Here Be Dragons by Djinn

Part 2 of 2

Christine took a deep breath before ringing the door chime. I have to do this, she repeated silently. I have to do this.

The door opened and an elderly man looked out. She could tell he was trying to place her.

"Admiral Farrell?"

"Yes." Recognition suddenly dawned and he smiled. "Christine, you didn't have to come all this way."

She smiled. "I was on Earth for another reason. I thought I'd come see how you were doing."

"Come in." He moved aside to let her in. "You'll have to excuse the mess."

The house was immaculate. She smiled at him. "There's never a mess here, sir."

"I like things--"

"Ship shape and Bristol fashion," she finished. "Yes, I remember."

"Sit down. Can I get you something?"

She shook her head. "I just wanted to say how sorry I am. About Ren. I know that doesn't even begin to cover what's been taken away from you but I wanted you to know how much I miss her." She found herself choking up and rushed through the last part.

He sat down next to her and took her hand. Patting it, he said, "I miss her too. I've been putting away her things. Trying to decide what to do with them. She always told me to leave her room be unless something happened to her." He looked down. "My baby girl."

"She loved you."

He nodded. "I know. Rennie was my girl. It was just the two of us against the world for so long. Now it's just me." He shook himself, as if he could get rid of his pain that way. "Can you tell me how it happened? I'm getting stonewalled on this end every time I ask."

"We're not sure exactly. We don't even know who did it." She tried to decide how much to tell him and finally settled on asking, "Did Ren ever mention doing work on the side...for some section?"

Farrell stiffened.

"Sir?"

He seemed to almost force himself to relax as he shook his head and said, "She sure didn't, dear."

"She never went away on missions that couldn't be explained by her normal work?"

"What do you want me to say, Christine?" He gave her an intense look. "It might be better if you didn't go around asking questions like this."

"Better?"

He sighed and his look turned very sad. "Safer."

She stared at him. There was definitely a warning in his expression before he tore his eyes away, rising suddenly. "There's something here for you. I almost forgot." He disappeared down the hall and a minute later was back, carrying an envelope. "She wanted you to have this. Said not to give it to you unless something happened to her. Said it was important."

She took the envelope; saw the hasty scrawl that was Ren's handwriting. "Thank you."

"You going to open it?"

She nodded. "Later."

"Fair enough," he said as she pushed it into the pocket of her coat. "Why don't you let me take you to lunch and you can tell me all about this brand new ship of yours? I hear it's quite a wonder?"

She stood up. "I'd like that."

He held out his arm and Christine took it, trying not to think that it should have been Ren and not her that was here with him--that somehow it was her fault Ren wasn't.

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

Saavik's neighborhood had an Asian flavor, and Spock walked slowly through the narrow street, savoring the smells. He stopped at a store window, his attention caught by a small figurine. As he walked in, the shopkeeper looked up, "Something I can help you with?"

"There is a goddess in the window."

The man smiled. "There are lots of goddesses in the window. Which one do you like?"

Spock pointed at the one that had caught his eye.

"Green Tara. Good choice." The man removed her from the display and wrapped her in tissue. Handing her to Spock, he rang up the sale and entered Spock's account number.

"Thank you," Spock said as he put the statue in his pocket and walked out.

"Come back again," the man called after him.

Spock wondered if he would be in the neighborhood again. His relationship with Saavik had been anything but warm for some time. He checked the address he had written down and turned down a path between two larger buildings, following it to a small house that sat behind them, surrounded by gardens. He looked for a chime to ring but found none. Some wind chimes hung over the doorway and he reached up and tapped the clapper. A loud, resonant tone sounded.

He heard her footsteps behind him and without turning, said, "Saavikam, it has been a long time."

"Yes," she said, as she brushed past him and opened the door. "It has." She turned, her arms full of flowers. "Come in, Spock. I was just in the garden. You are earlier than I expected. I have not even made tea yet."

"I do not need tea."

"Nevertheless, it is customary." She studied him. "Do you still prefer green?"

"Whatever you have is fine."

"I have green as well as others. Which do you prefer?"

Her face was perfectly Vulcan in its cool disdain. Where was the vibrant young girl he had known? The one that had work so hard to tame her Romulan side? "I prefer green," he finally answered.

"I will make that then." She indicated he should go into the other room. "Make yourself at home."

He knew she did not mean that literally. Wandering around the small living room, he realized that several of the statues she had displayed had been in Kirk's house. He picked one up that he remembered giving to Jim. It was the carving of a sea captain, legs braced wide against the ocean swell, a spyglass at his eye. It had reminded Spock of Jim when he'd first seen it and it still did.

"Do you want that back?" Saavik asked as she carried in a tray.

"He did not leave to me."

"He didn't leave it to me either. I took it because I liked it. But you gave it to him." She laughed and the sound surprised him. When he turned to look at her, she turned an elegant eyebrow up. "I am still half Romulan, Spock. And I have learned to come to terms with that. He helped me."

Little hellcat, he thought, Saavik's childhood nickname coming easily to him now. So angry then. So angry now. "You were quite close?"

She sat and poured his tea. "We were not lovers if that is what you are asking. Although many seemed to think so. He was kind to me at a time when you were not. He was a--"

"Father to you," he finished for her. "Yes, I know."

She handed him his tea, the picture of civilized refinement. He had the feeling she would have preferred to hurl it in his face. He took a sip then set it on the side table. "I am sorry, Saavikam."

She shrugged. "How could I compete with Valeris? She outshone me in every possible way." She cocked her head and studied him. "She hurt you, didn't she?"

He nodded.

"Good." She picked up the teapot. "More tea?"

He shook his head. "Yet you never said a word."

"What was I supposed to say, Spock? That you needed to love me too? That you needed to remember me? That I was lost when you died, and even more lost when you came back and didn't know who the hell I was?" She breathed deeply and sipped her tea. "At least with Jim you were able to forge new memories."

He looked down. "I wish things had been different. I regret...I regret much."

She studied him for a long time. "I believe you do. You are different, Spock. What has happened to you?"

"Life has happened, Saavikam. As it always does."

Her mask of politeness dropped and she let him see a moment of true emotion. "I heard about Amanda. I am deeply sorry. You know I loved her."

He nodded. "Thank you."

The mocking look returned. "Something else has happened to you though. What is it? It can't be that you're in love. You've been there before and we know how much that mattered in the face of your stubborn pride."

He tried not to let her see how her words hit home.

"What then? Can you not tell me, Spock? For old time's sake?" She shot him a scornful glance. "Why are you suddenly so approachable?"

"You were half right, little hellcat."

She smiled at the nickname. "Then I was half wrong. Explain it to me."

"I think not."

She stared at him intently. "Perhaps you have finally lost in love? Is that it? The one you love doesn't want you? Now that's rich."

"Is mocking all you can do?"

Her expression changed instantly to one of outright rage. "He died alone."

"I had a ship to launch."

"You could have been there. You could have postponed. He would have in your place."

"I did not think to do so."

She stood up and began to pace. "Whose name do you suppose was on his lips when he died? Who do you think he was probably thinking of?" She turned her back to him, breathing hard, trying to regain control of herself. "He loved you and you were off with your new ship and your new crew." She turned suddenly. "This person is on your crew aren't they? Even then you were replacing him?"

"You don't know how it was between us. And you don't understand my current situation."

"Then tell me. He wouldn't. No matter what you did, he wouldn't speak badly of you. 'You don't understand him, Saavik,' he'd say to me. And he was right. I didn't understand you. I still don't. I never will. Even after Valeris betrayed you, you didn't come back." She angrily wiped her eyes. "He loved you and you just walked away from him."

Spock closed his eyes. "That is not true. You know that we tried for a while to make it work, Saavikam. But too much time had gone by. Too many things that we could not do over again. Too many things in our past getting in the way. Valeris. Antonia."

"Antonia was good for him. But she wasn't you."

"And that was probably for the best. It might have worked for them. If he had been different."

"You blame him?"

He fought back frustration. He did not speak of this. It was too painful. How did one explain love that was too much, too strong? That would not die but could not be contained either? "He moved on, as did I. Without acrimony. We knew that we would always love one another. But we also knew that we could not make it work any longer. It was the way it was, and we accepted that. Why is it just you that cannot let go of what was?" He stood up and walked across the room to her. "Perhaps you should admit that the problem was that I never came back for _you_?"

"Why would I care?" Her words were tough, but the sob that accompanied them told another story.

"Little one, if I did anything wrong it was to abandon you as if you had never meant the world to me. That was wrong. I freely admit it. I do not know how to make it up to you, or even if I can. I do not know if it is too late for us. But I would like the chance to try."

She stared at him and all he saw in her eyes was hatred.

"Little hellcat," he said softly. "I was wrong. Please forgive me?"

At his words, her expression shifted to one of utter confusion.

"Please, Saavikam. I am sorry. Too many years have gone by. I don't want any more to pass with this enmity between us."

She stared at him, unshed tears bright in her eyes. "I loved you and you didn't even care. I lost everything to Genesis. You. David. My future."

He nodded. "I know."

She sniffed and wiped her eyes. "Are you expecting me to just throw myself in your arms and then everything will be all right?"

"Expecting, no. Hoping is perhaps the better word." He took a step toward her, then another. Reaching out, he touched her hair; let his hand run down the course strands he had tried so hard to tame when she was younger.

She stared at him while he touched her. "I kept you alive on Genesis."

He met her eyes, not sure what she was trying to say.

"The burning..."

Why had that never occurred to him? "Saavikam, I beg forgiveness."

"I couldn't let you die." She suddenly collapsed into his arms. "I loved you. I had to keep you with us. For me. For him. You were the only father I'd known."

"Shhh," he pulled her closer and let her cry out her anger and pain. "I'm so sorry, little one."

They stood there for a long time, then he felt her relax slightly and he led her over to the couch.

"I cannot make up the time we've lost."

"No, you can't." Her look was fierce, then it became gentler. "Maybe we could start over. From this point forward."

He nodded.

"If only Valeris had never existed," Saavik whispered.

"But she did. She does."

She looked startled. "You haven't heard?"

"Heard what?"

"She went mad. In prison. They had to move her to a different facility. The Valeris you knew is no more."

He felt as if he'd been punched. Mad? She'd gone mad? The meld he'd forced...

"Spock?"

He pushed Valeris ruthlessly from his mind. He would not allow her to come between Saavik and him again. "That is a pity. A waste of a brilliant mind."

Saavik seemed satisfied by his answer. She gingerly reached for his tea and handed him the saucer. "It's gone cold."

He smiled slightly. "That's all right. I imagine it will still taste as sweet."

She grinned. "Would you like to see the garden?"

He nodded. "Will you tell me how you are? What your path is now?"

"It's a long story."

"I have plenty of time."

Her happy smile was reward enough, he thought, as he followed her out to her flowers.

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

Christine knelt in front of the small plaque on the lowest row of the columbarium. Two of her friends, this close together. "Captain Montgomery Scott," she read softly. "Lieutenant Commander Renata Farrell." The space was too small to include much more than the pertinent dates. She knew that Ren's ashes lay behind the beautifully inscribed silver. Scotty's remains were lost forever. The space behind his name was empty, as were many of the others in the long marble line. "Wherever you are, Scotty," she whispered. "I hope you're happy."

She put the flowers she'd bought in the small vases attached to the plaques. Farrell's was empty, but Scotty's already had several flowers in it. She had to work to get the red rosebud into the small space. As she did, she had a strange certainty that someone was watching her. It wasn't a scary feeling, more like a warm rush of presence. She smiled and turned, saying, "Spock."

He was standing a few feet from her. His eyebrow went up as she said his name. "I did not think you heard me come up."

"I didn't," she said as she rose and walked over to him. "I just knew it was you."

"Knew?"

She thought about the feeling she'd had. "I sensed you."

"Fascinating. Do you often do that?"

She thought about it. "On the ship, I usually know where you are. I mean if you're in your ready room. Or off the bridge entirely."

He nodded. "But like this?"

She shook her head. "Weird, huh?"

"As is much of our interaction of late," he gave her a small smile and reached into the pocket of his uniform coat. "I thought you might like this. To add to your collection."

Christine unwrapped the package and examined the small brass goddess. "She's beautiful."

"The vendor said she was Tara."

"Green Tara," Christine corrected as she studied the goddess's face. "I don't have her yet."

"I did not remember seeing her among the others."

"Good memory." She put it carefully in her pocket next to the envelope Renata's father had given her. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he said as he turned and walked slowly down the length of the columbarium.

She hesitated for a moment, knowing where he was going but uncertain if she was welcome.

He turned and held out his hand. "Come with me?"

She smiled softly and hurried to join him, taking his hand and feeling a spark of tenderness rush through her as she did so. Her eyes met his. "It really does seem to happen every time we touch now."

He nodded.

"Is it unpleasant for you?" she asked.

His eyes were very gentle as he shook his head. "Is it for you?"

"No," she said, and felt him tighten the grasp.

They walked in silence toward the marble structure that was reserved for Starfleet's greatest heroes. The inside was warm and quiet, recessed lighting giving way to discreet spotlights over each luminary. No one else was inside. "Captain James Tiberius Kirk," Christine said quietly. The memorial was tasteful and very cold. "He would hate this," she finally said.

"Yes," Spock answered. "He wanted to be buried underneath the pines on the property he loved so much. Not here in this cold marble."

"Didn't Saavik fight this?"

"As his executor she could have...if there had been a body. But this is only a memorial. It is not up to her, to any of us, to say how Starfleet will honor him."

She could feel the sadness welling up within him where their hands touched. She expected him to let go but instead he pulled her closer. "I miss him," he said simply. "I miss her too...my mother."

She leaned her head on his shoulder. "I know. I miss Ren. And my mom, even after all this time." She could feel him react to her own pain as he rested his face against her hair. "It never really goes away. The hole they leave."

"No. It does not."

"We just get better at covering it up."

"Or avoiding it," he said softly. "Pretending as if it isn't there, was never there."

She nodded. "As if they never lived." She thought of Farrell's empty vase.

"They live as long as we remember them. That is how the saying goes, is it not?"

She smiled. "It is."

They stood that way for some time before he led them back outside. He pulled her hand up, studying their clasped fingers. "Flesh to flesh...such a comfort," he murmured.

Again she felt the tenderness, then he let go of her. His expression seemed very sad before his more professional mask slipped in place. "How did your meeting with Mr. Farrell go?"

"It was hard. But I needed to do it. He gave me a letter Ren wrote me."

"A real letter?"

She nodded. "Must have been a while ago that she wrote it. She would have just commed me if it had been while she'd been on the ship."

"Yes," he agreed.

"How was your visit with Saavik?"

"It ended pleasantly. I was not sure at first that would be the case. But she prospers. And finds her own way to live."

He fell silent and she sneaked a look at his face. He seemed troubled. "What is it?"

"She had news of Valeris."

When he didn't continue, she asked, "Bad news?"

He nodded. "She went mad in prison."

Christine sighed. "Some people cannot take captivity, Spock. It's been proven in quite a lot of studies."

"It was the meld," he said so quietly she almost couldn't make out the words. "The meld I forced on her."

"You don't know that. Did Saavik say that?"

He shook his head and walked a little faster.

Christine touched his arm, stopping him. "You didn't do this to her. She made a choice."

"I hurt her, Christine." He looked down. "I wanted to hurt her."

She reached up and touched his cheek gently. "And you regret that. I felt how much you regret it when you had to do the same thing to me."

He covered her hand with his own, pushing her palm tightly against his face. A wave of self-loathing passed through her. Then regret and shame.

"No," she said as she pulled his head to her own, letting their foreheads touch. "You didn't do this." She put every bit of her certainty into her words, tried to make him feel that she believed in him. "She made a choice, so did you. It is what is. You can't change it, Spock. But I don't believe you did this to her. It may have pushed her over the edge, but she was teetering already."

"You did not know her. She was confidence personified."

"On the outside, but what was her true mental state? You can never really know that." She let go of his face and pulled away. "What did you feel when you forced the meld? Confidence?"

He nodded.

"What else?"

He thought carefully before answering. "Cunning. Pride. Hatred. Rage. Fear."

"Those things can eat you alive, Spock. You know that."

He didn't reply for a long moment. Then in a shamed voice he said, "She laughed at me."

"What?"

"When I melded with her. She laughed at me. She taunted me. Said that I would never hurt her because I wanted her, because I loved her."

"And you did."

He nodded. "I did love her. Was so proud of her. But in that moment, I hated her more than I had ever hated anyone. I wanted to hurt her and I did."

"All right, you did. But now, you're a different person. I know that. You need to know that."

"And she can never know that." He turned away. "She will never know that I regret my actions."

"Spock, if she really knew you at all, she'll know that."

He looked at her. "Is your faith in me so unshakeable? I was unkind to you not very long ago."

"You were hurting," she said, faltering slightly as she realized where he was going with his logic. "And being unwilling to share is not the same thing as being unkind."

"You are determined to not see my logic."

"You're right," she said, as she led him in the direction of their hotel. "I know the truth. And the truth is you didn't cause this. She caused it when she chose betrayal."

He suddenly shivered. "I spoke of Valeris once with my mother and she told me that we choose betrayal because it often seems the shortest road to what we most want."

"Your mother was a wise woman, Spock."

"She would have liked you." His expression was very tender as he corrected his statement. "She would have loved you."

As they entered the hotel, she smiled back. "And I would have loved her."

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

Janice waited as Sulu placed a chrysanthemum blossom in the small vase attached to the grave marker. She closed her eyes for a moment, sending her own version of good will and remembrance to Lieutenant Selto, Sulu's first casualty after taking command. There had been others since but Sulu always visited Selto's grave first. Except for today when a stop at Scotty's marker had come first. She smiled. Her captain was a man of tradition but not a hidebound one.

He looked up at her and as his eyes met hers, she felt her tension drain away. He had always had this power: the ability to make her feel at home and safe. It was why she had valued his friendship for so long. And why she had always been reluctant to ever reach for more. The thought of losing this refuge had been more than she could stand.

He rose gracefully and walked up to her. "A penny for them?"

She shook her head. "You'd be getting gypped."

He chuckled. "I'm never that when I'm with you."

"Always the charmer, Hikaru," she teased gently. They both knew he was anything but a womanizer, and that she was anything but immune to him. She may have been afraid to reach out for more, but he hadn't been. His campaign had been gentle, considerate, and utterly ruthless. By the time it had occurred to her to resist, it was too late. Not that it was easy being lovers--they had to be discreet but she didn't mind. Knowing he was there made everything else that had gone wrong in her personal life bearable.

They worked their way over to Scotty's newly inscribed plaque. Sulu's white chrysanthemum had been joined by several other flowers. Janice looked around to see if she could spot anyone she knew but the cemetery around them seemed empty. She looked down the row at the heroes' hall.

"Do you want to pay your respects?" Sulu asked, following her gaze.

"I already did. Yesterday."

He grinned. "So did I."

"Guess we both wanted to remember Kirk our own way." She made a sheepish face.

"I've learned to not even try to compete with him," Sulu said with a wry smile. "Besides, he was the best role model I ever had. The finest captain I've ever served with."

She nodded. "Me too." Janice was about to say more when her attention was captured by two familiar figures walking out of the hall.

Sulu turned to see what she was looking at just as Spock lifted his hand. They could see that he held Christine's hand in his.

"Well that's not something you see everyday," Sulu mused. "Gotta give her credit. It may have taken all these years, but she got him."

Janice watched Spock drop Christine's hand as the two walked away from where she and Sulu stood. Spock and Christine appeared to be having an intense conversation, made even more intense when she reached out to stop him and, standing very close to him, touched him more than Janice would ever have believed Spock would allow. Why hadn't Christine mentioned this? Why had she only referred to her colonel? "But she's with someone else, Hikaru."

He made a dismissive sound. "I hope he's not too fond of her."

"No, I mean it. I know what Chris sounds like when she's in love, and when she was telling me about him she sounded like that. She loves him."

Sulu indicated the still touching couple. "Then what do you call that?"

"I'm not sure. I wonder if they are?"

"This other guy, he's on the Carter?"

Janice nodded. "Head of security. Special forces too. Randall Kerr." She frowned again. "Does that sound familiar to you? Because I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out where I know that name from."

Sulu considered for a moment, then said, "Starbase 14. We'd stopped in at the lounge while we picked up supplies for Gamma Epsilon. Wasn't he that big guy that was with Christine's friend?"

Janice pointed down at Farrell's plaque. "Her you mean?"

He frowned. "Yeah."

"I think you're right. He was the one that looked a bit like--"

"I'm well aware of who he looked like," Sulu said with a stern look. "Why do you think I hustled you out of there?"

"You never let me have any fun."

"I'm a nice guy but I'm not stupid, Jana." He grinned.

"No, you're anything but stupid." She was still puzzled. "I wonder what they were doing together. Renata didn't go for guys. Even ones that looked a lot like a certain captain we both knew."

Sulu shrugged. "It's a big galaxy. Especially if you're a special forces type."

"But Renata Farrell wasn't that type. I guess it really doesn't matter. It looks like Chris has other things on her mind right now than how I might know her boyfriend. Her other boyfriend. I mean...god, this is confusing."

"You don't suppose the three of them?" Sulu asked very quietly.

She slugged him in the arm. "Hikaru, that is insane. Can you see Spock doing that?"

"You were the one that said this Kerr guy looked like Kirk," Sulu grinned devilishly.

"I won't listen to this. I just won't." She put her fingers in her ears and sang, "La la can't hear you la la."

He laughed and gestured surrender. When she unplugged her ears, he said, "Let's get some dinner, Commander Rand."

"Isn't it a little early for dinner, Captain Sulu?"

"Gives us time for other things," he said as his look became very predatory.

She didn't have to reply. They both knew that she loved that look.

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

Kerr was missing Christine more than he liked to admit, even to himself.

It's just a memorial; he'd tried to tell himself a hundred times since she had left. Just because she and Spock are going to it together doesn't mean that anything is going to happen.

If he were Spock... Kerr frowned. If he were Spock he knew exactly what he'd want. The same thing Kerr wanted. Christine.

The chime of an incoming comm interrupted his reverie. He hit the switch, hoping it would be Christine. As the screen lit up, he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Renata Farrell looked back at him.

"Well, hey there, Randy. You're probably feeling pretty safe about now?" She grinned meanly. "Or else your whole world has gone to hell, which would be my personal preference."

"Ren?"

She went on as if he hadn't spoken. "This is a recording. I'll say that now so you don't embarrass yourself by talking back to it. Although knowing you, you probably already have."

"You bitch," he muttered under his breath.

"That's not a nice thing to say," she laughed, and he wondered if he had always been this predictable. "But perhaps accurate." Her smile faded. "If you're watching this then I've been dead for a few days. I knew you'd block all my outgoing transmissions after my cover was blown. And knowing you, I'm probably still blocked. For outgoing comms...to anyone but you." She suddenly pretended to be looking past him. "Christine isn't there, is she? Hey Chris, let me tell you about your boyfriend."

Kerr realized he had been holding his breath and slowly let it out. "Get to the damn point, Ren," he muttered.

"Nope, guess she's not there. Oh well, no matter. She's probably already read that little message I sent to her." She made a moue of petulance. "Oh wait. If you blocked my messages, maybe you intercepted that too."

Kerr thought about Nako, how she had managed to catch the transmission before it went to Christine. "Not me," he whispered.

"If that happens, then she'll never know. And you'll win." Her expression turned sly. "Or maybe not. Maybe I found another way of getting the information to her. It might take a little longer than a comm message, but she'll get it eventually. I've made sure of that, Kerr. It might be today, tomorrow, or maybe a few months from now. But she'll find out the truth. Unless you can stop it." She laughed again. "Figure out where I sent it, how I sent it, and when she's going to get it. A lot of variables, Colonel. And what did they teach us at all our training? Oh yeah: 'Control or eliminate as many variables as you can'."

His jaw tightened at her words. It was one of the reasons they had worked to get him close to Christine...to have a means to find out what she and Spock were thinking and planning. To make sure it didn't interfere with their other...less benevolent mission. He swallowed convulsively. But something went wrong. He fell in love. He wasn't supposed to do that. Ren never did.

"So good luck finding it, Randy. It really makes me happy thinking of you trying to chase it down." She chuckled. "It makes me even happier thinking of you failing utterly." She reached for something off screen. "Have a nice life, Colonel Kerr."

The screen went dead. He saved the message to a secure file and took a deep breath. Could she have done it? He'd locked down every communications channel that he thought she might try. He'd even checked all the outgoing priority shipments waiting for beam out. There had been nothing that had looked out of the ordinary. He'd scanned everything just to be sure.

The only way something could have gotten off the ship was if it had been in the general delivery. He'd checked the manifests once. He pulled up the lists again and started to run down them, crosschecking anyone he didn't know against the previous month's lists to check for prior occurrences. Everything checked out. Except...

He hit the comm switch. "Kerr to Nako."

"Nako here, Randall. What can I do for you?"

"Do you know a Martin Cantwell in New Mexico?"

She thought about it. "I don't believe so. Should I?"

"You sent him some woven goods maybe? His address is a gallery in Santa Fe."

She smiled. "Oh, of course. I sent him some of my weavings to sell for charity. Why?"

He couldn't hide his disappointment. "No reason, Nako."

"Is something wrong?"

"I'm afraid the enemy knight just sent a late salvo."

She frowned. "Really?"

He nodded. "Claimed to have sent a backup copy of that information you intercepted. Traveling a circuitous route but ultimately intended to go to one person."

"This is not good."

"That's the understatement of all time."

"I will be right over." The channel went dead.

As Kerr ran his hands through his hair and waited for her, he desperately tried to figure out a way to stop the inevitable. And failed miserably.

Nako arrived quickly. "Tell me exactly what happened."

He called up the file and let her see it. When it finished, he shrugged. "I can't find anything out of the ordinary. I thought maybe the one from you..."

She frowned. "Are you sure she really sent something?"

"You're the damn psychic. You tell me."

"I have told you before, I cannot see all. Nor can I change what is. It may be that I cannot stop Christine from finding out about your past."

"Maybe you should have thought about that before you murdered Farrell?" Anger and frustration made him mean but she did not appear offended.

"Maybe so," was all she said.

He sat down heavily. "Nako, I'm sorry."

"I know you are." She took the seat next to him. "Would she be likely to say she sent something if she had not really done it?"

"Without a doubt. She loved spinning people's heads like that." He sighed. "I just don't see how she could have gotten something out. I had this place locked down tight."

"I believe you, grandson," Nako said, patting his hand gently. "I also believe that you must be on your guard."

"That's what my superiors said too. About the Romulans."

"So they believed our little story?"

He nodded. "They sure appeared to. Seemed to find the Tal shiar connection very interesting."

"As I thought they would. This is not a complete red herring. Trouble is coming from that quarter, Randall. And your superiors know it."

"So I'm suddenly an important asset again."

She nodded. "As we hoped."

He looked down and whispered, "Sometimes, I just feel like telling Christine everything. Stop all these lies and secrets."

"You must do as you think best, grandson."

He looked up at her, met her calm eyes and sighed. "I'd lose her."

She nodded again. "Quite possibly."

He stood up suddenly and began to pace. "I'm losing her anyway, Nako."

She cocked her head to one side and made a skeptical face. "Why do you say that?"

"She's with Spock."

"So?"

"Alone," he added bitterly.

"Yes."

He made a small gasp of frustration. "The king and queen, Nako. Remember them? Alone. Together. Far away from me. Makes for a rather volatile situation."

"This has always been a volatile situation, my dear. Surely you are not just realizing that?" She stood up slowly. "You must decide what you can and cannot accept."

"I don't like the sound of that."

"I imagine not." She rested her hand on his arm as she passed him. "She loves you, Randall. Never forget that."

"That's easier said than done."

"Try," she said with a compassionate smile, as she left him to deal with his gloom and fear alone.

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

"Are you going to open it?" Spock asked, looking at the envelope Christine was holding.

"Yeah." She stuck it in the inside pocket of her traveling bag. "Eventually."

"You remember the comm Jim sent me?"

She nodded. How could she forget? He had been very angry with her when she had pressed him to open it. "How long did it take before you read it?"

"Quite a few days. I thought you knew that?"

"It was none of my business what you did with it." She turned away. "We'd already had one fight about it. I didn't want a repeat."

He touched her shoulder gently. "I am sorry, Christine, that I shut you away from me."

She shrugged slightly and his hand fell away. "We can't change the past, Spock."

"No. We cannot. Or the futures that our past actions have created."

She stiffened.

"I lost you then," he said. "I cannot remedy that."

She turned slowly to look at him. He was standing very close to her. "Would you want to?"

He looked down. "There is much I regret."

"That's not what I asked."

He met her eyes. "Would you change what is?"

She thought of Kerr and shook her head.

"I did not think so." He turned away from her.

"Maybe there's another Spock and Christine that aren't apart. In some other universe, where you didn't shut me out and I didn't choose him?" She smiled. "I don't remember much of my quantum theory classes, but I do remember that part."

His lips turned up slightly. "Do they prosper, this version of us?"

She grinned. "They are very happy."

He nodded. "That is good then. Perhaps at dinner we should drink a toast to them."

"Yes." She went to the closet and grabbed her sweater. "Shall we go?"

They walked slowly to the waterfront. Christine enjoyed the freshness of the cool San Francisco air. She loved the Carter, but it was good to be back on Earth.

"It was agreeable seeing our shipmates again."

She smiled. "It was. Thank you for arranging this."

"We both needed it."

"Yes, we did." She laughed. At his look, she explained. "We've come so far since the last time we were here together. For that stupid training."

He nodded. "We have."

"I remember dreading that class. And then when I walked in and you were there..."

"I had the same trepidation."

"Were we dysfunctional or what?" She had a sudden picture of herself hosing down Kerr and Spock in the greenhouse. "Not that our current situation is any kind of model for normalcy."

"It is somewhat unusual," he agreed.

"Did I ever tell you how much I admire your gift of understatement?"

"I do not believe so, Christine."

"Well, I do," she said as they arrived at Gerard's. The maitre'd led them to a table in the front. "You called ahead?" she asked in surprise.

"You said you have always wanted to sit at a window table. Did I misunderstand you?"

"No, but I didn't expect you to get us one."

"There are times it is beneficial to be a...how did the owner put it? Ah yes, a 'living legend.' I, of course, tried to downplay any claim to fame I might have."

She laughed. "Naturally. You'd never trade on your name just to impress a dinner companion."

His eyes seemed to twinkle. "Unless she was a very special dinner companion."

"Flattery will get you nowhere," she said sternly. But she couldn't help but smile.

"Of course not," he agreed as he turned his attention to the menu.

When the waiter came by, Spock ordered his normal stout. Christine ordered a single-malt scotch. "In honor of Scotty," she said to Spock.

"Most appropriate," he nodded. "Should I change my order?"

"Have you ever had scotch, Spock?"

"Jim used to drink it." He seemed less than enthusiastic.

"Stick with your stout. Ireland will have to be close enough." Spock nodded, clearly relieved. They placed the rest of their order and the waiter moved on.

Christine noticed the people at the next table pointing to something out in the water. As she turned to see what had captured their attention, a small plume suddenly exploded from the water. "George and Gracie," she said softly.

Spock turned to see. The whales were moving smoothly past the pier, a collection of small boats trailing alongside. "And family," Spock added.

"Four calves so far," Christine said.

"You are a whale aficionado?" He sounded surprised.

"A man that I used to see was a fan." She saw Spock's look and laughed. "Not like those boaters. Larry was a scientist. Decided to go into cetacean biology when these guys showed up. He was that besotted with them."

"And you weren't?"

She smiled. "Sorry, I didn't mean to insult your whales."

"They are not _my_ whales, as you well know, Christine."

Her smile faded. "They may not be anyone's, Spock. One breeding pair? How do we expect them to survive?" She watched the small pod swim out of sight. "Even if they have twenty calves before they die, there won't be enough genetic diversity. Within five generations, they'll start to suffer abnormalities, genetic weaknesses like inbreeding depression. It's likely they'll be extinct again in as little as twenty generations unless we find a way to add some spice to those chromosomes."

He looked away thoughtfully. "We brought them here to die then."

"All things die, Spock. And if the stories we all heard about your adventures getting them here were right, they were about to be killed when you beamed them up."

"That is true." He took a sip of his stout. "Perhaps samples of whale DNA will be found, from before they were hunted to extinction."

"Perhaps," she agreed. "It's what Larry and the others on his team were looking for. Last time we talked, he thought they might be on to something in Australia."

"You have not talked to him recently?"

She shook her head. "We really had little in common other than science." She looked down. "I'd sworn off Fleet men in those days. Only I should have remembered that I'd sworn off obsessed scientists before that."

"Your life would have been very different if Doctor Korby had not been lost. We might never have met."

She nodded. "I guess there's a universe for that too. I can't imagine what that would have been like now. I mean to not have been on the Enterprise? It just seems inevitable that I served on it, that I knew you and everyone else. If there is a Christine Chapel that never did, I wonder if she's happy?"

"You will never know." He held up his glass. "I believe we were going to toast a different alternate Christine Chapel?"

"And to her alternate Captain Spock." They clinked glasses and she frowned. "You know, there may be others of them out there. Like a Spock that came to visit me after a certain awful incident on Platonius?" She glared at him in mock ferocity.

"Or a Christine that did not leave my cabin quite so quickly when she brought me soup that second time." He raised an eyebrow.

She laughed. "Or here's one. A Spock that didn't hang out with Dr. Kalomi when he should have been enjoying that spore-induced euphoria with me."

"I seem to remember passing you and Lieutenant DeSalle while Leila and I were out walking. You appeared to be quite busy at the time."

She blushed at the memory of exactly what she and DeSalle had been doing. "Nevertheless..."

"Point taken," he said quietly. "But the fact remains that any of those people are only alternate versions of us. We cannot go back and make those choices again."

"No, we can't." She took a sip of her scotch and savored the smooth warmth. "You never did say if you wanted to."

He did not look away. "I am not sure that I would be able to live that moment differently even if I wanted to." He reached out and touched her hand. "And I do want to."

Her skin where his hand touched hers felt as if it were on fire. She could sense regret...and desire. He pulled away. "I'm sorry. I have no right to do that."

"Did you do it on purpose...send me those feelings."

"No, but that you should sense them was not precisely unexpected given what has been happening between us. I...I should not have touched you."

She studied him for a moment before saying carefully, "Shouldn't I be the judge of that?" Their eyes locked and the expression on his face was so intimate that she suddenly found it difficult to breathe. Why had she said that?

She was saved by the arrival of the waiters with the salad. Spock ate silently and she followed his example. She was relieved when he kept their conversation between courses light and professional. Clearly he had no wish to go to whatever dangerous land they had nearly been headed.

They lingered on the waterfront for a long while before heading back to the hotel. Spock was very quiet on the way and she frowned as she whispered. "I shouldn't have said that."

"There seem to be many things we should not do," he replied as he led the way into the hotel.

It was like their first days on the Carter as he walked her to her room. She turned around to say goodnight only to find him standing very close to her.

"So many things we said we would never do again." His eyes did not leave her face as he took the key from her and opened the door.

"Never again," she murmured.

"Hard words, I find." He handed her the key, and she backed into the room holding the door open.

She stared at him and found herself saying, "Do you want to come in for a while?"

"I do not know if that is wise."

"We're both adults." She stepped aside. "Please?"

He moved past her and she let the door close softly. The city gleamed softly outside the large window and she walked around him to admire the view. "It's beautiful," she murmured, very aware that he had moved to stand behind her.

"It is," he said huskily.

She watched his reflection in the dark window. Held her breath as she saw him lean down, his lips touching her neck, his hands settling on her arms. Waves of desire buffeted her as soon as his skin touched hers. She moaned and turned around, staring intently into his eyes. "I love you," she said, her voice cracking slightly as his desire hit her again.

His lips claimed her own and his fingers found the meld spot. As his mind joined hers, he let go of her face and began to undress her. She could feel his hands running over her, could also sense what he was feeling as he touched her.

*I love you, Christine.*

The onslaught of emotions threatened to overwhelm them both. *Want you so much,* she managed to convey.

His answer was to pick her up and carry her to the bed. She helped him pull his own clothes off, kissed him as they fell to the bed, moaned as he entered her. He deepened the meld and she could no longer tell where she ended and he began. The experience seemed to last forever.

Until it was over. And she came down from the places he had taken her.

And remembered that she had made a promise. A promise she had just broken.

She felt Spock's dismay through the meld as well. Regret warred with the immense afterglow of pleasure that they both still felt. Guilt vied with desire only barely slaked.

"We should not have done this," she whispered.

"It is too late to undo it."

She felt his hurt. "You thought..."

"It is irrelevant what I thought." He rolled off of her to lie on his back, staring at the ceiling.

"I love him."

"I'm not sure he'd agree with that statement were he to walk in right now." Spock's pain made his words sting. He turned to look at her. "Do you want me to leave?"

She touched his chest and felt another flare of desire. Knowing she should pull away but helpless to resist, she whispered, "No," as she leaned in to kiss him again.

He pulled her to him almost savagely. His lips were demanding and passionate and she gave herself up to them completely.

When they finally pulled apart, she said again, "I want you."

"But you belong to another."

She nodded. "But that doesn't change what we've done. Or that we're here now."

"Or that you want this?" He stroked her skin lightly, causing her to shiver. "We have tonight?"

"But only tonight. And then never again."

"Hard words to hold to, Christine."

She nodded. "I know."

His mind in the meld was tinged with a sadness she had never heard there before. *Your terms are acceptable.*

For a moment, she wondered if he should leave. Wondered if this was fair to him?

In answer, he pulled her on top of him. *I will have you. Do not consider ending this before the night is over.*

She kissed him as she moved against him. Too many emotions assailed her to analyze any one of them, so she quit trying and just surrendered to the sensations their bodies were experiencing. Over and over. It was nearly morning before he permitted her to fall into an exhausted sleep.

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

Spock held Christine against him as he watched the curtains lighten with the rising sun. She turned slightly and wrapped an arm around his waist, snuggling in against him in a way that made the breath catch in this throat. Why did she have this effect on him? Why did he want her so?

He stroked her face, slowly waking her up. She made a sleepy sound that he found unbearably stimulating. Pushing her onto her back, he kissed her, at first gently then more roughly. His hands found the meld point before he could stop himself. *Wake up," he urged.

*Spock?* she asked in a mixture of confusion and desire that tempted him beyond any power to resist. She came awake beneath him, pulling his face down to hers for a fierce kiss, matching his passion with her own as she moved against him.

*Never again,* he sent to her as she arched beneath him. He felt his own body release and repeated, *Never again.*

They lay silently then. Minds and voices stilled as their breathing slowly returned to normal. He reluctantly released the meld.

"I'm sorry," she finally said.

"For what?" he asked, as he eased off her. Settling by her side, he pulled her to him. "There is nothing to be sorry for, Christine."

She burrowed against him, but the motion lacked the sweet spontaneity of earlier. Asleep she had been his forever. Awake, they both knew that this moment would end. Soon.

But not just yet, he thought, as he pulled her closer. "Somewhere we are together," he whispered, not expecting her to hear him.

*Forever,* she answered in his mind, surprising him. That she could reach him so easily when he was letting the meld ease was nearly impossible. Normally only a bond--

He touched her face worriedly.

*Spock?* her mind voice was startled as she felt him demand reentry to her thoughts.

As she let him in, he heard her say again, *Spock, what is it?*

He checked for the bond. Perhaps inadvertently in their passion he had lost control and she had allowed him to make the connection complete.

There was nothing.

He pulled out of her mind and tried to block her. She followed him easily, her alarm making her voice loud in his head, *Spock, what the hell is wrong?*

He masked his own worry and soothed her. "It is nothing."

*What?* she asked again, then followed his example and switched to words, "Spock, talk to me."

"It is nothing, Christine." He distracted her with gentle kisses until it was time for them to get ready to leave. He went to his own room to clean up and change. As he packed his things, he tried to make sense of what had happened. He had not lost control, as he had feared. But if they weren't bonded, then what exactly was going on between them?

He had ample time to think about it as he flew the sleek Vulcan craft out of the private spacedock because Christine seemed determined to say nothing.

"Are you all right?" he asked gently.

She did not answer.

"Are you going to speak to me at all on this journey?"

"I don't know," she finally replied.

"If I have lost your friendship, then what we shared was not worth the price."

She swiveled her chair to face him. "You haven't lost my friendship, Spock."

"Are you sure?" He busied himself with plotting the course into the autopilot.

"I just feel guilty."

He waited.

"And I can still feel your touch."

He still waited.

"And I like it, I like that feeling," she whispered. "And I feel guilty that I like it."

He reached over and touched her hand. He could feel exhaustion rolling off her in waves. "You are very tired, Christine. You did not get much sleep last night. Why don't you rest for a while in the back cabin?"

"What about you? You didn't get any sleep last night, did you?"

"I don't need as much as you do." She seemed about to resist, so he said, "I think you will feel much better when you are not so tired."

She swiveled back away from him again. "I'm fine."

"You are not." He finished the autopilot sequencing and turned to her. "T'hy'la, what we have done is probably wrong, perhaps ill considered, and most certainly would hurt the colonel if he finds out. I do not intend to tell him. I do not know what you plan to do. But until you get some sleep, I do not think you can assess how you are or what you will do when you face him again."

"You think I'm awful."

He raised an eyebrow. "I am uncertain how that interpretation was derived from what I said, Christine. I think you are tired."

"I want to go back to him."

"So I assumed, or your 'never again' caveat would not now be in effect."

"Again." He glanced at her and she continued. "In effect again. It was in effect, but then it was lifted, and now it's in effect again."

His lips lifted slightly. "I assume now would be an inopportune time to ask if it might be lifted again in the future?"

She stared at him and for a moment she seemed confused, then she started to laugh. "I forget sometimes that you joke."

He decided not to tell her this wasn't one of those times.

She stood up. "I guess I will get some sleep. Then maybe you can rest when I wake up."

"That would be agreeable." He tried to push the thought of her sleeping in his arms out of his mind. Never again.

He was rapidly beginning to dislike those two words intensely.

He felt her hand on his shoulder, was overwhelmed with a powerful mix of guilt, regret, and love. She leaned down and whispered, "Thank you for last night." Then with a kiss on the cheek, she was gone.

He waited half an hour before he walked to the back cabin. She was lying on top of the covers, curled on her side. He went to the closet and pulling down the blanket, covered her gently with it, denying his urge to touch her. Leave her, he ordered himself sternly. As he turned to go back to the controls, he could not resist a last look. "You're welcome," he whispered as he let the door close behind him.

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

Kerr was getting antsy. He knew that Spock's yacht had landed on Vulcan and that he and Christine had transported up shortly thereafter. But he hadn't heard from her and it was making him nervous. He tried to concentrate on work but couldn't focus on the words he was trying to read. Damn it. Why didn't she contact him?

The chime on his door startled him. "Come in."

She walked in. He studied her carefully, the emotionless face, the rigid posture and his hopes died. Then suddenly she broke into a huge smile and hurried to him. He caught her up in his arms, pulling her down onto his lap. He had just enough rational thought left to order the computer to lock the door before her lips were on his and he was drowning in her.

When she finally pulled away, she looked him squarely in the eye and said, "I love you." Her expression was soft and gentle and loving. The look of the woman he'd fallen in love with and he was glad to see her back. But also, he realized with some primitive part of his brain that operated solely on intuition, it was the look of a woman that was trying desperately not to appear as if she had something to hide.

He leaned back and brushed the hair off her face, studying her expression as she looked at him seriously. "The trip home did you good," he finally said.

She nodded.

"Being with him did you good too," he continued.

"Randall, nothing ha--"

He put his finger over his lips. "Shhh. Don't lie to me."

She didn't look away, seemed to be thinking what to say next. When she opened her mouth, he pushed harder on her lips.

"I mean it. Don't lie to me." He let his finger press down for a long moment, then moved it gently over her lips and across her cheek.

She sat quietly, slightly tensed as he continued to touch her.

"I missed you." He tightened his hold on her with his other hand. "So much."

She leaned in and kissed him tentatively and he pulled her closer, not caring how rough he was being. Not caring until she suddenly winced and he touched her lip where his teeth had cut it, washing the blood lightly away with his tongue. He saw her eyes widen as he pulled away.

What good is a promise if it's not kept? he thought, even as he began to take off her uniform.

"Randall, please--"

He shushed her with a kiss, far gentler this time, and didn't pull away until he felt her respond to him. "I love you," he said as he felt her begin to undo his uniform. "I'm glad you're back."

"I am back," she said as she rose only to settle back on top of him, breathing a sharp gasp of pleasure as their bodies connected.

He echoed her, holding her as she began to move, staring hard into his eyes. He realized that she was no longer trying to hide anything from him.

He wondered why he didn't care more.

As she threw her head back and made the low, wild cries he loved he didn't have to wonder. It meant everything to have her back in his arms like this. As he followed her into pleasure, muting his moans in her hair and clutching her tightly, he heard her whisper, "I love you, Randall."

He knew it was true. He also wondered if she'd said the same thing to Spock.

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

Christine slowly made her way back to her quarters. Having sex with Kerr in his office had been out of character and wildly unprofessional. But she'd felt an overwhelming urge to see him, to make sure that their relationship was as it had been when she'd left.

To make sure she hadn't ruined everything.

She hadn't intended to give anything away. Yet he had known immediately. She remembered his restrained violence with a shiver. It hadn't frightened her exactly, but she had not been completely certain what he would do.

But he had done what he always did. He had loved her. Completely. Unequivocally. Passionately. With his eyes wide open.

"Christine, wait up." Kerr was hurrying to catch her.

She turned, waiting for him. "What is it?"

There was something in his grin she'd never seen before. Something haunted. "Shift's almost over. I've been working lots of overtime with you gone. Thought I'd knock off a little early so I could spend time with you?"

She smiled. "I'd like that."

They walked together to the lift and rode it to deck two. "Are you hungry?" she asked as they entered her quarters. She was already moving to the replicator when his hand on her arm stopped her. "What is it?"

He moved closer to her, pulling her into his arms. "I missed you." His kisses were sweet and gentle--more tender than she could ever remember.

"I missed you too," she said softly as she returned his caresses.

As she looked into his eyes, she saw the haunted look cross his face again. She reached up and touched his cheek gently. "I don't want to hurt you." The words were out before she could call them back.

He stared hard at her before he leaned in to kiss her again. His reply was so soft she barely heard him say, "Then don't."

"I won't," she said.

"That sounds like a promise, Christine. And promises seem to be hard to keep."

She looked down. "I'll try not to."

"Better," he replied in a harsh tone as he urged her to the bedroom.

She tried to gauge his mood as he pulled her clothes off and found herself unable to. His kisses were intense, his hold on her possessive, but his eyes were gentle as he made love to her. Gentle and just a bit sad.

I'm hurting them both, she realized.

"Love you," he whispered as he moved inside her.

"I love you," she replied as she surrendered to the pleasure he was giving her.

When they finally lay still he pulled her close to him and didn't say anything, just held her for a long time. When she became restive, he let her go. "Do you want something to eat now?"

She nodded. "Something light."

He got out of bed and went to the replicator. As she listened to him getting their food, she glanced over at the carry all sitting on the chair next to the bed. She suddenly remembered the envelope that Farrell's father had given her and moved across the bed to grab the bag. Digging through it, she pulled out the envelope just as Kerr walked in with a tray.

"What's that?" he asked as he set the tray down on the now vacant chair.

She tore the seal. "Something Ren wrote me."

When he said nothing, she glanced over and saw that he was staring at the envelope. His expression was no longer open or gentle. He was looking at the letter as if it were his worst enemy. "What's the matter, Randall?"

As she watched his face, she had the strange impression that some inner struggle was going on inside him. Finally, his expression falling into one of resignation, he said, "Just read it, Christine."

She frowned.

"Read the damn letter," he said, his dead tone at odds with the words.

She unfolded the sheet of paper. "Dear, Chris. Remember back in emergency ops when we said that if anything happened to us, we didn't want the people we loved to not know how much they meant to us? Well, that's why I'm writing this. Obviously, I'm dead if you're reading this. Dead. The word brings on some very weird feelings. Terror and an odd sense of peace. Like my worries are over and I can finally relax and just be me. A lot of people don't know the real me. But I think you did. Or as much of me as I ever really let out. I can't really explain that, but maybe by now you know what it means.

"During our tour together, you learned a lot about me and I learned a lot about you. Well that tour's over and now we're on our way to different assignments. I don't know what lies ahead for either of us. But I wanted you to know that I love you and that I'm so proud of you. You've come so far and grown so much in this job. I admire that, and I wanted you to know that I'd be proud to serve under you again.

"So I guess I just wanted to say that. And to leave you with my parting wisdom. Remember, we said we'd do that too. So here's what I've learned over the years: Things aren't always what they seem. Trust shouldn't be given completely. Love someone. And of course, never eat the banana pudding at the Academy lunchroom."

Christine found herself laughing and looked up at Kerr. He was staring at her tensely, confusion coloring his expression. She handed him the letter and watched as he read it quickly. When he looked up, she had a strange impression that he was enormously relieved.

He handed the letter back. "That was nice."

She nodded. "It was hard saying good-bye after working together in emergency ops. We were like extensions of each other and then, bam, it was all over and she was going her way and I was going mine. I missed the hell out of her." Christine closed her eyes as memories of Farrell dying overwhelmed her. Tears threatened and she looked at Kerr searchingly. "I miss her now."

He held open his arms and she went willingly into them. As she cried, he soothed her. "Shhh, sweetheart. It's okay."

Christine stopped trying to keep the pain in, letting him anchor her as she wept. When she finally stopped, he didn't let go and she didn't pull away...she didn't ever want to pull away from his love again.

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

Spock was just leaving his quarters when Christine's door opened and Kerr walked out. The colonel saw him immediately and stopped, a strange look on his face. As an uneasy silence fell between them and they both looked away, Spock had the bizarre notion that the man knew or at least suspected what had happened between Christine and him. He glanced at Kerr. The look he got back was decidedly hostile.

He was surprised that Christine would have told him. But perhaps she didn't have to. Kerr was a man of deep intuition.

"Welcome back, sir." Kerr's wary look did not lessen.

"Thank you, Colonel. How is your investigation going?" Spock walked the few steps to join the other man, then kept walking.

Kerr fell into step with him. "It's going nowhere, sir." He followed Spock into the lift and rode with him to the bridge. "Did you want to discuss it further?"

"If you don't have anything pressing," Spock said evenly.

"Nothing that can't wait." Kerr replied as he followed Spock to his ready room.

"Please sit." Spock took the chair at his desk. He looked up and met Kerr's eyes. There was a tense anger warring with a more professional expression on the colonel's face. As Spock watched, professionalism won.

"The leads we had are all coming up cold. The refit crewmembers all have alibis. And no one can remember a stranger working with their units. So if it was someone that was masquerading as a tech, they must have come on board alone and left that way too." Kerr sighed. "Which, given what Farrell said about this 'section' of hers, pretty much tracks to what I'd expect."

"So this remains an unsolved mystery." Spock leaned back in his chair. "How is the crew taking this?"

"Not well. A lot of people are scared. Afraid that there is a killer loose." Kerr sighed. Then he met Spock's eyes in an intense look. "In time, if there are no more incidents, they'll settle down and life will return pretty much to normal. But it won't be right away."

Spock heard a different tone in Kerr's voice. The colonel was not only talking about the murder. He did not know why he felt compelled to ask, "And if there are more of these incidents?"

Kerr's look darkened but he did not answer.

"The question is irrelevant," Spock finally said. "We both know that this was a unique occurrence."

"Do we?"

"You expect more murders?"

Kerr smiled in what Spock could only think of as a dangerous way. "Were we talking about the murder?"

"I believe we were. At first."

Kerr's posture became even more rigid. "Sir, with all due respect, I think we've reached the end of this conversation."

Spock nodded, unsure why he was deliberately baiting the other man. "You are no doubt right. So we will consider the investigation closed?"

"I don't have any other avenues to explore." Kerr relaxed slightly. "I'll send you my report as soon as I get to my office."

"Very well." Spock studied him. He felt an overwhelming need to try to reach out to Kerr, even though he knew that it was probably a terrible idea.

"Was there anything else, sir?"

"Do you play chess?"

Kerr immediately stiffened. "Sir?"

"Three-dimensional chess. Do you play it?"

"On occasion."

"It is a diversion I greatly enjoy. Had I known you played, I would have asked you for a game."

Kerr let out a small bitter laugh. "I kind of thought we'd already played a few."

Spock found himself responding with a half smile. "It does feel that way at times." He became more serious. "If I asked you, would you play?"

"Now?"

Spock shook his head. "Some evening."

Kerr considered and Spock gave him credit for not coming up with a glib but meaningless 'yes', or an even more likely 'no'. Finally Kerr leaned back in his seat and shook his head. "It's not an easy question to answer."

"Why? It is just a game."

Kerr pursed his lips. "Permission to speak freely, sir?"

"Of course."

"I don't know the details and I don't want to know them. Christine got lost and somehow you found a way to bring her back. I feel as if I owe you for that. On the other hand, I have a feeling I know what was involved in that recovery. And I don't like it at all. In fact, it would be very easy to hate you right now, Captain. With that in mind, it's somehow hard to imagine the two of us sitting down to a friendly little game of chess."

"Who said it would be friendly?" Spock replied evenly.

Kerr laughed, obviously taken by surprise by the joke. "Well, that's true."

Spock waited.

"This is the damnedest situation," Kerr finally said.

"We agree on that."

Kerr suddenly stood up and walked over to the viewscreen. "The thing is...I can't blame you."

Spock turned to watch him.

"I took her from you when you weren't looking."

"Actually, I was looking," Spock corrected softly. "I was just too distracted to care."

"Guess that's changed, huh?" Kerr asked without turning around. When Spock didn't answer he went on, "She didn't tell me, in case you were wondering. I just suspect."

Spock sat silently, not knowing what he should say. Silence seemed the most logical course.

Kerr glanced over at him. "Cat got your tongue?"

Spock shook his head slowly. Their eyes met and locked for a long moment. Then Kerr turned back to the view of the stars.

"I gather chess is out then?" Spock said into the silence.

Kerr exhaled loudly and it took Spock a minute to realize that sound was caused by amusement. "Oh, what the hell," he said. "What the god damn hell, Spock."

They both seemed to realize at the same time that this was the first time Kerr had ever called Spock by his name. Kerr looked nonplussed for a moment, then he grinned.

Spock had a hard time deciphering all the emotions that seemed to reside in that expression. "So, you wish to play?" he asked in confusion.

"Sure. Why the hell not." Kerr shook his head as if at his own folly. "But not tonight. I've got a date."

Spock sensed that the words were meant to warn as much as hurt him. "Of course. Another time."

Kerr started to walk out and then turned back. "Tomorrow night. After dinner."

"Tomorrow then."

Kerr nodded, then he grinned again. This time the expression was pure evil. "I hope your strategy is first-class, Spock, because I'm a really good player." His grin grew wider. "And I always play to win."

Spock slowly raised an eyebrow. "You mean at chess?"

"Well now, that's a damn good question, Captain."

"Another mystery," Spock replied, knowing the words would bring them back to their original topic of conversation.

Kerr's grin died, replaced with a more somber expression. "I'll have the report on Farrell's murder up to you at once."

"Thank you," Spock said as he watched the other man leave. As the door shut, he got up and walked out to the bridge. Christine was already there.

"Captain," she greeted him with a smile that seemed somewhat shyer than usual.

"Commander," he replied as he sat down next to her.

"Kettering just called up. The repairs are finished. We can leave whenever we get our orders. Saldusta has relayed that news to Starfleet Command."

"Excellent," he replied. "I am getting tired of seeing my home planet on that screen."

"I think we all are," she said with a conspiratorial grin. "Any idea what's going to be next for us?" She leaned back and smiled. "Just no viruses for a while."

He nodded. "There are several ongoing conflicts that might benefit from our presence."

"Ongoing and conflict are two words I don't like together," Christine said softly. "But you should see how Myrax just perked up."

He did not need to turn around to know it was true. The entire bridge crew seemed suddenly more alert.

"Message coming in from Starfleet Command, sir."

He looked over at Christine. "What do they say, Lieutenant?"

She smiled at him as Saldusta said, "We are to proceed to Livornin, best speed."

"Are you sure about that, Lieutenant?" He looked at Christine; she seemed equally mystified by the assignment.

"Yes, sir. There have been a number of disappearances. Including several Federation survey teams."

"How is this a diplomatic mission? There's nobody on Livornin except our own researchers. Shouldn't they send a science vessel?" Christine didn't hide her disapproval of their mission.

He looked at her and made a small expression of agreement.

Saldusta continued. "They are sending background material. Directly to you, Captain."

"I'll take it in my ready room. Commander, if you will?" Spock rose. "Set a course for Livornin, Lieutenant Sabuti. Lieutenant Kimble, best speed."

"Aye, aye, sir," Kimble said.

Sabuti did some quick calculations, then said, "Estimated arrival: four standard days."

"Well it's not because we were the closest ship, that's for sure," Christine muttered as she rose to join Spock.

"Lieutenant Sabuti, you have the conn," Spock said, then preceded Christine into his office.

She walked over to the viewscreen, unconsciously choosing to stand in the same spot Kerr had occupied.

He watched her for a moment, then asked, "Are you all right?"

She turned to look at him and smiled slightly. "I feel like my old self, if that's what you mean?"

"That is some of what I mean. Is everything else all right?"

She looked down. "I think he knows."

"I believe you are right."

Her head jerked up and she frowned deeply. "You talked to him about it?"

He shook his head. "Not in so many words." He decided to disregard the last part of the conversation when he and Kerr had talked about it less ambiguously. "I think he wanted me to know that he suspected."

"Great." She walked over to one of the chairs in front of his desk and sat down with a huge sigh. "This just keeps getting worse."

"Not necessarily." Spock gave her a small smile then turned to the computer. "We are going to play chess tomorrow evening."

"You and Randall?" She looked suspicious. "Whose idea was that?"

"Mine," he answered as he called up the information that was coming in from Starfleet Command on Livornin.

"Chess?" She laughed softly, it was a slightly hysterical sound. "Spock, don't you think that's just a little weird?"

He didn't turn to look at her. "Everything about our various relationships is odd, Christine."

"Well, I know but what are you thinking? That you two can be friends?"

"Would that bother you?"

She had to think about that. "I just think it's unlikely, is all."

"Perhaps you are right. And if so, I imagine that I will find out tomorrow." He turned to her. "I am sending you the information that Starfleet has sent."

"Okay," she rose. "I'll read it in my office."

He nodded and turned back to the monitor. He could hear her walking to the bridge door then she stopped.

"Do you like him?" she asked.

He swiveled his chair to face her. "I do."

She nodded, her face very serious. "I think he likes you too."

"Well then perhaps our chess game will be enjoyable for all involved."

She made a face. "All involved except me. I'll be the one wondering what the hell you two are talking about. Or if you both will survive the night."

He smiled slightly. "Do we strike you as violent?"

She raised an eyebrow, subtly mocking him. "In a word...yes."

He made an aggrieved sound. "I do not agree with that assessment."

"Oh of course not, where is the logic in violence?" She grinned at him, then her smile turned softer. "Did I say thank you? For bringing me back?"

He nodded. "All night, I believe." He felt a contrary surge of satisfaction when she blushed at the memory.

"Well," she went on, trying to ignore his comment. "Thank you."

"We helped each other, Christine. It is what friends do, is it not?"

She nodded. "It is." With an affectionate look, she turned and walked out the door.

Friends, he thought. It would have to do. He stared at the door for a long moment before sighing slightly and turning back to begin reading up on their next mission. It took him an unusually long time to immerse himself in the text.

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

"Sir?" his assistant said over the comm. "You have a package. Shall I bring it in?"

"I'll come out," Penhallon, glad for a distraction, rose and walked out to Lieutenant Maddox's desk. The younger man handed him a small parcel and Penhallon studied it curiously. "It's been scanned?"

"Yes, sir. By the couriers and I scanned it myself. It looked funny to me."

Penhallon nodded. "Well, let's see what it is." He unwrapped the first layer of durawrapping and stopped. The next layer was marked for his eyes only.

"Guess the fun's over for me," Maddox grinned at him as he turned back to his work.

"Guess so," Penhallon agreed as he took the parcel back into his office. He carefully opened the wrapping and found an old fashioned envelope, with a handwritten note fastened to it. "What the hell?"

He hit the comm, "Maddox, where did this come from?"

"Does it need to be removed, sir? I can call security."

"No, it's nothing. I'm just curious," Penhallon asked, as he studied the signature on the note. Curious was an understatement. It wasn't every day that you got a letter from a dead woman.

"The manifest said it came from the Terrax colony on Luna."

"Thanks." He cut the connection. "But where did you come from before that?" he asked the letter. He studied the note again. Hastily written, as if she had decided at the last minute that he would be the one that would receive the larger letter.

"Stephen - I know I can trust you. I know you care about her well-being. There are some things you should know about Colonel Kerr and me. Some things you need to make sure that Christine knows. The letter will explain it...read it and you'll understand why this is so important. Read it, then give it to her. I'm counting on you. - Renata"

He took the note off and opened the envelope. What was inside shocked him both in terms of the information laid out but also because of the vitriol he sensed underneath each word. He was a master of the subtle insult, the barely noticed slice, and this letter was clearly intended to do more than just inform. Each word was designed to flay Christine even as it crucified Kerr.

He really didn't like that.

He put the letter down and leaned back. Letting this new information flow into what he already knew of his shipmates. So Farrell and Kerr were both part of the section? He could accept that this was more than likely true. He'd been in diplomatic too long and had too many connections not to know what the section was in the most general terms. He'd never tried to find out who exactly was in it or what its ultimate goal was. That had never mattered to him before.

He touched the letter gingerly. But maybe now it should matter. The information Farrell had laid out in this letter would hurt Kerr. He wasn't sure he wanted that.

It would also hurt Christine and he knew that he didn't want that.

He sighed heavily as he pushed the letter back and forth with his thumb. What to do?

Finally, he picked up the letter and stuffed it in his uniform. As he closed his office, he said to Maddox, "I'm calling it a day. Why don't you do the same?"

Maddox shook his head with a rueful grin. "I'm behind on my reports. I'll just stay here a while longer."

Penhallon frowned. "I thought you had a date with Ensign Darvis?"

"I do. I mean I did. She cancelled and wants to reschedule. Is that a bad thing?"

Penhallon sighed. "It depends on why she did it. If you see her in the mess hall with someone else, then I'd say yes. If you see her in sickbay getting a headache remedy, then I think you're okay."

"I wish I had your touch with the ladies, sir."

Penhallon smiled. "No, I really don't think you do. Good night then, Paul."

"Good night, sir."

Penhallon hurried to the lift and up to deck two. He managed to get to his quarters without running into anyone. Once safely inside, he took the letter out again and considered what he knew.

Farrell worked for the section. As did Kerr. Farrell wanted to out Kerr both as a section operative but also as someone that had been essentially prepped to win Christine's heart. But why? Why would Farrell want to hurt Christine that way? Penhallon surmised that Farrell would only do this if Kerr were no longer working for the section. Therefore, Kerr must have pulled away from them and this was her revenge.

But if Kerr had pulled away, that showed a strength of character, or a commitment to his new life, that Penhallon admired.

But the fact that the information had come to him through such a bizarre route meant that Farrell had known that someone, most likely Kerr, was watching incoming and outgoing shipments.

Penhallon believed he was the only one outside of the captain, Kerr, and Commander Chapel that knew that Farrell had let the Psi 2000 virus loose. He had expected Spock to put Farrell off at the first Starbase, but she had been killed before that could happen.

Killed...murdered. And Kerr had probably been running the investigation. Was it possible that she tried to blackmail him into helping her stay on board? And if she did, could Kerr have killed her to silence her? Would he have done something that desperate to keep Christine?

Penhallon sighed. He'd seen the way Kerr looked at Christine. There wasn't much of anything that the colonel wouldn't do, at least in Penhallon's book, to keep her.

So Kerr might be a murderer. If that were the case, was it safe for Christine to be with him? Maybe Farrell was right? Maybe Christine should know the truth.

But he couldn't imagine Kerr ever harming her, and Penhallon knew he was an excellent judge of character.

Farrell, on the other hand, might not mind hurting Christine as long as she destroyed Kerr in the process. That was a surprise--he would have bet a lot of credits on her being a true friend to Christine. So much for his ability to judge people.

Good night, what a conundrum, he thought wearily.

He walked over to his closet and pulled out his traveling trunk. Opening it, he reached down and hit the intricate combination of panels that would pop the bottom up, revealing a small chamber underneath. Setting the letter inside it and pushing the false bottom back down, he slid the trunk back in place in his closet. The information was safe for now...at least until he had more time to think about this. He knew better than to make a hasty judgment on a decision this important.

Trying to push the whole thing out of his mind, he quickly freshened up and changed into casual clothes. He had planned dinner with Ritsuko and he wasn't going to be much good cheering her up if he was obsessing over this. With a quick glance toward the closet, he headed out the door, not happy that he was now the possessor of such potentially explosive information but determined to put it out of his mind, at least for the next few hours. At the last minute he turned back and put an extra lock on his cabin. The information could safely wait, but there was no reason not to take a few extra precautions...at least until he decided what to do with it.

FIN