Chapel cursed as her burned shoulder tore again. She continued reaching for the stream anyway, intent on filling her container.
There was no damn food on this hellish planet. But the water was safe to drink. Or if not safe, at least not the kind that would kill you quickly or make you sick immediately. She didn't have a tricorder to check for impurities or bugs or anything else.
It had been destroyed in the crash, as had most of her team's equipment. Dominguez had set out a half-crushed emergency beacon before his injuries got the better of him. Miller had helped Chapel clear whatever they could out of the shuttle.
Miller had been fine. Or seemed it. Until she went to sleep one night and never woke up. Chapel suspected internal injuries, maybe an aneurism. She hadn't cut into her to find out. What was the point?
She was alone here. Had been alone here for three weeks. The vegetation—what little there was of it—was dangerous. Some of it was caustic if touched. Fortunately, not the grass, or she'd have had nowhere to sleep. But she couldn't eat any of the flora without getting sick, as she'd found out a week ago, when her rations had run out and she'd gingerly tested bits of any plant that looked promising.
She'd gone hungry since. She was dizzy. She was weak. Her shoulder hurt like a son of a bitch. But at least she had this water.
Her container finally full, she walked slowly back to the little camp she'd made far enough away from the crashed shuttle to be out of any immediate danger from radiation leaks. Not that a leak was likely—nor was she sure what she was saving herself for? Did Starfleet even know she'd crashed? Dominguez hadn't been sure the beacon would work or even if it did, would get through before the strange dampening cloud, which seemed to float around the planet, came over where they'd crashed. There were a few holes in the clouds, holes through which signals could get through, but they weren't fixed. Chapel figured the next one would show up in another three weeks or so.
She'd be damned hungry by then.
If her shoulder didn't kill her first. Or the water didn't turn out to be toxic in large doses.
Or an animal finally showed up and ended it for her.
She'd sharpened several branches, long and short, just in case there was some sort of native fauna. She'd worked on a stone knife, too. That was the extent of her arsenal. She had nothing to make fire with—fortunately the weather here seemed to be mild no matter the time of day. And she could bathe in the stream when she couldn't stand the smell rising off her skin. Sand and some kind of soapy plant she'd prayed didn't prove to be toxic worked to get her clean.
The pain in her shoulder had nearly leveled her when she'd bathed that first time. She did it anyway. And did it again and again when the smell got worse than the idea of the pain. With no one around, she dried off naked in the sun and washed her clothes out, too, letting them dry spread out under the gentle warmth.
Her last bath was yesterday. She'd nearly passed out in the stream when she'd gotten soap in the raw skin that used to pass for her shoulder.
She wasn't sure she could force herself to do it again.
She'd die a stinky corpse. Not that there were a whole lot of other kinds when you got right down to it.
Or maybe Starfleet would actually send someone.
Even though her little team's mission wasn't exactly by the book—or even on the books.
Even though Cartwright wasn't around anymore to check on his protégé's progress.
Even though they'd thought she was an integral member of the conspiracy. Only the newest anti-deception tech had been enough to convince them otherwise.
God, the things she had spilled. To say she was embarrassed when she ran into one of the examiners in the corridor was to underestimate just how red one woman could turn.
But despite all that, maybe they'd send someone. Like now, the person coming over the rise.
The person coming over the rise?
After three weeks on this godforsaken rock, she was finally hallucinating. A lanky figure in Starfleet red could not possibly be walking toward her.
A figure that looked a little bit like a Vulcan.
She closed her eyes, counted to ten. There was no way in hell that a Vulcan, let alone that Vulcan, had come to rescue her.
She opened her eyes. The figure was still there. And getting closer.
It really was that Vulcan.
She struggled to her feet. "Not that I'm not thrilled to see you, Spock, but what are you doing here?"
"Rescuing you." He took in her makeshift camp. "I saw the wreckage. And the graves." He slid the backpack he was wearing off and pulled out a medical scanner, immediately getting to work.
"Give me that." She grabbed it out of his hand. "Who's the doctor here, anyway?"
He was staring at her shoulder. "I am unsure at this point."
"I know how bad it looks."
"I am more concerned with how much it must be hurting you."
"That's sweet. You feeling all right?" She straightened, felt the skin on her shoulder pull, then tear, and tried to hide the pain.
She could tell from the way his eyes narrowed that she'd failed.
"Spock, you didn't make this little hike under the interference cloud because you need me, did you?" She was in no shape to help him out if the seven-year itch had awakened his inner boy scout. Besides, she was probably assuming way too much if she thought he couldn't find other alternatives closer to home.
"I did not." He seemed to understand what she was asking; his face got the same "What is that smell?" look it always did whenever she tried to talk to him about the Pon Farr.
She went back to scanning herself. The shoulder was a mess from the burn, but there was no sign of any gangrene; she closed her eyes in relief. "You realize you're stuck here with me? That cloud makes glaciers look speedy." Then she met his eyes. "But we could walk back the way you came, catch up to the hole eventually."
He shook his head. "I was unsure what state I would find you in. The Gasteau will not return until the hole is in this vicinity again."
"And that will be in...?"
"Two point five six weeks."
"Oh." Her calcs hadn't been quite so spot on, but she'd been close.
He handed her a hypo. "I brought a great deal in this pack. I was not sure what you might need."
"Oh, thank God." She took the hypo, shot it into her arm, and nearly fell down as the feeling of blessed numbness crawled through her abused body. "Anything topical?"
He nodded, dug in the bag some more, then handed her a container of orange liquid. "Burns and abrasions are common after crashes."
"So is death."
"I am aware of that." He met her eyes. "If you were not here, someone else might have needed it." He looked down, said, "But I was hoping you would be here," so low it was almost a mumble.
"What was that?"
"You are fully aware of what I just said." He saw her grimace as she tried to apply the lotion to her shoulder and took the medicine from her. "Let me."
He was amazingly gentle; she hissed in pain despite that. But then the medicine began to work, and she moaned in relief.
"Even with such a light touch between us, I can feel your pain." His voice was gentle, his breath moving her hair as he stayed behind her. "You have lived with this pain the whole time?"
"How did you get burned?"
She turned to face him. "My shoulder was ripped in the fall. I did what I could to fix it up. It wasn't enough. Gangrene set in. I needed to stop it. I needed to kill it."
His face showed dismay—or the Vulcan version of it. "You did this to yourself?"
"A little fuel. A few other things we had on hand. It hurt like hell." She swallowed. Better to not remember. Better to enjoy this amazing numbness. "I like my arm. I wanted to keep it. And the shoulder—gangrene down the arm means amputation. But gangrene down the torso would impact organs. And up into the brainstem..."
"I understand why you did it. I am just—"
"Sorry. That you had to go through that. Alone."
"I wasn't alone. My team was still alive."
"This looks as if it has been ripped repeatedly." He touched around the wound gently, then understanding seemed to dawn. "Ah. The graves. You buried your teammates."
"I tore the skin any number of times, yes, while I was doing it. But I had to bury them."
"It was the human thing to do?"
She nodded. "Also they were starting to smell. And if there are any predators on this godforsaken planet, that smell might have attracted them—it wasn't just for my comfort."
He looked surprised, then nodded. "Logical."
"I can be logical."
"I am aware of that." He moved away from her finally.
"Do you have any food in that magic pack of yours? I'm starving. Ran out of rations a week ago."
He handed her several of the latest—and most compact—versions of Starfleet MREs.
"I hate these." She dug in anyway. The small amount of material should not have been able to take the edge off her hunger, let alone make her feel full, but the MREs did just what they were supposed to do: feed someone adequately while being highly portable, highly compact, and not perishable.
Still, they tasted like crap.
"Can you scan the water, Spock? I've been drinking a lot, bathing in it, too. Given the state of the vegetation here, that might not have been the smartest idea."
He took his tricorder and assessed her water container. "It appears to be compatible with our needs."
"Small miracles." She yawned and tried to force it back.
"Have you slept much?"
"No. The shoulder feels best when I'm upright and not touching anything. And it was hard to really relax...being alone here."
"You are no longer alone here. Moreover, I need very little sleep."
"Are you saying you'll watch over me?"
"That is precisely what I am saying." He took the pack, pulled out a blow-up pillow and thermal blankets.
"You pack really well, Spock."
He almost smiled. "Do you want me to inflate this for you?"
She nodded. She didn't have the energy to do it, not with food in her belly and lovely pain meds coursing through her system. She checked the hypo he'd given her. Standard issue painkillers plus vitamins and some immune boosting herbs.
Lovely, lovely stuff.
He handed her the pillow, settled out another thermal blanket for himself.
"It doesn't get very cold here, Spock."
"I know. I've been walking for four days."
"We could only beam into a hole in the cloud. The nearest one was four days from you on foot."
"I get why you had to walk. But why you? Why only you?"
"I wanted to and, apparently, I made a compelling case." He sighed. "It is also possible they hoped I too would disappear. I was quite vehement in opposing their abandonment of the search for Jim. And later for Mister Scott. This time they gave me a ship and let me embark on the search for you."
She smiled, trying to hide the fact she knew another reason they might be willing to let Spock the Hero just disappear for a while. "It'll serve them right when we both come back to haunt them."
"Go to sleep. We will have plenty of time to talk in the coming weeks."
Another yawn and she gave up. "Good night."
"Good night, Christine."
Spock watched as Christine slept fitfully. Every time she moved, she moaned, and he wondered if he should give her another hypo of the pain meds. He had a limited amount and as Christine had pointed out, she was the doctor and far more able to make this call.
When he finally found her moans too distracting, he eased the blanket off her shoulder and applied the topical treatment as gently as he could.
She woke anyway, her eyes half slits in the low light of the lantern he'd brought. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"For what?" He kept working, the job going faster now that she was awake.
"For...for being human."
"For being afraid? You were afraid?"
She nodded, then sighed as the medicine appeared to start working. "I thought I would die here. Alone. I wasn't sure I'd gotten all the gangrene. And without food..." She took a deep breath. "Thank you. For coming."
"You are welcome." He eased the blanket back over her shoulder, and she drifted off, not apparently noticing he had only moved his hand down her arm, not completely off her.
This need to touch her was unexpected. To convince himself that he'd finally managed to save a person he cared about. And she wouldn't censure him for his actions. Even if they were highly foolhardy.
He closed his eyes and let go of her, trying not to replay the last conversation with his father.
Trying. Failing. Hands clenching just a bit. He was never able to keep the emotions at bay—that was his crime always on his home planet. Never being Vulcan enough.
It was why he'd found Valeris so intriguing. Why she'd gone a long way to making him feel Vulcan again. And accepted.
A pity she'd been a traitor and only using him. A pity he'd fallen in love with someone who'd never loved him back.
A pity he was once again suspect on his home planet. How had he not known? Their relationship was no secret. It was, apparently, assumed they'd melded.
And why not? It was what Vulcans did. What they were drawn to do when close to another, especially during sex.
Valeris had never wanted a meld. She'd said she wanted regard to grow naturally. She'd said she viewed the meld as a crutch.
He'd been fool enough to believe her.
The only meld had been when he'd forced out her confession. On the bridge of the Enterprise. A mind rape, Valeris had called it later, when he'd gone to see her, hoping to find some sort of closure.
He had found nothing but disdain. Nothing but the face of the same Vulcans who had always judged him and found him wanting. Spock was sure she hated him, but he had not been able to read it on her face. He was sure his own face had not been so opaque.
She had been the perfect Vulcan. Even in defeat.
And Spock? His father wanted him to know that the Council—although they understood why he forced a meld and what the price of not doing it would have been—found his actions to be of...concern.
"The good of the many," Spock had said.
"It is not your reasoning, my son. It is not, strictly speaking, the action. It is the emotion behind it."
He could not win. He had averted war. And he still could not win.
And now. His best friend was gone. Lost on a launch he had been too busy to attend.
Too busy visiting a traitor. The only day he could get in to see Valeris under the radar of the newsvids was the day the news expected him to be on a ship—the new Enterprise—not at a Federation holding facility.
He had not made the launch. Jim had known he would not, had known why. And now his friend was dead. Had Spock not been so weak, had he let Valeris go without that emotional backward glance, he might have been able to save Jim.
Or at least die with him, saving someone else's Enterprise. Perhaps the Council would not have condemned him for that act of heroism.
Somewhere, deep in the pits of Rura Penthe, Valeris was probably laughing at him.
In a proper Vulcan way, of course.
Chapel woke to the familiar pain of her burning shoulder—and the not so familiar sensation of having actually rested. She shifted position slightly and her shoulder exploded in agony.
She didn't open her eyes, just held out her hand and said, "Hypo. Now."
Fortunately, Vulcans were not big on the warm and fuzzy part of waking up. She heard Spock digging in the backpack and reloading the hypospray. Then he placed it in her hand and waited quietly while she slammed it into her arm.
"Better?" he asked after a few moments.
"In a sec." She sat up gingerly, still refusing to open her eyes. Somehow the pain was more manageable with them closed.
Then it started to recede and she sighed. "Better."
"Do you require coffee?"
She opened her eyes. "You have coffee?"
He held up the basic ingredients for camp coffee: water and coffee. "I must confess, I have been told my coffee is not very good."
She held out her hand. "Gimme."
He seemed content to let her make the coffee. She stacked some rocks, heated them with his phaser, filled the collapsible pot he handed her with water, and threw the coffee in. They'd be drinking through grinds, since she didn't trust the vegetation to filter without poisoning them, but she didn't care. All she wanted was the caffeine.
Spock was sitting back watching her, his gaze more appraising than she expected.
"I am curious, Christine."
"You were Cartwright's protégé. You were, at one point, Valeris's training officer during her interim in Emergency Ops, were you not?"
He didn't keep going.
"You want to know if I was involved in the conspiracy?"
"I know they cleared you."
"Then your point is...?"
"How did you not know?"
She smiled. And she knew it wasn't her nicest one. "How did you not know, Spock? You were sleeping with one of the prime conspirators, if the rumors running rampant through Starfleet Command were correct."
"Were you not also sleeping with one of them?"
"Do you honestly believe that rumor about Cartwright and me? The man liked me for my skills." Spock did not look convinced, so she met his eyes. "I was not sleeping with Admiral Cartwright. But I was his friend. And close to him at work. I don't know how I missed it. They were careful. He kept me clear of it. I think, looking back, that there were times he sort of felt me out in terms of where my feelings lay regarding the Klingons."
"And what are your feelings regarding them?"
"I don't really have any. I've seen what they've done, the bodies left behind. I've also been on a few joint missions where I was damned glad to have them at my back."
He frowned. "What missions would those be?"
"Nothing you need to know about. It's just...sometimes it's beneficial to both sides to cooperate."
"I was not aware of that."
"No reason you should be. No reason anyone should be other than a few insiders." Damn, the pain meds were making her way too talkative. "Let's just leave it at this: my current assignment takes me some strange places."
She busied herself with the coffee. "Do you want any?"
"No. Thank you."
"Do you have any extra cloth in that bag of tricks? Cheesecloth maybe? Or wire mesh."
He handed her a small sheet of fabric mesh.
"You really are a boy scout." She poured the coffee through the mesh into one of the collapsible bowls that came with the pot. "Sugar?"
"I did not think to pack that."
"S'okay. No one's perfect." She sipped and the first sip was the best thing she'd tasted in weeks. "Oh. My. God." Another sip, still heaven.
"I went to see Valeris," Spock said into the silence. "At the holding facility. Just before she went to Rura Penthe."
"Closure, I believe."
"Did you get any?"
"I did not."
She laughed, then felt bad. This was his heart she was laughing at. He'd apparently fallen hard for the little bitch.
"Did you meld with her again?" she asked, and he winced. "I heard about that. From multiple sources. You were the hero and not, all at once."
"I received some censure for my actions."
"The Vulcan council."
He looked confused—or perhaps puzzled was more Vulcan appropriate. "You just said—"
"Hey, I wasn't judging. I happen to like peace, so I'm glad you forced the info out of her." She studied him. "Did you want to force another meld on her when you went back to see her? Get that closure you needed?"
"Part of me did. She must have known I would. Her counsel required that a forcefield separate us when I visited."
She laughed meanly. "Now her counsel will be a rusty bat'leth. If she's lucky."
He did not seem as cheered as she was by that thought. "She said something to me while I was there. That there was someone the investigation had missed. Someone obvious."
"I think she was lying to you. Leaving you wondering who you can trust would be the best revenge."
He met her eyes. "That has occurred to me. But she may have told the truth."
"Spock, who else is left?" She saw him look down. "Wait. Did you think it was me?"
"I don't know."
"You damn well do know if you suspected me or not." She sighed. "You're not the only one. I got put through the ringer proving my innocence. They used some new devices we acquired from, well, other sources. Nasty little things. Make you spill your guts. Once they got done with me, they moved on to Valeris. I was on the examining team."
"After being a suspect?"
"I apparently let loose enough vitriol about Valeris to convince them I was no friend of hers and would not worry overmuch about the effects of an untried device on Vulcan physiology—or sanity."
"Vitriol? I thought she excelled as your intern."
"Spock, please. You were in love with her. I was jealous, even if I knew I was only ever your Pon Farr port in the storm."
"You were more than that."
"Barely." She finished off her coffee and poured another.
"I am not sure I loved her."
"She was sure you did." She lifted an eyebrow at him.
"Was she in love with me?"
"I'd love to give you closure on that, but I have no idea. We weren't interested in her feelings for you."
"Then why were you interested in my feelings for...?" He frowned, his eyebrows pulling down in a way that was almost human. "Oh. I see."
She sighed. "Guess the logic train just hit the station, huh?" She leaned in, and her shoulder barely complained. "You were her lover. You were the one who'd set up the entire Klingon outreach. You could have been involved in the explosion on Praxis. You led an investigation into the assassination on the Enterprise that was a bit cavalier from the outside looking in. You also were the one to extract the information from her via the meld. How many people could you have protected while you were outing those you could afford to expose? Those are the kinds of things they were asking."
"Did you enjoy that? Knowing I was suspect?"
"Enjoy? Spock, I was there to make sure that unlike my turn in that device, you were actually presumed innocent as the questioning was going on. Valeris wanted to implicate you. She tried. She tried to implicate me, as well—while I was out of the room on a break. It didn't work. The device—well, let's just say it's extremely good at what it does." She took a deep breath. "She told us a great deal. And if she'd said she loved you, I'd tell you."
"And if she'd said she didn't."
"I'd definitely tell you that—still hurting a bit over being someone you just have sex with."
"I have risked danger to come find you. Surely that is more than someone I just have sex with?"
"You may have a small point." She drank her coffee, focusing on that for a while. Then she murmured, "Did you really think I was involved?"
"No. But I had no idea she was involved, either. I am clearly no expert on truth and lies."
"None of us saw this coming. Don't beat yourself up." She nodded at the topical lotion that sat by his blanket. "Can you put more of that on me?"
He came around behind her, gently applied the lotion.
It started to work immediately, and the relief felt great. But she had to admit, the idea that Spock was putting it on her felt even better.
"Spock, how did she hide it from you? Surely you melded with her when you had sex?"
"She wanted to wait."
"Wait for sex?"
"Wait for a meld."
"So, you did have sex?"
"You always melded with me during the Pon Farr."
"Christine, please. I feel foolish enough as it is. Can we find something else to talk about?" His touch never changed from the delicate one even though his voice grew more and more tense.
"She shouldn't have used you," she whispered.
"She shouldn't have used any of us."
Spock waited until Christine had finished yet another cup of coffee before asking, "I would like to go through the wreckage. We need to ensure there is nothing left behind that will harm Starfleet if it is discovered."
She gave him a look he could not read. It seemed to be amusement mixed with something else.
"You didn't look at the shuttle yesterday?"
"Only long enough to ascertain no one was inside." To be honest, he had been distracted by the grave markers, had been relieved that a CC had not been engraved on either of them.
"Sure, we can go." She pushed herself to her feet, barely grimacing. Either her shoulder was healing, the medicine was stronger than she was letting on, or she was a very good actress.
He suspected it might be a combination of all three.
"What was your mission, Christine? You are very far from any emergencies I am aware of."
"Sorry. That's restricted information." She smiled, an ingenuous smile that he didn't believe for a moment. She was enjoying telling him that he had no business asking, let alone knowing.
And, in her line of work, it was entirely possible he didn't.
The shuttle came into sight; she had not made her camp too far from it, about halfway between it and the stream from which he'd filled her water containers last night, when she was sleeping.
She hung back and let him go inside first. Everything was covered with a strange chalky residue. Nothing that marked this shuttle as Starfleet remained. In fact, the shuttle itself was old and rusted in parts. As if it might have been a refurbished transport.
The kind smugglers used.
He turned to look at her. "A restricted mission? Or illegal?"
"Restricted." She smiled and this time it was a genuine one. "I took everything I could use out. I destroyed the rest per my orders with a substance you also have no need to know about. The ship was pretty stripped down to begin with."
"So I am seeing."
"It was an interesting mission." She looked out toward the two gravemarkers. "Too interesting at the end."
"They were your friends?"
"Dominguez was a friend—a lifer as we call them—but Miller was new to this game."
New and now dead. It was how it went, Spock knew, in the line of work she'd chosen. And he could see it bothered her.
"But for the lucky bulkhead that ripped my shoulder but kept me from flying across the shuttle like the other two had, I'd be dead, too."
"I am relieved there was a bulkhead, then. Even if your shoulder might have preferred otherwise."
"My shoulder doesn't get a vote." She smiled tightly. "Miller had a sister in Missouri. When I get back, I'll go see her. And Enrique's wife. She doesn't like me, but now..."
"It is not your fault."
"You don't know that." She took a deep breath, looked around the shuttle. "I'm so sick of this," she said, and he didn't think she realized she'd said it out loud.
He sat quietly, watching her from the back of the shuttle, concern flooding him. Emotion, yet again. She seemed to be forcing hers back successfully, yet he could not keep his under control since Valeris had betrayed him. "Quit, then."
"I've been doing this for so long. It's all I know how to do."
"That is untrue. You are a doctor. A nurse. You clearly have many skills from this assignment. They can all be used in future endeavors."
He didn't have an answer for that. He could ask her to join him but as what? His assistant? That seemed an unlikely role for her.
And when had he ever wanted her on his staff?
Why did he find he wanted her there now?
"I think I'll stay put for now. The exec is leaving in a few months. I've been told I'm under consideration. I was pretty ambivalent until crashing, but now it sounds good. I guess life's little catastrophes can change your attitude in a hurry."
Just as his own catastrophes had changed his toward her? Was that all this was? A reaction to his father and the council's disapproval? Rejection of them, of Valeris and her treachery? Some way to get Jim back through a person who was not him, would never be him?
"Big thoughts, Spock?"
He looked up. "Did you say something?"
"I asked if you'd seen enough."
"You have somewhere else to be?"
She laughed, and the expression lit up her face. "No, but this isn't getting us anywhere, is it?"
He joined her at the exit. "It is not."
"When my shoulder wasn't hurting too much, I tried to survey."
She rolled her eyes. "I was bored stiff. And desperately searching for a distraction. I had nothing to record what I found though. You wanna hand over that tricorder so we can start over? Not sure the Federation has gotten much data on this place, given the cloud."
"An excellent idea."
He handed her his tricorder and watched her face as she worked. He approved of how lost she became at times in what she was doing. She had her hair skinned back, was devoid of any makeup. She looked older, but then she was older. They all were.
"Why are you staring at me?" she asked without looking over at him.
He almost smiled. She was different in other ways, too, than the nurse he had first come to after his supposition had been proved wrong that fighting Jim for T'Pring would make the burning go away. It had made the fire burn lower, but he had still needed sex.
And he had sought her out, or rather called her to his quarters and made it very clear what he needed from her. And she'd given it to him with happiness in her eyes.
Happiness that had died when he'd made it clear, once the burning was over, that this was not the start of a relationship.
Her eyes had been far more guarded when he'd come to her the next time, and the time after that. His cycles never ran on time, even though she called it his seven-year itch. He thought one was probably due soon. He'd thought this time he'd be with Valeris when it happened.
He'd been wrong.
"You didn't answer my question. Why in the hell are you staring at me?" She handed him the tricorder. "Look at this combination. This flower would kill us in seconds if we ate it."
It was indeed an oddly lethal combination. He handed her the tricorder and she went back to work.
What if he had not chosen Valeris when the Pon Farr came? What if he had sought out this woman instead? If he and Valeris had married, had invoked the bond, then most likely he would not have done that. But without a meld, with only sex between them, would Valeris have taken precedence over this woman he had sought out every other time?
"Spock, you're giving me the creeps." Christine turned abruptly, and he was thrown off balance. She reached out to steady him, her hand firm on his arm, her motion one of practice and instinct.
What was she doing these days on these missions she could not discuss?
"I was thinking about the Pon Farr, Christine. I was thinking about how I have wanted you each time. I was wondering if I would have wanted you still, even if I'd been with Valeris. Barring marriage, of course. If things had stayed as they were."
She smiled slowly. "More big thoughts."
"And irrelevant ones. You were in love with her, Spock. You were never in love with me. She won, even if by some chance you hadn't picked her when your body gets to run the show again. She'd still have won."
"I do not think she would have seen it that way." He thought back to their meeting at the center, the day of the launch. She'd asked about Christine-had Spock seen her? "She wanted me to suspect you."
"I told you that."
"No, I mean more than just a red herring for Starfleet to chase down. She wanted me to suspect you." He met her eyes, saw that she was not following. "She was jealous of you."
"How could she know about me? You said you never melded."
"We did not. But she asked me once. What I did during the burning with no mate at hand. I...told her the truth."
"You're an idiot." She turned away.
"I believe you are correct. At least in this case." He took a deep breath.
"She was an idiot, too. She had you, Spock. She had you and I didn't. End of story."
"But it is clearly not the end of the story. For here we are."
"Stuck alone on a deserted world." She pretended to clutch her chest. "Be still my raging fantasies." She resumed scanning the flora.
But he noticed she glanced back at him far more than she had before.
Chapel fired the phaser at the rock circle, giving the illusion of burning coals for a moment before easing up on the trigger. No sense wasting the weapon, even if there did not appear to be any predators on this world. But the heat still felt good. Comforting, even if they were entirely safe.
Spock had the tricorder and was making comments on her log notes from the surveys they'd been running the past few days. He worked quickly, his focus clear as ever, whether in an office or roughing it on a deserted planet.
She set about opening the MREs. "Honey, I made you a home-cooked meal."
She saw his mouth turn up and smiled.
"Oops, my mistake, these are MREs."
"Alas," he said, not looking up from the tricorder until he was done, then he set it aside. "I would prefer a home-cooked meal."
"Yours was quite good, as I remember it."
"You were in no state to tell." She laughed softly. "I could have put raw meat in that soup and you'd have probably said it was yummy."
"Very possibly. In that state, my inhibitions were lower."
"I remember." She knew her smile was edging toward the naughty side and looked away.
"Are you embarrassed by what we did?" He dug into the MRE as he waited for her answer.
"We were pretty inventive."
"It did not hurt that we are both quite limber." He said it as if he was saying they were both left handed or good at science.
"Was Valeris?" She didn't look at him when she asked, wouldn't push if he wanted to pretend that he hadn't heard.
"She was surprisingly traditional when it came to sex."
Her head shot up. "Yeah?"
"You're not just saying that because she was an evil traitor, are you? Because generally villainesses are very good in bed."
"I am not just saying that."
"Hmmmm." She still couldn't quite see Valeris being boring in the sack. The woman she'd known had shown some sass—especially for a Vulcan. But she supposed it was possible that sass didn't always translate to being a vixen between the sheets. "So I was better?"
She smiled, but she was pretty sure the look didn't reach her eyes. "And yet, you loved her, not me. I guess you two had more to talk about."
"Looking back, I think Valeris chose topics she thought I would enjoy. But she had one thing you would never have."
She decided not to ask what that was. Was afraid she'd hear "true beauty" or "charisma" or any of the things she knew she lacked.
"She was a pure Vulcan."
Not what she expected. She met his eyes, could tell he wasn't lying. For some reason, pure Vulcan mattered. "Fat lot of good that did you."
"Agreed. In either case."
"That's right. T'Pring wasn't the greatest choice, either, was she?"
"She was not. She loved another. Valeris loved a cause."
"Maybe, in the future, you should shy away from those full Vulcan women." She glanced up from her MRE to see what his reaction was.
He was looking at her, his eyes intense, his lips almost turned up. "I believe you are right."
"I'm not saying you should turn your attention to me." She was grinning and his eyes lightened.
"Of course not."
"Because, the fact that you brought coffee and food and blankets and medicine—"
"Really?" At his nod, she sighed happily. "Note to self: bathe tomorrow."
Again his lips ticked up.
"All of that does not mean I'll just fall in bed with you again."
"We have no bed here."
"The sentiment stands even if the words do not strictly apply."
He put his MRE down, pushed himself to his feet and walked over to her. He sat in front of her, his eyes intense.
She forgot how to breathe.
"Where is the topical medicine?"
She reached behind her, found it, and handed it to him.
He gently applied it, and she sighed as the numbness spread over flesh that still hurt, just not as much as before he'd shown up with his wonderful meds.
"Did you think I was coming over here to seduce you?"
He put the lotion aside, moved closer, pulled her onto him, managing not to wrench her shoulder in the process. He snaked his arms around her waist, sat looking at her, studying her.
"You're making me very nervous."
He took her hair out of the ponytail.
"It's dirty. I'm dirty, Spock."
"I have been cleaner myself. We will both bathe tomorrow." He touched her cheek, letting his fingers drift down to her throat. "We are not going to make love tonight."
"We're not?" She could tell that part of him was not concurring with that statement. Part of him was fully on board with making love.
"We are not." He took her hand in his, brought it up to his face, held it there till she started to run her fingers across his skin.
He actually sighed and closed his eyes.
"You like that?" she whispered. During the Pon Farrs, they'd been inventive lovers. They'd never been tender ones.
"I do. Very much." He pulled her close, his lips light on hers and she moaned as he kept it light between them, his tongue teasing hers, his hands gently touching down. Never straying past her side.
"Please," she said, and then blushed.
"Please what?" He pulled her closer, kissed her harder.
She hated what she wanted to say. Please kiss me. Please hold me.
Please love me.
She stopped moving and he drew away slowly. "Please what?"
He eased her off him, reached in his bag for the hypo and held it up, a question in his eyes. She nodded—God, yes, she wanted that relief. That release. Blessed sleep. Wonderful and not as confusing as this kissing.
He held the hypo to her skin, hit the release, and she realized her shoulder had been hurting more than she'd thought, that other parts had, too. Parts wrenched in the crash. Parts strained burying her teammates.
"I love you," she murmured as fogginess overtook her. Damn. Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn.
"Thank you. I need to hear that."
"That is not the right response to 'I love you,' Spock."
"I am aware of that."
She fell asleep cuddled against him, was dimly aware of him easing her to the ground. She woke in the middle of the night in his arms. When she tried to pull away, he tightened his grip, even though he appeared to be asleep.
She decided not to fight it and let herself fall back to sleep.
Spock woke to the feeling of Christine pressed against him. It was not a new sensation—they had fallen asleep with each other during the Pon Farrs—but she usually had not looked quite as relaxed as she did now.
He realized she was smiling, heard her whisper, "You're staring at me again," then she turned and lay facing away from him, not letting go of his arm as she turned, pulling him in so he was spooning her. "Not that I mind this new cuddly version of you, but why now? Why me?"
"Is this easier? Not looking at me to ask that?"
"Yes." She tightened her grip on his arm. "If you don't want to answer, I can do it for you."
"I'm your sure thing. When everything else goes wrong, I'll still say yes." She sighed softly.
He nuzzled her neck. "You are correct." He felt her stiffen. "In part."
She relaxed slightly.
"I heard you were missing and I had no doubt I would look for you. I could not explain it logically—although I clearly must have at some point for Starfleet to give me a ship."
"I have faith in your ability to get your way with logic." She moved away a little. "But since when have I been your way?" Suddenly she shifted, seemed to need to face him, and he let her turn over. "Or even close to your way?"
"Does it matter?"
"Yes. It damn well does matter." She moved her arms—Spock was not entirely sure what combination of moves she used—and she was suddenly out of his arms and on her feet. "Excuse me. Nature calls."
He let her go. They had several weeks to work this out. As in any diplomatic negotiations, the starting of the discussions was the tough part.
He decided a concession was in order, though, and made her coffee. Doing it exactly as he had watched her make it the past mornings. When she finally wandered back to camp, her mouth set in a tense line, he held up the cup.
"Damn you," she said, but with a grin. She took the coffee from him, sat some distance away and drank it slowly. "I'm angry at you."
"So I had surmised." He tossed her a breakfast ration, which was not overly different than the lunch or dinner rations. MREs were nutritious but provided no pleasure in eating. He was looking forward to eating something that came out hot and recognizable as actual food.
"I'm going to take a bath. Where's the soap?"
He found it in the pack and held it up. "Do you wish me to bathe with you?"
"Will you hurt your shoulder if you bathe alone?"
"I hate your logic." She looked down. "I don't want to bathe with you."
"But I did hurt my shoulder the last time."
"I see." He waited. She was clearly not at the decision point yet, and truth be told he was fine with whatever answer she chose. He was not planning on seducing her in the stream.
He was not entirely sure when he'd decided to seduce her. But he had. Perhaps on the walk from the beam down point to the crash site? Perhaps when he saw how strong she'd been? Perhaps the moment he'd melded with Valeris?
He didn't know. He only knew he meant to do it.
The fact that she was resisting, if he was honest, made her all the more enticing.
"Compromise," she finally said.
"I am listening."
"I bathe alone. If it hurts too much, I'll yell. You can come save me...again."
"Acceptable." He picked up the tricorder, proceeded to ignore her.
"Okay then. It's settled."
He looked up. "Yes."
"Okay." She got up, walked over, and yanked the soap out of his hand. "Really, really angry at you."
He nodded, a move sure to infuriate her more. By the way she glared back at him as she snatched up one of the blankets, he was not wrong.
Chapel reveled in the real soap that got her so much cleaner than her homebrewed concoction. She wished the stream were more a river, so she could really soak, but she made the best of what she had.
Wrapping the blanket around her as she got out of the water, she washed her clothes and set them in the sun to dry as she finger-combed her hair and enjoyed feeling truly clean. She was dozing in the sun when Spock sauntered up.
"Spock, you are not bathing right here."
"You are correct. I am not. Soap?"
"Oh." She handed it over.
"Is fine. You can put medicine on it later."
"As you wish." He started to head upstream.
"Go downstream. I don't want my Zen spoiled by your bubbles floating by."
He didn't argue, just followed the stream away from her, his stride easy, as if he hadn't a care in the world.
She lay back and dozed, dreaming little snippets of dreams. Some of old missions. Some of having sex with Spock. Some of the crash. She woke herself up finally with a particularly vivid one of plummeting down to the planet.
Spock walked into view, following the stream, his uniform over his arm, thermal blanket wrapped around his waist. "Are you all right? I heard you call out."
"Just a dream." She gave him what she hoped was a game smile.
He spread his uniform in the sun next to hers, then sat down, arranging the blanket almost demurely.
She realized hers had slipped down a little and pulled it up to show less cleavage. "I shouldn't be mad at you. I'm sorry if I was a bitch."
He lay back, leaning on his arm with a Zen expression, as if this was their personal Eden. "I emerged unscathed from your anger."
He was lying very close to her. She reached out and touched his cheek, let her finger drop to his lips. He didn't try to start anything.
"So much for seducing me, huh?"
His lips tipped up. "If you wish to have sex right now, you will have to seduce me."
"Too much work." She lay back, mirroring his position, gazing at him the same way he was at her. "I can't fight you, Spock."
"Why do you need to?"
She refused to look away this time, held his gaze as if her life depended on it. "Because everyone wants to feel special—feel essential to the person they love. You've never made me feel that way."
Until now. Staring at her like there was nowhere else he'd rather be. Damn it all.
He did not say anything, just watched her, his gaze untroubled.
"I've never been what you wanted, Spock. I may have been what you needed, but that's not the same thing."
Again, nothing from the peanut gallery.
"Feel free to chime in at any time, Spock."
He shook his head. "Go on."
"And say what? That I love you. I already blurted that out—thanks so much for those fun drugs. Did you plan that?"
"No. It was, however, an interesting effect of the medicine."
"Oh, yeah. Tons of interesting if you're not the person humiliating yourself."
"You have no reason for embarrassment. You told me you loved me years ago. This is not new information."
She shook her head and exhaled in what was almost a laugh—a bitter, ugly laugh, but still a sound of amusement. "And you needed to hear it now, from what you said."
"I did. To think that there is still someone who loves me. That is welcome news."
"Your mother still loves you."
"You are no doubt right."
"And Saavik does."
"Uhura's crazy about you. Len, too. Sulu and Chekov are fans."
"Christine. I do not need a roster of those closest to me. I have slept with none of them."
"Good thing in your mom's case. Also probably Chekov's." She saw Spock grin and laughed too. "Do you really think you want me? After all this time?"
"You'll tire of me in days. It's what you did before."
"No, the Pon Farr ended in days and my involvement with you ended with it. This is different."
"You weave webs with your logic."
"You are far from a fly. You are not prey, neither are you helpless."
"Remember that." She rolled to her back, crossed her arms behind her head, and closed her eyes.
"I am unlikely to forget it," she heard him say as she dozed off again.
Spock was gone when she woke up. But a cup of coffee sat waiting for her, a cover over it keeping it fresh.
Spock heard Christine approaching but continued scanning a particularly toxic plant.
"Thanks for the coffee."
"You are welcome." He glanced over at her. She looked more rested finally. In a way that made him realize how deep the circles under her eyes had been when he'd found her.
She found the topical medicine. "Could you?"
He nodded and she walked over, handing him the bottle.
"Are you going to seduce me as you do this?"
"Do you wish me to?"
"Do you want me to wish you would?"
"I should tend to your injury, not play games with words." He turned her gently, moved her hair off her shoulder, and applied the medicine lightly but more quickly than she was probably expecting.
Another rule of diplomatic negotiation: do not do entirely what the other party expects.
He handed her the container and went back to scanning the plant. She stood there for a moment as if unsure what had just transpired.
"So?" She tossed the container onto her blanket and followed him as he moved on to the next plant. "Anything interesting?"
He showed her the scans of the last plant.
She studied it for a moment, her eyebrows drawn in a bit as if considering something. "This is modifiable."
"Into a better poison?"
She met his gaze. "I had some medical projects I never really quit working on—albeit in my spare time, which is not copious. This...this is really interesting." She took the tricorder, worked for a moment, and then smiled. "Look." Her smile grew. "I think this might be just what I needed."
"I am still unsure what you need it for?"
"Vorellian Malignancies. If we don't catch them when they first start, the infected area is entirely compromised and must be excised. And they spread fast."
"This is poison."
"So was chemotherapy, my friend." She made some more notes. "If you find anything else like this, will you let me know?"
"Of course." He scrolled back several plants. "What about this? I found it when you were sleeping."
She studied it. "No. Too volatile in this sector"—she pointed to part of the biochem diagram—"but the right idea." She smiled at him, a smile of pure scientific delight—nothing of seduction in it.
He found it incredibly arousing.
"I am...glad I was of service."
"Coffee and now this. What other wonderful things will you do today?"
"That remains to be seen."
She laughed. "Have you ever thought about going back to science?"
"From time to time, yes. Generally when negotiations are not proceeding as anticipated. When emotions seem to drive diplomacy."
"Emotions generally do drive diplomacy—and every other interaction." She took his elbow long enough to get him walking, then let go. "I think about going back. Especially after a mission like the last one. One that ends with a nasty crash."
"Science is home for both of us."
"More like a family home, though, not the home we live in now. It's always there, but we left it for a reason."
"That's me. Miss Apt." She grinned at him and took his hand, pulling him after her. "You have to see this flower. It's beautiful and it smells so good. I'm betting it's completely lethal."
"That does seem to be the trend on this world."
She seemed to realize she was holding his hand and let it go with a sheepish look. "Sorry. Scientific discoveries just make me giddy."
"I forgive you. But perhaps you could tell me more about the mission you were on?"
Her smile faded from openly happy to an "I don't think so" look. "Spock, I told you, that information is restricted."
"This planet is unexplored for many reasons. One is this cloud. Another is that it is adjacent to the neutral zone in a part of the sector where Romulans are seen most often."
"We crashed here, Spock. This isn't where we were working. You saw the state of our shuttle. I guess we were lucky we didn't crash on some planet with an ammonia-based atmosphere." She looked haunted for a moment. "And that the beacon worked before the cloud interfered. Or I'd still be here alone."
"It did get through; you are not alone."
"No. I'm not." She pointed to a pink flower. "That's the one. Scan it for me?"
He did as she asked. It was only mildly toxic but the inner juices were caustic. He had to agree that it was beautiful and had a lovely scent.
"It would make a nice perfume," she said. "Well, other than the caustic nature of the nectar. Burning off skin to smell good, not so great an idea."
"I concur." He nodded at her shoulder. "Your burn is healing quite well."
"I have a good doctor." Her voice was very husky.
"I am gratified you think so."
She moved closer and stared at him intently.
He checked the flower for aphrodisiac properties. None. "What are you doing, Christine?"
"Can't a girl say thank you?"
"Is that what you are doing?"
She nodded, then leaned in and gave him a long slow kiss. It was a very good kiss and he returned it with enthusiasm. Before he was ready for her to pull away, she did and said, "Let me know if you find anything else interesting."
"You are leaving?"
Her smile was very bright. "You're not the only one who can play hard to get. See you at dinner."
Chapel sat by the makeshift fire, knees pulled up to her chest, waiting for Spock. She wrapped her arms around her legs, then realized that the movement hadn't hurt.
Her shoulder was finally on the mend.
She sighed in relief. She'd been more scared than she'd let on to Spock. Her solution to the gangrene had been unorthodox—and goddamned painful. If it hadn't worked and she hadn't been found, she would have faced a long painful death by gangrene or some other infection or garden-variety starvation. Or suicide.
"What are you thinking about?" Spock was watching her from across the fire.
"I didn't hear you come up."
He sat down next to her, much closer than he usually would, and reached behind her for the pack.
She put her hand on his arm. "Thank you. For finding me. I do mean that."
"I did this for myself as well as you, so thanks are not necessary." He almost smiled. "Although I did approve of your method of showing appreciation earlier."
She laughed, grateful he was taking them to a lighter place, and took the MRE he handed her. "Mmm, Chicken Paradiso. Who comes up with these names? It should be Tasteless Chicken Number Forty."
She leaned against him; he did not pull away. "I was thinking about what might have happened if my cure for gangrene hadn't worked."
"Do not think of that."
"But that's what I do. I run the scenarios. I figure out what's going to happen."
"Are you good at it?"
"I am. And I'm not coming up with happy endings for me without you showing up."
"It could have been some other rescuer."
"Although I would hope you would not kiss them with as much energy."
She laughed. "Or at all."
"Exactly." He sounded serious now. Not the kidding he got in his voice sometimes.
"What? You suddenly want to be exclusive?"
When he didn't elaborate, she sighed.
"Was that not the correct answer?"
"Well, it wasn't a very elaborate answer."
"While we are here, I would like for our relationship to grow. Once we are rescued by the Gasteau, I wish for our relationship to continue. When our relationship continues, I do not wish for you to see other people, and I will abstain from forming intimate partnerships with anyone else, as well. Is that elaborate enough for you?"
"It's missing something."
He turned to look at her.
"The why. The emotion of it all. The crazy, 'To hell with it, I love you,' declarations."
He took her empty MRE and put it aside. Then he pushed her down. "Too hell with it," he said, just before he kissed her.
She let him kiss her—it was a very, very good kiss—for quite some time before pushing him off. "That's the part you pick?"
"It was, I take it, an ill-advised choice?"
"It was." She sat back up. "Say we were exclusive. What's in it for me?"
He looked confused.
"I'm serious. You're not exactly batting a thousand here on romantic gestures. Sex with you is tremendous, but that always ends. I'm not sure you even really like me."
"Do you like me?"
"I like some things about you."
"But not enough to want to be with me?"
"Spock, you're essentially telling me we're going to be together. Try asking."
"What is the logic of that? You have pursued me for years."
"I pursued you years ago. There's a difference." She could feel her blood pressure rising. "Let me up."
He moved aside and let her stand.
"You...you annoy me." It was the best she could do, and that annoyed her, too. "No. No to your relationship. No to exclusivity. Just no."
And she stormed off, into the night. For about ten steps, until she realized how stupid it would be to re-injure her shoulder from falling down because of a show of hurt pride. So she slowed her pace and went to sit by the stream.
She slept there instead of going back to the fire.
Spock found her in the morning where he expected she would be. He did not bring her coffee. She did not seem to expect it.
She sat up, her eyes still heavy lidded from sleep.
He sat next to her. "It is not my nature to woo."
"I know," she said, and her voice was low and sultry. And, he supposed, sad. "I don't want it to just be about sex."
"Neither do I."
"And you think that makes this a romance?"
He brushed her hair back and checked her shoulder. It was healing nicely. If they were careful, they would not injure it.
He drew back, studied her face, then ran his finger down her cheek. "I find myself wondering what sex will be like if we both want more."
She sighed. It was the sound of defeat.
He did not want to defeat her. This could not be a zero sum game.
He wanted both sides of this negotiation to win.
He started to get up, but she stopped him.
"How do you know I'm even free? Maybe I'm in a happy relationship and don't need this from you."
She was blinking back tears. "No."
"And I knew that. I asked our friends. Nyota. Leonard. They told me you were not seeing anyone."
"When did you ask them this?"
"Before I set out to find you."
"You wouldn't have come to get me if you thought sex wasn't in the offing?"
He could feel the smile that she seemed to bring out of him starting. "I would have. I just would have lowered my expectations."
She laughed, but it was a sound he didn't like. Not joy. Not even real amusement. Just...acceptance.
He wanted her to be happy. He wanted her to be happy with him.
He pulled her to him, kissed her as tenderly as he could, and heard her sob. But she kissed him back. He let her control the pace, let her decide when to open her mouth to his, when to pull him closer.
But when she started to pull his shirt off, he stopped her.
"I think, for now, this is best."
"You just want to make out?"
"Call it what you like." He pulled her back to him, half onto his lap and she crawled the rest of the way until she was straddling him. He knew she could tell he wanted her.
Her eyes were suddenly peaceful. She'd stopped crying. And she leaned in and kissed him, and he closed his eyes and kissed her back.
For a very long time.
When they pulled away, she ran her fingers down his jaw, then over to his ears, making him sigh. "I wish I didn't love you so much," she whispered as she went back to kissing him.
They stayed by the stream for a long time. Kissing. Touching places that were safe, that didn't mean sex was the only thing they had. Talking finally, about things that didn't matter but counted anyway.
Her eyes were closing as she lay nestled in the crook of his arm, and he wondered if she'd gotten any sleep while she'd been alone on the planet.
"I'm sorry, Spock. I'm just so sleepy."
He kissed her check, running his fingers through her hair, across her neck. "I do not mind."
"You can be so nice," she said, just before she dropped off.
He wished she didn't sound so surprised.
Chapel watched as Spock continued his survey. He seemed loathe to wander very far from her, so had transferred his attention to the geologic properties of the immediate area.
For days, he'd been content to talk, kiss, or leave her alone if that was what she wanted.
He suddenly glanced over at her, like he knew she was thinking of him. His gaze was soft. Much softer than it had been before.
What if he loved her? What would it feel like? Was this gentle happiness the real thing? Or just relief that they could be close for longer than it took passion to burn out?
And what happened once they did have sex? Would the rest of this just end?
It was her job to run scenarios.
She stood up.
It was also her job to test the scenarios.
She walked over to him.
He turned to her before she got to him, welcome clear on his face. He pulled her in to nestle at his side, kissed her as if that was the most normal thing in the world for them to do.
"I want you," she said, her voice unsteadier than she would have liked.
"I want you, too." His eyes held a question and she answered it for him by taking the tricorder and laying it on the ground, then pulling off his shirt.
He returned the favor, then kissed her, their chests pressed skin to skin, his hands burning down her back lightly. He pushed off her pants, then his own, and followed her down to the grass.
He held himself above her, not moving, and she finally pulled him down and wrapped her legs around him, but still he did not enter her.
She met his eyes, knew her own were confused. "Please?"
"Do you have any doubt why I am with you?"
"I don't know."
He seemed to hesitate.
"Spock, that's an improvement on yes, isn't it? Would you make love to me already?"
"Now who is lacking in romance?"
And then he was inside her, moving in ways that left her unable to think up a smart retort. He kissed her the way he'd been kissing her. Long, slow kisses as he moved in similar rhythms, building her up and up and up and...there. She was very loud as she floated down.
Surprisingly, so was he.
She smiled as he opened his eyes. "A bit vocal for you, wasn't it?"
"It was very, very good. Do you wish me to curtail my expressions of pleasure in the future?"
"Hell no." She laughed and pulled him down to kiss her. They kissed for a long time, him still inside her, finally rolling off her and pulling her on top of him to kiss some more.
And then he was adjusting her position, pulling her up to straddle him. There was so very much to be said for Vulcan physiology.
They made love several more times before she slapped him lightly on the behind and said, "Weren't you supposed to be working."
"And I believe you are supposed to be recovering."
She moved her shoulder gingerly but it was all good. "I'll get right on that. Thought I might start with a nap."
He leaned down and kissed her very soundly. "I approve of your plan." Then he got up pulled his clothes on, and went back to working.
She felt a bit bereft without him, even if she'd been the one to send him packing. She reached for her clothes and he said, "Do not put those on."
"No. I enjoy looking at you. And it will make this work more enjoyable if I take frequent breaks to do just that."
"You think I'm going to lie around here naked just because you like to sneak peeks?"
This time he did smile. "Yes. I do."
He wasn't wrong, so she just smiled, closed her eyes, and went to sleep.
Spock looked over at Christine, sleeping peacefully, one arm thrown over her face, but her body his to look at—his to have.
But her body had always been his to have, and he'd availed himself of it more than once. It was her heart that was new territory for him. And her wonderfully agile mind that he'd never fully appreciated when they were both younger.
He thought of Valeris. How free she'd seemed to him as she interacted with her colleagues at Starfleet. Human, Vulcan, it hadn't mattered. She'd related effortlessly. He'd expected that kind of ease in bed.
And truth be told, this women lying in the grass naked solely for his amusement had been his measuring stick. Sex with her had always been wonderful. He'd just never let his feelings develop for her, had shut down his emotions and needs and wants the minute he no longer required her sexually.
And why? Because she was not Vulcan.
Valeris would never sleep naked on the grass just so he could enjoy her. She had been—now that he was far enough away emotionally to not tint their relationship with the rose colored glasses his mother always referred to—rather a prude.
He had become a prude along with her. Tempering his needs. Bending to fit her. Asking less and less of her.
What if she'd been that way so he'd make fewer demands of her? What if she'd loved someone else? Like Cartwright possibly. Or one of the other conspirators. What if with them she'd been free and open?
What if? An amazingly futile question. Unless used in scientific inquiry, which this was most certainly not.
Even if it did deal with biology.
Christine stirred, sat up with a lack of modesty that pleased him. She reached for her clothes, looked over at him with a grin, "If it's okay with you?"
"If you must."
She laughed and pulled on her pants. "How long was I out?"
She checked her shoulder and he said, "It is fine."
"It is possible I was in your immediate vicinity and made sure we had not re-injured it."
"Big softie." She pulled on her shirt. "It doesn't even hurt. God, that's wonderful."
"I am relieved it is getting better."
"You and me both." She got to her feet, walked over to him with a growing smile. "I need a kiss."
"Fortunately for you, I am quite adept at that activity."
"Why don't you let me be the judge of that?" She pulled him to her, kissed him tenderly.
He heard a soft moan, realized the sound had come from him. She pulled away and grinned at him. "You'll do, I guess."
"Your enthusiasm is not overwhelming."
She kissed him again. A long, sensuous kiss that left him wanting much more from her. Then she took the tricorder out of his hand and walked off, looking back to give him a silly grin before disappearing into the woods.
He stood and stared at the place where she disappeared for far longer than was logical.
Chapel found Spock later, after she'd catalogued enough new plants to make her feel useful. He was sitting by the stream, his feet out of his boots and dangling in the water.
"Look at you, Huck Finn."
He reached out for her and she came and sat next to him, much closer than she would have before. He put his arm around her, pulled her in close, as if they were an old married couple used to just sitting by the crick shooting the shit.
She wrestled off her boots and let her feet soak too. The stream felt great—water that was not the warmest to bathe in felt terrific on tired feet.
"So, Spock, it turns out the sex is great even when we're looking for more."
"I concur." His arm tightened around her.
"That said, the sex was pretty damn good before."
"Indeed. A quandary." He leaned in, kissed her on the cheek. "What do you suggest we do to resolve this?"
"Have more sex."
"Ah, a sound suggestion."
She laughed. "I thought you might like it." She nuzzled his neck, heard him make a low, happy growling sound so she kept it up, licking, kissing, even biting. She worked her way to his ear, whispered in it, "And this time, you can lie naked on the grass affording me a nice view while I work."
"Not an unacceptable proposal." He tipped her face away from his neck, kissed her hard on the lips. "Shall we start now?"
"I think it would be wise. We only have a week and some left here, correct?"
"That is so. But, there is no reason we cannot continue our scientific inquiry long after we are rescued."
"You think we have a shelf life, you big romantic?" She realized what she'd said and frowned a little. Was it possible that Spock actually was the bigger romantic of the two of them?
"I think it is extremely likely." He was pulling up her shirt, kissing his way to parts oh so naughty.
She moaned and let him ease her to her back. He removed her pants quickly, left her shirt on, got rid of his own pants and was on top of her and in her, playing peekaboo with her shirt, sucking under it, then through it. He stopped his breast play to kiss her every so often. Long, sweet, happy-making kisses that left her breathless.
"I want to meld with you," he said as he moved firmly and slowly inside her. "I want to be with you."
She'd wondered why he'd waited. Was suddenly glad he had. This wasn't some pro forma meld, some thing they did when they had sex but meant nothing. They could have great sex without the meld.
He had waited to ask for it. He had waited till she was ready for it.
She reached up, pressed his fingers into the meld points, and didn't let go as he initiated the meld. It was more intense than she'd ever felt it—or maybe he was just more open, going deeper, not trying to keep her out as he enhanced their pleasure.
Emotion spilled out of him. Emotion she'd never felt from him. Sadness. Guilt. Anger. Frustration. None of those directed at her but lingering for Jim and Valeris and his father and the Council.
Was she not even in there?
But then she felt it, pushing its way through the other emotions like a rude commuter getting off a crowded shuttle.
Lust. Admiration. Affection. Enjoyment—such deep enjoyment of her.
None of it was love. But was love a thing of its own? Or did all these things come together to make it? Over time, could these things be love?
She realized he was waiting for her to finish her assessment. Had stopped moving inside her, was pressing his fingers almost painfully into her cheekbone.
She rocked her hips up into him, felt him push even harder into her temple and almost cried out as the meld seemed to deepen on its own. She could feel how it felt for him to be inside her. She could feel what he was feeling of her own sensations. It was almost dizzying: not being able to tell what was her and what was him and what was just echoes of both of them. Endless, pleasurable echoes she could follow down and down and-
"Stay with me," he murmured and the meld eased off.
"Oh my God, Spock. What are you doing to me?"
"That was too much. I'm sorry." He began to move. So tenderly it was clearly an apology.
"It's all right," she said. "Someday it won't be too much." And she pulled him down to kiss her, the meld now only a light thrum in the background. "When I'm sure you love me, I won't be afraid anymore."
"You were barely afraid this time, Christine. I thought I was going to lose you inside the connection."
"It was like a drug."
She could tell the meld was still giving him a great deal of information about what she was feeling. He built her up and up and up and then didn't let her fall over, dialing back on the intensity, leaving her pleading and kissing him and finally begging him to let her go, let her fall. Let her come.
He did and held her as she made noises that were barely human, the pleasure deep and wild and almost painful. She thought she was going to black out at one point but held on to consciousness somehow.
When it was over, Spock pushed damp hair off her face, studying her carefully. "Did I hurt you?"
"Oh, God, no. Or if you did, please do it again."
He smiled. A real smile, as if he was too lost in what had just happened to care that he looked a long way from a proper Vulcan.
But maybe that was the point?
"What about you?" She was breathing hard, and she could barely move, but she could feel he still needed release. "Take me. Take what you want any way you want it. I won't break."
"What you ask...it is—"
"Savage. Primal. Do it. I'll let you know if it's too much."
He wanted to do it. She could tell because he didn't argue. She lay, half drunk from the pleasure he'd given to her and let him pound into her. But it wasn't mindless. Not like the hottest parts of the Pon Farr. Spock was watching her closely, holding her carefully to not injure her shoulder as he thrust and claimed her.
His cries, when he found release, did not sound human—or Vulcan—either as he collapsed on top of her.
She kissed his damp hair. "Oh, my."
"I quite concur." He rolled off to her good side, lay wrapped around her, his lips nestled on her neck, nuzzling lazily. "I have never let go that way. Not without the Pon Farr being the impetus."
"You liked it."
He was silent for a moment, then he tipped her chin so she was looking at him. "I liked it with you."
"I trusted you. I trusted myself with you. I wanted to possess you, not to hurt you."
"You didn't hurt me. I'm fine. I'm more than fine." She kissed him lazily, her tongue finding his.
Then they lay quietly, and he kissed her cheek and her forehead and her lips and she let him do the work as she fell asleep in his arms, fully at peace.
Spock let Christine sleep, reeling a little from what they had just done. But content as well.
They had connected. In a way they never had during the Pon Farrs. And the reason had been her trust—and his need of her, as something well beyond just a willing body to spill his seed in.
He had wanted her, he had wanted to bring her pleasure and take it in equal measure. To own her completely, to know she was his and was not going to go away this time.
Even if he had been the one to send her away all the other times.
It was illogical. But then, if it was love that was growing between them, that was to be expected.
He tried to imagine Valeris telling him to let go, to take her fully. He could not visualize it, although it was more and more apparent that perhaps she had indeed been keeping him at bay, the same way he had with Christine. Being less available the deeper they got.
It was time to stop thinking about Valeris. To stop worrying about why or how much or if. She was gone. She'd never loved him and no matter how much Spock wanted that to not to be true, it was.
He'd loved her and she'd never loved him back. Just as Christine had loved him and he'd never loved her.
But did he now?
She moaned softly, moved closer to him, her leg moving over his. In the past, it might have made him feel claustrophobic. Now, he simply tightened his hold on her, ran his fingers down her back lightly, making her sigh in her sleep.
Maybe his body had known best all along? If he'd listened to it after that first Pon Farr and not sent her away? How different would their lives have been?
He remembered the words of the priestess at Gol, when he had voiced discontent that it had taken him so long to seek Kolinahr out. "Everything happens in its own time, exactly to its own schedule. The Spock who is destined to be at Gol is here before me. The man of before, even the man of after—for who knows what will come of this—are irrelevant. This moment and the you of this moment, that is the all of it."
Even if Gol had not proven his answer, some of the insights gleaned there still rang true.
The Gasteau arrived before Chapel was ready to leave. She hated to admit that some part of her was afraid of what waited off this world, out from under this cloud.
She'd been happy here. With nothing to eat but MREs. With nothing to drink but water and coffee. With no one but Spock for company.
With nothing to do except inventory the planet and have sex that got better and better. Nothing to do but kiss and hold each other, take long walks, and talk about this and that and, well, everything.
It was wonderful. But...was it real?
Or would everything change now?
Spock came and stood near her as he talked to the captain of the ship on his communicator, the backpack already loaded and ready to go. She had nothing but the clothes on her back and the small amount of items she'd salvaged from the shuttle, now in a little bag Spock found inside his backpack. He seemed to know she would need to take her stuff with her. Restricted and all that.
"Ready?" he asked her.
She nodded. She knew her face wasn't the normal expression of someone about to be rescued.
She looked over at him.
He gave her a smile. A real smile, even if a small one. And said, "I love you."
"Now you tell me."
The transporter took them. His smile faded as they reformed, but he nodded and said, "Everything will be all right."
And then she was hustled off by someone she recognized from earlier days in Ops—Turner? No, Tanner. Spock was led off elsewhere by another crewman. She didn't look back, knew she had a monster of a debrief waiting her. About the mission—not about Spock.
She wasn't wrong. But Tanner did, at least, ask if she needed to go to sickbay before they started.
"I need to go there eventually. But let's get this done."
He nodded and they spent the next several hours going over the mission, the outcome, and what they would say to the families of Dominguez and Miller.
"All right, Commander," Tanner said. "I think I have it all. This is good stuff. I know a lot of people will be happy with what you got."
"Yeah. It came dear, though. Make sure they know that."
He nodded. "Enrique was my friend. I'm really sorry. I didn't know Miller."
"None of us did. She was new."
He looked down. "To the broken, the missing, and the dead." It was the Ops toast. They had no booze but she echoed with the customary, "Never forgotten."
"I heard you're maybe taking over Ops."
"With Cartwright gone and all. I mean now that they know you're alive—they want you back tout suite."
"I think you're wrong. They talked to me about the exec position."
"Ma'am, I have excellent sources of information. I think you won't have to worry about crashing again any time soon. Unless it's on an Earth shuttle."
"Right now, not crashing on cloud-infested worlds with nothing to eat and crappy bathing facilities doesn't sound too bad."
He laughed. "I always enjoyed working with you. I hope you get the nod. One of the good guys in charge."
She studied him. "Am I?" Did he mean because she wasn't part of the conspiracy? Or because he was sympathetic and thought she was too?
"Hell, yeah. I mean I have no love for Klingons, and I know we do some pretty underhanded shit here in the back end of Ops, but the Conspiracy was way beyond what's right. Working with the Romulans and the Klingons? Jesus."
She nodded. "Yeah. Someone needed a perspective adjustment."
"And stat." He closed up the file they'd been working on. She knew no one would be able to find it on his padd unless they knew exactly where to look. "Commander, I'm a little sick of this gig. If you need someone back at Command, I'd love to get my feet back on the ground."
"Thanks, Tanner. I'll definitely keep you in mind." Although she knew if he was right and she was selected, there would be a lot more former colleagues darkening her door offering their services. It was just how things worked.
Tanner took her to sickbay, and she could tell the doctor on duty was taken aback by what she had done to her shoulder.
"I'm not sure I could have done this."
"You'd be surprised what you can do when you're out of options."
He'd nodded, but hadn't looked convinced. Once he was done cleaning it up and checking out the rest of her, a corpsman led her to guest quarters. She resisted asking him where Spock's quarters were; he probably wouldn't have known anyway.
She lay down on the bed and groaned at the lovely comfort of a real mattress. She dozed off, woke when she heard the door open.
Spock walked in, backpack now gone.
"I took some liberties," he said, nodding at the bed.
"This ship doesn't come with double beds standard?"
"It does not. These are couple's quarters."
"I said we were together, which is not a lie, is it?"
She smiled. Felt the worry that had been growing all day fade away. "It's not a lie. But they don't normally let unmarried, unbounded couples shack up."
"I may have implied our connection was very significant."
"You led them to the lie, then. That we were married and deserving of a nice big bed."
"That I accept." He came over to the bed and lay down next to her. "Have you been to sickbay yet?"
"I have. I'm ship shape, sir." She crawled on top of him. "And I heard the most interesting rumor."
"Are you going to tell me what it is?"
"Nope. But it's about me and my next assignment. I don't want to jinx it."
"Very well. Will it take you far from me?"
"No place is that far from you. You write your own ticket."
"True. And I would most assuredly write it to allow me to see you."
She kissed him. "You can be so sweet."
A slowly rising eyebrow was her only answer. "Will you be on Earth?"
"If you are on Earth, that would be convenient. It is my home base."
"I know." She began to ride him, even though they were both fully clothed.
He moaned and rolled her off him, began to remedy the "fully clothed" problem. "It would be pleasant to be able to do this whenever we wished."
"Is that your roundabout way of asking me to move in with you?"
She immediately felt stupid and turned away.
He looped a finger under her chin, very gently turned her back so she was looking at him. "You cannot move in with me because I stay in the Visiting Officers Quarter whenever I am on Earth."
"Oh." She knew she only sounded somewhat mollified.
He kissed her, slowly working her into a much better state of mind. "I would not be averse to securing more permanent lodging. With you."
"So you are asking me to move in with you?"
"I am asking you to live with me. We will both move in together. Equal footing, is it not?"
She pulled him on top of her. "You can be a very wise man."
"I am aware of this."
"A vain and pompous very wise man."
He busied himself with making her feel very, very good.
She sighed happily. "A vain and pompous wise man who is, fortunately for him, extremely talented in bed." She rolled him off her, climbed on top of him, and held his arms over his head. "Do you really love me?"
"How do you know?"
"I just do." He freed his arms with very little effort and rolled her onto her back again. He lost no time in moving over her, into her, distracting the hell out of her with very good sex.
"The walls are not terribly soundproof on this ship," he said, as he put his hand over her mouth as she began to come.
She returned the favor for him.
Afterwards, they lay together, her curled around him, and he said, "I'd like to live by the water."
"Those places are expensive."
"That is not a problem provided that you, too, would like that."
She kissed him. "I love the water."
"Then it is settled. That is where we will look."
"When we move in together?"
"What if I don't get the job on Earth?"
"Will you not still want a choice in the house you would inhabit whenever you are here?"
He began to run his fingers lower and lower and lower and—oh, holy crap. "Christine, I believe it would be difficult to engage in these kinds of activities if you chose to live somewhere else."
She nodded. Words were a bit advanced at the moment.
"I want you to live with me, Christine. I want to live with you. We have been cohabiting for the last three weeks quite successfully."
"Not a house, a whole planet," she managed to get out before his amazing fingers sent her back into a word-free place.
"Agreed. We will have to make concessions. But the amenities will be much improved from that planet."
She nodded, then gritted out, "Spock, for God's sake, finish me off."
He didn't. Not for a long time. Not until she said, "Please."
She lay like a ragdoll in his arms and murmured, "I love you."
He pulled her close and kissed her, his hands working on her again but this time in a soothing, not arousing, way. As she fell asleep, she heard him say, "And I you, Christine."
Spock walked into Emergency Ops, unsure of the reception he would get. Even if those left from Cartwright's time had been cleared of any wrongdoing, they still might harbor sympathies for their old C.O., if not the cause.
He saw some hard looks from a few, but most just nodded to him or were working intently and didn't see him as he walked to Christine's office.
The job she hadn't been willing to jinx had been offered to her. Head of Emergency Ops. It was an outstanding assignment. One that she clearly deserved. And she hadn't hesitated to take it.
She looked up as he stood in her doorway watching her. "Howdy, sailor."
He could feel his mouth turning up and fought the expression. She was a bad influence on him.
He was not, however, complaining.
"You ready?" At his nod, she turned off her terminal and got up. "So you think this is the one?"
"I do." He said that every time and it never was. He had not expected house hunting to be as difficult as it had proven. Christine was being excessively selective and he suspected it was because she wanted to see if he would grow weary of the search—and by extension her.
He had not. If she wanted to make him work for the experience of living with her, he was not opposed to that. As in any negotiation, the longer you fought for the win, the more you valued it.
Not that they were fighting. Far from it. When they weren't looking for a place to live, they were quite compatible.
It was a short walk to the transport he'd reserved, a longer ride to a house that sat on the cliffs. They stood at the top of the curving walkway and looked at the house.
It was small. Barely more than a cottage. She bumped into his arm, an easy way she showed affection without being overtly demonstrative. "Decided against opulence this time?"
"You said the last house was overdone."
"That's because it was overdone." She took his hand and he let her, following behind her as she led him to the door. Then she stopped and did whatever mystical meditation she practiced when standing on the threshold of property she might someday secure.
"Your verdict?" he asked.
"It's feeling like a winner. But the proof is just beyond this door."
He put his hand to the annunciator, and it opened for them. Programmed by their realtor.
The house was unfurnished and very clean. And while the area that faced the street had few windows, the front was a solid wall of them. They could see the water below them, crashing on rocks.
She walked to the windows and stared out. He stood behind her, his arms around her waist, and said, "This is beautiful."
"Yes it is." She turned and kissed him, a sweet and happy kiss that he took as a good sign for perhaps securing a domicile before they retired from Starfleet.
They wandered through the rest of the house. A kitchen that appealed to him—Christine didn't cook; the Plomeek soup had been the exception not the rule, and now that she had him, she'd said she didn't intend to expand her repertoire.
Now that she had him. He smiled. She'd actually said that. Finally.
Two guest rooms in back were pleasant, if small, but the master bedroom had the same view as the salon, looking out on the water.
She turned to him and smiled. "Do you like it?"
"I do, too."
He decided to refrain from pointing out that this house either lacked things that she'd felt crucial in other houses or had things she'd said she hated. Like in any other part of life, it was often less the elements than the synthesis.
"Call the realtor," she said.
He made the call from the house communicator, but only after Christine had done something to the outgoing channel. She gave him an innocent look with much batting of eyelashes and said, "We don't want to give anything away."
"Of course not." The arrangements were easy. Their realtor handled the negotiations, and since the sellers were off world, their broker signed the deal. The access codes were reset and a moment later, Spock and Christine stood at their new windows and took in the view.
Spock cut the channel and Christine moved in again and did something else he couldn't quite follow to the comm system. "Gonna have to get that upgraded," she muttered, and he decided not to point out the system was already state of the art.
"This is our house, Spock."
"Indeed." He checked to the sides of their house. No neighbors within view. No boats anywhere nearby. He pulled Christine to him, began to take off her uniform, then his own.
"Did I say you could do that?"
"You did not." He pushed her against the window, hiked her up and then lowered her onto him. She arched her back and leaned her head against the window, riding him, murmuring something he couldn't quite catch.
When they finished, they sat naked in front of the window, her inside the ring of his legs, leaning back against him as they watched the sunset from their house.
It had the most satisfying ring he could imagine.
She ran her hands over his bare thighs and sighed.
"Happy?" he asked.
"I am." She sighed again as he wrapped his arms around her. "You?"
He could have told her happiness was an emotion. He could have told her real Vulcans did not seek happiness. He could have told her any number of things that would have been true for the old Spock, the one who only wanted a pure Vulcan.
Instead, he just said, "Yes."