DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2015 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.

A Friend in Need

 

by Djinn

 

 

 

Chapel was working at one of the comm stations, sitting in the big room rather than her cushy office because she liked to feel the energy of the main ops space.  If anyone seemed to mind, she would stay in her office, but she was an ops lifer and that counted for something around here.  She could sit anywhere she liked without people freezing up in an annoying "the boss is around" way.

 

Montenegro and Cassat walked in, fresh off a mission that should have been fairly standard.  She stood and gestured for them to meet her in her office for a quick debrief.

 

As they stood, she leaned against her desk and asked "Anything I should know?"

 

Montenegro was the more senior of the two, and she took the lead.  "Pretty much textbook, which is what we all expected."

 

Chapel nodded.  How often did textbook stay that way?  She could tell Montenegro was glad it had.

 

Cassat had a strange look on his face, so Chapel said softly, "Something you want to add, Rick?"

 

"Diplomatic was strange."

 

"Diplomatic is always strange.  They are a world unto themselves."  Chapel pushed herself off the desk.  "Who was leading the delegation?"

 

"Ambassador Sarek," Montenegro said.  "He was somewhat erratic toward the end of our stay."

 

"Erratic?  Erratic how?"  Chapel wanted to close her eyes and take a deep breath: she'd been expecting this.  Amanda had told her Sarek should be close to his next Pon Farr.  She'd told Chapel this on her deathbed, had wanted to make sure Chapel would "take care of him."

 

Which she would—she'd promised a friend, after all.  But it was entirely possible Sarek had his own arrangements made for the Pon Farr.

 

Cassat met her eyes.  "He seemed...out of sorts, for a Vulcan anyway.  He actually had a little bit of a hissy fit when the catering he'd ordered didn't have enough entrees the Nairdlikins would enjoy.

 

"A hissy fit?"  Chapel knew her expression was amused.

 

"Well, for a Vulcan, I mean.  For a human, maybe not."

 

"Look, even Vulcans have bad days.  Go home and get some sleep.  I'll see you back here in a couple of days."

 

They nodded and hurried out.  One of the best things about being done with an ops mission were the days off you got once you were home.  Sleeping with no threat of disease or natural disasters or war interrupting your rest: it was damn near heaven, unless you had bad dreams about what you'd just been through.  Nightmares kind of came with the territory.

 

She remembered those days, even if she didn't live them anymore.  Being in charge meant being on Earth, which she didn't mind.  She'd had enough travelling—seen enough carnage and death—to last a lifetime.

 

She went back to the post she'd taken outside, continuing to read her comms until it was time to go.  She went home, took a quick shower and changed into civilian clothes, then commed the Vulcan embassy.  "This is Captain Chapel.  Is Ambassador Sarek available?"

 

She was transferred to Semek, Sarek's personal assistant who had always been very accommodating to her when she'd visited Amanda and Sarek, who said, "The ambassador is in.  Did you wish to be put through?"

 

"I'd rather come see him.  If he's free in, say, half an hour?"

 

Semek glanced away, no doubt at a scheduling screen.  "He has a meeting in ten minutes.  Then he is free for the next hour.  After that he will be away on personal time for several days."

 

Several: remarkably unspecific for a Vulcan—maybe Sarek had made his own arrangements and this would all be moot.  "Fine.  I'll be by then.  Thank you."

 

He nodded and signed off.

 

Chapel sat down and caught up with personal correspondence until it was time to leave, then walked quickly to the embassy.  The guards waved her in and Semek saw her and pointed upstairs with a look she couldn't read—although that was sort of the point with most Vulcans.

 

She was being sent to Sarek's private chambers, the ones he used to share with Amanda.  Which was probably more fitting for the conversation Chapel was going to have with him than in an office with Semek sitting right outside.  She knocked gently on the door, heard heavy footsteps coming toward her—was he stomping?  He usually walked so softly.

 

He opened the door, his face composed, but in his eyes she saw an energy that normally didn't show through his perfect Vulcan demeanor.  "Christine."

 

"Sarek."  She smiled slowly.  "May I come in?"

 

"Of course."  He moved away, then shut the door, standing facing away for a long moment before he turned to her.  "What can I do for you?"

 

"I think the question might be more what I can do for you." 

 

His face changed—was that anger she was seeing?  "I am not sure what you mean."

 

She took a slow, steadying breath and took a step toward him.  "Amanda told me your time was close."

 

"My wife would not normally speak of such things."

 

"You're right.  But she was dying.  And she wanted to make sure that you were...taken care of."

 

His eyebrow rose, so much like Spock's.  "I see.  And you are offering to assist me?"  There was something in his voice she couldn't identify, but she didn't like it.

 

"Look, if you've made other arrangements, we can pretend this conversation never happened.  But I made her a promise, so I had to come see you after I heard you were a bit...erratic on your last mission."

 

Again the anger in his face.  "So you will take care of me in my time of need?"  He moved closer, his expression turning hard.  "Just as you have no doubt taken care of my son?"

 

"Whoa."  She actually had to put a hand out to stop his progress, his skin was hot, even just touching the robe she could feel how he was burning.  "I never.  Not with Spock."  Not that she hadn't offered, but he'd never wanted her. 

 

"Are you lying to me, Christine?"

 

"You know what, Sarek.  Screw you."  She turned and this time he moved lightly because his hand was on her before she heard him take a step.

 

"Are you my son's lover?"

 

"No.  I'm not."  She tried to shake off his hand, failed and felt the first inkling of fear. 

 

He seemed to read her fear, for his expression changed, and he dropped his hand.  "I beg pardon.  I am not myself."

 

"I know."  She took a deep breath and was dismayed to hear how shaky it was.  "Sarek, just tell me you've made alternate arrangements, and I'll get the hell out of here."

 

He closed his eyes.  "I have not."

 

"What were you going to do?"  She saw his expression change, from anger to something sadder, something lost.  How much was he missing Amanda?  He'd been off world so much—had he been burying himself in work?  Chapel felt guilty; she should have checked on him earlier.  Amanda had expected her to be there for him and she very nearly hadn't. "Were you going to let yourself die?"

 

"I am unsure."  He turned away and walked to the window, clutching the sides of his robe as if that would somehow steady him.  "I miss my wife, Christine."

 

"I know you do.  I do, too."  She wasn't sure what to do, whether to turn and leave him to his fate, as he seemed to prefer—but she knew was a plan Amanda would not approve of—or to walk over to him and do what she did best: deal with an emergency.  Finally she settled for saying, "If Amanda had wanted you to die, she wouldn't have told me to come."

 

"Logical."  There was a note of resignation in his voice, surrender, even.  "Do you wish this?  Do you have feelings for me?"

 

"You're my friend.  And so was Amanda.  I wouldn't let myself have feelings for you when she was alive.  And now..."  She sighed and he turned, his eyes burning into her.

 

"You still love my son."

 

"Don't say it like that.  Like in all these years I'm not smart enough to realize that I'll never have him—or that his heart wasn't given to Jim Kirk.  I used to be in love with your son.  But I never knew him and I still don't, not to the degree one would expect from a friend, much less a lover."  She folded her arms across her chest, protecting herself, she knew, but was willing to give that to him, knowing he'd read her body language perfectly.  "Everyone thinks I can't give up, but I can.  I have."

 

"Would you be here if my wife had not asked you to be?"  He moved closer to her.

 

"I'm not sure I would have realized what you were going through if she hadn't told me it was close."

 

"But if you had, and she had not asked, would you have come?"

 

He seemed to want honesty from her, so she closed her eyes and murmured, "I don't know."

 

"I release you from the promise my wife forced upon you.  It was not fair of her...not right."  He seemed to be clutching his robe even tighter.  "You may go."

 

"I don't want you to die."

 

He nodded in a way that could mean anything.

 

She reached down and pried his fingers from his robe, holding his hands in hers, feeling the heat pouring off him before she let go of him.  "Let me help you."

 

He took a shuddering breath.  "I will look for her, Christine.  If we are together, I will look for her in you—in your mind when we meld.  She was my wife, my mate, my—"

 

"Your life.  I know.  But the Federation needs you, Sarek.  So if you call out for her, if you look for her in me, then so be it."  She moved closer, ran her hand down his cheek, then dropped down to his chest, then lower.

 

He moaned—a sound she hadn't expected him to make.

 

"How close are you?"

 

"Imminent."

 

"Let me arrange some leave.  I have lots.  How many days will I need?"

 

"Two—three to be safe."  He spoke softly, no longer arguing, apparently.  Resigned to this—to her.  He went back to the window and resumed his study of whatever was so interesting on the other side, while she called work and took four days off, adding an extra day in case she needed time to recover.  Fortunately, while emergencies might never take time off, it was a slow week for her as far as meetings and special briefings were concerned. 

 

She studied Sarek, then eased to the door.  "I'm going to my apartment.  It's not far.  I need a few things."

 

His head shot up, and he looked at her with an intensity that almost unnerved her, then he said softly, "Perhaps we both should go?  It would give us more privacy then here."

 

She nodded, knowing that Vulcans usually retreated to places marked by ritual for the Pon Farr, also knowing that the Vulcan embassy would not be such a place.  Most Vulcans as far gone as Sarek seemed would have already been on their way to Vulcan.

 

What had he been planning to do?  Hike out into the Mojave and let the elements and his own biological imperative do the rest?

 

He followed her, but once they were out of the embassy, he seemed to be trying to get into the lead, with her half a step behind her.  She'd seen Amanda follow him in just this way, but it ticked her off, so she stopped.  Abruptly.  He had taken quite a few steps before he seemed to realize she was not with him, that she was standing, arms across her chest, foot tapping.

 

It was not really a statement of principle: he had been walking the wrong way, toward her old apartment.  Apparently Amanda had never told him Chapel had moved.

 

He strode back to her.  "Why have you stopped?"

 

"A.  I don't feel like heeling today.  B.  My apartment is this way."

 

He didn't look chagrinned until she hit point B, which did not surprise her.  Vulcans might be equal opportunity when it came to gender roles in the professional arena, but they weren't exactly liberated when domestic arrangements came into play.

 

He took a deep breath.  "It is not wise to goad me at this time."

 

"Not what I'm doing.  Forget about who's in front.  Move on to part B of my statement.  Do you even know where I live?"

 

"You have always lived close to headquarters—presumably because of the unpredictable hours of ops." He gestured in the direction he had been going.  "It is just this way." 

 

She made the buzzer sound for "Wrong answer."

 

He did not look amused.

 

"Come on."  She turned and led him across the street and down the hill to the high-rise she'd moved to a few months ago when she'd made captain.  It had an amazing view of the water.  "Home sweet home," she murmured as she led him into the building.

 

He seemed to stay very far away from her in the elevator, followed her almost obediently down the hallway.  Once they got inside, he moved toward her, but she held her hand up.

 

"Let me change.  I know it's stupid if you're just going to be taking my clothes off me, but I don't want to do this in a uniform.  And I want to get a few things—medical things—to have on hand."  Thank God she'd always kept a regenerator and scanner—not to mention a few handy meds—perpetually signed out in her name.

 

Sarek nodded and went to her window.  He did not comment on the view, and she disappeared into her bedroom, hurriedly making the bed since she thought he would prefer that to the unmade mess she'd left as she'd run in to work.  Then she got out of her uniform and into a pair of sweats and a t-shirt—no way she was putting on one of the many slinky nightgowns she'd bought over the years.  For men friends who never amounted to much, and truth to tell, for herself, because she liked how pretty things made her feel.

 

But she didn't want to feel that way now.  This wasn't about romance or even lust.  At least not lust specifically for her.  It was lust, though, in its most basic form.

 

And she was afraid.  She held up her hand, saw it was shaking, and shot a little anti-anxiety med into her arm.  Then, not sure how much Sarek was going to warm her up once they started this, she took advantage of some more intimate preparations to get her ready for whatever came.

 

She was going to have sex with Sarek.  Because his dead wife had asked her to.

 

She'd never felt less sexy.  Or more afraid before the act, and she'd had a point in her life when she'd been into men who liked it a little rough.  But they'd always been capable of control.

 

She was potentially in for something that fell more in the category of mindless and violent.  She walked out to where Sarek was, silently cursing all the privacy-obsessed Vulcans who had kept any useful information about the Pon Farr from the medical archives.  She deserved to know what she was in for, and Amanda had not told her—Chapel suspected it was because Amanda had not wanted to scare her off.

 

"I'm ready," she murmured, causing Sarek to turn.

 

His eyes as he took her in were impossible to read.  She imagined him comparing her to Amanda.  The other woman had been so petite and elegant.  Chapel was neither of those things.  Would he care?

 

His expression changed, and she thought she was witnessing him giving up control.  He reached for her and she went to him, wondering if he would kiss her, if it even mattered.

 

This was her friend.  Nothing more.  She was doing this for a friend. 

 

He did kiss her, pulling her in close, hiking her up against the wall and grinding into her.  "As you said, your clothing is unnecessary as I am going to remove it."  He let her down, took her hand, pulled her into the bedroom, and quickly did just that.  Then he stared at her until she felt too exposed and tried to cover her breasts with her arms.

 

"Do not do that," he said, his voice husky and low.

 

She dropped her arms, unsure if she should undress him or just wait.  Finally, she moved closer, carefully, watching him to make sure what she was doing wasn't wrong.

 

Really, couldn't Amanda have briefed her just a little on this?

 

She began to unfasten the robe he wore, then took off the undergarments, watching his eyes for clues.  They were fastened on her, his breathing louder, his mouth parted.

 

She decided to try to be some sort of partner in this, not just a blow-up doll, so she moved closer, rubbing against him gently before leaning in and kissing him.  He opened his mouth to hers and pushed her backwards, until she hit the bed and fell back.  He followed her down.

 

And then his fingers were on the meld points, and he was in her mind, and she felt him pushing her away, but not in a cruel way.  She thought he was trying to spare her from whatever he feared he'd do to her—as he sought his true mate and found Amanda truly gone.  Maybe for the first time accepting it in his heart even if logic had told him his wife was gone long before.

 

"Thank you," he said, to her mind or with his voice, she wasn't sure, but then all she felt was sensation, his, hers, him thrusting, calling out that she was his, his, his, but never by name, and she thought he didn't mean her at all.

 

But it felt so good, the way he was moving, the way he touched her, the way he made her come over and over, that her fear melted away as she gave herself over to whatever he wanted to do.

 

She lost track of time, had no idea how long they had been in bed when he, lost deeply to the rut, began to look for Amanda.  It hurt less than she thought it would, this sense of not being the right person even as she lay underneath him.  She'd feared it would be worse, a sense of lacking, of failure, and if it had been Spock looking for his lost Jim, she no doubt would have felt this far less clinically.  But this wasn't Spock: this was her friend.

 

A friend who finally stopped calling for his dead wife and fell asleep in her arms.  She lay still and took a shuddering breath, reaching for the scanner and regenerator, moving carefully so she wouldn't wake him.  He'd been rough but never mean, and she pushed aside that she was working on her own body and just let herself become the doctor she used to be.

 

On balance, it could have been so much worse.

 

She put the scanner and regenerator back on the nightstand, grabbed a hypo full of restoratives and the one with the anti-anxiety meds from before, and dosed herself, then cuddled in next to him and fell asleep.

 

She woke as he eased out of the bed—from the set of his shoulders, he was trying to do it without waking her.  She touched his arm, saw him jerk then look back at her.

 

She smiled as gently as she could  "There are clean towels in the bathroom.  If you want to shower."

 

"Most kind."

 

The formality seemed silly, but she thought he needed it.  "Least I could do."

 

His expression changed, became concerned.  "I did not hurt you, did I?"

 

She pointed to the nightstand.  "Nothing I couldn't fix."  She knew joking was wrong when his look grew more concerned.  "Sarek, no.  You didn't hurt me.  Two days of sex did."

 

"Ah.  Yes.  A wise way to look at it."  He seemed unsure what more to say.

 

"Go shower.  Do you want breakfast or would you rather get the hell out of here as fast as you possibly can?"

 

By his expression, she could tell it was the latter.  She rubbed his arm gently, knowing he could read what she was feeling, that she was all right with this, that she expected nothing from him. 

 

He seemed to relax.  "I am deeply appreciative."

 

"I know."  She let go of him, and lay back down in the bed, closing her eyes.  "I'll see you around."

 

"Indeed."  He seemed uncertain still, despite her attempt to give him an easy out.

 

"That's your cue to get in the shower, get dressed, make a hasty, if thankful, exit, and not worry about me.  And promise me we'll still be friends after this, okay?"

 

"Open your eyes."

 

She did.

 

He reached over and touched her cheek.  His lips almost turned up and his eyes were incredibly gentle.  "We will still be friends."  Then he got up and walked into the bathroom. 

 

She heard the shower go on and reached over to the night table, scanning herself and seeing she could use another shot of restoratives.  She pressed the hypo against her neck, lay back, closed her eyes, and was lost to a deep, dreamless sleep in no time. 

 

As she expected, he was gone when she woke up.  Other than his scent lingering in her bed and the damp towel and washcloth thrown over the shower curtain rod, there was no sign he had ever been there.

 

##

 

She saw Sarek a few times in the hallways of Command, and each time he was the soul of courtesy, nodding graciously and saying hello but clearly with somewhere—anywhere—else to be if you knew what to look for.  And she'd made a career out of reading Vulcans who wanted to get away from her. 

 

It was what Amanda had wanted.  She kept telling herself that.  And she knew that the weirdness between Sarek and her would go away.  Someday.  Please God.

 

"Captain?" 

 

She looked up from her terminal, saw it was Montenegro at the door, and waved her in.  "What's up?"

 

"I just wanted to make sure you were okay.  You took leave and it was sudden."

 

Chapel smiled, loving that this lieutenant she'd taken under her wing when she'd first started in ops as an eager but very green ensign, was now trying to take care of her.  "I'm fine, Emilia.  It was a family emergency.  But...not anyone close."  Did that even make sense?  Why would she take leave for someone she wasn't close to.  "I was his only family and there were arrangements to be made."  She decided to stop talking.  For someone adept at going with the flow during an emergency, she wasn't doing as well as she usually did.  But she hadn't really thought anyone would ask her about her time off.

 

Crap.  Did she really not have anyone who would notice she was suddenly gone for several days?  Jan was out on the Excelsior and they only spoke a few times a month lately.  Ny was first officer on the Quebecr and stressed as hell every time Chapel commed her.  Chapel had mostly lost touch with Len—they usually only commed each other when one or the other had been drinking and got nostalgic, or if he was in town planning a get-together of the old guard.

 

"If you need anything...?"

 

"We should do a happy hour.  How long has it been since we took over a bar?"

 

Montenegro laughed.  "Two weeks."

 

"We're definitely underachieving.  We have a reputation to maintain.  Work hard, party hard—"

 

"And get up to do it all again the next morning." Montenegro laughed as she finished the Ops creed.  One of them, anyway.  There was generally one to fit any situation that involved booze.  "You want me to plan it?"

 

"Would you?"

 

"Any spot in particular?"

 

Chapel laughed.  "Smitty letting us back in yet?"

 

"Nope.  Old Man Panellini didn't kick Rick and me out the last time we dropped in."

 

"Good sign.  We'll start there and if that's a no go, we'll find a new place to close down."

 

"Aye aye, ma'am."  She got up and walked to the door, then she turned.  "I did mean that, though.  If you need anything.  I feel like I owe you.  You kept me sane and it wasn't your job to do that—not when you have all the other stuff to do."

 

"I see potential: I nurse potential."  She leaned back.  "Used to be a nurse.  Did you know that?"

 

Montenegro shook her head.  "I knew you were a doctor."

 

"And a scientist.  I used to wait tables when I was in college before I got my first internship."  She smiled.  "Quite the diverse resume."  She shook herself.  Why this walk down memory lane?  "Thank you for your concern.  Plan the happy hour—that's all the help I need right now."

 

"Yes, ma'am." 

 

Chapel watched her walk out.  Young and bright and pretty—her whole life ahead of her.  She'd been like that once.  She still felt like that girl until her body reminded her she was a long way from her twenties.

 

With a sigh, she put thoughts of her youth behind her and turned back to the terminal.  The comms stacking up couldn't give a shit how young and pretty she used to be.

 

##

 

Chapel walked down the snow-covered path outside the residence the Federation had been given on Nethreven, enjoying the night air and the chance to be alone after a full day of talks.  She was here because the new leader of the planet was a man she'd worked with five years earlier after massive quakes had leveled three cities on the planet.  Dallihar had asked for her specifically to be part of the delegation opening trade talks.  Nethreven was rich with dilithium and other key minerals.

 

"Christine?"

 

She turned, surprised to see Sarek out in the cold.  "Not your natural environment."

 

"May I join you?"

 

She nodded, and they fell into step.  "Talks are going well."  In fact, so well she was bored shitless.  She really had no reason to be here other than the Federation wanted to make Dallihar happy.

 

"Dallihar seems quite taken with you."

 

She snuck a peek, trying to assess the mood Sarek was in.  Impossible to tell.  "He is.  He's asked me to marry him four times this visit."

 

"I take it he's asked you that before as well?"

 

She laughed.  "Every time he sees me."

 

"You do not desire to be the wife of the leader of a rich planet?"  This time there was definitely humor in Sarek's voice.

 

"Yes, please, let me join his twenty other wives, fourteen husbands and too-many-to-count concubines."  She peeked again and saw Sarek's lips quirk up ever so slightly.  "So, you're not in a robe, you've actually got snow boots on and a cap.  Wow."

 

"Amanda enjoyed vacationing in Colorado.  She spent a great deal of time finding me cold-weather gear.  Hats, particularly.  They were..."

 

"Silly?"

 

"I think ridiculous is more apt."

 

She laughed, and realized that he sounded different when he talked about Amanda.  Like it wasn't such a raw wound.  Like he could mention her name with love and affection and even this sweet humor instead of just sorrow.  "Did she ski?"

 

"Yes, when she was younger."

 

"Did you?"

 

He shot her a bland look that she read perfectly.

 

"Yeah, me neither.  I always envied the skiers though.  They looked so free."  She smiled, remembering watching a friend glide down the slopes.  Chapel had water-skied but that was different: you needed something to pull you.  Snow skiers seemed to almost fly.

 

"I as well." 

 

They came to a fork in the path, one led back to the residence and another went around it, exiting the woods at the back entrance to the building.  Chapel took the longer trail and Sarek stayed with her.

 

"Did you ever wear the ridiculous hats?"

 

"In public, no.  But when we were alone, sometimes.  It pleased her."

 

"I bet it did."  She smiled, imagining him in a goofy ski cap.  "How ridiculous?"

 

"Generally there were ears of some kind.  Or a ball on top."

 

"Pom-poms are a classic."

 

"Not on Vulcan."

 

She grinned and met his eyes—his were gentle, his face relaxed.  "We haven't really talked."

 

"No, we have not.  I was..."

 

"Weirded out?"

 

Again his lips quirked up ever so slightly.  "A bit uncomfortable."

 

"Well, you seem fine now."

 

"I am.  As are you.  You also seemed on edge around me."

 

"Well, it was a little strange.  I never expected..."  She laughed, unsure where she was going with this.  "Finding a new normal is good, though."

 

"Indeed."

 

They walked in silence for a bit, then he said very softly, "Dallihar has excellent taste."

 

She laughed.  "That he likes me?  Or are you talking about one of his current spouses?"

 

"I was referring to you."

 

"Ambassador, are you flirting?"

 

"I was paying you a compliment.  They are not the same thing."  He didn't sound very stern when he said it.  In fact, he sounded like he dared her to tell him he was wrong.

 

"Could've fooled me."

 

"It has been my experience that it is difficult to fool you, Christine."

 

"Maybe so."  Probably so, actually.  After Roger the Android had fooled her to very nearly disastrous consequences, she'd become a lot more suspicious, a lot less soft.  Ops had finished the job.

 

They arrived at another fork in the trail, and Sarek slowed.  "I am cold.  I believe I will go in."

 

"I'm going to stay out for a while."  She smiled at him, letting him know they were fine, that this was fine, him staying for a while and now going back in.

 

His expression was easy and open, serene in a different way than his norm.  He reached out and touched her arm, his gloved hand on her jacket.  "Goodnight, then."

 

She put her hand over his and squeezed gently, then let him go.  "Goodnight, Sarek."

 

##

 

Chapel boarded the shuttle that would take them from Nethreven to Earth, eying the general cabin with dismay: it was full and she'd hoped to be able to snag one of the loungers and sleep her way through the journey.

 

"I have a private compartment," Sarek said very softly; he was standing quite close behind her.  "If you would care to join me?"

 

She glanced back at him.

 

"I can see the disappointment in your expression, Christine, at how full this room is." He moved aside to let some of the aides find seats.  "I would welcome your company."

 

She smiled and followed him through the main seating area to the private compartments.  "Fancy," she said, as she took in the cushy seats and the food and drinks stocked.  The room wasn't big but they crammed a lot of things in.  Including a bed.  She tried to ignore that, figured he would, too.  "All this for a ten-hour trip?"

 

He huffed softly, a sound she'd always considered his laugh, a laugh that could signify true amusement or its more bitter cousin.  "The embassy makes my travel arrangements.  Amanda preferred private compartments after a mission.  She enjoyed the luxury and I the privacy.  It was a meeting of needs."

 

"I'm not judging."  She nodded toward the drinks.  "That's for us—well, you?"

 

"Have whatever you like."  He sat and stretched his legs out, and she realized he was letting her see him really relax. 

 

"Do you want something?"

 

"Water is fine."

 

She poured his water and handed it to him, then took her time picking the wine and pouring herself a glass before sitting across from him.  "These missions must be a constant barrage for you, Sarek.  Emotions, pressing flesh, so...not Vulcan."

 

"It is true.  It is why I relish this small privacy.  Why I do not forego the luxury."

 

"Well, I'm happy to share it with you."  She lifted her glass.  "To a successful trade negotiation."

 

His eyes were very light as lifted his water and said, "And to you not becoming wife twenty-one."

 

She laughed.  "Hear hear."  The wine was excellent and she took a few seconds to just enjoy it.  "Do you think those twenty wives and fourteen husbands only get to sleep with Dallihar or is it more of a free-for-all?"  She chuckled at his expression.  "The look on your face is priceless.  I think he must keep them separate.  Otherwise, they might end up preferring each other to him."

 

He nodded.

 

"You agree?"

 

"I had occasion to consider his domestic arrangement and wonder the same thing.  I arrived at the same conclusion"

 

"No.  You?"

 

"Like you, I am often uninterested during the discussion.  Unlike you, I do not wear that fact for all to see."

 

"And to think I'm known for my poker face."  She stretched out, enjoying the way the chair moved with her, always comfortable no matter how she sat.  "I actually am known for that.  Did I really look bored?"

 

"To me, yes.  To the casual observer, probably not."

 

"Good."  She studied him.  "You do know me, don't you?"

 

"We have known each other for many years.  Not just you as a friend of Amanda and mine, but we have worked together before."

 

"So you and I—we're friends?  It didn't just work with Amanda there, me and the two of you as a couple?"

 

"I believe we are friends as individuals.  Do you not agree?"

 

She closed her eyes.  "I do.  But...sometimes I misread things."

 

"Are you referring to my son and his inability to see that you would be an excellent match for him?"

 

She laughed.  "Wow, have I got you snookered.  Actually, I think I'm not an excellent match for him.  I've had time to consider that, and I'm not sure we'd really have much in common.  God knows he's never wanted to get close enough to find out.  Even if it took me way too long to figure out I basically had cooties as far as he was concerned."

 

Another huff.

 

"You understand cooties?"

 

"Amanda often used the term."

 

"I miss her, Sarek."

 

"As do I."  He turned to the viewport.  "It has taken me time to grow accustomed to being alone."

 

"I'm sure it has.  You were together so long."

 

"I do not like being alone, Christine."

 

She smiled, but it was a bittersweet smile and he didn't notice it, still staring out at the stars.  Amanda had once told her that she knew Sarek would remarry if she died, that he was not a man who would do well alone.

 

He turned and seemed to be studying her.  "You have been alone for many years."

 

"I have friends, Sarek.  Friends with...options."

 

"Lovers, you mean."

 

She considered that.  "No, I think I said it right.  They're just friends.  Roger was a lover."

 

"Is it my son that you are waiting for?"  Sarek leaned forward.  "Kirk is gone now."

 

"Jim has been gone for some time.  And Spock has not shown up at my door."  She shook her head slowly.  "The thing I had with Roger—the reason I threw everything important away and went looking for him—it was more than just lust or love or respect alone.  It was all three.  I...liked him.  I loved working with him.  He challenged me and he thought I was smart, too.  I guess I want that again.  He and I...zinged.  I don't know how else to say it.  I felt alive when I was with him."

 

"And my son does not make you feel that way?"

 

She laughed and this time it was the same bitter huff he often made.  "Sarek, I feel invisible when I'm around Spock."

 

"I regret that."

 

"Don't.  Spock doesn't owe me anything.  I mean I've had admirers that I didn't want.  How can I hold that against him?"

 

"A most logical attitude."  He seemed about to say something, then turned back to the viewport.

 

She got up to refill her wine and grab some food.  As she was loading up a plate, she said, "You were about to say something."

 

"I was."

 

"So say it."

 

"It was a question.  I am not sure why I ask it, though."

 

She waited, then turned to him with a smile.  "You haven't asked it."

 

"I am aware of that.  I am waiting for you to sit down."

 

She put the plate on the table between them, making the general motion people did when they meant "have some," and leaned back in her chair.  "I'm sitting."

 

"Did I make you feel invisible during the Pon Farr?"

 

She shook her head slowly.

 

"Explain."

 

"Well, for one thing, there were some very nice moments for me during that.  Just so you know—I'm not entirely sure how much you remember of what happened."

 

"I remember all of it."

 

"Okay, then, so you know that you got me there.  Quite a few times."  She took a sip of wine, couldn't help but notice that he had a bit of a self-satisfied look.  It was a good thing to be proud of, so she wasn't going to bitch at him for enjoying his prowess. "But when you started to look for Amanda, if you hadn't warned me, if I didn't know how much you loved her, and if I hadn't been there because she asked me to, then yes, I probably would have been devastated.  But I did know all that.  So I wasn't crushed.  I wasn't there because I had seduced you.  I was there because I loved her and I love you.  And I'd do anything for her—and for you."

 

He looked so relieved that she reached across and took his hand.  He put his own over it, much as she had when they were out in the snow.

 

"So, see, you didn't have to subject yourself to ten hours with me in here.  You could have let me rot in steerage."

 

He shook his head, but it was a fond gesture.  "I wanted you here.  With me."

 

"You did?"

 

He nodded.  "When we get home, would you have dinner with me?"

 

"Are you asking me out on a date?"

 

"A Vulcan would not couch it in such terms."  His eyebrow went up and she knew it was to tease her.

 

"You realize you're doing it all backwards.  Generally a man buys a gal dinner and then she has sex with him."  She laughed, a little unsure how he would take the joke.

 

She didn't need to worry.  She heard the small huff, saw his eyes crinkle slightly.  Amanda had obviously broken him in well to human humor.

 

"I should perhaps work on my approach for the next woman?"

 

"I think so."  She let go of his hand.  "She's not coming around anytime soon, is she?  The next woman?  Because, yes, I would like to have dinner with you."

 

"In that case, I think her presence would be superfluous."

 

"And that right there is what separates Vulcans males from human men.  A human would definitely think two women better than one."  Especially if there was some hot girl-on-girl action they could horn in on.

 

"Then it is fortunate for you that I am not human."

 

"I will drink to that."  She yawned suddenly, the wine and having to stay awake during those damned meetings catching up with her.

 

"I am going to work on reports.  If you are tired, use the bed.  I will not disturb you."

 

"What if I want you to?"  She met his eyes, smiled to make what she said less serious but did not look away.

 

"I am gratified to hear that you might want that.  But there is no rush."

 

It could have felt like a rebuke, like she was promiscuous, going too fast.  But it didn't.  The tenderness in his voice, the gentle way his eyes shone, the way he was leaning in: it sounded like a promise instead.

 

"I am tired, Sarek."  And she felt safe in here.  She couldn't remember the last time she'd felt so safe.

 

"Then sleep."  He helped himself to a piece of cheese from her plate, seemed to lose himself in the tasting of it.

 

She laughed softly.  "Just the privacy, my ass.  You also love the luxury."

 

"As you say." That seemed to be his only rejoinder, other than to take another piece of cheese.

 

She grabbed a piece for herself, then slipped out of the chair and made for the bed.  She was out for the rest of the trip.  Sarek woke her just before spacedock, allowing her time to get into the head and make herself presentable—clearly Amanda had him very well trained.

 

Chapel wondered suddenly if Amanda had foreseen this when she'd asked her to take care of Sarek.  Had she also wanted Sarek to take care of her?  Chapel wouldn't put it past her.

 

Sarek was standing at the viewport, watching the docking.  "Are you free tomorrow night?"

 

"Barring a last-minute meeting or emergency I am."

 

"Then, dinner?"

 

She stood next to him, watched as the automatic mooring clamps took hold.  "Just tell me where."

 

"Lavellier, but I can pick you up in the embassy flitter."

 

"Wow, that place?  Way to impress a girl.  I've heard it's impossible to get a table there."  She saw his face change.  "Unless you're the Vulcan ambassador.  I think there are a hell of a lot of perks you get that no one is aware of."

 

"Very possibly."  He leaned into her, his arm pressing against hers.  "I enjoy the food.  But I also wish to...pamper you."

 

"Pamper?  Is that a term a Vulcan would use?"

 

"I was married to a human woman for many years.  I adapted."

 

She laughed.  "I've never been to that restaurant and have always wanted to try it, so I'll be looking forward to it."

 

"As will I."  He eased away from her and walked to the door, picking up the satchel with his padds as he went.

 

He didnÕt hold the door for her—went through it first, in fact.  She laughed to herself: he hadn't totally adapted.  But that was okay.  She'd rather be pampered and not have him hold the door for her than the reverse.

 

##

 

Chapel stared at her closet and realized she had no idea what to wear to dinner.  It wasn't that she lacked pretty dresses.  She went to plenty of functions where uniforms were discouraged.  She had a lot of dresses.  Some sexy and some downright prudish: it all depended on the norms of the various planets.  But what would Sarek want from her?

 

She'd never seen Amanda in anything but Vulcan robes.  Which definitely ran on the side of prudish.  But she wasn't Amanda and she didn't envision a robe in her future unless it was meant to be worn over a negligee—or an old t'shirt.

 

She finally decided to wear the dress she felt the prettiest in.  Not the sexiest—she had several very low cut dresses that clung in the right places that fit that bill.  This was draped and forgiving, a dark plum that went well with her coloring, cut just low enough to bring her assets into prominence without shouting, "look at my breasts."  Three quarter sleeves and a knee length hem made it a winner on most worlds unless the natives were very phobic about seeing a woman's skin.  She slipped on some heels that were comfortable enough to walk in but still flattering, and dug around in her jewelry box for the heavy silver necklace she normally wore with the dress.

 

Her make-up was moderate—her days of wild eyes were behind her—and she'd let her hair dry wavy. 

 

Why was she obsessing over this?  The man had seen her naked.  For two days.  This was all quite unnecessary. 

 

She was saved from any further dithering by the sound of her chime.  She grabbed a wrap and opened the door.  Sarek was in a robe—no surprise there—but it was a nice one.

 

"No last-minute emergencies," she said with a grin.

 

"For which I am very grateful."  He moved aside and she let the door close and lock behind her.  "I have not seen that dress before."

 

"I have a lot of dresses you haven't seen."  She realized he wasn't saying if he liked it or not.  Stupid Vulcans.

 

"I look forward to seeing them."

 

"All of them?"

 

"Yes."  He followed her onto the elevator and met her eyes, his were intense.

 

"Some of them are just this side of scandalous."

 

He let an eyebrow be her answer.  What the hell did that mean?  "Is that the eyebrow of 'I can't wait to see that' or 'I wonder if I will have to burn it for being unseemly'?"

 

"The former."

 

She laughed.  Maybe Vulcans weren't so stupid after all.  "I said scandalous."

 

"You indicated slightly less than.  I do listen to you."

 

"So I'm getting."  She cocked her head.  "So do you like this dress?"

 

"I do.  Very much."  The door opened and he was off.

 

She started to laugh.  This might take some getting used to.  Be direct and keep up seemed to be the rule.

 

Then he turned back to look at her, his expression changing, turning tender.  Oh hell, she could get used to anything if he gave her that look a few hundred times a day. 

 

She grinned at him, saw his eyes lighten, the slight quirk of his lips.  She caught up with him, murmured, "Have I told you that you look very handsome tonight?"

 

"You have not.  Does that mean I look more handsome than I usually do or that normally you do not find me handsome?"  The way he cocked his eyebrow told her he was playing with her.

 

"What do you think?"

 

"Amanda often told me I was a fine figure of a man.  But taste is relative.  You may disagree."

 

She followed him into the flitter, laughing as she slid in next to him.  "I do not disagree.  Amanda generally had exquisite taste."

 

"I, too, have exquisite taste."  He reached down and laid his hand over hers, then told the flitter their destination.

 

She relaxed, leaning back and crossing her legs.  He watched her legs as she did it; she wasn't sure he was aware he was doing it.  His hand on top of hers felt warm and comforting, and she turned her hand, opening her fingers, then waited to see if he would twine his fingers with hers.

 

He did, tightening his grasp on her slowly.  She wasn't sure how he did it, but suddenly she was aroused, ever little movement of the flitter seemed to be translated in the way they were touching. 

 

She realized she was breathing a little heavier and turned to look at him.  "Is this just me?"

 

He didn't ask what she meant, just tightened his grip on her hand and said, "No."

 

"Good."

 

He gently let go of her.  "As much as I am enjoying it, we do need to get through dinner with some modicum of dignity."

 

She laughed softly.  "And you were in danger of not?  I know I was getting ready to tell the flitter to take us back to my place."

 

"Indeed," he said, as he looked out he window, and she thought he was doing whatever Vulcan men did to get rid of an erection.

 

She glanced down—impossible to tell the way his robe was sitting.  Had he arranged it that way on purpose?

 

She realized he was looking at her and started to laugh.  "Sorry, I'm just—this is new.  And fun.  Finding out things about you."

 

"And you."

 

"Right.  Only those aren't as fun for me."  She laughed at his expression.  So accommodating.  So at ease.  "I didn't expect this.  That trifecta I talked about with Roger...?"

 

He nodded.

 

"Well, love and respect you and I already have.  I guess I wasn't so sure about lust."

 

"Until now?"

 

"Boy howdy."

 

His puff of amusement was louder than usual, and his lips did turn up—it was miniscule but it was a smile.  She wanted to take a snap so she'd have proof she could make him smile if she took him by surprise.

 

"I understand what you are saying and agree," he said, his voice gentle but husky—and so damn sexy.  Could they really not turn this damn flitter around?  After dinner they'd be full and sex wasn't as fun when your stomach was stuffed.

 

Then again, he'd said there was no rush.  It was possible this was his idea of foreplay.  Holy God, if that's what he could do just holding her hand, she was not going to survive this.

 

"What are you thinking?"  His amusement was evident.

 

"I'm just wondering how long we're going to wait."

 

"That will be up to us."

 

"A true diplomat.  The most vague yet optimistic answer possible."  She studied him.  "Fine.  It'll happen when it happens.  Can we go back to holding hands?"

 

He turned away, but not before she saw his eyes crinkle slightly.  "You are a seasoned professional in handling emergencies.  I have seen you exercise great patience when the situation called for it."

 

"You're right.  What was I thinking?  Bring on dinner.  We can wait forever."  She pretended to be offended, crossed her arms over her chest and looked out the window.

 

"I find forever to be unsatisfactory." 

 

"Well, me too, but I'm trying to be dramatic, so just go with it."

 

"Ah.  Proceed, then."

 

"Oh, I was done.  That's as dramatic as I get."  She leaned her head against his shoulder.  "What are you going to order?"

 

"What makes you think I have my meal already selected?"

 

"Because you're you.  You leave nothing to chance, Sarek.  So what are you going to have?"

 

"The ratatouille.  I quite enjoy the way they prepare it."

 

"Not my fav.  Do I have to go vegetarian?"

 

"You can eat whatever pleases you.  I have seen far worse than anything you might order tonight."

 

"Including sweetbreads?"  She glanced up to see his expression.

 

He looked slightly sickened.  "Including those."

 

"Don't worry.  I hate those."

 

He looked relieved.  She was just glad that he didn't expect her to give up her carnivorous ways. 

 

The flitter arrived at the restaurant before she could ask him what he was having for an appetizer.  She'd been out enough with Amanda and him to know he had a hearty appetite—except for dessert.  That was all right with her: she'd never had much of a sweet tooth.

 

He preceded her into Lavellier, but only by a few steps: it was clear she was with him.  It didn't tick her off the way it had when he'd charged off the wrong direction to her apartment.  It was his way—the Vulcan way—and she wasn't going to get him to change it for her, so she decided to ignore it and think instead about the yummy feelings his fingers touching her had induced.

 

The ma”tre d' fawned all over them.  So did the waiters.  And the sommelier, who seemed to realize he had an audience of one when it came to wine but that Sarek would spring for anything.  She ended up ordering a half bottle of a very expensive white Bordeaux, but only after Sarek told her it was one Amanda had liked.  He really didn't seem to care if she drank—and that was probably why the shuttle had stocked booze for a Vulcan, because his wife had always wanted it and the embassy hadn't told them any different this time. 

 

They shared several vegetarian appetizers and a salad, and talked about easy things, no uncomfortable silences marring their conversation.  She ended up ordering scallops in a beurre blanc sauce with country potatoes.  Sarek seemed to find scallops completely unobjectionable.  They really did look more like water chestnuts than meat.  Good news for her: they were one of her favorites.

 

When the waiter asked if they wanted dessert, she was happy to shake her head.  Sarek paid and they left, the ma”tre d' seeing them out to the flitter he had apparently called for them while Sarek was settling the bill. 

 

She slid into the flitter seat and collapsed against Sarek once the door closed.  "Okay that was so good.  You are never going to top that."

 

"I believe you are wrong."  He sounded both amused and competitive.  Never dare him: good to know.

 

"Well, maybe so, but that was amazing.  Thank you."

 

He leaned his head against hers—a charmingly sweet and familiar thing to do.  "You are most welcome."

 

When they got to her apartment, he did not come in.  She could tell by looking at him that it wasn't because he was too rude or too Vulcan to walk her to her door: it was because he didn't want to rush and if he came upstairs, he would not be coming back down until morning.

 

She turned just before she got to the door to the building.  He was watching her, and he raised his hand.  She grinned, knowing he could have just told the flitter to go but had wanted to watch her.  "Good night," she called, not too loud: he'd hear her.

 

And he did.  He nodded and finally told the flitter to move.

 

She rode the elevator up to her apartment thinking about the great food she might be in for: she hoped Sarek didn't mind his ladies with some flesh on their bones.  Because she did not have Amanda's "I eat and eat and never gain a pound" metabolism.

 

Then again she skipped lunch half the time at work, so it would probably even out.  Especially once they started having sex—very athletic sex if the Pon Farr was any indication.

 

She had a moment's worry that maybe Vulcans weren't like that at any other time, but then she remembered how it had felt when he held her hand, how he'd had to look away, how his head felt pressed against hers.

 

This was going to be good.  She knew it.  She didn't think Amanda would have stuck with him if it hadn't been good for her.  Her friend had a backbone of steel hidden in that seemingly delicate body—and an appetite for life.

 

And a wonderfully giving heart.  It was harder and harder for Chapel to not think that Amanda had set this whole thing up. 

 

##

 

"You seem happy," Montenegro said as she passed Chapel some padds to sign off on before the latest team headed off.

 

"Do I not normally seem happy?"

 

"You normally seem efficient."

 

"Ouch."  Chapel laughed.  Was that how her staff saw her?  All work and no life?  And how funny would they find it if they knew a Vulcan was the source of her happiness?  "Does that mean I'm not efficient now?"

 

Montenegro laughed.  "No.  Of course not.  You just...your smile is different."

 

"Is there a pool on this?"

 

Montenegro blushed.

 

"Really?  Really?"  She handed back the padd.  "Give me the details."

 

"The question is who."

 

Chapel laughed.  "Who have you picked?"

 

"I haven't picked anyone.  You're my mentor.  It would be bad taste to engage in an office pool."

 

"And gambling on the job is illegal."  Chapel rolled her eyes at that one—they'd all be in the brig if anyone enforced it.  Pools were a way of life in emergency ops.  "I think you're waiting till you see me with someone."

 

Montenegro gave her the most innocent expression possible and then laughed.  "Possibly.  He has to show up eventually."

 

"But by then all the names will be gone.  The waiting game is not without risk.  What if that person—and what makes you think it's a he?—shows up while you're away?"

 

"Is it a woman?  Some people, who shall remain a mystery, said it might be a woman, but I think it's a guy."

 

"I'm not saying anything."  She tried not to laugh.  She was actually glad Sarek hadn't stopped in to see her—she wanted these suckers to work for that prize.

 

Not that she wasn't seeing him.  She was, frequently and at very nice places.  But he was taking his sweet time getting them anywhere private.  She knew why he was doing that, though, and she appreciated it.  When they did come together, it would no longer be about Amanda or a biological imperative.  It would be about them.

 

"You've got that look again.  Damn it, Captain, I'm your protˇgˇ, aren't I?  Couldn't you toss me a clue?  The team's having to travel out with Harriman.  I can't stand him."

 

"My condolences.  Truly.  Although it is my duty to remind you that he is still an officer and a superior one."

 

"I'll be good.  He's just so..."  Montenegro shook her head and scrunched up her face, like she'd just caught a whiff of a bad smell.  "I wish I'd known Kirk."

 

"I wish you had, too."  She took a deep breath and then said, "He's not human."

 

"Kirk?"

 

Chapel made an impatient face.

 

"Ohhhhhh.  Not even a little bit?"

 

"Not even a little bit."  Shit—had someone picked Spock?  "That's all I'm giving you.  Now, enough time wasted on that.  Say hello to Demora for me.  And once you're on Kelesta, keep your head down and your eyes open."  The old ops goodbye.

 

"Aye aye, ma'am."  Montenegro stopped to say something to someone Chapel couldn't see, pointed back toward her, then she headed right for Murphy's desk at comms.  Since he generally ran the pools, it looked like the waiting game was over.  Had Chapel done something to tip her off?

 

She got up and saw Sarek walking around the back of ops toward her office.  His expression gave nothing away, but Montenegro glanced at him, then at Chapel, and gave her a big smile.

 

Chapel rolled her eyes at her, then gestured for Sarek to come into her office.  "To what do I owe this visit, Ambassador?"  She pitched her voice lower, just for them.  "You don't usually visit."

 

"I have been called away.  I do not know how long I will be gone.  I wanted to...tell you in person."

 

She grinned.  "I like that.  I don't like that you'll be gone, but such is your life."

 

"Indeed."

 

"Amanda went with you."

 

He nodded.

 

"I won't be able to." 

 

"I know.  We will create our own way."

 

She felt a surge of relief.  They hadn't talked about this.  But he sounded sincere and unconcerned.  "Are you going somewhere dangerous?"

 

"No.  Tedious, I fear."  He met her eyes.  "I will think about you often."

 

"When things get extra boring?  And who said romance was dead?"

 

His lips ticked up more than normal—he was always susceptible to her stealth hits of humor.  "I will see you when I return."

 

"Damn well better."  She stood, told the office computer, "Privacy."  Her door slid shut.  "Can I kiss you goodbye?"

 

"Yes."  He moved to her and took her into his arms, kissing her before she could kiss him.  Typical Vulcan—not that she was going to complain since she liked how he kissed.

 

Very, very much.

 

"When I get back, perhaps it is time we ate in? "  He met her eyes, and she saw a host of emotions in his. 

 

"I'm game."  This time she leaned in and kissed him, just a short one, then she patted him on the rear and laughed at his expression.  "Not Amanda, sorry."

 

"You think she never did that?"  His eyebrow went up and he said, "Computer, open door."

 

"Safe trip, Ambassador," she said, a little more loudly than necessary, once the door was open.

 

He glanced into the bay, then said, "That young woman who directed me to your office—"

 

"Just put your name in a pool on who I'm dating.  Apparently I look happy so they know something's up."

 

"How did they think you appeared before?"

 

"Efficient."

 

"I would take that as a compliment, although I find it satisfying to know I make you happy.  What will she win?"

 

"A bottle of expensive hooch, usually.  We're not very creative—use all that energy on the emergencies."

 

"Logical."  He took a deep breath.  "I find it difficult to leave."

 

"Shall I walk you out?"

 

"Do not trouble yourself.  I would find it just as difficult to leave you at the door to ops as here."

 

"Wow, you are hitting those right out of the park, Mister." 

 

He looked pleased.  "Romance is much like diplomacy."

 

She made a face, a joke between them about how she viewed diplomacy, "Then you are doing it wrong, Sarek."

 

"I think not.  Witness your happiness."  At that he nodded gently and walked out.

 

She waited a few minutes, then wandered over to where Montenegro was working.  "Did you get your pick in?"

 

"Oh, yeah."  Montenegro looked up at her.  "Wow.  Impressive."

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Smart—well, I guess that goes without saying because they all are.  Powerful.  Handsome."  She sighed happily.  "And it's eighteen-year-old scotch this time.  I'm so going to enjoy winning."

 

"You were just lucky he walked in when he did."

 

"Luck is our friend."  Another ops saying.  Montenegro stood up.  "Well, we're off.  Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

 

"Me?  Miss Efficient?"  She laughed and headed back to her office.  She realized she was smiling, a silly grin that Sarek brought out of her more and more.  Ironic that a Vulcan made her more...what?  Human?  Ironic, but nice. 

 

##

 

Chapel hit the comms going off at the station she'd commandeered.  Others around her were doing the same, trying to get answers as the situation on Kelesta went further to shit and took three moons and a neighboring planet, Sarga V, with it.

 

"Give me a status on our team," she said to no one in particular as she closed down her last comm and turned to the room.  There were more than her team, of course, working on the planet, but she wasn't responsible for them the same way as the five-person team she'd sent.

 

Cassat looked pale.  "Two dead, ma'am, one critically injured.  Two uninjured."

 

"Damn it."  She waited as he listened to more info, saw his expression change, a look of deep sorrow coming over his face. 

 

"Cale and D'Lthr are dead."  He met her eyes.  He and D'Lthr were close, possibly in a relationship—Chapel had never been sure.

 

"I'm sorry," she mouthed to him, and he nodded.

 

"Montenegro is the one in critical condition.  Largent and Liu are working from Excelsior.  Our people are in sickbay on the ship."

 

"Let me know if you get updates," Chapel said, her eyes falling on Montenegro's station before she turned back to the comms, which were on fire again.  She took a moment to thank the fates that Harriman had moved on and Sulu was managing the situation, then she let it all go and went back to doing what she did: handling things. 

 

She was pulled away for several meetings in the CINC's office—Kelesta was part of a cluster of strategically placed planets and there was considerable interest in how things went.

 

When she got back, she passed Cassat, who said, "Do you want anything to eat, ma'am?  I'm making a run to the cafeteria."

 

"I've got energy bars in my office.  Thanks, though."  She kept going, stopped to pour herself more coffee, then headed to her office to eat and pop some stims.

 

Not recommended, but she had no idea how long this crisis was going to last, and her people needed her awake and leading.

 

Her comm went off and she saw it was a message from Jan.  She hurried to open it.

 

Jan looked harried on the recording.  "I've only got a sec.  Your girl's fine—out of danger.  Though it was close—they thought they lost her, but she's made of strong stuff, just like us.  Thought you'd want to know."

 

Chapel blinked back tears she didn't have time for.  Wrote a quick text-only to Jan that just said "Thank you," then leaned back.

 

Montenegro wasn't just like them.  Emilia had started in Emergency Ops.  She'd never gotten a chance to be on a ship the way Chapel and Jan had, to see what other possibilities were out there for a young officer.  She'd spent the last two years risking her life and emulating Chapel.  

 

And nearly dying for it.

 

But she was out of danger so Chapel had to let that go and move on.  Deal with this.  The way she always did.  God help her but it felt like this place was in her blood.  Most of the people who'd been in Ops when she'd started had moved on.  Should she have done the same?

 

Shit, this was not the time to wonder about her career choices.  She got up and went out to the bay, where the noise and the energy and managed chaos would put her back in the state she needed to be in—the state her people needed her to be in.

 

She got called away multiple times for updates and status reports, was ready to drop as she walked back from the latest one.  She was pondering diverting for some of the espresso in the cafeteria when she saw Sarek in the hallway.  "You're back?"

 

He moved to her, seemed to be able to read how tired she was.  "How many stims have you taken?"

 

"It's immaterial.  What are you doing back?"

 

"The meetings were wrapped up expeditiously to all partys' surprise.  The crisis on Kelesta was on every channel as I traveled back.  I thought of you."

 

"I lost two people.  Almost another."  She took a deep breath.  "And there are a lot more casualties than that."  But not on the Excelsior.  Not yet and hopefully not at all.

 

He surprised her by reaching for her arm, lifting it and studying her hand, which was shaking.  "I may be able to help you."

 

"I have coffee.  And I have pills, Sarek.  It's the Ops way."

 

"As is alcohol.  I am aware of that.  But if I have a better method of helping you, would it not be prudent to try?"

 

"Will it take long?"

 

"It will not."

 

"Here?"  She looked around the corridor. 

 

"Your office."  He was already turning her.  For once he let her lead, following her without comment into her office, then waiting as she told the computer to give them privacy.

 

"What are you going to do?  A meld?"

 

"Sometimes, when there is true resonance between partners, one can buoy another."

 

"Resonance?  Do you mean a bond?  Because I don't have time for that, Sa—"

 

His hand over her lips shut her up.  "You are human and lack the requisite psi capability.  There can be no bond between us."

 

She pushed his hand away.  "I didn't realize that."  She found that idea a relief, had been worried about sharing more than she should if they were bonded. 

 

"Our ability to meld is unaffected, which is fortunate because it allows me to do this..." He put his fingers on her face and was inside her mind.

 

She could feel his dismay at how chaotic her energy was, but she could also feel his pride that she was handling this, that nothing would stop her.  He moved closer, and while it would have been sensual normally, this time, she felt as if someone had thrown her into a cool lake on a hot summer day.  Time stopped for a moment, and she felt a shiver and the sensation of her cares being slipped away from her.  Then he withdrew slowly, and everything came back.

 

But her hands no longer shook, and she didn't feel as if she'd been living on caffeine and stims.  "Thank you."

 

"You will need to sleep when this is over.  Your body may resist with all the stimulants in your system. I can ensure you sleep despite that.  Come to the residence.  I do not care what time you are finally finished.  Come to me.  Do you understand?"

 

She leaned in and kissed him.  As she pulled away, she meant to tell him thank you again, but it came out, "I love you."

 

His eyes were very gentle as he pushed a tendril of her hair back into place.  "As I do you.  I could not have helped you were it not so.  Now, I will let you get back to work."

 

She smiled and gestured toward the ceiling, the general direction everyone thought of for the computer. 

 

"Open door," he said, with a look of satisfaction.

 

"I know you like to lead," she said, feeling light enough to joke even if what lay out in the bay would not be a joking matter.  She felt as if he'd given her more than energy: he'd given her perspective and distance.

 

"I am a Vulcan male.  It is what you are signing up for."

 

"Well aware, dear."  She grinned.  "Now, git.  Someone—probably a hundred someones—wants me to fix this."  Or help to do so.  This wasn't all on her. 

 

"And you will handle the requests to the best of your considerable abilities.  It is what you do."  His expression turned graver.  "I am sorry for your casualties."

 

"Me, too."  She sighed, hating the idea of the comms she would have to make to their family—comms she made far too often in this job.  Then she pushed that thought aside and followed him out, heading to her station, not bothering to watch him walk out, although she thought she could sense his eyes on her as she went back to work.

 

##

 

Chapel felt like she was going to fall down as she made her way to the Vulcan embassy.  The calm energy that Sarek had given her was long gone and more caffeine and stims had kept her going, but now she felt like she was going to shake apart.

 

She was getting too goddamn old for this.  Running on empty was a game for the young.

 

Then she thought of Montenegro, sleeping away in an induced healing coma in Excelsior's sickbay, of Cale and D'Lthr in that same sickbay's morgue facilities, and decided maybe it wasn't a game for anyone. 

 

She stumbled up the embassy stairs, wishing she'd worn sunglasses—why the hell was it such a bright damn day?  The guards waved her through, and she sighed in relief as the cool and slightly dark interior of the embassy welcomed her.  She walked slowly down to Semek's desk, and he nodded at her before she got all the way, standing and coming to her. 

 

"Captain Chapel.  The ambassador is in meetings for the next hour, but he told me to tell you to make yourself at home in his private chambers."  His eyes narrowed slightly.  "Are you all right?"

 

"I've been working for too long.  Emergencies: not something you can take a break from."

 

"Indeed not.  I admire what you do, Captain.  I am not sure I would want to work at that pace for such a sustained period."

 

She smiled.  "Sarek keeps you running."

 

"It is not the same, and we both know it."  His eyebrow went up, but it was in a good-natured way.  "Please, go up.  Everything you need is there."

 

"Everything but the ambassador."  Shit, had she said that out loud?

 

"He will be there shortly."  Semek's expression and tone didn't change—he must not think her comment strange, then.  But if she was going to Sarek's rooms by Sarek's wish, why would he?  It was probably only logical to deduce what was going on.  Besides, Semek had probably made the reservations for all their dinners.

 

"Thank you."  She smiled and turned, having to stop and muster her energy to go up the massive staircase to Sarek's rooms.  She walked in and saw a note on the table near the door.  In exquisite handwriting it was addressed to her, so she opened it and read, "There are refreshments if you are hungry or thirsty.  If you wish to take a shower, you will find towels in the bathroom.  If you can sleep on your own, the bed is turned down."

 

She peeked into his bedroom.  The bed was turned down with the precision she'd expect from a Vulcan. 

 

She picked at the fruit and cheese that had been set out for her.  Cut a piece of bread from a loaf still warm from the stasis board it sat on.  She eyed the wine—it was her favorite—but opted for water.  She had enough chemicals in her as it was.

 

Then, not able to stand another moment in her uniform, she took it off and went into the bathroom, peeling off her underwear and bra.  She saw a robe reflected in the mirror.  She turned, took it off the hook on the back of the door, and realized it was a thing of beauty.  Silk, very soft, of a royal blue and navy pattern with gold.  Almost a paisley.  It tied in the front.  Had he had this made for her?  It would have been far too long for Amanda, so she knew it wasn't hers.

 

She put the robe back on the door and got in the shower, letting the hot water cascade over her, using the fragrant soap—some kind of citrus.  Had he gotten this for her, too?  She didn't remember him smelling of this scent—and Amanda had always preferred florals.  Chapel had told him she loved fragrances with lemon, especially the ones that reminded her of the Amalfi Coast.  He might have picked this up on one of his missions.

 

However he got it, the smell took her back to Sorrento and Capri and Naples.  Times she'd spent with Roger during a vacation.  Happy times.

 

God, that girl she had been would never believe where she'd end up.  So far away from science and with no Roger.

 

She rinsed her hair with shampoo that had been put in a little niche in the shower stall.  It didn't have any scent, nothing to compete with the lovely soap, which she used again and again, trying to wash the crisis—and all her worries—off her.

 

Finally, she got out of the shower and dried off.  She finger combed her hair into some semblance of order, then slipped on the lovely robe.  It was a little too big, but in that good way, when a robe felt like something you could cuddle up in forever, not something you'd drown in and was obviously the wrong size.  She studied her reflection, the dark circles under her eyes, the flush to her skin from too many stims.

 

Turning away, she went into the main room and ate a few more grapes, then curled up in the armchair that had been Amanda's favorite.  It still smelled vaguely of her perfume if Chapel laid her face just so against the fabric.  She found the scent comforting.

 

She knew lying down would be a losing proposition.  Despite how tired she was, the stims were rushing through her.  If she'd gone home, she had meds to counteract them.  Was it wise to have come here instead?  Could Sarek help her better than her handy stock of drugs?

 

Why wasn't she more worried that she had such a handy stock of drugs?

 

She swallowed hard, then got up, walking to the comm panel, debating trying to use it to call Jan, to check on Montenegro.

 

Jan was probably sleeping.  Unless she too had been running on stims.  Or maybe she was with Sulu, using all that energy for other purposes.  They were involved now.  Finally.  Sulu had waited forever.

 

Sometimes dreams did come true.  Chapel closed her eyes, remembering what an ass she had made of herself over Spock.  What was he going to think of her relationship with his father?  Had Sarek told him anything about this?

 

She left the comm panel and began to pace, trying to outrun the annoying energy zinging through her.  She wanted to lie down more than anything, felt as if she might fall down if she remained standing too much longer. 

 

Where the hell was Sarek? 

 

No.  This wasn't Sarek's fault.  He didn't tell her to pump herself full of stims.  He'd been appalled that she had to some extent.  She'd felt that in the meld, even if she knew he would never say it.  Unless she did it all the time, then he might. 

 

The door opened and he walked in.  He closed the door without turning, staring at her, a look of satisfaction and...possession clear on his face.  "The robe suits you."

 

"You had it made for me?"

 

He nodded.  "I estimated your proportions based on our time during the Pon Farr."

 

She smiled.  "And added some inches I hope to compensate for how well you pamper me with good food and wine."

 

"I did not need to add inches.  You do not eat well at work usually."  He said it more as a fact than a criticism. 

 

Since he was right, she chose not to argue.  "It's beautiful.  Thank you.  And the soap?"

 

He moved to her, pulled her close, and leaned in, obviously smelling her skin.  "You like it?"

 

"I do, do you?"

 

"Very much. I would not have bought it for you if I had not."

 

She laughed.  "Logical."  Then her smile faded.  "IÕm so tired, Sarek.  I have meds at home."

 

"Let me help you instead."

 

"They may be more efficacious."

 

"Your lack of faith in me is disconcerting."  He put his arm around her, urged her into the bedroom.  "Take off the robe, beautiful as it is.  This will be better accomplished skin to skin."  He pulled off his robe, then his undergarments.

 

She slipped out of the robe, laid it over the bench at the end of the bed, then got under the covers.  He slid in next to her and pulled her close, running his hands up and down her skin, the feeling half soothing, half sexual and arousing.  She could feel him against her: he wanted her.

 

"Make love to me," she murmured.

 

"I will.  But not right now.  You need sleep, not sex."

 

"Sex is nice."

 

He brushed her hair back.  "I will do what is right for you, Christine.  What is best for you.  And satisfying our desires is not what is best for you.  You have been awake too long.  Now, close your eyes."

 

She did what he said, and he set his fingers on the meld point and was inside her mind with seemingly no effort.  She smiled, loving that each meld was easier.

 

Then he started to do something she didn't understand, pulling parts of her consciousness away, filling her with his own presence, calming and so very safe.  "Sleep," he said or maybe thought. 

 

She was conscious of his body both from how it felt pressed against her and from his perspective, how she felt pressed against him.

 

"You once told me you would do anything for me, Christine.  Now I will tell you the same thing.  Sleep.  Let me bear your burdens for a time."

 

The jittery feeling was gone.  All she felt were the waves of exhaustion, pulling her down and down, as if she had jumped off a cliff into the sea.  It felt like warm water was pulling her further out, peace filling her.  The smell of Sorrento was all around her, and Sarek's voice saying, "We will go there someday.  I have never been," making her smile.

 

"I love you so," she murmured as she let go and fell fast asleep.

 

She woke hours later, feeling more refreshed than she could remember.  Sarek was curled up against her, his hands no longer on the meld points and she wondered how long he'd had to bear her burdens.  She rubbed his arm, enjoying the heat of him, the solidity.

 

She'd slept alone for so long.  Even when the friends she had sex with stayed over, she'd still felt alone in the bed.  But this was different.  He was...hers.

 

She realized he was awake and watching her, the sweetest look on his face.  "Good morning."

 

"Good morning."  He touched her face, clearly reading what she was feeling—how she was feeling.  "You need more sleep."

 

"I'm fine.  And I have to get back to work.  The after-action reports are going to be hell."  She snuggled closer.  "But I have time, if you want to...?"  She smiled as seductively as she could.

 

"I want to." 

 

"Good."  She let her hand slide down his chest, to his stomach and then lower, finding him, holding him, squeezing and moving, and he closed his eyes and murmured, "Christine.  Yes."

 

Then he was pulling her onto him, and she eased down and moaned at the feel of him.  He stroked her as she rode him, clearly using his touch telepathy to figure out exactly where she was and what would get her the rest of the way.  The rest of the way was amazing, and she cried out as she came, then bit back the sound when she realized he was making very little noise as he followed her home.

 

"There is no need to restrain yourself.  This walls are quite soundproof."  He almost smiled.  "I may be silent but that is my way outside of the Pon Farr.  Amanda too enjoyed expressing her pleasure, and I did not mind."

 

"If you didn't like giving pleasure so much, there would be no need to spring for all that extra baffling material in the walls."

 

"I find the reward worth the expense."  He pulled her down and kissed her.  "I would have you here always.  In this bed, naked, with me this way."

 

"Always.  Never leave?"

 

He nodded.  "I believe you have no idea of the level of desire I have for you."

 

"I like that."  She nuzzled his neck, moving to his ear, finding what moved him and what did not.  "I hate to leave you now that you've expressed your wish to never get out of this bed.  But I have to."

 

"You could return to this bed at your earliest convenience."

 

She laughed.  "I could and will.  It's time we ate in."

 

His lips turned up, and his eyes were amused.  "Yes.  It is."  He kissed her, a very long, very passionate kiss, and then let go of her.  "Go."

 

She picked up her uniform and made a face—it was wrinkled and none too fresh.  "I have to get another uniform at my apartment."

 

"Take the flitter back to your apartment."

 

"Rather an indulgence, isn't it? " 

 

He gave the Vulcan equivalent of a shrug.

 

She rubbed her back.  "Besides, I could use the walk.  Been lying down for too long."

 

He motioned toward the immense closet that Chapel had always lusted after.  "If you wish, you are welcome to keep any personal items you might need here."

 

"You're giving me a drawer?"

 

"I will give you an entire wardrobe.  There are several not in use."

 

She laughed.  "Deal.  And you can keep some things at my place too.  I don't have as copious a selection of furniture but we can squeeze you some space in the closet and dresser.  A change of venue is nice—adds variety, right?"

 

"Indeed.  And it will be efficient to have items there.  It will allow more time for making love."

 

She smiled.  "Such a human term."

 

"But apt.  I see no harm in speaking in terms that accurately describe what is occurring—even if the terms are exceedingly human."

 

She moved over to him, wanting to touch his face, feeling a wave of tenderness for him that she needed to express.  "Making love is also a very emotional way to put it."

 

"Yes."  His tone was mock severe and disapproving.  "Most unseemly."  Then he pulled her down onto the bed and kissed her again.  He moved over and into her, and she closed her eyes and let him do whatever he wanted as he made love to her again.  For a very long time.

 

She ended up using the flitter since he'd kept her in bed so long, both to get to her apartment and then to Starfleet Command.  It was an indulgence, and she loved every minute of it.

 

##

 

Chapel looked through her notes on the padd she was holding as her team stood around her in the main bay.  "All right, we've got mudslides on Cenac.  I need four.  Who feels like slogging through that?"

 

Eight hands went up, Montenegro's was one of them.  "Fine, Wainwright, Cassat, Liu and M'Tak.  And I know you're all doing this for the free booze they serve us whenever we're there."

 

There were some murmurs of "Got that right" and "Love that place" and she laughed softly. 

 

"Okay, next.  Clean-up from an ion storm on Vega Omega Seven.  Borrrring.  Two, please."

 

Four hands went up.  Not the same people as before, except for Montenegro.  "Sulek and Carr.  Thanks, folks.  That's it for today."  She watched them go back to their stations—all except Montenegro.  "Something wrong, Lieutenant?"

 

"Yep.  Can we talk privately?"

 

"Sure."  She walked to her office, could hear how angry Montenegro's footsteps sounded.  "Privacy," she said, as soon as they were clear of the door.

 

"Why did you ignore me just now?"

 

"I didn't ignore you.  I simply didn't choose you."

 

"Why?  Since when am I not capable of slogging through mud or cleaning shit up?"

 

"You're recovering."  She sat down and motioned for Montenegro to take the chair on the other side of her desk but the woman stayed standing. 

 

"I'm recovered.  And I'm bored shitless.  You have me on the most crap tasks possible.  I'm used to doing five things at once—I learned that from you."  She stopped and took a deep breath.  "I have a doctor and you're not her.  She cleared me two days ago.  Why are you doing this to me?"

 

"Emilia, I don't know if you understand this but you were dead.  On the table.  They had to resuscitate you."

 

"So what?  You've been dead on a table three times."

 

Chapel could feel her expression freeze into an angry one.  "How did you get into my medical file?"

 

"I didn't."  Montenegro finally sat, and Chapel thought it was an attempt to placate her.  "Your medical file is close hold.  Our ops reports, on the other hand, aren't.  I just went through all the ones you've been on."

 

"All of them?"

 

"What the hell else do I have to do?  You died three times.  Once shot.  Once drowned in a flash flood.  Once smoke inhalation.  And yet here you still are."  She leaned forward.  "You taught me to be like you.  Why hold me back?"

 

"But you're not like me, Emilia.  You came to us straight out of the Academy.  You've never served on a ship or on a starbase.  There are other jobs out there.  You can't become a lifer if you haven't lived yet."

 

"Why not?  Helping people isn't a good way to live a life?  I don't want to be on a ship.  I'm so bored when we're in transit.  I watch what the crew on the ships do, and I think it looks excruciating."

 

"It's not dull."

 

"Maybe not.  But I believe I'd be bored.  And I can't live from one red alert to another.  This is what I want to do."  She studied Chapel.  "Send me with the others to do clean-up."

 

"No."

 

She expected Montenegro to protest or get angry, but she just leaned back and looked down.  Then she met her eyes and said, "I know Admiral Cartwright was your mentor."

 

"Common knowledge."

 

"Fine.  But...if you'd had the opportunity to stop him from going down the path he was on, wouldn't you have taken it?"

 

"Of course.  What does that have to do with anything?"

 

Montenegro swallowed hard.  "I admire you.  I'm your friend, not just the junior officer you've mentored, even if you don't maybe realize that.  But I think I'm not the one that needs to get out of Ops.  I think you are."

 

"What?"

 

"You're burned out.  You weren't before but these last few months—you've changed.  And this thing with me: it's not about me.  It's about you and how tired you are and how you're sick of making those comms to our families when we lose someone—do you think we don't know how hard that must be for you?"

 

Chapel leaned back, swallowing hard.  "That's no reason to run away."

 

"Who said anything about running away?  Commander Rand told me you were on the short list for captain of the Hippocrates."

 

"What?"  How the hell did Janice know that?  Unless Sulu had heard something and told her.

 

"You'd be great at that.  That crew would be so lucky.  You need to get out of here, Christine."

 

Chapel closed her eyes.  "Fine, you can go to the mud or the clean-up.  Whichever you want."

 

"Does that mean you'll think about what I've said?  I know I'm out of line, but I had to say it."

 

Chapel opened her eyes and shook her head.  "No, you're my friend, Emilia—I do know that.  You're not out of line.  I am...tired.  But it's just been a bad run."

 

"It's not going to get better.  And we both know that."  Montenegro stood.  "I hate mud, free booze notwithstanding."

 

"Have fun with clean-up, then.  I'll amend the orders for three."

 

"Thank you."  She walked around the desk and surprised Chapel with an impromptu and slightly awkward hug.  "You mean the world to me."  Then she let her go, said, "Open door," and hurried out.

 

Chapel amended the orders and sent them on before she could forget, and then sat—it required too much energy to think very hard about what Montenegro had said, to consider her options.

 

She was just so damn tired.

 

##

 

She lay in bed with Sarek in his chambers, one of the negligees she'd brought over and stored in the enormous wardrobe half off her thanks to his attentions.  He seemed to approve of her lingerie selection even if she never seemed to wear it for long. 

 

She shrugged the rest of it off and pushed it off the bed, then picked delicacies off a cart full of food that he'd had sent up from the kitchen.  "This is something I could get used to."

 

"I fully expect you to."  He nudged her toward some Spanish cheese, and she laughed and grabbed a piece, holding it to his mouth.  He took it delicately and closed his eyes as he chewed.

 

"It is good."  She took a piece for herself, then some more grapes.  She never had fresh fruit—or any interesting food, really—at her place.  The embassy always had something yummy, shuttled in from all over the planet and beyond.  "So my protˇgˇ told me today I should get out of Ops.  That I'm burnt out."

 

"Do you believe she is right?"

 

"Do you?"

 

He shook his head.  "This is not about what I think.  It is your career and you must decide.  Is she right?"

 

Chapel took a huge strawberry, putting off answering as she bit into it, enjoying the sweetness.  Finally, she finished, and said softly, "Yes."

 

"Then what are you going to do?"  He pointed to the strawberries and like a dutiful serf she fed a small one to him, laughing as he kissed her fingers after he was done eating.

 

"I'm on the short list for the Hippocrates."

 

"The flagship of the medical fleet.  Quite an honor."

 

She nodded.

 

"Yet you are not happy?"

 

"I don't want to be on a ship.  I don't want to leave you."

 

"Fortunate.  I would also prefer that.  But you are tired and you should wait until you are rested to make a decision."

 

She laughed softly.  "No, I should wait until they actually offer it to me."

 

"I stand corrected."  His lips tilted slightly, his eyes were soft.  "You wish to stay with me?"

 

"I do.  But I'm not Amanda.  I can't just follow you around as your..."

 

"My mate.  My wife."  He stroked her hair back.

 

She frowned.  "Did you just propose?"

 

"I believe I did."

 

"Oh.  Okay."

 

"Is that an acceptance?"

 

She laughed harder.  "Yeah, I guess it was."  She leaned in and kissed him.  "Least romantic proposal ever."

 

"Which should come as no surprise since it is I you will marry."  He sat up.  "What if you were not with me solely as my wife?" 

 

"Go on."

 

"There are generally two types of individuals drawn to diplomacy.  Those with large egos that see glory ahead."

 

"You hate those types."  It was the kind of person he bitched the most about after missions.  Even if he would never admit to bitching.

 

"I do not select them for my staff."

 

"Same diff."  She grabbed the plate of strawberries and put it between them.  "And the second type?"

 

"Those who desire peace and prosperity for all.  A sincere, driving need.  My staff is full of such individuals, both Vulcan and otherwise."

 

"Sounds like a good thing."

 

"They have a tendency to desire the end-state to such a degree that they superimpose it on the present.  They see the best in people.  At times this has..."

 

"Bit you in the ass?"  She took another strawberry, extra dark and so damn sweet.

 

"Precisely.  I need someone who tends to look at situations as they are.  Who expects negativity but is not pessimistic about our chances to change that."

 

"You need me.  Or someone like me."

 

"You will do nicely."

 

She fed him another strawberry.  "That's because someone like me won't lie in bed with you and pretend you're a Roman emperor, peeling grapes and all."

 

"You have never peeled a grape for me."

 

"And I'm not going to start now."  She lay back.  "Can you make this happen?  I don't want to leave Starfleet to try it."

 

"You will not have to.  I am able to finesse just about anything I choose to focus on.  If I want another Starfleet billet added, it will happen.  The question is do you want me to do it now or do you want to wait to see if you are offered the Hippocrates?"

 

"If we wait, and I turn it down, I will fuck my career over beyond repair.  One does not turn down the Hippocrates." 

 

He showed no surprise at her language, but then they'd been together long enough for him to know she was way too fond of swearing.  Fortunately, she could temper it when necessary.

 

"Do it now, Sarek.  Get the ball moving.  So I'm taken.  They'll be relieved.  One less qualified candidate to worry about."

 

"As you wish.  I will get a meeting with the CINC tomorrow."

 

"You don't just get a meeting with the CINC."  She saw his expression change to the one he always wore when she underestimated just how much access he had.  "Fine, maybe you do.  Go forth and create a billet."

 

He pulled her down and kissed her.  "You will increase my staff's efficiency—and my own.  And we will have this."

 

"And I don't want to lose this.  Not now that I finally have it."  She ran her fingers through his hair, pressing gently, an impromptu head massage.  "You really want to get married?"

 

"I do.  You are mine.  And I am yours.  I want to formalize that."

 

She started to laugh.  "This will be Spock's worst nightmare."

 

"That is an exaggeration."  He gestured for her to bring the cheese plate over, too.  "And even if it is, he is rarely here."

 

"True.  He'll be here next week, though.  Or were you not going to tell me?"

 

He did not look surprised that she knew.  "Semek told you I had made reservations for dinner for the three of us?"

 

"He did.  He likes me."  Hell, she seemed to be popular with most Vulcans—why the hell did it have to be Spock, the one Vulcan immune to her charms, who had caught her eye so long ago?

 

"Semek does appear to think highly of you.  It will ease your integration into the team, having him on your side.  He is my gate-keeper."

 

She lay back, wondering what it would feel like to not be in Ops after so many years.

 

"Second thoughts?"

 

She reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze.  "Nope.  Just contemplating the future."

 

"It will be with me."

 

"I love the sound of that."  She looked over at him.  "Do you think Amanda meant this to happen?"

 

His face changed, a tenderness that was part for her and part for Amanda  "I do.  She would know that I would seek you out after the Pon Farr.  I have always regarded you highly."

 

She turned to her side.  "And knowing she'd approve of me—of this—that makes it easier to proceed, doesn't it?"

 

"It does.  But even if I thought she would not approve, I would still want you.  I care deeply for you."

 

She loved when he spoke in such sweet terms—more of Amanda's training, no doubt.  "I love you, too, Sarek.  Thank you for taking care of me."

 

"It was you who first took care of me.  And it is hardly a selfless act."  He pointed to a fat strawberry and raised an eyebrow.

 

"Tyrant," she said and fed him the berry, feeling as if a huge weight had been lifted from her.  One she hadn't even been consciously aware was crushing her.

 

She owed Montenegro a bottle of very good scotch.

 

##

 

Chapel followed Sarek out of the flitter and saw Spock waiting for them inside the restaurant.  "Are we late?  Did you make us late?"  He'd been particularly amorous before they'd left. 

 

"Christine, you are nervous."

 

"No shit, I'm nervous.  You try telling the guy you used to stalk that you're going to be his stepmom."

 

"I will tell him, so you may relax."  He nodded to Spock as they walked in.  "My son."

 

"Father.  Cap—Christine."

 

She smiled, tried to make it the least sexual one she could then was afraid it was coming off as some kind of mad-clown grin.  "Spock."

 

"This way," the ma”tre d' said, and they followed him.  "Shall I send the sommelier over?"

 

"Please," Sarek said, before she could answer, and he looked at her, fondness evident.

 

"Ah," Spock said.  "I had heard that you were together."

 

She was surprised he would tackle this head on.  And so calmly.  She decided to let Sarek answer him.

 

"We are.  She will be my wife."

 

"Congratulations."  He did not look at Chapel as he said it.

 

Her nervousness fled, replaced by a low-grade anger.  "Who told you?"

 

"What?"

 

"Who told you we were togther?"  He was rarely at the embassy, and she couldn't see Semek telling him.  Would the other Vulcans be gossips?

 

"Christine, he is aware.  Is that not sufficient?"  Sarek turned back to Spock.  "You are well?"

 

"I am."  He finally looked at her.  "You both appear to prosper."

 

"Christine will be joining my staff."  Sarek looked pleased; he'd gotten the billet approved and moved over to his staff in record time.

 

"I see." 

 

Chapel was getting sick of his short responses.  "It's good news all around, huh?"

 

"Indeed.  I am quite..."

 

"Floored.  Appalled.  Giddy with anticipation?"  She started to laugh.  "Could we please just admit this is really strange?"

 

"Well, to be fair to you, Christine, my father and I rarely have comfortable interactions."

 

"Indeed," Sarek said.  "Dinner out is an uncommon event for us."

 

"So you're both doing this for me?"  She smiled broadly as the sommelier walked up, ordering a glass of some special cabernet rather than a bottle—she wanted to stay clear headed.  As he left, she smiled and said,  "Saved by the wine." 

 

"My mother used to say that."  For a moment, Spock's expression became very gentle.

 

"I can imagine her saying that."  Chapel leaned forward.  "I respect her place in Sarek's life, Spock.  I'm not trying to replace her."

 

For a moment, Spock's jaw tightened.  Then he said, "Before she died, she told me that you and my father might...become involved.  And that I should support you."

 

Sarek looked surprised.  "She told you that?"

 

"Indeed.  She was always concerned for our relationship.  And your happiness, Father.  And yours, too, I imagine, Christine.  You were, after all, her friend."

 

"I was.  I loved her."

 

Spock nodded, acceptance clear even if awkwardness was not far behind.  "You are a woman of excellent character.  I have always known that."

 

"Thank you."  She glanced at Sarek.  He looked...relieved.  Had he thought Spock would fight this?  Be mean to her?  Run in fear?  "What are you doing these days?"

 

Spock seemed to shut down a little.  "I am working on a special project."

 

They waited and he gave them nothing more.

 

"Okay, then."  She glanced at Sarek and his look told her to leave it alone.  She leaned back and sighed in relief as her wine arrived.

 

She would let Sarek do the heavy conversational lifting for a while—she was going to drink.

 

She felt Sarek's hand on her knee under the tablecloth, a gentle squeeze and then he let go.

 

They were saved from idle chit chat by the waiter, who detailed the house specialties in excruciating detail.  When he finally took their order and left, she started to laugh.  "Wow."

 

"Indeed."  Spock's mouth turned up slightly.  "Jim used to always find such displays amusing."

 

"You miss him," she said as gently as she could.

 

He met her eyes.  For once, there wasn't any of the old tension between them.  He seemed to accept she'd said that from a place of love—but not romantic love.  "I do.  Very much."

 

"I'm sorry he's gone.  Harriman..."  She put a load of scorn on the name.

 

"The less said about him the better," Sarek said, earning him looks from both her and Spock.  "What is so surprising about my statement?  I have had to travel on his ship.  He is most...uninspiring."

 

"Amen."  Chapel shook her head.  "How that man has a ship is beyond me."

 

"It was beyond Jim as well."  Spock looked down.  "And yet he went to the launch."

 

"And he saved the ship and those on board," Sarek said, far more gently than she thought was his norm when talking to Spock.  "He died most bravely, my son."

 

"Yes."  Spock looked down.

 

"Scant consolation," she murmured, and Spock met her eyes and nodded.

 

There was a long moment of uneasy silence, but then the salads arrived and they could busy themselves with eating, and she could try to get them to lighter ground by saying, "Len will be in town next week.  He's getting together the old crew."

 

Spock nodded.  "I will be there.  Will you?"

 

"Wouldn't miss it."

 

"And you, father?"

 

"I was not part of that crew, Spock.  My presence would add nothing."

 

She turned to him and smiled.  "You'd be bored by all the 'Remember when?' stories."

 

"Quite likely."  He looked over at Spock.  "Saavik is returning to Earth."

 

Spock finally perked up.  "She did not notify me."

 

"Maybe she wanted to surprise you."  Chapel grinned at him.  She hadn't met Saavik yet, but she was intrigued.

 

"Perhaps. Valeris was a...wedge between us."

 

"Well, Valeris is gone now.  So...work that out."  She smiled and realized it was a very mom thing to say—could this get any weirder? 

 

"You are no doubt right, Christine.  Excellent advice." 

 

Yes, yes it could.

 

Sarek's hand was back on her knee, again the squeeze.  Did he approve or did he want her to quit talking?  They were going to have to discuss secret signals and their meanings when they got home.

 

Home.  The embassy.  Or her apartment.  Maybe a shuttle.  But definitely wherever he was.  She slipped her hand under the table and put it over his, squeezed and smiled when he looked over at her.  "This salad is wonderful."

 

"Indeed."

 

"It is quite good," Spock said, apparently wanting to be agreeable.  Although he did seem to be enjoying it. 

 

But then she had no idea if that was his norm—if he ate all his salad or left half of it.  She was suddenly very glad she had no idea. 

 

Sarek would eat all of his.  She knew that well. 

 

He moved his hand off her knee and began to talk of things diplomatic.  Spock had opinions, and as they talked the tentativeness of their interaction wore off.  She smiled, paying attention this time instead of drifting off to think about Ops things.  Diplomacy was going to be her new life.

 

God help diplomacy.

 

##

 

Chapel watched Spock walk back to wherever he was staying, then turned to Sarek.  "Well?"

 

"I was satisfied by how he took the news, how he interacted with us."  He urged her into the flitter, then told it to take them to her apartment.

 

"It was awkward as hell at first."

 

"That was to be expected.  Given your interest in him at one time.  And his relationship with me, which colored the interaction far more than anything he thought about you, Christine.  I assure you: it would not have been any easier were you not involved."

 

"That's not really a nice thought.  I'm sorry you don't have a better relationship."

 

"Kaiidth."

 

"Logical."  She leaned against him.  "I'm glad I'm with you, not him."

 

"As am I."  His lips turned up more than usual.  "I will, however, verify that your sentiment is true with a meld."

 

"Go nuts," she said with a grin.

 

The flitter pulled in at her apartment, and she followed him out.  He wasted no time getting them upstairs and her undressed and pressed against the wall as he took her with a bit more urgency than usual, working very hard to ensure she was happy before he let go.

 

"Feeling possessive?" she said as he finished and let her down.  "Do you want to pee in the corners now to mark the place as yours?"

 

He let out his huff of amusement.  "That will not be necessary."

 

"He frustrates you.  Over and above anything to do with me."

 

"Yes.  He frustrates me.  Our relationship frustrates me.  I try...and I believe he does, too.  But we do not connect in any way that is not superficial.  I thought, after his mother died, that we were building something stronger.  But he went away, and then there was you, and I did not seek to sustain it."

 

"But he went away, so how could you?  What is this pet project?"

 

"I do not know.  He was on leave, not on a mission."

 

"That's weird."  She shook her head.  "And I don't care.  He's a big boy and he can make his own decisions."

 

Again the huff.  "Amanda used to say that.  It usually meant she was worried."

 

"Well, I'm not going to worry.  Maybe Saavik will.  Are they...involved?"  She led him into the bedroom and they undressed the rest of the way and climbed into bed, lounging against the nest of pillows she'd found he liked as much as she did.  "Wasn't she his ward?"

 

"Not precisely.  Their relationship is complicated."

 

"Either they're involved or they're not.  How complicated can it be?"  She snuggled up against him, and he put his arm around her and drew her closer.

 

"Kaiidth," he murmured.

 

"Fine.  I'll leave it alone.  But I've never met her and now I'm curious."

 

"You will like her.  She is quite personable."

 

"She may not approve of us."

 

He kissed her hair.  "If Amanda told Spock to support us, I have no doubt she told Saavik the same thing.  She would not leave such a thing to chance."

 

"True."  She relaxed.  "I owe her so much.  And you—she took care of you so well, even not here."

 

"She did."  He rubbed her arm.  "She would want me to try harder with Spock."

 

"You two are like magnets.  Try as you might, you're going to push each other away."

 

"You see that.  She never did."

 

"He's not my son.  Makes all the difference."  She turned so she could kiss him.  "Can we stop talking about Spock now?"

 

"Most assuredly."  He reached for the meld points.

 

"Really?  You weren't kidding about that?"

 

"You loved him once.  I need to know."

 

"Rifle away, only don't blame me for what you get—and stay away from the work stuff, if you don't mind." 

 

"Soon your work will be the same as mine.  There will be no need to worry."

 

"You know I worry?"

 

"I do.  I would not intrude on anything sensitive from Emergency Operations."

 

She smiled and kissed him, letting him conduct his big investigatory meld, which didn't last long because she really wanted him to kiss her and he could no doubt tell that.  He finally did kiss her, letting the meld go, and she could feel his satisfaction—the sheer possessiveness he felt for her.  "Told you.  You and only you."

 

"I am pleased."

 

She pushed him down, began to kiss down his body.  "Let's see if we can get you more than pleased."

 

He moaned as she worked, cried out more than was his norm, but she was pulling out all the stops.  When he pulled her up and kissed her, she said, "Did I get you to happy yet?"  She grinned at the slightly dazed expression he was wearing.  "How about blissful?" 

 

"Yes," he said, clearly not trying to put up any resistance to admitting to emotions and strong ones, and his almost-smile backed him up.

 

"I love you," she said, laughing as he eased down her body.  "So, so, so much."


Then she couldn't think, much less talk.  He was pulling out all the stops, too.  He slid up and watched her come down, stroking her cheek, his eyes as tender as she'd ever seen them.  "I would like us to marry soon."

 

"Okay."  She felt boneless, closed her eyes and grinned.

 

"Christine, this is important."

 

She nodded.  "Whenever you want.  I'm game."  She opened her eyes.  "Do we have to do a big wedding?  We can just slip away, can't we?  Or do it in the embassy?"

 

"You do not want a traditional ceremony?"

 

"God, no.  I only want you." 

 

"You are a woman of few needs."

 

"No, I am a woman of many needs.  You just happen to fill them."  She pulled him down for another kiss.

 

When they finally pulled away, he murmured very softly, "I stand corrected."

 

 

FIN