Emotional Rescue

Chapel looked up as Spock walked into sickbay. She grinned at his expression. Even after all these years, he couldn't hide his distaste for exams.

"Hop up on the table, Spock. You know the drill." She waited for him to tell her that Vulcans did not hop.

A raised eyebrow filled in for the words as he eased himself onto the table. She looked down to hide her grin. She was getting way too big a kick out of yanking his chain. She reached for her scanner, began to check him for lingering effects--or any new ones--from his meld with V'ger.

"Sleeping okay?" she asked.

"I do not require as much sleep as humans do, Doctor Chapel."

"Nice diversion, Spock. Just answer the question."

"I have been dreaming more than is my norm."

She ran a special check on his neurotransmitters and hormones. They were elevated but far less so than they had been right after the meld. "Well, I hope they're good dreams."

"They are...interesting."

The emphasis he put on the word made her look up at him. "Care to share?"

"I do not." Despite the terse reply, his tone lacked his usual acerbity and his expression was more open than she was used to. Another post-V'ger effect, this more emotional Spock.

She was having trouble getting used to it. She began to make notes on her padd.

"You are enjoying being a doctor?"

She smiled at him. "Don't even think you can distract me from noting your dreams as another effect."

"I was merely inquiring as to your satisfaction with your chosen profession."

"If you aren't careful, I'll put 'Attempts to make small talk' down as a side effect too."

"I believe that was more than just an attempt at small talk."

She laughed. "Oh, you think you were successful, do you?"

"Indeed. Is that not what we are doing? Engaging in small talk?"

"I'd call it banter, but you can categorize it however you like, Spock." She shook her head. "Too bad McCoy isn't here; he lives for good banter."

It suddenly occurred to her that McCoy was never around when Spock showed up. If she didn't know better, she'd think Spock was timing his arrivals for when McCoy was off duty or on break. And when she was on.

She sighed. This was not a place she was going to revisit. If Spock was only showing up on her shifts, it was just coincidence.

"I would like to ask you a question," Spock said.

"Ask away," she said, snapping the scanner shut and putting it back with the other diagnostic equipment.

"It is of a personal nature."

She moved closer. "Do you need to whisper it?" She grinned at him. He actually looked a bit exasperated with her and she wondered if he had an embarrassing post-V'ger rash or something. "Okay, sorry, Spock. What did you want to ask about?"

"I was hoping you would join me for dinner."

Her chin hit the floor and kept on traveling. She figured it stopped somewhere near engineering. So much for coincidence. "Technically, that's not a question." She moved away from him and opened a drawer at random, began to inventory the contents. Spock didn't need to know that Nurse Percell had already done this. Twice. Business in sickbay had been slow.

"You do not appear overly pleased by my suggestion."

She shot him a look. "You realize anything you're feeling is because of the meld."

"I am aware that I am more emotional since the meld."

"Elevated hormones and neurotransmitters will do that, even to a Vulcan. You don't really want to have dinner, you're just..." She couldn't bring herself to say the word horny to him.

"I did not suggest that we have sex, Christine. I merely thought a shared meal might prove pleasant."

She'd offended him. She shook her head. "I'm sure it would. Find someone else to share it with and have a great time." She closed the drawer, harder than she meant to.

"You do not eat?"

"Of course, I eat." She looked around sickbay, realized that Percell and Castena were watching Spock and her with barely-veiled interest. "Let's go into my office?"

He followed her in. "If you eat and I eat, then I fail to see why we cannot share a meal."

She shut the door, leaned against the wall. "I'll be frank, Spock. I'm flattered. Part of me is probably thrilled but I'm not listening to her anymore. This"--she pointed at him, then back at herself, her hand gestures coming out a bit spastic--"is not territory I want to revisit. The big hopeless crush scene was not a happy place for me."

He moved toward her. "What if it were not hopeless this time?"

She gave him her best rendition of the Vulcan eyebrow of disdain.

"Christine. I admit that a large portion of what I am feeling was triggered by the meld with V'ger. But I do not believe that the emotions I am now open to will entirely dissipate over time. I have made a choice. To explore these feelings. Wherever they may lead."

"So, you're saying you're curious? You want to play with these emotions? Walk on the wild side?"

"That is not how I would choose to put it. But it may be accurate." He touched her cheek.

She pulled back quickly, hitting her head on the bulkhead. "Ow! Dammit, Spock."

"You were interested in me once, Christine."

She pushed him back, moved away from the wall, rubbing her head as she did so. "And you weren't interested in me, Spock. And I don't think you are now."

He actually sighed softly.

She shook her head. "I was in sickbay when you came to, Spock." She smiled, hoped it wasn't a bitter expression. "'This simple feeling.' Does that ring a bell?"

He seemed to draw away slightly.

"If you want to ask someone to dinner, ask the Captain."

"Jim is my friend."

"Which is more than I ever was, Commander." She hit the door switch, bowed him out mockingly. "I'm going to pretend this conversation never happened."

"But it did happen."

"Work with me here, Spock." She pushed him, hoping he'd take the hint and leave.

He did step back. "I am trying to, Christine."

"Could you just call me Doctor Chapel? It's so much easier on my psyche." She hit the door switch. As the door slid closed behind them, she held her hand up. "Buh-bye."

She rested her head against the wall, tried to ignore that it was still hurting...or that she was trembling.

Damn Spock! Just when she thought she was over him, he had to go and pull this.

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

Spock watched Doctor Chapel as she sat down to eat with one of the other doctors. It was clear by the way she was enjoying her meal that she did indeed eat. She just did not wish to eat with him.

"You look like a man with a problem, Spock." McCoy pulled a chair out and sat down. He followed Spock's gaze. "Oh, boy."

Spock quickly looked away from Doctor Chapel and the unknown male doctor who seemed to be amusing her so much.

"Don't tell me that after all these years, you're actually ready to make a move?"

"I was not planning on telling you that, Doctor."

"Well, that's good. Because she's moved on, my friend. You are a closed book, a dead letter, a--"

"Yes, I grasp the concept, Doctor."

"She sure looks like she's having fun with Morrow." McCoy shot Spock an innocent look.

"Just as you are having 'fun' baiting me."

"Aw, Spock. You make me sound so mean." McCoy leaned in. "I do think she's moved on. Why go and reopen old wounds?"

"I was not aware I had wounded her."

McCoy rolled his eyes. "Well, it's a cinch that she didn't hurt you any. Nothing gets past that thick Vulcan skin. Not even a clue."

Spock was still trying to think of a suitable retort when Kirk walked over.

"You two fighting again?" he asked as he sat down.

The grin he shot Spock was open and happy, and Spock felt a pang of tenderness for his friend. Not the interest that Doctor Chapel had implied- -something different, but in its own way just as strong. He loved Jim, loved him like a brother. And he'd missed him more than he could ever have predicted he would when he'd first set out to purge his emotions.

McCoy leaned in. "I'm just trying to tell our Vulcan friend that now is not the time for him to decide he's interested in Christine."

Kirk shot Spock a surprised look. "Are you interested in her?"

"You do not deem her worthy of interest?"

Kirk shook his head quickly. "I didn't mean that. She's delightful."

Spock tried to hide his surprise.

McCoy didn't. "Something you want to tell us, Jim?"

Kirk laughed. "She used to date one of the admirals in my circle of friends. Nothing serious but it gave me a chance to get to know her. I like her. A lot. As I said, she's delightful." He turned to Spock. "So are you interested in her?"

When Spock did not answer, Kirk laughed and held his hand up in surrender. "Forget I asked. But you might want to move fast, before that guy"--he gestured off toward Doctor Morrow--"gets the upper hand." He ate for a few moments, then said softly, "Would you like me to define 'delightful'?"

Spock knew he was glaring disapproval, tried to force his expression into something more neutral.

Kirk only laughed. "God, it's good to have you back." He looked over at McCoy, included him in the smile. "Both of you."

"Well, unlike Spock here, I didn't have a choice," McCoy said, but his expression as he looked at Kirk was full of affection.

Spock supposed they had all been lonely for each other. It was good to be together again.

He watched Doctor Chapel get up and leave with her dinner companion. Perhaps later Spock would ask Jim to explain what he deemed the upper hand...as well as what he meant by delightful.

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

"This seat taken?"

Chapel looked up, smiled broadly when she saw Kirk. "I was saving it for you."

He laughed. "Liar." Setting his breakfast tray down, he nodded at her coffee cup. "You need a refill?"

"Please."

She watched him as he got himself a cup of the strong mess coffee, then refilled her cup. As he walked back, she found herself grinning. The one good thing about dating Admiral Cartwright had been getting to know her former CO on a personal basis.

He seemed to be reading her mind. "So, how's Matthew?"

She rolled her eyes. "You know, you could have warned me about him." Cartwright had been fun--for the five seconds a day he wasn't obsessing over work, his next assignment, or the Klingons.

He shrugged. "Would you have believed me? Besides, he's a good contact for you. Since you parted on good terms." He shot her a look. "You did part on good terms?"

"Yes, I took your advice and cut out gracefully."

"Our hasty departure probably helped."

She laughed. "I'm indebted to V'ger." Her smile faded. "It feels wrong to joke about it. Because of Will."

"I know."

They ate in silence for a moment, then he took a deep breath. "I'm sorry about the demotion."

"Nothing you're going to do about it now." She smiled when he shot a look at her, his gaze questioning, as if wondering what she really felt. She decided to tell him. "I was in a bit over my head, Jim. I'd have never said that to Will because he seemed so dead set on having me as his CMO. But I'm not sure I was the right person, other than that he listened to me." She shook her head. "Which was only fair considering how many times I listened to him go on about Ilia. Usually over beers."

Kirk smiled. "Best kind of CMO does just that. Beers or Romulan Ale. Whatever works." He seemed about to say something else.

She shook her head. "It's okay, Jim. I'm over any irritation with you. Truly."

"Okay. We won't talk about it again."

"Good." She studied him. He seemed happier than he'd ever looked back on Earth. "You're in heaven, aren't you?"

He nodded. "It's great to be back. To have her back."

She didn't have to ask which 'her' he was talking about.

"And to have Spock back," he continued. He shot her an odd look. "Must be a little strange for you...having him around again?"

She shook her head. "Not like I see him much." She studied Kirk, tried to figure out what he was thinking. She'd learned that few conversations with him were haphazard, most of them were designed to take you somewhere. She had the suspicion this one was going to a place she didn't want to end up in. "I'm over him," she said in what she hoped was a very final tone.

"Yes. About that." He grinned.

She glared at him. "If you say another word, I'm going to start calling you Captain Cupid."

He laughed.

"He's just going through a phase, Jim. Surely you can see that."

"Is he?"

She shook her head. Trying to debate him was a losing proposition. He was too good at winning.

"You might want to give him a chance." He held up his hands when she glared at him. "I'm just saying..."

"Well, say it to someone else. There are plenty of hot young babes on this pretty ship of yours who must be dying to date Mister Tall, Dark, and Rigid." She realized that hadn't come out quite right. Could feel herself starting to blush.

Kirk was trying not to laugh.

"Don't even..."

"I'm not saying a word." He nodded at the door. "Oh look. There's Mister Tall--" He broke off when she kicked him lightly under the table. "Spock," he called out, waving the Vulcan over.

Spock looked relieved when he saw Kirk. Then he took in Chapel's presence at the table and actually perked up. He headed toward them.

She closed her eyes. "This isn't happening." Kirk started to get up and she clamped a hand on his. "Don't even think of leaving."

"If you've really moved on, then there's nothing to be afraid of, right?" He gently pulled his hand out from under hers.

"Captain. Doctor." Spock looked around for a chair to add to the two- person table she'd chosen.

"Here, take mine," Kirk said. "I have to go. You can keep Christine company." He grinned at her.

She wanted nothing more than to stick her tongue out at him.

He seemed to realize that; his eyes positively sparkled. "See ya."

She nodded, tucked into her food, intent on finishing and getting away as quickly as she could.

"Is eating with me such an unpleasant notion, Christine?" Spock asked, sounding rather sad. "Would you rather choke on your food than endure a moment more than is necessary with me?"

She laughed meanly. "I had a good teacher. It's what you would have done."

He looked away. "No. I would have simply stopped eating and left. I do not like to rush a meal."

"Touche," she whispered. If his words hadn't been said in such a morose way, they would have stung more.

"But I never found your company unpleasant."

"Right," she said, but she put her fork down. "I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings." She was curious how he would reply to that.

He stared at her, his eyes seemed resigned. "Is this what it feels like? To have hurt feelings? I never knew."

"You're saying you have them now?"

"I do not know. I know that it troubles me that my presence is not more welcome to you."

She laughed, then looked away. The strange dejection in his eyes bothered her. More than she liked. "I've moved on, Spock. Can't you just let me be?"

He stood up, took his tray and said, "Of course, Doctor. I apologize for disturbing you."

He moved to a table on the other side of the room. His movements seemed more awkward than she'd ever seen them. She got up and dumped her tray, stopping to refill her coffee. Looking back at his table, she knew she was going to go to him and hated herself for it. She should just turn around and go to sickbay. He was leaving her alone. Like she wanted.

She walked over to his table. Sat down. Sipped her coffee slowly. "I don't want to be mean to you."

"You have not been, Christine. I should have respected your wishes and stayed away." He did not look at her.

"Does it hurt?"

"Yes. Rejection hurts." He did look at her then. "Is this what you felt?"

"Some of it. I doubt that you're getting the full treatment."

"You are undoubtedly right." He put his fork down. "I was not as kind as you are being, was I?"

She shook her head. "Maybe you had more resolve than I do. Or maybe you really didn't give a rat's ass. I wish I didn't care how you feel."

"A rat's ass?"

She laughed. "It's a saying."

"A perplexing one." He sipped at his water, the gesture almost that of someone frantic for something to do. "You care then? Somewhat?"

"More than I want to. But it won't make any difference. I can't do this again. I'm sorry."

"There is nothing to be sorry for." He took a deep breath. "You are interested in Doctor Morrow and not in me. I should have realized."

She frowned. "He's married, Spock. And just a friend."

"But Jim said..."

She was going to kill Captain Cupid the next time she saw him. She touched Spock's hand, only letting her fingers linger for a second before pulling away. "This is not going to work for either of us. Eventually you're going to shake V'ger's effects and go happily back to being logical and stoic. And not interested in me." She smiled gently at him. "I'd rather not be very close when that happens. Okay?"

"You do not know that it will happen as you predict."

She laughed softly. "Yes, I do. It's how it always goes with you. Even women you really cared for couldn't have you for very long." She stood up. "Maybe you should have McCoy do your check ups from here on out?" She smiled gently, then turned and left.

She had to force herself not to look back at him as she walked out of the mess hall.

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

"Spock, heads up."

Spock looked up in time to see Kirk toss him the microspanner he'd been looking for. He caught it easily. "Where did you find it?"

"The last place you'd look." Kirk took a deep breath of fresh air. "You could leave that for one of the technicians, you know, and walk with me. I want to see the place."

"I am aware of that, Jim. But I can perform this repair more efficiently than the technicians. And you did promise the Prefect that we would be off his planet by dawn."

Kirk sighed. "Why is it that the most beautiful planets also have the most xenophobic governments?"

Spock could feel his expression soften into his version of a smile. Jim could be so whimsical at times. "They allow us to keep the sensors here. It is more than the Federation expected."

Kirk nodded. "I know, I know. And it's our duty to repair them with as little fuss as possible." He looked down the row of sensor arrays, where Enterprise technicians repaired or performed basic maintenance on the delicate machinery." He sighed. "I'd still like to see more of this world."

"Then go. I will finish here."

"Meaning I'm not much help."

"Well, you did find the microspanner."

Kirk laughed.

"Go, Jim. I will be fine."

Kirk nodded, left Spock alone to finish his task. Spock watched him for a moment, glad that his friend was taking the time to enjoy himself, to relax for a moment. A wave of affection ran through him. He did not fight the emotion. Just accepted it.

It had been months since his meld with V'ger. The emotional onslaught he had first experienced had died down. He no longer felt the urge to cry at odd moments, did not erupt into spontaneous and ill-timed laughter. And for that he was exceedingly grateful. The experience had been fascinating. And useful. But he would not want to live his life that way.

But he was not free of emotions. He was a very long way from the man who had nearly purged every feeling inside him on the hot sands of Gol. He was not even the man who had first gone to Gol, the man who had been so sure that he was losing the Vulcan part of himself that he was willing to eliminate all things human--and some things Vulcan as well--to make himself over into some extreme Vulcan ideal.

He sometimes had nightmares that he was back at Gol. Back learning the Kohlinar. Learning to destroy what made him unique. For he was not only Vulcan; he was also Human. With all the associated problems. And the emotions. It was never his destiny to destroy that part of himself, but to learn to better integrate the two. To find his way.

As he had been doing, until he had panicked and run away from everything and everyone he cared for.

He would not make that mistake again.

He focused on his task. Found some small pleasure in the way he moved, in the efficient manner he completed the repair. Was it not logical to feel moved by efficiency? He was not sure, but he did not fight his enjoyment of his skill. He closed the panel, then sealed the array. Checking the system with his tricorder, he was satisfied that it would run at optimal efficiency.

He moved down the line, helped a technician with some awkward repairs, then walked on. His attention was caught by a group of off-duty crew, sitting on blankets in the field beyond the array, taking advantage of the sunshine and pleasant weather.

Christine was there. Odd that he could no longer think of her as Doctor Chapel. After their last talk, she had become Christine to him, even if she had asked him not to call her that. Spock could feel his lips tighten. He did not feel pleasure when he thought of her. He had no skill to take pride in when it came to romance. In fact, it had probably been a mistake to have ever pursued her. She had been right. He had been more interested in experiencing the emotions than in experiencing her.

She had been right all along.

He saw her get up to join in some sort of ball game. She laughed and the sound carried to where he stood. He could feel a small smile beginning. He had little experience in seeing her happy. He decided the sound of her laughter was pleasant.

One of the crewmen raced her to the ball; they ended up wrestling for it. She won, both she and the crewman laughing as she held the ball away from him and he reached around her, his hands brushing her body as he tried to steal the ball away.

Spock suddenly wished he were that crewman.

"Must be nice," one of the technicians said wistfully. "To play."

Spock nodded, then looked back at the man to see who it was. "Yes, Mister Jensen. It must be nice." He ignored Jensen's look of surprise, moved on to the next beacon.

He could not resist another look at Christine. It was allowed. Since he was not interested in her.

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

Chapel watched McCoy pace through sickbay.

"Damn fools. Don't have to be on every landing party. They aren't getting any younger," he muttered.

She wisely remained silent, let him rant. She knew how worried he'd been about Jim and Spock when they disappeared during the collection mission. Fortunately, the strange singularity that had taken them out of the middle of a landing party, had then deposited them half a planet away without doing them any permanent damage. But it had left them both badly shaken and exhausted from the bombardment of some sort of alien energy field.

"Doctor McCoy," Spock said, pushing himself up. "I believe we can track the location of the singularity. Determine if it is native to the planet or if it is free to travel out of the planet's gravity."

"So help me, Spock. Lie back down or I'll sedate you."

Spock looked over at Kirk, who was still sleeping. Then he turned to her. "I need a tricorder."

She looked at McCoy. He shook his head.

Spock's mouth tightened. "You had to recall the landing parties, did you not? If we could track the singularity, determine where it will go and if there are others, it would be safe to send them back down."

She grabbed a tricorder, walked over to the bed. Handed it to him. They needed several minerals that the planet had in abundance. They would be used in the base for a vaccine in critically low supply on a neighboring planet.

"It can wait till he's slept, Christine." McCoy seemed angry with her.

"He won't sleep, Len. You know that."

McCoy's mouth tightened, but he didn't argue. Just turned and went into his office.

"Thank you," Spock said softly.

"He's just worried about you."

"And since you are not, you can think more clearly?"

She smiled. "I didn't say that."

He began to program in some equations. "So you were worried?"

"Of course. You and Jim would be a terrible loss."

"Ah." He handed her the tricorder. "I need the readings I took earlier. I uploaded them before the singularity took us."

She nodded, went to a terminal and called the data up. "All of it?"

"Yes."

She downloaded it quickly, handed the tricorder back to him. "You do need rest, you know."

He nodded, already keying in more formulas. "And Cygnus XV needs vaccine. Which is more important?" He looked up, seemed unusually interested in her answer.

"What is that Vulcan saying? The needs of the many?"

"Yes. Precisely." He worked for a few more moments, then asked softly. "How did you come to know that particular Vulcan saying, Christine?"

She sighed. "Back in my stalker days"--she smiled when he shot her an amused look--"I researched many things Vulcan."

"Ah." He finished programming the tricorder, set it down as it processed the data for him. "I did not consider you a stalker."

"Oh, please, Spock. You'd practically run the other way when you saw me in the corridors."

"That is an exaggeration." At her look, he said, "I would walk very quickly."

She laughed. "Very, very quickly."

He gave her the eyebrow and she laughed again.

"You have a pleasant laugh."

He said it so casually, it took he a moment to realize he was complimenting her.

"Spock," she said. "We agreed."

"I merely commented on the tonal quality of your laughter. It was not a proposal of marriage."

She laughed again. "A joke?"

He seemed to shrug. The gesture looked funny, out of character.

"Still not over V'ger, huh?"

She was no longer keeping track of his progress. Spock had taken her suggestion and started going to McCoy for his check-ups.

"On the contrary, I would say I have returned to normal. A new baseline for normal perhaps, but I do not feel unduly disturbed by my emotions."

"Good," she said neutrally. "That must have been hard for you."

He did not answer, just stared at her.

"Spock."

He looked away. "Perhaps you could create a rulebook that would indicate what type of behavior is acceptable, and what is not. I admit to being quite confused when it comes to how I should interact with you."

She sat down in the chair next to his bed. "It's just that you're pushing."

"I was not pushing. You are oversensitive." His tone was the Spock of old.

She was not sure what to say. Looked down. Finally, whispered, "This is why I didn't want to go there."

"And we did not go there or anywhere, Christine. I have done as you asked. I have stayed away from you. If you would relax, it might help your interactions with me."

She stood up. "I think it would be better if I just left you alone with your computations."

"As you wish."

She walked away, glanced at Jim's bed as she passed and saw that he was awake. He just shook his head, and rolled his eyes.

She stopped at his bed, studied the monitors.

"You could at least try to be nice to him," he said very softly.

She glared at him, then felt bad. "Don't meddle, Jim. Please?"

He sighed. "Fine."

She patted him on the shoulder, an awkward attempt to reconnect, to tell him no hard feelings. Then she fled to her office.

Percell or Castena would call her if they needed anything.

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

Spock stared out past the viewscreen in the darkened auxiliary observation lounge. The stars slipped quietly past, slightly skewed as they always were when the ship was in warp. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, then did not breathe, held the moment of between.

He heard footsteps coming toward him. He had hoped that no one would disturb him here. For some reason, he had not wanted to meditate in his quarters, where he could have had perfect privacy. It was illogical to feel irritation that one of the crew had chosen to come to what was, after all, a public place.

He was not far into the meditation at any rate. He had not even reached the first level. He sat quietly as the footsteps came closer. Then they passed and he realized the other person had not seen him in the corner, sitting so still, his black robe disappearing into the darkness of the space.

He heard a sob. Rose slowly, trying not to make any noise. He would leave; whoever was here would never know that he or she had not been alone. He moved silently to the door, heard another sob and looked back to see who was in such distress.

It was Christine.

He was torn. She had made it clear she did not want him near her. But it was obvious she was in some sort of pain.

He shook his head at his own folly. What good would he be? She had come to the small observation room to be alone, not to deal with him. He turned to go.

"Spock?"

He turned, surprised.

She was wiping her eyes.

"How--?"

"--Your robe smells like incense." She sniffed.

"Are you all right?"

She slowly shook her head.

"Is there something I can do?"

She shook her head again.

"Do you want me to leave?"

Again she shook her head.

She was not all right, there was nothing he could do, but she did not want him to leave. He could feel his brows pulling down into a slight frown. How exactly was he supposed to act?

"My father died today." She sniffed again. "He's been sick. Really sick. We all knew it was just a matter of time. He didn't even know me the last time I saw him, just before I shipped out." Her shoulders were shaking. "It's like my father was already gone, you know?"

He moved toward her. The few times he had seen his mother cry, Sarek had held her. Would that be appropriate for this occasion?

She turned back around, leaned her head against the viewscreen. "Have you ever lost anyone, Spock?"

He thought he had lost Jim. More than once. But Jim had not died, and Spock had not had to grieve long. Did Sybok count? He had idolized his older brother, had been crushed when Sarek cast him out. "Yes," he said softly.

"Did it hurt?"

"Yes." He touched her shoulder gently, felt her lean into his hand slightly. "Yes, it hurt."

She pulled away, wiped at her face again. "Thank you." She moved past him, toward the door.

He could not see her face. "Christine? If you need to talk, I am here."

She turned, and he saw that her eyes were bright with unshed tears. She tried to smile; the expression came out as a grimace. "Right here? In the observation lounge?"

Even he could tell that the joke fell flat. "You know what I mean."

She nodded. "Thank you. But I'm fine now."

"Of course."

It was the exact same thing he had told his mother when she came to comfort him after Sybok had gone.

But he had not been fine. He did not think Christine was either.

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

Chapel moved through the market. She could feel Spock shadowing her, was starting to get angry. Every time she turned around, he was there. A few booths behind her, ostensibly looking at this or that item for sale. But she had never seen him shop with such dedication of purpose. In fact, she had never seen him shop.

She doubled back suddenly, the move taking him by surprise as she strode up to him.

"You're following me. Why?"

"I am merely shopping."

"That's crap."

He almost looked angry. "It is not 'crap,' as you put it. My mother's birthday is approaching. I am at somewhat of a loss...I have never given her a present before."

"And now you suddenly want to?"

He nodded. "It would please her, I think. Make her happy. Another post- V'ger effect, I presume. But surely not a negative one?"

She was suddenly very embarrassed. "You're not following me?" She felt off balance; she'd been feeling that way ever since her mom had called to tell her about her dad's death. "I'm sorry." She could feel her face reddening. "I thought..." She fought back tears--why did they seem so close all the time?

He surprised her by touching her hand, a sudden surge of support going through her as their skin made contact. She looked up at him in shock, saw that he seemed to be as surprised as she was.

"I beg forgiveness. I did not intend..." He pulled his hand away. "I am concerned for you. My desire to help must have led me to..." He looked down, some sort of shame written on his features.

"It's all right. It was a kind gesture." She swallowed hard. "I'm not doing very well, Spock."

"No, I know you are not."

She looked down. "Are you really shopping for your mom?"

"Yes. I was, however, following you. I had hoped to get some ideas of what to buy her by what you stopped to admire."

She smiled, wiped at her eyes as a rebel tear broke loose from the rest. "Do you want me to help you find something?"

"Would you do that?"

She sniffed again, rubbed at her eyes. They felt sticky and puffy. Sore inside and out. "Yeah. I will."

He smiled slightly. "It would be a nice gesture."

She nodded, couldn't muster the energy for a smile. Tired, she was so tired. She turned back to the booths. "What does she like?"

"I am not certain."

She turned to look at him. "You're not?"

He shook his head.

"Hmm." She studied him. "Does she collect anything?"

He seemed to think about that. "Small bottles."

"What kind? Glass? Pottery?"

"Some kind of brilliant glass. They sparkle when the sunlight hits them."

She was not sure what would make them do that. Metal shavings mixed in maybe? Or perhaps the bottles were cut from some sort of gemstone? "We could look for one?"

"That would be appreciated."

The walked slowly. She tried to pay attention to the things she was looking at but her head hurt and she felt dizzy.

"Have you been sleeping?" he asked her gently.

"Not really." She wondered why she could not seem to lie to him the way she had been to Len and Jim and Uhura.

"You are exhausted." He touched her hand again, this time the surge of energy she felt was much stronger.

She looked up at him.

"My ability to help you, to bolster your reserves, is limited. You should ask McCoy for a sedative. You need sleep." His look was quite stern. "And I should not have to tell you that."

She felt like a child again, in her father's study trying to explain why she had done something wrong.

Her father.

She closed her eyes, could feel her body begin to shake.

"Christine. I will look for the bottle. Thank you for helping me think of that. Will you go to sickbay?"

"I don't need to."

His voice became more firm. "You will go to sickbay. Or I will take you there myself."

She heard very clearly the first officer. She also heard someone who cared for her. She had managed to push everyone else away. But he had slipped in. How had he slipped in?

"I'll go to sickbay." She would rest in her quarters. That would be good enough. Maybe this time she would fall asleep before she started to cry.

"Give me your word."

She sighed in frustration. "Who do you think you are?"

"The first officer of the Enterprise." His eyes were exceptionally gentle. "And your friend."

She swallowed hard, felt tears threaten again.

"Christine. Give me your word."

How did he know that she wouldn't break it? How could he possibly know that about her?

"Christine."

"Fine. You have my word. I'll go to sickbay. I'll talk to Len." She started to head for the beam-out point. The idea of the long walk back was daunting.

"Wait." He pulled out his communicator. "Spock to Enterprise."

"Enterprise here."

"Doctor Chapel is ready to beam up. At these coordinates. Energize when ready."

She felt her eyes drooping. How had she gotten this tired? "Thank you, Spock."

"You are welcome."

He faded to nothingness before her eyes as the transporter took her. She stepped off the pad wearily, headed to sickbay to finally tell McCoy that something was wrong.

It was a huge relief to stop trying to be strong.

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

Spock sat down at an empty table in the mess hall. He had hoped Jim or McCoy would join him but they were both otherwise engaged.

"Do you want company?"

He looked up, could feel his expression lightening as he saw Christine smiling at him. She no longer looked as if she was about to break. Seemed to be stronger, her smile more true.

"I would 'love' some company." He thought she would enjoy the phrasing.

"Ooh, someone's been studying human pick up lines." She grinned at him. It was an expression that seemed to hold amusement and gratitude and he hoped forgiveness.

"Jim may, in fact, be a bad influence," he said.

She sat down. "Nyah. He's a great guy. Matchmaking tendencies notwithstanding."

He looked at her. "I was not aware he was working on us both."

"Oh, he was." She laughed softly. "Big doof."

"Doof?"

She sighed in mock frustration. "We really need to get you a decent slang dictionary."

"Ah, so that I could look up 'rat's ass'?"

She nodded. "Exactly. Have to use it right if you're going to use it."

"I do not intend to use it at all. Present company excepted."

She laughed. "I'm not sure if that's an insult or a compliment."

"When you determine which it is, let me know."

She smiled and he was relieved to see the expression reach her eyes.

"You are feeling better?" he asked.

It was the wrong question. Her good humor dropped away.

"I am sorry. I do not mean to pry."

She met his eyes, seemed to be trying to figure out why he wanted to know. Why could she not just ask him why he cared?

"You appear to be doing better," he said carefully.

She nodded. "I needed sleep. You were right. And it was foolish of me and worse, negligent, to allow myself to get to that state. If you want to put me on report, I won't fight you."

"I do not wish to put you on report." He took a sip of his water. "The tendency to believe that one can solve any problem by oneself is not wholly a human failing."

"Are you saying that you've been guilty of that?"

He nodded.

"I'm just sorry you had to be the one to deal with it."

"Interesting." He could feel his mouth turning up slightly, wondered at her ability to provoke his version of a smile. "Because I am not sorry at all."

"Spock, don't."

He touched her hand, intrigued by her cooler skin. "I believe I have proven you can trust me."

She jerked her hand away, looked down.

"V'ger and the meld that caused me to act so out of character was six months ago."

"I know."

"Then perhaps it is time for you to accept that it is possible for me to have feelings where you are concerned."

"I can't accept that."

"Why not?"

She looked down. "I can't do this again."

He felt frustration fill him. "Christine, there is no this to repeat. You and I have not had a relationship. What is growing between us is new. There is no reason to run from it."

"There is nothing growing between us." She stood up. Picked up her untouched tray. "Leave me alone." She practically fled the mess hall.

Spock suddenly wished he was still in a position to not give a rat's ass about her. Whatever that meant--it sounded preferable to this.

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

Christine steeled herself as she walked up to Spock's office. She was glad she did not have to go to his quarters. Too many painful memories of his Pon Farr and of her bringing him soup. Now all she had was an apology.

She rang the chime before she could lose her nerve.

The door opened.

She walked in, saw him sitting at his desk. "Hi. Can we talk?"

"I am in the middle of a report." He did not look up at her.

She sighed. "I'm sorry. I overreacted."

"Yes. You did." He still didn't look up.

She walked over to his desk, sat in the guest chair. "I'm trying to apologize."

"Why?" He finally looked up at her. He seemed tired, defeated even. "You will no doubt lose your patience with me again very soon. I cannot seem to please you."

She frowned. "Did something happen? I mean other than my freaking out on you last week?"

He did not answer, just went back to his work.

"Spock?"

"I am very busy, Christine. Perhaps we could continue this discussion another time." He carefully put his hands on the desk.

"What happened?" She touched his hand.

He pulled it away as if he'd been burned.

"Spock?"

He seemed very far away when he answered, "Today is my mother's birthday."

Christine frowned. Had he forgotten to send her present? Had he not gotten her anything after all? "You sent something?"

"Yes. I found a bottle, similar to what I remembered her collecting."

"And she didn't like it?"

"Oh, she was quite taken with it. I believe she was very happy." His jaw tightened and he looked down.

The last time she had seen him act this way was when his father was on board. Sarek. Who could be so disapproving. "Your father didn't like it?"

"I do not believe he saw the need for me to give a gift. He did not say anything, of course. Sarek would not be so rude. But his disapproval was more than apparent. I am, after all, very good at recognizing it since I was the cause of it so many times in my youth."

"He thought it too human a gesture?"

"Most probably." Spock seemed to be holding himself under extreme control. Seemed very much the Vulcan. She thought Sarek should see him now. The bastard would no doubt be proud.

"I think if you made your mom happy then to hell with your dad."

He slowly looked up at her.

"And I'd be willing to tell him that," she said more fiercely than she meant to.

His mouth began to turn up into what she was starting to recognize as a smile. "I believe you would." The smile faded; he looked down.

"Fathers. Dead or alive, they get to us." She reached out, touched his hand.

This time he allowed it. He sighed, and she realized it was a demonstration of trust that he did it in front of her.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"For Sarek? Do not be. This is an old problem between us."

"I know. I'm still sorry. And I'm sorry I overreacted."

He looked at her. "I am confused by your behavior. I do not know what it is I do that sets you off." He sighed again, more softly this time.

She stared at him. "I'm afraid of you. I'm afraid of loving you." She looked down. "I'm afraid of...I'm just afraid."

He did not speak for a long time, just stared at her, his expression soft, almost tender. "I know you have been under considerable stress. I do not wish to add to that. If you want me to stay away from you, I will." He held her eyes for a moment, then turned back to his terminal, as if he knew what her answer would be.

As if he knew her.

Was she such a coward? All he'd tried to do was be her friend. He hadn't asked her to love him. He hadn't really asked her for anything. Except that she go to dinner.

"Who'll keep me honest if you stay away?" she asked softly.

He looked up.

"I was thinking maybe if you were free for dinner..." She smiled at him wryly.

"You wish to share a meal? With me?"

She was enormously pleased to see the Vulcan eyebrow of irony begin to rise.

"Yes. I promise not to wolf my food down or bolt from the room."

"Do not make promises you may not be able to keep."

"I won't." She smiled at him. "Would you like to have dinner? Someday?"

He nodded. "I would like that."

Relieved, she turned to go. "Okay, then pick an evening and we'll go."

"Tonight."

She turned to look at him.

He shot her the eyebrow again. "I fear you will lose your nerve if I do not act quickly."

She laughed softly. "You may be right. Buzz me when you're ready?"

"I will." Again he gave her the minuscule smile.

It made her feel warm inside. But when the warmth faded, she could feel panic starting.

"It is a good thing to feel happy in another's presence. Is that not so?" he asked.

"You're scary," she said. "I thought you had to be touching someone to read their mind?"

He turned back to his work, a satisfied look on his face. "I will see you tonight, Christine."

She nodded, walked to the door, fighting down another feeling of panic. They had a date? Was she insane?

She swallowed hard.

They had a date. She was insane.

She looked back at him. He was staring at her, a fond expression on his face, not even seeming to care that she had caught him watching her.

She felt a slow smile spread across her face.

She might be insane, but it was a nice kind of madness.

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

Spock's chime rang again and he wondered if it was Christine coming back to say she had changed her mind. She had not appeared fully committed to the dinner scenario. He had never expected it to be this hard to win a little time with her. In the past, he would have bet that she would be what his roommate at the Academy had dubbed "the sure thing." She had turned out to be a long way from that.

"Come," he said softly, waiting as his door swooshed open.

Kirk entered, smiling his easy grin. "Time to knock off."

Spock looked at his chrono, was surprised to see that several hours had passed since Christine had come to apologize. "I did not realize it was so late."

Kirk leaned against the wall. "What are you working on?"

"I am attempting to link the attributes of the singularity we discovered to other known phenomena. I would like to be able to draw conclusions about its origin and capabilities."

"Any luck?"

Spock nodded. "I believe I have found a similar energy vortex on Lyciria. I will know more when I have completely correlated the data."

"Great. In the meantime, you interested in dinner and chess?"

"I have plans tonight, Jim."

"Really?" Kirk sat down in the chair opposite him. "With a certain doctor we both know?"

"It is possible," Spock said, watching as Kirk started grinning. "Jim, it is just dinner."

"Dinner with Christine." Kirk shook his head. "Keep it light, my friend. She's seriously gun shy when it comes to you."

"I am aware of that." Spock closed down his work and sat back. "I admit to having some trepidations about this evening."

"It's natural to be a little nervous. First date jitters." Kirk laughed softly. "I feel like your dad or something. Should I give you 'the talk'?"

Spock glared at him. "That will not be necessary."

"Should I give her the talk?" Kirk laughed harder. "She's a damned interesting woman, Spock. You do realize that?"

"I do." Spock frowned slightly. "I am not completely sure why I did not see that in the past."

"People change. Sometimes it takes awhile for someone to grow into herself. Or himself. I'd say you're both late bloomers." Kirk shot him a fond glance. "You're also both nice people. Caring, serious, driven. Find the similarities tonight, Spock. Hit them hard. Make her feel comfortable with you. And for god's sake, keep it light."

"You have said that already, Jim." Spock steepled his fingers, pursed his lips thoughtfully. "I am not sure I am capable of keeping it light."

"Try?" Kirk pushed himself out of the chair. "And try to have a good time. Remember, this is supposed to be fun."

"Yes. Fun."

Kirk shook his head, as if in surrender. He headed for the door.

"Jim?"

Kirk looked back.

"Did you ever consider seeing Christine on a social basis?"

Kirk gave him an odd smile. "I'm married to the ship, remember?"

"Jim? Please?"

Kirk took a deep breath. "I don't use the word delightful lightly, Spock. She's a fascinating woman. If things were different...maybe." He shook his head. "But things aren't different. And she makes a damned delightful friend too. And I can always use that." He gave Spock a slow smile, then turned and left.

Spock sat back, considering Jim's words. He had not found Christine particularly delightful yet. Perhaps tonight would be a chance to discover the woman of whom Jim was so fond.

If he could just keep it light.

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

Chapel sat back in her chair, trying not to take another look around the mess hall. She felt as if every eye was on her, which was ridiculous. Nobody cared that she was having dinner with Spock.

He came back with two glasses of water, set them down and sat in his graceful way. She let herself look at him, really look at him. He had aged more than she'd expected. While his hair was still dark and full, his face was more lined than the man she had lusted after for so long. He was starting to look craggy, almost careworn. It was a look he wore well.

"Why are you staring at me, Christine?" he asked softly. "I am reasonably certain I have nothing on my face."

"I'd tell you if you did." She smiled. "Just trying to see how you've changed over the years."

"Kohlinar is an extreme discipline. There was a point during it that I looked in the mirror and saw that I looked older. Much older." He shot her an eyebrow that seemed to say, "Imagine that?"

"I thought purging emotions would be good for the skin," she said with a smile. "No facial expressions, no wrinkles."

"If that were the case, then I would look very young indeed."

She laughed. "True."

He seemed to study her face. "You smile often, yet your skin is exceedingly smooth."

She could feel herself starting to blush. "Good genes and too much time in a lab instead of outdoors. Or maybe it's all those expensive beauty products."

"You do not seem the type."

"No?" She leaned forward. "Tell me, Spock. What do you know about the type?"

He smiled slightly. "My maternal aunt is what I believe was once called a society matron."

Chapel held up a hand. "Enough said. Tubs and pots and bottles line her vanity, I bet."

Spock nodded. "When I was younger, I offered her an analysis of the chemical efficacy of the compounds."

"Bet that went over well."

"It did not. She told me I did not understand the synergy of the ingredients."

Chapel rolled her eyes. "We both know science is all about synergy."

He seemed to smile again. "Yes, we do."

She could feel herself relaxing slightly. It was easy to talk about science. And easy to tease him. If he just kept things light, they'd be fine.

"You finished medical school quite quickly, did you not?"

"They let me test out of a lot of stuff. Something to be said for working in the flagship's sickbay after all." She grinned. "Not to mention that I already had two Ph.D.s. That went a long way towards credibility."

"I imagine so." He ate slowly, not rushing. "You never did say if you enjoy being a doctor?"

"No, I didn't, did I?" She smiled. "I do. But other than the nice office and the new title, there are times it doesn't feel that different."

He nodded thoughtfully. "I believe you often went far beyond the duties traditionally thought of for a nurse. As you were already serving in some capacities as a physician, it will not seem a dramatic change."

She hadn't thought of that. "You're right. I have Len to thank for that. He pushed me, let me grow. He didn't believe in keeping people down if they showed potential."

"Are you enjoying working with him again?"

She nodded.

"You were intended to be CMO, were you not?"

She laughed. "I was. But that was for Will, and he's off being a new life form. I don't think he's put a complaint in on my behalf yet." She grinned at Spock, was surprised to see him give her a small smile back.

"No, I do not believe that he has. I am sure he will attend to it soon."

She laughed. "Somehow I doubt that." She felt the pensive sadness come over. It happened whenever she thought of Will. "What do you think they became?"

Spock considered that. "They evolved into some form of pure energy. I believe the potential for them is unlimited."

"God?"

He shook his head. "I am not sure what that means in a scientific sense. But more evolved than us, certainly. V'ger's knowledge was beyond comprehension, Christine. The worlds it had visited, the technologies and information it had collected were immense. Add to that Commander Decker's natural curiosity, his great capacity for caring, and I believe the new entity will be something truly remarkable."

She felt tears sting her eyes. No one had ever put it quite that way before. She found the idea comforting. That Decker would humanize the V'ger part. That he'd keep doing good. She smiled. "He was a very nice man."

"And he was your friend. It is natural to feel his loss." He moved his hand toward her but then let it fall to the table without touching her. "You have recently had to deal with a great deal of loss, Christine. I understand that."

She looked up at him, saw that his expression was gentle, calm. He didn't look worried about her, was just stating a fact. Letting her be who she was, letting her feel what she felt. She slowly moved her hand, set it down on his. His skin was so warm. Comforting.

"Thank you," she said.

"For what?"

She smiled slowly, shrugged. As she drew her hand away, she felt herself fully relax. Spock was a nice man too. If she let him be.

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

Spock walked into sickbay. He had been waiting for Christine by the transporter room door for fifteen minutes. It was not like her to be late.

She rushed toward him. "We had a last minute emergency. Rock climbing accident. Broken leg. I'm going to be a few more minutes."

"I can return later. Or we can forego a visit to the planet."

"Miss shore leave? Not on your life." She indicated a chair. "I just have to check the bone placement once the regenerator finishes."

He sat, watching her as she worked. She ignored him, and he commended her sense of duty. She was dedicated to her profession. And quite proficient at it.

She was indeed a fascinating woman. Jim had been right--but then his friend usually was.

Jim had been right about keeping it light as well. Spock had worked hard to make their first dinner an occasion that would not threaten her, that would not spook her into running from him again. They had eaten together many times since then. A simple meal shared, usually just the two of them, sometimes with Kirk and McCoy. They occasionally ended the evening talking in the auxiliary observation lounge. That had become more common as she relaxed around him.

He saw her gently touch the young woman on the biobed, moving her leg as she checked the bones. She was so careful, so thorough. Her smile for her patient was a mixture of confidence and sweetness. An expression that imparted comfort and trust.

Spock looked away, saw one of the other doctors watching her too. Morrow. Spock decided the man might not be as safe as Christine seemed to think he was. He felt a surge of irritation, of territoriality. Wondered if that was a Vulcan or strictly human reaction to the man's interest in Christine.

Well, Spock would soon have her away from him. Away from everyone. He had grown tired of dinners, of the limitations of the few hours they spent together. He was anticipating spending more time, less structured time with her off the ship. In a new environment--an environment neither of them controlled or knew well. Where they would be on even footing, united in their exploration.

He almost smiled. He was becoming as whimsical as Jim.

"You loitering here for a reason, Spock?" McCoy said as he walked into sickbay.

Spock knew McCoy had been on the first shore leave rotation. He was here to relieve Christine.

"I am waiting for Doctor Chapel."

McCoy grinned. "Music to my ears, my friend. Music to my ears." He glanced Christine's way, seemed satisfied that he was not needed. Turning back to Spock, he said in a slow drawl. "Just what are your intentions toward my deputy, Mister Spock?"

Spock gave him his most eloquent eyebrow.

McCoy burst out laughing. "Yeah, I didn't think you'd tell me. I'll have to try that line on her.

Spock hoped he didn't.

McCoy read his expression perfectly, laid a quick hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry, Spock. I'm not going to mess things up for you." He smiled, then headed to his office.

Christine finished what she was doing and walked to McCoy's office. They conferred for a moment and then she ducked into her office, grabbing her casual clothes. She mouthed, "One minute," dramatically to Spock and headed for the staff locker room.

It had been his experience that with human females most time estimates for being ready had to be multiplied by a factor of five, perhaps seven. But she was back in just slightly over the time she said, smiling as she pulled her hair out of the clips that held it up.

She put her uniform in her office and tossed the clips on her desk. Her hair swung free at her shoulders and he suddenly wanted to touch it, to see what it would feel like. It had the sheen of Vulcan silk.

"Ready?" she asked.

He forced himself to focus on things besides the texture of her hair. "Yes."

"Let's go." She took in his uniform. "Guess casual clothes are out for you? Or are all your robes at the cleaner?"

He chose not to answer, just raised an eyebrow. She laughed loudly and he gave her the small smile that she so naturally pulled from him.

"Have you been to this planet before?' she asked as they headed into the transporter room.

"I have not."

"Then we'll explore it together." She smiled at him as they were transported from the Enterprise to the surface of Calexilon.

The first thing that hit him was the heat. It felt like Vulcan. But the atmosphere was more Earthlike, easier for her than Vulcan would be. He'd seen how difficult the harsh conditions had been for his mother. Although Christine struck him as somehow hardier than this mother, her tall, lanky form more resilient.

He no longer questioned that he thought about Christine's form, or how sturdy it might be. Or what other things she might be able to easily withstand. He forced his thoughts away from sex. He might no longer question that he seemed to think of it more often, but it did not mean he had to indulge himself shamelessly.

"Penny for your thoughts?" she asked.

He did not think a penny would be sufficient for his more lascivious thoughts, so he retreated to safer ground. "This place is much like Vulcan."

She nodded. "Hot enough to be." She opened a fastener on her shirt, letting air in at the neck.

He found himself fascinated with the movement, realized the fasteners went all the way down.

"What?" She looked concerned. "Are you feeling okay, Spock?"

He nodded quickly, too quickly. Forced his eyes away from her skin. It would not do to let her see how much he wanted her. It would be counter to the light approach that Jim had advocated, that Spock knew was the only way he could win her.

He wondered if Christine knew that a Vulcan could desire someone as much as Spock did her. That it was not only at the time of the Pon Farr that such thoughts rose, making it difficult to concentrate. It had been a shock to him when he realized his parents slept together, that they touched each other between the seven years. It should not have been surprising, nowhere did it say Vulcans could not desire...could not love. But he had assumed that his father, stern taskmaster that he was, treated his mother in much the same way as he did Spock. That she would come up wanting, would disappoint him. But she did not.

Spock was glad for her, even if he wished just once he could make Sarek proud.

"Spock?" Christine touched his hand lightly, the caress glancing.

He had the illogical urge to take her hand, to walk with her that way.

Her frown grew. "What's the matter?" There was something in her eyes, a suspicion, a fear.

He realized that she thought his reactions were due to the Pon Farr. He did not think she would ask him outright about it though. He must find a way to explain. A way that was light. He wondered if Jim would come down and do it for him. Give her 'the talk', once Spock explained the Vulcan birds and bees to his friend--what little Jim didn't already know. Spock's mouth turned up slightly.

She smiled, but her brows narrowed in confusion. She touched his hand again.

This time he did capture it briefly. Stroked her skin gently, reveling in her coolness. "I am very distracted today."

"I can tell. Is it an experiment? Do you need to go back to the ship?" She sounded like she hoped it was work that was distracting him.

He shook his head, drew her away from the beam-in sight, then dropped her hand again as they walked. "I am distracted by you."

She swallowed. "Oh."

"That is not a bad thing, Christine." He kept his tone casual. If he could just make her joke about this, they would be all right.

"But it's unusual." She took a deep breath. "I just hope it's not once every seven years unusual."

He glanced at her, surprised she would speak so frankly. Pleased that she would. It implied a level of trust that he had worried would not manifest between them. "It is not that, Christine. I simply enjoy your company. Exceedingly."

She smiled. "You do, huh?"

He nodded.

"Well, there's no accounting for taste."

He relaxed; she was joking. "No, there is not." He slowly let one eyebrow rise.

She laughed. "What do you want to do?"

He decided that finding a secluded place and making love to her was probably not an option. He chose the next best thing. "The museum here is reported to be excellent."

"The museum it is, then." She brushed up against him.

He could not tell if the movement was accidental or deliberate. He decided he did not care; he just hoped she would do it again.

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

Chapel followed Spock around the museum. He seemed to have settled down since they'd entered the huge building, losing himself in the exhibits of culture and history and art. But earlier, he had seemed so oddly distracted. By her, as he had himself admitted. For one brief moment, she'd even thought she'd seen a look of pure desire cross his face.

Desire for her. In the past, it would have seemed unlikely--impossible actually. But they'd been getting along so well, their dinners becoming more and more comfortable and fun. He joked with her more than she would ever have thought possible. Teased her gently, his humor scattered throughout more serious conversations about the ship, or science, or their pasts.

They even spent time with Jim and Len. She loved their dinners, invariably ended up spending the entire evening laughing as Spock played straight man for all three of them.

She could tell both Jim and Leonard approved of the relationship. Somehow, that made it easier to relax. If they didn't think Spock would hurt her, why should she?

She moved to the next room, lost herself in studying the textiles until Spock came up behind her, standing close to her. A few months ago, it would have made her nervous if he had stood this close. She would have wondered what he wanted, and why he wanted it. She would have obsessed over it.

He leaned in, his breath hot on her ear as he said, "This fabric reminds me of Escher's early works."

He was so close to her. She leaned back, barely had to move for her back to touch his chest. She felt him lean in, press slightly against her.

"It does look like Escher," she said quietly.

"My mother enjoys his work. She has a framed original drawing that she keeps in her study." He did not move away from her, in fact seemed to move closer.

Where their bodies touched an amazing amount of heat was being generated. She took a shaky breath, felt his hand rest lightly on her upper arm. She stared at the fabric, not wanting to move on, afraid to break the moment.

"Christine?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you for spending the day with me." He moved his hand down slowly, till their hands were touching.

She spread her fingers, felt his move to fill the space between.

"You're welcome," she said throatily.

The sound of someone coming up behind him made her turn to look. Spock pulled away, letting go of her hand. She smiled at him, was rewarded with one of his small smiles.

"We aren't doing anything wrong," she said as she followed him to the next exhibit.

"Not yet at any rate," he answered back, his tone light. Another joke. His way of teasing her.

She thought.

He turned to look at her. His eyes were intense, seemed to bore into her.

She decided she wouldn't want to bet the farm on him not being serious.

She waited until the other people had moved on, then she moved, stood next to him, let her hand rub up against his. She touched his wrist, and he took her hand in his, holding on tightly but not turning to look at her.

"Spock?"

He took a breath; it seemed to require a great deal of effort. "Yes, Christine?"

"If you could do anything you wanted at this moment, what would it be?"

He turned to look at her and the answer was in the way his gaze raked over her before he met her eyes. "What would you choose to do?"

She grinned, squeezed his hand. "Not fair. I asked you first."

He looked away.

"What?"

"My answer may not please you."

"I asked. I must want to know."

"Logical." He shot her a look that was light again.

She smiled. "So? What would it be?"

"As long as I could be with you, I would be satisfied with any activity."

She laughed. "You have been hanging around Jim too much. Talk about the charming evasion." She moved closer, whispered, "Tell me?"

He did not answer, but his grip on her hand tightened briefly.

"Should I guess?" She could hear the note of teasing in her voice, a note she had never used with him before. Coy. Flirtatious.

"Guessing would be acceptable," he said.

So a Vulcan could flirt back? She smiled. "Does it involve the two of us, this activity you'd like to be doing?"

He shot her a look she could only classify as playful. "No, I thought we would each need a team of ten."

She laughed, saw him react to her spontaneous enjoyment. Again his hand tightened on hers. "Hmm, so twenty of us."

"Twenty-two, Christine. Ten each in addition to you and me. But upon reflection, perhaps the two of us will be sufficient." He turned away from the exhibit, faced her.

"Does it involve science?"

"Biology."

She smiled. She had not expected him to be able to make light of sex this way. "I'm good at biology."

"I am as well."

She pushed him toward the next exhibit. He drew her with him, not letting go of her hand.

"Is it enjoyable, this activity?" she asked.

"Yes, if done correctly, it is most enjoyable."

"And if done incorrectly?" She saw his look and answered for him, "It's still pretty good?"

He nodded then looked away, seemingly entranced by the plain brown cloth that was displayed before him.

"Embarrassed, Spock?"

"Not at all. Are you, Christine?"

"No." She marveled at that. She was engaging in seductive banter with Spock. And it wasn't embarrassing at all. They were joking about having sex. Only she could tell from the way he was holding her hand, the way he occasionally glanced at her as they stood in front of this very boring display that this was no joke. He wanted her. Very much.

Possibly as much as she wanted him.

"Is it a good idea, this activity of yours?"

He swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing. He turned to look at her, his expression more concerned now than intense. "I am unsure."

She was touched at his worry. "I think it might be okay."

"You do?"

She nodded slowly.

His expression shifted, away from concern back to lust. And it was lust, she could see that now.

She smiled. "You want me?"

"I do." He seemed relieved to be saying it.

"When?"

"Would 'five minutes ago' be an insensitive response?"

She laughed. "No. It would be an honest one."

He nodded, affection in his gaze, in the way he touched her cheek so briefly. "I can, however, wait until you are ready."

"I appreciate that."

"Do you have any idea when that moment will be?"

He sounded like a little boy. She laughed at the wistfulness in his expression, the longing in his voice. Laughed and leaned forward to give him a kiss on the cheek. His skin was warm and soft under her lips.

She pulled away slightly, then moved so that her lips brushed his lightly, softly. His hand came up, pressing on her back, pushing her closer.

Voices in the next room made them jump apart. The look he gave her made her laugh. It was one of extreme annoyance that they had been disturbed.

As she backed away from him, she said softly, "Soon, Spock. I'll be ready soon."

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

As Spock followed Christine around the minerals display, he decided that the word "soon" lacked specificity, and should, in fact, be stricken from the language. He glanced at Christine, decided it would not do to ask her to refine her answer. She wanted him too. That would have to be enough data for now.

She turned to look at him, then moved close, pressing against him in a way that would have been most inappropriate if they had not been alone in the darkened room. He allowed himself to hold her, to pull her close. He was kissing her before he could think better of it.

Her lips were soft, cool under his. Her body so strong as she pressed against him. He forced himself not to groan. He could not remember ever being this aroused outside of the Pon Farr.

But then he had never before spent months pursuing someone, getting to know her, the way he had with Christine.

He forced himself to pull away from her, realized that the signs of his arousal were very evident. "Perhaps you could leave me alone for a moment?" He looked down, trusted she would understand.

She brushed her hand down his chest, and kept going.

He did groan when she moved over him. "Christine, please."

She smiled up at him in a new way, a pleased way. She understood, finally. What she did to him. What he wanted from her. The power she held over him.

"Do Vulcans have meaningless sex, Spock?" Her hand brushed over him again as she waited for the answer.

"Not as a rule." He grabbed her hand when she seemed about to make a third pass. "Certainly that would not be the case here. I care for you."

She gently pulled her hand away. "I care for you too. And just in case you were wondering, I'm ready. Now." She turned and walked out, giving him the privacy he'd asked for.

Her words echoed in his ears. He suddenly wished he'd worn one of his robes. It was a long time before he could leave the room.

She turned as he walked toward her. The seductive smile she gave him almost forced him to return to the minerals room.

"Calculate Pi to the fiftieth decimal place." She grinned at him. "And do it fast."

Fortunately, she did not look down. He thought he would have been lost if she had. "Where?" he managed to get out.

"Well, there's the ship. There's a guest lodging here. Or there's the great outdoors." She looked at him teasingly. "Personally, I'd rather not go for option number three. We could get cited for disorderly conduct."

"That would be unfortunate. We would lose precious time."

"My thoughts exactly." She seemed to be careful not to touch him as they walked out of the museum. "There are benefits to being off the ship."

"Yes." He began to weigh them against the costs, then realized the computations were not helping his physical state. He quickly went back to figuring Pi.

"On the other hand, there are pros to being in our quarters. We wouldn't have to go back when shore leave is over, for instance."

Spock realized that at this point he didn't care where they did it, just that they did it.

She laughed at his expression. "Doesn't really matter much to you, does it?"

He shook his head. "Should I regret that?"

She smiled. "I'll take it as a compliment. Hmmm. Which should it be?" She stopped walking, tapped her forefinger against her lips as if in great thought.

He realized she was teasing him and pushed her toward the beam-out site. "We do not have to check into our quarters. Moreover, we do not have to check out of them and return to the ship. Utilizing our quarters will allow us at least thirty additional minutes."

She grinned. "Wow, that logic stuff is useful."

He considered calling the Enterprise and asking for immediate beam-up, but unlike when he had done it for her, he could see no real need except to end this torment of desire. He walked on, glad to see that she was keeping up easily, seemed to be as intent on getting back to the ship as he was.

"Spock?"

"Yes."

"Thank you."

He glanced over at her. "Did I do something pleasant?"

She laughed. "For not giving up on me. I'm not sure why you didn't, but I'm glad that you didn't."

"Many years ago, you did not give up on me. I am merely returning the favor."

"Awww. That's so sweet."

He tried not to look too pleased. He had thought it was a Jim-worthy response also. It was, at times, very useful having such a charming friend.

"Spock?"

"Yes?"

"You do realize that we're practically running, right?"

He had not realized that. He slowed his pace, heard her laugh. "You are enjoying this far too much, Doctor Chapel."

"Why, Mister Spock, I thought enjoyment was the idea."

The raw seduction in her voice made him want her even more.

They finally arrived at the spot they had beamed down to. Spock nodded to the security officer who kept the area clear whenever someone beamed in, then tried to relax as they beamed back to the ship.

As they walked quickly out of the transporter room, she said softly, "We get to that age old question, Spock. Your place or mine?"

"Mine is three decks closer."

"Problem solved." She followed him to his.

The lift took forever to arrive; he would have to have the technicians run diagnostics. It seemed particularly slow in reaching his deck, as well. He considered stopping the lift, pulling her toward him, but knew that would not be wise.

"Eager?" she whispered, as if she had read his mind.

"Yes." He looked over at her.

She smiled. "Me too."

The doors finally opened and he charged out. She seemed to be deliberately walking with agonizing slowness. The corridor was empty so he grabbed her hand and pulled her after him. She laughed; the delightful sound filled his ears.

Yes, she was delightful. He no longer needed to wonder what Jim meant. And in a few moments, he would know far more about her than his friend did.

He hoped. He was still not completely clear on the nature of his friend's past relationship with her. He decided not to dwell on it. She was his now.

He palmed open his door, moved quickly through them, pulling her after him. As soon as the door closed, he locked it, then pulled her into his arms.

He tried to go slow, but the feel of her arms around his neck, her lips against his, were making him mad with desire. "Christine, I wish to make this good--"

"--Shh. It will be." She pulled him back, kissed him again, her body pressing against his, making him respond to her.

He surrendered to sensation, to raw desire, to love. Yes, he loved her. He wanted her. He cared for her. He remembered how V'ger had not understood this, wondered briefly if it did now. Pitied it if it didn't.

He pulled away from her, stared at her. Touching her cheek, he let his hand move back to her hair. It did feel like silk. "I love you," he whispered to her.

Her grip on him tightened, her eyes went very soft. He saw no fear, no hesitation when she said, "I love you too."

He slowly undid her shirt, taking pleasure as each fastener came loose, enjoying the sight of her skin, her body as it was revealed to him. She was so strong, so lovely. He pushed the shirt off her, ran his fingers over her stomach, her chest, across her shoulders.

He could feel her arousal through his touch, wondered if she could feel any of his the way she had felt him when he'd tried to help her after her father died.

She began to undo his uniform, her hands shaking a bit, so he pulled her back to him, kissed her for a long time, until the taste of her and feel of her and smell of her became familiar. Became home.

She went back to her task, her hands steady this time as she pushed his uniform off. He removed the rest of her clothes, followed her down to the bed. He lost himself in her body, in the way she bucked up against him, the way she cried out as she surrendered to the pleasure they were creating. At the way she held him when he cried out.

"Christine," he murmured, over and over as he loved her.

They put those extra thirty minutes to good use.

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

"You look well rested," Kirk said as he walked into sickbay. Then he grinned. "Actually, you don't. Enjoyed your shore leave, did you?"

Christine smiled, tried to make it an innocent smile but knew she failed when he laughed.

"I won't press, Christine." He sat down in the chair by her desk. "Just tell me you're happy."

She smiled again, touched his hand. "I'm happy, Jim."

They shared a long look. She finally looked away.

"Spock seems pretty chipper too. For a Vulcan anyway. A Vulcan who got absolutely no sleep."

She refused to rise to the bait.

"He's happy. You're happy. My friends are happy. What could be better?"

"Maybe you should find someone?" She smiled gently, wanted to share the way she felt.

"I'm married to the ship, Christine. Remember?"

She nodded slowly. "On Earth you weren't. Why didn't you find someone then?"

"I thought I did. I thought I'd found it all with Lori."

She looked down. "I'm sorry. I should learn to think before opening my mouth."

"It's okay." He waited until she looked up at him, then shot her a wry grin. "I'll let you in on a little secret. I'm not so good at romance."

She thought back over the years, realized he was right. That seemed so unfair to her. That he shouldn't be good at romance, shouldn't be lucky at love. "Maybe that'll change?"

He stood up, smiled. The golden-boy, one hundred percent, I'll worry about it tomorrow, Kirk grin. "Maybe it will." He leaned down and kissed her cheek. "I'm glad you're happy. You deserve to be."

Then he left. A few moments later, she heard him talking to McCoy.

"He is happy for us?"

She looked up, saw Spock at the doorway. "He is. And aren't you supposed to be in command if he's down here?"

"Mister Sulu is more than capable. And I wanted to see you." The look he gave her was full of tenderness and desire.

She smiled at him. Then she yawned. "I'm exhausted. In a good way."

"I suppose I must allow you some sleep tonight?"

She could feel her smile turn into a leer. "I'm not so sure about that. I can go quite a while with no sleep. I did it before."

His look changed, became tenderer but also more firm. "I will not have you get to that state because of me." He reached out his hand to her.

She reached back, their fingertips barely touching. She smiled up at him. "I'll see you later?"

"I was anticipating that."

"Good."

He dropped his hand, and she heard McCoy and Kirk coming back.

"Why, Spock. Did you come to see me?" McCoy looked into the office, winked at her. "Because I know you didn't wander all the way down here just to talk to Christine."

Spock raised an eyebrow and she laughed.

Kirk pulled McCoy away. "We'll leave you two alone. Although I could have sworn I gave you the conn, Spock." He grinned at her, then followed McCoy out.

"Guess you should get up to the bridge."

He nodded, turned to go, then looked back at her. "I am...glad that I melded with V'ger."

She smiled. "So am I."

They stared at each other, the moment stretching out impossibly. Then he turned and left.

A second later he was back, closing her door, hitting the privacy screens, and then turning to her, pulling her into his arms for a very long, very loving kiss. She let herself fall into him, into the moment, into the love she felt for him, the love she'd never stopped feeling for him but had been so afraid to acknowledge.

"I love you," he whispered.

Then he was gone.

She smiled. Wondered if Will was looking down on her now from wherever he was, smiling that she was finally happy.

She hoped so.

FIN