Asunder by Djinn

Part 1: Parting

The ship seemed to speak to Chapel and had ever since she'd decided she was going to leave it. Every vibration, every hail and comm, every viewscreen that showed her the stars at warp seemed to be a part of her.

"Nervous yet?" Len asked, leaning past her to grab a hypo.

"Yet? I've been nervous for days and I don't think it's going away anytime soon."

He laughed and waved off the butterflies. "Medical school is nothing. You'll be fine."

"Uh huh." She used to excel at school. But this ship had become her refuge. Her sanctuary. At times her prison. But hers, dammit. She'd convinced Kirk to give her a place and while at the time it might have been only to find Roger, since then she'd earned her spot on the Enterprise. It had been challenging at first, but now it was a safe job she could do in her sleep.

Actually, she had done it in her sleep a few times. Round-the-clock shifts were a bitch.

She heard the sickbay doors open, saw Len look up.

"Why don't you take this one?" Len sounded way too amused for it to be anyone but Spock.

She took a deep breath and turned to the door. "Something I can do for you, sir?"

He looked...strange. She was used to him looking alien--distant, haughty, or even disdainful. But now he looked...off.

She grabbed the scanner, walked toward him, but he surprised her by nodding toward the consult room. He wanted to talk in private?

She followed him in, sat on one side of the desk that provided the necessary barrier to induce honesty. She couldn't count the number of shore leave confessions she'd heard here--confessions that generally came with a skin rash or some other embarrassing souvenir to clear up.

Spock had never been here for that and in this case, she didn't think there was a first time for everything.

"Sir?"

"I have a name. You used to use it." His voice was flat--well, flatter than normal.

"You used to hate me using your name. Or maybe just the way I said it. I was never sure. At any rate, 'sir' seems safer." It had taken years, but she'd finally given up on him.

He nodded and sat silently, staring at the floor.

"There was something of a medical nature you wished to talk to me about?"

He shook his head.

Jesus, God, not the seven-year itch. She thumbed the scanner on; all the readings were Vulcan normal. Not the seven-year itch.

"Spock?"

"I do not know why I came here."

"Did you want to talk?" She turned the scanner off and set it on the desk. "No medicine involved. Just words."

He finally leaned back in his chair and seemed to be studying her. "You are leaving the ship."

"I am." This was not news.

"I shall be--" He took a deep, slow breath.

She waited, wondering what adjective could possibly come out of his mouth. Sorry to see her go? Delighted to see her go? Turning goddamned cartwheels to see her go?

But he didn't finish his thought, just took another of the overly deliberate breaths. "You are leaving to improve yourself, are you not?"

"If you consider being a doctor an improvement over being a nurse, then I guess I am."

He looked confused for a moment.

"Most people do consider that an improvement, Spock. Don't worry I won't get mad if you say so."

"I was not worried you would get mad."

"My mistake. Of course you weren't." The consult room was feeling stuffy, too close with this man who was still able to confuse her with no discernible effort.

"If you were happy here, would you leave to do this?"

"I am happy here, Spock. But that doesn't mean it's not time for new challenges."

His mouth tightened. "Yes. New challenges. Is...is happiness so inconsequential that you would leave it?"

She could tell he was serious, even if it was the oddest thing he'd ever asked her--and they'd had some doozy of uncomfortable conversations over the year. Never one with him seeking her out, though, and looking so almost...miserable as he watched her.

"Are you concerned with my happiness?" she finally asked, even though she was pretty sure he wasn't.

"I am speaking of humans in general. You would leave the familiar for something that was deemed better?"

"It's how we grow, Spock. We have to move on sometimes, no matter how happy we are."

"And you leave people behind."

"Since you're not talking about me leaving you behind"--she smiled to try to show him it was okay that he wasn't talking about that--"I'll just say, yes, that does happen. It's normal, Spock. People come and go in life."

"And that is the attitude most humans have?" He stretched his hand out toward her, seemed completely unaware he was doing it.

"Spock, what is going on with you?"

"Something that is clearly not an improvement." He slowly drew his hand back, stared at it as if it was not attached to him, then stood. "I should not have interrupted your work."

"It's okay. Even if I don't have the faintest idea what we've really been talking about."

"I wish you well, Nurse Chapel." He turned, palmed the door open, and left.

She sat for a moment, staring at the open door. "Just one of the things I'm not going to miss when I get off this ship: Spock's bizarre moments of God knows what."

Picking up the scanner, she went back to work.

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

McCoy watched Christine as she worked. Whatever that damned Vulcan had wanted to talk about, it hadn't seemed to affect her one way or the other. She wasn't in the "He doesn't love me and never will" funk of years gone by. She also didn't seem happy, so Spock's visit hadn't been to profess his undying love. Not that McCoy expected him to profess that, but Spock was half human, and human males had a habit of realizing they'd had a good thing just when the good thing was about to walk out.

"Something on your mind, Doctor?" Christine asked with a grin as she passed him.

"Just wondering what Spock wanted."

"I'm going to miss your inability to speak your mind." She grinned again. "And I'm not sure what he wanted."

"You're not...sure?"

Shrugging, she nudged him out of the way so she could get into the storage cabinets. "That's what I said."

"Hmm."

"Yeah. Hmm." She pulled out a container of vitamin sprays and carried them over to the workstation. "You picked my replacement yet?"

"I can't replace you, Christine. I can pick my next chief nurse, but she sure as hell won't be you."

She glanced at him, then went back to loading hypos for the upcoming crew physicals. "Change is good, Len. New people. Fun new opportunities to bond...and mock."

"I haven't mocked you in a dog's age." He occasionally felt bad for all the grief he'd given her about Spock over the years. But only occasionally.

"Then to bond with." She stopped what she was doing and studied him. "You haven't been letting people in the way you used to."

Looking down, he shook his head as if she was wrong. But she wasn't wrong.

"Why? You like people, Len. Really like them."

"I don't know. Guess I'm getting older, Christine. Men my age don't bond."

"Bull." She nodded toward the cabinets. "Grab me the stress supplements?"

He dug around for them, then handed her the container. "I'm getting set in my ways, Christine. And I know who my friends are, where I fit. If someone wants in enough, I won't stop them. But I'm too old to lead the 'welcome newbies' parade."

"Since you used to lead it wearing a lampshade, that's a relief to all."

"We don't have lampshades."

"You know what I mean."

He laughed, but it came out brittle. Boozing the night away was another thing he'd eased up on as he got older. Holding his liquor wasn't as easy as it once was, and there was nothing more pathetic than an old drunk.

"I'm going to miss you," she said.

"Don't start, Christine. I don't want to go down this road till I'm seeing you off at the transporter."

"Big softie."

"Damn straight, and you know it better than anyone." He met her eyes. "I hate goodbyes."

"I know. Me, too."

The intercom chimed; it seemed unusually shrill in the quiet of sickbay. "McCoy here."

"Bones, could you come to my quarters?" Jim. He sounded okay. There hadn't been any landing parties lately, or visitors intent on stabbing or seducing him, so this probably wasn't an urgent medical issue that the captain didn't want his crew knowing about.

"Now, Jim?"

"If you don't mind?"

"On my way."

Christine gave him a bittersweet smile. "I'll miss hearing his voice. It's...comforting."

"Well, stay and you won't have to miss it."

"Nice try." She waved him away, went back to filling hypos.

He wasn't serious; she should be practicing medicine, not supporting him. McCoy tried to push back the sadness at the thought of her leaving, at the thought of breaking in someone else--someone who would never be his friend the way this woman was.

She gave him the gentle smile that hadn't changed over the years. "Captain's waiting, Doctor."

He nodded and hurried out of sickbay.

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

Kirk paced his quarters. Telling Spock he was leaving had been hard, but telling McCoy seemed suddenly daunting.

His door chimed. "Come," he said.

"You wanted to see me, Jim?" McCoy had on his "How can I help?" face.

"Have a seat." Kirk pointed to the guest chair on the other side of his desk. "I have some news."

"We've been approved for shore leave on Risa, finally? Well, hallelujah, Jim." McCoy was grinning. The devil-may-care smile that won over almost everyone who met him.

Kirk had a feeling that expression was going to disappear fast. "Not exactly. I've..." Jesus. He needed to just spit it out. "They're making me an admiral."

McCoy looked confused. "They are?"

"Yep."

"Admirals don't captain ships, Jim."

"No, they don't." He leaned in, put his hands on the desk, felt the ever-present tingle of his ship--his girl. "I've accepted a position at Command."

"What?"

"I know you heard me." Kirk sat back, crossing his arms over his chest, feeling the irrational need to protect himself. "I'll transfer soon."

"Soon? How soon?"

"No exact date yet." A lie--why the hell was he lying to one of his best friends? He'd done the same thing when Spock asked him. "Soon." As if that was safer than "four weeks from now." He smiled, held his hand out to McCoy. "Say something?"

"Okay. What the hell are you thinking?"

"Bones, I'm tired. And they're making me an admiral."

"Yeah, I heard that part the first time. But it won't be on your ship. The ship you can't live without." McCoy got up, started to pace the way Kirk had been doing earlier. "This is what you were made for, not being stuck in Command. You'll die chained to a desk."

"As far as I know, the chains are optional now." He laughed, but it died as he saw his friend's face tighten. "I'm leaving. It's not up for debate. They need me; I need new challenges. It's a good job, the right move at the right time. Nogura's been a huge supporter and he needs me."

McCoy dropped onto the bed, sat staring at the floor for a long time, before he finally looked up. "Jim, don't get me wrong. If this were anyone else, I'd burst into congratulatory song. But it's you, and I know you, and you belong in space. You belong here. With us."

"You can come with me." He chuckled--the laugh he knew sounded fake. He wished he could make it a little more real. "I'm serious, Bones."

"You need a personal physician on your staff? For what? Indigestion from the cafeteria food?"

"Starfleet Medical is right next door. You could write your own ticket."

"You mean I could write your ticket with my name on it. No thanks." He stood up slowly. "Did you tell Spock the same thing?"

He hadn't told Spock the same thing because Spock hadn't seemed to give a rat's ass that he was leaving. But McCoy didn't need to know that. "He knows he'd be welcome there."

"Seems to me you're trying to recreate what you have here back at Command. Seems to be you should just stay here if that's the case."

"Seems to me you don't know what the hell you're talking about." Kirk took a deep breath. "Come on. Wish me well or something."

"If you're happy, Jim, then I'm happy. Or I'll get that way. But...just give me some time to get used to the idea, okay?"

"Sure." Disappointment flooded him. Disappointment that gave way to anger. McCoy wasn't happy for him. Spock had been at his unemotional worst when he'd heard the news. Would anyone be fucking happy for him? "That'll be all, Doctor."

With a nod, McCoy left.

The room felt empty and cold without him, and Kirk could barely sense the comforting tingle of his ship. She knew he was leaving.

She wasn't happy, either.

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

Spock stared at the meditation flame, unable to reach any kind of stillness, let alone peace.

Jim was leaving. Why was Jim leaving?

The candle flickered, and Spock breathed in the scent of the Vulcan incense his mother sent him regularly, felt the rough fibers of the mediation mat under his feet. He sought the stillness, the emptiness, the moment of perfect clarity.

He didn't find it.

The chime of his door saved him from failing again. "Come."

Christine walked in, stopped just far enough in to allow the door to close, then leaned against the wall, crossing her arms as she stared at him.

He stared back, the stillness in the room more comfortable than the one he had failed to find in his meditation.

"So, there I was in sickbay, working away, when Len comes back in. Muttering. Not happy. Took me awhile to worm what was wrong out of him. But he spilled." She wasn't moving, seemed part of the wall. "In the consult room earlier, you were talking about the captain, weren't you?"

He was not sure he wanted to talk about this to her. He had managed to hide the impact of Jim's words from his friend, had managed to be appropriately Vulcan at the news that Jim was leaving. Why had he not hidden it from this woman? He sat in silence, staring at her, and if she'd pressed him, he'd have asked her to leave. But she didn't press him, so he finally said, "Yes, it was about the captain."

"It hurts. To be left behind."

It did hurt. Why did it hurt this much? Jim was his friend. That would endure no matter where he was assigned. Wouldn't it?

She straightened up, walked over to him, and sat down on the mat, facing him, passing her hand over the candle flame. "Why did you come to me?"

"I do not know."

"I think I do." She smiled at him, and it was a gentle expression. "I'm...constant. Soothing, maybe."

"Perhaps."

"Only I'm getting the hell off the ship. So, maybe not the best person to come to. Len's hurting. You should talk to him." She pulled her hand away from the flame and shook it, smiling ruefully. "Too close too long."

"Will Doctor McCoy stay on the ship?"

"I don't know. I'm not sure he can retire yet. But he's got more than enough years in to resign if he wants." She reached out for the flame again, and he caught her hand to stop her. "You should go to him, Spock. He should be the one you're talking to. You'll both be left behind." Her words seemed unnecessarily harsh, said with piercing directness.

"I feel..."

She waited; no Vulcan woman could stare at him with more equanimity.

"I feel things I do not understand." He had let one person become too important to him. He was Vulcan; the departure of a colleague--even a trusted supervisor--should not distress him this way.

"You feel hurt, Spock. It's what happens when crewmates leave. And you and the captain are more than that. You're friends. Deep, close friends. So...you feel pain."

"Yes." He realized he was still holding onto her hand and let her go. "It is not Vulcan."

"Seems like it is. You're Vulcan, you feel it, ergo, it must be Vulcan."

Her logic would be sound if he were not also half human. A half he had let dominate his life, apparently. A half that now sat inside him, crying out that this hurt too much, that he did not know what to do.

She met his eyes. "Do you need me to stay here?"

"No." He made the answer as direct as her words had been.

She did not seem to mind; her expression did not alter. "Do you want me to stay here?"

"No."

She pushed herself to her feet and turned for the door.

"Yes."

She stopped.

"I want things from you, but I do not need them."

"Things?" She glanced over her shoulder at him. "What kind of things?"

"One emotion can replace another. Is that not true?"

"It is. And if you actually felt any emotion for me, I'd say it was a sound strategy." She turned, walked over to his bed, and sat on it, pulling one leg up under her as she did.

He could not read her expression.

"But if you want to just bury your feelings for a while in my body, that's another thing entirely."

He pushed himself up and walked over to her.

"You'd be using me. We both know that."

"Yes. I would be using you."

She looked up at him, her eyes giving nothing away. "You don't love me."

"No. I do not."

He expected hurt from her, but all he got was a strange little smile. "Well, just so we're clear."

And then she pulled him down to her and kissed him, and he kissed her back, trying to push away the pain, concentrate on where her fingers were or how her mouth opened to his. He eased her clothes off and then his own, and buried himself in her soft, welcoming body. Her touch was gentle, her lips hungry on his, but her eyes were distant, and he felt something color the sex, something inside him. It felt like regret, but it wasn't enough to make him stop. And as she came again in his arms, as he spilled himself into her, their coupling did seem to make the pain go away.

For a while.

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

Chapel woke and smelled the lingering resonance of incense and sweaty sex. She felt Spock move away from her a bit, giving her room, but he stopped short of letting go of her, his hand resting lightly on her upper arm.

"Good morning," she said, turning over so she could see him.

"Good morning."

He looked unsure of what to do next, so she smiled gently and said, "This is the awkward morning after. In case you weren't sure."

"Ah. Thank you for identifying it for me."

She laughed softly. "Not a problem."

He surprised her by tightening his hold on her arm.

"You okay?"

He actually sighed, a sound she'd imagined him making around her--generally out of frustration but this seemed like genuine sadness. Or was it regret?

"Spock?"

"I am...not at ease."

"Hence the awkward part of the awkward morning after." She tried to give him a version of Len's great grin, the one that let everybody off the hook.

"It is more than that. And this is, if I am being honest, not particularly awkward."

"Okay." She leaned in; he ran his hand along her arm as she eased closer to him--his hand felt sinfully good.

"It does, however, concern me that I am here, in bed, with you. Vulcans are not, under normal circumstances, given to meaningless sex."

"Ouch, Spock. Jesus. Meaningless? Pick a new word. Casual is good." She glared at him, but this didn't hurt as much as annoy her, which was actually progress on the Christine Chapel road to self-improvement.

"It was greatly enjoyable meaningless sex."

"Not making it better." She let out a melodramatic sigh.

"I am sorry if my assessment has hurt you."

"Is that another thing Vulcans don't generally do? Hurt their sexual partner with mean words?" She didn't want her question to sting, but it came out harsh.

"I did not intend it to be mean." He touched her cheek, seemed indeed to regret his words. "Was the sex not meaningless for you?"

"The very, very good sex?" The Chapel of old would probably have been fleeing his quarters in tears by now. Fortunately, that Chapel wasn't in the bed. She studied Spock, felt sorry for him rather than angry. "It is what it is. You wanted me; I wanted to find out what I'd been missing, which by the way, gotta give myself credit for recognizing hidden talent."

He looked down, as if embarrassed but she thought he was also satisfied with her assessment.

"I should go, Spock. My leaving the room will end the awkwardness. And I'll be leaving the ship in a few days. You can avoid at will till then...and afterward too, you have my permission to flee if you see me in the halls of Starfleet Command."

He nodded, but his hand tightened even more on her arm. In fact, his grip was starting to hurt.

"Okay. I'm leaving now." As she said it, his hand tightened again; she was going to have some lovely finger marks on her arms. "Or...if you want...we could have more of that meaningless sex."

His death grip eased.

"You'd like that?"

"Yes." But the look he gave her was more tortured than titillated.

She took pity on him, pulled him close and kissed his cheek before finding her way to his ear. She whispered, "If you're going to regret this, then I'll go. No harm, no foul."

"I will no doubt regret this. But I already have much to regret. I do not see what harm adding this to the list will do."

"Never let it be said you can't rationalize with the best of them." She tapped his head gently, smiling as she said, "Maybe there is some human in there."

"There is undoubtedly more than some human in there." His voice was grim, harsh even, but then he pulled her to him and kissed her in a way that touched her even more than he had the night before.

She'd evaded his question. The sex hadn't been meaningless. It wasn't going to devastate her to leave him, but damn, the man could screw with the best of them, and he did it without making her feel like anyone would do in this instance.

Some part of the old Christine whispered that he was making love to her. Fortunately, this Chapel knew better.

Part 2: Absence

Kirk roamed the small confines of his office, wondering where his damn assistant was. Nogura had fifty million good ideas before breakfast, and it was up to Kirk and Lori and a few other "trusted" subordinates to make them happen. Even if good didn't always translate to actionable.

He hit the intercom button again.

"Sir?" Carew sounded harried. But only moderately so. Kirk's hair was on fire and this man only sounded slightly stressed. "Admiral Kirk, Admiral Ciani's on comm 2 for you."

Kirk glanced down at his comm system. No blinking indicators showed Lori was waiting. "You sure about that, Commander?" How the hell had this man made it past ensign?

"Oh, damn. Let me get her back."

"Just go get her. I need to see her before the meeting."

"Yes, sir." The intercom light went dead.

Kirk took a deep breath but it didn't help. He'd navigated a zillion crises on the Enterprise without losing his cool but those had actually mattered. This bureaucratic nonsense was going to drive him over the edge. Nogura's good ideas occasionally pertained to something that seemed worthy of the amount of frenzy that went into a normal day on his staff. But most of the time, Kirk didn't see the point of all this wasted energy.

On his ship--his ship--things would have been different.

A knock sounded on his door. Not Lori's jaunty three-tap sound. Or Carew's tentative knock before he opened the door. This was someone else. "Come."

Spock walked in.

Kirk could feel a smile starting. "Spock, I didn't know you were going to be on Earth."

"I told you." Spock sounded strange. Almost...tentative.

"Did you?" Kirk looked at his calendar for the day--nothing about Spock. Did Carew screw this up, too? "My damned assistant is not very--"

"I sent you a message. Private. You replied."

"Oh. Damn." If Spock were human, Kirk would have pegged him as angry and extremely hurt. "You know how things are when it gets crazy."

"No, Jim. I do not." This time Spock didn't hide the hurt. His voice wasn't shaking but somehow it was conveying disappointment. But his eyes were resigned. Like he'd expected this somehow.

"Spock, it's not a personal thing. I'm so damned busy, I can't keep myself straight on anything."

"Of course."

"Jim, I--" Lori stopped at the still open door. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know you had a guest. Carew said you needed to see me." She smiled at Spock. "We've never met, but I certainly know who you are."

"You have the advantage." Spock was doing the full Vulcan perfectly.

Lori stepped forward, her eyes sparkling a little less. "Admiral Ciani. Lori. It's nice to meet you, Commander Spock."

"Admiral." He glanced at Kirk. "Admiral Kirk, I can see you are busy."

"Spock, it's Jim. Lori won't mind."

No response.

"Look, let me comm you when I finish up. We'll have dinner. Catch up."

"I believe my plans have changed, Admiral. I will be headed for Vulcan by the time you 'finish up.'"

"I'm going to wait outside, Jim." Lori hurried out.

Kirk moved to Spock's side, touched his arm gently, and was startled when Spock jerked away. "Spock, it's just a mistake. I forgot, but I didn't mean to."

Spock wouldn't meet his eyes. "We have not communicated much since you left."

"I think of you, but then some new fire comes up and I never have time to follow through."

"Of course." Again the hurt. It wasn't like Spock to not hide his hurt.

"Are you all right?"

"This is what it is to be Human, is it not? To feel and express those feelings." Spock swallowed hard. "I find it...distasteful in the extreme." He turned to go.

"Spock, wait, Jesus."

But Spock pulled away. He walked to the door, then turned around. "Was I your friend, Jim? Or was I merely useful at the time?"

"How can you even ask me that?"

"How can I not?" He looked down, then met Kirk's eyes. "I do not believe we shall ever meet again, Admiral."

"Because I forgot you were coming?" Kirk felt anger fill him. "Are you aware you're acting like a thirteen-year-old girl?"

"Well, that is the dilemma, sir. A thirteen-year-old Vulcan girl would never act in this manner. I have clearly let my Human side rule me. I am going to take steps to change that."

"I don't understand."

"Look up 'Gol,' Jim." Spock's voice was raw with pain. "That will explain everything. Give my regards to Doctor McCoy and Miss Chapel. If you have time to see them."

He turned and walked out.

Lori peeked in. "I wasn't listening."

Kirk took a deep breath. "Yes, you were."

"Okay, yes, I was." She moved closer to him, pulled him down for a hug. "You don't neglect your friends, Jim. You certainly don't neglect me. He's just...not like us. He obviously latched on a little tighter to you than he should have."

Kirk pulled away. "You don't know what the hell you're talking about. He's half Vulcan. Friends aren't the norm for him. Most Vulcans I've met have...acquaintances or colleagues."

"Well, you're definitely more than either of those." She tugged his hand. "Come on, the old man's waiting for us."

"Just give me a minute, okay?"

"I'll stall. Don't worry." She leaned up and kissed his cheek. "You could have told Spock I was your wife, you know."

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

McCoy pulled his grandfather's Panama hat a little farther down his forehead, kicked back in the rocking chair, and listened to the birds sing. He could feel the breeze blowing against his skin, smell the flowers around the front porch as they soaked in the sun. Peace. Sheer, cussed peace filled him.

He'd never been so fucking bored in his life.

Damn Jim. Damn him for leaving the ship and breaking up what had been a stable and happy family.

McCoy reached for his bourbon, saw the glass was empty and filled it up with the bottle he'd brought out.

"Bit early for that, isn't it?" Chapel's voice. From the front gate.

He pushed back his hat and stood up, beckoning for her to open the gate and come up the short walk to his porch. "Christine, sweetheart, join me for a belt."

"How many have you had?" She hugged him tightly when she got to him, pulling away with a grimace at the beard he'd started to grow. "Nice look, gramps."

"Shut up and sit down." He went into the house and grabbed another glass.

"I just want water," she called through the screen.

"Out of water, all I've got is rockgut." McCoy smiled at her as he came back out.

"I'm serious, Len. I just want water."

He tossed her the glass. "Then go get it yourself. You know where the kitchen is."

She disappeared inside and McCoy threw back his drink and poured another. She came out, sipping her water, and sat down on the bench that ran the whole outside of the porch.

"So."

He tried to smile at her, but could see judgment in her eyes. "So." He took a deep breath--did he really want to chase her away by being a bastard? It wasn't like Jim or Spock were hauling ass to get down to see him. "How's the new ship?"

"It's good. Big."

"They enlarged it?"

She laughed. "No, I mean, they've done something with the corridors, I guess a lot of the components have been improved and made smaller--it just seems roomier, okay?"

"Gotcha." He took a sip, trying to slow down on the booze. "And Decker?"

"He's a good guy. Really good."

McCoy gave her a look.

"Not that way. Get your mind out of the gutter."

"I live a quiet little life, Christine. A tale of spicy romance would do me good."

"Sorry, no spicy romance. No unspicy romance. Well, unless you count a pimply-faced lieutenant who won't leave me alone."

"The man obviously has good taste." But he could see she didn't think so. Some guys just didn't know when to quit. There'd been a time when Christine hadn't known when to quit when it came to Spock.

"You heard from the mighty green one? You see Jim at all?"

"You didn't hear?"

"Hear what?"

She looked down. "Spock went to Gol. Do you know what that is?"

"Yeah." He looked down. "He told me about it after you and Jim left. We talked more than we probably ever had. So he really went and did it--and didn't say a word to me."

She looked away.

"What?"

"Did Admiral Kirk tell you he was getting married?"

McCoy could feel his jaw tighten and nodded. "Oh, yes. Happily hitched to that harpy Lori Ciani. One more stupid move in a long line of them. Chained to a desk and now to her."

"She actually seemed pretty nice."

"Well, I bow to your superior assessment, Nurse." He cringed inwardly. Nurse had come out like an insult. Maybe he'd meant it that way?

"I'm a doctor, Len. It's why I came. To invite you in person to my graduation. But...now I'm not so sure I want to do that. You seem a bit...on edge." She got up, put the water down by his own glass. "I love you, Len. But you can be a real ass sometimes."

She didn't look back.

He toasted her disappearing back. "Yeah, I really can be an ass sometimes."

Part 3: Reunion

McCoy moved around his new sickbay, watching a staff he barely knew, but would get to know, going about their business.

"Glad to be back?" Christine's voice wasn't as soothing as it used to be. But it sounded great, even so.

"Yep. Never thought I'd say that."

"Never thought I'd be back to serving under the Trinity."

He laughed. He'd heard Jim and Spock and himself called lots of things, that included. Some of them were a bit naughtier. "You okay with that?" Decker had wanted her to have his place, after all. Well, not his place. But to be the head of this shining new sickbay. The place McCoy had now.

"Yep." She grinned at him. "But try giving me a rash of shit, Len, like the last time we talked. Just try."

"I should have commed you. Should have apologized. I should have been sober and civil and I hate that I missed your graduation."

"I do, too. And yeah you should have been. But Ny said you'd cut way back on the booze, and it sure seems like that's true."

Uhura and Sulu had come to visit him, had given him an invite to the refitted Enterprise's launch reception. He hadn't gone, but he'd enjoyed their visit, hadn't chased them away the way he had her.

"So we're okay, Christine?"

"Yes, you annoying man. We're more than okay. We're great."

He laughed again. He was doing that a lot. Escaping an entity hell bent on killing everything he knew and loved probably had a lot to do with that. "This is where we belong, Christine. All of us."

"If you say so, boss."

"It is. Even Spock knows that now." He watched her closely. She'd practically squeaked when she saw Spock. It could have been happiness. Could have been surprise, too. A lot could happen in the days before someone transferred off, and McCoy wouldn't put it past these two to find a way to connect when it couldn't possibly help. "So, how is Spock?"

"You're his doctor."

"Am I? You're not?"

She shot him a look. Not the hurt look of the early years. Not the annoyed look of the later years. This look was more confused than anything. "What?"

"Never mind. Just thought maybe you and he..."

"Spock and I? Uh, no." Something slipped in her voice. Something that made him think that she was lying. "Oh, shit." She was looking at the door. A young lieutenant was walking purposefully toward them. "Stalker at one o'clock."

"The one you told me about?"

She nodded. "Powers. I made the mistake of being nice to him." She turned to the man and said with a businesslike tone, "Something we can do for you?"

"I just wanted to make sure you were okay. After everything that just happened with that V'ger thing, I thought--"

"I'm fine. Very busy. You'll have to excuse me."

The man showed no signs of moving, so McCoy moved between them. "Son, when a doctor tells you she's busy, then she's busy. Git."

The man didn't move.

"Do it now, son. Unless you want me to perform some highly embarrassing procedure on you. It will involve oozing."

That got him.

Christine shook her head. "I finally know what Spock went through with me."

McCoy agreed with her, but figured she didn't need to hear him say that. Maybe he was mellowing with age? "Do we have anything to do?"

"Not a damn thing."

"Well, then, I'm going to mosey on up to the bridge." He saw her expression change. "What?"

"Just so you know. Now that I'm a doctor, I'm going to do some of the moseying from here on out. But I'm fine with you going first." She waved him off. "Go forth and lurk, Len."

He grinned. Things were going to change around here. And it seemed like it was for the better.

Jesus, he was as giddy as Spock with his post-V'ger emotional binge. His house and porch seemed a hell of a long way away, once again a peaceful place to visit for a break, but not to live in. He was home. With his friends.

Where he belonged.

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

Spock took a deep breath as he contemplated the chessboard. He was finally feeling a lessening of the emotional turmoil the meld with V'ger had left him with. He was still given to more displays than anyone around him appeared used to, but at least he felt somewhat in control of the emotions, even if he had an unreasoning need to display them.

"You ever going to make a move?" Jim's voice was gentle, his grin highly amused.

"I am considering."

"You're stalling."

"Perhaps."

"Spock, something you said, in my office that day. About whether we were really friends..."

Spock met his eyes.

"We are. I just let myself get busy, too busy. I let things go that I shouldn't have."

"There is a line that's difficult to see with you, Jim. You manipulate us all, but I'm not sure it's a bad thing. It makes for an efficient team. You draw us in, make us feel a part of something."

"Us?"

"All right. Me. You drew me in. Much more than Captain Pike ever did." And he had considered Pike a good friend, had risked his career and life to save him.

"And you thought I'd used you. Do you still?"

Spock could see the dismay in Kirk's face. "I know what I feel, Jim. V'ger showed me that, how...simple it is. And I know that your reaction to first seeing me was that of a friend, not someone merely happy to see a subordinate they could count on."

"You are my friend."

"There are remnants of my experience at Gol, and they war at the moment with the inundation of feeling from the meld with V'ger. But I think, once both have settled down, that I will believe that."

"Someday, Spock, you won't have to believe it. You'll know it."

Spock allowed himself a small smile--he could blame it on V'ger later. "I look forward to that day."

"Me, too." Jim took a deep breath and looked back at the chessboard. "Let's play, all right?"

A few moves later, Spock's attention was drawn past Jim, to the bar where Christine was standing with Uhura and Rand. She looked different, straighter somehow, although her posture had always been excellent. Perhaps it was the dark hair worn so severely? She almost looked Vulcan.

"See something interesting?" Jim had followed his gaze, seemed to know exactly who Spock was looking at.

"It is good to be all together."

"Nice try at deflection. Look, either go talk to her or make a damn play."

Spock turned back to the chessboard and advanced a piece in what turned out to be a rather brilliant, if erratic, move.

Jim studied the board, making impressed faces. "Playing at Gol? Never seen you use that move before."

"Perhaps the discipline enhanced my game." Spock again was drawn to Christine and the young officer trying to engage her in conversation. Christine looked annoyed; her companions seemed amused.

"Spock. For God's sake, if you're interested, go over and rescue her."

"She does not appear to need assistance." Christine's current expression made T'Pring's habitual haughtiness appear welcoming.

"I notice you did not say you weren't interested."

"And I did not say I was." He moved another piece. This time the result was not brilliant, but fortunately did not lead to ruin.

Jim moved a piece quickly, then stood. "I'm going to refresh this drink. You want anything? Milk? Tea? A certain doctor?"

Spock realized he was glaring, tried to change the expression into something more Vulcan.

"I had to, Spock. You're making it so easy." Jim grinned in the open, easy way he had before leaving the Enterprise, before Spock ran to Gol.

"I have missed you, Jim." It was the truth, even if truth in this case was battered by all the things that had driven Spock to Gol, to try to purge this man and the betrayal he'd felt at his departure.

"I've missed you, too." Jim laid his hand on Spock's shoulder as he walked past him toward the bar. A welcoming touch, a warm signal of home.

Spock leaned back and allowed himself to revel in the feeling of once more being exactly where he should be.

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

Chapel glanced out her office, saw Lieutenant Powers heading her way. "Not again." Unfortunately, no one was going to rescue her from her overly determined admirer but her.

"Doctor Chapel. I was hoping we might have a word. I know you'll be off shift soon." Powers gave her the insipid grin that made her shudder--inside, anyway; she did her best to give the man a stony look that even a Vulcan woman would envy.

"A word about...?"

"Well. Us."

Another stony look.

He looked down, turned red, then moved a step closer. "If you'd just give me a chance--"

"Lieutenant?" A new voice, not an unfamiliar one, though. "Surely, there are more appropriate uses for your time."

Powers blanched and turned to face Spock. "Sir, Doctor Chapel and I were--"

Spock shook his head tightly, the motion cutting off whatever Powers thought he and Chapel were doing.

"I'll just be going."

Spock moved aside but said nothing. He met Chapel's eyes and a slow smile started. The look was just so wrong. As soon as Powers was gone, Spock moved toward her, making her step back if she didn't want him walking into her. She retreated into her office and he followed, palming the door closed as his smile grew.

"That smile on you is creepy."

"You don't like the idea of a more emotional version of the man you love?"

"I don't love you."

"Of course not." He studied the things she'd put out on her desk and shelves, his eyes lingering on the diploma she'd hung at McCoy's urging. "You seemed happy to see me. Your voice rose precipitously."

"I was surprised. Surprised does not equal happy."

"Fascinating." The typical Spock comment was ruined by the way his eyes burned as he looked at her. "Lieutenant Powers. A suitor?"

"Hardly. Imagine me chasing you and replace me in that miniskirt with him."

"So you are saying you are attracted to him?"

"I was a pest, not a seductress."

"You were persistent. Also attractive. Is that how you feel about him?"

"No, I'm saying he's an annoyance." She pushed him out of the way so she could sit down. "And you weren't attracted to me."

"You are mistaken." He had a tone that in a human would have made his words a "was, too" kind of response.

"It's V'ger, Spock. You're emotional from the meld, and as fun as it might be to mock you, we did just escape the end of everything--more than probably because you merged with that thing--so I'll let your behavior slide. If you go away."

He moved, but not to go away. He sat down in her guest chair. "Are you uninterested, then, in repeating our...casual encounter?"

"You mean our meaningless one?" It bothered her that the word still stuck in her mind. But why was her correction stuck in Spock's? "I thought you forgot all about things like that at Gol?"

"Forgot, no. Let go of."

"Oh. My mistake."

"I was attempting to purge myself of emotions. Of my humanity. The hardest part to push away were the memories. But, for a time, I did. I pushed them to the recesses of my mind. But I did not ever lose them. V'ger pillaged my memories, Christine, in its search for meaning. It found the things that I'd hidden. It pulled them loose. Jim. McCoy."

"Your friends."

"My friends. My family." He studied her, wearing an expression that finally looked like the old Spock. "And...you."

"Our encounter, you mean."

"They are one and the same." He leaned forward. "So, Doctor Chapel." He put a strange emphasis on the title, and Chapel frowned until she realized it was a nod to her accomplishment. "Were you happy to see me?"

They seemed to be having a stare down, and she felt as if he could wait forever for her to give up. Forever seemed too long, so she said softly, "Yes."

"Excellent. Would you care to repeat our encounter?"

"That's so unromantic."

"Did you want romance?" Spock gave her a harsh grin. "Because I am relatively certain I can find Lieutenant Powers for you."

"You're such a jerk."

He waited, apparently unconcerned at her assessment. Or possibly agreeing with it.

"No. I don't want to repeat our encounter." She held up her hand as he started to speak. "Our encounter was overly clouded with ulterior motives. You wanted to forget your pain. I wanted to experience sex with you to satisfy my curiosity. It wasn't just sex. It wasn't even casual."

"Your analysis is accepted." He steepled his fingers, the cool, logical Vulcan movement ruined only by the upward quirk of one side of his mouth. "If you do not wish to repeat that encounter, what would you like to do?"

"Hmmm." She met his eyes. The stare down was over, and the look he was giving her was surprisingly gentle--warm, even. "I thought I'd never see you again."

"I thought the same."

"I'm glad I was mistaken."

"I, too, am happy." And for the moment, he did seem to be. Although happiness gave way to an emotion a lot lustier if the way he was looking at her was any indication.

She got up and walked toward the door. "You coming?"

His smile told her he completely understood the double entendre.

-----------

Kirk woke to the sound of his ship--a new girl in some ways, made over and making sounds he wasn't sure he quite knew yet. Like a lover he hadn't seen in years.

A lover. His love.

His home.

A home with his friends. Friends he would see again today, resume the process of reconnecting, hopefully with no dire crises to threaten the reunion. He stretched and took his time getting ready, was just stepping into the corridor to head to the mess hall for breakfast when Chapel's door opened and Spock walked out.

"Hmm. Spock. How interesting, since I'm fairly certain your quarters are just over there." He pointed back behind him.

"Jim." Spock turned, looked into Chapel's quarters, and said something that sounded astoundingly like "I will see you later."

Chapel came to the door, saw Kirk, and began to blush. "Oh, sir, I...this isn't--"

"Exactly what it looks like." He was grinning like a fool and knew it. He turned to grin at Spock. "You sly dog."

Chapel rolled her eyes. "It was I, sir, who took advantage of him."

"It was, Jim. As I am in a particularly susceptible state due to the meld with V'ger."

"How long are you going to blame everything on that?" Chapel asked with a laugh.

"I was wondering the same thing, Chris."

Spock seemed to be on the verge of laughing. No trace of embarrassment, just a calm acceptance and what looked like possibly happiness. He went on as if they'd said nothing. "I will forgive this lapse in judgment, Doctor. There was, fortunately, no harm done."

She laughed, and her eyes met Spock's. There was definitely something new there. Very intense. Very damn hot. Probably eight hours of nonstop screwing.

Kirk suddenly wondered when they'd hit a new planet.

"Okay, well if you two kids are done making eyes at each other, perhaps we can all get to work."

"Yes, sir," Chapel said, with no discernible aura of respect. She winked at him, then let the door slide shut.

"Spunkier than I remember." And she'd had her share of sass to begin with.

"Accomplishment--the attainment of a goal--can be beneficial for one's outlook."

"I have to say I didn't find being an admiral especially good for my outlook. How'd Gol work out for you, old friend?"

"It is not a universal effect."

"Well, at least Doctor Chapel benefitted from her new experience."

"Indeed." Spock looked like he'd benefitted pretty damn well from it, too.

A noise sounded that Kirk finally identified as Spock's stomach growling.

"My apologies, Jim. I have not eaten breakfast. And we...skipped dinner."

"I just bet you did." He wanted to ask Spock if Chapel was good. But even with the V'ger openness, that seemed like too big a line to cross.

"In this case, missing a meal was a most satisfying experience." Asked and answered, then.

"Glad to hear it." Kirk saw McCoy coming out of his quarters. "Bones, join us for chow. Spock has some news for you."

"I do not," Spock said, no trace of V'ger in the tone.

McCoy joined them with a grin. "I'll pry it loose from you."

Kirk knew he wouldn't, but he'd have a hell of a good time trying. "It's good to be home, gentleman."

McCoy grumbled something about pointy-eared Vulcans. Spock lifted an eyebrow. Kirk laughed.

And, in the background, Kirk's ship hummed happily.

FIN