Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1983 by Johanna Cantor. Originally published in R&R #18, Johanna Cantor editor. Rated R.

Ramifications

Johanna Cantor

T'Pan turned her head very slowly. She must not disturb the sleeping man sprawled across her, but she did want to see the Sister rise. Its light and beauty would be such a welcome change from her thoughts...

This was illogical. Totally illogical! She had learned years ago not to lie awake in the dark hours. Even children knew that the mind was vulnerable now, easy prey to irrationalities and stupid fears, half of which would fade in the light like phantoms in the light of logic. She should compose herself and sleep to ease her fatigue, or meditate to restore her energy, or do something more constructive with this time. What was done was done. She had pledged herself to this man. And she would not unsay that pledge even if she could.

Light cut through the blackness: the Sister. S'sasz's Meditation argued that the planet should not be called the Sister, but the Consort: an entity, complete of itself, following its chosen path, which brought it into daily association with another. Two wholes, each independent ... That was logical, T'Pan told herself, trying to fight the grey depression that possessed her. She felt a tear on her cheek. Stupid! She wiped it away, and her hand encountered soreness. Instantly she closed her eyes to concentrate. There. The bruise should be gone by morning. Sarek would see to the repair of the smashed console, and in the family, all was silence. Spock's outburst would never be mentioned.

Her hand stole to her shoulder. Odd that the only real injury should be the most respectable. The teeth marks on her shoulder were going to leave a scar -- she had not had the leisure to attend to that wound in time. But it would not matter. T'Lan bore several such scars, one perilously close to the neck. Probably many mated women did. Probably many of those marks, like hers. were the souvenirs of successful feminine stratagems -- honorable scars, otherwise unimportant. But it was good she had remembered to heal her bruised face.

The Sister rose well above the horizon now; the darkness was past. It would be nice to get up walk around a little, perhaps to put a little music, very softly, on Spock's receiver. Cautiously T'Pan began to wriggle out. If she moved very, very slowly... Spock muttered an aggrieved protest, snuggling closer, pinning her down. Her heart in her mouth, T'Pan embraced him, soothing him, holding him tight. He sighed, and sleep took him again. T'Pan let her breath out with care. She would not risk disturbing him again.

Spock slept peacefully for another hour. T'Pan lay motionless, as patient as she would wish herself to be, were she as exhausted as the man who needed this comfort. The intervals were growing longer, she reminded herself. And Sepek had -- Sepek The thought of the healer brought a wave of anger. She pushed it aside hastily. Sepek was Spock's mentor -- a friend of years' standing. It was natural that Spock, in difficulty, should turn to him. Then too, Sepek was a healer with a mind trained to a strength of focus and control that could not be attained by -

Spock groaned, cutting short this effort at logic. Startled, T'Pan whispered his name. He was still asleep. A bad dream? Automatically, she reached to meld, then stopped herself. Spock had deflected her attempt to share. She could not ethically take advantage of him now, to pry into matters he preferred to keep private.

''No! " Spock groaned aloud. His body twisted as though to escape. "Sep-- No!"

"Spock. wake up!" T'Pan spoke sharply, shaking. him. "Wake up!"

Spock lifted his head. She saw him blink, dazed. "No," he stated positively. "Not-" He stopped, and took a deep breath, pulling himself together.

"Not?" T'Pan questioned gently.

Spock's eyes found hers, and he smiled down at her. "Wife." She smiled back and reached to caress his forehead and temples, pleased at the contentment in his voice. Spock closed his eyes, smiling at her touch. She placed her hand for a meld, silently asking permission, and Spock reached to her eagerly. "Wife," he murmured aloud, and his contented gratitude swept through her.

//Dear friend,// she responded, touched.

//Friend,// he echoed, savoring it. //Is that why thee can accept, so ... deeply?// T'Pan felt a stab of shame. Acceptance was a woman's duty. How churlish to-

//?// Concern was growing in Spock's mind; this would never do.. She reached to stroke him, disciplining her thoughts. //Mmmm. Deep. So ... deep.// Wisely keeping his mind focused on comfort, Spock began to move on her. It felt nice, but suddenly T'Pan had to stretch. There were ways, even in this position. She had practiced them dutifully with the other fourteen-year-old girls, puzzled but obedient, in the weeks before the teachings had supplied the reason. She concentrated on the latisimus dorsi and pulled tight. Relax, then pull ... relax ...

Spock's hands crept under her, and rubbed strongly. //Oh, how comfortable. Thank thee, dear friend.//

//I should have freed thee,// Spock reproached himself. //I fell asleep.//

//And a good thing, too.//

Spock shook his head, smiling again, then drew a deep breath, determining to control himself. He began to rub her neck, trying to knead out all stiffness, concentrating resolutely on that task. He succeeded for a moment; then pressure began to grow. Frustration welled, and he almost swore. Horrible to feel mind and will softening, darkening the mind ... T'Pan turned to embrace him, and shushed him gently. She wrapped her legs around his, to establish him comfortably, and began to stroke him again. The need would not be denied, she whispered in age-old phrases. It was illogical to try ...

Spock snorted, but then he placed his forehead carefully in the familiar curve of her neck and surrendered to her stroking. T'Pan smiled, savoring a twinge of pride. She had attended to the teachings, recognizing even as a youth their accumulation of feminine wisdom and experience. She had sworn then to serve as dutifully as woman had ever served, so that S'falt... S'falt had not survived to hear her tell him so. Pain,hovered, but she pushed it aside. Chance had given her this other. His needs were her responsibility now, and by her own choice. His thrusting was quickening; she heard him gasp, and melded more deeply, conveying all her acceptance and calm. //Dear friend.//

Relief came with that comfort, and Spock lay still. But after a few moments of rest, he was moving on her again. T'Pan frowned in concern. Surely the drive should be easing by now.

//Heavy!// Spock groaned. A weary despair surrounded the thought. T'Pan withdrew a little, to consider her methods rationally.

The nails can be used to good effect ... She slid her hand between their bodies, to touch the soft base where the ducts joined. Spock gasped, pushing hard against her hand. Soon he was thrusting with all his strength. But the pressure was worsening. Any more, and he would be beside himself.

//Now!// T'Pan stretched her free arm to grab at the laboring buttocks, squeezing and twisting as hard as she could, considering the best ways of helping him. Aggression ... the drive was aggression-linked. That link was not to be feared, but used boldly. She chose a well-muscled area and nipped, hard.

//Don't,// Spock begged, terror of what she might drive him to do flooding in him.

He remembered? Surprised, T'Pan did stop. Returning awareness brought its own problems, it seemed. Then she decided to go ahead. //Pooh!// She reached for his shoulders, as though to push him away.

//T'Pan, NO!// Spock stopped, grabbing her head, forcing her to look at him. Strain twisted his face, but he stayed still, holding her eyes. //Thee shall promise. Swear!// She stared at him, dumbfounded. He clenched his jaw, forcing back a groan, but his control did not break. //Thee shall swear.//

//I swear,// T'Pan agreed reluctantly. A sob escaped Spock, and he began to move on her again. T'Pan moved with him, holding him consolingly. But this must end; he could not endure! //Spock, thee does not hurt me. It is not--//

//No. Thee swore!// Agitation was one thing he didn't need more of. T'Pan nodded, reluctantly conceding the point. //Not necessary ... anyway,// he managed to articulate. //It will...soon...// "Ai!"

T'Pan placed both hands firmly at the top of the gonadal area, then closed her eyes, concentrating on creating a longing, an emptiness. Black fire darkened his mind, then nothing existed but motion, and spurting seed, pumping through him, filling her. //Don't ... I have more! I -- heavy!//

//Now!// she commanded. His hands came down to tilt her up, that he might sow in the very heart of his sanctuary. The universe seemed to pull tight. Then it shattered.

* * *

The room formed again slowly. T'Pan lay quiet, idly interested in the order in which things returned. The bed underneath them took shape first, then her breathing, her slowing heart, then the rest of her body, gloriously completed by the warm, heavy body of her mate. He was still tightly connected just where she most wanted connection, and she moved on him, trying to recall what she had felt. The sensation was very nice, but the ecstasy was only a memory now. What she felt now was more the pleasant massage of Tony's-- She blocked that thought instantly. //Spock?// "Spock!"

Unconscious. T'Pan controlled an instinctive panic and concentrated to monitor his condition. Heart and respiration were slowing to normal; he should come around soon. She concentrated to gather and lend him energy, and soon sensed consciousness return. She felt his awareness of comfort, of the joining of their bodies, of her sheltering arms and cool neck. //Wife,// he sighed pleasurably.

//Mm.// She rubbed her check against his hair.

Spock moved in her, trying, as she had, to recall the sensation. She chuckled with pleasure, and felt him smile. //That was a contraction!//

//Yes.// Astonishment flooded her. and she chuckled at that. //Why is thee surprised?//

//It felt ...// He shook his head, still astonished. //It hurt so, before. I knew that in the natural course, it is not painful, and Sepek reminded--//

//SEPEK!// T'Pan's uncontrolled wave of fury swept through both of them. Spock recoiled, crying out. Horrified, T'Pan severed their link, slamming all shields on. She heard Spock's gasp, then a muffled groan, but she pushed frantically at his shoulders. He got up immediately; she grabbed a robe and fled.

Spock bit back an instinctive protest as the door activated behind her. She was gone, and he was left to stand alone with hanging head, dazed at this abrupt shift from comfort to desolation.

* * *

In the innermost circle of the garden, T'Pan buried her face in her robe, sobbing in shame and agitation. Bad enough to have such primitive emotion. To inflict it, uncontrolled, on a tumescent-! Hellcat? Traitress? Were there words to describe such behavior? Fortunate her mother dead these years, for how would she know how to face a daughter so unmindful of duty...?

Duty. The thought arrested this orgy of self-reproach. She must pull herself together: Spock might need her at any time. The first step was to stop cry1ng. That accomplished, she pulled the robe on and began to walk the inner path. The mind rules. She would allow herself precisely five minutes to make it so.

* * *

Spock crept forlornly through the silent house. He didn't expect to find T'Pan -- the odds that she was anywhere but the garden would be estimated at five to one. Searching the house was merely something to do. He padded barefoot through the rooms, seeing only their emptiness. He had decided that he must not disturb her unless need struck. He almost wished it would.

"Spock?" Spock straightened, composing himself, and walking, carefully casual, toward the doorway that framed his wife. Anxious questions boiled up; he suppressed them as he studied her. She seemed entirely in control. "I beg forgiveness," she said quietly.

Spock opened his mouth and closed it, knowing his voice would betray agitation. He nodded. The silence threatened to prolong itself. Finally T'Pan moved toward him and put a hand on his forehead. "I am well," Spock whispered. She hesitated; he felt sure she was going to ask him to leave her alone for a space, and steeled himself to agree. If only he might pull her to him, beg her to tell him why she was angry, force her to swear that nothing would come between them...! He stood motionless.

"Wouldst enjoy a walk, Husband? The Sister is beautiful tonight." Spock nodded gratefully and followed her out.

They walked in silence. T'Pan kept carefully in that, recognizing it as an expression of solidarity. But her anger -- such anger! -- was like a knife in the side. He longed to beg forgiveness. He maintained silence. She would discuss her thoughts with him if and when she chose.

The Sister moved across the sky, and sank. Spock began to tire. Perhaps sensing this, T'Pan found a bench. When he hesitated, she pulled him to sit next to her. He dared to keep her hand then and saw her blink back tears. But her mind did not touch his, and he was afraid to reach to hers. He returned to his profitless speculation.

Then was an obvious explanation, of course. He had raged at her -- struck her! -- for talking to her own lab assistant. Her lover! Anger rose; he quelled it. That was before she had pledged herself to him; and she had sworn all that was over now. To strike out in anger--! Was that what troubled her so? But she had forgiven him, and he could not believe that she had spoken that forgiveness lightly.

It seemed that the thought of Sepek had triggered her wrath. But her anger was at him; brief as the exposure had been. Spock understood that with clarity.

The bench grew uncomfortable; he forced himself to remain still, lest she think that- - no. Oh, no! Not now! He controlled his revulsion before it could turn to panic. There were methods of containment -- of gaining time, at least. He reviewed them and set grimly to work. Ten minutes passed, twenty. His breathing began to quicken; he could not stop it. Another minute and T'Pan noticed. "Spock?"

Spock rose to flee. But he could not bear to move away from her. He stopped, wanting to scream, and set his jaw as he heard her hurry toward him. A hand on his shoulder -- the touch again a flare of anger! Why?

//Do not try to endure alone! Have I not said so?//

Spock blinked in bewilderment. //I am not in difficulty.//

That placated her. //Yet.//

//Yet,// he admitted and was rewarded by a relenting -- almost an amusement. He sought to probe; she shielded quickly. He stepped back, head hanging, but she came to him, pulling his arms around her. His heart quickened, and he brushed her hair with his cheek. Such beautiful hair... "Beautiful,// he murmured aloud. If she would not share, would she at least speak to him?

"Husband," the word was tender, "how is it?"

"I am not in difficulty," he interrupted hastily.

"Hush. I beg forgiveness."

"T'Pan, it is I who--" he choked. To impose himself on her, force her to serve him -- no wonder she was angry! Sobs rose in his throat -- he broke away.

"Husband." The command halted him; he stood still as she came to him again. T'Pan breathed deeply, placed her hands, melded, and Spock eased immediately. There was no question of imposiition. It was her duty to care for him at this time. He felt a conviction bolstered by lifelong training, and he sighed in relief. Some problem remained; he sensed barriers firmly placed. But for now, he had what he must have. He was to think only of that, and to trust her. "Spock," she spoke aloud, very deliberately. "Spock. T'hy'la."

It was a word he had never thought to hear. He buried his face in her hair. "T'hy'la," he echoed. "Wife. T'hy'la."

"Husband, I am greatly at fault," she apologized formally. "I have not organized my thoughts. Until I have achieved clarity, I must entreat thy forgiveness." He tightened his arms, which proved to be a mistake -- he barely suppressed a grunt. //Shall we seek seclusion here, Husband?//

Spock glanced at the sky. It would be dawn soon. The household would be waking; Sarek would want his morning stroll. He set his jaw and started back to the house. T'Pan deepened their meld, to help him control, and he managed to maintain silence as they stole up the stairs. But by the time they reached his room, he was grinding his teeth. T'Pan left him as he activated the door. He gripped the molding, struggling for control. "Spock!" He whirled. She was on the floor, her body alabaster against the deep red of the robe beneath her. Instantly he was on her, and his groan of pain turned to a wild cry that he muffled in her hair he found his shelter.

* * *

It was long past dawn now, but they had no thought of rising. Contraction was well underway, and nearly every release was triggering that pleasurable tightening. T'Pan massaged the shrinking tissue thoroughly, a procedure recommended by healers to ensure full contraction. None of the clinicians had seen fit to record the medically irrelevant fact that such massage set a male fairly purring, and indeed, T'Pan had to comb her memory for the only reference in the epics specifically recommended for the instruction of young girls. //T'Var to her absent husband,// she told Spock as soon as the memory clicked in. //It is only a fragment. "At first my hands shall dry thy tears/as the lash exerts its toll./But rejoice, my own, for tile day will come/when thy body, deep in mine,/Shall thrill to know their strength, and moan/Not in anguish, but with--"//

//Now! Wife, now. Rub!//

He had been shy with her at first. But she had herself well in hand, and feeling only acceptance, he had rapidly regained his trust, seeking her comforts without apology, seeming quite secure in the knowledge that he had what he must have. He did make a point of asking if he might pleasure her. She'd solemnly granted permission and, anxious not to set any more barriers between them, had ordered sensation to the fore. This total reversal of lifelong training had left her so confused that Spock giggled like a toddler. He was still chuckling as he bent to nuzzle her breast and his amusement lightened her guilt. She relaxed, luxuriating in the return of those delightful sensations. How odd, she thought unguardedly, that in all those times with Tony-

//Blast Tony!//

//No, for he is a dear friend!// Fury shot through Spock. It was instantly displaced by shame, and she reached to caress his temple. //Only never, never ...// She lifted to him imploringly, and he put all else aside to concentrate on that tiny center of pleasure that he alone had ever reached.

They moved back to the bed after awhile -- it really was more comfortable. They slept, woke to need, eased it, slept again. But the intervals were shortening as Spock's system insisted on shrinking down. Soon both needed to use their relaxation techniques to take full advantage of the brief spaces. They coached each other, remaining patient. This, too, would end.

Spock tried to take some of the burden from T'Pan, urging her first to the top, then to the side. But he seemed to need the deepest possible thrusting. Each time, she sensed difficulty growing to desperation until she pulled him back to top her. His deep penetration ceased to please her. It was only a means to a most necessary end.

Finally a longer interval came. The need was not quelled, but it seemed to be appeased. Both dropped into an exhausted sleep.

* * *

T'Pan woke less than an hour later, sensing that Spock had turned to her. One hand was on her shoulder; his hot forehead rested on her arm. Sleepily, she reached to meld, but Spock caught her hand, gently returning it to her side. "It is not difficult, Wife. I need only to know thee close. Rest."

T'Pan smiled tenderly in the darkness, sliding her hand down to cradle him supportingly. He quivered, but then calmed; she closed her eyes, grateful fora little longer ...

She woke again; Spock was fondling her. She was too tired for any response. but she took care to remain completely open to him. At least that much had been settled between them; he was no longer trying to endure alone, letting pride and (she judged) fear of rejection keep him from seeking her reassurance, like an idiot! No. Be fair. She must remember how little cause he had been given to trust.

''T'Pan!'' Spock gave a strangled groan. He was on her in an instant, forcing her legs apart even as he sobbed an apology. Immediately he began a frantic thrusting; T'Pan pulled herself together barely in time to share. The release was shattering; they lay semiconscious until his body began to move again without his volition. Suddenly T'Pan felt totally exhausted. Even the effort to match the rhythm of his thrusts seemed too much. Spock was probing frantically, searching for her mind. Something clicked in. and T'Pan sensed a raging protectiveness. He wanted to own her, body and -- no! She almost screamed.

//Wife!// Spock implored. He needed her. Needed her acceptance. Accept, she ordered herself. There was a massive release, followed by a hard contraction. She took them both, grinding her teeth. Spock reared back in an involuntary escape reflex. Then he collapsed.

T'Pan was alone, tears coursing down her cheeks. She was so tired! If only she could have just a moment to herself.

"T'Pan?"

''Here." She tried to speak pleasantly. but she choked on her tears.

"Wife?"

"I beg ... oh! Get off me! Please?" Spock got up immediately, pulling away from her. T'Pan curled into a miserable ball, hating herself allover again. She sensed Spock crawling out of bed. She knew she should go after him. She must reassure him, comfort him. But she'd better stop crying first. Bawling? she scolded. For what cause? But this astringency, however logical, only made her feel worse. She put self-reproach aside, in favor of calming herself.

As soon as she could, she lifted her head. Spock hadn't gotten far; he was on the floor at the side of the bed, face buried in his hands. Sobs still catching her breathing. T'Pan crept over to sit beside him. After a moment she put "er arms around him. He did not move.

Tears threatened again. "Forgive me."

That reached him. "I?" he whispered, startled. "I forgive? T'Pan! Forgive me. I--" He was burying his face again. T'Pan grabbed his hands and held them tightly. "Husband." What to say? How could she possibly ask him to forgive such behavior? "Spock, I ..." There were no words. She pulled his arms around her and buried her guilty face in his shoulder.

Instantly he was embracing, almost crushing her. Then he relaxed to hold her sustainingly. Another moment, and she felt his touch. She shielded instantly to hide her loss of control.

Spock gasped a little at the rebuff, then, accepting it, he drew back, reaching to smooth her temples with gentle fingers. "Wife?"

He sounded so tired! "Yes, dear friend?"

He smiled a little at that, but shook his head. ''There is something that concerns thee deeply. I cannot quite read it. Concern for me, but I sense that thee feels some duty neglected. Wife, I swear that--"

''Thee is so tired! Is there something I--"

"Nothing!" He moved as though to embrace her, then stopped himself, settling back again. "I am not extraordinarily fatigued. Se-- The healer said so. It is my first." He choked, then went on resolutely. "It is my first complete mating. Even were I fully Vulcan, the healer said, he would rate my condition satisfactory." He cupped her face in his hand. "In truth. Wife, I am most dutifully served. I thank thee. Indeed, I--"

"Hush. Every woman does her duty." She realized the mistake as soon as she said it and could have kicked herself as his face changed. She hastened to embrace him. and he snuggled gratefully. "We will sleep soon." She stroked his temple.

"Yes." He held her close. Within minutes. she was nodding off. Perhaps they could lie down now, and ... "But, it seems, not just yet."

She snapped awake. Oh, no! She suppressed that reaction instantly and embraced him, melding.. Exhaustion met hers, and equal disgust. //Poor friend.//

//I should not complain. But it would be so nice to sleep. Or read. Or go for a walk. Or anything but this constant--"

//Yes.// Her agreement was too heartfelt; Spock winced. T'Pan formed an apology but Spock forestalled her gently. He closed his eyes for a moment, gathering control. Then, to her surprise, he got up and made his way to the desert pack that lay by her side of the bed. He rummaged through the scent bags and provisions for a moment, then found the vitalizers in the outside pocket. He rose unsteadily, carrying two hypos and the canteen. T'Pan reached to help him then stopped, guessing that this display of control would do him good. Spock gave her the canteen.

They both drank, then he pressed a hypo into her arm, and took another himself. He returned the canteen carefully to the pack, then lay down, turning over on his back, wordlessly inviting her to take the top.

T'Pan hesitated, thinking he would not be able to find relief in that position. To postpone the decision, she moved to his legs. It seemed a long time since she had seen what had almost become part of her: she stroked the shaft lightly. Spock grunted, but he seemed comfortable enough. T'Pan allowed herself the pleasure of fondling him, almost toying with him. "It is beautiful," she whispered, feeling the smooth hardness. If only she weren't so tired ...

"It doesn't feel beautiful," came the rueful response.

"There is pain?" she demanded sharply.

"No, Wife." He managed a smile. "How would there be pain, when thee is so soft, and -- ai!" He half sat up, then resolutely lay down again. "Quickly -- that is, at thy convenience..." He set his jaw.

''Thee must be feeling better! Observing etiquette!" Highly entertained, T'Pan drew tickling fingers down his abdomen.

Spock laughed; then suddenly he covered his face with his hands, body writhing as he forced back a moan. T'Pan stared at him, appalled, then sprang to action. A hand at his neck, the other touching buttocks rigid with pain, then he was on top of her, moaning -- what? Apology? Damn! She took just a moment to be sure her reaction to the too-familiar weight was under control, and reached to him.

He calmed the second she joined him: she could give herself full marks for that, at least. But it was soon obvious that her hopes for rest were premature. Release followed release, but it never seemed enough. Soon Spock wanted to thrust constantly. But he could control to some extent now, and he remained still, resting as much as possible until they caught the signals that thrusting would have some effect. T'Pan stayed closely linked, distracting, promising, using every strategy she had ever heard of to get him through this difficulty. But her energies were flagging; she had to suppress a pang of despair. She had taken none of the recommended methods of gathering energy before a mating. Expecting only a seeding, she had worked ...

//Yes, Wife.// Spock caught the thought. //Shield thyself for a few minutes, and--//

//Thee needs--//

//Sh. I have what I ... must have. Shield.//

It was logical. T'Pan concentrated and pulled deep within herself. She heard Spock groan, but she resolutely completed her barriers and concentrated on building strength. Ten minutes, she decided, and sank into peace.

Ten minutes, her mind told her. T'Pan groaned. It would be so lovely to remain still, for just a little longer... Ten minutes, duty said inexorably. T'Pan woke, gathering herself together. Spock was laboring; she realized he had barely stopped. Resolutely, she took a deep breath, joined him, and almost screamed. His body seemed to have closed. He was releasing with each thrust, but pressure was building. T'Pan wanted to beat him with her fists, thrashing her head like a pinned ... Wake up! she ordered herself. Spock needed her mind now; she must reason out a stratagem for helping him achieve his need. His jaw was set; she sensed his determination to overcome this painful delusion. It was illogical, and he recognized the illogic. He had his place; his sanctuary was open to him, receiving him. //Good,// T'Pan encouraged him. She slid her hand once more to the softness, running her fingers around, between, cupping him with warm support. //Open,// she urged him. //Open to me!//

His system obeyed, flowering into a delicious fullness. Spock cried out in relief, confident that the pain would ease now.

"Yes," she promised him, breathing warmth into his ear and mind. Relief came, and in that moment of relaxation, T'Pan chose a consoling fantasy and drew Spock into it. She was a sea anemone, multibranched and beautiful, waving languidly in the cooling currents. Spock laughed in delight, for he was the partner fish, that bright chip of beauty that lived in the protection of her branches, feeding her with warm streams of life. His body arched willingly to feed her again, then again: then he sank deep, to rest in the very center of her stem.

T'Pan cradled him, urging him to rest. But suddenly her body moved on his involuntarily; her whispered consolations were broken by a high-pitched cry. Spock came to himself, spurred by her urgency. He lifted his head to study her. T'Pan stared up at him, apologetic, and not a little frightened. But Spock smiled down at her. //There, Wife,// he soothed her. //There, now.//

He took a deep breath, gathering strength. Dutifully T'Pan protested, trying to cradle him again. But her pulses were pounding uncontrollably. A center of emptiness was forming inside her, desperate for his filling. Spock stroked her temple for a moment, reassuring her, counseling patience. Then he dropped his head, his tongue finding her nipple; the emptiness intensified. T'Pan arched toward him even as she tried to apologize, to explain that this strange sensation was nothing of hers, but only some delusion that-- //There, Wife,// his consolation came again, and he gave a deep, pleased chuckle. His mouth left her nipple and began to play along neck and shoulder, but his fingers were at her breast. T'Pan arched toward him again, and he began to move on her with long, slow strokes that stimulated her unbearably.

//Harder!// Dimly she realized that it was her turn to beg. I am in control of my-- Spock's free hand slid underneath her to tilt her up to him, and a cry cut the lie in half. //Harder!//

//Patience. It is not long.// Spock tuned in to her closely, finding the deepening center. He concentrated for a moment, then his grunt of satisfaction joined her gasp as the very tip of his penis began to probe the wombtip itself.

//Husband!// T'Pan begged, rocking down on him. He yelped and warm seed spurted into her, increasing every sensitivity. But the long, slow movements did not speed. //Harder!// T'Pan sobbed, reaching to dig into him. He reared, biting back a groan at the stimulation of her attack, but his control did not break. He would move within her slowly, rubbing, touching, until her every nerve burned, as he had burned, until he could cool her, as she had cooled

//Patience, Wife.//

//No!// Totally beside herself, T'Pan got her feet under her and began to thrust down on him, trying to break him, to force him into wild thrusting deep inside her. Seed spurted, bathing the wombtip again. T'Pan screamed. and grabbed his temples, feeding back, forcing him to feel what she was feeling. Spock grabbed the bed, bearing down on her, gasping with the effort of control. T'Pan screamed again in frustration, then her mind darkened, and now at last Spock was thrusting. The glorious friction of flesh on flesh drove everything else away. Seed bathed her again, but suddenly T'Pan knew that that was not going to be enough. The circle of need was hard within her; Spock's body, filling the very core of hers, was only making it grow. Only one thing would satisfy her, and she had to have it. She wept in despair.

Spock knew what she wanted. It was wrong, and she turned away in shame. But her body still pumped, still demanded. Spock took a deep breath. He put his forehead in the curve of her neck. Dimly she recognized the familiar search for sanctuary, but uncontrollable shivers were coursing through her. High, wild cries broke from her. She had to have him, all of him. Spock pulled his being into a tight sphere. Then, deliberately, he broke it open.

The pain of the rupture was shattering. T'Pan felt it too, and her scream joined his. But now, at last, Spock's whole being was flowing into her, filling her completely. Mind joined warmly with mind. A few last strokes emptied his body into hers. He was totally hers now, at last and forever. T'Pan caught the empty shell in a protective embrace. Then blackness closed.

* * *

"Wife? Wife!" Spock shook her urgently; T'Pan snapped awake. He had withdrawn; she was alone again, in mind and body. She had to think, to analyze -- but Spock cupped her face in his hands, smiling at her. He was pale and obviously dizzy, but he was smiling. She managed a return smile, felt it waver, and covered Spock's eyes with her hand. Spock chuckled wearily, then he got to his knees.

"Rest, Husband!" T'Pan reached to hold him, guessing that what he really wanted was to drift off in her arms. But he caught her hands, nodding, and pushed her back.

"Yes, Wife." Steadying himself with one hand, he reached for a blanket, discarded hours ago, and tucked it carefully around her. "Now we shall rest."

He got another cover and pulled it around his shoulders. T'Pan watched him doubtfully. She really ought to meld, to make sure he was all right. But it was so good to be alone in herself again that she couldn't quite bring herself to reach. Spock, too, seemed happy to be alone. He stroked her forehead once, in a quick gesture of affection and gratitude, then he lay down and turned over, his back to her. "Now we shall rest, my wife;" he whispered. "Now, at last, we shall sleep."

* * *

T'Pan woke at dawn, terrified by the realization that she had slept almost around the clock. Her heart was pounding as she melded to monitor Spock's condition; then she relaxed with a sigh. He was in the long sleep -- the involuntary deep rest so profound that some clinicians called it coma. The end of the time was in sight now. Two days, three at the outside. and Spock would be a well man. Something touched her chest at the thought, but she decided to postpone consideration, and went back to sleep herself.

She woke again at noon. A careful check assured her that Spock was recovering normally. Contraction was 30 to 50% complete, just as it should be. T'Pan meditated, slept, woke to meditate again. Then, as tradition prescribed, she called Amanda.

As soon as she cut the connection she realized she had not thought this situation through. Should she explain? With what words? Tradition gave no guide to a son's ... chattel. Resolutely, she pushed the word aside. She hadn't allowed it to deter her before; this was no time to let it surface. Should she call Sarek, and beg him to explain...? A knock sounded. Too late.

Amanda carried a tray, books, a file bulging with papers. T'Pan relaxed; somehow, Amanda had learned what it was customary for a man's mother to keep watch at this time. The tray was enticing, the corridor entrancing. To get out, even for a while! Amanda waved her on by; she almost ran.

It was wonderful to see different walls, different rooms, to be alone in her body again. She wandered for a while, enjoying; then called T'Lan at work, wanting to tell her, even in necessarily veiled terms, of the change in her circumstances. They talked for a long time. T'Pan read the news summary, then allowed herself a walk. She must not go far; wakening from the long sleep was apt to be a moment of difficulty. But when she returned she found Spock still unconscious. Amanda was sitting next to him, absorbed in her work. She smiled and nodded toward the tray. T'Pan attacked the food with frightful gusto. But Amanda nodded approval and bent to brush Spock's face with her lips. Then she came to T'Pan, hands outstretched in a parental touch.

T'Pan felt shy about reaching, knowing that Amanda could not choose, as a Vulcan woman might, to deflect her. But after a moment of soul searching, she volunteered a Human hug. Amanda's arms caught her, holding her hard. Then, face working, Amanda swept her papers together and hurried from the room lest she embarrass her daughter. T'Pan gave a little sigh of relief as she lay down beside her husband and went to sleep.

* * *

Spock woke to need. and he did know a bad moment before T'Pan could get through to his clouded mind. It was not easy; he had slept too long for that; and it took considerable strength to contain his frantic thrusts. But T'Pan felt herself again. Difficulty was past; she could manage now. She stroked and soothed, and at last Spock eased. He gave a long sigh, and seemed to sound himself, turning inward. Then he smiled. "It is over." He turned over, releasing her, and fell sound asleep once more.

Startled. T'Pan melded to check. It was not over; his temperature was still high. But that sensation of heaviness was entirely gone. From now on intervals would grow longer and longer, granting them time to rest, to exercise. Maybe they could go down the lab tomorrow ! An hour would allow her just to check that Tony was keeping everything running smoothly, which of course he was, but ... T'Pan sprang up and headed for the door, meaning to call Tony and ask him to send out today's readouts. There was a large package on the floor outside, with another tray. She set the tray aside for later and attacked her data.

Spock woke an hour later, and for the first time woke without need, rested, but ravenous. The rustle of paper made him turn his head. His wife had opened his work desk, but its surface was too small for graphics, so she had chosen the "peasant's table." She sat cross-legged on the floor, literally surrounded by her work.

Spock lay watching her, enjoying the concentration on her face as she bent over a column of figures. She was still in her robe, but she had done up her hair, possibly because that was her receptacle for the styluses which radiated brightly in all directions from the large bun. Spock decided he would be quite still, to give her a chance to work. Then he saw the tray and sat up abruptly.

T'Pan looked up. ''Good afternoon."

"Good afternoon," he responded politely. He swung his legs off the bed without the slightest feeling of discomfort. Luxury. He got his robe. T'Pan was piling the data sheets. "Do not disturb thyself, Wife. Unless thee is as hungry as--" His mouth watered; he swallowed.

"I ate earlier." She was in fact extremely hungry, but-- "I am just in the midst of a curve."

"Then work." He spoke thickly around an inelegantly large mouthful. "Or, here." He picked up a basket: squash bread! And Amanda had simply wrapped an entire loaf. He broke off a generous hunk, handed it to his wife, and bit into his piece while he explored the remaining containers.

T'Pan controlled a smile and bent over her graph. But as soon as she finished plotting she put her work aside and rose. Spock pointed to the containers. "Eggabbac. Honeyed fungus. Spiced groats. Aged eggs. Onion rice." It was enough for six. They ate every morsel.

"Whew!" Spock shook his head over the disgracefully empty tray. "But it was good!" They smiled at each other. Spock took an eager breath. "Wife! Wouldst enjoy--?" He stopped. "Thee wishes to work."

"It will keep."

"Then wouldst enjoy a hike? We could fly over to Egeln, walk the mountain trail. Or dost prefer the canyon? The edali will be in bloom. Or--"

"Spock!" she interrupted, controlling a laugh.

"Oh!" His face fell. "I display emotion?"

"Thee is not entirely composed." It was her duty to warn him, but she spoke as gently as possible, and immediately offered an alternative. "Why not run to the old stables? We an -- Spock! WAIT!"

Spock froze midstride, looked down at himself, and shook his head. "Wife, do warn me, I beg." He strode to the wardrobe, flinging his robe onto the hook. "Do not let me exhibit thoughtlessness." He pulled on a tunic and rummaged for pants.

"I will." T'Pan promised his back. She got her own clothes on, even remembering to remove her styluses. (T'Lan had often removed them for her as they flew back from town.)

"It is just that I feel so well," he confided. "Ready?"

"Ready." Spock ran. She started to call to him, then gave it up and simply ran after him. Amanda was coming downstairs; she flattened herself against the wall, but Spock stopped, reaching for a parental touch. "Thank you, Mother." He hesitated, as though he wanted to say more, then shook his head. "It was good."

He charged down the stairs and out. T'Pan hesitated, framing an apology for such behavior, but Amanda only smiled and waved her on by.

Spock was well ahead, running full out. "Come on!" he yelled.

"I'll catch up," she called, preferring a more comfortable pace. Dust from his feet was still settling. She put her foot in one print, and stretched to reach the next. Stars, he was a tall man! She had forgotten that she was just chin high to him. But she seemed to be the right size in everything of importance, she thought, and blushed at herself.

Spock was halfway around the old track when she reached it, but he had settled into a jog that she could keep pace with. She joined him as he ran past and did two laps with him. But it seemed strange to run next to anyone but T'Lan, and for some reason she tired quickly. She sat down, vexed. Then her eyes opened wide. Could she possibly be feeling it this soon? Breasts? Well, yes, there was a soreness to them. Or was that her imagination? It was too soon to be sure. But she could hope. What if all of them had conceived? She smiled in delight. Four children! Sons and daughters to restore their house. They would play in the courtyard, and fill the empty rooms with noise and confusion. They would grow, and learn, and ...

''Wife?'' Spock was standing next to her, clearly troubled. Impulsively she stretched out her hand. He took it, and his worried face eased.

T'Pan called herself the most unladylike word she could think of. She had almost forgotten -- how convenient, such a memory! She pulled him to sit beside her and turned to him.

"I was jealous," she stated baldly.

Spock smothered a laugh. Jealousy was for sehlats. Then he remembered and was ashamed. "I was jealous." Speak truth. "Am jealous."

"Of Tony?" She sighed. "There is reason. Not from now on," she added hastily. "But -- one cannot change the past."

Her voice was strained. Spock frowned, realizing there was a matter of difficulty here. Jealous. He thought back. "Of Sepek?" He blinked, totally bewildered.

She rose abruptly and walked two steps back turned to hide discomposure. "I wished to give thee rest. To calm thee, to help thee prepare, as is my duty! Thee turned from me. It is forgiven," she added quickly. "But it made me realize..."

Spock waited. She did not go on. "T'Pan, please. I do not understand."

"I do not know thee!"

It was only a strained whisper, but Spock heard it well enough. "I see." He took a deep breath for calm, turning the problem over in his mind. She had pledged herself to him to ease a pain he'd found unbearable. That moment of generosity had linked her fate irrevocably to his. Now she was beginning to wonder what she was mated to. "T'Pan, I..." How to reply?

He rose to speak. "I try to do the correct thing." And how often had he failed? "It is not always possible. Indeed, it is not always possible to know what the ethical course is. In some instances ..."

"Spock!" she interrupted, horrified. "I do not judge thee! Oh!" She put up her hands to hide insufficient control

Spock sat down, discouraged. It seemed he still did not understand. Why had she been so angry? "Jealous," she said. Of Sepek? Angry because ... mm. That made sense. She had tried to comfort him as a wife, and he had rebuffed her, making her feel a stranger. That was his fault: the lack of courage to show her what he had done. A brazen woman, her challenge ... A shudder of terror ran through him. "Wife! Come to me?"

She came at once; it was his right. He took her in his arms, but there seemed scant comfort in the embrace. "Thee does not want..." He pulled away, desolate.

"No, just at this moment, I do not. Nevertheless, I will hold thee, if thee wishes. There will be times, if thee returns to me, when thee--"

"T'Pan!"

A hand over his mouth stopped his protest, and T'Pan shook her head, furious. "And now thee sees what a logical creature is this woman! In the very moment I tell thee I would be free, I try to make thee swear that thee will return. Grraugh!"

She strode away, turning her back again. This was fortunate, as it took Spock a moment to control his laughter at such an extraordinary sound. Now he understood. At last, he understood! "Ambivalence," he named it.

"Am-bi-?" She turned inquiringly.

"It means being of two minds. Humans have a word for it; we do not." He regarded her with pleased surprise. "I always thought it was my Human half that rendered me vulnerable to it."

T'Pan could see nothing to be pleased about; she hung her head in shame.

''Wife, the difficulties are real. It is no lack in thee."

She came to him then. "Spock, I do beg forgiveness. I cannot order my thoughts, it seems. It - I - it is pleasant to feel close to thee. But it seems ... I... perhaps it is that there is so much that ... so many things to learn? I do not know how to begin!"

He held out his arms, and she was in them once more. It seemed strange to hold a woman when needing only to reassure and be reassured, but it helped. Perhaps this was his Human half again, except that she seemed to ease also.

Spock considered the problem while he waited for her to calm herself. There were many things she must know, in common justice, as well as in the service of her comfort. He would have to show her ... but somehow he was sure she could accept. His mind was undivided; the ethical course toward this woman was clear. He tilted her face up and smiled at her. "We will begin with the most important."

A look of surprise crossed her face. Then she nodded. He was almost sure he saw joy beneath her composure as she made to pull back. "No." He reached for a touch. A lifetime of lonely pride rose in revulsion, but now he was sure he saw joy. The pride that had sustained him through so much was no small sacrifice, but he made it. //There may be pain,// he warned. Her arms tightened in response. //Not difficulty,// he reassured her, //but it was not pleasant.// T'Pan nodded understanding.

* **

An all too familiar environment took shape around Spock. Odor came first -- antiseptic, clean sheets fouled with his sweat and tears.

* * *

At the very last moment, he determined to spare them the worst of it. No useful purpose was to be served by recalling ... He shuddered. Instantly he felt T'Pan's anxious reassurance. He calmed himself, then pulled away from the mind touch.

"What I wish thee to know," he began, then paused. A mischievous idea began to form. ''Walk with me?" He took her hand, and they began to stroll around the track once more. "I should have told thee before." He paused, as though troubled. "There is another that I call t'hy'la."

Startled eyes flew to his face. He let her see the mischief, and she shook her head, ruefully acknowledging the hit. ''Thy captain."

''Yes; and perhaps ... well, he is the most ... meaningful. But colleagues. Comrades. T'Pan." He stopped, grasping her shoulders. "Thee will come with me, one day? After -- when thy commitments are met? Explore with me, with us? T'Pan, there is so much we do not know! Planets -- whole systems! Life forms of every variety! Intelligent life, pre-intelligent-- "

"Spock!" she protested. He had a knack of kindling a thirst she had believed long vanquished. The wish to travel, to experience, to understand! These were not goals proper to a dutiful adopted daughter. "I will come," she promised as a dutiful wife. "Have I not said so?"

He hugged her so hard she squeaked. She felt the joy running through him, and could not but share it. But curiosity had been aroused; she did want to know. "Spock, thy captain? Thy other t'hy'la?"

"T'hy'la," he echoed tenderly. But then he returned to the task he had set. "T'Pan, what Sepek recalled to me was..."

"Spock, dear friend! I understand how painful it must bel A chattel mating--"

"It was not the ... the time itself. In truth, Wife, I do not remember that at all. T'Pau was there, thee realizes. She beamed up to the ship--" T'Pan gave a gasp of astonishment. "Indeed," he agreed. "As soon as she knew I might live -- that I had not killed my captain, she and Sepek beamed up. I was ... it was past bearing, Wife. But they were so kind. They came just as I was..." He swallowed, knowing he had been nearly berserk with pain. "It was difficult. But I do not remember any more until I woke to their assurance that the worst was over."

"And thy captain?"

"He held me in his arms until they arrived. Comforting -- T'Pan, thee knows. I had killed him, but for the doctor's ruse. But Jim held me, and comforted me -- and he was angry!" The last words came out almost as a shout, startling them both. Spock smiled ruefully. "That was the pain Sepek's visit recalled to me."

"Spock, I do not understand. What--"

"No. Of course. This I must show thee. "Wife?" He placed his hands on her temples, and drew her into memory.

* * *

That smell returned: a harsh chemical, worlds removed from the healing scent of a Vulcan clinic. The mattress under them was too soft for proper support. T'Pan knew a sudden conviction that she was in an alien world.

Pain returned Spock to consciousness all too quickly. A probe separated swollen tissue and his mouth opened for a scream that shame would not be able to stop. T'Pau's fingers found his nerve center; he whimpered, longing for oblivion. "That's all," Sepek said. The probe was deftly removed, and T'Pau's hands began to caress. Spock buried his head in her shoulder. Every inch of him ached with pain and exertion; he had never felt so ill. A contraction hit, infinitely gentler now, but still difficult. He writhed, and Sepek melded with him to locate the pain. Iron fingers rubbed hard. Spock set his jaw ... And suddenly there was nothing.

* * *

//That is odd,// Spock puzzled. //What?//

//Be careful, husband,// T'Pan warned urgently. //Thee has touched the memories T'Pau comforted. Be wise; do not disturb her work!//

//What I did!// Spock shuddered. He hid his face in her hair, as though to block some sight.

//Gently. Gently. Come away. Come away with me. That is good.// T'Pan sheltered him carefully; memory returned. Spock lay in T'Pau's arms; they protected him as T'Pan's now did. He felt much stronger. Spock touched her face in gratitude.

//There, little one,// T'Pau smiled at him. "Here." T'Pau held something to his lips once more. Spock drank the sour medicine, grateful for its easing and numbing of his body. "Finish it. Thee will be better for it." Spock obeyed, then his eyes widened as realization clicked in. T'Pau had beamed up herself to care for him. And he was drinking from the medicine cup that had belonged to their house since prescientific days!

"I am honored," he managed. Tears threatened; he hid his face. T'Pau had always made a point of letting him know that he remained part of her house, whatever the situation between father and son.

T'Pau acknowledged, stroking his temple. "Child." She bent to whisper in his ear. "Come home with me."

"Home? Ai!" The contraction at just that moment seemed to sum up the situation exactly. T'Pau melded to find the pain and rubbed hard. Spock set his jaw, maintaining silence. Then sharper pain won a moan. //I beg forgive--//

//Hush, brave one. It is permitted.// Brave one? Shame swept over him.//Now what is this?// T'Pau demanded, startled.

//I... (Shame!)// He could not articulate, but T'Pau caught the thought.

//No, little one. Inwardly, yes, thee screamed. But to the world, even to thy witnesses, thee showed only fortitude, I promise thee. (Truth.)// Spock gave a sigh of relief, and she stroked his temple again. //Child, come home with me,// she repeated. He shook his head, trying to control his revulsion. //Little one, the ship must leave. I must return -- Sutil's time is near and I must comfort him as I comforted thee. Come with me. Thee shall rest in my house, and have the care thee requires.//

//Please tell Sepek to tell Dr. McCoy what I require.//

T'Pau sighed, conceding defeat. "Sepek. Please tell Dr. McCoy what Spock will require."

"But -- I--" T'Pau shook her head slightly. Sepek was silent. Then: "If I could be accommodated on your journey to Altair?"

"Or course." Two voices spoke in unison.

* * *

//Spock, who is that?// T'Pan demanded, feeling Spock's response to the voices.

//My captain and Dr. McCoy. I had almost forgotten they were there.//

//They were most pleased that Sepek would stay.//

//Yes, for they were concerned. Especially Dr. McCoy. At that time, no information on the cycle was available outside our clinics. He was the ship s physician.//

//And of importance to thee, I think?//

//True. He is a good man.// What luxury to be able to express such things, in privacy and trust.

T'Pan smiled in equal contentment. //And thy captain? Thy other t'hy'la?//

Well-being deepened. Spock hated to disturb it with the pain to come. T'Pan caught the reluctance; he felt her disappointment even as she framed assent. //This part I will tell.//

"It was necessary for the ship to leave. My captain had disobeyed orders to bring me to Vulcan. T'Pau made that right with the Admiralty; I claimed her intercession as a m'bon. But now we had to resume course to Altair so the captain could attend the ceremonies surrounding the founding of the coalition. T'Pau left and the captain left to escort her. Sepek melded with me and ... and this also I will tell. Thee should know that Sepek has always disapproved of my leaving Vulcan, as much as he deplored my disobedience. He was convinced not only that I should return to Vulcan, but that I must do so now. In addition. T'Pau had commanded him to persuade me to return. So he argued that--"

"But thee was so ill!"

"Nevertheless, he saw duty clear. It would have been difficult for him to conceal his conviction, even had he tried, as he melded to help me control the fever."

"Poor brave one!"

"It was difficult." But it was not difficult to recall a pain so well comforted; Spock relaxed. "Especially since, thee should know, I had no sense of time. Or that Dr. McCoy had ordered my captain to rest. He -- T'Pan, my captain refused to leave Sick Bay -- not the most pleasant environment on the ship. He remained there, recovering from the injuries I had dealt, resting before the ceremonies. Throughout the whole weary time, he was within 15 paces, remaining near instead of returning to his quarters, out of concern for his murder--"

"Hush!" T'Pan interrupted, quite shocked. "A tumescent must be forgiv..." Her voice trailed off. "Thy captain is Human. I see. But it seems he understood..."

"Yes. He seeks always to understand. To learn." Spock chuckled. "That is important to know, Wife. He is as curious as we, and he seeks always to understand what makes another tick." He said the last in English.

''Tick?'' T'Pan puzzled. "A bloodsucking arachnid of--"

"No, the sound, 'tick.' It is a Human metaphor, traceable to gear-driven chronometers."

"Oh. I had best study English, I can see. Tony does not use such expressions."

"Amanda does. And my captain. And I fear I have fallen into the habit. at least in thought."

"Disgraceful," she teased. "But I will speak often with Amanda."

"That will be pleasant for her."

"And for me."

Spock fell silent. He was smiling, thinking of his mother. T'Pan guessed. She waited patiently, but curiosity was growing. Finally she prompted him.

"Oh!" Again she sensed reluctance. But again he resumed. "My captain was not angry. But Sepek did not understand that. Worse, he had seen Nurse Chapel ask the captain what had happened and had seen the captain put his lips to her ear to explain! Sepek was convinced that the entire disgraceful story was by now making the rounds of the ship. My protest that they would never use a fellow officer so, he dismissed as wishful thinking." Spock gave a short laugh. "I was so tired, Wife."

She took his hand to comfort him; he pulled her up, to stroll along beside him. ''Thee knew thee could remain. How did thee convince Sepek?"

"Captain Kirk convinced him." Spock braced himself, then let her have just a taste of the endless, weary arguing.

* * *

//Spock, make the decision. Return, of necessity.//

//Return? To a father disobeyed? A bondmate who challenged rather than marry a half-breed? Who chose my own captain as -- Hellcat!//

//Hush, Spock. Agitation betrays thee. T'Pau has said, come to her house. Look, she left the medicine cup, charging that thee return it to her. Thee has a place on Vulcan.//

//I have a place here.//

//No.// Again Sepek showed Spock the nurse's question, the captain pulling her close to whisper. Today everyone on board, tomorrow the entire Federation.

* * *

//Sepek was angry,// she deduced.

//Yes. At that time, thee remembers, we were still attempting to preserve reticence. Sepek thought my folly had exposed us all to-//

//Folly? To ask a friend to witness?//

//I had not known Sepek would be there. T'Pau I'd hoped. would probably ... put the situation with my father at that time... I did not know if ... T'Pan! If I had not asked my captain and the doctor! If I had fought Stonn! Brr!// He shuddered and pulled her into a desperate embrace. She soothed him, questioning gently, but it was several moments before he could articulate. //I hope Stonn would have won.// He shuddered again.

//Dear friend. Ease. (Illogical.)//

It took him a moment but then he did relax. //It is illogical to dwell on an evil that never befell,// he conceded. //Only, Wife ... T'hy'la! I could never have called her so.//

T'Pan could not help smiling. //It is a word I never thought to use.// Suddenly an irrational temptation to get her own back overcame her. //To another.// A jolt of pain went through him. //Spock!// she almost screamed. //T'Lan! It is T'Lan I call t'hy'la!//

//Oh.// He sighed audibly.

//Spock, I entreat forgiveness.//

//I deserved that.// Then he hugged her as though he would never let her go.

//Husband,// she soothed. //Husband.// He seemed not to ease. Perhaps she could distract him? //Husband, finish the story.//

He shook his head like an animal, as though to clear it. T'Pan could sense the swirling chaos of unstructured thoughts. Emotionalism. She tried to focus, to help him back to order, but suddenly a corpse lay on the sand before them.

She shrieked and recoiled. Spock blocked the sight instantly. //I beg forgiveness!// He took a deep breath, fighting for control. //T'Pan. I intended that thee not see that.//

//My poor friend!// A Human, dead, by the ahn woon... //That is the memory that ... //

//That seems to be associated with Sepek. Yes.// He breathed deeply once again, pushing the pain away. //I thought it best to retain that memory. It has never been difficult, in the light of subsequent events. But today ...//

//Thee saw that as Sepek argued with thee in the meld?//

//Yes. Constantly. And after. Sepek stopped arguing to let me rest. I fell asleep, but kept seeing ... what thee saw. Sepek stayed with me and he woke me each time, that I might remember my captain was not dead. But as time went on, my captain did not return to me. I began to think that perhaps he was angry. I thought about it, though I could not think, or realize that barely two hours had passed. I decided I had perhaps my captain did not understand that I had not known him, there on the challenge ground. Sepek told me that I was irrational -- that it would make no difference. But I...// Spock stopped, nerving himself, then showed her.

* * *

She felt fear, and loss, and bodily misery, but the worst was a sense that this was the only place for Spock, the only comfort in all the universe. But if the captain was angry, then the Enterprise, too, was barred to him, forever. The only place...

"Excuse me," a man's voice intruded.

Spock woke with a jolt. "Dr. McCoy!" Sepek restrained him; Spock fought to articulate. "Dr. McCoy! Tell Jim!"

//Hush,// Sepek commanded.

//Let me speak!//

//Spock, thee is irrational. Be guided by me, thy healer. Accept-//

"Excuse me," the doctor interrupted again. "Doctor, I think you should sit down. Here."

There was a scrape of a chair along the bed. Sepek sat gratefully. "Spock," a hand grasped Spock's shoulder, "if there's anything I can do... Want something to make you sleep! Or--?"

"No!" Spock gasped, terrified of being trapped in the nightmare world. "Only tell Captain-- Jim!"

"Spock, can you speak English? I--"

//Ease! (Obey!)// Sepek commanded, forcing Spock to calm.

//I must tell Jim--//

//Spock, this is wholly irrational.// Sepek withdrew from the meld. His fingers met in Spock's neck and the world blackened.

* * *

//Sepek certainly favored his side of the argument!// T'Pan was indignant.

//He thought I would only humiliate myself. As indeed might have been the case, with some. But he did not know my captain.//

//Thy captain came to thee?//

* * *

Consciousness began to return. Spock moaned in pain. Someone was whispering nearby. "Jim. Jim. Wake up. Sorry, but wake up." Spock struggled to bring himself around. The whisper was so low they could not make out words.

* * *

//It is the doctor talking to the captain,// Spock explained.

Then a second voice: "Excuse me, Doctor. I am sorry to disturb-"

"Jim!" Spock came to with a rush. He wrenched out of Sepek's hands and was off the bed, staggering to the voice. "Jim! Captain! I must speak with thee! Please let me explain! Jim!" Dr. McCoy grabbed his arm to support him; Sepek held the other. Spock fought them, but the captain came to him, both hands outstretched.

"Easy!" He caught Spock's wrists and held them strongly. "Migod, man!"

"Jim, I did not know thee! I swear! I thought she chose Stonn! I could not--"

"Spock!" the captain shouted, to interrupt. "Spock, I'm sorry, my Vulcan just isn't up to..."

"Vulcan?" Spock stopped, confused.

"Spock." Sepek took a moment to blink back astonishment. "Spock, thy captain does not understand Vulcan. At least, not when spoken so rapidly and indistinctly. Come, lie down. Thee is..."

"No!" Spock pulled away, terrified of losing his chance. English. His mind reeled at the effort, but he forced it to translate. "Speak," he managed, but what was the imperative? The grammar would not come, but he got the concept. "Imperative."

"You must speak?" Jim guessed. "With me?"

Spock nodded gratefully, then gasped as the room unfocused. "Easy! Lie down; let us make you comfortable."

"Jim!"

"It's all right. You shall speak with me, I promise. But come." He pulled Spock's arm across his shoulders, stepped under, then paused. Nurse Chapel had taken the opportunity to strip the bed. The captain supported him while she finished and came toward them. Spock managed a thank you, which made her smile. She took Spock's other arm and together they eased him back onto the bed. The captain's hand stayed on his shoulder; Spock turned to look up hazily. "Thee is not..." He shook his head; it seemed too much trouble to talk.

"Spock." Sepek's voice made him start; Jim's hand steadied him. "Hypo," Sepek warned, and pressed it into his arm.

"Is that a sedative?" McCoy asked.

"No."

McCoy said no more, but perhaps something passed between the two healers, for Sepek began to explain his treatment. Spock didn't bother to listen. He closed his eyes, opened them to study the living face, impressing it on his mind, then closed them again, beginning to drift...

* * *

//I fell asleep then,// Spock explained. //And now thee has seen...///

//Yes, but Spock!// T'Pan was avid to know more. //The rest of the crew. The nurse. Gossip?//

//Was never a danger. Nurse -- Doctor Chapel, she is now -- would never gossip about a patient. And in any case, the captain told her only that he had been injured in the course of a top secret mission. He could have told her the truth, but for fear of humiliating me. Medical ethics are most scrupulous.//

//So the crew never knew.//

//Only that there had been an accident.// He fell silent, but her curiosity still burned. She let him feel it, and he smiled. //Well, the rest of the crew...//

* * *

Spock woke to pain.

* * *

//It was a contraction,// he explained, //but J was not thinking in those terms. Or at all.//

* * *

Immediately he knew what his trouble was: the protecting hand was gone. Without it he was Vulnerable, easy prey to pain and nightmare. He voiced his protest. The whimper had no effect. He tried again.

"Spock!" Sepek took his shoulders gently. "It is--"

''No!'' Spock shouted. "Jim! Jim!" It was only a croak, but footsteps came on the run.

//Here,// Jim said. The hand was replaced. Spock snorted in indignation, and settled down to return to sleep.

* * *

//Spock!// T'Pan exclaimed, in some awe. //Thee must have been--//

//Virtually mindless.// He grimaced. //We had arrived at Altair. The captain had to beam down to a reception. He had duty to perform. But I could not realize that; I simply could not think at all. I knew only my own comfort.//

//The cause was sufficient. Tell me what happened.//

* * *

"Perhaps I can make him understand," Sepek volunteered. His fingers touched Spock's head.

"No!" Spock howled. He struck the hand away and scrambled toward his captain, imploring protection. Strong arms came around him, shutting out the threat.

"Spock!" Sepek reproved.

"Er, Doctor," the captain began hesitantly.

"I know what he fears," Sepek sighed. "Spock, my word. There will be no pain. Only strength. My word."

Spock thought it over. Then he took Jim's hand firmly: the feel of living flesh would ward off the nightmare. He nodded permission and Sepek melded.

The healer was true to his word. Spock saw no pain, was wearied by no arguments. Sepek communicated only strength, lending so much energy that the world took shape around Spock once more, and his eyes could see light.

"Sit down, Doctor," McCoy said sharply. Sepek sat rather suddenly on the bed. But after a moment he rose.

"Sepek!" Spock called. He only managed a whisper, but Sepek paused. "Thank you."

His temple was touched in silent acknowledgment. "Give him this," Sepek said. "It will ease the pain and help him rest." Once more the medicine cup was held to Spock's lips. Spock drank, but he was aware of something wrong. He puzzled it out: one did not snuggle up to one's captain as to a pillow. He pulled away a little and Jim eased him down.

"Finish it," the captain ordered, lifting his head. Spock obeyed. There was a large lump in his throat. It ached. "Feeling better?"

Spock knew he was supposed to say yes. He managed a nod.

"Liar," the captain said without animus. He put his hand on Spock's shoulder: the lump dissolved. Spock gave a little sigh.

The captain nodded, as though something had been settled. "Bones, I want you to order me to Sick Bay."

"Well, that's a switch."

"Just for tonight. This reception--" The captain snorted. "Call Scotty, will you? Ask him to represent me?"

"Oh, he'll love that."

"I suppose so. Wait, I know. Call Uhura first. Tell her it's a request. Just a favor." Spock closed his eyes, beginning to drift. People were talking quietly around him, footsteps came and went. Spock paid no attention: he didn't have to. He would sleep now. The protecting hand was warm on his shoulder. He could open his eyes at any time, and see ... He opened his eyes, just to be sure.

"You still awake?" Spock nodded dreamily. "In pain?"

"How about a mild sedative?" McCoy whispered.

"Unnecessary." Spock closed his eyes again.

"Spock." Jim bent near. "I've got to brief Scotty and Uhura for just a minute. Do you mind if they come in? Or I can ..." Spock shook his head. The room seemed to be widening; everything was moving away from him. But as long as the captain's hand was firm on his shoulder... "Come in, Uhura, Scotty."

Spock heard a rustle of fabric and motion. "Parrot," he murmured.

Uhura smiled, rightly taking this as a compliment. Then she studied him; pleasure changed to concern. A cool hand rested on his temple. "Lieutenant," Spock whispered, "I killed the captain."

* * *

//Spock, what was thee doing?// T'Pan interrupted.

//Grandstanding for Sepek, I suppose.// He grimaced. //I had forgotten that.//

//The poor woman! Picture her embarrassment! What did she do?//

* * *

The hand on Spock's temple stiffened. but then stroked to comfort. "It was an accident!" the captain's voice protested. "I was knocked out. He insists on blaming himself."

"You've got to get that fever down," the woman spoke gently. "Then you'll be able to think."

"Aye, lad!" the man behind her agreed, equally concerned.

* * *

//Spock, they seem so kind,// T'Pan marveled.

//They are.// Spock took a moment to return them to the present. then eased out of the meld.

"There." His tone indicated satisfaction, but his eyes questioned here with some anxiety. "There is one more thing thee should know. No word of this was ever spoken." He fell silent, waiting. ''Wife?'' he prompted finally.

"I would like to meet such people," T'Pan responded, and he beamed. But suddenly she had a dozen questions, even more urgent than his comfort. "Spock, the woman Uhura. She is Human?"

"Yes. An African."

"The man in the skirt?"

"Lt. Cdr. Scott, from the United Kingdom area of Earth."

"Their English sounds so different."

"Yes, for Earth has retained its diversity of languages and cultures."

"Dr. McCoy?"

"North American."

"The nurse?"

"The same."

"Do North Americans specialize in medicine?"

"No, that is a coincidence. North America is a continent three times the land area of Eg'ra."

Three questions arose and jammed. T'Pan was trying to sort them out when Spock stopped, glanced at the sky, and turned back toward the house. T'Pan nodded. There would be time for all her questions. She should order her thoughts' now. They strolled in silence, enjoying the change of light, until they were in sight of the house. Spock touched her arm shyly. "Wife, thee will come -- when thy project is finished? To see? To reach out -- to learn all that is so strange?"

Savage joy rose in T'Pan; for an instant, the future seemed to blossom with everything she had denied herself. It took some effort to achieve a proper countenance. "I will come," she promised. "I do wish to finish here. Though I am 'ambivalent' about that too!"

Spock stared, astonished. "I am honored," he managed.

T'Pan looked up at his open face, then shyly at her feet. Stars, she barely knew this man! Surely it was illogical to feel so -- so -- settled. She looked ahead at the large house -- her home one day, she supposed. Certainly she had no house to offer a husband. Only the family that had taken her in as an orphan, to whom she owed such duty. But it seemed chance had intervened, giving her the means to fulfill that duty. How had she deserved such abundance? she wondered, knowing an absurd desire to hug her breasts. She suppressed it, but there was definitely a heaviness there. She must call the Birth Center tomorrow and arrange for a test as soon as possible -- the alien factors might pose problems. Should she tell Spock? No. Early days, yet. But however illogically, she was quite sure that...

"Wife?" T'Pan looked up quickly, realizing that her self-absorption had kept her from hearing some remark. She started to apologize, but Spock shook his head in understanding. "These are deep thoughts," he teased.

''Not so deep. Husband, I beg forgiveness. To what did I not attend?"

"I asked," Spock repeated patiently, ''Thee will not object if I tell my colleagues of thee?"

T'Pan went cold. "What will thee--"

''To my captain only," he interrupted quickly, "the truth. With thy permission?"

It took her a moment, but she managed to nod. She must learn to trust this man whom Spock trusted so absolutely. She put her reluctance aside, aware that to show it would trouble Spock. In truth, to protest it was illogical. Spock's honor was in the hands of this Human he called t'hy'la. Therefore, hers too was forfeit to that alien's generosity. Forever. "I agree."

''To the others," Spock continued happily, "only that I have found thee -- found a wife. They will be most pleased. Thee will consent?"

What business was it of theirs? "I will consent."

Spock led her a few paces further. "Wife," he said carefully.

T'Pan knew foreboding; she overcame it. "Husband?" she responded pleasantly.

''Thee would not object if -- once thee comes to join me -- if ... that is..." Spock took a deep breath for calm. "Human customs are quite different in this regard. For them, marriage is a time of festivity. An occasion for gatherings, for social affairs. Thee would not object, therefore, if the crew -- it will be the women, in particular -- planned a small 'party' to welcome thee?"

A marriage party? What manner of -- T'Pan looked into anxious eyes, and duty rose blessedly to the fore. "If that is thy desire, Husband."

He smiled at her with disconcerting understanding. "There is much that is strange. Much that I have never understood. But they do not mind if one does not understand; in fact, it amuses them. They care only that one not appear to condemn. And it 'hurts their feelings' if one does not participate -- Captain Kirk taught me that, and he is right."

"I see." T'Pan stored that for future reference as they entered the courtyard.

There was so much to learn. So much to understand." She could not help contrasting this challenge with her life up to now, how peaceful by comparison. And yet, how dull. Probably the wise would not seek to quibble with chance, however overwhelming its generosity.

"Ambivalence." "Marriage parties." How interesting to learn such new concepts, she thought a trifle wryly, as she fell carefully into step with the man at her side.

THE END