Only So Much Room in a Heart
Chapel tried not to let the thin air on Vulcan affect her. She'd been on worse worlds, slogged through mud and downed buildings and a whole lot of other nasty things, none of which she needed to do here, in Spock's bedroom, in his family home. The tri-ox would kick in. Please God, let it be soon because her mood was plummeting in time with her inability to breathe.
She'd meant to dose up on the shuttle, but she'd fallen asleep and Spock hadn't thought to wake her.
Or hadn't cared enough to bother. She was rapidly beginning to suspect that was more the case than just forgetting.
She studied the closet. Robe, robe, robe, a few shirts that were clearly Nyota's, then a lot more clothes, shoved into the back. Jim's. He would have kept a good number here so he didn't have to pack much, the way one did with a second home.
Had it bugged Ny to see Jim's clothes there as much as it was pissing Chapel off? Was that why she had left Spock? Chapel really had no idea what had broken them up—Ny and she had pretty much stopped talking when her friend had taken up with Spock without so much as a heads-up.
Not that Ny being with Spock had been a shock. She'd always suspected Ny had almost as wicked a crush on Spock as she'd had on their captain, and once Jim was dead and Spock was free...
Only maybe he wasn't. Maybe Jim hadn't let go. Or more accurately Spock wouldn't let him go.
Chapel wandered to the dresser, pulling out the drawers gently as if she was on some secret surveillance mission. Full, full, full on the right side. Clearly Spock's stuff. The top left was almost empty—Chapel recognized Ny's moisturizer and shampoo. Was clearing his last girlfriend's stuff out a bridge too far for Spock? She closed the drawer with more energy than she meant to and moved on. The next two were full: more of Jim's shit. Seriously? He'd been dead for two years. Spock couldn't purge some of this and pack the rest up the way one did when a lover died?
She took a deep breath.
She wasn't even the runner-up. That was what hurt. Nyota had been. Chapel was living with the spectres of both Jim and Ny, since Spock refused to discuss anything about his relationship with either.
Len had tried to warn her. "Christine, you're walking into a situation you're not going to like." Len looked out for her—often in an overly acidic way, but still he cared—and had since their first voyage.
Len was usually right, damn his eyes.
And where the fuck was Spock? She'd followed him into the house, and he'd shown her where to put her stuff then disappeared.
"The sex is good," she muttered. It was her mantra these days. The sex was goddamned amazing.
And that could be enough at first. It took a while to make a couple strong, to go from lovers to in love. She just had to give it time.
Blah, blah, blah.
The hell of it was, she'd been part of a strong couple. Twice. Roger and Decker. Both of them had ended up embracing machine life over her, and she was trying not to take that personally. But before the bad endings, things had been good.
The little voice that never seemed to shut up murmured, "But the good times never last."
But at least she'd had them. In and out of bed. So far with Spock...
She closed her eyes and counted to ten slowly in six different languages: the way she did during an emergency, when she was waiting out unruly planetary administrators—only she kept her eyes open then.
Spock had rebounded to her. Off of what was probably already a rebound. Chapel knew better; it was her personal policy to let people get over their shit before wading in. But this was Spock and he was finally interested in her and she couldn't say no, not after wanting him for so long.
She turned, feeling the first real smile since she'd left Earth as she saw Sarek in the doorway. "I didn't know you were here."
"I was not supposed to be. Spock is not pleased." He seemed to be studying her and he looked...disappointed.
She knew him well enough—had spent enough emergencies with him—to know it wasn't that he didn't approve of Spock choosing her. Sarek liked her. Better, she thought, than he liked Spock. She guessed his disapproval was at her stupendous lack of judgment in being here at all.
"You obviously need a drink," he said gently.
She laughed. "We've been on too many crap missions together, Sarek. You know me too well." She left the unpacking for later and walked toward him, but when he turned to go, she touched his arm, stopping him. "That look. Was it because it's a revolving door in here since Jim died? Nyota. Now me." Had there been anyone else?
"It is not my business." He gestured for her to follow him.
"You made it your business when you gave me your version of stank face."
The soft puff of air that came out of him was the closest thing to a laugh he seemed capable of. But she'd heard it a number of times. She seemed to amuse the shit out of him.
She never heard that sound from Spock.
As Sarek led her into a lovely sitting room that looked out on the garden, Chapel saw Spock sitting among the roses. She sighed. Way too loudly. "Let me guess. Jim loved roses?"
A glass was pressed into her hand; she didn't even look to see what it was, just lifted it and took a healthy swallow. She had no idea what she was drinking, but it was delicious.
"Kirk did not care one way or another about roses, as far as I could tell. I think Spock is missing his mother."
She instantly felt like an insensitive moron. Amanda had died in a flitter accident only a few months after Jim was lost on the Enterprise B. "I'm sorry. I really need to get over myself."
"Perhaps if you were with someone who did not make you so actively unhappy, it would be easier?" His eyebrow rose in a way that seemed to be almost daring her to try to say she was happy. He nodded at the glass. "Do you like that?"
"Very much." She smiled, loving him for being honest and then immediately taking the pressure off by asking about the drink. His finesse was what made him such a good negotiator. She shared missions with Sarek often. She thought he liked working with her, maybe even asked for her. She doubted Spock would ever have asked for her—might not even now. He'd probably see a long tedious treaty negotiation as peaceful time away from her.
She closed her eyes and started to count again.
"He is not worth this. I admire your steadfastness in affection, but surely the reality of the situation has made clear the future of your relationship with him?"
"I thought this wasn't your business?" The words came out harsher than she meant them to. But the father of her boyfriend had pretty much just told her to cut her losses and run.
"Spock's relationship with you is not my business." He busied himself pouring something into a tall glass. The liquid was clear so Chapel assumed it was some kind of fancy water. He took a long drink, then looked back at her and his expression was as serious as she'd ever seen it. "Your relationship with him, however, might be."
She almost dropped her drink. "Might be?"
"Because we're friends?"
"We are that, Christine. I hope you have no doubts on that score."
"I don't." She took another sip of the mystery liquor.
"Good. That is not, however, what I meant." He gestured to the very well-stocked bar—Amanda's favorites, no doubt since Chapel had never seen Sarek drink anything alcoholic. Jim probably had some hooch stashed in there too—or maybe in Spock's rooms. Maybe he never felt comfortable adding his stuff to Sarek's beautifully appointed liquor cabinet.
Sarek pointed to a bottle of gin. "You dislike this."
She laughed. He knew this because he'd watched her choke it down at a formal dinner with a captain during one of their voyages out to an emergency.
"This"—he picked up a bottle of Duella Nectar—"you enjoy."
She'd used her last bottle on one very long mission to bribe a personal assistant to let her talk to the minister of health. And she'd been pretty bitchy about it after. And Sarek had been there that time too.
"We've worked together a lot."
"We have. Also, I pay attention. Does my son know what you like? Does he care?" He looked at Spock who was still sitting in the roses, his expression blank—even for a Vulcan. Sarek's expression was far from blank. Compassion and resentment seemed to be warring for dominion, and Chapel was shocked he was letting her see it. "He is broken right now. And you deserve better."
"You both lost Amanda."
"I am not talking about my wife. I am talking about James T. Kirk. The man whose hands I could never pry from around his neck." There was such bitterness that she stepped back.
He took a deep breath. "I apologize. I know you and Kirk were friends."
"I spent plenty of time being jealous of his hold on Spock, believe me." She frowned. "But you said he was missing his mother so I assumed..."
"She would sit with him out there, after Kirk died. Listening. Talking. Whatever her magic was with him—he has never responded to me the way he did to her. That is what he misses, Christine. Her caring about him. Most of the time, he was too lost in Kirk to care overly about her."
"I don't believe that." She moved closer. "I think you're just mad that he didn't care about you."
His expression shifted, and she suspected this was the look Spock had grown up with, but she stood her ground and Sarek finally seemed to relax. "There may be some truth to what you say. There is also truth to what I say. Spock spent decades being selfish when he was with Kirk. Ask Saavik, if you don't believe me."
She laughed softly. "I've never met her."
"She is on Earth." Sarek studied her. "He has truly never introduced you?"
"I see. And yet you stay." He shook his head. "Perhaps you should join my son out there? See if you can cajole him into some other mood than morose and wallowing?"
"What is wrong with you?" She moved closer, could practically feel some strange electricity snapping between them. "Sarek, you're my friend."
"Yes. A friend who regrets he did not speak some truths to you sooner than now." He did not look away. "I, however, allowed myself to grieve before I thought of moving on."
"It is a moot point, Christine. You are with my son." He drained the glass and set it down more firmly than she expected. "I am returning to Earth. Spock will be relieved. Perhaps you will as well?"
For the first time since they'd become friends, she wasn't sure what to say to him. And she felt the loss of their normal ease far more than she liked. "I don't...I don't know."
He leaned in, so close she could feel his breath on her skin. "It was self indulgent of me to tell you these things. I am not accustomed to feeling...jealous of my own son." He pulled away. "Enjoy your stay."
And then he turned and strode out, and if he'd been wearing the cloak he favored on cold-weather planets, it would have been billowing behind him dramatically.
The man could make an exit.
She walked over to the bar, and started to laugh, the sound coming out somewhat hysterical. She had no idea what bottle the drink had come from.
And Sarek wanted her.
She rummaged through the bottles, ignoring those she knew and easing the caps off the others, smelling, finally finding the thing he'd given her. It was Vulcan. Gespar liqueur. She poured herself another glass and went outside. "Do you want company?"
Spock looked up, his expression very far away, before he finally focused on her. "I have been remiss." He said it in the way a person does not to apologize but to forestall a criticism.
She shrugged and sat next to him. The scent was amazing, even if the roses looked a little neglected. "Why did you come to me? That night?" That night when he'd shown up at her door, looking lost and open and she'd let him in without a thought, sure she'd finally won. "Was it the night you broke up with Ny?"
"I do not wish to speak of this."
"Oh my God. It was. You'd just say no if it wasn't." She took a hearty sip of the liqueur.
"That is stronger than it appears."
"I can hold my liquor." Something his father knew only too well. But when had Spock and she ever had occasion for him to find that out? She'd been on her best behavior whenever they'd gone out—had even held back on ordering booze some of the time so as not to make him uncomfortable.
Why? Jim would never have done that.
She decided to take the bull by the horns. "You miss Jim."
"I thought we were talking about Nyota?"
"Actually we were not talking about her. But she's as inconsequential to this as I am, I think. You don't really want me. You just don't want to be alone. I don't think you know how to be anymore." She frowned. "When Jim was with Antonia, who were you with?"
He shook his head and looked away, wearing the same look he had a moment before, when they were talking about Ny. The distance between her and Ny hadn't started entirely when she'd started to see Spock. It had been when Christine went to ops and Ny worked for...
Spock. At the Academy. When Jim retired and went to live with Antonia.
The weirdly guilty looks Rand would send Chapel's way when she'd go on about Spock being free suddenly made sense. She'd known. She'd known and she'd chosen to keep it secret. And then Ny had lost him. To Jim. Not probably at first. Spock would have tried to do the right thing, but Sarek was right: when had he ever been able to say no to Jim?
"Holy shit. I've been such a fucking fool. She wasn't a rebound. She was a rekindling."
"I have always had a certain level of interest in you, Christine. Nothing you're saying changes that."
"A certain level of interest." She took another sip of her drink, too big of one and nearly choked on it. "Never let it be said you're not romantic."
She wanted to start chanting, "The sex is good. The sex is good. The sex is good." But would it be now? Knowing all this. Part of what made it good was that she'd had hope for their future. Hope that she could mean as much to him. As who? Jim? Ny?
She wanted to run. Grab her bag and head for the spaceport. But Sarek would be there, and she did not want him thinking she was running to him.
She was not defined by a man, God damn it. Hadn't been since Will Decker laid eyes on Ilia for the first time in years, and Chapel had known it was over. She'd almost been glad Jim had demoted her—it gave her an easy out, a way to start over. For herself. On her own.
She would let this weekend play out. She was good at spinning scenarios, and she didn't see it going well for Spock and her, but she'd at least give it a try.
There was plenty of booze and the flowers smelled pretty. She'd had weekends she couldn't say even that about.
But they hadn't been with the love of her goddamn life.
She closed her eyes and began to count.
Chapel sat in the conference room as the members of the next mission came in. There were some newbies this time. She'd have to tailor her briefing for them. They were the most likely to make stupid mistakes and get hurt. But it was those who'd been doing this too long who were the most likely to get reckless and die.
She'd lost two on her last mission. None on the previous six. She'd hoped the streak would continue but had known deep in her heart it wouldn't. And it hadn't. Good people gone. Friends.
She was sick of losing friends—should consider other career paths, but she'd been doing this so long she wasn't sure she was good for anything else. Emergencies got in your blood; there was a rush that came from helping that she'd found she couldn't really recreate, even when working in a busy emergency room, as she'd done during a medical exchange early in her ops career.
This was what she loved. Except when she hated it.
At least she didn't have to worry about bringing back a bad mood to Spock. They'd lasted barely longer than their disastrous weekend on Vulcan. Disastrous not because of Spock but because of Sarek. Spock, to be fair to him, hadn't changed over the course of their relationship. He'd never professed undying love. He'd never told her she was all he'd ever thought of. He'd never made their relationship into some kind of fairytale romance. And neither had she. Or she liked to think she wouldn't have.
If Sarek had just kept his goddamn mouth shut.
He'd been avoiding her. More than Spock was doing, ironically. She and Spock had broken up with no drama. They'd been on the last mission together. He'd touched her hand as they'd walked away from the caskets. The briefest feel of skin on skin, warm and sweet. And supportive.
A friend. She'd left the relationship with a friend and that was only because she'd stopped trying to make him into more than that.
Was that, too, Sarek's fault. Had she given up on Spock or moved on to his father? In her head, if not in reality?
She was not, not, not here to worry about a man. It had been years since she'd let one in enough to have to worry about. Other than Spock, of course, but he'd taken up residence in her heart long before he finally wanted in.
This mission would not be any different. There might be someone fun to while away a few nights with, but she wasn't going to think beyond that.
She looked around the room, taking a head count. All here except Ambassador Wilkins. Someone she was not going to spend any nights with because she couldn't stand the man. And he was late. As usual.
The door hissed and she turned, her eyes already set into the "I hate you, but I have to work with you" look she generally favored Wilkins with, but it wasn't him, it was Sarek. "Ambassador? Are you in the right room?"
There were titters around the room. Who the hell would ask a Vulcan—let alone this Vulcan—that?
His expression was amused, although she doubted anyone else could tell. "I am. Ambassador Wilkins has been injured while on leave. He...delayed notification."
"Big surprise there," someone muttered from the back of the room, and Chapel bit back a smile.
"So we have you?" she asked.
Their eyes locked, but she didn't think anyone would notice what was really going on. God knows, she hadn't noticed her boyfriend's father had a thing for her so why would they catch on? She wasn't sure Spock even realized it. She certainly hadn't told him.
"Go ahead," she told the room, and a round of clapping erupted. She grinned at Sarek. "Don't let it go to your head. No one likes Wilkins."
"I, of course, cannot comment."
Her grin changed, one side of her mouth going up more than the other into her sardonic smile. "Because like is an emotion? You'd never comment on how his absence from this mission might be...fortuitous for the mission's success?"
"I would never say such a thing. However, you are free to."
There was muffled laughter and he shot a look back, stifling the sound and getting a murmured "Sorry," from someone.
She had to admit it. She loved being with the alpha. She'd just never considered this alpha available. "Did you want to brief them first?"
He took a seat and gestured to the front of the table. "Please. You proceed." There was nothing flirtatious in the way he did it. They had worked together too often; and this was how he was. He respected her. She respected him back. It was nice.
She stood and smiled at her team, making sure to seek out the first-timers, let her gaze linger in a way that would tell them she had their backs. "Okay, then. Let's get down to it."
She was in the lounge on the Darrian, legs up on an ottoman, cradling a glass of tequila that she was nursing as she watched the star stream and tried to ignore what was going on behind her. Her team was rowdy, and she debated telling them to tone it down but decided the mission had the potential to be a truly shitty one. Let them enjoy this part of it. The veterans had an idea what might await them, and the newbies—well, this was the last night of their innocence. They'd see things in this job that no one ever should.
And assuming they survived—which, God help her, she never assumed anymore because shit happened way more than she liked and it was out of her control—they'd either stay and move on to the next crisis with the perverse mixture of dread and excitement the lifers got used to, or they'd transfer off and never speak about their short time in Emergency Ops.
She heard soft steps, then the swish of a robe, and smiled. "Take a load off, Sarek."
He sat next to her. "You did not expect me on this mission."
"Sure didn't." She took a small sip of her tequila.
"Is my presence unwelcome?"
There was a long silence, and she resisted looking over at him but couldn't hold back a grin.
Finally, he said, "You and my son are...?"
"Over. But then you know that." She turned to him. "You knew that the moment you told me you were jealous. You're too good a strategist not to know that. Moreover, Spock didn't expect you to be at the house. You were there because of me." She held up a hand when he looked like he'd deny it. "You strategize, but I figure out the now. The causes. What's happening and why. You were there because I was, and it was early enough in my relationship with Spock for you to disrupt it before things got ugly between him and me."
His eyebrow went up.
She smiled. "As a strategist, you play the long game. If you want me, it's not a simple thing. Had it just been lust, you'd have simply waited for Spock and I to fall apart then stepped in to comfort me—to get a taste until you were satisfied and could move on. But you didn't. You stayed away. Because you want me in your life long term, which means I'll be in his. And you wanted it to be less awkward than it otherwise might. He and I are friends, as I think you realized we would be if you offered me an alternative before it ended with him. Because then I'd make sure it ended well."
"I'm a scientist. I'm a doctor. And I specialize in crises. What else can I be but logical?"
"Should I assume, since it did end well, that you are interested in this scenario you have spun out? You and I? For the long term?"
"I didn't say that."
"So you ended it well for some other reason?"
"Maybe I'm just an utterly reasonable gal?" She tried to bite back a laugh but failed. "I suppose it's possible that maybe, sometimes, when I have nothing better to do, I have given the idea of us being together some thought."
There was the soft exhalation that was his laugh and she laughed with him. "And when you consider that?" His voice was surprisingly tentative.
"Well, it doesn't repel me." She leaned back and turned so she could see his expression.
He was watching her quite tenderly—for a Vulcan, of course. Her team would have no idea what was really going on a few feet from them. They probably thought Sarek was boring her with diplomacy.
"Were you really jealous?"
"You should have said something."
"Christine, you have wanted Spock for a very long time. What could I have said that would have deterred you? You needed to be with him. As much as I did not like seeing the two of you together, I had to wait until you were becoming unsatisfied with how things were."
"How did you know I would?"
"Because Commander Uhura did. She left him eventually. And based on what I know of both you and she, you are far less likely to put up with something that does not make you happy."
"I found out she was with him before."
"Yes. He left her for Kirk. And she still let him back in. I do not think you would have done that."
Jesus, Sarek knew about it, too? "How could I have missed that she was with him? Now that I know, it was so obvious."
"You were off world for some of it. A medical exchange, I believe?"
Shit, he was right. At first she'd wanted to stick around since Spock was free, but when he made no move toward her, even though she'd found many excuses to mosey over to the Academy—so many she'd begun to feel stupid—she decided to take advantage of the opportunity to work in a busy emergency room on a star base. "How do you know where I was, Sarek? Did you care back then what I did?"
"No." His expression softened, as if to take the curtness out of his answer. "I was impressed with you when we met on the Enterprise, but I was not...interested in you then. Recently I looked at your bio and realized that you were not on Earth when they were openly together. That you probably did not know they had been since it did not last long. And it was not my place to tell you."
She laughed, and it was a horribly bitter sound. "No, it was Spock's. Or hey, maybe my best friend could have fessed up."
"Are you two still close?" He sounded skeptical.
"Former best friend."
"Ah." He leaned back. "Do you miss her?"
"Yeah. I do. And I have another friend who probably kept this from me. I'm not sure how I feel about it." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "How should I feel about it, Sarek?"
"You are asking a Vulcan about feelings?"
"Stupid, I know. But yes."
"As with anything, conduct a cost-benefit analysis. If what you get from the friendship outweighs the damage from the betrayal, maintain the relationship."
She nodded slowly. Jan...Jan was worth keeping. Both because of what they'd shared over the years in ops but also career wise. They'd risen together and Jan looked out for her just as Chapel did for her. Ny had always hitched her star to Jim's wagon. Or Spock's. There was not a goddamn thing she could do for Chapel's career—or maybe Chapel just wanted to think that way because she was feeling like such a chump. And why the hell hadn't Ny told her? Just a sheepish little, "So, while you were gone..." would have been enough.
She rubbed her eyes and said, "I don't know what to do. I'm too damned tired to figure it out tonight."
"I am tired, as well, Christine." And he did seem it. His posture wasn't as perfect as usual. His eyelids seemed heavy. If she scanned him she was pretty sure she'd see signs of exhaustion—but then keeping up a relentless work pace was often a great way to get over losing someone. She'd used the strategy after Will's death.
"Work, work, work. A break is good, Sarek. I keep telling myself that and then I never take one."
"I do the same thing. Perhaps, when this mission is over, we could go away?"
"Together? Just the two of us?" At his nod, she smiled. "Not Vulcan."
"Agreed. Neutral territory. Not Earth, either."
"Amanda and I often went there."
She narrowed her eyes. "Does that mean you and I can't?"
"I have no reservations about going there with you. I mourned my wife in the way prescribed by ritual and custom. I cared deeply for her and I will treasure the memories I have of her, but I let her go as I knew I would have to do when I chose a human I would almost certainly outlive. Spock should do this with Kirk. But he cannot."
"No, he can't." She sighed. "I don't want to talk about Spock. So...Risa—yes, no?"
"I offered up that I had been there with Amanda so that if it troubled you, we could choose an alternate venue."
"I've been to Risa once. With Will Decker. I was involved with him." She waited for the look, the one that held scorn, but he seemed to simply be listening. "It's not how I got the CMO slot. He picked me and then...it just sort of happened." Not unlike how it had happened with Roger.
Or how it was happening with Sarek. Working long hours with someone was a fantastic way to get to know them. And to do it with not a lot of shields up because she'd never gone in expecting to find love—and she imagined the men hadn't either.
She smiled wryly. "Will's gone. I, as you say, treasure the memories. But that doesn't mean I can't make more. With you. And Risa's so nice."
"It is." He nodded. "I will make reservations when I return to my quarters. Do you have any preferences?"
"They have these cliffside villas. I could see them from the room Will and I had. I think they had their own pools." She studied him. "Do you like to swim?"
"Not particularly. But I can if I have to."
"There are other things to do in a pool besides swim..." She knew she was blushing, but she didn't care.
"It may shock you to know that I realize that." He moved his hand so it was right on the edge of the armrest.
She moved hers so they were just barely touching and closed her eyes, amazed at how much heat the little contact was generating. Finally she drew her hand away, and he actually exhaled loudly, almost a sigh. "So a cliffside villa, then. Avec piscine."
He surprised her by saying, "Oui, Mademoiselle." His accent was way better than hers.
He was full of surprises and she loved it.
Chapel was getting tired of being vigilant while trying to help people. And the enemy wasn't a person or a disease, but the suddenly shifting ground after massive rains and a whole lot of unsafe mining practices—practices that had gone undetected by scans due to interference from the very mineral that was being yanked out of the ground willy nilly. A mineral the Federation needed badly, but hopefully not badly enough to condone shoddy practices with a formal trade agreement.
Them again, this same interference that mucked up scanners also made it impossible to beam onto the planet. Certain parts of the Federation were very interested in locations like that.
She felt the ground start to shift and leapt over to what looked like more solid footing.
"You okay, ma'am?" Lieutenant Palmer, one of her newbies, asked.
"I'm fine. Mind yourself." It wasn't that she didn't appreciate the concern, but Palmer was too green to be worrying about teammates when she was still learning the ropes.
"The trade negotiations have been cancelled, as you thought they would be." Sarek had come up so softly she hadn't realized he was there, but he always knew how to modulate his tone to not startle. "The Corps of Engineers will work with the miners on safe practices. The ship is sending shuttlecraft." He pulled his robe up a bit to keep it out of the mud that was oozing around their feet. "I will be pleased to leave this planet."
"God, no shit." She gave him a sheepish grin to excuse her language, but he never seemed to care. With Spock, she'd actually held back.
"My bag is packed," she said. "Let me just go get it—"
A yell distracted her. Palmer was standing on the porch of the temporary dwelling they'd been given and it was moving.
"God damn it," Chapel said as she sprinted to the shelter, trying to avoid any deep spots or holes. She could hear Sarek right behind her. "Palmer, get out of there."
"I've just gotta get my stuff." Palmer started to head into the shelter.
"Forget your damn stuff. It's replaceable. You're not." She grabbed Palmer by the back of her uniform and dragged her out, but the porch started to slip more. "Go!"
Palmer jumped for it, and Chapel was just about to go when a support came crashing down on both Sarek and her. She hit the decking with a solid whump, felt it start to break apart as rocks and mud lifted up.
She started to climb out, but the ground gave way. She and Sarek slid, pieces of the supports coming down around them. She covered her head and neck with her arms, tucked her chin to her chest to try to leave a breathing spot if the mud covered them, but they came to rest in a hole about three meters down. "Don't move," she told Sarek, afraid the whole thing would collapse in on them.
"Moving is not an issue." His voice was off so she turned. He wasn't pinned but he was holding his abdomen and his head was bleeding. The head wound didn't surprise her; she could feel something trickling down the side of her head and assumed she was bleeding, too. But the abdominal wound was potentially bad. Especially since for Vulcans, that wasn't their gut but their heart.
"Commander?" Palmer didn't sound panicked. Good.
"Do not approach, Lieutenant. The ground will collapse. Get help."
Chapel looked for her med kit. It had been looped over her shoulder as it always was on a mission—she'd learned the hard way that medical emergencies wouldn't wait for her to go back to her quarters and get her supplies. As she turned, her head spun and she closed her eyes and tried to ride out the dizziness. She opened them again slowly and saw the strap of her med kit, but the rest was under the mud and rocks.
A groan from Sarek made her turn. His hands were covered in blood. "This is worse than I thought," he said, his tone one of disappointment in himself.
"Easy." She pushed his fingers away and saw that a support or part of the decking must have punctured the skin, dangerously close to the heart, and unfortunately had not stayed in, which might have kept the bleeding to a minimum.
"Don't move." She met his eyes. "It's not good. But it could be worse. Okay?"
She didn't wait for him to answer, just tore a strip off her shirt to make a bandage of sorts and pressed it against the wound. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a large chunk of the side of the wall sheer off and come crashing down, so she covered Sarek's face with her other hand as best she could. "They'll be here soon." She wasn't sure which of them she was trying to comfort as more rocks and mud spilled into the hole.
"The ground here is not secure," Sarek said softly. "We will be buried in very little time. You need to leave me."
"You need to let me work." She reached back, feeling for the strap of her kit, finally reaching it. She pulled gently, not wanting to make things any more unstable than they already were, and felt the kit move.
"Christine, please. They cannot transport us out of here. You must climb before this hole collapses. I can give you a boost." He left unsaid the other part, that by giving her a boost, by probably throwing her out of the hole, if she understood what he was thinking, the ground would collapse and bury him. Or he'd potentially finish off what the thing that had stabbed him started and bleed out. Or possibly both.
"No." She went back to easing the med kit from the muck.
He pushed her hand off him and tried to sit up. Blood went everywhere as the fabric slipped off his wound. "We cannot both get out, Christine. Do what I say." His tone was one he'd never used on her.
"No." She stared back at him the way she'd learned in ops. Alpha to alpha. And he finally gave up, the fight seeming to go out of him.
"We will get out together, Sarek, or not at all." Her hands slipped off him for a moment, covered in green and mud, and she realized his earlier acquiescence had been a ruse when tried to get up again. She pushed him back down with more force than was good for his head, but she needed to stop the bleeding more than worry about a possible concussion. "Stop it, Sarek."
"The needs of the many clearly dictate that—"
"No. No. No." She kept pressure on the wound, hating how much dirt was going in, but she could clean it out once she got the kit free. "I don't give a flying fuck about the needs of the many. I will not go through this again. You will not die on me. I goddamn order you to muster up that Vulcan will and survive this."
"I will not have you sacrifice yourself for me."
"What part of what I said was unclear, Sarek?" She put as much angry resolve into her voice as she could, and he stopped trying to push her away. "Good. Now quit moving around. You'll only make the hole collapse quicker and you know that."
She almost dislocated her shoulder trying to get the kit free of the dirt and rocks while not letting up on the pressure over Sarek's abdomen, but she managed to pull it clear and drag it to her. Once she was sure it was secure next to her, she let go and grabbed Sarek's hand, placing it over the wound. "Push. Hard. Don't debate. Don't order me to stop. Just do it until I tell you not to. Got it?"
"Yes." He almost sounded contrite—or maybe he was just weak from loss of blood?
She met his eyes. "We're not going to die."
"You do not know that."
"Fine. Then how's this? You're not dying in here alone. If we go, we go together. I'm done watching the man I love leave me to soldier on alone."
She grabbed a scanner from the kit, then a regenerator. The sides of the hole seemed to be coming down faster. She felt panic rise up and pushed it down.
She almost missed his soft question, "You love me?"
She'd been touching him; he could read her, even injured. She thought he had felt her panic and was trying to take her mind off it. She smiled at him to let him know she appreciated it.
"Well, yeah, I probably do love you. But you know what I meant. I loved them—Roger and Will—okay? For now, let's leave it at that if it disturbs you that I said I love you." She winked at him, trying to keep things light as she dug for painkiller in her kit.
"Why would it disturb me? I was surprised—in a good way, as Amanda often said."
She laughed. "Oh. Okay then. So, how about you save all this lovey-dovey crap for Risa, Ambassador? I need to work."
She realized the only painkiller she had wasn't safe for Vulcans. Damn it all. "This is going to hurt. It won't be for long but it will be bad. I'm sorry."
"I will endure it. Just give me a moment to prepare myself."
She waited for him to nod and then got to work. He was silent, but the pain was evident on his face.
"I gotta tell you, Sarek—Risa's looking better and better."
Somehow he managed to grit out, "I fully concur." Then he fell silent again, until she finished getting the bleeding stopped and murmured, "It's okay now," and moved on to his head.
"You are also bleeding."
"I know. Patient first." She was very close to him and felt him reach up and touch her shoulder.
"Seducing me while I'm treating you is not recommended."
"Then later. Once we are out of this hole and on the ship. I find I no longer wish to wait until Risa."
She pulled away just enough to turn and meet his lips. The kiss was short but satisfying. "Me neither."
A voice sounded from where Parker had been, "Commander? Don't move. We're going to get you out." It was Valahka, one of her veterans.
"The ambassador and I aren't at a hundred percent."
"Can you climb?"
She checked Sarek's wound. What she'd done was triage at best. He still needed to be seen by sickbay, but her work should hold as long as they didn't have to climb for very long. "Yes, but not well."
"Understood, ma'am. We'll have you out in a jiffy." Fortunately, he was a pro when it came to extractions so his confidence was soothing.
She closed her eyes and exhaled a long, relieved breath, then helped Sarek stand, something she might not normally do with a Vulcan, but she didn't want him tearing her patch job by trying to get up alone. "It's going to be okay."
Sarek pulled her to him and kissed her again. A more thorough kiss this time, but not so long their rescuers caught them doing it. "Tonight," he murmured as the ladders came over the side of the holes and they scrambled out. The hole collapsed as they were doing it, but there were enough people to pull them free before they got caught up in the debris. Sarek's wound reopened, but he tore fabric from the hem of his robe and pressed it over his abdomen.
"Tonight," he said again as if she was going to say no.
"Tonight—once sickbay releases you." She grinned at the annoyance on his face, but she had to keep the upper hand when she could—no matter how much she wanted him. "And if they clear you for...those kinds of activities." She was talking very quietly so that Vulcan ears would hear but not her team.
"Of course. I would like to survive the experience." His eyes were practically shining, his voice was huskier than usual, and she'd never been so attracted to him.
"I'd like you to, also."
"A fortuitous coincidence of desires." He put an interesting spin on "desires," though she doubted anyone else would notice.
"Indeed," she said with a grin.
"Shuttles incoming," someone called out and everyone moved back, trying to leave the most solid ground for the ships.
The shuttlecrafts landed, disgorging a large group of engineers and geologists, and letting the ops and diplomatic teams finally get the hell out of Dodge.
She hovered in sickbay once her own injuries were tended to. She was driving the doctors on the Moldova batty and she didn't care.
"Commander Chapel," Doctor Pope, the ship's CMO, said, "we'll be happy to call you when he's ready to be released."
"She is a physician," Sarek offered in a tone so helpful she knew he was playing with the doctor. "My personal physician, in fact."
"Is she now?" Pope didn't sound convinced.
She managed to hold back any trace of a grin. "I know Vulcans quite well." Wait, was that bad to say? Would Sarek think she meant she got that knowledge from sleeping with Spock and not from how many Vulcans she'd treated over the years?
He shot her a look that said that was exactly where his mental trail went, and she mouthed, "Sorry," as Pope turned away for a moment.
Sarek's expression changed, to one of tenderness and then impatience. She pulled a chair up and sat, not wanting to get in the way of what was medically required—if Sarek had to spend the night in sickbay, then they'd wait.
She'd probably stay by his bed and sneak kisses when the staff was out of sight, but they'd wait for anything more than that.
"Well, Ambassador, your personal physician"—the look Pope gave her told her he was fully aware that the title was bullshit—"did a very good job out there."
"Glad I haven't lost my touch. Will he need to stay in sickbay for the night?"
"No, he'll be cleared for duty once I'm done."
"All manner of duty?" Sarek asked in his best "I am Vulcan and only inquire because I must be prepared" way.
The doctor laughed. "All manner."
She knew she was blushing, and she didn't look at Sarek because she was afraid she'd start laughing. Wow, how obvious were they being? Then again, the doctor was scanning him—there were neurotransmitters and hormones that were probably going nuts right now if he was aroused. If Pope scanned her, he'd see similar readings, albeit in the human rather than Vulcan range.
"Go," the doctor said as he moved away so Sarek could get up. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"I believe that gives me a great deal of leeway, Samuel."
She tried to hide her shock that Sarek would use his first name, but she could tell Pope had seen her surprise when he said, "Sarek takes this ship a lot. I think it's because he's happy—sorry, content to have found a Kaltoh player that can keep up with him." He began to grin, a mischievous expression that made her like him even more. "I assume there will be no games this voyage?"
"It is unlikely," Sarek said evenly, as if he was not telling his—friend?—that he did not plan to come up for air on the short ride back to Earth.
She smiled and pointed at Sarek. "He's the boss."
"That statement lacks sincerity." Sarek gave Pope the look Spock had been giving Jim for years. The "See what I must put up with?" look. And Pope was making a fake sad expression. She was totally charmed by their interaction.
"I believe that. She's one tough woman. Or so I know by reputation—we've never had the pleasure."
"Haven't taken the Moldova much. And when I do, I try to stay out of sickbay and in the lounge."
"And I tend to avoid the lounge. I'm one of those raging introverts. It's probably why he and I get on so." He grinned at Sarek and then shooed them away like an old grandma to kids. "Get out of here."
As they headed for the lift, she studied Sarek.
"What?" Somehow he knew she was staring even though his gaze was firmly fixed front.
"You...having a friend. It's not the profile I had constructed for you."
"Do you think I am incapable of making a friend?" He sounded amused. "Or do you think I only need my mate to be fulfilled?"
"Umm, I'm not sure. Maybe the latter. Although we're friends. But did I think I was the only one?" She really might have. Sarek and friends—especially human males after the way he talked about Jim—just didn't compute. "I'll adjust my profile."
"You have always shown great flexibility in thinking." He let her go first onto the lift.
As the doors shut, she leaned into him and murmured, "I'm flexible in other ways, too."
"I look forward to discovering just what ways."
"After a shower."
She leaned up and kissed him quickly, pulling away right before the doors opened. "See, we're already in perfect agreement."
Chapel lounged naked against Sarek, enjoying some of the food that a crewman from the mess had brought by, compliments of Doctor Pope. "I like your friend."
"I find it easy to spend time with him. And pleasant." Sarek let her feed him a piece of cheese. "He is a man of great character—and excellent taste." He offered her a cherry and she took it delicately, closing her eyes as he let his fingers drift from her mouth to her cheek. "I have not yet made love to you on the desk."
"Or up against the viewscreen." She started to laugh. "Or in the closet."
He leaned in and kissed her, and she moaned softly. "So few places in this small room."
"I can't wait to see what you do with a whole apartment. I may not be able to walk." Much to her delight, Sarek was insatiable. But she imagined it was fun for him. A new woman—a younger one—and he a Vulcan in his prime.
She pulled away and studied him.
"My Sarek profile may need adjusting again."
"Tell me how." He ate some cashews and waited.
"I'm assuming that you didn't have other lovers between Amanda and me."
"That is correct. Why do you think I am so amorous?"
She smiled. "Did you have other lovers when you were with her?"
"I like that answer. Although you're going to have to go easy on me or I'll demand you get a girlfriend to share the load." She was laughing as she said it, moving the food out of the way and pushing him to his back, then climbing on top. She wriggled, smiling as she felt the effects of her movements. "Mmmmmm."
A slight adjustment and—oh, holy shit this was good. It had been amazing with Spock, and she hadn't been sure it could get better, but this was. She didn't know if Sarek was actually better in bed, or if it was just nice to not have years of unpleasant history and one-sided longing between them. He was her friend, and now he was her lover, too.
And it was fantastic. And fun. Way more fun than she'd expected.
As she moved, she said, "You can play Kaltoh with Pope if you want."
"Some other time."
"Well, I didn't mean right this second." She laughed as she leaned down and kissed him, then squealed as he rolled them so he was on top.
He moved harder, then slowed, asking, "Am I hurting you?"
"No. If I really needed to stop, I wouldn't have climbed on top of you."
"Yep. Go nuts." She began to squeeze with some very important internal muscles, and he threw his head back and groaned. Out loud. While clutching her harder than she thought he realized. She'd been saving that move. "Liked that?"
"Very much. Please repeat it whenever you desire."
She took him at his word and had him moving faster and harder than he'd gone before. "Let go," she whispered, as he seemed about to ease up. "I won't break."
He kissed her almost viciously, then changed his angle of attack, hitting just right and she was climbing with him, moaning his name, and finally crying out loudly, coming down in time to watch him go. They were both breathing hard when he finished.
He rolled off her and pulled her so she was nestled against his chest. The way he held her was possessive and tender and everything she'd ever wanted from Spock and had never been going to get.
"This is so nice." She looked to where he was holding her, his fingers light on her now. "But you know that. How good I feel. You can tell, can't you? The telepathy."
"It's kind of like cheating. I have to guess if I'm making you feel good."
"I will stop using it, if you wish." He sounded like he knew what she was going to say so she didn't answer, just pulled him to her for another kiss. "And if I did not know better, I would think you were a touch telepath."
"You say the nicest things. Who knew you were so charming?"
"It is the company. You make me so." His look was open and trusting, and she reached over and cupped his cheek.
"I love you, Sarek."
"And I you."
The cliffside villas on Risa were more amazing than they'd looked from below. Total privacy. Even on the pool deck.
A private pool. Chapel had loved swimming since she was a kid. But she'd always had to share. This was heavenly. And it was completely suit optional. She loved the feeling of being naked and free in the water.
Sarek sighed from his seat at the table, shaded under a big umbrella. He'd received an urgent comm and had been researching and responding all morning. "I am sorry. They would not disturb us if it were not urgent."
"I know. I'm just amazed no one's commed me." She swam to the side of the pool nearest him, a sidestroke that didn't break the water, and knelt on the underwater ledge, resting her chest and arms on the pool deck and letting the gentle Risan sun bake her cares away.
He nodded and went back to work, and she closed her eyes and tried to assess if she would have been so copacetic if it had been Spock working during their vacation. Probably not. It was likely no matter what Spock did, she would have reacted badly. There had been so many negative things between them.
She heard Sarek push the padd away with a great deal of authority. He murmured, "Finished," then walked to her and crouched down. She forced her eyes open and looked up at him, smiling as sexily as she could.
It worked. He stroked her hair the way he often did before stripping her clothes off and having his way with her. "Are you going to stay in there all day?"
"Yes. I am never coming out."
"Then I shall have to come in." He pushed his robe off and strode in naked. She'd discovered he was far more graceful in the water than he'd let on, and he closed the distance between them quickly, kissing her for a moment before drawing her to the shallow end and eased her back onto his favorite underwater ledge, the perfect height for her to wrap her legs around him and hold on for dear life.
She nuzzled his neck as they came down, laughing softly as she asked, "So, do you become less amorous over time?" She sensed it was the wrong thing to say because he pulled away. "Sarek." She pulled him down so she could see his face. "That wasn't a criticism. I'm just amused. Adjusting the profile again, and all that."
"I know." He took a long breath. "I had to temper these urges as Amanda aged. It is...liberating to be able to indulge again." He brushed back her hair. "I do not wish to sound as if I am criticizing her in any manner."
"Of course you're not. She lived a shorter life than you. I will, too. And I'm no spring chicken as it is. I don't blame you for indulging. And I certainly don't take it as an indictment of your relationship with Amanda."
He looked relieved. As if she would ever think that of him? "We have not spoken in detail of our past relationships."
"Well, you've told me more than Spock ever did about Jim or Ny. And I've told you more about Roger and Will. Spock was...disappointed in me, I think, for being with Will. I don't know why I even told him. And I find his dismay ironic since some might say he took up the first-officer berth with Jim for a hell of a long time for personal reasons."
"I am not disappointed in you. You guard yourself the same way a Vulcan would. I think it is only when you are working closely with someone that you let your barriers fall enough to allow someone in."
She pulled him close and rubbed her nose against his—a gesture that had surprised him at first, so she didn't think it was something Amanda did. He seemed to like it, though, so she'd kept doing it. "You know me so well."
"We have been friends for some time." He pulled her over to the steps, sat on them so he was half submerged, and pulled her in so she could sit in his lap with her legs wrapped around him. "I first fully appreciated who you were—how capable—during the crisis with the probe and the whales."
"When I nearly got you killed by asking you to come to Earth and testify for Jim?"
"You did not know the probe was coming."
"But shouldn't we have? Emergency Ops was one of the first lines of defense."
He actually frowned. "Your role was reactive. I know that you tried to make it predictive, and actually succeeded more often than I think you realize. But an emergency by its nature is something that is reacted to once it is happening."
"Aren't you the voice of reason?" She wriggled to show him she didn't mind. "I remember sitting in ops with you during that crisis. I felt terrible that you were there because of me, but I also felt safer because you were there. You've always made me feel that way."
"There are times I wish my son could have said the same thing."
"I know. I think he wishes you were closer, too. That he felt more comfortable around you."
"Did he speak of me to you?" He didn't sound upset, just curious.
"Not very often. To be honest, he didn't talk to me all that much. I really think I was just an itch he wanted to scratch. I wish he had been just that to me. Maybe I could have given up and moved on earlier."
"But then you would have found someone else. And would not be available now, when I want you." He nuzzled her neck. "When I need you."
She loved that he was open this way, that he didn't hide how much he felt for her. Even with Roger and Will, there had always been some measure of holding back. She thought that Roger had used the distance—now that she could look at it rationally and not emotionally—as a power play. It kept her always working to keep him, to earn his approval and his love. Will wouldn't have done that to her; he couldn't help that Ilia had come first and had carved out a whole lot of real estate in his heart.
"I'm glad then, that I wasn't free of him before now. I would hate to miss this."
"I would hate for you to miss it, as well. I am quite exceptional." His mouth almost turned up, the way it did when he joked, so she kissed the side that was peeking up the most. "It is why I will never resent him for having had you, Christine. Because I see the journey that brought us together and know it had to play out as it did for this to be the outcome."
"So, no regrets?"
"None." He studied her, seeing far more, she thought than just what was playing on her face. But then he was holding her, sensing her mood with his psi abilities. "And you, Christine? Do you have any regrets?"
"When I was younger, I wanted children. For a long time, as I got older and didn't have any, that was an occasional regret."
"Is it now?"
"I don't think so." She moved a little as she considered how much more she wanted to tell him: this wasn't a story she'd shared with Will or Ny or Jan or anyone. "When Roger left on his expedition, he put a generous amount of sperm samples in stasis." She'd never been sure if he'd thought she'd want a houseful of kids or if he'd worried she wasn't particularly fertile and would need multiple inseminations to get pregnant. "In case anything happened to him." She saw Sarek's eyebrow go up and laughed. "I know. Monstrous ego. The idea that after he left me on Earth—and that was his idea, not mine—that of course I'd want to unfreeze the handy-dandy Roger-seed and keep his legacy going..." She shook her head. "Once he disappeared, since I was leaving on the Enterprise and it was potentially dangerous, I had some eggs harvested and held in stasis."
He waited as she took a deep breath. He knew the story of Roger 2.0 and Andrea. That she hadn't been some random female he'd dreamed up but based on a grad student he'd brought on after he asked Chapel to marry him. "After I found him, when I got back to Earth, I went to the cryobank, opened our safe, and destroyed every bit of his sperm."
He nodded as if he'd expected this.
"I kept my eggs. Just in case. I always knew I had the option to have a child, my child, at any point in my career. And I never took it." She cupped his cheek. "You and I could have children, if we wanted. Do you want that?"
"Never stop being that blunt. I love our honesty." She sighed. "I think we would make an amazing child. I just...I don't want that either particularly."
"If you change your mind, tell me. I am agnostic, not against it entirely."
"I would warn you, however, that neither of my sons would consider me a successful father."
She laughed softly. "Yeah, I figured that out already." Since he so rarely talked about Sybok, she decided to follow the trail. "Did you ever miss Sybok?"
"No. With Spock, I thought I should care more deeply because of my feelings for his mother. Sybok's mother was..." He shook his head, as if he did not want to speak ill of the dead—or maybe he was afraid once he started recounting her flaws, he might not stop. Either way, Chapel understood. "When Sybok began to court emotions, to display them so openly, I think he thought he would please me. Because I was with Amanda—a human woman with all the accompanying emotions—even while his mother was still alive."
She could feel her eyebrows going up.
"His mother and I were bonded but entirely unsuited to each other. We chose not to live together as spouses and not to stand in each other's way if we found partners we preferred, but the bond prevented us from fully committing to another person."
"Until she died."
"Yes. Although it was not that I could bond with Amanda once she was gone. The bond requires two psi-enabled partners. But I was captive to it while it was there. Not just during the Pon Farr. It was a constant distraction—and something that irritated Amanda a great deal. The hold T'Hamra had on me."
"So you think Sybok embraced emotions to please you?"
"At first, yes. But he continued on his path for himself. He even tried to convert Spock."
She made a face and he said, "Indeed. At that point, I think he wanted to spite me even if he also thought he was helping Spock, who was struggling with his dual nature. Sybok's influence over him was the main reason I allowed him to be exiled."
"You could have stopped it?"
"My family is highly influential. If I had not wanted him to leave, he would still be here. Unless, of course, he chose to leave on his own. No hereditary influence has ever impressed my sons."
"It is an old wound."
She put her hand over where his heart was, where the wound had been when she might have lost him. "It doesn't matter how old the hits to our hearts are. They never fully heal. Or maybe they do but we...change because of them. Or that's been my paradigm, anyway."
"Is that why you have closed yourself off to such an extent? You keep a distance from your people, now from your close friend..."
"I've been thinking about her. And Jan—Commander Rand."
He nodded; he would remember her, no doubt, from the whale crisis.
"She knew but she never told me. Things are strained with her, too, I think." She was getting uncomfortable in the position she was in, so she said, "Let me up," and he released her immediately. She floated away, stretched a little, then sat next to him on the step, pressed against him because she knew he loved the contact, especially now that he had the freedom to indulge himself in their oh-so private paradise. "Your cost-benefit analysis advice was useful. I decided that I'm less than I could be with them not in my life."
He leaned his head against hers. "So you will reconcile?"
"That's not wholly my decision. We all pulled away. But what I can do is level the playing field by letting them know that I'm aware of Ny's earlier relationship with Spock and the way they kept it from me. And then we go from there. I may not have them in my life when this is over—maybe nothing changes. But at least I'll have tried."
"I think that is an excellent plan."
She turned and hugged him. "See, you were the right person to ask about feelings."
"You can ask me about anything, Christine. I wish to have no secrets from you—other than those the Federation mandates I have."
She fully understood that caveat since it applied to her job, too. "Same here."
Chapel eyed the Gespar liqueur longingly as she changed into civvies but opted not to throw back a quick drink. She wanted to be clear headed when she met Ny and Jan. It had taken some doing to find a time when they were all on Earth, but tonight, finally, things could change—or really be over. But either way she wouldn't be stuck in this weird limbo of having friends who might not even care to be close to her anymore.
She left the bedroom and walked over to where Sarek was working in his study, leaning down and hugging him from behind. "Wish me luck?"
He took her hand and drew her around. She could tell he liked the dress she had picked out. She'd worried that he would expect her off-duty dress to be the robes Amanda had taken to, but when she'd brought it up, he'd told her to wear whatever she liked.
"No luck for me?" She grinned and vamped for him. "Or are you too busy inspecting your woman."
"She is quite lovely. How can you blame me?" His eyes were dancing as he let go of her hand. "You do not need luck. You will assess the situation, finesse it to the best of your ability using a combination of duplicity and the inherent warmth you have never successfully scrubbed from your persona, and then you will know where you stand with them."
"Did you tell them that you wished to meet tonight to discuss Commander Uhura's relationship with Spock?"
She started to laugh, the short, tight laugh that meant she was busted. "No."
"Do I need to support my choice of words any further than that?" He lifted an eyebrow to her.
"It's just that it's a pejorative word."
"Not much better." She took a deep breath. "I'm going to try honesty. Now that I've tricked them into meeting me by saying I really miss them—which is true. Shit, that really is duplicity and warmth."
"I did not become the premier ambassador for the Federation and my home planet by failing to read someone." He pulled her down for a sweet kiss. "And you did not become a premier problem solver for Starfleet by failing to resolve issues. Go. Rekindle the friendship or remove yourself from it."
"You have chosen a Vulcan. You will have to live with logic."
"Not really a problem." She leaned in, kissing him and moving her hand down his robe until she reached the sweet spot, and he moaned. Loudly. "It's not a problem because you're very easy to manipulate. The little brain being quite a bit stronger than the big one at times like these. And entirely illogical."
"I believe it is quite logical to desire one's partner. If nothing else, it ensures domestic harmony." He pressed her hand down harder and moaned a little more, then released her. "Now go, before I take advantage of you and earn a lecture for disturbing your make-up."
With a laugh, she left him, not hurrying as she exited his private rooms and entered the shared space of the embassy, letting her face settle from the amusement he caused to something more befitting the new girlfriend of the main man in this bastion of stone face.
Although it really wasn't. She was getting to know the various staffers and officials and their different personalities—their little expressions. She liked these people, might even end up with some true friends by the time this was over. Spock had never brought her here so there was no awkwardness that she'd gone from son to father.
She was happy. Finally, after everything, she was happy.
But she was nervous as hell as she left the embassy and hailed a flitter, directing it to a bar she and Jan and Ny used to frequent because they never saw other Fleeters there. They could just relax and talk and maybe meet someone who wasn't shipping out in a few days.
Not that any of them kept those guys.
She walked in and saw the other two at a table they used to love but rarely were early enough to snatch.
They stood and there were hugs that were slightly less warm than they might have been before. A weird silence descended after the server went away and then came back with a scotch and soda for her—something she could nurse all night if she had to.
She'd practiced. In front of the mirror. Different approaches. Most of them with her as the injured party. "How could you not tell me?" was the dominant theme.
She saw them look at each other, and they both seemed tense.
She was the injured party, but if she took the tack she'd practiced, she'd never be anything but.
"Okay, so I have to say some things. First, Ny, I know you were with Spock when Jim retired and moved in with Antonia. I know you didn't tell me. I don't care." She glanced at Jan. "And I know you didn't tell me and I don't care about that, either."
They both had the look of people who were relieved but waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"What I care about is that I miss you. I care that I'm with Sarek now and if you two know that, it's not because you heard it from me. But you should have. You would have. Before." She swirled her drink softly, making the ice tinkle. "I want that back. My friends. My best friends." She realized she was starting to cry and said, "God damn it," as she blinked hard, trying to keep the tears from falling.
"I'm sorry," Ny said, meeting her eyes and the weird distance that had grown for years seemed to be gone. "I know I should have told you. But you were gone, and he and I were together for a minute, and then the captain came back and, well, you know the rest. It seemed easier not to say anything, and I made Jan promise. I made her."
"I didn't see the point of telling you. I thought it was over. And then Jim died and Spock went back to her. And it got really weird—weirder." Jan sighed. "I feel the same way, though, about how things are with all of us. I haven't told either of you that I'm with Sulu."
"Finally," Chapel and Ny said together. There was a pause and then they laughed, together, the three of them sounding like they used to, this place working the magic from all those years ago.
"Does Spock know you're with Sarek?" Ny asked.
"I don't know. He and I lasted even less than a minute. We never really talked about much."
"Especially not about Jim, I bet." Ny sounded beyond bitter. "Jim's ghost lives in those rooms on Vulcan."
"Yeah, but yours does, too." She saw Ny's look of confusion and smiled gently. "Clothes still in the closet. Your drawer."
"He didn't empty that?"
"Not all the way."
"Well, that's rude." Ny sounded aggravated enough for both of them, so Chapel just nodded with a grin. "So...did you go after Sarek to get back at Spock?"
"Ny. Jeez." Jan looked ticked off—she hated when things were working out and some fool took them off track. Even if the fool was one of them.
"It's okay. No, Sarek pursued me." She decided not to tell them it was while she was still with Spock. Some things didn't need to be shared with anyone but Sarek.
Jan started to chuckle and seemed to be trying to hide it by sipping her rather frou-frou drink.
"What?" Ny glared at her. "What?"
"I'm just thinking how awkward Sarek and Christine's parties are going to be if you get invited and so does Spock." Her chuckle turned into a real laugh. "Maybe he can go off world or something."
"Jan. He's hurting." Ny's voice was full of compassion—and love, Chapel realized. When it came down to it, her friend loved Spock way more than she ever had. She hadn't moved on. She still cared. Chapel hadn't even bothered to reach out to him to tell him she was with her father, although she knew Sarek had told Saavik, who would let Spock know. It was the way he'd been relaying information to Spock for years: first through Amanda and now this girl who was almost a daughter to him since she'd spent more time with Sarek and Amanda than Spock when she was growing up.
She did not seem to want to warm to Chapel. Saavik had loved Amanda dearly, from what Sarek had told her. Maybe she'd just run out of room in her heart for anyone else. Chapel understood that. She'd never hold it against Saavik for not wanting to love her, just as long as they could be civil to each other. Just as long as they never made it hard for Sarek—and she knew they were united in their love for him, even if any other kind of accord seemed out of reach right now.
"You should go see Spock," Chapel said into the silence that was becoming weird again. "I think...I think you're not quite ready to say goodbye. And you're part of his world, even when you're not there so maybe he's not ready either." She smiled and knew that for once it lacked all trace of the ops deception she used to cover up what she really felt. "I mean if you want to, you should. I don't matter in this, so it doesn't matter that I don't mind, but I really don't mind."
"I miss him. But...I don't know if there's enough room for me, you know?"
Chapel nodded. For a moment, they locked eyes, and she saw contrition in Ny's and she hoped her friend saw forgiveness in hers.
Then Ny turned to Jan. "Okay, missy. You're with Sulu? Details for your two best girls. Now."
Jan blushed, the way she always did when she had to talk about something that really mattered to her, but her smile was luminous. It was a sweet story. A love building over the years for her. Sulu had been in love with her forever, though, since that first mission. Chapel was happy he was finally getting his happy ending.
As she smiled and listened and laughed and talked, she felt the cold, lonely part of her that had missed these two so much finally settle down and open back up.
Chapel took a deep breath and tried again to do up the intricate fasteners on her blouse. Why the hell had she thought this was a good thing to wear? Her hands were shaking, and she closed her eyes and began to count, trying to calm herself. She should not be this nervous. Just because she was serving as Sarek's official hostess for the first time. Just because Saavik would be at this shindig, glaring—in the Vulcan/Romulan way she had of doing that was highly disconcerting and seemed to happen more the longer Chapel was with Sarek. Just because Spock would be in the room with them for the first time since she and Sarek had started seeing each other.
"Let me," Sarek said softly, pushing her hands away from the blouse and fastening it easily. He let his fingers settle on the skin of her abdomen, under the blouse, when he finished, and she knew he was reading her. "You are very nervous."
"I deal with crises for a living but his has me..." She looked around for her glass. "Some of that liqueur should calm me down."
"I have another way to help you." He moved closer, his hands moving to the meld points, something he had not done before.
"Now? You've never..."
"I know. By design. We were new. And, for me, a meld where I am not simply seeking information but also sharing is the greatest form of intimacy. I cannot hide in it. You will feel what I do. I will feel what you do."
"And that's bad?"
"We have worked to come together as true partners—although it did not feel like effort, but still it was not handed to us. We had no assurance that our feelings would endure, and yet we strove to ensure they would. We did not know if our feelings were equal in intensity—or that past relationships might not still hold sway—and yet we moved forward. A meld can disrupt that process. It...is cheating. But also, it can stop the striving, the progressing."
"But now it won't?"
"Now, it is needed." He kissed her as he pressed his fingers gently into her skin.
She expected it to be like the time she shared consciousness with Spock, but it was so much more. Sarek's presence was everywhere, filling her with love, with affection, with respect. Then he eased away, letting the meld dissolve gently. She felt as if he'd wrapped her up in a warm blanket on a cold day—and thrown in some hot cocoa with those little marshmallows for good measure. "Thank you."
"I know you will represent us well, Christine." He pulled her into a light hug. "Whatever Spock thinks of us. Whatever he does or says. However Saavik behaves. It is irrelevant. Their comportment is ultimately their choice. I am very proud to introduce you as my mate."
"I'm your mate?"
"Unless you do not wish to be? I want no one else. I want nothing less from you. A ceremony will merely be a formalization of the regard I hold for you. But there will be a ceremony—unless you do not wish to wed." He didn't sound uncertain, but then what she'd felt in the meld, he had to have been feeling from her as well.
"Is that a proposal?" She grinned. "A highly Vulcan, ever logical, proposal?"
"It is." He brushed her hair off her shoulders. "Will you be my wife?"
"If you're doing this to calm me down, it's working wonders. But I have to say it'll only work once."
She heard the puff of air that she loved. His dear, dear laugh. "I will think of something else next time. Now, will you answer the question?"
"I will." She waited, then started to laugh at his expression. "That was my answer. 'Will I be your wife?' I will."
"Good." He let her go and smoothed down her blouse. "I would suggest something on the bottom other than just these." His fingers slipped under the lace of her panties. "But...perhaps not just yet."
She groaned and as he kept touching, she had to lean on him to stay upright. The rooms were soundproofed, so she didn't try to stay quiet as he pushed her over the edge. When she reached for him, he whispered, "No. This is just for you," and he held her, murmuring, "My wife."
When she could finally talk again, she said, "Are you going to tell Spock that I'm to be your wife?"
"Do you think I should not?"
She grinned as she pulled on the rest of her clothes and gave herself a last once-over in the mirror. "No, I think you should tell him. He may be in a better mood than you expect because I invited Ny. I think...I think they might have a chance." And if not, at least Saavik would have to split her ire. Ny had told Chapel that the girl didn't seem to like her, either.
Solving problems: it was what she was good at.
"I saw her name on the guest list. I wondered at the inclusion given her history with Spock."
"But you didn't say anything."
"I trust you. And your methods." He touched her cheek as he said it, his eyes serene and full of the love and acceptance she'd craved all her life. "Are you ready?"