Spock arrived at the Admiralty Lounge, as ever, prompt and punctual. He scanned the room methodically as he moved to a booth that offered a spectacular view of San Francisco Bay. Sliding onto the cushioned bench, he clasped his hands before him on the polished mahogany table. The last colors of a vibrant sunset were fading, and the lights of the Golden Gate Bridge glittered like the hull of a starship in spacedock.
"What can I get you, sir?"
Spock pulled his attention from the view to give his order to the smiling waitress. While he waited for his herbal tea, he pondered what reason Doctor Chapel could possibly have for asking him to meet her here.
The last time he'd seen Chapel was in the Federation Council Chamber. She'd bounded from the gallery as soon as the President had announced the Council's decision. Spock had observed her enthusiastic embrace of Chekov and Uhura, witnessed the radiant smile of delight on her features as she whirled about, nearly colliding with him. For a moment, he'd thought she would throw her arms about him as well, and had braced himself for the contact. Instead, she merely nodded, her blue eyes sparkling like sapphires. Her voice had been a bare, husky whisper. In the pandemonium that reigned about them her words were almost lost, but his acute auditory senses had not failed him.
"Welcome home, Captain."
Spock recalled his surprise at her composure, how he had stood watching her retreat, her joyful laughter and teasing banter with Sulu and Scott echoing in his ears long after she'd left the chamber.
Earlier that afternoon, Commander Uhura had given him Chapel's cryptic message to meet her here tonight, merely smiling and shrugging when he'd raised a brow at the unexpected summons.
"Twenty-one hundred hours at the Admiralty Lounge, Mister Spock," Uhura had repeated the summons, a smile quivering on her lips. "She said to tell you it was important."
At first, Spock had decided to call Chapel and tell her that he wouldn't be able to meet her. He'd planned to work on the overhaul of the ship's computer systems until morning when he would be joining Kirk and McCoy in Yosemite. The captain and doctor, eager to start their leave, had left yesterday, threatening Spock with dire consequences if he chose to stay with the ship rather than join them as planned.
But in spite of the backlog of work aboard the ship, he'd come. Curiosity had always been his greatest flaw. He shifted in his seat, experiencing slight annoyance that she was now five point six minutes late. The waitress brought his tea and he sipped at the aromatic fluid, deciding that if Chapel had not arrived by the time he'd finished it, he would return to the ship.
He turned away from the window to eye the door to the lounge as he drank his tea, playing his memories of Chapel across his mind. It was a methodical technique he'd developed since his death and rebirth, likened by one of his Vulcan tutors to the function of a computer recalling data to a screen. Spock's personal memories were almost fully restored, but occasionally a word or a glance from one of his crewmates would trigger a flood of recollections, and he would fight to catalogue the experiences, attempting to put the errant thoughts in order without experiencing the rich texture of the memories.
On rare occasions, he allowed himself the luxury of perusing his recollections like the pages of a favorite book, and that is what he found himself doing now. He recalled incidents of long ago, exchanges between a very Vulcan commander and an emotional, Human head nurse. He remembered the moment she had first professed her love for him, her inhibitions lowered by the Psi 2000 virus. She'd avoided him for weeks afterwards, her embarrassment apparent in the pink flush of her cheeks whenever he passed her in the corridors. How many times had he awakened in Sickbay to find her by his side? How often had he turned from the warm invitation in those lovely eyes, reminding himself that he could never meet the romantic expectations she'd placed upon him.
As the years had passed, he'd sensed her youthful crush fading, mellowing into something more like friendship. That relationship, one that did not demand what he could not give, he had accepted.
Only recently had he questioned the logic of denying his attraction to Chapel. He'd always found her beautiful. Now, with death and rebirth behind him, he recalled the mature woman who had welcomed him home. He'd sensed her serenity, the peace she'd made with herself, and he applauded her accomplishment, knowing how hard-won his own sense of self-worth had been. He realized with a start that he admired Chapel, could take the pride of a friend in her achievements. He also wondered why he had considered not meeting her tonight. It was a simple request to make, the request of an old friend. Perhaps tonight if he saw invitation in those blue depths, he would consider his response more carefully. Perhaps tonight...
She entered the room, still as slender and attractive as she had been all those years ago. She wore her fleet uniform, looking around the room and breaking into a smile when she saw him waiting.
Spock rose as Chapel approached the table, and her smile deepened as she took a seat across from him. "I'm sorry I'm late. Staff meeting ran over; you know how it goes."
"I have not been waiting long," he assured her, thinking how delighted the captain would be to hear him circumvent the truth.
While the waitress took Chapel's order, Spock studied her, thinking that, like Amanda, she had a facial structure which aged gracefully. By Human standards, Chapel was in her prime, and if her appearance now could be used as a gauge, she would still be just as lovely when she reached his mother's age.
Once they were alone, Chapel stretched back in the booth and sighed. "Word is that the shakedown cruise was a disaster."
Spock swallowed another sip of his tea and nodded. "I believe that was the consensus."
Chapel laughed. "You're still the master of understatement, Spock. I was in the control room at Starfleet Command when Admiral Cartwright ordered you back to Spacedock. Captain Kirk responded by suggesting it might be simpler to just engage the auto-destruct and be done with it."
"The auto-destruct would not have functioned, Doctor. It is tied into the ship's computer."
Chapel grinned, leaning forward as the waitress brought her drink. "Uhura said it argued every command you gave it."
Spock raised a brow and released a heavy sigh. "Duotronics were never intended to convey personality."
Chapel let her gaze linger on Spock's expression, her grin fading as his dark eyes met hers, perhaps recalling a certain first officer who functioned more like a computer than a living being.
"I'll bet you're wondering why I asked you here."
"Commander Uhura said only that it was important."
Chapel nodded. "I understand you're going to Yosemite in the morning."
"Camping," Spock said, his voice devoid of enthusiasm.
"Shanghaied, eh?" Chapel teased. "You know what they say, all work and no play. It'll be good for you, all three of you."
"Is that a medical recommendation, Doctor, or a personal one?"
"Both," Chapel looked out at the now-night-darkened sky, focusing on the few stars visible over the bay. "I'm one to talk. I've nearly a year of leave saved up myself. Every time I think I might take some time off, there's some crisis that takes precedence."
"You have done well."
Chapel looked back at him, a surprised smile lighting up her wistful expression. "Why, thank you."
Spock pushed the now-empty mug forward on the table, his long-fingered hands folding unconsciously into a contemplative pose. "No thanks are required; I was stating fact."
Spock suspected that she was teasing him again, and one glance at her expression confirmed it.
"But I miss being on the Enterprise," Chapel said softly.
"You could ask for reassignment." Spock did not know which surprised him more, her confession or his response.
Shaking her head, Chapel smiled. "I doubt that I'd get it. Besides, I really do love my job here. It's just that sometimes, when I look up and see that little blip on the tactical display screen...oh, this is going to sound foolish!"
Spock made no comment, waiting for her to continue.
Chapel sighed. "When I think of all the years I've logged with that crew, on that ship...I feel like a part of me is still out there. Silly, huh?"
Spock shook his head. "Sentimental, perhaps, but not silly."
"That's me," Chapel reached into a bag she had carried with her and retrieved a small decorative box, setting it on the table between them. "I'm just a sucker for sentiment. That's why I asked you to meet me here tonight."
Spock reached out to lift the lid of the box. The interior was lined with still-vibrant red velvet. A light, metallic melody began to play and Spock frowned as he tried to place it.
"It's an antique," Chapel explained. "It's nearly three hundred years old and in mint condition."
"Interesting," Spock commented, toying with the lid to start and stop the music. "A most primitive construct, but functional and durable. I do not recognize the tune."
"I didn't expect you to," Chapel smiled mysteriously. "I just wanted you to deliver it for me."
"You are joining the captain and Leonard in Yosemite in the morning, aren't you?" she asked.
Chapel reached back into her bag and took out a small satin pouch. Scooping the music box up and sliding it inside, she pulled a drawstring and tied it closed. "You said it yourself, Spock. I'm sentimental. I could have just left this for Leonard on the ship, but I wanted him have it now."
"This is a gift for Doctor McCoy?"
Spock would not admit to the disappointment that filled him as he realized that Chapel had summoned him merely to act as a go-between, a delivery boy. He accepted the small parcel from her outstretched hand.
"I shall deliver your gift to the doctor upon my arrival, Doctor." Spock took care to keep his tone neutral. "Is there any message you wish for me to pass along with it?"
Chapel flushed just a shade, averting her gaze to stare back out at the stars for a moment before she replied. "Just tell him I wanted him to have it. He'll understand why."
Blue eyes lifted, sparkling, and Chapel smiled sadly as she rose from her seat. "It was good to see you again, Spock. Thanks."
Spock stood, his expression carefully composed. "No thanks--"
"--Are necessary, I know," Chapel interrupted with a resigned shake of her head. "Take care. That goes for all three of you."
Spock remained standing, watching her retreat from the room. When she was gone, he removed the small box from the pouch and turned it over in his hands, looking for some clue to explain the tears he had seen sparkling in Chapel's eyes. On the underside of the box, engraved into the gold, he read the fine script which had survived through the years: "Georgia on My Mind."
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