Author's note: You listen to Leonard Cohen during the festive season and this is what you get.

Acknowledgments: My thanks to Jungle Kitty, Wildcat, and especially Rabble Rouser, who in the course of a wide-ranging conversation caused me to think seriously--for the first time ever--about Christine Chapel and her situation.

This story is dedicated to my beta readers Animasola and Wildcat, who believed it (and believed in it) and helped me to make it better.

Copyright © 2001 Kathleen Dailey. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be archived, reproduced, or distributed in any format without prior written permission from the author. This is an amateur nonprofit work, and is not intended to infringe on copyrights held by Paramount Pictures or any other lawful holder.

The Art of Longing

Kathleen Dailey

Pretend that your life is a play.

Tweak the script whenever you have some free time. During gamma watch in Sickbay, when all the patients are asleep and the orderly is on his dinner break, do some tentative read-throughs. Don't be afraid to edit out whole scenes. Remember what you learned in that creative-writing class in college: the sparest work is the strongest. Rewrite the Psi 2000 virus. Delete the incident with the soup. Erase the entire Sargon-Henoch episode--all the things you wish you hadn't seen in Spock's consciousness, all the things you wish he hadn't seen in yours. Sometime before the curtain falls on your last performance, you'll have to decide whether you were the heroine in a tragedy or the fallguy in a farce. Just remember that you can change the expression on the mask at a moment's notice.

Immerse yourself in your job.

Volunteer for extra shifts. Say to your fellow medics: No, honestly, it's no problem, I'll cover you so that you can finish your report, celebrate your birthday, spend shore leave with your lover. And when they say: But I owe you for the other time, the last time, the time before that, when I went to the conference, when I was delayed in the lab, when I couldn't get back from Wrigley's, just smile at them and say: Next time. You can make it up to me next time. Then see to it that your name is first on the locum roster next time. Every time.

Build a reputation for professionalism.

Always go beyond the call of duty. Make McCoy and M'Benga think of you when the stakes are highest, the hazards greatest. Sign on for the riskiest surgeries. Tend the most fragile patients. Cure the sick, heal the wounded, comfort the dying--do for them everything that no one can do for you, that you can't do for yourself.

Become indispensable. When the ship is under attack or when an alien virus sweeps through the crew, work a day and a night and then one day more, so that when you stand down from red alert and finally stumble back to your cabin, drained and dizzy and half-sick with fatigue, you'll be exhausted enough to sleep without dreaming, to dream without remembering.

Attempt to talk yourself out of it.

Try to let your intellect prevail. After all, if Spock could find one quality to love in you, it would be that. List all the arguments in favor of getting a grip, smartening up, moving on. Let sweet reason be your salvation, cool detachment your watchword. Always ask yourself: What would he do if he felt like this? and then follow his example. Never ask yourself: Has he ever felt like this? You don't want to know the answer.

Count your blessings.

You love your work. You respect your colleagues and your captain. Your friends seem to enjoy your company. You have pretty blue eyes, good bones, and three and a half postgraduate degrees. Nine hundred twenty-seven civilian and military applicants competed for the Enterprise posting, and you were chosen. When the five-year mission of exploration comes to an end, you'll be offered a promotion, an Academy appointment, a research grant. You could work the lecture circuit, you could learn to play the flute, you could finish your medical degree. You could afford to buy a lakefront apartment on Mars and get a cat or a dog, maybe both, maybe even two of each, knowing that you'll finally be home long enough to take care of them. Isn't that everything you've ever wanted?

Consider alternatives.

Be honest: you've looked at others and others have looked at you. You know the type you prefer: tall, quiet, temperate. Plenty of single men on the crew fit that description. There's Paul in Engineering, the other Paul in Botany, Marc in Xenology. And if you could bring yourself to consider it --which you can't, because even though he's zero for three on your scale of preferences it would be just too comfortable, too easy, too simple, too right-- Leonard McCoy has been known to send out a signal or two when his guard is down and his blood-alcohol level is up.

So what's stopping you? You're in Medicine, a virtually autonomous department. You'd never have to face any serious problems with chains of command or conflicts of interest. Why not give yourself a break? Why not say yes to one of those nice men, those smart men, those ordinary human men who want to admit you into their lives, who'd like to be admitted into yours? Why hold one small failing against them? You're being so unfair to them and to yourself. You're being so silly. It isn't their fault they're not Spock.

Be well-prepared.

You won't always have time to rehearse your lines. He's not just the ship's first officer, he's your very own division head. He roams the corridors of the Sci-Med decks at odd hours. He may be on his way to the computer labs to do some research for a journal article. He may be meeting with the chief of biochem for an update on a troublesome experiment. He may be seeking out McCoy, who's late as usual with his daily report.

Let's say you run into him near the admin office. Let's say you look up from your padd or clipboard as if you're surprised to see him. Usually you'll get a nod of greeting. Sometimes he'll address you directly--by your surname, of course, so that neither one of you is reminded of the time he called you by your given name, which is a good thing because that's the scene you happen to be revising in your little life-drama just now. Occasionally (so occasionally, in fact, that you can count the times he's done it) he'll speak a complete sentence or two: he'll inform you that the data crunch you requested this afternoon is complete and ready for download, or he'll remind you with a slightly quizzical look that your shift ended three point seven hours ago. You don't want to smile when he actually talks to you --remember, you're trying to emulate his detachment: What would he do if he felt like this?-- but you just can't help it, because you can look straight into his eyes and know that for once you have a perfectly good reason for doing so. Don't hold his gaze too long, though. Thank him politely. Wait for him to nod acknowledgment. Try not to stare after him when he walks away.

Do what you must do.

Step lightly into the fantasy. Approach the darkness that lies just outside your line of sight. Dance with your delusion.

Learn to touch yourself with the same swift, sure efficiency that you bring to your work. Choose your images carefully, for they'll have to last you a lifetime. Don't embellish: you want to satisfy a need, not break your heart.

This is what's permitted: Your hands can be his. Your breathing can be his. Your whisper, your sigh, your moan can be his. You can imagine his face contorted in pleasure, his perfect composure broken, shattering like glass at your touch. And when your fingers dig into the blanket and you arch into his imaginary embrace, you can even allow yourself a fleeting vision of the long, lean body you've tended clinically, impersonally, in Sickbay. Don't worry, it's not wrong, no harm done, all of this is acceptable behind your closed door, behind your closed eyes.

This is what's forbidden: Dangerous, unnatural fantasies of an open-air concert in the park, him with his arm around you, you with your head on his shoulder. A morning of shopping for groceries, an afternoon of browsing a bazaar, a night of watching the Perseids with him at your side, his fingers laced with yours, his face turned up to the sky. Iced tea and spiced cakes at his parents' house in Shi'Kahr, offered by his mother along with stories and reminiscences of his babyhood, tender revelations that delight you and embarrass him. A sleepy Sunday at your cousin's summer house in Newport, where the two of you have been given the big front bedroom with the old mahogany four-poster...

Is there still some lingering hope, a scrap of stubborn resolve? Let's recap just to make things clear. This is what you can never have: Any claim. Any plans. Any past. Any future.

Hold your head high.

Always be well-groomed. Keep up with the literature of your profession. At shipboard parties, limit yourself to two glasses of wine. Cry only in the shower.

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© 2001 Kathleen Dailey. All rights reserved.