DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Ultrapuella and is copyright (c) 2003 by Ultrapuella. This is an A/U story and is rated NC-17.



"By God! if women had written stories,

As clerks have within their oratories,

They would have written of men more wickedness

Than all the mark of Adam may redress."

--"The Canterbury Tales" by Geoffrey Chaucer, ll.693-696.

Soklar, pilot and helmsman of the small shuttle, came in over the comm unit in the bedroom. "Sai?"

"Yes, Soklar?"

"We have reached the docking bay, Sai."

"Very well. Her Highness and I shall beam down in 5.2 minutes. Please see to our baggage, and also, I will require Selak to accompany us."

"Yes, sai."

"That is all."

Our baggage was transported directly to the royal residence. It also appeared as though Selak was more than just a valet, as it turned out -- he was a bodyguard as well. Then a thouuught occurred to me.

"Spock?" He looked up at me, as he straightened his outer tunic.

"Yes, Christine."

"Is Selak ... um ... a permanent fixture, so to speak?"

The barest hint of a smile reached his eyes. "Selak is bound to serve the House of Surak, for as long as he lives. And so it was with his father before him. My status naturally carries with it various security risks--" He raised his eyebrows to me meaningfully, "--as you yourself must be aware of. Therefore, he is a permanent fixture, as you have phrased it, yes."

I blanched as his words reminded me of the grave danger I was in. I thought of my deceased kinsmen. Was there anyway I could get access to forensic information, especially if I wasn't willing to take Spock into my confidence? Well, not just yet, anyway. I pinched at the bridge of my nose, since an insistent ache made itself apparent. Spock regarded me with some measured concern. "You are unwell? Perhaps we should delay our--"

"No, no," I assured him. "Just a minor headache. A small hypospray and I'm good as new. Except for my incredibly large trepidation about going down to the planet where the rest of my bloodline was just massacred. No big deal." A wave of pain hit me and refused to abate. I whimpered and massaged my temples.

"I can be of some assistance, if you let me, Christine."

I scowled grumpily. "Oh, like you mean last night's assistance, the way you pulled my hair by the follicles? No, thank you. You're more than half culpable for my current predicament."

Spock's face darkened. "I simply expressed how illogical, and impossible, it is to oppose me. I am sorry for the discomfort, ashaya. But you had to understand what it means to belong to a Vulcan man, and more importantly, to a Vulcan lord. I am well within my rights, Christine, to claim you as mine. I merely extended you the courtesy of consent -- I could have easily taken you by force."

Ashaya?! Didn't that mean...? My headache was worsening with every sentence. What the hell had I gotten myself into? Dead royals, a power-crazed Vulcan, my own machinations -- I was in way over my head, but that didn't deter me in the least. "Uh ... Spock. You've just called me a lovely endearment, and then in the same breath reminded me for the umpteenth time that although I'm a royal like yourself, you can do whatever the hell you want with me. We're right back where we started, huh?" I started to get shrill, and paced the room back and forth. "Let's recapitulate, shall we? You could've just taken me either way, and the Federation couldn't fight you, because you've been granted full autonomy. And, it seems you're the only viable reason I'm going to even get near my inheritance, since a large faction of the Federation disapproves of my royal assignation. Am I correct so far?" I was shaking now with fury.

Spock tried to place a hand on my shoulder, which I irately batted away. "Christine ... you are my charge, my responsibility, my concern. I remind you again, I do control your future. This is how it must be, and you would do well to accept it."

Our sparring was cut short when the comm unit beeped. It was Selak. "Sai, we are ready to transport down to the landing coordinates specified."

"Selak, delay my orders until further notice, and inform the High Chief that her Highness and I will be indisposed until 30.5 minutes from now."

"As you command, Sai."

I backed away from where Spock and I stood. "Goddamnit, why all of these strategies? What have you to gain from all of this?" So much for Cleopatra. So much for subtle tactics. My plans were falling to ashes, trashed to pieces by my emotionalism. "You must know more than you've told me... You know why my family was really killed, maybe the Federation had a hand in it? Was this part of your plan, hmmm? Wouldn't it be nice to nab a princess, and have the free reign of two empires? The universe isn't enough for your avaricious ambitions, for your nefarious schemes, is that it?"

Spock had taken steps forward, and I was now cornered against the wall. I lifted my chin up rebelliously. "Well, Sai Spock?" I spit the words. "Have your sins finally found you out?"

He grabbed my arms and pulled me to him with a growl. "You will comprehend that I have been generous, until this moment. I will no longer indulge your ludicrous fantasies. I shall remind you again -- whether chattel, consort, or bondmate, you are mine, and I shall put an end to this defiance." Effortlessly he threw me over his shoulder and dumped me onto the bed.

"Wha--" I sputtered. "What do you think you're--"

He jumped on top of me, immobilizing my body with his own. "Silence!" he thundered. "Disrobe."

I was so shattered by the look in his eyes that when he released me, I complied without a thought. And he unwittingly transmitted some volatile emotions to me: Fury, lust, and outrage among them. I was wary that he'd become violent -- there wasn't anything behind his eyes. Was there? Had my mother, and her mother before her, had to endure this? Well, I would prevail, I vowed, and I would live to tell the tale. This I swore to myself, as my shaking hands removed my clothing.

When I was naked, I decided the subservient way was the most advantageous (and the least perilous, my mind snickered). So I reclined back on the bed, and did my best to languish calmly as Spock finished undressing. His back was to me as he did so, and when he turned around, he smiled slightly. Actually, it was more of a smirk.

His moves were feline and deeply hypnotic. Uh oh. Had I underestimated him? Lightly he ran two fingers up the length of my right leg, halting at mid-thigh. I shivered, and he chuckled delicately. "Do I surprise you, Christine?" he asked softly. Then his two fingers continued their journey, until they reached the outer folds of my femininity. I arched into his fingers, attempting to get them further inside me.

He rubbed his fingers to and fro across my slit, lazily moving upwards to brush my clitoris. Now I really was trembling, but I remained still, for fear he would stop. Of course, he knew this. The bastard.

"There are different types of defiance," Spock continued, increasing his attentions to my clitoris. "And there are just as many sorts of discipline. I would rather sooth your savagery this way, ashaya. Do you not concur?" His eyes burned into mine, and I found myself speechless against the adroit mastery of his hand.

He brought the two fingers to his mouth, and I watched helplessly as he sucked them dry of my wetness. "So much nectar, and from so little stimulation. Fascinating," he commented, "that I should affect you in such a manner. But perhaps you require more?"

He folded his arms and waited. My heart was beating crazily, and and I was flushed with carnal heat. "Yes," I pleaded, "More."

He stretched himself on top of my body and squeezed my two breasts together with one hand, whilst the other moved downward and crammed itself into my womanhood. I gasped with the pleasure of it all, as he brought both nipples into his mouth at once, biting and sucking. The harder he suckled, the faster his fingers shoved in and out of me. I shrieked with climax, my hands nearly shredding the bedsheets. Quickly Spock withdrew his hand and lifted his head from my bosom. One leg pushed mine further apart, and he nestled himself between my thighs. The tip of his cock pressed against my core, and I just couldn't tolerate any more teasing.

I lowered my hand and gripped Spock in mid-shaft, forcing him inside of me. Just as swiftly I removed my hand, and Spock grabbed my arms and held them above my head with one hand. The other hand cupped my buttocks, and with a cry he entered me fully. His hips lowered and held me in place, while his hand left my backside and locked onto my psi points. "Ashaya, ashaya," he murmured. "Be within me, as I am within you." He pumped his rod in and out of me with urgency, and his mind flew into mine.

Tendrils and tentacles groped and fumbled for my deepest self, and my most secret shields were crushed. His mind ignited such flames of ferocity that I nearly collapsed with their power. His hand pushed into my face harshly and he penetrated my female depths to their nexus, his cock tenaciously searching for ecstacy. Sweat rained from all of my pores, a river ran between my thighs and my psyche was swimming with images of alien suns, desert sands, and darkened phantasms, all of whom knew my very soul. I was dizzy with heightened perceptions, I was heady with imminent elation. My mind crashed and soared, my body radiated with delight. I hung onto Spock with my legs and my arms, and my mind, and he was there with me, riding the maelstrom of fire and longing, and just as we erupted I heard him within me, and around me, and inside me.

//Ashaya, Beloved!// His mind screamed as he shoved himself in and out of my body, as his cock twitched and bulged, spasming with pulse after pulse of his essence.

//Spock! Imzadi!// I cried back, my legs convulsing around Spock, my muscles squeezing him dry of his lust and his fluids.

I fell back slowly to the here and now, as Spock withdrew from my body and my mind. He lifted his head from my shoulder, and gazed at me. His eyes glittered onyx, dark and inscrutable. His right hand cupped my face, and he grazed his thumb across my lips. "Logic fails me in your embrace," he whispered, and planted the softest of kisses on my mouth. His reaction to our coupling relinquished something deep in my heart, and I felt suffused with ... love? Was it love, again? Is that what this feeling was? I couldn't analyze anything in the whirlwind haze of our kisses, and this new sensation scared me, because it was familiar. When was the last time I had opened my heart? My mind complained that it was perfidy, that I was betraying my own promises. But didn't Cleopatra yearn for Caesar's touch, didn't she know what it was like to have her will and her heart engaged in battle?

We had not even set foot on Betazed and already he'd vanquished me -- he was killing me with kindness now, and I could hardly endure it. Tears suddenly flowed from my eyes. I let them fall, and gathered Spock closer to me. In this microcosmic eden, I was his and he was mine, and nothing else mattered. And more tears flowed because I realized paradise, such as it was, would be short lived. I felt him come alive against me, and he easily slipped back into my body.

He moved with excruciating slowness; a gentle torment of the senses. We held each other tightly as tremors shot throughout our bodies; countless sparks flowed to every nerve ending, every synapse, increasing with each caress, each thrust. I was besotted with bliss, however transient it should prove to be. But that was later. Later. Now, in this moment, we shuddered against each other, and I kissed him over and over, sighing his name between breaths. What was that he'd said? Chattel, or consort, or bondmate? In that small universe, in this fantastical realm of pleasure, I didn't care, as long as he was in my arms. "Imzadi, imzadi," I repeated, basking in yet another aftermath. I was his. I was lost in him.

The comm unit ruined our sexual reveries, and Selak came through loud and clear on the comm unit. "Sai," he stated.

Spock disentangled himself from my limbs, but made no move to leave the bed. "Yes, Selak."

"It has been 30.5 minutes, and the High Chief is expecting you.

One half of an hour? That's how short eden had been? I felt cold.

"Please apologize to the High Chief, and inform him that Christine and I will be joining him on the surface within 10.2 minutes." This was pretty funny to me, since everybody knew that Vulcans had an infallible sense of time. What would Tren think of this oversight?

"As you command, Sai."

Spock got off the bed and reached out a hand to me. I took it smiling, and he handed me my clothing, such as it was. As I finished dressing, I was temporarily dismayed by an intuitive flash that something ... wasn't quite right. But what? I stood and pondered it for a minute. It was in my mind! Something was there -- a foreign entity?

But it couldn't be ... could it? Instinctively I erected boundaries around the furthest recesses of myself, and cocooned them tightly within my subconscious. Surely not all of me was open to -- whatever it was that was shuffling around in there?

Spock finished clothing himself, and looked around the room, satisfied that all was in order. "Christine, it is time. Are you well?"

I forced a smile. "As well as a newly christened royal can be, when the rest of her line has been slaughtered not quite three days before now. Gods, Spock ... I'll be alright."

"You are not alone, ashaya." His disarming smile made me even more anxious. What was going on here? The off-kilter feeling surged dramatically, and I had to concentrate, in order not to panic. "Well, Spock, that is indeed reassuring." He gave me an odd look, and notified Selak that it was time to depart with us. Then all three of us beamed down to the surface.

Just as we dematerialized, it hit me like a ton of proverbial bricks! Christine, I thought, how could you have been so stupid! Here we go with the paradise lost routine -- my eyes were still resting fully on Spock when we reappeared on the surface of Betazed. The presence was hardly unknown to me, and Spock stole a glance at me, giving me a barely perceptible nod. This only confirmed my fears, and only then did the finality of my choice become apparent. The shan hel lak! The Joining! Effectively, we were as good as ... as good as...

High Chief Tren emerged to greet us, bowing formally, "Sai Spock, of the House of Surak, we welcome you and extend to you our thanks for seeing her Highness safely delivered." Of course he had to greet me second, and I was his bloody sovereign, I thought sourly.

To my chagrin, he lowered his eyes and kneeled before me. My thoughts raced around as I tried to ad lib my way around Betazoid aristocratic politesse. What did this mean? Did Betazoid queens have body slaves too? Oh, shit...

I placed a hand on his shoulder, and bade him to rise. "High Chief Tren, my thanks to you for your gracious welcome. But there is no need for such grandiose deference. Stand." A disapproving glance from Spock told me that wasn't the correct thing to have done. I dared him to do better, with a shrug.

Spock took over and said, "High Chief Tren, please accept the sincerest thanks of your queen. I fear that she is tired from her trek, and requires refreshment." Now I was really confused. I was tired from all of the sex we'd been having? What was this nonsense?

High Chief Tren retained his posture, and replied, "Everything is at her Highness' disposal. She has but to ask." I was getting really annoyed by this juncture.

"Well," I cut in. "Then her Highness would be eternally grateful if you would stand, and cease this unnecessary groveling. That would be a terrific start, yes indeed."

High Chief Tren, still kneeling, met my eyes timidly, his face a mask of mortification. Uncomfortably he risked a look at Spock, and did nothing. I told him to get up, and why wasn't he? Wasn't I queen? Didn't that make it compulsory for him to obey me? This was becoming more idiotic by the second. I stared at Tren with the most intimidating glare I could summon, and I was trying not to laugh in the meantime. "I bade you rise, Tren," I intoned, "Now do so. It is as your queen wishes."

I was feeling quite regal for the moment, and had nearly congratulated myself, when Tren rose abruptly and bowed. Then he burst my bubble by saying, "Of course, one understands that her Highness is not yet acquainted with our ways. Sai Spock, you must also be exhausted from your sojourn to our planet. Please accept our hospitality, and our welcome."

Just what the devil was going on in this place? First I'm important, then I'm wrong, then I'm in the third person, and then I'm just an ignorant off-worlder unexposed to Betazoid royal customs. Couldn't somebody make up Tren's mind? And just when I thought it couldn't become any more dramatic, Spock decided to indulge in the element of surprise as well. For the first time since we arrived, he acknowledged Selak. "Bring the baggage to our quarters, see to our rooms, and have a meal prepared upon our return. That is all."

Selak unexpectedly protested, "But Sai, it is illogical to leave you and her Highness unattended."

"It is perfectly logical when it is what I request, Selak. Her Highness and I are quite safe, as Tren has provided us with adequate security." I noted the armed guards standing silently around the room; there were at least four of them. "Your loyalty is noted, but remember your place. Obey me."

Selak lowered his head and mumbled, "I beg forgiveness, Sai. As you command." He then departed for what I presumed were our quarters.

Tren looked to Spock (once again, I thought) and observed, "But we have detained you, Sai, and you, Highness, too long. Please rest and enjoy some refreshments. If you'll just follow me."

Spock nodded and said, "Yes, my bondmate and I are quite tired, and sustenance would be appreciated."

What?! Bondmate! Oh no, the Joining... But it wasn't quite permanent -- not yet. However, after what Spock had said to Tren, did it matter now? Blood rushed into my ears, and oxygen flew out of my brain. I handled this enormous shock the best way I'd been doing lately. I fainted right in front of a horrified Tren, and directly into Spock's arms.

* * *

I really needed to find a more reliable coping mechanism. Too many swoons, too many strange surroundings. Spock was absent from our quarters when I awoke, much later. The sheets weren't satin or silk, but they looked expensive, and felt amazing -- whatever else Betazoids did, they sure knew their fineries. This evidenced itself more elegantly when I rose from the bed and stood up, taking everything in a bit at a time. The bedroom definitely had belonged to a female royal before Spock and I took up residence. The walls were mauve, the bedsheets, pillows, upholstery on the chairs, and the curtains were all soft greens and baby blues. It smelled like roses, but slightly different -- I supposed then that Betazoids had great flora as well. I liked everything so far, except that I really didn't fancy being assassinated. Or, for that matter, deposed. I walked over to an archaic vanity table and gazed into the mirror. I looked pretty well, even if I still was dizzy with shock and too much moving around. Oh yes, and an overly pronounced habit of fainting at the slightest provocation. I sighed, and found an adjoining door.

"Ah, the bathroom, good," I said aloud. "I hope this is easier than it was at Nyota's. Gods."

I was feeling slightly silly, and also self-indulgent. "Computer ... open the royal restroom." I giggled, I couldn't help it. A series of clicks and beeps ensued, succeeded by the phrase, "Yes, Highness." What? I decided I could deal with a little physical harm to my person, if the service was like this all over the palace. The door slid open and I entered the restroom. My jaw dropped, and I could barely believe the vision before me. It wasn't a bathroom; it was a private resort. It was twice as large as the bedroom, and I blinked just to ascertain that it wasn't a mirage. Maybe paradise could last a little longer -- especially if I could convince Spock to join me.

The floor was transparent, and underneath the surface, was a veritable ocean of creatures and plants. Brightly colored fish swam back and forth, and I was entranced by this sight. It spanned the entire length of the room! The walls were also transparent, and I took in the spectacle that awaited me there. Multitudes of flowers grew as tall as the ceiling, filling the room with a tranquil ambience. The natural and the synthetic were married perfectly together, and I saw an enormous pool in the center of the bathroom.

The clear blue water beckoned temptingly, and its border appeared similar to white marble, with precious gems encrusted in the material. I gasped; it was almost too beautiful to use. (I was gratified also to see at least two toilets, what looked like a jacuzzi, a bathtub and a shower stall, all before I reached the pool). I stripped, and discarded my clothes negligently on the floor.

I stuck a toe in the water -- lukewarm, but soothing. I slid in and exhaled with glee. "Computer," I said, "Inquiry."

The omnipresent voice responded, "Yes, Highness. Please state the nature of the inquiry."

"Is there a library of music contained in your data banks?"

"Yes, Highness. Does your Highness have any preferences?"

"Um ... why don't you give me some possible categories?"

"Yes, Highness. Accessing. Please stand by."

A minute or two elapsed, and then, "The music library contained within the Royal Betazoid data banks currently possesses more than two thousand and forty six pieces of music."

"Okay ... how about this. Do you have any Terran, I mean, human music?"

"Processing..." A few beeps sounded in response. Then, "The music library contains two hundred pieces."

This was getting complicated, and the water was becoming cold. "Um ... Computer, warm pool by five degrees."

"Yes, Highness." My muscles immediately relaxed, and I was no longer impatient.

"Could you please play something by Mozart?"

"No, Highness. That individual is not listed."

"Alright ... could you play something by Billie Holiday?"

"No, Highness. That individual is not listed."

Dammit! "Do you have any twentieth century human music?"

"Processing..." I rolled my eyes. Maybe music wasn't such a great idea?

"The following are twentieth century human musical artists: John Lennon, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross..."

"Stop! Wait! Diana Ross it is."

"Yes, Highness. Does your Highness require a listing of all available selections?"

No way, I thought. "Please play all selections by the aforementioned artist that the data banks have, Computer."

"Yes, Highness."

Soon the opening notes of "Sweet Love Hangover" permeated the entire room. I thought about what I'd learned about disco in history class as a child. And then I started thinking about Spock. I floated over to the shallow end and rested against the side. I laid my head down on my arm and closed my eyes. Then I felt a rush of panic, and opened them not soon afterward. The lights had shut off. "Computer, activate lights."

"Your Highness, lights are no longer operative."

"Then open a channel to High Chief Tren."

"I am unable to comply with your request, Highness."

"What? Do as I requested! Open a channel!"

"I cannot comply with your request, Highness."

Carefully I exited the pool. "What the devil are you talking about?"

The floor collapsed beneath me, and I screamed, flailing my arms clumsily. The water level began to rise, and I felt water start to seep into my lungs. I shut my mouth and tried breathing through my nose, by now utterly submerged. I looked up, and listened, petrified, as the floor slowly slid back into place over my head. The computer's voice chilled my bones, and I lost the capacity to reason. "Because, your Highness, you must die." The floor reconnected with a final snap, and all was blackness."

* * *

My eyes burned, my ears popped, and I spent the last of my strength pushing fruitlessly against the immobile surface above my head. The fight left my body and I started to sink, down into the bottom of the artificial ocean. All was black, all was wet, and I felt the oxygen leave my body, bits at a time. I was going to die, here, in a bathroom, on Betazed. Surely there was something I could do ... I gathered the remainder of my energy, and gambled on a desperate move. I concentrated, and sent a distress call, to the one I'd hoped would hear me.

//Imzadi! Spock! Help! Bathroom! Under the floor! In the water! Pool! Help! Spock! Imzadi!//

If the bond was even partially formed, he would hear me. And if it wasn't, perhaps my empathic abilities could turn me into a superbeing and I could rescue myself. I didn't have the capacity to laugh at the poor joke -- my body was deteriorating rapidly, and my mind was ready to join it. I couldn't breathe, and the water smothered me. From blue to black, from hyperreal to oblivion, my psyche cracked with the strain of keeping alive. Then a glimmer of hope sparked inside me.

//Christine, I am coming, ashaya! Try to hold on!//

//Trying ... can't... Spock. Cold.//

The jaws of the Reaper prepared to swallow me, and I paused at the gates of Hades -- something was pushing me, something was pulling me, up, up, and onto a cold hard surface. There was a chorus of voices, and the mists shrouding my brain gave me trouble distinguishing between them.

"A few more minutes and she would have been..."

"Terran physiology is more prone to hyperthermia, and the lungs are weaker in such species, even of mixed blood..."

"Do not place her directly on her back... Her Highness will choke..."

I was freezing, I was reclining on my left side, and I was consumed by the frightful desire to retch. //Uh oh. Not long now. Some help, please?// I transmitted these paltry sentiments to Spock, and deft hands lifted my shoulders and steadied my head. Water and bile cascaded from my guts, and I closed my eyes in exhaustion. My stomach persisted in its turmoil, and I swallowed weakly.

"P ... please ... I need..."

Spock's voice met mine. "Ssssh, Christine. Try not to faint."

"But I'm such an expert...." I gurgled.

"I am quite earnest, ashaya. You must stay awake, if only to empty the contents of your stomach once more. This may indeed occur."

I chanced a half grin. "Thanks, doctor. I'll try."

Spock gingerly carried me back into the sleeping chamber. I barely recognized Selak, Tren, and two other females came into focus, both unknown to me.

As soon as I was placed on the bed, pillows were fluffed and propped underneath my head. One of the women laid a hand on me, whilst her other hand used a medical tricorder to scan my insides. The other woman, younger, and I thought, an apprentice of sorts, held a golden bowl in front of me. Apparently queens could even suffer ailments in style, I thought. The younger woman giggled, and the elder woman removed the tricorder from my body, her eyes twinkling.

"This is so, Highness. But this is no ordinary illness, as well you know."

I was not astonished to learn that these women were Betazoid or that they were healers. Perhaps this was how my mother had learned her craft? The younger woman nodded eagerly. "Yes, Highness, your late mother did receive some education from your grandmother, but it was Mother Mwenora who taught her all that she knew of medicinal healing." She'd blushed and looked down. I realized that she'd felt she'd spoken out of turn, so I grabbed one of her hands and said, "Be at ease, young one. No harm was done. What is your name?"

She appeared shocked by the tactile contact. But her hands gripped mine tightly and she brought it to her lips, kneeling beside the bed.

"I am Doriana, Highness," she explained, "And I am yours to command."

Mother Mwenora tsked and fretted during this exchange. "Doriana, stop this ridiculous posturing, and see to her Highness' healing beverage. Fetch it from the table; now, my girl."

Doriana rose and curtseyed, nodding in deference to me. "Yes, Mother Mwenora. Highness." She walked over to the table at the other end of the room, and Mother Mwenora smoothed down my pillows during the interim.

//We must speak. But alone. Send the men away, Highness.//

I jerked in surprise, and looked over at Tren, Spock, and Selak, all of whom were silently observing my treatment. I hadn't noticed them before, and I was extremely aware of how intimate the setting was. Spock gave no impression that he was affected by Mother Mwenora's telepathic proposal, but he was Vulcan, after all. I decided to chance it, and remarked, "Gentleman, I am perfectly able to fend for myself without any further assistance from any of you. My women will attend to my needs for the moment. I will send for you when I have improved. But for now, I must rest. High Chief Tren, return to my quarters in two hours. Selak, I would expect you to be outside the room at all times. Spock, I'll require only a short time with my women. Perhaps, thirty minutes will suffice? Are you in agreement?"

Spock acquiesced, "You will have your thirty minutes. But I shall remain outside with Selak. And I will not permit you to tax yourself unduly. You are in danger, and we must alert the remainder of the palace staff." He turned to Tren. "Tren, notify the High Directorate. I must send a communique to the Federation High Council at once -- this matter must be concluded and solved forthwith. I will tolerate nothing less. Her Highness' safety is one of the utmost importance. Selak, you will come with me."

"As you command, Sai. T'sai."

"Of course, Sai Spock, I shall see to it at once. Highness, I will take my leave of you."

I sighed with relief as the doors slid shut behind them. Then I returned my attention to Doriana, who gave me a searching glance. //Have you forgotten something, Highness?//

"What do you mean, I--" //Oh! What an imbecile...of course.//

//Spock. Imzadi.//

There was a moment of nothingness, then. //Ashaya?//

//Imzadi ... I thank thee, for my life. You saved me.//

I felt a caress spread from my hairline to my toes. //I protect what is mine, Christine. And you are my most precious possession.//

A sliver of doubt sliced through my satisfaction and I sighed. Possession, indeed! //I understand, Imzadi. Until later.//

I put up my strongest shields -- I still wasn't comfortable with this. Come to think of it, I wasn't at ease with anything -- not becoming a queen, or Spock's bondmate, if that were truly the case, or being a victim of attempted murder. Nothing seemed private, or mine, anymore. A walking target, that's what I was. Or a walking object, if I were to base everything on semantics. I hissed through my teeth with resignation, and Mother Mwenora stroked my hair back out of my eyes.

"Highness ... to go from a pawn to a queen. This is not the easiest of fates. Nor the most enviable. But you are strong, as your grandmother was. And we must talk."

My chest tightened again at the mention of my family, and I felt queasy again. Was there no respite? No, this was the lull before the storm. I didn't want to speak, didn't want to think. So I whined telepathically instead. //I am weary, woman! Speak, if you must. I care not at all.//

Doriana had been patiently standing beside my bed for the duration of my mental chat with Spock, and my conversation with Mother Mwenora. She urged a cup to my lips, saying, "Highness, this is an herbal infusion. It will appease your stomach and placate your troubled thoughts."

I drank it willingly, and afterward I said, "A miracle cure? That's royalty for you. And Betazoid medicine, I suppose."

"Your Highness is too kind." The women smiled, pleased with themselves and my compliments.

Inexplicably, I was anxious for Spock's return, and I shifted impatiently in bed, looking from the older woman to her assistant and back again. "Well? Speak."

Mother Mwenora nodded curtly and spoke. "Simply put, your Highness, you may wish to abdicate when you hear what I have to say."

More surprises? Terrific, I thought. Just get on with it.

"Very well, Highness. Your mother was my most brilliant student, and my greatest disappointment. She sacrificed duty and her father's love, for that -- that -- forgive me, I cannot speak of it."

//Forgive me, Highness. Even now, I gnash my teeth in sorrow when I think how she suffered.//

I tried to place a hand on her arm, but it was snatched away. Doriana gasped. "Mother Mwenora! Remember your place!"

She snapped back at Doriana. "Child! I am too old, and have seen too much of the caprices of this world, and its evil, to have a care for the niceties of etiquette! And to a queen not yet coronated!" She turned her eyes to me. "Again, Highness, forgive me, but I have lived through four generations of rulers, including yourself. I have seen too many agonies and horrors with these old eyes -- I grow weary of existence, and its whims."

"How old are you exactly?"

"I am nearly two hundred and fifty years old, Highness. Don't be shocked. The women of our kind live much longer than the men. But this may not be so for you, since you are of his blood mostly."

I figured "his" meant my birth father's. "Why do you loathe my natural father's memory? What did he do to deserve your contempt?"

She trained her eyes on me, and simply replied, "He seduced your mother when she was but a child, not yet nineteen. They met because as an ambassador, he had access to the inner sanctum of the royal court, and this may surprise you, they shared a mutual interest in Terran love poetry. Rather conventional, don't you find, Highness?"

"Love poetry?" I chortled, "You mean ... that's how they fell in love?"

Her eyes became hard like granite. "Who said anything about love? He knew that she was young, beautiful, and gifted. He knew that she was her father's favorite, but that she would never rise in status, such as she was, her mother a human concubine. She was exotic enough to suit his tastes, and naive enough not to question his motives. He scribbled her many verses back in those days; they were inseparable.

And they both adored one of your archaic bards, I forget his name -- ah yes, Shakessteer or something..."

"You mean William Shakespeare?" I corrected her. "Well ... my father was from England, on Earth. It's hardly surprising, I suppose. But please, continue. I assume there's a point to all of this?" I said casually, though inside I was jumping with curiosity.

"Yes, Highness. I was merely going to say that your mother wasted her potential for greatness as a healer, and possibly one day a high ranking wife, when she spurned duty and welcomed an older, married off-worlder into her bed. He abandoned her, you know, when the pregnancy could no longer be hidden. He left her in disgrace, alone and unclaimed, in the recesses of her father's court. His influence with the Federation was such that he could do as he liked, without impunity."

A chill raced down my spine and up again. Did my birth father and Spock have more in common than I'd first realized? What if -- I clamped down on the treacherous thoughts that weaved and spun around my brain. "Please, continue Mother Mwenora."

"Your grandfather nearly went mad with outrage and grief. He quickly withdrew his affections from his cherished child, and she was left to the mercies of her mother's influence. Your grandmother was shamed along with her. Their status diminished to that of the lowest servants -- this was the cost of your mother's paramour, and your birth. I begged her to abort you ... and she refused."

I inhaled with shock and indignation. "I'm sorry to have disappointed you -- but here I am. Finish what you have to say, then leave my sight! You'll find no sympathy here for your bitterness."

She folded her arms with arrogance and spat, "I want no sympathy from the likes of you, O would-be queen. I only wish to warn you that your mother's legacy to you is hardly what you think. She did not die of natural causes."

"What? She was killed? Murdered? What? Tell me!"

A thin smile greeted me. "She wasted away, little by little and day by day. She stopped living the day your father left. Her death was ostensibly caused by a weakened heart condition. Ironic, is it not? He destroyed her, and her heart was ripped from her bosom when she had to send you away. So that you could have a chance to thrive in a better world than ours. I supervised your birth, and it was I who took you away from her sobbing body. I will speak my mind, Highness. You should not have returned. You are hardly a suitable replacement for my dearest student. You are unworthy of her. And you have his eyes. Yet, your name was on her lips when she died. And that scoundrel's."

My body ached everywhere and I wept for my mother -- for both of my parents. So, my father had been a rogue, and my mother had been young and foolish. And this old woman was spitting in my face, telling me how unworthy I was, and I couldn't bear it. Tears fell from my eyes and ran down my cheeks. I cleared my throat and attempted to project more confidence than I felt.

"All of this information is most enlightening. But I presume you did not have me dismiss the men simply to insult me, and my father's memory. Say what you need to, and then get out."

Doriana had listened to this entire exchange unmoved, and I glanced at her briefly for the first time in several minutes. Her eyes were downcast, and she was as still as a marble sculpture. Mother Mwenora began speaking again. "I will leave you shortly, Highness. But I wish to tell you something first. You will find no love or support here, in the palace of your mother's ancestors..."

"And yet," I interjected, "I will have my throne! Now, speak, and quickly."

"As your Highness commands." There was no respect in her voice; it was a sneer. "The line of your ancestors is no more, Christine Chapel. You are the last, and you shall not rule. I was your grandfather's favorite concubine before that Terran bitch stole his affections away from me. And then, I was forced to rear her spawn whilst she bore him more children. I could not give my king children -- I am barren, and in this world we inhabit, no woman could afford infertility. But I became an expert healer, and loved your mother as my own. She could have succeeded me, but her own weakness was evident enough, no doubt her Terran blood predominated. And you are even more contaminated. You cannot possibly lead this planet as its queen. And the pureblood Betazoid heirs of your mother's generation were weaker than their sire ever was. The time has come for change."

Her eyes were glazed and she was feverish with enthusiasm. And, I noted belatedly, I could not read her emotions at all. Nor could I read Doriana's -- where was Doriana? My arms were grabbed from behind and a blade was pressed to my jugular. "Don't move, Highness," whispered the apprentice, "lest I slip and slit your throat."

Mother Mwenora smiled gleefully and raised her eyebrows in encouragement to Doriana. "Very good, my child."

Then she gazed at me. "I'm sorry, Highness, but this is the way it must be. Betazed belongs to her people, not to some impotent, decayed line of kings... You shall die as the others died before you."

What the--? "You mean, you instigated the bloody coup that occurred here just days ago?"

"Yes!" came the crazed response. "I am the head of the resistance. We are legion, we are everywhere. Betazed will be freed from the tyranny of emasculated kings and their Terran whores. And you too are a whore, as your mother was. That Vulcan--" I cried out, incensed, when she used a Betazoid slur I hadn't ever heard spoken aloud, "--believes he can add our planet to his already bloated empire as bounty. This planet is not your dowry, slut! And you are not its queen! You're nothing more than a dead trollop, and you will die a whore's death. Don't even think about contacting your half-breed benefactor -- our psionic shields are more than strong enough to silence you. And the drink you ingested interferes with synaptic responses, and neural transmitters. Drowning wasn't effective, apparently -- but this time, Highness, you will bleed."

My mind was foggy and confused, and I felt the cold metal begin to pierce my skin. //Spock! Spock!//

There was an horrific banging on the door, which shook under the force of the impact. Mother Mwenora's head jerked up at the sudden commotion, and Doriana's grip on the knife faltered momentarily. I took advantage of the disarray to rip my arms free of her grasp. I managed to liberate my right arm first, and wrestled the knife out of her hand. My left arm quickly followed its twin and I punched her in the stomach. She squealed in surprise and doubled over from the blow. In my peripheries I observed Mother Mwenora running towards us, and I took charge of the situation. I would have a hostage, if necessary. Clumsily I yanked Doriana by the hair from behind, and wrapped one arm around her waist, pressing the blade against her neck with the other. "One step more, Mother Mwenora," I threatened, "And I'll kill your prodigy."

Mother Mwenora's sole response was mirth. "A weak woman who faints at the merest hint of danger? I think not. Now, the knife -- give it me, whore." She whipped out her palm and stood there expectantly. By this point I'd pinioned both of Doriana's arms with one hand, and she began to squirm when I didn't immediately obey Mother Mwenora. I dug my nails into her skin, simultaneously pushing the blade hard enough so that a trickle of blood emerged. "I haven't made myself clear, I see," I growled, "One step more and she dies."

Doriana gasped, "Mother Mwenora!"

"A murderous despot. You would not be the first of your kind. Slay her, if you must. You still will not leave this room alive."

Our eyes locked and I filled with a terrible foreboding. My next move would determine the fate not only of myself, but the entire dynasty. The fate of my ancestors rested with me -- was I a killer? Wasn't I a bringer of life, a healer, as my foremothers had been? I had been a Starfleet officer, I had served in space, and I had known turmoil amidst the risks of my duties. Just like all the other personnel, I was trained in combat. I understood that I might have to kill for survival's sake, but I was fortunate that this eventuality remained an abstract. I had never taken another life -- I was a doctor, I had saved countless lives. But to consciously snuff out another's existence? To feel a future slip away? Had it really come to this?

My musings lasted only seconds and were interrupted by the door being blown apart by phaser fire. Spock rushed into the room, Mother Mwenora screeched and flew at him full force, and the events which transpired afterwards blurred into a waking nightmare. I thrust Doriana to the ground in my haste, blood surging into my veins with primal screams, the knife still in my hand. Mother Mwenora scratched at Spock's eyes and succeeded in knocking the phaser out of his hand, breaking his balance with a strategically placed knee to the groin. He fell onto his back, and she pounced upon the phaser with ferocious purpose.

"Spock!" I screamed, and as a shrieking Valkyrie, I jumped onto Mother Mwenora's back, knocking her flat on her face. As I landed on top her, I bared my teeth like fangs, my guts singing all the while that she would have taken what was mine, by blood. By rights. My mate! My love! She wanted to take him from me, and my amazonian ire, inflamed, attacked her with vicious precision. I pulled her head to the side by her hair, and even as she cried out, I plunged the willing dagger into her jugular.

I withdrew the blade sloppily from her neck, and there was a moment's pause as she gurgled, gore spilling from the gaping wound and coming in coughs from her lips. Then a sound from behind alerted me, and Spock's flawless reflexes demonstrated themselves as he whipped up the fallen phaser, and vaporized Doriana. She had been less than a foot away from me, and he had saved both of our lives. Spock began to gather his bearings and I removed myself from Mother Mwenora's body, stunned by my own ruthlessness.

"You..." she choked, "...are dead. You are nothing...We ... are legion..." She sputtered and blood gushed from her mouth. "Highness." She smirked, and her body stilled, resigned to its death.

I simply sat there, inert, until I slowly realized that I had blood on my hands. And on my knees, as it had puddled from the corpse onto the floor. I looked at Spock with stricken eyes, and he reached for me. "Unclean," I gasped, and tears fell down my cheeks. "Unclean!" I screamed, and collapsed, sobbing, into his embrace.

"Ashaya..." he started, then hesitated. "The cause was sufficient. And eminently logical -- although perhaps your motivation was not. She would have killed both of us. You had no choice."

"There is always a choice! Always an option!" I struggled against him, and he held me tighter, unyielding. "I'm a healer ... a preserver of life-- Or I was. Now I'm a murderess. Spock, I've taken a life! I can never undo this-- Her blood is on my hands for perpetuity. She didn't have to die--"

He thrust me away from him and gazed steadily into my eyes. He shook me by the shoulders. "Christine, she did have to die! The needs of the two outweighed the one -- it was a matter of survival. Ours, or hers. And you made the choice for both of us. I will not pretend to be sorry for what your decision accomplished. Death is a necessary part of survival, Christine, especially within these circumstances. Do not attempt to make a martyr out of a woman responsible for the deaths of your entire family. You will also recall that her intent was murder, for you as well. There was no other way."

I wanted to think about anything, anything other than the dead woman next to me, the blood splattered everywhere and the enormity of my actions. So instead I chose to indulge my fury at the truth of Spock's words. He was totally right -- but that didn't mean I relished it. Or even welcomed it. I was not comforted. I was enraged. I was terrified.

"What about the needs of the many?" I barked, "The people of Betazed? She said they were legion -- she is a martyr to their cause, and it's all my doing! And how dare you throw platitudes at me -- this from a despotic, sadistic, spoiled Vulcan! A being whose own race excuses its males from any crime during pon farr -- I believe the archaic legal human term is 'temporary insanity'! And this is supposed to reassure me, Spock? I've had barely any support or active input from you since we arrived here -- you just do with me as you please! It doesn't even matter that I love you enough that I've killed for you! For us! You don't even seem grateful for--"

He'd flinched with his eyes during my crazed tirade, and then something flickered in them at my last words.

Oh shit, I thought. Did I really just say...?

//I believe the human maxim is 'the cat's out of the bag', Christine.//

//Cute, Spock. What do we do about the um ... the um....//

//I will see to it that the body is disposed of properly. I must remove you from here, ashaya. You are not safe.//

Tears threatened again. "Fine. Let's alert Selak. And High Chief Tren."

A voice from the doorway interceded. "That has already been done, T'sai. We are here."

Selak and Tren stood patiently in the doorway.

Then I exploded. "Where in the name of the gods have you been? Why weren't you here five minutes ago, when I was busy saving Spock's life?"

Selak didn't even blink. "T'sai, we were executing our prior orders from yourself and Sai Spock. The time was insufficient for any other course of action."

"Executing? Now there's an interesting word."

Tren felt the tension and hurriedly exclaimed, "Highness, I am overjoyed that you and Sai Spock are alive. Other quarters have been prepared for you. If you would permit me...?"

Spock took the cue and lifted me into his arms. "Her Highness has been through quite an ordeal this night. I will assist her in retiring to her new quarters, where I shall remain until further notice, gentlemen. Tren, keep me informed of any communiques from the Federation, and have them transferred directly into her rooms. Selak, you will dispose of the body and report thereafter to your post outside of her Highness' chambers. That is all."

"Yes, Sai."

"Follow me, Sai Spock."

I looked into the long corridor which stretched ahead of me, unseeing. My limbs ached with exhaustion and aftershock, and my mind buzzed with so many things. Fear of the immediate ramifications of my actions, guilt, horror at my own bloodlust, and exasperation at the befuddled manner in which I revealed my feelings for Spock. What a debacle, I thought.

A small voice piqued my annoyance. //Ashaya, did you think I did not know before now? Can you doubt that I do not reciprocate these feelings, Christine?//

//Feelings, Spock/ Is this a bizarre introduction to your human half? This certainly isn't the logical you. And judging from your previous wives, I'm not exactly your type. My ears aren't even pointy.//

//Your sarcasm is illogical and misplaced, Christine. Vulcans possess feelings, but we prefer to control them. You know this is so, ashaya. And you are also aware of my ... sentiments.//

We had nearly arrived at my new quarters. //Well Spock, I've just narrowly escaped death twice in the same night, and I've added mercenary to my new list of titles. Why not just indulge me this once, and let me know what your feelings are?//

//Ashaya.// It was a warning.

//Spock.// I was tired and very needy. And I was determined to win this round, as it were. As always, logic wasn't exactly dictating my interactions with Spock. Had it ever prevailed in such matters? I wasn't sure.

//Dammit, I killed for you. For us. The least you could do is indulge your -- your -- bondmate, and tell me what the hell your real feelings actually are. I'm tired of mincing words. No more games, Sai. Tell me what the devil is going on in that heart of yours -- or perhaps I'll just have to become a merry widow. How about it?//

I was instantly contrite when I thought the last part of my diatribe. Murder was definitely a running theme with me at this moment, and I had just told Spock I'd kill him if he didn't reveal his feelings for me. Shit.

"Ah, here we are, Highness, Sai Spock. Your rooms."

I saw Selak coming down the corridor out of the corner of my eye, following in our wake. He positioned himself on the left side of the entrance to my rooms. "Sai. T'sai." He nodded and lowered his eyes, hands clasped in front of him.

Tren was going to take his leave of us, but I detained him with a gesture. "Tren."


"I am issuing a decree as of this moment. Anyone conspiring or attempting to murder our royal person shall suffer death. This is not negotiable. There will be no appeals. Inform the High Directorate at once. Now leave us."

I thought I sounded quite regal, down to the added pomposity of 'our royal person.' I'd watched holovids of Terran royals using the antiquated phrase, and I'd always thought it was rather hokey. But now I was intent on making my claim to the throne sincere -- and validating my authority, even if I felt totally miserable and heartless saying it, in view of what I had just done.

Spock's approval radiated from his emotions to mine, and I became absurdly pleased with myself. Then again, I was also completely in shock, grieved by my killing, and inordinately lovesick. I was trying not to take anything for granted, not my life, or Spock's loyalties.

"Tren, leave us." Spock's tone was final.

"As you wish."

He disappeared, and the door swiftly softly shut behind him. Spock lowered me slowly onto the floor. He then steadied me on my feet. "Can you stand without assistance?"

"Yes. But I need to get rid of these clothes. I want them off me, and I need to bathe ... Spock..." I wept without warning and faltered in my stance. "Help me, Spock, please...."

Spock silently divested me of my garments, carried me to a much smaller bathroom than the last, and activated the water unit to fill a generously sized tub. He then undressed himself and we were naked as he cleansed us both. His ministrations were tender and gradual; he massaged my scalp as he washed my hair. And all through it I cried.

I was still sobbing when he carried me to bed, still unclothed. He drew the sheets over us, and gathered me into his arms. "Ashaya, ashaya," he breathed into my hair. Still I could not cease my weeping -- it seemed to go on and on forever. I could never escape the blood on my hands, it had been done. And I only feared the future, and what it would bring with it. More assassination attempts? A total planet of rebellious subjects? Would I lose my throne to a Federation edict, or to the whims of the High Directorate? Who would save my throne?

"I will," Spock whispered sleepily. "Your thoughts are chaotic and they are screaming for release. I will not leave you. Do not fear. You and your throne are safe."

//But I do fear!// was my rejoinder. //I can't help it! It's all so fast, Spock -- I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I can live longer than a day -- I don't know if I can live with myself, because I've killed someone. I feel dirty and scared. And alone!//

//You will never be alone, Christine. You are my most precious possession, ashaya -- did I not tell you this? Did you not know this?//

//I know -- I know -- but I need -- I want--//

"Christine, I love you," Spock groaned urgently into my ear, and held me closer to him. "I love you! I cherish thee, ashaya!"

I grabbed him none too gently by the hair and dragged his face down to mine, kissing him soundly.

"Oh, Sai," I sighed against his mouth, "Show me."

And as he elaborated quite eloquently with his body, and his mind, I was left with no doubt that he truly loved me. And I would need his love in the days that followed, for there were treacheries unearthed and desires unspoken. My throne and my future were equally uncertain, and as yet intangible to me. But I was determined that I would prevail, with Spock at my side. I was my mother's daughter, wasn't I?

The End ... For Now.