Awkward

By Djinn

Chapel poured herself a stiff drink and took the glass and a sandwich past the campfire where her Ops crew was gathered and out to the lake. She found a log and sat, enjoying the quiet, the precious moments during an emergency where no one needed her to be the boss—or even part of their evening. She could relax and have some alone time. And her crew was used to that. No one had tried to call her over as she'd passed. Not that she always sought out solitude, but those who'd worked with her long enough seemed to always be able to tell when she needed it.

Although someone clearly hadn't gotten the message. She heard footsteps through the sand and said without turning around, "Unless it's a crisis, I'm not in the mood."

"I thought," said a familiar voice, resonant and wonderfully dear, "that you might make an exception for me. But in fairness, several of your people told me you preferred to be alone right now."

She turned and smiled up at Sarek. "I heard you were here. Working the crisis from the diplomatic end?"

"Working it would be an overstatement. Refereeing endless rounds of posturing would be more accurate." He gestured to the log. "May I?"

She moved over. "Take a load off."

His eyes crinkled ever so slightly, the way they always did when she said something that amused him. She'd never entertained Spock the way she did his father.

"I have not seen you since..." He took a deep breath.

"I know. I'm sorry." She closed her eyes, trying to block out Amanda's last breaths so many months ago. She'd felt the loss deeply—had been attending to her friend, not just a patient.

"Why did you leave without saying goodbye? It seemed...out of character for you." He was not looking at her, simply sat like a statue, staring out at the water, lit by the twin moons of this lovely planet—lovely when you weren't staring down at the victims of genocide. Lovely when people weren't shooting at you.

"What does it matter, Sarek?" She took a bite of her sandwich, chewing slowly so she wouldn't have to answer. "She didn't need me any longer. And you had much to do—to arrange."

"It matters to me why you left." He met her eyes and there was something almost hurt in his.

She closed her eyes and said softly, "Spock found me after I'd finished everything I needed to do. Once Amanda was taken care of." She was trying to talk around the facts, which was probably stupid with a Vulcan. They appreciated plain speaking, but this was his wife, his love, and her friend. She would not make this any more clinical than she had to.

Sarek no doubt remembered that she'd urged him out of the death room, told him there were medical things she had to do, forms she had to fill out, and once she was done, he could have his wife, could take care of her body in whatever way he chose. Chapel had not been sure what Vulcans would do with a human. With no katra to save...

She took another bite of her sandwich. He didn't need to know about Spock, about the never-ending distaste she seemed to cause him to feel. Sarek didn't need to know that when she'd been hurting, when she'd been trying to process that her dear friend was dead, his son had struck out at her.

The human part of him, Spock would no doubt say if questioned. He would blame it all on the human part. But Amanda would never have done it—Chapel wasn't sure she could think of a human who would have at that moment. But Spock could be cruel, at least to her, when he wanted to be. Or more accurately when his pain made him be.

"My son said something that distressed you?"

She laughed but it was a horribly bitter sound. When didn't Spock say something that distressed her? Hell, when didn't she say something that distressed him? They were both professionals when it came to making each other feel uncomfortable.

"What did he say, Christine?"

"So the two sides are posturing, huh?" Changing the subject: a time-tested Ops way to avoid talking about how anyone was feeling.

Sarek clearly wasn't buying it; his expression was set in that "I will find out your deepest secrets" way that made him such a great diplomat, but not the best person to try to hide the truth from. "I will fill you in on the various maneuverings of each side once you have told me what my son said that made you leave."

She took a deep breath, then said softly, "He thought I was using Amanda's death as an excuse for being near him when he was...emotionally compromised." As Sarek's eyebrow went up, she laughed bitterly and said, "Never underestimate the ego of your son—his ability to make a sad situation all about him is astounding."

"So I see." He took a deep breath, and she thought he might be fighting back annoyance—even anger. "Why did you not simply tell him that I had asked for you to attend Amanda? It was logical. She was human. You are a doctor and our friend. You would understand what she needed to keep her comfortable, what to do as her time approached. He would have understood this."

She closed her eyes. "There's so much misunderstanding between you and Spock. Somehow it seemed better to just go away the way he wanted me to. To let him think he was right rather than let him see that you and I and Amanda enjoyed a friendship. That you called me. I'm an...embarrassment to him, Sarek."

"I do not know why. It has been years since you showed any interest in him. And you are a woman of exceedingly fine character. One who is respected at Starfleet Command far more than he is." He seemed to be working up a head of steam even if his tone stayed even. It was something in the way his eyes narrowed, in the way he clenched his hands together.

"You going to tell him that? 'Son, I must inform you that the woman you consider your nemesis is a bigger deal than you are with the brass.'"

"I will if it helps ease the tension between you."

She laughed, and this time it was an honest sound. "That will in no way ease the tension, oh Master Diplomat, and if you'd turn down your umbrage-meter, you'd know that, too."

He took a deep breath. "Logic often fails me when it comes to my son."

"Right there with you. Or it fails him when it comes to avoiding me—I feel like I've been pretty damn logical, all things considered." She sipped her drink, then put it down in the sand. "I guess dealing with the old me was traumatic enough to make him gun shy forever. Even though I moved on." She'd seen several men since she'd served with Spock on the Enterprise. Almost married one of them.

"Would you like me to speak with him?"

"No. What good will it do?" She held out her plate. "You hungry? There's half a veggie sandwich here if you are."

"I would not want to take your food."

"If you're working to end the problems on this planet, I think you need to keep your strength up more than I do." She smiled as he took the untouched half. "Besides, I can go get more. Cook makes a ton of these. Most of us get put off meat when we're working situations like this."

"I wondered. I did not remember you choosing to be a vegetarian."

She smiled. "Nope, still a carnivore. But not when there's so much gore around."

"Logical." He took a bite of the sandwich and ate it slowly but with obvious enjoyment.

"When was the last time you ate?"

"I do not remember."

She looked down. He'd loved Amanda so. She'd been the one to nag him into eating, into sleeping or at least meditating. Now, he was alone. Probably letting work be the thing that kept him from thinking about his wife and how much he missed her.

And Chapel knew he must miss her terribly. She'd known them for so many years; it was impossible not to know that they'd loved each other with equal measure, even if they'd shown it in different ways.

"I'm going to get some more food. Save my place."

He nodded, as if there was any actual danger of someone stealing her place on the log.

"Do you want something to drink?"

"What are you having?"

"Whiskey. Neat."

"Ah. Not that." He met her eyes. "Water is fine."

"We have tea. The kind you like, with lime and not very sweet."

He looked touched that she remembered. "That will be fine."

"Who takes care of you now, Sarek?"

He looked away. "I am a Vulcan male in my prime. I require no one to take care of me."

"Okay." She hurried back to the table, got him a tea, piled several sandwiches on her plate, and hurried back to him.

He might not need taking care of, but by God he was going to get some TLC, at least for one night.

##

Chapel looked up and saw Spock and Sarek making their way through the cafeteria at Command. Uhura followed her gaze, then looked quickly away, and Chapel frowned. Had that been a guilty look she'd just seen?

"If I didn't know better, I'd think father and son were getting along." She watched Ny's face, saw the weird expression flash until Ny looked down, seeming to make a long study of her salad.

Chapel closed her eyes and tried to repress a sigh. Ny had liked Spock for a long time but had never really pushed it, seemingly content with the "sisters before misters" code of honor. But after Scotty died, after Jim did, too, Chapel had finally told her to go for it. She was over Spock, long over, and she was sorry she'd waited so long to tell Ny that.

Now, it looked like Ny had gone for it.

Just to test out her theory, she said, "I don't know how Sarek puts up with him."

"Sarek? He's not very flexible when it comes to Spock. It's as if no matter what Spock does, he can't please his father. Especially lately."

Chapel laughed softly. She could imagine she was to blame for that. Sarek didn't have Amanda to keep him in check around Spock anymore. And he'd been angry—even if he'd tried to hide the anger in Vulcan stone-face—that Spock had sent Chapel away after Amanda's death. God only knew what he'd said to Spock about that.

"Something funny?" Ny had the look she wore whenever she was defending someone she loved—only multiplied by about ten.

"Guess you're with him, huh?"

Ny met her eyes, coloring a little. "I am. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. I told you it's okay. I'm over him. He was never into me. I'm at peace with that. Just don't ask us to double date if I find a new guy."

Ny laughed. "I won't. I'm sorry."

"Quit saying that. Are you happy?" When Ny nodded, she said, "Great, then. What more is there to talk about? But you can talk to me about him if you want—I don't mean you can't." Even though it would be so, so, so weird if Ny did want to rant—or worse go on about the good things that came with sleeping with Spock.

"I think maybe I'll try not to do that. Kind of...awkward."

"No kidding." She closed her eyes, tried not to imagine her friend in bed with the man she'd had a crush on for what seemed like forever.

She was over him. This was fine.

She had a sudden vision of a big wedding, of Ny asking her to be a bridesmaid—or maid of honor. At least Sarek would be there.

She realized he was also walking up to their table and smiled up at him. "Hello, stranger."

He nodded pleasantly. "I need to speak with you about our last mission."

"Okay."

He gave her a pointed look as Spock walked up with a tray filled with rabbit food.

"Oh, now?"

"If you do not mind."

She stood, glad she'd finished her soup, and moved away so Spock could slide into her vacated side of the booth.

"Make yourself at home. Really." She muttered it, but she realized both Vulcans heard her. Coloring, she turned and tossed her soup container into the recycler but brought her uneaten gingersnaps with her as she fled the cafeteria.

Sarek followed at a more leisurely pace, and she finally slowed so he could catch up. She ate a cookie as they walked. "What was so important you had to interrupt my lunch?"

"Spock wished to eat with Commander Uhura. I did not think that would be comfortable for you. You appeared to be finished other than your dessert." He looked at her cookies with what seemed to be interest.

"Since when do you like sweets?"

"Those are gingersnaps, are they not?"

"They are." She smiled, getting it. "And they aren't sweet—or that sweet. In fact, these are quite spicy. Lots of real ginger." She held out the package to him. "Here."

"Can we not share?" He indicated two benches set across from each other in an alcove that got the afternoon sun.

"No law against sharing." She sat across from him, took another cookie, then handed him the bag. "You know, I'm perfectly capable of being civil to Spock if he'd joined us."

"I am aware of that. I did not think, however, you should have to. Not after what he said to you. Unless he has apologized? Has he?"

"No. Did you ask him to?" She closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the window in frustration. "Please tell me you didn't confront him over me."

"I did not. I was hoping courtesy and a return to logic would impel him to make overtures."

"Nope."

"I regret that." He leaned back, too, seemed to let out a long breath. "I am tired, Christine."

"Take some leave."

"To what end?" He lifted his face to the sun, but his expression was a long way from peaceful, even if most people would see only Vulcan serenity. "My home is so empty, yet filled with mementos Amanda cared about, her clothes, her scent, even. Without her there..."

"I know. Not very welcoming?"

He nodded.

"It took my mom a year to get rid of my dad's things. Eventually, you probably will have to."

"And do what with them? I fear I will not honor her memory, and yet they bring as much discomfort as pleasure."

"I know." She leaned forward, stopped short of putting her hand on his knee. "I helped my mom go through Dad's stuff. Do you want me to help you with Amanda's?"

"You were her friend. It would be vastly preferable for you to help than Saavik or some other Vulcan. They will not understand the human aspect of her things."

"Sweetie, I might not understand her things, either. Not all human females are alike. And I don't tend to be all that sentimental." She realized what she'd called him and hurried to say, "I'm sorry—I tend to call people that."

He looked unperturbed. "I have heard you do it. I did not take it as a declaration of undue affection."

Laughing, she went back to her cookie. "Good. Although for the record, I am fond of you."

"As I am of you. As my wife was. I would not want your help with her things if that were not the case."

"Wait until you're sure you're ready to get rid of her stuff. You don't want to do it too soon."

"Would you wait?"

She thought of how morbid she'd found having her father's things around the house. She knew everyone mourned differently, though. Having his clothing still in the closet had made her mother feel like some part of him remained, and Chapel understood intellectually even if she'd never felt comforted by the stuff. "No, but as I said, I'm not sentimental."

"I have memories of her. I do not need these things."

"Give Spock a chance to take what he wants of the things you aren't going to keep. You never know what might be important to him."

"Excellent advice." He glanced back toward the cafeteria, as if he could see Spock from where they sat.

"I have lots of leave. Tell me when you want me there."

"Spock will be on Vulcan with Commander Uhura next week. I plan to be on Earth as it will be easier for all of us, I believe. Perhaps the week after that?"

"She has a name, Sarek. She's a wonderful woman, very like Amanda. Be nice to her. And for God's sake, call her 'Nyota.' This 'Commander Uhura' crap has to stop."

He looked chastened. "I will try."

"Good. And the week after next sounds fine. I'll put in for leave."

"Thank you." He lifted his face to the sun again, and this time, there was some peace in his expression.

##

Chapel studied Amanda's clothing. Most of the items were Vulcan robes, which weren't going to necessarily be the most popular item at the charities that worked with Emergency Operations when people needed clothing, but still worth donating. She thought it would have pleased Amanda to think her clothes might help others.

Chapel turned to look at Sarek, who was going through the contents of an intricately carved box. She tried to read his expression but couldn't.

This had to be hard for him. Terribly hard. But he seemed to be handling it. He looked up and then over at her, as if he could tell she was looking at him.

"You okay over there?" She smiled as gently as she could.

"I do not know." He pulled something out of the box and walked to her.

Chapel saw he was holding the bracelet he'd given Amanda several years ago for no particular reason. It was white gold and black pearls, sturdy to weather the traveling they did, but still somehow graceful...delicate, even. "She loved that."

"She did. It is not a Vulcan custom to give gifts, as you know, but I saw it and I knew it would appeal to her. I had been often gone, on missions she could not accompany me on."

"You don't have to justify the purchase to me, Sarek. You saw it and knew it would make her happy. It's what we do for the ones we love."

"Yes." He handed it to her.

"I think of her when I see this. She always wore it."

"She would want you to have it."

Startled, she looked up at him. "No, Sarek. I can't." She put it back in his hand, closed his fingers over it. "Saavik should have it."

"Saavik does not wear jewelry."

"But she loved Amanda. And Amanda loved her. It's how humans do things. They pass bracelets like this down the female line."

"Is that not my point? Saavik is not human. You are."

"But I'm not family." She let go of his hand. "Give it to Saavik."

Sarek nodded and walked back to the jewelry box. "Saavik will not be home for some time."

"It'll wait for her." Chapel smiled and went back to folding robes to put in the shipping cartons. She indulged herself, held the last one to her nose and breathed in the faint lingerings of Amanda's favorite perfume.

She was crying before she realized it, and then she felt Sarek's hands on her shoulders. "I loved her, Sarek."

"I know. As did I." He tightened his grip. "You are exhausted. Beyond what this task has demanded."

She eased away from his damned telepathic hands and walked to the window, looking out on the rose garden that someone would need to take an interest in. The flowers looked like they were unhappy. "We lost a rescue crew just before I went on leave. Five people. My fault." She took a deep breath. "My call. It was the right call. So not my fault but...it is. I'm...I'm sick of this. I'm sick of people dying. I'm sorry, I need—"

"You need to sleep. Go. Rest. I will wake you when it is time to eat. I can finish in here." He held his hand out to her.

She eyed it with wary amusement. "Not going to give you a chance to read me again, toots."

His lips actually tipped up, and he dropped his hand. "You have been a great help. I would not have known where to start without you. Now, go and sleep."

"Okay." She touched his arm as she passed him, suddenly not caring if he read her. "This is harder than I thought it would be. I feel so much for her. For you."

"For Spock?"

She laughed. "Not hardly. He has a new woman to worry about him." She could feel exhaustion stealing up on her. "And bonus points for you on finally calling her Nyota. She was so happy."

"I was under orders to be nice to her, was I not?" His eyes crinkled slightly.

"You sure were. Okay, I'm going to go lie down before I fall down."

"If you need anything, call out. I will hear you." He turned back to the jewelry box.

She left him in peace and fell into bed in the room Amanda had laughingly designated the Chapel Guestroom. She curled up and let everything go as much as she could. She was out before she could think too long about her lost crew.

##

Chapel saw Ny waiting outside the new restaurant they both wanted to try. She waved and felt herself relaxing. A girls' night out after a long day of nothing but crises was just what she needed.

Ny pulled her into a hug, then said, "Come inside. It's cold today."

"I know." After Vulcan and then a string of desert-hot or jungle-hot planets, Chapel was actually enjoying the nippier temperatures of San Francisco.

Their table was near a cozy fireplace, adding to the already strong French countryside ambience of the place. Chapel was about to give herself over to a study of the menu when she saw Ny shrug out of her coat to reveal a familiar bracelet. "Oh."

Ny followed her gaze and smiled. "Spock gave it to me."

"Wow. He did?"

Ny nodded. "It was his mom's, so I love it for that, but...it's not really 'me,' you know?" She held her arm out, moving it so the bracelet dangled different ways. "I mean it's pretty, but I just don't love it. I'll wear it for a while when I'm off duty because it makes Spock happy to see it. Then I can retire it gracefully."

Chapel felt a knot in her throat, so she busied herself with the menu she was suddenly having trouble seeing. Closing her eyes for a moment, she thought of all the things Ny had gotten from admirers, most of which she didn't really like. This was not out-of-character behavior. And there was no law that said a gal had to love gifts from her beau.

Just because it was Amanda's. Just because it should have been Saavik's. Just because it could have been Chapel's.

"You okay?"

"Oh, yeah." She met Ny's eyes, putting on her best Ops mask. "Long day. Bad day."

"I hear that." She put the menu down. "You want to tell Mama Ny about it?"

Chapel laughed. "No, it's okay." She went back to the menu, then said softly, "He must really love you to give you that, you know?"

"I think he really does. Which is good because I really love him." She leaned in. "Is it hard for you to talk about him—us? Because we don't have to if it is."

"Pfffff." She waved off that idea, pulling even more of her Ops persona in. "Of course you can talk about him. I don't want you to have to hold back just because of something that never happened for me." She gave Ny a stern look. "Got it?"

Ny smiled and leaned back; the bracelet moved, catching the light, the black pearls gleaming in subtle colors. "Got it."

##

Chapel sat in the Karlumi hospital, glaring at any doctor that looked like he, she, or it was interested in checking on her patient. They went back to ignoring her. She'd made friends with several of the nurses, though—it had never stopped paying dividends that she'd been in those trenches—and one brought her a lunch tray.

"Thank you, Lamala."

"You looked hungry. And it's worth it to watch all these doctors humbled by you. They don't always respect us."

"Been there, got the scars." She took a bite of some kind of vegetable dish over rice. "This is great."

"It's my favorite." Lamala leaned against the bed, seemed to be checking the readings. "Are you really Ambassador Sarek's official staff doctor? They can't seem to find any mention of that in the negotiation correspondence."

Chapel laughed softly.

"That's what I thought. Enjoy your dinner." Lamala gave the Karlumi version of a wink and left her alone with Sarek.

"You lied for me?" His voice was weak and raspy.

"I did." She put her tray on his bedside table and moved closer. "How are you feeling?"

"Presumably the way any Vulcan would feel after being shot by...who did shoot me?"

"There's a third side in this little war. Who knew?" She touched his cheek. "Are you thirsty?"

He nodded, and she reached for the ice sticks, kept cold in stasis. She'd figured he might wake up today.

"Here you go." She held it to his lips, and he sucked it slowly. "Since I know you and your insane need for details on the mission you've been sleeping through, you've been unconscious for three days."

He pulled away from the ice stick. "Three?"

"'Fraid so. The hit was nasty."

"How long have you been here?"

"Three days. I was just finishing up down the street—galactically speaking—on Martovis. I hightailed it over here when I heard you'd been hurt. Figured I had more experience working on Vulcans than anyone here did."

"You are undoubtedly right. Thank you."

"You'd do the same for me." She rolled her eyes to let him know she knew that was a massive overstatement.

"I would, Christine. You mean a great deal to me."

"Well, same here, sweetie." She gently shook the ice stick. "Now, focus on this. I want you well hydrated."

"You are as imperious as Amanda."

She laughed softly. "I consider that a great compliment."

##

Chapel was just settling in for some vid and popcorn time when her door chime rang. She closed her eyes and wished whoever it was away.

The chime rang again.

"Shit." She hurried to the door, opened it and saw Sarek standing there. He looked...furious. For a Vulcan, anyway. "Come in."

He didn't move. "I have just come from dinner with my son and Commander Uhura."

"Nyota."

He glared at her. A true glare, not some Vulcan version of it. "She is wearing Amanda's bracelet."

"You didn't know Spock gave it to her?"

Sarek shook his head, then seemed to realize he was still in the hallway and stepped in, allowing her to close the door. "I left it in the jewelry box. I told Spock to take what he wanted of her things. It never occurred to me he would take that and give it to her." There was no special emphasis on the way he said "her." It was the lack of it that made the statement so telling.

"Sometimes you have to be explicit. As you said, though, Saavik doesn't wear jewelry."

He turned to look at her. "I am not angry on Saavik's behalf but on yours."

"Well, don't be. You told Spock to take what he wanted and he did. I had already refused it."

"For reasons that had to do with it staying in the family. Why are you not more...energetically opposed to this?"

She pushed him gently into the living room. "Because there's not a damn thing I can do about it. You like popcorn?"

He turned to look at her, his expression one of slight confusion, so she shot him an "I'm not making a big deal about this so cut it the hell out" look. He finally took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"Once again. Do you like popcorn?"

"I do."

She laughed softly. "Really?"

"Amanda prepared it often. Usually in conjunction with some violent or overly optimistic romantic video."

"We're going for violent tonight. You in?" She grinned and leaned in, getting close to his ear and saying "I'll even make you tea" as seductively as she could. "With lime." Then she laughed and pointed in the general area of the couch and chairs. "Take a load off, toots."

"Your cavalier attitude does not make this better, Christine."

She touched him on the arm. "I'm not cavalier, not really. I hate that she has it, all right? I fucking hate it." She took a deep breath. "It's not that it's a bracelet—or that it's a beautiful one. I never wear bracelets, to be honest. It's that it was Amanda's. That it's something of hers. That's what I hate. Ny didn't know her the way I did. That's why I'm mad, because I feel like I lost her again somehow."

He did not appear fazed by her language. He simply stared at her, his eyes narrowing. Finally, he nodded, then put his hand over hers where it sat on his arm. "My son was a fool, Christine."

"No, Sarek, he probably wasn't." She let go of his arm, pulled on her Ops armor. "All right, then. Resign yourself to a night of outrageously improbable action, bubba."

He seemed to understand her need for a perkier tone and change of subject. "Your repertoire of pet names is increasing."

"Well, I don't want you to get tired of any one of them." She waited until he was headed to the couch—brave man choosing to sit so close to her: it was clear from the throw and the glass on the coffee table that she had been sitting there—then headed into the kitchen. "I'm making your tea. Do not eat all the popcorn." She frowned. "I thought you said you just came from dinner? You're still hungry?"

"I did not have much appetite once I saw the bracelet."

She closed her eyes. She could imagine what Ny would want to talk about at lunch tomorrow: what an asshole her potential future father-in-law had been, even if Ny wouldn't have realized why. Maybe Chapel could work through lunch the next couple of days till Ny forgot about it?

##

A knock sounded on Chapel's open door to her office, then Ny said softly, "You avoiding me?"

Chapel looked up, almost happy that her ploy of working through lunch hadn't been necessary since they'd had crisis after crisis and no one had gotten around to even thinking about lunch—other than grabbing something from the vending area on the way back from the restrooms. "Bad time."

"It looks a little crazy out there." Ny glanced back into Ops. "Did Sarek talk to you?"

"Sarek talks to me all the time."

"Hmmm. Okay. About that..."

Chapel looked up from her terminal. "Ny, hon', you know I'm here for you if you need to talk about Spock and stuff, but I'm up to my ass in emergencies. Rain check?"

It wasn't the harshest way to shut her friend down, but it obviously didn't feel good to Ny. Her expression changed to a tight one, and she said in a fake, breezy tone, "Sure. Fine. We'll do this later." She turned and hurried out.

"Shit." Chapel almost got up to call her back, but she hadn't been lying—she was up to her ass in crises.

She heard her message queue chime and glanced at it. Make that up to her neck, now. She felt a profound wave of exhaustion sweep over her. Did this shit never go away?

She closed her eyes. Of course it didn't. War, famine, drought, epidemics, natural disasters—they all were bound to happen somewhere, somehow, sometime.

Most people went on about their lives not having to care, though. She had the sneaking suspicion she was getting too damn old for this business.

But she forced her head back into the game and got back to work.

##

The Vulcan Embassy was gorgeous, decorated with firepots—placed out of the reach of any robes or long skirts—and flowers. Glad to be in one of the gowns she'd bought for her last boyfriend and then never got to use once they'd broken up, Chapel made her way through the salon, nodding to the staffers she'd come to know over the years.

She saw Spock and Ny standing by the door to the courtyard and nearly veered off, but she had to face this. Or maybe it was Spock who had to face this. Chapel had done her level best to not insert herself into his time with Sarek but it was inevitable that their paths would cross eventually if she was going to continue her friendship with his father.

What felt inevitable, though, as she walked up to Ny and Spock was the way his face seemed to freeze—the look of distaste he managed to muster up as if she'd forgotten to shower.

"I did not realize you would be here, Commander Chapel."

"Spock, call her Christine." Ny actually socked him in the arm, and Chapel bit back a laugh. "We've been over this."

"She is not here for you, my son." Sarek appeared out of nowhere, handing her a glass of...something—she had no idea what he'd just given her, but she took a sip as if it was her poison of choice.

Wine. Good. And he was drinking it too?

He sipped it, then looked at her. "This is the wine from our estates in the south. I told you about them."

She wasn't entirely sure what he was doing since he'd never mentioned having a vineyard, but she nodded and played along. "It's wonderful."

He nodded back, as if satisfied with her acting skills. "As I was saying, Spock, Christine is here as my...guest."

She felt herself turn red. Did he mean that the way it had come out? He'd put a strange emphasis on the word "guest."

"I see." Spock's face was like stone. "Her?"

"I'm standing right here, asshole." Oh, shit, had she really said that out loud? "I mean—"

"I think your meaning was quite clear." Sarek turned her gently. "Let me introduce you to Minister Sajar."

"Okay." As he led her toward a cluster of people, none of whom appeared to be Minister Sajar, she murmured, "I am so sorry, Sarek. Did anyone else hear me?"

"I do not think so. I enjoyed the expression on my son's face." He sipped his wine. "Are you composed? I do want you to meet the minister."

She laughed. "Give me a sec. He's just so...arrogant. Like the only reason I'd be here is to chase after him."

"I presume you are referring to my son and not the minister."

She laughed. "Right."

His eyes crinkled slightly; she decided she loved that expression more than any other of his.

"My filters are shot, Sarek. I'm just so tired."

"I am aware of that. Which is why I want you to meet the minister. I took the liberty of telling him I was considering adding you to my staff. As a scientific, medical, and emergency operations advisor on loan from Starfleet."

She stared at him, dumbfounded.

"I am given to unilateral moves. This is not news to you, Christine. You heard Amanda berate me many times for just this sort of thing."

She started to smile. "I did."

"Is it an unwelcome idea? You are burning out, I believe."

"I'm already burnt out. At this point, I'm just smoldering ruins."

"Then come meet the minister. You will impress him, I am sure."

"Not if I call him an asshole."

"I agree." His voice was tinged with humor. "Perhaps just use his title."

She met his eyes. "Do I have to impress him to get the job?"

"No. I write my own ticket, as you know. You are adept at that, as well. We will be a fine team." He dropped his voice. "We will travel together. We will...be together."

She swallowed harder than she meant to. "You mean as coworkers."

"That is not solely what I meant." His eyes seemed to burn into her. "If this does not sound appealing, I will drop the matter."

"The job, too? Or just the being together part?"

"Whichever offends."

"Did I say anything about you or your offer offended me?" When he shook his head slowly, she forced the smile off her face, made it sterner. Amanda had often told her that Sarek was a man who took a mile when given an inch. "In the future, you should include me in important decisions that involve the two of us."

"In the future, I shall. However, I saw an opportunity to help both of us and took it."

She smiled. "I do admire that. Okay, let's go meet this minister."

##

Chapel sat in the courtyard while the reception went on around her, considering this new life Sarek was offering her. She was annoyed with him for not asking her, but his logic was sound. She was exhausted and what he hadn't said was that she was too proud to let go of Ops without a good reason. He'd given her one—she'd derailed one career for Roger, now she'd gracefully exit this latest one for Sarek.

But, not really for him. It was for herself. She could leave Sarek's team if she didn't like it. It was a temporary assignment and she'd still be Starfleet, based on how Sarek had described the whole deal he'd worked up in his head to Minister Sajar.

A low cough made her look up. Spock stood in front of her, Nyota nowhere in sight. She held up her hand before he could say anything, "I'm sorry I called you an asshole."

"Apology accepted." He sat next to her on the bench. "Jim's and my mother's deaths have not left me in the best state. I am sorry for how I reacted."

She studied him. "You're only apologizing because you've realized I'm important to your father, aren't you?"

He met her eyes. "It is certainly an inducement to—how would Leonard say it—bury the hatchet?"

She laughed, could imagine Spock wanting to clock her with the hatchet. "Peace, then."

He took a deep breath, seemed to be studying their surroundings. Finally he said, very softly, "My mother told me, as she lay dying, that my father was not a man who should be alone for long. And that she did not want him to be, that she wanted him to be happy. She indicated that..." He took a deep breath. "She indicated that she wanted it to be with you, and I was not to stand in the way of that."

She felt her expression go from sympathy to shock. "What?"

"It is why I sent you away. I knew you were not there for me. I have long been aware of the friendship you have forged, separate from anything to do with me, with my parents. Both of them. My mother loved you. She told me she wanted you with Sarek, but I...I could not bear the thought of it. Not because it was you. Because it was—"

"Anyone. Taking her place."

"Yes." He met her eyes. "However, she wanted this so I will not stand in the way. It will be odd, however, if you become my stepmother."

She laughed softly. "No kidding." She felt something leaving her, some tension she'd carried ever since Spock had been so nasty after Amanda's death. "On the plus side, if you marry Ny, you know she'll get along with me."

"That thought has occurred to me."

She laughed gently. "Gotta find that silver lining. It's the Ops way."

"You are leaving Ops, I hear."

She rolled her eyes. "So I hear, too."

Spock almost smiled. "It is my father's nature to try to plan the lives of those he cares about. You must not let him do that. My mother was quite strong, despite her submission to Vulcan custom. He did not run roughshod over her. At least not very often, and never without consequences."

She was shocked he was giving her this. "I'll keep that in mind." As he got up to leave, she said, "It's strange, isn't it? You knew what would happen before Sarek or I did."

He raised an eyebrow. "I would not assume my mother did not have the same talk with Sarek that she did with me." His expression grew very gentle. "Life is often strange, Christine. Never more so than where love is concerned." He walked away and joined Ny inside.

Chapel watched them for a moment, saw the gold and pearls gleaming on Ny's wrist. She looked away, starting to cry but not because she didn't have the bracelet. It would seem that Amanda had wanted her to have a much bigger gift.

"Are you all right?" Sarek strode up to her as if ready to do battle. "I saw Spock was speaking with you."

'And we both survived the encounter, dear. So calm down."

"I am quite calm." Then his lips ticked up ever so slightly. "'Dear' was delivered with less than your normal sarcasm."

"That's because I meant it." She stared up at him, wondering what he would do with the simple truth.

"Most gratifying. Come in. There are more people I wish you to meet."

"You know you're really bossy, right? That's going to end."

He reached for her elbow as she rose, gave it a squeeze, and then let it go. He was the picture of Vulcan decorum except that his eyes were crinkling madly. "It will be interesting to see if you are right."

END