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

You Keep Spinning 'Round Me Just the Same

 

By Djinn

 

 

 

Part 1 - I Know I'm Not the Center of the Universe

 

Christine

 

He never wanted me. I try to tell myself that, as I wait for his comm, and a bit later, as I stand on my balcony watching the sidewalk he always takes, as I see his hair, blue-black in the afternoon light.

 

As he palms himself into my building, because of course I've put him on the door.

 

He never wanted me. I murmur it as I pour the kind of sparkling water he prefers. No ice cubes because he dislikes them.

 

I used to think he disliked me. That may still be true.

 

Me. The person. The brain inside this body he cannot seem to get enough of.

 

Me. The friend of the woman he's living with.

 

Me. The betrayer. For a man who never wanted me when he was free.

 

Me. The idiot.

 

Only...

 

Only...

 

Only, this is how I got Roger. He was with Andrea. It was no surprise to see her, not really, in that android body. She was the one he loved. I was the one he was addicted to. Addicted enough to give me a ring. Not addicted enough to stay. Would he have broken the engagement if he'd come back?

 

I think...I think he would have.

 

Addiction wears off. I saw that when she was there, on that world where his mind was all that was left of him. He was happy to see me—but why wouldn't he be? By the time I got there, she'd have bored him again—bored his beautiful mind. His powerful mind.

 

His batshit crazy mind, at the end.

 

The door chimes. Spock's on the access list, and he's palming the door open even though the ring has barely faded. I think it's his way of telling me to put aside the pensive thoughts—the bitter and angry and needy thoughts.

 

He likes my body. The rest of me...who knows?

 

I lift my chin as he walks toward me. He reaches for me and I feel anger.

 

This man did not want me and I'm sleeping with him anyway.

 

"I didn't buy your soap." I practically spit the words at him.

 

He used it up the last time he was here. He doesn't want to go home smelling of sex with me, but he also doesn't want to go home smelling of unfamiliar soap that she'd notice. So I buy him the kind he uses. He dilutes it, so it doesn't smell like he just took a shower.

 

A thinker, this man who fucks me but isn't mine.

 

He holds up a bag. "I anticipated you would not buy it."

 

We stare at each other. He knows I'm angry. I know he doesn't care that I did or didn't buy him his soap, that I am or am not angry. It should be enough to end this.

 

"She's prettier than I am." I don't ask; it's a fact. Nyota is a beauty; I'm just...good looking.

 

"Yes." He tilts his head.

 

"She's not smarter than I am."

 

"No. But she is not unintelligent."

 

It is the Vulcan way to speak in double negatives. And this is a ritual. He's using me, and I want him to know that I harbor no illusions. Each and every time, I want him to know that.

 

"I'm better in bed."

 

He looks away, taking in my apartment as if it's the first time he's seen it.

 

But it's not. He's fucked me in every room of this place. Multiple times.

 

"Yes," he finally says.

 

I move closer. I pull him down to me and when our lips almost touch, I whisper, "You're cheating on her. You're an asshole."

 

The last part is new. The last part is a slap in his face, and I can tell by the way he backs up that he feels the words deep inside him. But then he looks in the kitchen and he frowns—an honest expression—and the look he turns on me is...tender?

 

"That is one of his glasses. You would not let me use them before."

 

He's not wrong. I, too, am fond of double negatives. He's referring to Jim's double old-fashioned glasses. The ones he drank his scotch sours in. The last glass he used before he left for the launch is the one I've poured Spock's water into.

 

I guarded them. Left them sitting on the counter, making sure they were never dusty. Never using them for my own drinks, let alone this clandestine lover's. Missing Jim. Missing him so much.

 

Even fucking his best friend—or maybe because I'm fucking him and doing nothing else with him—doesn't alleviate the loneliness. Betraying another of his friends—of my friends—only makes it worse.

 

For a year now. For a year today.

 

He wouldn't approve of what we're doing here. But I think he'd understand it. The pain Jim left in the wake of his sacrifice on the Enterprise-B leveled everything in its path. Including me. And this man.

 

And the woman Spock goes home, too, also. After he lost Jim, she offered Spock her customary love, but he wanted to bury his rage and pain and sadness and loneliness in something that would understand it measure for measure.

 

He wanted me. Because I was his friend's woman. And because I was damaged like he was.

 

And so this started.

 

He looks unaccountably touched as he hands me the bag and goes into the kitchen. He handles the glass reverently. "It was a year last month that we lost him."

 

"Yes," I say, because there's no other response to that. We waited a month. We'd run into each other at Command—him fresh from his latest trip searching for Jim. No body meant no death to him. Until that day. Until he gave up.

 

Giving up meant finding me.

 

And he did. He found me spitting mad at the world around me. Fun fact: some people manifest grief as rage rather than sadness. They kick out instead of withdrawing. I hadn't wanted Jim to go to the stupid launch. He'd hated Harriman—mocked him too many times for it to make sense that he'd go.

 

Other than it was an Enterprise, if not his version of the ship.

 

That day, in the corridor, coming out of ops, seeing Spock waiting for me. The look on his face helpless. He hadn't needed to say anything. We understood what was going to happen immediately. He needed to assuage his guilt for giving up by doing something that would be an even greater betrayal. I needed to do the same thing with my rage and who better than her man—she'd told me that she was afraid of me. That I needed to see someone. My best friend: afraid of me. I wonder what she feels now?

 

Does she know? I don't care if she does. The part of me that should care was hollowed out from Jim's death and now it's filled with whatever this is with Spock.

 

I take the soap into the bathroom, put it in the shower, and discard the empty container. When I look up, into the mirror, he's behind me, studying me. I lift my chin; I don't ever let him see weakness.

 

"Do you wish to end this?" he asks softly.

 

"Do you?"

 

He'll blink first. I've always sworn it. I have a bet with myself when he'll do that—we bet on anything in ops, you see. I think he'll call it off on her birthday. When she smiles up at him, in that half seductive/half sweet way she has, and tells him she loves him.

 

Not cheating on her will be his present. Who says Vulcans aren't sentimental?

 

If I'm right, we have two months left.

 

He holds the glass up, but instead of drinking, he pulls me against him, my back to his chest, and lifts the glass to my lips.

 

Drink this in remembrance of me. It's sacrilegious, but this man has become my religion, the way I order my time, the way I think of what is and isn't mine.

 

The way I don't like to spend time with one of my best friends. The way I think she looks at me, like she knows.

 

When why should she? What Vulcan would ever cheat?

 

But he's half human. And she's human. And Vulcans can't bond with humans. Little known fact he shared with me one day when I asked him how she didn't just know he was cheating on her.

 

It's far less permanent than it seemed between them. Funny how she never told me that, let me believe they were headed for forever.

 

I drink, sipping with my eyes closed, remembering how Jim touched me before he left. His kiss. His murmured "I love you." It was casual because he didn't know he wouldn't be coming back. I was distracted because I didn't know it was the last time I'd ever see him.

 

And this man taking the glass and drinking from it, too, wasn't even on the planet. He and Ny were on Risa, having fun, at her insistence. She'd wanted a vacation, almost nagged him into it. They got back as the news reports played.

 

I think sometimes that's the other reason he sought me to bury his pain in. She represents what took him away. And I know this because he's told me that—when I asked her about the trip, she said it was fun till the end. She put on the saddest look in the world as she said it. As if somehow her losing my lover was a bigger loss than my losing him.

 

But she knows what she did. She knows, just as I do, that Jim wanted Spock at the launch. To offset Harriman getting the ship, he needed his best friends there.

 

But Spock was on Risa with her, and Len was teaching a medical seminar on Andoria. And I was in ops. He never thought to ask me to come. It had been so long since I'd been part of his crew. Part of his life, yes. But not something he linked in his mind with the ship he was losing for good.

 

His one true duranium love.

 

I think, if asked, dying to save her would be the way he'd have wanted to go.

 

I lean back, and Spock pushes more firmly against me—supporting me. It's unexpected. When I think of us, I don't think of him taking care of me.

 

"I am not...unmoved by you, Christine."

 

I meet his eyes in the mirror. This is new. A gift of some sort. I frown, and he leads me out of the bathroom and to the bedroom. We stand, chest to chest, and he pulls me in for a hug, and some of the water splashes on my neck but I'm too busy marveling at his actions to complain.

 

He's not given to affection. That isn't what we're about.

 

"I miss him," he says, so softly that I know he'll let me ignore the statement if I want.

 

"I miss him, too." And I do miss him, but it's been a year, and now I will miss Spock when he leaves me to go home to his woman, my friend.

 

And if I'm right, in two months, he will leave and never come back again.

 

I'll enjoy this while I have it. I will writhe and moan and come, over and over because he loves to give me that.

 

It may be all he can give me. And we both know it.

 

We're pragmatic, after all. Highly logical, the both of us. Scientists.

 

He sets the glass on the bedside table, his finger sliding down the side, putting a vertical line in the condensation—he may not like ice, but he likes his water chilled.

 

I reach over and put another line, bisecting his, running perpendicular. The plus sign. The additive signal.

 

He looks at me and his gaze is thoughtful. I know I'm giving him nothing by my expression, but if he wants to know what I'm feeling, he only has to touch my skin. Telepathy is a double-edged sword, though. He can find out so much he doesn't want to know, too.

 

He traces an "S" through the condensation and I laugh, a sound that's jarring in this bedroom, with him. We never laugh.

 

He's never whimsical.

 

But he looks at me as if daring me to finish it, so I reach over and put the "C" on the other side of the plus sign. It can be wiped away in a second. Nothing so solid as inscribing it on a bench or a tree or a rock.

 

But still it is there. We have written it. S + C.

 

He doesn't wipe it away. He just stares at it.

 

"Do you want to be here?" I ask as gently as I can. Normally, we're harder with each other but he's so...pensive.

 

"I do. Too much." He meets my eyes. "You understand a part of me that others do not."

 

By others he means his lover, his girlfriend, his goddamned fiancˇe.

 

Yes, I am doing this when he's going to marry someone else. He proposed on Risa. Just as she wanted him to do.

 

But others also mean his mother and his father and Len and the rest of the crew. "Did Jim know? How you could be?"

 

He shakes his head. "He would be angry that I was using you in this fashion."

 

It's a cold-edged truth that he's never said—that he uses me—and yet he sounds forlorn when he says it. As if he regrets the act, not me.

 

"I think," I say as gently as I can, "that he would be angrier that you're cheating on Ny."

 

"Yes, that too."

 

I stare at what we've inscribed on the glass. The moisture is starting to drip, soon our message will be illegible, nothing more than a ring on the coaster the glass sits on. "Do you believe that?" I point to the glass.

 

"There is something between us."

 

"Yes, her name is Nyota Uhura."

 

"I do not mean in that way." He brushes the idea of her away. He is excellent at compartmentalizing. Sometimes I think she doesn't exist for him when he's here. That until he gets in the shower and pumps out some of his soap, he's a free man simply enjoying himself with a woman.

 

Not betraying someone he ostensibly loves.

 

He pulls off my clothing, nothing sensual in the way he does it. We've been at this for a year. We don't waste time with small things.

 

But he never assumes I'm ready, always takes time, has never hurt me. Should I be grateful? That he's a considerate lover?

 

And a good one.

 

I pull him into me, and try to remember what it felt like with Jim. He wasn't lanky, his voice not so gravelly, and I didn't run my hands over this much hair on his chest. And he laughed—he loved to laugh and talk and touch, for hours after sex. It was lovely and safe and warm. And I could have stayed with him forever.

 

But this man pushing into me is an excellent lover, too. In fact, as lovers, they are equals.

 

As loves, well, there's no comparison. Only one of them ever loved me.

 

And I won't deceive myself that it will ever be any other way.

 

 

 

Spock

 

You are thrusting, close to completion, and normally this would be the time you close your eyes, that you hide the fact that the woman you are having sex with is not the woman you have said you wish to marry. But today, you feel something else and you keep your eyes open.

 

Christine is watching you, and her look, as it has been throughout this afternoon, is confused. Your tenderness mystifies her. You think Jim would be livid that you have been with her a year and only now are showing her that you care.

 

She reaches up and traces along your ear, murmuring for you to let go, to come, and you do, kissing her almost savagely, wishing it were possible to bond with a human because if it were, you would do it now, as you were in her, so that you would not be betraying Nyota any longer.

 

If you were true mates, what would an engagement matter?

 

An engagement you were not entirely ready for, but Nyota had made clear she desired. On a planet you never wanted to go to, but she has ways of making you do things you do not want to do.

 

That is less true now. That ended the day you stepped onto a shuttle and saw the news about Jim. Lost. Lost when you should have been there.

 

"Spock, let go." Christine's voice is husky and seductive with no artifice. She never seduces you the way Nyota does, with batted eyes and clever lines.

 

Christine doesn't seduce you at all. It may be what draws you the most to her. A year now of taking her every way you can imagine and still, she is a mystery.

 

Still, she is Jim's.

 

"Spock, let go." There is something almost desperate in her emotions. You think she believes that you will end this soon. You think she believes your guilt will overtake you.

 

You think she is wrong.

 

You are not sure when you decided it was all right to be this man, one who had two women, but you have decided that.

 

You have just not shared it with either of them. Let Christine think you are breaking your own code. Let Nyota believe you are faithful—although you think she does not believe that anymore. But you do not meld for pleasure—or at least, that is what you tell her.

 

"Spock, God, don't let go. Not yet." You can feel Christine's climax building and you smile slightly, pleased you can give her this, over and over. She has closed her eyes so she does not see your satisfaction, only calls out your name as she comes loudly and long.

 

If this woman were yours, you would meld with her. That is the truth you hide from both her and Nyota. That you wanted Christine, finally wanted her, but Jim had decided the same thing. You had not told him you were inclined toward her—and why would he think you were, after years of him urging you to give her a chance? That you finally were going to acquiesce just as he discovered how much he liked Christine was the greatest of ironies.

 

You turned instead to Nyota. She is, as Christine says, more beautiful. But she is not more desirable. Especially not when it was Christine you wanted in the first place.

 

"May I climax now?" you ask her, and she laughs, and the sound echoes in this silken bedroom that you consider a haven. The two of you do not usually amuse each other.

 

"Yes. Let go. Sorry." Her voice is light, her lips turned up, and you lean in and kiss her. She runs her fingers along your back, nail tips dancing up and down, barely touching, causing shivers.

 

You do not think you will ever get enough of her if you cannot have her. You believe she has no idea this is true, but then you never shared with her that you wanted her at the same time Jim did.

 

In fact, she thinks you did not. She has said it before, when she was angry with you. "You never wanted me" standing in for things she will not say.

 

Like that she loves you. Even though she does. You feel it whenever you touch her.

 

And the guilt she had, after Jim was gone, has disappeared. It should bother you that she feels no guilt over betraying Nyota, but since you are in this venture together, you do not dwell on it.

 

You finish, pushing into her, moaning loudly, pulling her to her side as you roll off her. You reach over her, for the water she has poured into your friend's glass. Does she realize what a monumental gift she has given you?

 

You watch her face as you take a sip. You think she fully realizes what she's given you.

 

Then she frowns, and you sense her confusion, rising through her lovely skin into yours. "Has something changed?" Immediately, regret colors everything.

 

"No." You put the glass down and tangle your fingers in her hair, forcing her to look at you. "No, do not regret asking."

 

She cocks her head, studying you the way you imagine she would an experiment. You share that: science. You would have many things to talk about if she were your mate.

 

You kiss her softly. "Yes, yes something has changed."

 

She frowns. She is not unhappy—that you would feel clearly. But whatever emotion she is feeling is much harder to quantify. Perhaps with a meld?

 

You reach for her face, but she pulls away.

 

"No?" you ask, surprised.

 

"No." Suddenly she is sliding off the bed, away from you, landing half on the floor. "This is what it is."

 

You have said that to her. Numerous times. Usually to also make clear what it is not.

 

You slip from the bed, following her, reaching out, your hand open. "Christine? Do you not want this?"

 

She squints, frowning, and does not take your hand. "You're with her. You're with her."

 

"At this moment, I am with you."

 

"Yes, and moments are all we have." She shakes her head and gets quickly to her feet, going into the guest bathroom and shutting the door.

 

You hear the lock engage, then the sound of the shower.

 

Your soap is in her bathroom. She has left you that. She expects you to leave. She does not want to talk. This surprises you more than anything the two of you have done in this year of excess and betrayal.

 

You get up and take a shower, feeling forlorn even if you normally do not linger in her bed. Now, when you want to, she is not interested.

 

Perhaps she never has been?

 

But no. You feel everything. When you leave her, you slide your hand over her body. A possessive touch but also informative. You know if your departure makes her sad or angry or just relieved because she is tired and would rather be sleeping than pleasuring you.

 

And no matter what, through all those emotions, you can always feel her love.

 

You consider, as you dress, breaking into the guest bathroom. The lock is rudimentary and you figured out how to do it when you were a child.

 

But if she wanted to shower with you, she would be in her bathroom. Although you rarely shower together anymore.

 

Has she grown tired of you? The love notwithstanding? Or just tired of the situation?

 

You stand at the door and knock gently. The water is no longer going and she says, "Goodbye."

 

You wait, to see if she will open the door.

 

She does not.

 

"Goodbye," you say, then you leave your haven and head home.

 

 

 

Nyota

 

She sits across from Spock, the dinner table the only thing that's keeping her from launching herself at him. Does he think she doesn't know where he goes? She followed him from Command this time. Straight to Christine's—well, Jim's—apartment. He was so focused on where he was going he never bothered to look back.

 

She waited for him to come out. His look was...pensive. Not guilty. Not furtive. He left that building like any other visitor.

 

Not like the cheater he is.

 

She realizes he's said something and says, "What?" in a sharper way than she means to.

 

"I merely asked how your day was."

 

She smiles, and knows it's a smile he'd do well to mind. She thinks he has no idea how dangerous the mood she's in is. "It was okay."

 

His eyebrow goes up.

 

"But then I wasn't having sex with my other lover. Maybe I'd have had a better day if I was."

 

He sits very still, not looking away. Will he grow a pair of balls now? Finally? She's hinted around for weeks, ever since a friend mentioned seeing him in Christine's building.

 

Her best fucking friend.

 

She's been hinting around, and he's avoided discussing this. But now, she's tired of feints and shots across the bow. She wants to have this out.

 

But she also wants to win. She won him once over Christine, and she'll do it again. So she lightens her tone, softens her voice and her eyes and even her stance. Melting toward him the way he used to say reminded him of a cat.

 

"When will you stop punishing me for Risa, Spock?"

 

Because that's what this is about. She made him lose Jim—or that's what he's never been willing to say. She thinks he believes her too stupid to figure it out on her own.

 

But she's not stupid. She's never been stupid. You don't serve as long as she did under Jim Kirk if you're stupid.

 

Jim. It's how she thinks of him even if she only got to call him that once she was with his best friend. She thinks, after everything she did, everywhere she followed him, all the risks she took for him, that she should have been able to call him that for her own sake. Not because it was awkward to have his bud's girlfriend calling him "Sir" or "Captain" when they all got together.

 

But no.

 

She's not going to talk about that, though. It would be counterproductive if keeping Spock is on her to-do list, and it is, and she's smart enough to know how to manage him.

 

She's not sure when he and Christine started, but she wants them to finish before her next birthday.

 

Or she'll leave. She's promised herself she'll leave.

 

"Nyota, I am not sure what—"

 

She holds up her hand, in the way that he understands after nearly two years with her means, "No. Stop." Shut the fuck up, even if she only thinks it, never says it. People assume a lot about her. Because she knows how to act, how to behave, how to be good and nice and pleasing. But that doesn't mean inside she's any of that.

 

She almost would rather have this conversation with her friend. Up on the gorgeous balcony Jim picked the apartment for. Maybe with a nice big shove and Christine's scream growing more and more distant as she fell.

 

Only she'll never do that. Because there might be someone underneath that would get hurt. Or have to see that. She's thoughtful.

 

Unlike some.

 

"I know you're sleeping with her. I don't care why. I don't want to know how long it's been going on. I just want you to choose. You can have me or you can have her. But you can't have us both."

 

For a moment, he looks as if he's still going to protest, to pretend to innocence, but then something drops and she realizes it's the lie they've been living.

 

In his eyes, she sees a myriad of emotions. Guilt, for one. But also...resentment? He fucking resents her? How the hell does he get off resenting her?

 

"What? Say what you're thinking, Spock. After so long lying, I'd think that'd be welcome."

 

She sees true anger in his eyes. This is more emotion than she's witnessed since Jim died. Before she knew he was with Christine, she thought he was cutting off all his feelings. Now she wonders if he's burying them along with his dick in Christine's body.

 

"Very well." He leans forward. "You want me to choose?"

 

She nods.

 

"She will not make me choose."

 

It hurts. God, it hurts, to hear him talk about Christine, even if he doesn't say her name. But it has to hurt, because this is horrible what he's doing to her—what they're both doing to her. "Fine, choose her." She could get up and stalk off if she wanted to end this right now.

 

She thinks by the look in his eyes, he'd like her to. To spare him the trouble and guilt of being the one to pull the "It's over" trigger.

 

But it's not over. It's never going to be over. Everyone knows it's forever with Vulcans. This cannot be fucking over. Not when she won. When she finally won.

 

Even if she lost Jim. How the hell did Christine get him? Christine left the ship—left him—twice. While she stayed, Christine left. And Christine ends up with Jim?

 

And Nyota ended up with Spock. A prize, too. She's always been in love with both of them.

 

And now Christine doesn't get to have them both. That's not how this story ends.

 

"Do you love her?" she asks, putting as much hurt in her voice as she can, making it waver just so. She's a singer and a bit of an actress. And she knows everything there is to know about communicating. She's going to have to keep him off balance.

 

Guilt is the only way to do that with him. Push him, and he runs. Just ask his father how well demands go.

 

He meets her eyes, and she reads uncertainty in his. He's not sure if he loves Christine.

 

Which means he's not sure if he isn't. She wasn't expecting that.

 

"Spock, I know you were hurting after Jim. I know I wasn't the right person to talk to about it." Even though she should have been. Their vacation had been planned for months. She and Spock had both assumed Jim would not want to see Harriman taking command.

 

They were wrong. He asked Spock, who had to say they had plans. He had to turn his friend down and then Jim was lost. And she's paid for that ever since.

 

Why doesn't Spock have to pay? He gets to fuck her former best friend and come home as if everything is all right?

 

"I understand she must have been hurting, too." Not that she reached out to Christine very hard. They held each other at the memorial, but she was concentrating on Spock. On helping him get ships to go out and search when he needed them—although she wonders now if Christine didn't do more on that front than she did. Christine has more access, more friends high up.

 

Christine didn't homestead on one ship, under one captain.

 

Christine, goddamned her soul, has a career, not a home. Jim and the crew and the ship were Nyota's home. And now the prodigal sister is taking it all away.

 

"I want to make this better between us." She reaches for his hand and is gratified when he doesn't pull away, but then realizes he may just want to read her emotional state. So she stops just before they touch. If he wants to use her, let him do the reaching.

 

Their eyes meet; his are softer, she thinks, than hers.

 

"Do you want to leave me?" she asks, the tone the half husky, half little girl one that men respond best to. The one that says, "Protect me and I'll show you heaven in my bed."

 

But some other woman is showing him that. Or at least oblivion, which may be what he prefers right now.

 

"Spock?"

 

She sees resolve in his eyes for a moment, then a glimmer of uncertainty. The order is confusing. Most people let resolve overcome uncertainty.

 

Is he unsure of Christine's feelings for him? That would be too rich.

 

But she'll milk it. "I love you. I know we can get past this."

 

"Can we?" He seems to be studying her, then reaches out and takes her hand, holding it gently. What he feels from her seems to surprise him. "You think we can."

 

She's sending him as much love as she can. She's sending him resolve. She's thinking of every happy thing she can at this moment. The first time they made love in her apartment on a lazy winter day when the fog had rolled in. The way he'd smiled—a real smile—when he asked her to marry him on Risa.

 

All the times on the bridge, when he made her feel safe.

 

The way she wants to protect him. To love and cherish and take care of him, the way he should be cared for.

 

What can Christine offer him that she can't? She lets him feel that, too. Confusion. Why would he ever choose Christine over her?

 

She lets go of his hand and gets up, slipping into his lap and kissing him softly. "I know we can, if we both want to. Years down the road, we'll look back on this and ask, 'Christine who?'"

 

She feels him tense. That last part might have been too much. But then he's pushing his forehead against her shoulders. He isn't apologizing. She'll have to wait for that. But he's surrendering, she thinks, to the possibility that the couple who will endure is the two of them, not he and Christine.

 

And for now, that's enough.

 

 

 

Christine

 

I sit in the exam room of a special section of Starfleet Medical where you go after missions that are slightly less regulation than others, and stare down where the tiny scratch across my shin was before I regenerated the skin. The scratch that let the sickness in. I know what the diagnosis is before the doctor comes in, his eyes looking everywhere but me, but his reticence—discomfort, even—confirms it. "Silestyan?"

 

He nods, and seems grateful he doesn't have to deliver the diagnosis.

 

He won't have to deliver the prognosis, either. I know, you see. I know because I've diagnosed it in the few who've ever come down with it.

 

They were on my team. On a planet inside the neutral zone. Where we technically were not supposed to be. It was a volunteer-only mission. But the people needed help, and the Romulans showed no inclination to assist them.

 

Silestyan virus was endemic on the planet. Many of the people had resistance to it from exposure as children to Romulans. Humans were not so lucky. And with it not being a sickness that shows up in Federation space, our researchers don't spend time finding a cure.

 

Especially when it's only found on worlds that Starfleet isn't going to own up to having had personnel on.

 

They can't heal us. The most they can do is freeze us until a cure is found.

 

I laugh and the doctor looks at me with concern.

 

"I won," I tell him, knowing he won't understand. But I've known I won since that day Spock wanted to meld. I was shocked—and not entirely happy with the idea of melding with him when he's with her—and I ran from it and from him. But I've won.

 

And now I won't live to enjoy it. Or rather, I won't be awake to enjoy it.

 

"You need to get into cryo as soon as possible, Commander."

 

"Doctor." This time, for this conversation, I want to be Doctor Chapel.

 

"Of course, Doctor." He sighs. "I wish..."

 

"Yeah, I wish, too. I have friends already in cryo." It took longer to manifest in me. Not sure why, maybe the immune system boosters some of us were trying out? Who knows? For whatever reason, I thought I'd been spared.

 

Fate has a way of laughing at me that you'd think I'd be used to by now.

 

I touch the doctor's shoulder as he starts to walk out, to get the forms started for cryo. "This is all very sensitive." Even now I keep the secrets; this many years in ops, I can't stop.

 

"I'm cleared for you ops types. I don't want to know where you got this, but unfortunately I have a pretty good idea. But don't worry: I'm good at keeping my mouth shut." Then he puts his hand on my shoulder. "I am sorry, Chapel."

 

"Well, who knows? Maybe I'll get to see the future?" I smile, and he looks as if he thinks I'm brave, but really I'm just being me. I gave up on happy endings a long time ago. Now I settle for balls and bluster.

 

I comm Spock without thinking where he might be. It doesn't matter anymore. He told me the last time he was with me, just before I shipped out and picked up this nasty bug, that she knows about us, but she wants to keep him anyway. This is a good thing. He won't be alone.

 

He answers immediately. "Are you all right?"

 

He was the one who sensed something amiss with my system. When he touched me the last time we made love—and I can't just call it fucking anymore. He made love to me, and as he ran his hands over and down, he stopped, where the little scratch had been and asked me if I'd had myself checked out.

 

A regular scanner didn't find it, or I'd have found it myself. And I'd been checked at the same time as my teammates. The boosters apparently masked the virus's signature. Irony.

 

Or fate, again, laughing uproariously at me.

 

"Christine?" I can hear the concern in his voice. I know I can't talk about this on an open channel.

 

"I'm not all right. Can we speak face to face?"

 

"Yes."

 

"I'm at Medical. Come and walk me home." It's indulgent and stupid. But we're old shipmates. There's nothing wrong with old shipmates meeting up in the hall and leaving together. "I'll be at the entrance."

 

"I am on my way." The comm line goes dead and I laugh, because he's not being rude, he's just on his way.

 

I sit as I wait for him. I sit and ponder cryo sleep. Some people dream. Some people have nightmares. Some simply experience a dreamless, timeless peace after the initial phase-in period. I know all this because I worked on a cryo project after I left the ship after V'ger. It was where I met Cartwright. He was especially interested in it for uses during an emergency, especially when we had wounded we could evacuate but not treat.

 

Cartwright, who's rotting in Rura Penthe. I miss him so. He's a traitor, but he was good to me, the best mentor I ever had. I refused to disavow his impact on my life and for a few months after Khitomer, my life was hell. But then things settled down, and life moved on as it does.

 

I see Spock coming quite quickly down the hall, not running exactly, but hurrying. He looks like he might if it were Jim who asked him to come. If it were Jim who wasn't all right.

 

I think in some ways I've merged with Jim in Spock's mind. It's not just me he's fucking. Although maybe I'm being unfair to him. Because it does seem that he has feelings that are just for me.

 

I get up and head to the door, meeting him there, and he puts his hand on my elbow, steering me out. Normally I'd think it was to read me, but we're both in uniform. He can read nothing through this much fabric. He just...he just wants to touch me. In public. Where anyone could see.

 

"Christine?"

 

"Not here. At my place." Which is swept regularly for bugs. Because we see so much in ops and this keeps information safe. I've wondered a time or two if the people sweeping for surveillance also place some—do they watch us? Have they seen Spock and I, joined together, on the couch, in the shower, on the floor by the door because we couldn't wait to get to the bedroom?

 

He palms open the door to the building but stops and looks back.

 

"Is she there?" He's told me she followed him. Not that it matters now.

 

"I do not believe so."

 

When we reach my apartment, he palms that open, too, and again, his hand is on my elbow. So solicitous.

 

Can it be that he loves me?

 

Fate is once again spitting on me if that's true.

 

I pull him into the living room, sit next to him on the couch, and say, " Silestyan virus. Have you heard of it?"

 

His face freezes and his eyes seek mine. There's hopelessness in his. "Where could you have—" But he stops because of course he knows where I could have gotten it. Or at least how. A relief mission we weren't supposed to do but did anyway.

 

"There's no cure, Spock. Not here anyway. The Romulans have one, but we can't ask them, obviously."

 

"I have a contact. I trust him deeply."

 

"Is he high up?"

 

"Moderately so."

 

"Then you can't ask him. They can't even suspect where we were." Because Starfleet might send others. The planet has a great deal of strategic minerals, and the people would be happy to share them with the Federation in exchange for protection. They're close enough to the border of the neutral zone that their planet could go either way, and they're tired of Romulan predations on their bounty with little but neglect otherwise.

 

"Christine, I assure you my associate can be trusted." He's touching my neck as he talks, playing with my hair in a way that I think brings him comfort. "I can help you. Possibly cure you."

 

I smile, and I know it's a smile of amazement. He's passionate about this. I should, by now, be a millstone around his neck. The mistress he buried his pain in, not someone he wants to save. "I love that you want to. But you can't." I put my forehead to his, press gently, and whisper, "The needs of the many..."

 

I hear his sigh of defeat. "I love you," he says, and it hangs out there, but then he pulls away and tilts my chin up and waits until I meet his eyes to say, "Christine, I love you."

 

"I love you, too. But we don't have a future. You need to go home to Nyota. You need to build a life with her." And I know she'll welcome him back. "Choose her before it's announced that I'm 'lost.'" I nuzzle in because I see the word hits too hard. Lost like Jim. Lost like Scotty. One more person to lose with no body.

 

"Lost," he echoes, his voice forlorn.

 

"It's how it has to be. Only presumed dead so that maybe someday I can come back." I know he knows this. I just have to say it. For my own sake.

 

"Christine, do not cry."

 

Shit. Am I crying? I don't let him see me cry. But now I am and maybe it doesn't matter anymore. "I don't want to go to sleep. I could have you, couldn't I?"

 

He nods, pressing against me.

 

And we sit still. I know how this will go. Someone pretending to be me will requisition a ship that will crash in a way leaving only fragments. The person piloting will make their way to some other, more shadowy part, of Starfleet when this is over.

 

I will never be in the ship; I'll be at a cryo center under a name that's not mine.

 

"Christine Chapel will cease to exist," I murmur. "But a friend of mine runs the cryo center the others were sent to. It's in Berkeley."

 

"I know the one." He nods against me, holding me tightly. "I will find you once I have the cure."

 

I can see he won't let this go, and I know better than to push him—but there are other ways to get him to do what I want. "Spock, if they think you have compromised anything, I might disappear." I don't mean they'd kill me, but they would move me. I'd as good as vanish.

 

I can tell by his expression that he can feel that I believe it.

 

"I will be circumspect."

 

I accept his word. There's more he needs to hear. "You have to choose Nyota before anything's announced. She has to think she's beaten me, not won you by default." It's the side of her she thinks I don't understand. But it's my job to understand what makes people tick. I've always known the real Nyota Uhura is very far from the sweet and soft fa¨ade she puts on.

 

"Why do you want me with her?"

 

"Because if I can't have you, she should. Because she was my best friend and I owe it to her. Because I can't bear to think of you alone. All of the above, really."

 

He strokes my cheek, and his fingers linger over the meld points.

 

"Spock, don't. I can't bear it. And I don't think you'll be able to, either."

 

"I do not meld with her." He looks lost. "I will not meld with her."

 

It's the only thing he can give me. But I'll take it.

 

"You can never tell anyone what's really happened to me. I'm not supposed to say goodbye to anyone. It has to look real." I pull him to me, nuzzling his neck. "But there was no way I wouldn't tell you." I say that at full voice, so if there are people watching us, they'll know I knew it when I said it. That I trust this man, and they can, too.

 

He pulls me onto him, straddling him, and we kiss for a long time, in a way I don't remember us doing before. The kisses are almost playful, even in the desperation that surrounds all these last touches.

 

"I love you, Spock." I trace the tips of his ears, and he closes his eyes.

 

"Do you love me more than Jim?" He opens his eyes and seems to want to watch whatever thought processes I'm letting show on my face.

 

"I was in love with you longer."

 

It's not an answer to the question he's asked, but it's the only one I can give him. Did I love Jim? Absolutely. Did I love him more than I do Spock? No. But at this point, who cares?

 

And if I tell Spock I do love him more, then he might not stay with Nyota. I know him, after all. I know he wallows. Let him plunge his pain into her body this time.

 

I'll be unavailable. Forever, possibly.

 

"If the Federation or Starfleet do not find a cure, I will." As I open my mouth to protest, he covers it with his hand. "No. I will be careful. I will not compromise anyone. But I will find it."

 

"You should let me go. That would be the smartest thing. Nyota loves you, and I think you love her. You loved her before you loved me."

 

He looks as if he is weighing whether to tell me something.

 

"What? What is it?"

 

But then he shakes his head. He looks away as he murmurs, "You are no doubt wise."

 

"Just don't go back to her right this minute." I begin to pull off his clothing, and he does the same for me, and then I rise up and settle down onto him...there. "I'll miss this," I murmur, even if it's probably not true. If I'm lucky, I'll be one of the non-dreamers, not missing anything. Although dreaming of this moment would be nice: a love that lasts forever.

 

He holds me more tightly than usual, kisses me more, bringing me orgasm after orgasm, enough to last a lifetime.

 

We eventually move to the bed and when, finally sated, he lets us rest, I ask softly, "Can I ask you something stupid?"

 

He looks over, his eyes tender, his touch on my lips so very gentle. "I would have left her. I would have chosen you."

 

"Thank you." I don't know if it's a lie, but I don't think he's smart enough emotionally to know to do that, or maybe I just think he's too Vulcan to lower himself to lie.

 

Then again, he's going back to a woman he would have left for me. So maybe he's human enough to say whatever I need to hear, whatever will make this bearable for both of us.

 

When we finally leave the bed, it's late. We shower together and he reaches for my soap, as if he doesn't care how much that would hurt her.

 

I stop him and make him use his soap, the way he needs to. She's smart enough to see a reconciliation that comes with a slap like that for what it is: the crossed fingers of a child promising something he doesn't really mean.

 

She can't know that. Not if he's to have some kind of love in his life. And I want that for him. And for her, I guess. She was my friend, once.

 

This is the least—and the most—I can do for her.

 

"Be careful with the Romulans. They can't be trusted," I whisper as I hold him tightly as he gets ready to walk out of my place for the last time. Tomorrow morning I'll need to get things in order without looking like that's what I'm doing. Ops will have a special safety deposit bin for the things that really matter to me—but I can't take many of them or it won't look real. Everything else will be packed up and put in storage—or at least I think it will.

 

"I have faith in the Romulan I am working with," he says, and I can see in his eyes that this faith will keep him going far more than any love for Ny will.

 

And that makes me happy. God help me, that makes me so very happy.

 

 

 

Spock

 

You sit at your terminal, staring at the weekly all-hands bulletin from Starfleet. "Senior Emergency Operations Officer Lost in Shuttle Explosion" is one of the headlines. Her name is in the article. You imagine she has worked with many officers at this point. Officers will click the link to the full article and mourn for a moment, or maybe longer, the loss of a fine member of the Fleet.

 

You think you should be able to sense when she goes into the cryo chamber. You may not have melded, but you did share consciousness, so many years ago now. You should be able to feel the lack of her, the same way you still get pings when Leonard is sick or hurt after placing your katra with him.

 

But you have felt nothing different.

 

You burn for her. Not literally, although your emotions are chaotic enough for this to be the Pon Farr. You want to go and find her and take her to Pardek and say, "Heal her, as a gesture of good faith." But you know you can't. For so many reasons.

 

"I'm home." Nyota's tone is light. She is happy because she has won, and you understand that Christine knew her far better than you do. Perhaps, in time, you will understand what drives her the way your lover did.

 

The way the woman you love did.

 

You know you should close the article, but you do not.

 

"What are you doing?" She's at the door.

 

"I am doing nothing." Nothing to help Christine. Nothing to stop this process of losing her to a disease, to a cure that is nothing but an inadequate solution.

 

"Well, someone's grumpy." She comes over, puts her arms around you, and you know she's reading the bulletin over your shoulder. "Oh, God. Spock."

 

There is actual pain in her voice, and you feel shock and grief and just the faintest trace of relief from where her arm is touching your neck. "Not another of us."

 

And you realize that is the pain she feels. Not that it is Christine, but that it is one of the crew. You want to push her off you, but instead you pull her around, bury your head in her neck, and murmur, "Yes, too many of us."

 

You feel triumph surging from her at your choice of words. You knew, that if Christine was right about this woman you are going to marry, you would. But you hoped for more. You hoped she would feel more for her friend. Or for you?

 

"Do you want some time alone?" She is giving you that, her voice generous, her kiss sweet. She is giving you time to mourn your former mistress.

 

She has no idea you started mourning Christine from the moment she told you she had contracted Silestyan.

 

"I believe I will go for a walk."

 

She hugs you tightly and then gets up. "I love you."

 

"And I you." It is how you say it now. It is easier to say it that way. It is not a lie. You do love her—have always, as a crewmate, as a lovely friend. But you are not in love with her.

 

Perhaps, though. In time. You will be.

 

You leave the apartment, walking in no particular direction, and it takes you longer than it should to realize someone is following you. You are about to turn, when you hear a muttered, "Don't," and then a man is passing you, slipping as he does it, thrusting something in your hand. "They changed the location," he mutters, his head down and then says, "Sorry, clumsy of me," much more loudly and hurries off.

 

You crumple the paper in your grip and do not change the tempo of your steps, or the expression on your face. You let yourself appear to be troubled and deep in thought. You walk all the way to the Vulcan embassy, are waved in, and head for the chamber you know to be free of eavesdropping—human anyway.

 

You keep your head and body over your hands, mantling the small scrap of paper like a hawk over a kill so any cameras that are in this room won't see what you are looking at.

 

All it says is, "Marina Talbot" and "CCDOax."

 

You walk out, to the woman who serves as a concierge and general assistant, and ask softly, "May I use your terminal?"

 

"Of course, Spock." She signs off, and gives you space, heading for the refreshment area, and you quickly sign in and search cryo centers and enter a disease only Vulcans contract, for which cryo is often the best option since researchers are close to a cure.

 

There are a large number of Vulcan centers you need to scroll past but then you see the list of known centers on Earth and nearby Federation worlds. You realize she could be at a black site, but believe in this case, Starfleet has no reason not to just hide her in plain sight.

 

Cryo-Center Deluxe Oaxaca gets your attention. You elect not to select it, but you do select several others, all on Vulcan.

 

By the time the assistant gets back, you have also searched other treatment options and katra ceremonies. You sign out, clearing the system of your search history, but if anyone is watching traffic, which you doubt, they will see only the most normal—if disagreeable—of queries.

 

"Is my mother in?"

 

"No, she and the ambassador have gone out." She looks as if she does not understand why you would not comm first to ascertain their presence.

 

"I was in the area. I thought I would check. Thank you for the use of your terminal."

 

"Of course. Peace and long life, Spock."

 

"And to you."

 

You leave the embassy and walk for a long time, then you go into a market, buy Nyota's favorite color roses, and take them home to her.

 

She cries when she sees them, and says, "Oh, Spock," as she pulls you in. You feel more grief than pleasure and she murmurs, "She was my best friend, before..."

 

"I know." It is all you can say. You know you have come between them.

 

"I miss her." There is truth to the statement; she is not lying for your benefit.

 

And in the sadness you feel for her—real sadness this time, for her friend, you find some peace.

 

It is the reason you will stay with her. Because there is so much good in her. You should have been satisfied with that. You should have stayed true to her—perhaps Christine would have made different choices on missions and not contracted a disease.

 

But no. You do not know that there is any causal nature of your relationship and her sickness. She was probably chosen because she was the best qualified to lead such a mission.

 

"I'm going to put these in water. Thank you, Spock." And then she is gone and you are left, the piece of paper still in the pocket of your robe.

 

Nyota has turned on the fireplace, and you walk to it and drop the paper in.

 

It burns to nothing as you watch.

 

 

 

Nyota

 

She sits next to Spock at the memorial for Christine and tries to square her feelings. There is a deep well of grief but it is covered over, as if by a net, of resentment—even hatred.

 

This woman that she called her friend is dead, and that makes her sad. But this woman that she called her friend fucked her fiancˇ and that enrages her.

 

"Such a loss," someone says as they sit behind her. "She was going to make captain—I just know it. I worked with her on an emergency. Such strong moral fiber."

 

This is news to her and it irritates her that no one is looking at her and thinking Starfleet should make her captain. She wants to turn around and ask if strong moral fiber includes fucking someone else's man, but of course she doesn't.

 

Christine is now Saint Christine, and there's nothing she can do about that without embarrassing Spock and herself, too.

 

Janice sits next to her, Sulu following her in. They hug and she wishes she'd told Jan before this happened what Christine had done to her. If she tells her now, it's only her words against the memory of Christine. It won't work. She's a master of framing a message in a way people will receive, and she knows she needs to swallow the bitterness and anger and just pretend to be what she's not: the dead woman's closest friend.

 

Or one of them.

 

"She followed Jim," Janice says.

 

She wants to look at her like she's fucking nuts. Christine didn't follow him. She barely waited for him to be gone before taking up with someone new—someone who was taken. But she keeps her eyes down, as if the emotion is too much, and murmurs, "She did."

 

She wants to vomit. More and more as fellow crew come in, Pavel and Leonard—but no Scotty.

 

He was lost, on his way to retirement. This is how it will be now. Less and less of them remaining.

 

She glances at Spock. She loves him in a way she never loved Scotty. And things are better now with Spock. She doesn't feel as if Christine lives between them anymore. She doesn't have to be hard and unpleasant, can fall back into the role she prefers. Doting fiancˇe, sweet-tempered woman, consummate professional who still has a life outside of Starfleet.

 

The CINC gets up. The fucking CINC? The crowd quiets as he looks out at them, then gestures toward the picture of Christine that is on the projection screens. "Commander Christine Chapel saved my life. I imagine there are many of us—many more beyond these walls—who can say the same thing."

 

She stops herself from rolling her eyes. This is Christine's day. Her last day. Let her be canonized. Worshipped, even, as some goddess of mercy and comfort. She knew the real woman, and the picture was far more complex and far less complimentary.

 

But she leans into Janice, as if this hurts, as if she is feeling too much, and Janice lean backs, murmuring, "I miss her."

 

"I miss her, too," she says.

 

Lying, after all, is recommended at a memorial. She wants to tune out the speakers and focus on the wedding that she's planning. But that might leave her exposed—mute and dull when she should be laughing at a wry story or crying at the selflessness of her fiancˇ's lover. So she pays attention and does what she does best.

 

Puts on a mask and acts out the part. Until it's over, the ceremony, and then the reception, and then the trip to the bar with just the crew.

 

She gets home and kisses Spock gently, then watches him walk into his study and close the door, clearly saddened.

 

And then she goes into their bedroom, takes off the black dress, and throws it into the recycler. She never wants to see that garment again.

 

 

 

Part 2: I Don't Like My Mind Right Now

 

Spock

 

You are not usually given to fantasy, but you indulge yourself and think of Christine as you sit in this auditorium, listening to speakers that offer nothing you do not already know. But Starfleet insists officers attend this training yearly and so you are here.

 

The seat next to you is empty. You saved it for Nyota as she asked you to, but she has yet to make an appearance. You close your eyes, imagining how she will smell when she comes in, the faint whiff of fragrance that is not her perfume, but a man's cologne.

 

She thinks she is hiding this affair from you. You never meld and you have said nothing to indicate you suspect her. You and she have lived together in what you thought was harmony. Six years of that. But something changed with her last assignment.

 

You could easily discover his name if you wished. You find you do not care enough to trouble yourself. She is not denying you sex—in fact, the guilt that washes from her skin when you touch her makes her particularly generous with some forms of intimacy.

 

And you have never stopped thinking of Christine. Although you try not to do it when you are making love to your wife. So maybe it is fair that she is finally paying you back for your indiscretion.

 

Marina Talbot. Oaxaca. It is a meditation mantra now. Who Christine is. Where she is. Sleeping. Dreaming of you, perhaps? Or of Jim or Roger. You would prefer she not dream at all than be living some fantasy of other men. It is primitive and it concerns you because eventually the Pon Farr will come upon you. And you are not sure if your body, when it is operating on primitive emotion alone, will want to go to Oaxaca and wake up your mistress or...make due with the woman you married.

 

The woman who is slipping into the seat next to you. "Did they miss me?" she asks, so low that only a Vulcan could hear her.

 

You lean in, your mouth to her ear. "I signed you in." There is no trace of cologne. You let an eyebrow rise as you ponder this. "Where were you?"

 

"Crisis counseling. Saavik—I'll tell you later. Everything's fine now."

 

And this is one of the reasons you have never entertained leaving her. That, if you are fair to her, you are not just making due but are actually happy. The part of you that is not primitive, that is rational and capable of weighing positive to negative, loves her. You appreciate the deep affection she has for the woman you consider your daughter, and the easy rapport she has with your mother. Even your father seems less stiff with her around.

 

Although it took time. Your father preferred Christine and made every attempt to steer you her way. As usual, you resisted anything he wanted you to do and lost her because while you were rebelling, she went to Jim.

 

You will never tell your father that, of course. He need never know how right he was.

 

It occurs to you that you misjudged Nyota. You were so sure she was with her lover when she was not. Is it over? Has she grown tired of this man—or has her guilt made her back away?

 

But then the door opens again, and a man passes your aisle seat, the cologne all too familiar. He is at least a decade her junior. As he sits, he looks around, his gaze coming to you and he seems to blanche.

 

You do not look away. You want him to see that you know—that you do not appreciate the liberties he is taking with your wife.

 

You realize you are clenching your fists and slowly open them. Perhaps the Pon Farr will not be a problem at all. This reaction to your wife's lover is anything but rational. In fact, you want to pull him apart. Slowly.

 

You force yourself to look away, focus on the speaker, on the useless information coming out of his mouth.

 

You hear Nyota breathe, "Are you all right, Spock?"

 

You turn, raise an eyebrow in the most playful manner that you can, and nod slightly.

 

She smiles, but it is an uncertain expression. Then her eyes dart to the side—to her lover—and you lean in and, in the lowest voice you think she will hear, say, "I know. It is only fair, I suppose. I did it to you, after all."

 

She tenses but meets your eyes as you ease away. She is obviously confused by the dichotomy of the way your voice sounded and the easy expression you are giving her. But she will not back down—she never backs down. And you think that is one of the things you admire most about her.

 

"Later," she mouths, and you nod just enough to indicate you agree. Then you go back to thinking of other things.

 

Of other people.

 

Of one other person.

 

Marina Talbot. Oaxaca.

 

 

 

Nyota

 

She glances over at William. He doesn't look her way, not once, not since he and Spock had their "whatever that was" stare down.

 

Only, she knows what it was. Spock just told her what it was.

 

She is screwing this young—well, younger—man who admires her and thinks she's beautiful, and her husband is fully aware of it.

 

And he's not happy.

 

And just maybe, he also doesn't care.

 

This is the problem with Vulcans. So much is rooted in possession. She's his but is he hers? That's what has always troubled her. It's what, if she's honest with herself, allowed her to let William in.

 

She has never, ever cheated on someone she loved. And now she does it with impunity.

 

But not with a light heart. She wasn't lying to Spock about crisis management with Saavik. But afterwards, she stopped in at the chapel, where she goes often and always has.

 

She thinks he has no idea how much time over the years she's spent in chapels. God is not something they talk about, primarily because he can dissect anything into being illogical, and she doesn't want her faith to be examined under a microscope. It's like Jim's instincts at command were: something that makes no sense logically but works nonetheless.

 

As she sat in the pew, staring at her favorite stained glass window, she saw one of the chaplains come out from the office areas. Do they have an alert when someone comes into the place? They always seem to come out when she walks in, an unobtrusive presence if not needing, going back into the office and leaving her in peace.

 

But this time she looks up and gives the man a wavering smile—the kind she's fully aware says: "I need help."

 

He comes over and sits next to her. "That's my favorite window, too." He gestures at the one she's been staring at.

 

"It's been here as long as I have. Even survived the whale probe."

 

He laughs softly. "Yes, it did." They sit in silence for a moment, then he says, "If you don't need company, I'll leave you alone."

 

"I need advice—or maybe just an ear." She turns to look at him. "I need to know what to do—what's right."

 

He studies her. "It's been my experience that many times, when people say that, they know exactly what's right. And it's generally not what they're doing."

 

"That's true, isn't it?" Sighing, she turns to the window. "I'm betraying someone I love. But the thing is, he did it first."

 

"I see."

 

"With a friend of mine. Who I hate—hated. I can't hate her anymore, can I? Because I'm just like her." Only William isn't married. She's not stealing him from anyone. But she's taken. So that's worse.

 

Shit, it's so much worse. Christine was with Spock before she was married to him. She was with William despite being married.

 

"I love my husband."

 

"Do you like him?"

 

She shrugs, unsure where he's going with the question.

 

"If I understand what you're saying, you're being unfaithful to your husband."

 

"Yes," she whispers so softly he can choose to ignore it.

 

"Sometimes, when we crave intimacy, it isn't the sexual kind. How much do you and your husband have in common?"

 

"Not that much." William makes her laugh. William makes her feel...smart. "But he's kind to me. And I love his family. I have a family because of him. My parents died when I was young, and I have no siblings."

 

"So you would lose far more than a husband if he were to find out."

 

"Yes." And she thinks William won't last. He's enamored now, but he's still young enough to have a family if he marries someone his own age. "I want to keep what I have."

 

That sums up so much of her life. And why she hangs on when others move on. Because she had so little growing up that was hers, everything that does belong to her takes on such significance and value.

 

"It's wrong to cheat." She sighs. There. She's said it. It wasn't wrong, when it started, when she was lonely and Spock seemed particularly distant—and absent. Away on one diplomatic mission after another. She might as well have been single.

 

But he's more engaged now. Although maybe that's just the Pon Farr finally coming on.

 

Whatever his reason, he's present. And she needs to be, too.

 

She gives the chaplain a grateful smile. "Thank you."

 

"You did all the heavy lifting."

 

"But you spotted me." She grins and he does too, and she wonders who this man is who listens with such tranquil support. She holds out her hand. "I'm Nyota."

 

"Carl." He takes her hand and squeezes it gently before letting it go. "I'm married, too. The road with another is wonderful—except when it's not. But if it were easy, it wouldn't be worth having."

 

"Yes." She waits until he is gone, then pulls out her comm unit.

 

William should be in the auditorium, but he's probably not. He's probably hanging back since she did, too. Hoping they can find time to be together.

 

She's the only one in the chapel, so she comms him. He picks up immediately.

 

"I can't do this anymore," she whispers.

 

There's long silence and then he says, "Okay."

 

And that's that. It's over. No fuss, no muss. She feels like an idiot.

 

But then a text message comes in. Just tell me why.

 

She knew it was wrong to feel better that he did care that she broke up with him, but she did feel better. She typed out: Because I love my husband.

 

She pulls out the comm unit now, brings up the texts, letting them sit there, just the two, and hands it to Spock.

 

He reads it and goes very still. The way only a Vulcan feeling something very strongly does. And then he turns to her, his eyes softer than she's seen in years.

 

He mouths, "I love you, too." In the middle of an auditorium. Granted, they're in the back and the lights are dimmed. But still, such a declaration. She smiles, and feels tears well, and wants to take him and go home and make love the way they haven't in such a long time.

 

They've just had sex. She knew it and now she knows he knew it, too.

 

To her surprise, he takes her by the hand long enough to get her rising, to follow him, to take her elbow and almost push her up the stairs. They aren't sneaking—anyone can see them leave—but they are sneaking, and she's already calling a flitter to come get them.

 

One shows up immediately, no doubt dropping someone off at Command, and they pile in and it's off.

 

She takes his hand. "Spock, I'm so sorry."

 

He closes his eyes, and for some reason she thinks he's letting go of something. And he murmurs, opening his eyes so she can see they're clear and sure and loving, "I, too, am sorry."

 

"I wasn't sure you'd care. I mean when I started it."

 

"I care. I care deeply."

 

"I want to walk this road with you, Spock. All the way to the end." She isn't sure he'll follow, but he seems to.

 

He nods and says, "Yes. To the end."

 

 

 

Spock

 

You hear familiar footsteps, look up from your breakfast at the diplomatic conference, and see Pardek approaching with a plate laden with food.

 

"My friend. It is good to see you—and all this wonderful food. I do love breakfast." He is almost falsely jovial, but you nod pleasantly and then, as he sits, he murmurs, "All things progress, my brother."

 

You feel a surge of satisfaction. Pardek is finding those who think like you both do. Romulans who are tired of being kept from their own heritage, who long to hear of the ways of Surak, of logic and intellect over subterfuge and emotions.

 

"That pleases me," you barely vocalize, knowing his ears are as keen as your own.

 

He begins to tear into the food, and you know his enjoyment is sincere, not feigned. He looks around and nods because you have chosen a table far enough away from the buffet and beverages that you do not believe others will elect to join you—but they could if they wanted to.

 

"The last time we talked, Spock, you indicated you needed something."

 

The last time you talked to him, you had just discovered Nyota had taken a lover. You realize now you were hurt—reeling, even, from discovering her betrayal. Ironic, you know, since you betrayed her, but you did it before pledges were made.

 

You were going to ask Pardek if he knew of a cure for Silestyan because you wanted Christine back. If Uhura had her lover, you wanted yours.

 

Fortunately, your meeting with Pardek was brief and afforded no time to talk at length. Christine would be livid if you compromised Federation security merely to awaken her because you were hurt by your wife.

 

You are appalled now that you even considered it. You were compromised but did not realize how much.

 

How much you truly care for your wife. How badly she hurt you.

 

But that is over. And your life now is good. And you have no right to endanger anything, not even for Christine. "I no longer need the favor. Although in the future, I might."

 

"Ask and it shall be given—if it's in my means to give." Pardek grins and goes back to eating. Then he stops and studies you. "You seem...lighter. Did something happen?"

 

You allow your mouth to almost tick up, an expression he will appreciate. "Domestic trouble has been resolved."

 

"Don't tell me you were cheating on your lovely wife." He's met Nyota at banquets, and made much of her. There is something in his eyes, though. Something that you are not sure how to read.

 

Pardek's preferences have never been entirely clear to you. You believe that, if you were to indicate interest, he would oblige.

 

"Nothing of the sort," you say, lying in the way every other species assumes Vulcans cannot.

 

And he seems to accept that. "Good. I'd have to wonder about your judgment if you did."

 

It does not seem to occur to him that Nyota would ever cheat on you. Because she is devoted to you in his mind, no doubt.

 

And in reality, she is. She left her other man for love of you. She is a woman of fine character. Your domestic life is full and peaceful, your regard for your wife true.

 

The Pon Farr, which could have broken you, instead brought you closer coming so quickly on the heels of her abandoning her lover. If you gave any thought to Christine during the burning, it was momentary.

 

Which does not mean you would not choose her if she had been there, in body, not just a memory. But it also does not mean you would.

 

You realize Pardek has said something and say, "I beg your pardon?"

 

"I only said it must be difficult, marrying someone with a lifespan so different than our own. Your father did it also."

 

And your mother is sick. But you will not tell Pardek that because she and your father have asked the family not to speak of it. She does not want pity.

 

Nyota has spent more time with her, talking and sitting in the garden, the two of them so still and soft. You do not like to think that Nyota will die someday and you will have to go on.

 

Then again, you have already died once. It is hubris to think you will live forever. She might well outlive you.

 

But your mother will not outlive your father. She has spoken to you, told you to be kind when—not if—he marries again.

 

"He is not a man who can be alone, Spock." Her voice was full of love, not pain, not anger. "You must accept her."

 

You do not think you must do anything, other than enjoy the time you have left with your mother.

 

But for now, you push that out of your mind. "And your family, Pardek? They prosper?"

 

Pardek smiles and tells you of them, of his home in the Krocton segment, of his aspirations to run for public office, even the senate.

 

It would be beneficial to have a Romulan senator espousing the cause of unification. Most beneficial, indeed.

 

 

-- Continue to Part 3 --