DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Karen Bates Crouch and is copyright (c) 2000 by Karen Bates Crouch. This story is Rated NC-17 for sexual situations.

Chris

Karen A. Bates-Crouch

"Sometimes, you really tick me off, Chris," Tom insisted, tossing his clothes into a suitcase. Three other bags were already full and sitting on the floor preparatory to his departure.

Christine ignored him as she quietly sat on the other side of the bed and watched. She'd been waiting for this for quite some time.

"Aren't you going to say anything?" he pressed. "No questions? Demands?"

She shook her head, keeping her features as neutral as possible.

"I've taken my name from the lease, the place is all yours," he continued, an edge to his voice. "I placed a petition with the CityCenter this morning. Unless you counterfile, disunity will be legal in seven days."

She shook her head again. "I have no objection."

"Damn you, Chris!! Don't you even care?" He slammed the lid shut and piled it on top of the others.

"Would it matter?" she asked calmly, refusing to let any kind of emotional response show.

He stopped stuffing his pockets with last-minute mall items at the question. "I guess not. Just slow down the process."

"I have no desire to stand in your way, Tom." How many times had she practiced this line? Practicing it until it flowed from her lips without hesitation, without inflection. How many times had she used it, simply altering the name at the end to fit the lover at hand?

Tom swung around on her, angered by her placid attitude. "That's you problem, Chris. You have no desires. You're a brilliant academician, unequaled in biochemistry and exobiology. But that's where it ends. From the neck up, you're terrific, but from the collar on down, there's nothing."

Christine rose from the bed which was now solely hers and picked up two of the bags, dragging them into the next room, depositing them beside the door. "Where should I forward your correspondence?"

"I've already taken care of it. Sari and I are leaving Teklos tonight."

"Where will you go?"

"Sing Tao, over in the Benhoolies system."

Christine tipped her head in thought. "Sing Tao. Oh, yes. It's a beautiful planet, you should enjoy it there." Barb and she had spent three glorious days and nights soaking in the sights, smells and sounds of Sing Tao. For a brief second she was envious of Tom.

His anger flared again. "Isn't there anyplace you haven't been in this forsaken universe?"

A tiny fire lit her eyes for the first time, then died. "Good bye, Tom." Like everything else in her life, Sing Tao was in the past.

He finished shoving the bags out the pneumatic door, dropping the access card into his palm. "I hope you find what you're looking for, Chris."

Christine locked the door behind him, placing a hand on its surface. The cool metal sensation was a welcome one. Cool, calm, emotionless. The way she'd practiced it. Tom's absence wasn't particularly felt, not like before. She'd been preparing for it for some time now. By morning, her life would be in order again. Alone again, the way it had always been. The way she wanted it to stay.

* * *

The lab was empty when she arrived, something that rarely occurred. Normally, it was bustling with activity. Teklos was a major center for scientific research, bursting with energy from scientists of every bent, and students from every university in the galaxy privileged enough to study here.

Located on an asteroid, it boasted no atmosphere, but instead was covered with countless domes. Each dome was interconnected, yet independent. Teklos was governed by CityCenter, eliminating possible rivalries by the varied species living there. CityCenter was in actuality a computer system which controlled all environmental and governmental procedures. It couldn't be bribed, tampered with, or cheated. CityCenter received a payment for use of air, water, etc., before wages were issued to residents. There were those who grumbled about the methods, but thus far, the system was working. Funded by the Federation, all member races and planets had access to the libraries and facilities for scientific research.

Christine paid no attention to the solitude, logging in for the day. She'd been here for six years, going on seven. Whatever had pulled her fellow researchers away held no interest for her. Teklos was a place to work and retreat, nothing more.

Tom had been gone for eight months already, a fact her mind quickly stored away as irrelevant data. His last tape had been tossed into the incinerator unit without the seal so much as broken. He was now carefully stored in the past, never to be remembered in the present. Funny how it was becoming easier with each brief relationship to put it behind her and lock it away from her mind.

Chris stared at the screen for a moment, not seeing the research displayed upon its colorful surface. Maybe it was time to move on. Find a new place where no one knew her, or cared if they knew her. She made mental note to check the data banks later for employment listing. Her pulse quickened slightly at the thought. Perhaps that was all she needed-a new place.

She heard the seal open on the door. "Dr. Chapel?"

"Yes, Ernie?" Christine replied without looking. He'd been her assistant the last three years, she knew his voice well. Funny how she was always conscious of sound ... The ship had been a harmonious mixture of timbres. Everywhere else was a cacophonous racket in comparison. Not wanting to dwell in the past, Chris focused on his baritone.

Ernie shifted from one foot to the other, wringing his hands nervously. Chris noticed the activity and wondered at the cause. Her assistant had enthusiasm, but he'd never been this ... anxious ... before. "There's someone here to see you." He'd seen her 'companions' come and go in the last three years, sliding in and out of her life with barely a whisper. For a time they would come by the lab, sometimes even be assigned here. A couple had even spoken to him. This time it was different - this person was definitely not one of those ... Ernie was dying of curiosity.

"I'm busy right now. Could it wait?" Christine hated interruptions. It was one of the privileges of seniority now, to avoid needless irritations. Ernie knew better than to do this. Even having other people in here was distracting in comparison with the solitude of this morning. Alone. The word had a particular flavor to it that tasted sweet in her mind.

"I ... don't think so ... " he quavered, his youth and inexperience finally breaking forth in full measure. How could she be so removed from everything? Nothing ever affected her, it seemed. Cold, professional, scientist through and through. He'd even started calling her "Vulcan" behind her back.

What in the world? Christine turned around, her full attention garnered at last. "What's going on, Ernie? Is there a problem? Has something happened?" A curious blend of anticipation and worry touched her brow as she considered the possibilities. Did Ernie's errand have something to do with the empty lab?

"Didn't you read your memo?" He queried. Didn't anything excite her?

"Memo?" She searched her memory, but drew a blank.

"The one from yesterday," he prompted.

This time it registered. "The one I threw away without reading, like I always do?" The computer world of Teklos still practiced the ancient habit of memos circulated by hard copy, rather than through the `puter terminals. In a way, Chris liked it better, it gave her a chance to physically crumple the offending intruder and throw it away like the garbage it was.

He sighed in frustration. "Dr. Chapel, you have to stop doing that."

"Why? Been doing it for six years. McCoy always claimed nothing important was ever in a memo. If it's that vital, they'll tell you in person."

"McCoy? Leonard McCoy?" He whispered in awe. A rare moment she'd spoken of anything but work in the three years he'd known her. McCoy was from the Enterprise, that meant ...

"The same," she chuckled to herself. "Never could abide bureaucracy. I think I'm more like him than I'd like to admit sometimes." The smile slid from her face as quickly as it had come, leaving the same placid expression as before.

Impressed, Ernie shifted his feet again. "I really think this is important," he insisted again. He silently admired her ability to shut the world out. Her talent of focusing so intently, so perfectly, on the task at hand. Nothing disturbed her.

Christine folded her arms across her chest and gave him her undivided attention. "Okay, Ernie, what's so bloody important?"

Ernie took a deep breath. "The Enterprise is in orbit ... " His words trailed off into oblivion at her sudden intake of breath.

"The Enterprise?" she echoed, the blood draining from her face. "Here?"

"Here," he confirmed. "Word just came yesterday they were making an unscheduled stop here... " Ernie sputtered to a stop again as she whirled into action, throwing things every which way. "One of the officers is here to see you ... "

Logging out in record time, Christine finished gathering her materials into a motley pile and collected them. "Whoever it is ... " She paused a moment to gather her scattered thoughts, " ... tell them I died." Who was it that dared intrude? Was it Leonard? Uhura? Her mind swirled, for the first time in six years, uncertain which thought to dwell upon.

"But..." Ernie jumped out of the way, stumbling over the equipment Dr. Chapel had gathered around her while researching.

"Just do it," she hissed, racing for the far door. It didn't matter who it was. She didn't want to see them. Couldn't they just leave her alone? Just this once?

She managed to avoid crowds and familiar faces as she hurried back to her apartment. So much for McCoy's corollary on memos. How was she to know the damned ship would stop here? Why wasn't it out exploring the unknown galaxies like it was supposed to be?

Breathing heavily from the long, circuitous route to avoid everyone possible, Christine sealed the door and leaned back against it. Damn. Tossing the pile in her arms on the couch, she headed for the bedroom. If she hurried, she could catch one of the shuttles and be off-planet in an hour or two. Why hadn't she checked the data banks this morning? It only took a moment to pull up the Central computer. Seconds later, her accumulated savings were in her hands. With credits in hand she could go anywhere ...

Her door buzzer sounded, jarring her nerves. "Go away," she muttered under her breath, throwing things into a shoulder bag. Chris tucked her slight wealth into a pocket, not trusting it to her luggage. It buzzed again, this time for a longer period.

Ignoring it, she finished packing her few personal belongings. For someone who'd lived in one place for nearly seven years, she had very little to show for it, Christine observed to herself wryly. Taking it to the main room, Christine deposited it on the floor.

Changing into comfortable traveling clothes, she took one last look around the apartment, then shouldered the bag. There had been no further buzzer intrusions in the last ten minutes, so Christine deemed the coast clear. It was a fifteen minute walk to the conduits connecting the domes. Once there she could travel quickly to the shuttle dome and buy passage off this asteroid.

Unlocking the door, she stepped into the hallway. From nowhere, a strong hand fastened itself to her free arm and propelled her back into the apartment. Pushed gently toward the couch, the weight of her bag forced her downward into a sitting position. Awkwardly, Christine freed herself from the restraining strap and stood up.

"Why are you avoiding me?" the intruder demanded solemnly.

"I'm not," she insisted, refusing to meet his intense gaze.

"Your assistant informed me you had 'died'. Quote, unquote."

"Why are you here?" Christine couldn't keep the tiny quiver from her voice.

Spock was silent as he perused her. She was even more beautiful after all these years. The intervening six point eight five years had matured her into a deeper beauty, something he could only acknowledge privately. More importantly, the years had done great things for her academically. He'd read every one of her articles and papers, impressed by her scientific advancements.

Christine couldn't look him in the eyes, but studied him from beneath lowered lashes. He was as handsome as he'd always been. Age had not touched him, as it had her. She could see the lines in the mirror; the passing of her youth in each student's face. Time was the harshest master of them all, she reflected bitterly.

Fear fought with the butterflies of anxiety in her stomach. No other man affected her as he could. Had, she corrected herself. Spock, like all the other men, was in the past. Dead, buried, and gone forever. She pushed the feelings away, shutting them off completely. //There is no fear. There is no fear. There is no fear ... //

"I came to speak with you." As usual, there was no preamble to his statement.

"I have nothing to say," she whispered.

Why was she making this so difficult? "I must understand ... "

She interrupted him. "Good bye, Spock." It was too late, his words had already opened up a flood of memories Christine never wanted to experience again. //His naked body thrusting, his mouth devouring a breast with a passion she'd never thought possible ... //

He captured her chin with a hand, forcing her to look at him. "Why do you keep running from me? Why do you fear me so?"

"I'm not ... I don't," Christine denied through clenched teeth. His touch burned her flesh, reminding her of things long denied. The very scent of him brought back the memories, long buried, in a heated rush. The anger rose again, quenching the fire.

"How would you describe today?" Spock accused quietly. "Tell him I died," he quoted, an edge to his voice. His free hand gestured to the bag on the couch. "What about that?"

"You have no right to come here like this!" Christine jerked from his hand, stepping back from him. "Go back to your precious ship and Captain."

"Have I not?" he asked, but didn't move from his position in front of the door.

"Leave," she demanded.

"Not until this is resolved," he replied stubbornly. "I have waited six point eight five years to speak to you on this matter."

"I don't care if you've waited three hundred! The topic is not open to discussion." //His hand caressed her face, finding the points to make a meld. She cried out in ecstasy ... // "Leave me alone ... please ... "

Spock turned slightly, as if to leave and she breathed a tiny sigh of relief. Good, he was going. All the years of running and hiding were finally over. The dreams and memories would cease haunting her. She could stop feeling ...

Her heart stopped as he brushed the monitor screen, sealing the door with his own print.

Of course, Spock would know how to alter the lock command. Damn him. "How dare you!" Christine pounded the door in fury, knowing full well she couldn't leave without his permission now. "Get out, or I'll call security," she threatened. They both knew it was an empty gesture of bravado.

"I called you wife," he begin after a pregnant pause.

"Spare me your rhetoric. I was 'convenient.' I was the one stupid enough to volunteer," she threw back at him. "He'll die if something isn't done," Christine mimicked sarcastically. "The only reason Leonard let me go that day was because he knew you were too far gone in case of trouble."

"You can't know that," Spock argued, seeking her logic.

"I didn't know it at the time. Oh, I wondered why I was finally invited on a landing party mission, but I was dumb enough to think it was because he needed my skills ... " Chris backed away as he took a step toward her. Without volition, a jolt of pure erotic pleasure shot through her, its intensity overriding all other thoughts. "Stop it!"

Spock had made love to a nameless woman whose face tormented her in the dark of her lonely apartment ... Had made her cry out in ecstasy at the thrusting of his hips and the melding of their minds in entwined passion ... the very ecstasy Christine had felt in the solitude of her cabin ... for five days. For five long days she'd endured the passion of the pon farr ... alone.

"Why do you dwell in the past?" Spock queried without accusation. A fault of his own, he reminded himself brutally.

Christine studied the expression on his face for a long moment, recording the confusion in his brown eyes. "You really don't remember, do you?" //You don't remember me, you probably don't even remember her ... //

Spock straightened at her words, his arms moving of their own accord until his hands were clasped behind his back.

"They didn't tell you." She slowly let out the air she'd been holding. "The lousy bastard never told you, did he." It wasn't a question this time.

"The Captain ... "

She grabbed the nearest object and threw it at the wall, enjoying the sound of shattering glass. Another breakable followed immediately. "The Captain! You mean the lousy son-of-a-bitch who lied to me, who set me up ... "

A pained expression touched his eyes for a brief moment, then vanished. "I would have died..."

"I did." The soft words hung heavily between them. "I gave you everything that day ... everything. My body, my heart, my soul. Everything a woman could give to the man she loved more than life itself." The words, so simple, yet so elegant in their nakedness. "I swore I'd never do it again. And I haven't." The empty bitterness welled up inside, quashing the remembered passion. "You took it all. And you gave it back to somebody else." Christine missed the brief flash of confusion in his eyes. "You took it all. And you gave it back to somebody else."

"I ... do not understand ... "

"Go, get out of here. Go back to her ... " Her breathing was ragged as she struggled to control her emotions. "Just go away and leave me alone." Chris felt the traitorous tears running down her face. All her years of schooling her treacherous emotions to remain buried, unseen, had been for nothing. Why couldn't she just put it all behind her?

"That is untrue," he objected stiffly. His memories were clouded with the effects of the pon farr. "There was only you."

"McCoy had you so drugged up you couldn't have distinguished me from a Sehlat," she threw back at him, gulping deeply, making a failed attempt to stop the tears. "I tried to go to you, but Leonard and Jim had strict instructions from you. 'Keep Christine away from me.' Quote, unquote, as you would say. It was one thing to take me in the cave with both of them there to make sure you wouldn't hurt me, but once we were back on the ship ... I was completely expendable." They'd stayed there, mesmerized by the Vulcan ritual of mating, while Christine had died a thousand deaths of embarrassment and humiliation at having an audience to the most intimate and treasured moment of her life.

Except for that instant of blazing passion when his mind had touched hers and all else had been blotted out. She had embraced the searing heat of his madness and tempered it with unyielding human love. The bruises and scratches had faded in time, but not the pain, the anger, the humiliation of knowing how deeply he truly despised her.

Time stopped as the words hung exposed between them, terrible in all their ugliness. Christine could still feel the heat of his body as he arched his back and drove deeply into her coolness. The strength of his arms ... the musky scent as the sweat beaded on his back from the exertion ... the madness ...

His communicator beeped, but he made no movement to respond.

The spell was broken and Christine retreated, breathing raggedly as she fought to check her emotions.

This time he answered the hail. "Spock, here."

"Sensors are picking up some strange readings along the outer boundary of this quadrant," Kirk informed him. "Stand by to beam up."

"Affirmative." Christine had backed away from him, placing a distance between them that was more than physical. "I will return," he told her. The pieces of the puzzle remained at an elusive distance, tantalizing him, but coming no clearer.

"I won't be here."

"Your behavior is not ... logical ... "

She grinned a crooked smile. "Isn't life a bitch?" Where was this bravado coming from ...

Spock tapped his communicator. "Ready to beam up."

Christine watched as his form dissolved, then disappeared. It was over. The encounter she'd dreaded was behind her, a thing of the past. Just like everything else in her life. Over and in the past.

It took her a few minutes to override Spock's tampering of the door. Picking up her shoulder bag from the couch, Christine walked out of the apartment and headed for the shuttle dome.

* * *

Shadows prompted by the glowing firepot danced on the walls of his cabin, but he paid them no attention. For three days they had tracked the elusive sensor readings, but thus far had discovered nothing of consequence. In a few hours Spock would return to the bridge to relieve Chekov at the science station. Why were his memories of the pon farr so blurred? He should be able to remember everything with clarity. But he couldn't. Except for the cave.

He'd checked the log several weeks later to discover the name of the planet and results of the survey. It was an inconsequential place without inhabitants. The survey team of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Chapel had been on the surface 3.24 hours, returning with only a few tricorder readings and flora samples.

//By grasping the tricorder firmly, Spock discovered he could conceal the shaking of his hands from Kirk and McCoy. It was probable McCoy would figure it out, there was no helping that. Seven point one years. Of course, this time he had no betrothed on Vulcan awaiting him like last time. Not that it had done any good then either. Perhaps, if nothing else, he could convince Jim to leave him on this uncharted planet. Here he could die in solitude. No one would be there to watch the descent to madness and final insanity. Yes, that was the solution to the problem.

Kirk watched Spock from the corner of his eye, wondering what thoughts were going through the Vulcan's mind. He could see the clenched fingers, the whitened knuckles, as Spock clutched the tricorder. Why was he being so stubborn? Maybe he should have ignored Spock's refusal to return to Vulcan and gone there anyway. At least they were prepared to handle situations like this. McCoy had searched the medical literature till he was cross-eyed, seeking an antidote to the chemical imbalance, but to no avail. Even the brief conversation with a Healer on Vulcan had gleaned them little. Without a mate, he would die.

The transporter room doors opened and McCoy entered with Chapel in tow. Christine nodded her respect to the Captain, then took her position on the pads while Kirk dragged McCoy across the room. "Are you out of your mind, Bones?" he whispered. "It's not safe for her to go with us, and you know it!"

"If he's as close to the edge as I think he is, I'm going to need help," McCoy shot back under his breath.

"Why not M'Benga? He spent time on Vulcan," Kirk pushed. He did not want to place a female officer at risk.

"He's laid up with Konji virus."

"Great. Just great," Kirk muttered.

"She's the best right hand I have. And, no matter what happens, I trust her to keep it to herself." McCoy laid his free hand on Kirk's arm. "He's dying, Jim. All we can do is be there for him."

The words were now in the open, admitted finally. "I refuse to accept that."

"Maybe you and I can't, but Spock already has." McCoy gestured to Spock with an infinitesimal tip of his head. "Look at him. He's an inch away from losing it completely. As long as he's on this ship, the necessity to control his emotions is overriding everything. Down there, he can expend less energy on the facade and more energy on himself."

A drop of sweat beaded on Spock's forehead, giving evidence of the magnitude of effort required of his First Officer to retain control. "Let's go, Bones."//

* * *

Falling. She was falling, tumbling end over end, her stomach in her throat from the acceleration. There was no use screaming. Who would hear her in the vacuum of space?

The escape pod continued its trajectory through space, oblivious to the raging inferno it had left behind. The ship's subsequent explosion was likewise ignored by the inanimate object.

When the acceleration ceased, Christine was able to punch the stabilization button on the tenth try. The end over end motion gradually came to a stop, leaving her panting for breath. She sternly ordered her last meal to stay down as she acclimated to a state of weightlessness.

After a time, Christine examined the small pod closer, taking stock of her situation. The gauge showed another ten plus hours of air remaining. //Good job, Chris. You had to pick a doomed ship.// With nothing else to do until she was rescued or the air ran out, Christine relaxed and thought back on the last few days. There was no point in panicking at this juncture. What was done, was done. It couldn't be fixed now.

Once she'd reached the shuttle dome, there had been a four- hour wait for a shuttle to take her out to one of the three orbiting vessels willing to take paying passengers. Only one was scheduled to stop at a Federation space station, so she chose it. Once on the station she could arrange for passage anywhere in Federation territory, jumping from one station to the next. Having an inactive Starfleet status had its benefits, she reflected ruefully.

The Accon was a small vessel, carrying a limited crew of thirty with the capacity to transport a handful of passengers and a hundred million metric tons of cargo. Christine wasn't thrilled with the size of the ship, but this wasn't the day she could afford to be picky. Her cabin was the approximate dimensions of a closet-only smaller, and her roommate wore lavish amounts of a cheap perfume that made an open flame within thirty yards dangerous.

Most of the vessel was off limits to paying passengers, so her solo inspection tour was brief and pointless. The only place of interest was a viewing port where she could enjoy the stars.

"You've been out here before."

Christine turned at the unfamiliar male voice, and found the Captain at her elbow. "I'm afraid so, sir."

"Starfleet?"

"More years than I care to admit to," she answered with a lopsided smile. "How did you know?"

"Your reflection in the glass," Captain Judon explained. "Most of those we transport to and from Teklos are scurrying from one research project to another, uncaring of what lays between the planets. But you have the look of one who's spent a lot of time between, and very little time on, planets."

"What about you? Ever yearn for a deep space vessel and unexplored territory?" Christine found herself intrigued by this odd man. By appearance, Judon was only in his forties, with rugged good looks.

Judon chuckled. "I leave that to the crazy ones, like Kirk." He noted the sudden chill in her eyes and changed the subject. "Care for a real tour?"

"As opposed to the one I've already had?" she countered with a grin, knowing precisely what he meant. How many times had she conducted "official" tours on the Enterprise for visiting dignitaries and senior Starfleet personnel? There was the ship others saw, then there was the ship where people lived and passed through their every day experiences. That part of the ship where dreams were made and broken, where lives intertwined for an indeterminate period of time. Time that was measured by death, transfers, and careers. Time that had passed Christine Chapel by, leaving a lonesome woman in its wake.

The tour took little time to complete. Since most of the Accos was meant for cargo transport, space allotted for crew and passenger use and comfort was limited. Christine could tell from the expressions on the nominal crew members they encountered, that Judon didn't make a habit of bringing passengers behind the scenes. Compared to the Accos, the Enterprise was palatial in its accommodations. A brief pang of...was it homesickness?... passed through her with that thought. How many years had it been since she'd contemplated her former ship? Was it the ship, the people left behind? Or was it simply the nostalgia of being in space again after so many years buried away on Teklos? Christine refused to follow the path her thoughts were taking, and turned her attention back to Judon.

"...Exes 12."

"Exes 12? In the Hentte constellation?" she inquired, covering for her previous inattention and mental wandering. It was a handy technique Christine had developed on Teklos, when the topic wandered into fields of study that invited yawns.

Judon's eyes narrowed slightly at her slip, the brief window of knowledge that confirmed his suspicion that this guarded woman had traveled in deep space. "Six moons, I believe."

Christine recognized her faux pas and realized there was no way to explain her familiarity with the obscure sector of space, even under the excuse of her research. Exes 12 was of no particular scientific value, certainly not to an exobiologist of her caliber. However, a captain of a freighter, with dreams of things beyond the well-traveled lanes might know such things. An observant, dynamic captain with aspirations of deep space exploration, bored with the freighter assignment. Caught without an escape route, Christine had no choice but to respond. "Only one, the only Class M moon in the system, but you knew that already."

"Just testing," he grinned, his voice giving a hint of laughter.

Christine held her breath. How did she answer? "Did I pass?" How had this simple guided tour became a mine field? A mine field she was setting off with each sentence she spoke.

"Just don't tell me you've actually been there," he responded, arms coming to rest across his broad chest.

"Okay, I won't tell you."

He whistled under this breath. Starship. Only independent miners, crazies, and starship class vessels went that deep. He took a moment to study her hair, casually swept up off her neck, leaving the nape bare to his gaze. Tendrils, escaping the ornate comb, gently brushed her shoulders. "How long since you were there?"

The silence stretched between them. Time while Christine considered the consequences of her next words. Did she return to those days long buried in the past, days of extreme pain, and extreme joy. The time she spent between the stars, first searching for the love she had lost, the time spent seeking the love she couldn't have, the time before she learned that love was beyond her grasp. Or did she glibly turn the conversation to safer, neutral, dull, grounds of weather and current politics, both of which she was woefully ignorant. Pathetic excuse for a conversationalist, she reflected ruefully, berating herself for the inadequacies of her abilities. What happened to those bedside people skills she'd honed to a fine edge serving under McCoy?

"About nine years ago," she admitted softly. "I was on the ship that did the original charting of Exes 12 and its moon."

Judon opened his mouth to make the obvious reply, but then remembered the cold look in her eyes when he'd mentioned Kirk's name. "I remember ... reading ... about it." He nearly missed the flicker of gratitude in those blue eyes as he edged sideways to avoid a crewman slipping past them. The exposed pipes reduced the already cramped passageways, making travel precarious at times. Exes 12, with a singular moon inhabited by beings unlike any other in the universe. Starfleet was still attempting to negotiate with the Exens for a space station in the region. The Enterprise, and her single landing party, to date was the only ship allowed to orbit the moon and establish meaningful contact. All other efforts to establish relations had failed.

"I really shouldn't take up so much of your time, Captain." Politeness, ever the refuge of discomforted. How many would know of such an obscure incident in the annals of the Enterprise? Of course she would have to find that one individual. Of course. Just like she would be the only one on Teklos who hadn't read the memo or heard about the Enterprise entering orbit.

A klaxon interrupted them, blaring with intensity and shifting the main lighting over to a red hue. Christine wasn't offended by Judon's sudden wordless departure, another reminder of the life left behind. As she worked her way back to "passenger country", she caught snippets of terse statements exchanged by bustling crew. Something to do with the warp drive ... crystal anomaly ...

//Great, just what I need, a crisis!// Chris muttered to herself, locating her quarters finally. Her erstwhile roommate was among the missing, which gave Chris a few seconds to grab her bag and throw her nominal belongings into it. Her instincts were clamoring with drills run over and over on the Enterprise. Warp core failure was eminent, at least that was her assessment based on her information to date, and too many crises on a starship. If she was wrong, the worst she would endure was humiliation for overreacting. Compared with past humiliations, this would be nominal, at worst.

Without a backward glance, she set out for the emergency pods, encountering clueless passengers wandering in alarm, unsure of what to do next. "It's a warp core problem, head for the emergency exit," she explained to anyone who asked. //Why was it that the more brilliant the scientist, the greater the lack of common sense?// Christine pondered. At no time, however, did she slow down to investigate the idiosyncracy further. Haste was everything. This wasn't the Enterprise, where everything had triple backup systems. This was a space cargo freighter held together with spit and baling wire. The announcement for evacuation blared in her ears, confirming her assessment of the situation. Sometimes Christine really hated it when she was right.

She wasn't the first to reach the escape pods. Slinging the bag in first, Christine wormed her way into the webbing and straps with practiced ease, a skill not forgotten by disuse in the last several years. It took her a few moments to check out the interior, as the pod came alive. The escape pods were activated upon entry, sealing each unit into self-containment while commencing disengagement from the mother ship. A low hum filled the air, then a jolt tore through the pod's structure. Time slowed down for Christine. The Accos spit the pod outward with a gut-wrenching heave, as the ship's hull buckled and groaned. Over and over the tiny pod tumbled on all three axis, giving Christine a fragmented view of the ship as it tore itself apart.

* * *

The planet, swirling in fanciful cloud formations, loomed on the main screen of the bridge. Sensors had been on automatic survey for several days now, patiently seeking readings, and recording same. Blue hues from the sensor hood etched shadows into the planed face as Spock worked into the early hours of the morning. The majority of his attention was on the requisite labors of his position as science officer, but random thoughts interrupted the stream of data flowing from sensors to the main computer through the station.

Why had there been fear in her eyes? No woman had ever shown fear - cold indifference perhaps, as had his first wife. Love and desire shown by Leila and Zarabeth. Curiosity and childish naivete even, as shown by Droxine. But never ... fear. It was not logical. He had touched her mind during the pon farr, felt the heat of her passion.

Spock mentally shook his head in confusion. The images were there, pieces stuck together like a patchwork quilt. Not a continuous thread, just ... pieces.

//The transporter beam faded, and he tried to focus on the scenery. Spock clutched the tricorder like a drowning man would cling to a life preserver. So advanced, it was so advanced ...

"Report?" Kirk's voice cut through the fog.

Clenching his teeth, Spock triggered the `corder, forcing his thoughts to follow the stream of information. "Conditions within standard Class M requirements. Flora only. Trace minerals, geological formations 34.6 mark 12, point seven two kilometers."

"Lieutenant?"

"Confirmed, Captain. Medical tricorders picking up nothing outside standard parameters," Chapel reported smoothly.

Who was kidding whom here? she muttered to herself. Finally, landing party duty, and she gets ... plants. No, the only reason they were down here, and not on the ship, was Spock. Down here there were no witnesses. Or, at least, no witnesses that would file inappropriate reports regarding his behavior, emotional destruction, and finally, death. It took every ounce of her control to hold back the tears.

Holding the tricorder in an obvious scanning position, Christine walked away from the other three, seeking distance and control.

Her scent wafted over him, thrilling him on a visceral level.

Kirk exchanged worried glances with McCoy, then led the way toward the distant rock formations, barely visible above the tree line. Spock stayed a few yards behind him, followed by McCoy, with Chapel bringing up the vanguard. The Captain's thought were churning, seizing plan after plan, weighing each, following the varied resolutions, to ... dead ends. Spock refused to return to Vulcan. The conversation still rang in his ears.//

"Vulcan is 985.6 light years from our current position. As there are no ships nearby, or other alternate transportation available, it is not logical to route this ship from its current assignment for the needs of a single crewman."

"Damn it, Spock," Kirk argued, "it's not `logical' to endanger a crew member for routine missions." Scotty could pull warp nine, Sulu could lay in the shortest route, with any luck they could be there in a matter of days ... His mind made up, Kirk hit the intercom. "Scott."

"Captain," Spock interrupted.

"Scott here," came the response, the brogue evident even in the minimal use of words.

"Stand by, Scotty," Kirk observed the stiff body language of his First Officer and waited.

"It is not necessary ... " Spock began again.

"Scott," Kirk nailed the connection again, "how soon can you give me continuing warp nine?"

"Just finished calibrating the warp core, Captain," came the response. "Give the word."

The answer was so quick, Kirk suspected the engineer had an inkling to the urgency. "Stand by."

"Aye."

"Captain," Spock started again, searching for words that wouldn't come. Why did the Captain always make this so difficult? "Jim."

Kirk swung his head back from contacting the bridge. "What is it, Spock? I'm not having a repeat of last time." He winced in memory of the heat, the battle, T'Pau ...

His arms went behind his back of their own volition, a practiced motion meant to intimidate, to cover ... "It is unnecessary to return to Vulcan," Spock iterated.

Kirk waited out the pregnant pause, refusing to play the game.

Spock fixed his gaze across the room. "There is no one on Vulcan."

"T'Pring?"

"The bond was severed by the Kalifee." Simple words to describe the slicing away of a lifetime of commitment to the tenets of his culture. A surgical cut that had left a gaping wound in his psyche. Why was it that the finer the edge of the knife, the more it bled? The disappointment, unspoken but always there, of his parents. The public humiliation of their son before all of Vulcan, before T'Pau herself. The already strained relations with Sarek had not been improved by the event. Amanda had attempted to speak with him about it, but her comfort was not what he wanted to hear.

"Are you telling me there are no women on Vulcan for you to ... bond ... marry ... " Kirk was at a loss for the exact word. How did you describe the relationship under the present circumstances?

Spock remembered, in precise detail, the message from T'Pau ordering him to Vulcan to perform another bonding ceremony with a woman of her choosing. The woman's lineage and credentials were impressive, but the thought of entering into another arranged marriage left him ... uninterested. "That is correct."

* * *

"Physicians? Something that can help ... "

"There is nothing available."

"How about here, on the ship?" Kirk grasped at straws. "Christine Chapel. Perhaps ... "

"A relationship based on the physiological ramifications of the pon farr would not be an appropriate venue," Spock intoned. Perhaps it would have been a possibility, if not for T'Pring. The warm affection and generous nature of Christine Chapel had withdrawn after that day on the bridge. T'Pring's beautiful face filled the viewscreen, reciting the ritual phrases. A perfect face, carved in icy disdain, that had destroyed any hopes Christine may have had. She had remained professional in her demeanor, but the special warmth she'd always had around him had faded. No, she was no longer an option for him to explore. "There is no one on the ship, Captain."

//The conversation had continued for some time, but the end result had been a lack of alternatives. Except for this one. Ironic that Spock was the one who maintained that there were always alternatives, Kirk considered bitterly. This alternative was not one he was willing to consider, not while there was still time. Time to create an answer ...

Although Christine was several feet away, performing her duty with minimum motion or words, Spock could practically hear the pulse in her throat. The rustle of her uniform as she strode along behind the higher-ranking officers pricked his ears. Her presence overwhelmed his senses, and his body responded.

The foliage opened into a clearing, almost circular in shape, covered with fragrant flowers of brilliant hues. The blooms themselves were like nothing any of them had ever seen, but each was spectacular. Christine took a moment to simply let the scenery wash over her, absorbing the beauty of the planet. For a fraction of a second, the merest of a heartbeat, Christine let the planet wash through her senses. The tricorder had registered nothing toxic to humans, so she bent over, inhaling lightly. Kirk noted the puzzled expression on her face.

"What is it, Chapel?" he inquired.

Her frown remained in place. "There's no scent." She tested her conclusion again. "All these beautiful flowers, but there's no odor, no smell, nothing."

"No insects, either," Spock added. "Of course, the same absence of insects has been noted on other surveys, such as ... "

"There's an opening over here," McCoy interrupted the anticipated monologue, gesturing with his arm to the rocky area on the other side of the clearing. He stood aside so Kirk and Spock could enter the darkened abyss before him. McCoy used the opportunity to surreptitiously gain a reading of Spock up close and personal as the Vulcan brushed past him to gain entry. He wordlessly tilted the tricorder readings toward Christine as she approached. They exchanged knowing glances.//

* * *

//Christine swallowed firmly, fighting back the dread, the knowledge of futility. The readings were fluctuating, indicating the fight contained within that magnificent body. A fight Spock was losing, a fight toward madness, a fight he was losing moment by moment. He'd survived the last time, some seven years ago, but it was a survival untempered by wisdom, in her opinion.

Christine was angry at his failure to mate, to bond with any other woman. It was one thing to reject her, Christine Chapel, but it was another to reject all women. Leila Kalomi would certainly have been willing to leave her precious colony. Surely there was one woman on all of Vulcan willing to accept the half-Vulcan. Now, no one would ever know if his home world would have finally accepted him. This time it was Spock who had turned his back on Vulcan. A decision that would cost him his very life.

Spock was unaware of the battle raging inside Christine as he entered the cavernous structure, his tricorder recording its findings, unnoticed by the science officer. Christine's presence was insinuating itself in his senses, filling his head with erotic images. His fingers fairly ached to pull the pins from her hair, letting it cascade down to her shoulders. The seams in her uniform parting in silence, slipping from her body into a formless pile on the floor. Spock could feel the peaks of her breasts pressing against him, the scent of her naked body permeating every pore of his skin.

"Spock..." Kirk could see his voice was making no impact on Spock. What was going through Spock's mind? What was he focusing on so intently? "Spock?" he tried once more. "McCoy?"

McCoy ran his medical tricorder, whistling under his breath at the readings. The brain waves were registering readings he'd seen Spock exhibit only once before. "It's the plak tow."

"So soon?" Kirk felt his heart plummet at the announcement. Too fast, it was all happening too fast ...

Spock's fingers were steepled now, the tricorder hanging from the strap, forgotten. His eyes were rolled back, the images in his brain generated solely from within. Her skin was velvet beneath his touch, each stroke softer than the one before. With each inhalation she filled his senses, her very essence entwined with his own.

Kirk made the decision, flinging open his tricorder. "Scott, one to beam up." Christine's head jerked at the communication. "Chapel, beam up. I don't want you here, it's too dangerous."

"I can handle it," Christine flung back at him, uncaring at her disobedience of his order. "I'm here as part of the medical team. Let me do my job." Her eyes blazed as she turned on McCoy. "You know I'm right, Leonard."

Spock turned toward the sound of her voice, unseeing, yet knowing. "I burn for thee." His kisses were returned with passion that reached inside of him, to the core of his belly. Her tongue caressed his earlobes, down his neck, trailing licks and nibbles, descending, ever descending ...

"That's an order," Kirk barked, moving closer, edging his body between Vulcan and human woman. He remembered the strength and fury of Spock as they battled in the desert heat of Vulcan seven years ago. Had McCoy not interfered, he would have died that day. An assault on Christine Chapel was not acceptable. Under the current conditions and Spock's state of mind, it could kill her.

Furious, Christine clutched her equipment, waiting for the transporter beam to sweep her away. This wasn't a battle she was going to win. What was the point of joining the landing party if she was returned to the ship at the first sign of difficulties? This was what she was trained to do, to care for those in need.

Without warning, Kirk felt himself being thrown bodily across the stone floor, as Spock effortlessly shouldered his way past the Captain. His head cracked against the wall, resounding with a thud, as he slid to the floor into a jumbled heap of body parts.

McCoy grabbed Christine, trying to push her behind him, toward the door of the cave, but Spock was too quick. The Vulcan's grip was fierce, but not bone crushing. With every ounce of self- control she could muster, Christine willed herself not to struggle. This was Spock. The man whose touch she'd craved for so many years. Even after T'Pring had divorced him publicly. Even after she accepted that Spock didn't want her, didn't want Christine Chapel. The rational part of her mind told her a struggle would be useless against his far greater Vulcan strength. If Spock chose, he could kill her without effort. Like a wounded fawn, Christine trembled, waiting for his next move, his decision for her life, or death.

The hand holding her arm loosened, caressing, sliding upward with alien heat. Christine held her breath, waiting. His fingers smoothed the skin at her throat, feeling the pulse. Tentatively, she pressed her hand against his chest. His breathing was ragged in response to her touch, shuddering with every draw of breath. Up her hand crept, seeking his face, seeking answers in the looming visage.

McCoy debated with himself, watching events unfold. Should he interfere, or let matters progress? Spock was clearly focused on the woman in his embrace, positioning his fingers to meld, even as he lifted her mouth to his. Christine's fingers were clutching Spock's strong arms, her body straining to join with him.

Christine appeared in no danger, so McCoy scurried across the floor to Kirk's side. Neither Spock nor Christine appeared to take notice of his actions. The readings on his medical `corder were alarming, making the Captain his first priority. Flipping open his communicator, he punched the emergency retrieval. The last image he saw as the transporter beams surrounded him was Christine's uniform slipping from her shoulders.//

* * *

The shift over, Spock returned to his quarters, no closer to the answer than he was hours earlier. He could remember moments, scents, images. Kirk had suffered a head injury requiring emergency surgery, prompting McCoy to return to the ship under emergency circumstances. There was nothing in the log to explain the source of the injury, and no information had ever been forthcoming from Kirk or McCoy. The log clearly showed the presence of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Chapel beaming down to the planet. Shortly thereafter, Kirk and McCoy had beamed aboard, leaving Spock and Chapel alone on the surface for another 2.55 hours. A time period containing no tricorder readings or log entries. Yet, clearly the pon farr had come upon him in that cave. He could not ignore irrefutable facts.

//When sanity had finally returned to him, Spock discovered Christine sleeping soundly beside him, her arm thrown across his chest. For a moment, he examined her naked form, noting the occasional bruise discoloring her otherwise ivory skin. Her hair, normally caught upward, was spread loosely upon the pillow, inviting his touch. His own body responded instantly to the lure of her presence, but not because of the pon farr.

Firmly quashing the rising physical desire, Spock carefully rose from the bed, noting instantly they were not in his own quarters, rather, they were in Christine's. How had they arrived here from the cave? The chronometer beside the bed told him there had been a passage of five days since beaming to the surface. What had occurred during that entire time? Replicator dishes and trays were scattered about, indicating they had eaten in her quarters, apparently leaving for nothing.

It took a few seconds, but Spock finally located his discarded uniform thrown into a far corner. Attired once again, Spock found himself drawn back to the bed, uncertain how to proceed. Christine murmured as she shifted positions in her sleep. His eyes followed the curve of her hip, examining the exposed form minutely, before returning to her face.

Without volition, his hand found her face, locating the proper points. The pathways were clear and open, inviting him back into her mind. There was a sudden rush of sensation as Spock found the bonding already established between them, the bonding that made them one. Made them husband and wife. He waited for the anticipated Vulcan distaste for this turn of events, but it didn't come. Instead, there was a serenity, a fullness even, to his being, that hadn't been there before.

Unsettled, Spock withdrew from the intimate touch. Setting the computer to non-voice command, he punched into the main computer, seeking answers, but finding none. The ship was no longer in orbit, but rather on route to Starbase 23, ETA three hours. Kirk was in sickbay, and he and Christine were on medical leave. Clearly, with Kirk in sickbay, Spock was needed on the bridge.

Spock stood beside the bed once more, memorizing every inch of the woman who had saved his life, had melded with him during the violent passion of the pon farr. Why had she done it? With regret, he listened at the door until the corridor was clear, then Spock left her quarters, stopping at his own quarters only long enough to shower and pull on a fresh uniform. His first stop would be sickbay, then the bridge. Later, he would return to Christine and learn the truth.//

* * *

At least the infernal spinning had ceased, not that the situation had improved all that much, Chris reflected. The end over end tumbling has stopped earlier, but a piece of debris had brushed past the pod, setting it in motion. Christine was thankful the collision had not incurred worse consequences. Not that it would matter in the scheme of the universe. Eight hours, thirty two minutes, and a handful of seconds from now life was going to be a whole lot shorter. The emergency transmitter was working. Of course, that assumed there was another ship within range. Stop it! she told herself. This isn't the Enterprise, and you're not in uncharted space. This is a well-traveled route, with a regular pattern of traffic. Feeling calmer, Christine adjusted the life support to minimal levels, a technique beyond the usual academic patron of a pod. With any luck, she'd just increased her chances by fifty three minutes. Six years with spare time to learn new things might actually pay off, she mused.

Thoughts drifted through her mind, bringing images, unbidden. All her life she'd either been chasing a man, or running away from one. Christine had followed Korby into space only to lose him. Then she had chased Spock, only to have the cherished dream turn into a roaring nightmare.

Christine pressed her hand to the clear pane separating her from the vacuum of space. The dim light of the pod allowed her face to be reflected. She leaned her hand against the reflection, and sighed. What did she have to look back on? Sure, she'd finally made a niche for herself in academicia, but she had no personal life. Not even a cat to curl up with in the evening. She was nothing more than a pathetic old maid, facing an end to it in fairly short order.

She didn't like the direction her thoughts were taking, and chose, instead, to ponder the recent visit from Spock. Why had he come? What had he been talking about? Wife? He'd called her "wife." It wasn't possible. Spock had been with another woman after that initial encounter in the cave. Christine saw the flash in her mind of the entwined bodies. The same scene that had played in her mind far too many times since then. It was always the same vision, like a film in slow motion, frame by frame by frame. Funny how she couldn't put a name to the woman. The face was vivid in her memory, but for the life of her, she didn't remember seeing her any other time on the Enterprise. Except for sharing Spock's bed. Why had Spock chosen her? Was it someone he knew? One thing was for certain. Spock preferred her over Christine Chapel, the pathetic old maid who had humiliated herself time and time again. Well, that chain of thought had done nothing but circle back to where she'd begun.

Christine deliberately reached down inside to pull up the anger, that old familiar friend, but found emptiness instead. She couldn't generate a strong emotion, other than despair. Try as she might, her heart still yearned for the one man she couldn't have. A tear rolled down her cheek, and she roughly brushed it away. He had come to her, and she'd run away. Spock, the man of her dreams and nightmares, had come to her, and she'd run away. Her fingers felt nothing but the coolness of nothing as they caressed the thin layer separating her from cold death.

* * *

Spock ran the tricorder readings again. Spock, McCoy, and Christine had each carried a tricorder on the surface of XT352, each making separate data entries. McCoy had focused on Spock's medical condition, and Christine had focused on the flora. Spock's own tricorder had pulled in the greatest amount of sensor data, prior to entering the cave. Once the landing party had entered the cave, only McCoy's had registered his brief medical scan of Kirk.

He leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers in thought, as he watched the data in the privacy of his own quarters. Christine was examining the brilliant foliage, intent on her research. Having seen it so many times, Spock knew the precise second each movement would occur. Where she turned her body, tipped her head, inhaled the missing fragrance, smiled, frowned, each minute action carefully recorded, to be played over and over. Spock had no memory of studying her planetside, but the tricorder readings from his own machine indicated he had.

Spock knew he was bonded to Christine, that much he could know for sure. Even now he could sense the vestiges of her inside his mind. But it wasn't ... right. For nearly thirty years he had remained linked to T'Pring, waiting for the moment when both would be summoned before T'Pau for the final bonding. Their relationship had never gone beyond the link implanted at age seven, until the severance of the link those many years later. Although the details inside the cave were misty at best, Spock knew he had entered the plak tow, to be relieved only by the bonding with a woman and subsequent physical joining of their bodies. He knew it hadn't been broken by fighting Kirk to the death, like before, because he had been restored to sanity in Christine's own bed.

The memory of her as she lay there, sleeping peacefully, was undimmed by the passage of time. The fading bruises spoke of passions sated by a man having Vulcan strength, strength that was tempered, even in madness, by tenderness. Tenderness that was clearly unreturned by Christine. A joining which meant nothing to her, evinced by her departure and subsequent silence.

Which led him back to his previous cogitation. Why couldn't he feel her clearly? The pathways were clear, proven that day in her quarters before leaving her. Their minds were linked, forged by the pon farr, but it wasn't ... right. It had been desperation that drove him to seek her out on Teklos, to confront her about her disappearance that day. Only ... it had been fear in her eyes, not the trust forged by the linking of their minds.

Spock closed his eyes, drawing into himself, seeking out the pathways, following them. Christine. Sweat beaded on his forehead from the effort. Christine. Then, for the briefest of moments, Spock was with her. Seeing through her eyes, feeling with her emotions. Her/his hand was pressed against the pane of a small vessel ... no, escape pod. Sadness, despair, loneliness. Emotion overwhelmed him before he was forced back to the Enterprise and his own mind.

She was dying, floating in space somewhere.

It took only seconds to track down the vessel on which Christine departed Teklos. The Accon had been en route for six days, with Christine on board. There were no records of any problems, but that wasn't unusual. A freighter, such as the Accon, wouldn't have been in constant contact. Without hesitation, Spock contacted the Starbase nearest the region of space where the Accon should be by now. It was only his reputation, Vulcan lineage, and rank that made the station take him seriously. But would it be soon enough?

* * *

Christine batted ineffectively at the light piercing her eyeballs, trying to make it stop. All she wanted was a return to the darkness, the peace and serenity of the nothingness that had held her before the stabbing of the brilliance.

"She's coming around," said the light.

"So would you if someone poked you in the eye with that thing," Christine snapped peevishly. "Where did you go to school?" Hands from the other side of her assisted in moving to a sitting up position.

Taken aback by the patient's response, the resident furtively placed the light wand into a pocket. "Archimedes, in the belt of Orion." He fidgeted a moment. "I'm doing my residency here on Starbase 36."

Christine rubbed her head, doing her own diagnosis from inside, then she opened her eyes once more, discovering the young man beside her bed. Either she was getting older, or medical school was cranking them out younger these days, Christine thought wryly. "Sorry."

He looked relieved. "That's okay. You're just lucky you were found when you were."

"How many were recovered?"

Christine watched his gaze drop to the bed before coming back to rest on her. "Twenty four pods were located by the S&R team."

"And?" she prompted when no further information appeared forthcoming.

"You are the only survivor."

The room went blurry as she absorbed his words. Judon, her roommate, everyone. Gone. "Why?"

"Are you the only one?" he completed her question. Christine nodded. "The instruments in your pod had been calibrated for a different level of life support. If not for that, you would have died like the rest. As it was, you had already passed out before you were found."

Unable to carry on the conversation further, Christine lay back on the bed and laid her arm over her eyes. Those few precious minutes she had gained in adjusting the environmental controls had saved her life. Well, not exactly. Those stolen minutes had allowed an S&R team to find her pod and carry her to safety. It was a closer brush with death than she wanted to acknowledge.

By the next day, Christine had been released and was quartered in the area reserved for Starfleet personnel passing through the Station. Her bag had also been recovered and released to her, offering her some semblance of order in her otherwise disordered life. Without knowing why, Christine laid each item from the bag out on the narrow bed, leaving the black container empty. She stood there, contemplating the array. This was her life. All laid out neatly. No muss, no fuss, no extraneous items, no items of sentimental value, just the essentials. An entire lifetime boiled down to ... this.

After packing everything away once more, her single bag set ready for departure at an instant's notice, Christine logged onto the computer. So many thoughts had weighted her the last couple of days. Suddenly, the years on Teklos seemed wasted, squandered. There were "published" papers for a legacy, but nothing more. She wanted ... something greater, something more significant to mark her place in the universe. Christine sighed. It wasn't fame, or recognition that she desired. It was an end to the loneliness. She wanted direction in her life.

Her cursory cyber search gleaned sparse details about the Accon and Captain Judon. He would have been great Starfleet officer material. Now he was nothing. Christine continued to call up data, seeking the source of the rescue, but could find nothing. There was no record of a distress signal received by the Base or a passing vessel. No indication that any routine communications had been missed. Nothing.

Christine spent the next several days considering her options. She could continue her original flight plan, relocating to another academic haven, to continue with her research and writing. Or, she could return to active Starfleet status and request assignment.

What would it be like to return to space? Those few days on the Accon had brought back so many memories. Yes, many of them were bad, but there were also good memories, good things that had happened. There had been a variety, a vitality to life on the Enterprise. There had also been humiliation, and pain. The mystery woman's face flashed before her again. Spock making love to her.

In a fit of fury, Christine strode the Base corridors, seeking the solitude of her own quarters. She could hear the moans of ecstasy as the woman ran her fingers through Spock's hair, pulling his head to hers, joining their lips. His hips driving deep... Arriving at her door at last, she slammed the lock mechanism into place, wishing for an old-fashioned door she could physically slam -- just when she was starting to feel sentimental, actually thinking kind thoughts about him.

It took mere seconds to log on and track down the archive records of the Enterprise. Records that had been unavailable on Teklos. Stardate. Personnel. Individual files of all women assigned to the ship during that time period just prior to her own departure. Photo after photo filled the screen, until the entire complement had been scoured and examined minutely.

Where was she? Crying aloud in frustration, Christine re-entered the parameters, broadening the search. Still no sign of her. Where was she? This wasn't possible. The woman existed. Christine had seen her with her own eyes. The image was indelibly burned into her mind.

I called you Wife.

What was Spock's game? Why did he insist on this charade, especially so many years after the fact? He found that woman last time, he could do it again. Would do it again. Christine forced herself to breathe deeply, removing each vestige of Spock from her thoughts. Calmness returned. It didn't matter anymore. It was all behind her now. Time to move on.

Two days later, Christine beamed aboard the Courageous and assumed the position of Chief Nurse. It was strange wearing a Starfleet uniform again, but this too would pass. Like everything else in her life.

* * *

Spock felt the burning as the energy weapon grazed his back as he moved from one hiding position to another through a controlled tumble. Kirk was still 30 feet away, firing through a crevice in the rocks. Negotiations on Hebda 9 had just been completed prior to the arrival of the Enterprise, under orders, to attend the ceremony marking the new "era of peace." It was not logical to assume all would embrace the concept of peace, if those making contracts did not speak for the injured parties. Perhaps it was that very concept that kept him out of the political arena so dominated by his father. Sarek truly believed peace was the ultimate answer for all questions. This was not to say that Spock was not steeped in the traditions and beliefs of his father's race, but experience on a starship under Pike and Kirk had tempered that view over time. His sensitive hearing discerned Kirk's voice, even at 30 feet, contacting the ship, signaling for beam up.

Kirk swore softly under his breath, aiming to keep the attacking force at bay without actually killing anyone. There were definitely times when the prime directive interfered with basic survival instincts. This constituted one of those times, in his opinion. What was taking Scotty so long?

He did a quick glance tally of his team, noting all were still alive, even if a bit singed here and there. Finally, he felt the familiar tingle as the beams grabbed hold of him. Time slowed down for Kirk as he saw the figures crest the rise behind them, firing at the closest target. Spock didn't see the danger, concentrating on the fire exchange before him.

"Ssspppoooccckk."

The warning was garbled as his vision disappeared with the transporter beam. Scott hit the com the second the team materialized, calling for more med teams to the transporter room. Those already present had their hands full. More than one of the team lay dying on the floor.

* * *

The days blended together, quietly blurring one with another. Christine stood up, stretching the kinks from her back from bending over the bottom supply drawer. Different ship, different sector of space, different time, same responsibilities. Some things never changed. It hadn't been difficult fitting into the Courage crew. Her rank was high enough now to lift her from the masses, and since she deliberately kept to the labs when off-duty, it was easy to avoid personal confrontation issues. Loosely translated, the crew had learned to leave her alone.

It wasn't a bad life, as lives went. She was back in space again, her work was continuing, and Spock was nowhere to be found. Actually, life was improving, now that she considered it. Christine had been off ship long enough that a new generation of crew was manning the ships and so far there was no indication that anyone had heard of Christine Chapel in anything but an academic vein. There really was life after humiliation.

It came without warning. The pain was so intense, Christine doubled over, coming to rest on her hands and knees on the floor, her right palm pressed against her forehead. There were lights, sounds, faces coming in and out of her vision. McCoy. Kirk. Faces she didn't know. Then ... darkness. But the pain continued.

Then, it, too, subsided. And all was gone.

* * *

Christine remained on the floor, her back against the cabinet, one knee drawn up. For a few brief moments she had been on the Enterprise. She had been inside Spock, felt his pain, saw with his eyes, heard with his ears. Memories flickered in her mind, memories of sharing consciousness with Spock when Sargon had placed him in her mind for safekeeping. Why now? Why the connection with Spock?

Spock was hurt, damaged, maybe even dying. He had reached across the void to find her. Lashed out in his pain to the one person in whom he hoped to find solace. The sharing had been brief, but intense. One tear rolled down her cheek, unnoticed.

She opened her eyes and the bright shiny ship was no longer the haven once imagined. I called you wife. The answer was clear, but not one Christine was willing to acknowledge without a fight. Spock had bonded with her, then experienced the remainder of the pon farr with another woman.

No, that didn't make sense. A Vulcan could not do such a thing. The melding of a bond was too intimate an act, a sharing that went far deeper than any other kind of mind meld, to be cast aside during a pon farr.

Christine shook her head. The pieces didn't fit together. Spock had clearly melded with her during the pon farr. The moments spent on board the Enterprise proved it. Yet, she clearly remembered seeing Spock sexually intimate with another woman while still in the throes of the mating urge. The answer was there, just beyond her grasp. A reasonable explanation that tantalized her with its nearness.

"Dr. Chapel?"

The thought was shoved aside at the sound of the voice. Christine wiped the tear from her face and came to her feet scant seconds before he entered the supply room. "Just finishing, Dr. Peters."

It was time to return to her life, not dwell on matters that didn't concern her. Spock was part of the past, not the present.

The remainder of the shift passed with a numbness that felt comfortable. When it was finally over, Christine retired to her quarters, sealing the door behind her. It would be so simple to walk away from it again. To slip back into the simple existence she'd been living the last six plus years. Where things didn't matter. Where things didn't hurt, didn't cause her pain so deep inside that nothing assuaged it.

Why couldn't he just leave her alone? He wasn't her concern. He wasn't her problem. The familiar sense of calmness filled her again. Spock could take care of himself. Her life was here, not on the Enterprise.

As she strode toward the shower, her hip caught the edge of the desk console. A sharp pain radiated throughout her body, and anger flared at the clumsiness of the action. Catching her balance, Christine caught sight of a uniformed woman in the mirror, and for a flash wondered who it was before realizing it was her own reflection.

She walked over to the mirror hanging above the bureau, ignoring the throbbing in her hip. Christine traced the outline of her own face, her eyes following the path of her fingers upon the cool, smooth surface. She closed her eyes, seeking solace in the anticipated darkness.

Suddenly, there was a vision of a tunnel spiraling before her. Spock?

She could sense him ... just beyond. Spock?

Pain washed over her, accompanied by erratic thought patterns. Then it all slipped away and she felt him no more. Spock?

Christine could sense Spock was still alive, but the connection, tenuous at best, was broken. Her medical instincts kicked in and analyzed the momentary thread of information. He was on life support, fighting to stay alive. In his pain, Spock had sought her out. Or perhaps, more likely, had stumbled upon her, Christine mused grimly.

A thought struck her and Christine whirled from the mirror, ordering the computer to begin searching. It took time and effort, but the answer was finally there. Her rescue from the Accon lifeboat had not been by accident, as she had long believed. Starbase 36 had received a message from Commander Spock of the Starship Enterprise, alerting the Base to the disaster. A disaster the Enterprise could not have known about because it was in a sector of space far, far away.

* * *

Lights were dimmed in sickbay, but the thrum of the machinery keeping Spock alive permeated the room at a subliminal level. McCoy ran the diagnostics one more time, taking note of each reading, every fluctuation that magnificent Vulcan body registered. Not for the first time, McCoy found himself wishing for Christine Chapel. She'd suffered the slings and arrows for her devotion, but it was a devotion that manifested itself with a healing touch unequaled by any other member of the medical personnel on board the ship. McCoy could depend on her remaining close by, watching, monitoring, praying, fighting for his life in her quiet assuming way. Christine provided him with a small measure of peace of mind he hadn't truly understood or appreciated, until she was gone.

McCoy rubbed his eyes, feeling them burn from exhaustion. Those days were long gone. She'd gone willingly with Spock to her quarters after beaming aboard privately from the planet. That much he knew, because he had asked her personally. Granted, the conversation had been brief because of the demands of sickbay and Kirk's condition, but McCoy could tell.

Days later, immediately after Spock had emerged to assume command while Kirk was still healing in sickbay, she had beamed down to the Starbase, never to return. His communications to her over the years had all gone unanswered. By the time he'd made it down to the surface of Teklos, hoping to see her in person, Christine had already departed.

Why was she running? What or who was she running from?

"Any change?"

McCoy hadn't heard Kirk enter the room. "Not yet." He took one last glance at the readings and led the way to his office. There was silence as the men settled into chairs and took a sip of brandy.

"Any word from Starfleet?" McCoy asked finally, setting his glass back on the desktop, barely touched.

"Nogura sent a communique a while ago. Seems the 'era of peace' wasn't as long as they anticipated."

"What a surprise," McCoy intoned sarcastically. "Why us? Why attack a simple landing party attending ceremonies?"

"Seems the isolationists, wanting to retain more sovereignty than they believe will be allowed through the Federation, wanted to make their position clear to all involved." Kirk took another sip, rolling the glass in his fingers afterwards.

"Did it work?"

Kirk was silent for a long moment, contemplating the question. "Why does the Federation need Hebda 9?"

Caught off guard, McCoy had no response.

"Think about it," Kirk continued, unperturbed by the lack of answer. "There's no military advantage to be gained; this sector is too far removed from Klingon and Romulan space. They've barely begun space travel, certainly nothing beyond their own solar system. There are no medicines, minerals, or other rare commodities here."

"Just another notch in the Federation's belt," McCoy observed wryly.

"The Prime Directive dictates non-interference, yet, here we are negotiating a treaty with a planet still in turmoil over the discovery of an advanced civilization having warp drive and interstellar capabilities. That smacks of interference." Kirk gestured tiredly toward Spock's still body, shrouded by life support equipment. "Now the best First Officer in the Fleet is in there, teetering between life and death." McCoy couldn't remember ever hearing Kirk less than gung-ho about the exploration of space and remarked upon it to him. "Exploration, or domination, Bones? Which is it? When did we cease being explorers of unknown space, and become the harbingers of the mighty Federation?"

The tone was harsh. Kirk threw back his head and downed the remaining liquid in a single swallow. "To boldly go where no man has gone before. To seek out new life and new civilizations." The Captain saluted McCoy, glass still in hand. "Hail, hail, the Federation's all here!"

McCoy returned the salute in the same manner, then knocked back his own drink.

* * *

He had felt her, just for the briefest of moments. Like a drowning man, Spock mentally thrashed about, seeking that tenuous thread in the deepest parts of his mind. Christine ... He located the vestiges of the connection, sensing the remnants of her presence, but the path that had been there was blocked once more.

* * *

Christine jerked, startled by the hand on her shoulder. The microscope had engrossed her, tuning out everything and everyone around her. "Dr. Chapel?"

She glanced up. "Sorry, yeoman. I didn't hear you come in."

"That's why I'm here." The yeoman noted the raised eyebrow and rushed to continue. "I couldn't raise you on the com, so I came personally to find you. The Captain wants to see you."

Stopping only long enough to shut down her work station, Christine followed the young man through the corridors, curious why the Captain would summon her. If there was a problem with her work, she would have heard from Dr. Delinigan, Chief Medical Officer. The doctor was a bit of a micro-manager, but so far she'd been able to steer fairly clear of him when he wound up.

Captain Bartholomew glanced up from his desk where his work was spread out in a disorderly fashion, to greet her as the two of them entered. "Dr. Chapel. Mr. Petry, you're excused." Bartholomew rummaged through the stack of disks on his desk, pulling up the one at issue. "I received a request this morning, asking that you be reassigned, temporarily, to another ship."

"Sir?" Why would a ship request her? She had no special skills out here in space. Christine knew her abilities lay in research. Not exactly what one would term unusual in the ranks of Starfleet. Every starship was packed with premiere scientific minds.

"Leonard McCoy, Chief Medical Officer, on the Enterprise, has requested you be temporarily assigned to him. He has a patient that requires your special skills and knowledge."

"Commander Spock."

The Captain leaned back at the blunt statement. "That's correct. The Commander was severely wounded on Hebda 9."

"I'm certain Dr. M'Benga would be better suited for this position, Captain. My knowledge of Vulcan physiology is not current." The lie flowed from her lips without effort. For the last week, she had devoted every second available to reviewing materials on Vulcans, and specifically, the medical records on Spock from past Enterprise missions. Christine had found herself vacillating between frantic concern and total disregard for his condition, finding peace only when submerged in her reading.

"I've already signed your transfer." Bartholomew tossed the disk aside, into a waiting pile of similar debris. "Commander, I'm aware that you departed the Enterprise six years ago under less than clear circumstances." He held a hand up to stay any further comments. "I don't care about the whys and wherefores. This request came by personal channels. Channels that mean a whole lot more to me than anything you can come up with as an excuse to duck your duty. I suggest you start packing. Your shuttle leaves in 15 minutes to rendezvous with the Shimerez."

Summarily dismissed with those words, Christine practically flew to her quarters, knowing by reputation that the Captain was a man of his word. Fortunately, it took no thought to throw her entire life into the same old black bag and race to the shuttle bay.

The Shimerez was a small vessel, suited to deep space travel between systems. The accommodations were limited, but she didn't care, knowing her time aboard was limited. From there, she transported to the Craven, from there a Fleet cargo ship, from there ...

Christine stood on the observation deck, watching the Enterprise grow in dimension as the Fermaata settled into parking distance from the starship.

Breathe in, breathe out, she reminded herself, gripping the shoulder bag tightly. The past five days had been spent putting her thoughts in order, and placing her emotions firmly under lock and key. She was only here to do a job, then she could leave again.

* * *

The transporter beam cleared, and she found herself alone in the room. Christine had barely stepped from the pad to the floor, when McCoy burst into the room.

"Finally!" he exclaimed. "Do you need to stop by your quarters before we head to sickbay?" McCoy drank in the sight of her, relieved at her arrival.

"No. No, that won't be necessary." Clutching her bag, Christine walked beside him, absorbing the medical data with one ear, while the rest of her mind was soaking in the ship. She saw a couple people at a distance that looked familiar, but the remainder of the faces they passed gave her nothing more than a cursory glance. It was like walking through memories, hazy, but familiar.

Suddenly they were in the sickbay. Christine came to an abrupt halt, dropping the bag to the floor, still clutching the strap in her hand. Her vision tunneled to the body beneath the life support apparatus.

" ... appreciate you coming."

"What?"

McCoy noted the fingers wrapped tightly on the strap, strangling the innocent bag. The color had drained from her face. He gently touched her arm, attempting to garner her attention.

His readings were off the scale. She could see the concern on her own face, as though looking in a mirror. The hands holding the tricorder were not her own.

Christine was jerked back to herself. She knew if her hands were not otherwise occupied, they would be shaking. McCoy had a puzzled frown on his face, which Christine ignored. One thing at a time. First, Spock.

The distance to the bedside was simultaneously too short and much too far. Breathe, Chris, breathe ... Years of training and experience kicked in, and her attention was fully consumed with the task at hand. Christine could easily understand McCoy's concern. Despite the physical damage, which was considerable, Spock's Vulcan physique should have begun the healing process days ago. Without life support, Spock would be unable to sustain the merest functions.

"Why?" She asked. Why did you drag me back here?

"I need assistance from someone with experience, not just knowledge from tapes." McCoy handed her the cartridge. "I've organized all the medical data for your review."

"No. Why me?"

Leonard shrugged and motioned her to follow him, leading her to a side room, filled with storage facilities. A smile tugged at her lips at the thoughts she had entertained not that long ago, something about certain things never changing ...

McCoy propped himself on the corner of the work space, folding his arms across his chest. "I'm listening."

For the first time since beaming aboard, Christine let loose of the bag and set it completely aside. "I can't help you."

"Can't, or won't?" he responded. McCoy had known this wasn't going to be easy. The decision to seek her out and subsequently contact Pete Bartholomew had been reached only after exhausting every other avenue. Her attitude since arrival made it clear that had he simply made a request of her, the answer would have not been one he wanted.

There was a pause. "Can't," she replied softly.

"I don't know why you left ... " he began, testing the ground tentatively.

"Don't you?" Christine interrupted him.

"No," McCoy answered firmly, "I don't. Why don't you tell me? Tell me why you left your position as Head Nurse on the finest Starship in the fleet to bury yourself on some backwater research facility."

Christine was taken aback by his relaxed pose and calm voice. How could he be so ... so ... casual? Her cheeks reddened at the thought of discussing what happened in the cave so many years ago. The humiliation of that day overwhelmed her. How could he be so cold about it? Leonard McCoy was one of the kindest, gentlest persons she had ever known. His oath and healing abilities towered above all other considerations. Yet, she had seen him, standing there with Kirk. The two of them ... watching.

How many times had she lived through this scene in her mind? Only, the McCoy in her scenarios hadn't reacted like this. Her McCoy was angry, guilty, humiliated by his treatment of her. This McCoy had only concern on his face. The words, well rehearsed, died on her lips.

Wordlessly, she plucked the disk from the surface of the work space, where McCoy had set it. "May I use one of the work stations to review this?"

McCoy stood, sensing this wasn't the time to press. There was clearly something buried very deep, very disturbing. Something beyond simple pique. "I've had your old office cleared and prepped for you." Christine had endured some of the ugliest ridicule he'd ever seen, and never allowed her real feelings to show. What could exceed that? What could be so terrible to drive her from the ship?

"Thank you."

His hand brushed her arm as she turned to leave. Kirk flew through the air, slamming into the rock wall, crumpling to the floor like a rag doll. Christine tugged free of his touch, grabbed her bag, and headed for her former office, trying desperately not to run.

* * *

Spock struggled to break through the heavy morass. There was a voice. A familiar voice. He tried to work his way to the surface, but grew exhausted with the effort, sinking into the abyss once more.

* * *

The disk data was thorough, detailing everything from the first tricorder readings to vital stats mere hours old. The computer gave her updated information, bringing her current. McCoy, as usual, was correct in his diagnosis. The physical damage was severe, but not insurmountable. No, it was something else, something different.

Christine leaned back in the chair, contemplating the images before her. Spock should have been off life support a week ago. He should have been grousing about being confined to sickbay when he should be on duty. Instead, Spock was completely dependent upon outside means to maintain his very life.

What did Leonard expect from her? A shiver ran through her at the memory of the images that had barraged her at his contact. Had it just been her imagination? Christine wrapped her arms snugly around herself, disturbed by the experience. First Spock, now Leonard. It had been so ... real. The hands on the tricorder had been McCoy's. The face she'd seen had been her own. A face from the past. A face that looked younger, with blond hair coiffed elaborately. It wasn't the same face that met her in the mirror now. That face was older, surrounded by natural-colored brown hair, casually pulled back from her face for convenience.

"Dr. Chapel?"

Pulled from her thoughts, Christine confronted the intruder, noting the blush of youth on the woman's face. A blush long gone from her own. "Yes?"

"Dr. McCoy assigned me to assist you." When no response was forthcoming, she tried again. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

Grow old and get fat, Christine thought to herself. "How about a name?"

Flustered, the newcomer took a breath. "Moira Alexander."

"Are you current on the patient's condition?"

Moira studied the blank face before her, comparing it to Spock's normal visage. Wow. And she wasn't even Vulcan. "Yes, m'am." The comparison expanded over the next twenty minutes as Dr. Chapel interrogated her, exploring the depths of her knowledge and experience.

Unable to stall any longer, Christine relented in her questioning, allowing the woman to gather herself together, giving her a moment of privacy to scoop up the proverbial bits and pieces of her anatomy snipped off and laying about the floor as a result of the verbal exchange. "I suggest we check on the patient, nurse." Would Alexander notice her hesitancy to leave the sequestered office? You can do this. He's unconscious. He won't even know you're here. It wasn't helping that Moira Alexander took her role seriously and followed at a respectful distance, forcing Christine to reach the bedside first.

Christine waited for the fear, the terror, the hatred, to flow through her, leaving her strong in its wake. Nothing. She waited some more. The familiar face, so still, looked drawn, worn ... sad even, if such a description of a Vulcan was possible.

McCoy remained at a distance, out of Christine's line of sight, studying her as she stood beside Spock, unmoving. Once, he'd been able to read her, know what she was feeling. Now, she was impenetrable. The old Christine would have argued with him. This Christine Chapel was a stranger. Guilt assuaged him, again, at the thought that he might have done anything to harm her. He remembered the look on her face, that fateful day so long ago. Never would he have left her alone with Spock, already in the plak tow, if there had been any indication that she was unwilling. McCoy pulled back from the doorway, tearing his gaze from the bedside scene. All these years he had comforted himself with the memory of seeing Christine in the cave, just before the decision to leave with Kirk. Her arms had been wrapped around Spock, she had gone to him willingly. The sight of her joyous face once on board the ship, sharing the remainder of the pon farr with Spock. What had happened to change that?

"Observations?" Christine quizzed the younger woman, impressed by the firmness of her voice. So far, so good.

"I detect no change in the patient," Alexander offered hesitantly. It wasn't that Dr. Chapel was harsh or unreasonable. Rather, she was simply ... exacting. Squared.

Chris tilted her head slightly, stopping the words that came to her lips. No change? Couldn't she hear the change in the breathing pattern since they had come to the bedside? Granted, it was minimal, but it was still there. "Please continue monitoring. I'll be in my office."

* * *

"Anything, Bones?"

"Not yet. Give it some time, Jim. She's only been here 36 hours." McCoy plopped into one of the few chairs in the Captain's quarters, exhausted by the continuing battle to pull Spock off life support and keep him alive without the technological assistance.

"Were we wrong? Bringing her here?" Kirk tugged at the bottom of his uniform shirt in an unconscious gesture.

McCoy took the glass and studied it for a moment before replying. "I assigned Moira Alexander to assist her. I figured it would help to have some relief."

"And?"

"I can't tell," Leonard admitted. "Chris spends time beside him, she spends time in her office working, researching." The glass landed on the nearby desktop untouched. "I can't fault her commitment."

"I hear a `but' in there," Kirk observed.

"Remember how one of us would come into sickbay, when Chris was the only one on duty, and we'd catch her holding Spock's hand, or stroking his face?" The furtive gestures as she attempted to disguise her actions.

Kirk nodded acknowledgment, the same memories on tap. "It's what made her so good at what she did."

"Right," McCoy agreed. "Spock could whine all he wanted about her bedside manner, but I have no doubt in my mind that, more than once, it was her dedication, her personal contact and commitment, that brought him back." A frown touched his face. "It's gone." He waved off the response from Kirk. "Oh, she's the consummate professional. Her mind and training have been honed to an edge, but the spark that made her unique, is gone."

"Great," Kirk commented. "What do you suggest?" The Captain was surprised at his own disappointment in the news. A part of him had been hopeful that Christine's presence would provide the impetus for Spock's recovery. Now that small piece of hope was shattered.

"Give it some more time," McCoy counseled. "As I said, she's only been on board 36 hours. Let's give it a while longer."

Kirk looked doubtful, but eventually nodded his head in agreement. The only other avenues had already been examined, attempted, and discarded. "Is there anything we can do?"

How could he explain the changes in her to the Captain? She wasn't what could be termed "defensive," rather she was... not there. There was an emptiness to her that was unnerving. Leonard had spent as much time as possible with Christine since she had come on board. She didn't smile, but then, she didn't frown. There were no highs or lows, just a placid undisturbed river of ... nothing. Other than the first day, McCoy had been unable to get a reaction from her that was spontaneous. Even that exchange had been truncated and unproductive. Even more significant was Christine's refusal to be touched by McCoy. She had casual contact with others that was job related, but kept her distance from him. "I'll keep you posted, Jim," he finally answered.

* * *

Christine studied the readings tallied compactly in her hand. Why is this happening, Spock? There was a tiny corner of her mind that reflected on her ability to work in a dispassionate manner while standing in such close proximity. The readings were gradually improving, but not at the expected rate. He should have been fully recovered and back on duty days ago; not left here, depending on life support.

Moira Alexander discerned the tiny flex of Chapel's eyebrow and wondered what the other woman was thinking. McCoy had brought her here for some reason. So far she'd been able to piece together a few facts, namely, that Christine Chapel had served with McCoy some time in the past right here on the Enterprise. Not that it really mattered. Chapel would be leaving soon.

Alexander, standing across from Chapel, studied the still figure between them. Her fingers ached to trace the elegant ears, bordered by wisps of untrimmed hair. What thoughts occupied him? What would it be like to have those brown eyes open, only to find her own face in response?

"Earth to Alexander," Christine repeated.

"Sorry, Doctor." Alexander dragged her gaze from the man. "What did you say?"

"Why don't you take a break?" Take your blind devotion someplace else, where I don't have to experience it every time I see your face. "It's going to take time for the lab results to get here. Use the time to rest."

Moira wasn't giving in that easily. "You've been up longer than me, why not take the first nap."

"R.H.I.P. I don't want you back in here for at least six hours." Christine met the gaze of the other woman steadily until Alexander gave in first. "Six hours."

Wordlessly, Moira handed over her materials, spun on her heel, and exited the room without a backward glance. She didn't know why McCoy brought Chapel on board, but Moira Alexander was going to find out.

Christine ignored Alexander's pointed departure, understanding the boiling emotions below the surface. Years ago she might have reacted similarly. Now, it just didn't matter.

* * *

Spock could hear the conversation clearly. The last two days had been ones of effort, seeking the voice, concentrating and focusing his thoughts on that single achievement. He knew he was too weakened to attempt contacting her through the corrupted bond, not without physical contact. But how could he get it? Others on the staff made actual contact with his body, but not Christine. Years ago, she had held his hand, when she thought no one was looking. Caressed his cheek, a teardrop spilling down her cheek to drop upon him, silently marking his skin in its wake. Touch me, he begged silently. Touch me so I may know your thoughts ...

* * *

"We need a Vulcan healer," Christine insisted. The hour was late, but McCoy had called her into his office to confer.

"I already tried to get one," McCoy responded wearily. "I transferred all the medical data to the Vulcan Center for Healing before you came on board. All they could give me was that a Healer would be unable to accomplish anything. It would require someone closer to him."

"Closer?"

"Closer. Whatever that means. They were not overly helpful to say the least."

"And they said the least," Christine inserted.

"I asked point-blank questions," McCoy continued. "They did the side step."

"I remember the dance," she retorted dryly. "I don't know why you brought me here, Leonard, but, clearly, I'm not doing any good. Let me get back to the Courage."

"You want him to die, is that it?" McCoy shot back at her.

"Is that what you think?" She was taken aback by the question/statement. Was it true? Did she?

"Well, do you?" he pressed. When she rose to leave, he grabbed her arm, forcing her to remain at the table near him.

"Everything all right, Chris?" She could see her own face in the computer screen. "Everything is just fine, Leonard," Christine heard herself answer. "Spock's asleep right now." The woman with rumpled hair, holding a sheet in place for modesty, was tired, somewhat bruised, but smiling shyly. "I just wanted to check in with you before I caught some sleep myself. Let you know everything was okay."

Christine jerked her arm from his grasp. "Don't touch me!"

"Why?" he demanded, startled by the naked fear in her eyes. "Why can't I touch you?" McCoy extended his hand again, and noted the quick retreat she made. "I've seen you interact with other men, so I know it's not that. It's me. And it's Spock." The furtive gestures spoke volumes. "What happens when I touch you?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." Christine felt the return of fear, the same fear she felt on Teklos. "I just don't like...to be...touched..." The words sounded lame even to her ears.

"What are you afraid of, Chris?" McCoy gazed steadily at her, keeping her eyes focused on his own. "What happens when I touch you?" he repeated quietly. "Why is my touch different from everyone else's?"

Christine barely heard him as she replayed the images in her mind. She had seen herself, again, through McCoy's eyes. Why were his memories, for surely they had to be his memories, so faulty? How could he be so mistaken, so filled with false images? Far worse than that, was that she had seen them. The other woman had dark hair, beautiful exotic features. Why did McCoy believe he saw Christine Chapel with Spock on board the Enterprise? Was his conscience that guilty? Or was it that he had no conscience. No, that couldn't be true. McCoy believed in his oath. He devoted his life to healing... Nothing made sense.

"Christine?" He asked gently. "What happens?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," she bluffed. Drawing in a deep breath, Christine sought internal calm.

"Prove it," he challenged quietly. "Touch me." McCoy extended his hand slowly, making certain the movement was non- threatening.

"I have nothing to prove."

McCoy remained silent, holding his hand steady a few inches from her arm. "What do you see?"

Christine's head jerked at the question. How did he know?

McCoy kept the internal 'hoorah' from showing. His instincts were right. Since the reaction hadn't been based on a psychological reaction, it had to be something else. McCoy had been exposed to telepaths many times. "Talk to me, Chris. You can trust me."

"I don't think so, Doctor." The words were as bitter as the emotions behind them. "Excuse me." Gathering the data disks, Christine rose to her feet.

"Please, Christine," McCoy seized her wrist with gentle fingers, "let me help."

"Why did she leave, Spock?"

Spock leaned forward, head down, hands splayed on the conference table. "Unknown, Doctor." The pain in his eyes was almost palpable.

"You let her go?"

"I had...no...choice."

"Don't give me that crap, Spock. She left without permission, and you altered the records."

"Is that a formal accusation, Doctor?" came the challenge.

"It's all a lie," Christine hissed. "You're just protecting each other." It was the only explanation. None of it was real.

"What are you talking about?" McCoy inquired, a puzzled expression covering his features. Something had happened at the touch of his hand, just like it had before. But what?

Christine held perfectly still, silence stretching between them. Then, wordlessly, she left the room. So intent was she on escaping, Christine narrowly missed Moira Alexander moving back from her eavesdropping position, slipping into the shadows of the dimly-lit room.

It was four in the morning, and she was tired, but Christine forced herself to gather up the latest data disks on her way back to her office/quarters. Actual quarters had been assigned to her, but that would have required her to traverse the corridors and risk an encounter with crew members from the past. Instead, she'd moved a cot into the office, slept there when necessary, and used the private shower/bathroom facilities nearby as her own. Fortunately, she had sufficient rank to pull it off, in addition to McCoy granting her plenty of latitude.

Dumping the day's labor on her desk, Christine checked the data pad, muttering colorful descriptions of the night nurse and her lineage when she couldn't locate current readings on Spock's condition. Partially retracing her steps, Christine came to stand beside the patient. The lights were dimmed where Spock was trapped beneath the support system. Christine paused there, carefully recording the numerous bits of data. Leaning over Spock's head, she adjusted the instruments, conscientious in her efforts to avoid contact. Without warning, she was jostled from behind, and overbalanced in her stretch, Christine fell forward, her cheek brushing against the wan Vulcan face.

"Help me!"

As if scalded, Christine came to her feet with a jerk, whirling about to see what had caused her to stumble. She saw no one.

Then realization hit her. She'd touched Spock. He had asked for her help.

Christine's hand visibly trembled as it hovered over his face. What would happen if she touched him again? She pulled the hand back, clenching and unclenching it, in indecision. The old anger rose up inside, roaring at the ingress. The familiar vision of the unnamed woman taunted her, seductive in her every move as their bodies entwined. The heat of their passion seared her to the depths of her very soul as Spock's fingers molded themselves to the woman's face, seeking the paths of bonding.

Tears ran down her face, unnoticed. "Why," Christine whispered, "why did you go to her?" The humiliation, so comfortable after years of stoking, swept through her once more. He had used her to gain time to return to the ship, to the woman he really wanted.

Chris turned from the bedside and headed for the small bathroom, seeking privacy with her thoughts. She sealed the narrow door behind her, collapsing onto the small ledge which doubled for a chair. Why was this happening to her? First the flash of pain while on board the Courage, then twice when she touched McCoy, now this. Christine allowed herself a few moments of tears, then wiped them from her face with the back of her hand. Enough, she ordered firmly. She hadn't cried for Tom or any of the other men that had left her behind, she wasn't going to cry over this, either. Corby was the first man to leave her behind, to move on to someone else, Spock would be the last.

Using the mirror, Christine patted her hair into place, checking her face to erase any signs of the weakness. It was like watching someone else touch her face, smooth the hair, adjust the collar of her uniform. Christine paused in her movements, reflecting on the odd thought. Was it really her own reflection in the mirror, or someone else's? As she continued staring at the image, the ship's wall behind her, seen in the mirror, was replaced by tiny pricks of starlight. Emotions, so powerful they threatened to overwhelm her, poured through her. So little time left before her air ran out and she suffocated in space. How long would it take for them to find her escape pod floating through space? Or would she be pulled in by the gravitational pull of a planet and incinerated, her passing unnoticed or recorded...

With a shudder, Christine dragged herself out of the memories and into the present. She hadn't died. Her legs gave way and she landed on the ledge with a thud. She hadn't died...because Spock had saved her. It was a humbling thought. Worse, why hadn't she made the connection, viscerally, until now? Christine had discovered the truth on the Courage, but it hadn't meant anything. She hadn't felt anything.

Without another glance at the mirror, Christine strode to Spock's bedside, automatically checking his readings without effort. She knew his physiology better than her own. It was time to pay the debt, so it wouldn't stand between her and her hatred. So she wouldn't have to feel anymore.

Christine's hand shook slightly as she extended it toward his face...that cold, chiseled, Vulcan visage that had first disdained her, then despised her, and finally, used her up and thrown her away. It took every ounce of control to force herself to move the last few inches, to bring her fingers into contact with his skin.

* * *

"What's going on, Bones?" Kirk demanded, as he strode into the sickbay. Although few persons were present, there was an underlying tension in the air that was palpable, even to an outsider. McCoy's message had been terse, requesting his presence immediately. He came to a sudden stop at the sight of two still figures where before there had been only one.

McCoy looked up at the intruder, then returned his attention to the bodies. "We finally got them stabilized, but hell if I know what's going on." He motioned one of the other physicians to take his place temporarily.

Kirk caught the minuscule nod of McCoy's head and followed him to the inner office. "What happened?"

"No one's certain. Alexander found Christine unconscious, slumped over Spock. When we physically separated them, the readings went off the scale. We allowed the bodies to touch and the readings settled. Because of the physical proximity necessity, I can only speculate there's been some sort of melding, but not like any I've ever seen by a Vulcan."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning...I don't have a clue." McCoy propped a hip on the desk corner and reconsidered his words. "No, that's not true."

"I'm waiting," Kirk prompted.

"Just a few hours ago, I had an argument with Chris."

"What about?" Kirk had the old adage pop into his mind, something about "pulling teeth to get an answer..."

McCoy remained quiet a moment, gathering his thoughts. "It's hard to put into words exactly. But, basically, something strange happened each time she came into physical contact with me."

"Something strange, how?" Kirk sat down himself, recognizing this would take some time.

"I believe she experienced something telepathic, but, yet, it was unrelated to the conversation at hand."

"Color me confused, Bones."

"Can't say that I understand it myself," McCoy admitted. "But I do know it only occurred with me, not anyone else. I saw physical contact between Christine and various members of the crew, and there was nothing even remotely like the reactions she had with me."

"What does this have to do with Spock?" Patience, he told himself.

"I accused her of avoiding contact with Spock, and with me."

"Are you telling me she went out there and made deliberate contact with him?"

"I'm not telling you anything of the sort, Jim." Leonard shot back. "I'm telling you that something isn't right, and hasn't been right since she came on board."

"During our last conversation, if I recall correctly, you said everything was fine and to give her time." Kirk saw the answering expression on McCoy's face and regretted the words. "Sorry, Bones. Has anyone been through her notes, her records, anything that might give us an idea?"

"I sent Alexander to do it. I was too busy trying to get them both stabilized." McCoy punched the intercom, asking Alexander to report to his office immediately.

Conversation halted for the few minutes it took for Moira Alexander to arrive and announce her presence.

"Find anything?" McCoy prompted.

"I went through all of her notes and databases, but there wasn't anything out of the ordinary. I also went back and reconstructed her computer searches since her arrival. That's what took me so long," she explained.

"Find anything?" he asked once more, his curiosity piqued by Alexander's odd track of research.

"Three searches for a female crewmember stationed on board between five and seven years ago," Alexander reported.

"What were the results," Kirk asked.

"Unknown. All data produced was reviewed, but none saved or parsed."

"Criteria?" The Captain probed.

"Gender only within the time frame."

"Date of last search?"

"Eight hours ago."

"Thank you." At a nod from Kirk, McCoy took the pad from her and nodded toward the door. Alexander took the hint and exited, annoyed at not being able to discern the conversation in her wake.

She stood a distance from the side-by-side beds where Spock and Chapel were positioned, hands joined with soft cloth to keep them touching. What made her so special? Christine Chapel was cold, disinterested, and anti-social. Chapel clearly didn't care for the First Officer, avoided him as much as was possible. Yet, McCoy had brought her on board specifically. Why?

* * *

Why? Christine echoed Alexander's question. More to the point, what is happening? It took her a moment to orient herself and realize the physical contact had joined her to Spock. The question now, was how and why? She was aware of the commotion outside her body, but couldn't pull herself away from the morass holding her here. "Spock?"

Silence answered her. Why wasn't he responding? They were somehow joined at this time, it shouldn't be difficult for them to communicate. After all, she had "heard" him ask for help just by a brief touch. Here she was, in greater physical/mental contact, and ... nothing. "Spock?" she called out again.

This time she heard a faint echoing of her name, as if from a far distance. "Spock?"

Silence.

"Okay, Chris, you did your 'rescue' thing, now it's time to go home," she told herself. Several moments passed. "I said, it's time to go home." Still nothing. Christine concentrated on gaining control of her physical body, but failed to even move a single finger. This was definitely not going as planned. "Hello, is there anyone here?"

A wisp of laughter brushed her ear. "Who's there?" It couldn't be Spock, he didn't have a sense of humor, at least not that kind of humor. Unfortunately, it had to be him.

The sounds outside her body became more muffled, more removed, until she couldn't hear them at all. The silence all around her was becoming deafening. "Spock?" she whispered.

Her patience exhausted, Christine's ire rose. "Spock," she shouted, "this isn't funny." What was his game? "Well, Chris," she reminded herself, "he did it again. Enjoy the humiliation."

"Christine." The voice was stronger this time, closer.

"Go away. No, wait, I want out of here," she demanded firmly, irritation clear in her tone.

A sensation enveloped her. Christine couldn't put a label on it, but knew it wasn't threatening. Then it was gone.

"I mean it, Spock. I want out of here. Enough is enough. I stupidly came to help you. Now I want to leave."

The sensation returned, this time stronger. It brushed her cheek, caressing in its touch. "Your fury gives me strength, Christine."

How dare he touch her! "I'm leaving, Spock." Christine had the urge to slam a door, but couldn't find one on the mental plane of communication.

"You can't," came the response, "any more than I can."

Then she felt him, truly felt him for the first time. He was weak, tired. Her anger fled. "What's happening?" The sensation subsided, leaving her alone once more. "Spock, where are you?" Christine heard the chuckle in her ear again. "Who's there? Show yourself."

Christine stopped and gathered her thoughts. This wasn't a time to go off half cocked. She'd lost contact with the outside environment, lost contact with Spock, and there was something in here with her that didn't strike her as friendly, warm, or fuzzy. What was it Spock had said? Your fury gives me strength. Chris reflected back on the time frame since her arrival, sifting through each event as it unfolded. Then it hit her. Anger. It was her anger and hatred that had allowed her to contact him.

"Spock, get your sorry carcass back here! I'm not done talking to you," she shouted.

Faint laughter met her efforts.

Okay, time to regroup. Clearly, the anger couldn't be faked or superficial. Chris mentally closed her eyes and conjured the image so dear to her, the one that wounded her to the core of her being. Gradually, it coalesced, gaining substance as the details were painted in, the actions of their lovemaking replayed in intricate slow motion. The familiar anguish and pain suffused her, resurrecting the hatred that was so comfortable after all these years. His beloved face bent over her, nuzzling her neck, trailing downward, ever downward ...

Spock felt the pull of her mind as Christine sought the emotions held deep within herself. As her anger grew, the images grew in clarity, and for the first time since the pon farr, Spock glimpsed the source of her hatred. He felt the heat of her desire, only to have it brutally quenched at the sight of him making love to another woman while in the throes of the mating drive.

The anger faded, and Christine panted with exhaustion. There had been a moment, just a moment, when she had felt Spock inside her mind.

Suddenly Christine was falling, spiraling downward into nothingness ...

Moira Alexander studied the readings as they fluctuated wildly.

"Nurse?" McCoy came at a run.

Alexander allowed the hands to touch once more, and the readings came to rest again.

"What happened?" McCoy demanded, running with own scanner, not trusting the bed monitors.

"Not sure, Doctor. I'll remain here and monitor them," she offered.

"You've done enough already. I'll stay for now," he ordered, pulling up a chair to place himself beside the still figures.

"Yes, sir." Alexander turned on her heel and left the room without a backward glance.

Christine slammed into something solid, unsure where she was. "Spock? Are you still here?"

The taunting laughter that answered was really starting to get on her nerves. "I don't know who you are, but I intend to find out!"

No one came to meet her challenge.

Weary, she sat down, pulled her knees up, and rested her head upon arms folded on her knees. What was the point? Christine accepted the fact that she was trapped for the moment. Something was in here with her, and it wasn't Spock.

"Okay," she observed, "I can play the game, too." Christine concentrated, attempting to pull up the same images as before, seeking the depth of strong emotion that had allowed her to reach Spock the last time. It was harder this time because she was tired, worn out by the events of the evening.

Spock felt the thin thread of her essence as it sought out the bond, wandering without direction. Knowing the path well, Spock raced along it to meet her, hoping the barrier would remain down long enough to make the bond secure. With each moment she was able to maintain the high emotional level, Spock felt his strength returning, but could she sustain this level long enough?

It was as if he was holding her hand, tugging her in a particular direction, but she couldn't spare the energy to pay close attention. Christine replayed the hideous moments in her mind, every one she could dredge up from the last ten years, concentrating on the ones from six years ago. The humiliation of Kirk and McCoy standing there, watching, the truth of Spock's choice of the nameless woman, her failure as a woman to be chosen even in his hour of desperation, anything she could grasp. Christine focused, narrowing her thoughts to the purest diamond of emotion possible. For the first time in all these years, she allowed the hatred and shame to flow without stop, without forcing herself to seek an inner calm and emptiness.

Spock enveloped her, pulling her rapidly through the bond, seeking his tiny refuge. He could feel the twisting of the bond behind them, closing tightly, the entity nipping at their heels, chasing them in fury. Howls of anguish followed them. Spock threw her at the last second, keeping her behind him as he turned to face the intruder, using his own strength to seal the door behind them.

"Christine, let go!" he commanded. Seizing her arms, he shook her, trying to break her focus. "Wife!" Spock rocked back as Christine swung hard and connected with his jaw.

"Don't ever call me that!" she panted.

"As you wish," he conceded, knowing it was useless to argue with her at this time. The images gleaned from the bond told him a story that was brutal at best. "We will be safe in here for a time."

"Inside where?" Christine moved back, keeping space between them.

"I've created a small sanctuary, where the creature has been unable to penetrate. At least thus far," he admitted blandly.

"Creature?" A howl answered her question, and she shuddered in response. "Where did it come from?"

He paused a moment. "You."

* * *

Moira Alexander kept to the shadows, watching McCoy as he sat in silent vigil. For days she had worked beside Christine Chapel, puzzled by her presence. No amount of subtle questioning had drawn her out. After some effort, she'd picked up the old gossip of years past from crew members who had served at the same time Christine had. Her infatuation with the First Officer was legendary and unrequited. His dislike for her had been shown in clear terms one day in front of the entire bridge crew by introducing his wife, with Chapel right there. The story wasn't clear, but apparently the wife had dumped him for someone else at the altar.

Then about six years ago, Chapel had left the ship, probably out of desperation and shame. Other than creating a void in the gossip mill, her absence was barely noted. Moira curled her lip. Chapel was a great scientist and medical talent, but what a loser in life! Probably why she was here. Must have heard that Spock was down for the count and came running, planning to throw herself at him in one last desperate attempt to get his attention. Like he would ever look at an old bag like her.

Of course, that didn't explain what was happening right now. McCoy should have known better than to send for her, knowing, as everyone did, how Spock felt about her. Christine had probably wasted no time getting here. Alexander made herself focus on the issue at hand. Why did Spock have to be in physical contact with her? What did Christine Chapel have that no one else did? That Moira Alexander didn't.

There was only one way to find out. The direct approach. And Moira Alexander was nothing if not direct. When necessary, of course.

McCoy didn't hear her approach, but realized Alexander was there at the sound of her scanner as she ran it over each still form.

"Any change, Dr. McCoy?"

"Actually, there has been a slight improvement," he commented. McCoy had already passed that tidbit to Kirk, noting the tiny change of inflection of relief in the Captain's voice.

She took a deep breath. "I don't understand, Doctor. What's going on?"

McCoy shrugged. "Can't say for sure."

"Why must they touch? I thought Vulcans didn't like being touched, especially by humans." Especially by Christine Chapel, loser of the decade. Moira had to bite her tongue to keep from saying more. This wasn't going as well as she'd hoped.

Nothing in his tone or movements betrayed him, but McCoy had an internal red flag go up at the line of questioning. On the one hand, it was a rational chain of inquiry, yet, something didn't feel right. In fact, it nearly raised the hackles on the back of his neck. "I guess we'll have to wait until Spock can tell us himself."

The disappointment at his response was almost palpable, confirming his suspicion. Alexander stood beside him a few minutes before fading into the shadows once more.

* * *

"Me?" Christine repeated in shock. "That can't be. I'm in here with you, and it's out there."

"Not precisely," Spock replied evenly. "But then, my initial response was not exacting enough to be of value. A more accurate description would be that the creature originated within you, then traveled through the bond to attack me."

"Why?" It was hard to keep the fear and anger at bay. Just being near him brought it to the surface.

"Why, indeed."

"Look, I've had enough of this. I'm ready to leave."

"You can't," he informed her.

"Excuse me? I want to leave." It was hard to keep the quiver out of her voice.

"Unfortunately, it would appear you are now trapped here with me. I have been unable to exit since the attack on Hebda 9."

The pieces slipped into position. "This is why you're still on life support." The unknown quantity that had kept him from healing.

"I cannot apply the necessary energy toward healing while combating the entity within my own mind."

"What does it want?"

"I have been unable to communicate with it, leading me to believe it incapable of such."

"However," she prompted, knowing he had more to say on the subject. He always did.

He cocked one eyebrow in a the familiar gesture that tore at her heart, pushing the fear into the background. "However, it appears it is here with the intent of destroying me."

"I hate to sound like a parrot, but ... why?"

"Unknown."

"You're a big help."

"Perhaps you could provide me with information I am lacking."

Shrugging, Christine agreed. The sooner this was resolved, the sooner she could get out of here, away from him, and off the Enterprise.

Spock paused a moment, weighing his options, choosing his words carefully. Their last encounter on Teklos had not gone well, and this one wasn't starting off any better. "I believe the entity gained entry during the contact I had with you while you were in the escape pod."

"What contact?" Christine's head jerked with the thought that he had been in her mind without her knowledge or permission.

"I was attempting to contact you, through the bond. After considerable effort, I was able to reach you. Through your eyes I saw your situation."

"And contacted the Starbase to have me rescued." Christine gritted her teeth, then forced herself to back off. After all, this was the very reason why she came. To get past the debt she owed him for saving her life. "Thank you."

"I have been unable to ascertain for certain, but now that you are here, I will inquire. Have you had other contact with me since that time?"

"Just once. When you were attacked. I ... felt ... your pain, and found myself on the ship, apparently right after you were beamed aboard."

Spock nodded his head, aligning the information with what he already knew. "Indeed."

"Indeed, what?"

"The creature had two moments of ingress. A sufficiency of time to make its presence secure."

"Spock, you're making my butt tired. Just get to the point."

Again the eyebrow arched. "Is it not apparent?"

"Paint me a picture."

Spock closed his eyes, concentrating, his incredible mental processes spinning with lightning speed. The pieces were there, he just had to find them and connect them correctly.

"I'm waiting," she reminded him.

The piece he needed was there, just on the edge. It tantalized him with its nearness. While trapped here, he'd sorted through possibilities, endlessly picking through them, eliminating avenues that led to deadends. Spock studied the woman before him from beneath hooded eyes, absorbing the nearness of her. A sharp stab of desire flashed through him, catching him unaware. Christine was the piece of himself that had been absent all these years. Now she was here, and it took every ounce of self control not to touch her hair, trace the line of her jaw, follow the neck line downward to where it disappeared beneath her uniform ...

Spock snapped himself back to attention, shoving the siren image aside. Her continuing presence was making it difficult to concentrate. Then the image of Christine on the planet came to him. He'd watched the tricorder images many times, committing them to memory. It was there, he was sure of it. Christine held the tricorder, recording the scene as the foliage opened into a clearing, almost circular in shape, covered with fragrant flowers of brilliant hues. The blooms themselves were like nothing any of them had ever seen, but each was spectacular. He watched as Christine took a moment to simply let the scenery wash over her, absorbing the beauty of the planet. She bent over, inhaling lightly.

"What is it, Chapel?" Kirk inquired.

Her frown remained in place. "There's no scent." She tested her conclusion again. "All these beautiful flowers, but there's no odor, no smell, nothing."

Spock's eyes flew open with the revelation. "XP483."

The planetary identification code was jarring. "I don't want to discuss it."

"When you inhaled the foliage." He noted the expression on her face. "That is when the entity made ingress."

"When I smelled the flowers?" Christine had to strain to recall the incident. How did he remember something so trivial, especially in view of his mental state at the time?

"Yes."

"I don't believe you."

"At what point did I err in analysis?"

"There is nothing inside of me." She nodded toward the door. "Certainly not that thing."

"You're a scientist. Find an alternative theory."

"It's more important to find a way out of here," Christine countered. Smelling flowers, indeed! She found her gaze drawn to the graceful curve of his ear. Stop it, Chris. Keep your mind on the issue at hand.

The roaring increased, and pounding began on the door.

"I am attempting to do so," Spock answered.

"Well, try harder!" Christine shouted, trying to be heard over the din.

Spock raised his hand, stroking her face.

Christine reacted at the contact, her arm raised in response, but Spock caught it in his own grasp. Her ire flashed with his boldness. "Don't touch me!"

Silence answered her. Total and absolute silence. Except for the sound of her own heavy breathing and pounding heartbeat. Christine could feel the scorching heat of his hand around her forearm.

"What happened?" she whispered. "Why did it stop?"

"Unknown." From deep within, Spock felt the stirring of the pon farr, clearly triggered by the presence of his wife. His time was close. The Vulcan biological clock was ticking, drawing him ever closer to the repeated cycle that began this nightmare. Every time his system had cycled through, disaster struck. T'Pring, XP483, now. He released her arm, stepping back away from her. Distance, he needed distance ... This was no time to be trapped here together with Christine. She should be joining in his desire through the bond, but something was still blocking it. T'Pring had denied him the bonding, leaving him isolated and alone in his desire. Christine, on XP483, had joined him in the bond, sharing the experience. Spock shook his head, trying to clear it, failing miserably in the effort.

The pounding started again, accompanied by shrieks of fury. A crack appeared in the door. Black tendrils wafted through the tiny, thin openings in the door, creeping into the room, searching.

Spock felt one of the black fingers brush his leg, and a cold chill ran through his body.

"I thought you said we would be safe in here," Christine shouted.

"It would appear the creature has found a way past my defenses." The finger wrapped itself around his shin.

Christine stared at the wisps as they filtered through the crack and coalesced inside the sanctuary. One floated upward, near her face, then turned away, seeking elsewhere. The roaring din was deafening, making further discussion moot. She turned her attention to Spock, startled by the tendrils wrapped around his limbs. "No!" she shouted, moving to him, seizing one of the tendrils in her hands, pulling as hard as she could. It writhed like a living thing in her hands, refusing to loosen its grip on the Vulcan's leg. Christine tried beating on it with her fist, but nothing moved it.

The chill traveled through his body, paralyzing him in its hold. A part of him mind observed that none of the entity had accosted Christine, the rest of his brain was on fire as the chemical imbalance roared out of control.

The door burst under the onslaught of the creature and its mighty roar filled the sanctuary which was no more. Christine cringed at the hideous blackness that filled the doorway, shoving its massive bulk through the limited entry. Steadily it moved forward, inexorably pushing toward Spock where he lay, engulfed in the black fingers.

His blood pounded with the ancient drive, his rational thoughts fled. His last thought was that it was happening too fast. This wasn't right ...

Tears streamed down her face in fury as she fought to pull the creature from Spock. Still the creature came, coming ever closer with each passing second. Christine saw the eyes rolled back in his head and became even more frantic. Her emotions warred within her, hatred for this man battled with the loyalty to a fellow Starfleet officer. "Spock! Listen to me! Snap out of it!" Abandoning her efforts to pull the black fingers from him, Christine launched her entire body at Spock, spreading herself over him in an effort to place a barrier between the helpless man and the creature. She grabbed his shoulders, shaking him, trying to break through whatever had him in its grip.

At the contact with his body, Christine's entire body jerked backward, bolts of pure sexual desire coursing through her veins. The final barrier dropped and the fractured bond snapped into place. The creature reeled, thrashing about in bestial anger.

* * *

McCoy came to immediate attention as the readings fluctuated wildly. Both bodies, so still before, trembled. "Come on, Spock," he muttered. "Find your way out of there." Leonard couldn't explain it, but he was certain these two people were in mental contact, unable to break free and return to a level of consciousness. For hours he had been sitting here, pondering why this had happened. What part did Christine play in all of this? What had she seen when coming into physical contact with McCoy? Was this a result of her coming into physical contact with Spock? It frustrated him to be so in the dark.

* * *

Images poured through her mind ... the moment Spock placed his fingers on her face, finding the exact pathways to her mind, the ritual phrases intoned which bound them together for all eternity as husband and wife, the insanity as it receded into controlled passion. In her mind, Christine relived the pon farr of nearly seven years ago, only this time, the memories were Spock's, not her own. The face she saw was her own, a face much younger than the one she saw now in the mirror. A face that shone with love and desire. A face that was never replaced with another.

Spock felt her struggle as his memories flowed over her, but could do nothing to stop it. His time was upon him. The creature railed at the two of them, lashing out with all the force it could muster, infuriated at having its efforts thwarted. Christine saw the woman's face suddenly ... only to have it fade into nothingness.

There has been no other. Spock placed his fingers into the proper position of ritual bonding. Although the bond had been restored, the final connection was yet to be made.

The creature roared within her mind, ripping at the bond, tearing her memories and thoughts apart as if they were mere tissue paper.

* * *

McCoy struggled to maintain the dual support monitors, his staff quietly assisting. Whatever battle was raging within was tearing both of them apart. He wasn't certain he could keep them alive much longer. Afraid of the consequences, Leonard had instituted a "no contact" rule with the patients. Even gloves would not be enough. After all, he had "touched" Christine through her uniform sleeve and the contact had been sufficient to invoke whatever it was she saw. Granted, it was perhaps only McCoy himself that could create the difficulty, but this was no time to this a new theory. He knew Kirk had entered sickbay at some point, but couldn't spare him any attention at this juncture.

* * *

Christine knew she was dying. She didn't know 'how' she knew, only that it was happening. Spock had been right. The creature had been living inside of her, like a parasite, for all these years, feeding off her. Forcing her to relive events that had never happened, draining her of emotion, draining her of a life connected with Spock. Stealing her very humanity away with a voracious appetite that would never be satiated. For the first time, she knew the creature, and understood the price that would be paid. The creature was far too insinuated within her mind for her to survive.

Unfortunately, Spock was dying along with her, or rather, because of her. Spock had told her the creature had been trying to kill him, but she hadn't believed him. Unfortunately, he had been right. For almost seven years the creature had been living in a symbiotic relationship with her, sucking her dry emotionally, then generating the requisite high emotions to feed again. A cycle of emotional whirlwinds that had finally drained her. But the creature didn't want to share the intimate relationship it had with her. Because she had touched Spock, had defied the emotions the creature provided to control her, Spock was expendable.

The accelerated pon farr onset, precipitated by the creature, was feeding the beast, driving the rage. And the appetite was voracious. The greater the chemical imbalance, the greater the mating drive, the more extensive the draining of their life forces. But it was only a by-product of the completed bonding. The goal of the creature was the destruction of a rival. Christine had made it possible for the creature to destroy Spock.

* * *

"Why not separate them?" Moira insisted. "It's possible we might save one of them."

"Bones?" Kirk asked, grasping for any answer that would save his crew.

"It's too risky," McCoy snapped back. "They could both die."

"Or one might survive," Moira argued back. Spock could survive. Christine would be gone.

"I'm not willing to take that chance," he responded.

"Nor am I," Kirk seconded.

Alexander wanted to argue with them, but knew she was outranked, and therefore had to keep her silence. How could they believe Christine Chapel was the equal of Spock? That woman didn't even like Spock! Moira could tell Chapel didn't want to be here, that McCoy had forced her to come here and help treat Spock. Seven years ago Christine Chapel had been the laughingstock of the Enterprise. Now they were willing to sacrifice their friend for her. Were they nuts?

"I'm losing them, Jim."

"Can we save one of them?" Kirk asked hesitantly.

McCoy shook his head. "They're too entwined."

* * *

There was a mighty rush. Then the creature was gone.

Christine painfully pulled herself from the floor and sat up, rubbing her head, trying to relieve the screaming headache. The closest description she could come up with was feeling as if she'd been shredded. It took more energy than she would have given credit for her to traverse the short distance to Spock. He was still unconscious, but still alive. Exhausted, Christine pulled one knee up and rested an arm across it, studying his face. She didn't have a tricorder, but a cursory examination suggested a recession of the pon farr from its accelerated state. It would probably come upon him in a natural progression now. The question now was, how did she feel about that?

Christine knew, with certainty for the first time, that her memories of the events on XP483 and the next several days on the Enterprise had been fabricated by the creature. Unfortunately, she didn't have any memories of what had really occurred. She also knew that Spock had stated the truth on Teklos when he spoke of calling her 'wife'.

The word rolled awkwardly in her mind. 'Wife' had connotations that didn't fit her relationship with this man. Christine knew, deep inside, there were still vestiges of desire, but how much of it was a result of the pon farr discerned through the bond?

"Christine."

In her cogitation, Christine had failed to notice that Spock had awakened. "Mr. Spock."

"The creature?"

"Gone."

"How?"

"Unknown." Gads, she was sounding just like him. "How are you feeling?"

"I will ... recover," he responded. "Without the creature's interference, I believe it will be possible to complete the healing cycle."

"At the risk of sounding selfish, I would like to leave."

Spock nodded. "Understood. However, I would request that you remain on board until we have had an opportunity to speak."

"Do I have a choice?"

"Yes."

The answer caught her off guard. "Can the bond be broken?" she asked, afraid to hear the response.

"Is that what you desire?"

"You haven't answered the question," she countered. "Or is that the answer?"

"It is possible for you to be set free," he said softly.

"Then I will wait." Spock tipped his head, closing his eyes in concentration.

* * *

"She's coming around." Kirk's head snapped up at McCoy's announcement. For hours they had remained in vigil, watching the readings gradually climb steadily upward.



Epilogue:

Moira Alexander stepped into the shuttlecraft, clutching the new orders allowing her to leave the ship. She had to get away from this place. Moira clutched her pack, huddled against the craft's window, staring at the stars. According to her chronometer, it had only been a day since that moment in sickbay, but it felt like a lifetime. She hugged herself closer, remembering when it had all started.

Moira was practically shaking from mental exhaustion. Dr. Chapel had drilled her thoroughly, but she had been able to answer everything. The woman was impressive, and Alexander was thrilled by the opportunity to work with her. She'd devoured every paper Chapel had published, hoping just to meet her. Now, she was working with her. Together they had walked out to examine the patient, taking notes, comparing observations. Christine had even touched her briefly as they stood beside the Vulcan.

It was only after Chapel had gone back to her office that Moira had dared to stand beside the bed and truly take in the man, so still and pale. Her duties in sickbay had never taken her this close to the patient before. More importantly, Christine Chapel had treated her as an equal. She could almost feel the imprint of Chapel's hand on her arm, even now, moments after the encounter.

As she stood there, Moira found herself fascinated by the delicate curve of his ear, the length of his eyelashes. He seemed so alone, so helpless. So out of contact with the rest of humanity. It was a small thing she could do for him. Sickbay was empty, Christine was in her office. No one would need to know.

From that moment on, in the quiet hours of the night, Moira would hold his hand. She knew McCoy's contact policy, but clearly no harm had occurred thus far.

Moira couldn't remember when she had begun seeing through Christine Chapel. When she realized the woman wasn't worthy of Spock. Only Moira Alexander could love him, satisfy him. Each moment they were together brought them closer. If only Christine Chapel could understand that.

Kirk and McCoy were too busy to notice Moira as she stepped back from them. The rest of the staff had already been sent away. Moira had been allowed to stay only because of her work with Christine. Now even she was ignored.

It wasn't fair! Moira Alexander put her scanner and pad aside, unwilling to leave at this crucial moment. She stretched out her hand, keeping her back to the other officers, wanting one last moment with Spock. Moira needed to feel the warmth of his skin. It was as though she could feel his very thoughts ...

Neither Kirk nor McCoy saw the shudder that passed through Moira's body as her fingers brushed Spock's hand. Both were too absorbed in their own thoughts to see her stagger from the room.

Moira made it to her cabin, where she collapsed onto her chair. Flames of desire coursed through her, but there was no quenching the fire. She was sure when it happened, but Spock had risen from their bed, leaving her to shiver in the coolness of the air. Wrapping a robe around her bare body, she stumbled over the to monitor, punching in the code that would direct her communication to the other cabin. It took a few moments for the connection to be opened.

"Spock, here."

"You're there with her, aren't you?" she asked, wiping away the tear.

Another face moved into the screen. "Of course he is. Why would he be with you, when he can be with me?" The monitor expanded the view of the room so she could see the disheveled bed behind the two figures. The other woman wriggled onto Spock's lap, draping her naked body around his own exposed body. They kissed passionately, their bodies and hands leaving nothing to the imagination. Moira cried out as the tongues of Vulcan passion poured through her own body. A vestige of the pon farr.

"Why are you doing this to me?"

Christine shook her tresses, then smiled into the monitor with a bone-chilling expression on her face. "How does it feel to watch Spock make love to me? Did you really think you were woman enough to satisfy him?" Spock arched his back, his eyes closed, as Christine demonstrated her point. "Silly little girl. He's always been mine. And he'll always be mine."

Moira quietly wept in desolation as the scene played over and over in her mind. She could never return to the ship and face them again. How could she have been so stupid? He used her, then threw her away. Spock and Christine had made a fool of her.

Moira Alexander didn't understand her memories were false. That the creature had been playing with her for days. From that first touch of Christine's when the creature had transferred a small part of itself into her, to the repeated contacts with Spock. Each hour allowed the creature to insinuate itself further into her mind, festering jealousy that had never existed before, creating emotions that had never been hers before, feeding off her in tiny pieces.

Not wishing to die with Spock and Christine, the beast had moved to its new, familiar home. The newly created memories would sustain it for a very long time.

The shuttlecraft, Moira Alexander, and the creature within, moved further into space, leaving the Enterprise behind.



The End.