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) 2013 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.
The Best is Yet to Come
Chapel sidled in next to Spock, ignoring the empty seat across from him in the booth he’d chosen in the cafeteria. “Buy a girl a drink?” She’d waited her whole life to say that to him and since he was never in a bar, she’d damn well ask it here.
He looked pointedly at the empty booth seat across from him. “They do not sell alcohol in the cafeteria, as you well know. Moreover, you are hardly a girl.”
“Ouch. Just for that I’m not moving.”
“Not that I am averse to your company, Christine, but what are you doing?” His voice was off, but she was damned if she could figure out what he was feeling—she’d known him too long to think he didn’t have emotions, especially after everything that had happened lately.
“Well, Spock, Command might just wonder if maybe you had a little something to do with a certain conspiracy. But if Command did think that, I would never tell you. Got it?” She also wouldn’t tell him that a fellow Emergency Ops officer, Ray Nottam, had told Command they should leave him alone and start looking at the man who was fucking one of the traitors. Ray was a goddamned idiot—even if she fully sympathized with him being sick of the whole “under suspicion” scenario.
She’d been questioned, too. Before Ray had. And it had been beyond unpleasant.
“Ah.” Spock slid his plate over so she could take what she wanted.
She helped herself to a bell pepper slice. “You would never have done this back in the day. I would have been a quivering mass of happiness if you had.”
“I was going to come see you as soon as I finished eating.”
“Oh, yeah? Why, pray tell?”
“I, too, would never tell you if you were also suspected of being part of the conspiracy.”
“Oh. Great.” She sighed—Security had told her she was okay to resume her duties. Did they still suspect her after everything? “Do you want me to move to the other seat? We’re getting a lot of stares.”
“I do not care.”
She studied his expression. He actually seemed not to care. “Okey dokey. Here I’ll stay, then.” She reached for an olive on his plate, but he gave her a hard look that stopped her. “I forgot how you get about sharing your olives. Haven’t really had a pizza with you since when? Valeris?”
He pushed the olive toward her. “Take it if it will prevent you from speaking of her.”
“Hmmm. How badly do I want it?” She took it before he could change his mind. “I’m not going to ask, Spock, if you were a member of the conspiracy because I know it would be an asinine question. You stopped the goddamned thing.”
“Indeed.” He moved his other olives to the far side of the plate, pushed some of the mutant tiny corncobs toward her.
“When I was a kid, I used to think you had to eat those like corn on the cob. My brother would make so much fun of me.” She sighed. Thinking of Tom always made her sad; he’d died far too young.
“Were you involved in the conspiracy, Christine?” He was staring at her in a way that made her wish she had chosen the seat opposite instead of right next to him. How long had they served together? He thought she might be involved?
“No, Spock, I wasn’t.”
“You were Cartwright’s protégé.”
“And you were Valeris’s lover. I think your guilt potential trumps mine. I didn’t meld with my boss. I assume you melded with your golden girl.”
His face tightened, which was quite a trick considering he’d started out at stone face.
“The admiral never even dangled the idea in front of me. I’d have told him to get lost—and would have reported him.”
“You don’t see. You don’t see at all, do you?” She leaned in. “How happy was I finding out it was your slut-o-rama who was his pick for coconspirator? The answer—in case you’re unsure—is pretty goddamn happy.”
“She was not promiscuous.” His look told her he was comparing his former love to her.
Chapel liked to have fun—big whoop. It wasn’t like Spock had ever tried to lock anything down with her; she’d have gladly given him fidelity in exchange for love, not just sex.
“Valeris was sleeping with Cartwright, Spock. She cheated on you all the time. So wake up and smell the ‘she used you’ coffee.”
He exhaled slowly—and pretty loudly. “How do you know she was sleeping with Cartwright?”
“He told me. When he asked me to work on Jim, to ask for clemency for her. He argued she was just a foot soldier compared to him. But I could see it in his eyes. Love. I asked him point blank. He didn’t lie.”
“As Valeris and Cartwright are now on Rura Penthe, he misjudged your influence on Jim.”
“Oh, no, I went to him. He briefed the council in closed session.”
“I did not know this.”
“He didn’t think his request was going to go anywhere. Didn’t want to raise your hopes that she might be saved from that place.”
Spock pushed the plate so it was completely in front of her. “And now he is gone. And I cannot talk to him about it.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
Whatever hostility he was feeling toward her seemed to drain away slightly. He met her eyes. “Were you sleeping with Jim?”
“Sometimes. When we both needed to blow off some steam.”
“What? Are you jealous? He was in space, and I was here. A casual thing seemed best. He knew I still loved you.” Idiot that she was.
“Your constancy is commendable.”
“Or pathetic. Take your pick.”
“And yet every time I am on Earth I see you with a different man.”
“Why are you looking?” She laughed at his expression. “And if you were really paying attention, you’d see me with a few women, too. I’m flexible that way.” She finished off all but one of the olives. “Take it. You know you want it.”
He shook his head, so she took it for herself.
“So,” she asked, “what will you tell whoever it was in security who thought I was involved?”
“I did not say it was security that thought so.”
She studied him. Finally, the hostility made sense. “Ahhh. You think so.”
“You were Valeris’s friend. Although given what you just said, I wonder if you were more than that.”
“I wasn’t. I wasn’t really even her friend. More...her mentor. She knew I liked you and went for you anyway. That’s not a great way to cement a friendship.”
“You had no claim on me.”
“There’s a pizza place that delivered quite a few nights to my place that would beg to differ. Hell, I even ate vegetarian toppings for you.” She slid out of the seat. “Do you actually think I was involved?”
He gave her a half-shrug that spoke volumes.
“That’s great. Nothing like trust.” She met his eyes, tried to make sure there was not a trace of hurt in hers, but probably failed miserably.
He seemed to see the hurt; his expression softened. “Christine, I melded with Valeris on a regular basis and was still blindsided. Is it such a stretch that you, too, could have fooled me? Especially as I did...reject you.”
“You’ve rejected me as long as I’ve known you. I’ve never, ever betrayed you. Look to your damn Vulcan women for that.” She stood up as straight as she could. “Ambassador, whatever it is you do next, wherever you go: take care of yourself.”
“You as well.” As she turned to leave, he murmured, “Christine?”
She looked back at him.
“A meld would settle this.”
“A meld like what you did to Valeris? I heard about that from Ny. Valeris moaned in pain from what I understand—a full Vulcan showing pain? And you—you hurt the woman you love. What in God’s name would you do to me?” She took a step back. “Leave me alone.”
“I cannot promise that.”
She hated that she swallowed hard, couldn’t control the reflex. Fear—goddamn fear. Just when she thought things were finally starting to blow over.
And from someone she’d thought she could trust.
Would she never wise up?
Spock saw Christine sitting with Commander Nottam in the auditorium. As another of Cartwright’s protégés, Nottam had been under particular scrutiny after the conspiracy.
There were seats free all around where they sat. No one seemed to want to be guilty by association.
Spock walked over to them, nodded, and asked, “Is this seat free?”
Christine gave him a hard look. “Uh, yeah. You might get conspiracy leprosy from us, though. So think carefully.”
He sat next to her. “I remember a time on the ship when you chose to sit next to me when no one else did.”
“Oh, you mean when Lester took Kirk’s body over and tried to have you executed? Good memories, Spock. Thanks.” She glanced at Nottam who was reading his padd and did not seem to be paying any attention to them. “I’m stupid that way, I guess. I hate seeing my friends ostracized.”
“He is just a friend?” Spock kept his voice pitched very low.
“None of your goddamn business.” She gave him a smile that was in no way friendly, and then turned her attention to the podium.
He did the same and tried not to let the fact that Christine leaned over occasionally to comment to Nottam distract him from the speaker.
Tried and failed.
Was she doing this on purpose? And if so, was it for the benefit of those around him, to show her support for Nottam, or was it for Spock’s benefit? To make him jealous in some fashion. Or was it for herself—because no one would sit with her, either.
There was another option: both Christine and Nottam could have been involved in the conspiracy and knew that the best way to show innocence was to flaunt their willingness to be seen together rather than trying to hide. He’d sensed no evidence of Christine’s involvement in the meld he’d forced on Valeris, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t involved. Conspirators often kept cells sequestered from each other to improve security.
He would not know if Christine were involved until he melded with her.
But Command had cleared her. Why could he not accept that?
Valeris’s face swam in his memory. He’d melded with her often. She’d hidden everything from him—apparently even that she was sleeping with Cartwright. And she’d had less reason to be disaffected by the Klingons than Christine did.
Christine’s brother had been killed when Klingons raided the outpost he was stationed on. She’d been a teenager.
She’d told Spock this after a Pon Farr. It had never seemed incriminatory until now. When hatred of Klingons was perhaps a reason for ruining Valeris’s life.
He realized that everyone else was laughing at something the speaker had said—he had let his own issues interfere with his ability to be present and professional. This was unacceptable.
Christine leaned over to Nottam again, and Spock forced himself to find peace with it, but he had to dig his fingers into his palm to do it.
Why had Christine come to him in the cafeteria? If Command had not sent her—and Spock could not very well ask—then had it been a “ballsy,” as Jim would have said, move to preempt Spock’s questions?
Spock saw Admiral Nih a few rows down in the auditorium. She and Spock had served together on Pike’s Enterprise, when she was a security officer. Now she was head of Starfleet security. If anyone would know about this, it was she.
“You okay?” Christine asked softly, and looked pointedly at his clasped hands as if she knew he was having trouble maintaining his composure.
He nodded, pretending that he was focused on the speaker. Who was this speaker? He had forgotten to get a program.
He bit back a sigh. Since he’d lost Jim, he had not been at his best. Truthfully, even before, after Valeris’s revelation as a traitor, he had been distracted.
And angry. He was angry—he should just admit that, if only to himself. He wanted to make someone pay for how much he hurt.
Hurt. Emotions. Would his father feel this way had he been in the same circumstances?
He could tell Christine was looking at him again. He ignored her.
The speaker finished and a break was called. Spock hurried out, not looking back as he left Command—and Christine—as far behind as he could while still staying in the same city.
Chapel’s chime rang and she groaned. She was off after a long day. Who the hell wanted her now? “Identify guest.”
The apartment’s security system took an awfully long time to say, “Ambassador Spock.”
Had he not wanted to identify himself? Shit. She did not need this now. “Request privacy.”
“Override attempt in process.”
Was he fucking insane? She hurried to her desk, pulled out the phaser she’d requisitioned in a rather irregular manner after Starfleet security had gotten done with her “questioning,” and told the door to open. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
He turned to her. “I assumed your unit would notify you I was breaking in.” He raised an eyebrow, then seemed to realize she was holding the phaser, and the eyebrow went even higher. “Are you authorized to have that?”
“Authorization is such a complicated word.” She waved him in. “What do you want?”
“I told you what I want in the cafeteria. I wish to meld.”
“Why?” She stepped farther away from him. “So you can blame someone—anyone—else for what Valeris did? I wasn’t involved. Starfleet cleared me.” She could hear panic in her voice, knew her hand was shaking.
“I do not believe they were thorough.”
“After everything we’ve been through? The Pon Farrs I’ve endured for you?” She steadied the phaser by grabbing her hand and holding it up. “You don’t trust me?”
“Christine. I know Admiral Nih quite well. If you will not let me meld with you voluntarily, I can ask her to reopen your case.”
She felt like she was back in the Starfleet holding cell. Nowhere to go but into the room with that chair that hurt so goddamn bad that she’d told Nih and the other questioners everything she’d ever thought about anyone.
It had been new tech. “Borrowed” from the Cardassians, Nih had told her, under unusual circumstances that the admiral couldn’t go into, as she was sure Chapel would understand. They’d never tried it on a human before. Nih had said Chapel was helping them find the baselines.
Said it like Chapel was there voluntarily, helping out science for the good of mankind not being goddamned tortured. By the time Ray got to the chair, they’d learned to turn it down...a lot. But he’d told her he’d screamed, that he’d thrown Spock under the bus in a fit of rage at what they’d been doing to him.
Even though Spock was innocent.
If she could believe in Spock, why couldn’t he believe in her?
She saw the resolve on his face. She knew that look from all the years she’d served with him. It was always for someone else, that resolve. Always to save someone else, to love someone else. Even if they were a confirmed traitor.
Why did Chapel never rate such effort and loyalty?
She lowered the phaser. “Do your worst.”
He seemed surprised at her capitulation and studied her. “What?”
“Okay. Fine. Do it.” Her voice was shaking and she swallowed hard and visibly—hated she was showing so much weakness to him.
“Christine, I will not hurt you.”
“Yeah, that’s what Nih said. Only she was lying.” She dropped the phaser on the floor and walked to the couch. “Just get this over with.”
He moved slowly, as if he was afraid he would spook her. She had a sick feeling, starting in her stomach and roiling up to her throat, which felt like it was closing down.
“Shhhh.” He sat next to her, reached for her face and she flinched back. “Christine, shhh.” He touched her cheek but not for the meld; he was only wiping a tear away.
She was crying? Shit.
“I hate you,” she murmured as she reached up and pressed his fingers into where she thought the psi points were. “Just finish this and get out of here.”
“What did they do to you?” He eased his fingers out from under hers and pulled the throw she kept on the back of the couch down, wrapping her up in it. “You are shaking.”
“See for yourself. How not thorough they were.” She closed her eyes. “Do it, Spock. Damn you. You wanted this. Do it.”
He touched the psi points, and she could barely feel his fingers, then he pressed in slowly, his mind touch very gentle but still there. Still invading. Still potentially hurting her.
She realized she was crying again. Damn it all. She hated this, hated living like this, like the world was going to come crashing in on her.
When she hadn’t done a goddamn thing wrong.
Cold, she was so cold.
“Shhh, I will not hurt you.” With his other hand he pulled the throw more tightly around her.
She didn’t fight him. Tried to remember everything from the detention facility to make it easier for him to find, to make this go faster.
He gave a sharp intake of air as he surfed her memories, then dove in deeper in certain parts. She realized he was horrified at her treatment. He started to pull away, but she slammed his fingers harder into her face.
“Finish it,” she said, trying to reinforce the words with the emotions she was sending to him in the meld. “Look for your proof.”
He hesitated. She could feel a new emotion from him as his consciousness sat merged with hers. Uncertainty. Finally, he was going to give her a break and believe her?
“I mean it, Spock. I want no doubt. I know you don’t trust me, even if you’re suddenly not so sure you should be doing this. I want you to exhaust every possibility. So look for it.”
He was extraordinarily gentle as he began to hunt. She let go, tried to float and not fight him. Let him see how jealous she was of Valeris, how angry she was with him for not choosing her. They’d spent time together after his last Pon Farr. Significant time. It had meant something to her—she’d thought it had to him, too.
And then he’d left her for that goddamned traitor.
Spock eased free of her mind. “I am sorry.”
He didn’t move. “I am concerned by the treatment you received from Admiral Nih.”
“Your concern means so much to me.” She moved away from him and lay down at the other end of the couch, her legs drawn up tight, the throw around her. She was freezing. Once he was gone, she’d turn the temperature up in the apartment, but she wouldn’t give him that. Wouldn’t let him know how scared she’d been.
Although he knew. The goddamned meld told him everything—probably more than he wanted to know.
“Spock, please go.” Her voice was quivering. Goddamnit, could she not grow a pair of balls, now of all times?
“I may lodge a complaint.”
She sat up and stared at him. “Against Nih? On my behalf?”
“And then you’ll be gone. And I’ll be here on the wrong side of the head of fucking Starfleet security. Are you nuts?” She got up and went into the kitchen, tried to open a beer, but her hands were shaking too much.
“Let me.” He eased her aside and opened the bottle. Then he backed away and gave her some space.
She chugged half the bottle down, expected some censure from him, but he only watched her with what looked like concern. “You can go now Spock. How many ways do I have to say that?”
“You did not have to warn me that Nottam had given my name to security.”
“I shouldn’t have. Stupid emotional need to see you. I think I actually believed you’d want me now that you’re free of Valeris.” She carried the beer into the living room and stared out the window. “I never learn when it comes to you.”
She felt empty inside. Empty and cold and in need of more than one beer. “I don’t know if you saw this in the meld but I ran into a friend today. Found myself in line behind her in the cafeteria. I said hello, and she suddenly had forgotten something. Would see me later.” She took a long swig of beer. “I’m poison.”
“I can help you change that.”
“I don’t want your pity.” She turned to look at him. “I wanted your love. Your trust and respect I thought I had. Guess I thought wrong.” She inhaled raggedly, tried to master the exhale so it was steadier—tried to not cry again. “Please go, Spock.”
He nodded and walked away from her. When he reached the door, he turned and said, “You have my utmost respect.”
“Fat lot of good that does me.” She kept her face as emotionless as she could until the door closed behind him, and she could fall apart in peace.
Spock walked the city, unsure what to do. The meld with Christine had left him shaken.
He had wanted her to be guilty, to be at fault for Valeris’s decisions, but she was not.
Valeris was to blame for her own decisions. And Spock was at fault for not seeing what had been right in front of him the whole time. He’d been in love with a traitor. And judging from what he’d seen on Cartwright’s face in Christine’s memories, Valeris had been an unfaithful traitor as well.
He returned to his apartment, tried to sleep but could not. Finally, he settled for meditating until it was time to report in. He had meetings all morning, and when he went into the cafeteria, he saw Christine sitting alone.
He got his food and slid into the seat opposite her in the booth.
She gave him a wide smile but it did not carry to her eyes. “You here to work on my reputation?” Her smile got wider and she laughed a little louder than she might otherwise. “I’m not going to tell you to get the hell out of this booth because I’m not stupid. My reputation does need a revamp and you’re the best person to do it.” She leaned in, pitched her voice lower, the smile never leaving her face. “But just so we’re clear: I fucking hate you.”
He found it entirely unnerving that her smile never wavered as she said the words. Or the many other words that followed as she spent the next few minutes telling him exactly what she thought of him. All while occasionally saying, “Okay, talk for a moment. This shouldn’t look like a goddamn monologue.”
She leaned back.
“Are you finished?”
“For now.” She pushed her tray away. “I’m suddenly not hungry.” She looked rather obviously at the clock on the wall and got up. “I’ve got to get back to work. It was so good to see you.”
Again the words and the smile did not go with the steel in her eyes.
He watched her go, wondering how long she’d been working on the list of his shortcomings. And how she’d managed to fit so many expletives into the inventory.
“Spock.” Admiral Nih walked up. “Looks like you lost your lunch companion. You want a replacement?”
She sat and smiled—a real smile that reached her eyes. “Not that I want to tell you who to associate with, but Chapel may not be the best bet.”
“You cleared Christine.”
Nih’s smile changed. “Ah, Christine is it? You two go way back. I get that. And she looks like Number One. I remember how you used to follow her around like a little puppy back in the day.”
Spock bit back any sign of a frown, but felt the assessment was unfair. He had never followed her around like that.
Nih leaned in. “She may look like Number One, but she’s lacking in the kick-ass department. I could never have gotten our former first officer into my interrogation room.”
“I have seen what happened in your room.” He did not try to keep the censure out of his voice.
“You do love mind melding with traitors, don’t you?” She laughed, the sound mean and small, and not what he would ever have expected from her.
“Christine is not a traitor. You know that and so do I.”
“No, I suppose she’s not. But she could have been. We both know that, too.” Her tone was very casual as she asked, “Did she complain about the interrogation?”
“I am complaining. Such a device is appalling.”
“So was killing the Klingon chancellor. Trying to disrupt the peace process. Betraying everything we stand for.” She leaned back. “We had to know, Spock. We obtained this device knowing the Cardassians had a lot of luck with it.”
“I do not consider that an endorsement. Their methods are often appalling.”
“Yes. But they work.” Her expression finally relaxed and she looked like the officer he’d served with so many years ago. “Relax, Spock. Your girlfriend’s off the hook. I came over to talk to you about you, not about her.”
He decided not to correct Nih’s choice of labels for Christine. “Then a change of subject is in order.”
She laughed. “Indeed it is. So who have you seen from the old gang recently?”
The rest of the lunch passed much more comfortably, as they caught up and let talk of traitors rest.
Chapel was looking at the note Jan had sent her. The CMO slot on the Excelsior was opening up. They’d push for her to get it if she wanted it.
God. Her life really was in the toilet if Sulu and Jan thought she needed rescuing from the far side of the quadrant. Although it was very sweet of them, and if she wanted to go back into medicine, she’d say yes.
But she didn’t. She wanted to stay in Ops—hell, she wanted to run Ops. She was in this field for real now. She loved it, and hated it too some days, but it was exhilarating—and home.
She saw Admiral Nih come into the Ops bay and stiffened involuntarily. The woman gave her the goddamn creeps now. She’d used to consider her one of the good guys. A pleasure to deal with, professional and funny to boot.
Nih walked over to her station. “Chapel.”
Once upon a time she’d called her Christine.
“Does it matter? I want to talk to you.”
Chapel set her station status to “Away” and followed Nih out of Ops. She didn’t fill the silence, didn’t want to give Nih that—show the nerves that were right now making her want to make small talk just to ease some of the tension between them.
Nih finally turned to look at her. “You seem to have a problem with your interrogation. Spock put in a complaint on your behalf.”
She closed her eyes and planned how to murder Spock the next time she saw him. “I told him not to.”
Nih stopped walking. “Why?” Her smile turned ugly. “It wasn’t because you understood why we had to do it, was it? It was because you’re afraid of me and the rest of my people.”
“You have a little too much power right now. A little too much leeway.”
Nih started to smile. A strange smile. As if she was proud of her. “That’s the Christine I remember. Not the woman who whimpered in my chair.”
“You get in that chair at the settings you put me on. I dare you not to whimper.” She felt rage building. God damn it all, what the hell was this?
“I did, actually.”
“After Spock said something to me, I got in the chair and I had them turn it up to what you had.” She lifted her lips in some sort of contemptuous half smile. “I didn’t whimper.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“No, I suppose you don’t.” She pulled a padd out, handed it to Chapel. “Look familiar?”
A woman who looked very much like Chapel filled the screen. Only Chapel’s hair had never been dark when she was the age of this woman. The uniform the other woman was wearing was of a style that marked it as before her time. “I don’t understand.”
“Her name was...hell, who cares what her real name was. She went by Number One. She served with Spock.”
Chapel met Nih’s eyes. “So?”
“Spock had a thing for her. She had a thing for the captain. I was there to watch.”
“And you had a thing for Spock, didn’t you?”
Nih shrugged. “Didn’t matter. He only had eyes for her.” She cocked her head, seemed to be studying Chapel. “Tell me, I’ve seen pictures of you in your service record. You weren’t always brunette. Did Spock show any interest in you when you weren’t?”
Chapel felt her mouth tightening and forced herself to relax. “He hasn’t shown much interest either way. Do you have something official you want to talk about, Admiral? Because you’re starting to seem more than a little unprofessional.”
“You talk a good game, Christine, but you’re not anything like Number One. That’s what I’m saying. And I’m telling you this because I think you need to realize it. I know I gave you a hard time in that chair, but you were the most logical person to have been involved. I’m just trying to do you a favor. Give you some background on Spock.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Nih shrugged. “You should take that posting on Excelsior.”
“That was a private message.”
“No such thing, Commander. You agree to monitoring of all comms on Starfleet channels when you sign up—or didn’t you read the fine print?” Nih handed her the padd. “Keep it. Show it to Spock. See what he says.”
“Spock and I aren’t together.”
“Then you won’t mind leaving him behind.” Nih patted her arm—a gesture that felt patronizing, not comforting. “You may have been cleared, but there is no way you’ll be getting a sensitive post right now. People are too jumpy—we missed things the first time, no way we’re going to put Cartwright’s protégés in vital roles. Nottam has already been assigned to the Enterprise. Good posting for him. CMO on Excelsior would be good for you, too. Think about it.” Nih turned and walked off.
Chapel watched her go. Then she turned and walked down to the suite of offices given to diplomats and those who didn’t have permanent space at Command. It took her a while, but she eventually found Spock.
He looked wary. Probably worried she might continue her list from the other day of all his annoying habits and actions.
She held up her hand. “I want you to meld with me again.”
“Nih wants me off Earth. Way off Earth. I think she wanted me to think this was personal, that she liked you, but I’m not sure that was it.”
“She has never shown the kind of interest you did.”
“Some people are more subtle than I was, Spock. Hell, most people are more subtle than I was.” She closed his door, then sat across from him. “She made sure I was the first one in that chair. But there were other people—cronies of Cartwright—with more access that logically should have been questioned before me. Now she wants me gone. I just wonder what’s in my mind she wanted to find—what she thought I might spill.”
“It is an odd confluence of events.”
“Yeah. And she was always nice to me, Spock. Before all this. I really liked her—felt like she had my back. This is...weird.” She sighed. “Will life never settle down?”
“I am sorry.”
“Sulu wants me for CMO. I should take it. Just get the hell out of here. I’m not sure I’m strong enough to keep being defiant.”
“You are.” He got up, walked around the desk, and sat next to her. “I can come tonight if you wish.”
She nodded but didn’t meet his eyes.
“Perhaps it would lift your spirits to detail my shortcomings some more?”
She laughed and looked over at him. “I’m sorry about that. I was really angry.”
“I ascertained that rather quickly.” His eyes were light. “Most of what you said was true.”
“That doesn’t mean it needed to be said.” She closed her eyes. “I’m so tired. I feel like I’ve been sleeping with one eye open ever since the conspiracy was exposed.”
“Tell Sulu you will come, then. Leave this alone. Do what Nih wants.”
She handed him the padd. “She gave me this.”
“Number One. She was first officer on the Enterprise when I was first assigned there.”
“Were you in love with her?”
“I was not. I did, however, consider her a mentor.”
“I look like her.” She traced the outline of the woman. “She’s prettier though.”
“You do resemble her greatly.”
“Is that why you never wanted me? Because I wasn’t her?”
“No. I have struggled with who I am for decades, Christine. And always it seemed the ideal for me was on Vulcan, with Vulcans. I left Leila behind, as well.”
She nodded. She remembered seeing him with her on the planet. Swinging from trees. Having fun.
He touched her cheek. “T’Pring was something done to me. But I chose Gol on my own. Chose Valeris because she seemed to offer a balance of fitting in with humans while retaining essential Vulcan attributes that I often felt in danger of losing.”
“Guess you need to go find a new Vulcan.” She waved the padd away when he tried to hand it back. “I don’t want it. She’s your past. What do I care?”
“Do you want me to come over tonight?”
She thought about that. Felt the sick feeling in her stomach that had been with her for weeks start up again. She was tired of that sick feeling. Maybe whatever Spock did—or did not—find would set her free.
She could leave if she wanted to, then. Go to Jan and Sulu where she’d be welcome.
“Yes,” she finally said.
He nodded as if he’d expected that to be her answer. “I will see you at seven.”
She nodded and left him alone.
Spock rang for admittance at Christine’s door and considered the conversation he’d had with Nih. She was a casual acquaintance these days—their lunch had been the first in over a year—and she had never struck him as overly interested in him in any romantic way.
Her comment about him following Number One like a juvenile canine was perplexing, especially since he had looked to Number One as a mentor to help him find balance between what he had left behind on Vulcan and the new life he was trying to shape in Starfleet. He’d always known she was interested in Captain Pike, and had been untroubled by it as he’d had no romantic interest in her.
Although it had been a bit of a shock the first time he’d seen Christine. She could be Number One’s twin in looks if not attitude.
The door opened and Christine stood there, no phaser this time. He could not read her expression.
She backed away, leaving room for him. “Come in.”
He walked in. He’d spent considerable time in this apartment with her after his last Pon Farr. Before the lure of things Vulcan pulled him away and to Valeris.
Christine thought she was a fool for never getting over him, but was he not a fool for continually making the same mistake? He’d been on retreat on Vulcan—trying to get over his anger at Valeris’s actions—when the Enterprise-B had launched. He’d been invited to the launch, should have been there. He had let Jim down because he could not accept the betrayal of a Vulcan. How could he have been surprised that she would turn on him? After his brother’s actions stealing the ship? After T’Pring and Stonn? After T’Pau tricking Jim into fighting him without knowing the cost? After even his father’s often inexplicable obstinacy when it came to matters between Spock and him.
Who was the fool here?
Christine walked to the kitchen, to where a glass of wine sat on the counter. She saw him looking at it, smiled somewhat warily. “I’m nervous. I thought this would help me relax. Do you want something? Water? Juice?” She looked down. “Jesus, I sound like a shuttle attendant.”
“I am fine. And you are gracious. Finish the wine so we can begin.”
She nodded but didn’t drink. “I never answered your question the other day. Ray Nottam isn’t one of my lovers. I follow Jim’s rules—don’t shit in the nest.”
She laughed, the sound extraordinarily bitter. “And you don’t give a damn, do you? God, why did I even tell you? I told you: I’m nervous.”
“I asked you about Nottam. So clearly I do give a damn.”
She shot him a look, then started to laugh. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you swear.”
It was good to see her smile, a real one that made her eyes sparkle and the skin crinkle. “You needed me to.”
“I did.” She pushed the glass of wine aside. “I think I’m ready.”
He held his hand out to her, and she stared at it in what was clearly surprise. Finally, she took it and let him lead her to the couch.
“I will not hurt you.”
She nodded. “You didn’t last time.”
“But I forced the meld on you. By threatening to go to Nih. And I’m sorry for that.”
“Okay.” She didn’t meet his eyes.
He tipped her chin up so she had to. “Christine, I am truly sorry for that.”
She nodded. “Please, just start, all right? You’re really confusing me.”
“I do not mean to.” He settled in to the couch, pulled her against him in a way that would support her but still give him easy access for the meld. “Close your eyes.”
She did, and he settled his fingers on the psi points and slipped easily into her mind.
He went slowly, looking for every memory of Nih he could find. It was tedious work. A bit like browsing through a padd trying to find specific words in a larger work without benefit of a search function. She had interacted with Nih more often than he expected. The woman seemed to have taken a liking to her when she was still at Starfleet Medical, when she had left the Enterprise after V’ger. Nih had been a patient.
But there was no link from Nih to Cartwright. Or to West. To Valeris. Until—there.
Spock stopped at one particular memory. Nih and Cartwright arguing in a corridor far from Ops. Christine had been running to a meeting, had turned a corner and saw them.
Had heard them, too. Even if she probably did not consciously remember. “She’s perfect. We need to put someone close to him. And she has her own reason for hating them. Her parents were killed on an outpost. She survived by hiding under the house.”
Christine had thought they were talking about an operation and knew better than to ask about things she had no business knowing.
But they were talking about Valeris. Spock knew her backstory; Christine did not—she had not lied. She’d never really been friends with Valeris. Only a mentor. And not long one of those. Valeris had cut Christine out of her life as soon as she’d taken up with him.
Her lover. Her mark.
“Nih was part of the conspiracy,” Christine whispered. “This is what she was afraid I would remember.”
“Yes.” He eased out of her mind. “The two of them deciding Valeris should target me.”
“I could have protected you from her.”
He was illogically touched that this was her first thought. “I doubt that I would have believed you.”
She laughed, a bitter sounding expulsion of air. “You’re right. You were besotted.” She drew away from him, putting space between them on the couch. “Why can’t I learn when it comes to you? How many years have I been carrying this stupid torch?”
“I didn’t really want an answer.” She glared at him. “I’m an idiot. In so many ways.” She started to get up and he pulled her back down. “What?”
“I was the fool. Had I stayed with you, they could not have targeted me. Who knows how history might have changed?”
“You never stay with me. You never want me.” She jerked her hand away from him and rose, walking around him with enough room to prevent him from grabbing her again. She finished the rest of her wine in a gulp. “So now what?”
“I meld with Nih. And find all the evidence we need.”
“Spock, she’s a Starfleet admiral. You can’t just waltz into her office and force a meld like you did on me. And she’s Security, for God’s sake. Those guys are loyal. They’ll eat you alive if you try to hurt her.”
“She and I served together. If I ask to see her in private—tell her that I have some new information on you that she should know—I see no reason why she would not say yes. A simple shoulder pinch and she will be out. I can meld with her conscious or not.”
Christine looked like she was going to argue, then laughed softly. “That just might work.”
He got up and walked over to her. “I will contact her in the morning.”
“Okay.” As he moved closer, she backed into the kitchen. “Fine, then. You can go home, right?”
“I can. Do you want me to?”
For a moment, her expression went soft, and he thought he saw desire and longing and a need to connect. Then the openness was gone, and she shook her head. “This is my test, Spock. And I’m finally going to pass it. No, I don’t want you to stay here and use me until you find the next more suitable woman to leave me for. Go home. Plan your trap on Nih. I need to think about the position on Excelsior.”
“I would prefer you stay on Earth.” The words were out before he realized he was saying them. But they were true, so he let them stand.
“You don’t get a vote. Go home, Spock.”
He moved toward her.
She reached down and suddenly the phaser was pointing at him. “Did you think I wouldn’t keep it where I could get it? Leave, Spock. We’re not doing this.”
“I would never force you.”
“I know. One touch and you think I’ll be gone. And knowing me, I probably would be. Ergo, the phaser. Now, see yourself to the door, would you?”
He let an eyebrow go up, saw no wavering in her expression. “I will talk to you tomorrow then.”
“Fine. Good night.”
“Good night, Christine.” He let himself out, heard the door’s lock click, saw the privacy notice go up.
She was quite serious. He felt a distinct sense of disappointment.
Chapel was just getting into Ops when she saw Nih come in. “Admiral.”
“I need to talk to you. Walk with me.”
“Haven’t we done this dance already?” Chapel didn’t want to irritate the woman too much—although maybe it would play into Spock’s plan if she did. Maybe Nih would want something on her if Chapel was a big enough pain in the ass.
“Chapel, get up and come with me. Or I’ll have a detachment of security officers down here to bring you to me in restraints. Is that what you want?”
The scary Nih was back, the woman who’d locked her into that damn chair. Chapel could feel herself wilting in the face of that memory. She got up and followed Nih out.
Nih scratched her arm as she walked, then grimaced as if she’d gone too hard. She turned a corner and led Chapel to an elevator that they rode down two levels, to a floor that Chapel was not authorized to be on. When she hesitated, Nih said with a sneer, “Come on, Christine. Grow a damn pair.”
Chapel stepped out and tried to memorize the turns they took in case she needed to make a run for it. What the hell happened on this floor anyway?
Nih opened a door, and Chapel saw it—the chair. What was it doing here? There was only one, wasn’t there? And it was at the detention facility across town, not here, not at Command. Not right underneath her every day.
She tried to back out, felt an electrical pulse surge through her, not enough to cause unconsciousness, but enough to make her limbs quit working, her reactions slow down. She heard Nih saying, with what sounded like regret, “Sorry, Christine,” as she caught her when she slumped. Nih hauled her to the chair, secured her to the connectors, then walked to the controller station in a small glass enclosure at the far end of the room.
The chair started up. Chapel had heard this particular sound in her nightmares. It was a low hum, punctuated by strange pounding sounds. The noise started out soft but gradually built. It would do this until the pain started, then the sound would change to more of a squeal, the humming and pounding resuming if a break was called.
“Spock won’t be long,” Nih said as she came out of the controller, a phaser trained on the door. “I’m making it easy for him to enact your master plan to force a confession from me. Didn’t it occur to you I might bug your apartment?”
It hadn’t. It should have. Jesus, she and Spock had given everything away. They were both off their game these days.
There was a low ping from the door. “Here he is now.” Nih moved out of range of the door, then told it to let Spock in.
He took several steps, then stopped when he saw Chapel in the chair.
Nih said gently, “I doubt you have a phaser on you, Spock. So sure of your shoulder pinch. So sure you can overpower me.”
“I can overpower you.” He took a step toward her.
“I have this set to kill. And it won’t be you I shoot.” She pointed it at Chapel.
Chapel tried to move—the effects of whatever Nih used to stun her seemed to be wearing off—and said in a voice that barely wanted to work, “She bugged my apartment, Spock.”
He looked sufficiently chagrined to not make her feel as dumb. Neither of them had seen this coming. But they should have. They could have set a hell of a trap.
“I knew it was just a matter of time once you told me you’d melded with her. I plan to skedaddle, and I can assure you that you’ll never see me again.”
“You have this well thought out.”
“Indeed I do. My back-up plans have back-up plans, old friend.”
Chapel closed her eyes. Nih had sounded too much like Jim there, and she thought it might have been on purpose, to hurt Spock and throw him off balance.
Suddenly, the noise from the chair changed, and Chapel felt a familiar burning begin.
Spock turned to her, moved closer. He’d heard this noise in her memory. He’d know what it meant.
Nih smiled at Spock. “I’ve set it well over the recommended limit. If you thought what I did before was barbaric, wait till you see what this does to her. The controller to turn it off is in that room, which you’ll need to break into. Or you can stop me and let her die. Your choice.”
She eased around Spock. He stared at her for a long moment, and Chapel finally said, “Spock, stop her. Who knows what she’ll do if she gets away, how many people she’ll hurt.”
“Indeed, Spock. Who knows?” Nih grinned at Chapel. “And wow, when you grow a pair, you really go all out.”
The pain was starting, working up quickly, much more quickly than before. Chapel clenched her teeth as the pain turned to agony. She would not whimper this time. She would not make one goddamn sound to distract Spock from what he needed to do.
But he didn’t go after Nih. He turned and ran for the controller room. Chapel watched Nih escape as she heard the sound of the controller room door being broken down, and then the pain finally stopped. She slumped, could feel her heart racing dangerously fast as sweat ran down her neck and forehead.
“Computer, location of Admiral Nih,” Spock said as he came out of the controller enclosure.
“Admiral Nih is not on the planet.”
“Or she’s just ditched her communicator, Spock. Go get her.” Chapel tried to say more but started to cough.
“You need medical attention. And you heard what she said—she has no doubt planned well.” He helped her out of the chair, seemed like he was going to pick her up and she said, “You are not carrying me through the hallways of Starfleet Command. I can damn well walk.”
He did not argue, but he did slip his arm around her and helped her walk. And by the time they got to Starfleet Medical, he was very nearly carrying her.
She passed out as he transferred her to the emergency team. When she woke later in a bed in the critical care ward, he was still there.
“You could have stopped her,” she said, her voice an ugly croak.
“I did not want to lose you.”
“Since when?” She shook her head. “The needs of the many, Spock.”
“I believe Jim would have said that the needs of the many can go to hell.” He cocked an eyebrow at her. “I have filled in the CINC as to Nih’s involvement. He has alerted all Federation members and allies as well as the Klingons. She will find no safe harbor anywhere in Federation or Klingon space. Someone will see her and report it—there is a reward.”
“You don’t want to go look for her? She was the one who turned Valeris. She and Cartwright.”
“Others will look. I am exactly where I should be.” He stood and leaned down, his lips gentle on hers. When he pulled away, he stroked her hair, his expression tender. “I am sorry that it took me so long to realize that.”
“Kiss me again like that and I’ll probably forgive you.” Sap that she was.
He leaned down and kissed her with a bit more urgency. She sighed and wrapped her arms around him. The kiss went on a very long time.
“You’re going to get me in trouble with my doctor.” She smiled, and realized the sick feeling that had been plaguing her all these weeks was gone.
“I would not want to do that.” He took her hand. “They will release you in a few hours if your readings remain stable. I should see you home, do you not agree?”
“See me home, and then go?” She grinned, and felt a lightness with him she didn’t think they’d ever had between them. A lightness not tinged with the bitterness of all his past actions.
He’d saved her, in direct contradiction of his rules. She mattered now.
And she liked it a lot.
“I did not plan to leave. Unless you would prefer that?”
She pretended to be thinking very hard about that. Then she shrugged. “Oh, all right. If it will make you happy to stay, you can. I, of course, couldn’t care less what you do.”
“Of course.” He squeezed her hand.
She squeezed his back.
They stared at each other like two lovesick teenagers on a first date. To anyone watching they probably looked like idiots. He pulled her hand up to his lips, touched down in a soft kiss.
She’d never felt so cherished by him. It was wonderful. And long overdue.
Something she’d remind him of frequently—later. Right now she wanted to enjoy this moment of sappiness.
She’d concentrate on just being happy for a while. What a novel idea.
The woman who was currently going by the name Nih beamed into the facility buried deep below a planet that was otherwise barren. Federation and Klingon colonization efforts always came to naught—primarily because the woman and the rest of the team she was on made sure nothing thrived on this planet that wasn’t part of their experiment.
Their very long-term experiment.
A man looked up as she walked into the lab, smiled a greeting but then his smile faded. “Why did you push her so hard about Number One? That was risky.”
“I knew I was going to have to move on anyway. In addition to my role in the conspiracy about to be exposed, this body is starting to”—she held up her arm and pushed back her sleeve—“well, see for yourself.”
He made a face. For someone who loved to tinker with the inner workings of beings, he was so squeamish when it came to their own bodies breaking down. “I’ll get you a new one.”
“I know that you will. You always do.”
“And confessing like a bad melodrama villain?”
She smiled. “After all these years with them, I got sentimental. I wanted to give them closure. This body is toast anyway.” She walked over and sat next to him, watching him do his work—work she barely understood but then she was an observer, not a scientist. Her specialty was blending in wherever she went, not manipulating personality at the cellular level.
Nature versus nurture. Proclivity versus cultural norms. That was what they were working on answering. “As far as Number One goes, I wanted to see if Chapel’s conditioning and modifications would hold. Spock put her through the ringer. I wasn’t sure if she would keep loving him after Valeris, but she did. So I brought out her predecessor as the final test.”
“We gave Number One every advantage to not succumb to love’s drive. But she still did.”
“She did. But she had the self-sacrifice inclination fully developed, too. She may not have cared if she lived or died once Pike was injured and forced her to leave him, but she didn’t just off herself. She perished saving a world.” She smiled down at his work. “Chapel has something heroic in her, too. She would have died to stop me from escaping.”
“Fortunately, Spock chose to save her and not pursue you.”
“As I figured. I’ve known him a long time. He’s had too many losses to lose her, too. Including the loss of his old friend Nih—gone bad the same way as his Valeris. Finally getting Spock was my goodbye gift to Christine. A reward for all the pain.” She walked over to where a brown-haired young woman was lying in stasis. “This one never did anything for me. So cold.”
He rolled his eyes. “She’s a scientist to the core. Unlike your little love machine.”
She ignored the jibe. “Too bad this one couldn’t be placed. Rather emotional of you to have let her grow up.”
“I like her. And she’s easy on the eyes. When I get bored, I wake her up and we talk about science.” He sighed. “I let emotions drive me, I’ll admit. I got her ready when Spock died, not letting things play out to see if he’d come back to life. Stupid of me considering he was dropped on the Genesis planet.”
“Yes, well, we all miscalculate occasionally.”
“It was a waste of resources, though. That’s what galls me. But I couldn’t risk using her so soon if Spock was still around. How many doppelgangers can he see before he realizes the truth?”
“I think a lot.” She grinned at him. “So your new one—will she be blind this time?”
“No. But she has to wait. We’re looking for the perfect human family for her. We want her to have all the advantages. Her natural aloofness combined with the benefits of wealth should make for an interesting combo.”
“I think it would be more interesting to make her poor. Scraping up any way she could would make her harder but more acceptable to those around her. No one likes rich people except other rich people. And even then it’s just herd mentality, not real affection.”
“Good point. I’ll consider that as I look over candidates. I may implant this time. Not help a family who can’t conceive.”
“It’s for science. I’ve assessed the risk.” He gave her an amused look. “You’re not the only one who can shoot the rapids, my dear.”
She laughed, then looked at the microscope he was using. “Will my girl have to wait?”
He smiled. “Not long. The heir to the Fifth House of Betazed is having trouble getting his wife pregnant. He’s asked for our help.” Or the help of the foundations they ostensibly represented, foundations on many worlds devoted to matters of fertility.
“A Betazoid? Oh, my.” She couldn’t wait to see what kind of trouble this one got up to. Love and Betazoids were a match made in heaven—or hell. Either way, it would be interesting.
And as an observer, that was really all she could ask.