DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2018 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.

Lifeline

 

By Djinn

 

 

Christine wakes and you put your hand over her mouth. She struggles but you wait—you have not worked so hard to save her for her to give your location away in her panic. Her eyes scan wildly, and it is not full dark yet so she should be able to see you but you feel her panic rise.

 

Either she cannot see or she does not know you.

 

Neither is the outcome you were anticipating, but they are not insurmountable.

 

You start with the easier of the two to deal with. "Christine," you lean down and whisper, barely a breath on her face, but she stills immediately and you feel relief flood her. "Shhhh," you say as you lift your hand from her mouth, ready to put it back if she tries to talk, but she does not.

 

Her eyes move in the way you have learned on this mission means she is assessing a problem. She is no doubt trying to ascertain the level of damage her body has sustained.

 

It is worse than it should be but less than it might have been.

 

You touch her cheek and lean in, your mouth over her ear, lips on flesh. "Rebel attack."

 

She nods under your mouth.

 

"You were bleeding. You are no longer. Please do not move or that will change. We are safe for now. I can do nothing for the pain—a meld would distract me and I must keep watch."

 

She nods again, and you expect panic to rise, even just a bit, but she is calming.

 

You should not be surprised; this is what she does now. She is no longer a doctor or a nurse or even a scientist. She is accustomed to dealing with emergencies. Perhaps she is even used to being hurt in the process. You do not know, for this is the first time you have worked with her on a joint diplomatic/emergency operations mission.

 

Your father has worked with her often, has spoken highly of her. So highly it was obvious he was trying to push her as a potential mate—now that Valeris is gone. You did not choose to work with Christine to make him happy; you were assigned to this mission by Starfleet and you are not in the habit of requesting alternate assignments because of past associations.

 

Especially when the woman in question has done nothing to make you think she is even interested. She has to be well aware that with Valeris imprisoned on Rura Penthe for her treachery, you are free. But she has worked alongside you for a week now and never mentioned it. Her smile has been uncomplicated. Her eyes do not seek yours the way they used to on the ship, as if, if she just looked long enough, you might choose her.

 

Ironically, it has made her more attractive to you.

 

"Our people?" she mouths, her words barely making a sound but you, of course, can here it.

 

You lean in again, over her ear. "Most made it to the shuttle. Those nearest us—I am unsure. Some were hit. Some scattered."

 

She nods, and you can tell she is assessing again. "Our situation?"

 

"Dire."

 

She smiles, a wry smile that reminds you of Jim. You wish Jim were here with you. But then you have wished that since you did not go with him to the launch. Too immersed in your own shattered pride to want to be part of what he called a "dog and pony show." Had you gone, might he have lived?

 

"How dire?"

 

"We are safe for now." You have employed the stealth field you were given to test. It is hiding you from the sensors of those who attacked your temporary base. You are in the woods, and they have not checked this far out for survivors, but while their equipment may not find you, a visual check would.

 

"If they come, leave me."

 

"No."

 

She grimaces in the same way Jim would have. The look that says she thinks she should argue but will not. She was involved with Jim briefly after you died and were reborn. It should not surprise you that she picked up his expressions. Perhaps she had them all along? You do not know her well, despite her relationship with your best friend.

 

The two of you never formed your own friendship. You were preoccupied with regaining what you had lost—and then Valeris came into your life. Christine was not on the ship with you, or you would have been forced to interact with her. She was in ops then, too.

 

You never asked Jim why they stopped seeing each other. You did not care.

 

Now, you find yourself curious. But you have not asked and you will not. Not now, while you wait for rescue or capture—both options seem equally likely at this point.

 

You do not tell her that. "The ship will come."

 

"If the shuttle made it," she mouths, this time making no noise. As if she does not want you to have to hear it if you do not wish to.

 

She closes her eyes, and you shift as silently as you are able, lying facing the rebels as they go through your camp, but you drop your hand near hers, so she knows you have not left her.

 

You can feel her pain through the soft touch. You are not sure how she is bearing it, but she stays quiet. Her breathing is that of deep meditation, and you imagine your father teaching her this technique, because you recognize the pattern of breath as Vulcan.

 

But perhaps Starfleet teaches it—why do you assume your father has done so?

 

Are you jealous of your father?

 

Her breath catches as pain flares and you press your hand harder against hers. She presses back and you feel gratitude but also regret.

 

You do not want her to feel that. She is enduring this in a way that merits no censure. You slide your fingers over hers, rubbing gently, feeling her relax finally.

 

Her breath resumes the measured rhythm.

 

You keep your fingers on her and settle in to wait.

 

##

 

The rebels are showing signs of alarm but you are not sure why. One of them is looking your direction, but you are sure the trees are camouflaging where you are lying next to Christine.

 

Then he turns away and you exhale softly.

 

"Close call?" Again her voice is so soft you can barely hear her.

 

You squeeze her hand twice. She murmurs, "Good," so you know she understands your code. It is not a very sophisticated system, Starfleet standard in fact. And how Pike answered from his chair. Two flashes for "No," one flash for "Yes." You think of him—is he still alive on Talos IV?

 

You study Christine. With her hair dark, she looks like Number One. The first time you saw Christine, you were sure she must be related to your former colleague. But you checked her file and she is not.

 

Suddenly your communicator begins to buzz. "Spock here," you say as softly as you can and still be heard.

 

"We're ready to beam you up but we can't see you, Ambassador." Captain Anders is whispering; she is highly intelligent, and you have enjoyed working with her.

 

"We are in a vulnerable position. If I disable the field that is blocking us from the rebels' sensors, we will be seen."

 

"Then we'll work fast. You said 'we.'"

 

You are already disabling the field. "I am with Commander Chapel, who is injured. We are ready for beam up now."

 

One of the rebels looks down at what is probably similar to a tricorder and points in your direction. There is yelling, and Christine struggles to sit up as the sounds grow louder.

 

"Now would be a good time," she mutters, then gasps in pain.

 

You see the makeshift sutures you worked so hard on split. Blood flows, a steady stream, and she immediately applies pressure. "Shit, Spock. How bad am I?"

 

As the transporter takes you, you murmur, "Very," but there are doctors waiting, who go to work on her immediately. As you start to get up, one of them says, "Ambassador, you're bleeding, too. Why don't you get on this gurney?"

 

"There is no need. It is her blood."

 

"Sir, it's green."

 

You frown and the man points to your shoulder. You realize your robe is wet but it has stuck to the wound, closing it, you think, or at least slowing the bleeding. "It is not serious."

 

"Nevertheless, let's discuss it more in sickbay, okay?" His tone brooks no argument so you nod, but you wave away the gurney.

 

"I will walk."

 

"Okey dokey." He turns to help the other doctor with Christine. The bleeding has stopped, and you think they have given her something for pain.

 

"She cannot see."

 

"She told us."

 

Of course she did. She is a doctor, after all. You did not have to tell them that.

 

But you would not want them to not attend to her because you did not convey the information—for it to become permanent by your inaction.

 

"Spock, quit worrying about me." Her voice is the level of tranquil that is derived from a copious amount of painkillers.

 

When you arrive at sickbay, she is taken to one of the surgical rooms while you are led to a biobed. A little while later, as you sit waiting for the nu-skin to fully adhere, Anders comms and lets you know your people—or the bodies, but less of those than you feared—have been beamed up. "Thank you, Captain."

 

"You rest. This mission is over."

 

You close your eyes. Yes, this mission is over.

 

Christine is brought back out. There are patches over her eyes and you are not sure if they are there as treatment or because she will not see. You look at the doctor, gesturing to your eyes.

 

"Wow, is he protective of you, Commander." The doctor grins. "She's going to be fine. Her vision will come back in a few hours. The pads will help the swelling go down."

 

Christine smiles. "Thank you, Javi."

 

"Youユre my favorite patient, Chris."

 

"You say that to everyone you treat." She sounds relaxed and sleepy, no doubt from pain meds.

 

"Nope, just to you." He lays his hand on her shoulder before leaving, and you feel a rush of anger and possession so strong it leaves you shaken.

 

You want to get up, follow him, challenge—no. Not yet. You should have several years before the burning returns. But you have always been irregular. You see a scanner on the counter and get up gingerly, trying not to jar the nu-skin—and also not to be noticed—and scan yourself.

 

Yes, there, the beginning signs. But it will be several weeks before you are in full rut. You sigh and replace the scanner but, rather than getting back on the bed, pull a stool over to sit by her biobed.

 

"Aren't you supposed to be resting?" she asks, her voice soft and untroubled. "He gives the best meds. He doesn't want me moving around the way you are after you both worked so hard to patch me up, so I get extra happy juice to keep me still."

 

"Are you in pain?"

 

"Nope." She reaches out and you take her hand and feel a surge of protectiveness fill you.

 

Is this because the two of you have been working together, getting to know each other? And that you have saved her and grown even closer to her in the process? Or because the burning is making her seem more attractive?

 

"Thank you," she murmurs. "You took such good care of me. Javi told me he didn't know how you got the bleeding stopped. I told him you were innovative that way."

 

She pulls your hand to her lips and kisses it. You feel the touch...everywhere.

 

Then she laughs and says, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that."

 

"I will forgive it."

 

"Are our people okay?"

 

"Nearly all. Not Templeton or Hayden. But Captain Anders recovered their bodies."

 

"That's the part of this job I hate, Spock. The goddamn bodies."

 

She sighs and lets go of your hand, reaching up toward her eyes, so you say, "Leave your eyes alone."

 

"I just want to—"

 

"Christine, that is an order."

 

"Jeez, I'm a doctor, Spock." She takes a deep breath. "I can't even remember what that life was like I've been doing this so long. But it's nice to work with you. I mean I work with Sarek so often, but you've managed to avoid me."

 

You bite back the jealousy at how easily she says your father's name. "I have...enjoyed working with you."

 

"I don't think we've ever spent this much time together." She yawns. "I'm so tired, Spock."

 

"Then sleep."

 

"Don't want to. Want to talk to you while you're here. Won't get the chance again." She frowns. "Stupid medicine. I didn't mean that."

 

"I believe you did." You resist the urge to stroke her hair.

 

"You should know that I never, ever would have accosted you if it hadn't been for that damned virus. I would have enjoyed my little crush in silence." She laughs. "But once it was out, in for a penny, in for a pound, I guess. I never let you have any peace. So stupid."

 

"That is an exaggeration. We had a few uncomfortable moments. And some quite pleasant." You shift to get more comfortable.

 

"Spock, get back up on your bed."

 

"I am fine."

 

"You're stubborn. Always have been. Just like Jim." She swallows hard. "I miss him, Spock."

 

"I do as well."

 

"And you probably miss Valeris?" She holds up a hand. "No, sorry, don't answer that. It's none of my business."

 

"I will—"

 

"No, I mean it. I don't know why I asked. Of course you miss her. You were going to marry her, weren't you?"

 

"Eventually, yes."

 

"Everyone's gone. Jim and Cartwright. Valeris. Scotty. Don't die, okay?" The drugs seem to be making her sleepier.

 

"I will not die."

 

"You died once already but came back. Can't keep a good man down."

 

You think she is asleep but wait a few more minutes to make sure. When her breathing changes definitively, you find the doctor who was touching her in his office.

 

"I believe the nu-skin adherence is complete."

 

He gets up and does a quick check. "Sure is."

 

You scan his office for pictures—humans often display family shots. There—this man and another and three children. "Your family?" you ask, as if you are being nothing more than polite.

 

"Yeah. The lights of my life. You married?"

 

"No." Finally, a man who does not appear to know your history with Valeris.

 

Although there are no doubt many who do not. You are just overly sensitive right now. And the imminent burning is not helping that.

 

Still, it is a relief that this man is not interested in Christine, or if he is, can offer her nothing.

 

With a last look at Christine, you head out to the quarters Anders assigned the diplomatic and ops teams. You want to check on your people—you know Christine would accompany you if her injuries were not so severe.

 

In fact, she would probably be leading the way.

 

##

 

You stand outside Christine's apartment, wondering if calling first would have been prudent. You decide it is immaterial: you are here and she may or may not answer the door, she may or may not be alone. But if she is, you must speak with her.

 

She does answer the door when you ring the chime. She invites you inside and you sense no other person in the place. "What's the occasion?"

 

"I wished to check on you. Your eyesight. It is fully restored?"

 

"Yeah." She frowns. "It was the last time you saw me."

 

"Yes, but complications may arise..." That sums up so much of why you are here but you try to approach the issue indirectly. "Did my father teach you the meditation you were using to stay calm when you were injured?" From her perplexed expression, you can see this was not the best indirect approach to take.

 

"Kind of a weird turn in the conversation but okay, yeah, he did. On Denicia. A mission so frustrating we thought we'd come out of our skin. We busted ass to get there and then had to wait, wait, wait. The bureaucrats had red-tape creation down to an art form. Your dad taught me meditation and I taught him hangman. I think he got the better end of the deal since I taught him my failsafe word. Pleghm." She frowns when you don't react. "Okay, I didn't expect a guffaw, but a little eyebrow lift of levity, maybe?"

 

You are trying to imagine your father playing hangman. You can envision what he would have had to say if he had caught you playing that as a boy. The...disapproval. Did he play it with Christine because he was bored or because any time spent with her is desirable? The thought of him with you makes you want to pull her to you and—no. You must not think of that. "I wish...I wish to know the level of your friendship with my father."

 

"Excuse me?"

 

"Are you involved with him?"

 

Her mouth falls open, and you feel a surge of frustration. How difficult is it to simply answer the question?

 

She studies you. "Your father and I are friends, just as your mother and I are." She waits, then laughs but it is a puff of air, a bitter sound.

 

"That could be an evasion. If the three of you—"

 

"Are not lovers, Spock, jeez." She goes to her desk and pulls a scanner from the drawer. "The look in your eye. The bizarre jumps in logic. I've seen these things before."

 

Before she can turn the scanner on, you hold up your hand. "Do not."

 

"Because I'm right?" She gets closer but does not try to scan you. "I know you're not here to ask me to help you with your biological issue."

 

You are so surprised that you take a moment to fully parse her words. Yes, she is refusing you. "You have always been receptive—"

 

"Always? When, in the last umpteen years, have I showed any interest?"

 

"When you were injured. When I touched you, I felt..."

 

"You felt gratitude. Perhaps you felt some residue of a goddamn crush from years ago. I was high as a kite on painkillers and alone in a strange sickbay. You certainly did not feel love from me. Or do you not care if love is in the mix now that the two people you cared the most for are gone?"

 

You back up, surprised at her vehemence. "I saved you."

 

"Yes, you did." She scans you before you can stop her. "But you've got time to get to Vulcan. Plenty of time, in fact. So I'm not in a position to have to save you." She moves away even though you think normally she would have moved closer, to make her point, to show her anger. "You saved me because it was your goddamn duty to save me. We were on a mission. The only one we've ever worked together. I appreciate what you did for me. I would, of course, return the favor—and have saved you, when I was a doctor. But you're not dying. You're just...fuck, I have no idea what you are. Horny? Primal?"

 

She puts the scanner away and goes into the kitchen, keeping the counter between you. "Go to Vulcan, Spock. I know there are ways for you to work this out without me."

 

"I have approached this badly. I...feel things—interest—in you."

 

"Well maybe, once your hormones go back to normal, we can explore that." She is watching you carefully—what does she think you will do?

 

"If my father asked, would you...?"

 

"Why in God's name would your father ask me? He has a wife he loves beyond all measure. I'm a person he likes to work with because we approach things the same way. That professional rapport has grown into a friendship with both of them despite the fact that I once made an ass of myself over their son. The three of us have all moved on from that embarrassing time. Why the fuck can't you?" She points to the door. "Leave. Now."

 

You almost want to call her bluff. To see what she will do—if this outrage is real or just other emotion redirected. But then you see a spark of something you did not expect in her eyes.

 

Fear. Does she think you would force yourself on her?

 

You move to the door. "Of course, Commander. I regret troubling you in this matter."

 

"You and me both," you hear her say as the door closes behind you.

 

For a long moment, you stand outside her door, replaying what just happened. Then you turn and head to the embassy to make arrangements. There is a protocol for this, of course. You are not the only unbonded Vulcan on Earth.

 

You realize you are disappointed, but there is also a deeper feeling, as if the ground has shifted beneath your feet. You always assumed, if you decided to pursue her, that she would be willing—even eager—and would welcome you however and whenever you needed her.

 

You very clearly assumed wrong.

 

##

 

You sit on the porch of your family home, in the chair you have favored since you were a boy. Even post Pon Farr, your hormones are making you emotional—overcome with a wave of nostalgia, a need for things familiar.

 

Your parents are sitting in the swing your mother insisted your father put up for her. You know the slight effort of keeping the swing in motion allows her to express some of the emotional energy she keeps hidden. You remember the first time you understood that blending into Vulcan society was not the effortless act she made it seem. How...relieved you felt.

 

Your parents have not asked why you are on Vulcan, but they surely know, even if these things are not spoken of, so you drink tea and eat the dry biscuits that were once your favorites, and talk of other things.

 

Safe things. Things of interest to your father. Less so to your mother, but she seems happy just to have you near.

 

At a lull in the conversation, you ask softly, "Will you be seeing Commander Chapel soon?"

 

The Pon Farr may be over, but you cannot erase her from your thoughts.

 

"She's coming to dinner next week." Your mother grins at your father, and you feel a pang. Valeris looked at you in just such a way, as if there were a multitude of secrets between you, amusing secrets. You miss that.

 

Your father's look is amused, but that fades when he turns back to you. "Why do you ask, my son?"

 

"She is your friend, is she not?"

 

"Indeed. A kindred intellect. And a woman of fine character."

 

"Also, he's allowed to date her if anything happens to me." Your mother laughs, as if what she has said is not appalling to consider. "He cannot, however, date that shrew T'Menla."

 

"T'Menla has no interest in me, my wife. We have discussed this."

 

"That woman simpers. Tell me she's not simpering the next time you see her. And she hates me."

 

"Vulcans do not hate," you repeat dutifully, the lesson drilled into you.

 

"Oh, Spock. Don't be na夫e." Your mother studies her. "Why are you asking, darling? You've never shown any interest in what we do with Christine."

 

"If it does not disrupt your arrangements, I should like to be included this time."

 

Your father's eyebrow nearly disappears under his hair. "Indeed, my son?"

 

"You might, however, wish to ascertain if she is comfortable with me being there." Why are you telling them this? Why did you come home, where you are suddenly speaking your mind like the boy who had not yet learned to keep his own counsel? You should have gone to one of the retreats, should have meditated and found your center before returning here.

 

"Do you think she would not welcome your presence?" Your father's voice is...concerned.

 

"I am uncertain." There, let him make of that what he will.

 

"Fascinating."

 

"Oh, Sarek, don't tease him." Your mother actually elbows your father quite hard. "Christine asks about you all the time. I'm not sure she even knows she does it. She was quite happy when Valeris was dragged off where she belongs."

 

"My wife..."

 

"Oh, piffle, Sarek. Don't tell me to not criticize. The girl was horrid. Why you picked her, Spock, I'll never know."

 

"She made me feel Vulcan." You close your eyes. Again, your body betrays you, your mouth speaking before your sense can intervene.

 

"I understand that, my son," your father says. "Upon reflection, I believe she cultivated that. She isolated you, but I don't think you realized. You spent far less time with us, even with James Kirk, when you were with her."

 

"That's because Jim would have seen through her in a hot second. And wasn't Cartwright his friend?" Your mother sounds disgusted, but you think it is less at your choice and more at Valeris's actions. "Cartwright probably wanted you submerged in her." She shakes her head. "The hell of it was you were happy, Spock. And I was happy for you even if I wished it was with someone other than that snake."

 

"Someone like Christine?"

 

"Just exactly. Are you interested in her, Spock?" She grins and you know if you say yes, you will make her very happy.

 

You wonder how your father will feel. He is waiting for your answer, interest on his face, but not with any sign of possession. You think he does not take your mother's talk of successors as seriously as your mother made it sound.

 

"I am uncertain," you settle for saying.

 

"You are uncertain of a great many things, my son." It could be a rebuke, but your father's voice is mild—kind, even, for one of your interactions.

 

You realize it might please him if you were interested in Christine.

 

Again, you feel the old rebellion rising. The impulsive reaction of wanting to go left if your father says to turn right.

 

There is no logic in it and it makes you, again, feel like a child.

 

##

 

A week later, you are sitting with your father in the embassy, in the lounge of your parents' private quarters, as your mother quietly orders the servers around. It amuses you how she can get anyone to do her bidding with her soft voice and eyes and a backbone of pure duranium.

 

You hear Christine before you see her; your mother's voice changes to one of true pleasure. There is such affection in her tone, her words. There is a commensurate amount in Christine's.

 

Your father looks over at you. His eyebrow goes up, but you are uncertain what message he is trying to convey. Not surprise: you both knew she would be here. Support? Concern? Amusement?

 

You suppress a sigh and merely lift an eyebrow in response. Let him interpret it however he wants.

 

"Where's Sarek? I found this for him."

 

"In the lounge, dear."

 

Your mother follows Christine in and goes to join Sarek on the couch. "Christine, Spock's going to be joining us."

 

She freezes, but you give her credit for a quick recovery. "How nice." She does not sound like she means it.

 

"Christine." You try to sound welcoming.

 

"Spock." It is too cold—she is not sounding welcomed. But she clearly did not expect you to be here.

 

Why did your parents not tell her as you suggested? She is off balance and the flush on her cheeks speaks to some level of anger.

 

Your father and mother are watching both of you like two naturalists, observing the courtship rituals of exotic animals with some sort of non-interference policy. You would glare at them if you did not think Christine would assume it was directed at her.

 

You search for something to say and finally focus on the scarf she is wearing. "Is that Tantallian Silk?"

 

"It is. It's what I wanted to show your father. I told you it came in red. Your bullshit story about red dye not sticking to the fabric... You owe me a drink next time we're on a ship."

 

"But it took you a year to prove me wrong."

 

"You two and that game." Your mother grins at you. "What is it called again, Christine?"

 

"Facts that may not be true." She laughs. "Or idiotic games you'll play when hangman get old."

 

"It is difficult to believe your missions can have so much down time," you say into their shared amusement.

 

She turns to look at you. "I know you're not saying we're slacking, are you?"

 

Your father turns to you, clearly also waiting for the answer.

 

"It is simply," you say, steepling your fingers, a sign Jim would know was an attempt to regroup, "that I have not found on my missions I generally have much reading to do."

 

"Oh, Spock, clearly you need to travel more with Christine." Your mother grins at you. "She'd drag you away from your padds and tell you to live a little."

 

"Or perhaps it is simply that I have more experience, my son. When I was new in diplomacy, I too spent much time preparing."

 

Your father's words could be interpreted as a graceful out. They could also be seen as a criticism. You are not sure how to take them, so you nod to show him you understand his point.

 

"Oh, the food's here. Let's sit." Your mother and father head off, leaving you with Christine.

 

She swallows visibly. "You're...recovered from....?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Great."

 

"Thank you for your concern."

 

"Sure."

 

You both stare at each other for a moment, then she turns and almost flees into the dining room.

 

You resolve to let your parents draw her out since you do not envision your chance of succeeding conversationally with her to be high.

 

And they do put her at ease. Your father is visibly lighter. Your mother is animated and laughing. Christine's smile is beautiful. When you manage not to insult her or your father again, she even begins to glance your way, the smile slightly less wide but still attractive.

 

At the end of the meal, your father says, "Unfortunately, I have a late meeting tonight. But stay, Christine. Keep my wife and son company."

 

"It's getting late and tomorrow's a busy day. But thank you. I enjoyed this." She looks at you and her smile wavers.

 

"I, too, should go. I will walk with you, Christine. Father. Mother." You get up and see both your parents wearing twin looks of concern.

 

"You will?" Christine asks, glaring at you in what is clearly exasperation, then turning the look on your parents. "Did you put him up to this?"

 

"We did not," Sarek says. "But it is on his way."

 

You do not need your father finding logic for you to walk this woman home. But when she nods as if he has said something wise, you decide not to voice that thought. Instead, you get your coat and hers and follow her out.

 

"I'm sorry," she says as soon as you are clear of the embassy. "I know they pushed dinner on you and it was uncomfortable and—"

 

"You are mistaken. I asked to be included. I realize it was awkward, but did I do wrong to want to be included—to experience your relationship with them?" You want her to answer definitively: yes, you did wrong or no, you did not. So you can move forward with her or try to forget this.

 

She stops and studies you, her expression searching. "The Pon Farr is over."

 

"Indeed."

 

"But you wanted to be with...me, with them, even though it was going to be difficult?"

 

You nod.

 

Her expression softens and voice is very gentle. "Then no, you didn't do wrong." Before you can enjoy the moment, she turns and walks off and you have to hurry to catch up.

 

"It's cold and I have an early meeting, Spock. I'm not trying to ditch you." She glances over at you. "I also don't want to have some sappy moment on the sidewalk. But if you want, you can come up for a while."

 

"Yes. That would be agreeable." You decide, as the damp cold becomes more uncomfortable, that she is right to hurry, that there is logic in her actions—to get out of the chill of this misty night.

 

But you would have stood on the sidewalk if she had wanted you to. The dichotomy of her logic to your sentimentality bemuses you slightly.

 

She turns into her apartment and you follow her to the elevator. She does not look at you as the lift rises, and you follow her off and to her door without comment.

 

In her apartment, which has a beautiful view of the water, she pours herself what looks like whisky and makes a gesture you realize is her asking you what you want.

 

"I am fine." You sit on the couch, in a spot that leaves enough space for her to also sit there without feeling uncomfortably close.

 

She sits down next to you, perches almost, and takes a long sip of her drink. It does not smell exactly like Jim's scotch or Leonard's bourbon, but you decide not to ask her what it is. "So, um, how's work, Spock?" She laughs softly and shakes her head, and you feel a return of the stilted conversation of dinner.

 

You think you have two options. One is to leave and give up the idea that you and she will ever regain the ease of your talk when she was injured—and, if you are fair to her, highly medicated. The other is to lean in, slowly undo the scarf she is wearing and ease it off her, and then fold it as you tell her to close her eyes.

 

"Why?" Her voice holds more curiosity than concern.

 

"When you were injured and could not see, we talked with so little effort."

 

"You want to blindfold me?"

 

You nod and hold the scarf up so she can lean into it.

 

She does not move. "So, you and Valeris were into bondage games, I guess?"

 

You think she is trying to goad you. Both by bringing up Valeris and making a joke of this. You merely wait.

 

Unfortunately, she outwaits you. She is like your father in that way. It is not surprising he enjoys working with her. "No, she and I were not. Can you not indulge me, Christine? I do not plan on seducing you."

 

"That's a huge relief because I'm relatively sure you'd suck at it." She laughs and leans into the blindfold. "Fine, I'll play your kinky games."

 

You tie it around her head, making sure not to catch her hair in the knot. And you find yourself relaxing without her eyes on you, judging, perhaps no longer wanting.

 

But then she licks her lips, and you realize she is nervous too. You want to touch her, to read her, but you think she would view that as cheating, so you resist the urge.

 

"What now, Spock?"

 

"Tell me three things it would surprise me to know about you." It is a question you ask new members of your team. Their answers are often illuminating.

 

"Jim teach you that one?" Her smile is crooked. You realize you have never noticed that.

 

"He did not."

 

"Hmmm. If I answer, you have to tell me three things, too."

 

"That is only fair." You lean back and she does too, and she stops jiggling her knee, something you did not realize she was doing until the motion ceases.

 

"Can you get my glass while I think?"

 

You reach for her drink and hold it to her lips. She drinks much more slowly than the first, desperate sip. Before you put it back on the coaster, you smell it more thoroughly. "This is whisky, yes? It smells...spicier than I remember."

 

"That's because it's rye." She laughs softly. "So that's my first thing. I love rye."

 

"I knew that you enjoy drinking. I am not sure specifying what you like to drink qualifies."

 

"What, I have to stun you with my answers?" She shakes her head. "I'm rolling my eyes—something you could see if you didn't have a scarf fetish. Hey, is that one of your three things?"

 

"No." Although you are not sure what you will tell her. You have not thought this through.

 

"Okay." She crosses her legs and you watch the movement, finding it...seductive, but you do not think she means it to be. "When I was a little girl, I was crazy about horses. I wanted one so bad. And I never got it. And my parents were always moving for work. Every time, when we were somewhere that had horses and a place to ride, I'd think this is my chance. But then we wouldn't stay there long enough for it to matter." She laughs softly again, but this time the laughter is only gentle puffs of air. "I'm not sure why I told you that. It's hardly groundbreaking."

 

"Jim had horses."

 

Her smile widens. "He did. We went riding all the time when he was on Earth."

 

"He never told me why you and he..."

 

"That's a story I'm not ready to tell you yet."

 

You nod but then realize she cannot see the movement. "All right."

 

She has gone still, except for her knee, which she is jiggling again. " Maybe, maybe I should tell you. Now, rather than later. Now so you can judge me and run like hell, and I can take this goddamn scarf off." She points in the general direction of her glass and snaps her fingers.

 

You get it and hold it to her lips again. This time, the sip is like the first. Frantic. "You do not have to tell me anything you do not wish to."

 

She eases back. "But I think I do. Because I think you've decided you want me and you don't even know me."

 

You wait.

 

"He and I were happy when we were together. But...I was on the ship, Spock, during those first two voyages and I saw how many women..." She takes a breath, ragged and long, then lets it out. "I thought...I thought he cheated on me. A friend told me he'd seen him with this woman, dancing close. I confronted Jim and he...he shut down. He swore he hadn't slept with her, but the fact that I though he had, that I didn't trust him..."

 

Her leg stops moving, she sits quietly, and you wait.

 

"After Roger, after seeing him with that damn replica of a woman who was in his class the year before I was, who came around all the time and he swore was only a friend... Well, I think I lost my ability to trust. So that's my second thing. I don't trust." She leans out, looking for her glass with her hands, and you let her, sensing she needs to find it herself. She does and sips slowly. "I've never told anyone that. When Jan asked, I made shit up about the long-distance aspect not working. I told Ny I was still hung up on you. Len...Len knew because Jim told him. He still looks at me with a look that's nothing but disappointment. Like maybe..." She stops, and you realize her lips are trembling.

 

"Like maybe what?"

 

"Like maybe Jim wouldn't have gone to the launch if I'd still been with him." She whispers it.

 

"Christine, his ship—even if it was not his version of it—was being given to someone else. Someone he considered, and I quote, 'A goddamned idiot.' There is nothing you could have done to keep him away." You reach for her hand, touch it so quickly you cannot read her but hopefully can give some comfort. "I, however, feel that I let him down. That he would be alive if I had gone with him. Perhaps that is one of my three things."

 

"Or you might have died with him."

 

"Or that."

 

"And then who would have saved me?" Her voice is very soft.

 

"A gracious out that you are trying to give me, but I have faith someone else would have saved you. You might not have even been on that mission. I was, after all, the one who thought they were ready for talks."

 

"You were? You didn't tell me that."

 

"No, because I was wrong in my assessment. And that is the second of my three things. I can be wrong from time to time and do not like to admit it."

 

She smiles gently, and you decide it is your favorite of her smiles. A sweet turn of her lips with her eyes crinkling slightly under the scarf—or so you imagine.

 

"Christine, is your third thing that you no longer love me?"

 

"Do I know you well enough to really love you?" She is not saying that to be unkind. She sounds truly curious.

 

"Perhaps not. Our interactions were limited, despite how long we have been acquainted."

 

"Is your third thing that you might be able to love me? Now that you think I don't want you?"

 

"I think I could always have cared for you. But I wanted a Vulcan."

 

She nods, and reaches up, untying the scarf, taking back control. She blinks for a moment as she drops the scarf onto the table. "I still care."

 

"I no longer need my partner to be a Vulcan."

 

Her eyes are piercing. She says nothing but frowns a little.

 

You decide to elaborate. "When I grew up, I could never attain the Vulcan ideal. I wanted to please my father, and yet I also chafed whenever I felt his control. He and I still do not always see things the same way. But feeling that I would never be good enough for him made someone like Valeris extremely attractive. She was utterly Vulcan and yet she wanted me over all others—and did not seek to change me, accepted me as I was." You stop and remember how she made you feel. Special and understood—and good enough. "When I forced the meld to gain the information about the conspiracy, I could see her feelings for me were genuine. She thought I would approve eventually. That I would see her logic. I did not. I never will. But knowing that she, a full Vulcan, could miscalculate so completely made me realize that the ideal I sought to attain did not exist." You allow yourself a miniscule smile. "I am not running from the idea of Vulcans. This is not a reaction to being betrayed. It is freedom from needing that approbation."

 

"So I'll do?" She still sounds wary.

 

"I have never been unmoved by you. And I am here despite how uncomfortable dinner was at times tonight."

 

"Uncomfortable between us—I had a great time with your parents."

 

You nod, unable to argue that.

 

"Are you jealous of that?" she asks softly. "Sarek is so comfortable with me."

 

You decide to give her the truth. "I am."

 

She purses her lips. "So I could be your way to him. Maybe I'm just another Valeris?"

 

"I was moved by you long before you earned the esteem of my father."

 

She smiles. "Good answer." She touches the scarf. "And without this." She finishes her drink and gets up. "You sure you don't want something?"

 

"I should go. You have an early meeting, do you not?"

 

She starts to laugh. "With Admiral Baker. How do you know that?"

 

"Because I will also be there. I have requested you for my next mission."

 

"Am I going to get shot again?"

 

"It is not a mission goal."

 

She laughs and puts her glass in the sink. "Guess I should get some sleep, then." She walks you to the door. "Did you plan the blindfold thing?"

 

"No. I was...searching for a way to create some comfort between us."

 

"Well," she says, as she leans in and kisses your cheek, a lingering touch that lets you read that she is pleased with you, "it was genius."

 

You cup her cheek, enjoying the softness of her skin, the sweetness of her regard. Then you let go and leave her in peace. You will see her again in the morning. You find yourself looking forward to that with a great deal of pleasure.

 

##

 

You walk back to the camp of temporary shelters that has grown every day that you've been on this planet. You see your people working with the ops personnel and wonder how Christine managed to woo them into manual labor.

 

"I am impressed at your progress—and your expanded team," you say, as you slip in beside her to steady a panel. "But why is the corps of engineers not called in for this?"

 

"Oh, they will be, once you finish what you're doing and the planet is ready for more permanent solutions. What we're doing here is just triage. No one should live in these for long, but they're better than nowhere." While she finishes fastening the panel, she indicates you should get the next one for her by pointing and snapping her fingers the same way she did when she wanted her drink when you were at her apartment.

 

You do what she wants, but lift your eyebrow. "You appear to have me well trained."

 

She peeks around the panel and laughs, her smile teasing. "Hey, it works. Don't tell me your mother didn't make that very same gesture some of the time?"

 

You have to concede that with a nod.

 

Someone shouts out, "People?" and she laughs and answers, "Yo" along with the other ops personnel.

 

"We're running low on panels. Anything you need from the shuttle while I get the next pallet?"

 

"Moonshine," someone yells.

 

"Duct tape," someone else says.

 

"And cayenne pepper," Christine says, laughing.

 

You realize this is a chant of sorts, a way to build team spirit. It makes little sense, but you see your people—the humans, at any rate—laugh. The Vulcans look perplexed and are perhaps trying to assess what you would make with those three ingredients.

 

"Anything you want" is, you imagine, the answer Christine would tell you.

 

You work for a time, then say, "I must, regretfully, remove my team. I have information we need to discuss."

 

"Thank you for letting me borrow them."

 

"I was not aware I let you do anything."

 

"Smart man," she says, her smile sweet and you think untroubled.

 

She relishes this, you realize. Helping others. Being with her team. She disappears into the group at moments like this, but you have seen her take a strong leadership role at other times during this mission.

 

"I managed to snag the vegetarian meals for you and Solat and T'Kemra. Some of my folks were eying them."

 

"Most kind."

 

"See, I can save you." She laughs at your expression then calls out to the team, "Diplomats: your boss needs you. Thank you so much for helping—we'll save you some moonshine. You can find us in the same place tomorrow if you're in the mood to pitch in again." She grins at you and mouths, "See you later," then turns back to the panel.

 

You think your people look slightly disappointed to leave the work and go sit in the temporary shelter you've taken as your base. But they let it go as you expect and settle in to analyze what you've brought back. The discussion is spirited and you enjoy again the team you've created, how they work together, how different each individual is in terms of age and experience and background. They force you to consider options you might not otherwise.

 

Eventually, after you wrap up, T'Kemra asks, "Cayenne pepper and duct tape are items I am familiar with. What is moonshine?"

 

The humans make faces that universally translate to something unpleasant.

 

"It is an alcoholic beverage," you answer.

 

She lifts an eyebrow at the humans. "Why would you drink it if it is as horrid as your expressions indicate?"

 

"I believe," you say, "that they will not be drinking moonshine. Copious amounts of other spirits, but not that."

 

"Actually," Wainwright says, grinning, "it's making a comeback."

 

Sandoza rolls her eyes. "Every year, people say that. Every year, sane people reach for tequila instead."

 

You lean back and let their good-natured squabbling become white noise. You are tired. The talks are long and there is much to lose if the planet decides to reject the terms the Federation has put forth for long-term assistance.

 

You find yourself envying Christine and her team. Their job this mission is straightforward and satisfying. It is easy to chart progress when you have buildings erected and people treated for injuries and illness as evidence. Less satisfying for you—at least until the agreement is signed.

 

You get up, motioning for T'Kemra to walk with you and update you on anything that transpired in your absence. She mentions Christine, how she convinced some of the local children to draw pictures to hang in each building. Pictures that would welcome those moving in. T'Kemra approves but not because she values the sentimentality of the gesture, more the logic of giving the children—and by extension the parents who will watch their children draw the welcoming pictures—a stake in all this.

 

You are pleased Christine has impressed her, but Christine impressed your father, so other Vulcans should be a simple matter.

 

You freshen up in the temporary quarters and then sit next to Christine at a table a little away from the group. She has your meals there and a bottle of water for you.

 

You open the box and take a bite, trying to fight the ridiculous notion that the food will be enjoyable. Of course it is not. That you can still manifest hope after this many missions is no doubt a sign of something you do not want to examine too deeply. Instead, you turn to her and say, "There was some debate on my team over whether moonshine is back in fashion."

 

She grins. "We do have it this time—white dog is apparently all the rage with the younger set. No rye, though—I'm going to have words with whoever stocked our 'adult beverages' for this trip. Oh and we have this." She lifts the bottle of beer she is drinking from. "Got a lot of young 'uns this trip so I'll stay sober—or mostly so. Sometimes I feel like their mom."

 

You know she probably is also well stocked with antitox or she would not be drinking at all. "I do not believe they view you as that—or as only that. I sense a deep camaraderie in your team."

 

"They're good people. I'll keep them." She leans against you for a moment, then pulls away quickly. "Shit, I'm sorry. I must be super tired to do that."

 

"I did not mind. No one is watching us."

 

"Someone is always watching us. We're the leads. But if you don't care, neither do I." She does not repeat the action despite her words.

 

You know that is appropriate, but you are somewhat disappointed, nonetheless.

 

"How goes the war?" she asks. "Progress?"

 

"Yes. Miniscule steps toward agreement."

 

"Glad I'm not you. I'd go nuts sitting in a room for hours listening to people yammer on. Give me something to do."

 

"It is, at times, trying." You study her. "I am...glad that you are on this mission. I have something to look forward to at the end of the day."

 

"Aww, that's so sweet."

 

"Are you also glad...?"

 

"Meh." She laughs at your expression. "Yes, I am. I like spending time with you. Much to my surprise." She assumes a mock stern expression, but you know what she is referring to.

 

"I wish to apologize. For...assuming you would help me with my personal issue."

 

"Thank you." She doesn't look away. "I may not always say no, if that's of interest to you."

 

"Indeed it is." You can feel parts of yourself express particular interest.

 

Her smile says she was aware exactly what effect her words would have on you.

 

You accept the congratulations of Admiral Baker for successful resolution of the agreement and then discuss your next mission. Much to your relief, you will not have to leave again for several weeks, so you settle in at your desk to catch up on other business. Your personal communicator sounds and you see it is Christine. "Hello."

 

"Hello." She makes her voice very husky, then laughs. "You sounded sexy just now. Did you mean to?"

 

"No. But perhaps you elicit a response I did not plan?"

 

"Wow, look at you. That was a great answer. So anyway, I did not call simply to hear a sexy voice. One of my team was visiting family in Ankara, and she brought me some of her Mom's borek, which is the best borek in the world. It's a huge dish, and I can't eat it all myself. Well, I can, but my hips will not be happy with me if I do. So...come over and have dinner with me tonight."

 

"I am not familiar with borek."

 

She laughs. "You probably know it as spanakopita or spinach pie."

 

"Ah, yes, I enjoy that."

 

"Then this is a no-brainer. Unless you have plans?" She sounds like she very much doubts you have plans.

 

She is right.

 

"What time should I arrive?"

 

"I'm taking a half day today, so you can come whenever. It's in stasis, just from the oven, so you won't have to endure me trying to heat it up."

 

Other than the soup she made you, which, if you are honest, was not very good, you have never tried her cooking, so you are not sure how it would be. You always assumed the soup was off because of the extenuating circumstances—and it is notoriously difficult to do well, or so your mother claims. "I will be finished here around five."

 

"Perfect. I'll see you then." She clicks off the way a Vulcan would with no time wasted on a longer goodbye. You appreciate the efficiency but are surprised by it. You suppose working emergencies has made her value saving time where she can.

 

The day goes quickly and you enjoy the short walk to her apartment. She answers quickly, dressed casually but not in a sloppy fashion—you imagine she might have taken time to decide on the perfect mix of attractive and what Jim always called "not trying too hard."

 

She has place settings laid out at the counter, the large dish of borek between them still in the stasis device. There are no candles, no flowers. You are surprised. But again, perhaps she no longer has time for such things.

 

"Water?" she asks as she pours herself a glass of wine. It has a strange, strong aroma that you can detect from the stool you choose. She laughs. "Can you smell this?"

 

You nod.

 

"It's retsina. My wine shop didn't have any Turkish whites in stock. Greek seemed the next best thing." She laughs again. "It's an acquired taste."

 

"I believe all wine is, is it not?"

 

"Well, yes, but this really is. Some people equate it to turpentine. Do you want to try it?"

 

You nod because there is a rare wine on Vulcan called laikraya that you have heard described the same way. Instead of handing you her glass, she gets up and pours you a tiny bit and brings the glass and bottle to the table. "If you want more, help yourself."

 

She has a pewter holder that she puts the wine in; it functions like a coaster. You begin to put a picture together of a woman who is highly pragmatic when it comes to protecting her things from the condensation on a glass. You have always admired the logic of a coaster; they are used widely on Vulcan, where wood is a precious thing and furnishings made from it highly valued. On Earth, wood is far less rare, and many seem to view items made from it as disposable. It is ubiquitous enough to burn for fuel—or even just for something as frivolous as roasting marshmallows.

 

You loathe marshmallows. You wonder how she views them.

 

She turns off the stasis function of the dish and removes the lid. The aromas from the borek are extraordinary. "Oh my God," she says, but the words come out more as a moan. "I've been dreaming of this." She gestures to your wine. "Taste it. The borek needs to stand a little before it's perfect."

 

You try the wine. It is similar to laikraya. "On Vulcan, winemakers in the Toresha province make their wine vessels air tight by coating the inside with resin from the Laikanta tree. It is a difficult tree to grow—on a planet that already challenges vegetation. I have had it once or twice on special occasions and enjoyed it. This is very much like it."

 

"That's what they do to this, too. I'm glad I picked it if it brings back happy memories." She holds up her glass. "To...being comfortable enough to ask you over on a whim."

 

"You may ask me over any time you desire."

 

"Even if I have furniture to assemble?"

 

"You can assemble a building; furniture should not challenge you." You look around. Her apartment is impeccably decorated. "Moreover, you do not appear to require any additional d残or."

 

"But I might want to redo it. What then, hmmm?" She grins and sips her wine.

 

"I would assemble furniture with you."

 

"You are doing so, so well." She studies you. "Would you bring me chicken soup if I was sick?"

 

"Yes, but I would have no idea if it was good or not as I do not, as you know, eat chicken."

 

"That's okay. It's the act of giving." She closes her eyes for a moment. "It's nice to not be rushing around like a crazy person—work was slow this week."

 

"I can imagine it is an exhausting job. Do you ever consider other career paths?"

 

"I have my eye on a couple things. Captain-level things. But on Earth, of course. Not like I'll be challenging Harriman for the Enterprise." She shrugs, as if she is not that concerned with getting these postings she is interested in, but you see true ambition in her eyes. This surprises you. "What about you, Spock? Are you like Sarek? Is diplomacy in your blood?"

 

"I believe it is. I have been offered command of several vessels but have turned them down."

 

"Wow. But I guess that doesn't really surprise me. You could have had a ship of your own back before you went to Gol."

 

"I was offered the Enterprise. It was what Jim wanted, for me to take his place. I...I did not want to do that. I did not want things to change, for him to leave. I...dealt with that badly."

 

"By going to Gol, you mean?"

 

You nod.

 

"But getting that out of your system, realizing that it wasn't your path—wasn't that worth something?"

 

"Had V'ger not appeared when it did—not called to me—I would not have realized that. I would have...missed so much."

 

"I'm glad V'ger showed up, then." She turns to the food. "Okay, I don't care of this is ready or not. The smell is driving me nuts." She holds out her hand. "Plate, please."

 

You hand it over and she gives you a sizeable portion, then gives herself a similar one. You like that she enjoys food. Jim was the same way.

 

Then there is silence as you eat. She breaks the quiet with groans and murmurs, "So, so good." You nod but do not feel the need to provide more than that as commentary.

 

The borek is extraordinary. The little bit of wine you have enhances it. Her company, the way she has arranged you both at the counter, handing you the serving tool so you can get your own second piece, of the size you desire—it is all so comfortable.

 

You are contemplating a third piece and sense she is, too. So you cut it and then divide it in half, depositing the first part on her plate and the rest on yours.

 

Laughing, she eats it, then pushes her plate away, and replaces the top, reengaging the stasis unit. "It was good, huh?"

 

"It was delicious." You switch to the water she originally gave you, and follow her to the couch.

 

Her scarf is on the table. She begins to laugh as she sees you studying it. "I'm not the one who's going to be wearing it tonight."

 

"I see."

 

"Actually 'not seeing' is the idea." She reaches for the scarf and folds it into a blindfold, "May I?"

 

You nod, curious to find out what she will do once you cannot see. As she leans in to tie it, you breathe in her scent. She is not wearing perfume; she rarely does, you are discovering. You will ask her about that at some point. You remember her wearing one scent on the ship.

 

"Okay, so I get to ask you potentially embarrassing, no doubt invasive, questions."

 

You cock your head. "You do?"

 

"Yep." She touches your hand and you sense a lightness in her, a playfulness. You think she wants you to feel that from her. This is...fun to her. Not seduction. Not an inquisition. "Unless you want to take off the blindfold."

 

"I will consider answering your questions." You let your lips tick up.

 

You feel her approval and then she lets go of you.

 

"Okay, we'll start with an easy one. If you had to live in one moment only for the rest of your life, what would it be?"

 

You consider that. You do not believe it is an easy question. "I believe it would be the moment I realized Jim was alive, after the challenge, after thinking I had killed him. You were there to see me..."

 

"Grin from ear to ear? I sure was." She shifts and you think she is facing you, one leg bent up on the couch probably so she can rest her elbow on the cushion. "Interesting choice. That was joy you were feeling, wasn't it? And relief, but mostly joy. Have you ever felt that way since?"

 

"No. It was an uncomplicated moment. I did not assess, did not moderate, did not want to be logical. I was just...yes, overjoyed, is the right word, I think. Do I get to ask the same questions of you in this game?"

 

"No, but I'll answer this one. The day they told me I was getting promoted to Commander. I never expected that—and I'd been something other than regular Fleet for so much of my career that it was such a rush. Plus this was something I did, no Roger to pull me along in his scientific wake, no Len to push me to get out of my comfort zone and get my M.D. This was mine."

 

"But Cartwright...?"

 

"Was a mentor, that's true. But he didn't bring me into ops—that was his predecessor. So yeah, that would be my moment."

 

It interests you that your choice is so emotional and hers tied to career—even ego or self-esteem. But you do not get to ponder that because she asks, "Okay, so next one. Do you really think you could have saved Jim?"

 

You nod. What more is there to say?

 

"What if you'd died? Your katra would have been lost."

 

"I nearly drove Leonard mad carrying it. It was hubris to put it in him without even gaining his consent."

 

"It saved you that you did, though."

 

"Nevertheless." You consider her question. "If I were to die, with Jim, saving the ship, I would have lived the life I was supposed to live and died the death I was intended to die."

 

She leans in, close enough that you can feel her breath on your face. "Then, by that logic, if you did not go with him and did not die, are you not now living the life you are supposed to live and you will, someday in the future, die the death you are intended to die?"

 

"Of course. But that does not negate the guilt. The regret."

 

"No, I suppose it doesn't. Still..." She shifts again, backing away, you think. "Who was your first love?"

 

"Leila."

 

"Do you ever think about finding her?"

 

"No. Why have I not? Perhaps I should comm her—may I use your device?"

 

She laughs. As you intended. The sound one of surprised delight. "Oh, very good."

 

"To answer your question more seriously. No. I let her go. More than once. She is not for me no matter how warm my memories."

 

"Are you still in love with Valeris?"

 

"Were you still in love with Roger after you found him on Exo III?"

 

"Yes. But I'm human. I wasn't sure how much the part of you that's Vulcan could turn off emotion in the face of betrayal."

 

"I do not know if a full Vulcan could, but I suspect not. I was...wounded after the fact. Time has helped eased that. I can recall why I felt the way I did, but I no longer want her."

 

"Did you sleep with her?"

 

"Is that not a highly personal question?"

 

"Yes. Did you?"

 

You nod. You slept with Valeris. The sex was very good.

 

"Did you meld?"

 

"No. She said she did not enjoy it. Not everyone does. It is required for certain ceremonies but not everyday life."

 

"Do you enjoy melding with someone you're interested in?"

 

"Yes." Although your experience in that is limited. You decide not to add that and she does not ask. Instead, she murmurs "Water?" and you nod and drink carefully once she has the glass at your mouth.

 

"I didn't bring myself anything. May I drink from your glass?"

 

"No, that is horrifying. I must go."

 

She laughs again. "Is it the blindfold or are you just funny?"

 

"I believe it may be the blindfold."

 

"Well, I'm licking your glass. All over. It really is horrifying." She sets the glass down.

 

"I trust you, Christine."

 

"I trust you, too."

 

"You said you do not trust."

 

"I'm the one in charge of the questions here, Buster."

 

"That was not a question."

 

She sighs. "Unless I'm a super bad judge of characters, you're not as likely to flirt with the first cute girl that crosses your path as Jim was."

 

You decide not to mention Droxine, who Jim never missed a chance to tease you about. And you also decide not to defend Jim. He did not flirt with every woman. But he did flirt with many. You can understand why she might worry if she was with him. You can also imagine Jim's dismay—he lived through the accusations with Janice Lester. He told you about his relationship with her after the encounter when she stole his body. And his reputation as a lothario bothered him immensely.

 

"I believe you are safe," you finally settle on saying and, since she laughs, think you have picked the right response.

 

"Does it make it easier to talk to me with the blindfold on?"

 

"Slightly. But I am not the one who was nervous."

 

"Oh, I think we both were feeling uncomfortable. So, Spock, what do you want from me?" Her voice is soft.

 

"Everything, I think."

 

There is silence. A long one.

 

"That is not the answer you expected?"

 

"No."

 

"Is it unappealing, this answer?"

 

"No."

 

You pull down the blindfold because you want to see her expression. She is staring at you, and you think her expression is uncertain. "Do you not wish to give me everything?"

 

"I don't know what that means when you say it." She reaches out but stops short of touching you so you lean into her hand. So many emotions flood into you. You experience them rather than trying to analyze them.

 

"I do not need everything at once, if that helps?"

 

"Well, what do you want first, then?"

 

You pull her to you, your lips hovering next to hers but not touching. "This," you say as you press in, the kiss nothing like the one the Platonians forced on you.

 

You kiss for a long time, neither of you pressing for more, although you do pull her onto you, so she is straddling you, her arms tight around your neck.

 

When you finally pull away, she smiles, a lazy, lovely expression, and traces your lips lightly with her finger, causing chills to run down your back.

 

"I wasn't sure if Vulcans kissed, but I used to fantasize about kissing you anyway."

 

"Just that?" You realize you are smiling, even if most humans would not realize it.

 

But you think she does. "Well...maybe other things." She moves her light touch to your ears, making you groan, and then to the back of your neck. "Do you ever think of me when you...touch yourself." Then she stops her caresses and frowns. "Do you do that?"

 

You nod. "I lately have only thought of you."

 

She reaches down, touching you through your pants, and you close your eyes. "Are you thinking of me now?"

 

"Most assuredly." You are also thinking how she should never, ever stop touching you that way.

 

She does, but only to undo your pants and slide her hand into them, under your briefs, grasping you, playing. As she does that, you pull her closer to you, lifting up her shirt and sucking her breasts through her bra, enjoying the mark your mouth leaves on the fabric. You want to be closer so you pull her shirt off, then remove her bra and the rest of her clothes. She's taking yours off too, slipping from your lap long enough to ease off your pants, and then you pull her back, onto you.

 

She is nothing like Valeris. Christine's thoughts are undisciplined, her reactions open and expressive and holding nothing back. She is not quiet when she climaxes, and you like hearing her pleasure, knowing you brought her to that state.

 

You follow her, near silent in the moment, but holding her tightly as you let go. You collapse against her and she kisses your hair.

 

You pull away enough to study her, to take in what you were too busy possessing to really look at. You particularly enjoy her breasts and spend a great deal of time on them, making her moan. Then you settle her back on the couch and kiss your way past her breasts to explore the rest of her, devoting most of your time to one place, to licking and sucking and making her call out again, this time even louder.

 

You resist saying, "You are mine," but it is how you feel. You do, however, murmur, "I am yours, Christine. If you want me."

 

She gives you the sensuous lazy smile you are becoming very fond of. "Wanting you has never been in question, Mister Spock." Then she grasps you and plays until you can join with her again.

 

She is happy. You believe you could become addicted to how she feels when she comes down from an orgasm, the mix of emotions, the almost dizzying feeling of release.

 

The love.

 

No, wanting has never been in question. For either of you. If you never reached for each other until now, then now is your time.

 

She does not say she loves you even though you can feel that she does. You like her restraint.

 

You are finding, to your great pleasure, that you like a great many things about her.

 

##

 

You lie in Christine's bed and she is pressed against you, the meld fading slowly. Rubbing her shoulder, because you have discovered she enjoys being touched—not just in a sexual way but like this, affectionately—you relax against her very soft sheets and allow yourself a small, satisfied smile.

 

She hid nothing from you—although you knew there were aspects of her mind that were off limits, but those had to do with missions and things you had no need to know. You would have the same areas if she were able to initiate a meld. Everyone probably has them.

 

"Were you in love with Jim?" she asks softly into the silence. She touches your face and turns you to look at her.

 

It is not a question you expect from her.

 

She smiles but her eyes seem to sear through you. "You said earlier you went to Gol because he left."

 

"I was much younger then. I had not yet learned to moderate expectations of a friendship—to balance emotions." You feel disappointment flood her; she knows you are lying.

 

She starts to talk, but you lay your finger on her lips.

 

"Yes," you say. "Yes, I was." Stroking back her hair, you try to decide how much to tell her. "I thought he and I had more than what we did. I know his feelings for me were strong. What did he not risk for me over the years? But he never wanted the physical expression that I yearned for. His love for me did not need that outlet."

 

"So I finally understand what everything means." She laughs softly, but she is not amused. She is not overly upset, either. The main emotion you are sensing from her is...understanding. "You get my love, which has always been a constant in your life even if you never wanted it. You get my mind, which Valeris withheld. You get your father's esteem because I have it. And you get to know what it's like to make love to Jim, because I know that. Am I leaving anything out?"

 

Again, it puzzles you that you do not feel hurt from her—or anger. "You make me feel safe, like my mother does at times." Finally you feel something new. Surprise and...amusement?

 

She crawls on top of you, holding your arms up over your head. "What else?" Then she kisses you tenderly and laughs into your mouth. "The more you give me, Spock, the less important any one of them becomes. And that's a good thing. That's what we all do—search for someone who makes us whole." She rises up, studying you. "I'm all right with being your lifeline if you're all right with being mine."

 

You realize you do not want to know how many other loves you are filling gaps for. And it may not matter. Because what is happening now, in her bed, is just the two of you.

 

"It is not my nature to wish for things to be other than as they are, but I wish that I had said yes to you when we were younger."

 

"I know. But you didn't. So...this is what we have." She kisses you again, still tenderly. She is not rubbing against you, or trying to arouse you, and you enjoy the feel of her on you, holding you down this way. It, like the blindfold, is something you do only with her.

 

And you think, despite what she says, that it is trust. You both trust the other.

 

"I would have liked kids though," she whispers so softly you think she is not sure if she wants you to hear.

 

You struggle enough to let her know you want your arms free and she lets go, and you pull her down to you, to rest the length of you. "We have both come across children in our time who moved us, have we not?"

 

"You brought yours home." She nips you gently. "Are you going to introduce me to Saavik? I've never met her."

 

"Yes, I will. I wish for you to be close to her." You roll so you are both on your sides because you want her to see your face when you say this. "If you were to find your own Saavik, I would welcome that child into our home."

 

"Our home?" She laughs, so amused it makes you smile. "We're one night into being sexual partners. A blissful, absolutely amazing and I may never let you out of my bed night. But still just one night. You really see a future already?" She traces your lips, the smile that has grown larger than you intended—that too is her effect on you and you believe she knows that.

 

"I do. But that aside, I am merely saying that while having biological children may be problematic, having children in our life would not be." You run your nails lightly down her back; she loves this. "I am not, however, saying that I expect that from you. We are both highly focused on our careers. There may be little room for much else."

 

"Except each other. And your family."

 

You remember when she lost her parents. She has no siblings and her parents were also only children. She is truly alone in a way you, with extended family on both sides, may never understand.

 

But she has created a family from friends, you think. And that may ultimately be richer, at least so far as replacing the type of family you see once a year and barely remember details of their lives. Friends cannot replace parents, nor do they usually try.

 

"Maybe Saavik will spit out some kids so we can be grandparents." She is lost in what you're doing with your fingers on her back; otherwise, you think she would not phrase the act of giving birth so flippantly.

 

But it amuses you. It plays to the pragmatism in her that you never expected. The humor you are finding refreshing since it does not bite the way Leonard's always did. "That would be ideal," you say.

 

She smiles and pulls you closer for a kiss. When she pulls away, you nuzzle her neck, taking in the scent of her.

 

You pull away. "May I ask you something?"

 

"With or without the blindfold?"

 

You allow yourself a small smile. "Without."

 

She nods.

 

"I remember you wore a distinctive perfume during our first mission. You no longer wear it?"

 

"Do I need to wear it?"

 

"No, but as I understand women, they usually do or do not. But you did and now do not."

 

She leans back. "Roger gave me the one I wore when I was a nurse. By the time I got to med school, Starfleet Medical only allowed perfume by waiver—too many species had allergies. Once I was in Ops, the same thing applied plus it's a great way to attract bugs and we spend way too much time outside." She closes her eyes. "I found one that I liked for when Jim and I... But once he left me, I couldn't bear to wear it."

 

"I am sorry. I did not mean my curiosity to bring you pain."

 

"It's an old pain, Spock. And we talk about things, right?" She turns to look at you, her smile wry. "We're good at talking now."

 

You nod.

 

"Do you like perfume?"

 

"I did not like the one Roger picked out for you."

 

She laughs. "Before or after you knew he'd picked it out for me?"

 

"Before. It was..."

 

"Trying too hard." She shakes her head. "I know. But it was expensive and he liked that about it. I didn't care for it all that much but the big-ass diamond engagement ring he gave me wasn't regulation, so the least I could do was wear the perfume. Show the world I was taken."

 

"You cared for me despite that."

 

"Pfff, that's your fault. If you're going to be mysterious and gorgeous and unattainable, you have only yourself to blame if women fall for you."

 

You pull her back to you.

 

"You know what I'd like, Spock—before we go adding anything to the shared home we don't even have yet, and I mean anything, even a freakin' goldfish? I'd like us to go find a perfume for me that we both like. Would you do that with me?"

 

"I would."

 

"Would you help me pick out other things?"

 

"Will they be revealing and likely to arouse me?"

 

She nods.

 

"Most assuredly."

 

"You're so much more fun than I expected."

 

"You are so much less romantic."

 

She rolls her eyes. "Because I'm not suggesting we go go shopping tomorrow for a bigger place? Baby steps, Mister. I want to get to know you before I commit."

 

You push her to her back and hold her arms over her head. "Does that mean you do not plan to be exclusive."

 

"Doofus. Of course not. I'll give you my heart, and maybe someday my mind, but you are not getting any closet space until I'm sure of you." She makes a considering face. "Perhaps not even then."

 

"We will—eventually, I am hearing what you are saying—find a place with many closets, so that will not be a problem."

 

"I like that idea." She wriggles against you, and the effect is immediate. "Unless you're too tired...?" Her grin tells you she knows that you are far from spent.

 

You go slow this time, let the sensations build for both of you. She is moaning—and also swearing—by the time you finally let her go and follow her into pleasure.

 

"Okay, maybe we can look for that place tomorrow." Her laugh is an exhausted one and you murmur, "Sleep," as you roll to your side.

 

"Okay. But for the record, I was kidding. I know you don't always pick up on that." She yawns, snuggling into you, whispering, "Thank you for saving me, Spock," and a moment later she is gone.

 

You hold her and consider which jobs she may be interested in. All of them will suit her, you think. If she gets one, it will be soon and she will no longer be able to accompany you on missions.

 

You should request her for your next one. It is unfortunate that you did not discover how much you enjoyed working with her until she was ready to move to a new position.

 

You cannot change what is. It is unfortunate, but it is also reality.

 

You close your eyes, finding her soft breath on your chest soothing, and fall asleep.

 

##

 

You hear a knock on your door, look up to see Christine, and motion her into your office. "Is lunch no longer convenient?"

 

"No, sorry." She does not sound genuinely sorry. "New mission. Got called up. Perils of being trusted by your father." She grins, a smile that increasingly reminds you of Jim.

 

"My father asked for you?"

 

"Yeah, that's generally how it works."

 

"That is not how it works for me."

 

"Well, you're still relatively new. When you've been doing this as long as he has, you'll be able to commandeer whomever you please, too." She makes a face as if she does not understand why you are discussing this.

 

"I would prefer you not go with him."

 

"The second part of that statement is 'But I understand you have to.' Also, Spock, what the fuck? You would prefer I don't go with him? Why?"

 

She has attacked on several fronts so you wait for a moment. That is a mistake.

 

She leans in, her voice low. "We're new. You don't know me well yet. I understand that. And for some reason known only to you, you're jealous of your father when it comes to me. But get over it."

 

"As you did, with Jim?"

 

She straightens, her eyebrows pulled down in a deep frown, her gaze steely. "Do you think you have cause to believe I'd cheat?"

 

"You were betrothed when you told me you loved me."

 

"Because of a virus that made Sulu try to skewer people and Riley nearly destroy us all—I think what I did was pretty damn minor. And afterward, when I really made an ass of myself, Roger was gone. Spock, where is this coming from?" She takes a deep breath, as if you are a child she is trying to understand—to not yell at. "I have opened my mind to you because I know Valeris didn't. I don't know what more you want from me if you haven't seen all you need to see through the meld. Now, I have to go pack. Please be sane when I get back from this mission."

 

And then she turns and walks out, and you are left feeling like a fool.

 

Or like a very small boy. Watching your father tell your mother to leave you, that your tears will dry on their own, that your tantrum will end more quickly if they do not indulge you. The way he would hold out his hand, his imperious, "Wife, attend me." You were so young, then. Too young to be expected to understand Vulcan discipline. And yet, he could not bend—you had to. And now he takes your woman.

 

No. This is ridiculous. Christine is right. You have been in her mind. You have felt a resonance from her time with Jim. The lingering regret. There is no such feeling for your father. No unquenched—or quenched—desire.

 

You send a message to her person comm. I regret my words. May your mission be successful and uneventful.

 

It takes longer than you like for your comm to chime. Thank you.

 

You are unsure how to read that. Is she touched or annoyed still? You give up trying to interpret two words that probably mean precisely what they say, and go back to what you were doing.

 

A few hours later, you comm your mother, wanting to leave early, to spend time with her, but you do not want to barge in on her. You have acted childishly enough for one day without disrupting the schedule of the ambassador's wife.

 

"Darling. Are you all right?"

 

"I wondered if you would like to go out—perhaps an early dinner. If you are not already engaged."

 

"That would be lovely. I'll see you soon."

 

The walk takes you little time. Your mother is sitting in her office reading. She smiles as you walk in. "My little boy. So handsome."

 

"Hardly little, Mother." You study her. "Is there somewhere you would like to try?" There often is. This is something you do, when your father is away. Let her "cheat" and have meat and forget for a time she is vegetarian.

 

You, of course, have no desire to do that. It merely gives you pleasure to indulge her.

 

"There's a seafood restaurant I've been hearing amazing things about and of course your father won't go with me. But you can."

 

"I would be happy to accompany you."

 

"Ooh, you said 'happy.' Be still my beating heart. You almost sounded human." She grins and goes to the hall closet to get a wrap. "I'm not in the mood to walk."

 

You nod and wait as she calls for her private flitter. You are quiet on the ride to the restaurant, where you are quickly seated even without a reservation. The benefits of fame and privilege.

 

But you do not mind. Sitting in the vestibule is not to your taste tonight.

 

Your mother orders wine and then sits back and studies you. "What's wrong, Spock?"

 

"Why must something be wrong?"

 

"A mother knows these things. So...spill."

 

"Christine and I are together."

 

You expect a smile, but she frowns. "Really? I wouldn't have seen that as the outcome after dinner the other night."

 

"Your faith in me is demoralizing."

 

"Oh, pfff." She smiles up at the waiter as he brings her wine and orders a great deal of food—you have never been sure how she fits so much into such a tiny frame. You order one of the two vegetarian pasta options and a salad, which you ask to be served with the entr仔.

 

She leans in once the server is gone. "Are you happy?"

 

"She left annoyed with me. You know Father took her on his latest mission?"

 

"Of course I know that." She studies you. "Do those two things go together somehow—her being annoyed and your father including her?"

 

"Why did you say that he could...take up with her if anything were to happen with you? Is it because you sense interest?"

 

"No, Spock, it's because eventually—unless an accident or something worse takes him from me—your father will outlive me. And I'm not averse to having a say in who succeeds me. Although Christine isn't that much younger than I am so really he probably needs an even younger woman or a Vulcan—at any rate, if he does remarry, which he will, because your father is not the kind to be alone, then you will be kind to her. Unless it's T'Menla. You don't have to be kind to her."

 

"Perhaps he will not remarry."

 

"There's an old human saying: you can judge the quality of a marriage by how quickly a man remarries and how slowly a woman does. It applies as well to Vulcans, I think. Although the burning does complicate things." She waves, as if brushing that idea away. "Let's get back to Christine. Do you think something is going on?" Her tone implies in no uncertain terms that if you think that, you are wrong—and quite possibly an idiot.

 

"I just found her, Mother, and he takes her away from me."

 

"Found her? Spock, she's been under your nose for decades. And it's not as if he knew you were with her." She makes a disparaging sound that manages to be more disapproving than any look your father has ever given you. "Don't you think you've rushed into this? You're obviously adrift, Spock. Any fool can see that. Your father and I have both been worried about you. First Valeris's betrayal. Then Jim's death. And that nice Mister Scott. You're not on a ship anymore—that must be so strange. Frankly, I was shocked you'd want to follow in Sarek's footsteps. So many changes. But Christine represents stability, doesn't she?"

 

"She represents nothing. She is herself." But the conversation with Christine is playing back to you—how many roles she is filling. But is that not normal? "You do not need to worry. I am fine, Mother."

 

"You aren't fine. I'd hoped, when you came to Vulcan so precipitously, that you'd be with Christine then. I didn't want you to be with a stranger during the burning—I hate the thought of that. But you came alone."

 

"I did ask her."

 

"You did?" She starts to laugh. "And she said no. And that's why you told us to check with her first before dinner. And that's why she was so uncomfortable."

 

You nod. "You should have warned her I would be there."

 

"Well, where's the fun in that?" Her expression sobers. "So she's upped the ante by making it difficult for you to get her. Are you sure you know why you're with her? Is it just that she's the antithesis of Valeris?"

 

"No. I have always been interested."

 

"Could have fooled me." She lets the servers put down your meal, then she leans in. "I don't want to lose a very dear friend over this, Spock, if your relationship ends badly."

 

You swallow harder than you mean to. "I do not intend for it to end. I hope that we will find a lasting accord."

 

"You're ready to marry her after a few nights? Spock, you are rushing into this. Perhaps you even agree with that subconsciously. It's why you're picking fights—just like when you were a boy."

 

You busy yourself with your food, hoping you can get her to change the subject.

 

"Break up with her, Spock." She says it like she would say to dispose of something from the chiller that has gone bad.

 

"Why?"

 

"Why stay?" Her stare is relentless.

 

"Because she is intelligent and surprising. I cannot predict what she will do, much to my surprise. Because, she is attractive and sensu—" You are not going to discuss your physical relationship with Christine with your mother. "More than anything, I enjoy her company—the way she makes me feel." You know you have walked into her trap by the happy smile on her face. "Do you wish me to say you and father have been right all these years?"

 

"Yes, I do." She grins, but it is a guarded expression. "But I also don't want you to hurt her."

 

"I imagine Father wants that even less."

 

She rolls her eyes. "Actually, you're wrong. You and he don't ever do this, do you? When I'm out of town. How many dinners have you had with him? If you break up with her, his life will go on as it is. I'm the one who stands to have an awkward time trying to balance you and Christine."

 

"You have done it for years."

 

"With you ignoring her. But not breaking her heart."

 

"Mother, it is entirely possible she will break mine."

 

You expect anything but the brilliant smile she gives you. 'Oh, sweetheart, I think that's just about the most wonderful thing you've ever said." She pats your hands and you feel that she is...happy? And there is an aura of mischief to her touch. "Let's put this time to good use and figure out a way for you make it up to her that you were an utter ass."

 

"I was not an—"

 

"Oh, Spock, of course you were. You're a Vulcan male. Utter ass is practically the factory default." She laughs at your expression. "I love you. I know I complain about Valeris, but I'm truly sorry that she hurt you. And that Jim is gone. I loved him, too."

 

"I know."

 

"So. Christine could be good for you—that's what you're saying, isn't it?"

 

You nod

 

"Then you just have to trust her."

 

You think how Christine told you she could not trust. It is ironic that you apparently mirror that.

 

But unacceptable. You will let go of what Valeris did. You will move past the pain of loss. You will accept Christine's friendship with your father. And your mother will help you.

 

It pleases you that your father will have no part in this. It does you no credit to feel that way, but nevertheless, you do.

 

##

 

You are in your office when Christine gets back. She looks exhausted as she stands at your door—exhausted and wary.

 

You rise, walk to the door, draw her in and tell the computer to lock the door, then you pull her into your arms. "I have missed you."

 

For some reason, this makes her stiffen in your arms, not relax.

 

"Was that the wrong thing to say?"

 

"No. But maybe it would have been nice if you'd asked me how I was."

 

"Is that what my father would do?" It is out before you can think better of it and you close your eyes, regretting it immediately.

 

She jerks away from you. "I'm too tired for this. I should have just gone home. Your father would have given me a ride because he actually noticed that I look like I'm going to drop."

 

"I will call you a flitter."

 

"You don't want to know what you can do with your flitter." She glares at the ceiling. "Computer, unlock the goddamned door."

 

The door opens and she is gone.

 

She does not answer your comms later, and you stop after the second attempt; she is no doubt sleeping. She needs rest. But you wander the halls of Starfleet Command, finding yourself in the connector to Starfleet Medical, heading down the private way Leonard showed you to get to his office, a way patients do not know of so no one will stop you.

 

"Well, look at what the cat dragged in." Leonard smiles and points at the chairs in front of the desk. "Pick one and take a load off. It's been a while, Spock."

 

"I realize that. I have been remiss."

 

"Oh, hell, we both have. Getting used to new jobs and all that. And Jim being gone." He holds up an imaginary glass in what you know is his tribute to his and Jim's mutual love of whisky. "So how's diplomacy?"

 

"Less confusing than interpersonal relationships."

 

"You mean romance? I wasn't aware you had one anymore. Didn't your lady love get sent to that ice planet Jim and I were stuck on?"

 

"I was not referring to Valeris. Have you ever rushed into a relationship?"

 

He starts to laugh. "Well, golly, I don't know. Did I once marry a woman I'd known a hot moment and let her put a chip in my head? Nope, doesn't ring a bell." He muttered, "Natira," between dramatic coughs.

 

"You thought you were dying."

 

"Oh so that gives me an out for being stupid?" He reaches behind him, opens the credenza, and pulls out a bottle and a glass. "Then again, she did happen to have the cure for what ailed me, so it wasn't all bad." He pours a small amount into his glass and sips. "I know you're not rushing into anything."

 

"I may have."

 

"Do I know the lucky person?"

 

You narrow your eyes. Person? Not woman?

 

"Oh, come on, Spock. You think I didn't see how you looked at Jim?"

 

"You never mocked me for it."

 

"Even I have limits. Besides, he did love you—just not that way. I felt for you. God knows there were enough women on the ship who didn't feel that way about me that I could sympathize."

 

"Christine was not one of those women, was she?"

 

"Hell, no. She's like my kid sister. Why do you think I rode her so hard?" Leonard's eyes get wide. "Oh, man, you and her? After all these years? I'd hardly call that rushing into it."

 

You take a deep breath, but then are unsure what to say. He gets up and moves to the chair next to you, pulling it back a bit before sitting, so he can cross his leg over his knee.

 

"You sure you don't want a drink, my friend?"

 

"There are times I regret my stance on alcohol."

 

"Wow. Okay. So, I take it there's trouble in paradise?"

 

"It is new. Paradise is...a distance off." When Leonard nods, you continue. "What is a relationship if neither partner can trust?"

 

"Pretty much my first marriage." His smile dies when he sees your face. "Okay, not really. Jocelyn and I didn't start out that way. Maybe if we had, we would have either taken steps to build some trust or walked away before it even started." He leans in. "I know Christine didn't trust Jim—but why wouldn't she trust you?"

 

"Perhaps it is I who has the greater lack of trust."

 

"You? Who the hell would she be with? I mean I'm sure she's had friends with benefits but anyone serious? No."

 

You meet his eyes. This is going nowhere. Why did you come here? But before you can do the rational thing and leave, you say, "Did you and your father have a close relationship? I remember from the pain Sybok took from you that you cared deeply for him, but...were you friends?"

 

"Some of the time, yeah. I don't think parents and kids were meant to be friends all the time, though. I mean...we're going to rebel. To disagree. Why are you asking about—oh for the love of God, Spock. You cannot seriously think Christine and your father...?" The dismay in his voice almost makes you smile.

 

"I think they may be closer than she is to me. Emotionally."

 

"Oh, you mean she likes him better? Well, golly, Spock, why would that be? Oh, let's see: a. he respects her, b. he likes working with her, c. he brings her home to pal around with your mother, who is a living angel, d. he doesn't mind that she once made an ass of herself over his dumb-as-bricks-when-it-comes-to-her son—need I go on?" He leans in. "Spock, what have you done for her lately?"

 

"We are forging a relationship."

 

"Forging. You do that in a hot smithy. Really hard work. Find a new word, my friend."

 

You think about that. Building a relationship would probably please him no better. Creating also requires concerted effort.

 

"Why can't you just let it become?" He leans back. "You have a relationship with her already, Spock. It just isn't a good one."

 

"It is now. It is very good."

 

He laughs. "I wish she was here to see you defending your relationship. Probably be good for her. You want my advice?"

 

"I am afraid that subconsciously I must. For I am here."

 

He grins. "Just...enjoy what you have and forget about the rest. Look how fast everything changed. Everything we thought we had: gone." He sighs. "I don't know if he told you but Jim and I were going to start a foundation. I was going to retire. Would have put the papers in the day after the launch. But...that didn't happen, now did it?"

 

"I did not know. I am sorry."

 

"You were busy with your own heartache. On multiple fronts, even." His terminal beeps and he gets up and reads what's on the screen. "Criminy, do these young bucks know nothing? I've got to go, Spock." He reaches into his desk, takes out a white pill you suspect is antitox even though he has taken only three sips of his drink. "If I were you, I'd focus on what's good. Let the rest work itself out on its own timetable, not yours." He pats you on the shoulder as he comes around the desk. "Cowards ne'er did win at love, my fine Vulcan friend. And have me over to dinner once you two work your shit out. I miss you both."

 

You sit for a moment, lost in the state between what you had and what will be. This man stands at the intersection—so much history. You must not let him slip away the way you did Jim.

 

##

 

Christine comms you the next day, but it is a text message. It says only We need to talk. Come over around seven if you're free.

 

Jim once told you no good interaction started with the words "We need to talk." You hope he is wrong in this case.

 

She does not make you wait when you ring for entrance shortly after seven. To a Vulcan, it would be rude to arrive even a few minutes late. But you have learned humans tend to look askance at rigid punctuality. You cannot tell what Christine thinks of it.

 

She does not hug you, but her smile is a sweet one. "Please, sit down. Do you want anything to drink?"

 

"Water is fine."

 

You notice she is drinking water also. You do not think that is a good sign. She must believe she needs a clear head to deal with you.

 

You see the scarf is still on the table so you pick it up and say, as lightly as you can, "Which of us should wear this tonight?"

 

She does not smile. "Neither. The time for that as a conversational aid is over."

 

"You indicated the concept was brilliant."

 

"I said genius. And it was. For people who needed to start talking. But we're beyond that—or we should be. We're lovers, Spock. Aren't we?" She leans in. "Or am I just someone you're fucking because I make you feel safe? Because I'm part of your past? Because you loved people adjacent to me?"

 

You are trying to take in cues, but she is giving you none. She is not jiggling her knee. She is sitting in a manner so relaxed you think it is the one she shows when she is working, when she needs people to believe in her and her ability to control a situation—and herself. Her emotions, especially.

 

She could be Vulcan right now.

 

"Spock, we should be looking each other in the eye when we talk. We should be seeing each other. If we can only really communicate with a blindfold on, this is not going to endure."

 

"Do you wish it to endure?"

 

"I do. But I need you to care about me."

 

"I would not be jealous if I did not care."

 

"That's bull. This isn't about me. This is about you and your father and the toxic thing you call a relationship."

 

"Has he told you that?"

 

"Spock, don't you get it? He never talks to me about you. He knows how I feel about you. That I love you." She stares at you defiantly. "That I have loved you for so damn long. But I don't know you, do I? Because this is the last thing I thought we'd be fighting about—hell, I didn't even include fighting on my list of 'things likely to go wrong.'"

 

"Nor did I—if I had such a list. Which I do not."

 

She finally smiles, almost a laugh.

 

"Christine, you do know me—or you are getting to know me. What we have shared, I value. I have enjoyed the time we have spent. Talking, touching. Both together. I want this to continue. To grow. I realize I may have rushed us—speaking so soon of wanting everything."

 

"And forever. That's implied when a Vulcan says 'everything,' isn't it?"

 

"It is." You hold out your hand, allowing her to close the distance if she wants to touch you.

 

She does. And you know she does it knowing you will read her emotions.

 

You feel irritation. Hurt. Disappointment. And she is still so tired—you must ask her about this mission. But underneath everything, you feel love. You feel that she wants you—she wants this. But she is afraid.

 

She eases her hand away. "Probably got a lot from that. Seems unfair I can't do the same to you."

 

"I agree. Even a meld would not give you quite the same influx. It is akin to a scanner."

 

"Handy." She moves closer, cuddling in against you. "You need to understand that I have never, ever done anything remotely sexual or romantic with Sarek. I don't know if you understand how much he loves your mother?"

 

"I do. I was often the loser in that equation." You feel her tense. "This is not something a therapist would deem oedipal, Christine. I do not wish to make love to my mother. But..." Do you wish to talk to her of this? You have never, not even to Sybok. "When I was very young, I could have been allowed to more fully express my human side. She would have encouraged that. But he made sure to pull her away when I was at my worst."

 

"You've always indicated you viewed being human as that, as the worst thing possible."

 

"I am not certain I believed it completely. Absorbing that ideology was a defense mechanism perhaps. At any rate, my father wanted me Vulcan and only Vulcan. And I eventually submitted—even if he would say I was still a rebellious child. But I gave that part of myself up. I became what you know. Primarily Vulcan."

 

"But still, you remember. And it hurts?"

 

"It does. It is why, when Saavik was young, I did not make her choose. She cries or laughs or gets angry and I do not tell her it is wrong. She swears and I do not say a Vulcan would not do that. It is part of her."

 

She holds you more tightly.

 

"And then my father sent my brother away. Because I was going to follow him. After all Sarek's work indoctrinating me"—you nearly spit the word—"here was a full Vulcan—his own blood—who would lure me from the path." You can still feel the pain of watching your brother taken away, not allowed to pack any his favorite things, only given a robe and enough funds to take him off Vulcan.

 

"Valeris accepted you for who you were." She whispers it, understanding finally.

 

"As did Jim."

 

"As do I, Spock." She pulls away but seems uncomfortable. "I need to say something that may anger you. And it's about my friend. Your mother. This isn't all on Sarek, Spock. Your mother is so strong. If she was pulled away when you needed her, then that was her choice, too."

 

"No, he bullied her the way he did me..." But as you say it, you know that is wrong. Your mother is strong. She was with your father while he was still bonded to Sybok's mother, even if they lived apart. She endured him being called to another until T'Rela finally died. She chose to be the wife of a Vulcan—there was no bond when you needed her most, chaining her to your father. She could have taken you and been free of him but she did not.

 

"It doesn't mean she doesn't love you, Spock. Because she does. She does talk to me about you and that love is so, so clear. But perhaps she, too, wanted you to be what you are. More Vulcan than human."

 

"But she enjoys when I express my humanity."

 

"Publicly? Or in private? With her?" She touches your cheek, and you feel only support—and guilt. This is her friend she is talking about. "She raised you to blend the way she has learned to, Spock. She taught you what she knew. And the Sarek she knows is full of love. How could she know you wouldn't get the same from him? And I know you don't. I see you two. You try—but it's always work, isn't it?"

 

You nod. Yes. It is always work. "Are you going to tell me that he loves me despite not being able to show it? Because that is what she says."

 

"Maybe she's seen it in a meld—felt it even? But that doesn't help you. That doesn't make it stop hurting." She brushes your hair back. "I think, if you hadn't been hit by so many things at once, you would not be feeling this so strongly now. And I'm not helping since he does ask for me a lot. I've had other people ask about it—snarky comments, some salacious. It's why I get so pissed off. Because he and I—we really do think alike when it comes to the mission." She pushes you back and straddles you. "But not when it comes to you. Because I don't want you to have to guess whether I love you or not. I'm not going to hurt you, Spock." She smiles tenderly. "And you're not going to hurt me. You'll probably piss me off beyond all reason." She laughs and leans in, nipping your lips softly. "But you won't hurt me, will you?"

 

"Not that way. But I may be thoughtless. I should have asked about your mission."

 

"The old me would have been thrilled that the first thing out of your mouth was that you missed me. And it won't be a bad thing to say in the future. It's just...our fight wasn't over—it just got put on hold while I was away. So whatever you were going to say was probably going to be wrong."

 

"And no doubt will be again. We seem to be more volatile than I anticipated."

 

"We do, don't we?" She begins to move on top of you and you close your eyes. "Volatile doesn't have to be bad, though."

 

You pull her to you, kissing her deeply, almost frantically, and she kisses you back the same way. You stay there a long time, not reaching for the meld, not taking her clothes off, just letting the kisses move from desperate to something gentler, something stronger. Until the touch of her becomes familiar, part of you—everything.

 

She pulls away, and she feels so relaxed, like she did when she was injured and on the pain medicine. "I feel drunk," she says, her smile so sensual you begin to ease off her clothing, let her take yours off, and then you lift her and lower and...there.

 

You both breathe out, heads thrown back, fingers clasped. You realize you want nothing more from her than this connection, this understanding—this ease. She moves almost painfully slowly, murmuring your name as you thrust, and you let go and let yourself melt into the emotions that are flowing into you.

 

Is this love? If so, you and Valeris never had it.

 

Christine finds a rhythm that builds pleasure, and you watch as the ride is expressed on her face, in the way her mouth opens, the breathy gasps of pleasure, and then the slight freeze as her climax begins, the moans, louder now, then louder again.

 

You cannot wait, not when you are this open, when her pleasure is so raw, and you pull her to you, burying yourself in her, over and over and over and—

 

You are very loud as you come. She laughs and finally holds her hand over your mouth to muffle the sound, and you kiss her palm and relax into her. Gently, she kisses your cheek, then your ear and neck, until you pull her back to you, to have her kiss your lips again.

 

"I love you, Spock."

 

You ease her back, so she can see your face, can take in the emotion in your eyes, as you say, "I love you, too, Christine."

 

"And, Spock?" She touches your cheek, her hand dancing lightly over your skin. "I missed you, too."

 

 

FIN