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) 2003 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
"God, it's a frozen wasteland." In the dying afternoon light, the snow of Prevalus looked old and dirty to Christine Chapel. "What a hellhole."
"They told me it was
Christine shot him an
exasperated look. "It is like
"But I thought it was
"--Green? Remind me not to choose you for the geography bee, Ensign." She grabbed her bags from the shuttle's back compartment and hefted the lighter one over her shoulder. The building ahead was for new arrivals so she followed the other passengers inside.
Once they were all assembled a bored-looking man stepped forward. "Hello. I'm Commander Perkins, the Star Fleet attaché to Prevalus. Has anyone been stationed here before?"
No hands went up.
"Of course not. Why would anyone in their right mind come back to this deepfreeze?" He looked sternly around the room. "In case you haven't figured it out yet, this is the southern polar region and it snows here. All the time. And I do mean all the time. Not just some of the time. Not just most of the time."
"All of the time." the lieutenant next to Christine muttered. "Yeah, yeah, we get it. It snows."
Christine smiled. "I think someone's been playing in that snow a little too long."
"I think you're right, Commander." The lieutenant fell silent as Perkins glared in their direction.
He gestured to a desk behind him. "I don't care what kind of gear your units rigged you with; it won't last two minutes in this climate. We have boots, coats, and gloves that will keep you warmer than anything you have now. State-of-the-art stuff that some of your colleagues at the scientific institute here have created. So take off the gear you've got on and get ready to turn it in."
Christine saw Ensign Greenland strip off his coat then start to undo his uniform. She tapped him on the shoulder. "I'm pretty sure he just meant the outerwear."
The young man blushed. "Oh. Thanks." He turned around in a hurry.
Christine stifled a laugh. As she passed Perkins, he turned to her. "Something funny, Commander?"
"A situation like this, sir. I think you have to laugh or cry."
"We'll see what you're doing after a year here."
She tried to make her tone more respectful. "I'm only here for a few months, sir. Replacing someone who ummm..."
"Only for coming here, sir."
"Well, at least you realize it. If you start hearing voices, tell someone about it before you do something we'll all regret."
Perkins moved on to harass someone else, and Christine traded in her heavy coat and gloves for ones of much lighter material. "This is so thin. It can't be better than what I have, can it?" she asked the young man working the desk.
"Trust me. I'm on my second year here."
She shrugged and handed him her boots for his state-of-the-art ones.
"These form a seal with the fabric underneath them," he said, showing her how to engage the seal. "You'll never have cold, wet feet."
She smiled. "And as a doctor, I recognize the importance of that."
He grinned at her, handed her a small padd. "Here's the code for your apartment, and the directions."
She glanced at them. It seemed to involve a lot of walking. Surely they didn't mean outside in the snow? She sat down on an empty bench and pulled on her new boots and gloves, which she found were warm and a lot more comfortable than the ones she'd been wearing. Getting up, she walked over to ask Perkins, "The instructions say to walk, is there a passageway?"
He shook his head.
"A pedestrian tunnel?" she asked hopefully.
"Nope. There's the road. The snow-covered road. We can't go wrecking the perfect geologic and atmospheric conditions you scientists treasure so much by putting in amenities like tunnels and covered walkways, now can we? You want to walk, it's through the snow."
"Right, sir." She waited until he turned away, then hefted her bags and headed quickly for the door. The snow seemed to be coming down harder, so she took a last look at her directions, then shoved the padd in the pocket of her jacket. She hadn't taken five steps when she realized she had forgotten to put up her hood. She kept walking as she fumbled with it one-handed, just about had it fastened when she suddenly collided with something large and going much faster in the opposite direction. She fell back into the snow, bags falling on either side of her.
"It would be less hazardous to pay attention to where you are going," the man that had run her down suggested.
She decided he was not going to help her up and pushed herself to her feet saying, "No, really, don't worry about me," when she realized that she recognized the man's voice. "It can't be," she said, pushing her hood out of her eyes and locking eyes with her worst nightmare, formerly the man of her dreams. "Spock?"
"Doctor Chapel?" His voice almost squeaked. Apparently she was his worst nightmare too. Well, that wasn't anything new.
She grabbed her bags and pushed past him. "I'm only here for a few months. We never saw each other. Have a nice life." She hurried through the snow and worried that she might slip, but the new boots provided excellent traction.
She was halfway down the street, sure that the flush in her face had receded somewhat, when she heard him call out, "Doctor Chapel?" She turned reluctantly. He walked up to her quickly, handed her the padd. "You dropped this."
"Oh. Thanks." She stuck it back in her pocket.
"They fasten. For security."
She snapped the pocket shut. "I knew that."
He raised an eyebrow. "Indeed."
He seemed at a loss for
words, so she held up a gloved hand and said, "Okay. Bye."
She spun around and hurried off to find her apartment. The walk was short but every part of her that
wasn't covered by state-of-the-art fabric was freezing by the time she got to
her building. She couldn't wait to get
warm in her apartment. When she located
the room and opened the door, a blast of cool air hit her. "This can't be happening," she
muttered, as she tried to find the temperature control. It said it was putting out heat. "In a pig's eye," she said, finally
finding a use for McCoy's favorite saying.
She thought of him, happily ensconced in
She commed the maintenance number and got a recording. "Your maintenance request is very important to us..." She checked the chiller unit while she waited. It was empty. There were several numbers for supplies on the comm unit. She would call one after she talked to maintenance. Ten minutes later, she gave up on maintenance and cut the connection. At least the store answered promptly and promised to have her supplies to her quickly. Christine was still fiddling with the temperature controller when her door chimed.
A young girl was just putting down the container. "Oh, hi. I didn't expect anyone to be home." She picked up the food and handed it to Christine. "Most people comm us from the institute during the day and we have stuff waiting for them at the door by the time they get home." She peered into Christine's apartment. "Do you like it this cold?"
"I just got here. I'm trying to get it warm." Christine suddenly had a bad feeling. "Did Torrance live here?"
The girl nodded and hurried away. Obviously Torrance was a touchy subject. And no wonder he went nuts, Christine thought, if he had to put up with these conditions. She put the food away, and checked out the rest of the apartment, fully expecting to find it stripped bare or lacking some basic necessity like a shower. But it all seemed fine. If only she could make it closer to something approaching warm, she'd be in good shape.
Christine sat down on her bed, revising her statement. If only Spock wasn't here, she'd be in good shape. What was he doing here? Granted she hadn't asked the admiral that sold her on helping out with this job whether Spock would be on the planet, but then why would she have? Despite being such a plum research location, Prevalus really was the back of beyond for any posting other than scientific and it had been a long time since Spock had been a science officer. There was absolutely no logical reason for him to be here, she thought unhappily. But here he was. Hopefully, his office was far away from hers and they'd never run into each other. Literally or figuratively.
She noticed a light blinking on her comm unit. Apparently the institute had been advised that she was here. Resolutely putting Spock out of her mind, she went over to the bedroom desk and started to read up on her new posting.
The welcoming briefing was filled to capacity. As one of the ranking officers at the institute, Spock had been asked to give the opening remarks at the orientation for the latest group of arriving officers. It was not a new request, was in fact something he had done many times in the year that he had been on Prevalus. But this class was different. This class had _her_ in it.
He looked around the room, saw Doctor Chapel file in behind several others. She glanced at the podium, noticed him, and quickly looked away. He waited for the wistful glances she used to send his way on the Enterprise, the tremulous smiles she would give him if he so much as looked at her.
She took her seat and ignored him. A lieutenant took the seat next to her and said something amusing enough to make her laugh. She was soon absorbed in conversation.
Fascinating, Spock thought to himself as he realized that she did not appear interested in him at all. He was profoundly glad of it.
His welcoming remarks were brief, and he left the conference room as soon as he was finished and returned to his office. As on many other days, he lost himself in his research, and only realized how late it was by the ever-decreasing noise level in the hallway. This was the time of night he preferred to work. It was quiet, with no distractions. No one to come barging in asking him to give welcoming speeches. No one to ask him to lunch, or over to a residence for dinner. Not that anyone asked him anymore. He had turned all invitations down when he had first arrived, and by now his colleagues were used to the idea that he did not socialize outside of work events.
There had been a time when he had not kept himself so isolated. A time when he could be cajoled to a dinner or lunch. But that was when Jim was still alive. And before Spock's mother had died. He tried not to examine the pain he still felt when he thought of them. Logically, he knew that he had spent more of his later years apart from them than with them. So their loss should be somehow diminished, the pain not this strong. But logic had no power against the kind of grief he had gone through, first when he had heard of his friend's death...two years, five months, three weeks, and four days ago, his mind calculated effortlessly. And later when his mother had died. But Kirk's death had brought an added pain: Spock knew that he should have been with him. But he had chosen not to attend the launching of the Enterprise B. And it haunted him because he thought that perhaps if he had been there, things would have turned out differently. Jim might still be alive.
At least his mother's death six months later did not consume him the same way. She had lost a battle to age and fatigue and a hostile environment. And to a disease just waiting to exploit the right set of circumstances. Her decline had been sudden. Fortunately, he had been near Vulcan at the time. He had not missed her death, had sat with Sarek throughout the ordeal. It had been the hardest thing he had ever done. But for her, he would do it. For her...and for his father.
It should have brought them closer. And maybe, in some way that would become clear in the future, it had. But for now, Spock felt no nearer to understanding his father than he ever had.
He shook off the memories. It was not productive to wallow in them. He forced his mind back to his work, spent several more hours refining his report. Finally, he closed down his terminal and left his office, walking quickly down to the lockers by the door, where the institute staff kept their outdoor gear. As he sat changing his shoes, two civilian scientists sat down on the adjacent bench.
"Did you see the latest batch, Carl?"
"Yeah. I liked the brunette...the commander."
"A little old for my blood."
The man named Carl laughed. "You're an idiot. She looks like she knows how to have fun."
"Well, you go for her then. I like the blonde that came in on last week's shuttle."
"I tried talking to her. She's not very friendly." The two men were still discussing the newly-arrived women as they left the building.
Spock realized that the brunette they had been talking about was probably Doctor Chapel. The institute was small and the staff tended to pair off quickly, there being relatively little in the way of recreation on this snowbound world. There was always some intrigue about who was seeing whom, but Spock had never found any reason to listen to the gossip. Until now.
Not that he cared. Doctor Chapel could do as she pleased. So long as she didn't set her sights on him again.
Christine looked up from her research, surprised to see how late it was. She just had time to grab something to eat if she was going to make the concert. She had been warned by a colleague that seats went fast for the small symphony orchestra that had been pulled together years ago from the musically inclined permanent residents and more transient scientists and had proven a popular draw ever since. "They might not be the best symphony, but they are the only orchestra on the planet," Commander Johnston had said with a laugh. "And they'll try anything, no matter how ambitious."
Christine hurried to the cafeteria, glad to see it much less full than it seemed to be during the day. She'd ended up taking her food back to her office every time she'd gone there for lunch. She picked a table near the door and tried not to gulp down her meal.
She looked up in surprise. A civilian stood at the other side of the table, smiling down at her.
"I noticed you the minute you arrived." He was good looking enough, but something in the set of his smile, the tone of his voice told her he probably noticed a lot of the women the minute they arrived. "I'm Carl." He held out his hand.
She didn't take it. Carl looked disappointed but she didn't
care. Once upon a time, when she'd first
hit Earth after she left the
His smile wavered a bit but he kept trying. "Do you mind if I sit?"
She got up. "I'm just leaving."
"Well, I'll go with you."
She turned to him. "Carl. Let's cut the crap. What do you want?"
"Your name for starters?"
"I told you my name."
"Your first name."
"I'm in a bit of a hurry. Just tell me what you want."
"I thought you and I could get to know one another. This can be a lonely place and I--"
"I'm late for the symphony. Bottom line it for me, okay?"
He tried to smile, but her glare seemed to unnerve him slightly. "You and I and a picnic somewhere warm...like your bedroom?"
She laughed out loud. "Believe me, there is no colder place in this universe than my bedroom." She saw his look of shock. "That didn't come out quite right. I mean the heater's broken or something."
He looked relieved. "Then my bedroom."
She handed him her tray. "I'm flattered. Really. But I don't think so. Now, be a love and take this to the recycler. I have to run." She left him staring in confusion, knew better than to look back. Men like Carl would take it as a sign of interest. Men like Carl would take anything as a sign of interest. She heard him call out, "Wait...I'll go with you, I love the symphony," as he rushed to the recycler.
She didn't wait, quick timed it down the hall to the auditorium and headed for some empty seats deep in the middle of the crowd where she thought he would have trouble finding her. "Is this seat taken?" she asked, the man who was studying his program. Then she realized who it was. "Shit."
She saw Carl enter the auditorium. He saw her before she could try to hide and began to head for her row.
Spock followed her gaze, said, "You appear to have an admirer."
She made a pleading face at Spock. "He's really annoying. And if you say that it's only fair for me to know how you felt all those years, you'd be wrong."
He thought about that, then indicated the seat. "Please."
She sat gratefully, hoping Carl would see who she was with and break off his pursuit. "Thanks. I know this is probably a horrifying scenario for you."
"Horrifying is an overstatement."
She busied herself with the program, not really seeing it, and muttered, "Well, you're not exactly thrilled either."
"There is, I believe, some middle ground between those two reactions."
She had forgotten how sharp his hearing was. "Like what? Chagrined? Embarrassed? Trepidatious?"
His eyebrow rose slowly. "I have not had time to fully analyze my reaction."
"Well, be sure to let me know when you do." She glanced down the row, saw Carl making his way toward her. "Oh, crap."
"He does seem determined to get your attention," Spock said evenly.
"You're a big help, Spock."
"I was not aware you needed my help." He was studying her curiously. "His attentions are unwelcome?"
She rolled her eyes. "He doesn't care who I am or what I'm like. All he knows is that I'm one of the new flavors in town and he wants a taste. And he's probably come on to, if not slept with, every new woman that would have him. So, yes, his attentions are unwelcome, you big dope." She realized what she had called him when both his eyebrows rose. "I mean...Mister Spock."
Carl, with a mantra of "excuse me, watch your feet," finally reached the empty seat next to her. "Why didn't you wait for me?"
Spock leaned forward. "Perhaps because Doctor Chapel is here with me. I do not recall you being included in our plans."
Carl's mouth fell open. "She's with you?"
Spock did a passable job of lying as he said, "She is."
Christine had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing. It was just too funny. In a sort of nightmarish way.
Carl looked at her. "You're with Captain Spock?"
She shrugged. "What can I say?" It wasn't a lie, it wasn't even an answer. She hoped he wouldn't notice that.
She had to give Carl credit for not wasting any more time than was necessary fighting rejection. "My mistake," he said, rising quickly and working his way back down the aisle.
She turned to Spock, saw that he had gone back to reading the program. "Thanks."
"You are welcome," he said, not looking up.
A few moments later the
lights went down and the musicians began to play.
When the lights went up, she sat for a moment before taking a deep slow breath. Suddenly conscious that Spock was looking at her, she got up quickly. "I'm sorry. You want out, of course."
He didn't rise. "You found the music affecting?"
"It was sad."
He nodded. "Did it make you sad?"
She realized there was a distinction. "No. But it reminded me of all the times I was sad. It typified them for me. Brought them to me, instead of taking me back to them." She realized that she was going on and looked down, felt her face flushing. "And that made absolutely no sense at all."
He surprised her by saying, "I understand."
She looked over at him. His eyes seemed unbearably sad for a moment.
"I'm sorry," she said softly.
She smiled, feeling slightly stupid. "I have no idea." She turned and moved away from him, saying, "Well, I'll see ya 'round." When she reached the end of the row, she looked back at him for a moment. He was still sitting, gazing forward but in an unfocused way that made him look as if he was staring back in time. She wondered what he was seeing.
Then he turned and looked at her. Their eyes met, his were placid but with the same lingering sadness. He rose slowly, walked to her. "I came here to escape." He looked strangely relieved by his revelation.
She figured he didn't mean to the symphony. "I wondered. And, for whatever it's worth, I didn't know you were on Prevalus when I agreed to the posting."
He nodded. "I believe you." He gestured that she should move on. He stayed by her side, walking with her out to the front entrance where they put on their boots and coats.
Once they were outside, she turned to him. "What were you trying to escape?" When he did not answer, she said softly, "That's a stupid question. Kirk's death. I knew it would be hard for you."
"You weren't there. You were always there when he needed you. But not that time."
He nodded again.
"That wasn't your fault. We all move on. It's how life is. He would have been the first one to understand that, I think. And the last one to hold a grudge against you for it."
He stopped and she wondered if she had said the wrong thing. But he nodded at the walkway to a house set back from the road. "This is my residence."
"It looks nice." She gestured on ahead. "I'm up that way. Thanks again for the rescue. It was over and above the call of duty." She turned to walk away.
"Would you like to come in?"
"In?" she asked stupidly. "In there?" Then she laughed. "I mean...uh..."
"And to think I was just admiring your power of expression." He shook his head slightly, and she realized he was teasing her. "I will make tea," he offered.
"Spock, you don't have to. What you did tonight for me...it was kind of you. I know I make you uncomfortable. God knows, it makes me uncomfortable when I think of how I used to chase after you. It's probably better if I go back to my own place." She turned to leave.
"Jim was not my only loss. My mother died."
She recognized the pain, ached for him because she knew she couldn't take it away, no one could. "I lost mine a few years ago. It hurts." She saw the sadness flicker across his face again. He needs to talk, she realized. She stepped toward him. "Is your place warm?" When he looked confused, she said, "Mine isn't. I'd love some warmth."
He nodded. "Come in."
The heat blasted out at her even before she crossed the threshold and she moaned happily at the feel. "Vulcan hot," she whispered.
"Yes." He took her coat from her, hung it up in a small closet. "It is normally too hot for a human."
She laughed. "I grew up in the Mojave, Spock. I've spent most of my Star Fleet career being too cold."
"I did not know that."
She laughed. "No reason you should have." She pulled her boots off, and he gestured to a shelf in the closet where some soft slippers were tucked. She found a pair that fit and slipped them on over her socks. "Not like you know very much about me at all. Or vice versa." She shrugged. "Kind of sad, considering you were once the great love of my life. A great love I never even knew." She shot him an embarrassed smile. "I think when I realized that, I was finally free to move on. To get off the ship and find my own way."
He nodded. "You have done well for yourself since then."
"Yeah. Witness," she said with a laugh.
"Prevalus, despite the bitter climate, is a difficult posting to obtain, one that many scientists vie for. The atmospheric conditions, coupled with the unique properties of the planet's geology make it the perfect location for scientific research."
"So you're the guy that
wrote the travel brochure they use to lure in innocent scientists. I wondered who was responsible for
that." She grinned. "And anyway, I'm short term, just
"Too much snow," was Spock's answer.
"What is the deal with him? No one will tell me a damn thing and I--" She stopped talking, gazing around the room he had stopped in, mesmerized by the way it blended nature and artifice. "It's the desert."
"Yes." He sounded pleased that she understood.
She took a step, then unsure, turned to him. "It's all right to go in?"
He nodded, his eyes gentle.
She stepped onto the sandy colored carpeting, then reached down and stroked it. It looked like jute or sisal, but was surprisingly smooth on her skin. The chairs and couches, placed seemingly at random as if they had just grown out of the floor, were a warm ivory, the fabric soft and inviting. But it was the small bushes that actually were growing out of the floor that entranced her. The sandy soil blended perfectly with the carpet, only a border of sandstone delimiting the two. She walked over to a small pine-like shrub. Its sparse needles, clustered mostly at the end of the branches, let off a lush odor. She was immediately back home; a little girl gently crushing the needles of the pinyons that grew in the higher elevations, smelling once again their intoxicating scent.
Spock was standing behind her. "The plant is called Takith M'hera. My mother loved them. She said they smelled like the evergreens she had grown up with. I grew this from a cutting I took from her garden. I did not expect to plant it here, but the previous residents of the house were not Vulcan and kept the temperature much cooler. When I arrived, all the plants had died. What you see here are all from her gardens." He walked over to another bush. "They all thrive except this one."
She walked over. "A rose? Do roses grow well on Vulcan?"
He shook his head. "My mother grew them nonetheless. She had to work with them constantly."
Christine touched the thorn gently. "Did they survive her death?"
"No." He pulled off a withered leaf.
"But you did. Even though you may not have wanted to at times." Before he could answer, she said, "My mom's death was hard. I didn't expect that. We were close but it had been so long since I'd spent any real time with her."
"But it was still a blow. Watching her die..." She closed her eyes. "It was like the Borodin tonight. That's what that song meant to me. It was her death." She looked over at him. "Was it their deaths...for you?"
He stood silently for a moment. Then he very slowly nodded.
"It gets better. In time. Or maybe not better. Just hurts less."
"It has...it does....hurt less." he said, he seemed to struggle for the words. "Time heals."
"That it does. Sometimes, it's the only thing that does."
He pulled off another dead leaf. "This was the last of her roses to die. I took a cutting for stasis. Forced it back to life. But it does not live."
"It's alive, Spock. It just needs some help. Try eggshells," she offered softly.
He looked at her in surprise. "For the lime?"
She shrugged. "Or the other nutrients. At least that's what my grandmother used to use. Well, that and banana peels. But they stink to high heaven and this room's too nice to do that to." She looked up at the blazing lamps that felt so much like natural sunlight and made the space so warm, so welcoming. "This is heaven."
"It is pleasant."
"No, Spock. It's heaven. You should try my place for an hour and you'd be singing this room's praises too."
"If you say so." He looked away. "I will make tea."
"You don't have to," she said gently. "I have to go." She held up a hand when he began to protest. "You're just being polite, so cut it out. It's late. Thank you for sharing this with me. And for rescuing me."
"That man would not have been good for you," he said unexpectedly as he led her back down the hall.
"Is that opinion based on fact?"
He suddenly looked uncomfortable. "On what else would I base such an opinion?"
She laughed. "I really can't begin to imagine, Mister Spock." She pulled on her boots, took her coat from him. "Okay. Well. Good night." She hurried out the door and into the night.
The warmth of Spock's garden room stayed with her all the way home.
Spock at first regretted that he had opened up to Doctor Chapel, sure that she would try to exploit his momentary willingness to let her in. He spent the day after the concert certain that she would appear at the door of his office, perhaps bearing a bowl of plomeek soup. But she surprised him. She did not try to get closer, did not seek him out at all.
He settled back into his routine and put her out of his mind except the few times he saw her in the hall. He nodded, she smiled, and they both kept walking.
He was headed back to his office after an unproductive meeting, mentally going over the flaws of his colleague's position and trying to determine the best way to sway him, when Doctor Chapel came around the corner, nearly barreling into him.
"Oh god, I'm sorry, Spock. I seem to be making a habit of this." She smiled sheepishly. "I hate to crash and run but I'm late for a briefing."
Before he could say anything, she was gone.
He saw her several days later, talking in the hallway with a lieutenant commander from astrophysics. Her smile was open and relaxed. Spock realized that it was not the expression she had used with him, then dismissed the thought as irrelevant. As he walked by, he nodded to them both.
"Captain Spock," she murmured.
"Doctor," he replied.
The next day, Spock was passing the cafeteria when he heard someone say, "You're no more with Captain Spock than anyone else is. You think I don't know you were playing a game with me? I just want to know how you got that damn Vulcan to unbend long enough to play along."
Doctor Chapel looked up as Spock came up behind Carl. Her expression was one of embarrassed apology.
"Perhaps you would care to ask the damn Vulcan for yourself?"
Carl whirled around. "Oh, Captain Spock. I didn't see you there."
"No. Your back was turned. In the future, it would be prudent to see who is behind you before you comment on things of which you know very little." Spock moved closer to Doctor Chapel as he spoke.
"We're all friends here," Carl said.
"No," Spock said very firmly. "We are not."
He saw Carl's eyes dart toward the cafeteria. "I see my lunch date. I'll leave you two alone." Then the man dashed for the food line.
"I'm sorry." Doctor Chapel moved out of the doorway. "I didn't know he was going to be such a jerk about this."
"You have nothing to be sorry for. His behavior is his own responsibility."
She nodded. "I know. But I'm still sorry." She took a sip of the coffee she held, then looked up at him. "Want to walk?"
He nodded before he had a chance to think.
"Really?" she asked, with an incredulous lilt to the word. He shot her a look and she said, "Okay, then," heading away from both their wings, down a long hallway that led to some of the larger labs. "I'm sorry for almost running you down the other day."
"I am unharmed as you can see."
"Lucky for you. They should put up those little round mirrors that they used to have in the lower levels of Star Fleet Command. The ones that kept the supply hovers from taking out unwary pedestrians. Do you remember them?"
He nodded, slightly amused at the idea of the institute's maintenance staff installing such devices after a rash of injuries caused by Doctor Chapel being late for a briefing. He turned to look at her and saw that she was studying him as well. She looked away, taking a sip of coffee as if to hide her embarrassment at being caught.
"How are you settling in?" he asked.
"Oh, I can survive anywhere, Spock. Especially when it's just for a few more months. I just wish my place was warmer." She made a face and then laughed. "What about you? Do you like it here?" She held up a hand before he could answer. "I know, 'like' is an emotion."
"I have grown accustomed to the planet."
"And the endless snow and cold? But then you have the nice house with the warm lights." She grinned at him.
"I am fortunate in that."
"You don't know how much." She took another sip of her coffee. They came to the end of the hallway, with corridors branching off in either direction. She chose the left one.
"Do you know where you are going?"
She grinned again. "Does it matter if I don't?" When he did not follow her, she turned and said, "I have you with me. You won't let me get lost."
He raised an eyebrow. "And how do you know that?"
She seemed to consider it. "I just do." Then she smiled and he realized it was the smile she had worn when he saw her talking with the other officer in the hallway. "Come on. Or are you bored with me already?" Her expression held no rancor, just amusement at his reluctance. "Live on the edge."
"The edge of what?" he asked, even as he moved to follow her.
"I don't know." She shrugged. "I never really thought about it." They walked in silence for a moment, then she asked. "Is your tour up soon?"
He nodded. "Soon."
"What's on the horizon?"
"I am unsure." He still had not decided what he wanted to do next. Such indecisiveness was unusual for him.
She looked amazed. "Really? I would have figured you for a planner. Right down to what you're going to eat for breakfast this time next year."
"I generally eat the same thing."
"Well, there you go." She stopped to peer in the small window of a lab marked 'Off Limits.'
"Doctor," he said warningly.
She laughed. "Well, they shouldn't put a window in and then say it's off limits. It's like putting a 'Don't Touch' sign on something. Makes you just want to go right up and poke it." She saw his expression. "Makes me want to go right up and poke it, anyway."
"What was in the room?"
She laughed. "You tell me not to look, but you want to know what was in it?"
He nodded. "The knowledge, however ill-gained, is now yours. There is no logic in keeping it from me."
She laughed. "The damn thing was empty." She stopped at the end of the corridor, had to pick a direction, and chose left again. He realized she was taking them back to the junctions of their respective wings, and suspected she knew the layout of the institute better than she had let on. When they reached the turn for her wing, she said, "Well, this is my stop."
He felt a small frisson of regret. It had been a long time since he had enjoyed talking to another person. "Perhaps we could continue this discussion after the concert tonight. The symphony is performing 'The Four Seasons.' We could attend together."
"I'm already going with someone."
"Ah." He nodded. "Then I hope you enjoy your evening." He turned away.
"Maybe we could have lunch someday?"
He turned back. "I do not eat lunch."
Her smile was resigned. "Of course not." This time she turned to go.
"You could join me for dinner. At my house."
She grinned. "The one with the warm lights and the pretty plants?" At his nod, she said, "I'd like that."
"Tomorrow is good." She pointed down the hall. "I'm in C33."
"I will collect you at 1800."
She nodded, then with a last smile, turned and walked down the corridor. Illogically, he watched her until she disappeared into her office. Fortunately, she did not notice.
Christine looked up as Linda Johnston peeked into her office. "I'm finishing," she said before the other woman could get on her case for losing track of time.
"You better be. If you don't hurry it up, we'll be sitting with Carl."
"I don't think he'll be bothering me again." She thought of the way Spock had dismissed him and smiled. "Besides, I saw him hitting on that new lieutenant. The pretty Deltan one."
"All Deltans are pretty, Chris. And aren't they sworn to celibacy when they enter Star Fleet."
"You know that, and I know that, but I'm betting Carl doesn't."
Linda laughed. "Well, let's not tell him. It'll be fun to watch."
As they walked down the hall to the auditorium, they peeked into the cafeteria. The Deltan in question was busy fending off the eager Carl.
Linda laughed softly. "You gotta give him credit. What he lacks in character, he makes up for in consistency."
"You're right. And he's open about it. No secrets there."
"Speaking of secrets, what gives with you and Captain Spock?"
Christine immediately bristled, then saw that the other woman wasn't teasing her, was honestly curious. "Nothing gives. Why?"
"That man has been here a year and, apart from professional conversations, I have never seen him really talk to anyone. Yet, I saw you and him walking in the hall today, talking away. And he looked like he was enjoying the conversation. And so did you." Linda leaned in. "There are at least half a dozen people here that have horrible crushes on him, you know. They'd love to know your secret."
"I served with him,
Linda. Off and on for about six
years. On the
"God, under Kirk? I didn't realize you were a member of that club."
Christine laughed. "A peripheral member at best."
"I think it's a lifetime deal. And you sure didn't seem peripheral to Spock. At least not from where I was standing."
"Then you were standing in the wrong place," Christine said, as they found seats in the rear of the auditorium.
"But you're friends?"
Christine didn't know how to answer that. Fortunately the lights dimmed and saved her from having to come up with a response. But she found herself trying to answer the question anyway, as she settled in to enjoy the music. What was she doing? Hadn't she had enough of chasing after Spock to last a lifetime? Yet they seemed to be connecting, enjoying each other. And that could be good. Especially since she had no intention of chasing after him. She wasn't that woman anymore. She just wanted to be his friend.
She was still attracted to him. She thought she probably always would be. But, as Linda had said, she wasn't the only one. He was a compelling man. Attractive...as much for his disinterest as anything else. That old gothic hero, brooding and silent and mysterious. The one that always secretly fell hard and fast for the heroine. Except that's not how it ever really happened, and Christine knew that. If nothing else, she had grown up. She might find him attractive, but she wasn't going to go all gooey-eyed over him. If they became friends, that was fine.
And she was making too much of this, anyway. It was just dinner. She probably would be dreadfully uncomfortable and never want to repeat it.
The audience erupted in applause, surprising her. She had been woolgathering, had missed most of 'Spring.' It figured, she thought with a smile, she'd miss the best season of all. Why couldn't she have waited to drift off during 'Winter.' As 'Summer' started, she resolved to pay attention to the rest of the concert and resolutely put Spock out of her mind.
When the concert ended, Linda pointed down the aisle. "That's Commander Paul Burrows. He always goes to the pub after the concert. We could tag along, if you don't mind?"
"You like him?" Christine asked with a sly smile.
"Not for me, silly. I'm shipping out in a week, remember?"
Christine pouted. "I can't believe you're leaving."
"You'll be back on earth too before you know it. Now, check him out quick and tell me if you want to go."
Christine glanced down the aisle. The man in question was exactly her type. Hell, he was anyone's type...gorgeous, tall, built. She looked at Linda. "You're not with him?"
Her friend made a dismissive face. "I was, but it was a casual thing. You need that to pass the time around here. And he's a great guy. You'll see. I officially leave him to you."
"I don't know." Christine saw Burrows watching them. He really was appealing. "All right."
"Great." Linda got up quickly and hurried over to where he waited for them. She gave Burrows a quick kiss on the cheek, then introduced them, "Paul Burrows, this is Christine Chapel."
His dark eyes seemed to sparkle when he smiled, and Christine decided she liked the way the expression made the skin around his eyes crinkle into well-established lines. "Does this mean you're going to the pub?" he asked.
Linda shook her head, "Christine is. I've got an experiment that needs tending. See you guys. Have fun." She hurried off.
Burrows laughed. "Wow. That was subtle."
"I'm sorry. If you wanted to spend time with her...?"
He shook his head. "It's as if Linda's already back on Earth. I'm afraid she has no further use for me." He put on a wounded look, but his grin didn't fade. Christine realized that his relationship with her friend was indeed only a casual one.
"So this pub is good?" she asked.
"Well, it's good for Prevalus. I'm not sure that's saying much. You game?"
She nodded. As they walked to the entrance to trade their inside shoes for boots, she said, "Sometimes I wish I could just walk out the door, not have to stop for this nightly ritual."
"I know. But after a while, you won't even notice. It'll be second nature."
Outside didn't seem quite as cold as it usually did. "Is it my imagination or is it warmer?"
"Oh this is one of our balmy summer days, or didn't you realize?"
"This is as warm as it gets?"
He nodded, kicking an ice boulder off the path to the pub as he said, "It's never warm here, Christine. Once you accept that, you'll finally start to settle in." He led her into the building. It was very large, very noisy, and filled with scientists from the institute. She saw Carl and hoped he wouldn't see her. Fortunately, he was still working on the Deltan and didn't even look up as they found a table near the bar.
"What's your poison?" a waitress asked with a smile.
Burrows ordered an ale and Christine followed suit. She settled back in her chair.
Burrows leaned forward, his smile growing as he said, "So, Linda thinks we'll hit it off, I take it?"
"I guess so," Christine said, waiting for the server to set their drinks down before saying. "She likes me, she likes you, she's leaving...I think as far as she's concerned, it's simple math."
"Is that what you think it is?"
"Math wasn't my best subject," Christine joked. When he smiled, she said, "There was a time in my life when I used to think it was all that simple. That time has come and gone." She saw his smile fade a bit. "Sorry. I guess that's not what you want to hear."
"It's not that. It's just...it gets cold here at night. It's nice to have someone to hold." He laughed. "It's this place. I think once you've been here a while, you forget the preliminaries and just cut to the chase. I guess we've lost something?"
She reached out, touched his hand. "No. You're just honest about it. Nothing wrong with that." She took a sip of her ale. "I'll try to be honest too. My apartment is always cold and it would be nice to have someone to hold. But I'm afraid that it would be a complication I don't need."
"I'm not looking for complications." He smiled winningly. "Just some fun."
"But that's the thing. While I don't want a complication... I don't want just some fun either." She laughed softly. "Makes no sense, I know."
He captured her hand, caressed her palm with his thumb. "You want the fairy tale? The happy ending where you fall in love effortlessly and live happily ever after, complication free?"
She laughed. "Like that ever happens?" She pulled her hand away. "I'm not sure what I want. Isn't that sad?"
"Only a little. Sometimes it's good enough to know what you don't want." He leaned back, took a sip of his drink. Then he smiled wryly. "I remember when I first got here. I was appalled at how everyone acted. I couldn't believe that people here just seemed to fall in bed at the drop of a hat. Paired up with folks they didn't even seem to like just for the sex. My momma didn't raise me that way." He laughed.
"So what happened?"
"I woke up one day and realized that I felt disconnected from everything and everyone. And that I was very cold. Suddenly, holding onto a warm someone during the night seemed like a great idea."
"So you think I might get there too?"
"You're a short timer. I bet you can hold on to your ideals a while longer."
She shook her head. "I'm not sure I'd call them ideals. And it's not that I'm not tempted."
"I bet you say that to all the guys," he said with a laugh.
"No, just the charming ones." Christine didn't want to admit it to herself but she was finding him more tempting with every moment that went by.
He drained his glass. "Okay, it's late and I'm going to call it a night. Last call for cuddling up and holding on tight?" His smile was gentle, with much interest and very little pressure.
She thought of her apartment. It would be so cold. And he was so attractive. It didn't have to mean anything more than staying warm, staying human. It didn't have to be anything heavy. Why couldn't she just be light, be casual? It should be so easy, and it used to be easy for her. But it wasn't now. She shook her head. "I'm a great big fool. And I'm going to have to say no."
He nodded. "I knew you would. But I had to try." He walked her to the door and out to the path. "You need an escort?" he asked gently.
"I can find my way home. Get inside. Stay warm."
He leaned down, kissed her gently. "Not as warm as I could have been. I'm going to ask you again, if I get the chance. And hopefully the next time, you'll say yes."
"You never know," she said, as she turned to go. She walked down the path slowly, wondering why she didn't turn around and tell him she'd changed her mind. But she didn't. She thought of Spock and hoped to god she wasn't doing this because of him. She almost ran back to Burrows just at the fear that she might be getting sucked into feelings for Spock that were neither healthy nor realistic. But that wouldn't be fair to Burrows, and he seemed like a nice guy. She kept on walking.
Her apartment felt even colder than normal that night.
Spock crossed the main hallway and headed down the wing to Doctor Chapel's office. He buzzed at her office but no one answered.
"She's in the lab. I expect her back at any moment."
Spock turned, saw the woman that Doctor Chapel had been sitting with at the concert watching him intently.
"I'm Commander Johnston."
"A pleasure," he said, feeling slightly uncomfortable at her scrutiny.
"Was she expecting you?"
"Yes." He saw a slight smile appear on
Doctor Chapel smiled at him. "Sorry. I got hung up at the lab."
"I have not been waiting long."
"And I kept him
"That's great. You can go now, Linda," Doctor Chapel said, as she palmed open her office door. "I'll just be a minute, I have to grab my things," she said to him, disappearing inside.
"We served together."
"Yes. On the
He could not tell why she was asking, decided to prevaricate. "We were friends."
"Yeah. That's what Chris says. Funny, you're no better a liar than she
He nodded. "I do not have much time left in my appointment."
"I'll be happy if I never see snow again. Does it snow on Vulcan?"
"No." His first few weeks on Prevalus, Spock had thought he would never warm up. "There was an adjustment period when I first arrived here. But I find I have grown accustomed to the routine."
She smiled. "Me too." Doctor Chapel's door opened and
Doctor Chapel laughed as she walked with Spock to the exit. "Like she minds...she can't wait to get off this frozen rock."
"She does appear pleased to be leaving."
"Well, aren't you?"
He was not sure if he was. "I do not have my orders yet. There is no point in anticipating my departure until it is more definite."
She chuckled. "Anticipation is what makes life so fun."
"Fun, Doctor Chapel?" He raised his eyebrow, let it finish the thought for him.
She held up a hand. "My mistake. Of course you don't care about that." She was silent for a moment, then said softly. "And for god's sake, call me Christine. I think we've gotten past this Doctor Chapel routine, don't you?"
He looked at her, ready to correct her need for informality, seeing in it the signs of her earlier infatuation. But her expression was amused not hurt or wistful. She shook her head when she realized he was staring at her. "Lighten up, Spock." Then she grinned at him, an infectious, open expression that reminded him of the way Kirk and McCoy used to tease him.
"Christine," he said deliberately, trying it out. Christine, he mentally recategorized her. It felt odd to call her by her name. But she was right. They had moved beyond titles. "Christine," he said more confidently.
"See, that didn't hurt at all." She pulled on her boots and coat, making much shorter work of it than the last time they had left together.
"You are settling in," he said, nodding at her boots.
"If this is how you define that, then I guess so. I had an interesting discussion about that yesterday. I think that it's easy to fall into patterns here. Do things faster than you might otherwise."
He had seen her leave the concert with Commander Burrows, wondered if she was referring to something she had done with him. Then he dismissed the thought as none of his business. "I have not noticed any such tendencies on my part."
She laughed out loud at that. "Spock, wake the hell up. We're having dinner. You and I. Together. And you suggested it. You don't think that's just a bit odd?"
He didn't answer. Primarily because he realized she was right.
"This place makes a person feel so isolated. Even you aren't immune, I think." She turned into his walkway. "I know I feel it, and I have the comfort of knowing that I'm going to leave in a short while. How much worse does it get when you are stuck here for an extended period of time?" She waited for him to open the door.
He palmed the lock. "It is, as you say, an isolated existence. The extreme climate does seem to accentuate that." He pulled off his boots. "But I believe there is a slight chance I would have extended a dinner invitation to you were we on a different planet."
She shook her head. "I doubt it. But we've no way to prove it true or false, so I guess logic says to let it go?"
He nodded, watched as she reached into the closet, found the slippers she had worn the other night. Then she reached into the bag she had brought from her office, pulled out a bottle of wine. "I'm not sure if it's good. Or even if you drink wine?"
"I find it pleasant with a meal." He took the bottle from her, walked into the kitchen. "If you would like, you can sit in the garden room while I prepare our food."
"As nice as that room is, sitting in there all by myself sounds a little dull." She leaned up against one of the counters. "I'd rather stay here and help."
He glanced at her, saw that she was serious. He tried to think of the most efficient way to utilize her assistance. "Perhaps a salad?"
"You've got it." She began to dig around his chiller, pulling things out seemingly as the whim struck her. At his tentative look, she grinned. "Hey, it wouldn't be in your chiller if you didn't like it, right?"
He had to admit her logic was sound. Relaxing, he said, "Those vegetables are for the main dish."
She handed over what he needed, foraged a bit more in the chiller until she was satisfied. He watched her work for a moment, then turned back to his own task. "I have not asked you how your work is coming."
"Not exactly my
work. I'm just trying to figure out what
"Except that you will leave more precise notes," he offered.
"Unless I go crazy
and--" he could tell she had turned to look at him "--what did
Spock turned to look at
her. "It has been my impression
that humans and other more convivial species do seem to seek each other out
here with what I first viewed as an alarming rapidity and lack of selectivity. But over time, I have come to see that this
reaching out prevents them from becoming isolated, detached. Unbalanced." He took a breath. "
"He hurt someone?"
Spock nodded. Then he turned away. "This is not a pleasant conversation before a meal, Christine." It was getting easier to say her name.
"No, I guess not." She sighed. "Maybe I should just forget about his research and start some projects that I've been wanting to pursue."
"I think that is wise." He set the vegetables he had cut on the stove to cook and opened the wine. He saw it was a Vulcan red. "You found this here?" he asked in surprise.
She nodded. "The pub had some stuck away. I hope it's a good one. I'm not really up on my Vulcan varietals."
"It is grown in a province far from my own, but it is reputed to be quite good."
"And reputation is everything," she said lightly. Her voice was more bitter when she followed it with, "I found that out the hard way. It's hard to live some things down."
"On the ship, you mean?"
She nodded. "Even when I came back as a doctor, my
friends would still tease me about you."
She shook her head. "Like I
hadn't just spent years earning a degree...making a new life for myself. They acted like I came back to the
"My return to the ship was unanticipated."
"Exactly. I figured that was the last place you would turn up. And all my friends were there." She grabbed some plates from a cabinet. "This table?" She nodded toward the small round table that sat in a corner of the kitchen. "Or is there a dining room?"
"There is. Choose whichever location appeals to you." He saw her begin to set the table in the kitchen and was relieved. The dining room was large and formal, made for entertaining. He would never admit it to her, but he found it daunting to eat there, easy to be dwarfed by the scale of the room, the length of empty table stretching before him.
She finished and came to
stand next to him. "I always felt as
if no matter how good a doctor I was on the
He looked over at her. "I must confess, when I did think of you, it would have been in those less positive terms." He realized what he had said was harsh, wondered if he should attempt to soften the statement.
But she smiled, a gentle smile. If he had hurt her feelings, she was covering it well. "See. At least you're honest about it." She took the wine, carried it to the table.
"I do not think of you that way any longer," he offered into the silence that had fallen between them.
"I know." Then she laughed. "For what it's worth, I don't think of myself that way anymore either."
He indicated she should sit, dished up the stir fry, and carried it to the table. They ate in an easy silence, anticipating what the other needed and passing it before it had to be asked for. When they finished, he took the wine with them to the garden room. Christine settled into one of the chairs, tucking her feet beneath her.
"It has been my experience that most humans are uncomfortable with a silent meal." He poured more wine for her then sat back.
"My father and I used to hike in the desert a lot. There was a monastery that he liked to visit in the foothills. We would hike all morning and arrive there for lunch. They ate in silence. My father said it was an act of 'consciousness' to be able to anticipate the needs of others without being told. It was a game when I was younger, as I grew older, I think it began to shape some part of who I became."
"Certainly in nursing. You did seem unusually empathic when it came to the needs of your patient."
She laughed. "And god knows you were in sickbay enough to know. Although you might have gotten a bit more attention than the other patients..." Her smile was softly teasing. "But it wasn't empathy. It was just a factor of how much I observed and chose to see. Most people miss what's going on around them because they aren't paying attention."
He considered that. "I think that is one of the things that made Jim such an excellent officer. He did see what was going on. Consciously chose to see it."
She smiled. "And let you know he saw it. If you were hurting, he could tell. And he'd give you that gentle smile or a soft squeeze to the shoulder, and you knew that you weren't alone. It was an amazing feeling. Just knowing that he cared." She smiled again, the fondness she felt for their captain evident in her expression. "It must have been something to have been his friend?"
Spock felt something tighten in his chest. Since Jim had died, he had not spoken of him at any length. Not even with a concerned McCoy. But now...now he felt like talking about his friend. "I did not have much experience with friendship before I met the captain. I understood loyalty and admiration and even camaraderie, had learned much of each of those from serving with Captain Pike, but I had never known true friendship. Jim gave me that. Pulled me into his private circle and showed me what it was to be accepted."
He nodded. Talking about this with her was not as painful as he expected. "As a Vulcan, I was raised to value efficiency and respect for duty and obligation. Yet it was only once I was privy to his friendship, once I began to understand the nature of such relationships, that I became an effective first officer. I was finally able to comprehend some of the nuances in the crew's relationships."
She nodded. "And they will find a way to tangle them. Friendships, overlayed with romances and professional rivalries. It can be a mess. I found that out when I was running emergency ops. To be honest, that was when I started to distance myself. I couldn't afford to be the one everyone came to with complaints about their personal life. I needed to be the boss." She set down her wine. "Funny, you became a better leader by opening up; I did it by shutting down."
He allowed himself a small half-smile. "As we are on opposite sides of the spectrum, it was simply a case of seeking equilibrium. The middle."
She leaned back, a challenging look on her face. "That's old think, Spock. That equilibrium is when the scales come to rest in the middle. Systems are much more complex than that, much more chaotic. Equilibrium may not be balanced at all."
"True. But systems are notoriously hard to observe. If you pick one or two elements, you will again find yourself in the position to observe balance as traditionally defined."
"And by choosing to observe...."
"Yes, I know. You change the outcome merely by observing it." He leaned forward, surprised at her enjoyment of a conversation like this, and then slightly embarrassed at how he had just judged her. "And I also recognize that to pull two elements out of their system would be to cease to measure the system at all."
"The butterfly in the Amazon
would never be considered if you were only looking at the storms in
"And who is to say that
the storms in
She laughed. "The old conundrum. What came first, the ke'kranya or the teklith?"
"You speak Vulcan?"
She grinned, a self-deprecating expression. "Once upon a time I studied it. When I thought it might impress this guy I liked. It didn't."
"I do not think he ever realized that you spoke it."
"Oh, I don't speak it. I just know a few words. Fewer now. But some never leave you." She looked down, and he realized she was blushing. "I may have had a one track mind, back then." She looked up, embarrassment turned to teasing. "Vulcan has remarkably few words for some things."
He did not rise to the bait. "Which perhaps explains why you learned the words for chicken and egg?"
She laughed. "I knew all the major food dishes--Vulcan and Terran. Something a good wife needed to know if she was going to survive in both worlds." She shook her head, as if at her own folly. "It's so pathetic to me now, how I behaved. I'm surprised I can even talk about it. I don't think I could if I didn't know how far from that woman I've come."
"You do seem different." He studied her. "Do you no longer wish to marry?"
"We are not discussing my desires."
"I didn't know you had any, Spock." Her smile was very wicked. "Feel free to expand on that."
He tried to look stern. "I think not. And you are evading the question."
She seemed to think about that. "I don't think I do. I guess it would depend on the circumstances. But I'd probably have to be convinced." She saw his puzzled expression and grinned. "Which is not to say I wouldn't like to fall in love, find someone that I enjoy spending time with. But those silly expectations I had about love and marriage and the happy ending are gone." Then she frowned.
"What is it?"
She seemed lost in thought for a moment. Then she looked up, her eyes still very far away. "I can't remember when I first became interested in things like that. Growing up I was the original tomboy. Followed my dad everywhere. Was always getting into trouble, for leading my friends--mostly boys--into trouble." She laughed. "The girl in the desert with Pinyon sap under her nails and a garter snake wrapped around her arm would not be impressed with me."
He found the image evocative, imagined her growing up, tough and a troublemaker. Wild. "Perhaps not as you were, but I think she would admire you now."
"That's a nice thing to say." She shook her head. "But I'm not sure she'd even like the new me. All she ever wanted to do was explore the desert, never be fenced in."
"I too ran free in the desert when I was young."
"Did you catch snakes?"
"The snakes on Vulcan are quite toxic."
She laughed. "Oh, so were most of the ones in my desert. You should see the Mojave Rattlesnake, those buggers are mean as sin. And all over the place. It was more of a challenge finding a snake that wasn't deadly." She shook her head. "I remember the first time I tried to bring one of my garter snakes in the house. My mother had a fit."
He remembered a similar incident with Amanda, when he had tried to bring in the container of desert spiders he had collected on one of his walks.
She looked lost in the past. "When do we lose that wonder? That sense of all things being natural. I can't imagine searching out a snake now."
Nor could he imagine collecting poisonous spiders and leaving them near his bed. "I do not know. Perhaps it is the adults that leech it from us as they infuse us with a sense of responsibility." He frowned slightly, surprised that he would say something so whimsical.
"Perhaps." She untucked her feet, rose slowly. "Since there are no adults here and it is a school night--" she grinned at him "--I'm going to have to embrace responsibility and say goodnight."
He rose too, walking her to the door and finding he was sorry that she was leaving already, even if it was late. "Perhaps we could do this again?"
"I'd like that." She pulled on her boots, took her coat from him. "Thank you. I enjoyed the evening."
"As did I, Christine."
As she walked out into the night, he realized that using her name was getting easier with each passing interaction.
Christine was just returning from the lab when she saw Spock heading down the hall away from her office. "Captain Spock," she called out.
He turned and she thought he looked pleased at seeing her. Finding him in her hallway was becoming a normal occurrence. Since their dinner together, he had come by often. At first it had been to invite her over for another meal, then a few days later he had appeared and had tentatively suggested a walk in the hallways. The visits had become more frequent, and she had even stopped by his office a few times, and he had stopped his work to talk to her, or had risen to walk off some energy with her. She marveled at how she was beginning to take for granted that she would see him every day.
"What's up?" She gestured for him to enter her office.
"The symphony is tonight. Are you going?"
"I'd planned to. You want to go together?"
She marveled again at how comfortable he was with her question, simply nodding and saying, "Unless you've made other plans."
"You're in luck. I happen to be free."
"Then I shall meet you there." He walked to the door. "Unless you would like to eat before?"
"I like to eat just about any time, Spock."
He graced her with the half-smile that used to be a rare occurrence, but now seemed far more frequent.
She grinned. "You mean in the mess hall? I've never seen you in there, Spock."
"I eat there occasionally. And it would not be logical to leave the compound when the symphony plays on site."
"Then the cafeteria it is. I'll meet you there at 1800." She walked him to the door, saw the techs coming down the hall with a cart. "Linda ships out today. Her shuttle leaves in an hour."
"You will miss her."
It was not a question, so she just nodded. She would miss her friend, but she was glad that she had this burgeoning friendship with Spock to help fill the void.
As Spock walked away, Linda came out of her office, a smug grin on her face. "Okay, it's my last day. You have to tell me what's going on."
"Nothing is going on. We're just--"
"--Friends. I know. I have to tell you, Chris, I think he's interested in you. And I'm not the only one. His admirers are all sad. And there is one young lady over in Spock's section that is positively mournful since you arrived on Prevalus."
"He's not interested in me, Linda."
"He invites you over to his house for dinner all the time. His big, rambling house."
"It's actually quite cozy."
"I bet." Linda's grin was unbearably smug. "He walks the halls with you."
"The Prevalus method of courtship? Give me a break! You can't be unaware of what a time-honored ritual that is? Do you stop at the cafeteria for him to buy you a coffee, too?"
"Sometimes. But Linda, you're making too much of this." Christine knew that there had been a time when she would have made too much of it as well. Would have spent far too much time obsessing over what it all meant. Thank god those days were over. "We're friends. That's it."
"You're really not going to tell me, are you?"
"I'm telling you everything there is to know."
Linda nodded, her expression one of mock hurt. "Okay, fine. Be that way." She glanced at Christine's chrono. "Crap, I've got to get moving. I'll miss you, Chapel. You were a bright spot on this icy ball of boredom." She gave Christine a quick hug.
"I'll miss you, Linda." Christine said, turning back into her office resolutely as her friend pulled away. She'd seen too many friends leave, knew better than to torture herself with watching them walk away. Besides, she'd see Linda again soon, when she shipped back.
As Christine ignored the
techs that came to touch up Linda's office for the next occupant, she worked on
Before she was really ready to wrap up for the day, it was time to meet Spock. She hurried to the cafeteria, where he was already waiting, and they passed a silent but pleasant meal, making it to the auditorium in time to find some decent seats. Christine noticed a young woman that had been sitting near them in the cafeteria take a seat not far from them for the concert. Christine smiled at her but the other woman turned away as if she hadn't seen.
"What are they playing tonight?" she asked Spock. He looked down at the program in her hand and she laughed. "You expect me to look for myself when I know you've already committed the entire thing to memory?"
His lips turned up slightly. "In the future, I will tell them to save their program when they try to give you one."
"So? At his look of confusion, she repeated, "What are they playing tonight?"
She made a face, then stopped herself, knowing she was in the minority on not much liking the composer. Spock shot her a look and she said, "Overrated."
"Why do you say so?"
She grinned. "If you expect me to be logical, you are so off base. And I don't know enough about music to give you any technical reasons. He just doesn't move me the way some others do."
"You are right, that is not logical. But in any art the effect on those that observe, or in this case listen to, the piece must be taken into account when judging the success of the artist."
"Yeah, but if I'm the only one..."
"You are not. He is not one of my favorites either."
She treated him to her version of his eyebrow lift. "If you don't like him and I don't like him, and the symphony isn't that good to begin with, why are we here?"
His eyes were gentle. "It is an excuse to spend time together."
She found it hard to look away. "Do we need an excuse?"
He looked away then. "I believe we are rapidly approaching the point where we do not."
As the lights went down she whispered, "And how will you know when we've arrived?"
"I am unsure. But it will no doubt lack any logic whatsoever. Friendship is like that, in my experience."
She grinned. Friendship. She liked the sound of that. She was in such a good mood that she found the Mozart enjoyable, even inspiring at times. When the concert finished, she and Spock walked slowly back to town, enjoying the night and each other. His walkway appeared before she was ready to call it a night and she could tell that Spock wasn't ready for their evening to end either. He suggested that he make them tea, and Christine was about to accept when she caught a glimpse out of the corner of her eye of someone watching them from across the road.
"I'm going to have to beg off tonight, Spock. I'm more tired than I realized."
"I will see you tomorrow."
She liked how it was no longer a question. "Count on it. Sleep well." She waited for him to turn up the walk, then headed down the street, not doubling back until she heard his door open and close. She clomped deliberately through the snow. She wanted the person she had seen to hear her coming. As she neared the tall gatepost that she thought the person had ducked behind, she said, "I know you're there."
The young woman from the cafeteria and the concert stepped out. She had a defiant look on her face, as if daring Christine to confront her.
Christine didn't disappoint her. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"None of your business." The woman glared at Christine as if she were a lower lifeform.
"Ah. You work with Spock, don't you?" At the woman's nod, Christine said, "And you were following him. And watching us."
"Don't start with me, Commander. It's a free country and I can stand where I want."
Christine laughed. "It's a planet not a country. A planet with one dinky outpost. I don't think there is a political system here. And, more importantly, I don't care if there is. All I know is that it's a damn cold planet. Come on. I'm going to buy you a drink."
The woman looked taken aback. Clearly she had not been expecting this approach. "You're not mad at me?"
"Honey, how can I be mad at you? I was you. I bet your friends make fun of you for this little crush you have on Spock, and you know they don't understand you or how he makes you feel." When the woman looked down, Christine knew she had hit the mark. "But I also bet that Spock, apart from a few isolated work interactions, doesn't even know you're alive."
The woman's face tightened. "You can't possibly understand how I feel. Look at you, laughing and happy around him. You're obviously someone he's close to."
"Uh huh. And it took decades to get to that point. And a lot of wasted time over those years. You don't need that." Christine pulled the woman out onto the road and dragged her gently but inexorably away from Spock's house.
"Why are you doing this?" the woman asked, as she quit pulling back and started walking more naturally next to Christine.
"Because a long time ago someone should have taken me to the pub. On symphony night." She grinned evilly to herself.
"But I don't like the pub."
"And you do like standing alone in the snow watching a man that you can never have and who doesn't even know you exist?"
The woman didn't have much of a comeback. "It's the way he makes me feel."
"No. He's not doing anything. It's the way _you_ make you feel when you think about him. It has absolutely nothing to do with him. Trust me on this. I'm an expert." She saw the pub lights shining on the snow, turned in and made sure the woman wasn't about to ditch her.
But she seemed to be thinking about what Christine had just said. When she finally looked up, she held out her hand. "I'm Alase Miller, Commander Chapel. Civilian staff."
"Call me Christine. And it's nice to meet you, Alase."
The pub was crowded and most of the seats were taken. Alase shrank back, muttering, "It's always so noisy in here."
"That's because there are people here. People. Those things you don't hang out with much, I bet." She found the person she was looking for and turned to the bartender. "Give this young lady whatever drink she wants, Bailly. On my tab, okay."
"You've got it."
She turned to the woman. "Just stay here for a moment. I think I see a table that's opening up." Before Alase could protest, Christine hurried into the crowd until she got to the table where Burrows sat with an older woman.
He looked up, smiled at her. "Christine."
"Paul." She stepped past him, leaning down and whispering in the woman's ear, "I know this is going to be very rude, but I'm having a bit of an emergency. If you don't intend to go home with him tonight, could you clear out?"
The woman laughed. "An emergency, huh?" She stood up. "I was just leaving."
Burrows looked up at Christine, his smile widening. "Does that mean what I think it means."
"Not really." She turned his head to the bar. "See the pretty woman, dark blonde hair, looks massively uncomfortable?"
"She your type?" At his surprised look, she said, "She's isolated. But seems nice. And I think she could use a friend. Or maybe more. You might like her, she might like you, why not have a drink and see what happens?"
"When did you become a matchmaker?"
"When Linda left the planet," Christine said with a laugh. "Can I bring her over?"
He looked over at the bar again. Alase was scanning the crowd, trying to find Christine. When she saw her, she waved in what looked primarily like relief.
Christine waved back, then said to Burrows, "Her smile lights up her whole face, don't you think, Paul?"
Burrows nodded, his own smile showing good-natured defeat. "Bring her over."
Christine leaned down, kissed his cheek. "You're a prince."
She fought her way across the pub, took Alase by the hand and led her to Burrow's table. "Paul Burrows meet Alase Miller."
Alase looked at her in alarm. "There's only one free chair?"
"That's because I'm not staying." She put Alase's hand on top of Burrow's. "Feel that? It's skin. Real, living skin. Much better than any fantasy. Much warmer in the middle of the night. Much more comforting when you're feeling abandoned in the middle of a crowded bar." She pushed the woman toward the chair. "Talk. Connect. It's what people do." She smiled gently. "Don't let me see you skulking around that house again, you got it?"
The woman looked down. "I wanted to hate you."
"I know." She took a deep breath. "Okay, kids, I'm going to leave you alone. Try to have fun." She winked at Burrows as she walked away.
He winked back, and Alase didn't look like she was going to bolt. Christine took both as good signs.
She went to bed alone, momentarily envying Alase the warm hands and real living skin that Christine had just given up. Then she remembered the way Spock had spoken of their friendship. It was worth sleeping alone to get to know him better, to finally connect with him in a way that mattered. To see him open up to her.
She knew that someday soon one of them would leave Prevalus and then she would have to move on. But for now, she'd just enjoy getting to know Spock.
Spock saw Christine walking down the hall, was about to increase his pace to catch up with her when Commander Burrows stopped her to talk. The man seemed animated and happy to see Christine, appeared to be teasing her about something, his hand touching hers often. Then he leaned down and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, a move that caused Spock to clench his fists, although it took him a moment to realize he had done so. He uncurled his fingers, stared at them for a moment.
"Spock?" Christine had seen him and was coming down the hall. "Were you looking for me?"
He nodded, dropped the hand he'd been studying to his side. "I did not mean to intrude."
"On Paul and me? It wouldn't have been an intrusion, Spock." She gave him an odd look when he did not answer.
"I did not realize you were seeing him." Spock wondered why he had just said that.
"I'm not seeing him. In fact, I set him up with someone else." She gestured for them to walk, looked at him appraisingly. "Are you sure you're feeling all right?"
"I am fine." He assessed that statement, decided he did feel all right. But the crowd seemed to be pressing in on them and he suddenly wanted to be alone with Christine, somewhere they could talk. He led her to the lift at the end of the hall.
"Where are we going?" she asked as she followed him into the lift.
"Prototype lab," he said softly.
"Why?" When he didn't answer, she said,
"Spock? You're not pulling a
He turned to look at her, one eyebrow rising. "I merely wanted to find a place where it was quieter. If you object, Doctor, then we shall go somewhere else."
"If you wanted privacy, what was wrong with my office? Or yours?"
Her question was sound. He was not sure why he had wanted out of the busy hallway. Why he had suddenly felt exposed, threatened. He assessed his state of mind. Was he behaving strangely?
"I was kidding about
He jerked his arm away from her touch, saw the hurt look on her face and felt remorse, then frustration at his regret. "Christine, this was a mistake. Perhaps dinner. A more relaxed conversation." He punched the button for the lift. "Will you come over tonight?" The last came out almost as a plea.
She looked very confused. "Of course. Why wouldn't I?"
He hurried into the lift, did not look at her as they rode it back to the main level. "I believe I am distracted."
"That's not like you."
He did not argue with her. "I believe I am...not myself." He let his eyebrow rise, gave her the half smile that he knew she liked. "Antsy, is I think the human term. Perhaps I am ready to leave this planet?" Her face fell, and he realized that she had taken the comment personally. "I did not mean..." He trailed off, unable to continue.
What was wrong with him?
"It's okay. I'll see you later." She hurried into her office.
He turned away, walked back to his own office. He had an intense urge to turn around, to try to explain to her. To apologize. He realized that he wanted to see her again...that he wanted to touch her. He thought of how Burrows had touched her and his fists clenched again. A wave of possessive jealousy ran through him. He slowly forced his hands to unclench, to hang at his side as he walked the hallways, nodding to his colleagues, careful to show that nothing was wrong. As soon as he got to his office, he called up the shuttle schedule, checked the departures. He could make it home. But he was not sure it would be in time. And if he was late in arriving, he would be in no condition to risk a crowded shuttle. He steepled his fingers, tried to identify his options.
The door chimed. "Come," he said, fighting to hide the irritation he felt at the interruption.
"Captain Spock?" It was Miller, the young woman that occasionally assisted him in the lab.
"What can I do for you?"
She looked down at him and he saw a flash of something in her eyes, realized that he had seen it before when he interacted with her. He felt a surge of aggravation with her, then with himself for not having realized that she was suffering from the same infatuation Christine used to have for him.
Christine...his mind veered off track and he dug his fingers into his palm to force his attention back on the other woman. "Did you have a question, Ms. Miller?" His voice did not have its usual evenness, he noted. He sounded peevish.
"It can wait, sir." She took a step back. "Perhaps tomorrow."
He nodded, turned back to the terminal, dismissing her and barely noticing as she left the office. Suddenly agitated, he got up to pace. He found that activity did not allay his nerves, so he turned off the monitor and strode out of his office. The corridors of the hallway seemed even more crowded as he hurried to the exit, pulling on his boots and coat and leaving as quickly as he could. He had to relax. He needed to calm down and think this through logically.
He needed to meditate. He had options. He had to determine which was the right one.
Christine, some primal part of him suggested. He wanted Christine.
Spock picked up his pace, desperate to get inside his house. Where it was safe.
He must meditate. The Pon Farr was early this time. Perhaps it could be held off. If he didn't give in to it.
If he didn't give in to her.
Some other part of him protested. She was his friend now. He knew she would help him as soon as she realized what was wrong. He knew she would do it willingly.
And he wanted her to.
No! He ordered himself to not think of her. Their friendship was new, fragile. And she was human. She would be at risk, in danger. He would not do that to her.
He would call his father...later, when he was sure that Sarek would be at home and alone. He would call him. His family had fast ships at their disposal. One could be sent for him. Carrying a willing helper if necessary. He could take leave, say it was for consultations. Be gone and back and Christine would be none the wiser. Their friendship could continue to grow as it was meant to. Slowly. Perhaps into something more. Perhaps not. But if it did become more, as he was beginning to hope, it would not be because of this. This biological millstone.
Yes, that is what he would do. He would call Sarek later. But until then, he would meditate. He had to meditate.
He sat down, tried to calm his mind. It took him a long time to find any kind of peace.
Christine stood at the door uncertainly. Spock had behaved so strangely earlier in the day. He had been distracted, and had almost seemed annoyed with her. Maybe he was tired of spending time with her? Maybe the two of them needed a break? They had been together a lot since that first dinner. Perhaps it was time for her to give Spock some time alone.
She almost turned around, but the thought of going back to her cold apartment and trying to coax some warmth out of the unreliable heating system was not something she wanted to contemplate. Not when the warmth that she knew lay inside was beckoning.
She rang the chime and waited, feeling increasingly foolish as the door remained closed. She was turning to go, when she heard it hiss open.
Spock stared at her, as if unsure why she was there. As if unhappy that she was there. "I was meditating," he said in a distant voice.
She could feel her face go red. She started to back away. "I'm sorry, I'm bothering you."
"Why are you here?" he said roughly, stepping onto the porch.
"You asked me over. For dinner?" She hated how tentative her voice
sounded. Hated how she felt as if she'd
been catapulted back to those days on the
"Dinner." His voice was gentler. "I...forgot."
The admission seemed fraught with significance, and she studied him, trying to figure out what he was saying. "It's not important. I can go." She turned, ready to hurry away.
"Christine." He stepped into the snow, seemingly unaware that he was not wearing any shoes. "Do not go. I have been most discourteous."
She looked down. "Your feet..."
He followed her gaze. An eyebrow went up as he took a ragged breath. Then he looked at her. "It is cold."
"Are you feeling all right?"
The look on his face was the closest she had seen to a smile since that time in sickbay after his botched wedding, except that this was a bitter expression. Very bitter. "I am fine." Then he turned and walked to the door. "Come in, Christine," he called, not looking back to see if she followed.
Warm heat blasted out at her and she found herself drawn into the house both by the need to get warm and the desire to find out what was wrong with Spock. As the door closed behind her, she pushed back her hood and stood still, letting her chilled skin begin to warm.
"Your coat," Spock said softly, watching her as she shrugged the light fabric off, then turning to hang it up as she removed her boots and gloves. He took the gloves from her, putting them in the pocket of her coat. "Come."
Again he did not wait for her, just padded down the hall to the garden room, leaving wet footprints on the tile floor. She slipped into the slippers that were still at the door from her last visit, then went to join him.
He was standing on the far side of the room. "Please sit." He gestured to a chair near her, far away from him.
"And you're going to stay there?" She frowned as he nodded curtly.
He was staring at her intently. His eyes seemed to bore into her. A sinking feeling filled her as she realized that his behavior might have more significance than she had realized. As he moved away, put even more distance between them, she felt desperate to inject some lightness into the room. She laughed slightly, then asked, "Is it my breath?"
He looked up suddenly.
"It's not my breath," she said as she moved toward him. "Is it?" She saw him start to back away and said, "Don't. Don't do that. We're friends now. You said so yourself. We're past this kind of behavior." She stopped in front of him, careful not to touch him. "How much time do you have?"
He looked away from her.
"A week. Perhaps less." For a moment, his eyes raked over her, then he turned away abruptly. "I am afraid that I am not in a position to offer you dinner tonight, Doctor. Now that you know, you must see the necessity of my making plans. It is unpardonably rude of me, but I must ask you to leave."
"We're friends, Spock."
"Yes, Christine. We are. And you owe me nothing. Nothing. Do you understand?" He waited for her to nod, before asking, "You will show yourself out?" Then he left the room without waiting for her to answer.
She stood in the silent space, feeling the hot lamps warm her as Spock's words echoed in her ears. He was right. She owed him nothing. Just as he owed her nothing. She wasn't the same woman that had chased him. And he wasn't the same man that had ignored her whenever possible. He was her friend now.
And if he couldn't get to Vulcan in time to mate, he would die.
She couldn't let that happen. If she helped him, there would be no need for him to leave, to risk not arriving in time. Or to risk having whatever relief could be sent to him from Vulcan arrive on Prevalus in time.
She sat down slowly in the closest chair. She couldn't let him die. And she didn't want him to go to someone else, some Vulcan stranger that was probably schooled in all the ways to help a male through the Pon Farr and would care nothing for him. She couldn't bear the thought of that. Not now, not when they were finally forming a relationship that was real. That was enjoyable and warm and better than anything she'd ever imagined. She sensed rather than saw him at the doorway. "I can't leave."
"If you stay..."
"If I don't, you'll die."
"There are alternatives."
"What? You have someone on the side?"
He did not react to her humor. "There are women that can help, it is what they do--"
"--That's not what I asked." She stood up angrily. "Tell me there is someone you want, that you burn for, and I'll go away."
He seemed about to speak, then he just shook his head in a defeated way.
She felt profound relief, chose not to analyze that. "Okay. So these other women that would help you...they are on Vulcan?"
"Would you get there in time? Would they get here in time?"
"I do not know."
"Guess, dammit." When he looked down, she laughed bitterly. "Look, unless you or one of these women find a very fast ship, you're stuck with me. Because I'm not seeing any other alternatives, Spock. Mate or die, isn't that how it goes?"
He walked into the room, took the chair next to her. "In the crudest terms, yes."
"Oh, those aren't the crudest terms I could have used," she said softly.
"And for that I suppose I should be grateful." His voice lacked its usual acerbity. "My father may have access to a ship...he could send one of the women." He looked up at her. "This does not have to involve you."
"But what if she doesn't make it in time? Is that logical, to risk your life when there's someone within easy reach that will willingly help you?" She took a deep breath, forged on. "I can't let you die. I can't risk it. These last few months...getting to know you. I don't want to lose that. Don't want to lose your friendship...or you."
He sighed. "I too have enjoyed the time we have spent together. But do you realize, Christine, that if we do this, we may lose that friendship in any case? You do not understand the Pon Farr. The priestesses are Vulcans, strong and trained to deal with a male deep in the burning. But you do not know what it will do to me. What I might do to you."
She didn't look away. "No, I don't. But I'm willing to learn."
"Christine." The look he gave her was one of defeat. She tried to read more in it. Interest, desire. But all she saw was his resignation.
She held out her hand. "I'm ready."
His lips turned up, the barest motion, but one of amusement. "I, however, am not. I said that I had a week."
"Maybe less," she filled in the rest.
"Yes, maybe less. But enough time to enjoy dinner with you. Perhaps several." His voice was very gentle and she realized that he had accepted her decision.
"You're not going to fight me?"
He shot her a slightly perplexed look. "Would it be effective? Would it change your mind?" He didn't wait for her to answer. "I have grown to know you, understand your character. Your deeply caring nature. And, I think, even deeper stubbornness." He ignored her raised eyebrows. "It would be a waste of resources to attempt to convince you to do other than you have decided." He rose. "Would you care for wine?"
She laughed then at his determined acceptance. Again he gave her the small gentle smile.
"Yes, I'll have wine." She followed him into the kitchen. "Can I help?"
"You generally do."
"I know what you meant, Christine." He did not look up from the wine bottle, but his voice was amused as he said, "I will not lose control if you come near me."
"You're sure?" She hoped her voice didn't sound too disappointed. She wondered if he even found her attractive. When he did make love to her, would the desire he felt only be because of the Pon Farr? She tried to swallow and found it difficult, turned and went to the chiller and dug around until she found some things to use for a salad. "You don't have much food here," she said more curtly than she meant to as she carried the vegetables to the counter, began to mix them. She blinked back tears, feeling utterly stupid that she was still letting the same old hurt overcome her.
"You are upset over a perceived shortage of food?"
She shook her head.
"Then you are upset about something else?"
She shook her head again.
"Your wine," he said, waiting until she turned around to hand it to her. He studied her. "If you wish to change your mind, I will not hold it against you."
"I don't want to change my mind," she snapped.
"Then what is it?"
She smiled, sure it was a self-mocking expression. "Only me being stupid." She took a sip of wine. "Just when I think I've moved on, grown up, I find out that it's not true. It's disconcerting, is all."
He waited for her to continue.
"Let it go, Spock," she said softly.
He shook his head, took a drink of wine and waited.
She forced herself to meet his eyes as she said, "I guess there was some part of me that wanted to believe that you wanted me."
His eyes were gentle as he said, "I do. Very much." He reached out, touched her cheek, then handed her his glass. "Set the table, and I will begin our meal."
She allowed him to turn her, point her toward the table. She took several steps before she turned. "You _do_?" she said incredulously, glad to hear her voice sounding like the Christine Chapel that she wasn't ashamed of. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
He turned to her, one eyebrow rising slowly. "What part did you not understand?"
She gave him an exasperated look, slowly walked toward him. "If you want me so damn much, why didn't you just ask me to help you?"
"Exactly," he said as he turned back to the food.
He turned, took his glass from her hand and drank deeply before handing it back to her. "By asking you to help me with this, I would be destroying what we have forged. I value the friendship that has grown up between us and did not want to ruin that. However, I did not anticipate that as I grew to know you, I would also begin to consider deepening the relationship."
"You mean when the Pon Farr hit?"
"I did not know it was due."
She rolled her eyes. "Every seven years, Spock. Remember."
He gave her a long-suffering look. "Every seven years for a full Vulcan. I am a bit more irregular. This time is early. The previous was quite late as was the one before that." Again he reached out, touching her hair this time. "It was not because I knew that this was coming that I sought out your company. On the contrary, had I known, I would have been safely back on Vulcan, where there are discreet ways to handle this. Ways that are not accompanied by any lingering ties."
"Because that would be bad?" She took a sip of wine, stared at him challengingly.
"Not bad. Just not something I was seeking. Until now." He stopped, seemed to consider what he was saying. "I did not anticipate you being assigned to Prevalus, nor that we would become friends. Nor that, in time, friendship might seem insufficient."
She felt her mouth turn up. "You have such a way with words."
"Meaning you're not very romantic."
This time a small smile warred with his rising eyebrow. "Surely that is not a revelation to you after all these years, Christine." He looked meaningfully at the table.
"Fine, I'll set the damn table." She turned, was about to say more when she felt his hands on her shoulders. She froze, relaxing as he massaged her neck for a moment, then his fingers stopped moving, tightening slightly. His skin was very warm.
"I am glad that you were assigned to Prevalus," he said so softly she could barely hear him.
"Me too," she said, not trusting herself to turn around when he let go of her. She walked away and set the wine glasses on the table. When she looked up, he had turned back to the stove, was busy preparing their meal. She stared at his back for a moment, then began to set the table.
Spock nodded pleasantly to the few scientists that he recognized in the busy hallways of the science academy's biochem wing. As soon as he was no longer in danger of running over someone, he picked up his pace. He was eager to get out of the building, maintaining his control was taxing and becoming more so by the hour. He wanted to see Christine. Needed to see her. He had spent time with her the last few evenings, shared dinner, conversation, a few brief touches on her hand or face when he could no longer stand being near her without being able to make contact. But he had stayed away from her during the day, afraid that his control might slip. The hours they had been apart had dragged, and he had found himself unaccustomedly fidgety. His need to see her was enormous.
So you begin to flare in earnest, he thought to the fire burning inside him. The timing was fortunate in a way. His project was at the perfect stage to leave unattended. It would not be ready for him again for several weeks. He could afford to disappear from public view for a while. He had already told his contact on Vulcan. It had not been difficult or even that uncomfortable. Vulcans had a way of speaking around the issue, ever polite but in a way that made it perfectly clear that the burning was imminent. It was a fact of Vulcan life. He would not be charged leave for the time he spent away from his work, and they had even facilitated Christine's time off, something that might have been denied had her request gone through more normal channels-- leave being an odd request for someone only stationed on the planet temporarily. It was all very logical, the planning and reaction to this most unlogical of events. Typically Vulcan, he thought, as he rang for entry at Christine's door.
She answered his chime, smiling at him as he walked in. "You're early."
"If you are not ready, I can return at a more convenient time."
She shot him an amused look. "Stay. I've just got one more thing to do before I go on leave."
He walked around her office, looking at the personal items she had chosen to put on the shelves. "I am sorry that you must use your leave for this."
She shrugged. "I have plenty of it." She turned back to her terminal. "Luckily, this is a good time to be away from my experiments."
"Yes, mine are also in a period of inactivity. A fortunate coincidence." He picked up a holo of Christine and a younger man. They were both smiling. "You look happy." He felt a surge of jealousy roll through him and tried to force it back, control it.
She looked up. "That's Alan Freeslen. He was sort of a protege when I was in Emergency Ops. That was on his promotion ceremony to lieutenant."
"You were...involved with him?"
She didn't look up. "Not all of us get involved with our proteges, Spock."
He ignored the dig, noted the way the man had his arm around Christine, the way her body was pressed up against his. He was not sure he believed her. "That is an evasion." When she didn't answer, he asked, "Do you still see him?"
She shook her head. "He's on the Maxwell. Deep Space mission. Good assignment for him."
She didn't sound like she missed him particularly, so Spock put the picture down and moved on to the next shelf, recognizing some images from her time on the Enterprise. He turned to look at Christine, comparing her to the younger Chapel that smiled out from the holos.
"You're staring," she said, with a smile.
"You have aged well."
She laughed out loud. "Like a fine wine."
"That did not come out exactly as I intended." He saw her smile and tried again. "You do not appear to have changed very much."
"Outwardly, you mean."
He nodded. "Outwardly."
"Good genes, Spock. They're worth their weight in gold." She turned to look at him. "I've changed a lot though, from that girl...that young woman that ran off to space to find her fiance. Just as you've changed from the man you were then. Life and its joys and sorrows mold us...like water forms a canyon."
"Quite poetic." He sat down in the chair next to her desk. "But apt. You were right when you said that I have been cut off since Jim and my mother died."
She nodded understanding. When he didn't continue, she said, "It can't have helped that you were just getting over the captain's death when your mother became ill."
"It did not." He sighed softly, it was a gesture he did not allow himself to make under normal circumstances but now it felt like a relief to let himself go. "I have never felt so...adrift."
"That's how you ended up here? Just drifted?" Her smile was gentle.
"No, I requested it. It seemed very far removed from everything I knew. And that seemed somehow preferable to the familiar."
"You needed a break from the familiar. The familiar can sometimes be the most painful thing."
"Yes, precisely. I needed a respite from the people that knew how I felt, that knew _that_ I felt...I wanted to be just another emotionless Vulcan. Not one that had been nearly leveled by grief."
"And then I showed up." She made a face. "That had to be a bad day for you."
He gave her a small smile. "I will admit that I did not view your arrival as a positive thing."
"I bet not. Here you were at your most vulnerable and your stalker shows up." She frowned. "And now here you are at your most vulnerable and your--"
"--You are not my stalker, Christine. I no longer view you in that light."
"Well, that's a relief."
"You are my friend."
She smiled. "And, as a friend, I hope you don't mind that I brought some things with me to work? I thought it would save time if we didn't have to go to my apartment first."
"I do not mind."
"Good." She smiled gently, "As much as I'm enjoying this, if we keep talking, I'll never get done here."
"You are right. Finish your work. I will meditate." He closed his eyes. I will try to meditate, he corrected silently. He called on the lightest level of his Vulcan mental disciplines but found himself increasingly distracted by her movements, her scent. When she reached over and turned off her monitor, he opened his eyes in relief, glad to be able to drop the pretense.
He stood up, took the bag she pulled out from beneath her desk and followed her out of the office and down the hall to the main entrance. They ran through the boots, coat, gloves ritual and hurried out of the building. The air outside was startlingly cold, more of a shock than normal to his super-heated skin. He realized Christine was watching him as they walked. He reached over and adjusted her hood where it had folded over.
"Thanks." Her smile was very tender and he had to fight the urge to pull her to him. She seemed to understand. "It will be soon?"
He nodded. He could not take his eyes off of her.
"I do not know." He was surprised at how ragged his voice sounded.
"If it is, that's okay."
"I had hoped that we would have more time. To talk."
She laughed. "You're the only man I know that would say that." She glanced over at him, her face lit with an amused smile.
"I enjoy your company exceedingly," he said abruptly.
She didn't appear to mind his lack of smoothness. "The younger Christine Chapel would have died to hear those words, Spock. And you would never have said them to her."
He thought about that. "No, the younger Spock would not have. You were right when you said time has changed us."
"It changes everyone. Can't fight that." She looked out at the snowy landscape. "Everything changes except this damn planet. I keep thinking spring is just around the corner."
"Spring has passed, I believe we are in high summer," he said, and he was glad to hear a note of teasing entering his voice. He could relax, now that they were headed home. Curious to think of home and the two of them in the same breath, but, he thought as he looked at her, it was apt.
"And here I forgot my sunscreen." She shook her head. "I can't believe I fell for that 'You'll get used to it,' line when they pitched this assignment to me." She kicked a snow boulder absently, knocking it off the walking path.
"You have grown used to it, I think." He studied her slightly flushed cheeks, found them charming.
"I can pull on a pair of boots with the best of them, but I don't think that quite qualifies me for snow bunny." She reached down, grabbed a handful of snow, began to pat it into a sphere. "But I can make a mean snowball. Ever had a snowball fight?"
"Combat is not an advisable activity at this time, Christine."
"I didn't know." She tossed the snowball into the snow bank that bordered the path, obviously not realizing that he was teasing her. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean--"
His hand on hers stopped her words. "You did not give offense. I was making light of the situation."
"Oh." She looked down. "I don't know much about the situation, Spock."
He frowned. "But you were on the Enterprise when I first underwent the Pon Farr."
She laughed. The sound was not pleasant. "Being on the ship and having a clue what the hell was going on most of the time were two different things. You and McCoy and Kirk were pretty closemouthed. Especially about that." She did not look happy.
He turned her toward his house. "After dinner, I will tell you anything you need to know."
"I don't need to know anything."
He appreciated her honesty. "Then I will tell you anything you want to know."
"I'd like that." Her smile was a happy one as she followed him into his house.
He hoped she still could still smile that way when this was over.
Christine carried their wine glasses into the garden room as Spock quickly cleared the table. She looked around the room, wondering if it would all look different to her when this was over. She was glad Spock was willing to talk about the Pon Farr. She had only the rumors and what she could glean from the rather sparse medical material to go on. From what she could tell, it was blood lust. Mate or die. She wondered if it was pleasant for the woman, this mindless screwing. Only maybe it wasn't mindless. Maybe there was something left of the man. She hoped so but Spock's initial reluctance to involve her did not seem like a good sign. She knew that he was afraid that he would hurt her, couldn't imagine the Spock she knew, the one in such control of his emotions, doing that. But this Spock she would see, he wouldn't be in control. That was the whole point. Spock was afraid of that version of himself. Should she be?
She tucked her feet up under her, settled back as she listened to the sounds from the kitchen. There had been a time when this would have been a dream come true, despite the danger. It would have been the opportunity to snag Spock once and for all. Now, even though she didn't regret her part in this...wouldn't have wanted him to risk dying just to keep her free of the burning...she already mourned the loss of the easy rapport that had been growing between them. She wondered if they would still be friends when the burning was over. She almost laughed. She really had come a long way if their friendship mattered more to her than some perceived means to 'win' the man. She saw him come in, sit down next to her. His half smile was gentle. I've already won, she thought, if he is my friend.
He was watching her, his eyes focusing intensely on her lips, her eyes, her breasts. Then he looked away. She saw him wrap his control around the desire she could tell he was feeling. He was doing that for her, to buy them time, and she was touched by the gesture.
"So the Pon Farr?" she prompted gently.
He settled back in his chair, trying to look normal, composed. The effort he was making was clear. "What do you know of the burning, Christine?"
She opted for a medical approach, thought he might be more comfortable with her taking a clinical view of what they were about to do. "I remember some of it from that time on the Enterprise. Elevated hormone levels, uncharacteristic mood swings. Bizarre--for you--emotional responses to trivial events. Increased aggression." She looked down. "And strange whimsy. What did you mean when you said, ' It would be illogical for us to protest against our natures'? I've never forgotten those words, Spock. I've also never understood them."
He seemed very far away, as if trying to recollect what he had said.
"If you don't remember, it's all right. You weren't yourself."
He turned to her. "On the contrary, I was myself. My primitive self. That part of me, of every Vulcan, that is buried deep, pushed away." He took her hand, and she shivered at how hot his skin was. "I remember what you tried to do for me. The soup. The tears." He began to stroke her hand in a sensual motion, then he pulled away from her abruptly as if just realizing what he had been doing. "I was not unmoved by you."
"The thought that you wanted me was fodder for any number of fantasies, Spock." She could feel herself coloring in embarrassment, but forged on. They didn't need secrets between them. Not now. "I used to wonder what would have happened if I hadn't told you that we were bound for Vulcan." When he did not answer, she said softly, "What would have happened?"
He looked down. "I would have taken you. Then and there. Against all the rules of logic and tradition."
"And it would have destroyed me," she said. "Because in the end, I would have thought it meant something more than it did. And you would have still had your wife, waiting. I am right? The most I could have been was a temporary release?"
"That is true."
"Then I'm glad that we protested our way out of the situation."
He nodded. "The soup you brought me was terrible, by the way."
She laughed. "I was a little flustered at the time. I thought about it later and wondered if I'd mixed up the ingredients."
He nodded. "I suspect you did. But the gesture touched me. I do not know if that was apparent."
She reached out for his hand, squeezed it briefly. "You were gentle with me. I have never forgotten that."
He stared down at where her hand still rested in his. "You should not touch me. It is difficult."
She pulled away reluctantly. As his eyes followed her hand, she whispered, "It is illogical to protest against our natures."
"I am not protesting, Christine. Merely trying to make you understand what you have chosen to do." He got up, moved to a chair that was farther away from her. "I want you. Very much. It is difficult to be near you. Your scent, your touch, your arousal." He said the latter with no self-consciousness.
"Maybe we don't need to wait?" He was right. She did want him. Badly. Despite all the years, all the growing up she'd done. Or maybe because of it. She wanted Spock her friend, not Spock the mythic construct. She knew this man now. If not fully, at least better than she ever had when she'd been so infatuated with him. She had laughed with him. She had seen his pain. And now...she wanted to feel his touch.
"Christine?" he said, and she realized he must have asked her something. At her look, he said, "I was speaking of T'Pring."
"My ex-wife now." He frowned slightly. "We were bonded. Intended to spend the rest of our lives joined. Yet I had no idea that she preferred another, that she would challenge."
"I've never been certain what it means to challenge?" She leaned forward. "I always thought it had something to do with whatever happened to the Captain while you were down there. He was in bad shape when McCoy beamed up with him. And then when you beamed up...when you said you were turning yourself in...I began to suspect you were involved some way. But I didn't know how. And no one ever told me."
"It is the right of a Vulcan female to challenge the mating. It is rarely done, however, and no one expected T'Pring to be the one to resurrect the custom."
"Resurrect?" Christine couldn't help herself, she smiled slightly. "You mean she made it fashionable to say no?"
"She did. It was most unexpected." He leaned forward slightly, as if he was going to tell her a secret. "Despite everything, I find that I admire her for that. For rebelling. And I agree with her that it is time for Vulcans to move past the custom. It was used in ancient times to cement alliances, join houses together for profit and security. Vulcan society has long since evolved beyond that need. I am not sure that it is fair to bond two lives together when they are too young for anyone to know what they will be."
"They will be Vulcans, Spock. The epitome of duty, responsibility."
He looked up at her. "Precisely. Perhaps it is time to redefine the term." He amended his sentence at her look of disbelief. "Redefine it slightly."
"So T'Pring challenged? I take it that's not done in a court or council?"
He shook his head. "On the combat grounds. The woman must pick a champion for her challenge. Then it is a fight to the death."
"And the Captain intervened because you were losing to T'Pring's challenger?" Christine had seen what Kirk would do for Spock. It did not surprise her that he would jump into the middle of the fight.
"He was the challenger." At her shocked expression, he said, "Not by choice. T'Pring tricked him and he was not told the conditions. He was worried that in the condition I was in, weakened by lack of food, I would not stand a chance against Stonn, T'Pring's lover. And T'Pring would have had to choose him if Jim had refused. He thought he could spar with me long enough for my condition to ease. He did not understand and I was nearly catatonic. Could not express myself in the way I wanted. Even though I tried to tell him not to do it, he was determined."
She could imagine that. As she processed what Spock was telling her she suddenly understood the wide grin Spock had given Kirk when he walked out of the sickbay ward. "You thought you'd killed him."
He nodded. "Fortunately, I had not. And the blood fever was broken in the combat. T'Pring was free to go as I did not wish to keep her as my property."
"The woman, should she challenge, is taking a great risk. She becomes the property of the victor. Not the wife, the property of. To do with as he will."
"Nice society you have, Spock."
He nodded reluctantly. "As I said, some of our traditions are archaic. T'Pring is, in fact, leading a faction in the Council that fights for a repeal of the matrimony and bonding laws."
Christine thought his look was sheepish. "And...?"
"My father and I have helped ensure her continued success with that fight."
Christine laughed. "No, you haven't."
"Sarek was the victim of a profoundly unhappy first marriage. He was bonded to a woman with whom he was completely incompatible. She was a princess, and the marriage elevated the position of our house. T'Pau was in favor, and at the time, that was all it took for an idea to become fact. And I...well, I do not have to tell you why I might be opposed to the bonding. I had chosen another path, one that did not include a wife, at least not at that time. To be honest, my first Pon Farr was so late, I had begun to hope it would never happen, that my human half would make me immune."
"But that was not to be."
He seemed to shake himself mentally, as if pulling himself out of the past. "T'Pring works for all of us. I despise the way she used my friend to get what she desired, but I cannot fault her logic, nor the logic that she uses to sway other Vulcans to her cause. I find myself somewhat in awe of her great passion to overturn the traditions that nearly imprisoned us both." He seemed to think about that. "If not somewhat insulted." He actually smiled slightly.
"And what of she and... Stonn?" She wasn't sure she had the name right.
"They prosper." Spock considered that, revised his statement. "They are happy."
"In the Vulcan way."
"Of course. No matter how much she works for change, our society is complex. This is but one facet, and in all else, T'Pring is the perfect Vulcan. If she were not, she would not be able to entice so many to her cause. Already some of the more influential houses have refused to bond their children, preferring to let them choose for themselves when they are ready."
"You mean when the Pon Farr strikes?"
"For some, yes. Others will choose a mate long before the burning strikes."
"And why will they do that?" Christine was straying into new territory, dangerous territory. "I mean, without the Pon Farr, do Vulcans care about that?"
"About love?" His look was amused. "About sex?"
She nodded quickly.
"Yes. We do." The look he raked over her was hot enough to burn. "Not in the same mindless way that we seek it out in the Pon Farr. But we are not celibate as so many seem to think. Nor are we immune to feelings of tenderness, of affection. Of love, though we rarely couch it in such terms." He lifted his glass to his lips. His hand was shaking.
She felt pleased. "I think you would say esteem."
"Yes. That is a popular word." He took another sip.
"But others have to wed when the bond comes."
"No unbonded male has to wed if he does not want to. As I mentioned, there are other ways to handle the burning, with women who are discreet, private."
"No strings," she said what he did not seem to want to.
"And that is how you..."
His nod saved her from having to ask more.
"Do you wish you were there now, with some uncomplicated, no strings woman?" She stared at him, unwilling to look away. She needed to know this.
He seemed to be breathing hard, drank almost frantically of the wine as if in desperate search for something to do with his hands, his lips. "No. I do not."
They stared at each other. He had the look of a man about to drown, but one that was determinedly fending off the person who had swum out to save him.
This has to stop, she thought. He can't fight it anymore. She rose. Took a step toward him.
"Christine. It is not time. Sit down."
She kept walking. Held her hand out for the wine glass. "It's long past time, Spock. Give me your glass."
And then she waited.
Spock watched as Christine got up, walked toward him. She held her hand out for his glass. He could barely keep his eyes off of her, was having to fight the urge to touch her, to pull her to him. He knew she was willing. Knew she would do whatever was necessary to make sure that he survived. She didn't seem to care what the cost might be to her. So he had to care for her. Even though he wanted to take her now, he had to push off the need as long as he could. He knew how violent the Pon Farr could be and he was afraid of what the experience would do to her, to him. To them. He had no doubt that what was happening between them, what was growing between them, was more than just friendship. He had lived through enough Pon Farrs to know that this time something was different. This time there was an emotional element that had never been present before. Not with T'Pring despite their long bonding. While it was true that he had felt rage at being denied, the anger had been from the blood fever, not from any great sentiment toward his bondmate. And later, the priestesses of Vulcan were skilled in easing the fire, with no complications, no lingering attachments. But this time. This time he truly wanted the woman that was offering herself to him. The human woman. Human...frail. He was afraid of hurting her. He thought of his mother, how small she had seemed to him. Yet she had survived Sarek's Pon Farrs. He should take some comfort from that.
He realized that Christine had been standing in front of him for some time. She reached out and took the glass from him. He tried to ignore the sense of heat that coursed through him as his fingers touched hers.
She put the glass down on the table next to him and knelt in front of him, her hands on either side of the chair. He could tell that she was being careful not to touch him. He forced himself to lean back, put space between them, even though all he wanted to do was to move closer to her.
"You're fighting this," she said, frowning.
"Stop it." She touched him gently, letting her hand drop lightly on his knee.
He closed his eyes at the rush of flame that nearly overwhelmed him. His voice was ragged as he said, "Christine. Please."
Her hand was hot on him, grew hotter as she didn't remove it, seemed to push down harder. He tried to lift her hand off him but found himself entranced with the feeling of his palm against her skin.
"If you want me, why are you fighting this?"
"I do not want to hurt you." He reached out with his other hand, touched her hair, ran his fingers through it. It was like cool silk to his fevered touch.
"You wouldn't." Her voice held no doubt. When he met her eyes, she shook her head. "You wouldn't. I know that."
"How can you know that?"
She smiled. "I know you." She turned her hand over under his. Her fingers twined with his own. "All those years ago, I saw what kind of man you were. How honorable. And since I've been on Prevalus, I've gotten to know you. Learned how gentle you can be. How much I enjoy being around you." He looked away and she waited for him to look back before saying, "But it's been in the last few days, that I've really understood. I can tell it's costing you a great deal to not touch me. I can see it in your eyes. But you don't have to fight it anymore. It's time to let go. I know you'd never hurt me."
"Christine. The burning is much worse--"
"--Are you trying to frighten me?" Her voice was fierce.
He shook his head.
"Then stop talking. Stop making excuses for what you really want to do. Just kiss me." When he didn't move, she used her free hand to pull his face toward her. Then she stopped. "Or don't you kiss?"
He found himself smiling slightly. "I kiss." He let go of her hair, reached back and pulled her hand away from his head. Then he drew her slowly to him. "I burn for thee." The ritual words had never seemed more apt. Her skin was like cool water, the only thing that would ease the fire.
"I'm yours, Spock, you know that." Her eyes held no fear as she melted into his arms. He had enough control left to not push her to the floor, to instead pull her to her feet, guide her to the bedroom.
She looked at the bed, then at him. She smiled, a silly, nervous smile and he reached for her, then hesitated. She moved toward him, laying her hand on his cheek.
"Spock," she whispered.
The sound of his name on her lips was intoxicating. Pushing hard against her, he felt lust for her surge within him. He was relieved to also feel a great tenderness as he ran his hands over her. Even as he tore her clothing from her, he could feel some more rational part of him helping to keep the violence in check. He leaned in, told her how beautiful she was to him, how much he wanted her.
She was murmuring back to him, the words lost in his skin. She pulled away from him for a moment, looked up at him and he realized she was crying. Fighting for control, he forced himself to take a step back even though his body was screaming for her. "Christine?"
She reached out, captured his hand and held him so that he could not back away any more. "I love you," she whispered. As he stared at her, she smiled, the expression full of tenderness. "I thought I loved you for so many years. But I didn't even know you. But now...now I do. And I love you. I was right all along."
"Christine," he said, as he wiped her cheek. Her tears were cool. He lifted his hand to his lips, licked his finger and tasted salt.
She moved toward him, reached for his hand and pulled it back, rubbing his fingers along the other side of her face. Then she let go.
He tasted her tears again, his eyes boring into hers as he licked her salt from his skin. He wondered what else she would taste of. Unable to fight his desire any longer, he pulled her to him, kissing her desperately, fighting to keep some small bit of control.
"Don't. Just let go," she whispered in his ear, and he wondered how she knew what he was thinking. "Let go, Spock."
He reached for the psi points, held his fingers inches from her face as he whispered, "Do you want the meld?"
She pushed his fingers to her skin. "Let go, Spock."
As his mind sank into hers, as her lips claimed his, he finally did let go. He was barely aware of her furiously pulling his clothes off, of pushing her to the bed and following her down. Her body rose to meet his as he took her, and he was consumed with the fire and with her coolness rushing up to soothe him. "Christine," he said, unsure if he spoke, or said it through the meld.
He heard her answer back, could tell she was not afraid, that she wanted him as much as he wanted her. He heard her say, "Let go," one more time and then he knew nothing other than pleasure and her for a long time.
Christine woke to the unaccustomed feeling of a strong arm wrapped around her, a warm chest pressed against her back.
"Good morning." Spock's voice was low in her ear.
"Is it morning?"
"In actuality, I am not certain." He tightened his grip. "I appear to have lost track of time."
"Imagine that. What could have had you so distracted?" As soon as the words were out, she worried that he would be offended by her joking.
But he only pressed against her more firmly. "I believe that would be you." His hands began to roam.
She moaned, enjoying the way he was making her feel. "The burning?"
"Is over." He eased his hold on her. "I did not hurt you?"
She thought back over the past however many days they'd been consumed by the Pon Farr. He had not hurt her, had not even come close. He hadn't been tender, at least not the majority of the time, but his passion had excited not frightened her, especially when they had become more adventurous as the Pon Farr burned brighter. And along with the wildness, his emotions had begun to surface even more. If his hands and lips had been more rough than gentle, his voice inside her mind had been sweetly possessive, telling her everything she had ever wanted to hear from him...and more. She hadn't been exactly shy about expressing her feelings either. She smiled as she said, "You didn't hurt me."
He seemed to be holding his breath, let it out softly. "I am relieved."
She tried to turn over but stopped as her back protested the movement. Overused muscles began to cramp and she moaned softly.
"Back spasm," she gritted as she pulled away from him and rolled out of bed. "I get them sometimes. Need to stand up."
He watched her for a moment as she tried to walk off the cramp, then he got up and took her hand. "I know something that may be more effective." He led her into the bathroom, turned on the shower.
"This is your polite way of telling me I stink, isn't it?" she teased, as she stepped into the shower.
"We have both smelled better." He reached in, turning her so that the water was streaming onto her back, then he walked across the room and through an interior door that looked like it led to a closet. In a moment, he was back. "Is it easing?"
"A little." She felt slightly uncomfortable standing naked before him, then realized that he was making no attempt to hide his body from her. "Not big on modesty, are you?"
"There is no logic to our being modest, Christine. I do not believe that there is any part of my body you have not seen at this point."
"And vice versa," she agreed. "So no need to throw on a robe?"
His eyebrow went up. "If I were to be in the company of anyone other than the woman I had just spent several days in intimate..." he searched for the word.
"Congress?" she supplied. "Conversation? Relations?"
"All of those things," he stopped her before she could gain steam. "If it were not you, I would put on a robe."
"Not like you don't own plenty of them."
"Indeed," he agreed, stepping into the shower with her. To her amazement, he began to soap her up, then himself. When he moved to her hair and began to gently rub her scalp, she groaned. He turned her so that she could rinse off.
"Does your back still hurt?
To her surprise, he shut off the water, and said, "Come."
She moaned in protest. "I think the water was helping."
He pulled her out of the shower. "This will help more."
"What will," she asked suspiciously as he led her through the closet door. Only it wasn't a closet. It was a small room nearly completely filled with a large and deep soaking pool. A steaming hot, soaking pool. 'You've been holding out on me, Spock."
"I do not recall you asking me if there was a pool," he said innocently. He looked off toward another door. "Or a sauna."
"You have a sauna too?" She climbed into the hot water, moaning in pleasure as she felt cramped muscles start to relax.
"The sauna reminds me of home, the dry air is much like Vulcan. But the pool is more efficient for warming up when the body is truly chilled." He hit a switch on the wall and jets of water began to pour out at different levels along the side of the pool.
She moved aside as he walked down the stairs, then said, "So this is how a Vulcan copes with living as Nanook of the North."
"We are at the southern polar region," he reminded her as he moved toward her.
"Whatever." She smiled up at him, and her smile widened as he reached for her, pulling her to him. She wrapped her arms around him, felt him move until one of the hot jets began to pound on her back. Her muscles relaxed even more. "A little lower," she said absently, and felt him shift her against him so that her back was in the perfect position. Other things were in the perfect position too. She looked up at him in surprise. "I thought you said the Pon Farr was over?"
"It is," he said, as he kissed her.
She lost herself in the sensation of his lips on hers. The she realized that their bodies, apparently used to being joined, had come together nearly effortlessly. Her moans got progressively louder as they moved until pleasure crashed over them. She collapsed against him, her legs wrapped around him, the stream of water still massaging her back. She straightened up so she could see his face, then was embarrassed when she yawned hugely, suddenly barely able to keep her eyes open.
"You are exhausted," he said. "Go to sleep."
He smiled, his lips barely moving, but she knew it was a smile. "I promise I will not let you drown." When she still seemed doubtful, he said, "Just put your head on my shoulder. See if you can rest."
She was so tired, and the water was so warm. His hands held her firmly. "Don't let me go?"
His eyes were as serious as she had ever seen them. "I will not." Then he kissed her again, lightly, gently.
She smiled as she put her head down on his shoulder, felt him adjust his hold on her to let the water reach her back. In seconds, she was asleep. She wasn't sure how long she was out before she heard Spock's voice urging her to wake up. She lifted her head slowly, then climbed off of him. 'Waterlogged?" she asked groggily. "Or did you get a cramp from holding me like that for too long?"
"Neither," he said with a haughty eyebrow that was ruined by the near twinkle in his eyes. "I am hungry."
She realized she was too. Very, very hungry. "Good idea, Spock." As he climbed out of the pool, she took the opportunity to admire his body, and was caught doing it when he turned to help her up the stairs.
"I am hungry for food, Doctor."
She pushed past him with a laugh, taking the towel he handed her. "Can't a girl admire the scenery?" She toweled off her back, slowly leaning forward and then to the side to check her back muscles. "The spasm has stopped."
"Then my remedy was effective."
"Remedy? I thought that was just your clever means to seduce me," she said, as she followed him into the kitchen.
"Since it was quite successful, I must endeavor to repeat it."
"Now that's the Spock I know."
"And love," he said easily, as he pulled a roll from the breadbox and broke it in two, handing her a half. But she thought she heard a question in his attempt at lightness.
"And love," she confirmed just as lightly, as she lifted the roll to her mouth. A strong smell stopped her from taking a bite. The roll was covered with a light green fuzz. "Spock, I'm thinking we've been at it for more than a few days."
He eyed the roll with distaste. "You may be right, Doctor."
Chucking the offending food into the recycler, she walked over to the comm unit and checked the date. "Boy."
"Meaning what, Christine?" He came up behind her, his arms wrapping around her as if it were the most natural thing in the world for them to stand naked together in his kitchen. He adjusted the display on the comm unit so that he could see it. There was a long silence. "More time has elapsed than I realized."
"Meaning we won the sex marathon?" She put her hands on top of his, squeezed lightly.
"That would not be my way of expressing it."
She turned, letting her hands run through his wet hair. "Somehow I knew that." She pulled him down to her for another kiss, then drew him with her to the chiller to feed the ravenous hunger that a week of sex had left.
She glanced over at Spock. He was eating nearly as voraciously as she was. A week of great sex, she amended.
Spock stared down at Christine, watching her as she slept. She had fallen back to sleep as soon as they had finished eating and had been out for hours. Except, he amended, when he wasn't waking her to touch her, to kiss her. To join his body with hers again. He could not get enough of her. He had never experienced any need to be with his partner after Pon Farr, in fact, he had not been able to get away from the priestesses fast enough in the past. That made this so surprising, this need to touch Christine, to feel her skin underneath his own. The feelings she engendered were powerful, strong enough to make it nearly impossible for him to resist touching her as he was now, letting his hand roam over her.
She moaned in sleep and shifted away from him slightly. He pulled his hand back reluctantly. He needed to let her sleep, let her recover. She had met his passion with her own throughout the Pon Farr, but she was a human. The sex had a cost, and her exhaustion was it. He wasn't helping by waking her every time he wanted to make love to her. He had control over himself now, he must leave her alone.
He rose and went into the study, forced himself to get some work done, finally losing himself in his research. Hours later, he turned off the terminal and walked back into the bedroom. She was still sleeping.
He resisted going to the bed, went instead to the kitchen and began to fix a light meal. He put enough for them both on a tray and carried it into the bedroom, setting it on the bedside table before leaning over her. "Christine?"
She stirred, her eyes opening slowly. She stared up at him confused, then smiled, "Spock."
"You need to eat. I have brought us something to share."
"We'll get crumbs in the bed," she said as she rubbed at her eyes.
"The bed will survive."
"Spoken like a man that has never in his life eaten in bed." She sat up, pulling the covers up and covering the bed and herself. He must have looked disappointed at her actions because she laughed softly, saying, "I hate crumbs." She yawned and shook her head. "I can't remember ever being this tired."
"It concerns me, Christine." He reached out to caress her face, then let his hand drop. "Does it not bother you?"
She looked away. "Maybe."
He saw her expression change, darken slightly. He said softly, "My mother used to sleep like this when something was bothering her that she did not want to deal with. It was her means of escape."
"I'm just tired, Spock."
"And I am not helping that. Waking you up whenever I desire you. Perhaps that is what you are trying to escape? I know that I was quite...expressive during the Pon Farr. And you seemed to welcome my openness. But perhaps the intensity of my feelings is no longer entirely welcome?"
Her look changed again, became one of gentle amusement. "You think I mind that you can't keep your hands off me?"
"It could become tiresome." He looked away.
She took his hand, pulled it to her and laid her lips against his open palm. Another part of his body responded to the contact. He opened his fingers, felt hers twine with his.
"So my embraces are not unwelcome?"
"Unwelcome?" With a last kiss on his palm, she looked up at him. "Don't you know that every time you touch me I want to die?"
She laughed then, tightening her grip on his hand. "That's a good thing, silly."
"The language would not indicate that." He let his relief show, allowed his lips to turn up slightly. "Then you are not unhappy with the state of affairs between us?" He was surprised to see her look away. "You are unhappy."
"Not unhappy." She tried to let go of his hand but he did not release her. Refusing to look up at him, she whispered, 'I'm afraid."
"Afraid of me?"
Her head shot up. "God, no." Her eyes held a dark unhappiness. "I'm afraid that I'll wake up and the dream will be over."
He could feel his eyebrow rising. "I do not understand." He let go of her hand, waiting for her to explain, but she remained silent. "Christine? Tell me. Please."
She sighed. "I'm afraid that I'll get up and walk out to the kitchen or to the garden room or to your study and I'll be all naked and happy and I'll go to you and kiss you and you'll be..." Her words had come out in a rush, but now she trailed off.
"And I'll be what?"
"Not interested anymore," she whispered. "Over this."
"I told you the Pon Farr has ended."
"I know. But I'm still afraid you'll wake up and realize you don't want me. That you never did."
He moved closer to her. "The way I feel about you was beginning before the Pon Farr. The burning only served to loosen my inhibitions...and my tongue." He stroked her hair, pulled her face up so that she had to look at him. "I am interested in you because you interest me, not because of a biological imperative."
She smiled then. "You're sure?"
He nodded, pulled her into his arms and held her quietly, his lips resting on her neck, his hands caressing her back. "Do you realize the irony of this situation? I have been concerned that you would be repelled by the intensity of my feelings. And you have worried that my feelings are shallow and will not last."
She laughed, the sound muffled by his shoulder. "But neither of us was willing to talk about it."
"We are talking about it now." He let his hands roam more freely, felt his body respond to her nearness. Felt her respond to that. "Perhaps you will get out of bed now?"
She kissed him slowly, with a confidence that he realized had been missing. "Are you sure that's what you want? For me to get out of bed?"
He drew the covers away, pushing her down as he said, "As always, you are an astute judge of the situation, Christine." He stroked her hair as he kissed her. "Getting out of bed no longer seems the preferred action."
She kissed him back, then stopped, staring up at him. "Couldn’t the meld have told you what I felt?"
"The meld is useful for many things. As a tool, it can enhance many situations. It can be helpful for determining what is thought, what is remembered. But thoughts and memories are not the same as feelings. The meld is not a substitute for trust, for true understanding. It is not a substitute for communicating. For working out what is wrong."
"I didn't know." She looked away.
"It is a common misperception." His tone was gentle. "Even among Vulcans." He waited for her to turn back to him, then kissed her again. "The meld is, however, very useful during sex."
She smiled as he put his fingers on the psi points. "I have noticed that."
He initiated the meld, felt her mind reaching out for his.
"Won't our food get cold?" she teased, even as she pulled him closer.
"The food does not require warming or chilling. It will not be harmed by a prolonged wait."
She grinned then, a devilish expression that he found himself responding to. "How practical. I love a man who plans ahead."
"Up until this moment, I had not realized that I was planning ahead." He cocked an eyebrow at her. "Fascinating, this effect you have on me, Doctor."
"I'm not complaining."
"Nor am I," he murmured as he lost himself in her body, in her love.
The first day back at the institute seemed particularly long to Spock. He had not imagined that he would miss Christine's presence to the extent that he did. He had grown used to touching her when he pleased, talking to her about whatever interested him at the time. Halfway through the day he found that he could not concentrate, so he walked down to her office.
She smiled as he came in, said softly, "I didn't expect to see you until later."
"I thought you might like to walk?"
She leaned in, her hand on his was soothing and arousing at the same time. He looked down where her fingers brushed against the top of his hand, closed his eyes for a moment then heard her say, "You're aware that walking around the halls here is considered a courtship ritual?"
He shook his head. "I did not know that."
She pulled her hand away. "It's true. You don't have to keep doing it now that you've got me." Her voice was softly amused.
"That is good to know." He turned away from her, began to walk for the door. "Are you coming?"
She joined him with a laugh. Her arm bumping against his was a great distraction; her scent as she passed him to go out the door was more alluring than anything he could remember. He wanted to pull her back into her office, kiss her and touch her. To feel desire this way was unaccustomed. He was not sure what to do with the feelings she engendered, the raw need.
He realized she had turned around, was studying him. Her smile was gentle as she whispered, "I'm having trouble concentrating today. I keep remembering the last week...reliving it."
"It's a strange feeling, Spock. To want someone this much. It scares me."
"I am unnerved by it as well." He touched her briefly on the hand. Her skin was always so cool and he found that difference between them intoxicating. He nudged her forward, out into the hall. "Walk."
"Yes, sir," she said with a laugh.
As they made their way to one of the less-crowded outer rings, they passed Commander Burrows and Ms. Miller. Both nodded politely, and when they were out of earshot, Christine heaved a happy sigh.
"You referred to setting him up with someone? I take it that she was the one?"
"Looks like they are getting along great," she said, her voice full of satisfaction. "I wasn't sure."
"Yet you introduced them. You must have seen some basic compatibility."
She chuckled. "Nope. Just two people that could use someone to hold onto." At his look she laughed, "Sometimes it works."
"Since he did appear at one time to be interested in you, I will hope for the best for them."
She looked at him, started to say, "We didn't do--"
"--You do not owe me any answers, Christine." He moved closer to her, the hallway they were in now was much less busy. "What is in the past should stay there."
She looked around, seemed to think it was safe and reached down, touching his hand, twining her fingers through his. The feel of her skin against his was like a shock. He looked into the offices around them, realized he was actually thinking of pushing her into one of the empty ones and...
"Spock?" She pulled her hand away, as if she could sense what he was thinking. Her expression was a mixture of lust and embarrassment. "I try to behave professionally at work, but the things I want to do to you right now..."
"I sympathize with your dilemma, Doctor. There are things that I would like to do to you as well."
They stood staring at each other for a moment, then she whispered, "Isn't there some Vulcan meditation for this?"
He shook his head.
With a longing stare at the empty offices, she turned and with him in tow headed back for the busier hallways. "We have to wait."
"Do not go home after your shift. Come to my house directly." It was not a question. Not even a suggestion. He did not believe that he had ever ordered her in this manner, found it strangely exciting. Found it even more exciting when she smiled, seemed to enjoy his impatience.
"But I have to go home or I'll have nothing to wear around your house."
"Good," was all he said as he nodded to her formally and headed down his corridor.
When he got back to his office, there was a message from Admiral Blanchard's assistant asking that Spock contact him as soon as possible. He commed the commander back, only to find out the admiral had been called away. He would call Spock, tomorrow, the exec said.
As he disconnected the comm, Spock frowned. It was time to make a decision about his future. There was little else the admiral would be calling about. It was illogical to put off deciding what he wanted to do next. But Spock found it hard to think of any future other than the immediate one, the one later that day, when he would be touching Christine again. He shook off the feelings that nearly overwhelmed him and forced himself to concentrate on work. It was difficult the first few minutes. Then he managed to banish her from his mind and became immersed in his research.
He heard a noise at the door, turned to see Christine peeking in. A quick glance at the chrono showed him that he had lost track of time. Then he wondered why it had taken so long for her to come get him.
She laughed. "Here I was feeling guilty for having forgotten about you and you're doing the same thing to me." She walked into his office, looked over his shoulder at his calculations.
The feeling of her breath on his ear reminded him why he wanted to get home. He turned his head; their lips were very close together. "Have you read enough, Doctor?"
She nodded, stared at his lips for a moment, then pulled back as he saved his work and shut down the terminal. They walked together out of the institute, and he noted that they were both walking casually, slowly. As if ripping off each other's clothing and making love was the farthest thing from their minds. He glanced over at her. The smile she shot back to him was knowing and sensuous and he could feel himself responding to it. They didn't make it past the garden room, their coats and boots pulled off in a jumbled pile by the door, their uniforms lying abandoned in the hall as he lay with her under the hot lights amid the aromatic plants, and they reconnected after what felt like a very long day apart.
As they rested on the carpeting, Spock rolled over to his side and studied her. She lay in a sleepy haze, hair tousled and damp, skin still flushed. He put his hand on her stomach, caressed her skin gently on a particularly rosy spot, saw her smile at the gentle touch. Then she looked over at him and her smile died.
"You look so serious, Spock. What are you thinking?"
He was unsure how to articulate what he was thinking. What he was feeling. He settled for leaning down and kissing her gently.
She looked only slightly less apprehensive. "You're not going to break up with me while we're naked, are you?" Her quirky smile seemed designed to make the question a joke, yet Spock saw something in her eyes that told him she was quite serious.
He moved closer to her, settling his arm around her as he nuzzled her neck. "The things I feel for you. They overwhelm me."
She didn't say anything, but he could feel her tense.
"This is not a prelude to a break up, as you put it, Christine. I wish to discuss our relationship."
She did not relax as he expected. He sighed softly. It was illogical to wish to discuss something he still barely understood, and he knew it. But the need would not be denied.
"What about our relationship?" she asked.
He turned her face to his, kissed her again softly, until he felt her relax. When he pulled away, he said, "I will be honest, Christine. I believe that I did anticipate that the desire I felt for you would diminish as we moved further away from the Pon Farr. I did not think that I would reject you, or anything so dire, so please do not look at me that way." When she smiled slightly, he continued, "But I thought that our relationship would return to where we had left it, that we would be friends, and perhaps more. In time."
"Now." He traced the skin along her chest, down her stomach, did not stop at her hips. Saw her react, felt desire rush through him again. "Now, I find that all I want is you. With me. To touch you." He moved his hand back to less sensitive regions. "And to talk to you. To be with you. I do not want to let you go."
Her smile was gentle and happy as she turned slightly, wrapped her arms around him. "Nobody says you have to."
"Star Fleet might. When I am reassigned. They called today when I was out, they will call back tomorrow. I will be reassigned, and then you will be reassigned, and we may not be in a position to be together often, if at all."
She nuzzled closer. "And that's important to you? That we're together?"
He nodded, distracted again by the feeling of her body pressing against his own, her lips on his neck. "We could stay here," he offered, the words coming out of his mouth before he realized he had even been considering the option.
"Here? On Prevalus?" Her tone was more considering than horrified.
"I have easily another year's research on my project. I believe it would have some interesting applications for deep space travel."
She smiled. "And I'm just getting started with my work. And Torrance's is actually bearing fruit." She grinned, the happy, open expression he found enchanting. "It could work, Spock." She kissed him hard. "I'll put a call in tomorrow."
"Then it is settled." He pulled her on top of him. "I believe the time for talk has come to an end, Christine."
"I believe you are right, Spock," she said, as she leaned down to kiss him again.
The chime of her office door startled Christine out of her study of where she planned to take her experiments. "Come in," she said as she saved her work and turned to see who was at the door. She smiled when Spock walked in. "Hey, you. I have great news." She waited until the door had closed behind him and then rose and put her arms around his neck. "Star Fleet said I could stay. In fact, I think they were relieved." She saw his expression alter, become more distant, and said, "At least, I thought it was good news?"
He took a deep breath, hugged her tightly and then reached up and loosened her arms from around his neck.
"Not good news at all, huh?" She felt her heart sink and moved away from him, backing up until she felt her desk behind her. Pushing aside some padds, she perched on the edge. "What's going on, Spock?"
"I have heard back from my contacts at Star Fleet and the Vulcan Science Academy. They are not interested in sponsoring my work here any further. The applications of my results are limited and they have had some other experiments proposed that would seem to promise better payoffs."
He didn't look away, although Christine was sure he wanted to. "Star Fleet has offered me a posting on the Aurora, a scientific exploration vessel. Vulcan concurs. It is logical to them. I will not take up their billet here but can continue my work in a deep space environment, where my other expertise will be of use."
"Deep space?" Christine didn't try to keep the anger out her voice. "While I'm stuck here?"
"The Aurora might need a biochemist."
"Might? Did it even occur to you to ask?"
He took a step toward her. "Christine, I am disappointed as well."
She stared up at him as he took her in his arms, then she pushed him away savagely. "Did you accept the posting?"
He looked at her in confusion. "I did."
"I'd think you were a gutless wonder if I didn't know how many times in the past you've defied authority and convention to get what you want, what you thought was the right thing. This isn't about you being willing to fight, this is about you being willing to fight for us. Did you even try to change their minds when they said no?"
"Christine, it is not that simple."
"Sure it is. If you want it to be."
He stood silently in front of her, obviously unsure of what to say, and by the glint in his eye, a little angry himself. She didn't care. The thought of a year on Prevalus without him was a nightmare. The thought of life anywhere without him was a nightmare. But not precisely an unanticipated one. She'd always known the dream would come crashing down around her. She'd just been lulled into believing they might last, that he actually loved her enough to stay with her. Now she knew better. In some ways, it was a relief. She pushed herself off the desk, sat down in her chair and turned back to her work.
She didn't turn around. "What is there left to say, Spock? It sounds like a fabulous opportunity. And you'll get off this hellhole, so bully for you."
"Please look at me."
She spun her chair around.
"You no longer love me?" The look on his face was unreadable.
"I do," she said brokenly, the words nearly choking her. "And I probably always will. I'm stupid that way."
"Christine, this does not have to be the end. It is a minor inconvenience."
"I don't call a year a minor inconvenience, Spock. And what would it be next year when I get off this planet and you're still on the Aurora? You want me to be your bedmate the few times you're not in space? This isn't going to work, and I think we both know it."
He took a step toward her but she held up her hand, stopping his progress. Her voice was perfectly calm, as she said, "I wish you well, Spock."
She didn't look at him as she swung back to her terminal. But even as she pretended to work, she was listening for his footsteps, hoping against hope that he'd choose her, tell her he didn't care what Star Fleet said, that he only wanted to be with her. But she heard him walk toward the door. It opened and he said, "This is how it ends?"
"Your call," she answered, refusing to look up and let him see how hard she was working to keep back the tears.
As soon as the door closed, she stopped fighting the tears, let them fall unimpeded. The words on the screen blurred beyond recognition, but she stared at it as it were a lifeline of sorts, her body almost unnaturally still as the tears streamed down her face. The pain felt as if it would rip her open from the inside out. She had been so happy. And it had all come crashing down around her.
"I knew it wouldn't last," she muttered. "I always knew." All dreams ended, it was the way of things, some of them just lasted a bit longer before they blew up in your face.
Her future loomed large and white and cold. How could she stand another year on Prevalus? Especially in that dingy little box Star Fleet called an apartment? She sighed. In an hour or two, it would be time to go back to that dingy little box. She forced herself to stop crying, wiped the tears off her face. It was over. She could cry later. Now she just had to get through the rest of the day.
The hours dragged but finally it was time to leave. She hurried to the lockers, pulled on her boots and coat and hurried out. As she passed Spock's house, she forced herself to look ahead. She tried not to think of him, or of the garden room, or the warm pool. Or his bedroom. His bed. Their bed--she had almost believed it, almost bought the fairytale ending.
She had been so stupid.
Her apartment was colder than she remembered and she fumbled with the temperature controls for a long time before giving up. It was as warm as it was going to get. It had been weeks since she had spent any time in the rooms, and they had a musty, abandoned smell. She opened the chiller and was treated to an even more pungent smell. She slammed the door, unwilling to deal with spoiled food, and opened a bottle of wine. She considered drinking it straight from the bottle. "Not like anyone would care," she muttered. In some absurd nod to convention, she decided to use a glass and poured it full, drinking about half of it in two gulps. Numb, she thought. I want to be numb. That bottle and one-quarter of another later, she finally found oblivion.
She woke up the next morning, still in the same chair and thoroughly frozen. She rushed to the shower, ignoring the pain in her head and the ominous rumbling of her stomach. It had been a long time since she'd overindulged, and now she remembered why. The shower only made her stomach rumble more and even with the water set to the hottest setting she couldn't warm up. "Screw it," she said loudly, immediately regretting it as the words reverberated in her oversensitive ears.
The walk to work was a misery, and the day passed in a blur of nausea and teary moments. She forced herself to order some food before she left for the night. It was waiting for her at the apartment door when she came in. There was nothing else, and she realized that she'd been half-expecting Spock to leave a message for her, or come himself. But he hadn't.
"Guess I really mattered," she said softly, refusing to think about it as she headed into the kitchen to clean the chiller and let it air out before putting the new food away. She ate quickly, glad that her stomach had finally settled down enough to accept some food. She avoided the wine bottle and headed for the bathroom, trying to warm up with a warm soak in the tiny bathtub. It was an incredibly poor substitute for Spock's soaking pool. The thought of Spock caused a pain deep in her stomach and chest, a pain that threatened to overwhelm her if she let it. She tried to stop the tears, tried to distract herself with thoughts of work. But the feel of the water kept reminding her of him and his house and how they'd made love. She pushed herself up; water drops flew across the bathroom as she hit the drain plug. No more baths, she thought, no matter how feeble the shower might be.
She dried off and went to bed early, but sleep eluded her for hours. She lay on her back, staring at the ceiling stubbornly. Refusing to cry, trying not to think. Trying not to feel, or at least not to feel so much. Sleep finally came, but when the alarm went off, she felt as if she hadn't even closed her eyes.
The next few days, her work was the only thing that got her though the long hours. One of Torrance's specimens was undergoing some bizarre permutations, changing in an unexpected but exciting way. She was writing up her observations when her chime rang. "Come," she answered absently.
It was Spock.
She stood, hating the way her heart beat faster as he walked toward her. Hated the smile she had to force from her face. "Spock," she said as neutrally as she could.
"I wanted to check on you."
The look he gave her was so tender she nearly sobbed. Instead she just turned away, looking down at her terminal. She felt his hands on her arms, his body pressed against hers. "Christine. I have missed you."
She turned then, let him hold her. "I've missed you too." She looked up at him, met his lips with her own.
The kiss went on a long time. Finally they drew away from each other.
She touched his cheek gently and asked, "Has anything changed?"
He looked down. Shook his head.
She leaned in, kissed him again. "I didn't think so." She backed away. "You'd better go."
"I do not wish to."
"This isn't about what you wish, Spock. This is about me keeping my sanity. I could lose myself in you. And if I do that, how will I ever find myself again once you're gone?"
He sighed. "There are things you left at the house. Perhaps you could come for dinner? Pick them up? We could discuss this."
She smiled. "I know us. That would never work. Ten minutes of conversation and then we'd be falling into bed. I want to come over. Believe me, I want to...I want you. But I just can't."
"What should I do with your things?"
"Throw them in the recycler, Spock. I'll replace them."
"Like you will replace us?"
"Pretty soon there won't be an us to replace. You'll be out in deep space for what? Five years?"
He shook his head. "Three."
"Three years. Then you'd have at least four before you'd have to come back. Too bad your Pon Farr's aren't regular, or you could time your visit to see me with better precision." She smiled bitterly, knew she was being mean, couldn't, or wouldn't, stop herself. "Oh, well. I'm sure you'll find a willing partner somewhere else, if you need to. You're an attractive man, Spock. Compelling and mysterious. And I can vouch for you being a skilled lover, if you ever need a reference."
She expected his face to tighten but instead he stepped closer to her. "I am sorry. This is not what I planned for us." He touched her cheek gently.
She could feel her lip trembling, was almost relieved when he leaned in and kissed her and stopped her from having to think. She clung to him desperately, then pushed him away. As he turned to go, she whispered, "I love you, Spock."
He looked back at her. "And I love you, Christine. Although you may not believe that at this moment."
She tried to joke, "It does lack credibility. But I'll give you points for artistic impression."
He looked at her with an odd expression. Then he turned, "Good evening."
She raised her hand in a half-hearted attempt at goodbye. "See ya 'round." She touched her lips. They still felt warm. She wondered how long before they felt frozen again.
Spock had left the institute immediately after his meeting with Christine and in his rush to get away had forgotten to fasten his coat or pull on his gloves. He was chilled through even though he had long since remedied his oversight. The soaking pool would warm him up and he looked forward to its warmth until he remembered that the last time he'd used it had been with Christine. His mind shied away from what they had done in the pool. His house came into sight and Spock found that he did not want to go inside, did not want to face another night alone in a house that no longer found welcoming. He had scoffed at his mother when she told him the house felt empty without him when he left for the Academy, but now he understood. He felt Christine's absence in every room, at every time of day.
It hurt being without her. And it didn't make him feel better to know that she was hurting just as badly. Neither of them wanted this separation, yet they were not together. He passed his house, kept walking and found himself wandering aimlessly in the snow. He saw Christine walking ahead of him, then she turned into the small supply shop they all frequented. He stood across the street, taking shelter in an alcove, and watched her through the windows. He saw another scientist greet her, his smile warm and welcoming. She nodded and moved on. The scientist looked after her, watching as she moved away from him. She was oblivious.
Spock sighed, forced himself to walk away, back toward his house. He wondered how long it would take before she was not oblivious to this or some other man's interest. How long would she stay in love with Spock? Forever? Would forever mean anything if they couldn't be together? Had he really thought she would wait for him? Maybe, if their history had been different, if they'd had years of love to build on, then maybe she would have waited for him. But not now. Not when she didn't believe in them to begin with. That night after the Pon Farr, she had tried to tell him that she was afraid. But he hadn't been listening. Not carefully enough.
He looked up at the sky as he walked. Somewhere up and to the left, well beyond anything he could see now, Jim had disappeared. His friend. Something had gone out of Spock the day he had heard of Jim's death. He'd frozen up, lost some vital piece of himself. His mother's death had added to the layers of ice that had built up inside him and he'd lost even more of himself. And hadn't found it again until two years later he'd run into the last woman he'd wanted to meet. His first instinct had been to run. But he had not, and on a frozen world he had finally thawed out. For what? For this? For this pain?
He saw his house and ignored it. He needed to go back to the institute. By running away from her, he had been giving into his emotions in a way he could no longer afford. He was going to leave, and he needed to get his work into shape, had to get it ready to move to the Aurora. It was something productive to do, something that wouldn't involve puttering around a house that reminded him of the woman he had just walked away from, or wandering around in the snow stalking her.
It was not logical to dwell on her. It was not logical to continue to revisit the moment in her office when they had kissed. He should not obsess over how she had wounded him with her words, and then had hurt him even more with her heartfelt 'I love you.' If love hurt this much, why did humans seek it with such fervor? Spock was beginning to believe the Vulcan way was much less destructive. Certainly less painful.
The Vulcan way. Always for him typified by his father. Yet Sarek had broken with tradition and married a human. Spock knew how hard his mother had worked to blend in with the society that she had married into. And she had succeeded. She was respected and in her later years seemed content, almost serene, in the Vulcan way. But things had not always been so easy for her. Nor, Spock suddenly realized, had they always been good between Sarek and her. A memory, long repressed, popped into his mind. He had been a boy still, but old enough to be ready to undergo the Kahs-wan ceremony, to choose the Vulcan way. Old enough to know that the scene he witnessed between his parents would never have happened in a Vulcan household. Old enough to be embarrassed.
Was that why he had put it out of his mind? he wondered. Because the emotions had made him uncomfortable?
His mother never yelled. And she hadn't yelled that night. But the quietly intense way she framed each word spoke more eloquently to her hurt and rage than any shrieks would have. She had been tired of trying to fit in for Sarek when he never met her halfway. Tired of living with a man that made decisions for both of them with no thought to her wishes. Tired of watching her son subsumed by a culture she was rapidly beginning to hate. Tired of always being exhausted in the strange Vulcan heat, always feeling weak and frail among the vital Vulcan people that surrounded her. Her tears had mortified Spock, as he had watched unseen from the hallway. But another part of him had longed to run inside, push his father away, and comfort her. He had not done it. And neither had Sarek. And Amanda had given his father a sad look and had fled the room.
As she had turned, her eyes had met Spock's. They had stared at each other--the woman, unhappy and tired, and her confused and embarrassed son, trying desperately to understand what he was seeing. She had made a small gesture that clearly meant for him to get back to his room. He had not moved, so with a sigh she had walked past him and into the bedroom she shared with Sarek.
His father had looked after her, had seen Spock standing there. "My son, you should not be up." His voice had been controlled, as ever.
"What is wrong with mother?"
Sarek's eyes had gone cold. "She is human, Spock." Then he had turned away and gone to his study, staying there all that long night. He hadn't heard Amanda leave her room and enter Spock's. Hadn't heard her pack a bag for their son, grab his hand and pull him from his bed, telling him to get dressed quietly. Hadn't heard the front door open and close in the nearly silent way all well-tended Vulcan doors did. She had booked them on the first shuttle off the planet, and Sarek had never been the wiser.
She had taken Spock to a planet called Quina. It had been rustic and quiet and he had reveled in the freedom to explore the exotic rain forests, to walk around the quiet lake. It had been off season and the resort had been largely deserted. During the day, it had been enjoyable, the solitude and the beauty that was so different from anything he had known. But that night, as he had lain in his bed by the window he had been afraid. He had realized that he and Amanda were hiding. And he hadn't liked it. He also hadn't liked the feeling of helplessness that had come over him when he heard his mother crying in the bathroom. She had turned the fan on to muffle the sound, but he could hear her quite clearly. That night, his sleep was haunted by a strange nightmare of the Kahs-wan, of priests that looked like his father putting him in a cage and carrying him to the ceremony--a ceremony that he had been sure would kill him. He had awakened with a start and realized that his mother was talking to his father on the comm unit in the main room. He had not been able to hear what they said, but the conversation had gone on for a long time. When she had finally come out, he had pretended to be asleep, and eventually pretense had turned to the real thing. In the morning, his mother had packed their bags and taken him back to Vulcan. He had never found out why she had left, or what Sarek had said or done to get her back. But she had never left Sarek again.
And the next week, Spock had undergone the Kahs-wan, and he had not died, and none of the priests had looked like his father or had tried to put him in a cage. It had been one of the few times he could remember that Sarek had seemed truly proud of him. And it had also been one of the few times that Spock had thought that perhaps his father did love him and his mother deeply. Perhaps his mother's leaving Sarek had sent some sort of warning shot over the bow of their marriage. And Sarek had paid attention. At least to his relationship with her-- they would never seem anything but close over the remaining years of their marriage. But Sarek's relationship with Spock would only get worse as Spock got older.
But now Spock wondered if he would even have had a relationship with his father if Sarek hadn't found the way to make it right with Amanda all those years ago. Had he come close to losing his father? What had Sarek done to win her back? It suddenly seemed vitally important to Spock to know.
Turning on his heel, Spock headed back for his house. His experiments could wait. This could not.
Christine was debating whether to take a shower or crawl into bed to get warm. The apartment seemed colder than ever and she was too tired to call the maintenance staff and complain...again. Her door chime saved her the decision, and she hit the intercom. "Who is it?"
"Spock," was the unexpected answer.
"Go away." She let go of the button, knowing he was just going to ring the chime again.
He didn't disappoint her. She opened the door and stood in front of the opening, blocking his way. "What do you want?" She was too tired and cold to attempt politeness.
"May I come in?"
"If I wanted you to come in, would I be blocking the doorway?"
"We can discuss this in the hallway if you insist, but I think it might be warmer inside."
She laughed then. "Show's what you know." She moved aside to let him pass. "Come on in then. Get warm."
He removed his boots then stepped into the main room, stopping and looking at her in surprise. "I have been in refrigerated cargo bays that were warmer than this. It is no wonder you preferred my house." He walked around the room until he found the control panel.
"It won't help. I've jimmied it more times than I can count."
He studied the mechanism, made a few adjustments. The air that was blowing out of the vents got colder.
"Probably wise for you to stop while I'm ahead, Spock."
To her relief, he stepped away from the wall panel.
"Do you want to give me your coat?" she asked
"I am not sure if I will survive the cold without it," he said, even as he shrugged it off and handed it to her.
She smiled. "A joke?"
"I do joke, Christine."
"Now you tell me." She hung his coat on a hook by the door. "I'm not sure I'm in a joking mood, Spock. I'm cold, and I'm tired. What do you want?"
"You," he said simply.
She made a buzzing sound. "Oops, sorry, that's the wrong answer." She sat down on her couch, pulled a throw over herself. "Try again."
He followed her, sitting down next to her, very close, too close. "You do intend to share your blanket?"
She pulled it closer. "It's not a blanket, it's a throw. As in 'to throw over yourself.' Note the use of the singular there. Self, as in me."
"So noted," he said calmly, rising and walking into her bedroom. He came out a few seconds later with her comforter. "This, I believe, is a blanket?"
"The judges would have accepted duvet, but comforter is the preferred answer. You're zero for two on bed linen identification, Spock."
"My commission should be revoked," he said, as he walking over to her, pulling the throw off of her. He settled down next to her and arranged the comforter over them.
"Another joke? Is that a personal best?'
"Very likely," he answered.
It was suddenly much warmer and she wondered why it had never occurred to her to pull the thing off the bed. "What are we doing, Spock?"
"Getting warm, I believe."
He did not answer, just tucked the comforter more securely around her, then did the same on his side. She leaned her head back, tried not to notice how nice it felt to be sitting next to him, how comforting it was to feel his arm pressed against hers.
"I made a call today."
"You did?" She felt the first niggling of hope and ruthlessly pushed it away.
"To be more precise, I made two. One to my father." He saw her expression and said, "It is relevant."
"If you say so."
"And I made another call." His hand suddenly began to move down her leg.
She reached out and stopped it. "And who did you call?"
"Star Fleet. I had a long talk with Admiral Blanchard."
He took her hand in his. She felt his fingers open and twined hers around them almost by instinct. She looked over at him, and he gave her a gentle half-smile.
"Do you wish to know what we discussed?"
"My next assignment. I explained to the Admiral in extremely logical terms why I thought my experiment would yield more accurate results on Prevalus than on the Aurora. It had much to do with warp emissions and tachyon fields."
"Did he understand it?"
"Not a word, I think."
"Did he buy it?"
"I am getting to that point. While he could not overturn the decision to bring in a new scientist to fill the Vulcan Science Academy billet, we were able to arrive at a mutually agreeable alternative." Spock's hand tightened on hers.
"Yes. Are you aware that Commander Perkins is leaving in a few weeks? Apparently, no one has applied for the position."
She started to smile. "As Star Fleet Rep to Prevalus? Attaché to hell? Nobody wanted that job? Go figure."
"Yes, it is startling." With a small smile, he said "That would be three."
"Definitely a personal best." She cocked her head. "So, I take it you applied?"
"I do have some small experience with diplomacy," Spock said quietly.
"And you can speak the scientists' language," she agreed, not protesting at all when he pulled her legs over his and lifted her into his lap. She tucked the comforter back around them.
"It is an excellent solution. I am already here, and I want to stay here. I have an experiment that may, in the long term, bear fruit, and several other proposals that the admiral found interesting. It was, for him, the perfect answer." He stroked her cheek. "I also convinced him that I would need to stay in the house. He will talk to the Vulcan housing officer. I am sure that Commander Perkins' house will suit the new Vulcan scientist. And, as a representational officer, I will be expected to entertain." He nuzzled her neck for a moment. "If we did that here, our guests would freeze before the first course was over."
"That is what I said, Christine." He nuzzled a bit more energetically. "If you wish to live there with me?"
"In what capacity?"
"I was thinking as housekeeper."
She laughed outright. "Who are you and what have you done with the real Spock?" She slowly traced her fingers along the tips of his ears, smiled when he sucked in a deep breath and held it. "In what capacity, Spock?"
"In whatever capacity you wish."
Her smile widened. "I'll have to think on that. So we get to keep the pool?"
"And the structure surrounding it," he said in an amused voice. "And we can be together. There. Where it is warm."
"Warm," she purred. Then she sat up straight. The comforter fell off her shoulders. "Oh no. There's just one problem." At his look of surprise, she said, "I called Star Fleet too. I managed to get out of my extension. I ship out in a week." She watched his face for a moment, then snickered. "If you could see your expression."
He did not look amused, so she leaned in and kissed him. Slowly, tenderly, with all the love she could put into a kiss. Once she was sure he was safely mollified, she came up for air. "You're really staying?"
"I am." He stroked her face gently.
"You did that for me?"
"No. I did it for us."
"I love that you did it for us." She traced his jaw with her finger, saw him close his eyes at her touch. "But did you want to be on the Aurora?"
"Not more than I want to be with you."
"But it was a science vessel, serving on a ship like that..." She trailed off as he looked down. "What?"
"I would not have just been serving on her." He met her eyes. "They offered me the captaincy."
"Spock, you can't turn that down!"
"I believe I just did."
"But you didn't tell me it was the captaincy."
"You did not appear to be interested in the details." When she looked down in guilt, he pulled her close. "Sometimes the right thing to do is not the most logical."
It was clear he was quoting someone. "Who said that?"
"My father. When I needed some advice." Spock pushed her up and off his lap, then stood. "Doctor Chapel, there is a pool in my house that I have not used for some time."
She looked at him in amazement. "You didn't use the pool? What? Are you stupid?"
He looked slightly defensive. "I found it...lonely...without you."
"Awww," she said as she leaned in to kiss him again. "See, you can be sweet if you try."
"We were talking about the pool. The pool that I have not used. I would like to remedy that. Would you care to accompany me?"
She grinned. "Will you take advantage of me in it?"
"The probability is high."
"Then by all means, let's repair to Chez Spock." He let go of her, but before she got up, she leaned in and kissed him again, this time less tenderly, much more passionately. His arm tightened around her and he returned the kiss just as ardently. When she pulled away, she said, "I love you, Spock."
"I am aware of that." He pushed her up.
"You are aware of that?" She scowled as she pulled him to his feet. "That is the most unromantic thing I've ever heard."
"I have just changed my future for you, Christine. I believe I am entitled."
"You may have a point," she said, as she followed him to the door and began to pull on her boots. She put on her coat, but before she could do up the hood he pulled her to him and kissed her again.
As he drew away, he whispered in her ear. "I love you too."
With a happy smile she let him lead her out of the building and into the snow. In the evening light, the ice crystals sparkled making the snow look fresh and clean. "It's beautiful here," she whispered.
He took her hand, twined his gloved fingers with hers. "Yes," he agreed. "It is."