DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story is the creation and property of Caroline Nixon and is copyright (c) by Caroline Nixon.



A Foretaste of Death

Caroline Nixon (Jane R)



"Every parting gives a foretaste of Death." A. Schoperhauer



The door slid open and Spock, of all people, stood there, a dark, brooding presence, haunting the threshold, a reluctant spectre summoned by her wayward thoughts.

"Nurse?"

Chapel realized she was sitting there as goggle-eyed as an Easter Island idol, leaving him at her door to the potential high delight of chance passersby.

That was partly the trouble, she reflected sadly. In a microcosm like the Enterprise, tongues wagged at a speed inversely proportional to the square root of their number. She was thinking of writing up the observation and presenting it as Chapel's Law to some learned journal. Meanwhile, Spock was still out on a limb.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Mister Spock --" You are just the last person I expected to find at my door, that's all. "Come in, please."

He remained standing scant centimeters in front of the closed door. Safer now, but not much, Chapel thought, closeted here with me. She noticed his hands were firmly clasped behind his back, a way he had when he was afraid they would betray him.

"Nurse Chapel," he began, scrutinizing the innocuous floor covering with his eagle-keen Vulcan eyes, "I have heard -- that is, Doctor McCoy has informed me -- that you will be leaving the Enterprise shortly, at Starbase Eight."

Chapel waited patiently for what was coming next, having no idea what it could be. It wasn't going to be a last minute declaration of passion, of that she was sure. She knew her Vulcan too well for such misplaced optimism --

"Yes, that's right," she prompted, watching the adam's apple heave as he searched for words. She felt a strange blend of tender indulgence and despair.

"Nurse," he managed finally, "I am sorry."

Echoes from the past: he was still apologizing for something he had no hand in. He had even felt responsible enough to take what was for him the traumatic step of coming here and repeating himself when it would have been far less strain on his Vulcan dignity to have pretended not to know anything about it at all, and evade her departure.

"It wasn't your fault. It was never your fault," she told him quietly. Although in a way, it was. He had always been gentle with her in her weakness, too gentle for her own good - and his.

You're so honest, she had told him that awful exposed day, too honest to resort to the subterfuge of well-intentioned cruelty. If in public he had been the rigid robot he was with everyone, in private he had been so patient, so delicately considerate of feelings he claimed not to understand. He had stormed at her that time when he was hag-ridden by the mating madness, gashing her to the raw depths of her being - and then bound her twice as fast by taking her tear on his fingers and asking for more soup in atonement for the dishful he had thrown. When he had returned from Vulcan battered and bloody of soul, she had gone sick for a week and locked herself in her quarters to keep herself from going to him -- which would not have solved anyone's problems --

"I should be the one to apologize to you. You don't know how many times I've wished those words unsaid. Oh, not that I--" Her voice trailed off as she felt her cheeks glow with the blush. "Well, I just wish I'd not blurted it out, that's all."

How we must hurt you, torture you, she had said, and then gone clumsily on to be the worst offender. Because somehow from then on the whole ship knew, the juicy tidbit seized on with great relish, and if her embarrassment had been acute, Spock's must have been total. For to have a woman in love with him he would reason, implied that he had done something to cause the situation, and whatever that had been, it was bound to be un-Vulcan.

The memory of the day when they had kissed before the assembled Platonians still haunted her. Somehow she - they - had found the courage to face Captain Kirk and Nyota Uhura, who also smarted under their own particular brand of embarrassment. For herself, it was exactly the image she had always despised in third-rate fiction - poor silly nursie, mooning over the strong, silent hero who was too busy striding about dragon-fighting to notice her besotted dithering on the side-lines --

"Nevertheless--" Spock took a tentative half step into the room. "Because of my actions, intentional or unintentional, you have felt it necessary to leave a position to which you are accustomed and well-suited. The Enterprise will be the lesser for the loss of your skill. I am responsible for the status quo, and yet I cannot --"

"Yes, I know," Chapel stopped him (cannot offer you your dream, cannot insult you by asking you to stay under my terms - the same sterile terms of keep-your-distance -- so honest, ever and always--). "And I do appreciate your coming here, I really do." She smiled ruefully at his stiff figure, feeling the same detached calm she had experienced the night she had made her decision. "Can we talk, being as you are here? Maybe it's way past time we did."

She felt the need to explain herself a little and sensed he had come partly in search of explanations -- mysteries always disturbed him, however uncomfortable the solutions threatened to be.

Spock nodded slowly, wary of any possible lightening raid on his serenity, but he took the chair she offered him.

"And a drink, Mister Spock -- to celebrate my luring you to my lair at last?"

He looked up sharply, not realizing he was being teased at first, taken aback by her new departure. She grinned into his surprised face, loving him for it, loving herself for her blessed level- headedness.

"I have some unusual tea on which I'd like your opinion." As she brewed the fragrant leaves she had found in a tiny jumbled shop on Regulus Nine, she told him about the offer she had received -- her own section at a base hospital, taking up her career several steps ahead of where she had left it to come into deep space to find Roger. Strange that even before she found what later proved to be his android echo, she no longer had such a single-minded interest in her quest. Just when had she begun to love Spock instead, and so differently, so much less comfortably than she had loved Roger? She had not realized it herself until the PSI 2000 virus struck and held everyone's innermost feelings to the all-revealing light of day.

On that occasion, she had voiced the opinion that she did not know why she had fallen for this spare, silent, somber man. In fact, she had stated the best reasons only moments before. His honesty, so complete it had all the rallying power of a battle standard; innocence - of guile, of self-interest, of all the Human petty power games; and to mitigate the uncomfortable perfection of gentle strength and complete integrity, an awful vulnerability which at first she thought no one saw but herself.

"So you see," she went on, as they sipped their tea out of amber cups, "I don't feel driven away, I just decided it was doing neither of us much good, staying on here. It's a good promotion, too. It seemed like an omen."

"Even so, I do regret to have been the cause of your distress."

Distress was the wrong word, she thought. More a dizzying blend of joy and pain, happiness at the mere fact of his existence, and grief that she was unable to fulfil his very special needs.

"Even so," Chapel echoed with a smile, "I have no regrets. You've never let me down. You are what you are, always. And I have my little store of memories." The special one of holding his consciousness, his katra, when the sphere that housed it was destroyed to lure Henoch from his body. To her despair, the pure joy had made her careless yet again that day and convinced him finally of her incorrigible emotionalism. Well, it was true; where he was concerned, she was emotional. By some hormonal and psychological alchemy, his mere presence sent her professional calm out the airlock. Up until tonight, with the detached peace her decision leant her. If she had remained here much longer, watching him sent out to risk his life time after time, waiting to tend the subsequent injuries, which would one day prove fatal, she would lose any semblance of control she had won, and go completely out of her mind. Better to turn her back calmly, yes, logically, and walk away while the going was good. She changed the subject to the safe and mundane.

"How's the tea?"

"Most pleasant."

"Like peaches and wood smoke," she offered, impulsively, suddenly wanting to share her own sensations of pleasure in the drink with him.

Spock tilted his head on one side, considering. "Indeed," he conceded, after a moment, surprised at the aptness of the fanciful description.

Chapel turned her back on the pretext of refilling her cup, overcome by the look of innocent amazement on his face. "I'm glad -- you like it."

Her voice was thick. The mere thought of providing him with some small pleasure was still enough to melt her composure, and with something like fury, she felt the hot tears well up yet again -- so much for her new pretensions of maturity. One little sign of a crack in the Vulcan formality and she was like a silly teenager, soggy with adoration over her idol. How bitter to know that this very trait turned him off the most. How did he mange to hide his feelings, the way she knew he did? She tried to emulate his calm tranquillity, tried so hard every muscle in her body ached with the effort, yet the traitorous tears always betrayed her in the end, and the quivering lower lip that was about as resolute as the mouse in that poem Mister Scott liked to quote, the wee timorous beastie --

"Nurse Chapel, are you -- well?"

Why didn't he ever remember her name was Christine? Or was it that he was too stubborn, or too wary, to permit her the familiarity?

"I -- think you'd better go now, Mister Spock. I'm on the verge of making a scene."

"One I seem to have initiated, if I understand your feelings--"

Chapel turned slowly round to face him, able now to look up again at the secret face, her need to vindicate herself triumphing over her emotional turmoil. "You do understand. You believe you don't, but you do. Remember, I was there that day when you thought you'd killed the captain, and you saw him alive." She urged him, "I saw your face."

A winged brow shot up. Too astounded for denials, Spock stammered gauchely, "But -- you are a female."

Chapel grimaced. Hallelujah, he's noticed! Aloud, she said "Biology's so superficial, Mister Spock. When it comes down to it, personality is the overwhelming inducement." She knew his observations of Human relationships had led him to believe otherwise; she knew Vulcan biology and his own unfortunate experiences had made him view the subject of sex with disapproval, apprehension, even disgust. If he could not love her, at least let him not be ashamed of the way she felt.

Oh, she did love him. Did he understand her any better now, after all her efforts to explain? It was so hard to make sense with him sitting there before her, dark hair shining as he bent his head over steepled fingers, so close and yet light years away. There was no clue in his hands, their expressiveness choked by the stylized pose. And yet, his very immobility indicated empathy.

After a long pause, he lifted his eyes from contemplation of his hands and looked at her. "I am sorry, Christine," he said again.

"I'm not. It's been my pleasure to have known you." That was what love was, ultimately, when stripped to the core: the joyful affirmation of another's being --

Spock inclined his head. After a moment he said softly, "I -- would find it -- difficult to accept promotion away from this ship."

So, he had understood, just a little.

"It - can't have been easy for you to leave Vulcan for Starfleet," Chapel answered softly.

"That is correct. But circumstances demanded that I should do so."

"Exactly."

"We do what we must."

Christine felt her composure begin to crack again, melting in the warmth of his sympathy. "Thank you for allowing me to explain. It can't have been exactly comfortable for you. And now do you mind if I throw you out, or I am going to embarrass you terribly."

Spock unfolded himself from the chair in one smooth, graceful movement, always punctiliously polite, the very soul of courtesy. He who "sir'd" and "madam'd" everyone into the ground, never outstaying his welcome anywhere unless logic demanded it -- which it certainly didn't now.

"Goodnight, Mister Spock."

Parting was none too sweet a sorrow - nor was there even a tomorrow for her; they'd be at Starbase Eight within a few hours. She recalled the next few lines of the ancient play and a sob rose in her throat at the thought of the never-to-be-attained intimacy:

Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast, Would I were sleep and peace, so sweet to rest.

In his arms, against his silent chest, encompassed by his warmth, his nearness -- the scalding tears betrayed her again, misting her vision. She heard him step near, sensed him standing next to her.

"Christine? Christine, do you --?"

She looked up through a shifting veil of moisture to see him inches away, his head bent, submissively waiting for her to take his kiss. Anyone knowing Spock less well would have been insulted by the offer of this -- consolation prize.

'Before I could not offer you anything of myself to comfort you, for both our sakes,' he seemed to say, 'but now, at the end --'

Chapel collected her wits and her foolish clamoring body and went to perch nervously on the far corner of the desk. "No," she said quietly, "I don't want you to feel obliged to make concessions to my feelings."

His hands were now restless cats aprowl on the chair back. "Would you prefer thoughts of me removed from your mind?"

"Never! Please, just go now, before I shame us both."

He inclined his head and walked across the room. She loved him for the way he did not rush to escape; now his duty was done. At the open door he turned, lifted his hand in the Vulcan salute. "Mene sakkhet ur-seveh, Christine."

In Vulcan, it meant live long and prosper. But she would do neither. She had lost her home and her love.



THE END

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