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) 2011 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.

Doomed to Repeat

by Djinn

 

 

 

Chapel was still finding her way around the ship.  She'd been wandering the decks for the last week, flushed with her success in talking herself aboard--although she suspected Captain Kirk had been a sucker for her lost-love angle.  Something about him screamed "true romantic" even if the rumors made him out to be more a "love 'em and leave 'em" type of guy.  But she was flushed now with something other than success: embarrassment--where the hell was sickbay again?

 

She wasn't Fleet.  Hadn't ever intended to be Fleet or to end up in space.  But Roger had gone exploring off world and then had been lost while on his exploration.  And he had proposed to her right before he'd left.  She'd waited a year, then started her search by getting a nursing degree and finagling her way into Starfleet.

 

She had a duty to go find him.  Right?

 

Her mother hadn't agreed.  "Drifting again, that's all you're doing.  Why the hell can't you manage your life without a man in it?"

 

"Mom, he's my fiancé.  He may need help."

 

"And you're the right person to go gallivanting across the galaxy to do that?  Let Starfleet find him.  Aren't they looking?"

 

They were looking.  To be honest, they were probably looking harder than she was, considering that, at the moment, the Enterprise was heading away from Exo III, not toward it.

 

The lab had seemed so empty without Roger.  Her mother, damn her, wasn't wrong about the man part.  Chapel was adrift; she liked having a strong male figure to guide her.  The Fleet headshrinker had told her she might have a father complex.

 

Like this was a surprise?  Her father had died when she was six.  Home one morning, throwing her above his head like he always did, kissing her and promising to be home soon.  Then gone.  One flitter accident later.

 

Was it bad to have a father complex?

 

Was it coincidence she'd chosen to carry out the search for her substitute father on a ship full of men just aching to take care of her?  She'd been hit on more times than she could count since she came aboard.

 

But not, interestingly enough, by the Captain, despite his reputation, or his intriguing Vulcan first officer or her boss.  Who she saw ahead of her in the corridor.

 

"Doctor McCoy," she said, hurrying to him.  He turned and one look at his face let her know she'd made a mistake.  The man could be funny as hell, charming as a southern dandy, or mean as sin when he was in the right frame of mind.  And he looked like he was definitely in the right frame of mind to rip her a new one.

 

"Lost again?"  His voice lacked some of its normal acid despite the look on his face.

 

"Yes."  Honesty, in this case, seemed the best policy.  She was a great biochemist.  She was an okay nurse--although she planned to get better, excelling was what she did, especially for a man with eyes as blue as McCoy's--but she was a shitty officer.  He knew all this and most days didn't seem to mind.  He wasn't the best of officers himself.

 

"Are you all right, sir?"  Was she insane?  Why was she asking him this when he clearly was not in the mood to--

 

"No.  The woman I loved when I was a much younger man was killed by a chameleon salt vampire thing.  Which happened to look exactly like my lost love when it wanted to.  I just killed it."

 

"Oh."  She stopped at the turbolift and considered suddenly having something urgent to do in the opposite direction.

 

"Yeah.  Oh."  He nodded for her to get on the lift.  "I'm not going to bite, Nurse."

 

He might not, but his words sure as hell would.  She got on the lift anyway.

 

"I'm sorry, sir."

 

"Me, too."  He leaned against the lift wall, studying her in a way she wasn't sure she liked.  "So, if you found your Robert--"

 

"Roger."

 

"Whatever.  If you found him and he wasn't what you thought, what would you do?"

 

"Well, if he was a monster then I guess I'd have to do what you did."

 

"Kill or be killed, right?"

 

She nodded.

 

"What if it wasn't trying to kill you?  What if it clearly didn't want to kill you?  What if it was trying to kill someone else?  Like, say, the Captain?  Would you sit on your ass and do nothing?"

 

Had he?  He'd just said he'd killed the thing.

 

"Or would it take someone bursting in and knocking some sense into you verbally for you to get moving?"

 

"Sir, I don't know.  I guess...I guess how we react to any situation depends upon the moment and where we are--emotionally, I mean."

 

"I loved her.  She was my Nancy.  It was my Nancy."  He sighed and hurried off the lift as the doors hissed open, not waiting for her.

 

She let him go.

 

-------------------------

 

Chapel saw Kirk walk into the mess.  Usually he was with McCoy or Spock, but this time the captain was alone.

 

He got his food and then turned, surveying the not very crowded room.  He saw her and smiled; she smiled back.

 

Holy God, he was handsome.

 

"Nurse Chapel."  He indicated the chair across from her.  "Are you in the mood for company?"

 

There were so many answers she could have given--probably would have given if she were still on Earth--but Fleet decorum seemed to be rubbing off on her.  She only said, "Of course, sir.  Please sit."

 

He sighed very loudly as he sat.  "Damned odd couple of days."

 

"I heard Doctor McCoy talking about that boy Charlie."

 

"Charlie."  Kirk shook his head.  "That poor, poor kid."

 

She wasn't sure what to say, so she took a bite of her sandwich.

 

He seemed to mentally shake himself, turned his attention to her, a warm smile on his face--but it was a practiced smile, the one he probably reached for whenever he didn't want anyone to see what he was really feeling or thinking.  "So, is Fleet life agreeing with you?"

 

"It's growing on me."

 

He laughed.  "You know that could be bad if, say, you considered being in Starfleet comparable to a nasty fungus."

 

She grinned.  "I meant more in the good sense."

 

"Well, I'm relieved then."  He dug into a rather thin sandwich, which didn't look like it was hitting the spot very well.

 

"Dieting?"

 

"I have a gut that would prefer to be a bit larger than it is.  And it's too big now."  He laughed, but it was an empty laugh.  "My father has the same problem.  The Kirk women seem to avoid it.  Hardly fair."

 

She thought he was a being a bit hard on himself.  He cut a fine figure, slight gut or not. 

 

But then she wasn't really a hard grader if a man carried himself with the confidence Kirk did.

 

"Bones treating you okay?"  The question could have been casual, but there was something in his tone that told her he knew that McCoy could be a bit of an ass when he wanted.

 

"I can hold my own, sir."

 

He laughed.  "Of that, I have no doubt.  You held your own when you wanted on this ship.  Though, as Spock has noted, I let emotion cloud my judgment when I let you join the crew."

 

"Spock doesn't like me?"

 

"Like is an emotion, Ms. Chapel.  I think it's more he sees you as wasted in nursing when you hold several degrees in biochem."

 

"Possibly.  But all the biochem billets that are open right now are on Earth, other planets, or ships heading on long-range missions in the wrong direction."  If she'd waited, though.  If she'd waited, she might have found a ship going the right way, a ship that needed skills she actually had.  Her mother had been merciless in reminding her of that.  But looking for Roger had seemed the easier--and conveniently more noble--thing to do than sit around trying to figure out what to do with her life.

 

"True enough," Kirk said.  "And you are determined to find your man, aren't you?"

 

"I am." 

 

His smile was approving.  "I value loyalty highly, Nurse Chapel."

 

"I do, too, sir."


Which probably wasn't true, since she thought it very likely that Roger had been having a fling with one of his grad students behind her back.  She'd never said a word to him about it, but she'd made Andrea's life a living hell in the time between Roger's disappearance and Chapel's defection to Starfleet.  The woman had been in tears more days than not.

 

Chapel could be a bitch when she wanted.  The sweet, nonthreatening, and a little bit dim mask she wore much of the time worked better to land the boys.  Most boys.  It wouldn't work with Kirk, though, if she wanted to nab him.  She'd heard Janice go on and on about him, his life, his quirks, what kind of toothpaste he used--the normal stuff a girl who's obsessed with her boss picks up on.  Janice had also bemoaned his taste in women--the long-term women anyway.  Nearly all scientists.  Janice was a sweetheart and smart as a whip, but a scientist she was not.

 

Chapel, on the other hand...

 

"You know, it's customary, when one is having lunch with one's captain, to pretend to be paying attention."  Kirk was grinning at her.  "Although your expression is intriguing.  What are you thinking about?"

 

"I was listening to you."

 

"And I said...?"

 

"Something incredibly interesting, profound, or funny?"  She laughed and could tell she was turning red.  "I'm sorry.  I promise to remain rapt to your every utterance for the rest of the lunch."

 

He shook his head.  "You"--he punctuated the word with a stab in the air with his fork--"are not what you seem.  And I like that."  He sighed.  "Unless of course you're an alien-enhanced human who can blink my crew out of existence."

 

"Not last time I checked, sir."

 

He nodded, his expression grim.  She imagined he was thinking of that poor boy again.  She liked that it bothered him so much.  Spoke volumes about his humanity--something that was often in short supply.

 

----------------------

 

A stark planetary vista stretched out in front of Chapel.  Delta Vega.  No man's land.  Or it used to be, when it was an unmanned station.  But now, several science teams wanted to use the planet's arid emptiness to their advantage on experiments that might fail on more robust worlds. 

 

She followed Kirk and Spock as they walked slowly away from the main set of buildings.  She was here because McCoy was off ship and M'Benga hadn't wanted to come.  There were several very ticked off nurses, resenting her already for somehow becoming the go-to girl for the chief medical officer, despite her limited training and experience.  Now this.  A chance to visit this...wasteland with the captain and first officer.

 

Yes, because every girl lived for that.

 

She sighed, more loudly than she expected, and Spock slowed, waiting for her to catch up. 

 

"Is something wrong, Nurse?"

 

"No, sir."  She glanced at him; he was not looking at her--his eyes were on the disappearing form of the Captain.  She started to follow, but Spock caught her arm and dropped his hand just as quickly, as if she might burn him--or infect him.

 

"We should give him some privacy," he said.

 

She nodded, watched Spock walk back toward the buildings that housed the cracking station, tricorder already out.  Ever the busy bee.

 

She waited until he was out of sight and then followed Kirk.  It wasn't a long walk.  He was crouching beside a pile of boulders, his eyes closed.

 

She realized she should have listened to Spock.  Kirk looked up at her, his face giving nothing away. 

 

"I'm sorry, sir.  I'm intruding."

 

He didn't say she wasn't, just stood and glanced to the side, to a more deliberate pile of rocks.  A grave.  These were graves. 

 

She swallowed hard.  "I'm sorry.  You lost people here."

 

"I lost my best damn friend here."  He sighed.  "I killed my best damn friend here."  He closed his eyes again.  "He made me laugh.  From the very first day I met him, he made me laugh.  He...surprised me.  That's not easy."

 

She supposed it wasn't.  For all his easy good humor, Kirk struck her as a man constantly assessing and reassessing the situation, a man for whom surprise was nothing more than an unwelcome unknown.  If she'd had to do a psyche profile on him, she'd say that security and control were paramount to him.  Knowing the ground he stood on was firm would be critical and from that vantage point, he'd break rules and take risks with abandon, but he had to have his base. 

 

Surprise didn't go well with that scenario. 

 

She smiled as gently as she could.  "I'm going to go find Mister Spock."

 

He nodded and she walked away, leaving him with his friend--with his ghost.


------------------------

 

Chapel stood in front of Spock's door, hating that she had to bother him when she'd put the mother of all bothers on him earlier.  Goddamn alien virus. 

 

She screwed her courage up and rang the chime, heard his soft "Come" through the intercom.  She took a deep breath before she went in.

 

He did not look surprised to see her.  "Miss Chapel."  Then his expression lightened.  "Christine."  An unexpected kindness from him.  Using her first name.  Letting her off--she realized she could leave now and he would never say another thing about it.

 

Unfortunately, she felt, for some reason that bugged the hell out of her, that she owed him more than that.   She took a deep breath and said, "The virus was like being drunk.  Very drunk."

 

"Indeed?  I confess I have never been intoxicated, so I can neither agree nor disagree."

 

"Take my word for it.  Very like being drunk.  And I am, needless to say, a very sappy drunk.  Also not the most discretionary with the endearments."

 

"Yes.  'I love you' was a bit of an exaggeration, surely?"

 

"It was.  I don't even know you."  She took a deep breath and walked deeper into his quarters.  "What I did...what I said.  So, so, so inappropriate."

 

"Nurse, I sobbed in the briefing room and threw the captain across the room when he took exception to my self-absorption.  Do you think you were more inappropriate than that?"

 

She laughed softly, amazed again that he was giving her something so generous: an out.  "Well, I was less violent."

 

"Exactly."  He shook his head.  "Perhaps we could agree that this is forgotten?"

 

"We could."  She turned and headed to the door but stopped just before it.  "Is it, though?"

 

His voice was soft.  "There was an element of truth in everyone's behavior.  You said you did not know why but that you loved me.  Is your truth that you generally fall in love too fast or that you've fallen in love too fast with me?"

 

She turned to look at him.  "Can't we let that be a mystery?"

 

"The latter concerns me more than the former."  He took a deep breath.  "I am...I am in no position to pursue a romance, even if I were interested."

 

She winced.  Vulcans were damned harsh.  "Oh.  Okay.  Thanks for clearing that up."

 

"In the interest of open disclosure, I felt that should be said."

 

"I will keep my distance."

 

He nodded gently, as if trying not to hurt her too much as he ripped her apart with his rejection.

 

Even if she didn't really love him.  His first assessment was more apt.  She fell in love too fast--especially when she was drunk.  She'd had more than her share of awkward mornings after.

 

"I'm going to go now, sir."

 

"That would be best, Nurse Chapel."  He turned to his terminal and ignored her as she backed to the door, waiting to see if he'd look up even once.

 

He didn't.

 

-------------------

 

Chapel left Janice's quarters, her friend finally asleep.  She took a moment in front of Jan's door, a moment to think, long enough to ask herself if she really wanted to do what she was going to do.

 

Hell, yes, she did.  And damn the consequences.

 

She stormed down the corridor, hopped on the lift and glared at the crewman who smiled at her.  "What are you staring at?"

 

He looked down and swallowed hard.

 

She hurried off as soon as the lift doors opened, stopped in front of Spock's quarters, and rang the chime before she could change her mind.

 

"Come."

 

There was nothing hesitant this time about her entrance into Spock's inner sanctum.  "I want a word with you, buster."

 

His eyebrow went up.  "Buster?"

 

"How dare you?"  She walked right up to him, getting in his space, looming over him as much as she could as she mimicked the voice she imagined he must have used with Janice.  "'The imposter had some interesting qualities?'  Some goddamned interesting qualities?"

 

He stood.  Seemed to expect her to move back once they were standing face to face but she refused to give ground.  Finally, he eased her away from him.  "If I seemed insensitive, it is the way I am."

 

She stared at him for a long moment, then moved closer.  "Well, find another way to be, you bastard."

 

Something flashed in his eyes--some remnant maybe of his negative half.  "You go too far, Nurse."

 

"He would have raped her.  How interesting do you think that would be for a woman?"

 

He had the grace to look down, his face flushing a little.  "That is not what I meant."

 

"Nevertheless, it is what you said."

 

"I meant only that she clearly is interested in him and this version of him was willing to take the step the other part of him will not take."

 

"The step?  The fucking step?"  She shook her head, tried to think of something more to say, then realized what he'd said.  "So...the captain's interested in her?"  She moved away from Spock.  "The imposter didn't pick her at random, the first unlucky woman to catch his eye?"

 

"I have no idea what drove the negative's actions.  Whether he sought her out or came upon her."

 

Kirk might be interested in Jan.  But he wouldn't act on it.  Was it better for Jan to know that...or not to know?  Chapel sat down on Spock's bed.  "You're getting me off track.  I'm still mad at you."

 

"I will...apologize to Yeoman Rand if it will make you feel better."

 

She looked up at him.  "Couldn't you apologize to her because it will make you feel better?"  She could see by his expression that was a bridge too far.  "Fine, do it.  I'll feel just dandy.  She might feel better, too."

 

She got up to leave, and he stopped her with a light touch on her arm.  "Are you angry solely for her?  You seem particularly impassioned."

 

"I don't have to have been raped to know you were an ass."  She turned to glare at him.  "Are you going to report me for insubordination?"

 

"No."

 

"Good.  Good night."  She fled as swiftly as she'd stormed in.

 

-------------------

 

"So," McCoy was saying as he poured Chapel another drink, "the captain apparently deduced that nothing was making Mudd's women beautiful other than their own belief in themselves."

 

She sipped and smiled--how dumb were these men?  "So...belief made our monitor go crazy?"

 

"You saw that?"

 

"I was in the other room watching you, Doctor.  You were just too intoxicated on Ruth to notice."

 

"Oh."  He looked down.

 

"And I'm sorry, but belief didn't give them false eyelashes, and you don't get hair teased that high from will alone--I am an expert on this.  Their look takes one of two things: hours in front of a mirror or a gizmo of some kind.  Belief alone will not cut it."

 

"So you're saying this was all staged?"

 

"I have no idea what I'm saying.  I just know those women weren't that special.  They had nice curves and sparkly dresses cut to show off their assets.  Other than that...meh.  Jan saw them, too, and she was not spellbound."

 

"Well, you two aren't men." 

 

"A fact we thank God for every day."  She laughed softly.  "What the hell are those women going to do on that dirtball of a planet, anyway?  Sure, they'll be rich but it's not like there's anything to do with their newfound wealth."

 

McCoy shrugged.  "Guess maybe they'll find ways to pass the time."

 

"I don't want to think about it."  She leaned back and crossed her legs, slowly, very slowly, while pretending not to notice that he was watching, a look not unlike the one he'd worn with Ruth on his face.

 

Men.  So damn predictable. 

 

Suddenly ashamed of herself, she threw back her drink and got up.  "I'm going to turn in."

 

"Was it something I said?"  He looked genuinely confused--and sorry to see her go.

 

"No.  I'll see you tomorrow, sir."

 

"Christine, you can call me Len when we're off duty."

 

She smiled.  None of the other nurses called him by his first name.  "Then I'll see you tomorrow, Len."

 

He nodded and narrowed his eyes.  "I'm glad Jim let you talk him into taking you aboard."  He smiled crookedly, the grin that never failed to get to her.  "I really like having you here."

 

She walked to the door, turned around as it opened, and stood in the doorway for a moment.  "I really like being here."

 

It was even almost the truth.

 

----------------

 

Chapel sat in her quarters, replaying what had happened in the caves on Exo III, how she had acted.  Could she have been more useless?

 

Reaching for her intercom, she said, "Chapel to Kirk."

 

"Kirk here.  Are you all right, Nurse?"

 

She huffed softly, a mocking sound, self mocking.  She'd betrayed this man by doing goddamned nothing and he wanted to know if she was all right?  She did not deserve this.  "Can I talk to you, sir?  In person?"

 

"It would look better if you came to me."

 

"I'll be right there."  It didn't take her long to get to his quarters, took her almost as much time to work up the nerve to push the chime for admittance.

 

The doors opened, he stood in front of her.  "Come in."   But he didn't get out of her way.

 

"Can you move a little?"

 

"I don't know, Nurse Chapel.  Can you?"  He leaned toward her.  "Would doing anything have been too much for you?"

 

She took a deep breath, let it out slowly.  "That's what I wanted to talk about."  She pushed past him, saw his lips quirk as she glanced at him.  "I had many opportunities to stop Roger.  I took none of them."

 

"Well, you're not a trained fighter.  Didn't go through the academy, after all."  His tone was scathing.

 

"Have you rethought your suggestion that I stay on board?"

 

"If you hadn't reached out like you're doing now, I would have put you off at the next Starbase."  He pushed her against the wall, nothing sexual in the motion, sheer frustration in his eyes.  "I need to know I can count on you.  I need to know you won't just stand there ever again."

 

"He was my fiancé."

 

"And I am your captain.  Get that straight."  He sighed and let her go.  "And he wasn't your fiancé.  Although from the noises I heard coming from his quarters you had one hell of a reunion."  He shot her a hard look.  "After.  After he did that to me."

 

She turned away, eyes firmly on the floor.  What was there to say?  He was right.  She'd...she'd screwed this up so badly.  "I thought he was real.  I thought he'd make it all right.  Forcing people into android bodies--my God, do you think I would have had sex with him if I'd thought that was what he wanted?  I would have been next.  Not you.  Me."

 

"Excuse me if I don't cry for you."  He took a deep, angry sounding breath.  "I did what I could to protect him, his reputation.  To protect you.  And I know you tried to help me in the caverns.  It's the only reason you're not in the brig."

 

"I can leave.  If you'd rather.  You can put me off at the next Starbase.  I know I let you down."  She slumped against the wall.  "I'm sorry."  She could feel the tears starting.  Tears that for once weren't in weakness or to manipulate.  But in embarrassment.  In regret.  She dashed them away; he didn't need her tears.  "Sometimes...sometimes I hate who I am."

 

"Then don't be that person."  He moved closer, his expression softer.  "I don't want you to leave.  I've...I've never had a woman who would give up everything to search for me.  I understand you were torn."

 

She had told the android Kirk she wasn't torn.  And she hadn't been then.  Now she wasn't, either.  She knew where her duty had lain--and she had turned her back on it.

 

For a machine who fucked well and happened to look like her lover.

 

"I'll make it up to you.  I promise you I will.  Someday, when you need me, I'll be there, no matter how hard it is."

 

"Chris."  The name seemed to slip out of him as he smiled gently and stepped away.  No one called her that.  She hated being called that.  But from him, now, after what had happened, it seemed right to let him call her that.  "Go to sleep, Chris.  You must be tired after everything."

 

"Yes, sir."  She almost said she'd make it up to him again.  But he didn't need her to say it.  He needed her to do it.  And someday, she would.

 

---------

 

Chapel hurried to catch up with Janice, who was escorting a girl--a teen from the look of her--around the ship.

 

"This is Miri, Christine."  Janice's smile was a little forced.  "I brought her up here to see the Enterprise."

 

Chapel could feel herself frowning and tried to cut the expression off.  What the hell would a girl who'd never been off her own home world, who'd lived in decay and rubble, care about this ship? 

 

"So, this is why he can't love?"  Miri's expression was earnest and more than a little sad.

 

"This is it, toots."  Janice threw Chapel a loaded glance.  "Meet the silver lady that owns Jim Kirk's heart."

 

"I don't think I like her."

 

"Then you, my dear Miri, have great taste.  I'd tell you to kick a bulkhead but it's durasteel and it hurts like hell.  Trust me on that."

 

Miri giggled, a charming sound on a sweet girl.  Chapel met Janice's eyes, mouthed, "Why?"

 

Janice let Miri get ahead of them and said softly, "I thought I could spare her.  Save her some pain."

 

"She's in love with the captain?"

 

"Who isn't?"  Janice glanced over at her when she didn't answer.

 

"Oh.  Me," she said much too fast, but Janice didn't appear to notice.  "I'm not." 

 

"No, you had your Roger.  Someone who actually loved you back.  What a novel concept."  Janice smiled bitterly and hurried up to catch with Miri.  They were soon out of sight, heads together--possibly plotting the downfall of their great silver rival.

 

Chapel turned, saw Kirk standing in a connector corridor, a sheepish look on his face.  "I'm pretty sure you weren't supposed to hear any of that, sir." 

 

"I assure you I didn't mean to."  He motioned her over and walked with her toward sickbay.  "Bones wants to see me for a check-up."

 

"You don't need an excuse to walk with me."  She smiled at him.  "Unless you're still annoyed with me?"

 

"I was more than just annoyed with you."   But his smile was easy.  "But I'm not anymore.  Bones said you and the sickbay crew were working round the clock on the vaccine." 

 

"I didn't want you to die.  Any of you."  She laughed softly.  "Len still got there first.  Sometimes I forget how brilliant he is until he goes and beats an entire med team and the best computers Starfleet has to offer."

 

He glanced at her.  "Len?"

 

"Sorry.  He said I could call him that when we were off duty--and I really should learn what off duty means, shouldn't I?"

 

He chuckled.  "You aren't typical Fleet, that's for sure, Chris."

 

"Thank you, sir.  I think."

 

"So, is Miri going to recover from her crush?"

 

"Of course.  It's a rite of passage.  Inappropriate crushes on an older man."

 

"You had one?"

 

She looked down.  "Oh, yes.  Many."

 

"Did any end well?"

 

"I thought the last one had.  Put a ring on my finger and everything.  But..."  She glanced at him and shrugged.

 

"I caught when Brown said you'd been Korby's student."

 

"Oh, yes.  I was that cliché."  She laughed bitterly.  "The real Andrea had been sleeping with him, too, just before he left for Exo III.  I neglected to mention that to anyone--I knew he was having an affair with her and never told him."

 

"You knew her?  The one still on Earth?"

 

She nodded.  "She actually had less spine than our little android sex toy.  I was very, very mean to her once he disappeared."

 

He laughed, a not very nice laugh at that.  "Remind me not to cross you."

 

"I'm still trying to get back in your good graces.  You can cross me several times before we're even."  She saw sickbay ahead.  "Well, here we are.  I am glad you're back.  You're a good captain and I'd miss you."

 

"Not to mention your boss, your best friend, and I'm sure you could find a reason to miss Spock too, couldn't you?"

 

She studied him, but the question seemed to be more good humored than prodding.  Spock must not have told him about the little Psi 2000 incident.

 

Good for Spock.

 

--------------

 

Chapel watched as Helen Noel left McCoy's office. 

 

"Nurse," Noel said, nodding in the annoyingly condescending way she had--as if her degree was better than Chapel's doctorate.   Then again, she probably didn't care enough to know that Chapel even had a doctorate. 

 

A few moments later, McCoy came out.  "For God's sake, Christine.  What are you hanging around here for?  Your shift ended an hour ago."

 

She didn't want to tell him she'd been trying to not listen as Noel went on and on about the captain.  The woman liked to call herself a professional, but what Chapel had heard her confessing to their boss had been anything but.

 

"Good idea, Len.  I'll see you tomorrow."

 

She didn't head for the mess or her quarters, headed instead for Kirk's.  She chimed; he opened far too quickly.

 

"Oh.  Chris."

 

She pushed him back and followed him in, letting the door close behind her.  "Sorry, I'm sure you were waiting for the lovely Helen.  I'm here to make sure you don't make a huge mistake."

 

"Mistake?"

 

"Do you love her?"

 

"I don't know."

 

She sighed.  "The Jim Kirk I know does not fool around with his crew.  And for Janice's sake"--and possibly her own, although she was definitely not going to say that--"you are not going to start now."  Not with that woman, anyway.

 

"What do you think you're going to accomplish here."

 

"Consider me your human chastity belt.  Why don't you get some sleep?"

 

He looked terrible; sleep would do him good.

 

"I'm not tired and she might..."  He met her eyes.  "Van Gelder said it should wear off.  In a few hours."

 

"And if you sleep through those few hours, it will be that much easier."  She smiled and held up the hypo she'd palmed in sickbay.  "Would you like some help?  It's very light.  Take the edge off but nothing I can't override if there's a crisis."

 

"Why are you doing this?"

 

"I think this may be one of those favors I owe you."  Also, she'd be damned if Helen Noel was going to have him if her best friend couldn't.

 

It was a mark of what he'd been through down on Tantalus that he seemed torn, indecisive even.  She felt a pang for him--and a surge of hatred for the man who'd done it to him.

 

Finally, Kirk nodded.  "Promise you'll wake me if I'm needed."

 

"I'll stay right here; I've got lots of work to do."  She sat down at his desk.  "I promise I'll wake you."

 

He came over, held his arm out and she pressed the hypo to his skin and released the sedative. 

 

He yawned and smiled.  "Thank you."

 

"You're welcome." 

 

She waited till he was on his bed, a throw pulled over him, his face relaxing into sleep before she murmured, "Don't thank me just yet."

 

Once she heard him snore, she got up and pulled a t-shirt out of his closet, stripped off her uniform and underwear, and pulled it on.  It hit her very high up on the thigh.

 

She messed her hair up, the way hearty sex would, went into the bathroom and smeared her makeup just enough, and then sat back in the chair and waited.  The chime came sooner than she expected.

 

She went to the door, eyes kept half-lidded, Kirk's t-shirt riding up.  She saw Noel's eyes open wide.  "We were sleeping," Chapel murmured, her voice raspy by design, a hand coming up to try to pat down her hair.  "Jim's had a hard day.  I hate to wake him when he's like this."

 

If she were a nicer woman, Noel's crushed expression might have moved her.  But she wasn't nicer.  And she didn't like being treated like she was nothing because she was a nurse. 

 

"You understand, don't you, Doctor Noel?"

 

Noel just stood there.  Then she nodded very quickly and hurried away.

 

Chapel let the door close.  She put Kirk's shirt back in the closet, slipped her clothes on, and fixed her hair and face.  Then she sat at the desk and worked through the night till she heard him stirring.

 

"Chris?"

 

"Right here.  No crisis, sir."  She gave him a tired grin.  "If you don't mind, I thought I'd grab a few hours sleep?"

 

"No, go.  I feel"--he seemed to think about that, looked profoundly relieved, and she smiled--"I feel back to normal."

 

"No more inappropriate crushes?" 

 

"No."  He walked over to her, touched her shoulder gently.  "Thank you."

 

"You're welcome, sir."  She got up and felt a sleepy satisfaction fill her.  She'd done good here.

 

Or that was what she was going to tell herself when she was done gloating.

 

--------------

 

Chapel finished up the inventory she'd used as an excuse to stay late and meandered into Len's office.  He still had the faraway look he'd worn when he got back from Balok's ship.

 

"Some days, Christine.  Some days I understand this mission we're on."

 

She sat down.

 

He reached behind him and pulled out the hooch.  Only it was some sort of orange liquor.

 

"What's that?"

 

"Tranya.  It's good; you'll like it."  He poured her a glass.  "Bailey stayed on the alien ship."

 

"He did?  Why?"

 

"Well, he wanted us to believe it was a passion for the unknown.  But probably it was because Jim was pushing him too damn hard."  He shook his head.  "Promoted him fast, favored him above some others just as deserving.  Lot of stress in that.  All because Bailey reminds Jim of himself."

 

She wondered if that's why she was being moved up so fast--Len had hinted that head nurse would be hers as soon as McTaggard left.  She decided not to ask why he was favoring her.  Mentors were tricky things, and for some reason she was not in the mood to find out that, like Roger, Len wanted more from her than just a professional relationship.

 

God, her mother would pass out at the thought that Chapel was actually trying to make her way herself. 

 

"You know, Christine, Jim is one hell of a captain."

 

"He is."  She smiled.

 

"Full of surprises."

 

"Part of his charm." 

 

Len leaned forward.  "Do you find him charming?"

 

She decided "Oh, hell, yeah" would not be a prudent answer.  "I guess." 

 

"What about Spock?  He's a handsome devil--emphasis on the devil part."

 

She rolled her eyes.  "I love him.  Totally.  Irrevocably.  In fact, I told him that. Declared my love and everything."

 

He laughed hard and poured himself more tranya.  "Sure you did, darlin'."

 

"Well, I don't really love him.  But I did tell him that I did--you were so lucky you didn't come down with the Psi 2000 virus."

 

"You put the moves on our Vulcan?"

 

"I did."  She raised her glass in a toast and he clinked his against hers.  "Ever the idiot."

 

"I'll say."  He sipped for a moment.  "What did he say?"

 

"About what you'd expect."  She laughed, a bright "it doesn't matter to me" laugh.  Because by the gleam in Len's eye, she could see that he might run with this.  "Anyway, I'm not in love with him.  It was just the virus."

 

"If you say so."  His eyes were narrowed. 

 

"Len.  Repeat after me:  Just the virus."

 

"Uh huh."  He leaned back, his expression dangerous.

 

She finished her drink and stood up.  "I'll see you tomorrow."

 

"There's a landing party I'm slated for.  Maybe you should go?  Spock's heading it."

 

"I mean it, Len.  Just the virus."

 

She could hear him, still laughing in his office, all the way out of sickbay.

 

--------

 

Chapel went for one more set of reps on the weight machine, working through the burn and the twinges, trying to find that place that hurt so much she forgot everything and everyone.  She was doing great till Kirk walked in, his face set in a strange expression, grim enough that men and women who'd normally never dream of giving way on their weight machine of choice practically hightailed it to the showers or to one of the other workout rooms.

 

Soon she was the only one left in the room with him.  She kept at her reps, ignoring him as much as she could.  But it was hard.  He wasn't just using the leg press, he was trying to destroy it, moving way too hard and fast for his muscles to recover.

 

"A punching bag would be more effective.  Also safer."  She didn't smile as she said it, and he didn't acknowledge her comment in any way--other than to slow down some.

 

"So, sir, you seem in a foul mood tonight.  What's the problem?"

 

Not that she wasn't fully aware of what the problem probably was.  She still remembered how he'd reacted when she'd let him down.  She could only imagine how much more angry he was that Spock had pulled off the breakout of the century and didn't tell him a thing to prepare him.

 

"None of your damned business, Chris."  He got up and moved to one of the pull-down weights.  "I'd like to be alone in here."

 

"Is that an order?"  Could he order her out?  She guessed he could, but it would be a pretty stupid order.

 

"No, it's not a goddamned order." 

 

"You're language has deteriorated somewhat since Spock kidnapped Captain Pike."

 

He muttered something that seemed to support her comment about language going to hell. 

 

Finishing her reps, she slid off the bench and walked over to him.  "He did it out of love."

 

"What?"

 

"You heard me.  And you're not the only one he loves.  Deal with it.  Prior commitment and all that.  It doesn't mean he isn't loyal to you."

 

"No?"

 

She smiled, trying to make it a good one, one that went all the way to her eyes.  "No, silly."

 

"And on the positive side, at least he wasn't just standing around when his evil fiancé was making an android of me."

 

"Hey, I didn't steal your stupid ship."


"Stupid?"

 

"That's the part of my sentence you're going to focus on?"  She sighed.  "You have to let this go because you need him.  And you know it.  Unless you plan on putting him off at the nearest star base."

 

"Don't think the idea hasn't occurred to me.  Maybe I'll put you both ashore.  How would you like that?"

 

If he had to ask, Len must not have told him about her great Psi 2000 Spock Chase.

 

She moved closer, into his space, in danger of being clobbered by the weights he was once again abusing.  "Would you do that?  Would you put me ashore?"

 

"This is about him."

 

"Answer my question."

 

For a moment, he met her eyes.  For a moment, she couldn't look away.

 

Then he huffed--an overdramatic sigh--and said, "You can stay on my ship if you hit the showers and leave me the hell alone." 

 

She nodded and backed away.  "You know, if you needed him, he'd do the same for you."

 

"Thanks.  I'll keep that under advisement."  He didn't look at her and she was sort of relieved.

 

---------------------------

 

Janice was pacing, back and forth across Chapel's quarters, threatening to wear a hole in the carpet.

 

"Jan.  Stop."  Chapel held out a hand, sure her friend would ignore it but needing to try.  She was getting a crick watching her.

 

"He just...it was the way he...and she was dressed in this short..."

 

"I know.  I saw her."  Lenore Karidian, blonde bombshell, who was currently in the brig under suicide alert.  A raving lunatic blond bombshell who quoted Shakespeare the way most people spoke Standard.

 

"Do you think she's pretty?" Jan asked.

 

"She's an actress.  Of course she's pretty."  Soft and bright, Chapel imagined.  Eyes sparkling and just what the doctor hadn't ordered for their good captain.

 

Had Kirk been using her to get to her father?  Chapel thought on some level he had been, but for some reason, she didn't feel right telling Jan that.  Maybe because Jan wanted to believe he was capable of love, capable of being crazy with the emotion, throwing caution to the wind.  Only with Jan, not some trampy actress.

 

"Jan, my dear friend, I can assure you he doesn't like her now.  She killed his friend--tried to kill Riley, and him.  Trust me, he's over her."

 

To her credit, Janice wasn't crying over this.  She'd stopped doing that a while ago, grown a pair, then a whole backbone.  "I'm sick of this."

 

"I know, it gets old."

 

"No.  I mean it.  I'm sick to death of it.  Can't stand it."  She took a deep breath.  "I'm going to transfer off."

 

"Sure you are."

 

"I am.  There are plenty of things I could do.  I have options, you know."  Then she looked down.  "He's just...not one of them."

 

"I'm sorry.  I really am."  She sat on the bed, staring at the floor, unsure what else to say.

 

Jan took up pacing again.

 

It was a long evening.

 

---------------------

 

The standoff was over.  The Enterprise was no longer at battle stations.  The Romulan ship was destroyed.

 

Chapel sat back on her bed and heaved a huge sigh of relief.  Another day in the life she'd leave out in the weekly comm home.  Her mother thought she was crazy for staying onboard the Enterprise as it was.

 

Her chime beeped and she called, "Come," expecting Janice.

 

Kirk walked in.

 

She pulled the robe she'd allowed to hang loosely over her nightgown around her more securely.  "Sir?"

 

"As you were, Chris."  He walked to the viewport, stared out at the stars.

 

"Can I do something for you?"

 

"No."  He took a deep breath, muttered something she couldn't make out.


"What?"

 

"Nothing."  But he turned, stared at her.  He looked very tired.  "Love...does it ever not end badly?"

 

"You're asking me?"

 

His mouth cocked up, but that was all the smile she got.  "I mean it, Chris.  Bones lost Nancy.  You Roger.  Poor Angela her future husband--hell, he would have been her husband but for the Romulans."  He walked over to her. 

 

"And you lost the lovely Lenore not too long ago."

 

He frowned.  "I liked her.  She was very pretty.  I wouldn't call it love."

 

"Why did you come here?  To me?  Why not to Len or Spock?"  She leaned toward him.  "Not that you're not welcome but..."

 

"I'm tired, Chris.  I just want to...  I don't have to pretend with you.  Is that so wrong?  To just want to let go once in a while?  To not be strong."  He shook his head and took another deep breath, then stood straighter.  "I'm sorry, Nurse.  I don't know what I was thinking."

 

"You don't have to be strong here, sir."  Sir, God, she hated calling him that.  Wanted to call him by his name, just once, but he'd never asked her to, would have to want her to--would have to let her.   "Sir, please.  Wait."

 

He was heading for the door.  "I'm sorry, Chris.  I'm just so damned tired I don't know what's right anymore."

 

"Do you want to sleep here?"  She got off the bed, caught him before he got to the door, realizing he wasn't moving that fast, that he wanted to be caught.  "Sir, sleep."

 

He looked down.  "Can't take your bed.  Hardly fair."  Then he pulled her in, kissed her gently on the forehead.  "Sleep with me.  Just sleep, nothing else.  Contact.  Comfort." 

 

She wanted to, but she knew that once they were lying together, bodies pressed close to fit on her narrow bed, anything could happen.  Somehow she had wormed her way into another man's inner sanctum.  Even without being on first-name basis.  And it was just how she liked it:  the man in charge could be hers.  She was good at this.  So much of her past spent gathering champions had left her very, very good at this.

 

Her best friend would kill her.  She knew that.

 

"Sir, come on."  She led him to the bed, urged him down, and then gave him a kiss on his forehead, as gentle as the one he'd given her. 

 

"Sleep with me."  His voice was so damn sexy.  His eyes, half lidded and inviting as he pulled her toward him.

 

She had to do it.  Just one kiss.  His lips were as soft as she thought they would be.  Then she eased away.  Smoothing back his hair, she said, "Go to sleep, sir."

 

He was out in moments.  She traced his lips with her finger, smiling as she did it.  Then she made herself as comfortable as she could in her desk chair and dozed.  Leaving him alone.  No matter how much she wanted him--and she did want him--she would let him be.

 

Not for Janice.  And not for the captain.  But for herself. 

 

Because, somewhat to her surprise, it turned out she was not that woman anymore.

 

---------------------

 

The shore leave planet was as lovely as Chapel had heard.  Len had fully briefed her on the good, the bad, and the sexy, and she couldn't wait to find some privacy and work out a little tension.

 

Roger.  She thought and thought of him but a pseudo-Roger didn't appear.   She tried thinking of Spock--having him might be fun for a few days.  No dice.  The path ahead of her was empty, no one behind her.

 

Damn controllers.  Did they think they knew her mind better than she did?  She didn't feel like being creative and coming up with some elaborate fantasy.  Barrows might like princess gowns and daring Don Juan's, but Chapel's idea of dressing up was in a dress a bit tighter and shorter than some gossamer thing, and she liked her men slightly less swashbuckler.

 

She saw, hanging over a handy bush, the same way Len had described the King Arthur garb Barrows had worn, a very short, very scandalously cut, very sheer gray dress.  It had extra fabric in strategic places, just enough to keep her from getting arrested on most decent worlds. 

 

She smiled and hid behind a palm while she changed.  The dress fit her like a glove.  The sandals she was wearing even looked all right with it--certainly more sensible for this terrain than heels.

 

She left her clothes where she'd found the dress and walked on, wondering when the fantasy part started.  Clothes were great, but she was in the mood for sex.

 

"Chris?"

 

Oh, God.  The controllers really could read minds.  "Sir?"

 

Kirk smiled, that sexy damn smile that she was finding harder and harder to resist.  Then again, why try?  That was the point of the planet.  Having what you couldn't in real life.

 

She knew the real Kirk was still on the planet somewhere.  He was tired, and Len wasn't letting him come back to the ship until he got some rest--or at least had some fun.  He was off fighting Academy bullies and doing less violent things with lost loves.

 

Lost loves in really stupid clothes.  Barrows had told her what an idiotic outfit Kirk's Ruth had been wearing.  Not that Princess Tonya had much room to talk. 

 

The planet's version of Kirk walked toward her, his smile growing as he took in her dress.  "Very nice."

 

"Thank you."  She closed the space between them, stood close, much too close if this had been real life.  She decided to see just how "real" this planet could make her dreamboy.  "I thought you were looking up old loves."

 

"Sometimes old loves are old loves for a reason."  He ran a hand down the side of her dress, following the curve of her body.   "I got tired of Ruth.  Wanted something...spicier."

 

Spicy?  In what alternate dimension was she spicy?  But then that's what made this a fantasy.  He'd adore her no matter what.  He'd give her what she needed--words, kisses, other things.

 

"I want you."  She smiled at him, her best smile.  The smile men usually had a hard time resisting.

 

He gave her back his version of the same smile.  "I've been waiting to hear you say that."

 

"Well, I just said it.  What are we standing around here for?  We're wasting precious time with all this talking."

 

"I agree, Chris."

 

"Where shall we do this, sir?"

 

He laughed.  "I think if we're going to have"--he leaned in, eyes gleaming with humor, and a whole lot of desire--"carnal relations, you really should call me Jim."

 

"Well, okay.  Jim."   Damn, damn, damn, it felt good to say that.  And the planet had known it would. 

 

"I've wanted to tell you to call me that.  I just..."

 

She shushed him with a kiss, he deepened it, and soon they were stumbling off the path, into a secluded thicket conveniently full of soft, deep moss.  Warm breezes blew through the leaves; the faint scent of resin and flowers filled the air.

 

"Just as good as I thought it would be," he murmured as they ripped each other's clothes off and moved together.

 

"Mmmmm," was all she could say as he pushed her and pushed her and then---

 

Heaven.

 

They lay quietly for a time, kissing softly, getting to know each other.  She felt a closeness that she knew was going to hurt when she got back to the ship.  When she was with the real Jim and didn't have the right to touch, to kiss, to pull him onto her, into her.

 

They didn't do anything for a while except indulge themselves.

 

He moaned.  "Going to be torture."  His eyes met hers, his resigned in a strange way. "You have no idea how hard this will be."

 

She frowned slightly.  "I think that's my line, Jim."

 

He suddenly pulled away.  The look he was wearing was light years from manufactured.

 

"Oh, shit."  She wasn't sure what to do.  Should she go?  Should she stay?  Should she apologize for just fucking the daylights out of her commanding officer?

 

"You're real."

 

"And so are you."  She could feel every part of her turning red.

 

He lay back on the moss, stared up, not at her.  "This is not good."

 

"I beg to differ, sir."  She knew she sounded put out, smiled as she heard him chuckle.

 

"Well, all right, it was very, very good.  But..."  He rolled to his side, studied her, then reached out, fingers on her face, moving down her chin, her neck, her...oh.  "I've just gotten to know every single part of you, Chris.  I think it's fair that when we're alone, you can call me Jim if you want."

 

"You're not going to ask me to leave the ship?"  The way Janice had left after the incident with the Romulans.  Finally, too much to take not having him.  And that was without knowing the love of her life had come to Chapel for relief when it was all over.


And now.  This.

 

"Do you want to leave the ship?"  He moved over her.  "This won't happen up there.  It's why I'm not stopping now, Chris.  This can't happen once we're off the planet." 


She kissed him to shut him up.  Didn't want to talk about endings when he was inside her, moving the way he was, touching her the way he was.

 

He kissed her to keep her quiet.  Something he hadn't been worried about when he'd thought she was a manufactured Chapel. 


They stayed in the glade the rest of the day, food and wine appearing whenever they wished it.  The sun went down, and candles appeared.  And then it was morning, and she knew it was time to go.  She thought about the clothes she'd worn down, saw them spread out where she'd laid the gray dress.

 

She leaned down and kissed him, the sweetest kiss she could give him.  "I'm going back to the ship now, Jim.  You stay here.  Think of your Ruth or Lenore or Janice or anyone else but don't think of me.  And I will be working on how I can make sure this doesn't make a difference in the way things are--the way you say things have to be."

 

"I say?  You think differently?"  Then his expression changed, tightened a little.  "Oh, that's right.  You're used to being teacher's pet."

 

She felt as if he'd struck her.  "I just meant you don't have to be alone.  I'm in medical.  We're independent."

 

"You're an officer under my command."  His voice was sharp, the harsh snap he used when he needed to shut something down fast.


Her.  He needed to shut her down.

 

She pulled on her clothes as quickly as she could.  "This isn't how it had to end."  Getting up, leaving him, it felt wrong.  It hurt. 

 

He met her eyes, didn't have to think apparently about shutting down, killing this.  "I'll see you on the ship, nurse."

 

No more calling him Jim, then.  He was rethinking everything.

 

"Yes, sir.  You will see me up there."  She held her head high, knew her eyes were steely.  "This could have been the best shore leave ever." 

 

He looked away and she stalked off.  It was only once she was back on the ship and safely in her quarters that she let herself cry.

 

----------------

 

Chapel finished patching up the last of the injured members of the Taurus II landing party and watched as Tonya Barrows hurried into sickbay and pulled Len into his office, the door closing, much kissing no doubt going on.

 

"Must be nice," she muttered.


A low cough told her she wasn't alone.  She turned, saw Spock standing behind her.  "Sir?"

 

"Doctor McCoy is busy, I take it?"

 

"Oh, yes.  Probably for some time."

 

"Yeoman Barrows was...concerned for him?"

 

"Worried off her ass is more the human term."  She grinned, wondering what Spock would do with that information.

 

"Miss Chapel--Christine, I am astoundingly deficient in human terms, as I think you know.  Also in human culture and norms.  I found this out to my detriment--and the detriment of the two men who did not make it back to the ship--on this mission."

 

"I'm sorry."

 

"Acquiring a tutor, someone who could help me understand these things, would be a logical next step."


She laughed softly.  "Mister Spock, there are at least a half dozen women and probably some men who would be thrilled to offer their services.  For that or anything else you wanted."

 

"Which is why I am asking you.  You, despite your declaration of love for me under unfortunate circumstances, do not appear to truly want anything from me."

 

"You're not wrong."  She smiled and crossed the room, hoping he would let this go.

 

"Would you help me, then?"

 

She didn't answer, thought maybe he would go away, but he didn't.  She finally nodded without turning around.

 

"Tonight, perhaps.  You have not yet eaten, I presume."

 

"You presume right."  She turned and smiled.  "Fine.  Your wicked charm has worked.  Dinner it is."  She went back to her completely unnecessary task.

 

"I will come by your quarters after shift."

 

"Okay. I'll see you then."  It was a cinch he wouldn't run into Jim there.  The captain had avoided her like the plague ever since the shore leave planet.

 

She'd been pretty successful at avoiding him, too.

 

--------------

 

Chapel walked with Spock down the corridors of the ship, enjoying the evening constitutional that seemed to be easier than dinner had proven at their first interaction.

 

"Christine, when you were a child, did anyone dip your curls into an...inkwell?"

 

"I had straight hair."

 

"You are startlingly literal at times."

 

"Spock, no one on Earth has used inkwells for centuries."

 

He nodded and was quiet for a while.  Then he asked.  "Did you ever steal apples?"

 

"I don't like apples."  She smiled before he could tell her that she was viewing the question too narrowly.  "And no.  No stealing."  Well, other than a few men.   Back when she was that woman.

 

"And would you tie cans--what are cans?"

 

"Why are you asking me all this?"

 

"Jim implied these things would be typical mischievous pranks.  That Trelane's actions would be comparable.  And that I might have done them."

 

Since Len had already filled her in on the hijinks on Gothos, she had some idea what Spock was talking about.  She chuckled at the idea of Spock stealing apples--or anything.

 

"I'm sure he was just yanking your chain."  They'd gone over that expression some weeks ago.

 

"Perhaps."  Spock looked over at her.  "I do appreciate your help in this.  I believe I have a better grasp of many of my interactions with humans."

 

"Glad to be of service.  I..."  She saw Jim ahead of them, walking toward them with a great deal of purpose and an expressionless face. 

 

"You...?" Spock said gently.

 

She ignored him, nodded tersely to Jim as he passed.  He nodded just as tersely back. 

 

"He is perhaps on his way to Yeoman Ross's quarters."


She whipped her head around to stare at Spock, her action too sudden, and she regretted it immediately.

 

"Actually, I very much doubt Jim is on his way to see her, which should please you, since you are clearly interested in what he is doing.  Also, I will note that Jim did not appear pleased to see us together, Christine."

 

"How could you tell?  That was stone-face at its best."

 

His expression lightened somewhat, the small smirk that was his version of a smile.  "You forget.  I am Vulcan.  I cut my eye teeth on stone-face."

 

"Excellent usage of that phrase."

 

"Thank you.  Do not change the subject."

 

"What was the subject again?"

 

"You and Jim."

 

"There is no me and Jim."  She kept her expression as bland as she could.

 

"There was a rapport between you.  And then there was not.  Your relationship changed around the time of the shore leave planet."

 

She looked down.  "Why are you so interested in us?"

 

"The captain is my friend, so of course what he does is of interest to me.  But in this case, it was more you, Christine, who I am concerned with."

 

"Me?"

 

He nodded.  "Since you rushed into my quarters to chastise me for my treatment of Yeoman Rand I have been...intrigued."

 

"I see.  Is that why you asked me to help you with the human stuff?"

 

"Not entirely.  I thought you would be an excellent tutor." Again the small smile.  "I am not in a position to pursue a relationship with you, Christine.  So I have not said anything before about this...interest in you."  He studied her, and she felt for a moment like a sample in a lab.  "Also I believed you and the captain had found a mutual accord."

 

That was one way to put it.

 

"Why are you telling me this now?" she asked.

 

"I want you to know that I am aware of how things might be between you and Jim."

 

"You have no idea how things might be."

 

"They are...complicated?" 

 

She laughed; she'd only recently taught him the usefulness of that statement.  "They are very complicated."

 

Unlike a human, he accepted that without further comment.

 

------------------

 

Chapel was sitting with Spock in the lounge when Jim walked in.  He saw them and his smile faded some, then he walked over.  "You've been spending a lot of time together."  His voice was pitched low, just for the two of them.

 

She met his eyes, angry that he was doing this. 

 

"Miss Chapel is helping me with my command of all things human, Jim."

 

She wondered if he had any idea how bad that sounded.  Jim certainly didn't seem to like the idea of it.

 

"Well, bully for you Spock.  And you, too, Nurse."  He smiled tightly, the smile she hated, a mocking expression.

 

She leaned in, kept her voice very, very low.  "He means, sir, that I'm teaching him how to say things like 'fuck off and die' in the right context."

 

Jim's ugly smile faded.  Then his eyes began to gleam and he burst out laughing.  She heard Spock exhale loudly, as if he had been holding his breath.

 

Many heads in the lounge turned their way.

 

Jim sat down next to Spock.  "I've missed that mouth, Chris."  He looked over at Spock.  "So, how's your command of dirty words, Spock?"


She frowned.  What the hell did he think he was doing?

 

"To be honest, Jim.  She has not covered many of those."

 

"I'm sure you'll get to them sooner or later."  He glanced at her.  "She likes powerful men.  You're a powerful man on this ship.  Ergo..."

 

"I'm sitting right here, sir."

 

He gave her a tight grin.  "I just fought an enormously ugly lizard.  I saved all our asses.  Give me a little leeway, Chris."

 

She decided not to tell him that she knew he wouldn't have had to fight the Gorn if he hadn't been so hell bent on revenge.  Although maybe if he'd been nicer to her lately, she'd not be so inclined to take Spock's view of the situation.

 

"I am, of course, very grateful, Captain."  She gave him a look that was filled with lots of things, but gratitude wasn't one of them.  Then she stood.  "Spock and I were finishing up.  I'll leave him with you, then."

 

"Don't leave on my account."  His voice was neutral.

 

She paused, a little confused.

 

"Don't stay on my account, either."  His voice dipped into the triumphant side of the spectrum, the happiness of a good gotcha.

 

Spock glanced at him, a small gleam of dismay in his eyes. 

 

She smiled at Spock, and she made it a very, very nice smile.  "I'll say goodnight."

 

"Goodnight, Christine."

 

Jim just sat, the ugly smile still on his face. 

 

She tried for one equally annoying.  "Captain."

 

"Nurse."

 

She held her head up and kept her back straight as she left, determined not to let him see how much she didn't like what was going on.

 

Or how much he was hurting her.

 

-----------------

 

"Is Captain Christopher gone?" Chapel asked Len, as he and Spock walked into sickbay. 

 

"He is," Spock said, bending down to pick up something she'd missed on the floor.  Between sling-shotting around the sun and then braking, any loose supplies or equipment hadn't stood a chance of staying where they'd been put.  She'd been cleaning up ever since they'd arrived back to normal time.

 

"I liked him," she said softly.

 

Spock nodded, his eyes soft.  "I did as well.  A fine man."

 

"And a damned lucky one--if he made it back in one piece," Len said, always able to find the dark spot when it came to risky maneuvers with transporters.

 

The doors swished open and she knew without looking who it would be.  She sighed and said softly, "I'll be in the supply room, Doctor.  A few of our items didn't survive the trip back."  She turned, nearly ran into Jim.  "Sir."

 

"Nurse."  His expression was gentle and she smiled, happy to see him relax around her.  Even if it was only probably due to utter relief at being back in their right time.

 

"Thank you for getting us home."

 

"Thank your Mr. Spock," Jim murmured.  "It was his computations that did it.  I just got in a few fisticuffs."

 

She felt her smile fade.  "He's not mine."

 

The ugly smile was threatening, and she leaned in, put her hand on his chest and said as softly as she could, "He's not mine, Jim."

 

For a moment, she saw a chink in the armor.  Then his eyes went hard.

 

She hurried off, mentally kicking herself for not knowing when to stop trying.

 

-----------------

 

Chapel saw Jim leave Len's office, was surprised when he smiled broadly at her then turned to cross the empty sickbay toward her.

 

Beating a court martial must do wonders for the outlook.  Or maybe it was just all the sex he probably had with counselor for the prosecution Shaw.

 

Pretty woman.  Chapel had caught a glimpse of her in the corridors after the charges had been dropped and the crew was let back on the ship.  Very pretty woman.  And smart, from what Spock and Len had said.

 

"I'm glad you won't be leaving us, sir," she said as Jim walked up to her.

 

"I am glad of that, too, Chris."  His smile was easy.  "I'd like to propose a truce."

 

"I wasn't aware we were at war."  She could hear the starch in her voice, the little bit of acid creeping in when she really didn't want it to.  "I mean--"

 

He waved her explanation away.  "I could have been nicer.  It's been...it's been difficult, seeing you after what happened."

 

"For me, too." 

 

"But...you've found a replacement."

 

"No, Jim"--she saw his eyes narrow and forged ahead anyway; they were alone in sickbay--"I haven't found a replacement.  Spock is just...a friend, I guess."  She smiled, tried not to make it a bitter one. "And what about you and the lovely Ms. Shaw?"

 

"She's much more than just a friend."

 

She tried not to show that his answer felt like a slug in the gut.  "Well, there you go.  No more difficulty if you have distractions."

 

"You sure that's not what Spock is to you?"

 

"Actually, sir, what Spock is to me is none of your goddamned business."  She hoped her answer registered just as brutally as his had. 

 

From the look on his face, it did.

 

--------------------------

 

Len rubbed his neck as Chapel finished scanning him. "Remind me never to fight with the captain."

 

"Yes, I don't recommend it."  She flipped off the scanner.  "But no real damage."  She ran the regenerator over his neck.  "So what was it like?  Being part of the collective body?"

 

"Well, it's a little fuzzy."  He seemed to be trying to remember so she worked in silence.  Finally, he said, "It was...peaceful."

 

"Peaceful boring or peaceful good?"

 

"Both?"


She laughed.  "And all courtesy of a machine.  Now if we could have introduced Roger to Landru..."

 

Len nodded, his lips twisting up.  "Match made in heaven.  No sickness, no wars, no nothing."  He shuddered.  "Except that festival thing.  Calm and peaceful people suddenly turning violent, indulging in passions they'd been repressing for God knows how long.  It's not something I ever want to see again."

 

"I can imagine." 

 

"The girl I treated.  She'd been badly used, Christine.  What the hell was that supposed to accomplish?"

 

"You know as well as I do that the reason to let off steam is to avoid a later, much larger, explosion."

 

"But this was insane.  These people were out of their minds."

 

"Out of their minds whether it was Festival or not, from what you've said.  Well, it's gone now--that mechanistic nirvana.  James T. Kirk, destroyer of Paradise."

 

"That's our boy."  Len laughed.  "And knowing him, he'd love the title."

 

She nodded and put the regenerator away.  Knowing Jim, he no doubt would.

 

------------------------

 

"So, I go away for a week and miss all the fun," Chapel said, as she and Spock took their evening constitutional and tutoring session.  She'd missed this.  Spock was quite fun for someone who supposedly did not have a sense of humor.

 

"There was nothing enjoyable about our interaction with Khan, Christine."

 

She smiled at him.  "You know what I meant."

 

"Yes, now I believe I do, thanks to your tutelage."  His look was gentle.  "I thought he had killed Jim."

 

She made a face.  "That would have made both of us very unhappy."

 

"Indeed."  He steered her down a corridor they usually didn't frequent.  "They are cleaning the main corridor tonight."

 

"Ah.  I wondered why you felt the need for even more privacy."

 

A raised eyebrow was her only answer.


He'd moved their tutoring sessions, after she'd told him about her last interaction with Jim, to an automated deck.  One that most of the crew didn't have access to.  She'd asked him if they should be down there, but he'd waved off her concern, after all, she was helping him become more efficient, which would only benefit the ship and the crew. 

 

And not get him into hot water with his friend and commanding officer.

 

"He thinks we're having wild sex."


"We are not." 

 

His tone was so droll, she laughed.  "I sort of wish we were having the wild sex he keeps conjuring up for us.  Might be fun."

 

"That usage of fun I can resonate with."  At her sharp glance, he held up a hand.  "Were I of a mind to have wild sex with you."

 

"You can take any spark of romance out of a moment, did you know that?"

 

"I was not aware romance was required, Christine."  He took a deep breath.  "I must admit, I was not sure that we would prevail once Khan took over the engineering section."

 

"What is that?  The third time, now, that someone has taken Engineering over and nearly killed us all?  Riley.  Finney.  Khan."

 

He gave her a hard look.

 

"I'm just saying that maybe some additional safeguards would not be out of order, Mister First Officer.  It seems to be a frightfully vulnerable locale."

 

He studied her.  "Your logic is sound."

 

"I'm funny that way."  She took a deep breath.  "What would you have done if Khan had killed the captain?"

 

"I am unsure.  As I was headed to the same chamber that I thought Jim had lost his life in, and Khan's people clearly matched, if not exceeded, my strength, and they were armed and I was not, I imagine I would have followed him into death."

 

"I would have been sad if that happened."

 

His expression was very gentle.  "I am gratified to hear that."

 

--------------------

 

Len came striding into sickbay, smiling broadly.  "Well, Jim's destroyed another 'perfect society' and we got rid of that pompous ass Fox."

 

"Amen to that.  You should have seen him in the rec lounge, putting the moves on Nyota."  She shuddered at the thought of that stiff, unattractive man coming anywhere near a bed.  Especially without clothes.  "It was embarrassing--for him.   For Nyota, it was just painful."

 

Len shook his head, a slightly disgusted look on his face.  "I can't really see him playing Casanova."

 

"Oh, he thought he was quite the smoothie.  I hope he's better at diplomacy than he is at amour."

 

"I'll drink to that."  Len poured them both drinks, then looked past her.  "Jim, can I interest you in a belt?"

 

"Why not, Bones."  Jim smiled at her, the expression only the slightest bit wary. 


"Sir.  Thank you once again for saving all our lives."  She grinned.  "Does it get old?  Being the hero?"

 

He took his drink from Len, held it up to them both.  "No, Chris.  It does not get old.  At.  All."  He clinked their glasses.  "To ruining the status quo."

 

"Hear hear," Len said, and she laughed and sipped her drink.  "You know, Jim, Scotty should get a commendation for the way he told off Ambassador Fox."

 

"Yes, I heard all about that from the good Ambassador."  Jim's eyes were gleaming dangerously.  "I think I will put him in for one.  Any man who loves the ship as much as I do and is willing to risk censure to protect her is a man deserving of recognition."

 

"Was Fox angry?"

 

"Oh, I thought he was going to bust an internal organ," Len said.  "Man gives new meaning to uptight."

 

"That he does, Bones."  Jim included her in his happy smile.  "But he's gone, the ship is here, and we're heading away from Eminiar 7.  All is right with the world."

 

She nodded and drank to that idea:  this was the Enterprise; she knew it wouldn't last.

 

-----------------

 

"You're very quiet tonight."  Chapel watched Spock as he walked beside her, the deserted corridor echoing with their bootsteps.  "Leila Kalomi was a very beautiful woman.  You looked...happy with her down on the planet."

 

"I was happy with her."  He took a deep breath, let it out slowly.  "It was a novel experience, being that free."

 

"And that's all?  Novel?  No regret that you lost it?"

 

"I never really had it, Christine.  I saw you with Lieutenant Commander Powers.  You two looked happy, too."

 

"He looked me up after we left orbit.  I had to let him down gently."  She laughed softly.  "He seemed like a nice enough guy."

 

"Then why do you not allow him to pursue you?  Or are you still harboring feelings for Jim?"

 

"Harboring feelings?  Have you been reading those classic Earth stories I assigned you?"

 

He nodded.  "You are bypassing my original question."

 

"My feelings for the captain are irrelevant.  He is married to the ship, as he proved when he fought off the spores."

 

Spock nodded thoughtfully.  "I do not disagree with his course of action.  But I...worry for him.  For his future happiness."

 

"I don't think he's one for the white picket fence."

 

"Explain the reference."

 

"Home, hearth, family, kids, a dog or two."

 

"Ah.  Domestic bliss."

 

"There ya go."  She sighed.  "Most of us on this crew aren't one for that, Spock.  Or we'd be on Earth, not up here in the middle of nowhere going further in."

 

"Logical."  He studied her, then his lips turned up slightly.  "Commander Powers was very lucky."

 

"Look at you, charming my socks off."  She laughed softly.  "So was Ms. Kalomi."

 

"Thank you, Christine."

 

---------------------

 

"So, how long will it take you to write the paper on silicon lifeforms that will shake the Federation to its core?"  She glanced at Spock as they walked down the corridor.

 

Spock's lips turned up in a slight smile.  "Jim asked me the same question.  It is fascinating how your minds work in similar fashions."  Then his lips turned down a bit.  "Would your first instinct have been to kill the Horta?"

 

"Spock, I come from a long line of people whose first instinct is to kill what they don't understand.  Next question."

 

"My mother often tried to explain these things to me.  On Vulcan, we value infinite diversity in infinite combination."  There was something off in his voice.

 

"You don't quite believe that, do you?"

 

He seemed to go still, then turned to her.  "You have made a jump in logic that eludes me."

 

Again, something off.

 

"They didn't value everything that was diverse, did they?  Like you, for instance."  Bingo, the slight bow of the closed mouth, the lowering of the brows.  Sadness.   "Did you get picked on when you were a kid?"

 

He took a deep breath, then another.

 

"Spock, I was the tallest kid in my class for three years.  I know what it's like to be called names that hurt."  She bumped up against him, a friendly gesture she only did when they were alone like this, but one he seemed to enjoy.  "But the other kids caught up and I wasn't such a freak.  You didn't have that luxury, did you?"

 

"I did not."

 

"I'm sorry."  She sighed. 

 

"Perhaps we should resume discussing the paper I may or may not be writing?"

 

"Less emotionally laden territory?"

 

"As I am a Vulcan, you know that I do not have em--"

 

"Stow it, my friend.  That may work with McCoy, but it's not going to work with me."

 

"I am somewhat relieved that is the case."  He bumped against her, ever so slightly. 

 

She wondered just how bad the other kids had teased him.

 

--------------------

 

The party in the lounge had spilled out into the corridors.  It was a mixture of "Yay, we're not going to war with the Klingons" and "Damn, who the hell do these Organians think they are, anyway?"  Chapel was firmly on the "Yay, no war" side, and she'd come to celebrate, but she had a snowball's chance in hell of getting a drink.

 

"Thirsty?" 

 

She felt a drink being pressed into her hand, turned to see Jim grinning at her. 

 

"I just happen to have an extra one, Chris.  I was getting it for Bones, but Barrows pulled him off into some dark corner."

 

She sipped at the drink.  Single malt scotch judging from the burn and the smoky aftermath.  "Are you drunk, sir?"

 

"I am very drunk.  As are most of the people at this party.  I trust sickbay is well stocked with antitox?"

 

"Would it be a starship if we weren't?"

 

He laughed.  "I, Chris, was a prime idiot today."  He eased her further down the corridor, to their own dark corner.  "I actually was angry that the Organians stopped the war.  Can you believe that?  I wanted to go to war with the Klingons.  With Kor."  He drained his glass.  "I think he sort of fancied me."

 

"The Klingon?"

 

Jim nodded.  "He had a certain expression when he looked at me."

 

She laughed.  "Well, you are very, very pretty."

 

"I am, aren't I?"  He pushed her a little deeper into a side corridor.  "I thought I might never see you again."

 

"I think you probably thought you might never see the ship again.  And then you thought about the crew, maybe Len, and then maybe me."

 

He smiled, a little twist giving the expression an edge.  "You don't give yourself much credit."

 

"I'm a realist.  I know where I stand with you."

 

"You have no idea where you stand with me."  He sighed.  "I'm going to go back to the party.  Before I do something very, very stupid."

 

"Yes, probably a good idea."

 

He smiled crookedly, a bit wistfully, then leaned in and kissed her.  A slow, sexy, Scotch-fueled kiss.

 

"Okay, now I'm going to go back to the party before I do something even more stupid."  He touched her hair, easing it back gently.  "I did think of you.  For what it's worth."

 

Then he turned and sort of wove his way back to the party.  She could have followed him; she didn't--she knew what would happen once he was sober.

 

But that didn't stop her from touching her lips as she walked back to her quarters.

 

-----------------

 

"So an antimatter universe?"  Chapel frowned a bit as she tried to process it.  She and Spock were sitting in the observation deck, watching the stars.  It was more public than their normal constitutionals through the lower corridors, but Spock seemed bent on their being there--it was entirely possible he'd been at the party, not drinking, of course, or wearing lampshades, but capable of seeing Jim drag her off.

 

Well, drag might be an exaggeration.  Cutting her off from the pack.  Corralling her. 

 

What was with all the Western references?  Antimatter was so much simpler than trying to figure out James T. Kirk.

 

"If it was antimatter," she said, "and the captain is matter, then shouldn't he have gone poof the minute he hit the ground?"

 

"Calling it antimatter was, of course, a broad generalization."

 

"In other words, you were wrong?"

 

"That is not what I said."  His expression lightened.  He seemed to love it when she let her scientist out.

 

"And if it were the opposite of us--anti and all that--then it couldn't be a parallel universe.  It would be more like the other side of the coin."  She smiled at him.  "And is there a reason to believe the number of parallel universes is finite?  Because anti implies two, the negative and positive, and I'd think you'd be more quantum than that."

 

"I do not believe I disallowed multiplicity, Christine."  He steepled his fingers, the way he tended to when he was going to deliver something pulled straight out of his ass.  "By referring to it as an antimatter universe, I was merely describing the phenomenon in a way that a layman could understand."

 

"Jim Kirk a layman?"  She laughed loudly enough to make another couple turn around.  "Let's face it.  None of you were at your best.  Len lets a crazy man walk out of sickbay twice, doesn't even try to restrain him and has the security officer dismissed.   And our valiant security detail on the planet actually stood by and watched while our manly captain took on Lazarus all by himself.  Even when he wasn't doing so well on his own."  She nudged Spock.  "I believe you also stood around and let him work off some steam."

 

Spock looked a bit peeved.  "Perhaps I thought it prudent.  Preferable to him working off steam in some other manner--for example, in a corridor with you?"

 

She blushed.  Furiously.  "Do you care how our good CO works off steam?"

 

"I do when it concerns you."  He looked like he wished he could call those words back, but they hung out there.  He looked down and she took a deep breath.  "I...I did not mean to say that."

 

"Are we here because you hope he'll happen by?  Perhaps with his alien conquest of the week?"

 

"That is an exaggeration.  He uses diplomacy of many styles to further the mission.  He is not indiscriminate in his affiliations."

 

"So it's okay who he does as long as it's not me?"

 

"That is not what I said."  He met her gaze, his eyes even but intense.  "And is he 'doing' you?" 

 

She was suddenly very sorry they'd covered that colloquialism early on in the tutoring sessions.  "He is not.  And it's none of your business." 

 

He sighed, a very human, very frustrated sigh.  "You are right, Christine.  It is none of my business.  And it is inappropriate for me as a Vulcan male and as a superior officer to show this kind of interest."

 

"The second part I understand."  Although him being higher in the chain never would have stopped her in the past, would have probably added to the allure.  "Care to explain the first part?  Do Vulcan males not show interest in females?  Or in human females?  Although, witness you, your father clearly liked human girls."

 

"Let it go, Christine.  I was...out of line, is that not the right phrase?"

 

She nodded.  It was very much the right phrase. 

 

But she still wished she understood what the hell he'd meant.

 

------------------

 

Chapel watched Jim as he moved slowly down the mess line, his eyes meeting no one's, his face set like a stone. 

 

"He's been like that ever since he and Mister Spock went through the Guardian of Forever to find Doctor McCoy," Uhura said softly.

 

Chapel nodded.  She'd heard probably much more than Uhura had about the trip.  From both Len and Spock. 

 

"I wish..."  Uhura trailed off.  "He just seems so far away."

 

"He's Jim Kirk.  Whatever happened, he'll be fine."  She smiled at her friend as if she didn't know that Jim seemed far away because his heart was broken.

 

He'd fallen in love.  On Earth.  In the 1930's.  With a doomed woman.

 

He'd had to let her die.

 

Spock had told her more about that than Len had.  Spock was more upset than she'd ever seen him.  Worried about his friend, his captain.

 

She didn't stay to eat with Uhura and Sulu, chose to take her meal and follow in Jim's wake.  She rang his chime, waited and rang it again.

 

He didn't call for her to enter, stood instead at the door, his face giving away nothing.  "Chris?"

 

"I thought you might want some company?"  She smiled as gently at him as she could.  "I know what it's like to lose someone you love."

 

"Spock told you.  Of course he did."  He turned and walked away, not inviting her in but not telling her to get the hell out, either, so she followed him. 

 

"Do you want to talk about her?"

 

"To you?  Not really."

 

She looked down. "I didn't come here as...well, as whatever we are--were--to each other.  I came as your friend.  I used to be that, or I was getting to be."  She sat down and opened her dinner container, pretending to be interested in what was inside.  "Spock said she was very pretty.  And a visionary, especially for her time."

 

For a moment, she thought Jim would resist.  Would tell her to pack up her food and go away.  But then he sat and began to eat.

 

She forged on.  "Spock said she was a gentle soul."

 

"She was."  He met her eyes.  "She wasn't like us."

 

She decided not to ask if he meant us as in the two of them or just people of their time.  She was afraid he meant just the two of them, that she was hard, not gentle, not anything like this woman he'd fallen for.

 

"Spock said--"

 

"Jesus Christ, is there nothing he doesn't tell you?"  Jim slammed his fork down.  "Did you come here to rub that in?  That Spock tells you ever goddamned thing?"

 

"No.  I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to--"

 

He held up a hand, shook his head, and took a deep breath.  "I'm sorry, Chris.  I've just...I've been holding this in so tightly.  I don't think I want to talk about her.  I don't think I can talk about her." 

 

She gathered up her food and stood; this had clearly not been one of her better ideas. 

 

He swallowed audibly.  "Look, if you and Spock have found something good, then I'm happy for you."

 

"Spock and I aren't together, Jim."

 

He didn't look like he believed her.  He also didn't look like he really cared one way or the other. 

 

--------------------

 

Spock stared out the viewscreen in the auxiliary science lab and sighed.  Chapel turned as she finished up her notes on the creatures they'd found on Deneva and watched him, wondering just how much relief he'd felt when his eyesight had returned.

 

"Are you all right?" she asked softly.

 

"I am worried."  He turned to her. 

 

"Worried?  Not concerned?"  Worried was emotional.  Worried was not very Vulcan.

 

"Jim has been through a great deal in the last few months.  Losing Edith Keeler.  Now his brother and sister-in-law."

 

"I know."

 

"And you, I think.  It did not escape my attention that he ignored you much of the time when we were working."

 

"Being ignored was better than getting dressed down."  She smiled and shrugged at his look.  "I called McCoy on not doing more for you during surgery.  He was right ultimately but I was worried about you.  I...overreacted."

 

"I am gratified you would risk censure on my behalf."  He walked over to her.  "And thank you for helping me when I was blind."

 

"What did I do?"

 

"You talked to me.  You were calm.  Doctor McCoy was rather focused on his own role in my condition.  I derived no comfort from him."

 

"I'm your friend.  I'm glad I could help."  She shook her head.  "I wish I was a better friend to the captain.  I'm worried about him, too."

 

"Perhaps you could talk to him?"

 

She looked down, shook her head.  "I tried that after Edith.  He didn't appreciate it."

 

"It might be prudent to try again.  He is...what is the phrase?  Very tightly wrapped right now."

 

"Yes, that's the phrase, and I agree.  He is.  But I don't think I can help him, Spock.  I don't think he'll let me."  She turned off the terminal.  "I'm done.  Done in, too.  I'll see you tomorrow, all right?"

 

"Of course, Christine."

 

She had the best of intentions as she left the lab: take the turbolift to her deck, then go straight to her quarters.

 

So why did she end up walking to Jim's door?

 

He wasn't in, or he wasn't answering.  She didn't push it this time.  Just hurried off before she could do something stupid that would annoy him even more.

 

He'd lost so much.  And had been faced with the same decision he'd had with Edith.  Let people he loved be killed to save countless more.  Only this time, he'd said no.

 

And he'd found another way.

 

She imagined that only made Edith's death sting all the harder.

 

----------------

 

Jim stomped into sickbay, glancing at her with an annoyed expression before heading into Len's office.

 

"Something I said?" she muttered as she went back to her report.


A moment later, she heard steps and resisted turning around.

 

"Admirable job of ignoring me, Chris."

 

She stopped inputting data but otherwise did ignore him.

 

"I was shocked that you hadn't taught Spock about Trick or Treat.  You two aren't going to the Halloween party as some famous couple?  Antony and Cleopatra?  Napoleon and Josephine?"

 

"Spock's a little tall for Napoleon."  She turned to look at him.  "Are you drunk or just mean?"

 

"Well, I'm not drunk."  He took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then let it out.  "I had to seduce a woman today.  It was hell."

 

She looked down.  This post-Edith Kirk was getting on her nerves--and hurting her feelings.  "I'm so sorry you had to put out for the cause."

 

"Oh, I was just using Sylvia.  Got what I want and then moved on.  Because that's what I do.  Ask anyone."  He started to get up and she grabbed his arm, yanking him back down.

 

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

 

"Right as rain."  His eyes were hard, the angry eyes she didn't like, that she wasn't sure why she seemed to be the cause of right now.  "I love being shackled.  Does wonders for my outlook."  He jerked away from her and got up.

 

"Jim, what's wrong?  Really?"  She kept her voice as soft as she could, the tone she was learning to use in sickbay, with injured crewmen, to keep them quiet and still.

 

She thought for a moment he was going to pretend he hadn't heard her.  Then he turned and she was shocked at the rawness of his expression.  He didn't say anything, just pursed his lips, the way he did when he was trying to keep from saying something.

 

She walked over to him.  "I'm sorry.  For everything that's happened lately.  For whatever I've done to make you angry with me.  I'm sorry, Jim."

 

"You shouldn't call me that," he said, but he didn't sound very serious.

 

"I know.  But I like to.  I like you."  Or she used to.  She wasn't sure what she felt right now, always on guard with him, feeling guilty and not sure why.

 

He nodded and walked away.  There was no "I like you, too" for her.  She hadn't really expected there to be.

 

---------------------

 

Chapel heard her chime go off, checked her chrono and saw it was a lot later than she'd thought.  She'd been working through the night on some independent research.

 

"Come."

 

Jim stood at the door.  "Bad time?"  His smile was the Jim of old, and she wondered if they'd had another transporter malfunction and she'd ended up with nice Jim.

 

"Come in."

 

He sat on her bed, studied her for a moment, his eyes easy.  Then they turned a little flinty.  "What do you know about what happened on the planet?"

 

"You found a crash survivor.  He was living with an energy being.  She and the commissioner merged to save the commissioner's life.  They all stayed on the planet.  They had a nice garden.  Why?"

 

"Did you get that from Len or from Spock?"

 

"Len mostly.  Spock didn't talk about it."

 

He looked relieved.  "The man's name?  Do you know it?"

 

"Why?  Did you forget it already?"

 

He laughed.  "Just answer the question."

 

"Len didn't tell me.  And Spock really had nothing to say about the trip.  If you're worried about his discretion when it comes to what he talks about with me, then that's stupid."

 

"You and he are close.  I didn't know how much pillow talk there might be."

 

She stood up, stalked over to him.  "There is no goddamned pillow talk, Jim.  Get it through your thick head.  I am not sleeping with Spock."

 

He surprised her, pulling her to him, laying his head for a moment on her stomach, his arms snaking around her.  She reached down and played with his hair. 

 

"There's a man down there, Chris, who gave up the stars for love.  For a moment, I wished I could be him."

 

She relaxed into him, then felt him let go.  As he eased her away from him, she said softly, "No, you didn't."

 

He stood, pulled her to him for a quick, safe kiss.  "Yes.  Yes, I really did."  Then his lips quirked up.  "But only for a moment."

 

--------------------

 

"So how does it feel to have a future Capellan leader be your namesake?" Chapel asked Len as they worked in the lab.

 

"All I can say is you better be nice to me.  I have friends in high places."  He glanced at her a bit slyly.  "But then I'm not the one you want to be nice to, am I?"

 

She met his eyes--had Jim said something?  "Excuse me?"

 

"Old Spock really rings your bell, doesn't he?"  He smiled, the annoyingly smug grin he sometimes used to get her goat.  "I saw how solicitous you were when he went blind, and how relieved when he got his sight back."

 

"Len, we were all relieved.  It's Spock."

 

"Uh huh."

 

"Spock and I are friends."

 

"Sure you are."  He laughed softly.

 

She could understand his dismissal of her statement.  Spock was working hard to keep them out of Jim's sight--when he wasn't in a contrary mood and trying to land them right directly in his path--and where Jim was, Len often followed.  And she was used to keeping her relationships private until they were out--she and Roger had snuck around for a year when she was his grad student.

 

Not that she and Spock were coming out.  They were just friends.

 

"Look, I can see how he'd be interesting.  Quiet, thoughtful, unattainable.  Women like that."

 

"I am not interested in Spock.  We've been over this."  But did she really want to push this?  Did she really want to hear the grief she'd get if Len knew how she felt about Jim?  Because it wouldn't be teasing.  She thought she'd get a real heart-to-heart talk over Jim, and why she needed to let it go.

 

"I see something in your face that does not go with your words.  That's interest--unrequited interest, or I'm not the armchair psychologist I know I am."  He grinned at her. 

 

"Fine, Len.  Think what you want."  She sounded unnecessarily bitter.

 

Which probably only confirmed what he thought.

 

-------------

 

"Is this seat taken?"

 

Chapel looked up, startled that Jim would be asking her that, that he'd be seeking her out.  In a nearly empty mess.  "Uh, no."

 

"Great."  He sat down.  "So I met a god today."

 

"I heard."

 

"I won't ask which of my friends told you."  He smiled, an almost real smile.

 

"It was Len."

 

"I didn't ask."  He dug into his dinner as if they ate together all the time.

 

She could barely eat.  "Still, I thought you should know."  She gave up on her food, pushed the plate away, and studied him.  "You haven't told him anything about us, have you?"

 

"Nope."

 

"Or about what you think Spock and I are up to?"

 

"You said you weren't up to anything.  Besides, it's none of his business."

 

She waited to see if he'd elaborate.  He didn't.

 

"So this god...?"

 

"It would have been interesting to talk to him, to find out what it was like back in those days.  Which of the legends were true, which made up."  He shook his head.  "He wasn't interested in talking, though."

 

"And we weren't interested in worshipping mindlessly.  Or at all."  She smiled at him.  "You do know how to fuck up paradise, Jim."

 

"I am getting good at it, aren't I?"

 

She nodded. 

 

"I do have one regret."  He leaned forward, his eyes sparkling.  "I would have liked to have seen you in a get-up like Palamas was wearing."

 

She laughed; she'd seen Palamas in sickbay, being checked out after Apollo's attack.  How the dress even stayed on was beyond her.  "I don't have her figure."

 

"I don't care.  I'd still like to see it."  He met her eyes.  "I wasn't sure she'd be loyal to me."

 

"And I know how much you enjoy not knowing that."

 

"It was different, though."

 

"Why?  Because she did something to fight and I didn't?"

 

"Partly."  His eyes were gentler than his words.  "But she also just met him.  I'd expect her to choose her own people in that situation.  Roger was...  Roger was your fiance.  I don't like what you did, Chris.  But I think I understand it better."

 

"That's generous of you.  But I didn't do the right thing.  No matter how much I loved him.  I signed onto your ship.  I owe you my loyalty."

 

"Wow, my pep talk really worked."  He grinned, but his eyes weren't amused.  "I wanted to thank you, too.  For trying to help me after Edith.  This hasn't been a good time for me."

 

"I know, Jim.  If there is something I can do...?"

 

"No."  He reached over, touched her hand.  "No, there's not.  There can't be."

 

She pulled her plate back and forced the food down.  They talked about ancient Greece for the rest of the meal--it was a much safer topic.

 

------------------------

 

Chapel had just taken off her uniform and put on casual clothes when her chime sounded.  "Come," she said, expecting it to be Spock.

 

She wasn't wrong.

 

"So, a wife--that's what you meant those times you said you were in no position to pursue me."

 

He nodded, his face not as tight as when they were headed to Vulcan, but still not entirely right.

 

"Jim and Len told me nothing about what went on down there."

 

"So I surmised when they asked you to leave sickbay."

 

They had not been entirely discreet, though.  Between what she'd overheard in sickbay and her own interactions with Spock, she'd put two and two together and come up with sex.

 

"So, did you and your wife have that reunion you seemed to so need?"  She moved away from him, a little unnerved by the way he was staring at her.

 

"We did not."  He followed her, the distance between them staying the same even as she backed up.

 

"Spock, you were acting like this in your quarters.  When you insisted on calling me Miss Chapel."

 

"It was not appropriate for me to be intimate with you when I was on my way to my wife."

 

"Intimate?  It seemed like you wanted to get much more intimate than just calling me by my first name."

 

"You are perceptive."

 

No, she wasn't.  Any idiot could read horny when it was being sent to her with such intensity. 

 

An intensity that seemed to be back.  "Spock?  Are you all right?"

 

"I am not.  I...lied to Jim and Doctor McCoy.  I told them I no longer needed what T'Pring would have offered me.  And while it is true that I am now free of T'Pring, I do still need something."  He reached out, touched her cheek.  "From you."

 

She swallowed hard.  "From...me?"

 

He nodded.  "I know that you have feelings for Jim.  I know you have not considered me in this way.  But we have grown close, have we not?"

 

She nodded.

 

"I do not know what it is to love, Christine.  But I care for you.  And I desire you."  He moved closer, till there was almost no distance between them.  "And I am unsure if the Pon Farr will consume me if I do not take steps to relieve this desire."

 

"Human men have been using the 'I'll die if you don't sleep with me' line for centuries."

 

His lips turned up in a true smile.  "I was not aware of that."  He reached out again, stroking her hair, then letting his hand run down her arm, to her hip, pulling her toward him.  "I may simply desire you; this may not be related to the Pon Farr."  His breath was in her ear but his lips did not turn down.  "Do I have permission, Christine?  Will you take me to your bed?"

 

She pulled away slightly.

 

His grip tightened.  "He will not let you in, Christine.  You are waiting for nothing if you are waiting for Jim."  He seemed to realize his tack needed work.  "I do not ask for commitment.  I do not ask for you to consider us lovers when this is over.  I only ask that you take me now."

 

She thought it was more that she let him take her, but she didn't say so. 

 

He wasn't wrong about Jim.  And he wasn't acting right still.  He needed to have sex.  She loved him in her way, as a friend.  Could she live with herself if he did die?

 

He seemed to read the capitulation in her eyes or perhaps there was some subtle change in the way she was standing, because he pushed her against the wall and kissed her.  The kiss was fierce, but it moved her.  He roamed her body with firm hands, but there was tenderness there, true desire for her, not just for a willing body.

 

She gave up analyzing what was happening and surrendered to it.  To him.

 

He moaned when she kissed him back, when she pushed him away from her toward the bed, taking off his clothes as he moved back.  He yanked her clothes off, turned her so she would be on the bottom when they made it to the bed.  She pulled him down to her and he explored her body, kissing as he went, moving her whatever way he wanted, the authority of his touch arousing her.

 

She'd come several times when he finally took her, entering her in a rush, thrusting hard while holding her down, his kisses savage.  He cried out as he finished, clutching her to him, even in the fever able to call her by name, able to make her name a caress.

 

He let her rest for a few minutes before he was exploring her body again, before he pulled her on top of him and let her control the pace as he took full advantage of the access he had to her.

 

After a while, she thought she might be the one to die from this.  "Spock, a break."

 

He let up on her, moved to her side and pulled her in close for a moment, then eased away, letting her breathe and cool off.  She turned to look at him, saw that his expression was less tight, his eyes more sane.

 

"You are feeling better, then?" 

 

He nodded.  But then said quickly, "I am not, however, cured."

 

She laughed.  "Don't worry.  I'm not going to cut you off.  I just need a break.  I'm only human."

 

He leaned in and kissed her.  "My human."  He pulled back and met her eyes.  "By that I mean..." 

 

She knew what he had meant.  The tender way he'd said it had made it clear.  "Spock, this is amazing but--"

 

"Yes, I know.  We are just friends."  He stared up at the ceiling.  If he'd been fully human, she'd have bet he was sulking.

 

"That's not a bad thing."

 

"Will friendship be accompanied by this activity in the future?" He sounded very hopeful.

 

She hated to rule it out entirely.  But she didn't think Spock really had the temperament or the experience to settle for being merely a friend with options.  "I don't know."

 

He nodded as if he had expected that answer.  But then he turned to her, met her eyes and his own were hard.  "I meant what I said about Jim, Christine.  I know him.  He will never let you in.  Not while he is in command."

 

She forced her face into a mask that would mirror his pretty ex-wife's expressionless features.  "I don't want to talk about Jim while we're doing this."

 

"But we should."  The hardness in his eyes gave way to anger, the anger that had prompted him to chase him from her quarters and throw soup at her--after he had asked her to make it.  She hadn't wanted to tell Len that she wasn't bringing Spock soup all on her own, that Spock had seemed angrier at himself for asking for it than at her for bringing it.

 

"Let's just go back to the fucking, Spock."  She hoped the harsh language would jar him out of the tear he was on.

 

It didn't.  His features just set harder.  "When you were with Jim, did you fuck him or did you make love?   I understand the difference, Christine, even without you having covered that in your tutoring sessions."

 

She looked away, not sure what to say that wouldn't make him more intense than he already was.

 

He leaned in, his mouth on her ear, his voice soft but harsh.  "When I fought Jim on the sands of Vulcan--and that is what I did, Christine:  I fought my best friend for a woman--it was not for T'Pring, even if she was the catalyst.  It was for you."

 

"No."

 

"He did not know that.  I have tried to hide the depths of my feelings for you from him, from everyone, even from you, apparently.  But it is true.  At the end, when I battled with him, it was not my bondmate's face I saw as the prize, it was yours."

 

"You're not yourself, Spock."  She struggled to get away from him, but he wouldn't let her up.  "Will you force me to do more with you?"

 

For a moment, she thought he would.  Then he let go of her and lay back, studying the ceiling again.

 

There was a long silence, then his voice came out cracked and full of sorrow.  "I beg forgiveness."

 

"I forgive you."  When he didn't answer, she asked, "Do you need more from me than forgiveness?"

 

He nodded slowly.

 

She let him pull her toward him.  Let him kiss her, even kissed him back.  But the simple lust was gone, colored now by something bitter and sad.

 

He loved her. 

 

She didn't love him back.

 

------------------------


Chapel heard her chime ring and checked her chrono.  It was very late--or early, depending on how you looked at it.  But everyone's schedule was off thanks to the big, deadly planet killer.

 

She pulled on a robe and walked to the door, palming it open.

 

Jim stood outside her door.  "Are you decent?"

 

"You tell me."

 

He pushed past her, palmed the door closed, and pulled her into his arms.  She was so surprised she didn't fight him, didn't do anything except kiss him back.

 

Then he let her go and backed away from her, leaning against the wall.  "Sorry, but nearly dying has this strange effect on me."  He looked more sheepish than truly contrite.

 

"How long have you been thinking of doing that?"

 

"Most of the night."  He grinned, and it was such a true expression, she found herself grinning back.  "Get dressed.  I need to walk."

 

"I was sleeping."

 

"No, you weren't."  Again the grin. 

 

She found herself grabbing some clothes from the closet, going into the bathroom to change.  She came out and he took her hand, squeezing it for a moment before letting her go. 

 

She followed him out of her quarters and to the nearest lift.  "Where are we going?"

 

"Well, we could go to the deserted decks like Spock seems to prefer."

 

She could feel herself blushing.  "You know about that?"

 

"There's not much on this ship I don't know about."  He shot her a significant look.  "Not much at all."

 

She refused to rise to the bait.  He might not know that she'd slept with Spock.  And she wasn't going to tell him.  Not when it had been such a spectacular mistake.

 

He didn't lead her to the lower decks.  He took her to the observation deck, stood staring out at the planet killer.  "Decker was my friend.   He has a little boy, Will.  He's going to be fatherless."

 

She moved closer to him, felt him lean her way to close the gap.  "At least he'll know his father died to save people."

 

"I don't think that's much consolation."  He sighed.  "Peter.  Now, Will.  All these fatherless sons."

 

"Motherless, too, in your nephew's case."

 

He nodded.  "When we visit Earth, I'll look Will up.  It's been ages since I've seen him."

 

"That would be nice."  She studied him, the grim profile as he stared out at the death machine.  "Did you think this was it?  For you, I mean?"

 

He nodded.  "I was optimistic until I could see into the fire of that thing.  No transporter and a failsafe countdown.  Things did not look good for me."

 

"Thank God they turned out better than they looked."

 

He smiled but didn't turn from the machine.  "Who would build something like this?  Why in God's name would you build something like this?"

 

"People do evil things.  People are evil at times."

 

He sighed.  "Spock wondered how many more of these there might be running around."

 

"Nice thought."  Spock had not been Mr. Cheery since their encounter.  She couldn't tell if he regretted the sex or wanted more, and since he'd avoided her ever since, she couldn't ask him.

 

She missed him.  Their walks, the little slang lessons.

 

"Would you have been sad if I'd died, Chris?"

 

She turned so her back was to the viewscreen, and he met her gaze.  "I'd have been devastated.  I'd have left the ship."

 

"So you stay for me?"

 

"No, I stay because I'm happy here, because this is a good place for me to be.  But if you weren't here, I wouldn't be happy here."

 

He touched her cheek, then glanced around the room.

 

"It's all right.  We're alone, Jim."  But they could be more alone.  With far less clothes on.

 

He chuckled.  "You are thinking of something very naughty."

 

"I am."  She leaned in a little closer.  "Would you like to walk me back to my quarters?"

 

He sighed and eased away from her.  "More than anything, Chris.  More than anything."  He gave her a crooked grin.  "Sorry for getting you up just to hear me go on."

 

"Anytime, Jim.  I'm here for you."

 

He looked down.  "Except when you're not."  He took a deep breath.  "I wasn't sure you'd be alone tonight."

 

"But you came anyway."

 

"I had to know."

 

She nodded.  "Well, now you know."

 

He didn't look convinced.

 

"Jim.  Now you know."  She touched his hand.  "Good night."

 

"Good night, Chris." 

 

She left him standing in the shadow of the thing that almost killed him.

 

---------------------

 

Chapel walked down the corridor, her hips swaying a bit more than necessary, keeping time with the woosh of the sedative through her bloodstream--the sedative that had made the evil entity Red Jack flee their computer.

 

Jim had defeated another evil entity.  Jim was a good captain.  Jim deserved to be rewarded for his valor.

 

She rang his chime and heard the muffled "Come" through the intercom as the door opened. 

 

She waited till the door had closed to walk further in, let him get a look at the severe white lab coat she was wearing, and then unbuttoned it and let it fall.

 

"Oh.  Oh my."  He was grinning but also looking a little panicked.

 

She ran her hands down the short gray dress she was wearing.  It was a hybrid of the one she'd worn on the shore leave planet and the dress Palamas had been wearing--the one Jim had wanted to see her in.  "You like?"

 

A ragged intake of breath was her only answer.  She took it as a yes.

 

"l don't think I look as good as she did in it.  She's curvier."  Chapel smiled easily, the sedative making it so much easier to do this.  Before it had just been a fantasy to show up like this, to be walking the way she was over to where he sat at his desk.  "Len said you never got back down to Argelius II, to that bar you like where the woman are"--she giggled, remembering what Len had told her the women did--"rather inventive."

 

He gulped and turned red.

 

She turned slowly, letting him see that the dress, like Palamas's, was held up by willpower alone.  "I am drugged out of my mind or we both know I wouldn't be here."

 

"Chris."

 

She walked toward him, held her hand out.  "Jim, I can do those things.  Most of them anyway."  She giggled again.

 

He didn't take her hand.

 

"You know you want this, Jim.  I want this--no, I need this.  And you need it.  Just give in."

 

He stood and walked over to her lab coat, not to her.  He scooped it up, then walked behind her, laying it over her shoulders.  His breath on her ear was hot as he said, "You look amazing and believe me, I'm filing this and the idea that you can do what those women can away for the future.  But we're not doing this now."

 

She let her lips turn down in a pout but wasn't really surprised.  There was a reason Jim Kirk was who he was, and being a pushover wasn't it.

 

"I love you," she whispered.

 

"Tell me that someday when you aren't high on meds."  He pulled her in, kissed her forehead gently, then let her go.  "You really do look fabulous."

 

"Thank you."  She buttoned up her coat, realized he was watching her as she did it so she slowed down and took her time with each button.

 

"Bitch," he muttered but his smile was easy.

 

"I miss you, Jim."

 

"We'll have dinner.  When you're not drugged and your uniform is a bit more regulation."  He turned her and pointed her to the door.  "Do not stop at Spock's quarters on the way back to yours."

 

"I wasn't planning on it."

 

"Just so we're clear."

 

"I do love you, Jim."

 

He palmed open the door and urged her out.  "Good night, Chris."

 

"Good night, Jim."

 

-------------------

 

Chapel came into sickbay from dinner, saw Jim talking with Uhura.  He glanced over at her and smiled.  A few minutes later, he got up and walked over to where she was working.

 

"She's doing great," Chapel said.

 

"She is.  She told me you've been helping her."

 

"She doesn't need much help.  She's very smart."  Chapel smiled at him. 

 

"I think you went over and above trying to protect my file from Nomad."

 

"I wasn't thinking so much as reacting."


"You could have been killed."

 

She shrugged.  "Not my finest moment as far as judgment goes."

 

He grinned.  "I don't know.  You did it for me, right?"

 

She nodded.

 

"Then I find it touching, if somewhat stupid."  He sat.  "Are you okay?"

 

She touched her forehead.  "Bit of a headache.  But no other lingering effects.  Compared to Uhura, I got off easy."

 

"Good."  He met her eyes, and they stared at each other for a moment, then he got up.  "Well, there's a big chair on the bridge calling me."

 

"Thanks for outfoxing the big, bad machine.  Again."

 

He shrugged, gave her an "aw shucks, ma'am" grin like it was no big deal to save the day.  "Watch that headache."

 

"I will.  I have easy access to a doctor."

 

"Good."  He reached out, touched her forehead.  "Don't be stupid like that again."

 

"I won't," she said. 

 

She thought they both knew it was a lie.

 

----------------

 

Spock was walking slowly, seemingly lost in whatever was on the padd he was looking at, but he managed to head unerringly toward her, even when she shifted to the other side of the corridor.

 

"Spock," she said quietly when he was within earshot, "if you want to talk to me, just talk to me."

 

He met her eyes, and she was surprised to see his lacked their usual placidity.

 

"Is your back still hurting?" she asked.  Between being thrown off a forcefield and having Vaal's lightning hit him, it had not been the best landing party ever for Spock. 

 

"Yes." 

 

She was shocked at him admitting so easily to pain.  "Come back to sickbay.  I'll give you something for the pain."

 

He waved that idea off.  "It's been a long time since we've talked, Christine.  I have missed you."

 

"I've missed you, too." 

 

He seemed to want to walk, so she fell into step next to him.  As they rounded a corner, she saw Chekov and Landon ahead, their hands linked tightly, bodies sort of curved toward each other.

 

She wondered how long before they tripped.

 

"They are in love," Spock said softly.  "They could not stop touching during the landing party."

 

"Really?  And you allowed that?  Jim did?"  At his look of surprise, she shook her head.  "Look, what they want to do when they're off duty is their business.  But on a dangerous mission it's not okay for them to be making googly eyes at each other instead of focused."

 

"Googly?"

 

"Insufferably romantic, would be the best I can come up with.  There's a foolish undertone to the meaning."

 

"Jim did, at one point, call them on their behavior."

 

"And if they don't calm down, I'm willing to bet you that she'll be transferred off this ship."

 

"You believe he would do that?"

 

"If they can't figure out when personal displays are appropriate and when they're not, I think he would."  She moved closer, realized she had missed these walks with Spock.  "Jim's not against romance.  But there's a time and a place..."

 

"Is on the bridge in front of the entire crew the correct time and place for a kiss?"

 

"Uh, no.  Well, maybe a goodbye kiss.  But even that would be pushing it."  She glanced at him.  "Did Jim?"

 

"With Lieutenant Shaw, just before she left the ship."  He leaned in.  "Would it not then be disingenuous for Jim to have Landon transferred?"

 

"Is this a test?  Do you want Jim transferred off?  Didn't you go out of your way to save his life down on Gamma Trianguli VI?"

 

"I did.  I do not want him to leave.  I am just wondering if you can excuse his behavior and not Yeoman Landon's."

 

"Chekov's and Landon's.  She's not in this alone, mister.  Chekov just happens to be more important to ship's operations, so he won't be the one sent packing."

 

"I stand corrected."

 

"Why are we even discussing this?"

 

"Because we saw them in the corridor.  And it is easier to talk about them than about our own issues."


She turned to stare at him.  "When did you get so insightful?"

 

"I have had ample time to think about what transpired between us, Christine.  And to wish it had ended differently."

 

"Meaning...?"

 

"I wish to be with you in that way again."  He looked away.  "But I know you do not want that."

 

"Spock.  Don't get me wrong.  The sex was fantastic.  I just don't have the feelings you want me to have." 

 

"Feelings."  He sighed.  "Such a premium put on feelings."

 

"You have them, too, Spock.  Or we wouldn't be having this conversation."  She touched his hand.  "Come back to sickbay.  Let me give you some painkiller."

 

He didn't argue, just followed her off toward sickbay.  That almost worried her more than the conversation they'd been having.

 

-------------

 

"Miss me?"  Len was grinning as he walked into the lab and Chapel felt like throwing her padd at him. 

 

"Yes, I missed you.  Here I thought you and Spock and the Captain were dying."

 

"We were.  Fortunately, Omega IV had other ideas.  It's people's legacy poisoned us but the planet's counter to the biological agent saved us."

 

"You've brought back your findings, right?  I'm fascinated with biowarfare."

 

"And that makes you just a little bit scary, Christine."  But Len handed over a datapadd.  "Don't do anything I wouldn't do with this."

 

She laughed.  "Don't worry."

 

The door swooshed open and Spock walked in.  He seemed to be in some pain, and she hurried over to him, earning a smirk from Len as she did it. 

 

"Are you all right?" she asked as she felt Spock lean into her slightly.

 

"I will be.  Once Doctor McCoy has had a chance to work on me."

 

His skin felt hotter than normal under her hand and she eased him onto the biobed and went to get a scanner.  Handing it to Len, she asked, "What happened down there?"

 

"Crazy captain is what.  I'm getting tired of Fleet officers taking over after a disaster.  First Decker.  Now Tracey."  Len worked on Spock with a great deal of care and she smiled to herself, sure that if she brought up how much he clearly liked Spock, he would deny it with vigor. 

 

"I'm glad you're all right," she murmured to Spock, patting him on the arm before going to work on the terminal in the other room.

 

A little while later, Len came to the doorway.  "He doesn't like to be touched, you know."

 

She turned to look at him.  Had he not seen Spock's eyes close when she'd touched him?  Or had he seen it and misinterpreted it to be a recoil rather than enjoyment?  "My mistake."

 

"I know you feel strongly about him, Christine, but you're going to have to exercise some restraint."

 

"I will certainly do that in the future, Doctor."

 

He met her eyes, looking very uncomfortable at the lecture he was giving her, then shot her a tight smile and went back to his office.

 

She took a deep breath and went back to work.

 

------------------------

 

The sickbay lights were dimmed, Amanda had left with Len for dinner, and Chapel sat at the desk in the ward, watching as Sarek, Spock, and Jim slept.  She turned back to her terminal, lost in her work until she heard someone stirring. 

 

"Chris."  Jim's voice was harsh as he whispered to her.

 

She hurried over.  "Do you need something?"

 

"Yes, to get out of this bed."  He started to get up, but she eased him back down and he gave up far more quickly than she expected.  "Hate being weak."

 

"You were stabbed.  It's not weak to rest."  She glanced over at the others, making sure Spock and Sarek were still asleep, then she touched his cheek.  "I was worried about you."  

 

"I was a little worried about me, too."  He grinned, the beautiful grin she loved.  "I'm fine, though."

 

"I know."  She began to pull her hand away from his face but he reached up, held her there.  "I'm very glad you're fine."

 

"Yes?"

 

She nodded.

 

"Prove it," he murmured as he pulled her down to him.

 

She was careful not to put any weight on him as she met his lips with hers.  He pulled her down more, deepened the kiss.  Then he winced when she leaned on him too hard.

 

She eased away.  "Not that I mind the activity, but Len will have my hide if I injure you." 

 

"Len has no idea what's going on with us."

 

"I know.  He thinks I'm infatuated with Spock."  She glanced over at the other beds again; the readings showed that both Vulcans were still asleep.  "Why haven't you told him?"

 

He shrugged.  "This thing between us is complicated."

 

"Is it?  Really?"  She took his hand in hers and sighed.  "Because I don't actually think it is."

 

He squeezed her hand, then yawned, and she laughed softly.

 

"Go to sleep, Jim.  I'll be just over here."

 

"I'm glad you didn't leave the ship after we found Roger," he said as he pulled the covers up and closed his eyes.

 

She was glad, too.  Even if she suspected leaving might have been the better course for all of them.

 

----------------------

 

Chapel limped down the corridor toward Jim's quarters.  Her leg was aching, her cheek was throbbing where she'd been thrown against a bulkhead during the last hit when they'd escaped the amoeba-like organism, and she was so tired she thought she might fall down before she got to his door.

 

But she didn't.  She made it and rang the chime, then limped in once the door opened.  "Are you alone?" she asked in a tone that would have been highly inappropriate if the answer was "no."

 

Jim walked out of his bathroom, looking as tired as she felt.  "Chris?"  He frowned as studied her, moved closer and murmured, "Are you all right?" as he touched her cheek.

 

She thought she'd gotten all the redness away, but from his look of worry, she was starting to bruise.  "Fell down and went boom."

 

He smiled, the look tender.  "Sorry."  He took her hand, led her to a chair. "You're limping, too."

 

"Part of the whole fell down and went boom thing."

 

"Ah."  He rubbed his eyes.  "We cannot get to shore leave fast enough."

 

"It should start now."  She met his eyes.  "I'm tired of almost dying or you almost being killed or the ship running into someone or something that wants us dead."

 

"That's the life you've chosen with Starfleet."

 

"You miss my point, Jim.  I'm tired of not being with you if all these shitty things are going to keep happening."  She knew her look was a long way from seductive.   Her mouth felt tight and her eyes were probably harder than they should be.  "I'm sick of not having you."

 

For a moment she thought he was going to tell her to leave.  That the captain of the Enterprise would reemerge and tell the man to suck it up.  To be alone. 

 

To not want her.  To not take what he wanted.

 

Then he reached for her, yanking her up so hard her leg twinged and her wrist complained, too.  She ignored the pain, concentrating on the fact that he was kissing her, that he was tearing her clothes off and pulling her hair out of its clips.

 

She pulled his shirt off, pulled down his pants with the same ferocity he was showing to her clothing.  "I want you," she whispered as he manhandled her to the bed, as he pushed her down and climbed over her.

 

She expected something wild, but he entered her slowly, moved with purpose, building what was happening with a gentle rhythm that soon had her moaning.

 

Jesus-God, sex with him was as good as she remembered.  Time had not made it more than it was.

 

He kissed her tenderly as she caught her breath, then started up again, this time moving faster, taking his pleasure, his face screwed up, his eyes shut, calling out her name loudly as he came.

 

They fell back onto the bed and he pulled her close.  "That was wonderful.  Will you be offended if I pass out now?"

 

She could feel her own eyes closing, felt him pulling her closer.  "No, I won't be offended."  Then she kissed him softly.  "I love you.  I'm not staying away this time."

 

He nodded, the fact that he didn't even argue a testament to how exhausted he was.  "We can start with shore leave.  I know a very nice resort."  He opened his eyes, fixed her with a strange look; she realized it was equal parts relief and defeat.  "But we have to be discreet."

 

"I'm actually quite good at that."

 

His lips quirked up.  "I guess you would be."  He kissed her tenderly, as if to take away any sting from the comment. 

 

She didn't mind what he'd said.  Who knew a history of sneaking around would prove so wonderfully useful now?

 

---------------

 

Chapel was working late when she heard the sickbay doors open.  She turned and saw Jim in his old Earth get-up.  "Very snazzy, sir."

 

He looked around to see who else was in sickbay, shot her a confused look when he saw there was no one.

 

"That discretion thing you mentioned.  Save the first name for other times."

 

"Officer thinking, Chris."  He gave her the grin that she'd learned on shore leave meant a world of things--all of them naughty--then he turned around, letting her get a full appreciation of  his ugly brown suit.  "Hot on the prowl, I am."

 

She laughed and turned off her terminal.  "I'm off duty if you care to prowl my way."

 

"Why, my dear, what a wonderful idea.  Unfortunately, once I get out of this get up, I need to get back down to Earth to debrief Gary Seven."


"And then we can go back to our own time?"

 

He nodded and sighed.  "It'll be good to be home.  That is not a time I'd want to live in."

 

"I'd like to see it."

 

"Primitive."  Then he smiled.  "Although the women look good."

 

She slugged him.

 

"What?  I can't look?  You were sure focused on Commander Abrams at the talent show the other night."

 

"Misdirection is a major part of discretion."

 

"Ah.  So you weren't checking out his ass?"

 

"Well, I was.  It has to look real to be believed.  And don't play the wounded lover.  You're certainly being 'seen' with plenty of women."

 

"Misdirection and all that."

 

She smiled.  "See, you're a natural at this, too."

 

His smile faded.  "I wish I wasn't.  I wish we didn't have to be."

 

"I know."  She resisted saying it was his rules that made it necessary.  She didn't think anyone else would really mind.  Well, other than Spock, who still looked at her with a rather unnerving intensity at times.

 

"If we make it fast, you can help me get out of this suit."

 

"You know we can make it fast.  And I'd be happy to personally throw that thing in the recycler."

 

"You think it's bad?  I sort of liked the raincoat."  He leaned in, gave her a quick kiss.  "See you in a bit."

 

"You bet."  She let him have a decent head start and then meandered down to the lift, making sure she wasn't seen getting off on his deck, strolling down to his quarters with casual authority, as if she had sickbay business--not that anyone was looking.

 

She palmed open the door--nice of him to have given her access.  He was waiting, still in the suit.


She got him out of it and into uniform--with a time out for a quickie--in record time.

 

---------------------

 

Chapel saw Len come in, turned to him with a big grin, then realized Jim wasn't with him.  "You're back."

 

"Yep, we all made it."  He nattered on for a while, giving her the ins and outs of their parallel sickbay.  She wanted to shake him and ask him when the hell Jim was going to get down there.

 

"And the captain?  He...he's all right?"

 

"I'm surprised you don't want to know about that universe's Mister Spock.  The green-blooded bastard melded with me...forcibly.  Not something I recommend.  And I caught a pretty good glimpse of what his life was like as he was forcing the truth out of me."  Len's look turned a little ugly.  "The mirror you is living one hell of a bondage fantasy with that Spock."

 

She let one eyebrow go up, then realized she probably looked like she was mimicking Spock.  "Really?"

 

"Yep.   He seemed quite taken with you.  Pity that doesn't carry over to this universe, huh?" 

 

"Damn shame."  She bit back what she really wanted to say.  "And did you have someone there?  Someone who spanked you a lot and very hard, preferably."

 

"Nope, but the captain sure was having fun.  Had his own woman there.  Hell of a looker.  Name of Moreau.  And the damnedest thing: she's on this ship, too.  I just saw her up on the bridge."

 

He shook his head as if envying Jim's good luck, then went into his office.

 

She took a deep breath and hurried out of sickbay.  She had no earthly reason to be on the bridge.

 

That was not, however, going to stop her from going up there.

 

She wasn't ready when the lift door opened; she had no story for why she was there.  Taking a deep breath, she walked out and over to Uhura.  "Are you all right?"

 

Uhura smiled, clearly touched at her concern.  "I'll tell you all about it at dinner, okay?  I haven't seen much of you lately.  It'll be good to catch up."

 

"Yeah, it will."  Chapel turned away, seeing Jim so absorbed in his new friend he hadn't even noticed she was on the bridge.

 

Small, curvy, dark haired.  It hit her like a sledgehammer to the gut.  Andrea, all over again.  She hurried off the bridge; he didn't even look up.

 

He came down to sickbay halfway through the shift, talked to Len for a while before finding her.  She didn't look up, didn't give him her customary easy smile.

 

He waited a minute, then asked, "You okay?"

 

She nodded but didn't look up from her terminal.

 

"Dinner?  My place?"

 

"I'm busy tonight."  She let the words settle into the silence before adding, "Perhaps your pretty new friend could eat with you."

 

He seemed to freeze.  "Which pretty new friend would that be?"

 

"Moreau."  Marlena.  She'd looked her up once she got back from the bridge. 

 

"She's not my friend."

 

"Not for lack of trying." 

 

"Damn it, Chris.  Look at me."

 

She did, and she could tell by the way his eyes narrowed that he didn't like her expression. 

 

"If you're going to cheat on me," she murmured so low she could tell he was straining to hear, "we're done."

 

"I wasn't cheating.  Not here and not in the other universe."

 

"No?  Why not?  Because you weren't there long enough?"  She pushed away from her desk.  "I have tests to run.  I'll talk to you later."

 

"Are we all right?"

 

She shrugged.

 

He leaned in, his voice soft but sharp.  "Leave her alone.  I remember what you said you did to Andrea."

 

"You must really like her."  She met his eyes, forced hers to be imperturbable.  "She better stay out of my way."

 

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she could see what a mistake they were.  This wasn't what the new Chapel would say.  This is what the old one would say.  That woman.

 

And he clearly didn't like that woman.

 

"Act your age, Chris."  His mouth tightened.  "And your rank."

 

He spun on his heel and left before she could think up a snotty retort.

 

----------------

 

Chapel saw Jim ahead of her, walking with Len.  He glanced back, shook his head ever so slightly and then turned away.

 

Great, another night of busy captain stuff.  Conveniently keeping them from talking about how she hadn't trusted him--or how he hadn't liked to not be trusted.

 

He'd told her his friend's witch-woman wife had put a spell on him, made him kiss her.  He'd told her that even though none of the others had seen it.  He hadn't had to tell her, but he'd done it anyway.


Was it because he wanted her to understand she could trust him?  Or was it because he had something to feel guilty of, something more than a kiss?

 

"Christine."

 

She turned, saw Spock behind her.  His face was tighter than normal. 

 

"A word?" he asked.

 

"Sure.  Why not."  Not like she had something better to do tonight.  "Our normal place?"

 

"If you don't mind."

 

"Nope."   Although it would be good for Jim to see her with Spock.  Then she wouldn't be the only one who was jealous.

 

They rode the lift down in an uneasy silence, Spock glancing at her from time to time as if he was nervous.  When the door opened onto their normal deck, he indicated she should go first.  The deserted corridor rang with their footsteps, and she moved closer to him then moved away again once she realized what she'd done.

 

"So?"  She looked over at him.  "You called this little pow wow, Spock."

 

"I did."  He kept walking.  Finally, he said softly, "Doctor M'Benga believes you are inappropriately fond of me."

 

"Doctor M'Benga is an ass."  She was still smarting over the man's arrogant way in sickbay.

 

"He believes I should let you down gently but as soon as possible.  He spent a great deal of time talking about the tendency of the human female to sustain a broken heart when dealing with Vulcan males."

 

She bit back a smile.

 

"Yes, Christine, the irony is not lost on me, either."

 

"So what did you tell him?"

 

"That I would take his counsel under advisement.  It is what any Vulcan would say to someone rude enough to pry into personal matters."  He stopped walking, pulled her to face him.  "You convinced him you were in love with me."

 

"And you convinced him you weren't in love with me.  We're quite the pair of thespians."

 

"Are we?  Or is it just I who am skilled at hiding my feelings.  You were at my side the entire time I was in sickbay."

 

"You're my friend."  And her lover's best friend.  "And you're a crucial part of this crew."

 

He moved closer.  "Is that all this is?  Friendship?"  He touched her cheek, his fingers gentle as he traced the line of her jaw.  "I was cold to you in sickbay.  But it was not what I wanted to be.  And you know that."

 

"Spock, I told you before.  I don't--"

 

He kissed her before she could say she didn't love him.

 

He kissed her for a long time.


She knew she should push him away. 

 

She didn't. 

 

She knew she shouldn't kiss him back. 

 

She did it anyway.

 

Then she finally jerked away.  "Stop it."

 

"I miss you, Christine.  I want to be with you."

 

"You can't.  I--"  What should she tell him?  Jim wanted discretion.

 

He seemed to read her thoughts.  "I know you are with Jim right now.  The two of you believe you are discreet, and perhaps others are ignorant, but I am not.  But I also know that things are not right between you at the moment, Christine, and they may never be right.  He is with you against his better judgment.  And you...I do not think you relish sharing him."

 

"Stop it."

 

"He will do whatever he has to in order to accomplish the mission.  With whomever he has to.  But he will also do whatever he wants.  And that is what bothers you the most, is it not?  That the two will mesh--that cheating on you to accomplish his goals is also what he wants to do."

 

"Spock, stop it."

 

He pulled her back.  "I, on the other hand, am faithful.  I want you.  Only you.  Were I to have you, I would not entertain other interests."  He stroked her hair back.  "It is something to consider while you are up here and he is on some planet with yet another beautiful woman."

 

She slapped him.  Or tried to.  He caught her hand before she made contact and jerked her to him.  "I would not do that"--his voice was rough, as if he was holding back a great anger--"if I were you.  Unlike when I needed help waking from the healing trance, hitting me is no longer appropriate."

 

She was breathing hard, nearly shaking.  She tried to pull her hand away; his grip was like iron.  She quit struggling, and he let her go.

 

"I hate you."

 

"I do not think so."


She turned on her heel and walked back to the lift, never breaking the measured stride that was taking forever to carry her out of here.  But she wouldn't give him that; she wouldn't flee and let him know he'd gotten to her.


Even if what he'd said had rung true.  About himself...and about Jim.

 

-----------

 

Chapel stood at the door to the mess, staring in at Jim as he sat with Doctor Wallace.  They were laughing.  He was leaning in.

 

An old love.  Another fucking old love.

 

"Christine?"  Spock's voice was low in her ear.  "Are you all right?"

 

"You know exactly how I am," she muttered as she turned and walked out.


He followed her, without a word, all the way back to her quarters.


"What do you think you're doing?" she asked as he stopped by her side in front of the door to her quarters.

 

"I have betrayed Jim once today.  The competency hearing, taking the ship away from him.  What is another betrayal?"  He took a step back.  "Open the door and invite me in, Christine."

 

"I'm not that woman."  She was surprised to realize she was crying.  "I'm not that goddamned woman, Spock."

 

"I do not know which woman you are referring to.  I only know the woman who stands in front of me.  A woman who is hurting, who knows that her lover will be with another woman tonight."  He moved closer, wiped the tears from her cheeks.  "A woman with a prior claim.  A woman he loved before he became involved with you."

 

"Does he love me?"

 

"I do not know." 

 

She took a ragged breath.  "Do you love me?"

 

"You know the answer to that."  He lifted her hand, easing it up until her palm hovered over the door panel.  "Open the door and let me in, Christine."

 

She palmed it open, pulled him in after her and pushed him hard against the wall.  "Is this what you want?"  She ground against him and kissed him hard, digging her nails into his arms.  "Is this what you goddamned want?"

 

He twisted so she was against the wall, pulled her arms over her head and held her in place.  "Yes, Christine.  This is what I want."  He let go of her arms, stripped off her uniform, then his own, and hiked her onto him.

 

She gasped as they joined, as he moved almost violently inside her.  His fingers touched down on her face and she pulled away.  "No."

 

He slowed, began to kiss her more tenderly, never stopped moving, his fingers drifting down and down and--she cried out loudly as she came.

 

He settled his fingers on her face again, waited a moment, and when she didn't push him away, began the meld.

 

It was invasive and intimate and there was anger and lust and underneath it a surprising tenderness for her--and guilt.  Guilt that he was taking his friend's woman this way.

 

She didn't fight, let him go where he wanted, see what he wanted in her mind.  She was too tired to hide anything from him.

 

And what he was doing to her felt so good, the sex magnified by the mental connection. 

 

He eased her off him, pulled her to the bed, and made love to her until she fell asleep, dazed and sated.  And feeling utterly sick inside.

 

She'd betrayed Jim.  He was probably betraying her, too.  What the hell were they doing?

 

And where were they going to go from here?

 

-----------------------

 

The viewscreen in Jim's quarters was black, the images from earlier long gone.  No more fighting.  No more thralls.

 

No more of that Shahna and her damn hero worship--or was it more than just hero worship.  What had she and Jim done?

 

"Chris?"  Jim looked up from the bed.  "What's wrong?"

 

"Nothing."  She whipped around to face him.  "We're not exclusive, are we?"

 

"What?"

 

"We're not exclusive.  I mean you had the lovely Doctor Wallace. And now this skinny amazon panting like a lovesick puppy at your feet."

 

"I'm not sure that's how I'd describe her.  Besides, I was doing what I needed to do to get us out of there."

 

"With Shahna, maybe.  With Janet?  I don't think so."

 

His face tightened.  "Jan and I go way back."

 

"So you've said."  She took a deep breath.  "Look, I just want to know if we're exclusive or not."

 

He got up, walked over to her.  "I went through this with another girlfriend.  Brilliant scientist.  Rabidly suspicious.  We ended because she couldn't trust me."

 

"I notice you don't say you ended because you were blameless and she couldn't trust you.  Maybe you just don't like being put on the spot.  Maybe you like having the little woman at home and getting the fun everywhere you can with no recriminations."

 

"And maybe you don't know what the hell you're talking about.  If you met Janice Lester, you'd understand."

 

She studied him.  "I want to believe you.  I want to trust you.  But I wanted to trust Roger, too.  And look where that got me.  One real Andrea he was fucking and one android one.  So much for trust."

 

"I'm not Roger."

 

"No.  You're worse.  I've got how many planets in our future to have to worry about new and exciting women?"

 

He closed his eyes, seemed to be trying to gather himself.

 

"Are we exclusive or aren't we?" she whispered.

 

He didn't open his eyes, just shook his head. "If you don't trust me, what's the point?"

 

"Not don't.  Can't."

 

He opened his eyes, and his expression changed, became cold and sharp.  "And you think I can trust you?  Spock's incense is quite strong.  It gets into your clothes.  You don't notice it till you're away from him for a while.  I guess you haven't been away from him, or you'd have put your clothes through the refresher."

 

She could feel herself redden.

 

"How long, Chris?  How long have you been fucking him?"  He moved closer.  "And you have the gall to berate me?"

 

"I was faithful. I was faithful until you weren't."

 

"We're done here.  We're done period." 

 

She started to say something and he held up a hand.  "We're done, Chris.  Get out."

 

"Fine."  She tried to muster whatever dignity a woman both scorned and traitorous could muster.  She failed and ended up just fleeing.

 

She saw Spock's door up ahead, knew there would be a welcome for her in his quarters.  Knew he'd take her and she could go from Jim to him and never have to think about anything but being loved.

 

By a man she didn't love.  When she'd just picked a fight with and lost the man she did.

 

What the hell was wrong with her?

 

She passed Spock's quarters by and went to her own where sleep eluded her until it was almost time to get up.

 

--------------

 

Sickbay was quiet.  She'd elected to work on her own research once the shift was done to avoid being out and about when Jim and Spock might find her.   She yawned and tried to pay attention to the articles filling her queue.

 

A soft cough at the door made her turn around.  It was Spock.  "I was concerned about you."

 

"Why?  You don't think I looked attractive as a block of basic human material?"  She turned back to the computer.

 

"I was, of course, concerned for your safety.  But now that the Kelvans are gone, my worry is more generic.  You have been avoiding me."

 

She nodded.

 

"You and Jim are not together, I take it?"


She turned to him and narrowed her eyes.  "A bizarre jump in logic."

 

"Not at all.  Your impetus for seeking me out seemed to be anger at him, for cheating on you.  Now that you are not with him, you are not angry, and I sleep alone."  He moved into sickbay.  "I find the bed cold without you."

 

"That's a rather whimsical thing to say."

 

"It is physically accurate, Christine."


She laughed softly.  "I know, but there is whimsy in the statement, too."  She took a long slow breath and let it out.  "Spock, I don't think I'm good for you."

 

"Perhaps I should be the judge of that."

 

"Don't you care what this will do to Jim?"

 

"I surmise he knows we have been together, and yet his anger has been directed at you, not at me.  My relationship with him is the same."  He knelt down in front of her.  "If he knows I am with his woman and is not angry with me, how much can he care about his woman?"

 

"I hate logic."

 

"Do you hate me?  That is a question I am far more interested in hearing the answer to."

 

"No.  But I think I might hate myself."

 

He reached out and she leaned into his touch, letting her cheek rest against his warm hand. 

 

"Spock, I used to be this woman who most people didn't particularly like.  I moved up fast.  I found men who could help me with that.  I didn't care if they were taken.  I didn't care about anything.  And I was good at it.  But now, now I don't want to be that woman.  I don't like her."

 

"You did not fall in love with Jim in order to advance.  You did not sleep with me for that reason, either.  If you were that woman, it is Doctor McCoy who would be having this conversation with you."


She laughed softly.  "But maybe I'm using you."

 

"Do I appear to find this troubling?"  He stood and held out his hand.  "Your shift is over.  Come to bed."

 

"You could sell ice to an Eskimo."

 

"Is that a bad or good skill to have?"

 

She laughed again.  "Ask me later."  She turned off her terminal and let him pull her up.  He dropped her hand as soon as she was up and they left the sickbay together, a respectable distance between them.

 

Until the doors to his quarters shut behind them.

 

---------------------

 

Chapel saw Garrovick wolfing his dinner down and went to join him.  "Finally eating, huh?"

 

He laughed.  "I didn't listen to you."

 

"I can tell."  She smiled at him; he was a cute kid and if her taste ran to younger men, he'd be first on her list.  She knew he had a crush on her--it was why Len had sent her instead of an orderly with the food.

 

"Ensign, you don't mind if I steal Nurse Chapel away, do you?"  Jim's voice was all jovial good humor.  "Chris, I need your advice on something."

 

Garrovick looked like he'd been struck with a bad case of hero worship.  "Sir, no problem, sir."

 

Jim grinned, the grin that had made it impossible to resist him.  "Thanks.  Chris, shall we?"

 

"A bit obvious, wasn't that?" she muttered as he led her out of the mess.  "Also, I was hungry."

 

"You can eat in my quarters."

 

"Since when do you have anything appetizing in there?"

 

He turned to her, and his grin wasn't the sunny open one.  It was more a smirk, and just a little bit dangerous.  "You used to find me appetizing."

 

"I still do.  That's not the point."  She followed him onto the lift, waited for him to open the door to his quarters, then gasped when he jerked her into his arms as soon as the door closed.

 

"You didn't waste a lot of time moving on, Chris."

 

"I didn't waste any time."

 

"Are you his now?"  His eyes still held a trace of the obsession he'd shown about the cloud creature.  "Is that what you think?  Is that what he thinks?"

 

"He thinks you're not mad at him over me."

 

"He may be mistaken."  Jim smiled, a real smile this time, if slightly ugly, then kissed her.

 

His kisses were always breathtaking, but she didn't think he'd ever tried quite so hard with her.  He'd never needed to.

 

When he let her go, she almost fell down.  "Easy, Chris."  He looked very pleased with himself as he started to undress her, going slow, pausing with each article of clothing as if waiting for her to tell him to stop.

 

She should tell him to do that.  She owed it to Spock, didn't she?

 

She stayed silent.  Jim kept going.  Soon she was naked.

 

"Now, you do me."

 

"You're a bastard."

 

He shrugged.  "This is you doing this, too, Chris.  Making a choice.  You cheated on me.  Now you can cheat on him."

 

"Why are you doing this?"

 

"Because I beat an old enemy today and I want to celebrate.  Because I'm not ready to let you go."  His grin dipped into the nasty.  "Or maybe just because I can.  Because you'll let me.  And then you'll go back to him and not tell him a single thing."

 

She looked down, angry and hurt and aroused--damn it, why was this turning her on?  What kind of person was she?

 

"Do you want to go?"

 

"Yes."

 

He moved away.  "Then go."

 

She took a step, but not away.  He caught her up and drew her to the bed, easing her down, touching, kissing, licking and--

 

Oh.  Oh God, why was this so good?

 

Much later they lay sated, and she turned, lying on her side and facing the wall.  He cuddled in behind her, his hand running down her hip. 

 

"Why did you do this, Jim?"

 

"Why did you?  Why did he?"  He kissed the back of her neck.  "Because sometimes, Chris, I am a bastard, just like you said."

 

"Then what am I?"

 

"I'm feeling generous so I don't think I'll answer that." 

 

She slipped out from under his hand, got out of bed and put on her clothes without looking at him.  "I know what I am.  And I hate it."

 

"It's your nature, Chris.  Why fight it?"  His tone was sharp, his grin the mean one.  "Give Spock my regards."

 

"Fuck you."

 

He laughed.  "You just did."  He rolled over onto his back, hands behind his head, smiling as he watched her leave.

 

She hurried to her quarters, took a long shower but knew it was futile.  There was no way she could scrub off the part of the evening she hated the most: herself.

 

-----------------

 

Chapel stood at the viewscreen in the rec lounge, waiting for Jim to join her.  He was at the bar, with Len and Scotty, but a moment later he wandered over.

 

"I'm surprised Doctor Mullhall isn't with you," she said, unable to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.  "You two seemed to hit it off so."

 

"You said it was beautiful."

 

"Part of the discretion act, Jim.  Everyone thinks I'm a romantic sap, why not add some fuel to that image?"  She moved closer, pitched her voice lower.  "Did you get my message?"

 

"That...you and Spock shared consciousness?"

 

"Yep.  It's only a matter of time before he sifts through those memories and finds out what we did."

 

"Well, that's a pity."  He took a deep breath.  "We haven't done it again.  I'm sure he'll appreciate that.  Consider us even."

 

"Even?"  She turned to look at him.  "Even?"

 

"Even."  His eyes narrowed.  "It's interesting, don't you think, how Henoch focused on you.  Spock must really care for you, to the biological level.  It carried through, even with no personality." 

 

"I suppose that's possible."

 

"Wouldn't want to be you when he realizes you cheated on him."

 

"He won't hurt me.  But you..."

 

"Spock's my best friend."

 

"Yes, that's why he nearly killed you on Vulcan."  She took a deep breath.  This was dangerous territory.   "Over another woman he felt for on a biological level."

 

Jim stared at her, his expression disappointed.  "What are we doing, Chris?"  He touched her arm.  "Why is it so easy to fight with you?"

 

"Because you don't love me."  There it was out.  It hurt like hell to say it.  But it was out.

 

He didn't answer.  Then he shook his head and dropped his hand; her arm felt cold without him touching her.  "Maybe I do.  Maybe that's why."  He turned away and went back to the bar.

 

She saw Spock come in; his gaze, as he looked over at her, was relaxed.  She was anything but calm, so she left before he could work his way over to her.

 

--------------

 

Spock lay quietly next to her, his expression thoughtful.  "Would you have enjoyed living on Mudd's world?"

 

"No."

 

"Why not?"

 

She sighed and nestled in closer.  "Too confining."

 

"Ah."

 

She waited--it was only a matter of time before they had this out, and she wasn't sure what Spock was waiting for.  Her to blurt it out maybe and save him the trouble?

 

She hadn't been covering her tracks all these years to do that now.

 

"Too close for comfort with both Jim and I there?"

 

"If you like."


"I do not like.  And you knew I would not like it, which is why you did not tell me you had slept with my friend."

 

She decided asking "which time?" was not going to be a prudent tact.  Instead she just stayed quiet.

 

"Christine, why can we not talk about this?  I know that he was in a heightened, paranoid state at the time.  I very nearly sided with Commodore Stocker against him and his search for the creature.  It was not entirely unexpected that he should strike out at me in this manner--especially after the competency hearing.  But you...I expected more from you."

 

She looked up at him.  "Why?"

 

He seemed truly surprised at her question.

 

"Why, Spock?  Why would you think at all highly of me at this point?"  She looked away, tried to move but he held her close.

 

"I care for you.  I had hoped..."  He sighed, an all too human sound that made her sad.

 

"I do care for you."

 

"Just...not enough."  He let her go and she turned away, facing the wall, the same way she had when Jim had finished with her.

 

"I've spent my life taking what I wanted.  Using men.  I have this mask I wear, that gets me through life.  It's what Len sees when he looks at me.  But I thought by now, after you'd been in my mind, that you'd understand it's not me."

 

"You don't like that manner of being, Christine."

 

"I don't.  But that doesn't mean I know how to change."

 

"Perhaps telling Jim 'no' the next time he wants to have sex with you would be a good start."

 

She turned back to him, touched his cheek gently.  "What if I don't?  What if I can't?"

 

"There are choices.  And you make them or you do not.  It is not a matter of can or cannot."  He slipped out of bed, began to get dressed.  "I am going to leave you.  I believe I need to meditate."

 

"I'm sorry.  If you know anything, you know that's true."

 

"No, Christine.  You feel guilty.  And I am not sure sorry and guilty are the same things."  He walked back, touched her lips as if to take any sting from his words, and then left.

 

She closed her eyes and waited for sleep that never came, pondering the difference between regret and guilt.

 

-----------------

 

Len rubbed his feet, muttering about the Nazi boots he'd been forced to wear on Ekos.  "It's a wonder they got any conquering done at all--those things were killing me."

 

"I think they had better cobblers than the guys in ship's stores."  She grinned at him.

 

"You could offer me a foot massage.  Unlike Spock, I wouldn't turn it down."

 

She rolled her eyes.  "I've never offered Mister Spock a foot massage."  Primarily because he asked her to do it long before she'd thought to offer.  Ears and feet: the Vulcan erogenous zones.

 

"So you can restrain yourself.  I wasn't sure."  He winked at her and went back to his foot restoration efforts.

 

"What was it like?  Being in that regime?  The Nazis are larger than life to most of us and also so distant, it's hard to remember they were actual human beings."

 

"It's appalling how quickly humans--or humanoids--can turn to cruelty, Christine.   I like to think we're made of stronger stuff, that we'd choose nobility when faced with choices, but we don't seem to."

 

"But it's easy to get caught up in things.  They seem good or maybe just harmless, and you get deeper and deeper in and pretty soon you're doing things you never thought you would."  For all her faults in the past, once she'd picked a man, she'd been faithful to him.  At least till someone better came along and then she'd moved on.  But she'd never done this--juggling, if that was the right word, two men.

 

Or being juggled by them.  Most of the time, she didn't feel like the puppet master.

 

And these were two best friends.  God help her if they were enemies.

 

"Well, I for one am damned glad to be heading away from Ekos.  I don't care where we end up next as long as I don't have to wear some idiotic costume."  He sighed dramatically and she smiled at his theatrics.

 

As she turned to go back to work, he said softly, "Darlin', if there were something bothering you, you'd tell me, right?"

 

She glanced back.  "Of course."

 

"I don't just mean about sickbay or medical things or even how you and I are getting along.  I mean about anything. You can talk to me, you know?"

 

"I do talk to you."

 

"I'm not so sure about that.  But as long as you know you can, I'll be happy."

 

She nodded.  "I know I can."

 

"Well, good.  Now, don't just stand there gawking at my inordinately handsome feet.  We've got work to do."

 

-----------------

 

Chapel sat at the bar of the space station, wondering how the boys were faring with their M-5 exercises. 

 

"This seat taken?"  Jim sounded very smug.

 

"Yes."

 

"Too bad."  He slid in next to her.  "I'll have what she's having."  Then he leaned in and studied her drink.  "What are you having?"

 

"Ice tea."

 

"Belay that.  Bring me some scotch."

 

She turned to look at him.  "You're back early, aren't you?"

 

"We very nearly weren't back at all."

 

"What happened?"  She studied him, saw how on edge he was.  As if he was ready to come out of his skin.  But in a triumphant rather than obsessed way.

 

"Damn computer can't replace a man is what happened."

 

"Well, I could have told them that."  She waggled her eyebrows, trying to make him laugh.

 

It worked.  He seemed to let go of the tension and then looked over to the entrance.  "Your paramour is looking for you."  He waved Spock over.  "I was just telling Chris about our adventure."

 

She smiled at Spock, tried her best to give him a better smile than she'd given Jim.  "I'm glad you aren't dead."

 

"I, too, am gratified."


"We're all damned happy about it."  Jim downed his drink, then made a big show of scoping out the bar.  "I see some young ladies I've yet to make the acquaintance of."

 

"There's a whole galaxy full of them.  Are you going to work your way through the herd?"  Her voice was far too sarcastic and she saw Spock frown.  "I mean, sure, go have fun."

 

Jim gave her a grin that was part mean and part playful, then headed off.

 

"You two cannot resist tearing at each other, can you?"  Spock sat down next to her.  "It worries me that the first impulse you have is to seek each other out."

 

"I was just sitting here minding my own business.  His first impulse was to seek out some hooch.  I just happened to be en route."

 

"If you say so, Christine."  Spock waved the bartender away.   "Do you object to returning to the ship?  I believe a celebration is in order."

 

"A 'Yay, you didn't die at the hands of another crazy-ass machine' celebration?"

 

His lips turned up slightly.  "I was thinking that I am satisfied to see you and would like to reaffirm our connection."

 

"Awww, you're such a romantic."

 

"Please do not tell Doctor McCoy."

 

She finished her tea and slid off the stool.  "I don't tell Len anything.  He's in the dark.  Which means I get teased a lot about my unrequited love for you."

 

"The irony is indeed high."  Spock followed her out of the bar.  "What do you think he would say if he knew you were with me--and had been with Jim?"

 

"I imagine he'd chew me a new one for being such a bitch to you two."

 

Spock looked down.  "I do not believe it is to both of us that you behave in that manner."  He took a deep breath.  "And you have not behaved that way as of late to me--another reason to celebrate, is it not?"

 

She nodded, tried not to read his words as a slap.

 

Tried and failed.

 

---------------------

 

Chapel ordered some breakfast from the replicator and checked the output carefully for any lingering trace of tribble.  She was afraid she might have some Klingon blood: those little furballs gave her the creeps.

 

Uhura, on the other hand, seemed a bit bereft without hers--Patient X, Chapel had dubbed that first tribble. 

 

She walked over to her friend's table, asked, "Is this seat taken" and got a brilliant smile in return.

 

"I never see you anymore."

 

"You see me all the time, Ny."

 

"I mean after hours.  You're always busy."  Uhura's smile dipped into the naughty zone.  "And don't think I haven't guessed who you're busy with."

 

Chapel hoped to hell she thought it was Spock.  She just shrugged and gave her a patently fake "butter wouldn't melt in my mouth" smile.

 

"Well, one of us should be getting some."  Uhura glanced over at a nearby table, and Chapel followed her gaze; Chekov was smiling back.  Moonily.

 

"Oh, God."

 

"Yeah.  Massive, massive crush."

 

"Do you think he's cute?"

 

"Of course he is.  And when I get done burping him, I'll take him dancing.  Christine, please."

 

Chapel laughed softly.  "Young men.  Stamina."

 

"And again I say, Christine, please."  But Uhura laughed softly.  "You're terrible.  So does that mean you're having issues in the stamina department?"  She looked so desperate for a shared girl's confidence Christine felt a little guilty. 

 

"I have no comment."

 

"Party pooper."  Uhura's whole demeanor changed suddenly and Chapel glanced at the doors, wasn't surprised to see that Jim had come in.  He smiled at them both, grabbed some food, and headed back out.

 

It was a nicer smile than Chapel would have gotten if she'd been alone. 

 

"He's always alone."  Uhura sighed, way too dreamily for Chapel's taste.

 

"No, he's really not."  At Uhura's look, she laughed under her breath.  "Oh, come on, Ny.  The man's got a new conquest every time you look."  Or every time she looked, anyway.  Even if some of the time, she was the new conquest--or an old one retaken.

 

"That's just what he appears to be.  Underneath, he's lonely."

 

"Uh huh.  I'm sure he's crying in his beer every night."  Chapel decided to steer them back to safer topics.  "So, do you miss your tribble?"

 

Uhura gave her a look that said she was fully aware of the conversational one-eighty, but she let the subject of James T. Kirk drop.

 

--------------------

 

Spock was unusually quiet, lying beside her, stroking her hip.  His lovemaking had been unusually intense.  Something about nearly dying in a Roman arena, perhaps?