Tainted

"Commander." Kirk slid onto the stool next to Chapel, ignoring the televid replaying the Khitomer accords and him saving the day. "I know why I'm in this dive. Why are you?"

"Same reason as you."

"You don't know what my reason is."

"No, sir, I don't. Moreover, I don't care what your reason is."

"Ouch." He looked over at the bartender, gestured for the man to refill Chapel's glass. "Smitty, give her the good stuff."

She smirked. "How do you know I'm not drinking that already?"

"Because you're too surly to be drinking good hooch." He slid closer. "Tell Uncle Jim what's bothering you."

She turned to look at him, fixing him with the glare that he'd been seeing since she'd signed on his ship as a nurse. Only she'd never fixed it on him with quite so much venom before. "Tell 'Uncle Jim'? Are you fucking kidding me?"

She got up-waiting, he couldn't help but notice, until Smitty filled her glass-and stomped off to a booth in the dimness at the back of the bar.

"Nice girl." He grinned at Smitty. "She been here long?"

"Depends on your definition of long."

"Tell me how long she's been here and I'll tell you if it fits."

"Place like this, people can stay as long as they want." Smitty moved closer. "If, say, they want to come in every night, all night, for a week, and drink a whole lot of real alcohol, that's fine with me."

"Understood. Also, worrisome." He downed his drink, nodded for another, then downed that too. "Okay, wish me luck."

"You're on your own there, bud."

Kirk stood, pulled his uniform jacket down, and walked to where Chapel was sitting. "Uncle Jim has left the building."

"Well, thank God for that."

"Can I sit?"

"Who are you, sir? Captain Kirk? Or just Jim." She pointed her glass at him, sloshing it a bit. "Because you've never been just Jim to me." She pointed at the vid screen and laughed, the sound terribly bitter. "Will they ever give that a rest?"

"Must be hard."

"What must be hard?" She stared up at him, eyes gone steely.

"Your friends. Deported to Q'onoS."

"Yeah, that's hard."

He motioned for her to scoot over, then sat down gingerly. "It's hard for me, too."

"Riiiii-iiiight." She threw back her drink. "Get me another."

"Your tone could use some work."

She leaned in, her lips pressed against his ear. He could feel each word spelled out on his skin as she said, "Get me another goddamned drink."

"I think you've had enough. I think-" He stopped, primarily because she was nuzzling his neck. "I uhhh, I uh think...shit!"

She'd bitten him.

He reached up-no blood, but his ear hurt like hell. "What is wrong with you?"

"I'm toxic. Didn't you know?" She moved closer, would have been in his lap, if the close confines of the booth had allowed it. "Haven't you heard...my friends were traitors? My best friends were traitors. What does that make me, Captain?"

He met her eyes. "Betrayed."

"Guess again." She ran her hand down his leg. "Three months ago, I had my pick of assignments. Good-plum, even-assignments. Now? Now I couldn't get on a garbage scow. I'm not betrayed in the eyes of those who matter, sir. I'm suspect."

"Tainted."

She nodded. She rested her hand on his groin, moving up and up. "I can see it in your eyes, too. You're not sure of me."

"That's because you just bit my ear and now you have more important parts of me under your control."

She pulled back, as if that hadn't been what she expected, then she started to laugh. Letting him go, she slid away from him.

"You didn't have to do that on my account." He winked at her, trying to make it as lighthearted as he could.

"Yeah, I did." She closed her eyes and sighed loudly.

He reached over, rubbed her neck, and heard her groan. "Give it time, Chris. The suspicion will die down."

"Will it?" She moaned softly as he hit a knot in her muscles. "I can't even get a date for happy hour."

"Well, no, not when you come to this shithole." He laughed softly.

"Why do you come here?"

"Smitty doesn't ask questions. Nobody here tells tales about what goes on. Or bothers me. Nonstop vids notwithstanding."

She turned and met his eyes. "Do you believe I was involved?"

"One of my best friends was involved and I had no idea. I can't really say how deep it might go. But do I believe you were involved or believe you might have been? Certain degree of wiggle room in the latter."

"I don't want wiggle room. I want to be trusted." She closed her eyes. "I was Cartwright's favorite. Valeris was my friend. Colonel West...I dated him." She laughed softly. "Is it any wonder I'm damaged goods?"

"Is now a good time to point out that sitting in here drowning your sorrows and being angry is maybe not the best way to put the rumors to rest?"

"I know." She leaned back. "Do you have any idea what it's like to walk into a group of people-your peers, even your friends, in many cases-and have them all clam up? Have them all look at you like you're something that disgusts pond scum?"

Kirk was suddenly back on Starbase Eleven, under suspicion of killing Ben Finney. "Actually, I do." He shook his head. "I didn't enjoy it when it was me they were looking at that way."

"What made it stop?"

"Vindication. Acquittal. The truth." He smiled. "Spock."

"Saving the day." She looked down. "For you, anyway." She set her hand very gently on his thigh. "Let me out, okay? It's past this girl's bedtime."

"Do you want me to walk you home?"

"I'd only embarrass myself by trying to get you upstairs."

He smiled gently. "I might not mind."

"You don't trust me. I can't sleep with you if you don't trust me."

"Well, we don't have to sleep." He gave her his most hopeful look, was happy when she laughed softly. "Oh, all right, have it your way." He slid out of the booth, watched her walk away.

At the door, she turned and smiled. He thought she mouthed "Thanks," but it could have been anything.

Smitty set a glass in front of him when he walked back up to the bar. "On the house."

"Thanks for calling me."

"She's good people. She deserves better."

"You're good people, too, Smitty. Even if you hide it in this pisshole of a bar."

"Hey, this pisshole is my livelihood, Jimbo." Smitty shook his head. "Damn shame about Cartwright and West and the others. Who'd have thought it? I remember when you all used to come in here and raise hell. Good thing you saved the day out there, or you might be the one under suspicion, not her."

"Yeah." Kirk glanced up at the vid, his never-ending story of heroism. "Damn good thing."


Chapel was nearly too drunk to be walking, let alone making her way down the VIP corridor of the visiting officer's quarters. After she left Jim in the bar, she'd used accesses she was frankly surprised she still had to find Spock's room.

She checked the numbers in front of her, just a few more and...there. She practically fell on the door chime.

Spock opened it, looking as annoyed as a Vulcan could look. His expression changed when he saw her. Wariness. Of her. Of her associations?

He had hurt her friend. Uhura had told her how he'd hurt her friend.

"I need your help, Spock."

"It's late."

"You're not usually the stater of the obvious." She tried to push past him, found that he was making like a rock. "I need"-she pushed some more, got nowhere-"your help."

He stared down at her, his face giving nothing away.

"Okay, I'll make this easy for you. I want you to do to me what you did to my friend. I want you to reach in and ravage my memories until you find what isn't there."

She moved closer, reached down the same way she had with Kirk, only Spock caught her hand, murmured, "Christine, do not."

"I need you to help me."

"Why should I help you?"

"Because Valeris betrayed me, too. She left me here, to face this, and I'm innocent. And no one believes it." She felt him start to move aside. "No one wants to hear that I didn't know anything about the conspiracy."

He pulled her into his quarters, eased her onto a bench in the entryway. "Christine, I am not going to meld with you."

"You have to. You can prove me innocent. And Kirk will believe you. And he'll talk to the CINC, and I'll be fine."

"You are drunk." He frowned. "Have you been with Jim?"

"Not in the biblical sense." She met his eyes. "Can you smell him on me?"

"Yes."

"Does it bother you?"

He didn't answer but something in his eyes told her it did.

"If you're such a bloodhound, shouldn't you have been able to smell something amiss with Valeris?"

"Not unless she was also sleeping with her coconspirators." He leaned against the wall and watched her.

"I just want you to help me. The way you did the captain when Doctor Lester took his body. The way you always do. Please." She was annoyed to find she was crying.

"Come." He took her hand and pulled her up, then led her down the hall. The VIP room turned out to be a VIP suite. With a spiffy second bedroom. "Go to sleep."

"Will you help me? Will you meld with me?"

"No, but especially not in the state you are in now."

"Why not? I can't hide anything. I'm drunk." Not so drunk she couldn't leave Kirk when she'd really wanted to do more with him. Not so drunk she couldn't get herself home. But drunk enough to not be able to lie in a meld. Especially not if he hurt her the way he had Valeris.

She leaned against the doorjamb. Did she want him to hurt her the way he had her friend?

"I didn't have anything to do with it, Spock. Command put me through umpteen levels of lie detectors and had empaths read me, and everything said the same thing: I'm innocent. But no one believes that. They think I'm hiding something. They think I'm that good at lying. The others hid the conspiracy. So why not me?"

He moved closer, brushed her hair off her cheek.

She eased his fingers onto the meld points. "Please?"

"You don't understand. I melded with Valeris. Often. We were lovers." He took a deep breath. "I thought I had all of her at these fingertips, and yet she kept something that important-that evil-hidden from me. When I forced the truth from her, I nearly destroyed her. I cannot do that to you, too." He eased his fingers off her face. "I'm sorry."

"You were in love with her?"

He nodded.

"She never told me."

"She undoubtedly knew you had feelings for me."

"I probably let that slip. But I'd moved on-given up, or whatever you want to call it."

He turned her, pushed her gently toward the bed. "Good night, Christine."

He stepped out of the room and closed the door behind him, leaving her in peace. She lay down on the bed, sure she wouldn't sleep. Sure she'd be sick. Or if not sick, stuck in this whirling mess that was her head, that was the worry, that was the exhausted feeling of knowing she was something no one wanted anymore. She closed her eyes, sure that trying to sleep would be futile.

Instead, she slept like a baby.


Spock saw Jim coming toward him down the corridors of Starfleet Command and waited for him.

"We need to talk," Jim said, taking his arm just long enough to turn him back down the corridor the way he'd come.

Spock knew the futility of telling his friend he'd been on his way somewhere. Jim had the look of a man with a project.

Spock suspected he knew what the project was.

"So Chris spent the night with you."

"She slept in the other bedroom of my suite, yes."

Jim seemed surprised. "You didn't have sex with her?"

"That was not what she was after." Spock turned them down a less popular corridor. If Jim was going to be quite so candid, he'd rather they had less of an audience. "Would you mind if I did sleep with her, Jim? I was not aware that you and she were-"

Jim held up his hand. "We're not. Or we weren't. But last night. It was...interesting. Which is why I followed her, I guess. Make sure she got home all right. But that's not the point, although if you did have sex with her, you should tell me because I may pursue this."

Spock was unsure, as ever when his friend was in this whirlwind thinking-out-loud mode, how or even if he should answer. So he stayed silent. He was not opposed to the idea of Jim and Christine together. The Enterprise was being decommissioned. The Enterprise B would be launched in less than a year. Barring the return of V'ger, his friend was not getting the ship, although he sometimes suspected Jim was scheming.

Christine might be good for Jim. He would certainly be good for Christine.

And yet... Spock had felt something for her last night. Something that wasn't love but wasn't pity, either. He'd wanted to help her and would have if it wasn't so dangerous an idea, the kind of meld she'd suggested. He'd left Valeris reeling. He'd hurt her and the last time he'd seen her in the detention center, she still wasn't back to anything approaching normal. How much worse would he hurt a human if he went deep enough for her not to be able to hide the truth?

And his control was shaky at best right now.

"You are doing an awful lot of thinking, old friend." Jim was watching him with a puzzled grin.

"Christine asked me to meld with her, the way I did with Valeris. To get to the truth and clear her name."

Jim's grin faded quickly. "You could have killed Valeris. I almost made you kill her."

Spock nodded slowly. They were in this together. Jim had asked; Spock had delivered. Answers. Truth. Conspiracy. And nearly the end of a splendidly facile mind.

"Chris was so tight with all of them."

"She was Valeris's friend, possibly her best human friend. I would have a very hard time forgetting that if I were to meld with her." He looked down. "I am still...angry with Valeris."

"Well, of course you are. She played you for a goddamned fool. You and me and the whole lot of us. But especially you." Jim leaned against the wall and folded his arms over his chest, one foot up and resting on the wall, like they had all day to talk about this. "Were you in love with her? I was never sure."

"Yes."

"Marry-her type of in love with her?"

Spock nodded.

"Wow." A long silence as they both found other places to look. "Why didn't I know that?"

Spock met his eyes, unsure if this was a rhetorical question or if his friend really wanted them to discuss their relationship in a not-quite-empty corridor of Command. But Jim's eyes were the kind of wary they always turned when matters of the heart were about to be broached, so Spock took a deep breath and said, "I was not sure how you would feel about my impending union."

"Not sure? Have I ever given you reason to not be sure?" Jim kicked off from the wall, took a step away, then turned back, whip fast. "I'd have goddamned hated it, and you know it."

Spock looked down. "And yet you bring up Christine. And yet you indicate you have interest in her."

"Maybe because you do. Or maybe because I do. Or maybe because what's happening to her is so goddamned unfair."

"We both know that she may have been part of this conspiracy, Jim."

"And we both know she may not have been." Jim started to pace. "She was right. Coming to you. She had the right idea."

"No, I cannot keep control and-"

"What if you could? What if you had someone to ground you?"

Spock shook his head. "You think you will stabilize me? You?" Had he been human, he would have laughed, and that laugh would have been bitter.

For all the times that Spock had left Jim, Jim had left him, too. Deserted him for Antonia, then had the brief fling with Doctor Taylor after the trip back to Earth to find the whales. Looking back, Spock wondered why Jim had not spent that time reconnecting with him. And most recently, he'd had a string of women as seeming counterpoint to Spock's defection to the diplomatic side of the Fleet-and to Valeris.

What was Christine in all this? Another in a string? Or something different.

A pawn? Or the cement that might hold them together finally if they didn't kill her in the process?

And was not cement but a pawn of a different sort. Neither moved of its own accord. Neither had autonomy.

Neither loved life.

A whimsical thought. His mother's influence came out at the oddest times.

"I do not think it is wise to try to help Christine."

"I'm going to talk to her. I'm going to explain the risks. Also that there might be a mitigator."

"You."

"Me."

"Will you be holding this conversation in bed?"

"I'm not sure." Jim's smile managed to be both rueful and the slightest bit mean.

"There are times, my friend, that I wish I'd stayed at Gol."

The words hit just as he intended them to. He spun on his heel and left Jim standing alone, a familiar look somewhere between anger and hurt on his face.


Kirk took a deep breath then pulled the persona that was "Captain James T. Kirk" tightly around him. He needed it. Chris needed it.

He stepped into the doorway of Emergency Ops. Stood a moment, as if considering whether to go in.

A hush fell over the place. It was nice-and it got old fast. Hero worship. Hatred. All rolled into one.

He saw Chris look up, saw her quick surprise, covered up by something harder, her face expressionless as he walked over to her, ignoring everyone else.

He thought he saw fear flicker in her eyes. Did she think he was going to out her afterhours habits?

"Free for lunch?" he asked, just loud enough that everyone close could hear what he'd said.

Again a flicker, this time of surprise. "Sure." Her voice was normal. Strong. As if they always went to lunch. As if he always hijacked her day. "Just let me send this comm and I can go." Her hands were shaking; he hoped it wasn't an important comm.

He turned and surveyed the room as if this didn't feel like the lion's den. How many of these people had been involved in the conspiracy? Was the woman he was going to lunch with involved? He glanced at the empty office-Cartwright hadn't been replaced yet-and tried to keep his expression neutral.

"Okay." Chris stood up and walked ahead of him through the line of stations to the door. She seemed to sag as soon as they cleared the space.

"Have to gird up for work?" He glanced at her.

"I don't know who's a friend in there."

"Must be tough."

"Tough doesn't begin to cover it, sir."

"Jim."

She shot him a look. "Right."

"No, I'm serious. Call me Jim."

"I may be a traitor."

"Well, then we'll be on first-name basis-enhances the betrayal factor." He took a deep breath and tried not to show her how angry he was from his conversation earlier with Spock. "Jesus, Chris, just call me Jim already."

"Fine, Jim. Whatever you want." She slowed. "You don't have to do this."

"I'm hungry. You need to get out of there. And being seen with me will do wonders for your reputation. Well, in certain ways...in others, it may hurt it." He grinned at her, was relieved when she smiled back. "So to that end, we are going to the executive mess and we are going to be seen together, my dear."

"Thank you."

"I should tell you something. I followed you last night."

"I know. You weren't very stealthy."

He laughed. "Guess you learned something in your escape and evade classes, huh? In my defense, I was fairly drunk."

"So was I. And I still saw you." She smiled, but the happy expression didn't last. "I didn't go there to seduce him."

"I know. He told me why you were there. Well, he didn't volunteer it, but once I made it clear I knew you'd been there..."

"You're awfully interested in what I'm doing. It's a little creepy. Also I'm not sure it's about me."

He ignored her. "There's a way to make the meld safer than it was for Valeris."

She was clearly all ears, creepy worries forgotten.

"You need an anchor, if you will. Someone else in the meld who can help guide Spock, keep him out of trouble, emotionally speaking. Keep him from hurting you." He took a deep breath. "You need me."

To his surprise, she didn't question his assertion, just thought for a moment, then asked, "Is there any danger to you?"

"Probably not. Spock and I have melded in the past. I'm not a new presence in his mind." He immediately regretted the last bit, saw it hit home as her expression closed down.

"I shared consciousness with him, Jim. I think I've got you beat on that score, carrying his mind around with mine."

"Is it a contest?"

"Didn't you just make it one?"

"I didn't mean to." The doors to the dining hall loomed. "Hold that thought until we get past the main course, all right? We need to be seen having a good time, not an intense and potentially angry conversation."

"I'm not capable of having a good time right now."

"Then we'll spend the meal imagining the brass in their underwear. I don't care what we do as long as you find a way to smile." He let her go in front of him, slid his hand down to the small of her back, that area that denoted possession in a way few other things did.

It was probably stupid to make it look like she was his. It might not help her reputation. Then again, unlike Spock, he wasn't known for sleeping with the enemy. Unless doing so got his ship out of danger, and since he was currently ship free...

"That feels good." She glanced back at him, her smile surprisingly real.

"For me, too."

She turned back and he felt something change, like she'd dropped a forcefield that had been around her and let him in a little.

They managed to laugh through lunch, mostly by going through memories of their time on the Enterprise: the funny things, the silly things, the happy moments. She remembered a lot more than he expected-he always thought of her as one who left his crew, left his ship, left him. But it was clear by the stories she brought up, by the way her eyes were shining, that her time on the ship had been important to her.

Dessert came and she leaned in and said, "Are you and Spock together?"

"No." He said it in a way that made it very clear they had been at one time, might be again. If she chose to really hear him.

She appeared to understand the message. "I see." She looked down, then back up, meeting his eyes. "He was kind to me last night."

"He is not unfond of you."

"Double negatives give me a headache."

"He likes you."

She laughed. "Not as much as he likes you." Her smile faded. "Not as much as he liked Valeris."

He leaned in. "I like you. Far more than I like her."

She laughed again. "But more than you like him?" At his silence, she shook her head and smiled knowingly. "Caught you, sir."

"Jim."

"Sorry, Jim, it's going to take a while." She slid her hand his way, her skin pale even against the white of the tablecloth. "This meld sounds like a threesome."

He slid his hand to meet hers, their fingers barely touching. "It very well could end up there. Or we'll both be brain dead." He shrugged in a vastly inappropriate lighthearted way.

Thankfully, she laughed. "You say it so casually. Is this how you get him back, then? Helping me-and what about me when you two are happy again?"

"I think we should play it by ear." He leaned in. "It's possible nothing will happen other than Spock gets the truth out of you. I don't know how hard it will be to keep him on track, how much emotion will be unearthed. I don't know what you'll experience of our emotions, or how that will make you feel. I don't know what we will feel from you. I think, however, it is what you want. Spock to meld with you. Spock to set you free."

"And you there to protect me as a bonus?"

He nodded.

"Like with Roger." She looked down. "Has it occurred to you I betrayed you then?"

"Yes." He didn't see the point of sugarcoating it. They'd never talked about what happened with Roger. There really hadn't been a point.

"What do you expect the meld to find, Jim? Am I guilty or innocent?"

"I don't know. You're a complicated woman. And you've changed greatly over the years I've known you. I do know the Christine Chapel of today would not betray me with Roger."

"You're right. I'd have to be capable of love to do that." She looked down.

"You don't think you are?"

"Nope."

He frowned. "Were you and Cartwright...?"

She shook her head. "We were just friends. I dated West, but he didn't want anything from me except a companion for events."

"That and sex, right?"

She shook her head, suddenly making Jim Junior sit up and take notice.

He leaned in more. "But you've had it...recently, I mean."

"Is this relevant?"

He laughed. "I think so."

"It's been a while." She looked up, a surprised expression crossing her face.

He glanced behind him, saw Spock coming across the dining room, maitre d' in tow, no menu but carrying a chair.

Spock sat, waited till the maitre d' had left to say, "I feared I had missed you."

"I don't recall telling you I was coming here, Spock." He smiled tightly at his friend, then looked over at Chris, who was watching them both as if they were a fascinating biology experiment.

"It was a logical place to come if you wish to help Christine with her problem." He turned to her. "You are feeling better?" Spock's voice had dipped into a register Kirk was used to hearing for himself. A surge of jealousy roared through him.

"I am. Thanks." Chris's voice also dipped into the sweet homey register. Another jealous surge flew the opposite way.

"Should I leave you two alone?" He sounded pissy as hell, and by their twin looks of amused surprise, he knew they thought so, too. "Belay that question," he muttered.

"I take it he has told you his idea?" Spock was leaning away from Kirk, his attention solely on Chris. "Did he explain the danger to you?"

"Did he explain his plan to turn it into kinky threefold sex to you?"

Spock's eyebrow went up. "He did not. It is not, however, unexpected. He is a master of seizing opportunities."

She laughed, loudly, and the diners around them glanced over.

Kirk tried to plaster a grin on his face to make them look like one big happy family, but knew he was failing, so instead he tucked into his crème brulee and muttered, "A threesome is not my goal here."

"So, are you willing to help me?" Her attention seemed fully on Spock, but then she reached out, stilling fingers Kirk hadn't been aware he was drumming on the table. "It'll be dangerous, won't it?"

Spock nodded.

"I can't live under this shadow, Spock." Her fingers tightened around Kirk's and she looked over at him. "You know what it's like. You both do." She let go of him and leaned back. "I'm going to go back to work. I'll let you two talk."

"There is no need. We can commence as soon as you wish." Spock looked at Kirk, his eyes hard but a slight glint of something shining from them. "Or did you wish to sleep with her before the meld?"

Chris sputtered the coffee she'd just taken a sip of.

Kirk settled for a mean grin. "Hadn't decided yet. Let's say we do the meld on the weekend." He glanced at Chris. "Give us a few days to...talk more. For me to protect you best, we're going to need a strong bond."

He saw Spock's jaw tighten. Smiled just a little.

That was for the snotty comment about Gol.


Chapel stood at the door to Jim's townhouse, waiting for him to answer the chime she'd been almost too nervous to press. He'd whispered, "Come by tonight if you want" to her as they'd left the mess. Whispered it at a volume the humans in the room wouldn't catch...but a Vulcan would.

He'd done it to hurt Spock. Or to anger him. She was unsure which.

The hell of it was that she wanted him.

The other hell of it was that Spock had told her to do it. He'd found her later in the day, had come into ops and pulled her aside for an intense discussion out of range of her extremely interested teammates.

"I do not wish for you and Jim to have sex. For a variety of reasons that I do not believe we have time to go into at this juncture. That said, he is not wrong that to protect you-but also him-it will behoove you to have as strong a bond as possible. You should sleep with him before we meld."

"I should?"

"Yes. Unfortunately."

She'd just stared at him. "Are you jealous of him or me?"

He'd looked at her like she was an idiot and left.

So...here she was.

Jim answered the door and she swallowed hard. "Hi," he said, his beautiful smile taking over his face in a way she'd never expected to see. The man was pure sex when he wanted to be. And he wanted her.

Uhura and Rand were going to kill her. If they were still taking to her, which neither seemed to be. She wasn't sure if they were really avoiding her, or just too busy to pay attention to what she was going through. She'd fallen off everybody's scope, it seemed.

Everybody but the last two people she would have picked.

"Can I come in?"

"Of course." He moved aside, seemed to be checking the street.

"If he followed me, he's way stealthier than you are."

Jim shut the door and motioned her inside. "You've never been here."

"Nope." He'd never invited her-or else every invitation had been lost in the comms, something she very much doubted.

"There's not much to see."

Which was a lie. It was three times the size of her apartment. Several stories, quaint San Francisco charm.

"Spock said we should have sex." She turned, making a face to show Jim she was sorry for having just blurted that out. "In the spirit of honesty."

"Yeah, he told me that, too. Stand up guy, our Spock." His expression was unreadable.

"I think that maybe I should forget about the meld. I think that maybe you should go to Spock's and then the two of you could have sex. That's what I think."

He moved toward her. "Is it?"

She nodded.

"Really?"

"I don't know what I am in this, Jim. You and Spock are confusing me. I sense..." She looked down, suddenly very embarrassed, but also fully aware of how much Jim seemed to want her if the way his loose trousers were fitting was any indication.

"You sense what?" He was next to her, had moved behind her, was holding her arms, kissing her neck.

Her knees nearly buckled.

He turned her to face him. "What do you sense?"

"Interest. For me. On both your parts. But you want each other, too."

"Never let it be said you can't read a room." He grinned at her, then pulled her to him.

Their lips met and she forgot to worry for a moment, just let herself fixate on the way his hands were moving over her back, the way he had his body pressed to hers, the way his mouth controlled hers, demanding access, tongue finding tongue.

She moaned, far more loudly than she wanted to.

"How long has it been?" he asked softly when he finally pulled away.

"You don't want to know."

He guided her hand down and down and ...there. "Oh, we both want to know."

She smiled. "Years. I've lost count."

"What were you waiting for?"

"I got out of the habit, I guess."

"Oh, sweetheart. We must remedy that." He pushed her to the couch, kissing her as he took off her clothes, as he stripped his own off.

He was careful to get her ready; it didn't take long, not with such concerted attention, such...care.

She groaned in pleasure as he entered her and he stopped. "You all right?" His voice was husky, his eyes sweet and warm, and she wrapped her legs around him and pulled him all the way inside her.

They moaned together.

Then he started to move.

Holy God, why had she waited so long?

And then she quit thinking, gave herself up to feeling and kissing and the little nonsense sounds that went perfectly with what he was doing to her and what she was doing to him.

They finally lay, half off the couch, sweaty, out of breath, and she laughed softly.

"Good?" He kissed her gently.

"Oh my God."

"I'll take that as a yes." He reached for a throw, settled it around them and pulled her close, out of danger of falling off the couch.

"Thank you for helping me," she said, eyes already closing.

"It's a real hardship, my dearest." He tightened his hold on her, his eyes closing, too.

He woke her later, pulled her up and to the bedroom. They made love again in his enormous bed, taking very little space, wrapped up in each other as they moved, and then later, as they lay still and fell back to sleep.


Standing at the door to Ops, Spock watched Christine as she worked. She seemed more relaxed, even smiled occasionally.

She had most certainly had sex with Jim.

He took a deep breath and walked into the room. The same surprised looks awaited him as he made his way to her station.

"Keep coming in here and people are going to talk." She smiled at him as she spoke so softly he knew she meant the words for his ears only. "Your 'Reform Christine' plan may be overkill."

He nodded, as if conceding her point. "Despite the efficacy or lack thereof of my plan, I would like to talk to you. Elsewhere."

"Lunch?"

"I have a meeting at noon. Can you get away now?"

"I'm working, Spock."

He nodded, surprised at her tone. She sounded annoyed with him. "Are you in the middle of a crisis?"

"It's Emergency Ops, Spock. We generally are." Her tone wasn't quite as low as before, and a few people seemed to perk up.

He met her eyes, made his voice even lower. "I was under the impression you wanted my help."

"I do. Just...not right now."

He nodded, knew his expression was tight. "Did you have an enjoyable time last night?" He leaned down, pretended to be showing her something on the screen. "I am growing less inclined to help you by the minute, Commander."

Straightening, he turned and walked out. He was not surprised when a moment later, she came after him.

"What are you doing?" she asked as she caught up with him. "Is this about Jim and me?"

"So you did enjoy your evening?"

"I did. Thank you for the suggestion." Her voice was strange and he turned to look at her. She stopped walking, was staring up at him a bit helplessly. "Spock, what do you want from me? If you're mad that I'm with Jim, then go get him. It's clear he's not happy being away from you."

"He told you that?"

"Not in so many words but we were running a bit late this morning so big talks had to be postponed." She moved closer to him. "I feel like the flag in a game of tug of war. And much like that pitiful piece of fabric, I have no idea why I'm stuck between you two. You want him? Take him."

As she turned to walk away, he said softly, "He is already mine."

She stopped, just as he thought she might. "If he's yours, why isn't he with you?"

"That, Christine, is an excellent question. More importantly, why is he with you?"

She turned, her eyes full of fire. "Because you fucking told me to go to him."

"Yes. I did."

"A mistake?"

"Not at all. A plan." He took a deep breath. "You came to me, Christine. You wanted my help. This is how I help."

"By sending me to your ex?"

"Whether you stay with him is the question." He moved closer. "The meld is highly personal. Highly erotic in its way. He will remember what we had."

"You sound like Flint, Spock. Len told me about him and his plan to have Jim awaken his little android. Didn't work out so well for the android, if I recall. But then it never does-I know that from bitter experience." She moved closer. "And furthermore, I doubt Valeris found the kind of meld we're talking about to be very damn erotic. In fact, I think she found it torture."

He took a deep breath. He did not want to talk about Valeris to Christine.

"This is you helping me, Spock? I might prefer you as an enemy." She seemed to lose the emotional energy that was driving her, retreated into the stony woman he'd seen recently, before she'd come to him for help. "And what happens to me in this plan?"

"I am not unmoved by you."

She laughed and he wasn't sure why.

"That is funny?"

"I hate double negatives."

"Ah. Then the positive version. I have...feelings for you."

"Since when?" She laughed again, this time bitterly. "Do you think I'm a moron?"

"I do not. I would not have feelings for someone I considered intellectually substandard."

"Is there a point to this?"

He could tell she was getting frustrated. "You asked what would happen to you. I do not know because I do not know what the meld will bring. Just as I believe Jim will be moved by the experience, you and I may be drawn to each other as well."

"I didn't ask for this. I just wanted you to help clear my name."

"Are you sure? My melding with you will prove nothing to Command. The only thing that will is my continued association and championship of you. Jim's as well. And even if he made love to you the entire night, he does not entirely trust you and will not until the meld. And you will not survive the meld without his help-you may not survive it with it. If I have to choose during the process to save one of you, it will not be you."

She stared up at him, then began to laugh. It was a slightly hysterical sound. "I'm goddamned crazy. That's what I am. And for what? To get a career back? They can't let me go, not without proof. So, okay, maybe I molder away in some supply room till retirement. Would that be so bad?"

The corridor was empty, so he tipped her chin up, forcing her to look at him. "Your rise was meteoric. You have passed by most of your fellow crew mates. You were tapped for assignments that many, including myself, doubted you could do, and you proved all of us wrong. It is not in your nature to molder away, as you say, in a supply room. And that is why you will do this."

"Because I have nothing but my job?" She blinked hard, and he realized she was about to cry. "Because I am nothing but my job?"

"That remains to be seen, Christine. You may end up with both Jim and me."

"Carnival games are rigged."

He frowned, unsure of her point.

"The house always wins, Spock. Don't you know anything by now? And you're the goddamned house. I just hope losing doesn't bankrupt me." She turned and walked away, and as he watched she stood straighter, steeling her shoulders, walking with a slow confidence, putting on a show for the people around her.

She might think she wasn't sure what she was going to do, but he knew better. It might, in fact, be what drew him to her, what made the idea of adding her to his dynamic with Jim tolerable.

Or more than tolerable. Desirable, even.


Kirk lay in bed, tracing lazy circles on Chris's back. She moaned happily and nestled closer.

"What's amazing to me," he said in between kisses, "is that we waited so long to do this."

"I'm not your type."

He laughed. "Right, brainy scientists aren't my thing." He was pleased to see her smile, to see the old Chris peek out from behind the harder, tired Chris he'd found in Smitty's dive.

"Well, when you put it that way." She took a deep breath. "I hate to break the mood, but I had a really strange conversation with Spock today."

"Imagine that." He rolled his eyes. "What now?"

She turned a bit, and he let her get comfortable. "What if I told you I wanted to do the meld, but I didn't want you to be there?"

"Why?"

"I just think..." She looked down, and he realized she was blushing.

"Do you feel like we're putting pressure on you? For this?" He pulled away slightly and she caught him and eased him back toward her.

"Not this. But you and me and him, which may actually mean just you and him, and I'm so confused at this point..."

He kissed the tip of her nose, waiting for the smile that he'd discovered would accompany his action. "If you asked me to stay away, I would. And if I didn't know Spock wouldn't do the meld without me there, I'd worry. A lot." He stared down at her. "He could hurt you with this. He won't mean to, but you're asking a lot out of him at a time when he's not entirely himself."

She smiled, but it wasn't the happy smile he loved. It was a sadder one. "You'd sleep with me if you were unsure of me."

"No."

"You're doing it now. You have no assurance I'm not worming my way into your life for other reasons."

"You didn't worm your way into my life. I came to the bar that night to get you. Smitty commed me."

She looked genuinely surprised. "I thought you said they don't get in your knickers there."

"He was worried about you. And I used to be part of Cartwright's gang, too. I'm the only one left he could have called. I'm not even sure he knew we served together, just that we had Cartwright in common."

"I always forget you were one of his chicks."

Exactly how he used to put it. "There but for the grace of God..." He took a deep breath. "For what it's worth, I don't think you had any part in the conspiracy."

"But you won't champion me, will you, till you're sure?"

He looked down, hating that he'd sleep with her, as she'd said, with uncertainty in his mind, but not go out on a limb for her.

What had sex become for him that it wasn't going out on a limb?

"Spock thinks I'll do it because I'm ambitious."

"You're not ambitious. You're just talented and a high flyer. It's hard to be grounded after all that."

She nuzzled his neck. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." He held her and went back to tracing nonsense designs on her back.

"If I'd never run from Spock when he came back from Gol, I'd never have been at Starfleet Medical. And I'd never have treated Admiral Cartwright. And he'd never have been charmed by my sass. And I'd never have been chosen for his staff. And then...I wouldn't be here."

"You might not be here-here. I like you here." He frowned. "You left my ship because of Spock? You said it was a 'been there, done that' kind of thing."

"I lied. He was open to me. Finally. But I was afraid it was just V'ger. And I saw him with you, in sickbay. After his meld. I knew who he really wanted." She sighed.

"I just never factored into your little daydreams, did I?"

She laughed softly. "You do now. Far more than he does. Does that count for anything?"

He nodded. "Don't do the meld. I'll speak to the CINC on your behalf."

She kissed him gently. "I love that you'd do that. But you need to be sure. I need you to be sure."

"Okay." He held her as she fell asleep, wishing that he could drown out the voices in his head that told him it wasn't that at all, that it was simply that he would never be enough for her-or for Spock.


Chapel took a deep breath and tried not to squeeze the life out of Jim's hand as they stood at Spock's door, waiting for him to let them in.

"Scared?" Jim asked softly. He squeezed her hand and smiled. "I'm not going to let anything happen to you."

"I know." She tried not to think too hard about how he might not have much say over what happened to her today. The meld was unpredictable. The meld was...damn it, the meld was terrifying her and it had been her stupid idea.

Spock opened the door, nodded at her, then at Jim, his expression warming a little. "Come in."

They followed him into the main room of the guest quarters.

"Still living the VOQ life?" Jim frowned as he took in the sparsely furnished room.

"I am uncertain as to my future plans. Diplomatic duties take me many places for varying amounts of time."

"Of course." Jim turned to look at him, and Chapel realized he was sounding rather irritated. Was he scared, too?

"If you are ready?" Spock gestured toward the chairs he had set up. Two from the dining table facing each other, with a low, backless stool in the middle. "Christine, take the stool, please."

She looked back at Jim, was gratified to see him smile gently. Walking to the stool, she studied Spock, tried to read what he was feeling, but he had his best Vulcan face on.

She sat and Spock motioned for Jim to sit behind her, his knees on either side of her. She leaned back, felt him there.

He leaned into her, his lips at her ear, murmuring, "I'll keep you safe."

"I know."

Spock took the chair in front of her, faced her and almost smiled as he said, "I will not hurt you. Do you trust me?"

She nodded, even though she felt herself leaning harder against Jim's knees.

Spock touched her face gently, moving over her skin with his fingers, the contact tingling in a way she didn't expect. "Close your eyes."

She did, and the tingling increased. She felt his fingers touch the meld position, then felt him reach past her, for Jim.

"Relax, Jim," he said. "I will not hurt her."

She felt Spock's mind with hers, more immediate than when they'd shared consciousness but still familiar. Not scary. He was her friend, wasn't he? He wouldn't hurt her, not like he had Val-

"Do not think of her." Spock's voice resounded, inside her head, outside it, too.

She felt Jim tighten his hold on her, then felt his presence in her thoughts, in her mind. "I'm here," he whispered, and like Spock's, his voice was all around her.

"I trust you both," she said softly, and let down any defenses she was consciously keeping up. Letting Spock in.

He moved quickly, into the memories that lay near the surface. She felt Jim's surprise, realized this was different than a regular meld, that Spock was rifling through her memories.

She felt Jim tense, his hands tightening almost painfully on her arms, and she gasped. Spock stopped, waiting, hovering almost, like a great hunting bird over her mind. She was breathing harder, and she could feel her heart beating, could hear it in her ears.

"Easy," Jim said, but she wasn't sure if he was talking to her or to Spock.

"I must be thorough," Spock said softly.

"Not through last night's memories, you mustn't." Jim was clearly speaking to him now.

Spock waited a moment, then resumed, going further back, back to the time around Khitomer, just after, just before. He was particularly interested in any time she'd spent with Cartwright, Valeris, or West. She could feel him tense every time Valeris was involved. Once he tensed too much, his fingers and his mind pushing down on her, making her moan.

"Spock." Jim's mind-voice was curt, angry even.

Spock withdrew a bit, and she felt Jim tighten his arms around her, pulling her back to him.

"I'm all right," she said, giving Spock permission to keep looking, to find what she knew wasn't there. Her heart was beating even faster, but it wasn't because she was excited-she was terrified.

He had said this would be erotic? On what planet would this qualify as erotic?

And oh, God, had she just thought that out loud?

Neither man reacted, and she realized that she could still think independent thoughts even while being read this way. She relaxed a little, willing the fear to go away.

"Yesssss," Spock said, reaching deeper and deeper.

She let go, leaning against Jim completely as she felt Spock go back to when she entered medical school and then pause.

"That's far enough," Jim said.

"I agree." Spock began to move around her memories a different way, an easier search this time. His touch was gentle, and his mind-voice soothed her.

She moved against Jim, felt him tighten his hold on her, felt a surge of something coming from him.

Lust. For her. For Spock. She wasn't sure. She felt the lust coming back from Spock, knew she was probably radiating it too. For Jim, for Spock, for more of this intense sharing.

And then...anger. Anger and Jim's hands tightening on her arms, shaking her. His voice, not sweet now, telling Spock to get out.

And Spock got out, exiting slowly but purposefully, causing her no pain, letting go of her face finally, then Jim's. His eyes were hard as he looked at Jim, as if she was no longer there.

"She still wants me," Spock said, and he wasn't wrong, unfortunately.

"She's with me." Jim seemed to be pulling her back, off the stool, and she fought him, afraid she'd fall, not sure what he wanted.

He let her go and Spock caught her up, pulling her into his lap as if she weighed next to nothing. "She is extraordinary, Jim. The trust she has in you. In me, too. We can enjoy this. All three of us." He ran his hand down her body, hitting parts he'd never consciously touched before. She moaned and saw Jim's face change.

He stood up, looked down at them, then walked to the door. He turned back only long enough to say, "No," then walked out and left them alone.

"Jim." She struggled to get away but Spock held her in what seemed to be an iron grip.

"He will come back, Christine."

"No, he fucking well won't." She thrust herself away from him, suddenly glad she had extra weight to use against him. He wasn't expecting her to fight, apparently. She got away, scuttled back. "What the hell?"

"He will be back." Spock sounded slightly desperate.

"That's all you care about?" She pushed herself to her knees, then to her feet, swaying slightly. "Oh my God. You never needed him here for this. The meld...you could have done it to me alone."

He looked down. "It was his idea to help."

"Because you told him it was too dangerous. You told me it was. You, Spock."

"I did not plan that far ahead." Spock stood, looked at her very gently. "And I would not have done this if I did not care for you, if I could not see you being part of this. I want him back, but he will not come alone and he truly seems to care for you. This helped you, it gave him something he needed, and it would have been the logical way for me to find my way back to him and gain you in the bargain. I cannot imagine an argument that says this was not a good plan."

"You cannot see that you manipulated us?"

"Isn't that what love is, Christine? Benevolent manipulation?"

She turned and left, afraid Jim had gone home, but then she saw him sitting on the bench outside the VOQ and sat down next to him. He didn't look at her and she didn't say anything.

Finally, he said, "You left the ship because of him. Twice. I could feel in there how much you wanted him." He laughed, a soft, horrible sound. "You were rubbing against me but it was him you were thinking about."

"He did it to get you, Jim, not me. I was just...I was just the carrot."

"No, he wanted you."

"Jim, listen to me." She grabbed his face, made him turn to look at her. "He didn't need you there. Not really. He did it to get you back. Be sure of that even if of nothing else."

He stared at her, a helpless look on his face, and she pulled him to her and kissed him as tenderly as she could.

When they finally pulled away, she stood and took his hand, pulling him off the bench. "So, I was thinking maybe kabobs for dinner. There's a new place by the wharf, if you want to go?"

He smiled. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For normal."

"You're all I need, Captain Kirk."

She led him to the new restaurant, relieved that he hadn't asked her if he was all she wanted, too. After the meld, they both knew the answer to that.


Spock saw Jim ahead of him in the halls of Starfleet Command, was not surprised when his friend turned and walked away. The resonance of the meld was still there, though, and Spock followed him, finding him sitting in a conference room.

"What gave me away, Spock? Meld dust?"

"The resonance was far less useful last night. When you and Christine were...active."

"Serves you right for listening in." Jim turned his chair so he was facing him, arms crossed over his chest. "Chris says you involved me in the meld to get me back. That you didn't need me there. I think she's wrong. I think she's the one you want."

"Is it not possible I want both of you?" At Jim's look, he said, "Put aside my motives for now. They are not why I am here." At Jim's expression, he held up a hand. "I know you are angry with me, and we do need to discuss that. But I need you to see this first."

"What?"

Spock handed him a padd. On it were a list of dates and the social events that took place on them.

"What is this?"

"The occasions Christine remembers being Colonel West's companion."

Jim shrugged. "So, she dated him. Big deal."

"She thinks she dated him, Jim. I can find no evidence she actually did."

"What?"

Spock sat down. "I checked the security logs. Colonel West did not attend. Nor did Christine." He leaned in. "It was very clear-to you, as well, I know you felt it-that Christine had nothing consciously to do with the conspiracy. But the energy around her memories of West was...wrong."

"Shit." Then Jim looked up. "You realized that and were trying to seduce us?"

"I am quite adept at multitasking."

"So I see."

"Jim, we need to go back into her memories. We need to find out what is really buried under them. And this time it will be dangerous for her and you do need to be there as an anchor. I don't know what they've done. There were Romulans involved in the plot. They and the Cardassians have highly evolved sleeper technologies that are quite fatally resistant to detection. We must proceed carefully."

"If this is just a way-"

Spock shook his head, knowing his friend would see the enormity of what he'd found in the worry he allowed to show on his face. "It may be nothing they've done to her, Jim. They may have merely taken information from her and masked the inquisitions with more pleasant memories. Or had her help them in ways she did not realize with no lingering effects."

"Do you believe that?"

"No. Valeris would know that if she and the others were caught, Christine would come to me to clear her name. Valeris was quite insistent on exploring my relationship with Christine."

"Revenge?"

"Quite possibly. And all in a way that it could have been undone if the conspiracy was successful."

"No harm, no foul." Jim stared down at the padd.

"Christine may have instructions to kill you. She will not be aware of it until those instructions activate."

"So, I shouldn't sleep with her?" Jim laughed bitterly. "Or maybe you should be there-you never need much shut eye. You can keep an eye on her when we aren't all fucking."

"That is not what I was implying."

"I'll be the one to tell Chris what you found. I'll let you know when we're ready to go back in."

"Jim, this is time sensit-"

"I said, I'll let you know when." He stood. "But otherwise...she's clean?"

Spock nodded.

"Nobody knows about this, understand me? Nobody but the three of us."

"And whoever is left of the conspiracy and cognizant of what was done."

"Can't you ever let me sit on the best-case-scenario square?" Jim pushed the padd back to Spock and left him alone.

Spock stared down at the event list. Cartwright often attended; there were vids proving it. Valeris never did. That thought did not give him comfort.


Kirk stood outside the conference room, felt the anger seeping away, giving way to something else, some feeling of inevitability.

This wasn't over. Somehow, he'd known it wasn't. Had known it deep in his guts when Smitty had called him. Why had he called? Why had Chris been at that dive? It didn't make sense, not really.

Not unless everything was going just the way it was supposed to.

He turned to walk back into the conference room, nearly colliding with Spock coming out. Pushing him back inside, he let the door close, then said, "I think they wanted us to find this."

Spock raised an eyebrow.

"I only got involved with Chris because Smitty called me. He owns a dive, Cartwright's Crew used to hang there. Not his ship crew, but his friends. I was one of them, Spock. I was one of them and then I sort of fell away, and Chris fell in." He laid a hand on Spock's shoulder and squeezed. "How the hell did they know she would cause this much trouble for us?"

"Valeris, I think. I see her handiwork in all this."

Kirk nodded. "Yes. Cartwright wouldn't have any reason to hurt Chris, or to hurt us. But your girl..."

"I did not know she did this-did any of it."

"How the hell could you not know? When we were together you knew if I'd had a piece of pie I shouldn't have."

"Only because you felt guilty about it." Spock met his eyes, his expression soft. "You cared. You felt badly. Valeris, quite clearly, did not." Spock looked down. "I have considered the possibility that Valeris planned very far ahead, took every possible outcome into account."

"I'd agree with that possibility."

"Then she would have known that the way to get the information we wanted, if the conspiracy was discovered, was from her. From a meld. A deep, damaging, forcible meld."

Kirk nodded.

"What if...what if there is no information behind Christine's false memories. What if there are only more false memories. Layers and layers, and I follow them, and I destroy her." He sighed. "And you and I in the process, as well, if she is lost because of us."

Kirk took a deep breath. "We need to go slow. You have to be very careful."

"Valeris would expect a direct approach." Spock met his eyes. "She once accused me of being one dimensional in my approach to sex."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning any safeguards she planted are most likely to function when seen as clear countermeasures. A sexual meld, on the other hand..."

"Especially one that involved me."

Spock nodded. "I will not deny I want this, but it is a new desire that Valeris would likely not have anticipated. I have been quite consistent in my monogamous approach to sexuality."

Spock had been, even if it left Kirk out-and many times it had. "All roads lead the same place." He sat down, wasn't surprised when Spock sat down next to him, murmured, "Computer, lock door," and laid his hand on Kirk's shoulder.

"I will do whatever you wish. Whatever you think best. I will not push any solution unless I am convinced it is the only one."

"I care for her."

"I know."

Kirk laughed, feeling the bitter humor deep in his gut. "The hell of it, Spock, is that she wants you. She loves being with me. I can tell that without any damn meld. But she wants you, too."

"And you?" Spock moved his hand to Kirk's neck, rubbed underneath his hair the way he'd done a thousand times when they'd been together. The way Kirk was helpless to resist. "What do you want?"

"I don't want to share her with you."

"Do you want to share me with her?"

"It's the same thing."

"It is not." Spock leaned in, resting his forehead on Kirk's shoulder. "I miss you, Jim. I would welcome her into my life if it meant getting you back."

"I think we all got that memo, Spock." Kirk pulled away, even though Spock's presence felt good, felt right. But then, it always did. "We do it at my place this time. Give me two hours, then come over." He stood, pulled down his uniform jacket the way he did when he needed something-anything-to do. "We have to get started. We need to find out what we're dealing with."

"There is another option."

Kirk turned to look at him.

"We could hand her over to the Federation authorities. They would get to the bottom of this without our involvement. Other than the involvement you have now, of course. As a lover."

"Would it be the logical thing to do?"

"It would. It would also, if I know Valeris, be the most dangerous."

Kirk didn't have to think about it. "Agreed. Just us in this. No one else." He went to the door, told the computer to unlock them. "Two hours, Spock. Not a minute earlier."

"Understood."


Chapel laid her hand over Jim's door and smiled when the security system let her in. If anyone had told her that she'd have free access to his house someday, she'd have told them they were crazy.

And yet.

"Honey, I'm home." She expected a laugh and got one. She followed the sound to his bedroom, found him lying on the bed, arms crossed behind his head. "Deep thoughts?"

"Yep."

She pulled off her boots and snuggled in beside him. "Do I want to know?"

"Nope."

"When you commed, you said it was important. I actually left work a little early."

"I'm glad." He pulled her on top of him, kissed her heartily. Then he rolled them so he was on top, holding her down, staring into her eyes, but not a sappy staring, more a questioning kind.

"Jim?"

"I have good news and I have bad news."

"Okay. I'll take any good news you have."

"You're innocent." He kissed her, smiled as he pulled away. "But then you knew that."

"And you'll make sure everyone else does? You and Spock?"

"It's that important to you?"

"It is. I know I should let it go. That over time, the suspicion would die down. But...I've worked too hard."

"I know." He sighed deeply.

She looked away as she asked, "Is the bad news that you're breaking up with me and going back to Spock?"

"No." He began to undo her uniform, kissing everywhere he uncovered. "In fact, we have less than an hour before he'll be here."

"He's coming here?"

"Yep." He abandoned the slow disrobing, began to pull off her uniform with more urgency. Totally lacking the skill he usually showed, showing in fact, a little desperation.

"Hey." She stopped him, tipped him off her, and sat up, yanking off her clothes. "Is this what you want?"

He nodded and started to push her down. She stopped him again, pulled his clothing off, and climbed astride him. He was ready so she didn't wait, just eased down and down and down and...

"Oh, God." She smiled as she rode him, as they both continued to invoke a deity they only appeared to believe in when riding each other.

When they finally lay quietly in each other's arms, he murmured, "There's a problem. Spock will explain." He took a deep breath. "And you won't need to get dressed for the visit."

She eased up on her elbows, stared down at him. "Come again."

"Apt turn of phrase." He did not look at all amused.

"What are we doing?"

"It'll make more sense when he explains it. Things always do." He pulled her close. "I didn't want this for us. You have to know that."

"You didn't want what?" She struggled and he didn't let her go. "Jim, you're scaring me."

"I know." He smiled, a very strange smile, as he met her eyes. "I'd never hurt you. I don't know if the reverse is true, Chris. God help me, I don't know. And it's not your fault. I know it's not your fault."

"But you said I was innoc..."

He reached under the pillow. She saw a flash of silver, felt the cold hiss of the hypo, then everything went black.


Spock rang the chime for entry to Jim's home, heard the door unlock, and walked in.

"Up here."

He went upstairs, stopped short at the door to Jim's bedroom. Christine lay on the bed, a light robe over her-barely.

Jim held up a hypospray and gave him a sheepish half-smile.

"You did not tell me you were going to sedate her."

"I didn't tell her, either, so I guess you're even." Jim pulled the robe down a little, covering more of Christine's thighs. "I thought it might be a good idea if she didn't know why we were all going to have sex. Just in case there was some kind of deadman's switch on the fake memories."

Spock nodded-he should have thought of that. "I see you enjoyed each other before."

"You would have done the same thing, old friend." There was no amusement in Jim's voice, just grim determination. "Shouldn't you take a look around, before she wakes up?"

"Yes. I should." He waited, finally turned to Jim. "A chair?"

"Just get on the bed with her, Spock. For God's sake, what difference does it make now?" He moved to a spot that gave him a better view. "But if that robe moves a millimeter before she wakes up, there will be hell to pay."

Spock eased onto the bed, careful not to disturb what he now understood to be both a test and a taunt. He settled his fingers onto the meld points, gently descended into her mind, leaving as little wake as possible from his progress.

There. The memories. He went past them, dug deeper, trying to find the earliest interactions with Valeris.

The woman had been Christine's friend, according to them both, but he'd never seen them together socially. Had the memories been planted or had Valeris really sought Christine out?

He found their first meeting. Official. Benign. But there. A lunch, more work than social. Then another, more social than functional. Then...there. A dinner party at Christine's that Valeris had been invited to. The memories were real. She'd been there.

But the next outing, one at Valeris's quarters, shimmered with the patina of the other implanted memories, now that he knew what he was looking for. Cartwright appeared to be clear of this. West, too, who'd hardly known Christine if the other memories served, and Spock imagined Valeris had imbued the false events with a reticence on Christine's part to discuss social outings with West at work. Or possibly at all unless asked directly by Jim or himself.

Because that would fit. That would get them looking.

"Spock," Jim's voice was pitched low but urgent. "Spock, get out now."

Spock withdrew, much faster than he normally would but trusting his friend to know if something was wrong. As he neared the surface of Christine's mind, he realized she was seizing, her body moving desperately, as if trying to get him out.

The deadman's switch.

As soon as he was out, the seizures began to diminish, and she finally lay quietly, a fine sheen of sweat and the robe now askew the only sign that something had gone wrong.

He pulled the robe up, covering her carefully. "We have a problem."

"No shit." Jim sat down on the other side of her, took her hand in his. "What do we do?"

"That was the direct approach, Jim. We most definitely need another. It's possible if you are there, and if we are otherwise occupied, it will confuse whatever fail-safes Valeris implanted."

"And Chris?" Jim touched her face. "She needs to know what's going on."

"I agree. Although that approach is not without risk. Just knowing may set something off. Valeris was...more clever than I gave her credit for. More clever, potentially, than I."

"Are you saying you may not be able to help Chris?"

"I am."

"Unacceptable." He stood. "I need to think. There has to be a way to beat this. Stay with her, Spock. I don't want her to wake up alone."

Spock met Jim's eyes, nodded carefully. "I will look after her."

"I know you will." With a last look at her, Jim left them alone.

Spock had told Valeris once about Jim's refusal to accept the concept of the no win scenario. Valeris had raised an eyebrow and said merely, "Perhaps that is because he has never run into one designed by a Vulcan."

The statement had seemed nothing more than typical Vulcan pride. Now...now he feared he finally understood it.

He touched Christine's cheek. "I am truly sorry for all of this."


Kirk heard Spock calling for him, hurried up the stairs to his bedroom. Chris was just waking up and he eased onto the bed next to her. She moaned, as if she was in pain, which given how violent her initial seizures had been, she might be. She turned and snuggled into him and he knew she was giving Spock a show from the back, but his friend had the good grace to keep his eyes up and out of the danger zone.

Then she pulled away and turned, looking at Spock with a frown. "Please tell me we all didn't have sex while I was unconscious."

"That would be inappropriate," Spock said, a helpful expression on his face.

She turned back to Kirk. "Why did you knock me out?"

He had to give her credit. In her place, he'd push him off the bed and then ask that. But she probably hadn't made a name for herself in Emergency Ops by being Hair Trigger Chapel.

"I can tell you a lie that will keep you out of danger. Or I can tell you the truth."

"But it might kill you."

Just once he wished Spock had the ability to sugarcoat. Chris looked like she wished it, too.

"And Spock's here...why?"

"That's part of the potentially deadly truth."

"I'm nearly naked. You're in your pajamas. And he's fully clothed."

"The state of our dress is not entirely relevant, Christine."

"I'm the one who was knocked out, Spock. I'm the one with the potentially fatal truth coming up-and if you think I'd want you two to lie to me, you're idiots. But I am not going to die buck naked. Rustle me up some sweats or something before I hear what you have to say."

He smiled, even when she glared at him.

"What's so amusing, Jim?"

"I just...I just think you're wonderful." He leaned down and kissed her, knowing Spock was watching, almost enjoying Spock watching. For a moment, she resisted and then she relaxed into the kiss, her arms going around him as she deepened the kiss.

He finally pulled away.

She shifted a little and frowned. "Why am I so sore?"

"Later. Once you're dressed." He got up and found a t-shirt that was too small for him, sweats with a drawstring that would serve. "Turn your back, Spock."

She slid on the clothes and he liked the way she looked in them.

Smiling, he pulled her toward him, then back down onto the bed. "Lie back."

She did, and he marveled at the patience she was showing-the trust.

He stretched out on one side of her. Looked over at Spock and made a gesture that said, "Get over here." Spock didn't have to be asked twice, but he resisted touching Christine.

She looked at him, then over at Spock. "Not that this isn't a naughty fantasy come true, boys, but what the hell?"

"You're sure you want the truth."

She nodded.

"You're innocent, but things you remember, they didn't really happen. The dates with West, for instance."

Spock leaned in. "Most of your social interactions with Valeris."

"What are you talking about?"

Both he and Spock were watching her closely.

"Guys, my head is not going to explode. Now what the hell are you talking about?"

"You have memories of events that did not really occur. We are not sure what is buried underneath them." Spock touched her forehead-Kirk thought it was just an excuse to get closer. "I tried to look while you were unconscious. Jim surmised Valeris might have put in a deadman's switch of some sort, which is why he drugged you, to make it easier for me to look and deter any type of fail-safe from going off."

"And what did you find out?"

"You went into seizures, Chris. We didn't find out much." He looked over at Spock. "It seems...apparently a direct approach won't work."

"A direct...?" She gave a little half laugh of surprise. "Ohhhhh. I see."

"This is not an attempt to engage you in sex with the two of us." Spock had his most earnest expression going.

"It's not?"

"Well, it probably is." Kirk leaned in. "You're feeling okay. Nothing's hurting?"

"My back a little. My head. And my pride. Holy crap, how often did they screw with my mind?"

"We're not sure. A lot, Spock thinks."

"But she was my friend."

"No, Christine. She was not."

"So," she said, her voice changing, becoming more thoughtful. "Lay out the options for me. What's likely to happen?"

They both looked at her.

"Scenarios, boys. We live by them in ops. Likely, not likely, I don't care, just give them to me." When they didn't speak, she rolled her eyes and said, "The most obvious is that I'm a sleeper."

Spock nodded. "Valeris is unlikely to have gone for that option."

"But it's possible. I could go off and kill you both. Or myself. Or blow up a building or a ship."

"Yes."

"That's just dandy. Other options, please."

"It could be nothing," Kirk said. "Valeris had reason to want to hurt Spock and you. There may be nothing to find."

"And yet you'll keep trying, and either you'll hurt me the way you did Valeris, or the seizures will kill me. Fabulous. Other thoughts?"

"You are taking this quite well," Spock said.

Kirk could see that she wasn't, not really. But the professional had superseded the woman who was scared. And he loved her for that. "One option is that you were used by them for various tasks but that nothing is left behind."

"Why would I have seizures if everything I'd been needed to do was done?"

"It is an unlikely option," Spock said, holding up at hand at Kirk's glare. "She wants the truth."

"Yes, I do." She took a deep breath. "So the basic problem is that you can't get to my mind without my body going haywire, right?"

They both nodded.

She started to laugh. Kirk was afraid for a moment that this was too much for her, saw Spock glance over at him in confusion. "And you two idiots are about to suggest we have sex and then you look during it?"

"I think idiot is a bit strong," Kirk said, glancing at Spock for moral support. "It's the indirect approach. Tell her about the indirect approach." He suddenly realized he could appear to be lobbying for a threesome and looked down.

"God save me from well meaning lovers." She sat up. "I've got a solution. It does not involve us having sex. Could one of you let me out?"

Spock seemed disappointed, so Kirk got up and let her slide out past him. She grabbed the comm unit, paced with it as she dialed up someone.

"Len?"

Kirk looked at Spock whose eyes narrowed. "I don't think she's calling him to get in on the act."

"Nevertheless. I believe we had this under control."

She glared at both of them. "Len? You still have access to the facilities here at Command?" She launched into medical-ese, but Kirk got the gist of it. Stop her heart, or nearly so. Bring all her bodily functions down to nearly zero. Keep her mind going. Len could set it up for the next day. She smiled and cut the connection.

"I should have considered this option." Spock looked genuinely chagrined. "The mind cannot hurt what it cannot find."

"Exactly." She stood at the foot of the bed, staring at them. "Valeris thought I was an idiot, apparently."

"Maybe not," Kirk said, taking the comm unit from her and punching in the number for Smitty's. "Old friend, it's Jimbo. Just wanted to thank you for looking out for our mutual acquaintance."

"No problem. Glad it all worked out."

"Cartwright did his last good deed, eh?"

He could practically hear the shrug. "You know how he looked out for his chicks. I didn't know what he was up to, you know? But he said things might get bad for her, and to make sure I called you if I noticed anything. I didn't get what he meant until the news broke."

"I understand."

"Way I see it: friends look out for friends."

"That they do. We'll be by soon."

"Better not. You're not exactly a fav around here right now."

"No?"

"Give it a while."

"Okay." He cut the connection. "Valeris knew Chris would be tainted. She must have known she'd think to go to you, Spock, to prove her innocence. You'd be angry still at Valeris, careless with your meld. You'd kill Chris, and Valeris would have had her revenge." He looked at Chris, then at Spock. "I don't think I even factored into the equation for her, but I did for Cartwright. He was looking out for you till the end, Chris. I doubt he had any idea what Valeris had done. But he saved you."

"You saved her, Jim."

"Oh, hell, you all saved me." She began to untie her sweats.

"What are you doing?" Kirk asked.

"I could die tomorrow, despite my precautions."

"This is true," Spock said way too eagerly, earning a glare from both of them.

She moved over to Kirk, leaned down and kissed him heartily. Then she pulled away, peeked around Kirk, and said to Spock, "Don't you have somewhere else to be about now?"

Kirk would have given anything for a look at Spock's face. As it was, Chris's grin would have to do.

When the door shut behind Spock, she pulled Kirk's shirt off, then her own. "Is he going to go somewhere other than outside the door?" she asked.

"I don't give a damn where he goes as long as it's not in here with us."

"Did you really think you weren't enough for me?"

"I'm an idiot."

"Yes, well, we've already established that."

She touched his cheek. "Harder question. Do you want me to go get him? I can share you with him-if you want him, too. But I don't need to share you with him."

He smiled. "I'll always care for him."

"I know."

"Don't go get him."

"Okay, then." She undid the drawstring, let his sweats slip off her.

He pulled his own off, was in her before they were even comfortably on the bed, quickly finding a rhythm, moving hard and crying out.

They were both a little louder than normal. He hoped for Spock's sake that he'd gone home.


Chapel woke, her head splitting as if she'd been struck down with five migraines. Spock sat next to her, his fingers on the meld points as she blinked and tried to focus.

"Welcome back." Jim's voice. Then Len telling him to get out of the way and let him work. She smiled. Good old Len.

"You are all right now," Spock said, his voice soft. Inside her head, his voice was like velvet, filling her mind, pressing the pain off a bit. She met his eyes, saw something she didn't expect there. Regard. How long had he cared for her? "I'm sorry, Christine." The words sounded only in her mind.

It wasn't bad to be wanted. Not when she'd wanted him for so long. She tried to send that to him, felt the velvet inside her head grow softer, warmer.

"I will always be here for you." His voice so gentle, then he slowly pulled away, his fingers finally lifting off her face. "She is fine, Jim." He got up, ceding the seat to Jim, who smiled down at her. Spock gave Jim a tender look before turning away.

"Well, hello," Jim said, taking her hand in his.

"Hello, yourself."

"One of you is going to have to fill me in," Len said, his voice surly but also more than a little amused.

"I will attempt to explain." Spock turned to look at Jim and her, his lips going up just slightly, his eyes again so remarkably tender, then he followed Len out.

"I hope he leaves out some parts," she said, making Jim laugh.

"Me, too." His face turned serious. "He really cares for you. I didn't realize."

"I didn't either."

"I'm not willing to let him have you."

"Good. I'm not willing to let him have you, either. Despite what I said yesterday." She pulled him down; their kiss was very gentle.

"I'm glad." He pulled back up, met her eyes. "But if anything ever happens to me, I want you to go to him."

"Nothing's going to happen to you. You're James T. Kirk."

The cocky grin appeared and she laughed softly. "My amazing streak of luck aside, I need to say this now. You have my blessing."

"You're not going anywhere, mister, so just keep your blessing to yourself."

His smile was a beautiful, beautiful thing.

FIN