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.
1. Presumption of Guilt
Chapel woke up in the holding cell with the feeling she was being watched—or at least observed beyond the normal surveillance in the detention facility. She sat up slowly and saw Spock standing on the other side of the force field, his posture Vulcan perfect, his expression unreadable.
There had been a time, just before he died, that she could read him well. A time when, had she woken up alone and afraid, he would have been someone she could ask for help.
Now she crossed her arms over her chest and slid back until she hit the wall. "What do you want?"
He'd spent the day yesterday "observing" her questioning. His eyes had held something dark and very alive—rage, she thought. Only she didn't know why.
"Do you know why you're here?" If his voice held any emotion, it was distaste.
"Because I'm one of Cartwright's protˇgˇs?" Cartwright, who she'd seen in the corridor yesterday on the way to questioning. Who'd given her a smile she couldn't read and mouthed, "Sorry," as they passed. Cartwright who'd betrayed Starfleet and the Federation, who'd disgraced the uniform.
Who'd taken Spock's lover down with him.
She closed her eyes and tried to gather whatever power used to let her cow planetary administrators into granting her access during emergencies. But she couldn't find that strength this time, not when she was sitting in this uncomfortable bed, waking up for the fourth day in a row in custody, not charged with a damned thing, and now with Spock staring daggers at her through a force field he could drop with a flick of his wrist.
She'd heard from Ny what he'd done to Valeris. If he could hurt a Vulcan with a meld, what could he do to her?
She wanted to appeal to their long association, the shared years on the ship, anything to make him add just a bit of warmth to his expression, but something in the way he was standing told her to tread carefully, so she stayed still and tried to wipe any trace of a confrontational expression from her face.
Finally he said, "Admiral Cartwright will not agree to a meld."
She nodded, unsure what he wanted her to say.
"His agreement may not be necessary, given his guilt."
Guilt ascertained by another meld. The one on Valeris. Chapel knew all this. "Okay."
"You can make this easier."
"I can? How?"
"For yourself, I mean. Agree to a meld now. Do not wait for the Federation to give me permission."
"Yes. I. I am in charge of the investigation. Did you not realize that?"
"It explains why you were in the room yesterday." She eased off the bed and walked to him. "Why am I here? Cartwright mentored hundreds of us. Are we all here?"
"No." His eyes seemed to burn into her, as if he was trying to find a secret—or just have her admit to it without him finding it.
"Why am I here?"
"You are an excellent actress." He turned and headed for the door.
"Spock, I deserve to know."
He whirled. "That is Captain Spock, Commander."
She took a step back and tried to wipe off any trace of how much he was pissing her off. She went for the helpless woman shtick she occasionally used during an ops mission, letting her voice rise and her eyes soften. Cartwright used to tell her she was scarily good at changing to fit the occasion. "Captain Spock, what is it you think I've done? Please, just tell me."
He didnÕt seem the least bit mollified by her tone, and he narrowed his eyes as he took a step closer. "You transferred Cadet Valeris to Admiral Cartwright during her interim assignment in her last year at the Academy. She was assigned to Emergency Operations until you sent her to serve in the CINC's office with the admiral."
"He asked me to." This was why she was here? His fucking traitor of a girlfriendÕs career progression?
"Via official channels? I find that unlikely. There is no record."
"No, not official. He and I served together forever. We did things informally."
"Informally or covertly? It is a matter of degree, is it not, Commander?"
She wanted to close her eyes, wanted to yell at him for even thinking she might be part of the conspiracy. He knew her. Or he used to, before he came back to life, before... No. It was irrelevant. "You think I handed her over to him...for this? To be involved—you think I'm involved?"
"I do. But if you are not, a simple meld will settle this and I will release you."
ŅWith an apology?Ó She could see by the way his jaw tightened that there was no way he was saying he was sorry. "A meld? With you? You're angry. You want it to be me." She felt a sense of panic overcome her and wanted to rush the field and beat her fists on it, but she knew how senseless—and painful—that would be. "You melded with Valeris. I know you did. Did you find me in her mind?"
"No. But it is not uncommon for the leaders of such a plot to maintain operational security by keeping cells ignorant of the identities of their co-conspirators."
"You can't be serious? You think I'm part of this?" She started to pace, then realized who could help her. "Where's Jim. He'll listen to me."
Spock looked down, and she had the sense he was trying desperately to get control of himself. "Captain Kirk was lost during the launch of the Enterprise-B."
She took a step back, then another, her backward progress stopped when she ran into the bed and sat down heavily. "What? How?" Her voice squeaked and she could feel tears starting, tears she didn't try to fight. Jim was dead and Spock hadnÕt even fucking told her?
"I am not going to discuss him with you." He turned and this time she didn't try to stop him.
She took a breath, felt it catch, and tried to calm herself. Spock thought she was guilty, Jim was gone, and she was stuck in here with Cartwright, who might just be throwing her under the bus—for something she hadn't done. Was that what his "Sorry" had meant?
She scooted back on the bed, leaned heavily against the wall, and tried to find some semblance of calm.
One meld would solve this. She'd had nothing to do with the conspiracy. But she was afraid of Spock. Afraid to let him do it. He was so angry—how much had he loved Valeris?
Forget Valeris. How much did he hate her?
And for what? SheÕd done nothing; sheÕd walked away from him after his rebirth the way he clearly wanted her to. SheÕd never made a fuss.
This wasn't getting her anywhere. Options. Jim would be asking her for options. So would Cartwright, if they were still in ops together.
Options were what she excelled at. Why was she letting Spock make her panic? There was more than one goddamned Vulcan on this planet. And she knew one that actually liked her enough to come quickly. She got up and hit the comm button, praying to whatever deity protected the unjustly accused that Spock wouldn't be the one to answer it.
He wasn't. Her normal guard walked in. A lieutenant who didn't look at her like she was three-week old bread. "Ma'am?" she asked.
"I need to talk to Ambassador Sarek. Sooner rather than later."
The woman didnÕt ask why; she just nodded and hurried out. Chapel had the sense that sheÕd be discreet.
Maybe not everyone was against her. Even if Spock was running the show, others could make real differences—she knew that from all her missions. It wasnÕt always those in charge who were the best allies.
Sarek came sooner than she expected. She looked up and almost cried in relief.
He seemed annoyed to find her in a cell. "What is this?"
She said, "Please, help me" at the same time she saw Spock walk through the door and say, "Father?"
Sarek turned. "What is she doing in here?"
"She is under suspicion. There are...irregularities in how she handled Valeris's transfer."
She stood up, sick of his goddamn suppositions. "There was nothing irreg—"
Sarek motioned for her to stop talking. "Christine, why did you want me here?"
"Spock will let me go if a meld proves me innocent. I believe, with the betrayal of Lieutenant Valeris and the loss of Captain Kirk, that he is emotionally compromised, and I don't feel safe melding with him. I don't trust his control." She saw the comment hit as hard as she meant it to—for both men. "I prefer to meld with you, Sarek. If you will?" She knew panic was starting to show and didn't care.
"Father, she is under suspicion and I—"
This time it was Spock that Sarek hushed with a gesture. "Leave us, my son. I will ascertain the truth. I take it you believe Christine is involved in some way with the conspiracy?"
"I do. She transferred Valeris to Admiral Cartwright."
"I do not need you to tell me what you expect me to find. I will meld with her and find it myself."
Chapel wanted to laugh. He was taking control back; Spock couldn't fight him. She sat and dug her fingers into the blanket, taking a deep, wavering breath while trying to fight off what felt like hysteria.
She was too goddamn old for this. She could have retired last year. If she got free of this place, she was turning in her uniform and getting the hell away from Spock.
Because even when Sarek cleared her, she didn't think it would matter much to his son.
Spock watched Valeris as she walked slowly around the detention cell. She seemed unconcerned that he was watching her. Unlike with Christine's quite apparent panic, he could discern nothing from her.
"Why didn't you want to tell me I was being extradited, Spock? Do you lack the courage?" She took a deep breath, held it, then let it out slowly. The most basic of Vulcan meditations.
"It was a given, under the circumstances."
"Do you think one gets used to the stink?" The way she was speaking of Rura Penthe, as if they were still together, as if they could share a private...joke about the things they could smell and their colleagues could not. She had always understood it was a way to cement their relationship. Establish common ground, then ensure that the common ground allowed no one else in.
She stopped and turned to look at him, her head cocked, her expression pure Vulcan. "Will you miss me, Spock?"
He nodded. He would give her that. She had done what she'd done thinking he would approve. Somehow he had let her think he would condone the methods she took, that he would accept the wrongs she had committed as necessary.
But it had been Cartwright who had molded her into this...traitor. Cartwright and, he wanted to believe, Christine. But she was in with his father even as he watched Valeris.
He knew his father would be thorough. It was not in his nature to be anything but. Even if he had a fondness for Christine that Spock had never shared.
Valeris began to pace, and Spock closed his eyes. It was not entirely true that he and Christine had not shared something. Before he died saving the ship from the Genesis device, he and Christine had been forging some kind of...relationship. They had not become lovers, but they had been spending time together—a great deal of time.
Time he had enjoyed. But also time he had forgotten upon his rebirth. The memories had been lost in the fires of the refusion. Lost for some time.
And in the meantime, Valeris had been at his side. A girl about to enter the Academy. A girl who looked up to him despite being a full Vulcan and he only half. A girl just a step away from womanhood.
He had not touched her until she graduated the Academy. But she had moved him, touching his emotions—and his pride—from the moment he met her.
And Christine...by the time he remembered what they had been building, he and Valeris had built something he wanted more. It was easier to pretend he never recalled his burgeoning rapport with Christine than to explain why he no longer desired it.
Spock thought he heard a laugh and looked in on Valeris. She was staring at him and she smiled—the expression jarring. Then the laugh came from her again, deep and amused and...cruel.
"Do you really think you can send us there? To that Klingon hellhole?"
He saw too late the shining pellet she was holding, that she slipped into her mouth.
"I loved you, Spock. I will couch it in human terms since, at your core, you are governed by emotions, not logic. I know you loved me. And now you will lose me. Your precious Kirk is dead. You have nothing left." Her voice was crueler than he could ever have imagined it being. He did not think he was the one being propelled by emotion.
He hit the force field control, but she fell and began convulsing before he could get to her. She was dead a few moments later.
The door opened and a guard came in. "Sir, Admiral Cart—"
"Is dead. Of course. Commander Chapel?"
"I did not check on her."
"Please go do that." Did he have to think for all of them?
The guard hurried out, and Spock sat down near Valeris, not touching her, just watching as her skin seemed to lose all semblance of life.
The door opened again. "She was with your father, sir. He's just outside. I asked him to wait."
Spock rose, trying to put some measure of Vulcan dignity back into his posture, trying not to show how this loss—after Jim's—was affecting him. "I will talk to my father in my office. Please escort him there. And send a med team for the bodies of Lieutenant Valeris and Admiral Cartwright. A postmortem is required." He wanted to know who might have made the poison they took. Who helped them—someone brought the pellets in. Perhaps the man he was talking to.
The guard left, and Spock took a deep breath. He took one last look at Valeris, then headed for his office.
Sarek was looking out the window, no doubt not wanting to give Spock the advantage of standing over him if he was seated. "Ah, Spock, has something happened? The guards seem quite—"
"Admiral Cartwright and Valeris have committed suicide."
Sarek evidenced very little surprise, but more than a bit of disapproval, probably at the way Spock was running this operation. "Before you could meld with him, I take it?"
"Yes." He saw a padd on his desk, his authorization had arrived, giving him permission to force the meld. Had someone seen this? Was that why Cartwright had killed himself now?
He imagined Valeris did it now because she enjoyed doing it in front of him. She'd always relished the control she had over him, the impact. Seeing her die, after Jim—he'd told her about Jim, why had he told her?
He mentally shook himself. He must not show weakness in front of his father. Not now. "Your meld with Commander Chapel?"
"Showed that she was innocent. I was quite thorough, as I imagine you expected. Christine was most cooperative. She put aside embarrassment and the requirements any being would have for the privacy of their own thoughts to let me have unprecedented access."
"Christine. You say her name so easily."
"It is an easy name to say, Spock, as she is a family friend."
"Is she? Or is she your friend? You came with such alacrity, Father. I wonder at the depths of your friendship with Commander Chapel. She has shown a proclivity for Vulcan males, after all. Does my mother know you are here?"
Sarek turned, no evidence of concern when he said, "She does. I realize you were unable to ascertain Valeris's deception despite being in a relationship with her, but do not suppose that your mother would not know if I was unfaithful to her. She interrupted a meeting I was in to let me know Christine needed my help. As I said, Christine is our friend."
Spock turned away, hating that his father could make him feel like a child again so effortlessly.
"Moreover, Spock, at one time Christine was your friend. She accompanied you to more than one embassy function."
"I will not discuss her with you." He tried to sound like an adult and not some rejected boy. "If you saw nothing, she is free to go."
"Spock, what I am trying to say is she is planning to retire and...flee. You once felt something for her. You could urge her to stay."
"Urge her yourself."
"I did. On both my and your mother's behalf. But she is afraid of you. Of what you will do to her."
Spock turned. "I will do nothing to her."
"You have frightened her, Spock. Your meld with Valeris was...violent."
"You would condemn me for that? The Federation considers me a hero. As do the Klingons."
"But they perhaps do not realize that restraint is not only commendable but crucial."
Spock closed his eyes, hating the feeling of never being able to win with this man. For so many years, he was never good enough, never made the right decisions.
Meanwhile, his father wanted him to urge a woman he detested to remain on Earth? Why? Let her flee. Let her go wherever she wanted, and prosper or not. He did not care. He simply did not want to see her.
2. Bad Blood
Chapel was packing the last of her things for storage when the chime sounded. "Come," she said, "I'm back here, Ny."
"It is I," Sarek said gently, and she turned to look at him. He was surveying the emptiness of her apartment with something like dismay. "You are leaving as you said?"
"What will you do?"
"Not sure yet. Just don't want to be on the same planet as Spock."
"He is often away."
"You know what I mean." A pulse of exhaustion rushed through her, and she sat on the hearth of the fireplace she'd chosen the apartment for. That and the view.
"Christine, there is room on my staff. I would welcome your assistance. Amanda would welcome your company."
"What part of staying away from Spock doesn't compute for you, Sarek?" She closed her eyes, hating how bitter she sounded. He was trying to help; he didn't deserve this. "But thank you."
He sat next to her. "You must not let him dictate your future."
"He hates me."
"If he hates anyone, Christine, it is himself. For not seeing what was right in front of him."
"Well, to be fair, none of us saw that."
"None of us were melding with her." Sarek raised an eyebrow as if to punctuate Spock's shortcomings, and she laughed, the sound coming out mean, but he didn't seem to mind. "What will you do, Christine? You cannot just wander, avoiding Spock for the rest of your life."
"Sure I can." She leaned against him to take the sting out of her tone, smiled gently, and closed her eyes, enjoying the solidity of him. Spock used to feel this way, the short time they were together—and she didn't care that they'd never had sex or that he couldn't remember anything about those times. They had been together. She'd felt it and he'd spoken of things...down the road the way a person did when they envisioned a joined future.
Reluctantly, she eased away from Sarek. "When I was in ops, we often called in a contract team of medical personnel. I've got a call in to the two we used most. People I met." People who'd told her: "If you ever quit Starfleet..."
"That is a logical solution."
"Yep, I can be logical. It'll be a new job but familiar, all at once." And far, far away from Spock, please God.
"Perhaps our paths will cross."
She took his hand for the briefest of moments. "I hope so. You and Amanda—you're so special to me. I...I love you." She said that so rarely anymore. Who had been the last person she'd told that to? She couldn't even remember.
"We care for you deeply, as well."
It consoled her to imagine Sarek might care for her more deeply than he did for Spock. Amanda, on the other hand, would always love her boy the best no matter how fond she was of Chapel, which she knew was how it should be.
Sarek stood. "I will let you get back to your packing."
"Thank you for saving me."
His expression changed, becoming almost sorrowful. "I regret that my son did not pursue a relationship with you, Christine. I would have welcomed you as a daughter."
"What? Over a proper Vulcan wife for him?"
"I married a human, Christine." Again the punctuation of the eyebrow, this time poking fun at her.
"Did you like Valeris?"
He did not give her a quick answer. Instead, he took a deep breath and seemed to hold it, then slowly exhaled. "I admired her accomplishments. Her intellect, naturally. But there was something...calculated about the way she pursued Spock."
"I thought he pursued her?"
"No. From the moment Kirk brought him back for the refusion, she inserted herself into his life. I wonder now if she and Cartwright had already started to work together."
Chapel did him the credit of considering it, but she couldnÕt see how Cartwright could get to a Valeris that young. "I think she just loved him, Sarek. The short time I worked with her, she seemed to worship him."
"It must have been difficult. Given what I saw of your feelings for him in the meld." He looked uncomfortable—she knew it wasn't because she had feelings, but that he'd had to rifle through them.
She nodded. "I wasn't sorry to see her leave ops, I can tell you that. She was a constant reminder of what should have been mine." She looked down and took a shaky breath. "He doesn't even remember me, Sarek. How does he not even remember spending time with me?"
"It is not logical, given that his other memories seem to have been recovered. He certainly shows no sign of forgetting the many grievances he has against me." He cocked his head. "It is possible he does remember. And that in those memories lies guilt. There is a phenomena not unique to humans called cognitive dissonance."
"I'm familiar. He knew he treated me badly, and he would never treat a good person badly."
"Indeed. So he makes you—"
"The villain. It explains things, but it doesn't help me at all. At the end of the day, guilt-ridden or no, he doesnÕt like me. And I don't trust him. Especially not without Jim's influence to temper him. I know you weren't always a Kirk fan, but he made Spock softer, more reasonable."
"I realize that. Amanda has commented on the change in Spock of late."
"Which is just another reason to get the hell out of Dodge." She grinned at him, trying to make it as carefree as possible but pretty sure she failed. "I'll miss you. Give Amanda my love."
He nodded, as if she was not asking him an extremely emotional thing. "Live long and prosper, Christine."
"You as well."
Spock walked through the very full mess at Command, trying to find an empty table. He did not normally eat an afternoon meal, but he had a late meeting and did not want hunger to interfere with his ability to fully focus.
Valeris was gone. The conspiracy was dead—or at least the search for it. He had to accept that. He had spent a week analyzing every second of the surveillance tapes, seeing who went in and out of the holding cells, who might have given Valeris and Cartwright the pellets, but had come up empty. The guards maintained the distance mandated by procedure to give no prisoner the chance to disable them when moving from cell to interrogation room, and at other times the force fields were up and precluded contact. There was no instance of a surreptitious drop of anything.
Whoever had done it was skilled. And, for all he knew, it had happened during the trial. They'd been marched past a significant number of people, all vetted of course, but that didn't mean they weren't part of this.
Spock refused to waste any more energy on worrying about how many people who were part of this might be left. Starfleet Security would continue the hunt. It was what they specialized in. He would go back to diplomatic where he belonged.
"Mister Spock." A voice he felt happy to hear—true happiness, for the first time in days. He, of course, gave no sign of the emotion, as he turned.
Nyota was motioning to the chair across from her and he joined her with something he realized was eagerness. "Crowded today. Crazy." She smiled and went back to her salad. "Got a meeting in fifteen minutes so I'm going to be lousy company. But you looked a little lost—thought I could help you find a table." She beamed at him. The beautiful, sweet smile he had always found attractive—and somewhat sensual.
"I regret that we will not have a chance to talk."
"Me, too." She shook her head. "Doesn't seem right without the captain here, Spock."
"I agree." Jim's absence was a constant weight. But, sitting here with Nyota, he felt that weight lifted slightly. "If you wish to talk about it, I would be amenable."
"No. I'm good. Jan and I spent a couple of days while Excelsior was in for upgrades drinking and bemoaning the loss of that fine man." She sighed. "Had the hangover to prove it, but I think I got out all I needed to say. She did, too." She smiled breezily, as if not realizing Spock had been trying to gain personal time with her. "But if you want to talk about him, I'm game." Her words were punctuated with a stab of her food.
"Perhaps tomorrow night. There is a restaurant I've been told is quite good. It is called Ambrosia."
She frowned. "Ambrosia is a date place."
He let a rising eyebrow be his answer.
"Are you asking me on a date?" She put her fork down and pushed the tray to the side. "Please, for the love of God, tell me you are not asking me out on a date."
He almost frowned. "I am interested in spending time with you. Why does that upset you?"
"You really know nothing about the girl code, do you? I'm not poaching someone one of my best friends liked. Moreover, you're on the rebound, which is strike two against you. And strike three—which in case you weren't paying attention during all our shore-leave baseball games, means you're out—you locked up Christine and scared the crap out of her. She left the planet, Spock. To get away from you. What the hell is wrong with you?" She stood up, kicking her chair away with quite a bit of vigor. "So yeah, let's go paint the town red." With a dramatic eye-roll, she turned and left him.
And left her tray for him to throw away.
She had always been a master of dramatic exits.
He looked around to see if anyone was paying attention to him, but no one seemed interested—or was pretending to not be interested with too much vigor. He had learned to recognize that over the years.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, seeking control. Annoyance, even anger, still sat so near the surface. It had been weeks since Valeris died, since he'd lost Jim. How long would this volatility last? It was worse than what he'd experienced with V'ger because that he could blame on the meld, on the influence of a startling and unique intellect. This...he had only himself to blame.
"My son." His father's voice, behind him. "Do you desire company or is your dining companion coming back?"
Spock realized Sarek was looking at Nyota's tray. "They are coming back, Father," he wanted to say. He wanted more than anything to lie to Sarek, to see him walk off and leave him in peace. But Sarek had no office to retreat to. He would choose another table—probably within sight of this one—and know that Spock had not spoken true. "Please. Sit." He tried to make his tone gracious as he moved Nyota's tray to the side.
Sarek sat and busied himself with fixing his food the way he wanted it, then he said, "Where is your next mission?"
"Delex IV. Both sides are finally ready to talk now that they have had to join forces fighting the virus that has killed so many on the planet."
Sarek seemed to freeze for a moment, then he nodded and went back to eating.
"It is nothing."
"It is something. You reacted. I saw it quite clearly."
Sarek put down his fork, took a deep breath, and then said, "Christine is there. Working for a private medical contractor."
Spock could feel his face freezing in what he hoped was merely disapproval and not anger. "I see. And you know this how?"
"I know this because she told your mother and your mother told me. Are you going to persist with this assumption that I am in some kind of illicit relationship with her? It is most tiresome." He pushed his plate aside, letting it come to rest next to Nyota's. "You know, Spock, it was you who treated Christine badly, not the reverse. She has been astoundingly reticent to speak ill of you—she has even defended you to me upon occasion. I have no idea why."
Spock let an eyebrow rise, afraid that if he spoke it would only be to lose control, which was what his father wanted. He'd lived through this too many times over the years not to know what would follow any kind of outburst. Finally, after chewing his food far longer than necessary, he said softly, "She has left the planet. As I'm sure my human associates would say: good riddance."
Sarek leaned in, and there was anger in his face, anger that it shocked Spock to see. "You will treat her with the respect she is due. She had nothing to do with the conspiracy. Admiral Cartwright did request Valeris from her; she did not volunteer her to leave. You are being quite illogical to carry so much negative emotion toward her."
"Well, Father, you did not have to live with her unrelenting interest."
"You would be fortunate to have her—and at one point you did not find her interest so distasteful. I saw much in her memories." Sarek looked at his tray. "I am no longer hungry. Enjoy your meal, my son." And with that he was up and gone.
And one more tray waited for Spock to take care of. It was probably an accurate metaphor for his life right now.
"Well, Spock. As I live and breathe. I saw your dad just leave—he coming back or do you want some company?" McCoy actually sounded happy to see him.
"I would love some company, Doctor." He made sure to let his eyebrow rise on the word "love."
"Now you're just being mean." But McCoy laughed and tucked into his meal. "So, tell me what's new with you."
Spock waited for the heavy silence that his father would employ, one that would mean no matter what he said, it would not be a good answer. But McCoy just grinned and asked him to pass the salt.
So Spock told him what was new—or as much of it as he could without mentioning Christine.
Perhaps she would have cycled off world by the time he got to Delex IV. Perhaps he could make that happen before he got there. With an uptick of his lips that he could not control, he resolved to check into that once he and Leonard finished lunch.
3. Repercussions of Guilt
Spock walked through the tent city that had been erected when the hospitals became too full. The Delexians were generally a hardy people, but the virus felling them by the thousands was like nothing they had faced before. The sickness had brought the planet together rather than push it further apart, which was why he and his delegation were here.
But the discussions had for now been suspended, his role reduced to support until the medical crisis, which had worsened just before his arrival, was resolved. A medical crisis so widespread he had abandoned any idea of getting Christine somehow removed from this mission—the planet needed all the medical personnel it could get.
He regretted that his time was so free now. He had hoped to bury himself in work, to use it to forget everything that had happened—that had left him alone at a time that he'd thought would be his brightest years with a good friend retired close enough to visit and a mate of his own. A mate who might be away on a ship but still bonded to him. Never and always touching and touched.
He breathed out slowly, the sound just short of a sigh. Nothing was as he'd thought it would be.
"Well, look what the cat dragged in." A voice he had been waiting to hear—not in any kind of positive anticipation but with some measure of dread. Not that he would ever tell Christine that.
He turned and saw her and felt the rage rising against his will, not wanting to be contained any longer, not when she stood before him.
"My father said you would be here."
"And you came anyway. You have no shame." Her expression was a mocking one she had not used on him when she was in the holding cell.
He should have forced the meld. He did not like having to take his father's word for her innocence.
He would have rather ripped through her mind himself.
Her expression slipped, and he saw a trace of fear replace the mocking. Could she read how angry he was? A slip into such transparent emotions was one he should not indulge.
He put his hands behind his back, clasping them to stop the trembling that had started despite his attempt at control. A trembling he was not sure was entirely of rage but of helplessness—or of guilt. This woman had done him no wrong. Not knowingly if at all and yet he felt such animosity toward her.
He wanted her to be to blame. He did not want Valeris to have found the fatal path she took alone.
And Christine was jealous. He knew she was—or had been; perhaps now there was only fear and dislike.
He studied her in silence and she turned as if to leave. Without thinking, he said, "You were not dismissed, Commander."
He realized his mistake immediately.
"I'm retired, or didn't you get the memo?" She moved closer. "I say this with all due respect, Spock. Go fuck yourself."
"I will put you on report."
"To whom? I'm in charge of the medical team. And I answer to the chancellor. So go tell her how disrespectful the person saving her people was to you. I'm sure she'll give an enormous shit."
He had met the chancellor, a woman much less unyielding than her counterpart on the other side of the negotiations. "Saving? People are dying."
"Not as many as were. We're making a difference. Your inability to see that—or read data since I know you get the sitreps—is your problem, not mine." She turned again.
He still felt compelled to try to intimidate her. "Tread carefully, Doctor."
"And again I say fuck you, Spock." This time she did leave, her walk one of a predator, not of a chastened subordinate, but he had the distinct impression she was putting on an act, that she did not feel as confident as she was letting on.
Chapel could feel her face turning red and her hands starting to shake, and tried to fight off the burning combination of fear and anger she felt at seeing Spock. She bypassed the tent city once she was out of his sight and headed for Dilar's residence.
The chancellor was in, and she waved away her security as Chapel stormed down the hallway. "Christine, what is it?"
Dilar rolled her eyes the way she always did when she knew Chapel was lying. "You're angry but not at me." Dilar eased her into her private chambers behind the receiving quarters. "What is it?"
"I knew I'd run into him eventually. Sarek warned me."
"Ah. So this is about Spock. I am surprised you managed to avoid him as long as you have." She stroked her hair the way Chapel loved.
"He makes me so angry."
"Anger is not what I'm sensing." Dilar tipped her chin up, calm eyes appraising, leaving no room for secrets. "Why are you so afraid of him? You've told me nothing about what happened to you, Christine. I can sense it—the past, something bad. But I'm not a mind-reader." She sighed. "Tell me. Trust me."
Chapel took a ragged breath. She'd told no one but Ny and Jan what she'd been put through in the facility. What Spock would have done to her if she'd let him. But Dilar had let her in; she deserved to know the truth.
"He believes I corrupted his fuc—his girlfriend." Dilar didn't like it when she swore—the Delexians found it crass—so she tried to moderate her language, but after so many years in ops, it was hard. "I was in a detention facility because of him."
"What do you want me to do, Christine?" Dilar pulled her close, nuzzling. "How can I make it better?"
Even though she was being physical, Chapel knew she didn't mean to make it better with sex. She was just using the closeness Chapel craved to make her settle.
"Tell the Federation to send another diplomat."
"Short of that." Dilar laughed as she kissed down her neck.
Chapel let her do it, even if she knew she was being manipulated. Dilar hadn't become Chancellor without learning how to play people. But it was a goodhearted manipulation that reminded Chapel of Jim.
"I know what he was to you—this is more than just the detention center, isn't it?" Dilar whispered.
Chapel nodded but said, "You have a meeting. This will take a while."
"Then give me the short version."
So she did, elaborating on her time in the detention center—how frightened she'd been by someone who at one point she would have bet her life would never hurt her—and how he was treating her now.
Dilar's expression grew harder and harder. Anger, but not at her. "Christine—what can I do?"
"Fire his ass—I know you can't. But you would if you could, right? Just tell me that."
"I would if I could."
They both knew it was a lie. Spock was instrumental in helping Dilar achieve a dream—and a promise to her people. With peace would come Federation membership and all the privileges and protection that came with it.
Chapel had no illusions that Dilar's ambition and loyalty to her own kind wouldn't trump any hold their no-strings affair might have. Still, it was nice to go to sleep at night feeling safe, being held, and knowing there were guards outside the door to keep the bad guys at bay.
She'd received threats once she was released. Anonymous. Horrible. Calling her a traitor.
All because she'd been associated with a good man who'd lost his goddamned mind.
She realized Dilar had asked her something. "What?"
"Do you want to come with me to Lorla Province tomorrow? The medics there tell me they are understaffed and under-resourced, but everyone always says that. I trust you to tell me if they're really in need of more or just trying to take advantage of the emergency."
"Would they do that?"
"The administrator of that province has integrity...challenges, shall we say?"
"Understood. And yes, I'm happy to."
"My hero." Dilar pulled her closer and kissed her soundly.
Chapel kissed her back with as much passion as she could give. She loved that Dilar could turn keeping her away from Spock into some kind of altruistic act on Chapel's part.
"I still have time before my next meeting. If you want to..." Dilar eyed the door that connected to the bedroom.
Chapel laughed and let her lead her in, the heavy thud of the door closing behind them a comforting sound.
Spock was sitting near a fountain, finalizing his latest report to the Federation leadership when he heard a soft cough.
He turned to see the chancellor, her guards standing behind her out of earshot but close enough to protect her if needed. Since not everyone was in favor of peace, Dilar had significantly increased the security around her.
Then again he would not put it past her to want to send a message to the other side and her own people. At how high the stakes were—at what she was risking to give them peace. At heart, she was a politician, and he had learned not to trust them, no matter what the species. Few people went into the field with no ego, especially not those who played the game as well as this woman.
Or maybe he just wanted to believe the worst about Dilar now that he knew she was involved with Christine.
He did not want to analyze where his anger stemmed from, was content to simply indulge it in small ways that would not interfere with the mission.
"Chancellor," he said with a slight nod.
"Ambassador. Walk with me." She did not wait for him to acquiesce, merely set off down the path without him and he had to hurry slightly to catch off.
She was normally the soul of courtesy, a master of allowing an opponent to lose but still save face. She was deliberately making him hurry, making him look less dignified than he preferred. But why?
"Have I offended you, Chancellor?" Sometimes it was best to be direct.
"No, you've offended a friend of mine." Her smile was the same brilliant one he'd grown used to during the preliminary talks, but there was a glint of steel in her eye.
"I regret that. I was not aware I had offended any Delexian."
She smiled as if she knew he was being deliberately obtuse. "Not one of my people."
"Ah, you are referring to Doctor Chapel. I believe the two of you are quite close."
"As I said."
"Perhaps you do not know her as well as you think. Perhaps she is not worthy of your...protection."
She smiled serenely. "Many years ago, we had a very bad earthquake. It leveled the largest city in my province. I was the administrator. There was a Starfleet officer newly assigned to emergency operations."
He closed his eyes, anticipating the conversational path she would take; he would not win this one.
"Ah, I see you take my meaning. Suffice it to say that I am extraordinarily fond of this woman." She lifted her head, a move of defiance, of just the slightest bit of anger, given what he had learned of her people. Then she sniffed in a way meant to bring attention to the act. "You are angry. You think it is with her. I think it is with yourself."
"This is none of your affair, Chancellor."
She laughed. "Affair. That's the very word for it, I think. The way humans think of these things."
"Whatever she has said—"
"Is between her and me. Because as I understand it, you abandoned any relationship you might have had with her." As he began to speak, she deftly cut him off. "I will not have her...bullied by you, Ambassador. Am I clear?"
"Perfectly." His voice held no trace of emotion; a fact that made him far too happy. Dilar was risking much in order to shield Christine from him. He could not afford to make this worse—Delex IV would give Starfleet a base in a sector previously not open to them, one very close to the Neutral Zone.
Dilar sighed next to him, as if taking him to task had been some kind of chore. "I will leave you now, Ambassador. I regret that our talks have gone off track. Christine tells me that we are out of the crisis phase of the disease. We will be able to start negotiations again very soon."
"I look forward to that."
"As do I. Good day, Ambassador."
She moved off, her back straight, the picture of elegance. She was younger than Christine by at least a decade. He tried to stop his mind from imagining them together.
Tried and failed. He took a deep breath and held it, letting it out slowly, angry that he had to resort to such a basic tool just to gain control.
Christine had said it right in the detention facility when she'd told his father he was emotionally compromised. Not that he would ever give her the satisfaction of knowing he agreed.
He heard soft footfalls, then the voice of Lieutenant Maxell, his primary aide. He turned and saw her hurrying to him. "What is it?"
She handed him a padd. "For your eyes, sir. Command was quite specific."
"I will listen to it in the shuttle." Where prying eyes and ears could not intrude; Starfleet made sure to have the latest security measures in place to provide at least one safe place to communicate during what was often extended stays on sometimes hostile worlds.
"Very good, sir." She walked back with him toward the shuttleport. "It's beautiful here. It'll make one heck of a good tourist spot once they demilitarize. I wish I could explore more."
He knew she had not seen much of the planet; she had volunteered with the sick when it was clear the diplomatic effort was on hold. Fortunately for those who were helping, the disease seemed to target only Delexians. Minimal containment procedures were needed for any non-native medical teams.
"It is indeed lovely here, Lieutenant." He wondered if Christine would stay once the medical crisis was over. Was she in love with Dilar?
He felt surge of annoyance that such a useless thought would intrude when he had work to do.
Did he care because he didn't want to envision her being happy when he was not, or was it simply a natural reaction to having been rebuked, if privately and quite gently, by the leader of this world on her behalf? Some part of him—the rational observer who was always there—noted there could be a third reason: that he was jealous. He decided to not ponder the underlying cause of his feelings.
Chapel was curled up in the window seat that looked over the lake behind the Chancellor's residence, when Dilar came in, looking very smug. "What did you do?"
She'd learned what that look meant when she first met Dilar, back when she'd been hurting worse than she thought she could hurt. She'd only been in ops a few months when Spock had given his life to save the Enterprise. Jim had come to her when they'd gotten back to tell her what had happened.
He'd known she and Spock had been spending time together when Spock was an instructor at the Academy and she was newly at ops. He'd known they'd been on the verge of something. And then Spock died.
And later, when she'd gone to Vulcan, after Spock had been reborn, Jim had been there for her again, a constant friend. When Spock didn't know her, didn't seem to want to get to know her again, and was constantly attended to by a young Vulcan girl.
To say that Chapel had hated Valeris on sight would be an exaggeration. It had taken at least a day for her to realize that somewhere in the refusion she'd been lost. Anything she and Spock had forged was gone. It shouldn't have been a surprise that she was forgotten. Spock hadn't remembered his friendship with Jim, the most important relationship in his life—why would he remember some burgeoning rapport with her?
And this girl she'd only heard of as a protˇgˇ was joined at the hip with him. Spock wasn't wrong in thinking that she hadn't been thrilled to see Valeris on the assignment list when the Academy interims were announced, but she'd gone out of her way to treat her fairly. She'd been only too happy to get rid of her, though, when Cartwright had wanted her.
But that day on Vulcan, when Spock stared at her as coldly as he ever had and asked her why she had come, she'd had her heart shredded with that whip-smart girl watching. After the whale probe, she'd started travelling more than she stayed on Earth. She'd buried herself in work. The consummate professional. Until she met Dilar, someone she couldn't fool no matter how much she tried.
Dilar knew what Spock had meant to her. Dilar also knew that was in the past. Or had been until Spock decided that his precious little traitor wouldn't have gone bad without a push from Chapel. And then showed up on this goddamn planet once she thought she was free of him.
She took a deep breath. "Dilar?"
"I ran into Spock. I made it clear you were important to me. That he should...take care."
Chapel had worked too many emergencies where it had been vital to have the head of state behind her not to know how key Dilar's championship would be with Spock. She just wished she didn't need it. "Thanks—but you shouldn't have and you know that."
Dilar shrugged and sat next to her, leaning against the opposite wall, her feet tucked under Chapel's legs. "When I spoke of you, he had an interesting reaction."
"Yes, unfettered disgust."
"No disgust. Anger, yes. But some of it was at himself, I think. But...well, it was complicated. I believe his feelings for you are complex."
"Oh, yeah, real complex. He hates me."
"Dilar, don't do this. Unless you're sick of me. Are you? I can go back to the dorms. You don't need to try to pretend Spock is interested in me for anything other than payback just to get me to break up with you."
"Fine, but I wanted to set the stage going forward. To let him know how he will treat you. Because both of you are performing tasks I consider vital and it is illogical for you to avoid him and for him to resent you when there is nothing to resent you for. And no, I'm not tired of you." She pulled Chapel's legs over and began giving her a foot massage. "But, Christine, when you can read people the way my species can, we learn to be realistic. People have feelings and urges and needs, and what we want is not always what we can have. You and I are friends. We have a wonderful time in bed. I love you dearly. But I am not the love of your life and you are not mine."
Chapel frowned—but less in pain at what Dilar was saying than at annoyance that she couldn't figure out who it was who held her friend's heart. Maybe she should stop trying to sleuth it and just ask? "Who's yours?"
Dilar's mouth tilted but she shook her head.
"But there is someone?"
"Oh, yes. It is...complicated. As all relationships are." Dilar sighed. "You need to talk to Spock, Christine. Really talk, not trade barbed insults—do not look at me with that hurt look. I know you."
"I need to not talk to him. I need to stay in here and have incredible sex with you."
"You can talk to him and have incredible sex with me, the two are not mutually exclusive. These rooms will close in on you if you never leave them other than to work. He hurt you. Multiple times. But you're one of the strongest women I know. This hiding and moping is beneath you."
Chapel closed her eyes and exhaled loudly. Primarily because Dilar was right. She could feel movement on the cushion, then the warmth of Dilar's breath on her cheek.
"You don't have to talk to him right this minute though," Dilar said with a laugh as she pushed Chapel to her back and reminded her why she'd come back to Delex IV in the first place.
Well, the other reason. Her first reason was that Dilar represented safety.
And Dilar was right. Chapel had lived her life in emergencies. Stubborn bureaucrats had trembled before her. She had to grow back the pair of balls she used to be known for.
She had to face Spock.
4. A Fragile Peace
Chapel was working in the medical tent nearest the fringes of tent city, noting the dwindling number of patients—not because they were dying but recovering. There was no longer any doubt that they'd turned the corner.
She heard a soft cough and turned to see Spock and Maxwell, his young aide who had become a constant fixture in the med tents.
"Christine? I made the ambassador stop. I hope you can help me." Maxwell smiled in a way that meant she had no idea about Chapel's history with her boss.
Chapel glanced over at Spock and his expression was normal Vulcan stone-face, not a face of suppressed rage. "Help you how, Celia?" From a quick look, the woman seemed overly ruddy and her eyes were bloodshot.
"I'm allergic to something on this world. I had all the shots for normal allergens but this is new." She made a face. "This is so embarrassing."
"No, it's not. Come with me." She led her to a stool and grabbed a scanner. "Looks like it's the native trees. Several of them just started to bloom and the pollen levels are pretty high. We haven't seen this before—usually the standard shots work." She scanned again. "Oh, you're Kriavid."
"My grandma on my mom's side. She's allergic to everything." Celia smiled and Chapel felt herself responding as she always did.
"You're lucky business is slow right now." She winked at her as she fed her info into the machine that would customize the meds she'd need. As it worked, she found a broad-spectrum antihistamine and shot it into her arm. "The customized shot will take a while to work so this will give you some temporary relief until it kicks in."
"Thank you." She seemed to be studying Chapel.
"You were ops, right?"
"I was, yes." She looked up. "Did the ambassador say something—"
"Oh, no, I think you worked with my cousin. Rick Maxwell."
"Small world." Although not really. Starfleet was full of legacies. "Great guy—he's on the Hastings now, right?"
"He is and doing really well. But man he loved ops. I think I might try for a posting there."
"Do it while you're young." The medication synthesizer chirped and she grabbed the customized serum and fed it into a hypo. "Here you go. You'll be feeling better in no time." As Celia started to get up, she stopped her. "Humor me. Sit here for five minutes so I know there are no adverse reactions, okay?" She set the scanner to monitor her and sound an alert if her vitals went out of her preset norms, then she walked over to Spock.
"You helped her?"
"Yes, it was simple."
He nodded and seemed intent on not making eye contact.
"Look, I know Dilar warned you off me. I didn't ask her to do that."
"I presumed that." He finally met her gaze. "Are you holding my assistant captive so you can talk to me?"
"No, you asshole, I'm holding her to make sure she doesn't keel over from a bad reaction to the meds I gave her. Talking to you was just me trying to bury the hatchet. A stupid idea—one I'll abandon." She hurried off before he could say something else cutting.
"You know the ambassador?" Celia had a note of hero-worship in her voice.
"You could say that." She tried for her best unconcerned look. "Now, how are you feeling? Any lightheadedness or nausea?" The scanner showed nothing out of the norm, but sometimes the best diagnostic tool was conversation.
"Nope. In fact, I feel a lot better. Thanks."
"You're welcome." She gave her a smile—a real one. It wasn't this woman's fault Spock was a dick. "You can go."
She walked away and Chapel studiously did not look at Spock again. She had patients to care for and a lover waiting for her when she was done. Who cared if Spock could be civil or not?
Spock stood on his balcony, watching as the first arrivals began to mingle at the dinner celebrating a successful end to the negotiations. He could make out the chancellor in her bright robes of state and Premier Ostrald, the head of the Eastern nations was also present, his robes more somber. He was standing next to Dilar, their heads often close together as they shared frequent comments.
In his early days among other—more emotional—species, Spock would not have recognized the attraction between a couple unless it was unmistakable. Now, he was able to see that perhaps more than just a desire for peace had led these two to sit down and hammer out a unity plan.
What did this mean for Christine?
He frowned, then forced the expression away. What was wrong with him? He did not care what it meant for her.
He turned and finished getting ready, changing the robe he'd worn for the official signing to a slightly more ornate one. Then he made his way to the patio where the tables had been set up.
Dilar smiled at him. "Our savior." Her smile was even brighter as she turned to Ostrald, who was still standing quite close to her. "We owe him much, my dear."
"Indeed." Ostrald tended to control his emotions more than Dilar, but was still transparent enough for Spock to read the affection he held for her in the way he looked at her and the warmth of his smile. "Dilar and I often spent time together when we were young. The enmity between our two federations did not start until we were older, and well into our political career. To the detriment of our own relationship."
Spock was surprised he would be so open about his interest and past with Dilar. He looked past them and saw Christine watching, her face unreadable.
Dilar turned to see what he was looking at and motioned Christine over, but she made some signal that Spock thought was supposed to indicate she was waiting for her beverage.
"I have a favor to ask of you, Ambassador." Dilar stared at him, her gaze appraising. "I have seated her next to you. I would ask you to—if you cannot be kind—at least not be cruel."
"I am rarely cruel."
Her smile was a knowing one. "I think we both know that may not hold true when it comes to my dear friend."
He inclined his head, a gesture he had found many took to mean agreement, not knowing that on Vulcan it generally signaled merely a lack of desire to pursue a disagreement any further. Let her see capitulation if she wished.
"I will let you talk to your other guests," he said as he saw his team beginning to file in.
"Most gracious, Ambassador."
He turned to go.
"But you did not agree. To my favor." Dilar's smile was slightly mocking. "I am a career politician, Spock. I can recognize a non-answer when I hear one."
"I shall endeavor to not be unpleasant." Pleasant would be a bridge too far.
"Thank you." She took Ostrald's hand and they headed to a group by the bar that included Christine.
Spock went the other way, making sure to stay well clear of her. He thought she was doing the same thing.
But once it was time to sit down, they could not avoid each other any longer.
She pulled her chair out and sat carefully, as if he might kick it out from under her. She did not turn to him, but he noticed her hand was trembling slightly as she lifted her drink.
"It would seem you have lost your paramour."
"How do you know they don't like threesomes?" Her voice was even, her comeback so quick that he realized she'd known he'd be likely to say this. But ops would have honed her already quick mind: she no doubt had run many versions of possible conversational topics.
"I do not know that."
"Well, there you go." She set her drink down and put her hands in her lap, as if she had just realized what she was giving away by her trembling. She finally turned to look at him. "She'll be my champion no matter who she's with."
"I am well aware of that."
Any additional conversational attempts were forestalled by Dilar and Ostrald standing and giving short speeches, thanking those who had helped, recognizing key players in the past, showing they had a shared vision for the future.
Normally he would feel satisfaction at the successful end of a mission. Now...now he felt on edge. As if the discomfort of the woman beside him was infecting him too.
He heard a low ping and saw her pull her personal communicator out. She stared at it for a long time, then turned to look at him.
He felt like a specimen under a microscope. A specimen that perhaps had not been handled properly and had begun to smell. "Is there a problem?" he asked as soon as Dilar and Ostrald sat down and the servers began bringing the meal.
"Well, I'll hand it to you, this is sure one way of getting around me having a protector."
He let his eyebrows go up. Was he supposed to understand that?
"My next assignment." She thrust the communicator at him and he saw an itinerary and who she would be working with.
Him. On Ishtrakhan. He met her eyes. "I did not request you."
"Right. Because a war-torn shithole like that wouldn't be a great place for mind-raping someone." Her voice was pitched low, her tone acidic, but she swallowed visibly.
"I would not do that."
"Tell that to Valeris."
He was unsure what to say. Finally, he handed back the communicator. "Tell them you would rather not take the assignment, then."
"That's not how this works. I'm still in my initial assessment period. I can't just turn down an assignment—especially with one of the Federation's premier diplomats."
He let his eyebrow go up. "Two of them. Did you not notice my father is also on the list?"
She scanned it again, and it annoyed him to see the amount of relief she seemed to derive just from seeing his father's name.
"The two of you will no doubt enjoy some private time." Had he said that? He'd sounded like a hurt little boy—or a jealous suitor.
"What the hell does that mean?"
"You and my father are close. That is not lost on me." In for a penny, in for a pound, as McCoy used to say.
"Close? How close?"
"That is for you to say, is it not?"
She looked like she might get up and storm away from the table. But he could see her fighting that desire. Carefully, she typed a quick response to the comm, then slipped the communicator into her pocket. "You're an idiot," she said very softly but well within his range, then she turned to the person on her other side and said something that made her laugh.
She ignored him quite successfully the rest of the night.
Chapel stood on the balcony outside Dilar's private rooms. It was a gorgeous view and a long way down. The railing was solid but easily vaulted. One single movement to oblivion. To join Roger and Will and Jim. To find peace maybe—something she'd pretty much lost since Spock died and came back. His death she'd have gotten over; she'd done it before with Roger. But to come back to life only to reject her after the happiness she'd felt with him.
She heard the door open and turned.
Dilar was frowning.
"Don't worry. I'm not going to jump. How would that look for you?"
Dilar looked pointedly at the bags packed and waiting by the door. "You don't have to move out right this minute."
"Such a politician. But I do have to move out, don't I? For your great love. No wonder you wouldn't tell me who it was. Was I your back-up plan if peace had proven too elusive? You're strategic like that."
Dilar moved closer and smoothed her hair back. "And you are hurting but not because of me. You are my friend—my dear, dear friend—and you are always welcome here. But you are not in love with me and you never have been. So please, do not give me the jilted-lover speech." She eased her away from the balcony. "What really has you upset?"
Chapel started to laugh, a slightly hysterical sound. "Ishtrakhan."
Dilar frowned. "Isn't that where Spock is headed?"
"Yep. And he didn't request me. Which means the head of diplomatic requested me."
"Which is Spock, so he did ask for you?"
"Not in this case. His father is heading the team. He thinks highly of me as a person and as a prospective daughter-in-law, and he's not subtle in manipulating—at least not to me. I don't think Spock put two and two together and arrived at parental interference, but I know his dad too well not to see the breadcrumbs."
Dilar frowned at the reference.
"An old earth story. Not important." She touched Dilar's cheek gently. "I'm not just moving out. I'm expected to report to the new team at once. I'll be out of here in two hours on the last shuttle."
"As will Spock?"
She shrugged. "I have to stop worrying about him. Whatever he is or is not going to do, I can't stop him. I can avoid the hell out of him, but if he really wants to force a meld, he's too strong for me to stop."
"Stay close to his father, then. I do not want you harmed."
"Neither do I."
Dilar pulled her close, kissing her gently and then less so. "Two hours you said?"
Chapel laughed softly. "Yes."
Dilar was already pulling her clothes off. "I will miss you, Christine. Whatever happens with Ostrald, you are always welcome here. Do you understand?"
"Three's a crowd."
"Three is frowned upon here"—she made a silly face that made Chapel laugh—"but I might be moved to risk the censure if you came back." She stopped talking then, putting her mouth to much more intimate tasks, and Chapel bucked beneath her.
Holy God she would miss this.
She didn't think Dilar would say the same thing, not with her one true love suddenly available after so many years apart. But that was okay. Live in the moment.
Their time was over too soon. Chapel eased out of bed and pulled on her clothes, telling Dilar not to get up. "I want to remember you like this. Sated, happy, and letting me go."
"As a lover. Not as a friend. This is not all or nothing, Christine."
Chapel nodded, but for her it was. She'd never stayed friends with her exes. And her friends with benefits tended to drift away.
Then again, she'd never stopped being hung up on Spock. Maybe if she could just use the time on Ishtrakhan to learn to let him go, she could finally move on to something good and strong and...hers.
Maybe this could be a good thing.
But she would still stick close to Sarek as much as she could. She might be able to get over Spock, but she'd never be able to trust him again.
5. Time in Hell
The incessant pounding of shelling kept Chapel from falling asleep, so she slipped out of her cot in the sleeping shelter and made her way to the mess. Coffee was a terrible idea but it was that or booze and it wasn't like someone had set up a bar. The flask Dilar had packed in her bag when she wasn't looking—filled with a rare Delexian liquor Chapel had grown probably too fond of—bumped reassuringly against her leg. She'd yet to drink any, but she liked having it close by.
A holdover from her time in ops when very few traveled without their favorite numbing agent.
Both Spock and Sarek were in the mess, and Sarek's expression lightened as she came in and poured a mug of coffee. "Christine, come sit with us."
Spock turned, seemed to read her hesitation, and rose, indicating his chair. "He is all yours." The way he said it made it sound almost dirty. What was his problem?
She moved out of the way as he passed then joined Sarek.
Sarek studied her and leaned in. "He believes we are romantically involved." Then he passed her a padd. "What do you make of this? My son was useless."
She started to laugh. "You can't just lead with that and then ask me a question. And I doubt that Spock was useless. I'm not that desperate for validation."
"You have a unique way of viewing certain things. I learned that when I worked with you before. My son lacks your...perhaps persuasive communication techniques is the right way of saying it. So many seem to view you as a confessor for all kinds of information. And you are more suspicious, as a rule, than he is."
"He does tend to see the best in people." Unless the person in question was her, of course. She studied the padd. "Yeah, these seem like dubious statements, but I've been knee deep in medical things so I'm not sure about a lot of these. I'd probably ask them about the statement regarding sanctity of medical operations, because what I've seen—and heard from the native medical personnel—would give lie to that." She handed the padd back. "Spock would have had no reason to know that but the rest...?"
"Naturally, he had many useful insights. But insulting him helped you to...'lighten up' is the phrase, isn't it?"
She laughed softly. "As if you need a primer on basic Earth terms." As he made some notes, she asked, "Does he really think we're together?"
He didn't answer until he finished with his notes, then met her eyes. "Honestly? I do not know. He has never been bonded other than the betrothal bond with T'Pring, so it is possible he does not realize how difficult it would be to be indiscreet without the knowledge of the partner."
"He did see plenty of people cheat on the ship. It's sort of a given. Some people find a way to play when no one is checking up on them."
"But not Vulcans?"
"No, not Vulcans. Not that I know of, anyway. To be honest, he was the only one I really paid attention to." She rolled her eyes in a sheepish way. "One-track mind: see Christine Chapel."
"Fidelity is perhaps an underrated virtue among humans if you can be so self-deprecating?"
"Fidelity isn't. Stupid infatuations that go nowhere and you hang on despite that? Yeah, those are generally frowned upon."
"Ah. But it did not go 'nowhere.' Had my son not died...?"
"But he did. And...well, the rest is history. You see how much he admires me." She rolled her eyes again.
Sarek looked pointedly at her coffee. "Can you not sleep?"
"I've been out of ops long enough that gunfire and shelling keep me awake. I'm not sure whether that's a good sign or not."
"I think it is a good one. To be used to such things, while a side effect of what we do, is not a positive one. There are occasions when I am home that I hear a sound and react as if it was enemy fire."
"In a Vulcan way. Amanda can feel it through the bond. The jolt, the need to ensure one is in a safe place, and yet one is in the bathroom or dining room and it was just an unexpected sound that on reflection did not sound like shelling or weapons fire. It is most unpleasant."
"We call that PTSD—you know that right?"
"Yes, of course." His look dared her to make more of it than that.
She decided to let it go. At least he was fully aware of it. "You have someone to share it with. To talk you down—not that you probably need it. But I'd think that would be a comfort, no?"
"It is out of character for me. It worries her. I think she would rather at times that I go back to science or some safer line of work."
"That wouldn't be you."
"No, it would not be. It would not be you, either. You could have retired to a hospital anywhere—a lovely world, peaceful and quiet—and yet you chose to do this. It was the first thing you thought of doing, wasn't it?"
"For some of us, this is in our blood, as humans say." His look was exceedingly gentle and knowing.
"Do you think it's in Spock's?"
"I would not have thought so. But since Kirk died, he has no one left to follow."
"He didn't follow Jim. They were a team. Well, until the last mission. He sort of shanghaied Jim into that. Thank God it ended the way it did." Although what would have happened if it hadn't? Spock still with Valeris. Chapel still in ops, not afraid of someone she loved.
But Jim and Len possibly still at Rura Penthe. Spock might have been killed—along with Valeris. Bah—she could spin the scenarios all night long. It didn't matter. After the fact, there was only one scenario that mattered: the one that had actually happened.
"I am head of this mission." Sarek's tone had changed.
Chapel abandoned her reverie and gave him a suspicious look. "What?" As his look changed, she said, "No."
"You do not know what I am going to say."
"You're sending me somewhere with him. Aren't you?"
"He sees much. And you do, too. In different ways. I need to know what is going on in Rinneda. It is the hub of much activity but I am getting contradictory reports—some quite damning. Our sensors and the probes we send are being jammed by the same thing that make transporting in and out of that geologic region impossible. We have procured a communicator the locals have rigged to work despite the interference, so you will not be out of contact with us."
She took a deep breath, waiting for the rest.
"You will go with Spock in a flitter and report back on the possibly false things you just read in that memo. The flitter has been modified to leave a minimal sensor trail so you should go undetected. This will be in and out, you understand?"
He was trying to make her feel better. It wasn't working, but she nodded anyway. This was the mission and he was the boss.
"You and Spock will be my eyes and ears. I trust no one else with this and I cannot go myself as I have a meeting with the Kaliman. There will be much pomp and ceremony—a military parade, even."
"A meeting that will divert his and a large portion of the military brass's attention from two people disappearing from the relief team."
"As you say. The timing is fortuitous." He sighed. "If he is lying about everything, then we have no reason to stay. You understand? If our supplies are being diverted to non-relief efforts as I fear, if our talks are a smokescreen for more nefarious activities, if our team is in danger beyond what is reasonable, then it is time to leave. This world is sovereign, but we do not have to make them stronger."
She nodded; this was the eternal struggle when trying to assist. "Does anyone else know where we're going?"
"No. Security knows we will be test flying the shuttle—it is a new design so that will raise no suspicion. You will leave at first light, before the majority of the camp is up."
"First light, which is in about four hours."
"If you could sleep at all, it would be beneficial. I would...worry less about you."
She reached out and settled her hand on his for a moment. "I wish Spock liked me as much as you do."
"As do I, Christine. As do I."
Spock scanned the area, finding the interference his father had warned him of did indeed make the sensors virtually blind. But the flitter had large windows and both he and Christine could scan the area visually.
She spoke only when she needed to, no attempt to make small talk, for which he was grateful. He knew why his father put them together on this mission, but he did not relish working so closely with her.
"Isn't that one of the relief shipments?" She pointed down and he maneuvered the flitter so they could both watch. The ship was extremely quiet, and while not cloaked completely, employed a number of new technologies that made it disappear to those below. It was designed for surveys of pre-industrial worlds, and while that didn't apply in this case, it was functioning equally well as a covert observation craft.
"And who the hell is that?" She pointed to several transports coming from a side road, dust rising in their wake. "I've heard there are bandits—the medical personnel in this area sometimes have to buy the shipments back." She glanced at him. "The question is, are those really bandits?"
He nodded. "Or the Kaliman's troops disguised as such?"
"Right. What's your read?"
"This culture is given to secrecy and misinformation. But I do not sense a deeper malevolence in the Kaliman's actions."
"You think Sarek is wrong to be suspicious?"
"I did not say that. You asked me my read. I gave it to you. If I were leading this mission, I too would be asking the questions my father is."
"Okay." She seemed about to say more when her attention was diverted by something. "Look. " She pointed to the far distance, another plume of dust rising. He pulled out the viewers and saw the newcomers were troops.
They watched as the troops arrived too late to stop the bandits but not too late to help the transport personnel and follow the bandits.
"It's hard not to let them know where the truck went." She sighed. "So many medical supplies."
"Perhaps we can. It would be an interesting exercise. Was their late arrival deliberate, to allow confederates masquerading as criminals to escape with the supplies?" He set off after the bandits, then pulled ahead, aiming at a tree that if hit just right would block the road in an area where it would be difficult to go around it.
After a quick calculation, he fired and felt a surge of satisfaction when the tree fell perfectly.
"Nice shot." She leaned into the window, looking behind them. "And here comes the cavalry. Will they fight them or help them move the tree? I don't suppose you want to bet?" Her voice told him she knew the answer.
He supposed in ops they had many ways to make tedious activities more engaging, even if gambling while on duty was against regulations. "No. But I am curious which outcome you think the most likely."
"I think they're in on it. This place...it gives me the creeps."
"Are you sure it is not just being in such a confined space with me that is doing that?" The words were out before he could call them back, and she shot a surprised look at him.
"Uhhh, maybe." Then she turned back. "No way. They're actually taking them on. Can we follow them to see if they take the shipment to the medics or keep it?"
"Of course." He set the little ship in motion, enjoying the smooth way it handled. It was small, not made to carry more than four passengers, and it responded quickly, with agility he would never get out of a shuttle.
"Damn. Glad we didn't bet." She smiled, though, and he thought it was at the idea of the supplies arriving safely, that people would be helped.
They observed more interactions. He noted that the troops at times seemed to be using an excessive amount of force, but there was little else to find damning. He believed they had seen enough to make a convincing argument to his father that the Kaliman's desire for help was genuine.
An alert went off on the console as they headed back to camp. Then another one.
"That's not a good sound, is it?" she asked.
"It is not." The problem was in one of the systems used for the cloaking. It was overheating dangerously and beginning to affect more crucial navigation and maneuvering capabilities.
And lift. He fought the throttle, but the flitter was no longer handling so easily, and they were rapidly losing altitude. "Brace for impact," he managed to say as he slowed the craft, trying to keep the inevitable crash from being fatal. "Engage collision cushions."
Christine hit a button on the console, and he felt his cushion surround him. She pushed the button again, then again, and he realized only one side of her cushion had deployed.
It was too late to say anything or help; they hit, but with far less force than they might have—his efforts to slow the craft had been successful.
The cushions kept him upright, but Christine was pressed against the side of the flitter. She moved and immediately grimaced.
"You are injured?"
"Pulled a muscle—bruise maybe." She dragged her medkit out; the side was dented and she could barely get it open. "The regenerator's toast." She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths—rasping breaths.
"Your breathing is off."
She pulled out a scanner and held it in a way that seemed to deliberately keep him from reading the results. "I'm the doctor and I say I'm fine." She scanned him. "You are also fine."
McCoy would have made a joke about his thick skull. She, not surprisingly, did not.
Slowly, she climbed out of her seat as he pushed the top up so they could exit.
He grabbed the communicator his father had procured for them and turned to her, prepared to help her out if she needed it, but she was prying open a panel on the console. "What are you doing?"
"We're not fixing this baby, right?"
"And if we leave it here, the bandits or military could get it—the tech, I mean. Which is...experimental?"
"Yes, it is new, but not classified. This flitter was berthed with the rest of our craft."
"Granted. But do we really want to leave it for them?"
He was not sure what choice she thought they had.
"We used to get a lot of new tech to beta test. Little known fact: nothing new goes out without a last-resort option. There you are." She grimaced as she pulled out a small controller, then she motioned for him to go first out of the exit. He thought he heard her moan as she pulled herself up, but her expression gave nothing away once she slid down to land beside him. "Better back up."
As he followed her, she hit a combination of codes, but nothing happened.
"God damn it." She moved closer and tried again, then had to jump back when the ship began to kill all vital—still viable—systems. Sparks rained out and then died down until the ship looked like a piece of space garbage, not a new craft.
Again he heard the moan of pain as she dropped the controller and stomped on it until it was nothing but parts, but when she turned to join him, she looked fine.
"May I see your scanner?"
"No. Call your dad." She started walking, leaving him to make the call in private.
It was a quick one. His father would send a shuttle. The communicator had a tracking device so they could stay hidden.
"Are you both unharmed?" his father asked.
"So Doctor Chapel says. I am...unsure if she is right."
"I will send a medic, then. Has she not scanned the two of you?"
"She has. I have yet to see the readings for her."
"Ah." There was something in the way his father said the word that made Spock uncomfortable. Something disapproving—but of him, no doubt, not of the doctor who would not share information on her physical state, information he had a right to as head of this scouting trip they were on. "The ship will be there soon, my son."
"Understood." There was a pause, as if his father wanted to say something. "Is there more, Father?"
"Look out for her."
"As I would for any member of my team." He tried to put as much disdain as he could in the reply. "Spock out."
She had worked her way back to him—he was not sure how much she had heard. "Is he sending a flitter or a shuttle?"
That news seemed to distress her in some way, but he was unsure why. "Then this valley we fell into isn't going to work. Too many trees." She pointed toward a moderately inclined hillside, covered with vines. "We can climb there. Get to higher ground and open space."
"Agreed." He led the way to the incline, testing the vines to make sure they would hold them. He started up, setting a quick pace with the vines helping him ascend the areas with less secure footing. He could hear her behind him and after a few minutes of climbing, he grew more certain that something was wrong with her.
He turned to assess her progress. The way she was moving was clearly favoring one side, and there was a sharp intake of breath each time she had to pull herself up with one of the vines. He waited until they reached a ledge midway up, then he turned to her. "Are you injured?"
"I told you: it's just a muscle pull." She moved back slightly. "And I'm tired. Working round the clock on Delex IV wasn't exactly restful."
"Neither is crashing a shuttle. And your cushion malfunctioned." He reached for her and she flinched; he pulled back immediately.
She glared at him, but there was something in her eyes: pain and not the emotional kind he had grown used to seeing on Delex IV and now here.
"Show me, Doctor, or I will have to look for myself."
She stared him down, her expression growing formidable, but he saw pain in the way her mouth was set, in the way she was standing. He refused to look away and finally she pulled her shirt up enough to show him a very large bruise forming on the side where the cushion had failed. She had clearly slammed into the wall of the flitter. He imagined she had cracked ribs, potentially compromised bones or tendons in her arm and shoulder—even internal injuries were a possibility.
She should not be walking, much less climbing at the speed he had set for them. Out of what? Spite? This was not who he was.
"Why did you not tell me you were injured?" He could hear the disappointment in his voice and wondered if she could. Wondered if she could tell he was hurt she hadn't trusted him with something so basic.
"Right. So you could leave me here."
He knew his look was full of confusion.
"It would be so easy." She slid down until she was sitting, breathing hard now that she no longer had to hide it, clearly favoring her injuries as she leaned away from the hurt side. "You could have waited to call for help and say I died from the injuries—as you said: the cushion malfunctioned, so evidence would be on your side."
"Why would I do that?"
"Oh, like that wouldn't solve your problems. You hate me. You blame me. And it would be so elegant. It still may be if the shuttle is delayed—there's a reason I didn't show you the scanner." She wasn't looking at him and her voice was trembling, but then she looked up at him and some combination of anger and fear was clear. "Hey, here's a thought. Maybe you could work in a quick meld, ravage my mind to see me off."
He reached for her—to try to stop her from saying these things or maybe to give some kind of solace for the despair disguised as sarcasm that he could hear in her voice—but she slapped his hand away.
"Don't. Don't touch me. You don't get to. You forgot—everything. Everything we were. You don't get to touch me—not if you can't remember."
Moving very slowly, his hands up as he would with a wild animal, he sat next to her, on the side that was not injured. "Lean on me. It will help with the pain."
"If that's a joke, it's a shitty one." But when he didn't say anything, she finally gave in and leaned on him, and the agony she was in flowed through the touch even with cloth between them.
How had she hidden this pain from him?
Why had she had to? That was what Jim would have asked him. With the perplexed look he'd often worn when he'd brought up Christine after the refusion.
How had Spock forgotten? That was what his friend had wondered. Spock had never disabused him of the notion that he had. But—
"I remember," he said into a silence broken only by Christine's harsh breaths. "The night before that last training voyage—before I died. I kissed you. I told you I was anticipating exploring our relationship further. Deepening it."
She sobbed but would not look at him.
"I did not remember it at first. That was not a lie. But later, after Valeris—"
"You didn't want me anymore."
"I am not sure that is true. But I wanted her more."
"Yeah, that makes it all okay. Thanks." She scrabbled in the dirt next to him, seeming to search for his hand without looking at him and finally grabbing it and yanking it to her face—to the meld points. "Do it. Do it now. I want you to know I'm innocent—especially if I die. I want you to understand how unfair you've been to me, you son of a bitch."
Her words were harsh and angry, but it was anguish that bombarded him where she was holding his hand.
He tried to ease his hand away, unwilling to jar her, but she would not let go. Finally, he said, "It is not necessary. I know."
"You don't know shit. You just feel guilty and bad and stupid and God knows what else. That's your goddamn problem, Spock. You feel and you let your feelings make you...horrible. Well, not any more. Learn. Find out. Think. Do your goddamn meld and go wherever the fuck you want in my mind. I'm not a traitor. And I'm not your father's mistress. And I lov—" Her voice broke; she used her free hand to brush away the tears that were starting. "Do it."
He was afraid what being this upset would do to her if he did not comply in some way. He moved to the meld points, even though it was an awkward position from which to initiate a meld, but he did not want to move around to a more comfortable spot that would deprive her of the physical support he was giving. He eased into her mind, saying, "Shhh, please, Christine. Shhhh."
She stilled as he hovered at the very edge of her consciousness. He did not want to do this.
"This is enough. That you would let me."
"No. Because I'm smart enough to play you. Just like your precious little protˇgˇ did."
He felt the sting and wished she was not feeling it, too. She was gloating just a little, but then her emotions changed as he tried to pull away.
"Do it or I will jump off this fucking ledge. You can say I fell."
He could feel her resignation—and her exhaustion. His confession had not been a surprise to her. She'd suspected he could remember their time together, and his—his father?—had suggested he had not forgotten her. She was deriving no comfort from his honesty, or the gentle way he was handling her.
He went in, straight to the timeframe he would need to search, being thorough but as gentle as he could be.
Feeling her tears on his fingers as he found nothing.
Hearing her cutting off a sob as he eased away.
"I hate you so much," she said, apparently not caring that he was fully aware from the meld that she did not.
She feared him. She resented him. She was angry with him. She was deeply, deeply hurt by him.
But she loved him.
She moved, sliding her hand down her side between them, and he asked, "Do you need something?"
Her voice was broken as she said, "I lost my flask."
He was unsure what to say.
"It doesn't matter now." She sighed, the sound harsh.
He sat quietly, not sure what to do, and felt her lean on him harder, her breathing changing to a slower rhythm. He realized she had fallen asleep—or lost consciousness. He was unsure which and at this point it did not matter. The less he jostled her the better, so he let her rest, trying not to worry as her breathing grew more labored, rousing her only when the shuttle arrived and the crew lowered a stasis stretcher down and then lifted her to safety. He climbed the rest of the way himself while they attended to her.
As he entered the shuttle, he saw the medic his father had sent working on her.
His father would know that if Christine was injured she would not tell Spock. He had seen in the meld that there was much that his father knew of her. They were indeed close, but it was the closeness of a father for a daughter—for the woman he would have preferred had been his son's mate.
A woman whose breathing was better, but possibly only because the medic had put her on a respirator.
"Is she going to recover?" Spock asked very softly.
The medic nodded, but Spock thought it might be the sort of nod one would give if dissembling to make someone feel better. A talent he himself had learned over time.
He sat down and watched the man work, trying to push away the guilt he felt—old guilt and new.
He failed utterly.
Chapel moved slowly around the dorm shelter—the medics had cleared her for duty, but it would be a day or two before she felt one hundred percent.
"You need anything?" Maxwell asked softly.
"No. I'm just being a baby." She sat down gingerly but it didn't feel strained the way it had when she'd gone to sleep. She stood expecting some indication she'd been hurt, but nothing. "In fact, I'm better."
"Well, I consider that amazing news. You're good people, Christine."
"I'm not here merely to offer to do your heavy lifting. Sarek asked to see you in the briefing shelter."
She nodded. He must want her observations—so far he'd only heard what Spock reported. She made her way—slowly at first but then more quickly once it was clear she really was okay—to Sarek.
He looked up when she knocked on the outside of the small shelter, his eyes lightening as he motioned her in. "I was very worried about you."
"So I was I there for a minute." Safe to say Spock hadn't given a shit. Now that he'd finally been able to meld with her, he probably wouldn't care if he ever saw her again.
On the plus side, he'd pretty much ceased to be her personal bogey man when he didn't hurt her in the meld. It was nice to not feel a sense of dread every time she thought of him.
"Are you recovered?" Sarek motioned her into one of the chairs.
"I am. Great medics."
"Good. This is what Spock gave me. Do you have anything to add?" He handed her a padd.
Spock had been thorough, as she expected. "Nope, this sums it up."
"Excellent." He pushed it aside and looked at her in a way she wasn't used to. "We must talk."
"As you well know, I am relieved that this mission was not your last."
"I do know that. Thank you."
"That said, if you ever understate the nature of your injuries again to one of my team leads, I will note it as a deficiency in the evaluation I am required to send your employers."
She could feel her face grow hot and knew she was blushing. "It was just—"
He cut her off with a curt wave of his hand. "I do not care what it was. If I hear again that you let emotions override mission needs, it will be the last mission we embark on together. Do you understand?"
She was unsure what to say—she'd never been taken to task by Sarek and it hurt. But he was right. She'd just thought, because he'd been in her corner for so long, that he'd let it slide.
"For what it's worth. Had it been anyone else I would have told them."
"I am well aware of that, Christine. But I did not assign you to go alone with Spock because I thought it would give him an opportunity to force a meld—or whatever it was you feared. You need to trust me."
"I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
"I believe that. And I am, as I said, very relieved that you are here before me. I would rather give this feedback than not have had the chance." His expression was gentle again, the Sarek she was used to dealing with.
"I promise. It won't happen again."
"Good." A comm unit on his desk pinged, so she left to give him privacy.
She walked to the mess unit, grabbing coffee and some toast. The place was empty for the moment other than Spock. She sat down across from him and he looked up at her in what seemed surprise. His eyebrow rose.
"I'm sorry you had to go to Sarek about me."
His eyebrow rose even higher.
"About me not telling you I was hurt."
"Ah. He dressed you down?"
"Not what I'm used to." She looked down. "I've apologized to him, but I guess you're the one I should say it to."
"Does that mean you are saying it? Or just that you know you should?" There was a lightness in his expression she hadn't seen since—well, since he died.
"I'm saying it. I'm sorry I didn't tell you I was hurt."
"I know why you did it." His voice was very gentle. "And I did not go to my father about it; he came to me. I would have...let it go."
He looked down, shaking his head. Finally he met her eyes again. "I am weary of the enmity between us."
"So am I." She took a deep breath. "I should have let you meld with me in the detention center. I might not have left Starfleet. Wouldn't have ended up here, with you—so afraid all the time. It's exhausting living in fear."
He seemed to consider what she said but then shook his head. "You were right to deny me. I was emotionally compromised. Moreover, I did not want to believe that Valeris could choose the path she did by herself. I wanted it to be you. And there was a great deal of negative emotion around that desire to find you guilty. I might have—I believe I could have hurt you. I should have thought to call my father when it was clear you did not trust me." He took a deep breath and exhaled as if letting go of far more than breath.
"I'm sorry she betrayed you. For what it's worth, I do believe she loved you."
"She did. I felt it in the meld."
She imagined he'd felt it from her too during the meld.
"I hope that you are no longer afraid of me."
"I'm not. It's over, right. Nothing to prove anymore?"
"It is over." He got up.
"Spock, Ny told me you hit on her."
He froze and turned back to look at her.
"I'm going to tell her it's okay—if you want to ask her to dinner again."
"Time for a clean break, right?" She realized she was about to cry and fell back on old tricks from the ops days, tricks that never failed her and still didn't.
He didn't answer, just stood looking at her for a long moment, then turned and walked out, nodding to Maxwell as she came in and saying, "Lieutenant."
"Captain." Maxwell got some coffee and then sat across from her. "There's a whole lot of something going on here that I really don't understand, isn't there?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about." She gave the most innocent smile she could.
Maxwell studied her. "He's different since you guys crashed."
Maxwell laughed. "I don't think so." She sipped her coffee and studied Chapel. "I like you. A lot. You're smart and capable and you don't take shit off anyone."
Chapel laughed. Would she think so highly of her if she knew about the meltdown she'd had when Spock had confronted her on her injuries?
Finally she settled for saying, "Thanks. That's nice to hear."
"You seem different, too. I guess almost dying is good for Vulcans and humans." She smiled gently, as if to say she wasn't making light of the "almost dying" part.
"Maybe so." Although her almost dying was leading to more pleasant interactions with Spock than his actually dying ever had.
"You don't want to talk about it. That's fine." Maxwell pulled out a deck of cards from her pocket. "War? What is it now? Five to three?"
"If you mean in my favor, yeah." A game that required little thought and left plenty of time to just chat. "Deal me in."
6. The New Normal
Chapel walked up to the guard at the Vulcan Embassy, smiling since it was one who knew her. "The Ambassador asked me to stop by."
"You can go right in, Doctor Chapel." He didn't smile, but there was a lightness to his tone.
She headed in, making her way down the hall, toward Sarek's office. His assistant was away and the door was open, so she peeked in and saw he was alone and working. "Hello."
He looked up and his expression was so gentle and...happy. For a Vulcan, of course, but she could see it. "You are back." He motioned her in, to the chair she preferred. "Your latest mission went well?"
It had, even if she was so tired she could barely see straight—she was getting too damn old for emergencies.
"You seem more fatigued than usual. Is everything all right? My son—"
"Has done nothing."
She saved him from further fishing. "What do you want to know?"
He let out a small exhale that sounded like a baby version of a laugh. "I should speak plainly?"
"Please." And she hoped to hell this had nothing to do with Spock. She might never be over him but she was trying to move on.
"I will be blunt."
"Am I in trouble again?" It had been months since Ishtrakhan, and they had shared another mission together with no issues, but that moment stood out.
"Of course not." He pushed his padd aside. "A close associate is in charge of the Clarendon Institute. He needs a new chief of the medical department. He asked me if I knew anyone. I did not want to recommend you if you are content where you are."
She met his eyes and felt as if the weight of the world was coming off her shoulders. "I'm sick of this job. Not the job—but the pace. Of emergencies. I want—I don't know what I want, but it's not what I have."
"Have you ever been to this installation?"
She shook her head. "Heard of it, of course, but it's mainly scientists and it's been a long time since I've been one of those."
"You can indulge that side of yourself. The job itself is similar to being Chief Medical Officer on a ship. Some admin, some managerial, and some clinical. As a Clarendon employee you will have access to the labs in your spare time—if you so choose."
"And it's stunning there. I've had friends tell me how gorgeous the mountains and beaches are."
"It is. If I had not also left science behind, I would put my name in for a posting there. The personnel are as extraordinary as the setting." He looked at her gently. "Shall I give Sostek your name?"
"Yes. Thank you."
"It is nothing. You know that. I would do far more if I could." She thought he was talking about Spock this time, but he didn't push it any further. "Will you stay for lunch? Amanda is out but will be back shortly. She recently mentioned she misses you."
"I miss her too but I can't today. Meeting a friend."
"I'd love to."
"Amanda will send you the time. It is...a pleasure to see you, Christine." His voice was so tender that she reached over and laid her hand on his.
"I've missed you both. So much." She let him go and rose, heading for the door but then stopping. "Does he prosper?" she asked without turning around. "I don't want to ask Amanda. She'll think I want her to do something."
"He is Spock."
She frowned and turned to look at him. "Meaning what?"
"Meaning I have never been able to read my son the way I would like to. But he seems to be, as his mother would say, fine."
She smiled. "Forgive the emotional indulgence? I should not have asked."
"I do not need to forgive it. It is who you are. My son is a fool not to appreciate you."
"I don't know about that." She smiled in a way that actually didn't seem forced. Was she finally moving on? "I'll see you tomorrow."
"I look forward to it." With a last soft look, he went back to his padd and she headed out to meet Ny at the new restaurant her friend had raved about.
Ny was waiting at the bar, smiling the smile of the "I took leave for the rest of the day and can drink if I want" crowd.
Chapel grinned and pulled her in for a tight hug. "God, I've missed you."
"I'm not the one gallivanting all over."
"I know. But I still miss you." She motioned over the bartender and ordered what Ny was having. "What are you having?" she asked once the bartender was busy making it and had pulled out an egg.
"A pisco sour. He'll only use the white, for the foam. It's yummy, you'll see."
"When did you start drinking those?"
Ny shrugged and said with a laugh, "A while ago."
After a lot of vigorous shaking, the bartender brought her the drink and she tasted it gingerly, then took a bigger drink. "Yum."
"Would I steer you wrong?"
"Never. Well, yes, a few men you thought would be good for me come to mind."
"You were too hung up on Spock."
The name hung between them longer than Chapel liked, so she said, "Okay, this is not going to get awkward. I told you that you could see Spock and I would not freak out. So...just tell me and I won't get upset. I promise. But let's get it on the table, so it's there."
Ny laughed softly. "The table is bare, sugar. He has not asked me out."
"But I told him he could."
"Yes, I remember you saying that when you told me I could. Doctor Generous." Ny laughed again but it was a little off.
"What aren't you saying? I promise I won't be mad."
"Drink some more of that." Ny waited as Chapel took a healthy swig—it really was a delicious drink—then said, "So, when you told me that I could see him, I may have asked him out when he didn't ask me. Well, not asked him out, so much as engineered a 'fancy running into you here' thing in the mess and saying if he wanted to repeat his invitation, I'd be amenable." She put her head down and whispered, "Are you going to kill me?"
"No. I told you that you could see him—it wasn't predicated on him being the pursuer. But he said no?"
"Oh, honey, he shot me down." She made a crash and burn sound. "He said he had come to realize the wisdom of my earlier position. That it might be awkward given you and I are friends."
"He said that?"
"Yep. I did see him having lunch with a young brunette lieutenant. Maybe he's dating her."
Chapel laughed softly. "That's Maxwell. She prefers women."
"And you know this how?"
"She showed me pictures of her wife and kids." Chapel grinned. "Well, here I'd worked myself up to be the picture of reason and I don't need to."
"You sure don't. And, because I was a little bit ticked off when he rejected my advances"—she batted her eyelashes in the way that always made Chapel laugh—"I may have come to this very bar and met a very nice man."
"Who drinks pisco sours?"
"Bingo." She leaned in. "His name is Tony, he's a civilian working at Command, and he's wonderful. I want you to meet him. How long are you here for?"
"Not long, they have me going out again on Sunday."
"Saturday would work. Can you come over? I'll cook your favorites." She'd always been the better cook—if she'd made Spock the Plomeek soup, he probably would have proposed immediately.
"You must really like him. It's usually months before I get to meet them, if at all."
"I really do. I just need Mama Christine's blessing."
"Fine, I'll be there. What about Mama Jan?"
"She'll be back in a few weeks. She was always an easy grader—as long as I wasn't with James T. Kirk, she was fine."
Their smiles died and Chapel knew Ny was thinking of their captain, lost saving the Enterprise-B for that idiot Harriman.
"He's gone. Scotty's gone. I worry about you, Christine. All these emergencies."
"I may be leaving them. Sarek's found me an interesting opportunity. I don't want to talk specifics—don't want to jinx it. But it would be one place, no more mud or dust or ash. And the place is gorgeous. You and Tony will want to vacation there, it's that pretty."
"Is this opportunity on Risa?" Ny laughed, probably at the idea of Sarek perusing the Risan "Help Wanted" boards.
"They probably have interesting injuries there. It might be funny for a while. But no. Not there. I'll tell you if I get it."
"Okay." She seemed to be studying her and Chapel wasn't sure why. Finally she said, "It must be so weird for Spock."
"How much his dad loves you."
"Love's a strong word."
"Christine, please. I've seen you two together. My daddy looked at me the same way. Apple of his eye, my mom used to say. Can you imagine, being the remaining son, the one trying to be so Vulcan, and your disapproving dad thinks of a human as his daughter?" She narrowed her eyes. "He does think of you as a daughter, right?"
"Yes, God, I'm not involved with Sarek. I love Amanda too much to do that to her."
"Phew. Okay. Well then my comment stands."
"Sarek loves Spock. Believe me, he does. They're just not easy together. Sometimes family aren't."
"Amen, sister." Ny held up her glass. "To new opportunities and new loves in our lives—I assume this gorgeous place will have a good selection of possibles?"
"It should." She clinked her glass gently against Ny's. "To the future."
Spock wandered the dusty tracks that circled the relief center on Xenus. He was feeling restless: the medical mission was preparing to leave and the diplomatic talks were almost over. He should feel...satisfied. And yet, he did not.
Christine. Christine was supposed to have been here. It was why he requested this mission. But when he arrived and made his way to the already entrenched medical team, she had not been there. The doctor in charge was new and had no idea why she hadn't come or where she now was.
He had been...disappointed.
"Ambassador?" Maxwell was coming up behind him and he turned. "Nothing urgent—sorry if I gave that impression. But if you wouldn't mind some company, I do need to talk to you."
He waited for her and then they walked together.
"I...I just got my next assignment."
"Ah." He had been expecting this. "A ship, I imagine?"
"I never told you that my mentor wanted me on a ship, did I? Instead of in diplomatic." She made a face. "She didn't have anything against you—just felt this was a...diversion given how she saw my career progressing."
"You did not tell me that."
"I wanted to work with you. I've admired you for so long. And I'm glad I did it. I've learned a lot."
"I have valued your contribution greatly." He studied her. "Where will you go next?"
"Somewhere else that ticks off my mentor." She met his eyes. "Somewhere someone else I admire worked. Emergency ops."
He could feel his eyebrows going up. "A ship would be more logical at this point."
"Maybe so. But I'll be home-based on Earth, just like I am now. The kids are still young and I want to see them get some of their firsts. Larissa is glad I'll be home more than I would if I were on a ship—although she knows eventually I'll have to go or Starfleet will disown me." She laughed, a sound he'd grown to enjoy over the time they'd served together.
"You will be an excellent addition to emergency operations."
She grinned. "Thanks. I leave in four weeks. That's standard, they told me."
He nodded, not looking forward to finding a new aide, and they walked in silence until she said softly, "You thought she'd be here, didn't you?"
He glanced at her; she wasn't looking at him.
"When she wasn't, you were...not happy."
"Happy is an emotion, Lieutenant."
"Right. Okay." She slowed and surprised him when she put her hand on his sleeve to stop him. "You're my boss, and you're my idol, but I hope that, after the missions we've been on, you're also my friend and I can speak plainly."
"I have no idea what's between the two of you. You obviously play your cards close and she didn't talk about you other than what work required. But I have watched you in many situations and I know your expressions—and the emotions. Maybe it's the little bit of Kriavid in me, but I know you're disappointed she's not here. So...why not divert your career a bit and go find her?"
He let his eyebrow go up, then higher. She did not appear in the least cowed. "I do not know where she is."
"Well I do because I had her over to meet Larissa and the rugrats just before she left. She's at the Clarendon Institute. I bet you could engineer yourself a sabbatical there. You were a scientist, right? Before all this diplomatic stuff?"
"I was." He considered the idea of that lovely institute; he had toured it once with Jim and McCoy. It was impressive, both the facility and what came out of it. Many technological and scientific advances had originated there.
For a moment he felt something he hadn't since he'd learned Valeris was the traitor on the ship: hope. Hope for the future. Hope for his own happiness—even if it felt like a betrayal of things Vulcan to think that.
But then he could feel Christine under his fingers, the meld and her fear and her pain and letting him—forcing him to finally see she'd never been complicit.
"I cannot go there." He turned and set off.
She hurried to catch up. "Why not? Did you park the administrator's flitter in the fountain or something?" She studied him. "What did you do?"
He waved her off.
"Ambassador—Spock, who else do you have to talk to about this?" Her voice sounded very much like Jim's might have, when he was first worming his way past Spock's defenses.
It was something he could not resist. "Doctor Chapel. I hurt her."
"Of course not."
"I am the reason she left Starfleet."
"Ohhhhh. Shit." She let him walk for a bit, then said, "When I first met Larissa, I was having fun. She was just one of many. She didn't know that. I mean I didn't lie, but I thought we wanted the same thing, casual and fun, but she was ready to settle down."
Spock slowed his pace and she followed suit.
"When I finally realized what I'd lost, she made me work for it. Hell, I kept one candy shop in business, I swear." She was staring at the ground as she smiled, seemingly lost in the past. Then she turned to look at him. "But I got her. And it took a while before she trusted me. But now I have her and the kids and it's everything I didn't even know I wanted when I first met her. You know?"
"So maybe you should go work for it, huh?"
"I will consider it."
"Well, consider it fast. She told me about Roger Korby. I bet there's a whole bunch of men like him at that place, men who'll find a smart and attractive doctor just the thing."
He shot her a stern look, but she just laughed. "Or maybe a woman. You think I didn't figure out she and Dilar had something going? You're just lucky I'm happily married or I'd be going for her." She winked, and he did not think she was serious.
Jim used to tease him this way, in the early days before Spock died and left Christine behind. He would say that she was more his type than Spock's, since he liked scientists. Spock would counter that Leila had been a scientist.
And then Jim would bring up Droxine, which would generally end the discussion.
"So, that was me being noisy and now I'll stop. But I have one more thing to ask. Before I leave for ops, would you be interested in coming to dinner at my place? Larissa would love to get to know you, and Danielle and Jax will probably crawl all over you even though we'll tell them not to."
"Children are often hard to herd." He wondered if Saavik would have been like that if she'd been rescued sooner.
"Ain't it the truth. And that was not an answer."
He almost smiled—she had sounded like McCoy. "I would be honored."
7. Peace Offerings
Chapel was just heading back to her office after a staff meeting when she heard a low cough.
So he was here.
She decided to ignore the cough and kept on walking.
She turned and made sure to show no surprise. "I wasn't sure my source was right. That you'd actually have the balls to come here."
His eyebrow went up, as if he didn't expect her to go on the attack. What did he think? That he'd show up and she'd just fall into his arms with a breathless, "Oh, darling, at last"?
She studied him; he looked good, but then he always did to her. "Since you're here, in this hall, calling my name, I presume you want to talk to me?"
"My office, then. I don't plan on having embarrassing conversations in the hallway. Unlike on the ship, I don't have a reputation here for being an idiot over you." She turned and walked off, as if she couldn't care less if he followed her or not.
Once he was seated and she'd put the door on privacy, he actually frowned and said, "I did not think Maxwell would tell you I had been assigned here."
"Celia didn't. Your father did—he heard it from Sostek, who was delighted to have the son of his valued associate gracing his institute."
Spock's expression changed and this time there was something that looked like a very old disappointment. "I know where my father's loyalties lie, then."
"With both of us, you bonehead." At his glare, she said, "He didn't want me to be surprised, true. But he also didn't want you to have to deal with a me who was surprised. You following?"
He nodded, his lips tightening—no doubt at the tone she was using and the mild insult. Shit, he really had thought she'd be some giant pushover.
"Did you need something, Spock? Or are you just here to pledge undying love?"
And his lips tightened even more. She shouldn't enjoy this, but it was just too fun. To not be afraid around him—to not have to watch herself anymore.
And to have him here—for her? She supposed there was a chance he was here because he'd always longed to work at the Clarendon, but that chance was remote as shit.
And if he was here for her, he was going to goddamn work for it.
He stood and walked to the door. Without turning, he said, "If you do not wish to interact with me, I will stay away."
"I don't wish to."
He reached for the privacy button.
"And I do."
He dropped his hand and slowly turned.
"Both of them, not just the latter."
He nodded slowly, as if he understood.
"For the record, I'm not mad because you chose not to pursue me after the refusion. You weren't yourself. You couldn't remember how much Jim meant to you—why in hell would you remember the short time with me?"
He seemed to relax.
"But putting me in the detention center. The way you...bullied me. And you did it because you wanted me to be guilty—not her. Not because it was logical or there was any evidence against me. But because you liked her better or maybe you just couldn't stand that she duped you like a starry eyed teen."
He didn't answer, but his eyes were like stone.
She let hers settle into something equally relentless. She didn't need Sarek or Dilar or anyone to stand up for her. Not anymore. Fuck Spock if he didn't want to hear this.
"I don't trust you, Spock. I may always love you, but..." She took a deep breath. "I don't know why you came here. Do you?"
"Yes." He said it so quickly it surprised her, but he said it with absolutely no emotion.
"Rethinking it yet?"
Again the tightening of his lips.
She smiled but not in a very nice way. "Don't worry. This is an amazing place—and an enormous one. You never have to see me unless you get sick or injured. Or if you frequent bars or go to parties, which we both know you won't." She turned to her terminal, as if they were finished, then glanced over. "If you need a check-in physical, Doctor D'tom is on duty."
"I was cleared by Starfleet Medical."
"Then you can go." She opened up the medical logs and started reading through them to see what she'd missed.
She could tell he was staring at her. She forced herself not to react, just kept on reading.
Then she heard the slap of his hand on the privacy button—a slap that was a little harder than she thought he would normally do—and the door slid open.
D'tom came in a moment later, a huge smile on his face. "Was that the great Spock?"
"In the flesh."
"In the very nice flesh."
"If you like tall lanky men."
"I do." He perched on her desk. "Do you?"
"You've been holding out on me." Then he handed her a padd and his expression changed to the professional one she was used to. "I've made some annotations on the formula you wanted to use—I think this will work better."
She studied it. Instead of starting her own experiment, she'd been so intrigued with what D'tom was working on that he'd invited her to join him. It was fun to be a scientist again, to be accepted. And to be challenged. The changes D'tom had made not only made sense, they were things she should have seen.
"It's okay. Your idea for the tweaks to the stasis field was brilliant." He stood and headed out the door, humming one of the old standards about lovers who show up just when you think they won't.
She waited until he was safely out of range, then commed Sarek.
He picked up immediately. "Spock arrived safely?"
"And he has made contact?"
"This isn't a spy mission, Sarek." She started to laugh. "I didn't make it easy for him."
"If I were you, I would not either. It is a basic tenet of diplomacy that the value an individual places on something is in direct proportion to the amount of effort necessary to attain it."
"Well, then he's going to really value me. But..." She sighed. "There are some nice people here. People with no history. People who want to get to know me and...more."
He leaned back and studied her, and even through the comm she could feel the weight of his eyes on her. "Are those others what you want? If so, tell my son that, and he will stay away."
"Quit being logical."
"I am also thinking of him. I do not relish the idea of you toying with his affections if your heart lies elsewhere."
"My heart? Such a human term."
"I am married to a human, Christine. Your sayings are bound to infect me."
He leaned in. "I am quite serious, though. If you are not interested, let him go. He is, I believe, intent on this. He managed to get Starfleet and Sostek to expedite his assignment. I assume he is aware that you might have gathered admirers there."
"He expedited this?"
"Indeed. I trust you, Christine. Enjoy punishing him, but within reason. Now I must go, someone is here to see me." He shot her a stern look, then cut the line.
Spock had asked a fellow Vulcan—one who might see that he was pursuing a human woman—to expedite his application.
He really was serious.
But so was she. She didn't trust him. She wasn't sure how he was going to change that, but she was willing to let him try.
Spock finished up his work in the lab space he'd been allocated, and headed to Christine's office. It had been a week since their first—rather dismal and confusing—meeting. He'd wanted to give her time. And to give himself that, as well. To consider what he wanted, and how much.
She was in her office, taking off her white coat. She saw him and smiled seemingly before she could think better of it—the sweetly beautiful expression he had once come to treasure greatly—but she cut it off quickly.
"You are leaving—and have plans." The dark green dress she had on under the white coat was unlike anything he'd seen her wear when on duty.
"Plans?" She seemed to realize what he was looking at. "Oh, this. I guess it's been a while since I wore a dress." Her expression relaxed and even became somewhat friendly. "It's just...fun to be able to wear something halfway nice and know it won't get dirt or mud or dust or blood or guts on it. Well, unless someone here has a very, very bad day. It's been years—since Roger and I worked together before he left—that I've been able to indulge in pretty clothes." She suddenly looked down. "As if you care about any of that."
"I do. It is a side to you I have not seen."
"A side you like?"
"Very much so." Her figure was so different than Valeris's—or many of the willowy women he'd found intriguing in the past. She had been what his mother called coltish during the voyages, but she'd filled out in her later years, and the dress seemed to be fashioned to make the most of her curves while hiding any excess weight.
He found he was tired of lithe young women. If he had realized that before taking up with Valeris, how different life would have been.
But his experiences had changed him, and the choices he might like to undo were done. This was reality: he had not chosen her and he must live with the consequences of that.
He realized she was saying something and said, "I beg pardon."
"I asked if you were here for a reason—other than to admire this dress?"
"I am. When we last spoke, you said you did and did not want to see me. I have stayed away, thus fulfilling the second part. And now I am here, to make good on the first." He thought Jim would approve of his phrasing. He had practiced various versions before settling on this.
She did not give him a sharp answer, which he considered a promising start, and studied him, her eyes narrowed but a small smile playing at her lips. "What did you have in mind?"
"I would like to talk. About what has happened. About...many things. It is my hope that we can find enough common ground to move forward. But I realize there is much that has been wrong between us—and I also realize I am to blame for that. If I had just left you alone..."
"But you didn't." She finally nodded. "Can we eat while we talk? I had to skip lunch today because of a dog and pony show we were doing for some visitors."
Jim had explained the meaning of the term—he had loved showing off the ship but hated the interminable briefings he had to sit through as an admiral. "Wherever you like." There was a large infrastructure built up around the institute. The moon had been terraformed specifically for the Clarendon, so none of the business owners were local, just entrepreneurial types who had seen a built-in customer base and moved quickly to cater to it.
He was debating asking her if she wanted him to call a flitter, but her shoes appeared sensible, and she seemed to want to walk, so he followed her out and down to the waterfront.
She pointed to a building with a window where customers were queued. There were tables scattered around the area, all with a lovely view. No table service—easy to get away fast.
It should not surprise him she would be strategic. Not after so many years working crises. Or with his father possibly helping her in this.
Spock was torn when he thought of his father's championing of her. On the one hand, it might be the first time Spock was falling in line with his father's expectations and winning his approval. But the part of him that had always rebelled was still there.
Perhaps that was part of why he had chosen Valeris: because Sarek did not want him to.
He moved in front of Christine slightly so it was clear the meal would be charged against his credits, and she told him what she wanted and let him order for them both.
He ordered water for himself and then looked at her. In the past she often drank something alcoholic with dinner, but she asked for a local infusion similar to iced tea.
He must have shown his surprise, because she laughed in a bitter way and said, "I prefer to keep my decisionmaking skills unimpaired when dealing with you."
He nodded tightly and turned away. He had apologized. He had taken the blame. Would there come a time when she let this go?
He carried their tray to a table she picked and sat, staring down at the food rather than at her as he distributed the items.
"What I just said ticked you off."
He shrugged. Something he rarely did, just as feeling this aggravated was not normal. He heard a sharp whine and looked over to see that she was scanning him. "Why are you doing that?"
"I'm making sure you're irritated because you're irritated and not because you're hormonally challenged."
"It is not the Pon Farr."
She slid the scanner into her bag. "Nope, it sure isn't. You're just being oversensitive."
"I am merely wondering how long I must pay for what I did. If we are to move on, will we not need to...move on?"
"You want me to stop talking about it? You're tired of me bringing it up?"
"But you want to talk about us. Only without all the messy past? Isn't that a bit like doing a battle damage assessment while being prohibited from mentioning the actual battle?"
He was about to make a sharp reply when he realized what she said was eminently logical. "Yes," he finally said. "It is."
She nodded but also seemed to let her guard down somewhat, focusing on her food for a while in a way that told him she was indeed hungry and not simply eating to avoid talking.
She finally met his eyes. "If it had been the Pon Farr, I wouldn't have... You'd have to go to Vulcan—or find someone else here." She sighed. "Maybe that would be good advice for both of us."
"To go to Vulcan?" He waited for her to react at his attempt at humor and she did, her smile turning sweet.
"I forgot you could do that. Be funny. It's been so long."
"Yes, it has." For them, at any rate. He had engaged in humor with Jim and the crew, even with Valeris. "As a great deal of the problem is that I did find someone else, I do not want to repeat that action."
"Maybe some of the problem is that I never did find anyone else. Would you have suspected me of turning Valeris if I'd been married with a passel of kids?"
He considered that. "Jealousy is independent from happiness, is it not?"
She did not answer right away and seemed to be giving the idea serious thought. "I suppose you can be happy with someone else and still resent the person who got the person you wanted more. So I was fucked no matter what?"
"I would not put it that way."
"Somehow I knew that." She grinned, an easy expression that made him relax some.
In the lull that followed, he murmured "You would really have sent me away?" so softly she could ignore it if she wanted to.
She did not seem to want to. She narrowed her eyes and nodded, and then said, "No way my first time with you is going to be like that."
He had to work very hard to hide the surge of satisfaction that he felt. The way she had phrased it implied she could see a future where she did have sex with him. He decided to focus on that and let her eat in peace, enjoying the easy silence that was growing, one that they used to fill the spaces between words with comfort instead of the anger and pain that had grown between them since he had detained her.
Unjustly. He had detained her unjustly and few had called him on it. Unsettling how much power a person could have over another when suspicion—and fear—was at such a high level.
She seemed to be studying him, so he looked up and met her eyes, which were considerably softer than they had been. "You have a question, Christine?"
"Why did you turn Ny down?"
He was not surprised Nyota had told her; they seemed to share much. "I believed it would prove awkward. Had I embarked on a relationship with her, you would always have been in our lives as her friend."
"Is that the only reason?" She was looking out at the water and he waited for her to glance back at him to say, "No, that was not the only reason."
Her smile was tentative, but it was similar to the one she used to wear when they had first begun deepening their relationship. "Good answer."
"It is the truth, not a strategic play."
Her smile grew. "Even better answer." Her comm unit chimed and she reached into her bag, smiling as she read the text. She keyed in a reply and put it away. "I can't stay much longer. I'm working on a project with someone. He says I'm needed." She seemed to be trying to bite back a smile.
He knew she wanted him to ask about this male science partner. Moreover, he wanted to know, with an urgency that surprised him. "Someone you...care for?"
"Doctor D'tom. A colleague—he had this intriguing experiment and we got to talking and it just made sense for me to work with him. You learn a lot about a person...all those hours in the lab. And yeah, I really like him."
"I see." He did not see, though. She'd kept her voice carefully bland and her expression even.
She started to laugh. "Are you even trying to hide your annoyance? Because it's not working. You're safe. He likes guys. Hell, he'd love to get to know you."
"And I am sure he shall, once we are a couple."
Her eyes widened. "Wow. Big move."
"I see no reason not to share the end goal with you. We have wasted enough time, do you not agree?"
"Not if you think it'll get you out of working for it." She grinned and finished her tea. "Thank you for dinner. Next time is on me." She got up and let her hand rest on his for a moment, and he knew she was aware he could read her from that slight touch: she was...happy. Or at least happier.
Then again, if you counted their baseline as the moment she thought he'd willingly let her die just to be rid of her, they had only improvement ahead.
She stole a piece of food off his plate and hurried off.
He felt comforted by the easy way she'd done it. He suspected that was exactly what she intended. In her way, she was as accomplished a negotiator as he or his father.
Which only made this more rewarding.
Chapel strolled into Sostek's outer office and smiled at his assistant. She could hear coughing coming from the administrator's office. "I don't have to ask if he's in there, Mike. Fortunately, I come bearing medicine."
"Thank God. I'm sick of him pretending that he's not hacking up a lung or six." Mike buzzed her in. "Make him give you his word he'll rest. He's a pro at making things sound like a promise when they aren't."
Sostek looked up from his desk, and seemed to be trying to hold back the next coughing fit.
She held up a hypo. "I will make you a trade. One shot of the medicine that will help if you promise to go home and rest for the next twelve hours." She'd prefer a whole day but getting a Vulcan to rest at all was a major triumph.
"I am in no need of rest. Simply give me the medicine and I will continue to work." He was clearly trying to look as bright eyed and bushy tailed as he could, but the next coughing jag ruined the act.
"Give me your word you will rest for twelve hours at home."
"Yes, fine. Please." He started to cough again and she hurried around his desk and gave him the shot.
"It'll take effect in just a few minutes. It's going to make you really sleepy in about a half hour so you are going to leave now."
He started to talk and she said, "What did I just say?"
"Do you speak to Sarek this way?"
"Actually, yes, when he's sick" Which he never was, but she would if he were. "Now close down the terminal, and I'll see you out."
As they walked the short distance to his quarters, he asked, "Is the virus just here?"
"No, it's hitting Vulcans and Rigelians all over the Federation. Fortunately, we have a cure."
"This may be the first time I wish I was not Vulcan."
"Listening to that cough, I completely sympathize."
He started to yawn. "You were not exaggerating."
"I rarely do when it comes to medicine." She waited until he palmed open the door and then said, "Good night, sir. I'll see you tomorrow. Or whenever. If you're tired, sleep. The Clarendon will survive a day without you."
He waved her off and the door closed as she began to say something about not setting his chrono's alarm. She smiled, too accustomed to the abruptness of Vulcan goodbyes to take any offense.
She'd already dosed and sent home the Vulcans and Rigelians working in the labs, but some were in their quarters—the scientists set their own hours according to their biological rhythms and the demands of whatever they were working on. She visited four quarters before she got to Spock's.
She'd saved him for last.
He was coughing and said between jags, "I regret I must cancel dinner tonight."
"So do I." They'd had some nice dinners. She'd even stopped picking places that she could escape from at a moment's notice. He was keeping things between them easy—or as easy as he could. Not pushing, at any rate.
It was like it had been, right before he died.
He looked at the hypo she pulled out with relief. "This will stop the cough?"
"You do not seem happy at that thought. Do you wish me to continue to cough?"
"No. It's just...for a full Vulcan or Rigelian, this causes sleepiness. But if you've got human in you, it's going to make you very chatty. About your feelings. Sappy even." She'd found this out when she injected a Rigelian/Human scientist who'd spent the time before she could get him headed to his quarters telling her in quite strident tones how much he hated his brother. "So, I'm going to inject you, wait five minutes to make sure you don't have an adverse reaction, and then I'm going to skedaddle. Are we clear?"
He raised an eyebrow. "I will not try to stop you if you wish to leave. I believe we have established I pose no physical threat." He actually frowned. "I will not become...possessive, will I? I am stronger than you."
"Relax. It'll be fine. Just...go get changed and get into bed, and I'll give this to you. You'll need to stay away from the lab for at least twelve hours, all right? More would be better. Doctor D'tom will be checking on you later this evening. If you are sleeping, he'll just come in and take your vitals."
"Of course." He went into his bedroom and a few moments later called her.
She scanned him and set the hypo against his skin, the soft hiss telling her it was delivering the medicine.
His face eased as the need to cough went away. Then his expression changed even more. "Christine."
"Here we go."
"I wish to talk, about how I feel—how I have made you feel."
"You've got five minutes. That's all." She scanned him again to compare him to the baseline she'd taken before the shot: all good.
"I wish that I could take it back. That I had listened to Jim—do you have any idea what a good friend he was to you? He wanted me with you. And now he is gone, and I cannot show him that I was listening, Christine. I was listening to him."
"Okay. It's okay."
"And my father. He loves you. More than he will ever love me, but that is all right. I am not jealous. Or perhaps I am." He frowned as he seemed to be evaluating his feelings. "I am actually quite jealous of his comfort level with you, but that is not what matters. He was right about you and I would not listen."
He grabbed her hand and pulled it to his lips. "You are still so sad."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are. You want me. You love me. You do not hate me anymore, and I am so...happy about that. But you are still sad and this is making you more so." He kissed her hand in a tender way she was sure he would never do if he weren't doped up on happy juice. "I could take that sadness away. I could give you pleasure." He met her eyes. "I could love you."
She looked away.
"Now I have made you more sad."
Her scanner chirped and she pulled her hand away and ran one more scan. Perfectly fine. "And that's time. I'll see you when you're better."
"Christine, no. Stay with me. Let me love you."
She stared down at him, smiled in what probably was a sad way, and then hightailed it the hell out of there.
When she commed D'tom later to discuss their patients, she asked him, "Do I seem sad to you?"
"No, in general."
"Hmmmm." He smiled gently. "Sometimes, yeah. But, not in a way that makes you a downer. If that makes sense? Just as if you've always been a little sad."
"I kind of have been."
"Well and you worked emergencies forever. That doesn't give one a big cheery outlook. Why are you asking?"
He laughed. "Okay."
"Really. I'll talk to you tomorrow." She'd be doing the morning shift to check on her sick little chicks, so she'd better go to bed now.
"He wasn't himself. He wasn't himself." She repeated that until she finally fell asleep.
Spock walked toward Christine's office, relieved to be off the meds that had made him want to comm his father to talk about their feelings. Only the strongest Vulcan meditation had prevented him from doing it.
She was not in her office, but D'tom was in the hall and smiled at Spock.
"You looking for our Christine?" The man managed to put so much into one sentence. But then Tarillians tended toward the playful end of the professional spectrum, which worked better in some fields than others.
"I am," he settled for answering. Let the man make of that what he would.
"Hey, how are you feeling?" Christine asked from behind him.
"Much improved. Thank you. Could we talk in private?"
D'tom seemed to not even be trying to hide a leer. Christine rolled her eyes at him and motioned Spock into her office.
She hit the privacy button and clearly expected him to sit, but he took her by her arms and pushed her back gently until she was leaning against the wall.
Her eyebrows went up precipitously. "Uhhh?"
"You could have had honesty. I do not know that I will ever be able to talk about what I feel as clearly as I could have yesterday."
"There's honesty and then there's truth."
He frowned, not following.
She smiled gently. "Honesty is what you were giving me. Emotional vomiting. Things you'd never say unless spores, the Psi 2000 virus, Platonians, or a mind-meld with V'ger induced you to become chatty and emotive."
He nodded grudgingly.
"But this"—she settled her hand on his arm—"this is truth. You, the real you, the one who doesn't talk about his emotions. If we end up together, this is who I will be with. Staying with you last night—talking it out with that version of you—would have been stupid. It would have set me up for nothing but disappointment. And it would have been wrong as a doctor. You were compromised."
"Some would not have cared."
"Maybe not. But I do." She smiled gently and he could read her emotions through the touch of his hand on her arm. She was not angry or upset. He could still feel the sadness that never seemed to leave her, but it was buried and probably had been since Korby had disappeared.
Spock had never been focused enough on her to take notice of how much she carried—not even when he'd been on the verge of beginning a relationship with her.
"What are we doing here?" She wasn't trying to escape, just smiled gently, and he felt how much she cared for him.
He moved slowly, so she could stop him if she wanted—and so he could tell if she felt threatened. He never again wanted to feel the fear she'd shown after the crash on Ishtrakhan.
But there was no fear. She let him kiss her and kissed him back just as gently as he was touching her. He pulled away slowly, tracing her cheekbones, learning the lines and freckles on her face that had not been there the last time they'd been this intimate.
"I wish..." He shook his head.
She cupped his cheek. "So do I. But it's done. And now we're here."
He leaned into her hand. "I am exceedingly fond of here."
She laughed, and it was a lovely sound, lacking any sarcasm or anger or scorn. "I agree. A girl could get used to this."
He could feel happiness surging in her, and he leaned in and kissed her again, a long kiss, less gentle, and she met him with equal intensity.
"Are you going to make love to me right here in my office?" she asked when he finally pulled away.
"No." He considered that. "Well, yes, probably. But not yet. Not for our first time. We are not ready."
She reached down, grinning in a way Valeris never would have, and slid her hand under his pants. "Someone is very ready."
He let her play for a moment, then eased her hand away. "Soon, I hope. But not yet."
"Wow. That's some willpower, Mister."
"You are worth it."
"Batting a thousand."
"Do you wish to know something humorous?"
"Sure." She was grinning in the most open way he'd seen from her since the refusion, no barriers up, no sense of mistrust.
"Last night, after you left, when it was clear you would not come back and I should not go to you, I nearly commed my father."
Her laugh was natural and bubbling over with amusement. "Oh my God. It never occurred to me you might do that. I thought I just had to worry about you and me. Wow, am I self centered or what?"
"It took me by surprise, as well, that I would want to do that."
"I wonder what he would have done?" She grinned. "He does love you, you know. The comfort he and I have, it's probably because I'm not his kid. There's no pressure."
"That is a kind way to make your rapport with him seem accidental." He let an eyebrow rise. "I think it is best I did not comm him."
"Probably so. Although I find it adorable that you wanted to" She leaned in. "Can I kiss you?"
"Why are you asking such a senseless question?" He let himself smile, just a little. "You may always kiss me."
"Well, in private, anyway."
"True. But we are in private."
"Yes, we are." She kissed him for a very long time, and he felt all of her, not just her body but her mind too, relaxing into him, finally untroubled.
And, for the first time since Khitomer, he felt a true sense of peace.