DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Catherine Kay and is copyright (c) 2001 by Catherine Kay.

The Deep End

Catherine Kay

Christine felt a smug, evil gladness in the center of her being. "This will teach him to brag about Vulcan prowess!" she thought gleefully.

Usually she was in Spock's camp in the "famous" sparring matches between Dr. McCoy and Spock. But even she had limits. The Vulcan had been truly insufferable.

At first she had been patient with his veiled slights against humans knowing full well that they had dragged Spock against his will off the ship almost literally.

"It would be upsetting to anyone," she had reasoned after the first 48 hours of shore leave in a beautiful condo suite in Baja California, "to be so busy and then put on enforced rest."

Captain Kirk was his usual brilliant self once he had resigned to the enforced rest ordered by Star Fleet after the "Enterprise Incident" in Romulan space. Starfleet was of the opinion, based on McCoy's recommendations, that the command crew needed to rebond after the successful espionage mission. Captain Kirk's tactics of faking insanity was considered perhaps not the best strategy as far as working relationships afterwards for the crew. But this was the first espionage attempt ever made into Romulan space by a starship and Star Fleet, although not nuts about his tactics, had to admit to his success. Command also needed the time to debrief everyone in a relaxed manner over several weeks while the Star Fleet high clearance scientists went through ship's records copying and then deleting incriminating evidence as well as carefully taking apart the cloaking device.

Captain Kirk, being the fine leader he was, quickly grasped the veracity of that order and applied himself as he did with anything to seeing that the very best in scenery, recreation and accommodations was as posh as could possibly be attained.

"And, of course, he has succeeded beautifully," mused Christine as she watched Spock's knuckles tighten slightly against the board in reaction to the sensations below his knees.

So the entire command crew, Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, Dr. McCoy and herself had been whisked down to the five bedroom condo chateau 1/4 mile from the beautiful beaches of Baja.

First, he had put down McCoy's recommendations to Star Fleet. Saying that since he was in on the Captain's scheme from the beginning, he had no illusions as to the sanity of the Captain and should be excused from this "Shore Leave". That in fact since there was no logic in rehashing events that were over and done with, perhaps it would be best if everyone used this time to meditate on their weaknesses so that in the future alternatives can be planned for. And it could have been done while still on board and saved everyone from the time and expense of relocating to a less then contemplative environment, in a most arrogant voice, seethed Christine as she watched the goose bumps start to form on Spock's upper thighs.

McCoy had broken out the vodka, margarita mix, sugar, salt and limes at that moment. Spock glared at him but went into his room without comment and shut the door behind him. When it was evident that Spock wasn't coming out, McCoy had stopped at one drink. But for the rest of the day when Spock peeked out McCoy made it a point to make another drink up loudly. That usually drove Spock back into his room.

Christine had commented to McCoy, "Don't you think this is a little childish, Leonard?"

Kirk added, "Not to mention pretty wasteful of really good liquor and mixer," as he watched McCoy pitch a newly mixed drink down the drain for the third time that afternoon.

McCoy said nothing for a beat, watching the frozen lime concoction swirl down the drain. "Okay. It's childish," he admitted. "But I just got here and before I start working on our command relationships, I'm going to have a little vacation from the tin plated computer!" McCoy flashed them both an evil smile and said, "I promise, I'll quit tomorrow." Kirk and Christine groaned.

Then had come the slights about the food. "Granted, most of us can't cook great Vulcan cuisine but we had taken pains to bring along many vegetarian dishes," fumed Christine to Uhura after she found her friend a little out of sorts on the huge veranda after Spock had been critical of a spicy rice dish the Bantu woman had prepared to compliment the steamed crab legs. It had been a family favorite of Uhura's.

He had complained about the incessant noise, Christine remembered as she watched part of Spock's anatomy begin to shrink down to half its size as the water (cool but not cold to her) lapped against his genitals. A gasp escaped him for all his bravado.

McCoy had been as good as his word and had tried to put together the command teams nerves the next day. But all Spock did was complain about the constant "din". He complained that he couldn't meditate and that this experience was having a negative effect on his well being. McCoy, now concerned, instructed everyone to be more quiet. They had been walking on egg shells as if instead of a beach front condo they all resided in a monastery.

After a mostly miserable day for everyone, McCoy went out to the veranda at dusk where Spock was standing, a sour look on his Vulcan face. Distant gulls cried to each other across the water.

"Spock, I hope you're feeling a little better," McCoy said. The Vulcan turned a glacial eye on McCoy and said in a cold voice, "I don't know how you can possibly feel that I would benefit in such a place. There is absolutely no peace anywhere."

"What do you mean?" remonstrated McCoy. "You could hear a pebble fall on the beach from here!"

"Ah! Yes! I forget how deaf you humans are," Spock said with a slightly mean tone. "Those..." and he pointed out at the sea gulls, "are raucous, foul smelling animals. I now can understand why humans are so boisterous and chatty. It seems to be in the evolutionary blueprint of this planet."

White heat flashed through McCoy. "Birds! You've been complaining about the birds! We've been walking on egg shells for the entire day around you and you've been complaining about the birds the whole time! Well, Mr. Spock. Boisterous and chatty we may be but I'll tell you what we aren't. We aren't cold old fuddy duddies before our time. We reach out and we touch others and most of the time beings touch us back in return in friendship. But I'm sure it's not all your fault... I'm sure it's the result of evolution binding the Vulcan soul up in a heart of ice that was developed as a cooling mechanism against the hot climate." A spasm went across Spock's face so fast it looked like a tic. McCoy couldn't quite catch if it was anger, sorrow or something else. The Vulcan turned back to the railing effectively ending the conversation which was just fine with McCoy who went back into the condo to tell the others to not try so hard with Spock and to have his first drink in 24 hours.

* * *

The next day McCoy took everyone into a more formalized therapy format. "I hate to do it, Christine. But at this point that Vulcan is a major stumbling block. Since he's not good at just unwinding in the company of others I am going to order activities that he must attend," McCoy confided in Christine.

Christine sighed. It was less than the ideal way of de-stressing the rest of the command team but as it was now ... hard feelings were starting to form because of the critical Vulcan and that just couldn't be allowed to happen either.

McCoy asked, "Chris, I remember you told me that you use to teach yoga at the university before you came on board. Could you run us through two sessions a day? One in the morning and one in the evening?"

Christine nodded. Her heart lightened. Yoga was good for just about everyone and on the beach surrounded by beautiful cliffs, dunes and sand the benefits would be enhanced.

"Sure, Len. I'd be happy too." Christine gave a genuine relaxed smile for the first time in weeks. McCoy saw it and was gratified that someone at least was starting to show signs of relaxation.

So McCoy put together a schedule based on the rest of the command team's needs. Meditation led by Spock first thing. Yoga on the beach led by Christine. Sulu who was a secret gourmet chef was to cook breakfasts every morning ... Spock had to cook one Vulcan side dish. Uhura and Chekov were to plan morning forays into town and plan the evening social activities. Scotty along with Kirk conducted the more formal group session where the entire command team picked apart some of the more difficult missions and tried coming up with different strategies in the late mornings to early afternoons. Lunch was just gotten whenever, as each person wanted it. McCoy had made it a point to stock the fridge with snacky, luncheon type foods. Kirk insisted that they spend some quality beach time from 2 P.M. to tide. McCoy was in charge of the evening meals which he also intended using as an informal therapy session. He had laid in a healthy selection of wines for this.

Due to McCoy's excellence is practical psychology the strategy worked seamlessly through the morning with only one snide comment by the Vulcan on what could possibly be gained from "window shopping" to Uhura and Chekov. But McCoy stepped in brusquely to say that it always pays to know what shops have what to save time later and that they also needed to go into town to lay in food supplies for the next few days. Kirk said quietly, "That's an order, Mr. Spock" and Spock looked like he wanted to say more but settled with sulking through the stores silently.

Christine wanted to slap him. She was startled by this feeling of anger toward him. Never had she ever felt this way in relation to Mr. Spock. But he was being purposefully uncooperative. Trying hard to destroy this very needed rest. What was wrong with him? She had always thought that Spock was a team player. Couldn't he see the pain he was inflicting?

The strategies meeting went well. They actually got some good scenarios developed, a valuable resource for later problems that could arise in future missions. Even Spock seemed more upbeat after that. Christine had thought that everything was going to get better after that until the beach time in the afternoon.

It had started out well enough but pretty soon Spock was back to his "normal" critical self.

Well, normal since they had gotten here, Christine qualified. He complained about the sand, the birds, the sun, and finally had ridiculed the people surfing, almost boasting that he couldn't see the allure of balancing on a board. And with as many times as they failed to do so ... what would be the point? A Vulcan would have no problems with such a task. But that there was no purpose in such redundant behavior except as possibly a developmental tool for enhancing balance in very young Vulcan children.

A slow burn went through Christine then. Surfing had always been a passion. Many times she had gone to her aunt's house in San Diego when she was growing up with other cousins. The time on the beach surfing had been magical. She just was not going to take this crap from him. Not one bit of it.

She got up from the towel where she had been lying and, shaking a bit of sand from her hair which had curled slightly in the humidity, stalked down the beach to ask a group of teens if she could borrow their board for a few runs.

Kirk had been trying to ignore Spock and had almost left himself to go for a swim and "cool off" but Christine's manner caught his attention. He had never seen her this angry. Two thoughts hit him almost at once.

"Damn, she is beautiful when she is angry. And I've overlooked this one too long," he admitted to himself.

He gave a quick glance at Spock. But the Vulcan had turned on his stomach, hands over his ears. He had missed Christine's exit. Feeling a little freer to act, he started to get up to go after her as his second thought was, "I can't let this go. No one should be getting upset," using his concern to rationalize his behavior in lieu of his sudden surge of libido.

But then he caught that she was coming back, board tucked under one arm. By her stride and expression he knew that she had not cooled off one iota. He found himself tensing involuntarily even though he had not provoked her. She powered around him and thumped the end of the board not 2 inches from Spock's face, burying the end of the board in the sand by a good five inches. The sand was a little damp from an early morning rain and the board stood there free, standing like a monolith.

Kirk's eyes just about popped out of his head but he wisely said nothing, his brief sexual tension abating in light of his growing intrigue of what her next move would be. Spock truly deserved every bit he was going to get. As Christine caught his gaze for just a second, she caught the look of amused permission on Kirk's face.

"Get up!" she snapped at Spock who by now had opened his eyes, half rolled over and was craning his neck to look up the length of the board.

"I assure you I have..." Spock started but wasn't allowed to finish.

"I assure you that if you don't get up, this board's next destination will not be two inches from your face," snarled Christine.

Spock sat up quickly and looked at Kirk but saw no support there at all. Uncertain for the first time, realizing that Christine's anger was equal to his own irritation level, he stood up. Spock's eyes blazed with the opportunity of venting some of the frustration of what he had been feeling. He wrenched the board out of the sand. and stalked toward the water.

For a heartbeat this surprised Christine but she quickly recovered and ran after him, grabbing another board on her way to the water with a quick, "Can I borrow this for a moment? Thanks." before the young teen owner who had been engrossed in his girlfriend quite had a chance to yell, "Hey!"

She managed to get to the ocean first a few feet ahead of Spock. She had taken a few quick leaps into the water until she was waist deep and only then took a quick glance back at Spock who, to her surprise, had halted at the water's edge. Only his toes were in the surf. A surprised look on his face.

"Water too cold for you?" she taunted.

Spock lowered his eyebrows as his face darkened and his mouth became a hard almost-frown.

"It is nothing of consequence," Spock said dismissively but he only progressed into the ocean up to his ankles before stopping again.

Christine, whose hands were lightly resting on top of her floating board, watched with amusement as Spock tried hard to control the contortions his face wanted to do. He was all too aware of her scrutiny.

Slowly, ever so slowly he inched in, his face no longer a stoic mask. Grim determination was written on every inch of it.

"You know it's quicker to just get the shock over with by leaping in as fast as you can," Christine advised him like a pushy eldest child.

Spock glowered but didn't say anything. He couldn't. He jaws were clamped shut in order to not let his teeth chatter in front of her.

Christine glanced back at the shore and noticed the entire command team had gathered to watch the spectacle.

McCoy shouted, "Spock! You picked a hell of a time to start trying to join in on the activities."

Spock glowered even more but he was up to his waist in the water. He looked briefly at Christine a little uncertain what to do at this point. She flashed him a brief victory smile and swung on her board tummy down, paddling strongly toward the break line. He followed suit, keeping up with her.

She glanced over at him. The waves were getting steeper. On a bigger one she noticed that he actually swallowed in fear but he kept the board pointed as she was and plowed through. She started to wonder about the wisdom of this. Spock could swim she remembered ... but only to the military requirements for service aboard a starship. In other words, he was no Olympiad.

She was just about to suggest that they turn back when they made the breaker line and went past it. Spock was now taking his cues from the other surfers who were swinging around on their boards in a sitting position waiting for a good wave.

"Uh. Spock. I don't know about this. Maybe we should go back to shore." Christine suggested.

"I have every intention of going back to shore, Miss Chapel," Spock said as a huge wave began to gather behind them.

Christine looked at the wave. It would take a person with experience to successfully negotiate it. It was not a wave for beginners. Then she noticed that Spock was starting to paddle with the wave in imitation of some of the more experienced surfers.

Afraid that this had gone way to far, Christine hurriedly paddled after him yelling, "No! Spock! Wait! The wave is too big." She knew Spock had heard her but that cussed Vulcan kept going even more determinedly.

Anger surged through her. "Dammit.! He could get himself killed! And wouldn't that just be great, Christine. They would hold you responsible" she muttered angrily to herself.

She watched as Spock caught the inner part of the wave and got to his feet on the board. She couldn't help gasping. "My God! He might do it," she squeaked, not quite believing that he made it up. But there was no time to think as she herself scrambled to her feet to ride the wave in case of trouble.

It looked like it was going to work for Spock for all of 10 seconds. And then the wave started to curl. A surfer with some experience would have anticipated and sluiced the board to the part of the wave that was just ahead of the curl as Christine did. Spock just looked up as the wall of water hit him and swept him off the board. He disappeared in the foamy sea.

Christine quickly laid down on her board and let the wave pass over her and then abandoned her board in the water. She swam to just ahead of where she had seen Spock go down. She didn't see him.

"Dammit he should have popped up by now," thought a frantic Christine. She looked shoreward and screamed, "Help!" To her relief, Kirk was already running into the ocean and in another second smoothly dove in swimming strongly.

She dove in the clear water searching. Although visibility was good, it wasn't the same as seeing above water. After more than a minute under she had to surface. "Nothing. My God! Where could he be?" she wailed at Kirk who had just surfaced himself and had come up empty.

Kirk took a moment to study the next wave that was just coming in. It rolled over them and that is when Kirk noticed that there was ocean floor debris in it.

"Chris, let's look a little closer to shore," he suggested and so they dove and swam under water in a search pattern headed toward shore.

For the first 30 seconds of eternity Chris saw nothing and then as if it materialized in front of her, she DID! A pair of ripped swimming trunks. Spock's swimming trunks. She grabbed them from the coral and surfaced yelling, "He's here! He's here!" But to her relief she saw that Kirk had found the rest of him.

Spock was unconscious and bleeding. Jim was doing the Heimlich maneuver right in the shallow thigh deep water. An impressive stream of water shot out of the Vulcan's mouth. By that time Christine had gotten to the pair of them.

"Hold him," Kirk ordered grimly as he turned the unconscious Vulcan around and together they floated him in the water on his back. Kirk tilted Spock's head back and gave a couple quick deep breaths. Christine checked for a pulse. To her relief there was one. A wheeze came out of Spock but his attempt to breath was sluggish.

"Again," Christine commanded Kirk. Kirk quickly gave two good breaths to his friend and then they pulled Spock the several yards where McCoy waiting in ankle deep water with his hypo shot an injection of nathalene into Spock's upper arm. Spock convulsed and flailed. McCoy made a grab and the three of them hauled the blindly thrashing Vulcan up the beach.

Quite a crowd had gathered by that time. Spock's eyes rolled a little as he made the attempt to open them and breath at the same time. He coughed and then gagged and coughed some more. Jim and McCoy winced as they knew that each inhalation of breath had to hurt. McCoy used his scanner to scan Spock's lungs, took another hypo out of the bag and administered an antibiotic/mild analgesic.

"Jim, we have to get him a shuttle to the hospital," McCoy said.

"That bad?" whispered Jim. Christine's face turned white.

McCoy did a quick look at their faces. "Oh, no. No. He's not going to have a problem with almost being drowned. He wasn't under long enough. His brain is fine. The problem is that he chose to drown himself in salt water. Salt burns Vulcans like nitrates burn us. We have to remove the salt in his lungs fast to keep the scarring in his lungs from becoming a problem later. We can't let it sit there. That much salt in his system is toxic."

Spock groaned as he finally came all the way to.

"Welcome back, you darn fool Vulcan. And you claim my passions will be my undoing? What the hell were you trying to prove out there?" McCoy ranted at him.

Spock tried to take a deep breath to answer and managed to only gasp and cough.

"It's a trip to the hospital for you, buddy boy, where you'll not only get therapy for your lungs but for your head," McCoy said as the shuttle was landing to take them to the hospital.

Kirk wanted to go with but McCoy forestalled him. "You work on the rest of the team and finish out what we came here to do. Christine and I will handle Spock." Spock looked from one to the other of the medical staff and grimaced. Whether from pain or distaste of hospitalization, Christine could not determine. The paramedics loaded Spock unto the shuttle and Christine and McCoy climbed on board and the shuttle whisked away.

Kirk looked at the rest of the crew. What was so stunning was how shockingly normal the beach and ocean looked after 30 minutes of total chaos. Everyone collected their things and quietly walked back to the beach condo.

* * *

The tone was subdued for dinner at the condo. No one had much to say. The food was good but no one was eating much. Finally, Jim gave up the pretense and went into the kitchen and assessed the wines. He picked a nice little fruity dessert wine and a sweet Chardonnay and brought them out to the dining area.

"Sulu, why don't you give this a breathe while I go and start a fire," Jim said placing the bottles in front of the helmsman who had been the best at eating more or less of his dinner.

Uhura seemed to shake herself a little and started to rise gathering mostly full plates saying, "Well I guess if we are moving out to the common room I had best get these into the kitchen." Jim turned back to Uhura and Chekov who was starting to gather plates as well, like an old man obviously bothered by the day's events.

"Just leave it," he said quietly but firmly. "I think we all need to sit back and get our heads together."

Scotty raised an eyebrow at that and said to them and Jim's retreating back, "Aye. But let's not make it tough for ourselves later. We set them soaking at least."

Jim waved a hand in assent along with a nod and set about making a fire which always made him feel like he was taking matters in hand. An illusion of course in this instance. Uhura, Chekov, Scotty and Sulu who with plates in hand was going after a cork screw managed to get most of the table cleared in the first assault as they disappeared into the kitchen leaving Jim Kirk alone to muse as he started the fire in the fireplace.

"What the hell was going on with Spock?" he worried silently. "Spock was usually the voice of logic and good judgement. None of those traits had been there today."

Kirk blew on the tinder to encourage the flame higher into the sticks. As the wood reached flashpoint, the Captain sat back and re-evaluated his First Officer's behavior. He had to admit now that he thought about it that Spock had been in a "mood" since they had beamed the first officer back with the Romulan commander in the middle of his "statement".

"Now why hadn't I picked up on that sooner?" Jim thought to himself. But he knew why. He had been busy with security of their Romulan prisoner as well as dealing with the jittery high command who suddenly had become very, very paranoid about every route they were going to take and every asteroid in the Enterprise's vicinity.

Christine was also contemplating the afternoon's events and feeling awful as she looked down at the same First Officer. He was in a light state of drugged sleep from the anti-inflammatory and mild sedative. His lungs had been cleansed of the salt right away and damage seemed to be minimum. There would be almost no internal scarring. The deep gashes on his legs and arms had been repaired first after the lungs and digestive track had been attended to. Unfortunately the mild lacerations on his face had been last and as a result there would be scars. Too much of the tissue had been burned by the salt because of the time it took to repair the other wounds. She had always heard that Vulcan's didn't put much stock in outer appearance. Now she was going to find out if that was true or not.

McCoy breezed in and took a look at the readings and grunted with satisfaction. He took in Spock's face and there was a slight frown on his face as he assessed the resulting scarring but then shrugged. His focus changed to Christine who had guilt written all over her face.

"Christine, would you stop blaming yourself? He did this to himself," McCoy said to her in a half pleading, half stern tone.

"Perhaps. But I goaded him," Christine said fessing up to her responsibility.

"If something hadn't been eating him, you wouldn't have been able to goad him and you darn well know it! When has he ever put much stock in anything you have ever said or threatened?" McCoy argued bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet in anger. Not at her, Christine knew, but at the stubbornness of the man lying between them. Christine sighed in response.

"Christine you're only human." McCoy went on. "And besides you saved me the trouble." Christine looked at McCoy in puzzlement.

"The trouble of what exactly?" Christine asked when McCoy was obviously not going to comment further.

"The trouble of knocking him on his ass," McCoy said tartly.

Christine did a double take and tried to imagine McCoy doing that. The picture was so comical that she started to laugh. "Humph!" was all McCoy said to her assessment of his prowess in that situation. That made Christine giggle harder of course which may or may not have been McCoy's intention although she wasn't totally sure.

Their laughter seemed to seep into the First Officer's consciousness because he stirred and a soft sound escaped him. It wasn't a moan more of a soft, slightly disapproving groan of protest.

McCoy peered closer at the readings and said, "Well about time you started coming around!"

Two coal black eyes affixed their gaze on the doctor. Any junior officer would have backed down immediately but not McCoy.

"You have no one to be angry at but yourself. Your own pigheaded stubbornness got you in this fix and the least you can do is thank your lucky stars that human compassion won the day and fished you out of the ocean given the fact that you have been acting like an ass." McCoy continued his rant raising his hands as he said," I know that I won't hear a 'Thank you' from you. So I'm not even going to ask. But the one thing I am going to insist on is that you at least act more logically and less like a hormone riddled, moody teen."

The dark eyes went almost round at the last comment but not a word was uttered from Spock in denial. In fact it looked like he was trying to figure out how to deny it.

"Now you just lay there and do as Christine tells you to do with no lip. And if you give her any, she has my permission to either sedate you or bash you in the head with another surf board," McCoy finished with a reassuring glance at Christine. He turned and walked out of the room to consult with the night staff on Spock's course of treatment.

Spock, whose gaze had been following the Doctor's exit, suddenly found himself making eye contact with Christine. And Christine found herself locked in a gaze with Spock. It wasn't comfortable. After a few seconds Spock and Christine looked away by mutual consent. Christine busied herself by taking the already full water pitcher and going into the bathroom to "refill" it. Spock lay there and decided to take stock of his fate. It wasn't very promising.

McCoy came back in after twenty minutes to a room where both occupants were almost trying to ignore the other. Christine was feeling guilty McCoy knew. She also looked exhausted. Spock just looked like Vulcan stubbornness. Nothing could be done tonight anyway. Spock needed a chance to recover and think about things and Christine needed a good night sleep. God knows he himself could use a good night sleep.

"Well, Christine, it's time to hit the road," McCoy said in a bright but no nonsense tone that left very little room for arguing.

Christine actually startled. Spock didn't of course but he did quickly look in McCoy's direction and then returned his attention back to the ceiling. McCoy walked over to where Christine was sitting and took her by the arm. Christine had no choice but to rise.

"You be good, Spock. I don't want to have to come back here until morning at the earliest and I mean when the sun is up, not 12:00:01." Spock seemed more than willing to see them go and yet was a little chastened as well.

"Doctor, I am hardly in a position to do otherwise," Spock assured him.

"Good," McCoy replied.

"Goodnight, Spock," Christine said a bit uncertainly as McCoy applied a small guiding pressure to her arm in the direction of the door.

"Ms. Chapel," was all Spock said in response. He went back to staring at the ceiling.

* * *

McCoy with Christine in tow hailed a cab in front of the hospital.

"Leonard, do you think we should just leave him?" Christine said in protest.

An electric cab whispered to a stop in front of them and McCoy opened the door and proceeded to gently push Christine into it.

"233 Beachfront drive," he told the computer as he slid into the seat next to Christine. The computer said, "Acknowledged" and whirred on. "We aren't just leaving him, Christine. He's under medical supervision. He will be discharged tomorrow anyway. And for tonight it's just observation to rule out infection. He's almost fit for duty now. And if the bridge was under attack you know he would be released from sickbay. Spock's fine with us getting out of there. In fact I think he was glad if he can be glad about anything," McCoy argued.

Christine sighed. "I know, it's just, well I feel ..."

"Christine, you're tired. You need to get a hold of your guilt because it's misplaced. Spock's a big boy and can make his own decisions. He's way past the stage where he wouldn't be able to handle peer pressure," McCoy said becoming fatherly. He continued. "Now we're going back to the condo. We are both going to drink something alcoholic." Christine started to roll her eyes. "I'm not talking getting loaded, for God sake. Just something to take the edge off and then we're going to plop into bed and sleep like logs until morning. Because if you think dealing with that pointed eared nemesis was tough today, wait until tomorrow."

Christine sank back in the almost indecently plush seat and had to admit that Leonard was right. She stretched her legs in response to her decision to start to unwind and let the guilt go.

"Atta girl," McCoy said in approval.

The condo was totally dark when they got there after McCoy had zipped his credits card through the reader and then sent the cab on its way. No surprise there. It was almost midnight.

As they entered the darkened main room, they could smell the faint smell of wood smoke. There were a few embers still glowing tucked safely behind the force field in the fire place. McCoy headed to the kitchen and Christine followed him in reluctantly suddenly feeling more tired than she had thought she was.

"Leonard," she said as he headed for the cabinet with the glassware. "I think I'm just going to take a hot bath and turn in. I'm really beat."

He turned and looked at her. Convinced he turned away from the cabinet and walked toward her and said, "Well, now that you mention it, I'm pretty tired myself. I think I'll just hit the hay."

They went back out into the dark great room and Christine said, "Good night."

McCoy was in the middle of a tremendous yawn and replied with an almost intelligible, "Good night, Christine."

The next day Christine was awakened by the clatter of pans, Uhura's laughter and the smell of something delicious baking in the oven. As she rolled out of bed she smelled the delicious aroma of coffee almost like a siren's call. Hurrying now she scampered into the bathroom and quickly dampened and pulled a brush through her blond hair which was showing even blonder highlights from the exposure to the sun and surf. She quickly threw on a pair of comfortable midnight blue cotton pants and a softer blue and cream oversized cotton top so that she wouldn't have to change for yoga after breakfast and headed to the kitchen for coffee and to peek in the oven.

She walked in to see McCoy and Kirk lounging against the counter in what seemed to be a more private conversation than not. By Kirk's serious demeanor she guess the topic was Spock. She was sure that McCoy was the best person to answer all of the Captain's questions. She hoped that he wouldn't hold ill feelings toward her for her part in yesterday's events.

"Glad you could make breakfast, sleepy head," said Mr. Sulu with a smile.

Christine pondered on whether she had ever seen a day go by where Mr. Sulu did not smile during some part of it. She envied his naturally sunny disposition. Despite her outward appearance, she really had to work at not being a grump sometimes.

Uhura placed a mug into her hands and Christine took a sip and then quickly peeked into the oven and had to yelp a little when Sulu gave her fanny a slap with the towel.

"Hey! Your going to make those fall," he protested lightly.

Scones! Her favorite. She turned around and looked at Sulu to make sure he really wasn't upset. He wasn't. The smile was still there along with mischief in his eyes.

"I'm glad I could make breakfast too," Christine said with a warm but naughty smile of her own. It felt so good to just relax! "Although it would be pretty hard to sleep through all the wonderful smells coming from this kitchen," she said and then took another even bigger sip of the rich coffee.

Scotty agreed, "Aye that it would!" He was holding a steaming cup of tea which almost looked as good to Christine.

They sat down to eat. And Christine sighed as she bit into a sumptuous cinnamon scone with apple jelly. Others were digging into their omelets and some were trying the mango-papaya juice that Uhura had discovered at a small market that was out of the way and catered more to the locals.

Soon breakfast was over and as people lingered over their coffee and teas, Kirk grabbed the bull by the horns and asked, "In light of Spock coming back today, what did you have in mind as far as the daily meetings?"

McCoy stirred the cream slowly into his coffee. "Well, other than yoga, which is prescribed for today for everyone, I think you guys can pretty much play it by ear. Spock is checking out this afternoon and I won't be back with him till around 5 or so at the earliest. So you can either keep to the guidelines that we agreed to and Spock can just jump in or you can take the day as a personal day if you need to. It may be our last chance for that. Debriefings from Star Fleet command start in two days and it may be the last chance to totally do your own thing and let it all hang out, as they use to say."

Chekov who had been mostly quiet except to joke around a little said, "I would just as soon keep to the schedule we set up. I'll feel more prepared when I actually am talking to Star Fleet personal. I would just get my faced slapped anyway if I hung out at the beach." There was a collective titter that went around the table at that last.

Jim Kirk rubbed his jaw reflectively and said, "Oh, I don't think that's all bad, Pavel. Sometimes you get lucky."

Scotty grunted and McCoy rolled his eyes and said, "Okay. We've heard from the two Casanovas of the Galaxy, how's everyone else feel?"

In the end it was decided to stick with the schedule just to keep things rolling. Everyone thought some of the planning and strategy sessions had been particularly helpful the day before.

Around 4:30 McCoy took off for the hospital. Christine declined to go with him. And McCoy agreed with her although he made a mental note to follow up and make sure that Christine was not going to start having an avoidance issue with the first officer. As often as he came into sickbay in need of patching up, he needed Christine to be right there to lend a helping hand.

* * *

McCoy walked into the hospital and checked on Spock's vitals from the night before. He signed off on the appropriate paperwork. All of Spock's readings were good. Almost normal. The wounds had continued to heal at an accelerated rate as was usual with the appropriate modern medicine and Vulcan physiology. There was no scaring in the lungs, hardly detectable scaring in the legs and arms. The only noticeable scars were the three on his face. But they were small. McCoy thought that in a way they added a bit of character. So he was completely surprised to find Spock

lying in bed. He was dressed but in bed still staring at the ceiling.

"Ready to go?" McCoy asked deciding to bluster through this perplexing mood.

"If you mean am I well enough to be released, you know that I am. Am I ready to go back to the condo? I find that I am not favorably anticipating doing so." Spock replied in an almost inflectionless voice.

"Well when do you think that you will favorably anticipate going back to the condo?" McCoy said a little sarcastically.

"I do not believe I will ever be in favor of going back to the condo," Spock replied still looking at the ceiling. McCoy did a slow, seeming nonchalant circuit through the room giving himself time to formulate his strategy.

After several minutes of considering he said, "In light of your uncharacteristic refusal to leave, I have come to the conclusion that I missed something related to the injuries you sustained. My deepest apologies. I hope you can forgive the oversight. This should have been attended to right away. I will go and update the staff. I'll need to hand you off to the appropriate physician and of course I'll have to notify Star Fleet of the change in your status." McCoy looked at his wrist chronometer, "Good grief it's 5:00. I better get my butt in gear." McCoy turned and started for the door of the room.

"Wait!" Spock said.

McCoy half turned towards him just enough to see that Spock was now sitting up and looking in his direction.

"What are you planning to say is wrong?" Spock asked.

McCoy made it a point to slowly turn to increase the gravity of what he was going to say next. He didn't want Spock to think he was kidding. Not even for a minute.

"That should be obvious, however, since you are in an impaired state because of your condition I'll make sure they explain it to you." Again he turned to leave.

"STOP!" Spock was now off of the bed and halfway across the room. "What are you going to say!?" Spock demanded.

McCoy turned back and held Spock's eyes with a level gaze. "You are suffering from clinical depression of course." He turned back.

"You would lie? About this?" Spock said in a slightly horrified tone. The Vulcan feared mental illness above everything else.

McCoy turned to face him squarely knowing that he had won the first round. Spock was now talking and out of bed.

"Is it a lie?" McCoy asked him in all seriousness.

"I'm a Vulcan. Vulcans do not suffer from depression." Spock stated firmly quoting the party line.

"Tell it to your moons," McCoy retorted angrily and just about made it out the door when a hand grabbed his upper arm.

"Please!" Spock said in a low but pleading tone now that they could be overheard from people passing in the corridor.

"Justify your behavior over the last several weeks, First Officer," McCoy said with utter medical authority.

He and Spock locked gazes and Spock saw that he was serious. Spock dropped his gaze as he noticed people begin to give them glances as they passed. He pulled McCoy back into the room a ways.

"What do you want of me?" Spock asked releasing McCoy at the same time.

"I want you to talk this out. You've been moody and distant. You've been outright rude here and now you're showing every sign of starting to slip into the first stages of depression. And frankly I'm not going to let this slide, Spock. Whatever it is you're chewing on is chewing on you and winning," McCoy said not easing up for an instant.

Spock seemed to consider, "I would prefer not to do this here where we might be disturbed."

McCoy had to smile in agreement with that. Spock was signed out although he didn't know that, yet and it would be inconvenient as hell for housekeeping to come in and start restocking and cleaning the room right at an important moment of self revelation. He nodded, "I agree."

Spock went on and said, "However, I do not want to discuss this in front of the entire bridge crew."

McCoy did a little thinking. "There's a local bar not far from the hospital. Seems to be an out of the way place," he suggested.

"I don't drink," Spock said almost reflexively.

"Yes, you do. But you don't need to. Bars also serve coffee and non-alcoholic mixers, water... I think it would be a quiet out of the way place to start getting at the root of this," McCoy rejoined.

Spock looked skeptical but decided that it was probably the best he was going to get and gestured toward the door in acceptance.

They were walking down the street toward the bar when it hit Spock that they had just walked right out of the hospital.

"Bluffing," he accused McCoy.

"Well, not entirely." McCoy stopping short of an admittal.

"I was already released," Spock stated.

"Yes. But I was ready to commit you if that's what it took," McCoy replied firmly.

"I see," Spock said and walked along silently for a time.

"So are you?" McCoy asked as the bar came into sight.

"Depressed?" Spock asked.

"Yes," McCoy said watching Spock's profile.

"It's hard for me to say, Doctor. I have no experience with depression. But I would say that I find my thoughts less than pleasant of late," Spock admitted.

The bar was dimly lit except for the three pool tables on the far side. The green velvet was inviting. But McCoy gestured to a dimly lit booth away from the tables with high backs. A cubby hole of sorts. A waitress popped out of nowhere and said, "What'll have?"

"Get me a Coke. Spock?" McCoy ordered and then prodded the first officer.

"I'll have that as well," Spock replied.

"Living dangerously," commented McCoy half seriously. Sugar had a strange effect on Vulcans depending on their mood. It made them chatty. Perhaps that's why Spock had ordered it, mused McCoy.

The drinks arrived with alacrity. Spock watched the play of bubbles dancing up his glass. After a few moments he shrugged and took a sip. He grimaced slightly at the carbonation.

"Well?" prompted McCoy.

"I find that I can not quite put to rest the events of our last mission," Spock said without preamble.

"Which events of our last mission have you uneasy?" McCoy asked taking a sipping from his drink which he almost snorted up his nose when Spock replied, "My seduction of the Romulan commander."

McCoy of course had examined the Rihannsu Captain as Star Fleet regulations required and had found her very attractive but had thought her sadness and distance from everything could be attributed to the trauma of getting captured as well as defeat to the Federation. Now all of a sudden everything took on a slightly different light. Of everyone on the ship, McCoy had the most access to the prisoner. Kirk had spent some time debriefing her but McCoy noticed much less than he normally would have. He wondered if Spock had anything to do with that. Damn he'd have to check security records when he got back to see if Spock had paid any visits and when.

"Okayyyyy," McCoy said after he stopped sputtering, "In what way did seducing the Commander make you uncomfortable?"

"Just about every way," Spock said. "The fact that a woman was in command was a surprise to us both. Jim looked on it as the odds shifting in our favor. He suggested that I make a play for her to keep her distracted. Originally our roles were going to be reversed. I was to get the cloaking device while he kept the Captain busy with his prize of Captain James T. Kirk. That had been the plan until we discovered the Captain was a woman."

Spock paused and swallowed some more Coke before resuming, "Jim had told me in the lift, 'Fantastic! This is the break we've been looking for.' I was balking but he looked at me and made it an order."

"I'll just bet he did," McCoy half muttered to his own Coke. His anger was starting to rise as he pictured the situation. Jim had a habit of not listening to Spock when it came to course of action. The fact that Spock didn't ever push a point made McCoy even more frustrated with the command team at times.

McCoy thoughtfully swallowed and carefully set the glass down. He leaned forward slightly across the table to make complete eye contact in the dim light and asked, "Why did you object to changing roles?"

Spock locked eyes and hesitated as if he were trying to decide what to say and just when McCoy had decided that he needed more prodding he answered, "To begin with I can pass for a Romulan much more convincingly that Captain Kirk, especially in case of injury."

"You mean you bleed green," McCoy said dryly.

"Yes," Spock said and looked back down at his drink remaining silent.

McCoy waited for the rest of it. When it wasn't forthcoming he asked, "And what aspect of distracting the Romulan commander did you think that Jim would have been better at?"

Spock was again silent but realized that he had to talk this out. McCoy had left very little leeway for him.

"On Vulcan," he began, "the relationship between a man and a woman is revered. One does not enter into relationships lightly nor with the idea of deceit. The male Vulcan's very life depends on his choice of mate. We do not casually 'date' as you so quaintly do. This was just wrong. It went against all my Vulcan training and afterwards..." Spock stopped and closed his eyes.

"Go on," McCoy prodded gently.

"Afterwards I found that I had in actuality fallen for her or thought I had even as she rejected me in my lies," Spock admitted shame-facedly.

Another rejection, McCoy thought, appalled. Although he could understand the rejection.

"But Spock, well ... perhaps..." McCoy just wasn't sure what to say. "She's the enemy after all and she probably was ticked off that she was bested. I wouldn't take it personally," he finished lamely.

"You do not understand Doctor," Spock said patiently, painfully.

Spock held up a hand to forestall McCoy's second attempt at sympathy. "Romulans also go through something like the pon farr. Only they do not have the mental disciplines as a Vulcan male does. So a Rihannsu man is not necessarily partnered as we are ... but still the same reverence is there, the same priority."

"So you are saying that, for her, it was a personal rejection?" McCoy's skepticism came through loud and clear.

"The Romulan commander was in the altered state of the Romulan equivalent of pon farr," Spock said quietly.

McCoy gaped.

"I recognized the symptoms from the bridge the minute she noted me. It was extremely uncharacteristic behavior. To acknowledge someone who is not a peer shows weakness. Although Romulans do not die from their pon farrs if it goes unrequited, it is still somewhat debilitating from a mental acuity standpoint. Captain Kirk, by asking me to do what I did, ran the real danger of me changing my loyalties, especially if I had ... coupled with her while on her ship. As it was I found it very difficult to walk that line of deception without actually tripping my own Vulcan mating drives. In order to save myself at then end, I had to fall on my human half and use what little human instinct I had," Spock finished in a harsh whisper.

"Dear God," McCoy said seeing how close to disaster they had all been.

"But even that wasn't enough. I gave into my desires anyway the last day she was on the Enterprise. I managed to do so without bonding. Since she was psi null that part was made easier. But to take a woman in such a fashion. To join with her body with no intention of joining with her mind and soul ... it's ... it's ... it's considered almost between rape and bestiality on my world. After my last contact with her I felt..." Spock stared down at the table green staining his cheeks in shame.

"Dirty," McCoy said softly and in sympathetic horror. The horror was at the realization that none of them had known what Spock was trying to live with or down. Kirk had asked, no ordered, his friend into a situation that he himself wouldn't have been able to resist. For a human, no big deal. Once again the lesson was being rammed home that Spock was not Human. And the ultimate tragedy was that he could see for really the first time now that Spock was not Vulcan either. A Vulcan would have either totally resisted or totally caved.

Spock looked back at McCoy with the agony of seeing that McCoy finally "got it" clearly in his eyes.

"All of that for a damn cloaking device," McCoy muttered angrily but with the sickening feeling of shock.

And what shocked McCoy most was that Spock had seen the danger but had gone ahead with it anyway. McCoy was sure that he had never told Jim the whole story. Been willing to do the whole nine yards right from the first order. Spock had almost traded his soul for a piece of technology.

"Almost!" McCoy prayed fervently to the God and Guardian Angel who looked over this particular person.

McCoy found himself speculating whether Spock did what he did for the love of knowledge or for the love of James T. Kirk. It was an old speculation exercise. But one that more and more was starting to look an awful lot like Spock had already sold his life, his principles and his very soul for the love of one man. That line of reasoning led to another line of speculation that McCoy wasn't sure if he wanted to go down.

"How are you feeling now? Do you still feel dirty?" McCoy asked.

"Somewhat. Mostly I find that I am having a difficult time with anger," Spock admitted.

"Who are you angry with?" McCoy asked but he already knew who.

"That seems to be a part of my problem. I cannot seem to ascertain why I am angry or whom I should be angry with. Everyone acted appropriately and yet I seem to be very angry with all of you," Spock said puzzled and with pleading eyes that seemed to scream "Help me!"

"I can see that. And that's normal in that we thrust you into a situation that was beyond your ability to handle. But if it were me, the person I'd be the most angry with would be myself," McCoy said.

Spock wasn't ready to look that closely at his self anger yet. "Why do you think that it would be normal for me to be angry with the Captain for instance? Jim had no idea that I couldn't handle the situation. I wasn't sure myself of that fact. The Captain was doing as he thought best," Spock defended.

"Oh, come on Spock. The Captain asked you to basically perform sex for personal gain almost like rape in a Vulcan society," McCoy charged.

"He did not specifically say how I was to distract the commander," Spock rejoined.

McCoy just looked at him until Spock admitted the point by dropping his gaze.

"Yes. But it was the best alternative. It did work almost perfectly. She would not have been as distracted with a Human male," Spock said firmly.

"Was it? Was it really?" McCoy asked. "Don't you think the original plan would have worked just as well?"

Spock said nothing. His face averted.

"Jim Kirk could charm the coldest ice princess into melting and you damn well know it," McCoy blustered in spite of himself. "Spock, listen to me. You need to start deciding how far you will and won't go for James Kirk," McCoy said more quietly but firmly shaking the Vulcan a little to get Spock to look at him.

"Captain Kirk is the finest starship commander..." Spock started.

"Who uses people up and spits them out so that he can win!" McCoy interrupted in a slightly raised voice as he slapped the table with the palm of his hand on the last word for emphasis.

"No, it's not like that," Spock insisted.

"I know Jim Kirk. I was friends with Jim longer than you've known him. I like Jim and despite his faults, I still like Jim. But you need to start seeing his faults. And you need to decide how far you are going to compromise yourself for him. Because let me tell you about Jim, when he has used someone up, that's it. They're done. And he goes on to the next person," McCoy said. "It's the one thing I don't like about him. He has a hard time relating to anything or anyone outside of a chain of command. He has a hard time seeing people as people with needs and limits. He's going to regret it someday too. Mark my words."

Spock stared into his Coke glass and noted absently the glint from the dim bar lights giving the cola a dark red flush deep within its depths. McCoy's words about Jim, painful for him as they may be, struck a cord of truth in Spock. There was a pregnant pause.

"Perhaps," Spock murmured, not meeting Dr. McCoy's gaze. He heard a sigh of exasperation from across the table and a shifting in the bench seat and knew without looking that Dr. McCoy had sat back.

He flicked his gaze quickly at Dr. McCoy's face. Exasperation and grimness touched McCoy's expression like the ash left behind from the fire of anger burning too long and too often on this particular issue. Spock, uncomfortable with the idea of McCoy being angry with Jim, quickly continued his gaze upward to a point above McCoy's head and slightly to the left. Spock waited for McCoy to ramble on. It didn't happen.

Slowly Spock brought his gaze back down to find that McCoy had slightly changed position so that he was casting his gaze across the bar where the pool tables were lit. McCoy occasionally would take a sip, as he seemed to watch the games of pool being played. Dr. McCoy didn't seem to be indicating that they should leave but nothing was forthcoming from him either.

As the silence stretched between them, Spock was aware that he was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the silence. In bitter irony he realized that this was something he had wished for in McCoy's presence many times. And now that he had finally got it, he didn't like it. Not at all.

"Are we done?" Spock asked hesitantly, afraid that they were. He had been appalled at the idea of "psychotherapy" but hadn't realized until this moment that he had been secretly hoping that this would work. If this was it, the dashing of that hope was leaving an awful ache somewhere deep inside him.

McCoy turned back to Spock and gave him a measuring look. "Do you think we're done?" McCoy asked him levelly.

"I don't know," Spock answered not wanting to say no. Something inside of him was still putting up resistance. Spock felt a flash of inner frustration because of it.

McCoy turned back to watching the games at the pool tables. Spock felt uncharacteristically like screaming. He clenched his glass tighter and bit his lower lip in an attempt to keep the frustration from erupting on his face. But after another five minutes he said unable to keep the frustration completely out of his voice or syntax. "Are you not going to say anything?"

McCoy said, "If I did that, I wouldn't be able to listen."

This answer caught Spock off guard. He glanced at the pool tables and strained to hear, but not much conversation was going on at that end of the room either. Conversation was centered on the games being played. And with the music and the sharp reports from the cues and balls striking each other, Spock doubted that McCoy could hear much of anything that could be very interesting.

"Listen to what?" Spock said after a moment.

"Listen to you," McCoy said, turning his gaze back to Spock and taking a sip of his Coke at the same time. His glass was almost empty.

"I'm not saying anything," Spock said, feeling suddenly like he was a small boy on Vulcan standing in front of the ancient Thought-Masters. His looked closer at McCoy. His eyes narrowed. He was definitely feeling like the tables had been turned suddenly. He usually regarded McCoy as an inspired physician, brilliant at times, but definitely not his intellectual equal. What in the Seven Moons was going on!

"Yes," McCoy said and started to turn back to the games.

Spock grabbed his arm before he could complete the turn. "What would you have me say, Doctor?" Spock said in a voice laced with frustration.

"I wouldn't have you say anything," McCoy answered. "You've told me what happened. You've conceded that I made a point about Jim. You have told me that you feel angry and dirty and ashamed. I certainly have enough to make a report and to satisfy Star Fleet requirements. However, as your personal physician, I can guarantee that unless you start talking to someone about your inner emotional conflicts this little incident in moral and ethics crisis will probably come up again. Maybe in an even more harmful way."

"I've learned from this. I do not see it happening again," Spock said with confidence.

"Really?" McCoy said skeptically raising an eyebrow.

"Yes," Spock said a little more shortly than he meant to.

"What have you learned?" McCoy asked.

Spock opened his mouth and to his surprise, nothing came out of it. He quickly shut it shocked at himself. He thought about what he had learned. To his amazement, nothing was forthcoming.

McCoy had carefully watched the whole thing. "I'll tell you what you haven't learned. You haven't learned how not to get yourself in the same situation again," he said with certainty.

McCoy sat back and carefully considered Spock. Maybe it was time to look down that path of speculation about Spock's relationship with Kirk after all. "In fact, it's a habit with you, isn't it?" McCoy asked now getting a good bead on where some of the problem lay.

"Certainly not!" Spock said with a trace of indignation. "I'm not in the habit of touching women in that manner. In fact, I've never touched a woman in that manner before."

"Why not?" McCoy asked.

"What?!" Spock said in a voice of pure but quiet outrage.

"I'm not talking about raping a woman, but haven't you even thought of a woman as a possible mate?" McCoy pressed.

An image of Christine on the beach flashed in Spock's mind and he flushed despite his control. McCoy couldn't have been more pleased to finally lay that tired rumor to rest as he noted Spock's emerald complexion.

Spock muttered something really nasty in Vulcan if McCoy read his Vulcan right. "Look, Spock. The point of this conversation is not to pick on you or expose your weaknesses for ridicule later. The point is to get you to see yourself for who you are so that you can make better life decisions," McCoy said gently.

Spock sat very still for a second as he digested this and then slowly nodded in agreement. McCoy decided that he was going to play a card that he had held onto for years looking for the right time to play it. He hoped fervently that this was the right time, now that Spock seemed to finally really be listening and attempting for self-understanding.

McCoy leaned forward and held Spock's gaze in his. "You're not human," McCoy said softly but firmly. Spock opened his mouth to give the standard 'Why Thank you, Doctor.' But before he could make a sound McCoy put up a hand to forestall any words that Spock would have said never losing Spock's gaze. He dropped the bombshell.

"You're not Vulcan. And you never will be," McCoy said in the same firm tone.

For an awful minute, McCoy thought Spock was going to strike him.

Spock was glad he was sitting down because he knew if he hadn't he would have fallen as if from a blow. He was stunned. Then a tremendous upsurge of anger that terrified him swept through his very being. He felt himself literally grow taller. He saw green.

"You are mistaken," Spock said in the most glacial and frightening tone that McCoy had ever heard. Like the first blast of frigid air right before a tornado strikes. Spock's eyes became fury itself.

McCoy instead of backing away as Spock intended leaned closer to him as if to tempt him to throttle the doctor right then and there.

"I...AM..NOT." McCoy said each word with special force.

Spock felt cornered. Fight or flight was definitely becoming the only options in his mind. His breathing picked up.

"You are not Vulcan. AND..IT'S ..OK." McCoy enunciated the last words as if they came from the very beginning of time.

"It's NOT OK," Spock practically spat. "It's NOT OK. You know NOTHING of Vulcan. You do not know of which you speak. How can you judge?!"

"I know plenty!" McCoy spat back. "And you damn well know it."

"I am Vulcan," Spock insisted.

"You are raised in the Vulcan culture, its ethics and mores," McCoy rejoined. "That makes you a citizen of Vulcan, trained in the Vulcan ways and a willing partner to uphold Vulcan law and tradition," McCoy said.

"Yes. Vulcan," Spock said with an air of "aha".

"No. It's not," McCoy stated vehemently. He continued, "You will always have needs, emotional needs, that Vulcans do not have. And as a half Vulcan, you have needs, emotional needs or intellectual needs, whichever you prefer that humans will never have. You are neither and both."

McCoy explained. "Just because you have decided to meet those needs through Vulcan society does not mean that you are Vulcan. I think that's the real problem in all this. If you had been human, you would not have a problem with what happened between you and the Romulan Commander. You wouldn't have considered it rape as she did consent to the sex, didn't she?" McCoy turned the last statement into a question at the last second. Spock nodded agreement. From his facial expression McCoy could tell it was the truth.

"As a Vulcan, you would never have consummated your desires after the mission was over or you would have consummated your desires right then and there at the very beginning and we would be having this discussion when you joined me in hell," McCoy finished his eyes twinkling in macabre humor at the awful possibilities of what would have happened had Spock changed allegiances.

"What would you have me say?" Spock said in a dull voice now feeling totally lost.

"To me? Nothing. But to yourself, how about the words 'Lighten up'?" McCoy said.

"Lighten up?" Spock repeated almost inaudibly as a half statement.

"You're charting unfamiliar territory. There are some things that neither Human society nor Vulcan society is going to be able to help you with. You're going to have to figure out what is right for you," McCoy said.

"But I have to live in those societies, Doctor," Spock argued. "I can't just throw the rules out the window when they become inconvenient."

"Of course not. I'm not asking you to become a sociopath. On the other hand I think it's time to stop looking at the letter of those social rules and look at the spirit of them," McCoy lectured.

"Doctor, there is very little difference," Spock replied.

"Bullshit! Who did you really hurt?" McCoy asked and then sat back to gauge Spock's reaction.

"What?" Spock asked a little surprised.

"Most societal laws are in place to protect the weak, innocent, and generally aid in fair commerce. In regards to this sexual interlude with the Romulan commander, who did you really hurt?" McCoy asked again.

"Well, she was angry at first..." Spock paused. "But after, ... well she was still angry but satisfied in a way. I think she was glad that she had wreaked some fashion of revenge. She could tell I was upset by the encounter," he finished.

"Did she seem to enjoy it during?" McCoy asked fully aware of treading on very personal ground.

Spock answered more slowly as if fully reviewing everything that had happened in a different light. His eyebrows started to climb as he came to an interesting conclusion. "Yes. Yes, she did. In fact, now that I reflect on it, she seemed to be the aggressor at times." He slowly sat back amazed as he let his own words sink in.

"So she obviously didn't feel raped. So you didn't break any social laws or taboos with her," McCoy said.

"No. I guess not," Spock agreed.

"So who got hurt?" McCoy asked again.

Spock remained silent but the pained look in his eyes confessed.

"I guess so," McCoy concurred. Spock dropped his gaze in a sign of agreement. "Spock, an observation. I think sex and sexual relationships are going to be one of those areas that fall in between Vulcan and human societies. And you may need to think about how you're going to fulfill your sexual and emotional needs. I think for you, it's an area that's going to have to have a higher priority in your life than you have been giving it. And I think that you're going to have to pay attention to what your needs are more than a human or Vulcan male would," McCoy said bluntly.

"I concede your logic," Spock said.

"Good," McCoy said with a satisfied smile.

"How do you think I should proceed?" Spock asked.

"Well, go with your gut, but ask for a lot of input from your partner," McCoy said. "If nothing else, the golden rule, which both cultures have, should suffice to keep the guilt at bay, but next time, don't second guess what your partner is feeling. Ask her instead of beating yourself over the head with what you think she felt," McCoy said. "And go tell Jim to screw his own women in the line of duty next time," McCoy said with an edge of frustrating.

A smile flickered across Spock's mouth for a second but stayed in his eyes. "Done," he agreed.

* * *

Spock was surprised when they stepped out of the bar to find Venus rising. Usually his internal time sense was unshakable. He realized then just how intense this conversation had been. Fatigue crept through him as if he had just come off a shift on the bridge. He glanced at McCoy in the low light of dusk. McCoy looked tired as well.

Spock slowed his tread and after a few more steps came to a halt. McCoy continued on a few more steps and then when he realized that Spock had stopped turned with a puzzled expression, concerned about the first officer.

"Um, Doctor," Spock began a little uncomfortably, hands clasped behind his back, not quite meeting McCoy's gaze, unconsciously kicking a pebble with one foot, "I just want to thank you for your efforts. It hasn't been in vain. I feel more balanced than I have in quite some time." It was hard for him to admit that the several hours of "psychotherapy" had done more for him than all the days in Vulcan meditation had over the last month.

McCoy walked back to Spock clapped him on the back to shake him out of the awkward moment and said, "Good. But let's get a move on. I'm starved."

He was truly glad that Spock had been helped by their session. But he wasn't going to allow Spock to dwell on it over much. The Vulcan had a tendency to overanalyze everything and tie himself up over it as a result. He wasn't about to waste his sacrifice of six hours in a bar without a single drop to drink by letting the Vulcan stress out over it.

When they arrived at the condo it was 8:00 PM and no one was in the house.

"They should be around here somewhere," McCoy said puzzled. The smell of fire came through the open balcony windows. Spock looked toward the beach and saw a huge blaze.

"Fire!" he said moving quickly toward the com unit. McCoy grabbed his arm before he could make it all the way there.

"Bonfire!" McCoy corrected, grinning. "It's a beach tradition. Come on. Let's go."

Spock balked. "The ocean is cold and it's too dark to see this time of night and I would..."

McCoy gave him a look.

"However, I could use this time to observe this seldom seen human ritual," Spock finished knowing he wasn't getting out of going to the bonfire and trying to maintain some dignity and control.

McCoy laughed.

Spock and McCoy joined the party. There was a general hubbub from everyone and a solicitous asking of Spock if he was all right. To which of course he gave the correct Vulcan answer.

McCoy quickly grabbed a glass of something with rum in it and went over to swing Uhura around the sand in his best imitation of a Rumba. Uhura giggled. Scotty tried to cut in and McCoy suddenly found himself dancing with Sulu. Christine laughed.

Christine's laughter drew Spock's attention from where he had been sitting next to Kirk. Jim had been concerned about him and wondered where he and McCoy had taken off to. He had been shocked when Spock told him they had been in a bar all afternoon.

"Well, it's the first time I've seen McCoy coming out of a bar sober. I'll have to send you with him more often," Jim said taking a pull of his beer.

Spock said nothing. He continued to watch Christine. She was in a flowing dress that looked almost like a robe but wasn't. The dress ended just midcalf. She was barefoot he noticed. He found that alluring he realized with surprise. The dress was a strange color. It was a purple-blue color, both and neither, but it showed off her beach-blonded hair and tan to perfection. Kirk noticed Spock's gaze.

"Going to ask the lady to dance?" Kirk asked with a smile.

Spock turned his face quickly toward Kirk and studied him. He saw the teasing in his eyes. He felt a dull flash of anger and instead of suppressing it, noted it. Then he remembered what McCoy had said about Jim.

"I might," Spock said carefully observing Kirk's reaction to his words.

Jim sat forward surprise replacing the look of knowing teasing. "You're serious," Jim said after a minute.

"Does it matter?" Spock asked.

"Yes, it matters," Jim said.

"Why?" Spock asked almost afraid of the answer.

"I don't want to tread on your territory," Jim said.

"You have tread on my territory before," Spock softly accused.

"When?" demanded Kirk.

"When you ordered me to seduce the Romulan commander," Spock stated flatly.

"Oh, my God. And this caused problems between you and Christine. Spock, I didn't know you and she were a couple. I thought it was over between you," Kirk admitted with regret.

Jim was on the wrong track Spock realized. He had made the right assumption about it being "over" between them, in that there had never been anything to begin with. But suddenly the idea of trying to explain it all again to another human being just was the most unappealing idea that Spock had had in a long, long time. And in the end, it didn't matter, not if the misassumption created the same outcome.

"Yes. The Romulan Commander has caused problems," Spock admitted and lied at the same time.

"I'm sorry, Spock. I wouldn't have insisted if I'd have known," Jim said.

"No permanent damage done. And you couldn't have known as I really never gave you a chance to understand," Spock conceded.

Jim lay back on his elbows in the soft sand still warm from the hot afternoon sun. With a twinkle in his eyes he asked, "So. Are you going to ask her to dance?"

Spock gave Jim an almost sternly annoyed look but couldn't maintain it long in the face of Jim's charismatic grin that was half leer. With a slight defeated shake of his head more to hide his smiling eyes he rejoined, "You're insatiable."

"You know I've been told that," Jim admitted.

"Really!" Spock said in a mildly teasing tone himself. "I can't imagine why."

He left Jim giggling on the sand and stood up to walk over to Christine who was walking along the tide line.

"I didn't get a chance to say thank you," Spock said.

Christine who hadn't heard him come up behind her startled a bit and then gave a reluctant smile. "You're very welcome. I'm relieved you're okay."

"I have been difficult," Spock admitted.

"Yes. You have," Christine agreed.

"I regret that. I've been in a state of disquiet," Spock said quietly.

"Would you like to talk about it?" Christine said almost visibly putting on her "on duty hat".

Spock gave a regretful half not-smile and said, "This is your vacation, too, Ms. Chapel. I think everyone has been talking enough shop."

Christine stopped stunned. "Why, Mr. Spock, I've never known you to not want to talk shop."

"I find that discussions related to duty are taxing just now," Spock admitted.

"Have you mentioned this to Dr. McCoy?" Christine asked.

"Not in so many words but I'm sure he's aware of it," Spock assured her.

"I wonder. You sound like you are suffering from burn out," Christine said concerned.

Spock gave her a long look. "Am I? So what is the cure for 'burn out'?"

Christine paused and said, "Usually a complete vacation. Do something totally different for awhile. I'll need to update Dr. McCoy about this." Christine turned back toward the bonfire and found herself gently stopped by a hand on her wrist.

She turned to look questioningly at Spock.

He pulled her gently around to face him on the beach. The waves were gently lapping and the moon starting to climb in the sky. "Not just this moment. An hour would do just as well, don't you think?" Spock said softly pleading.

The look on his face made her do a double take. And a feeling of slow warmth was making her knees go weak. She couldn't believe this was happening. And not after all that she had been through! She was just starting to feel real independence for the first time in a long, long time and it felt good.

Quelling the emotions in an almost Spock like manner, she gave him a long look and asked, "Why?"

Spock did not release her hand for fear she would walk away. "You said the cure for burn out is to do something different. I want to do that with you."

Christine felt her eyebrows climb in astonishment but she kept her face mostly neutral. Still, she had heard about the Romulan commander from several reliable sources ... mostly wearing red shirts and with good hearing. If he was following in the footsteps of James Kirk, he was going to be disappointed in her reception.

"Why now?" Christine asked.

Spock realized at that moment that unlike Jim, misdirection was not going to work. It hadn't worked with McCoy and she would know everything anyway eventually. He took a breath and took the plunge off the deep end hoping he would hit the water swimming.

"Christine," he paused and looked at her, "May I still call you Christine?"

She nodded feeling like she was giving something away that she wasn't sure she wanted to, but decided that she really wanted to hear his explanation more.

"Christine, " he began again. "Something happened on the last mission that changed my life. And I can't pretend that I know my next steps. I just know that I don't want to go through life alone."

"Are you proposing a bonding?" Christine asked absolutely appalled at the idea, especially now.

"No," Spock said.

"But you're Vulcan," Christine blurted. If Spock had convinced her of one thing after all they had gone through, that was it.

There was a hesitation and the next words out of Spock's mouth almost knocked her onto the sand. "No. I am not. Not in this area," Spock slowly admitted as if not only admitting it to her but himself as well.

"I don't know what to say," Christine said.

"All I want is to walk with you on this beach in the moonlight," Spock said.

"Nothing else," Christine stated.

"I don't know," Spock admitted.

Christine drew back a half step, which was as far as Spock's grasp on her arm would allow.

"Please don't be insulted. I'm trying to do as Dr. McCoy advised me this afternoon after he convinced me that certain areas in my life were not going to be met by my chosen culture. I'm trying to go with my 'gut' as he so quaintly put it. I'm ... feeling ... my way," Spock admitted in a tone that said, 'please don't turn from me.'

"That must have been some conversation," Christine said stunned into totally blunt honesty. She stopped pulling away and Spock slowly released her wrist. After a moment, the situation still feeling surreal to her, she began walking and Spock fell in step beside her.

They walked side by side along the beach away from the others partying near the bonfire. The silver moon lit the way and set the shells in the sand aglow almost like a star field.

"It had its moments," Spock admitted.

Christine took Spock's hand. It felt warm and natural. Spock gently clasped his hand around hers. This wasn't the hot lusting passion that had been with the Romulan commander. This was something gentler, warmer and more sustaining.

The commander had definitely knocked him into the deep end. But thanks to his friends, he hadn't drowned; he'd landed on his feet.