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) 2014 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.

The Peril of Intervening Between Water and Stone

 

by Djinn

 

 

Chapel lay nestled against Spock while he read his padd, engrossed in an article about—something.  It wasn't that she didn't understand what he read, it was that his range of interests was so broad, she was never sure what he might be reading on any given day.  This one looked like a ship report, though, and she sighed and closed her eyes for about the fourteenth time.  She could sleep with the light on, that wasn't the problem.  It was a family joke that she could sleep anywhere, anytime.

 

Unless the room was too warm. 

 

"Spock, can we turn the heat down?"

 

"I have turned it down.  This is the temperature we agreed on—as a compromise."

 

"I'm too hot."

 

"You will grow used to it.  Just as if we are ever on Vulcan, you will grow used to the heat there."

 

"Yeah, but there I'll be distracted by not being able to breath.  In here, I just feel like I'm sweltering to death."

 

"That is an exaggeration."  He went back to his padd, but not before saying, "Computer, cool room three degrees."

 

She stretched to kiss his cheek.  "Thank you."

 

"This is not our new set point.  I am...indulging you."

 

"Speaking of indulging, Valentine's Day is just around the corner."

 

"It is a human custom, Christine."

 

"And I'm human.  And you're half human."  She eased away from him, feeling petty as a surge of dissatisfaction rolled over her.  They'd gotten together after V'ger, and her birthday had been several weeks later.  She'd let it slide that he hadn't done anything for it; they were new as a couple, and she thought they'd work these things out in time.

 

But then Christmas had come, a holiday Spock pointed out much of the human population didn't even celebrate, and she'd had to get her holiday cheer by trading presents with Ny and Jan.  Which was what she was used to, but now that she was with Spock, it hadn't been what she'd expected.

 

Roger had spoiled her on every occasion.  Then again Roger had made a mechanical geisha that had looked nothing like her, so maybe he wasn't the best one to compare to. 

 

Spock put down the padd.  His sigh was a longsuffering one, as if dealing with her emotions was a trial.  "My mother does not celebrate Valentine's Day."

 

"And I'm not your mother."  She rolled on her side, facing away.  "Ask Jim for help, if you're truly unsure how to celebrate it.  I'm sure he has plenty of ideas."

 

"And I am sure he has better things to do than give me advice on our relationship."  Spock turned her gently.  "Christine, you know me.  I am Vulcan, and you knew this from the moment we started.  If you wanted a highly romantic partner, you should have chosen someone else."

 

"Funny, that wasn't part of your sales pitch when you came to my quarters the first time."  He'd seduced her quite skillfully after the meld with V'ger had left him so emotional.  She'd loved those first weeks, when he'd been open to her, to loving her, to expressing that love.

 

He was less open now.  Far less open.  If she hadn't gotten a taste of what a Spock capable of saying sappy things was like, his reversion to more Vulcan behavior probably wouldn't hurt.  And he was right: she'd known going into this what a more normal Spock would be like.  She should be happy that she'd had the chance to experience him fully embracing his emotions, even if it had lasted only a short time.

 

And he still wanted her, even as he'd grown more and more Vulcan.  That was what kept her sane: he still loved her.  Even if saying "I love you" had given way to "I care for you greatly."  Kind of the wrong direction: declarations should get stronger over time.

 

But she knew.  She knew how he was, and that was all there was to say.

 

Still, that didn't make it any easier to relax and invite sleep to take her.  Sleep was, in fact, laughing at her.  She eased out of bed.

 

"Are you all right?"

 

"Too wired.  Worst thing to do is lie in bed when you can't sleep, so I'll just walk a bit.  Go back to your reading."  Her tone was unnaturally breezy, and she couldn't bear to look at him when she was so obviously not feeling upbeat.  She pulled on a pair of pants and her favorite t-shirt, shoved her feet into some sandals, and got the hell out of his quarters.

 

Blessed coolness met her in the corridor, and she breathed deeply several times.  She'd get used to the heat.  People moved to the desert or a humid, hot area and acclimated.  She would too.

 

But why the hell should she?  Some part of her, some part not on board with the "Spock loves me so everything is okay" mantra, kept whispering that she shouldn't have to put up with it.  His room was too hot.  And was it so wrong to want flowers or candy or...anything? 

 

She made her way to her quarters, stood poised with her hand up, ready to palm the door open, but couldn't bear to go into a room she never used anymore.  Even if she could set the temperature to frigid and bundle up under her down comforter.

 

The way she liked to sleep.

 

She turned and hurried away, wiping her eyes—stupid tears.  Why?  Why cry?  She had what she wanted.  She had it, and he was sweet to her in his own way and liked sharing his quarters with her and was a good lover.  What the hell was wrong with her?

 

The observation room lay ahead and she went inside, waiting at the door for her eyes to adjust, making sure there was no one else there. 

 

As her eyes got used to the blackness, she could tell she was alone, so she moved away from the door and stood by the viewport, watching the star stream go by, trying to not think about things like Valentine's Day or next year's Christmas or her birthday.  She heard the door open and closed her eyes, holding them tightly shut—was there nowhere she could hide on this damned ship? 

 

Even if she knew she had quarters she could have hidden in.  But Spock had access to them.  And she didn't want him to see her crying.  Not that she was crying now, but she was afraid if she was really alone, she would.  So she'd come here, where she'd have to control herself because anyone could bust in on her—as someone had just done.

 

She heard a sigh, a familiar one, and turned to see who had come in.

 

Kirk was standing where the dim light from the small window in the door lit the room, hands on his hips, staring out at the stars, a grim look on his face.

 

"You're not alone in here, Jim."

 

He turned, seemed to spot her immediately.  "I knew you weren't at the party.  I thought you were with Spock."  He walked over to her.  "I was buying.  Should have been there."

 

She smiled.  Everyone had been excited about the party he was hosting.  Drinks on him was not the normal way.  "I doubt you missed me.  And it was one less knock against your credit line."

 

He laughed softly, but it was too dark to see his expression.  "Not my credit line.  As captain, I have a discretionary morale fund."

 

"Ah.  Good to know."  She turned back to the viewport.  "I think we both came here to be alone.  One of us should leave."

 

He somehow found her hand in the dark, pulled her out to the more lit area he'd been standing in before, and studied her.  "You have quarters.  Solo ones.  You can't be alone in them?"

 

"You're right."  Trust him to say that, too.  He never held back, not now that she was a doctor and with his best friend.  She usually liked that he didn't see the need to watch his words with her.  But tonight there was a little too much insight alongside the honesty.  She tried to get away from him, but he didn't let go until she turned and glared at him.

 

"Chris, what's wrong?"

 

She was not going to do this; she was not going to talk about Spock to his best friend.  "Just having a bad day."

 

"Did I do something?"

 

She started to laugh.  "No, Jim.  It's nothing you did.  I'm just...it's just a bad day, okay?"

 

"Okay."  He didn't look convinced.

 

"I'll let you have the stars in peace."

 

"I could share them with you."  He seemed to realize how that sounded and laughed a little nervously.  "I mean—"

 

"I know what you meant, Jim.  It's sweet.  You're sweet."  But still, Spock's best friend. 

 

She turned and left before he could use that sweetness to cajole her into opening up.  Something else she'd found out since she'd been with Spock that he was way too good at doing.

 

##

 

Spock sat in the crowded mess, trying to tune the sounds of others out with the success he had enjoyed during his previous assignment on the <I>Enterprise</I>.  Since his meld with V'Ger, he had found it difficult to achieve the level of stillness and peace that he sought.

 

"You want company?"

 

Jim.  Spock felt a surge of contentment flow through him.  Being back with his friend—allowing him to be a friend—refreshed him in ways that nothing else did.  "Please."

 

Jim sat and began to eat, their morning routine built from so many meals eaten during their first mission together.  After a bit, Jim met his eyes.  "You and Chris okay?"

 

"I am...unsure."

 

"Hmmm."  He went back to eating, to Spock's disappointment.  At this point, he thought he would welcome Jim's assistance. 

 

"I believe I disappoint her."

 

Jim looked unsure where to go with that.

 

"Not sexually."

 

Jim started to laugh.  "Okay, then.  Good to know.  So how are you disappointing her?"

 

"She has certain expectations."

 

"Everyone does.  It's how we're wired.  Even you, my friend."  Jim took a bite of his pancakes and seemed to enjoy them more than usual.  At Spock's look, he shrugged.  "It's possible that Bones will put me on a diet after my physical this afternoon.  So I'm going to enjoy these while I can."

 

"A sound policy."  Spock pushed his plate away.  "She wishes to celebrate Valentine's Day."

 

Jim shot him the look Spock disliked immensely.  The one that said he was being stubborn for no reason.  "Then buy her some roses.  Problem solved."

 

"I would be buying them merely to ease her discontent.  I would not be entering into the spirit of the holiday.  I do not care about the holiday."

 

"You care about Chris, right?" 

 

Spock nodded. "But it is the principle of the thing."

 

"So hurting her is worth some principle?"  Jim sighed as if very disappointed with him.  "Buy her some chocolates, too.  You've got the credits."

 

Spock sighed, and Jim took a break from the pancakes, studying him as if trying to figure out why this was so difficult. 

 

"Spock, all I'm saying is that no matter what you think of the holiday, you ignore it at your peril.  Got it?"

 

Spock took a deep breath, leaning back, trying to find the repose he once found so effortless. 

 

"Is this really about some holiday?"

 

"My quarters are too warm for her."

 

"Your quarters are a goddamn blast furnace, Spock.  Why do you think we play chess in my quarters or the lounge?"  He smiled gently.  "What's really wrong?"

 

Spock shook his head and was silent, long enough for Jim to abandon waiting and go back to his pancakes.  Finally, Spock said, "She is more volatile than I anticipated."

 

"Is 'volatile' a highly charged way of saying 'emotional'?"

 

"No.  She is human.  Emotions are part of being human.  To expect otherwise would be illogical."

 

"So she's too emotional?"

 

"I am not able to anticipate what will please her and what will make her unhappy.  We have been together three months: should I not be more accomplished at making my mate...happy?"

 

"Mate?  Wow.  Did you...?" 

 

Spock could tell Jim was speaking of the bond.  He shook his head.  "It is how I consider her."

 

"Ah.  Yours."

 

"Yes.  Mine."  He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, trying to impede the slow gnawing feeling that he thought might be unhappiness.  "What would you do?"

 

Kirk pursed his lips and leaned back.  "I lived with a highly volatile woman.  You met her: she tried to execute you while she was in my body."

 

Spock could feel his lips turning up slightly and didn't fight it, content to let Jim see he was amused.  "Indeed.  Christine is not unstable to that degree."

 

"Unstable?"  Jim put his fork down.  "How is she volatile?"

 

"I compare her to women I have known.  My mother.  Leila.  T'Pring."

 

"T'Pring?  The wacky gal who tried to have one of us kill the other?"

 

"T'Pring, for all her faults, is not volatile."

 

Jim frowned.  "Are you saying you'd prefer her to Chris?"

 

"I am not.  I am merely noting that the Christine I remember from our first posting was more serene than the one with whom I am now dealing."

 

Jim pursed his lips again, but this time Spock could tell it was in impatience.  "She's been through a lot since then.  She double-timed it through med school.  Had no life while she was doing that.  Then everything that's happened here—losing Decker who was her friend, losing her posting, having to make accommodations to a new role—and me, back in the center seat rather than the man who chose her for CMO.  She's not the same woman—a woman who frankly was more than a little stuck in a comfortable rut.  Maybe this is the real Christine Chapel?"

 

"That is my fear."

 

Jim made a face and shook his head, going back to his breakfast. 

 

"I have said the wrong thing."

 

"Has it occurred to you that you're oversensitive right now, going from Gol to a mega-meld with V'Ger, and that it's unfair to compare her to other women.  You chose her, not Leila.  Frankly, I think you made the right choice.  Not a fan of your Doctor Kalomi."

 

"You did not see her at her best.  She was under the influence of the spores."

 

"So was I.  I broke away."

 

"Perhaps you would not have if a woman you loved had been there.  What if it had been Doctor Marcus?  Would you not have been distracted by having a chance to address your choices with regard to her?"

 

"There was no choice with her, Spock.  That was the problem.  Carol wasn't volatile: she was unswerving in her demands."  He rubbed his eyes.  "Sorry, don't mean to snap.  Yesterday was David's birthday.  It's why I threw the party, so I could forget about a milestone I'm not allowed to celebrate with a son I'm not allowed to see."

 

Spock felt regret, hot and urgent, fill him and he closed his eyes.  "I did not mean to—"

 

"It's all right.  Just...leave my love life out of this, okay?"

 

"Very well."

 

"And talk to Chris.  I know you two love each other.  I've seen that."

 

Spock nodded, but he thought Jim might have missed a very important point.  Spock did love Christine.  He knew she loved him.  Love was not the issue.  And they were intensely compatible in bed, so desire was also not the problem.

 

Liking each other, on the other hand, might prove far more challenging.

 

##

 

Kirk watched the landing party as they interacted with their Danivian counterparts.  He'd slotted Chris as the medical rep but after his conversation with Spock at breakfast, he'd considered replacing her with Bones. 

 

He'd opted not to.  He had to hope they could be professional about this, whatever was really going on.  Because he knew if push came to shove, Chris would be the one he'd put on beta shift, not Spock.

 

Kirk needed him.  Chris was a key officer, but she wasn't as essential to him.

 

He sighed and pushed on his forehead; he had the beginning of a nasty headache.  He hated this time of year, when his son turned another year older, thinking no doubt that Kirk didn't want to be in his life, that he was a bad father—that he hadn't even given him his name.

 

He could have.  If Carol had let him.  There were plenty of fleet officers who were out on ships while their families were home.  He'd been in Starfleet when Carol met him; this should not have turned out this way.

 

A situation he couldn't finesse—a woman he couldn't charm.  His detractors would love to know there was actually a scenario the great James T. couldn't control, couldn't make come out his way.

 

"Are you okay?"  Chris's soft voice.  He turned, saw she was smiling gently.  "They'd like to give us a tour of their emergency operations center.  They really want you to come."

 

"Okay."  He rubbed his eyes again; they felt like someone had scrubbed sand under his eyelids.

 

"Hold on."  She scanned him.  "Nothing in the atmosphere to cause this type of reaction.  They're really red."

 

"I didn't sleep well last night."

 

"I'm sorry.  I hope it wasn't Spock and my problems keeping you awake."  She didn't have the probing sound of someone who knew what was keeping him awake.  Spock hadn't shared—good.

 

"It's a long story, but it's not the two of you.  Just a bad day."

 

"Oh, sure, use that tired excuse."  She winked and took his arm just long enough to get him moving toward where the group touring the facility was gathering.  "I'm sorry, by the way."

 

"For what?"

 

"For not asking why you were in the observation lounge when your party was going on without you.  Not like you to throw a big hootenanny, booze on you—or your super-duper morale fund—and then ditch it?  And you looked...grim."

 

He tried a shrug, and she laughed softly.

 

"Fine, don't tell me.  But I wanted you to know I noticed.  I'm not solely into my own petty problems.  No matter how it might have seemed."  Another gentle smile and she moved away a little.

 

Kirk studied her as they walked with their hosts, played back his latest interactions with her.  She seemed pretty much like he remembered.  Sweet.  Concerned.  Competent.  Funny, when she wanted to be.

 

What the hell had Spock's knickers in such a knot?  Was Valentine's Day a stupid holiday?  Yes.  But how hard was it to make her happy?  Just buy her some damn candy and flowers already.

 

"Something wrong?  You're staring at me."  She started to laugh.

 

"No.  I was thinking about my stuff.  Sorry, did it while I was looking your way."

 

"Okay."  She smiled, but it was a confused smile.

 

Damn it all.  Why was he even worrying about this?  He put on his best "Show me all your amazing sights" expression and engaged with their hosts, like he should have been doing all along.

 

##

 

Chapel palmed open Spock's quarters, was met with a blast of air that seemed hotter than it ever had before.  She closed her eyes and prayed for strength to whatever deity looked after couples as different as she and Spock seemed to be.

 

He was meditating, candles going all around him, because why not add fire to heat that was already blasting?

 

She stood in front of him.  "I need to say something."

 

He ignored her, but the expression on his face changed enough to let her know he'd heard her.

 

"Computer lower temperature to twenty-two degrees."

 

That got his attention.  His eyes snapped open, and the look he gave her could only be called annoyed.

 

More annoyed than he would normally show, now that V'ger had worn off.  She noticed his terminal was on, walked over and saw a receipt for travel booked to Vulcan.  For one.  "What—what is this?"

 

"It is unfortunate timing."  He pinched the candles out and rose.  "I am cold."

 

"And I am too fucking hot.  But that is not what I wanted to say."

 

He reached around her and cleared the screen.  "What did you want to say?"

 

"That I'm sorry if I made a big deal about Valentine's Day.  I think...I think it's better if we agree now that you don't have to worry about it."  She swallowed.  "Or my birthday, or Christmas, or any other celebration that requires gifts."  She sat down on the bed and took out her scanner, checking him as he stood at the terminal, his back still turned to her.

 

Shit.  The levels were ones she was not likely to forget.  She realized he'd turned around, could see what she was doing—so much for stealth.  "Were you going to tell me?"

 

"Eventually."  He studied her.  "I would like to return to what you said.  You seemed to feel strongly about my marking occasions with appropriate efforts.  Why give me this graceful exit?"

 

Because she was pretty sure he was going to screw up the presents—or resent her for needing him to do this.  She didn't say that though.  She'd give him the more noble reason.  "You're Vulcan: presents aren't your way.  I need to accept that."

 

He touched her hair, moving his hand to her cheek—his skin was so hot.  Why were they talking about presents when this was back?

 

"Are you going to Vulcan?"  She moved closer.

 

"I am.  I leave tomorrow.  The ship is, fortunately, quite close to Vulcan, and there is a shuttle leaving that I—"

 

"Am I going with you?"

 

He moved away, but the look in his eyes was helpless.  "No."

 

"It's the Pon Farr."

 

He swallowed hard.  "Yes."

 

"Aren't you with me?"

 

"I am."

 

She got up, moved to him, taking him by the hand, and he pulled her in and held her close.  "I don't understand, Spock.  You love me, don't you?"

 

"I do."

 

"Then who are you going to be with?"

 

"There are priestesses.  Trained to help.  There will be no emotional connection, I assure you."  He held her more tightly, almost painfully.

 

"But we have an emotional connection—and a physical one.  A good physical one.  And I'm strong.  If you're worried about hurting me, then it's a silly fear."

 

"I am worried that I will bond with you in the heat of the burning, and that you will let me."  He eased her away from him.  "And we are not ready for that."

 

She backed away and sat down on the bed.  "Explain this to me.  Is it because I complain that I'm too warm in this room, or because I'd prefer that you want to celebrate holidays with me?  I'm trying to get better on the holiday thing.  We're going to have to find a new compromise on the heat, but that's no reason to leave me here when you're going through this."

 

"It is every reason, Christine.  If we bonded, you would be trapped.  Bound to me for the rest of your—or more accurately my—life.  I remember how I reacted around you the first time I endured the burning.  We were not involved then, yet I wanted you.  It will be much harder to not take what I want, to not make this permanent."

 

"I've wanted you for so long, Spock.  I think I've proven what I feel is lasting given how long I've waited.  Permanent doesn't sound bad to me.  Not if deep down you think you want it, too."

 

"I am not ready for it.  And if you were not hurt by the fact I am leaving you here, you would realize you are not ready, either."  The expression on his face was one of deep regret.  "I love you, Christine."

 

She glanced into the bathroom, saw that his carryall was in there, half packed, open for him to put in—what?  Who the hell knew what he traveled with?  Not her, that was for sure.  "I think I'd take more comfort in that declaration if you weren't packing for a solo trip."  She stood.

 

"I am leaving in an hour.  You can stay here with me and of course when I am gone.  This is your space, too."

 

A space that until today she'd never had the balls to adjust the temperature of without asking him first.  "I have quarters.  I think I'll use them.  Let me know when you're back."  She hurried to the door.

 

He caught her before she could leave, eased her away, toward the bed, trying to pull her clothes off as they went.  "I do not want us to part in this way.  With coldness between us."

 

She stopped him.  "You can't have sex with me and then leave for Vulcan without me."

 

He kissed her, tenderly, sweetly.  "I will be careful.  I do not wish to leave with you angry."  His voice was ragged, the emotion surging out of him.

 

"How can you ask me this and then leave me behind?"  She shoved him onto the bed, and hurried to the door, saying, "I'll see you when you get back."

 

She slammed her palm down, and the door flew open.  She practically ran out, glancing back to make sure he wasn't following her.  She knew if she went back to him, he might lose himself in her.  He might miss his shuttle, and they'd be locked in his room, and he might want to bond with her, and she might let him.  And she needed to wake up—she'd fallen once for him when his emotions were surging, but his feelings hadn't lasted at that intensity.  They wouldn't this time, either.  He'd come back from Vulcan calmer—saner.

 

And not bonded to her.  Something she hadn't really thought about wanting, not realizing the Pon Farr was so close.

 

But now that she knew he didn't want it, didn't think she was—what, exactly?  Respectable?  Controlled enough? 

 

Why didn't he want her?

 

She went to her quarters and suspended his access on the door.  If he came looking for her, she wanted to have the choice to let him in or not.

 

He didn't come looking for her.  And he was off the ship by the time she went to dinner, forcing down a meal she didn't feel like eating.

 

"You want company?"  Jim's voice, behind her—he was giving her the chance to nod or shake her head without having to look at him.  Sparing her from having to put on a brave face.

 

"I don't know."

 

He sat down next to her.  "He told me he needed to go, and why."

 

She nodded.

 

"What I don't understand is why he didn't take you."

 

"Join the crowd."  She stabbed a piece of meat, chewed it, and found it tasteless.  She pushed the tray away.  "He's your best friend.  I'm not going to talk to you about this.  I know I'm only in your life because of him."

 

"Chris, that's not true."

 

"Right, because I called you 'Jim' so often before I was sleeping with Spock."  She rolled her eyes.

 

"If you want to take it out on me, that's fine.  I imagine you're hurting a great deal."

 

"Don't be gracious and logical.  Tell me I'm a bitch.  Tell me I don't measure up.  Tell me why I wasn't good enough to risk bonding with."  Damn—she had not meant to let that much slip.

 

"Is that why he didn't take you?"  His tone was so gentle, so inviting, she found her resolution to not involve him in this desert her.

 

"He was afraid he'd lose control and bond with me.  And he doesn't think we're ready for that."

 

Jim reached over, took her hand, squeezed it gently.  "You've only been together a few months, Chris.  You're still new.  I think he was wise."

 

"Because you don't think I measure up, either?"

 

"Because the way I understand it, that bond is forever.  That's a long time to be unhappy if things don't work out.  Being called back every seven years or however it works for him.  Do you really want that?  He can bond with you any time.  Wouldn't you rather it be when he's in his right mind?"

 

"Pffffffff."  She pulled the tray back, speared a vegetable with less energy than she'd attacked the meat.  "Fine.  Make sense.  See if I care."

 

He laughed.  "He did the right thing, Chris.  I know it hurts, but he's thinking of you both here, not just himself."

 

She ate a few more bites than pushed the tray away again.  "He's with some other woman.  He's cheating on me in order to spare me.  How am I supposed to feel about that?  About us?"

 

Jim looked down.  "This has to hurt.  I get that.  I do."

 

"But you think he was right?"

 

"I do.  I'm sorry if that hurts you."

 

"The truth hurts.  That seems to be the theme for the day."  She pushed her chair back and grabbed her tray.  "Have a good evening, sir."

 

"Chris.  Don't sir me."  He reached out and grabbed her hand, pulling her back gently.  "I mean it.  I am your friend, too."

 

"Okay."  She pulled her hand from his grasp.  "Goodnight, Jim."

 

He gave her the sweetest smile she'd ever gotten from him.  "That's better."

 

##

 

Spock woke, the incense of the mating room suddenly smelling sour to him—or perhaps that was his own odor.  This was his first consummated Pon Farr and it had lasted far longer than he'd expected.

 

He sat up, pulling the sheet over his lower body, even though it was illogical to cover himself from T'Ferra.  She had seen everything there was to see.

 

She was in the corner, curled up like a cat, and he could see dark green bruises on her cheek where the meld points were.  He closed his eyes and held back a sigh.

 

Not wanting to wake her, he made his way into the bathing room, skipping the bath she had run for him, that the tub had been keeping warm, and using the shower instead. 

 

He had the irrational urge to scrub the nights and days he'd spent with T'Ferra off his body, to somehow make himself clean again for Christine.  He cut the shower short, found his robe and slipped it on.

 

T'Ferra was up and drinking water.  "Your burning lasted longer than normal."

 

"Being half human..."  He looked down; why, after all these years, did that fact have to bring him such shame on his home planet?

 

"Ah, of course."  T'Ferra stretched, a sinuous move but an innocent one Spock thought, nothing intended to arouse him.  "I would not know you were human to look at you."

 

He let an eyebrow be her answer.

 

"I am serious.  You appear Vulcan.  Your strength seemed full Vulcan.  Your reactions normal Vulcan male in rut."

 

He felt something inside him—some deep sense of insecurity—settle down at her words.  "Most kind."

 

"It is not kind to speak truth, Spock.  Surely you know this."  She touched her cheek.  "I will speak another truth.  I do not normally assist men who are as emotionally tied as you are to your Christine."

 

"I hurt you?"

 

"You were looking for her.  Over and over."

 

"Would I have bonded with her had she been here."

 

"Most assuredly."  T'Ferra studied him.  "Why omit her from this process?"

 

"We are a new couple.  And our compatibility is still to be determined."

 

"And the passion you feel for her cannot be everything in a relationship."  She yawned, prettily.  Priestesses such as herself did all things gracefully.  "You were wise, then, to leave her on your ship—I assume that is where she is."

 

He nodded.

 

She walked over to him.  "Our time is done.  Live long and prosper, Spock."

 

"You as well, T'Ferra.  I thank you most humbly for your assistance."  He turned and left her, as the ritual words required.  Taking his bag, he made his way to a transport that would take him up the mountains to his parents' house.

 

He opened the door and saw his mother sitting in the living room. 

 

She beamed at him.  "Spock.  What a surprise.  Did you bring Christine?"

 

Sarek came out from the back of the house, from his office no doubt.  There was, as always, a hint of disapproval in his look.  Spock was not sure, however, if it was because Spock was involved with a human or that he had not brought her with him.  He did not feel emotionally resilient enough to deal with his father's censure.

 

"I am here on a most personal matter."  It was the way to say what was not spoken of.

 

His mother's expression changed.  "Ah.  So my question applies even more.  Is she coming along later?  Was she hurt?"

 

"Christine did not accompany me, Mother."  He could feel Sarek's eyes on him, could imagine them judging him.  Whether his father approved of Christine as a possible mate for Spock or not, Spock knew Sarek would not like the reason he had left her on the ship, that he did not feel capable of controlling himself, that an inadvertent bond was a possibility.

 

"You were with a priestess?"  Sarek moved into the living room, went to sit by Spock's mother.

 

"I was."

 

Sarek looked even more dissatisfied.  "Those are for men without mates.  I was given to understand that you and Doctor Chapel had forged an understanding."

 

Spock forced himself not to react.  If only understanding was the primary thing he and Christine had forged.  But it was not: it was passion and desire and yes, he would call it love.  But understanding, compatibility, the kind of ease he felt with Jim or Leonard?  The kind his mother and father appeared to enjoy?  No.  He said none of these things to Sarek, though, settled for, "My relationship with Christine is my concern, Father, not yours."

 

To Spock's surprise, his father seemed to take the rebuke with good grace.  "I will let the subject rest now.  How long are you staying?"

 

"A few days.  I require rest."

 

"Of course, my son.  I will leave you to that."  His father shared a look with Amanda that Spock could not read, then rose and left them alone.

 

She stood and took his arm.  "I think you've made a mistake Spock.  Christine is a lovely woman."

 

"She is.  I care for her.  I was not, however, ready to tie us to each other forever.  I was unsure, given that my first Pon Farr was...interrupted, if I would be able to control my desire for permanence with her."

 

"If you desire permanence, Spock, why isn't she here?"

 

"Desire does not always last.  Passion fades.  True rapport on the other hand endures—she and I have not had time to build it."  He yawned, tried to hide it, but of course his mother saw it.

 

"Come on, Spock.  I'll tuck you in like when you were my little boy."

 

"That will not be necessary."

 

She laughed, and he felt a surge of contentment at their old game and the joy it seemed to give her.  "Well, all I can say, my boy, is that you better get some very nice Valentine's gifts for her."

 

"She has told me she understands my position.  That presents for any occasion are not necessary."

 

Amanda laughed.  "And she was lying through her teeth."

 

He sighed, then realized what he'd done.  So self indulgent.  "I am unsure what to make of your statement."

 

"If she was letting you off the hook, it's for reasons that don't bode well for you: either she thinks you'll give horrible gifts or she knows your heart won't be in it."

 

He nodded, giving up to his mother's logic.  "But you have let my father off the hook, have you not?"

 

She laughed softly.  "Just because you do not see him giving me gifts, does not mean he doesn't."

 

He knew he was frowning in confusion.

 

She rubbed his temple gently.  "My poor boy.  When you wake up, we'll go shopping.  I'll show you things a woman likes.  You can take it from there—I hope."  She leaned up and kissed his cheek as they arrived at his bedroom door.  "Go get some sleep.  We'll be here when you wake up."

 

##

 

Kirk headed into sickbay, happy to see it was empty of patients.  Bones was long gone—Kirk had seen him earlier in the lounge—but Chris was still working in her office and had clearly not heard him come in.

 

"Hello there."

 

She looked up and started to laugh, no doubt at the two plates he was holding.

 

"I nearly got mugged for these, so no laughing."  He took the seat opposite her and handed her a plate of key lime pie.  "I believe there is very little that this stuff can't make better."

 

"What if I tell you I don't like pie?"  But she put the plate down, point facing her, as any true pie lover would do. 

 

"Everyone loves pie.  I mean I could understand not loving two-crust pies.  Those can get a bit much.  But this is essentially lime pudding on a giant squashed graham cracker.  With real whipped cream."  Just to screw with her, he reached over and turned her plate so the point of the pie was facing away from her.

 

She started to laugh as she shrugged and slid her fork down one of the sides.

 

"You surprise me.  Most people have to turn it back."

 

"Do you?"

 

"If it's been a bad day and I want to control things, then it feels good to have the pie pointing the way I prefer.  Otherwise, I'm flexible.  It eats the same, as my grandmother used to say."

 

"It does.  And it's very yummy."  Her smile was sweet.  "What's the occasion?"

 

"Well, since Spock's held up until tomorrow, I figured you could use a treat." 

 

Her expression changed, and she put her fork down.

 

"He commed you, didn't he?  His shuttle was supposed to leave tonight but now can't depart until tomorrow.  Waiting on a part or something."

 

"No.  He didn't comm me."  She leaned back and sighed.

 

"Check your messages.  I can't see him not letting you know that he would be late."

 

"There's nothing there, Jim."  She met his eyes, seemed to see something in his that made her turn to her terminal and bring up the message queue.  "Nope.  Nothing."  She carved off another bite of pie with more restraint than he expected.  "Thank you for this.  It was sweet of you."

 

He nodded.

 

"I don't...I don't really understand him, Jim.  I mean I wanted this for so long, and parts of it are really good—I mean really good."

 

He laughed gently and looked down.

 

"Aww, am I embarrassing the great Casanova?"  Her teasing had a gentle edge, so he didn't mind it the way he did when others brought up his reputation. 

 

He took a bite of pie, thought about how far he wanted to delve into her relationship with Spock.  She looked like she needed to talk, so he asked, "But the parts that aren't good...?"

 

"They're stupid things.  They're little things."  She seemed to be blinking back tears and stabbed a bite of pie more viciously this time.  "Well, except the whole 'my boyfriend went home to Vulcan to have sex with a hooker.'  That's not a little thing."

 

"I think they call them priestesses."

 

"Tomato, tomahto, toots."  She stood up.  "I like coffee with my pie.  Cuts the sweet.  I have a pot of decaf on.  You want some?"

 

"Sure.  Black."

 

"I know how you take your coffee, Jim."

 

He smiled.  He knew how she took hers, too.  Extra dark roast with so much milk and sugar it nearly negated the whole dark part of the coffee.

 

And Spock stuck with water.  Or juice if he was living on the edge.

 

Spock, the idiot who hadn't thought to tell the woman he loved that he'd be delayed after spending days—and nights—with another woman.  He understood Spock's reasoning on why he'd left Chris behind but still, this was just stupid.  Or was he afraid to face Chris?  Was he ashamed of what he'd done?  Even if it was for the right reason?

 

"Here you go."  She put a mug down for him, then sat down with her mug, her coffee a much lighter color than his.  He hoped she'd left out the sugar if she wanted to cut the sweet.

 

They ate in silence for a bit, then she said very softly, "The hell of it is I understand why he did it.  I've been thinking about it—plenty of time to think—and he's right.  We're too new to walk into a 'forever' arrangement.  I just wish I'd been included more in the planning.  He was packing when I got to his quarters.  Was he just going to leave and not say goodbye?"

 

Kirk wasn't sure, but felt compelled to defend his friend.  "I don't think so."

 

"But you thought he'd have let me know he was delayed and he didn't.  So how well do you really know him?" 

 

"Pretty damn well."  He didn't like the tone in his voice, how hard that came out, so he made his voice gentler as he said, "He doesn't do things without a reason."  Even if at times Spock was more impulsive and unilateral than any person Kirk knew.  Going out to meld with V'ger, leaving for Gol in the first place—that decision had hit Kirk like a bolt.  Made worse that he'd found out after Spock had left for Vulcan, and in a memo—Spock hadn't wanted to talk to him about it in person.  Maybe avoidance was his preferred way.  Kirk met Chris's eyes and shrugged, could tell the gesture came off a bit helpless by the way her expression changed.

 

"I shouldn't be complaining about him to you."

 

He reached across the desk and took her hand in his.  "You're my friend, too, Chris.  You need to believe that.  I don't bring key lime pie to just anyone."

 

He heard the hiss of the sickbay door opening, then Rand's voice saying, "Chapel, you bored with sitting around being a big grump because Spock's a moron?" 

 

Chris started to laugh but also turned a charming shade of red.

 

"In here, Jan," Kirk said, smiling at Rand as she stopped in the doorway.  "I brought her pie."

 

"I see that.  Cameron hates key lime.  In a sharing mood?"  She took the other chair in front of Chris's desk, didn't seem the least bit embarrassed over what she'd said, and looked pointedly at his piece of pie. 

 

He put the plate down so they could share.  "Mi pie es su pie."

 

Chris grabbed another fork out of her desk drawer and handed it to her.  "What's on the schedule for tonight, Jan?"  She looked at Kirk.  "She's in love."

 

"I am.  It's wonderful."  Jan pointed her fork at Kirk.  "You lost your chance, big guy.  I am head over heels."

 

He grinned, pleased to see her so happy, and with a good guy, an officer Kirk had brought on board after Decker's head of security had opted to find a new posting.  "Cam's good people."

 

"That he is.  But enough about me.  Christine is mopey.  But Spock's coming back tonight right?"

 

Both Kirk and Chris shook their heads.

 

"Well, shit."  She seemed to realize she was eating most of the pie.  "Did you want some of this?"

 

"My waistline says no."

 

"Nothing wrong with your waistline, Captain.  Nothing at all."  But she happily pulled the plate closer to her.

 

"We're alone, Jan.  Call me Jim."  Something he'd never told her she could do before, but she was happy and with someone else, and he loved this sassy new ease she had.

 

"Jim."  She didn't seem overly impressed with the informality, appeared too fixated on the pie.  "I skipped lunch."  She looked at Chris.  "So why is Spock not coming home?"

 

Chris shrugged, her expression unhappy, so Jan stared at him with the look that used to make him eat his salads and do his reports on time.  "Jim?"

 

"Shuttle problems."

 

She made a disparaging sound.  "Likely story."  She seemed to catch his frown, turned to Chris, and said, "I'm kidding.  Of course he wants to come home to you.  He's missing you, I'm sure."

 

"Your pep talks need so much work, Jan."

 

Jan handed Kirk back the pie with a few pieces still left on it and stood.  "Okay, you're here with Christine, so I'm going to stop worrying about her.  But if the two of you want to join Cam and me, we'll be in the lounge.  There's a scotch tasting."

 

Chris looked at him.  "You like scotch."

 

"I do indeed."  He shrugged.  "It's up to you."

 

Jan stood and when he looked up, he caught her mouthing something to Chris while pointing at him.  Then she hurried out.

 

"What did she just say?"

 

Chris laughed and shook her head.  "You don't want to know."

 

"I do, actually.  She's over me, right?"

 

"Oh, she's over you."

 

"Good."  He smiled and tucked into what was left of his pie.  "I like the new Jan."

 

"Me, too."

 

"So what did she say?"

 

"You're not going to let it go, are you?"

 

"Nope."  He gave her the grin that had been known to bring alien warrior princesses to their knees.  "And if we go to the tasting and you get drunk, I'll worm it out of you."

 

"I have antitox."

 

"You always do.  Just one of the many reasons I'm happy Spock is with you. Now, what did Jan just say?"

 

She sighed.  "If you must know, it was 'Dump Spock.  Go for him.'"

 

He laughed.  "For me?"

 

She nodded.

 

"She doesn't know you very well."  Spock was everything to Chris, and Kirk knew it.  "You're pretty much the 'long-haul' girl.  First Korby, now Spock."

 

"Actually she does know me.  Maybe I should listen to her."  She smiled, a strange, very sad smile, but her tone was teasing. "I'm going to skip the tasting.  I have reports to finish up."

 

"You're allowed to have fun, Chris.  Leave the reports.  I know the captain—I can have a word with him."  He winked at her.  "He won't bug you about them."

 

"And what about my boss?"

 

"I know him, too."  He stood up, and took his plate to the recycler.  "Come with me.  Please?"  He almost held out his hand, decided that would be too much, would push her the wrong way.

 

She finally shook her head in clear capitulation, stood, and took her plate to the recycler.  "What's the old saying?  You could sell ice to eskimos."

 

"I've been told worse things."

 

##

 

Chapel was mid shift when she heard familiar footsteps and looked up to see Spock.  He stood in the doorway of her office, seeming unsure of his reception.

 

As he should be.  "Look who's back."

 

"You knew I would return."

 

"Is that really the answer you're going to give after you couldn't be bothered to let me know you were delayed?"

 

"I told Jim.  I knew he would tell you.  I was...occupied."

 

She could feel her face turning red, hated that it did that when she was angry.  "What?  You decided to buy the woman you fucked for days dinner?"

 

Her words came out too loud, and she was immediately sorry.  He stepped into the room and hit the button to close the door. 

 

"I'm sorry, Spock.  Making a scene is the last thing I want to do."  She turned back to her terminal.  "I'm glad you're home.  Go back to the bridge—or did you go there first?"  Although she couldn't see him reporting in only to leave immediately to come see her.  Not that Jim would say no.  Hell, Jim would probably give him the whole day off if he thought Spock would use it with her, making up.

 

"I have something for you."  He sat down.  "I was occupied finding these."  He handed her a small box.

 

She opened it to find earrings, obviously expensive, and made of some kind of metal twined together, a dark bronze and a lighter, more golden color.  "For me?"

 

He nodded.  "I am late for your birthday and early for Valentine's Day."  He leaned in.  "Do you not like them, Christine?  My mother thought they would appeal to you."

 

Had his mother said he should get them for her, too?  Couldn't he have done it just because it would have made her happy? 

 

No, she had to stop finding fault.  He'd tried.  She reached over and took his hand.  "Thank you."

 

He seemed to relax.  Did he think she'd forget he'd been with someone else because he'd finally given her a gift?

 

"Got that out of the way, huh?  Well, don't get too comfortable."  Her tone was acid, and she flinched a little inside.  She was mad at him, but she didn't need to be a bitch about this.

 

He was staring at her in obvious confusion—and possibly some hurt.

 

"We're not okay yet, Spock, don't you get that?  I understand why you didn't want me with you.  In theory.  But the practical aspect of it is hard for me to deal with.  You were with someone else.  You should have been with me.  And I know it's illogical for me to think both things.  But there you go: I'm illogical, I guess."

 

"I have hurt you.  I realize that."  He took a breath and it wasn't terribly steady.  He clutched her hand in a way that let her know he was aware they were on shaky ground at the moment.  "Come to our quarters after your shift.  We need to reconnect."

 

She almost said, "Yes," almost let what happened go, the sincerity in his voice making her weak.  She forced herself to ask again, "Why didn't you comm me?"

 

"I did not know what to say, Christine.  When the Pon Farr was over, the priestess had bruises on her cheek.  She told me I had been trying to find you in the meld.  Repeatedly.  I know leaving you here was logical, but I think also it may have been wrong."  He let go of her hand.

 

She thought he might be saying that for her benefit, not because he really believed it.  With his hormones so out of whack, he was probably more emotional than when he'd left; he just might lie to make her feel better.  "I don't know if it was wrong, Spock.  I just know you've hurt me."  She handed him the earrings.  "Give these to me again after shift.  I'll put them on.  And I'll take everything else off."

 

He looked even more confused.

 

"That's not a test or me kidding.  I'm trying to move forward."  Even if it felt like they were moving backwards.  Even if she didn't think it would have been this hard with the Spock she was first with, right after V'ger.

 

"You are generous."  He rose and walked around, easing her up, pulling her close, almost painfully so.  "I love you."

 

"I know."  That was the hell of it all.  She pushed that thought away, felt herself melting into him, the way he touched her, his kiss.  Everything she'd ever wanted.

 

But not without its problems.

 

##

 

Spock woke and reached for Christine, but she was not in bed.  He turned and saw she had pulled a chair closer to the viewport and was watching the star stream.  "Are you all right?"

 

She had been all right—or he had thought she was—when they'd been making love earlier.  He'd done as she asked, had given her the earrings again, had even helped her put them on and take everything else off.

 

She'd seemed to welcome him, joined with him, the same as always.  Albeit with perhaps a more concerted effort to rake his back in the throes of passion, which he accepted as some human need for payback.  It was illogical to seek reprisal if she accepted the wisdom of what he'd done, as she claimed to do, but he would not point that out.

 

"Christine?"  He sat up and she looked over at him, her expression cold.  She had her robe on, and he felt suddenly exposed and pulled the covers over him. 

 

"Was she good?"

 

He took a deep, steadying breath.  This conversation, which he suspected was inevitable, was laden with potential minefields.  "She was...a professional."

 

"Meaning what?"

 

"Meaning it was emotionless."

 

"Well, she's Vulcan, ergo..."

 

"Come back to bed.  We can talk here."

 

She laughed, but it was not a pleasant sound.  "I don't think so.  I lose my ability to be rational when you're touching me.  Maybe you're counting on that?"

 

"Perhaps it is not that at all.  Perhaps I have missed you.  I want you to be close to me.  Not over there."  He held his hand out.  "Christine, please?"

 

"Was she good, Spock?"

 

He let his hand drop.  "There is no good or not good during the Pon Farr.  There is only mindless rutting while the fever burns and then exhaustion after.  Some part of me knew she was not you and was not pleased."

 

"Are you saying you don't remember what she was like in bed?"  Christine finally stood up and walked over, but she stopped just shy of where he could touch her.  "Did you pick her?  From some kind of line-up?  Available priestesses and all that?  What did she look like?  Was she blonde and wispy like Leila and Zarabeth?"

 

"She was not.  She had dark hair, as do most Vulcans.  She was attractive, as are most Vulcan women.  She reminded me of no one.  And I did not choose her: the temple she serves at selected who would pair most effectively with me."  He rolled over and stared at the ceiling.  "I cannot make this better for you, Christine.  Are you not picking at scabs as the saying goes?"

 

"This is more than a scab, Spock.  It's a raw wound—sometimes you have to abrade the dead tissue for the wound to heal."

 

Is that what this was?  Dead tissue that would be rubbed off and vacuumed away, leaving healthy skin behind?  Or would this always be between them?

 

He noticed she no longer had the earrings in, and she seemed to realize where his gaze was focused.  "They hurt to sleep in.  I took them out."

 

He felt a vague sense of dissatisfaction at them not being in her ears.  "Do you like them?"

 

"They're beautiful."

 

He thought of the other things he had seen her wear; these were not similar and he had noted that at the jeweler's, which is why his mother had suggested he get them, to give her something different, something uniquely theirs.  "That is not precisely what I asked."

 

"They're from you.  They're a present from you.  Of course I like them."

 

He could not read her expression and decided not to dig any further.  He had tried; he had gone out of his way.  He preferred to think his gift was appreciated.

 

Would the roses he had ordered for Valentine's Day, following Jim's suggestion of what color to get, please her more?  Did Jim know her better than Spock and his mother had?

 

"Christine, I feel..."  What?  What was he going to tell her?

 

She moved closer, sat down on the bed, perched, though, as if she would jump away at any moment.  "You feel what?"

 

"Lost."

 

She frowned.  Clearly this was not the answer she'd expected.  "Lost?"

 

He nodded.  "Before V'ger, my way was clear.  I would purge my emotions.  I would become the perfect Vulcan.  After V'ger, my way was also clear.  I would embrace my emotions.  And you with them.  And I do not regret that.  But..."  He reached for her hand, needed her to stay where she was, to hear him out here on their bed.  "I am somewhere in between those states now.  I struggle to find where I fit between the man who threw everything in his past away and the man who thought emotion would be the answer he sought."  He'd thought he could be like Sybok.  After V'ger, when he'd tried to tell Jim what the machine was missing.  "This simple feeling" applied not just to how much he cared for Jim but how he saw his brother's path in a new light.

 

"And where do I fit in all this?"

 

"I am not sure."  He let go of her hand and reached up to touch her face, was gratified when she did not pull away.  "I may not make you happy, Christine.  Some percentage of the time, I may make you actively unhappy.  I cannot be all there is for you."

 

She jerked away.  "Who says you are?"  She stood and began to pace.  "You think I have nothing else in my life just because I have issues with you going off unilaterally to Vulcan, with possibly no warning for me if I hadn't caught you packing.  You slept with another woman.  You didn't call to tell me you'd be a day late after you slept with a goddamn other woman."  She turned to stare at him, then pointed her finger, thrusting it at him in a most damning way.  "You think that you're all that I have?  I have a job here—not the one I thought I'd have but still, it's a plum position, and I'm damned good at it.  I have friends.  Hell, I have family here—this crew has seen me through more than my own family ever has.  And yes, now I have you, but you came to me.  I didn't chase you down.  You seduced me."

 

She turned to the door, walking in a way that told him she was trying to get out of the room before she started to cry.  At the door, she turned.  "And the earrings?  I don't like them, Spock.  They're not me.  They're beautiful and I'm sure they'd look pretty on someone else, but they're not me.  I don't even wear earrings most of the time.  You notice everything—you couldn't remember that?"

 

And then she was gone.

 

Spock looked over at the nightstand on her side of the bed.  The earrings were there; she'd placed them carefully back in the box.

 

He sighed, an indulgence but one he thought he'd earned.  A part of him wanted to cancel the roses he'd ordered, but he told himself to let that thought go.  She was angry.  She might be lying about not liking the earrings.

 

Although she was right.  He had not seen her wear earrings—or any jewelry—very often.  His mother had been so sure she would like them that he had not wanted to argue that some other type of gift would be better.  It was possible he was trying to make something up to his mother as well; she had not been happy at his decision to go to Gol.

 

He knew Christine was not coming back to his bed so he got up, pulled on a robe, lit his favorite incense and several firepots, and tried to meditate his way to some modicum of inner peace.

 

He failed, a not unexpected outcome.

 

##  PART 2

 

Kirk followed McCoy out into the corridor from sickbay.  He smiled as they walked, hadn't missed the dark red roses on Chris's desk.  Black Pearl.  One of his favorites, and he'd thought she'd like them, had been happy to help Spock out with his first experience with this infernal holiday. 

 

"Looks like a flower shop had a going out of business sale," McCoy said, a sour note in his voice.  "Jim, my friend, sometimes I think we are the only bachelors on this ship."

 

"I'm pretty sure there are others, Bones.  Just not our year."  He clapped McCoy gently on the back, as if he didn't mind that it wasn't their year.

 

When was it ever his year?  For all the women he'd enjoyed, for the many more the rumor mill said he'd been with, he'd had no luck with a relationship.  And before the ship, it wasn't like he hadn't tried.

 

"Even Spock has a girlfriend," McCoy said.  "Although she doesn't seem very happy with him if her mood these days is any indication."

 

"Those were lovely roses I saw on her desk."

 

"Yep.  And I heard her mutter something about betting his mother picked them out, too.  You have any idea what she's talking about?"

 

Kirk shook his head.  What did Amanda have to do with any of this?

 

"She's being a little ungrateful, if you ask me.  I about fell off my chair when she said they were from Spock.  At least the big lug is trying.  Well, speak of the devil—Mister Spock.  May I commend you on your choice of roses?"

 

"Thank you, Doctor."  Spock looked at Kirk, as if worried he might blurt out the truth. 

 

"Who knew you were such a lady's man?"  McCoy narrowed his eyes.  "All these years watching me and Jim, I guess."  He grinned like an old fool, his smile even wider when Spock cocked his head to the side and let a rising eyebrow be his answer.

 

"Can I talk to you for a moment, Spock?"  Kirk looked at McCoy.  "Order me a scotch?"

 

"It'll be waiting for you at the bar.  I, however, may not be there.  I may see an unattached female in dire need of a doctor."

 

Kirk laughed, then waited for McCoy to get far enough away before he turned to Spock, "So we haven't played chess lately.  Obviously tonight is out, but tomorrow maybe?"  Normally he'd ask Spock this in front of McCoy, but Spock had been...distant lately.  Kirk wasn't sure how else to describe the vibe he was getting from him. 

 

"I am working on an experiment that is in a critical stage.  Perhaps when I am finished."

 

"That's what you said last time, Spock.  Are we okay?  Did I...did I do something?"

 

"We are fine, Jim.  The state of my experiment is not a reflection on the state of our friendship."

 

"You know if experiment is a euphemism for spending time with Christine, you can just say it.  I don't blame you for wanting time with her.  Chess can wait."

 

"It is not a euphemism, Jim.  And you are right: chess can wait but my experiment cannot."

 

Kirk frowned, tried to keep himself from wading in—this was none of his goddamned business—but his mouth was flapping before his brain could get it under control.  "But not tonight, right?  You're spending Valentine's night with Chris?"

 

"I am."  Spock sounded more resigned than happy about that.  Kirk hoped to hell he mustered some enthusiasm before he met up with her.

 

"Okay.  Good."

 

"I have not told you, but I appreciate that you looked out for Christine while I was gone."

 

"I'm your friend.  And I'm her friend.  Just doing what friends do.  I care about you.  Singular and together."

 

 "I care about her, too, Jim.  Even if I am not making her very happy right now."

 

"That's a choice, Spock."  Although was it?  Couldn't Chris be overreacting?  Why was Kirk taking her side in this?

 

Except that he felt left out, too.

 

"No, Jim.  It is no more a choice than the emotions I felt after V'ger.  I was perhaps injudicious in pursuing Christine before my emotions had leveled somewhat.  Unfortunately, those same emotions were driving me, and I was in no state to listen to logic."

 

"Unfortunately?"

 

Spock actually sighed.  "I do not mean that I would not have pursued her if I had waited.  But I would not constantly be compared to some other—some aberrant—version of myself."

 

"Is there any way I can cheer you up before you go see her?  Please tell me you are not going to say any of this to her on Valentine's Day."

 

"I am hoping chocolates and sex will make conversation less critical."

 

Kirk bit back dismay.  What the hell was their pillow talk like?  Was there any?  No, Chris had said Spock was good in bed.  But what was she judging against?  Had Roger been like Spock, not realizing that the best part of sex was to be found in the repartee, in the dropping of barriers, in what you could learn about your partner once you had buried yourself in her body?  "I'm going to let you go, Spock.  Let me know when you're free for chess, okay?"

 

"Of course, Jim.  And...thank you for the help with the flowers.  She appeared to love them."  He sounded a bit off on the last part, but turned and walked away before Kirk could ask why.

 

He watched Spock all the way to the lift, hating how tentative he felt right now with him.  But he had him back—it didn't matter how Kirk felt or how long it took Spock to get through whatever he was getting through.  He was back.  And Kirk had never expected to see him again, much less have him back as his first officer—as his friend.

 

He resolved to forget about Spock and Chris and hurried to the lounge, found a scotch sitting for him—neat fortunately, no ice to melt—but no sign of McCoy.

 

Jan was waiting at the bar for a refill.  "I may have told McCoy that Lieutenant Tau found him attractive."

 

"It's true.  She did."  Cam handed his glass to the bartender for a refill.  "Leonard was very happy to pursue that opening."

 

"That's Bones.  Here's to him."  He held out his glass and Jan and Cam clinked theirs against his.

 

"So, you're all alone," Jan said.  "Come sit with us."

 

"I'm not going to horn in on your Valentine's Day."

 

Jan looked at Cam, a rather naughty look on her face that made Kirk laugh, then she said, "Jim, I got to tell you, he's already given me my present."

 

"Are you wearing it?" Kirk asked, trying to figure out if her jewelry was new.

 

"Mmm hmmm.  Just not where you can see."  She batted her eyelashes at him, then laughed as he turned red.  "I'm kidding.  It's this."  She held out her hand, shaking a very pretty bracelet at him.  "It's perfect."  She leaned up to kiss Cam, a short kiss, nothing to make Kirk uncomfortable, like he really was crashing their party.  "Now," she said, handing Cam her drink, then taking both of them by the arms and leading them to a table, "do we need to worry about Christine being alone?  Because I will go get her."

 

Kirk smiled.  "We do not."

 

"Well, good." She sat and studied him.  "I saw her roses."

 

"They were beautiful.  Spock did good."

 

"Did he?  Because I seem to remember Black Pearl being what you had me send your grandma back in the day."

 

He met her eyes.  "Do not tell Chris that.  Let her think Spock picked them out without help."

 

"I did.  I'm not going to make her sad, Jim.  Not when Spock's so damn adept at doing that on all on his own."  She looked around the lounge.  "New subject.  Can we make fun of Decker's people?"

 

Kirk bit back a laugh—he didn't think she was serious. 

 

Cam rolled his eyes.  "You are one of Decker's people."

 

"But only because Jim recommended me."  She made a face.  "Fine, we'll talk about something else."

 

## 

 

Chapel waited for Spock in his quarters, dozing in a chair until she finally had to either get up or fall asleep for real.  Pushing herself up, she said, "Computer, location of Commander Spock?"  As she waited for the answer, the smell of the roses Spock had given her wafted to her.  A week after Valentine's Day they were nearly spent, but she hated to throw them away.  They were a red so dark they were almost burgundy, and she absolutely loved them. 

 

"Commander Spock is in Science Lab Four."

 

Frowning, Chapel made her way to the lab, walking in as if she had a purpose in case anyone else was there, but Spock was alone.  "Hey, I missed you tonight."

 

He looked up, his expression lightening.  "My experiment is at a critical stage.  Did I not mention that this morning?"

 

"Possibly when I was in the shower.  I've told you I can't hear you when I'm I there."

 

He nodded, as if just remembering that she had, in fact, said that.  A Vulcan would no doubt be able to hear him.

 

"I've been thinking."  She sat down on the stool opposite him.

 

He pushed his padd away and gave her his attention.

 

"I'm a scientist, Spock.  We could do this...together.  Not obviously the one you're working on right now—I know how annoying it is to have someone step in midstream.  But something new.  Something that's just ours."

 

"We could do that."

 

She waited, unsure if he was going to follow that with a "but" or if he was agreeing.  Finally she said, "When your experiment is out of the critical phase, we could start on ours."

 

He looked down, and she heard him take the kind of breath he always did just before he had to tell her something he didn't think she was going to like.

 

"What?  What's wrong with my suggestion?"

 

"There is nothing wrong with it, Christine.  It is a very good suggestion.  But...for later."  He leaned in, his expression not the one he wore when he was planning on bullshitting her.  "As you know, I am an introvert."

 

"Uh, yeah."  So was she, but he made her look like a flaming extrovert.  "So?  We'll reserve the lab.  I know you can do that—that you have done it."

 

"I have done it now, in fact.  It is why no one else is in the lab."  He took her hand.  "After Gol, I have felt the need for private time even more than was my norm.  On duty, I am at the beck and call of whomever needs me.  And you and I spend a great deal of time together.  In small quarters."

 

She didn't like where this was going.  "So you don't want to spend any more time than that with me—is that what you're saying?"

 

"I am saying that this time in the lab is my private time.  The only time I truly relax."

 

"Oh."  He wasn't relaxed with her?

 

"In time, I may not need this solitude to the extent I do now."

 

"So as you grow increasingly colder emotionally, I can look forward to spending more time with you?  Yay."  Her voice was as sarcastic as she could get it.

 

"In what way have I grown colder?  I have made every effort with you."

 

"You've grown colder since V'ger wore off" she said, knowing it was stupid, knowing it made her sound idiotic, especially after the earrings, even if she didn't like them, and after the roses.

 

"You knew it was likely that the highly emotional state the meld with V'ger left me with would not last.  I told you I did not think it would.  Why are you blaming me for something that we both accepted as highly likely?"

 

"Because I'm a stupid, human woman.  One who wants to spend time with you outside of the bedroom.  And science is something we share.  I thought..."  She took a deep breath, hated how ragged it sounded.  Standing slowly, she said, "I'm sorry.  What you say makes sense.  I just don't like it much.  But...I'll learn to live with it."

 

"Christine..."

 

She turned and hurried out of the lab before he could call her back.  She considered going to her quarters, but she'd put him back on the access list and didn't want to deal with him on the very unlikely chance that he'd come looking for her.  She headed for the lounge, made a beeline for the bar, ordered a vodka tonic and then threw it back.

 

"Okay, step away from the hard stuff."  Jan put her arm around her.  "I know a breakdown about to happen when I see it.  Why is it about to happen here?"

 

Chapel shook her head, not wanting Jan to be right, but knowing she would be if she tried to talk about Spock.

 

"My friend will have another of those, in a tall glass with very little vodka and a whole lot of tonic, got it?"

 

The crewman acting as bartender nodded and handed it to Jan.

 

"Come on, Christine."  Her grip was like iron.

 

"You're having a fun evening.  I don't want to—"

 

"Shut up."  She led her to the upper level, where Chapel saw Cam and Jim sitting.  "I found a lost little lamb and brought her home."  Jan plunked Chapel down next to Jim and handed her the drink.

 

Chapel sipped desperately.

 

"Whoa there," Jim said softly.  "You okay?"

 

"She is not okay, Jim, and we are not going to rehash.  We are going to divert."

 

Chapel laughed at Jan's tone, a tone she'd have never used before with the man she'd been so infatuated with.

 

"Ooh, she can laugh.  Okay, boys.  Cough up some of those funny stories from when you served together."

 

Jim reached around Chapel, his hand settling on her shoulder, giving a quick squeeze to her arm, then he let go.  She wanted to put her head on his shoulder, to tell him how his best friend didn't want to spend time with her outside of what he already got from her.

 

"Yes," she said instead.  "Something funny, please."

 

Cam leaned forward, his dark eyes gleaming, and Chapel thought he might be blushing although his skin was dark enough to mostly hide embarrassment.  "Has our esteemed captain ever told you about the time, when he was head of Fleet Operations and I was his security chief, that we somehow introduced ourselves as married during a routine meet-and-greet with the delegation from Linarbrius?"

 

"Married to each other?"

 

Jim laughed, a slow, breathy chuckle, his shoulders shaking.  "The automatic translators hadn't quite mastered the Linarbriut language.  I said it right but it was lost in translation, turned into Admiral Kirk, Head of Starfleet Food Preparation and my chief spouse, Commander Cameron Ballard."

 

"Chief of security, chief spouse, they're so similar.  I guess if I was your chief spouse that sort of assumes you had others.  Never occurred to me till now.  I think I'm jealous."  Cam was laughing.  "You would not believe the questions I got asked about the notorious James T. Kirk.  'How is he in bed?' was the most popular.  The Linarbriuts have no filters." 

 

"So what did you tell them?" Jim asked with a wink.

 

"That I would never kiss and tell."  Cam leaned back, put his arm around Jan, and pulled her in closer than she was already sitting.  "Right?"

 

"Right."  She had her hand on his leg, near his knee, not up higher where it would have been in poor taste.  They looked so...together.

 

Chapel didn't think she and Spock would ever look like that.

 

She put her drink down, said softly, "This is fun, really.  But...I've got to call it a night."  She met Jan's eyes.  "I'm sorry."

 

Jan frowned and looked like she was going to get up.

 

"Sit.  With him.  Just like that."  She grinned at Jan and Cam.  "I love seeing you two happy."  She glanced at Jim.  "Goodnight."

 

And then she fled.

 

Jim caught her at the lift.  "What's wrong?"

 

"Go back in there, Jim.  Go back and enjoy the two of them.  They are so cute together."

 

"They are.  I agree."  He eased her gently away from the opening lift.  "Let's walk."

 

"I just want to be alone."  Only she hadn't wanted that.  She'd wanted to be with Spock.

 

"What did he do?"

 

"How do you know it was him?"

 

"It's always him these days, isn't it?"

 

"He's your best friend.  I'm not going to talk—"

 

"Did you see him in there, Chris?  Did you?  You were in there.  Cam and Jan were in there.  Hell, everyone and their dog has been in there tonight.  Spock has not.  So tell me what he did to upset you."

 

"He says he needs extra time alone right now.  To decompress or something.  After Gol, the transition.  It's not personal, Jim."  Shit, why was she making excuses for him? 

 

"Oh, is that why he's never around after shift?  I thought it was you occupying his time in salacious ways."

 

She looked away.  "Later, when it's time to go to bed, it'll be me he wants.  But there's this time in between where I guess I'm persona non grata.  It wasn't that way at first, when we started, he seemed to just...want to be with me all the time.  It was still new—I was still interesting."  She sighed.  This was getting them nowhere.  "I didn't realize you might be feeling left out too."

 

"Well, I am.  He and I haven't played chess in a long time."

 

"Well, he's not playing chess with anyone else as far as I can tell.  His 'me time' is our great rival."

 

He seemed to process that, then his expression changed.  It wasn't one she was used to seeing on his face when it came to Spock.  It looked a lot like "Well, fuck him, then."

 

"Jim, he'll come back to you."

 

"Uh huh.  How about, for now, you and I go back to the lounge instead of standing out here waiting for him?  Cam has better stories than the one he told."  He surprised her by pulling her close.  "And I want to dance.  That'd be okay, right?  You're my best friend's girl.  Safe."

 

She nodded.  "Safe."

 

He took her hand, lifted it up as he slipped his hand around her waist, and began to move her around the corridor.  "Don't make me hum.  It'll destroy the mood."

 

"My mood is pretty shitty so hum away."  But she put her hand on his shoulder and let him lead them around the floor.  "Fine, we can dance—but in the lounge, where we won't look so weird if anyone catches us."

 

He let go of her, and they headed back toward the lounge.  As they got to the door, as she hesitated for a moment, not sure her mood was up to this, he put his hand on her lower back, pushing gently.  "Fortune favors the bold."

 

"Yeah, but a good cry can work wonders."

 

"Cry later.  Come with me.  We can dance.  Cam and Jan are."

 

She let him lead her to the dance floor, smiled at Jan as they passed her and Cam.  Jan gave her a nod that looked way too approving.  Chapel rolled her eyes: it was just a dance.  Jim liked to dance, and Chapel was a nice, safe partner.

 

Everyone knew she loved Spock.

 

She buried her face in Jim's neck, heard him say, "He's an idiot, Chris."

 

"No, he's not.  He's just being himself.  What did I expect?"

 

##

 

Spock walked into his darkened quarters, calling softly for lights at ten percent.  He saw Christine asleep in their bed, so he walked carefully to the closet, about to take off his uniform when he smelled Jim's cologne.  He stopped and tried to figure out where it was coming from.  When he pulled out the shirt Christine had been wearing, the smell intensified.  A human might not have noticed.

 

He turned to look at her.  He did not think she would have come back to his bed if she were sleeping with Jim.  Moreover, he had trouble envisioning a scenario where her shirt stayed on long enough to smell this strongly of Jim if they were engaged in an affair.

 

He walked over to her, kissed her until she stirred, and while she was still half asleep, said gently, "Your shirt smells of Jim's cologne."

 

"That's because we were dancing.  I'm safe. His best friend's girl."  She opened her eyes, not seeming to hide anything from him.  "Are you mad?"

 

"I am not."  But he felt something—not jealousy, exactly, but...resignation almost.  If he would not be with her, did he expect her to be alone?  He had told her that he could not be the only thing in her life, and it seemed he was not.  "You enjoy dancing with him?"

 

"It's nice.  I'd rather dance with you."  She smiled in a way that clearly said she knew the idea was ridiculous.

 

"I do not dance."

 

"Hence the dancing with him."  She sighed slowly, and her expression was difficult for him to read.  "Are we going to fight?"

 

"No.  We are not."

 

"Good." She pulled him down for another kiss.  "I love my flowers.  Ny said I could dry them.  Make potpourri or something.  More stinky stuff in here."  She laughed softly, kissing his neck and up to his ear.  "They were the perfect color.  You did good.  Or did your mom—the rose goddess—help you?"

 

"Jim helped me.  He thought this color would make you happy."  He had not planned to tell her this.  But somehow, with Jim's scent wafting up from her hair, he could not stop himself.  Let her know the truth:  as Spock had suspected would be the case, Jim had picked a more appropriate present for her than Spock and his mother had.

 

"I didn't realize."  She looked unsure, not displeased, exactly, but off balance.

 

"You did tell me to ask him for help when you first brought up Valentine's Day."

 

"I did, didn't I?"

 

He nodded.

 

She reached down, touching him the way that aroused him the most, his body responding to her as it always did.  If this were all that mattered, they would never have a problem. 

 

"You're overdressed," she murmured.

 

He remedied that immediately.

 

##

 

Kirk leaned back against the transporter room wall, watching as Jan beamed in the last of the landing parties.  It was tricky—atmospheric eddies were playing havoc with their sensors—but she was having no problems, and he did not jump in to take over the way he had when he'd first stolen the ship from Decker.

 

It still haunted him: would Sonak and the other officer still be alive if he had let Rand handle it?  She'd trained on the refitted transporters.  Things might have been different.

 

"Yo, Earth to Captain."

 

He looked around the room, saw that the last landing party had cleared and it was just Jan and he left in the room.

 

She grinned.  "You were deep in thought.  And I know this isn't Earth, but I love that saying."  She turned back to the station, ran another check.  "Everyone's back home, sir."

 

"Have I ever said I'm sorry?"

 

"For what?"  She shot him a glance he couldn't read.  "Because if it's for not returning my affections, I think we're long past any need for an apology.  I owe you for introducing me to Cam."

 

"I knew you'd be his type."

 

She nodded.  "And I'm not your type."  She held up a hand when he was about to say something.  "Don't protest.  I know I'm not.  You like brainy girls.  Lawyers and scientists.  Like...Christine."  Before he could say anything to that, she laughed.  "Sorry, I'm all over the place.  What did you need to apologize for?

 

"For taking over that day, when we lost Sonak."

 

"Oh.  No, you haven't apologized for that."  She met his eyes, and he was struck again by how ballsy she'd become.  Not having a crush on him made her a lot more fun to be around.  "Are you doing that now?  Or just wondering if you had?"

 

He laughed.  "I'm doing it.  I'm sorry.  I should have let you handle it.  I was not...at my best."

 

"It's okay.  You weren't the only one who wasn't at his best."

 

He frowned.  "Who else?"

 

She made a face at him like "You really need to ask?"  When he shrugged, she said, "Spock.  I mean he's more himself now, but back then, after V'ger, he was uber emotional.  Not in control.  Not like he is now."  She narrowed her eyes.  "I call it like I see it, Jim.  You disagree?"

 

"No.  You're right.  He was quite emotional after V'ger."

 

"Yeah.  I wish he'd waited..."

 

"Waited?"

 

"To go after Christine.  I'm worried about her.  She wanted him for so long and she got him.  And he was at his best, you know?  I mean because I think he really let her in.  And now...now he's more like he was.  I don't think she's happy.  Not from what I've seen.  Not from what she's said."

 

"Why are you telling me this?"

 

"She's your friend.  She's our friend.  And I think you like her."

 

"I...I don't.  Not that way.  Not..."  He folded his arms over his chest.

 

"I'm not trying to cause trouble.  Jeez.  Relax."  She turned to face him, leaning against the transporter console.  "I think he loves her.  I really do.  But I don't think he can make her happy.  She's been alone so long, and then she nearly killed herself trying to finish med school in record time, and she needs to have fun.  And I don't care how good he may be in bed, she is not having fun most of the time."

 

"She has fun with us.  As our friend."

 

"When it's the four of us?  Me and Cam, you and her?  Yeah, she has fun.  Because we're fun—and you're fun.  She has fun when she's with you." 

 

He fidgeted, suddenly uncomfortable.

 

She reached out and touched his arm.  "I'm sorry.  Forget I said anything."

 

"But you're worried about her—about them?"

 

"I am.  And I think you are, too."  She waved him away.  "Go.  Don't you have captainly things to do?"

 

He did, so he left her alone, rode the lift up to the bridge, relieved Spock, and watched him as he walked to the science station.

 

Would he even care if Christine left him?

 

What the hell kind of question was that?  Kirk forced his mind on other things, like finishing the reports Command would soon be asking for.

 

##

 

Chapel sat with Jan in her office, enjoying a more private lunch than they'd have had in the crowded mess.

 

"I miss Ny," Jan said.  "Have you talked to her?"

 

Chapel nodded.  "Leadership vids are not her thing, let along a month-long class.  I think Jim thought he was doing her a favor."

 

"The class is for high flyers."

 

"I know.  But tell that to her.  She said if she had to sit through one more lecture she was going to scream."

 

"Yeah, boo hoo for her.  Maybe she'll meet a nice guy."

 

"A nice guy who is not on this ship.  That won't be so nice.  I've done the long distance thing.  It's not fun."

 

"Frankly your current close-up thing doesn't look that fun."

 

Chapel rolled her eyes.  "When are you going to give him a break?"

 

"When are you going to quit making excuses for him?"  Jan leaned forward, a look of deep concern on her face.  "Look, I don't have anything against Spock.  I'm sure he has some...very interesting qualities."  Her face changed in a way Chapel couldn't read.  "But you had a Spock who could actually express himself when this relationship started.  And now that the V'ger effects have worn off, you seem unhappy all the time.  You're going backwards."

 

"And where do you want me to go?"

 

"Well, as a point of destination, Jim comes to mind."

 

Christine laughed.  "Right, because you'd be all right with that?"

 

"Why wouldn't I be?  I'm long over him.  I love Cam.  But I love you, too.  I want you to be happy.  And okay, maybe I'm selfish, but I love it when it's the four of us.  It's a blast.  Cam and Jim are friends.  We like each other.  No...Vulcan sensibilities to keep in mind—as if Spock ever deigns to join you in the lounge."

 

"He would if I asked."  He'd hate every minute of it, but if she really wanted him to come with her, she was pretty sure he'd come.

 

"Why should you have to ask?  You need a man like Jim.  He's already kinder to you than Spock is."

 

"Spock isn't unkind.  And, Jan, even if I liked Jim that way, he has his rules.  My God, don't you think I saw what you went through?"

 

"I worked directly for him.  You don't.  You're independent.  And while good legs and a killer smile might land him for shore leave if I was lucky, his long-haul women have always been scientists."

 

"Or lawyers."

 

Jan laughed.  "See, you did listen to me go on and on, didn't you?"

 

"And you listened to me."

 

Jan sighed.  "You're my best friend.  I love Ny, but she doesn't understand me like you do."  Jan stood.  "Do you remember when the captain was split into two people?  When the evil one nearly raped me?"

 

"I do."

 

"You stayed with me that night.  So I could sleep and not be afraid.  You stayed awake all night and watched over me.  I woke up and you were working at my desk and I felt so safe.  I don't know if you realize it, but that meant the world to me.  Not everyone was quite so understanding."

 

"Do you mean Ny?"

 

"Not her.  And it doesn't matter who I mean.  I don't forget, that's all I'm saying.  You had my back then and I have yours now.  And I think you and Spock are imploding.  You can let it be a slow end if that's what lets you sleep at night.  That's up to you.  But face facts, Christine.  You had the man you wanted, right after V'ger, and now you have the real Spock.  And they're two different people.  Maybe if you'd never had the emotional one, this Spock would be okay.  But you did have him.  So it's not."

 

Hearing it said out loud, in such a matter-of-fact way, felt like a relief.  Chapel didn't have to say it.  Didn't have to think it.  But she still felt the need to defend him.  "He's going through something.  I'm not sure the man I've got right now is the real Spock."

 

"So is he going to get better?  Or is the guy who went to Gol coming back?  Because clearly his desire for you was one of the things he was leaving behind."

 

"I have to believe it's going to get better."

 

"You love with such devotion.  Just like Roger, in till the bitter end.  Only you fell for Spock and probably didn't even realize it until that virus made you confront him."

 

Chapel could feel herself blushing.  She hated thinking of that time.

 

Jan tossed her lunch tray in the recycler and walked to the door.  She turned around before it opened.  "What's it going to take for you to realize you're falling for Jim Kirk?"

 

Then she was gone.

 

The door slid shut, and Chapel laughed.  Jan was being ridiculous.  She was not falling for Jim.  Just because everything else she'd said was on target did not mean she was right about that.

 

##

 

Spock sat back in his seat as Jim announced shore leave while the ship underwent slight modifications at the spaceport at Hydra V.  Vulcan was very close.  With a fast shuttle, he and Christine could be on the planet in a few hours.

 

Jim finished his announcement and walked over to him.  "Big plans?  You look like you're cooking up a scheme."  He grinned.

 

"I would like to go home.  With Christine, of course."

 

"Of course."  Jim looked a little surprised even if he'd agreed with Spock.  "Does she know?"

 

"I will tell her.  We had so little notification of the modifications that I have not had time to formulate a plan until now."

 

"May I make a suggestion?"

 

"Yes, of course."

 

"How about if the two of you formulate the plan?  You doing it by yourself is a sure way to tick her off."

 

Spock felt the stubbornness he used to feel with his father fill him.  Why did Jim think he knew better than Spock?  This was an excellent plan, and Christine would concur.

 

Jim held up his hands, his look one of frustration.  "You know what?  She's your girl, Spock.  You'll figure it out." He turned away.

 

"Yes, she is mine," Spock said as softly as he could and still have Jim hear it.

 

He saw Jim stiffen, then turn to look at him, eyes narrowed, none of his usual lightness.  He stepped closer.  "Something you want to say?"

 

"I believe I just did, Jim."

 

"I'm going to forget we've had this whole conversation."  He turned and walked quickly away, sitting down hard in his chair, causing several on the bridge team to look over at him.

 

Spock felt disappointment fill him, but he wasn't sure if it was with himself or with Jim.  He found a shuttle leaving at a time that would be convenient and booked two tickets.  Then he sent Christine a message.  "I have secured passage for us to Vulcan.  My parents will be gratified to see you."

 

"Is there a reason I wasn't included in this decision?" was all that came back.

 

Spock closed the message and walked to Jim's seat.  "I will be back shortly."

 

"Fine."

 

He decided to ignore the curt tone of Jim's monosyllabic response and headed to sickbay.  Christine was in her office, his message no longer up on her screen; she was working on a report.

 

"I told you I don't know where it is, Len."

 

"It is I."

 

She turned around, clearly surprised.  "Oh."  She leaned back and stared at him.  "Why are we going to Vulcan?"

 

He shut the door behind him before saying, "Because that is my home.  You relate well to my parents.  They were not pleased at your absence during my Pon Farr."

 

"Yeah, I get all that.  And I love your parents, if you must know.  I saw them quite a bit while you were at Gol."

 

He could feel his eyebrow rising.  He had not realized she had grown closer to them. 

 

"Sarek wasn't happy you went to Gol.  Did you know that?"

 

"I believe he found my reasoning for going to be...specious."

 

She crossed her arms over her chest.  "I can't speak to that.  I just know he wasn't happy.  And your mother was crushed."

 

"I realize she was unhappy.  And our visit will alleviate any lingering unhappiness with me.  She wants to see us together."

 

"So this is about you?  Making things better for you?"

 

He was unsure what to say.  He was proud of her.  He wanted to take her home, as his partner, as his mate—or nearly one.  He knew this was an important rite of passage for human couples.  Why was she not more enthusiastic?

 

"Hydra V is a paradise, Spock.  Beaches.  Mountains.  The local version of coffee and chocolate and so many things.  I've never had a chance to spend any time here.  All our friends will be there.  I want us to spend our shore leave here.  With them.  We can see your parents any time."

 

"I cannot please you.  I try and you refuse to be pleased."

 

"You didn't even ask me.  You just booked tickets.  So I could go to some hot as hell world where I'll have trouble breathing, and the food is too spicy, and it's all vegetarian, and we'll all talk around the fact that the last time you were home it was to fuck someone else.  But hey, you love me, isn't that great, Mom and Dad?"

 

He could feel a dull anger filling him.  Not the killing rage of the Pon Farr.  This was the kind of anger that...hurt.  He was hurt.  And so tired of this.

 

Would he never measure up?  Would he never have atoned?  To his father?  To Christine?  To Jim?  It seemed that only his mother had really forgiven him for going to Gol.

 

"I do not wish to go to Hydra V."

 

"Fine, then you go to Vulcan and I'll stay here."

 

"With Jim?"

 

She turned around very slowly, an incredulous look on her face.  "What?"

 

"You are happier when you come back from being with him than you have ever been with me."

 

"That's not true.  When we started, when you allowed the emotions V'ger kicked loose in you to have free rein, I was happy."

 

"But I was not at my best.  I was...compromised."

 

"You were happy.  Is being happy the same as being compromised?"  She got up and moved closer.  "Do you wish you hadn't come to my quarters that night?  When you seduced me?  When you made me feel everything I'd ever wanted to feel from you?  When you told me you loved me?"

 

"I do not regret having you.  I regret that I did not wait until the extreme emotions had passed."

 

"I think it's very possible your need for me would have passed, too."

 

"I do not know if that is true."  He could feel the conversation rapidly falling out of his control.  "I know that I need you to come to Vulcan."

 

She wiped tears from her eyes.  "No."

 

"Christine, if you do not come with me, if you choose a crew party on a world designed to entice travelers, with little substance and even less meaning over coming home with me, then I do not know what our future will be."

 

"Or if we'll have one?"  She dashed tears off her cheeks.  She looked miserable; he wanted to go to her, to hold her and kiss the tears away. 

 

He stayed where he was.  "Exactly."  He could see she was not going to bend, so he decided to try another tack.  "If I had discussed this with you, would your answer be different?"  He should have listened to Jim.  He should have put his...jealousy—yes, it was jealousy—aside and listened to him.  Jim understood Christine.  And he wanted the best for Spock.

 

She leaned back on her desk and shrugged.  "I donÕt know.  I'm embarrassed to show up there, Spock.  I'm the woman you were afraid you were going to bond with.  That's not a good role to play."

 

She was crying again, and this time he did go to her and wiped her tears away gently.  "I love you."

 

"You say that so rarely.  In those words: that you love me."  She took his hands and squeezed them gently.  "I'll always love you.  But I want the Spock back that couldn't wait to spend time with me.  I'm lonely, Spock.  I'm freezing to death in your too warm room."

 

A room that was now much colder than he was comfortable with, but he'd lowered the temperature to please her.  Not enough, though.  Nothing he did was ever enough.  "I cannot be that man, Christine.  But do you remember when you first told me that you loved me?  That you loved the human Spock and the Vulcan one?  Do you?  Because if you do, then you'll accept that the man I was after the meld with V'ger was an illusion.  You're a scientist.  Use logic, Christine.  Please?"

 

She pulled him down for a deep, desperate kiss, and he held onto her tightly until she eased away.  "I can't be logical anymore, Spock.  You go to Vulcan and I'll stay here.  I think apart is the way we should be."  She touched his cheek, her tears starting again, her sobs making it hard for him to understand her when she said, "It's over."

 

He sat in the chair, and she stroked his hair, the way his mother used to when he was a boy and especially troubled.  "We are...over?"

 

"We are.  I'll get my things out of your quarters while you're on Vulcan."

 

"Christine, I do not believe it has to be this way."

 

"I do."

 

He looked up.  Despite the fact that she was crying, her expression was unflinching. 

 

They were over.

 

##

 

Kirk and McCoy had commandeered lounge chairs and had them sitting in the surf at the best beach on Hydra V.  Kirk was trying to decide whether to go swimming or just doze when he saw Chris walking slowly toward the beach.

 

Jan saw her, too, and she got up from where she was lying on a big blanket with Cam and hurried over.  She and Chris talked a moment, then Kirk saw Jan making some hand signals that looked like the ones they used to have for their inter-ship baseball league.  Only it was the sign for "Steal home."  Since that made no sense, and Chris looked upset, he decided Jan was trying to get him to come over.

 

He started to get up, was shocked to feel McCoy's hand on him.  "What?"

 

"Jim, think about what you're doing."  McCoy dropped his hand and glanced over at Chris.  "I know I didn't give her relationship with Spock much of a shelf-life, but you getting involved isn't going to help."

 

"I'm already involved, Bones.  And she's my friend."  He didn't wait to see McCoy's expression, just hurried over to Jan and Chris.

 

Chris was a mess.  Her makeup was smeared, even though it looked like she'd cleaned some of it up.  She was in civvies but had no beach bag with her, and he doubted she had a swimsuit on under her clothes.

 

"She broke up with Spock.  She doesn't want to stay.  Talk to her and change her mind."  Jan pushed them closer together and got them going down the boardwalk away from everyone else.

 

Once they were out of sight of the beach, he stopped her with a gentle touch.  "Are you okay?"

 

"No."  She started to cry and he pulled her in close, stroking her hair and back, murmuring, "It's all right.  It's going to be all right."

 

She seemed to be holding on for dear life.  Then she let go and began to wipe her eyes, only making the smears worse.

 

"Here, let me."

 

As he worked, she said, "He's going to be mad at me for a while, I think.  You may want to put me on beta or gamma shift before he can do it."

 

"If it's all the same to you, I'll keep you on alpha.  I'll just make sure you aren't on any landing parties with him until this all calms down.  And it will, right?  You're two smart adults."  He really wanted her to show him she could handle this.  He did not want to move her to a different shift.

 

She nodded.  "I'll be an adult."

 

He turned her so they were walking again, was going to drop his arm from round her shoulder but she reached up, holding him in place. 

 

He let it sit there, enjoying the feeling of being this close to her in a way that wasn't completely safe.  "So what was the last straw?"

 

"Yet another unilateral decision.  One that I think had very little to do with me.  It wasn't really that big a deal but it made me mad and I...lost it."

 

"The last straws rarely are big."  He sighed.  "For what it's worth, I told him to make his shore leave plans with you, not for you."

 

She laughed, and it was an odd laugh that he couldn't quite read.  "You know he's a little bit jealous of you, right?  He thinks we're—"

 

"Having an affair?"

 

"Worse.  You make me happy."

 

"Oh, well, that's all right.  You deserve to be happy and it doesn't take much work."

 

She let go of his hand and he was torn.  He liked the feel of her close to him, but she'd just broken up with Spock.  He dropped his arm.  It took him a few steps to realize that his rules about not sleeping with crew didn't seem to be a consideration.

 

Could he break those rules?  She was medical.  Plenty of captains and first officers fished from that pond.

 

"Penny for your thoughts?" he finally asked.

 

"I was thinking how much I love the roses you picked out for me."  She stopped walking.  "And I was thinking how I'm going to go up to the ship.  It's hot and I'm not dressed for the beach."

 

He had a feeling if she went back to the ship, they'd lose her, possibly for the rest of shore leave.  "I have a better idea."  He turned them back toward the beach, then led her to a store he'd seen as they walked down from the beam-in site.  "I have credits up the yin yang.  Go nuts."

 

"Jim, I can't let you.  I know you don't have a discretionary budget for this."

 

"Well, it's discretionary in the sense that I decide how to use it."  He grinned.  "Look, in case you haven't noticed, Jan has grown a monster pair of balls since she served under me last.  I, for one, do not want to tell her that I let you go hide out in your quarters."

 

She laughed.  "She'd be very mad at you."

 

"My point exactly.  And she'd tell me about it in no uncertain terms.  And Cam would just laugh—or possibly join in."

 

"Well, we can't have that."  She almost sounded happy, and he smiled. "Fine.  I haven't been swimming in forever."

 

"The water is perfect.  The sand is amazing.  And we'll have fun.  Doesn't that sound like a good idea?"

 

"It does.  But I reserve the right to cry."

 

He rubbed her back.  "I know you loved him.  That you have for such a long time.  It's not something you just get over.  And being the one to make the break doesnÕt mean it's easier to forget the other person.  Sometimes I think it's harder."

 

"I think you're right.  Thank you, Jim. For making me do this.  I really just wanted to go hide."

 

"You hiding when we're here on this gorgeous world?  It's criminal.  Now, how about wearing this?"  He held up a very abbreviated bikini and put on a hopeful face so silly he knew she wouldn't take him too seriously.

 

She rolled her eyes, but she laughed and, most importantly, began to peruse the racks for other options.

 

##

 

Chapel palmed open Spock's quarters, an empty carryall slung over her shoulder.  She felt good, her hair was full of salt and she'd gotten some sun down on Vega V.  She was meeting Jan and Cam and Jim tomorrow morning for a hike.  She'd begged off dinner on the beach, wanting to get her stuff moved out of Spock's quarters.

 

He was sitting at his desk when she walked in.  She stopped and he looked over at her, the expression on his face one of anticipation—did he think she was going to be mean?  Then it changed to something more helpless.

 

"I thought you were going to Vulcan."

 

"I decided my parents would have too many questions for me.  I did not want to face that.  I will tell them we are not together later."  He stood and took the carryall from her.  "I will help you.  I do not want to make this harder.  Despite our new...circumstances, we will have to work together.  We should start now."

 

She felt a lump in her throat as they moved around his room, packing up her things—more than she thought she'd have—into the bag.  They got to the nightstand she used, and he let her clear that on her own.  The box with the earrings was in the top drawer and she held it, unsure what to do with it.

 

"I know that you do not like them.  You rarely wear jewelry.  I am unsure why I thought they would please you."  He sat down on the bed next to her.  "My mother loved them."

 

"And you've said she didn't want you to go to Gol."

 

"Yes.  I think I thought I could please you both by taking her advice on what to get you."

 

"That's not a bad thing."  She put the box back in the drawer and shut it.  "If she loves them, why not give them to her?  Tell her about this conversation.  The realization you had that you wanted to please her.  It might make her happy."  Or Chapel realized she might be doing exactly what Amanda had when she'd urged him to get the things in the first place. 

 

She sighed, looked around the room, and zipped up the bag.  "I guess that's everything."

 

She should get up, should walk to the door and leave this too-hot room that smelled of incense and spices and...Spock.  She turned and hugged him tightly, and he put his arms around her, holding her just as tightly.  She didn't want to cry—didn't want to do that to him—but she couldn't hold back the tears, and he stroked her hair and her back, murmuring that it was all right.

 

"It's not all right."  She stroked his cheek; a few months ago, she would have given anything to be able to do this and now she was walking away.  "Some part of me will always love you."  It was the truth and maybe shouldn't be said, but it was the only gift she could think to give him.

 

And then they were kissing and ripping off each other's clothes, and they were together, again, their kisses desperate at first, until they found their old rhythm, their bodies not ready to say goodbye, even if they'd been so logical about parting otherwise.

 

"You smell of salt," he said as they lay quietly afterward, pressed tightly together.  "Did you enjoy yourself on the planet?"

 

"I did."  She kissed his chest, then rested her head against it. 

 

"Were you with Jim?"

 

"I was.  And Jan and Cam.  Len was there."  She moved back so she could see his eyes.  "I wasn't doing this with Jim."

 

"But you may."

 

She wasn't sure how to answer. 

 

"It is all right, Christine.  Whatever happens, happens."  He brushed her hair off her face.  "I am glad we had this chance to say goodbye.  Properly."

 

She knew he had chosen to say "glad" for her.  His gift to her.  "Me, too."

 

"If this were all there was, we would be fine."  He kissed her softly, then pulled her close.

 

"Yes," she said as she felt him let go of her, as he rolled away and let her up.  "If this were all there was, we would be wonderful."

 

## 

 

Spock followed behind Kirk as the landing party made their way to the beam-out point. 

 

McCoy moved up to join him.  "Nice planet."

 

"Indeed.  Most pleasant."  Although to be truthful, Spock found it unremarkable.  But everything at the moment seemed that way.  He missed Christine and did not enjoy the feelings missing her brought.  But he could not turn his emotions off, and he could not change enough to make reconciliation a logical option.  His mother would no doubt say he would simply have to ride out the storm. 

 

A most unsatisfying prescription.

 

"I guess I'll be on more of these landing parties.  You used to ask for Christine." 

 

Spock nearly frowned.  Was McCoy probing? Did Christine not tell him they were no longer together?  Perhaps she was not confiding in him any longer—although to be fair, Spock was not sure she'd ever done so.  "The captain selected the complement for the landing party."

 

"Oh, so he's the one who hasn't been picking me, then?"  McCoy laughed softly.  "You know he shanghaied me back here, and I barely see him.  He says he needs me but it's not like it was."

 

"We both deserted him, Doctor.  It would be human of him not to trust us entirely, not yet at any rate."

 

"He has no problem trusting Ballard.  Who is that guy?  He wasn't on the Enterprise before, was he?"

 

"No.  He was the head of security for Nogura and Jim's staffs."

 

"Hmmm.  Nice enough guy and it's clear he makes Janice happy, which is great."  McCoy actually kicked the dirt like some small human boy.  "Ah, hell, why am I yammering on?  If Jim wants to take his time letting us back in, that's fine."

 

"Indeed, it is his prerogative."  Even if Spock too had noticed how much time Jim was spending with Ballard.  "And Commander Ballard is not on this mission.  If you wish to talk to Jim, do it."

 

"Ever logical, Spock.  Follow your own advice.  I never see you in the lounge with him anymore."

 

Spock realized that McCoy might not be feeling left out at all.  That this may be some kind of armchair psychiatry.  "I do not drink, Doctor.  As you know."

 

"Never stopped your chess games before."  McCoy's smile was gentle.  "Fine, I'll stop grilling you.  But as much as you miss him, he misses you.  Do something about that, Spock.  Let Jim in."

 

It was obvious McCoy had no idea that Jim might be interested in the woman who had just left Spock.

 

Jim stopped and hailed the ship, calling for beam-out. Taking his normal place, Spock stood next to McCoy, and the transporter took them.

 

Rand welcomed them back, a smile that held none of her old infatuation.  "Welcome home, sirs."

 

"Thank you."  Jim walked to her console.  "Cam mentioned a special bottle of scotch, ordered from a distillery he refuses to name.  Is that because it's that good or that it's rockgut?"

 

She laughed.  "It's going to be good.  Upper level of the lounge as usual—we'll see you there?"

 

He nodded.

 

She seemed about to say more, then glanced at Spock.  "I'll make sure you have company."

 

Spock hid any reaction.  Did she think he would not figure out she meant Christine?  "Captain, a word?"

 

"Of course, Spock."  Jim patted the console several times as he often did when settling something in his mind, then turned and led him out of the room.  Once out, the air of bravado seemed to fade and he said, "I'm sorry.  About Chris."

 

"You may tell Chief Rand that she does not need to hide the fact that you socialize with Christine."

 

Jim reddened slightly.  "Sorry about that.  She's trying to protect you, I think."

 

"Whatever her motive, it is unnecessary.  Christine and I are finished.  And we will conduct ourselves with dignity, I assure you."

 

Jim gave Spock a gentle smile.  "I believe you."

 

"I realize you may be interested in her.  I wish you to know that I am...I understand."

 

Swallowing hard, Jim said, "I wouldn't.  In your place."

 

"You would not be in my place Jim.  You are human and yet I believe you make less emotional decisions than I."  He looked down.  "One of the reasons I went to Gol was that after Zarabeth, I was lonely.  I had found something in that state—I was emotional and open—that I wanted more of once I was back on the ship."

 

He could tell he had Jim's attention.  He had not spoken of his reasons for going to Gol, and he knew Jim wondered if he had done something to contribute to the decision.  "Christine was there, open to me, lovely.  And I wanted to recreate what I had known with another woman with her.  I would have pursued it, but Doctor Lester arrived, changing everything.  Christine was at my side when no one else was.  Supporting me and I was ashamed because I knew that I had been willing to use her as some sort of...experiment to attempt to recreate an emotional response I'd had to a woman long dead.  It did me no credit.  It was an emotional break and it was not the first.  After that, after the humiliations forced on us by the Platonians, after everything, I could not take it.  I fled my emotions, my friendship with you, my desire for Christine, my love for my mother, my anger at my father.  I abandoned everything that mattered."

 

Jim waited, listening, not appearing to judge.

 

"After the meld with V'ger, I made another emotional decision and seduced Christine.  It was why I could not spend the Pon Farr with her.  I was already experiencing regret on acting so emotionally, on engaging with her prematurely.  I could not risk tying her to me on yet another emotional whim."

 

"You love her, though."

 

"I do.  But she and I will not work.  And part of that is my fault—some hers.  It does not matter.  What does matter is that I think you and she will work.  I am speaking about this now because our friendship has suffered, and I do not wish your involvement with her to affect it further."

 

"Spock, you're the one who has no time for me."

 

"You are busy with your new friend.  You brought him on board after Nogura gave you the ship.  Doctor McCoy and I were here and yet you brought Ballard aboard."

 

"He kept me sane, Spock.  You weren't there.  Bones wasn't there.  Cam was.  And he's a fine officer.  He deserves this posting." 

 

Spock could tell he had made Jim angry and held his hand up.  "I am...sorry.  I merely wanted you to know that I have noticed you do not need me.  And I have had cause to regret that."

 

"Don't need you?  Of course I need you.  And maybe it is easier to spend time with him and Jan than with you.  But if you're saying you've been lonely, well, you haven't made it easy for me to care.  You left me and then you came back, and you clasped my hand and you said words that made me feel like everything was going to be all right.  You and Chris were together, and I was a fan of that, Spock.  I did not try to get in the middle of this other than to help."

 

"I know, Jim."

 

"But then you started pulling away again.  The same thing Chris felt, I did too—only without the apparently good sex."  He looked down.  "It felt like before—right before Gol, you started to pull away.  You grew distant.  You didn't have time for chess.  You spent all your time in the lab.  This time around I wasn't sure where you were headed emotionally, and frankly I wasn't willing to invest that much of myself in finding out—not if you were going to abandon me again."

 

He stopped talking as several crewmen walked past, nodded to them and called them by name.  The men smiled and murmured, "Hello, sir."

 

Once they were safely past, Jim said, "Look, Spock, tonight I'm going to be with Cam and Jan and—"

 

"And Christine.  Yes I determined that already."

 

"Right, well, tomorrow I'm not going to be with them.  Chess?"  The look he gave Spock was open and missing something that Spock only now realized had been a wall, one built for protection.

 

Against him.  Against the way Spock had hurt him.

 

"Chess, Jim, would be most welcome.  And you do not need to worry: I am not going back to Gol."

 

"Because they won't let you or because you don't want to?"

 

Spock almost smiled; Jim never missed the subtleties.  "Because I do not see that as my future."  He reached out and touched Jim's hand for a moment, long enough to make his point, he hoped.  "I am still journeying, finding out who I am.  Your company on that journey is necessary—critical even."

 

"Are you asking me not to abandon you?"

 

"I am.  You are a man of deep honor.  You do, I believe, want the woman who was mine.  This will bother you, and if you pursue her, which I believe you will, the most logical way to address the self-reproach would be to put distance between us.  I do not want that.  Christine and I have had our time.  If now is to be yours with her, then so be it.  Do not pull away from me." 

 

"If you'd said all this to Chris, she might not have left you."  Jim gave him a wry but gentle smile.

 

"Indeed.  But, Jim, I would never say this to her.  Or to anyone else."

 

Jim nodded and reached out for Spock's shoulder, squeezing gently then letting go.  "Chess it is.  Normal place and time?"

 

"Yes.  I look forward to it."

 

##

 

Kirk watched Spock walk away then turned and went back into the transporter room. 

 

Rand was doing something at the terminal, but she looked up as he came in.  "Sorry, did I say the wrong thing?"

 

"No, it's fine."  He thought of Spock's expression when he was talking about Chris.  "He knew who you meant, though."

 

She winced.  "Sorry."

 

"Did you already talk to Chris about tonight?"

 

"No, I was just going to shanghai her.  She's in a weird mood since packing up her stuff.  I thought if she had too much time to think about an invite, she'd weasel out.  So I'll be impromptu." 

 

"Who knew you were such an evil mastermind?" He grinned.

 

"Hey, I studied strategic thinking under the best."  Her grin matched his own.

 

"I'm glad you're here.  You and Cam even if he's—"  He tried to keep his face neutral; Cam may not have told her he'd just been selected for head of Starfleet security.

 

"Relax, he's a smart man and let me know as soon as he was notified.  I need...I want to ask you for another recommendation to OCS.  I know I chickened out the first time, but this time, I'm ready."

 

"And a stint on Earth would mean you two could be together.  Win win."

 

"The Jim Kirk way."  She cocked her head to the side and sighed.  "I hate leaving you, though.  We're having such fun.  But you'll have Christine.  And we won't be leaving right away.  Captain Jezalub isn't retiring for two months.  OCS is in four.  Plenty of time for you and Christine to get comfortable before your role-model couple departs."  She rolled her eyes.  "Role model.  Pffff."

 

"You are, actually.  Seeing you two happy has made me more...open, I guess."  He studied her.  "You're all right with me being with her?"

 

"Yes.  I am.  I sort of engineered it, didn't I?"

 

He laughed.  "You let me know you're a fan of the idea."

 

"Your version is fine."  Her face grew serious.  "Aside from the fact that I'm happy with Cam and you prefer scientists, so I know we would never work, here's my philosophy on life—I think I refined it on the ship when I served under you."

 

"Okay.  Let's hear it."  He grinned, wondering where she would go with this.

 

"There are three kinds of people in this world.  The ones who have your back, who are there for you, who make your life a better one than if they weren't in it.  Then there are the ones who do the opposite, who stand in your way or who are mean to you when you're at your worst. Then there's everyone else, more or less neutral.  You and Christine, you are in the first group for me.  I can honestly say that my life is better because you're in it, both of you.  And I think you'll be wonderful together.  You both need to be loved, the right way, not just for sex.  And you're smart.  And you know what it's like to lose people."  She laughed, a little nervously.  "Wow, look at me getting so sappy."

 

"Thank you, Jan.  It means a lot." He walked around the console and gave her a quick hug.  "You were the best yeoman I've ever had.  Hands down.  I don't know if I've ever told you that."

 

"You haven't.  And thank you."

 

He stepped back.  "Can I convince you to let me shanghai Chris tonight?"

 

"Well you did pretty damn well on the beach the other day so, yes, you may take over all shanghaiing duties from now on."

 

"Thanks.  I'll see you tonight."  He turned just before getting to the door. " And I'll give you a glowing recommendation.  Even better than the last one."

 

Her radiant smile, free of any trace of her old crush, was the best thank-you in the world.

 

##

 

Chapel was trying to decide if she wanted to go find Jan or Ny when her chime went off.  "Come."

 

Jim walked in, a grin on his face.  "I came to kidnap you."

 

She put her hands on her hips and made a "Tell me more, child," look that she'd learned from the woman who'd babysat her for years when her dad had been working in New Orleans.

 

It worked on Jim.  He dropped the act and moved closer.  "Cam apparently has a bottle of scotch that is supposed to be nectar from the gods.  He's opening it tonight.  I want you to come with me."

 

"As your friend?"

 

"No.  Although I imagine to those watching—other than a few in the know—it will look like that.  I don't want to hurt Spock."

 

She looked down.

 

"Am I assuming something I shouldn't?  I thought...when we danced that I felt something.  But maybe you didn't.  And we have fun, right?" 

 

He was turning red and to save him from starting to babble, which he looked like he might, she pulled him to her and kissed him.

 

He pulled her closer, running his hands over her back.  When he finally pulled away, he put his hands on her either side of her face, stared into her eyes, and said, "I really like you.  I love to be with you.  I have fun when you're around."

 

"You know all the right things to say."  She closed her eyes and sighed.  "All the things Spock didn't give me."

 

"Well, I have to win where I can.  He has the meld, so he may have the sex competition won."

 

She laughed.  "He didn't use it much.  Not after the first few weeks.  I guess it's for special occasions or something.  Or maybe he didn't want me to see how much he was changing."  She sighed.  "He's still your friend, Jim.  Should I be talking about him to you?"

 

"Yes.  You can talk about anything to me.  All right?"

 

"Okay."  She leaned her head on his shoulder, and he pulled her in for a tight hug.

 

"We need to be discreet."

 

"Hide?"

 

"I don't mean hide.  I mean...go slow. Not for the crew, but for him.  Well, okay, for the crew, too.  I don't want them thinking I poached you.  You left him, but not for me, right?"

 

She had to think about that.  "I think I left him for me.  But...if I'm honest, you were of interest to me.  We have so much fun.  Maybe, in some way, I left him for you."

 

"Well, I damn well better be good in bed, then."  He laughed but it was a little bit insecure.  "Or I guess you could have him for sex and me for fun."  He made a face that said that idea was very unappealing.

 

"Would you share me that way?"

 

"No.  And I like to think IÕm good in bed.  During and after, for the fun part."  He pushed her hair back, stroked over her eyebrows.  "Getting to know what's in here, that marvelous brain of yours."  He let go of her.  "Now, will you come with me or am I going to have to sic Jan on you?"

 

"Fine, twist my arm."  She grinned to show him she was kidding.

 

"Did you know Jan is leaving?"

 

She shook her head, knew her expression was a little bit stricken. 

 

"Cam is going to be head of Starfleet security.  Jan's going to try to get into OCS."

 

"She will.  You'll make sure of that."

 

"I will.  And Cam will be great.  But I'll miss them.  They were easy to be with."

 

She sighed.  "Well, maybe when Spock finds a new gal, we can double date with them."

 

He laughed.  "Do you think he will want that?  Someone else?"

 

"I don't know.  But Ny's always liked him.  If I tell her I don't mind, she probably won't waste time.  Whether he bites is the question.  I'm not sure he'd make her happy.  Or maybe he would.  Maybe she'd demand less, or in a different way than I did.  I don't know.  I'll tell her though.  I don't want to see either of them lonely."

 

He pulled her back in for a kiss.  "Last one for tonight until I drop you back off here.  I won't ask to come in.  I want to do this right.  Take it slow."

 

"I think that's a good idea.  We have time."

 

"We have lots of time.  And I want you to be sure."  He stroked her back, then let his hand drop down and down and down.

 

She laughed and said, "I thought you were taking it slow."

 

"I have been wanting to do that for some time.  I'll stop now."  He laughed and gave her ass one more pat.  "Oh yeah, so worth the wait.  Now, my dear, do you have our antitox?  This scotch of Cam's may pack a wallop."

 

"Always."

 

"Then let's go."

 

##

 

Spock sat in the lounge, the chessboard in front of him.  He'd beaten Jim the first game.  Now, this second game, it was clear he was going to lose.

 

"Best of three?" Jim asked as he made the move to checkmate, and it felt like old times.

 

Like the times Spock had foolishly tried to erase.

 

The only time he'd really been content, felt as if he belonged, was on Jim's ship, serving at his side, and he'd gone to Gol to destroy that part of him.

 

"You okay?" Jim asked softly, the quiet question of a friend, Spock's best friend. 

 

He nodded, said only, "I am.  And yes, best of three."

 

He won the third game.  Any satisfaction fled though when Christine came into the lounge, when she smiled at Jim in a happy, easy way that she had lost as Spock's relationship with her had progressed.  Then she shot Spock a gentle look that he read as "I'm sorry" and "We knew this would happen."

 

He knew she was sorry.  And they had known it would happen.  Spock knew he had changed, had ceased to be the emotionally open man who had seduced her.  Some small part of him wished he could still be that man for her, but he knew he could not.  It was the kindest thing to let her go.  He knew Jim would be good for her and that she was good for him.

 

He also knew neither of them would flaunt their relationship, that it was in their nature to be kind.  They wouldn't kiss in front of him, not yet, probably not for some time, although Spock could imagine them doing it in private, could see Jim enjoying the way she would move against him.  Spock had seen them headed for the lounge the night before, no doubt for Ballard's special scotch.  They had not been holding hands, but they had been standing so close as they walked.  And she had looked so...happy.

 

Jim interrupted his reverie.  "Are you sure you're all right?"

 

"I am fine, Jim.  She is waiting."

 

With a pained smile, Jim left him, his smile changing as he joined Christine and led her to the dance floor.  Spock wondered if Jim even realized how content he looked as they danced.  So close, so in sync.  Spock tried to look away and failed.

 

"They look good together."  It took him a moment to realize the husky female voice belonged to Rand.  She moved around to sit next to him at the table.  Her voice was pitched low as she said, "You did the right thing letting her go.  But it hurts, I imagine."

 

"How is this your business?"

 

"She's my friend."  Rand's tone was even, her gaze holding a note of victory that Spock was having trouble understanding.  Her expression changed, looked...disappointed?  Then she stood.  "I'll leave you to it."

 

"To what exactly?"  He was doing nothing; the expression made no sense in this context.  Spock saw Commander Ballard come into the lounge, clearly looking for Rand.  "Your...friend has arrived."

 

Her smile again carried a note of victory Spock did not understand.  "Then I should go.  You'll be okay alone?"

 

"And if I said 'no'?"

 

"I guess we'd invite you to join us, but that might be a little awkward."  She made the face Spock had seen his mother often use when describing uncomfortable situations.

 

"Indeed.  I will be fine alone."

 

"Okay, then."  She stood and waved to Ballard, then made her way through the tables to him.  They joined Jim and Christine on the dance floor.

 

Spock watched them for a moment, then left the lounge in an unhurried fashion, his demeanor calmer than he felt inside.

 

Had he made a mistake letting Christine go?  Should he have fought for her?

 

Would it have made any difference if he had?

 

"Spock, wait up."  McCoy was hurrying down the corridor to him.

 

"Doctor?"

 

"I just...I just wanted to say if you need an ear, I'm here."  McCoy looked slightly uncomfortable.  "I know I'm not always that nice to you, but I think you're hurting and if so, well, you can come to me.  I want you to know that."

 

Spock wondered if McCoy had told Christine the same thing when she'd been with him.  "Thank you, Leonard.  But...I am fine."

 

"Sure.  Sure you are.  Okay, well, you know where to find me if you change your mind.  I'm going to get back—there's a bourbon and a pretty young lieutenant waiting for me in the lounge."

 

"I appreciate your concern."  The he softened his expression.  "Truly, Leonard."

 

McCoy gave him a smile that seemed to understand a great deal.

 

Spock turned and walked to the lift, telling it to go to deck five, walking slowly to his quarters.

 

His empty quarters.  He turned around and headed for the lab instead. 

 

There was always science.

 

FIN