In the Fullness of Time by Djinn

"Have you seen this?" Christine laid the padd down on Spock's table, wanted to slam it down.

He nearly sighed. "I saw it."

"Were you going to tell me?" She picked the padd up, began to read: "We question how Ambassador Spock can hope to help the Horgivian people when he is not astute enough to recognize a traitor in his midst."

He met her eyes, did not flinch away. "I saw no purpose in sharing it with you. This person is clearly making trouble and is seizing on your presence here only because it suits his or her purposes."

She sighed.

"Sit down, Christine, and have breakfast." He indicated the chair across from him, where another setting had been laid.

She noticed that he'd ordered her the fruit she liked best and smiled in spite of her irritation. "Don't humor me. And I'm not making too much of this."

"Of course not." Gentle humor shone in his eyes.

"This isn't a game, Spock. You keep saying people will forget but I've been working with you for three months now, and I don't see any signs of amnesia. When are they going to forget that I was close to Valeris and Cartwright?" Or that she'd been detained in a Federation holding facility for two months because of it? Only Spock had gotten her out; it had been his testimony that she was blameless that had set her free. And only a mind meld had proven that to him. Without his help, she might still be in there.

"It may take years, Christine."

"You didn't say that when you convinced me to come work with you."

"It is just one article."

"This time. But I see the looks we get at Command. No one is happy I'm around."

"You are exaggerating. And I am happy--or at least content." An eyebrow rose as he buttered one of the Horgivian sweet rolls. "I am, after all, a Vulcan for whom emotion is very foreign." His eyes seemed to sparkle again.

"No, you are the master diplomat, and you always know what to say to calm me down."

He did not say anything, just ate in good-natured silence.

Sitting down, she picked up another padd. "I've been reading the Horgivian government's claims about the destruction of the water system. I'm not sure this adds up." She called up the report. "They say that the levels of the biotoxin were point nine eight five. To get to concentrations that high, you'd need more than could be leaked from what was in the lab that was blown up by the rebels."

Spock looked over at her, waiting.

"I've done some extrapolations. The water wasn't compromised until it hit point seven eight. The lab in question had trace amounts at best of the toxin in question. I think someone added a bit of oomph to the mix. I mean, if the water was already in danger, maybe it seemed prudent to force it over into the red zone?" She handed over the report. "I find it interesting that the only water supply that was ruined was the one that fed the province where the rebels are reportedly holed up."

"It is interesting." He nodded. "I shall mention this at my meeting today with the First Minister. Perhaps it will make him more willing to acquiesce to the rebel's demands for a neutral location. If there are to be talks here, then the government must meet the rebels at least part way."

"What if they don't want to talk? What if they just want to kill them? Your being here may just be a ploy to get the rebels to show themselves, give up their position."

"That has occurred to me." He narrowed his eyes. "You learned much in Emergency Ops. I would not expect a doctor to be considering strategy."

"Or maybe I learned it by being the big traitor?" She pouted for a moment, then pulled the bowl of fruit toward her and began to eat.

"Is the karava melon ripe enough?"

She nodded, looking over at him and grinning as she did. "Perfect."

"Good." He went back to studying the padd, and she noticed he had put the other one--the one with the damning letter about her--away. Somewhere it would not set her off again, no doubt.

Smart man.

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

Spock watched those around him at Command as he walked down the corridor with Christine. In the past, he had not paid much attention to how anyone reacted to him or to the two of them. But since it appeared to bother her, he had begun to track the reaction.

And she had been right. She did get some unfriendly looks--especially from the brass. Spock looked over at her. For once, she was lost in her padd, seemed to be navigating the corridor more on instinct than anything else.

He decided not to mention his observations.

"This is interesting," she said without looking up.

He glanced at her. "So it would appear. You have been absorbed in that since we left the staff meeting." Commander Kavinksy from Medical had given it to her after the morning meeting.

Grinning, she closed the report and gave him her attention. "I'm sorry, did you want to talk?"

"Not particularly."

She laughed, and he wondered if in the past she would have taken offense at such an honest--if unflattering--answer.

"Can I go back to my padd then?" she asked.

"What is the report about?"

"Containment procedures for Rigellian Fever."

"Yes, you may go back to it."

Laughing again, she pulled the report back up and resumed reading. He let her use whatever sonar got her through the corridors without colliding with anyone else--had she learned that skill in Emergency Operations? When it was time to turn into an adjacent corridor, he gently steered her to the right. She did not appear to notice.

He imagined the old Christine would have been instantly aware he had touched her--but this was not the old Christine, which was something that he was increasingly aware of. He knew he was not the old Spock. Valeris had changed them both when she had betrayed them. She had pretended to love them, left Christine's life in shambles when she'd been jailed. Left his emotions jumbled and his faith nearly torn into shreds. One woman--not even a very big one--to cause so much damage.

"Admiral Michaelson will be chairing this meeting," Spock murmured.

Christine put the padd down in a hurry and glared at him--Michaelson had been the lone voice on the review panel recommending continued detainment after Spock had testified for her. "You're telling me now?"

"Yes. I did not want you to obsess."

"Obsess? I don't obsess. Besides, he hates me."

"That may be too strong."

The conference door came in sight; Michaelson was standing outside talking to a captain. He saw Spock and nodded, then he looked past him, completely ignoring Christine to say hello to another officer who was behind them.

"Too strong?" she muttered.

"Christine." He did not like warning her, but he also knew she was capable of saying anything if her emotions took charge. Since her detainment, she appeared to believe she had little to lose.

"I'll be good," she said, following him to seats along the wall. "You can sit at the table, Spock. You're a high enough rank."

"I will sit with you," he said calmly. He remembered when Janice Lester had taken over Jim's body during their five-year mission; Christine had sat with him like this. She had pushed past the guards and sat down on the bench next to him, in clear defiance of a trusted commanding officer she'd had no reason to rebel against. Except that she believed in Spock.

He would do no less for her now.

Michaelson came in, starting the meeting. The conversations died down, and he looked around the room, his eyes settling on Spock. "There's room at the table, Captain."

"I am comfortable here, sir." Spock nodded graciously, trying to show that he appreciated the invitation, even if he did not like the motives behind it.

Michaelson's lips tightened but he let it go and sat down. As he turned to one of the other ranking officers, Spock glanced over at Christine.

"Thank you," she mouthed.

He nodded almost infinitesimally, then turned his full attention to the meeting.

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

Christine walked down the familiar corridor, could hear the noise of Ops ahead. Her heart was pounding loudly; she wondered if anyone around her could hear it. But no one seemed to be paying her any attention.

The room, as she slipped in through the back entrance, was bustling. And there were a lot of smiles. Must have had a victory somewhere--and a good one by the look of it.

She stood there a moment, remembering how it felt to be a part of this. Then several officers turned to her.

"Christine?" Major Edmundson rushed over, his face lighting up in a way his marine commanders might frown on--it made him look about sixteen. "Good god, it's been a long time. Where have you been?"

Lieutenant Commander Wilkins smiled at her. "We'd heard you'd been transferred to diplomatic."

"It's true. I have." Christine glanced around the room. There were a few people staring at her in less than friendly ways, but for the most part, she was being ignored. "How are things?"

Edmundson rolled his eyes. "You know how it is after something like this. Lots of reg changes, policy reviews. Everyone wants to make sure another Cartwright can't happen."

"Or another Valeris," Wilkins said. "I never saw that coming. Either of them. But especially not her. She was "

Christine forced her face to remain as neutral as she could. Valeris had been far more than competent. She'd been amazing. Except for when she'd been with Jim, Christine had never felt more the focus of someone's attention as she had with Valeris. Unfortunately, Spock had been feeling the same way. Valeris had been quite the little actress.

"We tried to come see you while you were detained," Wilkins said softly. "They wouldn't let us in."

"I know." She'd heard this from several friends. But it had hurt at the time. She'd thought they'd all abandoned her.

"What they did--Christine, you know most of us don't think you had anything to do with what happened?" Edmundson cleared his throat, as if searching for something else to say.

She touched his arm, smiling. "I know, Jason."

"Wow. Never thought I'd see him in here." Wilkins nodded toward the door.

Christine turned, saw that Spock was standing at the door, his eyes on the big board. Unlike Jim, he'd never spent much time in Ops, never seemed to feel a need to get back out into space even vicariously. "He's my new boss," she murmured.

"Well, what more do some people need then? If he's willing to have you around...?" Wilkins looked very irritated on her behalf, and Christine felt touched.

"I appreciate the support, Maya."

"I just feel bad. You were here so long. And you were really good. And now...you're just not here? That's not fair."

"It's life though." Christine shrugged. "And life isn't fair."

If life were fair, Jim would be alive, and Valeris and Cartwright wouldn't have betrayed them all for a cause that made no sense. And Christine wouldn't have been stuck in that detainment center.

She laughed softly. She needed to let this anger go. Spock told her that often enough. And, as usual, he was right.

She turned to look at him, found him watching her. His expression lightened, and she had the feeling he was asking her if she was ready to go.

"I'll see you guys. Duty calls."

"How can you tell?" Edmundson asked.

"She speaks Vulcan blank-face. Remember how well she could read Valeris?" Wilkins frowned. None of them had read Valeris very well. "I mean--"

"--Don't think too hard about it. It'll make you crazy." Christine gave each of them a quick hug, which wasn't exactly regulation, but she didn't much care anymore.

By the way they hugged her back, they didn't care either.

As she joined Spock at the door, he said softly, "Exorcising demons, Christine?"

"Maybe."

He only nodded, and they walked back to his office in silence. As she got ready to turn off to go to her own office, he said, "There is a reception tonight at the Vulcan embassy. A harpist who is quite renowned will be performing. Would you like to accompany me?"

She smiled at him. "Officially? In uniform?"

"No. I am going merely as the son of the Ambassador." His lips curled up very slightly. "You do not have to wear a uniform to this. In fact, it would be preferred that you do not."

"Would it?"

He nodded slowly.

"I'd love to go."

"Excellent. I shall pick you up at seven."

"Okay." She walked away, then turned to look at him.

He already had his head down, studying something on a padd. He looked up, his eyebrow rising. "Yes?"

Shaking her head, she said, "Nothing. Sorry. See you at seven."

Nodding, he went back to his reading.

She walked out, thankful that Sarek and Amanda had invited her to receptions at the Embassy when she was in Emergency Ops. She knew exactly what to expect--and what to wear.

The only thing that would be new would be being there with Spock.

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

Spock stood by his father and watched Christine as she navigated the room, nodding pleasantly to those around her but never seeming to pause long enough to have to talk to anyone. There were several Starfleet higher-ups at the party; he noticed that she avoided them entirely, but managed to do it in a way that seemed by chance rather than planned.

"She has suffered for her associate's crimes?" Sarek asked softly.

Spock turned to him, surprised that his father would be so sensitive to nuance.

"My son, you do not need to look at me that way. I know she was in the detention center, just as I know that it was you who arranged her release. And now she works with you. It is logical to assume you are concerned in some way for her well being."

Spock nodded, slightly shamed that his father seemed to be more tuned in than he was to what was going on. "There are some who would like to see her pay for crimes I do not believe she was involved in."

"There are always some who feel that way. Often it is those who have the most reason to be afraid of eyes turning to them who denounce the loudest."

Spock frowned. "You are referring to Michaelson?"

Sarek nodded. "Early in his career, an older cadet took an interest in him, helped him along. Can you not deduce who that older cadet might have been?"

"Cartwright."

Sarek nodded. "If Michaelson is making trouble for her, I will be happy to speak to him on her behalf."

"I do not believe that will be necessary, Father. But I appreciate the offer."

"I am...fond of Commander Chapel, Spock." Sarek let his eyebrow rise. "Although, perhaps not as fond of her as you are."

It was Spock's turn to let his eyebrow soar.

"I believe this is the first time you have brought a companion to an Embassy function." Then Sarek's expression clouded. "Other than Valeris, of course."

Spock nodded, resisting the urge to sigh softly. Why was it that Valeris always managed to insert herself into his activities? "Yes. Other than Valeris."

Christine eased between several other guests and made her way over to them. She smiled and murmured, "Thank you," as Spock handed her a glass of a Vulcan red wine he knew she liked.

"Are you enjoying the harpist?" Sarek asked her.

She looked over at the musician. "Truthfully?"

Spock was surprised to see Sarek give her a look very close to a smile. "I am used to you speaking truth to me, Commander."

She sighed. "The music is lovely. When I remember to pay attention to it, I enjoy it tremendously."

"And what has your attention so riveted that you cannot pay attention to one of Vulcan's premier musicians?" Sarek had lost the lightness. He seemed to want to draw her out; a move Spock was not sure was a good idea.

Christine did not appear to be in the mood to be drawn out. "Work, mainly. Your son keeps me very busy." She winked at Spock, and he suspected it was as much to beg forgiveness for the evasion as out of any amusement.

"Yes, he demands much from himself and those around him."

Spock, seeing that Sarek seemed about to say more, said softly to her, "Perhaps you would like to walk in the gardens?"

She looked very relieved. "That sounds nice." As they left Sarek, she smiled softly. "There you go, rescuing me again."

"I thought a change of venue might be prudent. But you did not require rescuing from my father. He actually admitted to me that he is quite fond of you."

"Did he?" She smiled. "I'm quite fond of him too." She sipped at her wine, her arm pushing against his occasionally as they walked the torch-lit paths.

"He had some interesting insights on Michaelson."

She turned to look at him.

"Apparently, Admiral Cartwright was a friend and sponsor of his when they were both in the Academy."

"I know."

"You knew that? Why did you not tell me?"

"Because having been the victim of a witch hunt, I don't feel like starting one. No matter how much I might despise the man." Her face was stormy, and she took a long drink from her wine.

"Perhaps you should go slowly--the wine is strong."

"It's no stronger than any other wine, Spock." Her voice was curt. "Don't you get tired of this?"

"Of what?"

"Of having to...look out for me. Having to worry about me? Because I'm sure getting tired of it." She finished her wine in one gulp.

He was glad the Embassy staff had not set up refreshment tables in the gardens, did not think becoming intoxicated would help her mood.

A Vulcan couple walked past them, murmuring pardons as they moved gracefully by.

"What do they think of us?"

"Think?"

"You and me? Vulcan and Human?"

He lifted an eyebrow. "I am half human."

"Not what I asked." She seemed in an odd mood. Volatile and ready to fight. "We're together tonight, aren't we?"

He nodded, unwilling to put into words any sentiment that might set her off more.

"So, what do they think of that?"

"I do not know, Christine. But if you wish, I will go find them and inquire." His words came out more sarcastic than he intended, much as if he'd been sparring with Doctor McCoy. He suddenly worried that he would hurt her feelings.

But instead she just laughed. "God, Spock. When did I become such a mess?" She took his arm, the shock of her skin on his--and the rush of her emotions, which were, indeed, tangled--causing him to almost pull away. She looked up at him in alarm, letting go of him. "I'm sorry. I don't know what I was thinking."

He reached down and gently placed her hand back onto his arm. Resuming their walk, he said softly, "If I object to something you do, I will tell you."

"Your body language did tell me, Spock." Her tone was brusque, but she smiled, and she didn't pull away.

"To pull away was an instinctive reaction. It was not, however, the reaction I intended. You know I am unaccustomed to physical contact."

Her face twisted, and her tone was mean when she said, "Is that what you told Valeris when you were screw--"

His finger on her lips stopped her. He could feel his eyes narrowing, shook his head slowly. "Why are you attacking me, Christine?"

She pulled away from him, moved over to a bench and sat down, staring at the crushed rock of the path. "I don't know."

"Do you not wish to be here?"

"I'm glad I'm here."

He let an eyebrow lift be his counter to that statement.

"I'm mostly glad I'm here?" She smiled sheepishly. "I'm just tired, Spock. So damn tired." She did look tired--her eyes lacked their normal sparkle, were rimmed with dark purple, as if bruised.

He nodded, touching her face gently, as if he could erase the circles with his finger. "I am aware you are exhausted. You should take some leave. As I plan to do. When I go home in two weeks."

She looked down. "Yes. I should do that."

He could tell she had not understood what he was trying to say. But he had said it very badly, so it was not entirely surprising that she had not picked up his hidden message. "I meant to say you should take leave and come with me. To Vulcan."

"Come with you?"

He nodded. It was entirely impulsive of him to ask her to come. But he suddenly wanted her to very much.

"Are you sure I won't be a downer?"

"No. I am not sure of that." He knew by her small smile that she could tell he was teasing her. "Will you come with me?"

"Spock. I don't know. You've done enough."

"I am not asking out of obligation. Or out of duty. I wish you to come with me."

She finally nodded, but her expression was more one of surrender than of anticipation.

He decided not to dwell on that.

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

Christine waited with Spock in the embarkation lounge. The shuttle that the Embassy had arranged to take Sarek and his family home had been held up; their pilot was waiting for other traffic to clear the bays before it could dock to pick them up.

She felt restless, and a little cranky. Her head hurt, and she felt exposed in the lounge area. She'd felt this way since they'd let her out of the detention center--like someone was watching her, always watching her. It was odd. In the Center, she had felt as if the walls had been closing in on her. Now, free of that place, she felt like there was too much room.

"I'll be right back," she said, getting up and heading to the lavatory. She forced herself to breathe normally--she was fine. No one was watching her.

As she started to walk back to where Spock and his parents sat, she saw someone turn from the refreshment counter, felt her stomach clench as Michaelson nearly collided with her.

"Commander." His voice fairly dripped disdain.

"Ron."

He looked around, as if afraid that others would hear her call him by name. "That's Adm--"

"--My mistake, Admiral." She tried to push past him.

He stopped her. "You've got support now. Powerful support. I won't take on Sarek, if that's what you're wondering?"

Frowning, she turned to him. "What are you talking about?"

He laughed. "Don't play innocent with me. You think I don't see through your affinity for things Vulcan?" He leaned in. "I don't trust you. Don't think that just because I'm backing off that I'm giving up."

She sighed. "Spock cleared me."

"Yes. And Spock was quite close to Valeris, wasn't he? Maybe Spock's not to be trusted? No one ever bothered to check that, did they? And since the man who probably knew best died on the Enterprise B, how can they?"

"Don't even--

"--That was an accident, right?" His smile got even snider. "Oh, wait. You were involved with Kirk, weren't you? And those rumors...about Spock and him. Maybe the conspiracy goes far, far deeper than anyone knows."

"Jim stopped the assassination."

Michaelson nodded, shrugging as if conceding the point. "Maybe Kirk wasn't in on it. But Spock? And You?" He leaned in. "I've never known Sarek to involve himself in the affairs of a Starfleet officer before. Unless it involved getting his son or his son's friends out of hot water. And you were the one who called him in for that after Kirk stole the Enterprise for Sarek's son, possibly at Sarek's request. My, how tangled is this web?"

"Why are you doing this, Ron? You were Matthew's friend."

His face clouded. "That was a long time ago."

"Just because you were his friend, doesn't mean you're guilty. It doesn't mean that any of us are."

He didn't answer, just gave her a cold smile and walked away.

She could feel a chill settle over her. She walked slowly over to where Spock and the others sat.

Sarek stood and turned to her. "Our ship is ready." He led Amanda down the ramp.

"Spock. Maybe this isn't a good idea." She set her bag down.

He picked it up. "Christine, the ship is ready."

She looked down, fought to not cry. Then she felt his hand on her elbow, gently steering her toward the ramp.

"I saw you talking with Michaelson. He upset you?"

"No," she said, staring at the carpeting as it changed from red to black to gray squares. The carpet in the detention center had been the same pattern.

Michaelson wanted her to go back there. Or somewhere worse. Her and Spock and Sarek. But they'd done nothing.

"Here, sit." Spock eased her into a seat, stowing her bag and his own, before joining her, sitting close to her, as close as he'd sat that time on Excelsior, when he'd convinced her to come work with him.

She could feel his warmth even through the robe he wore, appreciated the comforting feel of him as he pressed his arm lightly against hers. "I should go."

"It is too late," he said.

And she felt the ship lurch slightly as it broke free of the spacedock and the pilot gave the impulse engines a kick.

"Christine?" Amanda's voice was gentle. "Is something wrong?"

"Michaelson." Spock looked at his father.

"I thought he would leave you alone after I..." Sarek looked at his son, seemed to take a step back even though he hadn't moved.

"Father, I asked you not to interfere."

"Yes, Spock. You did. But I was in a meeting with him, and after something he said, I felt it prudent to say something to him in private."

Christine felt as if she was underwater, could barely hear what they were saying. She pushed her head against the headrest and tried not to cry. Then she felt Spock's hand finding her own, gently squeezing and not pulling away, but tightening slowly on hers until she squeezed back. Until she held onto him as if he was keeping her from falling off the edge of a cliff.

"He won't stop," she said. "He thinks I'm guilty."

"He is wrong," Spock said, his tone brooking no argument. "And he is just one man."

She sighed. Then she took a deep breath, was dismayed when it sounded ragged. "Let's forget it. Just forget it."

Spock turned to look at her, his hand tightening on hers again, and she suddenly felt trapped. She tugged, saw him frown slightly, but he let go of her. "Christine?"

"I'm all right. I'm just tired." She turned away, nestling against the cushion of the bulkhead. She closed her eyes, knew he was watching her and willed herself to pretend to fall asleep.

She heard him sigh. The sound was as ragged as her own breathing.

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

"Father, if you have a moment," Spock said, as he saw his father pass his room.

"Of course, my son." Sarek moved closer to the door.

"I am uncertain why you believed it advisable to interfere in Christine's affairs, but I wish you had not."

"I thought it best." Sarek's voice was the voice of old, the father who could never be made to see any point but his own.

Spock could feel his mouth tightening. He had not wanted to bring this up at dinner for just this reason, could feel annoyance growing into something stronger. Something older.

"Oh, Spock. Do not look at me that way. Admiral Michaelson will not make trouble for Christine any longer."

"I am not certain that is true. But that is not the point that concerns me. This was a private matter, and I specifically told you that your aid was not required, yet you intervened anyway."

Sarek's eyes seemed to glimmer for a moment, the way they had when Spock was young and arguing with him. "Spock, I have been dealing with humans for far more years than you have. I know how to behave. And what is required."

"And I think you do not. And it was not your decision to make."

"Nor was it yours, Spock." His mother pushed past Sarek. "You are acting as if Christine has no say in this matter. Did either of you think to include her in these deliberations?"

Spock looked at Sarek, who only raised an eyebrow.

"I thought not."

"Mother, you oversimplify this."

"Spock"--his mother took his arm--"you, my dear, are not thinking clearly where she is concerned. And your father"--she glared at Sarek--"seems to always have difficulty with reason when it has to do with you." She shook her head. "Come out to the main room. Both of you. Christine will be waiting."

Spock let his mother pull him past his father. He was about to say something to lighten the mood, when he saw Christine standing at the door to her room, staring at them all. "Christine?"

"This isn't going to work. You're arguing over me."

"Oh, Christine, they'd argue over the color of the sky. Don't take it personally."

"Michaelson said..." She looked down. "This isn't good for any of you. To be helping me."

Spock pulled away from his mother, took a step toward Christine. "I have told you; Michaelson is one man. In a fleet of many more."

"It's not as if he's not a rank ensign, Spock. He's an admiral. An admiral who wants me drummed out--or locked up."

"He is only one admiral of many."

"Not very comforting. I haven't seen any of the others rushing over to say hello lately, have you?"

"Did they before, dear?" Amanda smiled at her. "I mean, if they did, and now they're not, well, then perhaps you have a point. But if not...?"

"You've spent too much time with Vulcans," Christine said, as she turned away.

Spock hurried after her, catching her arm before she could get too far. "Christine. Do not overreact."

She tore her arm away. "Don't tell me what to do." Then she rushed off.

He started to follow her, but Amanda stopped him.

"I'll go," she said.

Spock stood in the hallway, realized his hands were clenched and forced them to relax.

Sarek moved up to stand near him. "Your mother, at times, has made me clench my fists in just such a manner." He shared a long look with Spock. "It is a side effect of caring for a human, I believe."

Spock allowed himself a sigh.

"One also learns how to sigh quite expressively," Sarek said, with a knowing lift of his eyebrows.

"Indeed," Spock murmured.

Coming back, his mother shook her head. "She's gone out. For a walk, I think. You should go after her. And work on your apologies. Both of you."

"Both of us?" Sarek looked at Spock.

"Yes, both of you. You can also work out what it means, my husband, when our son tells you not to interfere in his or Christine's affairs. I think, for all of our future happiness's sake, that this is a discussion worth having."

"As you wish," Sarek said, and Spock looked at him in surprise.

"Concession is also a side effect," his father muttered as they walked down the hall toward the front door.

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

Christine heard the door to the courtyard open, then it closed again. The steps coming toward her were unhurried and sounded too light to be Spock.

"I thought I'd find you here." Amanda moved easily through her roses, her robes swishing softly as she passed. She turned to look at Christine. "Spock and Sarek are out looking for you."

"Both of them?" Christine shook her head.

"Never underestimate the tenacity of the Vulcan male, my dear. And I may have indicated you went out the front door, not the side one. And that they both should go after you. It will give them time together and give us time. Win-win, wouldn't you say?" With a gentle smile, Amanda moved closer. "May I join you?" she said, indicating the spot next to her on the bench.

"Of course." Christine slid over slightly, making room, although she didn't need to--Amanda was so tiny.

"I love it here." Amanda sighed softly. "I used to come here when Sarek and I were first married. It didn't look like this then, but it was still a place to hide when I needed to think." Amanda reached over and took Christine's hand in hers, never turning to look at her. "Our marriage was rocky at the start. I loved him, but he was so different. And Vulcan? I hated it here. Loathed it with every fiber of my being." She did turn, smiling slightly. "The pain is far away now, but it was real back then."

"I'm sure it was."

"But time helps, Christine. It helps in so many ways." Amanda's eyes seemed to sparkle in the low light. "Look at my son, out there searching frantically for a woman he used to flee from."

"Flee?" Christine made a face. But it was no doubt true. He most likely had fled from her.

"Well, avoided at any rate. He is not avoiding you any longer, dearest."

"I know."

"Are you in love with him?"

It took her a long time to answer. "Yes."

Amanda laugh was brittle. "You don't have to sound so mournful about it, Christine."

"I'm sorry." Christine grimaced; she was talking to Spock's mother, for cripe's sake.

"It's all right. I think this is very confusing for you. And for Spock too."

"He seems fine with it. Hell bent, even." Christine gestured to the garden, then the house. "Him bringing me here is a good case in point."

"Yes, we were rather surprised. Although pleased." Amanda smiled. "You don't approve of his interest? It is unwelcome?"

"No. I told you, I love him."

"Then what's the problem?" Amanda sounded so like Jim that Christine had to blink back tears.

"The problem is that I'm not good for him. Every time he tries to help someone, they see me, and question his judgment, his ethics. He has a suspected traitor by his side, Amanda. And he has to be above reproach."

"My dear, I know how badly Valeris hurt Spock. If he believes in you--you who are so closely linked with her and with Admiral Cartwright--then I know you must be 'above reproach,' or he would not be able to bear having you anywhere near. I know my son, Christine, and if he believes in you, then I believe in you."

Christine looked down.

"And Sarek feels the same way. He and Spock may not always agree, but he does believe in his son. And in Spock's judgment when it comes to his friends."

"Yes, look how well he did with Valeris. A woman of 'great' character," she said, embellishing Sarek's favorite compliment.

"She fooled us all. All of us, Christine. Not just you and not just Spock. It isn't as if you were one or two in a crowd of people saying, 'Beware Valeris.'"

Christine nodded, but she remembered how Janice couldn't stand Valeris. She'd always known...somehow.

"My son is in love with you, Christine." At her look, Amanda nodded. "I know him. I know the signs. And he is not trying to hide it from us. He cares deeply for you, and you are pushing him away. It is most..."

"Ironic?"

"I was thinking more of unexpected."

"One of Spock's favorite words."

"Yes, well, he learned it from me, perhaps?" Amanda grinned. "He got something else from me. His contrariness. The more you are denied to him, the more he will fight for you."

Christine laughed. "If only I'd know that back when I was making a fool of myself over him."

"It wouldn't have worked back then. And you know what I'm talking about. He's stubborn. You have been unfairly accused. Some are telling him that it is ill conceived to associate with you. And now you are resisting--it will only make him hang on all the more."

"I'm not sure he should."

Amanda made a face. "You've never struck me as a quitter."

"I'm not, but this is Spock who's being hurt not me."

"If he doesn't mind, why should you?"

"Maybe he's not thinking clearly."

Amanda shook her head gently. "He's a Vulcan, dear. And nowhere near the time when he might not be thinking clearly. I doubt very much that he isn't fully capable of deciding for himself what is right."

"You don't understand. I could go be a doctor. Anywhere. And they'd overlook my background--and my supposed treachery." She shook her head. "But being with Spock, I'm reminded daily by those around us how I don't quite measure up anymore."

"Ah. Finally something that is about you." Amanda's hand tightened on hers. "Do you think I'm a stranger to that? What do you think it was like coming to this planet? To wed someone of Sarek's status? Me: a lowly human, and not a particularly brilliant one. And for love? Do you have any idea how hard it was to get from one day to the next?" Amanda got up, walked over to a particularly hardy bloom. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to grow roses in this soil? It takes tenacity. It takes cussed human stubbornness." She bent to smell the rose. "And it takes love."

Christine looked down.

"If you don't love my son, then go pack your bags, and I'll take you to the spaceport myself. But if you love him, Christine, then you need to fight for him." Amanda straightened up. "The way I did for Sarek all those years ago."

Christine looked over at her. "Did he ever waver?"

"Never. Only I did, when I got tired and afraid. I know you've been through a lot. I know you are tired--and that you're afraid. You're safe here. And you're welcome." Amanda walked toward her, reaching down and setting her hands on Christine's arms, shaking her a little. "Spock is like his father, you know. Once he chooses, he does not waver." She frowned for a moment. "Well, Gol aside."

Christine laughed. "Let's consider that an aberration."

Amanda nodded. "I'll tell you a secret. It gives me a little thrill seeing my half-Vulcan son choose to love a human." She grinned, the expression a little twisted. "He hasn't done so well with the full-Vulcans."

"You're so sure that he'll do better with me?"

Amanda nodded. "A mother knows these things." She cocked her head, as if hearing things in the thin Vulcan air that Christine could not. "Spock and Sarek are back. Perhaps you should go reassure my son that you have not vanished into thin air?"

Christine smiled and got up. It was very difficult to fight this woman.

"You should reassure him well, Christine. The rooms are quite soundproof." With a wink, Amanda left her alone.

Christine bent down and smelled the rose that Amanda had touched. It was lovely--strong, and sweet, and smelling of Earth. She sighed, then hurried into the house.

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

Spock heard the door to the courtyard open and rushed out of his room. "Mother? Did she come back?"

"She never left, Spock." Amanda smiled as Christine came into the house, through the courtyard door.

"I ," he said.

Christine didn't meet his eyes. "I know." She pushed past him, into her bedroom. But she left the door open.

Following her in, he gently closed the door. "Are you all right?"

She nodded. She seemed to be holding herself tightly, too tightly. The way she had at the detention center when he'd come to get her out.

"You can't always save me, Spock," she said, as if she was reading his mind.

He moved closer. "I was not aware you required saving."

"I don't." She turned, and he was surprised to see that she was crying. "You need saving from me."

"I do?" He let one eyebrow go up, was grateful when she laughed through her tears.

"You do." She tried to push past him again, but this time he reached out and stopped her progress, pulling her close.

He could feel her emotions thrumming into his skin wherever he touched her. So many emotions warring inside her: love, fear, pain, grief still, and guilt. Letting go of her with one hand, he brushed back her hair, his fingers lingering on her lovely non-pointed ears.

"Why do I need saving?" he asked.

She still would not meet his eyes. "Because I'm bad for you."

"I do not think you are."

"You're not exactly objective here."

"No?"

She shook her head.

"And why is that?"

She frowned, her mouth turning down as if she was angry with him for having asked that particular question. "You know why."

"I do not. Please tell me."

She tried to shrug out of his grip, so he pulled her closer.

"Christine?"

"You want me."

"That is correct." He nearly smiled. It was quite easy to tell her how he felt when she did the talking. "What else do I feel for you?" His tone was too light; he saw that immediately by the way she tensed.

"This isn't a damn game."

"It is anything but a game, Christine." He pulled her closer, until their bodies touched in places that normally kept a respectable distance.

She moaned, and he smiled, pleased at the reaction. It mirrored his own, even if he had not given voice to the shock he'd felt as her body rubbed along his. He forced her chin up so he could see her face. By the way she was still not looking at him, he realized she was not going to fill in the blanks any longer.

"I care about you," he said. "Deeply."

She swallowed hard. "Don't."

"Why not?" The barrage of emotions slipping through his fingertips increased. "Do you no longer love me?"

Closing her eyes, she leaned into him, her mouth lifting up to his in what he thought was an unconscious move. He felt irresistibly drawn to touch her lips with his own. The kiss was chaste--for a moment. Then she opened her mouth to let him in, and he did not try to temper what he felt, what he wanted from her.

When he finally pulled away, they were both breathing harder. "You did not answer my question, Christine."

"You know I love you." She pulled him back to her, kissing him with a passion he'd only ever seen in Valeris's memories. Now, this was his. Now, this was only for him.

"As I love you," he murmured, pushing her back to the bed.

He did not intend to lose momentum with her. She might try to run again if he hesitated. He pulled off her shirt, pushed down her pants. She looked up at him, surprise in her eyes.

"I will stop if you do not wish to continue."

"That's okay." She smiled suddenly, a brilliant expression. "You can keep going."

"Perhaps, some assistance on your part...?"

She began to tear his clothes off, and he knew that if she had looked up, she would have seen a very satisfied glint in his eyes. He made short work of her underthings, could feel her doing the same to his. Then they were on her bed, skin to skin, kissing like mad things.

He had never kissed Valeris this way, although he was fairly certain Christine had. He pushed her to her back, kissing her places he'd seen that she liked in her own and Valeris's memories. She moaned, her hands grasping him in a soft way that became harder the more he touched her. When she bucked under his mouth, her cries echoing in the bedroom, he felt a surge of satisfaction--and also relief that his parents had been so insistent on soundproofing when they'd remodeled the house.

Then she was pulling him up and he did not resist, kissing her even as his body joined with hers as if making love was something they had been doing all their lives. He did moan then, the feeling one of completion and rightness. Had he been meant for this woman all this time? What life had they missed because he had run from her for so long?

She was smiling, her eyes half lidded as she kissed him again.

"Christine...I know...it has been difficult...for you." He found it hard to talk, hard to do anything but move over her.

"I had you," she said, her nails digging into his back.

Closing his eyes, he abandoned conversation, but moved his hands to the meld points, then hesitated. The meld would enhance the sex, but it might also be too much, too soon. Sometimes insight could destroy, not bring together.

He did not want to know that he was not pleasing her the way Valeris had. That she was comparing him to her or Jim or any other lover she might have had.

He started to lift his fingers away from her face, but she pushed them back down. He opened his eyes, saw her watching him, her smile growing.

"Do it." She looked so beautiful lying underneath him, her mouth opening for his again.

He pushed his mind into her, heard her gasp at the possessive way he'd done it. Not like before, not like the gentle meld he'd used to find out the truth when she'd been in the detention center. This had been him claiming her. He let his mind wander, braced himself for truths he might not want to see.

But there was only her pleasure and her love for him beating down around him. He could feel the ghosts of the others--Valeris, Jim, more others than he'd expected. He could hear her chuckling.

"You weren't interested. Did you expect me to be a saint?"

"No. Of course not."

She laughed again--they could both tell that he had expected exactly that.

"I love you," she said, and there was a lilt in her voice and in the emotions spilling into him that had not been there before.

"I love you," he said mind to mind, and with his voice, letting his lips follow up the theme as he kissed her, moving faster over her. He reached the peak, felt himself beginning to fall and could feel her holding him.

"Let go," she said.

And he did. Riding her almost brutally, he felt no fear from her, only exhilaration--she too had feared that he would compare her to Valeris.

He and Valeris had never...not like this. He opened his eyes, saw her grinning.

"Welcome back," she said, kissing him softly.

A sigh was his only answer. He eased off her, felt her moving so she was cuddled against him. Pulling her closer, he wrapped himself around her, suddenly wanting to protect her, needing to protect her.

He did not realize the meld was still active until she whispered, "You can't protect me, Spock. But I love that you want to."

"If you were to marry me, they could not say anything against you."

"Yes, they could. They just wouldn't." She kissed his chest. "I won't hide behind you."

He felt a surge of emotion. "You do not wish to marry me?"

"I didn't say that." She laughed softly, a bit sadly. "But not yet. Not if it looks like I'm running away from something."

"I understand." He turned his face away, felt another emotional barrage from deep inside him. He was disappointed?

She pulled him back so she could kiss him. "Ask me again. When the talk dies down. If you still want me then?" She stroked her hand over him, making him jump. As if reminding him why he might still want her then.

"I will still want to marry you," he said.

She laughed.

"Something is funny?"

She nodded. He tried to read her expression, but her head was against his chest, and he could not see her eyes.

"Us. We're funny, Spock." She burrowed more firmly against him, and he realized she was crying. "All this time...and now..."

Stroking her arm gently, he enjoyed the feel of her skin against his fingers. Soft, she was as soft as he had imagined her all those years ago--when he had allowed himself to imagine what it might have been like with her. "It is..."

"Unexpected?"

He allowed a small smile. "I was thinking of ironic."

She began to laugh, and he was not sure why what he had said was funny.

"Ironic is the better word," she said, then she pulled away from him and met his eyes. Tears were bright in her eyes, and she blinked, letting the tears fall down her cheeks.

He kissed them from her face. "We will be fine, Christine. In time, everything will be fine."

Smiling, she eased down next to him. "Has anyone ever told you that you're a Pollyanna, Spock?"

He knew the reference. "I am a pragmatist." He tugged at the spread, somehow managing to get it over them despite their lying on top of it.

"Right." She began to move her hand lower, lower, and then-- "You're very sensitive," she said, her voice low and throaty.

He touched her in a similar place, felt her jump. "As are you, Christine." He knew that his eyes were unusually tender when he kissed her, not letting go of her, making her jump again. And again.

She didn't let go of him either, but she did bat his hand away from her long enough to kiss her way down to where she was causing so much trouble. Laughing, she did something with her mouth that Valeris had never done.

And he was glad she never had.

When she came up from under the covers, she was grinning. "Mine." Her voice was triumphant.

He nodded. He was hers. What she had done to him was hers. It was all hers.

He pushed her to her back, resumed what he had been doing. "Mine," he said, in exactly the same tone she had used.

"Forever, Spock."

Then she gave herself over to him. His. She was his. It was ironic and unexpected.

And wonderful.

He felt some part of him that had been in pain for a very long time finally settle down. Could sense that some part of her also relaxed--the brittle, hurt part that had risen up in the detention center although it might have been created long before that.

"We'll be fine, Spock," she said, whispering back his own words, as she curled against him.

"Yes," he said.

She had said he could not protect her, and she was right. But he could watch over her. As she drifted off to sleep, he stroked her hair and kissed her cheek. Then he just watched her for a long time before he finally let himself sleep too.

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

Christine looked across the negotiation table at Spock. He seemed to sense her eyes on him and looked up, his expression lightening enough for her to see his tenderness for her. Smiling, she bent back to her padd.

"You two need anything else?" Rand asked, peeking into the conference room.

"We are fine," Spock said.

"Okay then. We'll be at Caviosta in twenty-two hours." She grinned. "I'm hoping you'll be ready for a break before then? I'd like to steal Christine away from you, if you don't mind?"

"You will give her back?" Spock asked, his eyes bland as he looked back at Rand.

She didn't seem to know what to say. Then she burst out laughing. "I promise."

"Then I do not mind." He went back to his padd.

Christine turned to look at Rand, winking at her.

Rand mouthed, "Oh, my god," to her, then left them alone.

"If you didn't want her to know about us, I'm not sure that was the way to keep the secret."

"Why would I wish to keep our relationship a secret, Christine?" He did not look up at her as he spoke.

She smiled. If he did not feel the need to look at her, it was an issue he considered not a problem. Just a statement of fact. "No reason," she murmured.

"Did you wish it to be a secret? Perhaps you wanted to forego sharing a bed tonight?" His tone was light but there was something else there--something just a little bit uncertain.

"You mean I might want to throw you over for Hikaru?"

He didn't answer, but he did look up at her.

"I think I'll stick with you."

"You have not grown tired of our relationship?"

She smiled broadly. Was it possible to get tired of several months of astoundingly good sex with a man she was crazy about? A man who appeared to be just as crazy about her--even if he expressed that a bit more diffidently than she did.

He seemed to almost smile and looked back down. "I shall take that as a no."

"You do that, Spock."

They read in silence for a while. Then he said softly, "Have you read the section on Caviostan agriculture?"

"Yep." Caviosta was one hell of a fertile planet. Their grain production alone could feel half the quadrant.

"What did you make of it?"

She took a deep breath. "I only know what I've learned from you--and picked up from the experts we had in ops, but..."

"But...?"

"But I'd call that a bargaining chip, wouldn't you?"

He nodded, a look of deep satisfaction on his face as he met her eyes. "I would indeed."

She grinned. "I'm getting good at this."

"You have been quite skilled at this for some time. You are becoming confident."

She shot him a leer. "Wonder why that is?"

He appeared to be blushing slightly, and she was charmed. Just when she thought she knew him, he'd do something else that would make her heart melt. "I would not know, Christine. Why is that?" But he subjected her to a very thorough once-over, at least of the parts he could see.

She felt herself blushing. "Stop it or we won't get any work done."

"I did not start this."

She laughed, found herself channeling his mother--Amanda was incredibly adept at refereeing between Spock and Sarek. "But you can be the one who finishes it."

He shot her a glance, and she laughed.

"I think Janice is with Hikaru now." Christine smiled at his expression--it was almost relieved.

"Then I wish them every happiness."

"I bet you do."

He looked up at her. "You doubt my sincerity?"

"Not at all. I doubt your motives for that sincerity."

He nodded, looked pleased again. "You see, another diplomatic skill evidencing itself. Assessment of motive."

"Don't try to distract me, Ambassador mine."

He smiled slightly at the unexpected endearment, then forced his lips to curve back down. "Christine, you must concentrate."

"I know." She studied him as he went back to the padd.

He seemed happy with her. Not that anyone else could probably tell. There was nothing in his posture, or his expression, to give it away. But she just felt it. He was happy. With her.

Even months later, it still struck her as ironic.

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

Spock watched Christine walk along the beach, the sun shining on her hair. She looked tired; he imagined he did also. But he had promised to bring her here if they were successful in their latest--and most arduous--mission. And they had been, so here they were. Even though they were both exhausted.

It was impossible to tell from where they were standing that halfway around Kappa Upsilon, a terrible war had raged for decades. A war they had just helped the combatants end. With talk that had led to arguments and walk-outs and finally--after two months of histrionics and posturing--to understanding and peace.

He walked out to join her by the water. She didn't turn but held her hand out for him. Taking it, he felt her squeeze gently.

"Are you as tired as I am?" she asked.

"I am."

"No, you're probably more tired. This time, you did all the work."

It was not true. She had supplied him with vital information--facts, figures, and some data he'd been surprised she'd found for him. "Did you call in favors for the order of battle information?" Her data had varied considerably from what either side or his initial Starfleet contacts had provided.

She smiled. "Maybe."

"Ops?"

She smiled again. "Maybe."

He touched her hair. "Thank you. It was crucial."

She didn't wave him off, just nodded. "I know. I was glad I could help."

She leaned against him, and he wrapped an arm around her, not caring if anyone saw.

"Wow," she said, "you must be tired if you're going in for public displays." Turning to look at him, she kissed him.

"And you are not above leveraging that for your own nefarious purposes, are you, Christine?" He kissed her back.

"I am not." She seemed to sag against him. "As much as I'd like to take advantage of this new spirit of openness, do you think we could go back to our rooms and sleep?"

"Yes." He held her hand as they walked back to the shuttle, let her go only when he had to pilot the little craft back to the capital.

"You know, with this work, you're doing something good, Spock. Truly good."

"We are both doing good."

She did wave him away this time. "But I was thinking of you for a reason. You're still young. You have a lot of life ahead of you."

He looked over at her. They had never spoken of this.

She smiled, the expression both proud and sad. "I like thinking that you'll go on doing good things. That you'll go on making a difference."

He reached over. "I will do them with you in mind."

She smiled, squeezed his hand. "That's nice." Then she sighed. "I'm going to get old, and you won't."

"I will age also."

"But not as much. You'll still be vital. Just like Sarek will be, even as Amanda gets older."

He did not like to think of his parents this way. Found it more unsettling for some reason than considering the same fate for him and Christine.

"I'm sorry. This is depressing on our victory day."

He shook his head. "It is the way things will be between us some day. It is good that we talk now. Because you must understand that I will never stop loving you."

"Right till the end, huh?" She smiled but the expression was off.

"Yes." He put everything he felt for her into the word.

"I love you, Spock." She leaned over, kissed him.

"I thought you were tired."

"I am. But parts of me are interested." Smiling, she touched his hair, smoothing it down in the way he found soothing. "Maybe before we sleep...?"

"If we must." He said it as if she was asking a great deal of him. Then he looked over at her.

She laughed. "We must."

"Then we will." He forced his attention back on the shuttle. It would not do to crash on their way back. It would make it very difficult to make love to her if they were dead. He opened the throttle up a little, suddenly in a hurry to get back to their rooms.

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

"You seem happy to be back on Vulcan, Christine?" Amanda looked over from her roses.

"I am happy to be here." Christine sighed, letting out any lingering stress. She closed her eyes in the slight breeze--a breeze that blew hot and dry in the twilight. "Spock and I just spent two weeks on an icebound asteroid negotiating mining rights. Believe me, this heat feels great."

Amanda smiled. "My son seems very...happy."

Christine just smiled and was surprised when Amanda put her shears down and walked over. Laying a hand on Christine's cheek, she said softly. "Thank you."

Christine laid her hand on Amanda's. "For what?"

"For loving him."

"I'm the one making out like a bandit. While poor Spock is stuck with me."

"You know what I mean." Amanda laughed and let her go. "Did you learn that trick from your friend Leonard? Making a joke before things get too serious?"

"Like when you realize you're carrying around your best friend's katra and it might not come out?" McCoy had been full of jokes then. Of course, he'd also been half nuts, so the humor hadn't really worked.

Amanda nodded.

"Yeah, I might have learned it from him."

"When Spock first brought you here, you weren't joking about much of anything."

"No, I wasn't." Christine laughed. "I think I have him to thank for that."

"I think so too." Amanda went back to her roses. "How long will you two stay this time?"

"Long enough to warm up--and barely that. Starfleet wants us on Cardassia by the end of the week."

Amanda frowned. "I was hoping longer."

"Next time we'll come back for a longer visit."

"Good." Picking up the blossoms she'd cut, Amanda walked toward the door. "Stay out here as long as you wish, dear."

Christine closed her eyes. She wouldn't stay that long. If she did, she might never leave.

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

They were just leaving the shuttle from Cardassia, when Spock sensed Christine tensing next to him. He looked over, saw that Admiral Michaelson had gotten on the spacedock lift with them.

"Sir," Spock said evenly.

"Captain," Michaelson said, ignoring Christine.

"Ron." Her voice dipped dangerously, making two syllables out of his name.

He smiled, the look full of malice and turned away.

Spock gave Christine credit. She waited until the young lieutenant sharing the lift had exited on a middle deck, and the lift had resumed, before saying, "Computer, hold lift, authorization Chapel Echo-Omega-Alpha-four-five-four."

The lift jerked to a halt.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Michaelson said.

She didn't smile, didn't react in any way. "It's time to talk about this."

"Not in a lift."

"Why? You claustrophobic?" But she moved back, as if giving him room.

"I know you've had a lot of successes working with Captain Spock here. But that won't take it away."

She sighed, then she looked up at him. "The taint of him? Of Matthew?" She moved closer, one step, then another. "You're right. It won't. He's all over my career. He helped mold me into what I am. And you know what, Ron?" She practically spit his name at him. "He helped mold you too. And you hate that. That you owe your career and where you are to that fact that a traitor pushed for you."

"He was scum."

"No! He was not." She advanced on him, and Michaelson stepped back, until he ran into the lift wall. "He was a good man. He backed the wrong cause, that's all. He hurt people, and I won't excuse that. And I don't know why he did what he did. I don't know, and I'll never know. Because he's dead, and he can't tell us why he did something so goddamned stupid as lead that conspiracy."

Michaelson started to speak, but Christine didn't let him get a word in. "He's a traitor. Matthew Cartwright is a traitor. But I will not say he was not my friend. And I will not say he was a bad man at the core, or that every thing he did in his career meant nothing. And you can't make me. And you hate me for that."

"That's not why I hate you."

"You know, Ron." Christine smiled, and Spock was struck by how much like Jim the wolfish grin made her seem. "You need to lighten up. Take some time off." She shook her head, as if in pity. "You need to get a life. Computer, resume lift."

Then she turned back to Spock.

"This isn't over, Chapel." Michaelson was almost sputtering.

She smiled at him sweetly. "Yes, Ron. It is. For me, it is. I'm done worrying about you. But if you want to make it your life's work to destroy me, then go ahead. I can't stop you."

Spock felt this had gone far enough. "I believe, however, that my family can."

Christine glared at him, but her hand bumped up against his, her fingers touching his.

"Admiral," Spock said, "with all due respect, it is long past time to get a life." As the doors opened, Spock urged Christine out of the lift. "Good day, sir. May your journey be without incident."

Christine led him to the transporter to Earth, not looking back.

"He is not following us."

"Oh, thank god. Spock, what the hell was I thinking? He could bring me up on charges."

"I do not believe he will. This will not show him in a flattering light, after all."

She seemed to be trying to take long, deep breaths.

"Christine, it will be fine."

She nodded, but she still looked a little panicked. Then she started to laugh. "As impassioned speeches go, I think I gave Jim a run for his money."

Spock nearly smiled, caught the expression before it got out. "I would concur."

She took another deep breath. "Let's go home, Spock."

Home. Her place, or his. He was ready for it to be theirs, for it to be just one apartment to return to. He glanced over at her, wondering when, if ever, she would be ready for that too.

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

"Here we are again, home temporary home," Sulu said, as he showed Christine her quarters. "Not that I think you'll be using these quarters much."

She smiled slightly, and Sulu grinned.

"Is Janice using hers much these days?" She shot him a look and was happy to see him trying to keep his grin from getting much wider. "You're happy?"

He nodded.

"I'm glad."

He moved closer, touching the side of her mouth softly. "This turns up a lot more than it used to. Funny to think we have a Vulcan to thank for that."

She laughed. "The Christine Chapel of long ago would never believe how this is all going to turn out."

"No, I'm sure she wouldn't. None of us back then would believe how our lives will change."

"That's for sure."

"Well, I'll let you sleep." Winking, Sulu walked to the door. It opened to Spock, hand raised to ring the chime. "Captain Spock."

"Captain Sulu. Am I interrupting anything?" Spock sounded a little put out, as if he thought he might be.

"Just two old friends catching up." Sulu's smile was easy, hiding nothing.

Spock didn't look entirely convinced. "Good night then."

"Good night." With a last smile at her, Sulu was gone.

"My. You're territorial tonight." She walked toward Spock, was surprised when he pulled her close, held her in a tight hug. "Wait a minute. Are you sniffing me?"

He let her go, his eyebrow going up. "Vulcans do have an extremely acute sense of smell."

"I don't want to know." She moved close to him again, kissing his neck. "Do you smell him on me?"

"No."

"Would you if he and I had hugged?"

"I am unsure." He gently tugged her chin up so he could kiss her lips. "But if you and he had done other things, I would most certainly know it."

"I'll keep that in mind for the future," she said with a gentle grin, hoping that he took it as a joke.

"See that you do," he said sternly, but his eyes seemed to twinkle.

"Let's see what we can do about getting your scent all over me, shall we?"

He eyed her bed. "The bed in my quarters is infinitesimally larger."

"Your place it is." She let him lead her down and across the corridor. The room was larger than hers, and it had a sitting room. The bed, however, appeared to be identical. "Spock, this isn't any bigger."

He was already pushing her down. "Yes, it is. But only slightly."

"Define slightly."

"One point two three centimeters."

"You just wanted to order me around. Drag me off to your lair and all that."

"Quite possibly." He kissed her, his tongue rough and hard.

She pulled away. "I never loved Sulu. Not that way." She stroked his face, holding him back when he would have kissed her again.

"I am not jealous."

"Uh huh."

He sighed. Not an almost-sigh, a hearty, slightly fed-up sigh.

"What?"

"I am weary of pretending we do not share a room. I am tired of squeezing together on small beds. If we were married, we would be assigned quarters more amenable to two people."

She grinned at him.

"Do not make fun of this, Christine."

"I'm not." She kissed him, loving the way he was handling her uniform, as if he couldn't wait to tear it from her body. Loving what he did to her once he had it off. She hoped to hell the Excelsior was as soundproof as his parents' house--Spock was definitely overachieving in bringing her pleasure...and in taking his own.

When they finally lay quietly, cuddled together so that the bed would not feel so small, she said, "So, you want to marry me solely for your own convenience?"

"I have other motives for wishing to formalize our union, Christine. But yes, I am finding the idea of larger accommodations to be a great incentive."

She smiled. "So this isn't to protect me?"

"Well, it is to protect you from falling off the bed." He moved slightly, causing her to rock backwards. If he hadn't been holding on, she'd have toppled off the bed.

"No need to illustrate your point, Captain. I believe you."

He almost smiled.

"Could it be a small ceremony?"

He shot a look at her, as if shocked she was discussing it. "It could."

"I mean, virtually no ceremony. Just us and family...maybe a few friends if we're feeling daring."

"That would be acceptable."

She smiled. "No Vulcan royalty or peers or whatever you are."

"Nobility."

"Right. None of that."

He kissed her, his arm going around her more tightly, as if to keep her safe from falling--ever.

She sighed. "Okay. I'll marry you."

He nodded. "I shall inform my parents."

Kissing him, she said with a laugh, "That has to be the most unromantic proposal ever."

"As the end result was most satisfactory, I am not unduly disturbed by that."

She laughed. "I guess I'm not either."

He touched her mouth the way Sulu had and said, "You smile often now."

"You make me smile often now."

His eyes were extraordinarily tender as he said, "I am...glad."

"Yes, you look like the picture of happiness." But she knew her own eyes were soft.

"I love you," he said, his tone so sweet she wouldn't have traded him for a thousand Romeos.

"I love you too, Spock."

He kissed her again, softly and slowly as if he was making sure she'd meant what she'd said about marrying him. Then he pulled her in close again. "I believe it would be prudent to marry as soon as possible."

"I'm sure you do."

He shot her a look--stern and not amused. She just laughed at him. Cuddling against him, she let herself go, felt herself getting drowsy.

"Whenever you want, Spock," she said, her voice half muffled by his chest.

"Soon."

"Okay."

She wondered if the old Christine Chapel had any idea of the hell she was in for. And the strange surprise that waited for her--Spock would love her. Spock would want to marry her. Spock would damn near badger her into marrying him.

It was too rich. Or just rich enough to make up for what she'd gone through, what she'd lost. What she'd given up, or had yanked away from her. Or never had at all--Valeris had brought them together. Christine didn't hate the woman anymore, couldn't hate her, not when she had Spock now because she'd had Valeris first.

Sighing, she turned her head so she could kiss Spock's neck, under his chin. He reached over and stroked her cheek, softly.

"Thank you for rescuing me." She didn't mean just from the detention center.

She could tell he understood. "You rescued me as well," he said. "I was...floundering."

"You didn't look like you were floundering."

"Nevertheless, I was." He moved so he was on his side, pulled her in closer, his arm and leg wrapping around her, pulling her as close as she could be. "Rescuing you saved us both."

"I'm glad." She kissed him.

"As am I." He rubbed his nose gently against hers, a strangely sweet gesture, one that brought a lump to her throat.

She nestled more comfortably against him then let herself relax in his arms, secure and protected--not that she needed protection anymore.

But it was nice to know it was there if she did.

FIN