DISCLAIMER: This is an A/U story and in no way reflects the way I really feel about Christine Chapel. The muse just figured it was her turn to get played fast and loose with...<g> Paramount/Viacom owns 'em, I just play with them. This is Copyright 2001 by Momthing. Enjoy!

Reality Check


She stood staring out at the stars, grateful that the observation deck of the huge starship was isolated this time of night. She had a strong sense of déjà vu as she stood there. History repeats itself, she thought. Three years ago, she had stood in that same spot waiting to reach a destination after the failure of the first colony. Then, she had been shedding tears for a love that had been allowed to briefly blossom thanks to some spores, and lost just as quickly when the effects wore off. Now, here she was, after the failure of another colony; this time to a virus and the tears were for the loss of a more lasting love, Steven, her husband of a little over a year who had been a victim of that virus.

"It is a very beautiful sight, is it not?" the warm dark voice behind her startled her.

"Yes, it is beautiful, Mr. Spock," she replied without turning to look at him. She felt him move to stand beside her. His proximity no longer bothered her as it would have if not for Steven. She had been content, this trip, to see him from a distance, without once being tempted to seek him out.

"I was not aware until today that Dr. Markovich was your husband," he said, looking down at her golden head. "I grieve with thee."

"Thank you," she whispered. "We were very happy together. I don't know how I'm going to go on without him. I suppose I must, but..."

Spock gently reached over and touched her shoulder so that she felt compelled to look up at him. He wiped a tear from her eye with his fingertips. She smiled tremulously at him, remembering the last time he had done that.

"I feel confident that in time, you will be able to continue his work. If there is any way that I can be of service..." his voice trailed off as she abruptly looked away.

"You know what I really miss, Mr. Spock?" her voice trembled in spite of herself. "I really miss being hugged. Steven was a great one for hugging. I used to call him my teddy bear. Now, there's no one..." and she choked back a sob.

To her infinite surprise, Spock put an arm around her shoulder and pulled her into a loose embrace. She turned to him and hugged him fiercely and he tightened his arms to return her embrace, his shields firmly in place. It was not much, but it was as much as he could do for her, considering their past history. Leila Kalomi Markovich closed her eyes and pretended for a moment that he was her Steven.

It was then that Christine Chapel wandered into the observation deck and all hell broke loose.

* * *

"How is she, Bones?" Captain James Kirk walked into Dr. McCoy's office where he had just been called to from the Bridge.

"It's hard to say, Jim. Right now she seems to be stable, but I don't know how long it will last." Leonard McCoy sighed as he turned off the computer where he had been reading Chris Chapel's psych profile.

"And Dr. Markovich?" Kirk demanded.

"I'm fine, Captain," Leila came in from the adjoining room. She sported what looked like a black eye and a few scratches. "Nothing major, really, and Mr. Spock took the worst of it. More importantly, how is that poor woman?"

"As I was telling the Captain, it's too early to tell. We've been running brain scans on her and she's scheduled for a full psychiatric evaluation this afternoon. I think I know what might have caused her behavior, however, and if I'm right, I hold myself responsible."

"That is highly illogical, Doctor. Ms. Chapel has behaved in a highly professional manner until tonight. You could have had no way of guessing what would happen." Spock had just come in from supervising Christine's placement in the brig under security field. To see a competent professional like her being placed in the brig under heavy sedation was profoundly disturbing to him, to say the least. And he, himself, was battling illogically with a sense of guilt brought on by the nurse's attack on their fellow passenger.

"You do realize, Dr. Markovich, that you're entitled to press charges against Ms. Chapel for her assault on you?" Kirk told Leila, hoping that she wouldn't, but not really blaming her if she decided to.

Leila shook her head. "Don't worry, Captain. I don't harbor any ill feelings. I can well understand what unrequited love can do to a person..." She glanced briefly at Spock, who turned away uncomfortably. "Just, please, be sure that she gets all the help she needs, and if there's anything I can do..."

"That's very gracious, Doctor." Kirk was relieved. He hadn't looked forward to a court martial.

"If you'll excuse me, I have some packing to finish up," she told them, and the three men nodded in acknowledgment as they watched her walk out the door.

"That's one fine lady," McCoy murmured and then turned back to Spock and Kirk, ready to pick up their earlier discussion from where they'd left off. "Unfortunately, I do hold myself responsible, Spock. I should have done a psych eval on her right after the Psi 2000 incident. But she seemed to recover so completely from the effects of that virus, that I didn't think she needed one. Oh, sure, I knew she still had feelings for you but she didn't act on them and they didn't affect her work ... but then the incident with Sargon and Thalassia, and the forced kiss on Platonius ... I can see where all these incidents piled up. I don't understand why I didn't do an evaluation on her, especially after she'd shared consciousness with you."

"Perhaps you are correct, Doctor, but if you follow that logic, then I, too, must hold myself responsible," Spock said. "I do not know a great deal about the human emotion you call love by personal experience, and to the best of my knowledge I do not recall having done anything that would lead Ms. Chapel to believe that I would ever return her affections, but perhaps I did so without realizing it."

"I don't think either one of you is at fault," Kirk said. "Bones, the crew has yearly psychiatric evaluations. Surely, Chris's are on record. If you didn't catch anything that way, then maybe there was nothing to catch. Isn't there a possibility that there's a physical reason for what happened? Maybe some virus or something we don't know anything about?"

"I thought of that, Jim, and the answer's no," McCoy said. "Insofar as we can determine, Christine Chapel is as physically healthy as she's ever been. No, this is something much deeper. Yes, we do yearly psych evals on all the crew but unless the crewman has shown marked deterioration in his or her performance, we don't usually do more than a general surface testing. So it's possible we would have missed any deeper underlying symptoms. I really won't be able to tell you anymore until we have completed the in depth analysis this afternoon."

"All right, Bones, keep me informed," Kirk said as he turned and left for the bridge. "Coming, Mr. Spock?"

"I wish to speak to Dr. McCoy for a moment, Captain. I shall join you momentarily."

"What did you want to talk to me about?" McCoy asked as soon as Kirk had left.

"I merely wished to offer my assistance in this matter regarding Nurse Chapel," Spock said. "She is a fine officer and an asset to this ship. It would be most unfortunate if this incident were to blemish her career in any way. Perhaps if I were to talk to her..."

"At this point, it might do more harm than good, but I'll keep that in mind. Anything else?"

"No, Doctor, I believe that is sufficient for now. I shall be on the bridge if you need me."

"I'll let you know," McCoy said turning on the viewer again. Seeing him engrossed in his study of Christine's psychological profile, Spock turned and went back to the bridge.

* * *

Three days had passed. Christine was no longer under heavy sedation but she was still in the brig, much to her disgust and still under guard. She kept trying to convince Dr. McCoy and the rest of the medical staff that there was nothing wrong with her and that she was perfectly capable of returning to duty, but to no avail.

One of the reasons was that she had absolutely no memory of the incident on the observation deck where she had attacked Leila Markovich. The other was that some of the psychiatric evaluation results revealed that her alpha wave patterns had been slightly altered by the Psi 2000 virus and that these alterations had increased throughout the years until they were beginning to affect her mentally and emotionally. In addition, when probed under deep hypnosis about the time when she shared consciousness with Spock, she revealed that she had sensed his discomfort at being inside her mind and had been hurt when he had raised his mental shields to prevent her from invading his privacy; something which she immediately tried to do in order to find out how he really felt about her. She took that as a rejection of her instead of what it actually was -- a matter of self-defense.

On the third day, Leila Kalomi Markovich came by to see her. Christine tried to be cordial to her, hoping that the doctor would convince McCoy to let her resume her duties. Leila hadn't promised anything, but she said she would relay a message to McCoy. She turned away to leave when Spock came in. Leila smiled at him and he bent his head in acknowledgment. They didn't say anything to each other as she left. Christine stared after the woman with narrowed eyes. She knew that the Enterprise would be making an unscheduled stop to drop her off at the Tantalus Colony.

She waited until the force field had been lowered and Spock had stepped into her cell before saying anything. He stood in front of her and she felt like slapping him.

"So, you're taking me to Tantalus." She looked at him with bright blue eyes. "I hope you and Dr. Markovich will be very happy."

"Explain," Spock said, puzzled.

"Oh, don't play innocent with me, Spock," she mocked him. "She's the same woman you had that affair with on Omicron Ceti III, isn't she? Back then, you had the spores as an excuse. What's your excuse this time for taking my heart and trampling on it?"

"Ms. Chapel, please," he said. "Do not do this to yourself. Despite what you might think, there is nothing but a professional relationship between Dr. Markovich and myself."

But Christine was having a flashback experience and didn't hear him at first. She suddenly saw him and Leila locked in a passionate embrace on the observation deck. She blinked as his words penetrated her consciousness. She wasn't buying his explanation for one moment

"Oh, really, Commander?" she snarled. "Is hugging her also a part of that so-called professional relationship of yours? How can you be so callous and unfeeling?" she went on before he could say anything. "You know how much I love you! All these years, I've lived waiting for just one little sign, one little indication that you could return my affection, and all you ever do is run away from me ... why? Why?"

"Ms. Chapel," Spock said patiently.

"My name is Christine! Christine! Why can't you ever call me that!?"

"Very well, Christine," he sighed. "Dr. Markovich was mourning the loss of her husband. My embrace was merely an effort to console her, nothing more. She understood that."

"What about me?" Christine sobbed. "When my mother passed away last year, you didn't even so much as send me a sympathy note. You never offered to come and hug my tears away! To you, I'm nothing but a piece of Sick Bay furniture! It would serve you right if I went off and found someone else and left you far behind! Or better yet, paraded around in front of you with him so you could see that I don't need you to make me happy! What does that woman have that I don't have?"

Spock sighed. There was no reasoning with her when she was in this state. He started to turn away when she grabbed his arm.

"Spock, wait ... I'm sorry," she said, wiping her eyes with her hand and trying to regain her composure. "I didn't mean it. I really only want your happiness, even if it is with someone else."

"Christine, I must return to the bridge," Spock said. "I merely stopped by for a moment to see if I could persuade you to voluntarily seek treatment when we reach Tantalus. I am deeply concerned about how this will affect your career. You are too valuable an officer to lose. Voluntarily admitting yourself to the mental health facility would expedite your return to the Enterprise. Your presence is sorely needed here."

"Really? You really mean it? You need me?"

"In your professional capacity, yes, " Spock replied, stressing the word professional.

"If I agree, would you hug me?" Christine asked slyly. Spock sighed inwardly again. This task was proving to be more difficult than he'd thought. But he had no choice. Far better a few minutes discomfort than to see a colleague throw away her professional career because of her misplaced love for him.

"Very well, yes, if you voluntarily sign, I will embrace you." He held out the padd for her signature.

She eagerly signed and then waited. He pulled her into an awkward embrace and she leaned into it, clinging to him with every fiber of her being. He felt stifled as if he could not breathe, so tight was her hold on him. She raised her head and tried to kiss him, but he immediately stiffened and pulled away.

"That was not a part of the agreement," he said sternly.

"Oh all, right," Christine sulked, unhappy because he had barely returned her embrace. "Now would you tell Leonard to let me out of here and let me go back to work?"

"I shall speak to Dr. McCoy immediately," he promised her, and left.

She was back in Sick Bay by that afternoon but still had to spend her nights in the brig until the Enterprise reached Tantalus and dropped her off.

* * *

Five years passed. Christine underwent her therapy at the Tantalus colony and made surprising progress thanks to her eagerness to return to the Enterprise and Spock. But somewhere along the way, the effects of the Psi 2000 virus on her brain gradually wore off, and with distance, it seemed that she had gotten over Spock. At times, she even thought of writing him a letter of apology for forcing herself on him that day on the brig, but she couldn't quite bring herself to do it. She did write one to Leila Kalomi, who had moved back to Earth, and taken back her maiden name, and received a gracious response in return.

Christine never returned to the Enterprise. Instead she opted to go to medical school and become a doctor. She was slated to be the next Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise, but it would be at least two years before the great ship was due to be ready to move out. In the meantime, she had answered an ad in the Starfleet BBS about a research team who was looking for a physician to accompany them for a short term deep space assignment. Now, she stood at the front door of the address she had been given and waited for the door to open.

She was welcomed by a Vulcan in a dark robe and guided into a lushly appointed living room. To her surprise, the ad had led her to a very elegant townhouse. This was a private residence, not a business office.

"I will notify the Commander that you are here," the Vulcan aide said as he indicated that she should sit and wait. She sat down on a plush leather sofa and waited while he disappeared down a hallway. She got up after a moment and looked surreptitiously around. She tiptoed to one of the other doors which was slightly open. She saw a large bed inside from which someone had obviously just gotten up. She barely heard what sounded like someone taking a shower. She also heard footsteps approaching and quickly ran back to the couch where she perched uneasily and waited. She gasped when she saw who the Commander was.

"Mr. Spock! What are you doing here?"

"One might ask the same of you, Ms. Chapel, " he said formally. He looked devastatingly handsome dressed in a dark black Vulcan robe that was bordered with hieroglyphic lettering. Christine knew that they were Vulcan characters, but she couldn't make out what they were. Probably his clan name, she thought.

"It's Doctor Chapel now," she said proudly. "I'm an M. D. now. In fact, I'm going to be the Chief Medical Officer on board the Enterprise when it's ready to go within the next two years. I saw an ad in the Star Fleet BBS where someone was wanting a physician for a short term deep space assignment. It seemed a better prospect than spending my time working for Star Fleet General or the Star Fleet Family Clinic until the ship is ready."

"I am pleased with your progress," Spock noted. "And may I offer my congratulations on your promotion?"

"Why, thank you, Mr. Spock," Christine smiled. She was very proud of herself. She had been in the room for five minutes and had managed not to focus on how deliciously kiss-able his lips looked or how those dark eyes could still send shivers down her spine. She had a bad moment when she remembered their embrace the last time she'd seen him, but she managed to push it out of her mind. Time enough to dwell on those memories later when she was alone, she mused. "So, what exactly is it that I'm getting myself into?"

He sat down beside her. "My wife and I are returning to Omicron Ceti III for a period of no less than six months in order to see if we can find alternatives to living with the Berthold Rays. The Federation is still in need of colony planets. Returning there is something that is dear to my wife's heart."

Christine's heart sank as she heard him say the words "my wife"... So, he had gone and married somebody else, had he? Well, what did you expect, girl? She scolded herself. She could hardly have expected him to remain unmarried after all this time and waiting for her to come out of recovery. After all, he was a Vulcan, and Vulcans needed to be married. Probably went and married some nice Vulcan woman, she consoled herself.

"How soon would we be leaving?" she asked eagerly. He got up.

"The expedition would be leaving in about three weeks. Bear in mind that we have had other applications and we will be conducting more interviews. You should be notified shortly about our decision. Your experience as a bioresearcher would be most invaluable. We will review your application and schedule another interview in about a week."

"Of course," Christine replied, mentally scolding herself for assuming that she was a shoo-in for the job just because it was Spock who was doing the hiring. She smiled at him and stood to leave also.

Just then, she heard a voice coming from the direction of the bedroom.

"Spock, honey, would you mind helping me put on this stupid necklace? I always have trouble with the darn thing..."

Leila Kalomi came out of the bedroom ... and all hell broke loose.