The Absence of Happiness

-No End in Sight-

The sun seemed especially merciless as Christine hurried down the street to the house she shared with her aunt Judy and her sister Gwen. She tried to find some relief from the heat under the tall trees that lined the boulevard, but the shade wasn't any cooler, just less sunny.

She hated it here. She hated living with Judy, hated everything about her aunt's marine-sergeant mentality. And she hated what Gwen had turned into, the way her sister had taken any lingering softness that Starfleet hadn't already pummeled out and blasted it away.

Just like the blasters that had mowed their parents down two years ago on Tychus Five.

They were gone and Gwen might as well be. Only Aunt Judy was truly alive, finding fault daily with how Christine acted.

"You're too soft." God, how Christine hated those words.

Or worse, "What is wrong with you?" when she wasn't too soft, but wasn't hard in a way that Judy approved of.

She saw a flitter stop in front of her aunt's house, saw Gwen get out with a tall, lanky man. A Vulcan?

Hurrying, Christine called out, "Gwen?"

Her sister turned around, an answering grin on her face that quickly was forced back into a tight smile. Christine took a deep breath and tried to push away the disappointment that rose.

Why couldn't Gwen show that she was happy to see her? What would it hurt?

"Who are you?" Christine asked the man, not even trying to be polite.

"Chrissie." Gwen's voice was full of reproach.

"I am Spock." The man studied her. "The resemblance is uncanny, Number One."

Christine hated the name her sister used. It wasn't a name. It was a title. Or more accurately, what Gwen would always be and Christine never would. In school. With Aunt Judy. In life. Ever.

"I don't look like her," Christine muttered. Gwen was prettier. Gwen was taller. Gwen was stronger. Gwen was smarter. Gwen was sexier.

"I don't like your hair," Gwen said, not even trying to sugarcoat the criticism. "It does not look natural."

"I don't think I asked you. And be glad it's not pink." Christine put her chin up, smoothing back the long platinum locks. "I'm fifteen. I can do what I want."

"That is not strictly true," Spock said, his expression one of someone trying to be helpful.

"Did I ask you?"

"You did not."

She laughed at his delivery. And at the slightly amused look in his eyes. "You're kind of cute."

"Is that a compliment?" He leaned in as if they were conspiring. "My mother has told me I should respond to a compliment with 'Thank you.'"

"Your mother is right, Spock." Gwen nodded toward the door. "Let's get out of this heat."

He waited for Christine. "Thank you, then. For the compliment."

She shrugged. "You Gwen's new beau?"

"I think not."

She studied his expression. What little there was of it. "But you want to be."

"I did not say that."

"You didn't not say it, either."

His lips tipped up a tiny bit. "You are most assuredly related to Number One. Your wit is very familiar."

Christine felt a surge of pleasure. She was usually not compared favorably to her sister. "Do you like my hair?"

"I do. But we do not have that shade of blonde on Vulcan. So I am always drawn to it as something strange."

"But you have blondes?"

"A sort of light reddish gold."

"Like Spain. We're studying Spain. It's interesting."

"You enjoy the humanities?"

She suddenly was caught by the title of that course of study. No doubt named before aliens were even a glimmer in the eye of a futurist, but still, so very arrogant. "Is it hard to say that? Humanities? I mean would you call similar courses of study Vulcanities on your planet?"

His lips tipped up again. "It is a sort of hubris. But human culture is full of that."

"Seems like." She realized they had stopped on the porch, were lagging behind Gwen. "I actually prefer science."

"I, too, prefer science." He held the door for her. "Which type of science do you favor?"

"Well, physics are not my thing. I mean I do okay, but I really love biology and chemistry. I can't imagine deciding between them someday."

"Then do not. Biochem is an excellent path."

She laughed. "I say that to my aunt and she accuses me of not being able to make up my mind."

He met her eyes with something that appeared to be sympathy. "It is difficult when one's parent does not approve of your path."

"She's not my parent. She's not even my blood. She was just my father's brother's wife." That was important to her. No, that was crucial-that she and Judy shared not one drop of blood in common.

"Are you very unhappy here?"

"Why would a Vulcan ask about happiness?"

"It helps me understand my colleagues better." He looked down. "And I am not entirely Vulcan. It may help me understand myself better."

"You're part human?"

He nodded.

"I'm sorry. I'm not sure being human is a good thing." She saw her aunt coming, her face scrunched into the "Christine has done something very wrong" expression. "Oh, crap."

Spock turned to look at Judy.

"I got a call from school. You were in a fight."

"A girl tried to start one." Christine met her eyes. "She didn't like my shoes or something."

"What did you do?" Judy's voice was low and dangerous. "Because I know you didn't fight her."

Christine looked down. "She was bigger than I was."

"That's no excuse not to fight if you're in the right."

"I did fight."

"With your fists?"

"No, I stabbed her in the arm with a chemistry pipette. It was all that was handy." She'd have killed to be in bio with a laser scalpel.

"Christine, there is no honor in that. I have tried to teach you to defend yourself."

"I did defend myself. She backed off really quickly when she started to bleed. I aimed really well-maximum bleeding, minimal long-term damage." Christine knew her expression was full of disdain. "And really-you think there's more honor in beating the shit out of someone than in ending the fight quickly? Because that's just stupid."

Judy slapped her. Hard. Christine had known she would. Judy wasn't a smart woman. Strong and determined, but not smart. And she hated that she wasn't. So stupid was the worst thing you could call her. Well, after coward.

"Go to your room." Judy's voice was in the dagger's range.

"It was nice meeting you," Christine said to Spock as she turned and stomped upstairs.

It did not take long sitting in her room alone, listening to the murmur of conversation coming from downstairs, to realize that she'd been very dumb to antagonize her aunt that way.

It was, if she was being honest, exactly what she'd done to the girl in chem. But no one needed to know that.


Spock was still around at breakfast, and he was alone. He looked up as Christine walked into the kitchen and said gently, "Your aunt and Number One have gone out."

"Yay for the Judy part of that statement." She made breakfast, poured herself some coffee and laughed at the look he gave her. "What?"

"You are grown up enough to drink that, I take it? At fifteen."

"Almost sixteen." She sat across from him at the little table that took up a good part of the free space in the kitchen and started to eat.

He went back to the padd he'd been reading.

"Are you sleeping with my sister?"

"I am not," he said without looking up.

"Are you having sex with her?" When he glanced at her in surprise, she said, "Well, you could be answering really literally. Maybe all you do is have sex and never get any sleep."

He nodded, as if in approval of her assessment, but then shook his head. "I am not having sex with your sister."

"But you want to."

"Half the fleet appears to want to." He met her eyes. "And you are undoubtedly too young to be discussing this with."

"No one wants to sleep with me."

"I am sure that is not true. The adolescent human male thinks of sex often."

She laughed and sipped her coffee. "Do you think I'm pretty?"

"I have said you look like your sister. If I say you are pretty, will you not extrapolate that I am only seeing her in you?"

"Good comeback."

His lips ticked up.

"But no. I'll take it for what it's worth."

"Yes, Christine, you are very pretty. You are also a fifteen-year-old girl in whom I have no interest."

"I'm not crushing on you, Mister Ego. You don't have to let me down gently." She took a deep breath. "There's this guy at school I like."

"A student in your class?"

"Not exactly. Older."

"It is customary to idolize upper classmen."

She decided not to tell him it was one of her teachers. Actually, it was two of her teachers. She couldn't decide which of them she liked better, so she fantasized about them both.

Changing the subject to something less focused on her, she asked, "So, if you're not dating my sister, who is?"

"I am not going to gossip about a trusted friend."

"It's not gossip if you tell her sister. I have a right to know. The man may be my brother-in-law some day."

He didn't answer.

"Is it Chris? It's Chris, isn't it? She lights up when he's around."

Spock still didn't answer, and his expression gave nothing away.

"I really like him."

Nothing.

"Jeez, Spock, give me something."

"Number One is my friend. I will not betray her in any way." He picked up the padd again, their conversation clearly at an end.

Christine watched him for a second then turned on the news. Gwen was lucky this man was her friend.


Christine sat with Gwen on the porch. Spock was at some meeting or other and Judy had mercifully been called away to help with something at church-a place Christine avoided whenever she could.

One more reason for Judy to dislike her.

"So, this Spock guy. I like him. Why is he here?"

Gwen sipped her drink and didn't answer right away. It was a long-held stalling tradition, and Christine found it interesting that such an innocuous question required that much thinking.

"Uh, Gwen?"

"He's a friend."

"He's more than that."

Gwen met her eyes. "No, he's not."

"I don't mean you're his lover." Christine waved off that idea. "Clearly, you're not. For one thing, he's head over heels for you in that way guys are who've never been with you." She decided not to say that she couldn't think of a guy her sister had been with who'd stayed in love with her. Her sister being the mother of all bitches when she was in a relationship. Christine had a theory about that. Her sister wanted Chris. Her sister couldn't have him. Therefore anyone she could have was made to pay and pay big.

"Then what do you mean?"

"I mean he's more than just a bud. You don't bring them home. He's a project, isn't he?" Her sister occasionally took them on. Having given up on reforming Christine-or pointing her toward Starfleet-she'd take on strays, as Christine had dubbed them, over the last couple of years.

It hurt, that these wayward friends were more important than she was to Gwen.

"I guess. He's sort of floundering-humans being what they are."

Gwen always talked that way. As if she wasn't part of humanity. Drove Christine nuts.

Christine didn't try to keep the bitterness out of her voice as she said, "He'll adapt." Adapt or die was one of Gwen's favorite themes. Even if the only adapting she ever did was to Starfleet. She certainly didn't adapt in any way that Christine would have liked. Like maybe seeing her side of things.

"I'm helping him adapt faster. He's a good man. A true friend. And he needs me."

Christine clamped her lips down before she could say, "I need you. Where'd that get me?" But something in her expression must have conveyed the sentiment for Gwen sighed loudly and busied herself with the strenuous task of sipping iced tea.

"Do you hate me, Chrissie?" she finally asked.

"No." Christine kept her chin up, kept her expression as stoic as Gwen's new best friend would have. "No, I don't. You're not around enough to hate." She got up and walked to the front door. "Oh, and Gwen?"

Gwen turned to look at her.

"My name is Christine, not Chrissie."


-A World of Her Own-

"Come on, we're going to be late." Melissa grabbed Christine's hand, pulled her down the hall toward the biochem lab. "I can't believe he's going to be a guest lecturer."

He was the esteemed Doctor Roger Korby. Melissa had a mad crush on the man and hadn't stopped talking about him since they'd been told he was going to teach their class this semester.

"I can't believe someone as famous as he is doesn't have better things to do with his time." Christine ducked as Melissa took a halfhearted swing at her, then laughed at her friend's expression. "I'm just kidding. I'm sure we're very, very lucky to be so blessed."

She had to duck again.

"I hope you're better at science than you are at fighting, my dear." A tall man with very blue eyes was standing at the door. He was talking to Melissa but then he glanced at Christine. "You, however, seem adept at ducking."

"A few years of practice will do you wonders in that department." She expected a laugh, but he narrowed his eyes and studied her. "That was a joke, sir."

"Roger. Call me Roger. All my students do."

"Roger," Melissa said dreamily and Christine had to fight not to roll her eyes.

She had the feeling "Call me Roger" knew what she was thinking, because he started to grin and then turned away. "If you're in my class, come in. If you're not, then get where you're going."

"We're in your class." She met his eyes. "I hope you're as good as they say."

"You're a cocky thing."

"I'm just not easily impressed."

"I'm not either." He moved closer. "You're not changing that."

She shrugged. "What can I say? I've always disappointed people."

"Take a seat, Ms...?"

"Chapel." She grinned suddenly and saw that he was thrown off by the change in expression. "Call me Christine. All my teachers do."

He had to fight a smile. "Sit your ass down, Christine." Then he walked to the front, did a brief but funny introduction, and got down to business.

Christine hadn't been kidding about not being easily impressed, but at the end of the hour, she wasn't just impressed, she was awestruck.

"So, Ms. Chapel, will you be joining us again tomorrow?" He didn't look up, just seemed to know she was stalling, taking her time getting her stuff together while Melissa waited outside.

"I'll consider it."

"I expect excellence." He looked up, brilliant blue eyes on her. "Will you deliver that?"

She found it impossible to look away. "Yes."

He seemed surprised that the answer had come with no wisecracks. "Good. See you tomorrow."

She gathered her stuff and hurried out to Melissa. "Not what I expected."

"Oh my God, isn't he brilliant? And so handsome. The pictures don't do him justice." Melissa leaned against the wall as she went on and on, but then she trailed off.

"What?"

"He liked you."

"What?" She saw her friend's expression, realized there was jealousy there. Jealousy? Of her? Melissa was the one all the boys liked. "No. I mean, I just gave him some verbal sparring time. Let him work off any pre-lecture nerves with witty repartee."

"No, Christine, he liked you." She took a deep breath. "If you don't like him, cool it, okay?"

"Cool it?"

"Yeah. Some of us do like him."

"He's our teacher. And you've known him for an hour." She'd had her share of crushes, too, on the faculty here, so she knew where Melissa was coming from. But did her friend seriously think she was going to find true love with a professor?

"He's a visiting lecturer. That's different."

"No, it's not."

Melissa shot her an annoyed look and said, "I have to get to class. I'll see you later."

"Okay." She watched her friend hurry away then turned to go the other way and saw Roger standing in the doorway.

He was watching her closely, then smiled in a sheepish way. "It's inevitable. Twelve crushes per class. That's one, I guess."

"Nothing the matter with your ego." She turned to go.

"Christine."

She turned to look at him.

"She wasn't wrong."

"Excuse me?"

"Think about that." He shut the door, then walked away from her, down the hall.

She caught up with him. "Think about what?"

He didn't look at her as they walked. "Well, I am visiting. Once this class is over..."

"We just met."

He turned, stopped her with a gentle hand on her arm. "Yes. And I'm impressed. And I'm normally not. Your answers in there tell me that you have a first-rate mind, Christine. You think outside the box. I like that." He smiled sweetly. "You're also very pretty."

"I look like my sister."

He frowned slightly. "I don't follow."

"She's prettier."

"Well, your sister isn't here, Christine. So I really can't say." He shook his head. "Maybe your ego could use some work? I'll see you tomorrow."

He walked off, leaving her standing.

Leaving her wondering.


Several weeks into the semester, Christine was working harder than she ever had. Roger's course was far more challenging than anything she'd faced so far. A quarter of the class-Melissa with them-had dropped already.

Melissa had dropped her in other ways, too.

"Nice work," Roger said as he handed her the padd she'd given him to read over. The work she was doing now would eventually turn into a dissertation; he'd offered to be her advisor.

There were all kinds of ways that was wrong. Christine found she didn't care. Just once, being the star, being wanted, was fabulous.

He asked her to stay after class and she waited for the others to clear out before going up to his desk. "Your sister Gwen asked to meet with me."

"She did?"

He nodded, then smiled, but the smile was brittle. "What did you tell her?"

"I said you were fabulous." At his look, she shook her head. "I don't know why she's here. She didn't tell me she was going to be here."

"She seemed concerned."

"Yeah, that she's being supplanted as the smartest in the family." Christine sat on the desk nearest him and crossed her arms. "I'm sorry. I probably raved about you a little the last time she and I talked. Maybe I wanted to rub it in that someone found me of interest-of academic interest, I mean."

"Christine, I don't need a scandal."

"Then maybe you shouldn't go after a student."

His eyebrows went up.

"What? You think this is my fault? You started it." She took a deep breath. "Here's what you do. You tell Gwen I'm lacking discipline but you see potential. That you're helping me grow but so far you're still waiting for me to really live up to your hopes. She'll resonate. Trust me."

"Why would I say any of that? You're my best student."

"My version is the one she'll expect."

"I guess I'll play this by ear."

"Look, just say what I told you to say. Trust me, you don't want her after you. Not the terror of the fleet."

"Is that really her name?"

"No. But it should be." She took a deep breath. "I'm really sorry about all this. Do you want me to drop the class?"

"Do I want you to-no, I don't goddamn want you to drop my class. I think it would be a much better idea for you to grow a backbone."

"I have a backbone."

"Could have fooled me."

She sighed and got up, then walked over to the comm unit by the door of the classroom.

"What are you doing?"

"Proving I have a spine." She commed her sister's code.

"Chrissie?"

"I hear you're coming to see my professor. Don't."

"What? Did he tell you?"

"Well, he had to, since you didn't. He was understandably confused as to why, at my age, a parent-teacher conference was being called. I explained you weren't a parent, never had been."

"What is your problem?"

"My problem is you checking up on me. My problem is that you can't let me have one moment in the sun, can you? I'm excelling at something and you're going to ruin it. Do you know he asked me to drop his class?" She saw Roger sit up at the lie and hoped he wouldn't say anything. "Thanks so much. This could have been the boost my academic career needs, and I know you know how boosts work, big sister. Just ask your good friend Captain Pike."

"Watch your tongue, young lady."

"Can't imagine me getting ahead without a man at my back? Well, it was my brains that got me where I am."

"Where you are? You're in goddamned college."

"Yes. In college and an adult by Terran standards. So butt the hell out of my life." She took a deep breath. "I'll tell Doctor Korby that you aren't coming, then?"

"I hope to God you know what you're doing, Christine."

"Oh, that's easy. I just do the opposite of what you'd do."

"That's what I'm afraid of." Gwen sighed, and the sound was so frustrated that Christine almost felt bad. "I've got lots to do. One less appointment is good."

"Well, win win, then."

"Yes. Win win." Gwen cut the line before Christine could say more.

Christine turned to Roger. "Do you still want to scan me for a backbone?"

"No." He looked down. "I have a lot of work to do."

She studied him, worried that he had been turned off by the dynamic-by the ugliness. She hadn't meant to get so personal. "Are we okay?"

He nodded but didn't look at her.

"Roger?"

"I added some notes to your work. I think you'll find you have some new avenues to venture down. Please go get started."

She sighed and stuck the padd in her bag. "Do you want me to drop?"

"I want you to quit asking me that." His words were followed by a long sigh.

He sounded tired of her. In fact, he sounded exactly like Gwen had.


She was at home when her chime went off. Thinking it was Roger, she hurried to the door.

It wasn't Roger. It was Gwen.

"What?"

"I didn't like how we left things. And since I'm on Earth and so are you..."

"I'm not the one who leaves Earth."

"Just let me in, Christine." She pushed past her. "God, it's clean in here."

"Of course it is." She crossed her arms over her chest. "I only let my room get so messy at home because it irritated Judy."

Gwen rolled her eyes and sat down. "Look, I just want to talk to you."

Christine sat down and waited.

"I'm sorry that I went behind your back with your professor. It's just...I can tell by the way you talk about him that he's important to you."

"Yes, he is. He's my professor, probably will be my advisor once I hit grad school."

"Baby, you need to slow down."

It had been years since Gwen had called her that. Years and a lot of bad blood.

"Why?"

"Because you don't need to go through life with people thinking you got where you are because of a man."

"Oh, you mean, like you?" She prepared to duck, but Gwen only looked down.

"Why do you think I'm so tough? Why do you think I have to be?" She got up and started to pace in the tiny dorm room. "You have no idea what it's like. You have to be so careful."

"Careful to stay away? Or to make it look like you stay away?"

Gwen looked at her as if she'd been betrayed.

"I've never been sure if you're with Chris or not. You don't talk to me, not about anything real."

"I'm sorry about that."

"That's not an answer."

Gwen took a deep breath and went to the window. "My relationship with Chris is complicated."

"My relationship with Roger isn't." Christine got up and joined her at the window. They stood shoulder to shoulder, staring out. "I intend to marry him."

Where the hell had that come from?

"Chrissie."

"I'm not in Starfleet. The rules are a little different here."

"No, they aren't. People may accept it more. But you'll still be judged-you'll still be found wanting, as if everything you'll have done came from this relationship."

Christine stood up straighter and reached for her sister's hand. "I'm all right with that. I've seen you with Chris. I think you love him. And I think he loves you. And if you two aren't together, then that's very, very wrong. And I'm not going to live that way."

Gwen squeezed her hand, but that was her only answer.

They stood there a long time, looking out at a view that showed them nothing but the backside of another building.


-Having What You Want-

Christine hurried down the corridors of Starfleet Medical, intent on getting to Gwen's room. She'd been hurt on some off-world conflict and brought here after initial treatment at a Starbase, but Christine hadn't been called until Gwen had arrived on Terra.

Not that Christine could have done anything. But it hurt that she hadn't been called. She'd always suspected that Gwen's emergency points of contact list didn't include her, but she'd never been sure until now.

She got to the room, peeked through the small window and saw Chris sitting on the bed. She turned and saw Spock sitting in the waiting area down the hall. She walked over to him, sat down, and said, "I didn't know there'd be a line to see my own sister."

"It is nice to see you, too, Christine. And may I say your concern for Number One is most affecting."

"I don't call her that, Spock."

"Nevertheless."

"I'm here. I'm supposed to be at a conference with Roger, but I'm here." A conference that would have been invaluable for her dissertation, which she was almost finished with-she'd just wanted to pick the brains of one or two colleagues that Roger could have provided entrée to.

"Roger? Ah, Doctor Korby. Your fiance? Number One told me about him."

"Oozing disappointment and disapproval as she talked, no doubt."

"I do not remember that part."

"You're a good liar." Christine decided to go on the attack. "And look at you. All these years and you're still carrying a torch."

"You oversimplify things."

"That's me: simple. I leave it to Gwen to be the complex one."

"Are you angry that you are here?"

"No, I'm angry that I'm in the hall. I'm her blood, damn it. I'm waiting behind two Fleet buddies who've probably already talked to her. And no one even commed me to let me know she was hurt."

"You were not contacted?" He seemed sincerely surprised by that.

"I was not. I guess that's how she wants it."

"Would you like me to contact you in the future if she is injured or sick?"

"Yes, that would be grand. But you'll be going against the almighty Number One's orders."

"Family members do not always give logical orders."

"You've got that right." She put her head back and sighed. "It was a going to be a really good conference."

"The exobiology conference in Kuala Lumpur?"

"That's the one."

"Yes, the agenda looked most interesting. I was intrigued to see Doctor Bennett on the speaker's list. He's quite controversial."

"He's a loon, Spock. Not controversial. Crazy."

"Is that you or Doctor Korby speaking?"

She laughed, a bitter bark of surprise. "You know, I was actually enjoying our little conversation. But now I'm not. I'm going to get coffee. Can I bring you some?"

"No, thank you." He reached out, touched her arm. "I did not ask that because Number One would have. I asked it because I know what it is like to want to emulate a trusted superior."

"So you weren't just emulating Gwen, right then? Your trusted superior? If you want, I can give you tips on how to turn a trusted superior into a fiancee?"

His face turned stonier than usual. "I believe you were going to get coffee."

"I believe you're right."


Christine opened the door and smiled as Gwen looked up. She'd lingered at the coffee shop, giving Spock time with her sister-and time for herself to cool off. Spock was just like Gwen: he could infuriate and hurt her in nanoseconds.

"What did you say to Spock?" Gwen had on her "I am not amused face," which was barely different anymore than her other expressions. She'd apparently taken tips on stoneface from her Vulcan buddy.

"Why? Was he upset?"

"He was concerned. About you."

Christine made a "Pfffftttt" sound and saw Gwen's eyes narrow. Dismissive Chrissie was her least favorite of the personas Christine wore. "I'm fine. You're the one who was injured. Are you okay, by the way?"

"I am."

"It was nice to get the call letting me know you'd been injured. Oh, wait. I didn't get that call."

"Chrissie, I made out my emergency POC list when you were thirteen."

"There's this thing you can do. It's called updating."

Gwen rolled her eyes and held out her hand. "Give me a sip of that coffee."

"Not on your life. I don't know what's allowed and what isn't. Hell, I don't even know what's wrong with you." She sipped the coffee slowly, was overly theatric showing her sister how good it tasted.

"I'm fine. Give me the damn coffee."

"No." She smiled sweetly.

"I miss the little girl you used to be."

"Really? Because you were never around for her."

"I was on a mission."

"I accept that. Just don't tell me you missed her-me."

"I can be away and still miss you. An assignment doesn't have to equal abandonment."

Something Roger had been telling her ever since he started planning a mission off world. One that he didn't want her on-she had another doctorate to finish. His plan, not hers. But his plan made sense so she was going along with it.

All except the part where he left her to be out in the stars.

"What is wrong with you?" Christine asked softly.

"I took a blaster hit to the gut. They weren't sure I was going to make it."

"Oh." She looked down, sure that if she met Gwen's eyes, she would say far too much without opening her mouth.

"Christine, I'm sorry. But I'm fine. I'm still here. You know I'm too stubborn to kill."

Christine nodded. "I saw Chris here."

Her sister seemed to stiffen, as if waiting for the snotty attack.

"That was nice of him." She smiled at her sister. "He really loves you."

Gwen seemed unsure how to respond.

"And you love him. And I know that. I've always known that. I hope...I hope you're together. I've had a chance to understand some things, being with Roger. I mean, we're out in the open now, clearly." She played with the pretty engagement ring he'd given her. "But before, when we had to be discreet. I get it now."

Gwen didn't nod, didn't say anything.

"Just talk to me."

"Not about this."

Christine drained the cup and walked over to the recycler. "Your protégé is still in love with you."

"You don't understand Spock at all."

"I don't need to. He loves you and can't have you. You won't let him in. I actually feel sorry for him. Because I know what that feels like all too well."

"Chrissie..."

"Get well, Gwen. Get back on duty and keep us all safe. I'll be here. Like always."

She walked to the door-maybe she could still make the conference if she left now.


She lay in bed with Roger, in his room at the top of the huge tower hotel in Kuala Lumpur. The conference was amazing. Bennett really was a loon-it wasn't just Roger's view anymore, although Spock had been right about her sucking that opinion up by osmosis. She'd need to be more careful to formulate her own views. She was Roger's fiancee and his protégée, but she didn't need to be his echo.

"Do you want me to order room service?" Roger asked as he traced lazy circles on her arm. He was a sweet and demanding lover, and he'd tired both of them out.

Which would make her happier if she hadn't found him in the bar with a graduate student from Sweden named Andrea. Pretty, lush little figure, and smart as a whip.

She hoped none of his passion had been intended for Andrea. He hadn't been exactly broken up when Christine had said she'd have to skip the conference. He hadn't seemed disappointed when she showed up, though. Had been happy to see her, had pulled her in, his arm around her so she could lean up against him at the crowded bar as they talked shop with Andrea.

She sighed, confused and still edgy after her visit with Gwen.

"Was that a yes to room service?"

"Yes. Order something extravagant?"

"I generally do." He laughed at her expression. "Oh, you mean, more extravagant." He commed room service and outdid himself in the ordering department. "Good?"

She nodded and pulled him back down to her. "I love you."

"I love you, too." He smoothed back her hair. "Are you all right?"

"Terrible visit."

"Well, it was with your sister, ergo..."

She grinned but the expression quickly faded. "I try. I want to be her friend. But she won't let me in. She always has to be the perfect big sister, the perfect officer." She snuggled in. "The perfect stranger. Her Vulcan pet is warmer than she is."

"I'd hardly call Commander Spock a pet." Roger knew the man by reputation only, but Christine knew he was impressed with what he'd seen come out of Spock's science work on the Enterprise.

"I know. I'm just mad."

"It made the sex nice." He kissed her nose, then urged her onto her stomach, started an impromptu massage.

"Oh, yes. More, please."

"Glutton."

"Always, when it's you." She sighed as he touched her. He made her feel safe. Or had, until he'd said he was going offworld.

"Food's here." He got up and put a robe on, slid the covers up over her, then let the server in with the tray. A few moments later, he called her to come out and she put a robe on and joined him.

"You did good," she said as she surveyed the assortment.

"Of course I did. I'm quite capable in many departments." He winked at her, then set to eating, shifting into a discussion on something they'd heard earlier.

It was comforting and stimulating. And she shrugged off the encounter with Gwen and Spock. Nothing good could come of dwelling on that.

She had Roger. That was all that mattered.


-The Stars Hold Answers-

Christine sat in her new quarters on the Enterprise, glad that they didn't have a viewport. The motion of the stars in warp made her a little queasy.

As she tried not to throw up, her last conversation with Gwen kept running through her head.

"You're only using Starfleet to find your lover. That's wrong."

"You're not Fleet Material."

"I'm ashamed of you."

That had been months ago. Months of training. Months when she hadn't seen Gwen. And then Chris had been injured, and Christine had checked on him, thinking that it would be like always: an injury meant he'd be out among the stars in no time. But his injuries were catastrophic and he was confined to a wheelchair, nothing left of the vital person she'd known.

Gwen had been with him. Gwen had been with him until it was clear that there was nothing anyone could do for him and that he didn't want her there. The blinking of two flashes signaling his resistance to her giving up her life for him.

She'd left him. She'd gone back to her ship. But she'd left her soul in the room with him. Christine hadn't talked to her much since then. She'd call but Gwen would be distant, not angry anymore, not...anything.

Until today. Until her shuttle went down on the way back to her ship. A shuttle she was in alone.

A shuttle Christine couldn't help but wonder if she'd let crash-some part of her that maybe wasn't totally conscious of doing it. The part of her that had given up.

Christine's door chimed and she said, "Come," knowing who it would be.

Spock walked in, his eyes concerned. "You have heard?"

She nodded.

"I grieve with thee."

The words sounded formulaic. The emotion in his voice did not.

"She died with Chris."

"Captain Pike isn't dead."

"Yes, he is, Spock. In all the ways that matter, he is."

He looked away.

"You probably knew Gwen better than I did, Spock. I'm sorry for your loss."

The look he turned on her was full of compassion. And deep with sorrow. "She was an extraordinary woman."

"It remains to be seen if that runs in the family, huh?"

He frowned. "I did not say that."

"It's all right. It's the natural next thought." She got up and walked over to him, touched him gently on the arm. "I appreciate you coming to me. It was...kind of you." Although she was also the only person he could probably talk to about this, so maybe it was just selfish of him.

"I miss her." The confession seemed to force itself out and he took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"You loved her. I know that. I've always known that." She patted him on the hand and then pushed him to the door. "I'm not feeling very well. You should go."

He nodded and stood in the open door. "If you need me..."

"I know where you are. Thank you."

He turned to look at her, and she wondered who he was seeing. Then he was gone and she was left to grieve in peace.


Christine saw Spock ahead of her in the mess line and hoped she wasn't blushing. The Psi 2000 virus had made her act like a fool. She couldn't help but think it would make a fabulous biological weapon, if one were interested in making one, which, of course, she wasn't. But it was easier to think of unthinkable things than to face Spock after professing love she hadn't known she felt till she accosted him.

He found a table in the corner and she got out of line and followed him, was surprised when he gestured for her to sit.

"Are you sure?"

"Do you plan to confess anything?"

She shook her head and smiled, grateful at his lightness.

"Then, sit. We need to discuss this."

She sat. "We really don't need to discuss this." She watched as he took an unconcerned bite. "I didn't know I felt that way until I told you."

"That is how the virus worked. Peeling layers away to find the truth, no matter how uncomfortable."

"Or embarrassing."

"Yes." He took another bite, chewed slowly, finally said, "You have a fiancé, Nurse Chapel. It is inappropriate for you to harbor feelings for me."

"It's not like I can control it."

"You can. You must." He took another bite.

"I'm not going to do anything about it. I'm still getting used to the idea."

"You only have feelings for me because you believe I had feelings for your sister."

"You did-you do have feelings. Her death doesn't change that."

He made a gesture with his hand, a dismissive movement.

"Look, I just wanted to say I was sorry."

"I appreciate that. It shows great character."

"That's me. Little Miss Character." She took a deep breath. "You didn't put it in a report, did you?"

"I did not." His voice was amused.

"But I spread the virus. I'm a nurse and I spread it."

"You did not know you were spreading it. It is not as if you sprayed me with a canister full of the virus."

"True." She smiled. "Okay, I'm going to get lunch and eat at a different table. To, you know, lessen the awkwardness even more."

"An admirable idea." He nodded to her as she got up. "All is fine between us, Christine. Please do not worry."

"You, too. Don't worry, I mean."

"I was not worrying."

"Not Vulcan to do that?"

His lips ticked up a little. "No. I trust you."

"Why?" Then she took a deep breath. "Oh. God. How stupid of me. Because I remind you of her."

"You should not assume that to be the reason."

"Right. I'll get right on not assuming that." She took a deep breath and walked out of the mess-she was no longer hungry.


Christine hit the buzzer on Spock's door, waited impatiently for him to answer. Now that whatever had been the matter with him was over-she'd been able to piece together bits of it from what she'd heard McCoy and Kirk saying, but the big picture still eluded her-she needed to get some things straight, especially since he'd been kind to her since they'd found Roger-since she'd lost Roger.

He opened the door rather than calling for her to enter, stood staring at her as if she was the main course to a long anticipated meal.

"Are you all right, Spock?"

"I will be." Again the hungry look.

She almost pushed past him, thought better of it when she saw him give her a slow once over. "I need to talk to you."

He stood back, giving her room to squeeze past him.

She eyed the space uncertainly. "But we can do this later."

"On the contrary, we should do this now, Christine." He took her hand, gently pulled her in and let the door close. "You wished to say something?"

"Just that...I understand now, what you meant, when you said about harboring feelings for someone when you're engaged. Did Gwen know? That you were engaged, I mean?"

"She did not. It is not something that is spoken of. And my pon farr-the fever that affected me-was very late in coming. I was not certain that it ever would come; my human half could have affected it that way."

"It didn't, though."

"No. It did not." He was watching her with amazing intensity.

"Is it over?"

"No." He pulled her closer to him. "I told Jim it was. The doctor, too. They could not help me and this is a private matter."

"But I can help you?"

"Oh, yes." He stroked her cheek. "I have wanted you for a very long time."

She let herself enjoy the feeling for a moment, then pulled away. "Who are you talking to?"

His voice was harsh. "Who do you think I'm talking to?"

"Her."

"She is not here. She is dead."

"But I look so much like her. If I just keep my mouth shut, you'll never know." She could feel tears starting, hated that tears were starting.

"Christine, we will merge telepathically-it is called a meld. It is a light psychic bond. I will be in no doubt as to who I am with. With your mind linked to mine, there will only be you."

"Are you lying?"

He looked taken aback, then he seemed to be considering what she had asked. "I have not done this before during the fever, obviously, but I have never been able to tune out the presence of one I melded with."

"Is the meld permanent?"

"No. It will fade when we are done. It is a pleasurable experience generally."

"Do we have to?"

"Do we have to meld?"

She nodded. "I don't want to know what you're thinking."

"You are so sure I will think of her?"

She wanted to run, wanted to get out while she could. But he'd been waiting for her. He'd known she would come. She looked down, realized she was crying again. Was that all she could do around him? "You love her. You don't love me." Then she looked up, met his eyes. "You'll die if we don't?"

"I will die if I don't. There are other women who have indicated my presence would not be unwelcome."

"No." It came out without thought, without intent. No, he was hers. At least for this moment, he was hers. "No. You do this with me. But...no meld."

"Trust me."

"That's just it Spock. I don't trust anyone. The last man I trusted wanted to put us all in android bodies."

He pulled her to him, kissed her more gently than she expected. "Without the meld, I will not know if I am hurting you. And I don't want to hurt you. I will make it as light as I can. You will barely be aware of me-or of what I'm thinking."

"Okay." She stopped him as he pulled her to him. "But this is not the start of something."

"Why not? We are both free." He nuzzled her neck, murmured in her ear. "Should you not wait until we are finished to assess the longterm possibilities?"

"Do not make this into a joke. That's what she always did. Take my concerns and turn them-" She pulled away, went to the far side of the room and started to take off her uniform.

"I did not intend to anger you."

"I know. It's just...this isn't how I pictured this."

"I'm sorry."

"I believe you are." She finished undressing and stood before him, wanting to cover herself but forcing herself to stand open to him, truly naked.

He moved to her, ran his hands over her in a possessive way, and kissed her as he pushed her down to the bed. The first time he took her he didn't even remove his clothing, just unfastened his pants and claimed her.

He made sure she was ready first, though. He melded with her and she felt him just as he'd said, as only a light touch at the edges of her consciousness. For a moment, she wanted more. But then she saw Gwen standing before her, with her cold smile and disappointed eyes.

Spock moved in ways that made her cry out softy, helplessly, and then louder. She came over and over, the meld making it easier to climax somehow, as if his orgasms were spurring her on to more.

She pulled off his uniform at some point, pushed him to his back and rode him, holding him down, saying, "You're mine. You're mine."

And then she fell away from him. Knowing it wasn't true. Or that it wouldn't be as soon as this fever passed and he was back to normal.

He followed her, kissed her and murmured things in Vulcan that she couldn't possibly understand. She stroked his hair and whispered, "I love you."

He didn't say it back.

She was glad he didn't.

And it broke her heart that he didn't.


Christine scrubbed the Platonian makeup off her face, trying to get her hair free of the clips before it got stuck that way. Her door chime rang and she called out, "Come," sure it would be Uhura.

It was Spock.

"Oh. You." She pointed to her hair and said, "Help?"

He walked over easily, as if they hadn't just been in a big peep show, and began to ease the clips out. She went back to makeup removal.

"You will have no skin left if you continue to scrub like that." He took the washcloth from her, tossed it into the bathroom, then went back to work on her hair. When he finally had it free, he turned her to face him. "I need you."

"Define that."

He took her hand, laid it in his lap.

"Ohhhhhh." She saw that he was blushing. "The Kironide?"

"The Kironide. It seems to be playing havoc with my system."

"Will this always happen now? When you need it...you'll come to me?"

He seemed to not understand what she was saying, then the aha hit. "Christine, this is not like the Pon Farr. I was in no way compelled to come here. I just...wanted to. Very much." He looked down at his lap in the way of human males for generations.

She laughed softly and pulled him to her. "No meld."

"You are in no danger this time. I am fully in control."

"Just very, very horny."

He sighed and nodded. As he pulled her closer, he murmured, "Would it distress you if I did seek you out?"

"I don't know." So much had happened since the Pon Farr. She'd stayed away from him as much as she could. Found visiting crew to scratch itches with, or had fun on Shore Leave. She touched his cheek gently, running her hand around to the back of his neck to gently pull him to her. "Maybe if I didn't love you so much."

"Your argument is somewhat illogical."

"No, Spock. No, it's not." She kissed him; his lips felt as good as they had during the Pon Farr.

"I care for you," he said as he pulled her clothes off.

"You care for me at the moment. And I'm very glad you do, but you had no trouble staying away when you weren't under some biological imperative." She pulled him down to her. "I'm not who you want. I know that."

"Be still, Christine." He was moving inside her, and she found it easy to shut up and just enjoy the ride. A ride that did not end for some time.

But it did end. They lay next to each other for a while. Not trying to make pillow talk, just cuddled together. Then, before it could get awkward, she whispered, "This is the part where you say you have an early meeting and leave me with no regrets."

He eased away from her, then surprised her with a tender kiss. "I will leave. But it will not be without regrets." His eyes were unreadable as he said, "I regret that you don't trust me."

"It's not you I don't trust. It's everyone."

"Everyone is not here in bed with you, Christine. I am." He sighed and kissed her one last time. "Thank you. You may not trust me, but I trust you."

"I know." She watched him get out of bed and pull on his uniform. He checked his hair in the mirror and then turned to look at her.

"Good night," she said, trying to smile.

"Good night, Christine."


Christine was just packing the last of her things when her chime rang. "Come."

Spock came in, looked around as if he was intimately familiar with the state of her quarters. "You are ready to leave?"

She nodded. "Med school is calling." She smiled. "Not literally, of course."

"I understood your meaning." He sat at her desk and watched her work.

"You here for a reason?" She glanced at him. "The captain all better now? He in his body, crazy Doctor Lester in hers?"

"All is well."

"Glad to hear it."

"I wanted to thank you. For standing with me. At the hearing. You were the only one who did."

"Actually I sat with you." She grinned at him. "But you're welcome. If you knew it was the captain, then I believed you."

"Empirical evidence to the contrary?"

"I may not trust you where Gwen and I are concerned. But I have faith in you. I trust you to know the captain if you feel his mind in someone else's body."

"Thank you."

"Can I ask you something incredibly personal and completely none of my business?"

He nodded.

"If the Captain had stayed in a female body, would you have become his-her lover?"

"There are plenty of rumors that I am his lover now. His being female would certainly add to those."

"That's not an answer."

"As you said, what you asked is none of your business." His eyes were light and she laughed.

"Fine. Forget I asked. I was just...curious." She walked over to him and he stood up. "Thank you for all the times you got us out of jams that would have led to me being dead."

Again the lightening of the eyes, the repressed humor. "You're welcome. I wish you all the best. I know you will be a superb doctor." He touched her cheek, then let his hand stray to her hair. "I have not had a chance to tell you I like the color."

She'd let it get closer to its real color. Still not the dark brown she shared with Gwen, but closer. A medium reddish brown- a far cry from blonde, at any rate. She touched his hand over her hair. "Thank you."

They stood like that for a moment then she pulled her hand away and he let go of her.

"I wish you well, Spock. I really do."

"I believe you. Live long and prosper, Christine."

"You do the same."

He nodded and turned. She watched him walk to the door, watched it open to let him out. He did not turn around as he left. She smiled ruefully at the idea that he would have and went back to her task.


-A New Beginning-

Christine had just finished her exams when she saw Spock coming down the hallway of Starfleet Medical, a Vulcan girl in tow. The girl looked to be a teenager and was wearing the most sullen look Christine had ever seen a Vulcan sport. In fact, she could give a Terran juvenile a run for her money. "Spock?"

"Doctor Chapel. Christine. This is my ward Saavik."

She'd heard that he had rescued a young Vulcan from Hellguard. This must be the girl. "Hello."

Saavik glanced at her and nodded, then looked away.

"She is very angry with me right now." Something was off in Spock's voice. Something strange in his demeanor, too.

"Is everything all right?"

"No," Saavik answered, in the way only an aggrieved young girl can. Christine recognized it from her own youth. She'd used that tone on Gwen frequently.

He met her eyes. "You see my problem."

Surely he wasn't calling this girl his problem? Had Gwen ever referred to Christine that way?

"He's leaving," Saavik said, moving a little bit closer to Christine.

"On a mission?"

"For Gol. Do you know what that is?"

"Saavikam. I have told you this information is not for outside ears."

"She deserves to know. You're leaving me with her. How outside can she be?"

"You're doing what now?" Christine found herself reaching out for the girl, was surprised when she didn't pull away, when she actually pushed into her touch.

"He's going to Gol. A place where Vulcans purge all emotion." Saavik was practically spitting bitterness at Spock. "Leaving behind everything he loves. Which includes me." She turned to Christine, whispered, "Or it was supposed to."

Christine looked at Spock, couldn't believe what she was hearing. "What do you think you're doing?"

"My parents are on a diplomatic mission. They will not be back for some time. I need to leave Saavik with someone I can trust until they return. She will continue her studies in Vulcan culture and language while she is here." At Christine's look, he said, "With a Vulcan tutor from the Embassy."

"I'm half Romulan," Saavik said to Christine, not looking at Spock. "He hates that half, in case that's not clear."

"I do not hate what you are, Saavik. I merely want to ground you in the other half of your heritage. Your early education was one sided." He met Christine's eyes. "I trust you. Do you understand? I am leaving her with you because I trust you."

"Why are you doing this?"

"Because I have to."

"Because he's a coward," Saavik said.

Christine grabbed Spock's arm, and he shook her off.

"Do not presume..." He took a deep breath. "This is why. This is why I must. I lose more of myself every day."

Christine backed up until she was standing next to Saavik. She put an arm around the girl, felt her crumple against her. "Well, I'm the right one to leave her with, Spock. I know what it's like to be abandoned by the people who are supposed to love you."

Saavik sobbed so softly Christine didn't think Spock could probably hear it.

"I'll take good care of her. Go become colder. Gwen would approve."

"Will you never let that go, Christine?"

"How can I? You're a constant reminder." She turned her back on him. "Do you need anything before we go, Saavik? My apartment's small, but we'll make out. Do you need to pick up anything?"

"I will have her belongings sent over."

"I wasn't talking to you, Spock." She turned, met his eyes. She felt Saavik clutching at her, could recognize imminent loss of control. "Go away, Spock. I'll take it from here."

"Saavikam, I wish you peace and long life."

Saavik murmured something in either Vulcan or Romulan. Christine betted it translated to "Fuck off and die."

"Sweetheart?" she said softly, urging Saavik away.

Saavik looked up at her. "I'm so sorry he did this. You have a life and he just dumped me on you."

"You're right. I actually do have a life now. My last exam was today. I don't start my residency for two weeks. Spock's timing was impeccable." She tried for a smile, knew it was weak. "Listen to me. I've been where you are. Only...not really. Because my parents died. They didn't abandon me. But my sister did. Sort of. It's complicated." She realized she probably wasn't making Saavik feel any better. "Are you hungry?"

"Yes. And I want meat."

Christine laughed. "Go nuts, kiddo. Will a cheeseburger do?"

Saavik nodded and Christine pulled her in for a quick hug, surprised again to feel the girl hug her back.

"Thank you," Saavik whispered.

"Don't thank me yet. You haven't seen how crappy the couch is that you'll be sleeping on."


Christine stood outside the Vulcan Embassy with Saavik. She couldn't believe how fast the weeks had gone by. "Okay, now remember, there's a couch with your name on it in my apartment."

Saavik smiled and nodded.

"And if I end up stationed here, there will be a guest bedroom with your name on it. Got it?"

"Got it." Saavik pulled her into a quick hug-as much, Christine guessed, for rebellion's sake as affection. The Vulcan guards probably didn't see too many goodbye hugs on the Embassy steps. "Thank you. I'm not sure I'd have been okay if I'd gone straight to Amanda and Sarek."

"I don't think you give yourself enough credit, kiddo." Christine brushed Saavik's thick hair off her face. "But I'm glad Spock brought you to me. That was one decision I won't ever question." She looked up at the Embassy doors, just a few steps from them. "You want me to come in with you?"

"No. I've been here before. I know my way around."

"Stick with Amanda. She won't understand Spock's decision, either."

Saavik met her eyes, her gaze very serious. "I don't think Sarek, for all that he's the perfect Vulcan, understands it."

"Well, good. Then you can all be disapproving together." She grinned. "I'm going to miss you."

"Okay, you should go, while I still stand a chance of displaying some Vulcan decorum." Saavik stood straighter and let her expression go a bit stonier. "Good?"

"Perfect." Christine touched her shoulder then left her to face her pseudo grandparents. She knew from experience some things were harder when a sympathetic person was around. Besides, Sarek and Amanda were decent people. They'd take good care of her, and Amanda would probably spoil her rotten.

Not used to having time to herself, Christine found herself wandering the district near the Embassy. She had lunch in a little bistro and then shopped for a bit, enjoying the sinful feeling of having no studying to do at all while she waited to start her residency in Emergency Medicine. She was about to head home when she saw a familiar figure standing on the corner.

"Admiral?"

"Christine. Or should I say Doctor Chapel?" Kirk grinned as if he knew very well what rank she was. "I'm on way for a drink with Will Decker. Do you remember him?"

She nodded. She'd looked him up after his father had been killed by that nearly unstoppable machine. He'd been a lieutenant commander then. He'd moved up fast, was captain now, soon to be the captain. Of the Enterprise.

"Come with me. It'll help ease the awkwardness. Will's stolen my lady, you know?"

"Stolen?"

"Okay, I recommended him. But I like the first version better. What kind of man gives his gal to another guy?"

She smiled and let him pull her along in his wake.

"You know about Spock?" His voice had changed; there was hurt in it.

"Yep." She decided not to tell him Spock had dropped Saavik off with her. That might hurt him even more. "Don't really understand it, but I know about it."

"Idiot." His voice was tight.

"Yep." She followed him into a pub, saw Decker waiting for them at the bar.

"Will, look who I bumped into. I brought her along. Hope you don't mind." Kirk winked at her. "She's just finished her MD. Has nearly five years worth of experience in emergency medicine on the flagship. Pretty much did a doctor's work."

She gave him a look. "What are you doing?"

"Marketing." Again the wink.

She laughed and turned to Decker. "Ignore him. And congratulations on your assignment."

"Thank you, Christine. So, is he right? Will you be ready to go when the ship is?"

"I'm sure there are plenty of seasoned doctors who are vying for billets on the ship."

"I'm sure there are. You didn't answer my question." Decker's smile was open and friendly, but there was something very strong underneath it. Like he'd resort to a less friendly method if he had to.

"I guess I'll be free when the ship is. I haven't decided what I want to do."

"Yes, you have," Kirk said. "Emergency medicine. That's what Bones said."

"I thought you weren't talking to him."

"We talk fine when we're both rollicking drunk. The fish were biting down his way so I made a trip."

"He's okay?"

"He's fine. Has hooch and ladies lined up around the corner."

She laughed. "He's fine."

"Do you miss him?" Decker asked.

She thought about that. She missed the warm side of him. She missed the mentor and the coach. She didn't miss the brittle side that used to tease her, as if she'd really chased Spock all these years. She didn't miss the guy who spent a lot of time on the Bridge and not much in sickbay, especially when there were onerous tasks to perform. On balance, though? "Yeah, I miss him."

"Wow, you had to think about that a long time," Kirk said with a laugh. "What did he do to you?"

"You know what he did. You were there for some of his little sarcasm barbeques."

"Oh, yeah. He did the same thing to Spock, and to me-the rare times I screwed up." He smiled to show he was kidding about the self-aggrandizement.

"So, how's the ship?" Christine asked Decker, eager to turn the conversation away from herself.

And it worked. With these two men, so in love with the great silver ship, it more than worked. She was a little bit bored of ship talk when she finally told them goodnight and headed home.


The next day, Decker commed her. "Listen, about that billet."

"Admiral Kirk completely strong-armed you. I understand."

"No, you don't. I took a gander at your service record. And at your prior academic record. And at your compressed med school schedule. I'm impressed."

"Don't be. I'm just playing catch up."

"I've got twenty physicians telling me why they should be CMO on my ship. Whatever I want to hear, they tell me. And they are not shy about tooting their own horns."

She laughed. She knew these men and women. Some of them were probably on the faculty.

"I remember your visit after my dad died. You...were memorable. You were kind. But not sloppy kind, if that makes sense? And you aren't telling me what I want to hear now. In fact, I don't think you'd give a flying one if you ever see that ship again."

"Okay...?"

"Most of Kirk's crew are cycling onto mine, Christine. They're there because they want to be on that ship. They don't care who's flying her. I've got people contacting me left and right since I was named. They want to be on the Enterprise but only a few I know from Adam. I know you and you don't want it, and if you come, it will be for me, because I asked you to."

"I'm following." She held up a hand before he could keep going. "But, I may not be qualified."

"Kirk thinks you are. He wouldn't have pitched you so hard if he didn't." He smiled. "Look, there's plenty of time. We'll be in refits another year at least. Just...think about it. I'll ask you again when you're nearly done with your residency and I have a launch date, how's that?"

"All right. Ask me again. But if you find someone else, don't even worry about it. Just go with them."

He grinned. "See, that's so refreshing. Have fun in residency."

"Have fun with the refits."

He cut the channel and she sat and thought about rejoining the crew, being with Uhura and Scotty and Sulu again. And Janice and Chekov, too. Everyone but Kirk and McCoy and, of course, Spock.

It might be fun. It might be a lot of fun. Not being in anyone's shadow this time. On the ship not because she talked her way aboard, but because she had to be talked into it by someone who wanted her.


-A Second Chance-

Christine watched as Spock conferred with Kirk and McCoy. Will was gone. She'd barely been his CMO, and then he was demoted, and so was she. And now he was gone-dead or something else, but out of reach. No longer in charge. She'd be working for McCoy again if she stayed here. Right back where she started.

She'd already put in her request for transfer. Kirk had rejected it with an "Are you sure? Think about this a bit." She'd resubmitted it immediately, and he'd approved it. He glanced at her now, a look of disappointment in his eyes, but she knew he'd get over it. He had most of his chicks in the nest-he didn't need her, too.

Spock excused himself from the other two and made his way to her. "We have much to discuss."

"We do?"

He turned her, his hand on the small of her back, and she moved away, unable to take the intimacy of the touch.

"I have offended you?"

"No. I'm just...confused. First, you have no emotions. Now you're like a gaping pit of emotions."

"Not terribly flattering."

"Wasn't meant to be, Spock." She looked over at him as he led them into a lift. "And we are going where?"

"As I have no quarters as of yet, then yours will have to do." He held up a hand before she could say anything. "To talk. In private. I wish to know of Saavik."

"Talking of Saavik needs to be private? I don't think so."

"Christine. Please." He waited, then told the lift, "Deck five."

She leaned back against the wall and crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm not convinced we can't do this in the mess hall."

"You have asked to transfer. We will rendezvous with the Demeter tomorrow. You will board it and be on your way back to Earth. I have one night to speak with you and I intend to use it to the fullest."

"How much talking do we need to do?"

"My time on Gol and my link with V'ger have shown me much. I will lose both in time. I wish to speak to you now while both are fresh."

The lift opened on her deck and she led him to her quarters-still the CMO's quarters. McCoy would no doubt be moving in tomorrow as soon as she was gone. They were much nicer quarters than what he was in at the moment.

As soon as the doors closed behind them, she hurried to the guest table and planted herself in one of the chairs. She did not doubt Spock's ability to argue a case for holding whatever discussion he thought was so critical in the bedroom.

He sat down opposite her. "You are well?"

"Yes, not dead from V'ger. Always a plus."

"I mean in general. Your life? You are a doctor now. And here."

"Here was fine when it was new and different."

"Under Commander Decker?"

"Captain Decker." There was an edge she couldn't help when she said his old title.

"Of course. My apologies." He took a deep breath then leaned back. "Saavik prospers?"

"She's fine."

He nodded. "Is she angry at me?"

"No, she's knitting you a sweater with puppies and kittens. Of course she's angry at you."

"Ah."

"So's your mom, if it's any of my business to be telling you this. So am I, quite frankly. You know how I felt about Gwen going off-how much worse was what you did to Saavik? She loves you."

"I know." He didn't meet her eyes. "I rescued her. I reformed her. And then I abandoned her." He did look up then, his eyes brimming with emotions she'd never seen him display. "At least I had the good sense to abandon her to your care. I cannot think of anyone better for her at that time."

"Yeah, bully for you, having another screwed up gal to ship her off to. Good call."

"Christine. Saavik is like my daughter. Do you understand the significance of my leaving her with you?"

"I do. I'm just like the handy ex-wife who gets the kids dumped on her." Or the aunt who didn't want kids and ended up with one anyway. Spock was right; he'd made a much better call than Gwen had.

Spock stood up and walked to the viewport. "I intend to rebuild my relationship with Saavik."

"Uh huh."

"I need guidance. I know Gwen failed with you and I-"

"Gwen never tried with me, Spock. You're already ahead by even asking." She sighed and got up. "Do you want a drink?"

"I do not drink."

"I know. Do you want one anyway?"

He nodded. "I am unsure what to tell you to make me."

"Doesn't matter. Any road'll get you there. And, moreover, all I have is scotch."

"Then I will have scotch."

She poured two glasses and handed him one. He sipped it gingerly, then took another sip. He seemed to relax a bit after the third.

"Medically efficacious, my friend." She stood next to him, and they watched the stars that used to make her queasy and drank in silence. Finally, she said, "First thing: own up to what you did. No excuses. No rationalizations. Just say you screwed up. Only in whatever way a Vulcan would put it. I don't expect miracles from you."

"All right."

"Second thing: I don't care how you do it, but make damn sure she understands that you love her."

"That is more problematic."

"Do it before this V'ger effect wears off."

"Agreed. But still, I may not effectively get my message across."

"It's an easy message, Spock. I love you. I missed you." She turned to look at him. "If you can't do that, just abandon the cause right now."

He took another sip of the scotch, then nodded. "Is there a third thing?"

"Yes. Be prepared for all kinds of badness. She's mad as hell at you. Amanda is, too, so a big 'I love you, mom' would not be a bad idea while you're at it."

"And what of you? What do I need to do to make this up to you?"

"To me?" She saw he was serious. "Spock, you didn't abandon me. I never thought I had you. What's more, you gave me Saavik. Which as stupid as it was for you to do it, I have to thank you for. She's a wonderful young woman and I love her."

"You say that so easily-that you love her."

"It's easy to say when it comes to her. I...understand her. I resonate."

"Yes. I can see that."

"The rest you'll figure out. But just be patient with her, Spock. I was an ass to Gwen a lot of the time because I was so hurt and so mad. She'd get frustrated, and then I'd act out more, and it just spiraled."

"What would have made it better?"

"If she'd taken me in her arms and-" She stopped talking because Spock had turned and pulled her into a hug. "If she had taken me into her arms, Spock. Or were you practicing for Saavik?"

He seemed reluctant to let her go. "Perhaps I also need this."

"Get it from the Captain. I saw your little moment in sickbay, remember?"

"I was happy to see him."

"Yep. You sure were." She took a deep breath. "Spock, we are not going to have sex."

"Why not?"

"Because this is just another case of you needing sex, but in time you won't need me. And I understand that now. I even sort of like you, against my better judgment, and always have, ever since that day we met at the house. We've got Saavik in common. It would be good if we don't muddy up the waters with needless sex if we're going to effectively parent her-that is what you were implying, was it not?"

"Logical." He sounded extremely grumpy. "And yes, I was implying that. She will benefit from association with you." He put his glass down and took hers away too. "You are leaving tomorrow."

"Spock."

"I will not see you again for some time unless you wish it." He moved closer.

"Spock."

"I want you very much. I am emotionally open. Is that not a catharsis of sorts? For you? For me?"

"No, it's pretty much just casual sex." She pushed him away. "I was in love with you. I may still be to some extent. But I've dealt with it, and I'm fine with you in my life as a friend. This...this will not help things." She pulled him in for a quick kiss. "I'm not sleeping with you. I may kick myself years down the road because sex with you, mister, is very nice, but I am not doing it."

"Very well." He stood in front of her, looking hopeful, as if sheer inertia on his part might tip the scale toward the sex side of the equation.

She finally turned him toward the door and gave him a little push. "I'll soften Saavik up a little if you go away."

He turned to look at her. "Is that not unfair to use her against me like that?"

"Yes. Most assuredly so." She made sure he'd really exited before she let her guard down and finished her drink. Then she sat down at her comm station and put in Saavik's code.

She answered immediately. "I see Admiral Kirk saved the day again."

"Not just the Admiral, Saavik. Are you sitting down?"

She watched Saavik go through the fives stages of grief in about half an hour. When Spock finally saw her, she'd be in a much better place.

He owed Christine big time.


Christine heard her front door open, peered around to see Saavik lugging in her laundry bag. "I can't believe they don't have laundry facilities at the Vulcan Embassy."

"I can't sit and talk to you if I clean my clothes there. Or eat inappropriate food." Saavik came over and gave her a quick hug. "Also, I can't do that there. I'm working on being a proper Vulcan, remember?"

"How could I forget? I hear both Sarek and Spock extol your virtues."

Saavik smiled. "Amanda knows the real me. Amanda and you."

"Spock knows the real you, too, kiddo. He just doesn't want to be critical since he knows he's still working his way back into your good graces." It had been almost a year. Saavik was milking this far better than Christine ever had with Gwen.

Christine heard the sound of her washer going then Saavik came out and plopped herself on the couch. "You always defend him."

"No, I don't."

"Yes, you do. Why aren't you with him?"

"Because he doesn't love me."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. He was in love with my sister. We've been over this."

"He never had her."

"What makes you think he's 'had' me?"

Saavik had the grace to blush. "It's just...the way you two interact sometimes. It seems like you have a past."

"And you're an expert on this. Being in high school." Or the Vulcan equivalent thereof.

"I saw a lot on Hellguard. People used sex for position, for bartering. When it was actually because of love, it stood out."

"He's not in love with me."

"You know, it's funny how you never say you're not in love with him."

Christine threw a pillow at her. "Stop being insightful and mature. It's creepy."

"Fine. Do you have bad things for me to eat?"

"Let's see. I stocked up on the beef jerky-you can get both the carnivore and overly salty vibe going."

"Mmmm." Saavik was up and into the kitchen. "You want anything?"

"Nope, I'm good."

Saavik came back with the jerky and settled in for some strenuous chewing. Fortunately, Vulcans were not given to TMJ disorder. "I love coming here, Christine. Have I ever said thank you?"

"You don't have to say thank you."

"I should, though. You make this a haven. It's as if life ceases, just for a bit, when I come in here. I can relax. I can let the masks drop." She studied Christine. "Your home with your aunt was never like this, was it?"

"No, it wasn't."

"Or with Gwen?"

"I was never with Gwen. She pawned me off on Judy as soon as she could."

"Did your aunt like kids?"

"She liked Gwen. Little clone of her that she was." She took a deep breath. "My parents, when they were alive, they made life nice. I had a nice life for twelve years. Now I'm learning to make life nice again."

"I had a horrible life for twelve years. And now I get you. I think I got the better deal." The sentiment would have been really sweet if Saavik hadn't been tearing into a strip of dried meat at the same time. "What?"

"I like having you here."

"I like being here. I'll be here full time, soon, you know? On Earth, I mean, not in your living room. I was accepted at the Academy."

"That's great. Is Spock happy?"

Saavik raised a perfect Vulcan eyebrow.

"You're right. Let me rephrase. Is Spock greatly satisfied?"

"Yes. Sarek is disappointed, though. He thought the Vulcan Science Academy would be a better fit, but he's not pushing it. And Amanda just wants me to be happy." She put her feet on the table.

"Hey."

Her feet were pulled back quickly. "Sorry. You're a fussy old maid."

"Got that right, toots." She held out her hand and Saavik tossed her a piece of jerky. "And where did you pick up that expression?"

"I read it in an old Earth text."

"Back when women used to be measured by their ability to attract a mate." She smiled. "Glad we're past that."

"Me, too. Unless you want to mate with Spock. I'd be fine with that." She grinned and shut up when Christine threatened her with another pillow.


Christine heard her name being paged and hit the comm button. "Chapel here."

"Can you take exam room eight, Doctor?" It was Nurse Fairchild. One of Christine's favorites. "It's an admiral."

"Sure." Admirals were almost always pains in the ass. Christine tended to specialize in them, but she wasn't sure how she'd achieved the proficiency, unless it had been dealing with corralling Kirk and Spock-and even McCoy-for their crew physicals.

Or, more likely, it was because, despite having worked like a dog to get her M.D., actually using it was boring the shit out of her. She was starting to say whatever she felt like to whoever got in her way.

She opened the door and said, "What's the problem, sir?"

"You Chapel?"

She glanced at her padd. Cartwright. Admiral. Problem: undisclosed. "Uh, yes, sir."

"Jim told me about you."

"Jim as in Captain Kirk or some other Jim?"

He smiled. "I like that. Right to the point. Not afraid of me are you?"

"You're in my exam room, sir. I can order you to drop trou. So, no."

He laughed. "Good spirit. Perfect for what I need. Jim can call 'em."

"What are you talking about, sir? And what is the problem today?"

"I have a problem of a medical nature, Commander Chapel."

"I'm a lieutenant, sir. I'm relatively sure you can tell that from my insignia."

"Wouldn't you like to be a lieutenant commander?"

"Someday. Maybe." She sat down on the stool and waited for him to get to the point.

"My problem is that I have a billet open-a new one I just created-that I need a certain kind of personality for. It's in Emergency Ops."

"Those people are crazy."

"Those people are my staff, ensign."

She couldn't help it. She started to laugh. If those people were his staff, no wonder they were crazy. "Sir, what do you want?"

"You. On my staff. In this billet. ASAP." He leaned forward. "A promotion will follow your transfer shortly."

"Is that even right?"

"Right or regulation? Because they aren't always the same thing?" He watched her closely. "I need someone who can travel on a moment's notice. Who's not afraid to take on the brass when needed, but who can placate me whenever necessary. Someone who can think on her feet, even when she's dead tired. And you will be dead tired most of the time. We keep the coffee growers in business."

"Your sales pitch could use work, sir."

"Tell me you're not bored out of your mind here."

She opened her mouth to tell him just that, but the lie wouldn't come out. Finally she settled for shrugging.

"I have a bullshit detector that operates for parsecs out, Doctor. I know you're bored. I can see it in your eyes."

"Why would I want to trade up to hell?"

He laughed. "Because I can recognize my own kind. You need to be needed, but you haven't found what really satisfies you yet. What makes you feel alive and unique and like no one anywhere can do your job better than you."

She sat up straighter. He wasn't wrong.

"I can promise you long hours and stress like you won't believe. But when you close a case, you'll have really done something."

"I've only been doing this for a few years. Maybe another specialty."

"I checked the files, Doctor. Your sister applied for Ops, did you know that? She was turned down."

"She was?"

"Hell, yeah."

"Was this before or after Captain Pike's accident?"

"Before."

Gwen had wanted to work in Ops? And before she was looking for ways to nobly kill herself? She'd never said that.

"Are you in, Christine?"

"I'm in Admiral." She shook her head. "Way to find my motivation, by the way."

"Oh, in this line of work, you'll be amazed what you learn how to do." He winked at her and slid off the exam table. "I'll get the ball rolling. You should be reassigned by next week. Enjoy your last few days mending owies."

"That's not really what I do here."

"I don't give a goddamned what you do here, Chapel. It's what you're going to do that I'm excited about." He nodded as if pleased that everything had gone his way. Then he was gone, leaving Christine's head spinning.

But in a very good way.


-Another Second Chance-

Christine heard the front door open and threw the tissue box she'd been living with aside as she stood. "Saavik?"

"Christine?" Saavik sounded broken. "Christine?"

"I'm here, sweetie." She hurried out, nearly fell as Saavik threw herself into her arms. "I'm here."

She was one of the few who knew why Saavik was here now, leveled. Mourning. Mourning Spock. Here for debriefing and quick reassignment. Just as Carol and David Marcus were, only Christine knew Carol would be artfully detained while David was sent out with Saavik on the Grissom to check out the planet whose name Christine wasn't authorized to even say.

But she knew what had happened. She'd watched the vids Kirk had sent back as soon as the fight with Khan was over. She'd seen Spock die.

She'd been fine at work. She'd turned off her emotions and watched it like the seasoned Ops professional she was. But once she got home, she started crying. And it had been hard to stop.

He was gone. Spock was gone and she'd kept him away, their interactions mostly because of Saavik, but those had been pleasant. She'd never found anyone else that had held her interest for very long. He'd never been with anyone either, although she had suspected he was with Kirk, like the rumormongers loved to hint.

Until his last Pon Farr. When he'd come to her. And Kirk had been easily available.

She'd asked for a light meld again. Kept him at arms length like she always did. But why?

Saavik was sobbing, all pretense at being stoic thrown out as soon as the doors had closed behind her. She clutched Christine so hard it hurt, and finally Christine got her eased onto the couch and managed to get her to loosen her grip.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Christine. I didn't mean to-"

"Shhh. It's all right. I'm strong, you know that."

"You are. You're the strongest person I know. It's why he loved you."

Christine took a ragged breath. There was no point arguing with Saavik, no point denying it. She had loved Spock and he had quite possibly loved her back. And they had not been together. And now, they never would be.

"They're going to debrief you tomorrow. They're going to tell you officially all the things you can't say. But tonight, if you need to, you can tell me anything. I've seen the vids. I know what happened. But you lived it."

"I don't want to talk. I can talk to anyone. Just hold me and tell me it's going to be all right. Even if it's not."

"It's going to be different, Saavik. And different may not be all right. But I'm here, and I'll always be here for you as long as I'm alive. I love you. I don't know if I've told you that enough. I love you and I'll always hold you."

Saavik didn't say anything and her crying had stopped. She just lay half over Christine, as tall and strong now as Christine was-stronger, actually. Vulcan strong. Romulan fierce. And neither had helped save Spock. And that would be eating at the girl.

"Spock loved you, too, Saavik. He loved you more than anything, I think. And when he gave you to me, he was giving me his greatest gift."

Saavik sighed and cuddled in closer, shifting so Christine was more comfortable. "Did you love him?"

"I did."

"Were you in love with him?"

"I was. I am." She blinked back tears. "I probably always will be."

"You should have told him."

"I know. I should have. There are a lot of things I should have done, Saavik. I should have let go of the angry little girl a long time ago."

"You're not that to me."

"Well, you're the only one who hasn't had to deal with her. Don't do what I did. Don't wait on things that matter."

"Do you wish you could go back and do it differently?"

"Yes. But I wouldn't. That was my choice at that point in my life. It was the only one I could make, given where I was. I guess I just wish I'd been different. But...it doesn't matter now."

"I love you, Christine," Saavik said, and Christine hugged her more tightly, wishing she could make things hurt just a little less for both of them.


Christine saw Saavik at the door to Ops and got up to join her. "Free for lunch?"

Saavik nodded, uncharacteristically somber for someone who had her father back. "Can we just talk? Somewhere private?"

"Come on. I know a place." She led her to the auxiliary chapel in the back of Command. No one ever seemed to remember it.

Saavik walked around, touching the satin window covers. "He doesn't know me, Christine."

"Who doesn't-Spock doesn't know you?"

"He's civil. But there's nothing there. No light when he looks at me. No warmth."

"He's a little shaken, I'm sure. Those memories, they'll take time to re-form."

"I know. You're right." Saavik kept her back turned. "But...what if he never comes back?"

"Then he'd be like Gwen. There but distant. And you'll survive anyway." She got up, forced Saavik to look at her. "But Spock isn't Gwen. He came back from Gol and found his love for you. He'll always find it."

"I had to get away. I'm supposed to be on Vulcan, working on the ship, helping Admiral Kirk. But I had to get away-I had to get to you."

"It's all right, honey. They can muddle through without you for a bit. This is diplomatic quicksand since the Klingons are demanding blood. They'll be on Vulcan for quite a while the Federation sorts this out."

"You always know all the dirt."

"I always do. Look, your bed is ready for you like always, so why don't you go home and get some sleep. Do you need something to help you sleep?"

Saavik smiled slightly and pulled Christine into a quick hug. "Just a strong dose of Christine's wisdom."

"And love."

Saavik nodded. "Yes. And love." She looked down. "I...I think I felt something for David Marcus. He died protecting me. I should have been the one killed."

"I'm sorry for the Admiral, and for Doctor Marcus. And for David. And for you if you did love him. But Saavik, I have to tell you, I'm very glad he protected you. I can't lose you, too." She clutched Saavik in a way that was a little too needy, a little too human.

But Saavik just pulled her closer and said, "Shhh. I won't leave. I'll always need you."

Christine eased away and wiped her eyes. "Go home. I'll see you when I get off work, and I expect you to have slept."

Saavik mock saluted. "Ma'am, yes, ma'am." She turned and walked out, leaving Christine to sink down into one of the pews and stare numbly out the window.

"Thank you," she whispered to whatever deity might be listening. "Thank you for not taking her, too."


Christine heard bootsteps echoing through Ops. Most of the crew were down celebrating at the "Earth Wasn't Destroyed" party. Some others were at a hastily convened "Save the Whales...Again!" meeting. Not able to choose between getting drunk or preserving cetaceans, she had elected to stay at her desk and work.

She looked up as the footsteps got closer. Spock appeared in her doorway, looking remarkably vital for someone who hadn't been alive a few months ago. Even though she'd seen him earlier that day at the hearing, it still struck her that he'd been dead not too long ago. The relief she'd felt at seeing him again had nearly left her reeling.

He walked in and sat down in her guest chair. "Christine."

"Spock." She took a deep breath, knew she was staring at him but couldn't stop. "So, you're alive."

"Yes. I am. I believe I have you to thank for that?" At her frown of confusion, he leaned forward. "I was given to understand that during the Enterprise's escape from Spacedock, when all seemed lost, the doors most unexpectedly opened. Jim gave Mister Scott credit, but Mister Scott says he had nothing to do with it."

She tried to bite back a smile. "Really?"

"Yes. It is most interesting, don't you think?"

"I don't know. For someone with, say, the right access, it might be just another day at the office."

"Yes, that is what I was thinking."

"Well, if you find that someone, you tell them thanks."

"I believe I just did."

She laughed. "The actual words 'Thank you' were not uttered."

"I should remedy that. Jim says dinner is an excellent way to thank someone. At a nice restaurant of their choice."

"Jim's very smart."

"He is. Also a good friend." Spock stood and walked to her window, stood looking out, his hands laced behind his back. "He is, in fact, my best friend. Yet, when my memories were re-forming, I did not remember him. Nor did I recall all that Saavik meant to me. And you know I consider her a daughter. And I will soon take steps to remedy that with her-I suspect she is hurting?"

"She is."

"Most unfortunate." He turned to look at her. "You should know that memories of you were very solidly in place."

"Memories of me...and Gwen." She smiled at him gently and saw him relax a little, as if he'd been expecting something harsher from her when she mentioned her sister. "I'm not sure it signifies anything more than the persistence of early imprinting."

"I believe you are wrong." He turned back to the window. "You have never been able to share me with Gwen, even with her memory, Christine."

"I know." She got up and stood next to him, nearly touching his shoulder with her own. "Saavik came to me after you died. She needed me and I was there for her."

"I am...happy that she had someone-that she had you."

"Spock, when I needed Gwen, after my parents died, she wasn't there for me." She reached out and touched his arm as he started to move away. "This isn't an anti-Gwen rant, I promise. Gwen wasn't me and I'm not her. We were two different people, but for all my life I wanted her to live up to some standard that I'd made up. And then I hated it when she did the same thing to me."

"So you think you were wrong?"

"No, I don't think I was wrong in wanting a sister who could show me some basic human emotion. She wasn't a Vulcan, and she left me with a woman she knew was not right for me. But she did what she did, and she was who she was, and it's over, and I'm not that kid anymore. I need to get past it." She took a deep breath. "When I first joined Starfleet, she was so angry with me."

"You were using the Fleet to find Roger."

"Yes, I was. So I suppose she was right to be mad at me." She met his eyes. "And the Fleet had kept her from Chris."

He nodded. But it was a halfhearted nod. Like he was afraid to say too much one way or the other on the subject.

"I know they were lovers, Spock. But they could never be openly a couple. And that killed her. She kept inside how much it killed her, but it did. And then when Chris got hurt, she just...left. There was the shell of her and then nothing. She was dead long before that shuttle crashed."

He nodded, this time seeming in full agreement.

"When I joined Starfleet, she told me I wasn't Fleet material. And I believed her. Maybe because she was right. When I was first assigned to the Enterprise, I wasn't fleet material."

"Well, you were not entirely regulation."

She laughed. "See, you can be kind." She leaned against him, felt him lean back. "And then when I was a doctor-I was good at it, but it wasn't really me. It's only been here, working for Cartwright, doing this bizarrely draining and exhilarating job that I finally fit in. That I'm finally Fleet." She looked over at him. "And that I finally understand her passion for Starfleet."

"Does that mean you forgive her?"

"Yes, I forgive her. But she never cared whether I forgave her or not, Spock. I was simply not that important to her."

He didn't correct her and it hurt, even if she was being truthful about her realizations. She had wanted to be loved-to be important to her sister. She had wanted to be happy. And she wasn't. But that was then and now she was important to Saavik-and to this man.

"You were right so long ago, Spock. I did fall in love with you because you loved her. If you could love me, then I was more like she was. Or maybe I was better. I didn't think about it that consciously, but I definitely felt it. And looking back, it's so clear."

"So...you never loved me?" He sounded disappointed.

"That's not what I said. I fell in love with you because of that. I stayed in love with you for you. Even when I wouldn't let you in, I still loved you. Saavik always knew that." She took a deep breath. "You're a good man, Spock. An honorable man with a kind heart. And I know you loved Gwen first, but if I were to have my wish, you'd love me last."

"Last? Not best?"

"There is no best. Love is different each time. I guess that's what I've learned from you, from her and Chris, and from Saavik." She looked up at him.

"I think that is a wise way to look at things."

"So, now that my end state is clear, do you still want to have dinner with me?"

He touched her face, moving his fingers gently over her skin, then skimming over hair that she no longer tried to make a different shade than her sister's. "Yes. I do."

FIN