Driven by Djinn

The house on Vulcan is on a ridge, built into a smaller rise to keep it cool. Chapel sits on the porch, waiting for the tri-ox compound she's injected herself with to take effect.

Spock is inside. Preparing—whatever the hell that means. She heard the shower running earlier, when she was inside standing around like a too-early arrival at a cocktail party, woefully alone and an annoyance to the host.

Why the hell did she agree to this? She ran away from the Enterprise, got her MD, only to do this? He could have used some other woman—she's heard there are Vulcan priestesses accustomed to taking care of unbonded males during the Pon Farr. Why did he have to ask her? He doesn't love her and probably never will—told that to her straight.

Never underestimate Spock's ability to lower expectations and crush hopes—stupid, pathetic hopes.

He finds he wants her, though. His exact damn words.

And she'd agreed. Sure, why not, might be fun.

Idiot.

She said yes because somewhere, deep in her stupidly hopeful heart, she still thinks she can make him love her. She knows her motivations, at least she has that. But she's so smart about other things-why does one lanky Vulcan who will never, ever love her have to be her Achilles' heel?

Why the hell couldn't she have left the ship after V'ger?

She hears the door open, does not turn to look at him. Let him work for it, now that she's here. Let him woo her—or at least be the one to make the first move.

"It is time, Christine."

She's fantasized about having sex with Spock. She's had nightmares about having sex with Spock. In both, Spock's voice was about a hundred times warmer than it is right now.

She turns her head and studies him. She remembers the Vulcan who stalked her in his quarters, spouting nonsense about it being illogical to protest against their natures.

This Spock looks nothing like him. This Spock watches her calmly.

'Do you burn for me, Spock?"

"Soon."

She gets up and pushes past him, saying, "I'm going to take a shower, then, too."

He stops her, holding onto her only long enough to make her look at him. "It is safer if we do not wait."

"Safer for whom?" She turns and leaves him, rifles through cupboards in the bathroom till she finds some towels, and gets in the enormous shower.

He comes in shortly, stands silently on the other side of the frosted glass screen. She is unnerved but takes her time, making sure she is at an angle to give him a view of her, even if she is just a silhouette. A silhouette touching herself there and there and—

He steps in and pushes her against the wall of the shower, his robe soon sopping wet as he kisses her. He is not as skilled as she thought he would be: she finds that unexpectedly charming.

"You are overdressed," she murmurs.

"Remedy that."

She pulls his robe off him, lets it pool at their feet, and then he is pushing her down to lie on it, and he is on top of her and inside her. The shower beats down on his back, but he manages to lie so it does not hit her.

And then he is moving, taking her quickly the first time, then more slowly before rising and pulling her with him. She grabs the towels as he drags her to the bed, and she tries to dry them off. He makes a sound—not a word but more than a grunt—and pulls the towels away before pushing her down and taking her again.

"Do you burn for me, Spock?" she asks.

"Stop talking."

"Do you burn for me?"

"Yes."

She does stop talking, lets him do whatever he wants, and begins to lose count of how many times they've done it.

Then he leans in and kisses her in a way that is sweeter than before. His fingers find the meld points and he is inside her mind too, amplifying their pleasure. Going deeper and deeper until she cannot tell where she ends and he begins.

It is heaven, and he goes deeper still into her mind, shushing her as she cries out in pain when it is too much, too deep, until she finally blacks out.

##

She wakes next to him. He is sprawled on his stomach, one leg thrown casually over hers. She gasps: where his leg touches hers, she can feel it both from her perspective and from his. Can the meld still be active after this long?

He wakes suddenly, as if startled by her gasp. Then he slowly turns his head and stares at her accusingly before moving his gaze down to where their legs touch.

"No," he says, then he jerks away from her. "What have you done?"

"Me? You were the one in my mind. It's not my fault you can't control a meld." She moves away, pulls a sheet off the floor to cover herself.

"A meld?" He slaps his thigh. Hard.

She feels it and involuntary tears comes to her eyes as the stinging burn runs across skin he didn't touch. "What the hell?"

"Why? Why would I do this?" He pushes her down, wrapping his hands around her neck until she can't breathe. She is too surprised at first to fight back, but then doesn't have to as he lets her go, suddenly coughing in the same way she begins to. "Why would I do this?"

The feeling of him as he nearly throws himself off the bed and stalks away is like a piece of skin being peeled off slowly, relentlessly. "Spock, stop."

He does not. She feels him for one moment, pain overwhelming her as he stubs a toe when he careens to a closet, grabs a robe and shoes, and flees the house.

There is pain from the sun after so long in this dim room—her eyes water at sights he sees. She is disoriented by the way he is weaving over the ground and barely makes it to the bathroom before she is throwing up.

It is with mean satisfaction that she realizes he will no doubt be experiencing her being sick.

##

He does not come back for hours. The resonance is nearly gone when he finally does return. She is lying as quietly as she can on the couch in the front room, her head aching and her stomach roiling—and the air too thin to breathe. "Tri-ox," she manages to get out.

He digs through her bag and finds it, loads the hypo and holds it to her arm, the medicine hissing in. In moments, she can breathe again, but the tri-ox does nothing for her head or stomach.

"I don't understand," she says, trying to move away from him, but it hurts worse when she does it.

He eases onto the couch next to her, finds the meld points, and opens the link between them. She can feel that he also has the headache and nausea.

"I should not have left you so soon after bonding," he whispers as the pain slowly subsides, drowning in the connection that is reopening between them.

"Bonding?" She tries to turn to look at him, but he holds her in place, her back to his front. "You mean...like you were with T'Pring?"

"Similar yes. But what was between T'Pring and I was more of a...placeholder, if you will."

"So this is something else?"

"Yes," he whispers. "This is permanent."

It takes a moment for that to sink in. "Permanent as in forever?"

"Yes."

"You didn't even ask me."

"Clearly, I was not myself."

"Well bring back the guy who wanted me enough to do that. Because I'd like to have words with him." Her voice is too loud, and it hurts her ears.

"Gently," he whispers.

She tries again to process what he's said. "Forever? You're sure?"

"Yes."

Forever linked to a man who has told her he does not love her and never will. To a man who fled at the thought of being saddled with her.

"Christine, whatever you are thinking, please stop. It is...distressing."

"You want distressing?" She slams her head back, connecting with his nose—pain shoots through her as he groans. His pain. Her pain. Their pain.

"Do not do that again, Christine."

"I hate you," she says as her head throbs.

"You are well within your rights."

They lie quietly, letting the resonance go from the pain she caused to a gentle tingle.

She only realizes she has begun to cry when she feels him tighten his hold on her, when he nuzzles her neck.

"I am sorry." He sounds broken.

Exhausted, she falls asleep, her body mercifully letting her mind and heart off the hook.

##

Spock is making something in the kitchen. The smell wafts into the living room as Chapel wakes and struggles to her feet.

"Are you all right?" he asks, sounding as if he might actually care.

"Just stiff."

"You have slept a long time."

Then there is only the sound of food being prepared. "Is some of that for me," she asks, unsure if he would leave her on her own or not.

"Yes."

"Do I have time for a shower before you're done making it?"

"Shower quickly."

She finds he has laid out fresh towels for her, and his robe no longer lies sopping on the floor. She makes quick work of the shower even though it feels great—until Spock burns himself on something and she yelps. She gets out of the shower and pulls a towel around herself, using another to wrap her hair.

"You okay out here?" she asks as she slips onto one of the stools at the counter.

He nods. "I am not usually clumsy. But I was distracted by your enjoyment of the shower."

"Will it always be like this?"

"No. It will fade. But at first, from what I've been told, it lingers as it is now."

"I'm sorry. I know you didn't want this."

"If you are sorry, why are you wearing only a towel to eat? Do you plan to seduce me?"

She can't tell if he sounds interested or repelled. "I was hungry. I was worried the food would get cold. You've seen every part of me. What difference does it make?"

"Logical."

"For me, you mean?" She takes the plate he hands her and digs in. The food is delicious.

"I was not sure how spicy you like your meals. I made this mild."

"I can go to medium." She gives him a small smile. "I take it you like it very spicy?"

"I do."

She thinks back to the plomeek soup she made him. How the spices she added made her eyes water as she was preparing it. "You should have picked a different wife if you wanted to enjoy your meals." She frowns. "Is that what I am? Your wife?"

"In the eyes of Vulcan, yes. Humans would probably require a ceremony of some sort—something more..."

"Concrete?" Than just a bond in your head that means you are someone's mate forever. Is divorce even possible?

"It would make it more formal—easier for them to understand. Do you wish that?"

"A wedding, you mean?"

He nods.

"No." She takes a long sip of the ice-cold water he's poured for her. "No."

He sits next to her, takes a few bites before asking, "Do you wish to acknowledge this when we are back on the ship?"

"I don't know. Do you?"

"I am...agnostic."

"Last of the great romantics." She sighs. "How long before we can go back to the ship."

"Two, three days at the most. I took the liberty of informing Jim we would be delayed."

"What does he think of this?"

"I did not tell him why."

She meets his eyes. "Why not? Will he be upset?"

"Only if he was interested in you and did not tell me. Contrary to popular belief, I am not involved with my closest friend." He sounds angry—for a Vulcan, anyway. "And as my friend, if he thought I'd chosen you for romantic reasons, I presume he would be happy for me."

"Why did you do this? We both know it was not for romantic reasons."

"I am unsure. I undoubtedly had a reason—some sort of logic—at the time."

He sounds like his father, back when she first met Spock's parents, when Sarek explained why he'd married Amanda. Logic, logic, and more logic.

She hates logic.

##

Even after a few days back, the ship seems unusually noisy and crowded after being alone with Spock on Vulcan. Chapel makes her way through the corridors, done with her shift finally. She palms the door open and sighs in relief as the space envelops her—hot, dry air and the smell of incense.

Wait. These are not her quarters. She startles as the door opens behind her, as Spock comes in and does not seem surprised to see her.

"Are you all right," he asks.

"How did I get in here?"

"I programmed it to accept you after we returned."

Really? She had not done that for him. "Maybe the better question is why I came here."

He moves past her to sit on the bed. "You needed me—or my presence, to be more accurate—I presume."

She slides down the wall until she's sitting on the floor. "God knows why I'd need that." She stares down. "It wasn't even conscious."

"The bond is at a deep level. Your need, no doubt, is as well."

She wants to tell him to shove his damn bond, but they have forged a sort of wary peace and she is loath to put that at risk.

She sighs and hears him get up. He walks over to her, leans in, and eases her up as if she weighs nothing.

"You are tired. Come to bed."

She does not argue with him, primarily because the sensation of his hands on her arms is soothing, easing the pangs of the still-new bond. He peels her uniform off in a way that manages to be both hyper efficient and somewhat tender. Then he urges her to the bed, waiting till she is in it to take his own uniform off and follow her in. He lies on his back and pulls her against him, rubbing her arm until she finally snakes it across his waist, and the empty link between them roars back to life as if they are a circuit, finally closed.

She realizes she is trembling violently, and he has his eyes closed but is holding her very tightly.

She buries her face in his chest, feels his lips on her hair, and he whispers, "Go to sleep."

She does, waking several times in the night when Spock changes position, his hands never leaving her, pulling her along with him.

It's annoying to be needed this way, to have her sleep interrupted, and yet each time it happens, she feels a tug at her heart.

A stupid, idiotic tug, but not something she can control.

##

They fall into a strange pattern. They are not friends, nor are they lovers, yet when the bond between them begins to ache, they find each other, sleep naked next to each other, the contact of skin on skin relieving the emptiness for a little while. She can't feel his emotions or physical sensations the same way as when they first bonded, but proximity still seems critical to ease the longing that as he has said, lives very deep in their subconscious.

She is lying in his arms, and he is playing with her hair absently. She doesn't want him to stop so she cuddles in closer.

"This arrangement is unsatisfactory," he says softly, but his voice jars her, for they do not usually talk much during their times together.

Then she realizes what he has said, feels the sting of his words, and realizes she has been holding him much more tightly than she might otherwise, has let her lips rest on his chest.

She jerks away, looks for her uniform—how could it disappear in a room this size?

"Christine." Spock is pulling her back down to him and she realizes she can't find her uniform because she is crying.

"I don't like this either, Spock. I'd give anything not to need this." She fights the tears. "If you want me to transfer off, just say so."

"I do not." He lays his hand over hers, gently slides their linked hands down his body until she realizes he wants her.

Or sex, anyway.

He tightens his grip slightly. "Do you wish to...?"

She does. Her body is suddenly demanding it. But she doesn't answer, just stares at him and finally closes her eyes. What is the right thing to say?

He lets go of her hand. "Another time, perhaps?" He resumes playing with her hair.

She does not hold him as tightly, keeps her lips off his chest.

"I did not mean to hurt you, Christine."

She imagines that might be the story of their lives from here on out.

##

She is in the rec lounge with Uhura and Rand, and they are laughing over a funny transporter story Rand is telling.

Chapel feels a tug in the resonance, turns to look at the door. Spock is walking in with Kirk and looks around until he finds her.

"You two do that all the time now," Uhura says softly. "What's going on?"

Her friends know she went to Vulcan with Spock—Rand transported them to Starbase Five to catch their shuttle, and Uhura cleared them for return. But she's never told them why she went—although she's sure they can guess, since she used to discuss the Pon Farr ad nauseum—nor has she told them what happened during it, why she and Spock seem unable to break their orbit around each other.

"You'd tell us if you were with him, right? Rand has a strange look on her face. "Like, say, if you were coming out of his quarters one morning, maybe three days ago?"

Chapel swallows hard.

"The walk of shame? Christine, damn it, why wouldn't you tell us this?" Uhura is glaring at her.

"They're clearly enjoying sneaking around—more fun, is it?" Rand does not look amused either.

"Something did happen. I'm not sure what it means. It's not something that makes me particularly happy at the moment, which is why I didn't say anything." That and because Spock seems to want to keep it a secret and she is not averse to that.

"He's not...forcing you? Rand sounds as if she will rip him a new one if he is.

"No, it's not..." She sighs. "Can we just not talk about this?"

Uhura reaches over, lays her hand gently on Chapel's. "If being with him is making you this unhappy, then stop."

Oh, if only it were that easy.

##

Spock is unusually tactile, and Chapel finds herself cuddling into him again. She reaches up and runs her fingers over his cheek, than across his ear.

There is a sharp intake of breath, and Spock stops stroking her waist, clenches it instead, almost painfully.

She runs her fingers across his ear again. He moans.

She tries to do it again, and he slaps her hand away—not hard enough to hurt, but firmly enough to stop her.

She can feel his arousal through the bond, through wherever their skin touches. And from where he is pressing into her leg, hard and ready.

"Are you seducing me, Christine?"

She shrugs.

"Do you not wish to have sex with me because my performance during the Pon Farr was unsatisfactory?" There is a glint of desperation and vulnerability in Spock's eyes.

"Who says I don't want to have sex?"

He looks relieved, but then he frowns. "You avoided commenting on my prowess—or lack thereof. Am I...?"

"Bad in bed?"

He nods.

"I don't know, do I? The Pon Farr wasn't normal sex. You were...driven."

"I did not hurt you during it, did I?"

"No." She meets his eyes, seeing if he'll get the message.

"Aside from bonding with you without your consent."

"Or even an inkling it was happening."

"Yes. Or that." He looks ashamed.

"Why did you do it?" She takes a deep breath. "Why?"

"I remember how I felt during the Pon Farr. I did not at first—everything was a blur—but the memories have come back. The sense of connection with you was overwhelming."

"That was just the burning."

"I know." He stops her from turning away. "And yet I relish the times we spend together. I am...glad when you need me."

"It's not real."

"Perhaps not. But it is unbreakable." He watches her carefully as he slowly runs his hand down her side, then down her front, leaning in to nuzzle and suck.

She moans and he reaches up, finds the psi points on her face but doesn't push in. She realizes he is waiting for permission.

"Do it," she says, and the meld springs into life the moment he presses in.

She can sense his surprise at how little effort it took, how ready they are for each other. She wraps her legs around his waist, holding him in place, and he does not try to fight her, just continues his assault on her breasts.

Finally, she lets him move up so he can push into her. He goes slowly, and she can tell his progress, knows he can tell what she is feeling.

"Is this all right?" he asks as he begins to move inside her.

She nods, clutching at him, and he leans down and kisses her, a sweet, loving kiss that unnerves her.

"You are mine," he murmurs in her ear as he brings her closer and closer and...there.

She is not quiet as she comes; he does not seem to mind.

As he finishes, as he moans loudly and kisses her again, she resists asking, "But are you mine?"

##

"Big shore leave plans, Christine?" McCoy is clearly fishing.

She suspects he knows. His room is next to Spock's and the walls are not entirely soundproof. He does not seem to want to rib her about it, though—has not said one sarcastic thing about hopeless crushes.

Possibly because hopeless crushes don't involve being screwed thoroughly and passionately—and loudly—by the object of one's desire. And Spock is very thorough and since they started having sex, he seems to want her near him much more often.

Her quarters don't see much use, unless he wants variety. She granted him access on her door reader weeks ago.

"Not sure yet what I'm doing." Which is the truth because Spock has not mentioned shore leave and she's been waiting to see if he would.

"The other day, when I was having lunch with Jim and Spock, Spock mentioned he was likely to stay on the ship. No surprise there, I guess."

She feels a little stung at the idea that he has told his friends his plans but not her. And Len is clearly waiting to see what her reaction will be, so she shrugs and says, "I've heard there's good shopping. I'll probably spend too much and buy silly things."

It's an old joke between them.

He smiles, but it is a bit sad. Does he feel sorry for her?

"Why? What are you going to do, Len?"

"Fishing. Supposed to be great there."

"Sounds nice." If you like to fish, which she doesn't.

She finds Spock later in the lab. He seems surprised to see her; she does not usually seek him out when they are on duty.

She lets him explain his latest experiment, barely listening, until the other person working in the lab clears out. Then she interrupts him and says, "I don't plan to spend shore leave with you."

He cocks an eyebrow, as if waiting for her to say something he might actually care about.

"Not that it matters to you, of course."

Again, the eyebrow.

"I hate you sometimes," she says as she walks away from him.

She hates herself even more.

##

She doesn't go to Spock that evening, or the next, but the night before shore leave, he comes to her quarters.

"We're not having sex." She walks away and lets the door close in his face.

He palms it open and walks in. "You are angry."

"Wow, aren't you intuitive?" She debates throwing something at him, decides he isn't worth breaking anything—or having to clean up the mess later.

"How will you be spending shore leave?"

"I thought I'd troll the bars until I find a nice guy and screw the living daylights out of him."

The look on Spock's face is one she's never seen before. Stone cold rage.

"So that's it? I'm stuck with you? You impose this bond on me and I can't go out?"

"You are mine."

"No, Spock, I'm not. You don't own me. And what do you think your Vulcan laws would do to someone who did what you did? What would your father think?"

His face gets even colder. "You wish to take another lover?"

"Actually, no, not right now. But the idea that I can't—or that you think I can't just because I'm 'yours'—when I had no choice in this, is abhorrent."

He takes a deep breath, as if he did not realize she was kidding about taking a lover and is relieved to find she was. "T'Pau would not forgive me for what I have done to you. She might, in fact, take drastic steps to free you if you were to insist on that."

"Define drastic."

"I could be put to death."

She stares at him.

"I am quite serious. To impose a bond on someone—it is not done. There is no precedent." He looks down. "I imagine my human half would be blamed for it. I would become a cautionary tale for breeding with non Vulcans."

She sits down on the bed. "I'm not going to tell T'Pau. Or your father."

He sits next to her. "If there is someone you wish to take as a lover, I will step aside to the extent I am able."

"He doesn't exist, this man I want."

"No?"

She shakes her head. "His name is Spock and he loves me." She meets his eyes. "I am his world, and he enjoys my company. He talks to me. He misses me when I'm not there. And I feel happy when I'm with him."

He looks down.

"I promise to behave on shore leave," she finally says into a silence that is less angry than resigned.

"What will you do?"

"I don't know. Shop, maybe. Sleep." She is tearing up and wipes her eyes. "What will you do?"

"There is an experiment I am eager to finish—I will have unlimited access to the lab."

"Of course you will."

He touches her shoulder. "Do you want me to stay with you tonight."

"No." It is out, hopeless and harsh, before she can call it back for a more restrained response.

"Then good night, Christine. Enjoy your leave." He gives her a look she cannot read before he gets up and leaves her in peace—or the closest thing she can manage.

She beams down to the planet alone, doesn't end up shopping, does end up sleeping, and is one of the last to beam back aboard.

He is not waiting for her when she does. She did not really think he would be.

##

She is in the mess when Kirk walks in. He sees her, seems to consider his next move the same way she's seen him eye the chessboard when he and Spock are playing, and then he walks over to her table and sits down.

"Make yourself at home, sir." She does not smile, just keeps on eating, like some kind of sullen teenager.

But this man—this man gets so much more of her supposed mate than she ever will. It is difficult not to hate him just for that. But it's worse now, because he is studying her with so much sympathy in his eyes.

If he's waiting for her to say something, he'll wait forever. She keeps eating.

"So," he finally says, and she feels a small bit of triumph that she made him go first, "how are you?"

"Just dandy."

She sees his mouth tighten in frustration, the same way it does when McCoy won't be conned out of giving him a physical.

"I mean you and Spock."

"Ask him."

"Well, that's the interesting thing. I've tried. He gets uncharacteristically...tense when I ask about the two of you."

She shrugs. Spock will kill her if she says anything if he's not spilled the beans first.

"If I thought you were interfering with the efficiency of a member of my command crew, I could have you transferred off."

She meets his eyes, sees that his are steel, knows hers are too. "Go ahead. And see what Spock does then."

"Why? What would he do?"

'How the hell should I know? But it won't be what you expect, that's for damn sure." She stands and pushes her chair out so quickly it almost falls. "I have to report for duty, sir. This has been a swell talk."

"Sit down, Doctor." His voice is one she's never heard used on her: an order, and an angry one.

She sits down.

"I can tell you're unhappy, Chris. I can also tell Spock is not himself. I don't really care about the details. But if I need to remove one of you, it will be you. I just want you to understand that was no empty threat."

"Well, remove me, then. It might be a blessing." She wants to escape, but he has ordered her to stay and she will comply.

She is a Starfleet officer after all, even if she's also stuck in this game of "Want you/No, I don't" with Spock.

"Is there someone you can talk to? Bones, maybe?"

"I don't need to talk to anyone."

He sighs, rubs his eyes and says softly, "It's been a long day. I'm not in the mood for this."

She can see he is not lying. She can also see that this is a form of manipulation, one he knows she's likely to fall for. She's a caretaker to the end, and he needs taking care of.

"You should get some sleep, sir." She makes her voice sound as much like Spock's as she can. "You'll be in a better mood after some shut eye." That sounded like Len.

He stares at her, then shakes his head as if he knows exactly what she's doing. He stands, but then plants both hands on the table and leans over. "The hell of this, Chris, is that I'm trying to help you."

"Then quit monopolizing my husband." It is out before she can bite it back.

His mouth falls open and he sits back down. "Ohhhhhhhhhh. Jesus. Why didn't you just say so?"

If there were a way to make wishes come true, hers would be rewind, rewind, rewind.

"Chris, it's out now. Just talk to me. I know you went with him to Vulcan for the Pon Farr. I'm not stupid."

"I know. Something happened. He...he bonded with me. It was sort of accidental." She takes a deep breath. "Please, please, do not tell him I told you."

"Are you afraid of him?"

"No." She leans in. "We've...we've sort of made peace with this. But if you talk to him about it, he'll be so angry with me. And then it will all be bad again. And I'm too tired for it all to be bad again." She picks her tray up. "Permission to get the hell out of here, sir?"

"Granted." He touches her arm as she passes, stops her. "I can't promise I won't say anything. I don't like this."

"That we're together?"

"That you're not."

"It's none of your business. Is it?"

He seems to have to think about that. Doesn't appear to have an answer.

She has stumped the great Jim Kirk. Bully for her.

##

She is curled against Spock and he seems very at peace. Something in her rebels at that idea—not when she is still agitated from her talk with Kirk—so she says, "The captain wanted to know what was going on with us."

She feels Spock tense—imagines his post-sex Zen is floating away rapidly.

"What did you tell him?"

"I told him to ask you." She sighs. "Actually, he made me mad and I may have called you my husband."

Spock has gone very quiet. Then he seems to relax. "No more lying. I am relieved."

It is not the reaction she expects. She pushes herself up so she can really study him. "Are you serious?"

"I do not plan to put out a ship-wide bulletin to inform the rest of the crew, but yes, I am relieved he knows. I have grown weary of trying to keep this from him."

"Can I tell my friends?"

"I was not under the impression you wished to."

"Well, that may have changed. Janice has seen me coming out of here. She asked me about it when Ny was there. They know. I haven't talked to Len about it, but I imagine he knows."

"You can tell whomever you wish." He strokes her hair and sighs. "I thought I would want to spend less time with you as the bond became more fixed."

"You have been pretty amorous lately."

"I know. I want you."

"Well, that's something, isn't it?"

He pulls her back down so she is nestled against him. "I do not remember you being quite so cynical when you were a nurse."

"I wasn't quite so cynical when I was a doctor, Spock. At least before the Pon Farr. You could try a saint—and I'm not one."

He lets out a small puff of air, and she realizes it is his version of a laugh. "My mother used to tell my father that exact thing."

She smiled, imagining just how Amanda would say it. "We should tell your parents, shouldn't we?"

"We should. We also should get our stories straight on how this happened."

She laughs. "Yes, of course that would be the first thing you think of. Can't imagine why you don't want me charging in saying, 'Oh my gosh, I dreamed for years of being in this family and here I am, your son's unloved and unwished for wife.' That would go over well."

He is quiet but he leans over suddenly and kisses her on the forehead. She is always unnerved when he's sweet to her. "I will think of something better than that."

"Give them the fairy tale. The Pon Farr came. You asked me to be your partner because you were drawn to me. One thing led to another. Here I am, instant daughter-in-law."

"That is not a fairy tale, that is the truth."

"Great, I can't even dream big for fairy tales anymore." When did she give up on the love part?

"It is not a bad story, is it?"

She pulls him down to her, to see if he will allow her to kiss him. He does. "It's not the worst story it could be."

He sighs and closes his eyes. "I do care for you in some ways. This is not just for sex."

"Spock, come on, of course this is just sex. You don't come here for my sparkling intellect or sense of humor: this is the longest conversation we've ever had that didn't involve one of us being angry."

"That is true. So you see? We are making progress." His lips tick up and she laughs at the way his eyes crinkle ever so slightly.

"Go to sleep, Spock. I have an early call in the morning. I'm working a double shift for Doctor Lanning."

"Will that mean you will be working with Doctor Campbell?"

"I guess. Why?"

"I do not like the way he looks at you."

She laughs. "You're kidding me? You're jealous?" She closes her eyes. "Or just possessive. Very different thing."

He starts to say something and she shushes him. "Go to sleep, Spock."

"Thank you for telling me about Jim."

"Don't thank me. I just didn't want you hearing it from him first."

"Self serving but still, I am grateful." He pulls her closer. "Good night, Christine."

##

Chapel moves around sickbay, realizes that Campbell is on duty, realizes that he's been on duty several days in a row, and wanders over his way. "Trading shifts?"

He smiles at her. In a very, very friendly way. "Permanent change. I find the company more interesting on Alpha shift."

She almost laughs at that: Spock was right? Although Campbell might mean one of the nurses is more interesting, or maybe he plays the other side and is longing for some alone time with Len.

"So, Christine, I was wondering if you were free for dinner?"

So much for that "anyone but her" theory.

He is waiting for an answer, a smile growing and then fading as she says nothing. "This isn't rocket science."

"I know. It's just...complicated." Does she want to go to dinner with Campbell? She knows it will make Spock mad, but she's not entirely sure she cares. On the other hand, she's not really drawn to Campbell. But if she tells him she's sort of seeing someone, then he'll wonder who and..."

Jesus, this should not be this hard.

She finally settles on: "Not tonight. Let me get back to you, okay?"

"Your enthusiasm is overwhelming." He gives her a look that is still interested but now also wary, and goes back to work.

The silence between them during the rest of the shift is beyond awkward.

Once the shift is over, she hurries out and lets herself into Spock's room and sits at his desk with her arms crossed.

He comes in about twenty minutes later, studies her, and says, "Something is wrong?"

"How did you know Campbell was interested in me?"

"He watches you. Constantly."

"Okay, but how did you know that? We don't spend time together outside of this room or my quarters."

"I noticed him watching you one day in the rec lounge. I did not like it. I continued to observe him. He had all the signs of sexual interest."

"He asked me to dinner."

"Are you going?" There is something in Spock's voice she is not used to: uncertainty.

"I told him no for tonight. That I'd get back to him about later. Why couldn't I just answer him?"

"You can just answer him. Tell him what you wish." He leans against the wall, facing her and watching her expression as if it holds answers he does not want to see.

"I could do that? Date him?"

"Do you wish to?"

"No. But could I do that?"

"If you do not wish to, the question is illogical."

"No, the question is hypothetical. If some other person, who I was interested in, asked me, could I go?"

"You are interested in someone else?" At her look, he nods, as if finally getting that this is, indeed, hypothetical. "You are free to do as you wish."

"Would you know?"

"I believe I would. I am not one hundred percent certain."

"And if I slept with the person?"

"Again, I have no prior experience with this, but I believe, were you to become aroused, were someone else to touch you that way, I would know."

She gets up and walks over to him. "I need you to tell me if we're together or not." When he starts to talk, with that annoying "why do I need to explain this again look," she stops him with her fingers on his lips. "I don't want to hear about the bond, or Vulcan traditions. What do you want? Are we together or aren't we?"

She lifts her fingers, adds, "Please think carefully before you answer."

He stares at her, and she can tell he is taking some time to think about this. Finally, he says, "I would be...distressed if you were to see someone else romantically or sexually."

She walks into the bedroom and he follows her, sitting beside her on the bed, playing with her hair in the way he knows she likes.

"Is that the wrong answer, Christine? Would you not be upset if I found a new partner?"

"I would." She leans against him, feels his arm go around her. "But that's because I love you. And I have no idea why you would care what I do."

"Does it have to be categorized?"

"You're a scientist. You know we live and die by labels, by organizing and categorizing."

"You and I are not a science experiment."

"Aren't we?" She turns to look at him.

He kisses her softly, pushing her down on the bed. "Does Campbell excite you?"

"No."

"Does he make you happy when you are with him?"

"No."

"Then tell him no. Tell him you are with me."

She is very still, not sure she heard him right. "I can tell him I'm with you?"

"Yes. That should end the thing."

"He changed shifts for me."

"I will talk to McCoy, if you desire. Campbell will find himself back on Gamma shift very quickly if I do."

"You would brave Len for this? Tell him I'm yours and you don't like Campbell's interest in me?"

"I would. But I doubt you will want me to do that, nor do I think Campbell will want to work the same shift as you if he finds out you are taken."

"Taken?" She sighs. "Owned."

"I do not own you, Christine. You are free to do whatever you want. The only time you will find this obligation onerous is when the Pon Farr comes." He kisses her again, so sweetly it makes her warm inside, and she wraps her arms around him.

"You don't think sex with you is onerous?" She is smiling when she asks.

He is almost smiling when he answers. "No, I do not."

He sets about proving he is right for a good part of the night.

##

Chapel is working on a post-procedure report when Len comes into her office. He sits, watching her work for a moment, before he puts his hands behind his head and says, "You know, Jim and Spock are going to have to debrief the brass on something or other next week. Since we'll be home, I'm going to have a barbeque—big Georgia party—and you're invited."

She is trying to come up with an excuse for why she can't go when he drops his arms, leans forward, and says, "Don't bother thinking up a little white lie, Christine. Spock already told me you and he were going to the Vulcan Embassy for dinner."

She is afraid to meet his eyes. "He did?"

"He did. Am I to take it this is a 'meet the parents' kind of dinner?"

"I've met his parents."

"Of course you have."

She keeps working.

"Christine, look at me."

She finally does, meeting his eyes with what she hopes is steely resolve.

"What I don't understand is why I had to hear it from Spock instead of from you. When did you stop telling me things?"

"There's nothing to tell. It's just dinner."

"It's not just dinner, damn it all. This is Spock we're talking about. Taking you home. Or to a function, hell, I don't know why he's taking you there, but he's definitely taking you there. His plus one. His..."

"The word you're looking for is wife."

His jaw actually drops.

"Don't ask anything else. All right?"

"Should I have known this? I mean I hear you often enough through that damn wall, but should I have gone from sex to wife in my logic trail?"

"No. You were fine stopping at sex."

"Who else knows?"

"The captain."

"You haven't told Nyota? Or Janice?"

She shrugs. The time never seems right. Besides, the circumstances don't exactly make for bragging material.

"You don't seem particularly happy."

She meets his eyes again, channeling Spock with every word. "Do I seem unhappy?"

He actually leans back, as if to get away from her. "I hope he's proud of you. You've changed."

She shrugs again.

He gets up and walks to the door, then turns. "You can tell me anything, you know? I may have been a son of a bitch about you and Spock in the past, but I was afraid you'd get hurt."

"I know. Thanks."

He looks at her helplessly for a moment, then walks out.

She waits a few minutes then sends Spock a private message. "Unless there is something dire going on, get to my office now."

He is there within minutes. Looking both concerned and puzzled.

"Sit."

He sits.

She engages the privacy lock and then glares at him. "I just had a conversation with Len. About his barbeque. Apparently you told him we'd be going to the Vulcan Embassy instead?"

He looks as confused as a Vulcan can. "Was that not the plan?"

"Yes, but did you think to tell me that he knew the plan?"

"I only just told him at lunch. Today."

"There's this thing called a private message. Like the one I just sent you. I was blindsided, Spock. I didn't know what to say to him."

"I regret that." He sounds completely off balance. "Do you want to go to his barbeque rather than dinner?"

"That's not the goddamn point." Her voice is too loud so she takes a deep breath. "I told him I was your wife."

His eyebrows form an inverted "V" as he apparently tries to ascertain how declining an invitation led to a declaration of marital status.

"I'm sick of lying. I'm sick of not knowing what to say to people."

"I agree."

She is expecting anything but that.

"There is no longer a reason to keep this so closely held. We have agreed to be exclusive, have we not?"

"Yes."

"And you are accompanying me to my parents' house?"

"Yes."

"Then it is settled. Tell whomever you wish."

"And when they ask me if I'm happy, what do I say? When they ask me why I kept it quiet to begin with, what the hell do I tell them?"

He exhales loudly. "Tell them what you think best."

"Of course."

He studies her. "Are you truly unhappy?"

"I didn't say that. I said I wasn't happy. There's a difference."

"What would make you happy?"

"Knowing you loved me." She sighs. "And I know you don't. So don't try to think of a nice Vulcan platitude to cover up your answer."

"I would not take you home if I did not care about you."

"I know." She sighs. "I have a lot of work to do."

"As do I." He stands, seems unsure what to do.

She meets his eyes. "Len thinks I've changed."

"You have changed." He walks around to her side of the desk, tips her chin up, and almost frowns. "You were happier before."

She jerks away from him and turns in her chair, hears him walking to the door. "Are you happy, Spock?" she asks just before the door opens.

He does not answer. The door closes, and she immediately tells it to return to the open setting. She's not crying; she's not going to cry.

This is what it is. And it will be this way forever.

##

Spock is surprisingly solicitous as they enter the Vulcan embassy. He stands closer to her than she expects, does not touch her but makes it clear somehow by the way he interacts with her that they are together.

She sees that not all the Vulcans at the embassy approve. She is amazed that he does not seem to care—this same man who almost purged his emotions in order to become purely Vulcan.

"Christine, dear." Amanda's voice rings out, and Chapel feels a surge of pure relief at the idea of another human in the mix.

Amanda takes her arm, smiles at Spock, and says, "Come on, you two. I have someone I want you to meet."

She is introduced to several Vulcan scientists as Spock's wife, and if Amanda weren't so clearly pleased at the idea, Chapel would have words with Spock about pre-briefing her on what he's told his parents and what he hasn't. She manages to get in a glare and can see from the look he shoots back that he has already realized his mistake.

When Amanda finally lets her go, Spock eases her to a quiet corner. "I apologize. You do not have to say anything. I assumed you would understand that I would not bring you here without my parents knowing the full circumstances. I clearly assumed wrong. I will be more...forthcoming in the future, I promise."

She is impressed how much he packed into a few sentences. "I forgive you. Since your mother is clearly pleased that we're together. If Sarek's not, though, you're going to be in trouble."

Sarek however seems fine with how things are. He draws Christine off once he comes in and manages to find out a great deal about her without ever appearing to be grilling her. No wonder he's such a successful diplomat.

"My son has chosen well," he says as Amanda calls them in, and Chapel's expression must have done something strange for he says, "Do you not agree, Christine?"

"I'm happy to be part of this family." Is that okay to say?

Sarek cocks his head, then holds a hand up to his wife when she urges him to let Christine come to the table. "Are you not happy with my son? I know he can be trying."

She laughs. She can't help it. "I'm happy." It's not a lie exactly. It's not the truth, either. "He's good to me." That, at least, is true. For a man who does not love her, Spock is extremely good to her.

Amanda walks over and takes Chapel's arm. "Sarek, for goodness sakes, let our daughter sit down." Daughter. The Vulcans have no word for daughter-in-law, Spock has told her. She is their child now, too. "I'm so pleased to see you here, Christine. You have no idea." Amanda settles her in a chair between Spock and Sarek, and whispers, "Make sure they behave. They do so love to argue, even if both will deny it."

They do not argue even if several times it seems like they might be close. One time, she actually puts her hand on Spock's knee under the table, squeezes slightly just as he is about to engage. He takes a deep breath, then lays his hand over hers and squeezes. For a moment, they are holding hands and then he lets go and she eases her hand away.

She sees Amanda wink from her end of the table. Nothing escapes that woman: something Chapel will be wise to remember, no doubt.

They leave with promises to come again soon or visit on Vulcan—and Chapel finds herself looking forward to that. They have made her feel welcome—something she expected—and loved—something she did not.

"Thank you for this, Christine. I...enjoyed having you with me." Spock steers her down the hill and away from the transporter station they used to beam in. They walk for a few blocks, and she realizes he is heading for the waterfront.

"Got a hankering for something?"

He almost smiles at her. "Your company?"

She laughs. "Have you been taking debonair lessons from the captain?"

His lips tick up, but then he becomes serious. "You should call him Jim. You are my woman and I call him Jim."

"I'll call him Jim when he tells me to call him Jim."

He seems about to argue so she says firmly. "I said—"

"I understand."

They walk more and he finally asks, "What did my father talk to you about?"

"Just wanted to get a feel for who I am, I suppose."

"He seemed quite taken with you. Approval from him has never been easy for me."

"I know. I remember. But he was on his best behavior tonight, I think."

"As you ensured I was." He shoots her a glance full of amusement.

"I was under orders."

"Yes, I know. Mother is fully aware both my father and I can hear her when she whispers."

Chapel laughs. "I love her."

He seems gratified to hear it. "She is very happy I have chosen you."

The truth seems to bear down on his statement, and they grow quiet. Chapel can feel her good mood evaporating and is surprised when Spock suddenly stops her with a firm hold on her arm.

"I did choose you."

"You don't know why, though."

"How is that relevant? Perhaps some part of me knew best? Despite what you think, what you seem to want to believe, our pairing is highly successful."

"Highly successful? Is that what you call good sex with no love?"

"Are you so certain I don't love you? Or that I won't ever love you? I know I feel more strongly for you than I did when I bonded with you. I know I understand you better than I did then. I know I feel...connected to you in ways that surpass the bond."

She is not sure what to say.

"And if that is so, why do I feel that you love me less with each passing day? Not more?"

"That's not true."

"Then why will you not try to enjoy this? I...I am not hiding anything. I know I frequently annoy you with my communication choices, but I am willing to learn your preferences."

She takes a deep breath.

"If you do not love me, Christine, then I will let you go. But I do not want to."

She takes his arm, and he doesn't object. "I'll always love you, Spock. It's my curse."

He looks stung by her choice of words.

"I'm sorry. That was mean. And you were being so nice." She lets go of his arm and turns to go up the hill. "I'll see you back on the ship."

She gets about four steps away when he says, "Christine, do not go back. Stay with me."

She turns. "And do what?"

"Walk. Talk. Is that not what couples do?" He strides up to her. "It makes me sad to contemplate you leaving me right now. Does that not mean something to you?"

She closes her eyes.

"Christine. Please?" He holds out his arm and she takes it, letting him guide them back down the hill.

They do not talk, but they do walk, and he never lets go of her arm until she pulls away when they enter a more crowded area. He gives her a questioning look and she smiles and says, "I don't expect miracles."

"I would, tonight, allow it if you wished to maintain contact."

"And that's good enough for me. Some decorum must be maintained, right?"

He nods, but she notices he bumps against her frequently, as if he is having trouble walking straight—or as if he misses the contact and is getting it in other ways.

Which is silly to think, but it makes her happy anyway.

##

Chapel walks into the small conference room Kirk has called her to and is startled when a cry of "Surprise" sounds. She looks around and sees her friends smiling, as Uhura puts a silly hat on her and says, "Happy birthday."

She sees Spock standing behind Len and the captain, looking insufferably smug. And Uhura winks at him as if to confirm he's had something to do with this party, which is clearly impossible. Vulcans don't celebrate birthdays.

She has told Uhura and Rand some version of the truth about her and Spock. She has not moved into his quarters, but that is only so she has somewhere to retreat to when she needs some time alone—or when they are arguing, which happens less and less frequently. She knows her friends were annoyed with her, but she told them in such a matter-of-fact way—in such a Vulcan way—that they seemed at a loss how to express their annoyance.

And now they've had time to get used to it. Time to see her with Spock, not that he's given to displays of affection or anything else, but time enough to understand why Chapel always seems to know when Spock walks into a room, and vice versa.

And now this party. There is cake, and a pile of presents, and she is made to sit at the conference table and unwrap them while everyone watches. She hates being the center of attention and is surprised when Spock suggests someone else cut the cake, citing the unlikelihood of everyone getting a piece if she is forced to multitask and figure correct angles while also unwrapping presents.

She smiles at him. He gives her his version of a smile back.

There are practical gifts and there are pretty things, but she has not opened Spock's gift yet and is sure it will be wildly unromantic and highly logical.

She finally opens it, finds a padd in the box. She turns it on and sees that Spock has booked them a room for their next leave. On Risa. The most romantic planet in the galaxy. Or the most sexy, anyway.

"What is it?" Rand asks, trying to see.

Chapel closes down the screen. "A tip on a science experiment." She looks at Spock. "Really?"

"Yes. It seemed...a new way to approach the experiment."

"And damned unromantic," Len mutters as he passes her the first piece of cake. "For God's sake, Spock, when in doubt, buy expensive jewelry."

"I shall endeavor to remember that, Doctor," Spock says as he passes his cake on to someone else.

It is carrot cake. Her favorite. And Len has given her a big piece. She smiles, a little stunned that Spock would do this. As Spock comes over to sit next to her, she leans in and whispers, "Did your mother put you up to this?"

"No."

"Len?"

"No. Nor Jim. Nor any of our other friends."

"You thought of this yourself? You want this?"

"If there is a destination more to your liking, I can change our reservations. I realize I should have consulted you on something as important as our leave plans, but since this was for your birthday, I took a chance that pre-briefing you was unnecessary."

"You were right." She realizes she's getting sentimental, swallows hard and blinks a few times. "I'm just...surprised."

"Is that not the purpose of this party?"

"Yes, that is exactly the purpose. And it's a good surprise, not a bad one."

"Then all is in order." He touches her knee under the table. "Happy birthday, Christine."

##

Risa is warm with tropical foliage and a gentle breeze. Chapel follows Spock into the hut he has rented; it is near the beach and when she walks onto the deck, she sees it has a small pool. A well secluded small pool.

She looks back at Spock with a grin. "Really?"

He manages to look sheepish. "My mother suggested I upgrade."

"I thought your mother didn't suggest this trip?"

"She did not. But she commed me to ask if we wanted to come to Vulcan for leave. I told her we were coming here. There was some...squealing, is perhaps the best word."

Chapel laughs.

"And then she suggested the upgrade to a structure of our own with a pool that is private. As she is a human woman, I did as she suggested. I hope you do not mind."

"Mind?" She kneels down, runs her fingers through the water. Perfect temperature. "Are you crazy? I'm going to buy her something really, really nice while we're here as a great big thank you."

He looks extremely satisfied.

They go in and unpack, and she changes into a sundress, and then he suggests lunch. She's starving so she agrees happily and gets into the little transport they were given at the reception to get around the resort. Spock lets her off and goes to park and she finds a gift shop, wanders around to see if there is anything that would be a nice thank you for Amanda. She sees a sort of Tiki statue and picks it up to examine it.

A man smiles at her from across the aisle. "You seek jamaharon?"

"Who now?"

"You hold a horga'hn."

She holds up the statue. "This?"

He nods. She sees Spock come in. He is watching the two of them with a curious look on his face.

"You are very appealing. My name is Yanonne. I offer my services for jamaharon," the man says to her.

Spock walks over, taking the statue and putting it back on the shelf. "He means sex."

"Yeah, I was getting that." She looks at the man. "I'm with him."

"A pity." The man goes back to whatever he was doing on the other side of the aisle.

Spock looks at the statue. "Were you thinking of gifting my mother with one of those?"

"Not anymore."

His lips tick up and she smiles. "Come, wife, I am hungry." His words are imperious; his expression is not.

She follows him into the restaurant, is happy to see the hostess is leading them to a table outside with a lovely view. All the tables are just private enough for intimate conversation, and Spock leans in and says, "That man wanted you."

"So it would seem."

"This pleases me."

"Of course it does. You're a male. You love it when other males lust after your toys."

"You are more than a toy."

She smiles.

"I am serious. I have been...anticipating being alone with you here. Anticipating it greatly."

"You have?"

He nods. "I have not told you this, but I admire how you have handled the bond—all that has happened. It would be easy for love to turn to hate, for what has happened between us turn you bitter, but you have not let it."

"I'm not always nice."

"No, but you are always reasonable. That cannot be overvalued, in my estimation."

"Why are you saying such sweet things to me?"

"Because they are true."

She studies him. "Spock, I'm yours. You don't have to woo me."

"I think that is precisely why wooing is in order. You have very low expectations of me, and of our relationship, do you not?"

She looks down.

"It is all right if you do. I know the circumstance of our joining was less than optimal. But I find myself...enjoying our relationship."

"You do?"

"I do." He suddenly looks down. "I take it you cannot say the same."

"I didn't mean it that way." She looks away, out over the sweeping vista that leads down to the water. "I love you. I wanted you. And then I got you. And..."

"And...?"

"And I guess I grew up." She touches his hand. "I'm not unhappy."

"That is no longer sufficient, Christine."

"It's sweet that you think so. It's sweet that you brought me here. I really do appreciate it." She pulls her hand away. "But don't woo me if it's not natural."

"Agreed."

Their waiter comes and soon begins to bring them plate after plate of small offerings, each better than the last. Wooing is forgotten in the face of such a feast.

##

Chapel is sunning herself by the pool, letting the enormous lunch settle. Spock has gone off for a walk—he asked her to go with him but she just couldn't bear to leave the large, very comfortable chaise.

She drowses in the sun, unsure how much time has passed, when a shadow blocks the sun. Looking up, she sees Spock, staring down at her.

"Nice walk?"

He nods. "This deck is extremely private."

"It is. Very peaceful."

He pulls her up gently, begins to take her clothes off.

"Not even a by your leave? I'm just your sex toy that you can disrobe at will."

"You are much more than that." He continues undressing her, then pulls his robe and underwear off.

"It's a good thing this is a very private deck. You've made us naked."

His lips tick up and stay up, his eyes are savagely amused. "I am aware of this." Taking her hand, he leads her to the pool. "I have never had sex in a pool."

"Neither have I."

He looks at her. "You are not just saying that?"

"Amazingly, no, I am not. Roger didn't like swimming. And my other partners...well, they weren't partners you took on vacation."

He walks down the steps, holds her hand as she walks in after him, then pulls her into his arms. He kisses her and the kiss is different than any he's given her before. It's...playful.

She twines her arms around his neck, and as he lifts her onto him, she wraps her legs around his waist, letting him move her until—she moans as he pushes into her.

He kisses her again. Soft, nipping kisses that she returns, and soon she is laughing in between moans as their kissing turns to a game. He suddenly says, "Take a deep breath," and she does, and then he is pulling them into the deep end, down into the water. Her hair floats around them and he kisses her under the water, engaging the meld points, letting her up when she can't take it anymore.

She gasps as they break water, and then he is kissing her again, moving them to less deep water, pushing her up against the side of the pool and thrusting hard, his hands behind her head to keep it from hitting the wall of the pool as he moves almost violently inside her.

She comes and hopes to hell no one is walking by on the beach. Then realizes no one here will care. Risa is all about sex.

He slows his thrusting, seems to be making sure she is all right before he works back up to the same intensity, pounding into her until he, too, comes, crying out in a way he has not before.

Free. He sounds free. He sags against her, lays his head in the crook of her shoulder, and she rubs his hair then begins to stroke his back.

"I am in love with you," he whispers in her ear.

"You just had the mother of all orgasms. I do not believe you. Tell me again later if you want."

He pulls away so he can look at her. "I am in love with you."

She shakes her head. But she kisses him tenderly several times to show him she doesn't mind that he's telling her this.

They stay, wrapped up in each other, and in a short while he is moving inside her again. Slowly this time, kissing her cheek, her neck, her forehead—anywhere he can reach.

"I love you," she says, something she usually tries her best not to tell him.

He just kisses her more sweetly.

They stay in the pool for a very long time. And when they get out, Spock pulls another chaise over so they can lie side by side. He manages to keep contact with her, his leg pressing against hers, his hand laid over hers, and she can feel the resonance between them almost purring.

She closes her eyes, falls asleep for a bit, is awakened by his lips on her ear. "Mmm, Spock."

"I am in love with you, Christine."

She turns sleepy eyes on him, tries to assess if he's just saying it or not. But he begins to suck her earlobe and she laughs when it tickles.

"Do you believe me now? It has been over an hour since our last orgasms."

She laughs. "Maybe you do love me." She frowns. "Maybe you do."

"This should not cause a frown." He pulls back. "You are mine and I am yours and that will not change. But what can change is how we feel about that."

"How badly do you want it to change?"

"Do you mean am I willing to delude myself that I love you in the interest of a more harmonious union?"

"Yes, that is exactly what I mean."

He thinks about it. "My mother and father would tell you that I have chafed against every restriction ever put on me. Our bond should be just that. Instead"—he pulls her to him, kisses her thoroughly—"I find it quite comforting. You are my mate—not a problem I must escape, not a mistake I must live with."

She can tell he believes what he is saying. She sees no reason not to believe it herself. Especially when she so very much wants to. And when he is pulling her to him again, giving her another ferocious kiss and pulling her onto him, pushing his robe and the dress she pulled on back up so they can join, so she can ride him harder and harder and—there.

She collapses into his arms. "I love you."

He holds her on him, rubbing her back, kissing her for a long time before he pulls her dress back down and lets her return to her chaise.

##

It is their last day on Risa, and Chapel lies boneless against Spock's chest as he plays with her hair. He is leaning against the headboard, a pillow behind his neck and he sighs. It sounds like an expression of great contentment.

He finds the meld points on her face, pulls her closer with his other hand. "Do you trust me?"

"Mmmm."

"No, I need your words, Christine. I am going to try something and I want to be sure you trust me before I do."

"I trust you." She manages to lift her hand up to stroke his, where it sits on the psi points. Then she presses his fingers in, feels the meld spring to life. "Do your worst, Mister."

She feels his amusement through the meld. It is astonishing how much they amuse each other when they let their defenses down. Then she can only feel his mind, intent as he travels through hers, down and down and down and...

She feels as if she is floating. She is everything; she is nothing. She hears his voice, all around her, saying, "Here, Christine."

"Mmmmm," she says again as she lets herself sink into the feeling of being part of him.

He goes a little deeper; the bond sounds like a deep-toned bell, struck just right. She moans in pleasure as the vibrations flow through her.

"This is what we are when we are truly together," he says. "At our strongest, this is our reflection."

She wants to hear the bell again, reaches within their joined minds to where she saw him go and finds the spot that looks right. She imagines a clapper, gently touches it to the bond. A higher, sweeter note rings out.

She senses his surprise that she has done that.

"Do it together now," she says, feeling as if she is full of the kind of recreational drugs people pay a lot of money for. "What does it sound like if we do it together?"

"I do not know." He moves next to her in her mind, they hit the spot as one. The high and low blend perfectly, the vibrations nearly rip away everything and she finds herself crying. He is clutching her with one hand, bringing them out of the meld with the other. He pulls her to him once they are free, cradles her and says, "I'm sorry. I did not mean to hurt you."

"You didn't. It was so pretty, Spock. We're so pretty." She kisses him and cuddles against him. "I didn't know you could do that."

"I didn't, either. But the bond...it should serve a good purpose, yes? Not just to lock you to me against your will."

She leans back, pulls him down, and kisses him. "It was never against my will. It was just without my consent."

"That is a very fine line, Christine."

"Nevertheless." She smiles. "We were in harmony just then, deep down."

"I know."

"I wonder what we would have sounded like when this first began?"

"We will never know."

She remembers him fleeing into the Vulcan desert. "I know. It would have been horrible. You ran away from me."

"I am not running now. And if you were to leave me, I would do my utmost to win you back."

"You mean that?"

"I do."

"You love me." The feeling is still a new one. She is not sure she would completely believe it if she hadn't felt the vibration they made together.

"I do," he says, as he holds her close and whispers things in Vulcan she can't understand but decides she likes the sound of anyway.

##

She is sitting with Uhura and Rand in the rec lounge. She feels a tug on the bond and looks over at the door. Spock is walking in with Kirk and Len.

She smiles at him—a long, languorous smile that she should try to dial back, but the post-Risa bloom is still not off the rose. For either of them.

Spock leads Kirk and Len over. Len peels off to the bar, but Kirk stays with Spock.

"Nice vacation, Chris?" He is smiling at her in a way that is new. Like he finally approves of her—or of her with his friend. Or maybe that's just her, finally feeling like she fits in the mix somehow.

"I did, sir."

"Jim," he says softly.

She smiles.

"Can I get you ladies anything?" He gives them all a gallant bow.

Rand holds up her drink. "We're fine, sir."

"Maybe later then. If you'll excuse us, there's a chessboard with our name on it."

Spock gives a little half nod to Uhura and Rand, but his eyes darken when he looks at Chapel, and his lips tip up every so slightly. Then he turns to follow his friend.

"Holy God, that was hot." Rand punches her softly in the arm. "When the hell did you two get so hot?"

"Okay, now I want to go to Risa. With him, preferably," Uhura says with a wink at Christine.

"It was an awfully nice place."

"Must have been. Wow." Rand looks over where Kirk—Jim and Spock are sitting. "Guess you're part of that club now."

"What? You mean the name thing? Nyah-he has to do that. I'm with his best friend." She makes a face like "who cares?" but inside she is very, very happy that Kirk decided to let her in the club. She imagines Spock is, too. "Besides, we have our own club. No boys allowed."

Both her friends raise their eyebrows.

"Unless we want them in. Which, sometimes we might. But we don't need them." She looks over at Spock. "We just are stuck with them."

He glances her way, nods slightly, then turns back to the game.

"Even that was hot," Rand says softly. "Damn it all, Christine. How the hell did he end up being the hot one?"

She shrugs. "You two can moon over the captain all you want. I'll keep my cold, emotionless—"

"Utterly sexy," Uhura said.

She laughs. "Utterly sexy Vulcan."

She looks over at Spock; he glances up and gives her a soft look.

And he'll no doubt keep her, too.

FIN