Featured Attraction by Djinn

It was a boring day in sickbay and Chapel was happy to see the captain come in, a "you won't believe what I cooked up" look on his face.

"Jim," she said.

"Chris." He held out a padd. "Bones is refusing to go to this conference with Spock. You want to go?"

She glanced at the topics. They were actually things that interested her. And she hated to admit it, after all this time trying to get over Spock, but going away with just him also interested her. "Why?"

"Why what?" He was trying way too hard to look innocent.

"Why are you acting like a big matchmaker?"

He grinned. "He's a lot more open, in case you haven't noticed. Since that meld with V'ger."

"A lot more open to what?"

"To...possibilities."

She rolled her eyes.

"I'm serious. You should get some time alone with him. See if maybe..." At her look, his expression grew more serious. "Look, I know I spent a lot of time whining to you about Lori and how unhappy I was when she called our marriage off, and how much I hated being grounded."

He had. She'd never really known him that well until his wife left him and Chapel had run into him at the officer's club. An unhappy, stuck-on-Earth admiral.

"And later, when I got over her but still hated being grounded. You were there for fun stuff, too, not just to lend a gentle ear. I can't tell you what that meant to me—you just might have kept me sane. So, I guess this is something I can do for you; don't you owe it to yourself to see if something is there? I know you felt deeply for him at one time."

Earnest Jim was the most dangerous one: she knew because she'd almost slept with him several times during those months before the launch—she didn't think he'd realized how tempted she'd been. "Spock is not going to be happy with you."

"Then I won't tell him I had anything to do with this." Jim grinned. "I'll tell him it's all Bones' fault you're going." He handed her the padd. "Have fun. The shuttle leaves in two hours."

"I officially hate you."

He laughed. "Yeah, tell me that when you get back." He waggled his eyebrows at her until she laughed too.

As he walked away, she murmured, "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he said, one last smile back at her as he left sickbay.

As soon as she could, she went to go pack.

##

Spock sat quietly on the shuttle, reading something apparently scintillating on his padd, ignoring her as effectively as he'd ever done. Jim had thought he was more open?

Jim was an idiot.

No, Jim was a hopeless romantic. She was the idiot for believing he might be right.

"This conference should be interesting," she said, trying to keep her voice as professional as possible.

"Yes," he said. Man of many words that he was.

"I'm especially interested in the biochemical fusion panel. McReedy is a hero of mine."

"His arguments are not always fully realized. I have found him marginal at best."

So much for her heroes.

"Who do you prefer on the panel?"

He turned to look at her. "I do not wish to skew your opinion. I believe I will continue reading rather than bias you with a discussion of the scientists I find most credible."

Wow. He could make ignoring her come out as an altruistic act. It was a gift.

"No problem. Very logical." She decided to ignore Spock right back and catch up on the medical journals she subscribed to but never had time to read.

It was a game plan, but it would have been better actualized if she hadn't stopped reading every few minutes to see if Spock was paying attention to her. Any attention. Even a glance.

He wasn't.

She sighed and went back to reading. She wasn't sure if the roiling feeling in her gut was due to anger over the way he was ignoring her or embarrassment that here she was being ignored.

Possibly a little of both.

She sighed again.

"Is something amiss, Doctor?" Spock did not sound like he cared overmuch, probably believed it fell in his role as senior officer to inquire.

"No." She put down her padd.

He went back to his. So much for conversation.

"Do I need to apologize for coming, Spock?"

He looked over at her, a question in his expression.

"Len was supposed to come."

"I am aware of that."

She tried to ignore how he could make simple words into a verbal slap.

"He didn't want to. Couldn't get away. Or something."

Spock looked like he was wondering if there was a point looming in the vicinity. She was starting to wonder that, too.

"Anyway, I won't...pester you. So you can stop trying to ignore me."

He slowly raised an eyebrow. "I believe I was ignoring you. There was no 'try' involved."

She did her best to not react. "My mistake."

He turned away, back to the padd that was apparently so much more interesting than she was.

It was going to be a very long conference.

##

The conference proved to be fun. Spock's contribution to Chapel's fun was—not surprisingly, after the shuttle ride from hell-nill. He went his way; she went hers. And hers involved two scientists who were particularly taken with her thoughts on biochem. Or maybe they just liked her boobs. Either way, their attention felt good after the shuttle ride with the Man of Ice. They liked her, they thought she was pretty, and they wanted to have sex with her.

At the same time. Which was something she'd never done before but it was amazing how many things you could do with enough alcohol and Vulcan rejection spurring you on.

At the end of the day, they'd been just what she needed. Even if thinking about what she'd done with them made her blush.

Most importantly, they'd kept her away from Spock. When she saw him in a conference room or the dining room, she made sure she and her new friends sat on the other side of the room. Spock returned the favor with apparent relief.

She saw him in the dining room on the closing night of the conference. Her new bed-friends had left that morning, leaving her a little adrift. She'd had some drinks—well, actually, she'd had a lot of drinks and was poised on the "probably will regret this night in the morning" abyss.

Spock made the mistake of meeting her eyes when he came into the room. He gave her a brief nod before he fled to the far end of the gigantic ballroom.

She followed him, plopped herself down in the seat next to him, and said, "You never call, you never write, where's the love?"

It made no sense. But she'd always wanted to say it to him. And now she was finally drunk enough to do it.

"Doctor."

"Commander." She leaned in. "You are not very nice." She pitched her voice low. She wanted to say some things to him; she did not, however, want to make a scene.

"Perhaps not, but I am, at least, sober."

"Owwwwwwwww. Score one for the surly science officer." She leaned back in the chair, getting comfy. "How much will you pay me to move?"

He glanced over at her and she laughed.

"I'm kidding. All the money in the world couldn't make me move right now."

He gave her the Vulcan equivalent of a shrug and stood. "If you will excuse me."

He walked out of the ballroom and she followed him.

"Miss Chapel, you are behaving foolishly."

"I was an idiot to listen to him."

"To listen to whom?"

"Jim." She said Kirk's first name as if it was a weapon, saw him frown at the familiarity. "We got close, you know. On Earth, while you were at Gol."

"I see."

"No, you don't. I don't mean groin-close."

"Ah." He moved off and she followed him again.

"He said you were open to...possibilities."

Spock gave her the coldest look she'd ever gotten from him. "He was mistaken, Christine. Now, if you will excuse me."

She reached out, stopped him. "What did I do? What could I have possibly done in the two months since V'ger? Why are you treating me like I'm a walking plague host?"

"Christine, please, you are embarrassing both of us." The look on his face was actually full of sympathy rather than distaste. As if she was pitiful.

As if she was pathetic.

She looked down. She goddamned was pathetic.

She suddenly felt sick and ran for the ladies' room. She made it just in time.

He was gone when she finally came out.

Thank God for small mercies.

##

She found him near the shuttle departure lounge the next day. He looked at her warily.

"I'm very, very sorry, sir." She tried her best to look like a real Fleeter. Not some silly grad student who'd signed on to find her fiancé and never changed over the years.

"It is...forgotten."

"I...I wasn't think—"

"Christine, I said it was forgotten. Perhaps you could stop while you are ahead?"

She nodded and fled, knowing that this was as good as she was going to get from him.

She stayed a bit behind him as they boarded, chose a seat well away, and followed him off at the transfer station, keeping distance between them, which he seemed to appreciate—or at least not mind.

They were the only two on the shuttle headed to the starbase where the Enterprise would pick them up. She didn't meet his eyes as she tried to give him privacy in the small space.

But then the shuttle lurched and she grabbed the armrests and looked over at him. "Turbulence? Ion storm?" Please, God, give her something.

"I will find out." He started to rise, but was thrown back into his seat when the ship took what had to be a hit from a weapon of some kind.

She heard the shuttle pilot say something about irreparable hull damage, then everything disappeared as the familiar hum of a transporter took her and Spock.

The pilot had apparently been left behind.

They were standing in what seemed like the lobby of a large building. Comfortable chairs and tables were scattered all over. Aliens sat in them, drinking beverages of dull colors.

Another alien stood before them. He fired a weapon at them and Chapel fell to the ground, screaming in agony as piercing energy, like the older, stronger brother of an electric shock, raced through her body.

Spock didn't scream—or at least she couldn't hear him over her own cries. Then the pain stopped and she looked up at the alien.

"A little demonstration. That was on the lowest setting. Do you understand?"

She nodded, didn't turn to see if Spock was nodding too.

The aliens gestured for them to come with him. Two others—guards she guessed by their uniforms—fell in line behind them. What had seemed like a hotel or office building quickly changed once they got out of the front room. Pens and enclosures were built along several hallways. Artificial light, humidity, and warmth made each area distinct. Inside the pens were two people—or creatures, most weren't species she'd even seen before. In many of the pens, the two people were having sex. Aliens were gathered at the ledges to watch.

"It's a zoo," she murmured. An x-rated zoo.

"Quite so," the alien said. He stopped in front of an empty enclosure. "You two have barely made eye contact. Am I correct in assuming you are not already in a sexual relationship?"

Oh, God, did she have an answer for that. But she held her tongue and let Spock take the lead.

"You are correct."

The alien nodded. "I would guess that you two do not even like each other very much."

Spock didn't correct him by telling him like was an emotion. She looked down so her eyes would not betray how she felt about Spock and about herself.

"We have had humans here before, but a Vulcan is new for us. So the choice will be yours since we want you to perform at your peak. If you choose not to mate with the human female, we will endeavor to find a Vulcan female who will appeal more. The human female will be given to a Doravian male who has been mateless for a while." The keeper hit a button on a display padd, and Chapel turned away in horror. "The Doravian is not so choosy. He is, however, somewhat hard on his mates."

There wasn't a word for what that thing was doing to the Cardassian who'd been thrown in with him.

She realized Spock had stepped between her and the screen, had backed up, even, and was nearly touching her. Was he protecting her?

"I will take her. Do not give her to him."

The keeper gave Spock a hard stare. "We will remove her from your enclosure if we believe you are not fully investing your energy."

"Understood." Again he backed up.

Chapel peeked around him. "Do I get a say in this?"

"No," the keeper and Spock answered in unison.

"Swell."

Spock turned to look at her. "Do you prefer that?" He gestured with his chin to the video that was mercifully on pause, but not so mercifully stuck on a rather horrible moment.

"Of course not. But...I know you don't want to." She looked down. "And I just want you to know that you don't have to."

"I most assuredly do." He tipped her chin up. "For a fellow crewmate."

She nodded, felt her mouth tighten.

"Can you imagine the lecture I would get from Doctor McCoy if I did not? Let alone Jim."

She looked away as he released her chin, but didn't argue with him.

"It is settled, then?" The keeper was smiling beatifically, as if they'd had any real choice in this.

"It is settled."

The keeper nodded and hit a button on his belt and a transporter took them, depositing them inside the rock enclosure. A moat divided them from where several aliens came and stood at the railing watching them.

She moved closer to Spock, saw one of the aliens point and say something to its companion. "Are they serious? We have to have sex?"

"I am afraid so." He moved her gently in the other direction.

A bundle of cushions was the only furniture in the room. She sat on them; they were surprisingly comfortable.

He sat next to her. "Our audience is increasing."

She looked over. The number of people watching them was steadily growing. "And soon they'll be restless." She swallowed, harder than she meant to. "Is there anything I should do to help get you...? I mean, I know I've never been what you want and I—"

It was his lips on hers that shut her up. His lips softly and surely and rather boldly on hers, if one were to rate that sort of thing. He pulled her closer, his mouth opening. She moaned as she opened hers, let him in. Moaned even more as he pulled her so she was straddling him, her back to the crowd.

He eased away, gently stroking the hair off her face. "Please relax."

"Right, because relaxing before having sex in front of strangers is my natural response to this. V'ger must have left you really horny. Any port in the storm." She didn't look away, knew what she'd said was crass and didn't care. She had to get this out there. He could not kiss her that way and let her think he cared.

"You want me. Is that not why you came to the conference?"

She looked away.

"Do not lie, Christine. You loved me once; you love me still."

"Nothing wrong with your ego."

"My ego has nothing to do with it. Jim did you no favors sending you with me. I am not, in fact, sure what he was thinking."

"Well, that makes two of us."

He seemed to be studying her. "Your feelings for me aside, you are different than before. Your appearance, I mean. Such simple hair. Very little makeup. No artifice."

She shrugged. "What did artifice ever do for me?"

"You are more attractive this way." He pulled her to him, then stopped before they made contact. "Kiss me."

"You want me to kiss you?"

"Yes, I want you to kiss me. I believe it will make sexual congress easier for both of us if I am not the one to initiate everything."

It was logical if somewhat cold. She leaned in, touching down lightly, trying to make it the best kiss of her life. By the way he clutched at her, she thought she might have succeeded.

There was a collective sigh from the crowd. Chapel realized she was blushing deeply. Spock's lips curled upward.

"Don't you find this disconcerting?" she murmured.

"To say the least. An audience is not welcome. Kissing you, however, I do not find disconcerting."

'Are you going to do more?"

"Kiss you more? Or do more than kissing?"

"Yes." She smiled, could tell it was a silly smile. God damn it. A few great kisses and she was smitten again.

Right. Like she'd ever stopped being smitten.

"I intend to do both." He eased her top off. "I am sorry—you did not have a choice in this. I made the decision for us both."

"This is definitely preferable to being ripped apart."

His look grew serious, stormy almost. "I would not have let that happen to you."

"I know. Starfleet invested a lot in me. Wouldn't want to waste resources."

He was staring at her cleavage. "That is, of course, an excellent point. But that is not why I did it." Her bra followed her shirt to the floor.

"Are you preserving my modesty?" She smiled at the thought.

"Those watching us do not seem to mind that your back is to them." He buried his face in her chest, doing some extremely forward things given that this was their first real date.

She closed her eyes and rode out the sensations. She wasn't going to complain that he was rushing things.

The sound of their audience brought her back to reality. "Spock, this is too weird."

He took a deep breath and pulled away from her, meeting her eyes. "Given that they will separate us and potentially injure or kill you if we do not comply, I see no logic in not continuing."

She suddenly understood Sarek's comment about marrying Amanda. These boys could torture logic until it equaled sex every time.

"Still. With someone watching..."

His face seemed to get colder. "Doctors Handerson and D'Val do not count, I take it?"

She could feel the blush starting.

"Your friends at the conference. I saw you with them, Christine. It was very clear what was going on."

Oh God.

"You were with both of them, were you not? I am relatively certain that at some point during your activities, you were watched by one of them."

"What I did with them is none of your business."

"Agreed. Except that I find your argument about sex in front of observers spurious."

"There's a difference between sex in front of another lover and sex in front of a crowd of aliens."

"I will concede that point."

"And for the record, I don't do that kind of thing normally. I was upset and they made me feel attractive. Desirable."

"I have never said you were not desirable, Christine." Spock went back to what he'd been doing, small sucking noises accompanying the feel of his lips on her breasts and the gentle rub of his hands on her back. Her bare back.

She wasn't sure how to follow up his last statement, so she settled for, "You're overdressed." She was tired of being the only naked Starfleet officer in the zoo.

He mumbled something she took to be agreement, and let her pull off his shirt. She ran her hands over his shoulders and heard him moan softly. Much better.

She almost forgot they had an audience as he pulled her in for another kiss, as he eased her back on the cushions and drew off her pants and underwear, then shed his own.

"This is not how I pictured this," she said as he stared down at her.

He did not answer.

"You haven't pictured this even once, have you?"

He met her eyes. "Once or twice. During my Pon Farr."

"That thing you said? Protesting against our natures?"

"Yes. Please stop talking now." And then he was with her, in her, not hurrying despite the sounds coming from the crowd of aliens watching them. "Tune them out, Christine."

"Not that easy." She glanced toward the crowd.

He touched the side of her face, and she knew the contact would look like a caress, but she felt more from it as he settled on the meld points, initiated a light connection, then eased off again.

"I do not want them knowing we can do this," he whispered as he nuzzled her ear. "But if it will help you focus, I will risk it."

"Oh, suddenly, I'm unfocused?"

"Christine. I am inside you. We are having sex. Please stop arguing with me." He thrust a little harder than was necessary, as if punctuating the request.

Between his intensity and the focus provided by the extremely light meld, she managed to tune the crowd out more effectively, giving herself up to what he was doing.

And doing.

And doing.

Holy crap, sex with Spock was utterly fantastic. Even if she felt as if her heart was breaking in between the mind-numbing orgasms.

He held her as they both came down from the incredible heights he'd just taken them to, and she blushed furiously at just how much noise she'd made in front of their adoring public.

"I am pleased I could satisfy you," Spock whispered in her ear.

She rolled so she was cuddled against him, murmured, "What about you?" She kissed his cheek, then let her lips stay pressed against him and heard him sigh softly.

"I am quite content."

"Good." She opened her eyes. "Content is good, right? That's not some Vulcan way of saying 'Nice try but no cigar,' is it?"

A small puff of air—the closest she thought he'd come to a laugh—was her answer. Then he pulled her closer. "Content is very, very good, Christine."

She didn't think she'd fall asleep, buck naked and mooning the crowd, but Spock was warm and his touch was soothing as he rubbed her back. She was gone in minutes.

He woke her a while later with some bogus excuse of keeping the natives amused. After her third orgasm, she decided not to call him on it after all.

##

Sex with Spock was amazing. Sex with Spock was frequent.

Any other time with Spock was boring the shit out of her.

Not that he was boring. Not really, she supposed. But he had managed to open up to her physically while shutting down even more emotionally. And she would have bet he couldn't get any more shut down.

She'd have lost that bet big.

Or maybe he was just making the best of a bad situation. Maybe he didn't find her of any interest when it came to talking about things that actually mattered.

Or sort of mattered.

Or didn't matter but might be interesting.

He'd started meditating their first full day in the enclosure. The aliens clearly expected it now, so if he'd wanted the freedom to just sit and zone out for hours on end, this was a winning plan. Unfortunately one that left her twisting in the wind since meditation was not something she'd ever warmed to, and he clearly was not intent on sharing his bliss with her in some partner's meditation.

She decided to work on her stretching exercises since there was nothing else to do. Cardio would have been better for her stress levels, but there was the whole bounce factor.

The aliens had taken their clothes at some point their first night. Beamed them away, no doubt, and showed no sign of being poised to give them any kind of replacements.

Not even a fig leaf.

Spock was meditating again now. He looked very peaceful. She wanted to throw something at him, but she forced herself to ignore the urge.

Finally, he rose in one lithe movement and walked over to where she sat. He held out his hand.

"Sex?"

He frowned, probably at the way she'd made sex sound like something utterly distasteful.

"I'm...not in the mood." She kept her face expressionless: a perfect Vulcan imitation.

His eyebrows drew together.

"This isn't right, Spock. We eat, we sleep, we fuck. Or we ignore each other."

"I...I am sorry?"

"Really? You know what I am?" She reached out, let him pull her up. "I'm bored."

"Sex with me bores you?"

"No, that's the one part of this that doesn't bore me. But sitting around the rest of the time bores me. You're here but you're a million light years away."

"I am not."

"You are. You don't meld with me the way you did the first time. And when we aren't having sex, we don't talk."

"We don't know what intelligence the aliens might be collecting. This zoo may be for more than just onlooker amusement."

"We don't have to talk about work. My God, do you have no imagination?" She knew he did. He was a virtuoso in the creativity department when it came to ways to make love.

Make love? Is that even what they were doing? Having sex. Screwing.

Fucking. She should call it what it was.

He sighed. "We need to have sex. They expect it."

She sighed, then whispered, "I'm sorry. I'm not trying to be mean. I'm lonely and I shouldn't be, because you're right here."

He was especially sweet while they had sex. He kissed her gently. He stroked her cheek. He said he was sorry.

And then he went back to meditating.

And she wondered who she had to screw around here—who else, clearly doing Spock was not going to get her anything—to get a drink.

##

It had been ten days, ten days in Spock's arms. That would have been a fantasy of some kind back in the day. Back when she thought that being close meant just that. That it meant knowing the person. That sex would open doors, not slam them shut. She shifted, suddenly feeling trapped as he held her, post orgasmic bliss apparently fully functional for him but sadly lacking for her.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

She nodded.

"I did not hurt you?"

She started to laugh, made herself stop. Yes, he'd hurt her. But not during sex.

He sighed. "Every day you are more distant."

"Me? I'm more distant?"

He nodded.

"That's a good one." She tried to pull away, was surprised when he held her fast. She considered an all out tug-of-war to get free, but decided not to give that to the aliens who still lined up to watch them.

He finally eased his grip when she relaxed.

"I just..." She swallowed hard. God damn it, what the hell was wrong with her? First laughter, now tears threatening. "I just thought it would be different."

"It?"

"This. Being with you. I mean...you chose me."

He rolled onto his stomach and looked down at her, then lazily stroked her hair off her cheek. "I saved you. And sex with you is certainly no hardship." His eyes changed, grew harder. "But, Christine. I did not choose you. I chose to keep you alive by making you my mate for as long as we are in here, but I would not have chosen you otherwise."

It should have hurt more, this brutal honesty, but it almost felt good as it tore through any illusions she might still have had. "And that's why you keep yourself apart? Even if we're joined so often physically?"

"It is." He looked away. "I am sorry, but there is a limit to what I am willing to offer."

"So this really is just sex?"

He nodded.

"Why didn't you say that from the start?" She tried to move away and he let her this time. "You were so sweet that first time."

"I wanted to make this easy for you. I do care for you, just not the way you want me to. And..."

"And...?"

"And I thought feelings might grow. I did not want to rule that possibility out."

"But they haven't?"

He shook his head.

"And tell me, Mister 'Feelings Might Grow' just when were they supposed to blossom? Was that during your interminable and silent mediations? Or when you were sleeping? Or was it during the magical fucking that you were going to fall in love with me?"

He looked away. Her voice had risen too much at that last part; the aliens were looking intrigued.

"Everyone knows not to trust an 'I love you' delivered with an orgasm, Spock. Why don't you know that?" She took a deep breath, forced herself not to get up and pace but to calm and center. "You have to get to know someone to love them. But you didn't even give me a chance. Why?"

He seemed unable to meet her eyes.

"It doesn't matter. Forget I asked." She got up slowly, tried to make her leaving look as casual as possible. Her leaving that would only take her to the corner of their enclosure, barely enough room to catch her breath much less process this in private like she wished she could. "Give a holler when you want to fuck again."

He seemed to wince at that.

Good.

##

They were asleep when Jim and company finally stormed the zoo. Asleep in opposite corners of the enclosure—she'd stopped sleeping in Spock's arms after his confession—and she glared up at the security man who seemed to think it was his job to shield her from the others.

"A blanket would be nice. Or clothes maybe?"

"We'll just get you beamed up, Doctor."

"You are not beaming me up naked, Ensign."

"I'll handle this." Jim urged the security officer away, turned his back to her and said, "Hang tight, Chris."

He ordered a uniform beamed down and moments later it appeared. He handed it to her without turning around, and she pulled it on, more than happy at the shelter the clothes afforded—something she'd taken for granted before.

"You can turn around. I'm decent."

He smiled as he turned, then eased her toward the others. "You okay?"

"Nope."

"You want to talk about it?"

"Yes, please, let me bare my soul in front of everyone." She glared at him.

"I meant later. If you need someone to talk to."

"I'll be sure to talk to the man who sent me on this goddamned trip with the Vulcan charmer."

"He seemed worried about you."

"He's a great actor, Jim. Now, can we get back to the ship? I'm dying for a shower."

He sighed and nodded, and she realized as they waited for beam out that Spock had gone ahead.

He'd just left her.

She made a noise she didn't mean to. A little moan of distress.

"Chris?"

"Leave me alone." She was out of line, and she knew it, but he didn't call her on it.

"Energizing," she heard from the communicator.

And the zoo disappeared, replaced by duranium walls that had never looked better. Jim walked with her to the lift, followed her to her quarters.

"Are you going to scrub my back for me?" Her tone was rude and she took a shaky breath and started to apologize but he shook his head.

"I know that couldn't have been easy. It didn't escape my notice that though Spock was clearly worried about you, he could not get up to the ship fast enough."

"Ever the gallant, our Spock."

"Would you open that so we can get out of the corridor?" He motioned to her door, and she palmed it open, appreciating that he let her do it, that he gave her back that little bit of control instead of using his override. She walked in and he followed her.

"We had sex, Jim," she said, whirling to face him as soon as the door closed. "Is that what you want to know? Spock and I, we fucked over and over and over." She was crying—when had she started to cry? "We had sex and he just left me down there."

He pulled her into his arms, held her for a moment and let her cry. "I'm sorry." He made a face as she pulled away, said softly, "I should have made Bones go."

"Or picked someone else." She laughed softly, a bitter sound. "Spock probably would have preferred anyone to me." She sighed. "I'm all right. Can you go? I really, really want to get in the shower."

"Okay." He touched her arm, rubbing softly for a moment. "Get down to sickbay when you're done. For a med eval, I mean, not to work."

"I'm fine."

"Do it anyway." He turned for the door.

"Jim. Don't tell him I told you."

He glanced back at her. "I won't."

Once he was gone, she locked the door and took the longest shower of her life. She still felt dirty afterward.

##

A week later, Chapel sat in the rec lounge with Uhura and Rand, and tried to steer the conversation away from her rather long time spent in an alien zoo with Spock. A naked rather long time—apparently one of the security men had a big mouth. That story was all over the ship.

"So...what was he like?" Uhura asked. "I imagine he'd be good."

"I really don't know, Ny. We handled ourselves like consummate professionals."

"Naked consummate professionals," Rand said. "And let's talk about the consummating."

"Let's not and say we did." Chapel took a sip of her drink-casually, not gulping it down, which would be a huge tell. She was bluffing and she was going to make it good.

"You really didn't sleep with him?" Uhura asked with a frown. "You won't even look at him. Why won't you look at him? You usually do." She pointed to a corner of the lounge that Chapel had, indeed, been avoiding looking at.

"I've gotta tell you, no one is buying the story that you two didn't have sex," Rand said. "The ship is rife with versions of how it went."

Uhura nodded. "There's the one about how you're pregnant."

"Oh, and that you two fell madly in love and are going to run off any time. But not to Vulcan, because Sarek won't approve of Spock marrying a human even though he did."

"Or the one where you actually had to have sex with Spock and the aliens. That's a pretty vivid one." Uhura made an "eek" sort of face.

"Goddamn it. Come on." Chapel slid off the barstool, and pulled them with her.

"Jesus, Christine, you made me spill my drink," Rand said.

"Tough." Chapel led them over to where Spock sat with Jim and Len.

"Chris?" Jim looked amused, then he seemed to really look at her expression and frowned in a way that was clearly a warning.

"Mister Spock."

He looked up at her. She had to give him credit: he gave nothing away.

"Doctor Chapel?"

"Apparently, the rumor mill on this ship has us making mad, passionate love in that alien zoo. What do you say to the stories that we fell in love and plan to run away together?"

"We did not fall in love."

"Or plan to run away?"

"That is correct." He looked at Uhura and Rand. "Perhaps you could tell whomever is spreading these stories, that the Doctor and I did not enjoy a romantic getaway while we were held captive." He glanced at Chapel. "And while you are at it, perhaps in the future the two of you will refrain from repeating the stories yourselves. You have clearly upset Christine."

She wasn't sure that last part really helped their case. "I'm fine. Just annoyed." She turned to her friends. "Now, are you satisfied? Nothing to see, move it along."

Both her friends were blushing, although with Uhura it was harder to tell. Chapel was amazed she wasn't blushing; this had been a ballsy move, fortunately she'd made it so Spock didn't have to lie. Although she'd bet the farm he could lie if he had to.

Jim stood up. "Care to dance, Chris?" He smiled at the others. "You'll excuse us?" As soon as he got her on the dance floor, he said, "What the hell was that?"

"I was angry."

"No? Really?" He sighed deeply. "I'm not sure you helped anything. Spock was clearly taken aback."

"Spock was not clearly taken aback. Only someone who reads him as well as you do would be able to tell he was clearly taken aback. To me, he looked the same as ever." Which just went to show that you could spend weeks screwing someone and still not know them any better than when you started.

He sighed again and pulled her closer. "Maybe this will help."

"You're trying to divert rumors about me and Spock by starting some about me and you?" She laughed softly. "Wow, talk about two people who run on impulse. We take the cake."

"Just dance, lady."

They danced long enough for rumors to get well down to the bowels of the ship, and then he let her go and went back to Len and Spock. She went back to sit with Uhura and Rand.

"Well." Uhura stared into her drink. "So...you aren't sleeping with Spock, but you and the captain...?"

"Oh, my God. Give it a rest." She got up. "I'll see you guys in the morning."

They nodded and didn't try to talk her out of leaving like they'd normally do. Not a good sign.

She was just getting ready for bed when her chime rang. She opened the door and saw Spock standing there. "Are you insane? After all I did to throw suspicion off us?"

He walked past her into the room, and let the door close behind him. Then he took her by the shoulders and pushed her against the wall. She thought for a moment he was going to kiss her. But there was nothing romantic in his expression: he was angry.

"Do not do that to me again."

"Let go of me."

They had the mother of all staredowns, and he finally let her go and walked over to the other side of the room.

"There are rumors about us, Spock. Everyone knows we were naked in that zoo."

"I am aware of that."

She stared at him.

"The rumors will die down on their own, Christine. You do not need to help them expire."

She stalked over, got in his face. "You're an idiot."

"I am not."

"Are, too."

They were standing very, very close together. She tried to take a step back, was surprised when he stopped her, his touch gentle this time.

"It has been a week since we last had sex, Christine. I find...I miss it."

She looked down, wanted to tell him she didn't miss it at all. That she didn't miss him at all. But she did, both the sex and him, even if he'd hurt her—even if she'd let him hurt her.

He pulled her closer, seemed to be studying her, and she had the feeling he would stop the minute she protested.

So she didn't protest.

His lips touched hers and she was lost. They fell into bed as easily as they'd fallen into the cushions in their enclosure. It was novel to touch each other with no one watching.

She was shaking when he finished and turned away as soon as they were done. He followed her, his arm snaking around her side, pulling her close, naked back to his front.

"I did not like seeing you dance with Jim," he murmured into her ear. "I did not like it at all."

"You don't own me. And he and I are just friends. I told you that."

"Nevertheless. I fear it might be significant that I was...jealous."

"I'm sure you do fear it. God forbid you should actually feel something for me."

His only answer was to pull her closer. She fell asleep in his arms and woke in the same place, only now she was nestled against his chest, her arm thrown around his waist.

He was still here? She'd have bet big that he'd have fled while she was out.

He was awake and watching her as she tried to figure out what to do. "Good morning," he finally said.

"Morning," she mumbled. She thought about saying more but was stopped by his lips on hers, by him pushing her to her back and climbing aboard.

By the jawdroppingly amazing sex.

She lay like a limp little doll in his arms when it was over and whispered, "This isn't what I intended to happen when I came over in the lounge."

"This is not what I intended to happen when I came to your door." He almost smiled. "And yet it happened."

"It's just sexual chemistry. We have it, even if we don't like each other."

"You don't like me?"

"No." She sounded like a petulant child. "You going to tell me you like me?"

"I do not know you. Were you not the one to point that out?"

"Yes. Bully for me." She turned and buried her head in his chest. "This is confusing."

"At last. Something we agree on."

They lay there not talking for a while before he gently disentangled himself from her, gave her a soft kiss on the cheek, pulled on his clothes, and left. She lay there for a bit longer before she got up to take a shower.

She tried not to replay what had just happened. Tried not to think there might be something real—or at least something that might become real if they let it—between them.

She tried and failed.

##

Later, she was sitting with Jim at lunch when Spock came in.

"Doctor," Spock said, and there was something different in his voice. "Jim."

"Spock." She found it hard to meet his eyes, was not going to ask him to join them.

Unfortunately, Jim had no such compunction. "We have room."

"Oh. I am...not hungry."

"You're in the mess, Spock. And you don't drink coffee, so I know you're not here for a refill."

"Jim, if Spock says he's not hungry, let's let him be not hungry." She put a pleading note in her voice. "Please?"

He glanced at her and was clearly trying to fight back a grin. "Fine, Spock. As you were." He went back to his sandwich.

"Doctor," Spock said, shooting her a grateful glance.

"Spock."

Jim started chuckling as soon as Spock cleared the door.

"Shut up."

"My God. I wondered why he left so soon after you did last night. Didn't take you long to do the bunny hop with him again."

"That's not—"

"Oh, stow it. I had enough break-up sex with Lori to know a thing or two about the look you both were sporting."

"Only Spock and I were never together the way you and Lori were."

"You had sex for weeks, Chris. What do you call it if not together? I mean, I get that he wasn't emotionally available. But clearly you got along in one way."

"A way that will fade if there's nothing else to bolster it."

"Make something else, then."

"Says the voice of marital bliss."

"Ouch, you get mean when you're embarrassed." He grinned but it was a tight one. Her words had probably struck home.

"I'm sorry. That was mean and out of line."

"I should learn to mind my own business." He gave her a better smile. "You and Spock are big kids. You'll figure this out—or not—all on your own."

##

Two days later, Chapel sat in the rec lounge, ready to hear the latest offerings of the Creative Enterprise—an ad hoc group that Uhura had formed to let her get her ya-yas out on stage.

Since Rand was on leave, Chapel sat in the back, not sure if she was going to stay past Uhura's solo or not. The lights went down and she heard someone sit down next to her—lonely? The place was a long way from full. The person couldn't even leave a space between them? She glanced over, saw it was Spock. He was looking at the stage, not at her.

Then he turned and met her eyes. "I can find another seat," he said very, very softly.

"It's okay." She leaned back, could feel his shoulder pushing against hers, the warmth spreading from that contact to other places—places that should not have a vote in how this went, since they were severely biased in Spock's favor.

Spock sat quietly, pressing against her, and they got through Uhura's solo, then he leaned in and said, "I have heard enough. Have you?"

She nodded and followed him out. Once they were in the corridor, she said, "This doesn't mean anything."

"Agreed."

"And this doesn't mean it will happen again."

"I understand." He told the lift his deck. "My room is closer," he said at her look.

"By about a minute at most."

"I do not want to lose even that."

They both frowned.

"You know, that's probably the most romantic thing you've ever said to me."

"I did not mean it that way. I meant merely it was more efficient—"

"Spock, shut up."

He wisely did as she said.

His place was closer and he put that minute to good use: pushing her against the wall, pulling off her uniform pants and underwear, then his own, and hiking her up onto him.

The sex had a quality that had been missing before: urgency. He was kissing her as if they had not had sex in months and might not ever have it again. There were none of the lazy touches they'd perfected during the weeks in the zoo.

She smiled as she threw her head back, her orgasm having to war with a powerful thought: Spock really wanted her. Her.

It wasn't love. It probably would never be love. But it sure felt good even so.

He came and leaned against her, his lips on her neck as he breathed hard. Then he pulled back and kissed her. The kiss was devoid of the fierceness of their sex, was full of a tenderness she didn't expect.

He eased her down and they both stood awkwardly.

"That was great," she said, as she pulled her pants back on and started to walk to the door.

"Don't."

She turned. "Don't what?"

"Don't leave."

"Oh, we're not finished? It seemed like maybe this was just a quickie. A really, really good quickie, don't get me wrong. But still."

He seemed frozen. "I do not know what I want us to do. I only know I don't want you to leave yet." He looked up, his expression hopeful. "Do you play chess?"

She shook her head.

"I could teach you."

"That's okay."

His eyebrows pulled down. "Some other game."

"I think I'll just go. Okay?"

"All right." He sounded a little bit lost.

She wasn't sure what to do about that so she headed back to her quarters. She'd just settled in with a good novel when her chime rang.

It was Spock. He held an ornately carved book. "This is...I have..."

"Come in." She moved aside and he walked in.

"These are pictures. My youth." He met her eyes. "We don't talk. You have said that. I am...unsure how to start the process." He handed her the book. "I thought this might be interesting."

Because what man didn't think the story of his life was interesting? But she smiled and took the book. He was trying.

She sat on the bed, and he sat next to her. The first picture was of him as an infant. Amanda was beaming, a direct contradiction to the culture she'd married into, that she would later conform to much better.

"She looks so young."

"And happy."

She looked at him. "Happy?"

He nodded. "She did not always appear happy with my father."

"Maybe it wasn't Sarek she was unhappy with. Maybe it was just trying to be something she wasn't. A Vulcan wife. I mean a proper one."

"No, he irritated her. Early on, not anymore. I would hear them talking—fighting, I guess would be more accurate, at least for my mother. My father was...closed off, she would say."

"Imagine that." She leaned in so their shoulders touched, so she could take some of the sting out of her words. "Why are you doing this? You told me in the zoo that you wouldn't choose me."

"I know."

"Then why do this? Clearly, I'll have sex with you without any deeper connection. At least for now."

"I know that, too."

She waited, but he offered nothing else. She turned the pages, asked him questions about the pictures but kept them easy, nothing that would force him to share, to give her anything—not when he didn't know why he wanted to spend time with her.

She closed the book before they were done. "I would like to see the rest someday. But I'm tired. I want to go to bed."

He looked unsure.

"Alone."

He rose immediately. "Of course." He walked to the door and then turned to look at her. "Do you still love me?"

"Yes. Probably."

He nodded as if this was an important answer.

"I don't like you much, though."

"You do not know me well enough to say that. It is my actions you do not like, not me."

"Well, you and your actions should go."

"I have angered you."

"Clearly a family talent."

He looked down at the book. "I am trying, Christine."

"But why? Why are you trying?"

"I do not know."

They were getting nowhere. "Goodnight, Spock. Thank you for the mind-blowing sex."

He turned and left.

It took her forever to fall asleep. The face of a little Vulcan boy—especially before Spock had learned to hide his emotions—haunted her.

##

"What did you do to my Vulcan?" Jim smiled as he sat next to her in the rec lounge.

"Me?"

"He's a bit off his game chess wise."

She shook her head. "And you're blaming me? Why not credit your superior ability?"

"Because he was making stupid errors and that's not like him."

"Maybe he's sick." She smiled at his look. "I'm sure it's not me. I'm not important enough to him to make him distracted."

He motioned for the bartender. "Beer. My private stash." He winked at Chapel. "Captain's privilege."

"Absolutely."

"You want one?"

"No, I wouldn't appreciate how good it is. I'll stick with wine."

"Suit yourself." He swiveled his chair so he was surveying the lounge. "For what it's worth, Chris, I do think you're getting to him."

"And what leads you to this, oh mighty one?"

He laughed. "The fact that he's staring daggers—as much as a Vulcan can, anyway—at me and you."

She turned, saw Spock watching them. He did appear miffed. "He's jealous of us."

"Really? Hmmm. I don't know whether to be flattered or annoyed." He turned his chair back to the bar. "Ignore him. He won't be able to resist you."

"What is it with guys?" she asked, but she swiveled around to the bar anyway. "If I'd known the secret to getting you was to act like I didn't want you, I'd have saved myself some grief."

A moment later, Spock was at her side. "Christine. Jim."

"Spock, old friend, I was just about to—"

"Get the chessboard." Chapel stood. "Good night, gentleman. I'm turning in. Have a good game." She didn't make eye contact with either of them, just strode off.

Spock did not come after her. Nor did he come to her quarters later.

Just as she thought: Jim didn't know squat.

##

The planet was beautiful. A routine surveying mission of a world just made available for Federation settlement. Chapel was the medical rep on the landing party.

Len had groused a bit at that since the planet had a reputation as a paradise. "Spock asked for you specifically. You want to tell me why Spock would ask for you?" He was biting back a grin. "Beautiful Eden and the big lug wants his Eve. I'd say 'Awww,' if I wasn't peeved at missing this."

"Then, go. I don't care." She sat down at her desk. "Go."

"Oh, no way in hell I'm getting in the way of this. He wants you, then by damn he will get you."

"You sound like a marriage broker. There's nothing in it for you if we get together. Unless you're just anticipating an opportunity to make snotty comments?"

His smile faded. "I wouldn't do that. Well, I probably would, but that doesn't mean I don't want to see you happy. And you seem to think he will make you happy so forgive me if I cheer this on."

"I don't actually think he will make me happy. I just can't convince my heart of that." Or parts further south.

He slid a chair over to where she was sitting and plopped himself down. "Listen up. I have never, in all my years on landing parties, been told by Spock not to come. I think he actually likes me yammering on. Breaks up the routine a bit. Now, suddenly, he wants you? You idiot, he's courting you. He's Vulcan, so he's too dumb to just buy chocolate and flowers. He's going to give you a whole world."

She just stared at him. "Holy shit. You're a bigger romantic than Jim. I'm really quite terrified at this moment." She grabbed her tricorder and stood. "You know where I'll be if you need me."

He'd put his hand over his heart as she left and said, "They grow up so fast," with a mock sob.

She couldn't help it. She'd laughed.

And now here she was. On this beautiful planet with Spock nowhere in evidence. In fact, he'd merely nodded at her when she got to the transporter room, and after that ignored her.

She really had to stop getting her relationship advice from Kirk and McCoy Matchmakers Inc.

She ran some routine scans—much of this had already been done by the initial team—then just wandered around since she hadn't been assigned to work on any particular location. She took random scans of the vegetation and water supplies she came across. Making sure there wasn't a serpent in paradise. But so far, everything appeared normal, or as normal as Earth. Not all the flora was good for them, but then you couldn't have everything.

A lesson she was trying to learn.

A lesson it would be easier to learn if Spock wasn't walking down the path toward her.

She went back to her scans. He was probably going to pass right by and—

"Christine."

She straightened up. "Spock. Nice place you have here."

His mouth ticked up slightly. "May I...walk with you?"

"You're the leader of this hootenanny. You can do whatever the hell you want."

"I will take that as a yes."

"That's because it was a yes."

"It was not really. It was you hiding what you do or do not want under sarcasm."

She glanced at him. "Wow, look at you being Mr. Insightful."

He did not meet her eyes. "It is a beautiful world."

"Vulcans being so into that."

"I enjoy beauty. The way the sun flashes on the water in that stream. The way it makes your hair turn a bronzelike color when it hits. The way—"

"Did you just notice my hair?"

"It is very pretty in this light."

"Thanks?" She knew she sounded very confused. "Don't you have somewhere to be? Doing that leader thing?"

"Do you want me to leave?"

"Yes, I have work to do." She tried to shut up the part of her who was saying, "No, she's lying, I really don't have anything to do but stand here and listen to odes to my pretty hair."

Sap.

He looked disappointed. "I will leave you to it. Doctor."

"Commander."

They stood staring at each other for a long moment, then he turned on his heel and walked off.

She breathed a slow, shaky breath out, relieved that she'd managed to resist the desire to pull him into the bushes and show him just how much she'd liked that compliment.

##

Chapel was working in sickbay when Jim came in. He waited for her to get done with her patient, then said, "What are you doing tonight?"

"Let me check my social calendar." She pretended to think about it. "Oh, gee, nothing as it turns out."

He grinned. "Come with me to the clambake, then. I love the beach."

"Yes, I remember how much you liked Acapulco. But this is a clambake in the rec lounge. No sand, no surf, possibly even no clams."

"I think the clams are real. And the quartermaster got us sand—I think from the Engineers Corp. I hope he didn't lie on the requisition."

"There's a walkway somewhere in desperate need of sand."

"Or a beach volleyball pit." He shrugged. "Oh, well. We'll recycle. We're good that way." He winked. "Now, come on. I know you're officially off shift and that there are other doctors who can man sickbay."

She found him impossible to resist, as usual. The clambake was in that early "drinks have just started flowing freely" mode and the noise level was only slightly loud so they could still talk to each other without yelling.

"See." He pointed to the dancefloor, which was now covered with sand. "Beach."

"Well done, mon capitan."

He laughed.

"Sand is hard to dance in."

"Depends on what kind of dancing you're doing." He waggled his eyebrows and she laughed.

This. This was what was missing with Spock. This...ease.

Then again if she and Jim had started their friendship in an alien zoo rather than bonding over relationships gone bad, maybe they wouldn't have this ease.

"Can I ask you something?" she said as he pulled her toward the bar.

"Sure."

She got close, didn't want others to hear the question. "If it had been you and I in the zoo. Would we be together after?"

"Together together?"

She nodded. "A couple."

He ordered their drinks and then seemed to think about her question. "I'm not sure. Probably. I've always wondered what it would be like, you know, with you."

"Yeah?"

He nodded and took their drinks from the bartender, then moved her out of the high traffic area at the bar. "Now you don't have to look like you're tonguing my ear when we talk. Not that I'd mind if you did that." Again the easy grin, the one that might mean he was serious but probably meant he was kidding.

Because they were friends. They could joke this way.

"Oh, my." He began to laugh.

She followed his eyes and saw Spock at the door, staring at them. "He doesn't eat clams."

"He likes the corn on the cob though. Even if he eats it like an old lady. And the roasted potatoes." He turned, let his eyes burn into her, as if something really was going on with the two of them. "And you. Methinks he likes you."

"Stop it. I'm not playing games with him."

"Well, then this is perfect. I'm the one playing games."

"Stop it. Please?"

He frowned. "You really mean it."

"I do. Let's just leave him alone, okay?"

"Okay."

She turned, saw him go to where Len and Sulu were talking. They included him easily, and she felt a pang. It would have been far less friendly if he'd come over here. It would have been stiff and awkward and—"I should transfer," she murmured.

"What?" Jim turned her. "Say that again."

"I should transfer. Off. The ship."

"No, you should not."

"Why not? You don't need me."

"I do need you. And the ship needs you. And that idiot who is my best friend also needs you—he's just too stubborn to accept it yet."

"No. I'm not what he needs. I bring problems. I bring tension where there was ease before. I need to go."

"Chris, listen to me." All the joking was gone. Jim's expression was totally serious. "Spock left Gol to seek out V'ger. Do you understand the significance of that? And what did he find when he melded with him? That V'ger longed to understand emotions."

"I'm not sure he put it exactly that way." She'd been in sickbay, too, that day.

"Close enough. The thing that called him wanted the very thing he'd run from. Of course you make his life messy. Love does that. Stay. Keep doing that."

"He doesn't love me."

"Then stay for me. Because I do. And I need you here." He saw her surprise, and smiled wistfully. "I don't mean like that. Although, if things were different..."

"But they're not."

"No. They're not. You're my friend, Chris. Why don't you try being his?"

"He doesn't want that."

"I think he does." He clinked his glass against hers, then left her alone as he went to mingle.

It took Spock no time to leave Len and Sulu and find his way to where she stood leaning against the bar.

"Howdy, sailor." It was what she would say to her friend Jim, so she decided to try it out on Spock.

"Christine." The sides of his eyes crinkled up ever so slightly.

"You like clambakes."

"The corn is delicious. Although Jim makes fun of how I cut it from the cob."

"Jim's like that. Plus, he's from Iowa. I think that's against the law there. Corn being the state flower and all."

"Ah. Yes." He seemed to relax. "Do you like clams?"

"I do. Not as much as scallops, but they'll do in a pinch."

"I will remember that."

She smiled. "Why?"

"It may prove useful information someday."

"Ah, ever the pragmatist." She saw they had brought out the food, realized she was really hungry. "You want to sit with me?"

The casual way she said it seemed to surprise him "May I?"

"You don't have to ask. I asked you."

"Ah, of course. Then, yes, I would."

"Big, group table or smaller?"

"Can you explain the relative benefits and risks of both?"

"Sure. Big table: no lack for conversation, so that's good. Especially for us. But limited opportunities to speak frankly with so many ears around."

"And the small table is intimate, but would lead others to make assumptions about our relationship?"

She nodded.

"Such as... speculation as to whether or not we've had sex?"

"Exactly." She grinned. "You could send a ship-wide memo affirming the fact. That would get them off our backs."

"But the ship-wide memo would itself be the talk of the crew, would it not?"

"You're catching on."

"Is there not another option?" He nodded to a medium sized table, where Jim sat with Sulu and Uhura. "There is room for us there."

"Look at you, the master social strategist." She grinned and walked toward that table.

He was by her side in two strides, seemed to want to get ahead of her a bit, but she didn't let him, even though she had the feeling they were looking odd as they nearly doubletimed it across the lounge.

"Something wrong?" Uhura asked as she sat down next to her.

"Nope. Just afraid this prime table would fill up."

"Go get your food. I'll save your spot." She looked up at Spock. "Yours, too." Then she gave Chapel a significant look that said in no uncertain terms, "We are going to have a long talk later and you are going to grovel when you beg my forgiveness for lying to me."

Amazingly. That was the hardest part of the evening. The clams were good. Spock did eat his corn like an old lady and earned ribbing from everyone. And at the end of the night he walked her to her quarters—and didn't come in, although he looked like he wanted to, very much.

Win, win, win.

##

She stood outside Jim's quarters, debating whether or not to ring the chime. Finally, she did.

The doors slid open and she walked through to his sleeping area, saw him standing at his viewscreen, slightly bent forward, hand on his side. He'd been hurt on the latest mission. Hurt, but hell bent on not showing in weakness to the crew.

"You in pain?"

He nodded.

"You were supposed to come back to sickbay and get some pain medicine for those ribs when you got off shift."

"I know. I hate that stuff. Makes me fuzzy."

"Too bad. Being in pain makes you cranky. I'll take fuzzy over that any day." She walked over, holding up the hypo so he could see it. "May I offer you a cocktail, my dearest?"

At his nod, she gave him the meds, then stood back and waited while they went to work. His expression eased a bit, and he finally let go of his side.

"I couldn't sit. I couldn't lie down." He started to yawn. "How much of that did you give me?"

"Enough to knock you out, you stubborn fool. If there's a crisis, I'll wake you up, don't worry."

His eyes were getting heavier. She led him to the bed, threw the covers back then pushed him down so he was sitting on it. She pulled off his boots, and eased him under the covers. He was starting to smile, the happy smile of someone on a lot of pain meds.

"I love you," he said.

"Uh huh."

"I do. Can't have you but I want you." He was staring up at her with such an open expression it nearly broke her heart.

"I love you, too."

"You do?"

She nodded, and she knew it was true. Easy to say, easy to understand. She loved him. "Why can't you have me?"

His eyes were starting to droop. "You're with my best friend."

"What if I weren't?"

He smiled. "You are. You just don't know it yet."

She leaned down and kissed him. Wasn't surprised when he put his arms around her and pulled her down to him, so she was lying next to him on the bed. Then he kissed her.

He was as good a kisser as she'd always thought he would be.

A moment later she decided he was actually a better kisser than she'd thought he would be—and she'd set the bar pretty high in her imagination.

He finally pulled away. "Stay with me, Chris? Until I fall asleep?"

"Of course."

"I shouldn't have kissed you."

"It's all right. It's our secret."

With a happy sounding sigh, he rolled over and put his arm around her. "Love you."

"I love you, too, Jim."

Like her life wasn't complicated enough?

##

She saw Jim in the mess the next morning, got her food and then took the chair across from him. "How are the ribs?"

"Hurting." He gave her a sheepish grin. "About last night."

"Did you mean it?"

He looked down. "Chris, I shouldn't have said what I said. Or did what I did."

"Why not? I liked hearing it." She smiled. "I didn't object to what you were doing, either."

"No, I know you didn't." He took a deep breath. "It never happened, okay?"

"You could have pretended not to remember." She smiled when he met her eyes finally. "If you'd really wanted it to never happen, then you should have not said anything."

"I can't pretend it away."

"Sure you can. You're a master of that. King of the mental reset. It's what makes you so good at what you do. Live, learn, move on."

She sat down, stared at her breakfast but was having trouble mustering enthusiasm for it. She looked up, saw he was watching her with a lost expression on his face. "Jim." She wanted to reach out for him.

He seemed to realize that. He edged his hand closer to hers. Not touching, but so close. "I fell in love with you on Earth."

"Why didn't you say something?"

"You were leaving."

"Okay, that I understand. But then we were here. Together."

"You're on my crew. It seemed safer to have you with Spock and just be your friend." He laughed, a bitter, self-deprecating laugh. "I'm an idiot. When I found you with him. Naked. My first reaction was jealousy. Then relief that you were all the way across the enclosure, not in his arms."

"You came over. You took care of me."

"Do you think I would have let anyone else do it?" He sighed.

"Did you send Spock up to the ship?"

"No. That he did all on his own. And I was glad, but then I saw how much it hurt you that he did it, and I felt guilty that I was happy when you weren't." He shook his head. "I tried to help you. Tried to get you two together. You looked good last night. Together."

"We looked good because I finally treated him like someone in whom I had no real interest. Someone I could shoot the shit with and not worry how it sounded. I had fun because I was with you and Ny and Sulu."

"Crap."

"It's not. I mean it."

"No, look who just came in."

She turned, saw Spock watching them. He walked over.

"Spock," Jim said, his voice about a galaxy away from normal. He pulled his hand back, and Spock watched it move.

"Jim. You are feeling better?" Spock finally tore his gaze away from Jim's hand and looked at Chapel. "You were not in your quarters last night."

"I got in late." Which was true. She got in late once she finally managed to tear herself away from a sleeping Jim.

"I see."

There was silence. They made a strange tableau if anyone was watching. Her with defiance and guilt warring. Jim not making eye contact with either of them as he pretended to be mesmerized by his eggs. And Spock, looking at both of them, his face becoming stonier by the moment.

"I will let you get back to your conversation." He turned on his heel and left the mess.

"God damn it," Jim muttered, pushing his plate away.

"Why you don't you just go and tell him that I was with you first."

"You weren't, though. You slept with him."

"I was with you first. In every way that matters, Jim. I saw you when you were drunk and crying over Lori. I saw you when you were happy in Acapulco—that spur-of-the-moment trip we went on. I almost slept with you that night."

"I stood outside your door for ten minutes that night. Couldn't bring myself to knock, not when you were going away."

"I'm not going away. I'm right here." She threw her napkin down, her food untouched. "But I could go. If that's what's best. Look, I'm going to end things with Spock. I'll come to you tonight. You can either take me to dinner or you can approve a request for transfer for me. Whichever. I don't care anymore."

"You don't?"

She stood, then leaned down. "Of course I do. I want you to choose me. But if you can't, I want you to let me go. I'm not staying here and pretending that I love Spock when I really love you and was just too dumb to know it."

She straightened and left.

##

She found Spock in the lab. The door was on privacy, but it opened to her touch. She went in, found him waiting for her, his seat carefully chosen, his hands steepled as he watched her walk toward him.

"Did you lie to me? When we were held captive, you said you and Jim had not had sex."

"That was not a lie." She took the stool across from him, folded her hand in her lap, and waited.

"Yet you love him."

"I'm not sure I realized that at the time."

"I understand that. Sadly." He looked away. "I believe I have come to care for you to some extent."

She swallowed hard. "I care for you, too. I always will. But Spock. It's work to be with you."

He turned back to stare at her harshly. "It does not appear to be work when we are having sex."

"But having sex isn't the same thing as having a relationship. We have nothing to talk about. Except, us and sex. We're going to get bored with that."

"And with Jim?"

"I can talk to him. I can laugh with him. I'm happy with him."

"Even without the sex?"

"Yes. Even without the sex."

"If I tell him you are mine, he will not take you." His eyes were hard.

Her eyes were harder. "Then don't tell him that."

"You are so fierce where he is concerned. I wish you were that passionate about us." He stood up. "I have an experiment to tend to. I regret to inform you, Christine, that I no longer desire to pursue a relationship with you. I wish you happiness but it will not be with me." He sounded very dignified when he said it, but his eyes were sad.

"Thank you."

He turned as she headed for the door, and she heard him say, "Computer, delete Doctor Chapel from privacy exception list."

"Doctor Chapel deleted."

So that was that.

##

Her heart was pounding madly as she stood outside Jim's door. Finally, she rang for admittance and the doors slid open.

He was waiting for her, sitting at his desk, an uncanny twin to Spock earlier in the day, except for he didn't steeple his fingers. But his expression was as wary.

"Spock and I are through. He broke up with me." She shook her head. "After I told him about us. Or confirmed there was an us. Only with no sex."

Was she making any sense at all?

He held up a padd. "I have your request for transfer here. I could easily hit approve."

"Maybe you should. If that's what you want."

"Having you here. It'll get messy. For Spock especially. And he's my best friend."

"Where was he when you were hurting? Your best friend?" She moved closer to him, saw him swallow hard at her proximity. "I was your best friend on Earth. I was the one who knew what was going on. Not Len. Not Spock. Not anyone else on this goddamned crew. Me. Just me."

She was crying and she dashed the tears away; they were useless.

"Spock signed up for the emotion tour, Jim. Well, heartache is an emotion, too. It's not just happy stuff that V'ger was missing." She moved closer. "And I don't think, frankly, that he'll be heartbroken very long. He cares for me maybe. But love? No. It's not there yet. I don't think it ever would have been."

Jim stared at the padd. His finger wavered over the action buttons.

"Do you want me to do it?" she asked. "Would that be easier?"

His head snapped up. He was angry. "No. I can do it." He struck his finger down, hit a button, and handed it back to her. "There. There's your goddamned decision."

The transfer was denied. She thought she might fall down.

"I'm not going to rush into this, Chris. He's my best friend."

"I know." She moved over the viewscreen, mainly so she could lean against something as she stared out.

She felt him behind her; he snaked his arms around her, pulled her to him and held her like that for a moment, his arms tightening almost painfully, his lips on the back of her neck, under her hair. She could feel his breath on her skin.

Neither of them said anything.

Both of them said everything.

"I love you," she said, breaking the silence.

"I love you, too." He let her go. "Let's go eat."

FIN