DISCLAIMER: Star Trek belongs to Paramount/Viacom/etc. I'm just a peon playing around in their backyard and I'm making absolutely no money here, nor is that my intention. This story is Rated NC17. This is a story Jackie Bielowicz and I did quite a while back, published in The Farthest Star #7. It was written before any of the movies were made ... at least its beginnings were, so it is firmly placed in the TOS universe of the TV series.

End of Game

Cherpring and Jacqueline Bielowicz


Spock strode into his quarters and quickly went to his closet for a fresh uniform. Why had he procrastinated so? Where was the logic? He was due to meet T'Anah on the Starbase within fifteen minutes, but he found himself oddly, unreasonably reluctant. They had never met, yet within the hour, she would become his wife for as long as one of them lived. When his parents had sent the message, only the barest of details were described to him. He knew only that T'Anah was an archaeologist on an extensive field assignment, almost twenty years his senior and, at present, unbonded. It was the latter which was most significant in his urgency, for there was little hope Spock would reach Vulcan in time. His second Pon Farr had struck without warning and five years earlier than expected. The irony was, not only was he not protected from this madness by his Human blood, but it seemed he would be subjected to it more frequently because of it.

Spock let loose a stream of obscene pre-Reform Vulcan oaths that would have shocked even the most jaded Humans. That same cursed blood strained hot against his veins now, pounding unmercifully in his ears, making control more and more difficult as the hours passed. McCoy's concoction helped, but he knew there was only one thing in the galaxy that would ease it entirely -- to take a mate.

With trembling hands, Spock stripped off his uniform, then quickly donned the fresh one. He was bundling up the soiled clothing for the laundry chute when his door buzzer sounded. "Come," he called, giving the bundle a final shove.

When he turned slightly, he saw Christine Chapel standing hesitantly in the doorway -- calm, serene, and dear Gods of his fathers, beautiful. A green haze momentarily clouded his vision as the blood surged along his temples. Even at this distance, he imagined he could smell the warm inviting fragrance of her womanhood drifting across the room to taunt him. He suppressed a groan as the blood surged again, stronger, bringing with it the remembered mixture of pain and desire. He felt his body stir, aching, yet reason told him he could not have her -- there was another. Suddenly, a blind, uncontrollable fury swept through him and he whirled about to face her squarely, lashing out in anger.

"Why do you come here?" he demanded harshly, his usually quiet voice rising to a shout. "You shame yourself, woman! You shame me! Have you not realized that by now?"

Chapel paled and shrank back a step.

Spock continued, no longer able to stem the flow of angry words from bursting forth in a savage, biting torrent. But even as he did so, somewhere deep within he knew the anger and bitterness was not for her, but rather for himself and the Vulcan madness which gripped him. He wanted her, as he had not wanted anything so desperately in a long time -- and for that, she would have to bear the awful brunt of his anger. "Can you not understand I do not want your concern -- your 'love', as you call it? Or are your mental capabilities too feeble to comprehend?" His voice was thick with cutting sarcasm. "Get out! Get out of my life and quit hounding me at every turn!" he shouted. "I will tolerate it no longer!"

For a long moment, Chapel stood completely still, seemingly not even breathing, her eyes large and dark against her white face. Then woodenly, she stepped forward and raised her hand. Only then did Spock see the hypo she held. As suddenly as the fever had flared, it abruptly eased, leaving him sick with guilt and shame.

"I came to administer your injection, Commander, according to doctor's orders," Chapel said quietly. Her voice was strangely devoid of emotion, lifeless. With robot-like efficiency, she stepped forward and placed the hypo against his arm, watching expressionless as the drug indicator sank down with a soft hiss.

"Nurse... Christine..." Spock began in a strangled whisper, but Chapel was already retreating through the door, easing aside for the Captain, who was about to enter.

"Sir," she said with a nod.

Kirk had heard the shouting from far down the corridor and knew immediately from where it came. Then there was a deathly silence and he quickened his pace, not at all sure of what Spock was capable of doing in his present state of mind.

"Lieutenant," Kirk mumbled politely, shocked by the ashen color of Chapel's complexion as she pushed past him. For a moment he watched her brisk retreat down the corridor, then taking a deep breath, turned to Spock. The Vulcan had his back to Kirk, his head bowed in silence. "Spock, what the hell happened?" he demanded. Then more softly, "Are you all right?"

There was a long pause before Spock answered. "No, Jim, I am not 'all right'. I have just succeeded in verbally abusing an intelligent, gentle woman for whom I have nothing but the highest regard. Nurse Chapel came here to perform a duty and I accused her of ... of ... " Spock stopped, swallowing hard. "What would you suggest I do for a repeat performance?" he asked sarcastically, his voice hoarse and heavy with bitter self-loathing.

"Spock..." Kirk took a step forward to place a hand on his friend's shoulder, but stopped when Spock straightened and turned to face him stiffly.

"Captain, I request you perform the Federation ceremony between T'Anah and myself. Although our word is sufficient for Vulcan authorities, Starfleet regulations require a Federation ceremony take place so T'Anah may be listed as my dependent and beneficiary in the event of my death."

"Spock," Kirk urged softly. "You don't even know the woman. Can you be so sure?"

"I have little choice," Spock replied coolly. "T'Anah was chosen for me by the elders of my family. To go against that choice at this stage would not only be dangerously impractical, but also illogical. I have confidence they have chosen well."

Like before? Kirk thought bitterly, but he did not say it aloud. He had no desire to hurt his friend. And besides, it really wasn't any of his damned business. Still...

Kirk eyed the door meaningfully before returning his gaze to the Vulcan. "You've always had a choice, Spock," he said softly.

Spock closed his eyes for a brief moment, then shook his head. "If I did, Jim, I do no longer. I have just seen to that."

For a moment, there was a tense silence. Suddenly, Spock came to a full rigid attention. "With your permission, Captain, I will now go to meet T'Anah."

Kirk opened his mouth to lodge one final protest, then, thinking better of it, closed it. It was not part of a captain's duties to play matchmaker. He was sympathetic to Chapel's plight, but in a way, he supposed it was her own fault. No, damn it! It wasn't her fault. Love was a lot of things, but never a fault. It was unfortunate Spock did not return some of those feelings; she would have been good for the Vulcan, but real life seldom ended 'And they lived happily ever after...' He knew that only too well.

Kirk realized Spock was waiting for an answer and he, too, came to attention, relying on protocol just as Spock was doing. "I would be most honored to perform the ceremony, Mister Spock. Permission granted to leave ship."

Spock nodded his gratitude and both men walked to the door.

"I wish you the best, Spock," Kirk said warmly. "Let me know when you and T'Anah return to the ship. I will meet you in the chapel."

"I shall. Thank you, Captain."

The two men parted, Spock heading quickly for the transporter room: Kirk for Sickbay.

* * *

"How could you, Bones?" Kirk demanded. "Of all the people on the medical staff, why in God's name did you send Chapel? You knew the situation!"

McCoy sat behind his desk, troubled eyes staring down at his folded hands. "I didn't, Jim. Ames was scheduled to give Spock that last injection. But he was called out on a little emergency. Christine is the head nurse. She must have decided to go ahead and give it on her own instead of assigning it to someone else. She didn't know precisely why Spock was getting medication. M'Benga and I are the only ones who know. And when she asked, I led her to believe it was a vitamin deficiency."

Kirk sighed, letting the anger drain from him as he sat down heavily across from McCoy. "Where is she now?"

"In her quarters, I guess. She looked so damned pale I relieved her from duty for the rest of the shift. She insisted, of course, that she was all right, but..." McCoy let the sentence hang.

"But she isn't," Kirk finished grimly.

"Just what was it Spock said to her, anyway?"

Kirk repeated what he had heard from the corridor and McCoy winced in empathy. "No wonder," he commented acidly. Then his expression scowled with concern. "But you know something, Jim? She didn't shed a tear -- not one. And the way she spoke -- moved...." He paused thoughtfully. "She's a mature, professional woman, Bones, and she handles herself well. Surely she'll be able to work this out."

"Maybe, maybe not," McCoy answered shortly.

Kirk waited, but the doctor didn't elaborate. Finally, he stood up. "I have to go change for the ceremony. Will you be there? He may need us, Bones."

"Yes, yes, I'll be there," McCoy said irritably. But from the look on his face, it was obvious his concern wasn't for Spock at the moment.

* * *

Chapel walked blindly, occasionally bumping into crewmen with a mumbled apology -- only vaguely aware of where she was going. At last she found herself stepping out of the lift into the cool, shadowed quiet of the upper observation deck, a place she often came when troubled. She walked mechanically to a large port window and gazed out at the stars beyond.

This time, it was different. No tears stung her eyes and no cries broke from her throat. There was only a dull ache and a numbness that spread itself to every part of her body. A part of her mind registered alarm -- knew she was in an emotional shock of some kind, but she was powerless to shake free from it.

With an odd detachment, she wondered why tragedy and pain loomed so large in her life. First, there had been the airtrain explosion that had killed both her parents when she was just a young child. This was followed eleven years later by her beloved brother's death in a Tryannis mining accident. He had just begun a very promising career as a geophysicist. And Roger -- dear, sweet, gentle Roger. The memory still brought her pain. Now, Spock. Although death had gratefully not touched him, it was the same as death -- the death of an impossible love that never should have been.

Chapel took a deep breath and sank down on a bench. She must cry. She must let the cleansing tears fall to soothe the terrible ache she knew was there underneath, just waiting to unleash itself on her in full fury. Still, her eyes remained dry. Why? she mused. Every cutting word Spock had said was true. She had shamed both of them, making them the butts of endless jokes and looks of pity. Even now, she knew what had happened would be racing through the ship's grapevine with alarming speed. There had been plenty of listeners to hear in the corridor. She wondered how she would face them again, and especially him. At the moment, she would have to. What then? She bowed her head and sighed. She would have to leave the ship -- something she should have done long ago. And she also knew, with a sudden, terrible clarity, that never would she allow herself to love so deeply again. The knowledge left her cold, but oddly relieved.

* * *

Spock stepped off the transporter platform and looked around him. There was no sign of T'Anah, but he noticed a tall, handsome black man in his early thirties watching him with cool interest from across the receiving hall. Spock stared back. Finally, the man turned and disappeared into a room. A moment later, a small Vulcan woman wearing a casual lightweight jumpsuit emerged from the same room. She made her way toward Spock.

"May you live long and prosper, Spock," she said, raising her hand in the traditional salute as she approached him. "I am T'Anah."

"Peace and long life, T'Anah," Spock responded, inwardly pleased with the woman's appearance.

T'Anah bowed her head briefly in acknowledgment, then raised her eyes to meet his. "I wish to speak with you in private, Spock. Will you come with me?"

Do I have a choice? Spock mused irritably. She literally held his life in her small hands. Outwardly, Spock merely nodded and followed T'Anah from the hall to a small reception area where they would have more privacy.

T'Anah turned to face him, her expression calm, but determined. "I will be frank with you, Spock. I cannot bond with you."

At first, Spock could only stare at her -- not comprehending. Then he spoke. "You will tell me why," he said harshly. Considering the situation, a part of his mind noted that McCoy's medication was doing remarkably well.

"Very well; you have the right," T'Anah answered calmly. "I cannot bond with you because I have already bonded with another."

Spock scowled, "My information was that you were unbonded."

T'Anah nodded, "Indeed, that was true -- until two weeks ago. I sent a message to Vulcan following my bonding, requesting it be recorded. Obviously, it had not yet been received when T'Pau sent her edict to me. I received word only hours ago that I was to meet you here. By then, it was too late to warn you. You were already on your way."

Spock nodded, swallowing hard against the unreasonable feeling that he had once again been betrayed. "The man I saw outside the door...?"

"Is my husband," T'Anah answered quietly. "His name is Paul Jefferson. We are both members of the same archaeological team and absolutely suited to one another."

Spock did not miss the trace of affection in her voice.

"He is Human," he stated flatly.

"Yes," T'Anah raised an elegant eyebrow in mild surprise. "Indeed, he is. However, considering your own origins, I would not have suspected bigotry on your part." She paused, making a small gesture with her hand. "At any rate, it is too late. I carry his child."

"I see," Spock muttered in resignation, looking away from her -- away from a family which might have been his.

Illogically, T'Anah felt the need to reach out and console him, but knew she dare not touch him, not in his present state. All she could offer were words.

"Spock, please believe I would have been truly honored to have been your wife. Perhaps there is another -- someone onboard your ship -- whom you could bond with," she added, for she saw the distress clearly reflected in Spock's eyes. "If not a Vulcan, then perhaps a Human. They are extremely adaptable people, Spock, as you must know. And I have come to know great contentment with one."

Spock looked at her with gratitude. T'Anah was speaking with him far more intimately than she needed to, perhaps sensing his desperation and need for assurance. Within another day, with or without McCoy's medication, he would enter the plak-tow, the blood fever, and after that, a slow, eventual death from starvation and chemical imbalance.

"Indeed, T'Anah, there is such a person, but I fear she will not have me now," he said slowly. "In any case, I felicitate you on your joyous news and wish you and your family well." He lifted his hand. "May you live long and prosper, T'Anah."

"Peace and long life, Spock," T'Anah answered solemnly.

T'Anah watched Spock's slow defeated gait as he walked to the transporter platform, then mounted it and flipped open his communicator. As the whine of the transporter beam enveloped him, she sensed a warmth within her presence and turned to find her husband coming to join her.

"How did he take it, T'Anah?"

"He took it well, husband," T'Anah answered as the figure in Starfleet blue faded from view. "But I fear for him. I fear greatly."

* * *

Kirk and McCoy waited impatiently, pacing the small chapel in silence. Finally, Kirk went to the wall intercom and hit the button with the side of his fist. "Kirk to transporter room three."

"Transporter room three -- Kyle here."

"Mister Kyle, have Mister Spock and the Lady T'Anah boarded yet?"

"Yes, sir -- I mean, yes, Mister Spock boarded, but he was alone, sir."

Kirk exchanged a sharp, curious glance with McCoy, then returned to the speaker. "How long ago?"

"About fifteen minutes, sir."

"Thank you, Mister Kyle. Kirk out."

"I wonder what the hell happened?" McCoy queried.

Kirk sighed and shook his head. "I don't know, Bones, but I intend to find out." He turned and started briskly to the door. "You coming?" he asked over his shoulder.

"Are you kidding?" McCoy answered, quickening his pace to catch the Captain.

* * *

Spock sat cross-legged in the middle of his bed, trying hard to concentrate on his meditation ... and failing miserably. Meditation? No, call it by its correct name. He was brooding -- an illogical, useless pastime in self-pity. He knew this and still he brooded, was incapable of doing anything else. The door buzzer sounded and Spock jumped with a start. Then, reluctantly, he untangled his long legs, walked to the door, and pressed the release button. It opened with a quick burst of air, revealing Kirk and McCoy on the other side, their expressions anxious, concerned.

"May we come in, Spock?" Kirk asked quietly, eyeing his First Officer critically.

"If you wish," Spock shrugged. He turned and walked back into the room, keeping his back to them. There was a brief, tense silence.

"Well, what happened?" McCoy blurted out. "Why isn't T'Anah with you?"

"It seems even Vulcans can be entangled in red tape, Doctor," Spock answered dryly. "T'Anah has been bonded for more than two weeks and already carries the child of her husband."

Kirk and McCoy exchanged disbelieving glances. "Then ... what are you going to do, Spock?" Kirk asked, watching the fidgeting, restless Vulcan uneasily.

Spock shook his head and slowly turned to face them. "What is there to be done? All that remains now is to stay in seclusion until the pon farr has run its course. If I survive..." Spock shrugged, "Then I will be one of the fortunate few. If not..." He stopped, caught Kirk's gaze in his own and held it a long moment. "I ask to be left alone, Jim, locked here in my quarters with a security guard posted outside. When it is over, I have made arrangements for my remains to be returned to Vulcan."

Kirk swallowed hard, unable to speak.

McCoy looked from one to the other of them, then sighed loudly in exasperation. "Look at you two!" he exclaimed in disgust. "Christ! I know you're not as dumb as you look right now."

Spock took a menacing step forward and McCoy reminded himself the Vulcan wasn't his usual calm, rational self. He would have to be careful. Kirk, on the other hand, was eyeing the doctor hopefully. Bones had something up his sleeve.

"Explain, Doctor," Spock demanded tersely.

McCoy took a deep breath. "Look, Spock, we have a whole ship here with over a hundred women on it. From what I understand, all it takes is one to see you through this crisis -- and I know of at least half a dozen who'd be only too happy to comply."

Spock stared at him coldly. "I am aware, Doctor, of Human promiscuity. However, Vulcans do not so indulge."

Something in Spock's superior tone of voice galled McCoy, as it usually did, and his anger flared to the surface. "Damn it, Spock! Why do you always have to be so pig-headed? I don't give a damn whether or not Vulcans 'indulge'! We're talking about survival here -- yours! Where's the logic of this attitude if it leaves you dead?"

"I agree, Spock," Kirk interrupted. "Principles mean nothing if there's no one left to carry them out."

Spock stared at them for a long moment, then shook his head. "And what would you have me do, gentlemen? Stalk the corridors, pressing buzzers?" he asked sarcastically. A pained expression crossed his face and he bowed his head. "Forgive me. I know you are only concerned for my welfare, but ... neither one of you could possibly know what you are suggesting." He paused, still refusing to meet their eyes, then cleared his throat nervously. "A Vulcan does not merely ... mate, in the usual sense of the word. For the pon farr to have any meaning, any dignity, there must be a joining of the minds, a complete negation of individual identities so the two may become one -- a bonding. Without it, the act is nothing more than the gratification of animal lust -- savage, even brutal in its intensity. Either way, it is not pleasant for the female. Physical and emotional injury may occur if the female cannot control, for the male is a totally mindless beast, responding only to the ancient urgings of his body. The bond is a means for that control."

There was a long, uncomfortable silence as Kirk and McCoy considered Spock's words. Finally, McCoy cleared his throat, carefully constructing his next question in his mind, before it aloud.

"Spock, are you saying there is not one woman aboard this ship you would consider bonding with?" he asked, genuinely troubled.

Spock looked up at him sharply. "A bond is usually permanent, Doctor. To break it is a painful experience at best -- seldom done. And ... when the pon farr is over, I will have no wish to break it. Given these circumstances, I have no right to put such a permanent burden on a woman who has no comprehension of its meaning."

"Come off it, Spock!" McCoy snapped, once again irritated by the Vulcan's obvious belief in Human shallowness. "You know damn well there is at least one woman aboard this ship who would have you under any circumstances. That woman is Christine Chapel. Unfortunately for Chris, it's no secret how she feels about you. Are you going to sit there and tell me you are perfectly willing to marry a complete stranger, but won't give Chris a second thought? What are you afraid of? That you might find yourself returning some of those feelings? Or is it a little more basic than that -- like the fact that she happens to be a mere Human, unworthy of a fine specimen of young Vulcan manhood such as yourself?"

Spock's entire body went rigid, his eyes dark with rage as he made a sudden move for McCoy. Kirk hurled himself between the two, physically restraining Spock.

"Spock! Bones!" Kirk said sharply. "This will get us nowhere!"

McCoy whirled on Kirk angrily as Spock slumped and turned away. "Well, I've had it with him, Jim! Damned Vulcan tricks you into caring for him, then pulls a boneheaded stunt like this!" He turned abruptly for the door. "You talk some sense into him. I'm through!"

McCoy hit the door release and was out and down the corridor before Kirk could draw breath for a response. Instead he sighed, then turned to look at his friend who was now seated behind his desk, intently studying his folded hands.

"Well," Kirk said finally. "Is it true?"

Spock did not look up, but for a fleeting moment, a very pained expression flitted across his features. "I ... I don't think so, Jim. No, I do not believe I am a bigot," he added firmly.

"Neither do I," Kirk said softly. "But ... if it isn't true, then why not Christine Chapel? Are you afraid of hurting her? Physically, I mean."

"Partially, although I believe she has the emotional stability needed to exert the control necessary. But ... after the things I said to her earlier, I cannot imagine she would still find me acceptable," Spock mumbled, again studying his hands with too much scrutiny.

So that's it, Kirk thought, understanding. He's afraid of being rejected again. Bad enough for a Human male; imagine how much worse it must be for him -- with so much at stake.

"Spock, listen to me. Christine loves you. If your explain things to her, she'll understand what you said earlier was not you speaking, but the pressures of the pon farr. No doubt you've probably hurt her a great deal, but I think you'll find love can be a very powerful motivation for forgiveness." Kirk pulled out a chair and sat down opposite Spock, then leaned across the desk towards him. His next words were quiet, but heavily weighted with emphasis. "You have absolutely nothing to lose by going to her now, but a very great deal if you do not."

A tense silence fell between them and Kirk was beginning to wonder if he had overstepped the boundaries of their friendship, when Spock slowly lifted his eyes to Kirk's. "I ... I require some advice, Jim."

"I'll do by best," Kirk responded quickly.

"Exactly, how does one go about ... I believe the correct phrase is 'seducing' a Human female?

Kirk grinned.

* * *

Uhura shot out of the lift and headed down the corridor for Chapel's cabin. If what Palmer said was true, Chris would need her right now. True? No, it couldn't possibly be. Spock could never be so cruel. Palmer must have been mistaken. Arriving at Chapel's door, she pressed the buzzer, then waited. There was no answer. She tried again, this time calling out. "Chris, it's me, Nyota. May I come in?" At this the doors opened and she walked in.

The cabin was dark except for a small desk lamp that cast bizarre shadows on Chapel's face as she sat beside it. A script board lay before her and she held a stylus in one hand. Uhura silently took a seat. Chapel didn't even look up.

"I knew it wouldn't take long for the grapevine to spread the news," she said dully. "Who told you?"

"Palmer," Uhura answered uncomfortably. "But ... I just can't believe it's true. Spock would never..."

"It's true," Chapel interrupted flatly.

As they fell back in silence, Uhura studied her friend's face closely, shocked by the total lack of expression there. God, she must really be hurting inside, she thought, feeling a twist of pain in her own gut. She reached out and covered one of Chapel's hands with her own, finding it cold to the touch. "Do you want to talk about it?" she asked softly.

Chapel sighed heavily and shook her head. "There's really not that much to talk about. Today, I finally realized just exactly what I've been doing to Spock and myself. I've made fools of both of us. And now ... well, now it's the end of the game." She made a gesture toward the script board. "I've decided to put in for a transfer, effective immediately."

Uhura scowled, "But you've spent years building your position on this ship. If you transfer out now, you may have to start all over again somewhere else. Oh, you won't lose your rank, of course, but you'll still have to wrangle for the right posting."

"That's the whole idea," Chapel responded, giving Uhura a weak smile. "To start over somewhere else. Don't you see? I've already spent too many years fooling myself, nurturing a fantasy that could never happen. It's time to leave it all behind -- start fresh while I still can. Hell, I don't have to be a head nurse. I have a doctorate in biochemistry. Besides," she added softly. "I'm too much of a coward to face the talk that is undoubtedly going to haunt me for the next few months, maybe even years. This crew has a long memory," she finished dryly.

Uhura squeezed her hand hard, tears starting to form in her large, dark eyes. Something in Chapel's voice told her that no matter what Uhura said now, the nurse's mind was made up. Still ... she had to try.

"Don't go, Chris," she pleaded softly. "There are those of us aboard this ship who love you a great deal and would miss you if you left."

Chapel smiled, a genuine smile this time. "Thank you, Nyota. You'll never know how much I needed to hear that just now." The smile vanished suddenly and she became solemn. "But, if you really care for me, you'll understand that I must leave, for the sake of everyone involved -- including the welfare of the ship. My duty requires that I function at one hundred percent, especially in a life or death situation. I don't think I can give it here anymore. But most of all, I have to leave for myself."

Suddenly, Chapel was choking back a sob, the first glimpse of what she must be feeling Uhura had seen since she came. "Damn it! I don't want to go -- this ship has become my home, her crew my family, but I have no choice! Nyota, I just can't cope with the situation between Spock and myself anymore!"

At last, the tears came. Perhaps it was Uhura's sympathy that allowed them release or just that it was time. Uhura stood up and walked around the desk, putting her arms around Chapel's shoulders, soothing her as the pain and frustration of years flowed out in bitter, heaving sobs.

"Go ahead, honey. You cry it out," Uhura cooed, raising a hand to stroke Chapel's long, dark hair, a part of her mind registering how lovely it was down, brushed out of that infernal bun she wore when on duty, lovelier by far than when she used to bleach it blonde.

Wrapping her arms around Uhura's waist, Chapel hugged the smaller woman to her and gave in totally to the suffocating despair. Although racked with sobs, she felt more like screaming at the top of her lungs. She could feel her love for Spock dying and she was caught up in its death throes, terrified she would be left an emotional cripple in the aftermath. What could she possibly hope to offer another man in the future? An empty shell of a woman with nothing underneath but bitter ashes? Will I end up as emotionally sterile as he is? she wondered sadly.

Chapel cried, hot salty tears running down her face, her body shuddering with each convulsive intake of breath. But after what seemed an eternity, a new thought began to work its way into her consciousness. The future may be bleak, but at least it was her future. For the first time in many years, she would be taking steps to create a life that would be hers alone; there would be no Roger to search for, no impossible love for Spock to keep her from going. She was intelligent, educated, and at one time had been her own person -- before Roger, before Spock. She could be her own person again. Almost abruptly, the shuddering stopped and the tight, twisting ache in her throat eased. She took a deep breath and relaxed her hold on Uhura.

"Are you all right?" Uhura asked, concerned at this sudden change in he friend. Chapel looked up into Uhura's worried face and smiled through her drying tears. "Not yet, Nyota, but I'm beginning to believe I will be."

Uhura returned the smile and tenderly brushed back a stray wisp of hair from Chapel's forehead. "All right, honey. If you think you have to go ... well, I won't make it any harder for you. But remember, if you should ever need me -- for anything -- I'll be there for you if I can."

Chapel stood up and took Uhura in her arms, hugging the smaller woman to her fiercely. "Thank you," she whispered huskily, the threat of tears once again in her voice. "I'll remember that." She quickly released Uhura and turned to her bookshelf. "I think I need a drink. How about you?"

"A very tall one, please," Uhura grinned, wiping her own tears from her cheeks with the back of one hand.

Chapel broke out a full bottle of Scotch and two large tumblers. "Oh-ho," Uhura exclaimed in appreciation. "Scotty would be proud."

"Aye, that he would, lassie -- that he would," Chapel grinned, but the gaiety in her voice sounded forced. "And I can't think of a better time or better company in which to do this revered whiskey justice." Chapel punched the servocomp for ice and within minutes, walked back to the sitting area with the two generous drinks.

"Thanks," Uhura nodded as Chapel handed her a glass, then she raised it high "I don't mind getting smashed, but I like to do it with a little dignity. So, here's to you, Chris. Wherever you go, may you find peace and, above all, happiness."

Chapel smiled her gratitude over the clink of their glasses, "Thanks," then took a generous swallow of the alcohol, grateful for its stinging warmth along her throat.

"Had dinner yet?" Uhura asked, sitting down.

Chapel shook her head. "Not hungry," she answered, setting her drink on the desk, then crossing to her bureau mirror to see what damage her crying jag had done. Plucking a tissue, she wiped away some of the smudged make-up, ignoring the little lines around her eyes and mouth. Best not look too closely.

"You really should eat something, Chris," Uhura scolded mildly. "I've had dinner, but if you like, I could go to the Officer's Mess and pick you up some sandwiches and coffee."

Chapel continued to study her reflection a moment longer, noting with a professional eye her bad color. The whiskey had helped, but unless she wanted to end up hugging the john the rest of the night, she had better eat something.

"I suppose I should try." She turned to Uhura with a small, tired smile. "Sure you wouldn't mind? I don't think I'm up to facing others just now."

Uhura set her drink down and pushed herself up out of her chair. "No problem. What would you like?"

Chapel shrugged. "Anything, as long as it's edible. Meanwhile, I think I'll take an honest to goodness hot water shower," she said, going to her closet. "If I'm not out by the time you get back, just come on in and make yourself comfortable."

"Great," Uhura called over her shoulder as she walked to the door. It hissed open. "I should only be a few min...utes..." Uhura stopped cold. Standing in the corridor on the other side of door was Spock, his hand half raised as if to press the buzzer. Uhura wondered briefly if it were possible for a Vulcan to be embarrassed, for Spock certainly appeared flushed.

"Good evening, Lieutenant."

Chapel was searching through her closet for her favorite lounging gown, but her hand froze when she heard that deep voice she knew so well. Unconsciously, she smoothed her long wrap-around robe and tightened the belt.

"Uh ... good evening, Mr. Spock," Uhura stammered. Oh, Lord! she thought. What do I do now?

At that moment, Chapel walked into the sitting room and Uhura flashed her a questioning glance. Chapel held her eyes for a moment then shifted her gaze to Spock standing uneasily in the doorway.

"Please, come in, Mr. Spock," she said levelly, only a trace of coolness in her voice. "Uhura stopped by to invite me to dinner, but I've already eaten."

Uhura blinked several times, then catching on, turned to Spock. "That s right, sir. I was just on my way out. Goodnight, Chris. Call me, okay?"

Uhura held her eyes a moment, realizing Chapel was steeling herself for this meeting with Spock and obviously wanting to do it alone. Uhura was both afraid for her friend and relieved. Finally, she nodded, and after a polite, "Sir," to Spock, quickly ducked out of the cabin.

After Uhura's departure, there was a tense silence as Chapel faced Spock for the first time since the fiasco earlier in his quarters. Chapel took a deep breath and forced herself to speak. "Would you care to be seated, Mister Spock?" Her voice sounded calm, she knew, but inside she felt like someone was twisting a knife in her.

Spock unclasped his hands from behind his back and made a small, negative gesture. "No, thank you. I prefer to remain standing. If it does not make you too uncomfortable." The moment Spock saw her, he knew all Jim's rather 'sage' advice would be useless. Here was not a woman easily seduced, nor would his own condition allow for such niceties. If he were to remain in control, he must keep his distance and present his case as concisely and quickly as possible. Just the sight of her was increasing his heart rate and respiration. "What I have come to discuss should not take long. It requires only a simple answer from you, Christine. Yes, or no."

Chapel winced a little at his use of her given name. How often had she longed to hear him say it like that? His voice gentle, deep -- almost a caress. She shook herself mentally. This would never do. Let him ask his question, then he could leave. With any luck, she might never have to see him again.

"Please continue, Commander. I'll do my best to answer."

Spock nodded and took a step closer to her, intending to put the question to her directly -- but suddenly, he was hesitant. If she turned him down... Humans had several sayings: Three strikes, you're out! and Third time's the charm. He wondered which it would be for him. No! He would not give her up, he raged inwardly. He must survive -- and she was the means to that survival. As he looked into her deep, blue eyes -- beautiful even puffy and reddened with her recent weeping as they were -- he felt something twist inside him. No, she was more important to him than just survival.

"Before I ask, Christine, I must first apologize for my earlier behavior. Words cannot express how deeply sorry I am. I beg forgiveness."

Chapel swallowed hard, feeling the heat rising to her cheeks. His voice was a soft rumble, seeming to vibrate along every nerve in her body. The pain began closing in on her again and she felt she was suffocating in it. But she had to continue the charade, make him understand that she understood.

"Forgiveness, Mister Spock? There is no need. Everything you said was perfectly true. I know that now. You owe me no apologies. We reap what we sow," she added quietly, then turned her back to him.

Behind her, Spock's brow furrowed slightly as he carefully considered her slim back, shoulders slumped in weariness. Her cloud of soft, dark hair hid her face as her head tilted forward and the faint floral scent of her eddied around him. Inside him, a tight band squeezed and then broke as the answer suddenly hit him. I must love her! True, he still wasn't too sure that he really understood the emotion, but if it meant the overwhelming need to share with her, to protect her, to care for her, to be with her, then he did love her. Suddenly, it was the most important thing in life to make her believe him.

"Christine, please sit down. I must explain something to you." As he spoke, he turned her desk chair to face her bed.

She turned hesitantly, then after searching his face, shrugged and walked over to the bed, dropping down on the edge. She kept her eyes down, staring at her tightly clasped hands.

Spock seated himself on the chair and reaching out, used his fingers to firmly lift her chin until he could see her eyes. She was very wary and he thought for a few moments before deciding that for the first time in his life, he would have to open himself to another person as he had never done. He let his hand drop. "You know of the pon farr?" he asked, his voice tight.

She nodded briefly, "Some." She paused and at his faint encouraging gesture, continued. "It is the Vulcan mating cycle. Little is known about it, but that it is a relentless need to mate in the Vulcan male and that if not fulfilled, the male will die." Her voice was expressionless, a bare recitation of facts.

"It is far more," Spock responded harshly. He leaned forward, elbows on his legs and hands folded, his eyes focused on the first two fingers of both hands templed in front of him. "Since ancient, times, it has been a time of madness for the male. Before Surak, before bonding, males killed for any female they could get to appease the madness. Because the pon farr was unpredictable, many females died when they could not control the male, physically and mentally. With the Reform, children were bonded at seven so they could become attuned to each other as they grew."

"As you and T'Pring were," Christine interjected quietly.

Spock straightened up, looking full into her face, quirking up an eyebrow. "Obviously, even today, not all bondings work." His head tilted sideways as his eyes grew oblique with his thoughts. "After the divorce, I avoided the thought of another bonding. I let time pass until this second pon farr came unexpectedly upon me. I immediately reported to my family, as was my duty as an unbonded male, and the family found me a mate. But unknown to them, she had recently become bonded to another and was unavailable to me. But perhaps it is better this way, for it has forced me to be honest with myself. I have avoided another bonding because I was afraid. Not afraid of another rejection, but afraid that I could not be bonded to the woman I really wanted." His eyes warmly focused on her.

Chapel stiffened, instinctively pulling back from him. "No!" she blurted. "This is bullshit, Spock!"

"Christine..."

"No, Spock," she hissed tersely. "Don't do this to me! I won't believe that what has happened has suddenly made you see the light ... made you suddenly realize that I'm the perfect wife for you." She jumped up, moving across to her bureau to put more distance between them.

Spock swiftly rose to his feet as she whirled, throwing up her hand in a silencing motion and taking a couple of deep breaths to regain her control. After a moment, she returned to sit on the edge of the bed, signaling him to sit down again. He did so, remaining quiet and watchful. He watched fascinated at the myriad expressions that crossed her face as she sorted her thoughts.

"Spock," she began calmly. "I realize that this is an ... emotional time for you, a time when an imbalance within your endocrine system makes you more vulnerable than you normally are. Not too unlike a Human male who is drunk. And I assure you, I will not believe any declaration from you now any more than I would believe a drunk Human in similar circumstances. Right now, the most important thing in your life is the sexual drive you are experiencing from the pon farr. Frankly, I surmise the only thing keeping you together right now is whatever McCoy concocted in that hypo." She gave him a wry grin. "I may be a fool, but I'm not a dummy. I realize how deceptive sexual desire can be."

Frustrated, Spock answered tensely, "Then this would not be the right time to ask you to bond with me, would it?"

"What does a bonding entail, Spock?" Christine asked seriously. "How deep is the meld? Is it permanent or can it be dissolved? What is it that the female must do to successfully manage a male in pon farr?"

Spock's eyes widened in surprise. "Why do you ask?"

It was her turn to look surprised. "Obviously, if you are to survive, you will need to bond. Wasn't that what you had planned on asking me?"

Stunned, Spock could only nod.

"Well, the only way I can answer you is to know exactly what is involved. From what little I have read in the medical texts, the physical part will take some preparation, though the mental part is not totally clear to me."

Spock swallowed hard. "After what I said to you in my quarters, you would still be willing to bond with me?"

She waved her hand, airily dismissing the earlier scene. "I think we can safely say what happened in your quarters was the result of the stress of pon farr." Somberly, she regarded him. "Understand me, Spock. I don't intend this bonding to be permanent. I am willing to do this because I love you and I don't want you to die. But what you said had some truth to it. I do shame both of us by offering what, in your normal state, you don't want. Once this is over, I intend to destroy the love I have for you. Love is like any other emotion; if nourished, it lives and if neglected, it dies. You may not understand it, but believe me, it is true."

Spock remained impassive while confusion, pain, and anger warred inside him. Finally he nodded, "I accept your terms."

"Fine," she answered, her voice trembling slightly from a release of tension that she didn't realize she had been holding. "What do we do now?"

Spock's half-hooded eyelids hid his eyes as he rapidly sorted through ideas. A faint smile touched his lips as he worked out a battle plan, not unlike a chess move, but everything would have to wait until the fever was over. Until then, he would do it Christine's way. Satisfied, he began explaining pon farr.

* * *

Christine paced in agitation within her quarters, wiping her damp palms against her gown. Was it only four hours ago that she had agreed to serve as Spock's temporary bondmate? She caught a glimpse of her pale face in the mirror. Well, I certainly don't look like your average bride, she thought ironically.

The Vulcan styled gown had been computer manufactured by Scotty. In fact, it seemed like all the senior officers had become involved in this thing. Of course, the Captain had to know so he could arrange for them to have the ten days of privacy they would need and McCoy had to help prepare her for the violent mating it was going to be. The bonding was not common knowledge to the whole ship and those who did know were close friends of both her and Spock, but Christine couldn't help feeling that something was going on that she didn't know about. It worried at the back of her mind, but she was more concerned about what was to come. She wished Spock would show up. As if in answer to her wish, her door buzzer sounded. "C-c-come in," then realizing her command was too soft to trigger the door, she called again, louder. "Come in."

The door slid open and he was standing there, dark and satanic in a black and gold Vulcan tunic and trousers. He moved smoothly into the room, his hand rising in the Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper, Christine."

For a brief second, her mind was numb then she remembered what he had taught her. "Peace and long life, Spock. I welcome you in honor."

Spock smiled faintly, "Are you sure you want to do this? There is no dishonor in changing your mind."

Dispassionately, she looked him over feature by feature; his gentle brown eyes with winged eyebrows, the craggy cheeks and jaw, the sensual mouth, and the delicate upswept ears framed in thick black hair. His face was calm with an underlying mask of tension. His hands were lightly clenched at his sides, but she could still see the trembling he was trying to conceal. Damn, how much she loved him! She felt a fleeting regret for what could have been. "No, I haven't changed my mind, Spock."

With his fingers spread wide, he touched his fingertips to the meld points on her face as she reached up her hand and duplicated his action. His voice enfolded her like brown velvet, "Mos'kree vru lailp..."

As the Vulcan words flowed over her, she felt his presence enter her mind as it once had done, so long ago. But this time, he penetrated much more deeply and brought with him fire and crystal. Images and colors, sounds, arid smells -- they all swelled in her, pressuring her until the pain was almost overwhelming. Vaguely, she heard Spock's voice, calling out to her. "Christine, control...!" She retreated against the fire, collecting her strength and, pulling on her love, began reaching out for the flame and molding it with psychic hands. Time, life, love ... they blended together into a cyclone of power that swept to the edges of the galaxy. If there was physical pain, she never felt it. At times the fury threatened to consume her, and she would draw from the blue-silver well within her and tame the beast. She could sense the cycles as they came and a primal rhythm set up each encounter, but she felt herself weakening at each surge. Soon, there came a deluge that pushed her over the edge into a black abyss.

Christine floated, warm and secure in the drifting sea, content not to think or feel. She felt Spock around her and in her, but without demand. For a long period, she was content with that, but slowly memory returned. The pon farr! She slowly opened her eyes, aware of pain and thirst. She and Spock were tangled naked on the tumbled bed, his head heavy on her breast and his arms locked tight around her hips. She was confused for a moment and ran her dry tongue over drier lips. She had to have water ... and a bathroom. She pushed lightly at Spock's shoulders, but he only tightened his grip. She turned her head toward the chronometer on her desk, groaning at the stiffness in her neck. Sixteen hours! She glanced again at Spock, and remembering his instruction, whispered into his ear, "Rhal afer."

Spock's unseeing eyes opened briefly and then shut again as he rolled away from her. She eased away and staggered to the head, aching in all her joints. Her eyes flinched from the bright light as she groped for the sink, eager for a simple glass of water. After downing the refreshing wetness, she glanced into the mirror, appalled at her image. Her hair was tangled, some strands even knotted. There were bruises on her neck, shoulders, and breasts. Her arms and legs also showed bruising as well as abrasions. At the juncture of her legs, she was matted with dried semen and blood; the whole area throbbed indistinctly. For a moment, she was stunned, then she pulled herself together and headed for a hot shower of real water. As the warm water cascaded over her sore body, she tried to remember what had happened, but it was all so jumbled. Finally, all that mattered was that both she and Spock had survived the plak tow.

As she stepped out of the shower, wrapped in a large towel and revitalized, she looked back into the mirror, brushing the tangles out of her hair with determination. At the back of her mind, she felt the presence of Spock stirring; she monitored his alertness, then relaxed. It wasn't time yet. She went back into the sleeping chamber and stood over the bed, examining Spock carefully. His skin was flushed green and he was thin, but he was sleeping soundly. Christine returned briefly to the bathroom and returning with a wet towel, began gently cleansing his skin. He shivered slightly under her ministrations and she went to the bulkhead to turn up the cabin heat. After she washed him, she rolled him side to side, changing the soiled sheets on the bed and then dialed up a high-energy meal from the servocomp. As she finished eating, Spock became more restless in his sleep. Disposing of her used dishes, she slid back into bed, slipping her arms around him, drawing him to her. He quieted, nuzzling his face into her shoulder. She stared at the ceiling, lightly stoking his soft hair until she went to sleep. Unknowingly, she shared her dreams with Spock until the returning fever took over. Automatically, she took control, waking to find Spock's tortured eyes looking at her. She lifted his hands to the sides of her head, urging him to meld. As he powerfully entered her, the bittersweet cycles began again and once again, time stopped.

The next few days passed in a blur. Christine knew that frequently she attended to her bodily needs, but as the days continued, it became harder for her to recuperate from the onslaught of the pon farr. Finally, there were longer periods between the cycles though they were just as potent.

After one such interval, she woke from a deep sleep to find herself in Spock's arms, being carried into the shower. He had placed a chair in the shower and settled her on it so that the temperate water gently poured over her. She leaned her head back, enjoying the shower, but too tired to even open her eyes. A few minutes later, she felt him kneel before her and firmly begin scrubbing her. She opened her eyes then and smiled tiredly at him, her eyes eating up the sight of him. He was intent on his work, ignoring the water trickling off his hair. She placed her hand along his cheek, bringing his eyes up to look in hers. His expression was solemn and she leaned forward to lightly kiss him on the mouth. "Has it finished?" she asked.

"No, but now it is not so crucial. It will not be so hard for you."

"No regrets, Spock. I have none. It was no worse than you said it would be and if I had to do it again, I would."

"I am anticipating that," Spock responded obliquely. He took her by the shoulders, moving her out of the cubicle as he turned off the water. He dried her quickly and picking her up, carried her to a freshly made bed. He laid her down, then turned, reaching for his clothes. She reached out and grabbed his hand, pulling him down next to her.

"We will finish it, Spock."

He searched her face and gave his rare smile. He bent over her, his mouth over hers, his tongue lightly outlining her lips. Her mouth opened and his mental presence poured into her mind as his hands explored her. His tongue penetrated the warm dark cavern of her mouth even as he penetrated her body. Soon they were in the familiar sequence, but this time it was filled with joy and sharing. The fury no longer threatened to consume them, but rather increased the power of their joining.

For the rest of the pon farr, there was less violence and more enjoyment, but still the fever controlled their joining rather than desire. Between the bouts of copulation, she and Spock would share her quarters as friends. He would meditate as she slept out her exhaustion, then they would share a meal with quiet conversation. Often he would work on the computer while she read until they were forced back to bed by the driving needs of his body. The mind link continued to be as light as possible, held off by the wary defense Christine still had towards him. Sometimes she would glimpse a fleeting image in his mind that disturbed her, an image he seemed to have that this would last forever. She refused to accept it as a real image since she still believed that this more emotional Spock was simply a product of pon farr.

Finally, the fever was over and Spock fell into a light healing trance to repair the minor damages his chemical imbalance had caused. Christine sat watching him, tears falling silently as she memorized the face she loved so much. She grieved for what had been and for what could have been. Then she bent over him, kissing him lightly on the lips, "Good-bye, my love." Then she turned away and went into the shower.

When Spock called to her, Christine rose from her desk and going over to the bed, leaned over and slapped him firmly, repeatedly on the cheek until he grabbed her wrist. She stood quietly, waiting for him to become completely aware and release her. His eyes blinked at her a moment and then he turned loose of her. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and sat up, swaying slightly. He waved away her gesture of help and she abruptly turned and went back to her desk. He sat a moment, carefully noting that she was dressed in her uniform, her back erect in the chair.

"I left you a uniform in the bath, Mister Spock." Her voice was cool.

"I do not think we need to return to that much formality in private, Christine." She refused to look at him and with a faint wry smile he went into the head.

She concentrated fiercely on her computer program, ignoring the sounds of his shower as she reinforced the wall she had been building for several hours. Only when she heard him enter the room again did she rotate her chair to face him. She stood up, her face calm. "It is time to break the meld, Spock."

He stepped closer to her, the back of his fingers lightly stroking her cheek. She felt a rush of emotion through the link. Tenderness? Love? Pity? She jerked her head back somewhat and strengthened her defenses. Spock frowned, then his usual mask of implacability slipped over his features. He raised his hand in the Vulcan salute.

"Christine, I thank thee for my life." He extended his hand toward the meld points of her skull, then hesitating, asked, "Will you not remain my bondmate, Christine?"

She shook her head, "No, Spock. I don't believe in marriages of convenience. If you had asked me six months ago, I would have said yes, but now, I'm afraid I would never really ... really..." Her words trailed away, though she fearlessly met his gaze. She couldn't begin to guess the thoughts that passed behind his obsidian eyes.

Spock placed his hands in the meld position as she did the same to him. A searing lance of pain went through Christine's head and she felt an empty black overtake her. Spock caught her up as she fell into his arms and he laid her gently on the tousled bed. He gave the prearranged signal for McCoy and sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for him. He lightly ran his fingers around Christine's face, highlighting each feature.

"Or perhaps ... in six months?" he murmured.

* * *

The next two months were very bewildering for Christine. There were very few days when she didn't see Spock, even if just for a brief time. Somehow, almost every day, they had lunch, even if she was very late going. At almost every play or concert that she went to, Spock would somehow be seated next to her. If she spent the evening in her quarters, just reading or generally relaxing, Spock would 'drop by' with a scientific article or a music tape or something he thought she might be interested in seeing. Sometimes, they spent long hours disagreeing on various subjects and twice he brought her gifts from landing parties. The first had been a beautiful plant with delicate transparent petals from an unexplored planet in the Signa Carniss system. The second was a rare old book of poetry from Earth that he had found in a shop on a rimworld where the Enterprise had picked up a Romulan defector.

When they were on duty, Spock was his usual self, precise, logical, unemotional .. always within military discipline. But when they were alone or with a group of mutual friends, he was more relaxed and always called her "Christine" rather than the more formal "Ms. Chapel." He smiled more often and seemed to generally enjoy himself. Christine wondered if the others noticed the difference or if she was quietly going crazy. The ship had become used to the sight of the tall, dark Vulcan deep in conversation with the slender, brown-haired woman as they moved through the ship.

For Christine it was like a dream come true. Spock was what she had always suspected he could be: warm, stimulating ... exciting. Just the scent of him or the deep velvet of his voice could set up tingles in her. Every time his hand touched hers accidentally or his body brushed hers as they passed closely, she caught her breath and her knees grew weak; her memory would sweep back to how his body looked during the pon farr. Her nights were often filled with erotic dreams that left her unrefreshed; faint shadows appeared under her eyes and she lost weight that she could ill afford. When it came time for shore leave, she was more than ready, though part of her dreaded going ten days without seeing him.

Uhura and Christine had made plans to stay at a seaside resort on Launam, a planet that had been in the Federation over 100 years. The planet was slightly larger than Earth, rich in mountains and seas. Because of its placement in space, it had no deserts or rainforests. Its climate was like autumn in North America though its winters could be extremely harsh. Launam was the chief source of the mineral, kyper, for the Federation. The two women beamed down directly to the resort. It was situated on a wild coast, high on a cliff that sloped to the sea. A brisk wind blew up from a white-capped ocean that surged onto pale orange beach. The resort consisted of individual cabins scattered around a central gathering area. The lodge housed a main desk, restaurant, and lounge complete with a gigantic old-fashioned wood-burning fireplace. The building was crowded with people, most of them natives of Launam.

The Launamrians were tall, slender humanoids covered with fine gray hair and with narrow, faintly triangular heads. Their eyes were large and gold, with slitted pupils and no discernible irises. Small rounded ears lay very flat against the skulls and their noses were mere slits. They had large mouths, filled with small pointed teeth. The Launamrians were famous for their warmth and hospitality, though they were fierce in their anger. They were valuable allies to the Federation and Starfleet considered Launam a good shore leave planet. Christine had been to Launam once before, but for a nursing convention and was eager to spend some time exploring; she had been too busy her last time here to do more than explore the city in which the convention had been held.

After she and Nyota had checked in, they were guided to their Cabin. It was like the others, close enough to the main lodge to be convenient but isolated enough for privacy. The resort offered a variety of activities. There were deep-water boats for overnight excursions and a sheltered beach for swimming for those brave enough to face the cold water. Christine, having vacationed in Canada as a child with her family, was looking forward to the swimming, though Uhura, raised in warmer climates, assured her she would swim alone. There were also pakos, equivalent to horses, to ride and the resort offered overnight mountain climbing trips for the really brave at heart. The lodge was close enough to Rcolc, the capital city where Christine planned on attending several cultural events that Launam was famous for, especially their musical concerts.

The cabin that she and Uhura would be sharing was one room with a small-attached bathroom facility. There was a huge double-sized seeping pallet along one wall bracketed with two small storage cabinets for their clothes. Along the opposite wall, was a stone fireplace with large sitting pillows scattered in front of it. The Launamrians had never developed furniture building; instead, they used cushions for everything, even eating while casually sprawled on pillows. Any activity that needed more support was done on varying sizes of blocks that moved around as needed. To even hang a picture on the wall meant stacking up the necessary boxes since the Launamrians had never developed ladders. The only modern conveniences in the bungalow were the bathroom, a communications console, and a food delivery computer for those who didn't want to eat at the restaurant.

After changing from their uniforms and unpacking their clothes, the two women walked around the resort, enjoying the crisp fresh air and open environment. The paths wandered around rocky outcrops interspersed with tall spicy-smelling trees that towered dark and shaggy. The roots were buried in rock and it was a miracle how such large plants survived on what seemed to be hostile soil. But they had for millions of years and the planet was about half covered with forests. There was avian life in the woods, small flying creatures that were half hair for warmth and half feathers to fly. Launam had predators, but none that were within reach of the more civilized areas. Christine and Nyota wandered contentedly along, casually talking until they finally reached the shoreline. There, they sat companionable in silence, enjoying the waves hypnotically rolling onto the sand. Finally, as the dual suns began to sink further down, the chilling wind sent them back to their cottage to dress for dinner. They had decided to eat their first meal at the restaurant to get a feel for the resort.

They had ordered their meal, choosing all native dishes, and Christine was watching all the people in the eating area while enjoying the strange, but soothing music played by the small band on their native stringed instruments. When two men walked through the door, Christine choked slightly on the drink she was sipping. Her eyes widened as they moved over the tall, elegant figure dressed in a formal ruby red Vulcan robe. She didn't even notice the Human male next to Spock, also dressed in formal clothing. And she certainly didn't notice the satisfied looks on Jim or Nyota's faces as they watched her stunned expression. Spock looked her over tenderly, his warm, soft gaze taking in the slim figure dressed in a soft sapphire gown that lovingly molded her curves. Her long hair was casually piled on top of her head with feathery wisps around her face. His stare blatantly caressed her mouth and Christine tilted her face down, feeling heat rise in her cheeks.

Uhura signaled across the room to Kirk with a small lift of her hand and Kirk nodded, smiling, and spoke a few words to the hostess who was waiting to seat the two men. She spoke briefly to two waiters nearby and they moved in place two more pallets next to Christine and Uhura while Jim and Spock wound their way towards them.

"Nyota...!" Christine hissed, rattled.

Nyota looked at her innocently, her eyes beaming with mischief. "Oh, didn't I tell you that Jim and Spock were also taking their shore leave here?" Her voice held a mixture of suppressed laughter and apprehension. Christine had only time to shake her head before the two men reached them.

"Good-evening, ladies," Kirk said cheerfully. "May we join you?"

Without waiting for an answer, they both lowered themselves onto the pillows. Jim looked around curiously, obviously in the mood to relish whatever was to come. He and Uhura quickly fell into a long conversation planning the kind of activities they thought would be good for the next few days while Spock continued looking at Christine . "What are you doing?" Christine whispered, taking care to keep her voice low enough that the other two couldn't overhear. "People are staring."

Spock glanced around the room, amused. "No, they are not. And why should you care? There is no one here we know." His eyes swung back to her. "You look very beautiful, Christine, as usual."

She became lost in his deep, velvet voice and tender brown eyes. She hungrily stared at his face, the lean features harsh, but beautiful to her. Her gaze caught on his mouth and she was lost in the memory of how it felt on hers, hot, moist, and hard. Unconsciously, her breathing speeded up and a thrill went through her all the way to her loins. The brief moment was broken by the waiter bringing her and Uhura's meal and she blushed as she met Spock's amused eyes. There was a faint smile on his lips and she pulled back slightly, confused.

What is going on here? she thought distractedly. What the everlovin' hell is going on? Christine, this is Spock, for God's sake! This is not some Human male on the make, so keep your libido under control, girl.

Dinner passed quietly enough, the four friends eating and talking as comfortably as if they were on the ship. Somehow, it was decided that the four of them would spend the next day taking one of the small boats out for a cruise along the coastline. Christine found herself becoming suspicious as the evening waned and could hardly wait until she could get Uhura alone and ask a few pointed questions.

Finally, because they were still on ship time which their bodies were telling them was bed time, the two men walked the two women to their cabin and said goodnight, leaving them with the promise of coming to pick them up early for breakfast. Uhura, on entering the cottage, immediately headed for the bathroom, grabbing up her nightgown en route. Christine balked, determined that she would wait her time. She also got ready for bed, willing to follow the desultory conversation until both she and Nyota were ready for sleep.

"Okay, Nyota, enough stalling. What the hell is going on?"

"Specify!" Uhura's demeanor and voice were Vulcan perfect and a reluctant laugh relaxed Christine. Hearing Christine laugh, Uhura relaxed also.

"It's simple, honey. Spock loves you." Uhura spoke simply, with conviction.

Christine was confounded, then shook her head in denial. "He is a Vulcan. Vulcans don't love..."

"That's El Toro poo-poo and you know it, Chris. What about Sarek and Amanda? Vulcans may not be as obvious as Humans about it, but they still can love. They even have a word for it in Vulcan, though I'll admit it doesn't have exactly the same shading as Standard. Actually," she mused, here eyes unfocused briefly, "Their word has much more depth and is used far more rarely than ours. You'll never hear a Vulcan say he 'loves' plomeek soup like we 'love' pizza," she finished briskly.

"But Spock..." Christine was bewildered, then her voice firmed up, "Let's get real here, Nyota. Spock is more Vulcan than Vulcan. Why, for years he has practically broken his neck avoiding me. Why now, all of a sudden, should he 'love' me?" She was openly skeptical.

Nyota eyed her shrewdly, "Was he avoiding you or himself?"

"What!?"

"Think about this for awhile. Nothing appeals to a man more than to know that a woman wants him and Spock has known that since the Psi 2000 virus made you confess it to him." Christine shuddered and Uhura patted her hand comfortingly as she went on. "At that time, Spock was married to ole what's-her-face."

"T'Pring." Christine muttered, feeling a stab of jealousy even after all this time.

"Yeah. Well, anyway, at the time it occurred to me that Spock reacted rather strongly to your presence. After all, he did throw that soup at you."

"That had nothing to do with love. I can't explain it to you, but believe me it was all physical ... in more ways than one."

"Maybe, but I did notice that after we left Vulcan, he seem to watch you more than normal. I commented once to him and that really seemed to startle him. I don't think he even realized he was doing it. After that, he was back behind his wall. But... I don't know ... it just seems that his formality with you wasn't real. There's nothing I can definitely put my finger on except it didn't 'feel' the same as before."

Christine mused about that for a moment. Uhura had an uncanny insight into people.. but, still, Spock? "I don't know..." she began hesitantly.

Nyota reached out and gave her a quick hug. "Don't worry about it. Just take it a day at a time."

Christine paced restlessly to the window, staring blankly into the darkness. "Once I had dreams ... then after ... after..." She blushed and her face was hidden in her soft hair as she bent her head forward.

"I understand." Nyota said softly. She paused a moment, then continued "Spock didn't know that you were going to be here. Jim and I set this up ... to give you both time and space."

"What do you mean?" Christine whirled around, guarded. "Time for what?"

"Well, in case you weren't sure, Spock is trying to 'woo' you." Uhura signaled the quote marks and Christine chuckled.

"Spock? Woo me? How Victorian."

Both women laughed, both imaging the Vulcan in a high hat and frock coat.

"Anyway," Uhura said, wiping tears off her cheeks, "We thought it might help if we got you away from that fish bowl." She reached out and, taking Christine's hand, pulled her back to the sleeping pallet. "Just take it easy. No expectations, no promises. We are just four friends enjoying a shore leave together. Just treat him like you would any other interesting man ... no past, no uncertain future."

Christine thought it over for a moment, then nodded. "Okay, just a double date ... with a Vulcan." Her voice was wry, but firm.

"Good." Uhura suddenly yawned. "We'd better turn in; Jim's a tougher captain on a small boat than he is on the ship." Christine groaned and rolled over to her side of the giant sleeping pallet. "Wonderful! Spock and Captain Bligh. How did I get so lucky?"

* * *

The next day was the stuff dreams were made of. Right from their predawn launching, the weather was perfect. There was a cold stiff breeze that warmed quickly as the dual suns rose from the sea. The bright blue sails billowed tautly against the deeper blue sky. Christine was surprised to discover that Spock was a skilled deep-water sailor. His eyes twinkled as he asked her how she thought his friendship with Jim Kirk could have survived without at least some understanding of sailing. She felt warm, sharing the small joke with him.

The day was long and lazy. They sailed easily up the coast, often leaning over the rail, watching the fascinating scenery pass slowly. Jim gave Christine a chance to steer the boat under Spock's supervision while Jim gave Nyota a lesson in knot-tying. Christine felt a sense of power, though she wasn't sure if it was the feel of the boat under her hands or the delicious warmth she felt from Spock's body behind her. He didn't touch her, only gave her instructions quietly. It was a perfect moment; the warm sunlight on her body, the brisk wind blowing her hair away from her face, the tangy scent of the ocean, and the tingly feeling that she was close to Spock. With her back to him, she never noticed the faint look of longing or heeded him inhaling the fragrant scent of her soft hair as it tickled across his face.

They halted to have lunch at a small fishing village. The three Humans had a variety of fish dishes while they teased the complacent Vulcan about eating 'sea slime', his salad of sea plants. But he had the last laugh when they tried some of his salad; it was every bit as good as their meal. Afterwards, they wandered around the village, watching the Launamrians repair their nets just as their ancestors had done. The Launamrians had been very careful to balance economic needs with the environment and fishing by boat with nets kept them from stripping their oceans as Humans had their oceans with large scale sea operations. Of course, it helped that Launam's population had had a more stable increase than had Earth's and they had never had overpopulation.

Jim and Nyota walked in front, hand in hand like the old friends they were, laughing and teasing each other. Christine, a few steps behind them with Spock, envied them their easy companionship. She glanced at the composed Vulcan beside her, quickly feasting her eyes on the lean, harsh features. Unconsciously, she sighed and Spock looked at her. They both halted briefly, staring at each other, his face slightly puzzled. "Christine?" he whispered questioningly. She shook her head and walked on, her eyes firmly forward.

The rest of the afternoon flew by as they returned to the resort. At the pier, Christine was stowing the life jackets as Spock tied off the ropes and Jim and Nyota carried the provision chest between them up the dock to the boat rental office. When Christine straightened up from the jacket chest and turned, Spock was standing close in front of her. For a second, they watched each other, then he raised his hand and lightly ran his fingertips over her face, moving gently from her brow, over her eyes, down her cheeks until they touched her lips. She gasped and he used one hand to hold her chin immobile while the forefinger of the other hand gently, sensuously outlined the shape of her mouth. For Christine, the world narrowed to the warmth of his hand, the erotic caress of his finger, and the depths of his eyes, the iris dilated until they were a deep, black pool. She felt a shaft of pure desire shoot through the middle of her body and she closed her eyes, her entire body trembling.

"Christine..." he whispered.

The raucous squawk of a sea bird broke the spell and suddenly frightened, Christine gave one small sob as she stepped back, away from his hands.

"Spock..."

Was that tight, high-pitched voice hers? Again she shook her head and quickly stepped around him, practically running for the gangplank. She reached Nyota and Jim just as they came out of the office and felt a sense of relief. Strangely enough, she also felt regret and that worried her. Why... oh, why is he the only one who can make me feel this way? Has ever made me feel this way? she thought anxiously. Not even with Roger had she ever known this wild, sweet fire that swept over her with a simple touch. For the rest of the evening, all through dinner, she was quiet and subdued.

The next few days were active. They took part in all of the activities that the resort had to offer; pako riding, sailing, an overnight hike up the mountains, and for the Humans, swimming on an unusually warm afternoon when the chill of the ocean felt bearable while Spock watched disapproving from the shore. Some Human activities were inexplicable, but he did enjoy Christine in her bikini. He sat on the beach, his arms wrapped around his bent legs and ran his gaze over her slender figure. The golden sunlight laved over her wet skin, touching the water droplets like diamonds and his body tightened with the image of him licking each and every one of them off.

His thoughts were interrupted as Christine threw herself down on her outspread beach towel. He could see Jim and Nyota racing each other around a distant rock outcropping and out of sight. Christine picked up a tube of sunscreen and began to smooth it over her long, slim legs. Spock watched her, fascinated with the vision of her graceful hands gliding effortlessly over her silken skin, ever upward until all the exposed skin was covered except her back. As she twisted, attempting to reach behind her, he moved onto his knees beside her, poured some of the creamy lotion into his hands and after rubbing it between his palms to warm it, began gently slipping his hands over her back. Christine jumped, her startled eyes meeting his.

"It is somewhat difficult for you to reach that area, is it not?" he asked humorously, his eyes filled with rare mischievousness. "You would not want to be affected by this planet's stronger ultraviolet rays."

Christine faced back towards the sea, trying to pretend to both of them that the feel of his hands on her was not affecting her as much as it was. Her skin tingled like she had a slight sunburn as his strong, warm hands caressed down her spine and up the sides of her body, his fingertips barely missing the edges of her breasts. She flushed slightly as she felt her nipples harden to tight little buds. Her mind began to fog as the sensuous stroking became harder and slower. Spock pulled her lightly back against his chest and, unconsciously, she rubbed gently against the soft pelt of hair. Her head fell back onto his shoulder and she felt his warm breath in her ear. Spock's hands were now stroking gentle circles on her belly as he drank in the flowery scent of her skin. He watched her face, eyes half closed, as varied expressions crossed it. The feel of her in his arms was intoxicating.

Christine was more relaxed than she had been in weeks. She lay in Spock's arms, lulled by the sun and his hands moving over her. She felt his lips lightly nipping down the side of her neck, his tongue tasting her. She tilted her head to give him greater access, her breathing becoming more rapid. Her whole body was tightening in exquisite tension. "Spock..." she moaned.

Two small laughing children ran by them and Christine pulled away from Spock, her face red. The children disappeared up the beach and silence lay heavy between the man and woman, now facing each other. Christine clasped her arms around herself, fighting to control her breathing while Spock watched her, a slight frown on his face. She kept her sight firmly on the design on his casual shirt.

"Christine?" he whispered softly. Silent tears rolled down her cheeks and Spock placed his palms along her jaws, his thumbs tenderly wiping away the drops. "Christine?" He tilted her face up so he could look into her drenched eyes like dew kissed gentians. "What is it?"

Her eyes moved over his features, her mind a tangle of feelings and thoughts. "What is happening, Spock? Why are you doing this?" Her voice trembled and her hands gripped his wrists, not in rejection, but as anchors.

"Christine, it gives me great pleasure to be with you, to touch you."

Christine drew in a shuddering breath and he continued, "I cannot tell you exactly what is happening. It is also new to me. I only know that I want you as part of my life; want to share life's experiences with you, grow old with you. Is that love?" Christine stared solemnly at him and he saw her barriers rising. He leaned forward, swiftly brushing his lips across hers. "Do not be so concerned, Christine. Just share this time with me."

Jim and Nyota came rushing through the surf, splashing and laughing, and Spock and Christine moved apart. Later that night, as Nyota slept beside her, Christine remembered what had happened on the beach. She ached at the memory of Spock's touch. Somehow the image of Spock that she had always had as a lover was converting to the Spock that she was now seeing and she found that very exciting ... and a little frightening. Was she setting herself up for further heartache?

Christine was not the only one who was awake that night. Jim Kirk stood at the window, staring out at the Vulcan, seated on a rock, staring out over the restless ocean. Somehow, Jim knew his friend wasn't meditating and felt free to go to Spock. The two men sat companionably in silence, both lost in their own thoughts.

Finally, Jim spoke softly, "You want to talk about it?"

After a few hushed moments, Spock answered hesitantly, "I am not sure I can explain what I... I..."

Kirk put his hand on Spock's shoulder briefly, squeezing it lightly, "Would it help if I tell you that I have an idea what happened on the beach while Uhura and I were gone?" Jim grinned as he sensed the flush that swept over the other man's face, but refrained from teasing. "I'm here for you, brother, for whatever you need." He could say no more; he couldn't force Spock's confidence, but he hoped Spock had enough trust in him to let him help.

It had almost been a game at the beginning, helping Spock learn Human courting habits. Sulu had provided the plant Spock had given to Chris as a compromise for flowers and McCoy had alerted Spock to Christine's lunch hour each day, but each of the few involved had been subconsciously aware of the momentous importance of success. This was not simply a matter of boy getting girl; this was Spock's life ... and his happiness.

"I have come to the conclusion, Jim, that Christine is vital for my life ... for me." Spock's voice was low, his eyes intent on Kirk's face. "In my attempt to project what a true bonding would mean, I find myself ... concerned about what it would mean to Christine." He hesitated, collecting his thoughts and Kirk patiently waited. Spock continued, "I would be receiving so much, but Christine, except for the time we remained in Starfleet, would be in a culture where her warm, loving nature would be anathema."

"Humans are very adaptable, Spock, especially Human females, even more so where they love. A marriage works only when the partners can compromise easily."

"Christine would be willing to compromise, but over the years, Vulcan would crush her spirit."

"Not the Christine Chapel I know," Kirk retorted, chuckling. "When she sets her mind to it, she is the most stubborn woman I know. You know, she reminds me a lot of your mother and Amanda did pretty well with Sarek."

"Christine is not like my mother ... "

"And you aren't like Sarek," Jim interrupted. "Your mother is more outgoing; she puts herself out there and if anyone can't accept who she is, well, that's too bad. Christine is more reserved. Christine will bend as much as she can, but she has a solid steel core that will not break. Your mother's love for Sarek isn't blatant, but it is visible. Christine shields her open feelings more. You can be the coldest, most rigid, most logical Vulcan you want, but as long as Christine is sure she is the most important thing in life to you, and you show it to her in private, Vulcan can hand out anything it wants and she will never be crushed. Her love for you will protect her from everything."

Spock frowned, "Her love... Jim, I still do not understand the emotion of love. I cannot say I 'love' Christine." Kirk laughed gently, "Spock, you may never understand ... or say it, but Christine already accepts this from you." The Human mused for several moments, then said, "Spock, don't try and reason this out. Reach inside of yourself and touch that part of you that must be from Amanda. Trust in that Human part of you."

Spock started, his eyes widening in surprise. "Amanda once said something similar."

"Then do it," Kirk chortled. "A boy should always listen to his mother."

As Kirk laughed uproariously at his own wit, Spock smiled faintly and shook his head. His life was truly enriched with his friends, especially Jim Kirk.

* * *

On the eighth day of leave, the foursome traveled to the capital city to participate in the planet's celebration of their admission to the Federation. Just as the Launamrians worked hard, so did they play hard. Many activities were planned and the Enterprise group spent the day at play with the rest of the populace. In the evening, they separated; Jim and Uhura to cruise the ongoing party in the streets while Christine and Spock went to attend the music festival planned in the giant municipal park. They sat on the grass under the massive trees, enjoying the program of native music and dancing. They had taken a picnic lunch like the thousands of others there, with national foods and a light wine from Degus ll. The full program ended just after nightfall with a fireworks display. Fireworks were not native to Launam, but they had added their own touches and gleefully made it part of their celebrations. In an attempt to beat the large crowd exiting, they left early to reach their rented ground skimmer. Jim and Nyota would find their own way back to the resort when they were ready to leave the festivities, if they returned at all.

The streets were crowded with festival crowds that swirled and eddied. It was like Mardi Gras at its worst. Many of the people had been celebrating all day and the noise and confusion was bright and scintillating. Surrounding them was a rainbow of colors from the costumes and banners as the crowd danced and sang; Christine gleefully joined in while Spock, holding his shields firmly in place, directed their path on the easiest route out of the mob. Just as they were within reach of their vehicle, a large surge of the throng separated Christine from Spock. She laughingly struggled towards him, but was unable to fight through the tide of people. Spock attempted to reach her but was blocked and watched as she disappeared down the street and around the corner.

Christine didn't panic; she had been caught in worse mobs than this. At least they were friendly. She made no attempt to fight the raging river of bodies but flowed with the torrent, gradually easing her way to the edge. She ended up on a dark narrow street with fewer party goers. She took a moment to gain her bearings, noting the direction of the tall, lighted tower that was government offices. She walked along, paralleling the crowded main street, but careful not to get caught up in the roaring throng. Suddenly, she was no longer alone. Linked arm in arm, she was with three male Launamrians. They were in good humor, willing to include her in their fun, but their path was taking her in the opposite direction from where she wanted to go.

"No, no, I must find my friend," she cheerfully stated, trying to pull her arms loose.

The tall Launamrian on her right arm just grinned. "We will help you find your friend," he answered. "But first ... a little wine, some song, and then a lot of loving. Tonight was made for loving. I, Reben, promise you this."

Christine's smile faded, "Loving? All three of you?"

The three men roared with laughter as if she had said the funniest thing in the world and Reben finally gasped out, "Of course not. Tolar and Keph have their own girlfriends." His free hand swept possessively over her breasts and Christine flinched. Reben's eyes immediately held distress, "Don't you like me? I won't hurt you. Just a little kiss and cuddle. Life is meant to be relished."

Christine relaxed slightly though she remained wary. Rape wasn't unknown on Launam, but it was rare. The Launamrians were known for a lusty appreciation of life and believed in gutsy living. Normally, Reben would probably have just approached her and taken a rejection with dignity. But with all the wine in him, he might not take 'no' as easily now. Christine could use her Starfleet martial arts training to get away from him, but she hated to hurt the gentle giant because he was too drunk to coherently understand that she wasn't interested in casual sex.

The two other Launamrians left them, slapping Reben on the back while evidently giving him some lascivious advice in their own tongue. As they walked away, Reben grabbed Christine in his arms, and humming off-key in her ear, danced her around and around until he had her pinned against the wall. He moved in for a kiss and Christine found herself frantically trying to evade his hands and mouth.

"Back off, lover-boy," Christine ordered breathlessly, half-tickled and half-exasperated. Reben reminded her of a boy she had had to fight off at her senior prom.

He slumped limply against her, his face buried in her neck and his hands cupping her buttocks. He rocked her gently, humming to himself and ignoring her efforts to free herself. She looked over his shoulder for someone to help pull him off, but everyone just passed them, beaming. Rescue appeared in the form of one tall, grim-faced, and obviously put out Vulcan.

"Spock!" she cried, relieved.

Spock ignored her as he grabbed Reben's shoulder, twirling him around and hurling him against the wall. Reben's face looked like a bewildered child. Christine staggered, then moved between the two men as Spock stepped toward Reben, his hands clenched. "Stay away from my wife!" Spock barked through clenched teeth.

Christine gasped, then pushing her hands against Spock's elbows, shouted, "It's okay, Spock! He meant no harm."

Reben grinned foolishly, then bowed awkwardly, "I didn't know she was yours, my friend. My apologies." His face screwed up as he desperately tried to remember and, proud of himself, said, "You can help her find her friend." Then again humming to himself, he ambled down the street.

Christine gaped at Spock, stunned. "Spock, whatever is wrong with you?"

Spock seized her arm, dragging her along with him. "I do not care to see other men with their hands on my wife!" he snapped.

Christine halted, bracing her feet firmly on the street and attempted to remove her arm from his grasp. "Just what makes me your wife? I'm my own per..."

"The bond makes you my wife!" he growled, again pulling her in his wake.

Christine was astounded into silence and no longer fought against Spock as he led them back to the ground skimmer. On the return to the resort, she stared sightlessly through the front shield as she sorted through her jumbled thoughts. As she could feel Spock regaining control over his anger, she felt her own temper rise. He didn't break the bond! she thought furiously. He has been manipulating me all this time!

They didn't exchange a single word as Spock returned the skimmer and walked her back to her cabin. She unlocked the door, and opening it, waited with fury in her eyes for Spock to enter. Spock gave her no argument; he, too, knew that the time had come for confrontation.

The bungalow was chilly and Spock knelt to start a fire while Christine stripped off her jacket and slammed it down on the sleeping pallet. Brooding, she watched him for a moment and then took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. It wouldn't do any good losing her temper; she would end up crying and he would retreat behind his mask. Now was the time for Spock and her to have the talk they'd never had, not since the first time she realized she loved him. Maybe if they had really communicated after they shared his pon farr, this moment would never have come. She accepted the blame; she was the one who could handle feelings and she was the one who should have helped Spock understand the difference between love and gratitude. Well, no time like the present, she thought wryly.

She went to the food computer and dialed up some herbal tea, bringing the two steaming mugs over to where Spock had placed seating pillows in front of the now crackling fire. She handed him one of the mugs and sank down on one of the pillows. He also sat down, facing her and stared down into the dark brown liquid as if it held answers.

"Why didn't you break the bond as you promised, Spock?"

He looked up, his face serene. "I am a computer expert, Christine. I cannot break a bond; only a Healer can do that."

"But you didn't tell me that before we bonded?"

A slight frown gathered on his brow, his eyes unfocused, "I never conceived the bond would actually be broken."

"For heaven's sake, why not?" Christine asked exasperated. "Didn't I agree to serve during your time only if the bond could be broken afterwards?"

"Yes, but I knew the bond would tell you all the things I could not tell you myself, all the reasons I wanted to be bonded to you."

Christine closed her eyes, her body slumped as she groaned, "Give me strength." Spock watched her curiously, uncertain what he should say.

Christine opened her eyes and carefully set her mug on the floor in front of her. "Spock, your condition during the pon farr was pure emotion, not logic. Your normal inhibitions were relaxed by the unusual hormone levels in your blood. What I heard, what I felt when we mated, I didn't accept as you. You weren't in your normal state of mind, Spock, and just as I wouldn't have accepted a proposal from a drunk, I couldn't accept a bonding from you while you were in pon farr." She paused a moment. "Afterwards, all the rest ... the gifts, the dates..." she smiled gently. "Who helped you with all that, Spock?"

"Jim, McCoy, Uhura, and Sulu. I thought if I courted you in the manner you were familiar with, if I gave you time to be with me, you would not refuse to let the bond continue."

Christine reached out and grasped his hand, the first time she had willingly touched him since the pon farr. "Spock, I appreciate the thought, but I would prefer that you simply tell me. I know it is difficult for you to express feelings; I'll never ask again, but it is important that you talk openly to me, at least this one time."

Spock turned his hand so that his fingers interlocked with hers, his thumb softly rubbing over her skin. "When I had recovered from my first pon farr, I found that I had lost another chain that had linked me to Vulcan ... and I found that I didn't miss that chain. Logically, I knew that I would have to find another bondmate, but, illogically, I lied to myself. I told myself I had time. When you told me that you loved me during the madness of Psi 2000, I was torn between elation and terror. And I was not sure why I felt either. I attempted to reason it out until Uhura commented on how much I watched you; then I suppressed everything as deep as I could. But, like the Human subconscious, the Vulcan subconscious is never still. Looking back on it, I can see that you were always there, within me. Your strength, your beauty, all the things that make you so uniquely you. In these past few years, you have ... have..." he hesitated, lost for words.

Christine chuckled, "Maybe... 'gotten under your skin'?" Spock looked blank, trying to interpret the idiom. "Never mind, Spock, I understand. Go on."

Spock raised one slanted eyebrow at her mood; at least, her anger was gone. He released her hand, steepling his fingers with his elbows on his crossed legs. Christine missed the warmth of his hand.

"This pon farr caught me unprepared. When I realized that I would need a bondmate, I let my Vulcan logic provide the answer; I notified the Council of Elders and they found me a suitable wife. As my control deteriorated, my subconscious need for you surfaced. When you appeared in my quarters, everything exploded and you caught the debris. I was angry ... angry at my heritage that deprived me of my control, angry at the Council for finding a ready candidate, but mostly angry with myself for not being totally honest with myself." He stretched out his hand, caressing the side of her face, letting his hand rest on her shoulder. "I hurt you and for that, I beg forgiveness, Christine."

Christine held her breath, her eyes locked on Spock's. She could see his pupils dilate until she was looking into black pits that beckoned her into the internal fire. She swayed toward him, then suddenly realized she still hadn't heard everything she needed to hear. She shook off the spell and leaned back, dislodging his hand. She dragged in a shaky breath, "Continue, Spock. Finish it."

Spock lightly clasped his hands in his lap, his eyes half-hooded to hide his exhilaration. "After my conversation with T'Anah, I returned to the ship and meditated, but somehow her words kept returning to me. She told me to consider a Human because they were so adaptable. And when McCoy reminded me how much you loved me, everything just seemed to come together. It was logical, it was practical, and it was what I wanted." He sat back, completely satisfied.

Christine stared at him bewildered. She slitted her eyelids, tilting her head sideways. "Wait a minute. I seem to have missed a chapter somewhere. A little more detail if you don't mind."

Now, he looked definitely amused, his lips struggling not to smile. He counted off points on his fingers as he elaborated, "One, it is logical to bond with an intelligent, sensitive, adaptable woman who shares so many interests that I have. Two, it is practical; this woman was within reach, madly in love with me, and highly trainable."

"Trainable? I'll train you, Vulcan!" Christine sputtered, delighted to see the humor that Spock so rarely showed. Spock smiled innocently at her, his eyes twinkling. Then his face softened as he slid onto his knees in front of her, cupping her face with his long, graceful hands.

"But, third and most important of all, it is what I want ... and need. Christine, you bring color to my life; living without you by my side would leave a void in me. If you refuse to be my bondmate, I will take another, but with her I will only exist. You are life to me." He drew back slightly, dropping his hands to his legs. "I still do not know exactly what love is, but if it is to spend the rest of our lives together, to work and share and grow old together, or even to disagree on occasion, then I love you."

Christine searched his eyes, looking deep into his soul. It was true; she could see it in his face, in the very position of his body. Inside her, a tight band snapped and joy bubbled up like a liberated spring of water. She drew in a deep breath and let it out in a sigh, her eyes tightly closed. Then her features took on a serene demeanor and she opened bright eyes, full of love and warmth. "Renew the bond, Spock."

Something powerful flared in his eyes and the tension that Christine hadn't even sensed was in him, was gone. His fingers gently touched the meld points of her skull as her hands duplicated his actions on his head. This time, there were no words, no rituals; just their essence flowing together. His darkness and her light. His strength and her fragility. His tradition and her spontaneity. Together yet individual, two separates bound into one vital whole. Time lost meaning as they blended and merged, open ends sealing together, energy crackling between and around them until the very universe trembled. Then slowly, meticulously Spock separated them back into their own bodies.

Christine regained awareness, held tightly in Spock's arms, her head laid against his chest with his chin resting on the top of her head. She felt as if she had taken some unknown tonic as her blood surged through her body, invigorating her. She tentatively searched for him in her mind. Though she called, he didn't answer, but she knew he was there. She could feel his presence and it made her feel more secure than she had in years.

For a long time, they remained in front of the fire, enclosed in each other's arms. Then Christine murmured, "Spock, kiss me."

Spock turned her to face him, a gentle smile on his face. He once again cupped her face with his hands and her heart thudded as his mouth moved closer, lightly brushing over her lips. Then he slanted her head so that his hot, wet mouth would fit hers better and ran the tip of his tongue along the outline of her lips until, with a low moan, she opened her mouth to his invasion. She slipped her hands under his tunic, kneading her fingers into the hard muscles of his back. Her every ragged breath drew in the rich smell of him and a primitive rhythm began pounding through her as their tongues dueled.

Spock's hands trembled slightly as he pulled her sweater up by the hem, halting his kiss only long enough to lift the garment over her head and off. She wasn't wearing any breast support and for a few tense moments, he feasted on the sight of high, firm globes crowned with hard rose tips. He couldn't breathe as he circled her nipples with one long forefinger and watched fascinated as the buds hardened even more. He replaced his finger with his tongue, both his hands filled with the heavy weight of her breasts. As if only a taste of her wasn't enough, he sucked the rigid nipple into his hot, dark mouth, trying to sip her like honey. Christine gasped and, arching her back and thrusting her fingers deep into the thick, sable hair, pressed him against her as bolts of desire pierced through her to her loins. She felt her bones melting as a moist ache formed between her thighs.

With a sudden move, Spock tore his mouth away from her, scooped her up, and crossing the room, dropped her gently on the sleeping pallet. Rapidly, he stripped off his clothes and knelt beside her on the couch. With his hands, he caressed every inch of her, followed by his lips until she lay naked and burning beneath him. Her hands and lips tasted him as well, leaving scorching trails across his hot flesh. Her fingers tangled in the soft, coarse hair on his chest as she nibbled at the tiny male buds avidly.

Spock gripped her shoulders tightly as she kissed and licked her way down his body, halting to dip her molten liquid tongue in his navel. His coarse breathing broke into grunting moans as her mouth continued to feast on his belly and her hands fondled him further below. At last, with a growl, he hoisted her up and under him. He braced his weight on one arm, pinning her thrashing head still by her hair with his hand as the other hand went to the juncture of her legs. She was ready for him; the moisture on his fingers told him that. He removed his hand long enough to push a pillow beneath the hips she instinctively raised. He covered her fully then, weight balanced on both forearms while he searched and found the entrance he so desperately sought.

"Look at me, Christine!" he muttered harshly.

Her eyes opened and there was a bright silver shine in the flaming blue. "Now, Spock! Now before I die," she gasped and he plunged deep into her body with one fierce thrust. She arched under him, her hands gripping his buttocks ferociously, trying to pull him even deeper. Both of them were gasping for air as he paused for a moment. She felt his hardness fill her, stretching her to her limit and it still wasn't enough. "Spock! Don't ... stop," she moaned, her hands frantic on his backside.

She surrounded him, holding him tightly within her with tiny sucking spasms. Slowly, rhythmically, he withdrew almost all the way and then surged back into her. Each time he did it, her back arched helplessly and her eyes, still open, lost more focus until there was nothing left but the silver. Faster and faster, they spiraled up towards the peak until he felt her clench around him in paroxysmal waves of pleasure while she cried his name in a litany. His eyes lighted with an ancient primitive exhilaration while he shouted his release and exploded inside her. The conflagration pushed them ever upwards until they were totally consumed.

The room was silent as they continued to hold each other tightly, gulping air into their starving lungs, unable to move. At last, Spock rolled over, pulling Christine with him, tucking her next to his side. As her pounding heartbeat slowed, she ran her fingers lightly through his damp chest hair while he stroked her from shoulder to hip repeatedly. He relished the moist, soft skin under his hand. Finally, Christine turned, propping her still swollen breasts on his abdomen and her chin on folded hands on his chest. For a short time, she was content to lie in his arms -- sated -- and just savor his closeness. Then as memory crept back, her brow wrinkled in thought. "Spock?"

"Yes, my wife?" Spock was feeling cold and glancing at the fire, he noticed it had burned low. Putting Christine aside, he strode over to the fireplace and carefully stacked new wood on the smoldering coals that would keep heat coming all the rest of the night. Meanwhile, Christine crawled under the blankets and keeping them tucked around her shoulders, pulled her legs up against her chest as she watched him.

"We didn't meld." He looked blank, obviously not understanding. "We didn't meld while we made love," she emphasized. "I thought melding was an important part of intercourse for Vulcans."

She could see the premise rolling around his mind; she could almost see the logic circuits clicking over as he carefully examined all the parameters. She chuckled softly. That was so like Spock. Any aberration of known fact was fascinating and he couldn't resist carrying it through the scientific process until he knew all the answers.

He returned to the bed, absentmindedly drawing her back into his arms as he continued thinking. "Conceivably, since I am both Human and Vulcan, I can copulate either way. However," he said, with a definite spark in his eyes "Since I am not in pon farr, this theory will have to be tested."

Christine giggled as she nuzzled her face along his throat. "But the conditions aren't the same as when it's your time."

"Then we may have to conduct the experiment many times until we get it right. Yes, many, many times," Spock muttered, his hands moving feverishly over her.

Magnificently, Christine rose to the challenge. "Never let it be said that I didn't give my all in the cause of science," she murmured as she gave herself into the loving hands of her husband.

END