Joining by Djinn
There was darkness where there was normally thought. Chapel moved through it, seeking coherence, but Spock's mind was fragmented, twisting through her consciousness even as his body moved over hers. He was passion and fierce possession, but she was not sure if he knew who he was possessing. She thought he might have lost himself to the torrent of emotion, but then he murmured, "Christine," the sound nearly swallowed by the sheets they'd pulled half off her bed.
She'd had no idea he would come to her. She'd have changed the sheets if she'd known. He had shown up at her door, his hands shaking, his mouth set in a tight line.
"Tell me to go away," he'd said in a voice that was barely more than a torn whisper.
She'd stepped aside, letting him in.
"Tell me to stop," he'd said, as he'd pulled her close, kissing her the way she'd always dreamed of him doing.
She'd kissed him back, giving him the love he'd never wanted from her before.
"Tell me to leave you alone," he'd said, his hand already reaching up, establishing the meld with so little effort because she had opened herself to him.
She was not sure how they'd gotten to the bed. The last clear memory she had was of falling down onto the hall carpeting, wondering if the door was locked. Wondering if she'd survive this-there were so many horror stories.
He'd sensed her fear, his fingers running down her arm even as his other hand had deepened the meld. "I want you."
It was all she'd ever wished to hear. That and that he loved her. But she'd known not to press her luck.
"Christine," Spock said again as he finally pulled away from her. His eyes, as he stared down at her, were more lucid than they'd been for hours. "Are you all right?" He touched her intimately, his hand probing gently while he frowned when she winced a little. He showed no embarrassment. "I did not hurt you, did I?"
"I'm just sore," she said, more into the pillow than to him directly. She could feel her face flaming as he continued to touch her. It hurt. And it didn't.
He leaned down, kissing her gently. "The burning is not over. This is only a reprieve."
She nodded, unsure what she should say.
"Do you have a regenerator?"
She pointed at her doctor's kit. He got out of bed, and she noticed he moved slowly, as if he too was sore. Picking up the kit, he carried it back to her. She expected him to pull the covers back over them, to hide himself. But he did not. Lying uncovered, he watched her as she rummaged through her bag. When she pulled out the regenerator, he took it from her and began to work on her.
Somehow, him doing this to her was more personal than sex could ever be.
"You are embarrassed," he said softly.
"Yes." But she felt better. He was doing wonders with the little machine.
"Where else do you hurt?"
She pointed to a place on her neck where he had bit down too hard, early on-when he'd seemed the least in control. He went on his own to her breasts, where he had sucked too vigorously.
"Is that all?" When she nodded, he handed her the regenerator. "Would you attend to me?"
She tried to imagine he was just another patient. But her patients did not normally caress her neck as she worked, or let their fingers trail down her skin to where her back curved into her buttocks. Her patients did not take the regenerator out of her hand and put it on the nightstand so that they could pull her close.
"The reprieve is over?" She decided to be brave, leaning down on her own to kiss him.
"It is." His lips were warm and waiting. He drew her closer, forcing her mouth open.
She pulled away and stared down at him. "Why did you come here?"
"Because I finally could."
"You always could have."
"No. I could not." He shook his head, as if she would not understand-or as if he did not want to talk about it. Then he pushed her to her back, easing on top of her.
She tensed, but there was no discomfort. He had healed her. And she had healed him-she saw no grimace on his face as he entered her.
"Has anyone ever died during the Pon Farr?" It was a morbid thing to ask. She almost expected him to tell her to stop talking.
"Yes," he answered. His mouth covered hers, tender this time. A sweet, short kiss that left her shaken. "I will not let that happen to you."
"I'm relieved to hear you say that."
She could feel amusement and something darker and sadder in his emotions as he melded with her again. The sense of him pushing down around her made it seem that her mind was swaddled in cotton wadding. She could barely think, but she could feel. She could feel so much.
"I love you," she said, and then hated herself for saying it-he did not want to hear it, had never wanted to hear it.
He stopped his movements, staring down at her with an intensity that she had never seen before. "I was relying on that still being the case when I came here."
"Do you lov-" She looked away from him. Why was she torturing herself?
"I want you." He kissed her again, his lips leaving hers to blaze a hot trail across her face, to her ear, where he lingered. His breath was warm as he whispered, "I do not know if I can love you."
She felt stung. She'd seen him too many times with the people he cared about to think he could not love. It was just her he was not sure was capable of stirring that emotion in him.
"I have hurt you," he said, regret coloring his words and the meld.
"If you did, it's because I walked into it." She could be practical. He had to know that by now? She knew how things were.
"I could have stayed on Vulcan when I knew my time was near." His voice was soft, soothing her as he rolled off her and pulled her close. "There are women there, skilled in this."
"But you came here?" Here was a long way from Vulcan. No wonder he'd been so frantic-so ready for her.
"I came to you. Here is where you were." He nuzzled against her, his lips never leaving her skin for long. "I wanted you. Not anyone else: you."
His expression was a little grim, a little unsure. Very cautious. "I am not certain. I just did."
She was not sure what to make of that. "I see."
"I would like to find out why. When the burning is over. We have not spent much time together."
"No, we haven't." Actually, they had not spent any time together, but she did not feel like correcting him.
"I would like to try..." He sounded uncertain again. As if she would tell him to leave as soon as this was over. As if she would ever do that.
"You are welcome to stay." It sounded like she was telling him he was welcome to use her bathroom. "I mean...I'd like you to stay." She, too, sounded uncertain.
"It is settled then." He took a deep breath. As if that had been harder for him than she knew.
It was settled. For now. While the fires raged inside him, it was settled. She wondered if he would still want to stay when the Pon Farr was over.
Chapel woke slowly, tired muscles protesting as she stretched. Turning, she saw that the bed was empty, and she sighed. What had she expected?
She swung her legs over the side of the bed, sat for a moment, staring at the traces of daylight stealing in behind her blinds. "Don't think about him," she told herself, and the sound went nowhere in the too still room.
Standing up before she could start crying, she went into the bathroom and stared at herself in the mirror. Her lips were puffy and red, there were dark circles that looked like bruises under her eyes, and her hair was a tangled mess. Spock probably had taken one look at her when he'd come to his senses and fled. She turned away, taking a long shower before she finally headed out to the kitchen to make some coffee. She stopped in her tracks as she passed her study.
"Good morning," Spock said, turning away from her computer.
"I thought you had gone."
"Do you want me to do that?" One eyebrow went up. It should have been comforting, such a familiar gesture, instead it left her feeling off balance.
"No, I don't want you to do that." Her tone was rough, and she turned away, stumbling into the kitchen. She heard him coming up behind her.
"Did you think I would leave without a word?"
"Yes." She measured the coffee carefully. "Do you like coffee?"
"Is this one of them?"
He moved closer, she could feel the heat of him against her, radiating through the thin t-shirt she'd pulled on. A t-shirt too worn to wear around company. She crossed her arms across her chest suddenly, the spastic move sending coffee grounds all over the counter.
"This is undoubtedly one of those occasions," he said, turning her gently. When she did not lower her arms, he met her eyes, looking gently amused. "I have seen far more of you than what will show through that shirt, Christine."
"I know." She forced her arms down. "I don't even know how you like your coffee."
"Black is fine."
She turned, wiping the spilled grounds into the sink before starting the coffee. "Are you hungry?"
"Less than I was." He touched the bowl of fruit by the sink. "I helped myself."
She saw that some of the fruit was gone-an apple, she thought, and a banana. "That's fine."
Standing still, staring at the counter trying to figure out what one made one's Vulcan lover for breakfast after the Pon Farr, she felt his hands touch down on her shoulders, rhythmically squeezing and letting go, forcing away the tension she was letting build within her.
"Why did you come here?" she asked.
"Doctor McCoy told me you were here on Nestor V."
"So you came for me?"
"I told you that when you asked the first time." There was no censure in his voice. He sounded monumentally patient with her.
She was suddenly very tired of his patience. "Why now?"
"Was that not self evident?" He leaned up against her, his front to her back, pressing relentlessly. His hands slipped off her shoulder, running down her front to find her breasts. She groaned as he played with them through her shirt, felt herself go limp in his embrace as he kissed her neck slowly.
"Spock, I know about Valeris."
"Then you also know she betrayed me and played me for a fool. My relationship with her-such as it was-is over."
"Such as it was?" She tried to make herself move away from him; she failed. "Len told me what happened. How angry you were with her. Sounded like love to me."
He leaned in close to her ear, his tongue tracing it for a moment before he whispered, "If it had been love, I would have broken in the doors of her prison to get to her during the burning. As I am not currently in custody..."
She laughed, then hated herself for it. "When did you become so slippery?"
"It is only the truth. I was not, as you know, thinking logically the last few days. I went where my body drove me. I came here. To you."
She finally found the strength to pull away from him. Busying herself with making toast, she said, "Your body isn't in control of you anymore."
"No. It is not." There was something in his tone, something so intimate that she had to turn to look at him. He was watching her, taking a long, slow look at her in the threadbare t-shirt and shorts she'd pulled on.
She felt more naked than when she'd been in bed with him. "Stop it."
"You object to admiration?"
"When I'm trying to butter toast, I do."
"Ah. Yes. That is a trying task."
"Don't make fun of me, Spock."
"I was not." He took the plate and the mug of coffee she handed to him, carried them over to the little table near the back door.
"You've had other Pon Farrs," she said, leaning against the counter to eat rather than joining him at the table.
"You witnessed one of them." His look was as close to mischievous as she'd ever seen. "You were nearly involved in that one, if you recall? But for your announcement that we were going to Vulcan..."
She did not want to talk about that time. It had confused her for years-his words, the way he'd looked at her. Any woman would have done, she'd tried to tell herself. There had been nothing special about his wanting her. "And since that one?"
"It is difficult to count because of my death and the effects of the Genesis Planet on my own cycle."
She shot a look at him. For him to mention Genesis so casually to her was unexpected.
She frowned. "So, I'm supposed to believe I'm suddenly your soul mate? That you couldn't live without having sex with me, when you've never had that problem before?"
His look grew darker. Sad, as if he had lost his best fr-
"Oh." She looked down. "I'm so stupid."
"Are you?" He was watching her carefully.
"I know how you felt about Jim." It was almost an act of defiance to call her former captain by his first name. But he'd been a friend. She'd gotten to know him both times that he'd been Earthbound.
Spock took a bite of toast, chewing carefully as if he was composing his thoughts. Then he looked up at her. "You have no idea how I felt about Jim."
His words stung. Truth did that. She had no idea how he felt about Jim, had never had an idea. She only thought she knew. Everyone thought they knew. But Spock had never told her, and neither had Jim.
She only had to look at history, though, to know. How much had they gone through for each other's sake? "I'm sorry that he's dead. I'm sorry for your loss."
"It was...a blow." He looked down at his toast as if it was suddenly a foreign object, as if he was not sure how it got on the table.
"Between that and Valeris..." She turned away, couldn't bear to say what she was going to say to his face. "I can see how I made an attractive third choice."
"That is an exceedingly negative way to look at it."
She laughed softly. "It's also the truth."
He sighed, the sound one she was not sure she'd ever heard him make. "Would you rather I lie to you?"
"I don't know."
"That too is truth. It is good that we can have truth between us, Christine."
"Yes. Real special." She put her plate down so hard it rattled loudly, for a moment she thought it might break in two.
She heard the chair being pushed out, sensed him coming up behind her. "I cannot change that I cared for them. In Jim's case, I would not want to. Valeris is more difficult not to regret."
"I imagine so." She bit back a moan as he pulled her close again.
"I can tell you more truths. Truths that might be more palatable?"
"Please." Her tone came out sardonic rather than needy. She was glad. Didn't want him to know just how much she wanted to hear something nice from him. Something that was just hers.
"If you were third choice, you are not any longer. I had warning this time. I knew my time was coming. And from the moment it started to build, I wanted you. There was no question that I would find you. That I would have you. It was almost elemental." He was lifting up her t-shirt as he spoke, pushing down her shorts as he moved closer to her. She heard the shift of his own clothing being pushed out of the way, then he was with her, his lips touching down fiercely on her neck as he moved slowly against her.
She moaned, taken by surprise, but ready for him. More than ready for him. Wanting him, wanting this. Turning her head, she found his lips, kissed him even though it strained her neck to do it. "I've never stopped loving you," she said, wanting him to know the truth, or at least needing to say it-he may always have known it.
"It is entirely possible that I am in love with you. If it is not yet love, it is certainly lust. In time..." He was moving faster, groaning as he did. His words came out rushed, un-Vulcan as he trailed off.
He reached down, his fingers working their way to where she liked to be touched. He'd learned what pleased her during their hours in bed. She'd learned what he liked too. As he sent her into bliss, she clamped down, could feel him calling out, pushing her down over the counter, his arms around her tightly. They stayed that way, both panting a little.
Then he eased away, turning her so she had to look at him. "Will it be enough?"
"I don't know." She touched his face, indulging herself, letting her fingers run over his cheek and down to his mouth.
He kissed her fingertips as they lingered on his lips. It was a sweet gesture, and it made her smile. She hoped the expression wasn't as wistful as it felt.
"We can see if it's enough," she said, offering time as a tentative solution.
"Yes. We can."
"Don't you need to get back to Starfleet Command?"
He shook his head. "I can work from Nestor V. But my assignments will call me away for extended periods."
"I know." She leaned in and kissed him.
He met her lips eagerly. "It is agreed then? We will try this?"
She wanted to ask him why it mattered so much to him, but couldn't bear more of his honesty. Better to leave it here, in a place where she felt warm and wanted-if not loved. "It is agreed."
Chapel sighed as she walked out of surgery, trying in vain to reach the spot on her shoulder that was itching like mad.
She turned, saw Pete Lessick watching her with a tired grin of his own. He'd been in surgery as long as she had, and he looked exhausted.
"I'll scratch yours if you'll scratch mine?" He reached over and scraped down her shoulder, finally hitting the spot that had been driving her nuts since she'd scrubbed up.
She moaned in relief. "Where does yours itch?"
"Probably somewhere that John would rather I not let you touch. Even if you're dying to."
Chapel just laughed.
"Speaking of John, he wanted to know who the Vulcan was that we see coming and going at all hours."
"Did he?" John and Pete could give any nosy neighbors a run for their money. If she hadn't been so fond of them, she might be annoyed.
"Oh, I told him who it was. My handsome partner may prefer to concentrate on those old relics of his, but I keep up with current events. I'd know Ambassador Spock anywhere."
"You and half the galaxy." She smiled. "We served together on the Enterprise."
"Yes. You look just like old shipmates." He winked at her.
She shot him a look. "What else would we be?" She kept her look bland, not giving him anything.
He nodded, as if taking her silence as a challenge. "I'll worm your secrets out of you yet. But not right now. I have a consultation still before I can rest." As he turned away, he called over his shoulder, "John says to bring your Vulcan over for drinks some night. We'd love to meet him."
"I'll consider it." She turned away, knowing she wasn't ready for that, and relatively sure Spock wasn't either.
It was still so odd to think of the two of them as a couple. She and Spock. Spock and she. After all this time, she'd finally won his heart-or parts lower, anyway.
He'd moved in. Actually, he'd just never left. Several boxes of his things had shown up a few days after the Pon Farr had ended.
She'd taken one look at them-the manifest dated well before he'd arrived-and had turned to him, frowning. "Am I so predictable? You knew I'd want you to stay?"
"I know you better than you think I do," he'd said softly, not moving toward her, as if he'd known that she was on the verge of anger. Or of hurt.
She'd stared down at the boxes. He'd known she would want him to stay. Was that a bad thing or good?
"I do not have to stay if you have changed your mind," he'd said. His voice had been sincere, but his eyes had held something darker, something less Vulcan. He had not wanted to leave her, and she had not wanted him to go.
It wasn't his fault she was so predictable.
She shook her head, clearing the memory as she walked back to her office. It didn't help to think too hard about why Spock was with her. Or that she'd made it very easy for him to stay. She didn't like to think she was a patsy for taking him in when he didn't love her.
Taking him in. That wasn't right either. It sounded like he needed her. Spock had never needed her, and he still didn't. For some reason, he wanted to be with her. She just wasn't sure what that reason was. Maybe someday he'd tell her.
In the meantime, she would enjoy the ride for as long as it lasted. She hated to think that their relationship wasn't going to endure, but she woke up each day surprised to see him still there. Probably not very flattering to herself. The hospital shrinks would no doubt want to work on her self-esteem issues. Then again, when you know you're not someone's first choice...
Sighing, she shut down her terminal and turned off the lights, closing the door of her office and trying to leave her doubts hanging with her white doctor's coat. But her doubts had other ideas. They followed her home, came inside with her, and she had to force them down when Spock walked out of the spare room they'd turned into his study.
She smiled at him, could feel how tenuous it was. His eyes narrowed a bit as he moved toward her.
Brushing past him, she walked into the kitchen. Normally, when she came home in a mood like this, he left her alone to decompress. But this time he followed her into the kitchen, moving behind her, his arms stealing around her, coming to rest on her stomach. She moaned as he kissed her neck.
"What is wrong?" His voice seemed more tender than usual.
"I do not believe you." His kisses continued, following the curve of her neck, down to her clavicle, then lower. He pulled her around so he could get to her chest. Then he kissed back up until his lips found hers.
When they finally pulled away from each other, she stared at him and felt tears trying to slip out. Closing her eyes, she fought for control.
"Christine? What is it?"
"We never go out. Never leave here." The words surprised her. She hadn't meant to say something so needy.
"We have gone out in the past." He looked confused. "Did you wish to go out tonight?"
He eased her up onto the counter, and she expected him to start pulling her clothes off, but he just leaned in, kissing her softly. Then he drew away and studied her. In a low voice he said, "When my mother is in a mood such as the one you seem to be in, my father always indulges her."
"Smart man." She looked down.
"Perhaps we could walk to town and eat in one of the restaurants near the plaza? It is a pleasant evening."
"We could sit outside?" She hated how tentative her voice sounded.
"If you wish."
"Indulging me, are you?" She started to slide off the counter, but he stopped her.
"What is it that is bothering you, Christine? I do not think it is our going out, if it could be solved so easily."
She took a deep breath. "Nothing."
"We have always had the truth between us. Are we going to change that now?"
Closing her eyes, she leaned forward, felt him meet her, his forehead gently touching hers, pressing in. His skin was so warm.
"I'm never sure if you'll still be here when I come home. Or when I wake up."
He did not answer for a moment, and she swallowed hard.
"Have I given you any reason to think that I am considering flight?" There was something amused in his voice, and she pulled away, saw that his eyes were gleaming the way they did when he found her actions humorous.
"Then why do you think I am going to leave?"
"Why do you stay?"
"Because staying is what I want to do."
Pushing him away, she jumped down. "You just can't give me a straight answer."
"I cannot put it any more clearly than that. I wish to be here, so here is where I am. It is quite simple, Christine."
"For you. It's simple for you." She walked out of the kitchen.
Following her into the hall, he asked, "Does this mean we are not going to town?" He sounded disappointed.
"No, we're going. I'm hungry. And it is a nice night."
He almost smiled. "You are practical at the most unexpected times."
"Nobody's perfect." She started to open the door, but he pushed it closed and pressed her up against it. "Our walk, Spock...?"
"It will be an even more pleasant night a little later." This time he did take off her clothes.
"Sex can't wait till later?" she asked in between moans.
"No, I find it cannot."
"You're whimsical at the most unexpected times, Spock."
"I, too, am not perfect," he said, making her laugh. Then they didn't talk for some time.
As he leaned against her, the door holding both of them upright, she wrapped her arms around him, pulling him to her tightly. She had stopped telling him she loved him. Hated not hearing it back. But this would have been the time she'd have told him. Burying her face in his chest, she mouthed it, felt his arms tighten around her. It was enough, that squeeze. She didn't have to say any words out loud, and he didn't have to not answer them.
"Christine?" He gently forced her to look at him, so he could kiss her. "I do care for you."
"I know." She looked away. "Dinner?"
Nodding, he pulled her clothes back on, doing her up before he dressed himself. They walked out into the growing darkness. The stars were just beginning to light up the sky, and the night was still warm. Nestor V had an almost Mediterranean climate. Fresh breezes kept it from getting too hot, copious sunshine kept the semi-arid landscape rich and fragrant.
They walked slowly, not talking. He never held her hand, rarely touched her in public, yet there was something in the way he walked next to her that clearly marked her as "with" him. She was not sure what it was, something in the way he looked at her perhaps? Or the way he seemed to be just a little bit ahead of her without actually outpacing her. It should have irritated her, but it felt good, felt right. It was caring rather than insulting-even if it was rooted in possession. She was his-that was a hard idea for her to get used to, especially since she was not entirely sure that he was hers.
The main plaza was filled with people out enjoying the evening. She told him to choose the restaurant but he deferred, indulging her again. Emulating love-master Sarek, apparently.
"When your father indulges your mother, does it work?"
"As they are still married, I would say it is a successful tactic."
She laughed. He could make her do that at the oddest times. It was the most unanticipated part of being with him: that he could be fun.
Truth be told, he was probably a hell of a lot more fun than she was. He never seemed to dive headlong into the morose pool, never appeared to waste time trying to figure out what they were or why they were together. He just seemed intent on making the most of their moment.
As the host led them to seats overlooking the plaza, she glanced at Spock. He met her gaze, his expression lightening into what was, for him, a smile.
"You are relaxing," he said, as he picked up the menu.
"You have that effect on me." It was true. Thinking about him often made her crazy, but being with him was soothing. Except for the times he didn't want it to be soothing-and those times were nice, too.
"This planet is tranquil," he said.
"Yes, it is." It was the main reason she'd accepted the posting. After the rush of emergency ops, she'd needed something much slower paced.
"I was on a planet much like this when Jim died." Spock's voice was even, but something flickered in his eyes.
Pain, she realized. And he wanted to talk about it-with her.
"On a diplomatic mission?"
The waiter came then, and they both ordered quickly, as if they didn't care what the man brought them.
She leaned in. "Were you with Jim after Valeris?"
He met her eyes. "Yes."
She remembered how she'd felt when she'd heard of Spock's death. And she had never been loved back. How much worse had it been for Spock to hear of Jim's death? "Do you feel guilty that you weren't with him?"
"Guilt, in a case such as this, would be illogical."
She smiled softly, hearing what he was not saying. "Do you feel guilty?"
"Yes." He seemed relieved to be speaking the word.
"Have you ever admitted that to anyone?"
"I have not." He leaned back, taking a sip of his water. "Only to you."
He was giving her that. She nodded, leaning into the cushion of her chair as she let him back away from what was probably the strongest emotion he could feel.
"Where were you when you heard?" he asked.
"In surgery-I mean I was in surgery when it happened, but they didn't tell me until I got out. They knew he was my friend." Jim and Len had stopped on the planet once, just before the Khitomer crisis. They'd been checking up on her, even though neither would admit it. She'd given them a tour of the hospital, taken them around the area in her little transport. It had been a nice visit.
Jim had seemed wistful when she'd mentioned Spock. "He's found someone," had been all he'd said.
At the time, she hadn't thought that meant much. Jim had appeared to find someone before too-Lori, Antonia, even Carol Marcus. But he'd always ended up alone. With Spock. She'd just never wanted to put two and two together and let being alone with Spock mean exactly that.
It hadn't been that she'd been jealous of Jim. She'd adored him, worshipped him the way all his crew had. He was the finest captain she'd ever served under. She hadn't wanted to think of him and Spock together because she'd known she could never compete.
And now here she was, trying not to compete. Reminiscing with her lover who'd been Jim's lover. Jim's soul mate.
"Did you love Valeris?" she asked.
He looked confused at the shift of topic.
She could feel herself blushing. "I'd like to think I at least get second place."
He leaned forward, his voice pitched low so that only she could hear it. "I told you that if my relationship with Valeris had been more than what it was-pride in her accomplishments and infatuation with a young, full Vulcan-I would have sought her out for the burning. I would not have come here."
"So I've got second place in the bag." Her tone was too sarcastic. She toned it down when she asked, "But if Jim were alive...?" She met his eyes.
He looked away.
"Just give me the truth, Spock. It's what we have. I like being able to count on that."
"If Jim were alive, we would not now be enjoying this evening."
She wasn't sure enjoying was the right word for how the evening suddenly felt. But the pain would pass-it was like a hangnail; it hurt when you picked at it and it would throb for a while after. But it would stop eventually. If she could just keep from picking at it.
"You want the truth even though it hurts you." He did not seem surprised.
"I'm silly that way." She smiled to show him she was all right.
"You are many things, Christine, but silly is not one of them."
She felt warm suddenly. Not cherished, exactly. But close. "Thanks." She looked down, was surprised to feel his fingers touch down on hers, tightening for a moment before he pulled his hand away.
They talked about less painful things until the food came.
Chapel tossed and turned on the bed, ignoring her comm unit as she tried to fight the fever that had already raged through the populace. There were no beds left in the hospital; they were filled with recovering patients-patients she'd helped get over the crisis. Pete and the rest had their hands full; they didn't need to worry about her, too. If she just stayed home, she wouldn't spread the sickness to anyone new.
Besides, she'd told Pete that Spock was home, and her friend had been too tired to check up on her. It had been a lie, but not a huge one. Spock wasn't far away. A hop, skip, and a jump by interstellar standards.
Her head throbbed harder, and she moaned, letting the cry get louder. There was no one to hear. No one to judge. No one to think how un-Vulcan she was.
She started to cry, the tears burning, making her head hurt more. Darkness pushed at her, and the edges of her vision seemed to give out. Closing her eyes, she slept and dreamt of Spock and Jim, and Spock and Valeris. And Spock and some woman who she could not get a good look at. But she knew it wasn't her. It was never her.
She tried to open her eyes, but they were too heavy. She could sense that she was soaking wet; the covers felt heavy and confining.
There was a feeling of soothing, damp coolness on her forehead. Then someone pulled the covers off her. She felt fingers on her face, then a familiar touch hovering at the edge of her consciousness.
"When you did not answer my comms here or at work, I came back."
He'd cut his mission short for her? "I'm sorry." Failure filled her. She was so weak he'd had to leave what he was doing just to care for her.
"Christine, I was finished with my mission. You told me of the outbreak during our last conversation, do you not remember? I was concerned about you so I came back. You are not weak." His mind pushed deeper, finding hers, where she was hiding her fear and loneliness and how much every part of her body hurt.
"Let it out. Let me have it."
She pushed him away, but he kept circling her, until she gave up, broke down, letting him gather her up with the force of his mind. For a moment, there was a feeling of communion, of caring and worry and something she couldn't identify-refused to call love. Then he pulled out of her mind.
"You are too weak for an extended meld," he said, as he crawled in next to her, pulling her into his arms.
She realized he was naked, realized she was too. When had he pulled her nightgown off?
"I'm a mess," she said, but she turned and cuddled into him. It felt so good to have him there. To have him take care of her. At least she didn't have to worry about him getting sick. None of the Vulcans had.
But he was half human. He could catch the fever. Pulling away, or trying to, she said, "No, you'll get sick and..."
"I will not get sick." He kissed her on the forehead.
"You don't know that." She hated herself for holding him tighter, for not making him get out of their bed.
"Arguing with me is a futile endeavor. You need rest." This time his lips found hers. His mouth felt cool against her fevered lips. His fingers trailed over her skin, rubbing gently, making everywhere he touched feel less tight, less hot. Her fever must be very high if his skin felt cool to her.
"Why didn't you contact me?" he asked. "Why didn't you tell me you were sick?"
"I didn't want to bother you." She was so tired she could barely get out the words. So dreadfully tired and he was making her feel so safe.
"It would not have been a bother." He kissed her once more.
She listened to his breathing, heard her own labored breath. Then she closed her eyes and slept.
Fever dreams raged within her. Nightmares from her life and from her imagination. They grew more horrible, and she sensed Spock connecting with her mind, pulling her back from the edge of the abyss. She cried, weeping when the darkness would not let her go.
"Shhh, it is all right." His hands were everywhere, she could feel them, but she could not open her eyes.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'm sorry I'm not what you want."
"You are what I want," he said. But his voice was small and sounded worried.
She sank deeper, could barely feel him anymore. She thought that if she just let go, she'd be free and so would he. There was nothing around her, nothing anchoring her except pain. Maybe she could get away from the pain? If she just kicked off and floated...?
"Christine!" His mind was all around her now. How had he followed her down so deep?
She felt an odd sensation. A burning as if of ice, as if she'd been playing in the snow for too long, fashioning snowballs with her bare hands.
"I forgot my gloves," she mumbled.
"This is not the preferred way to do this, Christine. Forgive me for giving you no choice, but I cannot lose you, too."
Forgive him? She turned to try to find his voice, but it was all around her and still nowhere. The icy burning went away, only to be replaced by a flare of golden light. Her mind exploded in sensation, and suddenly she could feel him everywhere.
"Come back to me," he said to her, moving away, out of the darkness, the golden light following them as he led her up and up and back to her room.
Opening her eyes, she tried to lift her head but could not. Her throat was so dry it hurt. She tried to moisten it, tried to swallow, and couldn't. Spock eased her up, dribbling water into her mouth. She could feel his relief when she finally swallowed it.
"What have you done?" she managed to croak out. The question reverberated in her mind.
And in his.
"It was the only way." He touched her cheekbones, his fingers dancing over the meld points. She felt a tingling just from that little bit of contact. "The intensity will ease in time. The bond will not be so intrusive."
"You know this because of Jim?"
He nodded, and she could feel the small reverberation of pain at Jim's name. "And because of T'Pring." A darker emotion rose when he thought of her.
"You didn't have to do this. You could have let me go." She knew he could feel her relief that he had not let her go. Hated that she welcomed the bond, even if the idea of it also made her nervous.
"I could not." He gave her more water, seemed to sense she needed to use the bathroom, because he helped her to the toilet, and came back for her as soon as she was done.
She walked a few steps and felt her strength give out. Scooping her up easily, Spock carried her back to the bed. She could feel the rhythmic thump of his pulse-slightly faster now-everywhere his fingers touched her. He was affected by this, too.
She met his eyes as he lay her down and settled in next to her. "Did you mean to do this? Eventually?"
He did not have to answer that. She could tell he had not. But she could also tell that now that he had initiated the bond, he did not regret having done so.
"I don't understand you," she said softly. Running her fingers over his lips, she could feel the soft touch coming back through the connection they shared. What would sex be like now?
"It will be extraordinary," he said, bending to kiss her. "Although it was entirely pleasurable before."
He reached for something on the bedside table, brought out a hypo. "Doctor Lessick said this would ease the headache."
She recognized the compound. It was strong, would make her sleep. They had found they could not give it to people in the depths of the fever, that it kept them down too long in the fever dreams, made some of them never wake up. The hypo hissed as he shot it into her neck, and she could feel the medicine working. Looking over at him, she saw his eyelids flutter slightly. He was too closely connected to her not to be affected.
"Kiss me again, Spock?"
He did, pulling her to him gently, his tongue touching hers.
She could feel it, and she could feel him feeling it. "I wish we could have sex."
"You never say make love, Christine. Why is that?"
"Because you have to be in love to make love, Spock." She tried to bite back the hurt that rolled up inside her as she said the words, knew she failed when he blinked hard, tears coming to his eyes. He forced them back-her emotions must be a trial. She wondered how long it would take for this intensity to wear off.
"I did not mean to hurt you," he said.
"You haven't. My expectations hurt me. I hurt me. I want too much."
"You want so little. You have trained yourself to want so little." He yawned. "I should have considered what the medicine would do to me. I find I do not think clearly where you are concerned. It was the same with Jim."
She felt something burst from him. Caring. Regard. Love. Felt from his point of view, she could recognize it as love-for Jim, of course, but some of it was for her, too. Only he would not say it. Maybe he never would.
Had he said it to Jim?
"You do not need to compete with him," he said, as he drew her in, his arm coming over her stomach to hold her close.
"Good. Because I can't." She could feel bitterness rising up. But it was hard to sustain when he was kissing her cheek gently, when his hand was inching down to rest on her, his fingers moving slowly, causing them both to shudder as he touched her.
She pulled him into a deep, drug-induced sleep before he could finish.
Spock wasn't in bed when she woke. But she could tell he was in the house by the faint resonance still ringing through her mind.
"Spock?" she whispered, thinking his name, and a moment later she heard him coming down the hall. As he walked into the bedroom, she asked, "You heard me?"
He seemed to realize she found that idea both comforting and disturbing. "You have been asleep for two days. I have been listening for you."
"So we can't just talk mind to mind?"
"Perhaps in a situation of extreme stress, but not normally. Not without a meld." He stared down at her, such affection and relief in his eyes that she felt her throat catch. "You are feeling better?"
She nodded, glad that no lingering headache made her head throb from the motion. "I need a shower." She could feel his uncertainty, marveled at how worried he'd have to be for her to feel it this strongly. Smiling up at him, she said, "Shower, yes? You can help me?"
When he looked unconvinced, she reached over and began to touch him through his robe.
He moaned. "Christine, that is not fair."
"Fair? Did you want me to be fair?"
Drawing her up, he kissed her, supporting her as she began to drag his robe up and over his head, making him break the kiss so she could pull it clear from him and throw it to the floor. Even without a meld, she could feel an echo from him every time she touched him. She felt the tickle as she ran her finger over his nipple, felt a deeper reaction as she sent her hand questing even lower.
"Meld with me," she said.
"Later. When you are safely back in bed."
"Safely?" She laughed as he eased her toward the bathroom and told her to lean against the counter while he turned the water on and adjusted the temperature. "I won't break, Spock. I can stand."
"It is your turn to indulge me, Christine." He reached for her, and she took his hand, letting him pull her gently to him, following him into the shower.
They'd taken many showers together. None of them had been like this. As he washed her hair for her, she heard him gasp a little every time his fingers met her scalp. As she touched him with soapy hands, she moaned at the feeling her grasp inspired.
"Will it always be like this?"
"No. It will wear off. We will need a meld to feel this in the future."
"So, we should enjoy it now?"
He almost smiled. "That would be advised."
"Why did you do it?"
He hesitated. "Because I love you."
She laughed, and the sound came out very bitter. She could feel him wince away from the feelings that surged in her. "You say it because you know that's what I want to hear. Have we lost truth with our new bond?"
"I thought I was losing you. I could not stand that idea. Is that not love?"
"Yes. It's also dependence. Or obsession. Or any number of not-so-nice things."
"We are not dependent, and neither of us is obsessed. Why do you reject the idea of love?"
"Because I can feel what you're feeling, remember? You care for me, I know that, Spock. But I'm not sure you understand what you feel. I know I don't."
"I am an alien. It may be unwise to judge my emotions by what you are familiar with. Perhaps my love feels nothing like what you think love should be?"
She kissed him slowly, loving that he was trying so hard. "It's a fine argument, Spock. But I know what you felt for Jim, remember? I felt that from inside you." She stroked his hair, playing with it the way he'd done to her. "I love you. I hope you do love me...or that you will love me."
She tried to pull him to her, curling her leg around him, but he shook his head.
"You are attempting to distract me." He turned the water off and reached for a towel, drying her off carefully. "I know that you mean more to me than anyone, Christine."
"Now. I mean more now."
"Yes, now. Is now not the only time we have? The past is gone; the future will be what it will be. But now-we can have that. We can shape that." He dried himself quickly, then urged her back into the bedroom, joining her on the bed. "Let me show you? No barriers?"
Nodding, she held him as he settled over her. Then he seemed to hesitate. Looking up at him, she kissed him, and raised her eyebrows as if asking him what the hold up was.
He looked uncertain. "You have been so sick."
"I feel much better." She still felt weak, but the pain and malaise of the sickness were gone.
He still looked unsure.
His fingers pushed into the meld points as he joined with her in a more basic way. She felt the voyage of penetration from his perspective and groaned. He made a helpless noise, too, and she could tell he was riding her sensations. He deepened the meld, and she felt him begin to share more than just physical sensation. Emotions battered at them both. Most of them were hers, undisciplined and nearly overcome by the experience. Love and lust and hurt and hope and something that it took her a long time to identify as faith. Faith in herself and in him.
"We share," he whispered as her body bucked under his. The emotional barrage grew as he let his own feelings out to play.
Lust hit her first, his powerful desire for her. It was what had drawn him to her when the burning started. And it went back years.
"I have always admired you, Christine. You must believe that."
She felt his fingers on her face, wiping off tears, and marveled that he'd known she was crying when she had not.
"You think anyone would have done for me during my first Pon Farr, but you are wrong. I burned for T'Pring but I did not want her. I wanted Jim, and I wanted you. I nearly took you when you came to my quarters, until you reminded me of my responsibilities. Do you have any idea how close you came to having me?"
She swallowed hard, shaking a little as their emotions piled on her. Hers were particularly difficult to deal with when they were echoed back from him.
"It is too much." He immediately eased up, and she felt him stroke her wet hair. "I am sorry." He began to move again, the backwash of his passion racing over them both.
She kissed him, and as they moved together gently, she felt how much he cared about her. It might not be love, but it was more than just lust or casual affection. "I love you," she murmured.
"And I love you," he said softly, and no matter how she tried, she could not find any uncertainty in his mind voice.
He believed he loved her. Was that any different than really loving?
"Perhaps you should stop analyzing this?" He let one of his eyebrows go up. "I realize it is ironic for me to advise you to abandon thought for emotion, but I believe it would be beneficial."
She laughed, then laughed more as he began to tickle her lightly, using his own ability to feel what she was experiencing to guide him. A little while later, he was pulling her on top of him, helping move her as he opened completely to her, basking in their combined pleasure before he eased her off him and told her to sleep.
She could feel a tinge of guilt in the suggestion, and she kissed his cheek. "I'm all right."
"You are still weak. I should have waited."
"But you said this won't last. That the intensity will fade?"
"Then I'm glad we didn't wait. I'm glad you let me feel this."
He kissed her with extraordinary tenderness. She kissed him back, enjoying the feeling of his lips on hers, of his mind in hers; his regard for her colored everything.
He'd been right; the sex was extraordinary. Sharing their emotions-whatever they might turn out to be-was damned nice, too.
Chapel stood at the back door, staring out at Amanda as she walked slowly through the small yard. Sarek and Spock were on a diplomatic mission and weren't due back for a few days. In the meantime, Chapel had Amanda to herself. Easing the door open, she stepped onto the patio, then sat and waited for Spock's mother to see her.
Amanda took a step and then clutched at her side, leaning over a little as if winded. She stayed like that for a long time, before turning and starting in surprise when she saw Chapel. Her look of pained determination changed to the serene smile she normally wore. "Christine, I didn't know you had come out."
"I was extra quiet," Chapel said. "Do they know?"
"Know what, dear?"
"That you're sick?" She'd been watching Amanda for two days, noting how she ignored her meals, didn't bother to push food around her plate when it was just Chapel with her. She'd seen that Amanda was in pain, how weak she seemed to be compared to the last time she'd run into her.
"No. They don't know."
Chapel stood, pulling the diagnostic tool out of her pocket and running it gently over Amanda. "Vixrin's Disease."
"Yes." Amanda sighed, as if sharing the secret was a huge relief. Sitting, she fanned herself. "Could I have some water, my dear?"
"Of course." Chapel went in and poured them both tall glasses.
As she walked out, she saw that Amanda was staring at the rose bushes that ran along the side fence. Taking the glass, Amanda sipped at the water, and immediately started to cough. When Chapel moved to help her, she held her hand up.
"I'm fine. Or as fine as I'm going to be." She smiled-and this time the smile was not serene. It was sad and a little frightened. Then she turned back to the roses. "Do you tend to them?"
"No. Spock does." He'd planted them shortly after moving in-they'd shown up one day in a shipment from Earth.
"Something he learned from me." Amanda took another sip of her water. This time it went down easily. "Don't tell him I'm sick."
"We don't have secrets-"
"Christine, promise me. Do not tell him or Sarek." She turned, her gaze fierce as she held Chapel's eyes with her own. "Do you promise?"
"Yes," Chapel finally said. "But why? They deserve the truth."
"It will change everything. I don't want that. I want to live my life until it's time to go...or until I can't hide this anymore." She blinked several times. "I don't want them treating me like an invalid."
Chapel didn't comment, wasn't sure what to say.
"Every couple has secrets," Amanda said softly. "You and Spock will have them. It's inevitable."
Chapel smiled tightly and saw Amanda frown-probably at the bitterness in the expression.
"Christine, what is it?"
This was Spock's mother. She should not be talking about Spock to his mother.
Amanda reached over and patted her hand. "Loving a Vulcan is hard, Christine. But it's worth it. In the end, it is all worth it."
"Loving a Vulcan is easy, Amanda. It's being loved back..."
Amanda shot her a sharp look. "You don't think Spock loves you?"
"I'm not sure." Chapel smiled at her, made it a real smile. "We're happy, so I guess it doesn't matter, does it?"
"Of course it matters." Amanda sighed. "They're Vulcans. They say they love us a little bit differently. They usually show it with more skill than they form the words."
Chapel didn't look at her, just nodded.
"Spock has always spoken of you with regard and affection."
"He has been kind to me over the years. It wasn't his fault I wasn't his first choice."
"I wasn't Sarek's first wife, my dear. Did you know that?"
Chapel had heard of Spock's half brother, but not much about Sybok's mother. "But Sarek didn't love her, did he? It was an arranged marriage, right?"
"You think he didn't love her?" Amanda laughed, then started to cough. She shook her head as Chapel got up, waving her back into her seat. "It will pass."
Chapel waited, sipping at her water.
"He did love her. They just did not get along. It was a disastrous marriage." Amanda saw her look and smiled. "I'm not trying to make some sort of comparison to my son's relationship with Jim Kirk. I'm only saying that being a later choice does not mean you are a lesser one. Not with these men. It's hard enough to get on the playing field."
Chapel laughed. "That's true." She could imagine Spock doing well on his own. Choosing her hadn't just been his way of filling a void-she hoped.
"You said you were happy?"
"I am. We are." Chapel smiled. They were happier than she would ever have thought possible, despite her tendency to overanalyze things. Spock was good at relationships, much better than she was. "I haven't had the best luck in love."
"I remember when your fiance went missing." Amanda sighed. "I knew Roger Korby. Did I ever tell you that?"
Chapel looked over at her, saw that Amanda had leaned her head back and closed her eyes. "No, you never did."
"I was a visiting teacher in the linguistics department when he started at the university. I remember how impressed his professors were with him." Amanda laughed. "You have a habit of falling for brilliant, famous men."
"I do." Chapel shook her head. "And I tend to carry that torch forever. I looked for Roger for so long."
"And Spock. Have you been waiting for him all this time?" There was no censure in Amanda's voice.
"If I have, then Penelope has nothing on me."
Amanda laughed. "No, she doesn't. I think that kind of constancy is one of the things that made you appealing to Spock. After Valeris, he needed someone he could be sure of."
"He won't speak of her."
"Of course not. The little bitch shattered his pride." Amanda chuckled at Chapel's shocked look. "It's just us, my dearest. Surely, I can speak plainly? I didn't like her. I didn't approve of her. I told him she was trouble. And I was right."
"Did you tell him to come here?"
Amanda looked away. "I may have mentioned you a few times after Jim died. I gave Spock time to grieve, of course. Jim was a remarkable man; it will be a long time before Spock truly moves on. Just give him time. Loving Jim doesn't mean he can't fit you into his heart, too."
"I know." Chapel didn't tell Amanda that she'd probably spent as much time thinking about Spock and Jim's relationship as she had thinking about her own relationship with Spock.
"I have to admit he moved faster than I expected. Was it the burning?"
"Ah." Amanda frowned. "He came to you, though. Wanted you when there were plenty of easy options on Vulcan. He left those options behind-he was on Vulcan just before he told us he was moving in with you."
Chapel took that in. She hadn't realized he'd left his home planet to find her. She'd thought he'd been closer to her-on Earth perhaps. He'd gone out of his way to find her; she hadn't been just a convenient stopping place.
"You didn't know that?"
Shaking her head, Chapel said, "I'm glad you told me."
"I want to see him settled. He needs a human woman in his life." Amanda grinned at her, but again the smile was lacking something. She looked down. "I'll be gone sooner than I like to think about."
Chapel didn't contradict her. Amanda's sickness was well beyond the early stage. "Are you in pain?"
Amanda nodded. "But not bad yet. They tell me it will get worse."
Chapel knew it would get much worse.
They sat in silence, the cool breeze blowing onto the patio, bringing the scent of the roses to them.
"I'm afraid," Amanda said so softly that Chapel thought she hadn't intended her to hear.
She looked over at Spock's mother. Amanda looked back, her eyes sad and full of a fear that Chapel knew she would never show her husband or son.
"I'm here," Chapel said gently. "And I'll come if you need me. You only have to call, and I'll be there."
Amanda swallowed hard, nodding. "Thank you, my dear." She leaned back, closing her eyes. Pretending to sleep.
But Chapel saw a tear sneak down Amanda's cheek. She ignored it, sitting quietly, there for the other woman if she needed her.
Chapel lay in Spock's arms, happy to have him back. With Sarek and Amanda down the hall in the guest room, her reunion with Spock had been more circumspect than their normal. No sex against the front door or in the kitchen. She chuckled softly, felt Spock shift.
"What?" he asked.
"I was thinking how your parents are putting a crimp on our sex life."
He kissed her quickly. "I was contemplating something similar." He kissed her again, this time taking his time. "I wonder if we put a crimp on their reunion?"
Chapel didn't answer, just kissed him back, hoping he wouldn't notice she wasn't commenting. She snuggled down but could tell he was looking at her.
Pulling away, she met his eyes. "I made a promise to someone that I'm going to have to break."
"You and I have always had truth between us."
"Yes, we have." Was it her imagination or did he sound relieved?
"Your mother is sick."
"Yes, I know." He ran his fingers down her face, kissing her gently. "My father knows, too."
"But...she...I don't understand."
"She does not want us to know. So we honor that wish." He looked away. "How much time does she have?" His voice grew smaller as he finished the question, and Chapel could suddenly imagine the little boy who had grown into the man she loved.
"A few months," she said. "A year at most."
"She is not in great pain, is she?"
"But she will be?"
Chapel nodded. She could feel his distress through the bond. Pain beat at her, and she let it in. "She's another person you're going to lose."
"She told me she wanted you with me."
He nodded. Then he looked at her, saying quickly, "That is not why I am with you."
"Have you ever known me to do what my parents wanted?"
She laughed gently. "No." She stroked his face, kissing him softly. She could tell she was soothing him. "I told her I'd be there. If she needs me."
"She trusts you; she told you the truth." He sighed, and his arms tightened almost in unconscious accompaniment to the sound. "Someday she will tell my father and me the truth, as well. When she is ready."
"I'm sorry, Spock."
"Death is a part of life. I just did not think I would have to say goodbye to her so soon." He took a deep breath, let it out slowly as if doing one of his meditations. "It is especially hard on my father. They have been together so long."
"He loves her very much." Spock ran his fingers down her back, slowly and lightly, causing shivers. He kissed her forehead. "You told me." He sounded so pleased with her that she looked up at him. "We have truth."
"Yes, we have truth." She smiled sadly at him.
"We have love, too, Christine. You must believe that." He found the meld points, the connection between them springing into life easily. His emotion swirled with her own, and for once she didn't question that the warmth she felt from him was indeed love. She was too busy trying to ease his pain and sadness.
"Beloved," he said as he pulled her closer.
They lay that way for hours. Not sleeping, not fully awake. Together, deeply together. Until he finally let the meld go and fell asleep in her arms. She watched over him for some time before she, too, slipped into sleep.
Chapel sat between Len and Spock, and Uhura peeked over at her as they waited for Scotty's memorial service to start. The room was packed. Scotty had been a popular man, loved and respected by many. Chapel met her friend's eyes-sad eyes, holding the loss of one more of their circle. Which of them would be next?
Reaching across Spock's lap to squeeze Uhura's hand, Chapel saw her glance up at Spock as if to determine what he made of the move.
He did not seem disturbed, just leaned back a bit as if to give them room. Then his attention was drawn to the entrance, and he leaned down, whispering in Chapel's ear, "Saavik has come in. I was not sure she would be here. I would like you to meet her."
"I'd like that," she murmured, seeing Uhura's eyebrows go up very high. Then they drilled down a bit, as if asking her what was going on. Chapel shrugged slightly, but she couldn't bite back the smile.
Uhura grinned. "Finally," she mouthed, then leaned back to talk to Chekov.
"You will have to fully brief her," Spock said very quietly, and she turned so she could read his expression. He was amused-not that anyone else could probably tell that.
"Uhura's not the only one she's going to be briefing," McCoy muttered as he winked at her. He looked very pleased with himself for having helped Spock find her.
Chapel took Len's hand, holding on firmly. He was their elder statesman now. She suddenly wanted to run a full physical on him, to make sure he was all right. Which was silly. Sulu and Rand were in far more danger out on the Excelsior than Len was sitting on his front porch with whichever Georgia peach had captured his attention lately.
The service began and she quit worrying, letting herself remember the man they'd all come to honor. She cried a little and felt no censure from Spock. The bagpipes at the end nearly undid her-and everyone else from what she could tell. Amazing Grace had never had a more terrible beauty. She felt Spock's hand touch hers, his fingers running across her skin in a brief moment of support before he pulled away. She smiled through the tears she was trying to control.
As people began to rise, Uhura leaned over to Spock. "I saw Saavik come in. She's welcome to come over; I've got plenty of food."
"We will ask her," he said. He had not had to think about saying "we" instead of "I," and Chapel tried to hide the flush of pleasure his inclusion gave her.
She followed him out of the auditorium, saw a young Vulcan woman standing by the doors. The Vulcan saw Spock and almost smiled, and Chapel remembered that Saavik was half Romulan. She wondered if the young woman had ever been in love with Spock, but she didn't think Saavik's eyes would have sparkled as much as they did when she was introduced to her if she'd been carrying a torch for her mentor.
Then Saavik's eyes turned sad. "Mister Scott played that song at your funeral, Spock. It was so long ago now, but it seemed as if I was back on the ship." She seemed to be biting back tears.
"I remember Jim telling me of the moment." Spock looked at Chapel with a tender glance, then back to Saavik. "Christine was not there."
"No. I was on Earth when I heard." She'd been in Ops. The pain she'd felt as the news had come across the comms had nearly leveled her. Janice had hovered around her all day, making sure she was okay.
Spock indicated they should walk, and Saavik studied the two of them not very surreptitiously.
"You have something you wish to know?" Spock asked.
"You two are together?" The question was almost rude coming from a Vulcan.
"We are." Spock did not seem the least surprised at Saavik's directness. They appeared to have an interesting rapport.
"Fascinating," Saavik said, clearly teasing Spock.
Chapel could feel her eyebrow going up.
"That's nearly a perfect rendition of his slightly disapproving look. I know because I see it frequently-I tend to be a bit untraditional for a Vulcan."
Chapel grinned at Saavik. "I'm starting to realize that." They waited for a group of people to pass. "We're going to Commander Uhura's for lunch. She wants you to join us if you can."
"It would be most pleasant if you did," Spock said.
"I would be honored to be included." Saavik studied Chapel with open curiosity. "I had the opportunity to serve with Mister Scott. But never with you."
"No. Our paths haven't crossed." Chapel sighed. "Spock and I have not spent much time together since we served on the Enterprise together." Not that they'd spent oodles of time together when they'd been on the ship.
Spock had gotten ahead of them, joining McCoy where he waited for them with the others. Saavik leaned in, saying softly, "If he held you in his heart for this many years, then you must be very special to him."
Chapel turned to her. "Our situation is complicated."
"You are together, are you not? How complicated can that be?"
Chapel laughed. "Well, when you put it like that..."
"How else would you put it? Spock is a man of deep commitments. He does not choose lightly. He would not stay anywhere he does not want to be."
"You may know it, but you do not appear to believe it."
Chapel suddenly narrowed her eyes. "Have you been talking to Amanda?"
"It's possible." Again the barely-suppressed merriment, then it faded entirely. "She told me that you know she's sick." Saavik's voice was barely a whisper, clearly meant to keep the truth from Spock.
Chapel did not tell her he already knew. "How is she?"
"About the same. But I think knowing that Spock is happy is a great weight off her."
Chapel looked down. Spock was happy. Spock was happy with her. It was still so odd to think that way.
"He is happy," Saavik said. "I can tell."
"Yes, he is happy." Chapel smiled at Saavik. "He also looks as if he is wondering why we cannot hurry up."
"We must not keep them waiting." Saavik followed Chapel's lead and picked up her pace.
As Uhura and the others greeted her, Chapel moved to stand by Spock.
"You and she had a nice talk?" At her look, he became very serious. "Ah. She knows."
"Yes. But she doesn't know you do."
"Understood." Spock moved closer to her, standing slightly behind her, hiding the fact that he was letting his hand travel down her back. "Thank you."
"She thinks you are happy with me."
"I am happy with you." He did not even argue that happiness was an emotion.
She smiled. "It's unexpected."
"Life is often that way." He urged her to follow the others. "Leonard has invited us to spend the night at his house rather than the Embassy. I accepted his offer."
She smiled. "Feeling nostalgic?"
"Yes. Being here...I miss Jim, and yet the pain is not the same. It is because you are with me."
"I'm glad I can help with that." She felt no jealousy at his admission, only pleasure that she could lessen his grief. Besides, she missed Jim too, even if not in the same way.
Chapel opened her door with a sigh; it had been a long day and she was tired, hungry, and lonely. She'd lived on her own for years and done just fine, but now a short time alone and she missed Spock intensely. He'd been on Verunius for over a month and anticipated another few weeks of negotiations before he'd be able to leave. She wished that he could have come home sooner. Today was her birthday, and, while Spock probably wouldn't mark it as a special day, just having him around would have been celebration enough.
She heated leftovers and carried them out to the patio, enjoying the last of the light. When she finished, she got up and walked over to his roses, stopping to smell the newly opened blossoms. The peachy-pink and yellow ones smelled the best, and she inhaled deeply, the aroma reminding her of him. She'd never had roses at her disposal before he moved in.
She was about to fill the watering container when she had a sudden impression of Spock, very close. Frowning, she closed her eyes and "listened" with her mind, trying to feel along the bond for him. She was suddenly assailed by desire. And an extreme sense of mischievousness.
She filled the container, watering the flowers, letting the activity center her as she reached out gently again. She sensed frustration, then a great lift of anticipation. She heard the whine of an incoming shuttle. Spock's anticipation grew as the shuttle roar faded.
He was home? She imagined his progress from the shuttle port. Two transporters then a short walk. As he got closer, his desire flew down the bond. She turned, watering with her back to the door so that he would not know she had felt him coming. He was quite stealthy as he moved out to the patio, gently closing the door, and then walking across the grass. She began to laugh as he got closer, and she tried to bite it back, but his desire for her was hammering at her like a cresting score in a vid-production, broadcasting his approach.
She felt annoyance fill him that she knew he was there, which only made her laugh harder.
"Something is amusing?" Pulling her to him, he kissed her in the middle of their rose garden as if he did not care who saw them. Fortunately, the yard had a high fence.
"You've been transmitting pure lust since you hit the atmosphere." She kissed him, letting her mouth open, her tongue finding his.
His hands were on the meld points even as he deepened the kiss. When he finally pulled away, she was breathless. "I will have to work on my control next time."
"I thought you weren't coming home for weeks?"
"I may have overstated that." He nuzzled her neck, seemed to need to touch her as if he was craving that simple contact.
She laughed. "You sneaky bastard."
His look changed.
"That was said with affection. And I won't do it again." She studied him. There was something odd in his reaction to her words. "Spock?"
"It is nothing." He pulled her to him as if he was going to kiss her, but she put her hand up between them. "Christine, I am aware it was said in jest."
"It was a joke to me. But not to you. Why not?" She felt it again. A pang. Almost shame. "Spock?"
He drew her with him toward the house. "My mother and father came together the first time because of the Pon Farr. Like you, my mother did not have an easy time believing my father's interest in her was spurred by emotion and not solely biology."
Chapel remembered Amanda had guessed Spock had come to her because of the burning. Amanda's certainty that Spock cared for her suddenly made a lot more sense. "She resisted your father?"
"Inconceivable as that is." He raised an eyebrow, making her laugh. "When he finally convinced her to wed, she was pregnant. Quite pregnant."
"When did you find this out?"
"When a cousin taunted me with it. I was five years old."
"I'm sorry. If I'd known..."
He kissed her gently. "I know you did not say it out of malice." He led her down the hall. "It should not be a stigma. It is not a stigma. But it was one more way I did not quite measure up." He turned to her, his eyes gentle. "Even though I felt shame at being mocked by my cousin, my respect for my mother grew when she told me the truth. She was strong. She chose her destiny; she did not let my father choose, or let me force her choice."
"You love her very much, don't you?"
"I do. I do not think I have expressed that to her the way I should have."
He studied her. "You do not believe I love you. How do I know she does?"
"She just does." Smiling, she drew him closer. "And who says I don't believe it?"
She didn't lie to him; it wasn't their way. "I'm starting to."
They stared at each other, then he finally nodded.
"It's better than not believing," she said.
"It is." His eyes seemed very dark as he pulled her into their bedroom.
"Why were you so eager to get back?" She began to undo his uniform.
"I missed my wife."
Her head shot up. "I'm your wife?"
"Natural wife. We would need a ceremony to make it formal." Then he looked down. "You have not finished your task."
She began to undo his uniform again. "Do you want to make it formal?"
"We are mated in every way I hold important. But if you wish it, I will arrange for the ceremony."
She leaned against him, considering it. He would marry her. Probably in front of all of Vulcan if she asked it. "I am content with how things are."
"If that changes, you will let me know?"
She nodded, pushing his uniform off his shoulders. She made short work of the pants.
His eyes seemed to darken more. "To achieve parity, you should remove your uniform. At once."
"Time away certainly makes you bossy."
"Okay." She grinned as she tore off her uniform. "I wasn't supposed to make that slow and sexy, was I?"
"No. Efficiency is appreciated."
She laughed as he pushed her to the bed, his hand finding the meld points again. This time he dived into her mind, the feeling one of possession and affection and a playfulness she didn't expect.
She rolled him to his back, crawling on top of him, enjoying how he let her set the pace for them. "I love you," she said as she kissed her way to parts that she hadn't gotten to see on the comm screen.
He pulled her back up, his hands on her almost rough. His expression was very serious. "I love you, Christine." His eyes seemed to be daring her to tell him he did not. Emotion from him, heavy and lacking any levity, battered at her. He wasn't kidding. He wasn't confused. He wasn't hedging.
He loved her.
She began to smile, and his expression lightened. Letting go of her hand, he said, "You had, I believe, a destination in mind?"
"Before I was interrupted?"
She started back down, then she popped up so she could give him a quick kiss. "My love."
He was about to say something, but she moved quickly and found the place she'd been heading. His words turned to low groans, then much louder sounds. When he pulled her up and kissed her, she was grinning in satisfaction.
"Welcome home, Spock."
"I must confess I did consider that kind of welcome when I was on the shuttle."
"Got you all excited, did it?"
"It did." He pushed her over, moving to his own favorite southern places. "Other things that I considered may also have been responsible for my lack of control."
She decided to moan instead of answering. Gods above, she'd missed this. He was particularly relentless, their bond telling him exactly where she was on the trail to ecstasy. She thought Pete and John could probably hear her as she cried out when Spock finished her off.
He didn't give her time to come down, was already moving on top of her, his body joining with hers as if they'd never been apart. His lips were gentle on hers, his voice murmuring her name rough and low in her ear. Their fingers twined as he moved faster and harder. She could feel his pleasure, felt him let go and reach for her face, ratcheting up their connection, until she wasn't sure where he ended and she began. When they came, she was not sure if it was him or her or really both of them. She nearly passed out from the feeling.
He was stroking her face as she opened her eyes-the room spun. "Are you all right?"
She nodded slowly. "Holy shit."
He actually smiled a little.
She could feel his love for her, and his love for Jim, too. Amusement rolled through him replacing the concern. Amusement that she'd just caused, and a far older version.
"He said that after sex too, didn't he?"
"He did." Spock's touch on her thigh was light, tickling her as he moved down her leg, then back up to her hip. He met her eyes, studying her, and she could feel him assessing her through the meld. "You are not jealous."
"No. It's okay." She smiled.
He nodded. Then he kissed her quickly. "I have something for you." He got out of bed, walking to the hall and bringing back his traveling bag. He dug in it and pulled out a wrapped package.
She could feel a huge smile beginning.
"Happy Birthday, Christine."
"I didn't think Vulcans celebrated birthdays."
"We do not. But humans do." He handed her the package.
"So you are indulging me?" She began to unwrap it, found a small silk-like bag and opened it. A single large bluish-gray pearl set in white metal and hanging on a chain of the same metal rolled out. The luster was incredible, even in the low light she could see the colors play across the surface of the pearl.
"It is from the Western Sea of Verunius. When I heard the story of how it is grown, I thought of you and me. These pearls are produced much like Tahitian pearls on Earth. Only this pearl derives its luster a special way. When it is half grown, it is taken from its first host and filed to make it rough, then it is deposited again in a new host."
She was touched and kissed him. But then she grinned and said, "You realize that the nacre is the oyster's way of covering over an irritant?"
"That is a highly unromantic way to view it." He fastened the necklace around her neck. "It is also correct."
She noticed the pearl fell between her breasts. "Got this length on purpose?"
"It is possible." He admired the pearl, and she felt a deep contentment coming from him.
"I love it. Thank you." She played with his hair, rubbing his scalp lightly, the way he liked. "I've missed you."
"And I have missed you." He pulled her into his arms, the pearl sliding away as he did it. He moved it back, so that it dangled between her breasts. "It matches your eyes."
"How can you tell?" When he looked up at her, she laughed. "My eyes aren't what you were looking at, Mister."
"The logic of the sentence was sound despite the direction of my attention."
She felt the playfulness again, spilling along the meld, touching the bond deeper down.
"My husband." She said the word with some disbelief.
"Yes. I am that." He leaned back against the pillow. "I am also very tired."
Cuddling up against him, she yawned. "I am, too. We'll be boring old people and go to sleep."
He kissed her, his mouth anything but boring. But she could feel his weariness now that his lust had been momentarily appeased.
She snuggled closer, glad to have him back in her bed. It had been colder without him. "I'm glad you're home."
"As am I."
She meant to watch over him until he fell asleep. But his arms were too comfortable a place to stay awake in. She was out in minutes.
Vulcan was hot and dusty, the air outside the spaceport swept up by a passing flitter as Chapel waited next to Spock for Sarek's driver to come for them. Spock seemed to move closer to her, his arm bumping up against hers and staying there. She could feel his emotions, a semi-controlled barrage through the bond.
His mother was dying. And he was afraid.
Chapel was not sure if there was an appropriate way to touch him as they stood out where any Vulcan passerby could see, so she concentrated on sending him as much support as she could through the bond. She felt him taking it in gratefully, even if he gave no physical sign that she had done anything more than blink the dust away.
"It is hotter than I remember," she said softly.
"I am sorry for the wait. The driver should be here..."
"Your father has much on his mind." Perhaps so much that he had forgotten they were coming? "Is there some other transport we could take?"
"Yes." But he sounded reluctant to do that. As if it would give offense to his father at a time when Spock did not want to do that.
"We can wait for a while." She pressed slightly against his arm. "Perhaps we could wait indoors?" The heat was intense, making the air seem even thinner. She'd brought tri-ox with her but had hoped she'd be strong enough to survive on Vulcan without it. But strength didn't equate to being stupid, and Spock needed her conscious, not proud. She dug out the tri-ox and shot it into her arm.
Spock gave her a sympathetic look. "Jim always needed it, too. At first. You will grow used to Vulcan if you stay long enough."
She knew he wasn't wrong. People on Earth grew used to living in high altitudes. In time.
They turned to go back inside, but then Spock stopped. "That is my father's flitter." He nodded toward an incoming vehicle that looked like all the others that had landed and left again.
The man who got out merely nodded at Spock and her as he packed their things into the flitter. It was odd to think that this man was a servant or hired help, that there were class distinctions on Vulcan, even if she knew there were, after all the interest she used to have in Spock's world.
Spock did not introduce her to the man, barely looked at him as he held the door open for them. But when they got to his home after a short ride, he was much more open with the woman who greeted them as the driver carried in their bags.
"Sir," she said, her face perfectly composed. But there was something in her eyes. Something welcoming, but enormously sad.
"T'Vek, this is my wife," he said.
"It is my honor to welcome you to this house," the woman said, her eyes lightening, as if Chapel was welcome for no other reason than that Spock obviously cared for her.
"It is my honor to be here," Chapel said, winging the protocol thing. It seemed to work. The woman moved aside with a look of, if not approval, at least acceptance. Chapel decided not to stand on ceremony. "My name is Christine."
"Christine." The woman put an interesting spin on the first letter, making a guttural trill of sorts. Chapel's name sounded very exotic suddenly. T'Vek turned to Spock. "Your mother is resting, but awake. Your father is in the garden."
"Has he been there long?" At her nod, Spock sighed, turning to Chapel. "It is too hot for him to be out there. He listens better to you than to me."
Chapel nodded. "I'll get him to come inside."
"I will check on my mother."
She watched as Spock moved quickly down the hall, then looked at T'Vek. "He sort of forgot to mention where the garden is."
T'Vek gestured for her to follow her. "He has much on his mind." It was a statement of fact, not one of censure.
"Yes." Chapel glanced back at the driver as he ducked back out into the heat of the front. "Spock didn't introduce me to him." Had the man been cruel to Spock in his childhood?
"Sarkaan drives for many of the families in this neighborhood, but he is not part of this household. I do not believe Spock has met him." T'Vek's eyebrow went up. "We do not normally employ someone to drive a flitter we can pilot ourselves. But as none of us felt we could leave Amanda, he was retained."
Of course. There was no logic in ostentation. "My mistake," Chapel murmured.
"Not a mistake, merely a misinterpretation." T'Vek's look was mild. "Amanda has told me of your world. I understand the leap your logic took." T'Vek slowed. "There he is."
Chapel saw Sarek, the bright sun baking him as he sat on a stone bench. He wasn't sweating, didn't even squint as he stared at the flowers in front of him.
Roses. Amanda's roses.
Taking a deep breath, Chapel slid the door aside.
Sarek did not look up. "Go away, T'Vek. I do not wish to come inside."
"It's Christine, Sarek." She moved out of the shade, into the full force of the Vulcan sun. Sweat immediately began to form; she could feel it beading on her forehead, on the top of her lip, under her bra.
He looked up. "I do not need company." His voice held not so much rebuke as forlorn resignation.
"No. I suppose you do not. The only woman you probably want to talk to is dying."
His eyes narrowed, and, for a moment, she thought she had miscalculated with such frankness. But then he exhaled, and all the resistance seemed to go out of him, even if he made no move to come inside.
"My wife is dying," he said.
She sat down next to him. "Yes, and you will do her no good if you sit here until you have sun poisoning."
"I am Vulcan. My sun will not poison me. You, however, should go back inside." He sounded petulant. Angry, but unwilling to give that emotion any purchase.
"Because I am human? Because I am like her?" She waited for him to say something. When he did not, she murmured. "Please come inside. Spock is worried for you."
"Our son." Sarek turned to look at her, and he seemed very far away-all the way to Spock's childhood, perhaps?
Chapel nodded, letting Sarek's words come in their own time.
"He and I..." Sarek seemed to shake himself, and he slowly rose. "Where are my manners? You and my son have only just arrived. I should act as a proper host." It almost sounded like a question. Like he needed her to agree with him.
"Yes, we are here now, and we need you to come inside." She waited for him to go first, afraid that if she went ahead, she might lose the ground she'd gained.
He held the door for her, sliding it closed behind them. Chapel saw T'Vek glance out from the great room where she was straightening some cushions. The look she gave Chapel was full of approval and a little bit of surprise, as if she had not expected her to be able to entice Sarek inside.
"My son's wife needs water," Sarek said to T'Vek. He seemed to note Chapel's look of surprise. She was used to Spock calling her that, but hearing it from his father was shocking. "You are his wife, Christine. His wife by choice not ritual." He nodded at her. "An excellent choice. Have I ever told you that?"
He had not told her that directly, although she'd always felt that he supported her relationship with his son. "I'm glad you approve of us." She touched his arm for a moment, then turned as T'Vek came back in, taking the water the woman carried on a tray. "Thank you."
"Father." Spock stood at the door, his expression one of painful realization, as if he had only just accepted how sick his mother was. He looked at Chapel. "She is asking for you."
"I'll go at once." Taking the water with her, she followed T'Vek, who led her off without being told to do it.
As they walked down the long, starkly beautiful hall, T'Vek looked over at her. "It is good that you are here. He will listen to you."
"Sarek and I have known each other a long time."
"I was not only referring to Sarek." T'Vek met her eyes. "Spock is headstrong. He and his father do not always see things the same way. You will be a mitigating presence." The woman shook her head, as if at the folly of family dynamics. "Your bedroom is at the end of this hall."
Opening the door, T'Vek peeked in. "Your daughter-in-law is here."
"Christine." Amanda's voice was raspy.
"I will leave you alone," T'Vek murmured as she shut the door behind Chapel.
Moving into the room, Chapel sat down in the chair next to the bed. She took the hand Amanda held out to her, and stroked the other woman's skin. Amanda's eyes burned feverishly, seemed to be very large compared to the pinched skin of her face. Pain-pain was making her look like this.
"I brought medicine. Not things that the Vulcans might be prone to use."
"Oh, bless you."
"I'll go get it." She started to get up.
Amanda didn't let go of her. "It's waited this long. It can wait a little longer." She took a deep breath. "Do you know how much time I have?"
"Not without my instruments." But that was a lie. She could tell by looking at Amanda that the woman had less time than she'd thought. No wonder Spock had seemed so pained.
"You're a very bad liar, Christine. That bodes well for your marriage since you value truth so much." She shot Chapel a hard look. "You told him. When I asked you not to. When you promised me. You told him, and he told his father."
"I did tell him." Chapel smiled gently. "But he already knew. They both did." She felt Amanda's hand squeeze hers almost in an unconscious reaction. "They'd known for a long time."
"Vulcan men." Amanda closed her eyes, and, for a moment, Chapel thought she'd fallen asleep, but then she said, "I have very little time, I think."
"Why didn't you call me? I told you I'd come."
"I know. I think I didn't want to admit it. Not even to myself. That it's my time. That my life will soon be over." She opened her eyes, and Chapel saw fear in them. "They don't believe in heaven here. I've lived on Vulcan so long...you'd think I wouldn't miss the idea of heaven."
Chapel bit back the emotion that flooded her. Amanda didn't need tears. She needed Chapel to be strong. "If you want heaven, then I'm sure heaven will be waiting for you."
"But Sarek won't know to find me there." Amanda sounded panicked for a moment, then Chapel saw her take a deep breath, visibly calming herself. "I am human, and they do not know what will happen to me when I die. My katra may not be something they can save." She took another deep breath.
Chapel waited for her to say more, but Amanda stared up at the ceiling, her eyes narrowed as if this mystery had to be solved now. Chapel thought of Jim, and of poor Scotty. Both lost. Their katras would never have been salvageable by some Vulcan priestess; they were out of reach because of the nature of their deaths.
"A katra is a soul," she said, and Amanda nodded. "A soul is eternal." These were not truths Chapel thought about very often. She saw death often. At the hospital, and in Ops where death had been a list of names or a body count. Souls and the disposition of them had not been what she was concerned with. But they mattered now. To Amanda, and therefore to her. "Perhaps you could build your own heaven? One that is part human and part Vulcan? The way you have built your life? So that Sarek will find you."
Amanda seemed to think about that. "Perhaps." She smiled. "I've certainly had enough experience learning to meld the two cultures."
"Yes, you have."
"It will be a great many years before Sarek is ready to join me."
Amanda looked over at her. "It is something you will have to face with Spock, too."
"I want you to promise me something." Amanda's look was fierce, as if this time she meant to hold Chapel to her promise. "Sarek should not be lonely. If he finds someone, you must promise to accept her. And to try to get Spock to accept her, as well."
"I will try."
Amanda nodded, as if she knew it was a hard thing she was asking. She swallowed, and her throat seemed to catch, making her cough.
Chapel could hear the cough rattle in her chest. It was not a good sound. Not a sound that meant months to go.
Amanda would be dead sooner rather than later. Chapel was glad she had taken a leave of absence from the hospital and that Spock had taken time off as well. Neither of them would want to leave here until it was over.
"What if he can't find me?" Amanda looked over at her. "What if he does find someone else, and he wants to go to her heaven?"
Chapel found it hard to meet her eyes. If faced with a choice of eternal partners, would Spock pick Jim or her? Only, Spock's choice didn't matter here. What mattered was the frail woman who looked up at her with such sudden panic.
"You are his great love, Amanda. He may find another. He may love another. But there is only ever one great love. And you are Sarek's." Chapel bit back tears.
Jim would win. When Spock had to choose, Jim would win. But that was a long way off.
And maybe Jim would let Spock visit her occasionally?
"You are kind, Christine." Amanda tried to shift and gasped in pain.
Chapel gently pulled her hand away, standing up. "I'll get the medicine."
She hurried out, down to the room that T'Vek had indicated was hers. The bags sat on the floor, waiting to be unpacked. Rifling through her carryall, she found her medical case, and the other bag of medicines she'd requisitioned. Despite her intent to be strong, her eyes filled with tears, and for a moment she gave in to the crushing sadness.
She felt rather than heard Spock come in. Wrapping his arms around her, he held her close, his chest pressed tightly to her back, his lips on her neck. Then he eased up on his hold, and she dropped the medicine on the bed and turned, hugging him fiercely as she fought for control of her emotions.
She could feel him doing the same.
"It will be soon?" he asked.
"You will ease her pain?"
She nodded, looking up at him. He brushed the remnants of tears from her face, his eyes dark and full of the pain he was already pushing away. He leaned in, kissing her softly, as if they could give each other strength through their love.
She could feel it. The love he felt for her. She knew he could feel the love she felt for him.
And for the first time she quit questioning what they had. It didn't matter, anyway. They had each other, and they had this strong emotion that was probably the only thing that would keep them standing in the days to come. It was love. There was nothing else it could be.
"You should call Saavik," she said. Saavik had told her that she wanted to be with them at the end.
"Yes. I will call her." He let Chapel go, but touched her cheek gently. "My wife." The words seemed full of desperation. Like he was pulling everything he could around him, and she was part of the things that kept him strong.
"I need to go back to her. She's in pain." Picking up the medicine, she looked at Spock. "Your father will not object to this, will he?"
For a moment, Spock looked rebellious, as if he did not care what his father might object to. But then he shook his head, the look fading as it was replaced by a more noble sentiment. Compassion, she thought. Empathy. Spock had already lost a great love. He knew what Sarek would soon be going through. "I do not think he will object. Not if it eases her pain."
He took a deep breath, then leaned in and lay his lips on her forehead, letting them sit for a long moment. She closed her eyes, could feel his love for her radiating out of him. She could also feel his pain-he wasn't trying to hide that from her at all.
"I will go with you," he said, pulling away and leading her back to his mother's room.
He sat down in the chair as Chapel gave Amanda the medicine then checked her vitals.
"Oh. Nothing hurts anymore." Amanda's smile was blissful.
Chapel swallowed hard. The medicine she'd given Amanda was very strong. It would, ultimately, shorten her life. But if it made her more comfortable while she died, it was a price Chapel knew Amanda would pay.
Amanda met her eyes. "Thank you." Then she smiled at Spock. "I'm glad you're here."
"I would not be anywhere else." There was a catch in Spock's voice, probably because he had been somewhere else for Jim's death.
Amanda closed her eyes, her breathing easing into that of sleep. Chapel watched her for a moment, continuing to monitor the readings to make sure there was no reaction to the meds, then she looked around for another chair. Spotting one across the room, she was about to go get it when she heard Spock say, "I need you."
She turned to him, saw him hold his hand out. Walking over to him, she eased onto his lap, letting him pull her to him. He pressed his lips against her hair as he watched his mother sleep. They sat like that for a long time before he let her up.
With a last check of Amanda's vitals, she left Spock alone with his mother and went out to find Sarek.
The house was silent except for the slow pulse of the coolers. It had taken Chapel a while to get used to their low hum, but now they were almost soothing. She walked down the hall and peeked through the half-open door into Amanda's room. Spock sat with his mother, watching her as she slept. He seemed to feel Chapel at the door and turned to look at her. His eyes were tired, but when she made a questioning face, he shook his head and turned back to his vigil. She sent him as much support as she could, then left him in peace.
As she walked into the main room, she saw Saavik curled up on the sofa, her breathing deep and even as she slept. A glass of water, half empty, sat dangerously close to the edge of the table, so Chapel slid it back onto firmer purchase, then snuck from the room.
She found T'Vek in the kitchen chopping vegetables.
"Where's Sarek?" Chapel asked.
"I am unsure." T'Vek looked over at her. "He was not here when I came back from my errands."
Chapel walked to the tall window and stared out at the garden.
"He is not there. It was the first place I checked." T'Vek held out a sliver of the tuber Chapel liked. "It has been a long time since you had a proper meal."
"We don't eat together anymore." Chapel sighed, taking another sliver from T'Vek.
"How much longer does she have?" T'Vek put down her knife, pulling a stool over to sit on.
"You can be more precise, I think."
"I do not think she will make it to tomorrow."
T'Vek nodded. "I have been with this family for a long time." She met Chapel's eyes. "I have grown...fond of them."
"Do you have family of your own?"
T'Vek nodded. "But I do not see them often."
Chapel smiled. "I don't see mine often, either. Spock's family feels more like my own."
"Then you understand." T'Vek stared out at the roses. "I told her it was illogical to try to grow roses here. That it was an inefficient use of my time to water them for her when she and Sarek were off world."
"Yes. They will outlive her." It came out as a promise: T'Vek would see to their survival. "You have eased her pain. That is good." T'Vek got up, pushing the stool back into its normal place with her foot. "Our healers did little for her."
"Our methods are quite different."
T'Vek looked at her. "She is human. She was in pain. Our methods were not logical; they could have used others."
Chapel smiled gently. "A healer sees things one way; those who love see things another."
T'Vek did not tell her Vulcans do not love. "Perhaps." Then she seemed to jerk and glanced down the hall. "I believe that is Sarek."
A moment later, Chapel heard the sound of soft footfalls coming toward them. Sarek's robe and shoes were covered in dust, and he waved off T'Vek as she started to fuss over him.
"You were out walking?" Chapel asked.
"We were worried." She saw T'Vek glance at her, as if telling her not to push him.
"You do not need to worry about me." He sat heavily, dust wafting out as he moved. "It is hot today."
"It's hot every day, Sarek."
He nodded absently. "I do not know what I will do when she is gone, Christine." He looked at her, his expression one of terrible bemusement. "I have lived with her for so long."
He steepled his fingers, seemed to be trying to slow his breathing, trying to gather calm around him. Chapel waited. T'Vek went back to chopping vegetables, even though the plate was now full. The sound of her knife hitting down on the cutting board was the only indication that there was anyone in the room.
Then Sarek pushed himself out of the chair. "I will go to her."
"Spock is with her."
"I will relieve him."
Chapel didn't think Sarek looked like he was in any shape to relieve anything, but she didn't say it. If he wanted to sit by his wife during her final hours, she would not stop him.
He looked at her. "I am glad you are here." He touched her face gently, his expression unreadable.
"Change out of those robes. The dust will not be good for her."
"Of course." His steps were heavy as he walked out of the kitchen.
A few minutes later, she sensed that Spock needed her. Standing, she could feel weariness filling her as she took a deep breath.
"Do you want me to make the two of you a plate?" T'Vek asked.
"That would be nice." Even if she was not sure Spock would eat anything. She waited as T'Vek assembled some food, then she carried it and a fresh container of water out past a still-sleeping Saavik and down the hall. Amanda's room was closed, and Chapel imagined Sarek lying next to her, the way Spock had held her when she'd been so sick.
Spock had left the door to their room open, and Chapel went through, easing it closed with her foot. He was standing at the window, staring out at the traditional Vulcan garden in the front of the house.
"T'Vek thought you might be hungry."
He did not answer.
She set the plate down. "I'm worried about Sarek."
Spock still said nothing. Chapel tried to feel for him, but it was as if he'd shut down all avenues of communication. The bond seemed empty.
"I thought that you wanted me to come. I wouldn't have disturbed you if I believed you wanted to be alone."
He turned to look at her. His eyes were colder than she'd ever seen them. The epitome of a perfect Vulcan-only she'd never met one of those in this house.
"What's wrong with you?" She moved closer but stopped when he seemed to wince.
She could imagine the pain he was feeling. He'd always tried to hide his pain when they'd been on the Enterprise. Had seemed to think that accepting he was capable of such emotion made him less of a man-less of a Vulcan. She'd thought they'd gotten past that. Long past that.
She'd apparently thought wrong.
"We've always had truth, Spock."
"I am not hungry." He turned back to the window. "Let me be."
She felt as if he'd hit her in the gut with a large piece of metal. Her exhaustion rolled up to meet her disappointment, and she felt dizzy, grabbing for the bedpost to steady herself. Tears filled her eyes, and she had a hard time seeing the door as she moved across the room. Her progress was unimpeded, until she slammed her slippered foot into the chair leg, the pain adding one more element to her defeat.
She'd known this moment would come. Why had it waited until she couldn't run? She was stuck here for as long as Amanda needed her.
She slid into the hostile chair and started to cry for real, trying desperately to keep the noise down, and to limit the psychic barrage she must be sending Spock's way, even though she wasn't sure why she was bothering to protect him anymore.
"Shhh." Warm hands lifted her chin, lips pressed down on her forehead. "I am sorry, Christine."
Sniffling, she tried to pull away, but Spock pulled her up, drawing her to the bed, down into his arms, where he held her, murmuring that he was sorry over and over again. She let go, crying hard, muttering things he probably didn't want to hear about love and not wanting to live without him. But he didn't push her away, just held her more tightly, kissing her lips, before burying his face in her hair.
And then he let down his defenses, and she realized that even before he'd shut down, he'd been shielding most of his pain from her. Now, it was all there, no secrets, no hiding.
She gasped at the feeling of it, gasped again when he found the meld points and invited her to let her pain join his. Their sorrow commingled, growing stronger and stronger, and she didn't try to fight it.
Neither did he. They just...experienced it. And it surged again, but she felt something else, strong, in the background. A warm, beating heart that was keeping them safe even as it drew in the sorrow enough to let them function.
Love. Their love. It was like a living thing. And while it could not get rid of the terrible pain, it could dull the edges just a little, could make it something that they could bear.
She opened her eyes, saw that he was watching her with a look of guilt and tenderness. "It's all right," she said, running her fingers through his hair. "We have truth."
He nodded, his eyes closing in exhaustion. He dropped off to sleep, never letting go of her, the meld fading very slowly. Sleep eluded her despite her exhaustion, but she dozed fitfully, until Saavik knocked on the door and told her she thought Amanda did not have long.
Chapel woke Spock, and they followed Saavik down the hall. Sarek and T'Vek were already in the room, Sarek in the chair by the bed, T'Vek hovering nearly out of sight, but still with them. Spock took the spare chair, moving it to the other side of the bed. Saavik glanced at Chapel, then went to stand behind Sarek.
Amanda's breathing was labored, and she opened her eyes but seemed to be very far away. "Sarek?"
"I am here, my wife." Sarek's voice was barely stronger than Amanda's. He was holding her hand in what looked like a very tight grip.
She looked at him, her eyes fixing on him finally, not on the distant place she was bound for. "Where is Spock?"
"I am here, mother." Spock touched her shoulder gently. "I love you." He said it with no fear, did not even glance at his father to check for disapproval.
Amanda looked over at Spock, smiling as he took her other hand. "I am so proud of you," she said, then she looked back at Sarek. "We both are proud of you, Spock."
"Yes. We are." Sarek never took his eyes off his wife.
Chapel heard a low sound from T'Vek. The other woman had moved deeper into the shadows. Walking to her, Chapel gently took her arm, pulling her to the foot of the bed before she let her go. "You're family here, too," she said softly, and was gratified to see Saavik look over and nod solemnly.
And they may have been family but they were just witnesses now, as Amanda looked at Spock one last time, then locked eyes with Sarek. He reached for the meld points, ready to capture her katra.
Amanda smiled sadly, as if she had decided he would not be able to do it. "I will wait for you," she said. "Look for me."
Chapel wondered if Sarek understood what his wife meant. It would most likely be many years before he would be in a position to look for anyone the way Amanda intended.
Amanda gave a little gasp, and then the life was gone from her eyes. Chapel had seen it so many times before. One moment a person lived, and their eyes tracked that life, then there was nothing. Where did that spark go? Was that the soul, and was Amanda's already winging toward some Human-Vulcan heaven of her own making?
Sarek let go of the meld points, and his shoulders slumped. "I could not hold her."
Spock sighed deeply, and Chapel wondered if his father's failure to capture Amanda's katra gave him some kind of closure. If it would give him peace to know that he could not have saved some spark of Jim even if he had been there with him on that other Enterprise.
Spock and Sarek sat with Amanda for some time, neither letting go of her. But then Spock gently settled her hand onto the coverlet and got up. He looked at Chapel, his pain battering at her, and she yearned to take him in her arms but knew he would not want that yet.
"I must stay," she murmured.
He nodded understanding, moving out of the room.
Saavik took his seat, staring at Amanda for a long time, her expression fierce. Chapel wondered if she had learned any Romulan death rituals in her time on Hellguard. Did this quiet observance of death soothe or mystify her? Saavik whispered something that was probably not Vulcan, then got up and left the room.
T'Vek stood motionless, waiting next to Chapel, as Sarek sat for a long time, holding onto his dead wife. Then he let go of her and rose, not looking at either of them as he walked out of his room.
Chapel let out breath she hadn't been aware she'd been holding. She began the process of logging death officially. Taking the vitals-assuring herself that there were none, that Amanda was truly gone. Then the quick check to establish for the official record that her death had been due to Vixrin's disease. Chapel put in the time of death and the names of those who had witnessed it. Then she sat down in the chair Sarek had vacated. She heard T'Vek leave the room, then come back in.
"I've called the death house." They did not prettify their words. No funeral homes on Vulcan. Death house was an efficient terminology. House of the dead.
Amanda was dead.
Chapel started to cry, and she was startled to feel T'Vek's hand on her shoulder, squeezing lightly.
"I did not approve of her when she first came here. We spent years walking warily around each other." T'Vek pulled her hand away. "But she was worthy of him. And her son...she was a good mother. T'Pau treated Spock as an interesting experiment; others in Sarek's family viewed him with suspicion and distaste. But Amanda only ever treated him like her treasured son. She was a good woman. And if Spock is a good man, he owes it to her more than to anyone else."
Chapel looked over at T'Vek. "I think he might owe that to you, too." She gave her a small smile.
"And to his father. Sarek is also a good man. I do not mean to imply he is not." T'Vek's tone was brusque. "I will attend to this room when she has been taken to the death house."
It was so clinical-a hospital orderly clearing up after a dead stranger could not have sounded less emotional. Yet Chapel suspected that T'Vek viewed the task as an honor, not a chore.
"Thank you." Chapel turned back to Amanda, leaning down to kiss her forehead. "I will miss you."
Turning away, she fought desperately for control. She found it before she had finished walking the long hall, had her face and emotions under wraps-as much as a human could-by the time she joined Spock and the others in the main room. Sarek seemed to have shrunk in on himself, was sitting like he was also dead. Saavik glanced over at him continually, as if worried he might expire while they watched.
There was a knock on the door, and T'Vek let in the men from the mortuary, leading them to the bedroom. A few moments later, they came out, their gurney now bearing a slight form covered with a sheet. Sarek did not look up as they passed. Saavik watched the disappearing gurney until T'Vek shut the door. Spock was staring at Chapel, as if he wanted her to do something.
She was not sure what to do.
"All the arrangements are set," Sarek said into the silence. His voice was strong. As if he had a purpose. To make sure these arrangements were carried out. Standing up, he smoothed down his robe. "The news will travel; people will arrive soon. We will need food." He looked at T'Vek who nodded and went to the kitchen.
"I'll help her," Saavik said, probably grateful for something to do, even if she was a hopeless cook.
Chapel wanted to follow her, was suddenly craving the company of women, but Spock and his father seemed unable to find words, much less even look at each other. She moved between them, saw Sarek follow her movements, as if happy to have something to focus on. Spock too was watching her.
"How can we help?" she asked Sarek, praying he would give them a task, any task that would take them away from this quiet, empty room.
"She wanted me to find pictures of our life together. Spock knows where the files are."
Spock nodded, and as soon as they were headed down the hall toward the study, he put his hand on her back, heat pouring into her even through her clothing. She wrapped her arm around his waist, felt him lean into her.
He pulled up the files on the computer, showed her where his mother had kept the shots they'd collected in printed form. As they sorted through them, she asked him about the moments captured, and he told her stories, every now and then pulling her close as if afraid she would leave him.
And she would. He would not be old when she died an elderly woman. But that was hopefully many years away. By his look, he was imagining it happening after supper.
"Spock. I'm not going anywhere."
He met her eyes, not trying to hide his distress. "Jim thought he was only going to a launch."
"I'm not Jim." She smiled tenderly. "Nobody's going to invite me to a launch."
"That is a good thing." There was no humor in his voice.
"Death is a part of life. And for a while, it's all that we'll know." She leaned in, kissing him softly. "We'll get through this. I promise."
"You must not leave me until you are very, very old."
"I'll do my best." She touched his hand, feeling the pulse of the bond as physical contact strengthened it. "I love you, Spock. I wish I could help you."
"You do help me. Just by being with me." He turned his hand, clasping hers tightly for a moment. Then, taking a long breath, he went back to their task.
"You'll be leaving soon?" Saavik asked as they walked along the path leading behind the houses. It was dusk and the heat had fallen away, or else Chapel had just grown used to Vulcan's severe climate.
"By the end of the week, I think." She looked at Saavik. "Will you go then, too?"
Shaking her head, Saavik kicked gently at a stone on the path, knocking it into a low bank of desert grass. "I think we should go in stages. Let Sarek get used to being alone gradually."
"That's kind of you."
"I love him." Saavik smiled at her look. "It shocks you, doesn't it? How at ease I am with my Romulan side?" She kicked another rock. "Spock told me once to make peace with the duality. He said he wished that he had learned to do that earlier than he did."
"It's good advice." Chapel pointed ahead to a small stone that lay ahead of her. "There's a nice one." Without asking, she switched sides with Saavik, who kicked the stone hard this time.
A small creature leapt out of the grass, bounding away, probably as startled as Chapel was.
"Spock seems at peace now. You make him very happy."
Chapel smiled. "He makes me very happy." She looked down.
"I just...never expected this. He never paid me any attention. He had...other interests."
"You mean Jim."
Chapel nodded. "He didn't really notice me when Jim was around."
"That's how love is, isn't it? Do you notice other men when Spock's around?"
"I know but-"
Saavik laughed gently. "He did notice you back then. He took me to Ops once, when I was in my last year at the Academy. He pointed you out to me. He seemed unsure what to call you. Others he deemed colleagues or shipmates, but you...he finally settled on friend."
"I was never his friend."
"That was obvious since he did not introduce me to you. But I thought it interesting at the time, how difficult it was for him to classify you."
"I try not to over-think this."
They traded spaces again as a good rock came in sight.
"Why aren't you involved with anyone, Saavik?"
She kicked the rock over the grass onto the sand beyond. "I've had...friends. I just haven't met the right person yet."
Chapel suddenly had a sinking feeling. "You're not in love with Spock, are you?"
Saavik looked startled. "Spock?" She shook her head quickly. "He's not really my type."
"You don't like Vulcans?"
"I don't like Vulcan males."
Chapel began to laugh. "Oh. Sorry, I get a little insecure."
"So, I see. I'm going to have to tease you about this moment for the rest of your life."
They both looked down. Rest-of-life jokes still hurt. Especially when humans had so much less life.
"I didn't mean..."
Chapel touched her arm. "I know. I know you didn't." She took a deep breath. "We're just raw right now. Death-any allusion to it-hits hard."
"Yes, it does. When will we not notice anymore?"
"I don't know." Chapel saw two figures approaching. She noticed Saavik standing straighter, and couldn't decide if the other woman was bristling. "Who are they?"
"T'Pring. And her daughter T'Steya."
"Oh, joy." Not surprisingly, Spock's ex had skipped Amanda's memorial.
T'Pring had changed little over the years. Her face had been burned into Chapel's memories, the hated wife she'd seen on the viewscreen the day her heart had broken.
"Are we talking to her?"
Saavik nodded. "We're very civilized about this."
"Of course we are."
T'Pring stopped, making them come to her. Chapel thought her daughter looked a little embarrassed. The girl was not the stunning beauty her mother was. Her features were not quite even, her ears a little large, but she had striking dark blue eyes that seemed to sparkle with an animation that was usually missing from a Vulcan face. Then Chapel realized she looked so lively because she was staring at Saavik with what, for a Vulcan, could only be called frank interest.
"T'Pring, this is Spock's wife," Saavik said. "Christine, this is T'Pring, wife of Stonn."
T'Pring nodded in a move so calculatedly gracious it failed to be any such thing.
Chapel settled for nodding tightly. "It's a pleasure to meet you." As greetings went, it was pretty damn empty.
"I am T'Steya," the younger woman said in a lilting voice.
"It's a pleasure." This time Chapel was sincere.
T'Steya looked at Saavik. "I am sorry about Amanda."
T'Pring shot her daughter a look, as if she did not like her referring to Spock's mother by her first name.
"Thank you," Saavik said. "The flower incense you brought relaxed her. She wanted me to thank you."
"It was a small thing."
"Not to me." Saavik's smile was very restrained, as if she was on her best "only slightly Romulan" behavior.
From the look of T'Pring's almost glare, her daughter's gift was not such a little thing to her, either. Chapel did not envy T'Steya the talk she was going to have with her mother.
"I can bring you some if you like?" The girl only looked at Saavik, as if Chapel and her mother were not right there. "Perhaps tomorrow?"
"We are busy tomorrow, my daughter." T'Pring's tone could freeze boiling oil.
"You may be busy, mother. My schedule is free." T'Steya had the look Spock wore when he almost smiled.
Chapel had the sudden urge to wink at her.
"I will expect you tomorrow, then," Saavik said.
T'Steya turned to Chapel. "I wish you and your husband a safe journey." She shot Saavik a last look, then walked on, forcing her mother to forego any parting shot if she wanted to catch up to her.
Saavik watched her go.
"Haven't met the right person yet, my ass."
Saavik's eyes twinkled. "She's quite wonderful."
"She seems very nice. I like her. You do realize you'll have the mother-in-law from hell, right?"
"I know. But she cannot intrude if we do not stay here. T'Steya is a physicist. And the exchange program could work in our favor. As a civilian, it would be an easy thing to have a relationship with her. Even aboard a ship."
"You've thought this all out."
"I have." Saavik looked back. "Actually, we have. An exchange was her idea. She does take after her mother that way. She'll find a way to get what she wants."
Chapel laughed. "I wish you all good things."
"Thank you." Saavik kicked another stone. "She has the most beautiful blue eyes, don't you think?"
"She is lovely." Chapel rested a hand on Saavik's back, and Saavik leaned into her touch as they walked on in an easy silence.
Chapel sat on the patio of the Tiryhnian house Spock had been given for the duration of the trade negotiations. The waves crashed onto the beach that lay just a few meters away, the temperature was warm but not hot, and a gentle breeze blew the scent of flowers from the boxes lining the patio. She closed her eyes, relaxing as she waited for Spock to come back.
She woke when she felt someone touch her hair. She could feel energy sizzling along the connection between them. "Spock?"
When he did not answer, she just grinned. "Or is it my secret admirer?"
"It is." His voice was resonant and getting closer as he walked around and sat down next to her in the lounger.
It was a tight squeeze; she didn't mind. "Well, don't tell my husband that you're here. I don't think he wants to share me."
She felt him touch her face, could feel the meld singing into life.
"Your husband is very selfish."
She could feel him relaxing, as if the meld was as soothing for him as it was arousing. She opened her eyes, saw that he was staring at her with open affection. "I made good time getting here."
"You seemed quite eager that I get here soon." The negotiations were dragging on-quite possibly because neither side wanted to leave this beautiful place-and Spock had finally told her to take leave and join him.
"I was quite eager," he said.
"Was? You aren't anymore?"
He pushed her up out of the chair, and she realized he meant to show her exactly how eager he still was. She turned and drew him up after her, pulling him into the house. He shut the drapes but left the door open, the nice breeze blowing in and making the curtains billow.
"I have missed you," he said, as he made short work of her clothing.
She returned the favor. "I've missed you, too."
He didn't let her get to the bed, just eased her up on the small work table, sweeping pads aside as he did. He kissed her, a few gentle kisses and she could sense he was trying to force himself to take his time.
"You don't have to go slow." She grasped him, and he groaned as if in pain. "Not the first time, anyway." Grinning at him, she pulled him to her, wrapping her legs around him and giving him little choice but to do what he wanted so badly to do.
He gave way to the inevitable, his eyes closing as they joined. "Christine, I have needed this. I have needed you."
Stroking her hair back, he held her face tightly between his hands, kissing her almost savagely. She tried to read what he was feeling, realized it was a mixture of grief, loneliness, and frustration with the way the talks were going.
She rubbed his back as he moved away from her lips, as he kissed his way to her chest. "I love you, Spock."
The declaration only seemed to make him go faster, harder. He turned the meld up a notch, and her groan of pleasure was lost in his own hearty moan.
"I love you, Christine." His voice was barely more than a whisper, but it echoed in her mind. She felt him take them even deeper, and suddenly she was lost, going over the edge into a pleasure so dark and deep and wild she thought she might pass out from the sensation.
He was holding her as she came out of her dazed state.
"Okay, you really can't tell my husband about that."
She could feel Spock's amusement, but he did not continue the game as he started moving against her again. Riding out his pleasure, she could feel it echo in her mind even as she watched it play across his face. He collapsed against her, kissing her neck.
Closing her eyes, she held him, her hands running up and down his back, her fingers sliding lightly over his skin, making him shudder. She could feel his emotions through her skin, through the meld, rolling in the bond. He was making no attempt to shield what he felt from her.
"Are you all right, Spock?"
"I am unsure." He pulled away enough to look her in the eyes. "This sadness. It..."
She brushed back his hair, concentrating on the grief. It was for his mother, for Jim, for Scotty, for Jim's son, for his brother, for Gorkon. She smiled in sympathy. "It overwhelms you?"
He took a long, ragged breath. "It does." Kissing her neck, he whispered, "Jim did, at times, tell me that I had a tendency to wallow."
Smiling, she decided not to tell him she was thinking the same thing. "You do choose to dwell on these things."
"That is simply a more politic way of saying I wallow."
"Probably so." She went back to stroking his back, and he moaned in contentment. He was so tactile; it was not something she would have believed had she never been with him.
Sliding her off the table, he led her to the bed. It was soft, its pillowy depth welcoming them as he pulled her into his arms, and they lay quietly on top of the covers, the breeze blowing over them in time with the puffing of the drapes.
"I needed you," he said.
"I know." She turned, cuddling against him, happy to be in his arms again. "I needed you."
He kissed her, slowly at first, then with rising passion. She could feel his desire rising in other places, too. She started to crawl onto him, but he shook his head, pushing her to her back.
She smiled, sensing that he needed to control this. "Are the negotiations going that badly?"
"Yes." He wasn't hurting her, but he was moving with more force than was normal.
As her body began to respond to the almost harsh treatment, she decided the occasional career frustration might be good for their marriage. She stopped thinking then, just gave herself over to sensation as he pushed the meld back into play, forcing it down deep, giving her no quarter. She could feel how good it felt to him to let go, to let his body own hers.
"I love you, Christine." His voice was low, full of gruff emotion. He kissed her wildly, and she knew her lips would be chapped by morning.
She didn't care. She kissed him back just as wildly, letting go again as his body pounding against hers sent her into bliss. She could feel his own pleasure burst over him, and he bit down on her lip, just hard enough to pinch.
Chapped and bruised by morning.
He began to run his hand over her hair, down her arm. The movement was territorial but also full of a raw emotion. Fear, she realized. He was afraid. And it was something to do with her.
"What is it, Spock?"
He just shook his head. Without thought, she put her fingers up to the psi points, trying to make the meld that was just starting to fade spring back into life. He smiled slightly, pushing her fingers in with his own, and she felt his mind calling to hers.
"Show me," she whispered.
"It is not logical."
"Show me, anyway."
As his breathing became slower, he pulled her closer, and for a moment, she thought he was going to tell her no. Then he suddenly dropped all the barriers between them and let her feel his unreasoning fear, his dread that he was going to lose her along with everyone else he loved.
"You are going to lose me. But not right now." She held to the truth. It was theirs; they did not lie to each other.
"I know. You are right." Her forthrightness seemed to soothe him; she could feel him letting up on her, making her realize she'd been having trouble breathing.
He took a deep breath. "I imagine things that I do not want to think about. I cannot seem to stop my mind from conjuring up horrible visions."
"You, the way I found you when you were so ill. Only this time you are dead. You died in our bed because I did not come home to you in time."
"That didn't happen. And it won't."
"You, in a shuttle accident. You, sitting outside in a storm and lightning hits you. You-"
"Spock, shhh. Enough." She smiled softly. "We're getting into wallow territory."
"I am aware of that." He sounded so lost she took pity on him and held him close, kissing his hair.
"I love you," she said. "And you love me. We don't know what will happen, Spock. But that doesn't mean we should obsess over it. I can't make you safe. You can't keep me that way, either. We just have to live and take our chances." She kissed his lips softly. "I know you miss your mother. I know you miss Jim, too."
"I love you-"
"Loving me has nothing to do with missing Jim." She smiled. It was a good truth to realize, and as she said it, it felt right. "You can miss him. I don't mind."
"He held you in such high regard, Christine. Did you know that?"
"He was my friend. Not a close one, but one that I always knew I could count on if I needed help."
"I was never your friend, was I?"
She stroked his cheek, smiled when he turned his face to kiss her hand. "No, Spock. You never were."
"I am your friend now."
"Yes, you are. But is that what you call what we just did? Friendship?" She grinned at him. Then she whispered, "It seemed more like possession."
He nodded. "I was telling fate you were mine."
"Ah." She laughed gently. "Did fate listen?"
"I do not know."
Well, at least you tried." She kissed him slowly, as sensuously as she could.
"If that is my reward for trying, I will endeavor to do so again." His tone was light; the expression on his face was not.
"I love you, Spock. So very, very much."
"I love you. I am glad that you are here." He moved over her again, and she smiled. "I will try not to be so possessive this time."
"That's okay. I didn't mind."
"I knew that," he whispered, as he took her again, with only slightly less vigor.
T'Steya walked along the row of rosebushes, looking back at Chapel, her dark blue eyes serene. "These are beautiful."
"I claim no credit. They're Spock's."
T'Steya shook her head. "He is often gone, I believe. Then it is no doubt who cares for them."
Chapel reached down, pinching off a dead leaf. "Maybe." She grinned at T'Steya, curious to see how the young Vulcan would react to such a human expression.
She did not appear taken aback. "Saavik thinks very highly of you."
"I think very highly of her."
The woman in question was sitting with Spock on the patio. They'd caught him at home, although Chapel suspected Saavik had known he was going to be there. Chapel thought that Spock's ward wanted to see what her mentor thought of his former bondmate's daughter.
She turned back to T'Steya, studying her more closely. Chapel had seen Stonn several times during her stay on Vulcan, and the girl looked more like her father than her mother.
"You are staring, Christine." T'Steya seemed to have no problem calling her by her first name.
"And it's very rude of me."
"Is it?" T'Steya leaned down and smelled one of the coral and yellow roses that Spock had told Chapel were called confetti. T'Steya closed her eyes, and for a moment she looked as if she were in a state of pure bliss. She looked over at Chapel. "I find that scent moves me."
"Like the incense you brought Amanda."
"I made that."
"Really? It was beautiful." Chapel had wanted to bring some home with her but could never find it at the places that sold incense. Now, she knew why.
"I have some for you. Saavik said it is customary to bring a gift when staying at a human home."
"You didn't have to. But I'm glad you did." She saw T'Steya's gaze stray over to Spock and Saavik. "You are quite fond of her?"
"I am." She didn't hedge, which surprised Chapel, and T'Steya seemed to realize it because she turned to look at her, one eyebrow rising. "You expected me to deny it?"
"Yes." Chapel grinned again. "I'm glad you didn't. I want Saavik to be happy."
"Happy is a human state." T'Steya sounded very Vulcan for a moment, then her eyes lightened. "And when I say such things, Saavik tells me that I am a snob."
Chapel laughed, watching T'Steya smell some of the other roses. "May I ask a question that is none of my business?"
"You may ask. I do not know that I shall answer."
Chapel laughed again-such a Vulcan answer. "Fair enough. Your mother and father. Have they been content?"
"Yes." T'Steya looked down. "But my father does not oppose my mother often. I am not sure they would be quite so content if he did."
"My mother is...an impressive force. She defied a planet. If she had not, I would not exist." T'Steya took a slow, deep breath. "I find her, at times, unbearable. Yet I cannot help but be grateful for her selfish courage."
"I think Saavik is very grateful for that too." Chapel pointed to a lavender rose. It was her favorite rose: the Sterling Silver. "Smell that one."
T'Steya did, her brow pulling down a little. "It is more subtle. They are all the same flower, but there is such variation in scent. It is intriguing."
Chapel had never found it so until now. Funny how Vulcans could make you appreciate the little things. "Come with me, I want to show you my favorite flower."
She led her to a planter full of small, blood-red carnations. T'Steya leaned down and took in the aroma. Chapel did the same, wanting to smell the strong, spicy scent.
"This is most lovely." T'Steya looked over at Chapel. "It reminds me of home."
Chapel smiled. "Spock says the same thing."
"Don't make her homesick, Christine." Saavik came up behind them, and Chapel moved aside to let Saavik take her place.
Walking back to Spock, Chapel heard the younger women murmuring to each other. "They are in love," she whispered as she stepped behind Spock, leaning down and hugging him.
He reached up, his hand capturing hers where it rested on his chest. "I am aware of that."
"How do you feel about T'Pring's daughter falling in love with your protege?"
"I am...amused by it." He pulled her around to sit next to him. "I am also pleased for them. They appear quite happy with each other."
"Happy is an emotion."
"Yes, one I recommend highly."
She laughed, her hand stealing out to touch his. "So, you don't mind that I'm very happy right now."
"I would be most offended if you were not." He glanced at her, his eyes sparkling. "I would feel my efforts to keep you content had been wasted." He let his eyes drift down her body.
She could feel herself blushing. He had been especially amorous lately. She thought it was the prospect of another lengthy separation. "Those efforts are never wasted."
He shared a look of satisfaction with her, then glanced at T'Steya. "She favors her father."
"I think so, too."
"Stonn was my friend when I was a boy. He and T'Pring and I were inseparable for a time."
"Did you ever love her?"
He did not answer right away. "No. But I was satisfied with the match. She was my friend. At the time I left for Starfleet, there was no one I trusted more than my two childhood friends."
"You never knew she was with Stonn?"
"No. But then she did not know I was in love with Jim, or fascinated by you." He frowned. "Although she chose him as her champion. I have always wondered if that was happenstance...or retribution."
"I've met her."
He turned to look at her. "And...?"
"I wouldn't put much past her."
He sighed. "Nor would I. She did tend to win our childhood games."
"Your life would have been very different if she had not challenged."
"I do not think I would have savored it the way I have with you and with Jim."
She smiled. She imagined it should bother her to always have Jim factor into the equation. But it was the way it was. She was becoming very Vulcan about the whole thing.
She snuggled against Spock, saw that the two women were standing very close, their hands hidden. "I hope they're as happy as we are."
He nodded, his arm coming around her, not even trying to hide his affection as T'Steya and Saavik turned and walked back to them. Chapel saw T'Steya study them, but her look was untroubled. She sat down next to Spock and said softly, "I should like to discuss physics with you, if you have time before you go. There is a something I am working on that is proving troublesome, and I would greatly value your input."
"Of course. After dinner, perhaps?"
T'Steya nodded as if pleased.
He leaned back, drawing Chapel with him. "You and Saavik must stay as long as you wish. I regret, however, I am leaving the day after tomorrow."
Chapel felt a pang. She'd been hoping he could stay longer. By the way his hand tightened around her, she thought that he had been hoping that, too.
"I didn't know they had chosen the date." she said.
He nodded. "The message came today."
She could feel his regret through the bond. Each separation seemed more difficult.
Saavik smiled at her. "Don't worry, Christine. We'll keep you company."
Spock shot her a glance that almost looked like a warning.
"Not that kind of company." Saavik's smile grew a bit before she seemed to force it away. "I merely meant..."
"I am aware of what you meant, Saavika'am."
Christine laughed. "You overestimate my appeal, husband." She winked at Saavik, decided she didn't know T'Steya well enough yet to give her the same look.
"On the contrary, he is wise to protect what he loves," T'Steya said softly but with a fierceness that surprised Chapel. "I know I would do the same." She was staring at Saavik, who was staring back.
Chapel suddenly felt very much in the way. She could feel Spock urging her up. "I think I left the stove on, Spock."
"We should, to be safe, check on that, wife. I have told you to be more careful." She could practically hear the wink in his voice.
Saavik and T'Steya were still staring at each other helplessly.
"Okay, here we go. Inside. To check on that stove." She had a feeling she could announce that the end of the world would happen in eight point five seconds and the two women would still not break their gaze.
She felt Spock pull her inside. "Now what?"
"We give them some much needed privacy." He was urging her to their bedroom. Which was conveniently very far away from the one Christine had given T'Steya.
"You want to make love at a time like this?"
"You do not?" He was already pulling her top off.
"Well, I didn't say that, exactly." She laughed as he pushed her onto the bed and proceeded to have his way with her. Over and over.
By the time they thought of checking on the girls, they were in the kitchen, preparing a meal.
"The stove was not on," T'Steya said quite seriously.
"No. And judging from the quantity of dust on the stovetop, it has not been on for some time." T'Steya's eyebrow went up, then she turned back to cutting some fruit.
Saavik glanced at them; she looked very relaxed. "Vulcan logic," she said dreamily, then went back to fixing a plate of cheese. As cooking went, that was Saavik at her most advanced.
Watching them for a moment, Chapel smiled. They were a family-albeit an odd little one. She looked over at Spock, saw that he looked particularly relaxed. Touching his hand, she smiled before turning to gather place settings for her little brood.
Chapel paced through the suddenly too-confining living room in McCoy's house.
"You're going to wear a hole in my carpet," Len said softly.
"Doctor, it is best to let her work out whatever is bothering her on her own." Spock sounded just short of condescending.
"It's his carpet, Spock. He can tell me to stop if he wants to."
Spock did not react, but McCoy raised an eyebrow. "I don't know that I was telling you to stop, exactly. Just suggesting that you could maybe vary your route a little bit."
"A very logical suggestion, Len." She glared at him, then at Spock, too.
Spock got up, the barest suggestion of a smile on his face as he turned her and led her to the front door. "I am not abandoning you in your hour of need, but I must be on time for this meeting."
"It wasn't my idea to stay in Georgia when our meetings are at Starfleet Command."
"That is true." He pulled her out of sight of where Len was sitting and kissed her. "Perhaps, if you spoke to Doctor McCoy about whatever is bothering you, it would not continue to bother you?"
"Nothing like a good avoidance plan, Ambassador." But she pulled him to her and kissed him so he couldn't leave.
"I am not avoiding it, Christine. I have asked, but you do not want to tell me what is wrong."
She looked down. He had tried, and she'd gotten nastier the more he did it. "So you're pulling out the big guns? That's why you wanted us to stay here?"
"It is possible I thought Leonard could provide more than just hospitality." He touched her cheek; she could feel his tenderness through the bond. "A willing ear, if nothing else."
"You're going to be late, Spock." She glared at him again, but her tone was a lot softer, and he seemed to think so, too.
"I will see you when I am done." They had made plans to meet Uhura for lunch. That had been his idea, as well.
"If McCoy doesn't work, you'll bring on Mama Ny?"
He did smile slightly. "It is conceivable that I have a backup plan."
"Even several." She kissed him again, then pushed him toward the door. "Go. Please."
With a fond look, he left. She sighed, then walked back into the living room.
"Okay, kiddo. Now that your paramour-"
"Whatever. Now that he's gone, howzabout you sit down here by Uncle Len and tell him what's making you act like such a harpy?"
"Nice image." But she sat down.
"A valid one, darlin'. It's been a long time since I've seen you like this." He studied her expression. "You're not happy with Spock?"
"Oh, Len. Come on."
"You sure aren't acting like someone who's happy."
"Yes, I'm happy with him. When we're actually on the same planet." She stopped talking.
"Don't 'ah' me. That's not what I meant."
"Why'd you say it, then?"
She took a deep breath. "Extended separations are part of the job."
"Yeah. They are." He took her hand. "Miss him, do you?" His voice was very gentle.
She turned so he wouldn't see that she'd almost started crying. "That's normal. I love him. I'm not with him. I miss him."
"So, your tour's almost up. Go be with him."
"As what? Starfleet isn't going to assign me to Spock's team just because I'm lonely."
"No, they sure won't. You're going to have to come up with a much better reason than that. And with Spock wanting it just as much as you do, I don't think there are two better people in the Fleet to pull a little wool over Command's eyes." He smiled. "You managed to get yourself assigned to the flagship with little prior training as an officer or as a nurse. All so you could look for Roger. This should be child's play."
She started to smile.
"Am I wrong?"
"No. I just didn't want to do that again. Give up myself to be with a man."
He laughed softly. "Well, it's not just any man, it's your husband and it's Spock. And, if it helps you decide, I happen to know he's considering options for how he could finagle a post with you on some planet. Personally, I think it's easier for us medicos to adapt than to ask the Federation's most famous ambassador to find a new job, but that's your call."
"He'd give that up? For me?"
"Well, I think he's sort of betting that I'll be effective here." Len grinned at her.
"Or that Uhura will, if you won't."
His grin turned to a frown. "He put her after me? He thinks she's better at this?"
She started to chuckle. "I'm sure it's not a case of better..."
"Uhura?" He made a dismissive sound. "No one better to talk some sense into you than me. Never has been, never will be." He pulled her close for a moment, into an impromptu hug. "Now, was that all that's bothering you?"
"I think so." It felt good to be with him. He was right. There wasn't anyone better to make her see reason. "We're really happy, Len."
"I know you are, sweetheart. I haven't seen Spock so happy since he was with Jim. I'm not saying that to make you jealous. I'm saying that so you know that I think he loves you the same way."
She smiled. "I know. It was hard at first with Jim always there. But it's gotten easier. The more life that Spock and I make together, the less it matters to me how much real estate Jim owns in his heart."
"You always were a smart woman, Christine. Now, since you don't need Uhura-the-wonder-counselor, do you think you might include this old country doctor in your lunch plans?"
"Yes." She kissed his cheek. "Thank you."
"You bet, darlin'. You bet."
He sounded touched, and she glanced up at him, saw that his eyes looked suspiciously bright.
"I love you, Len."
"I love you, Christine." He said, and she could feel his lips on her hair, then he pushed her up. "What do you say we go into the city early? I have a sudden hankering to see the wharf."
They grabbed their things and walked to the transporter station. A few minutes later they were materializing in San Francisco. It was cooler than it had been in Georgia by a considerable margin, and she slipped a sweater on. It felt odd being in civilian clothes, but officially she was on leave for the next few days.
She and Spock had that long to think up a compelling reason for her to join him. Her assignment preferences were due to Starfleet Medical at the end of the week.
"I know that look," Len said, as he took her arm. "You're already plotting."
She didn't answer. Just gave him the neutral smile she'd perfected in Emergency Ops.
"Yeah, you're scheming." He waved at someone, and Chapel looked up to see who it was.
Uhura smiled as she walked up. "Guess we all had the same idea?"
"Great minds..." Chapel hugged her. "Len invited himself along."
"And we've got all Christine's problems solved, Miss Smarty Pants. They'll be no trump card needed."
She laughed. "I told Spock you'd be upset that I was the secret weapon." She kissed McCoy's cheek. "I also told him he wouldn't need me."
"Well, nice to know you're as clever as you always were." Len smiled-no one could handle him like Uhura.
"Oh, honey. You have no idea." She sidled up against him, her hip bumping his.
He blushed. Deeply. "Now, stop that. My old ticker can only take so much."
Chapel laughed, and Uhura let him go. They roamed the waterfront, finally ending up at the restaurant Spock had chosen. He was waiting out front on a bench, watching them with a look of satisfaction as they walked up.
"Hello there," Chapel said, standing in front of him as McCoy and Uhura gave them a moment.
Spock took her by the arms, and for a moment she thought he was going to lay his head against her stomach, the way he did when she came out of the shower and he was sitting on the bed. She saw in his eyes that he knew what she was thinking of.
He almost smiled. "We are in public, wife."
"But you were thinking about it."
Again the almost smile. "I generally am."
"I had no idea." Which was a lie. The bond may have faded into the background, as he'd told her it would, but she could still tell what he was feeling when they were in close proximity. And even without the bond, she was becoming an expert at reading Vulcan expressions and body language. She tried to read his body language now, glancing down at his lap with a smirk and earning a little shake.
"You are a very bad influence on me," he said, pushing her away just enough so that he could stand up.
"Oh, like Jim was the model boy." She shot him a look, and Spock conceded the point with a slight nod. "Not even close, I imagine. In fact, I think I benefited from how much he corrupted you." Again she glanced down, again she felt his hands tighten on her.
"You are feeling better?" he asked.
"I didn't feel bad," she said, but her tone was light, teasing. "However, as you suggested, a visit with Doctor Len fixed me right up."
"I surmised as much by his presence here."
"Yes, your nefarious master plan worked." She leaned in. "If you want, I'm going to try to get posted on your team."
His look turned very serious. "You do not have to make such a drastic change for me. I can find a new assignment-one where we can be together."
She shook her head. "The needs of the many, Spock. The Federation needs its ambassador doing ambassador stuff. It's up to us to think of a way I can continue to contribute. We need to be very, very clever."
"I believe we are up to that task." His eyes shone with satisfaction-and what looked like relief.
She didn't think he really wanted to stop being an ambassador.
But he would have done it for her. And that meant more than he would probably ever know.
Lieutenant Commander Dougherty tensed as Chapel walked into the anteroom to Spock's office.
"He asked to see these reports," she said, holding up the padds she'd put together for Spock on the medical conditions on Denedia Seven.
"I'll give them to him," he said.
"Is he with someone?" Spock's doors were closed.
"Then I'll give them to him." He was expecting her. They were meeting Saavik and T'Steya for lunch-the young women's ship was stopping at Spock and Chapel's new home base.
"Commander Chapel, permission to speak freely?"
"Are you replacing me?" Dougherty had been Spock's aide for two years.
"Not to my knowledge. Unless you compile medical and environmental reports?"
"You know what I mean, ma'am." The man was fairly bristling.
"If you're worried about your performance, perhaps you should take that up with the ambassador. Otherwise, I really don't think you should let my presence here worry you." She'd expected some resistance to her posting. It had never occurred to her it would come from Dougherty.
"I know you're here because you wanted to be with him."
Chapel took a deep breath. The man wasn't wrong. She decided not to lie. "That's true. But I wouldn't be here just for that reason. I have something to offer. I'm very good at what I do. I'm not sure you could find anyone else with my background-medicine, bioresearch, and emergency ops. Now"-she held up a hand when she thought he was going to protest-"you may never have thought you wanted someone with that background." She smiled, was relieved to see him smile back. "But give me time to settle in. I'll make a believer out of you."
"Is that an order, ma'am?" He was still smiling, but the words were a test.
"Does it have to be?"
He stared at her; she stared back. She hated this game, but she'd played it enough times with enough officers in her ops days that she was damned good at it. She could tell when he accepted her words.
"Good. Now, I'm going to take this in to the ambassador. If I weren't also going to go to lunch with him, I'd give you the padds to take in to him. Assisting him is your job. However, it is inefficient for me to do that in this instance."
"And he hates inefficiency."
"Don't we both know it?" She tried for a shared smile. The "isn't Spock a pistol?" smile.
He returned it. "Yes, ma'am,'' he said, as he returned to his work.
She walked to the door and opened it, smiling at Spock when he looked up.
"You said you were bringing those directly."
Closing the door gently, she said, "I got held up."
"Anything that I should be aware of?"
She wondered if he could hear them in his anteroom. "No."
"If it was, would you tell me?" An eyebrow went up as he reached for the padds.
She gave them to him. "Probably not."
"Neither would Jim. I have never understood the human need to establish territory."
She sat down in one of the chairs in front of his desk. "No, you Vulcan's aren't territorial." She tried to send a flood of amusement through their bond, saw his mouth twitch up. "You'd never, say, mark your mate."
"That is different."
"Ah." She smiled at him. "Forever, I might add. You mark her forever."
"I did not realize you objected."
"I don't. But I'm just saying..."
"I know what you are saying." He studied the padds for a moment. "Are you sure of this?"
"This is not promising."
"No, I know."
Setting the padds down, he steepled his fingers, studying her. "This is your final analysis?"
She nodded. "The plague decimating the southern continent shows every sign of being bioengineered, Spock. By the very people who say they want to negotiate a ban on biological weapons."
"You do not know that."
"Check out section fourteen slash one."
He checked the padd, read for a while. Then he looked up. "Where did you get this information?"
"Inspection reports, equipment manifests, exit interviews. It's all there if you know where to look."
"You're sure it is all there?"
She laughed. "You know what I have access to-I'm not getting any special information here. This is how we sold my billet. My expertise and what it could bring to bear on the problems you face."
He nodded. "Command will be pleased."
"Let's hope. I like this arrangement."
He almost smiled. "Even if Commander Dougherty does not?"
So he could hear what went on in his anteroom. She'd remember that.
"We're reaching an understanding."
"I have no doubt. You can be very persuasive." He put the padds in his drawer and sealed it. "Are you ready for lunch?"
She stood, touching his hand for a moment before letting go and following him out of the office. Once they were in the lift, heading down to the mess, he moved closer to her, his hand resting on her back until the lift stopped and let more people on. She smiled, thinking they probably thought Spock and her the very picture of staid respectability.
The mess was full, but Chapel saw Saavik standing, obviously waiting for them to see her at a table in the corner. T'Steya was in line with two trays.
"An effective arrangement," she murmured to Spock.
"Would you expect anything less from two Vulcans?"
She laughed. "No." As they waited in line, she looked back at the table, where T'Steya was handing Saavik her food. "Not all Vulcan, though."
"No. Not all Vulcan. Saavik's Romulan blood adds a certain spice, I'm sure."
Chapel grinned. "Think so, do you?"
"Passion is always interesting." He gave her an intense look.
"Yes, it is." She gave him the same look, then dialed it down as the base commander reached by her to get a fork.
"Captain, Commander. You look quite engrossed."
"We were discussing the impact of genetics," Spock said.
Chapel bit back a smile. "You know, Spock. Always thinking."
"Yes, well...carry on." The base commander shot her a pitying look before moving on.
She laughed softly. "He feels very sorry for me." Meeting Spock's eyes, she smiled.
He almost-smiled back, before turning to select his lunch.
By the time they got to the table, Saavik and T'Steya were halfway done.
"Don't wait for us or anything," Chapel said.
"Our orders just changed. We have about fifteen more minutes before we have to get back to the ship." Saavik frowned, then went back to wolfing down her food.
"It is not the way we wished this visit to proceed," T'Steya said, eating with a bit more decorum.
"It's all right. Mission first, right?"
"Mission always." Saavik frowned again.
Chapel glanced at T'Steya, who looked untroubled.
"Promotion announcements will be out soon," Spock murmured, and Chapel suddenly understood. Saavik was up for commander-it was a nerve-wracking time, especially when she really wanted the promotion. And Chapel knew Saavik really wanted it, even if the other woman would probably tell her it did not matter.
"Saavik will be promoted," T'Steya said, conviction in her voice. She turned a tender look on her mate-although Chapel was probably the only human in the place who recognized the look as tender.
"She believes in me." Saavik shook her head. "And how are you? Stationed together finally."
"It goes well," Spock said. "Christine has much to offer this mission."
T'Steya put her fork down. "Studies have shown that Vulcans collocated with their spouses have efficiency ratings eight point three two percent higher than the norm."
"Where were you when we were pitching this thing?"
T'Steya's eyebrow when up. "I was with Saavik on the Gordon. You did not ask."
Chapel laughed. "My mistake. I'll be sure to bring you in as a consultant on our next scam."
T'Steya studied her. "Do you think it was a scam? I cannot imagine Spock pressing Starfleet to do anything he did not think in its ultimate best interest."
"Nice addition of the word ultimate." But Chapel smiled. She didn't think Spock would have pressed for her to be included either if he'd not seen some gain for the mission, not just for the two of them.
"Vulcans do tend to take the long view," Saavik said, then she looked up at Chapel. "I didn't mean-"
"I know what you meant. And it's all right. I'm human; I'll live a shorter life than any of you. I've...come to terms with that."
"It is not the hours spent alive, but the hours relished that define a life." T'Steya looked up when they all went silent. "I read that once. It struck me as apt." She met Chapel's eyes, her own very gentle.
"I think it's very apt." Chapel blinked hard, touched by the young woman's words. And also struck by the irony that T'Pring's daughter should be the one to point out the truth to them. And to bring comfort.
Chapel lay face down, moaning slightly as she felt herself relaxing, lulled by the way Spock was rubbing her back. She lifted her head, turning to look at him.
He lay on his side, was watching her with half-lidded eyes. She rolled to her side, scooted closer to him. Pulling her close, he kissed her and kicked the meld back to life. She could feel his emotions rushing through her. It was lovely, this sharing. So relaxing.
He moved her, rearranging her a bit as if she was his private doll, moving her leg over his hip, tilting her pelvis forward. Then he was with her, kissing her again as he moved and she forgot all about being relaxed.
He touched her face, bringing the meld up a level, then another.
"Spock," she murmured, afraid she'd be lost if he took them too much farther.
"Trust me," he said softly, then he took it up another step, and another.
And she was lost. Inside him. She was him. She felt him keep going, felt the bond pinging with new vigor as he moved inside her, and she could not tell where the dividing line between them was. Pleasure exploded inside her, inside him, inside both of them, and she gasped.
"I love you," he whispered, his lips against her cheek, his mindvoice echoing the words. The endearment reverberated through their linked minds, back and forth, growing stronger and stronger as she cried out and the world went black.
She woke to him kissing her gently, cradled in his arms. She sensed no worry from him, just an eagerness to wake her up.
"You did." He pulled her to him, kissing her as he rolled to his back, pulling her on top of them. "You nearly took me with you. It was a very deep meld."
"It was incredible. Not something I'd want to do every day...but incredible."
He made a small puffing sound; she realized it was a laugh. "It is not something that could be done every day. But I felt...I wanted to be closer to you. As close as I could be."
She relaxed against him, half on and half off of his body. "I like that you wanted that."
He started to rub her back again, and she sighed with pleasure.
"I'd be happy if you did that for the rest of my life."
"You would get hungry and ask me to stop." His mouth tilted up. "To be more precise, you would get hungry and _order_ me to stop."
"Just because I get cranky when my blood sugar drops..." She kissed him.
"Very cranky." He ran his finger down her forehead, then down her nose. "Even so, I have never regretted coming to you during the burning. As long as I remember to feed you regularly."
Laughing, she rolled off him so she could nestle against his side. "What do you regret? Anything?"
He thought about that. "I regret that I did not realize Valeris was not who she seemed to be."
"So does the entire Federation, Spock. I mean do you regret anything that you could actually change if you went back to do it all over again."
"I am not sure. What do you regret?"
She looked up at him. "I regret sometimes that I never had a child."
He nodded. "Yes, I believe I regret that, too."
"We would have made a pretty child." She kissed him.
"I am not sure I can have children." He sounded as if it was something he'd come to terms with long ago so she didn't press him on that.
"It's not a huge regret. Just something I think of occasionally."
"Do you ever regret knowing what happened to Roger?"
Smiling, she shook her head. "You know me. I like the truth." At his nod, she said, "Besides, it set me free once I knew what had happened to him. If I'd never known, I'd never have been able to move on."
"Logical." He took a deep breath. "I wonder about Jim at times."
"I know. They never found a body."
"No, they did not." Sorrow filled the meld that was still pulsing lightly between them.
"What would you do if he showed up alive?" She smiled tenderly to show him that he could answer or not.
"Would it be selfish to say that I would want you both?"
"Yes, it would be. But it's a better answer than saying it would be sayonara me."
He looked over at her. "I could not say that now. When we first started, perhaps. But not now. You are part of me, Christine. You own me, just as he did."
"So both of us, huh?" She laughed softly. "He was a good guy; I could get used to it, I suppose." She wriggled against him. "Or did you just mean you'd get him and you'd get me? Not that he and I'd get to-"
He laid a finger on her lips. "It is a theoretical notion at best, Christine. I cannot say how it would work because it will never be."
She whapped him softly. "You just don't like to think of sharing me. Or Jim. We'd have to share you; it hardly seems fair that he and I wouldn't get to play around."
"Jim is dead."
"I know." She cuddled in closer, tried to read his mood-had she upset him? All she could feel was a slight amusement and confusion. He really didn't like the idea of sharing her. "Anyway, it's not going to happen."
"No." He turned to look at her sternly.
"I'm a one-man gal, Spock. Don't worry." She kissed him gently.
He pulled her closer. "I am not worried. Although I might point out that you were pursuing me before you found your fiance."
"That was because of the virus. I'd have never hit on you otherwise."
"But you had feelings for me. Even then."
"You're irresistible. How could I not?" She tried to squirm away, felt him hold her more tightly.
"But you were moving on even before you knew what had happened to him."
"Spock. Shut up." She stopped trying to get away, launched an attack on a part of him he was powerless to defend. Plus it was difficult to attack in quite this way and carry on debates over how steadfast she had or had not been.
As expected, he did not ask her to stop and resume the discussion. By the time she finished-to much moaning and sharp cries-he seemed to have forgotten it altogether.
But as she settled against him and closed her eyes, she heard him say, "I am aware you were distracting me."
"Oh, like you minded," she said sleepily.
His soft kiss was her only reply.
Chapel sat in Sarek's kitchen, chopping vegetables for the evening meal. She could hear Spock and his father arguing in the living room-although anyone not familiar with Vulcan ways might think they were merely having a discussion. But she could tell they were both getting angry.
"I did not ask you to come here and save me. I do not need saving," Sarek said.
"If you would leave the house, I would not have had to come at all." Spock's voice was the tight one that meant he was afraid he was going to lose control. She'd never been the cause of it, but she'd heard it when he was especially frustrated with the way a negotiation was going. She supposed Sarek had often heard it.
"If it is such a hardship to be here, then go back where you belong." Sarek's voice got lower, as if he was walking away, then it got louder again as he said, "And I do leave the house."
T'Vek came in with more vegetables. She sighed as she listened to Sarek.
"Does he leave the house?" Chapel asked.
She nodded. "He goes out to the garden. Technically, he is not lying." She turned to look at her, and Chapel could read concern in her expression. T'Vek had been the one who'd called Spock to let him know Sarek had turned into some kind of hermit.
"Spock asked Sarek to join him on his next mission," Chapel said.
"He will not go." T'Vek shook her head, taking the chopping block back from Chapel. "He is a stubborn man."
"So is Spock."
"I know." T'Vek shook her head. "Spock will make him angry. But you will make him see reason."
Chapel laughed softly. "You have a lot of faith in me."
"It is not faith to recall past patterns and project them onto future interactions. You can get through to Sarek where we cannot."
"I'm human. I remind him of her perhaps?"
T'Vek nodded. "But I believe he also thinks highly of you on your own merits."
"This conversation is finished," Sarek said, his voice a trifle louder than the Vulcan norm.
Chapel heard the door to the rose garden being opened then shut forcefully. Sighing, she met T'Vek's eyes. "They couldn't have waited till the sun went down to do this?"
Squaring her shoulders, Chapel walked to the door and opened it, closing it gently behind her. The moment she stepped into the sun, the sweat started. She hoped Sarek was as prone to listening to her as T'Vek thought he was.
"Go away, Christine." He did not even look up.
"How did you know it was me?"
"Who else would come after me here?" He sounded gruff, but he moved over and made room for her on the bench.
"Spock's worried about you."
"There is no need."
His hand lay on the bench between them, and she took a chance that he was missing his wife's touch, setting her hand gently on his, ready to pull it away if he did not respond.
But he sighed and did not move his hand away.
Chapel remembered how everyone had talked around the subject of her mother when she'd died. As if the woman had never lived. "It's not the same without Amanda here."
He tensed, and she thought she'd chosen the wrong tack. But then he sighed again and said, "Nothing is the same."
She squeezed his hand gently. "I know you miss her."
"Miss her. What does that mean? She was with me. A part of me." He turned to look at her. "You are bonded with Spock. You understand that."
"I do." She couldn't imagine what losing Spock now would feel like. She took it for granted that their connection would always be there. "It's like they've cut off your arm. Or your leg."
"Or my heart." He made an odd sound, almost a short puff of air, as if making fun of himself. "Hearts that Vulcans should not have."
"That's not true. I've yet to meet one who doesn't." She leaned in slightly, let her shoulder rest against his arm.
He didn't pull away.
"And I'm a doctor. I should know."
"It is not fair: sending you out here to make me see reason."
She smiled. "They sent me out here to get you to come with us for a while. Spock could use your help on his upcoming mission."
"Spock does not need my help. He just wants to keep an eye on me."
"I would like having you there."
"That is kind of you, daughter."
Christine felt a pang. It was the first time he'd called her that. She knew that it meant he considered her a part of the family beyond just being his son's wife. She belonged to them by her own right now. "Is kindness not logical with family?"
"It is." Again the strange puff. "I have not been kind to Spock over the years. Or to my oldest boy."
"I cannot say how you have been with them."
He looked up at her. "You have seen me with Spock. You know we do not see eye to eye on most things."
"I know you don't. But he loves you, Sarek. And I know you love him."
"Love. Love is an emotion."
She didn't dignify that with a reply, just gave him back the same little puffing sound. He looked down, but she thought he almost smiled.
"If you won't come with us, then find something here to do. But you need to leave the house."
He seemed to tense.
"If I leave, then she will be gone."
She took his arm, leaned against him hard. "She is gone now, Father."
She heard him take a long, deep breath. She could tell her words had hurt him. But they appeared to be what he needed, because he whispered, "I cannot lose her."
"Her roses will still be here. T'Vek will see to that."
"But her scent on her clothes. Even now it fades. I smell her robes, and I can barely detect her."
Chapel smiled gently. "When my fiance disappeared, I did that too."
"It is not logical."
"Love rarely is." She let him go and stood up. "Amanda would not want you hiding out in the house this way. She would not want you to make a memorial of her things, or her life. She loved you; she would want you to live. Not just exist in this house with her fading perfume and her lovely roses."
Sarek looked up at her, his eyes tired and old. He looked defeated. But then he stood up, walking to the roses and bending to smell them. "This scent is still strong." He took a deep breath. "If I go out, if I make myself useful, will Spock leave me alone?"
He brushed past her, giving her an annoyed glance. But his hand rested on hers briefly as he passed. A warm, glancing touch that meant more than he would ever say aloud.
"My son chose wisely," he said softly as he held the door for her.
"So did Amanda." She smiled at him, then left him and went to find Spock.
He was sitting in their bedroom, his hands tight on the chair. "You no doubt had more success than I did."
She walked over to him, let him pull her onto his lap. "Yep."
He drew her closer, so he could kiss her. His lips were hard, a little rough.
"He does get you riled up."
"I'm sorry, Spock."
"It is the way we are with each other. We try...but it never works."
"But you try. That's what matters." She kissed him gently, and this time his touch was tender as he kissed her back.
"Thank you," he murmured into her hair.
He cuddled her against him, as if he could lose himself in holding her. They stayed that way for a long time.
Chapel watched Spock talking to the Romulan envoy. They were in a corner of the room, away from the others. Their conversation appeared quite intense.
"I'm not sure that's a good idea." Dougherty was suddenly at her side, smelling rather heavily of beer. He usually didn't drink.
"Talking to a fellow diplomat?"
Spock's aide gave her a tight smile. "You know exactly what I mean. You always know exactly what I mean. It's too late to play dumb."
She laughed softly. "Spock's a big boy; he can talk to whomever he wants." She glanced at Dougherty. "Do you know who the Romulan is?"
"Pardek. Third political officer on this mission. He's in training. We see him around a lot."
Chapel studied the Romulan. "He seems to be quite happy talking to Spock."
"He always is." With a sigh, Dougherty left her.
Grabbing a drink from a passing waiter, she walked over to Spock and his new friend. Pardek stared at her, as if unsure why she was hanging about.
Spock stopped talking and said, "This is my wife Christine. She is a member of my team."
"A pleasure." Pardek was suddenly all charm.
Chapel could feel herself bristling. "Likewise."
"Perhaps, you could keep Commander Dougherty company," Spock said gently.
She felt her cheeks get hot. He'd just dismissed her; he'd never done that. "I could. I'm not sure I want to, dear." She turned to Pardek. "I've never had the chance to talk with a Romulan."
"Your loss, I'm sure." Pardek's charm was slipping.
"Christine, if you do not mind...?" Spock gestured with his chin toward Dougherty.
She was too mad to blush. She had a feeling her face had gone white. "Of course. I'll leave you two boys alone." She made her way back across the room.
"I would not want to be the Ambassador later tonight," Dougherty said softly.
"You sure wouldn't." She glanced at him, saw him smile in sympathy. "He told me to keep you company. Want to dance?"
"Sure." He led her to the next room, where couples were moving gently to Denevian electronic strings. "You mind a slow dance."
"No. And neither, apparently, does my husband."
Dougherty laughed. "I wouldn't be so sure about that. He was watching you as you walked away. He knows he's in the dog house."
"Good." She took his hand, noticed it was a little sweaty. "Who is that man really, Steve?"
"I think he is what he says: a diplomat. But he makes a beeline for the Ambassador whenever he sees him, and it bugs the hell out of me."
She shook her head, not paying much attention to the dance as she tried to figure out why she was so put out by Spock's new friend. Then she felt Dougherty's hand travel down her back to parts south. "Go much lower, and I'll have to hurt you."
He stopped his hand instantly. "I thought maybe you were coming on to me." He saw her look. "Or not."
"The not part. I'm mad at my husband. But not 'cheat on him with his guy Friday' mad."
Laughing, he said, "Sorry. I misread."
"It's kind of flattering, though. I'm a lot older than you are."
"You don't feel older." He moved his hand a little, laughed when she glared at him. "Would he know?"
"Would he know what?"
"If you cheated on him?" He had pulled away a decent amount, was leading her in a gentlemanly way at odds with his words.
"I think so."
"But you don't know?"
"Well, no, because I haven't done it." She laughed, more in disbelief at the conversation than in amusement. "What are you doing, Steve? Trying to get transferred?"
"No. I'm just curious. The bond...I mean, for outsiders-it's intriguing, you know?"
She did know; she used to be intrigued by it, too. "Just dance, Lieutenant Commander."
"Yes, ma'am." He looked over at the doorway, started to laugh softly. "I guess he would know."
She turned, saw Spock coming toward her, his face very tight. "Spock, dear. You did tell me to keep Steve company."
"Pardek and I have concluded our conversation."
She could feel herself blush again. The implication was clear. He should have just said, "Wife, attend me" and gotten it over with.
She was tempted to keep dancing, but instead she smiled at Dougherty. "Thanks for keeping an old woman company."
He bowed slightly. "You're an older woman, not an old one." Then he smiled at Spock. "Goodnight, sir."
"Commander." Spock's voice was like ice.
She waited till Dougherty was gone to say, "The caveman act doesn't suit you." She looked up at him as he discreetly took her arm. "Are we leaving?"
"We are." They walked to the entrance, murmuring goodbyes. "Was I mistaken that he was interested in you?"
"I'm not sure what he wanted from me. He's never been interested in me before today. I think he had one too many beers, and I suddenly looked good."
Spock exhaled loudly.
"Maybe he thought I was fair game since you were so enamored with your new Romulan friend." She looked up at him. "Should I be worried?"
"Christine, that is not-"
"Would you tell me if it was?" Dougherty's question played back in her mind. "Would I know if you were enamored, Spock? Would I know if you took it a step further?"
"Would you know if I were unfaithful to you?" His voice was slightly incredulous.
"Yes, Christine, you would know." She felt him relax, both in the way he held her arm, and through the bond. "You would most definitely know." As they walked back to their quarters, he put his hand on her back, rubbing gently. "You were annoyed with Dougherty. That is what drew me to you."
"I'm annoyed with you, too, mister. You treated me like an unwanted little sister chasing after you and your buddy."
"Yes. I know you are vexed."
"That's a good word for it." She looked up at him. "And stop rubbing my back. I can't stay mad at you when you do that."
"Perhaps I know that?"
She tried not to laugh and failed. "Who is he? This Pardek?"
"He is just a man with whom I have many interests in common. A man of like mind. Our opportunities to talk are few. Surely you won't begrudge me?"
"I hate it when you're logical and sweet."
"Perhaps I knew that, too?" He drew her into their quarters, grabbed her as the door closed and pushed her against the wall. "Do you find him attractive?"
"Pardek?" She batted her eyelashes innocently.
He gave her a stern look. "Dougherty."
"That is a relief. He is an excellent aide. It would be a shame to dismiss him." He slowly peeled her uniform off, was kissing her, but she thought he was sniffing her, too-had Dougherty left some scent behind?
She laughed. "You seem a bit territorial tonight."
He knelt in front of her, not answering her as he used his mouth for other things. She felt her knees buckle, and he caught her, holding her up.
"Not that I mind territorial. In fact, I love it." She threw her head back, cried out as he took her to a very nice place where thought was optional.
Easing her down, he melded with her, and she could feel his possessiveness as well as some residue of annoyance with both her and Dougherty, his excitement at seeing Pardek again, and underneath it all, pure, raw lust-for her.
"Of course it is for you," he murmured. "Only you."
"Only you." She could tell he was feeling how much she loved him. Also knew he was feeling her irritation at being dismissed that way.
"I am sorry, Christine. I did not mean to embarrass you." He kissed her, moving on top of her, strong and firm, and owning her, taking her in a way that would have been savage if she hadn't been able to feel what he wanted from her, what he was getting from the almost brutal lovemaking.
For a moment, he went too hard, and she tensed. "Spock..."
"Shhh," he said, easing off a bit. "I will not hurt you."
She touched his face. "You're scaring me." It was partially true, and she could feel his chagrin that she would be at all afraid of him.
He eased back even more. "When he touched you. Here." Spock's hand found her back. "You liked it."
"It reminded me of you." She knew he was assessing her answer. She also knew he'd see it was the truth. She let him see something she hadn't shared.
"A little nickname I have for him. He's sort of...pasty." She'd been about to say lumpy but that seemed like the pot calling the kettle black. Spock was, fortunately, very tolerant of her no longer slim body. She kissed Spock, was relieved to feel his amusement. "I like my men tall, dark, and lanky."
He rolled to his back, letting her ride him. Letting her set the pace and decide how hard they would go.
She smiled down at him. "Were we almost in trouble?"
"No." His gaze was still possessive, but otherwise untroubled, as he caressed her.
"I love you." Leaning down, she kissed him as passionately as she could. "It's always an adventure with you."
He touched her lips, outlining them with his finger. "I would not want to live without you."
"Did you think I was going to leave you?" She felt a residue of uncertainty in him. "Or was this just the first time you've even had to consider the possibility."
"Stop talking, wife," he said, rolling her off him, controlling her again.
"Okay," she said, putting her lips to much more interesting uses.
A little while later, he murmured, "It is not a possibility I want to consider again."
She nipped his ear. "Then don't dismiss me in front of your friends."
"I will not."
"Good." They lay curled together on the floor. "Spock?"
"Can we please go to bed? I'm too old to do it on the floor."
She could feel what seemed like laughter in the meld. His laughter. It was a sweet thing.
"Come, old woman." He got up, pulling her with him.
She grabbed their clothes. "That's older woman to you, buster." She laughed as he dragged her into their bedroom.
Later, as she lay in his arms, parts of her felt old indeed. It was crazy to act like they were teenagers.
Crazy. But fun.
Chapel watched as Sarek prepared the flitter for their excursion. He loaded in extra water before motioning her into the flitter.
She climbed in. "You still haven't told me where we're going."
"It is a surprise."
"Vulcan men and their surprises..." She grinned at him, was happy to see his eyes lighten. It had been a treat to have the negotiations take place on Vulcan. To be able to see Sarek and T'Vek again.
"It is unusual to have you all to myself," he said.
"Well, Spock didn't need me today. So here I am."
He lifted the flitter off, flying in the directions of the far plains and mountains. "If you had come a week later, I would have been off world."
She turned to look at him. "You're going back to work?"
"I am. I was advised to get out of the house."
She laughed. "That was some time ago."
"I had to consider the advice." His voice was lighter than she'd heard it in a long time.
"Diplomacy, I take it?"
"Maybe you and Spock will work together."
"I am not sure that would be wise." He glanced at her. "Spock and I could conceivably find a way to disagree even while representing the same side."
She laughed. "If any two men could..."
He nodded. "I believe I will stay clear of your assignments. Spock will not mind."
She didn't argue with him. She knew he was probably right. As much as Spock worried about his father, he probably wouldn't relish working at his side.
They flew in silence, a sweet silence, comfortable. She found herself dozing a little and let herself surrender to the sunshine streaming in through the screens, the air blowing through the cabin, keeping the little ship cool. She roused when she felt the flitter descend.
They were over mountains, dropping slowly into what looked like a bowl carved into a valley between the peaks.
"Lah V'yeda. The Valley of Song." Sarek sighed. "I have not been here for some time." He landed the flitter softly on the tall yellow-orange grass, opened the hatches, and climbed out.
She followed, struck immediately by the freshness of the place as cool breezes seemed to blow first from one direction, then another. "Oh."
"Yes. Amanda always smiled that way up here. It is the winds that make it cool." He headed for the middle of the bowl, walking quickly, not looking back to see if she was following. When he reached what seemed like the lowest point, he sat, patting the ground next to him.
She eased down, the grass soft and welcoming.
"Now, listen." He closed his eyes, so she did the same.
At first, she heard nothing. Then, gradually, she became aware of a sound nearly beyond her ability to hear it. High. Pearly.
The song seemed to change in time with the winds that blew one minute on her face, the next on the back of her head. It sounded like chimes, far away and barely heard. Something more felt than truly sensed with her ears.
She opened her eyes and turned see Sarek watching her. "It's lovely."
"Most humans can't hear it."
"No. But she came for the breezes."
Chapel could imagine other things Sarek and Amanda might have done up here, on this lush grass, in this isolated spot.
He rose slowly, turned to face the sun, the light making his hair turn bluish black. Spock's turned more reddish in bright sunshine. Amanda's legacy, no doubt.
"I know how much you miss her, Sarek."
He took a deep breath. Then he turned, offering her a hand, lifting her up when she took it. "There is an eating establishment on the outskirts of Shikahr. I have not been there for some time."
She could tell it had probably been one of his and Amanda's favorite places. And one that he'd probably not been back to alone. "Would you like to go there for lunch?"
"Then let's go." She followed him to the flitter, gazing back at the lovely valley. "Has Spock ever been here?"
"His mother brought him here." He stopped walking. "Do you think I have been a poor father?" He turned. "Or was Spock a poor son?"
"I think the two of you are more alike than you want to admit. I think you're both very stubborn."
He started walking again, called out over his shoulder, "Spock will have to make sure his next spouse does not suffer from such a lack of self-expression."
"Jim told you the same thing?"
"Once or twice." Sarek sounded a bit sour as he got into the flitter.
She laughed. "You both try. So hard."
"Yes. And then we stop trying and wait for the next crisis to bring us together again."
She touched him on his hand, letting her fingers linger. "Some relationships aren't easy. That doesn't make them any less true."
He nodded. "I am gratified, however, that my son and I have both known easier ones." He set his other hand over hers. "You have been good for him, Christine." There was something sad in his eyes. Sad for himself. Sad for Spock.
"I'll leave him someday. The same way Amanda did you."
He did not look away. "I know you will. When that day comes, I do not know that I will be able to offer him any comfort."
He nodded. But it did not seem like much of a promise. But for Sarek and Spock, it was probably as much a promise as she'd ever get.
Chapel stood next to Dougherty at the reception, sipping a highball and trying to keep a smile pasted on her face.
"There he is again," Dougherty said, pointing out Pardek moving through the crowded room. "Making a beeline for the ambassador."
"Let's see if I can't distract him." She didn't wait to see Dougherty's reaction, headed for a point that would let her intercept the Romulan before he reached Spock. "Mister Pardek. Or do you have some other title?"
Pardek gave her a beautifully executed smile. "Commander Chapel."
She was sure the choice of names was deliberate. Proper, to be certain. But also a subtle insult. Not giving her any relation to Spock.
"Headed for my husband?" she asked, sipping at her drink.
She glanced over her shoulder. "He's talking to the Agnorian ambassador. They're quite long winded."
"Then I should rescue him from such tedious conversation." Pardek moved slightly to the left.
She mirrored it, casually blocking his way. "I didn't use the word tedious. The ambassador just has a lot to say. And Spock should hear it."
Pardek seemed to come to rest, as if resigning himself to having to deal with her. His smile faded, and he sipped at his drink as he studied her over the rim of his wineglass.
She stood, not shifting, not letting her own slight smile fade. She gave him nothing as they eyed each other like two fighters.
"Are you a diplomat or an actress?" he finally asked.
"I'm a doctor." As if that explained it. "And I was a nurse."
"And a specialist in emergency operations. And a biochemist before that." His smile was benign. "I like to know who my friends are associated with."
Associated with. Not married to. "You consider yourself my husband's friend?"
"My, you are territorial, aren't you? A failing of humans." His smile faded. "As is suspicion."
"Did I say I was suspicious?"
"That question is not a denial."
Chapel sipped at her drink, realizing that whatever else Pardek might be, he was a diplomat. Only a true one could spin words the way he was.
But working emergencies had, at times, been a bit like diplomacy. "My question wasn't a confession, either."
"You don't like me, my dear, do you? Are you jealous?"
"Should I be?"
"You tell me."
"You brought it up."
He seemed to be tiring of their repartee. "I am your husband's friend. Nothing more. I enjoy talking with him. Now, if you don't mind...?"
She didn't move. "My husband, at times, is full of hope for the future. He does not always see the threats that stand in his path." She saw Dougherty bringing the Klingon ambassador over to Spock. Good, that would divert him.
Pardek was watching Spock, too. "Yes, he was hopeful for the future of Federation-Klingon relations. He saw peace where others saw only the status quo: hostility and suspicion. But peace is here. It came to pass just as he foresaw." His eyes seemed to be sending her some kind of secret message; his falsely bright smile faded into something more earnest.
Chapel thought of Valeris. The threat in Spock's path. Cartwright, too, who'd let Spock work for peace with the Klingons, while scheming against that peace at the same time. Spock's own people. People who, if they'd just trusted what he was doing...
"What do you want from him?" Her voice came out shaky, low and husky as if she was in pain. She looked down, then back up, meeting his eyes.
His surprisingly gentle eyes. He moved closer and murmured, "Similar things."
Neither of them spoke for a long moment. Then she nodded. "I'm sure he'll be done with the Klingon soon."
"I'd be bold and join them, but Klingons have little love for Romulans. Humans don't care for us much, either, I'd say." His eyes sparkled, just a little.
"I'm sorry. I'm just...protective of him."
"You love him. That's obvious. It's good he has someone watching out for him. Someone to keep him out of trouble." He bowed slightly. "It's been a pleasure, Christine."
She watched him go, felt another glass being pressed into her hand, the old one taken away. "Thanks, Steve."
"Well? Was your little talk worth it?" Dougherty sounded pained. "I had to eat gagh before I could get the Klingon to come with me. He had a good laugh at my expense."
"I think Pardek's all right." She looked at Dougherty and saw the doubt in his eyes; she knew she'd never be able to tell him what she thought Pardek had meant. "He's really not that bright. Or that interesting. I think he just wants to make a name for himself by hanging around Spock."
Dougherty frowned. "That doesn't make sense."
"Sure it does." She saw the Klingon ambassador take his leave of Spock, saw Pardek sidle up to him. Spock looked pleased to see him. They had much, no doubt, to talk about. Weighty things. Similar things.
She took Dougherty's arm. "Dance?"
"I nearly got canned the last time I danced with you when Spock was talking to Pardek."
"That was then. This was now. Just don't grope me and we'll be fine." She led Dougherty to the dance floor, not looking back at Spock and his friend.
They'd be fine.
Chapel sat next to Uhura, watching as Spock awarded Saavik her commander's insignia.
"She's like his daughter, isn't she?" Uhura whispered. "Like yours, too, judging from the way you're beaming."
Chapel turned to her other side, saw that T'Steya's eyes were shining as she watched Saavik. She looked back at Uhura, murmuring, "They're both mine."
"Do not let my mother hear you say that," T'Steya whispered.
Uhura let an eyebrow go up in a question. Chapel mouthed, "Later," and turned her attention back to the ceremony. "It's strange the way things work out," she said softly.
"Strange, but nice," Uhura said, taking her hand and squeezing.
They waited as the rest of the officers received their promotions, clapping a little louder when they knew the person. Chapel noticed Uhura clapping particularly hard for a Commander Yates.
"Friend of yours?"
"You could say that." Uhura grinned.
"Something you forgot to tell me about the last time we talked?"
"I didn't want to jinx it." Uhura laughed. "Don't worry. You'll get to meet him."
"I damn well better." Chapel glanced at T'Steya. "We have to make sure he meets with our approval."
An elegant eyebrow let Chapel know what T'Steya thought of that. But once Uhura had turned back to the ceremony, T'Steya murmured to Chapel, "Did I meet with your approval when you first met me?"
"Oh, yes. I have very good instincts." She winked at the younger woman.
"I am relieved to hear that. What will you do if Commander Yates does not measure up?"
Chapel knew T'Steya was teasing her. "I don't know. What do you suggest?"
"You are the more experienced at this. I defer to your judgment."
"Clever girl." Chapel watched Uhura; her friend seemed very happy. "I say we make nice with the new guy and let love work its will."
"An excellent plan." T'Steya never seemed to need a translator for Chapel-speak.
Chapel grinned at her, knew the affection she had for T'Steya was written all over her face. The young Vulcan didn't appear to mind. Her lips even curved up a tiny bit.
As the ceremony ended and the crowd filed out to the nearby ballrooms that had been set up for the reception, Uhura said, "It's hard to believe she's T'Pring's daughter."
"I know. T'Pring is really not happy about this."
"Is that what T'Steya was talking about? Trouble with mommy dearest?"
"Yep. Spock and I were on Vulcan for some negotiations. We ran into Stonn and T'Pring."
"Guess Stonn's no big fan of this, either?"
"Actually, I think he is. He got me alone and asked me if T'Steya prospered. Somehow, I think he understands love."
"You'd think T'Pring would. She chose him out of love, right?"
"She preferred him. I'm not sure what that really meant to her, Ny. I don't know if she's even capable of love." Chapel shrugged. "I should shut up. I'm never going to like the woman, for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which was having to learn about her on that damned viewscreen."
"And it hurts T'Steya if I badmouth her. She loves her mother, despite her disapproval of the match T'Steya's made. So enough T'Pring-bashing." Chapel scanned the crowd. "Where's this commander of yours?"
"Coming this way." Uhura smiled widely. "Commander."
"Commander." His smile was brilliant, just enough lines on his dark face to make him look distinguished.
"Marcus, this is my dear friend Commander Christine Chapel. Christine, may I present Commander Marcus Yates."
"I've heard a lot about you," he said, taking Chapel's hand. "And of course your husband is a legend."
"Yes, he is." She could feel Spock approaching, the gentle pinging of the bond a familiar feeling of comfort. "And I believe he's coming this way."
She turned, saw Spock coming up quickly with Saavik in tow. Saavik stopped to talk to T'Steya, the two women standing very close. Spock left them, walking to where Chapel stood with the others.
"Uhura has a friend," Chapel said with a grin.
Spock slowly lifted an eyebrow and studied the other man.
Yates laughed. "Okay, cut it out. You're tougher than her old man was."
Uhura glared at Spock. "You chase him off and there'll be hell to pay. I've worked hard to snooker him."
Yates laughed, his arm going around Uhura. He clearly was more than snookered: he was smitten.
Chapel could feel satisfaction from Spock. He was happy for their friend. Happy that she wasn't alone anymore.
A little boy ran out of the crowd, launching himself into Yate's arms. "Uncle Marc. Can I ride in a shuttle now?"
"Later, Jonah." Yates laughed. "Boy's crazy for ships. Guess space is in the Yates blood." He looked down at Uhura. "You ready to face the hoards?" He smiled at Chapel and Spock. "I have lots of brothers and sisters. And they have lots of kids."
Uhura looked more than ready. Chapel knew her friend had always regretted never having children of her own. From the way little Jonah slid from his uncle's arms to hers, she'd be lacking no more. "I'll talk to you soon, Christine."
"You better." She watched Uhura disappear into the crowd, Jonah's little hand grasping her uniform collar.
"Commander Yates seems a good match for her," Spock said softly. His hand rested on her back for a moment.
"Yes. He does." She turned, saw that Saavik and T'Steya had moved closer to the door. "Do we want to stay for this?"
He glanced at the girls. "I do not think the reception matters to Saavika'am."
"No. I think she and T'Steya might like to celebrate in other ways." She smiled at him. "Do you want to stay?"
He shook his head, his eyes very tender.
"Let's go, then." She walked over to Saavik and T'Steya. "We're thinking of leaving now."
"We were thinking of that, too," Saavik said, her eyes mischievous.
"Go on. Have fun." Chapel saw Saavik glance at Spock.
"Is your hearing impaired, Commander?" He sounded very happy for his protege.
"Sir, no sir." She grinned at Chapel, gave Spock the most loving look Chapel had ever seen her give, then turned to T'Steya and managed to hustle the other woman out without ever laying a hand on her.
"Your daughter, Spock. In heart, if not in blood."
"Yes. You are right." To her surprise, he took her arm, easing her out of the ballroom. "There was a time I feared having children of my own. I was afraid I would make the same mistakes with them that my father made with me."
"Your relationship with Saavik is nothing like your relationship with Sarek."
"Thankfully not." He looked embarrassed at what he'd said. "Of course, I hold my father in the highest esteem and-"
She stopped him with a glance. "We have truth, Spock. Remember?" She sighed. "You love him. I know you do. But like? That's harder."
"Yes. That is harder." He steered them away from Command, down the hill, toward the waterfront. "The affection I feel for Saavik is effortless, Christine. Would it have been that way if she had been my natural daughter? If I had raised her from an infant rather than rescued her?"
"I don't know. It's possible you identified with her. With her struggle to fit in?" She smiled at him. "Your father loves her, too. It's entirely possible she is just very lovable."
Spock nodded, his lips tilting up slightly at her attempt to lighten the mood.
"And she's happy. She's with someone she loves. She's doing well in the Fleet. She has a good life. And that's because of you, Spock. You did very well raising her."
"My mother and father helped."
Chapel laughed. "So did T'Vek."
"T'Vek possibly most of all. When Saavik was still very wild and would listen to none of us, T'Vek could make her mind."
"Well, of course she could. T'Vek controlled the food. Saavik was no fool."
"I had not considered that."
Chapel smiled. "See the kind of insight I bring to this relationship?"
"You bring far more than insight to this relationship, Christine."
The sun was just going down, and they paused to watch it, sitting on a bench, legs and arms pressed closely together.
"I am happy you did not turn me away that day." Spock's voice was very gentle.
"I am, too." She smiled, watching the sky turn a bright yellow-orange, like the grass in Sarek's Valley of Song. Like the roses Spock had called Caribbean they had grown in their back yard on Nestor V. "I love you. More than I thought possible. I had no idea what this would be like."
"I am glad you waited."
"I didn't wait. I just happened to be free." But was that true? Had she been waiting for him?
"I stand corrected."
"Damned straight." If she had been waiting for him, it had been the right thing to do.
The rose-gold light faded from the sky, the clouds gradually losing their fire. The air grew chill around them.
"Are you hungry?" she asked.
"I am. But I would prefer not to linger in a restaurant."
She glanced up at him, could tell even in the fading light that he wanted her. "We could pick something up on the way. Eat it in our quarters?"
"Yes. In our quarters."
Temporary quarters, but that didn't matter. As long as they were together, wherever they landed was home.