He is a figure of darkness, featureless and unreadable, silhouetted against the glowing embers of the meditation statue behind, the one meagre source of illumination in the room. She can just make out the curve of his Vulcan lyre resting against his body, can hear the soft rippling notes, discordant and unsettling to her ears. There is an uncharacteristic slump to his shoulders, an overwhelming aura of exhaustion, vulnerability about him. The fact he neither stands nor immediately acknowledges her, beyond granting her admission to his cabin, speaks volumes.
Perhaps this is a bad idea. But she has come, and she doubts she will ever have the conviction to make the attempt again.
As if suddenly realising his lack of courtesy, he stands abruptly and lays the lyre on the bed. When he speaks, his voice is rough, almost hoarse, as one who has spoken too much in recent days - or not at all.
"Computer, lights seventy-five percent."
Suddenly the room is awash with light, artificial and harsh. Christine blinks as her eyes try to adjust. She thinks she catches a glimpse of something, some fleeting expression in Spock's eyes that seems to match the roughness of his voice. But once she can look at him without squinting, it is gone.
"I suppose we should have had this conversation before now," she ventures hesitantly.
"Indeed," he agrees, but his eyes say something else.
She had known this would not be easy.
He turns away from her, focuses his attention on the meditation flame. There is silence for an awkward minute and a half. Then:
"Which number are you?"
"Eight," she almost sighs. "I'm the last." She takes a step closer to him, but he doesn't turn. "She was the first, of course."
"Yes." His voice sounds very far away. "Number One."
"She never chose another name. I think being the first was important to her, but she was still a copy, the same as the rest of us."
He does turn at that, giving Christine an appraising look, perhaps looking to see if her comment has been made in jealousy or bitterness, or if she is simply stating fact, but he can detect no hint of resentment in her demeanour.
Spock reaches out, almost subconsciously, touching Christine's hair with the back of his fingers.
"Is that why you dyed your hair? To be different?"
She blushes a little. "Perhaps. I don't know if it was a conscious decision. I think I just fancied a change. Being blonde seemed more... fun." It is her turn to look away, choosing to focus on the lyre on Spock's bed. "If you had seven identical siblings, wouldn't you want to stand out from the crowd?"
"I do not know," he says blankly. "I have no siblings." His hand is still on her hair.
Christine smiles wanly. "You loved her."
"I ... cared for her." He drops his hand.
She can feel the unwelcome burning behind her eyes, feel an irrational anger at herself for being an emotional human woman. Why does she always feel this way around Spock, so ashamed of her humanity? She laughs hollowly.
"Maybe it's in the genes." The first tear rolls down her cheek. "Loving you, that is."
He surprises her by smiling minutely, nothing more than a tiny upward quirk of his lips.
"That is illogical. Number One existed before my parents met, before I was conceived. It is impossible for her genetics - and therefore yours - to have been influenced by one who was not yet born."
"Maybe we both just have good taste then."
"Indeed." He raises an eyebrow and she laughs in earnest, her tears melting away.
Her smile fades suddenly and her expression turns rueful. "You know, Doctor McCoy told me a little about the footage you all saw, some kind of recording of her time on the Enterprise. With Captain Pike. With you."
Spock nods, thinking better of attempting to explain that the 'recording' was actually a mental projection of thoughts, a recollection of events beamed directly to the viewing screen through sheer telepathy alone.
"Leonard didn't recognise her," Christine continues. "He saw her on screen and made no connection to me."
"Humans are remarkably unobservant," Spock says, having already made mental note of Captain Kirk's apparent lack of recognition. But Kirk, he knows, had other concerns at the time.
"Same face. Same voice. Did you know that one of my sisters provided the vocal imprints for the Starfleet computers? They all sound like me - and no one's noticed." She raises a hand to her head. "Maybe the hair colour was enough after all."
"No," Spock says with a sudden vehemence. "You are different. Even those who share identical genetic material, such as twins, are different - from the moment you are born."
"Well, we're not twins. We're clones. And we're twelve years apart in age. Our life experiences have been different - but we are the same."
"No," he says again, then swallows thickly. There's that exhaustion again. She can almost see it as a tangible thing, a heavy cloak upon his shoulders.
"Mr Spock, would you please sit down?" At his nonplussed look she adds, "I'm still a nurse on this ship, still responsible for its crew's wellbeing, and still answerable to Leonard McCoy - whatever your personal opinion of me may be."
He stubbornly remains standing, but she can see that he has reached out at some point to grasp the room partition, the whiteness of his knuckles betraying the level of support needed to keep him upright.
"Do you believe, Miss Chapel, that my opinion of you has changed today - because of this?"
He throws her a look that is almost pitying. "I'll remind you that I was aware of your connection to Number One from the moment I met you. My suppositions regarding the exact nature of that connection were cemented as I got to know you."
"But not proven until today."
"Not definitively, no."
"And now that you know for sure?"
His expression seems to turn sad. "You do not know me at all," he says softly. As if all his strength has flowed out of him with that statement, his knees buckle and he slumps gracelessly towards the partition. Christine dashes forward, catching his arm about her shoulder and wrestling him to the chair before gravity has a chance to pull him all the way to the floor. He sits slouching at his desk, his unfocussed eyes seemingly seeing right through it.
Christine thinks briefly of leaving, letting him rest. She even contemplates calling McCoy. But she knows she'll never have this opportunity again. He will never let her have it again. And there would be things left unsaid.
"Can I get you something, Mr Spock?" she asks gently.
"You do not know me at all," he repeats as if she has not spoken, his gaze not lifting from the desk. "To object to one and not the other is illogical."
"Did you know she was a clone when you...knew her?"
"No." He glances up at Christine, then back at his desk. "She never divulged the significance of her name."
"And that's the difference," says Christine, feeling something hard and tight form in the centre of her chest. She slips into the seat opposite Spock. "You knew her simply as a human woman. But, me-"
His eyes focus suddenly, furiously, and he gives her a hard look. "You, Miss Chapel, can leave."
The traitorous tears return full force, surging with the emotions she can no longer control. "Why?" she demands, not attempting to protect his Vulcan telepathic senses from the emotional tide.
"Because I do not wish to discuss-"
"No, not that. Why the objection to me? Why such a distinction between her and me? Does my - our - genetic heritage disturb you so much?"
Spock goes very still suddenly.
"I believe you misunderstand me. You must know that my own conception arose from a great deal of genetic manipulation and experimentation. There is very little logic in my taking offence at another born of science."
Christine seems to deflate, the anger draining out of her through her suddenly heavy limbs. "No, I suppose not."
"I believe I told you that it was illogical to object to one of you if there was no objection to the other."
"You did." She brushes a tear from her face. "I'm sorry, Mr Spock."
"Apologies are unnecessary where no offence is taken."
Christine pushes herself off the chair, feeling heavy and stiff. "Perhaps I should go." She turns to the door.
"You wish to know why I... responded to her." It isn't a question.
"Yes," she replies, stopping just out of the range of the door sensor.
"And... not to you."
"Yes." Is that tiny voice hers?
She turns, watches as Spock indicates for her to sit, then regains the seat opposite to his. She feels, illogically, as if the distance between the two chairs has decreased. It hasn't; they are fixed to the floor. She speculates whether Spock has sensed the same thing because he has raised his elbows to the desk and steepled his hands, perhaps creating a useful focal point for himself, perhaps erecting a physical barrier between them. Perhaps both. She pushes herself to the back of the chair. She wants space, too.
Spock speaks quietly, inwardly, as if to himself rather than to her. She wonders if he realises just how much of himself he betrays through the still but clenched hands, through the intense eyes so intently focussed on his fingers. But she won't breathe a word, won't break the spell.
"Humans gain their majority at the age of eighteen standard years. They are, to all intents and purposes, an adult. It is different for Vulcans. Our adolescence is somewhat longer. " Spock flicks a glance at Christine, certain that he has her attention, then continues.
"I was young - very young for a Vulcan away from home. My journey to Starfleet was not without difficulties." He seems to sigh, in reality nothing more than a tiny huff of exhalation, but noticeable to Christine. "I had accepted the Vulcan way as a path for my life - without hesitation. It was logical."
He does sigh then, a genuine, very human sigh.
"Starfleet was not a path I had intended to take, but it became clear to me that, logically, this was where I must go. It was seen by some as an act of... rebellion."
Christine looks up at that, intrigued by the incredible notion that Spock could be rebellious. But then, she thinks, look at these past few days, when Spock had stolen the Enterprise and taken her halfway across the galaxy, risked mutiny charges and orders of death, on a personal mission he knew Starfleet would never have sanctioned. Not so straight-laced after all.
She'd heard Doctor McCoy and the captain talking in sickbay when they thought she wasn't listening, a bottle of the doctor's finest loosening their tongues. She knows there was a personal cost to the captain and Spock, to McCoy as well, united as they all are.
What Spock had planned - then executed - had taken days, perhaps weeks, to devise. And the whole time he was planning, he was working on the bridge, looking Captain Kirk in the eyes and perhaps secretly wondering if those eyes would ever gaze back at him in friendship once the evidence of his mutiny had been made clear.
She looks down at his now-bowed head, is not surprised he's so exhausted.
"My training in the Vulcan disciplines was complete," he continues, "but perhaps not firmly cemented. When I arrived on Earth, I found it difficult to maintain that which I had been taught."
Christine has a mental image of a Vulcan boy - surely just a boy? - amidst a sea of chaotic humans with chaotic minds, trying not to drown in the waves of illogic and emotion, trying to navigate the waters for which he had no map, no compass.
"My emotional control was... tenuous, on occasion. It took me some time to learn to shield against so many undisciplined minds. Number One's mind was structured, ordered. For one with no telepathic capabilities, she was strangely serene."
Christine snorts softly, drawing a sharp glance from Spock.
"Do you know why, Mr Spock?" At the shake of his head she says, "Because she was the first, the experimental one. She spent more of her life inside a science lab than out of it. She was hooked up to computers for so long it's no wonder she came out thinking and sounding like one!"
A small knot forms in Spock's brow.
"Don't worry. She has a good life. She was always peeved that she never made captain, but I believe she is satisfied with the life she's lived so far."
"She was a help to me," Spock says softly. "A calm mind amongst hundreds which were not."
"She was your mentor."
"And beyond that?"
Spock starts to give her an incredulous look, but realises he has invited this conversation.
"I admired her. She, a human, had many of the qualities - Vulcan qualities - to which I aspired."
"Indeed." He leans forward, stares at his steepled hands. "Perhaps I also recognised within her an isolation I had myself experienced - as one who does not fit in."
"But you fit in here!" she protests automatically. "I can't think of anyone, even the captain, so synonymous, so representative of this ship, this crew, Starfleet in general."
He gives her one of his patented near-smiles. "I was not so conditioned to humans then. Nor they to me."
Christine can't help but smile at that. But she can see that exhaustion behind the lightness in his eyes and knows that she must help him put the conversation to rest.
Spock, knowing that he is beyond the point of disguising his weariness, comes to the same realisation.
"You wondered what the difference was, Miss Chapel. You wished to know what was so different between then and now?"
"The difference was myself. Everything I was to the ship and the crew, everything they were to me, was different. I needed guidance, and Number One was there. Captain Pike, also."
She thinks she sees some brief spark of something - pain? - pass across his features. Something not part of their immediate conversation. At the mention of Captain Pike, she believes she knows what it is.
"Your relationship with Captain Kirk is very different from the one you had with Pike, isn't it?"
The pained look is back, accompanied by the wary gaze of one who is being hunted. Bulls eye.
"Captain Kirk is my..." Spock falters. He doesn't want to say 'friend' because it will sound unVulcanly emotional, doesn't want to say it because it might not be true anymore.
"He's your friend," she says for him. "Everyone on board can see it."
"Perhaps," he answers, but he seems heartbreakingly unsure.
"He's your friend and he will understand."
Spock glances up and then away, but Christine can see that his expression has softened.
"And what of you, Miss Chapel? Do you understand now?"
"I think I do. You needed something then that you don't need now." She swallows past the sudden constriction in her throat. She will not succumb to tears again.
Spock lowers his hands, effectively lowering the barrier between them.
"I believe I am past the need for mentoring or guidance such as I had from Captain Pike and Number One, but I still have much to learn from my human colleagues."
"And we from you, Mr Spock."
His lip curls slightly. "I have come to learn that there are many other forms of rewarding relationships to be had amongst humans."
"Indeed," she says, teasing gently.
"You are warmer," he says softly. "Kinder, stronger, more gentle."
"Than Number One?"
"Yes. Also more determined. More stubborn."
Christine laughs out loud.
"And more emotional, most certainly."
"Can't argue with that!"
Spock looks thoughtful. "What of the others, Miss Chapel? Your sisters?"
It is not a question she expects, but perhaps she should have. Spock is the most inquisitive person she knows.
"Scattered all around the galaxy. I don't think any of us liked the inevitable questions we'd get if anyone saw more than one of us. Number One left Starfleet, as you know. Last I heard she was commanding a modest freighter somewhere near the Klingon Neutral Zone. Number Four - Charlotte - was the one who did the voice imprints for the computers. I think she settled on Tau Gamma Four. Had a family. The others... I don't know, to be honest. We weren't sisters in the true sense, just strangers who share DNA. Most of us were adopted out as infants."
"You had a pleasant childhood?"
"I did. I suppose I was lucky. Probably luckier than Number One."
"So you no longer feel an illogical sense of envy towards her and her past relationship with me?"
Christine has the grace to blush, made painfully apparent by her fair complexion. He is teasing her.
"I might remind you, Mr Spock, that there are seven other versions of me out there in the universe. Seven other illogical human women who would likely turn your logical world upside-down with proclamations of love and devotion, should they ever meet you.
She expects to see that telltale twinkle in his eye, the one which means he is flat-out, Vulcan-style laughing, but instead looks up to catch him stifling a human-style yawn.
"Will you allow me to help you to bed, Mr Spock?"
For a moment she is sure he will refuse. She can see the warring arguments, for and against, pass across his face.
She pushes further, knowing that she will either have swayed him to reason or pushed him beyond her reach. "You are tired. Let me help."
He seems to come to a decision then, and in one brief moment of unguarded openness his defences slip and allow Christine a glimpse into the being beneath. She knows she has won.
Spock lets himself be led across his room; he is more tired than he will admit to Christine, but he suspects she knows. In the morning he will have to face his captain and an uncertain future. But tonight he has known the comfort of a friend.
It is enough for now.