Amo, Amas, Amok

Christine Chapel set her feet on the workout mat, altered her hold slightly, and pressed her advantage in height and weight. Her moves were answered immediately by the slighter, but equally strong communications officer. Sometimes Chapel wondered whether the two friends had been sparring together for too long. There seemed to be very few surprises left in their matches.

There was a hint of strain in her voice as she continued her tale. "So, then Dr. McCoy turned back to me, with the captain and Mr. Spock standing right there, and said, "Will you excuse us, Nurse?" I flashed him a dirty look, but he ignored it. The three of them stood there, silent as stone, until I'd left Sickbay. I'd just put in a miserable double shift helping to patch up the captain, and had seen our first officer practically laugh out loud. Why did Leonard think it was all right to shut me out like that? Honestly, Nyota, I hate it when he gets officious on me. Despite what we had just been through together, he dismissed me like a first year nursing student. Sometimes I really wonder why I'm still on the Enterprise."

She let that thought linger in the air and returned her attention to her sparring partner. Just as she began to make her next move, Chapel found herself flying headfirst over Nyota Uhura's back. Taken by surprise, she landed with a thud that nearly knocked the wind out of her. The nurse lay back on the mat for a moment to catch her breath. She smiled to herself as Uhura reached down to help her to her feet. Just when she thought that she had everyone figured out...someone changed the rules. That was one reason why she was still on the Enterprise.

"You okay, Chris?" Uhura's warm brown eyes searched for signs of injury.

"Fine. I just had the wind knocked out of me for a second. That was a nice move, Ny. You've never been able to throw me before."

"My move didn't throw you, Chris. You lost your focus for a minute. You probably shouldn't get mad at your boss when you're sparring." The sympathy in Uhura's voice was palpable. "No matter how much he might deserve it."

Uhura looked at her friend. She more than anyone understood the frustration that Chris Chapel felt. Though Uhura knew that Dr. McCoy was probably one of the most able doctors in Starfleet, she had seen his tongue too often run ahead of his brain. She rarely bore the brunt of the doctor's verbal stings, but once or twice she had been a target. It had not been pleasant. Even Captain Kirk wasn't spared the lashing of McCoy's tongue. And when Mr. Spock and the doctor went at it, Uhura knew to duck. Fast and low.

Uhura reflected that Chris Chapel worked with McCoy every day. She helped him heal. She was also there when they failed to heal. It was Christine who bore the brunt of most of his barbs. The doctor often chose to forget that she was a Doctor of Biochemistry, that she far surpassed his skill in the laboratory, that she lacked only a few academic courses and some practical experience to receive board certification for her MD. Chapel allowed him this. She had her own reasons. Some of those had to do with her respect for the doctor's skills, but mostly she understood that his sharp tongue was a manifestation of his fear. Fear that on this one day he might fall short. Fear that one of them, most likely their brave and reckless captain, would push McCoy's skills past the ability to heal, and someone they loved would die. Failure at their job gave no second chances. Death was their constant enemy. Chapel did not only understand McCoy. She shared his love for their crewmates and she shared the doctor's fears for their well being, so she put up with a lot.

Uhura thought that it was ironic that though medical personnel were generally discouraged from treating their own family, here on the Enterprise they found themselves treating family all the time. No wonder the doctor was so irascible. No wonder her friend Chris could seem so stiff and reserved.

Uhura rotated her neck to loosen up a sore muscle. She too had recently spent more than a few double shifts at her board. She had sent and received some pretty unusual comm messages between the ship and Starfleet Command, not to mention the ones between Vulcan and the Enterprise. Long hours spend bending over a comm board meant that stiff neck muscles were the norm for a communications specialist. An occupational hazard they might be, but they still hurt.

"Let's call it a day," Uhura suggested. "I'm due on the bridge in forty minutes. This is the captain's first full shift back on duty and I don't want to be late." She grimaced at that thought. Her captain was a very punctual man. He had little patience when his officers were not. Uhura hated to disappoint him, even with small things. "I hope things finally stay quiet for all our sakes. Everyone's complaining that this Vulcan-to-Altair trip is a milk run, but I think it's just what we all need right now."

Chapel nodded in agreement. "You and me both, Nyota. I'm going to bed. I thought I'd never get off duty. I swear Dr. McCoy sometimes forgets that he's got other nurses. I guess that's a compliment, but those double shifts are getting harder and harder. And these past few days have been killers." She flashed Uhura a twisted grin.

Together they headed to the benches that ringed their section of the gym and draped towels over their sweat-soaked necks. The privacy locks were always engaged when the two of them worked out, so they never had to worry about being observed or overheard. Exercise was certainly one reason for their time together in the gym. Both of them were keenly aware of the necessity to stay in peak form. Serving on the Enterprise meant never knowing what came next. Both their lives and the lives of their fellow crew could depend on a split second decision, a quick move, a surprise. Both had been in situations where their opponents had underestimated them. They worked hard to make that happen.

Their workout sessions served another even more important function for the two women. Chapel and Uhura were peers. They were two highly skilled and professional women in tough, demanding, often dangerous jobs. In the gym the two of them could let off steam. Talk things out. Sometimes they laughed together. Sometimes they cried together. They both treasured these times and neither would willingly miss a session.

The two friends shared much, but there was a limit for both of them beyond which they could and would not go. They were both private individuals and each harbored secrets that they would share with no one. In their jobs they had boundaries as well. Both of them worked in areas where confidentiality was essential and there was a limit to what they could confide. Supremely professional, they never crossed over the line, but nudging up against it gave them a great deal of comfort. Thankfully, there were elements of this mission that the two women could talk about since they had both been involved. Uhura grinned back at her friend, treasuring the fact that they could confide in one another. It wouldn't change what they had been through, but it made what they felt about it a little easier to bear.

As they toweled off, Chris Chapel's thoughts turned once again to the events of the week past. She and Uhura had puzzled over the strange things that they had witnessed in common. Neither of them understood completely what had happened, but they had both observed the frightening disintegration of their first officer's personality. Chapel had been the target of a food tray thrown at her by Mr. Spock. They had also learned that the very private Vulcan first officer had a very Vulcan wife. Chapel pushed aside the pain of that revelation. It was too raw to talk about, even with her closest friend.

For a fleeting moment Chapel wished that she could discuss more of what she had witnessed in Sickbay. She had thought for one terrible moment that Captain Kirk was dead. Chapel considered that it was probably better that she was not able to share that horror with Uhura. Though the communications officer had never confided in her, Chapel suspected that she harbored some strong feelings for Captain Kirk. She was glad to spare Uhura that terrifying moment. Other than to confirm that the captain had been injured on Vulcan, which was common knowledge on the ship, she could not discuss his physical condition. Medical privacy was something that Christine Chapel held sacred.

Chapel knew that she could never tell her friend how terrified she's been when she arrived in Sickbay following a terse summons from Dr. McCoy. Captain Kirk lay sprawled on a diagnostic bed, head lolling, chest frighteningly still. His skin had been gray and cold, his neck a swollen mass of bruises. Blood oozed from a slash across his chest. The nurse thought that he looked as close to dead as a person could be without an autopsy.

Icy cold horror washed over her. She remembered the kindness of this man who had lied to Starfleet Command to spare the reputation of her fiancé. Without his complicity, the memory of Roger Korby would have been disgraced. Captain Kirk had allowed him to die with his honor and integrity unquestioned. That would have meant so much to the real Roger, and it meant everything to her. Chapel could never repay the gift that her captain had given her.

In all of his dealings with her after Exo III, the captain had continued to treat her with respect and fairness. He had never so much as hinted at the events that they both concealed. Captain Kirk had urged her to stay onboard the Enterprise, and had made her feel a valued and important member of his crew. Chris had never spoken about any of this, not even to Uhura.

For that instant, as she stood at the door to Sickbay, Chapel was paralyzed with grief. Captain Kirk could not be dead. He had always seemed invincible. If he died, her life on the Enterprise would die too. Then she realized that the doctor would not be working on a dead man. That spurred her to action. Together, frantically, nurse and doctor had hooked the captain up to life support, working feverishly to bring back some indications of life. There were remnants of a neural paralyzer in Captain Kirk's system that interfered with their attempts to stabilize him. It prevented the captain from breathing without assistance. McCoy searched a frighteningly long time to find the correct combination of medications to counteract the drug's effect. The memory of Kirk's first tortured, wheezing breath without life support chilled her still.

When Chapel finally found the time to remove the captain's torn and bloody uniform she had discovered severe burns on his back. Purple and black bruises covered most of his body. Some of those bruises were in the shape of finger marks. It was clear that someone had beaten the captain nearly to death. Chapel had to damp down her rage at the abuse this man had suffered at the hands of some unknown assailant. And that didn't explain the neural blocker. McCoy was silent as he and Chapel worked together. He had been on the planet with his captain, but he gave no clue to what could have happened.

More surprisingly to Chris Chapel, Mr. Spock had remained on Vulcan after the captain and McCoy beamed up. It was almost an unwritten rule of the Enterprise that whenever the captain found himself in Sickbay, his first officer was at his side. Spock's obvious friendship and affection for his captain transcended the duties of a first officer. It was one of the things that seemed to most humanize the stiff and formal Vulcan. This time, however, he was nowhere to be seen.

Just as their patient seemed to be resting comfortably, Uhura notified Dr. McCoy that the first officer was beaming back to the ship. When Captain Kirk heard that, he motioned the doctor over to his bedside. There was some rather heated discussion between the two men. Captain Kirk insisted on greeting Spock on his feet when the Vulcan beamed back from his home planet. McCoy refused, and Captain Kirk finally had to make it an order. Dr. McCoy assembled a hypo spray and injected the captain. Very reluctantly. Chapel did not know what combination of drugs the doctor used, but they had an immediate and dramatic effect on the captain. Chapel could only wonder what toll they would take when they wore off. McCoy's capitulation against any sound medical judgement puzzled her. He could have overridden the captain's order, yet he chose not to.

She watched in astonishment as the captain pushed himself off the diagnostic bed and stood upright. She had looked worriedly at the doctor but he had just shook his head. Clearly this was not the time to question her senior officer's judgement. Chapel and McCoy supported Captain Kirk until he could stand without help, and together they assisted him into a fresh uniform. By the time Mr. Spock entered Sickbay and tried to surrender his command, the captain gave the appearance that nothing in the world was wrong with him, which Chapel knew could not possibly be how he felt.

Then, there was Spock's response when he first saw Captain Kirk. He smiled, no, he practically laughed out loud, grabbed the captain's arms, and came perilously close to hugging him. How completely out of character, she thought. One more thing bothered her. Spock came back from Vulcan without his wife. Chapel wouldn't allow herself to speculate about what that could mean.

Then, the doctor dismissed her without a word of explanation. The three men seemed to close up, to exclude her from their circle. It was hard not to feel insulted after all she had been through to save Captain Kirk's life. No wonder Chapel lost focus. Her emotions had been through so much. So much strangeness in Sickbay, so many unanswered questions. She simply could not process all that had happened. The doctor allowed Captain Kirk to leave his sickbed when he was clearly not recovered from his ordeal. Mr. Spock had exhibited more emotion in two minutes that she had ever observed in him. She had been tempted to lose more than just her focus in Sickbay, but she was too much of a professional to blow up in front of her commanding officers. So, she had taken Uhura and her frustration and anger down to the gym for a workout. She wouldn't be able to talk about what she had witnessed, but she might be able to get some of her roiling emotions under control.

Uhura had gone willingly, gladly sacrificing an hour of precious sleep. She had seen the toll the last week had taken on all of them, but she thought that it had been particularly hard on Chris Chapel. This situation with Spock and the captain had pushed all her buttons. Poor Chris had been put through hell, watching Mr. Spock fade away, day by day, before the ship was diverted to Vulcan. Unfortunately, Chris had been on the bridge when they had all found out that Spock was married. Uhura hadn't dared to look at her friend when that hideous piece of information had been disclosed.

She could imagine how painful that moment must have been for Chris. Uhura knew that her cool, collected, brilliant, friend harbored a not-so-secret love for the Vulcan first officer. Chris had confided to her the embarrassing declaration she had made under the influence of the Psi 2000 virus. Chapel had tried to make it sound as if her passion had ebbed with the virus, but Uhura knew better. She knew all about unrequited love herself. She ached for her friend as the image of that chilly Vulcan woman "awaiting her husband at the appointed place" imprinted itself on all their minds. Mr. Spock had returned to the Enterprise without his wife. Uhura wondered what that meant for her friend. Knowing Mr. Spock, she reflected, there was very little chance that they'd ever find out.

She thought that there was something more, too. Something else that Chris had witnessed but had been unable to talk about. Chris had refused to say more than that the captain had been injured on Vulcan, but Uhura was sure that there had been more to it. It was impossible to completely ignore the horrible rumor that circulated around the ship earlier that day that Captain Kirk was dead. That had made her blood run cold. If anything happened to Captain Kirk, Uhura was not sure that she'd survive the loss. Thankfully, it had turned out to be false, like so many other rumors aboard the Enterprise.

Uhura really didn't understand Chapel's feelings for Captain Kirk. There seemed to be a loyalty there that went far beyond a crewmember's feeling for a commanding officer. So far, Chris had not shared those feelings with her friend. Nyota did not push her. She just made sure that Chris Chapel knew that she was there for her, when and if she ever felt like talking about anything. She wondered if they would ever be able to confide their most personal feelings to one another. She knew that they both were hiding a great deal from each other and, she thought ruefully, from themselves.

One thing Uhura knew they had to discuss. She resolved to bring up Chris's medical training again. Dr. Chapel would be a lot harder for McCoy to dismiss than Nurse Chapel.

As they headed into the showers, Uhura put her arm around her friend's waist and gave her a gentle hug. "Let's talk later tonight, Chris. Dinner for me, breakfast for you?"

"Sounds good. See you off shift, Nyota. Don't do anything that I wouldn't do."

"I guess that means I can't do anything."

The swat of Chapel's towel was her only answer as the two women walking smiling into the showers.

The End

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