No Day But Today
by DebbieB

I can't control my destiny.
I trust my soul. My only goal
Is just to be.

There's only now. There's only here.
Give in to love or live in fear.
No other path, no other way.
No day but today.

Jonathan Larson, Rent

Stardate: 23589.4
Assistant Chief Medical Officer's Log

The encounter with V'ger was swift, deadly, and profound. I don't believe any of us will ever be quite the same. It has taken a while for the staff, myself included, to come to terms with the loss of Will Decker and Lt. Ilia. While Admiral Kirk has resumed his command of the ship, and all that that command entails, I still feel a disservice was done to Decker. He merited more than a "missing" entry in the log. He deserved more.

I have spent the better part of the last two weeks dealing with the morale in Sickbay. While I am somewhat ashamed to admit it, I am gratified by the fierce loyalty my pre-Kirk staff has shown me, even though it has manifested itself more than once in the form of resentment towards the man they feel usurped my position -- Dr. Leonard McCoy. They don't know him as I do, or they would understand that he didn't want to be here any more than they wanted him to be here.

Of course, now that he's here, it looks like his retirement will be postponed. Again. To be brutally honest, I'm relieved. Leonard, while still a royal pain in the ass (and yes, I'm putting this in my official log), has a way of communicating with Admiral Kirk that I fear I will never master. I mean this as no disrespect to the Admiral. But, I'd rather see McCoy up there on the bridge annoying him, than down here in Sickbay annoying me.

"I hate these damned perscan devices."

Dr. Christine Chapel looked up from her log, and cast a crooked smile towards her boss. "All you need is your bare hands and a patient in need," she quoted mockingly.

He scowled at her, but with a brotherly glint in his eyes. "You know, ever since you got your MD, you haven't been your sweet, generous self. You've been more..."

"Like you?"

"Yeah." He leaned against her desk, smaller than the one she'd occupied as CMO, but still a far cry from her old head nurse days. "It's not very becoming."

"Oh, I don't know. I think it adds a certain charm to the place." The comment came from Jim Kirk, who'd entered Sickbay so quietly neither had noticed him. "Dr. Chapel, you score top numbers in my book."

"Thank you, Admiral. Now will you kindly take this old codger out of my office so I can get some actual work done?"

McCoy stared at both of them, mildly slack-jawed. "This is a conspiracy."

"C'mon, Bones. I'll buy you lunch." The admiral winked at Chapel, then dragged a protesting McCoy out of Sickbay.

She laughed to herself, but swallowed the chuckle as a nurse walked into the room. He had obviously heard the last part of the conversation and cast a barely-concealed glance of disgust at the door. Chapel tried not to let it register on her face. Tom Luth's attitude was absolutely out of line, and she loved him for it. "Finally," she said with a conspiratorial wink. "Couldn't wait to get him out of here."

Nurse Luth laughed, and the mood lightened tremendously. Chapel couldn't help noticing the difference, the easy camaraderie she felt with this new staff. She wanted to show them her trust and appreciation, without undermining McCoy's authority. Much.

She grinned. On the other hand, it could be fun to bait the doctor for a while.

* * *

"Mail call!"

Spock was in Science Lab Three when Yeoman Lewis showed up with the mail. He knew it was illogical to feel impatience with this person, whom he had only known for a few short days. Still a yeoman in her early forties, Cindy Lewis had the inherent perkiness of a first-year cadet. She jumped into her clerical duties with vigor, and simply could not understand that not everyone appreciated small talk while they were trying to work.

"And a package for you, Mr. Spock." She pulled up to his station, grinning widely as she waited for his acknowledgement.

"Thank you, yeoman," he said, hoping it would suffice.

"You're very welcome, Mr. Spock. And if you need anything from clerical, don't you hesitate to call me, okay?"

He nodded, relieved as she finally left him to his work. He turned the small package in his hand for a moment, before removing the wrapping. It had arrived just in time.

Now. If only he could find the courage to deliver it.

* * *

McCoy resisted the urge to make a paper airplane. Considering he didn't have any paper, and that even if he did, he wouldn't know how to make a paper airplane, it wasn't that much of a challenge to resist the urge. But he still was bored.

One thing hadn't changed. Kirk's staff meetings still took forever. He looked around the table. Uhura had finally broken free of Will Decker's moratorium on makeup and was looking like her lovely self again. Chekov and Sulu had pasted studious expressions on their faces; like they were fooling anybody!

And Spock. Well, little Mr. I'm-Gonna-Meld-with-a-Free-Floating-Omniscient-Godling was his usual chipper self. That euphoria he'd felt after the V'ger incident had vanished, leaving him not quite as exciting as a large block of granite.

Things were back to normal, McCoy thought happily. Now, if only he could figure out a way to get Shayla into the picture, he'd be a satisfied man.

His relationship with the former Enterprise first officer had turned into something dandy, as far as he was concerned. He had wanted to tell Kirk where to shove his draft notice, but it was Shayla who convinced him to come back aboard. It was Shayla who'd reminded him of his bond of loyalty to Kirk.

Unfortunately, neither of them had known this little "let's save the Earth" jaunt would turn into a shake-down cruise. And while they'd been used to a long-distance affair, with him in Savannah and her in Davenport, California, this Earth-space thing was just not good.

He'd decided to keep his affair with Shay quiet, even going so far as to neglect to mention it to Kirk and Spock. Not that it was any of their damned business. And, since his Assistant CMO also happened to be his...girlfriend's...sister, well, it just seemed sensible not to publicize it.

As Kirk droned on about power consumption and warp efficiency, McCoy amused himself with a harmless little sexual fantasy. Yeah, the old tried and true: Swashbuckler and the Pirate Princess. He was just getting to the part where Shayla made him walk the plank when Christine Chapel entered the briefing room.

The appearance of the Pirate Princess's kid sister snapped him back to reality.

"I'm sorry to interrupt, but, Dr. McCoy, you asked me to let you know when that analysis was complete."

Yes! The secret code. "Thank you, Nur...Doctor." He nodded to Kirk. "Sorry, Jim. This is a really delicate specimen, and I need to check out the results while they are still..."

"Go." Kirk didn't even pretend to be fooled by the ruse as he waved both doctors out of the room. He didn't notice Spock's expression as he continued. "So, as I was saying, with warp..."

In the hallway, McCoy shot a fierce grin in the direction of his assistant CMO. "Thanks, Chris. I owe you one."

"No, you don't," she corrected. "You've got second shift tonight."

"What?"

"Regulation 73, paragraph 15.09. A medical doctor must remain on duty at all times during the normal functioning of a starship. Since Elmore and St. Frances just got off graveyard and first shifts, and I've been covering for you while you do Big Important CMO Stuff, I knew you wouldn't mind pitching in." She winked. "So I took the liberty of volunteering you."

He shook his head. Potential sister-in-law or not, she was getting way too smart.

* * *

He couldn't help thinking of the last time he'd approached a human female on a non-professional basis. Spock sat in the rec room, the small blue package placed on a table before him. As Number One, Shayla Ross had been his mentor, his teacher, and his...dare he say it? First crush. Not once, but twice, he'd made a fool of himself in her presence.

Before V'ger, he'd made a decision to release himself from the bondage of interpersonal relationships. His nominal experience with "the fairer sex" had left him convinced that it was better to die in the throes of ponn farr than to suffer the humiliation and discomfort of searching for a suitable mate.

His experience with Number One on Earth had been the clincher. In a horribly surreal scene, he'd found himself the pursued, as a very intoxicated Commander Ross attempted to seduce him with words and gestures. His anger, his shame, came not from the attempts at seduction on her part, but from the fact that he very nearly succumbed to her charms.

The worst had been her suggestion, drunken, of course, that he desired sexual gratification from both sisters, Number One and Christine Chapel, simultaneously. It was the haunting image of that suggestion which had, in a weak moment, sent him to the arms of Kolinahr.

He had been happy to lose those emotions. Happy to discard the strangling ties of his human friendships. Until V'ger. Until the moment he came face to face with his own emptiness. His own sterility.

She sat across the room with friends. With Uhura, yes, but with several younger members of the medical staff as well. Dr. Chapel had grown into herself nicely since the end of the five-year mission. She did not demand loyalty from her staff, but received it freely as it was given.

He did not know how to approach her. There were so many avenues by which he could arrive at a misunderstanding with her.

But he... needed her. He needed the one thing only she could give him.

The patience and kindness of a friend. The friend she had tried to be for him all those years ago, when he had been too afraid to understand.

It was obvious that she had recovered completely from her misplaced desire for him. For that, he was grateful. He had no wish to cause her discomfort, pain, or embarrassment. In the mending of his severed relationships, she had become a personal priority.

So much had gone unsaid between them. So many kindness never fully appreciated. So many slights overlooked by her.

She had offered him the one thing he could never accept. Love.

Perhaps, now, he could honor that offer with one of his own.

Friendship.

* * *

The message was waiting for her when she got back to her quarters. Chapel hopped on the bed, boots and all, as she activated the message.

You have one message from First Officer Spock.

Her eyebrows raised, but she started the message without comment.

"Dr. Chapel. I attempted to speak with you on the recreation deck, but I did not wish to disturb you. With your permission, I'd like to set a time to speak with you regarding a private matter."

That was it, along with a response prompt. He had given her three time frames, as well as a "do not accept" option.

Like she wasn't going to accept? She accepted the soonest time option, in just an hour.

* * *

Spock sat in the conversation nook he'd reserved. The blue package sat on the table next to him, still untouched and overwhelming in its innocence. She'd accepted his invitation.

The conversation nook seemed the most neutral setting in which to approach her. Located on the secondary recreation deck, these secluded spots were private, sound-proof, and far enough from most off-duty personnel to allow them both a dignified escape route if this turned ugly.

He took a deep calming breath, attempting to utilize the skills he'd acquired during Kolinahr training to stop his wandering thoughts. The balancing of his dual nature had become a renewed effort, tempered with an even higher goal.

He knew that, if approached correctly, Christine Chapel might be able to help him understand. But his history with females was studded with shining examples of mishandled situations. He did not want to repeat history tonight.

The sound of the entrance combination startled him. She entered the room, dressed in casual clothing, her dark hair loose around her shoulders, a mixture of concern and apprehension in her blue eyes.

"Mr. Spock. You wanted to see me?" A carefully-measured tone. Neutral.

"Yes. I appreciate your taking time to see me, Doctor." He motioned to the chair to his left, separated from his own by a small table. She sat, hands folded across her lap, and waited for him to begin. "I hope you are doing well." Small talk. Humans liked small talk.

"I'm doing fine, Mr. Spock. How are you?" Her voice and eyes were gentle, but held the sharpness of a doctor examining a slowly-recovering patient. Which, of course, he was.

"I am recovering well from my experience with V'ger, if that is what you wish to know." Awkward. This was awkward. He pulled the light down to the point between his eyes, focusing as it narrowed into a pinpoint beam. The meditation technique calmed him, and he continued with more confidence. "I suppose you are wondering why I requested your company tonight?"

She smiled. "The question had crossed my mind."

He reached over and retrieved the package from the table. Handing it to her, he said, "Happy birthday."

"What?"

"If I am not mistaken, you will be celebrating your birthday tomorrow. I wished to give you a gift to commemorate the occasion."

Chapel began to laugh. "Oh, gods, I completely forgot. It's been so busy, and with all the commotion..." She took the present shyly. "Thank you very much."

'You are most welcome, Doctor." The sentiments hung between them silently. He could end it here if he wished. It would be a small gesture of kindness, and no further discussion would be necessary. "If you wish to open it privately, I would understand."

"Oh!" She grinned. "I was just admiring the wrapping. It's very unusual."

"It is Deltan."

She looked up sharply.

"I know...I read in the logs of your friendship with Lieutenant Ilia. I felt a gift from her home world would honor her sacrifice, as well as convey my regards." He hesitated. "I trust I have not offended you?"

"No," she said softly, turning the package in her hands. "No, it was a very kind thought, sir." They sat quietly for a moment, before Chapel said, "Well, no time like the present. I could never wait for Christmas morning, either." She carefully unwrapped the package, maintaining as much of the delicate design as possible as she withdrew the velvet box. "What is it?"

Spock allowed himself a small smile. "Would that not defeat the purpose of opening the gift?"

"Yeah." She opened the box and pulled the crystal sculpture out into the light. "Mr. Spock! It's magnificent."

"It is an ialor crystal. May I demonstrate?" He took the sculpture and released the hidden catch on the back. A portion of the crystal loosened in his hand, revealing itself to be a small pendant. Without thinking, he hung the pendant around Chapel's neck, brushing her hair away from her shoulders to allow it to fall properly.

"It's beautiful." Her voice was soft, surprised. She fingered the pendant at her throat. "It's warm."

"The ialor crystal has special energy properties which align the energy of living creatures. The rest of the sculpture contains a scented oil which optimizes the effects of the crystal." He added, "It is used quite frequently in meditation, to center the energies and allow for better concentration."

"I..." Chapel took a deep breath. "I don't know what to say, sir. It is too generous."

The opportunity struck like lightning, and Spock forged into it without hesitation. "It is a merely a token, Miss Chapel. A small return on the years of kindness you have shown me." He ignored her surprised look, continuing before he lost his nerve. "There have been many times when I repaid your generosity with indifference, and for that I am truly sorry."

She had the grace not to argue. She simply smiled and said, "Apology accepted, Mr. Spock."

The silence which followed was more or less comfortable. Chapel studiously avoided his gaze as she examined the crystal in greater depth. Spock congratulated himself inwardly for crossing the first barrier toward his final goal.

"There is another reason I wished to speak with you."

She looked up. "Oh?"

"Yes." Spock drew in a deep breath, and continued. "My encounter with V'ger was...extraordinary. During my meld with it, I discovered many things. I have learned much, yet am even more aware of the lack of understanding I possess."

"Well, I suppose it would be rather...unusual...to meld with something that can destroy entire systems."

He felt her resistance, did not understand it. Still, he'd gone too far to stop now. "In my arrogance, in my ignorance, I often blamed my difficulties on my human heritage. I sought to find peace in my Vulcan nature alone. I did not realize that my search for meaning did not stem from my mixed heritage. It was only through V'ger that I realized this uncertainty, this desire for understanding, was a prominent motivation for every sentient creature."

Chapel leaned on the table, a soft expression of understanding on her face. "Hardest thing to learn, isn't it? You spend so much of your youth feeling that you are the only one having these fears, these doubts. Then you realize that everybody has them."

"Precisely." This was good. She would understand. She would know. "Christine, I am not only a Vulcan. I am not only human. I am also a man."

She lifted an eyebrow. "Thank goodness you told me," she remarked. "I never would have figured it out."

"I suspect you would have discovered it on your own eventually," he shot back. Her look of stunned amusement was his reward. "I realize there has been tension between us in the past."

"Well, we could call it that."

"I have spent a good deal of time since V'ger meditating on our relationship."

She straightened, her face suddenly neutral. "I see."

"Yes. In light of my recent insight, I have been re-examining certain events. I realize that I saw your offer of friendship as a threat to my Vulcan identity. I also realize that, as a male, I interpreted your interest as merely sexual." He accepted her look of discomfort with full responsibility. "I realize that, in both cases, I did not give you the credit you deserved."

"Well, this has been a very interesting conversation, Mr. Spock, but I have to..."

"I have no one to talk to, Christine."

She sat back down, turning a stunned look toward him. "Excuse me?"

He leaned forward, closing the distance between them. "I have had one of the greatest experiences a sentient being can hope for. My mind reels with limitless thought, questions resonate through my sleep and meditation and work and recreation. I have attempted to discuss these thoughts with Jim, with Dr. McCoy, but they..." He paused, not wishing to do a disservice to his friends. "They wish to gloss over what has happened. They want to go back to where we were, even though I can never again be who I was."

"And this has what to do with me?" she asked softly.

Spock held her gaze, not allowing her to pull away as she wished. "You are intelligent, yet you possess the sensitivity and imagination to help me understand what has happened."

"You want a therapist," was her dark response.

"A therapist would try to heal me. There is nothing to heal, Christine. What I need is to understand." He allowed her to look away. "I realize that our history may prejudice you against me, but I felt it necessary to acknowledge our past if we are to move beyond it."

She tapped the crystal repeatedly with the point of her finger. "Let me get this straight. You want to talk to me about what happened to you?"

"You seemed a logical choice."

Chapel began to laugh. Spock waited, allowing the music of her laughter to wash over him. Finally, she calmed, with only the slightest hint of a chuckle remaining. "I always thought you considered me slightly dense, Mr. Spock."

"Hardly." He spoke earnestly, hoping she understood his sincerity in what he said. "Dr. Chapel, do not assume the burden of my own youthful ignorance. If once I met your kindness with indifference, if I met your compassion with callous disregard, it was through no fault of yours. My former inability to accept your generosity does not diminish the value of that generosity."

She stared at him in amazement. "I don't know what to say."

"Say you will not hold my past ignorance against me. Say you will allow me to get to know you."

"Okay...."

"The Enterprise will be stopping at Starbase Four in six days for refueling. The Admiral has decided to extend shore leave to all personnel during that time. If you are not already engaged, perhaps we could spend some time together then?"

"Um, sure. Sure, why not?"

"Then I will assure that we are on the same shore leave rotation. I will forward information on Starbase Four and its facilities to you, so that we can decide how to spend the day."

She nodded, still a little bemused by the turn of events. "Okay, then. So it's a da...settled. It's settled, then." She smiled, standing. "I guess I'd really better be going."

Spock stood also, gathering the remnants of the gifts to give to her. "Until then, Doctor."

"Yeah. Until then."

And she was gone. Spock released the breath he hadn't realized he was holding. All in all, it had gone very well.

* * *

Shayla tried, but could not feel her right arm. A moment of panic jolted her from sleep, sending MC, one of the nefarious felines who had adopted her as their own, sprawling from his resting place on her forearm. "Cat," she snarled, shaking some feeling back into her hand. She'd been having the most wonderful dream, the Swashbuckler and the Pirate Princess, when something disturbed her sleep.

The second buzzing of the comm unit solved the mystery. She threw on a robe and stumbled to the viewer. "Yeah," she said, slamming the receive button.

Leonard McCoy himself appeared in the viewer, grinning broadly. "Hiya, kiddo. Bet you weren't expecting to hear from me."

"Leonard?" She squinted, trying to clear her vision.

"Did I wake you?"

"No, no." She glanced at the wall chronometer. "I'm always wide awake at...4:12 in the morning. Is this live?"

"No, I'm a recording. Of course, it's live." He laughed at her grogginess. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. I just lucked onto the transmit time, and I couldn't resist talking to you."

She smiled, stifling a yawn. "S'okay, Len. How are things out there?"

"Boring. I miss you."

She leaned on the desktop, pushing her rambunctious hair from her face. She knew she looked a mess, but that's what Leonard deserved for calling her at this hour. "I miss you, too. How's Chris?"

"Impossible. I swear, she's getting more and more like me every day."

"Ooh, two of you. That can't be good."

He laughed. "Look, I only have a minute or so on this secured channel. Can you get to Starbase Four for a few days?"

"Starbase Four? Len, that's a three day trip!"

"I'll make it worth your while," he said wickedly. "Please. I don't know when I'll be able to get back to Earth, and I'm sure you could talk Admiral Beckman into giving you the time off."

"Oh, that reminds me. Beckman heard my latest composition at Sekhmet the other night. She wants me to submit it to the Linguistics division for analysis in order to better understand the Sheiranna language."

"Excellent. So, when you're a star, will you pretend not to know me?" He waggled his eyes suggestively.

"Stop it, you silly man." She smiled warmly, knowing the answer to his question before he even asked it.

"So, can you make it up to Starbase Four?"

"I'll do my best."

* * *

Christine slipped out of her uniform, letting it fall to the floor as she headed for the shower. It appeared she was the only one who'd forgotten her birthday. The party had been just shy of wild, and had proved an excellent opportunity to bridge the gap between old and new crews.

Even Admiral Kirk had shown up, fork in hand, to share a bit of birthday cake. She laughed at the memory of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy surrounded by her slightly rambunctious young medical team. Uhura had sung...of course. Couldn't keep that girl from a stage with a giant hook. And after many birthday toasts, Christine found herself the recipient of several less-than-professional accolades from her coworkers.

She rolled her eyes as she set the sonics on medium. If being the object of the occasional roast helped ease tension among the crew, it was a small price she would gladly pay. She hummed softly to herself as the sonics cleaned her. It wasn't a water shower, but it had its own unique relaxing effect.

Once done, she put on her most comfy robe and slippers and settled on to the bed to review her birthday haul. Leonard, in his typical fashion, had produced a gag gift of sufficient lewdness to send her into a fit of blushes. The Admiral had given her a bottle of champagne, and Uhura a pair of earrings. Sulu, Scotty and Chekov had given her two dozen yellow roses, although where they'd managed to find real roses was a mystery.

Her staff had chipped in to buy her a suite at the Destiny Resort on Starbase Four, and two tickets on a harbor cruise. It was horribly expensive and terribly sweet of them.

Her other two gifts, from Spock and Shayla, sat on her nightstand next to each other. Shayla had sent her a data disk containing several images of their father and mother, as well as a recording of her new composition. She placed the disk into her computer. At a touch, she saw her mother and dad, just as they had been so many years ago. She realized that they were strangers to her. Their dad had died when she was only three; her mother's second husband, Jack Chapel, had been the only father Chris ever really knew. She looked into the face of the man who helped bring her into the world. Elliott Ross was strong, just as Shay had described. Tall. He even made Mother look petite, something that astounded Christine. To her, Leslie Ross-Chapel had always been a giant, larger-than-life, heroic.

Chapel's thoughts rushed back to the day her mother had died, the day she found her, collapsed on the floor of their family home in Davenport. To this day, she could still feel the sting of responsibility, even though intellectually she knew she had not caused her mother's death. The day she'd let go of that guilt was the day she'd decided to go back and get her MD.

She toggled the computer, and a second image appeared. It was Shayla and her biological daughter Cassandra on Alpha Centauri. Casie stood tall, almost an inch taller than her biological mother. Although she'd been raised by Shayla's friends, she bore an uncanny resemblance to her mother. Chapel stared at the face of her older sister. Even though she smiled, she could see the pain in that face, a pain which had led her to the verge of self-destruction once she'd made it back to Earth for retraining.

Which, of course, brought it all back to Spock.

Of course.

Chapel toggled the computer once more, and began to play the haunting alien music composed by her sister. Shayla's fourteen years trapped in the Sheiranna realm had forever changed her. A part of this alien race lived on in her mind, a mental echo of their language which Shayla continuously exorcised in the form of her musical compositions. Chapel closed her eyes, allowing the strange harmonies and counter-rhythms to wash over her.

Spock. She didn't want to think about Spock. She reached over, removing the crystal pendant from its holder and put it around her neck. It burned warm against her throat. Opening the bottle, she poured a tiny bit of the scented oil in her hand, rubbing it into the skin just beneath the pendant.

She closed her eyes again. The exotic scent seemed to fill the air, charged by the exotic music of the Sheiranna, focused by the properties of the crystal touching her skin.

Spock. She didn't want to think about Spock.

She breathed deeply as the trance came. Her thoughts silenced. Her memories faded. All that existed was the music and the oil and the moment.

It was beautiful.

* * *

"This just isn't right." Jim Kirk pouted into his chicken salad sandwich, trying his best to inflict guilt. "Spock has plans. You have plans. I'm gonna have to spend leave by myself?"

"Aw, c'mon, Jim. I'm sure you can find something to do with your time." Leonard McCoy wasn't taking the bait.

Kirk took another bite of his lunch, nodding politely to the junior officers who said hello in passing. "I don't want to find something to do with my time. That makes me feel like some loser who couldn't find a date."

"Well, you could always find a date..."

"That's not the point!"

McCoy laughed as Kirk's voice rose. The Admiral met the few indiscreet stares with aplomb.

"Come on, Bones. Why can't you cancel your plans and come to the Z-ball game with me?"

McCoy swallowed the last of his gumbo. "Because Z-ball is boring, and I'm not canceling my plans."

"Well, you could at least tell me who she is." Kirk had lowered his voice, a conspiratorial, "just between us guys" expression crossing his face.

"Nope. Not going there."

"What's her name?"

"Just a friend." He shook his head. "Man, you really need to get out more."

Kirk let out a frustrated sigh. "That's what I was trying to do, before all my friends abandoned me."

"You're being melodramatic."

"Bones..."

"Enough. I've got plans. That's that. See if you can get Uhura and Sulu to tag along. I'm sure they would like a Z-ball game."

The glare of mock betrayal was enough to send McCoy into another fit of laughter. Kirk shook his head. "You think I'm not going to find out who she is?"

"I think you need to get a life, Admiral." McCoy gathered up his tray and headed for the recycle unit. "Good afternoon, sir."

Kirk muttered under his breath as he bit fiercely into his sandwich. "Some friend."

* * *

He was late. He hated being late. McCoy hurried through the automated check-in, tossing his bag in the delivery chute. If he hurried, he could still get everything set up before she arrived.

The Destiny Resort wasn't cheap by any definition of the word. But this weekend was worth it, and he wasn't about to skimp. He barely waited for the computer to accept his credit chip and confirm his room number before heading for the lift.

"Four-sixty-three, four-sixty-four, four-sixty- Yes! This is it." He slipped the key in the slot, then allowed the monitor to scan his retinal area. Still a couple of hours before he had to go meet her at the space port and...

"Whoa." The room was completely dark. Completely dark, that is, except for the hundred or so candles burning in every nook and cranny. A seductively alien music filled the room. Shayla's music.

McCoy broke into a wide grin. "Sunafabeach. She beat me here."

"I certainly did, doctor."

He turned toward the sound of her voice, then stopped in pure shock at what he saw.

Shayla. His Shayla, Number One, Commander Ross, stood before him in the candle light. Her skin glistened an icy silver-blue, lips dark and sensuous, hair the color of snow. She wore what had to be the tightest outfit he'd ever seen, a leather-like material of glistening black, curving to every inch of her body. She walked to him with a feline grace, blue eyes locked to his, a devilish smile flashing white teeth against her darkly shaded lips.

"Whoa," he whispered as she pressed her mouth to the tender skin just below his right ear.

"The cats sent you a message," she said, tracing the tip of her tongue against his skin until she was purring in his ear.

"You got here early" was all he could think of to say. She'd sunk her teeth in his ear lobe, her body flush against his as her hands pulled at the fabric of his uniform.

"Earlier flight. Pulled a few strings." She snapped the communicator from his belt and made a very clear show of turning it to the "do not disturb" setting. With a fierce grin, she tossed it across the room. "You won't be needing that."

McCoy stared at this wild thing in his hotel room, then laughed, picking her up to carry her to the bed.

* * *

"I'm really sorry," Chapel said, handing Spock another nausea tablet.

"It is not your fault. " Spock paused, his face paling as another wave of seasickness overtook him. He took a deep breath, then calmed his body enough to swallow the tablet.

"No, Spock, I should have anticipated this. You're from a desert planet. I shouldn't have forced you to go on the harbor cruise with me."

"Christine," he placed a hand on her arm, hoping to stop the movement of her hands as she fussed over him. It was adding to the dizziness he'd already carried with him from the boat. "Doctor, it is done. I will be fine, if we just sit here quietly for a moment."

Chapel nodded. The pair sat on a park bench overlooking Mishana Harbor. The native inhabitants of this planet boasted that the waters of the harbor could quiet the storm of any anger. But all they had done for Spock was make him seasick. The first of the planet's twin suns was setting over the waters, casting a reddish glow to the sky.

Spock watched her watching the waters. She accepted so much responsibility for situations over which she had no actual control. Their day together had been one of pleasant conversation, a simple lunch, and the most uncomfortable boat ride he'd ever taken. He could still feel the rocking of the tide, pushing and pulling at his stomach like some crazed tug-of-war.

As they sat waiting for the medicine to take effect, he enjoyed the quiet companionship. He could sense her embarrassment, though, and decided to alleviate it somewhat.

"Legend has it that the first offworlder to visit Mishana Harbor was so entranced by the waters that he walked into the tide and refused to return to shore."

Christine Chapel turned back to him. The sun had played on her skin, bringing out her natural coloring, the highlights in her hair. He had to admit, the natural brown of her hair was much more becoming to her than the more elaborate styles she favored a few years earlier.

"I didn't know you took much stock in legend, Mr. Spock," she said.

"Legends are the code by which a culture maintains its unique identity. You can learn a lot about a people by their legends."

"And what does the legend of the drowning offworlder say about this planet's native people?" She leaned slightly, stretching her arm and neck to loosen the muscles.

"It says that they take great pride in the natural beauty of their world. And that any offworlder who dares to try to capture that beauty for his own use will pay the price."

She began to laugh.

Spock raised an eyebrow. "Why are you laughing?"

"I thought you were going to say that the moral of the story is to always wear a life vest when you go into the water."

He smiled easily. It seemed so simple now, to allow the muscles of his face to move in that particular pattern. The medicine was taking effect finally, and he could enjoy the simple pleasure of her company.

"Are you hungry?" he asked.

"A little, but I didn't want to say anything, what with the nausea and all..."

He acknowledged the logic of that, but said, "There is a small restaurant just south of the main bridge. We can walk there in less than an hour, if you like. I believe by the time we make it, my nausea will be gone and I will want to...replenish the nourishment I lost on the boat."

Christine laughed again. Standing, she took his hand and pulled him to his feet. "You have a deal."

* * *

"Oh, gods, I'm in pain." McCoy stretched out over the crumpled bed sheets. About half the candles had flickered out in sheer exhaustion, and the rest looked ready for a break. "Damn, woman. I go away for a couple of weeks, and you try to kill me the first day we're back together."

This elicited a low giggle from the unruly lump beneath the covers.

He pulled at the covers, revealing her mussed hair and sleepy eyes. "Come on. Face the music. You can't hide under there forever."

She laughed, slithering out from her hiding place to curl up against him. She found his lips and bit gently.

"Stop that." He swatted playfully at her hair.

"Mrrrowwwrr...." was her only response.

"I am never leaving you alone in a house full of cats again."

"Is that a promise, lover?" Her voice was sultry, made even more alluring by a slight hoarseness she'd gotten from being a little too...enthusiastic during their reunion.

Leonard McCoy swallowed hard. He was gonna pay for this leave for weeks. He knew that. And it didn't even slow him down as he rolled over to show her exactly how serious he was.

* * *

Chapel couldn't help feeling sorry for him. Spock sat off to the side, a look of disgust mingling with the stoic expression on his face. "You shouldn't be so hard on yourself, Spock." She continued, knowing how cliché it sounded. "It happens to everybody once in a while."

"It has never happened to me."

Oh, great. He was going to go down that road. She shrugged, trying to make light of it. "Well, we both had a long day...."

"You did not appear affected by the 'long day,' Miss Chapel."

Christine Chapel tried desperately not to roll her eyes. The male ego was so fragile. Why couldn't he just admit he wasn't superman and get over it? "Maybe we can try again in the morning."

"I wish to try again now."

"Spock, do you really think that's wise?"

His right eyebrow shot right up into his bangs. "Reload the game, Miss Chapel."

She groaned as she pressed the reset button for another game of Trivia Zombies. "All right. But just because I want to go to sleep doesn't mean I'm going to let you win," she said. What she didn't say was, any more than the other four times I whipped your ass tonight.

Chapel hid her smile as he gravely set up his player for Game Number Five. It had to be killing him that she was not only winning, but mopping the floor with his pathetically low scores. She loved playing trivia with geniuses. They never saw it coming.

"Begin."

* * *

Shayla let the water soak into her skin. Oh, the sinful joy of a planet that didn't even think of rationing water. She cranked up the heat, allowing the jet of hot water to massage her neck and shoulder. The gel she used to remove the body tinting had a slightly peppermint smell which was absolutely invigorating.

Almost as invigorating as the company. She couldn't believe how wonderful it felt to be alone with Leonard again. In her previous life, before the Sheiranna, she'd prided herself on her independence. Now, she founded herself craving human interaction, and not just the hot and sweaty kind they'd indulged in last night.

Leonard McCoy was a hell of a guy. He reminded her of Phil Boyce a little, that grouchy persona hiding the softest, mushiest heart she could ever imagine. She turned up the heat a little more, just shy of uncomfortable.

He'd asked her to marry him again last night. He was insane. They both knew that. But Shayla couldn't help smiling gently at the thought of him, down on his knees, wrapped in nothing but the hotel bedspread, asking for her hand in matrimony.

Of course she'd said no. He'd known she would. But that didn't stop her from rewarding him generously for his initiative.

She smoothed the last of the white dye out of her hair, completing the transformation back to her old, normal self. Squinting, she stuck her face under the water to wash away the last of the soap.

She couldn't marry him, she thought, forcing bubbles out of her mouth and nose. It had nothing to do with love. Of course she loved him. More than anyone or anything she'd ever imagined.

But how could she marry him? How could she promise to spend her life with him, when she still didn't know what that meant? Everything had changed the moment she was caught in the Sheiranna rift, fifteen years earlier. Life as she knew it was a complete mystery to her. And she could not put Leonard through that uncertainty.

She leaned against the shower wall, letting the water trace down her skin. Mingled somewhere in the rhythm of the water, she could hear the echo of Biabani's song. It was with her always, somewhere in the back of her mind. It had almost driven her mad before she learned to tap into it, to breathe it like the air around her.

Leonard could never really understand. She would carry the Sheiranna with her for the rest of her life. How could she possibly make room for him?

* * *

It had only seemed logical that he sleep on the couch. The last round of trivia took them until just before sunlight. Miss Chapel succeeded in winning another game without even the courtesy of pretending to struggle.

Spock stretched out on the couch, actually larger than the bunk he'd had on his first deep space mission, and began the calming meditations he used as a precursor to sleep. It had been an enlightening day. He'd discovered he was prone to motion sickness, did not like sea kelp soup, and was completely inadequate at party games.

He had also discovered, on the other hand, that Christine Chapel was conversant on numerous topics of interest, that she favored simple pajamas to sleep in, and that she knew more than any human ought to about 22nd century pop culture.

He allowed his body to relax into the support of the cushions. Normally, he preferred a firmer mattress, but for some reason he felt completely comfortable here. He stretched slightly, first his heels, then lower back, then shoulders and neck. The reminder of the physical body served as a framework for his mental energy as he sent it forth to the various sections of his body. As the energy flowed upwards through his body, he felt himself settling deeper into the meditative mode.

Her face appeared in his mind's eye. He found his mental image of her blurred, coalescing pictures of her from various times forming a type of composite representation. One moment her hair was dark, loose around the shoulders and glistening in the sunlight as it had this afternoon. Next, it shimmered with golden highlights, swept up in an impossibly elaborate coiffure. Always were the blue eyes, the kind smile, the long, slender features, the shy grace.

Spock brought his mind backwards in time, trying to understand his perspective before joining with V'ger. Somehow, he had judged this woman inadequate. But for all his efforts, Spock could not remember a single, logical reason for that decision.

As he did in this sort of meditation, Spock allowed his mind free reign, appreciating the creativity and dexterity of his ungoverned thoughts. So he was not surprised when the image in his mind turned to Commander Ross.

Shayla Ross. Number One.

It was an image that even now he found difficult to endure. Her body glittered and clothed in the skimpiest of outfits. Blinding colored lights surrounding them as she danced against him.

Leaving her that night had been the hardest thing he'd ever done. Now, with his new perspective, he saw that relationship for what it had been. His younger self, so new to life outside the rigors of the Vulcan home world, had built her into a sort of icon to both control and rebellion. She exemplified everything he wished to accomplish, human yet in control. She also provided that deep, almost unconscious part of him with another opportunity. The opportunity, he realized now, to scandalize his father with a human female.

In retrospect, the logic was absurdly faulty. Number One had been no more in control of her emotions than he; she just knew better how to conceal them in public. And his father, for all his conservative views, had himself defied tradition with a human wife. Why should Spock's choice of a human female scandalize him?

For it had always been set firmly in Spock's subconscious mind that he would never marry a Vulcan female. As a youth, he had thought himself unworthy of such a mate. He had considered himself unfit for bonding with a perfectly controlled Vulcan female. In truth, he had been afraid. Afraid that a true Vulcan would see through his defenses, spot him immediately for an impostor, and destroy his hard-won credibility.

He had not seen Number One since that night back on Earth. He'd left her, fully clothed, on the bed to recover from the nerve pinch he'd resorted to when she got too close. Kolinahr had followed. Failure. Then V'ger.

Now, here he lay on her sister's hotel sofa, trying to ignore the rays of the sun moving along the wall.

It was indeed a strange world.

* * *

She could get used to this life. Christine Chapel curled her toes in the satin sheets, luxuriating in the enormous king sized bed. She felt a pang of regret for Spock, out there on the couch. On the other hand, if he hadn't been so competitive, he would have gotten out of here in plenty of time to make it back to his hotel across town.

What a night! She rolled over onto her right side, stretching like a cat in heaven. What a day. She couldn't believe the events of the last twenty-four hours had really happened. When did Spock become a nice guy? When did this casual, easy rapport appear, fully-grown, out of nowhere?

And when in hell had she really, really, really gotten over him?

Gods, it felt good. She scrunched herself into the softness enveloping her, hugging the smooth cool sheets against her body. It felt so good to be free of those old emotional hang-ups. It felt so wonderful to be beyond that whole "does he like me, does he think I'm an idiot" mentality.

Honestly, though, she had Shayla to thank. Ironic that it was the one person in whose shadow she'd spent her entire youth who had helped her break away from yet another shadow. The moment she'd played that security recording of Shay and Spock at Joe's night club, the moment she came face to face with an almost exact replica of herself, throwing herself sexually at this Vulcan, the spell had been broken. It was ridiculous. It was absurd.

Nice guy or not, Spock just wasn't into sex. Or at least, he wasn't into sex with her. And that was great. That was wonderful. She was beyond sex. She was beyond the whole love and commitment thing.

Shay had found Leonard. That was fabulous. Spock had found V'ger. Again, peachy.

And Christine, finally, had found Christine.

Life was very good.

* * *

"Hey, you made it!" McCoy wrapped his arms around Shayla's waist. "I was beginning to think you'd never show up. But it's okay. This very friendly riNari dancer kept me company last night." He kissed her cheek.

She smiled gently, but said nothing.

McCoy watched her for a moment, content just to rest his chin on her shoulder and stare at her ear. "You okay?"

"Sheiranna moment," she whispered. It had become a code, their own personal short-hand term for those times when the echo of the Sheiranna song became slightly overwhelming to her.

"You need some time, baby?"

She nodded, her expression very far away.

"I'll go see what I can do about scrounging us up some breakfast."

"Lunch," she corrected.

McCoy chuckled, grabbing his jacket. This palace had everything. He could have easily had something brought in. But he knew that when Shayla got like this, anyone's presence, even his, was unbearable. He'd just come back and tempt her with seafood crepes later.

He stepped into the hallway, then took a moment to secure the privacy lock. As he turned toward the lift, he ran smack into Spock. It was a moment before either of them could do more than stare.

"Doctor."

"Spock. What are you doing here?"

This was met with stony silence. So help him, McCoy could have sworn the green-blooded Vulcan looked embarrassed. Just as Mr. Pointy opened his mouth to speak, the door opened behind him.

"Wait up, will you, Spock? Gee, it's not like we're going to make the breakfast buffet." Christine Chapel hopped out of the hotel room, concentrating too much on her disobedient sandals to notice Spock had company. When she finally straightened up, it was to see a chagrined Spock and a wide-eyed McCoy staring back at her.

"Dr. McCoy," she blurted.

"Well." McCoy finally found his breath. "Well, well, well."

Chapel rolled her eyes, as Spock appeared to stiffen even more. "Oh, Leonard, shut up."

"Well, well, weeeeeeelllllll," he continued, a huge grin crossing his face.

Spock lifted an eyebrow. "Did you spend the night in the adjacent room, doctor?"

"I sure did." The grin was enormous now. Oh, this was rich. This was priceless. The blackmail potential alone was worth a year's pay. "I never expected to see you two coming out of the same hotel suite."

Spock never lost his emotionless expression. "And I never expected you to have the nickname 'Captain SmutDaddy."

Chapel coughed as McCoy turned beet red.

"Please do not forget that Vulcan hearing is much more astute than that of humans. And you and your companion were quite loud." Spock turned to Chapel, extending an arm. "Doctor Chapel, I believe we were off to have lunch?"

She was struggling to maintain her composure. "Indeed," was all she managed to say.

McCoy watched as they headed, arm in arm, for the lift. Then, he leaned back against the door. "I hate hotels."

* * *

Chapel could barely stand. She waited just long enough for the lift doors to close, then collapsed into a fit of laughter. "Oh, my gods. Oh, my gods. Why didn't I have a tricorder to record that for posterity?"

"You realize," Spock said with the slightest hint of humor. "That any such evidence might would appear incriminating against us as well."

"Small price to pay." Tears were welling in her eyes now. It was hard to breathe. "I could just see it, broadcast over every ship channel during the annual Christmas party." Chapel pressed the flat of her hand against her chest, trying to calm her rapid breathing. "Captain SmutDaddy. Oh, that was priceless."

The lift came to a stop on the third floor, allowing a Bentarian couple to enter. Somehow, Chapel found it in herself to control the laughter. It was hard, but she pulled as proper an expression as she could manage across her face. But, just as the lift began to move again, she caught Spock's eyes.

Her laughter was very confusing to the Bentarians.

* * *

Gods, it hurt. Shayla stepped away from herself, trying against all reason to separate from her own person. It hurt so much she almost laughed. It was absurd. It was beyond absurd.

"Sweet Lord," she whispered to the thunderstorm which had appeared out of nowhere. "Sweet Lady. Whoever you are, why are you doing this to me? What have I done to deserve this?" She pressed her face against the glass, rocking gently as the rain beat against the window. "What do you want from me?"

It came gently as the mist, curling through the recesses of her mind. Tears stung her face, burning her skin as they traveled their leisurely path down her cheeks. Haunting, elusive, yet searing as a branding iron on her thoughts. The song. Their song. It was etched into her mind, carved deep and unyielding into the very core of her soul.

"Why?" she asked the rain. The rain said nothing, just continued its journey back to the sea.

She pulled her robe around her. It did nothing to warm the chill she felt. She wanted to wrap herself up, fold her entire soul in a large blanket and rock herself to sleep. The sky was gray. She watched the rain pounding against the harbor. Lights came on as the storm turned the day suddenly to twilight. People were running, laughing tourists caught unaware by the deluge.

How sweet it would be to go into the harbor. She wanted to sink to the bottom of the sea, lie down on the ocean floor, and never return. She wanted to close her eyes and see nothing. She wanted to close her mind and hear nothing. No more songs. No more dreams. No more disjointed memories, beating random patterns against her skull.

Nothing was worth this. No job, no prize. Nothing.

She stared for a long time at the window. It would be so easy. The glass wasn't so thick. She could make it through. Six floors. It should do the trick.

She rested her cheek against the window and cried. Biabani. Why are you doing this to me?

* * *

The music was playing when he got back with food. Seemed to him that she went nowhere without her songs anymore. McCoy set the boxes of food on the table and walked slowly over to where Shayla sat, surrounded by her alien music.

"Am I back too soon?" he whispered, leaning over to kiss her ear.

"No." She caught him before he could rise and wrapped her arms around his neck. "I'm glad you're here."

"I guess I don't have to state the obvious," he said. "You've been crying."

"I cry all the time," she admitted with a hint of dry humor. "I'm the girl they used to call The Walking Computer."

"Only an idiot would call you that," he said, suddenly remembering the countless times he'd said almost the exact same thing to Spock. The thought of Spock brought him back to the encounter he'd had almost an hour ago. On the food run, McCoy had planned every detail of the retelling (well, except the Captain SmutDaddy part), making sure to get the timing just right. Right now, it didn't seem so funny. "You hungry, sweetheart?"

"A little."

He kissed the top of her head, and went to get the take out. He opened both boxes, setting them on the coffee table, and eased onto the sofa next to her. She leaned back into his arms, allowing him to hold her for a long moment. Finally, he grabbed the nearest box and rested it on his knee. "Share?"

"Mmmm."

He took one of the mini-crepes from the box. It was stuffed with local seafood, small enough to eat with the hands, but still elegant. Holding it out to her, he watched as her lips wrapped around the delicacy. Her eyes were closed as she savored each bite.

Gods, he loved watching her eat.

Of course, he loved watching her sleep, laugh, make love, read, and wash her hair, too. He was about to grab a crepe for himself when she did it for him, holding it between her thumb and forefinger just centimeters from his lips.

Grinning, McCoy took the whole bite in his mouth, as well as the tips of her fingers. Her soft laugh tasted better than the food, but he ate it anyway. She traced the pad of her forefinger down the bridge of his nose, sending shivers throughout his entire body.

He had not wanted anyone this much since his youth. It frightened and amazed and infuriated him simultaneously. As he reached for another crepe to feed her, she caught his lips halfway, pressing them into a hard, desperate kiss which lasted only a moment.

"What was that for?" he asked.

"For feeding me crepes," she answered. This was followed by another, less urgent kiss. "For giving me my moments." Still another kiss. "For not getting mad at me when I tell you what I have to tell you."

Their eyes met for a long moment. McCoy's voice came out gruffer than he'd expected. "I don't like the sound of that."

* * *

Chapel took another sip of her tea. They had managed to make it to the café only partially drenched. The concierge had recommended this place, saying it was off the beaten path, but definitely worth the effort. She hadn't been lying, either. Café L'Shjn was hardly a tourist attraction, but it was warm and cozy and whatever was cooking in the tiny kitchen smelled divine.

As she took in the atmosphere, waiting for Spock to return from the men's room, she couldn't help but chuckle again at the morning's events. Granted, he was from a desert planet, but he looked so much like a furious cat dunked in a swimming pool as he shook the water from his hair.

The server, carrying a huge basket of bread sticks, paused at the sound of her laughter. "I mean not to disturb," she said in a low, accented voice.

"According to the Chapel Book of Etiquette, no one bearing bread sticks could ever truly cause a disturbance." She took the basket from the server, whose scales twittered in amusement. "Unless they refused to share."

"A good eating love have you, yes? Good. Not usual with Starfleet, but good."

"Oh, honey, eating and I have a long standing relationship." In fact, she added silently, it's the most stable and reliable relationship I've ever had. She paused, mid-bite. Now that was depressing.

"Your friend is not liking sky water?"

"Sky water? Oh, rain! Rain, no, my friend doesn't really care for rain much." She winked at the server. "He's from the desert. Prefers sand and heat." She laughed as the waiter shivered in disgust. "I know, I feel the same way...but don't tell him."

Another twitter of scales. "You like sea fruit?"

"Sea...kelp?"

"Yes, local delicacy. Very good soup."

Chapel bit her lower lip. "Um, that probably not a good idea. My friend got sick on it yesterday."

The server looked in the general direction of the men's room. Her tall, iridescent body looked as if it had been sculpted from Depression glass. "Why you go with him? I get off sunset. You come with me, and we'll have good time. Not get sick at all."

Chapel burst into laughter, then swallowed it when she realized her scaly friend was serious. "Oh, that is so nice of you," she said. "But..." She leaned over, whispering conspiratorially to her new friend. "You see, he doesn't have a lot of friends. If I don't hang around with him on leave, he'll just spend his time holed up in a library or something. It's really an act of charity."

"Ahhh..." The server nodded. "Knew you were good Starfleet moment you came through door. Maybe next time." There was a scuttle of scales. "I come back when boring friend returns. You think he like white bread and tea? Very popular with Starfleet."

Chapel shrugged. "I'm sure he'll find something on the menu. Thanks for understanding."

She left just as Spock made his way through the sparsely-populated tables. He sat, his dignity mostly recovered. "Did I miss anything?"

For the second time that day, Chapel was overcome by hysterical laughter. She didn't even try to explain it to Spock.

* * *

"Did you know this before you came here?"

Shayla pulled her knees up to her chest. "Leonard, you're getting upset."

"Damn straight, I'm getting upset. Did you or did you not know this information before you came here?" Her silence was enough. He slammed the empty food containers off the table as he stamped over to the window. "You knew. The whole time, that whole act of yours..."

"Leonard, I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you."

He shook his head, the storm outside paling against his anger. "No, nobody ever means to hurt the person they're dumping. It's just an undocumented feature of the program. Lagniappe, as a special gift to the consumer."

"I'm not dumping you." She eased off the couch, moving toward him. His unmistakable body language stopped her halfway. "Leonard, I didn't plan this."

"You knew. You knew, every minute you spent with me, every time we made love, you knew you were leaving. And now, what is this? The grand finale or the encore? The Amazing Shayla Ross, ladies and gentlemen. You've heard her music. You've seen her dance. You've even seen her pull a rabbit out of her hat. And now, for her most amazing feat yet..." He slumped against the wall. "She breaks Leonard McCoy's heart."

Shayla closed the space between them, forcing him to accept her touch. "I'm not dumping you. It's only two years."

"Shay, call me old fashioned, but your spending two years in an alien monastery is not my idea of a healthy relationship." He finally turned, allowing her to pull him into a gentle embrace. "Did I push too hard? Did I make you feel trapped?"

"Baby, you did nothing wrong. You did everything right," she whispered into his shoulder. "I'm alive because of you. It's because of you I'm brave enough to take this step."

"Story of my life," he muttered, stroking her hair. "Because I'm such a damned great guy, you have the strength to leave me."

"I'm coming back."

"That's what you say now."

"I love you."

"That's what you say now." His voice was like shards of glass, clattering against the floor. "Why do you have to go? Why can't you stay here and do what you've been doing?"

"Len, the Ahsari are the only beings in our quadrant who stand even a chance of understanding the Sheiranna language. Our linguistics experts are good, but the Ahsari have studied the physics of music for eons. It's their religion, their existence." He didn't look convinced. "I can't expect you to understand. It would be too much to expect."

"I try, damn it. I've done everything in my power to understand. And that isn't enough."

"No, sweetheart. I wish to whatever god is listening that it was, but it's not enough." Tears were burning down her cheeks now. "The more I study the Sheiranna music, the more convinced I am that this is not an accident. It's too structured to be random. Biabani left this behind for me, for a reason. I can't just ignore it."

"But you're not ignoring it. You're working every day on it. I've seen the progress you've made. You are strong enough..."

"I'm not." She burrowed into his embrace, shivering with the admission of truth. "Leonard, I wish I could say this is a choice. If it were a choice, I'd choose to stay with you. But it's not my choice anymore. The Ahsari are my only hope now. If I don't take them up on their offer..." She paused momentarily. "I'm not going to make it."

* * *

It looked so good. She'd been skeptical when he ordered it, but damn him...his lunch looked better than hers. Christine poked at her grilled prawn and kelp salad, wishing she'd ordered his.

"Miss Chapel," Spock said softly.

"Oh, yeah," she covered. "The refit schedule is going to be gruesome. I wholeheartedly agree."

"Christine," Spock waved his hand slightly to catch her eyes. "We finished discussing the refit schedule two point six three minutes ago."

"We did?" She blushed. "So what are we talking about now?"

"I had begun talking about the crew replacements next month. But perhaps we should be discussing my entrée."

Chapel blushed clear down to her collar. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to stare."

"Would you like a taste?" He did not wait for her response. Instead, he pushed the plate of vegetarian pasta in front of her.

"Well, just a bite, really." She scooped up the creamy sauce and stabbed the oddly-shaped pasta with her fork. Eyes closed, she tasted. "Oh, man, this is better than sex."

Spock lifted a single eyebrow. "Humans say that quite frequently. I have often wondered if they truly mean it."

Chapel coughed, and tried to hide another deep blush. "Did I say that out loud?"

"Yes, you did." He looked pointedly at the plate. In the time it had taken for the conversation to lag, she'd eaten almost a third of his entrée. "And you have not answered my question."

"Question?"

"Is food better than sex?"

"Well, I guess it depends on the food."

"And the sex, presumably?"

"Definitely." She was about to lift another forkful of pasta to her mouth when she realized how much she'd eaten. "Ohmigosh. Spock, I'm so sorry. I didn't realize..."

"Do not worry about it."

She pushed her salad towards him. "Here, have mine. It's really good...a salad, no meat."

"When last I observed, prawns were considered meat."

"Oh, vegan. Damn. Spock, I don't...look, we can..."

He silenced her with a simple wave of his hand. "Christine, be quiet." She stopped babbling. With a deft gesture, Spock removed the prawns from the salad and placed them onto the pasta. Then, almost as an afterthought, he grabbed a huge chunk of bread from the side plate to Christine's right. "Bread is usually safe," he said dryly.

"Yeah."

"Now, if only I could get a refill on my tea." He met Chapel's sudden outburst of laughter with confusion. "What is funny about tea?"

"I'm sorry. Gods, I have been saying that a lot, haven't I?"

"Yes. You have not answered my question. What is funny about tea?"

"Oh, just a private joke," she said, stabbing a prawn absently. "Something the server said a while back, when she was trying to pick me up."

Eyebrows shot to the bangs. "I was unaware of this."

"It was while you were in the bathroom, drying off," she said. "She wanted me to meet her at sundown and go out on the town with her."

"Did you agree?"

"No!" Chapel was stunned. "Even if I was interested in going out with a walking amphibian, which is still under consideration, I would never do that to you."

"Do what to me?"

She shook her head. "You are such a Vulcan sometimes." His confused look just made her laugh. "I take it back. You aren't just a Vulcan. You're a...guy!"

"You say that as if it were a bad thing."

"No, no it's not a bad thing." She smiled at him, thoroughly completing the task of utterly confusing him.

"So why did you not accept the woman's offer?"

"If you must know, I told her that I would never dump a friend." She hesitated. The word came out so easily that it startled her.

"And we are friends, then?"

She nodded. It was definite. "Yeah, Spock. I think we're friends."

"Good then." A slow look of understanding spread across his features. "Because you are paying for lunch."

* * *

It had been a great afternoon. Once the weather had cleared, Spock had revealed himself as one of the most indefatigable antique-hunting partners she'd ever had. They'd spent hours in the city's thrift district, scouring over artifacts of questionable history. His eye for detail had kept her from making a costly mistake more than once, and she'd wound up with a treasure trove of kitsch to add to her ever-growing collection.

The message light was blinking when she got back to her hotel room. Christine balanced her packages on one hip, leaning over to press the retrieve button so she could listen while unpacking. She'd sent Spock back to his hotel with firm instructions that they were to meet at the Harbor Players Theater no later than eighteen-hundred hours.

"Chris, hi."

She was surprised to hear Shayla's voice on the recording. Pausing her activities, she turned to the monitor to pay closer attention.

"I'm sorry to interrupt your leave, but I wanted to talk to you before you left tomorrow. I called the ship, and they told me the name of your hotel."

Chapel was already looking up the number for interstellar calls when Shayla's next words stopped her. "I'm in room four-sixty-five. Please call me when you get back."

It was only then that she realized the message was guest-to-guest, and not an external cal. "Four-sixty-five?" Chapel mused. She took out her room ID. Four-sixty-three. "No way." She began to laugh. Shayla was Miss Captain SmutDaddy? Of course, who else would it be? Why hadn't Leonard told her Shay was here?

A quick thought to Spock, and she realized why. Leonard knew about the little detour Shayla had taken on the road to wellsville, and he also knew that Spock had provided one of the rest stops. Christine swallowed a momentary burst of bile. She and Spock were just friends. His former relationships were not her concern, and she certainly didn't begrudge Shayla a little pleasure after all she'd been through. Now that Shayla and McCoy were firmly entrenched as a couple, there was no point in bringing it up. And certainly, she added to herself as she quickly checked her appearance in the mirror, no point in letting it get to her.

She was out the door and ringing the bell to Shayla's room in no time. She was about to launch into a raucous greeting until she saw the look on her sister's face. "What's wrong?" were the first words out of her mouth.

* * *

At least Chris took it better than Leonard had. Shayla sat curled on the sofa, marveling at what a strong woman her baby sister had become. She'd done enough research after her fourteen years with the Sheiranna to learn that Chris hadn't had the easiest path of it, either. But sitting there on the sofa, stoically accepting the fact that they were going to be separated again for two years, Christine Ross Chapel was the picture of rock-solid stability.

"I wanted to see you before I left. I just couldn't think of abandoning you again. I didn't want you to think that..."

Christine smiled, a sadness touching the blue of her eyes. "I'm not four years old anymore. I understand the reasons you're doing this."

"I know you're not four years old." She brushed the hair from Chapel's eyes, tenderly caressing her cheek as she did so. "But that's how I think of you. This charming, bright-eyed little monster who was always into everything."

Chapel laughed, grasping her sister's hand for a moment and pressing the fingers to her lips. "When are you leaving?"

"Tomorrow." At Chapel's stunned look, she hurriedly added, "The Ahsari ambassador was very anxious to begin as soon as possible. He's afraid that, with time, the Sheiranna etchings might begin to fade."

"Etchings?"

"That's the closing thing the translator could get to what he described. Apparently, someone recorded one of my performances, which got back to the assistant to the ambassador. No offworlder has ever been invited to study at an Ahsari monastery, Chris. It's an incredible opportunity."

"And it might help you decipher what's been ringing in your ears for the past year or so," Chapel added softly. "Why are you trying so hard to sell me on the idea?"

She sighed. "I didn't want a repeat of this morning."

"Leonard?"

"Yeah." Shayla wrapped her arms tightly across her chest. "He wasn't thrilled. He thought I was dumping him."

Chapel's eyes narrowed slightly. "Are you?"

"Chris! No. No, definitely. Leonard is the most wonderful man. I adore him. But I can't continue this way. I have to figure out what is happening to me. How can I be what he needs from me if I can't be what I need from myself?"

"Seems to me all he ever needed from you was you."

Oh, gods. Shayla dropped her face into her hands for a long moment. "Don't make this harder than it already is," she whispered.

"I'm not trying to. But it just seems you're leaving behind a lot of broken hearts everywhere you go. And, as usual," she added with a trace of bitterness in her voice, "I'm left behind to clean up the mess."

"I never asked you to do that."

"You don't have to ask. I work for your boyfriend, remember? I lived with your mother, remember? I don't have much of a choice in the matter. You leave; I stay. Do the math, Commander."

There was nothing she could say to that. Chris had a point. "It's an imperfect world, Dr. Chapel," she whispered. A dead silence followed her words. Finally, "I made sure the cats had some place to go...and I suspended the utilities at the house until you returned."

"That's very considerate of you."

"Chris..."

"I'm sorry. I want to be supportive. I want to be understanding. But all I feel right now is a sudden and overwhelming awareness that I'm gonna be alone again. And I don't like that."

Shayla pulled the younger woman into a hard embrace. "You're not alone, baby sister. You're never going to be alone as long as there's a breath in my body."

There was a moment when she feared Chris was going to pull away, but it passed quickly. They drew together, holding on through the tears.

"Baby?" Shayla whispered.

"Yeah?"

"Take care of him for me, will ya? Just till I get back?"

Christine nodded. What else would she do?

* * *

It was becoming difficult to concentrate on the performance. Spock glanced over at his companion, trying to ascertain the cause of her discomfort. The performance was hardly more than a diversion designed to amuse tourists, certainly nothing that could cause her look of distraction. Their time together had been pleasant enough.

Why was she not enjoying herself?

"Christine," he whispered as the music swelled enough to cover his words. "Would you like to leave?"

She hesitated, then nodded her assent. Spock grabbed the check from the table. It was fortunate they had been seated far enough from the stage not to be noticed as they quickly headed for the door. Spock silently paid the tab, then escorted Chapel into the cool night air.

It wasn't long before they found themselves quietly walking along the beach. He searched for something to say to fill the silence between them. Only this afternoon, they had chatted casually about everything from pathology to pop culture. Now, the void between them seemed greater than ever. He analyzed his behavior of the past few hours, searching for anything that would have offended her. But he could find nothing.

The first of the planetoid's two moons was rising over the harbor. It cast a silver light on the black waters, greater than anything conceived by either the natives or their Starfleet tenants. He paused to gaze at the silver reflection in the waters. Chapel stopped too, still silently staring into the night.

"It is lovely, is it not?" he said.

"Mmm."

He gathered that was a yes. Spock took a deep breath, deciding the logical approach was to simply ask her. "Christine, have I done something wrong?"

"What?"

"You have not said a single word since leaving the dinner theater. You spoke only occasionally during dinner, and have seemed distracted since we met at the theater. Have I done something to offend you?"

She smiled, a dark parody of her normal warm expression. "It's not always about you, Mr. Spock."

"I did not believe that to be so. However, I am with you. And you are unhappy. It is not implausible to connect those two facts."

A gust of wind whipped her hair about, and she brushed it away from her face. "I know. I'm sorry. I just...." She fell silent, once again focusing on the moon's reflection in the water. "I'm just not good company."

"On the contrary, you are excellent company. Under normal circumstances." He also turned to face the water, folding his arms against the chill. "I assume these are not normal circumstances."

She chuckled softly. "Every time I let myself love someone, they leave me."

The words hit Spock like a nuclear missile. So that's what this was about. She was afraid he would leave her. And she admitted to loving him.

As he loved her. The thought came from nowhere. It barreled through him, overwhelming him with its simple, flawless clarity. He loved her.

From somewhere, deep inside him, an urge surfaced. He wished to touch her skin. It was simple enough to dismiss, but he did not dismiss it. He encouraged it. By the time, he had closed the small gap between them, it had grown to an overwhelming need. "You are cold," he murmured. The moonlight glinted of the soft waves of her hair.

"A little."

Carefully, cautiously, he placed his arm around her shoulders, drawing her into his warmth. She did not push him away, but she didn't encourage the gesture either. "Christine," he whispered, trying to divert her from those faraway thoughts occupying her mind. She never took her gaze away from the sea. "Christine," he repeated. "I will not leave you."

She said nothing.

Spock did the only logical thing. He pressed his lips gently against her cheek, brushing them against the softest skin he'd ever felt until they touched her lips. For a moment, she responded, allowing him full access to her mouth. She tasted salty, like the oceans of her home planet. Spock fell into that taste, reveling in the softness of her lips, the warmth of her breath as she relaxed in his embrace.

When he made a tentative exploration of her mouth with the tip of his tongue, however, she pushed him away. Hard.

"Christine! I do not understand."

"I'm not Shayla," she growled.

What did she mean by that? "Of course, you are not Shayla. Despite your resemblance, it is quite possible to tell you apart."

"Is it?" She slapped his arm away from her, marching purposely back toward the city.

"Christine, what..."

Pivoting in the sand, she threw a furious look at him. "I'm not my sister, Mr. Spock. You may think we're interchangeable, but we're not. And if you can't have more than one night with the sister you really want, don't think I'm just going to throw myself at your feet in order to play Substitute Shayla."

"That is not my intent." How was this happening? Where had she gotten these ideas?

"No, of course it isn't. Maybe it's just mathematics. How long since your last ponn farr, Spock? Getting that old seven year itch again?" She was livid now, her voice carrying over the sound of the crashing waves with ease.

"It has not been seven years, Christine, and your response is irrational."

"Sorry. Sorry I am not the walking computer you always dreamed of. But then again, neither was Shayla."

"I do not desire a walking computer, Christine. I desire you." The words came easily, forcefully. "I desire you," he whispered, refusing to allow her to shake off his hands as he pulled her closer.

Every muscle in her face tightened. She glared at him and responded in a voice completely devoid of emotion. "I...don't...desire...you."

A sudden void opened between them. A void neither could or would cross. Spock released her shoulders, dropping his hands lifelessly to his side. "I apologize, Dr. Chapel. I meant no disrespect. I will escort you back to your hotel."

Her words cut him. "That won't be necessary, Mr. Spock. I know the way."

She left without another word. Spock watched her cross the distance to the runner's path, where she began walking back to the hotel. Before long, he could make out only the shadow of her form. Then, he was alone.

* * *

Kirk was waiting at the transporter pad for McCoy's scheduled beam-up. He noticed the doctor's haggard appearance, dark circles under his eyes. Apparently Bones had had one hell of a weekend. He waited for McCoy to grab his bag, then joined him in the corridor.

"So, Bones. Good weekend?"

"Uh."

Kirk laughed. "That good, huh? Well, doctor, I'll have you know I did a little detective work during our leave."

"Uh-huh."

Playing hardball, eh? No matter. He was going to love the expression on McCoy's face when he dropped his bombshell. They entered the nearest turbolift and headed for the officers' quarters. "So, don't want to talk about it, eh, Bones?"

"Not really."

"So, it doesn't matter to you in the least that I figured out the identity of your secret date this weekend?"

McCoy turned a tired look at him, looking more angry than surprised. "No, not really."

"It was Deanna Margolis, that reporter who interviewed you two years ago after you found that treatment for Sesterian anemia. I'm right, aren't I?"

"Damn, Jim. You're too smart for me."

"I knew it! You thought you could keep it from me, but I knew I'd figure it out." Kirk stepped out of the turbo, waiting for McCoy to join him. As they walked to McCoy's quarters, he asked conspiratorially, "So, how was she?"

McCoy paused at the door, a tired look in his eyes. "She was great, Jim. Just...great."

* * *

Well. It had just been the best birthday in the history of birthdays. McCoy was miserable. Shayla was gone. She and Spock weren't even speaking. Chapel sat at her desk, feeling the weight of the universe on her shoulders. Leonard had taken to drinking again, never a good sign where the doctor was concerned. He snapped at the orderlies, talked down to the nurses, and treated her like she was first year pre-med.

This was getting out of hand. Chapel scrolled through her mail, checking out the news and personnel reports as she always did. F'shalli Narouk had just been named Minister of Economics. Yippee. An archaeological dig on one of Jupiter's moons had discovered evidence of pre-warp space landings. Possibly a pre-first contact outpost for aliens observing Earth before it developed space-flight capabilities. Woo-hah. News, news, and more news.

A smaller item caught her attention. Mira Andrami had stepped down as Assistant Chief of Earth Defense in order to pursue her own research. The vacancy was expected to be filled by someone from Starfleet, preferably with a medical background to complement Chief Hirakawa's technological and military strengths. Chapel had met Hirakawa once at a Starfleet Medical Academy function. They had hit it off instantly, developing a strong rapport almost at once.

She reread the article, allowing the germ of an idea to develop in her head. She could work with Hirakawa. She could definitely use a change of scenery. And it wouldn't hurt to be something besides the former CMO now functioning as a glorified head nurse on a starship.

Without giving herself time to mull it over, Chapel tagged the article, attaching it to a note to be sent directly to Hirakawa's office in San Francisco.

Offering her services as Mira Andrami's replacement.

* * *

The air was heavy here. Shayla Ross struggled to keep her breathing normal, despite the urge to quicken her intake of air. Everything about the Ahsari home world was heavy, ancient, and intimidating.

An acolyte had met her at the transport station, swathed in gray robes and hooded against the light. She had spoken only a word or two to Shayla, indicating the commander should take her bags and follow her.

They rode silently to the monastery, which was far from the commerce center. It didn't really look all that different. Every building Shayla saw had a vaguely Baroque feel to it, enormous and bloated down to the cellular level with history. The only distinction the monastery had was its relative isolation from all other dwellings. It loomed in the distance, surrounded by a private forest of short, stout trees which only emphasized its cathedral-like grandeur.

The acolyte nodded to her when the transport vehicle came to a stop just outside the gates. "We will walk from here," she whispered in slow, accented Federation Standard.

Shayla smiled at the driver, then lugged her sparse baggage from the back of the vehicle. In the heavy atmosphere, it seemed harder to manage, but she didn't complain. They picked their way through the dense undergrowth which threatened to overwhelm the pathway to the main door. Shayla wondered why monks would let this get so overgrown, but then considered it in perspective. The entire planet was cut from lush jungle terrain. The battle between sentient life and the elements was probably evenly matched at very best. Some days, she suspected, the elements had the upper hand.

They reached the door just as insects began to flitter curiously around Shayla's neck and hands. Oh, no, she thought. Don't develop a taste for my blood, critters.

The acolyte tapped an entrance beacon, and in moments the door slid open to admit them.

"Wow," Shayla muttered. She'd seen a lot of places in her life. But few if any of them took her breath away at first glance. The main hallway was marbled in a glittering gray and white stone, polished to the utmost smoothness. Ceilings towered almost out of sight above the couple, diminishing them by sheer contrast to infinitesimally small creatures. From every corner, she could hear soft music, lighter and more complex than any she'd heard since her encounter with the Sheiranna. There was a quickening in her heartbeat as she listened to that sound, echoing against the smooth surfaces of the main hall.

Another hooded figured came from a side door, crossing the distance to greet her with hands outstretched. "Commander Ross," he said, with that same accented voice, as he removed the hood of his cape.

"Ambassador Mohlana, I didn't expect you to be here."

He took her hand, leading her to the doorway he'd come from. "I wish for you to meet our primate, S'uhr Lechani. He is most anxious to meet you and discuss your contact with the Sheiranna." The doorway opened onto another chamber, more beautiful than the former. Several hooded Ahsari monks knelt in a circle, grayish-green hands joined in prayer. In the center of the circle, apparently, was the primate. He stood as they entered, disbanding the circle with a wave of his hand. The monks parted, allowing him easy passage.

Shayla felt a shiver through her body as she faced the religious leader of the Ahsari people. He was small, his skin gnarled and faded to a pasty gray color. But his eyes were dark and piercing. She felt him observing her, felt his energy surrounding her. For the first time since arriving here, she felt afraid.

"You carry the energy of the Sheiranna with you, child," he said in a hoarse version of the accent all Ahsari shared. "Can you not see it?"

"No," she whispered. It was like facing the grade school principal. Or Starfleet high command. Only more intimidating.

The primate reached out a gnarled hand to her. "Come, I will show you." He led her to a long oval screen. "We have prepared this in anticipation of your visit. It is our understanding that humans do not have comparable skills in observing energy. This will show you, in some small way, what we see when we look at you."

A black light hit her, and her shadowy form appeared in the center of the oval. Specks of yellow light glittered over her entire body, forming clusters over her heart and brain. Something about it....

"Do you recognize anything?" the ambassador asked.

"It's..." She caught her breath. "It's a stellar map. It's the system...where I fell into the rift."

The primate and the ambassador exchanged a soundless glance. Then the primate said, "We must begin immediately."

* * *

Five years later.

She had almost managed to beat the storm in on her commute from San Francisco. Almost. Chapel shook her damp hair, grumbling to herself as she fumbled with the security code to her house in Davenport.

Peeling the uniform jacket off was an effort. As much as she hated to admit it, Chapel rather missed the skimpy little outfits she wore on the Enterprise. They had been embarrassing, but at least they weren't hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and didn't soak up water like a sponge.

She picked up the insulated box from where she'd set it on the counter. At least her roast beef poboy was dry. Opening the box, she rolled her eyes. Yup, dry as leather. The restaurant had miscalculated the heating temps again. "That's the last time I ever get take-out at Chez Patout," she mumbled to herself.

"Talking to yourself might be misconstrued, Dr. Chapel," a voice said from the darkness.

She almost jumped out of her skin, slamming her hand against the main light controls. There she saw a very grizzled and surely intoxicated McCoy sitting on her couch. "Leonard!" She set the box back on the counter, and quickly bridged the distance between them to accept his bear hug. "How did you get in here?"

"It is unwise to keep the same security code for that many years, Christine," he said, still in that strange tone of voice.

"Damn," she said. "Keep meaning to do that. You never know what kind of nutcase might be waiting for you," she added with a grin. Despite his breach of security, she was glad to see him. Without the Enterprise and Shayla, they had grown apart in the last five years. Each year that passed without contact from her sister only increased the gap between Chapel and McCoy. They'd only seen each other last at Spock's memorial service. "So, is this an official call, or should I break out the Parcheesi set?"

There was a darkness, a curious timbre to his response that startled her. "I missed you." He still held her, at a decent length but with utter tenderness.

She hugged him fiercely. "I missed you, too, Len. We shouldn't have let it go this long."

The contact brought with it an almost electrical sensation, sending Chapel into a fit of shivers. What was different about him? What didn't she see that she should be seeing?

His fingers reached up, just brushing the line of her cheek. A mental spark flashed, and Chapel had to struggle to catch her breath.

"I will never force this on you, Christine," he whispered.

"Spock?" The fingers brushed her eyelashes, the curve of her brow, down the length of her nose. "Spock," she murmured. This was crazy. This was madness. She could feel his mind calling to hers, like a dream. She closed her eyes. It was the only way to truly see what was in front of her. Suddenly, all the grief she'd dared not allow herself to feel came rushing to the surface. Tears streamed from her eyes, choking her with their intensity. "Spock."

"Do not cry, darlin'," he murmured, still in that curious mixture of Spock and McCoy's speech patterns. His fingers reached for the pressure points on her face. He wanted to meld with her. She cried out with her mind, begging him to come closer, to let her make up for the years of wasted time.

"My mind to yours," he uttered. "Yours to mine."

My thoughts to yours, she responded wordlessly. Your thoughts to mine.

He was there. Deep inside her mind, deep in her very cells, she could feel him. Everything, the pain, the innocence, the despair, the almost childlike desire to learn and know. Their thoughts and memories mingled together, misunderstandings from years before unraveling with ease through the bond. She saw him with Shayla, carrying her inert form to the bed, leaving her untouched to sleep off her night of alcohol-induced seduction. He saw her despair at Shayla's sudden departure, manifesting itself as anger that night on the beach. She felt his latent, almost shy physical desire for her, a desire that had long predated his revelation through V'ger. He felt her deep admiration and concern for his welfare.

The fact that Spock's essence was housed in McCoy's body was quickly forgotten by both. It didn't matter. As their minds joined, their bodies followed suit, a hurried, clumsy journey to the bedroom, a frantic removal of clothing, a hard, unyielding submission to years of untapped desire. Each moment of passion increased the strength of the bond; each wave of psychic intensity fueled their physical pleasures.

The first wave of orgasm hit with furious strength, sending them both plunging towards ecstasy. The physical and mental closeness was almost too much for Christine to bear. She cried out as another wave of pleasure overwhelmed her. "Spock!"

After a moment, after a lifetime, they collapsed in each others arms. She closed her eyes, allowing herself to drift to sleep in his arms.

* * *

McCoy stared at the woman in his arms. A soft glow of sunlight touched the corners of the bed, the first signal of impending dawn. She looked beautiful. A thought of Shayla crossed his mind, followed by a deep and penetrating sense of loss. What the hell was he doing here?

He had brought him here. Damn, pig-headed Vulcan. What had only been a suspicion had been confirmed. Why the hell hadn't he laid Christine when he'd had his own body to do it with, rather than waiting to take control of his? Of all the unbelievable luck. He knew he couldn't go through life with this bloody Vulcan rattling around in his skull. Look at the trouble he's already gotten me into, McCoy thought as he watched Christine smile in her dreams.

Damn. Damn, damn, damn. Even now, emotions warred within him. Part of him wanted to grab his pants and get the hell out of here before he could do anything else to screw up his friendship with Christine. Another part of him...the Spock part of him...merely wanted to fuck her into the next millennium.

"Damn Vulcan," he grunted.

"Hmmm?" Chapel stirred, stretching against the overstuffed pillows. At the sight of Leonard McCoy, she stiffened. But then, she reached out to touch his cheek. "Spock?" she asked.

"I am here, Christine." Damn it. Stop using my vocal cords, you green-blooded body snatcher.

Christine reached up, pressing her lips to his.

McCoy watched in horror as her thoughts mingled with Spock's, right there in the presence of his own inquiring mind. "Do you two mind?"

"Leonard??" She pulled back, apparently finally realizing that her beloved Spock had made love to her with sublet equipment. "Leonard, I'm...I..."

"I'm not crazy about the arrangement myself."

She pulled the blanket around her, suddenly embarrassed. "Have you told anybody? Have you contacted the Vulcan authorities?"

"And tell them what? Oh, by the way, I've got your boy's katra subletting my neural pathways, and I'd like to evict him please."

"Leonard, there must be something you can do."

"There is something that we can do, Christine." It was Spock's voice this time. Chapel shivered visibly at the change. He needed to stop doing that. People were going to think he was some sort of nut case. Of course, that didn't stop Spock from blabbering on with stolen vocal cords. "Dr. McCoy must take my katra to Mount Selaya, where I will be joined with the spirits of my people. This trip...was a detour I sincerely wished to make."

"What are you saying, Spock? Your essence...your soul is going to be scattered among the clouds around Mount Selaya?" Chapel was up now, wrapping herself in his arms, ignoring the dichotomy staring her straight in the face. "Your mind, your memories...they're intact, Spock. There are things we can do...cloning, donor bodies, robotics. What you're talking about is suicide."

"Those things you described, they are not for me, Christine. I cannot continue to cheat fate. My time has ended. I merely wished to give the last part of it to you, my th'hyla."

"No. No, we haven't come this far and weathered this much for you to give up on me now. I love you, Spock. I love you, and I'm not going to let you throw this chance away." She moved to grab her robe from the bed post where it had been draped. "I'm going to..."

He'd attempted the neck pinch before. His success had been sporadic at best. Fortunately, this time it worked. He caught Christine as she fell, tenderly laying her back onto the bed. His lips touched hers. Then, he retrieved his clothes and, with a wordless goodbye, left to face up to his destiny.

* * *

Chapel took a long sip of her coffee, trying to remember just exactly why she once thought of rain as romantic. Right now, she'd give her left arm for a spot of sunshine.

"Want another chocolate bar, Chris?" Janice Rand sidled up to her, balancing junk food and coffee with amazing dexterity. The president himself had insisted the main staff take dinner breaks while they waited for news from Kirk and the bird of prey. Or, for the alien probe to destroy the Earth in search of a response from a four-centuries dead humpback whale. Whichever came first.

"Gimme the raisin-filled." Chapel grabbed the bar from Rand's overflowing hands. They had pretty much ruled out real food, preferring the quick emotional fix only chocolate and caffeine could supply. She began eating, and soon both women fell back into their silent observation.

Finally, Rand said, "Ya know, I was thinking about all those times we were on the Enterprise and some poor schmuck planet was staring down the barrel of complete disaster and we came riding in on our white dilithium horse to save the day." She took a bite of chocolate-covered toffee and continued. "I never thought I'd be one of those poor schmucks facing planetary annihilation one day."

"It'll be okay," she said, never turning from the windows which lined the commissary. "This isn't the first time this has happened. What about V'ger?"

"Totally different scenario. We were on the Enterprise, remember?"

"You think I could forget?"

Rand shook her head. "Nope, during the V'ger thing, we had the Enterprise and a fighting chance. Now what do we have? A crackpot plan to kidnap whales from the 20th century and bring them back in a decrepit Klingon bird of prey piloted by a crew that doesn't know the technology."

"Please don't forget who's in that crew, Jan." Chapel took another swig of her coffee, which was rapidly losing both heat and flavor.

"Call me crazy, but I'd feel better if this happened before the Genesis crisis."

"Okay, you're crazy." She faced Rand square on, resenting the hell out of any conversation which forced her to play Ophelia Optimist. "Jim Kirk is at the helm of that decrepit Klingon bird of prey. He's accompanied by McCoy, Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty. Haven't you been paying attention? If anybody can pull off that crackpot plan, they can."

"You have a point." The two women lapsed back into silence, watching the storm as they consumed more chocolate. Finally, Rand said, "My poor roses."

She couldn't help it. Chapel had to laugh. And once she began, she couldn't stop. "Your roses? We're facing planetary annihilation, and you're worried about your roses?"

Janice Rand shot her a look which was part defensiveness, part self-mocking humor. "I worked a long time on those roses."

"There is no way we are going to die today, Miss Rand." Chapel shook her head. "No deity would be cruel enough to kill me before I could repeat this conversation to a third party."

"That's what I like about you, Chris. Always the optimist."

* * *

They were speaking in an odd mixture of Ahsari, Sheiranna, and Federation Standard. To the untrained ear, their heated conversation might have sounded like something composed by Igor Stravinsky, Charles Ives, and Bobby McFerrin after a night of free-basing cocaine.

"You are not ready yet, Shayla'zha."

"S'uhr Lechani, with utmost respect, I implore you. I must leave."

The wizened old man, so much a father to her now, shook his head sadly. "It is difficult, yes, Shayla'zha. But there is more to be done. A crucial stage it is we have reached."

"It's my home world, S'uhr'zha. I have family there, friends. I can't just sit here in safety and do nothing."

"What would you do? What could you do that is not already being done?"

"The reports said the probe was communicating through whale song. Nobody on Earth knows more than I do about the language of music. I could help them decode the message, try to help formulate a response."

"You would be dead before you stepped foot on planet, child. Earth is quarantined. You cannot help your friends by going there. The only thing you must concern yourself with is the task at hand."

"To hell with the task at hand." She slammed her hand down on the subspace console they'd been viewing. "All said, I've given twenty one years of my life to the Sheiranna. I'm sick of it. I never asked to have this code locked up inside of me. I never asked to be the one to carry this message. It's not fair. I want my life back. I want my family back. And if it means dying on Earth with my friends and my sister, so be it."

"If you die without understanding, all your suffering will have been in vain, Shayla'zha." His voice was warm, but fervent.

"If I understand, but have no home, no one left alive to love, what's the use?" she shot back.

"Let us see what transpires. A day will not change much, my daughter. Rest, now, and we will speak of this in the morning."

* * *

Chapel sat in the stands with the rest of the observers, waiting breathlessly for the verdict. It was difficult to maintain her composure. How in hell did Starfleet justify this hearing after everything Kirk and his crew had done? She glanced at the Caitian male seated near her. He looked ready to pounce.

The crew marched in, tall and stately in their crisp uniforms. Chapel felt a burst of pride for her friends. You show them, she thought. You fought the good fight, and don't you dare let them see you squirm.

Despite her defiant confidence in her friends' integrity, she still held her breath as the magistrate began reading the list of charges. Her eyes scanned the crew. Uhura, so tiny, yet powerful in her dignity. Sulu and Chekov, her dear friends. Scotty, bigger than she remembered, but as always larger than life. She paused a long moment as she gazed upon McCoy and Spock. Fal-tor-pan had separated their minds. She knew from rumor that Spock had lost his memory. She wondered how much he remembered of her, of their night together.

And she knew it didn't matter. It didn't matter one bit, as long as he was alive and safe and free. McCoy, on the other hand, held her gaze for a longer time. He had been so much to her, father, brother, friend, lover. She saw the tired look in his eyes, and wondered how on Earth he would survive a ruling of guilty.

Well, she'd never have to find out. If the magistrate ruled guilty, there would be a riot in this hall, with Chapel herself leading the fray.

Finally, after what seemed a lifetime, the ruling was delivered. Christine could barely hear her own thoughts as the crew was cleared of all charges, and Kirk was demoted to his rightful place as a Starfleet captain. It was pandemonium. She ran onto the floor with the rest of the onlookers, throwing herself into McCoy's arms as soon as he was near enough. He gave her a huge bear-hug. If any residual discomfort remained from their one night together, apparently it had been washed away in light of what happened on Genesis and beyond. She felt the tears stinging her eyes, not wanting to let go. But there were others there, and soon she felt herself making the rounds. Sulu, Scotty, Chekov, Uhura, even Kirk himself lifted her off the ground in an enormous embrace.

She stopped when she got to Spock, though. He stood off to the side, quietly conversing with his father. Chapel watched the two Vulcans, both so stoic in their joy. She felt a wave of affection for the younger, followed by a peace she'd never dreamed possible.

It didn't matter that he probably didn't remember her name. It didn't matter at all. Her crew was alive. They were all alive. And what happened next...well, that was just another adventure.

* * *

Angelina McDuffy was tuckered out. She knew that the doc was coming in on the red-eye, and she wanted to make sure the house was in ship-shape for his return. Not that the lazy no-goods she called her staff were any help. She'd found Earl sleeping under the oak tree behind the barn, and Sarah was taking hours to do the wash.

"I swear, if it wasn't for laziness, those two would disappear," she swore to herself as she set a plate of pecan pies out to cool. It was Colonel McCoy's recipe, one-hundred-fifty years old if it was a day. The colonel had been a tough old bird, a true southern matriarch in the grand tradition of the Old South. Angelina wondered what the old girl would say of the goings-on lately involving the last of the McCoy boys. "Probably woulda told him to stay out of Starfleet and get back to doctorin' where he belongs," she muttered.

The door chime sounded once, then twice. "Of course, nobody can possibly get that," she griped, wiping her hands on her apron as she headed to the entryway. These antebellum houses were grand, but they certainly weren't easy on her old legs.

She peeped through the security viewer, squinted, then took a closer look. "Lord a'mighty," she whispered. "What on Earth is that?"

She opened the door slightly. A figure stood in a gray hood, oblivious to the Georgia dog days, hands clasped loosely at the waist. "Can I help you," she asked the stranger.

"I'm hear to see Leonard McCoy," a soft, accented female voice answered.

"I'm sorry, the doctor is out of town."

"When will he return," she asked, still in that strange, musical voice.

"Oh, he should be back in the morning. May I tell him who called?"

"Yes. Please tell him Shayla Ross stopped by to see him." The woman handed her a card with a hotel's address and phone printed on it. "I will be here until the week end."

'Did you say Shayla Ross?" Angelina peered at the woman, trying to see under the heavy hood.

The woman helped her out by removing the hood, revealing a quite lovely face and long brown hair. "Yes."

Angelina grinned. "You're late," she said, pulling the woman into the house. "We were expecting you three years ago."

* * *

The cocoa was lovely. Shayla savored it, wondering how she'd spent five whole years without such a simple pleasure as chocolate. She watched as Angelina did the dishes, absolutely forbidding her to help.

"How long you been traveling, sweetie?" The elderly woman had been humming to herself softly as she cleared the table. Shayla had become lost in the simple melody, so familiar it broke her heart.

"About six days," she said. "This is delicious. Everything was delicious, Mrs. McDuffy."

"Call me Angelina, hon. Lord, Lennie is gonna be tickled pink to see you."

"Lennie?"

"Don't you dare tell him I called him that. He gets all hot under the collar, cuz that's what I called him as a little boy."

She leaned against the real wooden table, enjoying the sound of Angelina's voice. "What was he like as a boy?"

"That one? Oh, he was a case. Always into everything, rotten as a four-day-old apple core." But her eyes twinkled and she let loose with a catlike grin. "Yeah, he was my favorite, that little rapscallion."

"I can understand that."

"He talked a lot about you, Commander."

"Shayla."

"Shayla. 'Bout how he asked you to marry him." Her sharp eyes were piercing through the otherwise laid-back expression.

"I guess I'm not the marrying type," she admitted with a shrug.

"Well, he'll be glad to see you anyway." She tossed the cloth across the sink. Apparently, Leonard had not seen fit to modernize the place. Food was still cooked in a stove. Dishes were still washed and stacked neatly in a cupboard. While part of her rolled her eyes at his stubbornness, another part of her reveled in his iconoclastic refusal to break with his family history. Of course, she wondered how long his rebelliousness would last if he had to be the one cooking and washing and cleaning.

"Did you bring your bags," McDuffy asked.

"No, I left them at the hotel."

"Well, we'll just have them sent over."

"Oh, no, that's not..."

Angelina McDuffy was obviously a woman unused to being refused. She pulled herself to her total height of five feet, hands on hips, and said, "No friend of the McCoy family has ever stayed in a hotel while this house was standing. And I'm not about to let that tradition fall while I'm in charge of this household." She cut off Shayla's polite refusal by saying, "You'll stay in the Colonel's room, and that's the last we are going to say on the matter."

Shayla hesitated, then nodded with a smile. Who was she to argue with generations of tradition?

* * *

Leonard McCoy stifled a yawn as he made his way to the kitchen door. He'd managed to catch an earlier flight, landing in Atlanta several hours earlier than if he'd flown directly into Savannah. The ground trip added a bit to the journey, but in the end he still cut three hours off his travel time.

Which, of course, got him home at four-thirty in the morning. He struggled against fatigue, balancing his carry-on luggage as he punched the key into the lock. The place looked just the same as it had since he was born. Old Mac would have a fit when she realized he'd snuck home in the middle of the night, but she'd have to get over it.

He climbed the stairs toward his bedroom, pausing when he saw the light under the door in Grandma's room. He set his luggage down, quietly making his way to the door. Knocking softly, he heard a familiar voice whisper, "Come in."

He opened the door to find Shayla, seated in a lotus position on the floor, wearing a soft cotton night gown. Her rich chocolate hair had grown clear down to her waist, and she had a serene glow about her. "Shay?" His voice caught in his throat, half afraid he might be hallucinating.

She turned to him, an enormous smile stretching across her face. "Leonard!" She was up in a moment, crossing the room and wrapping herself in his embrace. "Leonard," she murmured into his throat.

"You're really here?"

"I'm really here." She kissed him sweetly, so full of love and joy that he momentarily forgot he was pissed at her. Furious, to be exact.

"Why didn't you call? Why didn't you tell me..."

"I knew you were on Earth. The decision to send me back was made suddenly; I wanted to surprise you." She held him tightly.

"Well, you did just that."

"I was going to stay at the Buckman Manor, but Angelina wouldn't hear of it. I certainly didn't mean to impose."

"If old Mac gets something in her head, it's a good idea not to argue with her."

"Yeah, I'm beginning to see where you got it from." She patted his chest slightly, smoothing the tear-stained material with the palm of her hand. "But you must be exhausted. I'm used to getting up this early, but you haven't been to bed yet."

"How am I supposed to sleep?" He couldn't stop staring at her. She looked terrific. She looked calmer, and happier, than he'd ever seen her. The wild-eyed look of panic she so often tried to hide was gone, replaced by a serenity he'd never imagined possible.

"Sleep? That's an easy one," she teased. "Go change out of those things. I'll help you sleep."

"Here?" he said warily, eyeing the bed.

"Only if you want to."

"I'll be right back."

* * *

He was nervous. Even before her time with the Ahsari, Shayla would have seen that. And angry. And embarrassed. She doubted he was aware of these feelings, but they showed all over his energy.

And he deserved to feel all those things. "Old Mac," as he called her, had not been very discriminating about the information she let slide. In all honesty, she suspected the older woman had taken the opportunity to let her know just how hurt McCoy had been by her extended stay on the Ahsari home world.

Shayla had known the dangers of accepting this task. She'd known she ran the risk of Leonard finding someone else before she returned. She would never hold that against him. She held no sway over him, and no bond kept him from finding happiness where he would.

She watched as he stepped into the bedroom wearing a pair of crisp pajamas. Probably a gift from somebody who didn't know him well enough to realize he normally slept nude. The pajamas were for her benefit, she knew.

"So, you're gonna help me sleep, huh?'

"Come lie down," she said. He sat awkwardly on the bed next to her, then lay down stiffly on his back.

"Be gentle," he quipped.

"Shhhh...." She closed his eyes with the pads of her fingers and began to hum. Years among the Ahsari had turned what she once considered a barely adequate singing voice into an instrument of spiritual communication. She sang his song, the song of his soul and voice and energy. While she sang, she smoothed his energy, finding the places of pain and confusion, easing them from the tangled knots he carried around so unknowingly. She felt his body reacting to her voice, to her almost-but-not-quite touch. Within minutes, he was sound asleep.

She watched him for a long time. It would be sad if he no longer loved her.

* * *

It was well after one-thirty when he finally rolled out of bed. McCoy shook off the momentary disorientation he felt at waking up in the Colonel's room. Seeing the simple bag on the floor, and the cotton nightgown neatly hanging in the armoire, he felt the full force of Shayla's return. She was here.

He wanted to be angry, but he couldn't find it inside of him. All he felt was regret, and shame, and an uncanny feeling that she could see clear through him. He padded over to his own bedroom, fully intending to dress. Once he got there, he settled for an old robe and slippers and headed downstairs to the kitchen.

She sat at the counter, shelling the contents an enormous bowl of green beans from the garden. Her smile at seeing him was genuine. McCoy thought of Chapel, and felt another knot of self-disgust growing in his stomach. How could he stand in the same room with this woman, knowing what he'd done with her sister?

"You weren't in control of yourself," she said softly, reaching for another bean.

"Excuse me?" It was as if she'd read his thoughts.

"I spent the entire morning wondering what reason you had to feel shame around me. I did a little research. I know you went to Christine while you had Spock's katra within you." She gazed serenely at him over the bowl of husks. "I put two and two together," she said.

"And came up with five." His voice was harsher than he intended, made gruff by a sudden urge to cover up what she'd so easily uncovered. "You're crazy. Nothing happened between Christine and me."

"I never said anything happened between Christine and you," she responded evenly. "But if it had, while you were carrying Spock's katra, how could I be angry with you? For giving my sister and my friend the one thing neither could achieve otherwise? For giving them both a moment of happiness amidst such incredible tragedy?"

He held his breath, caught between rage and amazement. How did she know this? Was he that transparent? He'd told no one, no one at all about his night with Christine. "Have you seen Christine since you got back to Earth?" he demanded.

"She's off planet, attending a planetary defense conference on Beta VI." Shayla stood, crossing the distance between them to stroke his cheek. "I left a message for her, letting her know I was staying in Savannah for the rest of the week. She should be back on Friday."

He was so confused. What the hell had those Ahsari done to her? When did she learn to look right through to the core of him, to know his very thoughts and emotions? "Why are you here?" was all he could manage to say.

"I presented my findings to the Federation Council. I'm waiting for their deliberation."

"Can you talk about it?" Keep on the safe topics, Len. That's a boy.

She brushed a strand of hair from his brow. "I was right about the song. Biabani didn't leave it there by accident. It had pattern, meaning. It took much longer to decipher it than any of us expected. I almost gave up," she whispered.

"But you did decipher it?" Her hand on his skin was devastating. He fought the urge both to pull her to him and push her away.

"Yes. It was more than we ever suspected."

"Classified, I suppose?"

She pulled him close to her, wrapping her arms around his shoulders as she whispered in his ear. "It's a blueprint. For a stable portal between our universe and the Sheiranna realm."

His eyebrows shot upwards. "Are you serious?"

"The Council is deciding on whether or not to go through with it. They're concerned about the dangers."

"Are you?"

"There's a big difference between standing in the fire and watching it from a distance. I know in my heart the Sheiranna wish us no harm."

"Wow." He allowed her to rest her head on his shoulder. It felt so good to hold her again. He rocked gently, slightly amazed at the level of comfort he felt with her. Did she honestly feel no animosity towards him for that night with Chris?

"It was Spock," she whispered. "You had no choice in the matter."

"How the hell are you doing that?"

"Your energy. It's singing to me."

"My energy does not sing."

"It's like a chorus from Handel, darling man." She gazed into his eyes. "Trust me."

"It would kill me if you left again."

"I will never leave you as long as I live, if you'll have me."

All thoughts of Christine, Spock, the Federation Council, and the Sheiranna were lost in the kiss that followed, the kiss that sealed them forever together.

* * *

Six months later.

All in all it had been a great birthday. Chapel had long suspected her staff was up to something. Despite the longer life span of the average human, the forty-fifth birthday was still considered a milestone. And her staff was not going to let a little thing like her wishes get in the way of their commemorating that milestone to the fullest.

The event had taken the form of a celebrity roast, drawing notable friends from her Enterprise days as well as from Earthgov and Starfleet Command. Captain James T. Kirk himself had served as Master of Ceremonies, and everyone from Scotty to Captain Spock himself had a clever monologue to deliver at her expense.

She'd been surprised to see him there, but she wasn't about to complain. Spock looked better than ever; her keen physician's eyes had noted that he was more settled and relaxed than he had been during the Whalesong Crisis, as it had come to be known.

He'd even seemed comfortable around McCoy and Shayla, who were no longer attempting to hide their renewed relationship. Chapel couldn't help but think that, her appointment as Federation Ambassador to the Sheiranna Realm notwithstanding, her big sister looked like a school girl as she and McCoy joined forces in their part of the roast.

She took another sip of her Merlot, enjoying the cool spring evening. The sun was finally below the edge of the Pacific, casting a orange and purple over the waters. She didn't hear the footsteps until they were just behind her. She whirled around as a hand pressed gently into her shoulder.

"Spock!" She caught her breath, heart racing from the shock. "What the hell were you thinking, sneaking up on me like that?"

"You have still not changed your security combination, Christine. That is most unwise."

"I guess so," she sputtered, attempting to stand. Spock stopped her, then eased another one of the deck chairs to her side and sat down. "What are you doing here?"

He held up a small, gift-wrapped package. "There were so many people at your party this afternoon, I was unable to give you my gift."

"Spock." She felt a shy smile and a blush spread across her face. "You didn't have to do that."

"Which is precisely why I enjoy doing it. Illogical, but true nonetheless."

She accepted the oblong box he gave her, fingering the delicate blue wrapping. "Would you like something to drink?"

"I am not thirsty. If you wish to open it privately, I would understand."

She grinned. That was exactly what he'd said to her almost six years ago. "This isn't another ialor crystal, is it? I still have oil from the last one you gave me."

"If I told you the contents, that would defeat the purpose of opening it, would it not?" A small glint of humor played in his eyes.

"Very logical, sir." She slowly unwrapped the package and opened the satin box. What she found there took her breath away. "Spock...do you know what this is?"

"It is a Deltan mating band. Are you familiar with the custom?"

"I am." She took a deep breath, not meeting his eyes. "Are you?"

"I am."

"Why?"

"The last words you spoke to me before I returned to the Genesis planet were these: We haven't come this far and weathered this much for you to give up on me now. I love you, Spock. I love you, and I'm not going to let you throw this chance away." He smiled at her stunned look. "The reports of my memory lapses, I see, have been greatly exaggerated. Are the words you spoke that night no longer true, Christine?"

She could barely speak. "They're still true." Single syllables, but they got her point across.

"Then accept my gift, th'hyla, and all the meaning behind it."

She couldn't take her eyes off him. He placed the band atop her head. She could feel a tingling as the alien materials focused her energies. Spock brushed his fingers against her cheek, an unspoken request in that simple gesture.

"Yes," she whispered, and he reestablished the bond that had survived death, rebirth, and all that came with it.

* * *

Three year later:

Starfleet News Article
Source: Earthgov
Title: Federation, Starfleet Dignitaries Eulogize Chapel

Dignitaries representing the UFP, Starfleet, and Earthgov today eulogized the late Dr. Christine Chapel, former Chief of Planetary Defense.

Chapel, 48, died Thursday after a seven-month battle with the disease commonly known as Bion's Syndrome, which she contracted twelve years ago during her tour as head nurse on the Enterprise. The disease, which affects one in one-hundred-thousand humans, affects the neurological system and can remain dormant in the host body for over twenty years. At this time, there is no cure for Bion's Syndrome.

In attendance at the service were Federation ambassador Shayla Ross, Chapel's sister and only surviving relative. Also offering eulogies were Commander Nyota Uhura and current Chief of Planetary Defense, Romona Posteraro.

Dr. Chapel's distinguished career included service aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise under Captain James T. Kirk and Captain Willard Decker. Her early career as a researcher under Dr. Roger Korby produced discoveries in the field of exobiology which significantly improved the computability among human and non-human tissue donors. After a short stint as Assistant Chief Medical Officer about the Enterprise, Dr. Chapel won the position of Assistant Chief of Planetary Defense under the late Dr. Ioki Hirakawa. She was promoted to Chief of Planetary Defense after Hirakawa's death, and served valiantly during what is now known as the Whalesong Crisis.

Chapel's bond mate, Captain Spock of Vulcan, delivered the final eulogy, reading a passage from one of Chapel's favorite poets, 20th century writer Jonathan Larsen.

The heart may freeze, or it can burn
The pain will ease if I can learn
There is no future, there is no past
I live each moment as my last.

There's only now, there's only here
Give in to love, or live in fear.
No other path, no other way.
No day but today.

end transmission

* * *

Epilogue

McCoy tucked in the collar of his dress uniform. "You'd think they'd have come up with something by now that doesn't make me feel like a trussed up turkey."

Shayla laughed from the bedroom. Her hair was completely silver now, but she carried herself with such grace that he could never tell she was getting older.

He shuffled out of the bathroom, accepting the amiable kiss she offered as she helped him with his collar. "Why is it I look older everyday, when you just look prettier?" he grumbled.

"Clean living, you old fool." She kissed the tip of his nose, patting the uniform to signal he passed her inspection.

"I don't know why I have to do this."

"Because you want to and you know it. It's an honor."

"I'm just an old relic, sugar, and they need a photo opportunity."

She laughed softly. "Where's your sense of history?"

"Honey, I am a sense of history. Hundred twenty seven years old. Who the hell knew I'd stick around this long?"

"Maybe you had something worth sticking around for?"

"You know it, hot stuff." He pulled her into his arms. waggling his eyebrows suggestively. "When are you gonna let me make an honest woman of you?"

"I'm very honest. I told you not to comb your hair that way, didn't I?" Her laughter still sounded like music to him. "You're going to miss your shuttle."

"I'm an old man. They can damned well wait." He gave her another peck on the cheek and headed for the door, muttering, "Enterprise-D. I remember when they didn't need no damned alphabet, just plain old Enterprise."

She watched him through the window as he headed for the shuttle point. It seemed anachronistic among the oak trees and antebellum architecture of their home, but she knew he would never have agreed to a transporter.

As the shuttle lifted off and headed spaceward, Shayla returned to her work. The songs were simple, but they made her happy. Biabani would be proud.

THE END