Uses for Love by Djinn

Christine's quarters are dark. The darkness prevents her from seeing the bruises that ring her waist where Spock held her too tightly. But it doesn't stop her from feeling the chafed skin of her lips from kisses that were too rough.

She was a fool to think the Pon Farr would be a thing of love. It is possession, nothing more. A slaking of urges shaken off on desert sands and doomed to resurface every seven years as punishment for its abandonment. Spock tried to explain it to her, during his coherent moments, which were few and far between.

He moves now, awake again, and she tenses. Her body aches. Her insides rebel at the idea of him taking her again.

But he does not reach for her. Instead he sighs, as if he too is grateful that he will not have to bury himself inside her.

Before that thought can hurt too much, he reaches out, his hand settling on her thigh. Gently this time. Almost...lovingly.

"Did I hurt you?" His voice is raw, vulnerable.

The wrong answer could wound him, she realizes, so she goes for something more right. "Not irreparably."

Again the sigh.

He turns, does not take her in his arms, as he would have in her fantasies, but keeps his hand on her thigh, resting lightly. "I thought that having fought the captain, I would be free of the burning."

"You obviously thought wrong." Her body can tell him that there is no freedom from burning right now.

"Yes." He pulls his hand away. "You turned the lights off?"

They were at half strength when this began. But she ordered them off some hours ago. "Your face was..."

"Frightening?"

"At times."

"I am sorry for that."

She shrugs, then realizes he can't see it in the dark. But he probably felt it. "I used to fantasize about this, Spock. You, overcome with lust for me, taking me."

"Fantasies and reality rarely mesh."

She laughs softly. He is right. And he knows about fantasies, which is a surprise. Although she is relatively sure they are not about her. "Do you wish your wife had not rejected you?"

He does not answer right away, and she feels that silence to the depths of her. Then he says, "I was not what you would term 'fond' of T'Pring. But she was a full Vulcan of excellent family."

She hears much unsaid in that. "A full Vulcan?"

The indulgence of another sigh. "You are quick."

"I am." Not that it does her much good on this ship in this position. She came here to find Roger. She should have left once she did that. "Is it so important to you to find a Vulcan woman? Isn't it an insult of sorts to your mother to reject things human?"

"It no doubt is." He shifts, and she sympathizes; her back hurts from lying on this bed so long.

"I let you use me," she says into the silence, because it needs to be said, so he knows that she understands what this is--and what it's not.

"I am appreciative."

Before he can say more, she asks the other thing she needs to know. "In your quarters, on the way to Vulcan...?"

"I wanted you then, too."

"But you just said you seek a Vulcan woman."

"What my body craves and what I know to be a suitable choice are, apparently, two different things."

"Oh." She isn't suitable. Of all the things he's said, or not said, that digs the deepest into her already shredded heart.

He shifts again, and she whispers, "You can go."

"You are sure...?"

"It's over, right? You won't need me again?" Not for seven years anyway, if he hasn't found that perfect Vulcan woman.

"Christine, if I have hurt you, I profoundly regret that."

"My body will recover, Spock." She is not so sure about her heart.

He does not seem to see the distinction, or if he does, he has no idea how to deal with it. "If you have need of me...?"

"I'll be sure to call you if that happens." She's not happy at the bitterness in her voice. At the sharpness of her words.

But not happy is something that should be shared in this case.

He gets up, calling for one-quarter lights, and disappears into the bathroom. She can hear her shower running, and thinks that in her fantasies, she would be in there with him, being pampered and caressed by a Spock who cannot get enough of her.

The real Spock clearly has had enough of her.

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

The laughter of the Platonians rings in her ears, even back on the ship, scrubbed of their make-up, their pleasure gown ripped into tatters and thrown into the recycler. She can feel Spock's lips on hers, as he fought them, fought being forced--again--to touch her.

He never comes to her of his own accord.

Her chime rings, and she says, "Enter."

Spock walks in, seems to take in her state of dress with relief. She wonders if he can tell that her face is half raw from scrubbing at it. That her body underneath the uniform is also scrubbed too hard.

Kirk stopped the fun before Parmen could make them have sex. Yet her body aches with a ghost pain that mirrors how she felt after the Pon Farr. As if Spock did more than just kiss her.

He clears his throat a little, to get her attention probably. "I was concerned."

She shrugs. "No need."

"Nevertheless."

They are people of few words now. It is how things stand between them, even if he can still move her. Even if he still comes to her when he needs help.

He moves closer. "You said you wanted to crawl away and die."

"Hyperbole."

"Are you sure?"

She feels herself tensing. "If you're so worried about my mental state, refer me to Doctor McCoy."

He walks past her and sits on the bed. "It is your emotional state I am concerned about."

"You being such an expert on that."

He ignores her. "I know that what happened on Platonius was difficult for you. It was difficult for me, as well."

"Yes, kissing me is such a hardship." She winces at having said that out loud.

"That is not what I meant."

She sits in her chair, the one farthest from him. "I know what you meant. I appreciate your concern. You can go now."

He looks down, and she realizes he is clenching her coverlet. "The kironide..."

She laughs, and it is a sharp puff of air as she realizes that he is manifesting the overload of kironide in a different manner than Kirk did. The pituitary is involved, and therefore...

She begins to take off her uniform.

He is up and to her before she can get very far. Begins stripping it off for her, his lips making that for-show kiss seem like the work of a beginner. This is not like the Pon Farr, but it's still not real.

Yet this time, it's as if he has something to prove. To her, to himself, to...whom? He gives her pleasure, far more than he takes himself. He holds himself back, not pounding her the way he did during the Pon Farr. But there is still compulsion. There is still this other thing driving him.

She lies sweaty, as he rises up from between her legs, and she thinks she may crawl away and die from exhausted pleasure.

Pleasure that feels empty, that blasts her soul open with each orgasm. "I love you," she says, knowing he won't say it, needing for him not to say it, so she can remind her body that this man may want her, but he will never cherish her.

"Christine."

She is ready to stop his words, put her hand over his mouth if he lies to her and says he loves her, too. But he does not. He stops with her name. It is full of meaning, and she resists the urge to decipher what that meaning might be.

"Have I hurt you?" he asks, as he begins to touch her again, as he nuzzles her chest, sucking in the way he has learned she likes.

"Yes." She arches and cries out and watches his face, the satisfied look on it as he waits for her to come down before he takes his own pleasure again.

"I am sorry," he says, as he cuddles her close and rubs her back until she falls asleep.

When she wakes, he is gone.

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Christine stands at the viewscreen in sickbay, staring out at blessedly normal space. The overwhelming V'ger blueness is gone--and so is her former commanding officer. Kirk is back, which doesn't bother her because he's always been good to her. But she misses her new friend, Will Decker.

And now there is Spock to contend with. He was gone; she was not supposed to ever have to contend with him again.

"Christine?" Spock's voice is low as he approaches, low and full of emotion normally absent. His meld with V'ger has left him different than the utterly cold man who appeared on the ship. The man who abandoned everyone he knew for the emotional oblivion of Gol.

She tried not to take it personally when she first heard he'd gone there. It was harder not to take it personally when he snubbed her on the bridge.

Then again, he never asked her to make an ass of herself in their first few seconds together again.

She feels him close behind her. "What do you want?" Her voice is different than it used to be. She worked like a dog to get through medical school on a shortened schedule, to finish her internships and qualify for this ship. It became a point of pride to get this ship after her previous place on it. The old familiar with a brand new crew at the top.

She would laugh, only it hurts too much. "Pride goeth before a fall," she murmurs and senses Spock moving closer.

"My pride?" he asks, his voice so gentle she barely recognizes it.

"No, mine." She turns, partly to face him and partly to see if anyone else is taking this in. She does not want a repeat of last time.

The sickbay is empty but for them. Len left long ago. The nurses are either off for the night or on break. She said she'd watch. The martyr to the end.

And she thought she wouldn't run into Spock if she stayed here. She didn't count on him coming to find her. "And I ask again, what do you want?"

"I have been unfair to you." There is a look of profound sadness on his face.

She resists giving in to it. It is V'ger induced, this emotionalism. Like the other times before, Spock is not here on his own.

"I've gotten over it." She moves away from him, careful to avoid touching him as she does it, which he's made difficult because he is standing so close. "I've had a lot of time to think since our last encounter."

Encounter. Such a neutral word for what happened.

"As have I."

"Yes, I hear they encouraged long reminisces about sex at Gol."

He looks startled at her sarcasm. Maybe he is surprised at the harsh sternness of her expression? She is not the same woman he knew. They both went to their own form of Gol.

"I have work to do, Mister Spock. If there's nothing of a medical nature I can do for you, then I'm going to ask you to leave."

He reaches out, and his hand on her arm still feels the same. His hot skin still sears through hers as if she is melting into him.

She yanks her arm away from him.

"Christine, V'ger has left me open to things."

"Have fun with that." She walks away quickly, before she can think too much about what she is giving up. There is not far to go, and if he follows her into her office, she will probably be lost.

But he does not. He just stands out in the middle of sickbay, staring at her. Then he turns and leaves her alone.

Again.

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

"You were close to him?" It is a fellow Emergency Ops worker who has found her in the head crying.

Spock is dead. It is over all the newswires. The comms traffic at Emergency Ops is full of the details, only they are censored, she can tell. There are separate channel messages flying into Cartwright's queue; she saw one when she was in with him. He closed it down quickly as she walked in, but she saw enough.

"I served with him," Christine corrects the lieutenant who is so new she still gets her mixed up with a few others who just rotated in. They have a high turnover rate in Emergency Ops. Christine is one of the diehards.

It got her out of medicine. Took her permanently out of Spock's orbit. But no one is out of his orbit for this.

She goes back to work and doesn't cry over him again.

Days later, news reaches them that Spock is alive. Or that he never died. She is confused and the traffic is so guarded she knows the story is being censored heavily.

Is it a mistake he was ever reported dead? Or a miracle that he is reborn?

And what difference does it make to her?

Cartwright comes up behind her. "You okay?"

She told him of her history with Spock one night when they went out for sushi. She drank too much saki and truth was the result. Far too much truth for how well she knew Cartwright at the time. But this is the first he's ever said about it, and she knows it is only because he cares.

"I'm fine. It's wonderful news." She looks up at him. Gives him her best "I'm happy but in a general way" face.

He nods, but does not look convinced, and leaves her alone.

Rand comes in a moment later. "You okay?"

"I wish people would stop asking me that."

Rand looks around the bay. "Who else was asking you that?" She sounds ready to beat the person up for her.

Christine almost laughs at her friend's show of protectiveness. "Just the boss. Nothing to worry about. My new rep is intact."

As is Janice's. No one asked her if she was okay when her former crush stole his starship out of spacedock.

It's how they like it. They've worked hard for this.

"Do you think he never died?"

Christine shrugs. It's not as if any great love for her would have died with him. She can't deny the news has moved her. She would probably cry if she was alone. But she's not alone, and Spock being alive won't change anything for her.

She loved him then. She loves him still.

And he doesn't love her.

She goes back to work.

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

Christine is working on the duty roster when Spock comes in, a Vulcan woman in a Starfleet uniform in his wake. A beautiful, young Vulcan woman.

Christine schools her face into impassivity. In her way, she has become Vulcan. Not that Spock would appreciate that. "Captain Spock."

"Commander Chapel." His look is not warm, but it is much less uncomfortable between them than it was after their meeting in the tribunal, when Kirk came back with the whales months ago. "This is Ensign Valeris. My protege."

Christine expects something other than what she gets. Valeris does not smile, but there is a brightness in her eyes, a slight twitch of the lips that almost mimics a smile.

"She graduated first in her class." Spock sounds very proud of her. The look he shoots the woman is more than proud.

Christine forces herself not to react. "Congratulations."

Valeris nods and looks around the Ops bay in a way that for a human would denote eagerness, excitement.

"What can I do for you?"

Spock draws her away without touching her. It is a skill she should learn, and she gives him a hard look.

He does not look away. "I remember much more than I did. Memories that were jumbled and out of place are under my control again. I...regret if choices I made have hurt you."

"Do I appear hurt?"

"I am not in the best position to judge, Commander. I am still becoming accustomed to accepting my own emotions, much less judging yours."

It is only a statement of fact, but somehow it comes out as a condemnation. "What do you want, Spock?"

"My protege. Do you have room here for her?"

She wants to say that she doesn't. She wants to ask if it means Spock will be there to visit, and can she negotiate visiting rights away with an acceptance. But she says only, "I'm not in the habit of arranging assignments with sponsors."

His eyebrows pull down, as if she has surprised him.

"Lieutenant," she calls to Valeris. "My office."

The young woman hurries into the room Christine has pointed to.

"I'm sure she knows where to find you, Spock." Christine waits until he nods and leaves. Then she walks into her office, taking her chair and studying Valeris. "So, he asked about you working here. Is that what you really want?"

"It is." Valeris gives her that almost-smile again, and her eyes are shining. "I have always wanted to be here, and when I mentioned it to Captain Spock, he said he knew you." She meets Christine's eyes fearlessly. "I have learned that in Starfleet using affiliations for initial access is not frowned upon. Although I would prefer that my accomplishments stand on their own."

Christine smiles despite her willingness to hate this young woman for all that she appears to be to Spock. "That has to be the most tactful description of 'it's not what you know but who you know' I've ever heard."

"I took the liberty of sending you my file when Spock said he would bring me here to meet you. Perhaps you could forget that it was brought to your attention by a friend--"

"Spock and I aren't friends."

"A colleague, then." For the first time, Valeris seems confused.

"Give me a second." Christine brings up the file, scrolling through it quickly. Even at a glance, she can tell this is exactly the kind of young officer she would usually be salivating to get into her area. "Tell me why you want to be here?"

"I want to make a difference. I want to help others. In a different way than I have been." She takes a deep breath. "Also, I have been on a ship, so I know that my responses to situations in space are appropriate. But I believe the dynamics here at Command are very different, and I would like to experience that."

It is honesty in a way that only a Vulcan can give. Provided it is not a Vulcan who wants to sleep with you but does not want to love you.

Does Spock still want to sleep with her? Now that he has this fresh, whip-smart woman who seems to look up to him?

Christine knows she will have to see Spock if she accepts Valeris for assignment. But the needs of the many and all that. This woman is a find, no matter who might be in love with her. "You're in."

"Thank you." There is suppressed excitement in Valeris's voice. "You will not regret it."

Christine is already regretting it, but she does not tell Valeris that.

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

There are security officers escorting two people out of Ops. People who worked with Cartwright and the conspiracy. Christine feels left out. Not that she wants to be arrested, but didn't Cartwright trust her enough to try to recruit her?

He recruited Valeris. Or did the young woman recruit him? It is difficult to find any real information in the buzz of news that is all around them.

Despite herself, she came to like the young Vulcan. Everyone did. She was so...human. Or comfortable in the human world without becoming one was perhaps the more apt description. Valeris rarely made anyone feel bad about not being Vulcan.

IDIC in action. Where did that philosophy go when she engineered the assassination of the Klingons? Didn't they fall under the infinite diversity umbrella?

Spock comes into Ops, and there is a murmur from those in the bay. His face is grim, his walk stiff, as if he is older than Sarek. He gestures Christine to her office, the same way she did to Valeris all those years ago.

There is anger on his face, suppressed rage, and Christine decides not to close the door. Perhaps privacy isn't a good thing in this case?

"She betrayed me."

It occurs to her that he has been betrayed twice now by full Vulcans. Only Saavik, his little half-breed, has stayed true to him.

Christine does not goad Spock this time. She sees something in his eyes that scares her, so she only murmurs, "She betrayed us all, Spock."

"But me more than any."

She thinks the dead Klingon chancellor might disagree. Or his daughter, thrust to power in an Empire that normally does not accord such heights to a woman.

"You disagree?"

Christine had ample time to observe Valeris interact with Spock. As she feared, the woman's presence in Ops meant that he was here often, too. "She loved you, Spock."

It is the truth. It also is probably little comfort in this case.

"If she loved me, how could she use me this way? For access. As a dupe." He looks down.

Christine has heard what happened on the bridge. Uhura told her what Valeris said. "She thought you would be part of it. Once you understood. Isn't that right?"

"Someone told you what happened?" It is clear he knows who that someone might have been.

"Don't blame that person for filling me in. I cared for Valeris, as well, you know. Despite everything, she was my friend."

"Were you involved in this?" He looks ready to kill her if she says she was.

"Do you think I'd be sitting here if that were the case?" She is angry now, ready to fight with him. How dare he come in and make her pay for Valeris's sins. "I have never betrayed you, Spock. Never. Find another target for your rage."

He stands, his hands clenched dangerously. Then he strides out, and she resists the urge to watch him go.

She also tries to ignore how badly she is shaking.

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

Christine's apartment chime rings. She puts down the kettle she was filling for tea, walks out to the door. She's expecting no one. This is one of her precious days off.

Spock is standing outside. She is surprised he even knows where she lives.

Opening the door, she blocks the entrance with her body. After their last conversation, she is not ready to let him in.

Then she notices the strangeness of his eyes. The way he leans in, but only from the top half of his body. She's seen this before. A lifetime ago when she was just a nurse and sure that she could make him love her.

"Oh, no. Not now."

He pushes her aside.

"I didn't say yes."

He stops, the motion jerky, as if his last remaining ability to reason is being used to honor her choice. "Christine," he says, and there is pain and desperation in his voice.

She locks the door and moves to face him. "I need to make arrangements." She knows from experience this is not something that can be taken care of on just one day off.

"Of course." He is shaking, so she guides him to a chair and moves away.

The call to work is easy. Easier than it should be, but she has grown adept at thinking fast in a crisis.

Turning back to him, she takes a shuddering breath. "Not only are you here under duress, but now I'm filling in for someone else."

He stares up at her, and there is nothing in his look to indicate that Christine is not the one he wants.

Still, she forges on. "Valeris should be here."

He nods, a strangely uncoordinated motion from someone who usually displays such dignified grace.

"You could lie."

"I am incapable of lying at this moment, Christine."

Now is the time, then, to ask him all the things she needs to know. Only there isn't anything she needs to know. Not anymore.

"The bedroom's this way," she says, drawing him up.

He stops her, pulls her to him, and kisses her. The experience is somewhere between the unthinking ferocity of that first Pon Farr and the calculated sensuality of their encounter after Platonius. She sinks into him, hating that she wants this, even if it's not hers to have. She is only the stand-in. The stand-in by necessity.

They find their way to the bedroom, and they do not leave it again except to visit the bathroom or get water and food. Some time later, her bruised body aching, she wakes and finds him gone. But she hears the sound of the evening news on her vid in the living room and pulls on a robe to go out and join him.

He is gone, and his unfinished meal sits on the table in front of the vidscreen. And on the screen, stamped on top of footage that plays over and over again as she sinks down and watches it in a daze, are the words, "Launch Tragedy. Captain Kirk dead."

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

She watches the traffic as it comes into Ops. The news is not good. There is no sign of Kirk. He gave his life for the ship, and there is no trace of his remains.

The Excelsior was called in to help. She imagines what Rand is going through, what Sulu is. After more than a week, the search has stood down. Kirk is lost.

She realizes someone is standing in her doorway: Spock, and he looks terrible.

She's checked through records that might be restricted to those without her kind of access. Spock was scheduled to go to the launch. He cancelled at the last moment.

And only she knows why.

He comes in without permission, sinks into the chair in front of her desk. "He is gone."

"I'm sorry." She has seen that Spock went out to look for him. She knows he gave up sooner than the others. Could he sense that Kirk was gone? Or could he not stand the guilt of having failed his friend? "There's nothing you could have done."

"I tarried." His voice is so raw she can barely make out the words.

"What?"

"With you. The Pon Farr was ebbing, but I stayed anyway. I could have made the launch. So, you see, there is something I could have done."

"Do you blame me for this?" She sees by his face that he wants to. "Do you blame me for your biological needs?"

"Of course not." His expression is tight, and he rubs at his eyes, which are dark rimmed and bloodshot. "But I did not have to stay."

"You were hardly in any shape to attend a launch."

"Do you seek to give me an out, Christine? To free me from this burden of guilt. I let him die. My friend is dead, and I might have prevented that."

"What do you want me to say?" She gets up and closes the door. His voice is rising and she is worried the others will hear them.

But now he is saying nothing. He seems to have sunk into himself. Stares at the floor and does not move.

The doctor in her comes out. The nurse who once cared how he looked. "You're exhausted."

"Are you inviting me home?" His voice is low. Dangerous. As if that would be the stupidest thing she could ever do.

"It was just an observation."

"I do not need observations of the obvious."

"Well, I can't give you what you want, Spock."

He rises slowly, stares at her hard. "What do I want?"

"Absolution."

She thinks for a moment that he is going to strike her. Or maybe pull her to him. Whatever it is he might do, it will be sudden and violent. So she backs away, until the credenza behind her desk stops her progress.

He stares at her as if she has betrayed him. "Do you think I would hurt you?"

"I don't know what you would do right now. Do you?"

He turns and walks to the door. His hand hovers over the door control. "I think I do not ever wish to see you again." He says it in a low voice but with vicious clarity.

"Yeah, tell me that in seven years." Her tone is just as vicious. And probably stemming from the same hurt place. She sees her words sail home like a well-thrust spear.

It brings her no satisfaction.

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

Caspian IV is a forgiving place. The climate is mild, the terrain gentle. Christine is practicing medicine again. After Kirk's death, after that last conversation with Spock, something died in her--something that had lived for Emergency Ops up till then.

She found herself craving a slower life, a gentler life. She wanted to help people. She wanted to be a person who did that directly, not one who organized others who would.

It took her months to calm down, to adjust to the slow pace of the planet, of the little clinic she ran. But she finally did adjust. And now she has found some kind of peace.

"Are you coming to the picnic tomorrow?" Doctor Westin asks. He is kind, slightly older. Interested in her.

She smiles her most neutral smile. "I don't think so."

"I could use a date."

Her smile fades a bit. "I don't date."

He frowns and moves into her office. "Why not?"

"That's a bit personal, isn't it?"

"Maybe, but I think that it's something you should talk about to a caring, older man who only has your best interest at--"

Someone clears his throat, and she sees a tall, lean presence in the open doorway. She can feel the blood draining from her face. Then it all seems to flood back in at once, and she feels hot and has to grab the edge of the desk to steady herself.

Spock is here?

"I need to speak to Doctor Chapel. You will excuse us." There is no question in Spock's voice.

"Of course." Westin hurries out.

"I thought you were a diplomat? What happened to courtesy?"

"His interest did not strike me as collegial."

"Since when have you cared?"

He does not answer, just closes her door and walks into her office. "Our last conversation ended badly."

"Aren't you the master of understatement?"

He walks to the window, starting out. "I was angry."

"No kidding."

"You were not kind, either."

She sits in her chair, unwilling to join him at the window, glad for the desk between them, so he cannot see how badly her hands are shaking. "You didn't make it easy to be kind."

"I know." He turns, leaning against the windowsill as he studies her. "I am sorry. I wanted to blame you for things that were not your fault."

"You were hurting."

"I have always valued things Vulcan, Christine. And yet, if I were solely human, I would not have failed my friend."

"If you were solely human, you wouldn't be you."

He nods, a gentle motion, his old grace restored. "I felt shame at having been betrayed by my body's needs. At having wanted to stay with you. But you were right when you told me I would have been in no shape to attend the launch even if I had left you as soon as I could have."

She is unsure what to say to that, so she opts for silence.

"I came to apologize."

"All the way to Caspian. Or were you in the vicinity?"

"I am on extended leave."

She immediately feels panic. Surely it could not be back. "If you're here because--"

"It has only been a year, Christine." He takes the chair in front of her, sits back and steeples his fingers. "I am on...vacation."

"For how long?"

"Three months."

"Well, it was nice of you to make this a stopover."

His mouth tightens. "Is that all you want this to be?"

"I'm not a psychiatrist, Spock. But even I can see you're attempting to legitimize us so you can forgive yourself for letting me come between you and saving the captain."

"That is not what I am doing." He appears agitated. His eyes narrow and his fingers clutch now, rather than steeple.

"Yes, Spock. It is."

He stands. "Is it that other man? Do you want him?"

She wonders if he would duel with Westin. Call him out to the hot Vulcan sands and fight him to the death for her.

"No, Spock. I'm just not interested in being used again."

This seems to deflate him. He moves slowly to the door. "I think--"

"I know. You never want to see me again."

"That is not what I was going to say." He opens the door. "But it is not important now, anyway."

He is gone before she can tell him she agrees.

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

The sound of fighting intensifies. Out here, on the border planets, life is not easy, and death is even uglier. Christine misses the peace of Caspian. Peace she hasn't known for nearly six months. She tries to stabilize the patient she is working on. A young woman, hit by the backlash of some kind of energy weapon, who is slowly dying.

The shelling gets closer. These new weapons are causing havoc and now their field hospital has become a target. The other doctors are packing things up, readying for the move, while she and a nurse try to save this last patient.

"We've lost her, ma'am."

Christine wastes no time worrying, she throws her equipment into the bag that sits waiting, helps the nurse push the gurney, no longer having to go slow for fear of hurting the woman further.

There is a flare in front of them, and something explodes. Christine sees the waiting transport going up in flames, and then something hits her, knocking her back.

She blacks out.

When she wakes, she is in a hospital room. There is no place on her body that does not hurt and she can't move her head or shoulders. She tries to speak, but only a moan comes out.

From her side, there is the sound of movement. Then a hand on hers, a voice she does not expect, saying, "Stay still. I have called the nurse."

"Spock," she tries to say, but his name comes out as garbled sounds.

"Christine, be still." He moves so she can see him. "You have been hurt quite badly. But you will be fine. If you listen to me and stay still."

She realizes her head is being held by something and thinks of all the reasons that might be. None of them are good. She lies still, does as he says.

"I was very worried about you." His voice is off. He sounds tired. How long has he been here?

Then there is the sound of footsteps, the murmur of voices, and Spock moves away. A doctor is there, taking readings, shining lights in her eyes, muttering something she can't catch to the nurse. Then there is the sound of a hypospray and her pain fades away.

"I'm very pleased with her progress," the doctor tells Spock.

"I'm the doctor. Talk to me," she says, but again, her thoughts don't make it into actual language. She sounds like an animal.

The doctor must speak animal. He moves back into view, staring down at her with a gently amused look. "Doctor Chapel, you're going to be fine. One more day of immobilization just to be safe, and then you can move around all you want."

He and the nurse leave, and Spock moves back into her field of vision.

"Why?" This time it comes out almost sounding like what she meant to say.

"Why are you here?"

"No." She knows why she's here. She got hit by one of those damned shells. Or the backlash of one. She's just luckier than that woman she was working on.

"Why am I here?"

"Yes." Her words are getting clearer.

"Because you needed me. You have always been there when I needed you. I am not sure I have ever returned the favor."

"Oh." It is not the answer she expected.

Nor does she expect him to move in, to brush her cheek gently with his hand. His fingers settle on her hand, twining with hers, and she blinks in surprise.

"We have been hard with each other, Christine."

She lets her fingers tighten around his, expecting him to pull away, but he doesn't.

"I wish to remedy that."

"Maybe it's too late." But the feel of him holding her--even just her fingers--is soothing. And she loves the idea that finally the thing that has driven him to her is her.

"I do not believe it is too late." He leans back in his seat but does not let go of her, and she feels the drugs making her sleepy. "Rest now, Christine. I will be here when you wake up."

"You never have been before."

He leans in, and his lips touch down on hers. Gently. Tenderly. "As I used to tell Saavik, for everything there is a first time."

She wants to kiss him forever. She wants to close her eyes and give in to sleep. She fights the sleep, intent on the feeling of his lips back on hers. He has never touched her with such care.

"Close your eyes, Christine."

She does what he says, and when she opens them again, he's still there.

FIN