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) 2016 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.

Aftermath

 

By Djinn

 

   The worst is far behind us now

   We'll make it out of here somehow

   Meet me in the aftermath

            - Jason Wade/Lifehouse

 

 

 

Part 1: Treading Water in a Sea of Tears

 

Spock wanders through his apartment like he has never seen it before, stopping to pick up an item here and there in his journey across the carpet Valeris wanted installed. It is beautiful and expensive, and he indulged her because carpet is so rare a thing on Vulcan—the sand and blowing grit during the windy season not conducive to soft floor coverings that cannot be lifted and pounded out in the open air.

 

He resists the urge to rip the carpet from the tack board that holds it down, to roll it into great bundles and have them shipped to Rura Penthe the way she was shipped this morning.

 

He stops for a moment to gather himself, hands clenched and eyes closed, his focus solely on regaining his breathing, on finding equanimity—if such can be located after her betrayal.

 

He loved her. He held nothing back from her. He gave her anything she wanted.

 

And in return she used him. She lied to him, even in the melds they shared, and she nearly had his closest friends killed.

 

He is not sure which part hurts the most.

 

He takes a deep breath, than another, afraid that if he is honest with himself, he knows what hurts the most. It is something McCoy said once when Mister Scott had become enamored of a woman much younger. “No fool like an old fool.”

 

In Vulcan terms, however, the age difference between Valeris and him is not that great. In human terms, he is a foolish old man finding love with a nubile young woman. As a Vulcan, this should not bother him. But his friends are humans, not Vulcans, and he finds it hard to maintain composure if her name comes up when he is with Jim or McCoy or Nyota.

 

They all saw what he did to her. His...revenge, he imagines they must deem it.

 

Nyota especially looks at him as if she can no longer be sure of him. Something in her welcoming smile is different since he pillaged Valeris’s mind and made her cry out in a manner a Vulcan never would—never should.

 

He has avoided Nyota lately. McCoy and Jim, as well. McCoy has been in Georgia, so he is not difficult to elude, but Jim is relentless, seemingly unwilling to let Spock disappear into his guilt and sadness.

 

Spock has never been able to hide much from him, so he is often busy when Jim comms to suggest chess or dinner or any of the other things meant to lure Spock from this apartment that still smells like her.

 

He has slept with her favorite robe pressed against him. He hates her, even if he will never admit such strong and inappropriate emotion to anyone. He has ignored every message she has sent, comms pleading to be allowed to explain herself. One even saying that she loves him—that one sent last night, before the Klingons dragged her off this morning. He refused her comm, sitting at his desk, trying to keep the rage and sorrow and...pain away. He ignored the woman he loves and let her sit alone in that cell while he curled with her clothing in their bed until he was sure she was gone, off this world forever.

 

Does that make him more of a fool or less?

 

His comm terminal chimes with the particular pattern of notes he has programmed in for Jim.

 

He ignores the comm. For now he wishes to wallow, as his friend would say. It is no doubt the human in him coming out, but he is going to indulge it.

 

##

 

Chapel leaves the cafeteria and is halfway down the hallway before she realizes she’s going the wrong way. With a sick feeling in her stomach, she turns and heads away from Emergency Ops and to her new cubicle in the visiting officer’s comms area. Her queue of information requests sent from citizens all over the Federation sits just as she left it.

 

A crap job. This is what she’s reduced to.

 

Because she was Matthew’s protégé and, some thought, his lover. The first is correct; the second is just the rumor mill reacting to her rapid rise with the same boss for so many years and making success equal sex. She isn’t surprised some of her peers believe this. Some of her peers will believe anything so long as it makes her look bad and them slightly more competent. But she hopes most understand that Matthew depended on her as an officer, not as a woman.

 

Hell, if she were a man following him the way Spock followed Jim, no one would say anything.

 

She starts to laugh softly. That's probably a really shitty example. But there are other captain/first officer teams that don't engender quite so much speculation.

 

She hears soft steps, then feels warm breath on her ear.

 

“What the hell are you doing in here? I went to ops, and they said you’d been transferred?”

 

She leans her head back and sighs. “Life is shitty right now, Jim.” Life is shitty, but his smile is sweet, and he touches her arm the way he does when he’s giving comfort without it being too overt.

 

He pulls a chair over from an empty cubicle and sits close. “What’s going on?”

 

“Fallout from being Matthew’s golden child.”

 

“It’s been months since Khitomer.”

 

“They don’t believe it was only Matthew and Valeris and West. Security seems convinced a rear guard was left behind. A second wave if the more direct approach failed. I’ve been questioned a gazillion ways from Sunday. Most of them not so fun, some of them horrible.”

 

“I’m sorry. I’d heard the witch hunts hadn’t stopped, but I never thought they’d go after you.”

 

“Yeah, me either.” She points to her queue. “Can you believe I’m doing this? Redacting has always been my life’s goal.” She closes her eyes. “Jim, one morning I walked in, headed for my office, and found two security officers waiting to take me to their boss. ‘Time for you to leave,’ he said to me. Like security makes fucking posting decisions.” Her voice is rising and she sighs. “Sorry.”

 

“Don’t apologize.” He rubs her neck as he says it, his hand warm and firm and everything she normally craves from him. But today it feels like too much, like she might break, so she eases away and says, “What are you doing here? I thought you were in Idaho?”

 

“I was, but I got roped into going to the Enterprise-B launch.”

 

She starts to laugh. It’s too funny: Jim has been nothing but negative about Harriman to her and to the brass. “Seriously?”

 

He nods.

 

“Fuck. Your life is as bad as mine.” She watches him to see if he'll wince at her swearing—Len has told her that her language has gone downhill since she joined ops—but he takes it in stride as usual.

 

“Well, I only have to do this once and then I’m free again. This on the other hand...” He gestures to the terminal. “How long did they say?”

 

“They didn’t. Although I was encouraged to look for a nice medical posting. Somewhere far from Command. A ‘quiet planet,’ they said.”

 

“This isn’t right.” He turns, and she’s pretty sure he’s checking to see who’s in their vicinity, but she’s knows it’s not to cover his ass but to protect her. “It’s really not right.”

 

“Make it better?” She gives him the mock sad look that normally earns her a kiss, only she’s afraid mock sad will turn into real sad—that it probably already has.

 

He kisses her as if it has. His normal passion is missing; all she feels from him is tenderness, and she pulls away quickly because she’s afraid it’ll break her if he’s this nice to her.

 

“I can help you. After the launch.” He touches her cheek. “And you’re coming to Idaho when I get back. I miss you.”

 

“I miss you, too.” They are casual lovers. She was ambitious and so was he, neither really wanting a full-time relationship. Their friends-with-benefits mode suited both of them fine for years. Maybe now it’s time to reassess. She thinks he might be thinking the same thing.

 

He’s nice and fun in bed, smart and sweeter than most people realize. She’s his type and he’s hers and yet...

 

Spock. Spock who is no longer with that Vulcan bitch.

 

Jim has always known she’s never given up on Spock completely. She thinks it’s another reason he’s been content to not push for more with her. She can’t imagine James T. Kirk settling for being anyone's fallback plan.

 

He seems to be reading her mind. His look changes and he asks softly, “Have you talked to Spock?”

 

“No.”

 

“He won’t return my comms. I’m going over there later. Force the issue. I’m not sure what’s eating him.” His look says differently, that he does have an opinion on that, but she knows he won’t badmouth Spock more than he already has.

 

“Maybe he’s embarrassed? He damn well should be. First he finagles his paramour into the helmsman spot on your bridge—were you not paying attention the day that assignment went through?”

 

He shrugs. “I knew they were taking the ship away from me soon. I may have moved my sights on to other things. And I was a little distracted by his bigger end-run of making me the envoy to the Klingons.”

 

She laughs and tries to make it not too mean of a sound. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen you so angry at him.” She waits for him to roll his eyes and is not disappointed. “But you ended up saving the day. And Valeris ended up a big fat traitor.”

 

“A fact you enjoy a lot.” Jim is grinning; he understands her so well.

 

“Okay, I do. I’ll admit it. But the way I understand it, he and Valeris goddamn melded on a regular basis. He couldn’t read ‘I’m going to screw you over so bad and I don’t mean in this bed’ from her? What is it with his Vulcan woman betraying him and him none the wiser?”

 

Jim gives her a tight smile. She knows he’s probably thought the same thing. “Who told you that—about him being with Valeris?” He always phrases his questions so neutrally when Spock's love life comes up, as if mentioning his name will shine too bright a light on the spectre between them.

 

Nyota has no such qualms. Nyota who’s always seemed to enjoy a much closer relationship with Spock than Chapel could ever achieve. Nyota, who has been scarce lately—is she avoiding Chapel for her career's sake or is she holed up with Spock consoling him with her body?

 

Neither alternative is good. Will Spock go to Ny now? The woman he confides in?

 

But why does it matter? Chapel gave up long ago that she would ever mean anything to Spock. Valeris proving to be a murderous traitor is vindication for hating the little bitch, but not a sign that Spock will seek her out.

 

Jim leans in and kisses her gently. “I have to go. Launch stuff. Scotty and Chekov are going to be there too. Spock weaseled out somehow.”

 

“Probably too busy feeling sorry for himself in the bowels of the Vulcan embassy.”

 

He laughs. “I’m pretty sure he’s at his apartment, not the embassy, which doesn’t, by the way, have bowels. Many upper floors though.”

 

She smiles and hopes it doesn’t come off bitter. “Not like I’d know.”

 

“Oh, Chris, if only you could let him go.”

 

“Then you’d make an honest woman of me?”

 

He shrugs, and she can’t read hurt and uncertainty, just his normal sweetness. “I’d have done that long ago, if I thought it was what both of us wanted. You had ops. I had the ship.”

 

“I know. But witness: ops and the ship are very far away, but we're still here.”

 

He looks surprised—does he not know how much he means to her? She’s always known she can love more than one man at a time. She fell for Spock while she was still looking for Roger.

 

She pulls Jim back to her and kisses him as tenderly as she can. “I love you, you know,” she whispers close to his ear, so only he can hear. It’s not something they say to each other. They skirt around the word as if it has cooties.

 

He smiles as he pulls away. “I love you, too. So, you want to think about something more...permanent?”

 

She nods. Spock may always be between them, but Jim’s had great loves in his past that she'll manage to ignore. “I mean unless you don’t?” She grins to take out any real sting.

 

“I’m game.” His smile is a beautiful thing. Then he gets up, looks around, shakes his head, and mutters, “We’re getting you out of here,” before turning and walking off.

 

It takes her a moment to realize he said “we” and not “I.”

 

Since she isn’t sure he’ll have any success, she decides not to dwell on the identity of whoever else he’s going to pull into his plans.

 

##

 

Spock sits at his terminal, trying to concentrate on his next diplomatic mission. The sound of his chime going off irritates him immediately, even if it provides respite from reading the paragraph he’s already read three times in the pre-mission report.

 

He walks to the door and opens it, composing his expression into one that will graciously but firmly turn away whoever is at the door.

 

Except Jim. Who stands with a smile Spock is not certain how to read, his head cocked as if unsure whether Spock will let him in. “I’ve commed. You won’t answer. So the mountain had to come to Mohammed.”

 

For a moment, he does not know what to do. Then he moves aside and says, “Come in,” more gruffly than he intends to.

 

Jim walks to the window and stares out at the bay. “I’ve always admired the view here.”

 

A view Spock knows Jim saw very little of once Valeris moved in. Not that he stayed away—Spock just stopped inviting him over.

 

And Jim had Christine. Does he think Spock doesn’t know this?

 

Spock moves closer but resists joining him at the window. This man can read him too well, and he has no desire for the roiling emotions he’s feeling to be exposed so readily.

 

“She was handed over to the Klingons today, Spock.”

 

“I know.” His voice is even. He is keeping his composure.

 

“I argued for not remanding her to their custody—to their form of justice.” He practically spits the words out.

 

“You would support leniency?”

 

Jim seems to bristle. “I was there, Spock. On that freezing hell-hole of a planet. Yes, I’d goddamn support leniency.” He turns and studies Spock. “Did you see her before she left?”

 

“No.” Spock turns and walks to his desk.

 

“I know she betrayed you, but you loved her. Pain doesn’t replace love.”

 

“I do not wish to discuss Valeris, Jim.”

 

“Fine.” Jim’s voice is tight with the sound of what Spock thinks is immense frustration, a tone he usually does not hear. “I actually don’t want to talk about her, either. I want to talk about Chris.”

 

Spock lifts an eyebrow. “She is, I believe, your problem.” The words come out hard and bitter, and it surprises him how much anger he feels. It is illogical, in fact, since Christine wanted him, but he never wanted her back.

 

“And I’m making it yours, Spock. She’s been yanked out of ops because of her association with Cartwright. She’s being encouraged to take an assignment somewhere...safe—for Starfleet, not her.”

 

“Surely you are more connected than I when it comes to the Starfleet brass. I fail to see what I can do for her that you cannot.”

 

Jim’s jaw gets tighter, and there is anger in his eyes. “She and I are close, as you well know. She's been my plus-one of choice to Command events for some time. Moreover, I'm Cartwright's friend. A protest over her treatment would mean more coming from you.”

 

“You are so sure she is innocent?”

 

Jim’s surprise is so fast it cannot be simulated. “Do you think she’s guilty?”

 

“Jim, clearly my ability to recognize guilt in my associates is severely compromised. Unless you would like me to meld with her? To rip the memories from her as I did Valeris? Then I could be sure.”

 

Jim turns, striding to the window again, and his grip on the frame is so tight his knuckles turn white. “Are you ever going to forgive me for making you do that?”

 

“Forgive...you?”

 

Jim turns, and there is a helplessness in his eyes, an exhaustion. “I made you. I made you hurt her.”

 

“You did not make me do anything. In fact, my own...fury over her betrayal led me to be far more brutal in the meld than I should have.” He sits. “You think that is why I have not returned your comms? That I blame you?”

 

“Isn’t it?”

 

“No.” He shakes his head, staring at the too luxurious carpet that he now detests. “My emotions are so strong—they...compromise me. I have been embarrassed at my lack of control. I did not want you to see me this way.”

 

“You loved her. You loved her and she used you. Of course you’re angry.”

 

“I am Vul—”

 

“You’re human, too, Spock. God knows, you have every right to be mad.”

 

“But, Jim. I melded with her. Numerous times. I never saw what was inside. The truth.” The ugliness.

 

“And you think that’s your fault? They set her on you, Spock. They must have known you’d meld. I imagine they put in place some kind of mental countermeasures to keep you away from anything incriminating.” Jim moves over and sits next to him, his hand on his shoulder, a gentle touch but also one that allows Spock to read the primary emotions: compassion, sadness, anger—but not at Spock.

 

And worry for Christine. It colors everything.

 

As does Jim’s distaste for the launch of the new Enterprise and the way he loathes Harriman.

 

“Are we all right, Spock?”

 

“We are.” And Spock can feel something inside himself settling down. His friend does not judge him. He has not lost him.

 

“I’ve got to go. More launch crap tomorrow and then we’re off the next day. We’ll play chess when I’m free, yeah? Figure out a way to help Chris?”

 

“We will, Jim.”

 

“There has to be a way to fix this.” He stands but the set of his shoulders and the ease of his smile are very different than when he first walked in. “You’re supposed to be the smart one, Spock. Find us a way to get her back where she loves to be. Or at least free of suspicion.” Jim’s smile changes, and Spock wonders how close he and Christine have become.

 

Their eyes meet and Jim reaches out, grasping his elbow. “Use that brainpower thinking about Christine, not Valeris, okay?” He frowns and with a little laugh, adds, "Maybe I should rephrase that."

 

Spock nods his understanding. “I shall consider her situation, Jim.”

 

“Excellent.” With a last grin, Jim lets him go and heads for the door.

 

Spock imagines Jim is going to Christine’s once his launch meetings are concluded. That somehow he has managed to carve out the kind of domestic tranquility with her that Spock thought he had found with Valeris.

 

It is ironic. But it is Spock’s experience that life often is.

 

##

 

Spock is packing the last of his items for the mission to Pravesh. The negotiations promise to be fruitful, but the process of coming to consensus will no doubt be tedious. He was hoping for a more dynamic situation, one that would keep his mind off Valeris.

 

He checks to make sure he has the padds he’s been working on, then fastens his case and slings it over his shoulder. The shuttle for Starbase Seven is leaving in an hour and as head of the delegation, he needs to be there early, to welcome his team, some of whom he has never worked with before.

 

He takes a flitter to Command and as he is heading for the main transporter to space dock, he sees Christine standing in front of ops, a carton in her arms, her expression stormy. He debates stopping, but she sees him, and her mood seems to darken even more.

 

He realizes that she is very little like the gentle soul he knew during their first voyage. This Christine is ambitious, hard even—no doubt a function of dealing with emergencies. Soft officers don’t make it in ops.

 

He debates letting her know Jim has told him she is no longer working in ops, but decides discretion is called for and merely nods to her and asks, “Do you need assistance?”

 

“My stuff’s still in there.” She is staring at the office that he knows was once hers, but she doesn’t elaborate on why she needs to retrieve her personal items. She seems about to walk away, but then meets his eyes. “My replacement is in my office. I thought he’d have gone home by now. But ops never sleeps.” She closes her eyes, a sigh escaping her. It is the sound and look of utter defeat—diplomacy has taught him how to read others better than all his years on the ship.

 

He checks the chrono. He has plenty of time. “I could go in with you.”

 

Her laugh is bitter and loud. “And be seen with a traitor?” She takes a deep breath—a rather dramatic gesture he is sure is for his benefit—then stomps in.

 

He waits for a moment, watching her, imagining what she and Jim have. Is it more than what he envisioned he would have with Valeris?

 

Will Valeris never leave his thoughts? Will she be the thing he measures everything against? This traitor who may not even have cared for him?

 

“I love you, Spock,” he can still hear that declaration, her normally proud voice small and even frightened—a gift to him, he thought at the time. Or manipulation. “I love you” could have merely meant “Save me.”

 

Someone comes out of Christine’s office, not looking pleased at the interruption but also not seeming to attempt to make a difficult situation worse. A moment later, Christine walks past the man, murmuring something, and then hurries out of ops.

 

“You retrieved what you needed?”

 

“Far from it. But I got my stuff back.” She swallows hard, a fear response he isn’t sure she’s aware she’s made. “I’m going to take this back to my cubicle in no-man’s-land. Thanks for—well, whatever it is you thought you were doing by waiting here.”

 

“I was helping.”

 

“Pretty broad interpretation of the word, but I’ll allow it.” She smiles and for a moment, it is the smile he remembers. Then it dies, and she hoists the carton a little higher in her arms and with a soft, “Have a good trip,” turns away.

 

“Jim will be home soon.” It is an odd thing to say to her, but he wants to help, wants to make her feel better.

 

She turns to study him. “He will. And that matters to you why? I know you’re not jealous of him being with me—is it that you think you might give him a try now that your girl has been shipped off to Klingon hell?” Her tone is sharp, cruel even.

 

He decides not to react to it. “Neither. I merely thought it would make you happier once he is home again. He cares for you a great deal.”

 

“Do you ever say ‘love’?”

 

Her words are even more pointed, driving into him in a way he does not like. “Yes, I do. But I understand your wondering. You certainly have never heard me say it.” It is cruel. It is what he wanted to say to Valeris when she tried to manipulate him by stating her regard in human terms.

 

But Christine is not the enemy, and she does not deserve this. He tries to start an apology, but she rolls her eyes, says, “No shit,” and strides off, her boots clicking loudly.

 

He almost goes after her, but a quick glance at the chrono shows that if he does not hurry, he will be the last to arrive, not the first. He makes his way to the transporter, feeling regret but unable to do anything about it. It seems to be his steady state these days.

 

##

 

Chapel is working through the latest info request when she hears those around her starting to chatter—or at least that’s how she thought of the sound in ops, when suddenly everyone is reading the same message and it’s bad.

 

She stands, checks to see who’s in the room that doesn’t appear to hate her—or at least view her with deep distrust—and finds Captain Michann. She’s always been nice to Chapel and must have just arrived back on Earth since she hasn’t been in the room before now. She walks over, waits till Michann sees her, then says, “What’s happening, ma’am?”

 

“Chapel. Sit down. I know you were close.”

 

“Close to who?” Then she sees the headline flowing across the terminal. “No.” The word comes out like a little child might say it, full of hurt and disbelief and the need for someone to take it back, to say they’re just fooling.

 

But they’re not. Jim is...gone.

 

Chapel realizes she’s put her hand over her mouth and is blinking back tears. “No,” she says again, and this time the adult is speaking, and the word is full of everything she's lost.

 

Taken. By space. Again.

 

“Thank you,” she says and tries to get up, but Michann holds her down. “No, really, I’m fine. I’m just going to go home now. I think that’s best.” She can’t see very well and dashes at her eyes.

 

“Christine, I’m so sorry.”

 

Those words. Those damn horrible words. She heard them a thousand times when Roger disappeared. Now at least there aren’t as many who know she was with Jim, no one to realize they were going to move on to something more—to something good.

 

Why does everything good get yanked away from her?

 

“Is there someone I can call?”

 

She wants to say Ny, but imagines her friend is already hightailing it to Spock, so she murmurs, “Leonard McCoy.”

 

“I’m going to comm him. Don’t move.”

 

Chapel watches the screen as Michann calls up Len’s comm address and pings him. He doesn’t answer at once and looks confused when he sees Michann, but is fleet enough to ask, “Captain, what can I do for you?”

 

Chapel can’t see anything on his face. No anger, no grief, no disbelief. He can’t hide these things, so she whispers to Michann, “He hasn’t seen the news yet.”

 

He perks up. “Is that Chapel with you?”

 

Michann nods. “You need to watch the news vids. And then I think Commander Chapel will need you. And uh, you’ll probably need her, too.”

 

“Len, where are you?”

 

“I’m in Savannah.”

 

“You shouldn’t be alone.”

 

There is something off in his expression, something she used to see on the ship when she stopped by to shoot the shit and realized he wasn't alone in his quarters. “You’re not alone. Len, I’m sorry. I’m fine.”

 

Suddenly Len is pushed aside, and Ny is staring at her. “You are not all right. What the hell is going on, Christine?”

 

It's clear Ny doesn’t know, either.

 

“Ny,” she says, and her voice breaks strangely on her friend’s name, “watch the news.”

 

Then she hears Len say, “Shit,” and Ny turns and her expression crumples—she must be reading the headline.

 

“Where’s Spock?” is the first thing Ny says.

 

“You mean you don’t know?” The words come out sharply and Chapel winces because she doesn’t want to be mean, not now.

 

“Why would I know?” Ny seems to gather herself. “I’ll find out. It’s what I do.”

 

Chapel could have found out even faster if she still had her ops accesses, but she doesn’t and she won’t ever.

 

It’s gone. It’s all gone.

 

“I’m going to let you go,” she says. “Take care of Len.” Then she reaches over and cuts the connection.

 

Michann watches her closely. “That probably wasn’t the best choice you could have made. Being with friends helps.”

 

“Yeah. Well. It’s complicated.”

 

“Okay.” Michann looks like she doesn't think it can really be that complicated.

 

“Thank you for trying to help me. It’s...it’s not the norm these days.”

 

Michann reaches out and squeezes her hand. “For what it’s worth, Christine, I don’t believe you’re a traitor.”

 

“Thank you.” She waits for Michann to let go, doesn’t want to jerk away when the woman has been so nice to her. Finally she’s free, and she goes to her terminal, turns it off, and leaves.

 

If Starfleet even cares that she’s gone, they can send security out to find her.

 

And she pities the security officers who try to take her on today.

 

##

 

Spock does not even try to pay attention to the incessant posturing of the two sides. He motions for an aide to move up to the table, looks pointedly at the padd the man carries so he will know Spock intends him to keep notes beyond the transcripts. Questions, interpretations, the things that go beyond the words.

 

The things Spock cannot care less about at this moment.

 

Jim is dead.

 

He wants to get up, to excuse himself, to go to his quarters and try to find some measure of internal composure to match an external front he hopes is sufficiently Vulcan. He wants to call McCoy and Nyota and find out what happened.

 

He wants to berate Harriman. He is sure the man is somehow at fault. Even if the logical part of him notes that his dislike of the man is primarily due to listening to Jim talk about him in the most disparaging way possible.

 

But Jim reads—read people well. Spock takes a ragged breath and knows his aide is looking at him sharply.

 

He doesn’t care.

 

His friend is dead, and he can't help but think that if he'd gone to the launch, if he'd been there to help, Jim would still be alive.

 

The head of one of the delegations is yelling, but Spock barely pays attention. He rises and says, "I believe a recess is in order. We will reconvene tomorrow."

 

Eighteen hours to gain some measure of control back. He is not sure he can do it. He is not sure he wants to do it.

 

But he must. There is nothing left to him but this, this job he enjoys—even relishes—most of the time.

 

He stands and sweeps out of the room in the way he has seen his father do so many times and has never been able to emulate. Could it be that Sarek was spurred by the emotion he feels? He finds that thought unlikely, if comforting. Sarek would tell him Kirk's actions were brave and honorable. He would quote the needs of the many.

 

Spock does not care about the many right now. Only the one.

 

Only Jim.

 

He can hear confusion behind him. He does not slow, and the door closes, and finally, in this barren hallway, he finds the silence he craves. He hurries down the hall to his rooms, desperately searching for peace and privacy.

 

Desperately needing to find out what happened. And to mourn.

 

##

 

Chapel hears footsteps coming down the aisle to her cubicle and does not look up. If it's security wanting to talk to her about her many absences since Jim died, they'll have to make her look at them.

 

"Christine?" A soft voice, her friend's voice. A voice that should make her happy but instead sends the rage that's boiling inside her up a notch.

 

She looks up and meets Ny's eyes. "Slumming?"

 

She expects to see anger on Ny's face, but instead she only sees hurt. She should say she's sorry. She should get up and hug Ny.

 

She should do a lot of goddamn things instead of sitting at this terminal, unsure what to do or where to go since she lost Jim and the last nail was slammed into her career.

 

"Christine, can we go outside and talk?" Normally Ny is sure of herself and takes the lead in their friendship, but she seems to be walking on eggshells.

 

Chapel wonders if she looks like she's about to explode. It's possible. But not here, not in this chair, in this room that no one ever decorates with personal items because for everyone else, it's only a temporary resting place.

 

She gets up and motions for Ny to lead them somewhere—anywhere will be an improvement. Ny finds them a bench in the shade, far from the main paths.

 

"To what do I owe this pleasure, Ny? You haven't exactly been present lately. But then you've waited for Spock for a long time. I guess once Valeris was safely out of the way..."

 

"You're an idiot." In the past, this would have been a throwaway insult, all in good fun, but Ny's doesn't sound amused in any way. "I'm not with Spock. I'm with Leonard."

 

"McCoy?"

 

"No, Bernstein. Of course McCoy."

 

Chapel laughs softly. "Well that explains why you were there when I called about Jim. But I was right. You disappeared into a relationship—just not the one I thought."

 

"Like you never did that with Jim? Give me a break, Christine." She sighs and looks away. "Why are we fighting? Jim is dead. And I know you're hurting. Even if all you seem to care about is Spock."

 

Chapel feels as if she's been punched in the gut. Not because it's mean, but because Ny's right. These are the times she wishes she could find a way to end her obsession with Spock, but it isn't something she controls. If it were, she'd have driven a stake in it long ago.

 

"I do care that he's gone, Ny. It's tearing me up inside, which is probably why I'm being such a bitch. Who you're with...it's none of my business. And if you're happy, that's good. For both of you." She takes a deep breath and realizes she's letting go of a little of the anger inside her. "Jim and I were moving toward something. It was good. It was great."

 

And he was going to help her.

 

"I'm sorry, sweetie."

 

"I know you loved him too." She reaches out and wouldn't blame Ny for not reaching back, but she does, and her grip is warm and firm like always.

 

"What are you going to do, Christine? You can't sit in that godforsaken office and go through document requests forever."

 

"I keep hoping they'll come to their senses and reinstate me." She shakes her head and laughs. "But they've already replaced me. So that's stupid, isn't it?"

 

"You were there a long time. Even if this isn't the way any of us would want it to happen, you need to move on."

 

"I find that ironic coming from you."

 

"I know. But I'm moving on, too. The new Enterprise is out there and I have no plans to be on it. Nor do they want me to." She moves closer and puts her head on Chapel's shoulder. "Why don't you come to Savannah for a while. I know you have more leave than God. Len would be glad to see you."

 

"I'd cramp your style."

 

"Well, you wouldn't stay forever." Ny chuckles, and it's the sound of a thousand inside jokes, of nights on shore leave around a bonfire or a table in a bar on a hundred different planets.

 

"I’m sorry."

 

"For what? For being sad? This isn't easy and it's not going to be easy for a while. But come stay with us. We can all be sad together. Sometimes that's the best way."

 

"I'll think about it."

 

"That just means no. Don't think about it. Do it. Get away from here for a while. Jan and Sulu are coming by next week. It'll be good to be together."

 

Chapel imagines Jim's laugh, the way he would pour her a scotch and add ice with a dramatic shudder like he did the last time she stayed over. "But he won't be there, so it won't be all of us, will it?"

 

"Oh, baby." Ny pulls her into a hug before Chapel realizes that she is crying, weeping in fact, much harder than she's allowed herself to cry alone, possibly because she's been afraid that she'll go under and never come back up. But Ny's holding her, an anchor just like always, and Chapel gives up and lets herself go.

 

Ny doesn't say anything, just strokes her back and when she finally pulls away, wipes away the makeup that has smeared. "Savannah. I want you there tomorrow. Got it?"

 

"Yeah. I think you're right."

 

"I know I'm right. You want me to go in with you?"

 

Chapel laughs softly, imagining Ny seeing her safely to her desk the way her parents did on her first day of school. "No, I can handle it on my own, Mom."

 

"Shut up. Who else do I have to nurture?"

 

"Well, Len, apparently. So...how did this happen?"

 

"When he was in Rura Penthe, I realized I wasn't just normal worried about him. I was extra worried. And all these feelings came up and"—she laughs and looks away—"then I started acting like an idiot around him trying not to let him know that I liked him because I didn't think he liked me back that way."

 

"But he did—does, I mean?" Chapel smiles. She can imagine the crazy two-step these two must have engaged in until they caught on that they were both hearing the same music.

 

"Yeah. And it's good. And I'm really glad we had each other when we found out about Jim. And we're worried about you."

 

"And Spock. He was the first thing you asked about."

 

"I know. I'm not going to apologize for being concerned for him. Jim was the closest friend I think he's ever had."

 

"I know."

 

They fall into a silence, but an easy one, filled with sorrow shared. Chapel finally gets up and says, "I'll see you guys tomorrow."

 

Her head hurts from the crying, but another part of her feels better for having finally let go.

 

##

 

Spock sits in McCoy's front parlor, trying not to feel ill at ease being part of this impromptu memorial. The others have drinks in their hands and seem relaxed and ready—even eager—to share anything that comes to mind about Jim.

 

He is content to sit quietly. To nod occasionally when someone says something that resonates with him. To mentally note how different things will be from now on. The weight of Jim's absence is significant not just by the lack of his physical presence but in the dynamics between members of the group. The times when Jim would have taken the lead, people are now floundering until someone else steps up.

 

Finally, the others tire of sharing—or the alcohol has set in enough that they no longer know what to say—and they wander off in groups. Mister Scott is with McCoy and Nyota, who Spock surmises are now romantically involved given the ease with which she is serving as hostess in his house. Sulu, Rand, and Chekov are gathered over a screen with holos that Nyota gathered—times they all have shared over the many years of their association. Spock gets up, intent on sharing the moment with them, but then sees Christine sitting on the porch, her back against a column, her mood unreadable.

 

He leaves the living room, walking the short hall to the porch, then opening the door loudly enough that she'll know he is there. "May I join you?" It is a human custom that always strikes him as Vulcan. Humans so often charge in with "I need you" or "Guess what happened?" or some other selfish reason for imposing one's presence on another. But this courtesy gives the other person control.

 

"Suit yourself."

 

And just like that the other person can throw control back into the asker's lap. Spock is not sure what to do. A Vulcan would simply have said yes or no.

 

Finally, he sits on the railing, far enough away from her that he will not be perceived as crowding but not so far, he hopes, that she will think him unsupportive.

 

They sit in a silence that becomes rapidly more uncomfortable as it grows. He is used to gauging silences. In diplomacy, the nature of silence is an excellent indicator of progress or lack thereof.

 

But in diplomacy, he would have studied the involved parties. He has not studied Christine, has done nothing to help her as Jim asked. He knows only what Jim, and McCoy in his kitchen last night, have told him about her current situation.

 

And he has learned nothing from her—Christine has barely spoken to him since he arrived.

 

She shifts, stretching her legs out, and in the past he might have thought it was to become more comfortable, but now he sees them as a wall between them.

 

"Jim asked me to help you," he says softly.

 

"Bully for Jim." There is pain in her voice. Pain and an anger he wonders if she is aware of.

 

"Christine, I wish..." What does he wish? Other than that his friend did not die? "I would like to help you."

 

She meets his eyes, and hers are as hard and distant as Sarek's have ever been. "Why?"

 

"Because Jim—"

 

"Yeah, I heard you the first time. Jim wanted you to. So what?" She turns, her jaw clenched, and he thinks she is trying not to cry.

 

The Christine he dealt with on the Enterprise would have cried. Her tears would have flowed freely, but this Christine is nothing like that woman. Ironically, this Christine makes him vastly more uncomfortable than the old one.

 

He finally murmurs, "It was his last request of me." On Vulcan that means something. On Earth, it does, too.

 

"You know"—her voice is pitched strangely, raspy and dark and as she turns to him, her eyes shine in a way he has come to associate with malice—"if you'd just gone to the launch instead of sitting around moping over your stupid fucking traitor of a girlfriend, Jim might still be alive and he could help me himself."

 

He wants to strike her. He wants to tell her she is wrong. He wants to get up and leave.

 

He does none of these things because she is not wrong. If Spock had gone, Jim might still be alive.

 

It is a sign of how she has changed that she does not rush to say she's sorry. Instead, she just sits, her hard eyes boring into his, and he thinks this is why she excelled at emergency operations. He would not want to be the planetary administrator who got in her way.

 

"Nothing to say?"

 

"There is nothing to say. You are correct." He takes what he hopes is a steadying breath, but it comes out ragged.

 

"Would you have helped me if he hadn't asked? Would you even have noticed that anything was going on with me?" Her questions are asked in a tone that tells him she knows the answer—accepts it, even.

 

But he answers her anyway. "No."

 

"Well, there you go." She gets up. "Any debt you feel, you're relieved of it. We're not friends, Spock. We're not even very good ex-shipmates. And I'm okay with that."

 

For the first time, he thinks she is lying, but he doesn't argue with her. A gentle "As you say," allows her a graceful exit.

 

He sits on the porch, thinking about all the different decisions he could have made over the years, not moving until Nyota calls him in for dinner.

 

##

 

Chapel gets up early so she can see Jan and Sulu off. Spock is up, too, as she expected he would be, but she ignores him as if dismissal is an interstellar Olympics event. It's something she perfected in ops, the ability to look through instead of at people. She's been told it's profoundly unnerving.

 

Spock doesn't appear unnerved, but then she's never been that good at reading him.

 

"You know," Jan says softly as she pulls Chapel into the kitchen, "you two have the look of a one night stand that was awful."

 

"Right."

 

"It'd be natural. You're both grieving. Reaching out, maybe?"

 

"Quit fishing, Jan. Spock and I didn't fuck." She closes her eyes and leans her head on Jan's shoulder the way she used to in ops, when things were beyond screwed up. "Although maybe we should have. Put a cap on how horrible my goddamn life is."

 

"You need to move on—any direction is okay, just don't get stuck. You're angry and you're bitter, and I understand that. I can't imagine having Jim and then losing him." She strokes Chapel's hair, and her touch is as soft and comforting as ever. "Look, our CMO isn't leaving anytime soon, but we have science billets coming open.

 

"I miss you."

 

"I miss you, too. So let's remedy that."

 

To be on the Excelsior would not be a step down. Chapel knows that intellectually. But the rage inside her demands she keep trying to get back what she had. "I'll think about it, Jan."

 

"No, you won't." Jan's smile is the one of hundreds of emergencies they shared, the one that knows Chapel will take stims and drink too much coffee even beyond what's healthy, that she won't go home no matter how much she needs to sleep until her people are relieved. Jan has seen her at her worst and still likes her.

 

Loves—Jan loves her. Jan is family, more than the others, even if she'd probably count them as family if asked. But she and Jan were the first ones to leave, to get off the ship and try new things.

 

Unless you count Spock attempting to purge his emotions as a new career thing. Which she doesn't. She has no idea why he went to Gol and doesn't care. It's ancient history.

 

She walks Jan out to the front door where Sulu is talking to Spock. He breaks away to give her a hug, whispering, "Jan talked to you about a science posting?"

 

"She did. I'm thinking about it." She eases away.

 

By his expression, she can tell he doesn't believe her, but he doesn't try to convince her, just gives her a gentle smile, then rests his hand on Jan's lower back as he urges her toward the front walk.

 

They've been together a while now. Chapel likes how they act, how happy she knows her friend is with Sulu.

 

They're gone before she's ready, and without Jan's steadying presence she feels adrift. Not looking at Spock, she turns to go back inside but is brought up short, and she realizes Spock has taken her arm and is turning her.

 

"What the hell are you doing?"

 

"We should talk, and a walk sounds pleasant."

 

"Maybe to you."

 

He ignores her, simply pulls her along without appearing to manhandle her—probably a Vulcan art form—and then lets go of her when they are far enough from the house that she can't make a quick break for her room.

 

"Why are you doing this?"

 

"Because Jim asked me to. I was not at the launch—you were right that I might have changed the outcome of those events—but I am here, as are you. Let me help?"

 

"How? How exactly are you going to help me? My job is gone." Damn it all. Her job is gone, with a new officer filling the billet. Command's not going to remove him just to appease her. Hell, they clearly don't give a shit what she does.

 

"I need someone with your skills on my next mission."

 

"Oh, bull." She tries to stride away, but again he catches her arm. "Damn it, Spock."

 

"Christine. Please. Let me help you. It's all I have left." There is a note in his voice she's never heard—a desperation that she knows could be her undoing. The need to help—it's why she stayed in medicine after she found Roger, why ops held her for so long.

 

"Spock, please. You and I—it's not going to work. I feel..." She sighs. "I loved Jim."

 

"I believe that. I also believe that you still love me."

 

"Which is why you can't help me. Because I do and you'll never love me back. I don't want to be your project out of pity or guilt." She gently pushes his hand off her arm. "What I said about the launch might or might not have been accurate, but it was definitely mean, and I'm sorry for that. Some things just don't need to be said."

 

"I cannot forgive what I consider truth."

 

"Then forget I said it."

 

"I am Vulcan. I do not forget." He looks like he wishes he could, though.

 

"Spock, I don't have anything left, either, okay? The two people who just went back to their ship and the ones still in this house are it for me. If you give me the chance, I'll latch on to you in desperation, and I think you'll do the same right back. And that's wrong, Spock."

 

For once, he appears to have nothing to say.

 

She cups his cheek. "Thank you for wanting to help. It means a lot." Then she turns and walks away from him, going past the house and for a long walk around Len's neighborhood.

 

Spock's gone when she gets back to the house, headed back to San Francisco. After dinner, she sits on her bed, pulls out her personal communicator, and sends a message to Jan that reads, "I want to come home."

 

She imagines what that would mean if Ny or Len said it. For Ny, it would be the Enterprise. For Len, she's never been sure if the ship or Georgia is what he really considers his true home—she knows what he says, but he's logged more years in space than in Savannah.

 

Jim might have been her home. She takes a deep breath, knowing that this stasis she's put herself in is not something he'd approve of. Jim was action. Jim was "make it right." And she believes with all her heart that he would have found a way to help her.

 

But he's gone now. He's gone, and she's got to do it on her own. The same way she did after she lost Roger.

 

But doing it on her own doesn't have to mean doing it alone, and for years she and Jan were home to each other, in a way that Ny will never understand because she wasn't in ops.

 

Chapel's communicator buzzes. It's a message from Jan that says, "Just finishing up dinner with H. We're thrilled. Welcome home."

 

She puts the communicator down, curls into a ball, and weeps as silently as she can, her tears caused as much by relief as grief for what she's leaving behind.

 

 

 

Part 2 – Trying to Land in Your Atmosphere

 

 

 

Chapel wakes to the too familiar feeling of a ship under her. But this time it's not someone else's ship that she's just a temporary passenger of. This is her posting now. The Excelsior is home.

 

She lies for a moment in bed, enjoying the feeling of knowing there isn't an emergency just around the corner, and then gets up and takes a longer shower than she ever did on Earth and heads to the mess. She's through the line and debating where to sit when she hears, "You lost or something, newbie?"

 

She laughs: Jan said the very same thing to her when Chapel first showed up at ops. "Sir, yes, sir."

 

It's said in jest, but while Jan doesn't outrank her, her position as first officer definitely trumps Chapel's science position. For the first time, she'll be taking orders from her friend.

 

Her friend who is rolling her eyes and saying, "Cut that shit out when we're off duty." She refills her coffee and leads Chapel to a booth in the back of the mess, then leans forward and asks, "How'd you sleep? First night on board and all."

 

"I slept great. Thank you for—"

 

"Whatever you're going to say, stow it. We brought you here because you'll enhance the performance of our ship, not because we needed to bail out a friend. Got it?" She sounds exactly like Jim, and Chapel grins.

 

"Got it. And 'we,' huh?"

 

Rand shrugs. "We like to make decisions as a team. It's nice."

 

Chapel nods and busies herself with fixing her oatmeal. She imagines she and Jim might have made decisions as a team. Maybe she would have retired and moved to Idaho with him. Or they could have gone off planet. To one of the relief agencies that seem to inhale ex-Starfleet officers for their executive boards.

 

"What are you thinking about?"

 

"Jim." She meets Jan's eyes. "Do I look sad?"

 

"Yeah. Yeah, you do."

 

"It seems strange to say I miss him. We were so casual, right up until the end. And then..."

 

"You lost the future, Christine. Of course you're sad. He was a remarkable man and I believe he loved you." She looks down.

 

"What?"

 

"I would have wanted more from him a lot sooner than you did. But then I had the big crush on him, right?  And yours was on Spock." Jan sighs. "What the hell? Are we going to be maudlin on your first day at work?"

 

"Seems like maybe we are."

 

"Well, fuck that."

 

Chapel laughs. The ops language seeps in so often for both of them. They actually used to blush at some of the fouler things that were said by the ops lifers. Now they barely blink. "What's the mission de jour?"

 

"Transport haul. Some kind of strategic mineral. Borrrrring, if all goes right."

 

"Does it usually go right?"

 

"Yeah, it usually does. We're long past the wild west days of our first voyage."

 

Chapel glances at the viewscreen, at the stars that seem to stream by. "Is it stupid to say I miss those days?"

 

"No. Sometimes Hikaru does, too. I can tell. But after ops, you're due for a little down time."

 

Chapel holds up her mug to Jan in an impromptu toast. "Roger that."

 

##

 

Spock sits in the embassy, listening to his father brief him on a mission he knows nearly by heart.  It is unusual for them to be assigned together and he regrets that Starfleet has done it.

 

"Are you listening to me, Spock?"

 

"I am."  It is not a lie.  He always listens to Sarek—he spent too many years not and learning the consequences.  Sarek can humiliate him with barely any effort.  "Father, I of course intend no offense, but I have been working on this issue far longer than you."

 

"So you should lead the mission?"  Sarek steeples his fingers, his expression the one of a thousand tainted interactions.  "I am, of course, the senior ambassador."

 

There is no answer for this.  And not for the first time, Spock thinks his father illogical.  But then their relationship has always been colored by emotion, even if it has taken Spock years to realize that.  It is ironic.  As a child he thought his father the role model for logic, the Vulcan ideal.  Now, now he knows better.

 

"Sarek, are you done with him yet?"  His mother's question is welcome distraction.  He thinks, not for the first time, how similar Christine's voice is to his mother's.

 

Sarek seems poised to say he is not finished, so Spock rises and says, "Yes, we are both sufficiently prepared."

 

He sees a moment of shock on his father's usually perfectly stoic face.  Is this the first time he has defied him?  Surely not.

 

But perhaps it is the first time he did it with so little emotion—so little resentment.  This is what it is.  His relationship with his father will never be what he wants but it would be the height of illogic to think it will ever change after so many years.

 

His mother takes his arm and eases him from the room as if she too knows he has done something remarkable.  "How have you been?  You were so sad the last time I saw you."

 

It is a testament to her ability to read him that she almost always knows how he is feeling.  "Time heals.  Is that not the saying?"

 

"It is.  Sometimes it's not true, though.  Has someone helped it heal?"  She squeezes his arm.  "Someone human this time."

 

He can feel his lips ticking up.  His mother detests Valeris and has barely warmer feelings for T'Pring.  "Did you have a human in mind?"

 

She shrugs.  "I'll leave that up to you." She is watching him closely.  "Do you have a human in mind, Spock?"

 

He is about to say no when he thinks of Christine, sitting on the porch of McCoy's home.  It is the image that has stayed with him.  How lost she was.  How strong, too.  A dichotomy that fascinates him.

 

"You do."  She squeezes his arm even harder.  "Do I know her?"

 

"Mother, I do not intend to discuss this with you."

 

She laughs.  "I do.  I know her.  If I didn't, you'd just say no."  Smiling broadly, she pulls him along in her wake.

 

She has never had any problem manhandling him or his father, despite how tiny she is.  He allows himself to enjoy her gentle tyranny and proceeds to evade her guesses about who the person is.

 

At least until his father joins them and all talk about feelings is banished.

 

To his great relief.  His mother is frighteningly perceptive and Spock does not wish to talk about Christine to her. 

 

Not when Christine appears to wish nothing to do with him.

 

##

 

Chapel brings another round of drinks up for Jan and her and takes a seat in the empty upper level, waiting for Jan to get off the dance floor.  Hikaru has a glass of beer at their table, but he's too busy mingling to come up and drink it.  That's normally the way, Chapel is finding.  He loves his crew and doesn't seem to need quiet time to decompress like she used to when she was in charge of ops.

 

She wanders over to the railing and watches her friends dancing, then chatting with the head of engineering and the CMO.  She feels a pang and tries to bite it down.  This isn't her show, and she's not part of the senior staff.  She could go down there if she wanted to, but she isn't one of them.  Not like she used to be in ops.

 

God, must everything come back to ops?

 

She realizes she is tapping her finger on the rail and takes a deep breath.


Bored.  There.  She'll admit it.  She's just a little bit bored.  The pace on Excelsior is taking some getting used to. 


But that's normal.  She'll get used to it. She'll get used to just being part of the crew, not the one running it.  Won't she?

 

"May I join you?"


She whirls, mentally counting how many glasses of wine she's had and coming up with not enough to make her hallucinate Spock's voice.  He isn't aboard, is he?

 

He is.  He's standing right in front of her, a look she can't read on his face, but that's nothing new.  She's never been able to read him.

 

"What do you want?"  The question comes out almost panicked, and she backs against the railing.  "Why are you here?"

 

"The Excelsior was heading in the right direction."  He is holding a glass of what she supposes is water, and he sips it as if buying time.

 

"Oh.  Do you hitch a ride often?"  Because Jan would have mentioned that, wouldn't she? 

 

"From time to time." 

 

"Oh.  Well.  Okay."  Like he needs her permission to be onboard.  "What do you want?"

 

"Simply to talk to you."

 

"Why?"  There is a flatness to her voice that she can't help.  What the hell is he doing?

 

His expression changes, grows stiff, and she thinks he is about to turn around and leave her in peace, but he says, "Why are you being so unpleasant?  There was a time you would have welcomed my company."

 

"I think we've established that time is over."  She moves closer.  "Whatever Jim asked you to do, that time to help is past.  Don't you get it?  Move on.  I sure as hell have."

 

He looks around.  "I see no one up here but you."

 

"Get over yourself."

 

"Ambassador."  Jan's voice is warm, but the look she throws at Chapel is anything but.  "Join us, why don't you?"

 

"Commander Chapel appears to prefer I do not.  I will talk to you later, Commander."  He nods to Jan, manages to ignore Chapel as perfectly as he ever did before, and walks down the stairs, Vulcan dignity intact.

 

"Thank God, Jan.  Thought he'd never leave."  She heads for the table but is brought up short by Jan's hand on her arm.  "What?"

 

"I could tell you were arguing from down there.  He's a VIP.   He merits special treatment."

 

"Good for him."  She shakes off Jan's arm and sits.

 

Jan takes the chair next to her.  "From all of us.  You do not get to treat a Federation ambassador like shit."

 

"I'm off duty."

 

"No one is really off duty when they are on the ship interacting with crew.  I know that because you taught me that back in the day—or have you forgotten your manners since then?"

 

"Fine, fine, I'll try to be nice to him next time he approaches with some creepy request to join me."

 

Jan closes her eyes and shakes her head.  "Shit.  You're really going to make me do this, Chapel?  That was a goddamn order, not a request.  You will be polite to Spock.  Or, if you can't be, you will limit your interactions to places where other crew can't see.  Got it?"

 

Chapel feels the burn of a blush, the sick feeling in her stomach she used to get when Roger dressed her down in front of her peers.  "Way to throw your weight around."

 

"I haven't.  I've been careful because I know you're used to being the boss.  But this is important.  I have no idea why you're so mad at Spock—maybe it's all those years of rejection.  Maybe it's losing ops.  I don't know and I don't care.  Be polite.  Is that too much to ask?"

 

Chapel shakes her head and takes a long drink of her wine.

 

"Christine.  It was hard for me, too, when I first got here.  The pace was so different than ops and we don’t party the same way here.  I know you feel...isolated.  Ops was one big happy family because we had to be.  It was too crazy not to be.  This ship is huge, but you'll find where you fit.   I happen to know your department head is thrilled to have you."

 

"Could have fooled me."

 

"She doesn't gush.  Get over it."  Jan laughs.  "Remember when you told me that about Cartwright."

 

Chapel nods and laughs softly, feeling anger and embarrassment fade in the face of Jan's gentleness.  "You were so afraid of him."

 

"Well, yeah.  But I got over it and I fit in, and you will too."  Jan looks past Chapel and smiles.  "Our valiant captain must have finally tired of mingling."  She pats the chair next to her.  "Take a load off, sir."

 

He sits with a happy sounding groan.  "So, what are we talking about?"

 

Chapel looks at Jan and gives her the most apologetic smile she can.  "Adjusting."

 

"Are you having a hard time?"  He looks sincerely surprised, and Chapel realizes Jan hasn't talked to him about her.  

 

She feels a rush of love at her friend's loyalty .  "Little bit, yeah.  But...I'll get used to it."  She holds up her glass.  "To saner paces and fine ships."

 

He grins; he's like Jim that way, never tires of hearing how lovely his duranium lady is.  "I'll drink to that."

 

##

 

Spock is working in his quarters when the chime goes off.  "Come."

 

He expects one of his aides, or possibly Sulu.  He does not expect Christine.

 

"Soooo, here you are, back on our ship."

 

"Do I need your permission to be on the ship, Commander?"  His tone is sharper than it should be, but he is finding she brings out his frustration nearly as effortlessly as Sarek ever has.

 

"Yeah, about that."  She sits without asking and meets his eyes, and he realizes the anger he saw last time during their unpleasant encounter in the lounge is gone.  "I'm really sorry.  I was out of line."

 

She is blushing, so he thinks she means it.  He is not sure, however, what to do with the apology.  "All right," he finally says, then goes back to his terminal.

 

"And I deserve that. I really, really do."  She gets up and he lets her get to the door before he asks, "Was there something more you wished to talk about?"

 

She stops and turns.  "I ummm.  I..."

 

He waits, deliberately does nothing to make this easier on her.

 

"I'm sorry."

 

"You said that."

 

"No, I'm sorry for other things.  For not saying thank you when you tried to help me.  I know you were just doing it because of Jim, but it was kind of you and I was not gracious."  She is looking at the floor as she talks,  but finally looks up when he does not respond.

 

"You were right.  I would not have even known you needed help but for Jim."

 

"I know.  But still.  I could have been nicer."  She moves tentatively toward him.  "Can I sit for a sec?"

 

He motions to the chair.

 

"You're in charge of your own fate."  She meets his eyes.

 

He is unsure where she is going with such a strange statement so he waits.

 

"I used to be.  Once I got off the ship, I mean.  As a doctor at Starfleet Medical. And then in ops, for years—Cartwright gave me a lot of leeway.  Some might say I got away with murder."  She laughs, and the sound that comes out seems nervous.  "A lot of people thought I was with him romantically, but it was never that."

 

He is still not sure where she is going, so he says nothing but tries to keep his expression open.

 

"It was really hard to come here, Spock.  To just be...one of the crew.  I mattered in ops. I knew the brass and they said hello to me in the halls.  I was at their parties with Jim or on my own."  She looks down.  "Now...now I find I'm jealous of the department heads."

 

"Jealous?"

 

"I spent so much time being ambitious, Spock.  I didn't pursue more with Jim because ops was everything.  And for what?"  Her eyes are tearing, and she dashes her hands across them as if she has no time for tears.  "It's been an adjustment.  So many things I've had to let go of.  Goals and dreams and..."  She shrugs.  "I guess what I'm trying to say is I wasn't mad at you the last time you were onboard.  I was mad at the world—and at myself."

 

"But you chose to come here."

 

"I know.  And for a while it was wonderful just to be safe again.  But then that wore off, and I was back where I started.  Having to get used to a new steady state.  And not doing a very good job of it."  She shakes her head.  "I know you won't understand.  I just need to tell you—to tell someone."

 

He thinks she is about to get up and leave, so he murmurs, "I walked out of a negotiation."


She laughs softly, her look confused.

 

"After Jim died. I walked out.  I did not care."  He thinks of the carpet he finally had ripped out, the hard wood that now covers his floor.  It is a shade Valeris hated.  "Valeris hurt me in a deeply personal way and I have been angry about that.  To some extent, I do understand what you are saying."

 

"Then, we're okay?"  Her smile is shy and sweet, and for a moment he is reminded of the nurse who loved him seemingly without reservation.  "Not that there was much of a 'we' before.  But, I mean, now, we're okay now.  Right?"

 

"We are fine, Christine."

 

"Good.  Good.  Jan will be relieved."  She blushes again and stands.  "Okay, I'm going to let you get back to work."  She is up and out before he can say anything.

 

He stares at the door for a long moment before turning back to the terminal.

 

 

##

 

Chapel weaves down the corridor, trying to get to her room and find her damned antitox.  She is halfway there, when she hears, "Commander?"

 

She turns.  Spock stands before her, so she blinks rapidly in succession, trying to make the hallucination go away.

 

It doesn't.  "Are you really here?"  Again?

 

"I am."  He walks with her toward her quarters.  "You have, I take it, been drinking."

 

"Yes, and I left my antitox in my quarters.  I'd be run out of ops for that."  She starts to giggle and tries to bite the sound back, which only makes it worse.  "Oh, wait, they already did that." 

 

She palms her door open and looks at Spock.  "Did you want to come in?"

 

"Yes."

 

"I'm not sleeping with you."  Although if she can't find those damned pills, she might.

 

"I still would like to come in."

 

"Suit yourself."  She smiles as prettily as she can to take any sting out of the response.  "Just hang on one sec while I find—"  Her stash is empty.  God damn it.  She has some others; she saw them when she unpacked.  Where did she put them?  "Well, until I remember where I put the rest of my pills, you'll have to deal with moderately intoxicated Christine." 

 

"Jim used to say that truths lay at the bottom of a bottle."

 

"Yes.  And so do bed spins and if you're really cursed, vomiting and dry heaves."

 

"I will never understand the human propensity for consuming items that cause so many unpleasant side effects."

 

"The high is wonderful.  It's like suddenly not caring about anything while also being open to the world."

 

"I will take your word for that."  He sits on her bed, and since the bed is closer to her than her desk, she flops down next to him.  Moderate might have been too mild a word for how drunk she is.

 

She expects him to move when she stretches out on the bed, resting her head on her arm, but he doesn't.  His expression seems gentle, so she asks, "Did you love Valeris?"

 

"I did."

 

"And she loved you."  As he starts to protest, she waves him off.  "I saw her with you.  A woman—even a Vulcan female—gets a certain look.  She loved you."

 

"It did not stop her from betraying me."

 

"But from what I heard, she thought you would join her, that she could convince you."

 

"That is true."  Spock shifts and ends up closer to her.  He smells good, the scent of his incense wafting up from the robe he has on.  "I will never know how much she did or did not care.  I was her target and she was set on me because she was the type of woman I would resonate with."

 

"She was pretty.  Sort of severe.  Would she be a great beauty on Vulcan?"

 

"No."  He seems very far away.

 

"I’m sorry.  This is none of my business."

 

"That may be, but it is a relief to finally talk about this. My mother never cared for her and Sarek..."

 

"Sarek doesn't approve of what you do, anyway, so this will only confirm what he thinks?"  At his look of surprise, she laughs.  "Hey, I fully understand the screwed-up dynamics families can create."

 

She reaches out and touches his leg, then pulls her hand back quickly.  "We've never been this close.  Not without some outside force acting on us."

 

"That is true."  He leans back and closes his eyes long enough that she wonders if he's fallen asleep, but then he asks very softly, "Did you love Jim?"

 

"I did.  He was special.  He made me feel good."  She pretends to be entranced by the pattern on the coverlet.

 

"But...?"

 

She rolls to her back so she can study him better.  "You're getting better at the whole emotional ambiguity thing." 


His eyebrows tell her he doesn't plan to argue and he wants an answer.

 

"But I never let him in all the way.  Part of it was that we both had careers we loved.  But part of it was you."  She sighs.  "But at the end, we were going to try.  We might have been happy."

 

"I think you would have.  It was clear he cared for you greatly."   He reaches out and tips her chin up so she has to look at him.  "You seem at peace.  And not just from the intoxicant you have consumed."

 

"I think maybe I finally am at peace.  I was mingling like a champ tonight.  Talking to department heads."

 

He nods, clearly understanding. 

 

"Wait, I know where they are."  She slides over his lap to open the lower of the two drawers in the nightstand.  Seeing the antitox, she snags a couple.  "Eureka."

 

He does not seem perturbed that she is flopped over him, and at one point, she thinks she feels his hand on her hair. Surprised, she stays in that position for a moment to see if he'll do it again.


He doesn't; what he does do is get up and say, "I have an early call tomorrow to catch the shuttle to Rudin IV."

 

"Of course."  She can feel her head clearing.  "Did you really come in here to shoot the shit?"


"That is not how I would phrase it, but yes.  We have never talked."

 

"No, we haven't." for a moment their eyes meet and she forgets how to breathe—and then reminds herself forcefully that he is not, not, not interested.  "Good night, Spock.  Have a good mission."


"Thank you."  And then he is gone, but the incense smell lingers as she gets ready for bed.  She tries and fails to ignore the urge to cuddle into the covers where he was sitting, where his scent still remains.

 

His visit meant nothing.  She needs to be clear on that.  He doesn't like her—or if he does, his overtures aren't romantically motivated.  It would be wonderful, though if he turns into a friend: she's a firm believer that you can never have too many of those.

 

##

 

Spock wakes to weapons trails streaking through the sky. His midsection aches and as he tries to push himself up, his left arm jolts with sudden pain. He stops trying to rise and assesses the damage by moving his arm to see how badly he is compromised.

 

"It's broken. So are your ribs. Stop moving around," Christine says from behind him, and she does not sound panicked, which assures him in a way nothing else would. He knows she has worked emergencies; he has faith in her medical expertise. He sits back and lets her work on the others while he tries to figure out what went wrong on this mission.

 

What hasn't gone wrong on this mission? Some missions are doomed before they start. Something he has come to accept despite his often ridiculous belief in people's ability to rise above their petty concerns for the good of the whole.  But why did he have to include her on this mission?  It was not his intention to put her in harm's way.

 

He turns to watch her, and asks, "Situation?" when she appears to have completed looking over the other members of the mission.

 

"You're the worst off, amazingly." Her voice is pitched low, only for him. "But then you did insist on standing up and delivering a pompous motivational speech about why leaving was better than staying and beating the shit out of the planetary administrator."

 

That was her suggestion. She was tactful enough to only broach it to him in private. And he knows, had she been in charge of the mission, as she would have if this were an ops mission, she would never have suggested it at all.

 

She pushes him down, scanning his abdomen with a frown. "I've called the ship. They'll be within beaming range in five minutes."

 

"And the rebels?"

 

"Lazarro says they're fifteen minutes behind us, probably. If we're lucky—do all your missions go this badly?" Christine smiles, an expression he thinks is supposed to reassure him in some way, but he is more concerned with the blood trickling down the far side of her face.

 

"You are hurt."

 

"It's fine."

 

"There is great deal of blood." A disconcerting amount, in fact. The collar of her uniform is soaked.

 

"Head wounds bleed a lot. It doesn't mean anything other than I got hurt."

 

He reaches for her hand, and she gives a small gasp as he clenches her fingers.

 

"What the hell are you doing, Spock?"

 

"Ascertaining the veracity of your self-assessment."

 

She laughs, and he feels the brief slap of her amusement and also a resounding headache that she is somehow ignoring as she works. But he senses no worry for herself. She believes her head wound is not serious, so he must believe it, too.

 

He lets go of her.

 

"Am I cleared to continue, sir?" She rolls her eyes at him as she works without waiting for his permission.

 

"I beg pardon for the intrusion."

 

"You know, maybe your need to rely on 'reading' someone is part of your problem in seeing what's right in front of you?"

 

He closes his eyes, waiting for the surge of anger he has come to associate with any mention of Valeris, but it is missing. "Elaborate."

 

"How do you know I'm not well versed in hiding the truth? I've worked on planets filled with telepaths and still done my job. Maybe I've been trained to shield—or to actually misdirect."

 

"Have you?"

 

Her smile is one he's never seen on her. Full of satisfaction and amusement but at his expense. T'Pring occasionally looked as Christine does now.

 

And she does not answer even though he waits.

 

"Have you?"

 

She finally shows mercy; her expression changes to something more like what he remembers. Tenderness and compassion. "No, I haven't. Well, not to misdirect psychically. But to shield, yeah." She finishes working on him. "I just find it ironic that you are the master of logic, and yet your sure-fire way to get to the bottom of a situation like this is to sense it rather than consider it."

 

"You may be right. But I am half human. It taints my actions whether I like it or not." He raises his eyebrow the way he used to with McCoy. What Jim deemed his "gotcha" expression.

 

She grins but there is something off, and she hits her communicator. "Chapel to Excelsior. Now would be better than later."

 

Spock realizes his abdomen is beginning to hurt far worse than it did, and he looks at her in surprise. "How bad is it?"

 

"It's bad. You're bleeding internally."

 

And she hid that. When he touched her. He'd been so intent on her state that he missed the clues to his own. And then she'd furthered the misdirection through her conversation.

 

Fascinating. And disconcerting how easily he'd been manipulated. Revelatory in some ways.

 

"Excelsior to landing party. Ready to beam up. Medical standing by."

 

"You'll be fine, Spock." For a moment, there is something in her eyes that he reads as devotion and worry and every other emotion he rejected from her in the past. The irony is that he is not sure any of those things are there, or if he just wants them to be.

 

##

 

Chapel sits with Jan in the mess, eating a rushed breakfast.

 

"So, how are things going with Spock?" Jan's expression is the fake neutral one that verges on cracking up, so Chapel just rolls her eyes and keeps eating.

 

"Christine, he could have had any science officer on that mission."

 

"I know."

 

"Good thing you were there. Your medical expertise and all."

 

"I'm sure that's why he asked for me." She tucks into her eggs, not meeting Jan's eyes.

 

"Riiiiiiiiight." Jan is laughing now.

 

"Quit it. I didn't even visit him in sickbay. He beamed off without saying goodbye. In other words, status quo. And I'm good with that." She meets Jan's eyes finally. "I don't want to go back to that place where I'm pursuing him like he's the gazelle and I'm the hungry lion." Even if she was so worried about him she wanted to hover in sickbay like she used to. It took a herculean amount of willpower to stay away from him.

 

"What if he's pursuing you?"

 

She almost sputters her coffee. "Riiiiiiight," she says, giving Jan a taste of her own medicine.

 

"I'm just saying that maybe you'll be seeing him again sooner than you think."

 

"And maybe pigs will fly." Just as Len likes to say—his homespun wisdom has rubbed off on her after all these years.

 

Len is wise, and Chapel will embrace his philosophy, which is easy to do until she walks out of the mess and toward the lab only to meet Spock coming out of the transporter room with his satchel slung over his shoulder. He visibly brightens upon seeing her.

 

She laughs, not even trying to hide how happy she is to see him.  "You know, there are easier ways to get where you're going than always riding Excelsior Spaceways."

 

"You do not know where I'm going."

 

She grins at that thought: ignorance, after so many years knowing everything, is turning out to be pretty damn blissful. "You're not wrong about that, sir."

 

"Sir? I cannot remember the last time you called me that."

 

She laughs and then stops as he continues past a fork in the corridor to walk with her. "Guest quarters are thataway, Spock."

 

"I know. I am well acquainted with the layout of this ship." He takes a deep breath, and she almost laughs at his intense look of concentration as he says, "I was...hoping—"

 

"That's kind of an emotion, isn't it?"

 

"Anticipating."

 

"That's calculated."

 

His lips actually tick up. "You have a preferred term?"

 

"No, please continue. What were you hoping for?"

 

"Dinner. Tonight. You and I."

 

She has to give him points for keeping it simple after her interruptions. "Why?"

 

"Why not?" He looks extremely proud of himself. And he should be: it's a James T. Kirk worthy response.

 

But Spock isn't Jim, and there is a lot of weird history between them. "I'll need more than that."

 

His eyes are extraordinarily gentle as he says, "I find that I regret certain decisions I have made in the past."

 

"Like sleeping with a traitor?"

 

He closes his eyes and nods, but there is more resignation than anger or hurt in his expression. "Yes.  That. I was, however, referring to choices not made."

 

"Jim?"

 

He actually sighs—the most frustrated sound she's ever heard him make.

 

"Ny?"

 

His jaw tightens.

 

"Oh. Me. It is me, right?"

 

"It is." He gives her a look far sterner than she thinks he actually feels.

 

"I'll think about it." She laughs softly as she walks away, then turns and walks backwards so she can see if he's watching her or if he headed off to guest quarters.

 

He's still in the corridor, watching her intently.

 

She stops walking. "Okay."

 

"You are saying yes to dinner? Not to something else?"

 

"I am saying yes to dinner. Don't faint." She turns on her heel and leaves him, dying to look back again, but knowing it's better to leave him hanging.

 

She should not be enjoying this so much, should she?

 

She thinks of Jim and feels a pang of guilt. But he's gone. He's gone and he always knew how she feels about Spock. Even though she doesn't want to. Even though she isn't sure they're really compatible.

 

But the fire she feels inside when she's around Spock can't be denied. Jim would understand.

 

He'd want her to be happy. And if he weren't around to make her happy, he'd want her with someone who could. He cared too much about connections, about having people in your life that you love, for her not to know that she's right.

 

##

 

Spock watches Christine as she twirls a strand of hair around her finger as they talk in the lounge. Dinner passed pleasantly and she agreed to accompany him here, not seeming to realize he is attempting to replace the memory of their first encounter in this room with something more to his liking.

 

But why would she realize it? It is an extremely emotional thing to do, and she clearly has no idea how much he feels—in general or about her.

 

She laughs and says, "Why are you staring at me like that?"

 

"Because I can." He wonders if she understands just how much he is saying.

 

She seems to, for she blushes and looks down. "You always could have, Spock."

 

"I was not... It was not our time."

 

"And now it is?" Her expression grows less pleasant. "And you of course get to decide that."

 

He feels a retort rising, something cutting and sharp, but she is right, so he pushes it down. "Then you decide. Is it our time?"

 

She seems off balance, as if his asking her that was entirely unexpected.

 

"Christine, I want more. Do you?"

 

"I always have. That's not the point."

 

"Then what is the point?" He can see it in her eyes, though. The doubt. "I am not here with you because Jim asked me to salvage your career. You did that on your own. I am here because here is where I wish to be. As you noted, there are many ships I could find transport on, and yet this is the one I arrange my schedule to be available for."

 

"You arrange your schedule for me?"

 

"I rearrange it for you, even."

 

She laughs, and he is struck by how lovely she is. How lovely she always has been, but he did not want to reach out.

 

"I like that," she murmurs as she takes a sip of her wine.

 

"I thought that you might." He reaches for her hand and touches it for just a moment. "We have never really spoken about Jim. About you and Jim. Do we need to?"

 

"I loved him. Not as much as I love you, but I did love him. Is there more to talk about than that?"

 

"I do not believe there is." He takes a breath, though, knowing there is more, knowing he should say this even if it is uncomfortable: "I was...jealous."

 

"Of me getting him? Or of him getting me?"

 

He can feel his lip tick up and does not try to stop it. "Possibly both."

 

"At least you're honest."

 

"Honesty has been in short supply. Valeris lied to me about so much."  He waits for the pain and anger to flood in but it doesn't.  Perhaps, finally, he can let Valeris go?

 

"She lied to everybody, Spock. So did Cartwright. They were traitors, and it's sort of a given that they'd use and hurt us."

 

"Indeed."

 

"You loved her, though." There is something forlorn in her voice and he wishes that he could tell her that he did not love Valeris, but he can't.

 

He can hedge the answer, though. "She made herself easy to care for. So much of our interaction was...an act." So much on her side; he never hid himself from her.

 

"Nice deflection," she says, with a knowing look.

 

He thinks the nurse he knew first would have accepted the answer happily, but this Christine is used to looking through easy answers, to the root causes, to the foundation.

 

"She was Vulcan, Christine. I wanted to love her."

 

And finally he has said something that pleases her, for her eyes go soft and her smile is gentle. "And I'm human, so you never wanted to love me?"

 

"Precisely."

 

"You're stupid." She says it with a grin, the look daring him to argue.

 

"Undoubtedly accurate."

 

"Wow. You're also mellow tonight."

 

"It is the company."

 

She makes a face he can't read. "Not sure that's a compliment. You could be saying I put you to sleep. 'Soothing' isn't the adjective most women want to hear from the guy they like."

 

"Nevertheless, I meant it in a positive way." He pushes his water to the middle of the table. "I can think of other scenarios where your presence would not be soothing, but provocative."

 

"Do those scenarios take place in your quarters?" She is laughing, but he thinks she is surprised where he has taken the conversation.

 

He is a little surprised himself.  But if Jim's death has taught him anything, it is to seize the moments when they arise.  "They do take place there. Do you object to that idea?"

 

"Hmmmm." She looks down and then back up, meeting his eyes, hers so sensual he actually makes a small moan of desire. "I don't object, Spock." She slips off the chair, murmuring, "Shall we?"

 

He follows her out of the lounge and to the lift, letting the door close and debating the wisdom of telling the lift to hold, but then he hears her say, "Hold lift," and she is in his arms.

 

Her lips are soft and her skin soft and cool as she rubs against him in a way Valeris never would have.

 

He moans again, and marvels that she can make him do that.

 

"Resume," she says with a laugh verging on cruel, and a wink that reminds him of Jim's—right when he was going to call checkmate.

 

"You are enjoying this?"

 

"Isn't that the point?" She slips her hand into his, until the lift stops and she eases away, although she is kind enough to position herself so the crewman who gets on cannot see the visible evidence of Spock's desire.

 

Once the crewman gets off she begins to laugh and Spock tells the lift to hold and pushes her into the corner, holding her in place with his body as he kisses her urgently. Until she moans and seems almost incapable of standing.

 

Then he steps away and says, "Resume," knowing his expression is one of satisfied retribution.

 

She looks delighted. "You surprise me."

 

"And you me."

 

"That's not a bad thing."

 

"I quite agree."

 

There is no one on their deck, so when she reaches out for his hand, he lets her take it, squeezing firmly as he follows her to his quarters.

 

He has her shirt off before the door is fully closed, her shoes and pants and then underwear following quickly. As he pushes her to the bed, she laughs and says, "I appear to be naked. You appear to not be."

 

"Your perception of the obvious is well honed."

 

He thinks she has a retort ready, but it is swallowed by a moan as he kisses down her body, not stopping until...there.

 

He can read everything from touching her. Where to touch her and how hard. He senses she is holding back and tells her, "Make noise. As much as you want. I enjoy the sound of your pleasure."

 

And she stops holding back, writhing under him in a way Valeris never did, her hands reaching, pulling his hair, her skin flushing rose.  His name sounds sweet as she calls it over and over again.

 

He has ample time, through the course of the night, to judge the different ways his name sounds depending on the position they decide to try.

 

It is a lovely sound no matter how she says it, one he thinks he will never tire of.

 

##

 

Chapel wakes to the feeling of lips on her shoulder, then Spock's voice, gravelly she thinks from the number of times she made him cry out during the night, saying, "It is time to wake up."

 

She shifts so she can see him, running her hand down his cheek and smiling when he closes his eyes.  "Good morning."  With a glance at the chrono, she laughs and whaps him softly on the arm, "Lying sack of shit."

 

He does not appear perturbed by the ops insult.  "Did I read the time wrong?"

 

"Right, because you're so prone to doing that.  We have at least an hour, as you well know."

 

His expression changes, becomes more tender as he asks, "Would you rather sleep?  I did not let you rest last night."  

 

She wishes she could go back in time and tell her younger self that someday she would get him, and he would be sweet and warm, and he would look at her like this.

Instead she pushes him to his back and murmurs, "Sleep is for pussies."

 

An eyebrow is her only answer, especially since she is lowering herself onto him, watching him close his eyes and clutch her sides tightly.  "I could do this forever."

 

"Eventually we would need sustenance of some less carnal type."  He pulls her down, his kisses easy now, as if they have spent a lifetime and not just a night making love.

 

"Also showers."  She laughs at his expression, happy that he can be silly with her, albeit in a Vulcan way.  She wants to tell him she loves him, but it's early and they have time.  She's not sure she would have thought so before and probably would have blurted it out.  But she's slowed down in ways other than just leaving the ops tempo behind, and as he rearranges her so she's under him, so he can thrust, she closes her eyes and just feels.

 

"Are you all right?" he asks as he finishes and eases off her, then pulls her in close to cuddle.

 

"I am."  She wriggles against him and groans when he rubs her back the way she likes.  "You?"

 

"I am."  He kisses her forehead.  "I was not sure I would feel this equanimity again."

 

"I know.  Me neither."  She kisses his ear and then takes it in her teeth after whispering, "Also, equanimity is not a word that makes a girl feel special."

 

She hears a puff of air and realizes he has laughed.  Letting go of his ear, she kisses her way to his mouth. 

 

When he finally lets her up, he murmurs so softly she can barely hear it, "Happy, then."

 

Happy.  She'll take it.

 

 

FIN