They All Fall Down by Djinn

Spock saw Nurse Roberts at the far end of the corridor. Her back was to him, so he eased out of his room and down the hall, trying not to let the rubber tip of his cane fall too heavily as he limped his way to the exit. His leg pinged with each step, reminding him of how seriously injured he'd been when they'd brought him to this convalescent center. He frowned as he took a bad step, could feel the new skin on his cheek protesting a little at the expression. He looked down, saw the shininess of the skin on the hand that held the cane.

The Moroshan rebels had shot him several times and left him to die in the burning wreckage of the outpost he'd been visiting. His government contacts had warned him that following the rebel's negotiator, who had stormed out of the negotiations, was too dangerous; Spock hadn't listened.

Or maybe he just hadn't cared.

He knew he'd been taking an increasing number of chances on his diplomatic missions. He knew why, too. But knowing why hadn't made it any easier to stop.

He got to the door, and it swooshed open, warm, pine-scented air rushing in. He was out of breath after just that short walk, could feel the sweat beading up on his temple. He could not remember the last time he'd been this weak.

Moving out of the doorway, he saw a bench in the sun about twenty paces ahead. A week ago, he could have covered the distance in moments. Now, he measured every painful step in ragged breaths and force of will.

He was not supposed to be out of bed. He was not yet cleared for walking on his own outside of his therapy sessions. But lying in bed had left him too much time to think about what was gone.

To dwell on who was gone.

He sank gratefully onto the bench, his legs trembling with the effort he'd put them through. Closing his eyes, he rested, enjoying the feel of the sun on his skin. He felt his sweat evaporating, knew it was cooling him--also knew that Nurse Roberts would lecture him on getting chilled in the light breeze. His hospital-issued clothing was damp, but the sun compensated enough to keep him comfortable.

He needed this. Needed to be active, to be doing something. Anything. Anything but thinking about how he had failed Jim. In his room, he could not seem to think about anything else.

He should have been at the launch. But he'd been too focused on preparing for his latest mission. He had not been able to get away, he'd told Jim. He could have, though. And if he had--would things have turned out different? Better?

He heard the sound of slow footsteps coming toward him, opened his eyes, and blinked.

It could not be. She could not be here.

Christine was staring at him, and she did not look happy. She continued to approach, and he held up his hand as if to keep her away.

She seemed to take in his cane; her lips twisted in a smirk as if she knew he'd snuck out. But she didn't say anything.

"I require no assistance, Doctor Chapel."

He saw a look of puzzlement in her eyes, and her forehead creased.

"Fine." She kept walking.

He realized her steps were nearly as slow as his own. That she was holding her left side as she walked. That her white pants and shirt were hospital issued, not a uniform.

"You are hurt?" His voice came out rough, harsh.

She stopped, did not turn to look at him. "Would you care if I was?"

"I am not sure I care about anything." The words came out too fast, rushing past lips that had, up to now, kept the truth fettered.

She still didn't look at him. "Fair enough." She started walking, faster than was probably good for her.

He saw Roberts come out of the building, her face pinched as she looked at him. But she left him alone, saying something to Christine that made her slow down. Roberts watched her for a moment as if checking to make sure she would continue on at a wiser pace, then she turned and walked to where Spock sat.

"It is most pleasant out here," he said. Jim had taught him that sometimes the best defense was a good offense.

"I'm sure it is. But you're not cleared for takeoff, Captain." Roberts sat down on the far side of the bench. Leaning back, she closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sun. "I always get the difficult ones. You. That stubborn woman--no worse patient than another healer."

"Doctor Chapel is badly injured?"

"She was sick. She's in the homestretch now."

He nodded. He'd heard Doctor McCoy use that term a number of times.

"You know Commander Chapel?" she asked.

Commander. Christine had given up medicine, McCoy had said. For the lure of Ops.

"I do." Although it was not really true. While he had known her once, he did not know much about her any longer, except that she had managed to emerge unscathed from the investigations of those behind the Khitomer conspiracy. In fact, she had profited. There had been a leadership hole when the coconspirators had been rounded up. Christine and those like her had filled the void.

"I take it she's not a friend?" At his look, the nurse smiled. "Do Vulcans even have friends?"

Spock thought of Jim. "We do." He turned away, his face to the sun, his eyes closed to keep out the ghosts of friends lost forever.

"I'll be back out in twenty minutes with an antigrav chair. Don't you dare walk on that leg anymore today."

He nodded. His leg was throbbing. More than it had after therapy. It had been illogical to come out here.

There was little logic to any of his actions lately.

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

"Did you get him settled?" Chapel asked as Roberts came into her room, loaded with meds. "And I'm not taking all of those."

"They're not all for you." Roberts glared at her. "I don't remember ordering an extra helping of cranky with my day."

Chapel remembered how she'd felt when she'd had a difficult patient. "Sorry. Didn't expect to run into him."

"He's a nice enough guy. For a Vulcan." Roberts was studying her. "Is there a reason you two give each other the willies?"

"Natural anti-chemistry." Which would only be true if she weren't attracted to him. Still-- her stupid little heart insisted on speeding up at the sight of him even though she'd given up on him years ago.

"Anti-chemistry huh?" Roberts laughed as she loaded up a hypo. But her smile faded. "And what the hell did you think you were doing out there?"

"Going for a walk."

"All the way down to the beach?"

"Is the beach off limits?"

"It is when you were legally dead a week ago."

Chapel exhaled slowly. "I've been legally dead before."

"Not on my watch, you haven't." Roberts held the hypo to Chapel's arm and hit the trigger.

Chapel analyzed the sensations, trying to decide what they'd given her this time. Muscle relaxants, probably, which was good--her body ached and she had a stitch in her side that was really bothering her. Some kind of sedative because she was already yawning--trust Roberts to figure out she hadn't been sleeping as much as she should. Antivirals. Even if her fever had broken, she was a long way from cured. As maladies went, Palevian Heart Fever was a bitch of a disease. And hardly fair reward for wading through disease-tainted rivers to rescue innocent civilians caught in the line of fire.

Then again, Chapel had gotten off easy. Commanders Trannin and Forenza had not been so lucky. They were still legally dead.

Nobody had warned the rescue crews that the rivers were disease laden. They'd all been brave without even knowing it.

"Too much thinking going on in that head of yours," Roberts said. She held up another hypo. "This one's just vitamins."

"I was back on Paleva."

"Maybe you should stay here instead." Roberts' smile was gentle. "It's much nicer."

"Well, it was until a few minutes ago." Spock had to be here?

"One man bothers you so? And a Vulcan at that?"

"It's...complicated." And Chapel had no intention of going into exactly what she meant by that. Yawning again, she scooted down in bed, getting more comfortable. "And I didn't need a sedative."

"I know you're not sleeping."

"All I've done is slept." But it was a lie. All she'd done was dream. Odd, fevered dreams. Of people in rivers--people she tried to save, but couldn't. Sometimes Trannin and Forenza floated by, their bodies bloated, their eyes open and staring. The inhabitants had known the rivers held death. But they'd chosen that over the military coming from the other direction.

"Christine, if you're having nightmares...?"

"I'm not."

"It had to have been scary there."

"It's scary lots of places. They don't, as a rule, dispatch Emergency Ops teams to Risa."

"Fine. Hide in sarcasm."

Chapel shook her head. There'd be no hiding this time. Sleep was calling, so she closed her eyes and prayed that her dreams would be gentle ones.

They weren't.

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

Spock sat on the far side of the center's mess and watched Christine. She was rubbing at her eyes, gulping at what was probably coffee. She didn't talk to anyone, didn't seem to be truly "in" the room. He didn't remember her appearing so distant when he'd seen her several days before.

He stood carefully, leaving his tray for the room attendant to gather up. Moving slowly but steadily, he walked toward the entrance. The route he'd chosen would take him by her table.

Why had he chosen this route?

She was facing the window. Unless he spoke to her, she would probably never know he'd been this close.

He would just not speak to her.

"Are you all right?" he asked, stopping at her table.

She looked up at him, her eyes dead. She seemed about to answer, but then turned and gazed out the window again. He sat, noticed her cup was empty and motioned for the attendant to come fill it again.

"I don't need anything from you, Spock."

"I did not think you did."

"Then why are you sitting here?"

"An excellent question. I myself am unsure of the reason." He studied her as the attendant refilled her coffee. "I was told you've been sick."

"I was sick. I'm fine, now."

She did not look fine. But he didn't think he should say that. He waited, curious to see if she would break the uneasy silence between them.

She did not. She just drank her coffee and stared out the window. The skin under her eyes was dark, but everywhere else it seemed pale to him. Her hand shook as she lifted the cup. She turned, aware of his scrutiny apparently, and her brows knit as she looked at him.

"Christine, I--"

"What do you want?"

He could not answer that. Getting up slowly, leaning on the cane more than he liked, he said, "I apologize. I should not have disturbed you."

She looked down, attention seemingly fixed on the now empty cup of coffee.

He did not ask the attendant to bring her another.

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

Chapel saw Spock sitting in the sun, on the same bench he'd used before. She walked over, happy that her muscles and joints had quit aching, even if she was so tired that even a short distance tired her out.

He looked up as she stood in front of him, blocking the light. "Doctor?"

"I'm sorry. I was rude in there."

"I am not certain rude is what you were. You seemed...distracted."

"Such a careful word." She looked at the bench. "May I?"

"Yes."

She sat, trying not to show how good it felt to not be standing. "I'm just very tired."

"The disease has left you weak?"

It had, but not this weak. But she went with the nice, comfy lie. "Yes."

"Then you will become stronger in time." Problem solved, apparently.

"What about you? How did you end up here?" She knew; she just wanted to hear him say it.

"I underestimated the danger of a diplomatic situation."

She'd taken the liberty of looking at his file--a perk of still having medical accesses. It had looked like he'd underestimated quite a few diplomatic situations recently. Only none as seriously as this latest one. She had a feeling she knew why he might be acting that way. "You must miss him."

Spock glanced at her, surprise showing on his face. Didn't he know that his friendship with Jim Kirk was of legendary proportions? Many--including her, at times--had wondered if their relationship had been more than friendship.

"I do miss him." Spock said it as if it was a great concession to admit it.

"You must wonder what if...?"

"What if?" His expression changed; his voice grew tight.

She wanted nothing more than to close her eyes, to not be sitting here trading what were probably cruel observances with this man. But he was staring, his eyes locked with hers, so she said, "What if you'd gone to the launch?"

He looked away, and she knew she'd hit the mark.

"You might have saved him."

Spock moved his cane, positioning it the way someone would to get up.

"You also might...just have died with him."

His fingers clenched on the cane, then he stood. His expression as he looked down at her was unreadable. "That would have been acceptable."

There were no words she could think of to follow that, so she didn't say anything.

He seemed to shake his head a little, as if coming out of a dream, then he turned and walked off, leaving her alone.

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

Roberts watched as Spock packed his carryall. "Ready to move?"

He was ready to get off this planet. But the doctors had not yet cleared him to resume duty. At least he could get out of the main ward and into one of the more private, if small, dwellings. "Thank you for your care."

She smiled. "I'll see you around. It's a small place."

He knew that too well. He had been unable to avoid seeing Christine. Not that they had interacted. Since their last conversation, she would turn and walk the other way whenever she saw him.

"Is Commander Chapel moving into the residences, as well?" he asked.

Roberts shot him a glance he could not interpret. "She sure is."

"She is not recovering as quickly as you hoped?"

"You'd have to ask her that, Captain. I'm sure you wouldn't want me talking to her about your case."

He felt the sting of the gentle rebuke, then a surge of embarrassment. Why was he asking about Christine at all? "It was improper of me to inquire."

"She asked about you, too, by the way." Roberts grinned at him. "So, you want to tell me why the two of you are so interested in each other but can't stand to be in the same room?"

"Perhaps you should ask her."

"Uh huh. That's what she said."

He was not entirely sure why he cared about Christine's status. She had been so many things to him, most of them unpleasant. Her infatuation with him during their first tour had made him uncomfortable, had made it impossible to be even civil to her without her making more of the interaction than what it was. And later, after V'ger, when they'd served together again, she'd seemed to hold it against him that those early years had been as difficult as they were.

But he'd thought they'd reached some kind of detente after Khan. He'd decided that dealing with his death had allowed her to finally let go of any unrealistic desires. They'd been cordial to each other when they'd been forced to interact--cordial without being friendly. It had been a comfortable ambivalence.

So why could he not leave it at that? Why worry about her?

Was he worried about her?

He looked over at Roberts. She was smiling the way McCoy used to when he'd been trying not to laugh at Spock.

"You have something to say, Nurse?"

"Me? Not a thing, Ambassador." She hailed an orderly coming down the corridor, handed him the carryall. "Monroe will take your bag to the transport out front. You catch the same transport to get back here for physical therapy." She gave him a stern look. "And we will know if you don't show up."

"Of course." He let his eyebrow rise slowly, which made her smile.

But then her smile died. She leaned in, pitching her voice low. "I am worried about her. If you could help her..." She shook her head. "Listen to me. Such a busybody. I'll see you around, Captain Spock." She hurried out.

"Ready, sir?" Monroe asked.

Spock followed him out of the ward. Christine was on the transport also. She saw Spock as he got on the vehicle, stared at him for a long moment before looking away.

She looked worse than before, her eyes drawn and bloodshot.

He walked to the seat opposite her, sat as Monroe stowed his gear. As the orderly left, Spock looked over at Christine. She was still staring out the window, as if the view of the center's front entrance was mesmerizing.

"I am pleased to be leaving the ward," he said.

She didn't answer.

"I am sure you are, too."

Christine ignored him.

Feeling a bit like she must have when she'd been trying to get his attention all those years ago, he forged on. "Nurse Roberts--"

"Is a goddamned troublemaker," she said, never turning away from the window. "Leave me alone, Spock. You're usually very good at that."

He felt as if she'd slapped him, but was not sure why. Nothing she'd said was untrue. Taking a deep, calming breath, he decided to follow her lead and find solace in the view from his window.

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

Chapel paced, trying to keep herself awake. She'd ordered coffee from the replicator--had found herself restricted to decaf. "Caffeinated beverages are not allowed before rest period," the replicator had told her.

She'd tried to order several herbal beverages that had no caffeine but would still keep her awake. The replicator had not been fooled.

So she was reduced to pacing.

The room became smaller the more she paced, and she finally gave up, going out to the small patio in the hope that fresh air would wake her up.

"Are you all right?" she heard from the patio next to hers.

She peered into the shadows--he had the lights out, was sitting in darkness. But she knew Spock's voice. And of course he was in the dwelling next to her--Roberts probably made the room assignments.

She stepped around the low hedge that divided their patios, stared at him. Even up close she could barely make out his expression.

"Would you like some tea?" he asked.

"Will it wake me up or put me to sleep?"

"The latter."

"Then no." She was about to turn, to head back to her own place, but she heard him shift, and then his hand settled on her arm.

"You do not wish to sleep?"

She could shake him off. He was sitting and she was standing; gravity was on her side. But it felt good. That he'd touched her. That some part of him cared.

And she hated that it felt good. She jerked her arm away, stood staring down at him, still not able to see his face.

"Sit," he said, his voice even, as if she had not just rejected his overture.

Perhaps it had not been that? But when had he ever touched her?

She found the other chair, sat down.

"Sometimes Jim did not like to sleep. He'd fight it, any way he could. Often through vigorous exercise."

"In your bed?"

The silence was horrible. Why in God's name had she just asked that?

"No. Not in my bed." He sounded more than a little angry. He was probably asking himself why he'd wanted her to stay.

She rose. "I should go."

Again he grabbed her, this time he held on firmly. "You did that on purpose? Struck out to anger me so I would forget my original question?"

She tried to pull away. Gravity was not helping this time.

"When Jim fought sleep, it was because of the dreams."

She exhaled slowly. "I'm fine." She moved back toward the chair, as if she was going to sit down, but as soon as he loosened his grip, she pulled away and hurried to her own patio. "Good night, Spock." The quick closing of her door cut off his reply.

If there even was one.

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

Spock stared into the night, replaying what had just happened. Slowly he rose and stepped around the hedge the way Christine had. He took a step, then another. Two more carried him to the door.

What was he doing?

He knocked. There was no answer. He knocked again.

She opened the door; she was crying.

He didn't say anything. Just stood and waited.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

He eased her aside so he could step in, closed the door behind him and realized he had left his cane on the patio. The therapists had said he didn't need it any longer. They appeared to have been right.

Christine looked over at him, wiping at her eyes as if she was angry he'd caught her crying.

He let out a long breath--breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "What is wrong?"

"I don't know." By the way her voice trembled, he knew she was telling him the truth. She turned away from him, moving to the couch. She sat, drawing her knees up tight, hugging them with her arms. As if she was protecting herself.

From what? From him?

Sitting down in a chair across from her, he waited. She smiled at him, and it was the first real smile he'd seen on her face. Even if her lips trembled and the smile died almost instantly.

"Was it this last mission?" he asked.

"Do you care because you couldn't help him?"

"Possibly. Was it?"

"Helping me won't bring him back."

"I am aware of that. Answer my question."

She seemed to give up, leaned back and stared past him, at something very far away. "It was bad. But...I've seen worse. Much worse. I've been hurt worse." She met his eyes. "I died. For a few minutes."

"I did not realize that."

"I've died before." She gave him another shaky smile. "It's a trend for us Enterprise types."

"Not for all of us." His friend was never coming back. Jim's face swam in front of him with that disappointed look he used to wear. A look that Spock would never see again because he had failed him. He could have gone to the launch. He should have gone.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean that one to hurt."

"I know." He leaned in. "Are you sleeping?"

"Not if I can help it." She looked away. "You were right. It's the dreams. About this mission. About other missions. Things that went right that suddenly go wrong in the dreams. Things that went wrong that go even worse."

"Has it occurred to you that you may be burning out?"

She swallowed hard. Then she nodded.

"And you do not wish to be finished with Ops?"

"Maybe I don't want Ops to be finished with me. I can do this."

"No doubt you can. But should you?" He looked down. "Perhaps at a subconscious level, you are tired of being constantly at risk."

"You realize the irony of that coming from you? The man who can't seem to stop himself from taking risks lately."

He frowned, met her gaze. "You read my file?"

"I did." She said it as a challenge, and he realized she was doing it again--trying to anger him to divert him from the real question.

On the other hand, his recklessness might be the real question. "I was not there when he needed me, Christine."

She looked surprised he'd called her that. "Killing yourself won't change that."

"Logically I accept the truth of what you say."

"But you were never very logical when it came to the captain, were you?"

"No. I was not." He leaned back, let his eyes close. "Why do you not wish to leave Ops?"

"It's my home. I have a lot invested there."

"Ops is not a home. No matter how much of yourself you have invested."

"I'd get upset with you, but I think you're calling the kettle black, Spock. Where's your home?"

"I do not have one."

"Ah."

"Ah." He opened his eyes. "The question is, then, can a person live with no home?"

"A person? Or you?" She smiled, but this time it was biting. "There is a difference."

"Do you hate me?" The question seemed to take her by surprise, so he forged on. "Or do you hate yourself for still loving me?"

"Your sense of self-preservation may be shot to hell, but there's nothing wrong with your ego."

He let a small smile show. "That is not an answer."

"What makes you think I'll give you one?"

"After our last interactions, I truly have no idea."

Another smile, real again, broke through, and she laughed softly. "You're a masochist. Who knew that all I had to do to get you was to be mean to you?"

He ignored the comment. "Have you told the doctors about your dreams?"

She seemed to shut down.

"They must be logging your activity. Nurse Roberts alone--"

"They know. They suggested I talk about it. I declined. End of story."

"Perhaps that is why they have not released you?"

"That and the fact I look like death warmed over." She got up suddenly, walked to the kitchen. "Can I get you something?"

"I am fine."

"I bet the doctors doubt that, too. You're as big a mess as I am. Only you hide it better."

"I am Vulcan."

Turning to look at him, she said, "You just agreed with me, you know?"

"I realize that." He rose and walked to the door. "I should go."

"Thank you...for coming over here."

He nodded, and saw the sweet smile break through again, realized he was glad to see it. She was probably right, however. He was in danger of making her a project. Even if it would not bring Jim back.

"Goodnight, Christine. Try to sleep."

"Yeah, I'll get right on that." She appeared to be trying to bypass something on the replicator.

He left her to it.

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

Chapel saw Spock getting off the transport; he barely limped as he made his way to the entrance, and he wasn't using his cane. He hadn't used it last night, either, when he'd come over. She considered getting up from the sunny spot she'd chosen, but decided it wouldn't hurt if he saw her watching him.

He walked over and dropped into the chair next to her without preamble, stretching his long legs out and closing his eyes as the sun beat down on him.

"Hello to you, too."

His lips tilted up just so slightly. She realized he enjoyed the more acerbic Christine that had grown up in Ops. Chapel liked her a lot, too. If only her screwed-up psyche would decide it liked that Christine, life would be good again.

Life had been good, hadn't it?

"Did you sleep?" His voice was soft, as if he was utterly relaxed.

"'Fraid so."

"Were the dreams unpleasant?"

"Oh, yeah." She turned to look at him; he still had his eyes closed. "Next time, I'll pound on the wall and let you know I'm up."

"Our bedrooms share a wall. I heard you cry out."

"Oh. I'm sorry." She hadn't heard him through the walls at all. But then he was probably quiet, and she didn't have Vulcan hearing. "I'll sleep on the couch next time I surrender to the sandman."

"Is there nothing the doctors can do?" He looked over at her.

"Oh, sure. There are ways to suppress dreams, but that isn't wise. The dreams are trying to tell me something."

"What?"

"If I knew that, they'd probably stop."

"I see." He sighed, a strangely evocative sound. One she didn't think she'd heard him make before. "I dream, too. Of launches I choose to attend this time."

"Launches you change the outcome of?"

"Yes." He shook his head. "I do not, as a rule, dream."

"Aren't we the pair?" She realized how that sounded and made a face. "Or not."

Again his lips tilted a little.

"I amuse you?"

He seemed to think about that. "You do."

"Even when I'm being mean to you?"

"You are not being mean to me right now."

"Well, you know that can change in a flash."

He leaned back, closed his eyes again--the picture of unconcern. "I believe we have forged a new understanding."

"You do, huh?"

"I do."

"One fucked up officer to another?"

His eyebrows slanted down for a moment. "That is not how I would choose to phrase it. But empathy is a component."

"Spock, I get why you're upset. You lost a friend. You lost your best friend. And you feel guilty about that because you could have been there. Your disregard for your own safety is actually quite logical given how adrift you must feel." She took a deep breath. "What I don't get is what's wrong with me."

"You, too, have lost friends, have you not?"

"I lost people on this mission, yes."

"That is not what I meant."

She frowned. "I don't follow."

"Admiral Cartwright? You were his protege, Christine. Did you have to disassociate yourself from him during the inquiries? Did you have to put aside friendship and loyalty to save yourself?"

"I wasn't involved and--"

He held up a hand. "I believe you. But perhaps you feel guilty? Perhaps you believe you betrayed him?"

"I did what I had to. I had no part in the conspiracy." She realized she was starting to cry.

Spock was regarding her with such sympathy it made it even harder to fight back the tears.

But she did fight them back.

"I had heard rumors that you and Admiral Cartwright were involved."

"He was my boss."

"That hardly precludes a romantic relationship. Were you involved?"

She clenched her fingers, made a fist. She wished she could use it to beat off the rumors that wouldn't die. "We weren't. We were just friends."

"Ah. Just as with Jim and me."

She could feel herself flush. "I should never have said that."

"You only verbalized what others have also wondered. And you were interested in me at one time. I imagine you were jealous of him."

"I was." And Rand had been jealous of Spock. Kirk and Spock's friendship of legend--it was easy to mistake it for love. She and Matthew--everyone had assumed their regard stemmed from romantic interest and not a more straightforward affection. Protege had come to mean mistress, girlfriend, lover. Not just friend. Not just trusted officer.

"Are you alone, Christine?" Spock asked. "If you aren't with Cartwright, do you have someone in your life?"

"Do you see anyone in my life?"

"No."

"Right back at you, Spock."

"Well, I admit I am alone."

She leaned in. "Why? Why are you alone? You had Len. And Saavik."

"I still do." He sighed, leaned in toward her, so their heads were very close together, his words hushed. "When Jim died, it was as if all the air went out of the room. I have other friends. I have family and those who care about me. I just cannot..."

"You just can't forgive yourself for not being there for him, can you?" She touched his hand; he didn't jerk it away. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I feel bad about Matthew."

"It would be natural, I think." He gently freed his hand. "You knew Valeris, as well, did you not?"

"I did. But she and I weren't friends."

He glanced at her. "No?"

"Spock. Come on. Given how close you two were..." She knew she was admitting she was still interested. But in this new spirit of friendship, it seemed right to do so.

"Ah. Of course. So no guilt for you on that count."

"No." She tried to stifle a yawn.

"I will sit with you. If you want to close your eyes?"

"To sleep, perchance to avoid the hell out of dreaming?"

"A different venue might keep them away."

"And having someone to watch over me?" She looked away. That had been going too far.

She felt his hand on her arm.

"Close your eyes, Christine."

She leaned her head back against the soft headrest on the chair and closed her eyes. Spock didn't pull his hand away, and she smiled.

"You'll give me the wrong idea, mister."

"Sleep." He gave her arm a gentle squeeze and then let go.

She slept. Not for long, but the minutes that passed were free of any dreams.

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

The night breeze was growing uncomfortably cool, and Spock considered going inside. He looked into his small unit, knew that he was too restless to retire this early. Then he heard Christine's door open and glanced over, waiting for her to come into view.

"Are you there?" she said very softly.

"I am."

"I have goodies."

"Define that."

"My Ops comrades sent me a care package. And I'm willing to share. If you want me to come over?" Her voice was very tentative.

"Please."

She stepped around the hedge, cradling a shipping package. "Do you like cookies?"

"Not particularly."

"Good. More for me." She pulled a bag out and handed him the package. "Go nuts."

He could just make out what was inside by the light spilling onto the patio from inside. He saw fruit and pulled it out. "You are sure?"

She glanced over. "The grapes are all yours."

He bit into one; it was tangy and full of juice. He realized she was handing him a napkin and took it, nodding his thanks.

"See. They are family." She shot him a look.

"I did not say they were not family. I said Ops was not a home. The people will move on eventually. The next group might not be family."

"Quit raining on my parade. I have a big, beautiful care package from home. End of story."

He decided not to argue with her. She seemed so...happy.

They ate in silence for several minutes, then she sealed her bag and put it back in the package. He started to do the same with the grapes, but she said, "No, you keep them."

"Thank you."

She smiled and leaned back, closing her eyes. For a moment, he thought she might fall asleep right there, but she jerked up.

"You should sleep."

"Out here?"

"Out here. In your apartment. Wherever you are comfortable."

"Comfort has nothing to do with it, Spock. It's a matter of..." She sighed. "I wake up and I don't know where I am. I don't know if the dreams are real. Sometimes I only think I wake up, and then I realize I'm still in the dream. Those are the worst of all."

He did not answer, just watched as she fidgeted in her chair.

She glared at him. "I napped earlier."

"You slept for less than an hour."

"Well, it was a quality nap."

He let an eyebrow answer that.

"Spock, I don't see you offering to tuck me in, so lay off the bedtime crap."

"Would it help if I tucked you in?"

She stared at him, her expression darkening. "Very funny."

"I was not joking. Would sleeping with someone be beneficial?"

"With someone?" She exhaled loudly, a bitter sound.

"With me."

"Right. We'll have a slumber party all so little Chrissie can get her Zs."

He leaned back. "I do not remember you being this sarcastic."

"I wasn't. And stop it with the bizarre questions."

"If it was bizarre, I apologize. But I am asking you to think as a doctor, not as the woman who once pursued me. Do you believe you would sleep better if you were not alone?"

"I don't know, okay. Probably not. You'd just end up getting mauled to death when I tried to wake up." She stood up.

"I believe we are past you storming off into the night."

"I wasn't going to storm; I was going to walk." She grabbed the box. "I'm going in now. This conversation is not good for my mental state."

He watched her leave, eating a few more grapes as he considered the fact that he was a bit disappointed that she had not taken him seriously.

-----------

"Christine?"

She woke. The room was dark. Pitch black. And it was freezing cold. What was wrong with the environmental controls?

"Christine, help me?"

She felt around, realized she wasn't on her bed. She was on a rough, earth floor. On furs that felt matted with some substance she didn't want to identify.

"Christine, for the love of God."

"Matthew?" She reached over, felt someone reaching back. Bones bit into her hand, and the lights suddenly went on, and she was holding onto a skeleton dressed in Starfleet red.

She screamed. In the dream and all the way into waking. She cut off the scream as soon as she realized she was awake. Sitting up in bed, she tried to catch her breath as her heart hammered in her chest.

There was a knock on her patio door. She ignored it.

Another knock, this time louder.

She got up and walked to the door, opening it and moving aside so Spock could come in.

"You woke me." He was in his pajamas, had not even put a robe on.

"I'm sorry. It won't happen again."

"I am not sure that is true." He turned her, pushing her toward the bed.

She resisted, and he just pushed harder.

"You can't be serious, Spock."

He pulled her hand up, holding it at the wrist, so they could both see how badly she was trembling. "You cannot go on like this. You need sleep."

She jerked her hand away, but he pushed her again, toward the bed, with a face set in stone when she turned to glare at him.

"I don't want to sleep with you."

"I am not sure that you know what you want, Christine. You are too tired." He settled his hand on her back, rubbing gently--it felt much too good.

She spun on him. "You shouldn't do this. You were right. I am still in love with you. And I'll read into it and it'll be just like it was and you'll be so sorry if--"

His hand came down over her mouth. Firmly, but not in a mean way. "Be quiet, Christine." He pushed her into bed and settled in beside her. Pulling the covers up over them, he said, "The meld might keep you from dreaming."

"No. I don't want to share consciousness again."

"Was it so unpleasant?"

She couldn't answer. It hadn't been unpleasant when it happened. It had been a dream come true then. But not now. And especially not like this. She turned on her side, away from him, and felt him nestle against her. He pulled her closer, her back to his front.

"Spock. This isn't--"

"Shhh."

He rubbed her hip, his hand moving down, then back up in a soothing rhythm. His touch was warm, even through the fabric of her pajamas. She dropped her arm, giving him better access, then immediately regretted it.

"Spock."

"Be still."

But he wasn't being still. Everywhere he touched felt like it was on fire--her face felt like it was on fire, too. She knew she was getting aroused, then she realized he was, too.

"Spock. Please."

"Shhh." He stopped stroking her, letting his hand sit on her waist, then slip around her, to nestle under her breasts.

She moaned. "Why are you doing this?"

"You need to know I'm here. Your body needs to know I'm here."

"My body is fully aware of that fact." She pushed back, wriggling a little, trying to pay him back for making her so hyperaware of his nearness.

He let his breath out slowly, blowing slightly against her neck. "Close your eyes," he finally said.

"This isn't a good idea." She realized she'd put her hand over his, as if part of her was afraid he'd leave. And didn't want him to.

"Close your eyes, Christine."

She closed her eyes. "Now what? You want me to count Vulcan sheep?"

He began to murmur something. It took her a moment to realize it was a complicated physics problem.

"You've got to be kidding me."

But his voice, so low, so close to her ear, going on in that quiet, soothing tone was too much. She yawned, and felt him tighten his hold.

He didn't let up, just kept talking, explaining how force and mass and energy and other things could make a grown woman fall fast asleep.

She moaned, shifted a little to get more comfortable.

And then she was gone.

The dreams came for her. But not until it was light out again. And he was there, easing her out of the false waking, stopping the dream from getting worse.

She didn't think, just turned and nestled against him as he soothed her. Then she realized what she was doing and tried to pull away. "I'm sorry, Spock. I shouldn't have done that."

"Do I appear unduly disturbed?"

She met his gaze, could tell he was assessing her. And he did not appear at all disturbed.

He touched her cheek, his finger moving lightly to the skin under her eye. "You look better."

"Define better." She smiled and saw his expression lift a little. Giving in to her own bad impulses, she cuddled against him, sure that this time he'd push her away.

He only pulled her closer and held her, until she grew self conscious at the way their bodies were pressing together and drew back.

She smiled, feeling awkward. "I should make you breakfast or something."

"I have a therapy appointment this morning."

"A wise man always has an escape plan." She gave him her best Ops grin. The breezy look that said nothing mattered. Nothing could get to her.

He didn't appear to like that look. "I will see you later," he said, as if she was very dim.

She stopped him, her hand on his as he started to get out of bed. "You don't have to."

"I realize that." He pulled his hand away very gently and left her alone to enjoy the first morning since she'd gotten sick that she felt almost human.

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

Spock was just finishing up his therapy when Nurse Roberts walked in.

"You're looking stronger."

He looked down at his leg as he worked the exercise machine the way the therapist had showed him. His leg ached less each time.

"Ready to get out of here?"

"I am being discharged?"

"Well, eventually. Not right this minute." She grinned at him. "Why, were you in a rush to get out of here?" At his look she laughed and walked out.

He realized he'd actually been disappointed at the thought that he might soon be discharged from the Center. He knew exactly why that was. He closed his eyes as he worked his healing muscles, thinking back over the night he'd spent for the most part awake. In bed. With Christine.

Enjoying being in bed with Christine.

Wanting to do more than just lie still and hold her.

He knew that his empathy for her--his need to be useful, to make up for letting Jim down--was driving him to her. But it hadn't been empathy or any feeling of helpfulness that had kept him next to her, holding her close against him. He'd wanted her, and when she'd cuddled up against him when she woke, he'd wanted her even more.

He'd never wanted her before. But they were different people now. Broken, perhaps, in some fundamental way. Helping each other put the pieces back?

He finished his exercises and showered, in a hurry to get back to the residence. The transport was quick, and he felt no pings from his leg as he hurried through the lobby and down the hall to his room. He walked out to the patio, expecting for some reason to find her on hers. But she wasn't there. He looked at her door--the curtains were drawn and he couldn't tell if there were any lights on inside or not--and decided to catch up on the comms that he was slowly working through.

A few hours later, he went back out to the patio, sitting this time, eating more of the grapes she'd given him. As he sat, enjoying the gentle breeze, he saw her coming up the walk, her hair wet, her white t-shirt damp and clinging to her in some spots, going transparent over her dark bathing suit.

He would not have noticed that a week ago. Or he might have noticed, but would not have enjoyed the sight.

She saw him and stopped, then she headed for him, her shoulders set, her lips very tight. "We need to talk," she said, as she sat down.

"Do we?"

"Yes. Last night...I appreciate what you did for me but--it can't happen again."

"I see." He picked a small bunch of grapes out and handed it to her; she took it, started eating as if not realizing how casually they had done that.

When had it become so easy to share things with her? Grapes. Her bed. Their secrets.

"It's not that I didn't enjoy it."

He let one eyebrow rise.

"A lot. Well, except the nightmare part. But the other..." She frowned as if frustrated with the way she was saying whatever she was trying to say. "It's that..."

"Yes?" He knew he was not making it easy for her, found that he did not overly care.

"It's not just therapeutic--or whatever you thought you were doing--for me."

Could lying beside a woman he had wanted so badly that he ached be considered therapeutic?

"You could say something." She popped a grape into her mouth.

"Was the water nice?"

"What?"

"You were swimming. I have not swum for some time. Was it a pleasant swim?"

"Uh. Yes." She sat back. "Did you hear a word I said?"

"I heard every word you said. I could, if required, repeat each one." He rose, handing her the bag of grapes. "I will change. Do you wish to swim more or are you too tired to walk back down?"

"We're going swimming?"

"You can sleep in the sun while I swim if you like. I do not plan to lie next to you, so it will not cause you any undue strain."

"This is not a joke."

"I did not say it was." He left her with her arms crossed and her mouth set tightly. But when he came back out, she was still there. "Are you ready?"

She got up, not looking at him, clutching the bag of grapes to her until he took them away from her and stuck them inside. "I don't understand why you are doing this."

"Swimming? The therapist told me several days ago it would be excellent therapy for my leg."

"Not what I meant."

"Yes, Christine, I know that." He realized she'd moved closer to him, as if afraid he'd slip as they headed down the hill. "I am much stronger. But I appreciate your concern."

She immediately moved away. "You are much stronger. You'll be leaving soon."

"Eventually."

"Well, that's something to think about, too."

Fortunately the beach came in sight before he had to reply. He waited for her to get settled on a lounge chair, and then walked into the water. It was just cool enough to refresh, but not cold enough to chill. He swam for much longer than he'd first intended, enjoying the feeling of movement with no pressure. Finally, he left the water, walking over to where Christine lay sleeping in the sun. He adjusted the umbrella over her, keeping her in the shade so her skin would not burn. Then he took the chair next to her, using no umbrella, letting the sun bake him.

She began to moan softly, and he shook her just enough to pull her out of the dream. A few moments later, she groaned again.

He sat up and leaned over, his fingers finding the meld spots almost without effort. He didn't go deep. Just found his way in enough to try to settle her into a light doze that would keep the dreams away. It felt comforting to be in her mind, welcoming despite her words. Some part of her knew he was there--and didn't mind.

"Sleep," he murmured, then he let go of her.

She smiled, her mouth tilting up slowly, and she shifted a little in her sleep.

He watched her for quite a while before closing his eyes and letting himself doze, too.

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

Chapel saw Roberts coming and rolled her eyes. "I thought you were off shift?"

"Nope." Roberts picked up the padd and studied Chapel's work-up. "You peeked at this while Doctor Stevens was out, right?"

Chapel shrugged.

"Yeah, you peeked at this." Roberts studied it for a long time.

Too long.

"You're taking an awful lot of interest in me."

"Any less than you would have taken when you were a nurse?" Roberts looked down, but Chapel could tell she was grinning. "So, how's the new place working out? Nice neighbors?"

"Not bad. I guess I have you to thank for me and Spock being so close?"

"I assigned the rooms. But it wasn't my idea. Good friend of yours--of both of you--thought it might help."

"Len."

"Good old Len." Roberts grinned at her.

"Was this before or after you told him I wasn't sleeping?"

"Discussing your case with him would be improper." There was the glint of a loophole in her eye.

"Not if he referred me."

Roberts just laughed and went back to studying the padd. "Your levels are much better. And you've lost that 'I died and forgot to fall down' look. You must be sleeping." She smiled gently. "Seems like our mutual friend may have been right about good company making for a healing environment."

"Spock is not good company." Which was a lie. Spock never used to be good company. But he was now.

And it scared the hell out of Chapel how much she liked being with him.

She'd awakened on the beach to find Spock dozing in the chair next to her. He'd opened his eyes as she sat up, his expression gentle. She'd been able to feel a trace of him in her mind, remembered sensing him helping her.

"The meld?"

He'd nodded.

"Without my permission?"

"I did not go deep. And you did not feel threatened--I would have sensed that."

And she'd known he was right. She hadn't been sleeping deeply. If the touch of his mind had been unwelcome, she'd have awakened. So she'd let it drop, leaving him and heading back to her rooms to change for her check-up.

She watched as Roberts puttered around, filling hypos and entering data into the padd. "It's not real, you know?"

"What's not?" The nurse didn't turn around.

"What's going on. It's...a project for him. I'm a project."

"Hmm."

"Hmm?"

Roberts turned, administering the first hypo before she met Chapel's eyes. "Is it helping you?"

"You just said it was."

"Is it helping him?"

"I don't know." She looked down. "Yes. Maybe. I don't know."

"Okay, then, Commander Wishy-Washy. Is it hurting him any?"

Chapel thought of how peaceful Spock had looked as he'd watched her. "No."

"Then what's the problem, Doctor?" Roberts gave her the second hypo and smiled. "Not many more of these and you'll be out of here."

And it would be over. The project--Spock's "fix Christine" experiment--would end and be nothing but a memory.

"You can get down now, Christine." Roberts touched Chapel on the hand, her skin warm and surprisingly soft. "I've enjoyed getting to know you. I'm glad to see you're getting better."

She started to let go and Chapel grabbed her. "Why didn't Doctor Stevens make me talk to the shrinks? He knows I wasn't sleeping."

"Would you have talked to them, or just sat in their offices for an hour wasting good golf time?"

She laughed. "Probably the latter."

"Yeah, we all thought so, too. Len included. And he thought a certain other person would also reject that option. And that's as much as I'm going to say about this." She patted Chapel's hand. "Go on. I'll see you tomorrow." She headed for the door.

"Thanks..." Chapel frowned. "I don't even know your name."

Roberts turned and smiled. "It's Sheila."

"Sheila." Chapel shook her head, ashamed that this was the first time she'd even cared enough to know. "I'm sorry. I should have asked sooner."

"You've had a lot on your mind." With a last smile, Roberts left her alone.

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

Spock looked up from his terminal and realized he'd worked through what had been left of the afternoon and into the night. He wondered if he should go check on Christine. Decided if she wanted to see him, she would come to him. The fact that he wanted to see her was something he could ignore.

He turned back to the computer, working away another hour before there was a soft knock on his door. He opened it, felt a surge of pleasure when he saw Christine there.

"Len set us up," she said, pushing past him.

"Elaborate?"

"He and Roberts and Stevens are in cahoots. Apparently, he's been keeping tabs on us lately. You probably worried him with your complete lack of concern with personal safety. And he's been waiting for me to burn out on Emergency Ops since I first walked through the door." She was pacing, talking very fast. "I wasn't sure if I should tell you, but I'd want to know if I were in your shoes."

"That was most considerate."

She whirled, stopped moving and just stared at him. "Aren't you upset?"

"Should I be?"

"He set us up."

"Yes, you said that." Spock took a deep breath, steepling his fingers as he marshaled his thoughts. "Knowing Doctor McCoy, he no doubt thought we needed help. He saw a way to help us both with minimal effort on his part. While displaying his usual capacity to meddle. It is a most efficient and logical plan."

"You sound as if you admire him."

"I always admire a diplomatic end run pulled off with such finesse." He stood, walked over to her. "He has not hurt either of us."

"How do you know that?" She looked like she was going to cry.

"I do not understand what you mean."

"It'll be over soon. You said that yourself. We'll leave and the rehab will be over." She looked at him, her blue eyes piercing.

"It is no longer just rehabilitation, Christine. Are we not friends now?"

"Friends who meld?"

"Friends do, under extreme circumstances, meld. Jim and I shared consciousness more than once." He turned, walked to the patio door. "I've been thinking of him less. I don't dream of him."

"That's good, then. Obsessing isn't healthy."

"I know." He turned to look at her. "I did let him down."

"No, Spock. You chose to not go to a launch. If nothing had happened, you wouldn't think twice about that choice. And you shouldn't. You've moved on. And that's all right. Diplomacy is where your heart is now. Jim's was always in space. On that ship. He had to go. And maybe...you had to not go."

"There is a certain logic to what you say."

"Yes. I know." She walked toward him, compassion evident in the soft way she was looking at him. "You didn't let him down. And you didn't let me down. You helped me when I know that couldn't have been easy. We've never been...comfortable with each other."

"That is not true." He reached out, pulled her close. "We are comfortable now, are we not?"

"It'll end. You'll go your way and I'll go mine."

"And where will yours lead?" He brushed her hair back, and she wrapped her arms around him and nestled in.

"Back to Ops." She looked up at him. "And you helped me get there."

"You are not there yet. You were still dreaming this afternoon."

"And you have a plan to get me the rest of the way?"

Calling what he wanted to do with her a plan would be stretching the truth beyond all reason. So he just nodded.

She was looking up at him, waiting, her face turned to his, her lips open slightly. She had a beautiful mouth. He'd never noticed that. He traced it, and saw her eyes widen.

"We're going separate ways, Spock. In days."

"I know we are. But we are not leaving tonight." He kissed her, startled at the jolt he felt as their lips met.

She reached up, twining her arms around his neck, her body pressed tightly against his. He let his own hands travel under her shirt, finding the warm, soft skin of her back. He pushed himself against her and heard a low moan, then realized it had come from him.

"What are we doing?" she whispered.

"The final step in your rehabilitation, Christine. And in mine. Saying goodbye to ghosts. Resolving to do better in the future if we can." He began to pull off her shirt.

"Do you believe that?"

"I do."

"It's a nice thought," she said, as he tugged her pants down. "But are you sure we're not just having sex?"

"We will, of course, do that, as well." He kissed her again, felt her mouth open to his, her tongue fierce against his own.

She was strong. Even sick, even so tired, she was strong and loving in his arms. And she was pulling his clothes off, not stopping until he stood naked, his bare skin to hers. She pushed him down onto the couch, sank down on top of him. And then they were joined. Easily. Almost effortlessly. She met his eyes, and hers seemed unfocused at first, then she gasped as he began to lift her, making her move on top of him.

They kissed as they made love, their movements unhurried, tender. He stroked her back, kissed her neck, fondled her everywhere he had tried not to when he'd been holding her in sleep.

"Was he right to do this to us?" she whispered.

"He is not in this room, Christine. It is only the two of us here." He smiled. Just a small smile but she grinned back in reaction.

He reached down, helping her pleasure along, learning what she liked. She cried out and he let her rest, then he started again, touching her as she rode him.

"Are you spoiling me?" she asked, biting down on his ear softly.

"The more relaxed you are, the better you will sleep."

"Ah. Very logical." She moved to his mouth, kissed him for a long time before pulling away. "And the better I sleep, the better you sleep."

"Precisely." He wanted to say more. But words were escaping him and he lost himself in her, pulling her close, burying his face in her chest, breathing in the smell of her as he cried out softly.

She pulled away a little, stroking his face, running her hands through his hair. Her smile was lazy and sweet. "I wasn't wrong. All those years ago. You were worth pursuing."

"I was not the same man, then. I might not have been worth pursuing." He drew her down to him, kissing her deeply, knowing that she would not have been the same woman, either.

They'd both been tested. Both found wanting, perhaps. Both were fighting back from that position. He had to find a way to care about life again--and she was helping him somehow. Or helping her had helped him. And she would go back to Ops and make it her home.

And that would be that. He suddenly felt cold. She rubbed his arms, and he realized he must have shuddered.

"I bet your bed is much warmer, Spock." She eased off him, pulling him up with her, leading him into his bedroom.

Her smile was shy as she pulled the covers down and climbed into his bed. He lost track of her smile as he kissed his way down her body, finding new ways to make her moan. Then she returned the favor, and he closed his eyes and gave himself over to her mouth and hands.

They finally lay quietly, cuddled close, and he held her tightly.

She kissed his cheek softly, whispered, "This will be over soon."

"It does not have to be over."

She nestled into him. "We both know it will be, Spock. This is lovely but it's like a sunset. It won't last long."

He wanted to argue with her. Tell her she was wrong and that they could last. But they were on different paths. And this wonderful healing sex might give way to something hurtful and lonely. He had seen it happen to couples separated for too long. He was sure she had, too.

She pushed him to his back, climbed on top of him. Her eyes were bright with tears, but her voice very calm as she said, "A sunset might not last long, but it's a beautiful thing while it's happening."

He touched her as she rode him, deciding that this was a beautiful thing. Unexpected and lovely all at once.

When she finally collapsed against him, he held her tightly against him, still connected, feeling her heart pump wildly as they lay so close.

"Close your eyes," he said.

"I can't sleep this way."

"Close your eyes."

She closed her eyes. Moments later, she was asleep. They lay that way a long time, her sleeping quietly, no dreams disturbing her rest this time. And he watched her and marveled at the whimsy of a world that had brought them together this late, in a way that healed them both.

She moaned a little, and he let up on her, easing her to her side, nestling close to her. He laid his head on her chest, felt her arms come up to hold him.

"I love you," she murmured, and he looked up to see if he had woken her.

But she was still asleep. Her arms closed around him, her hands firm and comforting.

"I love you, too," he said, hoping that some part of her could hear it.

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

Chapel stood with Spock as he waited for the transport, carryall in hand. She smiled at him, knowing she only had a day before she would be leaving the planet, too. Roberts had obviously not been in charge of departure plans, or Chapel and Spock would have been on the same shuttle out.

But maybe not. Maybe this was exactly how it was supposed to be.

How it was supposed to end.

She took a deep breath, met Spock's eyes and smiled. His expression was very gentle, and he moved a little closer. She looked away, afraid she'd lose control if she gave in to the sappier Christine and gazed into his eyes like a lovesick girl.

She stared at the sky, fighting for control as she watched it darken, reds and golds coloring it where the sun was sinking.

"The sunset will be beautiful," he said softly.

She nodded. "You can watch it on your way out, maybe?" But it would be gone by then. Over. Just like them.

She swallowed hard. "Thank you, Spock. For everything."

"This does not have to be goodbye." But he didn't sound very convinced of that.

"Some things happen at a certain time for a certain reason. And the combination of events can never be replicated." She tried to smile, was afraid it came out crooked. "We probably shouldn't try to recapture it."

He exhaled softly. "Perhaps not."

"We should both give Len hell when we see him."

"He will expect no less."

She nodded, unsure what more there was to say. They'd said what they needed to for the last few days. Said it with words, but with their bodies, too. She thought Spock would have melded with her, but she'd asked him not to. She'd known that it would be hard enough walking away from what she'd experienced so far. Adding that level of intimacy to it would make this just too difficult.

"I will see you from time to time."

"I know." She leaned in, bumped up against him just a little, felt him push back. "We're friends now, Spock. Stop in anytime."

The transport drove up. She met his eyes, blinked back tears that he didn't seem to mind. "I'll never forget this."

"Nor will I." He seemed reluctant to move, so she gave him a little push.

"Take care of yourself, Spock." It was more than just casual advice, and he almost smiled.

"I shall. Enjoy Ops."

"I will."

He climbed into the transport, and she watched as he made his way down the aisle, choosing a seat that had a view of her. He did not look away until the transport pulled out.

Chapel stood, eyes pressed closed to keep the tears away. It was over. Spock was gone. And he would be all right. And she would be all right.

"Did you hear about the cookout tonight?"

Chapel turned, saw Roberts standing behind her. "Oh, I don't think--"

"Nonsense. You can't turn down good beer and moderately unhealthy food." Roberts wrapped a hospital-issued jacket around Chapel's shoulders. "Besides. What else have you got to do now that he's gone? Sit in your room and cry?"

"Maybe I just need to think, Sheila."

"You can think on the way home. Tonight I recommend getting rip roaring drunk, and then you can tell me Emergency Ops stories. I love those."

"I love those too. I--" Chapel started to cry, the tears coming from a place that had less to do with Spock and more to do with things deep inside herself.

Roberts folded her up in her arms, murmuring, "Oh, sweetie. Let it out. It's all right. You're going home, soon."

"What if I don't belong there?"

"You'll find that out once you get there, I guess." Roberts let her clean up a little, then linked arms with her and led her down the path to the beach. "But you know what I think? No one fights this hard to get back somewhere they don't belong. Trust me on that. There's burn out and then there's just crisis moments. They don't have to be one and the same."

"Thanks."

"All part of the service. And besides, once you're drunk, you can tell me rip-roaring stories of what it's like to be with a living legend."

Chapel laughed. "I don't think so. Some memories I don't want to share."

"Fair enough." Roberts sighed. "I don't mind saying I was worried about you Christine. I thought Len was off his noodle suggesting you and Spock could help each other."

"Len knows us both really well."

"Better than the two of you know yourselves, I guess. Anti-chemistry ring a bell?"

Chapel nodded, smiling in defeat. So now the anti-chemistry was gone, and she and Spock had the real kind of chemistry. It didn't matter. They still weren't going to be together.

But at least her memories of him didn't have to make her cringe anymore.

----

Spock watched as the Delevian and Trilari flagships pulled away from Starbase Thirty-Five. The peace treaty was finally a reality, and Spock stretched tired muscles--muscles that were hurting not because of his injury, but from sitting too long in one chair while age-old enemies hammered out the details for a peaceful coexistence.

He pulled out his communicator, hailed the Valiant.

"Finished already, Ambassador?" Captain Moretti asked.

"I am."

"And you are well?"

"I am uninjured, yes."

"Well, there's a first time for everything. We'll have to hold these things on Starbases more often." Moretti liked teasing him about his injury record, and Spock let him. The man had no idea what had really been at play. And there was no need for him to know.

"I will see you when you arrive, Captain."

"Absolutely. Valiant out."

Spock let his aides gather up the padds and other items, and left the conference room they'd been assigned for the last few weeks, walking through the multiple levels of security until he was out in the main area of the Starbase. He walked faster, feeling the muscles in his back and legs finally loosen.

"Sir," many officers murmured, and Spock nodded back, accustomed to the routine. Like it or not, he was a legend; he was used to being recognized.

He replayed the events of the negotiations, all the way to a day early on when the Delevian ambassador and his retinue had stormed out of the room. Spock had nearly gone after them, even knowing the Delevian hair trigger when angry. And a short while ago, he might have followed them as he had the Moroshans, might have tried to defuse the anger at great risk to himself--because he wouldn't have cared about his own safety. But this time he'd sat and waited, making small talk with the Trilari delegation. And eventually the Delevian group had come back in, acting as if nothing had happened, and the negotiations had resumed.

They'd been disrupted like that several times, but Spock had not felt the same urge to intervene. He was content to let the process run its own course, which was exactly how it should be. And how it had been--until he'd lost someone he cared about.

"Excuse me," he heard ahead of him. A familiar voice, low and husky. He saw a tall woman in Starfleet red. Dark hair falling to just above her shoulders.

He realized his heart was beating fast, and he knew his mouth was turning up slightly. He hurried after the woman, saying as soon as he was close enough, "Christine?"

The woman turned. It was not Christine. Was in fact a much younger woman with dark eyes instead of blue. Olive skin instead of pale.

"I apologize, Lieutenant. I mistook you for someone else."

Her eyes widened. "Captain Spock?"

He nodded. "Again. My apologies."

As he turned, she said softly, "I wish I was her, sir." Then she blushed deeply. "No disrespect intended."

"None taken, Lieutenant. Carry on."

His communicator buzzed. "You ready to come aboard, Ambassador?" Moretti's voice held the good humor Spock had missed when he'd left Jim and McCoy behind.

"I am, sir."

"Well get yourself to a transporter room, and we'll be out of here in no time."

Spock hurried to the nearest transporter, beamed over to the Valiant, and made his way to the bridge.

Moretti grinned when he saw him. "Welcome back. A nice quiet negotiation for you, while we made sure the Klingons didn't think the new peace between us means never having to say they're sorry." He seemed to wait for Spock to get the reference, then shook his head. "I gather you're not a classic film buff?"

"I am not."

"Well, you're still okay in my book, Spock. You finished early so we're getting some shore leave. Planet of our choice provided it's within reasonable distance."

"Terra is within reasonable distance, is it not?" Spock could not believe he had asked that. But he did not regret it exactly.

"Now, I know you're just fooling with me, Ambassador. That fine Vulcan mind of yours has surely not forgotten that Earth is at the other end of the sector."

"Perhaps I could take a shuttle from the Starbase while you enjoy leave on a closer world?"

Moretti studied him. "You really want to go to Earth?"

Spock studied the viewscreen, his hands behind his back, the way he'd often stood with Jim when he was trying to hide the fact that he was operating more under the influence of emotion than logic. "I do."

"Care to tell me why?"

"I do not."

Moretti sat for a moment, and he looked a little like Jim. And a little like Chris Pike. And, of course, like what he was: a new captain--perhaps a new friend?

Moretti leaned forward. "Sukara, how fast can we make it back to Earth if we don't break any regs?"

She input a few things into her station, looked back and said, "Twenty-one point three hours."

Even Spock was impressed.

"I plotted an interesting route." She smiled a little sheepishly. "It's my daughter's birthday, sir. I didn't think there was any chance I'd make it back, but seeing as how you asked...?"

"I don't want to know." Moretti gave her the little wave that meant "Go to it," in his sign language.

She grinned and got to it. Then she looked back at Spock. "It might help if you manned the extra station, sir? You know, just in case there's anyone ahead that might wonder about my flight plan?"

"I said within regs, Commander." Moretti scowled at Spock. "This is all your fault. Go man the damn station." As Spock turned to go, he whispered, "And this has to be about a woman."

Spock turned, slowly raising one eyebrow as he gave Moretti a look Sarek would have been envious of. Moretti gave him the wave, not looking very chastened. And as Spock walked away, he heard the captain say to Sukara, "Yeah, it's about a woman."

She giggled.

Spock mustered as much dignity as he could as he manned the extra console, looking for anyone who might object to the very odd but not completely irregular route Sakara had plotted in. She might make an interesting chess partner. Her flight plan showed a capacity for thinking outside the box. Well outside the box. In fact, he was not sure the box was still in the same dimension.

"Awful quiet over there," Moretti said.

Spock didn't reply; he didn't feel he had much to say in his defense. He wanted to get to Earth, and it was very much about a woman.

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

Chapel leaned over the comms console, listening in as Captain Parker tried to explain why he'd forgotten to load the spacedock call signals. Again.

"We had to stop to help a freighter. It was losing life support and...having to jettison its cargo. Good stuff, too. Hell of a thing to see it all spaced. So, in all the fuss, we just...forgot."

There was a muted "I had the freighter excuse" from the science station. Capra stood and bowed to mock applause.

"We're transmitting the signals again, sir," Smithers said, sending the comms and signing off. He looked over at Capra and rolled his eyes. "The man always wins, Commander. It's just not right. I think he and Parker are in cahoots."

"Are you in cahoots with Parker, Capra?" Chapel asked.

"Right. Because he'd be willing to be humiliated just so my drinks this week are on you."

"Man has a point, Smithers." She patted her comms officer on the shoulder and turned to go back into her office, then stopped dead in her tracks.

"Ma'am?" Capra asked, following her gaze. "Oh, my." He swallowed hard.

Spock stood at the door. He walked in, making a casual tour of the consoles, nodding to the officers. Then he strode up to her. "Commander."

"Captain."

His face was calm, but his eyes were anything but. He looked amused. And very, very glad to see her.

"This is a surprise," she said.

"Yes." Again the humor glinting out of that stone-calm face.

"Would you like to talk?" She gestured to her office.

He nodded and followed her in. She didn't sit; he didn't, either. They stood in the doorway, neither saying anything.

He glanced at the chrono, then said, "I believe you are off duty in twenty five point four minutes, Christine."

"Memorized my schedule, did you?"

"I did. Our helmswoman is very good, but we were not precisely close when Moretti decided to indulge my request to come to Earth."

"Your request?"

He nodded. He looked very pleased with himself. Then his expression grew a little more serious. "We do not have long to...interact."

"How much time?"

"Two days." He moved closer.

"With a little notice I could have arranged leave."

"According to the duty logs, you are off for the next two days. Notice was not required."

"Logical. But I might have switched shifts with someone. Not realizing you were on your way."

"An excellent point. And duly noted. I will advise you of my ETA and length of stay the next time I plan to be on Earth."

"The next time?"

"That is what I said."

She smiled and glanced out at the main room. Not one person was watching the big board or their stations. "Well, you've given them something to gossip about for the next two weeks."

"Only two?" He stepped slightly closer. "Twenty minutes left." He too glanced at the room.

Her officers turned and went back to work.

"Man, I wish I could do that."

"You have an entirely different dynamic with them. I was watching from the doorway for some time. I was wrong, Christine. This is your home."

She smiled, wanted to touch him. "And how did your first mission back go?"

"Moretti noted I was uninjured. Which he seemed to find a positive thing."

"I like him. He's a good man."

"I...like him, too." He met her eyes, and there was absolutely nothing hidden, not the sorrow still for Jim or something that looked a little like hope for the future.

"I'm glad, Spock."

"As am I." He moved to the window, seemed to suddenly be a bundle of nervous energy, even if it was locked in the Vulcan package.

"Where is your carryall?" she asked.

He turned, smiling his almost smile. "I was not aware I needed anything."

"I guess I could provide most things you need." She gave him a slow once over, laughing at how his expression changed as she did so.

She marveled that she could do this, that he could react that way--that she and Spock weren't over.

That he'd made it so they weren't over.

He walked to her--stalked to her, actually. "Christine, are you not in charge here?"

"I like to think so."

"Then I believe you can leave fifteen minutes early if you are needed by a prominent member of Starfleet's diplomatic section."

"Shall I phrase it that way?"

"If you wish." His hand was on her back, urging her out of her office. She palmed off the light as she went. "The Ambassador and I have some business to attend to. So I'm cutting out a little early today."

There was a chorus of "Aye-aye, sir" and "Enjoy your days off." Her staff stared back at her with the innocent and hardworking looks that meant she'd soon be the subject of a drinks pool.

"Capra, you're in charge until Frazier gets in."

"Aye, sir." Capra smiled at her, a warm, big brother smile. She hated to think what the details of the pool would be.

"Let's go," she murmured to Spock, following him out of Ops and into the busy corridor. "So, you want to go to my place now?"

"Yes."

She laughed. "Anxious?"

"I have spent the last twenty-one hours anticipating certain things."

"Ah." She smiled at him, realized they were both walking quite fast but decided it was okay. They just looked like there was a crisis. In the parts of her body that had missed him very much, there was a damned crisis. "I didn't expect to see you."

"At all? Or now?"

"Well, I knew I'd see you around. But...I thought what we had there, stayed there."

"Interesting." He stopped as they walked out the main entrance. They stood on the walkway, looking out over the city, to the water where the sun hung above it, the sky looking like it was on fire. "They have sunsets here, too, Christine."

"So we burn just as hot and fast here and fade away?"

He started off again, and she hurried to catch up. "Sunsets are very dependable, Christine. The sun sets on a regular basis. It burns bright, and then it burns bright, and then it burns bright..." He gave her a stern look.

"I think I get it."

"Good. I trust I will not have to repeat the lecture?"

"I can't promise that." Grinning, she moved closer. "I've missed you, Spock."

"And I have missed you." He seemed to be studying her. "You are sleeping?"

"More or less." She shrugged. "It's just...going to take a little time. But it's not like it was. I'm not afraid to sleep anymore. And when the dreams come, I try to figure out what they mean."

"Have you had success with that?"

"Some. I think I did suppress a lot of guilt about Matthew and the others. I think a lot of things got shaken out when I got so sick. It was a crisis moment. The irony is I'm great at dealing with crises. Provided, apparently, that they aren't my own." She turned into her building. "Did I mention I live close?"

He did not seem surprised.

"Looked that up, too, huh?"

He nodded, a bit sheepishly.

"I like that."

"Yes?"

"Oh, yes." They rode the elevator up to the top floor, and she led him down the hall to her apartment. "Home sweet home."

He turned to her as soon as the door was closed. Pulled her to him and kissed her, pushing her against the wall, pressing himself close. She moaned, turning them so she could draw him with her to the bedroom. They set a new record for removal of clothes--she thought they might both have chafe marks from wool being yanked off with such vigor.

He pushed her down, murmuring her name in a way he'd never done. Then he was touching her, every way he had before, only it felt different this time.

He'd come all the way to Earth for this. For her.

She pulled him to her, wanted him inside her. As their bodies joined, he held his fingers to her cheek and forehead, pressing in lightly. He was going slow; she had time to tell him to stop.

She didn't.

The meld was deep. As deep as the time they'd shared consciousness. And then deeper. And she laughed at the feeling and felt his amusement permeate the connection between them.

"I needed you," he said or thought--she wasn't sure.

Then he let go of her face, the meld subsiding. But for a few minutes, everywhere he touched her tingled, and she felt as if she'd melted or was swimming in some kind of dark, warm water.

She opened her eyes, saw him staring down at her. "I'm so glad you're back."

"I will come back whenever I can."

"And I'll try to get out your way from time to time."

"That would be agreeable." His gentle tone was at odds with the way he was moving inside her.

She gave herself up to him. To whatever this was. To whatever it would become. She kissed him, and saw that he was smiling. More than his almost smile, but nowhere near a full one. She decided it was a smile that belonged to her--she loved the idea of that.

She loved him. But she didn't think it was time to say that yet. Although he probably already knew.

When hadn't she loved him?

"Are you hungry," she asked as he lay sprawled next to her; he was rubbing her back, scratching lightly and making her shiver. "I can make us something."

"Later," he said, and pulled her to him, so he could do other things to her as she lay with her back to his front.

Her stomach rumbled, she told it to forget that they'd already skipped lunch.

Spock slowed his movements, whispered in her ear, "Are you hungry?"

"For you." She wiggled against him, reminding him of the priorities.

He did not lose track of them again.

Hours later, his stomach growled. "I believe you mentioned food?"

She laughed and pulled him up. "Come on."

He pulled her back, so they were walking together to the kitchen, and he kissed her, stopping their progress midway down the hall.

"You're hungry," she said.

"I am. For so many things."

"For life."

He nodded. "Yes. For life."

"Me, too." And she kissed him long and slow. "Thank you for giving me my life back."

"I gave nothing back. But if I helped you find it, then I am glad."

They held each other until she finally pulled away and said sternly, "I'm hungry. You do want me to keep my strength up, don't you?"

"Your awareness of our priorities is gratifying." As she began to move away, he stopped her, laying a hand against her cheek, pressing gently. "I believe this can work between us."

"I believe it can, too." She smiled, knew that a month ago if they'd had a pool for Spock and her making it as a couple, let alone wanting to be in the same room for five minutes, she'd have taken the short odds against.

She'd never been happier to be wrong.

FIN