Excavating for a Mine - Part 2

by Djinn

Chapel looked away as Spock walked past her office. It had been nine days since that night...that awful-- She couldn't finish the thought. It hadn't been exactly awful. If she weren't feeling so downright dirty, she'd be more willing to admit that it had been the best sex of her life. Not the warmest sex of her life though, it had stung when he had rolled off her, so clearly not wanting to touch her. As if he couldn't get away from her fast enough. But then he had reached out for her? What was that all about? Had he been offering comfort?

Because comfort sure didn't seem to go with the sex--sex that had pure anger as the fuel. She'd never expected to see Spock lose control that way...only, he hadn't really lost control, it was as if he were in control at a different level. When he had been on top of her, thrusting hard, she'd had a moment's fear that he would hurt her. But he had not, he had eased off just enough that the pain she had been starting to feel disappeared. There had only been sensation then, sensation that had rocketed through her and turned into pure erotic bliss.

She could feel her cheeks heating up as she thought about him, knew she was blushing.

Have to forget what happened. It won't happen again. Not ever. I hate him.

And, as he'd said, he wasn't overly fond of her. End of story. Time to forget and move on. Or try to forget and move on. Or forget about forgetting, just get with the moving on. She should not be thinking about this nine days later. Nine days that he'd avoided her as studiously as she'd avoided him. It should not be on her mind as she lay in her bed at night. Should not be something remembered when she was alone and touching herself. She needed to focus on what was real, not this lurid moment that had been nothing but pure fantasy driven by unadulterated one hundred percent lust. That's all it had been. Lust. Because she had been missing sex; she hadn't been with a man for over a year, and that was a long time to go without.

Spock hadn't really been that good. Had he?

She heard the front door open and the sound of boot steps approaching. "I'll be right out."

"No need," Spock said as he stepped into the office.

"He appears, like Adonis fresh from the morning dew." She rolled her eyes to show him how much she didn't mean that.

"I wanted to make sure you were unharmed by our..."

"Screwing fest the other night?" Would two times qualify for a fest? She looked away, back at her padd. "I'm fine. And nice of you to wait over a week before you asked me." She looked up.

"You appeared to be fine when you ran out into the night." He sat down, stared at her hard.

She felt something flutter in her abdomen. It was unfair that all it took to make her respond was for him to look at her that way. The way he had that night. That night that must never happen again.

She stood up abruptly, walked into the other room. "Do you need a doctor? Because unless you do, you have to go now. I need to lock up."

"I am not ill."

"Then get out," she said, her voice loaded with everything caustic and mean. "I do not want to see you in here unless you have a medical emergency."

He walked over to where she stood, seemed to think about that for a long moment, then he gave a strange little sigh, and walked out.

She made sure her medicines were secure, turned off the lights, and walked out, nearly colliding with Spock. "What the hell?"

"You did not say that I could not wait for you out here." He turned away so he would not see the code she pressed into the alarm pad.

"Why can't you just go away?"

"I am uncertain of that myself." He moved aside as she turned to walk across the street. "The bar? We did not do so well there the last time."

She glared and slipped around him, heading off toward the residential area. He was following her even though he lived on the other side of town. "Stop it, Spock."

"Stop what?" He stayed just behind her, following on her heels as she tried to think of somewhere else to go but her house.

She saw the general store, thought about going in there to shop, to bore him so much he would wander away. But her feet wouldn't turn in and she realized she didn't really want to lose him. She also realized she was breathing hard, that her face was flushed and her body felt as if it was burning up inside. No, this is bad. Wrong. I shouldn't do this.

She turned to look at him and he stared back, his look implacable and totally focused on her, her face, her body as he raked his eyes up and down her. "Keep walking, Christine," he said softly, and she turned and moved more quickly to her house. She paused at the doorway, felt him come up behind her, his breath hot on her neck.

"Do you still hate me?" he asked, his voice barely more than a murmur.

"Yes."

"It is irrelevant," he replied.

She turned to face him. He was standing so close, his lips nearly touching hers. "Why?" she asked, unsure if she was talking to him or to himself. "Do you love me?"

"I do not." His tone was completely dispassionate.

"Do you even know what love is?" She could tell by the look in his eyes that he did know. She tried not to react, tried to keep from showing him that it hurt, but she could tell that she wasn't fooling either of them.

He shook his head slightly, as if chiding a slow-witted child. "Why do you ask questions when you already know the answers?"

"Why do you want to screw someone that hates you?"

He smiled then, it was only a small upward tilt of his lips, but it was a smile. "I have had little luck with those who I believed cared for me. How can this be any worse?" He took the half-step forward that brought their bodies together.

She moaned as he leaned against her.

"Are we going to do this in the doorway, Christine?"

She shook her head, felt a strange despair fill her as she backed away. He shut the door behind him and reached for her. As his hands touched her, despair gave way to throbbing desire, desire that had never quite gone away since their first night.

He pulled her in close, drawing her against him and running his hands roughly down her body. "I wanted it to be here, do you know why?" He kissed her hard.

She found it impossible to think while he was kissing her, closed her eyes and clung to him, matching his passion, his ferocity.

He pulled away, tilted her chin so she was looking into this eyes. "I wanted it to be here, so that I could be the one to leave when I have had enough. That should not be solely your right." He kissed her again, and again. "I do not think that it will be after only two times however. Tonight, I am very hungry." He pushed her against the doorway, pulled down her pants. "Very hungry," he said again as he knelt, his head pressed against her, his tongue lapping fiercely at her.

Her legs nearly give out as he began to suck at her. "Spock," she moaned, then was immediately embarrassed that she had called out his name. Her legs began to shake and he pulled her down to the ground, drawing her hips closer to him and resuming his licking, then he began to touch her with his hand as the other caressed her breasts through her shirt. She felt as if she was going to explode, but each time she was almost there, he stopped, raising his head to watch her, his fingers moving in lazy motions that kept the heat on but did not send her over the edge. How did he know how close she was, and when to stop? They had not melded.

"Vulcans are touch telepaths," he said softly, as he bent down to taste her again. "And you are an excellent broadcaster." Over and over he brought her to the brink, then pulled back, waiting as she settled enough to begin again. He didn't let her come until she asked him, practically begged him to. Then he took her to the edge and right over. It was a long, lovely fall down.

Before she hit bottom, he was inside her, pumping hard against her. She closed her eyes and lifted her hips, trying to match his passion. She thought she heard him call her name and opened her eyes. He was glaring down at her, his hands on either side of her head as he thrust harder and harder until he came. This time she was sure he called her name.

He rolled off of her as he had the other time. Lay just out of reach of her touch as he recovered. She turned to look at him, realized that even though he was little more than an arm's length away, his emotions were much farther than that.

"Was she so good? Your Valeris?" She didn't know why she asked it, had given up trying to control anything that her body or mind might do when he was around.

"I loved her," he said simply.

Chapel had never felt so cold.

"But the sex was never like this. This is better."

"Hooray for me, I screw better." She turned to him, saw his features fall into the frozen mask he had worn so many times on the Enterprise.

"You asked, Christine. I merely gave you the truth. If you do not wish to hear the answer, then you should not have asked the question."

"I'll remember that, Spock. Trust me. I won't ask again." She closed her eyes, squeezed back tears.

She could sense him moving closer to her. His breath was warm on her face, then his lips touched her cheek. "Am I better than your husband?" he asked, and she wondered if he was doing it because he was truly curious, or if he wanted to give her a chance to even the score. For all that he surprised her with his capacity for cutting cruelty, he did seem to retain some basic fairness at his core.

She turned so that they were kissing, long deep kisses full of passion and very little tenderness. "Ex-husband. And yes, you are," she whispered. She watched his face as she said it, saw his pleasure at the answer. "But I never felt dirty after sleeping with him." She felt a frisson of triumph when his jaw tightened.

He pushed away from her, lay on his back and stared up at the ceiling. "Do you want me to go?" He turned his head, looked over at her. "I will go if you ask me to." His expression was even, but his eyes burned. She could tell he still wanted her, that this night would be even better than the first one. Unless she told him to go. She knew somehow that if she told him to go, he'd never come back, might even leave Temeris IV for good finally. And wasn't that what she wanted? Him gone, for good?

He stretched and his hand fell between them as he arched up. She slowly crawled over to him. He watched her through half-lidded eyes as she moved closer. Finally she was lying next to him and she rolled to her side. He moved so that he was on his side, facing her. "Do you want me to go?" he asked again.

She scooted in, lifting her leg so that it was over his, opening herself to him. He smiled again, that barely there smile that only she could see. Smiled and moved to find entry.

"Enough talking," she said as she wrapped her arm around him. "Can we get back to the sex?" She kissed him, hard, passionately, angrily. She'd make him pay for what he'd said, just as he would make her pay for what she'd said. It was ugly and dark and bad and it was the best sex she'd ever had. She wasn't going to be the one to call it off. She wasn't going to be the one to blink first. "So how hungry are you?"

When he started to answer, she laid her finger on his lips. "No words, stupid. Show me."

His eyes narrowed for a moment at the name she had called him. Then he pulled her to him and kissed her. Kisses so deep and hot that she thought she would drown in them if he didn't let her up soon. She heard him moan and smiled.

It was going to be a hell of a long night. She only hoped they eventually made it to the bed.

--------------4-------------------

Spock hacked at a large stone blocking their progress, the laser on his axe engaging as it made contact with the stone, cutting deeper than he could have done on his own.

"You're a machine, my friend," LaTral said, as he hit the counterstrike. "Trying to keep up with you is a whole new concept in exercise."

"Shall I slow down?"

"Hell, no. I'm going to have muscles that rival a Tarkellian weightlifter in no time." LaTral grinned. "Been slight all my life. It'll be fun to have some brawn of my own. I won't have to rely on Johnny to do my fighting." Then he laughed. "Not that I've made any enemies on this planet. Or none that I know of anyway. The only one that seems to dislike me is the doc. But then, I'm not sure she likes anyone."

Spock chose not to comment.

LaTral's smile grew bigger. "But you like her, don't you?" When Spock did not answer, he shook his head. "Oh, I know. It's complicated. Isn't it always?"

"I do not know. Is it always?" Spock hit the rock harder, determined to move the stone before he finished for the evening.

"In my experience, romance usually is."

Spock thought about the nights he had been spending with Christine. He would not call their interactions romantic. "I believe you have misread the relationship between Doctor Chapel and myself."

LaTral made a disparaging sound. "Right." He lowered his axe. "You're not going to crack that tonight, Spock. Let's knock off for the evening. Christine's probably waiting for you."

"She does not wait for me."

"Uh huh. And you don't look for her first thing we walk in the bar either." LaTral shook his head. "Come on, time to go back."

Spock gave the rock several more solid hits then headed up the tunnel. Matson had already packed up his and LaTral's axes. He took Spock's and locked it up with the rest, then they made their way to the hovercraft, riding in a companionable silence back to town. As they walked into the bar, Spock looked over to see if Christine was in her booth. She was.

"I rest my case," LaTral murmured.

Spock turned to him, his eyebrow slowly rising. LaTral looked as self- satisfied as McCoy always did when he won an argument.

Knowing there was no point in trying to argue, Spock settled for saying quietly, "If you will excuse me?"

LaTral waved him off, turning away to join Matson at the bar. Spock walked slowly to the booth, trying to judge Christine's mood before he got to her. She was covered in dust and sitting rather stiffly in the booth. She appeared to be very tired.

"May I join you?"

"No," she said, not even looking up at him.

He slid into the seat opposite her.

"Your hearing gone bad?" She drained her whiskey. As she put the glass back down, Spock noticed a long scratch on her arm.

"You are injured?"

She saw what he was looking at and shook her head. "It's nothing."

"You are unusually dirty as well."

She brushed at some of the dust that clung to her dark shirt. "There was a collapse. It was...it was worse than I expected. We were digging out the miners and the supports kept giving out, dirt was trickling down the walls and from the supports, and it was hard to breathe because of all the dust." She played with her glass, took a deep breath as if she was still having trouble getting enough air. "Part of the mine fell in on us. We had to dig our way back out." She was speaking in a tone completely devoid of emotion, staring sightlessly at her empty glass. "We didn't know how much of it had collapsed at first. We just had to dig. It didn't take long to dig out. It just seemed like longer when we were doing it. Nobody got hurt. Not really." She turned to signal for another whiskey and Spock saw a long scrape on her neck. It was bleeding slightly where it disappeared into her shirt, and he realized the material was slightly darker where the blood had soaked in.

"Why have you not treated your injuries?"

"We just got back, Spock. I wanted a drink." She took the whiskey Ed brought over to her. "And now I'm having another."

Ed put a glass of water down in front of Spock. "You missed all the excitement, Spock."

"Yes, so it would seem."

Ed nodded toward the bar. "Calhoun just came in, Doc. He says the mine collapsed completely about fifteen minutes after you left. Nobody was inside, fortunately."

Spock thought he saw Christine shudder.

Ed did not seem to notice her reaction. "Calhoun's packing it in. Tired of digging for nothing. There'll be someone to take his place in a week." Ed shrugged. "Can't get too attached to anyone here, that's for sure." He seemed to realize that Christine was not paying attention to him. "You okay, Doc?"

She nodded, her face expressionless. Frowning slightly, Ed left them alone. Christine sat silently for several seconds then she drained her whiskey and slid out of the booth. As she started to stand, she grimaced and reached for her back, then dropped her hand when she saw Spock watching her. "Good night." She turned and walked away.

He followed her. Her shirt seemed to be stuck to her back, and he noticed darker stains on the fabric there too. As she walked out the door, she turned around and said, "Leave me alone." But she seemed to lack her usual vitriol, and was breathing hard, sucking in large gasps of the night air.

As she started to turn away, he steered her toward his house. "I am closer."

"I don't want to fight tonight."

"Nevertheless, we no doubt shall." When she still resisted, he said, "You cannot treat the wound on your back by yourself."

"I don't need your help." She shrugged off his hand.

"On the contrary, you do need my help, unless there is someone else who can assist you?"

She turned to glare at him. "I'm dirty and I smell bad."

He had to agree with her assessment. "I have a shower."

She did not answer, just turned and walked to his house. He eased around her, opening the door and taking her med bag from her as she walked past him. Leading her to the bathroom, he located the regenerator in the satchel.

She unbuttoned her shirt, tried to draw it off and hissed in pain as it tore away from her back. When she turned, he saw a long gash running from her shoulder blade to the small of her back. A much larger bruise was already forming around the torn skin. "A support hit you?" he asked as he began to work on the wound.

She nodded. Again she seemed to shudder, and he did not think it was at his touch.

"Are you claustrophobic?" he asked softly.

"Not until today." She did not seem inclined to say more, so he worked in silence. When he finished, she took the regenerator from him. "I can do the rest myself."

He nodded, turning away from her and stepping into the shower to wash off the day's dirt and sweat. A few minutes later, she stepped into the shower. "I'm in here. Is that what you wanted?"

He nodded, moved to the side so she could squeeze past him. Standing under the cascading water, she stood staring at him, the blood running off her now undamaged skin, changing the water to pale red.

Her expression tightened. "Aren't you going to get out?"

"No."

"Fine, then I will." She tried to get past him, but he blocked her escape.

"Wash your hair," he ordered softly.

She stared at him angrily, tears coming to her eyes.

"Wash your hair," he said again, his voice implacable even as he wondered why he could not just move aside and let her go.

She backed up, so that she was under the water again and squeezed out shampoo, spreading it through her hair quickly. Once she had rinsed off, he held out the soap, waited for her to take it from him before saying, "Slowly this time."

For a moment, he thought she was going to throw the soap at him. Then she closed her eyes, her breath again coming in a long shuddering gasp, and began to run the bar over her body. She opened her eyes, staring hard at him. He did not look away. When she set down the soap, he drew her to him, his body sliding against her slick one as he pulled her closer to him, kissing her hard. He felt her arms slip around his neck, her mouth opening beneath his. He pulled up one of her legs and pushed inside her, moving against her with a slow, easy rhythm.

She moaned and kissed him again, her hands running through his hair. He held her more securely, as he kissed the place on her neck where she had been hurt, his free hand stealing down to slip between them, touching her until she cried out. A moment later, he did too. He pulled away from her, pushing her back into the warm stream of water to rinse off what was left of the soap, rinsing himself off too once she was done.

She followed him out of the shower silently, and he noticed that her eyes were drooping.

She frowned at his scrutiny. Asked sharply, "Are we done for the night?" It had become a matter of honor that whoever was the visitor could not call time.

He decided he was not ready for her to go. "No."

She nodded, looked down.

He took the towel from her, led her to the bedroom. Sitting on the bed, he told her to lie down near him.

She did not argue as she stretched out on her back.

"Close your eyes. Do not speak."

She stared at him for long time before she did as he said. He watched her in silence; she seemed to be waiting for him to say more. When he did not, she appeared to relax. A few moments later, she dropped into a light sleep.

He watched her as she slept, knew that she would not have closed her eyes if she had realized how tired she was. This was a weakness, to lie naked like this in front of him.

As the hours passed, he resisted the urge to run his hand over her body, settled for remembering what it felt like to touch her. He had committed the map of her body to memory, knew the contours for every gentle curve, the degree of each sharp angle. He knew where to touch her to give her great pleasure; he also knew where to touch if he wanted to inflict a little pain. It was wrong to want to inflict pain, even if it was small and insignificant pain. But she responded to it, and he enjoyed it when she responded. He did not think she would respond to pain tonight though. She seemed unusually vulnerable, moaning in her sleep, moving restlessly on the bed. He wondered if she was dreaming about dark, airless caves.

She jerked awake and sat up, her eyes bleary. "What time is it?"

"It is early."

"You mean late." Her tone was sharp; she seemed to realize how vulnerable she had been, sleeping near him.

He nodded. "Late in the night, early in the morning. Which is less offensive?"

She looked away. "Neither. They both offend." Suddenly modest, she pulled the bedspread over her, wrapping it around her as she sat and stared at him. "Can I ask you something?"

He moved closer to her, pulled the material away and began to kiss her. "Do not hide from me."

"Fine. Can I ask you something?"

He stopped kissing her neck, said softly, "It has not been my experience that you need permission to interrogate me." When she did not respond, he said, "Yes, you can ask me something."

He pushed her down, traced a bruise that he had caused the last time they had been together. He had sucked too hard on the skin above her hipbone; she had given him a matching mark on his thigh. Visible signs that this was not a hallucination, a hazy, torrid illusion. He turned to her, "Are you going to ask your question tonight?"

"Yes." She pulled him down to her, kissed him hard. He could feel her take a deep breath, heard and felt her words as she pressed her lips into his neck and asked, "Why no meld?"

He pushed her away, answered without thought, "I have no desire to experience that level of intimacy with you."

She scooted farther away. "Well, I didn't say I wanted it either, you arrogant bastard. I'm just asking why. I thought...with Vulcans...that there'd be a meld eventually. And it's been a while now...not every night, I know but...awhile...and you were kind...sort of, tonight..." She trailed off, turned away. "You make everything so damned complicated, Spock."

He took a deep breath before answering. "It is difficult to hold back in the meld. I assumed that you wished to avoid any undue sharing."

She turned to look at him, her eyes narrowing. "Difficult to hold back? Difficult to have secrets then?"

He nodded then, realizing where she might go with that information, tried to change what he had said. "Not impossible, however."

She frowned. "So you knew? About Valeris? You knew and didn't say anything?"

He pushed himself away from her, backed up until he felt the headboard against his back. He resisted the irrational urge to grab the spread and wrap it around himself as she had just done. "I did not know. I would not have let her proceed with her plans had I known."

Her expression changed again, became mocking. "Then she hid it from you? Your great love lied to you...in a meld?" Short, poisonous laughter erupted softly from her. "How does that happen, Spock?" A coldly brilliant smile grew as she stared at him, waited for him to answer.

He took another deep breath. There was no way to answer her. Standing up, he walked into the bathroom. "We are finished for tonight. Get out."

"You're kidding, right? You don't really want me to go just when it's getting good?" She rolled off the bed, walked over to him and ran her hands down his arms. "Don't you want to tell me how she tricked you, how she played you like a lovesick boy? Don't you want to regale me with the tale of how a perfect Vulcan lady played the greatest trick ever on her devoted mongrel?" She saw his hand rising. "That's right, Spock. Hurt me the way you hurt her on the bridge. You don't think they left that out, do you? The people I talked to, the ones that filled me in. Hurt me. I dare you."

He clenched his fingers, did not want to give in to the voice that urged him to do exactly what she had said. Stop the mocking, it said, hurt her, hurt her badly. "No," he said out loud, although he did not mean for her to hear it.

She pressed against him, kissed his neck seductively. "Come on, lover, tell me all about it. Or better yet, show me." She lifted his hand to her face, tried to position his fingers on the meld points.

"Christine, no!" the words exploded from him as he wrenched away from her. "Get out. Go home. While I am still able to let you go. You do not know what forces you could unleash, what emotions you toy with in this foolish game of yours."

He saw her face register fear for the first time since they had started having sex. She pulled away from him, hurrying into the bathroom for her clothes and bag. She left without saying another word.

He turned away, sinking onto the floor. He tried to invoke one of the centering meditations. It was a long time before he felt any effect from it at all.

-----------------------------

Chapel set the hover she had borrowed from Ed down in the clearing near Matson's claim. She thought she heard yelling, and hurried through the trees to the mine.

LaTral was jumping up and down outside the mine entrance. He saw Chapel as she came up and grabbed her, spinning her into an impromptu reel.

When she caught her breath, she said, "I take it something good happened?"

He laughed. "Something good, no. Something great, yes. We did it. We hit the biggest, thickest vein of latinum you've ever seen. It's huge, Doc. Huge!"

Matson peeked out of the cave opening. "Doc..tor Chapel." He grinned at her as he pointed to his arms. They were covered with latinum dust.

"You're going to be rich, Matson. I guess you can call me 'Doc.'"

He grinned and yelled back into the tunnel. "Hey, Spock. The doc is here. Come say hello."

She looked down, suddenly very embarrassed. She hadn't talked to Spock since she'd run out of his house a week ago. She didn't want to make amends...exactly. What she wanted, and hated to admit it, even to herself, was to get back into his bed.

But the things she'd said...they were bad. Bad and wrong.

And that pretty much summed up their entire relationship. She was suddenly a huge fan of bad and wrong.

She realized Spock was watching her from the cave entrance.

"Hi."

He nodded, his expression wary.

"Can we walk by the lake? I've been meaning to, never seem to get around to it, always too busy..." She realized she was babbling and shut up, settled for smiling guiltily.

He stepped out of the mine, started off toward the lake.

Matson yelled out, "Don't get lost, you two. We're heading down to the bar just like always. Don't want anyone realizing we've hit the big one. You don't want to miss the hover, Spock."

Spock looked back at him. "Doctor Chapel can take me."

She nodded. "We'll see you back in town."

LaTral shot her a knowing look. "You two behave now."

Chapel didn't speak as she followed Spock through the trees. The lake was prettier than she'd expected, pristine and glistening. It lapped gently at the shoreline and she sat down, pulled off her boots and socks and sank her feet into the clear water. "Cold," she said, wondering if she could stand this on her whole body. She did love to swim. She looked over at Spock. "I don't bite."

"It has been my experience that you do."

She smiled. "I won't bite. How's that?"

He walked over slowly, sat down on the bank next to her. He dipped a finger into the water, pulled it back out quickly.

"Too cold?"

He nodded, staring out over the lake as if searching for something.

"I went too far the other night. I'm sorry." She looked down. "I didn't mean to push things that far, to where you got frightened."

"I was not frightened."

"Worried then. Or concerned. Jesus, Spock, whatever. Pick an adjective that doesn't offend your Vulcan sensibilities and let's move on." She took a deep breath, struggled for composure. "I'm trying to apologize."

"Why?"

She looked over at him. "You mean do I feel bad about what I said?"

He nodded.

She could lie to him and say yes. But she didn't think he'd believe it anyway. "I feel bad about not seeing you since then. I miss our nights."

He looked away.

"Would you rather I lied? Okay, god, yes, Spock. I feel just terrible about--"

His hand on hers stopped her. "I do not want lies." He lay back, stretched his legs out and stared up at the sky. "I miss our nights too."

She slowly stretched out next to him, not touching him but far closer than a mere acquaintance would lie. "I didn't mean what I said, about you being a mongrel."

One eyebrow rose, as he turned to look at her. "Yes, you did. You meant it all, Christine. That is the horrible thing about what is happening between us. It is true despite the fact that it is dark..."

"And sordid."

"Yes, and sordid."

"And tawdry. And foul. And heinous."

"That will be sufficient, Doctor Thesaurus. Thank you."

She laughed, mostly in relief that he was insulting her again. "Sorry."

"Why did your husband leave you, Christine?"

She didn't answer right away. There was the reason Ken had given, or the real reason. And not surprisingly she was not eager to hand the real reason over to Spock. But maybe she owed it to him, after what she'd said about Valeris and him.

The lie was easier. "He needed to find himself."

"He was lost?"

She laughed. "That's what I should have said. But I didn't. He had...other reasons for wanting out." She saw him shoot her a confused look. He wasn't real good with vague hints. That was okay with her. "He didn't want to be married to me anymore, Spock. What more is there to say?"

He did not comment, just stared up at the sky. "We should keep one person at the mine until we successfully extricate this vein of latinum. I will stay here."

She frowned, unsure where he was going.

He looked over at her. "Have you ever had sex in a mine, Christine?"

She shook her head.

"Nor have I."

"Seize the day."

"Indeed," he agreed as he stared up at the sky.

She watched him for a moment. "I have to take the hover back to town. It's Ed's, and he'll need it. So I can't stay all night. But I could tell Matson and LaTral you're staying here. Once we're done, I mean."

Spock looked over at her. His eyes burned as they always did, but she thought she saw something sweeter, something calmer in them too. He stood up, pulled her up after him. "Have you ever used ropes, Christine?" His question was mixture of pure innocence and dangerous passion.

She shook her head.

"Have you ever wanted to?" he asked.

She shrugged.

"I will take that as a maybe." As he hurried to the cave, he reached back and grabbed her hand and held it fast.

It was a surprisingly tender thing to do and Chapel felt something inside her do a strange little flip. Relentlessly she ignored the feeling, focused instead on the sex she had been doing without for a week.

And a week was far too long, she realized as Spock pulled her into his arms, pushing her back against the cave wall and kissing her frantically. Too long for both of them apparently. She smiled against his mouth, nipped at his lip before saying, "So. Tell me about these ropes."

-------------------------------------

Spock saw Mariah Livingston coming and tried to duck into the general store, which was unfortunately closed for an emergency. He turned to go back the way he came, but it was too late, she was standing right in front of him, blocking his exit unless he wanted to be rude and push past her.

"Oh, Captain Spock. What a pleasant surprise to run into you like this. I hope the house is working out all right?"

"It is fine, thank you."

"I've been meaning to drop by and ask you and Doctor Chapel over for dinner."

He could not imagine a better recipe for disaster. He wondered if that was what Mrs. Livingston had in mind. "I am afraid that I am busy."

"But you don't know what night." She eyed him oddly. "You know, I think Star Fleet makes a person kind of strange."

"Why is that, madam?"

"Well that's exactly what Doctor Chapel does every time I try to get her to come to dinner--she says she's busy without ever knowing when it is first."

He found himself in complete agreement with Christine for once. "A doctor's work is rarely done. And I am helping her. So if you will excuse me..."

"I thought you were working with Mr. Matson and Mr. LaTral on their very lucrative claim?" News of the strike had traveled fast. Or maybe it was just the sight of a hover filled to bursting with latinum. Mrs. Livingston leaned in, smiled in a way that made her look like she had pinched a nerve. "Helping them, helping her, aren't you just the helpful little beaver."

"Beaver?"

"A small animal, builds dams?"

"I am aware of what a beaver is, but there are none on this planet."

"It's just a figure of speech, Spock. God." Christine's voice sounded from behind Mrs. Livingston. "Hello, Mariah. Spock's needed. Please move aside." Christine turned away quickly.

"Well, I was just inviting the captain and you over for dinner on--"

"We're busy."

Mrs. Livingston turned to him and shook her head knowingly. "You see what I mean?" With a sad smile, she turned away.

He hurried to catch up with Christine. "I am needed?"

"Not really. Just felt bad for you being cornered by that biddy." She raised an eyebrow at him. "Shows you how much I dislike her if I'll come to your rescue."

"Indeed." He debated whether he should follow her or not. Knew it was not a good idea, she appeared to be in a bad mood, and mixing that with alcohol could lead them to only one place. Well one of two--his place or hers. He watched her as she walked away, her hips swaying more than usual--did she do that on purpose when she was around him? He thought back to the previous night, how she had walked away from him like that, said she was going to get dressed and leave. It had been counter to the rules they had made and he had not liked it. He had caught her before she could get to her clothes, bent her over the table, taken her that way, his hand tangled in her hair, his hips pounding her as he had reached around and--

"Earth to Spock." Christine was glaring at him.

"We are not on Earth," he said, mustering his dignity back around him. "What is it you want?"

"I'm low on credits and you're the one rolling in latinum since Matson's big strike. Buy me a drink?"

He nodded, even as some more rational part of his brain warned that he knew what would happen if he did. Truth be told, he was rather counting on it.

"That's a good Spock." Christine beamed at him in what looked like a deliberately insincere way.

The bar was crowded and noisy. Christine leaned in, shouted in his ear above the conversations and music, "How about you just buy me my drink and then go home. I'll be fine here. I see a single barstool that's just calling my name." She smiled nastily at him.

He leaned back in. "You do not mean that." She seemed on edge, more so than usual. It had been weeks since she had come to him at the mine, wanting to put what had happened behind them. They had seen each other often since then. Not that anything had changed between them exactly. It was just that after that day, she didn't bring up Valeris anymore. And she seemed less sharp, somehow.

"Trust me when I say I do mean it." But she seemed to give up the idea of him leaving her alone, allowed him to find them a quieter spot near the end of the bar.

"The usual for you two?" Ed asked, giving Spock a despairing glance. "You sure you couldn't learn to like something a bit more lucrative for me than tap water?"

"I do not enjoy alcohol."

"Well, it doesn't enjoy you either, Spock. So you're even." Christine laughed at her own joke.

He let his eyebrow rise as a sign that he did not appreciate her attempt at humor.

She rolled her eyes and turned back to the bartender. "If I pay you, will you take that damn song off the playlist?"

"You know I can't do that," Ed said. "It's the town anthem. You're the only one that doesn't like it."

"It is an odd song," Spock said, feeling as if he should back Christine up on this one. "Some of the words would seem to express great sadness on the part of the narrator that the woman he loves has been taken from him. But other verses show a sardonic wit that seems intent on putting down Clementine."

Christine was staring at him. "Are you for real?"

Spock did not stop. "And the end is most surprising, that he would find happiness with someone else and forget all about Clementine seems an illogical conclusion."

"Yeah, that would never happen." Christine glared at him. "Because the other woman never ends up stealing your man."

"I hardly think it fair to blame the heroine's younger sister," Spock said, realizing that Ed was watching them both with a fascinated look on his face. "You wish to comment?"

Ed shook his head. "Not on your life." He went away, muttering something that Spock's Vulcan hearing identified as having to do with foreplay.

Spock frowned slightly, then looked at Christine. She was still glaring at him. "I have said something to offend you. Again." He sipped his water. "Not that I am unduly disturbed by this development, but perhaps you should tell me what I said this time that was so wrong?"

She shook her head and turned away. He moved so that she had to look at him.

She smiled meanly at him. "You're still in love with Valeris, Spock. That's very noble, if not really sick given how much anger she provokes inside you. But just because you're still carrying a torch, doesn't mean that other men don't forget all about the women they said they'd love forever when something younger and prettier comes along."

The missing piece at last. It had not occurred to him that her husband had been unfaithful. He had asked her outright and she had not told him the truth. Why had she not?

He studied her as she drank. She was not beautiful, not the way Valeris had been. But she was in good shape, and very attractive, with a quick wit and a sharp mind. Why had her husband left her? Had they never had sex? Or was this new woman better in bed than Christine? Spock marveled at that concept for a moment, then realized that Christine had turned away in irritation. He felt an unaccustomed emotion, recognized it as regret. "Christine, I--"

She whirled, turned on him in anger. "Don't you dare say a damn thing. Just keep whatever Vulcan platitude you're about to spring on me to yourself."

He felt stung and ruthlessly pushed his sympathy for her away, as she had just done. "I was not planning on using a Vulcan platitude. Indeed, I do not think there is one appropriate to this situation." He could feel his own anger starting to rise, feeding as it had at the beginning on her raging emotions. "In fact, I was merely going to observe that, given your often caustic nature, I can sympathize with his need to escape."

He saw by the look on her face that his comment had hurt her. A lot. He felt a surge of triumph. Then it was supplanted with shame that he could take pleasure in hurting her. He pushed the more noble emotion out of the way.

She practically spat at him, "Screw you."

"Perhaps later." He watched her face again register the hit. "Are you sure you would not like to return to an analysis of the lyrics of Clementine?"

Her hand was up and out for what would have been a resounding slap if he hadn't caught it before she could make contact. They stared at each other. She was clearly livid. He felt an answering surge of emotion.

He moved in next to her, his mouth nearly on her ear. As he caressed the inside of her wrist with his hand, he asked quietly, "Perhaps we should adjourn?"

Her glare was still poisonous but she followed him out. Spock glanced back at the bar, saw Ed shaking his head at them again. Spock could guess what the bartender was probably thinking and knew he was right. What they were doing made no sense, and probably would end up hurting one or both of them in the long run. But he found that he did not care. He could not fight the anger that was locked inside him, and he knew that he needed a way to burn some of it off. Was that not why McCoy and Kirk had told him to get away? And Christine's willing body was as good a place as any to plant his anger. Probably better than most since she was, in her own way, as angry as he. They might be engaged in incredibly destructive behavior but it at least it was by mutual consent.

----------------5---------------------

Chapel looked up, saw Spock standing in the doorway. How long had he been there? Didn't he know how creepy it was to sneak up on people like that? "What do you want?" She loaded as much scorn as she could in her voice, waited for the cutting response to come, the insult.

It did not come. Spock stood mute, staring at her with an odd look on his face. She tried to identify his state of mind, could only come up with helpless, and that just didn't fit the Spock she was getting to know. The Spock who helped himself to her body any way he could imagine...and he had a better imagination than she would ever have given him credit for. "What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?" She waited for the lecture on how there were no cats on Temeris IV.

Again she was disappointed. Spock did not answer her, just stared at her from where he stood in the doorway.

"You know, you are one creepy-ass son of a bitch. Come in if you want to lurk, you're letting in the flies." She knew her words were overly harsh given his behavior, but she still burned from his remark the night before about Ken needing to escape her. It seemed like every time their relationship appeared to be getting calmer, showing the least bit of tenderness, one of them had to escalate the tension back up. The sex got hotter along with it, maybe that was why they did it? She wasn't sure anymore, had never expected to be in a situation like this, or to see Spock in one either. The idea of the uber-controlled Vulcan throwing her up against the wall of a cave would never have crossed her mind. Throw in the ropes he'd used to restrain her and his behavior was truly unimaginable. As was her own. She had never gone in for the kinky stuff, had always been somewhat reserved in bed. But not anymore. Long ago, when she had imagined sex with Spock, it had been pretty, pastel-colored sex. Respectful and gentle. Not this mindless rutting the two of them were engaged in. That was something that was reserved for the Pon Farr. And she knew this wasn't that.

Spock's expression had tightened while she was lost in thought; he stared at her accusingly now.

"What the hell did I do?" She glared back at him. "Look either talk or get out. I've got things to do and it's still a bit early for screwing, if that's what you're here for."

He took a deep breath. The doctor in Chapel assessed it as ragged. What was wrong with him?

Without a word, he spun on his heel and left.

"Thank god. Big perv." She went back to her work, tried to shut off a nagging feeling that something was very wrong. That was just stupid. Besides, why should she care? The only thing between her and Spock was nasty mind-blowing sex. He'd made that clear last night. If he'd wanted anything else from her just now, he should have said so.

A few hours later, she finished up her work and locked the office. It was early enough that the bar wouldn't be crowded, so she headed over. As she walked in, she gave the room a quick once over and sighed in relief. No Spock. She really couldn't deal with his silent lurking twice in one day.

"He's not here, Doc." Matson was watching her from the bar.

She nodded to Ed and watched him pour out her usual. "Who's not here?" she asked casually, as she slid onto a stool several down from Matson's.

"Spock." The big man slid over so he was sitting next to her. He leaned in conspiratorially. "He hurried out. I think he was upset."

"When was this?" Not that she cared, of course.

Matson shrugged. "I don't know. About an hour ago. Maybe two." Matson looked confused. "He headed over to your place. I was worried about him so I sort of followed him. But then I saw where he was going and I figured he'd be okay if he was with you." He frowned. "You didn't see him?"

Matson's simple logic touched her, even if he didn't have the least idea how wrong he was that being with her would be good for Spock. "I must have been out."

So something in the bar had upset Spock? Upset him enough that he actually came to her for comfort? She found that hard to believe, couldn't think of a single thing that would make him act that illogically.

Matson nudged her, then pointed up to the trivid screen. "This was playing then too."

She looked up at the screen, saw an image of Kirk on the screen, the caption, 'Launch Tragedy' pasted above his face. Heart sinking, she told Ed to turn the sound up.

"The Federation and Star Fleet mourn the loss of one of Earth's greatest sons today."

Chapel shook her head. "No," she moaned, unaware until Matson turned to her that she had said it out loud. She felt a sick feeling in her stomach, and her head began to spin.

"Kirk died a hero. They've replayed this a million times. I know the story by heart." Matson looked down. "Spock served with him, didn't he? And they were close?"

"Close? You might say that." It was a shock to realize that Matson really did not understand the connection. She took it for granted that every Federation citizen knew of the great friendship, understood what the two men meant to each other. Obviously this one didn't.

"I have to go." She rose, leaving her untouched whiskey on the bar as she rushed out into the night.

------------------------

Spock tried for the fourth time to fold the formal robe he'd had no occasion to wear on this planet into a bundle that would not wrinkle when he put it in the carryall. He would need to wear this at the memorial. But no...that was not right. He would wear his uniform, of course. But he did not have one with him. Because his uniforms were back on Earth. Yes, he had several of them there. Were they clean? He was sure that he had cleaned them. It would be out of character to leave them dirty.

As out of character as the violent sex he had enjoyed with Christine last night and all the nights before that? As out of character as the insults he used to get her in the mood for that sex?

He pushed thoughts of her out of his mind. Picked up the robe and shook it out then tried again to fold it. The silky fabric slipped, causing the robe to wrinkle as he pushed it into the carryall. Jerking it back out, Spock closed his eyes, felt anger rise in him again. He fought it, letting go of the robe and turning his back on the carryall, searching frantically for some measure of peace, of control. But peace was more elusive than ever.

I should not have come here. The thought was rapidly becoming a mantra for him. No, he should not have come here. He should have stayed on Earth, should have been there when Jim needed him. If he had been there, on the Enterprise B, maybe.... He could at least have died at Jim's side--died a hero trying to save that ship with his best friend rather than playing this vicious sexual game that he and Christine had become entangled in. Their last interaction had only reinforced the darkness that they were embracing. He had not been able to ask for her help, even though he had wanted it...no, needed it more than anything. She had been unable to see that he was even hurting...or perhaps she did see and just did not care.

The knock on his door jolted him out of his reverie and he slowly unclenched his fingers as he walked toward it. He opened the door, saw Christine standing there, her hand raised as if she was about to knock again. "Doctor Chapel," he murmured, retreating to their public formality for the sense of order...the pretense of control it gave him. "You have come at a bad time." He waited for her first insult the way he had waited for a return of serve in his academy days, when his instructors had insisted he participate in a sport and he had chosen tennis.

She chose not to hit back. Just pushed past him as if he were not blocking the door. Too much time dealing with burly miners. Spock had seen her get her way with men more than twice her mass. She was like Jim in that regard.

He almost groaned as the thought of Jim sent him reeling back to the dark place he'd been trying to avoid. He did not look at Christine as he walked around her to take a seat on the sofa. He tried to appear composed. She must not know how badly he was hurting. He could not afford to give her that much ammunition, that much control. He could imagine what route her mocking would take. What might he do this time if she taunted him and pushed him too far? "Go away," he said firmly, as if she were some apparition that was haunting him, rather than the living woman he'd been having angry sex with for months now.

"Spock." Her voice was unexpectedly gentle.

He knew it was a trick, did not look up. "Go away," he repeated as he tried to shift his thoughts to less volatile ground by inventorying the remaining items he must pack before tomorrow. It was a small list, too small to fully remove his awareness of her, of how close she was standing. Had she moved?

"Spock."

Must she repeat his name? Did she think he had not heard her the first time? He ignored how the softness of her voice made him feel, reminded himself that she was deceiving him as the others had. She was here to hurt him, not help him. It was the way of things, was it not?

He did not like the bitterness in that last thought. Tried to purge it and failed because Christine chose that moment to move closer to him again, her leg bumping lightly against his knee. Spock remembered the story of Perseus and Medusa. If he did not look at her, he would not be turned to stone. Only in his case, he wanted to be turned to stone. Stone did not feel, did not hurt, did not wrestle with this anger that threatened to tear him apart. Stone was a preferable state. He would look at her then. He would look at her and turn to stone.

He slowly lifted his head, saw to his surprise that tears were streaming down her cheeks. She was crying. Did Gorgons cry?

"Spock." This time his name was broken by a sob.

"Go away," he said again, only this time, even to him, his voice seemed to plead for her to do the exact opposite. He looked at her, shook his head. "Stone."

"What?"

He looked down then. "I want to be stone."

She said nothing, but he heard her sob even harder. He studied his hands, held so tightly together so he would not reach out for her, would not hurt her either. He was capable of that. Capable of anything if he was angry enough, lost enough in these black emotions. Look at what he had done to Jim when T'Pring had called for challenge, look at how he had brutalized Valeris when she had tried to hide what she knew from him. Look at what Christine and he had done in this very room just last night. How he had treated her, how she had acted toward him, even as their bodies had joined frantically. He clenched his fingers more tightly, felt pain course through his hands.

"Go away." It was the last time he would say it. If she was too foolish to see the danger she was in, then let her deal with what they had wrought.

She did not go away. Slowly, as if she was taking excruciating care not to touch him, she crouched down. Her eyes were luminous, full of tears and starting to turn red from the crying. The redness made the blue of her irises nearly fluorescent. He found himself fascinated by them, as if there were an answer in them somewhere for him.

"Help me." The words were out, floating between them for several seconds, before he realized what he had just said.

He wanted to take them back. But his mouth refused to form the words. He found himself reaching for her, pulling her to him in a way that lacked their usual savagery. Her arms locked around him as she settled in his lap. She pressed her face against his, the wetness from her cheeks felt cool to his heated skin and he slowly rubbed his face against hers, wanting to feel more.

"I'm sorry," she murmured, her voice finally that of the woman he remembered. No mocking rise at the end, no harsh laughter that poked fun at him even as it urged him toward her.

She sounded like the gentle nurse he had come to the planet to find. The gentle nurse who he realized now he would have either destroyed or been forced to leave alone after a single look. Only this damaged Christine could have taken him into herself without breaking. And now he was somehow certain that she was the only one that could help him.

"I'm so sorry," she said again.

He did not answer, for there were no words that he could let escape, no words that were safe, that would not lead to collapse, to an explosion of pain and grief that he could not afford, that she might not be able to bear. He buried his face in her neck, burrowing against her as if solely by touch she could offer him some form of succor.

She wrapped her arms around him, holding him as tightly as she ever had during sex but now there was a difference, a gentleness, a love--his thoughts shied away from that word. He would be a fool to think that there was any love between them. But there could be kindness. There could be gentleness. A possibility for tenderness he had never imagined given the rough nights they had spent tearing at each others bodies.

He felt her lips on his cheek, on his neck, then back on his face, soft, cool, tender kisses that soothed him. She did not kiss him on the lips, instead let her caresses fall on less volatile areas. He felt some of his anger recede, felt grief rise up to take its place.

She murmured, "I'm so sorry," repeatedly, as if it was a mantra of her own. He finally eased away from her, turned his head so that when her lips touched down they did so on his lips. The electric shock of the kisses they had shared during sex was replaced with something else, something comforting and full of gentleness. He opened his mouth, tasted her tenderness. When he felt her start to pull away, he held her face against his, his other arm pulling her body more firmly against him. She did not resist, only opened her mouth wider to give him more access, and he found such intimate action a comforting relief.

He let her go and she pulled away, her eyes widening as if in surprise at his tenderness. She didn't say anything, just ran her hands over his face, through his hair, her fingers glancing across the tips of his ears with a touch that soothed rather than enflamed him. She leaned in, painting his cheek with little kisses. He heard her sob again and sighed. How much had they hurt each other and for what purpose? Why had they been so cruel when there was this pain waiting? Pain he wanted to share.

He heard her gasp, realized he had placed his hands on the meld points. What was he thinking? Surely he was not considering letting her feel his pain? He started to pull away, but she reached up, pinning his fingers to the meld points with her own strong grip.

She seemed to be reading his mind when she whispered, "Share." One word. One word that meant so much. Did she have any idea how much?

"You do not know what you ask." She would not be able to withstand this. Pain and anger layered on more of the same, all the emotions he had not allowed himself to feel, not even in the rough darkness that the sex between them seemed to unleash. Even then, he had held back, kept up some measure of control. Had not wanted to hurt her.

He had not wanted to hurt her. It hit him hard that he cared about her. Even as she had insulted him, even as he had mockingly replied, he had cared about her enough that he had not hurt her then, and now, when he could have made her truly feel his pain, he did not want to.

He cared for her.

Her fingers pressed down, digging his fingers into her own skin more relentlessly. Her eyes were so determined, and he found himself drowning in them. "Share," she said.

"It will be too much." But he was already initiating the meld, the feel of her skin and the faint pulse of her mind under his fingers too alluring, too intoxicating after all this time of denial. He wanted her mind, he needed her mind. He needed her to feel for him, to take this pain and shape it and make it something he could bear, even if he knew there was no way she could do that. Knew that she would flee after just a taste. He wished that he had kissed her again before he did this.

Her gasp of surprise as the meld fired into being was soon overcome with a long moan. "Oh, god, Spock. So much pain." She writhed, as if she would escape.

He tried to let go of her face, was shocked to feel her fingers still holding his to her cheekbones, her forehead. "No, it is too much, Christine. Stop. It is enough that you tried."

Her fingers did not release him and he found that he was unwilling to force her away from him, even though he knew he could do it easily. He wanted her, wanted this. Needed to share this pain with her. Needed her to want him to share it with her.

She moaned again, and even as he expected her to shy away from the pain and anger he was slowly letting go of, she opened herself up to him, let it pour into her, become her. The sensation of merging with her was overwhelming, and he let her in completely, far deeper than he had ever allowed Valeris to go. He savored the feel of another soul touching the darkness that he had carried by himself for so long.

His mind called up all the darkest memories. Read them off to her one by one.

*Valeris.*

*You loved her.* Christine's mindvoice was powerful, her resolve to help him stronger than her unfamiliarity with the meld.

*What I did to her on the bridge. The meld I forced.*

*You were hurt, you hurt her back.* There was no censure, but also no illusion in Christine's tone. She understood that he had made Valeris pay; he had hurt her...because he had wanted to hurt her. Christine let him see some of the things she had considered doing to her husband and his mistress, things that were cruel and sadistic. *We are the same,* she said.

*You did not do it. I did. We are not the same.*

*The only difference between us is that you had the opportunity to hurt her for an honorable cause. I did not. We are the same.*

He could feel impatience coming from her. She was right; this was old pain, time to move on. He had exorcised much of his love for Valeris in Christine's body. His guilt would take longer, but what was done, was done. There was no logic in obsessing over it.

*Yes. Let it go.* She seemed to be holding on to her own pain, keeping it from him other than the brief bit she had just shown him.

*Share with me.*

She would not.

*Share with me, or it is not right.* Frustrated, he deepened the meld, began to seek her memories. Then he stopped, remorse coming over him. He had been about to take them. As if she were--

*--No. You stopped yourself just now. You are not the monster that raped her mind. It was a moment. An awful moment, but only a moment.*

He was trembling but did not fight her as he let her certainty settle over him. Then he felt her opening up to him, felt more pain, more anger as she let her own emotions join his. They were both so hurt. They were lucky they had not destroyed each other.

*I'm so sorry,* she said again, the words causing the last wall, the most recently erected one, to come crashing down.

Jim. Dead. Gone. Forever. Grief such as he'd never felt overwhelmed him and he frantically tried to push it down.

*No. Let it out. Let me have it.* She took it on, the pain, the sadness, the guilt. All of it. He felt her fall away from the weight of it, worried that she would not be able to bear it. But then she fought her way back to him and held it for a moment. But he could feel how hard she was struggling. It was too heavy for her to carry. He took it back from her, but felt as if it had lightened just from that simple act of sharing.

He could feel exhaustion coming up in waves from her. She was not used to any meld, much less such an intense one. Even he, trained in the disciplines since childhood, felt weary, was ready to pull away. He slowly eased up on her temples and cheekbones. Felt his mind slip out of hers, her regret at losing the intimate communion overcome by relief that it was over.

She opened her eyes, looked at him with perfect clarity. The last traces of reserve were gone. "You have to go back. For the memorial." Her voice was so soft. He could tell she was exhausted. But she was also ready to argue with him if he disagreed.

"Yes. I leave tomorrow morning. On the first shuttle." He urged her to her feet, followed her up. "Stay with me until then?" At her nod, he led her to the bedroom. They took off their clothes quickly, any self- consciousness at baring their bodies to each other long gone. He pulled her into the bed beside him, tucking the covers around them as he pulled her close to him. "Sleep. We will sleep."

She nodded, whispering, "I should have known you were hurting when you came to my office. I'm sorry for what I said. All the things I've said. All the anger."

"It is all in the past." He felt a jolt from her, some strong emotion making itself known through the not quite disintegrated meld. It felt like regret, loss, and a new kind of hurt bundling over some old pain. He did not have the will to explore it, settled for pulling her closer, kissing her forehead gently. "Sleep."

She kissed his cheek again then settled in against him more closely. She was asleep in minutes. He lay awake until it was time to go, holding her to him and finding comfort in the unaccustomed feeling of her sleeping body pressed against his own.

------------------------------

Chapel gently set the hovercraft down at the landing area near Matson's claim. She had broken down and bought the hover the day after Spock had gone. She was tired of being dependent on Ed's good will to get around. She needed to get out. It would help her forget Spock.

She missed him. She didn't want to, wished she didn't, but she did. Not that she had expected him to stay. He'd needed to go back to Earth for the memorial, had to have that closure. And then once he got there, she had known that duty would beckon and he would be gone, out of her reach. And soon she would be nothing but a distant memory to him, lost to time. It was the way it was.

But their last night together had been such a breakthrough, she'd almost allowed herself to hope--

Stop it. Not healthy to think that way, not good at all. Best to just move on. Realize that in the end they had been able to help each other. That all the anger and hurt they'd inflicted on one another had led to something good.

"Hi, Doc." As she walked into the forest, Matson looked up from where he was fixing one of the mine supports. "Came up for a swim finally?"

She nodded.

"Still no word from Spock, huh?"

"He's not coming back, Johnny." Her tone was a thousand times gentler than it would have been before Spock arrived.

He smiled when he realized that she had at last called him by his first name. "Aw, I don't know about that. It's only been a few weeks."

Chapel wondered if the big man wanted Spock back for her or for the help he'd been around the mine. Matson and LaTral certainly weren't going to make the same kind of progress as they had when Spock was helping them dig. "Trust me, he's not coming back."

Matson threw her a curious look, but she wasn't about to let him in on her less than illustrious relationship history. Not that it would have taken all that long to relay to him. She could sum it up in two words: 'Men leave.'

He seemed willing to let it go. "You want to come by later for lunch? It's LaTral's week to do the cooking." He grinned at her. "I wouldn't have asked you if it were mine."

"I'll be by after my swim."

He nodded and turned his attention back to the support. Chapel watched him for a second, feeling a fondness for him she would never have admitted before, even to herself. Yes, Spock's visit, as warped as much of their interaction had been, had proven good for her.

She walked through the trees, watching for the moment when the lake would come into view. It gleamed in the bright sunshine, the light reflecting a hundred flickering shades of blue and green back to her. She stripped down to her bathing suit, prepared herself for the bracing cold that would greet her as she stepped in. Shivering she forced herself to walk until it was deep enough for her to shallow dive completely into the icy water. She came up gasping and rolled onto her back, staring at the sky as she floated. The sun beating down on her warmed the bits of skin that weren't in the water, while the rest of her got used to the cold. She rolled onto her stomach and began to swim, long powerful strokes and sharp kicks carrying her effortlessly across the water. She loved this feeling, power mixed with a grace that only the water could give her. It was the best feeling. She thought of the wild sex she'd had with Spock and demoted swimming to the second best feeling. Which wasn't very smart, because given Spock's departure it was going to have to fill in as the best feeling for the foreseeable future.

She floated on her back again, letting the sun lull her into a state of total relaxation. She was trying to decide if it was time to go back in or not when she heard someone call out, "Christine."

I'm dreaming. I'm dreaming and in my dreams Spock has come back for me. He didn't leave me behind. She smiled at the whimsical thought.

"Christine," the voice sounded again. Generally daydreams didn't sound quite so annoyed. She looked over to the shore, saw Spock standing at the water's edge.

She was hallucinating--maybe the berries she'd bought from that eastern miner the other day had been toxic? "If you're really there, then come in and get me," she yelled to the apparition.

"You know it is too cold for me. Get out of the water."

No mistaking that tone. Harsh, annoyed, irritated. The Spock of the past few months, but not the Spock of that last night. Perhaps that had been the hallucination. Perhaps she'd only imagined any breakthrough. She swam until she reached a point she could stand, then she walked toward him, stopping just shy of the shoreline, the icy water lapping gently around her ankles.

"You are wet." His expression gave nothing away.

"You like me that way," she said, the old mocking tone taking over without conscious thought from her.

"I do," he surprised her by saying, a slight smile playing at his mouth. He took a step toward her. "You are cold. I should warm you."

She could feel her eyebrow lifting as she dropped the sarcastic retort she had ready and just stared at him. Finally, she said, "I'm late for lunch."

He indicated a basket sitting on a blanket he must have spread out for them. It was near the trees, out of the direct sunlight. "I ran into LaTral on the way here. He packed us some food." He looked down at where she still stood in the water. "Are you going to come out?"

"Maybe I want you to come in and get me?" The old mocking tone was back in her voice.

"Do you think that I will not?" Spock's voice was calmer, more at peace than she'd heard it in a long time. The question was only a question, not an exercise in scorn.

"I don't know anymore." It was an honest answer finally and she could tell by his expression that he recognized that.

He held out his hand. "Come out, Christine." When she still did not move, he took another step toward her. "I said"--he grabbed her arm, yanked her to him--"get out of the water." Then he kissed her. Not the angry almost painful kisses of those wild nights. But not the tender touches of their last night either. This was something else, something new.

She found herself responding, kissing him back as the hunger she had been resolutely pushing into the recesses of her mind came to the fore. She wanted him. She wanted him more than she'd ever wanted anything.

And he seemed to want her too because he was pushing her backwards to the blanket, was peeling off the wet swimming suit and running his hands over her as if he was a dying man in the desert and she was the water that would save him. She sank to the ground, felt the smooth fabric of the blanket slip against her skin as she lay back. He followed her down, his lips never leaving hers as he began to touch her, making her move against him with ever-increasing ferocity. His kisses became wilder, more savage and her body responded to him as it had been doing for months. She cried out loudly until his mouth came down on hers, muffling any further sound. She lay panting for a moment, lost in the place he'd sent her and in the gentle kisses he was giving her. She realized he was still dressed and began to tear at his clothes. He helped her pull them off, then he was kissing her again, his body pressing against hers until they were joined, as close as they could get. She gasped at the feel of him inside her again, a sensation that she'd thought was out of reach forever. "Spock," she murmured. "I missed this."

"As did I." He moved more firmly and she reached up, letting her hands fasten on his back, then digging in as he thrust harder and harder inside her. He finished with a loud cry, collapsing on top of her, then rolling to his side as he had done all the other times. Only this time, he pulled her with him, bringing her to lie next to him, his arms tightening around her almost possessively.

She looked up at him and he kissed her on the forehead, then on her cheek, then on each eye. The whimsy of his movements brought unexpected tears; they slid down her cheeks as he kissed her on the lips. She could feel his fingers on her face, wiping away the tears, even as his tongue explored her mouth lazily. Then he pulled away, studied her face for a long time. "I take it that my return is not unwelcome."

She answered him with a kiss of her own. When she finally pulled away, he nodded as if in satisfaction.

"Came back for the hot sex, eh?" She didn't like her cavalier tone, then realized that she was afraid of his answer.

"Among other things," was all he said.

They lay quietly for a few moments, until she couldn't stand it and asked, "What about Star Fleet? Aren't they going to start wondering where you are?"

"I have extended my leave of absence to the full year allowed." He rolled to his back, tugged at her arm so that she had to roll onto her stomach, half of her weight on his body. When she tried to move, he held her more tightly. "I can stay here another seven months, one week, and two days."

"Is that how long you give us?"

His expression lightened, she could tell he was amused when he replied, "No, that is merely how long I can stay away from Star Fleet without giving up my commission." He kissed her. "I thought that by then you would perhaps tire of this planet and wish to explore other options."

"Other options?" She tried to push down the hope that was rising, didn't want to be disappointed again.

"Yes. With me. As a civilian, you would be free to accompany me on my diplomatic missions."

He was right, she could. "You'd want me to?" She hated how needy she sounded. Hated that she needed him to be more explicit about what he was feeling.

He nodded, watched as her reaction must have played across her face. "I do care for you, Christine, but I may never be able to put that into words, not the way you will want me to."

She started to protest and he shushed her with a gentle finger on her lips. "You are human." When she looked away, he said softly. "But that does not mean that I cannot share my feelings another way. If you want me to?" As he waited for her answer, his fingers hovered over the meld points.

She looked back at him, staring for a long time before she nodded. His hands sank down, initiating the meld, and she pulled back slightly, remembering how hard the other meld had been, how the pain and anger had nearly overcome her.

*It is safe,* he assured her, his mindvoice exquisitely gentle.

She slowly let him in, waiting for pain that did not come. Not that his darkness was gone, she could still feel it inside him. His grief for Kirk was especially vivid, the pain from his friend's death still new and sharp. But the darkness was not in charge any longer. He was in control of his emotions again. She relaxed and felt him open himself up. A feeling of warmth, of admiration and affection, desire and gratitude rolled over her and she sighed. For her part, she didn't try to hide what she was feeling for him, how much she wanted him or how happy she was to see him back.

He was very serious when he said, *I believe these emotions will grow into something stronger. If we let them. If we want them to?*

She relished the way he was making her feel. Safe. Protected. Desirable.

*Do we want them to?* he asked.

Chapel was about to say yes, when other memories began to invade. She had felt this way before. With Ken. Ken had made her feel safe. And protected. And desirable. She started to pull away.

He switched to words. "I am not going to leave you. And he was a fool to have done so. But I cannot regret that he did, for how else would I have found you?" His hands rubbed her back, his lips touched hers in a gentle kiss as if asking forgiveness for the time he had not been so kind about Ken's choices. He made her look at him, before he said, "Do you not want this? Because I find that I do very much."

She smiled, a small laugh erupting from her at his words. Spock being romantic. Who knew? She kissed him with more passion. "We can give it a try, see how it goes?"

"That is acceptable," he said, relief obvious in his voice.

"Can we get back to the sex soon?" The words were from their hurtful days, but her tone was different now. No longer mocking and vicious.

"Would now be appropriate?" He did not seem to need an answer, was already pulling her up to sit astride him.

She moved to the rhythm they had perfected over all those angry nights. A rhythm that wasn't dependent on their dynamic being hateful, and that was a relief to her--she had worried that the sex had been great because they were so destructive, not in spite of that fact. She leaned down, kissed him deeply then nipped at his lip.

He responded by forcing her over onto her back, his body still joined with hers as he followed. He kissed her as he began to rock inside her.

"Yes," she said, feeling that her first answer had not been sufficient.

He frowned slightly. "Yes?"

"Yes, I want whatever this is that we're feeling to grow into something stronger."

She read his look to mean that he was deeply satisfied with her answer. "I concur."

She laughed, couldn't help it, just gave up and laughed at his matter-of- fact tone. "Well, I'm glad we got that out of the way." She let herself go and kissed him like she'd always wanted to, not holding anything back, not worrying about protecting herself. She was willing to go as deep as he'd let her, and judging from the way he was kissing her back, that would be mighty deep indeed. Hell, maybe they'd strike it rich and find the mother lode. If nothing else, the digging itself was going to be fun. Loads and loads of fun.

And they were both past due on that.

FIN