DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Cheree Cargill and is copyright (c) 1999 by Cheree Cargill. This story was written for the enjoyment of the author and no infringement of any existing copyright is intended nor is any profit realized or expected. One copy of this story may be downloaded for the sole purpose of the reader's use and may not be copied or reproduced in any form whatsoever without the express written consent of the author. This story is Rated PG.

The Shirt

by Cheree Cargill

Laundry detail sucked. There just wasn't any other way to put it. Celine Malone wondered what had ever possessed her to join up in the service. She certainly wouldn't have if she'd known that the recruiter's pitch to "Join Starfleet. See the Galaxy!" meant that what she'd be seeing was the laundry room deep in the mid-section of a starship. Even if it was the Enterprise. Somehow, when you were washing socks and underwear for 430 people, star travel sort of lost its glitter.

Her best friend down here, Morry Upshaw, had a more philosophical slant on things. "Look, honey," she said. "You're off-planet, which is something 99% of the population of the galaxy never gets. You get meals, clothing, lodging, and a paycheck. And, when you finish your hitch, you get a pension for the rest of your natural life and benefits out the wazoo. So, quityerbitchin'!"

Well, she guessed all that was true. The work was a no-brainer anyway. Folks dumped their dirty laundry down the cleaning chute in their cabin, the laundry techs processed it through the cleaning units and pressing machines, then the ID threads in each garment routed it back to the owner, where it magically appeared for its next wearing. Simple and ingenious.

But, God, it got boring!

Celine was sorting through the piles of worn clothing that had come down the chute this day, making sure that no uniforms got mixed in with the sundries. Her mind had been wandering as usual when one of the uniform tunics she pulled out, a blue one, caught her eye. Or more precisely, the double gold braid on the sleeve caught her eye. There was only one officer on board with braid like that and she couldn't help but check the inside of the neck band to make sure of her guess.

And there it was -- Spock, Cmdr.

She held up the uniform and stared at it in wonder, her heart pounding. She'd never met the First Officer, in fact had only seen him from a distance. She was too far beneath the bridge officers to merit their attention. But that didn't stop her from worshiping him from afar. She heard his voice on the shipwide intercom now and then and had glimpsed him occasionally around the ship. His tall, commanding presence and dark, exotic looks had swept her off her feet. She dreamed about him, fantasized about the two of them being together, lived for the times when she managed to actually see him, no matter from what distance.

And now she was holding his uniform in her hands! This shirt had actually touched his body! And now she was touching it! The very idea of it nearly made her feel faint.

Morry had been watching her and now she came around to stare curiously at Celine. "Girl, are you all right? Somethin' wrong with that uniform?"

Celine looked over at her, starry-eyed. "It's his," she breathed reverently.

Morry raised an eyebrow. "His who?" she questioned.

Celine stared back as if her friend were crazy. "His -- Spock's!"

"Yeah? And?"

Celine just shook her head and turned her scrutiny back to the blue shirt. "He actually wore this," she sighed.

"Yeah, and looks like he spilled coffee or somethin' on it, too. My guess is, probably that's what it's doin' in the laundry." Morry fixed her with a reproving look. "Come on, dump it in the processor and let's get back to work. We're never going to finish up by the end of shift this way." She turned and walked back to her station.

Celine started to comply but then couldn't make herself release the uniform. She just couldn't! This was his. It was like having him here with her. She might never get a chance to be this close to him again. Glancing over to make sure that Morry had her back turned, Celine quickly stashed the blue shirt out of the way, then went back to stuffing clothing into the processing unit.

* * *

Celine shared a quad cabin with three other crewmembers of her rank. She waited until her roommates were all away on their own business, then she sat cross-legged on her bunk and brought the uniform tunic out from beneath the mattress. Laying it out before her, she studied it with the worshipful attitude of a priest with the relic of a saint. With loving hands, she smoothed the wrinkles out of it, stroked the soft nap of the velour, ran her fingertips lightly over the silver metallic Starfleet insignia on the chest. Her breathing grew shallow at that for she had no trouble imagining his chest underneath the insignia and she had to stop and compose herself.

After a while, she slid her hands underneath the shoulders and picked the tunic up from the bed, holding it up close to her. Next to her, it appeared large and she lifted it higher, into the proper place in relation to her, if it were actually being worn, and she imagined the tall Vulcan standing before her. Closing her eyes, she brought the shirt up to her cheek, sighing as she rubbed her face against it.

Then, holding it to her face with both hands, she burrowed into its soft depths. She could smell him on it, she realized! Somehow, she'd never even thought to wonder what he smelled like. It wasn't quite a human smell. For instance, there was no odor of sweat that she had always found on the skin of human males, no matter how clean their habits. It was just a male scent that she never thought twice about. But it wasn't here. There was something, something remotely familiar, and she wracked her brain to identify it. Finally, she thought she knew. It reminded her of the scent of country earth just after rain had begun to fall. Not exactly, but that was as close as she could get.

That surprised her. She'd never even remotely imagined his skin smelling like that. She sniffed at the shirt again. There were other lingering scents here, more artificial ones -- the faint aroma of soap and deodorant ... the odor of a popular shaving cream ... the smell of the fabric itself ... even a whiff of coffee from the stained area near the hem.

Celine sat back and sighed heavily. She felt like she knew Spock intimately now. Quickly, she got ready for bed and slipped beneath the blanket. Hugging the uniform close to her, she happily went to sleep, her dreams filled with dark Vulcan eyes and soft embraces.

* * *

Spock stood before his closet and counted again. That was odd. There was one more pair of trousers than there were tunics. His uniforms had come back from the laundry yesterday but one of his shirts was missing. He walked over to the intercom unit on the wall and pressed the button. "Spock to laundry."

"Yes, Mr. Spock," a voice replied, nearly drowned by the noise of the processing machines in the background. "This is Crewman Fisher."

"Fisher, I'm missing a uniform tunic. Do you have it there?"

"One moment, Mr. Spock, I'll check." There was silence for approximately five minutes, then the man's voice returned. "No, Mr. Spock. I've run an ID check on all the clothes in for cleaning and we don't have anything of yours down here. I show your order processed and delivered at 16:34 yesterday."

"Nevertheless, I delivered four pairs of pants and four tunics to you. I received back four pants and three tunics. Please keep checking. I want the missing item returned."

"Yes, sir. We'll look for it, sir."

"Please do so. Spock out." Irritated by the inconvenience, the first officer went back to his closet and finished dressing. This was no doubt another example of human incompetence. If the missing shirt wasn't located, he would have to put in a requisition for a replacement, which would be docked from his pay. And, if there was anything he hated worse than dealing with the tiviokh in the laundry room, it was dealing with those in the quartermaster's office.

He stood up and took a deep, cleansing breath. No, he mustn't think like that. It was unprofessional for a command officer to think of the crewmembers under him as idiots and slackers ... even if they were. And irritation was not to be tolerated either. It was beneath his dignity as a Vulcan to allow such emotions.

Turning to the small mirror above his dresser, he made sure his hair was in place, then left his cabin for the bridge.

* * *

Laundry swore up, down and sideways that the missing tunic was not within their area. Not believing their protests, Spock found time to make a surprise inspection to see for himself. The presence of the executive officer making an unannounced visit considerably rattled the chief, who scurried to keep up with the long-legged Vulcan as he turned a critical, piercing eye on all the goings on. It was Spock's prerogative to do so. As exec, he was directly responsible for everything that occurred on board, insulating the captain from the everyday business that kept the ship running smoothly. The department chief knew that if he found something that displeased him, Spock would turn his wrath on the Quartermaster who would in turn pass that wrath on down the line. And the chief knew all too well what this little inspection was all about, although Spock never once mentioned missing uniforms and kept his remarks and actions rigidly in line with naval regulations.

When the First Officer finished his tour and left with a cold, laconic comment about efficiency ratings and upcoming personnel reviews, the department chief breathed a sigh of relief then turned to his staff, his eyes blazing. "All right, people, listen up!" he shouted to his assembled crewmembers, all standing at attention. "Somewhere in this laundry is a shirt -- and you all know goddamn well what shirt I'm talking about! -- and I want it found! I'm not gonna be top of Mr. Spock's shit list just because one of you is too incompetent to feed a shirt through a washer! And it damn well better turn up by the end of the day! Now get back to work!!" The chief went back to his office, already well into the throes of a blinding headache.

Over by one of the processors, Celine wondered if she looked as pale as she felt. When Spock had stalked into the laundry looking like he was loaded for bear, she nearly fainted on the spot, certain that he knew who had taken the missing uniform. But he had made his way to the chief's office and a few moments later, the two men had emerged to begin the inspection, the chief looking like Spock had definitely hung his ass out to dry. She had to get that uniform back into Spock's possession immediately.

But what would happen to her? What she'd done could very easily be labeled theft -- and theft from the ship's second highest ranking officer at that! Lords of light and darkness -- they'd throw her so deep in the brig that she'd never see daylight again! She couldn't just sneak the shirt into the laundry and feed it into the processor. The ID thread would record its entry and exit times, thereby showing that the shirt had been missing for several days.

No, she had to make it look like the blame fell on no one in the laundry. That it never even reached here. That it was ... that it was ... a mistake on Spock's part! That he only thought he'd tossed it down the laundry chute when, in reality, it was actually still in his cabin!

Inspired, Celine's mind whirled as her plan forged again. That's it. She would sneak into his cabin and plant the shirt somewhere as if he'd just dropped it and hadn't noticed it, then decided to blame the crew in the laundry room. But when?

That was the snag in her plans. How could she get into his cabin without him knowing? What if he walked in on her suddenly? Well, she'd just have to chance it. She had to get that shirt back to him tonight!

* * *

Ship's night was just a dimming of the light level but nevertheless the human psyche needed it to stay healthy. On this "night", Celine huddled in an interdeck access tube deep into alien territory. Officer's territory, that is. She'd never been on deck 5 where the senior officers' cabins were located but had nevertheless pinpointed the First Officer's cabin from the ship's map she had studied on the computer screen in her cabin. Was he in or out? she wondered now. He was officially off-duty now, but where was he? The other senior officers were likely at supper but Spock kept odd hours. Dear God, she'd heard scuttlebutt that the Vulcan never slept! What if he sat in there all night, wide awake?

She sighed quietly. She'd just have to wait until he made an appearance one way or another. Surprisingly, she didn't have long to wait. About half an hour later, both Spock and the Captain came strolling down the corridor, conversing amiably. Celine marveled a bit at the easy camaraderie between the two men, having never imagined that they might be friends as well as fellow officers.

"Join me for supper and then a game of chess?" the Captain was asking.

"Yes, thank you, Captain," Spock replied. "I would find that most enjoyable. If you will allow me a moment to drop these reports on my desk, I shall be right with you." Spock stepped into his cabin, was gone a scant minute, then re-emerged and the two men disappeared down the corridor toward the lift. Celine faintly heard the elevator doors hiss open and closed.

She waited until she was sure they were gone, then did a reconnoiter of the hallway. There was no one around, so she darted out of the access tube and toward the First Officer's cabin. The door slid open readily -- thank God he hadn't locked it! -- and she slipped inside.

Once there, she had to stop in amazement as all her senses seemed to be assaulted at once. Her immediate, irrational impression was that she'd stepped into hell. The room was red and hot. Then she shook herself and looked around more closely. Of course it was hot in here. Vulcan was hot. Spock must keep the temperature in his cabin considerably higher than the rest of the ship. And the redness came from the wine-colored curtains draping his bed chamber. She ventured tentatively into that section of the cabin, the alien sculpture and lighting only accenting the strangeness of it. What looked like a harp was leaning against the wall and she wondered if he played it. Experimentally, she reached out and lightly touched the strings. A beautiful, completely unearthly sound issued from the instrument and hung on the air.

Quickly, she looked around at the door, hoping that it hadn't been heard in the corridor outside. But no one came to investigate so she began to seek out a good place to plant the uniform. Opening his closet door, she peered in at the pristine and rigid order of his clothing, hanging in precise ranks. At one end hung several civilian outfits, obviously of Vulcan manufacture, and on the floor stood his extra boots, polished like mirrors.

No, she decided. He'd never believe that he'd just accidentally tossed the shirt on the floor of the closet and forgotten about it. She closed the closet door and turned to the bathroom. Like the rest of the cabin, it was clean and everything was in its place. It had the feeling of someone who had spent his entire life in the military. Celine had the distinct impression that Spock could make a bunk so tight that a coin would bounce on it ... although she doubted that senior officers did that much. Undoubtedly his yeoman took care of things like that.

Abruptly she had the vision of herself as Spock's yeoman, making his bed, smoothing down the sheets where he had slept ... and where maybe she had slept with him. The fantasy nearly overwhelmed her for a few seconds but then she forced herself to shake the intrusive thoughts away. She didn't have time for daydreaming! She had to plant this shirt somewhere and get out of here!

The laundry chute was in the wall of the bathroom and, with sudden inspiration, she punched the sliding door open and peered in. As she knew all too well, the chute operated on a simple vacuum design, engineered to save ship's energy. The military designers of the ship had undoubtedly jiggered a budget cut into the overall internal workings, figuring that laundry didn't get the same importance rating as phasers and transporters. Usually it worked quite well, but there were always instances of socks and brassieres getting hung up in the works or disappearing. Granted, she'd never heard of a uniform tunic getting lost but anything was possible.

She peered again down the chute and noticed something that shouldn't be there -- a protruding strut just where the tube made a bend. Oh, thank the gods that watched over fools and the lovesick, she thought. If she could just get the uniform to snag conveniently on that strut, it would hang there indefinitely and, when it was finally found or turned loose of its own accord, then no one would be to blame. It was just an accident and one that Spock had unnecessarily blown a gasket over.

Reaching down as far as she could, she could just touch it. Good! Shoving the shirt down, she worked blindly by feel until she was sure the uniform was hanging onto the strut, unable to respond to the gentle suction of the vacuum that was trying to take it to the laundry room.

Perfect! Celine straightened and turned to make her escape but was halted in her tracks by voices outside the door. Spock! He'd returned early!

She looked around wildly for a place to hide and ended up ducking into the sonic shower and pressing herself back as far as she could, praying he wouldn't see her. Praying harder that he wouldn't decide to take a shower! She could just see through the doorway into the cabin proper.

Her heart beating so hard she was sure he could hear it, Celine listened as the first officer came back into his cabin and went into the bed chamber. She heard the slight scrunch of the mattress as he sat down on the edge of it and then a soft thunk, thunk as he took off his boots and lightly dropped them onto the floor.

He reappeared in her line of sight and she was shocked and delighted to see that not only had he shed his boots but his tunic as well and was now clad in the black t-shirt that was part of the men's uniform. His tall, trim body now encased in solid black, the shirt clinging to the outline of his chest and shoulder muscles, Celine nearly fainted as her libido slammed into high gear.

Oblivious to his watcher, Spock disappeared from sight again and Celine heard him sit at his desk. "Computer, tomorrow's duty roster," he commanded, his deep voice sending a chill over her, causing goosebumps to appear on her arms.

It seemed that he worked at his desk for an hour, while Celine stood motionless and silent, hardly daring to breathe. After a while, however, she heard him get up and he walked back into her field of vision. Then she had to clamp her teeth onto her bottom lip and hold her breath. He was getting ready for bed!

She watched wide-eyed as he stood generally facing her direction and peeled off the t-shirt, leaving him bare from the waist up. Her heart thudded loudly again as she stared at him. She had never envisioned what a gorgeous body he had -- firm and well-muscled chest, flat stomach, crisp dusky hair covering his chest and trailing down to his navel before disappearing beneath the waist band of his pants.

And then her toes positively curled. He was unzipping those pants, preparatory to stepping out of them. He had them partially down his thighs and she was staring bug-eyed at the pair of regulation black undershorts he wore when Red Alert blasted through the ship, nearly giving her heart failure on the spot!

"Red alert! Red alert!" came the voice of the second shift duty officer. "This is not a drill! Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, to the bridge please!"

As soon as the alarm went off, Spock had immediately pulled his trousers back into place and zipped them, then stepped to the intercom. "Spock here. Acknowledged." It took him about two minutes to redress and get his boots on and then he was out the door at a fast walk.

For a very long time, Celine didn't move from her hiding place in the shower. For one thing, she wasn't sure that her legs would work, so boneless and shaky did they feel. When she finally forced herself into action, she paused and listened before venturing into the corridor. The running footsteps up and down the hall had ceased, so she decided that everyone had reached their duty stations by now. She swallowed the terrified lump in her throat and made a run for it. She was down the service ladder and three decks below before she slowed down and paused, trying to get her heart and breathing back to normal.

Then she deliberately made her way back to her cabin. Finding it empty, she sat on her bunk and shook for a while. When red alert was canceled, she crawled between the sheets and huddled there, wide awake, vowing to herself never to do anything so addle-brained stupid again as long as she lived!

* * *

Two days later, the missing tunic abruptly appeared atop the pile of laundry that needed to be cleaned. The chief himself took it back to Spock and investigated the chute in the first officer's cabin. There, it was discovered that there was a protruding rod that had apparently snagged and held the tunic, and where it had been dangling all this time. Spock ordered it repaired at once, then solemnly apologized to the chief and his people for the false accusations of incompetence he had directed at them. The chief took it with good grace and proper humility and the men parted on good terms.

The unfortunate tunic in question, however, was unwearable by now. The snag had ripped a large tear across it and Spock had decided it was time to order new uniforms in any case. The chief took the shirt back down to the laundry with him, where he tossed it on the heap of damaged clothing that were to be recycled.

Seeing it there, Morry Upshaw rescued the tattered blue shirt and brought it to Celine, who nearly fainted on the spot when she saw her friend with the uniform in her hands. But Morry was smiling in a friendly manner and said, "Hey, look what I found in the trash! It's that damn shirt Mr. Spock was so mad about. Want it as a souvenir?"

She never did understand why Celine immediately reported to sick bay with a killer headache.

The End