Passion is the Gale
life's vast ocean diversely we sail,
Reason the card, but passion is the gale.
- Alexander Pope
It was unexpectedly hot for San Francisco: a muggy, moon-free night and Chapel sat sweating on a bench outside Starfleet Medical.
"Chris?" Doctor Coulter was calling for her. The man who'd just told her she was doing a procedure wrong--a procedure she'd done scads of times as a nurse. Old blowhard--the way he was showing them might be by the book, but out on a ship in the middle of nowhere, by-the-book took too damn long. People died when you went by the book--she'd found that out the hard way. Coulter hadn't logged a single minute in space other than tourist travel. Why in hell did Starfleet make civilian assignments like this?
Miss. Fucking miss? She was a lieutenant now. And she was a resident. Moreover, she'd earned her M.D. in record time. Probably why Coulter made it his personal mission to bring her down any chance he got. Rumor was he hadn't earned his M.D. in record time.
She ignored him. She'd go in when she was damned good and ready and she wasn't ready yet.
She heard footsteps coming up the walk, stared resolutely out at the darkness. The footsteps stopped, and she heard someone sit, then scoot over until his uniform-clad leg pressed against hers, adding heat to her already overheated body. A flask was pressed into her hand; she drank deeply.
"Bad day at the office, dear?" Jim asked.
"Shut up." She handed the flask back. She'd kill for about two more long pulls on it, but that wasn't good for her, for the work, for anything, really.
They drank way too much together.
"I believe that was Coulter calling you."
"What did he do now?" Jim didn't stop at one pull. Fortunately there was plenty more booze where that came from. Top-shelf booze, not the rockgut most of the students drank. Privilege of being an admiral--the only one that Jim seemed to like. "Coulter. What'd he do?"
"Dressed me down for doing a procedure 'wrong.'"
"It wasn't by the book. But it wasn't wrong, either."
He laughed softly. "You sound just like Bones."
"Well, I didn't mean to."
He turned to look at her. "I know why I'm mad at him, but when are you going to tell me why you are?"
"I'm not mad at him."
"Doesn't seem that way to me. Trust me, Chris. The truth won't hurt."
"Won't it?" She eased away a little, the press of his leg suddenly too much.
He seemed to be waiting for her to say something, let out a slow exhalation of air, and then murmured, "Lori stopped by."
She could feel her mouth tightening. "You're a real bastard sometimes."
"No, Chris. These days I'm a real bastard all the time." He took another pull. "She wanted to give us another try."
"Do you want that?"
"Not while we're together. We are still together, aren't we?"
"Yes. We are." It was strange. Them. Together. Jim Kirk and her. She hadn't looked for it. Hadn't even considered it. But he'd been spending a lot of time in the officers' club and so had she. He liked to play pool and so did she. They both were often irritated by the world in general and their colleagues in particular. And sex seemed to make them feel better. As did the alcohol. She wasn't sure which was the better numbing agent.
But that he had to ask if they were together was not a good sign of how well they were communicating. But then again, she wasn't certain communication was as much the goal as some form of connection.
Again he seemed to be waiting for more. "Well, there you go: we're together. So you see, Doctor Chapel, I couldn't entertain her invitation."
She met his eyes, smiled. "I love it when you call me that."
"I know. Why do you think I do it?" He oomphed as she elbowed him lightly. "Well, it's possible I might like calling you that."
"So what are you going to tell Lori when I'm in space and you're not?" It was a valid question but it came out all wrong. Harsh--she hadn't meant to be harsh.
"I don't really look that far ahead for us."
She closed her eyes, trying to bury the slap of his words. Jim wasn't exactly a novice in giving back as good as he got these days. It seemed like everything happy, everything noble in him, was being eaten away with each day at his desk.
And that was why she was mad at Len. Because he'd been right. Jim should never have left space. But he had, and now she sat with him, together but still stinging from the cruelty she was relatively sure neither of them meant to let loose.
She fought to keep her voice steady as she asked, "No?" and moved a bit farther away.
He didn't answer, just sat quietly, and she finally reached out and touched his hand.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I don't think we bring out the best in each other."
"Maybe not." He turned his hand, let their fingers entwine. "Sadly, I'm not complaining about that."
"No, I'm not either." She leaned in, gave him a long, lingering kiss that he returned with the dizzying passion that had made him her favorite addiction. "I'll see you tonight?"
"Yep." He got up, stashed his flask...somewhere. Did he have special pockets sewn in his uniform? "Chris?"
She looked up, could barely see his expression by the light spilling out of the building. "What?"
He stared down at her, finally waved whatever it was away like it was silly. "I'll tell you later," he said as he headed down the dimly lit walk to his apartment.
The apartment he'd shared with Lori. Her things were gone, and a few of Chapel's had taken their place. But only a few.
Truth be told, she really didn't look that far ahead for them, either.
They lay entwined, and Kirk tried not to dwell on the fact that this woman he was touching and the ship he loved would both soon be leaving him behind.
Unfortunately it was all he could think about. It had made him surly. Made him almost too rough in bed with her.
Chris hadn't seemed to mind. That worried him almost as much as him being that way.
They didn't bring out the best in each other. She'd said it before, more than once. She'd never said the version that might be more true: they were bad for each other.
Would they still be, if he were on the ship and she on Earth? He could be faithful even if he was in space; he imagined she could be faithful Earthbound. If he were actually happy, could he make her happy, too?
"Mmmm," she nuzzled his neck, kissing her way down with the rare tenderness that made him feel cherished. She could be so sweet when she let her guard down.
"Content?" he asked, knowing it was the closest they would probably come to happy. Sated. Drowning and dizzy with sex and the booze that always seemed to be part of their interludes. Laughing sometimes, at jokes, but lately they always seemed to be mean jokes. At someone's expense, and he thought they both were fairly uncomfortable with that. It wasn't their style, either of them. They weren't like this.
They weren't like this. Yet, here they were being like this.
"You're thinking too hard," she said in her husky, post-climax voice. "You're wasting time inside your head."
"When I could be wasting time inside you?" He immediately regretted the quick comeback. He felt her pull back and held on tightly. "I'm sorry. I'm..." What the hell was he? Mad? Jealous? Sad--was he sad that the woman he lov--
He'd never told her that he loved her. Tried not to think about how much he probably did. The word "love" had no place in their interaction.
Then why did he sense he'd miss her more than he'd ever missed Lori?
"You know, maybe it'd be a good idea if I headed up to the ship early." There was something broken in Chris's voice. Something that said he'd shot too deep this time.
"Maybe that'd be best. Just get up to the ship and Decker."
Decker. Damn her. She knew what to say to make it hurt. She could shoot deep, too.
"Yes, wouldn't want you to miss any quality time with him."
"You recommended him."
"So I did." He felt his anger rising. Other parts of him were rising too. The roughness wasn't over, even if he felt he should be tender with her and let her know that he'd miss her.
That he lov--cared about her.
"What?" She was studying him. She missed so little and yet missed the biggest thing of all.
"Just lie back and be quiet." He pressed her into the bed, then grinned. "Or you can make noise. If you want."
She made a lot of noise, and he made a lot of noise, and in the end, the noise was spent and they lay together wrapped in each other's arms.
He pretended he was asleep when she started to cry.
She'd done her best to avoid Jim. He wasn't supposed to be on the ship, wasn't supposed to steal it away from Decker. But he had.
And now Decker was gone and Jim was back--for good, apparently.
And she knew exactly where that left her--where that left them.
He hadn't said much to her. She'd said even less to him. Especially once the 800-pound Vulcan gorilla had walked onto the bridge and then tried to mind meld with an inhuman killing machine. Ironies of irony, Spock was now much more human than he'd ever been.
Jim and she hadn't spoken much about Spock when they'd been together. That had probably not been a good thing.
"A word, Doctor?" Jim sounded like the consummate professional. His eyes gave nothing away as she walked into the deputy CMO's office and waited for him to close the door.
God help her, but she wished he'd kiss her. Or ask her if she was glad to see him, which she was. Or compare notes on what it was like to be sober for this many hours in a row with no desire to down a few belts to make life go by better.
Well, almost no desire. It would all depend on what he had to say.
"You know I'm staying, right?" His voice was a little off--tentative, maybe.
"I heard." Not from him, but she'd heard.
"Then of course you know that our relationship is..."
She saved him the effort of searching his mental thesaurus for synonyms for dead and rotted. "Over?"
She studied him, tried to see some sign that this was hurting him and failed. "You say that with such ease."
"No, Chris. I really don't." He turned, but paused at the door. "We had fun, right?"
Fun. The way he said it was like a knife torn through her belly. "Sure we did." She fought to keep her voice even. If he didn't care, she'd pretend she didn't, either.
"Nothing more." He didn't look at her, and she couldn't tell if she was imagining the slight rise at the end of the sentence.
Would it matter if he was asking her? Would it help to tell him that she'd fallen in love with him? She knew his rules, and one of his biggest was he didn't sleep with his crew. She only had to look at Jan's history with him to understand that. And Jan had always been far more enticing than Chapel had ever been. Especially to him.
"I'm thinking about transferring." She saw him stiffen.
He half turned. "Jesus, Chris. Grow up." Then he walked out and the door slid closed behind him.
She leaned back on her desk, breathing deeply, willing herself not to cry. Not over him. Not over this. Over them--had there even been a them?
She took a deep, ragged breath and went out to find something--anything--to do in the cold new sickbay.
Kirk watched the two Irellian women give him the eye. The tradition here ran to multiples. And they were good looking people. He smiled, but then turned away when he heard a familiar laugh.
Chris was talking to Spock. Talking to Spock, not talking at him or even chasing after him. Talking to him. And he was talking back. In fact, he looked damned comfortable monopolizing her at the end of the table. And whatever he was saying was funny enough to make her laugh heartily.
Goddamn fucking emotions. Spock had to go on a wanderjahr now to explore his feelings? And with her? He couldn't take advantage of Uhura or anyone else on the ship.
He had to go for Kirk's girl?
Shit. Not good. He had to stop thinking like that. He forced his gaze away from his best friend and his...whatever the hell she was, and smiled again at the Irellian women. They got up and came over to him, laughing as they pulled him up and onto the dance floor.
He lost himself in the two voluptuous beauties until he realized that Spock was dancing with Chris. Spock danced? Since when did Spock dance?
Spock was holding Chris tightly, his hand altogether too low on her back, nearly on her ass. What the hell?
"Captain Kirk, you seem distracted," one of the women--Maruva or something--said softly.
"No. No, I'm fine." If fine was being ready to rip his friend's head off. Or maybe Chris's. Was she enjoying this?
Spock turned, and Chris was suddenly staring at Kirk, and he saw a flash of hurt as she took in his dance partners.
So she did care.
He smiled tightly and she did the same. Then she pulled gently out of Spock's arms, murmured something, and walked to the bar.
"Excuse me, ladies," Kirk said as he followed Chris, leaving the lovely duo to hopefully console Spock.
"You seem to be having fun," she said just before she downed a small glass of the local fire water.
"Could say the same for you." He downed a glass, too, and felt it burn all the way to his gut. "I seem to remember you mentioning you were over him."
"I seem to remember you implying you didn't care. That we just had...fun." She turned to look at him as she grabbed another glass; her eyes seemed to drill into him. "Chin chin, Captain." Down the drink went.
"Well, fun may have been an exaggeration." He downed the glass and slammed it on the counter, earning a baleful look from the Irellian barkeep. He glared back and threw another drink back. His head was spinning and his throat was burning. "Do you want to dance?"
"Yes," she said, then held up a finger for him to wait as she slammed back a drink to bring her up to equal with him. "By all means, let's dance."
It wasn't, strictly speaking, dancing. It was more like a war. Or perhaps vertical sex without kissing or clothes coming off. They got more than a few surprised looks.
"I really don't like you right now, Chris. Couldn't you wait till we were cold to take up with my best friend?"
"I haven't taken up with him. I was just dancing. An activity that was, frankly, a lot more pleasant with him than with you."
"He wants you."
"He's horny, Jim. The meld with V'ger had some residual effects. And you don't have to worry. I'm just a nice warm body."
"How nice? How warm?"
"None of your business."
Kirk felt dizzy from the powerful booze and worried that he might actually fall down. "I feel sick."
"Me, too." She pulled away. "But in my case, it's not the drink that's causing my nausea."
He gave her the look that used to make her laugh, the one that said, "Sure, it isn't." He expected her to get angry or to stomp away.
But she laughed. "Okay, maybe it is that horrible booze. Damn. I haven't been drinking much lately. I'm out of practice. Spock's more a tea kind of guy."
Kirk took a deep breath. "Are you...with him?"
"No. But he's actually...nice to me. He wants me, but he's not pushing it. He's...talking to me."
She looked down. "Like we used to do, when we weren't having sex. I miss that. I'm lone--"
Was she? Was she lonely? Because he sure as hell was.
Kirk felt a tap on his shoulder, turned to see Spock standing there, the unnerving little post-V'ger smile in evidence. "Cutting in, old friend?"
Spock lifted an eyebrow, looked from Kirk to Chris and back again. "Is that a problem, Jim?"
"Not at all." He surrendered Chris to Spock and made a speedy getaway to the local side of the festivities. The Irellian women found him again. This time, he followed them back to their apartment instead of to the dance floor.
He didn't look back to see what Chris thought of that.
The room seemed cooler and Chapel rolled over on her stomach so she could look at Spock. "Did you adjust the temperature for me?"
"You did not seem to relish Vulcan high summer." His mouth tilted up just a bit in the smile she was starting to get used to after weeks of sharing his bed. It had been much broader right after V'ger. But now she was probably the only one seeing it.
She and Spock. Finally together. After she watched Jim walk off with his curvy bimbos, pairing up with Spock--someone who actually wanted her and was willing to do something about it--had been the least she could do. She'd felt guilty, though. The first few times. But now, after watching Jim walk off with more alien tarts, she barely gave it a thought.
It didn't hurt at all. That Jim didn't want her. Or that he did but wouldn't take her.
Or that she might be using Spock in all this. Not that he appeared to care that much--he was definitely enjoying the sex.
She leaned down and kissed him, making it tender and sweet. "That's for cooling this place off. I didn't like high summer." Especially not after the athletic and inventive sex they usually had. Spock seemed to be one curious fellow when it came to novel--and sometimes scary--positions. "I'm worn out. You've done me in this time, Spock."
He ran his fingers through her hair the way she liked. His eyes narrowed, and his lips tightened as he touched her. "Jim asked me if we would be spending the upcoming shore leave together."
"You and him?" She laughed softly.
"No, Christine, you and I." Spock did not seem amused. And he usually enjoyed her strange sense of humor. "Why, do you imagine, he would want to know this?"
She could see this mattered to him. He'd asked her about Jim once, that night after Jim had left with the Irellian women: "Is there something between you?" She'd given him the most puzzled look she could muster and murmured something about Jim not having been the one she stalked all those years during their first mission together.
Of course her behavior with Jim on the dance floor had probably given lie to her attempt to misdirect. Spock had seemed to accept it though. He'd also seemed amenable to returning to the ship with her, escorting her to his quarters, ripping her clothes off, and screwing her senseless. Spock had even seemed happy, in a toe-curling, hair-on-end, really good orgasm way.
Now, he didn't look happy at all.
She kissed him again, and he let her, but then he pushed her gently away. "Why does he care, Christine?"
"Probably just accounting for the whereabouts of his crew. How many shore leaves have gone badly for this ship's crew, after all." Probably only about two, but maybe he'd fall for it.
He gave the Vulcan version of an eye roll. "He said nearly the same thing when I asked him." Spock let her go, moving to sit up, the covers falling around his hips as he leaned back and studied her. "When is one of you going to admit that you care for the other?"
His disappointment in her was palpable. It stung only slightly less that he seemed just as disappointed in Jim.
She felt anger rising--or maybe it was guilt, finally putting in an appearance. "That's an odd question coming from the man whose bed I share most nights."
"Not odd. After all, I am fully cognizant that if Jim would have you, my bed would be much colder." He sighed, a short little puff of air.
"This is a ridiculous conversation."
"That would be more comforting if you would deny what I said." He touched her face, his expression rueful. "I am fully aware of his self-imposed rules regarding fraternization."
"Self-imposed? So you think he should have jumped Jan all those years ago?"
"That would have been inappropriate. She was in his chain of command. You, however, are not. You are independent. It is why I allow myself to enjoy you."
"I do enjoy you. Your company. This sharing of intimate pleasures."
"So...it's just fun." God help her--once again, she was doing great in the "Miss Right Now" contest.
"It is more than just fun, Christine. But I do not give us much more time."
Had he and Jim been practicing cutting lines to use on the woman they were screwing? Because assigning a short shelf life was a winner. She slid the covers off and moved away from him.
He stopped her, his grip like iron. "Ask me why I do not give us much time."
"No. I don't care."
"Very well, I will tell you anyway. Because eventually, Jim will realize he wants you back, and his rules will cease to matter, and he will take you from me." His voice was emotionless, but his eyes burned.
"What if I won't go?"
"You will. If I thought you would stay, we would not now be having this conversation."
She felt trapped. And off balance. Where was this coming from? Why did he have to bring Jim up and ruin what had been a fun night? She tried to wrench herself free from his grasp and he tightened it. "And you will just let me go?"
"He is my best friend." His hand relaxed, then he released her.
"If you're such good friends, shouldn't you have stayed away from me in the first place?"
"Quite possibly. If I had known. If you had been honest with me. But you were not, and truthfully, I am not certain I was in any state to care." Again the little half smile. "The post-meld effects were intense. My desire raged. And even once I concluded you had been in some kind of relationship with him, I knew he would not take you right away. In fact, it might well be my being with you that will spur him to action. You are my friend, now too, Christine. I believe you love him. If he reclaims you, then you will be happier than you are now."
"And if he doesn't?"
"Then I will keep you. And I will do my utmost to make you nearly as happy."
Something in his voice made her wince. She realized it was hopelessness. "It's a win-win for me," she said gently. "What about you?"
"I am not sure I matter in this, not in the end."
"That's not right." He should matter. He was kind--kinder than she ever imagined. And good in bed. He was smart and everything she'd thought he'd be--maybe even more--when she'd fantasized endlessly about him.
He was all those things, but her heart still beat faster when she saw Jim. She'd stopped drinking the way she'd done during med school. Knew he'd stopped drinking as heavily, too. But he was still a drug to her. She felt dizzy and intoxicated around him. Even when they weren't doing more than glaring. Which they did a lot these days.
"It's not right that you don't matter, Spock." Was she trying to convince him--or herself?
"I am resigned to this, Christine. Now, since our relationship is likely to end in the near future, may we turn our attention back to sex?" He moved closer and kissed her hard.
She knew the rest of the night wouldn't be gentle. He'd possess her for as long as he could.
And then he'd let her go.
If he was right. If Jim actually broke his unbreakable rule. Which seemed less likely to her with every day that passed.
Kirk watched Spock study the chess board. His friend sat calmly, occasionally looking at Kirk in his normal, untroubled way.
He was fucking Chris and he could sit there as if nothing was wrong.
"You seem distracted, Jim." Spock chose a piece, moved it down one level.
Kirk barely glanced at the board as he moved something somewhere. "Nope."
"You may take that move back if you want."
Kirk was spoiling for a fight, had been for weeks now. "And just why would I want to do that?"
"Primarily because it was illegal." Spock sounded amused, damn him.
Kirk glanced at the board. His move was illegal, but he folded his arms over his chest and said in his captain-being-diplomat voice, "Let's pretend it's not."
"The same way you pretend that I am not with the woman you care for?" Spock's amusement disappeared; he looked almost sad.
Kirk felt the fight go out of him. Then it came roaring back and brought friends with it. "What? You want to talk about it...now? You've been with her for how long, and we've never broached the subject."
"I believe it is time for us to discuss this."
"Because I have grown to care for her. And I will soon be unable to give her up."
"Give her up? To whom?" What the hell was Spock talking about?
"To you, Jim. I know that she loves you."
It was good news. Unusable. Damned inconvenient. But good news.
On the other hand, she was still making the beast with two backs with someone who was not him. "Well, old friend, she looks pretty damned happy with you."
"She's on my crew, Spock. You know my rules."
"I do." Spock leaned in, steepling his fingers as if this were a logic question and not a matter of the heart--and parts lower. "I also believe, in this case, your rules do not need to apply. But you need to believe that. I would ask that you have your epiphany sooner rather than later."
"What? You want me to storm your quarters and challenge you for the woman?"
"I'd prefer you try talking to her. I have been given to understand that your relationship in the past was not the most positive one."
Spock nodded slowly. "Perhaps the two of you could work on that?"
"Sooner. Rather than later."
"Yes. As a favor to me."
Kirk felt something tighten in him and leaned forward, pitching his voice low. "You're goddamn enjoying this."
"No, Jim, I am not enjoying this. Soon I will not enjoy watching her go to you. But right now, it is true that I am enjoying her. But I am your friend. She loves you more than she will ever love me. I believe you love her. It is only logical that I get out of the way of that love."
"Logical? And I suppose it was logical to take up with her in the first place?"
Spock's lips quirked only a tiny bit. He had lost the post-V'ger expressions. "No, it was not logical to embark on this affair. It was, in fact, entirely emotional. A result of the meld, as I think you well know. What was logical was my decision to continue the affair, even after my emotional instability had worn off, even after I knew what she felt for you."
"That was logical? How so?" This was going to be good.
"If I had left her, then she might--in fact most probably would have--found someone else on the crew to be with. And that person might not have been so amenable to yielding the right of way to you. As you are my friend, and your happiness matters to me, staying with her seemed advisable."
Kirk laughed tightly. "I'm supposed to believe the only reason you're with her is to keep her safe for me?"
"I did not say that was the only reason. I said that was the logical reason."
"But in the meantime--just to get things straight--you're going to keep fucking her?"
"Yes. I am a good friend, Jim, even if you are having difficulty believing that at the moment. I am not, however, a martyr." He made a move that Kirk immediately saw doomed him. "Checkmate."
Jim looked as angry as Chapel had ever seen him; she thought twice before joining him in the nearly empty mess. She wanted to turn and walk out when he waved her over as if she was a rank ensign, afraid to approach her C.O.
"Words fail you, Jim?" She slid into the seat across from him. "I don't like being waved over."
"So leave." His voice was about three levels beyond surly.
"I don't even know why I'm here."
He cocked his head, grinned unpleasantly. "Because your lover thinks we should talk."
"I really don't know why."
"I tend to agree."
She suddenly wished she'd gotten coffee before sitting down. Something to fiddle with, to ease the tension that lay between them like the alvithium fog on the mining planet they'd just left. "I can leave."
"Or I can." He sighed. Then laughed softly, the self-deprecating laugh that she used to love. "Well, now that we've established our mutual mobility..."
"I'm going to get some coffee. Do you want some?"
He nodded. "Black."
"I know how you like your coffee, Jim. I know how you like your eggs. I know how you like your steak." She knew even better how he liked his drinks and his sex. She rose slowly. "I'll be back in a sec."
She thought she could feel his eyes on her, but when she turned around, he was staring down at the tabletop, as if the pattern held some secret code. She got the coffees and walked back to the table. "Can we start over, Jim?"
"This conversation? Or us?"
"The former." She wasn't sure how they'd start over with them. Not coming together on Earth--given their moods and situations--seemed unlikely. Not breaking up once he took back his ship seemed even more so.
Jim smiled tightly. "All right. I'll go first. Do you love Spock?"
"Aren't you supposed to take an easy shot first? Warm up? Practice? Take pity on your partner?"
"No. Answer the question."
"I do love him. He's good. And kind. Nice to me. Easy to love." She could tell Jim understood what she was saying by the way his lips twitched--he looked far too satisfied.
He leaned forward. "Easy to be in love with?"
It was the crucial difference. If Spock had run into V'ger before she and Jim had come together, then she'd probably be able to answer the question in a way that did honor to Spock. But they hadn't come together then, and she wasn't in love with him, no matter how much she loved him, no matter how engaging the sex or nice he was.
She was in love with the man she currently wanted to throw her coffee at.
"Silence means assent, generally." He smiled slowly. "But I don't think in this case it does. Does it, Chris?"
"What difference does it make? You have your rules. And I'm not leaving the ship. I took your advice and grew the hell up."
"I told you that because I didn't want you to leave. But...maybe I shouldn't have."
"Why, because if I had shipped off, you wouldn't have to watch me with Spock?"
"Yes. Exactly because of that." He hadn't touched his coffee, leaned back and studied her. "I don't understand what's between us. I don't even know if it's healthy."
"I don't either." She looked down, couldn't meet his eyes as she said, "Spock seems to think it's inevitable, though."
"Yes, I know. Although he made it clear he didn't plan to quit having sex with you until the inevitable happened."
She found herself laughing softly. "He's pragmatic that way."
"Ever logical." Jim leaned in. "Did you know he's saving you for me?"
"Don't make fun of him." She felt protective. And guilty.
"I wasn't. He told me that."
"He loves me."
"I gathered that." One side of his mouth tilted up. "Too bad you don't feel the same way."
"We're going in circles."
"I'm not sure there's anywhere else to go." He rose slowly. "Think about asking for a transfer. It may be the kindest thing for all of us."
She looked up. "I hate you." But really, she hated herself. For thinking Spock might be right. For...hoping.
"Think about it, Chris." And he walked away, shoulders straight, stride even.
Kirk stared at the transfer request. It wasn't from Chris. It was from Spock.
"Kirk to Doctor Chapel."
"Where exactly is here?"
There was a long silence. "Spock's quarters."
"Perfect. My quarters. Now. And bring your paramour." He cut the connection, then immediately wondered what the hell he thought he was going to say to either of them.
It took them a while to come over. Since Spock's room was just down the corridor, Kirk's mind ran wild on all the possibilities of what that might mean they'd been doing. By the time his chime sounded, he was mad as hell.
They were both in uniform, but there was something in Spock's eyes that Kirk couldn't read.
"I got your transfer request."
Chris looked shocked. "I nev--"
"Not yours. His."
She looked at Spock. "You want to leave?"
"I do not." He met Kirk's eyes, then looked at Chris. "But I do not find this tenable. I know that it is unwise for us to progress further in our relationship, Christine. Yet I am unable to leave you if Jim will not take you. My absence will solve both of my problems."
"Transfer denied. I need you, Spock."
"And she needs you, Jim. I will stay if you and she reconcile."
Chris spun on him. "This is not how this works. It's not the human way."
"I am only half human. That half has grown tired of this situation. I am offering a simple trade. I will leave and withdraw my transfer request if tomorrow the two of you begin to rekindle what you had."
"I'm denying your request," Kirk said. "And I don't have to do anything else, Spock. Your bargain offers me nothing I don't have already."
Spock met his eyes. "If you deny my transfer, I will return to Vulcan. You know my situation--my freedom to come and go--is somewhat unique."
"You'd leave me?" Chris asked softly.
Spock nodded slowly, and Kirk could see the regret in his eyes. The look in Chris's eyes was more like anger.
"Spock, if you want to get rid of her so bad, we could just leave her on the next planet."
Nobody laughed or even smiled.
"You're both idiots. I'm standing right here. I have a say in all this. And I don't like being treated like a thing." Chris glared at both of them, and turned on her heel and walked out of the room.
"Guess she told us."
"Her response was predictable." Spock stepped closer, put a hand on Kirk's shoulder, and grasped gently. "We were talking when you commed us. About you. She and I have not made love since the two of you talked in the mess. I suggest you go discuss that with her."
"Yes, Jim. Now."
Spock gripped a little tighter, then let go of him and turned to leave.
"If you could keep her, you would?"
"It is not in my nature to dwell on what cannot be." Spock palmed open the door, turned to meet Jim's eyes, waited until he got some semblance of Kirk's normal smile, then left.
Kirk took a deep breath. "If I'd known it was going to get so weird..."
Chapel ignored the first three chimes. She was throwing things into her carryall. They were nowhere near a Starbase and she knew Jim wouldn't let her have a shuttle. Maybe she could steal one?
Her door slid open and she spun around.
Jim entered, holding up his hands as if she was a dangerous animal about to attack. "You didn't answer. I got worried."
"You had no right to use your override."
"Maybe not." He glanced at her bags. "If I bring some clothes over, can we throw them in there, too? We could run off to Risa and let Spock have the ship." He laughed softly. "Maybe that's his master plan?"
She fought a smile. "I don't think that's what he wants."
"No. I don't really think so, either." He walked around her, sat down on the bed, moving the carryall over. "I'm...I'm tired, Chris." He reached for her slowly, and she let him draw her closer, till she was standing between his legs. "He's defeated me."
She couldn't resist running her fingers through his hair, smiling as he sighed and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her in. "I don't want you defeated. I want strong Jim."
"Oh, I'm strong Jim. In every way but this." He looked up at her. "I love you. I never told you."
"I never told you, either." She traced his chin, felt the familiar pound-pound-pound of her heart when it was in close proximity to the Kirk magnetism. "I didn't mean to use Spock. But...I may have done it anyway. I thought you'd never let me back in. And you had all those women."
"I did. They weren't you." He began to run his hands up and down her sides. "Spock said it's been a while since the two of you were together?"
"Since you and I talked--or whatever that was--in the mess." She could see in his eyes that he'd been waiting to see if she'd say that; he was checking out her story, making sure it was the same as Spock's. "He...he felt it was best. He always thought we'd get here." She looked down. "I didn't know he was going to ask for a transfer. I would have left the ship if I had."
"I know." He sighed and buried his face against her uniform.
She knocked the carryall off the bed, then sat next to him, shoulder to shoulder, and closed her eyes.
Pound. Pound. Pound. Only she wasn't sure if it was her heart, his heart, or both of them beating together.
"I missed you, Jim. We're different now. We're not on Earth. You're not unhappy at a desk. I'm not striving to prove myself. We're...safe."
"Do you think we work when we're safe?"
"I guess we'll find out."
She nodded and waited.
"Should we find out now?"
"I think so." She couldn't help but smile at the hope in his voice. She knew he'd hear it echoed in hers.
He didn't take off her clothes. He didn't kiss her hard. They didn't pull out the booze to help them relate. They both scooted up, facing each other on the nearly too small bed. He smiled, and she did too, and then he leaned in and kissed her. Tenderly. Lovingly.
She kissed him back the same way.
They took their time. Uniforms peeled back slowly, skin revealed only to be kissed. By the time they were fully naked, she was shaking. He was breathing hard and he grinned at her and said, "I can't take this anymore."
And she nodded and let him pull her on top of him, riding him faster and harder until she came and then he followed her.
They lay together, not speaking, just quiet, and the last thing she heard before she fell asleep was him whispering that he loved her.
The rec room was crowded. Kirk saw Spock come in, scan the room, take in Chris sitting at Kirk's side, and seem to pause, as if unsure what to do.
As one, they waved him over.
Kirk suddenly had the sick feeling that the crew was going to eat this up.
For a moment, Spock's eyes held a sadness that Kirk had never seen. Then he seemed to pull himself into Vulcan stoicism, his walk unhurried, his hands behind his back, as he joined their table.
"Where have you been hiding?" Chris asked softly.
"I had an experiment that required constant attention." Spock almost looked as if he believed the lie.
"I hope it's going well?" She reached out, then pulled her hand back at the last minute. Kirk suddenly realized that the fact that she and Spock had a history might never cease to be awkward.
"It is progressing." Spock looked at Kirk. "You two are well?"
"We are." He smiled, trying to let his friend know he appreciated the sacrifice. Even if he would never, ever understand how he could do it. "But since Chris abhors chess, can I get a game?"
"Now?" Spock sounded very surprised.
"Yep." He looked at Chris, who got up and said, "I have friends I've been neglecting. Have fun, you two."
Kirk noticed that both he and Spock watched her walk away.
Awkward might be an understatement.
Spock turned back, his expression just slightly sheepish. "I apologize."
"No need. You ogle; I know I'm with someone worth ogling."
"Thank you, Jim."
"No, my friend. Thank you. I couldn't have done what you did. But I'm glad you did it." Kirk got up and retrieved a chessboard, then began to set it up. "I promise to play with less distraction than in the past few months."
Spock's lip turned up slightly. "I am afraid it is I who may be distracted. This is...educational. I believe they call this heartbreak."
Kirk wasn't sure what to say. He was relatively sure they called it that, too. "Well, you were patient with me. Now it's my turn to be patient with you."
Their eyes met for a moment, perfect understanding colored by regret and pain and the knowledge that one of them had had to give up something important for the other.
"I'm glad you're our friend, Spock."
"I shall always be that."
With a smile, Kirk made his first move. Strategic. Daring.
And above all designed to protect his damn queen.