Love Without Rules by Djinn
The planet is very like Vulcan. You know this because you've been to Vulcan, once upon a time with Roger, when he was lecturing--a guest speaker even the Vulcans would welcome. It's hard to remember those times.
No, that's a lie. It's hard to remember those times with anything but bitterness. So your memories of Vulcan seem corroded with the crusty, harsh taste of knowing the man you made your life had a limited attention span when it came to his women. But never his work.
Roger's work took him away from you; he left with a new woman. It should not still hurt.
But it does.
It sounds odd, that title. You finished your doctorate in the midst of your sorrow and your anger. You channeled that rage into speedwriting and researching all night. Okay, you used some stims to get the job done, too. But really, anger is the most effective form of speed, far more satisfying than an upper, if ultimately just as draining.
"Doctor Chapel?" The voice is harsh, impatient. You turn and feel yourself redden. The head of the delegation. The old man himself. Spock, the other Spock, alternate Spock--Jesus, what are you supposed to call him? The Spock from your reality is on the Enterprise. You've seen him on the vids. You've never met him, though.
You're not entirely sure why you're on this expedition to help develop the Vulcan colony. Sure, you're good at what you do, but you haven't been doing it very long, or at least not out from under the shadow of the great Roger Korby. Nor are you an expert on Vulcans. Yet one of your supervisors told you that this man, this old Vulcan with sadness radiating off him, even if he's as stoic as the rest of them, asked for you.
By name. And he called you Doctor Chapel before you ever finished your degree.
"Sir, I'm sorry. You wanted something?"
"I have told you it is acceptable to call me Spock. I have no rank here."
An odd thought. You've read the file--he cleared you to read far more than you expected. He's done so much, attained so much, lived so much. He stares at you now like he knows you, but you don't see how your paths could have crossed, even in his alternate universe--and you have checked: you are not mentioned in his reports.
"Spock." You realize your voice has cracked as you said his name.
"Walk with me."
You follow him, and you sense he's matching his stride to yours, that he's holding back to not outpace you. So vital these Vulcans, even at his age.
He asks, "You are not having difficulty with the atmosphere here?"
The air. Thin, harsh. Your human compatriots on the team are pumping in tri-ox like there's no tomorrow. You grew up in Colorado, ran track at 3,000 meters above sea level. You used to set the apartment environmentals to alpine elevation--it drove Roger crazy. He grew up at sea level and liked his air thick and heavy. You feel the thin air gives you an edge; when you leave your environment, you're ready for anything. You're hard. Tough.
Although you've found crying is exhausting at any altitude. You did enough of it when Roger left to know.
You turn your attention back to Spock. "I grew up in Colorado."
He stops, looks at you, something of surprise in his eyes. "Colorado?"
"My father had several choices where to move to do his research. He was leaning toward Seattle, had a partner lined up, a Fleeter soon to retire. But he was on the Kelvin and was not one of the survivors."
"Ah. Of course." Spock seems to be studying you. "So many small differences. It is fascinating from a scientific perspective. Baffling from a personal."
"Personal?" You study him just as intently, if only to try to shake off the discomfort his scrutiny is causing. "You mean with Kirk and the other people at Starfleet you knew?"
"No, Christine, I mean with you."
"You knew me?"
"You were in Starfleet."
The thought makes you give him the look Roger deemed your disbelieving sneer; he hated it. "Why would I be in Starfleet?"
"The man you recently terminated a relationship with, Rog--"
"Roger 'the asshole' Korby?"
"I do not believe that is how his resume reads."
You laugh, letting out a surprised shock of air that makes his eyes lighten. He can use humor?
He goes on, his eyes staying light, and as you walk again, he moves closer to you, the distance still perfectly acceptable, but you can feel something, like an electrical field with particles bouncing wildly between you both. "At any rate, the Roger and you of my universe did not separate, and when he was lost on an expedition, you joined Starfleet to look for him."
"As a scientist?"
"As a nurse."
"I prefer this life."
"I assumed you might. It did not turn out well when you did find him."
"Did I kill him?" You sound far too hopeful.
"You did not. But another woman..."
"Andrea? Did Andrea kill him?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes."
You laugh. You can't help it. You know Roger will get tired of her, too. In your reality, she probably won't kill him, but it's nice to think the possibility is there. "Did she catch him cheating?"
"It is a very complicated story."
"And we appear to be on a very long walk. Come on, Spock. You started this."
"He was injured on the planet. An ancient android found him and saved his life by transferring his consciousness into an android body, identical to his human one but stronger, more enduring."
"And being a self-centered ass, Roger would love that."
"Then Doctor Korby created Andrea."
"She did not accompany him on the mission. He created her when he was experimenting, after he had duplicated Doctor Brown, a man who was part of his team."
"I knew Brown. Sucked up to me until Roger left me, and then I was scum of the earth."
"He died as well."
You should not be enjoying this story as much as you are. "And so the android Andrea--wait, he was with me, but he created her?"
"Okay, he's more of a pig than I thought."
"It was surprising, I believe, for you to find her there."
"You believe? I was probably livid." But you know that you'd have forgiven him, if you'd stayed with him, if he'd let you stay. You'd already forgiven him so much.
"He created an android version of James Kirk. It was...a strange plan; he had clearly become deranged during his time on the planet. Fortunately, Jim was exceptionally adept at interfering with the androids' programming logic."
"What does that mean? He hacked into them."
"Not as such. He was, at times, a master manipulator."
"I like him better already."
"You liked him quite well in my universe."
You hear something in his voice. "How well?"
He does not answer.
"That well? Sex well?"
He nods tersely.
"Did I like you that well?"
He sighs, actually sighs. Are Vulcans supposed to do that? "Do you wish me to finish the story?"
"Yes. And then I want you to answer my question."
"Jim interfered with Andrea in a way that left her confused, vulnerable to anger and jealousy--and desire. She killed the android Kirk, and then destroyed Doctor Korby and herself while kissing him."
You try to process that. "Your James Kirk must give one hell of a mind fuck."
"That is how others have phrased it. I, of course, would not."
You laugh again. And his eyes sparkle, which is a strange look coming out of a face so grizzled, so worn by time and care--and probably guilt.
"So, did I leave the ship when this was all over?"
"You did not."
He sits on a rock, and you sit next to him, far closer than is appropriate, just to see if he will notice the way a Vulcan should, if he will give you a look that says you've crossed a line. He notices, clearly he notices, because he turns to look at you and his eyes are soft. And he does not reproach you.
"Why didn't I leave the ship, Spock?"
"I believe because you were in love with me."
"You believe I was?"
"I was being modest." He almost smiles, and you can't help it, your lips turn up in response. "You were most assuredly in love with me."
"You seemed adept at multitasking when it came to romance." There is bitterness in that statement as well as humor.
"What does that mean?" You lean in as he turns away, try to read his face. "You said that Kirk and I...?"
"We were not... I did not respond to you as you hoped. I was engaged, but I had not told anyone. Vulcan rituals are--"
"Held tightly. Not for outsiders. And yet, I'm fairly familiar with them now. You ensured that." Another set of reports you were cleared to read that offworlders never see. Another thing he shared with you that he needn't have. "Did you love me?"
"I did not let myself consider that. I wanted you. Desire was much easier to accept, much easier to push down as just the base part of myself coming to the fore."
"And I waited?"
"In your fashion." He stands up, paces for a moment, then seems to force himself to stop, to face you. "I should not blame you. You were not obvious about it, were, in fact, quite discreet. You were with Doctor McCoy intermittently during our first five-year mission--friends with options is, I think, how he put it--even though you appeared to retain your interest in me. And you were with Jim during our second voyage, after V'ger--that relationship was more serious."
"Doctor McWho? And Kirk?"
"McCoy. He is on the ship now. They all are. All but you." He looks down.
"Was I ever with you?"
"No. One of us was otherwise engaged when the other was available. And when we were finally both free, it was too late, you--"
"I what?" But you feel the chill. He's talking about another you, though. You have to remember that. Your life is different than hers; your death will be, too. "She died."
"Yes. She did." He puts a great deal of stress on the pronoun, and you know he is trying to separate the two of you in his mind.
"You asked for me on this mission for purely selfish reasons, didn't you?"
"I asked for you on this mission for a variety of reasons, one of them selfish. You are eminently qualified to help with our survival plan."
Survival plan. Such a delicate way to say breeding program.
"Will you be taking part in the...survival plan?"
"I will. However, as I am only half Vulcan, my contribution will not be valued the way the others' will." He takes a deep breath. "I view the survival plan merely as a program in which I am participating, a matter of community, of loyalty to my race. Not as a commitment to any Vulcan woman."
You sense he needs you to make this easier. His skin is growing flushed, the green tone darkening. "Love 'em and leave 'em, huh?"
"There will be no love. Only procreation."
"But you're capable of love?"
"I am." He is moving toward you, and you feel your heart beat very fast. "I have loved in this long life I am leading. I have loved and been loved. And all those possibilities exist for me here anew, with but a few exceptions. I do not, however, want to revisit those. I did not invite those people to work on this project."
"You invited me."
"I invited you. But I felt it necessary that you know the truth. Will you stay, Christine?" He holds out his hand to you, and you are surprised. You are even more surprised when you take it, feel how hot his skin is, how raspy. He is old.
Then you look into his eyes, and you see something you never saw in Roger's. Regret. Need.
"I will stay." You will stay and watch him copulate with women that you select for him.
And none of that will matter. Not to you. Not to him. It might irritate a few Vulcan females, not that they'll let on, of course.
It will be a very messed up way to live, to possibly love.
"I am glad you will stay," he murmurs, and he leans in and touches his lips to your hair. "I have missed you."
"I've missed you too." And even though this is the first time you've touched him or even talked to him at any length, it is somehow true. What you feel just talking to him fills something inside you, a hole that you never knew was there.
You have the strange notion that Roger was just keeping you warm for this man.
You stride a fine line. You're clever and capable--more than even you assumed you would be at this--and the Vulcans you're trying to help give you grudging respect. But you are also always in close proximity to Spock, and you can feel the resentment, the suspicion coming off them, the men and women both.
But Spock has not touched you. Not since he took your hand that day of the walk and laid his lips on your hair. He talks to you. He walks with you. He eats with you. The two of you have even hiked far into the mountains, and when you found a hot spring--and he'd adequately tested it for toxins--he stripped off his robe and bathed with you.
You know why he did that. It was eminently logical. He is not young and you are. This is progressing, even without him touching you, and you think he is almost in too far to back away. You know you are. He wanted you to see him. If his age was going to be an issue for you--and it's not going to be an issue; you could tell how tangible his desire for you was as he lowered himself into the water--he wanted to cross that bridge now and not later, not once he was irrevocably in love.
A Vulcan in love with you. It's nothing you ever expected. Especially since he's warm and makes you happy--happier than you ever were with Roger. Then again, your Spock is no ordinary Vulcan. He is half human, and both halves of him are filled with regret and renewal and determination.
You have already picked his first mate for him. You wonder if he will make love to you before he goes to her.
He should not have to make love to her. Artificial insemination was tried and for reasons no one completely understood was unsuccessful in Vulcan-to-Vulcan conception. Experiments were devised, all failed, and when a couple entered Pon Farr, both parties were tested to compare them to the unmated pairs.
The team working on the survival plan found that the Pon Farr is more than just the burning. It also sets in motion complex endocrine changes, hormones and neurotransmitters firing in combinations not seen otherwise. It allows a woman to conceive; it also discourages her from seeking a sexual partner other than her bondmate.
So this has to be done the old fashioned way. Sex. Women need to be monitored, pairings scientifically planned. Relationships, based on the low numbers of survivors, must be fluid. Or if not fluid, if a couple do want to bond, they need to be flexible. A woman does not have the luxury of bearing only one child to only one man.
You are the one who developed the synthetic hormone to stimulate ovulation more frequently; a woman will be able to breed often, and with a man other than her husband as the hormone also lessens the effect of the Pon Farr-induced hormones. The Pon Farr will continue, but it will be rendered nearly irrelevant when it comes to procreation.
You suspect some of the Vulcans hate you for it, even if they recognize the utility of the compound. Without it, they will die out. With it, some part of their culture will die.
You have told them the compound has no enduring effects. Once the genetic pool is robust enough, they can go back to their traditions, to their slow reproduction and limited offspring. But until then, they must use it. They must be fruitful and multiply.
It is most embarrassing, Spock has told you. This biological imperative directed from without that is now superseding the biological imperative imposed from within. Two needs so at odds. Both highly distressing.
At least Vulcans are pouring in from all over the Federation. Science teams stationed far from their home planet and entire Vulcan exploration ships abandoning their missions to return to help. It is heartwarming--or would be if these were anyone but Vulcans. With them, it is merely logical.
You work with the genetics team; you track the pedigree of each returnee with the avidity of a livestock breeder of old. Too many are from the same stock, and your next task is to manipulate the genes, to come up with some way to tweak the bloodlines. But for now, even just one unique genetic combination per ship is a cause for rejoicing on the team--well, rejoicing from the human contingent, the Vulcans merely nod in satisfaction. But both sides are happy, no matter how they show it: the odds have improved.
You feel a presence behind you, warm breath on your neck. "Are you finished for the night?"
"Almost." There is an ease between you in addition to the chemistry that grows with each walk, each talk, each dinner.
"Shall I return later?" Spock always comes for you at the end of the day, and in another man, it would be a disturbing habit, but in him, it is endearing. He never pushes, and if you asked him to, he would not come at all, would wait for you to come to him.
But after Roger, after being thrown away, this is nice, this is good. Being wanted feels right.
"Wait here a few minutes?" you ask.
"Of course." He sits at a vacant station, pulls out a datapadd and works on something and does not interrupt you while you finish what you are doing. When you switch your station off, he turns and his expression is light. "You are finished?"
"I am." You smile, because you have learned he loves your smile, even if he will never return it--but his eyes light up subtly, and his lips quirk ever so gently in an upward direction.
You walk under a single moon--the planet differs from Vulcan in that respect--and he stands closer to you than he has in the past.
"Are you all right?" you ask, your voice barely more than a murmur.
"I have waited."
He turns the full force of his gaze on you, and you see the need, the desperation, the loneliness, and also the knowledge that soon you will send him to another. "To seduce you."
You laugh, gently, because you're amused that he thinks he will seduce you when for weeks, you have wanted to throw him down and climb on top and have your way with him. "Why have you waited?"
"For this. For us to get to know each other. I did not ever have that with her." He looks away; it is always painful for him to talk of the other you. "She loved me, but she never knew me. I rejected her and never knew her. By the time we began to learn to appreciate each other, she was with my friend. By the time we built an ease, she died."
He can say that now, that she died, because she is not you. For you, knowing some version of yourself in another universe died does not trouble you as much as it troubles him. You are human; your life span is short. Live hard, die young, and leave a pretty corpse used to be a human expression. A stupid one, but still a very human sentiment.
And she is not you. That is the crucial point.
"We have it now," you say. "Ease."
"We do." You are out of view of the science compound, near a storage building that does not get much use at this hour. He takes you into his arms, and you can feel the heat radiating off him. "I do not wish to wait any longer. And I especially do not wish for you to come second to some Vulcan woman with whom I am honor bound to breed." He pulls you closer, moves slowly, his lips moving against yours as he says, "You must come first, before all others."
You pull him the miniscule distance to turn his brushed words into a real kiss. But he pushes you away, studies you intently. "Do you love me?" And you realize this is the most important thing for him: you are not she, and though she loved him, you may not, and he must be sure.
"I not only love you, Spock"--you punctuate your words with a gentle kiss--"I like you."
He understands how Roger never let you in, never let you up to his level. You were there to adore him. It is Spock who has suggested that perhaps Roger let you go when you began to rise to his level on your own. It's not something you had considered. And it makes you very happy to think it might be true.
"I am fond of you, as well." His eyes glint, his lips tilt upward, and then he has you turned and crushed against the side of the building. He kisses you frantically, touches you everywhere. "Christine, if you wish our first time to be romantic, now would be the proper moment to make that known."
If you don't say you want something else, something lit by candles and soft music, he is going to take you, right here, against a building, out of pure, raw lust.
"Romance be damned," you whisper, and he pulls down your pants, and you pull up his robe, and he hikes you up and onto him and--
"Oh." It's all you can say. He is big, and there is nothing old about him as he supports you and pushes you back against the wall and fucks you five ways from Sunday. He has to cover your mouth to keep you quiet, and he struggles to keep his own cries muffled in your hair. When it is over, he kisses you again and again, and you pull away long enough to make sure no one is near, before you lose yourself in his kisses. He lets you slide down, somehow gets your pants back on without breaking the kiss, and you smooth his robe down around his legs.
He eases away, strokes your hair. "We should go back to my house. It is far more private than here or your room in the staff apartments."
He's not wrong, but you're not entirely sure you can walk. "Give me a minute."
"I will give you several." You realize he's breathing hard as he leans in to rest his forehead against yours.
"I love you." You touch his neck, let your fingers range up to his ears, and hear him hiss as you touch the tips. "Sensitive?"
"Very. Particularly after..."
"Good information to know." You are laughing softly, and you hear him breathe out in what can only be amusement.
You rub his groin gently, hear another hiss. "Hmmm, also sensitive."
"I, too, have learned some things." He reaches down, into your pants, grazes the spot that is still tender, still on fire.
You moan and he nearly smiles. He is happy with himself. You realize he must not have been sure this would be good for you. Funny that it has never occurred to you that you wouldn't be good for him. But he has pursued you with such unwavering intensity since he told you the truth that doubt hasn't been an issue for you.
It's a lovely change from what you've known in the past.
You do anything to stay busy, but your mind wanders and your hands clench at odd moments. You try not to think about how pretty the woman you chose for Spock is. Christ on a crutch, why did you pick such a pretty woman?
Not that there are that many Vulcan hags. Or any, actually. Stupidly beautiful women on this stupidly hot planet. The air may feel great, but the weather is horrible.
You paired him with T'Lena. Even her name is beautiful. You wish you could have picked someone else, but this was a good match, an excellent match to be truthful. And Spock is one of the oldest of the men on this world. You need to take advantage of his seed while it's viable, which he assures you it will be for years, but still, the scientist in you says he must spread it now.
The woman in you hates the scientist and wishes she could take her out to a secluded area and beat her to death with what passes for cactus on this world. You hate the scientist so much right now you feel as if you might scream.
But you don't. Of course, you don't. That would be unseemly. And you need these people to respect you. Or at least listen to you.
"Doctor Chapel?" It is T'Varian. She is the closest thing you have to a friend on this world among the full Vulcans. She is also your lab partner.
She sits and offers you one of the fruits her brother is experimenting with in the agro section. "It is, I believe, much like your apricots."
"Poisonous on the inside?"
T'Varian's eyebrow rises just as Spock's does. "Unless you plan to eat the pit, this should not present a danger."
You laugh. You often laugh at the things she says. She is sarcastic and logical all at the same time. "You're no doubt right. I'll endeavor not to eat the pit." You bite into the fruit and juice runs down your chin.
She hands you a wipe as if she knew what would happen.
You dab it up, blushing a bit because you hate being different. A Vulcan would have taken a tentative bite, would have been ready for the stream of juice.
"It is good, is it not? Except for the unfortunate rush of fluid." Her eyes are kind and you smile to show her you appreciate her trying to make this a joint problem.
"It is good." You want to tell her about Spock. You don't, of course. Jealousy is unseemly. Illogical and too human.
She gets up and walks over to one of the computers, checks on an experiment. The numbers look good. Promising. What she is doing will complement what you are working on. Together, you will ensure that the gene pool stays diverse--or as diverse as possible.
"It cannot be easy." She says it softly; you could ignore her if you choose.
You think about it, but only for a moment. "It's hell." You put it in human terms, because there is no point in pretending to be anything but that.
"I am...fond of Saryn. He is going to be my husband. But I will have to let him go, to let him mate with others." She moves closer to you, sits and does not look at you. "I will use your equanimity as a model, Christine."
It is the first time she has ever called you by your given name.
"I'm no model."
"Do not discount the dignity you show. Spock has chosen well." She meets your eyes, her mouth flicking for a moment in an upward direction, one side only, too quick to be sure but you go on faith that it is her version of a smile.
You smile back, not the full smile that Spock enjoys, but a restrained one, sweet and professional and grateful that she has given you this.
"I think I was the lucky one," you whisper as you turn back to your work.
"Spock is a Vulcan male. Do not let him hear you say that. It will go to his head."
You laugh softly and take another bite of fruit. This time, the juice behaves itself.
You are half asleep on the bed you share with Spock, in the house you moved into as soon as you made love with him, when you hear the front door open. You sit up, still groggy, wondering if he will have showered in his bathroom in the rooms set aside for unmated pairs. Hoping he had the brains and heart to shower before he got here.
"How was T'Lena?" you ask before he even has the door fully opened. It is not how you meant this to start, and you look down, feel your face redden out of shame--and anger.
But you did this. This is your propagation plan.
Spock does not answer, nor does he seem the least bit taken aback by your question. He walks to his side of the bed and lies down, and you smell the fresh aroma of the soap you bought him when you were back on Earth--a mix of citrus and oakmoss and spices.
You turn away, and you hate that tears are starting, and you hate even more that you sob as he takes you in his arms, as he kisses your hair and murmurs something low that sounds like "I'm sorry."
You kiss him almost violently then pull away. "You have nothing to be sorry for, Spock. This hurts. It will always hurt. If I were the one mating for the future of my people, you would be in pain. It's just the way it is. You don't intend to hurt me."
"I do not."
"So unless you're leaving me for her, don't say you're sorry. Not for this."
"I am not leaving you for her." He lies back, pulls you down with him. "Is it wrong to ask you to be with me so soon after? To help me forget this, replace the memories?"
You are opening your robe, smiling as he touches you in all the right places. "It's not wrong." You lie on top of him, kissing him softly, then harder. Letting the anger out just a little, just enough to help you chase T'Lena out of him, out of you.
You will have to do this every time, some masochistic part of yourself whispers.
You will learn to live with it. You will learn to bear it.
You practically tear Spock's robe off, hear him protest slightly at the scratch of fabric across what must be too sensitive skin. It is your fault he's sore, your fault that T'Lena probably is, too. You give yourself no time, sink down on him, happy beyond words that he's ready for you.
You are barely ready for him and it hurts, and you don't mind that it hurts. This is your fault and you want to feel this, and soon your body takes over and it doesn't hurt anymore, and Spock is calling your name, his voice raw and soothing and tender as he tells you that he loves you, that you are his, that he is yours.
Even if his body will not always be.
You push him as far as you ever have, riding him, then letting him move you underneath him, begging him to fuck you hard and fast. You take him, not letting him catch his breath any more than he has let you, your mouth latches onto him, and later his mouth will find you.
He finally says, "Christine, please."
And you sit astride him and smile down at him and ask, "Have I driven her from you?"
He nods and you feel something inside you break, and you wonder if you will miss it, whatever this thing inside you was, so soft and good and sure that love was uncomplicated and followed rules. Even after Roger, some part of you still thought that.
"I love you." Spock sounds concerned.
You smile down at him, and kiss him languidly. "I love you, too. I promise to get better at this."
He strokes your cheek. "I wish you did not have to."
It is the nicest wish he could make for you.
Also the most useless.
The man who is not as old as Spock, but is, in some way, his father, watches you. Spock warned you that Sarek might use you to get to him. You doubted he was right. You should have known better. In any universe, Spock knows his father.
You turn, feign polite surprise. "Sarek, yes?"
He nods, as if he believes you barely remember his name. As if you don't live with his not-son.
"What can I do for you?" You are relatively certain he is not here to complain about the mate chosen for him.
"I came to inquire..." He seems uncomfortable. Not the normal Vulcan discomfort around humans and human emotion--he was, after all, married to one. This is some other kind of discomfort, one that goes much deeper.
You don't help him. It's mean--or at least not nice. But something in Spock's voice changes when he speaks of Sarek, something breaks. And you know how that feels. And you hate that your lover has to feel that way about a man he lost so long ago.
"Your Spock. He prospers?"
Your Spock. It is so accurate and so telling. You have never met Sarek's Spock. Nor have you ever met your Spock's Sarek.
"Yes, he prospers. He is, of course, saddened at what has come to pass. He has some hope for the future because of all that is happening here." It is the safe answer.
It is also the answer Spock told you to give his father when this moment came.
"Ah." Sarek seems colder to you than the other Vulcans. As if, by marrying a human, he has had to prove that he's still logical, still dispassionate. You think about the last fruit T'Varian brought you. Horribly sour, yet she told you only, "You must taste the new fruit my brother has cultivated."
She did not laugh, of course, as you sputtered and gagged. But there was something devilish in her dark eyes, and she had water ready to hand you as she took the fruit from you and threw it into the recycler. "It is foul, is it not?" Her lips quirked ever so slightly.
"You are foul," you said to her, and in the past you would have been afraid of offending her, but you said it as you laugh-coughed the taste of the fruit away, and she took a long breath of what seemed to be satisfaction.
You cannot imagine Sarek bringing you sour fruit just to make you gag.
You turn away, feel his hand on your shoulder. It is a breach, and you look at him sharply.
"I do not know how to act with you. You are my son's woman."
"He is not your son."
"No. He is not. But he is another Sarek's son, is he not? He is Spock, just as my son is." He looks down. And in that moment, you realize he is in pain. This man has lost his wife and will soon be taking another woman to bed. This man has a son older than himself who lives happily with a human woman.
You realize that in some way, Spock is enjoying hurting him. That you represent far more to Sarek than just his son's woman.
You think a little worse of Spock for this. But it doesn't surprise you once you consider him and what you know of him, the betrayals he has endured at the hands of Vulcan women who died in your reality--or won't be born. And the distance that has characterized the relationship with his father. The brother who was sent away--
Does the Spock of this reality have a brother? You decide to find out. "And, of course, Spock worries for Sybok."
You can tell from Sarek's recoil--dignified as it is--that you have struck home.
"Why does he not come? He is full Vulcan. He should be here."
"We do not speak of him."
"You don't have that luxury anymore, sir." You wave your hand toward the computers that calculate optimal matings. "We need him."
"It is not to be."
"Then that is a pity. For I'm sure you would find getting to know my Spock gratifying beyond all imagining." You wonder what Spock would think of this. But you suddenly don't care. "Just as I'm sure your Spock would find it gratifying to have his brother in his life."
"You wish to trade?"
"Do you want to get to know my Spock?" You wait for Sarek to nod, but he sits motionless. "If you do, then you need me. And I think that this is the price for my cooperation." You sit down across from him. "Unless Sybok is dead...?"
"He is not." Sarek actually sighs. At your look, he says softly, "I felt it prudent to know his whereabouts."
"Prudent. Yes, of course." You let a silence fall, just enough to give you the power. "My Spock will never be your son, Sarek. But he might--and I think it would be good for both of you if this happened--be your friend." You lean in. "Just as your Spock might benefit from an older brother, one who perhaps is also not perfectly Vulcan."
Sarek stands. "I will consider what you have said."
He leaves, and a moment later the door opens from the adjoining laboratory and Spock leans on the doorframe, staring at you as if he has never seen you before.
"You are not like my Christine."
"I am your Christine. She was not."
"She would not have done that."
"You don't know what she would have done, Spock, if she were here, living this life." You get up, go to him. You don't touch him, don't stand too close, not in public. "Tell me that you don't want this, and I'll find Sarek and tell him that I was wrong."
His face is a mask you can't read. For a moment, you think you have lost him. Then he closes his eyes and murmurs, "When I was a boy, I would have given anything to have my brother back."
"Spock is not a boy."
"No. But he is not yet a man, either."
"Then did I do right?" You move closer. "Would you not also like a chance to be friends with your father? Or some version of him?"
"I would." He rasps out the answer, as if it hurts him to let the words pass over his lips.
"Are you angry with me?"
"I am surprised by you."
"Is that a bad thing?"
"I am not yet certain." He moves away from you.
As he starts to close the door, you call his name. "You were sure of her. Sure of what she would be for you if you just reached out. And you never reached out." You lift your head up; you are not her, not the Christine who never got him. "Is it such a bad thing to be uncertain?"
"It is not." He meets your eyes. "Provided you are not exacting some kind of revenge for my being with T'Lena."
You have to think about that. You look down and take a long breath and wonder if that's what you're doing. When you meet his eyes again, you're sure yours are stricken. "I don't think that's it."
He nods and slips through the door, leaving you alone.
You don't think that's what you just did. But it might have been.
God help you, it might have been.
The house is dark when you get home, but you sense him sitting in the living room. He is either meditating or waiting for you.
Back when you were with Roger, you'd have apologized for what you did, even if you didn't think it was wrong. It was expected--and it was just easier to take the blame.
But Spock isn't Roger, and you aren't that Christine. And you're not his Christine, either. And that's suddenly a problem.
You sit down across from him, fold your hands in your lap, and wait. The tension grows in the room as if the two of you are having a shouting match. Finally, Spock reaches over and turns on a light.
"I'm not her," you say, keeping your voice steady. Trying not to show him that what he said hurt you--not at first, but the more you thought about it. That he reached for that first, that...condemnation of you. The sin of falling short, of not being his other Christine.
"I am aware of that."
"Are you? Or were you so interested in recapturing your doomed Christine that you never saw I wasn't her."
He takes a deep breath, and lets it out just as slowly, but he does not speak. And that, too, hurts. He can't answer you because you are right. You were a proxy.
"I'm not her. And I can't be her." You stand up, slowly to make it clear this is not anger speaking. "What now, Spock? Do you want me to go?"
"I should not be here, in this universe, at this time." He speaks quietly, his voice rasping the words out as if they are a file he will use against the bars of your relationship. And each word slides against you, ripping a piece of you away.
"But you are here."
He meets your eyes, and you're surprised to see that his are almost wild. "I was not honest with you."
"No, if you wanted her, you should have said--"
"That is not what I meant." He stands and paces, hands locked behind his back. "I lied to you."
"I said she died. But that is not the extent of it. She died under my watch. She died on a landing party I had put her on, on a planet I thought I understood, in a war I thought I could stop." He sits next to you, and he is shaking. "She was helping. The wounded. Making a difference. And they killed her. Her and everyone else on the landing party."
You are not sure what to do, what to say, how to feel. This is not you he mourns, and though he has been fucking you for months, you're not sure now if he even sees you, or if he replaces your face with some older, more haggard, more saintly version of yourself.
"I'm sorry for your loss," you say, and you get up and leave the apartment before he can stop you.
The wind is blowing, stinging dirt riding it to hit you in the face. You're not crying or it would trace the tears for everyone you pass to see. You're not crying, but you cannot see, and you walk blindly, almost tripping as the path becomes uneven.
"Here." A gentle hand on your shoulder, a soft push to turn you around.
You look to see who has interfered, who would touch you on this planet of dignity and coldness and hidden agendas. It is T'Varian, and she is bustling you through the streets as only a Vulcan can, pushing open a door and urging you through it.
"What is wrong?" she asks as she presses you into a chair.
"I'm fine." Your voice is steady, as if the words are true. But your hands are shaking violently and you know she notices.
"What has happened?"
"Love is overrated."
She pulls a chair next to you, sits down much closer than you expect a Vulcan to do. "Explain."
"I was with someone, before Spock. I loved him with everything in me. And it wasn't enough. Now, I have Spock. And I gave him everything I had left after the first man took so much from me. And I'm not what he wants."
"Not what Spock wants?"
You nod, the words won't come and your throat is tightening, and you are ashamed to feel tears welling, forcing their way out, falling drop by drop down your dusty face. Marking you as all too human.
"He loves you." She says it with such simple sincerity you almost believe it.
"He loves her. The other me. The Christine Chapel from his universe. The one I so conveniently look like--a vessel waiting to be filled." The one he apparently got killed. How did that get left out? How do you leave something like that out?
But you know. It gets left out when you want someone and don't care how you get her. When you lie to find the body who could be your lost love, as if there is no one inside her, as if you can insert the woman you want into the shell and push out the parts that don't fit.
T'Varian sits back. "I do not claim to know what Spock's motives were for choosing you, Christine. I do not know anything about this other Christine Chapel. But I know you. And you are not someone who is absent." She reaches out, touches your hand. "Even if he wanted to make you over into someone he knew, that would be impossible. You are a strong woman. And you love him on your own terms. Everyone here knows that."
"What you're saying is all about me. What about him? He may never have loved me."
She meets your eyes and there is a hardness you have not seen before. "This Spock, this man from a future that is not our own, this man who, despite being innocent of the crimes Nero accused him of, still brought destruction down on us. This Spock you love is damaged, Christine. Utterly broken."
You want to rush to his defense, but you've seen his guilt, the pacing, the way he looks out the window up to the stars. You've heard his voice when he talks about Kirk, the other Spock, his brother, his friend McCoy. You've been in his bed when he clutches you and murmurs his love, when he holds you too tightly.
He has lost everything.
"I'm broken, too, I think."
T'Varian's eyes turn gentle again. "Perhaps that's the price of living amid shattered glass. One learns to move carefully." She studies you. "Your damage is different. And whether you want to admit it or not, you belong here; Spock does not. You make a difference to us. He is just...a reminder."
You shake your head.
"We tolerate him, Christine, because he is one of us. We tolerate him for Sarek's sake. And for our Spock's sake." She takes your arm, almost shakes you. "If you were to leave him, you would still be welcome here. We need you. We do not need him, and he knows it."
Another reason he chose you? To be here among the people who don't want him, to still have something to love, to be loved by?
"He's lost everything."
"Not you. You love him. Go back to him. He may have chosen you for her, but you are not her. And you never will be. And he can only pretend so far. And when he opens his eyes, he will realize the reality is better than any fantasy. If that is indeed what has been happening, which is not assured."
"I did something that made him sad, that disappointed him."
"If we are alive for any time at all, we are bound to do something that will disappoint those who care for us." She seems to shrug. "He will recover. Or he will not. If you feel sufficiently distraught over your actions, make amends."
"It is, when you get to the base mixture. Just like our science. There is much data that merely masks the truth. Brush that aside and seek the foundation. Is it solid or is it not? Can you use it, can you build on it, or can you not?"
Her words hit deep. And this time you don't hold back. You let the tears come out. For she is right and the things that hurt you may well be the things that have to be swept aside.
Can you and Spock endure? That is the question you should be asking. Not what attracted you in the first place. Is there anything firm beneath your feet?
When you get yourself under control again, you say, "Thank you, my friend. That is helpful."
She does not argue the label, only nods and walks you to the door. Spock is still sitting in the living room when you let yourself back in.
"I'm not her. And I never will be." You lift your hand when it seems like he will say something. "I'm not her, and that's a good thing. She never knew you; you said that. She never understood you, or lived with you, or ate with you, or had to send you off to a woman she'd chosen for you. I do understand you. I'm the one here, Spock. And I love you. And you need to decide if you love me. Or if you can only love a ghost."
He stands slowly, stalks over to you, and for a moment you are afraid. "You are not her."
"No." You want to move away. He is standing too close, and he grips your arms so tightly it hurts.
Then he is pushing you back, ripping your clothes from you and lifting you onto the table, and he pulls his robe over his head and is inside you, pounding at you as if he can drive away his own demons, and you think she is one of them, this Christine he never quite had.
You twist your hands in his hair and hold on tight, hurting him, you think, but he does not tell you to stop.
"I love you. The you that is here. The you that is not her." His words come out between thrusts, and it should be hard to follow, but the logic of the crazy life you lead is burned into you. He loves you. He knows you are not her.
As he collapses against you, you kiss his cheek, and he clutches you to him.
"If I did wrong with Sarek," you whisper into his ear, "I will make amends."
"You did right. I just...did not expect it. You make hard choices. She did, too, but I always preferred the softness of her, when I first knew her." He brushes your hair back, kisses you as he speaks, and you know it is to remind you that he is with you, not his phantom Christine. "I have avoided Sarek not because he deserves it, but because I am afraid of not measuring up for this man who is not even my father."
"You'll measure up." After all, he is damaged and the Vulcans know this, and Sarek has done more than tolerate it--he has sought Spock out. Broken or not.
But then Sarek is broken, too.
"Come to bed," Spock says as he eases you off the table. He pulls you in close, under his arm, tilting your chin up so he can kiss you over and over. "I thought I had lost you."
"I am profoundly glad." His eyes as they meet yours hold far too much sadness.
You feel overwhelmed by something that you have to work to identify. Love, of course. But also compassion. And pity. For the first time, you don't feel pity for yourself, but for him.
"I love you," you say as he follows you into bed. You keep murmuring it as he makes love to you slowly, drawing out the sex, making you come over and over until you are shaking.
You love him. And you'll make this up as you go along.
Sarek stands awkwardly at the door. You smile at him, and wonder if he can see Amanda in the expression. Then you wonder why you need another Vulcan man seeing a dead woman in you.
Spock gets up. He should have been standing as soon as Sarek knocked, but you suspect he is nervous and afraid to give too much away to this man who is not his father.
"Spock." Sarek seems to stumble over the name.
It is not as though Vulcan names are not repeated. You know two T'Maras even in the small group on the colony. But this is not just the same name; this is the same man, more or less.
You stifle back a groan. Alternate universes give you a migraine.
"It is good to see you, sir." Spock almost sounds like he means it.
"Yes." Sarek, too, is struggling.
"I have wine." You don't let either of them protest, just pour the bottle of Vulcan red you ordered--and paid a fortune for--and hand them glasses. "To new beginnings," you say, pouring your own glass and lifting it to Sarek and then to Spock. You and Spock have been working on your new beginning with a great deal of gusto. Good sex bandages a world of hurt and a soft bed is a fine place to begin to repair bridges.
You and Spock will be fine. But it will never be easy again, not like it was when one of you wasn't being truthful.
"To new beginnings," Sarek says and nods his thanks to you. "Your wife is an excellent hostess." It is both a slap at Spock to say he is lacking as a host, and an honor that he has elevated you to status of wife.
Or possibly another slap at Spock that he has not already taken care of that.
"Yes," Spock says easily. "She is. Also quite the engineer." He nods to you, and you roll your eyes.
For a moment, Sarek looks sad, and you imagine that he and Amanda did the same thing. And in that moment, you see that he is lost right now, and Spock is too afraid to reach out, and in a moment Sarek will get up and leave unless you do something.
You sit down next to Sarek and lay your hand over his. He looks shocked. Spock looks more so. You smile as gently as you can then slowly pull your hand away. "Sarek, Spock tells me that the Sarek of his world plays chess."
Spock has told you no such thing. You have looked up both the Sarek and Spock of your own reality and seen they play chess at championship levels. And you know that your Spock plays it. He has a chess set but no one to play with since you detest the game.
You look at Spock. "Why don't you set up the board?"
Sarek gets up. "I will help."
You excuse yourself when a comm comes in, and as you work on something in your study, you hear their strained conversation change and soften just a little as the game progresses. No one could call what is between them ease, but maybe someday they will find it.
For now, they enjoy the game. And make plans for another. It is enough.
You are working in the lab with T'Varian when you feel the hair prickling along your neck. You look up, directly into the eyes of your world's Spock.
T'Varian seems to sense your unease. She glances up and says, "Here to visit Sarek, Spock?"
"I am." He is very courteous to her; your friend is well respected by her people.
She gets up. "I think you wish to speak to Christine, not to me?"
He nods, and you think he is blushing for his face seems to darken. He waits for T'Varian to close the door, then he says, "I am sorry for the intrusion."
"No intrusion. I was not in the middle of anything important."
He is studying you, as if he can dissect you right here with no instruments or dishes or monitors.
"Now, you're being rude."
He looks startled for a moment, then hides the expression in layers of Vulcan coldness that you think he does not wear easily. "I beg pardon."
"Accepted." You smile again, widely, and you know you are confusing him. "Why are you here, Spock?"
"My father said you were a woman of good character. Also"--and at this his voice changes, his eyes seem to lighten the way your Spock's do--" you are sleeping with an alternate version of myself so I'm an understandably curious about you."
You laugh, and he seems satisfied that he has made you smile. "I'm not going to sleep with you."
"As I am involved with someone for whom I care deeply, this news is not upsetting." He moves around the lab, looking at your work, nodding as he goes.
"How long did it take for you to be able to admit that so freely?"
"For me, I believe the progression was rapid. For the woman in question, my progress was geologic."
You laugh again. This Spock is so different than the one you know. The price of years of living, yet he has lost something, too. But he has someone to love. And earlier in his life than your Spock ever let himself. This Spock is not alone and that might make all the difference.
"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood," you murmur.
"Indeed. And I do not have to wonder at the other road, do I? For it lies before me, or some version of it, for there are, no offense to Frost, far more roads than just two."
"Yes, there are." Infinite versions.
"My father has invited my brother to come here."
You nod, unsure whether to act as if you understand the import of this.
"My father tells me I have you to thank for this. I have...missed Sybok since he was exiled."
"I was meddling."
"It is a very human thing to do." Again the lightness. "And I thank you for it, no matter how it came about."
He moves toward the door, then looks back. "Are you happy?"
"I am. Are you?"
He doesn't have to think about it. "Yes."
You nod and smile, the half smile that is acceptable here, and he inclines his head and leaves.
T'Varian comes in a few minutes later, holding a new fruit.
She pushes it into your hand. "Try it."
You sniff, you gently squeeze to judge the juice, finally you bite into it. A vibrant sweetness fills your mouth, and then it goes numb.
"Damn you." The words come out garbled since your mouth won't work right. You analyze the juice, some naturally occurring form of lidocaine--harmless but highly annoying.
T'Varian turns away in what is clearly satisfaction. "You should really learn to analyze before you eat." She glances back, her look fond. "But that is what makes you human, is it not?"
It takes an hour for your mouth to unthaw.
Spock finds you studying the fruit for possible medical applications.
"The other Spock was here," you say, not wanting to hide anything, knowing from experience that doppelgangers can cause pain when not brought into the light.
"I heard he was in the building."
"Yes. He stopped in to see me. He didn't come to see you?"
"He did not." Spock sits next to you. "I make him nervous, I think."
"I am too human. Too old. Too other."
Too damaged, you think but don't say.
"Did you find him appealing?" Spock asks, an edge to his voice.
"Not particularly." It's the truth, despite the strange ease you felt with him. He was more like the younger brother of the man you love, than some copy.
Spock studies you and you smile back.
"Do I have to lock the door and prove it to you?"
"Yes. I think you do."
You get up, lock the door, cut the cameras that monitor the work, and pull off your top, throwing it at him.
He catches it easily.
"He was callow. You're not."
"I am old. He is not."
You slip off your pants and leave them on the ground. "I imagine he is not very good in bed."
"I imagine you are right." Spock pulls you to him and finishes the undressing, taking his time, licking and sucking and kissing parts he uncovers before moving on to somewhere else.
You planned to pleasure him, to take him in your mouth and make him cry out, but he lifts you onto the table and makes you cry out instead, holding you down as you writhe beneath his mouth. When he finally lets you up, you are breathing hard, and he pulls you down and leans you over the table, taking you from behind, his fingers finding the place he has just been, making you moan as he kisses your neck.
"It is not pleasant," he says between thrusts, between strokes, between kisses, "to have a rival self, even if he is much younger."
"Yes. I understand some small portion of what I have put you through."
"Good." And then you can't talk anymore. You just surrender. You understand why he is taking you this way. He wants to own you, to possess you, to let you know you are his and he is yours and that upstart version of himself is nothing. "I love you, Spock."
"I love you, too, Christine."
You come more than once before he finally lets himself go. When it's done, he turns you, his eyes concerned. "I did not hurt you, did I?"
"No." You kiss him softly on the lips, feel his mouth open under yours, his tongue finding yours. He tastes of you and you push against him and find him still ready.
Jealousy has interesting effects on the Vulcan male. You intend to take full advantage of that.
You shut down your monitors as you get dressed, and you make sure to bend over frequently, to let him see cleavage, to ask him to help you with your shirt. His hands shake as he buttons it and then he has you pushed against the wall, his hand down your pants, making you pay for teasing him.
Your knees buckle and he supports you. He is murmuring that he loves you as he forces you to give up your power play, to submit to him, to come for him.
When you can stand on your own, you pull his robe up and urge him onto a counter. It is the perfect height. He cannot stop you as you take him, your mouth making him almost whimper, a sound you've never heard him make, a sound you'd like to hear him make again. He submits to you and when you pull him back down to you for a kiss, you know he can taste himself on you.
He smiles. Actually smiles. Not a big smile. But a quick tilt of his lips into a very satisfied look that lasts just long enough for you to see it.
"Let's go," you say, and he nods, pulling you close for one last kiss before you fix your clothes and your hair.
You head out into polite society, for the short walk back to the house you share--back to your home.