Still Life in Triplicate by Djinn

The head in the captain's quarters was too small for three people. Or else the mirror was extremely far away from the door, like in some paradox room where the inside was bigger than the outside. Although it was probably just the bulk of two robust males blocking her way that was making it so hard for Christine to edge past Jim, who was finishing his hair, and Spock, who was cleaning his teeth.

"Of all of us, I'm the one who needs this most." She felt Jim's hand drop onto her ass, tried not to laugh as he ran it up and down. "That's not helping. You're both beautiful. I need mirror time. Now, move over."

Spock moved slightly, letting her in. He spit into the sink, his aim remarkably accurate considering he was coming at it from the side. She dodged as Jim sprayed hair fixative, getting more in the air than on himself.

Coughing and trying to protect her makeup case, she muttered, "Yeah, this is romantic."

"You think she wants romance, Spock?" Smiling at his reflection, Jim pushed an errant piece of hair back into place.

Spock had lathered up the toothbrush again--Vulcans were pretty obsessive over their hygiene--and his mouth was all foamy as he said, "Her tone would indicate that, Jim."

"Well, then romance it is." With one last look in the mirror, Jim pulled her to him and kissed her.

In the background she could hear the sound of Spock brush-brush-brushing and then spit-spit-spitting. It shouldn't have worked as a romantic soundtrack, yet oddly, it did.

"You should wear your hair loose today, Christine. The Zinbalbi believe only demons pull their hair back tightly." Apparently done with his teeth, Spock worked on her bun as Jim pulled open her robe. "Jim, not that I disagree that this moment is the optimum time to have sex with our wife, but you are making it difficult to fix her hair."

"She can fix her own damn hair, Spock." Jim was not to be deterred from the romance issue.

She could feel Spock making progress despite the other husband factor, mainly because he kept pulling her hair loose strand by strand, which hurt like hell--never underestimate the tenacity of the Vulcan male set on making his spouse presentable.

"Jim, please make him stop before I have no hair left."

"She looks great, Spock. Your work is done. Either help me with the romance thing or get out of the way."

"I will prepare breakfast, then." Spock didn't stick around to watch--he'd already been the victim of a fly-by humping. Jim had been particularly amorous since the sex meld with V'ger, Will, and the Ilia-probe. At one point, Christine, very sore and very tired, had ducked into the closet when Jim had poked his head into their quarters, a certain tone in his voice as he'd called for her and Spock. She'd had trouble getting comfy in the cramped space because Spock was in there, too.

"Hiding?" she'd whispered.

"No." She'd had a feeling that, if it hadn't been so dark in the closet, she would have seen his eyes sparkling. He always seemed to find it amusing to lie to her.

"Sore?" she asked.

A tired sigh had been a good answer. "Is there nothing you can give him?"

"You think I haven't tried? I've been dumping all sorts of anti-aphrodisiacs in his morning coffee. It's the whole godlike mechanical entity factor--and getting his ship back--at work. He's super pumped up."

"I see." Spock had seemed to be getting comfortable as he'd said, "This is not unpleasant. We have not talked in some time."

Talking had been their downfall; they'd forgotten to watch the sound levels.

Super-Jim had opened the closet. "There you two are. Trying something different? Great idea. I'm in," and, pulling his uniform off, he'd closed the door behind him. The closet had been cramped and full of odd sports equipment she'd kept bumping against as Jim pulled off her clothes and Spock's. By the time they'd finished, many more parts of Christine had been aching.

She'd finally purloined a regenerator from sickbay and left it in their quarters to patch up Spock and her. No matter what crazy permutations they tried, Jim seemed to be feeling no pain.

Christine felt her hair being pulled out of the bun completely--but at least it didn't hurt. "Jim, you're ruining Spock's handiwork."

"He'll fix it again." Burying his face in her hair, he inhaled deeply. "Damn, you smell good."

She laughed. "You said that to Spock not too long ago."

"And I meant it then, too."

She was about to give him a sassy answer, when he began to pull out all the stops in his attack. "Oh, God, oh, God, don't stop" was about all she could manage.

He didn't stop, not for quite a while. By the time they were done, Spock had peeked in, asked what kind of juice she wanted, and disappeared again.

Pulling her robe shut, Jim smiled at her.

"Good to have your ship back?" She kissed him on the cheek.

"Damn straight, Christine." He moved her gently, so she was standing in front of the mirror. "As you were." As he walked out, he said to Spock, "I hope you made something for me, too."

She heard the sound of smooching and smiled. Spock always made him something. Only this time, she would bet it was something full of drugs--hopefully elephant tranquilizers. There was such a thing as too potent.

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

"Oh, god. Oh, god."

The noises coming from the bathroom were a far cry from the happy ones she'd made that morning. She rolled onto her stomach on the big bed she shared with her husbands, and stared at Spock until he turned around as if he could feel her eyes on him.

"Shouldn't we do something for him?" she asked.

Spock lit another stick of incense.

"That's not what I meant." Although it was cutting the smell somewhat.

"He did insist on trying the Zinbalbi national dish. Even after you warned him of the possible dangers."

"Your compassion is overwhelming." She closed her eyes as a long groan sounded from the bathroom.

"I have compassion for him. I also feel a great deal of relief. Do you think he is getting rid of whatever is making him so amorous?"

"I don't know. I'm not sure it's something you can expulse that way." She glared at him when Jim moaned again--clearly in distress. The sound of leaking gas and other things accompanied the moans. "Don't you think you should do something?"

"I am unsure what it is you expect me to do. And are you not the doctor in this marriage, Christine?"

"And that's exactly why he wants me to leave him alone. He's not a good patient at the best of times..."

"Very well." Spock got up and walked to the door--she could tell he was trying to breathe through his mouth. "Jim, do you need assistance?"

"No. I'm fine." There was silence, then another groan broke through.

"You are certain?"

"Spock, leave me." A low moan sounded. "The hell." The sound of the lock engaging filled the room. "Alone."

Spock skedaddled back to his desk. As much as a Vulcan ever skedaddled. A very slow-rising eyebrow was his only comment for her.

"The man gives new meaning to the word stubborn." Plus, he was hogging the damn bathroom. Sighing, she pushed herself up and walked to the main door. "I'll be back in a jiffy."

"Could you be more precise? Since I have known you, a jiffy has ranged from five minutes to two hours."

"Has anyone ever told you you're anal retentive?"

A low moan came from the bathroom.

"That was the wrong word. I'll be ten minutes. Tops."

Spock nodded, but he looked as if he didn't believe her. Shaking her head, she hurried out of their quarters and down to sickbay. Doctor Lazora, the Gamma Shift physician, looked up at her in surprise.

"Need a little remedy for the Captain. Bad reaction to--" What would you call the raw testicles of the Zinbalbian version of Tyrannosaurus Rex? "Local cuisine."

Lazora just nodded, letting her get whatever she needed--one of the benefits of being both second in command in sickbay and married to the captain. Loading up a hypo with what she needed, she grabbed a hydrator drink, then ducked into the head. She'd had to pee for way too long, kept holding off, thinking Jim would eventually exit the bathroom.

Grabbing the meds on her way out, she called out, "See you," to Lazora, who waved absently back.

Spock looked up as she entered the room.

"How long was I gone, oh ye of little faith?"

He nearly smiled. "Eight point three minutes."

"Only because I stopped to pee." She saw him look a little envious.

"Perhaps I will go check on my experiment in the lab."

"Perhaps you should."

He grabbed one of his padds--obviously this was not going to be a short trip. As he passed her, he leaned in, kissing her gently on the mouth. "He will appreciate the medicine."

"He will resist like hell."

"Once he stops resisting, he will appreciate it."

Christine looked toward the bathroom; another, very low, groan started up. "I can't stand to hear him like this."

"Nor can I." Spock kissed her again, then more or less fled.

"Jim? Hon?"

"Christine, I don't want company." It was the first time he'd said that since the V'ger meld.

"And I really don't want to visit you in there. So, how about if you open the door for a second, and I'll hand you some medicines that will fix you right up?"

"Don't need any damn drugs."

"Yes, Jim, you do. Open up, okay?"

"You couldn't have thought of this an hour ago?" He sounded very peeved.

"I did, and you told me you'd keel haul me if I bothered you again, remember?"

"You can't keel haul someone in space." He sounded very grumpy. As if she should have braved the bathroom, anyway.

"Well, I really didn't expect you to be in there very long. You normally have cast-iron innards." She couldn't remember the last time he'd been sick.

She could hear the lock disengaging. Desperately holding her breath, she handed him the medicine and the bottle of hydrator. "Drink that all."

"Thanks." He was pale and a little sweaty and looked very embarrassed.

"I'm sorry, sweetie. I wish I could make it better, but I think you'll do best on your own."

He nodded. "I wish it were morning again."

"Me too." She gave him as much of a leer as she could under the circumstances. "Next time, don't eat the testicles."

He began to laugh gingerly. She could tell what he was thinking. And he seemed to be thinking it with his old libido, not the V'ger enhanced one. "No testicles?"

"Well...unless they're Spock's." She closed the door and let him contemplate that in peace.

While she hurriedly lit another stick of incense.

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

"Why do we have to do this, again?" Christine pulled at the collar on her dress uniform.

"Because Jim loves to show off his ship." Spock looked serene, but Christine had seen him fiddling with his collar earlier, too.

"And us?"

Spock almost smiled. "I am not sure Nogura is as big a fan of our domestic arrangement as he could be."

"No, I don't imagine he is." She glanced over to where Nogura was talking to Jim. They looked very serious, but she knew shop talk would be over soon and the social part would begin. The part that was likely to make Nogura a little squirrelly.

"He could be maneuvered into a greater appreciation," Spock said softly.

Laughing, she wondered if any but she and Jim knew what a schemer Spock was. "What's your suggestion, oh devious one?"

Spock met her eyes. "We could...charm him." He gave her a slow once-over.

"You mean I could."

"Yes, that is what I mean."

Jim walked over with Nogura in tow. The admiral nodded tightly, obviously a little uncomfortable with Jim's abundance of marital riches. Christine looked at Jim, saw him frown slightly. Then Spock cleared his throat--evidently her signal to get busy with the charm.

"Admiral Nogura," she tried to make her voice go down to a purr--was not sure if she could do it. Femme fatale was not normally her style. "It's so very nice to see you again."

He focused on her, as if it was the first time he'd ever seen her. Christine suddenly wondered if some of Ilia's pheromones had rubbed off during their orgy of a meld.

"We are extremely grateful for your willingness to allow us a joint tour." She took his arm, saw his eyes dilate as she touched him. Had to be pheromones. "Why don't we give you a tour?" She glanced back at Jim and Spock. "Sirs?"

They got ready to follow her. Spock looking satisfied. Jim a bit confused.

"I have to admit...I was a little skeptical about this arrangement." Nogura put the twist people often put on that word. Arrangement could mean so many things.

"It's just a marriage, sir. With all the ups and downs." At his look, she smiled. "Okay, maybe in our case it's the ups and ups and downs and downs."

He laughed out loud. She thought she heard one of her husbands stumble--Nogura was known for yelling, not guffawing.

"So, you wouldn't consider this damned irregular for a command crew?" he asked.

"Oh, no, sir, I would. But, when has James T. Kirk ever been regular?"

"Got me there." Nogura grinned. "And Vulcans..." He shook his head. "Spock could tell me he needed a pin-headed jellyfish here, and I'd probably believe him."

"He is quite the salesman." She smiled. It had been Jim and she who'd convinced Spock to give marriage a whirl. They'd been the salespeople that time--and damn good ones. "I think the crew has grown used to the arrangement, as well." She smiled at Sulu and Uhura as they passed them. "No one's staring. Well, except at you. We don't often get the head of fleet ops in our rec room."

"You think I don't know you're trying to charm me, Chapel?" But he seemed to relax a little.

"Oh, I think you know very well what I'm trying to do." She leaned in, so that only he could hear her. "The three of us work. On this ship, with this crew, at this time. We work. Why mess with that?"

"Next time I need an advocate, I'm going to hire you." He looked down at her hand. "And ease up on the pheromone assault. What are you? Part Deltan?"

She laughed this time. "No, I'm human. There was this meld with V--"

"--I don't want to know. It's better that I don't. In fact, I saw it in the reports and just skipped on by. This is me, not listening about my flagship's senior staff melding with killer machines. La, la, la, la, la."

Christine laughed, charmed by this admiral who'd been sort of a bogey man for so long.

Nogura perked up suddenly, turning toward the area where they were preparing dinner. "What's that smell?"

"Kalbi. Jim ordered up bar-b-q, sir."

"Damn. He's pulling out all the stops, isn't he?" Nogura shot her a look that was more speculative than annoyed. "He must really love you two."

"He does." She smiled at him, her best inoffensive, "you won't mind this alcohol bath, really," smile. The one she'd perfected as a nurse.

"I'm not falling for that, Chapel." He looked back at Jim. "I like her, Kirk. You feel like sharing--more than you already are?"

Christine glanced at her husbands. Neither of them looked amused.

Nogura turned around quickly. "Tough crowd."

She laughed. "They're both pretty territorial." She leaned in. "I wouldn't want to share them with you, either."

"Not really what I had in mind." Patting her arm, he led her toward where Jim definitely had pulled out all the stops on the Korean bar-b-q. "I assume you'll have no such difficulty sharing meat?" he asked her.

"You can have Spock's portion."

"Gee, thanks." Nogura pretended to be offended, but she could tell by the way he was standing that he was relaxing even more. He let go of her arm, making a big show of handing her back to Jim, before he made a beeline for the buffet.

"Well done, wife." Spock bypassed the dead animal flesh and headed for the veggies.

"He put you up to that?" Jim's arm was tight around her waist. "Spock never fails to surprise me."

She smiled. "If Spock had thought Nogura would have preferred him, I'm sure he would have set out to charm him."

"Anything for the cause?"

"Not a cause. Just our marriage." Smiling, she pulled away, feeling his arm drop away from her. "And not anything. I wouldn't have joined him in the head for a quickie on your behalves."

"Good to hear." He grinned at her. "Would you join me in the head for a quickie?" As she punched him softly, he murmured, "I love you," then he moved past her to join Nogura in line.

"I know," she whispered, more to herself than him. He loved her. Spock loved her. Hell, she loved herself. It was a life she never expected to have.

Not that she was complaining.

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

"So. How many more drinks do you need to get drunk enough to tell us what it's like to be in bed with them both?" Rand ordered up another round for them. Obviously hoping Christine was getting close to "spill" point.

"No power on this earth, Jan."

"This isn't Earth," Uhura said. "Not that it's not a very nice planet." She'd gotten to the bar a little earlier than Rand and Christine. Had sat with Chekov for a few rounds and was well on her way to toasty. "I think it must be like heaven being between them." She leaned in, her voice not dropping volume in the least. "You do get to be in the middle, don't you?"

"No power..." Christine grinned, thinking of the times she was not in the middle. Those were nice, too. Especially, when the boys were on their snoring jags. You could only elbow someone so many times in the night before your sleep period was pretty well mucked up beyond repair.

"Are they warm and tender?" Jan threw back a shot of something very dark, indicated Christine should, too. Rand didn't seem to care if Uhura was drinking. But then Ny didn't have the dirt on what if felt like to screw her captain and first officer.

"No pow--"

"--Are they firm and commanding?" Uhura asked with a giggle. "Do they say, 'Wife, attend me,' as they get ready to ravish you?"

"You've been reading 'Vulcan Love Slave' again, haven't you?"

Uhura shrugged. "There's a reason it's a classic."

"I really think"--Rand ordered another shot for herself, seemed to have given up on Christine since she still had not thrown back her own shot--"that you, as our very, very dear friend, owe us this information, Christine. I think you have a moral imperative to tell us. At once." She hiccupped on the "at once" part.

"Uh huh." Christine sipped at the water she'd had the waiter bring her.

"I think she's not going to tell us," Uhura said, seemingly pulled into the instant funk of the very, very wasted. She touched Christine's cheek. "Is the sex that bad?"

Christine laughed. "Interesting tack, Ny. Still not going to work."

Uhura straightened up. "I think it is bad." She winked at Rand. "I think it's so bad that she can't bear to tell us. I think if it's not bad, then she needs to set the record straight, at once." She did not hiccup on the "at once" part. But then Uhura had always been better at holding her liquor than Rand.

"I think you both need to get laid. At once." Christine saw Jim and Spock come into the bar. "My husbands have arrived."

They worked their way through the crowd.

Rand looked up at Jim. "Sir. I've heard through the grapevine that Christine may be considering some leave off the ship in the future...sometime. May I offer my services as--"

Christine elbowed her. "Backup emergency med tech. Jan, that is so generous of you."

"Bitch," Rand mouthed at her, smiling a little more drunkenly than she was probably aware of. "Listen, I have to go now." She got up, managed to walk in a straight line to the bathroom. Several men smiled and called out greetings as she reemerged from the little girls' room. Rand may have gotten older, but she was still very popular.

Christine hoped she wasn't too drunk to know what she was doing. "Ny..."

"She'll be fine. Besides, didn't you just say we both needed a good la--"

"Layover. Yes, I did." As Ny winked and headed off to keep Rand company, Christine ordered a round for her husbands--scotch for Jim, water for Spock.

They took a seat on either side of her. Jim slouched like a regular; Spock looked as uncomfortable as he ever did in a bar.

"They didn't have to leave just because we showed up," Jim said softly.

Christine gestured back to where Rand was flirting with Lieutenant Rondeson--a very, very good-looking man who'd recently transferred onto the ship. Uhura was looking pretty coy herself around the godlike human. "I don't think that's why they left."

Jim studied the younger man. "He's all right. If you like your men pretty."

Spock glanced over. "He greatly resembles you when you were younger."

Jim glared at him. Christine just laughed. Truth-giver Spock raised an eyebrow and sipped at his water.

"I think Jan and Ny have excellent taste. They always did," Christine said, her hand falling on their thighs. If they'd been at a nicely dark table, instead of at the bar in full view of everyone, she might have let her hands stray to parts less thigh-like.

Sometimes, it was very fun being in the middle.

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

"Christine, lie still." Spock's voice was low, urgent.

Blazing pain ran through her middle, she felt as if she'd sucked down an entire colony of fire ants and they were migrating across her insides. Why had they let her eat fire ants? "Hurts. Please..."

"Bones, for God's sake..." Jim sounded panicky. Jim never sounded panicky. What could have made him panic?

Len didn't sound much calmer. "I'm trying, Jim."

Christine felt the fire spread. Down to her knees, up to her neck. She could barely breathe. "What's happening to me?"

She felt Spock's mind reaching for hers, could feel the bond between all three of them flare. They were worried for her. No--they were terrified for her.

"Stay with us," Spock said, and she could hear Jim echo that order.

And she tried to stay with them, but she could feel herself being ripped away. Could feel the connection between them starting to fade. "I love you," she whispered, because she suddenly wasn't sure if she'd ever have another chance to say it.

"Christine, no. Stay." Jim's voice gave her no quarter. He was ordering her to stay.

She tried again, tried hard. But the connection continued to fade.

Somewhere, deep in her mind, she thought she felt another presence. Not saying anything, just there, like a spider in the corner of a ceiling.

Then she heard the hiss of a hypospray. Heard Len saying, "There. I think that'll do it."

The fire cooled. The connection between her and Spock and Jim stopped disintegrating, and she could feel Spock working to make it stronger. The other presence faded--if it was ever really there at all.

"Christine, stay where you are," Spock said, seeming to capture her up in his resolve, seeming to move her away from the edge she suddenly realized she'd been hovering near. It was pretty on the side of the edge. Looked peaceful. One step off the edge and she'd be floating down there.

"It is very pretty, Christine. It is not for you. Look away."

"Christine, look at us." It was Jim. She could feel him as strong as Spock, and she wasn't sure how he was there like that, but she smiled, or at least in her mind she did.

And she looked away from the pretty, pretty edge.

She could hear Spock sigh--in relief, she thought. "Christine," he said, "open your eyes."

She did, and it was her real eyes, and she was in sickbay, and the lights hurt. She closed her eyes with a mewl of pain and heard Len order the lights to dim.

"Try again, darlin'," he said, his voice very gentle.

She opened her eyes and this time, it didn't hurt so badly. She saw that Spock was bending near her, his fingers still pushing hard into her face--she'd have bruises, she thought. Jim was behind him, one hand on Spock's shoulder, the other resting on her head. Not squeezing as hard on her, but Spock's uniform was crumpled under Jim's grip.

"You saved me," she said, as Len shot her with another hypo and the fire fell back even more.

"We don't want to live without you," Jim said with a tender smile.

"That's nice," she said, giving in to whatever other drug Len had mixed with the cure--probably something that would make her sleep. "I love you."

She slept, but she could feel Spock hovering at the edges of her consciousness, coloring her dreams. Then her dreams changed; the spider presence seemed to grow.

She moaned, or thought she did. She felt herself wake, only not in a place she recognized. The space itself was dark and humid; a green glow permeated every surface.

"Where am I?"

From far away, she thought she heard Spock calling her. She turned, and turned again. He was nowhere.

A softer, female voice sounded behind her. "Doctor Chapel." The voice was familiar and Christine turned in surprise, a smile growing--a smile that died when she saw what stood before her.

Ilia. Only not. She had changed again, was no longer the probe that had overwritten the woman. Her throat no longer glowed with V'ger's light, but her eyes pulsed a bright red as if lit from some fire within her. Her formerly golden-brown skin seemed almost clammy in its mottled grayness. There were strands all around her, and when Ilia moved, it was as if a hundred spider webs moved with her.

"Ilia," Christine whispered. "What...what are you?"

Ilia reached for her, a long tube snapping out of her hand with the sound of wet skin tearing. "Do not resist."

Christine wanted to resist, but she couldn't. She stood frozen like a rabbit on the prairie as the coyote advanced.

"Christine!" Spock's voice was loud now, startling her.

Suddenly, the spider presence was gone. Christine felt Spock all around her, and she realized he was in her mind and that she was still dreaming. He was closing pathways as she came back from a place that had been deeper and far less pretty than death. She tried to open her eyes.

"No, you need to sleep. I will attend you." Spock's mind-voice was intent--she thought he even sounded a little bit scared.

"Where did I go?"

"A place of dreams. A place you should not visit again."

"Do I have a choice?" She could feel herself being sucked back into sleep.

"I will give you one," he said, his presence comforting in the face of such an awful dream.

When she woke after a long sleep uninterrupted by nightmares, he was still there, fingers locked on her face. She could feel that he was in pain, his fingers cramping, his mind rebelling at the long meld. She tried to reach up, but was too weak.

"Jim," she said, and heard him get up from a chair on the other side of her bed. "Make him stop. He's tired."

Jim walked around the bed, pulling Spock's hand gently from her. Spock fought him, his closed eyes flickering.

"Let me go, Spock," she tried to send him through the meld. Tried to let him know she was going to be all right.

"Let her go, Spock," Jim echoed in real words, his lips touching down on Spock's cheek. "She's all right now."

Spock let go, his eyes opening. He looked exhausted.

"You need to sleep. I'm fine. No more dreams." She could feel her own eyes wanting to close again. "As a doctor, I order you to sleep."

"I'll make him," Jim said, manhandling Spock into the next bed, then covering him with the light blanket. Spock was out instantly.

"You, too," she said to Jim. "Not a chair. Bed. Real sleep."

Taking Spock's chair, he ignored her command. "Someone has to watch over you both." He leaned in, kissing her gently. "You gave us quite a scare."

"What happened?" She remembered beaming onto the freighter, waiting as the security men scanned the deserted ship. Once they'd given the go-ahead, she'd begun to look around--searching for bodies since there were no life signs. She'd stepped into one of the quarters, had heard a noise and looked in the mirror near the door. There'd been nothing there. But then she'd felt something behind her, hugging her or molding itself to her, and there was a flare in the mirror. Something big and ugly and blazing as if on fire.

"It was a Moroph Sym," Jim said softly.

She shuddered. They were the stuff of nightmares. The dimension-hopping rat-like creatures that were as tall as a man and occasionally hitched a ride on freighters crazy enough to stray too near the Syms' home in the Kialis nebula. They linked to a victim's nervous system, pulling energy out as they injected their fiery poison. Without intervention, a victim could not get away, could not fight. They burned up.

"That's why there were no bodies."

Jim nodded. "Starfleet thought we'd eradicated the portals to the Syms' dimension."

Starfleet had obviously thought wrong.

"You pulled it off me, didn't you?" He'd been on the landing party. Spock had stayed with the ship.

"I felt you through the bond when it attacked you. I thought--I thought you were dead when I reached you. I couldn't feel you, anymore. Once I killed the Sym and got you back here, Spock had to go very deep to find you."

"But he did." She smiled, letting her eyes close. "Saved me."

"Just like on the planet. He saves us."

"Mmmm," was all she could say as she surrendered to the crushing need for sleep. She knew Jim was watching over her. He'd saved her, too. Both he and Spock had.

She was asleep almost before she could remember how pretty death had looked and how scary that other place she'd visited had been.

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

Christine stretched slowly, allowing herself the rare luxury of having the big bed all to herself. She was still recovering from that damn Sym attack.

Jim walked out of the bathroom, looking pretty glorious in nothing but his nicely tanned skin. "You okay?"

The casual way he asked it made her smile. Since Len had released her from sickbay, he'd been much more solicitous. Both he and Spock had been. As if they needed to constantly check on her to make sure she wasn't going to die. It was nice to hear him sound as if he didn't think she'd break if he looked at her wrong.

Her husbands had kept her in the middle of the bed, hands warm and lips seeking as they held her close. The only time she hadn't been in the middle was when Jim and Spock were having sex. At first, they'd seemed reluctant to make love when she was too weak to join in, so she'd had to get firm with them, rolling out of their way and saying, "For god's sake, screw, already."

Now, as she watched Jim moving around the room--she thought he was deliberately giving her very nice views of all her favorite parts--she didn't want to just watch anymore. She was strong enough if they stayed away from mattress acrobatics.

"Actually, I'm not okay," she said, staring at him. At one part of him. At a part of him that was getting easier to see by the minute.

"Oh, really?" Smiling, Jim went to the bathroom door. "Spock. You might want to get out here. Our wife seems to be ailing."

Spock peeked his head out, clearly confused by the disconnect between Jim's words and the casually good-natured way he'd said them. " Ailing?" He looked over at her.

She nodded, trying to make her look as pathetic as she could. "This bed is awfully big."

Spock had his uniform on, but he began to pull it off. She glanced at the chrono. They had plenty of time. He was just overachieving in the getting ready department as he always did--she thought he generally built in time to screw one or both of them before starting his day.

Jim climbed into bed, his body warm against her as he leaned in. "You're sure about this? Doctor Chapel concurs with our wife?"

"She does."

Spock eased onto the bed, his touch very cautious.

She smiled up at him. "I won't break. Not if we're careful."

"Not if we spoil her very, very much." Laughing, Jim started to nuzzle her neck. And then headed south.

Spock was staring down at her, tenderness evident in his expression.

"What?"

He didn't answer, just kissed her. His mouth gentle and warmly loving.

Being touched by them this way was like coming home. Like she was finally all right. A few minutes later, as she bucked under Jim's insistent mouth, she was more than all right. She started to reach for Spock, to touch him in ways she'd wanted to touch both of them for days, but he pushed her hand away gently.

"It is our time to indulge you."

Jim came out from under the covers. "Officer thinking, Spock."

They both slid their hands down her body, their fingers meeting as they found their destination. Jim leaned over her gently and kissed Spock, and she smiled as she watched them. Then they seemed to forget about each other for a time as their busy fingers took her over and over again to the land of naughty pleasure.

As she lay, nearly dazed from all the climaxes, she felt them settling in beside her, their hands again entwined as they lay over her belly.

She opened her eyes slowly. "We can do other things."

Spock shushed her. "When you have fully recovered."

Jim nodded.

"Okay, but--"

Spock kissed her into silence. Then Jim said, "Go to sleep."

It wasn't hard to obey. She was warm and they were lying so close. The bond pulsed even though Spock hadn't pulled them all into a meld--he'd thought it would be too much for her system.

"I love you," she said, as she felt her body relaxing.

"We love you," Jim said, kissing her cheek, then leaning over again to kiss Spock.

"We love us," Christine murmured, falling into a deep dreamless sleep.

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

"I do not understand the appeal of this game." Spock was sitting next to Christine, watching as their team got squashed.

Jim wound up for another pitch; Morelli, who was playing catcher, made a gesture with three fingers and Jim frowned, clearly not understanding the intent of the sign.

Christine wasn't sure what the hell Morelli meant either. "Len should have let me play. I'm recovered enough to play." She glared at Spock who looked away quickly.

She normally played catcher. But Len had refused to clear her for this activity. Len was also captain of the other team, and he knew what a great pair Jim and she made--the bond was useful in guessing what the other was going to do. Christine used to play on Len's team, until she'd married the captain of the rival team. Len had forgiven her many things over the years, but she wasn't sure he'd ever let this transgression go.

Jim pitched. A nice, strong throw--he wasn't letting Morelli's bizarre communication style distract him from the game at hand. It flew down the field, but wasn't perfect. Scotty could go either way on a pitch like that.

Scotty's hands didn't move. Ball, then. No strike.

She leapt to her feet. "What? Are you blind?"

"Christine. Sit down." Spock was tugging gently on her pants, down low where no one could see him doing it.

She ignored him. "That was a strike!"

"You are making a scene. It is...unbecoming."

"Get some damn glasses, Ump!" she said, pushing Spock's hands away.

Jim was leaning over in the infield, hands on his thighs as he watched the interplay. She did this when she played, too, only a lot more quietly. It was part of their strategy--he knew Scotty was too gallant to throw a woman out of the game. And sometimes it nudged him back into forgiving territory so he'd call some strikes. Other times it just made him more determined to be rigid.

Christine wasn't sure today was the day to be yelling at him. He looked like he'd had a little too much fun on last night's shore leave.

"Chapel, you're outta there," someone else yelled.

All eyes turned to the first base coach. Rand turned bright red, but didn't look away from her.

"You can't throw her out, Janice. She's a spectator." Jim flashed a mega-watt grin as he walked toward first base.

"She should be in the dugout if she's on injured reserve." Jan didn't back down as Jim got in her face. Nose to nose with him, she said, "In the dugout...where we could throw her out."

Christine began to grin. Who knew Jan had these kind of balls and would stand up to James "T is for Tactics" Kirk? And, truth be told, she was right--Christine should be sitting in the dugout. A little tired of playing a harpy with poor Scotty, Christine silently cheered her friend on.

"Back up, captain," Jan said. "You're dangerously close to being thrown out yourself."

Jim took a step back. "Christine's more comfortable in the stands."

"Well, have a word with her about her behavior, or we'll throw her out."

"Aye," Scotty joined in from the plate. "That we will." He shot an apologetic glance at Christine, who pretended to be offended. He looked down immediately.

"Fine. We need a time-out." As Jim walked toward Christine and Spock, his feet pounding on the dry earth outside the Sigma Five outpost, he winked and shrugged. She knew they'd be having a strategy meeting soon over how to deal with x-factor Rand.

Janice watched him go, not a shred of longing or lust in her eyes. She was all business. And looking mighty pleased with herself.

"Damn," Christine said, as she watched Jan lean down and brush off first base. "She's supposed to support Scotty, not make his decisions for him."

"She's not supposed to be playing umpire, at all," Jim said. "Who assigned her to that slot? I wanted her at right field."

Spock looked down. Due to his extreme disinterest in the game, all sides trusted him to make key assignments and keep track of stats.

Jim frowned. "Spock. I told you. Our team. Right field."

"She told me she does not like to play," Spock said. "However, she was not opposed to serving as a rule-keeper."

"Umpire."

"Whatever," Christine said, although Spock was perfectly aware of the correct terminology. "Jim, face it. My days of bullying Scotty into watching his calls are over."

He pouted. Then he looked around at Janice, who grinned and waved innocently. "She's enjoying this."

"She does appear to be in good spirits." Spock almost smiled.

Jim's eyes narrowed and he looked down at their husband. "You hate it when Christine acts up."

"I do." Spock looked unconcerned in the face of Jim's glare. "It is...discordant with her true nature."

"Nothing's discordant if it works." Jim looked at her, obviously seeking support.

"Right. I'm willing to scream for the team."

"I would rather you didn't." Spock shot her a gentle look.

"You were the one who put Rand in as umpire. For no good reason. When you knew I wanted her on our team." Jim leaned forward, chucking Spock's chin up, so he had to look at him. "No good reason unless..."

"Jim, you are making a leap of logic that is not warranted." But Spock looked almost as pleased with himself as Jan did with herself.

"Damn it, Spock." But Jim was laughing.

Christine began to laugh, too. "He out-schemes both of us. Every single time."

"I was not convinced she would have the resolve to carry out her part. I am gratified to see I was wrong." Spock nodded at Janice, who smiled and went back to making first base immaculate.

"Play ball," Scotty yelled. "And you..." He pointed at Christine. "You get down here in the dugout where I can keep an eye on you."

"Serves you right," Christine said to Spock as she got up. "Now you'll have to sit all alone." But she knew Spock would pull a padd out as soon as she was no longer there to make him pay attention to the game.

"I shall try to survive without you." Spock's tone was light. A few weeks ago, he would not have been able to joke about it. Her near-death had left him more shaken than she'd expected.

"You do that." She touched his shoulder fleetingly, felt something ping, carried by the bond. As she climbed down the stands, she saw that Jim was smiling, too.

"Just get well. I miss pitching to you." He waggled his eyebrows.

She laughed.

"No hard feelings," Jan called out to her.

"Right," Christine yelled over her shoulder.

"Great." Rand's tone changed. "I'll be watching you." As Christine glanced back at her, she moved her hand into the "y'er out" sign--a little warning.

"Just keep walking," Jim ordered.

Christine turned around and just kept walking, barely resisting the urge to make a very nasty gesture back at Rand.

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

"Ah, Janice, my love. Can I buy you another beer?" Len was having far too much fun with this latest of victory feasts.

"You can't bribe me, Doctor." Rand looked over at Christine and grinned. "But she might be able to."

"Let me buy you a beer, Jan." Pushing Len away from the newest member of the officiating staff, Christine whispered to Jan, "About that leave I wasn't going to take..."

"Oh, don't even tease me." Rand socked her in the arm. "Besides, no way you'd share your men." She took Christine's arm in hers, led her to the bar. "And I don't blame you. I'd like a nice expensive beer, not this piss that McCoy's trying to get me drunk on."

Christine laughed. "So, Jim wanted me to reiterate his offer of right field." She handed Jan a glass of the good stuff--Sigma Five might be an out-of-the-way hellhole, but it provided some of the best shore leave facilities in the quadrant.

"I hate baseball," Janice said, smiling as she took her first sip. "Oh, this is good. Thanks."

"If you hate it, why'd you let Spock talk you into being umpire?"

"Who said he had to talk me into it? As umpire, I'm God's right hand. If God were a very drunk Scottish guy."

Christine glanced over at Scotty. He was making moony eyes at Uhura while trying to accompany her impromptu blues routine on the chanter he'd detached from his bagpipes. A chanter he was suddenly having enormous difficulty playing. "Juice-headed Baby" never seemed more appropriate.

"Hello, Chief." Lieutenant Rondeson smiled at Janice as he walked up. Then he seemed to remember that Christine was there. "And Lieutenant."

"Lieutenant. I'll just leave you two alone."

Christine settled in next to Jim, out in front of the picnic shelter they'd rented for their post-game party.

He was watching Rand and Rondeson talk. "I was never that pretty."

"Yeah, you really were." She leaned in, taking his arm. "Just ask Spock."

"I'm not going to ask him. He'll tell me the same thing just to get my goat." Jim took a long swallow of his beer. He pulled her closer. "Are you feeling okay? Not too tired?"

"I feel fine." She let herself relax in his arms. "Where is Spock, anyway?"

"He went back up to the ship. You know how he hates these things."

Laughing, she nodded. "I tried to recruit Jan. She said no."

"Of course she said no. When else is she going to get to boss us all around?" He shook his head. "I'm going to kill Spock."

She just smiled.

Len came out and sat across from them. "You know, maybe I don't mind so much that you stole Christine away from me. Now that I've got Rand on my side."

"She's not on your side, Bones. She's not on anyone's side."

"You just keep telling yourself that, my friend." He took in the state of Jim's beer and motioned to the ensign who was serving as frazzled waiter. "Hey there, McMillan. Three more beers. And make it the good stuff this time. The captain's buying."

Ensign McMillan nodded and rushed back to the bar.

Leaning back, crossing his arms behind his head, Len smiled. "This is the life. A little baseball where you crush the other team into oblivion. A little beer paid for by captain of said team."

"A little compassion missing from the captain of the winning team." Jim said, as he hugged Christine closer. "One of my key players is out. And perfectly capable of playing. If you'd clear her."

"She looks feeble to me, Jim. Downright frail." Len closed his eyes. "Wake me when the beer arrives."

"I took pity on McMillan," Sulu said as he walked up, two beers in each hand. Setting Jim's and Christine's down in front of them, he nudged Len with his foot. "Doc. Hooch is here."

"Well, color me a happy soul." McCoy reached for it. "Hikaru, you are a good man. A righteous man."

"I don't know about that," Sulu said as he sat down, staring up at the stars. "Not much to say for this planet, but it does have a good night sky."

Jim looked up at the stars with a smile. "That it does."

Christine could feel her eyes closing. It had been a long day in strong sunshine. Ignoring her beer, she cuddled into Jim, felt his arm tighten around her.

"She's bushed," Len said. "I know you'd like to think I'm keeping her from playing because I like to win, but that's not why."

She felt Jim's lips touch down on her forehead. "I know it's not, Bones. She's getting stronger, though."

"I'm fine," she muttered, but the words came out slurred.

"Shhh. Go to sleep."

"She'll be fine, Jim. Just no way I'm going to rush her into that state." Len sighed. "So, Sulu, what's the latest gossip below decks?"

"Now, how would I know that?"

Len laughed. "You always know that. Everyone talks to you, and don't think I don't know it."

Smiling, Christine let herself drift as Sulu gave up the dirt he knew. Or the dirt he was willing to tell, she thought he knew a lot more than anyone realized.

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

"Where are your better halves?" Chekov asked as he saw Christine eating dinner alone.

"They went down to the planet. I expect them back tomorrow."

He looked a little surprised and she smiled. "They could use some alone time. They've been spoiling me rotten since I got hurt."

"We were all very worried about you."

"Damn Syms."

"It's a little known fact, but the first two Moroph Syms were actually invented by a little old lady in Vladivostok, then they bred like Russian sables and overran her place, killing all inside. Morov Avenue is where she lived."

Christine laughed. "No one ever gives Russia the credit it deserves."

"This is too true." Chekov winked at her. "You seem to be back to normal."

"I feel like my old self, Pav." She realized he was carrying a padd. "You were actually looking for them on business?"

He nodded. "Admiral Nogura plans a surprise visit. He says"--he checked the padd as if not believing what he was reading--"ready the barby, Jimbo, and prepare to share. Do you know what that means?"

She laughed. "I do. He means Kalbi. And lots of it. The sharing part...disregard that." She pushed her plate away. "When is he coming?"

"Oh, well, yes...his shuttle should just about be on final approach."

Getting up, she sighed. She hated to interrupt Jim and Spock's time together with a Nogura sighting. "You get the Kalbi ready. I'll collect my husbands."

"Thank you, Doctor." Chekov hurried into the kitchen.

With a call to the surface, she woke up the boys, thinking they sounded unbearably sexy in their half-asleep state. It reminded her of how they'd been on Thule. When she'd come in from one of her foraging missions to find them lying together, safe and warm under the robes she'd made.

"We'll be right up," Jim said, sounding more awake. "I trust you can distract him. Without making us share?"

"I trust I can." She cut the connection and hurried to where Nogura's shuttle would dock.

He was just disembarking as she walked into the bay. "Chapel. Good to see you."

"You too, sir. The captain and Commander Spock are still on the planet. They'll be up directly."

"Wonderful. You better tell me you have the bar-b-q going."

Smiling, as she took his arm, she said, "Galley staff is working on it now." Programming the hell out of the synthesizers, unless she missed her guess--Jim had arranged for the Kalbi to be sent in stasis from Seoul last time.

"So, you feeling better? I saw that you'd been injured."

"I'm feeling fine, sir."

"Command was not pleased to find out the Moroph Syms are back. We thought we'd eradicated them."

"We thought wrong, sir."

"Obviously. Going to be a lot of activity in their area in the near future. Guess we'll be sending more exterminators in." Exterminators was a nice way of saying heavily armed ships designed to wipe out a species. A horrible, nasty species that tried to set you on fire for no apparent reason.

Still...as a doctor, it bothered her to think of this whole-scale carnage. "Do we know what they want? Why they hop into our dimension?"

"What they want? Why do they have to want anything? Other than our destruction. Hell, they may not even think of it in those terms. Me hungry. Me see Chapel. Me eat her."

She hoped to hell there was not a hidden message for her in that. But his look was serious, not leering.

"They're vermin, Lieutenant. Nothing more. And like we'd do with voles on a station or rats on an old-time sailing ship, we're going to get rid of them."

"Right." Only they never could seem to rid a station of voles, and she didn't think the old-time sailing ships had had much luck with their rats, either.

"You think we should try to negotiate with them? Maybe you'd like to be our ambassador since you're so intimately familiar with them?"

She could feel the fire in her veins as the Sym had ridden her. "No, sir. I don't want to ever go near one again."

"Admiral?" Jim saved her from having to say anything more. His hair was a little askew--Spock's was even worse.

"No mirrors down there?" she asked Spock, turning so that only he could hear.

He hurriedly finger-combed his hair. With a look, he asked if he was presentable, and she nodded. Then she winked at him, and he almost smiled, his eyes glinting the way they did when he was very amused.

"Chapel. Come on, let's get some chow." Nogura grabbed for her arm. "You don't seem as sexy this time. Guess the pheromones have worn off, eh?"

"Guess so, sir." There was a good reason one of Nogura's nicknames was "Admiral Blunt."

"She's still sexy," she heard Jim tell Spock behind them. Spock must have given Jim "the look" because Jim said, "Well, she is."

"I'm here for a reason, Chapel. And nice as you are, it's not to steal you away from your men."

"Yes, sir." She thought that was the correct response to such a statement.

"Actually, it has nothing to do with you at all. But it makes Jim crazy when he thinks I'm interested in you." He winked at her. "Old rivalries die hard." Then his expression grew more serious, and he swept his gaze back, including Jim and Spock in the conversation, as he asked, "What do you think happened to V'ger?"

"It was in our report, sir."

"I read the damn report, Jim. 'V'ger ascended to a higher plane.' What the hell does that mean?" He stopped walking, pulled them into an impromptu huddle. "The rest of the brass would like some answers. They worry that V'ger may still be on this plane. May be out there for our enemies to take advantage of. We want you to look for it."

"You want us to look for V'ger?"

"Oh, don't be obvious about it. But, you know, keep an eye out. Listen for stories of gods that are part machine. That sort of thing. We want to make sure the Klingons and the Romulans can't put this thing to their own uses."

"Sir," Spock's voice was very low. "V'ger has evolved. It is no longer the entity we engaged."

"Well, I can see you believe that. Hell, I believe it if you three think so. But...just keep an eye out." He rubbed his hands together. "Now, where's my damned bar-b-q?"

Letting go of all of them, he headed for the mess. Headed in the wrong direction--Christine had to run after him and get him turned around without insulting him.

"Easiest orders we've ever had," Jim muttered as they passed him and Spock. "Damned thing's gone, Spock. You saw it."

"Yes, Jim."

Christine glanced back, making a face at them to shut the hell up.

"Stupid brass," Jim said, obviously not caring if Nogura heard him.

"You were one of us once, Jimbo. You know what we're like," his boss said, letting go of Christine as he headed into the mess. "We don't like to leave anything to chance if we can worry about it instead."

"Like V'ger is just going to pop down here and say 'Hello' to us." Jim took a deep breath. "V'ger is gone. Ilia and Will are transformed--or maybe just dead."

Christine suddenly remembered how Ilia had looked in her fever dream. "What if they're not?"

Three pairs of eyes turned to her.

"I mean. What if they transformed in a way that wasn't so good?" She looked at Spock. "Didn't you feel any of that dream?"

"I did, Christine. But it was only your fever playing on your fears for Ilia." Spock's tone was very gentle. "It was a nightmare, nothing more."

"Are you sure?"

"Does anyone want to tell me what we're talking about?" Nogura looked annoyed--not that it stopped him from loading up his plate.

"It's nothing, sir," Christine said, feeling suddenly like a nervous Nelly who cries alien monster at every shadow. "As Spock said, it was just a dream."

"So, sir. Not to be rude but where do you suggest we look for V'ger?" Jim looked like he considered those to be the stupidest orders ever.

"You're the one the kids study at the Academy, Jimbo. You figure it out." Nogura studied the ribs. "These aren't as good as last time."

"I'll talk to the galley crew," Jim said, crossing his fingers behind his back.

"You three aren't eating? There's plenty here."

Spock turned away from the pile of meat-covered ribs. Christine shook her head, murmuring that she'd already eaten. Jim just paced, probably thinking of ways to track an alien that had ascended to a higher plane.

Nogura belched softly. "Nope, not as tasty as last time, but still damned good." He patted his stomach as he got up, the picture of contented admiral-hood. "Chapel, walk me to my shuttle."

"I'll walk you," Jim said.

"I knew you'd say that." Nogura was grinning. "I'm beginning to take this personally, Jim."

"No insult intended, sir," Jim said, as he steered his boss away from her.

She rolled his eyes at his territorial expression. She was going to have to tell him he was only playing into Nogura's hands by reacting.

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

The bustling market of Tiryzhnia beckoned Christine to stop, touch, smell, linger. She followed Jim and Spock as they strode quickly past every stall that looked the least bit interesting.

"Can we maybe slow down a little?" she asked. "This is not shopping, sweethearts. It's a forced march."

"Keep up, Christine," Jim said. "There's something we want to show you." He and Spock had been down here already when they'd had time to kill waiting for the Enterprise to pick them up once the trade negotiations had ended.

She sighed, looking longingly at all the pretty, pretty things they were hurrying past. "Next time I'm coming with the girls," she muttered.

"Believe me, they would not be as fun."

"Right. Because this is how I define fun. Trailing in your wake and oh--" She stopped as they broke free of the market, her hand rising almost on its own to cover her mouth. "What is that?"

A large enclosure, the sides covered with netting, stood in front of them. It was filled with all sorts of tropical-looking flowers. And flitting all over the plants were what looked like Terran butterflies.

As she stood, spellbound by the gentle movements, Spock paid the man sitting in front of the gate as Jim pulled her into the first of a series of doors.

"The butterflies can get out. They ride on visitors in an attempt to sneak away." Jim grinned as he nodded at the aides stationed at the last of the doors. "Gotta give them credit for the bold, big move."

She laughed. Figured he'd like that.

There were a few other people wandering through the enclosure, but they were very quiet. All Christine could hear was the trickle of water into the little pools scattered around the area. The butterflies made no sound at all as they flitted past, settling on a leaf, or a plate of food left to tempt them to land close to the people.

"Beautiful," Christine said, her voice coming out little more than a breath. She glanced at Spock. "Did you two come in earlier?"

Spock shook his head. "We wanted to experience it with you." He stopped to watch a bright blue and orange butterfly. The creature flapped its wings slowly as it nibbled daintily on a piece of fruit.

Christine followed Jim to where a larger cluster of the butterflies were. She picked out a pinkish-gray one, watched as it flew over to two others, landing on top of them. For a moment, they made a little butterfly pyramid.

"It's us," Jim said with a laugh, just before the pyramid split up and they went back to eating. He took a deep breath, glanced at her, then looked past her to where Spock stood, still in contemplation. "I never thought I could be this happy."

"I know. And I know Spock's happy. He's--he's leaving us."

Spock wasn't just leaving, he was coming close to charging out of the enclosure. One of the aides stopped him, gently removing a would-be escapee.

"What the hell is he doing?" Jim said, as he grabbed her hand and followed their errant husband.

The aide brushed them off and they hurried out the series of doors. Spock was just heading back into the market.

"Hell of a time to shop, don't you think?" she asked as Jim put on a burst of speed, somehow managing to get through the crowd, pulling her after him, without running into anyone.

"I think he's following that man," Jim said, pointing ahead of Spock to a tall bearded man in a homespun robe. "Spock!" he called.

Spock turned, and so did the other man. Christine thought he looked an awful lot like the man who'd snuck briefly into their wedding.

Spock had slowed down enough for them to catch up, but he was still tailing the other man. "It is my brother."

Jim frowned. "We're going to have to talk about this brother fixation, Spock. It's not healthy."

"No, you do not understand. I do have a brother." Spock lunged ahead, grabbing the sleeve of the man and spinning him around.

Christine could feel Spock's agitation as it colored the bond. "Spock, leave this man alone."

Up close, the man didn't look very much like the fellow she'd seen. Spock's face fell as he stared at him. "I beg pardon."

The man yanked his arm free of Spock's grip. "You two should keep a better reign on your friend. What kind of Vulcan are you, anyway, accosting a stranger?" With a glare at Spock, the man turned and walked away.

Spock looked stricken. "That is a valid question." He took a deep breath--it came out ragged.

Christine glanced at Jim, saw that he was as confused as she was. "Let's go sit down."

"I do not want to sit down, Christine. I want my brother back." But Spock let her lead him into a small cafe. He sat in his chair heavily, as if he were ancient.

"Spock. This brother thing..." Jim stopped talking, staring at Spock's face.

Christine was about to say something, but then Spock turned to her, and his expression nearly broke her heart. It was too sad a face for the brother thing to be a delusion. Unless it was a deeply psychotic one. And Spock had melded with her too many times for her to think he was psychotic.

"You really have a brother?" Christine asked.

"Yes. I am...forbidden to speak of him."

"Why?" Jim touched Spock's hand gently; Spock grabbed on like a drowning man, shuddering, then shuddering again while Christine rubbed his back.

"My brother would be very happy for me, right now. He would approve of you two immensely. He would consider our love a good thing. A right thing." Spock sighed. "My father threw him out of the house. For embracing his emotions."

Christine looked down. No wonder Spock and his father had such a rocky relationship, or that Spock had tried so hard to be the perfect Vulcan.

"I thought that man was Sybok. And my heart leapt. Do you understand that? What that means for me to feel such joy and know it is for a man who is anathema to most Vulcans?" Spock took a deep breath. "I was embarrassed by him. And, yet, I...miss him."

"Can you find him?"

"I do not know where he is. I have asked men that I know to be his friends, but they will not tell me where he is. He has no interest in seeing me." Spock took another ragged breath.

"I don't think that's true." Christine rubbed his back harder. "I think he was at our wedding."

At Spock's look of hope, she nodded. "A man who looked like the one you stopped just now peeked in. He wouldn't come in, but he seemed so pleased for us."

"He came?" Spock's voice was a little boy's, full of amazement. Then his face fell. "He came, but he would not stay. I should be relieved, but I feel..."

"Empty?" Jim said softly, and Spock nodded, turning away from them to stare out of the cafe.

Jim looked at Christine; she shrugged helplessly. There was nothing they could say to comfort Spock.

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

Christine walked into Spock's lab. He'd been spending more time there lately. As if he regretted telling them the truth about his brother.

"Hi," she said.

He looked over. His eyes were gentle, his almost-smile even more so. "You are far from sickbay."

"Just checking up on you." It was never worth it to try to hide the truth from Spock.

"There is no need. I am fine."

"If you're fine, why have you been pulling all nighters? We miss you. Our big bed is cold."

"I am not avoiding you. But this experiment is in a very delicate stage. I must attend to it constantly."

"Are you sure that's it?" Christine took a deep breath, moving a little closer. "Maybe you need some extended time with Jim? I mean...alone with Jim. I can arrange leave."

He turned to her in surprise. "Have I given you any indication I wanted that?"

"No. But I'm worried about you, and if you won't seek closeness in us, I thought maybe you would in him."

Spock did smile. Not a big one, but it was real. "Jim said nearly the same thing when he asked if I wished for him to leave us alone."

"He asked that?"

Spock nodded. "The love you both have for me...it touches me, Christine. More than either of you will ever know." He pulled her close, and she relaxed against him since there was no one in the lab to see them cuddling. "I am not upset any longer about my brother--but seeing his double did force me to analyze my feelings. It is a useful thing, I think, but I am not carrying it to extremes. That this experiment requires vigilance is the only reason I have not been in our bed."

"You're sure?"

"Christine." He gave her "the look."

"Okay." She watched him for a while. "So, how much longer will it require such vigorous mother henning?"

"Two more days." He touched her hand, then pulled her close, kissing her before turning back to the microscope. "Jim is lonely, too. Go ease his loneliness."

"It's not the same without you there."

"I know. It is never the same without you there when he and I are alone. But"--he smiled gently at her--"it is still love."

"Yes, it is." She leaned in and kissed his cheek. "I love you."

"As I love you. Now, go."

She went. Jim was in their quarters when she got there, sitting at his desk working on the terminal. Without looking up, he held his hand out to her, and once she'd taken it, he pulled her into his lap.

She wrapped her arms round him and nuzzled his neck.

"Mmm. That's nice." He turned away from the computer long enough to look at her. "What's the occasion?"

"I went to visit Spock." She kissed his lips while they were so conveniently close. "I offered to give you two some private time."

He laughed. "I offered him the same thing. I'm sure he told you what he told me."

"Seems like." She took a deep breath. "He says it's just the experiment keeping him away."

"Do you believe him?" Jim reached over, closing out what he was working on and turning off the terminal.

"I do."

"So do I." He pulled her around, so she was straddling him. "He told me you were lonely."

"He told me you were, too."

"Is he wrong on either count?"

They both shook their heads at the same time.

"Christine, he'll come home when his science project is done. In the meantime, let's stay in practice for him."

Laughing, she practiced with him for a long, long time.

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

"So, you're feeling okay? All over your attack?" Janice turned over in her lounge chair, and the artificial sunlight that blazed down from the ceiling reflected off her sunshades.

"Yeah. I'm good." Christine looked over to where Ny lay in the shade, getting a massage. "You've got to love the new features on this ship." Therapeutic massage was a very nice perk. So was getting some sun when it was a long while between planets. The sun spa had cut down on UV-related depression by a large amount. "How are you and the lieutenant?"

"That would be fraternizing, Christine. I would never do that." She laughed softly.

"But other than that, he's good?"

"Oh, he sure is."

Christine smiled. "Good."

"Oh, my lord, I think I'm going to marry that masseur." Uhura plopped down in the lounger next to Christine.

"You'll have to get in line," Christine said, watching as another crewmember hopped up on the table Uhura had vacated.

"Besides, she's seeing someone." Janice winked at Uhura.

Uhura winked back.

Christine felt a little confused. "You are? Who?" Then she started to laugh. "Oh, my god, did you finally give Mister Scott a tumble?"

Uhura's laugh was throaty and deep. "Not exactly."

Before Christine could ask for more dirt, she heard someone calling her name and looked over at the door. Jim was beckoning her over. Lieutenant Rondeson walked past him, making a beeline for Janice.

"Duty calls," Christine said, smiling at Jim.

"If that's duty, then sign me up," Janice said with a little laugh. But she wasn't really watching Jim. Her eyes were fixed on Rondeson, who smiled as he sat down in the chair next to her.

Christine gathered up her things and joined Jim at the door. He was staring into the room, an odd look on his face.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"What do you make of that?" He pointed with his chin back to where she'd been sitting.

Rondeson had moved to her old chair. He was putting some kind of lotion on Janice's back. And Uhura was doing the same for him. Then she leaned in, laughing at something Rondeson had said. She kissed him on the neck. And Janice saw her do it. She didn't deck Uhura; she just...smiled. Christine knew that smile.

"Hmmm." Christine looked at him.

His eyebrows went way up, and a very silly grin lit his face.

"You think it's a triangle that goes all the way around?" she asked.

"God, I hope so." At her look, he said, "I mean, I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. Let's go, okay?"

She took a last look at her friends and the lieutenant. They looked very, very happy. "You realize this is all our fault, right?"

Jim just laughed, which made her giggle. If this was their fault, they probably should get a prize.

"Wait'll we tell Spock," Jim said, his voice full of glee.

"Right, because Vulcans are so easily turned on by girl-on-girl fantasies." Then she remembered some of the things she'd caught from Spock in the meld. Things he didn't really dwell on since there was only one of her and two of them.

"Should be a very interesting night," Jim said, pulling her after him into the turbolift. As soon as the doors closed, he was kissing her. She kissed him back, until the doors opened again. Then she followed him home to Spock, who was, indeed, very interested in girl-on-girl stories.

He had them undressed and melded in no time at all.

Just another day in the life.

FIN