DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of JM Lane and is copyright (c) 2000 by JM Lane. Originally published in Heart Treks #3. This story is Rated PG.



The Good of the Many

JM Lane



It had been a terrible battle, but Spock was pleased that the Enterprise had once again gained the upper hand. Even so, she was badly damaged and there were heavy casualties -- including Peter Preston, Mr. Scott's teenage nephew, who had worked with him in Engineering. The sight of a bloodied Scott holding the badly burned and dying boy in his arms was still fresh in the Vulcan's mind; sharp pain assailed him once again at the thought.

As he had once told Jim, Starfleet duty was not particularly safe... and as a result, deaths and injuries would happen, no matter what. But this -- this insanity should never have happened. Not when they had a shipload of children, including Saavik, the young Vulcan/Romulan hybrid he had rescued and taken under his wing.

"Oh, my God." David Marcus's horrified voice brought the Vulcan back to reality. The young scientist turned deathly white as he recognized the energy wave on Spock's sensor. "It's Genesis! Khan's activated Genesis!"

Sensitive Vulcan ears caught the hoarse whisper, and one upswept brow rose. "Is that cause for concern, Doctor?"

David Marcus's blue eyes were as wide as saucers; Spock was inundated with the young man's fear in spite of his shields. "Damn right it's cause for concern! Genesis is set to detonate in less than four minutes and we can't stop it!"

"Did you not build a failsafe into it?"

"No. We saw no need for one."

Spock suppressed an exasperated sigh. Humans seemed to have a talent for overconfidence, rarely considering the possibility of failure or their creation falling into the wrong hands... and now that overconfidence could be the death of them all. But recriminations would serve no purpose now; the more immediate concern was getting the Enterprise out of here.

Unfortunately, the only way to do that would be to warp out, and the warp engines had been taken off-line. In addition, Mr. Scott had been overcome by radiation. Spock then reached a fateful decision. He was the only other person aboard with sufficient knowledge of the engines to repair them in time. The Captain-turned-First Officer swung around in his chair and made his way to the turbolift while the others crowded around Jim and David.

Had he spoken of his intentions, Jim would surely have tried to stop him and there was no time for arguments. No thought for his own life and safety entered the Science Officer's mind; all that mattered was saving his shipmates. As far as the Vulcan was concerned, it was more logical to sacrifice one life than several hundred. There would be sorrow among the crew because of his actions, but it couldn't be helped. If he did nothing, none of them would survive.

* * *

Spock arrived in Engineering a minute later, finding McCoy bending over the unconscious Scott. He ignored the Doctor and set about his task.

He was nearly to the Reactor Room when he felt McCoy's hand on his shoulder. "Are you out of your Vulcan mind? No Human could tolerate the radiation in there!"

The Vulcan's eyes again closed in mixed pain and affection upon hearing the Doctor's voice. Regrettable that such a thing was necessary -- and even more regrettable that McCoy would never know how much his friendship had meant to Spock. "Doctor, as you yourself are so fond of pointing out, I am not Human."

"You can't go in there," the Chief Surgeon repeated.

I am sorry, Doctor. I must, the Vulcan told his friend silently. Though I have valued our friendship... more than you will ever know. Outwardly Spock merely distracted McCoy. "What is Mr. Scott's condition?"

"Well, I don't--" the Doctor began, turning his back. That was all he got out before Spock made his move. Strong, slender fingers found the nerve at the junction of McCoy's neck and shoulder and exerted pressure. The Doctor's body stiffened and his eyes rolled back in his head before he slumped in Spock's arms.

"I am sorry, Doctor. There is no time to discuss this logically." The Vulcan gently lowered McCoy to the nearby deck. "Farewell, my friend," he whispered as he raised a hand to McCoy's temple and pressed gently on the nerves leading to the Doctor's brain. "And remember."

He and Jim already had a bond, but he was unavailable. Here was a perfect opportunity to tacitly acknowledge his unspoken but nonetheless sincere feelings of friendship for McCoy -- by trusting him with his katra, the Vulcan equivalent of the Human "soul." It was possible for a Vulcan to transfer all of his knowledge and experiences to another's mind via one telepathic burst in order to preserve them. There was a danger of their overpowering the other person's mind, but that was a risk he had to take... which was why only a close friend or family member was a proper candidate to undergo such an experience.

There was no time for him to ask McCoy's permission as he normally would, nor did either have any choice in the matter. The Vulcan knew this even as he acknowledged the possibility of the Doctor reacting adversely to the katra transfer because of his reputed allergy to mind-melds. In addition, this would create a bond between them, as with himself and Jim. He and the Doctor would always be a part of each other now. That is, in the event they escaped this madness and were able to return to Vulcan for the fal-tor-pan.

Spock pulled the protective gloves from Scott's hands and put them on as he entered the Reactor Room, ignoring the shouts and pounding on the door as Scott and McCoy came back to life.

"Spock, get out of there!"

"Spock, no! Spock!"

Their faces were white with fear and their voices full of horrified realization. Spock knew that they knew what he intended to do, just as they all knew he would not survive unprotected. But he could not allow himself to even acknowledge them; the warp engines had to be returned to working order, no matter what the cost to him. At first the radiation seemed pleasant, like sunlight -- but as Spock moved toward the reactor, the radiation increased geometrically. The deadly radiation formed an aura around his hands as he reached for the reactor housing. The rays easily penetrated his body, quickly spreading all over him.

As he worked, Spock thought over what had happened in his life, and in spite of himself felt pride for all his accomplishments and thankfulness that he had found friends such as Jim and the Doctor. He had but three regrets: that he would be unable to see his mother one last time and tell her how much he loved her, and that he had never apologized to Christine Chapel for the pain he had caused her because of his inability to respond to the love she bore for him, in spite of his deep inner longing to do just that. It had warmed his lonely heart beyond words to know that someone cared so deeply for him, even though she deserved better.

Even so, he had been more thankful for and appreciative of her unswerving devotion than he could ever have expressed. He could no more have lived without it than he could have lived without Jim and McCoy's friendship. If only he could have been the kind of friend they deserved... or the kind of suitor Christine deserved, someone who was not afraid to show his feelings -- love her fully and completely. His third regret was young Saavik, who was so much like him... and yet unlike him. He identified with her because they were both hybrids. Specifically, both half-Vulcan, although his other half was Human and hers was Romulan.

Because of this, it would be even more difficult for her than it had been for him. She was the younger sister he had never had -- emotionally, if not by blood... and he had vowed upon finding her at the abandoned Romulan outpost that he would do all he possibly could to make her life's path easier than his own had been. The wild, ragged child she had been had fought him relentlessly, but he had persevered, and was well pleased with how she had turned out. She would make a fine officer. He only wished he could have remained to see just how far she would go -- and been able to tell her how very proud he was of her.

It was at this point that the radiation began to take its toll; Spock felt the very cells of his body succumbing. He left a dark smear of emerald blood on his sleeve as he wiped perspiration from his face, also noting blood in the gloves covering his hands as pain began to crawl along his nerve ends. He was no longer able to control it. At last his fingers found the manual control which would bring the warp engines back on-line, though his tortured flesh opposed every move he made even as the wheel began to turn. He moved it further, feeling his skin disintegrating inside the gloves as they grew slippery with his blood.

"Dear God, Spock, get out of there!" McCoy shouted, once again pounding on the Reactor Room door. Spock smiled through his pain. Even if he had wanted to, he could not. It was too late. This was the last coherent thought he remembered having as the engines groaned, protested... and burst back into use.

* * *

The main viewscreen showed the battered Reliant receding, but their movements seemed painfully slow. "Time!" Kirk called.

"Two minutes, forty-five seconds," Saavik replied.

"Distance from Reliant."

"Four hundred kilometers," she reported.

"We're not going to make it, are we?" Sulu asked glumly.

Kirk shot a look in David's direction; the younger man shook his head sadly. A moment later, however, there came a shout from the Bridge Engineering station. "Captain! Main engines back on-line!"

"Bless you, Scotty!" Kirk muttered under his breath, then shouted, "Go, Sulu!" The helmsman automatically pushed the ship into warp; within seconds Reliant dwindled to a dot. A heartbeat later the dot became light. Kirk watched as the Genesis wave hurtled after them, dissolving everything in its path even as Sulu forced another warp factor out of the straining ship and she plunged out of the nebula into deep space.

The huge cloud which had been the Mutara Nebula began to spin around the nucleus which had been Reliant; Kirk watched, awestruck. "Reduce speed," he said once they had gone a safe distance. The new planet began to stabilize as Sulu complied. At that moment the turbolift doors opened, and Carol Marcus came onto the Bridge. Kirk turned toward her.

"My God, Carol, look at it..." He reached out a hand; she smiled and took it as he opened a channel to Engineering. "Well done, Scotty," he said. Only then did he think to glance in the direction of the Science station. "Spock--" he began... but the station was vacant. Where in God's name had Spock gone?

Just then, McCoy's hushed voice came from the intercom. "Jim, you'd better get down here."

"Bones?" What the devil was McCoy doing in Engineering?

"Better hurry," the Doctor finished; in that terrible moment, Kirk knew what had happened -- and who had really saved them.

Spock... Please, God, no! his mind cried out even as he sprinted toward the 'lift. "Sulu, take the con!" he called over his shoulder. Kirk had never ran so fast in his life. Spock... oh God, Spock! He slid down the sides of the ladder upon arrival, oblivious to the shambles of the Engine Room -- and only then did he allow himself a breath.

"Spock...?"

Scott and McCoy turned toward him, horror and pain in their faces. Kirk forced his way past them and reached for the control to open the Reactor Room door. Scott dragged him away.

"Ye canna do it, sir! The radiation--"

"He'll die!" Kirk shouted, anguished.

McCoy grabbed his friend's shoulders; his voice was quiet and full of pain. "It's too late, Jim. He's already dead."

"Oh, dear God..."

Even as Kirk pressed against the heavy transparent door, Spock -- who had been hunched on his knees, head bowed, halfway across the room -- painfully pulled himself to his feet and straightened his tunic before turning around to head toward his Human friend.

"Spock!"

Kirk's voice didn't stop the Vulcan from running into the door. The latter's face was horribly burned, his voice hoarse with pain. "The ship...? Is she... out of danger?"

"Yes," Kirk assured him.

Spock nodded laboriously. "Please, Jim... do not grieve. It was... logical. The good of the many..." His voice trailed off.

"... outweighs the good of the few," Kirk finished softly, choking back a sob.

"Or the one."

Spock raised his arm amidst excruciating pain to press one bloody hand positioned in the traditional salute against the transparent aluminum wall of the Reactor Room after removing a glove. Kirk matched it with one of his own, wishing he could have taken on some of Spock's pain -- but he couldn't even touch him. Damn your logic, Spock, he thought as a dam broke inside him and tears flowed.

"I... never took the Kobiyashi Maru test," the Vulcan rasped. "What... do you think of my solution?" Kirk was too overcome with grief to speak, so Spock continued. "Jim... I have been, and always will be, your friend. Live long and prosper..."

Just then the agony of radiation poisoning overcame Spock; his hand fell and he slumped against the wall, eyes closing as the arms of death enfolded him.

"Spock! Please, God, no!"

There was no response. His friend was gone. Kirk then hunched against the window and sobbed uncontrollably.

* * *

Death was an unfortunate but accepted fact of life aboard the Enterprise, but never had it happened to this extent. Of course, who could have imagined that Khan would commandeer a Federation ship and kill so many innocents in his mad quest for revenge on James Kirk? No one could, not even Kirk himself. Kirk had been able to bluff, cheat, and otherwise trick his way out of death countless times, but this was one thing he couldn't cheat, bluff or trick his way out of. Spock was really dead.

Why couldn't he have deduced what the Vulcan's ultimate course of action would be? No one knew Spock or the way his mind worked better than Kirk did, though Bones came in a close second. After some thought, Kirk realized why McCoy had been in Engineering -- that was where the heaviest casualties were and where his services were most needed. For a moment he wondered why McCoy hadn't tried to stop Spock from sacrificing himself. He was a doctor, he had the means... then realized that if the Vulcan was truly intent on doing something, no one could stop him.

Humans couldn't think or move as fast as Vulcans, so even though McCoy had likely guessed Spock's intentions, he hadn't been able to think or act fast enough to stop him. Even if he had, none of them would be here now. It would have been illogical to sacrifice all of them in an attempt to save one person, and Spock knew this -- which was part of the reason the Vulcan had done what he did.

So in spite of his inconsolable grief at the loss of his dearest friend, Kirk knew it was the only thing Spock could have done to save them. He also understood why Spock had never mentioned his intentions to him. There had been no opportunity; it had been a split-second decision. Kirk also knew that he would have tried to talk him out of it, and there was no time for debate. Too many lives were at stake -- and with Scotty out of commission, Spock was the only other person with sufficient knowledge and ability.

Yes, it was logical, as he'd said... but that fact didn't make losing Spock hurt any less, or make the emptiness in Kirk's life, heart and mind that the Vulcan's friendship had once filled go away. Even as dear as Bones was to him (and always would be), Spock was something else again. There would never be another quite like him. No one who could be a finer officer or a truer friend. How could he live without Spock beside him? It was as though a part of his heart had been torn away -- his other half was gone.

Of course, he wasn't the only one who had cared deeply for Spock... although he had been the one closest to him. How must Bones be feeling now -- to have had to watch Spock die and not be able to do a thing for him? Or Christine Chapel, for that matter -- the woman who had loved the Vulcan devotedly for so many years? Not to mention Saavik... though there was no way to truly know how and what she was feeling. Spock was the one who had known her best, changed her from a wild hermit child into a highly disciplined Starfleet officer.

Even so, something told Kirk that Spock was the first (and probably only) person Saavik had ever allowed herself to care about. What would become of her now that he was gone? Would she control her grief and get on with her life as he had taught her, or would she allow her Romulan side its freedom in order to express her grief and rage at losing him? He would have to watch her at the upcoming funeral before he could say for sure.

* * *

The crew assembled in full uniform at 0800 hours the following day. Saavik took her place at the torpedo guidance console and programmed in a pre-selected course. Kirk came in last, accompanied by McCoy, Carol and David Marcus -- then the ones who knew Spock best stood together. Christine Chapel stood between McCoy and Uhura, as pale and drawn as Kirk and McCoy were... holding onto Uhura's hand as if it meant her life. But she didn't cry, displaying control worthy of a Vulcan -- but Uhura knew all too well how her friend was feeling, how much Chris had loved Spock. The tears would come later, when they were alone. Kirk's voice brought the Bantu back to reality.

"We are assembled here today to pay final respects to our honored dead -- to grieve for our beloved comrade who gave his life for ours. He did not believe this sacrifice a vain or empty one, and we will not question his profound wisdom at these proceedings."

McCoy tried to keep from breaking down but failed. Instead, he stared straight ahead, overcome with tears.

"Of my friend, I can only say this... that of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most--" He paused, fighting back tears as he saw McCoy crying. " --Human," he finished, his own voice almost breaking.

All present knew how insulted Spock would have been to hear this... at least outwardly. Logically, he would know that that would be the highest praise Humans could bestow on anyone. At this point, Kirk turned and nodded toward Saavik; she acted instantly.

"We embrace the memory of our brother and teacher... and with love, we commit his body to the depths of space."

As the crew saluted, Scott began to play his bagpipes. The strains of Amazing Grace filled the large room as the black coffin moved into the launching chamber. The lock snapped into place as the door closed. The bagpipes stopped after the missile had been fired; an eerie silence descended on the room. The assembled crew watched the torpedo streak away until it vanished; moments later they returned to attention as Kirk turned to face them.

"Lieutenant," Kirk said.

"Yes, sir," she replied.

"The watch is yours. Set a course for Ceti Alpha V to pick up Reliant's survivors."

"Aye, sir."

"I'll be in my quarters, but I don't want to be disturbed unless it's an emergency."

"I understand, sir."

"Dismiss the company."

After that the group dispersed. Kirk noted that Chekov, Sulu, Scott and McCoy left first, then Uhura departed with one arm around a zombie-like Christine Chapel. Soon only Carol and David were left, but Kirk didn't feel up to talking to them. All he wanted was to be left alone, even though he could tell that both wanted to talk to him. Well, they were just going to have to wait -- at least for the time being. David and Carol exchanged glances and the young man followed his father out of the room.

* * *

The others had gone their own way upon departure, but Uhura stayed with Christine because she sensed that her friend was going to need her before long -- and she was right. She had to admire Chris for keeping up the pretense, but knew that she would be unable to do so for long.

"It was a nice service, wasn't it, Nyota?" the female doctor said with forced brightness. "I'm sure Spock would have been pleased... even when Admiral Kirk said that he considered Spock the most Human of all the people he had met in the course of his life."

Uhura forced a smile and nod.

"I'm sure you noticed how not even Dr. McCoy could keep from crying, but I didn't. Spock would have liked that."

But I could tell you wanted to, the other woman thought silently, her heart going out to her friend. Despite her outward appearance, Chris had to be going through untold agony at the loss of the man she loved. She would have to grieve for him sooner or later, or go mad.

"Well, most people would cry at a funeral -- especially if they were close to the person who died," Uhura remarked, looking at Christine from the corner of her eye to see if it would get any reaction.

"I wasn't that lucky, I'm afraid," Christine said. "But I'm not complaining. At least he acknowledged my existence and didn't berate me for feeling as I did."

"I think it would be pretty hard to criticize someone for loving you. Whatever else it may be, love has never been a fault... and even though Spock always claimed he didn't need any such thing, we know better. He needed it just as much, if not more, than we Humans do."

"Too bad we could never get him to admit it," the other woman remarked, a touch of sadness in her voice. "Both he and I would have been a lot happier. I'll never understand why he was so stubborn when it came to that... why he never let me get too close to him. I could have made him as happy as his mother has made his father."

"I'm sure his hesitancy had little, if anything, to do with you. A lot of it probably stemmed from fear of being hurt again. Remember what that witch T'Pring did to him. It's too bad that you had to suffer for what she did... and that you won't have a chance to rectify things."

Uhura was sure that this would set Christine off, if nothing else did. It always had before -- but she was wrong. What would she have to do to get her friend to release her grief? But just when the Bantu least expected it, that was precisely what happened... and over a seemingly insignificant thing.

"How are you doing on that IDIC wall hanging you mentioned the other day? The one you'd planned to give Spock for his birthday?"

"Oh, it's nearly done. I just have the center jewel to do. I know Spock didn't usually feel comfortable receiving gifts, but I was sure he'd have made an exception in this case. But I'll never be able to give it to him now -- never know how he might have reacted to it... because he's gone." Christine's head bowed and her voice nearly broke. This was when the tears began to well up in the female doctor's blue eyes. "He's gone, Nyota. Gone... and I never had the chance to say goodbye -- or how much I loved him."

She walked into her bedroom from the living area and sat down on her bed; Uhura followed her in. "Oh God, Nyota, I loved him so much. What am I going to do? How can I go on without him?" Christine began to sob in earnest and tears began to overflow down her cheeks; Uhura put comforting arms around her grieving friend as her slender shoulders began to shake.

"Go ahead, honey. Let yourself cry," the Bantu woman soothed, stroking Christine's dark hair as the latter buried her face in her friend's shoulder. "I know how much you loved him, even if no one else, including him, did."

She herself had liked and respected Spock immensely, but her grief at his untimely, premature passing was insignificant compared to the grief of one who loved him as deeply as Christine did... but who had been denied the chance to express that love time and again, by the very object of that love. It wasn't because Spock was a cruel person at heart -- quite the contrary. It was just that he had been hurt so much every time he'd tried to express his feelings that he'd simply given up and would no longer risk rejection, even though he logically should have known that Christine could no more have rejected him than she could have stopped a sun from going nova. But that was all water under the bridge now.

"If I'd ever had the chance to know what it's like to kiss him, Nyota -- or hold him in my arms, stroke his hair, feel his body close to mine, it might not hurt so much now. But I couldn't even be granted that much. Was my love for Spock so wrong that I deserved to suffer for it? My God, all I ever wanted to do was love him. Everyone should have someone who loves them. Is that such a crime?"

Tears began coming thick and fast, and words difficult to discern through the sobs. It seemed that Christine could no longer control them... no longer had the strength. That had been all used up at the funeral service.

"Of course not, honey. It was just bad timing, that's all." Uhura made her voice infinitely gentle and sympathetic. "That can happen to the best of us. It doesn't necessarily mean that the person is wrong for us, or that the love wasn't meant to be."

"How could I have been such a fool as to fall for a Vulcan? Especially when I knew their attitude toward such things," Christine berated herself through her tears. She didn't bother to wipe them away; instead, she simply kept her face buried in her friend's shoulder, clutching her as if her life depended on it.

"Don't talk like that," Uhura gently admonished. "You couldn't have known it was going to happen. Besides, you've got to remember that you aren't the only one on this ship who cared about him. You said yourself how Dr. McCoy cried at the funeral. How do you think he's feeling right now? Probably just as bad, or worse, than you do. Not to mention the Admiral and Lieutenant Saavik."

Christine finally lifted her head from Uhura's shoulder; her face was flushed red and her eyes were swollen but dry. "In other words, I should stop feeling sorry for myself."

"At the risk of sounding cruel, yes," the other woman said with a chuckle, trying to lighten the mood -- pleased to see that Christine managed a watery smile.

"You're right, Nyota. I've had my time to cry. Now it's time for me to get busy and help the others who are grieving." The female doctor sat up and straightened her clothing. "After I have a shower, a meal, and a good night's sleep, that is."

"Do you think you'll be all right now, Chris? I can stay if you think you'll need me further." The dark woman's voice was laced with concern as she smiled softly at her friend.

Christine returned it as best she could. "No, I think I'll be all right. You can go."

The two women embraced at the doctor's door. "Thank you for being here for me, Nyota."

"That's what friends are for. Good night, Chris." Uhura stepped so the door opened. "See you later."

"Later, Nyota. Maybe we can watch a holovid or something."

"That would be fun. I'll call you once I'm off-duty again."

With one last smile and hug, the women parted and went about their respective business.

* * *

While Christine freshened up and prepared to visit McCoy, David Marcus had reached Kirk's quarters. It had been a real bombshell to learn that the Admiral was his true father. His mother had also kept Kirk and himself apart because of her fear of losing him to his father and Starfleet. As a result, their first meeting had not gone well. In fact, David recalled how he had believed Kirk responsible for the deaths of his friends and colleagues aboard Regula One. He had even attacked him once Kirk had found his way to the core of the lifeless planetoid which the research station orbited.

The revelation of his parentage was such a shock to the young scientist that he was unable to fathom it. How could it possibly be true? Even at that, Carol Marcus had rarely been known to lie, and usually only because she believed it to be the best thing to do for the sake of everyone concerned.

What must James Kirk (it was still hard to think of him as his father) think of him for having gone off so half-cocked and automatically assumed the worst? And how must he be feeling now, after having seen his closest friend die and been unable to do a thing to save him? Would he, David, be able to help the older man in his time of grief, or would he only make things worse than they already were?

These were the troubled thoughts that raced through the young man's mind at warp speed as he stood in front of Kirk's cabin door, trying to get up enough nerve to press the buzzer... but he finally did.

When the buzzer sounded the first time, Kirk had been trying to read the book A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens that Spock had given him for his birthday, but the small print blurred even as he held it at arm's length in a futile attempt to read it. He then searched his pockets for the glasses McCoy had given him, discovering upon finding them that one of the lenses was shattered, rendering them useless. As shattered as his life was... as useless as he now felt.

"The hell with it," he muttered darkly, closing the book and setting it on the table next to his chair, carelessly tossing the now-unusable glasses on top of it. The door buzzer sounded again. Kirk pretended not to hear, bowing his head and burying his face in his hands, fighting back tears as his guts twisted with misery and self-hatred. "Come," he mumbled, quickly pulling himself together as David stepped in. The two looked at each other in silence for a time. The younger man could read the pain Kirk was experiencing in every line of his body, and felt obligated to offer apologies for disturbing him.

"I'm sorry. This is obviously a bad time. I didn't mean to intrude." He half-turned back toward the door, meaning to leave.

"No, don't," came the quiet entreaty. David turned back, but again there was an uncomfortable, awkward silence between them. Neither seemed to know what to do next -- then Kirk apologized to his unexpected visitor.

"Forgive me. I'm not good company right now... but it's not every day that one sees their best friend die before their eyes." The Admiral grabbed his uniform jacket hanging on the back of his chair and shrugged into it, gesturing to the untouched glass of brandy on the table. "Would you like a drink? I poured myself one, but haven't touched it. I guess I didn't want it as much as I thought I did."

David shook his head, noting the false brightness in Kirk's voice and deciding to call his bluff. "Saavik was right. You never have faced death."

The older man looked surprised for a moment, then realized his son had seen through him. Just as Carol had always been able to see through him -- and Spock had always seen through him. "No. Not like this," he reluctantly admitted. "I cheated death, tricked death... then patted myself on the back for my ingenuity." He brushed a hand across his eyes. "I know nothing." His voice was laced with pain and self-loathing.

David's voice was gentle and reassuring. "You knew enough -- enough to tell Saavik that how we face death is as important as how we face life."

"Just words," Kirk dismissed.

"But good words. You should listen to them."

Kirk mentally kicked himself as he recalled the carnage on Regula One. "My God, what a selfish bastard I've been! You've lost people you cared about, too."

"It was understandable. Most of us tend to be selfish and think of our own grief before anyone else's when we lose someone close to us."

Such profound wisdom stunned Kirk; it was almost as though Bones or Spock had spoken instead of David. He looked up at his blond, blue-eyed son, eyes like saucers.

"Then I'd better say what I came to say and be done with it," David remarked quietly.

Kirk frowned thoughtfully. "And what was it you came to say?"

"That I misjudged you, and I'm sorry. I also don't know if I have the right to say this, but I'm proud... very proud... to be your son."

David again turned to go, noting that the older man did not speak. In fact, Kirk was too stunned, but knew he had to. He might not have this chance again. "Please wait," he finally said.

David remained silent as he stood at the door and turned around. The older man -- his father -- approached him, hesitantly holding out his arms. After a moment's startlement, David stepped into them. He felt himself firmly but warmly held close in strong but trembling arms for a long moment before he could bring himself to respond. Thus James Kirk and David Marcus shared their first (and last) embrace as father and son.

* * *

After Uhura's departure and freshening up, Christine headed for McCoy's quarters -- but found it empty. She checked the chrono for a possible explanation, noting that it was around 1800, the dinner hour, so it was possible that Leonard had gone to the Officers' Mess for something to eat. She suddenly realized that she herself was hungry after her crying jag and welcomed the thought of nourishment, even if it was only a sandwich and coffee.

Only when she was nearly there did she consider the possibility that he might not have much of an appetite after having been forced to watch Spock die, along with Kirk and Scotty. Even at that, she was this close, so she might as well check -- and if he was there (or even if he wasn't), get herself something. In which case, she would resume the search after eating.

At this point she reached the doors to the mess hall and entered, calling up a sandwich, coffee and cinnamon Danish in order to accommodate her sudden craving for something sweet. She took her tray to the nearest vacant table and seated herself. A moment later she heard a chair being pulled back and a familiar voice speak to her: Spock's.

"May I join you, Miss Chapel?"

The blood left Christine's face upon recognizing the voice. It couldn't be Spock. He was dead. She was hearing things. Even so, she would know his voice anywhere. What was going on?

"Christine?" The voice came again, holding question this time... but it was McCoy's gruff Southern drawl she heard. The female doctor called up every ounce of physical and emotional strength she possessed, actually managing to look up at McCoy and smile normally.

"Of course, Leonard. I'd appreciate the company."

The Chief Surgeon looked drawn and haggard, but otherwise the same as usual. "Thanks, Christine," he said as he sat down across from her. "It's been a tough last few days -- what with the deaths on Regula One, the battering we took from Khan and the Reliant, and then Spock's sacrificing himself to save us..." His voice lowered and trailed off.

Christine felt a desolate emptiness descend upon her at the mention of the Vulcan's name. Her eyes filled with fresh tears as she bowed her head in pain. McCoy seemed contrite as he noted her actions.

"Forgive me, Christine. I should have remembered how much you loved Spock and how his death must be affecting you."

She forced a smile after lifting her head to face him. "It's all right. I'll survive. It'll hurt, but I'll survive. It's what Spock would want us to do."

"Logical," came Spock's voice again. Christine's head jerked up, her eyes wide with shock as they met McCoy's -- eyes which suddenly did not seem like Leonard's at all. Instead, they stabbed right through her, eyes which seemed to literally read her mind... like Spock's. Was she going mad?

"What did you say?" she demanded as the voice and eyes became McCoy's again.

"I said... I agree with you," was the hesitant answer as the older doctor frowned in bewilderment at the look on Christine's face and the shock in her voice. What had he done to prompt such a reaction from her? "What did you think I said?"

"I thought you said-- Oh, forget it." She waved one slender hand in dismissal. "I must have Spock on the brain even more than usual." Just as I'd swear that I've been hearing his voice... twice just since I've been here with you, she finished in her mind.

"Understandable, especially after what's happened. Don't worry, I'll be here for you if you need me." McCoy's voice rang with sincerity.

Christine smiled in spite of herself. "Thank you again, Leonard. I'll probably need all the help I can get."

Just what happened in the Engine Room before Spock died, anyway? she thought, frowning to herself as she did so. Whatever it takes, I intend to find out. She took a deep breath and jumped in with both feet.

"Leonard, I know you cared for Spock in spite of the arguments you had with him, so you must hurt almost as much as I do as a result of his death... but I really need to know. What happened in the Engine Room before he died?"

The Doctor looked surprised, but began to recount the events leading up to Spock's death in the radiation chamber. Her ears pricked up when he recalled briefly passing out -- but didn't have any idea why or how it had happened. An intriguing theory played at the back of Christine's mind, but she had no real explanation for it either... at least not at this point in time. McCoy seemed to remain himself for the duration of the aforementioned recollection, even bowing his own head and closing his eyes in pain as Christine had a short time before. She laid a comforting hand over his nearest one.

"Forgive me, Leonard. I know how difficult it must have been for you to relive that time. I'd have felt the same way in your place."

"Forgiveness is only necessary where offense has been taken, Christine." Her squeeze was returned as she again heard Spock's voice. She had to be losing her mind! "And it is not the Doctor's -- or my -- forgiveness you need seek. Rather, I seek yours. I regret having been unable to respond to the feelings you bear for me, tell you how much your love and support have meant to me. I... only wish that I had been -- worthy of those feelings. Worthy of you. Perhaps if I had been, matters might have progressed very differently between us."

Christine was shocked into silence, knowing as well as she knew her own name that it was not McCoy speaking to her: it was Spock! But how was this possible? How could he speak to her after his death... and speak through Leonard, of all people? She was well aware that even as much as Leonard had cared for Spock, he was unable to show it as Kirk did. As a result, the Vulcan's friendship with the Admiral was far closer than that between Spock and McCoy, although they were still friends.

Because of the many times Spock had been in life-and-death situations, he had long ago made plans for his possible demise -- and had left his affairs in Kirk's hands. As his closest friend, the Admiral would know best what Spock would want. The Vulcan had also seen to it that he had a burial robe on hand. The fight with the insane and homicidal Khan, as well as his premature detonation of the Genesis Device, had left Spock with no choice but to sacrifice himself for the good of his friends and shipmates.

Then it hit her like the proverbial bolt of lightning. There had to have been a way for Spock (or any Vulcan, for that matter) to preserve their knowledge and skills. If there were a way to do it, Spock would know about it. But what if Kirk had been unavailable to receive it -- and McCoy was? They weren't as close, but they were still friends. Christine felt sure that that was the explanation for Leonard's strange behavior and the times she had heard Spock's voice. It seemed incredible, almost too much to fathom, but was also the only explanation that made any sense. But she had to test her theory before she could be absolutely certain.

"Spock?" she asked hesitantly. "Spock, are you here?"

The reply she received proved her hypothesis correct. "I am here, Christine. I gave Dr. McCoy custody of my katra, or what you would call my 'soul,' or life essence which contains all the knowledge and experience I accumulated during my lifetime. The Admiral was unavailable; in addition, there was no time to do anything but act to save the ship and the crew's lives, even at the cost of my own. It was more logical to sacrifice one life than several hundred." There was a brief silence, then Spock's voice resumed, still coming out of the Doctor's mouth. "In conclusion, I will forever regret having been unable to tell you of my true feelings before my death." The voice was filled with regret and tinged with sorrow.

Christine squeezed the hand under hers again and smiled reassuringly. "You have nothing to apologize for, Spock. I always understood that you couldn't respond as a Human does. That never changed how I felt about you. What mattered to me was being near you. It's good to finally learn how you really felt toward me. Unfortunately there's nothing we -- I -- can do about it now. However, it will be easier for me to go on without you because of this moment. And know this: I'll never stop loving you... not for as long as I live. Even if I do manage to marry someone else."

For a moment McCoy's eyes seemed to change color, and there was a slight upturn of his lips... then -- for an instant -- Christine would swear that the Doctor's face had become Spock's.

"Thank you, Christine."

She smiled and once again squeezed the hand under hers -- then it was McCoy's blue-eyed gaze which met hers.

"Christine, what the hell... happened to me? I feel as though I was... possessed or something. As though someone else was controlling my body, everything I said or did."

That's because someone else is, she thought -- but said, "I'm not a shrink, Leonard. I think what you need is a good hot meal and a decent night's sleep. You haven't gotten too many of those lately, you know."

"That's for sure." The Chief Surgeon gave her a weary smile. "And I hope you're right about those things being all I need to be myself again. Thanks for coming, Chris. You'll never know how much you've helped me."

No, you've helped me -- Spock, she thought with a smile as she stood up. Now I know where your essence is. Her coffee and Danish were cold, and the sandwich only half eaten. Oh well, she'd had too much on her mind to eat anyway... and with the latest startling revelations she had just taken in, there was even more for her to think about. She disposed of her tray and the untouched food after bidding McCoy farewell, departing the mess hall for her quarters where she planned to take a nice, relaxing sonic shower, change into her prettiest nightie and put on her favorite music, then retire to bed.

A short time later she got into bed and wrapped her arms around her pillow, closing her eyes with a contented sigh. Life would be bleak without Spock, but thanks to his posthumous confession (which she would cherish as long as she lived), it would be much easier for her to go on living. Because of this, her lost love now seemed closer to her in death than he ever had in life -- and he would live in her heart forever. Her last waking thought was a vow to tell Nyota about her bizarre yet bittersweet experience. Perhaps the Admiral as well... if she got the chance. That would depend on how busy things got after they picked up Reliant's crew from Ceti Alpha Five.

* * *

Considering all that had happened, Kirk was amazed at how smoothly things were going. One thing was for sure, the damage control crew had their work cut out for them. The Reliant's crew had come through their ordeal none the worse for wear, although some would need time in Sickbay, others counseling, and still others both. Plenty to keep the medical staff busy for some time to come. Even so, how long could things be expected to continue going well? It didn't seem natural. Murphy's Law seemed a more accurate summation: "Whatever can go wrong will go wrong... and at the worst possible time."

Kirk was thankful that there was plenty to occupy his mind as well, although the thought and knowledge of Spock's death, as well as his inability to have prevented it -- would cause him pain as long as he lived. All the same, he wasn't looking forward to telling Spock's parents or Scotty's sister about the deaths of their respective sons. Scotty at least had his engines and their repair to sustain him, even though it was technically his responsibility as kin to inform his sister of her son's death... but he couldn't bring himself to do it, so the job fell to Kirk.

Logging deaths and sending condolence stargrams had never been one of Kirk's favorite things to do -- especially now, when one of the deaths was that of his closest friend. He was even denied the comfort of McCoy's presence because of the current situation. Bones must be hurting as much as he was over Spock, but like Scotty, McCoy had his work to keep him from dwelling on his sorrow. Even so, there had been times that McCoy had acted strange -- in ways even Kirk could not fathom... but he had put it down to grief for Spock.

The possibility of something unusual having happened between his two friends never entered Kirk's mind, though it probably should have. Unfortunately, the Admiral was too occupied with other things (his command responsibilities, for instance) to really think about McCoy's behavior at any length or the possibility that there might be more behind it than simple grief.

He had enough to handle just dealing with his own grief, much less someone else's... not to mention trying to describe as best he could to Spock's parents what had happened, and later on to Scotty's sister. It was at times like this that Kirk positively hated being in a command position, unable to delegate responsibility. He was even beginning to understand at least part of the reasoning behind Spock's dislike of command, his preference for being in a subordinate position, even though the Vulcan had always risen to the occasion magnificently when the situation called for it.

That was in the past now. He and the others, including young Saavik, had managed to survive Spock's death. Now came the hard part: living without him. The first step was informing Sarek and Amanda of their son's passing and how it had come about, expressing no more grief in the stargram than he considered proper. Even at that, Kirk was sure that the ever-perceptive Amanda would read him every bit as easily as she had read her half-Vulcan son... and act accordingly.

* * *

But even as Kirk sat at his computer in his quarters attempting to compose a condolence stargram to his friend's parents, Uhura and Christine were meeting for their promised get-together, watching a holovid Uhura had recently purchased and having a late dinner. Christine had also decided to tell Uhura of the bizarre experience she had had with McCoy, see if her friend could make head nor tail of it. How was it possible for Spock to have spoken through Leonard? But it was either that or she was losing her mind.

If Nyota couldn't figure it out, Christine would be obliged to go to Kirk with it. She disliked the idea of putting yet another load on already overburdened shoulders, but had little choice in the matter -- and figured he would want to know since it concerned his two closest friends. Maybe she could go talk to him if it wasn't too late after the holovid and her talk with Uhura. Otherwise it would have to wait until a more propitious time... although considering the way things had been lately, Heaven knew when that would be.

* * *

However, it wasn't Christine who spoke first. The holovid was about half over when Uhura decided to break the silence, speak up on the subject Christine had come to discuss. "Chris?... Chris, are you going to talk to me or not? You haven't said word one since you got here."

Christine almost jumped out of her skin upon coming back to reality. "Oh, Ny. Sorry. Yes, I do want to talk -- but my thoughts are so jumbled that I hardly know where or how to begin."

"Just start talking. We'll make sense of it as we go along. What matters is that you get it out in the open."

"If you say so. Well, I went to have some lunch the day after Spock died," she began.

"Okay, so you went to have lunch. What happened in the course of it?"

"I got my lunch, then sat down at a vacant table. A few minutes later I heard a voice asking if he could join me."

"Whose voice?"

Christine took a deep breath before answering. "I... know this is going to sound crazy, but I'd know his voice anywhere. It was Spock's."

Uhura looked as shocked as Christine had felt. "What? How could that be?"

"I don't know, but it was. I was sure I was losing my mind. The next thing I knew, Leonard was speaking to me. I invited him to sit down. I don't know how I managed, but I must have looked and sounded normal, because he didn't question me... just started in talking about how tough the last few days had been, especially the last 24 hours. He apologized for reminding me about Spock; I said it was all right, that I'd survive. It was what Spock would want me to do. Then it happened again..." Christine's voice trailed off.

"You heard Spock's voice again?" Uhura guessed. "What did he say?"

"That what I'd said was logical. I looked up at him, and then--" Christine abruptly broke off in mid-sentence, unable to speak further.

"Then what happened?"

"Leonard's whole face seemed to change," the female doctor continued, literally forcing the words out. "In fact, it didn't seem like his face at all any more -- and his eyes seemed to darken. So much so that I would have sworn they'd turned brown, like Spock's... then the eyes seemed to read my mind. I was sure he knew what I was thinking."

Christine took a drink to soothe her dry throat. "I asked what he'd said -- then it was Leonard again. He said he'd agreed with me. I must have looked shocked, for he frowned and asked, 'What did you think I said?' I'm not sure exactly what I answered... something about having Spock on the brain, I think. After a while we got to talking again, about what happened in the Engine Room before Spock died. I could tell he was hurting, so I put my hand over his and said he didn't need to talk any more -- that I knew how he must be feeling.

"Then it happened again... Spock's voice said that forgiveness was only necessary where offense had been taken. My hand was squeezed, then he went on, saying that it wasn't Leonard's or his forgiveness I should seek -- rather, that he sought mine. He said he regretted being unable to respond to my feelings for him and wished to tell me how much my love and support had meant to him. He... also wished he'd been worthy of my feelings -- worthy of me. He said if he had been, things might have been different between us.

"I couldn't believe what I was hearing, you know? Then as if he'd read my mind, he said he'd given Dr. McCoy custody of his 'katra,' or 'soul,' as we'd call it, since the Admiral was unavailable to receive it. He explained that there hadn't been any time to do anything but what he'd done, that it was more logical to sacrifice one life than several hundred."

Uhura had to agree. "That sounds like Spock, all right. Did he say anything else?"

"Only that he regretted having been unable to tell me how he really felt before he died. I assured him that he had nothing to apologize for, since I understood that he couldn't respond as a Human does -- and that it never changed how I felt toward him. What mattered was being near him. I told him I was glad to learn how he really felt, even if it was a tad after the fact. It'll be much easier to go on because of this. I don't know why he did it, but what matters is that he did it. I finally said that I would love him as long as I lived, even if I married someone else. He smiled and thanked me, then it was Leonard again.

"He said he'd felt strange, as if possessed by someone or something. I told him that the best advice I could give was to get a good night's sleep and something to eat. Too bad I couldn't have taken my own advice. And since both my food and coffee were cold, I told myself 'To heck with it,' and threw it away, then went back to my quarters, showered and went to bed."

Uhura shook her head in wonder. "Incredible." The dark woman frowned thoughtfully. "Have you told the Admiral about this? He might be able to explain it. Remember how close he and Spock were."

"I've considered it, but he has enough on his mind right now without me adding to it."

"At least think about it. He might not know why Dr. McCoy is acting as he is -- provided he's even noticed to begin with."

Christine sighed. "Well, when you put it that way..."

At this point the two turned their heads to note that the holovid was ending; the end credits were playing, along with some music from the film. "Oh, for Heaven's sake! I forgot all about the holovid!" Christine exclaimed.

"It's all right. We can watch it again later." Uhura looked up at the chrono. "It's 2200. You might give the Admiral a call and see if he's willing to talk with you."

"I guess it couldn't hurt," Christine conceded. "In that case, I'd better go. See you later."

"Later," Uhura said, smiling in Christine's direction before disappearing through the door.

Christine truly hoped that Kirk could help her figure out her bizarre experience. After all, he and Spock had been quite close, as Nyota had said. Perhaps Spock had even told him about a Vulcan technique of transferring knowledge from one mind to another in order to preserve it. Of course, even if he hadn't, at least he would know why Leonard was acting so strange. With that, she reached for her intercom and opened it.

"Chapel to Kirk."

There was a long silence before Kirk replied. "Yes, Doctor, what is it?" He sounded distracted; she hoped she hadn't made a mistake in calling him.

"Something very strange happened to me recently involving Dr. McCoy. I was wondering if I could talk to you about it. Maybe you could help me figure out what it means, if anything."

Kirk had been wondering if anyone else had noticed Bones' strange behavior; this seemed to confirm that he hadn't been imagining things. He was having trouble composing the stargram to Spock's parents anyway; maybe he should take a break and talk to Dr. Chapel, see what she had to say. Maybe then he would be able to write what he wanted to write to Sarek and Amanda.

"Sure, come ahead. It's kind of late, but we're both off-duty tomorrow. I need to get away from condolence stargrams as it is."

"See you in a few minutes, then. I just need to freshen up."

* * *

Ten minutes later Christine stood at the door to Kirk's quarters. It wasn't every day she came here; they usually seen each other in Sickbay, the Officers' Lounge or Rec Room. He said, "Come," after she pressed the buzzer; she stepped in. For a second she stood as if frozen; it took Kirk's voice to move her. "In here, Doctor," he directed from his work area. After she stepped into view, he gestured to the extra chair next to his desk; she smiled and nodded toward him before seating herself.

"What's on your mind?" he asked gently. "You sounded quite anxious when you called, as though you had a lot to get off your chest."

"I do, believe me. In fact, I'm still half-convinced that I'm either hallucinating, hearing things or losing my mind."

That makes two of us, Kirk thought, smiling inwardly. "Well, I can't guarantee I'll be able to help you, but can at least give you a sympathetic ear."

"It... has to do with Spock and Dr. McCoy," she began.

Kirk's right eyebrow rose in a credible imitation of Spock, prompting sharp pain in the vicinity of Christine's heart. "Both of them? You usually just concern yourself with Spock. What happened to you that involved both of them?"

She sighed deeply. "I don't know how to tell you without sounding crazy. All I can ask is that you bear with me and reserve judgement until you've heard me out."

"Deal," Kirk said. "Fire away."

She told him everything she'd told Uhura. She kept expecting him to cut in at any moment with some pithy remark, but to her relief, Kirk didn't say anything until she'd finished.

The first thing he said was, "I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one."

Christine looked at him incredulously. "You mean it's happened to you, too?"

"Not really, but there have been times I could have sworn I heard Spock talking to me... and there was no one around except Bones."

"I was wondering if Spock had ever told you of any kind of Vulcan technique of transferring knowledge from one mind to another in order to preserve it."

Kirk frowned and shook his head. "Not that I can recall, but there must be one if what you've said is any barometer. It probably happened during the time you mentioned when Bones said he'd briefly passed out, but couldn't remember why. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if that was why he was unable to stop Spock from going into the Reactor Room."

At this point Christine looked up and noted the scarcely begun stargram to Spock's parents. "Looks like you've been trying to write a stargram to Spock's parents -- and not succeeding," she observed. Kirk nodded before closing his eyes in pain and bowing his head. "I'm sorry, Admiral. I know how difficult it must be for you, having been so close to Spock."

Kirk shrugged and lifted his head, waving a hand in dismissal. "Oh, writing condolence stargrams had never been on my list of favorite things to do. I mean, how many times can you tell someone that their son or daughter, father or mother, brother or sister, nephew or niece, or even a cousin or grandchild has died before it starts getting to you?"

"And it's doubly hard when you were close to the person who died," she pointed out. "I know the feeling." She placed a hand over Kirk's for a moment. "As Spock might say, I grieve with thee." After a moment she withdrew her hand. "Maybe I can help you finish the stargram... or at least try."

Kirk smiled sadly. "I'd appreciate any help you could give."

She moved her chair next to his so she could peruse the computer screen. "Okay, let's see what we can come up with."

* * *

It took the better part of the next hour, but between them, Kirk and Christine managed to come up with a pretty good -- or at least passable -- stargram. It wasn't easy for either of them, considering their feelings for Spock, but it had to be done... and between them, it was done. Both sighed in relief once it had been saved and printed out.

"Whew! Thank God that much is done," Kirk declared with a deep sigh. "The last one won't be so hard, even though technically Scotty should be the one doing it... but he asked me since I have 'more of a way with words' than he does, according to him. He told me he had every confidence that I would come up with a stargram his sister would accept."

"You mean the boy who was caught in the Phaser Control Room with the coolant leak was Scotty's nephew?" Kirk nodded. "Oh, no..." she breathed softly. "Poor Scotty. His poor sister. They're going to be devastated."

"Scotty is devastated. That's why he wanted me to write the stargram to his sister."

"As if you didn't have enough to worry about," she opined with a wry smile. "Oh, yes. Do you think I could have a copy of the stargram to Spock's parents? It may sound morbid, but I want to have something of him other than my love and my memories. Something substantial that I can touch, hold in my hands... I hope you understand."

"Under the circumstances, I think I can," Kirk smiled. "It'll only take a minute." Slightly more than a minute later, he handed her the hard copy of the stargram she had requested, then looked at his wall chrono, which read 0030 hours -- half past midnight. "It's after midnight; you'd better get to bed. Thanks for your help with the stargram."

She stopped halfway to the door, nodding and smiling in his direction. "It was the least I could do for Spock. Good night, Admiral. Best of luck with the other stargram."

She stepped up to the door, which automatically opened for her -- then stepped through and was gone. Kirk prepared the stargram to Sarek and Amanda for transmission, then turned back to his computer again and proceeded to write the stargram of condolence to Scotty's sister, Cadet Peter Preston's mother.

* * *

Upon finishing the stargram to Fran Preston and printing it out (it wouldn't be ready to mail until after Scotty had gone over it and added -- or subtracted -- to his satisfaction)), Kiirk set it aside and called up the stargram to Spock's parents again, the print on the screen blurring through his tear-filled eyes as he re-read it aloud.

Stardate 8128.86

Ambassador Sarek and Lady Amanda...

This is the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. even now I must stop and com- pose myself before I can continue. but I have a duty to perform, and it is to inform you with sorrow of the death of your son, and my closest friend, Spock. You may be proud of your son; he died a hero, saving over four hundred lives, including my own -- although I would gladly have died in his place.

You see, the ship's warp engines had been taken off-line because they had been badly damaged in a battle with an old adversary of mine, who had managed to appropriate the Genesis Device, then detonate it prematurely. The only way to escape the effect was by warping away, and we were presently unable to do that.

In all the confusion, I had been unaware that Spock had left the Bridge and gone down to the Engine Room. Mr. Scott, my Chief Engineer, had been overcome by radiation, so Spock took it upon himself to get the warp engines back in working order since he was the only other person aboard with sufficient knowledge and ability.

He succeeded, and we managed to escape, but I assumed that Mr. Scott had recov- ered and repaired the engines. That is, until Dr. McCoy called from the Engine Room. When I arrived, Mr. Scott and the Doctor had to hold me back after I saw Spock all hunched over in the Reactor Room. I knew he would die in there, so I tried to reach it to get him out, but they said it was too late. He was already dead. When I managed to get there, I called to him. I'm sure it was sheer will that moved him, though he couldn't stand for long.

He told me not to grieve, that what he had done was logical. The good of the many outweighed the good of the few -- or the one. Also, that he had been, and always would be, my friend before putting a hand up in salute and saying, "Live long and prosper" before it dropped, and he... died. Worst of all, I couldn't even touch him!

The next thing I knew, I was in Sickbay with McCoy sitting next to me. By all the other occupied beds, I could tell how busy he had been. He said the best thing for me was rest, so he sedated me and I slept for nearly twelve hours. We planned the funeral after I got up, then Dr. Chapel and I virtually bullied McCoy into getting some rest.

Even at that, we all know that getting through the funeral would be the easy part. The hard part will be living without Spock, trying to fill the void he has left behind by his passing. I plan to come see you both at the first opportunity, as soon as I feel up to it and my duties permit it. In conclusion, please know that you have my deepest sympathies on the loss of your son... and know also that none of us will ever forget him. Myself in particular, for this unswerving loyalty and caring friendship - and I will never stop missing him.

Very truly yours,

James T. Kirk

A short time later Kirk turned off his computer, then went to bed after showering... but once in bed, he did something he hadn't done since he was a child -- he buried his face in his pillow and cried himself to sleep.

* * *

The Enterprise was still several days away from Earth when a stargram from Vulcan arrived for Kirk, bearing the seal of the House of Surak, the Vulcan philosopher from whom Spock and his father were descended. The Admiral knew who it was from and frankly dreaded opening it. He had done the best he could to explain what had happened to the Vulcan and why -- just as he had tried to remain as professional as possible when relating the news to Spock's parents... but was sure that his grief was all too obvious despite his best efforts.

He could not do as Spock asked. If your best friend dies, you're going to grieve, regardless of their wish to the contrary. Kirk busied himself with 'paperwork' and such for a time, but after a certain point knew he could no longer put off reading the stargram. No use kidding himself; the 'paperwork' wasn't that urgent. He was using it as an excuse, telling himself one thing when he knew otherwise -- that the 'paperwork' was important, when in fact he was just plain scared.

With that, Kirk told his computer to turn off and pushed himself back in his chair to stand up and turn toward his sleeping alcove with stargram in hand after he picked it up from his desk, where it had lain for the past six hours. Once inside the sleeping alcove, the Admiral sat down on his bed, setting the stargram aside temporarily while removing his boots and uniform jacket. After stretching out full-length on his bed and positioning his pillow for maximum comfort, he picked up the pale green envelope again. He carefully broke the seal, choosing not to acknowledge the fact that his hands were trembling as he opened the stargram in Amanda's fine hand (she was one of the few people he knew who preferred handwriting to holovids) and forced himself to read it.

Stardate 8128.94

Dear James,

Sarek and I thank you for taking the time to explain the circumstances of our son's death and the reasoning behind his actions. It is a tragedy, and we shall mourn the untimeliness of it, but at the same time, we know that Spock did the only thing he could have done to save the Enterprise and those aboard her.

I can imagine how difficult this must be for you, having been so close to and fond of Spock these many years. It eases our grief considerably to know that our son had such a friend as you... someone who accepted him as he was, who cared not what kind of background he had -- instead, you sought him out and offered him friendship solely on the basis of his own merits. Spock's life was surely enriched by you and your friendship, even as yours was by his.

As you know, Spock did not make friends easily or allow himself to develop feelings for too many people -- and those he did care for had to prove themselves worthy first. I'm sure you know all too well that Spock was not an easy person to get to know, but you obviously saw something in him that made you want to have him as your friend and gave you the tenacity and patience required to wear him down, as it were.

Of course, I am not discounting Dr. McCoy. He must be mourning Spock's passing as much as we ourselves are. I could see through his gruff facade as easily as I always saw through Spock's. He cared as much for Spock as you did, but because of the differences between yourself and the Doctor, they could not be as close as you and Spock were... nor could they show their feelings for each other as openly as they might have wished.

Which brings me to the feelings I noticed from your head nurse -- Christine Chapel was her name, wasn't it? -- as she cared for Spock after he'd acted as blood donor for his father during the Babel incident some years ago. They were reminiscent of the feelings I had for Sarek not long after meeting him... which means that she would have had to have been in love with Spock at that point -- and deeply so.

For that reason, I cannot help but empathize with her. Speaking from long experience, it is not easy to love a Vulcan... or be married to one. I remember all too well what I went through, and my heart goes out to her because of all she has surely gone through (and is probably still going through) because of her feelings for Spock.

She must be as devastated as you and Dr. McCoy are as a result of Spock's death, particularly if she was unable to show her feelings to him, express them and have him respond... which I was certain he would do after his V''ger experience. Though I suppose that not even that could change his inborn stubbornness or deep inner fear of being rejected by a woman he had... developed... deep feelings for. A most unfortunate turn of events for them both, especially now that there is no way to change matters.

This statement prompted Kirk to recall the conversation he had had with Christine about her bizarre yet bittersweet experience with Spock's essence, now residing in McCoy's mind... and what 'he' had told her of the feelings he had harbored for her and his regret that he was unable to have been the kind of suitor she deserved -- sentiments he had been unable to voice until after his physical death.

But there was no way Kirk could explain that in terms that Amanda would understand, so it was best to keep it to himself -- at least for the time being. With that, he returned to the stargram.

All of you have our sympathy because of your recent loss of both a close friend and potential suitor (for Christine) -- just as we have yours for the loss of our beloved son and only child. It will take a long time for the pain and emptiness to pass, but in the meantime we can take comfort in the feelings we bear for him -- and he bore for us -- as well as the fact that he lived among us. Not to mention the miracle of having known and been associated with him. As the old saying goes, 'Those who live in someone's heart will never die.' For that reason, Spock will live forever through us, those who loved him. We must honor his memory by living our lives as much as possible as he would want us to.

Oh, before I forget -- Sarek wanted me to tell you that he planned to come see you and speak to you about Spock as soon as there is an opening in his schedule. He didn't say what his reasons were, and I have no idea when he'll be there. Just be prepared to meet with him at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Our best wishes to the three of you and hopes for your continued good health and eventual recovery from our mutual grief.

With friendship and sympathy,

Amanda

Kirk couldn't help but breathe a deep sigh of relief as he relaxed against his pillow after finishing the stargram. If he could survive the apprehension which had consumed him since the receipt of Amanda's missive, he could certainly survive anything Sarek had to say.

* * *

Three days later Kirk decided to tell Christine and Bones what Amanda had said about them in the stargram he had received. Christine deserved it, since she had helped him write the missive which had prompted such an answer. He hadn't seen any need for it, so he hadn't told Amanda that Christine had helped him write the stargram -- but she must be even more perceptive than he gave her credit for if she could so easily deduce Christine's feelings for Spock.

Once he was off-duty the evening of stardate 8129 at approximately 1830 hours, he opened his desk intercom and spoke into it. "Kirk to Chapel."

The Doctor sounded breathless as she answered. "Yes, Admiral?"

"Is something wrong, Doctor? You sound like you just ran a 50-yard dash." Kirk couldn't help being a little curious.

Christine laughed. "Very nearly. I just got back from having dinner, and had just opened the doors to my quarters when I heard my intercom beeping. It was across the room from me, so I ran to answer it just in case it was important. Which reminds me -- why are you calling?"

"I just got an answer to the condolence stargram to Spock's parents that you helped me write. Spock's mother mentioned you. I thought you'd like to read it."

Christine was shocked into silence for a moment. "Amanda mentioned me?" she said upon regaining her voice. "I didn't think she knew of my existence, much less how I felt about Spock. Did you tell her about me or that I'd helped you with the stargram to her and Sarek?"

"No," was the reply. "I'd tell you what she said, but thought you'd prefer to read it yourself. That is, if you don't have any other plans..." Kirk's voice trailed off.

"Nothing that can't wait. Your quarters again?"

"Good enough. Would fifteen minutes give you enough time to freshen up? I can also have a drink on hand for you if you like."

"Make it twenty and you've got a deal. And yes, I'd appreciate the drink. See you in twenty minutes, Admiral. Chapel out."

"I'll be expecting you. Kirk out." With that, the connection was cut.

Christine went to her bathroom for a quick shower, all the while wondering how Amanda could have known of her feelings for Spock if Kirk hadn't told her. Certainly Spock hadn't -- at least not as far as she knew -- and there had been no opportunity for her and Amanda to speak privately at the time of the Babel incident... not with both Sarek's and Spock's lives at stake. Of course, being a fellow Human in love with a Vulcan, Amanda was likely to recognize the signs in Christine which she herself had once exhibited. However, Amanda had won her battle, and Christine hadn't known until after Spock's physical death how he had truly felt toward her.

Would they have bonded and married as Sarek and Amanda had, if Spock had been able to tell her of his feelings beforehand? It was all academic now, but Christine preferred to believe that she and Spock would have been husband and wife had the Khan/ Genesis incident ended differently. At this point, she looked up and noticed she only had five minutes before she was due at the Admiral's quarters... so she threw on a casual dress and ran a comb through her hair with a touch of lip gloss before dashing out.

"Come," he said when she pressed the buzzer.

Kirk's eyebrow raised upon seeing her -- a gesture painfully reminiscent of Spock -- but Christine forced a smile and attempted to slow down her heart and respiration. Not quickly enough, however... for Kirk smiled and said, "Running the 50-yard dash again, Doctor?"

She could only nod in reply even as he gestured to her to sit down on the extra chair near his desk, stargram from Amanda in hand and an iced drink sitting on a coaster near her seat.

"Have a seat. As soon as you're settled, I'll give you the stargram from Amanda."

Christine finally managed to get her heart and breathing under control, and after she took a swallow of the cold drink, Kirk handed her the stargram from Vulcan. There was a long silence as she read, tears misting her eyes at how well Amanda had read her, as well as at the explanation of how she had known of Christine's love for her son.

"It's beautiful," the Doctor said quietly upon raising her head. "I should have guessed that she would know and understand how I feel because of what she herself experienced with Spock's father. I wish she and I had had the chance to speak privately, but there was no opportunity because Leonard and I were working to save Sarek... and at the same time, make sure that Spock would suffer no ill effects from that Rigellian drug."

Kirk nodded understandingly, the memories of that time still fresh in his mind even after all the years which had passed since then. Memories of how Spock had talked his mother and McCoy into the operation and using the Rigellian drug on him, then backing out at the last minute after Kirk had been attacked by the Orion masquerading as an Andorian, risking his father's life in order to do his duty by his shipmates and their VIP passengers.

Commendable, if somewhat illogical, although he had managed to rectify things by taking over himself in order to free Spock -- in spite of the fact he had been badly wounded. However, Bones had patched him up and given him enough medication (he had hoped) to get him through whatever he had to do. He hadn't liked having to deceive Spock, but as he had told McCoy, he couldn't let the Vulcan commit patricide. Sarek would have died without the operation, and the only way to get enough blood was to use the Rigellian drug on Spock for a transfusion.

"I always found it hard to understand why Spock pushed so hard for the operation, even seemed willing to play blood donor -- until I got hurt. After that he seemed to consider duty more important, even if it cost his father's life. Thank Heaven everything worked out in the end... if only for Spock's sake." Kirk sighed and continued. "I can only hope his mother ended up forgiving him."

It had been quite some time before Spock could bring himself to tell even Kirk what had happened during the disastrous confrontation between his mother and himself, what each had said and done and how each had felt at the time. Christine gave the Admiral a funny look but made no comment, figuring that if Kirk thought she should know, he would tell her what he was talking about. "So do I."

"Sorry, Christine -- just thinking out loud. I didn't mean for you to hear that."

"It's all right. Which reminds me... have you told Leonard about the stargram yet?"

"I was going to." Kirk frowned at her. "Why? Don't you think I should?"

"Yes, of course. Just be prepared in the event he -- well -- changes personalities. You know what I mean."

Kirk's lips twisted wryly. "Do I ever! In that case, it might be a better idea if I wait until tomorrow. We won't get to Earth for another couple of days anyway."

Christine shrugged. "Tell him whenever you want. I just thought it would be best if you erred on the side of caution." She finished her drink with one last swallow before standing up. "Do you think Amanda would mind if I wrote and thanked her?"

Kirk smiled and shook his head. "No, I don't think so... as long as you tell her how you found out."

Christine was also considering asking the older woman what had happened between her and Spock that he would need to seek his mother's forgiveness. She had a pretty good idea, but wanted to make sure. With luck, she and Amanda could become friends -- if only to commiserate over their mutual grief... even if they were grieving for different reasons. The love of a mother for her child was very different from the love of a woman for a man.

"Well, I'd better go write her before I lose my nerve. Hope your talk with Leonard goes well."

"So do I. Goodnight, Doctor."

"Goodnight, Admiral... and take care. Don't worry; we'll make it if we stick together."

Kirk smiled in appreciation. "Take care, Christine. Thank you."

Christine stopped at the door and turned around, her smile conveying the knowledge that the Admiral was not only thanking her for caring about others' grief, including his, but for her devotion to Spock. After she left, Kirk called McCoy and told him to be expecting him in his Sickbay office the following morning at 0800 for a private talk about their mutual friend and the stargram he had received from the latter's parents.

* * *

Meanwhile, Christine went off-duty and planned to at least attempt to write Spock's mother, although she really didn't know where to begin or how to explain herself. Amanda was Human and thus likely to understand her love for Spock, but that didn't mean that Christine had the right to butt into his personal life... whatever his essence had told her of his true feelings for her. It was going to be one of the hardest things she'd ever tried to do, but she had to try before she lost her nerve. After a shower and meal, Christine sat down at her desk and opened the top right drawer to get out some stationery, then the center one to get out a stylus. After a deep sigh, she took a generous swallow of coffee for strength... then put pen to paper and began to write.

Stardate 8130.3

To Lady Amanda --

The Admiral showed me the stargram he received from you recently and told me that you had mentioned me in it. I was quite surprised since I didn't think you were aware of my existence, much less how I felt about Spock. Even so, I wish to thank you for your perceptiveness and sensitivity. I wish we could have sat down and talked privately at the time of the Babel incident; you could have given me advice on how to deal with my feelings for him. Yes, I was in love with Spock at the time -- very much so -- and have never stopped loving him these many years.

Please forgive me for intruding into your lives, but I just had to tell you of my feelings and hope you can accept them, even though Spock couldn't. At least not while he was alive... but more on that later. I assume that you've deduced that the Admiral had help in writing the stargram to you and Sarek -- and that I was the one who helped him. He was having difficulty composing it due to his grief for Spock. I'm sure you're aware of how close they were. As to why I was there, I had had a bizarre experience and told the Admiral about it to see if he could help me figure out what it meant, if anything.

She went on, telling Amanda in detail of her bittersweet encounters with Spock's essence and what he had told her, also expressing his regret at his inability to show his feelings for her and his belief that he was unworthy of her because of it.

In case you're wondering why Spock chose Dr. McCoy instead of the Admiral to be the 'keeper' of his katra, it was a split-second decision. There had been no time for him to do otherwise. In addition, Spock and the Doctor are also very good friends and cared a lot for each other, however they may have disagreed and argued on occasion. I now believe that it was their way of expressing their affection for each other.

I believe too that giving Dr. McCoy custody of his essence was Spock's way of showing without words how much he cared for him and also wished to have a bond with him. (I'm sure you know that Spock and the Admiral already had one.) That is, in the event they are able to return to Vulcan for the fal-tor-pan. Spock's essence told me about it.

I still don't know how -- or if -- that will come about, but it is unimportant as long as it does. Life is bleak without Spock, but I take solace in knowing that he did indeed care for me. It will be easier to go on without him in spite of my deep sense of loss and heartbreak. I wish words could express my feelings, how very much I loved him... and will always love him.

I have always envied you; you were so much luckier than I was. You may have fallen in love with a Vulcan, but you managed to win him -- even married him and had his child. BBut II'm not bitter. I knew that Spock couldn't respond as a Human would. That didn't matter to me. What mattered was being near him.

Christine was tempted to tell Amanda what had happened between herself and Spock during the Psi 2000 incident, what the virus had made her do and say to him... especially her belief that it had marked the beginning of his feelings for her -- but decided it would be an invasion of their privacy to tell even his mother about it, at least at this point in time. She sighed and resumed writing.

Well, I'd better close here. I will understand if you choose not to answer me, but thought it would help ease your grief to know that there is another who cared for and about Spock -- and who would like to be your friend if you're willing. Again, thank you for your compassion and understanding.

With respect and warmest regards,

Dr. Christine Chapel

P.S. Oh, before I forget -- I also wanted to say that I'm sure that much of what made me fall in love with Spock came as much from you as from Sarek. I'm also glad that I had a chance to care for him, too. He and Spock are so alike, yet so different. It was sad that they were estranged for so long; I pray they had a chance to reconcile and that it was a lasting one.

Christine read it over, then re-copied it after making the necessary additions and changes -- getting it ready for mailing and sending it before she lost her nerve. It would be nice if she and Spock's mother could become friends, but if nothing else, she was glad to have gotten everything off her chest as far as her own feelings were concerned. If things worked out, she would feel even closer to Spock.

In which case, Amanda could lend an understanding ear and loving heart to her and they would give each other solace and moral support, share their mutual grief and love for Spock -- and get to know each other as people in the process. Later on, she would tell Amanda the whole story of how her love for Spock came to be. It was too much to lay on her this early in the game. For the time being, Christine intended to keep a respectful distance and not pressure the older woman.

* * *

Kirk had found it far easier to write Scotty's sister and tell her of her son's death than he had found writing Spock's parents, although it still wasn't something he enjoyed doing... to put it mildly! Many others had been injured in the fight with Khan, but thank God no one else had been killed. He had had enough problems as it was. To Kirk's relief, Scotty reacted to the stargram in the way he'd expected; all he did was add a brief postscript explaining why he had had the Admiral write the stargram for him. Kirk then made sure to tell Scott to let him know how his sister reacted to it; the engineer promised he would.

Not a moment too soon, either. McCoy would be expecting him within the next fifteen minutes. The Admiral prepared himself as best he could and left his quarters to head for Sickbay after splashing some cold water on his face and taking a shot glass of Saurian brandy to calm himself. He only hoped it was enough to last him through the entire encounter.

* * *

The Doctor was waiting when Kirk arrived, a snifter of Saurian brandy at his elbow and a glass in his hand. He smiled wearily at his friend as the Admiral sat down in the extra chair near the desk.

"Tough day, Jim?"

"No more than usual," was the reply.

"Have you written Spock's parents yet?" McCoy asked after taking a generous swig of his drink.

Kirk nodded after giving the brandy snifter and Chief Surgeon a meaningful look. McCoy handed him a full glass moments later; the Admiral drank deeply and gratefully, half draining it before raising his head to once again meet the Doctor's eyes.

"Oh yes, some time ago... and got an answer yesterday. Would you like to read it?" Kirk reached into his inner pocket and brought out the stargram.

"Sure, if it's no bother," McCoy said.

"No, of course not. Why would you think that?" Kirk gave his second-best friend a funny look.

"Well, anymore you tend to keep things concerning you and Spock private and don't share them with me," the Doctor reminded him. "So I thought I'd better ask just to make sure it was all right. Still, it seems strange when I was as much his friend as you are. I know I haven't been as good as I could have been, but that didn't mean I didn't care. Even if Spock couldn't see that, I would think that you could, and explain things to him."

The Doctor sighed. "I would have liked to be closer to him, but would have had to change my whole personality to do it -- and I can no more change the way I am than you or he could. If we're going to be friends, we have to take the bad with the good, not try to change each other."

At this point McCoy opened Amanda's stargram and began to read, remaining silent until he reached the part where Spock's mother had mentioned him. "Well, I'm glad to see that at least Amanda can see that I cared about Spock too -- despite our differences." The Doctor's eyes widened, and Kirk had a feeling that Bones had reached the part where Amanda had mentioned Christine and her feelings for Spock.

"How's that for perceptive? They never had a chance to speak privately, yet she writes as though they talked for hours." McCoy looked up at the other man sitting across from him. "Did you show this to Christine?"

Kirk nodded. "She's going to write and thank her. I also got the impression that she hopes they will become friends."

"Certainly wouldn't hurt," the Doctor opined. "In fact it'll probably help them both a lot." Again there was silence until McCoy reached the part where Amanda had told Kirk to be expecting Sarek in the not-too-distant future... and that he would want to speak to Kirk about Spock. "Have you heard from Sarek yet?" McCoy asked. Kirk shook his head. "I'm not surprised that he wants to talk to you about Spock. What do you think he'll ask you?"

The Admiral shook his head again and frowned. "All I can do is tell him what I know and hope it's enough."

"It should be. After all, you can't tell him what you don't know."

"True -- but that still may not satisfy him."

The Doctor returned the stargram to Kirk. "Amanda writes a pretty nice stargram, don't you think? Thanks for letting me read it."

Kirk gently dismissed it. "It was the least I could do."

"Well, I'd better get back to work now. Take care, Jim. Try not to work yourself too hard, and don't hesitate to come by if you need either a glass of brandy or a sympathetic ear, if not both."

Kirk smiled as he stood up and turned for the door. "I'll keep it in mind, Bones -- and also want you to feel free to come talk to me if you feel the need."

McCoy nodded and smiled. "I won't forget, Jim."

"See you later, Bones." Kirk couldn't help a sigh of relief at how well the session had gone as he departed McCoy's office. He had been expecting Spock's voice to come out of the Doctor's mouth at virtually any moment during their conversation, but was thankful it hadn't because it meant one less problem for him to think about -- and he much preferred to think about more pleasant things... like when Spock was still alive.

* * *

Christine received a reply far sooner than she expected, especially considering the fact that she hadn't expected a reply at all. Maybe now she would have an ally in the event Spock was brought back to life at the fal-tor-pan. Of course, she still had no idea how his body would be regenerated. Would Genesis have something to do with it or would Spock pull yet another Vulcan rabbit out of his hat, so to speak, like he had during the Deneva business?

In addition, would he remember all he had told her of his feelings for her while in McCoy's body once he had been "reincarnated" in his own? But these questions could be relegated to the back burner for the time being. What she was most concerned about was Amanda's reaction to her stargram. Christine called up a cup of coffee upon reaching her quarters after her duty shift, then set it on her bedside table and removed her regulation boots before opening the sealed stargram with trembling hands.

Stardate 8130.13

Dear Christine,

I hope it's all right to call you that... and please call me Amanda. Thank you for your lovely stargram. It is no intrusion; Sarek and I welcome anyone who cared for our son. Spock grew up virtually without love or friendship; it's a wonder he turned out as well as he did. I like to think that I'm mainly responsible for that.

As I once told the Admiral, I was glad Spock had finally found friendship and that he had never felt at home anywhere but Starfleet. I also can't say I'm surprised that you helped with the condolence stargram. Something told me that the Admiral could not have written it by himself, that at some point it had had a woman's touch.

Indeed, I felt for you during the Babel incident upon realizing that you were as much in love with my son at that point as I was with Sarek in our youth. If I could have known beforehand, I would have given you some advice which could have helped you. As I'm sure you know all too well, loving a Vulcan isn't easy. Neither is being married to one, though it does have its rewards. As you said, I was able to marry the one I loved and have his child.

It is unfortunate that there was no opportunity for the two of us to sit down and speak privately, but I'm sure you'll agree that Sarek and Spock's lives took precedence at that moment in time. I have no doubts that loving Spock has been difficult for you, but judging from what you've told me, his loss has been made easier to bear because of what his essence has told you of his previously unspoken feelings.

Let me assure you, Christine, that Vulcans have other ways -- non-verbal and non-physical -- ways to show their feelings which make our Human ways seem childish and superficial. Perhaps Spock will be able to demonstrate some of these to you should the fal-tor-pan prove successful, although he will likely need help until he is himself again... and I'm sure you and his other friends will be only too happy to help on that score.

It would also seem that you are quite perceptive in your own right to be able to see through Spock's facade as I saw through his father's. I can't help believing that most women have a sixth sense when it comes to detecting whether or not the man they love is being himself or putting on a show for their benefit.

As for Sarek and Spock... they were both very stubborn and proud, having caused each other pain through misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the other's actions and feelings -- but I knew that deep down there was an abiding attachment between them -- though as Vulcans, they could not show it as they might have wished.

For the time since Babel up until now, the reconciliation has lasted, such as it is. They weren't on affectionate terms, but have at least spoken civilly to each other most of the time, which was more than I could say for the eighteen years between Spock's joining Starfleet and the Babel incident.

Yes, my husband and son were more alike than either of them would ever admit, and I pray that Spock will act as his father did and choose a Human wife once he has recovered, if only for your sake. As the old saying goes, "Death is not an ending, but a beginning." This is especially true of Vulcans. If everything works out, we just may have something else in common other than a mutual love for a Vulcan.

Finally, I would like very much to be your friend. It always makes me feel good to have another Human to talk to, especially another Human woman... and most importantly, one who loved my son so devotedly. I look forward to a long, mutually satisfying and affectionate correspondence with you. Take care and all the best to you always, Christine.

With warmest regards,

Amanda

Christine couldn't have written a better stargram if she'd tried. All her worries had been for naught. If Spock's mother was in any way what she seemed, she now had a friend who would stand by her for life and help her should she have difficulty with Spock on the romantic front later on. For now, what was most important to her was that her beloved would soon be brought back to the land of the living... and when he was, she intended to be there.

* * *

A short time later a stargram arrived for Scotty from Scotland and his sister. The first part was as he expected, a lecture for having had Kirk write when it was Scott's responsibility as kin. However, he hoped that she remembered that he had never been a good or regular correspondent even at the best of times -- and this definitely wasn't. Of course, even the best of writers would find it difficult to put into words how and why someone's husband, son, or other loved one had died. The younger they were, the more tragic it was -- and Peter had only been fourteen years old.

Scott also hoped that Fran was over the worst of her grief, grief which would prompt her to flay him alive, stating unequivocally that she wished he had died instead of Peter. The fact that the boy had died a hero, saving several of his shipmates, would come as cold comfort to his grieving mother, as it did to his equally devastated uncle. She seemed to be, but could still also be numb from the shock. The magnitude of what had happened probably hadn't sunk in yet. And if that was the case...

Had it not been for Peter's love of engineering and the stars, he would still be alive. If only Khan hadn't been so determined to rid himself of James Kirk that he would kill countless innocents in order to accomplish his objective. But no amount of "if-onlys" would bring Peter back to life, no amount of recriminations or regret.

Scott continued reading, breathing a sigh of relief as he noted his sister's seemingly calm, rational and comforting acceptance of her loss and reassurance to her brother that she didn't blame him for her son's death. Upon finishing it, the engineer reached for his intercom and contacted Kirk.

"Scott to Kirk."

"Yes, Scotty. What is it?" the Admiral answered.

"Ah jus' got an answer from my sister to th' stargram you wrote f'r me about Peter. Ah thought ye'd like t' read it."

Kirk yawned. "I'm a little tired, but I suppose I can stay up long enough to see what your sister has to say."

"Ah'll be there in a few minutes, sir. Would ye like me t' bring some of m' Scotch?"

Scott left his quarters moments later, bottle and stargram in hand. Not long afterward the engineer was pressing the buzzer at his CO's quarters.

"Come," Kirk said; Scott stepped in to find Kirk at his desk with one chair at the ready, along with two glasses waiting to be filled with the amber liquor both men enjoyed, but that Scott particularly favored.

After Scott sat down, he handed Kirk his stargram and began to pour them each a glass. The engineer was nervous in spite of himself, so he allowed himself a good long swig as Kirk opened the stargram and began to read it. There was such a long silence that Scott was ready to climb the wall before the Admiral spoke again.

"Well, I'm glad to see that she's taking it so well," Kirk observed. "Though it does come as something of a surprise."

"She might still be in shock," Scott reminded him.

"That's a possibility," Kirk conceded. "But she says she doesn't blame you for what happened. I'd say that's a good sign." The Admiral picked up his glass of Scotch and took a good long swig of his own.

"Ah hope so." Scott sounded dubious. "Which reminds me -- how're Mr. Spock's parents holdin' up?"

"As well as can be expected, considering the circumstances... at least that's what Amanda said in her reply to my stargram. I'm also supposed to expect Sarek in the near future; he wants to talk to me about Spock."

"Ah hope it works out," Scott opined.

"So do I," Kirk replied. "I haven't heard anything yet... but with Vulcans, I've learned to expect the unexpected." The Admiral yawned again. "Now if you don't have anything else on your mind, I'd like to get some sleep."

"Of course, sir. Thank ye for y'r time."

Kirk nodded and smiled, then stood up and turned toward his sleeping alcove. "See you later, Scotty."

This time it was the engineer's turn to smile, nod and turn for the door. Upon arrival at his quarters Scott had another drink, then went to bed.

* * *

A month after Spock's death, Sarek still hadn't shown up and Kirk was beginning to wonder if he was going to at all, in spite of what Amanda had said. For weeks he had jumped at every beep of his intercom and was on pins and needles every time a stargram arrived. Of course, Sarek wasn't that much of a letter-writer; if he had important business, he preferred to do it in person. As Kirk had told Scotty, it was best to expect the unexpected where Vulcans were concerned, even though most people considered them so predictable as to be almost boring -- at least those acquainted with them.

He was more than "acquainted" with Spock, however, as was McCoy... and Sarek knew it. Just as Kirk knew that if the older Vulcan got self-righteous or judgmental about his son, he would tell him where to get off in no uncertain terms -- and courtesy be damned. People like that didn't deserve it. It had always been hard for Kirk to understand why Spock had always worked so hard to be fully Vulcan and buried his Human half as deep as he could... yet nothing he had done was good enough for Sarek. My God, if the man had wanted an all-Vulcan son, why didn't he marry a Vulcan woman instead of Amanda? Why penalize Spock for something he had no control over?

If all full-blooded Vulcans were like Sarek (and they seemed to be), Kirk couldn't blame Spock for leaving Vulcan as soon as he was able. Even so, it was partly his Vulcan training and partly the kind of person Spock himself was which had prompted him to do what he did -- and ultimately that which had gotten him killed.

Spock, Kirk's mind whispered. Spock, my friend. I miss you. If only you hadn't had to die. Tears misted the Admiral's eyes for a moment, then he wiped them away with one hand and continued making drinks for his command crew who were due momentarily: Sulu, Chekov and Uhura. Scott had had to go make arrangements for his nephew's body to be flown back to Scotland, then the memorial service. After that, he too would come to Kirk's apartment.

McCoy was home resting comfortably, filled with tranquilizers after having been caught breaking into Spock's shipboard quarters shortly before their arrival back on Earth. He had gone down to investigate; several guards around the forced-open, formerly sealed doors of the Vulcan's darkened quarters gave him questioning looks.

Kirk had shaken his head and entered cautiously, seeing a shadowy figure sitting in the meditation chamber. He had carefully approached it after the eerie sound of Spock's disembodied voice reached him.

"Jim..." it had said. "Help me. You left me on Genesis. Why did you do that? Help me..."

"Bones?" he had said upon realizing who the figure was. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Help me, Jim," the Doctor had said. "Take me home..."

Kirk had frowned uncomprehendingly. "Bones, we are. We are home."

"Then perhaps it's not too late. Climb the steps, Jim. Climb the steps of Mount Seleya..."

It was then that Kirk had realized that Spock was speaking again -- but using McCoy's voice. "Bones, Mount Seleya is on Vulcan. We're home, on Earth."

Then Spock's voice came again... one word which rang in Kirk's mind for weeks afterward: "Remember..."

Just then, Uhura's crisp voice had reached him. "Docking is completed, sir. Fleet Commander Morrow is on his way for inspection."

McCoy had collapsed in Kirk's arms. "Uhura, get the medics down here. Get them now!"

* * *

The door buzzer brought him back to reality. "Come," he said. Uhura, Sulu and Chekov entered, all in civilian clothes as Kirk was. He greeted them as he distributed the drinks; they soon began to speak among themselves about their recent experiences, sharing both personal observations and regrets until Kirk proposed a toast.

"To absent friends," he said. The four raised their glasses and they touched, then they drank again.

Sulu asked what would happen to the Enterprise; Kirk said, "She's to be decommissioned."

"Vill ve get another ship?" Chekov wondered.

"I can't get an answer," Kirk shrugged. "Starfleet's up to its -- brass -- in conferences. No one has time for those who stand and wait."

"Sir, about Dr. McCoy... how is he?" asked Uhura, her voice laced with concern.

"Home, resting comfortably, pumped full of tranquilizers. They say it's exhaustion. He promised he'd stay put. Well, we'll see..." Kirk's voice trailed off as his buzzer sounded again. It was probably Scotty. A tad late, but finally here. Kirk smiled expectantly. "Ah, Mr. Scott. Come!"

But the robed figure who stepped in was not of the corpulent engineer. This one was tall and well-built, with an almost regal bearing. The figure then reached to remove its hood and revealed the grey hair, elegantly pointed ears and weather-beaten face of Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan. Spock's father had finally arrived.

"Sarek!" Kirk exclaimed. "Ambassador, I had no idea you were here. I believe you know my crew." The older man barely acknowledged the other three Humans, his obsidian eyes fixed on Kirk. He obviously has no time for diplomacy right now, the Admiral thought to himself.

"I will speak with you alone, Kirk." The older Vulcan's tone made it a command, so the others knew it was their cue to leave.

"Please excuse us," Kirk said quietly, whispering to Uhura to tell Scotty not to come after all. By the time Kirk had turned around, the alien diplomat had removed his travel robe. The rigid back Sarek presented to him reminded Kirk so much of the times Spock had done the same thing in order to conceal his feelings and regain control of himself that pain stabbed through his heart. A picture of his lost friend popped into his head and Kirk once again heard in his mind, "I have been, and always shall be, your friend..."

Kirk spoke carefully. "How -- is Amanda, sir?"

"She is in mourning for our son," was the curt reply, indicating that Sarek had no intention of answering any further questions which did not pertain to the matter he had come to discuss. "How do you think she is feeling?" The Vulcan kept his back to Kirk.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to intrude. Even so, you must believe that I would have come to Vulcan at the earliest opportunity to express my deepest sympathies -- but as it is..."

Sarek whirled around, his cold, hard tone cutting Kirk off in mid-sentence. "Spare me your Human platitudes, Kirk. I have been to your government, seen the Genesis information and your own report."

"Then you know how bravely Spock met his death," the Human said quietly.

Sarek's eyes were icy black daggers. "'Met his death'? How could you assume that -- you, who claim to be so close to him and know him so well? How could you not have brought him back to Vulcan?"

"Because he asked me not to," Kirk threw back.

Sarek's gaze became even colder, if that was possible, as both his upswept brows raised. "He asked you not to? I find that highly unlikely."

"You want to know something? I don't happen to give a damn if you believe me or not. I only know what he told me. I saw to it that my friend's wishes were honored, and Vulcan tradition be damned! Spock is far more important, as far as I'm concerned." Kirk was angry now, his voice as frigid as Sarek's. He had had all he could stomach of the latter's high-handed arrogance.

"His will stated that he didn't want to be returned to Vulcan should he die in the line of duty. That is what I'm going by -- and by God, not you nor the entire planet Vulcan is going to make me change my mind!"

"You are becoming overly emotional, Kirk. Starfleet regulations require that the body of any Vulcan who dies in its service is to be returned there. Surely that would invalidate the dictates of a will."

"I don't need you to tell me about Starfleet regulations," Kirk snapped. "I'm also not surprised that you would suggest overriding the trivial personal wishes of an individual. It's one of the things you have a positive talent for. You never gave a damn about Spock's wishes or how he might feel. He always had to do what you wanted, live his life to please you. My God, if you wanted a fully Vulcan son, why didn't you marry a Vulcan? Then maybe Spock would have been the obedient little Vulcan robot who never questioned your orders, simply taken them as gospel and lived the life you mapped out for him, even married the woman you chose for him.

"Unfortunately for Spock, he had a little thing called a mind of his own, an outgrowth of his Human half... and because he followed his heart, did what was best for himself, he committed a cardinal sin -- and you disowned him for that; virtually cut him off! Because of this, I could never understand how Spock could have been so proudly Vulcan and virtually ignore his Human half when I saw what your estrangement did to him. You never appreciated a single thing he did, all the sacrifices he made. Haven't you any idea how deeply he respected you, how hard he strove to be like you?"

"My son and I resolved our differences on that subject years ago, Kirk. It is commendable that you cared so much for Spock, but recriminations will serve no purpose now."

But Kirk was wound up; he went on as though Sarek hadn't spoken. "And how dare you come here now and presume to judge me, claim to care when I know better? Never once did you or any other Vulcan treat Spock with the regard and respect he deserved; not even the simple courtesy one sentient being owes another... much less the love of a father for a son.

"Spock was a son any father would be proud of -- but Heaven forbid you ever let him know that, or show anything as 'Human' as pride in your flesh and blood's accomplishments! For twenty years I watched him suffer under the slights and contempt of full-blooded, so-called 'true' Vulcans when he more personified the IDIC philosophy than all the rest of 'his people,' as he called them, put together! When he died, I was damned if I would hand him over to you so you could bury him, then wash your hands of him and forget that he ever existed, as you did for eighteen years. He deserved a hero's burial, and that's what I gave him!"

Kirk took a breath, then continued. "I also don't know how I could have risked my own life to save you during the Babel incident. If I'd thought at any length at the time of how you'd treated Spock, essentially slapped him in the face... By God, I should have let you die." Kirk's voice was savage, but mercifully he had also run down like an eight-day clock. All his anger and bitterness were gone.

Kirk looked up after finishing his tirade, immediately ashamed upon seeing the stricken look on Sarek's face. The older man wasn't even trying to hide his pain. "Sarek, I'm so sorry. Please forgive me. I had no right to judge you. I should have realized--"

The Ambassador's raised hand cut him off. "It is forgotten, Kirk. Let us speak no further of it. All that matters now is Spock... but now that you have spoken, there is more I must say," Sarek said. "I must know why you denied Spock his future when he so obviously trusted you."

"Future?" Kirk was stunned. "I saw no future. He was dead!"

"Only his body was in death, Kirk... and you were the last one to be with him." Kirk could only nod. "Then you must know that you should have come with him to Vulcan."

"But... why?"

"Because he asked you to. Because he entrusted you with everything that was not of the body. He asked you to bring him to us -- and to bring that which he gave you, his katra... or living spirit."

At this point Kirk realized why Sarek had come to him. He had assumed that as Spock's closest friend, the younger Vulcan had given Kirk custody of his katra, not taking into consideration Spock's friendship with McCoy, even if it wasn't as close as Kirk's own with Spock.

Spock would have given his katra to Kirk under ordinary circumstances, but the circumstances hadn't been ordinary... nor had there been time for Spock to do otherwise -- so McCoy was elected, as it were. And if Spock hadn't considered McCoy a friend too, Spock would have not released his katra to him. Instead, he would simply have let his knowledge and life experiences die with him. But there was no way Kirk could have explained this so Sarek would understand, so he didn't try. Instead, he took a deep breath and began to speak, making his voice as gentle as possible.

"Sir, your son meant more to me than you can know. I would have given my life if it could have saved his. Believe me when I tell you he made no request of me."

For a moment the older Vulcan seemed shocked speechless, then said, "Kirk, I must have your thoughts. May I join your mind?" This was when Sarek asked for the mind-meld and Kirk consented. Hopefully it would help his friend's grieving father, give the older man a measure of peace and make the loss of his only son easier to bear.

The two sat down in front of the fireplace and Sarek gently placed one hand on the meld-points of Kirk's face. Their eyes were locked but unseeing; the sensation was as if Sarek's fingers were probing directly into his brain -- and Kirk began to mentally travel back in time. Sarek's image faded and he was back in Engineering aboard the Enterprise. Spock, his closest, dearest friend, was dying in the radiation chamber only inches from him and he could do nothing to help him or even ease his pain. Like Edith, he had had to let Spock die -- sacrifice the one life most precious to him in order to save countless others.

"He spoke of your friendship," Sarek said quietly.

"Yes."

"And asked you not to grieve..."

"Yes."

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few -- or the one."

Sarek's image faded again and Spock reappeared, horribly burned, suffering and dying. Kirk's eyes filled with tears. "Spock... my friend..."

"I have been... and ever shall be... your friend," Spock said. "Live long... and prosper."

"No!" Kirk shouted as if by doing so he could turn back time and negate the fact that his friend had died -- bring him back to life again.

Sarek sounded sad as he broke the meld. "Forgive me. It is not here. I had assumed he mind-melded with you. It is the Vulcan way when the body's end is near."

"We were separated. He couldn't touch me."

"I see. Then everything that he was, everything he knew -- is lost." Sarek's voice held more sorrow than Kirk imagined possible for a Vulcan. "Then I shall return to Vulcan and rejoin Amanda. Together we will mourn our son... mourn for the loss of his life, mourn for the loss of his soul."

Without further speech, the Ambassador stood up and headed for the door. "Wait!" Kirk called after him. "Please wait. If there was that much at stake, Spock would have found a way."

"Yes," Sarek admitted. "But how?"

"We'll go see Dr. McCoy," Kirk suggested.

Sarek's eyes widened. "McCoy? What would he know about Spock's katra?"

"He was in Engineering, near and available, seeing to Scotty, while I was on the Bridge. This was shortly before Spock died, so it's possible that--"

Sarek again cut Kirk off with a raised hand. "I see your point, Kirk, but we must be certain. Is there any way for us to view the ship's log recording from that time?"

Kirk nodded. "I'd have to pull some strings and call in a few favors, but we should be able to do it."

Kirk knew that even as powerful as the Vulcan Ambassador was, Sarek was a civilian and could only go so far in Starfleet. After that, only high-ranking members of the Fleet such as him-self had a high enough security clearance.

"Then it is logical that we begin immediately."

With that, the two men hurried from the Admiral's apartment, the door automatically locking behind them.

* * *

To their shock and apprehension, McCoy's quarters were empty when they arrived. They went over it with a fine-tooth comb in an attempt to discover where the Doctor had gone. After a fruitless search, the two looked at each other dubiously, although Kirk had to admit to himself that he wasn't surprised.

With the Vulcan's restless spirit locked inside of him, Bones was apt to do things he would ordinarily never do. Such as attempting to get to Genesis, which by now was off-limits to all but the science team aboard the Grissom, commanded by one J. T. Esteban... but Kirk had yet another worry. David Marcus was aboard as part of the aforementioned Science contingent. This was proof that the stars were as much in David's blood as in his own.

If Spock expected to live again, it would be necessary to retrieve his body from Genesis, then go to Vulcan. But in so doing, Spock's actions (or more accurately, what his essence prompted the doctor to do or say) could get McCoy in trouble up to his ears -- maybe even put away. If at all possible, he had to find Bones before that happened. Kirk knew what McCoy might do in an ordinary situation, but this was no ordinary situation... and consequently he might not be able to find the Doctor in time. All Kirk could hope for was that whatever Spock's essence got McCoy into, he would be able to get his friend out of without breaking too many regulations.

Kirk wasn't one to give up easily, but finally had to after Sarek convinced him that there would be time to locate McCoy after they determined whether or not the Doctor was indeed carrying Spock's katra. As it was, the Admiral had to do a lot of fast talking and throwing around of his authority once he and Sarek arrived at the records storage center at Fleet Command HQ in order to gain access to the visual log of the Enterprise, now under seal and under guard.

It seemed to take forever to gain not only access to the data but permission to view it just for himself, much less for Sarek. Kirk was even prepared to call in Fleet Admiral Nogura if necessary. Finally all the "red tape" was gotten through, and he and Sarek were ushered into a private screening area, standing quietly in the dark for about five minutes until the small viewscreen before them came to life.

Kirk had already relived Spock's death once today, but didn't see any way to avoid seeing at least some of it yet again in order to find out whether or not his suspicions were true. At stardate 8128.78, the screen showed the Vulcan lying against the transparent aluminum wall of the enclosed radiation chamber. At point seven-seven, it depicted the last words between himself and Spock.

"Back, point six-seven!" Kirk snapped. This was before Kirk had left the Bridge, before Spock had entered the radiation chamber and when the ship was still in danger of being caught up in the premature detonation of the Genesis Device. On the screen, Spock was frozen at the radiation chamber door.

"Go," Kirk said.

Spock began to move -- then McCoy entered the picture, intercepting Spock before he entered the chamber. They argued in eerie silence for a time, then the Vulcan distracted the Doctor by asking about Scott's condition. Once McCoy turned his back, the Vulcan's slender but strong fingers found their mark and the Human slumped into his arms. Spock gently lowered McCoy to the floor, then pressed his fingers to the Doctor's temple, lips forming the word "Remember."

"Hold," Kirk said; the image froze. "Repeat... and augment." The scenes backed up, then grew larger. "Audio," the Admiral finished. The screen reran the previous scenes, this time with speech. This time both Spock's father and closest friend heard him when he pressed his fingers to McCoy's temple and spoke.

"Freeze!" Kirk ordered. "Bones. Oh, my God. Bones!" His voice lowered two octaves, a mixture of concern and horror. This explained the Doctor's strange behavior and all his confusion, as well as the times Kirk and Christine had heard Spock's voice. He and Sarek looked at each other again before looking back to the screen where Spock and McCoy's enhanced images were once again frozen.

"One alive, one not," Sarek said. "But both in pain."

"What must I do?" Kirk asked.

"You must retrieve Spock's body from Genesis, then bring it and McCoy to Mount Seleya on Vulcan. Only there can both find peace."

"What you ask is difficult," Kirk pointed out. "Especially under the present circumstances."

"You will find a way, Kirk," Sarek declared. "If you honor them both, you must."

Kirk looked at the images of his two friends, his face becoming hard and determined. "I will. I swear!"

* * *

In the meantime, McCoy had reached his destination -- a bar about four blocks from his apartment -- all the while feeling as though someone else controlled his body. As indeed, someone else did... but he would not have believed it possible, even if he had known or been able to understand how or why it had come about. He also could not figure out why he was able to sort out given smells or voices and the languages they spoke in so easily. Even as intelligent as he was, he had never been able to translate without a universal translator, which he did not have at the moment. But there was no time to think further on the subject; he had reached the door of the bar.

A shudder of revulsion went through his body even as he touched the door due to the noxious smells of the equally noxious beings near him. However, he had to find the one he had come to see -- the one who possibly held the key to his regaining his sanity. He bumped into a young officer wearing an ensign's jumpsuit as he entered. He could only hope that the boy wasn't from the Enterprise; otherwise Jim would have had his hide. No, both their hides, for patronizing such a place.

McCoy was oblivious of all going on around him, only interested in finding a place to sit down before he fell down. He found it a moment later, gratefully sliding into the unoccupied booth and letting himself relax. He looked up at the sound of footsteps which stopped at his table. A tall, slender waitress stood there, her brief uniform decorated with lights which flashed as she moved; it clung to her curves in a most provocative manner. Her heavily sprayed hair never moved as she leaned toward him to pick up a half-empty glass the booth's previous occupant had left, along with a five-credit tip.

"Long time, Doc," she said with a smile. McCoy knew her, but couldn't recall her name.

"Yeah," he agreed. "Anyone been looking for me?"

She smiled again. "I have, but what's the use? What'll it be?"

"Altair water," he said.

The girl frowned slightly. "Not your usual poison."

"To expect one to order poison in a bar is not logical," he said, not realizing that he would never have said such a thing had he been himself... but because he was not himself, he let it slide. The waitress gave her customer a strange look, then smiled and winked when he explained. "Pardon me. I'm on medication."

"Got it." She left to get him his drink. Another set of footsteps approached even as hers receded; the newcomer slid into the booth beside McCoy.

"Hello! Welcome to my planet."

"I think that's my line, stranger." McCoy pointed to himself.

"Oh, forgive. I here am new. But you are known, being McCoy from Enterprise."

"You have me at a disadvantage, sir," the Doctor said.

"My name not important. You seek I. Message received. Available ship stands by."

"How much, and how soon?"

"How soon is now. How much is... where?"

"Somewhere in the Mutara Sector," McCoy whispered.

The alien was taken aback. "Oh. Mutara restricted. Take permits many -- money... more."

"There aren't going to be any permits. How can you get a permit to do a damn illegal thing?" There was silence for a time before the Doctor continued. "Price you name, money I got."

The alien's voice became hard and cold. "Place you name, money I name. Otherwise bargain no."

"All right, dammit! It's Genesis. The name of the place we're going is Genesis!"

"Genesis?" the alien repeated, stunned, voice raising two octaves and attracting the attention of nearby patrons.

"Yes, Genesis! How can you be deaf with ears like that?"

"Genesis allowed is not. Is planet forbidden!"

McCoy grabbed him. "Now listen here, my backwards friend. Genesis may be 'planet forbidden,' but I'm damn well--" A hand closing around his arm cut McCoy off in mid-sentence. There was a young black man smiling at him. Only when he leaned forward did McCoy realize how big he was.

"Sir, I'm sorry, but your voice is carrying. I don't think you should discuss this subject in public."

"I'll discuss what I like -- and who the hell are you?"

The young black went on as though the Doctor hadn't spoken. "May I give you a ride home, Dr. McCoy?"

"Where's the logic in offering me a ride home, you idiot? If I wanted a ride home, would I be trying to charter a space flight?" He scowled at the intruder. "How the hell do you know who I am?"

The young black drew out a badge and displayed it. "Federation Security, sir." This was when McCoy realized he was in trouble. He lurched away, trying to break the Security man's grip and head for the door. Unfortunately the young black had forty pounds more and thirty years less than McCoy did, quickly bringing him up short. The panicked doctor made an abortive attempt at a nerve pinch, but nothing happened. Instead, the Security man gave him a funny look. "You're going to get a nice long rest, Doctor."

The Security officer headed for the door with McCoy in tow, an unbreakable grip on the hapless doctor as he headed down the street a short distance, then bundled the older man into his aircar after putting some energy cuffs on him to subdue him until they reached his superiors at Federation HQ, Security Division.

* * *

Kirk wasn't looking forward to telling Morrow what had happened to Bones and Spock, to put it mildly. Neither did he believe himself capable of explaining in a way which his long-time colleague would understand. Morrow had never been the mystical type, and now to try to explain that McCoy was carrying Spock's soul and that he needed the Enterprise to return to Genesis to retrieve Spock's body, then take it and McCoy back to Vulcan in order to bring the Doctor back to himself and Spock back to life...

Suffice it to say that he'd have better luck trying to talk a sun out of going nova! Unfortunately he had no choice but to try, for one friend's life and the other's sanity was at stake. If Morrow refused him, he would have to do as his feelings and conscience dictated, whatever punishment his actions might bring down on him. At this point, his friends were more important to him than following regulations.

Upon learning of Kirk's disobedience, Morrow would probably want to hang his butt from the nearest flagpole, but Kirk couldn't allow himself to think about that -- couldn't take "No" for an answer. Even as much as having Spock and Bones back would be worth the consequences to himself, he had to think of what his actions might do to Sulu, Chekov, Scotty and Uhura.

Did he have a right to ask them to put their careers and possibly lives on the line simply to help him? And not only him; Spock and McCoy as well. They were all loyal to him, fiercely so... but how far did their loyalty extend? Were the Helmsman, Chief Engineer, Communications Officer and Navigator also prepared to go out on a limb for Spock and McCoy, risk everything they had worked for in order to help them, too -- and for something he could not guarantee would succeed?

If it didn't work, they would probably all be court-martialed and spend the rest of their days either in prison or a rehab colony -- and this was if they were lucky! McCoy would probably end up at the funny farm, and Spock... Sharp pain slashed at Kirk's heart at the thought of his best friend, a friend who had made the ultimate sacrifice in order to save the ship and her crew.

If things didn't pan out, Spock would truly be dead. There would be no way to help him. Nor could he ever face Sarek and Amanda again, knowing how miserably he'd failed them. Not to mention letting down his two closest friends and four most loyal officers. He wouldn't blame them if they ended up hating him. Most importantly, there would be no way Kirk could ever live with himself, his pain and guilt at knowing that he'd brought down not only his own career but those of Scott, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura... to say nothing of McCoy and Spock. He couldn't bear to think what would happen should his plan fail.

No, he told himself determinedly. It cannot -- must not -- fail. I won't allow it. It's got to work, whatever I have to do. I've got to make it work. I must also try to do all I can so the brunt of Fleet's wrath falls on me, see that as little damage as possible is done to the careers and reputations of my finest, most loyal officers because they so willingly put aside their own concerns and answered my call for help, followed my orders. I truly wish I could do this alone, but it's too much for one person. I've got to have their help!

However, Kirk would have felt even worse had he known what was transpiring in Uhura's apartment a short distance away. More guilty than he already did... for Commander Christine Chapel had learned of their plan and would be joining the soon-to-be outlaws on their daring escapade -- not only out of loyalty to Kirk, but love for Spock and McCoy.

* * *

After the ship had been moored in Spacedock and the majority of the crew was on extended leave (something for which Kirk was thankful), he headed for the Officers' Lounge on the orbiting space station -- the one for officers of Commander rank and above, to meet Harry Morrow, Commander of Starfleet, for a drink.

Kirk took a deep breath upon reaching the door, silently wishing himself luck. He was going to need all he could get. A miracle or two wouldn't hurt, either. Another thing he was thankful for was that only a handful of the crew would be implicated in the event his daring scheme didn't pan out. The fewer who knew his plans, the better, for their own good.

Morrow smiled as Kirk sat down at the table; the latter's favorite Saurian brandy sat at his place. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, Kirk launched into his plan of action -- why he needed to do it and how he planned to do it. There was a long silence before Morrow spoke again; Kirk held his breath without realizing he was doing it.

"No," Morrow said with finality. "Absolutely not. It's out of the question."

Kirk's eyes became hard and cold, staring through Morrow like daggers -- though the other man's face gave no indication that he felt the icy gaze, much less that he had heard or understood what Kirk had said. But whatever Morrow was feeling, Kirk had to assume that the Fleet Commander had heard and understood him.

"Harry, you've got to listen. I'm not talking as a fellow officer now. I must do this. You must let me. It has to do with friendship, honor, my life... everything that ever mattered to me."

Kirk again fell silent as he realized that Morrow's expression had not changed. His silver tongue had gotten him out of jams before, swayed his superiors toward his point of view many times. It couldn't... mustn't... fail him now! "For God's sake, Harry--" Kirk began, his tone a mixture of anguish and frustration. "Please!"

Morrow heard the desperation in Kirk's voice and his face softened, knowing how much Jim hated to beg, hated to have to say that word to anyone... but he could no more change his mind than Kirk could.

"Jim, I'm sorry. I can't sanction it." Morrow's answer was gentle but firm, his tone apologetic. "You're my best officer, and ordinarily I would let you do this... but this is no ordinary situation. I am also the Commander of Starfleet, so I don't... can't... break rules!"

"Don't quote rules to me," Kirk threw back, voice dangerously quiet. "Dammit, we're talking about loyalty and sacrifice here! Spock has died for us, and McCoy is at risk of deep, possibly permanent, emotional damage. How can you just sit there and--"

"Now wait just a damn minute! This business about Spock and McCoy... katras, mind-melds... Honestly, I never understood Vulcan mysticism. Nor do I understand what you hope to accomplish."

"Harry, you don't have to believe -- but if there's even a chance that Spock has an eternal soul, then it's my responsibility."

This time Morrow's eyes were hard and cold... as was his voice. "Yours?"

"Mine," Kirk said tightly. "My God, Harry, these are my friends we're talking about! I couldn't live with myself if I stood by and did nothing, especially not if I had the power to save them. Give me back the Enterprise... please. With Scotty's help, I could--"

"No! The Enterprise would never stand the pounding, and you know it -- not after what she's already been through."

"Then I'll find a ship. Hire a ship!"

"Out of the question! It's the Council's order that no one but the science team goes to Genesis. Understand me, Jim. This whole Genesis situation is so volatile that if you started spouting off about your views on friendship, sacrifice and Vulcan metaphysics, the repercussions could blow everything all to hell; destroy everything you and I and countless others have striven for since Starfleet and the Federation first came into being. Not only that, if you keep up this irrational behavior, I'll be forced to put you under house arrest!" Morrow took a deep breath before continuing. "Don't do this, Jim. You'll destroy yourself. Do you hear me?"

Kirk sighed in despair. He had failed. Not only for himself, but his two closest friends and four most loyal officers. Morrow hadn't understood a word he'd said, didn't believe in him or trust his judgement. Nor did he have any concept or comprehension of the love Kirk bore for his friends and the lengths he would go to to help them, just as they had always done for him. What kind of friend would he be if he listened to Morrow?

Spock's sacrifice would mean nothing and McCoy would slowly but surely go insane. He shook his head. No. His mind was made up. However, he had to lull Morrow's suspicions... make him think he'd talked him out of what he no doubt considered a mad, impossible quest, or else he'd be in the Brig so fast it would make his head spin. He could do none of his people any good incarcerated.

"Yes, I hear you," he said mildly. "But I had to try."

"Of course," Morrow smiled. "I understand."

Kirk couldn't help thinking that Morrow couldn't know him very well if he thought he would give in and accept defeat so easily, even as he forced himself not to say what was on the tip of his tongue as he stood up and forced a smile. No, you don't. You couldn't possibly understand. Not now, not ever. "Thanks for the drink." He raised the glass to his lips and downed the drink in one gulp, not even tasting it.

"Any time."

Kirk then turned on his heel and marched out of the Lounge, looking straight ahead. As he turned left and headed down the long hallway toward a park-like area with benches, artificial grass and plants, he suddenly got the feeling that every eye not only in Spacedock but the entire Federation was on him, and that everyone was thinking the same thing: Kirk has finally cracked. Even so, his officers would follow him anywhere, risk every-thing for him, whatever the cost to themselves. Suddenly he heard Sulu's voice close to him, forcing himself not to act startled.

"The word, sir?" Three words... but those words spoke volumes.

Kirk lifted his head to look into the inscrutable Oriental eyes. "The word -- is No. But I'm going anyway."

"We thought you might." Sulu nodded slightly. "We're willing to help if you need us." He indicated Chekov standing next to him.

Kirk smiled. "Thank you; I will."

"Vhat are you going to do now, sir?" Chekov asked.

"Contact Uhura and tell her what to do. You two see if you can find McCoy. When you do, contact me. We've got a long and difficult road ahead; it's best that we travel it together."

The three stepped onto a nearby turbolift; the doors closed swiftly, silently, behind them even as it took them up to their destination -- and their destiny.

* * *

Meanwhile, Uhura was packing, preparing for a swift and dangerous flight -- and one with grave consequences should she be caught. Especially if it became known that she intended to aid James Kirk in his mad escapade to retrieve Spock from Genesis, then take him and McCoy to Vulcan.

Hopefully it would be on the Enterprise, but if worse came to worse, they would go on whatever ship they could get -- even if they had to hijack one. Of course, she could always fall back on her contingency plan if necessary... seeking asylum at the Vulcan Embassy with Sarek, currently staying there awaiting further word of what Kirk planned to do and when he planned to do it. In which case, she would need to be able to move at a moment's notice.

She finished packing and was preparing to dress when she heard her door buzzer. Who could it be? She wasn't expecting anyone. She threw a robe on over her bra and panties, walking out of her bedroom and into her living room, her bare feet making no sound on the carpeted floor. "Who is it?" she called, pressing a button on the wall as a familiar voice came back to her.

"It's me, Chris, Nyota. Can I come in? I've got to speak privately with you." Christine's voice sounded urgent.

A thousand half-formed thoughts swirled around in Uhura's mind and she rejected them all. There was no way she could hide what she was feeling from Christine. Chris could read her like a book; knew her better than she knew herself. And if Christine learned that Kirk was considering going after Spock's body and helping both him and McCoy get back to themselves, she would want -- no, demand -- to be included in the plans they were hatching. If only for the sake of being there for the man she loved, even if he didn't remember her... or if he did, yet had no idea why and wonder why (or if) he should.

Uhura opened the door to admit her friend, who like herself was in civilian clothes -- or more accurately, would be very soon... though she would have her uniform to change into upon arrival at where Kirk told her to go.

"Nyota, you're planning to help Admiral Kirk to get Spock back and Dr. McCoy back to normal, aren't you?" Chapel's voice was matter-of-fact.

Uhura looked into the other woman's eyes, eyes which seemed to read her mind, knowing it would do no good to deny it. "Yes. I'm just waiting for the Admiral's signal to act."

"Let me go with you," Christine said. "I want to help."

Uhura knew that Chris's reasons were twofold, but didn't see how she could allow her friend to involve herself in such a risky venture... one which could get them all busted out of the service at worst -- or court-martialed and demoted at best. But she also knew that there was no moving Christine once she'd made up her mind. She could make the proverbial mule back up as far as stubbornness was concerned... just like Spock.

But even if everything worked out, there was no guarantee that matters between Spock and Christine would change -- provided he even remembered her. All the same, Uhura knew her friend well enough to know that Chris would want to be near him, with him, regardless.

Uhura liked and respected both Spock and McCoy immensely, but had shared a common love of music with the Vulcan. He had even helped teach her the more complicated notes and songs to play on the Vulcan harp... after she had gotten her own. He had tuned it for her, however, and told her how to care for it as such an instrument warranted. There were even times she had played it for the crew and sang to them -- but even more often, she had played privately for herself and Chris.

She was also all too aware of how Chris had envied her seemingly easy camaraderie with Spock... more than Christine herself had ever had, however hard she tried -- however profes-sional she had tried to be around him. Uhura knew as well as anyone could how difficult loving Spock had been for Christine. She had neither encouraged nor discouraged her friend's attempts to win him over. If it was meant to be, it would happen one day, she always told her. Otherwise she would have to learn to live with it as best she could. Of course, when Spock died, Chris figured there would be no more chances... but now--

"It'll be risky at best, Chris... and even if we succeed, there's no guarantee he'll remember you -- or any of us, for that matter. Even Admiral Kirk."

"I don't care, Ny. I've got to be near him, even if I can't do anything for him. Just knowing he was alive again would mean the world to me. If nothing else, I could be of medical help. Leonard might not be in any shape, considering..." Her voice trailed off.

"If this doesn't work, we could all get court-martialed at the very least -- or busted out of the service. We may also have to seek asylum with Sarek at the Vulcan Embassy," Uhura pointed out.

"I'll take that chance," Christine returned evenly. "I must be there. I must be with him."

Uhura sighed. "Okay, suit yourself... but keep in mind that once word comes, we'll have to move fast. Are you ready to drop everything and leave at a moment's notice?" Christine's hard, determined look said more than any words. "Then all we can do is sit tight and be ready to move when the word comes." Uhura looked down, somehow not surprised to see a fully packed travel bag in Chris's right hand, along with a mini-medical tricorder and phaser weapon in case of necessity. She also wore an environmental jacket over her civilian clothing.

Uhura turned on her heel and went back into her bedroom to finish dressing. Fifteen minutes later she was ready, and the two women went into the living room to talk until the signal came. When it did, it made both visibly jump, even though they'd been expecting it. However, both recovered instantly, grabbed their things and moved swiftly out the door which automatically locked behind them.

Neither spoke as they got into Uhura's rented aircar, taking off to head for the Old City transporter station, where Kirk had told her to go -- one of the older stations, sometimes refeerred to as "the hind end of space." With a part of her, Uhura almost regretted what she would have to do with her young (and temporary) colleague... but to paraphrase the old saying, "All is fair in love and life- and sanity-saving." The aircar would be well hidden in a safe but accessible place upon arrival at the station. Christine would stay with it, then they would take off once Uhura was ready to make a run for it -- a run for the Vulcan Embassy, Sarek, and safety.

* * *

In the meantime, David and Saavik had talked a skeptical Captain Esteban into letting them beam down to investigate a strange and unexplainable life-form reading when there weren't supposed to be any on the new planet. They walked through dense, humid jungle at first, then desert terrain -- which ran into a snow-covered landscape. Neither had ever seen snow-covered cacti in their lives... but that didn't last long, either.

The climate changed back into humid jungle; Saavik and David's tricorders both beeped incessantly. They weren't far from the life-form now. In spite of herself, the young Vulcan- Romulan hybrid could not suppress the hope that it was her teacher and friend come back to life. David knew something was down there just as she did, but had no more idea what it could be any more than she did; in fact they hardly dared speculate. All they could do was keep going and be ready for anything.

Roughly twenty minutes later the two came upon the torpedo tube in which Spock's body had been placed, yet even as much as she wanted to, Saavik could not bring herself to open it. What would they find? She wasn't sure she wanted to know.

She was brought back to reality by David's voice. "Look... at your feet. Those must be your life-forms." Worm-like things crawled around their boots. What if they'd gotten to Spock? A shudder of nausea swept over Saavik; it took all her control to conceal it.

David surmised that the worm-like creatures had been microbes on the tube's surface which had grown and multiplied because of the Genesis effect. However, she was now ready to see what had become of Spock. David opened the lid; Saavik kept her eyes closed until he spoke to her again. "Saavik!" The urgency in his voice prompted her to open her eyes -- to see an empty casket with only the Vulcan's burial robe inside.

"What the hell...? What's happened to Spock? All that's left is this." David removed the black robe with Vulcan symbols from the casket and held it up. "What is it?"

"Spock's burial robe," she said. Hardly had the words left her mouth than the ground shook violently, rumbling beneath them like the growl of a sleeping giant whose rest had been disturbed. But it wasn't that which shocked them; it was the cry that accompanied it -- a cry of agony, as if the person (or whatever) was being pulled apart by the movements of the groundquakes which happened with ever-increasing frequency as they moved further on.

The climate changed yet again to blowing snow and cold; it was Saavik who seen the child-sized tracks leading across the ankle-deep snow upon their recovery from the latest groundquake. She kept the Grissom informed of their progress as they trudged on through the worsening storm and biting cold. The tricorders' beeping increased geometrically the closer they got. It was at its loudest when they heard a child whimpering; it sounded to David's Human ears like the mewing of a kitten or the squeal of a puppy.

Saavik led the way into a cubbyhole where a naked child shivered in the snow, almost blue-green from the cold. The robe they'd found in the casket was wrapped around the small trembling body while Saavik brushed the windblown, snow-dotted hair from the child's face and ears -- perfectly shaped, miniature pointed ears. This had to be the resurrected Spock. It could be no one else. However, communication in both Standard and Vulcan provoked no response from the child.

She and David looked at each other in astonishment. This was a resurrection only slightly less miraculous than the original! Once they recovered and the child was nestled in David's arms temporarily, Saavik flipped open her communicator.

"It's the Genesis wave. His cells must have been regenerated," the young scientist observed.

At that moment Esteban's voice reached them. "Grissom here. What have you found, landing party?"

"Something most extraordinary, Captain," Saavik said. "The life-form is that of a Vulcan child, eight to ten Earth years of age."

"How did he get there?"

"It is Dr. Marcus's opinion that this is-- that the Genesis effect has in some way regenerated Captain Spock."

There was stunned silence for several moments before Esteban spoke again. "Saavik, that's incredible. What do you intend to do next?"

"Ask permission to beam aboard immediately." But only seconds later a shout came from the communicator. Esteban's voice was full of fear, saying, "Oh, my God! Red alert... shields up! Stand by for evasive..." Then only static came from the small speaker; nothing Saavik did could raise them. Saavik surmised that the ship must have been destroyed by an unseen enemy -- unseen by them, at least... and that they had to get moving before whoever (or whatever) had destroyed the Grissom came after them.

"What happened?" David asked.

"I believe the Grissom was attacked and destroyed."

"So we either get captured or killed by who or whatever killed them -- or risk injury and/or death here, on a planet that's falling apart. Great choice," David returned wryly.

"We must not think about that now. Logic dictates that we move on immediately before we ourselves are detected." Saavik led the way out of the snowy cubbyhole and back to a warmer climate with David at her heels, the child Spock in his arms.

* * *

It was the Klingons who had ambushed the luckless Grissom, they who had received a pirated copy of the Genesis material from an undercover operative. The operative, Valkris, had commandeered a renegade merchant vessel from which she had transmitted the aforementioned data -- then, because she had seen the data, Klingon Commander Kruge had been obliged to destroy her and the ship she was on.

After viewing the data, they warped off to Genesis under the protection of the cloaking device. The Federation ship they'd destroyed had never even known they were there; never had a chance to fire or raise shields... but Kruge surmised that had they been worthy opponents, they would have been better prepared.

For instance, had shields up beforehand, someone watching for enemy ships and weapons armed, on red alert because they were in a danger area. Of course, a science vessel like the Grissom was rarely called upon to engage in armed combat, but at the same time, Esteban had been a relatively inexperienced commander who had not run into anything more dangerous than a few skirmishes along the Neutral Zone.

But Kruge was the quintessential Klingon, a warrior of the old school who would not have been satisfied with just a skirmish. He preferred to leave casualties and a disabled ship behind him, at the very least -- if not utterly destroy it and everyone aboard. One regret he did have, albeit a passing one, was the fact that he and Valkris had never met or even seen each other face-to-face. She, with her illustrious bloodline, clever mind and beauty would have made him a worthy consort.

No matter; he had bigger and better things to think about. He intended to have the power of Genesis for his own... control and dominate everyone he could -- and would do whatever was necessary to possess it, whatever the cost. His pet, Warrigul, roared after him as he departed his Bridge. The nearest crewman, a gunner whose name Kruge could not immediately recall, was given the honor of feeding the animal. The gunner looked where Kruge had pointed, eyeing the sharp, pointed teeth which presented themselves.

He fought back unKlingon-like terror as he prepared the food and gave it to Warrigul, making a mental note to keep on his guard or else he might lose a hand for displeasing his Commander's pet: or his life for angering his Commander. Perhaps even become the animal's next meal.

* * *

It hadn't been easy to find McCoy, but Sulu and Chekov finally tracked the doctor to the bar where he had made an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a ship to take him (and Spock's essence) to Genesis to get the Vulcan's presumably regenerated body... yet McCoy's odd behavior had gotten him picked up by Federation security and taken to their HQ. Luckily Chekov knew the Chief there, so they managed to talk him into putting McCoy into their protective custody -- if only to take him to another cell in the main Brig at the base.

After that, all they could do was contact Kirk. Only the Admiral had sufficient authority to go further, so after reluctantly escorting the Doctor to another "holding cell," Sulu got on the com-link to Kirk and reported their progress, telling him where to find McCoy and what had happened with him so far. It didn't take long for Kirk to come up with the next phase of his plan, but as before, he would need Sulu's help to pull it off. He told his men to return to his apartment so they could map out their strategy.

After breaking McCoy out of jail, the four would go to where Uhura would beam them aboard the Enterprise. Scott had contacted him a short time before the others did and told Kirk what he planned to do on the Excelsior and that he would meet them on the Enterprise.

* * *

Kirk wasn't looking forward to Morrow's reaction once the latter found out what was going on, but couldn't allow himself to think of the repercussions which could result from what he was doing. Morrow didn't know him as well as he thought he did if he believed that for a moment.

It took a couple of hours, but the three officers came up with a workable plan to bust McCoy out. There was no time to lose, either, so they got ready and left the apartment after hashing out what each was supposed to do... then it would be up to Uhura to beam them aboard the ship. Finally, Scotty would get them out of Spacedock once they'd gotten aboard the ship and made her ready for what would turn out to be her last trip, taking steps to make sure that Excelsior could not follow.

* * *

An hour afterward, Kirk reached where McCoy was being held, having stopped briefly at the Vulcan Embassy to pick up a hypo of lexorin from Sarek -- a medication known to lessen the effects of a katra transfer on the recipient. He couldn't explain in detail what he planned to do; there was no time. Fortunately Sarek seemed to know that, so he didn't pressure his son's Human friend for further information. However, he did actually unbend enough to wish Kirk luck. The Admiral was surprised but pleased, saying he would need all the breaks he could get and that he would see him soon... on Vulcan.

After Kirk left, the Vulcan Ambassador prepared to leave Earth and head back home where Amanda was anxiously awaiting word. Once all the preparations were made and his own personal ship made ready for interstellar flight, he sat down to wait patiently for the next step in Kirk's plan to manifest itself. It was logical that they not try to take a commercial flight, particularly in the event their plan was uncovered.

He fully expected that at least one of Spock's friends, if not more, would seek asylum with him at some point in the very near future -- and he would grant it. He had no doubts but that Spock's friends and shipmates would succeed in retrieving his body from Genesis, then bring it and McCoy, the "keeper" of Spock's katra, to Vulcan for the fal-tor-pan. It was only a question of how long it would take them to accomplish it.

* * *

It was only a short hop back to where McCoy was. After a little fast talking and throwing around of his authority, Kirk was admitted to the Doctor's holding cell, but had to move fast since he had been told he only had two minutes. The Doctor seemed to be asleep when Kirk entered, but roused immediately upon feeling Kirk's touch on his shoulder.

"Jim!" he exclaimed softly even as his friend and commander saluted him Vulcan-style.

"How many fingers am I holding up?" Kirk quipped.

McCoy scowled. "That's not very damn funny."

"Your sense of humor's returned," came the amused reply.

"The hell it has," the Doctor retorted, eyes widening even as he gave Kirk a hard look after noting his withdrawal of a hypo from his jacket pocket. "What's that?"

"Lexorin," Kirk said.

"Lexorin? What for?" McCoy wondered.

"You're suffering from a Vulcan katra transfer, Doctor," Kirk explained as he prepared to give the shot.

All it once it became clear to McCoy what had gotten him into this cell -- or more accurately, who. "That green-blooded s.o.b.," he muttered darkly. "It's his revenge for all the arguments he lost!" But Kirk wasn't listening, being too occupied with giving the shot which would make the Doctor well enough to travel, temporarily nullifying the effects of the katra transfer.

If all was going according to plan, Sulu was here by now and Chekov had arranged for the turbolift. The helmsman dispatched the other guard and destroyed the console after Kirk took care of the other, leaving him unconscious in the holding cell. Both knew that destroying that console would alert a half-dozen agents, but it was unavoidable. They all hurried into the waiting turbolift, and were gone before the agents could arrive. The Doctor donned his jacket as Kirk spoke into his communicator.

"The Kobiyashi Maru has set sail for the Promised Land. Acknowledge."

Chekov's voice came back. "Message acknowledged. All units vill be informed."

McCoy smiled at his two shipmates, but addressed Kirk. "You're taking me to the Promised Land?"

Kirk returned the smile. "What are friends for?"

* * *

When the signal from Chekov came through her ear receiver, Uhura knew what she had to do -- but in the meantime she had to lull her young companion's suspicions.

"You amaze me, Commander," he commented as she returned to her seat.

She smiled blandly. "Oh? How is that?"

"A twenty-year space veteran, and you pick the worst duty station in town. Look at this place. It's the hind-end of space!"

"Peace and quiet appeal to me, Lieutenant," she replied with another bland smile.

The lieutenant's lips twisted wryly. "Well, that's fine for someone like you, whose career is winding down--" She lifted her head and gave him a look which went right through him, but he kept speaking. That would change soon enough, however. "--but me, I need a challenge... some adventure in my life. Maybe even just a surprise or two!"

Her voice was as bland as her smile. "Well, you know what they say, Lieutenant. Be careful what you wish for. You may get it."

Just then, the doors swished open to admit Kirk and company. She showed no surprise, but the Lieutenant was flabbergasted. "Good evening, Commander. Is everything ready?" Kirk asked pleasantly.

"Step into my parlor, gentlemen," she said grandly, gesturing toward the transporter pads where the small group of men took their places.

"That's Admiral Kirk! My God!"

"Very good for you, Lieutenant," she said as she set the appropriate coordinates on the transporter console.

"But it's damn irregular. No destination orders, no encoded IDs..."

"All true," she admitted, reaching for her phaser as she said it; the weapon had been stashed in a small compartment beneath the console.

"What are we going to do about it?" he asked.

"We're not going to do anything. You're going to sit in the closet." She got ready to turn toward him, raising the phaser in preparation, making sure it was set on "stun", though she hoped he wouldn't make her use it.

His eyes widened like saucers. "In the closet? Have you lost all your sense of reality?"

"This isn't reality. This is fantasy!" With that, she pointed the phaser at him; he took two steps back upon seeing it. "You wanted adventure. How's this? The old adrenaline flowing?" The stunned and terrified young man nodded hastily, all color gone from his face. "Good boy. Now get in the closet." She pointed it threateningly to make him move faster. "Go on. Get in there, or I'll shoot!"

"Okay, okay, I'm going!" The lieutenant stepped into the closet and sat down; the door slid closed behind him and locked.

Kirk raised a Vulcan-type eyebrow, but it was McCoy who spoke. "I'm glad you're on our side!"

"Will you have any trouble with him?" Kirk asked, jerking his head toward the closet.

"I'll have 'Mr. Adventure' eating out of my hand," she smiled. "And I'll see all of you at the rendezvous. Oh, and Admiral--" Kirk's brows rose in response. "All my hopes."

After she had energized and they had disappeared, Uhura grabbed her things and left quickly. Her temporary colleague would only be briefly imprisoned; the next shift was due on in half an hour. Plenty of time for her to make a clean getaway. A short time later, she jumped into the aircar and slammed the door shut, starting it and then flooring it, missing the startled look Christine gave her as they streaked out of their hiding place to head for the Vulcan Embassy, Sarek, and safety... a fifteen-minute flight away.

All they could hope for was that the Vulcan Ambassador would be ready to take off at a moment's notice, for they all knew it wouldn't take long for the Security force to be alerted. Also that their luck would hold out and they could escape Earth without incident. Otherwise Sarek could be implicated, too -- if only for harboring fugitives from justice. She would explain Christine's presence at the first opportunity... provided an explanation was necessary. In the meantime, all that mattered was getting out of this mess in one piece and with their freedom intact, if not their careers.

* * *

Meanwhile, on Genesis, David and Saavik busied themselves with the care of the child Spock. She had tried several times to communicate with him, but failed each time. The emotional Romulan side of her made her keep trying even though her logical Vulcan side told her it was futile to continue since Spock's consciousness was not present.

The blackness which met her attempts at mind-touch was darker than even the eternal night of deep space, because there was no flame of intelligence to lighten the darkness. The resurrected body they were guarding was little more than a shell. Even so, it was her duty to protect it -- with her life, if need be -- until her mentor's consciousness, locked in the mind of another (that of his Human friend Admiral Kirk, she assumed) was re-fused back into his body.

They finally got out of the cold and back into the blessed warmth of the desert. Saavik was half-frozen, so she could well imagine how the child Spock must have been before she and David had rescued him. A short time later they were back in the jungle; the child had been transferred to her arms when David's gave out. They found a cave not too far from where the casket was; Saavik used her phaser to heat up some rocks for light and warmth, then laid the resurrected Spock near the largest one after retrieving him from David, whose arms had regained sufficient strength to hold him temporarily.

Once the child had been settled, David sat down near them and drew his knees to his chest, arms holding them securely. Saavik made sure the child was warm, comfortable and asleep before speaking softly to her Human companion.

"David, it is time for total truth between us. This planet is not what you intended or hoped for, is it?"

The young scientist hung his head, unable to meet her penetrating eyes. "Not eaxctly."

"Why?" Saavik demanded.

"I used protomatter in the Genesis matrix," he confessed.

"Protomatter -- an unstable substance which every ethical scientist in the galaxy has denounced as dangerously unpredictable."

"It was the only way to solve certain problems," David declared.

"So like your father, you changed the rules," she threw back.

"If I hadn't, it might have been years -- or never!" came the impassioned reply.

"And how many have paid the price for your impatience? How many have died? How much damage have you done... and what is yet to come?"

David didn't speak for a long time, and when he did, his voice was thick with sarcasm. "You sure as hell know how to make a guy feel good."

Saavik's eyes were hard, black and cold. "I was not trying to make you feel good."

Obviously, David thought wryly as he turned his back on her and tried to sleep... but between the cold, hard rock he sat on and his troubled thoughts, it did not come early -- or soon. It was nearly planet-dawn before its merciful oblivion claimed him.

* * *

Both Uhura and Christine were thankful to have reached the Vulcan Embassy unmolested, but how long would their luck hold out? After all, there was still a lot of red tape to get through before they could get to Sarek... or at least there would have been had Uhura not been possessed of the knowledge of how to bypass the vast majority of it. Even so, Uhura had to do some fancy computer work and some fast talking before she could get through to the Vulcan Ambassador's office.

As late as it was, it was likely that Sarek would be alone, for he had considered it illogical to risk the credibility of his assistant by telling him of his intentions. Only Amanda had been privy to them before he'd told Kirk. It seemed an eternity before Uhura was finally able to get on the com-link and speak with Sarek. He answered immediately.

"This is Ambassador Sarek. Is that you, Commander Uhura? I am afraid I have been expecting at least one of Admiral Kirk's associates to come and request asylum. Is that what you are here for?"

"Yes," Uhura said, breathing a sigh of relief. "And I'm ready to leave whenever you are, but--" She abruptly broke off in mid-sentence, prompting a raised eyebrow from Sarek.

"But what?" he prompted.

"I'm not alone," came her reply.

Sarek wasn't surprised to hear that, but did wonder just who Uhura's companion was. "That is not surprising, Commander. May I inquire as to the identity of your companion?"

The dark woman looked at Christine's concerned face. How could she possibly explain Christine or the other woman's long-time infatuation with Spock? It was the female doctor who came up with the solution.

"Let me talk to him, Nyota. I can explain myself easier than you can." Uhura shrugged carelessly, but was inwardly grateful as she moved aside so Christine could speak. Christine took a deep breath and began.

"Ambassador, I also request asylum with you. My name is Christine Chapel; you may remember me as the Head Nurse on the Enterprise who worked with Dr. McCoy when you were in Sickbay after your heart surgery. I served with your son for some years -- and have had... deep feelings... for him for almost as long."

Christine took a breath, then continued. "I am aware how illogical this must seem to you, but I want to be with Spock, near him, even if he doesn't remember me. In addition, I know his physiology almost as well as Dr. McCoy does. However, I feel certain that Dr. McCoy will not be in any shape to offer medical assistance at this time. If nothing else, I would like to be there as a doctor, help in any way I can."

There was a long, and to Christine, ominous, silence before Sarek spoke. "Very well, Dr. Chapel. I will grant you both asylum." Both women exchanged relieved smiles, then turned back to the 'com screen showing Sarek's image. "Come up to my office," he told them. "Do your best to make sure that you are not seen."

"Believe me, I have no intention of letting that happen," Uhura assured him. "We'll see you in a few minutes."

"I will be expecting you." With that, the connection was cut.

"Okay, this is going to be the tricky part," the Bantu told her friend. "In order to be seen by as few people as possible, we'll have to do this the old-fashioned way and take the stairs.

Fortunately we only have to go up two flights to reach Sarek's office, and it's the third door down on the right once we get to the second floor."

This information had been supplied by Kirk (he had also given directions) since Uhura had not been in the Vulcan Embassy for many years, and things had been changed around so she wouldn't recognize it. The two had to force themselves not to run to the door which led to the stairs even though no one was around to see them move furtively across the Embassy lobby and slip behind the aforementioned door. Only a night watchman was on duty at this hour, and he was on the other side of the building, so they would be long gone before he could have known they'd been there.

The women were in good shape, so it didn't take them long to reach the second floor, even carrying their luggage. They only stopped upon reaching the door which opened onto the floor. Uhura opened it carefully, looking in both directions before stepping out and motioning to Christine that it was safe to follow. Roughly a minute later they stood at the door to the Vulcan Ambassador's office. The dark woman pressed the buzzer; Sarek's voice came back instantly.

"Come in, ladies."

Uhura and Christine breathed a grateful sigh once safely behind the door of Sarek's office suite, hardly able to believe they had been able to get this far. So far, so good... but for their part, neither would feel safe until and unless they were well away from Earth and on their way to Vulcan. Sarek did not need to ask if they were ready; one look at them told him that. Not just their luggage, but the determined looks on their faces.

Upon seeing Christine, the older Vulcan couldn't help but be reminded of his wife when she was younger. It seemed unusual that Spock had apparently been unable to see the similarities between his mother and Dr. Chapel. Perhaps it took being married to a Human for a Vulcan to have the ability.

Not that he practiced matchmaking as a rule, but there was no guarantee that Spock would even remember her, much less her feelings for him. Even so, Sarek was sure that he wouldn't regret this choice as he had with Spock's first bondmate, T'Pring. If there was any way he could help bring about a bonding between his son and the female Human doctor, he intended to do it... or at least "give it the old college try," as the Human expression went.

But there was no time to ponder this further; they had to get to his personal spaceship, then obtain clearance to leave Earth -- and the sooner those things were accomplished, the better. He also wondered how the others were doing in obtaining the Enterprise, but told himself to ask Commander Uhura at the first opportunity. Meanwhile, they had best get started.

This time it was Sarek's silver tongue that got them onto the San Francisco spaceport, then into the hangar where his ship was waiting. The sleek but Spartanly styled ship had all the amenities one could ask for -- an autochef, a small but complete bathroom with a sonic and water shower, even a cubbyhole with a single bed.

Sarek rarely used them himself. Amanda was the main reason he had added them on. Before then, she had remained on Vulcan when he went on trips off-planet, but after their addition, she had accompanied him several times. Now it would serve two of his son's Human friends. To the two women, it all happened so fast that it seemed as though it was being run in fast forward. In fact, when they had tried to recall their mad flight later on, it had all seemed a blur to them.

Their flight to the Embassy from the transporter station, Uhura's feat of computer and linguistic legerdemain which reached Sarek, their sneaking upstairs to his office, then the three making their way to the spaceport and his ship... and finally, the small ship's receiving clearance to leave Earth and then going into warp shortly before leaving the solar system. Only at this point did Christine and Uhura allow themselves to relax, both feeling like the weight of the galaxy had been lifted from their shoulders. Of course, it was only a matter of time before Starfleet caught up with them, but for the moment they were free and they intended to make the most of their freedom while they had it.

In fact Uhura had reached the end of her reserves, telling both Sarek and Christine that she intended to eat something, then have a shower and go to bed. Christine was too keyed up to sleep... but even as much as she wanted to, she couldn't discuss Spock with his father -- nor did she think he would want her to.

If she was going to talk to anyone about Spock, it would be his mother. A pity she couldn't have done so a long time ago; they'd probably have been married by now. She and Amanda had corresponded regularly, but Christine wanted to meet her in person, so when she heard of what Kirk planned to do from Nyota, it was a golden opportunity for her. Even so, none of Amanda's advice would do her any good unless Spock remembered her. She was grateful that Sarek had granted her and Nyota asylum, particularly in view of what Kirk and the others were doing. Certainly all hell would break loose at their hijacking the Enterprise, but only if and when Starfleet found out where they'd gone.

And knowing Kirk's talent for wiggling out of tight spots, it wouldn't surprise her if he got little more than a figurative slap on the wrist for something which would get anyone else's butt hung from the nearest flagpole. He'd probably even get a new command out of it even if he was demoted, whereas others would probably get court-martialed at best... or busted out of the Fleet altogether.

* * *

Meanwhile, at Spacedock, the other five conspirators had gotten aboard the Enterprise, the ship which had been their home away from home for as many years as they could remember. For Sulu and Scotty in particular, Kirk mused. They had been aboard even before Spock had signed on, having known him longer than even he and McCoy had, even if they hadn't been close to him as he and the Doctor were.

By the time he and Bones had arrived with Sulu, Scott and Chekov had most of the ship's systems on automatic. It was going to be a real feat to try to fly a ship like the Enterprise, whose normal crew complement was 430, with only a handful of people -- but if anyone could pull it off, they could. After the fight with Khan, though, it was a wonder she could do anything at all. Of course, that was mainly due to Scotty... but it had been Spock's sacrifice which had brought the warp engines back on-line. It was Scott who brought Kirk back to reality.

"As promised, she's all yours, sir. All systems automated and ready. A chimpanzee an' two trainees could run 'er."

"Thank you, Scotty. I'll try not to take that personally," the Admiral said with a wry grin before turning to the others with McCoy. "My friends, I can't ask you to go any further. McCoy and I have to do this; the rest of you do not."

There was only a brief silence before the three gave the responses Kirk had hoped for... the responses he had no right to expect, considering what would happen to their careers if they were caught. He didn't care what Fleet Command did to him, but Scotty, Sulu and Chekov (Uhura either, for that matter) didn't deserve to be penalized for their loyalty to him or their willingness to put their whole futures on the line in order to help him get Spock and McCoy back.

In response to their declarations of loyalty, Kirk had said, "My word is given, gentlemen. May the wind be at our backs. Stations, please!"

In seemingly no time at all, the ship was nearing the closed Spacedock doors; now it was up to Scotty to get them open before the Enterprise collided with them. Unfortunately word of what they were doing had no doubt spread all over by now. A starship wasn't something one could just sneak off with.

Morrow was no doubt thinking what a damn fool he had been for not following his first instincts and placing Kirk under house arrest. Too late for regrets or recriminations now, how-ever. The only thing they could do now was send their newest and finest ship, the Excelsior, after them. If she couldn't catch them, no one could. (Of course, this was before he'd learned of Scott's sabotaging her transwarp drive so the Enterprise could escape.)

They went into warp once they were out, leaving Excelsior adrift in space since the computer chips Scott had removed only left her with about a tenth of her normal power. When they had tried for more... well, one can guess what happened. The "great experiment" was dead in space -- intact, but with virtually no power.

"Mr. Scott, you're as good as your word," Kirk said with a smile.

Scott returned it. "Aye, sir. The more they overthink the plumbin', th' easier it is t' stop up the drain." McCoy came by at this point; the engineer dropped three small disks into his hand. "A souvenir, Doctor, from one surgeon to another. I took 'em out of Excelsior's transwarp computer drive."

"Nice of you to tell me in advance," the Doctor returned dryly.

Kirk turned around in his chair. "That's what you get for missing staff meetings, Bones." His next statement was directed at everyone. "Gentlemen, your work today has been outstanding. I plan to recommend you all for promotion." The Admiral grinned wryly. "In whatever fleet we end up serving, that is. Best speed to Genesis."

With that, they all sat back and prepared themselves as best they could for what lay ahead -- both at Genesis and on Vulcan.

* * *

Even as Saavik and David looked after the rapidly aging body of the resurrected Spock, now looking as though he was in his early teens, the Klingons had arrived on Genesis and were presently searching for the life-forms they had detected earlier.

By now, the groundquakes were all but constant; one couldn't take a handful of steps after one finished than another began. It made slow, onerous going for the Klingon landing party, but Kruge had no intention of giving up. He would have Genesis and prisoners to boot -- and the more the better. He surmised that there was at least one, if not two... or three, if the rumors were true.

They had only been on Genesis for a handful of hours when night fell -- and another quake hit, prompting a moan from the now-teenage Spock. Saavik checked on him, speaking soothingly in Vulcan as she tucked the burial robe and her jacket more securely around him.

David took a geological scan. "The planet is aging in surges," he said.

"As is Spock," Saavik replied. "He and the world are obviously joined in some way -- but for how long?"

"At the rate things are happening, days... maybe hours." David fell silent, hanging his head in guilt and shame. "I'm sorry."

Saavik seemed not to hear him. "It will be hardest on Spock," she remarked. "Soon he will feel the burning of his Vulcan blood." She knew she had erred when David gave her a funny look, then frowned.

"I don't understand."

Most Humans could neither know nor understand the pon farr or why it occurred any more than Vulcans themselves. She cursed herself for having spoken, but now would have to either explain as best she could or... Vulcan forbid... lie. Fortunately she was spared having to do either by the bleating of David's tricorder. He frowned again.

"Whoever they are, they're getting closer."

Saavik stood up from checking Spock again. "I will go."

"No!" David threw back sharply. "I will. You're needed here. Give me your phaser."

Saavik didn't want David to go alone, but neither could she leave the newly resurrected Vulcan. He was (or seemed) so fragile, so vulnerable, in the wake of his death and rebirth; she felt a strong obligation to protect him after all he had done for her. Within seconds of reluctantly giving David her phaser, she was alone with Spock. In spite of herself, she felt a very unVulcan apprehension at the prospect of playing the role of Spock's bondmate in order to save him from the pon farr.

Hopefully it wouldn't last long (that is, provided he didn't have several in the space of an hour due to his accelerated aging) because of the Genesis effect. She had never thought of Spock in romantic terms; he had always been more of a father/teacher/mentor to her... but she knew that it was logical to put her misgivings aside and help him in his time of need.

* * *

It took several days for the small ship carrying Sarek, Uhura and Christine to reach Vulcan, but when they did, Amanda was waiting at Space Central for them with kind words and a warm smile for both her husband and Spock's two shipmates. She expressed no surprise at seeing Christine, knowing that her feelings for Spock had never changed, not even after nearly ten years after the Babel incident, because of their ongoing correspondence. This would give them a chance to be together and have the discussion that they should have had a long time ago.

She enfolded Christine in a warm hug after greeting her husband in the traditional manner. "It's so good to see you again, Christine. Hopefully things will work out this time -- both with Spock and with Starfleet. I know what you and the others must be risking to do this for us." Amanda gave Uhura a meaningful look; the latter nodded in agreement.

"Spock is worth it, as is Dr. McCoy," Christine declared. "We all think so. We wouldn't do it otherwise."

"The others should arrive in a few days with Spock," Uhura said. "That is, if the Admiral's plan works."

The four began to make their way toward the waiting aircar. "It will," Christine said softly. "It has to."

Sarek was fairly inundated with the emotions of the three women, but remained silent because of what he himself had done to prompt the Humans' actions... and not only those of his wife and Spock's two shipmates. His logic had been questionable at best in this instance, but he found that it didn't matter -- not where Spock was concerned. If Spock should be reborn, the older Vulcan vowed that he would do all he could to rebuild his fractured relationship with his son. After so many wasted years, it would not be easy and Spock would be skeptical, if not downright suspicious, and Sarek wouldn't blame him. But if he persevered and his son's friends were willing to help, it just might work.

When they arrived at the aircar in the Space Central parking lot the four got in and prepared to leave, seat belts automatically locking around them as the seats conformed to their bodies. Sarek spoke as he backed out of the space, then shifted into "drive" and smoothly accelerated into the air, flying about thirty meters from the ground -- approximately one hundred feet.

"All we can do now is wait for the others to arrive. It would be illogical to dwell on what might or might not happen, because we can do nothing to help them."

"Nothing but hope," Amanda said, giving her husband a look which dared him to admonish her for her emotionalism. After all, what mattered was that Spock and McCoy would soon be restored to them. They would concern themselves with the repercussions of their actions once Spock and McCoy were themselves again.

* * *

Kirk moved restlessly in the command chair as the Enterprise streaked through space at a steady (or at least as steady as her still-cranky warp engines could muster) warp three. Scott had warned him that it would be foolhardy to try to push them any further. They were taking a chance as it was. It bothered Kirk, but he couldn't do anything about it. He couldn't do either of his friends any good if something happened to him, the ship, or his loyal Bridge crew. The main thing was that they were on their way and would arrive at Genesis in a matter of hours. Which reminded him...

"ETA at Genesis two point-nine hours, present speed, sir," Sulu said, seeming to answer his question before he asked it.

"Can we hold speed, Scotty?" He turned his head toward the Engineering station.

"Aye, as long we dinna go any faster. She 'as her second wind now," came the reply.

"Scan for vessels in pursuit," Kirk finally said.

"Scanning... indications negative at this time," came Spock's voice. All heads turned toward the science station, but found only McCoy's craggy face looking back with a hopeful expression. "Did I get it right?" the Doctor asked in his own voice.

"You did great, Bones," Kirk assured him before turning to where Chekov was manning the comm station in Uhura's absence.

"Any response from Grissom?" Kirk asked; Chekov frowned and shook his head.

"None, sir."

"Did Starfleet have any luck?"

"No, sir. There was no answer from the Grissom on any frequency."

"I wonder what's going on," Kirk mused, too preoccupied to have considered the possibility of the science vessel having met an untimely demise. The only things he was concerned with at the moment were his two friends and David's well-being. He told the Russian to keep trying. After that, he knew he had to either get up and do something or go crazy, so he walked over to the science station and leaned on the console. "How are we doing?"

McCoy raised a sardonic, Spock-like eyebrow at his long-time friend and commander. "How are we doing? Funny you should put it quite that way." His voice trailed off as he took a breath. "We are doing fine... but I'd feel safer giving Spock one of my kidneys than what's scrambled in my brain."

"Hang in there, Bones. It'll be over soon." Kirk put a comforting hand on the doctor's shoulder.

"Something which should make us both feel better," McCoy muttered even as Kirk walked back to the command chair, somehow knowing that Bones wasn't referring to him, just as he could have sworn he heard Spock's voice again, saying "Indeed," in his artfully artless way. With any luck, this "split-personality" business would soon end and both of his friends would be back to themselves again. After that, all Kirk needed to worry about was whether or not he and his Bridge crew would still have any careers or freedom left.

McCoy was technically blameless for what he had done because he was under the influence of the Vulcan's katra; neither had Spock had committed any crimes against Starfleet. As for the others, they were acting as much of their own free will as under Kirk's orders. Of course, there was no guarantee Starfleet would see it that way, so he had to be prepared for the worst even as he hoped for the best.

* * *

Saavik had been reaching for her communicator to try and contact David again when a low moan came from the cave. This moan was different from the others, so she came on the run, knowing what it signified. It had not been caused by any of the groundquakes. The pon farr had arrived. Her duty was clear. When Saavik stepped inside the cave, the glow from the heated stones around Spock showed his huddled figure in an almost fetal position even as he tried to absorb the coolness of the stone wall in a futile attempt to ease the fever which raged inside his body.

He looked up at her when she reached his side and gently spoke to him in Vulcan, face contorted with pain and flushed a deep emerald green. "You feel the burning of your Vulcan blood. It is called pon farr." Her tone calmed him, even if he didn't understand her words, and Saavik allowed herself a sigh of relief... but the true test still lay ahead.

Even as concerned as she was about David, she was glad he was not present to witness what was about to happen -- and even if he had been, she would have asked him to leave. The pon farr was too private a thing for a Human to see. Saavik called upon every ounce of strength left in her as she reached for his hand; both flinched as a tenuous link formed between them. "Will you trust me?"

She got her answer as she guided Spock's hand against hers, stroking the back and palm before pressing her fingers to his... then he tentatively stroked the back and palm of her hand before pressing his fingers to hers. Finally her hand went to his temple for the mind-touch; she used the techniques he had taught her. Within moments she felt his body begin to relax, and (if she wasn't mistaken) his fever had eased. Then Spock reached up to gently touch her cheek, his fingers tracing her right eyebrow before caressing her temple even as Saavik allowed herself to drown in the depths of his fathomless velvet eyes.

She maintained the link until the pon farr had passed -- thankfully brief due to the accelerated aging Genesis had inflicted on him as its price for his resurrection... but every bit as intense as the usual version. Spock clung to her as if it meant his life (and at this point it did) until his body relaxed completely and the fever had abated -- then he fell asleep in her arms. There had been no physical joining; the episode had passed too rapidly for that.

Of course, Saavik knew she would have joined with him had it been necessary, but at the same time was thankful it hadn't been. It would be difficult enough to face him as it was, should they escape this dying planet and Spock be returned to himself... even though she doubted he would remember what had transpired between them. At least not right away.

As soon as she knew he was asleep, she gently lowered him to her folded jacket which served as a makeshift pillow. She would have to make do with the heated rocks; Spock's survival was of paramount importance. Even so, Saavik had been unable to resist stroking his silky hair as she seated herself beside him -- and in spite of her resolve to stay awake until David returned, she felt herself becoming drowsy. Spock was still somewhat restless, so she took his nearest hand and held it.

He quieted down within moments and shortly thereafter both of them fell into a deep sleep-trance. She had been both physically and mentally drained by having to sustain both his life and her own. Saavik told herself it was logical for her to sleep because she couldn't protect Spock if she wasn't at her best. Of course, she wouldn't need too much... just until David returned.

* * *

Neither Sarek nor Uhura had been able to leave before assuring Amanda and Christine that they would give them a full report on what happened with Spock and the fal-tor-pan. Neither did either think it fair that they were not allowed to accompany the other two. The Vulcan Ambassador gently but firmly informed them that only those directly involved in Spock's rescue and rebirth would be allowed at the fal-tor-pan ceremony. Christine and Amanda were no less disappointed but nodded understandingly, assuring Sarek and Uhura that they would occupy themselves by having dinner, then a long talk -- at least for tonight.

After that, Christine and Amanda weren't sure what they would do. Sarek had warned that the ceremony might take as much as a full Vulcan day (that is, 26 hours... two hours longer than a standard Earth day) but hopefully they could think of something in order not to climb the walls wondering what was going on. The two women who loved Spock best listened as the engine of the aircar carrying their husband and friend respectively gradually faded away, then Amanda and Christine turned and headed for the kitchen. The younger woman sat down at the table, nursing a cup of coffee as Amanda began to fix dinner.

"Dammit, Amanda, it's not fair. I don't see why we couldn't have gone with them."

"It's not for us to understand, Christine. All we can do is sit tight and pray." The older woman sounded as disconsolate as the younger, but did her best to lighten the mood with comforting words. "Look at it this way. You'll have a second chance to win Spock."

"Provided he remembers me," the female doctor threw back. "It was tough enough for me before he died. How do you think it'll be for me this time?"

"It was tough then because you were trying to deal with it, and Spock, on your own. This time I'll be helping you. Besides, he probably won't remember how it originally was between you... at least not at first. That will give you the opportunity to help and treat him as you've always wanted -- when you're alone with him, that is -- without your previous problems hanging over your head."

"When do you think that will be?" Christine wondered as she finished her coffee and poured another cup.

Amanda shrugged as she stood at her stove, keeping her back to her guest so the latter couldn't see the troubled look on her face... but made her words as reassuring as possible. "Couldn't say. Depends on how long the fal-tor-pan ceremony takes -- as well as whether or not it's successful."

"Do you think it will be?" was the next question.

"It hasn't been done for centuries, but there's no reason why it shouldn't be. Even so, life holds no guarantees. We can only hope for the best."

Christine could only twist her lips. "In other words, I might not even be allowed near Spock, even in a medical capacity. Who knows, Sarek might even see this as a perfect opportunity to make Spock as completely Vulcan as it's possible for him to be."

Amanda pretended not to hear, instead directing Christine to set the table as she finished cooking, then put the hot vegetable beef stew and mashed potatoes with butter on the racks strategically placed on the table. Wine coolers with orange juice and passion fruit were the beverages of choice... and since they were alone, Amanda decided to forego the usual Vulcan tradition of eating meals in silence.

"Enough of that defeatist talk," she gently admonished. "We have better things to discuss -- like what you're going to do once Spock is back with us."

With that, the two women sat down and began to eat. Their talk began as they ate and continued until it was time for them to go to bed. Not that sleep would come easily... or soon. Both were too keyed up, too preoccupied with Spock. The only good thing was that they had been able to map out a strategy for Christine to win Spock over. She would first do all she could to help Spock get back to himself, then work to gain his confidence and/or friendship... but not try to push him. After that, it was only a matter of time until she gained his love. Christine only hoped she would have the chance to implement it.

It was at this point that the Enterprise arrived at Genesis. Upon detecting them, the Klingons employed the cloaking device to remain undetected themselves -- at least for the present. The planetside landing party still hadn't found anything but it was only a matter of time until they did. The life-forms they had detected earlier had to be hiding somewhere. Even as Kirk told McCoy to scan for life-forms on the Genesis surface, Saavik was rudely awakened by a rough hand pulling her to her feet, then the other hand grabbed Spock. They were half-walked, half-dragged outside to be flung at the feet of the Klingon Commander.

She noted that David was with them. He had been beaten but was alive, having a bloody nose, a black eye and bruises on his face and upper body. Saavik raised her head further to see Spock kneeling beside her and the hobnailed boots of a Klingon. Her eyes traveled up to meet the eyes of Kruge. An unmistakable look of contempt crossed the Klingon's features as he looked upon his three prisoners, particularly Saavik. He spoke a moment later, breaking the tension-filled silence.

"So! I have come a long way for the power of Genesis -- and what do I find? A weakling Human, a Vulcan boy and a woman!" Kruge put special emphasis on the last word to show his low opinion of the female gender. They were only good for one thing... and once they could do that no more, give a man sons -- they had no further value and were summarily executed even as a new mate was chosen.

Saavik carefully rose to her feet. "My lord, we are all survivors of a doomed expedition. This planet will destroy itself in hours. The Genesis experiment is a failure."

The Klingon's ugly face became even uglier with increased anger and hatred. "A failure? The most powerful destructive force ever created and you say it's a failure! Then you will tell me the secret of Genesis or die!"

"I am quite prepared to die, my lord, for I have no such knowledge," Saavik replied evenly, thankful they hadn't decided to take out their anger on Spock as they had on David. She didn't care what they did to her, but Spock must not be harmed.

The beeping of Kruge's communicator broke the moment; he snatched it from his belt and snarled into it. "I told you, I wanted no interruptions!"

The voice of his First Officer came back. "But sir, a Federation starship is approaching. I believe it is the Enterprise."

Kruge couldn't believe his ears. It couldn't be! "The Enterprise? Beam me up immediately!"

* * *

On the Enterprise, Kirk and Sulu had detected the energy distortion which concealed the cloaked Klingon ship. Chekov had been sure he'd seen the Grissom, but acknowledged the possibility that he could have imagined it. Kirk had him patch in a hailing frequency, but there was no answer even after repeated calls, in spite of the fact that both those on the planet and on the Klingon ship heard them.

David had wanted to answer, and even began to reach for his communicator when the Klingons trained their disruptors on him and Saavik's cold, hard eyes met his. She shook her head, and his hand dropped back to his side.

* * *

Kruge walked onto the Bird of Prey's Bridge and asked for ship's status; Maltz answered him. "We are cloaked. Enemy vessel will be in impulse power range shortly."

The Klingon Commander smiled evilly. "Good. This is the turn of luck I have been waiting for."

* * *

Sulu turned to Kirk and shook his head. "Nothing on my board, sir."

Kirk pointed to the viewscreen. "Sulu. See that distortion?"

"I think it's an energy surge," came the reply.

"Enough energy to hide a ship?"

"A cloaking device," Sulu said ominously.

"Exactly," Kirk agreed. "Red alert, Scotty! All power to the weapons systems." He said to McCoy under his breath, "If I remember correctly, they'll have to decloak before they can fire."

The Doctor stood beside him and spoke quietly in reply. "May all your guesses be right."

* * *

At this point the Klingon ship had come within their weapons range. Once Kruge was told this, he said, "Stand by to transfer energy to weapons... and disengage cloaking device at my command!"

* * *

To those on the Enterprise, the decloaking ship seemed to be preceded by what looked like heat shimmers before the ship materialized before them.

"Klingon Bird of Prey, sir. She's arming torpedoes!" Sulu called out.

"Now, Scotty! Fire torpedoes!"Kirk shouted before falling back into the command chair.

The torpedoes sent the Klingon ship tumbling upon impact; one beam blasted a large section of it away.

"Good shot, Scotty," Kirk said, calling for shields -- but nothing happened.

"Shields are unresponsive," Chekov reported.

Kirk turned to Scotty, who was murmuring unsavory epithets under his breath. "Th' automation system's overloaded. Ah didna expect ye t' take us int' combat, ye know!"

* * *

On the Klingon ship, Kruge discovered that his pet, Warrigul, had been killed -- the only creature the Klingon had ever loved. Kirk had murdered him, so he had another score to settle with the treacherous Earther. Warrigul would be avenged, even if Kruge had to take both the Enterprise's and his own crew with him in death.

"Sir, the cloaking device has been destroyed," another gunner reported.

Kruge gave him a withering glance. "Never mind that now. Emergency power to thrusters! Stand by weapons!"

* * *

Kirk watched as the Klingons turned to face the Enterprise. "The shields, Scotty!" he called desperately.

"Impossible!" was the reply.

"Then ready the torpedoes--" Too late. The Klingons had fired at nearly point-blank range; the Federation ship hadn't had a chance to lift a finger. All Kirk could do was brace himself for impact, which shook the Bridge. He was knocked against the railing, feeling the wind knocked out of him and pain in his left side, but no broken ribs as far as he could tell.

The Bridge was plunged into darkness, but seconds later emergency lights kicked in as Kirk struggled back to his chair, breathing heavily and painfully. "Prepare to return fire! Transfer power to phaser banks!"

"Th' automation center's been knocked out," Scott said glumly. "Ah've got no control over anythin'!"

Both Sulu and Chekov gestured to him, equally helpless.

"So," Kirk said. "We're a sitting duck."

"There's one consolation, sir," Scott replied. "So are th' Klingons."

"Serves them right... the bloody Cossacks!" Chekov muttered darkly.

* * *

On the Klingon ship one gunner, Torg, was prepared to fire on the Enterprise again after emergency power had kicked in... but Kruge stayed his hand.

"Why hasn't he finished us? He outnumbers us ten to one!"

Then Maltz spoke from Communications. "My lord, the enemy commander wishes a truce to confer."

"Put him on screen," came the order; seconds later Kirk's face appeared. Kruge muttered, "The Genesis commander himself," as Kirk began to speak.

"You are in violation of the treaty between the Federation and Klingon Empire. Your presence here is an act of war! If you do not surrender your ship and crew in two minutes, we will destroy you."

Something told Kruge that it was a bluff and he acted accordingly. "He's hiding something."

"How can you tell?" Torg asked.

"I trust my instincts," was the reply before the Klingon turned back to the viewscreen.

"Admiral Kirk, this is your opponent. Do not lecture me about treaty violations. The Federation, in developing the ultimate weapon, has become a gang of intergalactic criminals. It is not I who will surrender, it is you!" Kruge licked his lips like he had just finished a sumptuous meal, savoring the fact that he had the legendary James Kirk at his mercy. "On the planet below, I have three prisoners from the team that created your Doomsday weapon. If you do not surrender, I will execute them one at a time as enemies of galactic peace!"

Kirk was both angry and terrified. Dear God. Spock... David... Saavik! "Who is this? How dare you take prisoners!"

"Who I am is not important. That I have them is." Kruge again smiled evilly. "I will allow you to speak to them." On the planet, the three prisoners were dragged to their feet.

Generous bastard, Kirk thought sourly. He waited for the signal to speak, which came seconds later. Saavik's voice came to him, tightly controlled.

"Admiral, this is Lt. Saavik."

"Saavik..." Kirk's voice trailed off. "Is David with you?"

"Yes, he is -- and someone else. A Vulcan scientist of your acquaintance."

Kirk and McCoy looked at each other and smiled. Saavik also had Spock's gift for understatement.

"This... Vulcan. Is he alive?" Kirk kept his voice carefully neutral. His feelings for Spock (and David, for that matter) were none of the Klingons' business.

"He is not himself, but he lives. He is also subject to rapid aging, like this unstable planet."

The communicator was thrust at David as he was punched in the back. David staggered, wincing at the pain as he cursed the Klingon under his breath before speaking.

"Hello, sir. It's David," he said to his father.

"David..." Kirk's voice caught for a moment. "Sorry I'm late."

"It's okay. I should have known you'd come. Saavik's right; this planet is going to destroy itself in a matter of hours."

"David, what went wrong?" Kirk's voice was a mixture of shock and sorrow.

"I went wrong," was the reply. There was a long, awkward silence before Kirk found his voice again.

"I don't understand."

"I'm sorry, sir. It's too complicated to explain. Just don't surrender. Genesis doesn't work! I can't believe they'd kill us for it."

The communicator was snatched away as the prisoners were knocked to the ground again.

"Your young friend is mistaken, Admiral," Kruge said. "I meant what I said. And now, to show that my intentions are sincere, I shall kill one of the prisoners."

"No!" Kirk shouted. "Give me a chance--"

Kruge snarled an order in Klingonese, which the Federation people did not understand, but the intent was all too clear. The Klingon with the knife held it up in the air as he walked around the three prisoners, none knowing which of them would be the target... which would feel the knife in their back or chest, the Klingon's face the last one they would ever see.

The knife blades clicked open, and Saavik braced herself for death since the Klingon was behind her, poising himself to plunge the knife into her body -- knowing how little Klingons valued women. David pushed her aside at the last moment, yelling "No!" She fell to the ground at the momentum of his push, wincing in spite of herself at David's cry, then the silence that followed. He was gone. All eyes focused on James Kirk as Saavik's controlled voice (but not controlled enough) explained what had happened.

"Admiral, David is dead."

Kirk choked on anger and grief as he made to sit down, but dropped to the deck in front of his chair instead. "You... slimy Klingon bastard! You killed my son!"

Kruge made no reaction to this; he merely said, "I have two other prisoners, Admiral. Do you want them killed too?"

"All right, damn you! All right. Give me a minute to inform my crew."

"I give two minutes, Admiral -- for you and your gallant crew."

Magnanimous son of a bitch, Kirk thought murderously. I'd like to take him apart, piece by stinking piece. Pay him back for what he did to David. Pain overwhelmed him at the name. Oh God, David, my son. My son! But he forced back his anger and grief. This was not the time for it.

"Sulu, what is the crew complement of a Bird of Prey?"

"About a dozen, sir."

"With some of them on the planet. I swear to you, we're not finished yet!" Kirk took a deep breath, his mind working swiftly. "Bones, you and Sulu to the Transporter Room. Mr. Scott and Chekov, with me. We have a job to do." He opened the ship-to-ship intercom. "Enterprise to Klingon Commander. Stand by to board this ship on my next signal."

"No tricks, Kirk," Kruge snapped. "You have one minute!"

"No tricks," Kirk replied smoothly. "I'm looking forward to meeting you."

The three men moved to the science station, where Kirk opened a voice and optical channel to the computer. "Computer, this is Admiral James T. Kirk. Request security access."

A light flashed in Kirk's right eye for the retina scan. "Identity acknowledged," the computer said.

Kirk took a deep breath and began to recite the self-destruct code. "Destruct sequence one. Code one, one-A."

Scott and Chekov stared at him, wide-eyed with horror, but knew there was nothing else to do. Scott began to speak. "This is Commander Montgomery Scott, Chief Engineering Officer. Destruct sequence two, code one, one-A, two-B."

"Chekov," Kirk said.

Chekov swallowed hard, squared his shoulders and began. "This is Commander Pavel Chekov, Acting Science Officer. Destruct sequence three, code one-B, two-B, three."

"Destruct sequence completed and engaged. Awaiting final code for one-minute countdown," came the computer's pleasant female voice.

Now it came down to James Kirk, and he didn't hesitate. "Code zero, zero, zero. Destruct... zero."

Immediately the computer began counting the seconds backward from sixty; the three men ran to the turbolift, which whisked them to the Transporter Room. Sulu, efficient as ever, had already set the coordinates for the only place they could go at this point -- the dying planet. The five men assembled on the platform as Kirk flipped open his communicator.

"Kirk, your time runs out. Report!" Kruge barked.

"Klingon Commander, we are engaging transporter beam... Now!"

The Klingons appeared seconds after the Enterprise men dematerialized, wary of any possibility of attack... but there was none. They made their way to the Enterprise Bridge; again, they encountered no one. Very strange -- even ominous.

Torg opened his communicator. "My lord, the ship appears to be deserted."

"How can that be? They must be hiding!" The Klingon Commander couldn't believe what he was hearing. What could have happened to Kirk and the others? Where could they have gone so quickly?

"Yes, sir... but the Bridge appears to be run by computer. It is the only thing speaking." Torg became more apprehensive in spite of himself with every passing moment.

"Speaking? Let me hear."

Torg leaned closer to the computer. "Nine, eight, seven, six...," it recited.

Kruge knew instantly that they'd walked into a trap... a deadly trap. "Get out of there -- get out!" he yelled, but there was no time for the boarding party to either act or react before the Enterprise Bridge imploded around them.

"Five, four, three, two, one... Zero." The final seconds ticked away. Kruge watched, angry but helpless, as he watched his grandiose plans for galactic conquest go up in smoke, literally disintegrating before his eyes.

* * *

Kirk and the others materialized aboard the planet in time to see the Enterprise become a flaming fireball and streak through the sky before disappearing beyond the horizon.

"My God, Bones," Kirk whispered. "What have I done?"

"What you had to do," the Doctor replied. "What you always do. Turn death into a fighting chance to live."

Just then Sulu's voice reached Kirk's unwilling ears. "Sir, the planet core readings are highly unstable and changing rapidly."

Kirk visibly pulled himself together. "Surface life-signs?"

The Asian pointed straight ahead. "That way, Admiral. Very close."

The other three followed the first two to the nearby clearing, where their friends (and two Klingons) were waiting.

* * *

On the Klingon ship, Kruge was too shocked even to think -- much less speak. Kirk had apparently killed himself and his crew in order to prevent the Enterprise from falling into Klingon hands. Just what Kruge himself would have done to prevent his own ship from falling into Federation hands. He barely heard Maltz's voice.

"My lord, what are your orders?"

My orders? Kruge thought. Do I have any right to give orders now? I underestimated him: a Human! He did the one thing I did not expect him to do. He thought of what Kirk had said earlier. How could I have known that one of the prisoners was his son? Sacrificing him made Kirk willing to die! I have failed, he lamented. Failed miserably. A Human has been bolder, more ruthless than I... a dishonor I can never live down!

* * *

Meanwhile, the Genesis convulsions were torturing Spock. Saavik moved carefully toward him. Upon reaching him, she noted that he lay prone, shuddering and clenching long fingers in the dirt. She began speaking soothingly to him as she reached for his temple. If she could calm him enough, she might be able to alleviate some of his pain. She did not see or hear one Klingon jerk Spock to his feet -- not in time. "No, don't touch him!" He cursed in Klingon and pushed her aside. Spock cried out in pain and anger, lifting the guard and throwing him through the air to hit a tree. Saavik heard a crunch of broken bone. The Klingon slid to the ground and didn't move again.

Saavik struggled over to him again. "Be calm," she soothed. "I can help you."

Spock covered his face and cried out again, running off. Saavik followed, along with the remaining Klingon. She couldn't believe what was happening to Spock. He was literally changing before her eyes. The Klingon seemed to be equally dumfounded; there was no sound from him.

Moments later Saavik touched Spock gently, then drew him into her arms and held him. Then the other Klingon seemed to come back to life, wanting revenge for what Spock had done to his comrade; Saavik looked up and glared at him. If he wanted Spock, he would have to kill her first. But even as she attempted to maneuver Spock more comfortably, he went into another convulsion which forced another anguished scream from his throat.

Kirk heard the scream and doubled his pace; Sulu paced him, with Chekov close behind. McCoy and Scott followed at a slightly greater distance. Suddenly they burst into a clearing; Saavik was in the center, supporting Spock, while a Klingon threatened them with a disruptor. The Klingon spun around as Kirk shouted, "Don't move!" The phaser beam flung him backwards; he flew through the air a short distance, then hit the ground hard enough to knock him out. McCoy came up beside him and gently took Spock from Saavik's arms. Kirk touched her, startling her before she realized who it was.

"Sir, I tried..." Her voice almost broke as she staggered; he pulled her close.

"Easy, Saavik. It's all right," Kirk crooned. "What happened here?"

"I tried... to take care of Spock -- and your son... but David gave his life to save us."

"I know you did all you could, Saavik," he assured her. "Don't worry." Then Kirk looked around to find David's body lying a short distance away, releasing her before slowly crossing the clearing and kneeling beside his son. "My son..." he whispered, gathering the limp body into his arms and holding it for a time, wanting to both cry and curse at the same time but somehow unable to. At this point he heard McCoy call to him; he gently laid David's body back down and turned toward where the doctor was examining Spock.

"How is he, Bones?"

"Aging rapidly," came the reply above the beeping of the medical scanner. "All genetic functions highly accelerated."

"What about his mind?"

"It's a void. It would seem that I've got all his marbles."

"Is there anything we can do?"

"Only one thing," Saavik put in. "Get him off this planet. His aging is part of what's going on around us."

"Off the planet? But how...? Wait!" Kirk picked up the Klingon communicator which had fallen from the one Spock had flung into a tree. He was pleased to find the channel open; he couldn't have done it himself. He picked it up and raised it to his lips.

"Klingon Commander, this is Admiral James T. Kirk. I'm alive and well on the planet's surface. I know this may come as a pleasant surprise to you, but our ship was the victim of an unfortunate accident. Sorry about your crew, but as we say on Earth, 'C'est la vie.' " There was silence for a time before Kirk spoke again. "I have the secret of Genesis, but you'll have to bring us up there to get it. Do you hear me? I'm waiting for you. What is your answer?"

He was all ready to repeat himself when he heard a harsh Klingon voice behind him. "Drop all weapons!"

Kirk whirled at the sound of the voice to find the biggest, nastiest-looking Klingon he had ever seen pointing a disruptor at him. At his nod, all his people dropped their weapons -- including himself. Kruge motioned to a fairly clear spot about three meters to their right. "Over there. All but Kirk." Once they were in place, Kruge got out his communicator. "Maltz -- prisoners at beam coordinates. Activate beam!" he said in Klingonese.

The small group was gone seconds later; Kirk was thankful that at least they were off the planet, though he wasn't sure if what they were going to was much better. Only he, Spock and Kruge were left on the planet. The Admiral gave his supine friend a worried look. "You should beam the Vulcan up, too."

"No!" Kruge barked.

"Why not?"

"Because you wish it," came the reply... then in the next breath, the Klingon said, "Genesis. I want it."

Kirk humored him. "Beam the Vulcan up, and we'll talk."

"Give me what I want and I'll consider it," Kruge shot back.

Kirk lost his patience. "You fool, look around you! The planet's destroying itself!"

"Yes. Exhilarating, isn't it?" Kruge grinned wolfishly.

Kirk tried one last time. "If we don't help each other, we'll die here!"

Kruge was unmoved. "Perfect! Then that's the way it shall be!"

Then Kirk dropped all pretenses of civility and a savage fight ensued, a fight which could have only one winner -- and Kirk was determined that it be him.

* * *

Kirk lost all track of time as the fight continued. No matter how hard, or where, he hit Kruge, the Klingon came back for more. First, he had snarled, "Give me Genesis!" and his hands closed around Kirk's throat, threatening to strangle him. Next, Kruge flipped him so that the Human landed gracelessly on his belly in the dirt -- then dragged him to his feet and began beating Kirk's head against a rock.

The Admiral fought for air and a chance to overcome his younger, stronger and larger opponent while all the time the planet was literally coming apart around and beneath them. Finally Kruge was hanging by his fingers from a ledge with nothing beneath him but empty space and the glowing magma hundreds of meters below. Kirk reached to try and help him, but Kruge grabbed his ankle and began dragging him toward the edge after pulling him off his feet and onto his back.

Kirk heard the Klingon laughing at him, mocking him -- laughing at David's death, at Kirk's determination to save his friends, and Kirk himself... and had had enough. A killing rage exploded inside Kirk's head. "Damn you, Kruge! I've had it with you... just -- plain -- had enough of you!" He kicked out at the Klingon. Kruge's grip loosened, then broke. He cried out as he plunged to a fiery death.

Kirk, battered and bloodied but alive, watched, wide-eyed, as the Klingon was swallowed up by the magma -- then he struggled back to where Spock lay unconscious. With a part of him, Kirk hoped his friend would appreciate all he and the others had gone through for him... even fighting a Klingon and getting the tar beaten out of him. Not to mention sacrificing his career and those of his best officers, his ship and his son.

But Kirk forced all that from his mind as he reached to pick up Spock. Time enough to grieve later; the first order of business was getting the hell off this planet. He felt it keenly that he would be unable to take David's body back to Carol, and hoped he could think of some way to make her understand.

He glanced around for Kruge's communicator after hoisting the Vulcan's limp body onto his shoulder and did his best to copy the Klingon's harsh, guttural voice while repeating Kruge's last transmitted words. For a time, he was sure his subterfuge had been detected, but thankfully soon felt the transporter beam take him and Spock... and not a moment too soon. Even as the beam caught them, Kirk felt the ground give way beneath them.

* * *

Once they had materialized, Kirk settled his friend's body more firmly onto his shoulder and headed for the Control Room. He saw no one as he walked through the cramped (to him) corridors, knowing this was the same kind of emptiness which had greeted the Klingon boarding party on the Enterprise. Double doors opened for him; he stepped into the Control Room. The lone Klingon turned around to discover Kirk's phaser pointed at him. "Don't move!" Maltz obeyed, remaining frozen as he stared into the Human's cold, hard eyes. However, he could -- and did -- talk.

"Where is Kruge?"

"Gone. Dead. Engulfed by Genesis."

Kirk looked at his people standing nearby, who had gone from prisoners to captors in a matter of moments. "How many more?" he asked.

"Just him, sir," said Scott.

"Bones, help Spock. Everyone else find a station." He turned to Maltz as McCoy took Spock in hand. "You! Help us or die!"

"I do not deserve to live," came the low, defeated reply.

"Fine. I'll kill you later. Now let's get out of here," Kirk said, turning his back on the Klingon and his attention toward leaving the dying planet with a sun about to go nova and heading for Vulcan, where their other friends, Spock's parents, and the destiny of everyone aboard waited.

Once they had managed to tear themselves away from the planet -- mainly thanks to Sulu's accurate guess -- Kirk moved to the command chair and seated himself. "We're clear and free to navigate," Sulu said.

"Good. Best speed to Vulcan. Mr. Chekov, take the prisoner below." The Russian grabbed the Klingon's tunic.

"Wait!" he called. "You said you would kill me."

"I lied," Kirk said, gesturing to Chekov to get the Klingon off the Bridge so he could concentrate on bigger and better things as well as allow himself time to quietly grieve. "Goodbye, David," he said under his breath as the Bird sped away, leaving the disintegrating planet far behind them.

* * *

An hour later, Kirk made his way down to the Klingon ship's small Sickbay where McCoy stood beside Spock's bed, looking down at their unconscious, possibly dying (again) friend. What little life support capabilities there were at hand were inappropriate for a Vulcanoid body. The Doctor didn't even look up as the doors opened to admit Kirk, merely stared helplessly down at the comatose Vulcan, unable to lift a finger to ensure his survival for the next minute, much less until they reached Vulcan, several hours away.

Kirk listened from the doorway, heart aching for both his friends as McCoy's soft, shaky voice said, "Spock, I've done everything I know how to do. Help me! You stuck this damn thing in my head; now tell me what to do with it!"

But there was no answer from without... or within. Not that McCoy had really expected one, but had still hoped that maybe, just maybe-- Even so, he could have sworn twice that Spock's right eyelid had fluttered ever so slightly.

"I'm going to tell you something that I never thought I'd ever hear myself say, but I've missed you... and couldn't bear to lose you again."

Kirk had approached the bed, unheard and unnoticed by McCoy until the Admiral reached his side. Over the bed with its precious burden, he touched the Doctor's shoulder. McCoy looked up into James Kirk's eyes, full of as much love and pain as his own. Kirk's one hand rested on the Vulcan's forehead while McCoy's hand rested on Spock's shoulder. In this way, the three friends were together for the remainder of the time it took to arrive at Vulcan, having had no sense of the passage of time. All that Kirk or McCoy knew (or cared to know) was that they were with Spock again. That was all that mattered -- now and for all time.

* * *

Uhura was the one who picked up the communications signal from the Klingon ship at the Mt. Seleya comm station a short distance from the temple, relaying it to Sarek through his assistant Simak who was in the adjoining room, T'Lar's office. The Ambassador arrived moments later.

"The Klingon Bird of Prey has arrived, Ambassador," she told him after telling them to stand by. "They have Spock, and are requesting permission to land."

The older Vulcan acknowledged her with a slight nod. "Permission granted. Tell them -- tell Kirk -- we are ready."

She turned back to the subspace transmitter, this time with Sarek present, and said to Chekov, manning the comm station on the Klingon ship, "Permission granted to land on the plain at the foot of Mt. Seleya. Everything is ready."

Uhura also knew that she also had to contact Amanda and Chris, waiting anxiously back at the house, to tell them that the others had arrived with Spock... or else she'd never hear the end of it. After Sarek departed, she opened the channel yet again and contacted Spock's family home. Christine and Amanda virtually ran to the subspace transmitter in the living room when it beeped; Amanda was the one who opened the channel. Christine couldn't help a smile and tears misted her eyes at the sound of Nyota's voice. She'd recognize it anywhere.

Admiral Kirk and the others had done it. They were here, with Spock! She wished with all her heart that she could have been there to greet them. She had never envied Uhura more in her life than she did now. Christine had to ask Amanda to clarify what had been said.

"What is it, Amanda? What else did Uhura say?"

"Patience, Christine," came the gentle admonition. "Uhura hasn't finished speaking yet."

That effectively, if temporarily, silenced the younger woman so she resolved to wait as patiently (and quietly) as possible to find out what she wanted to know. She felt better when Amanda looked up and smiled encouragingly; the two women shared a moment of understandable happiness at the knowledge that Spock was once again among the living, both of them mercifully unaware of his precarious condition... but with luck that condition would soon improve markedly.

"They are carrying him up the steps of Mt. Seleya. Uhura says she can see them coming out the window of the Communications Room. They all look tired, but all right otherwise."

"Thank God. Thank God," Christine said softly. "Can she see Spock at all?"

"Not clearly. He's lying prone, coming head first, and is wearing the burial robe. He looks like he's either deeply asleep or unconscious... but she assures me that he is alive."

"Then that's all that matters," Christine said. "Everyone's here and safe -- including Spock." She pulled up the extra chair sitting nearby, seating herself before her suddenly weak knees gave out. She bowed her head, scarcely daring to believe it was really happening. I pray we will be together again soon, my love, she told the image in her heart's eye. I can hardly wait to see your face again, touch your hand, speak to you -- perhaps even hold you... if you'll let me.

Christine was thankful that her beloved was alive again, even if she was denied access to him for a time. At least she would hopefully be near him and get news of him, even if it was second- or third-hand. "Well, we'd better let Nyota go," she finally said. "She's probably needed elsewhere."

Amanda nodded and frowned thoughtfully, signing off a short time later and turning toward her companion.

"Uhura says she'll let us know how the fal-tor-pan ceremony turns out," Amanda said. "Meanwhile all we can do -- again -- is wait."

"But it won't be so hard now that they're all here," Christine replied, happiness and relief strongly evident in her voice.

"For you and me both," came the reply. "Let's go get something to eat now, then I'll show you some holograph albums of Spock."

* * *

Upon reaching the top of Mt. Seleya, several women in filmy gowns took Spock's litter in hand, carrying him as easily as Kirk and the others had -- but were carrying him with their hands above his body rather then below it. It seemed inconceivable to Kirk that anyone could have had such mental strength. It was like they were defying even Vulcan's heavy gravity by only the power of their minds. Kirk hurried after them, passing between two massive stone pillars before stopping at the edge of a raised circular platform. T'Lar stood between two stone biers, spreading her cloak out behind her like wings, waiting in stately silence as her initiates brought Spock to her.

Kirk tried to go further, but Sarek stopped him. "This is where you must wait." Unwillingly, Kirk obeyed as the older Vulcan faced the altar, watching the proceedings from behind a mask of deceptive composure as his son's body was raised slightly from its litter, then onto the right stone bier.

It was at this point that T'Lar turned toward Sarek. "Sarek, child of Skonn, child of Sokar. The body of thy son breathes still. What is thy wish?"

"I ask for fal-tor-pan," was the reply. "The refusion."

"What thee seek has not been done since ages past -- and then only in legend. Thy request is not logical."

"Forgive me, T'Lar." The Vulcan Ambassador's voice was even more quiet than usual. "My logic is... uncertain where my son is concerned."

My God, I don't believe what I'm hearing, Kirk thought with a grin. Sarek just said that he loved Spock! It was a cinch that Spock would never believe it, even though he knew his Human friend would never lie to him, especially about a thing like that. Even the fact that T'Lar and everyone else present had also heard him say it wouldn't sway Spock too much. What a time to be without a tricorder! The only way Spock would even begin to believe it was if he heard it for himself.

T'Lar's voice brought Kirk back to reality. "Who is the keeper of the katra?"

Not only Kirk's eyes, but those of every one of the other Enterprise personnel, went to the thin and exhausted McCoy who stood next to him, looking even older than he was. T'Lar's gaze followed theirs, soon resting on the haggard doctor. McCoy had heard her too, but didn't look up until he felt everyone watching him.

"I am," he called out. "McCoy, Leonard H., son of David."

"McCoy, son of David, since thou art Human, we cannot expect thee to understand what Sarek has requested. Spock's body lives. With thy approval, we will use all our powers to return to his body that which thee possess. But McCoy, thee must now be warned... the danger to thyself is as grave as the danger to Spock. Thee must make the choice."

McCoy let the silence stretch out before he answered.

"I choose the danger," he said. Under his breath to Kirk, he said, "Hell of a time to ask."

At least he was given a choice this time, Kirk thought with a wry grin.

"Bring him," T'Lar ordered. Sarek led the Doctor to the empty bier on the circular platform. Kirk hated letting McCoy go alone to face God knew what, but was helpless to do anything. McCoy lay down on the bier next to Spock; T'Lar stood between them, one hand on each of their faces in the mind-meld position... and so it began.

* * *

The next thing Kirk knew, he was waking with the others in a dormitory-like room in the temple, obviously used by the priesthood initiates. He thought it strange that he had no memory of how he'd gotten there -- or any of them, for that matter. All lay on cots with a blanket over them and a pillow underneath their heads.

Once everyone was awake, they went to investigate a noise they heard -- many voices and footsteps. They arrived in time to see T'Lar carried in a sedan chair, unmoving, in an almost catatonic state. Next came Sarek, supporting a wobbly McCoy... then a tall, hooded figure in a white robe. Kirk went over to McCoy, who looked up with a wan smile and the most exhausted look Kirk had ever seen. His voice was soft and hesitant.

"I'm all right, Jim," he said. Kirk doubted that, but didn't voice his opinion. He then turned to face Sarek, who looked tired but grateful.

"Kirk, I thank you for our son's life. Not only for myself, but Amanda."

"What I've done, I had to do," Kirk replied quietly.

"But at what cost?" Sarek sounded vaguely troubled; Kirk knew it was because the older man had been under as much stress as himself, although he would probably never admit it. If Sarek could admit his love for his son to so many, surely he could admit it to Spock himself now.

But after so many years of estrangement, the younger Vulcan could not be blamed if he didn't believe him. However, Kirk could sense Sarek's sincerity. Why go to such lengths, risk so much if he didn't care? Surely not just to please Amanda. Kirk felt sure Sarek had done it in order to have a second chance to mend fences with his son. It would take time, possibly many years, but between Sarek, himself and McCoy, they just might be able to convince Spock. Spock must have loved his father once, and if they could manage to bring those feelings back to the forefront they might have a chance.

In the meantime, there were other things to think about, like... would Spock recognize any of them? Would he recognize Kirk or even his own parents? The white-robed figure had started up the steps with the initiates, then stopped halfway up and turned around to start back down. Upon reaching the bottom of the steps, the hands reached up and pushed back the hood, letting it fall to his shoulders.

Spock walked by each of his shipmates and looked at each of them in turn; Saavik lowered her eyes, unable to meet his. Even if he didn't remember what had passed between them on Genesis, she would ever forget. Finally Spock returned to stand before Kirk and spoke softly to him.

"I know you, do I not?" The voice was raspy and nearly hoarse, but still recognizable. It was all Kirk could do not to step forward and take his resurrected friend into his arms as he had wished to do when he died, but been unable to.

"Yes," Kirk replied. "As I do you."

"My father says you were my friend... that you came back for me." The Vulcan's voice was a mixture of surprise and pleasure.

"You would have done the same for me," came the reply.

"Why would you do this for me?" Spock asked.

"Because... the good of the one outweighed the good of the many."

Spock turned away again, biting his lip as he took a few uncertain steps before turning toward his father and the other Vulcans. Kirk wanted to reach out and pull him back, but no one could force Spock to remember. They could help, but the rest Spock had to do on his own. Spock turned to face Kirk again.

"I have been, and ever shall be, your friend."

Kirk started toward him. "Yes. Yes, Spock." The Human could scarcely contain his joy.

"The ship..." the Vulcan said. "Out of danger?"

Kirk nodded. "You saved the ship, Spock. You saved us all." The Admiral made a mental note to tell Spock what had happened to the Enterprise, David and Genesis at the first opportunity.

Spock was momentarily silent, cocking his head to one side before raising an eyebrow at Kirk. "Jim," he said then. "Your name is Jim."

Kirk smiled. "Yes. Yes!"

Both eyebrows lifted this time before the Vulcan turned around to face McCoy and the others. The Doctor smiled and tapped his temple. The others laughed as they gathered around Spock and Kirk; some even touched the Vulcan as if to assure themselves he was really there with them, alive again. Even Saavik was smiling.

No one could have known what the future would bring for them, but at this point all that mattered was that Spock was back. With that knowledge and each other, they could make it through whatever consequences resulted from their actions, what they had had to do to reach this moment. There was time enough for that once Spock and McCoy were back to normal.

However, as soon as they left here, Uhura knew that she had to keep her promise to tell Amanda and Christine the outcome of the fal-tor-pan. Sarek would also be free to return home and attend to domestic matters like mapping out Spock's retraining program, this time with the help of his son's friends. Right now, the best thing for Spock was to be surrounded by friends and family, which included Amanda -- and Christine.

* * *

But Christine didn't see much of Spock for most of the first month following his rebirth. If he wasn't retraining at Mt. Seleya with his father, T'Lar and her assistants, he was with Kirk and McCoy working to recall times they had shared together. The rest of the crew was working to get the Bird of Prey spaceworthy again, but visited as often as they could.

Spock was pleased but troubled of late. His memories were starting to come back, but only in bits and pieces -- and even then only slowly. He knew he couldn't expect them to return all at once; it would take time to become the man he had once been... if indeed he could do it at all. Even Vulcan psychology had its limits.

For example, he had remembered things from his childhood and youth, the original five-year mission and others from the V'Ger incident, but could not recall how to mind-meld or play anything but the simplest songs on his harp, even though his father had been coaching him on this. Another thing that troubled him was Sarek's behavior. Not that Sarek had been intolerant or impatient; far from it. But it just did not "jibe," as it were, with what vague recollections Spock had of his father's treatment of him.

He considered asking not only his father but his friends, but dismissed it almost as soon as he thought it -- mainly because he would have been unable to do so since the memories were so fragmentary. He could only hope they would return with time. Christine knew that all she could do was be patient and remain unobtrusively in the background, at least for the time being. Her time would come. At least that's what she hoped.

There were too many of them to stay at Sarek and Amanda's home, so the lesser-known officers had gotten rooms at a top-rated hotel in ShiKahr... and none wore their uniforms since they would be recognized immediately if they did. The only way to maintain even a modicum of anonymity was to wear civilian clothes except when working on the ship.

They were all examined by T'Lar's personal Healer, who recommended that Kirk spend a few days in the hospital to give himself a chance to rest and mend. Only his vehement insistence on being nearby to help Spock and Bones kept him out -- but at Sarek's request, the Healer kept a close but discreet eye on the three friends. Sulu, Scotty, Chekov and Uhura were examined and given clean bills of health. All they needed was food, sleep, and something to keep them occupied.

Once Spock was allowed home, Kirk and McCoy moved into his family home. Christine, for her part, had never left it since she had arrived and had no intention of doing so until Spock was back to himself, or at least as much himself as it was possible for him to be. Even if she never saw him in anything but long white robes and sandals, that didn't matter. He was alive again. Alive! She had to fight her intense desire to go to Spock and make herself and her feelings known. Instead, she watched him from a distance with Kirk, McCoy and the others, her aching heart soothed by thankfulness that Spock was with them once again.

Even now, he hardly seemed real. His encounter with death had made him even more devastating. His hair was longer, for one thing -- a shaggy, silken and beautiful dark mass falling at least two inches past his robe's collar. For her own part, Christine was unsure if Spock even remembered her.

He seemed to remember the others now (even Saavik, up to a point)... but had never reacted, even with a raised eyebrow, should McCoy or Uhura happen to mention her in his presence. Instead, he went on with what he had been talking about as if they hadn't spoken. As she had feared, she hadn't even been able to look after Spock medically, much less any of the others. Once the Vulcan was allowed home, McCoy checked on him. If anyone felt like the proverbial fifth wheel, she did, but Christine was determined to wait it out. She also fully intended to approach Spock the first chance she got. Even start from scratch if she had to, like they were meeting for the first time.

* * *

Six weeks passed before Christine got her chance -- the longest six weeks of her life -- but the outcome of that encounter made the wait well worth it. One night after the others had gone and Kirk, McCoy, Sarek and Amanda had retired for the night, Christine rose from her bed in the guest room and donned her robe and slippers, heading for the kitchen to get a late snack, making sure to be quiet so as not to wake anyone.

She had to pass the living room on the way and a slight movement near the fireplace, where a fire was kept going night and day, caught her eye. Christine was sure someone was sitting near the fire, but it could have been a trick of her imagination since everyone else in the house was asleep as far as she knew.

Especially considering the fact that she had lost count of how many times she'd pictured how and when she would approach Spock. She froze in her tracks upon reaching the doorway, watching and listening... and waiting. For what, she couldn't have said. Perhaps something to either confirm that someone was there, or that no one was. She finally made herself step to the doorway and cautiously slip inside the room. Yes, there was a figure seated near the fire, half-turned toward it so the face was in profile. A most recognizable profile, too. Spock!

But despite the seemingly Heaven-sent opportunity to finally be with him, alone, she hesitated to approach him. For one thing, she didn't want to frighten or startle him, even though her gaze lingered on the empty space beside him -- a space where she so much longed to be that she could taste it. Christine had to force her feet and legs to carry her into the darkened living room and toward the fire. Perhaps if she pretended a need to warm herself, Spock would invite her to join him. It was worth a try, anyway.

At last she stood next to him, close enough to touch had she dared to do so. Did she dare even speak to him? She sighed and took a deep breath. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, she told herself. "Hello, Spock," she said softly, a tremor in her voice despite her best efforts.

Spock didn't seem to hear her at first, then looked up, startled, before his face softened. "Greetings," his deep, rich baritone said in reply. "Do I know you?"

Christine didn't know how to reply, but at the same time knew she had to. "I'm an... acquaintance of your mother's, here to visit her. She -- told me about you. That is, what had happened to you."

Spock seemed to accept this, even though the voice of the woman speaking to him sounded vaguely familiar. Had he known her before, as he had Jim and Dr. McCoy, the only two of his shipmates on Vulcan that he remembered with any clarity at all... or had his mother met her at some point at the Science Academy or some such place, then befriended her since she was a fellow Human? He had noticed she was Human right away, for even though his companion's face was long and angular, her nose was small and upturned and her eyes a deep blue with gently curved brows -- brows that curved down instead of up.

He also noted the fact that she was in a nightgown and robe such as his mother wore, her dark hair down around her shoulders, the fire shining gold highlights on it and shadows on her face. But he was most drawn to her lips... pink and moist. A part of Spock was curious to learn how these lips felt and tasted beneath his. He controlled the desire only with difficulty, wondering all the while how she could have had such a profound effect on him at such an early stage of their acquaintance. All at once it occurred to him that she might like to share the fire with him. Certainly it was more logical than his first impulse!

"Would you like to share the fire?" He gestured to the place beside him.

Christine smiled and nodded. "Yes, thank you." She sat down next to him. After a few moments of silence, she made a cautious attempt at conversation. "Are you cold? Is that why you're sitting near the fire at this hour?"

"Yes," came the quiet reply. "But I also wanted to be alone. You see, my friends have been with me all day, and even as... pleasurable as their company has been, they only left one and one-quarter hours ago. They would still be here, had it not been for my father telling them I needed to rest and that they could return in the morning if they so wished. I have felt a... need for solitude for some time, but have been -- unable to have time to myself until nnow.""

"In that case, I apologize for intruding on your privacy. Good night." Christine made to rise, hurt but telling herself she understood, knowing it wasn't a personal slight. There were simply times that a Vulcan needed to be alone, and this was one of those times... or so she assumed.

To her surprise, Spock's soft voice stopped her. "I did not say that I wished you to leave, however. Not just yet. But if you have been here visiting Mother, why have I not seen you before now?"

"I thought it best to stay in the background." Her own voice was equally soft.

"For my sake?" The question was so unexpected that it startled Christine, who looked up at her companion wide-eyed. Was Spock starting to remember her and her feelings for him?

All she could do in the way of a reply was nod. "I also do not recall your ever mentioning your name," he continued.

"Christine," she said, wishing them to be on a first-name basis from the beginning this time. If Spock couldn't remember her from before, she intended to make new and better memories without their previous problems to hinder the blossoming of a new and closer relationship between them.

"Christine," he repeated. "A most attractive name... for a most attractive woman." He gave her a soft half-smile.

"Thank you." She returned the smile with one of her own. "I was named for my father, Christopher."

"Have you any siblings?" he wondered.

Christine shook her head. "I'm an only child, I'm afraid -- like you."

Spock nodded in acknowledgment of her statement before asking another question. "How long have you known my mother?"

"Not long. About a couple of months. That is, we corresponded for that long before I decided to come visit."

He was quiet for so long that Christine began to be afraid in spite of herself. Did Spock remember their previous relationship (or lack thereof) and resent her for butting into his per- sonal life by attempting to strike up a friendship with his mother?

In fact, Spock was remembering something involving the woman beside him -- but not what she thought. In the vision, he had been with her... and on another planet, not Vulcan. Her face was heavily made up, her hair styled elaborately. It also seemed to be a lighter shade, and she wore a fancy dress of blue silk festooned with lace. He could not recall what he himself had worn, and was uncertain exactly what had prompted the vision -- but that was unimportant at the moment. What was most prominent was that he had kissed this same woman... but had it been forced, or had it occurred naturally? He could not remember.

It bothered him more than he cared to admit that only bits and pieces of memories were coming back despite everyone's reassurances that he would be himself again one day, remember everything he had before his encounter with death and the re-fusion of his "soul" with his body.

"Spock, are you all right?" Christine reached toward his hand, resting on the warm bricks near hers -- but stopped short of touching it. The concern in her voice brought Spock back to reality and he lifted his head to face her.

"I am sorry, Christine. I was... preoccupied."

"Did you -- remember something from... before?" She chose her words with care.

Spock chose not to speak; he merely nodded. Christine wanted to ask if the thing he had recalled involved her (or more precisely, the two of them) -- but thought it wise to remain silent, at least for the moment. If he thought she should know, he would tell her in his own good time.

"I believe we should retire to our respective bedchambers now," he finally said when he spoke again. "It is nearly 0300. Would you like me to see you to your door?"

The tone of his voice made her look questioningly at him. She could have sworn that it held hesitation and the hope that she would not refuse him! It had seemed like only a few minutes instead of over an hour that they had been together -- since a quarter till two. She had lost all track of time, but didn't care. What mattered was that she had spent that time with Spock.

The couple stood up and made their way to the doorway of the living room before moving down the hallway. "Where is your room?" he asked.

"Across from your parents' room," Christine said. They were there within moments. The two stood in silence at the door for a time, then Spock lifted her hand to his lips to gently kiss it in a very old-world manner.

"Thank you for your most pleasant company, Christine. May we do it again sometime?"

She was too stunned to speak for a second, then said, "Yes. Of course, Spock, if that's what you want."

"I do," was the reply. "Did you also find... my company pleasant?" Her smile was her answer. "I am pleased. Then I shall bid you a pleasant good night. Sleep well, Christine. I will see you in the morning."

She put a hand on the door, pushing it open almost an inch as she suddenly became very reluctant to end her time with Spock -- time she had waited for for six weeks. Even though he had expressed a desire for her company, to see her again, there was no guarantee of that, so Christine wasn't holding her breath. Instead, she would simply be thankful for what time they had spent together.

"Good night, Spock. I hope you pass a pleasant night, too."

"Christine..." he said softly, still retaining hold of her hand, then gently brushed the fingertips of his other hand against her cheek. The touch was so feather-light she could have imagined it, although his touch was every bit as warm and gentle as she remembered.

Good night, my love, she thought tenderly as she looked into his eyes (the light was still on in her room). He had released her hand, but was close enough to kiss had she dared to do so. He left after this; she slipped back into bed after removing robe and slippers and turned out the light, lying awake in the darkness thinking about Spock.

It had been enough of a surprise, his holding her hand, much less the touch on her cheek. It had been a mere brushing of his fingers, but it was still more than she'd ever had from him before. Best of all, he had done it willingly. For that reason, she would cherish it -- and their moments alone -- as long as she lived. Christine couldn't help wondering what Amanda would say if she told her what had happened with Spock. Probably be pleased but cautious, warning her to take it slow and easy. That was the way to win a Vulcan. Oh, Christine could take it slow if she had to... but there was no way in Hell that it was going to be easy!

I swear, the things one does for love, she thought with an affectionately exasperated sigh as she began to drift off, arms around her pillow. All I can hope for is that one day I will be holding Spock like this -- and he'll be holding me! With that thought, she fell asleep with a smile.

* * *

She slept deeply but still rose early, feeling more rested than she ever had in her life... and was the only one up at seven a.m. besides Amanda. The older woman was in the kitchen fixing breakfast when the female doctor entered after taking a quick shower and brushing her teeth.

"Good morning, Christine." Amanda smiled upon seeing her. "You look like you slept well."

"Had some nice dreams too," the younger woman mused with an enigmatic smile on her face, which Amanda's sharp eyes did not miss.

"About Spock, I gather."

"Of course." Coolness came hard to Christine. "Though something strange did happen."

"Such as?" Amanda prompted.

Christine was hesitant until she remembered who she was talking to. "It was about half-past one; I woke up with a craving for a sandwich and milk, so I got up, slipped my robe and slippers on and headed for the kitchen."

"Did you get there?"

"No. Just as I got to the doorway to the living room, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye -- someone near the fireplace."

"And you decided to find out who it was," Amanda finished as she set a plate with bacon, scrambled eggs and toast with jelly in front of Christine. The latter smiled gratefully and asked for some French Vanilla coffee to accompany her meal. "Coming up," was the reply. Moments later the steaming cup was set before her.

Not long afterward, Amanda set her own meal at the adjoining place to where Christine was seated, having a slightly different egg dish -- a cheese omelet -- but otherwise the same meal as Christine. Orange juice was also included... or rather, the Vulcan version of it, called tulac. The vegetarian meals her husband and son required would be prepared after she and Christine had eaten. But just when Christine thought she was off the hook, that her hostess would not speak further of her strange experience, Amanda did just that.

"To get back to the earlier subject -- who did you find sitting at the fireplace?" Amanda already had a pretty good idea; she was simply waiting for confirmation.

"Spock." Christine felt heat come into her cheeks in spite of her best efforts.

Amanda noted the other woman's apologetic tone. "No need to apologize, Christine. I know how long you've waited for a chance to be alone with him."

"Even so, he said he wanted to be alone since there hadn't been any opportunity with Admiral Kirk and the others staying so long. I think in their happiness over Spock's return, they're forgetting that Vulcans need solitude occasionally. They have been all but living here since Spock was allowed home... literally smothering him with attention." Christine chuckled after taking a breath. "For Heaven's sake, that made Spock uncomfortable before he died. Can you imagine what it must be like for him now?"

"But you've wanted to do it as much as they," came the reply. Christine was as transparent as glass to a fellow Human in love with a Vulcan. "You've managed to hide it this long because Spock has been so occupied with his retraining and the others that you've hardly had a chance to be near him, much less alone with him. Who could blame you for taking the opportunity when it presented itself? Certainly not me. Remember, I understand and know exactly what you're going through."

"Yes," Christine agreed. "But you were lucky. You married him and had his child. I was lucky if Spock gave me the time of day."

"Maybe so -- but as I've said, you've been trying to do it alone before. Now you'll have help... and if I have anything to say about it, you'll have the same chance as I did."

"Matchmaking, are we?" Christine noted the determined tone of Amanda's voice even as mischief danced in her own smoky blue eyes.

"Always." An equally mischievous look came into the older woman's eyes. "Especially where my son's happiness is concerned -- and particularly after the disaster that ensued when Sarek did it... even though he believed it to be the best thing for Spock at the time."

"How could it have been right when it turned out so wrong?"

Christine could still recall the sadness on Spock's face when he had spoken of what he had apparently done to the Captain because of the pon farr and T'Pring's treachery... then of the smile and near-embrace when Kirk had come up behind his Vulcan friend and spoken to him before Spock remembered that she and McCoy were standing there watching.

"Thank Heaven Spock is old enough to choose for himself," Amanda breathed. The two had been talking between bites of food and swallows of coffee -- the latter which Amanda now set down after taking a generous swig. "Now finish your story. What happened once Spock realized you were there?"

Christine swallowed hard, forcing herself to speak. "He seemed... startled at first, then invited me to sit down and share the fire with him. We talked for nearly an hour, then he walked me to my door and said goodnight."

The color which came into Christine's cheeks at this point told Amanda that there was something her younger companion was keeping from her -- and the older woman wasn't shy about asking what that something was.

"But that wasn't all that happened, was it?"

"No." Christine blushed furiously, unwilling to admit even to Amanda that Spock had stroked her cheek, even as brief and light as it had been. She wanted to mentally hug it to her, savor it as long as possible before telling Amanda or Nyota, much less anyone else. Even at that, she didn't think Amanda would let up until she told her.

"He... stroked my cheek." Her blush deepened even further, if that was possible. It must be, Christine thought. After all, I'm doing it! "First he kissed my hand, then as I was going to open my door and go inside, he brushed my cheek with his fingertips." Christine forced herself to look up. "I wonder what made him do it. I didn't think I did anything that spectacular."

"Perhaps he remembered something involving you... or maybe it was because you were the only person who hasn't been smothering him."

"I never had the chance," Christine reminded her.

"From what you've said, I'd be glad I didn't if I were you."

"When do you think I should tell him what he said when his essence was in Dr. McCoy's body -- or should I tell him about that at all?"

"I'd play it by ear, at least for the moment. It wouldn't make any sense to rush things when you've gotten off to such a rousing start."

Christine reluctantly had to admit that Amanda had a point. She might wreck her chances with Spock for all time if she tried to go too far too fast. She also had to remember that Spock's mother was trying to give her the benefit of her experience.

"Thank you for your help, Amanda." Christine reached to squeeze the other's hand... a squeeze which was returned.

"That's what friends are for," came the gentle dismissal. "Now if you'll help me clear the table, it's time to prepare Sarek's and Spock's meal. They should arrive shortly."

True to Amanda's prediction, the two men walked in about ten minutes later, at precisely eight hundred hours, ship's time, and sat down at the kitchen table. The women greeted them with smiles; the men acknowledged them with nods in their direction. Christine also helped Amanda cook the meal and made sure that she was the one who served Spock, as Amanda did her husband.

She was sure that Sarek would object to her actions because she was not bonded or married to his son -- but he didn't, even though she did it right in front of him. Could it actually be that he approved of her as a potential mate for Spock, no matter what she did? That would be too much to hope for, but Christine did so nonetheless.

Best of all, Spock himself did not object, even though she recalled the time once before when she had tried this. He had thrown the whole thing out the door and ordered her out. At the time his unaccustomed display of temper had frightened her, but she had forgiven him when Leonard had explained that the Vulcan was experiencing pon farr. This was the time every seven years (on the average) that the mating urge became uncontrollable and was the reason that Vulcan males had to physically and mentally join with a particular woman or die. Otherwise they controlled the urge as effortlessly as they controlled every other aspect of their lives.

Instead, Spock simply looked up at Christine and said, "Thank you."

"You're very welcome," she replied with a smile. "Would you like something to drink with your meal, Spock?"

"Some tulac, if you do not mind."

"Coming right up." She returned a moment later and set the glass at his right hand. "Now if you would excuse me, I've got to get dressed."

Spock seemed disappointed, but nodded understandingly. "Very well, Christine. Will I see you later?"

"If you like."

"I would -- especially since I will be playing my lyrette. However, Jim, McCoy and the others will also be present. Could you handle that?"

"As long as I'm with you."

"In that case, I will expect you at 1900 hours. That is when Jim, McCoy and the others are expected to arrive."

"I'll remember," Christine assured him. "See you then." With that, she departed. Spock looked after her until she disappeared, then returned to his meal... an act not lost on either of his parents. Sarek and Amanda exchanged hopeful looks, for once in complete agreement. If matters continued to progress as they had been, their son would be properly bonded at long last.

* * *

Shortly after Christine's breakfast with Amanda, and Sarek and Spock's own breakfast, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy were sitting in the large garden surrounding the house discussing the fal-tor-pan. Well, at least Kirk and McCoy were. Most of the time Spock just listened, his only (and occasional) reaction a raised eyebrow... until his two friends got to the subject of Sarek voicing his love for his son. Both eyebrows rose at this -- and the younger Vulcan got an almost shocked look on his face.

"Are you... quite certain of that, Jim?" The Vulcan's voice was so quiet that the two Humans barely heard him.

"Heard it with my own ears, Spock," the Admiral said matter-of-factly. McCoy nodded in agreement when Spock turned his head in the Doctor's direction.

Spock was bewildered. Surely his friends would not lie to him, but what few memories he had of his father's treatment of him were vague, fragmentary -- and different. At least the ones before his rebirth. Afterward, his father had been uncharacteristically patient, understanding and even affectionate. If not his deeds, his voice reflected this.

Spock hoped Jim and McCoy would understand his skepticism and need for clarification without thinking the worst... that he thought they were lying to him, telling him some concocted story designed to have a sufficiently comforting effect on him -- give him hope for a second chance at a closer relationship with his father.

"What exactly did he say?" The Vulcan chose his words carefully.

"As I recall, they were, 'My logic is uncertain where my son is concerned,'" Kirk recited.

"That could be interpreted in any number of ways," Spock pointed out.

"Well, I don't think your father would come right out and say, 'I'm doing this' or 'I want this done because I love my son and want him to live again,' any more than you would," Kirk threw back.

"No, I suppose not," came the reluctant admission. "But why are you so certain that that is what my father meant? It is entirely possible that you--"

McCoy cut him off with an exasperated oath. "Oh, for God's sake, Spock!"

The Vulcan turned toward the Doctor, both shocked and concerned by his outburst. "What is wrong, Doctor?"

"Why the hell must you always question everything? Why can't you take your father's word? Do you really think he'd say such a thing in front of T'Lar and all of us if he didn't mean it?"

"Bones..." Kirk's voice was dangerously quiet, but McCoy ignored him.

"Doctor, it is not that I do not wish to believe what you say. In fact, I would very much like to. It is only that--"

This time Kirk cut him off with a remark of his own, tone hurt and disappointed. "Spock, you must know that we would never lie to you. I, especially, would never lie to you."

"I did not say you had, Jim." Even to his own ears, the Vulcan's statement sounded lame. He didn't want to think of how it might have sounded to his friends.

"You could have fooled me," McCoy retorted bitterly.

Spock hung his head, knowing he had hurt his friends by doubting their sincerity for one of the few times he could recall. Even at that, he inwardly rebelled at the rosy picture they painted of his father and a new, affectionate relationship between them. It simply did not "feel" right to him. He could not reconcile that scenario -- either with the vague and fragmentary (but nonetheless real) memories of his past which now warred with the new and contradictory, but equally real memories of now... of his father's unusual patience, atypical understanding and gentle encouragement instead of insistent pressure, impatience and intolerance.

"Too bad we hadn't had a tricorder. Spock couldn't possibly not believe us if he heard what his father said," McCoy declared. "As it is, he has just our word -- and it would be unrealistic for him to simply accept the word of two Humans without question, even if the Humans are supposedly his friends and would never lie to him." The Doctor's voice was thick with sarcasm, putting emphasis on the aforementioned word.

Spock seemed to visibly grow smaller. "I am sorry, my friends, that I am unable to believe the truth of your words. Please forgive me." The Vulcan stood up and moved off toward the house, head bent dejectedly, eyes fixed on the ground.

Kirk and the Doctor looked after their alien friend, feeling for him but unable to deny the effect that Spock's questioning their story had had on them... and being a telepath, the Vulcan would naturally feel it and act accordingly. He did not yet have the strength for mental shields, so he could not block out their emotions as he used to.

"Forgive him for what?" Christine asked as she walked up to them, having heard the tail end of the exchange. "Amanda sent me to tell you that your breakfast is ready," she explained. "Where is Spock going?"

"To his room, I suppose," Kirk said. "I couldn't say for sure. If you want to know, follow him."

Christine nodded and smiled, choosing not to notice the Admiral's snappish tone. "Thank you. I will."

"Tell Amanda we'll be right there," McCoy called after her before giving Kirk a concerned look. Christine waved a hand in reply and hurried after Spock even as Kirk and McCoy started after her toward the house and their morning meal.

* * *

Spock was nowhere to be found when Christine reached the house. She assumed he had gone to his room as Kirk said, but couldn't be sure -- and would be unable to eat until she was sure. She told Amanda that Kirk and McCoy were on their way, thankful that there was no one to see her as she headed down the hallway toward Spock's room. A quiet knock on his door prompted an equally quiet response.

"Spock? It's Christine. Are you all right?"

No, the Vulcan thought, but did not voice it. Instead, he said, "I am. Do you wish entrance?"

"Yes, if you wouldn't mind."

She knew he wasn't all right simply by the tone of his voice -- something she had always been able to do, even though Spock was unaware of her ability. She was glad of it, though, because the Vulcan would only have been distressed by it, and he had enough to worry about. What counted was that she had been able to help him because of it many times... even if he never knew she had. Now he needed her again, whether he admitted it or not -- and at a time like this, Vulcan tradition be damned.

"I would not object," he finally said after a silence so lengthy that Christine was sure that someone (Sarek, Amanda, Kirk or McCoy) would spot her before Spock let her in. To her relief, no one did... yet she knew it was only a matter of time. "You may enter."

"Thank you."

The door to his room opened to admit her as she took a step forward, and two more put her inside as the door swished closed behind her. She was stunned at the sight of the Vulcan sitting on his bed, pain and guilt written in every line of his body. She approached the bed and stopped in front of him.

"Spock, may I sit down?" she asked quietly. He nodded without raising his head or speaking; Christine carefully seated herself beside him. "Is something wrong?" He nodded again, still staring at his hands. "May I know what it is?" There was a long, awkward silence until Christine broke it. "Spock, I can't help you unless you talk to me."

To her relief, that seemed to reach him and he slowly lifted his head. "Forgive me, Christine. I am... still not myself."

"No one expects you to heal instantly, Spock." She made her voice as soothing as possible. "Nor do we blame--" The touch of his hand on her arm stopped her in mid-sentence.

"Do not make excuses for me," he bit out quietly but fiercely. "There is no excuse for what I have done."

"What did you do? It must be serious to make you feel so badly." His head jerked up and he looked sharply at her, but did not deny it.

"It's Jim... and McCoy." The Vulcan literally forced the words out.

"The Admiral and Dr. McCoy?" Christine frowned uncomprehendingly. "What happened with them?"

Spock remained silent, so she jumped in with a hunch that had been playing at the back of her mind. She hoped she wasn't doing the wrong thing, that she hadn't reached the wrong conclusion -- but would never know unless she took a chance and asked.

"Did the three of you have a falling-out?"

He frowned at her this time. "Falling-out?"

"A quarrel or disagreement," she explained.

"Oh." He took a breath before answering. "In that case, yes. We did have a... disagreement."

"What was the disagreement about?"

Again, Spock literally forced himself to speak. "It was -- something my father said. They... told me that he had said he -- loved me."

"And you disagreed?" Spock nodded again. "Why? Don't you believe that your father loves you? Don't you love him? And most importantly, would he lie in front of all your friends (Other than me, she thought) and the Vulcan High Priestess?"

"No, I suppose not," came the reluctant agreement. "But still..."

Christine had to wonder at what could have happened to cause Spock to be so doubtful, even suspicious, of his father's expressed feelings for him. What kind of treatment must have Spock have received at Sarek's hands to prompt such a negative reaction? She herself had never seen Sarek being anything but patient, gentle and even affectionate toward Spock. At least verbally, helping and encouraging his son at every opportunity.

Of course, there was a lot she still didn't know about Spock, so it could well be possible that Sarek had once been impatient, harsh and seemingly unfeeling toward his son. That would explain Spock's skepticism at what the Admiral and Leonard had told him, even if it didn't explain why the Vulcan felt so terrible about their disagreement.

Surely they couldn't be overreacting. After all, Spock had disagreed with them many times. But on the off-chance that they had, what could Spock possibly have said to make them feel as they apparently did? Even at that, she knew that he would be unable to explain why -- at least for the present -- so she didn't ask. In fact she had scarcely dared move or breathe while sitting within touching distance of the one she loved.

The last time they had touched, he had been the one to initiate it... but she sensed his need to be soothed, so she wanted to ease his pain any way she could. He looked up questioningly at her when she reached to tentatively touch his hand. She asked with her eyes if it was all right. He found love and compassion there, and his face -- as well as his entire body -- relaxed, his smile small but genuine.

"It is all right," he said. He did not squeeze her hand, but did not withdraw his own, either.

"I'm glad." She returned his smile even as her heart beat so hard that she was sure he could hear it. Oh, my love, she thought as their eyes met again and held. How I wish I could...

A knock on the door and Sarek's voice froze her even as she began to lean toward Spock, unable to resist the temptation of his lips any longer. "Spock, your mother wishes to know if you are coming to lunch."

Spock looked querulously at his companion; she nodded and they stood up. "I will be there shortly, Father."

"Very well. I will tell her." There was silence for a moment before the older Vulcan said, "By the way, have you seen Dr. Chapel? She was supposed to have called you to lunch. Admiral Kirk and Dr. McCoy are already eating."

Christine felt heat come into her cheeks at the memory of what she had tried to do. Also, how would Sarek react once he learned that she had been in Spock's room alone with him, even if it had been (almost) entirely innocent? She could see that Spock was struggling to come up with an explanation which would both satisfy his father and spare them embarrassment, so she decided to answer the question addressed to Spock herself.

"I'm in here, Ambassador. Spock and I were just talking. We'll be out in a minute." Spock looked at her with gratitude in his eyes even as she imagined what Sarek's reaction must have been at her answering a question addressed to Spock.

It was far more subdued a reaction than either had a right to expect, but Sarek had sensed no insincerity in either his son's or Dr. Chapel's voices. Even at that, he knew how she felt toward Spock, even if he didn't remember it -- and what she was likely to do should she get the chance, mainly due to memories of his own youth and early relationship with Amanda. Not to mention his memories of how they themselves had acted upon realizing that they were in love... or beginning to fall in love.

He had seen the feelings developing, slowly but surely, between the younger couple, just as he was certain that Amanda had (if not Spock and Christine's friends) and in spite of himself hoped all would work out between them, if only for his son's sake. But Sarek forced these thoughts aside and composed himself as Spock's bedroom door opened and the younger Vulcan stepped out, Christine one step behind him. He did not scold them for their actions, because it was illogical to make a major issue out of a minor infraction. They were of age... and even if they had been doing something romantic, that would and should be their own business -- no one else's.

After the meal, Christine helped Amanda straighten up the kitchen while Sarek, Spock and his two friends went back to what they had been doing before lunch and after Spock's talk with Christine -- but with considerably lighter hearts and a more optimistic outlook for the future of not only their own, but Spock's developing relationships with both his father and Christine.

* * *

Upon finishing in the kitchen, the women decided to go to the living room and speak privately again, carrying cups of vanilla coffee (which they hardly touched, becoming too involved in conversation) and setting them down on the coffee table in front of the sofa before seating themselves. Amanda sensed that there had been something between her "pen-pal" and Spock... something the younger woman wanted to talk about, but had no idea how to bring up. In the end, it was the older woman who started the conversation.

"Christine, there's something wrong, isn't there? Something which concerns you and Spock." Christine blushed but nodded, not lifting her head -- unable to meet her companion's eyes. "You can't deal with it alone any more, especially when you have someone willing to help and advise you. Please let me help."

Christine smiled and lifted her head, reaching to squeeze her new friend's hand. "How did I ever live without you?" she asked. "Yes, something is bothering me, but I don't know how to begin to tell you."

"I'll try to help, but the rest is up to you," Amanda said. "Incidentally, Sarek told me that you and Spock were alone together in Spock's bedroom."

Christine nodded, but did not lift her head as heat came into her cheeks again. "Yes, but all we did was talk. He was feeling bad about a disagreement he had had with Admiral Kirk and Dr. McCoy; I thought I could help him feel better."

"But that's not the reason you went to him, was it?" Christine shook her head and her blush deepened as Amanda squeezed her hand this time. "You wanted to tell him how you felt about him, speak of what he told you when his essence was in Dr. McCoy's mind... but most of all, you wanted to hold, touch and kiss him."

The younger woman nodded, not trusting her voice or her flaming cheeks not to give her away.

"I can understand, believe me, but you must take things slow or else you could end up wrecking everything you've built between you so far. Your friends have noticed a change in Spock since he's been spending time with you. He seems happier, more relaxed and open. They're pleased, but also concerned that you may be trying to take advantage of the situation, hurry things along when neither of you are ready."

Christine gave her confidant a hard look and her voice was quiet, but her feelings came through loud and clear as she spoke. "If I have, can you blame me? Have you any idea how many years I've waited for Spock to show me any attention? I appreciate everyone's concern, including yours, but am a big girl. I won't do anything that Spock doesn't do first." Amanda's expression didn't change. Finally Christine took a deep breath and spoke again -- straight from the shoulder... and the heart. "Amanda, I love him. Don't ask me to stay away from him. It would be easier to tear my heart out."

"I'm not asking you to stay away from him," the older woman denied. "Just not to try to rush him. Spock is very vulnerable -- and impressionable -- right now."

"I'm aware of that, I assure you. But as I said, I can no more stay away from him than I can stop breathing," Christine declared. "I cannot, and will not, stop seeing him, especially if he wants to be with me... any more than you could deny his father if Sarek wanted to be with you. Sure, I'd love to hug, kiss and make love to Spock -- but for the moment, I cherish simply being able to hold his hand and sit with him, or feel him next to me even if we're not touching. That is more than I ever had from him before, and I absolutely refuse to give it up. Finally, I give you my word that I won't force him into anything. If we do... get together... that will be Spock's decision -- and his alone."

Christine sounded so serious that Amanda had to believe her.

"Okay, if you say so." The latter sighed deeply after taking a generous swig of the now-cold coffee. "But let me know if you have any problems keeping that vow." Then Amanda took a breath and stood up. "We'd better get to bed. See you in the morning."

The older woman departed, leaving Christine alone with her turbulent thoughts. She turned off the light and sat in the near-darkness wishing that Spock was with her, even as she acknowledged (with considerable difficulty) that Amanda had been right to voice her and their friends' concern about her and the Vulcan possibly going too far, too fast. Even at that, how could they expect her to stay away from him or refuse him if he wanted to be with her?

She had already waited six weeks just to be near him, and years to get attention from him. But at the same time, she knew she would wait forever if she tried to rush him and it backfired in her face. Just the same, if Spock wanted to be with her, she wasn't about to refuse him -- but still reluctantly admitted the necessity of keeping things between them as platonic as possible until he was closer to being himself.

Seriously, though, if she had waited this long to be with him, she could wait as long as she had to... and would curb her understandably impatient love and desire to be more intimate with her beloved as best she could. It would be hellishly hard, but if it meant having Spock for her own, Christine was willing to make the sacrifice.

In the meantime, she knew she had to get some sleep, so she stood up and headed for her bedroom. She brushed her teeth and washed her face, undressed and changed into her nightgown -- then sat on her bed and combed out her hair before turning off the light and settling into bed. A quiet knock came on her door just as she was about to nod off... and an equally quiet voice called to her.

"Christine, are you awake?"

Her eyes snapped open; she sat bolt upright. It was Spock. What was he doing here at this hour? Whatever the reason, she had to admit him. For one thing, she was the only one he could turn to at the moment since his other two friends had retired some time before.

"Yes. Please wait a moment." She hastily threw her robe on and tied it securely around her, automatically stepping into her slippers as her feet touched the floor. "You may come in now," she said after turning her light back on and straightening the bed before pressing the button at the side of her bed to unlock the door and let her unexpected but welcome visitor in. "Spock! To what do I owe the honor of this visit?" She was too happy to see him to remember how late it was.

"I must speak privately with you," he said by way of explanation. Christine heard the urgency in his voice and put her misgivings aside. She could no more refuse him than she could stop a sun from going nova. She also told herself to remain as professional as possible for both their sakes. She was dubious about her ability to keep that promise, however, if Spock made any unorthodox moves... but had to try.

"What about?" she had to ask.

"First, I must apologize for disturbing your sleep."

"I wasn't asleep," she denied. "At least not completely. A person in the medical profession is trained to be ready at any time of the day or night to help someone under their care -- be it medical attention or simply a willing ear if they need to talk." She put on her best businesslike facade; he frowned, but said nothing. "Now what do you need to talk about?"

There was an awkward silence as Spock sat on her bed at a respectful distance, dark head bowed and hands clasped in his lap... and for so long that Christine became concerned.

"Spock?"

"Forgive me, Christine. I was simply -- attempting to..."

"Figure out how best to phrase what you want to say?" she finished. All the Vulcan could do was nod in response. "No need for that. I'll just start asking questions and we'll go from there."

"That would... seem to be the -- most logical course of action," he agreed quietly, making himself speak.

"Here's the first question. What did you want to talk about?"

Spock still seemed hesitant, even reluctant, but finally managed to speak again. Only one word, but that one word spoke volumes. "Mother."

Christine frowned. "What about your mother?"

"She... spoke to me not long ago," he confessed, cheeks and ears tinged with green.

"She spoke to you? Why?"

"She was -- concerned... about us." His voice was so soft that Christine barely heard him.

" 'Us'? As in you and me?"

"Correct. It would seem that she and our friends... believe that we are trying to 'go too far too fast,' to use her words." Spock swallowed hard, feeling his blush deepening. "Have you any idea why?" Christine couldn't deny that she did, but found herself reluctant to voice the fact. She nodded instead. "And you cannot tell me?" Spock's voice was laced with hurt and bewilderment.

"I'd -- like to, but it's... a very long and complicated story." This time she was the one who forced herself to speak. "Please forgive me."

The Vulcan frowned. "For what? You have done nothing."

That's what you think, she thought, hoping he didn't pick it up.

"Did Mother -- also speak to you about us?"

"She did."

"I cannot understand her actions. There is... nothing we have done that we need be -- ashamed of." He looked at her almost anxiously. "Is there?"

"Of course not," she assured him. "And before you ask, I would never lie to you, any more than the Admiral or Dr. McCoy would."

Spock seemed relieved. "I am... pleased to hear that." Christine merely smiled and nodded in response, folding her hands in her lap. There was silence for a time as each took comfort and happiness from the other's presence -- then Spock spoke again. "Christine?" The tone of his voice surprised her.

If there was one thing Spock had never been, it was timid. At least not that she could remember. Quite the contrary; he was often all too outspoken. Of course, that was before he died. Now all bets were off as far as predicting Spock's behavior was concerned. In fact, anything was possible, if not probable.

"Yes?" She kept her voice soft and calm.

"May I... hold your hand?" Their heads raised at the same moment, so their eyes met again -- and held. The deep brown velvet surrounded by thick dark lashes mesmerized her.

"If you like."

He did not reply, simply reached over to take her nearest hand and clasp it gently but firmly. When his grip tentatively tightened, she looked up at him, eyes wide with surprise. His eyes pleaded with her not to object, so she didn't. She couldn't. After that, the couple simply sat together, holding hands and not speaking. The warm, gentle firmness of Spock's hand holding hers made Christine's heart pound so hard that she was sure it was going to break through the wall of her chest. It was frustrating that she dared not do anything Spock didn't do, but it wasn't worth the risk to their possible future together.

Spock, it's so hard to be close to you and not be able to hold or kiss you...

She knew she risked his picking up her thought, but she couldn't help herself. Her feelings were too strong to hide completely, day in and day out -- particularly when he was close to her like this. When she least expected it, he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it again, then held it to his cheek for a time. She looked up incredulously to meet her companion's warm gaze.

"Thank you for listening, Christine. I... appreciate your -- patience... more than you will ever know."

Christine fought not to say how she felt or even think of how deeply she loved the man beside her. Instead, she forced herself to say (with a casualness that came hard), "That's what friends are for."

His hand dropped as if touching her had burned him, and his eyes lowered -- and she could have sworn that she saw a sadness deeper than any she had ever seen before.

"Friends? Is that all we are?" His voice was dull and lifeless.

"Yes," Christine made herself say, hating it as every ounce of her being screamed against it, but knowing she had to. He was silent for so long that she feared he would never speak again. Finally she could stand it no longer. "Spock, what's wrong? Don't you... want me to be -- your friend?"

He was unable to speak, but anguish was palpable in his soft eyes and almost seemed to exude from every pore of his body. Christine was contrite in spite of herself, knowing he was hurt and ached to comfort him, even as she forced herself not to. All the same, she had to apologize.

"Spock, I'm sorry if I... hurt you. You must know that I -- never meant to. I... do care for you, very much -- more than I think I've ever cared about anyone. It's only that..." His eyes bored into hers as his gaze cut her off in mid-sentence.

"Only that -- what?" His voice was hard, demanding an answer, but her mind was blank. She couldn't have uttered a coherent sentence if her life had depended on it. When she remained silent, he spoke for her. "Are you saying that you do not... wish to become -- involved with me?"

"No, but that would not be... wise at this time," she forced out.

"Why not?" he demanded softly.

"Because we... do not -- know each other well enough yet. I... believe we need -- more time."

"How much time? Is two weeks not enough?"

"Not if you want to do it right."

"Do what right?"

"Have a romantic relationship." She gently squeezed his hand. "I've waited too long for this to botch it up now."

He raised an eyebrow at her and frowned, but Christine knew that even if Spock didn't comprehend her words, her sincerity penetrated... and he not only returned the squeeze but smiled.

"I -- believe I... understand," he finally said, tone lighter and happier. "It will -- be... difficult, but I will -- do my utmost to comply with your request. Meanwhile, I trust you will allow me to... see you, be with you, and speak to you as I am now, if I so wish?" He phrased his request as a question, and Christine knew she would not refuse him.

He released her hand and gently stroked her cheek again, then bent forward slightly and again smiled, if only with his eyes. Only by a supreme effort of will did Christine manage to hold back her feelings. She lost all sense of time or any sense of where she was. The deep rapture she experienced at the touch of Spock's hand was something she had dreamed of for years and something she prayed would never end -- but it did, all too soon. Slowly, reluctantly, his hand dropped and he moved away from her.

"Tell me, Christine, would I do that if all I felt toward you was friendship?"

She was unable to speak; she could only shake her head. He seemed to understand her silence, giving her a soft smile and standing up... and she rose with him. To her surprise and pleasure, she saw in his eyes that he had found their physical contact as exciting as she did. The first incident had happened too quickly for her to make an accurate judgment.

"Good night, Spock. I'll see you tomorrow."

He touched her cheek one last time and departed. She got back into bed after turning out her light, but was unable to sleep for a long time, putting a hand to her cheek and smiling foolishly at the thought of what had transpired only moments ago. Her last waking thoughts were hopes that more such incidents would occur as time passed, and that she was glad she would see Uhura tomorrow. They would have to talk. She needed the opinion of another woman about what to do (if anything) about her increasingly difficult situation with Spock... another woman close to her own age.

* * *

It was unbelievable how fast (and yet how slowly) time passed until Nyota and the others were due to come. Kirk and McCoy had gone to pick them up about an hour ago and were due to return soon. It had also been a long time since Christine had heard Spock play his harp and she hoped that she would be the one he chose to sit beside him as he played. Of course, given the fact that Kirk and McCoy would be present, there was no guarantee of that. It was more likely that Spock would choose Kirk to sit next to him while McCoy sat on his other side and the others were gathered around the three of them. In that event, she could only hope that there would be a place for her as close to Spock as was possible.

There had even been times that Uhura had sung with Spock. Christine recalled the one time Nyota had told her about when she and Spock had been in the Rec Room during the first year of the five-year mission; he had played his harp while she sang. She couldn't help a chuckle when she remembered the kind of song the Bantu had done. It had been designed to tease Spock, albeit good-naturedly. Spock had even smiled when Uhura had admitted this before resuming her singing. Christine herself had been on duty that day, worse luck. Spock's smile was so beautiful, yet he smiled so rarely. If only she could have seen it!

She couldn't think of all the words, but what she did know, she remembered with almost photographic accuracy:

"Here on the starship Enterprise

There is someone who's in Satan's guise

Whose devil ears and devil eyes

Could rip your heart from you

His alien love can victimize

Because you know not what he'll do."

Oh Lord, does that ever apply to me, Christine admitted wryly. One look at those 'devil ears' and into those lovely 'devil eyes' and I was lost for all time. I don't know what his 'alien love' is like, but it must be wonderful if Amanda's happiness with Sarek is any indication. Of course, it couldn't have been easy for them, and it wouldn't be easy for me with Spock either, even should a miracle happen and we do actually get together. Even at that, with enough love and determination, we should be able to make it work.

There had also been many times she had wished that she could have literally ripped her heart from her body and offered it to Spock as proof of her love for him -- so that stanza could have been written with her in mind. Come to think of it, Nyota could have done just that... so Christine made a mental note to ask her friend about it at the first opportunity.

* * *

The ringing doorbell brought Christine back to reality. She heard Amanda calling even as she slid into her shoes. "Christine, Admiral Kirk and Dr. McCoy are back with the others."

"I'll be right out," she called back. She came out to see the older woman's retreating form disappear into the living room. She quickened her pace, but even as she did so, there was a quiet voice behind her.

"Please wait, Christine."

Spock stepped up beside her a moment later; she fought to keep her heart rhythm steady as they headed for the living room together. However, he allowed her to precede him into the room where their friends waited. Christine spotted Uhura almost immediately, but didn't know whether or not the dark woman had seen her. Her question was answered in the next moment as Uhura turned her head.

"Chris!" Uhura hurried across the room and the women hugged briefly, mindful of where they were and who might be watching or listening. They looked around for the two Vulcans, but Spock was deep in conversation with Kirk and McCoy while Sarek was speaking with Amanda.

The two women turned back to each other. "I'm so glad you're here, Nyota. I've been needing to talk to you."

Uhura frowned with concern at the urgency in Christine's voice, accurately guessing the reason. "About Spock, I take it."

Christine nodded. "It's becoming tougher with every passing day not to tell him what he said to me when in Dr. McCoy's body, not to mention how long I've known and loved him... as well as the times we've been together since I've been here. Also, he and I were talking once and I suddenly wanted to kiss him so badly I could taste it. Only his father's knocking on the door at that precise moment stopped me."

"Knocking?" Uhura's eyebrows raised as her dark eyes widened.

"We were in his room talking. He had been... feeling badly... about a disagreement he had had with the Admiral and Dr. McCoy."

"How did you manage to develop such rapport with him so quickly?" Uhura momentarily shelved her curiosity about the disagreement Chris had mentioned between their male friends and shipmates.

"I think it's because I presented myself as a friend of his mother's and didn't mention that we'd known each other before. I mean, there are times that I'm still not sure if he remembers me even though he is remembering more and more from his early life, the five-year mission and what happened during and after the V'Ger incident."

"As I recall, you were there the last couple of times," Uhura pointed out.

"That doesn't mean he remembers me now. He's never said anything to me -- and I feel sure he'd have mentioned it if he had."

"Maybe he doesn't want to spoil things between you any more than you do."

"That would be nice, but I'm not holding my breath. He's practically back to normal, but still not completely recovered -- and I don't want to spoil that by speaking too soon."

"Do you think he considers his relationship with you simply part of his recovery?"

"Oh no," Christine denied. "I think I'd know if that was the case."

"Then why are you so anxious to talk to me? Sounds like you've been able to handle things between you pretty well so far."

"Because I think he's beginning to feel something for me," the female Doctor confessed. "In fact Amanda has even warned me not to try to take advantage of the situation. I told her I wouldn't do anything that Spock didn't do first."

"Has she also talked to Spock about this?" Uhura kept her voice low since Spock and the others had moved closer. Otherwise the Vulcan's sensitive hearing would pick up their conversation.

"He said she had, but also that he had no intention of stopping his visits to me. I assured him I looked forward to them as much as he did. Then he..." Her voice trailed off as color came into her cheeks.

"Yes?" Uhura prompted as the two women sat down on the sofa facing the fireplace.

"He -- stroked my cheek. Oh, God..." The tone of Christine's voice alarmed her friend.

"What's wrong?"

"It was so warm, so gentle. I never wanted it to end. In fact, I would rather have been beaten than have him stop touching me. But I had promised Amanda-- Damn!" Christine looked as though she was in pain. "To have waited so long to be close to him, kiss him and hold him... and then not be able to--"Again, her voice trailed off. "I don't know how much longer I'll be able to stand this. I want to do the right thing, but..."

At this point Uhura drew her friend into comforting arms; Christine clung to her as if it meant her life. "I knew it wouldn't be easy for you living in the same house with him. I'm surprised you didn't call on me sooner."

"Amanda's helped some, but I needed the input of someone my own age," Christine said quietly.

"Uhura, Christine -- we're ready to start," McCoy called to them. The two released each other and turned toward his voice, finding the others, including Spock, looking at them expectantly. Even so, Christine wasn't sure where she was supposed to sit. In the end, she assumed that Kirk and McCoy would sit with Spock, so she remained on the sofa.

"No, Christine. Here," Spock said.

She looked up at him; he was seated near the fire and gesturing to the place next to him. Her eyes widened in stunned surprise even as she made herself move and sit where he indicated. She didn't dare meet his eyes, even as much as she wanted to, because he would be able to read her feelings on her face. Instead, she sat there hardly breathing as the others took their positions -- Kirk on Spock's other side and McCoy on the sofa next to Uhura as she had been. The others sat in nearby chairs and the second sofa at a right angle to its counterpart in front of the fireplace.

Spock didn't begin to play until everyone was all ready and settled. He confirmed their readiness by meeting their eyes; they all nodded back. He looked at Christine last -- and she acted accordingly. Mainly because she didn't want anyone to ask questions she couldn't answer. She had enough to worry about with Spock and Uhura, much less Amanda and Leonard... or any of the others, especially Kirk.

She might have changed her mind if she could have known what Spock had been discussing with his two friends prior to the start of the private concert. Kirk and McCoy were naturally concerned when Spock had confided his growing feelings for Christine -- particularly at the possibility of her having taken advantage of his vulnerability in the wake of his death and rebirth. They had kept this to themselves, however, feeling it best not to mention anything about Christine until and unless Spock did. He had remembered things about her from before, but chose not to mention them since they were getting on so well and he had no wish to spoil it.

They had remained skeptical even after Spock had assured them otherwise, although both knew that Christine would not force Spock into anything. It was the Vulcan's own actions which seemed out of character for him, even compared to the revelations of the post-V'ger weeks and months. Especially if Amanda herself had been concerned enough to warn both her son and friend of what could happen if they tried to go too far too fast. Hopefully they would listen to her, the voice of experience, but there was no guarantee of that... especially in Christine's case.

Other than Uhura, no one knew better than McCoy what she had gone through in loving the Vulcan, and even as many times as he had advised her to find someone who could love her as she deserved, she had effectively silenced him with arguments like the fact that if a marriage between Sarek and Amanda could succeed, so could one between herself and Spock. He finally gave up and merely kept a fatherly eye on them after that, knowing Christine was determined to land Spock, whatever she had to do -- so he helped all he could. The last thing he had figured on was Spock developing feelings for her as she had for him.

The Vulcan was not used to being in love, so he needed advice from his friends as to how best to handle both his feelings and please the object of his new-found affections. Of course, the fact they gave it was no guarantee that Spock would follow it (at least not all of it), but enough so that there wouldn't be any major problems between them.

He could not hide his feelings entirely, though. They came out in his music and both his friends and Christine felt it... as well as saw it in Spock's soft, dark eyes. Also in the way they rarely left hers for more than a few seconds. First he had looked around at everyone, then after meeting Kirk and McCoy's knowing eyes (his mother's too), his gaze returned to Christine and remained there. Her heart pounded, and she blushed in spite of herself. Spock had never looked at her so tenderly before -- nor played with such feeling. Heaven only knew what the others must be thinking!

Time passed before they realized it, and all too soon the older Vulcan called for the party to break up. There was disappointment all around but everyone complied, standing up and stretching before making their farewells. Even Kirk and McCoy said their goodnights after giving encouraging smiles to their alien friend and Christine, then taking the others to their lodgings... yet upon the two Humans' return, they hid along with Spock's parents on each side of the open door leading to the living room. But even the illusion of privacy was enough for Spock and Christine.

"Thank you, Spock," she smiled. "It was beautiful. I am --pleased you asked me to join you."

The Vulcan allowed himself to return her smile as he touched her cheek upon setting the harp aside. "Your... presence inspired me."

Her eyes widened, but she could see that he meant every word he said. "You -- really mean that, don't you?"

"I do not lie, Christine. Especially not where my... emotions for you are concerned. And neither does -- this lie." She looked up at the crooning quality in his voice, seeing a kiss in his eyes.

"Spock..." The feeling in her voice gave him the courage necessary to express his own feelings. Oh, my love, you have no idea how long I've waited for and dreamed of this moment...

Spock couldn't read her thoughts since his hand wasn't in the mind-meld position, but he felt her deep love for him -- and that was enough. He leaned closer and put a hand on her cheek, the other arm tentatively going around her waist even as one of her own arms went around him and the fingers of her other hand stroked his silky hair.

Spock... oh, how I love you!

The other three Humans and older Vulcan peeked back in when their conversation had stopped. Sarek naturally hesitated, but his curiosity got the better of him for one of the few times in his nearly 127 years of life. What the group saw both satisfied and frightened them, but if it was what Spock and Christine truly wanted, they would do all they could to help them, both now and in the future when Spock was completely himself again. His retraining could now be completed at home with the help of his father, friends Kirk and McCoy... and Christine. The Vulcan elders had done all they could for him. The rest was up to Spock himself.

After a time the four retired to their respective rooms, leaving the new lovers alone. But even though one big problem had been solved, another still remained -- what would happen once Starfleet caught up with them and they had to answer for all they had done.

* * *

The next time any of them were at Spock's family home, they all were. Their luck had held so far, but everyone knew it was only a matter of time until Starfleet figured out where they had gone and they were put under arrest... and the hijacked Bird of Prey would likely be impounded. And to add to their problems, they wouldn't have just Starfleet on their backs but the Klingons as well, for killing several of their people and commandeering one of their ships. She was a "rustbucket," as Scott had said, hardly worthy of his time and expertise, but she was all they had. Under the circumstances, they could scarcely expect Starfleet to send a ship for their use.

Meanwhile, Kirk needed everyone's input as to what they were going to do, as well as how they were going to explain to Starfleet the whys and wherefores of what they had done. And to forestall any of their superiors making the accusation that Kirk had ordered them to do what they had done, everyone from Scott to Chekov agreed to testify that they had done what they did of their own free will. That wasn't entirely true of the Doctor, but once Kirk had told him what had happened and McCoy had gotten used to the idea, he had been more than willing to help both of his friends. Even at that, he had not been pleased at the trouble Spock's katra had gotten him into -- and where his atypical actions had landed him. He also wasn't shy about informing the newly resurrected Vulcan of the fact.

"Let's face it, Spock, I wouldn't have been put in jail if it hadn't been for your katra making me do things I wouldn't normally do." The Doctor's voice was a mixture of exasperation and affection.

The Vulcan raised both eyebrows. "And that is bad, Doctor?"

"When it lands me in jail, it is," McCoy retorted evenly. Everyone but the Vulcans laughed at both the Doctor's dry wit and the dumfounded expression on the Vulcan's usually impassive face.

"I can only apologize for what I had to do," came the too-quiet reply. Christine gave Spock a look of concern and laid a comforting hand on his nearest arm. He looked up and gave her a half-smile, patting her hand reassuringly.

By this time, nearly three months had passed and Spock had remembered virtually all his original memories, including the previous relationship (or lack thereof) he had had with Christine... but by the time that had happened, their new relationship had progressed to the point where neither had any wish to return to the way things had been before. The Vulcan found it hard to believe he could ever have ignored Christine or kept her at a distance. He surmised that it had taken his death and rebirth to make him appreciate her. Only then had Christine dared to tell him what his essence had told her when it was housed in McCoy's mind. She had dreaded his reaction at first, but her fears had been groundless -- which made them both happier and more content than they had been in years.

* * *

McCoy's voice brought them back to reality. "Spock, you've got to stop taking things so seriously. I don't blame you for what you did. I know it was necessary, and in the end I was glad that you trusted me so much. I just wish I could have had a little warning, that's all."

"Which I would have given had there been time," came the answer, still quiet but lighter and happier.

All present knew that there was every reason to be optimistic about the future now that Spock was alive again... their personal one, at any rate. Their professional one was something else again. A short time before this meeting, Kirk and the others had told Spock all they had done to help him and McCoy. Christine's part in it was relatively insignificant, so she had originally intended to remain silent. It had taken Spock's gentle but firm persuasion to get it out of her. Even at that, she and all the others knew how unworthy Spock felt of all his Human friends had done for him, no matter how many times they assured him otherwise.

Every time they had done this, he had frowned and said to Kirk, "Am I truly worth losing your only son, the Enterprise and your career, Jim?"

Kirk smiled. "You know the answer to that, Spock -- and that goes for everyone else here, too." Both looked around at the others for confirmation, including Spock's parents. Everyone except Sarek and Saavik smiled back at them. The latter two merely nodded.

"How many times must we tell you? It's worth any sacrifice to have you with us again. It's where you've always belonged and where you will always belong... now and for all time."

Spock lowered his eyes at the deep, profound affection he saw shining in the eyes of his Human friends, particularly those of Kirk, McCoy and Christine. "Then it is as Edith Keeler said -- I belong at your side, as if I had always been there and always would be."

"Exactly," came the tightly controlled reply. The Admiral closed his eyes in pain for a moment... long enough to cause his two friends to give him a concerned look.

"I am sorry, Jim. I did not mean to cause you pain."

Kirk squeezed his friend's hand and smiled softly. "I know, Spock. Don't worry, you're forgiven."

Spock gave his friend a relieved half-smile, then looked at Christine. This time she took his hand and squeezed it. Kirk was on the Vulcan's other side, holding his free hand, and the Admiral squeezed it again to emphasize his words.

"Then I will do all I can to -- remain... worthy of your high regard," was the almost reverent reply. "Now we must discuss what we intend to do once Starfleet Command discovers where we are and we must justify our actions."

Kirk gave his alien friend a strange look. "'Our' actions? You've done nothing wrong. Dying is no crime, especially not when it's as heroic as yours was."

The Vulcan lowered his eyes again and remained silent.

"And technically I'm as blameless as Spock is," McCoy said. "As far as that goes, I could even plead temporary insanity because I was not responsible for what I did. Especially since I had no choice in the matter at the time."

"Neither did I, Doctor," Spock reminded him. "There was no time to do as I would normally have done. In addition, if you had not been... my friend... I would not have considered giving you custody of my katra."

McCoy was touched in spite of himself. "Thank you, Spock. It wasn't easy, but as Jim said, you were worth every moment."

"Even so, it is the least I can do to return to Earth with you and face the consequences of the actions you took in order to save me."

"It was a sacrifice we made willingly, Spock. Even as difficult as it was, we'd do it again if it meant having you alive again and back with us. Now I don't want to hear any more talk about your supposedly being 'unworthy.' We know you are, and that's that." Kirk's voice was affectionate but determined.

"Now let's get cracking on more important things like getting that ship spaceworthy again, and figure out what we're going to say to Starfleet Command. That's the most logical course of action under the circumstances, don't you think?"

The three Vulcans raised eyebrows, but didn't deny anything Kirk had said... nor did anyone else in the group. After an interval of silence, the Vulcan looked at Christine, then back to the assembled collection of people.

"Indeed, Jim -- but before we proceed further, there is yet another course of action I believe to be logical. In fact, I wish to announce my intention to ask Christine to... bond with me and marry me as soon as I am completely recovered."

Everyone's eyes widened, including those of a stunned Christine, as well as the other two Vulcans. The Human woman paled with the shock of what she had just heard, then once it sunk in, she looked up at the man she loved with a mixture of incredulity and delight. "That is, if she will still -- have me."

"If I'll still have you!" the female physician exclaimed once she found her voice again. "Oh, Spock!" Christine was so overcome with joy that she momentarily forgot that they had an audience, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him.

It seemed for a time that Spock had also forgotten, for after the initial shock of her action, he gave her a brief but tender kiss before softly whispering, "Christine, please release me. We are not alone."

She turned color and released him. "Sorry. Forgot myself."

"Quite understandable, under the circumstances... but after this, please try to remember to refrain from any physical demonstration of affection unless we have complete privacy," he gently admonished.

"I'll remember," she assured him with a smile -- then mouthed the words, "I love you."

Spock touched her cheek and looked deeply into her eyes, the warmth there saying all that his lips could not... at least not publicly. Kirk and McCoy exchanged pleased looks with Sarek and Amanda, knowing that whatever Starfleet chose to dish out, it would be easier to endure with the knowledge that both Spock and Christine's two-decades-long loneliness was finally at an end. Their respective friend and son was happy at last.

They could rest easy now that Spock had the love and contentment he so richly deserved. The Vulcan would never be alone again. They, his parents and Christine would be with him as long as all of them lived -- and even as illogical as the thought was, Kirk wished that they could all live forever.



THE END



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