Lasting Impressions by Djinn

Spock came to consciousness slowly, his vision clouded, his extremities tingling painfully. He moved and pain exploded in his head, causing him to make a sound he normally would not have.

"Lie still." A voice. Female. Doctor Chapel's.

He tried to move again and bit back the moan.

"Can you really not hear me or are you just being obstinate?"

"I can hear," he managed to get out as pain nearly overwhelmed him.

"Then don't move. You were hit very hard on the head by the people who captured us. Do you remember that?"

He thought back. "The last thing I remember is eating breakfast with the captain this morning."

"Oh, swell. You're out of commission physically and mentally."

"I have limited amnesia. We have not ascertained my intellectual capacity is diminished, Doctor."

"Well, your sweet nature certainly isn't. You've been out for about twelve hours as far as I can tell."

"You left me unconscious for that long with a head wound? With a possibility of concussion? I must note that my vision appears impaired, and this may be due to you not keeping me awake."

"I'm tied to a wall, Spock. I tried yelling to keep you awake, which didn't get your attention but did earn me a beating. So feel free to put me on report when or if we get back to the ship."

He heard rustling, imagined she was trying to work free, then there was a sharp intake of breath followed by cursing.

"You are badly injured?" he asked once the cursing subsided.

"Let's just say our captors are no slouches in the beating department."

"I am sorry."

"Yeah, thanks."

"May I ask why we are on a mission together?"

"You mean as in just the two of us?" She laughed, then cursed again, and he realized laughing must have hurt her. "We weren't. We were on a landing party. So hopefully, since the rest of our compatriots aren't locked up, too, they will find us one of these years." She did not sound hopeful.

He tried to remember anything about the landing party. Tried and failed. "Who made up the crew compliment of the landing party?"

"You, me, Delyle, Santiago, and two security officers I didn't recognize—think they were from the new group that transferred on at Starbase Four. You remember that, right?"

"Yes. I recall everything before breakfast." Or at least he thought he did. How would he know he recalled everything until someone brought up something that he did not remember? At least, the past before breakfast was not this empty place that the past after breakfast and before waking was. "Why did they take us?"

"No idea. But I think what you really mean is why were we together for them to take." She sounded very bitter.

"I believe I meant what I asked." Although he was equally curious about her question.

"They appear to be hiding from the authorities so perhaps we're hostages. Why we were together is all your fault. You said you wanted to talk to me, and you indicated it should be in private."

"What did I want to talk to you about?"

"Hell if I know. They got us before you could say. Since I gave up on you after your V'ger emotionalism subsided, when it was clear you weren't going to look my way, I assume it wasn't to berate me for following you around and mooning over you."

"Logical." He decided not to tell her his V'ger emotionalism had far from subsided; he had just learned to hide it much better. The meld had profoundly impacted him in ways that frequently surprised him, even months later.

"Maybe you didn't like the way I was cataloging the plants? I don't know." She sighed. "God, I'm thirsty."

He was, too. A memory came to him. Jim, talking about favorite vacation memories during breakfast. Mardi Gras—that he'd been several times. That he enjoyed the parades, the beads, the drinks—Hurricanes, Spock thought he had called them. "You lived in New Orleans."

"For a few years, yeah."

"I remember what it was I wanted to talk to you about. Jim indicated he had enjoyed Mardi Gras in the past. I thought..."

"Awww, you wanted to throw him a Fat Tuesday party?"

"Yes."

"And you thought I'd be your resident expert on the thing? You know Ensign LaRue lived there all her life, right? I was just a kid when I was there—barely had time to soak up much of it since my parents kept me away from most of the activities. They aren't very kid friendly, to be honest. But LaRue actually went to the parades; she knows how to make a king cake, decorate a float, all that stuff."

"So I would have been right to ask you. You had the knowledge of who to ask, if not enough to be the expert yourself."

"Why did you have to ask me that in private?"

He had no answer for that. He wondered if something had occurred between breakfast and when he had asked her to talk with him to make him think the conversation was best conducted away from the others.

Before he could think too long, light burst into where they were being held. "Commander? Doctor?"

"Here," he said. "Help Doctor Chapel first." He was not being chivalrous. Of all of them, he trusted her the most to check his condition before moving him.

He heard her being released from the wall, heard one of the security officers say, "Oh, ma'am, can you walk?" and wondered exactly how badly she was hurt, but she said, "I'm fine," rather impatiently and was soon at his side.

"Nice of our boys to retrieve our equipment. I'd hate to have to scan you with a regular tricorder." She fell silent, then, working quickly.

He could just make out her face. She was bruised and there was dried blood running down from what looked like a very deep cut on her cheekbone.

They had beaten her very badly indeed. He found himself angry at these unseen tormentors. Found himself angry that he could not remember any of it. That he had not been able to help her.

"We need to get you up to the ship now," she said softly. She turned to the security officer. "Can we beam out from here?"

He nodded, called for beam up.

The three of them were taken first.

She supervised as McCoy loaded him up on a gurney. Then Spock saw her collapse, saw one of the security officers catch her.

"She is hurt," Spock told McCoy.

"Not as badly as you are. They'll get her on that other gurney."

"She needs assistance."

McCoy patted him on the arm. "Well, color me blindsided, Mister Spock. Are you actually worried about her?" He walked alongside as the lights caused strange auras for Spock when the gurney passed under them. He felt as if he might vomit as they pushed him from the transporter room to sickbay. "I'll be sure to tell her."

"I can tell her." No, that was not right, he and Doctor Chapel did not regularly converse. He tried to sit up, felt McCoy's hand on his chest.

"Okay, buddy. How about neither of us tell her anything until you are all better? Which may not be for a while judging by that last statement. Now just lie still and try not to throw up on me—you're looking greener than normal."

##

Spock woke in sickbay to find his vision restored—his memory, however, seemed to still be a blank as far as the slice of time between breakfast and waking up wherever he and Doctor Chapel had been held. He saw her moving slowly around sickbay, evidently back on duty. She met his eyes, seemed about to look away, so he moved his head to indicate she should come over.

He expected pain from the movement; there was none.

"How are you feeling?" she asked.

"Better." He studied her. Her face was a mass of shiny nu-skin and he could see it going down her neck as well. Her left cheekbone was still red and raw. "Doctor McCoy was not thorough when he addressed your injuries."

She touched her cheek. "Oh, he was. Some injuries need more than one pass. I have to let it heal up a bit before we can go again." She took a deep breath. "They opened this down to the bone. Same as your skull."

He resisted the urge to touch his head. "Are you in pain?"

"Not right now. I'm on some pain blockers. Not as good as the ones you're on, but decent." She studied the readings on his biobed. "You're doing much better. Do you remember anything more about the time you'd lost?"

"It is still a blank. It will likely stay that way, won't it?"

She nodded. "It was only a few hours. It could have been much worse." She smiled gently, turned to go, then stopped. "Oh, I talked to Ensign LaRue, told her you might be seeking her out. She's very new and very shy and very in awe of anyone above the rank of lieutenant. I didn't want her to think she was in trouble."

"Thank you."

"Sure." She smiled again, gingerly, he thought, as if too wide a movement would hurt her cheek, then moved away to check on another patient.

"They beat the holy hell out of her, Spock." McCoy came out of—Spock wasn't sure where he materialized from. "You were still worse off, as you can probably tell since you're the one on the biobed and she's the one on her feet insisting on working."

"You do not think she should be on duty?"

"Hell, no, I don't think she should be. But she's as hard to keep in bed as you or Jim." McCoy sighed. "When can we have a landing party not run into problems? There are exactly two splinter groups on that entire planet and we beamed you into the current home base of one of them."

"It was, indeed, unfortunate."

McCoy laid his hand on Spock's shoulder, let it sit there for a long moment. "I'm just glad you're both okay. You had me worried—you especially."

"I appreciate your concern, Doctor." He watched Doctor Chapel stop for a moment, hold on to a biobed as if she was dizzy and needed the support. "Doctor McCoy, I believe Doctor Chapel is—"

"I see." McCoy was off and to her side, manhandling her to the biobed next to Spock's and telling her, "Here, you two can commiserate about the S.O.B. who runs this place. Now stay off your feet for at least the next hour or I'll confine you to quarters. You got me, missy?"

She rolled her eyes, but Spock thought he read exhaustion in them. "Fine." Once McCoy was gone, she glanced at him. "Not a word."

He wisely kept his mouth shut, watched her as she closed her eyes. She was asleep in moments. He was gone not long after her. When he woke up a few hours later, she was still sleeping, but someone had covered her with a blanket and turned down the lights around their biobeds. He watched her for a few moments, then allowed himself to fall back to sleep.

##

Spock found Ensign LaRue in science lab four. She blushed when she saw him, and stammered a little as she said, "Doctor Chapel said you might be down to see me, sir."

"Let me first say you are under no obligation to assist me. Do you understand?"

She nodded.

"Did Doctor Chapel say what it was I might wish to discuss with you?"

"No, sir."

"I need expertise in the throwing of a Mardi Gras party. Do you feel you have that expertise?"

"Oh, yes, sir. I've been doing that since I was a kid. We have a huge family. My mom always needed help with the parties. How many people?"

He lifted an eyebrow. "Would it deter you if I said the entire ship?"

"Wow. Okay. Hmmm." She thought about it, didn't blurt out an answer, which he appreciated. "I'll need help. May I commandeer volunteers?"

"You realize those words are mutually opposed?"

She grinned, no blush in evidence. "Just a phrase my mom used to say."

"You may recruit volunteers. There will be no commandeering for an optional event. Is that understood?"

"Yes, sir." She handed him a padd. "Doctor Chapel said I if I agreed to do anything over and above, I should ask you to read this."

He glanced down at the padd, unsure what he would see. Then he started to read more carefully. A few minutes later he met her eyes. "This is most unexpected."

"Doctor Chapel is mentoring me on it. I'm working on my doctorate from here. She said you might have some insights on this?"

"Indeed, I do." He handed her back the padd. "I look forward to discussing this with you."

She blushed again, but this time he thought it was a pleased blush not an embarrassed one. "Thank you, sir."

"Thank you. For helping me with my project." He left her with a nod, found himself walking down to sickbay.

Doctor Chapel was in her office, the door open, and she looked up as he approached. "You feeling okay?"

He nodded and gestured to one of her guest chairs. "May I sit?"

"Of course."

"I met with LaRue."

"Ahhh, that explains the acquisitive look in your eye. Showed you her dissertation outline, did she?"

"She did. She also said you were helping her with it. Why did you ask her to show it to me?"

"I think her line of specialty is more in your wheelhouse than mine, Spock. And you can never have too many mentors when they're brilliant like we are." She laughed as if she was kidding.

"We are brilliant."

"Well, I know you think you are. But I've never gotten the feeling you thought I was."

"That was undoubtedly a mistake on my part."

She frowned, as if that comment surprised her and not in a good way. "What's up your sleeve? You need some other favor?"

"Can I not admit I may have underestimated you without you assuming the worst?"

"Well, it's unexpected, but I guess you can." She leaned in. "You have my blessing to take over LaRue's mentoring, Spock. We don't have to work on it together." She started to scroll through a padd, and he had a feeling she was doing it more to look busy than because she really needed to be reading it.

"I do not have many friends on this ship."

"Don't be silly. You have tons of friends. People would die for you. Women swoon where you walk." She grinned at him. "Believe me, I used to tally up the competition."

"That is not what I meant. The meld with V'ger. It left me...empty. I have Jim. He is a true friend. And to some extent the others on the command crew. But I do not...talk to them as a friend would. We are...colleagues who are friendly."

"Do Vulcans have friends?"

"They do. That is the irony. I have always worried I would be judged for my human half if I reached out too much for friendship. And yet I have noticed that other Vulcans do have strong relationships."

"And you suddenly want to be bestest buds with me?"

He took a deep breath. "Do you not wish to be my friend?"

"Spock, I recently gave up on you? Cut a girl a break." She laughed softly. "I think this is just transference. You know I was beaten up trying to keep you conscious in that holding cell and now you feel responsible. But I'm fine. So no worries, all right?"

He got up slowly. "You do not wish to be friends?"

"Spock, go be friends with Len." She smiled mildly at him, and he thought she was trying to—how did Jim put it? Oh yes, let him down gently.

"Thank you again for pointing me to LaRue." He left before he felt any stranger around her.

Is this how he used to make her feel?

##

Spock moved his chess pieces carefully, relishing that he seemed to have Jim locked into check no matter what move he made next. He heard loud laughter, looked over to the other side of the rec lounge and saw a group who had clearly had too much to drink. Doctor Chapel was with them.

Jim seemed to follow his gaze. "There a reason you're staring at her instead of making a move? I just evaded your careful little trap."

Spock turned his attention back to the board, saw that Jim had, indeed, extricated himself from check with a move Spock had not seen—how had he not seen it?

"You seem preoccupied, my friend. She the reason?" Jim seemed to be trying very hard to keep a smile off his face. "Because the irony at this point is almost too rich."

"It is never too late—you have said that many times."

"Spock, she's with Lieutenant Commander Lindsey. Didn't you know that?"

"Lindsey? From Astrophysics?"

"That would be the one."

Spock picked him out in the group of drunken revelers. Tall, dark hair, lean body. "He looks like me."

Jim laughed softly. "Nothing wrong with your ego. So, she has a type. Many women do. Hell, I do." He made a face. "And you know, she'd sort of be it, if I think very hard about it."

"Do not think very hard about it, then," Spock said, his gaze still on Lindsey. "He is a capable officer. Very intelligent."

"Like I said. She has a type. Are you going to make your move or not?"

Spock turned back to the board. "I am not interested in her, Jim."

"No, of course not. You always interrupt your game to stare at her and ponder the nature of her romantic entanglements."

"She has more than one?"

Jim closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. "Figure of speech. Just make a damn move."

Spock studied the board, found the move that would put Jim back in check and played it. "V'ger left me considering that my friendship with you should not be an anomaly. I do not mean that I intend to try to recreate the type of bond that you and I share, but that I should have more people in my life who I consider friends."

"Probably a healthy idea." Jim smiled. "And you intend to start with the woman who has nursed—excuse the pun—a crush on you all these years, rather than Bones or Scotty or, if you crave a female friend, Uhura?"

"You disapprove of her as a friend?"

"Not at all. I just am...fascinated by your choice." He smiled and moved his piece. "Safe again. Your game is off, no question about it."

Spock took a deep breath. "She no longer pursues me."

"Yes, I know. I'm glad of that. Is that why you want to pursue her? You only want what you can't have?"

Spock stared at him.

"What? I have tons of friends like that. They love the challenge and then once they capture, they're done. Are you that guy? Because that guy is usually an ass."

"I am not."

"Are you sure? Because this is damned odd, Spock."

Spock sat back and tried his hardest not to look over to where Doctor Chapel was sitting.

"Do this for me. Start with Bones or Scotty and leave Christine out of this for now. You're confused. She's happy. Just...let her be happy. All right?"

"She did not mention Commander Lindsey to me. Not once, Jim. Is that not significant?"

"Like the many times you gushed about T'Pring to all of us? Some people are more private." Jim shook his head. "Will you promise me you'll start your friendship campaign with someone other than Christine?"

Spock nodded.

"Good." Jim moved his queen. "Checkmate."

##

Spock sat alone in the science lab, working on an experiment he had previously not had time for. He heard the door open, a soft voice say, "There you are."

Christine.

He frowned. When had he started to think of her as Christine rather than Doctor Chapel? "I am working." He could tell his voice sounded tentative.

She sat down next to him, apparently unconcerned by his brush-off. "LaRue wanted me to tell you about one of the naughtier points of Mardi Gras. She was too embarrassed to do it. But she thinks we need to set some ground rules."

He turned to look at her.

"We're assuming you want to go all out. A mini parade? Throwing of the beads?"

"If that is the spirit of Mardi Gras, then yes." He had told Jim about the party. Jim was excited. Spock wanted to make him happy, and he imagined authentic would accomplish that.

"Good. Well, then, the seamier side of the bead throwing ritual is that often some people end up with many and others end up with few. Basic principle of scarcity."

"Accepted."

"There are remedies for that. Those who have are willing to share...for a price."

"And the price?"

"A view of genitalia—generally women's breasts."

Spock let his eyebrow rise very high. "That would be most irregular."

"Agreed. Therefore the ground rules. But the clarion call of"—she took a deep breath, her face turning red—"'Show me your tits' is pretty well know by most Earthers. So we need to get it established early that this won't be tolerated."

Spock imagined the all-hands message advertising the event, with the postscript of some bureaucratic version of what she had just said.

"You still with me?"

"I am envisioning the wording. "No cries of 'Display mammary appendages' will be tolerated." Will that get the message across?"

She laughed. "I'll work on it and run it by you, how's that?"

"Thank you."

She nodded and he turned back to the microscope. He noticed she didn't get up.

"Was there something else?" he asked, without looking up.

"I've seen you in the mess with different people. Len. Ny. Guess Operation 'Find a Friend' is in full swing?"

He thought she sounded the slightest bit put out. "As you suggested, Doctor McCoy was excellent company."

"And Ny?" She sounded different—it took him a moment to identify the sound in her voice as jealousy.

"Most pleasant to be around." In truth, they'd had less to talk about than he'd thought they would.

"Great." She sounded even more jealous.

"You did not tell me you were seeing Commander Lindsey."

"You didn't ask." She was moving things around on the table, as if she was suddenly nervous.

"He seems a fine man."

"He is."

"May I point something out that you will not like?"

"I don't know."

He waited.

"Fine, what?"

"He looks like me. He is known to be intelligent. He works in the sciences. Now who is transferring?"

There was a moment of silence, and then she got up slowly. "Unlike you, he is fully capable of feeling and showing emotion. Unlike you, he actually finds me attractive and acts on that attraction. Unlike you, he makes me feel good about myself. Unlike you—"

"Yes, I understand. I am lacking in all aspects."

"Yes. Yes, you damn well are."

He pulled away from the microscope. "That may well be. But there was no reason for you to come to me just now. You and I both know that no one on this crew would yell out what you just said when their commanding officer and the rest of the command staff was in the room. You used that as an excuse to come see me. Why, I do not know, but you did. So I may be lacking, but clearly you wish to spend time with me."

She stared at him. "I'm in love with Patrick."

"Then I wish you every happiness with him." He did not look away.

She turned on her heel and hurried out.

He tried to get back to his experiment but found he could not concentrate.

##

A soft chime at the door to Spock's quarters interrupted his after-dinner meditations. "Come," he said softly.

LaRue walked in. Even in the low light, he could tell she was blushing, but she had her shoulders back and her head high. "I owe you an apology, sir."

"For...?"

"For asking Doctor Chapel to do something I was too uncomfortable to do."

"At ease, Ensign."

She didn't relax very much. "She came back very angry. Said you did not think my concerns had much merit. I decided that I should come and explain myself to you, explain why I even brought it up."

He gestured to the other side of his meditation mat. "Please sit."

She sat.

"So that particular saying is, in fact, used at Mardi Gras?" he asked.

"Oh, yes, sir. It's as ubiquitous as singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame at baseball games." She finally seemed to relax. "I wanted you to know because last year I took a group of classmates from the academy home with me for Mardi Gras. They were...taken aback by the ritual. They were even more surprised when they recognized some Starfleet officers in the crowd—officers who were yelling that very thing."

Spock could feel his eyebrow rising.

"It's private time, Mardi Gras is, and not a Starfleet venue—I can see how you might think that this won't happen onboard ship, and you're probably right. But I've seen people who otherwise are staid and, well, boring go a little insane over cheap plastic beads. I just wanted you to be prepared. But I should have told you myself. Doctor Chapel didn't have the context to make my case very well, and I'm sorry I put her in that position."

He nodded. "I appreciate you clearing this up. How angry with you was she?"

LaRue shot him a look he couldn't read. "I didn't get the feeling I was the one she was mad at, sir."

Spock looked down, afraid she would see the slight tick up of his lips. The girl was astute in so many ways. "Aside from our problem of potential nudity as a form of barter, is everything else in order?"

She laughed. "Yes, sir. I have king cakes on order from the galley. I have various sections serving as the different krewes and working up mini floats using the anti-gravs—it is all right to requisition those for this, isn't it?"

He thought about that. He wanted to make up abandoning Jim for Gol, and while this was probably overcompensating and using ship's resources in a way not entirely regulation, Jim was so delighted, he found he just didn't care. "It is fine, Ensign."

"Good, because the floats are going to be amazing." She pushed herself to her feet. "Oh, and I thought synthehol only for this. Antitox works faster on that if we need to go to alert quickly."

"Agreed. I appreciate all you are doing for this. I will note it in the morale section of your evaluation."

"Just leave out all the parts where I'm maybe not quite regulation." Her grin was infectious; it reminded him of his mother's.

"Yes, of course." He watched her leave, then took a deep breath and rose, walked over to his desk, and commed Christine.

She answered immediately. "Chapel here."

He realized Lindsey might be with her. "It is Spock." How she answered would tell him if she was alone.

"What can I do for you, sir?" Ah, not alone.

"Ensign LaRue was just here. She cleared up that matter from earlier. I apologize. I misread the data presented."

There was a long silence. Then, "No problem. Anything else, sir?"

"No. That is all. Enjoy your evening."

"I plan to, sir."

He could feel the knife go in, as she no doubt intended. What he did not understand was when he had become vulnerable to her. How had this happened?

"Spock out." He cut the connection before she could.

##

Spock tried to avoid Christine for several days. It was, he thought, the height of irony that in trying to avoid her, he seemed to run across her everywhere he went. She would see him and head the opposite direction, often with an annoyed look as if he were deliberately tracking her.

It reminded him of all the times on their first five-year mission, when he had rounded a corner and would find her coming toward him, a look of dismay crossing her face—had she been trying to avoid him, as well? And had he misinterpreted it as interest?

He opted to return to his regular habits. If he saw Christine, so be it. If not, that was even more agreeable. They had no reason to interact. She had told him she did not wish to be friends. Jim had told him to leave her alone. He would listen to them both.

He turned the corner, headed for the mess and nearly collided with Christine and Lindsey. They were arguing about something, and he excused himself and walked around them. Surely they could find a better place to argue than in the middle of a main corridor?

The mess was nearly full, but a group of crewman vacated a table for him—probably before they were done with their conversation, but their plates were empty so he did not attempt to dissuade them. He saw Christine and Lindsey come in. Lindsey filled his tray and left, but Christine looked around, saw Spock sitting and walked over.

"You want a damn friend so much?"

He was unsure how to answer that.

"Can I sit?"

He nodded.

She slid into the chair across from him. "Why are you all such idiots?"

He presumed she did not mean Vulcans. "Men?"

She nodded as she proceeded to remove everything healthy from the pre-made sandwich. The lettuce came off, then the tomato, the pickle on the plate was dumped onto the tray. Leaving her with just cheese and bread and spread. "If you comment on my eating habits, you will be wearing this tomato."

He had to give her credit for fair warning.

"Why did you choose to sit with me if you are angry with your...?" What was the right word for Lindsey? Lover seemed wrong. Beau was old fashioned although his mother often used it.

"My moron of a boyfriend?"

Ah, that was the word.

"Because I'm a masochist. I haven't gotten my minimum daily allowance of stupid male yet." She sliced her sandwich in half with more gusto than Spock was really comfortable with. "Thank you, by the way, for apologizing. That was big of you."

"You're welcome."

"But why the hell couldn't you wait till I was working to do it? What the hell were you thinking?"

He was unsure what to say.

"What do you think Patrick and I were just fighting about, huh?"

"I have no idea."

"You, you big dope. We've been fighting about you ever since you had to call me in my quarters for a stupid reason that clearly could have waited and made me get very snotty with you. Patrick notices things like that."

"I am...sorry?" He began to eat his soup, hoping she would follow suit and let her anger ebb a little.

"Did you really think I just made up a stupid reason like 'show me your goddamn tits' to come see you in the lab? If I want to see you in the lab, I'll just come see you." She was fortunately keeping her voice very low, but the repeated jabbing of her finger at him was attracting some attention.

"I am sorry for that. I have said I was sorry, and I am sorry."

"Patrick is good friends with Chekov. Pavel gossips like a little old lady. Especially when prompted. Guess who prompted him with lots and lots of vodka for tales of the good old days. 'Tell me about Christine back then. What was she like? Who did she date?'" Christine took a deep breath. "Found all about my stupid, stupid, stupid crush on you."

Spock sighed. "I am s—"

"If you say 'I'm sorry' one more time, I will kill you."

He decided not to remind her that threatening a fellow officer was a court-martial offense.

She pushed the tray away from her. "I'm not even hungry." Her expression was empty, and he frowned slightly.

He expected anger or sadness. But not this strange void of emotion. "Are you all right?"

"I don't know. I came back here because of Decker. And you weren't going to be here. And now you are. And Decker's not. I'm not CMO. It's like a replay of everything. Only I found this great guy and now I'm losing him because of us." She started to laugh, and it was a bitter sound. "Only there is no us. And I can't get him to see that." She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Spock. I shouldn't take this out on you. You were just...trying to do the right thing."

"I was."

She got up, took her tray. "It'll be okay." She did not sound as if she really believed that. "It'll be fine."

He watched her walk out of the mess. She did not look like a woman who thought it would be fine.

##

Spock found Lindsey in Astrophysics, his lunch tray pushed aside, as uneaten as Christine's had been.

"Sir?" Lindsey stood, his look managing to be both surprised and slightly hostile.

"At ease." Spock saw that there were several others in the room but far enough away that they could have a private conversation if they kept their voices pitched low. "This is of a personal nature. Please sit down."

Spock took the low stool next to Lindsey's desk. "I want you to know that Christine does not have feelings for me."

The moment the words left his mouth he could tell they were not the right ones to use with the man. Lindsey fairly bristled.

"And who told you I thought she did? Did she tell you that?"

Spock held up his hand. "I saw the two of you in the corridor as I was going into the mess. You came in separately. You left, but she chose to sit with me. As she is my friend"—that was stretching the truth but the man needn't know that—"I was worried for her and asked her to join me."

"And she spilled her guts? To you? About us?" Lindsey shook his head, a smile that was in no way amused playing at his lips. "She's a piece of work."

"You mistake my meaning. I am trying to make this better."

"You're failing, in case you didn't get that message yet." Lindsey leaned forward. "Funny thing: she said you two weren't friends. Never had been, never would be. Yet, she has lunch with you, tells you all our troubles. And here you are, trying to patch things up for us. Doesn't quite add up, does it, sir?"

Spock stood, put on his haughtiest Vulcan face. "You have a woman of good character and superior intelligence, Lieutenant Lindsey. I suggest you appreciate her and let this go." He turned and strode out, hoping that Vulcan dignity would get him further than trying to help had.

##

The chime on his quarters rang as he was changing from his uniform to a robe. He finished dressing, ignoring the repeated buzzings, finally opening the door to find Christine, who slammed her hand against his chest, pushing him back into his quarters.

"What the hell did you think you were doing?" She shoved him against the wall, seemed to want to do it again for good measure, but he caught her hand before she connected. "You went to him? Do you hate me or something?"

"I admit, the plan was more sound in the planning stage than when executed."

"The plan? This is my life not some goddamned plan." She stalked away from him, pacing his quarters like some caged jungle cat.

He decided to remain by the door. "As I seemed to have caused the problem, I wanted to fix it."

"Spock, you didn't cause the problem, you are the problem. Don't you get that?" She took a deep breath and sat down on the bed. "What in the hell were you thinking?"

"I knew you were hurting." He walked over, sat down next to her slowly, unsure of what her reaction would be. "I wanted to help."

"Why? Why did you want to help? Why couldn't you have just ignored me? You've been so great at that up to now."

He had no answer for that.

She leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder. He sat very still, sure that if he moved, he would startle her and cause her to run away.

"Did you really tell him we were friends?"

"I did. You, I gather, did not characterize us as such?"

"I sure didn't." She sighed. "What the hell, Spock?"

"Do you love him?"

In his estimation, she had to think a very long time before she finally said, "Yes."

"Then love will conquer all. Is that not what human poets say?"

"Human poets don't write my love stories." She pulled away. "Please promise me you will not try to help me with him anymore, all right?"

He nodded.

"And don't tell him I was here."

He frowned slightly. "Why would you keep this a secret from him?"

"Spock, come on. He already thinks something is going on."

"But if you are lying to him about us, then perhaps something is."

"Right." She moved closer. "Because you're suddenly interested in me after all these years. You suddenly give a damn who I'm with and whether or not I'm happy."

"I do care."

"Uh huh." She drew even nearer. "And if I were to move close enough to you, you'd actually be tempted to kiss me. I'm supposed to believe that this is even a temptation for you?"

She was angry; her eyes were dilated, her skin flushed. He could feel the heat coming off her, could smell the light perfume she wore.

"I'm supposed to believe you give a good goddamn about me," she said as she moved so close her lips brushed against his with every word.

It was an easy thing to pull her to him, to open his mouth to hers, to wrap her in his arms and kiss her. It was an easier thing to fall back onto the bed as she moaned as they kissed. To pull her half on top of him, to feel her body molding to his.

Then she was pulling away, skittering off the bed so fast she fell onto the floor. "What in the hell was that?"

"I believe it was a kiss."

"I know what it was. Why? What is wrong with you?" She got up and stumbled to the door, had to hit the wall twice before she made contact with the door panel, then was gone.

Spock sat on the bed assessing her question. As far as he could tell, nothing was wrong with him. He had kissed her. He had enjoyed it. And until she had pulled away, she had seemed to enjoy it, too.

##

The Mardi Gras party was a great success. To Jim's delight, he'd been named Rex and Spock had felt the honor of Queen should go to the woman who'd organized the event. LaRue had smiled when he'd told her. "This is my second time being queen," she'd said. "Mama will be so proud." They led in the parade of floats, tiny in comparison he supposed to the real things, but the crew seemed to appreciate them nonetheless. Especially since they had been fitted with small cannon that spit out the purple, green, and gold beads that LaRue had feared might turn problematic.

It had been a very uncomfortable section head meeting, but Spock had addressed the issue in no uncertain terms, using his best Vulcan persona. There would be no problems or the section chief of the troublemaker would find him- or herself on report as well.

Jim walked over, a tall, red drink in his hand. "Great party. Thank you, my friend."

"I am sorry for leaving for Gol with no explanation."

Jim took a sip of his drink through the purple straw. "Or at all?"

"I cannot regret the journey for it led me back to the Enterprise and you."

"Awww, if I didn't know better, I'd think you'd been sucking some of these back. So, I'm guessing that Christine must be in that corner over there. It's the one place you are studiously not looking." Jim glanced over. "Yep, there she is. Wow, she and Lindsey are either very drunk or on their last legs as a couple."

Spock looked over at them. They were practically having sex standing up. "I do not follow, Jim. They are clearly passionate about each other."

"That much passion in public? Never a good sign. Death knell often. You see it all the time with celebrities."

"I do not follow celebrities." He was a little appalled that Jim did.

"Sometimes you need a break from the wars and disasters and politics." He winked at Spock. "Plus, you never know, one of those actresses might break free and I am a hero. I might have a chance with one of them." He turned away from watching Christine and Lindsey. "You are staying away from her, right?"

"I am." This was not a lie. Since the debacle that had been his attempt to help, he had stayed away. It had been a week since he had spoken to her or Lindsey.

Thinking about her—that was much harder to control.

"Good. That's the Vulcan willpower I like to see." Jim touched his shoulder. "You didn't have to throw this party for me, but I'm really glad you did. Now excuse me while I get rollicking drunk."

Spock pulled him back for a moment. "Do I need to lecture you on the inappropriateness of yelling "show me your—'"

"Spock, really? I'm the captain." He looked offended for a moment, then the grin came back. "I do have to say I was on the floor when Bones was telling me about that particular section head meeting. It was the way you phrased the saying in question that had me howling."

"I merely changed the vernacular to something less...rude. Everyone seemed to understand my meaning."

"Oh, they got it." He grinned. "I would have killed to be in there. I'd have loved to see Nelson's face."

Spock could feel his lips tick up almost against his will. Their new security chief showed no flexibility in his thinking. "He was...taken aback."

"And that's probably putting it mildly. Okay, Mother, now that you've given me the talk, may I go get drunk?"

"Yes. Go." Spock watched him wander off, then moved off to a corner of the rec lounge where he could be part of things without having to interact with anyone. He sat and anticipated when he could escape to the sanctuary of his quarters. Not soon enough, he was afraid.

He saw LaRue coming toward him, a Hurricane in both hands. She tried to hand him one, but he shook his head.

"Relax, there's no rum in it. Just fruit juice. I didn't figure you for a drinker." Once he took it, she sat down in the chair next to him.

"As Queen, should you not be mingling?"

"I am mingling. I'm mingling with you." She nodded at the drink. "At least try it. I made it myself. Went light on the sugar—I know Vulcans aren't that fond of it."

He took a tentative sip, then a bigger one. "It is good."

"Of course it's good. The Queen made it." She turned and looked over at the corner where Christine was carrying on with Lindsey. "That seems out of character."

"How well do you know Doctor Chapel?"

"Well, we don't socialize if that's what you're implying, but I've seen her enough times in here to know she's usually not all over him."

She put a curious spin on him.

"You do not like him?"

"He's okay. But if she wants someone who looks like you, why doesn't she just go for you? It's not like you would be opposed to that, right?" She sipped her drink and met his eyes. Hers were dancing—he could think of no other word to describe the gleam in them. "My mama had a gift, Spock. I can call you that seeing as how this is a party? A party that I organized on your behalf? My name's Zelime, by the way. You should call me that, seeing as how I did you all these big-time favors."

He almost smiled at her nerve—no more blushing in evidence.

"So my mama, her gift—some called it the sight—I may have gotten some of that. Can see what's going on with my mentors."

"Your mentors lives are not your concern, Zelime. Christine's choices are her own to make."

It was as if she hadn't heard him. "She used to like you. That's what I've heard."

He did not answer.

"Heard maybe you didn't like her back. Think that's changed a bit." She leaned back, put her feet up on the table, and sipped her drink. "I'm Queen of the Mardi Gras, Spock. I can say what I want except to Rex and he's nowhere to be found—oh wait, there he is. Is he trying to climb the wall of the lounge?"

Spock took a deep breath. "He is a good climber."

"Damn well hope so." She smiled. "Anyway, since talking about emotional things is going to give you hives, let's talk about my dissertation. I made the changes you recommended, but I'm at a crossroads and I'd like to talk over the options. Agreeable or not?"

"Most agreeable."

As she launched into her various potential paths with her project, he found himself yet again admiring the quick mind Christine had found and nurtured—and passed on to him to mentor.

The quick mind that was seeing things very clearly, on all fronts.

##

Spock was debating eating in the mess or taking his dinner to the lab when he saw Christine in a booth in the far corner. Alone. She did not look happy.

She and Lindsey had been at opposite sides of the rec lounge each time he and Jim had played chess since the Mardi Gras party. He had not commented but Jim had murmured, "See, told you," after the third time. "Kiss o'death."

Spock walked over to her booth, and she looked up as he approached. "If I am not welcome, I will leave," he said as gently as he could.

She had to think about that, her face as expressionless as T'Pau's. "You're not welcome," she finally said.

It was not the answer he expected, and it took him longer than it should have to turn and walk out. He took his dinner to his quarters instead of the lab, knowing that he would not be able to concentrate.

She had just told him to go away. But he knew she wanted him. And that she was almost certainly finished with Lindsey.

He ate and meditated, failing to find his center and hating to admit that it was because he expected his chime to ring, that it would be her at his door. That he wanted it to be her at his door.

His chime did not ring. She did not come.

He saw her in the mess alone the next day. He did not go over to her. Nor the day after that.

The day after that, Lindsey was back at her table. They looked wary together and were having an intense conversation, but Spock felt a pang. They were still together. Jim and LaRue were wrong.

He decided he wasn't hungry and went back to work.

##

Spock woke in Sickbay, his midsection was numb, which he took to mean he'd taken a hit with some kind of weapon. Two people were talking softly above him, so he kept his eyes closed and listened in—it was, he had found, the best way to get information about his condition: doctors told him nothing but would often candidly discuss his prognosis if they thought he was asleep.

"He zigged when he should have zagged." A male voice. Jim. Angry.

"And you think that's my fault?" Christine. Also angry.

"Well, it sure as hell isn't mine. He's been distracted."

"Why are you blaming me? I don't know why he suddenly decided to be interested in me, Jim."

Jim? She called him Jim in private?

"Chris, for God's sake. I think he's actually serious about this. What are you doing with Lindsey if you can have what you really want?"

"What if it's just a phase? A post V'ger phase?"

"V'ger was a while ago."

"He threw you a Mardi Gras party because he felt guilty. He let Zelime requisition both anti-gravs and cannon just to make you smile. You don't call that out of the ordinary?"

"So, he's still a little emotionally open. Chris, go with it."

Spock realized Jim was calling Christine by a name he never used when he was referring to her around Spock. Just how well did they know each other?

"Jim, you're my friend. And I love you. And you know that. Don't trade on that affection this way. Spock does not love me. He does not want me—or if he does, it's not for the right reasons. If he's distracted, I can't help that. Or...I can transfer off—would that help?"

There was movement above him. Spock peeked and saw that Jim had taken her hand. "I don't want you to transfer off. Just...give him a chance."

"And become a bigger laughingstock?"

"No one's laughing, Chris. Especially now. He nearly died. Don't you give a damn about that?"

"Of course I give a damn. I'm in love with him. I always have been and I probably always will be. It's my goddamned curse and you know it."

"Then why get back with Lindsey?"

"Because it's nice to be wanted." She sighed and turned—Spock closed his eyes again. "His vitals are good. Are you going to stay here for a while?"

"Yeah."

"I'm going to grab a shower, then. After two days I don't smell so good."

Spock felt her hand on his shoulder.

"I do love him," she said, then she lifted her hand off him and he heard her footsteps fading away.

"You can quit pretending to be asleep, Spock."

He opened his eyes in surprise. "You knew?"

"I realized you were peeking at us." Jim pulled up a stool. "We were pretty far into the conversation at that point—I wasn't sure which was worse, to let her know you were listening or to let her go on. And I thought you could stand to hear what she had to say."

"She loves me."

"Do you love her? Because if you don't, we're going to have to come up with a plan where you don't ruin my friend's life."

"When did she become your friend? You call her Chris. She calls you Jim."

"We became friends on Earth, when you weren't around." Jim sighed. "Bones was gone. The rest of the crew on the ship. She was on Earth. Lori and I had just divorced. Chris and I had stress to relieve. She's a lot of fun."

"Define fun."

Jim laughed. "Not the bumping uglies kind."

Spock frowned, not understanding.

"We didn't have sex. We just had fun. Primarily because, even though you were gone and likely to never come back, she still loved you. I was actually glad when she seemed to be falling for Lindsey, even if he did look too much like you for my liking."

"You said some women had a type."

"And some do. But I've seen Doctor Korby. He looked nothing like you."

"Ah."

"Yeah."

"So, what is going on? Do you have feelings for her?"

Spock didn't hesitate. "I do."

Jim looked surprised. "Okay, then. You should know she hasn't left your side in two days. Lindsey is angry. They're on the verge of collapse as a couple, and I suggest you help that along by being extra needy in the care and feeding department."

Spock was confused.

Jim rolled his eyes. "No matter how good you're feeling, pretend you need her help. Use the time to get to know her. She'll give it to you gladly because she loves you. It'll drive him nuts. He'll try to get her to leave you and spend time with him. She'll balk at being told what to do. That'll be that. And then the rest is up to you. Oh and one more thing: you break her heart and you'll answer to me. Are we clear?"

Spock nodded, a bit overwhelmed.

Jim patted him on the shoulder. "Good boy."

##

Spock didn't have to pretend to be weak, just eating the meal the nurse brought him drained him.

Christine walked over after the nurse took the tray away, scanned him, and said, "How are you feeling?"

"Weak."

She looked at him in open amazement. "And you're admitting it?"

"It is disconcerting to feel this way after such a simple task."

She pulled up a stool. "You took a direct hit to the lower chest. We thought we were going to lose you. We reconstructed a great deal. It's why you feel so numb in your torso. No task is simple right now, Spock."

"I see." He met her eyes. "I wish to say something."

She nodded.

"I am sorry for any trouble I have caused you. I did not mean to. I care for you. I would not bring you pain."

She smiled gently. "Those are the painkillers talking."

"No, those are my words carried by my voice."

She started to get up.

"Stay with me. Please? We will not speak of this if it upsets you. But I am..."

"Bored?"

He nodded.

She laughed softly and sat back down. "Well, never let it be said I made you choose between me or boredom." She rolled her eyes as if laughing at herself.

"How did you meet Ensign LaRue?" he asked, trying to steer them to mutually agreeable ground.

Christine grinned. "In line in the mess hall. She was berating the cook over his jambalaya. Said it wasn't fit to feed livestock. When she's not in awe of someone, she's a little light on social filters."

"I have noticed a tendency to speak her mind."

Christine laughed. "Oh yes. I like that about her. Anyway, we struck up a conversation about NewAwlins—the right way to say it, of course—and then she started talking about her studies, and I just had this urge to take her under my wing. Until I realized I was in over my head and she'd be better off with you." She smiled and it was a strange smile.

"What does that expression mean?"

"I was staying away from you. I told her to approach you, but she was too shy to do it on her own. I wanted to introduce her to you, but I knew you'd think it was an excuse to see you. But then we got captured and you needed an expert on her home town and voila, I could give you Zelime with a clear conscience."

"And I'm gratified you did. She has an agile mind and thinks outside the box."

"Spock, she kicks the box and makes it cry."

He let his lips tick up. "I believe you are right."

"It's funny, she's so young that she makes me feel old. But she's so good that she makes me feel hopeful and young. Does that make sense?"

"It does. Seeing the next generation coming after us, knowing we are helping to mold them, shape them, it is deeply satisfying."

"It is."

They shared a look, a satisfied smile.

"Christine." A bark of a sound. Almost a command.

Spock looked over at the door of the private room he'd been given. Lindsey stood in the doorway. Not happy.

"I'm with a patient, Commander."

Rank. Excellent.

"You're with him. Give the lying a rest."

"Commander, your attitude is unacceptable. Doctor Chapel is merely doing her job. As this is neither lunch nor after shift, I suggest you return to Astrophysics and do the same."

He thought Lindsey might launch himself onto the bed, wondered how well his injuries would withstand that, but Christine got up and stood between them. "Go back to work, Patrick. And grow the hell up. We were just talking."

Lindsey studied her, managed to ignore Spock to the point where he felt as if he wasn't in the room. "I am so sick of you."

She crossed her arms over her chest but said nothing.

"I'm so sick of all of this."

She shrugged.

"I can't do this. You're enough to drive anyone crazy. Do you even know how to love?" He turned to Spock. "You two deserve each other." He walked out slowly, as if he couldn't care less that he'd just broken up with Christine or insulted the ship's first officer.

"Christine, I am so—"

"Say you're sorry, and I will gag you."

He wisely shut up.

"I hate you right now, Spock."

"I did not do anything. We were merely talking as you pointed out to him."

She glared at him. "Don't try logic on me. I'm in no mood." She walked to her office, her boots clicking heavily on the floor.

McCoy came out of his office, took a quick look into her office, seemed to not like what he saw, and then walked over to Spock. "So, what'd you do now?"

"Why must it always be my fault that she is upset?"

"No reason, except that it usually is." McCoy grinned and patted him on the arm. "You two do keep things lively in here, that's for sure. You think you're ever going to stop dancing around each other and just admit what you want."

Spock refused to dignify that with an answer.

McCoy just laughed and went back to his office.

##

Christine was off shift when Lindsey returned to Sickbay. He was the picture of Starfleet perfection as he handed Spock a padd. "I'd like to transfer off."

"Are you sure? This is the flagship."

"There's an opening on the Capella Array. I've been invited to join."

"That is an excellent opportunity."

"Yes, it is. But then I'm an excellent officer, Commander. I apologize that you've had little opportunity to see that."

Spock shifted slightly on the biobed, suddenly feeling at a disadvantage lying down when the man was being so formal. "Doctor Chapel tends to only pick brilliant men. I have no doubt you are both highly intelligent and competent."

"Amazing how you packed a compliment and a dig into that statement, sir. Since she fell for you before she did me." Lindsey was staring past Spock, at a point on the wall, still at attention.

"It is, indeed, a gift." Spock approved the transfer request. "The Capella Array will be lucky to have you."

Lindsey took the padd, finally met Spock's eyes. "Permission to speak freely, sir?"

"Yes. And at ease."

Lindsey relaxed. "Why now? You had more than five years to get her from what I've heard. I actually care for her."

Spock nodded, giving the man the courtesy of a thoughtful answer. "When I melded with V'ger, I felt many things I had not felt before. Coming after a period of attempting to purge all my emotions, the barrage of emotion was made even more intense." He stopped, unsure how much he wanted to tell this man—this rival. "I became more open to experiences."

"To her?"

"Not as such. Not until we were captured on the landing parting. Not until she was beaten trying to help me. Not until I felt anger at those who beat her—and anger at myself for letting her be hurt. It is a small thing, I know. But all endeavors start with a single step."

"Very poetic. Except that your endeavor ruined my relationship."

"I had a prior claim."

"Why? Because she loved you? You never loved her back. That's hardly first claim." Lindsey took a deep breath, and Spock found himself admiring the man's self control. He also could see more and more how this man might have reminded Christine of himself.

"These things are rarely logical, Commander."

"That is true." Lindsey looked at the padd as if it held the key to his future, to his happiness, to everything. "I hope to God you appreciate what you have. I may be mad at her, but I want her to be happy, and I don't for a minute think you'll make her feel that way." He took a deep breath. "Am I dismissed, sir?"

"You are. Best of luck, Commander."

Lindsey nodded and turned on his heel in a perfect about face and strode out.

Spock thought about what the man had said until his body demanded sleep and he gave in to it.

##

When Christine reported for her shift the next day, she avoided him and he did not try to catch her eye. Finally, near the end of her shift, she came over, pulled up a stool, and sat next to him, taking readings but not acknowledging him in any way.

When she finished, just as she was getting up, he reached out and put his hand over hers, holding it for just a moment and murmuring, "I'm sorry he's leaving." Then he let go of her and looked away, giving her all the space he could.

She sat back down. They didn't talk. He didn't look at her. Long moments passed and then he felt her hand on his shoulder.

"I picked him because he reminded me of you." Her voice was dead. Devoid of any emotion, even the anger she'd shown him earlier. "There was, of course, one key difference."

"He loved you back."

"No, he loved me. I never loved him. Not really." She finally met his eyes. "I loved you. I can't shake that. I hate that I can't shake that. I thought maybe, with him, I could. But it didn't work. But for a while, it was enough—that he loved me. That he wanted me." She looked down.

"I'm sorry" came to his lips but he bit it back.

"I don't understand. My first love, when I was a teen. I got over him. I got over my boyfriend in college when I was a freshman, and the one I had as a sophomore, too. I got over Roger—hell, I fell in love with you when I was searching for Roger. Why can't I get over you? Is it just that with them, they loved me back? And I only want what I can't have? You're that perfect unattainable man?"

"I am far from perfect."

She glared at him. "I'm well aware of that."

"I was not in any way dismayed to sign his transfer request. In fact, it brought me satisfaction."

She closed her eyes.

"I want you."

"I don't understand that."

He reached up, touched the cheekbone that had long since healed. "This. This started everything. You were so badly hurt and you thought only of me."

"Maybe I'm an idiot with no sense of self-preservation?"

He let his lips tick up into a real smile. "I do not believe that. No one attains an M.D. in the short amount of time you did by being an idiot with no sense of self preservation. No one survives under Doctor McCoy, for that matter, with those characteristics."

She laughed, and he was suddenly profoundly glad to see her smile, to hear the soft sound of her amusement.

"What do you want from me, Spock?"

"I wish for you to be with me."

She looked away.

"Is this idea abhorrent to you?"

She nodded, but he could tell she was smiling. "You don't even know me."

"Then let me get to know you. You do not know me, either."

"I imagine I know you better than you know me. Benefits of being obsessed with someone."

He held his hand out to her and waited. She finally took it.

"If you love me, Christine, and you want this, shouldn't we try?"

"You could sell ice to Eskimos."

"Why would I wish to do th—"

He couldn't finish his thought because she had leaned down and was kissing him gently. Her lips on his felt like velvet, soft and gentle, and he reached up and ran his fingers through her hair, making a mess of the bun she wore.

A soft cough at the door made them pull apart. Jim and McCoy stood there, both trying to hide amused smiles.

"I need my colleague," McCoy said.

"And I need to confer with Spock, if you don't mind, Chris? I didn't realize he was so bad off he needed mouth to mouth." He winked at her.

She blushed. "Very goddamned funny." She looked at Spock. "Your breath is fine, sir. Hopefully the tricorder will be working next time so we can check it more scientifically."

"Oh, now that's a good one," McCoy said with a wink at Spock. "I'm gonna use that the next time I get caught swapping spit with a patient. Oh wait, I never get caught doing that."

Christine whapped him on the arm as she passed him.

As McCoy walked out, Jim came in and sat down. "So, guess the plan worked."

Spock nodded.

"Is she a good kisser? I always thought she'd be. She's tends to throw herself into any activity."

"She is quite skilled." Should he be discussing Christine this way?

"Well, good. Look as much as I'd love to hear all about you and your lady love, I do need you to look at this. It showed up on our sensors and we can't figure out what the hell it is."

Spock took the padd, happy to be useful, but still feeling Christine's lips on his.

He had not been being charitable in his assessment to Jim. She was, indeed, a very good kisser.

##

She made her way back to his bedside before the end of her shift. "That was embarrassing."

Spock studied her, realized she was serious. "I did not find it so."

"Maybe because you weren't the one who initiated the kiss."

"I believe that even if I had been, I would not have found it so. They are our friends, are they not?"

She frowned. "They're your friends. Len is my friend. What makes you think the captain is my friend?"

"He has told me he is." He met her eyes, trying to keep any guile out of his, trying not to show her that he had listened in to a private conversation she'd had over a perhaps not-sleeping patient.

"Oh, yeah, that makes sense." She rubbed her eyes. "I'm so damn tired. I would not have kissed you if I weren't so tired from watching over you. Love is stupid."

He reached around, rubbed her back down low, where his often ached when he'd been in the lab too long.

"Oh, that feels really good. You do not fight fair."

"This is not fighting." He lay back, continued to rub her back. "May I make a suggestion that is entirely selfless?"

She laughed and nodded.

"Go to the mess, eat a light dinner, then retire early and get some much needed sleep. You are overtired and not thinking clearly."

"Do you think I'll be free of this love by morning?"

"That is doubtful." He focused his attention a little lower, to the part of her back that seemed to be bothering her the most—at least from what he could tell from touch telepathy, which she would also probably think was not fighting fair. "Do you wish to be free of it now that you have me?"

"I haven't decided that I have you yet."

"You did kiss me."

"I may be delirious." She moved into his hand. "Oh, God, right there. Oh my God, yes."

"May I offer something to consider as you make your decision to have me or not?"

"Can I stop you?"

He shook his head.

"Fine, proceed."

"What I am doing here to your back, as good as it feels, I can easily adapt it to other areas of the body."

She burst out laughing. But she did not move away from his hand. "You are relentless."

"When it is something I want, yes, I am."

"I've just never been something you wanted."

"Things have changed."

"So it would seem." She eased away from his hand. "I can't think when you do that."

"That may have been my intent."

She laid her hand on his forehead, her skin cool compared to his, her touch very soft. "I'm going to take your advice, only I think I'll skip dinner and just head to bed. I'm so tired, Spock."

"Then goodnight. I will see you in the morning." He decided to indulge himself, pulled her down to him, ready to let her go at the first sign of resistance, but there was none. He kissed her this time, and they were not interrupted.

When he let her back up, she smiled. He touched her cheek. "We are even now. We have both been the instigators."

"Very noble of you to give me that."

"I thought so." He gave her a look he knew was tender, could tell by the surprise on her face that it was not one she was expecting. "Good night, Christine."

"Good night, Spock." She gave him a tired smile and left.

##

"You bored in here yet?" LaRue stood at the door. Then she hurried in and startled him with a careful hug. "You had me worried sick, Spock."

He patted her gently on the back. "I am alive."

"Well, yes, I can see that." She backed up to a more respectable distance. "Sorry, I know that was probably out of order, but I happen to think the world of you."

He nodded. "I will forgive it, then."

She pulled a padd out of her pocket. "If you do get bored, I finished it."

He took it from her. "Already?"

"Well, I think it's finished." She laughed and gave him an infectious grin. "That doesn't mean you'll think it is."

"I look forward to reading it."

She handed him another padd. "I brought you a spare for making notes. Wasn't sure if they'd given you one down here or not."

"Most kind, Zelime."

"Totally self serving, you mean." She winked at him. "You're only going to make my dissertation better and help me prepare to defend it. You knew about that part, too, right? The part where you quiz me until I want to slit your throat?"

"I would expect no less from a decent mentor."

She grinned, then it faded. "I'd miss more than just my mentor if you'd been killed, Spock. You're good people. I like you."

He felt unaccountably touched.

"You should think about teaching at the academy. You would be amazing."

"I am not warm."

"It's not about being warm. It's about respect. And believing in us and yourself and the future. All of which you do. I'm not saying leave now." She grinned. "Just, you know, if in the future you get tired of being on a starship, maybe consider the academy."

"I will remember that. In the meantime, I will read this paper. You can expect many notes."

"I'd feel gypped if there weren't many notes. Get better, Spock. I miss seeing you around the corridors." She shot him a last sweet smile and left.

He read her dissertation at once; he made far fewer notes than he expected.

##

Spock watched Christine as she moved around his biobed.

"Stop it." She was smiling. "You're making me nervous."

"When will I be released?" He knew it would be later in the day—had heard her tell Jim that a few hours ago, when she'd thought they were out of earshot. But he wanted her to say it to him.

"Soon?"

"Soon is a word not often heard on Vulcan. It lacks specificity."

She smiled again. "Very soon?"

"Barely preferable."

"In two hours."

"Ah." He waited until she turned to look at him. "That is when your shift ends, I believe."

"It is."

"Perhaps you would be kind enough to make sure I get safely to my quarters?"

"Do you think you'll get lost? If that's the case, I should run some more diagnostics."

"That is not what I meant."

"Oh, you think you'll tire from the walk? After the physical therapy you've been through the last few days? It's a short walk to the turbolift and then to your quarters. If you feel that's too much for you, I can reevaluate these discharge orders."

"That also is not what I meant."

"Well, then, why would you need me to walk you home?"

"Need is the wrong word. Want is the correct one." He tried to load the full amount of frustrated intensity he felt into his gaze.

She took a step back. "Whoa."

"You see the problem?"

"I did not realize. Maybe it's not safe for me?"

"It is safe."

"Who are you least attracted to on this ship? I'll have them walk you home?" She gave him a devilish grin he found unbearably attractive.

"Christine."

The grin grew. "Oh, fine. I'll walk your sorry ass home. Jeez." She moved over to the bed, touched his face. "You make it damned hard to be professional when you're like this. I hope you know that."

He thought about that. "I had not considered that."

"Does it bother you that you are a bad influence?"

"Not particularly. Perhaps in time it might."

"But not until you get what you want?" Her grin faded. "And what happens when you get what you want? Will you still want it?"

"I see no reason to think I won't. I tend to be faithful to the things I find satisfying."

"So I'm a thing?" Her stern look was marred by the twinkle in her eyes.

"I meant only that a man who special orders his incense when significantly cheaper and more plentiful alternatives exist, is unlikely to leave after the first taste. Unless of course the first taste is unpleasant, which we have proven it is not."

She pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes. "Hate to break it to you, Sherlock. But a kiss may tell you a lot, but it does not tell you everything. Some good kissers are horrible in bed."

"Are you one of them?"

"I don't think so. But I don't know, now do I? It's sort of a subjective thing, sex."

"It is, indeed. However, I have no reason to believe we would be anything but highly compatible." He let his lips tick up. "Do you remember when we shared consciousness?"

She turned red. "Was that supposed to be as pleasurable as it was?"

"I do not believe so. And therefore, I rest my case."

She shook her head. "I'll be back when it's time to release you. I have real work to do, you know?"

"Of course." He watched as she walked to the door, then almost smiled as she turned, hurried back, kissed him quickly but quite effectively, and hurried out.

##

Spock could tell Christine was watching him closely as he walked down the corridor. "Should you have released me if you are worried I will not make it to my quarters?"

"Sorry, I'm being a mother hen. I'd do it to anyone, not just to you." She slowed her pace so she was walking more naturally next to him, not like a spotter for a child learning to walk. "Anything hurting as you move?"

"No. The physical therapy was effective."

"You have to keep doing it. The exercises Ramirez gave you."

"I am aware of that, Christine."

"Well, most of our patients conveniently forget. Don't. You'll never get your full strength back if you don't keep up on the exercises."

"Perhaps you should ensure I do them?"

She smiled. "You're perfectly capable of doing them on your own."

"You could, however, provide incentive for completing the repetitions."

"I could. That doesn't mean I want to." Her smile grew broader.

They reached the turbolift, rode it the short way to the deck to their quarters, and walked to his. He palmed the door open. "You should inspect my quarters. There may be hazards I am unaware of."

"Hazards?"

"To my continued improvement."

"That is the lamest excuse to get a woman into your room I've ever heard." She motioned for him to go in and followed him. "The classics are 'Want to come up to see my etchings?' or 'How about a nightcap?'"

"I have no etchings and I do not drink." He watched as she wandered his quarters, seemingly unsure where to settle.

She turned, saw that he was watching her, and smiled. "I'm nervous."

"Why?"

"Because you make me nervous."

"Why?"

"Because you just do." She moved closer. "And I don't make you at all nervous, do I?" She put her arms around his neck, rubbed slowly against him.

"You make me feel other things when you do that. Nervous is not one of them, you are right."

She laughed, and he wrapped his arms around her waist and said, "You may continue doing that if you wish. It is most pleasurable."

"You are not cleared for sex, Spock."

"You did not say that when you released me."

"You didn't ask."

"What am I cleared for?"

"Kissing." Her smile turned evil. "And me rubbing up against you like a cat in heat. A careful cat in heat—I know how hard I can rub."

"I am unsure if that is fair."

"I can leave if you think it's unfair." She dropped her arms from his neck.

He did not let go of her. "I would prefer you did not."

"What if I want to go?"

He let go of her immediately. "Then go."

"Wow. Look at you. Calling my bluff." She smiled and moved closer again. "Put those arms back around me, sir."

He did as she said, waited until she had twined her arms around his neck to kiss her. It was a long, slow kiss. She moaned as he dropped his hands from her waist to travel down her back to parts lower, pulling her closer, as close as he could get her without engaging in things she had not cleared him for.

When she finally pulled away, her eyes were half lidded and her lips were red and full from his kisses. "You are beautiful."

"You say that to all the doctors you want to charm into giving you an all access pass."

"No, I do not." He gently took her hair out of the clips she used to hold it up. "I am tired. You are tired, too, I can feel it when I touch you."

"You're right. I'm beat."

"Sleep with me." He began to undo her uniform top. She seemed about to protest, so he said, "Just sleep."

"Naked sleep?"

"Yes."

"Let me guess. Vulcan custom?"

"No. I just want to feel your skin against mine." He kissed her again. A short, tender kiss. "Please?"

She seemed undone by his simple request, stared at him as if she was unsure what to do with it. Finally, she nodded and he resumed undressing her. He folded her uniform and put it on the desk, took his robe off, then eased her bra and underwear off, trying to keep the approval he felt off his face and apparently failing since she said almost tentatively, " I guess you like what you see?"

"Most certainly. You are lovely."

He stepped out of his underwear and put them with the rest of the clothing. Before he could lead them to bed, she said, "Wait a sec, let me check where you were hit."

"Show me." He'd felt it. He'd seen them change the dressing on the nu-skin. But he had no idea of the breadth of the damage.

She traced out a larger spot than he'd expected. "We had to work from here to here, and down to here. This spot right here was compromised the worst. We took tissue from your thigh to help the nu-skin adhere."

He'd wondered why his thigh had itched.

"It was very bad, Spock." She ran her hand over him, her movements not quite a doctor, not quite a lover. The expression on her face was haunted. "I thought you were going to die."

"I did not. You must be quite skilled."

"Len and I both. We're a good team." She suddenly pulled him to her, kissed him fiercely.

He pulled her closer, as close as he could get her. The feel of her skin on his was intoxicating. He was aroused, but he ignored it as best he could since he knew she would not let him make love to her.

She reached down, grasped him firmly. "Your idea of being naked was idiotic. You do realize that, right?"

He nodded quickly.

She did not let go. In fact, she was moving her hand gently but firmly, holding him against her stomach. "Don't you dare strain anything or I'm breaking up with you before I get to come, and that will make me very angry."

Her logic made him smile. A smile that no Vulcan would approve of, and she saw him do it and she began to smile. She continued her ministrations, kissing him as she did, calling him names like, "big dope," and "moron," which in no way should have been arousing but did not interfere with him gasping as he came.

She kissed him gently, pointed him toward the bed and said, "Give me a second to clean up," and then disappeared into the bathroom. A few minutes later, she was back and she crawled into bed and cuddled next to him.

"Should I apologize for that?"

"Nope." She kissed him in a way that let him know she meant it.

"Should I not be giving you pleasure?"

"When you're one hundred percent, you can give me much pleasure. In fact, it will be expected."

"Duly noted." He nuzzled her neck, kissed his way to her ear, then over to her lips, enjoying the way she shivered as he did so. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. Now go to sleep. That's an order from your doctor." She settled in very carefully, her arm snaking down his hip instead of across his waist.

"You will not hurt me, Christine."

"Shhh."

He decided not to tell her that the feel of her hand on his hip that way was extremely erotic. At this point, any way she touched him might be arousing.

##

Spock woke as Christine struggled next to him, trying to free herself from the covers. "What is wrong?"

"Too damn hot in here. What temperature do you have it set on?"

"Twenty-five."

She groaned. "I'm boiling to death." She threw off the blanket and sheet; he could feel them land on him.

"Lights, ten percent." A low gleam filled the room. He could just make her out. "What temperature do you prefer?"

"Around twenty."

"That is quite cold for me." He began to run his fingers lightly down her body, causing her to shiver. "Twenty two?"

"Fine."

"Drop room temperature to twenty two degrees Celsius." He could feel the air grow colder, continued exploring her body.

"Are you trying to make me more hot?"

"I am unsure what I am doing, other than enjoying myself."

She laughed. "I told you no strenuous activity."

"This is hardly strenuous," he said as he slid a finger from her knee, up her thigh, over her hip, and to her breast, barely touching her skin as he moved.

"Okay, you have a point."

"Does it please you?" He ran his finger up the other side.

She made a sound he decided was an affirmative.

"When will I be cleared for more strenuous activity?"

"I don't know. That's up to Len." She moved closer, began to kiss him.

They kissed for a long time and he resumed the slide of his finger down the back of her, gratified to feel her shiver each time he did it. When she pulled away finally, he said, "Why does McCoy have to clear me?"

"Because I recused myself from major decisions about your health. I might let lust cloud my judgment."

"You told him that?"

"Not in so many words, but he got the picture." She stroked his hair. "I do want you."

"That is apparent." He slid his fingers down the front of her again, this time going farther, allowing his fingers to dip inside, find how ready she was for him. She moaned. Loudly. "Are you convinced I cannot indulge myself?"

"I'm not a lie there and take it quietly kind of gal. I will not be responsible for reinjuring you, Spock."

He started to withdraw his fingers and she stopped him, pushing them back in.

"But let me enjoy this for a few minutes more. Just the feel of it."

He thought she might fall back to sleep with his fingers inside her that way, until he began to move them and she pulled his hand out. "Give an inch, you take a mile." Then she cuddled close and kissed him some more, easing the covers back over them as she did it.

He had to admire her ability to multitask while in bed.

##

Spock woke to a much colder room than he was used to, but a warm body draped against him—something he was also not used to but definitely found pleasurable. He murmured for the lights to increase to twenty-five percent and studied Christine as she slept.

There was little left of the nurse her remembered. The elaborate blond hair and heavy make up was gone. She had worn heavier perfume back then. And he tried to imagine the Christine of then lying in his bed—tried and failed. He had not found that woman attractive. But time and experience had changed her—and him, too.

He realized she was awake, was watching him with a half smile. Her dark hair lay mussed around her face, what little make-up she wore was streaked slightly, and he found the effect appealing because he knew it was due to being with him. He anticipated how it would look once they made love in truth, when she was sweaty and satisfied.

"What are you thinking about? It cannot be good." She laughed softly.

"I am thinking of what you will look like after sex."

"What? I don't look bad enough for you right now?" Again the easy smile.

He imagined the Christine of the past would have woken before him, been in the bathroom already, checking to see how she looked. He could not imagine her lying so happily in his arms as he scrutinized her this way.

"I'm starving," she said. "If you're not hungry, then let me up so I can get to the mess."

"I will go with you. I am approved for light duty, am I not?"

She nodded. "On ship only, buster. No landing parties. No workouts in the gym. And if Jim needs a hero, he's going to have to look elsewhere, got it?"

"The last one will be the most difficult to comply with."

"And the most likely to get a waiver for after the fact." She grinned. "Are you ever going to kiss me? You're losing points by the second."

He pulled her to him, kissed her as thoroughly as he could while keeping within her "do not strain anything" parameters, and wondered if either of them—the versions of them of before—could have done this so easily, so naturally.

She pulled away. "Do not take this personally, but nature calls and I do not like company for that."

"Nor do I."

"One hurdle passed." She slid out of bed, walked to the bathroom, and shut the door. A few moments later, she came out. "Your turn?"

He nodded and got out of bed. "Do you prefer to shower alone?" he asked as he passed her.

"Depends on who wants to join in," she said with a grin. "You're okay for company, I guess."

"I will get the extra towels out."

"You do that."

She was wandering his quarters when he came out, and she didn't turn, said, "I keep thinking I should put a robe on, but I don't have a robe here. It feels strange to be naked like this."

"Do you want a robe?"

"I have several in my quarters."

"Then keep one here. I do not want you to feel uncomfortable. Bring whatever you need."

She turned and studied him. "You realize you basically just told me to move my stuff in."

"Precisely." He let his eyebrow rise slowly. "For efficiency's sake, if nothing else."

"What if we're not compatible?"

"Has anything occurred so far to indicate we are not compatible?"

"It could happen at breakfast. I'm not a vegetarian."

"I am surrounded my omnivores. I will survive if my lover is also one."

"We're not lovers yet."

He walked over to her, pulled her close, then ran his fingers down from her chest to her stomach and lower, back where they had been. The sound she made as he explored was both charming and arousing. "Shall I remedy that? You have allowed me release, shall I do that same for you?"

"I told you. I don't want you to strain anything."

He backed her up so they were both resting against his desk. She lifted her far leg up so it was resting on the desk, leaned against him very lightly, and he put his arm around her to steady her. "Relax, Christine, I am not straining anything." He used his other hand to play. She was ready for him—so very ready. It took no time at all before she was writhing under his touch, and then calling out his name.

He took a special pleasure in that.

"Are we lovers now, Christine?"

She nodded, still breathing hard and apparently finding words a difficult concept.

"Excellent. Please tell me when you have sufficiently recovered so we can shower. The mess hall is not open for breakfast all day."

He earned himself a glare for that. He'd known he would.

##

They were eating in a peaceful silence when Jim and McCoy walked over.

"This a private party or can anybody join?" McCoy asked with a grin that boded no good.

"Please," Spock said, and met Christine's eyes as their friends took the seats to either side of them—she looked as warily amused as he felt.

"You two seem mellow," Jim said with a fond grin.

"Life is good," Christine said, and Spock felt a pang of satisfaction at her words. He did not think she said such things easily.

"Damn straight it is. Jim's taking us back to the pleasure planet—you remember, Spock? The one with the white rabbit and the black knight." McCoy smiled and shook his head in some sort of happy whimsy. "Tough thing will be to find people to stay aboard."

"I will," Spock and Christine both said at the same time.

Jim started to laugh. "You owe me a drink, Bones. Single malt."

"I'll get you house brand if you're lucky. You two are together? Finally?"

"We didn't say that." Christine had her best professional face on. "I have an experiment I'd like to try. When did you say we'd be at the planet?"

"'Bout two weeks from now. Just about when Spock is cleared for every damn thing." McCoy waggled his eyebrows.

"I too have an experiment," Spock said, keeping his expression neutral. "I will stay on board while the rest of you..."

"Cavort," Christine said. "Frolic. Romp. Play. Indulge."

Some of those words were having an interesting effect on parts of his anatomy. "Thank you, Christine. I believe they have the idea."

"Two experiments. At the same time. Mutual exploration." Jim was beaming and clearly trying not to laugh. "How...astoundingly wonderful."

"Pure coincidence." Christine smiled at him. "I mean I'd much rather put on some fairy princess gown and be rescued by a robot in shining armor, but once your fiancé's become an android, it sort of sours you on the whole automaton experience."

"Excellent point, Chris." Jim grinned at McCoy again. "And that's a whole bottle if she brought up Roger."

"I'm so glad we're providing amusement for you two." She looked over at Spock. "Aren't you happy?"

"I am happy." He looked at her, then at his two friends, wondered if they understood exactly what he had just admitted. Jim looked like he did. His smile was open and pleased. "If you two are only going to abuse us, then perhaps you should find another table."

"Yeeee-ouch. Protecting his lady, or what?" McCoy held up his hands in what Spock assumed was mock surrender. "I humbly apologize, Spock. We are buffoons and you have shown us the error of our ways."

"Good." He nodded at Christine, who only rolled her eyes at him.

"So is he good?" McCoy asked her, and at Spock's glare said, "Did I say buffoon? I meant typhoon. So is he, Christine? And if he is, then you'll have some explaining to do because he is not cleared for that."

Spock took a deep breath, felt Christine's foot gently rub his leg, and looked up to see her soft and sensual smile.

"We have no idea what you're talking about, Len. We're just two colleagues who happen to be more interested in science than playing make-believe on a pleasure planet." She looked pointedly at Jim. "Help him find a new theme, won't you?"

"What the hell. I already won the bets." He began to tuck into his oatmeal. "So how long before I get him back for chess, Chris."

She smiled. "You mean from the experiment?"

"The mutual experiment, yeah." Jim grinned.

She looked at Spock, clearly leaving that up to him to respond to.

"It may be quite some time, Jim."

She smiled.

Jim shot him a look full of approval. "I think that's exactly the right answer, old friend."

FIN