Author's Note: I really can't believe it. THIS IS NOW FINISHED. *THUD.* I am looking forward to writing more stories, but I will take a short little break, as fall is just the busiest time and I need to get reacquainted with my schedule. Not too long, because my fingers- and mind- are itching to share a few more stories. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for all the follows, favorites, and reviews. They keep a writer going...seriously. And DLB48...I can't say enough.

Author's Note: I am posting a sequel to Escape Artist! Check out Return to Riverside!

Chapter 23

Lenore began a new habit- nibbling at her nails. She'd already heard the rumor.

"He's almost ready, Lenore." Lieutenant Uhura sat beside Lenore on the bed in her temporary quarters. "Dr. McCoy wheeled him through the corridors. The captain managed to sit up for an entire hour. He's resting again, now."

"I...I'm glad." Lenore tried to sound happier, as she had been ten days ago when she learned the captain had awakened. Ten days was a long time to wait to tell someone thank you. It hurt her heart to know she had been refused.

She'd heard that rumor, too. A young nurse and ensign had talked too much, too loudly.

"Hey," Uhura put an arm around Lenore. "I know you wanted to thank him earlier. You needed some time to cope with things, and he did too. I am sorry you've had to wait on this ship to do what your heart tells you."

"I've enjoyed my time on this ship, Lieutenant," Lenore replied with a half-smile. She really had, but again, the waiting had begun to take its toll on her.

"But..." Uhura was very intuitive. "You are unhappy with him."

"I..I..." Lenore began to sob. "What did I do, to make him not want to see me?"

"You've both suffered a traumatic experience."

"There's more to it than that, Lieutenant, I know it," Lenore fussed with cleaning her face with the tissue Uhura handed her.

"I can't speak for the captain," Uhura softly said. "Only he can explain to you why it has taken him time to meet with you."

"Will you be there, when we talk?"

"Ambassador Spock will, and the Commander. Perhaps Dr. Marcus."

"His girlfriend."

Uhura's smile was more of a smirk. "How did you know that."

Lenore couldn't help but giggle. "When Dr. Marcus visited me yesterday, she hardly talked but roamed around my room aimlessly. I knew she had just spent a few hours with him. She does that often."

"And you, Lenore. I've seen you talk with Kevin frequently since you've been on the Enterprise."

"I'm going to have to go back to school, you know. I probably won't ever see him again." It made Lenore sad, thinking of not being around Kevin. Their relationship was only friendship, though. Nothing more.

"Oh, don't be so dramatic," Uhura teased. "If he's as good as a friend as I think he is to you now, I'm certain he will find a way."

"I don't know." Lenore frowned. "I'm confused, Uhura."

"It's natural at your age." Uhura's ponytail flipped back and forth as she shook her head. "It happens still at my age. Try dating a Vulcan."

"He's a nice Vulcan. He's been very cordial to me. I bet he hasn't ever betrayed you." Like Memphis did to me. Like my father.

"Lenore, is Memphis someone you've known when you lived as Kodos' daughter? I had considered that, finding out a bit of your past." The way Uhura tentatively posed the question allowed Lenore to open up more than she wanted to.

"I guess you could say that I "met" him when I was ten, after I came to live with..." Lenore bit back the words 'my father.'

Uhura gently rubbed her back. It relaxed Lenore. She could do this. She could tell someone.

"He didn't know who I was, just as I didn't. He told me a few days ago when Commander Spock let me visit Memphis. He looked awful. He looked guilty. He didn't stop crying. He also asked if I could ever forgive him."

"What did you say?"

"For the most part, when I knew Memphis, I liked the guy. He followed me around lots when I got a little older. I knew he had a crush. Well, it was more of an obsession. Then this...Uhura," Lenore began to cry again. "Memphis wanted me, Uhura. He said he got so blinded by what Sloan was telling him to do that he used Kodos to get to me. He did not want to hurt me. But what makes my heart ache worse is that Memphis has been tormented by whatever Sloan gave him, similar to what happened to Captain Kirk. He hasn't been himself for several years. Now that he is beginning to be himself, thanks to Dr. McCoy's medical expertise, I see that I care for him."

The lieutenant's arms wrapped around Lenore. She'd needed Uhura's friendship. She'd spent several days in a tirade of tears and had not even talked with Uhura until seven days ago. The first few days coming aboard the Enterprise she'd been a mess and barely spoke to anyone.

Lenore allowed the comfort. She desired to stay on the Enterprise, where she felt needed. The ship had grown on her. Her life outside of here was scary, unknown.

"Memphis will have answer to what he did," Uhura said softly. "But, I do know that Captain Kirk is a man of integrity and he cares for Memphis as a friend, even now. He will do what is right for Memphis, Lenore. And he will do what is right for you."

"I am going to miss you, Lieutenant." Lenore stood up. Regaining her composure meant she could leave without looking foolish. It also meant she could stand on her own two feet as she stepped out an orphan. "But I must say, I'm going to miss the Vulcan children even more."

"I see your attachment to them. So does Commander Spock. He wanted to talk to you about that before you left with the Ambassador."

Lenore frowned. "Did I do something wrong?"

"No, no." Uhura rushed to say. "He said you have a natural ability working with them and wanted you to consider rethinking your major at the university. Or, attending a different place altogether. Starfleet could use someone with your heart and experience."

"Oh." The thought gave her a glimmer of hope. "Oh."

"I see that I surprised you."

"I...well..." Lenore could not speak.

"You have time. You just began your studies at the university. I'm sure Ambassador Spock could assist you in your decision as well, when you feel up to talking about it."

"I do have to travel back to Earth with him."

"I think that's a perfect time."

"After to me..." Lenore couldn't smile back at Uhura as she thought of Kodos.

"After all he did to you, you stood up for what was right. You are the type of person we need in Starfleet." Uhura strode to the door, her confidence spilling over to Lenore. "Are you ready? We will wait in the conference room."

Lenore paused. Could she do this after all? She repeated Uhura's comments to herself. It made sense. It really did. Yes, she could meet Captain Kirk. She could stand up for what was right.

Her sense of purpose was returning.

"I will make sure I can be there with you. I have connections." Uhura said lightly. Lenore had already made up her mind, whether or not the lieutenant would be there with her in the room.

Lenore straightened her posture. "Lieutenant, I'm ready."

She'd leave shortly after this meeting, getting on with her life. But first, she needed to let herself heal and tell the man who had rescued her as a child the most simplest of words- thank you. Yet, they held so much meaning, and were heavy on her heart.

Lieutenant Uhura walked with her and they sat in the conference room, waiting for a short while. Ambassador Spock entered first. The commander and captain came in together. Commander Spock pushed the captain's chair and even placed a hand on Captain Kirk's shoulder. Dr. McCoy placed himself right beside the captain and Dr. Marcus stood quietly there as well but made no move to interfere with the first officer's closeness.

Captain Kirk struck an impressive figure even recuperating from his injuries and sitting in a wheelchair. His handsomeness surprised her. She'd only seen him beaten and in chains. His uniform hung on him somewhat, and he still looked tired, despite what Uhura had told her about his resting. However, his eyes went straight for her as he'd entered.

Lenore was taken aback as she stared at them.

A gorgeous, stunning blue they were. Had they always been that way, except for when Kodos had drugged him? Something haunting pressed in her memory about his eyes and a tear slipped down her face.

Uhura squeezed her arm and hung on to her a bit, just as Commander Spock seemed to be comforting the captain.

How could this man be JT? He managed to become a...a...captain? After all he went through.

"You give me hope," Lenore whispered. She could not draw herself from those magnificent eyes, which now filled with tears and overflowed onto his slightly scarred face. Uhura did mention that Revlair's ice did a number on him, face included, and the scarring would need evasive treatment from a newer instrument to be healed.

He drew a hand to his face and before his emotions were hidden, Lenore found herself scrambling out of her own chair and coming to kneel before him. She took hold of his hands- firmly. Lenore knew she was being presumptuous, especially by the reinforcing look the first office gave her.

But she would not move. Captain Kirk did not jerk away from her touch, but stared at her hands on his. He blinked several times and bit his lip as if attempting to school his features. A few tears continued to drift onto his cheeks.

"Captain Kirk...JT...I do not know what to call you, sir," Lenore said.

She waited, for something, for anything, to come from Captain Kirk, that he acknowledged her presence.

"Miss Karidian, you may call me Jim."

It was a start, and probably all she would get from the captain. So she smiled. As big as she could. She could not remember the horrors of what they experienced on Tarsus. She had horrors to last a lifetime now anyways, but some uncanny strength came from within her as she knelt before Captain Kirk. He needed her strength.

"Jim, thank you."

The captain shook his head vehemently. "No. You shouldn't thank me."

"Yes," Lenore would not let anymore time past for her to make him understand. "It was not your fault. I do not blame you."

"No," the captain still flung her thank you back at her. He was not going to make this easy. "I failed you."

"You're stubborn, Jim, but so am I." Lenore leaned even closer, getting him to look at her. "I will pester you day and night until you acknowledge that you saved my life and accept my thank you."

He gave her a crooked smile. "Pester me?

"Yes, sir. And for the next several days I'll have 14 Vulcan children who are willing to pester you also."

Jim narrowed his eyes at her. "I can't forgive myself for what happened to you."

"I am sorry that you cannot, sir," Lenore said honestly. "I hope you can find that closure. Until then, can you accept my thank you. That's all I ask."
"The Vulcan children are conspiring against me, huh?" Jim slouched in his chair and sighed.

"Yes, sir."


"Yes, sir, Jim," Lenore stood up, lifting her chin. Anything to look like she could hold her own. He was the captain of the Enterprise, after all.

And she merely seventeen.

"Little Red." Everyone but Ambassador Spock and the commander leaned in as Captain Kirk barely spoke the name.


"That's what we called you." Jim swallowed. His face became a bit pale. "Little Red, I accept your thank you."

As Jim accepted her words, the others in the room seemed to let out a collective sigh of relief.

Nothing more was said between Lenore and Jim until after Lenore said her goodbyes to Uhura and Dr. Marcus. Ambassador Spock and Commander Spock were leading her from the room when Lenore heard Jim's voice.

"I hope we meet again, Lenore. Under different circumstances." His sincerity caused a skip in her heart.

It was what she wanted, too. "Yes, Jim. I hope so. Someday."

It hadn't been at all what Jim had expected. Meeting with Lenore. Her resolve astonished him. His own surrender had startled him. When she left with Spock for a few moments to talk before leaving the ship, he felt a sense of pride for her strength. When he was well enough, he'd send her a note. A better note than what he had vocalized.

At least he hadn't embarrassed himself fully.

Jim's fear was real. If it hadn't been for Spock's hand on his shoulder as he faced her, Jim's panic would have become full-fledged.

That hand on his shoulder- Spock's devotion to Jim today caused another root of friendship to grow. When Spock refused to let Bones or Carol push Jim's wheelchair to the conference room, Jim's chest filled with warmth for his first officer.

Spock wasn't human, he did not give Jim a hug like Bones did in the worst of times or share a drink, or the comfort of a smile.

Instead, Spock could sense what Jim needed before Jim voiced it. Just as he did with Lenore. Jim had wanted Spock to be there for him. Spock had seen almost everything. Spock had seen child-Lenore.

In Jim's mind, having Spock's support was logical. Spock had met with the same conclusion.

It was a part of this fledgling friendship with the first officer Jim never wanted to disappear. He'd fight for it, with his life.

But first, he'd like to rest.

"Jim, you're nodding off like an old man."

"It's because you push the wheelchair like one," Jim muttered, feeling a strain in his neck as he tried to rest en route to his quarters. "Still can't find your workout schedule?"

"Just for that, I'm wheeling you back to sickbay."

"Oh, no. No you don't." Jim's eyes flew open. "You promised. My quarters."

"Not yet, kid," Bones grinned.

"You don't smile. If you smile, you're doing something evil." Jim inspected the smile even more. It was truly scary. "What is it?"


Sickbay loomed, literally loomed ahead for Jim. Bones ignored Jim's protests the rest of the way. Bones promptly had Jim placed in the same biobed he'd been occupying for days.

"Bones, this is not funny." Whining sometimes won Bones over and Jim was not above trying it yet again. "Bones, you promised. Come on, Bones."

"It's important, trust me." Bones lifted his PADD.

"Captain, we have something for you." Uhura bounded alongside the bed. Her buoyancy of spirit irritated him.

"Uhura, it's time for my nap." Jim purposely turned away from her and slid his eyes shut.

"Oh, no you don't."

"Carol?" Jim groaned. "Not you, too. Can't a man get some rest? That was draining. I'm tired. Really, I am."

"Nope," Bones said. "Got it."

"Got what?"

"Take a look."

Jim straightened himself around on the bed as best he could. "Of all the things you guys have to do, you bug me when I'm trying to...what the hell!"

Carol and Uhura held purple, pink, and orange bottles of nail polish, open and ready. An adorably happy Joanna McCoy peered right at Jim from a PADD set up on a stand at the end of Jim's bed.

"Pardon Uncle Jim's language, sweetheart," the smug doctor said to his beloved daughter, as he helped Jim sit up in the elevated bed.

"I know, daddy!"

Jim glared at Carol and Uhura. "I know I said I'd do this, on the tape. But, really? Now?"

Uhura shrugged innocently. Carol gave him her usual brilliant smile.

"Uncle Jim, daddy said you're going to have a nail polishing party with me. And then you are going to show all your friends on the bridge."

Jim cleared his throat. He may as well make the best of the situation. "That's right, Joanna, and did your daddy tell you that he's going to have fun with us, too?"

"Daddy! You're going to paint your nails, too? Pink! All pink!"

"This was not how things were supposed to go." Bones growled as Uhura took one of his hands. A pink color now graced the doctor's thumb and index finger. "Why is it you always come out on top, Jimmy?"

"I'm just happy I get a masculine color like orange to go along with the purple," Jim whispered. "Now, what's your problem. Be happy. This is for Joanna."

"Captain, what shall we use first?" Carol asked, her formality a staged front. She proceeded to apply the purple with precision.

"You chose perfectly. I happen to love purple," Jim turned to the PADD, hoping Joanna heard. She did and waved at Jim, as happy as before.

"I'm proud of you, Jim," Carol's tempered her voice, speaking only for him.

She wasn't talking about the five year old's nail polish party. It was a weighted statement, combining Lenore and psychotherapy into one.

"We need you back," she continued.

"I am not doing it for the chair." Jim raised his free hand and tucked it behind her neck. He pulled her close with the little bit of strength he'd regained from therapy. "I am doing it for you, Carol."

Her lips molded to his. He attacked the kiss with abandonment, deepening it with Carol with each second.

Until he realized how young one of the audience was.

"Guess I got carried away, Bones," Jim stammered and broke away from Carol. Joanna giggled. Carol flushed and went back to work, this time using orange.

Bones' expression was stoic for a moment, then it relaxed. "Jim, it's been a long time that I've wanted something like this for you."

The touching confession from Bones caused Jim to look down at his lap. "Bones, I could still mess it up."

"Pretty hands, kid." Bones smirked. "I'm talking about you having pretty hands."

Jim grinned at the usual fashion he and Bones danced around the seriousness of a moment. He'd not have it another other way.