DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Beth Carlson and is copyright (c) 1985 by Beth Carlson. This story is Rated PG13. This story is the sequel to "The First Half of the Battle." Originally published in Two Dimensional Thinking, 1985.

 

All's Fair...

Beth Carlson

 

"Personal Log, 0567.97: We're ready -- as ready as we're ever going to get. God. What have I gotten myself into? Since Spock's original injury -- injuries -- and our arrival here in orbit of Tarkella, he has gone through much of the 'double Vulcan' routine I had expected, and is now merely quiet. Almost pensive.

"I know that when the sun rises on the side of the planet our home is on -- I'm going to be alone with him. Tarkella is, as we wanted, to hell and gone from anywhere. I guess getting one wish met out of two is better than nothing. We're still going to have to use a 'fleet hospital. I think we both knew that when I promised Jim would get us a non-'fleet hospital, it would be a cold day in hell before we got it. But Spock needed to believe it then. We were both grasping at straws.

"Spock being seen by anyone he knows worries me less than just the situation of our being together through this. He seems to be trusting me -- and yet there is his natural wall, stronger now because he's scared. And of course, I have my wall, that resistance to getting too involved -- getting hurt -- pushing... I guess I just wonder if we can be close enough to live in the same house and get along, and not be at each other's throats from trying to keep up the walls we need to survive. And how can I observe Spock in some of the very personal moments of his pain and emotional stress -- and find a way to spare his dignity? I don't want to be shut out later because I know too much -- I don't want to become a threat.

"Physically, he's recovered from the internal injuries and surface lacerations; his pelvis has been refused and has healed well. But whether his legs will ever be able to be restructured and will be functional, is a mystery. Leonard could only do so much with rerouting blood supply and using stimulators to keep nerves from dying. It's going to be as hard. I'm scared -- and it doesn't matter. I have to do it -- for me as well as him. I couldn't leave him alone -- not now..."

* * *

The double shimmer solidified into a tall sturdy woman and a dark-haired Vulcan in a glide chair.

Christine Chapel collected her thoughts and looked around. "Well, this is it."

"Dr. Chapel. I have grave doubts that this is a Starfleet facility."

She looked over the large two-storied dwelling and took in the rose-cluttered front yard. "It does look a little rich for their blood, doesn't it?"

"Precisely my thoughts."

Christine edged past Spock's chair and led the way to the front door. "We'll soon know." She knocked at the door and turned to glance at Spock, who had not moved from his midway point on the front walk. When no one answered, she slid the identiplate into the slot and almost jumped when the door slid open. Behind her, she sensed more than heard Spock's chair moving closer. She looked back at him and shrugged, then turned and entered.

Inside, it was warmly decorated in hues of peach and brown and ivory. "It's a tri-level!" Christine heard the surprise in her voice and tried to tone down.

Spock moved over to examine a railing along the short few steps to the kitchen/dining room area. "This rail has been newly installed." He pressed the control on his chair and the invisible pressure force that drove it gently propelled an almost-level chair out and down the steps.

Christine trotted down the stairs and passed him, going to open old fashioned louvered shutters in the dining area. "Spock! A lake! Look!"

He moved beside her. "Water." It was all he said, but the tone of his remark spoke volumes.

She poked him in the shoulder. "Nobody says you have to get into it. But you do have to admit it's pretty."

He moved his head fractionally in reply, and Christine went on. "I wonder if they have rental boats."

Spock left her to her daydreams and turned his chair around. "This was not funded by Starfleet."

Christine sighed. "No, I suppose not."

She turned and watched him enter the den beyond the dining area, then followed him. There was a computer and com-line there and Spock began feeding information into the computer. Christine stood behind him and watched as long fingers danced over keys, the keyed orders interspersed with vocal commands. A few moments later a name flashed across the screen:

SAREK OF VULCAN, FEDERATION AMBASSADOR

"As I had supposed." Spock backed up his chair so suddenly that Christine had to jump back.

She stifled a smile. "The old 'family money' again, huh?" she teased.

Spock's head snapped around to look at her with a glare, and she lifted her hands in surrender. "Sorry, I guess I just don't see why that's so terrible. Of course they want you to be comfortable."

Spock's face had immediately returned to normal and now his chair turned toward her until he faced her fully. "That will not work, Christine."

"What?"

"Evasive tactics."

She sighed and relaxed, awaiting his questions.

"How did my family know I was coming here? And how much do they know?"

"Leonard and I told them last month."

The dark eyes narrowed. "You had no right."

"They were going to be on Tianta when we stopped there. They wanted to make arrangements to see you. We intercepted the message and got you out of it. But your mother saw through our story and looked so worried that we told her the truth. We couldn't let her worry like that. Her imagination would have come up with worse than the truth."

"And how much do they know?"

"Most of it -- physically. Nothing else. They weren't supposed to let you know they knew. When we decided on Tarkella, I sent a stargram to your mother. I'd promised I'd let her know."

Spock turned back to the computer and began to feed a message into it. Christine's hand touched his wrist. "Don't, Spock." Her voice had been soft and she saw him look up. "The house is the only thing they can do for you. Don't take that away from them." The look in his eyes softened and he reached out and pressed a key that dumped the message. "Shall we see the rest of the house?"

"It does seem the inevitable next step. But perhaps we should have our luggage beamed down first."

Christine tried to hide a smile as he led the way to an open space in the living room. She loved that lake.

* * *

"Looks like this room is yours," Christine called down the hall. In the room sat an orthopedic bed with the familiar triangle hanging over it. The sound of Spock's glide chair grew louder until he was beside her, looking into the room. She stepped inside far enough for Spock to pass her. The room was simple, but comfortable, with a bed, desk, chest of drawers, tape viewer, com-viewer, and chair. An open door on the far wall led to a bathroom. Spock took a breath to speak, but even as Christine looked at him, his mouth closed. After a moment, he began again, almost to himself. "It seems impossible, but..."

"But what?"

He looked up at her, almost bewildered. "My mother has been here."

"How can you tell?" Her voice was almost as quiet as his had been.

He motioned toward the window. "Curtains. Cloth curtains."

"That's a little odd, but maybe there isn't a shade glass," she answered, going toward the window.

"There will also be a windchime hanging outside."

Christine looked skeptical, but as her hand reached toward the curtain to expose the window, there was a tinkle and she looked back at him, amazed. "Going into prophecy, are you?" Sure enough, the window was fitted with one-way shade glass, leaving no need for curtains. She opened the window and the windchime tinkled again. "Vulcan, no doubt."

"A common crystalline mineral formation. There is one outside my bedroom window on Vulcan." She watched him observing the room. "The color scheme is also indicative of her presence."

"Yellow and red-orange? Blue and green are the most restful."

"On Earth, Doctor. You forget that the sky on Vulcan is very close to this color of orange. And the yellow you see is actually more of a ..." He ran out of words for a moment and she watched him, waiting. "There are shades of Vulcan colors your eyes are not equipped to see," he said in conclusion.

Christine smiled. "I see. And the windchimes and curtains?" She realized as she said it that she had asked too many questions, but to her surprise, he merely regarded her for a long moment as if debating whether or not to speak, and answered her.

"My mother grew up in a historical landmark home in New Jersey -- on Earth. The home was four hundred yeears old and had curtains as part of its authentic decor. She had been known to express the opinion that a dwelling is not a home without curtains."

Christine tried to stifle a grin. Somehow it tickled her to think of a young Amanda enforcing old-fashioned curtains on her staid Vulcan husband.

"This is humorous?"

She giggled. "I'm sorry. I was just thinking of your father's reaction to your mother's insistence on curtains."

Again, he surprised her by looking amused himself. "Yes. I see your point." The amused look left, to be replaced by one of nausea as the color left his face. His eyes widened in reaction.

Christine came to his side. "Spock?"

"I..." He took a deep breath. "Dizziness." His hand slid over his stomach and he looked ready to vomit. He swallowed hard, opening his mouth to take another deep breath. She pulled back the covers on the bed.

"Pain?"

"Some. I ... I'm all right now."

Christine nodded assurance to him. "Let's get you into bed. This has been too much for you. It's only fatigue." As she spoke she leaned him forward to unzip his uniform top and stripped it over his head. She unfastened his trousers. "Can you lift up?"

Almost confused with exhaustion, he nodded, and after a moment braced himself on his hands and lifted his body. Grasping only his uniform pants, she eased the garment over his hips and down the thin damaged thighs and legs until she could get his footwear off. When she had him stripped down to his black briefs and t-shirt, she turned the bed down, let down the arm of his chair, and laced her forearms along his sides and beneath his armpits. "Ready?"

"Just a moment. Now."

With a fluid motion, she transferred him from chair to bed edge, pushing the chair aside with her foot at the same time. She lifted the lifeless legs onto the bed and watched him lie back, relief clear on his face. It took only a short while before he reached up for the triangular bar and hitched his body farther up in the bed. Christine pulled the blankets up from under his feet and covered him. He closed his eyes and Christine puttered around the room for several moments, hanging his uniform in the closet, examining his bathroom which was complete with a large, hand-railed shower, an o-ring shower seat, and a removable hand-held shower head. He would need help only in getting his pants and shoes off and transferring from chair to seat and back. With a shake of her head, she came back into the bedroom. "You have a nice bathroom there. Amanda was very thorough." His eyes followed her.

He was looking much better already and she saw his mouth soften a little at the corners. "She usually is." He closed his eyes again.

"Can I get you anything?"

"Something to drink would be nice."

"Let me go look in the kitchen." He kept his eyes closed, but nodded that he had heard, and Christine found her way back through the house.

The kitchen was not overly large, but held the necessary appliances. The cupboards, upon inspection, turned out to be full of boxes and vacuum packs. The refrigeration area was full as well. Christine found some fruit juice and headed back with a large glassful for Spock -- but when she reached the bedroom, her patient was sound asleep. With a soft chuckle, she raised the glass to her lips and turned to explore the rest of the house.

The house was large, but simple and tastefully furnished. Her own bedroom had a bed, tape viewer, com-viewer, desk, two chairs, and a bathroom with a tub/shower combination. There were two other bedrooms and a bath on the upper level as well.

Downstairs, on the middle level, were four rooms: the living room, a bathroom, a small library and another bedroom. On the lower level were the kitchen, dining room, den, another bathroom, and a patio that overlooked the lake, as well as a laundry area.

Up to that point, none of the flights of stairs contained more than five steps and would be easily handled by the pressure level on Spock's glide chair, so Christine was surprised to see a small elevator off of the laundry room. Walking in, she pushed the only button and the door closed. With only a slight jar, the elevator descended to a hallway that had three doors. One led to a dressing room and shower, one to a storage closet, and the other to a full basement that looked as it if had once been a dance studio. Now, however, there were mats and parallel bars, a whirlpool bath, and numerous physical therapy implements. Amanda had certainly done her homework -- or had hired someone else to. She smiled to herself as she rode the elevator back up to the kitchen. This was going to make life a great deal easier.

* * *

Spock slept the rest of the morning and into the early afternoon before awakening. Christine heard the bedside tape viewer on audio reciting something in Vulcan and came to investigate. He was sitting up, listening to what sounded like poetry or verse of some kind.

"Good afternoon. Still want the juice?"

He turned off the viewer and pushed it aside. "I believe I would rather get up and unpack."

"Okay. How 'bout both?" She went into the hallway and brought in his luggage. "Which one has the pants you want to wear in it?"

"The large one."

She put it across his lap and waited until he had retrieved the pants, then took the travel case and put it on the desk. She helped him get the pants over his feet and up to his knees. He grasped the bar and lifted so she could pull them up, reaching to fasten them himself. This procedure went quickly, a result of four weeks of practice. She turned to retrieve the slippers she had seen when he'd opened the travel case, and when she turned back to the bed Spock was in the process of getting to its edge. He manually put one leg and then the other closer to the side of the bed, then grasped the bar and lifted. Turning his chest, he turned his hips as well, then grasped first his right leg and then his left leg, lifting each with his hands and moving them over the edge of the bed.

When he was at the edge of the bed, Christine helped him into the chair, once again using the arms-under-the-armpits method. "There. I'm in the middle of a letter, so let me know when you're done. I've got something to show you you won't believe." She put the slippers on him.

Spock raised an eyebrow at her before going to his travel case. She smiled and returned to her room and her letter. A scant few minutes later, he appeared at her open door.

"So soon?"

"I was ... curious."

Christine laughed. "Follow me." And she led the way to the basement. "We'll grab the juice on the way. How 'bout some lunch, too?" She didn't look back to see his raised eyebrow at the expression of "grabbing juice."

* * *

At 9:00 a.m. the next day they sat waiting to see Maxwell Jordan, orthopedic surgeon. At 9:45 a.m., they were shown in and Spock was prepped for the examination. By 10:18, Spock was ready to leave.

"Spock, he'll be here sooner or later. Maybe he had an emergency."

"Then we should have been notified."

"There's not always time."

"I will not lie here half-undressed for the remainder of the morning."

Christine put her magazine down on her lap and sighed. "Ten minutes more, okay? He's good, Spock. That's part of the reason we decided on Tarkella. You'll have to see him sooner or later."

Spock stared at the ceiling over the exam table in stony silence and Christine picked up the magazine again. She was angry at the faceless doctor, at the situation that had Spock in his underwear under a paper sheet that did not keep him warm. She knew that he felt chilled, that his newly-healed pelvis ached from the coolness, that he felt foolish and violated lying there undressed for so long, that he was scared of what the surgeon's examination would reveal, afraid that today would put an end to his hope of being whole again.

Suddenly the door opened and a huge hulk of a man burst in, his eyes and nose red and splotchy from crying. He cleared his throat and went to the sink to wash his hands. "Forgive me, Mr. Spock. I was on the phone with one of my patients." He turned, his well-over-six-foot frame towering over the exam table. "We had a little crisis." He eased the paper sheet up, folding it double over Spock's chest. Spock merely stared at him as he began a manual examination of the scarred limbs.

Glancing up at Spock, he caught the astonishment on the Vulcan's face, and chuckled a little, ending with a cough. He motioned to his face. "You'll get used to it; I do it all the time." He flexed Spock's right knee, feeling the joint as he moved it, then went on to his ankle, working it gently, small little sounds of acknowledgment coming from his as he went.

Christine liked him immediately. Spock stared at the ceiling again, undecided, dwelling -- no doubt, Christine thought -- on fate, which seemed to pit him continuously against emotional humans. Christine managed not to giggle, but it was hard.

* * *

Three hours later, after a break for lunch, they sat in Maxwell Jordan's office.

"Mr. Spock, let me begin by saying that Dr. McCoy's use of nerve and muscle stimulators is one of the most ingenious feats of engineering I've ever seen. Stimulators have been used for several years now -- but they shouldn't have worked in your case, and yet, according to the body scan, they have. He may well have saved you the use of your legs.

"Now, there was a certain amount of muscle fiber that was lost at the time of your injury -- that could not have been salvaged. That is gone. However, there is an amount of muscle fiber that has been kept alive via the stimulators and some very unorthodox methods of blood supply. Also, Dr. McCoy managed to attach the remaining muscle in a fairly extended state so we do not have quite the foreshortening of the muscle that we might have had.

"But, there was also bone loss. Here, we have some problems. Usually--" He began to draw a picture on a pad in front of him, sliding it forward for them to see. "--usually a bone breaks, grows back, and is stopped in that growth by the pressure of coming together with the other pieces of bone -- now, realize that this is a ... simplified explanation. There's a little more to it than that." Spock lowered his head in a single nod. "Now, in your case, there were shattered areas. While Dr. McCoy was able to bond together larger pieces, many fragments were not useable and were disposed of. This left many areas that had open edges which calcified in a way that is inappropriate to normal usage." He drew another few lines on his sketch. "It also left areas that had no bone where bone is needed. And that, and the need to use artificial stimulators and to reroute blood supply, made it impossible to attach the muscle in the appropriate places. Our first goal will be to go in and restructure bone and be sure that each nerve and muscle is still receiving sufficient stimulation and blood to continue to thrive. In short, to make sure it looks as good on the inside as it does on the body scan." He paused to look at each of them. "Any question so far?"

Christine saw Spock glance at her and she shook her head. He looked back at Dr. Jordan. "I have no questions."

"Good. You will later, though. Feel free to call and leave any message with my receptionist and I will get back to you.

"Now. Surgery." He took a dog-eared little notebook out of his back pocket. "This will take anywhere from four to eight hours. We'll do the right leg first. Then, if all goes well -- no infection, no rejection of the sculpting medium, no calcification between the bone and the medium -- then we will attempt to do the other leg."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "And if there are problems?"

"Then we will have to deal with them."

Christine spoke up. "What is the worst that could happen?"

Maxwell Jordan leaned his husky frame back in the chair. "My worst and the patient's worst are not always the same thing." Spock said nothing, and Jordan continued. "If restructuring doesn't work, I usually advise amputation in order to try regeneration. Many patients do not see that as an acceptable option."

Spock took a deep breath. "Regeneration still has a low success rate, does it not?"

"Yes. Only about a 55% success rate." He paused. "But a prosthetic limb is still an advantage over a real, but non-functional limb."

Spock was silent for a long moment before he spoke. "I see." He was lost in thought.

Christine took a deep breath and held it. Finally, Jordan spoke again. "Granted. It's a lot to consider. But we don't have to make that decision today. Today we need only to schedule surgery." He flipped pages in the small notebook. "I have an opening in eight days."

Christine saw a brief flare of disappointment on Spock's face, but he covered it quickly. "Very well."

Jordan stood, signaling the end of the meeting. "Talk to my receptionist for lab and preparation instructions, and I'll see you then."

During the ride home, Spock was quiet, and when they entered the house, he headed for his room.

"You want me to call you for dinner?" Christine asked and he stopped, his back to her, silent. She knew he was upset, knew she wanted to go to him, to hold him. But she stood her ground across the room. "It's going to be okay, Spock." It was all she could think of saying -- and it sounded so empty as she said it. His head lowered briefly, and she saw his shoulders rise and fall in a heavy sigh.

When he spoke, his voice was low and roughened. "Notify me when you wish to retire."

"Sure. If you need anything before then..." She paused. "I'm here." He lowered his head in a single nod and proceeded to his room.

Christine watched the door close and sat heavily in the nearest chair. Damn. She put her face in her hands. Damn, damn, damn.

* * *

Christine leaned forward from the back of the chair and extended her laced fingers above her head, stretching her back and shoulders, then settled back down to watch the silent figure in the hospital bed beside her. From years of habit, she scanned the vital sign board and glanced at the space on the slender hand where the IV needle was taped. Satisfied that all was well, she picked up the viewer and magazine tape that she had read and re-read in the last hours, and tried in vain to find something she hadn't read. Two minutes later she put it down again and walked blindly to the window to gaze out at the backside of the building across the alley.

Behind her there was a soft moan and she came back to the bedside. Another small sound came forth and he opened his eyes. Christine gave him a moment to focus.

"Good evening. Surgery went fine."

"Time?"

"Took eleven and a half hours. It's..." She looked at her chronometer. "Almost eight now. Nineteen-forty-five. Want a drink?"

He shook his head.

"Dr. Jordan will be in in the morning. He said Leonard's work was excellent and that he isn't expecting any trouble. And he asked me to remind you not to try any self-healing techniques."

Spock looked at her unhappily, then closed his eyes and changed the subject. "I feel nauseous."

"I know. I'm sorry. A cracker might help or something carbonated."

He shook his head again. "I am all right. Go ahead and go home. Rest."

"You let me worry about me. I'm a big girl. I'll go home when I'm ready." He opened his eyes again and she smiled at him. His eyes shifted to his leg and he tried to lift his head to look at it. Still groggy and full of medication, it took effort, and Christine reached behind him to support his head and shoulders as he surveyed the bandaging. Satisfied, his body relaxed and slumped with fatigue. Christine eased him back and adjusted his pillow. "Comfortable?"

His eyes were closed again and he opened them. "The pillow is fine."

As glad as Christine was that there were some undamaged nerves running from his hips to his upper thighs, nerves that gave him control over his bladder and bowels, she hated that they were responsible for his discomfort now. And she dreaded the pain he was going to go through in the coming months.

"Can I do anything for you?"

"No."

"A lot of pain?"

His eyes closed and his brow wrinkled slightly. "It is -- bearable. I am having a great deal of difficulty concentrating enough to control it."

"It's the drugs from surgery still in your system. You can have something for pain by now, I'm sure."

He shook his head and said nothing, the frown of effort making his face look very stern. Christine straightened his covers. "Let me know if you want it."

* * *

Four days later, Maxwell Jordan came in on his regular rounds just after Christine had arrived. Spock was finishing up a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast.

"Well, the tests look good. White count is still down. No fever. No signs of infection. Body scan shows no separation between the bone and the sculpting medium. Needle biopsy of the tissue next to the bone shows no chemical residue from extreme calcification." He gave Spock a grin. "I assume that means you're not doing any Vulcan messing around." Not waiting for a reaction, he went on: "So far, so good. How about Thursday for the other leg? Providing everything keeps going this well."

Spock just looked at him for a moment and then raised an eyebrow. "By some stroke of fate, I seem to be unoccupied on Thursday."

Max Jordan was taken by surprise. He stared at Spock for an instant before bursting into a full resonant laugh that Christine was sure echoed rooms away.

* * *

Two weeks later, Christine followed Spock up the curved walk, her arms full, and paused behind him to allow him time to activate the pressure-level on his chair and raised him to a height where he could slide his own identiplate into the slot past his bundle-laden lap.

The door opened and he backed out of the way to allow her to enter first. But as she passed, the wide sleeve of her sweater brushed a stack of tapes he was holding balanced between his leg and hand, and they clattered to the ground amid their best efforts to catch them.

They looked at the tapes and then at one another. Christine sighed. "I knew we weren't going to make it." An amused but weary look crossed Spock's face and they entered the house.

Christine put her load down and then turned and unloaded Spock. "How did you accumulate so much stuff in seventeen days?"

"You kept bringing me things," Spock stated simply.

Christine grinned. "You were easier to deal with when you were occupied." He merely raised an eyebrow at her. "Hungry? Or would you rather get to bed?" She was leaning down at the doorway to collect the dropped tapes.

"I am somewhat hungry."

"Anything special?" She stacked the tapes on an end table.

His mouth softened with wry humor. "Yes. A grilled cheese sandwich ... with the cheese melted."

Christine laughed at the reference to the hospital's poor preparation of one of his favorite foods. "Coming right up."

As they finished up their lunch, Christine picked up crumbs from her plate idly. "Spock..."

"Yes?" He wiped his fingers on his napkin and swallowed the last bit of his juice.

Christine looked up from her plate and into his face. "I had a job offer yesterday. From Sean Alderman at the University. He needs help with the lab hours for his biochemistry and physics classes. I'd be a second assistant, and he's gotten along with just one so far, so I'd be able to get out of working when I needed to. There are also student papers and experiments that need evaluating. I'd be free for your surgeries and physical therapy when it starts up. The job wouldn't start until you're ready to be alone. What do you think?"

He wrinkled his brow at her and tilted his head. "You feel that you need my permission?"

Christine swallowed a drink of her iced tea. "I'm not asking your permission, really." She paused. "It's just... It's not like we live in a vacuum right now. The choice I make will affect you in some ways as well; our lives overlap in places."

Spock considered that for almost a minute's time, then looked at her with a glint of humor in his eyes. "Take the job, Christine. You, too, may be easier to deal with when you are occupied."

She wadded up her napkin and threw it at him, bouncing it off his shoulder.

* * *

It was six days later that Christine came home from her first day at the University. The smell of something spicy found her nose immediately. "Spock?" She put her things down and trotted up the stairs. Not finding him, she called again. "Spock?" She headed back down past the living room to the kitchen. He wasn't there, either. She found him in the basement, resting on his back on a floor mat, hoisting a weighted barbell over his head. When he saw her, he lowered the weight and hitched himself up on his elbows, obviously pleased with himself.

Christine saw the glow in his eyes, but all she could think of was everything that could happen to him out of the chair and using the weights himself. What if she had gotten into an accident and not gotten home? He couldn't get back into the chair from the floor without help. What if there had been a fire? How would he have gotten out of the house? What if the weights slipped and fell on him? With no one there, he could suffer a crushed throat or skull injury and lie there dying -- no one would know.

"How...? You're not supposed to do that without a spotter. How were you planning to get back into the chair? What if something had happened to me and you were down here on the floor alone?"

His face changed from self-contentment to reined-in resentment. He reached for a towel that was just out of reach and Christine handed it to him. He wiped his bare neck and chest and arms.

Realizing how she'd sounded to him, she tried for lightness. "Dinner smells good." He put on his shirt, covering a chest and torso that Christine briefly realized was showing the effects of several months of upper-body building. He remained silent as she helped him back into the chair. "It was nice of you to fix dinner."

He turned to her, jaw tight. "I also did the laundry and cleaned the house. I am not an invalid." There was barely concealed anger in his voice. He led the way to the elevator, his back a virtual wall. In the elevator she tried to talk to him again, but he turned away from her, his personal barriers thick and held high against her.

* * *

In the two months before Spock's next surgery, the general tension between them flared and ebbed. Christine learned to treat him whenever it was possible as if he had no disability -- even if she had to bite her tongue not to say things or had to hold her breath with concern for him from time to time. Spock learned to take Christine's concern into consideration and to ignore her need to rant over things occasionally.

Still, things were usually unpredictable between them. Sometimes, for days at a time, everything would be fine. Other times, the tension would be so thick that Christine felt that she would be unable to endure it any longer.

At one point, Christine was sure that the last straw had been broken. She'd come home from work to find Spock busy with a long-distance chess game he was waging with Jim. He was more than a little suspicious that Jim was taking suggestions from the crew -- and the forty or so brains of those interested in chess were proving to be formidable opposition.

Seeing the light in his eyes, she waited to speak to him, looking to see what was for dinner and getting out a container of carbonated fruit drink. He made his move with something close to a smile on his face. Christine grinned and turned away for a moment to hide it. By the time she turned around, he was moving to the com line to tape the move. When he had finished, and sent the transmission, he turned to greet her and she spoke.

"Guess what? Sean got you a job! Teaching! Full or part time -- guest speaker pay and status -- that's better than the teaching fee. I told him--"

His face reflected sudden rage that he was not trying to conceal. Color flushed his cheeks and the veins in his forehead and neck stood out. "How dare you discuss me behind my back? What makes you think I need, or want, a job?"

"I just thought..."

"That I would be grateful for anything you could find for me?" His hands were fists closed over the armrests of his chair and she felt a hard knot in the pit of her stomach.

"I told him..." She tried to speak again.

"You may tell Sean Alderman what he may do with his job!"

Suddenly fear turned to anger. "You tell him yourself! Or has your disability extended to your brain as well and you've forgotten how to use a comline? I'm sick of your self pity -- and I don't give a damn what you do! Do you understand that? You can sit in that chair and rot for all I care!" She stood up so quickly that she knocked the wooden chair over and she ran out of the room.

In her bedroom, Christine burst into tears of anger and hurt. Just a few days ago she had spoken to Max Jordan about Spock's underlying anger and moodiness -- but she had just now admitted her own anger to herself. She had been told that Spock was reacting to the reality that this might be how he would have to live for the rest of his life. Before, it had been something temporary. Now, as time went on, he had to consider that it might be permanent. Was she adjusting to that as well -- to the possible failure of her dreams for him?

Max Jordan had said, "Spock is totally dependent on others in some areas of his life. To dress, to bathe, to get from place to place. He is hindered in some of the most intimate things he does. He can't even stand by himself to urinate -- something so basic to a man's masculinity. He has to sit like a woman or like a small child."

She took a deep breath and cried some more. Spock surely had more to be angry about than she did. She shouldn't have blown up at him. But she'd been so sure that he'd be happy about the job -- a chance to get out of the house, to be more independent, more in charge of his life. She just hadn't taken into consideration his fear of being seen and judged -- or his abhorrence of having things done or arranged for him. She had to go back out and try to make things right. A pain lanced through her as she remembered her angry words. No. Nothing could ever be right again. Not ever.

There was a knock at her door and she blew her nose and wiped her eyes. "Come."

The door opened and Spock came in. "I ask forgiveness. I lost control of my emotions."

She sank down on the foot of her bed and put her head in her hands. "Oh, Spock. It's not a matter of forgiving. Sure I forgive you. But I'm worried about you. You're a time bomb..."

"I am not handling the situation of my injuries well. I regret that you are subject to my ... turmoil."

Christine sighed and looked up at him wearily. "I'm sorry, too. I didn't mean to offend you. And I'm sorry I yelled at you."

He looked down at his hands in his lap. "There was an element of truth to your accusation." He looked up, changing the subject. "I will call Sean Alderman tomorrow."

"No, Spock, let me. I'll see him tomorrow. I'll tell him you'd rather not."

His face showed a trace of relief along with a healthy dose of guilt. "You would not mind?"

"No. It's okay."

There was silence for awhile and neither of them moved. Finally, Christine stood and grinned. "C'mon, Hausfrau. What's for dinner?" She tried to ruffle his hair as they entered the hallway but he caught her wrist.

"Salad for me, fish for you."

"Again?" She sighed as they went to the kitchen. "What wouldn't I give for a steak or even a hamburger!"

He flashed her one of his rare half-smiles. "You want them? Go out for them."

Christine did her best to stifle her laugh and didn't mind that she failed.

* * *

Dr. Maxwell Jordan folded his oversized frame into the desk chair and waited as Spock and Christine settled themselves in his office. Sitting forward, he looked at them expectantly.

"It looks like we're home free with the bone sculpting. Yesterday's tests were all very positive." He looked into Spock's eyes. "Ready for another siege?"

When Spock only inclined his head in assent, Jordan went on. "I know it's been a long wait -- and I know that if you'd gone into a healing trance the wait might have been a lot shorter. But I still feel that the rapid healing might have increased the risk of over-calcification. Now, with the bones intact, we can go on in an attempt to reattach the muscle tissue to the places they were originally attached to. If, in the process of doing this, we can reattach nerves, we will. If we do, you realize, this time there will be a good deal more pain.

"So far, the only pain you have had has been that of the hip and parts of the upper thigh area. While the nerves in your lower thighs and legs have been kept alive via Dr. McCoy's stimulators and the use of both artificial and your own veins to insure blood supply, they have not been connected to the nerves in the hips, and therefore to your brain. In other words, you've been in a lot of pain and haven't known it." He grinned.

"Now, what will be tricky is the fact that the nerves have healed over the edge of the stimulators. What we will attempt to do is to slice off the ends of the nerve bundles, line them up, and put them back together. The problem there is two-fold. One, will we have enough length left -- some nerve length was inevitably lost to damage in the original injury. Two, will the nerves be willing to re-fuse and still send messages? Ten years ago we could not keep nerves alive for this length of time at all. They needed to be immediately reattached. Today we can keep them alive, but we often lose them when we try to reattach them and we don't know why. Sometimes they just will not re-fuse; or they re-fuse and will not transmit messages to the next nerve cell. Are you still with me?"

Spock nodded.

"Also, there is the age-old problem that nerves are composed of bundles of fibers -- and if each strand isn't attached to the strand it was originally attached to, it won't work. So we may lose some function there." His brow knitted at the looks on their faces in reaction to what he was saying. "Hey, lighten up, will you?" He looked from one to the other and Spock took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"What are the chances of this surgery working?"

Maxwell Jordan took his own deep breath. "No promises, no odds given. We just give it our best shot. I've seen similar cases go wonderfully well, others be dismal failures. And I don't know why ... what went wrong. I'm sorry. I wish I could promise you that it's going to be just fine. I can't." There was a long silence.

"When do you want me here?" The Vulcan's face showed no expression.

Jordan grinned encouragement. "Day after tomorrow. See my receptionist and make arrangements for lab work. Oh, by the way -- a technicality -- I will be assisted by another surgeon, a Doctor--"

Spock interrupted him. "Do as you deem best, Doctor."

Jordan nodded. "See you Friday."

* * *

Christine swallowed the end of her coffee with a frown. It hadn't been good when it was hot, and it was worse cold. The door of the waiting room opened and Maxwell Jordan strode through it in what Christine recognized as a clean OR shirt. The pants were wrinkled, the physician himself was sweaty, but the shirt was unstained and crisp-looking.

"We got a lot done -- more than we thought we could. Had one bad time; his blood pressure dropped to near nothing."

Christine nodded. "That's a problem with Spock."

"Yes. I remembered you saying that, so we were ready. Still, it threw a little thrill into the whole event," he joked.

"So, what did you get done?" Christine pressed. "Exactly."

"Exactly? You sound like Spock. We reconnected all the muscles above the knee on the right leg -- and all the nerves."

"All of them?"

"Plus replaced the knee joint with an artificial one. It was intact but was not in good shape. Dr. Sieutan and I agreed that replacing it now would avoid later problems. So it was muscles, nerves and knee. We got in a third-year orthopedic resident at the last minute and he's great. Between Art Sieutan and I, and the resident, we all took an area and worked our butts off."

Christine cared little about how it had been accomplished. All that mattered were the facts: He was done with the upper thigh leg -- the work of at least two surgeries done in one! She couldn't believe it and asked to be sure. "That's all you have to do in the upper right leg, isn't it?"

Max Jordan came out of his high over the successful surgery long enough to really look at her, and grinned at her excitement. "As long as nothing goes wrong."

She put a knuckle to her lips, her eyes filling, face contorting a little. "You don't know how happy this is going to make him."

"Maybe not. But I know how happy it's made you."

Her eyes did overflow then and she laughed. "Yes. I am happy. Thanks, Max." She stood on tiptoe to hug him.

Jordan hugged her hard, then drew back to look into her face. "Spock's a good man; I'll grant him that. But I don't think he deserves you."

Christine felt dismay and panic cover her face and she wiped her tears. "We're not... I told you when I first contacted you, we're friends. I'm his doctor. Nothing else."

The surgeon smiled a wry smile. "Your secret's safe with me, Chris. But like I said, he doesn't deserve you. He'll be in recovery another twenty minutes, then back in his room. You can wait there, and I'll be in tomorrow morning around breakfast time." He turned and plodded off, fatigue finally beginning to override the artificial high of surgical responsibility and ego.

* * *

Spock came around late that evening and immediately vomited, not quite making it over the emesis basin that Christine shoved beside his jaw. Sick and in pain, the smell of vomit clinging to him, he submitted to Christine's gentle ministering as she removed his gown and washed and dried him, speaking as she did so. "It's about 10:30 at night. You went in about 8:00 this morning and came out about 4:30 this afternoon." She put another gown on him, smoothing it down his front as she took off the soiled blanket and sheet, and replaced them. "Better?"

He nodded, his eyes closed.

"Spock?" He opened his eyes to look at her. "They finished in the upper right leg. It's all done. Muscles, nerves, and all."

His eyes filled with emotion, his chest rising with a deep breath, and he closed his eyes on tears that were suddenly there. Pressing his lips against his teeth, he tried to regain his composure. Christine hesitantly touched his hand and, when he didn't flinch away, she put her hand in his and felt him grasp it hard. After a few minutes he let go, but did not open his eyes, and she pulled her hand away gently. "I'm going to go ask them for your pain medication. I'll be right back."

He nodded, his eyes still closed, pain creasing his face as he tried to control, and Christine slipped out of the room to find the charge nurse.

* * *

The next morning Max Jordan came in just after breakfast time. Spock's tray sat untouched on the bedside table. "Not hungry, huh?" He had a hypo in his hand. "I know it's time for a shot -- and I know you're hurting" He loooked into the glazed eyes. "Let me check you over before we give it to you. The medication will deaden the pain, but it also deadens the touch sensations."

"Would you kindly ask the nurse not to insist on giving me a sedative in the evening? It limits my control over the pain."

Max Jordan pulled back the blanket and inched up the gown, being careful to keep Spock's genitals covered, and probed the flesh with a sharp instrument. "Can you feel this? I did not write that you had to have a sedative -- only that you could if you needed it."

Spock reacted to the stimulus. "Yes, I feel it. She said it was by your order."

"And this?" Fingers pressed into freshly mended nerve, ignoring Spock's soft moan.

"Yes."

"I'll put a note on your chart."

The examination went on for almost a full minute longer and Christine watched as Spock tried not to waver between trying to control the sensation of pain and allowing himself to respond to it for the sake of the examination.

"Hurts, huh?" Jordan injected the fluid into a connection in the IV tubing. "Good. As long as it hurts, things are still working." Christine tried to unclench her jaw and found it possible only as the medication flowed through the thin body and Spock began to breathe more easily. "Better?"

Spock took a deep breath and spoke. "Discernibly so."

"I need to know more about a healing trance. You explained it before -- how it works. But the time factor -- how long would it take to heal the damage in your thigh?"

Spock looked at him, surprised. "Four days. Perhaps five."

"Could you just do it for a couple of days?"

"Yes, but..."

"I would want this surgery healed enough to be of no problem so we could do the other leg." He looked at Christine. "And have you seen this state? You know what to expect?"

"Yes. I've seen it a number of times."

"And you would be willing to stay here during that time to oversee it? Take responsibility for it?"

Christine glanced at Spock and then back to Maxwell Jordan. "Yes. Of course."

Jordan shrugged. "I guess that's it." He addressed Christine. "Give me time to get you guest privileges here; you go home and get your stuff for the next forty-eight hours and we'll do it." He looked at Spock. "I thought you'd be pleased," he ribbed.

Spock didn't catch the joke. "I assure you, I am pleased." He looked surprised that anyone would think he was not. Christine started to giggle and his face registered awareness of Jordan's humor, then eased into his best long-suffering look.

Christine had a final question. "You're not worried about the bones over-calcifying anymore?"

"No. That shouldn't pose any problem now that the bones have healed completely."

She looked back at Spock. "I'll be back" and with no further delay, she grabbed her sweater and left.

* * *

"Dear Leonard,

"Since I last wrote, Spock has had the muscles and nerves reattached in both thighs. Dr. Jordan finally allowed Spock to use a healing trance which speeded things up immeasurably. So far everything is healing well, and all of the nerves have healed properly as far as feeling sensation goes. Hopefully they will also relay motor messages.

"I'm worried about the area in the lower left leg where there is so much damage. So far you have proved to be a miracle worker in having kept those nerves alive. Let's hope your luck holds out.

"Tomorrow Spock comes home for a month. Max -- Dr. Jordan -- feels that his body needs a rest afterr the three surgeries (one on the right upper leg and two on the left upper leg). For the first time I'll be doing physical therapy on him -- he's handled his upper body exercises himself. I don't mind telling you that I'm not looking forward to it. You know how much it's going to hurt to fully extend those tender muscles. Already his anger/frustration levels are high, and this may well increase the strain -- though maybe it will give him some sense of progress."

Christine yawned, deciding to make the letter short and go to bed. Tomorrow was going to be a big day. She'd been taught the basics of Spock's therapy today, but tomorrow she would have to handle it herself. She shook her head. She wasn't looking forward to that. Taking off her robe, she climbed into bed and fell into a troubled sleep.

* * *

The next day, they arrived home by about one in the afternoon -- which Christine felt was fairly reasonable considering the bureaucracy of a large hospital, let alone a military one.

Spock was still in some small amount of pain, but was handling it well, and they took the long way home, driving along the high foothills that overlooked the valley that their house rested in, and finally trailing down into the valley itself to arrive in their own driveway.

Getting into the house was easier this time, as Christine had learned to begin taking things home in the days before Spock's release; and now there was only a plant, a handful of tapes, the small bag of pharmaceuticals -- muscle relaxants, antibiotics, and pain pills -- plus the physical therapy instructions, and the duffle bag containing Spock's personal belongings.

After dinner, Christine looked up and saw Spock already looking at her. "Guess it's about time, huh?" She voiced both of their reluctant thoughts.

He inclined his head. "Perhaps we should, as Dr. McCoy would put it, 'get it over with'?"

She took at deep breath and sighed. "Yeah. Come on."

Downstairs, it took several minutes to get Spock's slacks off and get him on the floor pad in his underwear and shirt. She carefully wrapped each scarred thigh in thermal wraps and turned each unit on. Then, after a short wait spent in small talk, she loosened the wrap on one leg and began to work the leg muscle, being careful not to stress the still-injured calf. The thermal wrap, even loosened, got in the way and Christine took it off and put it aside. Slowly, she lifted the thigh and bent it, shallowly at first, and then brought it to a right angle with his body -- an angle he used for sitting and had mastered in the hospital. Even more slowly, she pressed his thigh closer to his chest. Unaccustomed sweat broke out on his face and she felt her own face wrinkle in concern as she held the leg in place for a few moments, then eased it back, both of them breathing with relief. His eye met hers and she tried to smile at him, but couldn't.

Again, she lifted the leg and pressed it slowly to his chest, her insides churning, her heart aching. She eased it the last inch and held it. With a moan, Spock grabbed her hands. "Stop!"

She eased the leg down and looked at him as he lay there panting, staring at the ceiling. Finally he looked at her. "Christine, I cannot withstand the pain -- and your--" He searched for the word. "--pity."

Christine broke into tears of tension. "It's not pity!"

Spock struggled into a sitting position, using his arms braced behind him for support. "Christine. Call it what you will..." He'd now found new words. "...pity, concern, compassion. But it hurts. Almost as much as the leg, and I cannot bear, or block against, both. You will have to control your emotions or I will need someone else to help me."

Christine took a deep breath. "I'm sorry." She stood up and walked away from him for a moment, trying to calm herself. Coming near a padded exercise horse, she slugged it hard enough that it hurt her hand. It allowed some of the tension to drain out of her and she took another deep breath, then came back over to him, her professional persona firmly in place. "Okay, let's go."

Once again, she lifted the leg, pressed it back, and held it for the specified count of time, then lowered it. "Better?" she asked when he'd had a moment to breathe.

He sighed with relief. "Yes."

"Good. Let's try it again. Up ... two, three, four ... "

* * *                 

"Dear Leonard,

"We're now three days from surgery on that left calf. The body scan of it looks so bad. They had to resculpt so much of the bone and I don't know how much of the muscle there will actually be that is usable. Spock has been doing his 'quiet before surgery' routine, and I'm going crazy from the monotony of it. I come home from work, he has dinner ready, we eat, do his physical therapy, and we get him into bed. He meditates until whenever he decides to go to sleep. I check him before I go to bed to see if he needs anything and he's usually either asleep or staring at the ceiling. That's the extent of our evening. In the morning we're up at dawn and I help him onto the shower stool and help him off after his shower. When he's ready to have his pants pulled up, I help him lift while he pulls them up, then help him into the glide chair. (Last week he manufactured these long-handled tong things so he can all but lift and pull his pants up by himself. Knee bending by himself is still out.)

"He can get from the glide chair to the bed by himself now, but going from the bed to the chair is harder because the chair is so much less stable and there is no bar above it. About two weeks ago I was awakened in the middle of the night by a somewhat panicked -- for Spock -- call for help. He had tried to get froom bed to the chair and slipped between the two. Tempted as I was to yell at him for trying to get up by himself, I figured he was embarrassed enough as it was, so I got him in the chair and stumbled back to sleep. I guess he wanted to raid the refrigerator. I'm just glad that he didn't fall on his legs. He could have torn all sorts of things. Looking back, he did look awfully funny holding himself up between the bed and the chair with just his arms. Don't you dare ever tell him I told you. And don't you dare tell Jim.

"The anger factor is still there. Sometimes it takes very little to get him angry. Most of the time, there is this air of -- I don't know how to describe it. Sometimes he seems to almost be looking for things to be angry over -- which is so unlike him. And when I do cross him, he will not admit it -- even though we both know he's angry. Yet there are times when he is so open -- just a moment here or there. It's hard to know where we stand much of the time.

"It seems that the longer he is disabled, the less patient he is -- which is to be expected -- but also the closer we get to the end of the surgeries, I wonder if it is fear that when everything has been done, he will still be unable to function."

Christine re-read her letter and frowned. Maybe it was too revealing. On one hand, Leonard McCoy was a friend and Spock's physician, but on the other, Spock's emotional turmoil was his own private hell, a hell that Christine knew she shared only by circumstance. She pushed several keys and dumped the last two paragraphs, then restated the information in professionally general terms. With that done, she added a few more words and closed the letter.

* * *

"Dear Leonard,

"It has now been almost five weeks since Spock came out of the healing trance and began physical therapy. I'm worried about him, Leonard. He should have some voluntary movement by now, and he doesn't. Yesterday Max Jordan re-ran tests to find any signs of brain damage that might be limiting functions. But, as we found, there was none. We had been told, as you mentioned that you had read, that when nerves are reattached so long after injury they sometimes will not function, or will relay sensations only and not motor messages, but we never really believed it might happen to Spock.

"Max Jordan keeps assuring us that the jury is still out on this, and that he has seen nerves respond even after six or seven weeks. But it's getting harder and harder for Spock to hold on to hope. He never says anything, but I can see it in his eyes.

"Sometimes when he doesn't know I'm watching him, he gets these intense looks on his face, and I know he's trying to move. Every therapy session he insists on trying to move on his own -- and every session, he fails. I keep telling him that it will work one day, but it's getting so hard not to feel like I'm lying to him."

Christine sighed and stretched her neck. What if Spock couldn't move again? How could he live with that? Right now, she knew he was not even allowing himself to consider it -- he was using that last shred of hope to fight the fear. Over and over she would see his fear-induced anger flare, and then he'd shut it out again.

A lump welled up in her throat and she tried to decide what she would do with any other patient, what she'd say, how she'd handle things. She had to unravel her feelings, step back and look at things unemotionally. Would she try to get him to face the possibility of not walking, and jeopardize their hope? Or would she let them have complete faith in what they wanted to believe, to use that faith to heal his body? What happened then if that faith was shattered?

She put her arms on the desk in front of her and put her head down. She felt so helpless.

* * *

"Is it necessary for you to play that tape?"

Christine looked up, surprised. "I thought you liked Lethenia."

"You have played that tape incessantly since you acquired it. It is not the only tape available."

"But..." She decided she didn't want to argue. It always ended up with her feeling stupid. With Spock in a foul mood, there was no winning. "Fine. What would you prefer?"

"Silence." He returned to his book tape and Christine bit at the inside of her cheek to keep herself from verbalizing the plethora of colorful descriptions of his person and his ancestry that were swimming in her brain. Instead, she jolted from her chair.

"I'm going jogging." She headed for her room.

"It is late. It is not safe to be out alone at this hour."

She turned and smirked at him. "So I'll have to be careful then, won't I?"

She ducked around the corner and into her room. Shucking her pants and top, she walked to the closet to pull out a jumpsuit. He was getting to be impossible! Much more of this and she was going to murder him in his bed. The thought of it made her laugh. Poor bastard. He was going crazy with worry, and he hadn't been out of the house in a week.

She sealed the front of her jumpsuit and then as she passed the hall closet, she paused. With a deep breath, she reached in and grabbed Spock's jacket, then continued on into the living room.

"Here." She tossed the jacket into his lap. "Put it on."

His eyes met hers skeptically. "Why?"

"Because you're going jogging and it's cold out there."

"I am most certainly not going jogging."

"Suit yourself." She opened the door, deactivated the directional control to the arm of his chair and pushed him through the open door.

"Christine."

"Put on your jacket before you freeze." She closed the door and turned to push him down the walk and onto the sidewalk, building speed.

His hands tightened on the arms of the chair. "Christine, this is not funny. Why are you doing this?"

"You said it was dangerous to be out alone. You're my chaperone."

His head was riveted in place, staring at the street flying by. "I hardly think I would be adequate protection."

"You're wrong." She was beginning to breathe heavily. "Nobody would be mean enough to mug a crazy lady -- and a cripple." She used the word she knew had been haunting his thoughts -- voicing his fear for him, forcing him to hear it aloud in the clear night air. Her hand reached to his shoulder and squeezed it hard as she ran. She felt him draw in a sharp breath and then let it out slowly. He said nothing and began to put on his jacket.

* * *

Thirty‑five minutes later, they stopped in a deserted shopping center for Christine to rest. Christine pulled Spock's glide chair up to a long planter and collapsed on her back on the wide edge, staring up at the stars. After a long while, and when her breathing had evened out some, she glanced over at Spock.

His eyes were focused on the sky, his face more peaceful than she had seen it in days. Smiling, she looked back at the stars, a wave of homesickness sweeping her and settling into her chest and stomach. Another few moments and they'd have to head back, back to reality. But not now. For a little while they could dream.

* * *

The next two days were uneventful and the peace of that night was quickly forgotten. Somewhere in the wee small hours of the third night Christine was awakened by the heavy feeling that something was horribly wrong. She sat up and looked around, listening, sniffing the air for smoke. When she was fully awake, she got out of bed, grabbed her robe and padded into Spock's room. His bed was empty. "Spock?" She checked his bathroom. It was empty as well. "Spock?" She heard the concern in her own voice. Within a moment's time, she had determined that he was nowhere on the third floor and she went downstairs.

"Spock?" He was nowhere on the second floor and she took the few steps down to the kitchen/den area. "Spock?" He wasn't there either. She checked the patio over the lake, but the door was locked. No Spock. Her heart was thudding painfully inside her chest. Where was he?

She took the elevator down to the basement. The hallway was softly lit from the light in the door to the studio. She stopped there, staring through the small window in the door. The room was lighted.

Spock was balanced on his arms between the parallel bars. His face a study in intensity, he tried to let go, but his legs began to buckle and he caught himself. Again, he straightened. Lifting himself on his arms and using the movement of his hips, he widened the distance between his feet, then tried again. Christine held her breath, still staring at him through the small window. This time he almost fell, only catching himself with his left arm over the bar. Hugging the bar, he flailed with his right hand until he caught the other bar. Slowly, he brought himself upright, holding his weight on his arms again.

Christine's chest ached. A lump sat in her throat, tears in her eyes. Lifting on his arms until his legs hung straight, he lowered himself slowly, easing his weight down on his legs. His knees locked and he gradually let go with both hands. For a long moment he stood there unaided, the locked knees doing their work for him. His face tensed with effort, jaw hard, forehead wrinkling. Christine felt a hot tear trickle down her face and wiped it away. Her breath caught, her eyes not moving from the man on the bars. Unable to move a leg by his own volition, he tried to move his right leg by moving his hip. She saw it coming before it happened and put her hands on the door to push it open. His body folded beneath him and he landed in an ungraceful heap.

Christine's hands trembled on the door and she held herself back forcibly. She couldn't go to him now -- couldn't do that to his pride. Instead, she watched him gather his courage and pull himself slowly into a sitting position, reaching with his hands to untangle his legs. Then, by holding onto his chair and using the pressure level, he got his arm over one bar, shoved the chair out of the way, and got to his feet again, taking the time to lift and let his legs hang straight.

It took a long time. This time he fell more quickly -- before he had a chance to balance. Christine took a silent deep breath and sighed. Fatigue and defeat were clear in the green, flushed and sweaty face. How many times had he tried before she'd gotten here?

Again, he worked the chair into position, inched his arms and chest onto it and pressed the control. Moving it to the bar, he transferred his grip to the bar and pulled himself up until he could reach out and try for a hand-hold on the other bar. That accomplished, he hung there for a moment by his arms to rest, then pulled himself into a position where he could get enough leverage to push his upper body above the bars and lift himself clear of the floor to straighten his legs again. The fatigue was working against him now, and it took a number of minutes longer than it had the time before. At last, balanced, he let go again.

A few seconds later he fell again, this time hurting himself somehow, the surprised cry reaching Christine through the door. He lay there, not moving, his face in the crook of his left arm. Slowly, his right hand reached out, his fingers curled in on themselves, forming a fist. A long, low sound of pain and anger rose up from him and his fist battered the mat violently -- over and over again with an amazing force. At last the sound died, and his fist stilled.

His shoulders began to rise and fall in quiet sobs, and Christine turned and fled. If she stayed any longer, she'd go in to him. And he needed not to see anyone right now -- needed to face it alone.

When the elevator doors opened in the pantry, she continued on, not stopping until she was in her room. She shut the door and leaned against it -- then slumped to the floor and buried her face in her hands, crying. She cried until there was nothing left inside but a heavy ache, then crawled into bed.

A few minutes later she heard Spock's glide chair in the hall and his door closing. She allowed exhaustion to drag her under and into a dreamless sleep.

She awoke the next morning feeling drugged, her eyes puffy and bloodshot. Spock's eyes were equally bloodshot, tiny green capillaries tracing roads across their whites. Not surprisingly, he was lax about therapy, allowing Christine to manipulate his limbs, not pressing to try to move on his own, seeming relieved when it was over. He refused breakfast and retired to his room saying that he wished to meditate.

Christine left for work feeling despondent and as if she had a heavy weight on her chest. To make matters worse, she had a sore throat and a headache and that "peppery" feeling that told her she was getting sick. Worried about Spock, it seemed to Christine that the day passed in a maddeningly slow fog. She counted the hours until she could get away from people and come home.

But when she returned, Spock was still in his room. She raised her hand to knock at his door, then stopped herself, having learned early on in their relationship that one did not disturb a meditating Vulcan.

By the time several hours had passed though, she was becoming worried about him. Easing the door open, she peeked into see him sitting on his bed, eyes closed. She closed the door and went back to her reading. When he had not come out by late in the evening, she went to bed, deciding to stay home the next day; she was coming down with something anyway.

The next morning she couldn't go back to sleep after calling Sean Alderman to tell him she wouldn't be in. Deciding to get up, she dressed and began baking, hoping that the scent would provide a friendly atmosphere for Spock to come aware to.

But the weather had other ideas. Outside, rain pelted down in great fat drops, drenching everything, as a cold wind whipped across the lake and through the trees. The large tree beside the den slapped the window periodically, making a whap-swish sound that echoed through the house with a suggestion of chill.

By four o'clock, she realized that Spock's hibernation could last longer than his body could stand to miss physical therapy; unworked muscle began to deteriorate after forty-eight hours.

Trepidation brimming over in her, she went to Spock's door. Opening it quietly, she went in and sat down, her heart pounding, waiting for Spock to become aware of her presence.

It took only a few minutes for his breathing to change, another one or two for him to become aware -- but he was somewhat groggy, his eyes slightly glassy, his hands trembling.

"Why have you interrupted my meditations? I thought I had made it clear that you were not to disturb me when I was meditating."

His voice held threat and she hid behind her professional persona. "You need your physical therapy."

"I need not to be disturbed."

"You have missed two sessions. Your muscles will deteriorate if you miss therapy, and you need the muscles in good shape when the nerves begin to work right again."

At this, his eyes narrowed slightly in anger. "Leave me."

"Spock, listen..." She tried not to let her voice quaver.

"Leave. NOW!"

"I'm still your physician, Spock. I'm still in charge here!" The bluff hid her fear of failure and what that failure would do to him.

His face turned ugly with undisguised anger. "Power. You have always enjoyed that. Have you not?" He paused for effect. "It suits you well, Christine. But you are through toying with my life. Do you understand?"

Stung, afraid of what she would say or do, knowing he was right -- that she had forced him into a life that he could not cope with -- that she had violated his right of decision -- a cardinal sin against her profession, and her beliefs -- she backed out of the room.

Grabbing a sweater, she slammed out of the back door, ran down the stairs to the shoreline and continued running until the pain in her chest brought her to her knees many minutes later.

Gasping for oxygen, her lungs scalding with each intake of air, she knelt there in the mud. Her hair, wet and clinging to her face, led rivulets of rain and sweat down her neck. Wind whipped over her, plastering her wet clothing to her skin and chilling her.

Her teeth began to chatter. When she could breathe again, she stumbled to her feet and continued on, slower now, along the shore, blinded by her own guilt and pain. She had pushed Spock into living when he had already decided he didn't want to go on. Had it been for him, or for herself? And now what did he have? The thoughts echoed at her over and over. What had she done? For whom?

A stone turned under her foot and she fell, skinning her knee and scraping the hell out of her hand. The physical pain unleashed fresh tears of torment as she struggled to her feet. Why had she been so stupid?

She went on, her feet sloshing from time to time in a marshy pit too near the water's edge. The sun, hidden in dark clouds, was going down now, and it grew even colder as darkness closed in. A crack of thunder echoed through her and she plodded on, unable to stop shaking, no longer thinking, and only dimly aware that her toes stung with cold and that her fingers were numb, that her sweater was hanging heavily from her shoulders with the weight of the water.

She fell again, this time resting in the mud long enough to realize that she was getting closer to houses again. Had she walked that long? It took a little over two hours to circle the lake, she knew. But had she gone that far? She struggled to her feet.

As she neared the lights of the lakefront homes, the awareness that she had nowhere to go but the house -- and Spock -- unnerved her. Cold and miserable as she was, she didn't want to face him. She tripped and fell once more, this time wrenching her ankle and her left wrist. She began to cry again, dry sobs with no tears -- there were no tears left, only pain. She put her face on her arms. She was so sleepy. The cold seemed somehow far away, the mud almost warm. Another clap of thunder brought her back to her sense and she tried to stand. She fell and tried again, this time succeeding.

Ignoring the pain in her ankle and the rest of her being, she stumbled forward, one foot after another, until she was almost at the foot of the stairs of their house. It didn't matter anymore where she was; she was nothing -- nobody. She had to get her credit pack, get into town somehow. Get away, somewhere. Anywhere. Just away from here. Away somewhere where she wouldn't have the chance to play god with anyone she loved, ever again.

"Christine?" She heard his voice from somewhere above her. She looked up and fell again, hitting her face against the bottom stair. "Christine!" His voice competed with the howl of the wind. Why was he still yelling at her? She didn't matter anymore -- to anyone. Why bother to yell?

"Christine?"

She looked up again to see him trying to navigate the steep wooden stairs with his chair. Fear for him sliced through her. So, she could still feel. She took a deep breath. "NO!" He stopped. "Stay there before you break your neck!" Anger. Another feeling. She felt betrayed by the emotions she didn't want. Flinging mud off her hand, then wiping it on her clothes, she got to her feet and worked her way up the stairs. She didn't look at him again. Didn't want to feel anymore, didn't want to see the anger in his face until she had to.

She felt him grasp her arm to steady her as she reached the landing. She tried to pull away from him. "I'm okay!" But he would not let her go.

"You are hardly 'okay'." At this she glanced up at him to give him a dirty look. She was surprised by what she saw there. Not anger. Damn him, anyway. She was ready for his anger. She had worked that betraying emotion into a weapon to use.

But his eyes held no anger; his face was no longer tight. There was only concern there. She felt betrayed again. And confused. The pain and humiliation flowed back into her.

"I'm sorry." Tears she didn't know she had sprung to her eyes. "I'm sorry! I was wrong to make you try. Stupid and arrogant and wrong! I'm so sorry." She knew that she could never make up for the lifetime of hell he had ahead of him.

"Christine..."

"I had no right to push you. It was your decision..."

"Christine!" He shook her until she was silent. "Come inside before you become hypothermic." Together they moved inside, Christine babbling apologies, Spock awkwardly urging her toward her shower from his chair.

* * *

Later, she could not clearly remember anything past getting to the stair landing. She vaguely remembered hot water running over her muddy, clothed body, and almost falling as she tried to undress afterwards, hands helping her. She had a flash impression of the hardness of the toilet seat when Spock made her sit and then disappeared. She almost remembered falling across Spock's chair as it seemed he was trying to get her into bed. She remembered clearly the warmth of the bed.

But all of the memories were odd and disjointed. What seemed clearer were her dreams when she slept. They were horrible dreams, replete with strange, ugly creatures coming after her, but in her dreams she was a child, all alone and frightened.

She remembered hiding, being very quiet until they would sniff her out and she would feel their hot breath on her and she would scramble up and run again, crying out for her father to help her. But he wouldn't come and her lungs would be on fire until she couldn't breathe anymore and would miraculously find a place to hide again for a little while.

The creatures kept finding her faster and she found fewer hiding places now than she had at first. Dad! Daddy, where are you? Help me, Daddy! She kept crying out, but it was so hard and it took so much breath. She cried out one last time -- and he found her, pulling her into his arms, smoothing her hair, touching her face. And as he touched her face the creatures disappeared. All that existed was his quiet presence as he soothed her, whispering her name, assuring her that she was safe.

As she calmed, it dawned on her that it wasn't her father's voice. But it didn't matter. The deep baritone that spoke to her, and the strong arms that held and soothed her, made her feel just as safe as her father once had. And the creatures were gone. But she was still hot. And she still could barely breathe, but the pain was gone. She drifted, no longer afraid, once again not caring about anything as long as she could stay here and be safe.

* * *

Christine woke to a semi-light hospital room and Spock sitting beside her, his eyes closed, hands steepled. She gazed up at the IV packet above her, trying in vain to read its label. She reached up and raised the light level over the bed. Dextrose, sodium, vitamins. A second packet -- an antibiotic from the label, though she could not read the smaller writing on the packet -- dripped piggyback into the line going into her left arm. There was a healing needle-mark on a small lump on her right arm. Her throat hurt. She could feel a catheter in her urethra.

Looking back at Spock, she noticed his eyes were open, watching her. "How are you feeling?"

She tried to smile, but the breath she took to speak made her cough and she felt like the lining of her lungs was being torn loose. "Aren't we a little turned around here?"

He gave her a slight smile. "It would seem so."

"I give up. How'd I get here?" She began coughing again.

He waited until she had finished. "What do you remember?"

This time she talked without breathing anymore than she had to. "I remember being in the shower, being in bed, and some terrible dreams."

He reached out to touch her forehead with the palm of his hand as if to reassure himself of her temperature, then removed his hand. "I made you get into a warm shower to bring up your body temperature as quickly as possible, then--" His eyes flitted away as he said it. "--got you into dry clothing and put you to bed." He looked back to her. "You slept immediately. Several hours later, however, you began to hallucinate. When I -- touched you -- and you felt very warm to me, I called for medical transport. You have a virus with bacterial complications. You have been here for two days. They are treating you with liquids and antibiotics."

Her brow wrinkled in remembrance. "I'm sorry that I interfered with your decision, Spock. It was wrong of me."

He looked troubled for a moment; his expression of not knowing how to explain something was obvious. "Christine. Part of meditation, for me..." He paused, glancing up, and then steadying his gaze on the edge of the bed. "...is the process of -- exploring -- my thoughts on a specified problem or -- discomfort -- and experiencing it." His eyes found her face again. "I try to think -- and feel -- through each thought and emotion. To test them, to eliminate those that are unhealthy and to accept those that are productive."

She stared at her hands. "You kind of do your own psychotherapy on yourself, then." She glanced up and he looked away.

"Of a sort. When I can. I am not always -- objective."

There was a silence and Christine broke it, looking into his eyes. "Do you hate me?" she asked softly.

"No." His own voice was almost inaudible and he looked away. "Christine." He sighed. "It is -- hard. I..." He began again. "I do not blame you for convincing me to live. But neither am I -- glad to..." He looked up at her. "I did not finish sorting through how I feel about -- everything. But, intellectually, I believe you were right to do what you did. Had I walked, the gain would have been work the risk. I can hardly fault you that it did not work. What I said..." His face showed pain.

"It's all right." She coughed again, gasping for air, and he waited.

"No." He touched her hand and they both pulled back, embarrassed. "I want you to understand. When you interrupted me, I was in the midst of -- exploring -- my feelings of anger over not walking. When I spoke to you I was completely out of control. It took half an hour for me to even realize what exactly had happened and to balance my mind. I ask forgiveness for hurting you."

"It's okay." There was silence again. "Are you doing your therapy?" Her voice was almost gone now.

He almost smiled. "You told me months ago that you would be a tough taskmaster. Yes. I have done it here at the hospital." She smiled and reached down to pat his leg as one would a small child. "Good." And she drifted off to sleep -- dreaming that someone was holding her hand.

* * *

It took four days until Christine was ready to leave the hospital and two more in bed at home before she was allowed up. In that time, a physical therapist from the hospital came twice each day to do Spock's therapy. Spock, a tough taskmaster in his own right, insisted that Christine remain in bed until her doctor said she could get up, and then allowed her only several hours a day to be up, insisting on retaining the therapist for the rest of the week.

On the fourth day after she had come home, there was a knock on the wall next to her open bedroom door and Christine looked up from the newstape she was reading. He inclined his head. "Dinner is ready."

"Thank God!" She came off the bed and let her slacks and blouse straighten themselves before slipping her feet into her slippers. "I thought I was going to starve." She saw the look that was almost but not quite a smile.

"Are you trying to say that dinner is late?"

She looked at the ceiling as if she were trying to think of a polite answer, then looked at him. "No. I'm just starving!" She followed him down the hall, and waited until he had pressured his chair down the five steps. "Come on," she teased as he moved down the next steps. "Move it." As they entered the dining room, she stopped short. "Candlelight?"

"I thought perhaps we might celebrate."

"Celebrate?" She looked at him and he smiled a real smile. He looked down at his feet and she followed with her eyes. His feet were bare.

She looked up, afraid to hope. "Spock?" Her voice cracked and she held her breath.

His face went tense and she glanced back at his feet. A toe on his right foot moved. "SPOCK!" She threw her arms around him and kissed his cheek -- or tried to. But in the excitement he accidentally turned his head and their lips touched gently and lingered. She pulled back, too happy to be more than slightly embarrassed, and looked back down at his feet.

"Do it again. Can you move the other?" When he did not instantly comply, she glanced up. He was looking at her thoughtfully. She poked him in the arm. "Come on. Move it again."

He looked down then and concentrated. This time the other foot moved. "Both of them?" He nodded in reply. "Since when?" She could hardly believe her eyes.

"The right this morning, the left this afternoon."

Again, Christine hugged him, feeling him hug her back before they let go. "I'm so happy!"

"That is why you are crying." She nodded, unable to speak for a moment. A smell distracted her and her head spun toward the table. "Is that red meat?"

"Steak. It is your favorite, is it not?"

Christine grinned. "Thank you."

He swallowed hard. "I thank you, as well."

She looked down and smiled, but now she was embarrassed and merely nodded. "Any time," she whispered. It was supposed to be a light statement, but it came out serious.

"Sit." Spock's voice held a new lightness and she looked up again. "If I have to look at it and smell it, the least you can do is eat it while it is hot."

She grinned at his joke. "Where'd it come from?"

"Besides a dead cow?"

"Spock!"

"The therapist purchased it for me on his way here this afternoon. That is why dinner is late."

"It was nice of you to think of it." He changed the subject. "Please pass the milk." She tried not to giggle with her happiness.

* * *

"Personal log. 0763.54:

"It has been so good being with Spock, and I don't know how I'm going to handle it ending. But it does have to end. Each day there are tiny improvements in his mobility. And though it will be several months before he can move on his own, it is ending. It hurts so much.

"And to make things worse, I'm starting to see perfectly innocent things he does and wonder if it means something more. Accidental touches seem intentional -- and I know they aren't. I read things into innocent statements. Things I know he didn't mean. Simple sharing of mundane things -- a convenience of any people living together -- seem suddenly intimate. Oh, God, I hate it. I know it's all one-sided. Why now am I having so much trouble wanting his affection? Is it because I'm losing him? I ache so, all of the time.

"And what's worse, he knows it. He watches me, wondering why I'm acting strangely. But if I look at him, he gives me that tolerant look and maybe a small half-smile, and looks away. He knows what I'm feeling and he hurts for me. Why can't I stop feeling this way? We touch and my heart races. I look into those dark eyes and melt inside.

"I try to withdraw emotionally, but that only makes things worse. Ironically, the more I pull away, the more I seem to see things in his behavior that I know mean nothing beyond concern.

"He brought me roses for my birthday, and though it was sweet, I ruined it by thinking for several minutes that it meant something other than it did. When I realized how I was taking it, I thanked him and went to my room for the afternoon; I needed so badly to be away from him. It took the better part of a week for it to stop hurting. Why is this happening?

"This week it seems like he is watching me more than ever. I wish he'd stop it. It's driving me crazy. Those eyes... I can feel them when I'm not looking at him -- especially then. And if I look up quickly enough, I catch a look of sadness, almost longing. My unhappiness is hurting him -- and I can't seem to do anything about it. I know he can't help but wish that I was someone else. I wonder if he is still thinking about Dr. Kalomi? She was so pretty and small and delicate. So unlike me in her shy openness. As much as I was jealous of her, I couldn't help but like her, and I see why Spock had that look of pain for so long after we left them.

"I wish it was over. As much as I don't want to lose him, I want it to be over so I can mourn my loss and leave it behind. Leave him..."

Christine put her head down on her arms and began to weep ... again.

* * *

Three months after those first movements, Spock began to be able to bend his knees at will. He still could not take a step, but he could now stand for several moments at a time unaided. They notified McCoy to begin proceedings to have him reinstated and to begin working on opening a position for Christine when she applied and he requested her. If it was going to work at all, it would take McCoy and Kirk's wizardry to do it.

The day they sent the transmission to the Enterprise, they celebrated again, this time with Christine fixing Spock's favorite Vulcan dishes from scratch, an all-day chore.

He sat back from the table. "Excellent. Though I believe I consumed one serving too many of the r'detha."

Christine smiled. "Me, too."

She stood and began clearing the table. He handed her his plate, his hand brushing hers, his eyes on her face. "It was a pleasant meal. I enjoyed it."

She gave him a smile. "I'm glad."

"May I help you?" His chair followed her to the sink and, as she turned, he handed her a dish of food.

She had almost tripped over him when she turned around, and now she took the dish of food and put it on the counter, looking for a container to put in it to refrigerate it. "No, thank you. I can handle it."

"I thought we might clean up quickly and take a walk. It is a nice evening." Christine's heart tightened. She didn't want to be alone with him in the moonlight. Not now. She couldn't handle it. She had promised him professionalism, and she wasn't going to go back on that promise.

"That's fine. You go. I'll finish here. I'm really kind of tired. I thought I'd turn in early. I have a few things to do. By the time you get back, I'll be about ready."

She kept her back to him and, when she turned around to go back to the table, his face was unreadable, shielded; he didn't want her to see his pity, she knew -- and she didn't want to see it.

"Yes. I think I will. I will return shortly." She listened as his chair went up the stairs. The closet door opened and closed as he got his jacket. The front door opened and then closed.

Christine leaned against the counter. "Oh, God." She sighed. If she could just hold out and not screw up. She blinked back tears and continued to clear the table.

Spock returned forty minutes later and went to his room without more than a greeting and another positive comment on the meal, and Christine sighed with relief.

Twenty minutes later, Christine prepared for bed and went to check on Spock. He was sitting in his bed reclining on several pillows, reading a cloth-bound book. He put it down as she came in after having knocked and waited a minute. "Do you need anything?"

"Nothing that I don't have access to."

That seemed a strange thing to say, but she ignored it. "Well, I'm going to bed now. I'll see you in the morning. Call me if you need anything." She turned to leave and heard him say her name. "Yes?"

"What has been bothering you these last months?"

"Nothing."

"That is not true. You are constantly preoccupied. Something is the matter." He began straightening the covers.

"I'm sorry."

"Sometimes I speak to you and you seem to drift away."

Christine was uncomfortable. "I'll try to keep my mind on what you're saying from now on."

He was smoothing the blankets. "Might it be because you don't want to hear what I'm saying?"

"I always know what you're saying," she snapped defensively.

His eyes met hers. "Do you?" He reached for the spare blanket across the foot of the bed, not quite able to reach it. Christine began to unfold it for him, and he continued, "Christine, I know you feel a great deal for me."

"Of course I do." She spread the blanket. "You can't live with a person and not grow to care for them." She pulled the blanket up across his chest.

"Christine, what happened to that blatantly honest woman I began living with months ago?"

Tears welled up in her eyes. What did he want? For her to admit that she was hopelessly in love with him? A replay of that conversation that had first humiliated her before him? Well, that had been the effect of a virus that had broken down her reserves. She wasn't going to humiliate herself of her own free will. She was so tired of holding it in, trying to act like nothing was wrong.

"I am being as honest as I can be," and keep my dignity, she added to herself. "I am fine. You don't need to worry about me."

She noticed a crease in the blanket just below his bare midriff and reached nervously to straighten it before she left. As she came closer he grasped her hand and pulled her down roughly across his lap. "Just what does it take to get through to you, woman?"

His voice was rough with frustration. The startled look in her blue eyes turned to acceptance and then to amusement as she realized the months of her own obtuseness. She hadn't been imagining things; they were real. And he hadn't been thinking of, or wanting, Leila Kalomi -- he'd been wanting her! Relief flooded her and she smiled. "I think that did it." She stared into the dark eyes for a long moment, then reached to touch his face, to trace her fingertips across his cheekbone before she leaned to kiss the hollow of his cheek below. He allowed it, but then pulled her mouth to his to kiss her fully. She was trembling when the kiss ended and he trailed several more kisses along her jaw and throat. His eyes settled on her again.

"I am fully functional, Christine." His voice was low and rough. "I wish to have intercourse with you -- now."

Christine felt herself blushing at his directness, and she looked down, embarrassment forcing her to seek humor as a release, the teasing words coming from her lips. "But will you respect me later?"

A warm hand lifted her fact to his gaze. "How could I allow that to diminish my respect for a woman with whom I wish to spend a great many years of my life?" He was completely serious and warm love for him welled up in her.

She shook her head gently and kissed him, feeling one of his hands against the nape of her neck, the other pulling her close to his chest. His tongue touched her lower lip, asking entrance, and she gave it willingly -- each of them reaching to experience the taste and texture of the other. After long moments of exploration, Spock pulled away slowly and, grasping the lapel of her robe, gave it a soft tug. "Is this entirely necessary?"

She met his gaze with her own and, taking his hand, placed it on the tie of the robe. He pulled it loose and drew her mouth to his again, his hand slipping between the robe and her gown to touch her breast, his kiss deepening as she responded. Feeling him pull away and ease the robe down her shoulders, she slipped out of it and he tossed it onto the carpet.

She looked at him a long moment, then smiled and took the initiative to kiss him. In response, he pulled her down to lie on top of him, large hot hands massaging her shoulders and back hard, sliding across her rib cage and the small of her back to her buttocks. She could feel his erection through the blankets as he rubbed his hands up and down her rump.

She pulled away to breathe. Daring to look up at him, she saw that he was wearing a self-satisfied, contented look -- but that he was breathing hard, his eyelids heavy, his lips full with arousal. He slid the strap of her gown down one shoulder. "Take it off," he said softly, and she found herself grinning with embarrassment again as she raised her hips to allow him to slide it up, his hands stroking her flesh.

She had to sit up to lift it over her head and she reached for the lamp. His hand closed over hers gently. "No. Leave it on. I wish to see you."

Something deep inside her wanted to match his brazen attitude, and she looked into his face as she lifted the gown and let it slide to the floor. Cool air hitting her skin, the embarrassment returned. She began to lean forward to lie down, to cover herself against him.

Again, he stopped her, this time with his hands against her shoulders, holding her at arm's length. With a small smile, his eyes traveled her body slowly -- and his hands followed, filling themselves with her breasts. She arched against the hot hands and closed her eyes, her head falling back, losing herself in his touch.

After a long moment, his right hand came behind her neck and pulled her head forward gently. She opened her eyes and looked at him. His hands pulled at the covers and she lifted as he pulled them back to uncover his body. Still, she stared into his face. The soft smile remained on his lips. "Look at me, Christine." When she did not look, he continued. "You've seen it all before -- always being so careful not to really see. Touched -- being careful not to truly touch. So professional. But you've wanted to look, wanted to touch." He brushed her cheek and, as he stared into her eyes, he allowed his hand to trail across her breast and down her arm to her hand. "Touch me now, Christine. Look at me -- and see me." He brought her hand to his lips and kissed her fingers, then loosened his grasp and waited expectantly.

She took a deep breath and allowed her eyes to wander down his brass-gold shoulders. A smile began that was only in small part from embarrassment. Her hands reached, involuntarily to touch, to stroke his biceps, the hair-covered plains of his chest muscles, the hard nubs of his erect areolas, across his ribcage, down the pale hollows below his hips and back to the hair on his belly, to the small navel then down the v-shaped muscles of his lower belly and across his hipbones.

There, she stopped, staring at his erection. She felt her face change with her enjoyment of his body and flashed the smile at him. This time it was he who looked away and she grinned at his sudden bashfulness.

Gently, she reached out to touch and she felt him react to that touch. She looked up to see his eyes watching her once more. As her hand moved again, his eyes closed in pleasurable anticipation -- and she watched his face change, his body tense and move with enjoyment as she caressed him.

After several minutes he shuddered; his eyes snapped open, his hand grasped her wrists firmly. He pulled her back up to lie upon him, his hardness undulating beneath her, pressing into a place just below her pubic bone. She shifted slightly, looking into his eyes, each of them enjoying the eroticism of knowing exactly what they were doing to one another. The intensity of their knowledge grew until she could no longer meet his eyes, and put her face against his neck. His hands at the base of her spine pulled her closer, both of them still moving.

Several moments later she began to hear the rasp of her own breathing, loud and quivery, but it didn't matter. Almost overloaded, she pulled away to lie on her back, pulling him with her, feeling him come to rest upon her as she guided his body into its place within her own. Her mouth was taken in a hot kiss as they began to move.

Unexpected and nerve-shattering pleasure gripped her, and she realized that he was suddenly feeling a flood of odd, never-before-felt sensations. His? As well as hers? Confused, she wasn't sure if she was thrusting, or responding to a thrust.

Hot hands slid beneath her and grasped her buttocks, orchestrating -- choreographing -- their movements by sheer strength for several minutes until a smooth rhythm resumed. Then, in an instant, everything went nova. Bright starbursts of pleasure broke apart over and over in a convulsion of movement. Again, she was not sure who was moving where, but the man within her was so powerful that it made no difference; she merely clung to him and kept the insistent rhythm they had begun until they exploded into a billion particles of light and color and they came to rest.

//Forgive me. I lost control. I should not have made mental contact without your permission.//

A wave of warm love and acceptance welled up in her and cascaded over him until she felt him buoyed up with joy and relief in response.

//Wow.// It was all she could think.

//So cerebral,// he teased.

//You, too,// was the returning retort, mind-thought thick with happy abandon. She felt him hug her hard.

Suddenly, against her volition, the pleasant lethargy turned to tension as a flash of anger erupted in her. //What the hell took you so long?//

He was keenly aware of her meaning. //Perhaps the intensity of your emotional commitment frightened me.//

She could feel the pain of honesty and openness in him. //I'm sorry. This isn't the time for accusations.// Why was she ruining everything? She hated herself.

He stroked her cheek, his eyes full of tenderness. //The anger runs deep. I have hurt you a great deal. Forgive me.//

She sighed and looked down, trying to master her feelings, feeling him being careful not to disturb the meld as he pulled free and came to lie beside her. //I was the one who chose to stick around though,// she reasoned, looking up to meet his eyes again.

//I am gratified that you did.// He kissed her temple. //I regret hurting you.//

//I know.// The anger was muted, but still present. Her regret for that was there as well.

//It is going to take time,// he assured her.

//I love you, Spock.//

//I know. Will you allow me to be close to you as you heal?//

She grinned at him. //Turn about is fair play?//

//No.// He kissed her warmly. //I do not wish to lose you.// There was a pause, then: //I need thee.//

She looked into his eyes, tearing blurring her vision, then sniffed and blinked them away, her decision made. //Oh, what the hell. Why not?//

Taking a teasing move from her usual behavior, he ruffled her hair as if she were a pet sehlat and -- amazed -- she ducked away. He was amused by her; she could feel it.

//Must you swear?//

//Oh, brother.//

//Incest? I assure you we are no more closely related than a horse and a mule from opposite sides of your world.//

//Who is the mule?//

Shaking her head, she elbowed him in the side and was deeply satisfied by the soft grunt it produced. Hell, she had years of hostility to release at him and if he could keep teasing her, she could keep fighting back. This could be fun.

//But certainly not boring.// At her expression of surprise and dismay, he continued. //I must teach you to block. I am certain that I do not wish to know your every thought when I am touching your mind.//

//How about this one?// She wanted him again and she filled her mind with her desire, with pictures of their bodies moving together.

//Your mind is quite visual.// He put his own desire forward in his mind and took her hand, placing it where he wanted it to be.

 

THE END