DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Juanita Salicrup and is copyright (c) by Juanita Salicrup. This story is Rated PG-13.



A GRIEF WELL ENDED

Juanita Salicrup



At long last Sickbay was quiet. Christine, who had spent the day half in a fever of activity and half-dreaming of the portents of the coming evening, heaved a sigh of relief when she realized the day's shift was finally, blessedly, over. She stacked the report tapes on the three minor injuries they'd treated that day, thinking it had possibly the longest shift she'd ever worked, watching the chronometer digits crawl with the obstinate slow pace of the proverbial "watched pot" that "never boils."

She usually looked forward to her evenings, anyway -- but tonight ... tonight was different, the most different night of any in all her thirty-five years of life. For tonight she would be bonded to the man she'd so long loved and was soon (very soon, she hoped) to marry.

"Say -- Chris!" McCoy's lazy drawl held a note of insolence and she realized with a guilty start that she'd been daydreaming. "Why, Nurse Chapel ... woolgathering on duty! Tsk, tsk."

Blushing, and furious with herself at the rush of blood to her cheeks, she rose with dignity. "I beg your pardon, Doctor -- but I am no longer *on* duty." Her smile belied her tone and the words.

McCoy chuckled, leaning against the doorjamb with a habitual lazy grin. "Yeah, I know. I was coming to remind you of the fact in case you'd forgotten to check." He regarded her with humor and affection, feeling fatherly, brotherly and proprietary all at the same time. Their eyes met for a moment and understanding flashed between them.

She was more than grateful for the role he'd played in securing her present happiness, but she refused to give him the satisfaction of referring to it verbally. It was a little game they'd played in the weeks that had passed since that fateful evening when McCoy had returned to his office after dinner and caught Christine in the arms of the First Officer just after she'd accepted the Vulcan's proposal of marriage.

Christine filed the tapes, giving McCoy a sidelong glance. "Something on your mind, Doctor?"

"Yeah. I was wondering if you'd do me the honor of having dinner with me." There was a barely suppressed look of mirth in his blue eyes that made her want to giggle and scream all at once. Abruptly she heard his question and blushed again.

"Oh! Oh ... I -- er -- can't. I... I'm very sorry, Doctor, but -- I ... have a previous engagement," she stammered, inwardly cursing her choice of words as she saw the waiting grin break out all over McCoy's face.

He folded his arms and straightened, grinning like a Cheshire cat, and drawled, "Of course! I understand, Christine. Now you just run along and don't let me stop you."

Afraid she'd say something foolish or smack him for what he was clearly thinking, she nodded and practically ran past him.

"Y'all have fun now, hear?" he called after her and she took to undignified flight to escape the sound of his delighted laughter following her out of Sickbay. Once out in the cool quiet of the corridor, she breathed a sigh of relief and tried to order her pounding heart to slow down and her chaotic thoughts to settle into their normal patterns as she headed for her quarters.

*He said he'd come at nineteen hundred hours,* she thought. *That gives me about an hour to get ready -- time for a shower and to fix my hair ... and have a nervous breakdown!*

She stepped into the turbolift, grateful it was empty, and picked up on the litany she'd been haranguing herself with intentionally all day. *This is unbelievable! Ever since you first laid eyes on him, you've wanted him: for a companion, a friend, a husband and lover. Now that, at long last, he's asked you and you've accepted ... now ... *now* you pick to get nervous! What are you afraid of, anyway?*

Even as she asked the question, the other little voice in her head shouted, *Of everything! Him -- you -- marriage -- everything! Can you share? Do you know how to give enough? Does he? He's not Human; he's Vulcan. What will marriage to him be like? Can he unbend enough to give you what you need? Will he even know?

Can you bring yourself to tell him? And what about you? Are you prepared to be his loyal, proper Vulcan wife -- whatever that means? Would you even be prepared to be a loyal, proper wife to a Human, considering that you've never shared your life with anyone? He told you there'd be adjustments for both of you to make. What did that mean?*

The cycle had brought her to her quarters door with none of the questions any better answered than they'd been all day, and she finally gave up in disgust as she entered. *Have fun, McCoy said! A fat lot he knows! How in the name of all that's mighty and omniscient can I have *fun* when my mouth is dry, I'm trembling and my hands are like ice? The first time I touch Spock, he'll jump out of his hot Vulcan skin!*

Anxiously aware that her nerves were turning her into an animated ice cube and that Spock's comfort demanded heat, Christine turned up her cabin temperature and headed for the shower. In the small bathroom, she quickly stripped and tied her hair up into a knot on top of her head. She flipped the shower dial to water instead of sonics, feeling the need for the comfort of real water sluicing over her skin, and stepped under the warm spray.

For a few moments, stretching luxuriously under the flow, she let her mind go blissfully blank, just concentrating on the sybaritic enjoyment of water over slippery skin. Then she sighed, reaching for the fragrant gel she was fond of using. *Best get a move on, my girl,* she told herself. *Time's a-wasting.* As she assiduously scrubbed slender arms, full breasts, flat stomach and long, slim legs, she couldn't help thinking of Spock's long, lean muscled body and found herself blushing as she had when McCoy had told her to "have fun."

Nervous she might be, but nothing could hide her own desire from her, and even as it reassured her of her Human normalcy, it worried her. For he was Vulcan and so reticent, that even though he'd kissed her and held her in his arms a few times since the night he'd proposed, she had no way of knowing if his desires in any way matched her own.

*There's so much I don't know, so many areas where we could have problems. How can I be sure of the rightness of any of this?* She turned off the water, got out of the shower, draped a towel around herself and looked at her body in the full-length wall mirror.

"Face it, Christine, you're scared witless. And the truth is, you'd be just as scared if Spock were a Human male, because the problem isn't with him -- it's with you. You're having a case of what they call bridal jitters and it wouldn't matter if you were marrying a prince of the realm, you'd still be scared to death!" she told herself sternly, and suddenly laughed. "Hell! You *are* marrying a prince of the realm, even if Vulcans don't reckon things that way. For all practical purposes, that's exactly what Spock is: a prince of a royal house ... which makes you his princess!"

Laughing with open glee at her own silliness, Christine curtseyed before the mirror and barely caught the slipping towel. "Come on, Your Highness. Get dressed. Your consort will be here before you know it."

Once dried, she took down her hair and began brushing it out slowly, frowning at the fumbling fingers that refused to arrange anything resembling the right look. *Whenever I've had to get ready for an important occasion, Nancy Compton's always come to the rescue with my hair,* she mourned briefly. *Oh, well. Tonight is so very private I couldn't very well share it with anyone, so I guess I'll have to do it myself.* She studied herself critically in the mirror. *I think the simpler, the better.*

In a few moments, she'd brushed out her hair again and pulled it up and back into the comfortable style she'd worn on Vulcan, with the long, golden waves rippling freely down her back. On an inspiration, she reached for the comb-coronet Spock's mother had given her to wear. It seemed suddenly terribly appropriate to the occasion. Nodding in satisfaction when she was done, she crossed the cabin toward her wardrobe.

A look at the chronometer set in her desktop showed her she had scarcely fifteen minutes left, and she knew Spock could be depended upon to be prompt. The thought prompted a return of the nervousness she'd suffered earlier and she almost wept with frustration. *Damn! I wish I could settle down! I'm worse than an adolescent getting ready for her first date!* she moaned within the privacy of her mind. The thought only increased her jitters, and for one scant moment, a traitorous little voice inside said, *You can always back out, you know ... *

Closing her mind to the tumult, she wrenched open the wardrobe and hastily grabbed the Vulcan robe hanging within. As soon as she had the iridescent fabric in her hands, she began to breathe easier, though she was scarcely aware of it. For a moment, as she fingered the soft, delicate material, she realized she held the shape of final and substantial commitment in her hands. This robe was both symbol and garment.

When he'd shyly presented it to her, specifying its purpose as the robe to be worn at bonding, Spock had handled it with near reverence, as if it were a heritage instead of the new, never-worn garment she knew it to be. It was the first time she'd come face-to-face with what their union meant and would mean to him. For all his shielding mask of impassivity, he was terribly, wonderfully anticipating the most important step of his adult life, and eager to share it with her.

She knew then that she had no intention of running away and realized the voices of rebellion within were fading away. With an instinct born of she knew not what knowledge, she slipped the robe on over her bare skin and saw the edges of the front closing meet at invisible seam. At a touch, the edges parted. At a touch, they closed as if sewn together.

And as soon as the shimmering, iridescent beauty of it had settled over her, shaping itself delicately to her body, a pleasant tingling flowed over her skin, bestowing a calm and warmth that instantly made her think of the touch of Spock's gentle hands. There was no embarrassment, only a sudden eager yearning at the thought. Before she had time to consider any of it, the door buzzer rang once. She smiled. Without looking, she knew it was exactly nineteen hundred hours.

"Come."

The door slid open and he stepped in, tall, spare, radiating that incredible Vulcan power held in firm check. She didn't know what she'd expected, but there was a shy eagerness in his soft eyes that was almost boyish, and she realized that in some ways Spock was still very young.

The door slid shut behind him and he shifted a package to his other hand as he turned to press the lock button. He turned back, eyes warm as they swept appreciatively over her, from the cornet down her body to her feet. He stepped up to her and raised his right hand in the Vulcan greeting she knew so well. Instinctively, she raised her own hand in reply and he pressed his palm to hers.

"I greet thee, Christine," he said softly, eyes both penetrating and tender upon her.

"Spock."

He withdrew his hand, the corners of his mouth lifting in the barest of smiles. "You are lovely," he said simply, surprising her with the expression and melting away the last whisper of apprehension inside her.

She smiled. "Thank you."

"If you will excuse me for a few minutes. Custom dictates that I also be attired for this ceremony."

"Of course."

He nodded and retired to the small bath, closing the door firmly behind him.

In the sudden quiet, Christine moved to lower the lighting and raise the cabin temperature further, remembering the dim warmth of his own quarters. It was very important to her that he be comfortable here.

* * *

In the small bath, Spock undressed with swift, methodical motions, his mind divided between the mental preparations he must make and the image of Christine in her bonding robe. For a moment, as he stood naked before the full-length wall mirror, his own ceremonial robe in hand, he glanced toward the door, aware of a stirring deep inside himself. She was everything he'd ever wanted, as he'd learned to know in the last few weeks since she'd accepted his offer of marriage.

Inside, he'd allowed himself a few more Human considerations of late and now, as he stood poised on the brink of a new life, he realized he also felt desire for her. Still troubled by the Human half that refused to be placidly dormant since he'd come face-to- face with it on Vulcan recently, Spock forced all consideration from his mind except the pertinent ones.

Were Christine Vulcan, he would have donned the robe, gone out and the bonding would take place immediately -- but she was not, and he expected that there were questions in her mind. With both of them so heavily occupied with duty during the last few weeks with the rotation of part of the crew and the ending of one five-year mission and beginning of another, they'd not had the chance to spend much time together.

In those moments that they *had* spent alone in privacy, he'd realized her need to understand the sincerity of his intentions. When they should have been talking and planning, he'd schooled himself to answer her unspoken need for touch and gentle reassurance. While it was true that there was much that did not need to be said, much she would perceive and adopt into her behavior through their bonding, he knew it would be unfair to rush her into this. He'd sensed her lingering nervousness when he greeted her. Forced to be truthful, Spock realized a certain trepidation within himself.

*So,* he decided as he shouldered into a robe that was the white, shimmering iridescent twin to Christine's, *we shall talk first.* He smoothed the robe's closing and stepped out into the cabin, peripherally aware of and pleased at the change in lighting and the increased warmth of the air.

Christine turned and looked up at the sound of the doors opening, her eyes widening with startled pleasure at the picture Spock presented as he stepped into the room. The soft robe's paleness emphasized the tall leanness of his body and the darkness of his hair, eyes and skin, and Christine was acutely conscious once again of her attraction to him. Unsure of what to do, she remained silent as he walked over to her.

He stopped a pace or two away, hands clasped behind his back, studying her carefully.

"How do we begin?" she asked finally.

"In a moment," he replied gently. "First, I believe there are things you may want to ask ... and things you should know for yourself about the life we will be sharing together."

She breathed a sigh of relief, smiling up at him with gratitude for his understanding. "Yes, I would like to ask you a few questions."

"I understand. I am prepared to answer any and all of the questions you may ask." Spock had resolved within himself that no matter what she wanted to know, he would answer, even if she ventured into areas normally considered forbidden.

She smiled a little nervously. "Well -- first, I'd like to know if we must wait to return to Vulcan before being married in ceremony. I ask because ... " She suddenly seemed very shy. "I would rather not wait."

"I agree. I believe we have both waited long enough. Since it seems unlikely that we will be returning to Vulcan for quite some time, and since the Vulcan ceremony, however important, is really only a formalization of what we shall pledge tonight, it would be illogical to wait. A shipboard ceremony will serve and, I think, would please you."

"Yes, it would, and I think it would please our friends, too. Since we have certain practical matters to attend to, like setting up new quarters and applying to Starfleet for approval and arranging the ceremony -- would three weeks be all right?"

"Three weeks would be satisfactory. Tomorrow we shall seek out the Captain together."

She looked at him in some wonder. "Are you saying you'd be willing to be married in a totally Terran ceremony, Spock?"

"I am." Seeing her surprise, he added, "I shall do all in my power to make you happy, Christine."

The look she gave him was searching. "Will you, Spock? *All*?"

He cocked his head to one side. "Of course." He frowned at her questioning look. "What is it that makes you doubtful?"

"I don't doubt your intentions, Spock. I ... just wonder how far they go." She turned away, once again nervous. Well, she'd wondered about this and it seemed like as good a time as any to bring it up -- but what to say? She paced away and then turned back to face him. He watched her gravely, waiting patiently, sensing her inner turbulence.

"If I were marrying a Human male, Spock, I probably wouldn't even think to ask what I want to ask, *have* to ask now ... because it wouldn't be necessary. I'd already have some way of knowing. Or if I didn't know, I could ask and be fairly certain that I wasn't offending him with the question."

Spock frowned in puzzlement. "Please explain."

"I'm trying to, even if I'm not doing it very well." She cast about for the right words, but they seemed to elude her. "What I'm trying to say is -- I know you said you'd do anything to make me happy, but I wonder ... just how far you're willing to go. I don't want to offend you, but I must ask!"

His puzzlement increased. "Can you be any clearer than that about what troubles you?"

"I -- er -- yes. I think so. I mean, I *know* I can." She stopped again, dry-mouthed, angry at herself for handling it so badly.

Spock's eyebrows shot up. "Well?" he prompted gently.

"I'd like to know what our life together will be like, what I can expect both in public and in private." When he seemed to be waiting for her to say more, she added, "What can I expect of our ... *physical* relationship?"

For a moment after she'd finally gotten it out, when he didn't react, she wondered whether he'd understood what she meant. It was apparent that he did, for a smile touched his lips, his eyes began to twinkle, and his right eyebrow slowly climbed in ironic amusement.

"I believe that you will not be disappointed, Christine."

For a moment she couldn't believe he was going to leave it at that, then said, "That's not exactly an answer, Spock!"

"Do you require a schedule?" he required mildly.

Beginning to feel a little foolish and flustered at his calm, she tossed her head. "Well, maybe I do! Once every seven years isn't exactly my idea of an active sex life!"

A small smile she could only think of as devilish flitted across his lean, hawk face. "It is a galactic myth that Vulcans mate only once every seven years, Christine."

Her mouth fell open. "It is?"

"We do not speak of it, and it is a private matter even among more open cultures such as your own -- but I daresay that there are as many variations in need as there are Vulcans, though they are doubtless far less active than your own people." He looked at her confusion in amazement. "I told you I was prepared to do everything in my power to make you happy, Christine.

"It is obvious that you did not understand what I meant, but no Vulcan husband can refuse his wife anything she truly needs. You are Human, your needs and expectations are bound to be different from those of a Vulcan woman. I knew that when I asked you to be my wife." He saw that she was still struggling with some astonishment, though relief and pleasure were winning out within her.

He added gently, "If I had wanted a Vulcan wife, I would have sought one." He took her by the shoulders. "I wanted more -- and have found it ... in you."

Reassured and somewhat abashed at her flash of temper, Christine smiled up at him. "I love you, Spock. Please forgive me for what I was thinking."

"There is nothing to forgive. Your concern is understandable. I am not Human, and Vulcan ways are far different from your own. Perhaps it would be helpful if I gave you some idea of what is expected of you as wife to a Vulcan..."

She nodded and he clasped his hands behind him again, becoming more formal. Even as he did, he realized he had no idea what to say. He turned away, considering carefully. What, after all, did he know of the intimate relationship between husband and wife? Very little. Even his parents had always been studiously formal before him, and any other couples he'd seen during his life at home -- cousins, uncles, an aunt, friends of his parents -- were even more formal than Sarek and Amanda whenever he was around.

Now that he was an adult, and after some of the awareness he'd come to in his recent medical leave at home, he still knew exactly nothing of the reality of marriage's inner existence. Aware of that, and the fact that Christine was still waiting, he instinctively turned to his knowledge of the formalities, naively believing that it would answer her unspoken questions and quell her fears.

As Spock began to speak of the "duties to the tradition", the "logical acquiescence to the established order", the "responsibilities to home, family, clan and culture", Christine found herself split among several warring impulses. The first was to yawn at the ponderous, professorial tone he'd adopted; the second was to laugh at the ridiculous cardboard stiffness of the picture he was drawing for her, and the third -- which was slowly overwhelming the first two -- was to erupt with dismayed fury at the role he was outlining for her future life.

Having struggled with, and reluctantly accepted, the dictum that Vulcans forbade any use of contraception out of both a reverence for life and a need to propagate a tiny and almost dying species, she was seized with fury at the tenor of the Vulcan marriage ceremony as he was relating it to her. Cold, logical, stiff, it consisted ... without its trappings -- of a few brief questions to be answered in the affirmative by both parties before witnesses and the clan matriarch, who then passed final words over the couple, formalizing the union.

The first few -- concerning a willingness to care for and preserve one another's lives and to bear and raise to responsible adulthood whatever children they might have did not trouble her, though their tone naturally lacked sentimentality or emotional appeal. The final few culminated in a query to the espoused wife that left Christine open-mouthed with fear, anger and sudden sorrow. Much as she loved Spock, she could not bring herself to accept agreement to becoming his property.

When he concluded with the somewhat sonorous words, "These duties will be yours as my wife," she exploded into protest.

"No!" She half-sobbed the word and drew away, trembling.

Dumfounded at her reaction and at a total loss as to the reason for it, Spock stopped dead, eyes wide with confusion.

"Christine, what is wrong?"

"What's wrong? I can't -- *won't* -- do that!"

"Do what?" He tried to reach out to her, but she almost shrank away from his touch, and the puzzlingly fearful reaction sent a pang of agony through him that was almost physical.

"Understand me, Spock. I love you ... so much that I can't even put the expression into words. I could do almost anything for you -- live for you, die for you, give up my own happiness ... but I will not be your possession. If that's expected of me, that I blindly surrender myself to you, forego all individual rights, then I don't think I can marry you after all!

"I love you -- always will -- but I am my own person as you are yours, and will not become your property as if I were a ... spare string for your lyrette!" She turned away, furious and tormented by the spectre of losing the love she'd dreamed of for so long.

Spock stood frozen still, watching her terrible trembling, knowing in his heart how deeply sincere she was and how hard it had been for her to say these things -- and he ached. The tenets he'd parroted were basic to the culture he'd embraced as a boy and followed all his life. For his wife to refuse them...! Suddenly fearful at the prospect of losing she who had become so precious, he sought a middle ground.

"Christine," he whispered huskily. "Is there not some compromise we can come to in this?"

She turned, her eyes stormy and wet, mouth trembling. "Compromise? If our positions were reversed, could *you* give away your freedom, independence, sense of self?"

Dismayed, he thought furiously. "They are but words, Christine."

"Oh, Spock, I can see what you're trying to do, but these words and hundreds and thousands of others like them are the words by which you've lived for nearly 40 years! I can't ask you to turn your back on them any more than you can ask me to embrace them." She turned aside again, understanding bitterly, what it meant to say one's "heart was breaking."

For a few minutes more, Spock fought within himself, shocked, puzzled, confronted with pain beyond any he'd ever suffered before. Seeing her slipping away from him, he came to a drastic decision, knowing it was yet another proof of his duality. He stepped up behind her, hand reaching out to rest on her shuddering shoulder, and turned her to him, looking down into her face for a moment without speaking.

"Christine -- very well. As I told you once before, I do not wish to lose you. The Terran marriage ceremony will suffice. I want you to understand that I do not wish to own you or place you among my belongings. You are my companion, my equal and my mate. I wish to honor and cherish you as the completion of my soul, a woman to walk at my side, not in my shadow. As the Vulcan ceremony would only emphasize the part of the role you cannot accept, I am willing to be married in a single ceremony that will fulfill both our desires and violate none of our philosophies. Will that be satisfactory?"

He already knew it would. She was beginning to smile with a soft brilliance he'd rarely seen in her face. He touched her cheek gently and she caught his hand, turning her head to kiss his palm.

"Yes, it will be satisfactory," she murmured.

"One more thing, Christine..."

She looked up, questioningly, half-leaning against him.

"It would please me to call you, as is traditional, 'my wife'. Will you accept this from me? The title is a warm reminder to me that I am no longer alone."

Her eyes dropped for a moment and he prepared himself to accept her refusal, but then she looked up, smiling tentatively. "I would be warmed and pleased if you would call me 'wife' without the need to specify possession. Can you accept *that*?"

For a moment he considered gravely, then smiled at her ... freely, gently ... caressing her cheek again. "I can accept it, wife -- and glory in the ways our diversities combine." He bent to kiss her and then withdrew, standing tall, a bit more formal, though his eyes glowed. "Are thee ready for the bonding that will unite us, wife?"

Christine straightened, self-conscious at the formal words. "Yes, husband. I am ready."

He drew her toward him, lifting her right hand and positioning it carefully on his head, the fingers placed in exact configuration. His left arm slid around her waist and he brought her against him. He lifted his own hand to her head, fingers spread. His thumb rested on her cheekbone, the other fingers combing gently through the silken blonde hair to cradle her skull; their eyes closed.

In the circle of his arm, Christine trembled as she felt the vaguely familiar warm quivering that accompanied the opening of mental channels and the delicate probing of Spock's mind. She'd known the touch of his mind before, though this was very different, and she knew he would never hurt her, but still she stiffened for a moment in protest at the penetration. The warmth held static as he waited, gentle and patient, until her trust of him and desire for total sharing finally overcame her primal Human fear.

"Christine, never parted from me, never to be parted, never and always touching and touched ... all that I am is thine, now and forever. I pledge myself to thy care and protection, and place myself within thy keeping for all the days that are ours," he chanted softly.

With a breath of warmth, he stood within her mind and soul, his presence full of strength and comfort, torn with loneliness, doubt and pain. Even as he guided her through the chanting phrases of reply, drawing her essence into himself, she saw him truly, knew him as he really was.

Because they now shared consciousness as one, he saw her view of himself for the first time. She perceived his draining, debilitating self-doubt, hesitation, feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing as mere shadows to be chased away, meaningless and negligible. Instead, she saw him shining with intelligence, gentleness and strength, an unflawed whole, admirable and worthy of love. He was caught up in it and awed beyond words.

For Christine, it was a first glimpse of herself through Spock's eyes, the first time she saw herself as truly, utterly beautiful, tender, warm and loving. All the insecurities she'd harbored within -- the shyness, self-doubt and self-hatred, he shattered in the warm mental embrace of the bonding.

In their eager perceptions of one another and their loving desire to heal one another's pain and build the solidity of strong self-images, they surged toward one another, deeper, truer, fuller than perhaps any bonded pair before. A gusting upsurge of love and desire broke over them both as the bond was forged ... wordless, powerful as the oceans of Earth and the furnaces of Vulcan deserts.

Spock had no time for conscious thought, was incapable of it as he saw the lonely pain within her and felt the welling of the great love she bore him. Hungry for such openly displayed love since his early boyhood, he drowned himself in it, unaware when the mental turned to physical, seeking only the smooth coolness of her flesh his instincts told him would soothe the burning ache suddenly fanned to flame within him.

She was earth and sea and sky, and he sought a desperate surcease for his burning desert heat in the depth of her mind and body. Even as he plunged into her coolness, she eagerly surged toward him, warming the icy knot of loneliness within her, melting it forever in the heat of his flame.

* * *

Awareness returned only gradually to them both. Spock grew slowly aware that he lay slack in Christine's arms on her bed. Her slim body was literally wrapped around his own, cradling him, offering the physical comfort that was a mirror image of the mental comfort with which she'd enwrapped his spirit when they'd bonded. He lifted his head to look around.

Two clouds of iridescent white robe lay on the floor in a straight line from the center of the main cabin to the sleeping quarters, their message clear. Remorse swept through him and in a surge of self-disgust, he pulled out of her arms and drew aside to sit on the edge of the bed, arms around his drawn-up knees. Startled, Christine sat up.

"Spock?"

He glanced at her, eyes full of pain, and found the words brimming to his lips died there. The face that looked into his was suffused with such an exquisite glow beneath its concern that it took his breath away. For a moment, he was jolted out of his embittered thoughts, reaching out to touch her cheek almost shyly.

"You are beautiful, Christine."

She smiled at him, drawing closer, and laid a hand on his smooth, bronze shoulder. "I'm happy, husband ... happier, in fact, than I've ever been, and it is because of you."

When he winced, turning his face away, she frowned and drew up to learn against him, close enough to feel his anguish. "Why the pain, husband?"

"Wife, I beg thy forgiveness for ... my behavior." He shuddered a little. "I behaved as--"

"--as I behaved, husband," she answered.

"I *invaded*..."

Her fingers stopped his words. "Not 'invaded,' beloved. You were welcomed where you were deeply desired. I drew you into myself even as you sought to enter," she told him softly, stroking his back gently.

Spock shook his head, denying himself her comfort. "It *was* invasion, Christine. This is not the usual consummation of the bonding."

"Of course not, love," she said with a trace of laughter. "But then, seven-year-old children don't generally behave the way adults do."

He looked at her miserably. "Christine ... wife ... this is not the Vulcan way! It was not *right*!"

Suddenly she perceived the problem, and knew that it was his "unVulcan" response which bothered him. Anxiously she searched for words with which to reassure him, knowing whatever she said now must be said right.

"No, it wasn't pure Vulcan. That's true. And why should it be?"

He looked at her with a questioning glance, some of the pain abating before his curiosity.

"Why should you, who are yourself so special, different from either of your parents and all their separate forebears, not behave in whatever way is your own, right for your individual self? The desire that we shared came from both of us."

"Indeed. That is the problem..." he whispered.

"Why? It's only a problem if you choose to regard it as one. I don't. I rejoice in it. Before we bonded, you told me you would do everything in your power to make me happy, to answer my needs. Well, husband, you have made me happy in a way uniquely your own. With that which is Vulcan in you, you have given me the joy of your mind and spirit through our bonding. With that which is Human in you, you have given me the joy of your body through our lovemaking. Why condemn yourself for being able to give *more* than either a Human or Vulcan, each of whom could only give half as much?"

All the while Christine was speaking, impassioned with her own desire to erase once and for all the residue of guilt and shame Spock carried, she'd been leaning against him, her arm around him. Though she'd not yet learned how to communicate through their bond, her love and what she intended came through clearly.

For a moment, those feelings warred with the Vulcan shame aroused by his physical desires, and then he recalled his meditation in the garden at his parents' home: *I am not Vulcan, nor am I Human. I am both ... and if indeed the IDIC has meaning, then it can have no greater meaning than to one who embodies diversity in combination.*

Spock slipped an arm around Christine and drew her close to him, lifting her chin to touch her lips with his own. Through the bond he told her, *Wisdom as well as beauty. I am many times fortunate, wife.*

*So am I!* she thought, thrilled with pleasure at this new form of communication. *Will we always be able to speak to one another this way?*

*In time, it will come whenever we are even in casual physical contact as the bond deepens and strengthens over the span of weeks, months and years.*

Wordlessly, she pressed closer to his lean, muscular body, abandoning herself to the physical sensations he'd newly awakened in her. For a moment she felt his hesitation, then knew a triumph and singing happiness as her husband once again lay down beside her and pulled her close into a full embrace.

Fully conscious now of his actions and their natural culmination, Spock caressed his wife deliberately, guilt vanishing in the face of acceptance. Slowly, he thrilled to trembling responses that were his ... hers ... theirs.

Through their shared awareness, each knew the velvet and steel of flesh against flesh, the smokey twine of mind with mind, slowly mounting desire that became a hungry joining, a shuddering yearning, and finally -- finally ... ecstasy gone nova. For a long time after, they lay wrapped in one another's arms, heartbeats and breathing slowly returning to normal. Words were no longer necessary between them. This was the haven for which each had spent a lifetime in lonely search.

It was a very long time before Spock moved again, and when he did, it was only to lie beside his wife, gathering her into his arms and drawing her head to the hollow of his shoulder. With one hand, he picked up the comforter that had been spilled to the floor beside the bed and pulled it over them both. In wordless communion, touching and touched, they slowly drifted off to sleep.



THE END

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