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) 2017 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.

After Effects

 

By Djinn

 

 

"So," Chapel said as Spock rolled off her, breathing hard. "When do you think you're going to get sick of me?"

 

He turned so he was facing her and gently wiped the sweat from her forehead. "Do you want me to grow tired of you?"

 

"No, but I don't want you to get bored of doing...this." She laughed and captured his hand with hers, pulling it down and down and...

 

Holy shit, the man was good at this.

 

"Surely you can ascertain that I am far from bored."

 

"I agree. You're not bored at this moment." He didn't stop what he was doing and she gave up trying to form sentences.

 

But when her breathing went back to normal, he actually frowned as he said, "I am concerned that you think I will cease wanting this."

 

"It's more me I'm afraid you'll cease wanting. No guy ever quits wanting sex."

 

"Have I done something to give you the impression I am tired of you?"

 

"No, but I let you into my bed—"

 

"We are in my bed."

 

"You know what I mean. We began a sexual relationship when you were compromised. After the meld with V'ger. It was...unethical."

 

"To be fair to your ethics, I have expressed interest in you in the past."

 

"Yes, when you were also compromised, that time by Pon Farr hormones."

 

He studied her. "This is not the same thing."

 

"But it's the basis of your argument—that you've expressed interest."

 

His lips ticked up; she amused him way more than she thought she would. "True." He nestled in. "I am happy. You are happy when you allow yourself to be. Soon I will not use the word 'happy' and will revert to something suitably Vulcan such as 'content.' But the sentiment will remain. I enjoy you. In or out of our beds." He sighed in a way that did sound pretty damn happy.

 

But she'd given him a bunch of orgasms and he'd reciprocated. What guy wouldn't be happy?

 

"Christine, go to sleep." He snaked his arm over her.

 

"I have to pee. Why do Vulcans never have to pee?"

 

"Desert climate. Conservation of hydration."

 

"Well let me up because I wasn't born in a desert."

 

He let her up and pulled the pillow she'd been resting on closer, as if he wanted her scent near him the short time she'd be in the head.

 

"Don't get that all sweaty." She shot him a mock glare.

 

But Vulcans didn't sweat much either. Same principle, no doubt. He didn't even bother to answer her, just welcomed her back to the bed once she was done and pulled her in close. "I care for you."

 

"You can't be certain of that. I ran your numbers today, remember? Everything's still out of whack from the meld with V'ger." But much less so than they had been.

 

"I am unconcerned."

 

"I'm not."

 

"Christine, please go to sleep." He kissed the side of her neck, his lips lingering in the way she liked.

 

"Not fair."

 

"Eminently practical, though." He relaxed against her and was out in mere moments.

 

She thought she'd be awake, obsessing over this, but he'd pulled out all the stops and her body was worn out even if her mind wasn't. When she woke, he was curled around her, his hair mussed, snoring softly.

 

A girl could get used to this.

 

##

 

She ran into Len as she was leaving Spock's quarters.

 

"Christine? A word?" He sounded cranky. And she didn't like the look in his eyes—the one that prefaced a soaking in acid-laced sarcasm.

 

"Here?"

 

"My office. When you"—he glanced down the hall, toward her quarters—"do whatever you do to get ready after...that." He waved toward Spock's door and didn't try to hide his disapproval.

 

The corridor was empty so she moved closer to him, pitching her voice low enough she didn't think Spock would hear her. "Let's just do it now."

 

"When you reek of his incense? He's compromised, Christine. What part of that doesn't compute?" He took a deep breath. "I could write you up."

 

She tried to dial back the anger. Tried to see her former boss—her...friend. Was he, though? Had he ever really been? With his constant teasing—or even taunting—about Spock. Was that what a friend would do?

 

She tried not to see the man who'd been yanked out of retirement and put in her slot, in charge of the sickbay she'd helped Will design.

 

The man who'd come into her sickbay and the first thing he'd done was give her shit for not being a nurse anymore.

 

"You know what, Doctor." She moved closer and stood straighter. "You do whatever the fuck you think best."

 

"Christine, come on. I'm trying to reason with you. He's..."

 

"He's what? Going to wake up someday and be over me. Yeah, he might be. But that happens in relationships. With or without compromise." It sort of killed her that she was talking as if she'd never broached this with Spock, as if this wasn't a concern for her—that she was crossing an ethical line.

 

But Len, coming in with his scorched-earth approach to colleague counseling—hell, she didn't think he even thought she was a colleague. Just a nurse with a new degree.

 

And she'd already had as many degrees as he did when she was a nurse.

 

"I just think you should have waited."

 

She let out a bark of laughter, the kind that was so full of bitterness that it ripped and tore. "Oh, like you did, when you thought you were dying? You moved in with a woman you'd known for what? A day? A few hours?"

 

She looked down—why the hell was she bringing this up now? Who the fuck cared if he married a hundred alien priestesses—and let them put behavior mod tech in his goddamned body.

 

She held back a shudder. The idea of the tech reminded her of Roger in a way.

 

She realized Len was talking. "What?"

 

"I asked you what the hell Natira had to do with Spock?"

 

"Actually very little. Since I've known him a long time and he has evidenced interest even if you prefer to act as if I'm wasting my time chasing him. I never chased him."

 

"Right. Because making him soup in no way equals chasing."

 

"I made everyone soup. It was my goddamn job—or so you told me when you decided my bedside manner was the cat's miaow. I even made you fucking soup when you were ill." He'd never returned the favor when she was sick.

 

"The soup you brought me didn't come with a promise of sex."

 

"Neither did his."

 

"Didn't stop you from..." He stopped and shook his head.

 

"Didn't stop me from what? Do you think I slept with him back then—when he was going through that?" She studied him, the tight purse of his lips, the way his eyebrows met over his eyes in the scowl she particularly hated. "I wouldn't have. He really was compromised. Far more than now."

 

"So you admit he is."

 

"Fine, yes, his chems are off. But he's fine."

 

"Or he's just horny and you're the nearest port in the storm."

 

"Why are you always so mean?"

 

"Why do you always look to him?"

 

She frowned. It wasn't the answer she expected. "Are you jealous?"

 

"And if I was? What difference would it make? He's all you see." He shook his head. "Obviously, I'm not completely objective in this. So we'll compromise. I won't write you up for taking advantage of your patient, and you will cease to treat him until he's back to Vulcan normal."

 

"Fine."

 

"Fine." He shook his head. "I hope to God you know what you're doing."

 

"That's a nice sentiment, but I don't believe that's what you hope. I think you hope we'll crash and burn spectacularly."

 

"You think whatever you want, Doctor. I suggest you go get ready. Shift started five minutes ago."

 

"One more thing you can write me up for." As he turned, she added, "In my sickbay."

 

He stopped and seemed to take a deep breath. "We'll save that topic for some other day." Then he walked away, leaving her shaking.

 

Spock's door opened and he frowned slightly as he took her in, then leaned out to watch Len entering the turbolift. "I heard all of that."

 

"Bully for you."

 

He gently drew her into his quarters and let the door close.

 

"Spock, no, I'll be late."

 

"You are already late; you will merely be later. You are shaking."

 

"Because I'm livid." She made a face. "No one else heard us, did they? It's your super-duper Vulcan hearing that let you hear us?"

 

"No one else heard you." He cupped her cheek with her palm.

 

"He just made me so mad. Not approving of us."

 

"It was my impression that only a small percentage of what you were fighting over had to do with me." He lifted an eyebrow.

 

"Meaning what?"

 

"I believe the two of you have unresolved issues."

 

"Yeah, Spock, he stole my job." She leaned against the wall and sighed heavily.

 

"Are you sure that is all it is?"

 

"Don't. Don't even." She held up her hand. "I have to get to work. And so do you." She frowned. "You're late and you don't even care. You really are compromised, Spock. What are we doing?"

 

He pulled her in and kissed her. "We will figure that out in time."

 

She eased away. "I hope so."

 

##

 

She waited until the end of the shift to face Len down, knocking on the doorframe to his office, expecting the stern look he was capable of putting on before a major dressing down, but instead he just waved her in, told her to put the door on privacy, and reached for his bourbon and two glasses.

 

She saw it was his favorite and sat down without launching into him the way she'd planned.

 

"I may have overreached," he said as he handed her a glass. His eyes weren't firing bullets like earlier, his energy was easy—the McCoy she loved to work with. The one she counted as her friend.

 

"He is compromised." It wasn't what she'd intended to lead with but it was out, so she let it hang and occupied herself with enjoying his very good whiskey.

 

He held his glass up and she clinked hers against it, not sure what they were toasting. Maybe honesty?

 

"Christine, I'm sorry about your reassignment—I hope you know I never intended for this to happen. I was retired...I thought I was retired anyway. Not the same thing, apparently."

 

"It's not just that you took it, Len. It's that you never said a thing about it. Just...moved in. To quarters I had to move out of during my off time. With no help from you."

 

"That why we have a quartermasters unit."

 

"It's been so long since you lived below decks—hell, maybe you never did, I don't know. It wasn't that long ago that I did. Do you understand how much the staff in that unit know? How much they tell the lower decks?"

 

"Seriously?"

 

"Yes. I was damned if it would be spread all over that I was having to move my shit." Her friends had helped her. Thank God the furniture stayed with the rooms. She'd just had to move her personal stuff. Which she had a lot of. She'd planned to make this a long assignment.

 

He looked uncomfortable.

 

"You didn't even say anything when the CMO's office was suddenly vacant. Two of the nurses helped me. We didn't say a goddamn thing to each other as we did it. Just got my shit out as fast as we could."

 

"Which two?"

 

"No way. They're mine. They'll always be loyal to me first."

 

"And that matters to you, doesn't it?" He sighed. "What the hell was I supposed to say that wouldn't make things worse? Jim just blew up your life."

 

"It wasn't just him. He could commandeer you for an emergency like V'ger, but you chose to stay on."

 

He started to say something and she said, "No, I don't care if you were bored in Savannah. This is on you."

 

"I wasn't bored in Savannah."

 

"Well, I wouldn't know, would I? We were both on Earth but you never got in contact."

 

"That works both ways, toots. Are you trying to say you wanted me to look you up? Because being suddenly attractive once your unrequited love decides to go home to become a fucking automaton is not exactly an esteem booster."

 

She knew he'd phrased it that way on purpose. She'd told him about Roger's true fate because she'd thought she could trust him—never expected to have it turned back on her. "That was low."

 

He had the grace to look like he agreed, but he just threw back his drink and poured another.

 

"Look, I never said I wanted you to look me up for a date, Len. But...would it have killed you to comm me? To check on me?"

 

"Would it have killed you to comm me? I wasn't the one with a life still." He closed his eyes as if angry he'd said that.

 

"So you were bored in Savannah."

 

"Fine, I was."

 

She finished her glass and pushed it toward him. "Fill 'er up, Doc."

 

He did and as she reached for it, he touched her fingers, rubbing gently. "You shouldn't be with Spock."

 

"And you're my boss. You shouldn't be fondling my fingers."

 

He didn't jerk them back—he had balls, she'd never doubted that. And he didn't play the card she expected: the "you were engaged to your boss" argument. "Spock's not himself."

 

"Maybe not. But for now, he's mine. Please, Len. Please don't take that away." She let the other stuff dangle unsaid but knew he'd hear it: don't take Spock away like he'd taken her job—her future.

 

"Fine, but if Jim asks me I'll have to—"

 

"He knows. Spock told him."

 

He looked honestly surprised. "Oh."

 

"Unless he told you to talk to me about it, he's fine with it. Or not objecting."

 

"He didn't tell me to talk to you." He leaned back. "He's...distant."

 

"I take it you didn't look him up either when you were in Savannah."

 

His nod was grudging and bitchy all at once. "I told him not to take that job. It drove him nuts just like I said it would."

 

"And that's just what he'd want you—his friend—to do. Stay home and pat yourself on the back for being right about his misery instead of reaching out."

 

His eyes narrowed. "How much time did you spend with him?"

 

"Not a whole lot. I was too busy hanging out with his protg. You remember him. Went by Will Decker. Captain, before the return of the trinity."

 

"Were you sleeping with Decker?"

 

She laughed. She knew people thought that. "Nope. Just took him soup at the right time."

 

He looked confused.

 

"After his dad died. I thought, given how I'd lost Roger, that we might have something in common. I just went to say I was sorry. We...I don't know—clicked I guess is the best way to put it." They'd both been in love with aliens. That had been a big shared bond. Even if Will had left his and hers had never been hers to begin with.

 

And probably shouldn't be now. Might not be if the man in front of her didn't let this go.

 

Len leaned back, sighing heavily, and she realized he'd been holding himself tightly around her. "You think I don't feel shitty for taking your job? Because I do. But...I was just treading water at home. I was so unhappy."

 

"Couldn't you be happy on a different ship?" But she knew the answer to that. Kirk wouldn't let that happen. "Question withdrawn."

 

"I'm sorry, Christine. I'm sorry I didn't...reach out when you were having to move quarters and offices. I felt guilty. But...happy, too. And it was just easier to pretend it wasn't my problem than admit I was benefitting from your bad luck."

 

She nodded and stood. "Spock's expecting me for dinner." She waited.

 

"Enjoy yourself." It was said somewhat grudgingly and he didn't meet her eyes, but she knew from their years together that it was how he conceded something so emotionally laden.

 

"Thank you." She resisted adding "I will." Sometimes she could actually stop while she was ahead.

 

##

 

Chapel was working on reports—she hadn't realized how many M'Benga must have filled out—when she heard a soft cough at her door. She was shocked to see the lead doctor for beta shift in the doorway and glanced at her chrono. Shit, she'd been at this for hours.

 

"Got a sec?"

 

"Sure, Stell. Come on in."

 

"I need a second opinion from my chief." Stella Pierce smiled in a way Chapel knew was meant to be full of solidarity and support.

 

She took the padd and glanced at it. "McCoy's still here, right?"

 

"Yeah."

 

The thing Stella wanted a second look at was actually something the CMO should know about. Had he not been there, Chapel would have handled it, but things were weird enough without her looking as if she didn't know when to take a step back. "You need to show this to him." She handed the padd back.

 

"Well, if we wait a minute or two, I'm sure he'll be gone and then you can handle it."

 

Chapel hit the button under her desk that turned privacy on—a nice upgrade and one she'd designed into the refit plans after getting sick of having to get up to shut the door once it was clear something wasn't going to be a door-open conversation with a patient. The door slid shut, the windows darkened.

 

"Don't lecture me, Christine. I took this slot to work for you, not some good old boy from Georgia." She did a creditable imitation of Len when he was really milking the accent.

 

"That's not all he is. He's a fine doctor and he'll be a good boss. Besides, you're the head of beta. You barely see him other than nights like this."

 

"He's in that office more than you might think, kiddo." Stella sat back. "Do you know what he said to me about you when we were introduced after V'ger? 'Why, Christine and I go way back. She was my head nurse, don't you know?'"

 

"He did not say 'don't you know.'"

 

"Okay, that part he didn't say. But the rest. Like...you weren't a doctor when he knew you. It ticked me off."

 

"Actually I was a doctor—of biochem. And I was his head nurse. It's not a lie."

 

"Why are you defending him? He took your job." She closed her eyes. "Hell, he sort of took mine. I was hoping D'Angelo wouldn't work out and I could move up to be your deputy. I know you didn't pick him—Decker did, right?"

 

She nodded. "Another casualty of the Kirk coup. He found a new ship. Maybe you should, too."

 

"Maybe you should. Jesus, Christine, didn't you tell me when we talked about this assignment that you weren't ever going to throw your career away again for a man? And here you are doing it because you're making like a bunny with the Vulcan half of Heroes of the Galaxy and Beyond. I get he's dark and mysterious and smart and, well, famous as hell. But you said—"

 

"I said a lot of things. I didn't know he was an option, to be honest, or I might not have said that. I've liked him for a long time, Stell. It's not like I just met him and boom."

 

Stella rolled her eyes. "But you could be CMO on another ship."

 

"Are you aware a lot of people believe I slept my way to this one? I think I need to hunker down and prove I'm a good deputy CMO for a captain no one thinks I'm having sex with before I start perusing the vacancies."

 

"I know you weren't sleeping with him. Decker was a smart guy. He would never have given someone who might be mad at him for leaving the seat up the authority to relieve him of command."

 

Chapel smiled. "You're probably right. Although that's not one of the approved reasons for relieving someone." She gestured to the padd. "Go give that to McCoy. Give him a chance. For me, all right? I don't want him to think I'm dividing loyalties." Even if she still hadn't told him which of the nurses were the ones who'd helped her move her stuff into this smaller office.

 

She hit the door button and Stella got up. She peeked around and made a face that obviously meant Len was still in his office. "Fine. For you."

 

Chapel waited till she heard her say, "Hi, Doctor McCoy. Do you have a moment? I need to run something by you." And then Len's tones, mercifully not overly loaded up with Georgia good old boy, telling her to come in and sit down.

 

Stella was just being hard on him. He had a soothing accent most of the time.

 

Chapel smiled and went back to the reports from hell.

 

##

 

"Christine," Kirk said as he slipped in next to her at the bar. "Do you mind if I steal your beau?"

 

"Depends on how long you're going to keep him, Captain." She smiled and he grinned back.

 

"Chess, Doctor." He winked. "And for God's sake, call me Jim. You're with one of my best friends."

 

Spock was safely over talking to Scotty and Sulu, so she leaned in and asked softly, "Are you okay with that?"

 

He leaned in even closer. "Have you been listening to the rumor mill again? I am not involved with my first officer." He started to laugh.

 

"No, I mean—he was kind of, well, ummm...compromised when we started this relationship?"

 

"Nothing compromised about his chess game. Or his job performance. Way I see it, you've liked him forever and I've always suspected he was not unaware of you. So...it's nice, right?"

 

"It is nice, sir."

 

"Jim."

 

"Jim. It's nice, Jim." She took a deep breath. "I love him."

 

"Good. I'd hate to think you were just using him for the sex." With a last grin, he took his drink and went over to Spock and the others. A short while later, he and Spock found a table and set up the chess board.

 

"Bet that'll get old in time." Len slid in next to her and slapped the table. "Bourbon, my good man, and make sure it's good Kentucky straight. None of this synthehol crap."

 

She rolled her eyes.

 

"What? Do you like synthetic wine? No. But you look at me like I'm some fussy old grandma wanting my bourbon authentic."

 

"You're fussy and old but not a grandma." She batted her eyelashes at him until he started to laugh.

 

"Cut that out. You'll give a fussy old man the wrong idea, woman." He looked back over at Spock and Kirk.

 

"I don't think it's going to get as old for me as it has for you," she murmured.

 

He didn't turn to look at her.

 

"Being left out can hurt."

 

"Well, then it's damned lucky that you're here so I'm not alone, isn't it?" He waved the bartender over to refill her wine. "So, tell me the story on Pierce."

 

"I worked with Stella when I was doing my residency at Starfleet Medical. She was...just old enough to be a mentor but young enough to understand what I was going through."

 

"And now you're her boss?"

 

"Yeah, well, I asked her to come."

 

"Ahhhhh. A loyal recruit. That explains a lot." He leaned in letting his shoulder rest against hers. "She doesn't like me."

 

"She doesn't know you. If anything, she probably resents you on my behalf."

 

"How many are there like that in sickbay? I never know who's here because you hand-picked them and who's here because it's the Enterprise."

 

She rolled her eyes. "You have access to every personnel file. Do your own digging, boss."

 

"More fun to just ask you. See you squirm."

 

"Not squirming."

 

"You never did, Christine. It's why I loved working with you."

 

She studied him; he seemed to honestly believe that. "You think you never hurt my feelings?"

 

"Oh, pfff, I'm sure I did. But you came back for more and generally gave as good as you got." He finally met her eyes. "What? You disagree with that assessment?"

 

"Kind of. Yeah. There were times—the things you said about my feelings for Spock—that really hurt. Like, take it back to your quarters and stew kind of hurt."

 

"Wow. Okay. I'll watch that. Although you're fucking him nightly from what I can tell." At her look, he shrugged. "I didn't redesign that thing that pretends to be a wall between his quarters and mine. The old ship was way more soundproofed."

 

"Or Spock just wasn't getting regular sex."

 

"Or you're just really loud." He waggled his eyebrows, and she rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well, whatever the reason, there sure isn't anything to tease you about now except possibly straining something."

 

"Tease. A problematic word. Sounds so innocent but hurts so much."

 

"Would you call it something different? Bullying?"

 

"Len, for shit's sake. You started this convo, not me. Just drink, okay?"

 

"Would you call it bullying? Because I never..."

 

"Teasing is fine. Whatever." She studied him. "You know the soundproofing is adjustable, right?" She started to laugh at his look. "I never had cause to change it. I was going to be living next to Sonak. I just left it on low."

 

"It's adjustable?"

 

"Yeah, on the room terminal, under comfort settings. Starfleet realized that different species had different requirements—they enlarged the range of soundproofing. You can hear just a heartbeat if you want—that's crucial to Tresalix crew and some other species find it comforting. Others, like Deltans, like to hear intimacy, even if they've sworn it off. So fix it. We're not your porn channel."

 

"Shit. I've been listening to you caterwaul this whole time."

 

"I don't caterwaul."

 

"You aren't quiet. I'm just saying." He started to laugh. "Man, do I feel stupid now."

 

She saw Rand come in and waved her over. "Well here's some company to make you feel less so. Behave yourself."

 

"Yes, mother." He held his glass up as Jan walked up. "Janice, my dove, you look as radiant as a Georgia sunrise."

 

"How much has he had to drink?" Rand made the motion that meant "beer and make it snappy" and the bartender hurried over with it.

 

"Hi, Janice." He was practically drooling in the bottle and stood just staring after handing it over.

 

"Hi, Kurt. I'm with my friends now and there are folks trying to get your attention."

 

"Right. Okay. Maybe we can dance later? When I get a break."

 

She shrugged and then laughed once he walked off. "Oh, I'd forgotten how good a big ship could be for a girl's ego."

 

"The fact that you ever forgot is a crime, Janice. A damn shame."

 

"His southern's coming out. I think he must have gotten started early." She took a chair on the other side of Chapel.

 

"Did you know the soundproofing in our quarters is adjustable?" He was frowning.

 

"Yes, I read the specs for the refits. Didn't you? Who's next to y—ohhhhh. Uh. Okay, so very awkward." But Chapel gave her points for rallying as she said in a falsely bright voice, "So who's excited that we're going to the pleasure planet?" She pointed with her bottle at Len. "I bet you're sorry Barrows isn't on the ship anymore."

 

"You weren't even onboard then." He narrowed his eyes at Chapel. "Did you tell her?"

 

"She did. She was...not happy with your partner choice."

 

"Jan." She hadn't been happy, but not because she cared on her own behalf. It was just Tonya had been so damned annoying, strutting around sickbay in that ridiculous princess outfit.

 

"Tell me more, my dear. Christine plays her cards awfully close to the chest where Im concerned."

 

"Well, I sort of wondered why she cared, frankly." Jan was winking at him and Chapel wanted to bop her. Hard.

 

"I don't—didn't care except she was getting glitter all over the instruments in sickbay. He can call Tonya back from wherever she is now and they can re-experience the magic that was that planet, for all I care."

 

"Is Spock going to...live the fantasy?" Jan made a face and shot Len a conspiratorial grin.

 

Chapel felt her grin fading a little. Spock had made it very clear he had no interest in role-playing down on the "imagine it and you can be it" planet. "We're staying on the ship."

 

"Of course you are." Jan rolled her eyes.

 

Len laughed. "Are you not a fan of Mister Tall, Dark and Vulcan, my dearest? Because I thought a lot of you before, but if that's the case, I'm going to ratchet my approval rating way, way up."

 

Jan seemed to be thinking how to answer. Finally she said softly, "Once, when I needed understanding, he offered...something else. I get that Christine loves him, and the captain thinks the world of him, and that he's smart and capable and likely to save me a hundred times and I'll probably never know I should even say thank you. But...I'll always remember that moment."

 

Chapel frowned. "What moment?"

 

"I never told you. I didn't want to spoil your crush—and, well, it was just him and me. One of those moments you keep replaying, asking yourself, 'Did I really hear that?'" She took a deep, slightly ragged breath. "You remember when the captain was split into his dark and light half?"

 

Len frowned and said, "He attacked you. The dark side of him."

 

"Yeah. But attacked is such a safe word. A bear attacks you. A swarm of bees attacks you. A man...a man tries to—he tried to rape me."

 

"Jan, you never said. I thought he was just violent... You know. Mean. Not...not that."

 

"Yeah, well, I never hid how much I wanted him. Apparently, the dark part of his nature was getting the message loud and clear and decided to take me up on what I wanted—only I didn't want it the way he wanted it. Dark, I mean. Only dark."

 

"But what did Spock do that hurt you?" Chapel was feeling very off balance.

 

"When it was all over, after I...talked to the captain so we were, you know, okay with what had happened, Spock asked me if I didn't think that the imposter had some 'interesting qualities.' But it wasn't just that he said it, it was how he said it. With a leer. Like...that was fun for me."

 

Chapel wasn't sure how to respond, but Len leaned in and said, "That was a shitty thing to say."

 

"Thank you." She glanced at Chapel. "Cat got your tongue, Christine?"

 

"I just...I don't know why he would say something like that. Maybe he didn't realize how inappropriate it was."

 

"So he gets off for a tasteless comment, but I'm a real son of a bitch for teasing you? I see how it is." Len took a long sip.

 

"You did tease her," Jan said, rushing to the rescue apparently.

 

"Jan, for God's sake, is nothing I told you going to stay between us?"

 

"Like how you told me once you thought your boss was appealing and if you weren't in love with Spock...?"

 

"I was the boss in question, right?" He was laughing.

 

"Yes. Only she didn't really say that." Jan rolled her eyes. "See, I can keep secrets."

 

Trouble was, she wasn't keeping one. Chapel had said that. Deep into a pitcher of the local version of margaritas with Jan and Ny on shore leave. But she'd said it.

 

"Well, then no harm, no foul. Come on, Janice. Let's dance." He slipped off the stool, held his arm out like a southern courtier of old, and led Janice off to the dance floor. They talked the entire time they were dancing.

 

Chapel ordered another drink and prayed to whatever god protected women with friends with big mouths that Jan was regaling him with transporter-school stories or how to adjust his room settings, and not sharing confidences Chapel had let slip when she was drunk.

 

##

 

Nyota was admiring herself in her mirror.

 

"New dress?"

 

"Yeah. You like?"

 

"Very much. And you look amazing in it. You always have nice things." Chapel rarely took that much of an interest in clothes, although she was suddenly way more interested in lingerie than she used to be.

 

"You know, just because Spock isn't coming down to the planet, doesn't mean you don't get to. Join the gang. No silly sex fantasies. We're going to eat our way across the Federation—the food is amazing and it's like you're really there—and there's always a table waiting."

 

"It's okay. Someone's gotta man the fort."

 

"Doesn't have to be you." Ny pouted.

 

"Don't. Maybe I just want to stay up here and have sex with Spock in places that normally we couldn't."

 

"You stay off my station, you nasty girl." She grinned. "But okay. That makes it better."

 

Chapel laughed. "Is Len going to be with you?"

 

"No, he's staying up here, too. That's why you don't have to."

 

"He said he was going."

 

"Maybe without the lovely Tonya"—Ny curtsied and did a creditable Barrows simper—"it's just not the same."

 

"Maybe so." She touched Ny's shoulder gently. "Have fun. Let loose."

 

"You too. Only not on my station."

 

"Message received, Ny."

 

She turned and headed back to sickbay, fighting the steady stream of crew heading for the transporters. Everyone but a skeleton crew was on liberty. Spock had the conn and Chapel knew Ny was aware of that. There would be no wild sex until his replacement arrived, and even then it he wasn't much of an adventurer when it came to being potentially observed—and truth to tell, neither was she.

 

Just one more way they were turning out to be well matched.

 

Len looked up from his desk as she walked in. "Nothing for us to do unless someone stubs their toe."

 

"Get a head start on the reports, I guess." She went into her office and sat, then heard him come in. He lounged in one of her guest chairs, putting his feet up on her desk. "Make yourself at home, Len."

 

"I will. Thanks. So...if you were down there, what would you want to do? I mean it can be literally anything."

 

"Yeah, I remember it from the first time."

 

"What did you do?"

 

"That's a little personal."

 

"It is, isn't it? Answer the question."

 

"Well, if you must know, I made my peace with Roger. Said goodbye. And not like that. Nothing...nasty." She'd done enough with the android she'd thought was her fianc. She never needed fake-Roger sex again.

 

"That was well adjusted of you."

 

She nodded and pulled up a report.

 

"Christine, no. Talk to me. We're alone here—Nurse Lat'tia is getting lunch—and it's just us." He crossed his arms behind his head. "Why so much rancor about Tonya? It wasn't my impression you gave a rat's ass what I did in my off time."

 

"Your impression was correct."

 

"Was it, though? Because you seem equally passionate in your dislike of Natira—or my relationship with her anyway."

 

"Coincidence. You've had other women. I'm fine with them."

 

He took a deep breath and just stared at her, then he slid his legs off her desk and leaned in. "When you thought I was dying, you were there for me. A lot."

 

"We're friends. Friends do that."

 

"I've had occasion, sitting on my lovely porch, to think about those times. How you said a lot could happen in a year. That I should make the most of it or something to that effect. Were you offering something I was too dumb to see?"

 

She looked away. "No. And you found Natira. So...even if I had been..."

 

"Christine. It's just you and me here. Tell me the truth."

 

"Why?" She hated how helpless she sounded. How frustrated. The way her voice went up and caught. Why did this matter now, when she was with Spock?

 

"Because if you were offering and you said that again to me, I wouldn't be looking for any alien priestesses."

 

"Why are you doing this?" Again the damn catch in her voice, the high pitch. Damn him. "You say you sat on your porch thinking of this. I was on Earth, too. Why not ask me then? Why now, when I'm with someone?"

 

"Because I hate that you're with him. And not just because it shows an astounding lack of judgment on your part as a medical professional."

 

"Don't even. We've been over this."

 

"Yes. We have." He stood. "Tell me, Christine. What would you have done with a real lover, down there on a planet with no limits?"

 

"Well, it wouldn't have been putting on chiffon and a big pointy hat and pretending to be a goddamned princess, so I don't think I would've been in the running for fantasy of a lifetime for you." She stood. "I'm going to take a page from your book, sir. I'm going to mosey up to the bridge and shoot the shit with the man in charge."

 

His expression changed, grew steely. The way it often did when he lost control of something.

 

She leaned in and made her voice as husky as she could. "Maybe I'll get him to take a break, my non-real lover as you implied. Maybe I'll have him take me up against the wall and really put that soundproofing to the test. Maybe I'll have him fuck me so hard I—"

 

He turned and walked out.

 

She hurried out before she could act any less professional.

 

Spock looked up as she walked off the lift and his expression lightened. "Hello, Doctor."

 

Just seeing him made her feel better, less...irate. "Hello, sir. Thought I'd see what was so compelling about this place that my boss can't stay away."

 

He motioned her close and almost smiled. "I do not believe it is the same reason you are here."

 

"I would hope not. I'm here to see you and only you." She began to grin and tried to bite it back.

 

"What?"

 

"Any chance we'll have the bridge to ourselves?"

 

"It is unlikely." He met her eyes, his expression relaxed, even amused. "Regrettably."

 

She grinned. "You hungry? I could get us lunch."

 

"I would enjoy that. You know what I like."

 

"I do." And the nice thing was that she did.

 

##

 

Things were weird between Len and her for days so she finally went into his office and hit the privacy button. "We can't keep this up."

 

"Speak for yourself. My ex-wife could probably tell you no end of stories about how long I can be a son of a bitch." He never looked away from his terminal as he spoke, adding weight to his claim.

 

She sighed and sat. "Are we friends?"

 

He still didn't look up. "I don't know, Christine."

 

She decided to try something that might provoke a reaction. "Do you want to fuck me?"

 

He met her eyes finally. "Yes."

 

"You can't. I'm with Spock. Now, put that aside. Are we friends?"

 

He seemed to think about it. Finally nodded.

 

"It shouldn't require that much thought, Len."

 

"This isn't simple anymore. Things...other things touch on this. The job, Jim's distance, hearing you with Spock—with anyone would bug me, but him..."

 

"I don't understand this. We were both on Earth. You could have had me."

 

"With no competition. With Spock gone from the picture. Never knowing who you loved more. If you were just settling. Sounds wonderful, Christine. Sign me up for that magic-carpet ride."

 

She bit back the angry retort she wanted to let loose and took a moment. "Fine, I can see that. But when I left the ship. Why not then? Before Spock left? I was free. You were free. It wouldn't have been frequent but you could have commed, could have started something."

 

He nodded and shrugged at the same time. The message was as muddy as his expression.

 

"Some guys only want what they can't have. Are you that guy?"

 

"Maybe."

 

She was shocked he answered so quickly—and so honestly. "Ummm, I'm not sure what to do with that."

 

"Would you prefer I lie?" He changed his voice, made it high and falsely earnest. "'No, Christine, that's not me.'"

 

"It would have been easier, I think, if you had lied, but it's probably good that we're being honest." She sighed. "I'm with him. We've got to get past this."

 

"I can bury it." He checked the chrono, made a face and muttered something about it being five o'clock somewhere, and reached into his cabinet for the bourbon. "This will help drown it out."

 

"That's not moving past it. That's drowning in it."

 

"I don't think you get to choose my coping mechanism, Christine. Now, I apologize for anything I've done to make this uncomfortable. I'll...I'll try to be better."

 

"And I'm sorry for what I said. Taunting you. I'm so sorry."

 

He nodded, the angry, tight nod that meant he heard the apology but maybe didn't want to accept it just yet.

 

She stood. "We are friends. We just need to be gentler with each other."

 

"Right. Sounds good."  His tone was condescending—and distracted.  Like she and her suggestion was just an annoyance.

 

She closed her eyes and counted slowly to ten. He was trying to piss her off despite saying he'd be better. She almost felt like calling his ex-wife for tips. "Okay, I'm going now." She turned the privacy button off and fled.

 

##

 

Earth was a huge beautiful marble in the viewscreen and growing bigger by the moment. She stood in Spock's quarters and watched it.

 

"You are glad to be home?" He nuzzled her neck for a moment and then went back to dressing.

 

"I am. What do you want to do? You and Jim won't be in meetings the whole time, right?"

 

"We should not be." He turned back to her, pulling her in, pushing her hair off her face and kissing her tenderly.

 

"Mmmm, girl could get used to this."

 

"I fully intend you to."

 

She pulled him back and gave him her best kiss for such a sweet statement.

 

When they finally pulled away, he said, "Leonard is having a barbeque. He was quite adamant that we come to his house for it."

 

News to her. Since when did he tell Spock and not her? She made her voice as even as possible and said, "I'm not really a fan of smoked meats. Didn't your mom want us to come for dinner to the embassy before they left for Vulcan?"

 

"Yes, but I did not want to force family interactions on you when we are so new."

 

She laughed. "I think you probably mean you don't want me to witness you dealing with your father."

 

"It is possible that is exactly what I meant."

 

"Your dad likes me. We talked science when he was stuck in sickbay and your mom was with you."

 

"He was not displeased to hear I was with you." He touched her cheek, his fingers tender. "I am not sure I have ever heard such approval in his voice."

 

"You going to Gol didn't make him happy?"

 

His face tightened. "Gol was...an escape, he thought. A quick detour to control that I had not earned."

 

"He said that?"

 

"In his way, yes."

 

"I'm sorry. I mean I'm not sorry you're not at Gol, obviously. But I'm sorry he didn't approve of your choices. My dad didn't like Roger, so I know how that can feel."

 

"Why did he not approve?"

 

"He disapproved of a teacher getting involved with a student. Roger let him think he'd made the first move. It would have killed my dad to know his sweet little girl had been the aggressor in that."

 

Spock nodded.

 

"So let's go to the embassy. Let's stay there and just get away from work. I can see the gang in the lounge. I really don't want to spend my liberty with them. Not if we could have some quality family time—and alone time. Your mom will let us stay in the same room, won't she?"

 

"She has already asked me if I wanted one or two rooms for us when we come to see them. She did not sound dismayed when I said one."

 

"She probably sees it as a huge leap for you. Big romance."

 

"No doubt." He kissed her forehead. "If there were another reason you did not want to spend time with our crewmates, would you tell me?"

 

"You said it yourself. Len and I have unresolved issues. Things are still a little weird—the power dynamics—in sickbay." It wasn't a bald-faced lie, just a mangling of the truth.

 

"I will let my mother know we are coming. She will be...thrilled is no doubt how she will put it."

 

"Mmmmm. I love you." That at least was the complete truth. Being with him was easier than she ever expected.

 

"And I you."

 

##

 

"You missed some prime brisket at my barbeque. And peach cobbler, which I seem to remember you having a fondness for." Len had a look she couldn't read.

 

"Ny told me. Sorry, time with the parents. You know how it is." Or he used to, when he was with someone. Was she being bitchy? She was just trying to avoid a fight but maybe she was coming off too breezy.

 

"Yeah, so Spock said when he said you couldn't come."

 

"Why didn't you ask me?" Shit, did she need to go down this road?

 

"Figured he'd be the harder one to get to a party. I think I figured wrong, huh?"

 

She shrugged in that way he'd perfected—the gesture that could mean just about anything.

 

"How were the parents?" Again, she couldn't tell by his tone if he was actually interested.

 

"Good. Really good. It was nice to be away from everything."

 

"Everything human, anyway."

 

"Amanda's human." Actually there were some human staffers at the embassy, too.

 

"She's gone native."

 

Chapel laughed, thinking about the fancy rum drinks Amanda had made one night when they'd stayed up late talking. "No, she really hasn't."

 

"Well, good that you had fun." He nodded, gave her a smile that almost looked real, and walked out.

 

Was this how things would be from now on? Her trying to read into his every gesture and tone? Walking on eggshells to avoid setting him off?

 

She hoped to hell not because she really didn't like it.

 

##

 

"Reilly," Len leaned in. "Son, I know you can hear me. You've got to fight. You've got to want to live."

 

She watched the biobed readings all heading steadily downward. "Len."

 

"This goddamn ship, Christine. How many people is it going to kill?"

 

She didn't know what to say. Reilly had been servicing a console when it short-circuited.

 

She heard footsteps, then Scotty's soft burr. "How is he?"

 

She shook her head.

 

"I set crewman on the main consoles in engineering and other areas. Trying to see if we could find a systemic problem."

 

She turned to look at him. "No?"

 

"It appears to have been random."

 

"Like the transporters and Sonak?"

 

He nodded. He studied Len for a moment, then shot her a questioning look.

 

She just shook her head, and he patted her shoulder then left.

 

"What century do we live in, Christine? I should be able to fix this." Len's voice was strained from sheer frustration—and anger.

 

"Accidents still happen. We can't fix everything." It had been a mantra in the emergency room at Starfleet Medical. One she'd learned to hate more than a little.

 

They stood and waited, and Nurse Fahoub joined them, her heavy sigh telling Chapel she understood what she was seeing. "I'll get the antigrav unit." They'd need it to move him into the morgue attached to sickbay.

 

Chapel nodded.

 

When the numbers finally flatlined, Chapel handed Len the padd and he began to make notations for what Jim would tell the family, then handed her the padd to make any additions as he got to work on getting Reilly settled for transport.

 

Fahoub pushed him gently away. "Sir, you and Doctor Chapel have been working for hours. It's gamma shift. I've got this."

 

"Thank you, Rima." He took a deep breath, then turned and headed for his office.

 

"You're sure you don't want help?"

 

"Christine, you're dead on your feet. Go. And make him go, too." She was already working the antigrav into position, and Chapel left her to it.

 

She walked to Len's office and he stood, hands in his hair, and finally looked at her. "Sometimes I hate this goddamned hunk of metal we're trapped in."

 

"I know." She felt like she was dealing with an injured—and possibly mean—animal. "You're exhausted. Let's go. You need to get to your quarters and sleep."

 

"You going to tuck me in, too, mother?" He sat and reached for the bourbon. The not-so-good one. The one he would drink a lot of.

 

"No," she said, slapping the privacy button before moving around behind him and pushing the cabinet door closed as she maneuvered him out of the way. "That's not the way."

 

He looked ready to rush past her the minute she gave ground so she moved toward him instead, blocking his way.

 

"What is the way, Christine?"

 

"Sleep. Not booze."

 

"I can't sleep. I just watched a man die. Can you sleep after that?"

 

She didn't want to tell him that yes, she probably could. She'd learned how to when she was a nurse, and then even more so during her stint in the ER.

 

"Fine." He started to sit down so she moved out of the way. With a mean grin, he pushed his chair back and got his bottle.

 

"You can't just drown it out." She moved slowly, taking the bottle from him, putting it as far away from him as she could. "You need to feel."

 

"You like me better when I drown it out." There was something so helpless in his expression that it made her want to help him, to be tender with him.

 

"No," she said, as she cupped his cheek gently "I actually don't."

 

"You want me to feel? Okay." He pulled her, not fast and not with too firm a grip. He was giving her every chance to get away, and she thought if push came to shove she was probably the stronger of the two of them.

 

But she wasn't fighting him. Not when he pulled her against him, chest to chest. Not when his arms went around her. Not when his lips touched down and she opened her mouth to him. Not when his tongue—"

 

She jerked away. "Shit. Shit, Len. Shit, shit, shit!"

 

He didn't look the least bit sorry. "Either come back here or hand me my bottle. You started this two-step, Christine. You have to finish it."

 

"I'm with Spock."

 

"So you say. Your lips may not be entirely convinced of that, however."

 

"I was just trying to help you."

 

He leaned back on the desk, crossing one ankle over the other, the model of relaxed. "Kiss me or get my bottle."

 

"Get your own fucking bottle." She stormed out, wishing there were a way to slam a door on this godforsaken ship.

 

Spock was still up when she palmed her way into his quarters. He took one look at her and said, "What is it?"

 

"We lost a patient."

 

"I am sorry. Which crewman?"

 

"Reilly. A console he was servicing short-circuited. Another victim of the refit." She began to pace, sure that if Spock held her, he'd know what she and Len had just done.

 

"Do you not want comfort?"

 

She met his eyes. "How much honesty do you want to have in this relationship?"

 

"As much as you wish."

 

"No, not that answer. The safe, 'you decide for me' answer. Tell me. How much fucking honesty do you want?"

 

"Perhaps you should tell me whatever it is you do not want to tell me, and I will decide if it is too much honesty?" He moved closer. "What is it?"

 

"Someone was hurting and I tried to make it better for them—and something happened. I didn't mean to."

 

"Did not mean to comfort them?"

 

"To kiss them. Or let them kiss me but sort of...kiss back." She closed her eyes.

 

"Are you referring to Doctor Pierce? She has a way of glaring at me that is slightly unnerving."

 

"No, it's not Stella." She wasn't going to tell him who it was. That it was her fucking boss, the man she worked with every, single day. His friend—well, sort of friend. Oh, hell, she had no idea if he and Spock were really friends. They were both friends of Jim and forced to interact and maybe that was all it really was? "I pulled away as soon as I realized."

 

"That is good. You were simply overcome by the moment, then?"

 

"Yes. It was highly emotional." Jesus, what an understatement.

 

"And you have no desire to repeat it."

 

"Of course not." That was true. Right? Oh, shit, it was true, wasn't it? Len could spin her head; that was all this was. He was hurting and he struck out when she disrupted his "get so drunk I don't feel it" plan. That was all. She didn't want him. Kissing back had been nothing more than a reflex.

 

"Then there is no problem." He seemed to be going out of his way not to touch her.

 

"You don't want to know, do you? Not really." She sighed and sat down. "How much can your telepathic hands tell you?"

 

"They can't tell me who it was. They may tell me if you are lying, though—if you are...interested in this person."

 

She turned and reached for him but stopped before she could make contact. "I've loved you for so long."

 

He closed the gap, stroking her hair, his other hand clasping hers firmly. "I do not need telepathy, Christine. McCoy has a distinctive cologne and while there is always a trace on you from your days in sickbay, tonight it is much stronger."

 

"I love you." She put her other hand over his, pushing it hard onto her hand. "Can you feel that? Am I telling the truth?"

 

"You are. But is it also not possible that you love him to some extent? I've known for some time that he loves you."

 

"What?"

 

"The way he treated you—the way he treated me. The...odor of his arousal when he was around you."

 

"The smelling thing is going to get old." She sighed. There were times she loved the things he could tell from her scent. "Spock, what do I do?"

 

"Refrain from kissing him again?"

 

She laughed, softly but a real laugh. Then she leaned into him. "May I kiss you?"

 

"You will do more than that."

 

"Mmmm, am I going to like jealous Spock?"

 

He was already taking her clothes off. "I believe you will."

 

##

 

She stepped out of the shower the next morning still tired from the vigil with Reilly and Spock's rather vigorous exorcising of any guilt she'd had.

 

He was what she wanted. This thing with Len... It wasn't real—or healthy.

 

"If he continues to...harass you," Spock said as she stepped around him to get to the sink, apparently reading her mind now without any contact—although maybe he was just reading her expression? "I expect you to tell me."

 

"And you'll do what?"

 

"What any first officer would do when a member of the crew is paying unwanted attention to a crewmate. I will handle it."

 

"Through official channels?"

 

"If I must."

 

She leaned against him, cool skin to his hotter. "I don't want to take it there yet. I think...I think this isn't just that."

 

He turned, studying her. "What do you mean?"

 

"How much do you do with Len? I mean compared to how much you did with him on the last mission?"

 

"Admittedly less."

 

"Is that because of you or because of Jim?" She studied him in the mirror. "I've never been sure if you were Len's friend, or if you are both just friends of Jim who are stuck with each other."

 

He turned to the mirror, meeting her eyes. "Truthfully, I believe it is more the latter."

 

She nodded and started to put her make-up on.

 

"Do you think it should be more? I do not find myself inclined to...'pal around' with him, as my mother might say, given his interest in you."

 

"I don't think you're the problem. I don't think I am either, actually. I think he's angry."

 

"Doctor McCoy is often angry." He let an eyebrow go up. "We have both been on the receiving end of that anger."

 

"Yes, we have. You know who doesn't get teased?"

 

"The man who is holding him at arms' length?"

 

"Bingo. And you know that? That Jim's avoiding him? I'm not close enough to Jim to tell, except that he was in sickbay a lot more often during our first voyage, after shift, shooting the shit with Len with a drink."

 

Spock nodded.

 

"He brought him back. See, that's what I don't get. He brought him back and gave him my fucking job so why stay away?"

 

"Are you looking for logic when resentment is involved?"

 

"Yeah. I guess I am."

 

He almost smiled. "It is a side to you I find most satisfying." His look grew more serious. "But may be of little use in this. Jim...Jim resents Leonard for—" He seemed to be searching for the word.

 

"For abandoning him?"

 

Spock nodded. "But what I don't understand is why he has forgiven me. I went much farther in my quest to lose all traces of my old life."

 

"You did. But you did it for a reason. You had a goal. And your dual nature—the constant balancing of that duality—drove you to it, right?"

 

"That is correct."

 

"As far as I can tell, Len just stayed away to prove a fucking point. That he'd told Jim he'd be unhappy if he took the desk job and hey, he was right. I've given him shit about it. He admits it, but I'm not sure he's willing to talk about it. I mean not to me, but to Jim."

 

"You may well be right. But this is not for us to solve."

 

"I know. But I do want to understand. He's the biggest bastard when he's hurting. And people who are there, who are reaching out, are the ones he swipes at. Like me. That's why I don't want you to do anything yet." She saw him nod, but there was something in his eye. "Don't go all 'I am Vulcan and you must not touch my woman,' either."

 

Again the almost grin.

 

"I do know what you're thinking, Spock."

 

"That, too, is an agreeable part of our relationship." He leaned down and she met him halfway for a sweet, if quick, kiss.

 

He was no longer blas about being late for work; a fact that pleased her greatly because it meant she wasn't taking advantage of a compromised crewman.

 

##

 

Len was in her office as soon as she came in, pushing the privacy button and saying, "I went too far. I'm sorry. Truly sorry."

 

And she could tell by his eyes that he was. But the anger was still there, even if now it looked like it might be turned on himself for a while.

 

Or maybe Jim. Which could actually be healthy if those two would just sit down and work some shit out.

 

Couldn't she convince Spock to lock them in a turbolift and tell them it had malfunctioned until they talked things out?

 

She imagined Spock's reaction to that proposal and abandoned the idea.

 

"Aren't you going to say anything? Shit, Christine, have I ruined our friendship?" He wasn't looking at her and his expression was hard to read.

 

She walked around the desk and took the chair next to him. "No, you haven't. Just...don't do it again, okay? My nurture inclination is stupidly strong sometimes. I wanted to help you. That's all."

 

"And I took advantage of that."

 

"But you were hurting."

 

"So quick to give me an out. It'll be your downfall, darlin'." He smiled sheepishly. "Sorry, guess that name is off the table now, huh?"

 

She wasn't sure what to say. She used to think he called everyone that, but really it was only the women he knew well—or wanted something from. She didn't think he'd ever call Stella that.

 

"Don't try to answer. I'll watch it. And I suppose I'll have to tiptoe around Spock for a while. Don't want him to read it on my face. What's been going on."

 

She let out a small laugh. "You think I didn't tell him what happened?"

 

He looked honestly surprised.

 

And a little pissed.

 

Jesus, could he never stop with the mind fucks?

 

"I'm learning I can tell him anything, Len. We have that kind of relationship."

 

"Well, that's great." He didn't meet her eyes and his tone wasn't where she wanted it to be.

 

She stopped and waited, not rushing in, letting the moment sort of ripen until she finally said, "It's what I always admired about your friendship with the captain. The two of you just...spoke your minds."

 

It was a non sequitur, but he didn't seem to notice it. Just looked down and said, "Yeah. That was nice."

 

"Was?"

 

He sighed. "Is. Is, of course."

 

"I don't see him down here much." It was a risk, hitting this so head on. But she wanted to help him and while Spock might think this wasn't their problem to solve, it sure was one she could get Len thinking more about.

 

But by his look she knew she'd miscalculated. "Jim's down here. You're just too busy with your Vulcan paramour to notice."

 

"Okay." She held up her hand. "Okay, sure."

 

A thick silence seemed to fall, one that was taking them back to ground she thought they'd just left behind. "I really do appreciate you coming in here. I value our relationship. Professional and personal. I don't want it to grow toxic."

 

"Right. Me neither." He watched her walk around the desk, and his eyes narrowed. "If Spock knows what happened, he technically should bring me up on charges. I kissed you. It's sexual harassment."

 

"He knows I kissed you back. I have a feeling it's what's keeping him from doing just that."

 

"You told him that, too?" His look was incredulous. "That you kissed me back?"

 

"Like I said. We can talk about anything."

 

"I'll bear that in mind going forward."

 

"Please do." She smiled as gently as she could. "Don't you have a bridge to mosey on up to? How can I give you crap for never being here if you're here?"

 

His expression changed. And not in a good way.

 

She tried to save it. "I mean I know the new bridge isn't as conducive to..."

 

"Loitering?" His look told her to tread carefully.

 

"Observing the senior staff in action."

 

"Do you think I'm not welcome up there, Christine? All these veiled references to Jim's and my friendship are a little strange. You've never shown much interest in that before now."

 

"I just think maybe things have changed a little." Jesus, could she not keep her stupid mouth shut?

 

The look on his face darkened. "Hold that thought." He was up and out to his office, grabbing padds and then coming back in. "I want to talk about change. I took your advice and did my own research, learned who my staff is. Found this. Your original duty roster. Interesting thing, originally the deputy wasn't slated to be on alpha shift." He let an eyebrow go up. "Seems you argued emergencies don't always happen on alpha shift. Makes a lot of sense."

 

She stared at him, incredulous. She'd made that argument because she hadn't wanted to spend any more time than was necessary with D'Angelo, someone Will liked but she detested. Stella had been right that she would have been looking for a way to get rid of him.

 

"Nothing to say? Well, then you won't mind switching shifts." He smiled and put the padd on the desk. "I'm going to bring Pierce to alpha." His look told her he knew that he was taking away her ally. "She seems like an ambitious type. Will appreciate being on the prime shift. You want that for your friend, right? The exposure?"

 

He'd roped her into a corner. Her only argument for why she didn't want to change shifts was because she wanted to be on the same schedule as her boyfriend. Not exactly a reason Starfleet Medical would take seriously if she pushed back.

 

She swallowed reflexively and his eyes narrowed and lips turned up a little, as if in triumph. How long had he been waiting to spring this on her? His apology had seemed sincere—was this a back-up plan in case she told him to take his "I'm sorry" and stick it up his ass?

 

Spock had told her to leave this alone. Why the fuck hadn't she listened to him? If she hadn't been prying, would Len have done this?

 

"Well," she finally said, desperately trying to pull her professional cloak around her, "since it was my idea, I can hardly argue. Perhaps you could give Doctor Pierce the choice of staying as head of beta or switching to alpha in the more subordinate role? I'll take gamma if she wants to stay in beta."

 

His eyes narrowed. As if he was trying to figure out her angle.

 

"I'm just looking out for my friend. She's a shift head now. This could look like a demotion. For one of my people. Combined with moving me..." She resisted looking up, didn't want him to see how much she was enjoying it. Did he really think he could fuck with her on a bureaucratic issue? She'd survived academia while sleeping with her goddamn professor: this was nothing. "I don't think Jim would want any kind of...irregular assignments." Complaint-worthy assignments, she was really saying.

 

And when she finally looked up and met his eyes, she could see he understood that.

 

She thought she also saw a new respect. Grudging and pissed as hell, but still, she'd take it.

 

"You're right, Doctor. I'll give her the choice." As he stood, he said, "Sorry if this puts a crimp in your love life, but mission first, right?"

 

"Absolutely." She waited until he was at the door. "And it'll be fine. Spock doesn't need much sleep."

 

His step faltered for a moment. She felt way more pleasure than she should have.

 

##

 

Stella found her in the mess eating a late lunch. She had her padd and slid it across the table as she sat. "What the fuck? We're switching shifts?"

 

"This isn't my doing."

 

"Yes, the name on the from line is pretty clear. What is he doing?"

 

"Sadly, what I was going to do to D'Angelo. Get him off the same shift."

 

"Yeah, but you didn't like him." She took a deep breath. "Seriously? This is personal?"

 

"To be honest, I'm not sure what it is." She pushed the padd back.

 

"What should I do?"

 

"The exposure would be really good for you. You need Jim and Spock to get to know you so they give referrals for your next assignment that sound real, not rote." Chapel sighed. "But I know how it is to be the head of something, to have autonomy, even limited, and then have it taken away. If you want to stay in beta, I'll switch to gamma."

 

"Which is better for you?"

 

"Alpha is better for me. The other two, either will work fine." She shrugged.

 

Stella made a face. "Come on. No one wants Gamma. Especially if they're dating someone on alpha." She pulled the padd back. "If I switch, will you give me tips on dealing with McCoy."

 

Chapel let out a bark of laughter she didn't mean to. "I don't think you want that. I've been misstepping, and he has too, since V'ger."

 

"What's really going on with you, too? Sometimes I see him watching you in a...fairly intense way. It's just this side of creepy."

 

"I can't go into it."

 

"You'd warn me if he was going to do that to me—I mean if that's what he does."

 

"It's not what he does. And if it is, come to me. I have a boyfriend who would love to make a case out of it." Shit, did she just say that out loud? What the fuck was wrong with her?

 

Stella just grinned and let out a delighted little giggle. "I think I might actually like Spock."

 

"Maybe you'll get to know him." She hadn't been very good about trying to make that happen. She'd been so focused on Spock and their relationship—and any other energy was going to Len. "Let's make that happen. We'll figure out the timing."

 

"Okay." She started to key in a reply.

 

"You're not going to tell him in person?"

 

"Did he ask me in person?" She hit send and said "Have fun in beta. It's actually my favorite shift."

 

Chapel smiled. "I know. It's mine too." Alpha had more prestige, but beta was often the perfect blend of action and easy time.

 

"You don't seem too broken up about less time with Spock." Stella leaned in. "But I've heard Vulcans don't sleep much."

 

Chapel grinned and knew it was a wicked expression. "You heard right, toots."

 

##

 

"Why are you scanning me, Christine?" Spock pushed her hand away from him. "I am fine."

 

"You're staying up for me. I want to make sure you're not doing something that ultimately isn't good for you." The scans looked great.

 

"And...?"

 

"You're in tip-top shape, Mister."

 

He pulled her close. "On days I feel fatigued, I have taken to napping during beta shift."

 

"I like that. I like that we're making this work." She kissed him slowly and he rolled her to her back.

 

"May I tell you a truth?"

 

She nodded.

 

"I prefer you on this shift. I know Leonard often stays in sickbay after shift change so you are not entirely free of him, but I am...relieved that his time with you is far more limited."

 

"Why?" She kissed him playfully to show she wasn't questioning his truth, just interested in learning more.

 

"It is a complicated morass of sentiment."

 

She chuckled. "Sorry."

 

"On the one hand, I do not want him...pursuing you, if that is, in fact, what he was doing."

 

"Do you worry I'll be interested in him?"

 

"There is a small amount of concern over that. But insignificant compared to the annoyance factor of his attentions."

 

She nodded. "Is that all? Not much of a morass."

 

"I hope that he and Jim will work things out in a way that benefits them and us. I think, for now, it is better that you are not always around him, reminding him of you and me." He rolled to his side and pulled her with him so they were face to face. "I have been considering your question, if Leonard and I are truly friends."

 

"And what did you conclude?"

 

"That we are. Are you familiar with the concept of cognitive dissonance?"

 

"Of course. It would explain a lot—why he strikes out the more he acts inappropriately. Especially when you combine that with a person who prefers to joke or insult his way out of losing control."

 

"Precisely. I...do not want him to pull away further over this. I hope eventually he will come to terms and reassign you to alpha." He sighed. "I also do not want to bring a friend up on sexual harassment—or even assault—charges. As first officer..."

 

"I know. He hasn't repeated it. And I did kiss him back."

 

"Yes, that is what I tell myself so I do not feel derelict in my duty." He sighed. "And then there is Jim. I do not know how to make things better for them."

 

"Hey, buddy, listen to your own advice. We'd be on the same shift if I'd done that. Not our circus, not our monkeys." She rubbed her nose against his as he let out a short puff of air—she loved it when she made him laugh. "I like beta shift. And you're accommodating us so beautifully. Thank you."

 

"Yes, it is a great hardship to nap while you are working so that I can enjoy sex with you later." He nuzzled her neck, then whispered into her ear. "And enjoy your company. I find your brain as diverting as your body."

 

"Aww, and they think you're not a romantic." She laughed as he pushed her to her back again and whispered, "If we did a joint science experiment in one of the really small labs, we could have sex in there too. Combine the body and the brain."

 

One side of his mouth actually went up into a smile. "I have already booked lab seventeen for just that eventuality."

 

"There is no lab seventeen."

 

"I am having it refitted." His eyes were sparkling. "Heavily soundproofed."

 

"Am I really that loud when I come?"

 

"I have a limited sample to compare you to."

 

"That's adorable. But on a non-comparative basis, am I loud?"

 

He nodded, his look one of satisfaction. "Let me caveat that answer by saying I enjoy your vocalizations greatly."

 

"Well, why don't you get busy and see if you can get me vocalizing like a champ."

 

"I will accept the challenge, Doctor."

 

He accepted and then some.

 

##

 

Chapel studied the padd Spock had handed her and then met his eyes. " I can see why you want me to work on this. I wish she had come to me herself."

 

"Lieutenant Ad'drade is reticent to draw attention to herself. While Sobaxians are well represented in Starfleet, the ethnic minority she is a part of is not."

 

"Still, no reason to suffer when it's something we can probably help." She pushed the padd aside and studied him. Sighing, she pulled out the scanner and shook her head. "You're staying up too many nights so we can have quality time. I won't have it. Tonight you sleep—if you're not asleep when I come in after my girls night, we're going to have words."

 

"Understood." The fact that he wasn't arguing spoke volumes.

 

"Spock, tell me if you're tired. I know this shift difference is tough—less so for you than a human, but still. I'm not going to get mad if you need to sleep."

 

"I enjoy you. I don't want to sleep when you are there."

 

She smiled gently. "I'll be there when you wake up."

 

"You will be asleep when I wake up."

 

"But still there." She stood. "Come on, I'll walk you out. I know you don't eat lunch but I need some food."

 

As they walked out, McCoy saw them from his office and waved them in. His voice was pitched low as he said, "I'm sure the shift change is an annoyance for you, Spock, but I do expect you to let your lady love work while she's on duty."

 

She didn't have to look over at Spock to know how high his eyebrow must be going.

 

"We were working, Doctor." Spock's voice held a note of disdain she wasn't used to hearing.

 

"Really?" He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back with a "This oughta be good" expression.

 

"Really."

 

"I was here when you came in. Last I checked, I was still CMO."

 

"That can change fast around here," she muttered, and Len's expression tightened.

 

Spock touched her back—his "you're not helping" indicator. "As I understand the shift change, Doctor Chapel is not only your deputy but the lead doctor for beta shift. She is, in face, CMO during this period."

 

"Well, I'm in the office."

 

"Yes, you and your bottle of bourbon. I hope that neither of you are on duty."

 

She tried to keep her face neutral. The acuity of the Vulcan sense of smell could be a real bitch.

 

"Moreover," Spock said before Len could think of something acidic to say, "I needed an expert in biochemistry. You are an acknowledged expert in many fields, but I believe Christine has more experience in that one, would you not agree?"

 

"I'll show you the padd when I get back, Len. I was going to pick your brain."

 

"Looks like you two have it under control." He turned back to his terminal. "Enjoy lunch."

 

"I'm just grabbing something to bring back." Damn it all. She was in charge of this fucking shift. Why was she explaining herself to him? "Come on, Spock."

 

As they walked out, she said, "Yikes, Spock. You had to mention the bourbon?"

 

"Is it normal for medical staff to drink on duty? If he is off duty and simply enjoys his office, I have less objections. Although I think alcohol does not belong in the office."

 

"Jim used to avail himself of Len's office booze and willing ear many a time."

 

"I know I am in the minority on my view of alcohol." He actually sighed. "I thought, now that you are no longer around him as much and Jim has reached out more, that his hostility would have abated." He stopped her, his hand gentle on her arm. "And his jealousy."

 

"Are you a hundred percent sure it's me he's jealous of?"

 

"Who else would it be?"

 

"You. He didn't give a rat's ass about me until I was with you."

 

"I have told you. I can smell his arousal around you."

 

"Yes, when you're around. I wonder what it would have been like if it had just been he and I?"

 

"Christine, I was on many missions with him and did not notice any unusual arousal. It is you."

 

"I'm not sure." At his look, she laughed. "I'm just saying, this is strange."

 

"On that, we can agree."

 

##

 

"What the hell is up McCoy's ass these days?" Jan drained her drink and motioned for the Starbase Ten bartender to bring her another. "He gave me a ration and a half of shit when I beamed him over here. Didn't like waiting in line or something. When did he become such a prima donna?"

 

Chapel shrugged, not wanting to talk about Len now that her friends were making an effort to get together with her during gamma shift—a time they'd normally be sleeping.

 

Rand turned to Stella. "You work with him now. How's he treating you?"

 

"Good, actually. But then, he would, right?" She grinned at Chapel. "You put the fear of God into him or something."

 

"I just said he might want to be a little careful how he handled one of my people." She laughed.

 

"Well, I wish I was one of your people. Because just being one of your friends got me shit." Jan yawned and seemed to be trying to hide it.

 

"I told you to take a nap," Ny said, rolling her eyes. "You aren't twenty-five anymore. Trying to sync onto Christine's schedule for one night is going to kill you if you don't rest up."

 

"It won't kill me." Jan laughed. "And if it does, we have two fine doctors here. They'll resuscitate me."

 

Ny gave a "Why do I bother?" wave and looked away.

 

Stella was focused on her drink, stirring it and seemingly lost in thought, so Chapel asked, "Something wrong?"

 

She looked over and shook her head sheepishly. "I just saw Lieutenant Leonidas with someone. They were headed toward the restaurant deck. He and I were just getting to know each other when the shift change happened." She shrugged. "A good guy would find a way to make it work, right?"

 

"Right." Chapel said in tandem with Ny.

 

Stella looked at Jan. "You don't think so?"

 

"Yeah, I do, after you've got something started. But chemistry can be a fragile thing at the beginning, you know? Maybe whatever you had wasn't enough to push him into the 'find a way' mindset?"

 

All three of them stared at her.

 

"What? I can't be insightful? You think I'm just the dumb blonde of the group?" She smiled at the bartender as he set down her drink, then turned back to them. "I have insights. I just usually don't share them." She leaned toward Stella. "And he's not that great a catch. I've beamed him off with a different woman every time we stop somewhere for liberty."

 

"That's good to know. Dodged a bullet, maybe?"

 

"Definitely." Jan rolled her eyes. "Christine had the right idea. Grab a Vulcan early and don't let go. I wish there were more of them on the ship."

 

Ny nudged Chapel. "How are things? They're good, right? I've always imagined he'd be nice."

 

"Nice?" Stella laughed. "I think you've probably imagined more than just that."

 

Chapel wondered what Ny was telling Stella that she wasn't telling her. But let Ny imagine whatever she liked. It was nice. And it was more than nice. "I'm very happy" was what she settled for saying. "I never expected to see him again—or if I did, it would be a different Spock after what he was going through on Vulcan—and now here we are together. Life is funny."

 

"That I'll drink to." Jan held up her glass and then yawned again before she could make whatever toast she had in mind. "Christine, for the love of God, please get back on alpha shift." She added "No offense, Stellina. I don't want you gone, just both of you on normal time."

 

Chapel laughed at the nickname. Stella just grinned.

 

"Not up to her." Ny shook her head. "Up to your boss, right?"

 

"Yeah. Up to my boss."

 

"Not how we planned it, my friend." Ny shook her head.

 

"Definitely not how we planned it."

 

##

 

Chapel woke and found Spock sitting on the terrace outside the guest room at Jim's beach house. "Breakfast?" she whispered, not wanting to bother him if he was too deep into his meditation.

 

"Later. I will come out." His voice was gentle.

 

"Okay." She pulled on some sweats and left, not worried about leaving him because they'd fallen into this easy rhythm. Sometimes he needed alone time in his head, time in peace and silence to work out issues that had nothing to do with her. Sometimes she didn't ask if he wanted breakfast because she needed alone time to process something, preferably with bacon and eggs in front of her in a crowded mess where her problems could disappear in the din of the morning breakfast rush.

 

She found Jim in the kitchen, whipping up eggs and coffee and yes, thank God, bacon. He'd eaten with them enough times to know what she liked.

 

He handed her a plate and a cup of coffee and said, "Let's go outside."

 

They sat on the wraparound bench on his deck, facing the water, feet dangling off the deck and ate for a bit in companionable silence.

 

"Spock meditating?" he finally asked.

 

"Yeah."

 

"He's happy. Really happy with you." He met her eyes and his expression was gentle. "I know I took your job—your future, even, maybe—and I also know getting him was not the same thing, but still, I'm glad this is how it worked out. You with him."

 

"I'm not so sure about the job part, but I'll agree with you on the Spock part." She grinned, but made it the kind that said she wasn't kidding about the first part, but also wasn't losing sleep over it. "This house is amazing."

 

"Yeah, I got it after Lori chose not to renew our blessed union.  And didn't bother to let me know until she'd taken up with someone else." He rolled his eyes when she laughed. "Bitch."

 

She laughed harder. "I had to treat her once. Not big on personal warmth."

 

"Yeah, well, she is when she wants something from you. And I was the golden boy when I first made admiral. That didn't last long—at least not for her."

 

"Sorry?"

 

He waved that idea away.

 

"Jim, I need to tell you something."

 

"It better not be that you don't like my eggs. I make really good eggs."

 

She laughed again. "You do. It's just...Len asked me what I was doing while the ship was in for refits and I just assumed if we were coming here, he was coming too. But it was soon clear that wasn't the case, so he might be sort of...mad when you get back."

 

"Day that ends in 'y,' Christine." He shook his head. Then he put his plate down and turned to her. "Okay, I'm going to say something and I realize it's the height of irony because this is the kind of thing I'd normally tell my CMO, but...I need you to check McCoy out. For...for fitness for duty."

 

"What?"

 

His look was helpless. "Something's not right with him. His temper is on a hair trigger. He's aggressive in ways I've never seen him be. I didn't notice at first, I'll admit. I was sort of...avoiding him after what went down on Earth. But now I'm not—I'm spending time with him, and I don't like what I see."

 

She sighed.

 

"You've noticed, haven't you? Is that why you wanted to switch shifts?"

 

She made a face. "I didn't want to. He made me change shifts."

 

"He said it was your idea."

 

She laughed softly. "Creative interpretation of the truth. He saw the duty roster I had for my sickbay. I slotted my deputy for beta. Primarily because I couldn't stand my deputy."

 

"And Will picked him anyway?"

 

"They were friends. I didn't push. Just...scheduled him out of my hair. So when Len wanted me to switch, I couldn't say no." She leaned back. "Hoist on my own petard."

 

"I hate that." He grinned in a way that told her he'd been exactly where she was.

 

"Yeah, me, too. Next time I get demoted, I'm going to destroy my duty rosters."

 

They both chuckled.

 

"Can you check him out, Chris? Discreetly?"

 

"Chris?"

 

"Oh, I'm sorry. If you don't like that...?"

 

"No, I like it. It's just no one calls me that."

 

"It can be my thing, then. No one else calls McCoy Bones, right? Now you have a special James T. Kirk name, too."

 

She smiled. "I won't say no to that." She heard the door open and said, "Someone is done meditating. I don't think he heard us."

 

"Don't tell him."

 

"I can't. It's a medical issue."

 

"Thank you." Then he turned to Spock. "You get what you want?"

 

"Yes, thank you." He held up a glass of what looked like cranberry juice. "You do not like this."

 

"But you do. And I'm a good host."

 

"And a good friend," she said, smiling, knowing he'd understand she was talking about both Spock and Len.

 

She smiled up at Spock as he came to sit next to her, and he surprised her by brushing her hair off her cheek.

 

"Aww, look at the lovebirds." Jim grinned and went back to his breakfast.

 

"Lovebirds. Please." She leaned slightly into Spock. "Do you object to that designation?"

 

"It is inaccurate." He pushed back against her shoulder, his lips ticking up ever so slightly. "And no, I do not."

 

Jim let out a short burst of air, amusement clear. "So glad you two are here."

 

##

 

Chapel studied the scans one more time then got up as she heard Len's office open. "Hey, do you have a sec?"

 

He came in. "Good time at Jim's?" His voice was terse.

 

"Yeah, good." She hit the privacy button. "I need a second opinion." When he sat, she came around and sat next to him so it would be easier to show him what she had. "I have a crewman that I'm worried about. He's been showing personality changes that have manifested since coming onboard."

 

"First assignment?"

 

"No, it's not adjustment to space. This is different."

 

"Different how?"

 

"Mood swings. Increased aggression. Poor impulse control." She handed him the padd and said, "This is right before he reported for duty. The next"—she waited as he swiped to the second scan—"is the beam-up from Earth and the third is the beam-in at our end."

 

"I'm not seeing anything."

 

"I know. But I scanned him yesterday and saw this." She reached over and swiped for him.

 

"There's virtually no serotonin here."

 

"Exactly."

 

He went back to the scans, began to dig into them. "The structures are all here. There's been no degradation from injury."

 

"I think the structure is fine but the functioning is on the fritz."

 

He turned to look at her. "Cause?"

 

"I think it was the transporter. You're aware that we lost Sonak, our designated science officer in a transporter accident, yes? Another member of the crew as well in that same accident."

 

"But they fixed it, didn't they? "

 

"Yes, but there was a series of beam-ins right before this crewman reported. There was a power surge recorded. Not enough to trip any alarms, but I asked Jan to go through the logs and she found it."

 

"Are the others who transported involved?"

 

"No. I checked their most recent scans from the transporter. In one case I may have stalked an engineer who hasn't been off the ship since reporting so I couldn't check any recent scans."

 

"We just had refits."

 

"And he was working with the refit crew. So he stayed on board. But he's fine, too. They're all fine. Just this crewman."

 

Len studied the padd and nodded slowly. "This would cause the symptoms you said."

 

"There are a number of tests I'd like to run."

 

"Yeah. If you need help...?" He sounded very tentative—like she wouldn't welcome his assistance.

 

"I will. I'll need your help." It wasn't a lie. With their two skills combined, they would be the perfect team to work on it.

 

"Okay." He started to get up, clearly already thinking—planning—so she put her hand on his arm and said, "There's something else."

 

He settled back onto the chair.

 

"I think, in an attempt to mitigate the negative consequences of the serotonin issue, the crewman has resorted to self-medicating."

 

"Sedatives?"

 

"Booze."

 

"Ah. Well the sooner we start the better, then." He started to get up again.

 

"Bourbon, specifically."

 

He froze. She could feel the tension in her office go up exponentially.

 

"Len?"

 

"How fucking dare you."

 

"Len, I was under orders."

 

"And you couldn't wait to do this, could you?" He reached out and caught her by the throat, then tightened his grip. "You couldn't wait to discredit me."

 

"Len," she managed to gasp out. "Len this isn't you. Please, you're hurting me."

 

He let go, jerking away, the chair falling back as he stood staring at his hand. "What the hell am I doing?"

 

"It's like I said. The transporter's fault, not yours." She studied him. "There is no better team to work on this than you and I. I wasn't kidding. I just want to help you."

 

"I shouldn't be on duty."

 

"Your chems are off. Your temper is short. But you're still a doctor. Work...work is good. But I think you need to put me back on alpha. Either that or tell Stella what's going on."

 

"No. I don't want her to know. She doesn't like me as it is."

 

She resisted telling him that knowing there was a reason outside his control that made him act like a prime jerk might be good for Stella to hear.

 

He shook his head as if he was thinking the same thing. "No, I'll tell her I've rethought my position of having the deputy on a different shift."

 

"Okay."

 

He got in her face, finger pointed at her. "You will not say a goddamn word about this to anyone."

 

"Of course not. When have I ever?"

 

"The other time you colluded with Jim."

 

"You were dying. He had a right to know his CMO was terminally ill. You might not have found the cure if Spock hadn't realized he should look for it in the first place. So fucking thank me for telling Jim, Len. I saved your goddamned life." She rubbed her throat.

 

He reached around her for her regenerator and began to work on her throat. "I'm sorry. This anger..."

 

"I know. We'll fix this." She nodded, then closed her eyes as he worked.

 

"I'm so sorry, Christine. For everything." And he did, finally, sound sorry—and more like his old self. The McCoy she desperately wanted back.

 

##

 

"He's here, Christine." Len motioned for Jim to go into her office—a concession she realized immediately. She was lead on this and he was acknowledging that.

 

Jim sat, saying, "Nice to see you back on alpha, Chris."

 

Len frowned at the name—she thought Jim intended him to—then he shot her a look that clearly said concessions were over and launched into it as if he was lead. "We've identified the cause of the problem, Jim."

 

She almost rolled her eyes. God help her, but she'd be glad to get back the version of Len that wouldn't take credit for her actions with such a straight face and "hell yeah!" attitude.

 

"I'm sure she did." Jim held his hand up when Len started to talk again. "Bones, I know you're my CMO but this is Chris's case. If she considers you the best one to partner with on treatment, I'm not going to second-guess her. But you aren't in charge on this. And I want that clear."

 

He was watching Len carefully, and she wondered if he was second-guessing her decision not to remove him from duty. Fortunately, Len dialed back any angry retort and almost sounded like the old McCoy when he said, "Of course, Jim."

 

They both turned to her and she explained the treatments they were trying, the people they were working with at Starfleet medical, and how soon they'd have a result.

 

"I don't understand. Serotonin therapy has been around for centuries. I was on meds that were supposed to help with that after Tarsus IV."

 

"You're right but they won't work if the mechanism in the brain that processes the neurotransmitter no longer recognizes it. Which is what we think has happened."

 

"It's unprecedented, Jim. The transporter went and... Well, it did what I always feared. Jumbled me up."

 

"I know what it's like to live with something the transporter did. Believe me, Bones, I sympathize. I just want you back and healthy."

 

"Captain, to be perfectly clear, this isn't like what happened to you." She saw him frown and forged on. "If we can't fix it—and I have no reason to think we can't, but just if—he's not compromised to the point of being unfit for duty. I know we can find a therapy that will help him maintain equilibrium if his body won't do it for him."

 

"Your conviction is contagious, Chris. Keep me posted."

 

When he was gone, Len nodded for her to hit the privacy button again. "Thank you."

 

"Everything I said, I believe."

 

"You could use this to get rid of me, you know."

 

"I don't want to get rid of you. Not that way."

 

"Just the asshole who kissed you?"

 

"And changed my shift. Shithead."

 

He grinned but it was a tentative expression. "What if it doesn't work?"

 

"Then a brilliant brain surgeon and an equally brilliant biochemist will find a workaround. Won't we?"

 

He took her hand in his and squeezed, and she saw that he was blinking hard. "We will."

 

"I'd hug you but you'll get the wrong idea. And Spock will smell you on me. And he's not ready to give you more chances."

 

"You haven't told him?"

 

"Of course not. You know me better than that."

 

He looked down. "I just...I just feel as if I'm going to explode. Like everything I do is wrong, you know? And like everyone knows about it."

 

She nodded.

 

"What gets me—what really bothers me, Christine—is that I can't imagine another person you would let go this long without saying, "Hey, that guy is acting pretty damn strange." He shook his head. "How big of an asshole do you all think I am that it took you this long to think something was wrong?"

 

"Of any of us, you're the most—"

 

"Obnoxious?"

 

She smiled "I was going to say emotional. You don't always react the way anyone expects. You say what you think, which most people don't, and you know that. And I've heard you call yourself a curmudgeon. All of which makes a person who can be, well, a jerk some of the time." She shook her head. "I should have known when you made a pass at me. When have you ever wanted me?"

 

He looked down and gave a strange little laugh

 

"Wait? Really? I mean Spock said that he thought you had but—"

 

"Why do you think I was so goddamned mean to him? And to you? Sometimes you're not the brightest log in the bonfire, darlin'."

 

"I guess not. Well, let's not talk about that right now. Maybe when your filters—such as they are—are back, we can."

 

"Or not."

 

She laughed. "Right. Or not."

 

##

 

She cuddled into Spock, enjoying the luxury of being on the same schedule—she would never take alpha shift for granted again.

 

He turned so his lips were near hers, and she leaned in and kissed him tenderly.

 

"I have missed this, Christine. I did not want to say that while you were still on beta shift."

 

"I missed it, too. But I liked that you still wanted me here, in your bed, even if you weren't in it with me all the time."

 

"As long as no one else was in it..." He let an eyebrow go up slowly and she laughed. Then his expression grew more serious. "You have been spending a great deal of time with Leonard. Should I be concerned?"

 

"Concerned how?"

 

"That I have a rival?"

 

She smiled and kissed him. "No," she said as she pulled away.

 

"Good." He studied her. "Should I be concerned in some other way?"

 

She met his eyes, willing him to see what she was not saying. "I can't say."

 

"Ah. Perhaps that is a promising thing?"

 

"I can't say." But she smiled as gently as she could.

 

"I will hope for the best."

 

She realized Jim might have talked to Spock about Len before coming to her. So Spock would know. That still didn't mean they would talk to each other about it. Their jobs required they keep things to themselves.

 

"Can we forget about him for a while?" She let her fingers play, down and down and down.

 

"If you are going to do that, forgetting about anything but you will be a foregone conclusion."

 

"Then I'll keep going."

 

"Most appreciated." He was soon writhing under her touch and she laughed as he seemed unsure how she wanted him to finish.

 

"Oh, did you want me to do something?" She was already kissing her way down.

 

It took no time at all and he was lying still, eyes closed, an almost smile playing on his lips.

 

"You like that."

 

"My appreciation for that goes far beyond like, Christine." He opened his eyes. "As does my appreciation for you. I hope you know that."

 

She snuggled back in, secure that once he'd sufficiently basked in the afterglow, he'd be making her writhe just as frantically. "I do."

 

##

 

She and Len stood staring down at the padd where they'd run the simulation surgery they'd come up with. Well, he'd come up with the surgery part and she'd figured out a way to flood his body with serotonin in a way that wouldn't cause the problems a massive influx would normally bring. They'd tried a simulation where they did the surgery first and eased into the serotonin introduction, but the alterations they'd made to correct what the transporter had done to his brain refused to take without a huge amount of serotonin in his system.

 

"It's working, Christine." He sounded so relieved she wanted to hug him.

 

"Let's do it a few more times, just to be sure."

 

As the second, third, fourth and fifth simulation showed equal success she began to relax. "Stella is one of the best surgeons I know other than you. We should bring her in on this."

 

"No. Just you." And the nurse he'd handpicked. One that wasn't one of her picks, she'd noticed. "I've got to supervise Pierce whether this works or not. I'd prefer she didn't know what was going on until we see how this does. And how your workaround does if this surgery doesn't work."

 

"It'll work. But it would work better with the best surgeon."

 

"I am the best surgeon, and I'm going to be awake during the procedure."

 

"You need to work on your self-esteem, Len." She grinned, teasing.

 

"I mean we work well together. We always have. I don't want her here." His voice was changing as he grew more agitated.

 

"Fine. Len, it's fine. Just us and Sato. When do you want to do it?"

 

"As soon as our shift ends. You know I'm no good at waiting."

 

"Okay. I'll tell Sato." She turned to hit the privacy button, but he said, "Wait. I want to talk about something."

 

He walked over to her and stopped just short of standing too close. "I started comms to you so many times when I was in Savannah. I just..."

 

"Chickened out?"

 

He nodded. "And what I said, about winning when Spock wasn't in the running—maybe I always knew he'd come back, you know?" He sighed. "If I had commed you—asked you to dinner or dancing or something date-like—would we have had any chance at all? Would you have said yes?"

 

She met his eyes. "Yeah, I think I would have."

 

"But when Spock came back, would I have lost you?"

 

She shrugged helplessly—how could she know what she'd have done? Although she didn't think Spock would have approached her if she'd been with someone else.

 

"Why'd he have to come back?" He closed his eyes.

 

"If he hadn't, there'd have been no meld. No meld, no 'open to something new' V'ger. We'd have all died."

 

"Yeah, but I'd have won." He gave her a silly grin. "Shit, I'm doomed to be no-win McCoy, huh?"

 

"I wouldn't say that. I haven't worked this hard to find a solution because you're just an esteemed colleague."

 

He moved closer. "When everything's back to normal, I won't have the courage to do this again." He tried to pull her into his arms, but she slipped away. He looked more confused than angry.

 

"One inappropriate kiss is on you. Two is on me, Len, and I won't do that to Spock."

 

He nodded slowly. "He's a lucky man."

 

"Yeah, he is." She laughed, and he did, too.

 

"Will you hate me if I pray that you break up with him?"

 

"If I don't hate you by now, it's just not going to happen." She pulled him in for a quick hug and was gratified that he didn't cop a feel, just buried his head in her shoulder and murmured, "Thank you, Christine."

 

He finally let her go and she went out to get Sato and prep for surgery.

 

##

 

"Doctor, a spin around the dance floor?" Jim took her hand and eased her away from the small group clustered around a McCoy that was his old self again.

 

As she settled in, finding dancing with him to be easy and fun, he said, "Thank you. Thank you for giving him back to me."

 

"Your welcome, Jim. But he came up with the majority of the cure."

 

"But you figured out what the problem was. And I'm in your debt. I don't take that lightly. Anything you need, you understand?"

 

"Can you tutor Spock on Valentine's Day and birthdays?"

 

"I can. I'm quite good at those."

 

She laughed and he did, too. For a moment, there was a sense of such ease and sympathy that she finally understood what held Spock and Len so closely to this man. When he let you in, he let you all the way in.

 

"I'm really glad I stayed, Jim."

 

"I'm really glad you did, too."

 

They finished the dance and a few more, then she made her way back to Spock at the bar while Jim found new partners. She gratefully took the glass Spock handed her and slid in between him and Len.

 

"How's it feel watching your best friend woo your woman, Spock?" Len had a teasing—not entirely nice—look on his face.

 

"He is dancing, not wooing. And as I do not dance, I can hardly blame Christine for seeking a new partner." The look he turned on her said very clearly that while he might not dance, he did do other things so well she had no need of new partners.

 

She laughed at the sheer possessiveness in his eyes. Then she turned to Len. "And what the hell was that? You wonder how we didn't know something was wrong with you? That's how, Doctor Skewer."

 

"What? I'm just teasing."

 

She rolled her eyes.

 

"Fine, maybe I was being a jerk. But I have to ease into this 'good old McCoy' thing. Got out of practice. Kind of liberating being an asshole. You should try it. Although I'm happy to be drinking bourbon because I love it and not because I feel like I'm going to come out of my skin if I don't have it."

 

"Amen to that." She clinked her drink against his.

 

"Spock, did Christine tell you that I tried to kiss her again, just before the procedure?"

 

She glared at him. Spock did know—she'd told him because she didn't want secrets between them like that—but did Len really have to bring it up?

 

Len ignored her look. "She told me no in very clear terms. Wasn't about to hurt you. Damn fine woman you've got here." His tone was softer this time, his eyes offering something—maybe the closest thing Spock was going to get from him in the way of an apology.

 

Spock seemed to realize it. "She is indeed extraordinary, Leonard."

 

Jim pushed in, his arms around Chapel and Len, with a grin to Spock. "What'd I miss?"

 

"Len was complimenting me. I may have screwed up in the other direction."

 

She waited for the laughter from him and Len and wasn't disappointed.

 

 

FIN

 

 

Author Note:

 

I don't know if anyone cares about my "process" LOL but this story has an interesting generation story. I started it two months before finishing it, had just the first section and was happy because I was in the mood to do a "fluffy" Spock/Chapel. Yeah, so the muse she wouldn't give me more. I'm not a butt-in-the-seat type of writer. "1000 words a day no matter what" never works for me. I write out of inspiration, not obligation, and usually the muse (admittedly part of my brain, but still easier to treat it like a separate entity) has the characters run lines for key parts so I know where a story is going, or I may just get a feeling that means a story is waiting to come out.

 

So anyway, my fluffy Spock/Chapel quickly, when she finally gave me scenes, became not so fluffy. And about midway through, when the relationship between McCoy and Chapel had just degenerated, I was all "This is STUPID! This makes no sense." And as she is wont to do, she just said "Trust me" and let me stew for a day. Then she gave me the reason. Which I sort of loved because of his fear that this would happen someday. And he is a dick some of the time, so really how long would you wait before you said, 'Wow, even for him this is bad"? Especially if everything else on his part seems to be working fine.

 

So that's how it happened. And in the middle of all the angst is this lovely, solid, functional relationship for Spock and Chapel, which I don't usually have the luxury to do since you know conflict is key. But they didn't need to have conflict between them since it was everywhere else. And that was fun.

 

Also, I hope this explored things in a little different way. When you've done as many Chapel fics as I have, especially ones set post TMP, nothing is ever new anymore. But maybe this can be considered "fresh" LOL? Thank you for reading all the way!