The wind on Alzara's fifth moon whipped and whistled, blowing sand around the enclosure, stinging grit flying in Kirk's face until they got into the nondescript building his guide pointed out to him.
"Follow me. The biochem types are down this wing." His guide, a middleman named Trevaling, hurried past a corridor designated engineering and another noted as info tech, then finally turned, brushing sand out of his hair as he walked. "I hate this damn planet. If the slaves weren't so exceptional, I'd never do business here." He smiled at Kirk, and it was a predatory expression. "A pure mind wipe is easy. But to be able to tailor it, wipe the parts that establish personal memories but keep the skills—well, for a man of your wealth, it's nothing to buy that, but for most people..."
Kirk nodded tightly. Starfleet had spent no little effort establishing his bona fides as a very wealthy man in search of certain types of experts for his business empire and his new undertaking in biochem research.
"Here we are. Doctors, biologists, chemists. Take your pick."
Kirk walked down the aisle slowly. Inside each small cell was a desk and chair, a cot, a screened off area he presumed was the bathroom, and a person sitting working. On the wall next to the forcefield that kept the person inside was an inventory of the person's skills.
He had five names and faces memorized with a list of skills. All Starfleet officers taken from various science conferences, but there was one person in particular that he cared about. His deputy CMO. Chapel.
And there she was. Sitting at the desk, glancing over at him and Trevaling. Her face was a blank mask, and Kirk stopped and forced himself not to show any recognition as he moved to her credential padd.
"Hmmm." He pulled his own padd out from the pocket of his cloak, made some notes on it as any potential buyer would, then moved on. He found the rest of the officers further down the line. Made more notes. Then kept going, seeing if there was anyone else who looked at all familiar. He found a few more, made some notes.
"Look, Trevaling, I'll be straight with you. I'm starting a new product line and I need a lot of science types. Ten—these ten—seem perfectly suited." He handed him the padd, waited for Trevaling to copy the info to his datastick, then took back his padd and shoved it in his cloak pocket. "I know what they're worth and I want to pay less. You get them for me for seventy kreen, and I'll see that ten kreen find their way to your account."
Trevaling's eyes widened. The commission he was going to get from the seller was huge anyway, and Kirk knew with the incentive from him, he'd bargain well.
He'd get Chapel, the five other recent abductees, and four others whose names and faces he'd seen on past AWOL lists. He couldn't help everyone in this place, but he'd do what he could.
And Starfleet would take care of the rest once he got out with this first batch and the schematics of the compound downloading into his padd as they moved around. Starfleet intelligence had found the location, and the Enterprise had been in the best position to go in and extricate the first batch—the fact that Kirk knew one of the people was a bonus.
It hadn't hurt that he'd just stopped V'ger—how hard would shutting down a slaving operation be?
"How do they do it?" he asked Trevaling. "Wipe their memory so selectively?"
Trevaling leaned in. "Something like those mind melds the Vulcans are so famous for is my guess. But they don't say. Trade secret and all that." He smiled. "Let me go secure you your scientists. Would you like to wait here?"
Yes, he wanted to wait here—to talk to Chris—more than anything. That had been the part he'd left out when he'd worked out the plan with Starfleet, with Spock who was waiting just out of sensor range in the ship, with Bones who had worked up the disguise to make him look less human. He hadn't told any of them that she wasn't just Chapel to him, a doctor on his crew. She'd been his lover on Earth before she left to join Decker's crew. They'd been trying to figure out how or if they could make it work now that they were on the Enterprise together. Or he'd been trying to figure that out—she seemed to see no problem with it.
He loved her. She loved him. Did he want to stay with her? Hell, yes. He forced himself to stay in character and finish the rest of his mission: cover as much ground as possible in the complex. "No. Why would I want to wait with slaves?"
Trevaling smiled. "Come, there's a salon that's usually equipped nicely with delicacies once we get past the pens. But this won't take long. You've made me quite motivated to be a fierce negotiator."
Kirk sat in the salon, ignoring the food and drink, but trying to look as comfortable as he could—the picture of the confident business man sure of his deal.
Trevaling came in, grinning wide enough that Kirk knew he'd gotten his price. "They're bringing them now."
"Excellent." He stood and shook his broker's hand. "You'll be the first one I look up when I need more."
"I seek only to serve."
Oh, the man would serve. Years of time in a Federation rehabilitation facility. Kirk thought his smile grew a little brighter at the idea.
A guard opened the door. "Your purchases are ready for transport."
Kirk nodded and walked out to the hall, saw that his scientists were in a line, a thin chain attached to a manacle on their left wrists. Chris was in the middle of the line.
The guard handed him a small controller. "The red button is for control if they don't heed voice commands. The longer you hold it down, the more pain they feel—eventually they will lose consciousness. If you want to separate a slave from the chain, hold the controller next to the green button on their manacles and push the green button. It will unlock the manacles and the slave can be removed from the chain."
Kirk nodded, then gestured for the line to proceed down the hall in front of him. "Put your hoods up," he said. "It's windy as hell and I don't want you blinded after I paid top dollar."
There was some jostling as they tried to put their hoods up at the same time. He put his own hood up and followed them out into the blowing sand, telling them when to turn and turn again, until he saw his ship ahead.
He told them to stop, keyed in the unlock sequence on the ship, and opened the door. In the back of the ship was a large cargo bay with bench seating around the side. He ordered the line into the bay and then walked over to Chris, held the controller to her manacles and separated her from the group.
"If any of you are hungry, there is food in that blue container. Water is in the red one. We'll be at our destination shortly. You will be treated well. Relax." He pushed Chris ahead of him and locked the cargo bay door behind him.
Then he took a deep breath and looked at her. She was staring at him with a blank smile that unnerved him. Pointing to the passenger seat, he said, "Sit down," then went to the controls and got them the hell off the planet.
He wouldn't feel safe until he was out of atmosphere and to the rendezvous point. And even then, he probably wouldn't feel safe until he saw the Enterprise through the viewscreen.
He could feel Chris sneaking peeks at him, but she remained quiet. Had they trained that into her and if so, how?
"You have a question?"
"What do I call you? Or are you a temporary owner?" She said it as if owner was a concept that didn't bother her.
"You can call me sir."
"Sir." She managed to put almost a sexual spin on the word. "I have no name."
"You do, actually." He finished setting the course, then turned to look at her.
"Normally our owners name us." She was frowning. "But you want me to...guess?"
"No. Your name is Chris. Christine, actually. But I call you Chris."
"Are you creating a fictional overlay for our interaction? And why me? Or will you do this with each of us?" She smiled at him, and the expression, the achingly innocent smile, reminded him of Korby's Andrea.
"Why just me?"
"You interest me. Now, as part of this overlay, pretend you are a doctor and scientist on my staff. I am a powerful man. I command many people. If you were to give me a report on the workings of my vast holdings, what would you say?"
The empty smile faded. The Chris he knew was back. Considering, analyzing. She looked around, reached for the tricorder that sat next to her seat. "Your vast holdings are recorded on this?"
He nodded. It was part of the bona fides he'd used with Trevaling.
She read for a few minutes. "Your wine crop has blight."
He smiled. "I know. My wine manager is afraid to tell me."
"Fire him. He's not doing his job."
He closed his eyes. They'd had a version of this conversation in the Loire Valley just before she'd reported to Decker's crew. He'd accused her of being harsh; she'd shot back that hiding the truth merited it. The wine manager hadn't been responsible for the blight, but he'd taken no steps to mitigate it or warn his superiors of it.
The same answer meant some basic part of her was still there.
She studied the padd some more. "Your holdings in Metamex should be liquidated."
She frowned. "Ummm?"
He could tell she was trying to access a memory that must have been erased. Metamex was a highly successful conglomerate. Until a Federation Board had ruled that they were responsible for testing their products offworld in extremely poor sectors—products that did not always work, that often left the test subjects little more than vegetables. The ruling had come out before she'd left for the conference; Metamex's stocks had plummeted during the time she'd been held.
She had no way of knowing Metamex was in danger unless the memory of the Federation ruling wasn't gone but only blocked.
He felt himself letting out breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding—blocked memories could be recovered.
"You said you only were interested in me. And I see no mention of a wife here." She studied the nav board, then smiled and rose from her seat. "And you have set the controls on automatic."
He shook his head. "No. I didn't mean that I wanted—"
She was on his lap before he could protest, was kissing him, and for a moment, he let her, closing his eyes and losing himself in the scent of her hair, the feel of her lips. But then she reached down lower, gripping him through his pants, and he said firmly, "Chris, stop."
She let go with a confused look. "You are alone, are you not?"
"And you're a scientist, not a pleasure slave."
"I can be both."
He felt a knot forming in his stomach. "Did they train you to be both?"
"No. But you are rich, are you not? You bought many of us and we are not cheap. That is drilled into us. You ask me strange questions that seem a smokescreen for merely spending time with me. I'm sorry if I'm being forward, but a sexual association with you would improve my position here. And my position is all I have."
He laughed, a soft exhale of air that came out as bitter as he felt. This was basic Chris, too, if he was honest with himself. She'd been with Korby as his grad student. He'd always viewed that as a love match, but what if she'd been ambitious—what if she'd sought position, not passion?
What if she'd done the same with him?
But no, she'd been leaving him. For Decker.
Decker, who she might also have been planning to seduce? A captain on the ship and an admiral on Earth who remembered her fondly. Win win.
"Whatever you are thinking about, it is making you sad." She shifted in a way that felt indescribably good. "Or mad, I can't tell."
"I'm not mad."
She waited. "So you're sad?"
"Yes, I'm sad." He brushed her hair off her face, told himself to let go of these thoughts. He was as confused as she was. Once they got her memory back, things would be fine.
"If," he could hear Spock saying. "If we get her memory back, Jim."
When, damn it. Spock was just being overcautious. When they got her memory back.
He pulled her down to him for a quick kiss. "Get off my lap. You'll need to relax during this journey. But know this: you're safe with me."
"I feel safe with you, sir." She got off his lap, leaving part of him bereft as hell. Her smile was brilliant and just the slightest bit vacant, and once again he was reminded of Andrea. She started to sit back down in the seat next to him.
"Not there, Chris." He got up, escorted her to a small cabin. "Sorry, not that I don't trust you but..."
"But I want to stay with you."
"And that would be lovely, but it's not workable. Now, enjoy the private and very soundproof luxury. It's my room. Do you see the importance of that?"
She stood a little straighter. "I do. Thank you."
"Are you hungry?"
"There's food in the chiller there. I think you'll find it to your liking." Since he'd stocked it with all her favorite things.
"You're a kind man."
"You haven't always thought so." Their last words before she left for the conference had been ugly ones. He'd been on his off again phase—sure he shouldn't break his rules for her. She'd been tired of him, tired of waiting, tired of his rules. She'd told him she might transfer off.
He'd told her that might be for the best.
She'd then told him maybe Spock would be more open to her than he was. He didn't think she'd meant it, thought she'd just been so hurt, so tired of his stupid rule that she'd struck out.
"You're sad again." She moved toward him, her face so sweet he had to shut the door between them and lock it.
He stood there a long time on the other side of the door, wanting nothing more than to open it and make love to her, make her his.
But that would be wrong.
He turned and left her in peace. Tried to put her out of his mind as he sat at the ship's controls, doing basically nothing useful.
So close. She was so close. And he'd thought he wouldn't see her again.
He closed his eyes, imagined what her reaction would be once she got her memory back to his seducing her now, and took a deep breath, finally able to focus on just getting them home.
Once he was safely out of range of the Alzara system, he hailed the Enterprise.
Spock answered at once. "Enterprise here, sir."
"Cargo secured. I got an extra four scientists that I think are also ours. We can check once I get aboard." His ship was clean of anything Starfleet, a borrowed merchant vessel one of his friends no longer needed and hadn't used in a long time.
"Affirmative. I have been in close coordination with the team waiting at Starfleet Medical. They agreed it made sense to keep Doctor Chapel here, for me to work with her. As she and I shared consciousness, I am the most familiar with how her mental structures should be arranged."
Kirk felt an irrational surge of jealousy. "Good. I did a few small tests. These people are good but I found some chinks."
"I hope your tests did not do any damage."
"I wasn't trying to hurt her, Spock. She's not an android I was trying to screw up." He sighed. "Sorry, I'm keyed up. Seeing the scale of that operation. Those poor people."
"Once the schematics of the site are downloaded from your padd and the shuttle's passive receptors, Starfleet will send teams in to shut it down permanently. The people will be saved. Because of you." Spock sounded only slightly more emotional than usual. The meld with V'ger had worn off quickly, thank God, since Kirk was handing over his girl to him. His girl who might or might not still be in love with Spock—Kirk hoped to God her memories came in most recent first.
And Spock didn't know how Kirk felt about Chris. Kirk didn't see how he could tell him when he wasn't even sure he was going to let himself keep Chris. What if she had been serious? What if she wanted Spock, and Spock could want her now, and they could be happy? If Kirk loved her—and couldn't have her for himself—shouldn't he want her to be happy with his best friend?
He realized he was clenching his fists so hard they'd gone white. Clearly the right answer and the answer he'd give were not the same thing.
He pushed the ship's speed up, tried not to think about Chris or Spock or anything else until he heard Uhura's voice telling him the Enterprise had him, was bringing him home.
He got on the intercom. "Passengers, prepare for landing. If you're not sitting down, then find a seat and stay in it until I open the doors and let you out."
After they landed in the shuttlebay, it seemed to take forever for the doors to close, for the bay to fill with the air needed to support life. Finally, the lights switched to green, and he popped the door and saw Bones and Spock heading toward him with a detail of security officers and several nurses.
Kirk turned back, opened the cargo bay, and said, "Everyone up. Hold out your wrists."
He went down the line, opening manacles, talking as he worked. "You're no longer slaves, but you are in protective custody until further notice. You will be assigned a security detail, and you are to obey them to the letter. Do you understand?"
He heard a robust chorus of "Yes," and beckoned for them to follow him, then motioned them off the ship. The nurses and security officers took them away.
Bones climbed onto the ship. "Where is she?"
Kirk hit the door to the cabin. "Chris, come on out."
She was sitting on the bed, got up, and walked to him. "Sir?"
"This is Doctor McCoy. He will be checking your physical state." He saw Spock coming toward the cabin, watched her carefully for any reaction, and saw none. "And this is Commander Spock. He is my second in command. You will be working with him."
She looked at him, a frown growing. "You no longer want me to work with you?" She gestured at the cabin. "To stay here with you?"
"Well this is my small ship." He took her arm, led her to the door of the ship. "This is my big ship. And no, you won't be staying with me."
She turned to Spock. "Are you a scientist as well as an important man?"
"Then it is logical that I work with you." She turned back to Kirk. "Perhaps more logical than staying with you."
"In this case, yes."
She nodded. "I understand."
"And, Chris. You're not a slave. You are under my protection. Do you understand the difference?"
"It could merely be semantics. Or it could mean I'm free." She shot him a quick smile that looked like the woman he knew. "Are you freeing me or do you just prefer to sugarcoat the fact you keep slaves?"
Bones laughed. "Same old Christine."
Spock nodded. "Indeed, that is a most promising sign."
Kirk smiled. "You're free, Chris. But with limits. You see, part of your memory is gone." He saw Spock's eyebrows lower and knew he had to be careful how far he went with this—they couldn't afford to spook her before they even started. "Spock will help you recover those memories. But in the meantime, you are not at liberty to roam the ship."
She stood very still, seemed lost in thought, and Kirk thought she was assessing her mental state. "I have wondered if I was all right. I remember some things with such ease but others..." She shook her head as if chasing away any pain or worry. "But once I am myself again, I will be fully free?"
"Again, logical. I accept the conditions of your protection."
Bones turned to Spock. "You sure you don't want to rethink your old position on her? She sounds like a Vulcan to me."
"Indeed. It is quite refreshing." Spock lifted an eyebrow in his signature touché move.
Bones clapped Kirk gently on the back. "Come on, Jim. Let's get her checked out and get you back to your old self. Those eyebrows must itch like holy hell."
He nodded and followed behind Chris and Spock as Bones said, "Sure is good to see her. If anyone can get through to her, he can."
Kirk swallowed hard. "You're right, Bones. If anyone can, it'll be Spock."
Spock stood back as McCoy had Doctor Chapel sit on the biobed. She looked healthier than when she had left—he had noted dark circles under her eyes, a certain haunted look his mother had often worn when she was irritated with his father, and yet Spock did not believe Chapel had been seeing anyone.
"Well, Christine, your readings are damned good."
She turned, took a quick look at the biobed scales behind her. "Actually, my readings are better than good; they are excellent. Your analysis of them, however, is not. You are the head doctor here?"
Spock had to work to hide the uptick his lips wanted to take. It was an excellent retort, one he himself would have made. The smile was due to the remnants of the meld with V'ger—remnants he was taking great pains to hide, but which were far from gone.
McCoy's eyebrow going up was her only answer. "Mister Spock, she's all yours."
"Doctor Chapel, please come with me."
She slid off the biobed, fell in next to him, easily keeping stride. He was used to having to adjust his gait, but she was tall and her legs long. He walked even faster; she kept up still.
"Did they have you on an exercise regime at the facility the captain bought you at?"
"The captain? Oh, you mean Sir?" At his nod, she said, "Yes. They wanted us healthy enough for any environment."
"Quite." She studied him. "You are a Vulcan?"
"Vulcans are supposed to eschew emotion and yet you found my comments to Doctor McCoy amusing."
"You are correct on both counts. It is...complicated."
"You are a scientist. Attempt to gist it for an abstract." Her look was as disapproving as Sarek's ever was.
He took a deep breath. "Very well. First and foremost, I am half human. I struggle with emotions. I even, at one time, sought to purge all emotions from me through an extreme Vulcan discipline. I abandoned that path however when I became aware of the call of a being of pure logic, and I followed that call."
"What did you find?"
"An entity intent on destroying all known life."
She smiled wryly. "Disappointing."
"Indeed." He met her eyes. "This is the part where my judgment may be called into question. I donned a spacesuit and melded—have you heard of the mind meld?"
"I melded with said entity. It was...overwhelming. I nearly died."
"And you're going to be helping me? With the same kind of meld?" She started to laugh, and it sounded a little hysterical.
"You are not V'ger."
She stopped walking. "Say that again."
He moved closer. "V'ger."
"I feel that. But when I reach for the memory..."
"I understand. Trust those feelings."
She smiled. "This coming from a Vulcan."
He put his hand on her elbow, got her walking again. "My guess is that your memories are all in place, but the pointers, if you will, are broken."
"Like on a data disk?"
"Precisely. Some memories are limited in scope. If I erase the pointer to what I had for dinner last night, the impact might be very small. But if someone were to try to erase V'ger from my mind, the impact would be huge. Because it touches so many aspects of my life. And I imagine the same is true for you."
"Telling you would taint the process. You must discover your memories on your own. But trust your feelings in this."
"Do you trust your feelings? You who just said you tried to purge them all?"
"I am learning to."
"Do you have feelings for me?"
He was unsure how to answer her. In the past, it would have been an easy matter to say no and be done with it. But now...he had been more worried than was normal when she was taken, more affected by her absence. It could be V'ger's effects, but he was not noticing any heightened emotion around other crewmen. And he had tried to argue with Jim to let him go, let him pretend to be a Romulan merchant.
Only Jim had made the case that he was the better actor. That he could be disguised better. That Spock's role was crucial in helping Christine get well once she was rescued. He was irreplaceable and could not be risked.
"You're taking an awfully long time to say 'no,' so the answer must be 'maybe,' or 'yes.'"
"This is unproductive given the nature of the work we will be doing together."
"On the contrary, if you're going to be rifling through my mind, I think I'd feel far more secure knowing you were doing it with at least a little affection for me in your heart."
"Then you may think that if it gives you comfort."
"Cagey answer." She smiled. "But I will think that. Because it does give me comfort."
He stopped in front of the guest quarters he'd assigned her, a bare room free of her own things, nothing to overwhelm her—also nothing that could be used as a weapon. "Open the door," he practically barked at her, calling back his drill instructor at the Academy.
She didn't hesitate, palmed open the door and then stared at her hand. "How did I know...?" She walked into the room. "Muscle memory, I guess?"
"Probably. Or a chinks in the armor. Either way, promising. I believe I can help you, Doctor."
She turned. "Will you do me a favor?"
"It will depend on the favor."
She laughed. "Will you call me Christine?"
"As you wish, Christine." He gestured for her to go inside. "You can open the door from the outside, but once you are inside, you are essentially stuck here unless the captain, myself, or Doctor McCoy buzz for entrance—we are unlocking the door but for your privacy, you are allowed to open it. If you need assistance, call me on this." He showed her the intercom, and then nodded to the chiller. "The captain wanted you to take your meals here."
"No contaminating anyone?"
"I believe it is the other way around. No contaminating you with people who might know you, confuse you as they impose their memories on you."
"Ah. Yes, it sounds much better that way." She opened the chiller door, smiled as she looked in. "Same things that were on his ship. I liked what I had earlier." She grabbed a container of water and closed the door. "So, when do we start?"
"Are you tired?"
"I slept on the ship."
"Then I will return in an hour and we can begin. You will find fresh clothing in the closet. The shower has instructions for sonic and water."
"Are you saying I need a shower?"
"You will feel better if you are clean. We will be lying quite close on the bed. For a sustained meld, it is easier to lie down."
"Okay." She opened the water, drank a healthy swallow. "Will the meld hurt?"
"It should not."
"That's not really a no."
"It does not usually hurt. Given what they did to you, I cannot, however, guarantee this will not."
"Fair enough." She took another swallow, then shooed him out. "Go do whatever you have to do. I'll get clean."
He put a hand on her shoulder, let it linger. "Please do not be afraid."
"I'm trying really hard."
He squeezed her shoulder, then let it go, and went to find Jim.
Kirk sat on the bridge, trying not to scratch his face where Bones had removed the prosthetics. He heard the turbolift open, forced himself not to turn around even though he could tell it was Spock's steps coming toward him. He pretended to be absorbed by the padd he was reading until he couldn't avoid looking up.
"Ah, Mister Spock, what do you think? Repairable?" Damn, too hale, too hearty, and too damn loud. He could see Spock thought so, too.
"Perhaps another venue?" Spock's voice was pitched very low.
"Sulu, you have the conn." He slipped out of the chair, walked with Spock to the turbolift. As soon as the doors closed, he said, "How is she?"
"I believe I, too, have seen holes in the memory reprogramming that was done to her. I believe in time I can repair it."
The lift opened and they walked to Kirk's quarters. He palmed them in, took a seat at his table in the office side, then gestured for Spock to sit. "Good."
"I will need uninterrupted time with her."
"Understood. You're relieved of other duties unless an emergency comes up."
Spock nodded. Then he frowned slightly. "Jim, I need to know something."
"You were particularly vehement about finding Doctor Chapel—and in being the one to carry out the mission. Before she left for the conference, Doctor Chapel was clearly upset about something. In her guest quarters just now she said you had perhaps gone to some effort to stock her chiller both there and on the ship with things she liked."
Kirk smiled easily—the fake smile he used on aliens about to shoot him. "Earth delicacies. Most women like them, Spock. I can give you a list if you want to use them on your next date."
Spock's eyes narrowed. "You are deflecting." He sat back. "Is there something I should know about your relationship with Doctor Chapel before I proceed?"
Now was the time. Now or never. Three simple words would do it: he loved her. He settled for four. "Why do you ask?"
Spock met his eyes, seemed to be trying to read him. "Because I am not unaffected by her."
Damn. Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn.
"Just do your job, Spock." The words came out before he could stop them. Harsh and bitter, and he saw Spock look at him in surprise. "Just do it and see what happens. You'll find out whatever you need to as you go along, right? Why ask me? She's the one that matters."
"Are you with her?" Spock the terrier was not letting go of this bone.
Kirk knew that there was no point in anything but honesty. "No. I was. I'm not now."
"Not now...for how long?" Spock was clearly off balance. Just how affected was he by Chris?
"Since before she reported to the ship. You know my rules. Have I ever broken them—and kept the person aboard after?"
"Well, then there's your fucking answer. Go get her memory back. Whatever else happens happens." He swallowed hard.
"Jim, if you care for her then I will—"
"Spock, for the love of God, just go get her memories. Leave it to divine fortune, okay? If she remembers me first, then you'll have an angry woman on your hands. If she doesn't, then she won't even care about me until it's too goddamn late. Just leave it up to chance." He got up, stalked to the viewscreen as an uncomfortable silence filled the room. "Look, you're my best friend. I trust you with her. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"I do not. Stonn was once my best friend, but I did not appreciate him stealing my woman."
Kirk laughed. "God love you, my friend. I want to live in your world for a while." He turned. "You won't be stealing her. You can't steal what I won't keep. And she was mad at me when she left. Furious, actually, for exactly that. I love her, Spock. But I can't have her. But I damn well was going to get her back from those sons of bitches who stole her. And now she's in your hands. Literally."
He turned around, clenched his hands into fists and took a deep breath. "I trust you with her. Go get started."
"I will attempt to find her most recent memories first."
Kirk turned to look at him. "If you hadn't had this conversation with me, would you do that?"
Spock looked down. "No."
"Then follow your best instincts. She matters most in this. Not you or I."
"Understood." He met Kirk's eyes. "A meld of this duration will be intensely personal, but I will endeavor to not get too close."
"And how will that affect her? You pulling back when she needs you? Damn it, Spock. Don't you get it? How I feel is irrelevant. Why do you think I didn't tell you? You were going to find out anyway if you were successful. I knew that. But I wanted you to go in with no preconceptions." He sighed. "Just...just take care of her."
Spock stood. "I am your friend."
'Then go be my friend. Get her back. Whatever it takes, Spock."
Spock's look was helpless as he nodded and left Kirk alone.
Kirk turned back to the viewscreen and laid his hand on the wall, desperately trying to feel the pulse of his ship under his skin—the other woman in his life, the one who refused to share.
Spock rang for admittance at Christine's quarters, followed her in, and said without preamble, "We can begin."
She backed away from him. "What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing is wrong with me. Earlier you asked when we could start."
"And earlier you were...open. Now...now you're all shut down."
He looked away.
"Look. This talk of freedom and lost memories, it's grand, really. And I can see how the captain might need more scientists on this ship or whatever it is. But we all know when we're in that place..." She looked away, her voice beginning to shake. "We all know that it's just not our minds and talents that will be bought. So if you're going to rape me, just get it over with."
"I'm not going to hurt you." He sat down on the bed and let out breath he had not realized he was holding. "And I apologize. I should have composed myself better. I had a difficult conversation and it left me..."
She came closer. "Shaken?"
He decided not to lie to her. "Yes."
"Should you be messing around with my mind if you're shaken?"
"No." He held out his hand. "But there are meditations we can do. They will help us get into sync; it will make the meld easier. And they will calm both of us. Do you trust me?"
"I do." She took his hand, sat next to him on the bed. "No shoes on the bed." Then she frowned. "Where did that come from?"
"Perhaps a pet peeve?" He could always ask Jim. Why did his friend not just tell him the truth?
He reached down and unfastened his boots while she kicked off the slippers she'd changed into. Then they lay down on the bed on their sides, facing each other.
"I will breath out through my mouth, and you inhale from your nose, then you exhale from your mouth and I will breathe in from my nose. It is called catching the breath or circle of breath. The goal will be to slow our breathing but never past what is comfortable. And never to hold one's breath, but rather to elongate the space between breaths. And breathe from your diaphragm, not from your chest. Do you understand?"
"I think so. Do we close our eyes?"
"No, because to hold the space between breaths means you are dependent on the other to take his breath in time for you to breathe again comfortably. We must become aware of each other. I will start the meditation with the first inhale, when I exhale, then you inhale, and exhale and then the true test begins."
He took a deep breath through his nose, let it out through his mouth, and felt the emptiness fill his diaphragm, the space of nonbreath. Christine inhaled shallowly—she would need to breathe more deeply but she would learn—then exhaled and he waited, saw her eyes grow wide as she realized this was what he had meant, this was when she must wait, when there was no breath to hold. He inhaled and exhaled before she could lose focus, saw her inhale more deeply this time, then exhale slowly, drawing it out as if she realized she had inhaled too quickly and now was making up the time, making him wait.
He nodded in approval, then waited a little longer to inhale, then to exhale, and sat in the nonbreath, waiting for her to breathe.
She smiled at him and did not breathe. Finally, she took a long breath and let it out quickly. He could not wait long, had been surprised at how long she had held her inhale, but made his exhale slow, watched her eyes, waited until he saw the first sign of distress then finished the exhale, and she inhaled immediately. But she made the exhale longer than he thought possible, and he knew his lips were ticking up slightly. Her eyes sparkled as she finished, and he continued holding his breath, and together they lay not moving in the moment of nonbreath, until he finally inhaled and exhaled and she waited, drawing the moment out longer, then inhaling finally.
When he eventually stopped them, he thought they were up to Vulcan intermediate levels.
She smiled. "How can a game be so competitive and relaxing at the same time?"
"Only a human can turn that into a game." He knew his expression was full of affection, did not try to tone it down. "Are you ready for the meld?"
"Lie on your back. You will be more comfortable." He moved closer. "This will be...intimate."
"I trust you."
He settled in next to her, his head resting against hers, his body nestled along the length of hers. He found the psi points on her face, was inside her quickly, the meditation leaving her completely open to him. He felt as if he was floating easily inside of her rather than swimming through murky water the way the initial stages of a meld usually felt.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Talking will be difficult for me as I go further in. If you need me to stop, call out inside your mind. It will be jarring but effective."
He moved further into her mind, not seeking to do much with this first foray, just trying to see what looked obviously missing, what seemed off from his memories of them sharing consciousness. To wipe basic personality was a tricky thing, usually something new was imprinted over what was missing but that had not been done here. The pointers had been left...hanging was the best he could describe what he was seeing. Hanging and, like ungrounded wires, eventually they would touch something they shouldn't and set off chaos.
These slaves were inherently unstable. In five, maybe ten years, they would likely go mad. In more volatile species such as Klingons, perhaps as little as one. He imagined Vulcans, too, would not last long. Deprived of their touchstones—their memories of their years of mastery—they, too, would snap quickly. It was no doubt why the slavers preyed on humans—Spock had wondered why so many of the people Jim had seen in the holding cells had been of one species when there were others who lived longer, learned faster, and were more docile in captivity.
Christine was in no danger at the moment, so he continued his explorations, trying to ascertain what memories lay where. If he could, he would restore her most recent memories first. But he knew that with dementia patients and even the elderly who were merely wandering as they approached their end, the past of long ago was often more clear than what had been eaten for their last meal. And so it was here. What he was seeing easily were Christine's memories when young.
They had left her childhood. Stripped her name but left her memories of growing up, the only child of two academics. A simple matter to reconnect her name to those memories, give her back who she was. And then he would no doubt be able to work forward from there. It was the most logical way. The safest way to bring her back. But not the best way for Jim.
Jim had told him that only Christine mattered. He had to take his friend at his word. He hoped Jim had taken him at his word. By the time this was done, he and Christine would be intimately connected—perhaps in a more profound way than if they'd merely had sex.
He searched one more time through her mind. Going slowly, looking for any memory of Jim as her lover, of her being angry with Jim, of the slightest remnant Spock could use to give her back to his friend.
There was nothing. Only her childhood. So her childhood it must be.
He could do that now.
He backed out somewhat, to the very edge of the meld, so they could talk. "I can start now, if you feel ready to begin to know yourself again?"
"It's strange to feel you in there. Strange but familiar."
"I have been with you before. Do you want me to stop for now? We can resume in the morning."
"No, give it to me now. Can we...I mean if I need to...can we talk after? I may be overwhelmed. I guess I'm asking you not to leave."
"I will not leave as long as you need me. Are you ready?"
He went back in, found the earliest memories and began to work, finding the places where the pointers, such as they were, had been severed between identity and experience, rebuilding them. These would be the simplest since they had done so little here. In the future, she would be able to help him to some extent; he could bring her with him into this if he reached anything too tangled. He finished and eased back out, could feel her processing as he reached the outer edges of the meld. He kept a light hold on her and waited.
He felt like a voyeur, but he knew this was unavoidable. She wanted him to stay, and if he did, he would see what she did, experience what she was going through.
"Ohhhh," she said softly.
And he turned his attention to what she was focusing on. Her grandmother's death. Ancient history to the Christine he knew, but to this one, fresh and sharp.
"I loved her so." There was an emptiness he did not like in her voice and he searched through the memories he had been working in—looking at them now, not just the connectors—and found the interactions between her and her grandmother. Saw how important the woman had been to her. How she had spent the summers with her. How the woman represented comfort and...presence. Christine's parents had been high-ranking academicians, often traveling, working late even when home. She'd been raised by a series of paid caretakers, none of whom had stayed around long enough for her to grow attached to and he suspected that had been by design. Her grandmother was the only one who had made time for her.
"She loved you, too," he said softly, knowing from his own upbringing how important his mother had been, her love, her constancy.
"My name is Christine Chapel."
"I am from Earth. I grew up in Madison. My grandmother lived in Marquette." She suddenly cuddled against him like a child would. "They wouldn't let me go to the funeral. My parents thought it was barbaric to expose children to that. I never got to say goodbye."
"Whenever we honor our ancestors with right thought, we say goodbye." He was not sure this made sense, and it did not fit with Vulcan theology and the capture of katras, but he thought it brought her some comfort for she nodded against his chest.
"Is there any other memory that causes you concern?"
She looked up at him, her eyes wet from crying. "Are your fingers starting to cramp?"
"Yes, a little."
"You can end the meld."
He cut the connection as gently as he could and pulled his fingers off the psi points, was surprised when she reached for his hand and began to massage his fingers quite effectively.
"Therapeutic. Least I can do."
"This was easy, wasn't it? Compared to how it's going to get?"
"Yes." He rolled to his back, let her continue to work on his fingers. "As we progress, I may need your help. I will pull you in with me if that is the case."
"I trust you."
"You say that. On what do you base that trust?"
"I don't know. A feeling, I guess. You said to trust those, remember?" She stopped with his fingers. "Better?"
He wiggled them. "Much. Thank you."
"I'm all right now. You don't have to stay. I can process the rest alone."
"We will resume in the morning, then."
"You are welcome."
Kirk saw Spock come into the rec lounge, and got off his barstool, motioning with his chin to a table near the viewscreens in one of the quieter corners. "So?"
"I was able to start repairing the damage. I was delayed getting here as I had to report in to Starfleet medical. Jim, the mechanism the slavers are using to detach the identity from the memories is extraordinarily unstable in the long run. Most humans will have some sort of psychotic break in five to ten years after the procedure."
"Yes. Starfleet Medical had not started any work yet so they were grateful for this information. It will make it imperative for Starfleet to ascertain who else the slavers have taken over the time their operation has been in business and track them down."
Kirk nodded. This just got more depressing. "So tell me some good news."
"I was able to reconnect Christine's identity with her memories."
Christine. Not Doctor Chapel. And Kirk didn't think Spock was even aware he'd called her that. But still he grinned. "That's fantastic."
"It is. Unfortunately, it was her early childhood. I looked, Jim. I looked twice, very carefully, for recent memories. I would have started with those."
Kirk held up his hand. "Stow it, Spock. I told you. You start with what you find. Destiny picked. We start at the beginning."
"Yes. It will be safest for her, I think. Even something as simple as childhood, where relatively little was delinked, held its traumas."
"And you get to live those with her." Spock got to be part of her life, to understand her better than anyone else ever would.
"Technically, I am repairing connections. I do not go into memories, unless the aftereffects of the reconnecting require it. I am not...one with her by any means."
"Spock, you're in her mind. You're shepherding her reintegration. Once you hit the real Chris, you'll be a god to her." He sighed—he didn't stand a goddamned chance. "But she's all right? I mean, she seemed okay?"
"She did. She is very strong. She recognizes this will get harder. I believe we will get her back."
Kirk threw his drink back. "Best news ever."
"Not tonight. I'm...tired." He got up. "You must be, too."
"I am. But I would not mind a game."
"Maybe tomorrow?" He put his hand on Spock's shoulder, then walked to the bar to drop his glass off before heading out of the rec lounge.
He got on the turbolift with every intention of going to deck five but wound up on deck four instead, in front of Chris's quarters. He rang the chime.
She answered, smiled when she saw him, but he could tell she'd been crying. "Sir."
"I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
"I am. Spock is taking good care of me."
He wished that statement didn't send a surge of jealousy through him. "Do you want to take a walk? Those quarters must feel pretty small by now."
"Yes, I'd like that."
It was a stupid thing to do. He knew it, but he didn't care. He'd take her down to the goddamn automated decks. The ones where you needed special clearance to go.
He led her to the lift, and they rode it to the bowels of the ship. She didn't seem to care that there wasn't another person in sight, or that there was nothing to see.
"Going a little stir crazy, were you?"
She nodded. "Stuck in there thinking...remembering."
"Lots to process, I imagine."
"Yeah." She yawned. "I'm sorry. I'm suddenly so tired."
"Then let's get you back to your quarters." He touched her forehead. "Rest this mind up for tomorrow."
She nodded. Then she frowned. "You still look sad to me."
"That's because I am a little sad at the moment. But, I'll get over it." He put his hand on the small of her back as he guided her back onto the lift, knew he was torturing himself but couldn't stop. "But you get better, and I'll quit being sad." A lie but she didn't need to know that.
"I was lucky you found me."
"There was no way I was not going to find you, Chris." He knew his look was far too intense, tried to dial it back as they arrived at her door. He waited until she palmed open her door. "Good night. Sleep well."
The door slid shut and he closed his eyes for a moment, then headed for his own quarters before he could be any stupider.
Spock rang for admittance to Christine's quarters, nodded greetings when she opened the door and stood aside to let him pass. "Did you pass a pleasant evening?"
"I did. The captain came and took me for a walk."
He turned to look at her. "A walk?"
"Yes. It involves placing one foot in front of the other." She studied him.
"On which deck?"
She shrugged. "It was an empty one. Nobody there but us." She sat down on the bed. "Shall we start?"
"You saw no one?"
"Why are you so concerned? He's the captain—and your boss—he can take me for a walk if he wants."
"I worry about contamination."
"You. It is very likely you could run into someone who knows you, who would assail you with memories you are not equipped to handle."
"Assail me? Isn't that a bit dramatic? Look, I may not know who I am, but I'm a doctor. So someone comes up who knows me? Big deal. I think the trauma will be on them when I look at them with the blank stare."
"Oh, good God, you're not letting this go. You're argument is illogical. Move on."
Spock took a deep breath. She was right in that his argument was illogical, but he was...annoyed with Jim for lying to him about being tired and then turning around and seeking her out.
He sat down next to her. "Give me a moment."
"Take as many as you need." She moved around him, stretched out on the bed, and waited.
He let go of his annoyance, let go of everything other than what he was here for: helping her. He could feel her energy behind him as he slowed his breathing, as he felt his tension fade. Once he felt in control of himself, he eased back, and rolled to his side, and saw that she was watching him.
"Are you ready to begin?" she asked softly.
He nodded, and brushed her face with his fingers. She smiled, so he did it again, then settled his fingers onto her psi points. He could feel her opening herself up to him, and he slid in with no effort, as he imagined longtime partners must meld.
She moaned, and he thought it sounded like a moan of pleasure, not pain, but he asked, "Are you all right?" anyway.
"It feels good, being this close to you."
He decided not to tell her he fully concurred: things were complicated enough right now. "I'm going to begin now." He eased deeper into her mind, finding the place he'd stopped, where the connections went from linked to lying open. Her teen years were relatively easy to connect. After her grandmother's death, she'd seemed to shut down emotionally, devoted herself to studies. Her parents had remained absent. There was little to cause a ripple, and all he had to do was reestablish the joins between identity and actions.
Even her romantic relationships were almost...pro forma. As if she saw young men because she was expected to, deepened the relationships because that too was deemed normal. But she was never passionate about any of the boys she was with.
This continued at university. Until graduate school, when she met Korby. Spock found it interesting that her captors had left the memory of her fiancé—conveniently scrubbed of his identity and tragic past—in the background of her mind. A strong figure of a man she loved and somehow lost but there was little emotion around it.
He imagined they might have found it convenient to have such a strong reference point in her past for affection for an older, more powerful male, since that was the most likely customer for her services—both professional and of a more personal nature. She had undoubtedly been right that many slaves were not bought solely for their minds.
He began to relink the connections around Korby, felt her opening up to the memories.
She'd been happy with Korby. He'd treated her well. He'd taught her passion. Spock found her emotions distracting, and eased away and then out of her as she lay back, her eyes closed.
She was smiling, a sensual smile, and she opened her eyes and looked at him. "He was the first man who made me feel anything. In bed, I mean."
Spock was not sure what to say.
She laughed softly. "I'm making you uncomfortable."
"I'm sorry. It's just...the memories are so fresh. It's really...immediate."
"Yes. You are aroused." He could tell by the dilation of her pupils, by the flush of her cheeks. By the way she was breathing.
"Do not apologize. It is a natural reaction to reliving the memories." He stood. "I will give you some time. I have something I need to do. I will be back in an hour."
"Perhaps you should relieve some of the arousal."
She turned very red. "Perhaps I will." She started to laugh. "This is so embarrassing."
"I do not mean it to be. It is just that your level of arousal is very distracting. It would help me if it were lessened."
"Well, never let it be said I don't do what I can for the guy helping me out."
He nodded and left her alone, went immediately to the bridge.
Jim saw him and gave him a wary smile as he approached. "Hello."
Spock pitched his voice very low, the way he did when they were having a conversation they wanted the rest of the bridge crew to ignore. "I do not believe evening constitutionals are beneficial."
"I do not believe I asked you." Jim was smiling as if they were talking about something pleasant.
"No, in fact, you lied to me." Spock leaned in. "Given the work ahead, I anticipate that I will be with her most of the time. Your presence, no matter how generous to her, will not be necessary."
Jim's smile didn't waver. "Are we really having this conversation?"
Spock nodded, as if given an order he had no problem with. "You told me to do what is best for her. You must follow that directive as well."
Jim sighed. "Do you really think I'm hurting her?"
"I think ultimately you will confuse her." Spock tried to soften his eyes. "And I do see much work ahead. I did not anticipate how much she would relive her old memories as I gave them back to her."
"Must be overwhelming."
"Why do you think I am here?" Spock lifted an eyebrow, was gratified to see Jim finally give him a real smile. "I must meditate before going back to her."
"Is it that bad or that good?"
"Neither. Just...exhausting and int—"
"Intimate." Jim nodded tightly. "I get it. Go find your bliss. I won't interfere again." His grin this time was only half a smile.
Spock wished he could do something about it, but could think of nothing that would help.
Spock ended up giving Christine more than an hour, and she seemed relaxed when he rang for admittance. She blushed as he passed her, and he ignored it, just indicated for her to settle back down on the bed. Then he took his place next to her.
"What comes next is...unpleasant. There are many loose connections and they are tangled. I may need you with me, so I will take you, but you will not need to help unless I find myself at a loss."
"Okay." She sounded confused.
"Ask whatever you need to."
"I don't understand the concept of taking me into my own mind."
He nodded. "Up to now, the meld has consisted of me working inside your mind, while allowing you to remain a passive participant. You have been impacted by the memories, so in that sense it has been far from passive, but you have not had to participate in the connection process. That will change. We will...touch within the meld. There will be a sense of sharing that has been missing up to now."
"The more I bring you into it, the more I will experience what you are. Previously, I did not experience your memories the way you did. They were around me as I rebuilt the linkages, but I was not in them the way you were. But with you there, I will be in them. I will not be able to afford you that privacy."
"I trust you."
He studied her, tried to find any indication that she was not telling the truth. Could not see anything but confidence in him. "All right. Then we begin."
She reached for his hand, pulled it gently to her face, settling his fingers on her psi points with a smile. "See? Old hat."
He let his lips tick up a bit, then eased into her mind, stopping as soon as he was in and gathering her up, bringing her slowly with him, letting her feel what he was doing. He had left several connections undone when he had pulled out the last time, easy ones so she could see how he was helping.
He felt her understanding, so he moved them to the mass of connectors that lay before them. They had to do with Korby, he knew. They followed directly on her engagement, and he suspected they were dealing with his disappearance. As he worked, slowly untangling the pieces, he saw the first few emerge and began to put them together. More happiness, and he felt Christine's emotions swell.
He continued to work—the strands not wanting to come loose—as memories played around him. Korby and Christine talking about his upcoming mission. Her making plans to go with him, arranging a leave of absence.
They outfitted the ship together. Picked the team together. He could feel Christine's sense of rightness at the memories. This had been the way it was. She was supposed to go with Roger into deep space.
And then he got a key strand loose and a large part of the tangle fell free.
Christine and Roger in a doctor's office. A smiling woman in white. Congratulations. A baby.
He felt a curious mix of pleasure and anger from Christine. She was supposed to go on this mission with him. She wanted to be at his side.
She was happy she was pregnant, but she was young, she was just starting out, and the man she loved was insisting she could no longer come with him. She must keep his child safe. She must stay on Earth while he went on with the mission.
He would leave her to have this baby alone.
Spock stopped working, letting the emotions that were beating at him settle as Christine seemed to realize what she was doing. He felt her apology, tried to send back that she had nothing to be sorry for.
Then he went to work on the last of the tangle.
It took much longer than he expected. The slavers appeared to have had to work hard on this, as if they had to first find it, and then hide it again. The connections were nearly stripped, and he had to be very careful as he moved around them.
But then they were free and they fell away from each other. He connected them quickly, worried they would degrade more if he waited, and realized immediately the mistake he had made as a surge of sorrow overcame him.
This was not Korby's disappearance. The slavers would not have had to hide that this way—they already had it in her mind that she'd lost him. This was something else.
Korby did disappear. And Spock felt her grief and anger as she found out he was lost with all hands. As she realized he'd never see his child—his daughter she'd found out on her last visit to the doctor.
A daughter she lost a month later. She'd been resting after a day in the lab, when a violent cramp sent her into the bathroom.
She lost her last link to Korby alone in their apartment. She hadn't begun to show so much she couldn't hide it, so she hadn't told anyone. She buried the hurt deep and kept it there.
Spock had shared consciousness with her and never even felt the first sign of it.
He realized Christine was trying to pull away from him, caught her up and helped her ease back from the tangle of memories. He ended the meld, realized too late that he had acted again in haste as she moaned and turned away from him, curling into a fetal position, huge sobs coming from her.
"Christine, turn around."
"I'm sorry. I know it's too much. You can go." She tried to move away, as much as the small bed would allow, but he pulled her back to him, spooning her as he reached around and found the meld points again, bringing the meld back into life, letting her emotions crash full force into him.
They lay together as she wept, and he gave her whatever support he could, telling her over and over again how sorry he was.
She finally stopped crying and said, "You can let the meld go."
He eased out of her mind as gently as he could, then pulled his hand away from her. She turned over, nestled into his chest, and he wrapped his arms around her and held her close. She was trembling violently, so he let go of her, went to the closet and got the extra blanket and then lay back down with her, wrapping the blanket around them.
"I'm so sorry," she said, her face still pressed against his chest. "Too much emotion, I know."
"Do not be." He stroked her hair. "There is no need."
"You don't have to stay."
"On the contrary, I very much do." He continued to stroke her hair, laid his lips on her forehead. "I am not leaving you."
Her sigh was ragged, and she wrapped her arm around his side tentatively, as if she expected him to tell her to stop. "She was all I had left of him. I was careful. Took my vitamins. Wasn't high risk. We should have been fine. Her name was Melanie. It was my grandmother's name." She started to cry again, and he held her tightly—too tightly, he thought, but she didn't seem to mind, seemed to need it, even.
As he held her, she stopped crying, and finally she fell asleep, her arm still around him, her body pressed against him. He held her until she woke the next morning, didn't leave her until he was sure she was all right alone and then went back to his quarters to shower and meditate.
No matter which meditation discipline he tried, he could not get the feeling of her grief out of his mind—or his own need to ease her pain.
Kirk saw Spock come into the mess, clearly looking for him. He motioned Spock over, smiled as he sat down. "You forgot the getting breakfast part of breakfast."
"I am not hungry."
"You can't afford to get weak. Go get some food. I'm not going anywhere."
Spock didn't argue—not a good sign. Kirk watched as he went through the line, putting odd things on his plate. When he came back, Spock looked down at his plate as if he was just now seeing it.
"I hope you got that bacon for me?" Kirk shook his head and held out his plate.
Spock pushed it off his plate and onto Kirk's. "I do not know what I was thinking."
"Oh, I have a pretty good idea." He smiled grimly. "Starts with Chris. Ends with Tine."
"You are not incorrect." Spock began to move his eggs around, which as a prelude to eating was all right, but Kirk wanted to see some actual food to mouth action happening.
"Eat those, damn it."
Again Spock didn't seem to be aware of what he was doing. He stared at the eggs, then took a bite, chewing with the maddening Vulcan precision that forestalled any conversation.
"So, something's got you shaken."
"We are making progress."
"That's excellent. No hitches."
"Not in the reconnection procedure."
Kirk knew Spock well enough to see what he wasn't saying. "Can't get her out of your mind, can you? Which is ironic since you're the one in her mind." He played with the home fries on his plate—he only liked the small, crispy pieces, just settled for pushing the big pieces around when he got bored.
"It is emotionally draining."
"I imagine for her, too. I'd volunteer to take over but sadly I lack the requisite psi skills."
"Believe me, Jim. I wish I could give this to you. She and I, we're—"
"Spock, stop. I know exactly what's going to happen between her and you. I've known it since you started this. Have you even reached her memories of being in love with you?"
Spock shook his head.
"And it's already intimate. Joy." Kirk laughed softly. "Maybe you could rush through your five years and linger over my six months?"
"It would be irresponsible of me."
Kirk met his eyes, let his go just the slightest bit hard. "Plus you don't want to."
"My desires have no bearing on—"
"Plus you don't goddamn want to."
Spock looked down. "And I do not wish to." He sighed. "It does me no credit." He was back to pushing his eggs around, but Kirk found himself suddenly not caring all that much if Spock ate.
He rubbed his forehead, where he could feel a headache starting. "What do you want from me, Spock? My blessing? Fine, you have it. Go forth and fall in love."
"That is not..." He looked away as he trailed off.
"See, even you can't say it's not what you want." He shook his head. "Just be fair. Don't gloss over my time with her, okay?"
"Of course, Jim."
Kirk started gathering up his things onto his tray. "I hate to eat and run but I have a meeting with Mister Scott. You understand?"
He leaned in. "I know I'm not taking this well, but I do want these updates to continue. I'd rather be in the know and angry, then blissfully ignorant."
Kirk rose, put his hand on Spock's shoulder and said, "Good luck today," then dumped his tray and headed down to engineering, trying not to fixate on how easy it would be to divert to guest quarters for a quick hello.
Spock found Christine subdued. She gestured to the bed, seemed little interested in small talk.
"If you prefer to wait before the next session, that would be understandable."
She met his eyes; hers were unreadable. "And do what? Sit in this room and think about the baby I didn't have? I don't want my memories to stop with that. I'm sad. It was years ago, right? We move on, just like I must have, and I'll get over it."
He sat down on the bed, letting her have the power of being the one standing. "I am not sure you ever dealt with it. There was an occasion that you and I shared consciousness. I do not mean a meld. I mean that my...essence was placed inside you for safekeeping. I sensed no trauma around losing a child."
"Did you go looking for that? You don't strike me as the kind of guy who'd go rifling through someone's private thoughts for fun."
"Admittedly, no. But trauma colors whole swathes of memory. Unless it is buried immediately. And buried trauma is pain that has never been dealt with. This will not go away, Christine. You are just now beginning to process this grief."
She took a deep breath, put her head back. "Fine. I'm going to feel whether I like it or not. Can we get started anyway? I'd still like some other pain to distract me. Because I doubt there's a whole lot of happiness waiting."
"Why do you doubt that?"
She sat down next to him. "Because you would have told me there was last night. Even if it was illogical and counterproductive to do it. Because you are kind."
She was correct: he would have told her that last night solely to comfort her. If he had been able to think of any particularly happy moments to give her.
"See?" She leaned against him for a moment, then backed up and slid into her normal place on the bed. "Let's get started."
He took off his boots and lay next to her. It was harder getting the meld started; the grief was everywhere, new and fresh and hurting her, and he considered simply refusing to go on, forcing her to wait another day.
But underneath it, he could feel something else: panic. And that concerned him. So he forged on, finding the pathways gently, and feeling her relax around his mental touch as if she was tired of dealing with her pain alone.
He had little experience sharing emotions through a meld. For all the times he'd used one to extract information, he'd been denied its more pleasurable use, so he was not sure if he was going to be effective when he tried to open himself up to her, to send her support, affection, and shared sorrow.
But he felt her panic recede, and the din inside her mind stilled a little. The grief settled around him, still there, but no longer seething, and he could get to work.
He moved slowly this time, knitting the connections closed and waiting for reactions before he moved on, but by this time Christine had buried all thoughts of her child, had embarked on one mission and that was to find Korby. He understood why Jim had not been able to deny her—the level of passion, of herself, she was putting into the quest practically guaranteed success with him.
Spock understood why he had not taken much notice of her until the Psi 2000 virus had forced him to. She had been practically Vulcan up to that point in the way she conducted herself: working long hours, spending time in the lab—working on another dissertation he now realized—and socializing little. He had been in the lab often, and while he had not noticed her, she had most definitely noticed him.
And when the Psi 2000 virus hit them, she told him how she felt. And afterwards she had tried to apologize, and he had shut her down as quickly as he could.
Spock sensed her mind call, which quickly grew into a shriek of protest, then he felt her moving under his fingers—how was she able to do that? Part of the meld's power was to induce a sort of paralysis. He pulled out to the edge of the connection, heard her saying, "Get out, get out, get out."
He cut the meld, and she pushed him hard, knocking him off the bed. He hit the floor hard and she scrambled over him, rushing to the other side of the room toward the bathroom.
He let her go. If for some reason, she needed to vomit, he was not going to interfere. If, on the other hand, she thought she could lock herself in, he could undo that with one command to the computer.
He did not hear her vomiting, did hear the lock engage, so he waited long enough to give her privacy for whatever else she might need to do in there, then walked over. "Christine, come out."
Not the answer he expected. "Computer, disengage bathroom door lock."
The lock unclicked. He could hear her pushing it from her side. "It will not work, Christine. Now come out." He would give her the dignity of not bringing her out himself.
She opened the door, saw him standing in front of her and said, "Back up. Get away from me."
He backed up, giving her space.
She wiped her eyes angrily, and he realized she was crying. "What is this? You're not Spock. He wouldn't do this. He wouldn't want to relive that. He wouldn't tell me to masturbate after giving me memories of Roger. Are you recording this? Is this some kind of game? You rip me apart and now you put me back together again with the person I want most in charge of that?"
He moved around her, went into the bathroom. "Come in here. Please."
She waited a long time, but she finally did.
"Look at us. Are we anything like the Spock and you of your memories?"
"Yes. We are. I look older than I should because of Gol—that place I told you about where I went to purge my emotions. It was...harsh." He turned to look at her actual face, not the mirror image. "You are not the nurse you just saw. You have changed. I have changed. And it is my job—and my choice—to help you remember those changes." He moved closer. "And it is my privilege, Christine."
"Why do you keep pulling out the memories where I'm in love or in pain?"
"You know the answer to that. What makes us who we are? What would the slavers have had to remove to create a woman who is only a scientist and not Christine Chapel? The emotions."
"This must be horrible for you." She turned to look at him and all the anger was gone from her eyes. He wasn't sure if any emotion was left. "You never wanted me. I doubt that ever changed." She turned and walked back into the other room.
He stood in the bathroom, turned and stared at his reflection for a long time. Jim needed him to not want her. Christine needed him to want her—he thought he might lose her if he left her the way she was now.
And what did he want? He looked down, at his shaking hands, at where his uniform pants were suddenly too tight. He wanted her. He would not leave her when she needed him: he had promised her that.
And he would not leave her when he needed her, too. He had promised no one that, but it was the way it was.
He walked out to the other room, saw that she was on the bed, facing the wall and went to her. He sat down, said softly, "Christine, sit up."
"I do not want to."
"Yes, you do. I don't need your pity."
"Did you feel in the meld what I tried to give you? The emotion I tried to share? I am not...good at sharing that way. I have done it very few times. But I thought you received some of it."
"I thought I did, too."
"It was honest emotion, Christine. Freely given."
"I don't know what's happened between us in the past that you haven't shown me yet. I don't know what history we have."
"We have never been lovers. You will see what other things have happened in our pasts, but we have never been lovers." Jim would not be happy with how he was wording this, but he was not lying.
He lay down beside her. "Turn around, Christine. Look at me."
She did it slowly. He expected tears, but her eyes were dry. He touched her cheek, let his fingers run slowly down her face, down her throat, and she closed her eyes.
"I understand the appeal of non emotion to Vulcans, Spock. I'm overwhelmed by what I'm feeling. The baby. Roger's disappearance. Now you."
"It is all at once. It is too much, that is all." He tipped her chin up. "You are quite capable of handling emotion."
"How do you know that?" She reached out, ran her fingers down his cheek, across the tip of his ear, causing him to moan lightly. "Can you make me feel something else? Can you make me forget everything but you for a little while?"
"I can." He pulled her to him, kissed her gently, not wanting to appear to be forcing her in any way since he had the power in the room.
She deepened the kiss, opening her mouth to him, her arms coming around him as she pulled him on top of her and began to move under him. He groaned as she wrapped her legs around him, ground against him, and murmured, "Please, don't wait."
She let him go long enough for him to get their clothing off, then pulled him back on top of her, guiding him in, and he moved almost frantically inside her, stunned at how much he wanted her this way, no meld, just bodies, just lips, just hands and voices and skin.
He could feel how close she was to finishing, reached down and took her the rest of the way, then let himself go. They lay breathing hard, and she held him inside her with her legs and arms wrapped tightly around him, and he kissed her softly with light kisses that seemed to be right for the moment.
She smiled at him. "Oh, my."
"Indeed." He eased off of her, pulling her with him, so she would know he was not leaving her.
She nestled against him. "You sure we've never done that before?"
"I am sure. Perhaps we should have."
"I think you're right."
He felt a pang of guilt: this is what Jim had with her. He was supposed to be preserving his friend's relationship with her, not starting his own.
But then she reached down and began stroking him. "So what's the refractory time for Vulcans?" She smiled up at him. "I ask as a scientist, of course. I have no personal interest in the matter."
He almost smiled. "I suggest you continue your efforts and find out."
"Mmmm." Again the lovely smile. "An experiment. You know how we scientists love those." Her smile faded.
She kissed him gently. "Nothing about us. It's just...there's a part of me that's a doctor and a scientist and then there's this other part that's still a nurse."
"But a nurse with more science degrees than many of the scientists on board the ship at the time."
"True. Guess I'll stop worrying about that and get back to my experiment." She kissed him again. "Thank you."
"For having sex with you?"
"For pushing back the pain. For a little while, anyway."
"I will be here for that. Whenever you need it. And not just through sex, if you need to talk or just silence. Meditation may help."
"I think sex is good for now." She let go of him. "Unless you want to get to that meditating or talking?"
"Please resume what you were doing."
"Yeah, thought so." She did just that.
As he closed his eyes and let her play, he tried not to imagine the disappointment that would be on his friend's face. One time with Christine was comfort. Two times was self-indulgence.
Spock knew by the time he and Christine were done, there would be no other word for what they were doing but betrayal. But it was also the best thing for her.
He doubted that would make any of them feel better about it when this was all over.
Kirk tried not to look as alone as he felt when he walked into the rec lounge. He hadn't seen Spock for days—not in the mess, not in the corridors, and not on the bridge for a quick status report. The internal pep talk he gave himself went along the lines of "absence meant progress," but in his heart he was pretty sure that absence was more likely to mean sex, and lots of it.
He saw Bones waving him over to the bar and put on the best smile he could as he walked over.
"Your usual poison, Jim?" Bones was already ordering him a scotch without waiting for an answer as Kirk slumped onto the stool next to him. "You look like shit, my friend."
"Is that your medical opinion, Bones?"
"Yep. Then again I've got about three of these under my belt so I'm not sure anyone looks that good right now."
"I think everyone looks better the drunker you get."
"Never works that way for me. Don't know why." Bones lifted his glass to Kirk as the bartender set the scotch down. "Here's to you finally finding your balls and telling me what the hell is going on with you and Christine. Because in case it's slipped your notice—and it has not slipped mine—she and Spock appear to have been locked up for days."
"You've been paying attention?"
"Damn right I have. To them and to you. And it's you I'm worried about." He shook his head. "Jim, what happened?"
"I was with her on Earth. I let her go because she was leaving anyway to report to the ship."
"But then you both ended up here. Which could be very awkward if all you wanted was a little fun, but I gotta tell you, you don't look like a man who lost the gal he was having a little fun with. You look like the man who lost the woman he loves."
"I do love her. But...we haven't been together on this ship. It's driving her nuts. You know my rule. We're...in negotiations, I guess."
"That would explain her mood lately. You know she's the last person who's going to understand why sleeping with the boss is a bad thing, right?"
Kirk laughed. "I know. I picked well, huh?" He finished off his scotch, tapped his glass and the bartender hurried over and refilled it. "God, what a mess."
"Luckily Spock doesn't want her, right?" Bones was clearly fishing.
"Yeah, about that."
"Yep." He turned to Bones, really looked at him. "He's been in there for three days. No report. No break that I know of."
"They're having productive sessions, Jim." Bones almost sounded like he meant it.
"No, they're having to-die-for sex, you idiot. Productive sessions he gives me reports on. He can't face me. He can't hide it, and he can't face me."
"So he knows...about you and her?"
Kirk nodded. "He tried to get those memories first. Couldn't."
"Sequential is safer. For her, I mean. Not for you both. I'm sorry, Jim."
Kirk felt the emptiness growing as he talked about it—he thought he'd feel better if he let some of this pain out, if he shared it. "I wasn't probably going to choose her. She knew that. She was so angry with me when she left for the conference. He'll choose her. He'll make it work, even though he's more in her chain than I am. That's the hell of it. How the fuck can he make it work when I can't?"
"You won't. It's not that you can't, it's that you won't." Bones was looking at him with the expression that gave no quarter. "She's your best option and you love her, but you won't let yourself. Cut this can't crap."
Kirk nodded. "Yeah. I really need to face facts, don't I? Can I do it tomorrow?"
"Okay. You can do it tomorrow. Tonight, you can be morose."
"Thanks." He held his glass up. "You're a good friend."
Bones clinked his glass against it. "I do my best, Jim."
Spock woke, Christine draped half over him, the covers kicked off the bed...again. He reached down and pulled them up, covering them both. She woke, easing off him, murmuring the nonsense sounds she made when she was sexually exhausted and happy. As she rolled to her side, he moved behind her, spooning her, finding being close to her this way both comforting and arousing.
She murmured, "I love you," put her hand over his arm, and fell back to sleep.
He lay awake, pondering what to do next. He had, to be honest, dragged out reconnecting the linkages for the time before she took up with Jim as long as he could. Her grief over losing Korby again had been short lived when she had so recently been dealt the blow of losing him the first time—and his child, something she and Spock talked often about. Something she admitted she had buried, refusing to deal with how much it had hurt her—both that her last link to her fiancé had been lost but also that her own body had betrayed her, had not kept a child safe. Might not again.
Spock was ready to take the next step, to connect the linkages for when she left the Enterprise and find the memories of Medical School and of Jim. But there was something that came later—something Jim did not know about and that was what Spock was unsure of.
He checked the chrono. Time had become meaningless to Christine and him. They melded, they had frequent sex, they ate when they were hungry, they slept when they were tired. They had not left her quarters in over a week.
It looked like alpha shift was just ending.
He kissed her cheek, murmured, "I must leave for a while."
"Mmm kay." She squeezed his hand and then let him go. She was asleep again quickly.
He loved that about her. How easily she slept.
Loved. It was a problem. He had fallen in love with her. He had not told her that. Would not at this point. But he had done it.
He got out of bed and showered, then went to his quarters and changed into a fresh uniform before going to find Jim. He started with his quarters, found him there, working on reports.
"Spock?" There were so many emotions playing on his friend's face. Surprise. Hurt. Anger. Resignation. All so fast, but Spock still saw them because he expected them to be there. Jim would know exactly why he had not heard from Spock in so long.
"May I sit?"
"I am in a quandary."
"I imagine you are since you're having sex with Chris."
"That is not the quandary."
"Oh, so you're not having sex with her?"
"I am. But there were reasons."
Jim smiled, and it was not a smile Spock liked. "Of course there were."
"I did not come to debate this with you. I came to present you with options."
This seemed to surprise Jim. The hateful smile faded. "All right."
"There is something you need to know. About the conference. Christine had four informal interviews set up."
Spock nodded. "She was tired of your indecisiveness. Of your rule. Of the way you were holding onto her but would not let her fully in. She had decided to leave." He took a deep breath. "I normally do not preview her memories, but in this case I did. I wanted to know what I could do, what I would face as we came to the end."
"You're in love with her."
"I am. But that may be irrelevant."
"I don't follow."
"The most volatile memories in any kind of case like this are the most recent." Spock met Jim's eyes. "If her memories were to stop at, say, V'ger's defeat..."
Jim's face went blank.
"It would be a clean start for you, Jim. She would not remember her anger, her frustration. You would get a—"
"A do over? You want to wipe her mind like they did and give me a goddamn do over?"
Spock sat back in his seat, startled at the vehemence in his friend's voice. "It is a simple thing to take someone's pain away."
"Maybe so, but it is a wrong thing to take someone's memories away."
Spock looked down, not wanting Jim to see that he had done it for him, when he had been so sad about Rayna. Had Jim not said "if only he could forget"?
"There is another option."
"I probably won't like this one, either."
"Perhaps not but I will give you all of them. I can do this in stages. Give her back the time when she was your lover but not the memories of being on board the ship until you have had time together to reconnect. I will not finish the reconnections until you are ready."
"Until I'm ready for what?"
"Until you feel we have had equal time. I have been with her most recently. It is only fair that you have a chance to refresh her memory."
"This is a person we're talking about Spock. It's up to her."
"I agree. If she does not wish to go to you once she has those memories from your time on Earth, I do not plan to force her. But if she does want you, I will know immediately in the meld, and I will not in any way impede her. She was yours first and she needs to know that. And she needs to understand that I have done what I did knowing that."
"That should be an interesting conversation."
"Not as interesting as the one you will have when you once again explain that you cannot be with her despite having made love to her on this ship."
Jim's face went white, and Spock knew he had pushed him too far, which was exactly what he wanted.
"If you love her, Jim, then have her. She is exceptional, why would you not want her?"
"Wanting is not the problem." Jim leaned forward. "There's a part of me that wishes you'd just left her alone. Why did you have to sleep with her?"
Spock allowed himself the bitterest of smiles, saw Jim's eyes widen in surprise. "Do you know why I went to Gol, Jim?"
"I've never had the faintest idea how you could do that to me."
"Because you wouldn't choose me, either. I understand Christine's position better than you might think. Why did I have to sleep with her? How could I not?"
"No. Your final option is not on the table yet. It is the right option, but I leave it up to you to pick it—I will not do it for you."
Jim's mouth was so tight his lips were white.
"I take her through it all at once—lovers to the ship to the conference. No time to level the playing field. No time to toy with her feelings if you will not break your rule for her. And she will remain angry with you even though she loves you. And I will know she loves you, but I will also know she loved me first, and now, she loves me again. And she will choose me and will stay on the ship."
"And I'll have to watch that."
"Yes, you will. Because it is the right thing to do. You will not choose her. But I know that you love her. And I also know—because I know you, Jim, and I know that you are a decent man—that you want the best for her. I am good for her. It surprises me how good. And she is good for me. If her love for you is greater than her love for me, then she and I will not endure. But we may endure. And you will grow used to that."
Jim got up and walked to the viewscreen. He put his hand on the wall, leaned his head against the sill. "This ship, she's like a wife."
"She is not a wife."
"And you're like the devil. Offering me everything, almost everything, or nothing."
"And you won't even address what I said to you. About why I left for Gol."
"Is there a reason to? At this point? Is there any goddamn reason to?" He started to laugh as he looked out at the stars. "Do you think I'll invite you both into my bed? I won't chance a scandal with one lover but, hey, no one will notice the captain's involved in a threesome."
Spock was stung. "I merely wished to talk about how I felt."
"Go talk to Chris about how you fucking feel. And I take option three, because you're right: it's the correct thing to do. Give her all her goddamn memories of me back. And then let her have at me."
Spock sighed. "As you wish."
"It's not as I wish. It's just how it is." He didn't turn around as he gently said, "You're dismissed, Spock."
Kirk was on the bridge when Spock reported back for duty. He motioned him over before he could head to the science station. "It's done?"
"Is she all right?"
"At both of us?" He found he really wanted the answer to be yes.
"Less so at me."
Damn. He gave Spock a tight grin. "Well, I look forward to the inevitable confrontation. Thank you for getting her back."
Spock nodded, but there was an odd look in his eyes, then he turned and walked to his station.
Kirk weighed his options. He could let her come to him, loaded for bear, or he could bring the fight to her. He vastly preferred that option. He got up. "Mister Spock, you have the conn."
He saw the warning in Spock's eyes and ignored it. He headed to his quarters and hit the intercom as soon as he got there. "Kirk to Chapel."
"Are you able to break away?" It was their old code for sex and unfair to use against her, which is why he did it.
"Where are you?"
"My office." Which sounded infinitely better than his quarters.
"Be right there." Her voice was tight.
A few minutes later his chime sounded, and he stood, arms crossed, leaning on the viewscreen and said, "Come."
She walked in. "First, thanks for rescuing me."
"Second, thanks for not taking advantage of me when I had no idea who you were."
"You made that much harder to do."
She smiled. "I remember. Didn't lose any of those memories as I got the others back."
He started to move toward her and she held her hand up.
"I get to talk, Jim. Before you say shit, I get to talk. And it's this. Spock told me about the three options. He told me you had no difficulty choosing the right one."
He wasn't sure what to say—it had never occurred to him Spock would tell her that he had any choice in how her memories of him went.
"Spock's trying to do the right thing here. For you. Because he loves you. Because he knows what it's like to love you. And to not have you. He thinks I can't read that from the melds, but I can. But here's the thing: I can't have you, either. Right?"
This wasn't going the way he thought. He'd expected a fight, not this gentle Chris, who didn't seem to be angry, just resigned.
"Jim. If Spock or I can have you, just tell me. One of us will get of the way for the other. And that's saying a lot because he and I are really fucking good together. But I don't think we can have you and neither does he, and that's why I think he and are so good together. Does that make sense?"
"He didn't even want me till I was yours." She came closer. "I was going to leave you. I had interviews set up. I had options. But now...I have Spock." She walked to him, touched his cheek lightly. "And you, my love, have this ship. Who will slowly suck the life out of you. Just like she did before."
"I love you."
"I know you do. You found me. You saved me. And you gave me to the other person you love. And you're the biggest idiot I've ever met." She moved into his arms and he kissed her, tried to turn her, to hike her up onto the viewscreen ledge, but she said, "No, Jim. You get all of me or you get none of me. That's how it works now. I love you too much to not demand that. I love Spock too much not to."
"Okay." He leaned his forehead against her. "I love you both."
"I know." She kissed his cheek. "We can stay or we can go. Whatever you want. Think about it."
She turned and walked away, never looking back, and he watched her until the doors swallowed her and he was alone.
He took a deep breath, felt the pulse of the ship under his feet.
Never quite alone.
He went back up to the bridge, met Spock's worried eyes, and smiled. "All good."
That clearly did not translate into "You can keep my woman," so he said, "She set me straight. Enjoy each other. Here, on the ship. My friend."
Spock's eyes grew extraordinarily gentle. "I will always be that, Jim."
"I'll hold you to it. Now, get out of my damn chair."