I Know Why You're Lonely
Chapel walked down the corridors of what should have been Decker's Enterprise, making her way slowly, trying to decide if she was going to stay aboard or not. Her destination and how she was received at it would help her decide. She turned the corner, headed toward guest quarters.
Where Spock was staying until Sonak's quarters were cleared out for him.
She rang the chime on the room he'd been assigned—she knew he'd been assigned these rooms because she'd looked that info up. She had a lot more access as a doctor than as a nurse.
Which didn't mean she was supposed to use it for finding out where unrequited crushes were being temporarily billeted, but given what he'd said to her when she'd been getting him on his feet after the meld with V'ger, she didn't care.
She'd been going about her business, trying to get him back up to Jim as soon as she could, as Jim had ordered her to do. There'd been nothing unprofessional in her manner. Nothing to indicate that goddamn squeak she'd let out at seeing Spock when he first arrived had been anything other than surprise. And a little bit of pleasure. But mostly surprise.
Spock had reached over as she worked, his voice low and still strangely harsh. "I will wish to talk to you when this is over."
"What if this ends with us all dying?" She gave him a half smile.
"Then neither of us will be in a position to care. But failing that end to this crisis, I wish to talk to you."
"Fair enough." She shot him full of a second combo of meds that would get him on his feet and keep him there. "Care to give a preview of this discussion."
"Some feelings are less simple than others."
She pursed her lips. "Sure you don't want to have that convo with the captain? You two looked pretty cozy, all smiles and clasped hands."
"I am certain, Christine."
He'd pulled out the big gun: her first name.
"Fine," she'd said. "When this is all over, assuming we survive."
"Come to my quarters. I presume I will be assigned some."
And he had been, as she'd found out with a simple search. And now he was opening the door, standing in front of it, staring at her with an expression she couldn't read.
Finally, he moved aside.
"You want me to come in? To your quarters?"
He nodded, looking impatient when she didn't come in.
"For what purpose?"
"That should be obvious."
"Wow, I'd say your feelings are extremely simple, Spock. Insulting even. I haven't seen you in how long? You think I'll just come in and hop aboard?"
"You will not?"
"Shockingly, I'll pass. Now, if you want to go get coffee—"
"I do not drink coffee."
"It's a figure of speech, you dolt." She smiled as pleasantly as she could, saw he was confused by the disconnect between her words and her expression. "If you want to reconnect emotionally, I'm all for it. If you just want to screw, I'll pass."
He seemed to have to think about it, so she said gently, "Good night, Spock."
He reached out before she could turn away. "Are you upset?"
She shook her head.
"You answered too quickly. Are you angry or sad? You once loved me. Do you no longer feel that way?"
She took a deep breath. Then she laid her hand on his cheek, and he surprised her by leaning into it. Holy hell, he must be horny.
"I may always love you, Spock. But that doesn't mean I'm an idiot. Or that I want to volunteer my heart for a trampling." She let her hand drop. "Good night."
"Are you staying on the ship?"
"Tonight? I wasn't planning on jumping out an airlock once I leave you."
He smiled. An actual smile. Good God, this V'ger thing was creepy. "I meant for the long term."
"I haven't decided yet."
"Am I the only variable in that decision?"
"Nope." She stifled a yawn. "I'm tired, Spock. It's been a hell of a day. Can we say goodnight now?"
She turned and walked back to her quarters. Part of her was extremely disappointed she was not going to give Spock a ride—when would she ever have the chance again? But the majority of her was throwing a "Christine is my hero" parade.
She saw Jim in the mess the next day, walked over to his booth once she'd gotten her food, and asked, "Is this seat taken?"
He looked up in surprise. "Sit." He smiled as she got settled. "I sort of thought you weren't talking to me."
"I'm sort of not."
"Then this is going to be a very dull breakfast." He went back to his eggs, a silly grin on his face.
"Okay fine, I'll get over the fact that you demoted me without cause and start talking to you again." She bit back the smile that his grin always forced out of her. "So I'm trying to figure out if I'm going to stay on the ship."
He nodded, as if this was not a surprise. "Castlestone and Navarro already contacted me about the possibility of transferring you to their ships as CMO."
"Nice of them to ask me first."
"You know how this works, Chris. They feel me out first, then they go to you. Once you're more of a player, they'll feel you out first." He pursed his lips as if thinking about what he'd just said. "In a non nasty way, of course." Again the grin.
She laughed. "So what did you tell them?"
"I told them I wasn't sure what you were going to do, but I'd tell you about their offers. Which was true and now I have. What do you want to do?"
"Actually, I know what you want to do. I saw you headed in the direction of guest quarters last night. How'd that work out for you?" His tone was just shy of mocking.
"Don't act like that. You're the one who didn't want to sleep with me because I'm in love with your best friend. I would have gladly been your sex buddy when we were both on Earth."
"Maybe I wanted more than a sex buddy? Even if Spock was gone—permanently, it seemed back then—it felt empty to know the woman I liked was never going to love me best."
"Yeah, well consider me delivered comeuppance. He was more than willing to be my sex buddy. I just shouldn't expect any emotion. I passed. So it didn't work out all that well." She shook her head and went back to her bagel.
"I'm sorry. At least you got him halfway there."
"I caught him post-V'ger on a horny moment. That's hardly getting him halfway." She took a deep breath. "Do you want me to stay on the ship?"
"I do. I enjoy having you around. And you won't lecture me the same way Bones will when I show up with weird rashes from adventures in opening diplomatic relations."
She laughed. "No, you're right. I won't."
He reached over, squeezed her hand quickly, then let it go. "You're my friend. There were times on Earth I wished you were more, but that didn't happen. And now we're on the ship, so I'm sort of glad it didn't. Easier to not mess in my nest."
"Yes, Jan fully briefed me on that policy."
He made a "what can you do?" expression. "She's never been on board with that policy."
"She's in love with you."
"I know. It's no doubt why she's already put in her transfer papers." He pushed his plate away, sipped his coffee. "So what do you want to do? This really isn't about what I want."
"Maybe I should go. Navarro seems nice."
"He's a good guy. Decent to his crew. His ship's on an interesting mission—not as interesting as my girl's here, but then what is?"
She grinned. "The stupid part of me wants to stay. The stupid part of me thinks I can make Spock love me as much as I love him."
"Is it stupid to be romantic?"
"Yeah, Jim, I think it is." She held her coffee mug up to him, waited till he clinked his against it. "God help me, I'm staying."
"I knew that. And for what it's worth, I hope you get what you want."
Chapel thought Captain Cupid was doing everything in his power to help her get what she wanted. She found herself on an awful lot of landing parties that included Spock. But if Jim expected her to launch some kind of "land Spock" campaign, he was missing the point.
She'd been there. She'd done that. She'd earned the fucking reputation of pathetic sap. So, she was in love with a man who didn't love her? Plenty of women could say that. It didn't need to make her an idiot.
Instead she nodded and was polite and made conversation when necessary—and pretty much avoided Spock any other time.
There were lots of new crewmembers to get to know on this refitted ship. Eager young kids. Older hands who had worked many years to get to the Enterprise. All interesting, and none of them making her heartstrings sound furiously, which she counted as a godsend.
She was pondering this in the lab, analyzing results from the latest landing party, when the door opened and Spock walked in. She expected him to go to anyone else but her, to do anything else but take the seat next to her.
"Make yourself at home."
"You are avoiding me."
"You are getting better at reading what is right in front of you." She gave him a snotty smile.
"You say you are not angry at me. Yet sarcasm, as Doctor McCoy explains it, is often a cover for anger."
"You asked Len to explain sarcasm to you?"
"Precisely. It's his nearly his second language, is it not? Who better?"
She had to admit that made sense, even if she'd never admit it to him. Instead she went back to studying the results.
"I insulted you the last time we talked."
"The last time we talked, you asked me for a tricorder. No insult there."
"The last time we had a conversation of import, I insulted you."
She turned to look at him. "Actually, you didn't. You just told me what you wanted. What you wanted and what I wanted happened to be different things. I said no. End of story."
"It is not the end of the story."
"Big damn ego, Spock. How do you know I haven't found someone else?"
"Because you could have had Jim and you didn't take him. If you didn't take Jim, why would anyone else do?"
"He told you that?"
"He did not have to. He has a certain way of looking at you—of talking about you. I know you do not think much of my command of the social niceties, Christine, but I can recognize a man who wants a woman he can't have." He leaned in. "Why can't he have you?"
She leaned in so their lips were very close. "Because he doesn't shit in his own nest. What makes you think this has anything to do with you?"
"Because I know him and I know you." He settled his hand over hers; his grip was like durasteel. "If I move ever so slightly, we will be kissing."
She dropped her other hand to her lap. "And if I move my hand—ever so slightly—you'll be singing soprano. Do you understand that reference?"
"Yes." He let go of her hand and eased away slightly.
"What the hell do you want, Spock?" She looked around the lab. No one was paying any attention to them. They were having their weird little war very, very quietly. "Do you want me to tell you I love you? Fine. I do. So what? Now go away and let me finish my work or you can explain to the man who tasked me with this—oh wait, that would be you—why I didn't finish."
"I can extend the deadline if you will come back to my quarters with me."
"What's your rush? Afraid the V'ger effect will wear off before you've had a chance to play with your Christine doll?"
"Do you not want to...play?"
"I do want to. I very much want to. I'm curious as hell what it would be like to go back there with you. But it sounds pretty empty, all told. I don't relish waking up next to you and finding you're not interested in having me there—or worse, discovering that waking up next to you isn't in the cards, that you'd rather I leave once you're done playing."
"In what way have I said I would do any of those things?"
"Well, I have to extrapolate from what I know of you, don't I? Because I don't know you. So, no, I'm not going back to your goddamn quarters. Now get out before I reconsider my decision not to transfer off this ship."
He stood up slowly. "We shared consciousness. How is that not knowing me?"
"Your consciousness was stuck in mine. You hovered in the background like a big ball of Spockness keeping to yourself. It wasn't as if we merged."
He looked down. "And we have never melded. We could—"
She held up her hand. "Spock, please."
He turned and walked out of the lab.
When she got back to her quarters, there was a message from him with one word on it. "Coffee?"
She smiled and sent back a three-word reply. "Where and when?"
Chapel sat down in the mess with Spock. It was after the dinner rush, during a happy hour in the rec lounge. They had the mess nearly to themselves. As she thought Spock wanted it.
"Kind of lonely in here," she said as she busied herself putting milk and sugar in her coffee.
He seemed fascinated by her preparations. "Will there be any coffee left when you are done?"
She laughed. "Yes."
He was drinking water, which he sipped slowly. "Would you prefer to be in the rec lounge with your friends?"
"I didn't say that."
"You did not not say that, either."
"True." She stirred the coffee until she was sure the sugar was fully dissolved. "I'm fine here with you."
"Good." He leaned back, and his expression looked slightly troubled. "I wish to ask a question that may anger you."
She laughed. "You? Anger me? Never."
His look lightened. "So I may proceed?"
"Fortune favors the brave."
"That is Jim's saying."
"He's my friend, Spock. Some things may have rubbed off." She cocked an eyebrow, knew it was a creditable version of his own look. "Is that what you want to ask me about?"
"No, but I reserve the right to revisit that topic."
She rolled her eyes. "This isn't a parliamentary debate, lover."
"I am not your lover. If I were, we would not be here."
"Well, we still might be here. It just might not be as awkward." She thought about it. "Or, knowing you, it might be even more awkward. Tons more awkward."
"May I ask my question?"
"You have told me—on multiple occasions—that you love me. Is that not true?"
"And you have told me that it would be ill advised for you to have sex with me because you do not know me."
"That's a slightly haphazard paraphrasing of my words."
"Feel free to edit."
"I said I didn't want to sleep with you if you don't have feelings for me that go past lust. Or if I didn't actually say it, that's what I meant."
"Ah. Very well. So you wish for my feelings to match yours?"
She nodded. Then she realized he had a look on his face that she had seen several times when he was playing chess with Jim in the rec lounge. Usually just before he won.
Crap. Where was he going with this?
"But...you have said—repeatedly—that we do not know each other. Is that not correct?"
"Yesssss." She studied him. Saw where he was going with this too late. "But—"
"But nothing, Christine. How can you love me if you do not know me? How can your feelings be any truer than mine?"
"You're using logic to disprove love. That's fairly obscene."
"Only because you are on the side of love. You have been using it to disprove lust and it caused you no dissonance at all."
She opened another sugar packet, was about to pour it into her coffee when he reached over and stopped her.
"I believe you have enough sugar for four humans in that cup."
She let him take the sugar packet away. "Love and lust are different."
"They are both emotions."
"They are different kinds of emotions."
"I agree. And I would postulate that lust is the more likely emotion to run true when based on a lack of knowledge of the person involved. I see you, I am drawn to what I see, and I desire you. That is lust. Love...is not love something more?"
She could feel her smile growing angry—and frustrated. Where was all this damn insight coming from? V'ger?
"Are you sure what you feel is not just lust, Christine?"
"Lust doesn't last this long, Spock."
"Than perhaps a crush. Leonard explained those to me, too."
"Did you tell him this was about me? Because I am going to ki—"
"I did not. I only couched it in terms of V'ger leaving me with confusion and questions, and as he was the most emotional human I knew, he seemed the one to answer my questions."
She stared at him. Saw no duplicity in his expression. Then again, he was a damn Vulcan. He could be lying six ways from Sunday and she might not know it. "What is your point?"
"I would postulate this question. How do you know your love, based on no interaction or reciprocated interest in me, is any more real than my desire, spurred on by a life-changing event?"
"Know? These are emotions. I feel it."
"And I feel desire. Desire that has not gone away in the last few weeks. Desire that I do not feel in the same way for other women."
"Aha, but you do feel it for other women."
"I notice them. I compare them favorably or unfavorably to you, but it makes no difference. I am drawn to you. However I rank them compared to you, you are the one I want."
"So who ranks higher?"
"Who ranks higher than I do?" She crossed her arms and tapped her foot, although she realized he couldn't see her doing that.
"Lieutenant Caldoza is quite beautiful. Ensign Rivers. I am unsure whether I find Nyota more attractive or not."
She let her eyebrows go up in a way that should have told him he was nearing quicksand and buried mines.
"I believe Commander Latonna would be your equal if she was more intelligent. Her inability to employ agile thinking drops her in attractiveness. There are still many more new members of the crew I have not met yet."
"So there may be tons of women on this crew that are way prettier than I am? That's what you're saying. To the woman you want to bed? Think carefully about your answer, Spock."
He met her eyes. "I have told you. From a purely physical standpoint they are perhaps more attractive. That does not mean that I want them more or at all. I am drawn to you. This is a simple thing."
"But you think I'm prettier than at least half the female crew?" God damn, would he throw her a fucking bone?
"I would say you are more attractive than seventy six point eight two percent."
"Woo hoo, I'd make quorum." She sighed and leaned back. "You realize you've stripped all the romance out of this interaction."
"Did you expect romance? You should have let Jim pursue you if that was the case."
"Wow, you really can circle back." She got up, went to get herself more coffee, took his glass without asking and filled it, too.
"Thank you," he said softly.
"I was up." She tried to bury herself in the ritual of milk and sugar, but he eased the mug away from her, added the milk and sugar for her, even stirred it just right.
"You were not involved with Jim? I do not wish to hurt my best friend."
"I wasn't. He's my friend. I love him—but as a friend."
"Does he love you as more?"
She gave Jim the courtesy of thinking about that. "He could have. But we never—you were always in the way. He likes to come first."
Spock nodded, as if all the things she could have said, that made the most sense. Then he passed her back her mug.
"Why do you want me, Spock? You went five years without wanting me."
"Gol. V'ger. Two...diametrically opposed forces. One ripping the emotion from me—by my own choice. The other forcing all the emotion back and asking me why, how, what did it all mean—also my own decision to experience it. And at the end of it, while you might think I would be somewhere in the middle, I was not. V'ger won the battle, overcoming everything the priestess at Gol tried to do. I was left with longing. I was left full of emotions." He held his hand out to her. "I was left lonely."
She slid her hand his way, gripped his hand tightly, closed her eyes as he slipped his fingers between hers. "But why me?"
"Well, that is what we will find out. I will find out what I want from you, and you will find out why you love me—or even if you do."
"You think I don't?"
He was doing interesting things to her palm with his thumb. "I have had time to analyze you. I think you are a woman who needs to be devoted to something. But not necessarily to something that demands much of her. I wonder—I am concerned, to be honest—that you will not want what you think you desire. As I once said to a friend of mine: 'Having is not so satisfying a thing as wanting.'"
"You don't think much of me."
"On the contrary, it is an eminently logical way to feel love without any form of commitment in your life. Moreover, you appear to others to be devoted and faithful—a paragon of womanhood."
She laughed loudly. "I appear to others to be a doormat who loves men who don't love me."
"But I am a fine catch. Intelligent, powerful, Vulcan royalty."
"You're royalty? Are you rich?"
"I am. So you see. An excellent man to fixate on."
"Never realized that about the rich part. Don't usually like rich men. They treat their women like shit."
His mouth ticked up, nearly into a real smile. "I will attempt not to do that to you."
"I'm not with you."
"Not yet." He gave her a very self satisfied look.
"Maybe not ever."
"There are always possibilities."
"Yes, ones that don't include you, darling." She sipped her coffee, not willing to let him know how much she was enjoying this conversation. He was raising a number of interesting things, being open, and being fun in the process.
Truth be told: she wouldn't have believed he had it in him.
Chapel hustled her team of doctors, nurses, and security officers newly dubbed as corpsmen into the transporter room. Jim was waiting with Len by the transporter station. Spock was already on the pad.
"Han and Calder are getting sickbay ready," she told Len.
He motioned her over, showed her the readings he'd pulled up. "I've been talking to the meds on the planet. They've got their hands full with their own people. We're just to get the Federation people out."
"What aren't you saying?"
"This embassy was a hard one to establish. Not a lot of interspecies trust. They aren't touching our people. They don't want us near theirs. Nowhere near theirs."
"No matter what?"
"I'm afraid so. I hate situations like this."
"Which is why you're having me lead the med team, isn't it?" She smiled at him gently. "You couldn't help yourself if one of them needed you." Then she frowned. "But I can."
"You're more pragmatic than I am, and we both know it. Big green elfman notwithstanding."
"Oh, he'll keep me on the straight and narrow. I assume he's fully briefed on the status quo down there?"
"That he is."
She turned, saw that the team had assembled, sliding folding gurneys, with large med backpacks slung over their shoulders. "Okay, then." She waited with the half of the team that would go on second beam out, got on the pad as soon as the first team disappeared. They were beamed out once Jim got the all clear from Spock.
The first thing that met them was the overwhelming smell of charred—everything. Wood, metal, and flesh.
"If you're going to throw up, do it now," she said, and saw Spock glance over at her in what looked like surprise.
She swallowed hard, and his eyes softened. Then she heard the sound of someone behind her puking and moved away—that sound never failed to make her want to throw up, too.
"Listen to me. Only going to say this once. We work on Federation personnel only. It will cause the mother of all diplomatic crises if we treat any of the locals. Got it?"
Everyone nodded, except the woman throwing up, who gave a thumbs up.
"Okay, let's head out."
She realized Spock was waiting for her, caught up with him and asked softly, "What happened here?"
"An incendiary device went off in the main plaza. There is no radiation, fortunately."
"Thank God. Those damn suits slow down everything."
He nodded. "The Federation embassy is not centrally located so there are survivors. But the damage to the city's main plaza, as you can see, is extreme."
"Why do people do this?"
They stood for a moment, looking over the twisted and burnt landscape.
"I do not know," Spock said, almost in a whisper. "What do you need me to do for you? Officially I am here to run interference with the Zelonans and serve as a liaison with the families of any injured Federation officials."
"It sounds like you have a full plate. Just watch our backs." She smiled tightly.
He nodded and led them away from the main blast area to a spot less heavily hit but still full of broken glass, ruined transports, and injured people. Chapel motioned for her team to get to work. Fortunately, the Zelonans were physically distinct from Federation species, so it was easy to tell who their patients were.
They worked through the day, sending some—a very few—home after repairing broken limbs and abraded tissue, and arranging for transport on the Enterprise for the rest. Chapel watched her team as she worked, getting to know how they operated, together and as individuals. Who was slow—who went quickly, but maybe too fast. Who looked like this was too much to take—and it wasn't Nurse Johnson, the one who'd been throwing up initially. She turned out to be the most stalwart of the bunch.
Chapel caught up with her when she was taking a quick break.
"Sorry about the vomit. I wasn't expecting the smell."
"Don't worry about it. Our bodies react the way they react. You've run rings around the others."
"Just trying to show that I deserve to be on the Enterprise, Doctor."
"Well, I already knew that." Chapel grinned at her. "I picked the staff."
"I thought you were the CMO but then suddenly Doctor McCoy was and—"
"It'll only make your head hurt if you try to figure it out. Deputy is fine with me."
"So McCoy is okay?"
Johnson was looking at her with an expression that told Chapel she had the woman's loyalty from here on out. If she told her Len was a sack of shit, the woman would believe her. "McCoy is great. I worked as his head nurse for years and I'm staying on to work with him again. So...?"
"I guess he's okay, then. I didn't realize you'd been a nurse."
"Yep. So I understand what you go through. And I'll try not to be that kind of doctor." She grinned.
"Well, for the record, you haven't been yet. We like you."
We. So Johnson spoke for the nurses—or thought she did. Good to know.
Johnson glanced at something behind Chapel's back. "Doctor, I think Commander Spock wants you."
Chapel almost laughed—out of the mouth of babes. She looked over, and when Spock saw that she was paying attention, he cocked his head for her to come over. "I think you're right. Let me go see what our first officer wants."
She walked over to him, smiled and said, "You gestured enigmatically?"
He almost smiled but there was fatigue in his eyes—more than she expected for someone who had basically had nothing much to do so far. "What is your status?"
"We have three patients left in various stages of triage. All being sent up to the ship for transport. The families haven't come yet, have they?"
"They have not. I believe the Zelonans are restricting information. There will be a deluge when they finally release the news."
"People couldn't have missed hearing a blast from an explosion this big."
"No. But if they've been told to stay in their residences because there is a continued threat..."
"Ah. Yes." She sighed. "I hate things like this." She touched his arm. "How can I help you? You look so tired and you've done—"
"Nothing. I have done nothing."
She agreed but found herself defending him. "You've soaked up the atmosphere here. You've watched us work. You've smelled burned flesh with nothing to do to distract you. You're tired because this is horrible. You're tired because V'ger left you open to feeling the full awfulness of it."
"I believe you are right."
"So how can I help?"
"I will need you and one other person. We will have to arrange guest quarters for those traveling to the Federation medical facility with their family members. And then ensure they have boarded the ship before we can depart, as many will show up here initially not realizing they will be leaving."
"Johnson can stay. If Len needs us back, though, you may have to make due with other staff."
"Very well." He leaned ever so slightly against her, as if he was drawing some kind of comfort from the contact. "I have coordinated our plans with the ship. A bank of guest quarters have been downloaded to those." He pointed to three padds sitting on a bench near them. "We can reserve them as we go. I have other padds for the family members to fill out if they need any special accommodations." He indicated a container full of smaller padds—the kind instructors used in classrooms.
He was still leaning against her.
"Are you all right?"
He seemed to realize what he was doing, straightened up. "I am fine."
"So that wasn't whatever's going on between us, was it?"
"I am a professional, Christine. This is hardly the time for that."
"Just had to check." She heard her name being called.
"Go. I am fine. Finish what you are doing."
"I'll brief Johnson while I'm at it. You'll like her. She's efficient."
He nodded and went back to his vigil, waiting for people who seemed determined not to come, staring out at the smoke slowly rising from the central square. His expression was...off but she couldn't have explained how if anyone asked. She watched him for a moment more, then hurried back to the medical team.
The line of family members was three deep, and Chapel worked the middle section with Spock to her right and Johnson to her left, asking standard questions for traumatized people. "Do you want to accompany your loved one to the medical facility?" "Will you be leaving anyone on the planet to stay in your habitat?" "If not, please be sure to pack anything of value in your carryalls."
Those who had come to Zelona as part of the first diplomatic wave had packed light—they'd known they might have to bug out at a moment's notice. Most of the people Chapel dealt with nodded and went back to their structures to get what they needed before departure.
Spock, however, seemed to be having some difficulty with the woman he was dealing with. He could not seem to get a word in edgewise—not his usual style—and Chapel thought she heard him exhale as if in frustration.
The woman he was dealing with appeared unusually flustered, almost in a panic, and was reaching out for him.
"Madame, I must insist you control yourself." His voice was harsh—far too harsh for the situation they were in.
Chapel shot him a look, then realized he was clenching the padd he was holding so tightly it had begun to buckle. She finished up with the person she was working with, and told the next person, "Give me five minutes. I was just hailed."
It was a lie, but her communicator was on her hip so she didn't think the man could tell she wasn't telling the truth.
She leaned in, interrupting Spock and the woman. "Commander, I think you need to take this comm."
"Not now, Christine."
She turned so only he could hear her. "In case I wasn't clear, that wasn't Christine to Spock, that was the Deputy Chief Medical Officer to the First Officer. Come with me." She turned to the woman. "We'll be back in just a few minutes. The ship has some news for us, and we have to take this."
She resisted pulling Spock away bodily.
"What is the meaning of this, Doctor?"
She kept them turned so the others couldn't see them. "Lift your hands for me."
"I fail to see—"
"Just do it."
He lifted his hands; they were shaking violently. He stared at them as if they were traitors. "I am fine. We have work to do."
"Yes, Johnson and I have work to do. You need to get up to the ship. You're off this landing party."
"I am in charge of this landing party."
"Not any more." She tried to keep her eyes as gentle as she could. "This is V'ger related and we both know it."
"I have been fine on the ship. I am perhaps tired."
"You don't get tired, not after a few hours doing nothing more than waiting around. What you are, in my medical opinion, is overwhelmed."
"You have no idea what you are talking about."
She touched his arm and he slapped it away—quite hard. Then stared down at his own hand as if it had betrayed him again.
"As I said: overwhelmed."
All his bluster seemed to fade. "Yes, by this barrage of emotion you humans are exposed to daily. How do you stand it?"
"We don't have to, Spock. What you're going through is because you're Vulcan. I'm pretty sure it's your telepathy overreacting to stimuli, but we'll need to run some scans and compare them to older ones to make sure. But it's not human—I'm not feeling what you are."
He looked down. "I see." He tangled his fingers together, and she knew he was trying to hide how much his hands were shaking. "I see the logic of you removing me from this environment. I will report to my station on the bridge."
"Spock, what if we have an emergency? How will you react to anyone's heightened emotions right now?"
"Christine, I am fine. Please do not do this." He leaned in, his eyes almost pleading.
If she needed more proof than that, she didn't know what it would be. Spock did not plead. "You will report to Jim. And tell him everything. And he can decide if you stay on the bridge or not. Or if it's easier, you will voluntarily remove yourself from duty and I'll tell him everything."
"You think I should be relieved of duty."
"I'm sorry. But I do." She met his eyes. "Now do you tell Jim or do I?"
"Your word on that?"
"I'm sorry." She flipped open her communicator, tried to ignore the look of betrayal and anger in his eyes. "Chapel to Enterprise."
"Mister Spock is ready to beam up."
"Aye aye, Doctor."
As soon as he started to fade away, she made her way back to the line of those waiting. "Sorry, Commander Spock is needed on the ship to take care of your loved ones. But no one will lose their place in the queue. Nurse Johnson and I will rotate taking the middle line."
She glanced over at Johnson; the other woman gave her an encouraging smile. Chapel took a deep breath and smiled at the woman Spock had been working with. "Now, tell me how I can help?"
"Oh my God, I'm tired, Doctor," Johnson said as she watched the last of the families beam up to the ship.
"It's Christine, Julia. Now that we're off duty. Let's get back to the ship." She grabbed the container of padds. "I don't know if I'll ever get the smell of this place out of my nose."
"I know. A long shower and then I'm going to bed."
"Shower, yes. But I'm heading to the rec lounge. I'm too wound up to sleep. I need a drink—stat."
Johnson made a funny face. "Is that maybe because you sent Commander Spock back to the ship."
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Fair enough. Discretion about him means you won't gab about anything I ever tell you."
"Well, actually it might not. He outranks me. I may just be smart, not discreet." Chapel grinned.
Johnson laughed. "Good point. I'll try to figure out which it is, Christine, as I get to know you."
Chapel called for beam out, was very happy to see the ship materialize around her. She took the padds back to sickbay, got an update from the head of Beta shift, and then went to her quarters and used up two day's worth of water rations in the shower.
When she got to the rec lounge, it was fairly quiet. She found Jim nursing a Scotch.
"Ah, just the woman I wanted to see." He motioned the bartender over. "She'll have what I'm having."
"Make it a double." She sat down next to Jim.
"So, care to explain why you couldn't just relieve Spock of duty yourself? Why you had to make me do it? Was that payback for demoting you? Or did you not want to hurt your new boyfriend's feelings by taking the initiative?"
She turned slowly to meet his eyes, then looked at the bartender as he brought the Scotch over. "That'll be on his tab."
"It will?" the bartender asked.
"Yes, it will."
Jim shrugged when the bartender looked at him for confirmation.
She took a nice long sip before she put the glass down gently, turned to look at Jim, and said, "Are you fucking kidding me?"
He looked surprised.
"Jim, I didn't run any tests before I sent him packing. Primarily because we had a line of people three deep that we needed to get off that goddamn planet so I didn't have time. And I couldn't send him up to sickbay because it's full of wounded. The mere fact that Spock came back to the ship without me running a test on him—that he didn't call me on that immediately—was enough, on top of all the other signs, to take him off of the immediate mission. But to relieve him from general duty? No. I needed more."
She took another sip of her Scotch. "Call me overcautious, but I didn't want the first time I relieved a superior officer from duty to be irregular—and full of history. I plan to run those fucking tests, however. Or have Len do it. Whichever option Spock prefers. But in the meantime, I needed you to make the decision, or for Spock to voluntarily take himself off duty and I'd tell you that he did it. I did give him the choice. He chose to let you decide. So there you have it."
He sighed. "Because I don't need tests. I can remove him at will."
"Remove at will. Demote at will." She raised her glass in a mock toast. "It wasn't payback. But how dare you. I've been down there working my ass off while you've been up here waiting to spring that on me?"
"I'm sorry. It just seemed..." He sighed. "He was not happy."
"No shit he was not happy. I bet he never asks me to help out on landing party special duty again." She laughed, the sound was bitter. "You should have seen his face when I called for the transporter room to beam him out."
"You didn't." He had a look of grudging admiration.
"Oh, yes, I did. In for a penny, in for a pound."
"Damn, woman." He shook his head. "So much for your love life."
"Is this any kind of surprise? But hey, I made a new friend. A nurse that seems pretty terrific."
"Friends are good." He smiled. "Especially when they buy you more Scotch after they insult you."
"Buy it for me next time. If I drink any more than this tonight, I'll be sick." She bumped her shoulder lightly against his. "And you're forgiven. You know I can't stay mad at you."
Too bad Spock wouldn't feel the same way about her.
Against her better judgment, she popped into her quarters to get her medkit then went to Spock's quarters. When he answered his chime, she said, "I know you're furious with me."
"You know nothing."
"Okay, then I know nothing." She held up the medkit. "I thought you might want me to start some initial scans now? Or I can ask Len to do it tomorrow if you'd prefer a male. Your choice completely."
"It is very late."
"The sooner I get these in the system, the sooner we figure out what's going on."
"And the sooner I am allowed to return to duty. Your logic is quite good." He moved aside and let her in. "I presume I am not required to strip for this?"
She shook her head.
"Then you will be acceptable. Let us proceed." He led her to the table where he'd clearly been working, sat down and went back to work as she scanned him, ignoring her as efficiently as he ever had on their first mission.
She took a number of scans that she could compare to ones they'd captured right after the meld with V'ger as well as with older ones from the first mission. Then she started to collect basic bio data. "Okay, all done. I'll send Len if we need anything else."
She turned to go, felt him grab her arm and yank her back almost painfully. "What the hell, Spock?"
"I am angry with you."
"So I see." She tried to pull free.
He did not let go, but his grip eased so while she couldn't get away, she didn't feel that her arm was going to be bruised in the morning. "I have another feeling toward you."
"Disappointment? Regret that you wasted your time?"
His lips ticked up. "Respect." He let her go.
"I know that you are familiar with some Vulcan tenets." He gestured for her to take the chair next to him, so she sat. "Do you know 'The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few'?"
"Or the one?" She nodded. "You think that's what I did?"
"That is what you did. And while it was...embarrassing for me, it had to be done. And I realize you did it in the most efficient way possible and in a way designed to spare me further humiliation."
"I didn't want to hurt you."
"I appreciate that. Even if I am also quite annoyed with you."
"Sorry. Just doing my job, sir."
He studied her for a long time—long enough that it began to make her uncomfortable—then he slid his chair closer to hers, reached over, and began to undo the clips that held her hair up.
"What are you doing?"
"Relieving you of something."
She tried not to smile. "How far are you going to take that?"
"How far will you let me?"
"You're my patient."
"And before that, I was your potential lover. May I point out that I am currently no longer in your chain of command? This may be an excellent time to allow me to take advantage of you."
"I think Starfleet Medical would view it as the other way around."
He made a "what of it?" face that she was surprised he could manage.
"It's been a very long day, Spock."
"For me, as well." He stood up, pulled her to her feet. "What do you want to do?"
"I'm dead on my feet and I just had a double Scotch. Tonight is not the night to have sex for the first time with you."
"Then what do you suggest?"
"I am open to hearing it. I am clearly not at my best, so in no position to judge."
She laughed softly. "Can we just cuddle? God, that sounds even stupider when I say it out loud."
"By cuddling, am I to take it you would like to sleep here?"
She could feel her eyes going to the "I've worked too long and did not need to make that drink a double" half-lidded stage. "Yes, that's what I'm saying—I'd like to sleep in your arms."
"Do we need to strip for that?"
"You do live in hope, don't you?" She smiled and put her arms around his neck, not really thinking about what she was doing till she was there, her chest pressed against his, her lips next to his.
His eyebrow went up very high.
"I'm pretty sure my body language is saying you can kiss me, though."
He leaned in and kissed her tenderly instead of passionately. A kiss appropriate for a night of cuddling instead of sex. "You are exhausted. I can feel it when I touch you."
"More than you normally would feel it?"
He seemed to consider. "No."
"Good. Maybe it was just...overwhelming today. So much sensory input—of the horrific kind. So much emotion. From the injured, the med team, and the families."
"You should not go into an experiment with your conclusion so firmly fixed."
"You're not an experiment to me."
"I am profoundly glad to hear that."
He put his arm around her and eased her to the bed, drew back the covers and waited for her to kick off her shoes, then followed her into bed. He kissed her a few more times, but she barely had the energy to kiss him back.
"I'm sorry, Spock. I'm just so tired."
"I should have been down there with you."
"You didn't know. None of us did. We'll figure out what's going on." She curled into him. "I'm sorry I had to do that to you."
His lips on her cheek were the last thing she felt before she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Chapel woke sprawled across Spock's chest, a drool puddle under her chin, darkening his shirt. "Oh, yeah, that's what you want to wake up to."
"Good morning." He ran his hand through her hair—he seemed to like her hair. Were Vulcans hair men the way Human males were either leg or breast men? At any rate, he didn't seem perturbed by the drool. Maybe Vulcan women were the drool champions of the quadrant?
Or maybe she was just making up stories to avoid being embarrassed that she was the drool champ. She smiled at him. "How long have you been awake?"
"An hour and some."
"That is startlingly imprecise."
"I am aware of that." He touched her forehead, trailed his fingers over her eyebrow, then down her cheek. "I have revised my former estimate. I have decided you are more desirable than all other women on the ship."
"That's either more of V'ger's effects impacting your ability to properly assess beauty or you woke up horny, which can also make any available woman seem exponentially more attractive until after the sex act is complete and you come to your senses—and then try to sneak out while she's sleeping." She grinned at him.
"You have a very low opinion of me. And of yourself."
"Meh. Despite my wanton begging for a high placement in the attractiveness ranking during our first date for coffee, I have come to terms with my assets and shortcomings in the beauty department. I have great legs, a stellar set of bazoombas"—at his look of confusion, she laughed and pointed to her breasts—"hair you appear to think is nice, and pretty eyes. I'm not a beautiful woman, but I'm tall and I've got something that makes men stop to look usually. I use what God gave me and I don't fret about what he didn't."
"A most rational approach to one's own appearance, but I didn't say you were the most beautiful on the ship: I said you were the most desirable." He let his fingers travel down the other side of her face. "I will use myself as an example. Jim is, by most scales of attractiveness, a handsome man, is he not?"
Spock's face clouded for a moment. "I see I will limit in the future how often I tell you other women are beautiful. The resulting sensation upon hearing that is not pleasant."
"But my point is that although Jim is objectively more attractive than I am, you find me more desirable. To the point where he did not pursue you, although he clearly would have liked to, because your preference was so clear. Have I misstated anything?"
"Nope. Summed it up nicely."
"That is how I feel about you." He shifted her so her face was closer to his. "I desire you."
"I still say you could just be horny."
"A horrible term."
"It goes back to Pan. Satyrs. Goats. And the fact that the penis looks like a horn to some."
"You are not making the term better. Although it might make a fascinating discussion for some other time." He began to unfasten her pants. "If you wish me to desist, now would be the time to tell me."
"Otherwise, we are going to have sex."
"But if I say no?"
"Then we will not." He held his hands still. "What do you want?"
"What I've always wanted. 'Cause I'm a big dope. You."
"I would argue that is wise choice, but then you would accuse me of being egotistical."
"You could assist me with my pants." He gave her a pointed look.
She got busy. Soon they were both nicely naked, but only on the bottom. "In a hurry are we?"
"Look at the chrono?"
She did and bit back a swear word he didn't need to hear her say this early in the morning. "Why did you let me sleep so late?" She started to get out of bed.
"Because you were exhausted." He pulled her back in. "We have time. But I will stop now if you do not want our first time to be this way."
She studied him, felt the warmth of the covers, saw the drool spot on his shirt he appeared to not give a rat's ass about, thought about how safe she'd felt when she woke up.
She touched his face. "I don't want to stop."
He pushed her to her back, moved between her legs, pulling her hips up, his mouth finding her, licking, kissing.
Then fingers. She actually wasn't sure how many. "Spock?"
"Shhh, I will not hurt you." He went back to the licking, the gentle nibbling, the sucking, his fingers kneading her thighs so hard she knew she'd have bruises.
She came loudly and he moved up, watched her with what was clearly satisfaction as she tried to figure out how to breathe again. Then he kissed her. Not the tender kisses of the night before, passionate kisses this time. Hard and almost rough—was there an element of payback in this?
But he also whispered, "Are you all right?" And he ran his fingers over where he'd gripped her. "I held you too tightly."
"I have a regenerator."
"You should not need one after being with me."
"Spock, shut up." She wrapped her legs around his waist and pulled him down, and then into her and—
Holy f— She suddenly understood why he'd used so many fingers. Spock was a big boy.
"Am I hurting you?" he asked gently, not moving.
She shook her head, then pulled him down to her for a kiss. This time he was tender, moving slowly in time with his kisses, getting her used to him, and she made nonsense sounds as he moved.
"I enjoy your vocalizations during sex."
"I enjoy sex with you during my vocalizations." She laughed softly, feeling just a little giddy at the sensation of being quite so connected to him.
"I look forward to watching you on top of me. But I will save that for a day when you have not relieved me of command of my own landing party."
She laughed again. "Feeling a little primitive?"
He nodded and began to move faster. "Does that perturb you?"
"It probably should. But since I may end up with another orgasm out of it, I find myself strangely all right with the idea."
"You are astonishingly pragmatic. It is an agreeable surprise." He kissed her again then let himself go, thrusting gradually harder until he was going quite hard, making her gasp and cry out—in a good way. In the best goddamn way.
She did end up with another climax, just before he came, holding her tightly as if she might try to escape just as he was coming. He called her name out as he finished—and she wondered how many old-time fantasies came true with that finally happening.
"Are you all right?" she asked him with a grin.
"I am quite fine." He lifted his head to look at her. "And I have no inclination to flee now that my morning urge for sex has been alleviated. Temporarily."
"Yes. I will wish to repeat this experience. Many times." He kissed her very gently. "Of all the probabilities for how my evening and morning would progress, sleeping with you and then sex when we awoke would not have been events I ranked as highly likely. You are...surprising, Christine."
"Surprising is good." She could feel her eyes starting to get heavy. Orgasms always made her sleepy. Sleepy and thirsty.
"While I would enjoy letting you fall back to sleep here, you must get up." He urged her out of bed. "You are needed."
"Mmmm, I know." She put her arms around him and nuzzled his neck. "I'll let you know if I see anything in the scans."
"Feel free to come back and run more of them. Perhaps there are tests that require both subject and medical officer to disrobe?"
She laughed. "I actually don't think there are. Sorry, darling." She realized what she'd called him and tensed.
He didn't seem to mind. "You are a creative woman. Invent some."
She worked through dinner, met up with him afterwards. He had her in his arms before the door to his quarters finished closing, took the padd she was carrying out of her hands and put it on his nightstand and then undressed her slowly—taking all the time they hadn't had in the morning and then some.
She hadn't imagined how good it was.
Afterwards, as they lazed in bed, absently touching and kissing, she reached for the padd she'd brought with her. "I need to show you something."
"Now?" He nuzzled her neck. "I am not finished. Would a human male be finished at this point?"
"Probably." She kissed him, then pulled up the scans she'd run earlier in the day. "I've already run this by Len. He commended me on finding something so...well, hard to find. But I was extra motivated—seeing as how it's you, and I want you back on your feet, professionally speaking. Back on duty."
"I appreciate that." He studied her face. "You do not look happy. What did you find?"
"It's nothing bad for you. It's good, actually. See this little spot here." She magnified the area in question, and he nodded. "It probably happened during the meld. Trauma of some sort. We—I didn't catch it during the initial scans. But it's so small. It's pressing on the area of the brain that in Vulcans controls the psi skills. Once I found it, I could correlate it to some readings that were off in baseline scans."
"It almost certainly explains what happened on the planet. You've probably been reacting to other things differently, but I had to pump you full of meds to get you on your feet during the crisis. They would have masked it. And later the enhanced emotionalism would have done the same. Once we fix it—and it's a simple operation—it won't happen again." She smiled, but knew it was not a very good smile. "Len has you scheduled as soon as we deliver the injured to the medical facility. Then good as new."
"You still do not look happy."
"You said you were lonely. That was what drew you to me, do you remember that?"
"V'ger was lonely, too. Your sudden lust—your overwhelming desire to get me in the sack—it's entirely possible it's related to this."
He frowned. An actual frown. "Would my lust not be more generalized? Would I not feel it for many women?"
"V'ger's search was pretty specific. And I was the one who treated you right after you came back. I was the one of the first ones who touched you once you were out of your suit. One of the first voices you heard. And...I love you—I was no doubt projecting that all over you, so you would have picked up on that. V'ger's loneliness colliding with my love—I'm not sure you were even part of the mix, Spock." She looked away. "I should have told you this before we had sex. I'm sorry."
He seemed lost in thought for a time. Then he nodded. "What you say is logical."
"I know. I'm sorry. I was weak. But...in the long run, I wasn't. I found the problem and it's potentially debatable how long it would have taken anyone else to find it—maybe no one would have. I made a decision to do the right thing. As a doctor—and as a person. The needs of the many and all that. So will you forgive me for not telling you before the sex?"
"When is the operation?"
"Tomorrow. Two hours after the transfer of the injured." She met his eyes. "I should go."
As she started to get out of bed, he pulled her back to him.
"You believe I will no longer want you when I wake up from this operation?"
"That is what I believe, yes."
"But I will remember what has transpired between us?"
"Then I apologize now for how I will hurt you tomorrow if you are right."
"Thank you." Again, she tried to get out of bed.
Again he held on.
"We only have tonight. Is that not right?" He smoothed back her hair with his other hand. "Will it make it harder for you to stay with me?"
"Yes. But that doesn't mean I don't want to stay."
"Then stay. Stay while I still want you." He eased her back down, kissed her tenderly. "I believe I could have loved you."
"But it's not really you."
"We shall see." But he sounded as if he knew she was right.
Chapel tried not to hover as Spock lay in recovery. She worked in her office, catching up on paperwork, then switched to working on research—finally managing to lose herself so that Len had to call her twice to tell her Spock was waking up.
She walked out to the biobed slowly, watched as Len scanned him, keeping her face as expressionless as she could. But she smiled when Len told her, "Everything's back to normal," since that's what he expected her to do.
"How do you feel?" she asked Spock once Len had gone back to his office.
"As you suspected, I am...as I was."
She tried to push down the lump in her throat, tried to ignore the pain in the general region of a broken heart—it wasn't like this was a surprise. "If I have done anything to—"
"Your behavior has been above reproach. If I have done anyth—"
"Let's just agree that we're both paragons of virtue and leave it at that." She gave him the gamest smile she could. "Okay. Well, now that we know you're going to be fine, I'm going to get out of here and let you rest." She turned to go.
"Will you be letting Jim know that I am soon to be restored to duty?"
"Only if he's at the bar." She smiled tightly.
"I'm sure Len will let him know. He's the CMO."
"Yes, but he, as far as I know, did not nearly have a relationship with our captain."
"Well, shows what you know." She tried to wink; the effect was probably ruined by the fact that she was trying not to cry. "Anything else?" Any other awkward questions that would confuse the hell out of her?
"A padd. I do not sleep as much as a human."
She went into her office, got an extra padd, and turned her terminal off while she was at it.
"Here you go."
"Thank you for everything, Doctor."
"Sure." She stared at him for a long moment, and he didn't look away, then she fled.
When she got to the rec lounge, Jim was at the bar.
She sat down next to him, said, "You can buy me that drink now. And Spock will be back on duty tomorrow or the day after. Depends on how long Len decides to drag out making him rest."
"Excellent." He glanced over at her. "You okay?"
"I'm just super tired. And relieved, of course." She waved the bartender over. "Scotch, his kind."
"On me," Jim said, then he turned and seemed to really be studying her. "Chris, what is it?"
"Nothing." She took a deep breath as the bartender put down her drink. She channeled every ounce of strength she had and turned to Jim, holding up her glass, giving him the best smile she had. "To having Spock back at his station."
"Here here." He clinked his glass gently against hers. "You can tell me anything, you know?"
"I know that. I'm just...I'd rather sit here and drink with you. Is that okay?"
"Absolutely. Not talking about it is the Jim Kirk way." He grinned at her and bumped shoulders.
She laughed softly. "I love you."
"I know you do. I love you, too. Life would be a hell of a lot simpler if you were in love with me."
"And you weren't married to this ship."
"Well, that too." He laughed. "We'll be that couple. The friends that everyone speculates about."
She shook her head. "Let them. Romance is overrated. And it never works out."
"I'm sorry. Did something happen I'm not aware of?"
She glared at him.
"Shutting up now and letting you drink." He sighed. "Romance is overrated. Sex on the other hand..."
"That's what I tried to tell you on Earth. But no, you had to have more." She shook her head. "We'll still be sitting here when we're eighty, Jim. Alone. Lonely."
"Good God, you're depressing tonight."
"I'm sorry. At least I figured out what was wrong with Spock. Science is so much more dependable than emotion."
"Now who sounds like a Vulcan?"
"I'm sure he'll be appreciative."
"Uh huh." She tried not to think of the previous night. Just how appreciative Spock had been in bed. She threw back her drink. "I'm gonna turn in before I depress both of us. I'll be fine tomorrow. I promise."
"Okay. Thank you for figuring out what was wrong with Spock."
"No problem." She gave his hand a quick squeeze and left before she could bring the mood down any more.
She tried to give herself a stern mental talking-to as she walked back to her quarters. This was going to be hard, but she'd get through it.
It wasn't as if she'd ever really had Spock to begin with. She should enjoy the memories and be happy that Spock wasn't angry with her over what happened.
She could have a good cry tonight and that would be it. Tomorrow, life started again.
She palmed open her door, saw that her comm light was blinking. She had a message from Spock in her queue. She opened it, not sure what she'd find.
It was one word. "Coffee?"