DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2017 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.

Tainted

 

By Djinn

 

-- Part 2 --

 

 

 

Her:

 

You are trying to enjoy your day off, rummaging through the racks at the boutique you love, trying to find thing you think Spock will like you in. You have the place to yourself until a woman comes in and starts perusing the jewelry counter.

 

A gray negligee catches your eye and you pull it out to admire it. You don't need it. But you imagine the way Spock's eyes will dilate when he sees you in it. You've learned to watch his eyes; they tell you so much when you're in bed.

 

Not that he's shy about telling you what he likes—and the few things he doesn't.

 

"Oh what the hell," you say softly as you grab the negligee and add it to the things you want to try on.

 

In the changing room, a burgundy dress and some shirts end up in the pile you're going to get. You try on the negligee and sigh—it's amazing. You don't need it.

 

You repeat that you don't need it as if it will mean more if you say it enough times, then you laugh and throw it with the others. Spock deserves it. He's been so nice to you.

 

You carry the ones you want out as one of the clerks takes the rejects back the racks. The woman looking at jewelry glances over at the negligee, which is lying on top of the pile, and smiles. "Pretty."

 

"Isn't it? I don't need it."

 

"No one ever needs something like that. And yet..."

 

You nod and turn back to the clerk, but then the woman sighs as she studies the jewelry in the case and says, "I hate this."

 

"You okay?"

 

"No. Just got married. Mother-in-law hates me. It's her birthday and I have no idea what to get her. I don't want to be cheap but I also don't want to look like I'm trying to bribe her into approving of me, you know?"

 

You nod, because you do know. Roger's mother couldn't stand you.

 

"You have a mother-in-law like that?"

 

"But for the grace of God." Which is a horrible thing to say considering Roger's fate, and yet you've always felt like you dodged a bullet not having to deal with Marilyn Korby for the rest of your life. "I was engaged to someone. But long ago. My current guy's mom is great."

 

"She approves of you?"

 

"Yeah, she does." You study the woman. "Have we met? You look familiar?" She has blue eyes and long blonde hair and looks to be in her mid twenties. "Starfleet?"

 

"Oh, goodness, no. Have you been to Philadelphia? We just moved here from there. My husband wanted to be closer to his family." She makes a funny face. "Missed his mommy."

 

You laugh. "Long apron strings, huh?"

 

"Very, very long. The longest." She sighs. "The things they sell here are too nice. I wish I knew the city better. Where should I shop?"

 

"I know an amazing chocolate place. You can get a nice gift without looking like you tried too hard. It's on my way if you want me to show you?"

 

"That's so nice of you. Yes." She smiles as she pushes away from the counter, and turns, leaning against it. "I'm Leslie, by the way."

 

"Christine."

 

"Nice to meet you." She seems to be studying the racks. "Such pretty clothes in here."

 

"You should buy something for yourself. Something your husband will like."

 

"I'm not terribly happy with him right now. Maybe next time." She takes a deep breath. "His ex lives here, too. And I just found out she's working in the same place he is. Which...I didn't know before we moved."

 

"Believe me. I am well acquainted with ex issues."

 

"Yeah but is your guy still in love with his ex?"

 

You sigh. "That's such a good question."

 

"Oh, sorry." She moves closer, studying you. "Do you hate her? I hate Martin's."

 

"I didn't know her well enough to hate her. But definitely strong dislike." You sigh. You're laying all this on a total stranger. But you need to talk to someone who's not Spock's mother about this. "There's also a coffee place if you want to grab a cup."

 

"That would be great. I don't have anyone to talk to right now. I'm not working—I mean I plan to, eventually, but I'm sort of between things. The relocation and everything..." She laughs a bit bitterly and looks down. "Wow, could I sound any more pathetic?"

 

"Totally understand. Funny how we put our whole lives on hold for a man, huh?"

 

"Yeah, real funny." She follows you out of the boutique and you talk easily as you walk the few blocks to the chocolatier.

 

You have to move closer to her when a man rolling a stasis trolley comes up the sidewalk, and you smell her perfume. "What a lovely scent."

 

"Thank you. I love it but I also wear it because my mother-in-law is allergic."

 

You laugh because it's the kind of thing you would have liked to do to Roger's mom. Then you see the chocolate shop and say, "This is us," holding the door for her and then following her in. The scent of her perfume gives way to the luscious smell of chocolate and other goodies.

 

She wanders the shop, a smile growing. Finally she turns to you and says, "Yum. If she doesn't like this, she's not going to like anything."

 

You point to your favorite collection of truffles. "I can tell you on good authority that there is something for everyone in that box. No matter how picky."

 

"That one it is, then."

 

You point to a display behind the counter. "For gifts, they'll include a balloon with her name on it, if you want."

 

"Too whimsical for, I think. Just the candy is fine." She smiles at the clerk as she pays then turns back to you. "Christine, thank you so much. Coffee's on me."

 

"Oh, you don't have to. I mean you're not working."

 

"I will be. And Martin's working—many, many hours. So many that I never see him. I'm sure he's springing for drinks for his tramp—I mean ex—so it's only fair if it's my treat."

 

You laugh. "Fine, coffee's on you."

 

 

Him:

 

You lie in bed, feeling contentment suffuse you now that you are home and Christine is in your arms.

 

She nuzzles in, fingers flitting over your skin the way you have come to crave, even if you would never admit that to her. She has no idea how much power she has over you.

 

You could tell her. She will not hurt you the way Valeris did. And you trust her. But for now, while you are still learning how to be with her, you will forego over-sharing.

 

But touching her—that you can indulge. You pull her closer, kissing her for a long time.

 

When you pull away, she laughs and cups your cheek. "Someone was lonely. I guess I don't have to worry about fidelity."

 

"Did you think you did?" But you can sense from where she touches you that she is not worried. "I would not betray you that way. If I were to wish to pursue someone else, I would simply tell you."

 

You narrow your eyes, sure that what you have just said is not a good thing to have shared, but she laughs. She surprises you frequently that way: so much more comfortable with truths, no matter how ugly, than uncertainty. But given her profession, perhaps that makes sense. Her job is to make sense of chaos.

 

"Well," she rubs her finger over your ear tips and you close your eyes and exhale with pleasure, "I missed the hell out of you. I, for one, have no one else in mind."

 

"Nor do I." You capture her fingers, forcing her to stop the pleasurable assault on your ears, and study her. "Are you attached to your apartment?"

 

For some, it would be a non sequitur, but you find she navigates the abrupt nature of Vulcan conversational shifts with ease. You enjoy how flexible she is that way.

 

"I hate my place. But I'm super attached to the room service." She studies you. "Why?"

 

"I would like us to live together. I am just not sure where."

 

"They have nicer places. On the upper floors. Unfurnished so you can bring your own things in." She smiles. "We can get things that are ours, not yours or mine."

 

You hear the unheard: or yours and Valeris's. You approve of that concept. "An excellent idea. And we would still have access to the room service, which I know is convenient for you."

 

"Exactly."

 

Her happiness is pulsing into your skin, and you feel the need to protect yourself easing. You push her to her back and move over her, making sure she is looking at you before saying, "I love you."

 

Her smile is beautiful. "I love you, too."

 

And then neither of your talk for a long time. When you finally lie quietly together, she says, "Which way do you want the apartment to face? I would have rather faced the water but they didn't have any when I moved in and I just wanted out of Cartwright's."

 

If you were human, you would laugh. She never loses the conversational thread—no matter how many orgasms interrupt it. "A water view would be pleasant."

 

"I'll make inquiries." She strokes your face, her smile gentle and knowing. "You want out of here, don't you? The memories of her?"

 

For once, you don't feel jealousy surging up inside her with the mention of Valeris. So you simply say, "I do."

 

"When is your lease up?"

 

"I pay month to month."

 

"That's crazy. I'll get working." She laughs. "I love furniture shopping. Do you like to shop?"

 

"No."

 

"Tough beans. You're helping me pick out the bed and the couch. Everything else I'll take care of." She makes a face. "Unless you love this bed or your couch."

 

"I do not. The only piece of furniture I am attached to is my desk and office chair. It belonged to my grandfather." Your human grandfather. He was kind to you at a time when you seemed to never measure up as a Vulcan, and never made you feel strange for being not fully human either. Someday, perhaps, you will tell her about him.

 

"Those are beautiful pieces. I don't blame you for loving them. I promise not to look for office furniture." She laughs and claps her hands lightly. "Something fun to do while you're off planet." She turns on her side, her expression easy and light. "I may have even made a friend while you were gone. Too early to tell but who knows. Maybe she'll like furniture shopping."

 

You thought you smelled a different perfume on her jacket. So many scents in this apartment, although the traces of Valeris are growing faint now that Christine's scent is overlaying them. You imagine a human nose would not even notice the difference.

 

"Is this someone from Starfleet?"

 

"No. A civilian." She makes a funny face. "I haven't had a civilian friend—other than your mom—since college." She traces your lips, smiling as they tick up slightly. "It's nice, you know? She doesn't understand my history or the conspiracy or what ops is or the things we've seen or done. I'm just...a female friend. Maybe even a little bit of a big sister. She's new to the city."

 

You sense her enthusiasm for this new person and are glad. You know she misses Nyota and Rand. And while she and McCoy hug in a manner that seems genuine at your infrequent dinners, they do not seem to reach out to each other otherwise.

 

"I would like to meet her. If your relationship progresses."

 

"She was so starstruck when I said I'd served with you and Jim. Plus, I think she's shy—and a little bit awkward. But yeah, that'd be nice. She may have already made friends though. She's younger than I am by a lot."

 

"It is not the age but the resonance."

 

"Sometimes, my love, you're a poet." She kisses you quickly. "Now, back to furniture. I've always dreamt of a four-post princess bed. Pink lace covering and lots of scroll work." She looks over and starts giggling. "If you could see your face..." She climbs on top of you, taking first one wrist and then another in her grasp, pushing them over your head. "I, sir, am no princess."

 

You let her pretend to hold you down—as if you could not overpower her if you wished. You love the feeling of her riding you, the way she slips over your skin, the way you fit together when she eases down and...there.

 

You breathe out slowly and reach for the meld points, the pleasure ratcheting up as you connect mentally. She gasps and begins to move more quickly, able to tell where you both are.

 

As she rides you to completion and follows you into her own climax, head thrown back and skin gleaming, you think she is correct—she is no princess: she is a queen.

 

 

Her:

 

You're trying to figure out what to order from room service when your comm goes off. You see "Harris" on the caller identifier and frown as you answer. "Hello?"

 

"Christine? This is Leslie. You helped me with my mother-in-law's gift at the chocolate place and we went to coffee."

 

You laugh. "You could have stopped at Leslie. You're not forgettable."

 

"Oh. Good. I'm sorry. My...my mother-in-law said something mean a few days ago. About how I needed to work on being more memorable. So I didn't want to assume you'd remember me."

 

"You did not win the lottery with that one, sweetie."

 

"I know. Listen, I know you're super important at Starfleet and you're probably scheduled into next year, but Martin suddenly had to take a business trip, and I'm pretty sure it's with his ex, and well, I just would rather be anywhere but in our apartment right now? Is there any chance you want to get a coffee or something?"

 

"Actually, I was just about to order dinner. Why don't you come over?"

 

"Are you sure? I don't want to interfere with you guys."

 

"Oh, Spock's on Taluvis. He won't be back for a week. I'm sending you the address." You hit the combo of keys and hear her say, "Oh, wow, that's very close to us. I can walk."

 

You feel sorry for her because this all seems to be making her so happy. "So I'll see you in a bit."

 

"Yes. Twelve minutes." She laughs. "That's what it says on my directions. Twelve minutes to walk there if I take the route they're showing. How fast do they think I walk—that's mostly uphill? I think it will be more like fifteen."

 

"Whenever you get here, you'll get here. I'm thinking bacon cheeseburgers. I've been doing the vegetarian thing lately and it gets old. You want one—or something else?"

 

"Ground meat...it's just that I made meatloaf last night—not that Martin ate any of it. I know I'm not a bad cook but— Okay, you don't care. You just want to order so the food is ready when I get there. How about a salad and a big order of sweet potato fries? Do they have those?"

 

"They have everything. Well not everything everything, but a lot. I know they have the fries and they're really good. What kind of dressing for the salad?"

 

"Ranch? Maybe extra, so I can dip the fries?" She sounds so tentative, like she is asking for the world.

 

Again you feel a pang of pity. Have you ever felt so...small? Sometimes McCoy made you feel that way—although you don't think he meant to the way Leslie's husband and mother-in-law seem to with her. Len was just an accidental asshole. "Extra ranch. We'll be swimming in it." You smile when she laughs. "See you soon."

 

The food arrives just before she does, and you let her in and tell her to drop her stuff on the couch. "What do you want to drink?"

 

"What are you having?"

 

"Beer." You nod toward the bottle on the table.

 

"Oh." She looks worried. "I don't drink. I'm sorry."

 

"You don't have to booze it up for me to like you. Trust me, dating a Vulcan means I have juices galore."

 

"Cranberry is fine. Or whatever you have."

 

"I have cranberry. Ice?"

 

She nods and then looks at the food cart. There are five extra things of ranch and she starts to laugh. "Wow, you were not kidding."

 

"I ordered the fries for me, too. Dipping them in ranch sounds yummy. Usually I go for tartar sauce but change is good." You realize it's been a long time since you tried something new. "Change is really good." You hand her the glass of juice and lift your beer. "To new friends."

 

"To new friends." She seems unsure so you clink your beer against her glass gently. "Were you raised in a convent?"

 

"Oh, no. It's just... I did that with my glass to the blessed Lorraine's—that's my mother-in-law—drink and well, she did not like it. Told me it was a low-brow thing to do."

 

"Wow. Bitch."

 

"As I said. And the drinks—well. It's not that I don't drink; it's more I can't. Because...I enjoy it a little too much. Yet another way I don't measure up." She looks down, clearly embarrassed.

 

"Enough said. I will never force booze on you."

 

"Thank you." She follows you to the table and as you start handing out the plates, she says, "Oh, I forgot to tell you. I got a job. Much faster than I expected."

 

"That's great. What are you doing?"

 

"I'm sort of a headhunter." At your look, she laughs. "You know. Executive staffing."

 

"Oh, that kind."

 

She laughs. "I mostly do research—finding people who fit a profile—because as you've seen, I'm not the most socially adept. Not really an 'in front of the crowd' recruiter type. I know it drives Martin nuts, how awkward I am." She sighs. "Okay, I am not going to talk about him again tonight. I am so sorry."

 

"You can talk about him. It's fine."

 

"No. I want to forget him just for tonight. Tell me about you and Spock. I mean, everyone knows who he is. He and Kirk both. Were they together...?"

 

You laugh. "No. But you're not the first person to ask." At least you think the answer is no. You've never come right out and asked—and what difference does it make now?

 

"Spock is so handsome. But then, Vulcans are such an attractive people."

 

"Yes, they are."

 

"But...cold?" She digs into her salad with gusto and races you for a sweet potato fry from the huge basket you ordered.

 

You win, laughing. "Vulcans aren't cold."

 

"No?"

 

"Not when you get to know them."

 

"I always thought they were noble. There was a Vulcan woman in that big conspiracy, though—she was a traitor, right?"

 

"She was."

 

"But why?"

 

You sigh. This is the downside of a friend who's not in Starfleet—no shared landscape for this kind of thing. There are so many ways you could describe Valeris, but you decide to try to be fair. "I think she was misguided. By, uh, the guy I was with before Spock." You frown, trying to figure out the simplest way to explain it to someone who doesn't understand Klingons and neutral zones. "I think he filled her head with the wrong ideas. She was with Spock before I was, and I think she thought Spock would approve once he understood the end goal."

 

"Which was what? War?"

 

"The end to a threat. The end of the Klingon Empire. Or something. I'm a little fuzzy, frankly, on what they thought they were doing. Suffice it to say, my guy did not fill me in on the details. Boy did I feel like a sap."

 

"Wow, this is a soap opera." She immediately looks uncomfortable. "That was rude. I am so sorry."

 

"No, it's pretty apt, frankly."

 

"So, you're with Spock now? Did you two double date as couples?"

 

"God, no." You laugh, picturing the holy hell that would have been. "I've known him for decades. Loved him for that long. I guess...when it was clear he was choosing her, I finally let go. And moved on to that other guy."

 

"So if he was with her, then Spock had to know he was with the traitor, didn't he? They'd have had that psychic connection, right, that you read about?" There is a world of condemnation in her voice.

 

"It's way more complicated than that. And no, he didn't know what she was. I—I think he was blinded by love. I think she may have been the love of his life." You take a long pull of your beer because it hurts saying that, but it's the truth and you're sick of not saying it to Ny or to Rand when you comm them, because they'd just look at you like you're pathetic for expecting anything different.

 

When had Spock ever chosen you? Until now, when no one else is left. But that's unfair. Because when you're with him, you're so happy. It's just when he's gone that you let these thoughts in.

 

"Now, I've made you sad."

 

"No. I really like being with him. And I know he likes being with me. It's just...it's just hard not to be a first choice."

 

"I understand." Her voice is sweet and apologetic. "I think he's lucky to have you. You're so kind."

 

"Not always."

 

"But you are. You could badmouth her—and him—but you're not. You're being so...logical about it. Maybe it wears off if you're around Vulcans too long?" She smiles gently. "I am going to take a lesson from you. Stop complaining about my situation. Look at it rationally."

 

"Hey, sometimes you need to vent. Now, this Lorraine, mother-in-law from hell. I think you need to get stuff off your chest, so spill, sister."

 

Her grin is so open and grateful you feel something settling down inside you that got riled up with all this talk about one true loves. It's nice to be around someone who thinks you're the one with the healthy relationship. And you know you've got it better than she does. You have a good man whose family you love. A man who makes you feel unbearably sexy when you're around him—that's the most surprising thing of all.

 

You can tell Martin doesn't make Leslie feel that way. You wish there was something you could do, but you know listening is the best you can offer.

 

But that's not nothing. Not for friends.

 

As you clean up the dishes, you ask, "Do you like furniture shopping?"

 

She frowns, clearly trying to figure out if there was a logical progression to that question.

 

You laugh. "Spock and I are getting a place together. Still here, just bigger, on a different floor." With an amazing view of the water. "But we need furniture. Everything he has..."

 

"She had, too, because she lived with him, right?" She makes a commiserating face.

 

"Right. I want things that are just ours, you know? He's going to help me with the key items. But the rest—there are so many fun shops and you said you don't know the city."

 

She smiles, a sweet expression. "You don't need to sell me the experience, Christine. Count me in. I'd love to help you wipe her out of existence."

 

 

Him:

 

You are on Harriman's Enterprise, and you know you have been less than welcoming to the new captain. But every time you look at him, you see Jim—Jim dying, Jim sacrificing himself for a ship that wasn't ready to be launched. Why hadn't this man said something? He was the captain: lives depended on him and yet he had gone ahead with a launch.

 

The brass would have pushed him. The logical part of you knows this. But as you sit on the ship that killed your best friend, the logical part of you is not in control.

 

When the announcement comes that you are within beaming range to Earth's spacedock, you pick up your things and head to the transporter room, not bothering to say goodbye to Harriman. You do not think he will mind; the dislike seems to run both ways.

 

Once on spacedock, you beam to Starfleet Command, make your reports, check in with Christine, who has to work late, and then head home.

 

Home: a place you now share with her. A place neither Valeris nor Cartwright ever spent time in. A place that is just for you two.

 

To your amazement, the apartment looks finished. Two weeks ago, you and Christine had picked out a bed, a couch, and moved your grandfather's desk set as well as your personal items in. Now, the place is fully furnished, and you walk around the unit, enjoying the opportunity to assess while Christine is still at work.

 

A white leather chaise seems particularly appealing and you sink into softness, then find support as you move. Whatever it is made of, it follows your body's profile as you move, rising up to meet hollows. You sigh, relieved to be done with this latest mission.

 

What feels like a few moments later, Christine is waking you up with a kiss. Instead of asking what time it is, you pull her down to you, enjoying the feel of her as her lips touch yours.

 

"Are you hungry?" she murmurs when you finally let her up. "Because I'm starving."

 

You realize you are very hungry, and not for the first time are grateful your building offers room service. A short time later you are eating dinner together at a table that seems to be made of hammered steel and diftwood-colored wood.

 

"You like?" She smiles as if she knows you do.

 

"I approve of all of it." You glance over at the sofa.

 

"Except those?" She is looking at the orange throw pillows you are not sure you appreciate. "Leslie said orange is the latest thing. She's amazing, Spock. She helped me so much." Her smile is easy and sweet, and you are glad she has found a friend.

 

You had not realized how truly isolated she was until you watched her with first your mother and now this new woman. Humans need more than just their mate—something your father might have told you if you and he were given to personal conversations about your women.

 

She glances at the chaise and you follow her gaze. "You looked so comfy. I wasn't sure about getting that. It was really expensive."

 

"Between us we have plenty of credits."

 

"I know. But it's a chair."

 

"Yes, a chair that I can see giving both of us a great deal of comfort in the future."

 

She laughs. "That's what Leslie said. And the comfort features are created by doctors as well as designers. So it's beyond ergonomic." She reaches out and you take her hand.

 

"I approve."

 

"Good." She draws her hand back and concentrates on her food for a few minutes. "I left some blank spaces on the wall for your things. And we can move my art around if you don't like it." She is talking very fast so you reach out for her hand again, and are surprised to feel how unsure she is.

 

"I have very little art. What you put up is lovely."

 

"You have the Chagall." She pulls her hand free and gestures to a blank spot over the couch. "I thought...there?"

 

"Yes, that is an ideal spot for it." You study her. "Do you not like the Chagall?"

 

She looks surprised. "Oh, I do. I donÕt always get his imagery, but then that's the case for lots of art. Understanding and appreciation are often two different things."

 

You know your lips are ticking up; you feel that way about humans at times. "I agree."

 

She puts her utensils down and stares at you. "I really missed you."

 

"Is this in some way a less than positive thing? Missing someone is in direct proportion to affection, is it not?"

 

She laughs. "It is. But...did you miss me?"

 

You frown, trying to imagine why she is asking.

 

"It's just that, before, if I'd woken you up that way, kissing you, you would have..." She takes a deep breath. "Wanted to have sex."

 

"I do want to have sex. I did then, too. But you asked if I was hungry, so I assumed we would eat first and have sex later."

 

She laughs.

 

"Some day, Christine, you will be sure of me." You mean it to be a statement, and yet there is a questioning note that you regret—almost an accusation.

 

"I'm sorry, Spock. It's been such a long day and I thought I could get off early to welcome you home but then more shit kept happening. I guess...I guess I was disappointed and I'm off balance."

 

"And you did not have the benefit of a nap in the lovely new chaise you have procured for us."

 

"I sure didn't, did I?" She looks around the apartment. "I love our place, Spock."

 

"As do I, Christine."

 

 

Her:

 

The chime sounds, so you open the door to the new place and grin at Leslie. "Ready for the grand tour?"

 

"I am." She hands you a bottle of a very nice Cabernet. "Tradition, right?"

 

"You helped decorate. You should get a fee, not have to bring a gift. But thank you. I'll enjoy this."

 

You take her around the apartment, and she exclaims in all the right places. "It's so pretty." She sits on the couch you and Spock picked out, and clutches one of the orange throw pillows she insisted on to her, almost as if for comfort. "You're happy?"

 

"We are." You get up and move over to her. "What is it? Is it Martin? What's he done now?"

 

"Have you ever let someone derail your life." She shakes her head. "No, have you ever derailed your life following someone? Because it's always our choice, isn't it?"

 

"It usually is, yeah. And yes, I have. The fiancˇ I mentioned. We didn't break up. He went on an expedition, and they crashed and were lost. I was on the tenure track at the university I was at. Had one PhD and was on my way to another. But he was gone and he'd been everything to me during a really impressionable time. He was my mentor and the first man to really seem to want to know what I thought about things. It was so much more than just chasing after a lover, you know?"

 

She nods. "My life was on track, too. You wouldn't know it, but I was doing so well where I was. People admired me. And I had—well, maybe not friends like you, but I knew a lot of people, could say hello and how are you, you know?"

 

You nod.

 

"And I had a man—a nice one. One I looked up to. One who thought I could do no wrong, until he found out I was...betraying him."

 

You don't know what that's like, but compassion doesnÕt always require empathy so you nod and make generally soothing sounds.

 

"I had boundless opportunities in front of me. And I was sidetracked." She sighs. "And now I'm here and I'm mostly alone and I'm finding myself envying your beautiful place and the happiness you have."

 

"Oh, sweetie, when I invited you over, I never meant to make you sad."

 

"Oh, no, none of this is your fault, Christine. You've been nothing but nice. You didn't tell me to make bad choices and follow a man who ultimately I left."

 

"You left Martin?"

 

She seems to realize what she said. "Will leave, I mean. I will leave him. But even if I do, those opportunities are gone. It's been too long to go back. Too many things have happened."

 

"I know. I found my fiancˇ. Or his body, rather. But by then, it was too late to go back to academia. So I found a new path with new friends and new goals."

 

"If I could go back, I'd tell the girl I was not to follow a man."

 

You smile. "I think I would tell myself that, but then I think of what I have now." At her look, you smile gently. "I'd have never met Spock if I hadn't done the things I did."

 

"I can see how for you inertia is comforting. But I think of how many alternatives there would have been for me if I had just acted differently."

 

"We're trained to spin scenarios in ops. The thing is, not all of them have the same weight. People tend to go a certain way, repeat decisions. If you didn't follow Martin, you might have followed another man, for the way he made you feel, the part of you he attracted. Could you have done something else? Possibly. Would you have without some outside force? Probably not."

 

"Inertia indeed. So unless I could go back in a time machine and convince myself, I am stuck." She looks like she thinks that might be a possibility. "Fascinating."

 

You laugh. "You sounded just like Spock." Then you hear the main door opening, hear Spock's familiar step. "Speaking of whom, I think someone's home early. I know you've been reluctant to meet him, but you need to get over the starstruck thing, my friend. He's just a man." You stand, prepared to introduce them, but Leslie grabs you, pulling you in front of her, her grip—her grip far stronger than you expect. "Leslie, what the hell?"

 

Spock walks in and there's a moment of confusion as he takes in the tableau you must be making. But then his nostrils flare, the way they do when he is scenting you during sex, and he says, "You," at the same time Leslie moves her hand to your throat.

 

He's been carrying a phaser since Khitomer and he pulls it out. "Let her go."

 

"You must shoot, Spock. If you are logical, you must shoot."

 

You frown—what the hell is she talking about? Why does she sound like she knows him?

 

"We are not replaying scenes here, Valeris."

 

Valeris? Va-fucking-leris? You try to turn, but she says, "No, Christine. Behave or I will snap your neck. Tell her how little effort it would take for me to do it, Spock."

 

"Stay still, Christine."

 

This seems like a bit of a standoff, so you try your own diplomacy skills—Vulcans are logical people. They'll listen, won't they? Even if Spock is still gutted in his deepest self over her betrayal. Even if Valeris must harbor hatred for his forced meld and destroying the conspiracy. Best not to think of that. Best just to put on her most soothing voice and say, "How about you take your hand off my throat and Spock, you put down the weapon?"

 

She laughs, a sound so soft you think only you can hear it. "Spock, if you want me to let her live, you will put the phaser down, and kick it over to me."

 

You can tell Spock is assessing the situation, trying to find a better answer than compliance. You're spinning scenarios, too, but this woman behind you is Vulcan strong and you're sleeping with her ex. She can kill you in an instant. May in fact want to after all the stuff you've shared.

 

Holy shit—you've made her a part of your goddamned life.

 

What the hell is wrong with you? She played you as skillfully as she did Spock. Only with Spock she at least had some true regard. "You fucking bitch."

 

"You are much less pleasant now, Christine. If you keep it up, it will be a pleasure to kill you." There is something off in her voice. You think—you think she doesn't mean that.

 

And you remember what she was saying. The...regret she has. For following not Martin, but Cartwright. The diversion that blew her life to hell.

 

"Valeris—Leslie. Please? You don't want to hurt me. I know you don't."

 

She moves you over to the chaise she helped you pick out. "Perfect for naps," she'd said as you'd debated if it was worth the exorbitant price tag. Was she going to kill you and throw your dead body on it? You try to resist her, but she's making it nearly impossible to breathe. "Spock, the phaser. Now. Or lose yet another one of your lovers."

 

You think that's cruel, that it may anger him, but instead he puts the phaser on the floor and kicks it to her. "If you hurt her, I will hunt you. I will never stop. And when I find you, I will kill you. Very slowly."

 

"Wow." She lets up on your throat slightly. "Do you understand what he just said? How counter to Vulcan ideology it is? You sounded like a Klingon, Spock."

 

"They at least have honor." You choke the words out.

 

"Not all of them," she says as she moves her hand off your throat and you breathe in great gasping breaths. But then she grasps your shoulder. "You will have a severe headache when you wake up. I regret that. I have been told that antitox is surprisingly effective for the pain."

 

"Wait? What?"

 

You feel the pinch on your shoulder—surprisingly painless, but then your head feels as if it's exploding, and you gasp in agony just before everything turns to black.

 

 

Him:

 

You start to move as Christine goes limp, but Valeris adjusts the phaser at her instead of you. "She is only unconscious, Spock. Do you want me to kill her?"

 

For a second, rage takes over and you want to charge her no matter the consequences, but you force yourself to take a breath, to think.

 

You hold up your hands in a temporary truce but then you notice Valeris's hand is shaking. That she is setting Christine down very carefully on the chaise. That when she meets your eyes, hers lack any of the resistance or certainty they did on the bridge, when she refused to answer Jim's questions.

 

Not for the first time you hate Admiral Cartwright for what he did to this young woman. Although, of course, the choice was ultimately hers.

 

"What now, Valeris?" You move to the table, hoping she will come with you and sit, leaving Christine farther from harm.

 

She does not. She seems to be fully aware that any moderation you are showing is because of Christine. "I did not expect you to be here. You were supposed to be on Faella."

 

"I was. The negotiations ended early." You look at Christine. "I did not tell her. I wanted to...surprise her."

 

"Well, you surprised both of us." She sinks to the chaise, sitting next to Christine and sighs. "I never told you I was sorry."

 

"For which part, Valeris?"

 

"Yes. So many sins I have to account for. But not all to you, Spock. You are not the Federation or Starfleet. You are a man. You were mine."

 

You know there is anger in your eyes and do not try to push it back. "Is that the reason for this game you've been playing with Christine? Because you are jealous? Because you want to hurt me—or her."

 

"Or both of you. I could wish to hurt you both." But she leans back and sighs. "Do you like my new appearance? Does it remind you of Leila Kalomi? Your long-lost love?"

 

"I have had many chances during my life to pursue her. I never did. Your insecurity about her does you no credit."

 

"Well, your mother never tired of fanning those flames. Do you know how many times I had to listen to her go on about you and your father preferring humans?"

 

"As I was with you—as I planned to make our bond permanent—you should have ignored her." You lean in. "Or, if you had allowed the meld, you would have known my true feelings for you. But you would not meld with me."

 

"You know why." She sounds like a human teen. Angry and frustrated.

 

"I do know why. It was eminently logical why you would not, given your role in the conspiracy. But do not seek to blame me—to pull specters from my past—when you were to blame for the lack of certainty. I cared for you without measure."

 

"Cared." She strokes Christine's hair off her cheek. "But now you care for this human. Your mother, after all, was right."

 

You are not sure what the right thing to say is; you do not want to upset Valeris further when her hand is so near Christine's throat.

 

"I had to know, Spock."

 

"You had to know what?" Does she mean she had to know that you moved on? Why would you not have?

 

She sits up and studies you. "I do not mean that you moved on. Although Cartwright thought she would turn to you and that this time, you might respond. He had many allies and some of them were watching both you and Christine and reporting to him—at least until we were remanded to the Klingons.  They saw you talking several times."

 

"Then what did you have to know?"

 

"If he really intended to kill the two of you. When we reached Rura Penthe, he told me there were still faithful—members who would never be found. And that he intended to see that the man who had brought down the conspiracy would pay the ultimate price—even if it included the woman the admiral was obsessed with. Perhaps because it included the woman he was obsessed with." She seems to be watching you closely, no doubt seeing the dismay on your face. "I did to him what you did to me, Spock, and after I had my identity altered, I found the people I had seen in the meld. But the conspiracy was set up in a way that even he didn't know everyone."

 

You look down at the table. You were a fool to have thought it was over. "Give me the rest of the names and I will work with Starfleet security to—"

 

"No. The people we are talking about are not even on their radar. I know because I have killed two of them already. They were never questioned after Khitomer." She cocks her head, her look taunting. "But you were, weren't you? By our crack team of security experts. You were in a holding cell instead of by Kirk's side."

 

You feel rage rising, at her, at security, but you push it back down.

 

"Spock, I ripped more names than I expected from their minds. Security will get nowhere with this and the conspirators will go to ground. You might get farther than security but do you really want to rape another mind, let alone many?"

 

Her words evoke what you think she wants them to. Her trembling under your fingers. Her mind-scream loud in your mind. The way you...ripped the information from her.

 

She has not looked away. "Will you trust yourself to meld with Christine if you have to mind-rape others? I imagine that first meld after the one you forced on me was difficult for you—how will you feel after many? Will you want her to see the man you've become or if you won't meld with her, will she stay with you? She is uncertain already."

 

"You no doubt encouraged that insecurity."

 

"Actually, I did not. I...I like her. I wanted to know what she was like—if you prospered with her. If I approved of her as my successor—did we not do the ritual of succession once? This was my version of it."

 

You try to hear the lie in her voice. Try to hear all the times she played you, but she does not seem to be trying to mislead you in this. And the look she gives Christine is so full of affection it could be human.

 

But that is her goal, now. To be human—to fit in. You must never lose sight of that. She will pretend to emotions she does not feel because that is what she must do to survive.

 

She stands. "If it were just you who was at risk, I am sure you would take your chances with the assassins and turn me in. But it is not just you. Tell me, Spock. Can you afford to lose her? After everything else you have lost already?"

 

You stand, hands clenched. You know your duty. You need to turn her in. You need to at least try, even if Christine is put in danger. The needs of the many...

 

But this woman is an efficient killer. She hid the truth from you for years. It is only logical to admit she is the better choice of the two of you to hunt down those who would harm you.

 

"And when you find them all? Then what? Will you come back and kill her?"

 

"Why would I do that?" She laughs and the expression and sound are jarring, even coming from her new human face. "Spock, I am trying to right the wrongs I helped create. I know that I chose the wrong path. I thought...I thought you would approve. That you would see the logic once we succeeded. And I was...proud of being trusted. Of Cartwright's interest in me. You know I like to excel. This made me feel...special."

 

"In a way I never did?" Again the hurt, and you wish you could act like a full Vulcan, in this at least.

 

"They were not the same thing. Spock, you were my lover but you were also my mentor. You expected me to follow in your path. And this—this would have been mine alone. Don't you see?" She sighs. "But I know now that it was wrong. And I will...atone."

 

She turns the phaser around and walks to you, holding it out. "It is your choice now. Do I continue to hunt and keep her safe for you? Or do you turn me in and take on that role yourself?"

 

Christine moans softly and she looks back at her. "You're likely to lose her either way, if it helps you decide. Although I believe she will eventually forgive you for letting me go. But only in the second scenario do you lose yourself. Hasn't this conspiracy taken enough away from you?" Her voice is pure Vulcan and her eyes are steel as she waits.

 

You take the phaser, dial it back to stun, and holster it.

 

"You're going to have some explaining to do when she awakes. She will hate me, but you are the one who will feel her anger."

 

"I will deal with her emotions. Give me your word you will keep her safe. If it is a choice between saving her or me, you will choose her. Do you understand?"

 

"I do. She is fortunate that you care so deeply. Someday she will understand that." She turns and walks out of the apartment, your finger on the phaser the whole time.

 

You want to pull the trigger, to drop her like a stone, call Starfleet security, and end this.

 

But you do not want to hunt the conspirators. You want that part of your life to be over. And while you can pull names and information from her mind, you can never duplicate her experience with the conspiracy, can never make them confide in you the way she will be able to. Nor will they trust you, not when you were one of the people who stopped them.

 

You go into the bathroom and get some of Christine's antitox, then move her to the couch, where you can sit next to her and wait for her to wake.  And practice what you will tell her.

 

You strongly suspect she will not agree but letting Valeris go, as wrong as it feels, is the logical thing to do.

 

 

Her:

 

You come up fighting, striking out, kicking, and your shin connects with something hard. It hurts and you roll into a ball and mutter, "Fuck."

 

"Christine, shhh. It is all right. She is gone."

 

Spock. Spock is alive. You open your eyes and immediately shut them. From your head to your shoulder, every nerve is throbbing.

 

"Here. Antitox." His fingers hover at your lips, so you open your mouth and let him slip in the small tablet.

 

It dissolves under your tongue and you open your eyes tentatively. "Valeris?"

 

"Is gone."

 

"Are you all right? Did she stun you?" But then you realize his phaser is in the holster on his hip. "How did you get that back?"

 

"I need to explain."

 

You let your eyes travel slowly from the holster to his face. Pressing your hand against your face, you try to make the pain stop. "Where is she?" But you see it in his eyes, before he can even start to form words. " You let her go?"

 

"Christine, I had to."

 

"You had to? What? She threatened you with a weapon that you either took back or she gave back to you?" You try to struggle away from him. "Why the hell would you let her go?"

 

"Because she is protecting you."

 

"Oh, by pretending to be my new best bud?" You push away from him, trying to stand and your head explodes with pain. "Oh, fucking—just kill me now."

 

"Sit. Please."

 

You stumble to the chaise, not wanting to be next to him, and curl up, feeling the material cradle you. "Do you still love her? Are you going to her?"

 

"Christine, listen to me. There are members of the conspiracy at large. She is...she is hunting them. Melding with them to find other members."

 

You think of how she described her new job. Head hunting. You laugh bitterly and pain again explodes. "Oh, fuck me." When it finally subsides, you glare at him. "And then she's taking them to Starfleet security? Oh, wait, no, I bet she's not."

 

"She is killing them."

 

"And that's all right with you?" Your voice is getting louder and hurting your ears. "Shit," you whisper.

 

"Christine, I would rather they be rounded up. But can you really expect me to trust that Starfleet security would not mishandle this the same way they did you and me? None of the people she has found so far were questioned. And there are others—Cartwright didn't know them all. She is getting those names."

 

"Getting. Such a safe word. You mean she's melding. The way you did with her?"

 

"Yes, that is what I mean."

 

"This grudge you're holding against security is ridiculous."

 

"Grudge? They were so busy interrogating me about the conspiracy, when it was clear I had nothing to do with it, that they prevented me from going to the launch. I could have saved him, Christine."

 

"What if you couldn't have?"

 

"Then at least I would know that. This way...this way I will always feel the guilt."

 

You can hear the pain in his voice. "What else will you always feel, Spock? Did you let her go because it was pragmatic or because you still love her? Because you will always love her?"

 

"This is not about how I feel for her. It is about you. Cartwright intended for you to die."

 

"Bullshit. The man worshipped me, Spock. And you know what? He would have turned her in. I would never have had to ask him who he loved more."

 

"He was the head of this conspiracy and you would hold him up as some sort of paragon? How can you bring him into this argument as any kind of realistic factor other than negative?" He gets up and moves closer to you. "Would you rather I lied? Told you she stunned me but left my phaser."

 

You realize it could have happened that way. Phasers have trackers. She might use his in his apartment but she could not have kept it.

 

But he's saying that's not how it happened. He's saying he let her walk out.

 

"Did you kiss her goodbye?"

 

"Christine. You are being illogical."

 

"That's not an answer." You can feel pain and insecurity rising along with rage. You scramble out of the chaise because you realize it isn't yours. Nothing in this place is yours. It must have been a grand joke she played, being your friend. "Did you know it was her and not tell me? You can smell differences."

 

"The perfume she wore. It was an excellent masking agent."

 

You lean against the wall, looking around the apartment. "I can't trust you, Spock."

 

And then you see anger in his eyes. Not restrained Vulcan ire but pure frustration. "You have not trusted me since the beginning. What else must I do to prove myself to you? Can you not just accept that letting her go was the best thing to do?"

 

"No. No, I can't." You kick a small table she helped you pick out across the floor. The glass sculpture that's on it—a favorite of yours—shatters.

 

"Everything in here is tainted." You look at him to make sure he understands you're including him in that assessment. "I don't want any of it. You keep the place. I'll get my stuff later."

 

"Christine, you do not have to leave. Please, we need to discuss this."

 

"What's to discuss? She's...she's everywhere. Was I ever here?"

 

He moves closer. "You were—you are. I love you."

 

"But you said the same thing to her, didn't you?" You raise your hand as he starts to speak. "Perhaps not those exact words, but the Vulcan equivalent. You said it to her and you said it to her first. And now she's on the loose because you let her go."

 

He grabs your arm. "Christine."

 

"Let go of me or I'll have security here so fast it will make your head spin."

 

He lets you go.

 

Of course he does. Protecting her to the end.

 

 

Him:

 

You walk down the halls of Starfleet Command, slowing as you see several officers rushing towards you but they pass by without paying attention to you. You let out breath you were not aware you were holding.

 

Two days you have been waiting for Christine to turn you in—or to come back to you. She has done neither.

 

You turn and head for emergency operations and skirt the bay to get to her office. She is alone, working, and she doesn't look up until you say, "Christine?"

 

Before she can school her features into disapproval, there is welcome in her expression. Welcome and love.

 

You walk in and sit, waiting for her to either order you out or call for privacy.

 

She does the latter. "What do you want?"

 

"You. Back in our apartment."

 

"You let her go."

 

"And you also are letting her go, are you not? You have not called security."

 

She looks wounded. "I'm protecting you, not her. You walked out on them in the middle of questioning. How do you think it would go for you if I told them you also have been in contact with her, and not only did you let her leave but you didn't even report the meeting?"

 

"It is not as if I called the meeting. She was in our apartment because you invited her."

 

"I invited Leslie Harris. Who knocked me out. You were the one who let Valeris leave."

 

You do not answer, are not sure what you have to do to make her understand that keeping her safe is more important to you than sending Valeris back to a holding cell. But she doesn't want to believe—she hasn't trusted you and she isn't trusting you now.

 

"Will you tell them, Christine?"

 

"No. But that doesn't mean I won't turn her in if I can think of a way to do it without involving you." She meets your eyes and you can see she is serious.

 

"Please come home."

 

Surprise registers on her face. "Home? Is that how you think of our place?"

 

"It was. Now it is a just space I inhabit alone. If you were to come back, that would change." You lean in and want to take her hand, but think she will not respond well to that—she is still so angry. "I would like for us to talk about this."

 

"What is there to talk about? How you chose her over me?"

 

"I did not." But you can see by the steely resolve in her eyes that she will not listen.

 

You are doing this for her, but she has decided to not believe that. You nod, and wonder if she can tell how defeated you feel as you walk out, leaving her alone.

 

 

Her:

 

You're sitting in your favorite bar, wondering what Spock is doing, when you smell a familiar perfume and feel someone sliding into the booth beside you. "Oh, you've got to be shitting me."

 

You start to turn to face her, but feel her hand on your shoulder, soft this time.

 

"Are you going to knock me out again?" If she does, at least you know the antitox trick. It was startlingly effective after about fifteen minutes—your head stopped hurting halfway to the hotel you've been staying in since you walked out on Spock.

 

"No, I'm not going to knock you out but I do have a phaser. It is not set on stun so I suggest you act naturally or I will shoot." She lets go of your shoulder. "I know that I hurt you. I know you would like to hurt me back. Thus, the phaser. Now, you can turn around if you wish."

 

You turn and study her. "You don't sound human anymore."

 

"The jig, as they say, is up, is it not?" She is smiling but now that you know who she is, the expression is jarring. Her hand is under the table, and you tilt your head slightly and see that, yes, she is holding a phaser but you can't tell what it's set to.

 

"You did not believe me?"

 

"I had to check."

 

She smiles again. "You remind me of Kirk in some ways."

 

"Well, we're both human, so..." You want to launch yourself at her. Claw her eyes out. Take the phaser and pull the trigger until she's dead.

 

You do none of those things. "Is there a reason you're here, Valeris?"

 

"I wanted to clear the air."

 

You can't help it. You laugh. "What? Let me guess—you want to tell me you were fucking Cartwright while I was with him?"

 

"The admiral? No, I was not. You were everything to him."

 

"Well, I think I took second place to a massive conspiracy."

 

She nods, her face falling into an expression that finally looks Vulcan even with human features.. "Yes, but other than that, you came first."

 

You aren't sure what she expects you to do, and you flinch back when she leans in.

 

"Christine, why do you never call him Matthew anymore? Does it work? To distance yourself by only referring to him as Cartwright? Am I still Leslie to you—or simply the traitor?"

 

"You were never Leslie."

 

She cocks her head and seems to consider that. "I was never only Leslie, but there was no other Leslie Harris whose life I took over. So, in actuality, I was Leslie. I was your friend."

 

"You're sick."

 

She doesn't answer, just shifts a bit as the waiter comes up. "I'll have a tonic water please. With lime. And my friend will have another of—whatever that is."

 

"I'll switch to what she's having." Once the waiter is gone, you study her. "You morph into human with astounding ease. Even contractions—I'm impressed."

 

"I always had a back-up plan, Christine. I kept a surgeon with limited scruples but great skill on retainer. I'd mapped out escape plans in case I ended up in any number of detention facilities. Even Rura Penthe—Chang was not the only Klingon who opposed peace, and photos are so easily doctored."

 

"Nyota said you were easy to be around." Actually what she told you was that Valeris was scarily human at times without ever not being Vulcan. You should have remembered that.

 

"It was a skill I cultivated. Learning human behaviors—the way you speak and your little pet sayings—was important to me since I knew I might have to pass as one. I was, after all, part of a conspiracy that I believed logical in its goals and means, but which had a not insignificant chance of failure." She leans back as the waiter brings the drinks. Once he is gone, she says, "Admiral Cartwright wanted to bring you in. He hated having to lie to you."

 

"He...what?"

 

"I told him not to. From what I knew of you, I did not think you would be sympathetic."

 

"Got that right, toots."

 

She smiles and you're struck by something. "Oh my God. You look like her—like Leila Kalomi. Why didn't I see it?"

 

"You weren't expecting it and I modified it somewhat. She was his first love, you know. Not T'Pring. Have you met T'Pring? She is unpleasant."

 

"We're not going to sit here and chat about Spock's exes."

 

"Why not? We are both his exes, I think. Did you not leave him after he let me go?"

 

You look away. "He was tainted."

 

"Then turn him in." She smiles in a gotcha fashion. "But you love him, so you will not." She plays with the drink, swirling it so the ice spins around the glass without spilling a drop. "Do you know why he let me go?"

 

"Because you were probably holding a phaser just like now? People tend to repeat behaviors."

 

"That's a logical answer, actually. I can see why you please him. But no, while that might be a reason to let me escape the apartment, it does not explain why he has not alerted Starfleet that I am alive." Her tone is like that of a teacher to a group of pre-schoolers, and it angers you, as you think she intends.

 

"He let you go—he continues to let you go—because you're getting rid of the members of the conspiracy. But that's something he could have done if he just let Starfleet catch you. He could meld with you the same way he did before."

 

You see the same pitying expression on her face as Spock wore when you told him that. What is so flawed with your logic?

 

"That will not work, unfortunately for you. I know the names of very few of the members who are left. I took what I could from Cartwright before I killed him."

 

"Why did you kill him?"

 

"He wanted to kill Spock. He was always jealous of him because you loved him. And Spock ruined everything—a greater crime in the admiral's book. He gave the orders to kill Spock from the detention center on Earth to a select few of his faithful. But he didn't tell me until we were on our way to Rura Penthe. He knew I wouldn't allow Spock to be hurt."

 

You try to square the Cartwright you lived with against this version of him. Obsessed. Petty. But why not—his hard-on for destroying Klingons was at the root of this entire conspiracy.

 

"So you know what Cartwright knew and Spock can rip out what you know the same way he did before. I don't see the problem."

 

"And then...?" She is smiling—a condescending expression. "There are more, Christine. More known only to each member. Conspirators they brought in to add to the web. I get those names before I...dispose of the problems." She leans in. "Do you have any idea what Spock did to me? To pull those names from a mind that way? The...violence of the act."

 

You refuse to look away. "It wasn't as if you didn't deserve it." You imagine the meld Ny told you about. The way Spock ripped the names of the conspirators from her, the pain she seemed to be in.

 

"Perhaps not. But it did not just hurt me. It injured him in a far more lasting manner."

 

You look away.

 

"I have lived in the twilight world of expediency. Despite what Spock thinks, there is no black or white for me, only shades of gray. But he... He is idealistic. It is part of his charm—and an element of his essential personality."

 

You close your eyes, sighing heavily as if you can drown out her voice.

 

"Christine, look at me. If he were to stop me, he would have to take on the burden himself. How many forced melds do you think he can do before he loses himself?" She puts down her glass. "You love him for who he is. But will you love him for who he would become?"

 

She smiles, and it's Leslie's smile, the gentle, forlorn smile of your new friend, and you hate that it makes you feel soft and hurt. She used you—that's all. The same way she did Spock. She was never your friend.

 

"Christine, I know you. You, also, live in a world of gray. There are no absolutes in emergencies."

 

That was one of Cartwright's favorite sayings. But he got it from you: he latched on to it after you said it to him during a particularly bad mission. He always gave you credit, though. "As Commander Chapel is so fond of saying..."

 

"What do you want, Valeris?"

 

"I need to know that you will maintain your silence. Spock I am sure of, but you...?" She sighs. "You see, I lied to him. I told him the admiral would make you both pay by having you killed. That they would never stop and that I had the better chance to neutralize the threat. Spock did not let me go because he was in danger, but because I told him you were. Even though you don't seem to fully realize it, you are his world now."

 

You have no answer for her; you think she knows you won't.

 

"But you and I both know that the admiral would never have hurt you. You were his world, too—other than the conspiracy. It's Spock he's after, as I said." She slides the phaser into a pocket and smiles gently. "Do you know why you're going to let me go? Why you will not tell Starfleet anything about this either?"

 

"Do tell."

 

"You know I'm the best person to keep Spock safe."

 

You stare at her, hating that she's right. Wishing you could tell her to go to hell—or better yet to reach for your communicator and hit the combination that sends an emergency message to security and your location.

 

But you don't.

 

"Why come here, Valeris? Why tell me all this? You want to rub it in? That I'm as tainted as Spock is?"

 

"No. I came for the same reason I didn't kill you in Spock's apartment. I like you. You were kind to me—a stranger—when you didn't have to be. I think, under different circumstances, we would be friends."

 

You laugh, a bitter sound that you can see hurts her. "Have you ever had a friend?"

 

"Yes. I killed him on Rura Penthe."

 

You close your eyes.

 

"And I had you. For a brief time. I realize that time is over. What will you do—let me go or turn me in?"

 

You pull out your comm unit and snap her photo.

 

Her eyebrow goes up, but not very well, not in a way that looks Vulcan. Still, you have clearly surprised her. "And what will you do with that, Christine? Send it to security? Or will you add it to your scrapbook? Will you label it Leslie or Valeris?"

 

"Maybe I'll give it to Spock. His one true love." You know you sound bitter and angry and you wish you could say it in a more matter-of-fact way, but you can't. You hate this woman.

 

And you don't.

 

She glances at the screen. "That's blurry. Take another one. I want you to have a better one to remember me by."

 

"Really?"

 

She nods, so you do, rolling your eyes.

 

She checks it. "Much better." She smiles. Leslie's smile again—does she practice it in the fucking mirror?

 

"This could all be one big mind-fuck. You think I don't know that. You may not be hunting anyone. There may be no one to hunt."

 

"You are exceedingly clever. If you look, you'll find them. I've already started."

 

"Hunting?"

 

"Well, that's the nice way to put it."

 

"Why should I believe you?"

 

She nods, as if she understands the quandary you're in. "I love Spock. I say that as easily as I do because I would have been proud to be his bondmate. Ours was a union of true esteem not logic. I hoped, once the conspiracy succeeded, once I would no longer have to postpone our bonding, that he would find it in himself to forgive me. To see that I had insured the future of the right side—for us and our children. But now. Now I know he will never forgive me. And...now he has you."

 

"You aren't jealous?"

 

"What logic is there in that?"

 

"That's not an answer."

 

"Then yes, I am. If I allow myself to be. But I also will work tirelessly to ensure his well-being. I could not kill him when I had the chance on the Enterprise and I won't let him die now." She slides out of the booth. "If you let me go, then you are as tainted as Spock, and thus there is no longer any logic in staying away from him. You see, even now I look out for him—sending you back to him. Perhaps I am the more noble of we two?" She turns and walks out, as if she is not a fugitive, as if you could not send the picture you just took to security. They'd have her new face on every monitor in the quadrant so fast she'd never get off world.

 

Then again, she probably has a back-up plan for her back-up plan. Who will she look like next? Zarabeth? That Romulan bitch? You?

 

You stare down at your communicator and sigh. Finally, you send the picture to Spock with a one-line message: "If you still want to talk, I'm ready."

 

You bring up the picture again, and your finger hovers over the delete key, but you press "Save" instead.

 

 

Him:

 

You sit at a terminal in your father's study, running a facial recognition search on the picture Christine has sent you. You are using Vulcan resources because you do not want Starfleet to have any record of this.

 

To your annoyance, old pictures of Leila keep coming up. Valeris, no doubt chose to resemble Leila on purpose. Not just someone who was important to you when you were young but also a scientist in her own right, a well-known one in botany circles who appears repeatedly in the search results.

 

It was a jab at you that also muddied the search—most logical.

 

Finally, you find one that is not of Leila or some other blue-eyed human with long blonde hair, and you bring it up. Security footage. It is Valeris. But why only this one?

 

"Is there a reason you're looking at pictures of that Kalomi woman?" Your mother sets a plate and glass down next to you. Your favorite fruit juice and a grilled cheese sandwich fixed the way you've preferred since you were a child.

 

"You once liked her, Mother."

 

"I pretended to, Spock. Because you liked her." She sits next to you. "Why are you looking at her—or is that her daughter?" She points at the date on footage you have pulled up.

 

"She is neither. She is a...subject matter expert I have been told to consult for my next mission. I do my homework, as you know."

 

"Yes, just like your father." She sighs—dramatically. "When are you going to make up with Christine? I miss her."

 

"We are meeting tonight to talk at our—my apartment."

 

"Oh." She leans in and studies you. "You don't look very happy about that."

 

"As I am unsure what the result of the meeting will be, I see no logic in displaying premature satisfaction."

 

"Are you afraid she just wants to meet to get something she left behind? Women usually don't bother coming over to do that. She'd probably just send a messenger."

 

You feel a bit buoyed by that idea. Christine would certainly not subject herself to time with you if she wasn't willing to forgive you.

 

Or perhaps you just hope that is the case.

 

You close the terminal. Valeris has been careful. The footage you found is the only one available to your resources. You think she wanted to be seen since the footage came from a transporter station in Philadelphia, in the departure lounge where those waiting to beam up to the orbiting shuttle stations wait their turn in relative comfort.

 

You doubt she has left Earth.

 

"Has my father ever done something you considered grievous enough to not want any further association with him?"

 

She reaches over and rubs your hair, and you lean in because it reminds you of your childhood, when things were simple and it was your deepest form of safety to find her alone in the house and let her be...human with you. "Of course not or I'd be gone."

 

"Not even Sybok's exile?"

 

"That wasn't just your father. T'Pau was pushing him. And he was on such thin ice with her at the time for marrying me. Insisting on a love match when she'd wanted him to marry T'Pring's mother."

 

This is news to you. "Is that why he pushed my bonding with T'Pring?"

 

"Yes. He wanted to please the matriarch. Everyone did, Spock. It was how the family was back then." She frowns. "Did you do something—you didn't cheat on Christine, did you?"

 

"Of course not, Mother."

 

"Then what would be so unforgiveable?" She gestures to the screen. "And is your so-called expert part of this?"

 

You ignore her question and take a bite of the sandwich. You chew slowly and make some happy boyhood sounds both to make her smile and to get you out of having to answer.

 

She rolls her eyes and stands, giving you a quick kiss on the forehead. "Grovel, if you have to. I want Christine back in the family. So does your father."

 

You do the nod-shrug that Jim taught you can mean just about anything.

 

Your mother smiles and says, "That's my good boy" and leaves the room, fooled just as easily as McCoy always was when Jim used it on him.

 

You are not willing to grovel, but you consider how far you will go to get Christine back. You close your eyes and picture her naked, head thrown back, mouth open slightly, just about to climax. It is one of your favorite mental images.

 

You, too, want her back. And not just for the sex—sex that far surpassed anything you ever had with Valeris.

 

 

Her:

 

You stand in front of the apartment you picked out and consider whether you want to palm yourself in or not. Finally, since you don't live there anymore, you ring the chime.

 

Spock answers it at the door instead of just calling entry. He seems to be drinking you in, and you try not to let that affect you. "You are still on the door, Christine."

 

"I thought maybe I was. But it didn't seem right."

 

He nods and moves aside. "Please."

 

You feel a pang as you take in your beautiful place. The view, the lovely furniture, the smells of Spock's incense and your favorite candles.

 

"She came to me," you say before he can start off on some other tack. "Your girl."

 

"She is no longer 'my girl.'"

 

You turn. "You got the picture I sent?"

 

"Yes. And I used Vulcan facial recognition software on it from a computer at the embassy."

 

"Smart."

 

"She was picked up on a camera in a waiting lounge to beam up to a shuttle station. There was nothing else. If she wanted us to think she left the planet, she failed."

 

"What if I could give her back to you?" You move closer, trying to read him, trying to see if he still loves her. But all you see is the way he's looking at you. The way he's reaching out for you.

 

You back up.

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"What if I could find her? You and I know she's Valeris, but no one else does. I won't tell if you won't. You and she can...start over."

 

"With her?" There is a note of horror in his voice that makes you laugh against your will. "This is not why I wished to talk to you." He moves closer. "I have been missing someone, but it is not her."

 

The heartfelt way he's saying it makes you stand still as he reaches for you, makes you wrap your arms around him as he pulls you to him and kisses your hair. "She said she would keep you safe from the people Cartwright sent against us, Christine. I do not believe I can do it with the same effectiveness or I would have taken on the job myself."

 

"And forced the meld? Over and over?" You pull back so you can see his face. "That would destroy you." Reaching up, you cup his cheek. "And she lied to you. They aren't after me. They're only after you. You're what she cares about. Not me." You move closer and whisper in his ear, "I truly think she would give anything to have you back."

 

"And I would give anything to have you back." He moves so your lips are on his, so you're pressed against him, so he can open his mouth to you and you respond. As he lifts you up, you wrap your legs around him and let him carry you to the bed.

 

But you pass a picture she found in a pile at an antiques store, then the console table that sits in the hallway that she saw on a day you were at work. She sent you a picture, and when you loved it, she went back to the store and reserved it so it would still be there when you came to look at it in person.

 

"Spock, she's never going to go away." You stop his hands, his questing lips, and force him to put you down. "No. Wait."

 

He pulls away, but holds your shoulder, his fingers slipping under your collar to your skin—so he can read you, no doubt. "Christine, I understand this is upsetting you. What she did—has done. What she will continue to do—for us, but also for herself, if we are honest. These people she is hunting may eventually discover she did not die at Rura Penthe, especially as more and more of them die."

 

You've thought of that. "Did Cartwright really threaten either of us or is she just trying to get what little bit of a life she can by destroying all the other players?"

 

"A very good question. We can agree her reasons for being here are undoubtedly not entirely altruistic. But given all that: is she our enemy? We know who she is, and yet she has not moved against us."

 

You think about it. "No. But she's the enemy."

 

He nods. "It is a distinction I can find myself living with. Can you? Can you let her go?" He presses his finger down, clearly taking in the myriad emotions you are feeling and no doubt broadcasting.

 

"I was so lonely. For a friend, I mean. And she knew that."

 

"I am not sure that she did. I think she wanted to know who you were, this person who had taken her place."

 

"Why not just kill me and take it back?"

 

"Because...she feels affection for you." He shrugs in a way that would do a human teenager credit. "I am at a loss, Christine, but she is...alone. In a way no Vulcan ever is. No family, no homeworld, no mate, no place for her katra when she dies. Even her Vulcan features are gone. You were lonely, but I think she was as well. I do not think I was part of what went on between the two of you, other than in the abstract."

 

You think about that. How...grateful she seemed at times for your friendship. "Was your Mom mean to her?"

 

He sighs. "My mother did not entirely approve of her."

 

You study him. "She approves of me."

 

"She does. She wants us back together. She has told me so in no uncertain terms."

 

You move toward him, letting him enfold you in his arms. "And you? You want me back?"

 

"And not just as the woman I live with. I wish for you to be my mate."

 

You narrow your eyes. "Is that supposed to be a proposal?"

 

"It is. On Vulcan. Your response is yes or no. We value simplicity."

 

You smile. "I value it, too. But if I say yes, we're going ring shopping. I like garnets."

 

"Whatever you wish." He holds your face between his hands, his skin hot on yours. "Are you saying yes?"

 

"If I am, she is not going to be in the wedding party."

 

"There is no wedding party in a Vulcan mating ceremony. Just witnesses. Unless you wish a human wedding?"

 

"Oh, God, no. But I want the honeymoon. Tahiti or Paris or somewhere romantic."

 

He begins to unfasten your uniform. "Will it be romantic if I am there?"

 

"Yes, despite your best efforts." You giggle as he picks you up and kisses you, backing to the wall, moving so you can lift up his robe and slide down just...there.

 

He moans and you kiss him as he thrusts, as he murmurs, "Mine, mine, mine" until you come, clutching his back, probably leaving marks. "I have missed you so, Christine," he whispers, and the longing in his voice, the sweet way he is kissing your neck, is the most romantic thing in the world.

 

But you take in the lovely antique mirror across the room.  You found it at a street fair in Sausalito with Valeris.

 

He pulls away enough to study you.  "I cannot read what you are feeling."

 

"Our bedroom is full of her again."

 

"Then we will remedy that."

 

You know that means you will; he's a horrible shopper.  But it's a sweet sentiment. 

 

 

Him:

 

You sit next to Christine on the banquette in the bar that Leonard has chosen for this impromptu reunion and memorial. Excelsior is back for refits and Nyota is on Earth for training. Only Scott is missing. The memorial is as much for him as for Jim.

 

You see Nyota eye Christine's hand, her eyes narrowing as she takes in the ring, then meeting yours. You gaze back, keeping your expression even. It gratifies you to see that Christine is making no special effort with her, and Nyota seems unsure what to do with that.

 

Withholding: another key tactic of diplomacy.

 

Although for her sake, you wish she did not have to. You would prefer that she felt comfortable, that she could sit with her, their heads together, looking as if they were conspiring about any number of no doubt inappropriate things. But if she also wishes this, there is no outward sign.

 

It occurs to you that Valeris may have been closer to Christine of late than either of her friends now in this room.

 

Christine is also making no effort to show off the ring, and you appreciate her restraint—and that she is not trying to make this day about her despite how happy you know she is about both the engagement and the ring. You enjoyed watching her design the setting—surprised that she wanted a specific kind of garnet—rhodolite. A very dark pink, nearly red. There were diamonds flanking the main stone but only because your mother gave you some to use. Family heirlooms that Christine loved.

 

It pleased you to pass the stones to her; you do not think your mother would have given you them if the ring were for Valeris. Then again, Valeris would never have worn a ring so it is a moot point.

 

But it pleases you to see the ring on Christine's hand. To know what she has chosen and why, but to let it mean, at its most basic level, that she is yours.

 

You see that Chekov has finally arrived and the stories begin, some you know and others you don't. Both of Jim and Scott. You add your own; you've learned over the years how to tell a tale in a way humans find droll. You admired both men, Jim, of course, knew what he meant to you but you doubt that Scott realized the depths of your esteem. He was the finest engineer you have ever known.

 

You meet Leonard's eyes and you know yours are sad. You wish that the two of you were closer. But it was Jim who brought you together and this crew that keeps you coming back, not a bond between the two of you.

 

The night goes on, as these things do, and alcohol is consumed in large quantities. Finally, McCoy stands and says, "Well, I for one am sick of sad things. Little lady." He points his glass at Christine, his bourbon sloshing. "You are wearing a ring."

 

"Women do that, Len." Her voice is teasing and he rolls his eyes.

 

"But it's a new one, isn't it? And on a certain finger."

 

"Women buy new rings. And it has to end up on one of the fingers, why not that one?" She winks at you and you want to pull her to her—this lightness is what you both have needed.

 

"Oh, for God's sakes, they're engaged, Leonard." Nyota's voice is far from warm and you see Rand frown as she looks from her to Christine, who is...ignoring the coldness.

 

In fact, Christine laughs and rolls her eyes and says, "Yes, we are. Which I guess means drinks are on us this round."

 

You think it does not mean that. But you admire the way she has just shut down whatever Nyota was doing. Rand comes over, telling you to move the hell over, so you get up and take her place by Sulu. You glance at Nyota and she murmurs, "Sorry."

 

"I am not the one to say it to."

 

That earns you a glare. You decide to follow Christine's lead and ignore it. You turn instead to Sulu.

 

"Congratulations," he says with a grin. "Good choice."

 

"Indeed she is."

 

"Although..." He looks at you, his eyes merry and light—command has not robbed him of that. "Given your last girl..."

 

"There is no comparison." And for that you are very thankful.

 

 

Her:

 

You are using a free afternoon to wander the city, stopping at furniture stores you did not go to with Valeris. You keep thinking you see blonde hair, but when you turn, there's never anyone there.

 

How long will she haunt you?

 

You end up in a new shop, and tell the clerk you're just getting ideas so he'll stop following you.

 

A moment later, you hear someone else say the same thing to the clerk. In a voice too familiar. You turn, not believing Valeris is really there—the balls on this woman.

 

"Hello." She says it as if you're the kind of people who say hello in a store. As if you aren't on the verge of pulling out your communicator and turning her in—to hell with the danger from whatever remnants of the conspiracy may or may not exist.

 

You try to push past her, but she grabs you, her grip like iron. You expect a threat. You expect a taunt. You expect a long-winded lecture on expediency and shades of gray. What you don't expect is her voice to tremble slightly as she asks, "Are you really replacing what we bought together?"

 

"Are you really sad about that? What is wrong with you? You're the bad guy."

 

"Villains are determined by outcomes."

 

"No, villains are determined by actions." You drop your voice lower. "You kill people."

 

"And you save them. So of course my actions are anathema to you. We are opposites on the scale."

 

"Yes, sane and not so."

 

"Is it a sign of insanity to say that I enjoyed the time I spent with you?" She lets you go. "And I must point out that what we selected were lovely pieces."

 

And the hell of it is, she's right. You adore the way the apartment looks.

 

You flop into a nearby chair.

 

She studies your hand. "That ring is new. I believe you and Spock have returned to each other. And perhaps that signifies more?"

 

You nod. Is she actually happy for you? What world are you living in where your friend is a bitch about it and Spock's psycho ex is waxing rhapsodic?

 

"The ring is lovely. It is different than those I saw in the Academy. I like that you would pick something different."

 

"I just love rhodolites—that's a garnet—and with the dia—God damn it. We are not going to talk about my fucking engagement ring."

 

Her eyes are dancing, and you think she wants to laugh but is holding it back out of habit. "May I make a suggestion?"

 

"May I tell you to jump in a lake?"

 

She does laugh at that. "Pretend there is a Leslie. Pretend she exists and it was she who helped you with the furniture, not Valeris. She who admires your ring, not Valeris. Tell yourself that there is no Valeris."

 

"There will always be a Valeris."

 

"But you didn't even know me then. By that logic, should there not also always be a Leslie? The woman you did know."

 

"The woman with a fake husband and mother-in-law." You sit up, staring at her. "They are fake, right? There is no real Martin and Lorraine, thinking they have a human living with them, not some psychotic Vulcan?"

 

"I am not psychotic." She looks sincerely offended.

 

"That's the part you're going to focus on?"

 

"They are not real. Christine, please. You have made a career out of helping others: going from nurse to doctor to emergencies. The most logical way to attract your attention when we first met was to be...in need." She perches on a coffee table near the chair. "Making them up—well, part of it was Amanda and how we interacted, as I imagine you know or will come to—but part of it was simply...enjoyable. I had fun living that life, being that woman—getting to know you."

 

You push yourself out of the chair and head for the door.

 

She catches up easily, but she doesn't grab you this time. "And you had fun knowing that woman."

 

"I won't argue with that. But she's not real. Now, get the fuck away from me or so help me I will call security."

 

She must see something in your expression, something that says finally, "Don't goddamn push me."

 

She holds her hands up and backs away. "I will not approach you this way again."

 

You leave before you lose whatever is finally making you scary enough for her to pay attention to.

 

Later that day, a comm appears. "A friend is sorry" is the subject line and it's from one of those places that sends all-occasion electronic cards. You open it and a picture of a sad looking cat stares back at you. "Oh, come on." It's so kitschy it almost makes you laugh. You touch the cat to open the message and see a gift card is included from the store you saw Valeris in. The message reads: "I am truly sorry. If you really do not like the furniture because of its association with me, buy something new. My treat."

 

You cannot believe she thinks this is how a human disassociates. You forward the gift card to a charity that helps out displaced families, and send the card to trash.

 

Then you look around at the gorgeous rooms you've put together. You as in you and Spock but also you and her. You don't want to get rid of your pretty new stuff. Besides, what would it serve? Memories are like cat hair: no matter how you try, you'll never get rid of them completely. And you love these pieces, not because of how you got them but for the memories you'll make on them with the man you've loved for what seems like forever.

 

To hell with her. She doesn't run your life. She never will.

 

Spock comes in and finds you lounging on the leather chaise. He almost frowns. "I thought you were opposed to that piece?"

 

You laugh at how diplomatic he is being. "I was. I'm not now. This is our furniture, Spock. This piece, even though she had a hand in it. It's ours—yours and mine. Unless you hate it?"

 

"I find it immensely comfortable."

 

"Me, too. So...so a traitorous bitch who may consider me her best friend helped me pick it out for us—nothing's perfect, right?"

 

He actually smiles, a small puff of air coming out. He walks over, and manages to somehow cuddle in with you on the chaise, partially holding you. "A most pragmatic attitude."

 

"I can be pragmatic. I can let this go."

 

He nuzzles you. "If you would like to replace the orange throw pillows, however, I would have no complaints."

 

You laugh. "Yeah, those suckers are definitely going back." Then you laugh harder, because he's urging you up so you're straddling him, and you murmur, "Oh, so you think we're going to exorcise her out of all this new stuff by having sex on it?"

 

"We would have done that anyway." His expression is light as he pushes your shirt up and unhooks your bra so he can play with your breasts.

 

You give yourself over to his amazing hands and lips and tongue and forget about anything but him and what he's doing to you.

 

Logic is a wonderful thing. Who knew it would play so well with sex?

 

 

Him:

 

You are inside Christine, moving slowly, building the tension when she whispers, "I don't want a ceremony on Vulcan."

 

You know your lips are ticking up as you continue your movements but say, "Elaborate."

 

She thrusts up to meet you and you groan. "I want to bond now. Just you and me. No fuss, no muss. Simple, like this." She uses muscles you think were not on any anatomical models you studied and you groan even louder. "Will we be breaking any Vulcan rules if we do it now?"

 

You study her, then reach for the meld points. She is so open to you it is as if you are walking through an open door, and you feel that she does want this and not out of desperation or fear she will lose you.

 

She loves you. She does not want to wait. She knows life is short.

 

You know that, too. "We will break no rules." You smile, a true smile, because you want her to know that you love her for this. In truth, you did not want a ceremony on Vulcan either.

 

She smiles back and you feel joy jumping between your minds.

 

You begin the bonding, working more from instinct than knowledge, feeling your way, and she moans.

 

"Parted from me and never parted." Your voice is harsh but your grip on her is light and you can feel her becoming one with you. "Never and always touching and touched."

 

Pleasure builds between you. You go back to thrusting.

 

"Oh, fuck."

 

You laugh. It is not Vulcan to do so, but neither is her response. Yet it is beautifully apropos and quintessentially her to swear during a moment like this, so you say, "Indeed," and thrust harder, feeling it now from her point of view as well as your own.

 

She comes and the feeling rockets through you. You hear her murmuring, "I love you so much" as she comes down and you go faster, harder—this will fade but for now you are one person. And you make love as if that is so.

 

When you finally roll off her and pull her to you, she is panting. "Holy shit, Spock." She laughs. "Sorry, I'm sure there's some ritual response. 'Honorable husband: the mind-blowing orgasms were most appreciated.'"

 

You smile, and you can tell she understands this openness will also fade. And she doesn't care. You can feel that she will enjoy this while she has it and not mourn it once it is gone.

 

You pull her close. "Before I cannot so easily say these things, know that I love you. You are all that I want. All that I desire."

 

She kisses you, but then she moves to your ear and whispers, "Sweet talking me now isn't going to get you out of taking me to Tahiti later."

 

You pull her back to you so you can kiss her. Kissing turns to more and soon you are pushing her to her back again and climbing on top.

 

When you finally pull away, you ask, "I thought it was Paris

 

"Maybe it'll be both. Paris and then Tahiti. Maybe a trip to an amusement park. Do you like roller coasters?" She grins and you trace her lips with your finger. "Or is life with me enough of one."

 

"I would ride one if you wanted me to."

 

"Just one?"

 

"I would do almost anything if you wanted me to." You know this is hyperbole and you can tell she does too. But she is still charmed that you would say it and you are still earnest in saying it.

 

"Will your parents be mad at us? For not waiting?"

 

"Not as long as my mother can have a party for us at the embassy."

 

"Of course." She closes her eyes. "Wow, is that my body or yours that is so sore."

 

"I think both."

 

"I guess no more sex." She laughs and lays her hands over her breasts and genitals. "Off limits, buster."

 

You let an eyebrow be the answer to such nonsense.

 

Her smile is a beautiful thing as she pulls you back onto her. "I don't want to waste this connection. While we have it, we should use it, yes?"

 

"I concur."

 

"Even if neither of us can walk in the morning." She giggles as you kiss down her belly. "Fortunately I'm a doctor. I can heal us right up. Provided I can get to my bag."

 

Then she stops talking and starts moaning.

 

When morning comes, it is you who stumbles to the closet to get her med bag. You are profoundly grateful you had the foresight to bond with a doctor because you are both in need of attention.

 

She smiles as she runs the regenerator over you. "Are you sorry we didn't show some restraint last night?"

 

You pull her in for a kiss, her lips sweet on yours. "Not at all."

 

 

Her:

 

You're just getting in from a meeting when your terminal beeps in the way you've programmed it to for results from a search you've set up. You sit and call up the message queue, then have to go through the additional safeguards you've made to open the comm.

 

Another Starfleet officer dead. Freak accident while home alone. Lassiter, Jennifer. Commander. You call up her service record. It takes awhile but eventually you find the link—not to Cartwright this time, but to Lieutenant Hanover, who was killed when his phaser overloaded on a mission. Hanover served with Cartwright early in his career, Lassiter was Hanover's next supervisor.

 

You add it to the list—the mental list: you're not stupid enough to keep a real one—of the people Valeris has wiped out. She was hunting even when she was pretending to be an awkward human. Hunting—killing. Wiping out the enemy.

 

One less threat to Spock. One less threat to your happiness.

 

Your ability to be pragmatic about this is verging on scary. You should probably be concerned.

 

Instead you close the message and go back to work.

 

Your personal communicator beeps and you frown because it should be on "do not disturb" when you're on shift. You look at the identifier screen, but it's not showing who's calling.

 

You answer it anyway, just as you always do. Valeris promised in the furniture store she would never again approach you that way. She didn't say she wouldn't comm.

 

Her face fills the screen. "You're welcome, Christine."

 

"Are you kidding? I'm at work. This could be tracked."

 

"Do you really think they can track my messages if I don't want them to?" She cocks her head. "I understand congratulations are in order. Felicitations on your bonding. How is the mother-in-law from hell?" She looks particularly pleased—no doubt on the precision of her human impression.

 

"She's good to me."

 

"You two are close? You can talk to her?"

 

"I can."

 

"So, of course you've told her all about my comms?" She leans in. "I don't call Spock, you know. Just you."

 

You know that's true. But you tell Spock when she comms—he'd know, now that you're bonded, if you were keeping something that big from him. And even if he wouldn't, you'd tell him. You don't want that kind of secret between you, not now that things are good again.

 

Good—things are amazing.

 

You lean in. "Hey, is that the last one you need to take care of?"

 

"Why? So you can send my picture to Starfleet security finally and end this lovely relationship?"

 

"Just exactly."

 

"No, that's not the last one."

 

"You wouldn't tell me if it was, though."

 

"True. When it is, I'll...slip into the wind. And it really will be goodbye."

 

You mock pout and pretend to dab at your eye.

 

She laughs, and you find that you miss the sound. The laugh of your fake friend. You've stopped blaming Spock for missing her—you can feel through the bond that he does occasionally think of her, although his love for you at this point overshadows any regard for her that lingers.

 

How can you blame him when you miss the person she became—this version of her that you got to know—to like?

 

"Honestly, Christine, is Amanda good to you?"

 

"She really is." You lean in. "But the way she cuts his sandwiches..."

 

"See." She smiles. "Thank you. That was generous because I know you like her."

 

"I love her."

 

"I never would have. Spock's probably better off with you." She sighs. "Well, more hunting to do. Leads and more leads." She seems to be stalling and you wonder if there really are more leads. Or if this is it.

 

Then she says, "Goodbye, Christine" and she reaches for the screen.

 

"Wait."

 

She looks up.

 

"Just so we're clear: I hate what you do. And I hate what you did—the larger issue." You don't have to talk around things—it's damning enough that you have calls from her on your comm record—but you'll be damned if you're going to give a prosecutor anything concrete if you ever do get caught. "But...thank you. If Spock is safer, thank you."

 

"You're safer too." Her expression is perfectly serious and her tone grave. "The last one was planning a farewell party for both of you."

 

"Oh." That leaves you shaken. Although should it? You'd rather be taken out with Spock than have to live without him the way you did Roger.

 

She leans in. "I wish, sometimes, that we could get coffee again. Or have dinner." Then she shakes her head, as if clearing an errant thought. "Or I would—if it were my nature to wish."

 

"Right." You study her, the tight way she's holding herself. What kind of life is this for her?

 

The life of a traitor, some nobler part of yourself answers. The life she fucking deserves.

 

But then she looks up and meets your eyes, and you see the woman in the boutique. "Sometimes," you say softly, "I wish we could too."

 

She smiles. You think she enjoys smiling; she does it so often.

 

You lean in. "Even though I hate you. Leslie."

 

"Right. Hate." Her smile goes broader as she cuts the connection.

 

You stare at the screen for a long moment, then send Spock a message marked routine that he can read when he gets out of his meetings.

 

All it says is: "Your friend called again."

 

He will know what that means. All the implications. She doesn't reach out to you after every one, but she never contacts you any other time.

 

Then you comm Amanda. "Hi, are we still on for coffee later?"

 

"Wouldn't miss it, darling. Oh, hell. Caterers are here for some conference T'Lana is holding. Why is it up to me to supervise everything?" She points and tells someone to go to the far conference room. "An ambassador's wife's job is never done. But I'll see you at three." Her smile is luminous as she cuts the connection.

 

You try to imagine not loving her and fail. Even the way she cuts Spock's sandwiches charms you—that was a lie to make Valeris happy.

 

Jesus, are you under her spell or what—lying about Amanda just to make her smile? You hope this really is goodbye.

 

There is a chorus of "Oooohs," from the bay and then your deputy's at the door saying in a sing-song voice, "Someone's got an admirer."

 

You look up to see him carrying a box from the chocolatier you first took Valeris to. A red balloon with "Christine" written on it is attached and a little envelope dangles from the ribbon.

 

He hands you the package. "The delivery guy was trying to get in when I came back from lunch so I said I'd bring it to you. What's the occasion?"

 

You open the envelope and pull out the little card. In beautiful handwriting that could easily be mistaken for Spock's if one didn't know better, it says, "I miss you."

 

"Well?"

 

"I'm missed." You hold out the box and say, "Have one."

 

He takes a truffle and breaks into a happy smile as he bites in. "Oh, man, this is good. Who knew Vulcans were so sentimental?"

 

You smile in a way you think could mean anything. "Yeah. Who knew?"

 

 

FIN