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) 2004 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.

Disinheriting the Meek

by Djinn

 

 

Christine Chapel used to think that life would be like the fairy tales her mother told her when she couldn't fall asleep.  Tales full of good things happening to good people.  She bought wholeheartedly into the idea that if she was nice and minded her manners and followed orders, she'd be rewarded for that.  She used to believe that the meek would inherit the earth.

 

She also used to believe in Santa Claus.

 

Sadly, there was no fat little man in a red suit and there was no reward for those who let themselves become doormats.  She was just sorry that she hadn't learned to grow a pair at the same time she'd given up on Kris Kringle.  It might have saved her a world of pain.

 

Certainly it would have saved her from Roger.

 

He had been so handsome the first time she'd seen him, striding purposefully down the hallway.  She'd been waiting nearly a half hour by his office.  Reporting for duty, as the old saying went. 

 

He took one look at her and said, "You need something or do you always loiter in my hallway?"

 

She could feel her face burning.  "I'm your new assistant."

 

He looked her up and down.  The petite brunette graduate student who was with him pushed past her, a knowing smile on her lips as she went into his office.  Chapel didn't miss how attractive the woman was.  She had the lushly curved body that sculptors immortalized in bronze. 

 

"You're not quite what I ordered."  He turned away.

 

She was sure her face turned five more shades of scarlet.  "Doctor Korby, I was assigned by the head of the department.  I'm really eager to work with you."

 

She thought she heard a low laugh from inside his office.

 

"Well, the department can assign you somewhere else.  I told them this time I wanted a blonde."  He turned into his office, gestured to the student.  "Andrea, I asked you once already to go.  I've got work to do."

 

The girl walked past her with considerably less flair than before.

 

Chapel realized Korby was staring at her.  "Doctor?"

 

"You could be a blonde if you wanted."  Then he looked away, seemed to be immediately lost in his research.

 

She'd come back the next day--her hair the color of sunshine and buttercups--and Roger had agreed that she could assist him. 

 

She still wasn't sure why she'd wanted to work with him so badly.  He'd been a genius, everyone knew that.  But he'd also been arrogant and aggressive.  She imagined he'd reminded her of her father, a tall, commanding man who would come home on leave every few months and throw her on his shoulders, walking her around the room with her head bumping against the ceiling.  It had always made her laugh.

 

She had a bad habit of falling for tall, commanding men.  Trouble was, none of them ever made her laugh.  A Starfleet shrink had once told her she was trying to replace her father, and maybe he was right.  Her dad had died when she was seven, and she'd never stopped missing him.

 

At any rate, she'd made herself indispensable to Roger.  She'd worked hard, editing his articles, loading them into the computer when he was tired, her own eyes straining as she stared at padd after padd of his notes.

 

He'd repay her with dinner, then with his body.  Eventually, he'd given her a ring.   It had been the night before he was to leave Earth.  They had been in his favorite restaurant, being catered to incessantly by waiters and wine stewards until she'd wanted to scream at them all to go away and give them a moment alone.

 

"You're tense," Roger said.

 

"You're going away."  She still wasn't sure why she couldn't come with him.

 

"I won't be gone long."  He gave her the empty smile that often meant he was humoring her.

 

It hurt, but she tried not to let that show.  She wasn't going to ruin their evening.  Putting on a happy smile that she really didn't feel, she said, "I know you won't."

 

She could see him sigh, as if afraid she was going to make a scene.  She wanted to sigh right back.  She never made a scene.  He knew that by now, surely.

 

"Here," he said, thrusting a small black box at her.  "I was going to save this for later, but I think you need it now."

 

She opened the box, hands shaking.  It was a ring.  The stone was beautiful, shiny, and very big.  Nothing less for his wife.  When she looked up to say yes, he was studying the wine list.  Then she realized he'd never really asked her anything.

 

"Is this...?"

 

He looked up, smiled at her.  "What else do you think it is?  You do want to be my wife, don't you?"

 

She nodded, trying not to think how many other ways he could have worded that.  As he went back to studying the wine list, she diverted herself with the stories her mother used to tell her.  Slipping the ring on, she'd resolved to live happily ever after.  Just like in the fairytales.

 

And then he'd gone missing.

 

Naturally, like any good fairytale heroine, she'd set out to find him.  Nothing had stood in her way.  She'd found out what she needed to do, and she'd made it happen.  It had been her own personal quest.  She'd diverted into nursing, earning that degree in what was still the record.  She'd finagled a posting on the Enterprise, sure that if any ship could find her fiance, it would be that one.  And then she'd waited patiently, like Penelope for her Ulysses, only in this case she'd been on the wandering ship, trying to find home in the form of her tall, cold love.

 

It had taken so long to find him.  She'd been faithful to him.  But as the months dragged on with no word, something had died inside her.  Or maybe come alive.  Maybe she had a minimum daily requirement of neglect she needed from tall, arrogant, cold men?  At any rate, Spock had been easy to fall for while she was searching for her long-lost love.  Spock was quiet, commanding, very tall, and even colder to her than Roger was.  He hadn't been the least bit interested in her, which was perfect really.  She could love him and Roger too, and once she found her fiance, Spock would be nothing but a moment's fancy.   A fantasy that had tided her over until she'd found the real love of her life. 

 

Of course, then she'd actually found Roger--found him living in a cave with an extremely accommodating replica of Andrea.  Chapel had never told Kirk that she'd recognized the woman.  Never shared how much it hurt her to see her there.  She'd never told anyone.

 

Why hadn't Roger made an android of her?

 

She'd come up with a hundred good reasons why he hadn't.  Her favorite had been that he'd known the woman would never be real, so he hadn't been able to bear putting her face on his mechanical geisha.  It had made her feel better at a time when she was decidedly not turning cartwheels.

 

It had also been total bullshit.  But she'd hated to think her life the last few years, the search she'd undertaken, had been mired in that substance.  That she'd been living a lie, and she'd thrown her own life and future away for nothing.  For a man who may never have really loved her, even if he'd come to miss her after too many years spent living with androids.

 

But the man was dead now...or his replica was.  Roger had died long before she ever found him.  And she was still on the ship two years later.  She should be gone, but she'd stayed, and it had probably been for Spock, even though he could give a flying one that she was alive.  Although he had seemed interested in her when the Pon Farr had come on him, but that had just been hormones, not love.  Lust not affection.    And what had happened on Platonius had been because of those icky wanna-be gods.

 

So she was staying because she'd replaced a cold man who did want her to some extent with one who didn't.  Her career was going nowhere fast.  And she was pregnant.

 

That was the interesting part.  She was pregnant.  She'd heard Len speculate once when he'd had too much to drink that Spock might be like many other hybrids--sterile.  But she was here to attest that he was no such thing.  There was nothing wrong with his little spermacites.  Or maybe the Platonians had helped that along while working some nasty mojo on her birth control.  Might have been their idea of a joke? 

 

Not that Spock and she had done it for them.  Kirk had broken their hold before anything really humiliating happened--if you didn't count that damned song Spock had to sing.  The Platonians may have juiced-up Spock's juice, but they never got to see him use it.  No one did.  No one except her.  And even she was having trouble remembering it.

 

Which was a total lie.  She remembered it perfectly.  Because the hell of it was that it had been good.  It had been good, and sweet, and hot, and everything she'd ever wanted.

 

It just hadn't lasted.

 

But it had been her special moment.  Special being a word with so many meanings.  Some of them not very nice.

 

He'd come to her that night, when they'd gotten back from the planet.  He'd come to her door, and she'd let him in. 

 

She'd watched him pace, agitated in a way she'd not seen since his Pon Farr, as he'd explained that the kironide was having some strange effects on him.  His eyes, as he'd looked at her, had been full of some clouded emotion, and he seemed on the verge of reaching out for her.

 

"Why don't you have Len check you out," she asked.

 

"I do not think he will be in a position to help me."  Spock turned to her, and she was shocked at the raw need in his eyes.  "I..."

 

"Kironide stimulates the pituitary," she murmured, backing away from him, even though another part of her was screaming at her to run into his arms.

 

"I am aware of that, Christine."

 

He so rarely called her by her first name.  The sound of it, rolling off his tongue as if he used it all the time both aroused and angered her. 

 

"Then maybe you should go back to your cabin and take care of your 'need.'"  It was a mean thing to say, and she saw the blow register--she was surprised he would give her that much power.

 

"Is that what you want me to do?"  He was standing unnaturally still, even for him.  As if the least movement might jar him into some action they both would regret.

 

"Yes," she said, her voice breaking, ending in a whisper--the lie so obvious even he could read it. 

 

"I am not sure I heard you correctly.  Did you wish for me to go?"  He reached for her, his hand on her cheek, then moving back and back until he could pull her towards him, his grip gentle on her neck under her hair.

 

She didn't resist.  Why would she?  This was her fantasy.  Spock, crazed with desire for her, wanting her, taking her.  Loving her.

 

And for one night, he did appear to love her.  Oh, not that he gushed--gushing was probably something he was congenitally unable to do.   But he touched her as if he wanted to get to know her.  He buried his face in her hair, her neck, between her breasts, as if memorizing her scent.  His body over hers was hot and strong, and he took her over and over, giving her pleasure in ways she would have bet that he would not have known how to do--or wanted to do.  He didn't meld with her though.  She was surprised at that, even pulled his fingers onto her face, trying to show him it was okay.  But he just pulled them back again.

 

She expected him to be a lousy lover; he surprised her.  He was a wonderful lover, and as the evening progressed she could feel herself being molded into something softer, something less bitter and less angry.  She found herself holding onto him, cuddling against him.  Oh, she didn't gush either.  She'd learned not to with Roger--he'd had no patience for sweet nothings.  But she found herself relaxing with Spock in a way she'd never done before.

 

Until she'd woken up in the morning and found him gone.  No message, certainly no rose on the pillow, and absolutely no sign in his eyes when she'd seen him next that they had ever passed a night as lovers.

 

"You are feeling better?" she'd asked carefully.  Roger had taught her to be discreet.

 

Spock had looked at her as if she was speaking in tongues.

 

"The kironide..."

 

"I am free of any effects."  The way he'd said it, he could have been indicating that his nasty rash had finally cleared up.

 

She wondered if this was what that scientist had gone through, the one who drugged him and had been riding him like a rodeo cowboy when Christine had wandered by, disoriented by those stupid spores.  Leila.  That was her name.  Lay-la.  Or had it been pronounced differently?  Lie-la, maybe?   Either worked--if you lay with Spock, you find out it all was a lie.

 

So here she was, bored out of her mind on this ship, down one fiance, bitter over what might have been a nice one-night stand if maybe Spock had acted like a normal human being.

 

She laughed at that.  Normal human beings weren't half Vulcan.  Spock couldn't be normal if he tried.  And Christine was far too normal.  Other than the fact that she was carrying Spock's child.  That made her a bit extraordinary.   Although special was far from how she felt.  Unless she meant special in the sense of being not quite up to par.

 

It wasn't that she was bitter.  Or any more bitter than over anything else that had happened in her life.  It was just that she was angry and it seemed to come out looking about the same as bitter.  She sometimes wondered what all this anger was doing to the kid inside her.  The kid she didn't even know if she wanted but couldn't bring herself to get rid of.

 

The kid who was making her throw up more and more, who was making her belly hurt way down low as if she'd eaten too many green apples in a row.  The kid who she wasn't sure she was going to be able to carry to term without help.  And only a Vulcan would know how to help.   And the only Vulcan on the ship was the child's father.

 

She forced herself to walk down the corridor, take the turbolift to the science lab where she was relatively sure she'd find him working alone.  She was not wrong.  He was there, bent over a microscope.

 

"Spock," she said from the doorway, and she hated how soft her voice sounded.  He wouldn't want soft.  Or if he did, he didn't deserve it.  Not after leaving her without a word.

 

He looked up at her, a frown starting, but then his eyes seemed to seek out her belly, and she realized she'd set one hand on it, the way she'd seen pregnant woman do.  As he lifted his gaze, it was clear he understood, though there was little warmth in that comprehension.  "How far along are you?"

 

"Maybe that's not it?"  She felt like being difficult.

 

"How far?"

 

"A month at the most."  She felt the pain again, green apples on an empty stomach, cotton candy wolfed down at a festival after eating candy apples and hot dogs and corn-on-the-cob.  "Oh, god..."

 

She ran for the head, barely making it in time.  He stood over her, not touching her, and she wondered if he felt distaste for her.   Did she repulse him?  Was her vomiting so anti-Vulcan?  Did those cold bitches on his home world never get morning sickness?  Or afternoon sickness?  Or middle-of-the-night sickness?

 

But then his hands were on her, and he was helping her up, and his expression was gentle.  "You will have difficulty with this pregnancy."

 

"No shit, Sherlock."  Her tone was not that of a junior officer to one far above, it was the voice she wished she'd used on him when she'd seen him after they'd had sex.  She wished she'd been meaner then, had gotten this poison out of her system then.

 

"There are steps to be taken."  He was helping her to one of the stools, his hands warm on her back.

 

"What steps?"

 

"Treatment, of course.  There are herbs, vitamins, tests that must be run.  We do not know if we are compatible."

 

They'd seemed pretty damned compatible when they'd been screwing like minks.  She refrained from telling him so.

 

"And there is the question of us."

 

"I wasn't aware there was an 'us.'"

 

"Unless you wish to relinquish all rights to the child, some kind of union between us would be logical."

 

"I'm not giving you our baby."  It wasn't that she was overly maternal.  But the way he'd said it made her suddenly very possessive.  Relinquish all rights?  They could have been discussing a piece of property, for all he cared.

 

"Then we must bond."  He surprised her by touching her face, smoothing back her hair.  "We do not have to wed, if you do not wish it.  But the bond will help the child."  He brushed her hair again with his fingers.  "It will help you.  I can feel your distress."

 

"I need to think."

 

He nodded and moved away.  But his eyes were strange--possessive in a way she wasn't sure she liked. 

 

"And if I turn down the bond?"

 

"You will not."  His expression was bland, but his words cut her because she knew they were true.   And it hurt her that he knew her this well and still had not wanted her.  Not after that one night.  Not until she had more to offer him than just herself.

 

"What does it mean: bonded?"

 

He started to explain, technical terms about links deep in the consciousness of both of their minds, of duty and tradition and ritual. 

 

"No.  What does it mean to you?  What will you feel?"  She could see his answer before he opened his mouth, and she looked down.  "Will you even feel?"   The better question might be would he ever feel.

 

He did not answer.

 

"Will it be disorienting?"

 

He nodded.  "For a moment."

 

It was too clinical, and she wanted to run away, but then the baby reminded her that running was ill advised.  Cramps rocked her, and she held onto the table until they were over.  Then she moved closer to Spock, her eyes probably as cold as his often were.  "Just do it.  For the child, of course."

 

He seemed to sigh, and she was not sure what to make of the sound.  Then he was reaching for her face, his fingers pressing into her cheek, and his mind entering hers the way it had when they'd shared consciousness, only this time he didn't stop at the back of her mind but pressed deeper and deeper, until she felt a pain explode within her.  She heard a low cry, realized she had made the sound.  Then he was withdrawing, but a resonance remained.  She was aware of him in a way she'd never been aware of anyone before.  His very lifeblood seemed to beat through her veins, and when he moved away so he was not pressed against her, it was almost a physical blow.

 

She sagged, but he caught her, and held her.  Not close but near enough so that she did not fall.  She felt his mind, a brush against her own consciousness.

 

It chilled her how little warmth there was in this.  Then it struck her that she was trapped.  She wondered if he could read her mind, but his expression did not change.  So the bond was not communion, it was only awareness.  She imagined it would bring them together if they were separated when the burning began.  She also could see that it could be good for the child--the nausea was already ebbing a little.

 

"Can you stand on your own?" he asked, and it seemed a loaded question.

 

"Will I have to?"  Her voice was so full of sarcasm she almost winced for him.

 

He, of course, chose not to react.  "You must ask M'Benga to test you.  He spent time on Vulcan.  He will know what to do."

 

She wondered if that were true, or if Spock just did not want McCoy to know what had happened.  She realized she didn't want McCoy to know what had happened either.  "I'd like to keep this between us...and M'Benga, until we can't hide it anymore."

 

He looked surprised, then relieved as he nodded.  "Will you wish to share a bed with me?"

 

She tried to tell what he wanted, but he was giving nothing away.  "That won't be necessary."

 

This time there was no expression on his face.  She realized she'd been hoping for disappointment and turned away before he could see how much it hurt that he still didn't want her. 

 

Even if she hadn't really expected him to.

 

He bent back to the microscope, and she watched him for a moment, then she walked slowly to sickbay, taking M'Benga aside and filling him in on what had happened.    The green apple gorge-fest had returned by the time he had her on the table.  Her stomach cramped as he read the results from his tricorder, but she didn't tell him she was in pain.

 

She wondered if her body was trying to reject the link her mind had so easily accepted.

 

M'Benga let her go, telling her to get plenty of rest.  He wanted to put her on limited duty, but she convinced him not to.  She didn't want anyone knowing yet.  Not until she'd come to terms with what had happened.

 

Her room was cool and felt good.  Her bed looked inviting and she was about to lie down when her stomach cramped again, worse this time.  Pain erupted, not nausea but real, clenching pain, and she could suddenly feel some emotion from Spock as she rushed to the head, barely making it in time to expel all the Platonian's hard work.  She heard the door to her quarters open--command override, no doubt--but she would not open the door to the head when Spock called for her.  She just stood staring down at the blood in her toilet.  Blood and clots and somewhere, buried in that redness, there had to be small bits of tissue that might one day have been her child.

 

Their child.

 

Spock's voice was low, urgent.  "Christine, let me in."

 

She pulled her uniform down and unlocked the door.  As he took in the mess that had been some kind of life, she walked past him, barely making it to the bed before collapsing.  He finally walked out of the head, sitting down next to her.  Staring up at him, she tried to reach him through the bond, tried to determine what he felt.  There was pain, but it was all her own as far as she could tell.  If he felt pain, he was not sharing it.

 

"What do you feel?" she finally asked.

 

"I regret that--"

 

She did not let him finish, just rolled away from him.  Regret?  She did not want regret.   "Get out."

 

He did not argue, and she could not decide if that made him smart or a coward.  She heard his feet hit the floor, his stride slow.  The door opened, but it did not shut again, and she realized he was standing in front of it. 

 

"There could be others," he said, his voice more tentative than she'd ever heard it.

 

"You want to try again?"  She turned to look at him, felt her tortured insides heave in protest. 

 

"I am...disappointed that our child is no more.  We could, as you say, try again."

 

Her life seemed to laugh at her.  Her lonely, empty, unfulfilling life on this ship with him and his cold ways and his willingness to give sex with her another shot if it meant she might bear him a child.  Coldness filled her.  Coldness and fury and the need to wound him.   "Find someone else to try it with then."  She rolled over, ignoring the cramp in her belly that tightened as she moved.

 

Something flared in the bond, and for a moment she thought it might be pain.  That she might have hurt him, and the thought made her insides lurch--in hope this time. 

 

"Damn you," she said to that terrible hope, but she said it out loud so it must have seemed like she was saying it to him.  "Go away."

 

Hope listened, dying inside her.  Spock listened too.  She heard the door shut behind him, felt the bond close down, no brush of his consciousness lingering other than the base awareness of his continued existence ringing through the bond like a metronome.  

 

The bond.  How the hell would they get rid of this thing?

 

The thought was stupid.  There was no way to get rid of it.  The bond was eternal.

 

She curled into a ball, hands clenched as she tried to make the pain inside her stop.  It took her a long time to realize she was weeping.

 

It took her much, much longer to stop.

 

*****

 

Days passed, then weeks.  Chapel tried to ignore the hum of the bond, tried to pretend it was like the background noise that used to plague those who suffered from tinnitus.  A dull ringing, a faint throbbing.  Both could be born.  Both could be gotten used to.

 

Spock avoided her.  But at times, when their paths crossed, he seemed to open up a bit, and the bond would throb with both their emotions.  She sensed resignation, disappointment, and occasionally fury. 


The fury was usually when their paths crossed and she wasn't alone. 

 

They weren't wed, she and Spock.  He'd said it himself.  She didn't owe him any faithfulness.  And it wasn't that she was trying to hurt him.  Just because she was sleeping with men she barely even liked.  That didn't mean she was doing it to hurt him.

 

Then he disappeared.   He and the bond.  Gone, just like that.  One day there, then boom, erased.  Only he came back.  But different.  Wilder somehow and saddened and leaving the bond more open than he ever had.   Strong emotion pounded out at her.

 

Strong emotion that was not for her.

 

She went to his quarters when the emotion had kept her up for the third night in a row.  Raw, sexual heat poured into her as she approached his door.

 

The door slid open--he had known she would come, apparently, had programmed his door to expect her--and she ventured into the quarters she had not been in since his Pon Farr.  Red and black and glowing flame met her. 

 

Spock was meditating, or at least pretending he was.  The pounding in her mind told her otherwise.

 

"Stop it," she said.

 

His eyes opened.  He stared at her as if she were some kind of lower life form.  "Stop what?"

 

"I can't sleep."


"That is hardly my concern," he said, his voice raw.  He closed his eyes.  "You can see yourself out, Christine?"

 

Her anger, always so close to the surface these days, erupted but she forced it back down like a volcanic surge of lava she must swallow, the heat and stink nearly choking her as the strong emotions tried to surge back up.  "I can do more than show myself out.  I can leave."

 

His eyes opened.

 

She smiled, knew it was an ugly smile.  "I'm leaving the ship.  I'm going to medical school."  Until that moment, she had not realized she even wanted to do that.  But it had the ring of truth under all that anger.  She wanted to move on.  Not sit stagnating here with her millstone of a non-husband around her neck.

 

She turned, smiling.  She would go to med school.  To hell with Spock.

 

"Her name was Zarabeth, and I loved her."

 

The words tore through her.  Len had told her the story.  She knew the name; she knew Spock loved the woman.  But to hear it this way.  It hurt.  It should not hurt, but it did.

 

She turned to look at him.

 

"She was everything that I once thought you were.  Genuine, brave, strong.  Loving."  His face twisted as if he had bitten into a lemon.  "Lost.  She is lost.  I have lost her."

 

Before he could continue the conjugating exercise, she spun on her heel and hurried out of the room.  He'd lost Chapel too, but that wouldn't wound him the way losing this blonde Zarabeth had.

 

Chapel walked into her quarters, staring at herself in the mirror.  She pulled her hair out of the stupidly elaborate hairdo.  Why did she wear it like this?  All these years blonde.  And why?  Because Roger had wanted that?  Because Spock preferred it? 

 

What did she want? 

 

She turned, moving quickly before she could lose her nerve. 

 

The barber was open. 

 

"Cut it, make it brown," she said, pointing to a dark shade, the color she remembered it being before she started mating with refrigerators.

 

Refrigerators who always loved someone else.  Refrigerators who found true love in the cold caves of a lost world.

 

Refrigerators who never loved her enough.  Or at all.

 

The barber worked fast; soon, her hair was shorter, not short, but reasonable now.  Nothing elaborate about it.  The brunette hair looked a bit dull after being blonde for so long, but the color made her eyes look bluer, and for once her heavy makeup looked right, not overdone.  She could make herself up like a gypsy, and this new hair color would support it.  It was liberating, and she felt a strange glee, as if the darkness of her hair somehow matched the darkness in her heart.

 

"It's good," she said to the barber.

 

He nodded.  It probably wasn't often he got to play this much.  She hurried out, then moved more slowly, watching the reactions as she walked past people who had only ever known her as a blonde.  When she got to her quarters, she pulled up the information on admissions to Starfleet Medical.  She wasn't too late.  She could still apply.

 

She didn't waste any time getting started.

 

It took longer than she liked, getting recommendations and interim approvals.  Kirk signed off easily, but McCoy grilled her like the grand inquisitor before he agreed to give her a rec.   She didn't bother asking Spock, wasn't willing to take the chance he might be less than honest--or too honest.  She wasn't sure which would be more damning.

 

She finally got her acceptance notice, flung herself into final preparations for getting the hell off the ship.  She tried to ignore the bond.  Spock was making it easy on her; he'd shut down as much as he probably could.  What had been a dull roar after Zarabeth was now barely more than the annoying drip-drip-drip of a leaky faucet. 

 

Some of the men she'd slept with after Spock wanted to sleep with her again.  But she was done with that, didn't want to dredge up any resentment on Spock's part, not wanting to do anything that might open the bond up between them again.  

 

And she just wanted to start fresh, to start over.  Not hurting him, just away from him. 

 

Of course, away from him meant away from them all.  Uhura organized a party, lots of people came, but then lots of people always did, especially going away ones--no telling what might happen at one of those.

 

"Christine?" 

 

She turned, was surprised to see Spock at her party.  She knew her look was wary.

 

He moved a little closer, nodded as if bidding her farewell. His expression did not change as he said, "I must speak with you before you leave."

 

"No time like the present."

 

"Alone."

 

"Fine, tomorrow then."

 

"Tonight would be preferable."

 

She suddenly felt mean.  The desire to not hurt him fell away at the imperiousness of his tone.  "I may not be alone tonight."

 

His expression did not change, but she was surprised to feel frustration surge up into the connection between them. 

 

As he turned, she murmured, "Fine.  Tonight then.  I'll come to you."

 

He nodded tersely and left the room.

 

She lingered, delayed as long as possible saying goodbye to Uhura and Sulu and Chekov and poor sad Scotty who decided that the night before she left might be a good time to tell her he'd harbored a crush for all these years.

 

Not that she'd have been likely to take him up on that.  He was far too warm for her tastes.  How could she have frozen in his embrace?

 

Finally walking away from them all, she headed down the long corridor to Spock's quarters.  She rang the chime, heard him call for her to enter. 

 

He was sitting, staring at the fire pot, his back to her.

 

"You wanted to see me."

 

He did not turn.  "I wanted to talk to you."

 

She laughed, the sound enormously bitter.  This man could wound her so easily.  He was almost as good at it as Roger had been; only she thought it was somehow worse when Spock did it.  He did it naturally--with Roger, at least she'd known he was doing it on purpose.  Intent somehow softened it--in some sick way, Roger had been thinking of her.

 

"So talk.  I don't have all night."  Actually, she did.  She was far too keyed up to sleep.

 

"There are things you should know.  About the bond."

 

"Fine time to bring that up.  Maybe before we bonded might have been a better time to go over the do's and don'ts?"

 

"You are no doubt correct."  His easy acquiescence surprised her.

 

A silence fell between them, a silence made uncomfortable by the guttering of the lamp, the flame casting strange shadows on his face as she moved a bit so she could see him better.

 

"So spill.  The bond.  Great, untold, Vulcan secrets."

 

Still, he said nothing.

 

"Fine, I'll start.  Is it permanent?"

 

He nodded.  But then she'd known it was a forever thing.

 

"Will I be sorry we did this in seven years, give or take?"

 

"You will be called back to me.  Or I will find you."

 

"Sweet."  Her tone told him she viewed that eventuality as anything but.   "So I will be sorry."

 

"Only you can answer that." 

 

She did not answer.  Would not answer.  Not when the thought of being with him still caused some part of her to hope, to thrill.  She hated that she still wanted him.

 

He finally turned to look at her, and she was surprised at the level of emotion in his eyes.  "Stay," he said, the word so low she thought she'd imagined it, until he repeated it.  "Stay."

 

One word.  It should mean something.  He wanted her to stay. 

 

"Why?"

 

One word too.  One that demanded more than just this emotional roller coaster he seemed to be on.  He'd lost Zarabeth.  He'd almost lost Kirk when the captain's insane ex-girlfriend had switched bodies with him.  Now Spock was losing her.  His bondmate.

 

Was that even an accurate term for what they were?  "Are we mates?"

 

He did not answer. 

 

"We are not wed."

 

"We are not," he said.

 

"But are we mates?"

 

He looked up at her, his eyes angry this time.  Then he forced down the emotion.  "Yes.  It is why I will find you during the burning."

 

She felt hope and some other emotion that might have been love--if love was blurry and angry and hurt like hell when it raced through you.

 

"I'm not staying," she said, not realizing she was going to say it until the words were out of her mouth.  "I've mortgaged enough of my life for my mates."  She put a bitter emphasis on the word.  Mates.  Lovers.  What did that mean?  Why did love matter, if it never made her happy?

 

Wasn't love supposed to feel good?

 

"Christine.  I care for you."

 

She looked at him, laughed at him.  It was cruel but that didn't stop her.  He cared for her?  God help her then if he ever disliked her.

 

"Goodbye, Spock."

 

She left him, didn't turn around even when she heard his robe rustle as if he had reached out for her.

 

He cared for her?

 

That was a good one. 

 

Did he really think she was that stupid?

 

She walked to her quarters, the last time she would do this.  Tomorrow, she would walk away from them for the last time.  Away and off the ship, to her future.

 

Away from the man she might have just wounded terribly.

 

She shied away from that thought.

 

But she couldn't stop herself from checking the bond, trying to reach him through it.

 

He had closed down completely.  Even the drip-drip-drip was gone.  It would only open up again when the burning started.

 

She wondered if this was how it had been between him and T'Pring.

 

Had he told T'Pring he cared for her too?  Had she cared?

 

Chapel forced her mind off Spock.  She was over him, done with him.  At least until his next Pon Farr.   She was a free agent, with a clear future ahead of herself.  She had nothing to feel sorry for, nothing to regret, not when she was taking the steps she needed to take to reclaim her life.

 

But if that was so, why couldn't she fall to sleep?

 

She tossed and turned the whole night.  Fortunately, she slept on the shuttle, once she was finally away from the Enterprise and from the man who she could still feel somewhere deep inside her.

 

*****

 

Medical school was fun.  In fact, it was more fun than Chapel had expected, easier than she'd thought it would be, and the days rushed by in a study-filled haze.  She almost forgot about the bond, about Spock and his child who would never be. Almost but not quite.


But even almost was all right.  Each day, almost moved closer to becoming actually forgetting.  As Nurse Chapel gave way to Doctor Chapel, it became easier to close herself off and push the bond farther and farther away from her core.

 

The bond felt very far away as she walked down the halls of Starfleet Command after a late night of rounds, cutting through the warm corridors instead of walking outside.  The hallways were nearly deserted, and she turned a corner toward the back exit when she suddenly felt as if hands were reaching into her skull, burning hands that grabbed the bond and pulled for all they were worth.

 

Falling to her knees, she barely registered the pain of impact as the bond was yanked hard again, and terrible, raging agony rushed through her.  She gave a moan, then cried out as she realized it was not Spock doing this. 

 

He was there; she could feel him, but there was another person tearing at the bond.  A woman.  A priestess, she sensed from the other presence.  A priestess who tore the bond in two with absolutely no emotion at all, leaving Chapel reeling on the floor of Starfleet Command.  And setting Spock free.  That was the last thing she felt from the unknown woman as she pulled out of her brain.  Spock was free now.  Free of her.  And free of his emotions.

 

Chapel's head exploded in pain, and she started to cry.

 

"There now."  Strong hands grabbed her shoulders.  "What's wrong?"

 

She looked up into eyes that seemed to be filled with compassion and worry for her. 

 

The man helped her stand.  "I'll get you to Starfleet Medical."

 

"I'm a doctor," she murmured, sure that this was crucial information.

 

"Would it be crass to say 'Physician, heal thyself'?"  His grin was full of warm good humor.  He was not mocking her as Roger would have. 

 

And she found herself smiling at him.  "Not crass but perhaps useless.  I'll be fine."  She wiped at her eyes, trying to ignore the lingering pain in her head. 

 

He dropped one hand off her shoulder, the other stayed put, seemed warm and full of connection. 

 

She smiled up at him, knew the expression was a shaky one.  "I'm sorry.  It's a personal problem."

 

He laughed again, and she knew by his expression that what she'd said had sounded awfully odd.  But he didn't press.

 

"If I can't take you to Medical, then let me buy you some coffee?"  He let go of her, seemed to notice she was shaking.  "Or maybe a good stiff drink?"

 

"Maybe both?  An Irish coffee sounds good."

 

He nodded and walked with her to the officer's club.  She suddenly noticed he was a commander and felt funny being so outranked.  But then he looked over at her and grinned, and she found herself grinning back.  She thought he was younger than she was, despite his much higher rank.  Younger and eager, yet something told her that inside he'd been hurt enough to be cynical, but he wasn't going to show that to the world.  His mask was a smile, his protection that sparkle in his eyes.

 

She wondered what kind of pain this man had ridden out.  And if it had ever made him crash to the floor in the middle of Command.  She rather doubted it had.

 

She slid into a booth as he ordered from the bartender and carried their drinks over. 

 

When he sat down, she held up her drink.  "What shall we drink to?"

 

His smile was sad this time.  "You're the one in pain.  You get to pick."

 

"To broken bonds."  She laughed.  Why not finish it?  "And broken hearts."

 

"Hear, hear."  He touched his glass to her mug, the sound somehow reassuring.  "Broken hearts are no fun."

 

"You know this from experience, I take it?"

 

He nodded.

 

"You lost someone?"

 

He nodded again.

 

"It hurts when they leave."

 

He looked down.  "I left her."  He made a face.  "That's pretty stupid, isn't it?  I left her, and I have the broken heart."

 

She realized it was pretty stupid, but that she was guilty of the same thing.  "Sometimes, when they want us to stay, it's worse."

 

"That it is."  He took a sip of his drink, something clear with lots of ice.  "It makes it worse when they aren't human.  Do not fall in love with aliens."

 

She lifted her mug.  "Words to live by."

 

"Mine was Deltan."

 

She laughed.  "Well, at least you had good judgment.  Mine was Vulcan."

 

"Ooh, cold."

 

"That word suddenly seems so insufficient."  She sipped at her coffee, the hot beverage combining with the whiskey to make her very warm inside.

 

"My name is Will."

 

"Christine."

 

He nodded.  "Pretty name."

 

"Thanks."  She reached out, touched his hand briefly, suddenly feeling she should make contact with him.

 

He smiled as she did.  "So what was that little show you put on in the hallway?  A show only I saw, in case you were worried."

 

She had been a little worried.  "It's a long story."

 

"I'm not going anywhere."  He smiled again, and she marveled that he could cram so many different emotions into his smiles.  "I'll open my wounds if you open yours." 

 

"Is that wise?  Could get messy."

 

He nodded.  "Probably will get messy.  But..."

 

"But...?"

 

He took a deep breath.  "But I've never talked about it to anyone.  And I bet you haven't either, have you?"

 

It was odd to think of it that way.  Only M'Benga had known.  She hadn't told her friends, her family, anyone.

 

"Some things are better kept secret," she said.

 

"Unless you find someone who has a secret bad enough to make yours worth sharing?"

 

"That makes no sense." 

 

"You know what I mean."

 

She did too.  Tit for tat.  Soul sharing in exchange for more of the same.  She could trust him because he was going to trust her.  "Mutually assured destruction?"  It was such an old idea.

 

"Well, I wasn't thinking so much of destruction."  Again the beautiful smile.  "Just some sharing."

 

"You go first then," she said, leaning forward.

 

The story was more heartbreaking than she thought her own was.  She'd had a reason to run.  She'd been freezing in her own life.  He'd just felt as if he was in danger of drowning--in happiness.  He'd left without saying goodbye.  Such cowardice surprised her.

 

"You think less of me now."  He looked down, no grin this time.

 

"Yes."  She touched his hand.  "But that's okay.  My opinion was pretty high to start with.  You have room for demotion."

 

Their eyes met, and there was a moment of connection.  Not rock-her-world, "I must have you now" attraction but something else.  Something nicer. 

 

"Besides, you may think less of me when you hear my story."  She looked down.  "I wasn't very nice."

 

She told him what had happened.  Surprised herself with how honest she could be.  Found herself a bit dismayed at how flip she could be over her own pain.   When she stopped talking, she looked up at him.  "Well?"

 

"You were a prime bitch."  He took her hand, didn't just touch it but held it.  "And you've been with the wrong men."  His hand tightened, and she felt his touch clear to her toes.

 

"You have a suggestion for some other type?"  Her voice was way too husky to be anything but a come on, and she felt herself blush.

 

His hand tightened on hers.  "Ask me that after a few more dates."

 

She laughed.  "Is that what this is?"

 

He nodded.  "Officially, as of this moment, it is our first date."

 

She glanced at his nameplate.  Decker.  That Decker?  "I met your father."

 

He nodded, no surprise on his face.  Then he seemed to put two and two together.  "And I saw your Vulcan lover once.  Standing with Captain Kirk at an awards ceremony."

 

"I didn't say who my lover was."

 

"You didn't have to.   Not if you were on the Enterprise."

 

"He's famous.  Both of my cold men were."  She smiled, but knew it was bitter.  "Do you hate Kirk?"

 

"For what?"  It wasn't a denial; it was as if Will just wanted clarification.

 

"For surviving when your father didn't?"

 

"Sometimes."  He looked down.  "But Kirk's been good to me and mom.  I shouldn't hate him.  Not when he's looked out for me."  He laughed when her smile of understanding turned into a yawn.  "And I am keeping you up far too late--or else that whiskey just kicked in."

 

"A little of both," she said, realizing that her voice was soft.  Softer than she'd heard it in a long, long time.

 

"Can I walk you home?"

 

She nodded, letting him take her arm and leaning on him in a way she didn't normally allow herself to do.

 

"How's the head?" he asked as he dropped her at her door.

 

"It'll survive."  She looked down.  "I'll survive."

 

"You're still in love with him," Will said, his tone not judging, just pointing out the painful truth.

 

"And you're still in love with your Deltan."

 

"I am."  He sighed.  "I've gone round and round.  Wondering if it's fair to be with anyone else when my heart is gone."

 

"It's not gone.  Tarnished maybe.  Spoken for.  Broken even.  But not gone."

 

"How do you know?" He rubbed down her uniform, his hand brushing from her collarbone to her belt, running straight down between her breasts.

 

"Because mine is in the same shape." 

 

He began to run his hand down her body again and she captured it, moving it slightly so that it did touch her breast.  He made a small, helpless sound.

 

"I know I'm not your type," she said, touching her hair and making him laugh.

 

"And I'm not yours," he said, fingering his non-pointy ear tips.

 

"I'll chance it," she said, wondering at her sudden need for him.

 

"What about our other dates?"

 

She began to smile.  "What about them?"  She palmed open her door, pulling him into her apartment.  "Unless you want to wait?"

 

"Want would be such the wrong word."  He pulled her to him, his lips leaving no doubt that he wanted her.

 

She wanted him just as much.  Lust was such an uncomplicated emotion.  As was the affection she had no right to feel for him but did anyway.  He seemed to be feeling the same thing.  The sex was great; the sharing in between, when they told each other even more secrets about their doomed relationships, was even sweeter.

 

She eased awake in the morning; she was curled against him and leaned over so she could wake him up with a kiss.

 

"Mmm.  I could get used to this."  The statement hung between them, and they stared at each other.

 

Then they both burst out laughing. 

 

He kissed her playfully.  "I am going to see you again, you know."

 

She kissed him back just as lightly.  "You bet you are."  Then she pulled back a bit.  "But no promises.  No angst.  Just this.  Happy and light, and always friends." 

 

He nodded.  "I know you'll always love him."   She started to answer, and he said it for her, "And I'll always love her."

 

It was strange to not feel sad that such a wonderful man would never love her best.  But she didn't. 

 

And he certainly made love to her like she was the only thing he needed.

 

When they lay quietly again, he whispered.  "Can I tell you a secret?"

 

She nodded.

 

"I'm going to be promoted."

 

She turned to him, delighted.  "That's great."

 

"Can I tell you another secret?"

 

"Yes."

 

"I'm getting the Enterprise."

 

"No, you're not."

 

He nodded, a look of deep satisfaction on his face.  "We're in refits now."

 

"She's a good ship, Will."

 

He nodded, and she could tell he was happy she understood. 

 

They finally got up, showering together, which led to some rather risky naughtiness.  When they finally got dressed, and had eaten, he left, after several false starts getting out of her doorway because he kept coming back to kiss her again.

 

"Your pretty ship is waiting for you," she said with a smile.

 

"Yes, she is."  He kissed her again.  "And you're going right back to bed the minute I'm gone, aren't you?"  He looked wistful.  They hadn't gotten much sleep, and she felt guilty as she nodded.

 

"Dream of happy things," he said.

 

She nodded.  If she was lucky, she'd dream of him.  He was the happiest thing she knew.  As it turned out, she was too tired to dream, or just too tired to remember what they were about if she did dream.

 

When she started her shift, she checked her comms, almost expecting a message from Spock, some kind of apology.  But there was nothing.

 

Nothing came in as she worked either.  That much pain--what if she'd been with a patient?  Did he even care that he might have gotten someone hurt?

 

Did he care about anything?  She certainly hadn't gotten a lot of warm fuzzy feelings from the woman who had snapped their bond. 

 

She gave up thinking about Spock.  Let herself think about Will.  The nurses smiled at her as she worked.  She must be giving off great vibes.  Good sex would do that.

 

At the end of her shift, she was walking back down the corridor where she'd collapsed the night before, when she saw Will leaning nonchalantly against the wall, as if he didn't know she was there.  She laughed.

 

He motioned to her.  "Mosey on over here, Doctor."

 

"I'm not sure I know how to mosey."

 

"Then I'll mosey."  He walked over slowly, almost exaggeratedly as if he had all the time in the world to take the five steps needed to get to her.  "Howdy, stranger," he said, taking her arm and walking with her at a more normal pace.

 

"Not so much a stranger."

 

He grinned.  "Oh, right.  We did get to know each other a bit last night, didn't we?"

 

She smiled.  "A bit.  And this morning too."

 

"I stand corrected."  He leaned in and kissed her cheek.

 

The hall was deserted, so she kissed him back.

 

"You hungry?" he asked.

 

"Starved."

 

"You horny?"  He laughed as he said it.

 

She laughed even harder as she nodded.

 

"Any preference for the order in which we deal with these problems?"

 

Her stomach rumbling solved that dilemma. 

 

"Come on, Doctor.  Let's get some food in you."  He got a very wicked look on his face.  "And then we can discuss other things that might find a nice home in that wonderful body."

 

She laughed, pulling him closer.  "Can I tell you a secret?"

 

He nodded.

 

"I really like you."

 

"I really like you too."

 

But like could turn to lust very quickly, and they ended up wolfing down their dinners and rushing back to his place because it was closer to the restaurant. 

 

The sex was still great.  The sharing just as sweet.

 

"I need a CMO," he said.

 

"Hmmm."  She was tracing some freckles on his upper arm with her finger.

 

"You should consider it."

 

She stopped what she was doing.  "Are you asking me?"

 

He nodded, a smile growing.

 

"You just want me there so you can sleep with me."

 

"No, I want you there because I can talk to you.  But sleeping with you will be nice too."

 

Turning over on her back, she stared at the ceiling.  "Will, that sounds awfully...serious."

 

"It does, doesn't it?"  He turned over on his back, his arm touching hers.  "Is that a problem?"

 

"I don't know."

 

"Yeah.  Me either."  His hand stole over to her thigh, then over even more, making her laugh.  "I'm not asking you to marry me,"

 

"No, it's worse.  CMO.  I can relieve you of duty."

 

He smiled.  "You were bonded with a Vulcan.  Hell, you were bonded with _the_ Vulcan.  You have to have some sense, or he'd never have done it."

 

She glared at him, then thought about what he was saying.  If she really were the flighty woman she'd always assumed Spock thought her to be, would he have bonded with her?   And would he have wanted her to stay once there was no child to consider?

 

"Ooh, score one for Decker."  He rolled to his side, his hand rubbing her in places that made it hard for her to think straight.  "You never considered that, did you?  How sensible you are.  How much I could rely on you.  And you're strong.  I know that."  His hand sped up.

 

"Plus," she said, finding it difficult to get words out in any kind of meaningful order, "you'd have me for this."

 

"Yes, I would, wouldn't I?"  He kissed her as she gave up and just rode out the pleasure, floating back down to Earth slowly.

 

"I'll make you a deal, Will.  Ask me this again in a few months.  When we've had ample time to get sick of each other.  If you still want me then, and I still want to do it--"

 

"--So you do want to?"

 

She nodded. 

 

"All right. I'll ask you then."

 

"Okay."  She kissed him, smiling as he pulled her onto him, onto a part of him that didn't want to wait a few months for anything. 

 

He might not love her, and she might not love him.  But this sure felt good.

 

 

*****

 


The ship was a beauty.  Chapel and Will had been discovering her together for months, working out how they would relate, both in and out of his bed.  The refits had been progressing nicely, she'd been getting used to the idea of being in charge of that wonderfully refurbished sickbay, then suddenly--with the arrival of someone she'd never expected to serve with, much less under, again--everything had been turned upside down.

 

Kirk was on board, and he'd busted Will back to Commander, making him first officer and science officer.  She watched Will as he paced sickbay, constrained by the presence of all the nurses and other doctors.  She wanted to hold him, tell him it was all right.  She should probably tell him she'd been busted down too, that Kirk was bringing back McCoy, but she didn't have the heart.  Somehow, she knew Will would get madder on her behalf than he would on his own.


And he was pretty damn mad on his own.

 

She finally took a break, practically dragging him to her quarters and pushing him down on the bed.  Sex.  Fast, furious, and almost violent.  It was not their normal style.  But it seemed to do the trick.

 

"I hate him," he said.

 

"I know."

 

"You don't want to tell me that he demoted you too, do you?"  He pulled her down to him.  "I know he did.  So why aren't you telling me?"

 

"You're mad enough as it is.  But since you know..."  She leaned in and nuzzled his neck, trying to distract him.

 

"Do you hate him too?"

 

"No.  It's temporary, Will."

 

He looked at her, his expression mournful.  "I don't think so, Christine."

 

He left her finally, reporting to the bridge--Kirk's bridge now, not his bridge, even though he'd planned it and worked on it and sweated over it.  It was too unfair.  This was Will Decker's Enterprise.  Kirk had no right to it.

 

She paced and fumed for Will.  Even as a part of her whispered that Will was untried.  That Kirk would get them home in one piece, would give Will a chance to take over once they were done with this terrible force they were going to have to stop.

 

She hated that she could even think that.  It seemed disloyal to her friend and her lover that she felt just a tad safer with Kirk in charge than with Will.

 

She threw herself into work, tried not to resent McCoy showing up, tried not to notice how little time he spent in sickbay.  His recall was as temporary as Kirk's.  She had to believe that.  Will would never keep Len on once Kirk was gone.

 

"You don't seem overly glad to see me," Len murmured as he passed her.

 

"I'm glad."  She'd given him a hearty hug.  What more did he want?  A parade?

 

"If you say so."

 

She ignored him, kept working.  He left again, to view the launch from the bridge, no doubt, and she quit trying so hard to pretend she was glad he was back.

 

The feel of the ship changed as soon as they were free of spacedock.  The low hum and throb she remembered started up and despite her black mood, she smiled.  Then she went back to calibrating one of her new medical sensors. 

 

"She's here."

 

Chapel turned around, surprised to see Will back down in her space.  "Who is?"

 

"Ilia."

 

"Oh, Will."  She felt a strange sinking sensation.  At the same time, she was happy for him--if he was going to get another chance at happiness, she'd step out of the way.

 

He touched her hand, seemed to be reading her mind.  "As Kirk was so damned keen to point out, she's taken an oath of celibacy."

 

She smiled.  "Love and sex aren't the same thing."

 

He shocked her by putting his hand on her cheek.  "Sometimes they are."  He closed his eyes, seemed to scrunch them up.  "Can you love two people?"

 

"Yes.  But it's not advised."  She touched his hand where it rested on her skin.

 

He nodded, opened his eyes, and smiled at her.  "I didn't know she--"

 

"--Will.  Shh.   What happens, happens.  I'll be your friend.  Forever."

 

"I love her."

 

"I know."  She felt a strange pain in her chest, where her heart was.  Her broken heart.  Again.  When had she fallen in love with Will?  Why hadn't she noticed and done something about it?

 

She looked up at him, saw the same pain reflected in his eyes.  When had he fallen in love with her?

 

"We always knew," she said, her voice breaking as she tried to get the words out, "we loved them best."

 

"I know."  He stared at her for a long moment before heading back to the bridge.

 

She could only pretend to work then.  Her thoughts roaming all over the map as she stared at results of the crew physicals and saw nothing except Will's face, Will's body as he moved over her.

 

"Christine!"  McCoy startled her badly enough to make her jump.  "Come on!"

 

She followed him, sure there was a medical emergency.  When they hit the lift, she saw him grinning like a fool.

 

"Spock," he said, his grin growing.  "Spock's back."

 

She suddenly understood how Will felt.  Except that Ilia was probably good for him, and Spock was decidedly not good for her. 

 

She followed McCoy onto the bridge, was mortified that her mouth seemed to be operating without her permission as it squeaked out, "Mister Spock."

 

His look had never been colder.  She couldn't meet Will's eyes, didn't want him to see how embarrassed she was that she'd moved toward Spock without thought, that she couldn't control the pain that coursed through her at his dismissal.

 

Would she ever grow up?

 

As Spock left the bridge, she felt someone touch her, turned and saw it was Will.  He smiled at her, the smile sad and full of sympathy.

 

"Some guy," he murmured, and she nodded.

 

Looking over at Ilia, she said, "I wish I could say the same.  You're a lucky man, Will."

 

She realized Ilia was watching her, and backed away a bit from Will.  Ilia's eyes narrowed, then she stared at Chapel, her gaze difficult to read.  Will followed Chapel's eyes, then looked back at her. 

 

"She'll figure it out.  Hard to keep anything from a Deltan."

 

She nodded, as if he was giving her instructions of the ship's business kind.  "Too bad the same can not be said for Vulcans.  That might give me pleasure.   Knowing he knew about us."  She shook her head.  "The bitch in me comes out at the worst times."

 

He grinned.  "Carry on, Doctor." 

 

She saw Uhura watching her.  Uhura knew about Will and her.  Chapel had found it impossible to keep what was going on from her, so she'd trusted her with the whole truth.  Which was good, because with Ilia on the bridge there was no disguising the looks Will and she threw at each other. 

 

Uhura sent her a sad smile, full of support.  Chapel just nodded, then headed for the lift, resolved to not be like Len and just loiter on the bridge.

 

She was called back soon enough, kneeling down to fix up Chekov after he'd been burned.  Ilia came over, and at first Chapel thought she was showing off when she wanted to ease Chekov's pain.  But then the woman smiled at her, and Chapel felt as if the whole world had brightened up.

 

She was not usually attracted to women, but Ilia was sending her some kind of signal, and she found it hard to resist.  The power of Deltan pheromones was formidable, and Chapel found herself smiling, remembering what Will had told her about Deltan sexual groups.   Was Ilia letting Chapel know that she wanted her to be a part of Will's life still?  And a part of Ilia's?

 

Or was that just wishful thinking on Chapel's part, because sharing Will with this beautiful young woman suddenly sounded right up her alley? 

 

She broke away from Ilia's gaze, a smile playing at her lips.   Helping Chekov up, she looked again at her.  The woman smiled softly at her, her eyes full of invitation.  Chapel could not look at Will, afraid she'd give far too much away to everyone on the damn bridge if she did.  She and the corpsman, who had been too busy staring at Ilia to notice what else was happening under his nose, hustled Chekov off the bridge. 

 

Once in sickbay, she finished working on Chekov, finally letting him get back to duty.  Sitting down at her desk, she considered what she knew of Deltans, and wondered if that had been why Will had left.  Because the idea of sharing had repelled him--or maybe because it hadn't.   It was easy to imagine becoming lost in that.  Or minimized by it, if you loved the other person too much to share.

 

On the other hand, when you're only the first runner-up, sharing sounded like a great plan.

 

She was startled to see Ilia striding into sickbay with an entourage including a security officer.  The woman looked different, and Chapel realized there was a glowing disk at her throat.  McCoy helped her onto the diagnostic bed, and it became all too clear that this was not Ilia.  It was some kind of android.

 

God.  Poor Will.  She knew what this felt like.  She knew how much it hurt.

 

Ilia turned her head, looking toward the doorway where Will stood.  "Deck-er," she said.

 

"Interesting," Spock said.  "Not 'Decker unit'?"

 

She wanted to hit him.   If he could read the nuances so damn well, couldn't he see how much this was hurting Will?  Or did he just not care?

 

Spock drew Kirk and Will out of the room, leaving her with the probe or whatever it was.  It was impossible to think of it as Ilia, not after seeing the insides of it.  It was too much like seeing Roger's true nature for the first time, knowing what he was--something inhuman.

 

The probe suddenly got off the table, walking to the metal door and simply punching its way through it.  Chapel watched as Kirk assigned Will the duty of escorting the thing around.  She knew why he was doing it, but she hated him for it just the same.  Did no one here have a heart? 

 

Although if getting through to the probe was their only chance, maybe she could find something in Ilia's things that might help?  She hurried out of sickbay, making her way to the lieutenant's quarters.  She found some of Ilia's personal items packed in a small satchel, took out a headband that looked like something Will had once described as part of an important seasonal ritual. 

 

"Chapel to Decker."

 

"Decker here."  His voice was off, full of pain. 

 

"Bring her to her quarters, Will."

 

He didn't argue; he trusted her that much.  And once he got there with McCoy and the probe, he seemed to understand what Chapel was doing. 

 

And it worked.  Ilia was back...but only for a moment.

 

Chapel's heart ached for Will as McCoy reminded him that the thing was a machine.  She didn't think it was necessary to tell him something that obvious, he probably could feel the difference all the way to his soul.  The same way she could tell that the Spock she'd known--as cold as he'd been--was gone, supplanted by this even colder version that made her Spock seem positively jolly.

 

She went back to sickbay, feeling dejected and wondering where the hell McCoy kept going.  She was just starting to settle down to work when McCoy and Kirk came bustling in with an unconscious Spock.

 

A Spock who woke up much different than he had been.  He stared up at Kirk, his hand clasping his, saying things she'd never heard him say.  He never looked at her, and she wasn't surprised.

 

But her heart started to beat a little faster anyway. 

 

She hated herself for it.

 

As soon as Kirk left and McCoy went into the other room to run a few more tests, Spock turned to her.  "I did not ask you if you are well."

 

"You sure didn't."  The reply was instantaneous, and her tone was bitchy as hell.

 

"We may die.  I will not have another chance to ascertain if severing the bond did you any damage?"  His eyes were worried, his mouth set in a firm line as if he was forcing it to behave.

 

"I don't think you cared one way or the other if you did me any damage."  She scanned him, helped him up.  "The captain wants you on the bridge, Mister Spock.  Not shooting the crap with me."

 

"I can smell him on you."  Spock looked at her, his eyes hooded, his mouth turning down this time.  He did not look happy in the least.   She noticed he was clenching his fists.

 

"The captain?" she asked breezily, wondering what the hell else could go wrong.  From cold bastard to this emotional basket case?  Great improvement.

 

"Decker."  The name came out almost as a curse.  Spock moved closer, surprising her when he touched her hair.

 

She shied away.  "Don't."

 

He looked angry now.  Not just peeved but downright furious.  "You are mine."

 

"I was never yours."

 

His hand caught hers, pulling her to him.  "Yes.  You were."

 

For a moment, she thought he was going to hit her or kiss her.  But then she heard Len walking back in.  He stopped, and she could imagine the look on his face, then he cleared his throat. 

 

She tried to pull away from Spock's iron grip.  "We're not alone, sir."  Surely the "sir" would get through to him.  She called him that as rarely as he called her by her first name.

 

Spock blinked once, then twice.

 

"I hope to hell I'm not interrupting anything, you two," Len said.  "But Jim needs you on the bridge, Spock."

 

"Yes.  I must go."  Spock's hand tightened on her arm rather than loosening, then he finally let go.

 

She rubbed her arm.  "Bastard," she muttered.

 

He smiled.  It wasn't a half-smile, or an almost-smile.  It was a real smile--only very dark, nothing like one of Will's grins--and it gave her the creeps.

 

"What is the correct response to that, Christine?"  Spock's voice was pitched so low that only she could hear him.  "Bitch, perhaps?"

 

She wondered that he knew the word, much less would say it.   He seemed about to go on, and she wondered what other nasty words he might surprise her with.

 

"Spock, stop dilly-dallying and come on."  Len looked like he'd try to haul Spock away by force if he had to.

 

"This is unfinished," Spock said, his voice still low and only for her.

 

"Not, it's not.  We're done here, Spo--" 

 

He was already striding away.

 

Len shot her a look before following Spock out.  She wasn't sure exactly what kind of look it had been, but it was definitely one that meant she and her new-old boss were going to have a discussion later.

 

Great.  More unfinished business.

 

Sickbay was starting to feel awfully confining.  And it became more so when the ship seemed to come to a dead stop.   The viewscreen in sickbay lit up--Uhura must have decided to broadcast--and she saw Kirk, Spock, and McCoy walk with Will and the probe to some sort of central place outside of the ship.  And they weren't in suits.  What the hell was going on?

 

She watched as V'ger sabotaged the transfer of information, so that it would have to get it directly from Will.

 

"No," she said softly.  She'd been willing to share Will with Ilia, but not with this machine. 

 

But he wanted it.  He wanted to do it, and Chapel knew that he had forgotten all about her.  The part of him that may have loved her wasn't in charge.  She wasn't even sure that the part of him that loved Ilia was in charge anymore.  This seemed bigger.  This seemed to be about destiny.

 

He was there, standing on that platform, his hair whipping around him, arcs of electricity playing between him and the probe.  And then they were surrounded by light, the same way Roger and Andrea had been surrounded by the fire of her weapon as it had consumed them. 

 

Then Will and the probe were gone, replaced by pure energy.  Gone in an instant.  No thought spared for her.  Or for the men left behind outside, judging from the way they hightailed it into the ship.  That amused her.  Even as her heart was breaking, she made herself laugh at the sight of the heroes trying to outrun the destruction of V'ger.

 

But her laughter didn't last.

 

Will was gone.  Ilia was gone.  It wasn't fair.  Not again.  Not this way.

 

Not leaving her here all alone.  With Spock.

 

She did not want to be alone with Spock.

 

She never wanted to be alone with Spock.

 

She wandered up to the bridge, knowing it would be expected.  Scotty was in the lift as it stopped for her.  He nodded, his smile bright and shining.  They'd won again.  Kirk had done it.

 

She only stayed on the bridge long enough to hear Spock say he wasn't leaving.  As Kirk gave the order to go to warp, she left, riding the lift to the observation lounge.  Staring out at the stars, she tried to feel Will near her.  Or even far from her.  Just somewhere.  But he was gone.  Transformed.  Different.

 

She sank down to her knees, knew that no one could see her up on the second level if she stayed low.  She just needed time to think, time to figure out what she was going to do.

 

Did she even want to be on the Enterprise?  Kirk wasn't going anywhere.  Neither was Len.  Will was gone.  Her job was gone.

 

And Spock was staying on the ship.

 

She heard footsteps below her and froze.  But whoever it was began to climb the stairs, the footsteps hard and firm as they came up and up and up and closer to her spot.  She could feel him as he got closer.  Spock.

 

"It is odd, is it not?  The bond is gone, and yet I find you so easily."

 

She did not turn around, was shocked when Spock crouched down behind her, his voice low and dangerously close to her ear as he said, "Decker is gone."

 

"I know that."

 

"I will not be leaving."

 

"I will," she said, defiance making her decide her future more quickly than she was ready to do.  But it was simple.  If he was staying, she would not.

 

She felt his hand on her head and went rigid, ready to swat him away from her, or push herself up and run.  But he only stroked her hair.

 

"What do you think they became?" he asked her.  "You did watch?"

 

"I watched.  And I don't know."

 

His hand continued; he softly stroked her hair, and she had to stop herself from leaning into him. 

 

He said, "They are a new life form, I think.  Something incomprehensible."

 

She did not want to think of Will as a new life form.  She wanted to think of him as her friend, her lover, her future--her future should have been Will, not this man who was making her heart race just by touching her so gently.

 

"I hate you," she said.

 

"I have no doubt of that."

 

It was not the answer she expected.  She was not sure what the correct retort was, so she didn't say anything.  They sat silently, his hand the only motion, and she looked up, could see him reflected in the viewport.  He was watching her reflection too.

 

"Did I ever tell you that I like your hair dark?" he asked.

 

"No."

 

"I do."  He had somehow managed to pull her back to him, and she was stuck awkwardly, the position turning uncomfortable quickly.

 

She struggled, and his arms only closed around her more tightly.

 

"Please?"  Her voice was very small.

 

"What do you want, Christine?   You must ask for it."

 

She struggled again, but he was much too strong.  "Let me go."  She would not say "please" again.  And she didn't make it a question.

 

But he let her go, and she scrambled away.  Pushing himself to his feet gracefully, he walked toward her, and she scuttled backwards like a crab, trying to get away from him.  The bulkhead brought her up short.  He reached down and grabbed her upper arms, hauling her up, not hurting her, but not being at all gentle.

 

"I loved him," she said, hitting Spock with her fists as tears filled her eyes.

 

"I know."  He was ignoring her blows, was pulling her to him.  He was just...holding her.  "I am sorry that you lost him."  His hands moved down her back, the motion nothing so much as pure comfort.  "I am sorry, Christine."

 

She wanted to pull away, but she was falling apart, breaking apart, shattering in his arms.  She could not move, could not do anything except weep, and she was not sure if she was weeping for Will or Roger or even for Spock. 

 

Or maybe just for herself.

 

She lifted her head, tried to see him, but her hair was in her face, and there were tears making it hard to see.  He moved her hair away, but he couldn't clear her vision.  She felt something touch down on her cheek, realized he had kissed her and started to cry even harder.

 

His lips touched down again and again, on cheeks, brows, ears, nose, eyelids, and then finally on her lips.  She was too surprised to react, and at the same time she felt a certain inevitability to having his lips press down on hers that way.

 

She told herself to pull away, told herself to fight him off.  But he was hardly holding her now, his hands moving to run down her back, his lips pressing more firmly, and she opened her mouth to him.

 

"Spock?"  McCoy's voice rang through the observation lounge, and Spock sank with her to the floor so they would not be seen.  She allowed him to push her down, knew she could have called out, but she was too busy kissing him, too busy trying to memorize this moment because while she might not be able to fight him, she was able to remember how things had turned out in the past. 

 

Spock's hands were no longer on her back, and she moaned, but Len was gone, had given up and shut off the lights of the lounge as he left.  Only the emergency lights were on, and they and the starlight were the only illumination in the room.

 

"I hated you at times too," Spock said, as he pulled away from her.

 

"Why?"

 

"Because you would not let me in."

 

"You didn't want in," she said, as she drew him back to her, but he only let her pull him so close before he stopped. 

 

He was too strong to force, so she let go of him, lying back, his hands behind her head providing a pillow.  He moved then, his lips finding hers, his body pressing against hers.  She could feel that he wanted her.  Badly.

 

"Why are you doing this?"

 

His loud laugh surprised her.  "Because I want to."  His lips touched down again.  "Because I can."  Again, they came down, and this time his mouth opened, and his tongue found hers, and she moaned.  He laughed again, as if in pleasure at the sound.

 

He began to strip off her uniform, and she tried to stop him.  "Are you crazy?  Anyone could come in here."  As she said it, she realized that was not a very effective way to let him know she didn't want to have sex.

 

"Computer, lock doors," he said, continuing in his quest to make her naked.

 

"Spock, stop."

 

He did.  They stared at each other, and she realized she was breathing hard.

 

"You do not want this?"  His hand stole out, began to slide over the skin he'd just exposed, and she shuddered.

 

"Why are you doing this?  Please, no games."  She wiped at her eyes, realized she was crying again.   Feeling panic overtake her, she began to strike out at him.  The room, so huge a moment ago, was closing in on her, and she could feel herself starting to hyperventilate.

 

He moved off of her, his voice low and soothing as he tried to calm her.  But the nicer he was, the worse she felt.  He slowly pulled up her uniform, fastening it as he murmured strange things she did not understand, and she finally realized he was speaking in Vulcan and for some reason the translator was not catching it.

 

"I am not speaking at all, Christine." 

 

She felt his voice resonate in her mind, and realized that he had melded with her.

 

"I did it to calm you.  If you wish me to pull away, I will."  He waited, and when she did not answer, went back to fixing her uniform.  "Come with me to my quarters."

 

"You don't have quarters yet." 

 

He laughed, the sound reverberating in her mind.  It was a strangely sweet sound.  "True.  Then we should go to yours."  His chuckle made a smaller echo, but sweet too.

 

"How long will this emotional openness last?"

 

"I do not know." 

 

"Longer than a night?"  She pushed his fingers off her face, was instantly sorry as the snap-tear of the meld made them both cry out.

 

"Christine, do not do that again.  It is dangerous as well as painful."  He moved his fingers back to her psi points, reinitiated the meld, bringing relief as soon as their minds touched.  "I will not leave you before you wake this time."

 

"I don't believe you."

 

"Do you know why I left you the last time?"

 

She thought up a lot of different reasons.  Let him see all of them.  Somehow, as she thought of them, she dredged up far too many memories of Roger.  She could feel Spock examining them. 

 

"He was unkind to you."

 

"Thank you for that astute observation, Mister Pot."

 

His eyebrow went up, and she had to tell him the reference on behalf of Mister Kettle.

 

"Do you wish to know why I left you?" he asked.

 

She pushed him off her, realized that he was allowing her to do it.  He was too strong otherwise.  "No."  She got up, hurried away from him, getting to the doors well ahead of him.

 

"The doors are locked, Christine."  His voice wasn't threatening...exactly.  But it also wasn't giving any quarter.  The doors were locked, and clearly would stay locked until he was ready to go.  "We need to finish this conversation.  We can either do it here, or we can do it in your quarters.  The choice is up to you."

 

She sighed.  "My quarters then."

 

He nodded, as if pleased at the change in venue.  Reaching over, he straightened her uniform just a bit.  "Computer, turn on lights and unlock doors."  As he spoke, he moved her to the side.

 

About ten people were standing in the hall, trying to get in.

 

"You are sure there is no contamination from the probe, Doctor Chapel?"

 

She found herself nodding as the others streamed past them.  "I didn't know you could lie."

 

"It was a creative excuse."

 

She shot him a look as they got in the lift, then was surprised to feel his hand on her back as he turned her to face the closing doors.  Even through her uniform, his hand felt hot, and then she felt a rush of lust.

 

"That was my desire you just felt," he said softly.  His hand went lower, no longer on her back, rubbing her butt, then down her legs. 

 

She embarrassed herself by moaning, was even more embarrassed when her legs nearly buckled, and he had to steady her.  "This is too much.  After Will...I can't."

 

"I know that you loved him more than you loved Roger.  But did you love Commander Decker more than you do me?"  He nudged her as the lift doors opened. 

 

It was a short walk to her quarters, she opened the door, felt him push her in. 

 

"Lock the door and answer my question," he said, as he began to pull off her uniform again.

 

She was naked before she could tell the computer to lock the door.  He was naked before she could answer him.  As he pushed her down on the bed, she said, "I don't love you.  At all."

 

"Now who is lying?" he asked, as he kissed her hard, then began to move away from her lips, kissing down her body, making her moan and writhe and finally call out.

 

Suddenly he was back up, kissing her lips, his hand on her face, bringing the meld into play again.  "If you will not tell me, then show me."  And then he was pushing against her, his thoughts battering her for information.

 

"I don't love you."  The words echoed in the meld--but they echoed as "I love you."

 

She brought her hands up, tried to push him away--if you could call wrapping her arms around him pushing him away?

 

He moaned, a sound of pure satisfaction.  She could hear it with her ears, sensed an echo of it in her mind.

 

"We did not meld when we made love after Platonius, Christine."  He was whispering in her ear, even as in her mind he sent images of her writhing in pleasure as he made her come, of her kissing him--everywhere--and of her lying curled up against him when they had rested.

 

"Don't." 

 

He kissed her, his body joining with hers, and she moaned again, pulling him closer, her legs coming up to wrap around his waist. 

 

"Don't."  She kissed him, hard and fast, her tongue finding his and twisting around his mouth.

 

He moaned this time.  Moaning was the only sound he made for some time.  Then he said, "I left you before you woke, because I was afraid that if I did not, I would never leave you."

 

She stopped moving, and so did he.  His hands rested lightly on her face, his lips close to hers but not touching. 

 

"I did not meld with you because I was afraid I would feel too much."  He shook his head.  "After what the Platonians did...to feel so strongly and not know if it was you or the kironide, well, that was confusing on its own.  But to wake up with you in my arms and know that the kironide had worn off, but that I still felt so much.  That was terrifying."

 

He leaned down and kissed her softly.  "I wanted you, but I could not allow myself that indulgence again."

 

"I don't believe you."

 

"Then believe this."  As his fingers pressed down painfully on her cheek, he opened himself to her.  Emotion, intense emotion, rolled over her.  She felt love and lust, warmth and affection.  He had respect for her as a nurse, respect that had only grown for her now that she was a doctor--and because she had left him.

 

She felt his jealousy over Will, jealousy that surprised her because it went back to before Spock had melded with V'ger.

 

"The bond was never completely broken, Christine.  The priestess destroyed most of it, but there was a small piece left and it was only later that I felt it."

 

"When?"

 

"I am not sure.  When V'ger called to me perhaps.  I only knew that you were part of what I sought.  But I thought it was to reject you.  I though it was to finally say goodbye and destroy that small part left of what we were."  He kissed her.  "I do not know if I will be able to share my feelings this way once the effects from the meld with V'ger have worn off.  It is why I must do this now, Christine."

 

He sank into her, both physically and through the meld.  She moaned, felt him open up more.  Felt...love.  He loved her?

 

He loved her.

 

"I was relieved when you came to me and told me you were pregnant.  I thought that I could have you, but you would not need to know the depth of my feelings."  He looked down, and she could feel his shame.  "I sometimes wonder if the bond actually hurt our child.  It should have been something much deeper than what I made it.  I tried to protect myself.  It should have provided you and our child warm comfort, but I twisted it into something cold."

 

"I froze in it."

 

"I know.  I am sorry."

 

She could feel him inside her mind again, going deeper but not just looking around--he was looking for something very specific.  And then he found it, the remnant of the bond.  He touched it with his thoughts, and it twinged in sudden response. 

 

The unexpected feel of him that way again was too much; she burst into tears.  "No."

 

"I am not going to damage it.  Or try to reinstate it."  He kissed her tears away.  "Not until you are ready, at any rate.  And not until I am less emotionally unstable."

 

"Is love an instability?"   Her voice was bitter, and hard.  If she could push him out of her, she would, but he was too strong and her legs were still wrapped around him.

 

"No, love is not."  He began to move, the strange smile beginning as she gave herself over to him, as she fell again into pleasure.  "You are beautiful," he whispered to her.  His mind voice echoing the thought. 

 

She buried her face in his neck as he took his own pleasure, crying out softly.  Unwrapping her legs from around him, she allowed him to escape.  When he was off her, she rolled to the side, her back to him.

 

"Is this too much?"  His lips were on her back now, then her neck, causing her to shiver.

 

"Yes." 

 

His hand stole around her side, coming to rest under her breasts, while his body pressed against her back.  "Do you want me to go?"

 

"Yes," she said, as her hand came down on his, holding him in place.

 

"Then I will go soon."

 

"Yes," she said.  "I hate you."

 

"I care for you as well, Christine."  He pulled her face gently toward him, just far enough so he could kiss her on the lips.  His arms drew her closer, his leg coming up to hold her in place.

 

She couldn't move, couldn't escape, couldn't do anything but let him kiss her.

 

It was heaven.

 

"Close your eyes," he said, releasing her lips finally, letting her relax against the pillow.

 

She closed her eyes.  Why was she obeying him like this?  Why did it feel so good just to give herself over to him?

 

"You will stay on the ship?"  His lips touched down again on her neck.  He moved her hair out of the way so he could get higher, and she shuddered with pleasure.

 

Would she stay on the ship?  "We'll see what you're like in the morning," she finally said.  "What you're like lots of mornings."

 

"That is acceptable," he said, his hand tightening on her.  He whispered to her.  "I am sorry for how I treated you.  I am not sure that I will be able to say that again either, so I will say it now."

 

"I can't say it's okay."

 

"I do not expect you to."  He moved closer to her, which she would not have thought was possible.  Lying next to him this way felt like lying next to a heater.  The warmth was comforting, his strength was too.

 

"I love you," she murmured, wishing immediately that she could take it back.  She tensed.

 

He only kissed her neck again, letting the declaration settle slowly, gently between them.

 

"Sleep well," he finally said.  Then he was quiet, and she could tell he was asleep from the pattern of his breathing.

 

She lay awake for a while longer; as she was just falling asleep, she thought she saw a bright light fill the room, thought she felt a soft tingle as ghostly lips touched her cheek.

 

She opened her eyes, was surrounded by light.  The light swirled and danced, and she smiled despite being a little afraid.

 

She thought she heard it say, "Good luck."  Then it was gone.

 

She finally relaxed, realized that Spock's breathing was off too.

 

"Decker," he said softly.

 

"I think so."

 

"I am not sure if it is comforting or not to know that he can visit you as he wills."

 

She just smiled.

 

There might not be a Santa Claus, but there were still some mysteries that mattered.

 

"I don't want to leave you, Spock."

 

"Then do not leave me."  His voice sounded insufferably smug.  More like his old self in some ways.  But his arm was tight around her, his lips resting lightly on her neck.   And he might think he wanted sleep, but part of him was pressing against her, wide awake and ready to play some more.

 

She wiggled against him, was not surprised when he rearranged her like his own private doll until he found a comfortable place to put that part of him that was so very interested in her.  Then she couldn't think at all for a while.

 

But as she lay captured in his arms afterwards, his lips again causing shudders, she said, "I wanted our baby."

 

It was the first time she had ever admitted it.  She'd never even admitted it to Will.

 

"I know."  He was quiet for a moment, then he said, "I did as well."

 

"Perhaps, someday..."  She could not bring herself to say it.  Was afraid to jinx everything.

 

He seemed to understand. "Yes.  Perhaps."  His lips touched her neck once more in a sweet kiss, then he nestled in against her, his breathing changing, moving from wakefulness to sleep.

 

She fell asleep soon after.

 

When she woke in the morning, he was still there.

 

 

 

FIN