlier in the Academy Chapel. Two admirals, a family minister, and Jeff’s brother had all spoken over the flag-draped casket. Grace had sat immediately behind Jeff’s parents and watched his mother weep soundlessly throughout the service. McAfee didn’t remember much of the eulogies, just a few random words about duty, honor, sacrifice . . . Blah, blah, blah.

She vaguely remembered seeing Commodore Robert Wesley and a few other Constitution-class commanders, including Jim Kirk. She had left as soon as the service was over, in no mood for conversation.

A knock on her door caused her to frown in irritation. “My office hours are posted by the door, mister. Read them and go."

To her utter astonishment, the door began to open. She stood from her chair, prepared to verbally flail the hide from the offending cadet.

But, to her greater surprise, it was not a cadet with a death-wish that intruded, but a fellow captain, namely, James T. Kirk.

Kirk wore an apologetic look on his face. “Captain McAfee? I’m sorry to intrude. I was hoping I could speak with you just a moment.”

More curious than angry, Grace gestured to one of the wing-back chairs facing her desk. “Please. Have a seat.”

Kirk moved into her office, looking vaguely uncomfortable, whether from the dress uniform or something else, she couldn’t tell.

Grace didn’t like feeling off-balance, so she decided to take the initiative. “I was going to have some coffee. Would you like some?”

Kirk smiled as he settled into the chair. “Yes, coffee would be fine.”

McAfee moved to the beverage servitor on the credenza. “Cream? Sugar?” she asked.

“Black is fine, thanks.”

She added some sugar and a bit of cream to her coffee before carrying a cup to Kirk, who nodded in appreciation. She retook her place behind her desk, taking a sip and regarding her younger colleague. This wasn’t the brash, cocky young Starship captain renowned as a lady’s man throughout the quadrant. The man sitting before her looked tired and haggard. In spite of herself, McAfee felt a twinge of sympathy for Kirk.

He took a sip of his coffee and placed the cup on a side table. Leaning forward, he pursed his lips, seeking a way to begin. Grace sipped her coffee in silence, allowing him to gather his thoughts.

“Captain McAfee,” he began at last, “I know that you and Captain Harris were . . . close. And . . . I am the one responsible for his death. For that, I am profoundly sorry.”

Grace placed her cup on the desk. “Captain, my understanding is that the whole thing was a terrible accident. You eventually shut down the M-5 computer, probably preventing more deaths.” She paused, frowning. “Pardon me for saying so, but isn’t this a conversation you should be having with Jeff’s parents?”

Kirk nodded. “I already have.”

“Oh,” said McAfee, abashed, “Well, that was decent of you. But I still don’t see why you felt the need to come here. Jeff and I haven’t been a couple in over five years.”

Kirk gazed at her with unnerving intensity. “That may be. But you can’t tell me he didn’t matter to you; there was still a connection, wasn’t there?”

Part of McAfee wanted to tell Kirk to get out, to tell him it was none of his god-damned business, but she merely nodded. “Yes,” she said, finally. “Yes there was.”

He nodded, then cleared his throat. “Captain, I . . .”

She held up a hand. “Look, Kirk. Can we knock off the ‘Captain’ stuff? Just call me Grace and I’ll call you Jim. It doesn’t mean we’re going steady or anything like that.”

Kirk chuckled and he seemed to relax a bit. “Thanks. Being back here at the Academy, well, it brought back memories of standing at attention before Captain Ashrood’s desk. I feel a little like a plebe again, walking through these halls.”

But the levity quickly faded. “Grace, I know technically I didn’t kill Jeff and the 412 others who died on Excalibur, but I was in command when my ship fired on her and the Lexington.” He paused, “M-5 was in control, but it was still my ship and my responsibility. Do you understand?”

Grace thought back to those awful hours on the Ranger when her ship was dying, their attackers still unknown, and the awful fear that her crew might perish. Thankfully, none of them did, but it had been a very near thing. If the Potempkin had not arrived when it did . . .

“Yes, I think I do understand.” She regarded him, seeing him in a different light. He might be cocky, even reckless at times. But Jim Kirk cared. He cared deeply for his friends, his colleagues, and yes, even his rivals.

Kirk nodded. “I thought you might. I had to let you know . . . that I am sorry.” He shook his head. “I’ll never forget standing on the bridge, seeing my ship fire a full-power phaser salvo at Excalibur, and I . . . couldn’t . . . stop it.” The anguish in his voice was palpable.

“Jim, I honestly don’t blame you for what happened. But if you need forgiveness, well . . . I forgive you.”

Kirk let out a breath and smiled. “Thank you.”

She smirked. “But you’re not getting off the hook for that ‘handsome woman’ crack you made at the New Year’s party on Starbase 13 two years ago.”

His face reddened. “First, I had a little too much to drink that night. Second . . . I didn’t know you could hear me.”

“I didn’t. But word got to me.” She smiled at his discomfiture. “Sorry about the ‘pretty little man’ crack.”

He laughed, now at ease for the first time since entering her office. “I’ve been called worse.”

“I can believe that,” she said. She fixed him with a gaze. “Truce?”

Kirk nodded. “Truce. Friends?”

“We’ll see. I’m still ticked that you got the Enterprise instead of me. It’s galling that in the 23rd century, there’s still a 'good ‘ol boys club' and they all command Connies.”

Kirk wore a knowing grin. “Perhaps. But things change, Grace.”

She frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean? What have you heard, Kirk?”

But the captain of the Enterprise merely stood, ignoring her question. “Thanks for the coffee, Grace. . . and for understanding.” He pulled his communicator from his hip and flipped open the grid.

“Kirk to Enterprise.”

“Enterprise, Spock here.”

“One to beam up, Mr. Spock.” He flipped the communicator shut. This time, his grin was very cocky. “See you around the galaxy, Grace.”

“Dammit, Jim Kirk, what have you heard?”

But Captain James T. Kirk disappeared in a kaleidoscope of transporter effect and could no longer answer.

To be continued

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