DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of JM Lane and is copyright (c) 2002 by JM Lane. This story is Rated R.


JM Lane

James Kirk had never imagined that he could have been so "caught in the middle" between his two friends, the incident having begun when Spock had inadvertently intruded on a private talk he and McCoy were having. The Doctor jealously guarded his privacy every bit as much as Spock did, particularly when he referred to his failed marriage and his estrangement from his only child, Joanna. That was one thing McCoy was every bit as sensitive about as Spock was: his personal life and private feelings. The Doctor generally encouraged crewmembers to confide in him or Christine, since each had had training in space psychology, but his own innermost thoughts he generally confided only to Kirk.

The Captain was sure that the Vulcan had never meant to intrude, but even as hard as he tried, there seemed no way to convince McCoy of this. Only God knew how long it would take before Bones felt like talking about it again, and it was hard enough getting him to talk about it as it was. Usually they went out of their way to make sure that no one would walk in on them, even scheduling the talks for either late at night after one or the other had gotten off-duty, mostly in McCoy's quarters, where he felt most comfortable -- and where he had his own personal stash of liquor from many parts of the Galaxy, including a bottle of Romulan ale, which the Doctor hoarded like gold and only broke out on special occasions. Saurian brandy sufficed for most shipboard happenings; other times, the three men drank Altair water (equivalent to Terran mineral water) or imbibed a personal favorite which the others had either never heard of or didn't like.

McCoy was relatively sure that Spock wouldn't interrupt his talk with Kirk, who (at least to his two closest friends) acted as the 23rd-century version of "Dear Abby", the two only giving advice themselves when they believed the occasion warranted it, and not only to Kirk. At this point, however, they were not in McCoy's quarters but the Officers' Lounge, in a secluded booth. Neither could have known that Spock had decided to come looking for Kirk, if only to ask him to play some 3-D chess with him, since they had not done so in some time. The last thing the Vulcan had expected was to find Kirk and McCoy where he did. They were more likely to sequester themselves in one or the other's quarters. If they had, he might not have overheard as much as he did.

Spock's first instinct was to leave once he realized what (and who) the Doctor was talking about, yet the latter's subsequent statements kept him rooted to the spot where he had sequestered himself ... the booth next to theirs, hidden behind the thick artificial foliage of an "oasis" in the large room. But the more the Vulcan heard -- particularly the references to himself -- he found himself unable to leave. As it was, the First Officer was apprehensive at the idea of revealing himself as well as the knowledge he had gleaned of the Doctor's past … but he had learned more in the past ten minutes than he had in all the time he had known McCoy. He knew how he himself would have reacted in the same situation, but Humans were unpredictable -- their emotions in particular. He could only hope that the Doctor would be understanding and not too upset at the prospect of Spock knowing his private feelings about his failed marriage and estrangement from his daughter.

As time went by, the First Officer became more and more stunned that the Doctor shared so many of the same emotions he himself had experienced: and with the same intensity. Could that be the reason why McCoy seemed to read him so well -- almost as well as Kirk did? Because of this fact, he had always been uncomfortable, if not downright wary, in McCoy's presence, but in all fairness, he had to agree to at least try to develop a closer relationship with McCoy ... but he would still need Jim's help to do it. Once again, McCoy's voice brought him back to reality -- and again, the Vulcan found himself listening avidly as the Doctor poured out more of his feelings than he ever had before.

Spock could empathize about the broken marriage part, though he had had no children yet -- and wouldn't until he officially married Christine. At this point, she was the most "logical" choice, but that was certainly not the only reason he had chosen her. There were many reasons and motivations behind his choice … some of which he couldn't have explained to himself, much less to Christine or even Jim.

But right now he set such considerations aside and approached his two friends at their secluded table in the Officers' Lounge. It was obvious that McCoy had kept his emotions on this subject bottled up every bit as long as Spock himself had -- at any rate, far longer than Spock had ever imagined possible or was healthy for a Human. This made him realize that there was every bit as much emotion and sensitivity in McCoy (as in himself) that no one had ever seen ... that as much as either expressed, there was an equal amount that was rarely, if ever, expressed.

"Jim? Are you in here? I need to speak with you," he called out. McCoy lifted his head and turned in the direction of the Vulcan's voice.

"Oh my God, what does Spock want now?" But his main concern was what Spock may have heard with those super-sensitive ears of his. He kept his voice low enough for only Kirk to hear. Kirk barely stopped himself from speaking something he'd promised Spock he'd never tell another soul ... not even McCoy. And the Doctor, with his uncanny sixth sense about not only Spock but Kirk which unnerved, sometimes even frightened, them because it so often read their innermost feelings and thoughts without their having told him a word and correctly deduced them -- sensed it.

Hurt but not surprised, McCoy continued, his pain showing in his voice. "He claims to follow IDIC, but his attitude positively smacks of the proverbial 'double standard'. For God's sake, if I was going to hold any of what little I know about him and his emotions over his head, I would have by now! I defy him to come up with even one instance where I've done that."

Even Kirk had to admit that he didn't know why Spock felt that way, believed as he did about Bones ... that it was in fact one of the main things even he had never been able to understand about his enigmatic Vulcan friend, despite his knowledge of his hellish childhood and adolescence -- at least until he left Vulcan to join Starfleet. It didn't change his affection for the Vulcan, yet it was something he had never been able to figure out, no matter how he tried. So how could he even begin to explain it to McCoy? He couldn't; that was the problem -- and again, McCoy sensed it ... but said nothing, simply looked at Kirk with both question and ineffable pain in his blue eyes.

"I'm sorry, Bones, I truly am," he returned apologetically and sincerely. "I wish more than anything that I could tell you why Spock treats you as he does ... but not even I can force him to acknowledge you. He has to realize your worth for himself."

"If you can't get through to him, no one can," McCoy returned sadly.

"You can't give up, Bones," Kirk entreated. "Spock needs all the love and friendship he can get, whether he wants them or not."

McCoy sighed, half-exasperatedly and half-mournfully. "I've been alone for twenty years, Jim, and I'm damn sick and tired of it. I don't have a lot more years that I can afford to wait for him to make up his mind. Vulcans may live over two hundred years, but Humans don't. How the hell do you expect me to feel? How am I supposed to react? Believe it or not, he's just as capable of hurting me as I am of hurting him. I wish to God I didn't care, that he didn't matter to me ... but Lord help me, I do."

Spock became more stunned and remorseful with every passing moment. How could he have been so stubbornly blind, demonstrated such lack of perceptiveness? Not to have realized how much he was hurting McCoy by his treatment of him -- consistently maintaining both a physical and emotional distance, and not only for a day, but years on end. After a time, the Vulcan came to a difficult, even painful, realization ... but a true one, nevertheless. He also came to the equally difficult decision that he must do something about it. But old habits and attitudes died hard. He would still need Jim's help, and it would take time -- but if he could show some real progress, a real change of heart, there just might be a chance to change matters.

It was only a moment later that the First Officer came into view. "I am sorry to intrude, Jim, Doctor, but I could not locate you anywhere else. I wanted to ask you something," the Vulcan said, addressing Kirk.

"What did you want to ask, Spock?" the Captain wondered, looking up at him and meeting his Vulcan friend's dark eyes.

"I wished to ask if you could play some 3-D chess with me. I just came off-shift and find it necessary to do something to … relax, as you say."

Kirk smiled apologetically and shook his head. "Ordinarily I would, but Bones found me first -- and he and I haven't talked for a long time. I don't know how long it'll take, so how about a rain check? Maybe the next time we're both off-shift?"

"Of course, Captain. I shall go to my quarters and meditate for a time, then perhaps play my Vulcan harp." There was a touch of disappointment in his tone and Kirk knew that Spock's reversion to formality was a coverup for hurt feelings, even though the Vulcan had learned to expect this on occasion because of Kirk's friendship with McCoy. The two alternatives he had suggested, however, were usually only chosen if neither Kirk nor Christine were available to spend time with him. Of late, Spock's usual means of relaxation was a long private talk with one or the other while listening to (or playing) music, if not having dinner -- perhaps both.

"I'd ask you to join us, Spock, but Bones has some private stuff he needs to get off his chest. Nothing personal, but I don't think he'd appreciate your hanging around."

"I quite understand," the Vulcan returned, swinging around on his heels toward the door, intending to leave.

"Wait a minute, Spock," McCoy called.

"Yes, Doctor?" The First Officer froze in his tracks.

"How long have you been here?"

"Ten point eight-two Standard minutes. Why?"

"Why didn't you announce yourself right away?"

"I was unsure as to your exact location, Doctor, until a few moments ago."

"Did you hear us talking?" the CMO asked pointedly.

"I heard voices, Dr. McCoy. Nothing specific comes to mind, however."

McCoy sighed, unable to detect any attempt at deception in the Vulcan's explanation. "All right, you can go." Even at that, the Doctor suspected that there was more that Spock wasn't telling him (not that that came as any surprise to him), but he had long ago learned not to pressure the First Officer for information. It simply made him all the more stubborn. McCoy smiled in spite of himself. His alien friend was more like him than either of them was willing to admit, especially at this point in time. By the same token, each of the Humans felt guilty for having sent Spock away, since the normally privacy-seeking Vulcan rarely sought out companionship. When he did, that usually meant that he was lonely and needed the company of his two closest friends ... if not his bondmate.

"Do you think we should have asked him to stay, Bones? After all, Spock doesn't often seek companionship," Kirk remarked once they'd heard the Lounge doors open and close, signaling the Vulcan's departure.

"Neither do I always talk about my divorce and separation from Joanna, Jim. By the way, how much do you think he heard? I knew we should have had this talk in my quarters!" the Doctor groused.

"I have no idea. Besides, I doubt Spock consciously meant to barge in," Kirk softly admonished.

"Maybe not, but he managed nonetheless," McCoy tartly reminded his companion.

"Do you want me to find out?" Kirk finally asked. "He'd be more likely to tell me, you know, mainly since he probably figures you'd be upset with him if you thought he might have overheard something you hadn't meant him to hear. Still, you should know that a Vulcan is generally trustworthy, even if no one else is. He won't be spreading your secrets around. That's not his way. Whatever his faults, Spock knows how to respect the confidentiality of something meant as a confidence."

"That's not the issue, Jim. He's always professed … disdain for such -- -emotionalism, so I don't feel comfortable with the idea of confiding in him."

"I don't entirely blame you, Bones, but you know as well as I do that Spock has feelings every bit as strong as you or I. He just hides them well." Kirk took a swig of his coffee, then set it down again.

"Too well, sometimes," the Doctor opined.

"Over-compensation, pure and simple," the Captain returned. "Because of Spock's Human half, he feels obligated to go into 'double Vulcan' mode on occasion. But don't let it fool you, Bones. The feelings are there. They always have been and always will be, no matter what."

"You're probably right, Jim. Still, we'd best meet in my quarters after this," the Doctor suggested.

"You were the one who suggested we meet here this time, Bones," Kirk pointed out. "A 'change of scene', you said, as I recall."

"Not one of my better ideas," the CMO berated himself before sighing again. "Oh well, it's getting late." He noted that the chrono had said that it was nearly 2400. "We'd better get to bed. Talk to you later. Good night, Jim."

"Good night, Bones." Kirk made a mental note to speak to Spock and find out what he had overheard, if anything, at the earliest opportunity. Until then, he would simply take things one day at a time, see what came up.

* * *

Several days passed without incident, days without either McCoy or Kirk approaching or confronting Spock as to his whereabouts on stardate 5963.5 at 2330 hours. But even as well as he believed he knew Jim, his Human friend could and did still surprise him on occasion -- and this occasion was no exception … but he was not to know this until stardate 5975.2, just when he believed he'd gotten off "scot-free," as the Human expression went.

The Vulcan was working on the duty roster and shift rotations of the personnel in his Science Department prior to his retiring when the door opened, the door which connected his quarters to the Captain's and led to their shared bathroom. Spock looked up and his eyebrows rose at the sight of his friend, having assumed that he was asleep and had been for hours.

"Is there something wrong, Jim?" he asked, concern touching his voice.

Kirk smiled with a mixture of affection and suspicion. "Yes, Spock … and only you can help me."

"What can I do?" he asked neutrally.

"Answer a question for me," Kirk returned, his voice ominously quiet.

"Of course, Jim. You know I will answer anything I can."

"Good -- then you shouldn't have any problem with this one. It concerns your whereabouts at 2330 hours on stardate 5963.5," the Captain remarked. "May I know your precise location at that time and on that stardate?"

The silence between them grew so long that Kirk's suspicions mounted with every passing moment. He didn't want to come right out and blatantly accuse Spock of eavesdropping, yet he had been discreetly investigating all possibilities and had narrowed it down until there was only one likely suspect left. He was sure that Spock hadn't been doing it out of malice or anything, to get something he could use against McCoy for purposes of emotional blackmail -- but was also sure that if the Doctor ever found out, that he wouldn't see it that way.

He would most likely surmise that Spock had done it to get even for the times McCoy had cashed in on him … despite the fact that both knew that revenge was not Spock's way. Even at that, Kirk wanted the Vulcan to admit it freely, as he had many other things -- but the Captain sensed that it wasn't going to be that simple.

"Spock?" he finally prompted. "Did you hear me?"

The First Officer reluctantly nodded, keeping his head bowed, intently studying his hands as they lay clasped in his lap. "Well, are you going to tell me where you were or not?" After another long silence, the Vulcan made himself raise his bowed head, forcing himself to speak, although he was still unable to meet Kirk's eyes. "I ... cannot, Jim."

"Why not?" Kirk wondered.

"Because you will be angry with me."

"Why would I be angry with you?"

"I -- overheard a private conversation between you and Dr. McCoy that I was not meant to hear," Spock quietly admitted, blurting his guilty secret before he could stop himself.

"I see," the Captain acknowledged. "But that happens to all of us at one time or another, Spock. Doesn't mean you did it deliberately."

"Dr. McCoy will not see it that way. If he learns the truth, he is likely to be angry with me, believing I have invaded his privacy … but that was not my intention at all. I was merely -- curious as to why he has been so secretive up to this point. And I can understand why he would not want anyone to know about such things any more than you or I would in the same situation…" His voice trailed off.

"Don't worry, I'll keep your secret. It's only that Bones is likely to be just as angry with me as with you if he finds out I'm protecting you."

"How would we ever explain it to him without his becoming upset with us?"

"I frankly don't think that's possible, Spock. You know how excitable he is -- and how jealously he guards his privacy … every bit as closely as you or I do," Kirk pointed out. "At the moment, I'm the only person he trusts with his private feelings."

"I know. I heard him -- and cannot blame him for feeling as he does."

"Still, he knows as well as we do that you're so used to hiding and suppressing your emotions that it's very difficult for you to confide in too many people. I've told him that time and again."

"What was his reaction?"

"He understood, up to a point … but still seemed hurt that you rarely seemed to want him around when you or I were together and you wished to speak of personal things. I went along with it for your sake, but am sure he was hurt many times in the process."

"That was never my -- our -- intention," Spock pointed out.

"I know, but sometimes it comes across that way, no matter what you do."

"But he already knows my most private secret," Spock reminded him.

"The pon farr," Kirk finished. "Yes, to a certain degree -- but not all the details. You only told me those … and I promised to keep them to myself unless you said otherwise."

"Which you have," the Vulcan said, "and which I very much appreciate."

"It's all part of being a friend," Kirk gently dismissed. "By the way, don't you think it's time you let Bones in on the details? I know how difficult it is for you to discuss, so I can help you if necessary. If nothing else, he'd certainly appreciate the medical data … and you know stuff like that doctors always keep strictly confidential."

Again, there was a lengthy silence -- then the Vulcan reluctantly nodded. "Perhaps … I will consider it. Telling him, I mean -- after we…"

"After we what?" Kirk prompted.

"I wish to attempt to tell Dr. McCoy what I heard in the Officers' Lounge ten days ago."

"We'd be taking a big risk, Spock," Kirk warned.

"I am aware of that, but we must try. I have no wish for him to discover the fact by accident."

"I also don't know how much help I'll be to you. In fact, he's more likely than not not to believe a word we say. He may even decide that he can never trust either of us again: and that wouldn't be good for him. He needs a 'sounding board' as much as we do."

"Could Christine not substitute?" the Vulcan suggested.

"Only up to a point," Kirk pointed out. "There are some things a man only feels comfortable confiding to another man. Do you see what I mean?"

"I believe so," Spock concurred. "But it still remains to be seen how Dr. McCoy will react to my confession."

"I'd like to be able to tell you that there's nothing to worry about, but we both know better, so it's most logical to expect the worst, even as we hope for the best."

"I suppose so," Spock conceded. "Do you think we should summon Christine to accompany us? She might be able to help."

"That might be a good idea." Kirk was privately dubious, but Spock looked so hopeful that he couldn't turn him down. "Kirk to Chapel," the Captain called after opening the intership intercom.

"Chapel here. What can I do for you, Captain?"

"Meet Mr. Spock and myself on the way to Dr. McCoy's quarters. I'll explain everything when I see you."

Christine bit back her myriad questions and said, "Okay, I'll be there."

"See you in fifteen minutes. Kirk out." He turned back to Spock. "Well, she's on her way, so we'd better get going." The Human headed for the door of the Vulcan's quarters and Spock followed him out without a word.

* * *

The three met about halfway to McCoy's quarters and Kirk explained to Christine why she had been called. Christine could understand Spock's apprehension, both at having to face McCoy and his possible reaction to Spock having overheard his private conversation with Kirk. Even at that, she couldn't be sure that either her presence or that of Kirk would do the Vulcan any good. McCoy was likely to say (with some justification, unfortunately) that both she and the Captain were too biased in Spock's favor to be able to give impartial opinions. She knew something of McCoy's background, but not like Kirk did (Leonard had not given her any details), so all she could do was give her opinion of the situation as she saw it -- if asked -- when the time came, and let the chips fall where they may.

* * *

McCoy was surprised to answer his door and find the three of them there. It was usually just either Jim or Chris by themselves. Spock rarely came to his quarters, and if he did, Jim was the one who brought him.

Despite the fact of Christine's bonding with Spock, which had occurred on the shore leave shortly after the Sarpeidon mission, she still didn't see Spock that often, and when she did, she preferred to see him alone whenever possible. Still, she knew how difficult it was for Spock to do such things, so she did her best to be understanding during the times when she met Spock for a get- together and discovered Kirk with him.

Fortunately, the Captain rarely stayed long after she arrived these days; usually once she and Spock became engrossed in conversation or something, he would discreetly slip away, giving her a smile and sly wink as he did so. She eventually surmised that Kirk was simply keeping Spock company, helping him to relax and not be too nervous while waiting for her … not trying to monopolize Spock's attention. She had finally begun to relax on this score the last couple of times they had gotten together, mainly because he had begun to relax upon looking up and realizing Kirk was gone. If she hadn't been watching Spock closely, his momentary (and slight) reaction would have gone unnoticed.

As it was, he simply sighed and either resumed eating or the conversation they were having. She had even gotten up enough nerve to suggest to Spock that they go to a movie together in the ship's theater on their next off-duty day. He had agreed -- but only after stipulating that Kirk and Uhura accompany them on a "double date", meeting them at the theater and sitting together to watch the show. Of course, Uhura also knew how much Chris wanted to be alone with Spock, so she had told her friend privately that she would plead an early shift at about the halfway point of the film and that the Captain would escort her back to her quarters, then retire himself for the same reason.

Christine was grateful to them both for their kindness and under- standing, but now couldn't help a feeling of dread. She had a premonition of approaching disaster, which was to prove unavoidable, no matter what they did: and that Spock, however innocently and well-meaningly, would be the one to instigate it.

She knew that even as generous, caring, compassionate and soft-hearted as McCoy was, he did not easily forget or forgive anything he saw as betrayal or invasion of privacy -- especially to the extent this one was, however unintentional. He was also every bit as stubborn as Spock once his mind was made up. Once he cooled off, however, he was usually willing to listen to the voices of reason. Until then, forget it.

McCoy's voice brought her back to reality. "Come on in, you guys. I don't know why y'all are here now, but who am I to question such a fortuitous turn of fate?"

The trio trooped in, McCoy standing aside to allow them to pass. Once the door was closed and the three stood facing McCoy, he again asked what they had come for. When no one spoke for at least the next five minutes, the Doctor finally broke the suddenly maddening silence. "For God's sake, will somebody please say something? I could have a better conversation with a statue! Which reminds me, would you all please relax? At ease, already!"

After another lengthy silence Kirk finally managed to find his voice. "Sorry, Bones -- but I've got something to tell you which you're not going to find easy to hear. In fact, I didn't want to do it at all … but was talked into it. Still, before I say it, please try to keep in mind that we're all here because we want to spare you as much pain as possible … though once you learn what I have to tell you, you may forget that in the heat of the moment -- but I assure you that what happened was not done out of malice nor with any intention of invading your…"

McCoy's impatient voice cut into Kirk's lengthy speech. "Spit it out already, Jim! What the hell are you trying to say?"

"You recall our last private talk in the Officers' Lounge about two weeks back?"

McCoy nodded. "Yeah. Why?"

"Do you remember asking Spock if he'd overheard us talking?"

"I remember. What about it?" The Doctor seated himself at the table in his living area, looking over each of his three visitors as he sipped a glass of Saurian brandy.

"I promised you I'd ask him about it."

Kirk abruptly fell silent again; McCoy sighed exasperatedly. "Are you going to tell me what he said, or do I have to guess?"

Kirk's mouth opened, then closed again with no sound coming out, a look of pain crossing his features. McCoy knew what that signified, so he tried to be patient. "Jim, are you trying to protect him?"

Kirk forced himself to nod, but could do no more.

"I can understand your wanting to protect him, but I still think I have a right to know what he told you. Don't you agree?"

Again, Kirk made himself nod, but was unable to speak, even with the knowledge that he was wronging one friend while attempting to protect the other. Neither did that knowledge make the revelation about Spock any easier to reveal. The three visitors exchanged surreptitious, anxious glances between themselves, occasionally glancing at the impatiently waiting McCoy, then back to each other again. Finally, Spock made himself speak -- his voice barely audible even to those standing on either side of him. McCoy had to ask, "Did you say something, Spock? Well then, for God's sake, speak up, man!"

"Doctor … I -- was not completely honest with you before. I did indeed overhear you and Jim talking," the Vulcan confessed.

McCoy was too stunned to speak for a while and Spock took this as an opportunity to explain himself as best he could. "As Jim said, there was no malice involved or any intentional invasion of your privacy. I was … simply curious as to why you had been so secretive of late. All the same, I would not blame you if you are angry with me for not telling you sooner." His voice trailed off, then picked up again. "But I assure you, I meant no harm." His voice was full of regret and apology.

For a long time there was an ominous silence, then the Doctor finally found his voice again. "I know, Spock -- and though I can't say I'm pleased that you heard things you weren't meant to hear, there's nothing we can do about that now. In addition, old habits die hard, so I also can't say it'll be easy to tell you the rest, particularly since Jim has been the only one I've told these things so far. Of course, if you can't trust a Vulcan, who can you trust?" He made himself smile reassuringly. "For that matter, how about if you join Jim and me next time?"

"Do you mean that, Doctor?" the Vulcan asked carefully.

"I wouldn't ask if I didn't," the CMO returned, sensing the Vulcan's need for further reassurance.

"Then I would be honored, Doctor. Simply notify me when you and Jim plan to meet again and I will do my best to be there." The First Officer released the breath he hadn't realized he had been holding, allowing himself a relieved smile in McCoy's direction.

"Is there anything else you want to discuss, Spock?" the latter asked.

"No, Doctor. I am … grateful for your understanding. I will return to my work now."

"See you later, Spock."

"Later, Doctor." With that, the Vulcan turned on his heel and took his leave, mentally communicating his desire to Christine that she come to his quarters upon leaving McCoy's quarters to spend some time with him before he went to bed.

Once the door to McCoy's quarters had closed behind the Science Officer, the Doctor turned on Kirk. "How long did you know that Spock was listening to us?" he demanded.

"I didn't know at first, Bones -- any more than you did. In fact, he just told me that he'd been there and was wary about approaching you, certain that you would be upset. I was pleased to notice that you didn't take him apart and in fact, asked him to join us next time … though I was sure you couldn't have been pleased about it."

"It wasn't easy, let me tell you, Jim. Intellectually I know he didn't mean to intrude, but emotionally--" McCoy's voice broke off ominously, then he sighed. "Well, let's just say if it happens again, I won't be so understanding."

"Do you actually intend to let him sit in with us?" Kirk asked carefully.

It was a long time before McCoy answered. "I figure it's safe enough as long as you're there."

"But you still don't like the idea of him having eavesdropped, do you?" Kirk pressed.

"It's not something I expected a Vulcan to do, I'll say that much." Both Kirk and Christine nodded in agreement, and she remarked, "At any rate, I've never heard of a full-blooded Vulcan doing such a thing."

"Not intentionally, anyway," Kirk amended, aware even as he did so that it wouldn't be any easier for McCoy to open up in front of Spock any more than it was for the reverse to happen. The Captain frankly doubted that the Doctor would confess too much, go into too much detail regarding his failed marriage and his feelings about it or his separation (and estrangement) from his daughter and adored only child.

He had hidden it far too many years -- and as far as Kirk could tell, the CMO guarded his private feelings every bit as jealously as the Vulcan. But maybe Bones would actually surprise him and really spill the beans, as Spock had all too many times … and usually when he least expected it.

* * *

As it turned out, Kirk's supposition was correct -- but he also surmised that McCoy had said what he had to ease Spock's mind … not necessarily because it was true. In other words, he had told him what the Vulcan had wanted to hear -- a sort of "white lie" to spare his feelings. Ordinarily Spock wasn't easily fooled, but accepted what McCoy had told him unquestioningly because he 1) wanted to believe it, and 2) because the Doctor had never lied to him in the past and he saw no reason to believe that he would start now.

He would learn otherwise later, which was the main reason he would become so despondent -- and not even Kirk would be able to explain the precise reasoning behind McCoy's actions. Once this had happened, he asked, deeply hurt, "Jim, why did the Doctor say that he was not upset with me for eavesdropping if he really was?"

"I suppose it was because he didn't want to hurt your feelings," Kirk returned gently.

"Is that the only reason?" the Vulcan inquired.

"It's probably the main one," the Human opined.

The First Officer still couldn't understand why the Doctor had done what he did -- from what Jim had said, mainly to pacify him, make him "feel" better. But honesty was as basic to the Vulcan way of life as breathing; only by drawing on his Human half when duty or the given circumstances demanded it could Spock use deception, even occasionally -- and even then, it was very difficult for him. It seemed easier for Humans to practice deception; perhaps it was because they had had more experience.

Whatever the case, it hurt Spock all the more because McCoy had deceived him, even well-meaningly. He hadn't trusted him enough to believe that the Vulcan would understand his true feelings and accept them … though he accepted Jim's explanation for the moment. Even at that, Spock vowed to discover exactly why Humans did such things: if he could. Maybe Christine could be of some assistance in this matter.

* * *

That following night, while Kirk went to try to talk to McCoy, Christine went to Spock. He admitted her without a word. She followed him into his sleeping alcove and watched as he seated himself on his bed. She folded her hands behind her back in a Spock-like pose and stood before him, noting the despondency evident in his bowed head and slumped shoulders.

"I'm sorry I wasn't more help," she remarked. "But I was afraid to say anything for fear of making things worse."

Spock looked up at her, his eyes gentle and soft. "You were simply trying to protect me and the Doctor," he tried to soothe her.

"But it seems that that action only caused more pain. Sometimes it hurts more not to say anything." She sighed, then continued. "Or to say too much."

"And it seems that I have said too much," the Vulcan returned sadly.

Christine knew he could not have done otherwise, being as honest as he was, but truth wasn't always a good idea with Humans because of their sometimes volatile emotions. "It's not your fault, Spock," she tried to soothe him. "Not entirely, anyway.

"I'm sure he didn't mean to hurt you," Christine continued softly after taking a breath. "There are times when hurting someone is unavoidable, Spock ... and there's no sense in -- or as you might say, illogical -- browbeating yourself over this. It's regrettable, certainly, but all you can do is try to understand why he did it. Try to consider the fact that he cared enough about you to attempt to spare your feelings."

"How can I?" the Vulcan cried softly, anguished. "I trusted him to tell me the truth, believed in his sincerity…"

"You can't give up on him," she insisted. "And if you need help..."

"Thank you, Christine. I would -- appreciate it, but I doubt even you could change matters. The Doctor knows your feelings for me and is unlikely to trust you very far. Also, he can be, and often is, very stubborn."

"I know, but one never knows what they can accomplish if they don't persist. He's been your friend too long to just let things slide." She smiled soothingly.

Spock allowed himself a grateful smile in her direction. "I know ... and I wish him to remain such."

"Don't worry. Leonard is stubborn, but so am I ... and so is the Captain. If we keep at him long enough, he'll give in, if only to get us off his back and have peace and quiet again."

Spock wasn't sure what prompted his next actions; he only knew he needed to be held and comforted by someone, even as illogical as that desire was. He soon found himself opening his arms to Christine; she hesitantly moved to embrace him. His arms tentatively tightened around her, and to her surprise his head found its way to her shoulder, resting there as they stood together.

She reached up and stroked his silky hair with one hand while keeping the other arm around him. "There, there, love. Things will work out," she crooned softly.

The Vulcan did not reply, simply remained silent in his bondmate's arms. The Human woman felt her beloved's sadness, but at the same time, inadequate to do more than she was doing for him.

"Let's go sit on the bed," she suggested quietly. Again, he said nothing, simply allowed her to lead him to the bed, where they sat down and she continued to hold him. Whatever the case, it was easier to hold him when lying down -- but when she communicated this to him, he was hesitant to do so. "Don't worry, love. I just want to hold you. Besides, both of us will be more comfortable lying down."

After a few moments of silence, Spock nodded and the couple removed their boots, then lay down on the bed and held each other, Christine stroking his silky hair in between humming a lullaby and crooning comforting words.

"Leonard's usually ready to apologize once he's had time to think on it," she tried to reassure him once they had situated themselves on the bed.

"Unfortunately, it takes considerable time for it to come about," Spock reminded her as he made himself comfortable close to her. "And until then, it will do no good to even attempt to approach him on the subject."

Christine sighed. "Then all we can do is play a silent waiting game … until he seems in the mood for conversation."

"Are you certain that is ever the case?"

"Oh yes, sometimes," she assured him.

"But surely he can surmise sincere regret for causing him pain," Spock pointed out.

"Of course. He just needs some time. In the meantime, don't pressure him unnecessarily."

"How much time?"

"Couldn't say. We'll just have to watch and wait."

With that, she encouraged him to sleep ... and within an hour, he was deep into a sleep-trance, his head heavy on her breast -- then not long afterward, she called Uhura to inform her of her whereabouts so at least one person would know where she was in the event she was missed. Christine smiled at the thought of Spock's having fallen asleep in her arms. All the same, it was best that she not disturb him. She reached carefully to open the intercom and spoke quietly into it.

"Chapel to Uhura."

"Yes, Chris?" came the Communications Officer's equally quiet reply.

"I just thought I'd let you know that I'm with Spock and will probably be here the rest of the night."

"Uh-huh. I understand." The Bantu's tone was sly and skeptical.

Christine's reply was annoyed. "Nyota, get your mind out of the gutter. I'm simply here to spend time with him after his discussion with Dr. McCoy."

"It didn't go well, huh?" The dark woman's voice became serious. "Too bad -- but I can't say I'm surprised. This is definitely one of the times you should keep the truth to yourself. Not worth the repercussions if it comes out."

"Ny, could you run interference for me with the Captain? I don't think Spock's in any shape to deal with more than one person at a time as far as opening up is concerned ... at least not at the moment."

"Sure," came her quick reply. "He's probably at Dr. McCoy's quarters right now, anyway -- and will get in again, even if he has to pull rank." Uhura sighed. "If he calls, I'll tell him what you said. In the meantime, you get back to what you've been doing."

"Spock's asleep right now, but just the same, I'd better terminate this conversation so I can make sure he stays that way. A good night's sleep will help him immensely. Talk to you later, Ny."

"Later, Chris. Good night ... and good luck."

"Thanks, Ny. Good night. Chapel out."

Christine then closed her intercom and resumed crooning to Spock, holding him with one arm while the other alternately stroked his hair or his back to relax him when he periodically clutched at her in his sleep as if it meant his life.

* * *

Meanwhile, Kirk stood outside McCoy's quarters trying to regain entrance, but the Doctor had taken it into his head to be stubborn and was not allowing it. The Captain pressed the buzzer again insistently. "Damn it, Bones, open up! We've got to talk and I won't take No for an answer. You've got to let me in!"

"Like hell I do," came the icy reply.

"You know that I can override any locking mechanism on this ship," the Captain reminded his obstinate friend and CMO. "Which is just what I'll do if you don't open up so we can talk."

"Talking won't do any good," the Doctor shot back. "I've made up my mind. I'm never going to speak to Spock again!"

"You know that's impossible," Kirk retorted. "Now let me in, for God's sake!"

There was no reply this time, but the door opened before Kirk and he stepped inside McCoy's quarters. The Captain looked around for McCoy and found him on his bed, seated with his head bowed and his hands clasped in his lap -- and smelled liquor when he got closer, that fact in itself telling him better than anything else how much this latest crisis was haunting the Doctor. McCoy didn't drink much unless something was really bothering him. He didn't see the glass or bottle anywhere, but knew they had to be around somewhere, just hidden.

Kirk hesitated at the entrance to the sleeping alcove. "May I come in, Bones?"

"Yeah, sure," McCoy mumbled, his voice slightly slurred as a result of his imbibing.

Kirk moved to the bed and sat beside his friend, putting a strong, caring yet tentative arm around his shoulders. "I'm sorry for what happened, Bones ... truly I am. I can assure you, I had no idea that anyone else was in the room with us. You must also know that Spock meant no harm, and that he would never use your private feelings or this knowledge against you any more than I would. He's not that kind of person."

The Doctor's voice was a mixture of pain and anger. "If only to please Spock, I always respected his -- and your -- privacy, you know that. Why couldn't he have returned the favor instead of invading my privacy and eavesdropping like he did? You know how sensitive I am about anyone knowing my feelings about Jo and her mother and how our lives were torn apart because of the divorce."

Kirk pulled McCoy's head down to rest on his shoulder and hugged his friend tightly. "Bones, you know that Spock would never eavesdrop without a good reason."

"That's not the issue, Jim. Vulcans are supposed to respect other people's privacy ... and he didn't."

"On the contrary. Spock has always done that," Kirk claimed. "He's not the kind to spread confidential information around."

"You'd say anything to defend him, Jim. I can't blame you, but as I said, it's not going to change my mind. The only way I'm going to associate with him after this is on business. Otherwise you're not getting me within ten feet of him for love nor money!" McCoy sighed sadly. "Not that he'd miss me, of course..." His voice trailed off. "Quite the reverse. He'd probably be inclined to celebrate!"

"All right, Bones, that's enough for now," Kirk crooned. "You need to get some sleep. Let me rub your back. No doubt you're as tight as the proverbial fiddle-string." McCoy didn't seem to hear him, not budging from his comfortable position on the Captain's shoulder or the warmth of his friend's presence.

"Bones?" Kirk asked anxiously when the silence lengthened.

"Yeah, yeah. Give me a minute," McCoy muttered, maneuvering himself so that he was lying face down with both shirts off so that his neck and shoulders were accessible to his friend's gentle, expert hands. The Captain first kneaded the Doctor's taut shoulders, working diligently for several minutes before turning his attention to his neck. He could feel McCoy's muscles relaxing and loosening under his ministrations. The older man remained silent for so long that Kirk became concerned.

"Bones, you still awake?"

"Barely," came the drowsy reply after a deep yawn.

"Would you like me to sit up with you?"

McCoy was stunned for a moment before he replied. "Wouldn't you rather sit with Spock?"

"I seem to remember that Christine asked his permission for her to stay with him and he granted it. For that reason, I don't think she'd appreciate my barging in on them right now, although I'll have to take a chance if I don't hear from one of them within twelve hours. Meanwhile, you're all I'm concerned with."

"In that case..." The Doctor's voice trailed off sleepily. "Good night, Jim -- and thanks for staying with me."

"That's what friends are for, Bones. Good night." Kirk sat beside McCoy until his friend fell asleep, then put his feet up on the bed after slipping his boots off and leaning against the headboard. The Captain reported his whereabouts to Uhura, squeezing his friend's hand and crooning soothingly after putting his arm around McCoy and hugging him close, allowing him to rest his head on his chest as he slept, as he had done with Spock numerous times.

Even though he had always suspected that McCoy cared far more about Spock than he had ever let on, he had had no idea that Spock's so-called betrayal could have affected the Doctor so deeply. Still, Kirk knew it would do no good to try to talk Bones into making up with Spock at this point ... not in his present mood. Maybe later on, but right now it would be easier to get a sun to go nova than to bring his two friends together and attempt a reconciliation between them.

All he and Christine could do for the present was be the best friends (and bondmate, in Spock's case) they knew how to be. Once that was accomplished, they would see if they could mellow each enough so that McCoy and Spock would be willing to talk to each other as soon as he and Christine could realistically manage it.

* * *

It was several days later, all the while acting as devil's advocates for their feuding friends, before Kirk and Christine were able to get together and compare notes. "Captain, Spock feels really bad about what happened and understands why Leonard would feel betrayed; he would feel the same way in the Doctor's position -- but does not see how he can possibly change matters. Do you have any suggestions as to how we can help them?"

Kirk sighed and shook his head. "Until Bones cools off, I'm afraid not. I've never seen him so angry, hurt and betrayed."

"I can't really say I blame him for feeling that way, but if you think about it, they're much more alike than either of them would ever admit. For instance, both are afraid to let too many people get close to them because of how they were hurt and betrayed by others in the past -- and as a result, have an extremely highly developed sense of privacy. Not to mention highly sensitive about having that privacy invaded in any way by anyone. But most of all, both are highly opinionated and very stubborn."

"Which doesn't give us much to work with in the way of arguments or rebuttals to their arguments," Kirk returned morosely. "It may be beyond our ability to help them, Christine. Sooner or later, we may have to accept that -- even as much as we may dislike the idea."

Christine sighed as her lips twisted wryly. "So what do we do?"

"Just continue to be the best friends we can be -- and play a silent waiting game," Kirk replied.

Christine frowned, her forehead creased with worry lines. "I just hope we have the time to wait."

"So do I," Kirk agreed, his tone equally worried. "We can only hope for the best, however -- even while expecting the worst." He sighed this time. "We'd better get back to our respective duties now. Keep me informed."

"Right." Christine nodded, smiled, then left to check on Spock one last time before returning to her duties, as did Kirk to McCoy ... then their respective charges did the same (resumed their duties, that is) once it came time for their own duty shifts.

For a time, their personal problems were shelved, crowded out by the necessity of accomplishing their mission before anything else -- even something with as much potential gravity as mending the volatile relationship between the highly intelligent yet equally sensitive First Officer and CMO. But even in the midst of their work, all secretly hoped they could at least begin to resolve their dilemma before too much more time went by.

* * *

Meanwhile, Christine made arrangements for the second official "date" between her and Spock -- the one they had talked about shortly after their first, which had been a "movie" date (specifically, Gone With The Wind) and in which they had been very engrossed …that is, when they weren't engrossed in each other to the extent of having been unaware they had been observed by McCoy and his date, Head Nurse Elizabeth Rogers.

Basically, those arrangements involved reserving the pool area for the evening, making sure both the air and water were sufficiently heated so neither she nor Spock would become chilled. She would be meeting him there at 1900 hours and bringing a picnic lunch for them both. Which reminded her -- she'd better start making the food now or else she'd not be able to get it or herself ready in time for their date.

She called up the necessary ingredients for their dishes she planned to make and spent most of the rest of the evening getting them ready. She also made sure to have enough time to prepare herself as well. She had several bathing suits, including one so miniscule that it consisted of two triangles of blue material with gold trim and ties for the top and a single triangle with gold trim and ties, the back of which was virtually nonexistent except for a gold thong which went between the cheeks of her bottom. In fact, it was the sexiest thing she owned.

So many times she had wished Spock could have seen it -- his eyes would probably have popped out of his head -- but unfortunately it was inappropriate for their date tonight. Maybe later, when their relationship was further advanced, but now it was more logical, as he would say, to choose a more modest garment. The Fleet-issue suit was a one-piece with straps and a scoop neck which showed some (not a lot of) cleavage in front and half the back was bare, and despite the fact the leg openings were French cut, it still covered considerably more of her than the aforementioned string bikini she generally favored for swimming.

Still, it was made of a clingy spandex-like material which hugged her curves like a second skin. Yes, that would be best. With her lacy coverup, matching sandals and big bath towel, that should be sufficient for a poolside wardrobe. It was 1830 by the time she was ready. She used a small antigrav unit to carry the cooler with the food and drinks, leaving her quarters for T Deck, where the pool was. Her sky-blue beach tote with a golden appliqued sun on it was full of her towel, comb and body lotion with sunscreen.

The lights in the pool area had a setting which simulated sunlight and she decided to try to sunbathe if she had the chance. Possibly Spock would even watch her for a time, if not join her, forgetting his troubles in the process -- at least temporarily.

Spock was waiting at the door to the pool area when she arrived; he was clad in a dark robe over his bathing suit and sandals, a towel over one arm. When he noticed her, one eyebrow went up and he gave her a half-smile. Ever the gentleman, he took charge of the cooler when she reached him. "May I?" He picked it up effortlessly when she nodded assent, which left her to turn off the antigrav unit and place it in her bag.

She held the door open for him, letting it swish closed and lock behind them so they would not be disturbed. He set the cooler on the poolside table; she set her things in one of the chairs. He draped his towel over the back of one chair, removing his robe before neatly folding it and placing it next to the cooler. Christine had been removing her own coverup and turned just as Spock had removed his robe.

Her heart pounded at the sight of his bare, greenish-bronze skin, the smooth lines of his back and wide shoulders, then a slender waist which flowed into a blue pair of swim trunks with the Enterprise insignia embroidered in gold on them. But not even they could not conceal his magnificence -- or the gentle curves of his beautiful butt and strong, solid yet slender and gorgeous legs, his long, elegant feet… Every inch of him was beautiful -- but that came as no surprise to Christine. From the moment they'd met, the Vulcan had looked good enough to eat, especially the times in Sickbay when he had been unclothed for one reason or another. But this was another matter altogether. They were not on duty -- and best of all, they were alone!

For that reason she decided to see to it that she made up for all the lost time over all the years they had known each other. Only after the V'ger and Kolinahr incidents had he become sufficiently relaxed with himself and her to allow himself to become involved with her -- and to such an extent that they had become quite an item aboard ship. But between the efforts of both her and their friends, Spock was not harassed about it. She had waited too long for him to be willing to risk scaring him off now.

Spock's rich baritone brought her back to reality. "Christine, are we going to swim now?"

She turned to face him, stunned once again to find him standing next to her. She lifted her face to his and smiled apologetically. "Oh, yes, Spock. Sorry. Just got lost in thought."

"It is all right. Let us simply do so without any further delay." He held out a hand to her and she took it; they walked to the shallow end of the pool and gingerly eased themselves into the heated water. She sighed, feeling relaxed and peaceful -- at least for the moment.

Her happiness doubled at the knowledge that Spock was beside her. His skin had become a little greener and the bronze tone somewhat deeper due to the heat of the air and water; drops of moisture glittered in his furry chest hair like diamonds in the light. How she longed to stroke, caress and kiss the bare skin presented to her… He was so beautiful. Almost heartbreakingly so.

They began to swim, doing numerous laps from one end of the pool to the other. When each had done about half a dozen each, Chris had been leaning on the side of the pool at a five-foot depth, elbows supporting her, when she felt strong but gentle arms pull her close. Warm lips found the wildly pulsing spots in her throat and neck. What surprised her even more was feeling Spock gently pressing himself against her as his lips moved to the nape of her neck, then his teeth gently nibbled her ear.

She shivered deliciously upon feeling the warmth of his breath -- and her hands covered his for a time as she moved her head to allow him greater access. The shivering increased as his kissing and touching became more intimate, and she gasped upon feeling his hands sliding the straps of her suit off and kissing the bare skin he uncovered. After a while he slid the top of the suit off until it was bunched around her waist … then his hands reached to cradle her breasts. She couldn't help crying out softly when his fingers began to tease her nipples until they became erect.


"Yes?" he crooned into her ear, once again pressing against her from behind. Her eyes widened upon feeling his arousal grow even as he held her. "Am I doing something incorrectly? Do you wish me to stop? I thought you might find my actions pleasurable."

"Oh, no," she assured him. "And I do find your actions pleasurable. Very much so."

He was silent for a while even as he continued to caress her, his hands moving tentatively but ever more intimately, exploring even as he slipped her suit all the way off and set it on the side of the swimming pool. Her heart pounded even harder and faster with every passing moment, knowing she was naked in his arms. She only wished that he were naked against her as well.

A short time later, she felt Spock release her slightly. Still holding onto her with one hand, he did something else with the other. She found out what almost before she had a chance to catch her breath, somehow not surprised that he had read her thoughts and acted accordingly. If he was as large as he felt, he could fill her completely! A few more moments passed, then she felt his right hand stroke the curves of her waist and hips, then down her flat belly and stroke her between her legs. It didn't take long for her to be on the brink of an incredible, mind-boggling orgasm brought on by his talented fingers teasing her most sensitive spot. Oh God, it felt so incredibly wonderful… She gasped, squirmed and moaned as she felt herself on the brink, her legs feeling as if they'd turned to jello.

"Oh … ohh …Spock, my love. Make me come before I die!"

He didn't reply, but not too long afterward, she exploded into an overwhelming orgasm, a veritable tidal wave of feeling washing over her, the most indescribable pleasure she had ever experienced. When she came back down from the pinnacle, she sagged limply in his arms, her head resting on his shoulder as the warm silk of his lips moved down the side of her face.

"Is there something else you would like me to do to please you, Christine?"

"Just feeling you close to me like this pleases me, Spock," she replied softly. "But I think it best that we dress and eat something before doing anything else, if only to have sufficient energy."

Again, he was silent for a time, then released her and they exited the pool, temporarily donning their outer clothing, then the table was set with the mixture of dishes Christine had made -- some Terran, some Vulcan. The sandwich filling had Vulcan spices in it, as did the Vulcan pasta salad … an intriguing (not to mention appetizing) recipe she had found while researching Vulcan dishes on the computer. She had even made some ravioli with spinach and cream cheese in it. If he didn't like any other Italian food, he would like this one.

There were also ridged barbecue potato chips and some asparagus with sour cream sauce, one of his favorite Terran foods. They ate silently for a while, using ice-cold pink lemonade to wash the food down. It took roughly 45 minutes to finish the meal, and once the leftovers were put away in the cooler again, Christine yawned. "Spock, do you mind if I have a nap before we go back into the pool? I always get sleepy after a big meal."

"Of course not. Perhaps I could join you. Where did you plan to nap?"

"On that large double hammock with the pillows," she replied, gesturing to it with her right hand. His gaze followed her hand, locating it next to the far wall, near where the main Botany Lab was.

"Logical," the Vulcan returned approvingly.

A short time later, the pair were lying side-by-side and face-to-face, her head on the First Officer's shoulder and his arms around her. It didn't take long for both to fall into a deep sleep. Two hours later she was kissed awake, smiling as she felt warm lips on her eyelids … then her chin was lifted and he kissed her -- a long, thrilling and tenderly passionate kiss.

She had no idea he was capable of such a thing. In fact, he seemed almost insatiable, as though he could never get enough of her. It would be worth his possibly withdrawing from her, if only temporarily, if she could bring him some happiness and pleasure now. It didn't take long before both were undressed again, and this time she took the initiative, kissing and caressing him as he had done to her.

"Spock, beloved," she whispered as she did so. "You're so delicious." Her smile widened at his reaction when her lips and tongue licked and sucked his nipples as she had fondled them earlier. She then moved lower and took him into her hand, her supple fingers inflaming him almost to fever pitch even as she felt him hardening further. He moaned and squirmed at her ministrations when she moved to take him into her mouth. He had never felt such pleasure; the ecstasy was nothing short of incredible … but if he didn't stop her, he would come in her mouth and he wanted to be inside her when that happened.

"Christine, please stop." He could barely speak.

"Is something wrong?" She looked up, voice laced with question and concern.

"I -- simply wish to be inside you."

"Is that all?" She smiled and sighed in relief.

"That is all."

"No problem, then."

With that, he turned her beneath him and shortly after finishing feasting on her delicious breasts and sweet nipples, he gently spread her unresisting legs and molded her body to his, his pelvis and her own seeming as one as he moved deliciously within her hot slickness. As time passed, he moved faster and harder, growing larger as he did so … to the extent that they could not have disengaged even if they'd wanted to -- and one may be assured that neither wanted to! She locked her arms and legs around him as he moved energetically within her, unable to get enough of his lips and body. By the time they finished, both were too enervated to do more than lie close to one another and attempt to come back to normal.

"I am sorry we did not get to swim any more, Christine," he apologized.

"Don't worry, love. There will be other times. Besides, I wouldn't have traded this night for two weeks on Wrigley's Pleasure Planet." Christine gave her lover a deep, tenderly passionate kiss. "I swear, Spock, I didn't know you had it in you. And it was incredible, just as you were incredible."

As were you, he said in her mind, through their bond.

Christine blushed with pleasure. Why, thank you. That's the nicest thing you've ever said to me.

Gratitude is not necessary. I am merely stating a fact.

When only silence answered him, the Vulcan looked down to notice that his Human bondmate had apparently fallen asleep. He allowed himself a smile as he cuddled her warm, fragrant body close to him as he prepared to sleep himself -- or the Vulcan version of it, a sleep-trance. Unable to help it, he inadvertently sent her a mental message of gratitude and love:

Thank you, m'chejan.

You're very welcome. Now go to sleep, love. We're both exhausted and need to get some rest. Her tone brooked no argument, so he simply conceded her point.

Very well. Good night, Christine.

Sleep well, beloved. I'll be here.

After this, it didn't take long for the couple to once again fall into a deep sleep -- a sleep which turned out to last for the rest of the night. Spock's last waking thought was a note to himself to speak to Jim at the first opportunity and see if he had been able to talk McCoy around yet so he could at least make an attempt to make it up to him for causing him pain, however unintentionally.

* * *

Spock's time sense awakened them in time for each to make their duty shifts on time; they dressed again, both feeling uncomfortable knowing they only wore one light layer of clothing -- but told themselves it would not be for long and the hour was sufficiently early that they wouldn't see that many people. He saw Christine to her quarters, promising to see her later, raising her hand to his lips and kissing it in lieu of what he actually wanted to do -- kiss her lips again.

"Thank you for a most … stimulating evening, Christine. We can get together again this evening if you like, and I can bring my lyrette to play for you."

"I'd love that, Spock," she smiled, her whole heart in her eyes as they met his. "Just let me know when. See you later."

He allowed himself a smile as he touched her cheek one last time, then proceeded down the corridor in the general direction of his own quarters. She watched him until he disappeared around the corner, then entered her quarters to shower, dress and have a quick breakfast of vanilla cappuccino and a sausage-egg sandwich left over from their picnic; the cooler was a lot easier to handle now.

She placed the latter on her desk, then left, telling herself to unpack it when she got off-shift; hopefully there would be enough for a snack with Spock when he returned to play for her. She smiled wickedly upon heading to work in the turbolift. Perhaps they would even make love again… She shivered at the thought of how wonderful he had been: that they had been together. She had always known they would be fantastic together if she could ever talk him around -- and last night had proved it. He was every bit as incredible in bed as out.

Just then the turbolift doors opened on G Deck, where the Sickbay complex was, and Christine put on her most professional mask as she neared the doors, allowing herself a moment of concern for Leonard, hoping he was feeling better now … or at least in a better mood. Hopefully the Captain would be able to soothe him sufficiently so that Spock would be able to make amends for his supposed betrayal of the Doctor's privacy.

She would have to play it by ear, see how Leonard acted -- and if he was any more approachable to day than he had been a couple of nights ago. For the time being, they had to get started on preparing for the mid-mission physicals. With that, she entered Sickbay and her shift officially began.

* * *

As for Spock, he had spent a goodly amount of time reinforcing his professional mask before he dared to leave his quarters … a necessity if he were to make it through his shift without losing control by drifting off into non-regulation thoughts of Christine. It was difficult enough as it was to keep his mind off both her and what they had done together last night even as he allowed himself a smile at the thought of the pleasure they had given each other.

He abruptly forced the thoughts away and willed his body to cool off until he saw her again. Eight hours until then -- but eight hours which would seem like an eternity. Was this how his father felt toward his mother? Was this how other Vulcans felt when bonded … or more specifically, properly bonded? He had had no idea he was capable of such uninhibited sexual activity, even knowing it had been tempered with warmth and love for his bondmate.

It hardly seemed possible that he could feel such happiness and contentment. A stark contrast to how it had been with T'Pring… He winced at how she had humiliated and deceived him, even having nearly made him kill his closest friend by challenging him during his first pon farr at what was to have been their wedding. How could anyone have lied and cheated for so many years, nearly gotten someone killed and yet considered her actions logical and correct?

And worst of all, *she* was considered what was commonly referred to as a "true" Vulcan simply because she was of pure Vulcan blood. If she was any example of what being a "true" Vulcan meant, he was glad that his mother was Human and had therefore given him at least a modicum of decency, compassion and empathy, if not understanding.

Forget about her, love. You have me now -- and I would never do anything to make you unhappy. In fact, I'd rather hurt myself than you, and have no way of understanding why T'Pring treated you as she did … and if I ever run into her, and she says anything -- anything -- against you, I swear I'll strangle her and take pleasure in doing it!

Calm yourself, m'chejan. It is past, he assured her. I … appreciate your feelings and defense, but you can do nothing to change it now.

I understand.

He sent all the warmth he could muster through the bond, then assumed his mask again as the turbolift reached the Bridge. It remained intact as he made his way to the command chair to check in with the Captain. "Good morning, Jim."

"Spock." Kirk smiled in greeting. "Have a good time last night?"

"Yes," the Vulcan answered quietly, just loud enough for his friend to hear. "Have you had any success with Dr. McCoy?"

"I'm still working on him, doing all I can," the Captain replied as reassuringly as possible. "I'll keep you informed." Kirk wished he could have been more encouraging, especially when he saw Spock's whole demeanor change before his eyes. Even at that, one would have to know him well to have been able to detect it. "Don't worry, Spock. Bones is a tough nut to crack, but crack he will. And when he does, you'll be the first to know."

"Thank you," Spock returned softly, giving Kirk a semblance of a smile. "I appreciate your efforts."

"Believe me, I understand how you feel, my friend. Things will work out -- that I can promise you, whatever I have to do. Meanwhile, we've got to get to work and earn our pay to justify Starfleet's investment in our training."

"What has happened, Captain?" the Vulcan inquired, all business again.

"The Romulans," Kirk said. "You won't believe what boneheaded stunt they've pulled this time. Just get a load of this…"

With that, Kirk launched into the story of the latest Romulan attack as he followed his First Officer to the latter's station. Spock absorbed the information like a sponge, putting his concern for McCoy on the back burner for the time being in order to occupy himself with his duty, something he could at least do something about. They did everything they could to reassure him, make him feel better, but nothing diverted him for long -- a few hours at best.

The Captain and ACMO were at a loss as to what more they could do … and even as much as they could understand why the Doctor was acting as he was, their hearts went out to Spock, too. Deep down, however, each knew that only a full reconciliation with and forgiveness from McCoy would lift Spock's spirits and lighten his mood -- but how in the universe it would ever come about, they had no idea.

Each man was as good as his word; associating with the other only when duty necessitated it, going about his business with almost machine-like efficiency. It was almost as though Spock had retreated into his coldest, most unemotional Kolinahr persona, and the Doctor was always stiffly polite and formal whenever he happened to be in proximity to the Vulcan.

Both had lost count of how many incidents of such they had seen their friends and bondmate through, and didn't know how much longer they could stand it themselves. They had tried everything they knew and nothing had worked. What was it going to take to bring Spock and McCoy back together as friends again?

* * *

Meanwhile, Spock and Christine had gotten together with Kirk and Uhura for an evening of song -- if not singing, it was playing, either by Spock or Uhura. This was after dinner, which Spock had to be coaxed into eating by his friends and bondmate … and even then, he ate only enough to stay alive. Not even Kirk's back rubs or Christine's shoulder rubs relaxed the Vulcan for long, and his music reflected his melancholia. All of the other three saw the sad, haunted eyes of the First Officer, not to mention his gradual emotional and physical deterioration.

Like he had told his Vulcan friend many times, Kirk often felt the same way they did, but for his own reasons -- only some of which were exclusion from his son's life, never being allowed to know him … and worst of all, never being allowed to have a long-term relationship or marriage with a flesh-and-blood woman because the Enterprise was his all-consuming love. However much he may have wished otherwise, there was simply no room in his life for both a wife and family and his demanding lover, mechanical though she may have been.

All his liaisons with flesh-and-blood women had ended, often tragically, after only a brief romantic interlude -- particularly his relationships with the Amerind Tribal Priestess Miramanee, to whom he had been married, if only for a couple of months. It was long enough for her to have become pregnant, however, and Kirk still felt guilt and sorrow over that … but Edith Keeler, whom he had met in 1930s New York, courtesy of the Guardian of Forever, had been the love of his life -- and he had had to sacrifice her in order to preserve history.

In essence, all three friends had similar life experiences which had made them the kind of people they were, but each was made unique by how each had come about and how each man had dealt with them … or was helped to deal with them. All too often Kirk was reminded of the old saying, "Physician, heal thyself," whenever he had his periodic talks with McCoy. This was mainly because he was convinced that Bones should have sought professional help for his emotional problems instead of letting his pain fester inside him for so many years.

If it was unhealthy for himself and Spock, it was all the more so for someone like McCoy, who was responsible for both the physical and emotional health of over four hundred other crewmembers, at least two (if not more) of whom were his closest friends. There were times McCoy probably shouldn't have tried to advise them because he was too close to the situation to be totally objective -- but also knew that neither Jim, Spock nor Christine were likely to want to confide in too many others besides himself, mainly because of their positions, background or personal sensibilities … if not all three.

Only Uhura was anywhere near as close to any of them as he was. They were sure that she could also be of help to them, but hesitated to call on her, mainly because of the stress it was causing them. Starship duty was stressful enough without personal problems adding to it, and he and his friends had both.

* * *

They had even gotten together several evenings a week over the last six months. Spock had never seen either of his friends so taken with a woman as he was with Christine -- at least not since Jim had known Edith Keeler and the Doctor his Fabrini Priestess Natira. Certainly he had never known the details of McCoy's life before the Enterprise, his former marriage and the estrangement from his only child, Joanna, until recently.

Yet even now Spock suspected that McCoy was only associating with him when in the company of their friends and colleagues, considering it far safer to do so in that fashion than one-on-one. He preferred to think that that was progress, at least of a sort, since the Doctor wouldn't speak to him personally at all before this point. Only with the support and encouragement of Jim and Christine had he made it this far. Even at that, there was still a great void in his life -- and deep down, the Vulcan knew that only McCoy's forgiveness and friendship could fill that void. He was brought back to reality by the Doctor's voice.

"…cooties?" When there was no response, McCoy scowled in the Vulcan's direction. "Spock, dammit, answer me!"

The other man looked up to face the blue fire in the Doctor's eyes. "I am sorry, Doctor. I was preoccupied. What did you say?"

"I said, have you ever heard of 'cooties'?"

The Vulcan frowned. "No, Doctor, I cannot say that I have. Are they some kind of insect?"

"You might say that. They're similar to germs or infectious bacteria and there are many different kinds -- one for each race in the galaxy."

"I surmise that you are referring to a specific species of 'cootie', Doctor. Am I correct?"

"Yes, Spock. Human and Vulcan cooties, to be exact."

"Does that mean I am 'unclean' in any way? I assure you that I bathe every day."

McCoy answered before Kirk could draw breath for a reply. "I do, too … and as Jim said, it's a figurative infection, not an actual one. It's not a matter of either of us being unclean; it simply means that we aren't too fond of being too near each other -- at last not for an extended period of time … and that we don't generally care to be touched by the other in any way. At least not when we're not expecting it. That's usually when 'infection' happens." McCoy then stunned the Vulcan with a smile and wink. "Still, you should know that a doctor is always sterile, Spock. Part of the job."

It eased Spock's mind considerably as he realized that McCoy was employing some of his customary teasing, which meant that the Doctor was beginning to relax around him again. Still, it seemed a far cry from their infamous verbal sparring matches -- from which it usually took Kirk, if not Christine as well, to separate the two combatants.

"I know, Doctor. Do not concern yourself," the Vulcan replied with uncharacteristic gentleness and affection.

McCoy's eyes widened in stunned surprise, then he actually smiled at the First Officer for the second time in as many minutes, which had affected their companions in a similar way and to a much greater extent … and with that astonishment was mixed a considerable amount of relief. At least Bones and Spock had actually had a civil conversation, which was a step in the right direction, if nothing else. Maybe the worst was over.

Kirk and Christine certainly hoped so, anyway. Just then Kirk yawned deeply and stretched. "Well, it's getting late, so I vote we all hit the hay in order to be fresh for our duty shifts tomorrow." He looked around at everyone and no one objected, so goodnights were exchanged and the group broke up after everyone had stood and started for the door.

"Will you walk me to my quarters, Spock?" Christine asked invitingly. The Vulcan suspected what she had in mind, but did not object since he wanted it as much as she did. She linked her arm through his and they were alone soon after stepping off the turbolift they had shared with the other two couples. Upon reaching the female Doctor's quarters, Spock looked deeply into his bondmate's eyes and raised her hand to his lips -- but that look said it all. If their feelings were any indication, their second night together would be even better than their first…

* * *

So many times the Doctor had wished regulations had permitted pets aboard ship because of their therapeutic value, if nothing else. It was a documented fact that the love, loyalty and companionship of a pet such as a dog or cat (or in Spock's case, his sehlat, I-Chaya) -- and now his new pet, Amanda the cat, who shared not only his mother's name but her deep blue eyes and sunny disposition -- eased blood pressure and kept stress down to a healthy level. Many times pets even helped to control people with manic-depressive or schizophrenic disorders.

It was mainly Jim's influence that had allowed the Vulcan to keep the animal, a Terran Siamese cat, in his quarters … and both were better for it. No, all who came into contact with the small bundle of silky dark brown and cream-colored fur with a rumbling purr which reminded all who heard it of an old-time combustion engine running benefitted from the time spent with her.

Whenever any of Spock's friends visited him, either individually or collectively, the cat would either sit in their laps for a time and purr as they scratched behind her ears or under her chin, then her neck and throat. Either that or she simply allowed them to pet her as she sat in Spock's lap. He was still the only one allowed to have prolonged contact with her, however. He seemed to be the very definition of a "cat person" … aloof, alone, independent -- to name just a few qualities -- yet actually needed love and attention every bit as much as anyone else, even as much as he denied it. Every bit as much as the cat herself needed it.

Spock's new cat had been bequeathed to him by Kirk's late mother. They had visited her over their last extended leave, just over six months ago. The cat had really taken to Spock, so Anna Kirk had left the care of her beloved pet to the Vulcan. It seemed that the cat had always been part of his life aboard ship, as much a part of it as his work and his friends.

But in the six months Spock had been bonded with Christine, Kirk had been seeing Janine Murray, a nurse who had cared for his mother the last several weeks of her life and who had recently joined Starfleet and the Enterprise crew, just as McCoy began keeping company with Elizabeth Rogers, who had been promoted to the position of Head Nurse after Christine had become a doctor. In the course of their getting acquainted, Kirk learned that Janine's background was Irish. She even had something of a brogue, but it usually only came out if she became angry or emotionally upset in some way. Her grandparents on her mother's side were American, able to trace their ancestry back to the Revolutionary War. However, her paternal great-grandmother's maiden name was Murphy, born in Dublin roughly a century and a half ago in the early 2110s, and overall (although the ancestors she knew of had married into Dutch, British and French families), her background was basically Irish.

She had even heard of a rumor that she was descended from the Irish patron saint, Patrick … but couldn't be sure, since records from that time were so sketchy. But Kirk assured her that he didn't care what her ancestry was. What mattered was that they were so happy and compatible now. He had some Irish in his background, but his ancestry was basically a mixture of Scotch, Irish and American -- including some Native American -- though he couldn't have said just which tribe he was descended from.

Anna Marie Kirk (maiden name Smythe) had been born and raised in Iowa; only her meeting with the exchange student from Glasgow who had come to America, having recently joined Starfleet, a handsome, outgoing young man named George Samuel Kirk -- whom she had met while on an outing with a mutual friend, then fallen in love with and married, put her in touch with those outside of both Iowa and Earth.

Within six months, Anna had managed to ingratiate herself with her in-laws because of her quick mind and embracing of their ways and customs, at least outwardly … but only after she had borne him two sons -- George Samuel III (aka "Sam", the future research biologist, and James Tiberius, the future starship Captain) -- did they fully accept her.

But again, the happiness and compatibility Jim shared with Janine was infinitely more important to the couple than any possibility of family relationship to any historical figure. Still, she was a virtual twin of his lost Native American wife, so Kirk was convinced that there also had to be some Native American ancestry somewhere in her background. At the moment, however, neither had the time nor inclination to search further in either of their family trees to find out exactly what kind. Perhaps in the future they would delve more deeply into their genealogies, but right now, they had bigger and better things to think about, just as each of their friends did.

* * *

It turned out that the Romulans had tried to hijack the Federation President's personal yacht. The entire Cabinet had been on board, but all surmised that the main reason the ship had been attacked was because the Starfleet Commanding Admiral, the octogenarian Heihachiro Nogura, had also been a passenger. It was also reported that the Romulans had attempted to abduct Nogura; had it not been for the reinforced shields on the yacht, they would have been successful. No one had been injured, at least not physically -- but all had been badly shaken up and were currently undergoing counseling for the trauma they had suffered as a result of the experience.

Word soon reached the Enterprise, and Fleet Command ordered them to track down the culprits -- and if possible, discover the reason or reasons behind the attack; also why there had been an attempt to abduct Nogura … but most of all, why the Romulan ship had simply turned tail and left after their failure to carry out their mission. That just did not seem like the Romulan way. This was the main reason the Enterprise had been called in. If anyone could find them and discover the reasoning behind their actions, it would be Kirk and company.

* * *

It was fortunate that Spock was otherwise occupied, at least part of the time; he probably wouldn't have made it if he hadn't been. Despite the seeming progress, matters between the Vulcan and the Doctor seemed to once again take a nosedive -- and after yet another night of holding and attempting to comfort her bondmate, Christine became so incensed that she confronted McCoy directly.

Unfortunately Kirk had already had a knock-down, drag-out with him in a final attempt (or so he said) to convince the Doctor to reconcile with Spock … but the CMO simply became progressively more obstinate. Kirk finally threw up his hands in exasperation and snapped, "I've had it, Bones! There doesn't seem to be any way in the universe to get through to you. No matter what I say, you refute it. You think Spock's so stubborn, but you've got him beat by light-years. What's it going to take to convince you?

"I can only hope that something happens which will make you realize how wrong you are to act as you have been. What if something happens to Spock and you lose the chance to mend fences with him? You'd never forgive yourself as long as you lived. Oh well, I can't deal with you any longer -- at least not tonight. I've got to at least try to get some sleep. After all, I do still have a starship to run. Good night!"

With that, the Captain stalked out of the Doctor's cabin and headed for his own.

* * *

It was the following morning in Sickbay that Christine tried once again to convince McCoy that Spock did care about him and needed his forgiveness and friendship again to be truly happy … but she made no more headway than Kirk did. By the end of her shift, she was near tears at his obstinacy and was glad that she hadn't run into him again. They'd just have started the argument up all over again and she wasn't up to another confrontation. She could swear that she'd felt like she was butting her head up against the proverbial stone wall!

Spock had been searching for her, and finally caught up to her at the door to her quarters on Deck 6. He asked her why she was so upset; once inside, she poured out the whole story. He led her to the couch and they sat down together, then he gathered her into his arms, gently pressing her head down onto his shoulder even as his other hand brushed her tears away. "There, m'chejan. I appreciate your efforts on my behalf with the Doctor, but it is obvious that he has no intention of forgiving me or forgetting my seeming betrayal. It is … regrettable, but I must -- endeavor to accept it."

"Why does he have to be so obstinate, Spock? This whole thing is so stupid, so needless! I can only hope that it's not going to take something bad happening to you for him to realize how wrong he is." Christine slid her arms around him and snuggled closer to his warmth.

"So do I, but it seems that that is the only option left," the Vulcan returned quietly.

A short time later her head grew heavy, and he realized that his companion had fallen asleep. Spock had no wish to wake her, so he simply held Christine and let her sleep, since she obviously needed the rest after her emotional outburst with both McCoy and himself. After a time, Spock rested his cheek on the top of her head, tightened his embrace and allowed himself to fall asleep as well.

* * *

Once they had awakened, their duties consumed them; Spock on the Bridge keeping a sharp eye out for the Romulans who had attacked the Presidential yacht and attempted to abduct Admiral Nogura. If nothing else, this enabled him to concentrate on his work rather than on a personal problem he could do little about … a problem which would drive him mad if he allowed himself to dwell on it.

But at least he didn't have to work directly with the object of their concern as she did. It could not be easy for her, coming so soon after their "knock-down, drag-out" the previous day. All the same, he was sure she would call upon him for strength via their bond if she found it necessary to do so. Of course, there were times he had done the same -- and was sure she knew it, although she had never mentioned it to him, for which he was grateful.

Many times it had been difficult enough to admit to himself, much less her, that he needed her love and support as much as he did, since he had been without the love and support of a certain special friend for some time now. Neither did he want to admit he needed and wanted the love and support of Kirk and McCoy, for that matter … needed it like he needed food to eat, water to drink and a bed to sleep on. All the same, Spock knew that he did, he had, and always would. To be without even one of those three special people was like having a limb amputated or a part of his heart torn out: in fact, those actions would probably hurt less. Of course, the Vulcan was sure the Doctor did not believe that he mattered to Spock as much as he did. And when he thought about it, Spock knew that he was just as guilty of looking only on the outside rather than beneath the surface, just as McCoy had all too many times.

From what little Spock knew of the Doctor's background, he surmised how devastated McCoy must have been at the dissolution of his marriage and the loss of his wife and daughter. Surely that was enough loneliness for one man to endure in a lifetime. Even if only to end that loneliness, the Vulcan knew he couldn't take any more of McCoy's "cold shoulder" treatment, despite the latter's claims of understanding and forgiveness. At the first opportunity, Spock vowed to confront the older man and work things out between them, whatever he had to do.

"…Spock? Spock! Earth to Spock. Come in, Spock!" His impatient friend's voice took several moments to register. The Vulcan lifted his head to discover Jim standing over him, a mixture of question and anger on his face.

"Captain?" he asked.

"Spock, where have you been? I've been trying to get your attention for the last five minutes!"

"I am sorry," the First Officer apologized. "I … became -- preoccupied. What did you wish to know?"

"Have you discovered any Romulan ships? If so, how close are they, and do they pose any danger to us?"

The Science Officer looked into his hooded viewer and carefully scanned the space immediately surrounding them. At first he detected nothing, but then an ominous blip manifested itself on his sensitive instruments. "I find nothing in the immediate vicinity, Captain … wait! There is a large power surge! Only another ship could cause it, so there must be a cloaked Romulan ship out there."

"Do you think it's the same one who attacked the Presidential yacht and attempted to abduct Admiral Nogura?"

"Quite possible, although I cannot be certain," the First Officer replied.

"Are they arming weapons?"

"Not at present … wait! They are powering up their disruptors and energy plasma," the Vulcan reported.

"Shields up, Mr. Sulu," Kirk snapped. "Now!"

"Aye, sir," the Asian reported, but even as rapid-fire as Kirk's order was, it wasn't rapid enough to save them from the brunt of full-power disruptor fire.

"Brace for impact! Incoming--" the Captain called out; seconds later the disruptors struck full force.

The impact knocked the majority of the Bridge crew either off their feet or out of their chairs. Kirk got the wind knocked out of him, as did Spock and Sulu, while Uhura's left wrist was sprained when it took the full weight of her body as she fell upon it. Chekov got a "goose egg" on his left temple from striking the base of the command chair, yet most of them were up again in a flash and back at their stations.

Kirk helped the dark woman to her feet and replaced her in her chair, then once he got his own breath back, turned back to the Helm/Navigation console. "Sulu! Are the shields up?"

"Yes, sir," the helmsman reported. "But they're weak."

"Chekov, arm photon torpedoes two and four; target the Romulan ship's Bridge and engines and fire immediately before they have a chance to fire on us again!"

"Aye, sir." But before the Weapons Officer could press the button to carry out the order, they were struck by the energy plasma and once again knocked down and/or out. This time the Science console began shorting out and Spock was struck by an electric shock of sufficient voltage to incapacitate even him even as he attempted to shut it down. He cried out in pain as it reverberated through his body, then collapsed, unconscious.

As Kirk rushed toward him, he heard Uhura's voice in the background calling for help. "Dr. McCoy and medteam to Bridge! Medical emergency!" Upon reaching his friend's side, the Captain gathered him into his arms and yelled for assistance. "Sulu, help me! Mr. Spock is down!"

Sulu was at the Captain's side in a moment, ready to help whenever the Captain called for it, but right now he simply stood and watched him, sensing Kirk's concern as well as his fear. In fact, Kirk was more frightened than he would ever admit. He couldn't find Spock's pulse, nor did he seem to be breathing. Worst of all, the Vulcan was deathly pale, as if there were no blood left in his body at all … even though there wasn't a mark on him.

Please, God, don't let anything happen to him, the Captain prayed. I couldn't stand it -- not on top of what's already happened with Bones!

Just then, the turbolift doors swished open and McCoy and Chapel entered, an antigrav gurney and emergency equipment in tow. Other Bridge personnel moved aside to allow the medical personnel access to the stricken First Officer. McCoy knelt down next to the Vulcan and quickly scanned him. "Damn it, his heart's stopped! Christine, five drops of cordrazine!" the CMO snapped. "And get the oxygen mask on him, stat!"

Once she had done so and the Vulcan was stabilized, in no immediate danger, the Captain and Sulu lifted him to the antigrav gurney and Christine covered him with a blanket. All had sighed with relief when Spock's heart and breathing resumed, yet the look in McCoy's eyes when they met Kirk's told the Captain that the First Officer was not out of the woods yet and wouldn't be for some time to come.

"What happened, Jim?" the Doctor demanded. "We had to re-start his heart and respiration … although he shouldn't have any brain damage, since we got to him in time."

"The Science console shorted out as Spock was trying to shut it down after the Romulans fired on us again, Bones -- then he cried out and collapsed," Kirk explained.

All the while, however, he was thinking that this might be the crisis to bring Spock and McCoy back together … provided the Vulcan could be convinced that he had something to live for, and if his condition remained questionable long enough for McCoy to forget his hurt and anger long enough to reconcile with Spock. But all that mattered for the moment was that Spock recovered … and Christine silently vowed that she would do all in her power to save her beloved, whatever that entailed.

"I'll keep you informed as to his condition, Jim," the Doctor promised as he headed into the turbolift with the comatose Spock and Christine.

"Please do, Bones," Kirk called after him. "I'll be down as soon as I can, though." Kirk barely got the words out before the turbolift doors closed. With that, the Captain returned to the business at hand. "Mr. Chekov, carry out my previous order and fire photon torpedoes two and four on the Romulan ship's engines and Bridge. On my mark -- now!"

"Torpedoes avay, sair," the young Russian reported. "The Romulan ship has been disabled."

"Good," Kirk replied. "Uhura, hailing frequencies … then, Chekov, relieve her so that she may get down to Sickbay and have her wrist treated."

"Aye, sair," came the reply; the Russian was heading for the Communications station even as Uhura stood up and turned for the turbolift, disappearing through the doors within seconds.

* * *

Ordinarily Spock would have awakened within hours from an injury like this, but did not this time, for both physical and emotional reasons -- the latter due to McCoy's continued obstinacy. Spock frankly saw little point in recovering if there was so little chance of reconciling with McCoy. If the Doctor disliked him that much, the most logical thing to do was to get out of his life once and for all. He loved Jim and Christine, but not even their devotion was enough to keep the Vulcan from willing himself to die. He regretted causing them pain, but the ongoing anguish because of McCoy's continued insistence on remaining angry with him and keeping him at both a physical and emotional distance was rapidly becoming more than the Vulcan could bear.

"Damn it, Spock, you stubborn, green-blooded, pointy-eared bastard. I'm not gonna let you die on me, no matter what you've done to me … if only for Jim and Chris's sakes -- so wake up, damn you! You've come through worse than this…"

McCoy's voice trailed off, becoming progressively more pain-wracked and anguished with the passage of time. Particularly when the Vulcan's condition not only did not improve, but instead, began to deteriorate -- and to such an extent that he needed round-the-clock care due to his erratic heartbeat and breathing, not to mention his continued comatose state, even though McCoy had already determined that even the large electrical shock the Vulcan had suffered was not responsible.

Even as worried as Kirk and Christine were, part of them suspected that Spock was willing himself into this condition; they could only hope that McCoy would give in before the Vulcan's condition became irreversible. Both knew that McCoy had lost patients before, but doubted very much that too many of them had been close friends. They also knew that the Doctor intended to keep Spock alive, if only for their sake.

They had lost the Romulan ship since it had self-destructed in order to prevent their being captured, yet they had picked up the recorder- marker, which was the only thing left more-or-less intact among the debris of the wrecked ship. However, Spock was the only one who could decipher data in the condition the marker was now in, so if they lost him, it would have to be taken to Vulcan for decoding.

Of course, they had no intention of losing him if they could help it, and were pleased to note that McCoy was unbending at last -- at least slightly -- so they decided to bide their time as long as they dared in order to see when or if the Doctor would break down and not only apologize but fully reconcile with Spock. Spock needed to do some of that too, but they would worry about that when the time came. They only hoped it would come soon, for the sake of everyone most concern- ed. Kirk and Christine were also very tempted to mention that everyone start seriously discussing what life would be like without Spock … a scenario which became more likely with every passing hour.

In fact they had even caught McCoy keeping vigil beside the First Officer's bed, although he had not seen them and they had no intention of allowing him to do so -- for he would likely deny any such thing … but they knew him well enough to know better. However, things didn't come to a head until Spock went into cardiac arrest one night around 0200 hours following the Romulan attack.

The late-night crew came running when the alarm sounded, a crew which included McCoy, and they worked feverishly over the dying Vulcan, finally managing to stabilize him after roughly two hours' work. After they had brought him back (having nearly lost him three times), McCoy sent the others away, telling them he would keep an eye on Spock himself. All knew that the CMO was exhausted, having spent more time in Sickbay with Spock over the last several days than out of it, yet knew better than to argue with him. One even took it upon herself to contact Kirk and Christine, telling them what had happened -- but most of all, how McCoy had been acting … and what she had heard him say to his comatose friend.

"Spock, please forgive me for being so stubborn and obstinate. I was too blind to see how much I'd hurt you. If you'll just come back, I promise I'll make it all up to you and we can be friends again." There was no response from the silent figure on the bed, and McCoy became agitated. "Spock, for God's sake, please don't die! I couldn't stand to lose you…" His voice trailed off as he collapsed across his friend's chest, burying his face in it and holding him tightly, as if that would keep him among the living. "Spock, please -- I've done all I know how to do! Don't die… Please… I'm sorry… If you die, I'll never forgive myself, never… Please don't die…"

By this time Kirk and Christine saw and heard the Doctor's anguished plea and the two exchanged triumphant smiles at both McCoy's change of heart and Spock's vital signs dramatically improving. But this was no time for them to butt in; Spock and Bones needed this time alone, so the Captain and Christine returned to their quarters, knowing that Spock would be all right now.

But the strangest thing was that soon after the Doctor buried his face in the Vulcan's chest and pleaded with him not to die, that he'd do anything, just please don't die…Spock stirred, having felt the sincerity of the Doctor's feelings and his earnest wish for him to live -- so he sent a soft but discernible mental message.

Do not worry, my friend. I will be all right. To reinforce his intent, Spock reached to rest one hand on McCoy's head.

Spock? came the Doctor's inquiring voice, though the latter's body was still wracked with emotion.

I am here, he gently reassured McCoy. I will not leave you … not if you truly wish me to stay.

You crazy Vulcan! Of course I want you to stay! came the affectionately exasperated reply. I never wanted you to leave in the first place, despite how it may have seemed. Can you ever forgive this stubborn old fool? I know you never intended to hurt me; I'm just extraordinarily sensitive about anyone other than Jim knowing about my feelings.

I understand, Doctor. I would feel the same in your place … and promise you that I will do my utmost to treat you with more -- respect and consideration, as well as attempt to … confide in you more often. As long as you make the effort to understand that we all need our secrets. This does not mean we do not care for our friends. It has -- always been … difficult for me to share personal things, but I will -- try if you will … and if we each prommise to -- always respect each other's privacy.

Agreed, McCoy concurred, a smile in his voice. Just let me know after this if there's something you're curious about regarding my background. I can't promise to tell you everything, but will … try to remember that you *are* trustworthy.

As are you, the Vulcan agreed. Please, let us rest now. We are both exhausted. Good night, my friend. Sleep well.

You, too. With that, the reunited friends fell asleep and didn't move until morning.

* * *

From that day on, Spock steadily improved, both physically and emotionally -- and by the time he was discharged, the two had confided to Kirk and Christine about their reconciliation and how it had come about.

"Incidentally, I'm sorry to have been so rough on you and Chris, Jim. I know you were only trying to help bring me and Spock back together … but what matters is that he and I are fully, finally reconciled now, and we don't intend to ever let something as petty as this come between us again. Life's too short to hold grudges," McCoy declared. "Friends?" He held out his arms to his other two friends, who rushed into them; the trio hugged fiercely.

"Friends," the others echoed as they released each other.

(As for the genealogy of Kirk and his new love, Janine, it was eventually discovered that he was right -- she was part Delaware Indian on her mother's side, about seven generations back. Kirk had also discovered that he was part Sioux, that two centuries before his birth, he had had a maternal ancestor who was a full-blooded Sioux princess.)

Once Spock returned to his quarters, however, his cat, Amanda, greeted him warmly -- purring, rubbing against his legs and entwining herself around and through them.

"She's really missed you," Christine observed as the Vulcan picked up and held his pet lovingly for a time, stroking and cuddling her before depositing her on his bed. She then jumped down and headed into the bathroom, where her food, water and litter box were located. "I took the best care of her that I could, and she … tolerated me -- but I knew she wanted you … just as I do." Christine lifted her hands to his face. "I missed you so, beloved -- and prayed every night that you would recover. Incidentally, the Captain and I spent every possible moment with you as well. So much that we were finally ordered away for the sake of our health."

She chuckled as she squeezed him affectionately. "Someone should have ordered Leonard to rest, you know? I don't think he slept a wink those few days you were in your coma -- nor did he budge from your side for more than a few minutes at a time. Thank Heaven, the two of you have finally made up."

"Indeed …and now it is time to make up for the time we have missed. Come here, m'chejan."

Spock then opened his arms to his bondmate; she moved into them and he kissed her tenderly -- then a few moments later they sank down onto his bed and made up for lost time with the proverbial vengeance, both their physical and emotional intimacy unlike any they had ever shared before.

* * *

McCoy felt even more guilty when Kirk told him that Spock had decided to tell him the details of the pon farr … the physical as well as psychological changes which occurred, as Spock had told Kirk -- before their (thankfully brief) estrangement, that is. But he decided he could live with it as long as Spock could trust him with the knowledge.

In the meantime, it was their business to repair their fractured friendship to its fullest possible extent. Also, they would likely never know why there had been the attack on the Presidential yacht and attempted abduction of Nogura, since the Romulan ship had been destroyed before Uhura had even had the chance to contact them. All they could do was chalk it up to a combination of bad luck and bad timing, then be done with it and move on. As for the Enterprise crew, they could only do the same…but things would be different now that Spock and McCoy had vowed to treat each other better -- and not simply for the duration of the mission, but as long as they both lived. McCoy and the others had come far too close to losing Spock forever to ever take him for granted again, so they intended to see to it that such a thing never happened again … at least not if they had anything to say about it -- and one can be assured that they did, for now and all time.