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) 2020 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.

The Way You Keep the World at Bay for Me

 

By Djinn

 

 

 

Sarek held back a sigh as he walked into the Federation reception. He still was not used to attending these functions without Amanda by his side. It had been four months since her death, but he felt as if he were still in that first moment after she was gone. Fighting the emotional barrage within him at the same time as being leveled by the lack of her—she had always been with him no matter how far apart they were. Until the bond had snapped when she took her last breath.

 

That he had to even think about holding back such an emotional indicator as a sigh was evidence of his compromise.

 

He knew Spock and Saavik were concerned. Neither seemed to know how to help him so they had sent Spock's woman—he was uncertain what Nyota had been trying to do. She was kind and he could see why his son had found her an attractive option after losing Kirk. But she had not helped him process Amanda's death.

 

Perhaps nothing would. Except time.

 

He made his way to the bar and ordered a sparkling water with lime—he had found that most humans responded better to him at these types of affairs when he also had a beverage. What the beverage was seemed to matter much less than the act of holding the glass—being one of them.

 

Amanda would have had a glass of wine. She would have put those attending even more at ease. "Look at how her husband does not mind if his wife imbibes" would have been their reaction.

 

He turned and surveyed the room. There were people he should talk to, relationships to be maintained, but he found himself unwilling to move from where he was.

 

He heard a familiar voice on the other side of the bar and glanced over his shoulder. Commander Chapel and Commander Mark Sykes, the human she had married. This was not his concern. And she seemed too engrossed in the argument she was having with her mate to notice him looking at her.

 

An argument she was having very quietly. Sarek did not think most would be able to hear them, secluded as they were at a part of the bar where no one else was congregating.

 

"Did you have to bring her?" Christine asked.

 

"I didn't bring her. She came with Watkins."

 

"Sure she did."

 

"I told you it's over."

 

Sarek did not think Sykes sounded truthful. Something in his voice, an intangible quality that he had learned to listen for over the years as a diplomat, gave him away.

 

"If it's over, it's only because you've moved on to someone else." Christine sounded hurt. But also...resigned. As if this was an old argument.

 

"I don't know why I even try." Again, the sound was off, as if innocence was something protested to his wife but not believed.

 

There was silence, and Sarek sipped his water and debated who among the dignitaries and officers to talk to first.

 

"Eavesdropping, Ambassador?" Christine surprised him by pushing in next to him. He could not read her expression—was she upset or amused or simply numb, the way he felt so many days?

 

He saw no point in denying it. "As you well know, listening is key to understanding."

 

"I'm not exactly a diplomatic situation you've been assigned to."

 

He conceded her point with a nod. "I did not think you saw me."

 

"I notice everything and you know that. Got an earful, I imagine."

 

"I..."

 

"Never mind. Of course you did. Vulcan damn hearing. Spock always hears it when Ny and I try to have a quiet conversation." She turned and motioned the bartender over. "Pomegranate and soda."

 

He could feel his eyebrow rise before he could stop it. She was in ops. They drank heavily. It was a given.

 

Moreover, he had seen her drink heavily on the missions they had been assigned to in the past.

 

She seemed to know what he was thinking, smiled wryly, and murmured, "I like to keep my wits about me at these things. Careers can be ended by being stupid. Like, say, punching the woman who slept with your man."

 

"Would you do that?"

 

"Not if I'm drinking pom and soda." She grinned at him, and her face was transformed.

 

He was reminded that he had never understood why his son was not interested in her. Such vivid eyes. Kind eyes, Amanda had always said.

 

But his son had been enamored with Kirk and then had looked elsewhere. Had it been because this woman was married or because Nyota had always been of more interest?

 

It was easier to wonder at the state of his son's affections than to worry about his own inability to cope with loss. Easier to watch this woman, who had always seemed to put others first, struggle with a husband who clearly did not appreciate what he had.

 

Her expression changed as she looked across the room. "Oh, you have to be fucking kidding me."

 

He followed her gaze and saw her husband in deep conversation with another woman. "Is that the target of your wrath?"

 

"Yep. Over, my ass. The guy she came with was Mark's wingman when they were single." She closed her eyes. "Why am I telling you this?" She made a face, as if embarrassed. "And, why would you care? You have enough on your mind. I'm so sorry about Amanda. She was always very sweet to me."

 

"Most kind." It was his standard reply. It seemed to prevent humans from trying to commiserate. And Christine had sent lovely flower to the embassy—there had been so many it had been overwhelming by the end. Too many scents, too much color in the midst of his emotional darkness.

 

Christine seemed to realize he did not want her sympathy. Her expression changed, becoming more sober. "You probably have people to see. The gardens are amazing here. Tranquil. I think I need that. Have a good night." She was off before he could answer, heading to a door leading to a terrace.

 

He saw a particularly irritating Andorian headed in his general direction, one who would resume his tirade about supposed insults to his planet, so he turned and followed Christine out before it was clear to the Andorian that he had been seen.

 

She was not on the terrace and he did not see her on the paths leading off in all directions. Then he heard a sound. Muted swearing. He followed the sound to a grove, with a lovely fountain. He coughed gently to let her know he was there.

 

"Night blooming jasmine," she said without looking up at him. "It's my favorite. What was Amanda's?"

 

"Roses." Her roses on Vulcan were dying. Saavik did not have her touch with living things, neither did the housekeeper. The ones at the embassy were doing better, managing to thrive in native soil even if their caregiver was gone.

 

Christine moved over to give him room on the bench but still did not look at him. "Mark's cheated on me before. I don't know why it still hurts me. Or why I stay. Other than he's a mover, too. We're good together for our careers if nothing else." She sighed.

 

"I am sorry."

 

She made a sound, a puff of air that he realized was her version of a bitter laugh. "Do Vulcans ever cheat?"

 

"My son's betrothed did."

 

"But they weren't bonded, right? I mean she didn't know how much he loved Jim, did she?" She turned to look at him, and even though her eyes glistened, the pristine state of her makeup indicated she had not let any tears fall.

 

"She chose Kirk as her champion. It is possible she was well aware." He found it an odd conversation to be having with her, but it was easier than making small talk on subjects he had little to no interest in with people he would rather not spend time with.

 

"But as a rule. Do Vulcans cheat?"

 

"No."

 

"Must be nice." She sipped her drink. "Oh, well. He's shipping out. Exec on a starship."

 

"Impressive. Which one?"

 

"The Palenque. Less impressive is that the woman I want to tear apart is assigned to the same ship."

 

"Is it not a term marriage?" He nearly frowned; asking such a personal question was not something he would normally do.

 

"It is. I know, I know. Just don't renew. So simple." She sighed again. "Another failure for Christine."

 

He was not sure what to say. They sat in silence for longer than humans normally were comfortable doing.

 

Finally, she turned to him and seemed to be studying him. "Are you okay? I can only imagine what losing a partner must be like for a Vulcan."

 

"You cannot imagine." It was said too fast, too harshly. He closed his eyes. "I apologize. You—"

 

"Don't apologize. You're probably right. It's a stupid thing to say since I've never been bonded to anyone." She shook her head. "I've never been loved like that."

 

"Doctor Korby did not love you?"

 

"I used to think he did. Way back when. But in hindsight, I don't know. He left me. He left me and then when he had the chance to make himself some company, he didn't choose for it to be me."

 

He had no idea what she was talking about. Roger Korby was never found. Unless Kirk had falsified the records. Spock, too, would have had to sign off on that as first officer. He dismissed the thought from his mind: if they covered up the truth, it would have been for a good reason. "I am sorry," he finally chose to say again.

 

"You and me both." Her comm unit sounded and she read the message and then stood. "Duty calls. Emergencies never sleep. Sorry to be such a downer."

 

"I am not exactly sparkling company these days."

 

"Are you ever?" She was grinning, taking the sting out of the words the same way Amanda would have.

 

"I have been told I have my moments."

 

"And I can imagine who told you that." Her smile was gentle. "Have a good evening, Sarek."

 

"May your emergency be easily handled and over quickly."

 

"From your lips to God's ears."

 

##

 

"Of all the ships in all the galaxies, I had to walk into yours," Chapel muttered as she stowed her things in guest quarters on the Palenque.

 

Mark hadn't been there to welcome her aboard. To say they weren't getting along was to underestimate how toxically silent a marriage could become when both partners detested each other but still might need one another professionally.

 

A buzz sounded at her door. "Come," she said, turning and expecting it to be a member of her team.

 

It wasn't. It was Mark's sidepiece.

 

Chapel stood a little straighter. "Lieutenant Torelli?"

 

"Gianna, please. I hope we can talk as people, not officers?" When Chapel motioned her in, the woman moved closer. "I mean—I know we've never talked."

 

"Sure haven't."

 

"You probably hate me."

 

"For what? Mark swears it's over."

 

The woman took a deep breath. "It wasn't. Until I found him with someone else. I'm transferring off."

 

"Do you want me to throw you a pity party?"

 

Torelli shook her head, her expression grim, but not terribly sad. "Divorce him. He always told me you did more for his career than he did for yours because of all the people you know. Burn that bridge for him."

 

Chapel couldn't help it. She laughed. "Ballsy. You'd do well in ops."

 

"No. I wouldn't. You have all my respect for doing that job. Well, obviously not all of it or I wouldn't have done what I did. But..." She took a deep breath. "So, I'm sorry."

 

"I'm not going to say it was okay. But I appreciate the courage—or maybe ice-cold need for vengeance—it took to come in here."

 

Torelli laughed and then murmured she was sorry again as she left. Chapel had the feeling that, under different circumstances, they might have been friends.

 

A few minutes later, her chime rang again. "Come," she said and turned to see if Mark was actually darkening her door to do damage control.

 

It was Spock.

 

"What are you doing here? I thought we were stuck with Ambassador G'Leda."

 

"They are indisposed."

 

"For which I say a hearty 'Yay' because they annoy the shit out of me." She grinned at him. "You hungry?"

 

He nodded and led her out of the quarters and down the corridor to the lift. "Commander Sykes welcomed me on board."

 

"More than I got. Why do you never refer to him as Mark?"

 

"He is your husband, not my friend."

 

"Well, he may not be my husband for much longer, so don't change on my account."

 

"Should I offer condolences or congratulations?"

 

"Little of both maybe."

 

He seemed to be studying her. "I think you cared deeply for him once. I am sorry you lost that."

 

"Well, the question is did he ever really care deeply for me? I'm thinking the answer to that is a big resounding no. Let's not talk about him anymore, okay?"

 

He nodded and they walked in companionable silence to the mess. If anyone had told her that Spock would be with her best friend and not only would she not care but he and she would become friends, well, she wouldn't have believed them. But Spock was right. She'd been head over heels for Mark when Spock and Ny began seeing each other a few months after Jim's death so she really hadn't cared.

 

It had even been fun double dating—Mark must have loved that. Being with the architect of peace with the Klingons. Star-fucker that he was.

 

"I saw your dad at a function," she said, handing Spock a tray.

 

"How did you find him?"

 

"To be honest, I was sort of having my own crisis and wasn't paying as much attention as I might otherwise. But...a little lost." After Chapel had mentioned seeing Sarek to Ny, she'd told her how worried they were about him. "He loved your mother so much, Spock. They were together a long time. It's natural to grieve."

 

"But grief can become pathological, can it not?"

 

"It can. Do you think he's mired?"

 

"I am unsure. As you know, he and I do not have the kind of relationship that allows me to..."

 

"Pry?"

 

"Precisely. Saavik has tried to get him to open up. Nyota as well. He is...resistant." Spock was studying her in a way she couldn't read. "Perhaps you could get through to him. You have always had your own relationship with him independent of me."

 

"I'm more likely to join him in the deep end of the angst pool."

 

"I am sorry if that is the case, but perhaps it is what he needs. A project."

 

"Just what I want to be."

 

He was about to say something, but his expression changed, and she knew Mark had walked into the mess.

 

"Well, it's like old times." Mark's voice behind her grated on her every nerve.

 

"It is not," Spock said.

 

Mark stayed behind her so she couldn't see what his expression did with what was the height of discourtesy from Spock.

 

Then he laughed and said, "Oh, you mean because Nyota's not here."

 

"Bet that's not what he meant," she murmured so low only Spock could catch it.

 

His lips pricked up infinitesimally. Mark wouldn't notice, but she did.

 

Mark finally moved around so he could see her. "Hello, darling." He somehow managed not to put a sarcastic spin on the endearment.

 

"Snookums." She failed utterly at the same thing, her voice was dripping acid and she knew it.

 

And enjoyed it.

 

"It's always such a treat to have you with me." His smile probably looked real, to any of the crew watching their first officer interact with his wife and her friend.

 

She, of course, knew better. Suddenly, she couldn't stand the thought of being married to him a second longer and pulled out her padd, scrolling to the renewal agreement that had shown up in her messages that morning—she had a week to decide.

 

She didn't need a goddamned week.

 

She hit "Do not renew," then looked up. "Maybe it'll be more of a treat now?"

 

He took the pad from her, and she had to give him credit: his face didn't change as he took in the fact that he was a free man again—or would be in a week.

 

"Okay, then," he said softly as he handed back the padd.

 

"Okay, then."

 

He nodded to Spock, then turned and walked out.

 

"Are you all right?" Spock asked gently.

 

"Sadly, yes. Staying married would have hurt way more." She met his eyes; his were so soft, so supportive. "No more double dates."

 

"I will not miss his presence. And surely you know Nyota and I welcome you with or without a companion?"

 

"Yeah? I mean I know she feels that way, but you do, too?"

 

He nodded. "Indeed. We are friends, Christine."

 

"And I'm really, really glad about that."

 

She could already feel something inside her settling down; she was finally free from this marriage that hadn't been what she hoped. From a man she'd loved but never gotten to know enough to like before they'd tied the knot—albeit on a perpetually temporary basis.

 

Thank God for whatever angel looked out for mismatched pairs and had them select "term" on the marriage agreement.

 

##

 

Sarek was sitting on the balcony of Spock and Nyota's apartment when he heard a familiar voice. Turning he saw Christine had come in. He waited, but there was no sign of her husband.

 

He had noted a fourth plate on the table but assumed Saavik had arrived unexpectedly from Vulcan and was going to be joining them, not Christine.

 

She saw him and came out to the balcony. "I didn't know you'd be here."

 

"Nor I you."

 

She sat down. "Well, I for one am not sorry to see you. How are you?"

 

"I prosper." A lie, but the thing one said when with others.

 

She studied him, her eyes narrowing, seeing far too much, so he decided to distract her.

 

"And your husband. Is he joining us?"

 

"My ex-husband, you mean? Nope." She smiled and he thought she looked as if she had shed an extra person.

 

Which she had, in a way that was clearly much more beneficial than the way he had lost Amanda. Love was lost in both cases but such different reactions to it.

 

"I would offer sympathy, but you do not appear to need it."

 

"I don't. I should have done it a long time ago." She settled in, curling into the chair. "I love the view from here."

 

"It is indeed pleasant."

 

"I love coming here. I feel as if I can relax, just be me." She made a face. "Stupid, isn't it? That I feel trapped in my own place."

 

He understood only too well how that might feel. "Perhaps you need a new apartment."

 

She laughed. "That's what Spock said. Acorn doesn't fall far from the tree."

 

Nyota came out, handing him a special combination of fruit juices he had enjoyed the first time he visited, then she handed Christine something dark with ice. Whisky from what he could detect of the aroma.

 

"Goddess Ny." Christine laughed as Nyota leaned down, and hugged her from behind, kissing her cheek gently.

 

"Did you tell Sarek you're a free woman, now?" Nyota glanced over at him. "We didn't like Mark."

 

"Could have told me sooner."

 

"You were crazy in love. No one wants to hear friends trash-talk someone they love." She let her go and sat in a free chair. "Oh, by the way, two floors up there's an apartment coming open. Different view but still nice. It'd be like being on the ship again. We can have sleepovers when Spock is gone." She grinned in a way Sarek found pleasing—so free with her emotion, so happy to be with friends.

 

His son was a fortunate man.

 

"I do love this building."

 

"Do you want to go up and see it? The building manager put me on the door just in case you wanted to check it out. He loves having Starfleet residents."

 

Christine seemed to find Nyota's good humor as infectious as he did. "Okay." She glanced at him. "You want to come?"

 

"I would be intruding."

 

"Old fuddy duddy." Christine laughed at his expression. "Aren't you curious what the view might be from that side?" There was a mischief in her expression, a happiness that he thought was at the idea of being so close to friends.

 

"Fine. I will accompany you. Provide Vulcan logic to temper your human impetuousness."

 

He earned the eye rolls he expected and rather enjoyed them.

 

Nyota left Spock to wait for the food delivery and took them upstairs. The view was not as breathtaking as what Spock and Nyota enjoyed, but he thought it would get more sunshine during the day. And Christine seemed to enjoy the amount of light the room got, even with none of the lamps on.

 

"A new start," he heard her whisper.

 

If only it was that easy for him.

 

##

 

Chapel was looking over the list of officers who'd transferred off ships mid assignment, going through the specialties. She never knew what she might find for ops.

 

One name jumped out at her. Torelli. Back and with no imminent assignment. She noted where she'd been assigned a desk and told her exec she'd be back in a while. Then she strolled down to the temporary offices and stood at the door, studying the young woman who she'd let become her personal nemesis.

 

Torelli seemed to feel her gaze and looked up. Chapel had to give her credit. She didn't blanche or turn red. She just met her look with one that was...curious.

 

Finally, Chapel beckoned her over, and she turned her terminal off and joined her at the entrance.

 

"Walk with me."

 

Again, she gave Torelli credit. She didn't rush to fill the silence the way most people—especially someone with this kind of history with her—usually would have done.

 

"You bored flying a desk, Lieutenant?"

 

"Depends on why you're asking."

 

Chapel bit back a smile. "Just making conversation."

 

"Somehow I doubt that, Commander."

 

She stopped and studied the woman. "You've got an engineering background."

 

"Yes, ma'am."

 

"I have an opening for someone with an engineering background."

 

Torelli stood a little straighter. "Is it on a world where I'll be killed one second after setting foot on it? Because I'll pass if this is a revenge thing."

 

"No revenge needed. I took your advice and divorced Mark. Moved to a new place. Am close to friends and I’m happier than I've been in, well, years. I'm not sure I'd have made the move without the nudge. Not, mind you, that it lets you off the hook, but still..."

 

"You don't hate me?"

 

Chapel took a deep breath. "A long time ago, I was you." Something she always left out of the great Korby-Chapel love story: that he'd been married when she met him. "But I never did it again. Because if he did it with you—"

 

"He'll do it to you." Torelli smiled. "Yeah, I'm on a strictly single guys routine now."

 

"Excellent. And now that we've got that clear we don't ever need to talk about it again. So...do you want to hear about the job?"

 

Torelli didn't answer quickly. But she didn't take too long to make up her mind either and say, "Yes. Yes, I do."

 

A good quality for someone in emergency ops.

 

"Let's grab some coffee and I'm gonna sell the hell out of my place to you."

 

"And I'm going to say yes?"

 

Chapel laughed. "Well, no one generally says no when I'm in woo mode. But I guess there's a first time for everything."

 

"What if I say yes and hate it? I expected to be on a ship."

 

"And there will no doubt be a ship with a vacancy eventually. If you don't like this, you request reassignment—or we request you be reassigned. Not everyone works out, unfortunately."

 

She seemed to take that as a dare, which was what Chapel liked to see. "I'll work out."

 

"Okay, then let's talk."

 

##

 

Sarek stood in front of the closet holding Amanda's clothing. It was an emotional indulgence to keep her things close and he had a feeling cleaning them out was something he needed to do.

 

But he did not want to.

 

He opened the door, inhaling slowly to get the last traces of Amanda's perfume. It faded more each time he came in to start this task.

 

He should wait until it was entirely gone before disposing of her items. It might be an emotional weakness on his part, but he could not bear to contemplate donating or recycling anything while it still had her scent on it.

 

He backed out of the closet, closing the doors gently, whispering, "My wife, I miss you."

 

There was never any reply and he did not expect one. He was not that far gone. But being able to express it, even if it was to no one, gave him some measure of peace.

 

Or at least gave words to the source of his pain.

 

He contemplated the day ahead of him. A day of rest, a day he would have spent with his wife, perhaps enjoying the city, perhaps staying in. Sometimes they traveled and stayed the night in a city they had never been to.

 

He could still do that. There were many places he was interested in that she had vetoed. He could explore. Work off some of this restless energy.

 

Instead he stood, unsure what to do but knowing that whatever it was it would feel empty.

 

His communicator buzzed and he answered it gratefully. "Yes?"

 

"Ambassador, Admiral Lopez here. I know this is short notice but we need you to go to Dolosa. Is that possible?"

 

He nearly smiled. A dangerous world. One that would require all his attention. No time to indulge in this emotional wallowing.

 

"I can leave now." He kept a bag ready. Amanda's bag used to sit near his, but he had moved it into her closet a few days after she died.

 

"Excellent, Ambassador. You'll be joining up with an Emergency Ops team and the Corps of Engineers."

 

Nothing unusual. "Understood."

 

"We're sending you the details. I know you're up to speed—you're our best man for this."

 

He felt a surge of relief. He was still proficient. His Federation interlocutors had not noticed how compromised he was. "Most kind, sir."

 

"Safe travels, Ambassador." The line clicked off.

 

He grabbed his bag, added a few padds and other things he might need, changed his robe to the one that showed no wrinkles no matter how long the travel, and left his private quarters. He coordinated with the officer on duty at the embassy so there would be no surprise at his absence, then hurried out, trying not to show how much of a rush he was in to flee the building—and the sadness it represented.

 

##

 

Chapel woke to a blindingly bad headache and stabbing agony in her gut, the seemingly universal smell of a medical suite, and unfamiliar language being spoken by the people working on her. She waited for her universal translator to kick in, but long moments went by and she still couldn’t understand a word that was being said around her.

 

“Please? What are you doing?” Her head, they were working on her head. And another doctor was doing something to her abdominal area. What the hell had happened?

 

Suddenly she felt a soft touch on her arm and heard a voice gently saying in Vulcan-accented standard, “Christine, please let them work on you.”

 

"Sarek?" She tried to turn her head but a doctor—or nurse, Chapel wasn’t sure which—reached down and kept her head in place.

 

“Yes, it is I. Lie still.”

 

“What happened?”

 

“We are on Dolosa. You threw yourself in front of me—do you not remember? You were hit by a pulse weapon.”

 

Oh yeah. The blistering agony even as she knocked Sarek out of the way. She nodded before she could think better of it, then closed her eyes and rode out the pain.

 

“She is in a great deal of discomfort. Can you not alleviate it?” Sarek sounded irritated with the people working on her. And he was right that she was in pain. What the hell? She’d had plenty of meds in their first aid kits.

 

The person holding her head still said something.

 

“What? What did she say?” Chapel felt a rise of panic. “And why can’t I understand them?”

 

“When you pushed me out of harm’s way, you took the brunt of the blast from the weapon. It destroyed your universal translator. There is other damage as well, and they are working to correct that.” He stopped talking as one of the people working on her said something, and he actually sighed. “They say their pain medicines are not compatible with your physiology.”

 

“I wish they’d let me be the judge of that. Fucking mor—”

 

Their universal translators are operating at peak efficiency.” There was a warning note in his voice making the simple statement into something stronger. She could imagine him using that tone with Amanda, when she’d been about to say something not so nice.

 

“Of course they are.”

 

“Yes.” This time he sounded amused.

 

“We have meds. In our kits. At the camp.”

 

“The camp was destroyed. There was nothing to salvage.”

 

"And my people?”

 

"Got out in time. But the supplies were lost."

 

Disappointment flooded her. “Shit."

 

She heard the hum of what had to be a regenerator and her head felt better, but then the doctors said something and Sarek translated. She closed her eyes, not liking the procedure they were going to do to her gut—actually, she didn’t mind the procedure, but the idea of undergoing it without a nerve block was terrifying. But she agreed. It was what she’d have had to do if the situation were reversed.

 

“I often forget you are a doctor. You have been in emergency operations for so long.” His voice lowered, concern seemed to be coloring it—or maybe she just wanted to believe it did, that she had a true connection with the one person she could actually communicate with in this room. “Once they have repaired the damage, you will no longer be in pain. But it will take time to repair and I can make the process more bearable for you.”

 

"A meld?" She imagined how that would feel for him, after losing his bond with Amanda. "Sarek, no, I can't ask you to—"

 

"I could not help my wife, Christine. I can help you."

 

"No, it's—" A jolt of agony rocketed through her as the doctors began to repair the damage. “Oh, fuck.” She closed her eyes. “I mean...”

 

“I am sure that is precisely what you meant. Now, may I help?”

 

Another jolt of agony. “Fu—yes, yes, yes."

 

He had his fingers on the meld points, was inside her mind so quickly it took her and him—she could feel it through the connection—by surprise.

 

"Shared consciousness with Spock once." Plus whatever Henoch had done to her when in Spock's body.

 

"Ah." Sarek seemed to be pushing her away from the present moment, until nothing existed but her and him, alone, in a shining white room. His concern for her was soothing, his strength kept her from falling back down to the pain that she was still aware of but didn't threaten to break her now.

 

"I have you," he murmured, as if worried she might slip away.

 

"I know," she said, but then a jolt of pain shot through her that made the others seem mild.

 

He deepened the meld. "I have you. I have you, Christine."

 

She was breathing hard, and she heard one of those working on her say something that made Sarek tighten his grip.

 

"What? What did he say?"

 

"It is immaterial."

 

"Immaterial, my ass." Was her blood pressure dropping? Was she bleeding somewhere they hadn't expected it? Did they even know what they were doing?

 

Calm yourself. Feel me with you." His voice was close, in her ears—in her mind? She wasn't sure. "Go deeper with me, be at peace."

 

"Easy for you to say," but she let him pull her deeper and the light in the room changed, growing softer, more golden than white.

 

"You are safe," he murmured, and she thought she heard the lap of water, the soft rustle of draperies being blown from an open window, the gentle whisper of wind through leaves. "Yes. Good, Christine. Good."

 

She could sense that he was calming, too. It was only as it happened that she realized he hadn't been calm before.

 

That Spock had been right—Sarek's grief was threatening to overwhelm him, and unlike her pain, wasn't going to end as soon as this operation did. His wound was too deep, too jagged.

 

"Sarek. I'm so sorry."

 

"Shhh. It is irrelevant."

 

"Not to me." The sounds grew louder, the light more golden: she was safe and warm. "Is this your happy place or mine?"

 

"I am unsure."

 

As he took her deeper, as everything but the peace of the room and his need to help her faded, she murmured, "Maybe it's ours."

 

##

 

Sarek stood in the quarters assigned to Christine as she assessed the work the Dolosan doctors had done. "Are you satisfied?"

 

She nodded, running her fingers down the skin of her abdomen and he found himself following their progress with more interest than perhaps was right, then she dropped her shirt back down. "Thank you. I know the meld had to be difficult for you."

 

"I had to help." And it had not been difficult, not at the end. It had felt like coming home, being in such communion with her, in that place one of them had created—or had she been right? Had they both created it, a synthesis of their needs?

 

She moved in front of him, studying him, and he reached out and cupped her cheek. Then he realized what he had done and tried to pull away, but she put her hand over his, pushing down, capturing him.

 

Her lips were parted, her breath faster than normal, her eyed dilated as they stood silently and still.

 

Then she moved and pulled him down to her, his lips to hers. The kiss was slow and sensuous, but then she jerked away, holding her hand to her lips. "I'm so sorry. I don't know why I did that."

 

"Did you enjoy it? Because I did." He held his hand out to her. "Sometimes a meld as intense as the one we shared can bring two people closer."

 

"I shared consciousness with Spock and it sent him running."

 

"A fact I find myself profoundly relieved by." He felt something strange—amusement. How long had it been since he had experienced anything so light?

 

But he could see she was confused—perhaps troubled by her actions. And possibly by his reaction to the kiss, his honesty about enjoying it. "If this is an aftereffect you find distressing, I will leave and we will never speak of this again."

 

"Who'll translate for me if you leave? They may have fixed my gut and head, but my translator is still out."

 

"Any one of the members of your staff or mine could converse with you." He dropped his hand. She had not said she wanted him. She had diverted with humor.

 

He had overstepped, imagining connection in the transference that seemed to have occurred during the meld.

 

"What are you thinking?" she asked as she moved closer. "Because whatever it is, it's made you sad."

 

"It is nothing. Would you like to know the status of the mission?" He moved away from her, wishing the room had a window so he could stare out and not have to look at her.

 

Not have to admit he wanted more from her than she apparently did from him.

 

"Hey." Her touch on his arm was gentle, and he barely resisted the urge to lean into her hand. "Sarek, what's wrong."

 

"I have, I believe, projected my needs onto you. For that I apologize."

 

"Uhh, were you in the same room? I kissed you, mister." Her tone was one that brooked no argument, but also...light.

 

He looked over at her and she was smiling.

 

"Sarek, I've been known to make impetuous overtures to men in your family. Well, one man. Not like I've thrown myself down the line." She laughed gently. "Maybe I just don't want to think I did that again." She moved closer. "That my touch would be...unwelcome."

 

"It is not."

 

She trailed her fingers over his cheek and he closed his eyes. "I feel so much right now. Is this just the meld—is this normal?"

 

He pulled her closer. "I do not know." He tipped her chin up so he could kiss her.

 

It was a safe kiss, tender, but then she opened her mouth to him and he felt lost.

 

Such desire. He wanted to bury himself in her, lose himself and never come back.

 

He pulled away from her gently. "I honestly do not know, Christine. I think...I think that if this is genuine, not just residual accord from the meld, it will last. And we should..."

 

"Wait. We should wait." She rubbed against him as if wanting to make sure he was aroused—that he wanted her. He knew she could tell he did; he nearly moaned at the feel of her against him.

 

"Yes, we should wait." He allowed himself a sigh. "But for the record, I do not want to."

 

"That's very gallant of you. Waiting when not wanting to." She put her arms around his waist, holding him in a way that was supportive rather than seductive. "Do you have anyone to talk to? I could feel through the meld how sad you are."

 

"I am a Vulcan and I—"

 

"Fuck being a Vulcan. I felt it, Sarek. Pounding at me. You miss her so, so much."

 

"I do. She was my partner in all things."

 

"I know." She eased away from him. "Is there someone you could see? To talk through it?"

 

"You wish for the representative of all of Vulcan to the Federation to admit he is compromised?"

 

"Yeah. Yeah, I do." She sat on the bed. "Spock's so worried about you. He lost Jim. He would understand."

 

"I am aware of that. But he and I do not have the kind of relationship that would allow such sharing."

 

"Okay." She cocked her head. "But I think you and I do. So talk to me. I've been through it, too. Not with a bond, but to some extent I do understand—I lost Roger, after all."

 

He shook his head, not because he did not want her help but because he was unsure where to begin.

 

And she seemed to know that. She smiled gently and said, "Start with something easy. When did you realize you loved her?"

 

He could see Amanda as she had been the day they had met, the way her eyes had knit with annoyance at something he had said, then later, the way they both had come to respect each other as they had worked together on a project.

 

As they spent more and more hours on it. Talking, finding new ways to approach the issue so they would not have to end their interaction.

 

"It was not immediate. Our rapport. But once it began, it was...inevitable."

 

She grinned. "I like that. It's beautiful." She moved to one of the armchairs and gestured for him to take the other. "Tell me more."

 

He did sit but studied her. "I am not the only one whose relationship has ended. You are not my therapist so this must not be one sided. We will both talk and we will both listen."

 

"Yes, sir." Her tone was amused. She reached out to touch his hand; he felt the same shock of desire as before but also now a profound gratitude for how open she was, how warm and willing and...human. "I don't talk about Roger much. Or Mark." She looked away.

 

"He hurt you very much."

 

"I let him."

 

"Nevertheless... When did you first realize you wanted him?" He watched her face as she seemed undecided if she was going to open up.

 

Finally she laughed softly. "The moment I saw him. Like every other woman he comes across probably. And he wanted me—but for what I could do for him, not for me. It too was inevitable—if uneven in motive." She smiled gently. "I like your story better. Tell me more."

 

He could see talking about her former husband hurt her. Talking about Amanda felt like a relief. So he abandoned the idea of immediate reciprocity and told her more about how he and Amanda came together.

 

And with each word, felt a lightness descending. A lightness he was finally ready to welcome.

 

##

 

Chapel sat with Sarek on her balcony, enjoying the luxury of a day off. He was drinking a glass of water as she sipped her favorite wine, he wasn't talking, clearly tired after a long mission. It was nice except he'd just...showed up.

 

He'd wanted to take her to dinner. Which would have been nice if she'd had some warning and hadn't already had plans.

 

She wasn't the young student that had made Roger her world, and as a result had lost her friends in that all-consuming love. She wasn't the woman who'd constantly changed plans for Mark.

 

She had a life.

 

And she wasn't Amanda.

 

She and Sarek hadn't had much time to talk since Dolosa. Both of them had been off on missions, different places with little overlap on Earth.

 

She could tell he was frustrated. That he wanted to resume their conversations. Continue getting to know each other.

 

She had a feeling he'd planned this out the way he would any mission. But real life was interfering. As was suddenly her own need to assert her independence.

 

Would she ever be enough for him if she couldn't dedicate herself to him the way Amanda had?

 

She hard a soft cough and turned to see Ny—her real dinner date this evening—standing at the balcony doors with the "You want to cancel?" look they'd perfected their first time on the Enterprise. She gave her back the nearly imperceptible "Not on your life" look.

 

Sarek stood. "I believe that is my cue to depart."

 

Chapel could tell Ny was about to cave, to let him stay, so she stood up quickly and said, "Yep. Let me see you out."

 

She took his hand by the door, not caring what he might be reading from her touch. He studied her, then brushed her hair back gently.

 

"You are frustrated with me. But also pleased to see me, I think."

 

"You think right." She sighed. "I'm free tomorrow for dinner. If you want?" She could have said this earlier but she wanted to see how he took being denied what he wanted. He'd tried to run Spock's life—would he try to run hers?

 

But he'd been sweet and just seemed honestly glad to spend whatever time with her she could give him. So now she could offer tomorrow with a free heart, not as some weak gesture of conciliation.

 

"I would like that."

 

"I have missed you, Sarek." It wasn't a lie. She thought about him a lot. In many different ways.

 

He nodded. "Nyota is waiting."

 

She leaned in, resting her lips on his cheeks. "I'll see you tomorrow. I should be home by six barring, well, you know."

 

"Emergencies." He nodded. "I need sleep."

 

"Then go sleep."

 

"They will need me at the embassy." He seemed...off. Like he couldn't take one more interruption, one more person at him.

 

"Wait, did you come right here from Starfleet Command? You didn't go to the embassy first?"

 

"I..." He actually yawned. She couldn't remember ever seeing him or Spock do that.

 

She knew how that felt. When you were dead on your feet. When one more thing would be just too much. She'd felt that way the night before. "Hang on a sec."

 

She hurried back out to the balcony. "Can Sarek stay in your guest room for tonight?"

 

Ny stood, her look full of concern. "Do you need me to go? He could stay here, with you."

 

"I don't think that's what he needs. Come back down once you've got him settled and we'll go out like we planned."

 

Pitching her voice as softly as it was possible, Ny said, "Why don't you want to just take care of him?"

 

"Because I'm not Amanda," she whispered back.

 

"We're going to talk about this." Ny eased past her and said, "Sarek, Spock's gone and I'll probably crash with Christine tonight. Why don't you take the guest room?" It sounded like it was her idea, so much warmth in her voice, so much welcome.

 

Chapel hoped Sarek appreciated it.

 

"I would not wish to impose."

 

She joined them and said, "You should. No one can bother you there. Get some sleep. I want you rested for tomorrow." She put a more seductive spin on it than she intended and Ny burst out laughing. "For dinner. Jeez."

 

He seemed pleased—and relieved. "I will do as you say."

 

"Wow, can you teach me that for Spock? He never does what I say." Ny laughed again, and then led Sarek upstairs, coming down a little bit later with the toiletry bag Chapel and Jan used to make fun of her for. So many products that she never ended up using but had to have just in case.

 

She put it on the counter and said, "What's going on?"

 

"He just showed up. It...I just..." She took a deep breath, tightening her lips to keep from saying what she didn't mean. "I just don't want to be taken advantage of again."

 

"Are we talking about Sarek or Mark? You left your marriage and you never talk about Mark. I know you must be hurting."

 

"Our relationship was dying for a long time. I just didn't want to admit it."

 

"So? Still hurts." She pointed to the couch. "I don't want to go out. Let's just watch vids." Once Chapel sat, she poured herself some wine, retrieved Chapel's glass from the balcony, and curled up at the other end. "Not that I'm saying you were wrong telling Sarek no. But don't get him confused with your ex."

 

"What if he needs someone like Amanda? Someone who can be...everything to him?"

 

"Then he wouldn't be darkening your door, toots. It's not like he doesn't know who and how you are. He just needs some training, is all." She laughed. "Spock is going to be so pleased to hear you two are getting closer."

 

She shot Ny a confused look; her friend was smiling. "That didn't sound like sarcasm."

 

"'Cause it's not. He's very worried about him. He wants him settled. He thinks he needs another human. He thinks you two would be good together."

 

"Really?"

 

"He does love you. Just not the way you used to want him to." She kicked her shoes off and got comfy. "He was really happy when you ditched Mark." Then she frowned. "I'm not sure he's really thought through what double-dating with his father might be like though." She started to laugh.

 

"Stop. Sarek and I aren't even—"

 

"Sure. He lets everyone buss his cheek." She laughed again, the silly giggle that always made Chapel laugh too. "I mean, I get that he's exhausted. But other than that, he's more...present, if that makes sense? I think it's you. I think you've given him a reason to go on."

 

"But I can't be the only reason."

 

"And you won't be. He takes his role seriously. We both know that. Listen, I saw the comms traffic from his last mission. It was unreal at times. So many fuck-ups. Not his, though. Starfleet's mostly. So he really might just be at a 'I'll kill the next person who asks me an idiotic question' stage."

 

"Okay. Thank you." She held out her glass. "Here's to you. For talking me down."

 

"And to you. For hosting girls' night."

 

They clinked their glasses gently. "Hear hear."

 

##

 

Sarek finished his meetings at the embassy, relieved to feel more like himself. He had not intended to go to Christine's yesterday, had been on his way to the embassy and suddenly told the flitter to turn into her building,

 

An emotional impulse. But one driven not by grief but by frustration with a mission where nothing had gone right no matter how he finessed it. And by exhaustion. He had neglected sleep to some extent since Amanda's death. Their bed had been a reminder of what he had lost.

 

It had been surprisingly comfortable in his son's apartment, knowing Christine and Nyota were just downstairs, having rare peace and time to himself. A chance to truly recharge.

 

His comm unit rang. It was Christine. "An emergency has come up?" he said by way of hello.

 

"Yes. I do want to see you though, but I have meetings through dinner. Can I stop by when I'm done?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Okay. I'm sorry."

 

"Do not be. You have responsibilities. I know this." He thought it important to say that. He had felt an insecurity from her the previous night that he was not entirely sure he understood but felt the need to try to mitigate nonetheless.

 

"I'll ping you before I leave. Unless it gets too late. Damn it, I have to go."

 

"Then go. I will see you later."

 

"Okay." The line clicked off.

 

He set the communicator down and went back to his reports.

 

His assistant T'Lanra knocked gently then peeked in. "May I bring you a tray?"

 

"Yes. Most kind."

 

Her eyes were very gentle as she nodded, then closed the door. A short time later, she was back, setting his dinner next to him. "Do you need anything else tonight?"

 

"No, thank you."

 

She left him in peace and he ate as he worked. Finally, feeling a need to move, he turned off his terminal and took the tray to the kitchen, then went to his private quarters. He walked into Amanda's closet, studying the clothes, then moving closer, reaching for a robe he remembered her wearing the last time they hosted guests before she grew too ill to join him.

 

He thought of the story he might tell Christine. The memories that went with this item of clothing, the lovely night that he had not understood would be the beginning of the end of their life together. He put the robe at the end of the closet and moved on to a jacket he was not sure he had ever seen his wife wear. He held it close—it smelled slightly but only in the way an item would from proximity to perfumed clothing, not because she had worn it.

 

Excellent. This had no memories. He folded it and put it on the floor.

 

Slowly, he began to go through the items. If he could construct a narrative about any of them, they went with the robe. He would deal with them some other time. But when he found ones that evoked no strong emotion, he folded them and put them in the group for donating.

 

He heard a knock on his door, said, "Come," and saw it was Christine.

 

"I pinged. You didn't answer. I decided to come anyway." She started to laugh. "Which technically is probably exactly what you did yesterday, so if you want to get frustrated with me, you can."

 

"I did not comm you before I came. I should have. It was...discourteous to assume you would be available for me. I did not hear your message come in, though." He looked around. " I must have left my communicator in my office."

 

"Well, I'm here now." She moved closer, leaning her chin on his shoulder as she took in the closet. "What are you doing?"

 

"Until now, I have not been able to begin this task. I have made progress."

 

"So I see." She ran her hand down his arm, stopping to take his hand. "How does it feel to go through her things?"

 

"I am keeping the items that would pain me to part with. For now, at any rate." He gestured to the ones on the floor. "Those evoke no response. I will donate them. She would approve."

 

"Good."

 

He gently pulled her around so she was looking at him. "I know that you are not her."

 

"Oh shit, you heard us?"

 

He nodded. "I do not expect you to be her. I was...overtired and not considering what dropping in on you might imply." He played with her hair and she smiled.

 

"Did you sleep okay at Spock and Ny's?"

 

"I did. It was an excellent solution." He pulled her closer. "It has been some time since our meld."

 

"It has."

 

"I will be courageous and say that I still feel drawn to you."

 

"I'll be courageous right back and say I do too." She stroked his cheek. "Ny thinks I haven't really dealt with Mark, with leaving him, with the ways he hurt me."

 

"I will not hurt you that way."

 

"I know." She closed her eyes. "Love hasn't really worked out for me, Sarek."

 

"Perhaps because it has been with humans."

 

She laughed. "Uhhhh, do we want to bring up your son."

 

"That was infatuation. And unrequited." He pulled her closer. "This is neither of those things."

 

She moved against him, her lips soft on his, her hands running through his hair in a way that made him shiver. "I want you. So, so much." She eased away. "But maybe not in her closet."

 

He could not help it, a miniscule smile escaped, as he followed her to the bed. "As you wish."

 

##

 

Chapel lay on her stomach, moaning softly as Sarek lightly scratched her back. It wasn't just that she loved the way he was touching her, that it made her shiver—almost tingle down the back of her neck—but with the meld dying away slowly, she could still feel his sensations as well. "I understand now why Amanda was always so mellow."

 

His amusement at her words echoed through the remnants of the meld and she smiled, then abandoned talking for just experiencing.

 

His kisses trailing down her neck brought her back, and she turned and pulled him down, meeting his lips, wanting more.

 

He rolled to his back, pulling her up, so she could ride him, so he could play, and she closed her eyes and arched her back and rode out the pleasure.

 

Afterward, she lay curled against him, not just mellow, nearly comatose.

 

"Sleep. You are tired." He kissed her forehead gently. "Or—you are hungry. Did you not eat?"

 

"I was too keyed up." She realized she was really hungry.

 

"There is food in the chiller. Find something that appeals to you and bring it back to bed."

 

"Bossy," she said, but she leaned down and kissed him and then did what he said.

 

There was more selection in the chiller than she expected. She picked some cheese and found crackers and a plate in the cupboard, searching the drawers until she found a knife. Then she took it back to him.

 

He had arranged the pillows so they could lean against the headboard, and she crawled in next to him, cutting the cheese somewhat precariously.

 

"Do not tell me I could have cut this first. I know that." She glanced at him and grinned. "You're thinking it. Admit it."

 

"I am. But it is more out of concern that you will cut yourself, than judgment at your logic."

 

"This is cheese. There is no logic." She popped a piece into her mouth then asked, "Cracker or no cracker?"

 

"Cracker."

 

She cut a slim slice of the cheese, put it on the cracker, then held it out for him. He took it, sighing in a way that sounded very content. They ate in a companionable silence and then she took the plate and knife back to the other room. "You thirsty? You want to share a water or have a bottle of your own."

 

"I am ambivalent. Select the choice that pleases you."

 

She brought out one bottle and his look of contentment deepened. "You like that I want to share?"

 

"I do."

 

"You said you were ambivalent."

 

"The other choice would not have hurt me, so in that sense, I was. But I prefer this option."

 

She began to laugh. "That's the antithesis of ambivalence. If you had a preference."

 

He waved her logic away and took the water bottle, drinking slowly.

 

She curled up, her head in his lap, and studied him. "We rushed this."

 

"I find I do not mind."

 

She laughed again. "Well, me neither. But a human might think less of me for not waiting."

 

"Fortunately I am not human. And it is not as if we were strangers before today. We have had a long association." He put the bottle on the nightstand and played with her hair. "Is there a prescribed time to wait before making love?"

 

"Third date usually." She smiled at how he had phrased it—such a human way of saying it.

 

"I see no logic in that. Why not the ninth or the thirtieth?"

 

"Heck of a lot of credits would be wasted on the thirtieth if the sex was bad."

 

"True. But this waiting period appears entirely arbitrary." He slid down, easing her closer, finding a way for them to both be comfortable. "Are you sorry we did not wait?"

 

"Are you kidding? I feel great." She kissed him slowly. "And you know I feel great because you have those magic telepathic hands, the bestowers of many orgasms."

 

"It was not just my hands that did that."

 

"Mmmm, I know." She stroked his cheek and studied him. "You're so handsome."

 

"You find me so?"

 

"I do. I always have. You have the look of eagles. That's how my mom always phrased it." She ran her finger lightly down the bridge of his nose. "Other parts of you aren't bad either." She moved her hand, ran it slowly—very, very slowly—down his abdomen.

 

He actually groaned. "Perhaps you could demonstrate?"

 

"I'm good at demonstrations." She smiled as she grasped him and he closed his eyes, let out a sharp exhale. "Don't you think?"

 

"Yes." The word came out almost harshly, but in a way laced with need, with desire, and with affection. "Christine, please?"

 

She loved how he sounded, how much he was hers in this moment. "Since you ask so nicely."

 

He clutched the sheets, arching into her hand, his eyes fixed on her, his lips turned up slightly. Then he was gone and she smiled as she watched him come down.

 

She knew he would return the favor, but a yawn told her how tired she was and she curled up against him in a way that made it clear he didn't have to reciprocate this time. "I'm sleepy."

 

"Then sleep. I enjoy the feel of you next to me. I enjoy everything about you, Christine."

 

His kiss on her forehead was sweet, his fingers soft as he ran them down her arm.

 

She was out in moments.

 

##

 

Sarek hurried down the hallway toward Christine's apartment. She had not sounded right. He palmed himself in and found her on the balcony, sitting in what looked like unnatural stillness, a glass of wine that looked untouched on the table next to her. "Christine?"

 

"We keep losing people, Sarek."

 

"You lost an ops team?"

 

"No. The Jenolan was lost. All souls gone."

 

He had heard about the accident. He was unsure why it mattered so deeply to her. So he sat down and waited for her to tell him more.

 

"The engineer from the Enterprise was on the ship. I liked him. He liked me too. I never gave him the time of day—could only see Spock. But his real crush was Ny. And he had her for a time. But only for a time. I think it killed him when she and Spock got together. I think that's why he was headed far, far away." She turned to look at him. "Do you remember him? Mister Scott?"

 

"Ah. Yes, of course. I grieve with thee." Although she did not look as if she was grieving. She looked...Vulcan.

 

"I barely knew him anymore. I've become so sunk into this job. Into Command. Into moving higher and faster. I barely feel anything—he's dead. Just like Jim, and I barely feel anything."

 

"Are you afraid you have lost your humanity?"

 

She nodded.

 

He pushed her glass toward her. "You have not. You have never spoken of him, Christine. In all the tales we have shared, you have spoken of Kirk, of McCoy, of Nyota and your friend Rand. Of Captain Sulu. Even of Valeris. But never of this man. If you do not mourn him, perhaps it is because you did not have the kind of relationship that brings on grief."

 

She took a drink. "He saved us so many times. He saved everyone along with Jim and Spock and Len. He should be remembered."

 

"He no doubt will be. By those in the engineering field. By those who considered him a close associate. It is not required that you feel everything for everyone."

 

She started to laugh. "I know. But I used to. The old me would have been crying. What happened to her?" She put the wine down and reached for his hand.

 

He knew she realized he would read her, and he took her hand with a pang of relief that she was letting him in. That no matter what internal crisis she was going through, he was part of the solution, not the cause.

 

As he suspected, he did not feel an undue amount of sorrow from her. Only worry—probably that she felt so little. And exhaustion—something that never left her. How could she feel anything when she was so perpetually depleted?

 

And as he gently squeezed her hand, he felt her love for him. "Are you working tomorrow?" he asked softly.

 

She shook her head.

 

"I can take the day, for us, if you wish. We can go wherever you want."

 

"I should say Scotland in his honor—in his memory." She turned and met his eyes. "I'm not going to say that though. I love Sorrento."

 

"Then we will go to Sorrento. I regret I cannot stay the night."

 

"It's okay. I have an early meeting so I can't either. Even just an afternoon away would be nice." She grasped his hand more firmly. "Thank you for coming so quickly."

 

"It was no imposition. You were hurting; I wanted to help. I will always want to help you, Christine."

 

"It's nice. To be taken care of." She let go and took another sip of her wine, her expression becoming more the one he was used to. "Have you eaten?"

 

"I have not."

 

"I'll make us something. In a few minutes. I'm going to wallow for a little bit more." She was smiling in the way that indicated a wry amusement, only one side of her mouth turned up.

 

"That would be agreeable. The meal, not the wallowing."

 

"I knew what you meant."

 

##

 

Chapel was beyond tired and debated as she walked to the Palenque's mess whether she wanted to just turn around and abandon food for sleep. But she was really hungry and she needed to stay up a few more hours to get her internal time-clock reset.

 

She ordered a cheese and mushroom omelette. Nothing too heavy but it would taste good. Grabbing water to go with it, she took it to a back booth in the nearly empty mess and made short work of it. She was debating grabbing a few cookies to go when she saw Mark walk in.

 

She'd worked hard to be professional with him. She made sure her face didn't betray her even if there were very few people to watch their interaction.

 

He sat without being invited. She'd actually found his brashness refreshing and sexy when they met. Now she just thought it rude.

 

She resisted saying something snotty and just smiled in the most neutral way she could and waited to see what he wanted.

 

He put both hands on the table and leaned in. "Just so you know, I'm happy."

 

"That's great."

 

"You fucked me over with Gianna. But...I recovered."

 

She decided not to tell him she'd had nothing to do with the implosion of his relationship with Torelli. That it had been more like Gianna fucked him over with her. "Again, that's great."

 

"Always the professional. It's what I loved about you. How accomplished you are. How far and fast you were going." He tilted his head. "I know you think I'm the star-fucker, but Ambassador Sarek is quite a level-up for you, darling."

 

She called on every power she had to not show any emotion—how the hell had he found out? Not that she and Sarek were keeping it a secret, but they were being discreet. "My personal life is my business, Mark."

 

"Is it, though? All those joint missions. Is your head even in the game?" His smile was the one she hated the most—sly and mean. "And what does Spock think of all this. That has to be weird."

 

She shrugged, calling on everything she'd learned from Sarek and Spock over the years to be the closest thing to Vulcan she could be.

 

"Maybe I'll ask him next time he's on board."

 

She couldn't help it. She laughed. "You do that, Mark. And find out just how strong your friendship with Spock really is."

 

For the first time he looked...contrite. He had to know Spock didn't like him—he was too smart not to, wasn't he? And Spock had been on the Palenque several times since she'd chosen to not renew the marriage, and he might have been very cold to Mark. A man he'd been forced to interact with in the past but now didn't have to beyond what his missions demanded.

 

She leaned back. "Gianna's working for me now."

 

He rolled his eyes. "You think I don't know that?"

 

"It's just ironic how things work out, don't you think?"

 

He shot her a smile she couldn't read. "It is. It really is." He stood and took her tray. "I always cleared the table for us."

 

"You did."

 

"I think you knew who I was when you married me. You're a climber, Christine. Climbers always recognize their own kind."

 

"I thought you were a nice man who happened to also be going places quickly. I didn't know a climber was all you were."

 

"I never know if you're telling the truth or just enjoying playing the wounded ex wife. I guess now it doesn't matter." He turned and walked off, dumping her tray in the recycler.

 

She decided not to have any cookies. But she did crack into her stash of sleeping pills as soon as she got back to the quarters she'd been assigned. She had a busy week facing her and she didn't want to start it off any more exhausted than she already was because she'd been obsessing about things her goddamn ex had said to her instead of sleeping.

 

##

 

As Sarek walked with Christine down the hallway to Spock and Nyota's apartment, he realized he was slightly uneasy. What would his son's reaction be to his relationship with Christine?

 

She palmed them into the apartment, then laughed and reached back, slapping him gently on the arm. "I told you they'd have peaches."

 

He saw a large bowl of them on the table. "I am glad I resisted your offer of a wager." Christine had been in ops for so long that wagering on anything seemed second nature to her.

 

She rarely was on the losing side of the wager. A fact he did not mind since the items they parlayed were various sexual favors—things they both enjoyed giving and receiving. Unlike in her wagers at work, where liquor or other things of monetary value were put up, in this case, neither of them minded losing.

 

Nyota came out and gave Christine a hug. "We missed you at Len's."

 

"How is he?" Christine lifted a peach to her nose and smiled. "Love this smell."

 

"He's bored. I've got the peach cordial he's making to pass the time to prove it." Nyota smiled at him. "And how are you, Sarek?"

 

"I prosper."

 

Christine turned and gave him the look that meant he could be a little more forthcoming.

 

"If you wish to rephrase my words in a more emotional way, you may."

 

"He's happy." She took Nyota's arm. "Show me this liqueur. I've got to try it."

 

Sarek did not follow them, went instead to his son's office and found Spock waiting.

 

"You came with Christine." Spock did not sound surprised.

 

"I did." He had been anticipating this and took a long breath before saying, "My son, I do not want you to think I have rushed into something. You know that I cared deeply for your mother."

 

Spock held his hand up, but in a gentle way, not aggrieved. "Father, I too moved on in what some might consider a precipitous manner. It does not negate the level of emotion I had for Jim. Just as your actions do no dishonor to my mother." He leaned back. "And Christine is my friend. A friend who has not been fortunate in matters of the heart. I hope I do not have to tell you to treat her well?" His eyes were actually sparkling.

 

Sarek felt himself relaxing. "You do not, my son. I trust you will give her the same lecture?"

 

"I will if you think it is necessary." Again his son was clearly enjoying himself.

 

"I believe we are fine without your supervision."

 

"Excellent." Spock handed him a padd. "What do you make of this?"

 

He sat in the armchair by the window and read while Spock worked, asking questions every so often, feeling a sense of peace coming over him as they shared space so easily.

 

"Here's where you two are." Christine was sipping a golden liquid. "So Len's bored, Spock."

 

"I am aware, Christine. I was there."

 

"We need to find him something to do."

 

"He is an adult. He is more than capable."

 

"Nevertheless, put your thinking cap on. Between all of us we ought to be able to find something that might appeal to him." She looked over at Sarek. "Do you want something to drink?"

 

"No. Thank you."

 

"Do you want to try this?" She held out the glass of what must be peach cordial.

 

"He does not, Christine. I will not have you turning my father into an imbiber."

 

She shared a look with Sarek, mouthing Spock's words until he looked up and she pretended to behave.

 

"Christine? I'm not cooking this meal alone." Nyota's voice was the resolved one Sarek had learned broached no dissent.

 

"I'm coming." She winked at him then left him with Spock.

 

"She teases you with great finesse, my son. It...amuses me."

 

"It amuses her too." But Spock's voice was the one he often used when Amanda had amused him over the years—he was also enjoying the ribbing. "She is a woman of excellent character, Father. You could not have chosen better."

 

##

 

Chapel looked at the Lathan children huddling in the building. They were suffering from Phanaran's Virus but wouldn't come out when the ops team called. She knew how they must appear to the kids, all suited up in iso gear. Like monsters.

 

"Okay, clearly they aren't coming out when we look like scary aliens." She reached up for the catch on her helmet, but someone stopped her.

 

Turning, she saw it was Torelli. "Commander, let me."

 

"What? No."

 

"I'm the newest of the group. And any engineering work has to wait until the epidemic is halted, right? By the time they get well and ready for us, I'll be all better too."

 

"I've had Phanaran's before. It won't be as bad for me."

 

Torelli reached up and hit the latch on her helmet. "What's the Vulcan saying? The needs of the many? The many need you, they don't need me." There was something off in her voice, even through their comm system, Chapel could tell that.

 

Before Torelli could lift her helmet off, Chapel switched to a private channel and said, "If this is about the past, you owe me nothing."

 

Torelli's laugh was slightly hysterical. "It's definitely not about the past. Now, hold my beer." And with another laugh, one that sounded way closer to normal, she pulled off her helmet and handed it to Chapel.

 

"Consider it held." She watched as Torelli moved closer then crouched down. The children studied her, then hurried out, and Chapel and her team moved aside to let Torelli lead them to the quarantine area. "I'll be by to check on you," she said as she handed her the helmet.

 

Torelli nodded but kept moving.

 

"Okay, let's make sure the rest of this area is clear." Her team moved out, but she saw Sarek in the distance, walking with no iso gear since the Vulcans had created a vaccine that worked great so long as your blood was green.

 

Which left the Lathans out unfortunately. And most of the ops team. She lifted her hand in greeting then got back to work.

 

A few hours later, he found her. "Your officer, the one without a helmet—"

 

"I know. She should have stayed suited up. The needs of the many and all that." She didn't want to argue. A person could only stand around not helping for so long before it got to them.

 

"Christine, those were children. They are the many." He eased her away from her returning team. "And that is not what I was going to say. She is the one who was with your husband, is she not?"

 

"She's not with him anymore. But yeah. I hired her."

 

She saw amused confusion in his face. Or the Vulcan equivalent. "Something you neglected to mention."

 

"I didn't know I had to clear personnel decisions with you." She winced at the acid in her tone.

 

"You do not. As you know." His voice was gentle.

 

"Sorry. I'll tell you all about it later. Can I stay with you tonight?"

 

"Of course. But I thought discretion was vital."

 

"It was. Right up until my boss called me in before I left and told me this would be my last mission with you." She sighed. "Apparently we weren't discreet enough." Or fucking Mark had told on her.

 

He actually frowned. "Your presence will not sway my decisions."

 

"I think they're more worried about what I'll do." She shrugged off her annoyance. "I don't assign people to the same mission if I think they're involved. How can I not follow that same rule?" She stood a little straighter. "And I will. As soon as we get back. But for now? Fuck. Them."

 

He did not look amused at her attitude, more concerned. "There is something else I wish to speak of."

 

"Don't propose." It came out so harshly she winced again.

 

"I was not planning to. Or at least not tonight." His voice was still so gentle. "Go. We both have work to do."

 

"Right."

 

She hurried off, people waiting for her, and she fell into her role the same way she always did. Half coach, half mother hen. Torelli hadn't been wrong: Chapel was needed by a lot of people.

 

As a new shift came on, she briefed her beta team lead then headed to the quarantine area. She deconned her iso suit, wishing she could take it off since it was hot and sticky, then was waved in by several medical personnel, also in iso gear. "Torelli?"

 

A nurse pointed her down the hallway. As she walked, she heard the snap-crack of decon fields that kept bad things out—or in. Torelli was sitting in a chair reading when Chapel found her area.

 

"How do you feel?"

 

"Good. They said I'll know in six hours or so if I'm infected." She laughed softly, a nervous sound. "But then you know that. Doctor. Scientist. Commander. So many things." She seemed to be looking anywhere but at her.

 

"Yeah, someday I'll grow up and pick one."

 

"No you won't. You'll keep moving up, doing new things." Again she seemed to be avoiding looking at her.

 

"What's up with you?"

 

"We're getting married."

 

"What?" Was she sick already? Delirium usually came later. "I didn't know you were seeing someone."

 

"I kind of never stopped." She met her eyes. "I mean I did. At first. When I came to you, I wasn't lying. I was mad, and I left Mark. But then, once I was gone, he commed, and he commed, and then I picked up one night. Because I missed him. Because I love him."

 

Chapel started to laugh. "Is that why you volunteered to get the kids? Because you feel guilty for being a fucking idiot?" She shook her head. "Our engineer used to love to say: 'Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.' And he was right. Mark's going to cheat on you."

 

"Maybe not. I offer him nothing. Not like you did. If he wants me, it's because he really feels something."

 

"You just keep telling yourself that, Gianna." Chapel bit back more words; this woman might be a moron but she'd also made a sacrifice. One that more than likely was going to make her feel like shit for days. "Do you want me to check on you again?"

 

"Would you do that? After what I just said?"

 

"You're part of my team."

 

"But for how much longer?"

 

Chapel closed her eyes. Starfleet thought Sarek was going to compromise her? Jesus, where had they been during her stupid-ass marriage? "No matter how ill conceived I might consider your personal choices, I've got no complaints about your performance. You're part of my team." She turned to leave.

 

"Yes." Torelli's voice was very tentative. "Yes, I would like you to check on me again. Thank you."

 

"Roger that." She didn't turn around; there was a limit to how adult she wanted to be. She walked quickly, not stopping when a doctor she knew looked up like he wanted to shoot the shit—like he couldn't wait for her to cheer him up the way she had during other missions. With booze and jokes and a chance to vent. If he'd called out for her, she would have replied, but she was done with reacting to helpless looks for the night.

 

Did she have to solve everyone's goddamn problems?

 

##

 

Sarek heard the low chime at his door and called, "Enter."

 

Christine came in, her hair wet, her expression unreadable. "I smelled. So I took a shower first." She held up the bottle she was carrying. "And I didn't figure you'd have any hooch so..."

 

"I do not. But you could have showered here."

 

"I needed to get my thoughts in order."

 

"Get them in order to prepare to spend time with me?"

 

She smiled and at last he saw some emotion that was easy to discern. "No. You're a piece of cake. I wanted to get them in order from dealing with Torelli."

 

He held his hand out. "Is she very ill?"

 

"No, she's very stupid."

 

He had to bite back a small smile. "I see. This is a distinct difference from your rather protective attitude toward her this afternoon."

 

"Yeah, well, she hadn't told me she was engaged to my ex-husband this afternoon."

 

"Ah." He held his hand out. "Join me."

 

"It's a chair, not a couch."

 

He patted his lap. "You are an intelligent woman. I imagine you will determine a way to share this with me." He gestured around the room. "There is only one chair, Christine."

 

"But there's a double bed."

 

"And once I am in bed with you, I will want to make love to you. And we will not discuss any of the things that seem to be...on the verge of becoming issues."

 

"For us?"

 

"Perhaps. For you, definitely." He put down his padd and waited.

 

She finally came over and said, "I'm tired. If you want me on your lap, you figure out the best way to make that happen."

 

He eased her down, expecting to hold her as he used to Amanda, but she was so much taller, and larger framed. It took him a moment of shifting, to the accompaniment of her murmuring, "See, not so fucking easy," but he finally found a way that she could cuddle into him without either of them being uncomfortable. "Infinite diversity in infinite combinations," he murmured, as he stroked her back and heard her sigh in pleasure.

 

"You're a very determined man, you know that?"

 

"I do. It is both a strength and an annoyance."

 

"Amanda tell you that?"

 

"Yes. And I'm relatively sure Spock has thought it."

 

She laughed softly, then leaned in and kissed him. "I'm pissed, Sarek. But not at you, so don't worry. I'm pissed at Torelli for going back to Mark. I'm pissed at Starfleet for thinking I can't think straight when you're around after all these goddamn years of doing things by the fucking book." She leaned in. "Should I swear less?"

 

"Would you be yourself if you did?"

 

"No."

 

"I would rather have you. Your words are...expressive."

 

She laughed and nuzzled his neck. "I'm pissed at everybody needing me."

 

"That is something I wanted to talk to you about."

 

She pulled away to look at him.

 

"There is a position. At the embassy. For a human. A liaison with Starfleet." He saw her face grow cloudy and held his hand up. "This was not my idea, Christine. Spock suggested you to Minister T'Dala."

 

"Spock did?"

 

"I find myself in favor of it. Not least because you will interact with many Vulcans in the way I believe you will find easiest. As an officer. As a professional. As a fellow scientist to many. A doctor. Not as my woman."

 

"But I'd still be your woman, right?"

 

"I would be displeased if you were not."

 

She stroked his cheek. "I never looked past ops. I'm so tired of emergencies."

 

"I cannot guarantee there will be none. But I know there will be fewer. And no staff looking to you. You will find your own way."

 

"Did Minister T'Dala ask your opinion?"

 

"Of course. I am, after all, the ambassador." He touched her cheek. "I was forthright with her. Both on your extensive qualifications and that we are involved."

 

"Kiss of death."

 

"A Vulcan does not see it that way. You will truly have your feet in both worlds. Not just an agent of Starfleet."

 

"I'm not sure I want to live at the Embassy. Not yet, anyway." Then she laughed. "Then again you haven't asked me to so..."

 

"Any time you are ready to move in, inform me and it will be so. I have not asked because I did not think you wanted that option yet."

 

"You do understand me."

 

"I'm not sure that is true in every case. Why did you hire Torelli? She took what was not hers. You were angry. I was there, Christine. Yet you forgave her. You hired her. Why?"

 

"I needed an engineer." She stared him down with a face expressionless enough to be a Vulcan.

 

"That is a convenient excuse. But if you do not wish to tell me why you forgave her, that is up to you." He let his eyes grow stony—trying to show her he would allow her to keep this from him if she must, but it was not his preference.

 

He wanted them to share, to have no secrets unless it was necessary for their respective missions.

 

And she seemed to realize it. She leaned in, close to his ear, and whispered, "I didn't have to forgive her. I was her, Sarek. With Roger. He was married. I'd never done that before, and I never did it again. But I’m not perfect. And she left him. For a short time anyway."

 

"You have left the fact that Roger was married out of the stories we have told each other. Did you think I would condemn you for it?"

 

"I don't know. Maybe. Maybe it's just easier pretending it never happened. I'm so angry at her."

 

"Why? She is an adult. She makes her own decisions, for good or ill."

 

"He'll cheat on her."

 

He pressed his fingers into her hand, feeling a swirl of emotion, reading so many things—so many contradictory things. And underneath it the pain her husband caused her. "Is that what you fear. Or are you afraid that he will not betray her. When he hurt you so badly?"

 

She stiffened and for a moment he felt anger surging through her. He thought she might get up, might flee. But then she turned and buried her face in his neck.

 

"Maybe it was me. No one ever stays. Roger told me to stay on Earth when I could have gone with him. Mark cheated on me so soon after we got married that I wondered if he ever really gave up his other women."

 

"Your men were fools." He gently stroked her hair. "I regret they hurt you. And for what it is worth, I believe your former husband will betray her too. But it is irrelevant, is it not? For we are together, and I care for you, and I will never hurt you in that way. I will annoy you. I will push and make you angry. I may not express myself in a way that is sufficient at times. But I will always want you. Only you. I was sinking, Christine. Into my grief. Into my loneliness. There were Vulcan women who were eager to help me move on. I have not told Spock that, but I apparently am quite the eligible bachelor. I did not want them. But you...you reached me when no one else did."

 

She eased away, smiling at him gently.

 

"I love you. And my son loves you. And his mate is your friend. And for the first time in a long time, I feel as if I have a family again. With no wall of grief between us. And you gave me that."

 

"Being with you, it feels so safe. Not safe in a boring way. Safe like there's a storm outside. And it's going to tear down everything. Except, you're my fortress. And you're going to stand and defy the winds, and keep me warm and secure. And protect me."

 

"Yes."

 

"And I'll protect you too. I love you, Sarek." She leaned in, her lips soft on his, the love she felt for him flooding him at her touch.

 

"Perhaps it is time to move to the bed," he murmured, easing her up. Then he stopped and eased her back so she was looking at him. "You are under no obligation to accept the position when Minister T'Dala offers it to you. I will support you no matter what you decide to do next."

 

"I think it sounds like a wonderful idea."

 

"I do as well. We can travel when I am not on a mission. There are places I have never visited on Earth. I would like to discover them with you by my side."

 

"I would like that too." She grinned then took his hand and pulled him to the bed. "I think that's enough career talk for now, don't you?"

 

He was already pulling off her clothing, so he declined to answer, other than by pushing her down, stripping his own clothing off, and joining her on the bed.

 

"Do you wish a meld tonight?"

 

She nodded. "I would give you everything tonight. Do you understand what I mean?"

 

"You told me not to propose."

 

"I know. But the bond sounds nice."

 

"And we would be useless for the rest of this mission." He nuzzled her neck, amused and touched at how open she was to him. "But perhaps we can arrange leave between you leaving ops and beginning work at the embassy. Somewhere secluded where we can indulge the unity that the bond will bring."

 

"That would be nice." She groaned as he began to kiss down her chest, but then she pushed him up. "Only—are we going too fast?"

 

"If you believe you will reconsider or regret it, we will wait to bond. Until you are ready."

 

"I feel pretty damn ready. But...I think I might need to talk more about Mark."

 

"To me?"

 

"Or to a therapist. I trust you, but I've buried so much shit, Sarek. Not just romance. Things I've seen on this job. Things I've had to do. I don't want to run to you as a damaged person seeking shelter. I want to come to you as a whole person. Someone who's not afraid. Who can be the partner you deserve."

 

"Then that is what we will do." He gestured to her chest. "May I resume what I was doing?"

 

"By all means. And a vacation would be great. Even without making things permanent."

 

"I concur," he said, his words muffled by what he was doing to her breasts.

 

But by her laughter and easy pleasure that ran through him, he knew she had understood him.

 

##

 

Chapel sat in her new office in the Vulcan Embassy, wishing her suntan wasn't going to fade. Neither she nor Sarek had been ready to come back. She heard a soft cough and turned to see Spock. "Come in."

 

He sat and studied her, his eyes light. "This place suits you."

 

"I just got to this place. Tahiti suited me."

 

"And my father."

 

"Yes. And your father. I love him, Spock. You're okay with that, right?"

 

"I am. I find with you and Nyota there, that he and I relate well to each other. Better I think than we have in the past."

 

He did seem lighter. "I'm glad. I'm sure you miss your mother though. I'm not going to be much of a stepmother when it comes to nurturing. I prefer to give you shit."

 

"Do not assume she did not do the same thing." His look grew more sober. "I do miss her. But she would be...happy that you took her place. That my father is not lost any longer. He was lost. Foundering."

 

"I know. I think I was too. I just hid it better."

 

"Are you so sure of that?" His eyes were fairly sparkling. "I must confess that I hoped that while you were helping my father, he might help you as well."

 

"Matchmaker Spock. Who knew?"

 

"I will deny it." He handed her a padd. "I also did as you instructed."

 

She saw that McCoy was now assigned as a medical consultant on his team. "Thank you, Spock."

 

"We should treasure the friends and family that remain. Keep them close. And he will serve as a counterpoint to me. An aggravating counterpoint, no doubt, but a useful one."

 

She laughed softly. "Can I tell you something weird?"

 

"So long as it has nothing to do with your and my father's carnal activities."

 

She laughed again. "Uh, no. What I want to say is that I think I'm glad you and I never got together. I don't think we'd have this wonderful rapport. And I don't think I'd have Sarek. And I can't imagine not being your friend, not being able to have you and Ny so close. I consider you my family."

 

"I too think it worked out exactly as it was supposed to."

 

"Wherever Jim and Amanda are, they're probably having a good chuckle."

 

"Indeed."

 

She heard the sound of footsteps approaching, knew without looking that it was Sarek.

 

"My son."

 

"Father. I have a meeting here this afternoon. I thought I would come early, perhaps join you and Christine for lunch." He looked down. "Nyota is travelling."

 

"Aww, you're lonely." She winked at him as she said it.

 

"I am. I see no sense in denying it."

 

"You are always welcome here, my son. I will inform the kitchen staff and we will eat in my quarters." And he was away, but she could tell he was pleased by the cadence of his step.

 

Spock studied her. "Will they someday be your quarters as well, Christine?"

 

"Yeah, they will. Soon, but not immediately. We're taking our time."

 

"We all have our own paths to happiness." He reached into his pocket, pulled out a box and handed it to her. "I wish your opinion on this. You know Nyota's jewelry preferences better than I do."

 

She opened it. It was a square cut diamond with emerald accents. "Oh, Spock. She's going to love it."

 

"You are sure? I was told I could exchange it. But it...reminded me of her."

 

"I can guarantee she's going to love it. And hey, if we plan this right, we can have a double wedding."

 

"I think not, Christine."

 

"Oh, but it'd be so fun." She couldn’t stop laughing, but she tried to keep it a quiet sound. "We could have a cake with two grumpy Vulcans and two angelic humans on top."

 

He lifted an eyebrow at her.

 

"Fine, have your own damn wedding. You can't get rid of me that easily though. You know I’m going to be in the bridal party." She handed him back the box with a smile she hoped was full of approval and love—the kind a friend, and maybe a stepmom who really loved him, would give.

 

"I would not have it any other way."

 

 

FIN