DISCLAIMER: Star Trek is the property of Paramount Pictures and Viacom, Inc. The contents of this story belong to Cheree Cargill and are copyright (c) 2006. No infringement is intended. This is an amateur story written for the fun of it. Rated PG.

Turn, Turn, Turn

Cheree Cargill



"You have changed the color of your hair," Spock commented casually without looking at the woman walking beside him down the ship's corridor.

Christine reflexively brought a hand up to touch her newly dyed locks then smiled a little nervously. "Yes. I decided to go back to my natural color. I got tired of the blonde."

"It is illogical to change a natural asset," he remarked in the same deadpan tone.

"Hmm ... maybe, but Humans are prone to doing that." He didn't answer and Chapel cast a sidelong glance at the Vulcan. "Which do you like best, Mr. Spock?"

He gave her a slightly startled look, then faced forward again. "I have no preference."

"I've been blonde most of the time you've known me..."

"Yes."

"Well?"

"I have stated that I have no preference, Miss Chapel. In fact, I had scarcely noticed."

"Oh, now you're being insulting!" Christine pouted, causing Spock to give her another brow-raised look.

"I meant no offense--"

"Then you didn't like me blonde!"

"I liked your hair very well blonde--"

"Then you don't like it brunette!"

The Vulcan was becoming a bit flustered. "I have not stated that, either! I find you quite attractive either way!"

"A-ha!" Christine laughed in delight, swinging on him. "I bet Nyota a credit you'd comment on the new color and that I'd get you to admit how you feel about it."

Spock had stopped and was facing her with a slightly helpless expression on his face. "What I 'feel' about it is that I fail to understand why my opinion of your hair color is of any relevance whatsoever."

"The point is - you noticed what color it is." Christine smiled smugly and resumed her way down the corridor toward sick bay.

Spock caught her in three long-legged strides and settled back to her pace. "I notice everyone's hair color," he argued. "For instance, Lt. Griffin's is a shade of chestnut brown--"

"Griffin!" Abruptly Chapel had stopped and was glaring at him. "That little tart? I knew she was making goo-goo eyes at the Captain and Dr. McCoy, but I didn't realize she was after you, too!"

"Miss Chapel, Lt. Griffin has neither been 'after me' nor 'making goo-goo eyes', whatever that is." Spock's face had, incredibly, grown just a hint greener than was normal. "She is part of my biochemical team and under me as a subordinate officer in my department."

"Uh-huh. She'd like to be under you, all right! And on top of you and any other position she could get you into."

"Miss Chapel! I will not tolerate insubordination!"

Christine backed down. "I'm sorry, sir. Officially, Griffin's a good scientist and junior officer. Off the record, she makes my blood boil. She's a little slut and I can't stand her!"

Spock had drawn himself up to his full height and assumed his First Officer mask. "I shall ignore those last remarks, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir."

"I believe we are both due in sick bay now."

"Yes, sir." They started walking again, not speaking, but just before they reached the doors to the medical center, she cut her eyes his way and asked, "But you do like my hair this color, don't you?"

* * *

"Sad," was McCoy's succinct comment over Irish coffee in the senior officer's mess that evening.

"Lester?" responded the Captain, sipping his own potent brew.

"Both of them," the surgeon answered. "Crazy as loons if they thought they could get away with something like this."

"They did ... for a little while," Kirk replied. He was still having nightmares about the life-entity transfer with Janice Lester and how she'd very nearly succeeded in taking over his ship. "Thank God the crew knows me better than that."

"May I join you gentlemen?" Spock was standing beside the table holding a tray with a steaming bowl balanced on it.

"Of course, Spock. You know you don't have to ask," Kirk said and made room on the table for the First Officer's food. "That is food, isn't it?" Jim corrected himself, catching a whiff of the contents of the bowl.

"T'zi'rah chah," the Vulcan replied. "An after-dining wine. It enhances relaxation and promotes the ability to meditate."

"Leave it to a Vulcan to ruin a perfectly good drink," McCoy pronounced, rolling his eyes. "Why is it hot and in a bowl?"

"Why is your coffee hot and in a cup?" Spock retorted with slightly raised brows and Kirk laughed.

"Touché, Bones."

"Okay, conceded." McCoy was in too mellow a mood to continue an argument. "Jim and I were just discussing Lester and Coleman. The Starfleet psychologists are going to have a field day examining those two."

"It is almost a certainty that Dr. Lester and Dr. Coleman will be remanded to Tantalus or a similar rehabilitation colony," Spock commented, delicately placing his fingertips on either side of the small white bowl and lifting it to his lips. He took a sip, savored it for a second, then set the bowl back on its tray. There was an instant of sublime enjoyment that flickered over his angular features, then his habitual mask was back in place.

McCoy hadn't missed the change. "Good stuff, Spock?" he smiled. "I'll have to try it."

"It would erode your esophagus, Dr. McCoy. Although, on second thought, considering what you normally imbibe, I doubt chah would do you any harm. The Captain, however, I would advise to avoid this particular beverage."

Kirk guffawed. "In that case, I'll definitely give it a try!"

The men all enjoyed another sip of their individual drinks, then watched as Uhura and Christine entered the room and made their way to the food slots to retrieve dinner trays. "She change her hair color?" Kirk asked, jerking his head toward the head nurse.

"Color du jour," McCoy answered laconically.

"Actually, she dyed it dark brown eighteen days ago, Dr. McCoy," Spock remarked off-handedly, taking another sip from his bowl.

"Now, there's an interesting statement." The doctor pounced immediately. "Just how did you know that?"

"Very little on this ship escapes my notice, Dr. McCoy. As First Officer, it's my job--"

"To keep up with the women's latest fashion crazes? Right."

"To note any changes that might affect the crew."

"And Christine's hair-do's are part of your official duties?"

"Of course not. I simply took note that she'd dyed her hair. So has Technician Kuromatso, although I do not believe aquamarine is esthetically pleasing with her skin tones."

"Spock!" Kirk had nearly spilled coffee down his chin and caused everyone else in the rec room to stop what they were doing and stare at the trio of senior officers.

"Spock, I think I need to drag you into sick bay for another physical," McCoy said. "I'm beginning to worry about you!"

"There is no need for that, Dr. McCoy," the Vulcan answered stiffly. "I am perfectly healthy, as you well know."

"Still, you're not acting at all like yourself."

"Perhaps simply the result of recent events and the effect of serving among Humans for so many years. It has strained my ability to ignore the raging emotions and illogical actions of those around me. Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I will retire for the evening." With great dignity, Spock rose, took his tray to the recycle slot, and left the mess hall.

McCoy watched him go, but his gaze was serious and speculative. Kirk was watching McCoy watch Spock. "Bones? You think there's really something wrong with him?"

The surgeon snapped out of it and shook his head. "No, he's just being Spock, that's all."

"Good." The Captain sipped his coffee again then leaned forward conspiratorially. "Did Kuromatso really dye her hair green?"

* * *

It was late but Christine was still hard at work on the bioresearch experiment in Medical Lab 5. Spock, on one of his third watch prowls through the ship, making sure that all areas were inspected and all crew contacted on a regular basis, happened to be taking a short cut through the lab area on his way to the botany division. He halted as he saw Christine bent over a scanning microscope, strands of her newly darkened hair coming loose from the clips that held it in place and beginning to fall around her face. She was concentrating so diligently on the slide she was viewing that she hadn't paid any attention to his entrance.

"Miss Chapel," he said, causing the woman to give a little squeak of surprise and a violent start.

"Mr. Spock! You scared the beejesus out of me!"

"My apologies. What are you doing here at 0230?"

"Working, of course."

"Are you not due on duty at 0700?"

Christine gave a slightly sheepish smile. "Yes, but I just got so involved..."

"Lack of sleep will not enhance your duty performance. Please cease your work and retire to your quarters at once." Spock was staring at her levelly, his dark brown eyes locked into her face, noting every sign of fatigue painted there.

"Oh, I'm really okay--oh!" Christine betrayed herself with a huge yawn.

"And exhausted. I will escort you to your cabin to make sure that you do not turn aside and take up some new activity." He moved his hands behind his back and stood patiently, but resolutely.

She grinned. "You've got my number, don't you, Mr. Spock?"

"Number? What number?" His brows twitched upward in a puzzled gesture that was so characteristic she could not help laughing out loud.

"Oh, I'm sorry! I really must be tired! Nothing. Just an Earth expression." She shut down the microscope, put the slides in cryo, and quickly straightened the area for the next user. All the while, Spock stood unmoving, watching her.

"Okay. Well, good night, Mr. Spock." Christine moved out into the corridor then saw that Spock had moved in step with her. "Really, you don't have to escort me," she said uncomfortably. "I think I can find my way just fine."

"I have no doubt you can," he answered imperturbably, but didn't break his stride.

"I'm a big girl. I mean, I'm flattered, but I really don't need you to see me to my door. I promise I won't go wandering off somewhere."

"That is not the reason I am accompanying you," he replied.

That caught Christine a bit off-guard. "Oh? Then why?"

"I wish to discuss something with you and this seemed an opportune time to do so."

"What?"

"Not here," the First Officer responded, nodding acknowledgment to a passing crewman who greeted them. "I do not wish to discuss this in public."

"Oh!" said Christine and wondered what that meant.

* * *

Fatigue was beginning to catch up with her by the time Christine showed Spock into her cabin. Stifling another yawn, she asked, "Would you like some tea?"

"Thank you, no. Caffeine is contra-indicated if you wish to sleep, by the way."

"It's herbal," she responded with a faint hint of irritation -- she knew that, fergahdsake --and went to the food slot. "Computer, hot tea. Chamomile."

A cup appeared a minute later and the nurse drew it out, sipping at it gingerly. Just what she needed to take the final edge off and let her sleep. If Spock would just say what he had to say and leave, that is...

"Would you like to sit down?" she asked politely, but he indicated in the negative and remained standing near the door, just outside the sensor's range, his hands again folded behind his back in his habitual manner. "Then you won't mind if I do, will you?"

"Please. This won't take long," he responded.

Christine tiredly folded herself into her desk chair and waited, the steam from her tea making her sleepier with every moment. "Okay, what's so private that you had to say it behind closed doors?" she inquired.

He shifted for a second, almost uncomfortably, and his face lost the stern, professional expression he so often wore. In fact, he looked almost nervous, she decided, which piqued her curiosity all the more.

"I am violating protocol by imparting command information," he confessed, his voice softening. "I must ask that what I say be kept in strictest confidence."

"Of course," she answered, sitting up more alertly. This must be serious!

"You are aware that we are nearing the end of our five-year mission," he began.

"Yes."

"The Captain has received orders to return the ship to Starbase 17 in order for all those involved to testify in the court-martial of Doctors Lester and Coleman."

"That doesn't surprise me," Christine replied. "What's so secret about that?"

"It is not that so much as what follows." Spock paused for a second, as if evaluating whether he should stop now, then went on, "Following their trial, we have been ordered on to Earth for refit and change of crew. It means that our mission will have ended early. We will not be going back on patrol after that. The crew will stand down and be reassigned."

"Oh! Well, that is news!"

"The command officers and department heads have been informed but a general announcement has not yet been made. That is why I must ask that you not repeat this information."

"No, of course I won't." Puzzled, Christine set her tea aside and rose, coming back to face him. "But why are you telling me?"

Instead of answering directly, Spock replied, "You may be aware that shortly thereafter I will have fulfilled my 20 years service with Starfleet."

"Oh, I didn't know that."

He nodded. "I have not yet decided whether I will re-enlist or follow some other pursuit. I have had a number of intriguing offers, both on Vulcan and on Earth."

Again, Christine wasn't quite sure why he was telling her this. "Um ... I'm glad for you, Spock. But I still don't see--"

"I simply wanted you to be aware of those options," he replied enigmatically and she could see his First Officer persona begin to return. His expression was again settling into command mode. "And now I will say good night. We shall talk more when you are not so fatigued."

"Uh, okay. Good night, Spock."

He nodded curtly to her and was gone, leaving her wondering if her brain was so tired she'd missed something in this strange conversation.

* * *

Starbase 17 was situated on one of the moons that swirled around the gas giant Calabria Prime. It was far enough away from the main planet that the surface was not continually wracked by gravitational anomalies but still close enough that enormous tides sloshed back and forth twice a day in the moon's small oceans, as if a titanic child were making waves in a colossal bathtub. The base itself resided underneath a vast series of environmental domes, for the atmosphere was not breathable by Humans or other oxygen-breathers, the result of degassing by the planet's numerous volcanoes. The purple sky, occluded by the orange bulk of Calabria, and streaked by yellowish clouds added a further surreal effect to the black lava landscape. It was a brilliant, garish planet but the only one even vaguely suitable to house a Federation outpost in this sector.

It was the Enterprise's home base and the center of its patrol range. On the infrequent dates that the ship put into port here, it was a time of rejoicing for the crew, for shore leave was generally granted and eagerly coveted. This time was no exception, despite the serious nature of their visit, and, if not required to man the ship, all crewmembers were given full access to the base's facilities.

Christine had managed to end up on her own after her group of friends had all voted to take in the latest holofilm at the base theater. Christine wasn't interested in the subject matter -- a remake of Wuthering Heights with an all Andorian cast -- and decided to just wander and maybe shop a little. There didn't turn out to be all that much to do if a person wasn't particularly interested in bars, strip shows, commercially franchised restaurant chains, holofilms, or the small bazaar. The regulated entertainment district was mainly geared to spacers in port looking for a good time ("Stewed, screwed and tattooed," was how Sulu gleefully put it before he, Chekov and Leslie disappeared into the crowd) and not to more cultural pursuits.

Thus, Christine found herself standing a little wistfully before a large observation viewport, staring at the variegated mass of Calabria hanging hugely across the night sky.

"It is quite impressive, isn't it?" came a familiar voice behind her.

She turned to find Spock gazing over her shoulder at the same sight. "Yes, it's beautiful," she answered, going back to her previous position. "So real and yet unreal."

"I take it from your solitude that Lt. Uhura and Nurses Kilgore and Belin have deserted you," the Vulcan observed, peering down at her with a slightly speculative expression.

"Yes."

"Are you then free for the evening?"

Christine looked up at him, surprised, trying to read the almost fathomless eyes. "Yes, I am. I was about to go back to the ship."

The slightest ghost of a smile touched the corners of Spock's mouth. "Would you care to do some sightseeing with me?" he asked and Christine's mouth fell open before she realized what had happened.

* * *

Spock's idea of "sightseeing" turned out to be renting a skimmer and two environmental suits and taking out across the bleak landscape for parts unknown. The craft was pressurized, thus they didn't need their helmets while en route, but they were at hand for safety's sake nonetheless. The methane-charged atmosphere was good for about two lungfuls before the breather keeled over and died in convulsions. It didn't exactly reassure Christine that she could have her helmet on and oxygen flowing long before that should happen.

"Where are we going?" she demanded when she realized that Spock was steering them away from the lights of the base and into the black mountains that lay around the Federation facility.

"To the Sedonia Firefall," he replied, unperturbed. "I have had a desire to see it several times, but have never had the chance before now. I surmised that you might enjoy it as well."

"Uh, yeah, sure," she answered uncertainly. She wasn't sure what the Sedonia Firefall was, although the name sounded vaguely familiar. Anyway, it was an excuse to do something different and would make a good tale once she got back. Spock seemed to know what he was doing and where he was going, so she decided to sit back and trust his judgment.

They traveled in silence for about half an hour, Spock concentrating on the faint trail in the skimmer's headlamps. Christine was thoroughly lost, knowing only that they had long since left the base behind and with it all traces of civilization on this barren rock. She tried to enjoy the ride, but there was a faint note of worry growing deep inside her, for all her faith in Spock's navigation.

Finally, Spock brought the skimmer to a halt on a flat space on the side of a mountain and shut down the engine. "Put on your helmet," he instructed her. "We must walk a short distance."

"Outside?!"

"If you wish to see the Firefall, of course." His tone seemed to say that this was the most logical thing in the world. He began to fit his own helmet into place, lock it down and check the airflow from the rebreather assembly. He was finished long before Christine was halfway through the process. "Here ... allow me to assist you." Quickly, his practiced hands sealed her helmet gaskets, got the internal air circulating inside her suit, and ran her through the safety check.

"Good. Shall we proceed?" He sounded much too pleased with himself, she decided, but just followed his lead through the airlock door.

The surface of Calabria Nu stretched out before them, built from millennia of ceaseless basalt flows, cracked, broken, and shoved up into mountains of black lava and cinder cones. It was lit by a weird orange light, mostly from the glowing bulk of Calabria Prime overhead. Their destination around the side of this particular mountain, however, flickered and blazed from some other source and, as they came over the last crest, dark ash puffing around their boots, Christine could see what that light source was.

High up on next peak, a v-shaped notch opened into a doorway to Hell. Fire fountains launched themselves into the night sky, falling back into the cauldron and exploding upward again in an endless dance. Lava bombs shot out and away on all sides, landing on the mountainside in brilliant explosions, and the entire crater fluoresced with an incandescent radiance.

But the main show was the Firefall, a mile long cascade of molten basalt, pouring out of the notch and racing down the mountainside in a wide river of red, yellow and white liquid flame. It crackled and spat from its channel, building grotesque overlays of cooled rock, which collapsed and fell back into the flow. The river of lava disappeared into the valley below and Christine leaned forward a bit to see where it went.

She felt Spock grab her arm and pull her back. "No - it isn't safe," he admonished her over the envirosuit's comm. "It drains back into the magma chamber through an open rift and is redirected up the volcano's throat. That is what makes the Firefall so remarkable. It has become self-perpetuating. It has erupted like this for 53 years."

Christine couldn't take her eyes from the spectacle. "No wonder you wanted to see this! Thanks for bringing me, Spock! This is the most amazing thing I've ever seen!"

Silently, they watched the volcano roar for nearly an hour, then Spock indicated that it was time to go back. With a long last look, the two turned and made a careful retreat to where the skimmer sat on the mountainside.

Once through the airlock, they removed their helmets and Christine took a grateful breath of air. "I hate wearing spacesuits!" she declared, fluffing her brunette hair where it had been squashed by the helmet. "I don't care how new they are or how well-cleaned, they all smell like dirty socks!"

"I agree," Spock answered, seating himself in the pilot's chair and beginning to power up the skimmer. "Particularly rented suits like these. I sometimes wonder if they are ever cleaned at all."

"Probably not," Chapel responded, slipping into the co-pilot seat. "Too much trouble."

Spock's brows had bunched together a bit as his hands flew over the controls and his mouth had tightened. He ran through the same sequence again. And again. Nothing was happening.

"What?" asked Christine, the note of concern inside her flaring back up full throttle.

"We seem to have a problem," the Vulcan replied. "The skimmer's engine will not start." He sat back with a disgusted sigh. "It seems they do not service their rental skimmers, either. I believe the engine is dead."

"Oh, God, don't tell me," Christine pronounced mournfully. "We've run out of gas!"

Spock looked at her quizzically. "This vehicle does not use fossil fuels," he replied.

Christine shook her head. "I know that. It's just an old Earth expression. It was once used when a man took a woman for a drive and pretended to be out of gas so he could make love to her."

"You believe that I brought you here for a romantic encounter?" Spock was looking absolutely scandalized.

"No. No, of course not," Chapel answered with just the slightest hint of bitterness in her voice. "That would be completely illogical."

"Indeed!"

"So what do we do now?"

"I shall contact the base and inform them of our situation. Meanwhile, I will continue in my efforts to get the engine started." Spock tried the commboard but evidently it was tied in with the rented skimmer's power supply, because it wouldn't work any better than the engine. After a few minutes of futile effort, during which the Vulcan's brows bunched tighter together and his expression hardened in conjunction with his frustration, he finally sat back in the pilot's seat and glared at the unresponsive instrument panel as if sheer will alone could make it work.

"You can say bad words if you want to," Christine informed him, barely containing her amusement. "I've listened to Leonard spout off so many time that it won't offend me, promise!"

"Vulcans do not curse," Spock told her absently. "It is illogical."

"Of course. That magic word again. So, now what?"

"See if your suit has an emergency beacon." It did. "Activate it," Spock directed her and did likewise. "We can only hope that one or both are picked up at the base and help dispatched."

"Hope?" Christine peered at him speculatively. "Isn't that a human failing?"

"It would appear to be all we have at the moment," he answered and caught himself in the motion of tapping his fingers nervously on the chair arm. Hurriedly, he folded his hands together in his lap and stared out the forward viewport at the strange landscape of Calabria Nu.

As the moments of silence stretched, Christine finally leaned her cheek into her palm and sighed. "How long do you think it will take for help to arrive?" she asked.

"Approximately an hour."

"Well, I don't want to just sit here staring into space -- literally," she said. "Let's talk."

"What subject interests you?" he inquired, taking his gaze away from the viewport.

"Well ... have you decided if you're going to re-up or follow one of your offers?"

"I have not yet reached a conclusion," he replied, bring his full attention back to the nurse. "Have you made a decision?"

"Yes. Yes, I have." Christine nestled back into the co-pilot's chair and looked satisfied. "I'm going to do something I've been thinking about for a long time. I'm going to medical school. I've decided to become a doctor."

"Ah. Interesting." Spock's eyebrow went up and his gaze turned inward for a few seconds as he digested that bit of information. "Where will you study?"

"Earth. San Francisco. Starfleet Medical has a good program geared to people like me, who've had hands-on experience on active duty and want to expand on that."

"Interesting," Spock repeated, almost to himself. "Starfleet Academy has offered me a teaching position, using officers who have likewise been 'out there' in order to train cadets in real world conditions. It appeals to me more and more."

"Well, maybe we'll see each other around the campus occasionally," she answered.

He gave her a look that was almost puzzled. "I should think so," he replied. "Have you given thought to your housing?"

"Oh, I'll probably find an apartment up in the hills somewhere. I like Marin a lot. It's like not being in the city at all."

"Officer's quarters would be more convenient," Spock pointed out.

"But not as peaceful."

"There would be scarcely any commute involved."

Christine paused and peered at him for a moment, wondering why it was any of his business anyway. "I don't mind the commute," she answered pointedly. "I like Marin."

Spock gave up with a small sigh. "Very well. If you wish."

"I do wish," she retorted. "What's it to you where I live?"

"I would find living on campus much easier," he answered.

"So? Who's stopping you?" she demanded, riled by his attitude.

"It is merely customary for a husband and wife--"

"WHAT?!" she yelped, vaulting out of her chair to stare at him in shock. "Spock! What are you talking about?!"

He was gazing at her with an almost befuddled expression on his face. "I had thought that fairly obvious," he answered.

"Maybe to you! Not to me!" She took a deep breath. "Have I lost my mind or did you just ask me to marry you?"

"No," he replied simply.

"No what? No, I haven't lost my mind? Or, no, you didn't ask me to marry you?"

"Both," he responded.

"Good." She reseated herself, dazed. "Then what are you talking about?"

"I was simply attempting to ascertain your career plans and living arrangements so that I could coordinate my own with yours. Although not essential for a married couple to reside together--"

"Whoa! Hold it! Time out!" Christine squeezed her eyes shut and symbolically fended off his speech by shoving both hands out and waving them, palms out, at him. "We're back to that 'married' thing again. Again I ask - did I miss something or did you ask me to marry you?"

"I did not ask," Spock answered in that maddening, almost condescending tone he had. "I simply assumed--"

"Well, you know what they say about 'assume,'" Christine cut in angrily. "It makes an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me.'"

Her annoyance seemed to go right over his head. He pondered for a second. "Ah. I see. A play on the word. In any case, I had assumed that marriage was the logical conclusion to our relationship."

"You 'assumed' wrong!" Her face had flushed and her blue eyes were blazing. "Don't you think I should have been consulted in this decision?"

"But you have always given me to believe that you wished a lasting partnership with me." Clearly, he just wasn't 'getting' it. "Did you not tell me that you loved me?"

"Okay, yes. Three years ago and under the influence of an alien virus," she admitted.

"And I have been mistaken by everything since then?" He was beginning to become annoyed himself. "Perhaps I have been wrong in my perceptions of your behavior toward me."

That hit close to home and Christine gulped and looked down. After a while she said, "No, you haven't been wrong, Spock. I have been in love with you since the day I first met you. I do love you ... with all my heart, I do. But, Spock ... do you love me?"

She brought her gaze up and locked it onto his, waiting.

"I respect you and your abilities," he answered softly, unable to look away. "I hold you in high esteem and have found you to be an admirable person in every way."

"But, Spock ... do you love me?" she repeated intensely. This time he was silent. She searched his eyes and face and knew the answer. Turning away, she said, "That's what I thought. That's why I won't marry you."

"I do not find that a compelling or logical argument," he stated.

"That doesn't surprise me! When exactly did you decide that I would make the perfect wife for you, anyway?" She crossed her arms and stared out the viewport.

"Not the perfect wife, but a satisfactory and compatible mate," he said in a reasonable tone.

"Your romantic nature positively overwhelms me!" The sarcasm in her voice fairly dripped.

Spock ignored it. "Many successful marriages are based on respect and compatibility," he pointed out.

"And many are not!" She looked back up at him. "When, Spock? When did I suddenly become desirable?"

"Our forced encounter on Platonius gave me insight that I did not have before," he replied. "When I kissed you--"

"Having our faces crammed together doesn't constitute a kiss, Spock. You were doing your best to get away from me."

"Nevertheless," he countered. "I inadvertently touched your mind as we were made to kiss. Perhaps it was the kironide beginning to work, but I became aware of aspects of your personality that had eluded me before. Perhaps I had not wanted to learn of them, but your mind opened up to me. I saw the person I had been avoiding for so long and I was deeply impressed. My respect for you increased exponentially. I have done considerable thinking since that time."

"Perhaps you should have done considerable talking -- to me! That's all you would've had to do, Spock. Just talk to me."

He looked down at his hands, still folded in his lap and did not answer. Christine sighed heavily. "You know, it worked both ways, don't you? I got a glimpse of you during that kiss." That brought Spock's head up and he stared at her, startled. "Oh, yes. It was quick, but I got a good look around that brain of yours. I've done some hard thinking since then myself."

"You did?" She'd definitely caught him off guard, for his astonishment was plain, then the shields went back up and he was behind the mask again. "Interesting. And what did you think about?"

"I thought about the last five years of my life, Spock," Chapel answered candidly, her blue eyes locked on his deep brown ones. "I thought about how I'd put my life on hold and devoted it to other people. I had just finished my doctorate in bioresearch when I met Roger. I was heading toward medical school when I fell in love with him and he asked me to marry him. He didn't want me to be a doctor, so I changed myself into the type of person he wanted me to be. Do you know why I dyed my hair blonde, Spock? Because Roger liked blondes and I wanted to please him. When he left on that last mission, I thought I was supposed to be at his side somewhere, so I went in search of him. The only way I could do that was to get on a starship going in that direction. It turned out to be the Enterprise and the only opening they had was head nurse. I talked my way into the job even though it wasn't where my career path had been taking me."

"Nurses are absolute essential, Christine--"

"You don't have to tell me that! I've never worked so hard in my life as I've worked these past few years! But it's like if I had been a physicist and the only job I could get was as a lab technician," she went on. "After I discovered that Roger was dead, I should have quit and gone back to Earth and pursued my studies. But by that time I'd had the misfortune to fall in love with a pointy-earred computer and I transferred my needs from Roger to you. I stayed on because of you."

Spock gazed at her and answered quietly, "Yes. I am aware of that."

"I thought if I changed myself enough, you'd love me back. I did my best to get you to notice me, in every way I could think of. I'm ashamed of some of the things I thought about doing," she admitted and gave a sheepish little smile. "But after that little mind meld and seeing what you expected a Vulcan wife to be, I knew I'd been fooling myself, in more ways than one. Whoever this bleached blonde running around the Enterprise was, she wasn't me. And I knew it was time to find me again. That's the reason I dyed my hair back to its natural shade. I decided to stop being 'Nurse Chapel' and get on with my life."

Spock hadn't shifted his eye contact and now said softly, "I disagree with you, Christine. And I believe that we would do quite well together."

But Chapel shook her head again. "No, Spock. I would make you miserable because I couldn't ever measure up to your ideals. I saw what I'd have to do. Demure? Eyes downcast? Three steps behind? Any of that ring a bell?"

"My mother doesn't--"

"Like fun, she doesn't! I saw her tagging after your father when they were on the ship last year! 'My wife, attend' and all that nonsense? You'd pull that crap on me one too many times and I'd go for the throat! Probably with a scalpel in my hand!" Christine couldn't help but laugh a little at the mental image she conjured. "No, Spock, I couldn't do that to you. You need a nice Vulcan girl who wouldn't mind being a second class citizen. I'm not the one for you."

Spock didn't answer for a long moment, his eyes searching her face, then he said in almost a whisper, "You would never have that problem, Christine. There is nothing second class about you."

She smiled. "Thanks. That's sweet."

"And Vulcan women are not second class, either. They are totally equal with the men."

At that, Christine gave a snort of laughter. "Are they, Spock? Really? Any society in which a woman is owned by her husband is not one I want to be a part of. You know, back at the trial, when Lester was testifying ... I had to agree with most of what she was saying."

"Oh?" That made his brows lift in surprise.

"Yes. She might be insane, but she's not crazy!" That brought a look of puzzled consternation to Spock's face. "What I mean is ... Dr. Lester was right about there being what they used to call a glass ceiling for women in Starfleet. A woman can see where she wants to go, but she can never get there. There's an invisible barrier stopping her."

"I don't understand."

Christine shook her head. "Oh, Spock, you of all people ought to understand discrimination! You just managed to break through your own glass ceiling to get where you are today. Despite being a Vulcan in a Human organization, you made it by sheer hard work and determination to second in command of a starship. But tell me honestly..." And Christine leaned closer to peer at him intensely. "Do you think you will ever be first in command? That they'll ever make you Captain? Be honest!"

"I do not desire command--" he started to protest.

"Bullshit! If you didn't desire command, why are you a line officer? Why aren't you puttering away happily in a science lab somewhere? You're lying to yourself and everyone around you if you think you don't want that half-stripe on your sleeves! I've seen you in command, Spock. You're a natural. And what's more -- you enjoy it!"

"I do not--"

"Double bullshit!" Chapel sat back and gazed at him in satisfaction, watching as he virtually squirmed under the impact of her words. "Face it, Spock. You want command so badly you can taste it. It's almost within your grasp. The problem is, you'll never make it. Not on a heavy cruiser, anyway. Maybe they'll give you a command of your own someday, but it will be just like they give to women - a frigate or a scout ship or a patrol paccket. Nothing top of the line. The big boys who run things are going to make sure that no one who isn't male and Human makes it to the top. You will never sit in Jim Kirk's chair. Ever."

Spock had turned away, staring out of the viewport at the surreal planetscape, then he turned back to face her, his expression as hard as the black lava around them. "I do not believe you are correct in this assumption, Christine."

And her expression, conversely, softened into a smile. "I hope not, Spock. I really do. But, now you understand why I'm doing what I'm doing. If I don't go back to medical school and achieve my ambitions, I'll have caved in, too. I'm better than what I've been. I don't want command, but I do want something else." She grinned. "I want Leonard's job!"

The Vulcan's eyebrows went up. "I believe you would be an excellent CMO, Miss Chapel."

She laughed, then noticed there were white lights playing over the mountain side before them. "Oh, here comes the cavalry! We're saved!"

"Indeed." As they watched the Starfleet shuttle come to rest on the lava flats before them, Spock turned to her once more and said in a surprisingly intense voice, "But please do consider my proposal, Christine. I also believe that we would be very compatible together. I do desire that you be my wife."

She was silent, then nodded. "All right, Spock. I promise. I will seriously consider it."

* * *

Uhura, Palmer, and several others had all come back from shore leave with their hair dyed a bright magenta, something that caused almost as much commentary as Spock and Christine having to be rescued by the Starbase security patrol. Scotty and McCoy were too hung over to say much about that when they returned to the ship, but McCoy promised not to let either his head nurse or the First Officer off the hook once he sobered up.

The rest of the crewmembers on leave had not been idle. Revelry, debauchery, and inebriation seemed to be the order of the day. Base security was kept busy the entire night, breaking up fights, interrupting wild parties that had spilled into the streets, and generally trying to restore order. Sulu, Chekov, Leslie, five crewmen of the U.S.S. Potemkin, which was also in orbit, and a local Rigellian merchant had all ended up in the brig following an incident that was still being investigated. It had something to do with the other crew convincing the drunk Enterprise men that the Rigellian's establishment was a brothel, then the wrecking of the place when they found out it wasn't. Kirk's face had been redder than Uhura's glowing pink hair when he got back from a session in Admiral Komack's office.

And it seemed that the whole cause had been the leaking of supposedly top secret information -- that the Enterprise was heading back to Earth for refit and reassignment. This had been their last chance to party as a crew before most of them went their separate ways. They were all determined to make the best of it. That included the matching tattoos of the ship's insignia that now graced Sulu's, Chekov's and Leslie's forearms. Once other crewmembers of the Big E saw them, it set off a stampede to the Starbase's tattoo parlors and soon a good third of the crew were sporting identical marks of honor.

It was highly likely that at least another third of the crew would have gotten them if the ship hadn't pulled out of orbit at that time and headed back to her final destination of Earth. And within five days, they were home, in parking orbit above North America and awaiting berth space once the new Intrepid departed and headed out to parts unknown.

Farewell parties seemed to go on constantly for over a month as the men and women who had served together began to depart on long leave or on to other assignments. The senior officers and dock crew were the last aboard as the ship finally moved into berth inside the gigantic Spacedock complex, where she would stay until ready to be ferried to Starfleet's vast Utopia Planitia Shipyards around Mars for refit.

Christine had finalized her own reports and those of the nursing staff under her, cleaned out her quarters, and had her belongings transported to temporary officer's quarters at Starfleet in San Francisco until she could arrange for private lodging elsewhere. She had said goodbye two dozen times over as friends left, each time vowing to keep in touch, but wondering if she'd ever actually see or hear from them again.

Now it was her own time to depart. She was sure that Leonard would have seen her off, but he was down below at a meeting with the Surgeon General about his announced retirement. They were trying to tempt him into staying on. Kirk was with him, adding his own subtle pressure to the argument against retirement. Chapel was glad that she would be able to slip away quietly. It was just too hard saying goodbye to so many close friends.

She had taken her place on the transporter pad and was about to tell the technician to energize, when the door slid open and Spock walked into the transporter room. "Dismissed," he said crisply to the young man behind the controls and the ensign gave a quick acknowledgment and hurriedly disappeared.

Christine sighed and stepped down to stand before the tall Vulcan, looking up into the dark eyes that had so captivated her all these years. "Phooey," she stated. "I thought I could get away without having to do anymore goodbye scenes."

"You have not yet answered the question I asked you forty-two days ago," he reminded her, hands folded behind his back in his habitual stance. "I trust you carried out your part of the bargain and considered it?"

"Yes," Christine answered, then had to confess, "The answer is still no, Spock."

"I see." There was clear disappointment in his voice and his gaze dropped to the deck between them.

"It's not the right time," she told him gently. "For either of us. You know my reasons. But I think it's wrong for you, too."

"Indeed?" At that he looked back up, one brow threatening to rise in response.

"Yes. You need some time to think Spock," she explained. "Just like I do. You've spent the last 20 years in Starfleet, gone through a lot of traumatic events, seen and done a lot of things ... been divorced by your wife..." She let that last trail off as she watched him.

For a split second, his dark eyes blazed, then he looked away.

"I'm sorry, Spock, " Chapel continued. "But I can't help but wonder a little bit if you're still rebounding from that just as I was rebounding from Roger. You need to give it some time still. You know, there's an old saying ... 'To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under Heaven'."

"Ecclesiastes 3:1," he supplied.

"Yes. And an old Earth tune, too. It's not yet our time or season, Spock." She reached up and caressed his cheek. "It's time now to go our separate ways and see where life leads us."

"Perhaps." He sighed deeply and asked, "Is there nothing I can do?"

She smiled. "One thing ... if you will." He looked inquisitive. "Kiss me. Really kiss me just one time."

She waited, watching his face, trying to read his answer as, for a heart-stopping moment, she thought she'd overstepped the bounds. Then, his depthless gaze unchanging, he moved forward and gathered her into his arms, bending to meet her lips. His eyes did close then, though hers fluttered for a second before closing, too, and she leaned into his mouth as it moved on hers. It wasn't the simple kiss she thought it might be, dutiful, then over. It went on and on, and she drew her breath as she felt his lips open against hers and his hot tongue push between her teeth. She gripped him tighter and thrust her tongue back to meet his. Gathering her closer, he bent to her, the kiss growing harder and more demanding.

Just when she was beginning to see stars behind her eyelids and wonder if she was going to pass out from lack of oxygen, he lifted his head and, after making sure that she was able to stand on her own, released her. "Is that a real enough kiss?" he inquired mischievously.

"Mr. Spock, if you'd kissed me like that six months ago, we'd be married today!" she exclaimed, hurriedly straightening her uniform and hoping she wasn't blushing too much. She grinned and took a deep, cleansing breath. "Look me up in about five years, Spock," she said with genuine affection. "By that time, I just might be ready to say yes. If you're still interested, that is."

"I shall do so, Miss Chapel," he responded.

She exchanged a long last look with him, then returned to her place on the transporter pad as he moved behind the controls. Just before he activated the bars to begin the procedure, he gave her a smile and said, "By the way, Christine. I prefer it blonde, too." Then he watched her fade from view.

THE END