For the First Time in My Life, I Was Happy
Chapel walked down the corridor to Jim's quarters; he'd been ruthlessly quick in making Decker vacate them, even if only for a temporary assumption of command. Now they were permanently his with Decker dead and Jim the hero of the quadrant.
Dumb luck. Right place at the right time. Those were the things he would say to anyone who congratulated him.
But she knew better.
She'd known all along he wasn't going to give his ship up if they survived V'ger. She'd felt bad for Will, for the choices he'd made—that maybe Jim had tipped him over into making. But she was happy, too.
She and Jim had been involved on Earth. She'd seen first-hand what unhappiness looked like on her captain, on her lover. It was not something she'd recommend to the faint of heart. Although they'd made it work. Possibly because she was so stressed over med school and then training to be CMO, that she'd refused to take any of his shit. Had given as good as she'd got.
To say they'd been volatile would be an understatement.
But they could be tender, too. Sometimes she thought he was the only one who understood her. Everything about her. And didn't judge. Her affair with Roger while he was still her teacher. Her need to be first in her class no matter the personal cost. Her fondness for working stress off in the most physical—and horizontal—way possible.
His touch had kept her centered. She thought hers had kept him sane when he hit rock bottom.
But she'd been slated to leave. And he was going to have to stay on Earth. At a job he hated.
They'd had a big goodbye dinner planned when Command had scrambled everyone they could, to get the ship out to stop V'ger.
She was glad they'd missed the dinner now. She didn't have to say goodbye. This could be a congratulations dinner. For Jim getting his ship back. For her being a doctor and still being on the senior staff, even with the demotion.
She could think of some things she'd like to do before dinner, though. Jim had been so busy since V'ger disappeared she'd barely seen him in the corridors, much less spent any time with him. She missed him, missed the almost violent way they'd come together some nights. Missed the kisses afterwards, sweet and tender, as if in apology for how hard they could be on each other when they needed to work shit out.
He wanted to see her now, finally, when they had all the time in the world.
She rang for admission, heard him say "Come," and the door opened. She walked in as slinkily as she could, smiled with what she hoped was a seductive grin. "Miss me, Captain?"
He seemed to be drinking her in, but then his expression changed.
She decided to ignore the warning sign—she'd done it successfully on Earth for the last year. "Remember that goodbye dinner we had to shit-can? Well, let's do a congratulations dinner instead." She moved closer, put her arms around his neck, and rubbed up against him the way he always liked. "But before we go, let's stay in for a little bit. I've missed you."
She realized he was standing very stiffly, that he had not put his arms around her. That he was, in fact, easing her away from him.
"I can't, Chris."
"You can't what? Have dinner tonight? We can do it some other day if you're tired. We'll just stay in. Reconnect. Sleep—I hate sleeping alone after spending so much time with you on Earth." She looked at him through her lashes. "So many beds, so many fun places to explore."
He turned and walked to his viewscreen, his back to her as he said, "I can't be with you. You're a member of my crew."
She realized he was drinking in the view he thought he had to trade her for. "That's idiotic. I'm in Medical."
"I can relieve you if I think you're cognitively impaired. How about now?"
He spun, and she took a step back, shocked at the anger on his face. "Do not joke about that responsibility and privilege. Do not ever use that against me, do you understand?"
She felt off balance and hurt. "Jim, I didn't mean anything by it. I'm sorry."
"Good. Then you won't forget to be careful in the future." He took a deep breath. "I care for you, Chris. But this—we—won't work on the ship. You were friends with Jan, and I know she shared things with you. You know how this works."
"No. What I know is how fucking stupid it is—you are." She crossed her arms over her chest. "So everything we did, all the fun we had, doesn't matter?"
"Did you love me?"
"Please, just go."
"Answer me. Did you love me?"
He looked at her with the most helpless expression she'd ever seen on his face.
"You're an idiot," she said, then turned on her heel and rushed out.
She got to the door of her quarters just as Spock was coming off the lift.
He studied her, then asked softly, "Are you all right?"
"Yes. Know of any ships in need of a medical officer?"
"Are you considering leaving?"
She shrugged. "Not like you would care."
"What if I told you I would? That...it was good to see you, to feel your touch again in sickbay."
"Are you telling me that?" She wanted to hit him. Now—he was going to tell her this now?
"Great." She leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes. "Spock, when you went to Gol, did you know it was the right thing to do?"
"Are you considering Gol? Because that did not turn out to be the panacea I had hoped."
She heard a note of humor in his voice, opened her eyes, and laughed softly. "No, I'm not considering Gol."
"Then consider me." He was looking at her very intently, like she should consider him right this minute, preferably with no clothes on.
"What you're feeling is because of the meld with V'ger."
"What I am feeling was undoubtedly amplified by the meld with V'ger. But my interest in you is not new."
"Interest." She sighed. "So romantic—oh, wait. It's not."
"Feelings, then. Christine, do not transfer off the ship. I would like to explore this interest, and you used to have strong feelings for me."
"I'm tired, Spock."
"Then go to sleep. But perhaps you would join me for dinner sometime this week?"
She studied him, could see no evidence of uncertainty in his expression. "Fine. Sure. That'll be great. Let me know what day." She gave him what she hoped was a game smile and slipped into her quarters.
She cried her eyes out as soon as she was sure he was gone.
Damn Jim and his stupid goddamn rule.
Kirk made a move, not lifting his hand from the chess piece until he was sure it was a good one. He looked over at Spock, realized his friend's attention was not on the board, but over where Chris was sitting with Uhura and Sulu.
"Tick tick tick."
Spock looked up, seemed surprised to be caught. "I apologize."
"Something over there you like?" Please God, let it be Uhura. Or Sulu—that'd be fine, too.
"I believe there are opportunities to revisit past decisions."
Crap. That didn't sound like Uhura or Sulu—unless Kirk had really missed some stuff. "Oh yeah?"
Spock nodded and went back to the chessboard.
"Christine, you mean?"
"Yes." His brows knit down as he studied the board. "A most interesting move. Not one you would have made in the past."
"I played a lot against the computer while you were at Gol and I was in a hell of my own making." Before he ran into Chris. Before he was happy again with Chris.
"A most intriguing strategy." Spock studied the board some more, clearly puzzled at this new side to Kirk's play.
Kirk looked over at Chris. She seemed to feel his gaze on her, looked up, and gave him a sad half smile then went back to whatever she was doing with the other two.
Spock was watching him, his expression untroubled. "Her achievements are impressive." He finally moved a piece to counter Kirk's advance.
"She's a smart one." He wanted to look back at her, wanted to abandon this game and go get her, keep her away from a now-interested Spock. Why the hell did Spock have to pick now to be interested in her?
But Kirk didn't get up and go to her. He let her be and moved his chess piece. It was a stupid move; Spock didn't seem to notice—probably thought it, too, was part of his new chess strategy.
Spock sat with Christine in the mess, analyzing the changes in her since he'd interacted with her as a nurse. Her new rank and role on the ship were obvious, less so the physical changes. She had darkened her hair before she left the ship to go to medical school, but now it was even darker, and skimmed back in a style quite at odds with her previous intricate hairstyles. Her makeup was subdued. Her manner much more assured.
He approved of the change in her. Found her still desirable—perhaps more so with the new sense of confidence he got from her.
Although she had been upset the night he had asked her to dinner. He presumed it had been about her demotion. She had been coming from the direction of Jim's quarters—had his friend been telling her the demotion was permanent?
"Do I have something on my face?" she asked with a small smile. "You're staring."
"You were quite upset the other night."
"I'd rather not talk about it. Some things you just can't fight."
Ah. It must have been the demotion, then. "But you accept it?"
She met his eyes; her expression was the one his mother often wore when the answer she would give was something he'd never understand. Finally, she shrugged.
"Perhaps I should change the subject?"
"Officer thinking." She stabbed at her food. "What makes you believe this emotional side of you is going to last?"
"I am already much less given to emotional outbursts than directly after the meld—to my great relief. My interest in you, however, has not decreased."
"Did you ever want me before? When we were on the ship and I was chasing you?"
"I did. Initially you and I were both promised to other people."
"But after? You had no damn excuse, buster, other than you didn't really want me that much."
He had to concede that. "I was torn. I was already questioning how much I had allowed myself to embrace emotions. My road to Gol started long before I appealed for admission to the discipline."
"I would have been a step toward humanity?"
"And now you don't care? Now a human is acceptable?"
He tried to make his eyes as gentle as he could. "Now, a human is more than acceptable."
She smiled and finally seemed to relax. "I was involved with someone, Spock. On Earth. It did not end well."
"How could it? You were leaving on a long mission, were you not?" He could not read her smile, did not understand why it took her so long to answer.
"I was, indeed." She swallowed hard. "So, can you help me forget him?"
"Did you love him?"
She nodded tightly.
"You once loved me." She had told him that when under the influence of a virus. Had shown him, though, in other ways on occasions when she was not emotionally compromised.
"I thought so, yes."
"So this man you were with—did you love him more than you once loved me?"
"I don't know you. Not really."
"Then we must remedy that." He let his lips turn up just enough so she'd know it was a gentle smile he was giving her. "At once."
Leila Kalomi was working on an experiment that seemed only slightly more promising than the last six she'd started. Was she getting tired of this project already? Since she'd decided not to join Sandoval when he started over on a new planet, she'd been in four different positions. All interesting. All good for her career.
But each one had left her less happy. Lonely, even. There were men who were interested in her, but then there always were. She'd grown used to that as a teen, when long blond hair and blue eyes and a good figure stopped boys in their tracks. None of the men mattered. Not when she'd had Spock and then lost him.
She'd kept track of his progress over the years, even if she'd stayed away from any personal interaction. He'd made his choice. The ship and Kirk. Not her.
And then he'd left Starfleet. She'd had to really dig to find out where he'd gone. Some place where emotions were purged. Had she been purged?
And now he was back in Starfleet. Had he forgotten all about her as he got rid of those things that made him human? Or had he abandoned that place—Gol, she thought it was called—because he couldn't give up his emotions?
And had she been part of what he couldn't abandon?
Why couldn't she give up on him? All these years with no word from him, no hint of encouragement. Why did she still feel that somewhere, deep in the heart he would probably say he did not have, that he loved her?
"Did you see this?" Keri, her best friend on Saldisius, pushed a padd at her. "Is this why you signed up for the pilot program to put non-Starfleet experts onto starships?"
"What?" Leila took the padd and read it. There were science officer billets open on the Enterprise. There were never open billets on that ship. She looked up at Keri. "No, it's not. Openings? On this ship?"
"From what I understand from my friends in Starfleet, people are jumping ship or being moved. Maybe they don't like the odds of surviving under Kirk's command."
She found herself in the odd position of defending the man she often considered the destroyer of her happiness. "He saved us all from V'ger."
"Uh huh. He saved the quadrant and his ship, but not without some cost. Didn't the guy who was supposed to be captain die? I read something about that. Anyway, it's not Kirk you're interested in, is it?"
Leila could feel herself blushing. She'd told Keri a lot about Spock. Probably had gone on a little too much.
"Apply, Leila. Look, there's one for a botanist. You'll never know until you do. What if this is meant to be?"
Leila began to smile. "Meant to be. That sounds good."
"Of course it does. Go to him."
Leila stood up and hugged her friend. Keri was a hopeless romantic, and Leila loved her for it.
Chapel walked with Spock back to their quarters after another dinner. She'd managed to not look over to where Jim was sitting with Len, had made herself give all her attention to Spock.
They got to her quarters first. "Well, this is my stop." She met his eyes, saw that he looked a little conflicted. She moved closer. "We've had three dates. Do you know what that means?"
"I have enjoyed myself three times in your company?"
She laughed. "As have I. But no, that's not what I mean." She watched his face, unsure if he was looking at her so strangely because he wanted to get away from her or because he was horny. She decided to assume it was the latter. "It means we can have sex. We've done our due diligence and all that."
A ridiculous rule, in her opinion. Who was to say what the right number of dates was? With Roger, after flirting so long as his student, she'd gone to bed with him the night of their first real date. With Jim, she'd enjoyed two weeks of lunches and dinners and nights in bars across the planet before she decided he really was interested in her, not just any woman who would be his sex partner.
Neither of them had worked out in the long run: clearly, the amount of time you waited wasn't key.
"I would like to have sex." He said it so earnestly it made her smile.
"Would you like to have it in my quarters or yours?"
"Mine," he said without hesitation.
"Okay, but here's a little tip. If you go the woman's quarters, then you can get the hell out of there if it doesn't work out. Your quarters? Well, you're stuck until I decide to leave."
"Do you anticipate this not working out?"
She laughed softly. "No. I'm just giving you some free advice."
"My quarters, then." He took her elbow long enough to turn her down the corridor, to his quarters, where he palmed them in. Once the doors closed, he ran his finger down her cheek. "I have desired you for some time."
"Since your Pon Farr. Protesting against our natures and all that?"
"I could have been in real trouble that day, couldn't I? If I hadn't said the magic words: that we were heading to Vulcan. To her." She'd thought T'Pring was sure to be her worse nightmare. Spock's betrothed. The woman who held his heart, or so she'd imagined. But she hadn't.
It had been someone else who had. She saw again Leila's long blonde hair and willowy figure. Too much of that figure. She and Spock had been naked, making love, under a tree. So fucking pastoral.
But it had been the spores that had brought them together—that's what Chapel had always told herself. Because Spock had let Leila go once he was free. He didn't love her.
And he was here now. Telling Chapel he wanted her. He could have had anyone, but he'd asked her to dinner that night Jim had broken her heart. Was the timing a kick in the pants from the cosmos? Because she probably had needed one.
She reached for Spock, pulled him down for a long, tender kiss. Their kiss didn't stay tender for long. Spock really wanted her, and he made short work of their clothes, had her on his bed, kissing up and down her body, stopping wherever it felt especially good, until she was ready for him.
Then...there. They were together. She closed her eyes, then made herself open them. Brown eyes, not hazel. Black hair, not brown. "I love you," she said, but she didn't know who she was saying it to: the man who was inside her or the man who wasn't.
Kirk watched from the corner of the mess as Spock and Chris came in together. Again. This was the third time he'd seen them together this week.
Spock looked over, nodded to Kirk, and leaned in to say something to Chris. She looked Kirk's way, her expression one of stone, stone that turned to a smile as she looked back at Spock and pointed to a booth on the opposite side of the mess.
"Guess eating together is out," Kirk muttered as he tucked into his dinner. He watched as Chris leaned in, laughing softly at something Spock said.
Damn it all. Why did she have to go to his best friend? Or had Spock gone to her? He'd been awfully open after the meld with V'ger.
He should not care about this. He had let Chris go. He knew he couldn't have her.
But why could Spock, if that was the case? Because he was even more in her chain of command than Kirk was.
He finished his dinner, took the tray to the recycler, and walked over to their booth. He worked hard to keep his smile a real one, but focused on Spock, after giving her a nod. "Chess tonight?"
He saw Chris stiffen out of the corner of his eye. He ignored it.
"Yes, Jim. That would be pleasant."
"Wonderful." He turned to her. "You can watch. If you want to."
"I'd rather watch paint dry."
"I could arrange that. Scotty's doing some repairs on the bulkheads in auxiliary engineering. There's probably paint involved." He gave her the smile he knew she hated, the fake one, too broad, too contemptuous at the same time.
Her face was like stone again. "I'm sure I can make my own fun."
"I'm sure you can."
Spock seemed to be watching the two of them with some bemusement. Kirk was surprised. Had they not melded? Had she not told Spock she'd been involved with him?
"I will see you in an hour, Jim." Spock's voice was gentle—his peacemaking voice.
"Sounds good. Enjoy your dinner." He turned and walked out.
Petty. He was being so petty. On the other hand, he did miss their chess games. If he could disrupt Chris's time with Spock and get a chess game in the process, then that was just a double win in his book.
Spock lay in bed, listening to the soft sound of Christine breathing. He had rushed into this relationship with her. He had rushed in without first finding out what was between her and his best friend.
It bothered him immensely that neither Jim nor Christine had told him the truth. That they'd clearly been involved. He'd never seen them act the way they had at dinner tonight. So...nasty to each other. And yet there was something in their eyes when they looked at the other, when they thought he wasn't paying attention.
How stupid did they think he was?
And Christine had told him she'd been involved with someone on Earth, someone she loved. She just had conveniently left out that the man she loved was their captain and his best friend.
Was she using him to get back at Jim? Or to find some kind of solace that had nothing to do with Spock? Would any man have done?
He probably should have been more careful, but he had been enjoying getting to know her, had not questioned how quickly she'd gotten them from his invitation to dinner into bed. She'd loved him for a long time—he'd assumed it was normal for her to not want to wait to have sex. Human women were impulsive creatures; his father was always saying that.
And Spock himself had been impulsive, too overcome with the emotions V'ger had shaken loose in him to argue. He'd wanted her. She'd wanted him. They'd done something about it.
But had it been a mistake? Because she was still in love with Jim, and Spock thought it likely Jim was in love with her.
He eased out of bed, went to his desk, and began to go through his message queues. He had nothing in the personal one other than a note from his mother catching him up on the various activities of his father and her.
He moved to his work queue. Applications were coming in for the science postings currently open. He began to read through them, making comments for Jim, recommendations for a candidate or against. They would discuss them all once the application deadline was reached in a few days. Jim was generally swayed heavily by Spock's recommendations, especially when it came to staffing the science departments.
Spock opened the next application. He sat very still as he read the name on it.
Doctor Leila Kalomi.
He read through her qualifications. She had left Sandoval's project, worked on four very interesting programs since Spock had last seen her.
He sent it on to Jim, no recommendation this time, only a note saying, "I must recuse myself from this decision. However, her qualifications are impressive."
He turned off his terminal and got back into bed. Christine mumbled something in her sleep that sounded like "Jim," and then was quiet.
He tried not to see Leila's face, tried not to imagine how the years would have changed her. Tried not to remember what it had felt like to hold her, to kiss her.
He tried and failed.
Kirk was in his seat on the bridge, working through the list of recommendations Spock had sent him for the soon-to-be vacant science positions. He got to Kalomi's and stopped, reading Spock's note with surprise.
Spock had recused himself?
Kirk could feel a small smile growing and tried to bite it back. It was the smile he always got when he had an idea for how to get his way. The smile was, to be honest, a bit of a tell, and he'd worked hard to hide it while he was in the admiralty.
Chris had told him once it was a smile of contempt, the way one side of his mouth went up more than the other. He wasn't sure contempt was really the right emotion. Glee, perhaps? Anticipation of watching a plan come together or his well-articulated bullshit sway an opponent? He loved using his brains—he didn't always fuck or fight his way out of a bad situation, despite what his peers thought.
He knew the rumors. He hated the rumors. But he wasn't above using them when he needed to.
Spock left the science officer station and walked to the chair. His eyebrow went up as Kirk held up the padd so he could see what he was reading. "Ah. Yes."
"I'm afraid I can't let you recuse yourself entirely," he said softly. "What do you think?"
"She is extremely qualified. Her expertise and experience is well above the other botanists. She would, however, be on as a private contractor."
"Which Starfleet is experimenting with or she wouldn't have had access to the billet notices. Clearly she signed up to be part of the pilot program." Kirk pursed his lips as if he really had to think hard about this. "Have you talked to her? It's quite a different thing to be on a ship long term than a planet."
"Indeed. And no, I have not talked to her." Spock met his eyes. "My relationship with her is..."
"Complicated?" Kirk tried for his most sympathetic smile. "Believe me, I understand that."
"Yes, I imagine you do." There was something in Spock's voice that made Kirk look up at him in surprise. "Christine comes to mind."
Kirk took a quick look around the bridge. No one seemed to be paying attention to them, but that didn't mean they weren't. He didn't hire idiots who would be dumb enough to turn around when they were eavesdropping. "Let's table that discussion, okay?"
"As you wish."
"Well, we'll wait until we see what else comes in. I trust you'll tell me if a more qualified candidate manifests?"
"Of course." Spock sounded offended.
Good. Get him off balance so he wouldn't see what Kirk was doing.
Kalomi might be just what the doctor—only, not Bones, of course—ordered. And Kirk would be able to determine just how serious his friend was about Chris once Kalomi was on board. He very much doubted that a more qualified candidate would be presented to him even if he or she appeared.
He'd seen Spock with Kalomi, during and after the spores. He'd never seen Spock look the same way with Chris. Never seen that sense of loss, of hunger.
Kirk felt it, though. Every time he saw Chris and Spock together.
Spock would get his true love back, and Jim would get Chris, who might, of course, kill him for this little stunt.
He smiled. Knew it was that smile. The one that said, "Here we go, then."
Anything worth having was worth a little risk.
"Comm for you, Leila." Doctor Mandalore waved her into his office. "Take it in here if you want."
She got up and walked into his office, smiling at him as he closed the door. He was always so gallant. She knew it was because he wanted her, but she had a feeling he might still be gallant even if he didn't.
She sat down at his desk, was surprised to see Kirk on the other end of the comm. "Captain Kirk."
"Doctor Kalomi. I trust you are well. Spore free?" There was a definite tone of mockery in his voice. She didn't really understand why Spock felt so strongly for this man.
"I am, sir."
He looked surprised, probably at her use of the word "sir." "You're not on my ship yet, Doctor."
"I realize that, Captain. Yet here you are calling me. However, I'm surprised it's you. I expected Mister Spock to be part of the selection process—he is science officer, isn't he?"
"He is, but I'm afraid you're stuck with me." He seemed to be studying her, and she sat up straighter. "I'll be frank, Doctor. You put my entire ship at risk. Explain to me why I'd want you on my ship."
"You were under the influence of the spores for a short time, Captain. You know how hard they were to fight."
"They had to hit me twice to get me under their influence. And I got free rather quickly. So, no, I really don't know how hard they were to fight."
She sighed. "Look, if you've already decided against me, just tell me that and let me get back to my work here."
"That's the funny thing. I haven't decided that." He gave her a half smile, one side of his mouth going up. "Is there any reason you want to be on my ship other than Spock?"
She was surprised he'd put it so baldly. "Yes, sir. My experiments here have been extremely fruitful. But I'm...well, bored, I guess. I'm ready to move on and I've never served on a ship, obviously. But the idea of new places, new species of plants to catalog and study—it's more than appealing to me. It sounds like heaven. Since I once lived in paradise, I think you'll understand that I know what I'm talking about." She gave him the wryest smile she was capable of. She didn't want to fold in front of this man, but she knew a mea culpa was in order.
He smiled. This time a real smile. "And what if I told you that Mister Spock was transferring off the ship? Would you still want to come?"
"I would, of course, miss seeing him. As you know, I'm very fond of him. But yes, I'd still want to come. I put my name into the program because I wanted new experiences, not because I wanted to gain an old lover from it. And what were the odds that the Enterprise would even have billets open? But if I'm going to do this, why not on the best ship, under the best captain?"
"Next time you can stop with the best ship. That I'll buy." His smile was wry, like he knew she was aware she'd oversold the best captain part. "All right, Doctor. We'll pick you up at Starbase Eighteen in two weeks. Can you be ready by then?"
"I can. I told my supervisor I was putting in for the program. I've been finishing up quite a few of my projects here. I won't be leaving anyone in the lurch."
"Excellent. Welcome to my crew—so to speak. We'll have to work out how a civilian fits into the hierarchy here. I'm sure you'll have no trouble assimilating."
She thought that was a dig at her and the spores, but she forced herself not to react, instead gave him a luminous smile. "I'm very pleased to be selected."
"I'll tell Spock. I'm sure he'll be pleased you're coming on board."
"So he is not transferring off?"
"No. The woman he's seeing might be upset if he did." He smiled—an expression so innocent it had to be fake.
"I see. And I understand. I will be the consummate professional."
"Well, that's great. Travel light, Doctor. Our quarters don't hold much in the way of personal items."
"I always travel light, Captain. I find possessions are more a burden than a pleasure."
"How very Spartan of you. Kirk out." The screen went black.
She took a deep breath. She was going to be serving with Spock. After all these years.
But he was with someone. She took another deep breath, got up, and walked out to her station.
Keri came over, leaned in, and said, "Well?"
"Well, I'll be going."
Keri beamed and squeezed her shoulder, then went back to her station and left Leila in her half-happy, half-nervous daze.
Kirk didn't like her. That had been obvious during the short voyage when he'd ferried her and the other colonists from Omicron Ceti III to Starbase Twenty Seven. And it was evident now, as well. So why was he letting her come aboard?
Chapel was lazing in bed with Spock when his comm terminal went off.
"Kirk to Spock."
"Just wanted to let you know I've contacted Doctor Kalomi and informed her of her selection. We'll be picking her up in two weeks on Starbase Eighteen."
Chapel felt her good mood evaporating, stared pointedly at Spock and gave him a "What the fuck?" look that he ignored by turning his back to her.
"Yes, sir. Understood."
Was that his code that she was in his room? Sirring Jim?
"Wonderful. I know you recused yourself from her selection, but you'll have to bring her up to speed on how a ship works. I'm not totally on board with this civilians on a ship concept, but if it makes Nogura happy, then what the hell. Anything to keep the ship."
"Understood, sir." This time the "sir" was even more pointed.
"Great. I'll let you get back to your evening. Kirk out." Jim was clearly not hearing Spock's discomfort—or maybe he was. Maybe he knew exactly what he was doing?
Chapel lay back and stared angrily at the ceiling.
"Christine, I can explain."
"The mere fact that you have to start the conversation with those words says you should have explained it long before now." She pulled the covers over her; nakedness suddenly translated to vulnerability. "Leila Kalomi is going to be working on this ship? We don't have any decent fleet botanists?"
"None that applied. She was the best choice." He leaned in, stroked her hair back. "I recused myself from the decision process."
"Yeah, I heard that part. But you get to handle her orientation. Joy." She rolled to her side away from him. "Just break up with me quickly, okay? It's been fun, Christine, but you're really not for me blah blah blah."
"I have no regrets, Christine." He gently rolled her to her back. "I am not seeking to end our relationship."
She studied his face. Something was off. He might not be seeking it now, but what about once he'd spent time with Leila? Time Jim had ordered him to spend with her. "God damn him."
"Him?" Spock's voice was disapproving. "Are you perhaps referring to Jim? When did you plan to tell me that he was the one you were seeing on Earth?"
Oh shit. "Did he say something?"
"He did not have to. Neither of you are particularly subtle."
She closed her eyes. "It's not what you think."
"Is it not? You were in love with him. You had to leave him on Earth. Then he got the ship back. That night you were upset, when I first asked you to dinner—he had just ended your relationship, hadn't he? I am quite familiar with his rule about not sleeping with crew."
She let out a slow breath, finally nodded.
"Why could you not trust me with that, Christine? Why couldn't he?"
"It's over. What difference does it make? Now he just wants to make me hurt." She pushed him away from her. "And when did this get to be about me and him? We were talking about the lovely Leila." She loaded her voice with sarcasm. "You remember her, right? The woman who made you swing from trees?"
"I did not realize you saw that."
"Oh, I saw a lot." She wanted to get up and get dressed and storm out. But if she did, then Jim would win. Spock would be with Leila, and Chapel would be left with nothing.
She stayed where she was, finally pulled Spock down for a kiss, murmuring an insincere, "I'm sorry."
He didn't seem to notice that she really didn't mean it. He kissed her for a long time before making love to her, and for the first time, she didn't worry over who she was thinking about as he moved inside her, but who he was.
Kirk was sitting in the mess, eating breakfast, and was not at all surprised to see Chris striding across the room straight to his booth. "Good morning, darling," he said in what was only a moderately snotty tone.
"Don't 'darling' me. I can't believe you're bringing her aboard."
"Were you in the room when I commed? Why couldn't Spock just have said, 'Christine is here'? Would have been so much simpler." He smiled at her, the mock smile he knew she hated.
"Why are you being such an ass?"
"By hiring the best qualified botanist who applied? By making Starfleet brass happy with me because I'm buying into their civilian specialist on starships idea? Not an ass, I'm afraid. Just trying to be fair, play nice, and keep my ship."
She let out a sound that he decided was mostly anger but also some bit of disbelief. "Fair? Nice?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Did you want to make this personal? Look, if you can't keep Spock, that's not my problem."
"Why are you doing this? You didn't want me." She sounded so hurt he wanted to reach for her.
"I did want you. I still do. Wanting is not the problem."
"No, your stupid damn rule is."
A rule he was going to throw out the window as soon as Chris was free of Spock. But that would take some time. Spock would try to be honorable. Kirk could wait. And he wasn't going to tell Chris his rule was about to be abandoned. She needed to like him again before she could love him.
"We were friends before we were lovers, Chris. I'd like us to be that again."
"You just hired Spock's ex-flame."
"He had a hand in that. He recused himself from the process, but he flagged her file. He could have just...made it disappear."
"He wouldn't do that."
"If you say so. At any rate, he didn't argue with me when I said we'd go with her. Didn't find me an alternative."
She took a deep breath. "You're going to destroy us. I find a little happiness and what? You can't stand it?"
He couldn't stand it. Not when he wanted her back. But he wasn't going to say that. "Can we try to be friends? I'm here for you, all right? The way we were back on Earth before we took things beyond friendship."
"I think I might hate you."
"Fine, hate me, Chris. But I picked the most qualified person." That, at least, was true. She was also the most likely to blow Spock and Chris's relationship right out of the water. Win, win. "Go get some breakfast. Eat with me. Let's try to find something of what we had, okay?"
"Before you ruined it, you mean?"
"I would never count my time with you as ruined. Never, Chris." He held her eyes far longer than he might have usually, willing her to want to be with him.
She finally sighed and said, "Do you want a refill on that coffee?"
He nodded and grinned.
"Don't smile like that. You know I can't resist that one."
He turned it up a notch higher.
"Keep that up and you'll be wearing your coffee."
He laughed and let the grin die down. "I've missed you so much. We had fun, Chris."
"I know." Her voice was lost again; it was all he could do to not get up and hold her.
"Go get your food." He watched her as she went through the line, feeling bad, but not bad enough to abandon Operation Get Chris Back.
Spock waited in a conference room on Starbase Eighteen. Two of the three people that were reporting for duty were here—the two Fleet officers. Leila was not.
She was not however late. Just not early. He knew civilians often had less of a sense of urgency when it came to meeting start times.
The door opened, and she walked in. He nodded to a chair, turned back to the others as she got settled. But even that short look had been enough to see she was as beautiful now as when he'd said goodbye to her at Starbase Twenty Seven. Older, of course, but the years didn't show on her in a negative way.
He gave his standard introduction to the new science crew, then indicated they should report to the transporter room to beam over to the Enterprise.
He did not mean to slow his walk so that he fell behind the two officers while Leila stayed at his pace. He did not mean to turn to her and ask, 'You are well?" when he had paid no such attention to the other two.
He did not mean to enjoy the way she smiled at him, her murmured, "I am. And you?" Her voice was still so gentle. He had always found that appealing.
"I am well."
"Your captain told me you were with someone. I believe he was warning me off."
Spock held back a frown; Jim had done that? "He is our captain now, Doctor."
"Of course." She was smiling. "You did not address the other part of my statement."
"I am with someone, yes."
"Happily?" She had the teasing look he remembered from Earth. He had not seen it much after Omicron Ceti III.
"Happy is an emotion."
"Not a ringing endorsement." She held up a hand when he started to speak. "It is none of my business, Spock. I'm not here for you. I'm here for me. For my career."
"Of course." He should honor that. Should find an excuse not to walk with her. To perhaps pick out something for Christine at the candy shop—what kind of candy did she prefer?
Leila enjoyed truffles. He remembered that from the time they had spent together on Earth.
Jim no doubt knew what kind of candy Christine preferred.
He realized Leila had said something and he had not heard her. "I beg pardon."
"It's all right. I was just asking if I would be working with you directly."
"There is a department chief who will be your direct supervisor. I will be ensuring your smooth assimilation into crew life, however."
"Good. I trust you."
He almost frowned. Why had Jim assigned him this task? A human would have been much better suited, might anticipate the mistakes a human civilian would make. Doctor McCoy for instance. Although he often flouted the rules.
Mister Sulu, then. He was an exemplary officer. Although given how taken he had always seemed with Yeoman Rand, perhaps Leila would be better placed with someone who did not appear to prefer blondes.
She was laughing, and he turned to her, eyebrow raised.
"I have never known you to be so distracted, Spock."
"Again, I beg pardon."
"If it's my presence making you so preoccupied, please relax. I'm not here to make trouble for you. I am glad to see you, though. I've missed you."
"And I have missed you." The words were true, but as they left his mouth, Spock knew he should have held them back. He was giving Leila too much. It was not proper: he was with Christine.
"Then we will be friends, Spock. We can do that. And you will help me do well on your friend's ship. He doesn't like me."
"He selected you."
"I know. I just don't know why." She smiled again, the lovely, luminous smile he'd never forgotten. "Do you?"
"You were the most qualified." He forced his eyes away. "We should catch up with the others."
"Yes," she said, "we no doubt should."
Leila made her way down the corridor, still unsure of her bearings on this ship where all the hallways looked the same. Fortunately, sweet Starfleet men—and a few women—were more than willing to help her find her way to wherever she needed to go.
A Lieutenant Chekov—Pavel, he had told her to call him—who had helped her the day before stopped and smiled at her. "Are you lost again, Leila?"
"I'm trying to get to the mess hall."
He grinned. "That is nowhere near where I am headed, but I think this security monthly report can wait a few minutes for a damsel in distress."
"You're very kind."
He turned them so they were headed back the way she'd come. "I'm also not busy tomorrow night. Have you been to the recreation lounge yet?"
"I have. It's very..." She wasn't sure how to describe the atmosphere. Cliquish, perhaps?
"Not very friendly? Give them time. The women are jealous and the men are dumbstruck by your beauty." He grinned again, making his words more a small joke than painful truth. "I am immune. So I should escort you and introduce you, don't you agree?"
She laughed and smiled in her most noncommittal way. It was the best way to handle these sorts of men who were sweet but likely to swoop if they saw the first little opening.
"The mess, my lady." He bowed her toward a room she recognized.
She saw Spock coming down the hall, a tall brunette with him. "Who is that with Mister Spock, Pavel?"
"That is Doctor Chapel. Our deputy Chief Medical Officer. I guess you did not see her when you checked in?"
"No, I saw that nice Doctor McCoy."
"Doctor Chapel can be nice." He didn't sound entirely convinced of that.
"I see. She and Spock are...?"
He looked uncomfortable, and she realized she'd gone too far—either he was disappointed in her interest in Spock or he was very loyal and didn't want to tell tales on him or this Chapel woman. "I will let you go, Leila. Think about tomorrow night." He held up the padd he was holding. "These reports won't wait much longer."
And she was alone, in the hall, with fleet personnel all around her, and her ex love walking toward her with a woman whose expression changed as she saw her.
Leila didn't have to wonder anymore what Chapel's role was in Spock's life—Chapel's look said it all.
She ignored Chapel, smiled winningly at Spock. "Hello."
"Doctor Kalomi. I trust you are settling in?"
"I get lost a lot." She smiled at Chapel. "I don't know how you tell these corridors apart."
Leila was surprised. That wasn't as sharp an answer as she expected. "I guess I'll get better at it, then."
"I'm sure you will. They wouldn't have selected you for duty on the Enterprise if you were too dumb to find your way around the ship."
Okay, that was more what Leila had expected. "We haven't formally met." She held her hand out. "I'm Doctor Leila Kalomi."
Chapel took her hand, her handshake firm—really firm. "Doctor Christine Chapel."
"Yes, Lieutenant Chekov said. You are a medical doctor." She managed to load a world of disdain into the word medical, but smiled sweetly.
"I have a doctorate in biochem, as well." Chapel moved closer to Spock. "So, he's not slumming if that's what you were implying."
"Christine." Spock looked very uncomfortable.
"I wasn't implying anything of the sort. Just trying to sort out who's who."
"Ah, yes, always confusing when you're new. I've been on this ship a long time—it's hard to remember being so...green. I guess you could say I know where the bodies are buried." Chapel's smile was a grim one.
Leila took that to mean she was not going to share any of this insider information with her. Or possibly that she'd like her to be one of those bodies. "How fortunate for you. I was that way with Doctor Sandoval's project since I had been on it so long."
"The project that went nowhere? Were you instrumental in that?"
Leila had a feeling no matter which way she went in defending herself, Chapel would have another dig ready. So she settled for laughing softly. "I'm keeping you two from your lunch. And we're all busy. Please." She gestured for them to go into the mess.
Chapel gave her an assessing look. "Visitors first."
"She is not a visitor, Christine. She is crew."
Leila tried not to let any triumph show in her expression. "Still so gallant, Mister Spock."
Chapel's mouth grew very tight. She met Leila's eyes, the look that passed between them one of clear understanding—and utter dislike.
"Are you eating here? We could share a table." Leila knew she was pushing it, but she thought she could only benefit by being next to this woman. She wasn't half as pretty as Leila. Bright but sharp—and Leila thought Spock liked his women softer. Maybe Chapel had once been soft? Leila would have to ask Spock about that...carefully.
"Sorry, today we're on the grab and go plan," Chapel said.
Spock looked torn, finally nodded and said, "Yes, as she said."
"Well, look at this."
Leila turned, saw the captain coming up behind them. "Sir."
"One big happy family. Chris, can I borrow you for a moment?"
"Mmm hmmm." He grinned at Spock. "You don't mind, do you? Bones isn't in sickbay right now, so I need to steal her."
Leila saw something in Spock's expression. Hurt, she thought. Or possibly a little bit of anger.
But he only said, "Jim, it is your ship."
"Doctor." Kirk managed to get Chapel out of there in a way that did not strike Leila as strictly professional.
"They are friends?"
"Yes." Spock's voice was very tight.
"I would prefer not to gossip about my friends."
"Friend? Is that all the doctor is to you?" She smiled playfully. "I got a distinctly different idea."
"Fine. Will you eat with me at least? I don't know many people yet. I'm tired of eating alone."
His expression softened. "Of course."
"What the hell was that?" Chapel wanted to throw Jim against a bulkhead—repeatedly. "Do you even really need anything?"
"I do." He passed her a padd. "I couldn't say why I needed it. And Bones is in sickbay, so don't give me shit once you see him there. But you did the scans on Ilia, and I know you've been working with them ever since. Starfleet is very interested in whatever you've been doing. Interested in a good way. The V'ger android was extremely advanced. I think they're looking to include some of the tech in their own models."
"Good luck with that. The schematics are incredibly complex. She was the biomechanical equivalent of a living being, with systems just as delicate and tricky. Working strictly from scans is not helping—if only we could have kept her with us..."
"She wanted to merge with Decker, remember?"
"I do. How can I forget?" She sighed. "I'm sorry I overreacted. Just seeing Kalomi there, in the hall, all helpless poor civilian."
Jim laughed. "You were a former civilian once. When you talked me into letting you on my ship you'd only been in Starfleet a month. I found you lost in the corridors more than once."
He laughed again. "Don't hold back, Chris. The fact that I'm the captain doesn't mean you can't tell me what you really think." He laughed again, almost silently, his shoulders moving, small expulsions of air that told her he was really amused. He'd laughed that way with her when they were alone on Earth, and she'd been smitten. He was so...open when he did that. "Seriously, though. Why are you even letting her bother you?"
"I didn't appreciate her snotty sweetness—you missed most of that. 'Oh, are you a medical doctor?'"
"Good impression. Can you do me?"
She rolled her eyes. "You know I can." She started to laugh, had to stop smiling before she could go, "Chris, I...need you to get-me-those-schematics." She didn't take a breath between the last words.
"I do not sound like that."
"We are doomed to disagree. Let's go back to talking shit about Kalomi."
"It's not that. It's just that I hate the butter wouldn't melt in her mouth crap. No one is that sweet. And she's so damn pretty. How do I compete with that?"
"You don't have to. You've got fire. She's boring."
He sounded completely sincere. She turned to look at him as they got in the lift.
He smiled—the look was more tender than she expected. "And you're damned easy on the eyes yourself."
"Spock looks at her a certain way."
"I know. That's going to drive you nuts, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it probably is." She leaned up against him for a moment, wanting to feel what they used to have, the solidity of him, the support—both physical and emotional—he always gave her.
Until he kicked her to the curb.
"For what it's worth, Chris, I look at you a certain way." His eyes were soft, as if he was trying to show her. "Spock knows about us."
"I know. How do you? Did he ask you or did you volunteer?"
"He brought it up once. Hasn't revisited it, though. Thought maybe he was so happy he didn't want—or need—to." He leaned against her, his arm warm against hers. "Is he happy? Are you?"
"None of your goddamned business."
The lift door opened and she hurried out, heard him coming behind her, but not rushing.
She turned so she was walking backwards and studied him.
He was smiling at her so sweetly.
"I miss you, Chris."
"Well, that's your own damn fault." She turned around, and he caught up with her.
They walked the rest of the way to sickbay in silence.
Spock watched as Leila went about her duties on the landing party, taking samples of flora on this moon previously deemed unsuitable, but now that V'ger had taken out so many facilities, was being given another look.
It had been a week since Christine and he had run into Leila at the mess. His evening with Christine had not been pleasant once she'd found out he'd stayed to eat with Leila.
Had she really thought he would leave Leila alone in the mess? The polite thing—the collegial thing—was to stay. Why could she not see that?
Especially when it had been Jim who had called her away. Had she looked happy to see him? Happier than perhaps was seemly for someone who was ostensibly in love with Spock?
"You seem troubled." Leila had moved close to him, but was still working, taking readings of the plants near him. "Can I help?"
"No." He realized that had come out too bluntly, so he tried again. "It is nothing."
Which was a lie. It was very much something. He was with a woman who was annoyed—was that a strong enough word to cover how Christine felt about Leila?—with him, and the person at issue was someone he was finding it very hard to exclude from his life.
Moreover, he did not want to.
She smiled in a playful way. "If it's nothing but it's bothering you, then it must be a relationship issue. May I ask you something personal?"
"You always have in the past."
"Have you known Doctor Chapel long?"
"I have." He thought about that. "During the last mission, she was a nurse."
"A nurse? So she was lying about her doctorate? Or did she get it at the same time as her M.D?"
"Neither. She had her doctorate when her fiancé disappeared. She decided to look for him, and Starfleet seemed her best option. She convinced Jim to give her a spot on the nursing staff and took an accelerated course in that—she is quite gifted."
"The captain likes her, then?"
"Very much. We have covered this ground, Leila." It was astonishing how easy it was to fall into their old patterns from Earth. She probing, he deflecting.
She smiled. "Were you involved with her then? When she was a nurse?"
"No. But she was interested in me."
"And you? Were you interested in her?" She looked over her shoulder at him, then turned back to her plants. The sun was shining on her hair, turning it a flaxen that glowed in the light.
"I was intrigued."
"Intrigued is a one-night stand, Spock, not a relationship." She took a deep breath, looking around as if surveying the scenery. "This reminds me of Thalusa. I went there after I left Sandoval's project. It was not a nice place. There are times I very much miss Omicron Ceti III."
"Surely not having your will taken away from you? Following the desires of the spores?"
"Was it so bad?" She smiled. "You never gave Doctor Chapel a thought when you were hit by the spores. You could only think of me, Spock."
He felt as though they'd moved from mildly dangerous ground to a minefield. "I will let you work, Doctor."
"That's right. Leave once it gets uncomfortable."
He turned and studied her. "Are you trying to interfere with my relationship with Christine?"
"I wasn't going to. But I don't like her, and I don't think you really do, either. So yes, I think I might be."
He knew he was frowning slightly but found himself unable to stop, so he turned on his heel and walked off to check the other members of the landing party.
Chapel hated that she was headed for the science lab. Hated that she was doing it not because she had an experiment to get to, but to see if Spock was with Leila.
She should turn back. Now.
She kept going. Leila had set up some botany experiment in lab eight. Spock had started to explain it to Chapel weeks ago, but she'd waved him off. It made her angry that he knew what Leila was up to. It made her even angrier that Spock had seemed to be defending her when Chapel had only inquired why he had moved his stuff to the same lab.
It was a damned good question. He'd never answered it.
She got to the door of lab eight, walked in before she could second-guess herself. No Spock.
Leila was there, though. She looked up and gave Chapel a smile that was in no way real. "Christine."
Chapel felt her jaw tighten. She'd never told Leila to call her by her first name. "Doctor Kalomi."
"Why so formal? Leonard let's me call him by his first name. Pavel as well."
"And Jim? I don't see you calling him anything but sir."
"Unlike you, you mean?" Leila's smile grew nastier. "You and he are so good together. Your personalities so...compatible."
Spock had told Chapel that Leila didn't seem to like Jim, so she knew that last bit had been a slap. She decided not to respond.
"Were you looking for Spock?" Leila asked.
"Yep." She could lie, but why? She had no other reason to be in this lab. Her project was in lab four.
"He was here. He's not now."
"You can go now. You've satisfied your curiosity—or is it jealousy?" Leila smiled in her fake sweet way and went back to her work.
But she was jiggling her knee. Chapel frowned. Did she want her to leave?
"You know this is a great lab. It's always been one of my favorites." Chapel moved out of the way of the door, took a seat at a table in the corner. "Always so private and quiet."
The jiggling got faster.
Chapel smiled. "Gotcha," she murmured, causing Leila to look up.
The door opened, Spock walked in, with a tray that he took to Leila, even as she was clearly trying to warn him that Chapel was in the room. He seemed oblivious. "I could not find the soup you asked for, so I ordered chicken noodle. You used to enjoy that on Earth."
Chapel coughed softly.
She had to give him credit. He did not whirl around the way she probably would have if he'd caught her bringing Jim food.
He turned slowly, lifting an eyebrow. "Hello, Christine."
"Hello, lover." She stood and walked over, studying the tray. Just enough for one, at least he hadn't planned to eat with her. She reached over and took the cookie Spock had put on a small plate, taking a bite, then putting it back on the plate. "Yum."
With a hard look at Spock, she walked out.
He was not far behind her. "That was somewhat rude, Christine."
"No, that was very rude. And I enjoyed the hell out of it." She held up a hand as he started to say something else. "In my quarters. I am not having an argument in the middle of the corridor."
He wisely shut up. But as soon as the door to her quarters closed, he said, "You have no need to be jealous."
"I'm angry, Spock. I am, in fact, furious. Not because you're with her, but because you told me you had work to do, reports to finish. You lied to me."
He looked down. "I did have reports. I finished them, and Leila had a question about something she had found. She wanted my opinion."
"Of course she did. And then she wanted a meal?"
"She had not eaten. What would you have had me do?"
She laughed softly. "You're right. Go do whatever the fuck you want. I can't deal with you right now."
"Really, Spock. Go get her another goddamn cookie. I'm sure she'll appreciate it." She pointed to the door. "Get. Out."
He looked unsure, and she met his eyes, could tell that she was getting across how livid she was because he turned and walked out without another word.
She sat down slowly at her desk, mad as hell, and looked at her shaking hands. Then she got up and walked out, down to the rec lounge.
She needed a drink. She needed a strong one. Possibly more than one.
Kirk was sitting in the rec lounge with Sulu and Scotty when he saw Chris come in—she looked like she wanted to kill someone. "Excuse me, gentleman."
He walked over to her, heard her order a scotch, single malt, and he caught the bartender's eyes. "Give her some from my stash."
"What's in your stash these days?" she asked.
"Eighteen-year-old Glenfiddich. That okay?"
She nodded. Took a healthy drink of it once the bartender put the glass down.
Kirk took the stool next to her but sat facing out so he could see the room. "What's the problem?"
"You know damn well what the problem is."
"Ah. Five foot seven, blonde hair, blue eyes."
"You got it." She waved the bartender back. "Fill him up again. And me too." She threw back the scotch and pushed the glass away from her.
"If you're going to drink like that, I'll buy you rock gut. My stuff is too good to not savor."
"Sorry. And I know you're right. I'm just angry."
"I never would have guessed." He turned so they were both facing inward. "He's yours to lose."
"I don't think so, Jim. I think he's hers to take." She swallowed hard.
"Are you mad because you love him or because you hate to lose?"
"Fuck you." She said it very softly, and he smiled at how she could moderate her anger in public. She never lost sight of how to behave, and he loved that about her.
"Oh, if only." He leaned in and took the glasses the bartender brought them. "Come on. Let's go find more comfortable seats."
She didn't argue, so he led her to a corner table way in the back of the lounge. He put their drinks down, sat in one of the cushy chairs that filled this end of the room. It was designed to be a place for quiet talks, for getting some distance from the dance floor and people playing games.
"I ate her cookie," she said as she took the seat next to him.
He started to laugh. "What?"
She laughed, too. "I was mad. Spock brought her a dinner tray, and I caught him. So I took her peanut butter cookie right off her plate and bit into it and then put it back."'
He laughed harder. "You don't even like peanut butter."
"I know. I was angry. She was taking my man, so I took her cookie."
"And then gave it back with your cooties on it. That's the best part." He shook his head. "I told you: you have fire. She doesn't. I bet she just sat there, right?"
"Well, really? What do you do when someone does that?"
He made a considering face. "I know what I'd have done. What about you?"
"I would have picked the cookie up with my napkin as if it was a biohazard and walked it over to the recycler. Then I'd have disinfected my hands."
"What would you have done?"
"Possibly that. Or maybe crammed it down her throat with a 'Here, if you want it so bad, finish it.' Would have depended on the circumstances."
"I'd be in the brig if I did the latter. Assaulting a fellow officer is a court-martial offense."
"She's not an officer." He winked.
"Oh, yeah." Her smile faded and she stared down at her drink. "He loved her, didn't he?"
"Yes, I think he did. The question is does he still?"
She nodded. "We've never talked about what I was doing on Omicron Ceti III, while you were on the ship and Spock was on Leila."
He smiled at her phrasing. "No, we never have."
"I was spored up, happy as could be, and I saw them. Spock and her. Making love under a tree." She met his eyes. "It hurt. It hurt so bad it knocked me free of the spores. But everyone was...lost. Lost but happy and of no help to me. I looked for you. I knew you'd fight it. I saw that when we were on Exo III—that you'd never give up. But the spores got me before I could find a communicator. And then I was fine because I didn't see Spock and Leila together again."
"I had Spock beam up to the ship."
"And Leila on her own wouldn't have made me upset enough to throw off the spores." She swallowed hard. "He does still love her, Jim."
"Are you sure? Sometimes things from our past seem better simply because we couldn't have them. He's fond of saying: having is not so satisfying a thing as wanting."
"I think that applies to me, not her." She laughed, bitterly. "So what's wrong with me? I liked having him." She looked down. "I liked having you, too." She shook her head, gave another bitter laugh. "I think he'll like having her. Especially after Gol. No regrets. That's what he told me just before she showed up. I thought it meant he didn't regret choosing me, but now I think it means he's scratched his itch when it comes to me. Now he can move on. To the one he really wants."
"Has he told you he wants to call it quits?"
"No. I'm sure he's considering the best way to do that. The least...embarrassing way for him."
"Don't borrow trouble, Chris. He's the science officer, and she's a new person in the science department. And they're old friends. It makes sense that they'd spend time together. It doesn't have to mean he's cheating."
"It doesn't have to mean he's not."
"You're here with me. Are we cheating?"
She met his eyes. "I came here figuring you'd be here."
He smiled. "I don't mind that."
"Just like I'm sure Leila doesn't mind when he visits her." She closed her eyes. "Let's not talk about them. Tell me something good. Tell me something that will make me smile."
"I love you."
She opened her eyes and met his gaze. He didn't smile, didn't try any of his tricks. He wanted her to see that he meant it. He'd never said it to her before.
"Oh, Jim, you exhaust me." She pushed her glass at him. "Here, finish this. I'm done for the night. Thank you for the ear."
She got up and walked out. He watched her until the doors closed behind her.
Spock checked in with the other landing parties on the world they were surveying. He found it fascinating that lately whenever a landing party needed a botanist, Jim assigned Leila. And then he inevitably bowed out of leading it and left it to Spock.
And Christine was never included.
Spock heard Leila's soft steps and turned to look at her as he finished comming the other team leads. "Is something wrong?" he asked her.
"No. I'm just enjoying having you all to myself."
He resisted telling her she did not have him all to herself when there were eight others on their team; he knew what she was really saying: without Christine.
"Do you love her, Spock?" She didn't look away, her eyes were soft, as if she had not just started a conversation he thought would destroy what he and Christine had.
But what did they have? Lies. She had come to him without telling him about her previous involvement with Jim. Spock was still not certain if she had accepted his invitation to dinner because she'd wanted to spend time with him or because she'd wanted to get back at Jim.
He did not have to ask himself why Leila sought him out.
"I'm sorry, Spock. It's none of my business." She turned to go.
"I do not love her the way I love you." Such a horrible admission. Such a dangerous one. And yet the truth.
She stopped. "Oh?" She looked back at him. "Then why are you with her and not with me?"
"A most excellent question."
"Are you afraid to leave her alone?"
"She will not be alone long." He realized that was true. Jim would take her back.
Why could Jim not just talk to him about this? Why steal his woman back?
"I am tired of sleeping alone, Spock. Pavel is quite insistent that I go out with him. Should I do that?"
"No." The answer was out before he could stop it. Not that he wanted to stop it, but he would have liked to have considered his words more fully, not just blurted out the first thing he felt.
"I have work to do. Plants to catalog." She smiled. "About that sleeping alone. Will I see you tonight?"
"Yes." It was the wrong thing to say and yet it was the only thing he could say. Christine would be fine. She would be angry. But she had seen this coming. Her actions in the lab several weeks ago had made that clear.
He wondered if she had realized they could be seen in two ways. Taking the cookie was certainly territorial, and he thought that was how she'd meant it. But she gave the cookie back, only took a bite of it. Had she realized the cookie could stand for him? That she would only have him for a short time and then give him back to the woman he was meant to be with?
Or perhaps he was overthinking this. Perhaps he did not want to admit that he wanted out of their relationship and was willing to see hidden messages in baked goods.
"We never had a chance to be together like this. Normal. Everyday." She looked around as if to make sure they were alone, then touched his hand.
The touch sent a wave of fire through him. He wanted this woman. He loved this woman. He had always loved her.
He would do whatever it took to get her.
Chapel was in her office, heard footsteps that stopped at her office door.
Spock. Wearing a certain look. After yet another mission with Leila.
"May I come in?" he asked. "We need to talk."
She laughed. Did he have no idea that nothing good started with "We need to talk"? "It's over, isn't it?"
He looked as if he'd wanted to say it differently, wanted to control it—probably wanted to be the good guy here. Maybe tell her how she was in love with Jim. How unfair that had been to him.
He didn't need to. She'd thought of those things already.
"Spock, just say it. It's over."
"It is over."
"I wish the two of you all the best." She tried not to let her anger flow into those words. Tried to put some semblance of sincerity into them.
"If you ever have need of me..."
"Right. Got it. Go, now. I've got work to do."
"I am sorry." He did look slightly miserable.
"Get the fuck out, Spock. What the hell am I supposed to do with 'I'm sorry'?"
He turned and walked out, and the look on his face as he did it was relieved.
Her last gift to him. She'd be the mean one, the bad guy, so he wouldn't have to be.
She forced herself to work on reports that required zero creativity until her shift was over. Then she headed for the lounge, pledging fealty to whatever god would keep Spock and Leila out of there.
They weren't in the lounge, but Jim sat at the bar, facing the door, and he smiled—a grim, if triumphant smile—when she walked in.
She walked over to him and slid onto the stool next to him. She wanted to take his drink and pour it over his head, but he was her captain—and besides, it was against her religion to waste good booze that way, not to mention that she'd no doubt have to treat him for burned eyes.
"I saw them together in the mess hall just before I came in here, Chris. I'm sorry."
"I hate you."
"Save it for later—in my quarters. Right now we are going to have a drink and talk and laugh, and no one will guess that you are the least bit upset over what Spock and Ms. Kalomi are up to." He waved the bartender over. "The lady will have champagne, the good kind, from my stash."
"Champagne is for a celebration, Jim."
"Yes, it is." He looked at her, his eyes surprisingly gentle. "And we never had one. I never let us have one."
She nodded at the bartender, and he went to the other side of the bar, uncorked a bottle just for her. "I still hate you, Jim."
"You should still save that sentiment for later. We're saving face, remember?" He smiled at the bartender as he set the glass of bubbly down in front of her, then lifted his glass. "To being together when we thought we wouldn't be."
"Being together at this bar?"
He shook his head.
"Being together on your goddamned ship?"
"Do not insult my ship. And no, that's not what I mean." He sipped his scotch. "Together together."
"Because you think I'll just run from him to you?"
He shrugged in a really annoying way, and she toyed with throwing her drink at him—champagne would burn a lot less than scotch.
"Whatever you're thinking about, I don't believe I like it."
"I'm picturing you wearing this champagne." She took a sip. Holy God, it was good. "What is this?"
"Dom Perignon. I stocked up at Starbase Eighteen."
"When we picked up Leila."
"Just exactly." He met her eyes, his own dead serious, no grin in evidence.
"You planned this. You knew he'd dump me for her."
He nodded and took another sip. "Although she was the most qualified for the posting. I wouldn't risk the ship—could no doubt have come up with another way to win you back."
"I hate you."
"No, you don't. And for what it's worth, I think he's an idiot for leaving you for her. But he's always had a thing for sweet blondes."
"Other than me."
"Well, you're not that sweet." He smiled and reached over, touching her hair. "Maybe he suspected you weren't really a blonde. Was afraid of the brunette within." He pulled his hand away slowly. "She was the one he could never have, Chris. Believe me, as I watched you with him, I understood what that was like because I was feeling it about you. And I decided to see if I could do something about it. Stealing you outright wasn't going to work. You were too mad, and I didn't want to do that to him. So I gave him something he wanted more than you."
She sipped her champagne and stared down at the bar.
He leaned in. "I love you. I never said it on Earth because you were leaving. And then I had my rule. But now I don't care about my rule. I want you. I got you cut loose. And now I'm claiming you. In front of everyone here."
She looked around. Everyone here wasn't paying them the least bit of attention. Even the bartender was at the other end of the bar, wiping down glasses. But she understood what he was saying.
They drank in silence for a while, then he said, very gently, "Are you okay?"
"I am. I guess. But why did she have to be so goddamn pretty?"
"She is easy on the eyes. She's not you, though. I know who I'd pick." He smiled as someone put music on. "Perfect. Dance with me. We'll put paid on this thing and go back to my quarters."
"What if I don't want to go back to your quarters? What if I want to get the hell off this ship?"
"Then I'll let you go. And I'll write you an excellent recommendation. But I don't want you to go. I want you to stay, here, with me. Be mine." He slid off the stool, held his hand out to her. "Dance with me?"
"I fucking hate you, Jim."
"I take it that's a yes, then." He grinned as she took his hand and let him ease her off the stool.
"You're horrible," she said as they settled into the dance, as he slid his hand down her back, nearly to her rear, as he pulled her closer than the dance technically called for. "This is all your fault."
"I agree on both counts. I was an idiot. And I missed you. Badly. I think I proved with Decker that I'll do whatever it takes to get my girl back."
"That you did." She sighed, trying not to let him know how good this felt. She loved dancing. Spock never danced. She and Jim had danced so much on Earth. "I don't know whether to be angry or flattered."
"I think both is fine." He pulled back and grinned at her.
She was helpless in the face of that smile. "God damn you."
He laughed and spun her around, making enough of a show of them that people would look.
"You really want them to know, don't you?"
"I didn't go to all this work to sneak around once I got you. Yes, I want them to know."
"But...you used to care so much about that damn rule."
"I know. Past tense. Used to care. And the crew seeing us together won't matter. Some on the crew already hate me because they were Decker's people. Others will root for us. Some may not care, period." He stroked her hair. "Think I'm making my point?"
"Think we can go now?"
She shook her head and his smile died.
"You're that mad?"
"No, you don't get a one and done with me, Captain. You dance with me until I'm sick of it. You dance with me until my friends come in and see us." She'd like to say until Spock and Leila came in, but she had a feeling they were otherwise engaged in one or the other's quarters. "You woo me until I'm not mad at you anymore. And I am not going back to your quarters tonight. Or tomorrow night. Or maybe even next week. You want me back? Then win me back."
His smile lit up. "I can do that." He ran his hands over her back, murmured, "Everything's going to be all right now."
"For you, maybe. What if I was happy?"
He kissed her cheek, a short touch loaded with affection. "You weren't. But you got him out of your system, so that's good."
"Your ego could power this ship, Jim. Jesus."
"Well, yes, probably true." He moved his lips to her ear, murmured softly, "I hated seeing you with Spock. I felt torn up inside every time you touched his arm the way you would. The way you'd look at him when you were ready to call it a night, and I knew he would get to go to bed with you. He's my best friend, and I hated him. My ego took a beating—it wouldn't have powered an emergency handlight—because I honestly wasn't sure I could get you away from him. So I brought in the heavy artillery in the form of Kalomi. That's what you do to me. That's how much I want you."
"That's a very nice start. I'm still not going to your quarters." She nuzzled in, then bit his ear, a little harder than she should have.
"Bitch." He pulled her closer—she couldn't help but notice that Jim Junior was very happy to be dancing with her. "But you're my bitch, so I'll keep you."
"Is that supposed to be romantic?"
"I think we may have slightly different rules for what's romantic than, say, Spock and Ms. Kalomi."
"Does this mean we have to double date with them? Because I am not on board with that." She pulled back so she could look at him. "I can't stand her. And I don't mean just because she's with Spock now. She's annoying."
"Talking about our future. I like that." He smiled and pulled her back against him. "First I have to win you, right? Or are you conceding now, and we can go to my quarters and talk about double dating after we've made love?"
"Shut up and dance."
Leila lay in Spock's arms and tried not to compare the man she had finally captured, finally been with, to the Spock she remembered on Omicron Ceti III. She failed. "I wish there were clouds to watch."
He drew away and seemed to be studying her. "Clouds?"
"Like the first time we made love. Afterwards, we were watching the clouds, you remember?" He had been so whimsical. It made her smile just to remember.
"I do. I do not know why you would want them here now, though."
She sighed. "Perhaps our next landing party we can find some, see the dragons in them."
"Why would we wish to do that?"
She stroked his hair; he was so dense at times. "You love me?"
"Then you would do it to make me happy." She rubbed his nose with hers.
He frowned slightly. "But it is illogical. Clouds are nothing more than visible masses of droplets of water or ice crystals. How would looking at them make you happy?"
"We did it the first time."
"I realize that. I was also not myself, Leila."
"You were more yourself than you've ever been." She wanted to shake him. Wanted to make him see. "You said you lived in a self-made purgatory. But you don't have to with me. I can let you be whoever you want to be."
"I also told you that I am what I am. Do you love me or only the Spock you knew on the planet? Because I am not that man." He was looking at her with a look she wasn't used to. Not the soft tenderness the spores had brought. Nor the muffled longing for her he'd shown on Earth. It was a mix of exasperation and disappointment.
She felt something die within her. Some hope that maybe he could love her the way she wanted him to—the way she'd gotten a taste of. But he loved her his way. That would be enough.
He was still looking at her so sternly, she finally said, "I know. I'm sorry, Spock. I'm being foolish."
"Yes, you are." His expression changed back to the tender one of before, as he rolled her to her back and kissed her.
She kissed him back, holding tightly. She had him. As much of him as she was going to get, she had it. She'd taken him from that horrible woman. She'd found her way to him against all the odds.
So what if he wouldn't watch clouds or climb trees? He probably wouldn't touch her in public now, either. She had to let those fantasies go.
He was who he was. He was not the Spock the spores had brought out.
Even if she had loved that Spock. With all her heart.
A bouquet of roses showed up at Chapel's door. There was a crewman behind them but she could only see his legs, the vase and the mass of blooms obscured the rest of him. "Delivery for Doctor Chapel."
"Are you from hydroponics?"
"Yes, ma'am. The captain said he wanted four dozen red roses sent to you. You save his life or something?"
"Something like that." She smiled and cleared a spot on her desk. "You can put them here."
The smell hit her as put them down then moved back.
Lovely, rich—passionate. She was still holding Jim at bay as far as sex, but it was only a matter of time. His ability to woo was as advanced as his ability to tick off aliens and bullshit the brass.
"Thank you," she told the crewman, and he smiled and left.
A short while later, Jim walked in.
She tried not to grin, but it was impossible.
He sat down and said, "Nice flowers. Somebody must really like you."
"Maybe so." She gave up, started to laugh. "Four dozen, Jim? Are there any left in hydroponics? You're supposed to save these for special dinners with VIPs or alien dignitaries, aren't you?"
"Pfffff." He leaned in and sniffed a rose. "Lovely. Almost as lovely as the woman they're for."
"You're pulling out all the stops, aren't you?"
"That's what you wanted. Or did I misunderstand?"
"You didn't." She leaned back and sighed; it was a happy sound, and he smiled at her.
"Have dinner with me tonight?" he asked.
"Okay." As if that was a hardship?
"Nogura's out this way for sector inspections. He'll be on our ship tonight."
She frowned. "He's arriving after dinner?"
"Nope. He'll be here for dinner. He brought his wife on the trip. I think they're hitting Risa along the way."
Chapel started to laugh. "How do you say boondoggle in Japanese?"
"That's what I want to know." He leaned in. "His wife was his former CMO on the Elektra."
"So you think we'll have something in common, she and I?"
"I think he and I will, too. You'll be there as my date, not as my deputy CMO."
She knew her mouth was open. "Jim, you don't have to do that."
"He's told me for years I should settle down. I think he'll get a kick out of me finally listening to him." He reached for her, and she gave him her hand. "Civilian clothes. He asked for an informal night. So, be my date?"
"All right." She grinned. "I like how gung ho you are about wooing me."
"I thought you might." He peeked out into sickbay, then walked around her desk, leaned down, gave her a tender kiss, and then hightailed it out of there, a satisfied and mischievous smile on his face.
She found it hard to concentrate on the report she was working on. Was very glad when a patient came in for her to treat.
Kirk looked for Chris as they enjoyed the hospitality of the Angrigians on their wonderfully welcoming planet. They'd thrown a party for his crew, and he had no idea what the occasion was other than a chance to host a huge shindig. Apparently they were big fans of get-togethers. He saw Chris mingling with the healers, laughing at something one of the other doctors said.
He leaned back in the very comfortable chair and sipped the drink he'd been given. Chris had loaded him up with antitox, so he could afford to enjoy liberally, as was expected on this world, while still maintaining some semblance of sobriety.
Nogura had been happy with him. Happy for the amount of surveying they'd gotten done. Happy with the diplomatic efforts Kirk had undertaken since V'ger. And very happy with Chris, if the comfortable dinner conversation and his comments after were any indication. The fact that Chris and Nogura's wife Linda had gotten along famously only made things better.
Kirk wasn't just breaking his rule for Chris; he had his boss's blessing. "High time you settled down, Jim," Nogura had said just before he and Linda beamed back to their ship.
Well past high time.
He saw her look over at him. He mouthed, "Tonight?"
She made an "I'm thinking about it" face, so he put his hands together in supplication and gave her a pleading face. She laughed and finally nodded. Then her smile turned into the one he remembered from Earth, usually just before she and Jim Junior got up close and personal. She grinned and turned back to the doctors.
What a goddamned wonderful day.
Kirk drank slowly, saw Spock coming toward him, and smiled at him. As Spock sat, Kirk said, "We haven't talked about Chris. Do we need to?"
"No, Jim. We are fine."
"Good. I wouldn't like it if we weren't." He studied his friend. "You happy with your girl?"
"Happy is an emotion."
"Yes. One you said you experienced for the first time with her."
"I did say that." Spock looked over to where Chris stood.
"You're not saying that now, though, are you?"
"I care deeply for Leila. It is entirely possible, however, that the Spock she loves does not exist."
Kirk hated hearing that, but it wasn't a surprise. "Give her time, Spock. She waited a long time, and things can build up in our memories. Sometimes real life has to supplant the fantasies. But it will."
Spock met his eyes. "Or possibly having is not so satisfying a thing as wanting."
Kirk looked over at Chris. She seemed to know he was watching her, turned and caught his eye, and smiled. God, he loved that smile. "I don't think so, Spock. Not when it's right."
"No, that is what I fear as well."
"Give it time. That's an order."
Spock's lips ticked up. "Because you care for my well being?"
"I do." That was easy to say. He'd missed Spock when he'd been at Gol. He'd been ecstatic to get him back and didn't want him to leave again. He especially didn't want to be the cause of making him hurt.
"And you want me with Leila so that you do not have to feel guilty for taking Christine away from me, is that not so?"
"Maybe that, too." He sighed. "Spock, you're my best friend. But I screwed up when I let—made— her go. I'm sorry."
"Do not be sorry. Or if you must be sorry, make it up to Christine. You gave me what I have always wanted. It remains to be seen if Leila will indeed make me happy—or I her."
"For what it's worth: I hope you're both very happy."
"As do I, Jim. As do I."