DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of J. M. Lane and D. M. Anderson and is copyright (c) 2002 by J. M. Lane and D. M. Anderson. This story is rated PG-13.



HISTORIC OCCASIONS



by JM Lane and DM Anderson

Part One - The Romulans



James Kirk rubbed his burning eyes and yawned deeply as he slumped wearily in his contoured command chair. He needed something to wake him up, but quick! He saw the solution when Janice Rand walked by, carrying a tray of coffee cups, motioning her over to him and taking one. He raised the steaming cup to his lips, nearly dropping it in his lap after blistering his lip on the scalding hot liquid.

"EEYOUCH! YEOMAN!" he bellowed.

"Sir?" came her timid reply.

"This coffee's so damn hot I've got a blister on my lip! Didn't you put any cold water in it?"

"Always," Rand replied with cool dignity.

"Didn't feel like it. When did you make it?"

"About five minutes ago, sir."

"Then do us both a favor and warn me after this."

"Yes, sir."

Janice returned to the helm console, where Sulu also took a cup of the steaming hot coffee, gingerly sipping after blowing on it a few times ... then setting it down to return to his helm controls. Kirk sighed as he recalled the first time he'd met Rand, an attractive blonde with lovely eyes and a figure to match -- but timid as a mouse. Fortunately time and experience had molded her into the model of efficiency she was today.

"Sir?" asked the Vulcan First Officer's rich baritone.

"Yes, Spock, what is it?"

"I believe we have company."

"Company? What are you--"

BOOM! CRACKLE! SIZZ! Before the Captain could finish his sentence, the entire Bridge was rocked by a powerful explosion reminiscent of the nuclear blast during the Federation's first encounter with Romulans in over a century.

Kirk managed to keep his seat by holding onto the arms of his chair, cursing under his breath as the coffee cup fell onto the floor, the hot liquid soaking into the carpet. He righted Sulu's chair, then helped the helmsman into it once the Bridge steadied. The latter's coffee had also spilled, but the Asian was more shaken up than hurt. Chekov had already picked himself up and was sitting in his chair swearing in his native Russian as he frantically pressed buttons on his navigation console.

"Sulu, Chekov, Uhura! Is everyone all right? Spock, what the hell happened to us?"

"One moment, sir," the Science Officer replied as he righted Uhura's chair and gently replaced her in it. "Fascinating," he murmured as he intently studied the star-studded space around the Enterprise through his hooded viewer. "Sensors detect a Romulan D-6 battlecruiser at 45 degrees mark 180, 135,000 kilometers to starboard. I would assume that the explosion we felt was a warning."

"Warning?" Kirk shouted. "Dammit, Spock, they're in Federation space! Uhura, hailing frequency!"

"Impossible, Captain. They've jammed all frequencies."

"Sulu, raise shields!"

"No response, sir."

"Phasers, Mr. Chekov!"

"Inoperative."

"Dammit, I've got to have something! What about the --"

Just then, the ship lurched sickeningly to the right, nearly throwing the Bridge personnel from their seats a second time. The Captain's fist pounded open the intercom button for Engineering. "Scotty! What the hell --"

Scott's worried voice broke in, his Highland brogue thick, as it always was when he was upset. "Sir, th' starboard warp nacelle! She's --"

"I don't want to hear it, Scotty. Just fix it," Kirk snapped.

"That's jus' it, sir. Ah canna reach 'er right now. We don' 'ave --"

Another impatient fist slammed down on the intercom button to cut the engineer off. "Sulu! Do we have impulse power?"

"Y-yes, sir." The helmsman was almost too frightened to speak. Never had he seen his Captain as angry as he was now.

"Then plot a heading ... any heading. Just get us the hell away from the Neutral Zone!"

"B-but, sir --"

"Dammit, Sulu, don't argue with me. Just do it!"

The helmsman's skilled hands deftly plotted a course and laid it in. The disabled starship moved slowly, awkwardly ... but she moved. "Where are the Romulans now, Spock?"

"They have retreated into their Neutral Zone, Captain."

"Good. Just as I expected. Hold her here for now, Mr. Sulu. We're safe for the time being, since the Romulans don't usually venture very far into Federation territory if they can help it ... but neither do they intend to leave. Especially not when an opportunity to do battle with the Enterprise presents itself. Be that as it may, I want you to keep an eye on that ship, Spock. Report any suspicious moves to me immediately."

"Yes, sir," the Vulcan replied.

"Kirk to Engineering. Come in, Scotty."

"Scott here," came the thickly accented Standard through the intercom.

"Damage report."

"Well, sir, those bloody Romulans ha' severely damaged th' starboard warp nacelle's coolant unit in their second attack. Ah c'n fix it, but ye've got t' keep us out o' their weapons range until then, because we willna be able t' use warp drive until th' unit's repaired. 'Twould be far too dangerous."

"Believe me, Scotty, I intend to. And, Scotty?"

"Sir?"

"I'm sorry for snapping at you earlier."

"No need t' apologize, sir. Ah understand. Command's a tough business."

"Spock, come here," Kirk said after vowing to buy his long-suffering Chief Engineer a bottle of the finest Scotch he could afford the next time they stopped over at a Starbase.

The Vulcan seemed to instantly materialize beside the command chair. The Captain was amazed that he could move so quickly and quietly. As Uhura had once said, Spock would have made an ideal jungle cat. "Yes, sir?"

"I want you to sneak out and get as close to the Romulan ship as you can without violating the Neutral Zone."

Upswept Vulcan brows rose in astonishment. "'Sneak', Captain?"

"Infiltrate ... find out their next move. For God's sake, Spock, you know what I mean!"

"Yes, sir."

Spock turned on his heel and headed for the turbolift, stopping in his tracks when Kirk swivelled around in his chair. "Use the Tycho Mark II Interceptor. It's equipped with a cloaking device so you can get close to the Romulan vessel without being detected. Monitor their communications; find out their plans. This is top secret, so use Code Three and scramble. Good luck ... and be careful." The last was said so only Spock could hear.

"Acknowledged." The First Officer then gave his Captain and friend a meaningful look.

"Don't worry. I'll be careful too. Now get going."

The Science Officer allowed himself a smile and sigh once in the privacy of the turbolift. His affection for Kirk was such that if the Captain died, he, Spock, would just as soon die himself. Never had he known such a kindred spirit, not even on Vulcan. It was his duty to remain by his Captain's side as long as Kirk commanded the Enterprise ... but not just the Enterprise, the Vulcan decided. But wherever Jim happens to be in this galaxy.

Kirk pressed another intercom button on the left arm of his command chair to talk to Assistant Chief Engineer DeSalle on the hangar deck. "Bridge to DeSalle."

"DeSalle here."

"Prepare the Tycho Mark II Interceptor Stingray for Mr. Spock."

"Sir, the Tycho hasn't had a proper shakedown. Besides --"

Kirk cut him off. "There's no time for a shakedown. Commander Spock is on his way."

"Understood, sir. DeSalle out." The Assistant Chief Engineer shook his dark head helplessly. Mon Dieu, but the Captain had a short fuse nowadays! He sighed and called to a junior engineer working on the bent-up door of the shuttlecraft Keppler. "Singh, get your skinny butt over here and help me get the Tycho ready for Mr. Spock."

The Indian lieutenant looked surprised but complied immediately, since he was well aware that his superior was like the proverbial bear with a sore head if he had to repeat himself. The two men set to work on the Tycho while other members of the engineering crew were busily repairing the starboard primary hull phaser banks and forward deflector shields, both of which had taken heavy damage in the Romulans' first attack.

Scotty himself was occupied with repairing the severely damaged coolant unit in the starboard warp nacelle, which took him the better part of the ensuing four hours. Sulu and Chekov managed to maneuver the crippled ship sufficiently so as to remain safely out of the Romulans' weapons range. For how long, they couldn't be sure, but if their luck held out just a little longer ...

* * *

Barely two minutes after the men completed their work, Spock stepped out of the turbolift and headed for them. "Mr. DeSalle, is the Interceptor ready?"

"Yes, sir."

"Excellent," the Vulcan replied approvingly, reaching for the button to release the hatch so he could climb in. After making sure all the Tycho's instruments and armaments were in working order, Spock then strapped himself into the contoured seat. The Frenchman and his Indian assistant backed away, watching in admiration as the First Officer fired the small craft's maneuvering thrusters and deftly steered it into launching position. "Tycho Mark II Interceptor Stingray to Bridge. Request permission to depart."

"Permission granted, Mr. Spock. Mr. DeSalle, open the shuttlecraft bay doors."

DeSalle reported Spock's departure a moment later. "Tycho Interceptor away, sir. Hangar deck repressurizing."

"Thank you, DeSalle. Bridge out."

After closing the intercom, Kirk shifted in his chair and stared at the viewscreen showing the familiar stars of the Orion Arm situated on the Federation side of the Neutral Zone. The Tycho was out there somewhere in all that star-studded blackness; the Captain illogically wished he could see it, even though he knew he couldn't since Spock had the cloaking device operating. Kirk knew that Spock was the most logical man for this job, the best-equipped for it -- physically, mentally, and yes, even emotionally -- but the Vulcan was not only his second-in-command and Science Officer but closest, dearest friend.

Should it come down to a choice between saving the Interceptor and saving Spock, Spock would win hands down. The Tycho was expensive and sophisticated, the most technologically advanced piece of equipment the Federation had ever developed ... but it was replaceable, expendable. Spock was not. If anything should happen while he was alone out there ... Kirk shook his head firmly. No. I mustn't think like that. I must believe that both will come back in one piece -- and most importantly, with the information we need.

Kirk tried to return Uhura's smile when his Communications Officer smiled at him, but instead a worried frown creased his brow as he stared sightlessly at the empty viewscreen. "He's fine, sir," she assured him.

"Yes, of course he is. Any word yet?"

The Bantu woman listened to her earphone for a moment, then shook her head. "No, sir -- but he just left, so it will likely be at least another fifteen minutes before he reaches the border of the Neutral Zone and calls in."

"Inform me the moment he calls in."

"Of course, sir."

"Captain!" Sulu called. "Shields just snapped on. The Romulan D-6 is now 30 degrees to starboard and preparing to fire a plasma weapon!"

Kirk smiled in satisfaction upon hearing that the shields were now in working order; Scotty had obviously had his crew hard at work repairing them and the starboard phaser banks. He didn't trust anyone but himself to repair the coolant unit in the starboard warp nacelle, however -- or anything else having to do with the warp drive.

"Brace yourselves," the Captain warned as Sulu reported that the Romulans had fired the plasma weapon -- but the deadly ball of energy never reached them. An even more powerful photon beam came from seemingly out of nowhere to intercept and destroy it. Kirk's hazel eyes widened in stunned surprise. "What the hell -- ? Sulu, where did that beam come from, and what kind is it?"

"I have no idea, sir. Checking now." A minute later the confused helmsman turned back. "Sensors report that it was a photon beam, but detect no ship or anything which would account for it--"

Suddenly the Captain had a brainstorm. "Spock!"

"Sir?"

"Sulu, don't you see? It's Spock! He's out there in the Tycho Interceptor! It has a cloaking device, so naturally our sensors wouldn't pick it up. It is also designed so that its weapons may be fired even while it's cloaked. He must have used the small photon tube to destroy the energy plasma. That's the only explanation I can think of which makes any sense ... Uhura, how long has it been since Spock left?"

"Twenty-five minutes, sir."

"He should have called in by now. Get him for me."

Thirty seconds later Spock came on. "Captain, is everyone all right?"

"No problems here, Spock. Was that you who fired off that photon beam a couple of minutes ago?"

"Indeed."

"Very resourceful. I wish I could have seen the Romulans' faces when their energy plasma was blasted out of space!"

"Thank you, sir."

"What have you learned? You were late checking in."

"Much, sir -- and my apologies for my tardiness. I felt it logical that I obtain as much information as possible since the Interceptor is cloaked and I am therefore adequately protected. In addition, you requested that I use Code Three and scramble when making contact with you. For that reason, I am certain that the Romulans can neither detect our transmission nor decipher our message."

"Spock, you just earned your pay for the week!"

"Thank you again, sir."

"Are you ready to come back aboard?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then do so. I'll be expecting a full report from you upon arrival."

"Of course, Captain. Spock out."

Five minutes later Kirk felt a firm, affectionate pat on his left shoulder, looking up to find his friend and Chief Surgeon Leonard McCoy standing behind him. "Good morning, Bones."

"Mornin', Jim. What's goin' on up here? I came up to see if y'all were through shakin' the ship around. For a while it felt as though you were driving!"

"Thanks a lot, Bones," came the sardonic reply. "To answer your question, Spock just saved us from a third hit by a Romulan plasma weapon."

"Well, bully for him." The Doctor froze in his tracks upon noting the vacant Science station. "You mean Spock's out there? What for?"

"I sent him out to monitor the Romulans' communications and find out what their plans are. We heard from him a few minutes ago; he's due back any minute. The Interceptor has a cloaking device, so he won't be detected."

"I certainly hope not. That's all we'd need. All the Roms would need to do then is set the plasma weapon on wide dispersal and blast him out of space!"

"Bones, you're a real comfort." Kirk's tone was bitterly sarcastic.

"Sorry, Jim. I know how worried you must be. So am I."

* * *

If the Romulans had been confused when Spock blasted their energy plasma out of space, they were totally mystified at the erratic readings their sensors picked up now. The readings were strong, consistent and definitely real, but they could detect nothing which would account for them.

The female subcenturion (equivalent to Ensign in Starfleet) at the Science station on the Bridge of the D-6 battlecruiser Scavenger frowned in puzzlement and disbelief. There had to be something causing these readings, but not even to save her own life could the Romulan Science Officer have said what it was.

"Commander, I can make no sense whatsoever of these sensor readings. They are like nothing I have ever seen before."

"Keep trying. It has to be a Federation trick!"

"Yes, my Commander." The subcenturion dutifully returned to her totally unfathomable sensor readings, determined to use every ounce of expertise she possessed in order to decipher them.

* * *

"Captain, I seem to be picking up an erratic energy trail."

"From the Romulan vessel, Mr. Sulu?"

"No, sir. The Romulan ship is stationary. This trail darts all over the place, going first one way, then the other."

"Do you think it might be Spock?"

"If it is, he'd do well to get himself and the Tycho on board right away. The cloaking device is useless once the fuel's exhausted and he'll only have an hour's worth of air left."

Kirk was all ready to voice a sharp order for Sulu to keep quiet when Uhura turned around. "Sir, I have Mr. Spock again."

"Audio or video?"

"Both, if you wish."

"I wish. Do it."

Seconds later Spock's image appeared on the screen; the Bridge crew watched in amazement as the Tycho's cockpit rocked back and forth like a bucking bronco trying to throw off a stubborn rider. Spock was doggedly trying his best to maintain control and bring the recalcitrant spacecraft in for a landing in the shuttlecraft bay. Kirk couldn't help but wonder what had happened; everything had been going so well up to now ...

"Spock!" he called. "Spock! Are you all right?"

"I am -- undamaged, Captain," came the coolly dignified reply. "But I seem to be having difficulty maintaining control of the Interceptor."

McCoy laughed. "Spock, you always did have a talent for understatement."

The Vulcan's lips twisted wryly as he wrestled with the Tycho's controls. "Doctor, if you think you can do a better job, I would be glad to exchange places with you."

Kirk laughed like hell at the shocked look on the Doctor's face. "That has to be Spock's snappiest comeback ever ... and even you have to admit you deserved that, Bones."

"Captain, I request -- permission ... to come -- aboard ... " At that moment the Tycho bucked violently again, throwing Spock back in his seat and making him strike the back of his head painfully against the rear bulkhead. "Shit!" he exclaimed as he gingerly rubbed the back of his head.

Everyone on the Bridge sat in stunned silence for a moment, then McCoy laughed again. "Well, so he is half-Human after all!"

Spock turned his head at that remark, getting a horrified look on his face and immediately closing all communications between them. Kirk didn't find his voice until a full three minutes later.

"Bones, was that -- really Spock?"

"None other," the Chief Surgeon chortled.

"But ... but he swore! Spock doesn't -- He hasn't -- I mean, he never swears!"

"Until now. There's a first time for everything, Jim ... and this was long overdue."

"I know, but --"

"No 'buts' about it. This is truly an historic occasion, ranking right up there with the first warp-drive ship. To think that today, stardate 2714.6, at precisely 1132 hours, Spock proved himself as fallible as the rest of us -- by swearing. And doing it beautifully too, I might add ... and all these years, I thought he was above all that!"

"That's enough, Bones. Spock is probably thoroughly mortified at what's happened."

McCoy didn't even break stride. "It won't hurt him to be the one embarrassed for a change. Maybe it'll teach him to mind his tongue."

"Bones, so help me, if you say one word to him --"

"Party pooper," the Doctor complained in a wounded tone, but with a mischievous twinkle in his blue eyes. McCoy reached the turbolift just as the doors opened to admit Spock. The two men acknowledged each other with nods, then Spock made his way to the command chair, the picture of hard-won Vulcan dignity.

"Welcome back, Mr. Spock."

"Thank you, Captain."

"Where's my report?"

"Right here." The Vulcan nonchalantly handed Kirk a computer tape.

"Well done, Spock. Return to your station." The Science Officer nodded and promptly immersed himself in work upon reaching his station.

The Chief Surgeon turned on his heel and walked over to the Science station, mediscanner in hand, to carefully check the back of Spock's head. The First Officer sensed McCoy's presence and turned his head.

"Doctor, I assure you there is absolutely nothing wrong with my head."

McCoy's mouth quirked but he only said, "I'm glad to hear that, but would like to verify it for myself, if you don't mind. You took a pretty nasty blow at the back of your head."

Spock sighed exasperatedly. "As you have said on numerous occasions, Doctor, I have a very thick skull, so I doubt the blow at the back of my head did any serious damage."

For about thirty seconds there was dead silence, then the Enterprise Bridge literally rocked with laughter. McCoy took this opportunity to slip away and lick his wounds in peace. Once again that crazy half-breed managed to get the last word -- but not even Spock would win one hundred percent of the time. He would have another chance ... and would see to it that the Vulcan would be the one to end up with egg on his face.

* * *

Once both senior officers were off-shift, Kirk asked Spock how it felt to have uttered his first swear word. The Vulcan visibly winced. "Captain, I would appreciate it if you did not refer to that most distressing incident after today. I am not proud of it and would prefer to forget about it altogether."

The Captain noted that his friend was overcompensating for his emotional lapse by being double-Vulcan, so he attempted to ease Spock's obvious embarrassment with a few soothing words. "It happens to the best of us sooner or later. It was simply time for it to happen to you."

"Perhaps you are right," Spock admitted.

"Right about what, sir?" Janice Rand passed them on her way to get herself some herbal tea, hearing the tail end of the conversation.

"A personal matter between myself and Mr. Spock," Kirk said.

"Oh." Janice looked disappointed. "I thought it might have been an important command decision or something."

"It may not have been a command decision, but was very important, nonetheless."

"Really?"

"Indeed, yes. One might even say that it has considerable historical significance," the Vulcan confirmed.

"He means that it's an historic occasion, Yeoman," the Captain explained.

"If you say so." The pretty blonde creased her forehead in an uncomprehending frown. After her departure, Spock raised a disapproving eyebrow.

"Captain, was it really necessary to confuse the young lady like that?"

"Why not? You confused her first."

Spock looked so shocked that Kirk had to laugh.

The First Officer eventually stood up and prepared to leave. "I am going to be meditating in my quarters for a time. Do you intend to return to your quarters? Perhaps we could engage in a game of chess."

"Sounds good to me. We haven't played for a long time ... but I need to talk to Scotty first, see if he's got the coolant unit in the starboard nacelle fixed so we can use warp drive again."

"Very well. I will expect you later this evening then, Captain."

After his friend departed, Kirk opened an intercom to Engineering. "Scott here," replied the familiar brogue. "Jus' got back from repairin' th' coolant unit. Gi' me another ten minutes t' check th' intermix chambers an' ah should be able t' give ye all th' warp drive ye wish."

"Thank you, Scotty. You have those ten minutes. Let me know when we can use warp drive again. We're overdue for shore leave at Starbase 12 and that's still a day away, even at maximum warp."

"Aye, sir. Scott out."

Kirk was heading down to his Deck Five quarters in the turbolift when the intercom beeped. "Kirk here."

"Scott here again, sir. Jus' thought ye'd like t' know. Me engines are purrin' like contented kittens. Th' bairns should be able t' handle anythin' ye choose t' throw at 'em."

"Even warp six for twenty-four hours?"

"Ah don' see why not."

Kirk called the Bridge after signing off. "Sulu, plot a course for Starbase 12, warp six."

"Computed and on the board, sir."

"Engage." The mighty starship made the jump from sublight to warp so smoothly that the Captain barely felt it; he called Scotty again after reaching his quarters. "Beautiful, Scotty. You haven't lost your touch."

"Thank ye, sir. Anythin' else?"

"Yes. I was wondering if you were aware that today was an historic occasion."

"It is? Which historic occasion are ye referrin' to, if ah may ask?"

Kirk laughed at the incredulous question. "Never mind, Scotty. I'll explain later." The Captain barely had time to settle onto his bed before his bedside intercom beeped insistently.

"Red alert! Romulan battlecruiser off our port bow!" Sulu's agitated voice announced.

"Captain to Bridge. Sulu, what's going on?"

"The Romulan ship's back, sir. She must have cloaked, for she just seemed to come out of nowhere. I've raised shields and have armed photon torpedo banks two and three --"

"Then lock onto their warp engines and fire before they have a chance to re-cloak," Kirk snapped.

"Aye, sir."

Long moments passed before Sulu returned.

"For God's sake, Sulu, what happened?" the Captain demanded.

"We scored a hit; the Romulan ship's warp engines are badly damaged. They're retreating. I have a feeling they'll think twice before tangling with us again."

"You mean they're leaving?"

"Affirmative."

"Thank God for that. Resume course for Starbase 12."

"Resuming course for Starbase 12, sir. Bridge out."

Kirk again lay back down on his bed after closing down the intercom, falling deeply asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.



Part Two - The Klingons



ONE



Other than the surprise Romulan attack, the trip to Starbase 12 was uneventful. In fact, Kirk had been obliged to do the monthly ship's status reports himself -- something he abhorred and usually delegated to Spock or Rand. He became so engrossed that he didn't hear anything ... not until McCoy banged on his cabin door.

"Jim! For God's sake, open your damn door!"

Startled, Kirk jumped -- and in so doing, accidentally hit the KILL button on his computer console. The computer instantly went blank, erasing all the information he had so painstakingly entered into it for the last three hours ... and saying the one thing he least wanted to hear: REPORT ERASED. 25,000 MEGABYTES CLEARED. READY. The doors opened abruptly after being unlocked, launching an enraged McCoy into the room and throwing him on the floor before silently closing behind him. The Doctor gingerly picked himself up from the floor, giving both the Captain and the offending doors a baleful glare.

"Jim, what the hell are you doing with your doors locked? And why is your 'com shut down?"

Kirk turned on McCoy, livid with rage. "Damn you, Bones!"

The Chief Surgeon was all blue-eyed innocence, his own anger forgotten. "What's the matter with you?"

"What's the matter with me? You made me erase a report I needed -- a report which took over three hours to write, I might add. Just what in God's name is so urgent, anyway?" Kirk's hazel eyes blazed, only half hearing his door buzzer and curtly admitting the next caller. "Come!"

Spock's smooth baritone interrupted the Captain's tirade. "Most illogical, Captain. Your misfortune may have been initiated by the Doctor's disapproval of your locked door, but such anger is uncalled for. He merely wished to --"

Kirk cut off his second-in-command in mid-sentence. "That's enough, Spock. What do you want?"

"There is a priority-one call for you from a Klingon battlecruiser. Its Captain wishes to speak with you."

"Wonderful." Kirk sighed in disgust. "First Romulans, now Klingons. Just the thing to make my day. Bones, what did you want to see me about?"

"Something about being shorthanded in Sickbay, but I suppose it can wait until you aren't so busy."

"In that case, I believe you have work to do."

"Huh? Oh yes, of course."

"I'll see you next beta shift, then."

McCoy waved absently in acknowledgment as he departed, already mumbling about the problems Sickbay was experiencing due to the lack of qualified medical personnel aboard the Enterprise. The Captain smiled at his Chief Surgeon's retreating back, then turned back to Spock after McCoy disappeared around the corner. "Something else, Spock?"

"I have been analyzing the latest readouts from the Beta Aurigae system and find them most disturbing."

"In what way?"

"Long-range sensors have picked up a most unusual reading -- one I cannot recall ever having seen before."

"Explain."

"Sir, it would be much easier to simply show you a visual readout. May I use your screen?"

"Of course."

"Screen on," Spock said after making the necessary adjustments. The small viewscreen on Kirk's desk soon flickered into life, at first showing a normal view of the Beta Aurigae system ... then a small cloud suddenly appeared at one corner of the screen.

"Spock, what in God's name is that?"

"I have determined that is antimatter residue and debris from a destroyed warp nacelle."

"A what? Spock, are you quite sure? Do you know who and where -- ?"

"Quite sure. It is from the U.S.S. Geronimo, a Mark VIII class destroyer. It is half the weight of the Enterprise, 95,000 metric tons ... and somewhat smaller in size, but just as fast -- though it has but one warp nacelle to our two. There are two hundred officers and crew aboard. Commanding officer --"

"Joshua Charles Clarke," Kirk finished.

"Yes, sir. It is registered as NCC-535."

The Captain nodded, remembering Josh Clarke from their Academy days when the pair had roomed together and pulled fraternity pranks on lower classmen. One particular prank involved locking their Tellarite friend Ja-P'ungi in the director's office with a lock-jammer -- an action which had propelled them into the Academy's "Pranksters' Hall of Fame" -- or should that have been "Infamy"? And now Josh was gone…

"Spock, how long ago was the Geronimo in the Beta Aurigae sector?"

"Two hours and eight minutes."

Uhura's crisp voice broke in. "Bridge to Captain."

"What is it, Lieutenant?"

"An urgent message from the Klingon vessel."

"Patch it down here." The Klingon image which appeared on the viewscreen was so frighteningly familiar that Kirk involuntarily shuddered. "Kor!"

"Greetings, Captain Kirk. I had hoped we would meet again under much more -- " The Klingon sought an appropriate word. " -- 'favorable' circumstances."

"Ah, my old 'friend' Kor! How unpleasant it is to see your ugly face again! I do hope we have found you in bad health!"

Kor laughed. "Your attempt at Klingon humor was admirable, if woefully inadequate. However, I believe we have a much more important matter to discuss."

"Get to the point, Kor." Kirk felt cold dread sweep over him.

"We have a Federation officer and his crew in custody for their crimes against the Klingon Empire. They are our hostages ... and their ship has been destroyed."

Kirk's stomach tied in knots as Spock's brows lifted, eyes wide as saucers. "The officer's name is Joshua Clarke."

"Damn you, Kor ... "

"My dear Captain, I have no time for your pathetic Human prattle. We will return Captain Clarke and his crew unharmed for the plans for the Tycho Interceptor spacecraft."

Kirk scowled. "How do we know you really hold them?"

"I assure you that we do, Captain ... and just to prove that, I will allow you to speak with your Captain Clarke."

In the next moment, Clarke's battered face filled the screen. Kirk felt sick when he saw the black eye, swollen and cut lips, as well as black-and-blue marks covering almost every inch of the man's facial skin surface. His fair hair was dappled with blood from a two-inch gash on his right temple; his uniform was in tatters and filthy, the only things identifying it as belonging to a member of Starfleet being the Captain's stripes and command insignia. Joshua Clarke's voice was a painful rasp.

"Jim -- "

"Josh! Are you all right?"

"I'll live. It's my crew I'm worried about. Please help them, Jim. They didn't ask for this to happen to them." Clarke winced as a Klingon disruptor was poked painfully into his three broken ribs.

This is their idea of 'unharmed'? Why, those filthy -- !

"I'll do what I can for them, Josh."

"If anyone can save them, it's you, Jim."

Suddenly Clarke was roughly jerked away. "Enough, Federation pig!"

Kirk's fists clenched until his knuckles turned white. Kor, you sadistic bastard! If I ever get my hands on you, I'll --

Spock placed a gentle hand on his friend's shoulder. "Captain, I know how you must feel, but anger will accomplish nothing. Our primary concern must be the safety of the Geronimo's crew."

"Dammit, Spock, Josh Clarke is my friend! How can I stand by and let those animals abuse him like that?"

"You may have to. Even though he has been brutally beaten, he is alive. If you provoke them, they may kill him. Or worse, torture him ... and force you to watch."

Kirk visibly winced, eyes closing in deep pain before he sighed and looked up into the face of his second-in-command and close friend. The peace and serenity of Spock's sculptured Vulcan features cooled the Captain's anger to a manageable level. The First Officer allowed himself a relieved smile as he felt his Captain's shoulder relax under his hand.

The sight of a fellow officer so abused sickened and infuriated the peace- loving Vulcan as much, if not more, than it did his Human Captain and friend. Fortunately, Spock's Vulcan control enabled him to keep it well in check, though he could empathize with the other Human Captain's horrendous ordeal. At the same time, anger was counterproductive; it would not help Joshua Clarke or save his crew. Their well-being was the top priority of the Enterprise and her crew -- and the only way to accomplish their objective was to remain calm, no matter what the provocation. All the same, Kirk put the ship on yellow alert and had Scotty lock photon torpedo banks one and four on the Klingon ship's engines.

"Kor, what about the Geronimo's crew?"

"The crew has not been harmed, Kirk. However, their safety is very much in jeopardy unless you give me what I want."

"So help me, Kor, if you lay one finger on them -- "

"No threats, Kirk." The burly Klingon's voice was low, ominous.

"Kor, the Geronimo's crew are no threat to you. Let them go. If you have grievances against Josh -- Captain Clarke -- let's take them to the Federation Council. They'll ... "

"Forget it." Kor cut Kirk off. "The only way to win the lives and freedom of your comrades is by handing the plans for the Tycho Interceptor over to us. You have one hour. Kor out."

Kirk again looked up at Spock, searching for answers in the sculptured Vulcan features. "Spock, what the hell am I going to do? I can't hand the Tycho's plans over to the Klingons ... but if I don't, they'll kill Josh and his crew."

"It is indeed a most complex problem, but I assure you that I will do my utmost to devise a suitable solution in the limited time allotted to us. I will contact you within the hour, Captain."

"Do your best, Spock."

The Vulcan nodded with a half-smile before momentarily placing a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder before quietly departing. Kirk had no doubts but that Spock would come up with something which would not only save the Geronimo's crew but Josh, his friend and her Captain. In the meantime, he was going to do what little he could. He called the Bridge, where he'd left Scotty in command.

"Captain to Bridge. Scotty, have you any idea where the Geronimo's crew is being held?"

"Searching now, sir."

"Do you think we'd be able to get them all off in an hour?"

"Aye. Shouldna be any problem ... providin' th' Klingons don' detect our transporter beam b'fore we c'n effect rescue. Wha'e'er else they are, they're nae stupid."

How well I know, Kirk sighed. "Begin transporting them as soon as you find them. Transport as many as possible, the maximum the transporters will handle. In the meantime, sit tight until I contact you again."

"Sir, wha' abou' Captain Clarke?"

"Spock is working on a solution right now, Scotty. I'm sure everything'll turn out fine."

"A' least you hope it will." The Scotsman's voice was quiet and subdued.

"I hope and pray it will, Scotty. Kirk out." It has to work, Kirk told himself. Two hundred lives depend on it!



TWO



Kirk lay down on his bed and tried to relax but found it impossible. He was too keyed up, had too much on his mind. Half an hour later his buzzer sounded. "Come." The Captain felt as though the weight of the galaxy had been lifted off his shoulders when Spock stepped in.

"In here, Spock. What do you have?"

The Vulcan momentarily hesitated, then came inside the sleeping alcove and sat at Kirk's desk. "Captain, I believe I have devised a solution."

"Well, spit it out, for God's sake. We only have twenty minutes left!"

Spock raised an eyebrow but sensed his Captain's impatience, so he kept his explanation brief.

Kirk visibly relaxed as he gave his Vulcan friend a grateful smile. "That's perfect, Spock. I knew I could count on you. Are the alternate plans ready?"

"They are in the Transporter Room awaiting beamout."

"Good. Let's get back up to the Bridge and get this nasty business over with."

* * *

"Uhura, open a hailing frequency to the Klingon ship," the Captain said as he stepped onto the Bridge with Spock at his heels. (Scott had departed several minutes before for the emergency Transporter Room.)

"Open, sir. Go ahead." Kirk sat down in the command chair and pressed the intercom for ship-to-ship communications.

"Kor, this is Kirk. Are you ready to receive the plans?"

The Klingon sounded pleased. "A very wise move on your part, Kirk."

"The plans will be beamed over -- but only after we have received Captain Clarke."

"You drive a hard bargain, Earther," Kor sighed. "Very well. Your Captain Clarke will be beamed aboard your ship now."

"Bridge to Transporter Room," the Captain called a minute later. "Has Captain Clarke been beamed aboard?"

The next voice heard was Clarke's. "I'm here, Jim."

"Josh." Kirk's tone was affectionate. "Do you feel up to walking to Sickbay?"

"I think so."

"Then get there as quickly as you can, so Dr. McCoy can patch you up."

"Thanks, Jim."

"Any time. And don't worry about your crew; they're being rescued."

"Then I want you to come see me as soon as you can. We have a lot to catch up on."

"Count on it. Mr. Kyle, are the plans ready for beamout?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then beam them aboard the Klingon ship immediately. Scotty, how are you doing transporting the Geronimo's crew?"

"Nearly done, sir. Jus' a dozen more."

"Great. Notify me when you're done. Mr. Sulu, prepare to warp us out on my order." He again directed Uhura to open ship-to-ship communications. "Well, do they pass inspection?"

"Not so fast, Kirk," came the terse reply. "We're still checking." (The Klingons had obtained the knowledge and a pirated copy of the Tycho blueprints from a surgically altered spy aboard the Enterprise.)

"Mr. Spock assures me they're accurate. Even if you don't trust me, you must know that anything a Vulcan says is the absolute truth."

Kor scowled menacingly, then smiled when his First Officer reported no discrepancies in the plans. "You double-checked as I ordered?"

"Yes, my lord."

"Very well." He turned to face Kirk. "Fortunately for all concerned, the plans check out. However, you aren't going to win the freedom of Geronimo's crew that easily."

Kirk sighed exasperatedly. "Somehow I really didn't expect to. What do you want now?" At that moment Scotty called to tell the Captain that the last of the luckless Geronimo's crew had been transported aboard. "Excuse me, Kor. My Chief Engineer is calling. Please stand by." He motioned to Uhura to close communications. "Good work, Scotty. Sulu, set a course for Starbase 12, warp eight."

"Course laid in, sir."

"Mr. Sulu, warp eight -- now!"

"Aye, sir. Everyone hang onto your hats!"



THREE



In spite of the helmsman's warning, a good third of the Bridge crew were again spilled from their seats by the momentum of the starship's sudden acceleration. Spock barely managed to keep his seat by grabbing hold of the railing behind him. Kirk and Sulu kept their seats by hanging onto their chair and console respectively. Chekov and Uhura were again thrown to the deck. Chekov picked himself up as Spock assisted Uhura.

"Slow to warp one, Sulu," Kirk ordered once the Enterprise was safely out of range of the Klingon weapons. If they lived through this, he would see to it that seat belts were installed at every Bridge and duty station -- and most importantly, that the chairs were bolted down. "Ensign, Lieutenant ... are you both all right?" Kirk turned to Spock after receiving affirmative replies. "Well, what do you think our old 'friend' thought of that?"

"I would surmise that he was very surprised, Captain," came the sardonic reply from the Science station. "I also suspect that he is most displeased."

"Bones was right about you after all." Upswept brows lifted in astonishment. "You do indeed have a talent for understatement!" The Vulcan's expression was so shocked that Kirk had to laugh. "Spock, I'm going to Sickbay to see Captain Clarke. You have the con."

"Acknowledged."

Kirk swivelled in his chair to face the turbolift, launching himself toward it with a leap and bound. The Science Officer sighed as he watched his superior leave, turning back to his console to complete his work there before assuming command.

* * *

The Captain entered Sickbay five minutes later, smiling a greeting to Head Nurse Christine Chapel as she worked at her desk before entering the convalescent ward where McCoy was still patching up Clarke's various injuries. "How's he doing, Bones?"

The Chief Surgeon grinned wryly. "As well as can be expected, considering what he's been through. If he's anything like you, he'll be on his feet tomorrow, but medically speaking, he should stay in bed for at least a week."

Josh Clarke laughed ... carefully, because of his three broken ribs. "Your Dr. McCoy is certainly right about that, Jim. The only way he's going to get me to stay in bed is to tie me down." At this point Chapel passed by, greeting the three men with a sunny smile. Clarke turned his head to follow her, grinning wickedly as she walked into the next room. "Of course, I might reconsider if you assigned that gorgeous creature to take care of me." He glanced suggestively at the nurse's nicely rounded backside as she walked through the room again.

Kirk laughed. "Now, Josh, I couldn't do that to her."

"And believe me, Captain, that's one lady who can fight her own battles," McCoy warned. "You take even one step out of line and she'll freeze you with one glance. Besides, her affections are already engaged."

"The misfortune of men everywhere," Clarke affirmed. "Who's the lucky man?"

"I'm afraid he doesn't quite see it that way. In fact, he often goes out of his way to avoid her."

"There must be something wrong with him, then. No man with eyes in his head could help but be attracted to her."

"I suppose you could say that," McCoy agreed. "But then, Vulcans never have known what's good for them."

Clarke was genuinely shocked. "You mean to tell me that she's in love with your First Officer, that half-Vulcan ... what's his name -- ?"

"Spock," Kirk supplied.

"But he couldn't begin to appreciate her. What could she possibly see in him?"

"Don't let Chapel hear you say that, Josh. Even as much as it hurts her to be in love with someone like Spock, she's loyal. She'll defend him to the death, whatever the cost to herself."

"As I said, she's far too good for him. Why, I could make her forget that pointy-eared computer in no time at all!"

"Not bloody likely," McCoy rejoined dryly. "You'd have better luck trying to stop a sun from going nova."

"He's got to be kidding," Josh Clarke maintained. "Tell me he's kidding." Kirk twisted his lips and shook his head. "Too bad. A waste of a lovely woman."

"On the other hand, she could do a lot worse," McCoy remarked. "After all, Spock does have a lot going for him ... but for God's sake, don't tell him I said that. He doesn't need his head swelled up any more than it already is. Now out, Captain. My patient needs his rest."

"How can I thank you enough for all you've done?" Clarke called to Kirk as the latter turned to leave.

"You can't, so don't even try. Besides, what are friends for if not to help each other?" Kirk smiled and waved goodbye to his friend, then headed for his quarters and some overdue (not to mention well-deserved) R & R.

* * *

It all seems like a bad dream now. Thank God it's all behind us, Kirk thought gratefully. And I know the perfect way to unwind. That is, if she's willing. Doesn't hurt to ask -- and even if she turns me down, I'll at least have the satisfaction of knowing I tried.

"Bridge. Uhura here."

"Lieutenant, report to my quarters as soon as you're off-shift. I need your help with something very important."

"In that case, wouldn't Mr. Spock be a better choice? After all, he is second-in-command -- "

"I want you, Lieutenant. Spock isn't equipped to supply what I need."

It finally began to dawn on the Bantu woman what the Captain was trying to say. "I see. I'll be there as soon as I can."

At the stroke of shift change, she relinquished her station to her relief and headed for the turbolift. Spock, still sitting in the command chair, lifted his head in surprise after signing a medical report. Having already decided to pull a double shift, he was astonished to note Uhura's unseemly haste to leave. Wholly atypical of the highly efficient and hard-working Communications Officer he knew, one of the few Enterprise crewmembers other than himself who had ever pulled double shifts by choice.

"Where are you going, Miss Uhura?"

"Captain Kirk requested that I help him with something," she replied enigmatically, hoping Spock wouldn't detect her involuntary blush. To her relief, he didn't question her further.

"Very well, Lieutenant. Carry on."

Uhura laughed to herself as the 'lift doors closed behind her. Bad choice of words, Mr. Spock. I'll probably end up doing just that! Be that as it may, the lovely dark woman couldn't help but wonder what was so important that the Captain would need her assistance. She was mystified by his actions; they were unbelievable, totally out of character for him.

He would never send for her without good reason, but there was nothing she could think of that he could not have done for himself, except maybe ... No, that can't be it. She shook her dark head. He knows better -- but that's the only explanation that makes any sense. Uhura had always considered James Kirk one of the most exciting and attractive men she had ever known, but had never allowed herself to entertain thoughts of an intimate relationship with her CO for obvious reasons, not the least of which was that both of them could be court-martialed if caught.

Under different circumstances, she would probably have jumped at the chance to become romantically involved with such a man, but not here -- not on the Enterprise. Outside of here it might be possible, but at present it wasn't worth risking their careers for what would likely be only a passing fancy. She would have to content herself with fantasies. At least they couldn't get her court-martialed.

On the other hand, they (not to mention 428 other people) were confined within the walls of a star- ship in deep space for five years ... and even they were only Human, still flesh and blood. It was only natural for a coed crew to eventually pair off in spite of the often inhibiting 'no fraternization' reg. How could Fleet Command realistically expect four hundred and thirty healthy, attractive adults to turn off their sexual urges for five years?

Uhura had always been the discriminating type, never having been one to leap into bed with every man who asked her. Of course, James Kirk wasn't exactly 'every man' -- and who could say when this opportunity might present itself again ... if, indeed, that was what the Captain had in mind? But she would never know unless she got herself in gear.

Ten minutes after shift change, Uhura found herself at the doors to Kirk's cabin, pressing the buzzer to announce her presence. "Come," he said.

"Lieutenant Uhura reporting as ordered, sir."

The Captain looked up from his computer console. "Good. Have a seat; I'll be with you in a moment." He turned back to the console, punching in letters and numbers like a man possessed ... but eventually pushed himself away from his desk and sighed. "Well, at least that much is done. I think I'll have Yeoman Rand finish the reports for me, though."

Kirk stood up once he had contacted Rand and told her what he wanted her to do, stretching and smoothing his gold shirt after looking Uhura up and down, lingering on her lovely legs which suited him right down to the ground. The Captain's hazel eyes slowly raised to take in the well-rounded bosom which filled out the top of Uhura's brief red uniform so nicely ... and her long, graceful neck, the color of milk chocolate, the lines of which nearly undid him.

God knew they would court-martial him so fast it would make his head swim for even considering an intimate relationship with one of his female officers ... but my God, just what did Fleet Command expect them to do for five years? He couldn't simply turn off the feelings he was experiencing at this moment in time, even if they were of the type which could get him drummed out of the service if anybody higher-up found out. Jim Kirk wasn't a water faucet, able to turn himself on and off on command. He never had been and never would be.

Most of the time, the Enterprise was the only woman he could allow into his life, the only one he had room for -- but there were times when only a flesh-and-blood woman could fulfill his needs ... and this was one of those times. Despite the risks involved in developing an intimate relationship with one of his female crewmembers, at this point it may safely be said that James T. Kirk frankly didn't give one tinker's damn about that -- or anything else but being with her ... being with Uhura. Lovely and feminine, yet hard-working and efficient Uhura.

She shifted uncomfortably under his intense gaze. "Sir, you seem to be doing quite well on your own, so I can't understand why you would send for me. I really should go to my own cabin and get some sleep." Uhura stood up and walked toward the door, intending to leave, but her Captain's sharp voice froze her in her tracks.

"Lieutenant, I order you to stay!" Kirk's voice became quiet, pleading, when she turned to face him. Her large brown eyes widened incredulously at his tone. "Uhura -- Nyota -- please stay. I need you."

The hunger in his hazel eyes was so profound, so naked, that Uhura found herself giving in. Oh God, please forgive me, she prayed. Please try to understand. I need him so much ... "Of course I'll stay, if that's what you want," she said out loud.

"Very much -- but first things first. I assume your relief is on duty at the comm station?"

"Naturally."

"And Spock still has the con?"

"Yes. He's pulling a double shift today."

The Captain frowned but said, "Good. He can handle things for the time being. At the moment, since we are both off-duty, I intend to indulge in an all-too-Human vice -- making love to a beautiful woman." Uhura's eyes widened in surprise and it wasn't lost on Kirk. "But only if the lady is willing," he gently assured her. Her smile answered for her. The next thing she remembered was Kirk motioning her into his sleeping alcove ...



FOUR



Uhura's black head was cradled on Kirk's bare chest when they awakened at 0230 the next morning, snuggled close under warm blankets. He lifted her chin and smiled at her, then kissed her when he saw that she was awake. "Thank you."

"Thank you." Uhura returned his smile and kiss ... then for some reason, Kirk couldn't meet her eyes. She put a hand up to caress his cheek and found it wet with tears. "It's all right; I understand. If you needed me last night, it's no crime. After all, we're still Human, still man and woman."

"But how can I face you after this?"

"Treat me as you always have."

"That's it? Won't you remember anything that's passed between us after you leave here?"

Uhura stroked Kirk's lips with a finger. "Of course I will. I'll cherish it always -- but I don't expect it to change our public attitude toward each other."

He held her close, kissing her dark head. She looked up questioningly upon hearing him chuckle. "You know something? I was just thinking how much better off Spock would be if he could admit that even he has 'yearnings' such as mine and gave in to them on occasion. He would certainly be a lot happier ... not to mention Christine."

"For Heaven's sake, what a thing to say!"

"It's true."

"That's beside the point. Mr. Spock is Vulcan. He's not equipped to truly appreciate a woman like Chris."

"You're starting to sound like Josh Clarke. Spock needs someone to love -- and someone to love him. You have no idea how lonely he is. I do."

"Maybe so, but we can't live his life for him or force the issue. It must happen naturally, of Spock's own free will, or else it would never last ... and that would destroy Chris. She loves him so."

"I know. Sometimes I wish she could get over him and find someone who could love her in return. She's suffered so much because of her feelings for him."

"If only there was a way for her to open his heart, make him more receptive to her. They couldn't be more perfect for each other! Surely even Spock realizes that, even if he won't admit it."

"If I know Chapel, she won't rest until she finds that way into his heart. No more shop talk now. We have more important things to discuss." Kirk once again lifted Uhura's chin and kissed her deeply. It was nearly 0430 when they came back to earth.

"Good morning, Jim. How are you feeling?"

"Ready to go out and lick the world -- or should I say the galaxy?" he said with a smile.

Uhura returned his smile, then got out of bed and began to dress. "I'd better go now. I'm on duty in half an hour."

Kirk was extremely reluctant to let her leave, but knew he must. Both remembered -- felt -- the touch of his hands on her and hers on him. Neither could control the flush which colored their cheeks at the remembrance of the last time they had made love ... slowly, deliciously, savoring every moment. Remaining in bed and watching Uhura dress, Kirk didn't say anything until she started for the door.

"Uhura ... "

"Yes?"

"If I should need you again -- "

"I'll be here. Always," she assured him, coming back and leaning down to kiss him one last time. Kirk watched as Uhura stepped out and the doors closed silently behind her, then smiled as he got up and headed for the sonic shower. Uhura passed Janice Rand in the corridor on her way to the turbolift after departing the Captain's quarters, trying unsuccessfully to hide her Christmas-morning smile at the thought of the night she and Jim had shared.

Janice sensed that something unusual had happened, though she couldn't put her finger on exactly what. All she knew for sure was that the Communications Officer had come from the Captain's cabin with a look on her face like the proverbial cat that got the cream ... and that she didn't like it. Not one damn bit.

"Is the Captain awake?" Rand asked after the two women had exchanged greetings.

"He should be. Why?"

"I need him to sign the reports he told me to do for him."

"You can go check, though I suggest knocking first. I'm on duty in a few minutes, so I'll see you later." Uhura waved before ducking into the turbolift which would take her to the Bridge.

"Yeah, sure," Janice replied absently, frowning at the closed 'lift doors before turning around and heading for Kirk's quarters, papers in hand. Following Uhura's suggestion, she knocked before entering.

"Come," he said, then "Yes, Yeoman? What is it?" upon seeing her.

"Sir, here are the reports on ship's status that you wanted. All ready for you," Rand said in her most professional voice, all the while trying to sneak a look at the sleeping alcove.

"Good; thank you. I'll sure as hell be glad to get these out of my hair."

"I don't blame you, sir."

He gathered the papers together and signed the last one before handing them back to her. "Get these off to Starfleet Command right away."

"Yes, sir," Janice replied dutifully, wishing she could have seen the state of the bed in the sleeping alcove. Of course, it was really none of her business if Uhura had spent the night in the Captain's cabin, but she couldn't help wishing that he had chosen her instead. The knifelike pain of jealousy stabbed her with a vengeance. He was so attractive, so desirable ... but light-years out of reach of a mere Yeoman. She sighed sadly and left before making a fool of herself by blurting out her feelings to him.

Well, no use torturing myself over what can never be. Simply be thankful for whatever crumbs he sees fit to throw my way. Janice now understood how Christine Chapel must feel, what the nurse had to live with each day, loving Mr. Spock as she did. But even as attractive as the Vulcan was, Janice only had eyes for James Kirk.

How she envied Uhura for having spent the night with him! How wonderful it would be to belong to such an extraordinary man, if only for one lovely night ... Snap out of it and get back to work, Janice, Rand scolded herself as she blinked back tears and squared her slender shoulders before making her way back to her station to prepare the signed reports for transmission.



FIVE



McCoy showed up at Kirk's door an hour after shift change with the snifter of Saurian brandy he kept in Sickbay (for medicinal purposes, he claimed). He saw no need to hang around since Clarke was sleeping, resting comfortably. There was nothing more he could do for the man; his own natural healing powers would take over from here. Besides, Christine was there to keep an eye on him. Of course, he wasn't sure he ought to leave her alone with Clarke after the way he had talked about her and looked at her ... On the other hand, Chris could take care of herself. He was more concerned with what might happen should Clarke try to get too friendly with her. Whatever else she was, Christine Chapel was a lady. She wouldn't stand for cave-man tactics from any man, not for one minute. Except Spock, of course, he chuckled wickedly.

Clarke was an admitted skirt-chaser, so Chapel need only freeze him with one glacier-cold look of her blue eyes ... freeze him as she did every other man ill-bred enough to show interest in her. For some unfathomable reason, Christine seemed to be saving herself for Spock, though it was doubtful he would ever claim her.

Be that as it may, she would allow no other man to soil her with his touch. Crazy, sure -- but women often did crazy things when they were in love. No, not in love. Poor Chris was positively besotted, literally obsessed ... and unfortunately she wasn't the only one. Several times he had caught Yeoman Janice making calf-eyes at Jim -- the same hungry looks Christine gave Spock. The Doctor shook his head hopelessly. Whoever could figure out women was a better man than Leonard McCoy...

* * *

Within an hour of the Doctor's arrival, both he and the Captain were roaringly, happily drunk -- and becoming drunker by the minute. Kirk half-reclined on his bed while looking up at the other man from his refilled brandy glass, realizing with a vague regret that he was going to hate both himself and McCoy in the morning.

"Bonnes ... doo youu hafe any alka- alca- alcohol antidode tablets?"

"Sorry, Jim-boy, ah'm out." McCoy's Georgia drawl was most obvious now, as it always was whenever the Doctor had had too much to drink. "Y'all will jus' 'ave t' tough it out."

"Bones, if'n I survife your lettle joke, I'm-a gonna kill ya!"

"Suurre you are, Jim. After t'night, y'all won' be able t' stan' up, much less kill me!"

Moments afterward, Kirk's head flopped down onto his chest as McCoy watched. The Captain of the starship Enterprise had officially passed out. McCoy checked the Captain's vital signs and found them normal for a drunk Human, smiling like the proverbial cat that got the canary.

"Nighty-night, Jim-boy. Happy D.T.'s!" the Doctor mumbled drunkenly to the prone figure on the bed before staggering out the door to his own quarters.

* * *

Kirk awoke hours later with the worst hangover he had ever experienced. He swore at the top of his lungs, immediately regretting it when the voice-activated lights flashed in his face at full intensity. "Oh, dear God, my aching head!" He quietly called for the lights to dim to a bearable level, then slowly stood up, care- fully making his way to his bathroom so as not to jar his sore head. He barely made it to the sink before his stomach inflicted its painful revenge. He managed to stagger out and fall onto the bed by sheer force of will, eventually reaching out (an excruciatingly painful effort) and pushing the intercom for Sickbay. "Bones? Bones, are you there?"

"I'm here, Jim. How d' you feel?"

"How do I feel? Thanks to you, I feel like hell! Oh God, my poor head ... "

"I'll be there in a little while to give you something for the pain. Meanwhile, I suggest you check your chronometer. McCoy out."

Kirk saw that he was an hour and a half late for his duty shift, again swearing with such intensity that he could have blistered the ears of anyone that might have been listening. The intercom beeped at 0735; it was Spock. "Captain -- "

"Yes, Spock, what is it? Oh, lord, my head ... "

"Sir, are you all right?"

Kirk was thankful that at least one person on the ship cared whether he lived or died ... "Captain, may I inform you that you are 1.63 hours late for your duty shift and that I have paged you seven times?" Even though he did try to infuriate him ...

"Logged and acknowledged, Spock. To answer your earlier question, it would seem that the good Doctor tried to kill me last night."

"Understood ... Jim, I can take your shift for you if you are unwell."

"No need, Spock. I'll be up in a few minutes. Thanks anyway. Kirk out."

Now when the Doctor gets here, I'll kill him. For real, the Captain vowed with all the strength left in him. At this point it may safely be said that James T. Kirk was definitely not in a good mood.

* * *

Kirk's anger evaporated when he saw McCoy. "Bones, you look as bad as I feel."

"I swear to God, Jim, it would take two of me to feel worse. My stomach is turning flip-flops, my head feels like it's about to split wide open -- and to top it off, I spent half the night throwing up," the hapless Doctor moaned.

"Then go back to your quarters and take care of yourself. I'm sure Christine would be glad to cover for you."

"That's exactly what I was thinking of doing. What about you?"

"I've got to get to the Bridge. I'm almost two hours late."

"But you look like death warmed over. Have Spock cover for you."

Kirk gingerly shook his head. "He has offered, but I've missed too many shifts this month as it is. One good thing ... at least I'll be sitting down when I take the con."

"Provided you even make it to the Bridge to begin with."

"Bones, just tend to your own knitting," Kirk retorted. "I can handle it."

"If you say so -- but if you don't feel better by the end of the shift, have Chris give you something."

"Anything, anything ... just as long as you get the hell out of here and take care of yourself. That's an order!"

"Yes, sir." The Chief Surgeon shakily saluted and departed.

Kirk left his quarters after dressing and grooming himself, heading straight for the Bridge. Might as well look decent, even if he felt like he was going to die. Spock materialized beside him a moment after he carefully sat down in the command chair.

"It is good to see you, Captain."

"Thank you for holding down the fort until I got here."

"I was simply doing my job," came the matter-of-fact reply ... then the Vulcan frowned with concern. "Jim, you do not look well at all. I believe it would be best for you to return to your quarters and let me take over until you feel better."

"I've had enough of that from McCoy, thank you. Don't worry; I'll be all right."

Spock raised an amused eyebrow. "I assume the good Doctor is also nursing a hangover." After the Captain nodded, the First Officer shook his head, uncomprehending. "Captain, I shall never understand why you and Dr. McCoy insist on imbibing such great quantities of alcoholic beverages. You have said that you do it in order to relax and enjoy yourself, but you invariably become deathly ill. I cannot see any relaxation or enjoyment in such an action."

"Spock, if I wanted a lecture, I would have asked for one. Now get back to work."

The Vulcan didn't budge. "Captain, I really think -- "

"Dammit, Spock, leave me the hell alone. Stop hovering over me!"

"Yes, sir." The Science Officer cautiously retreated to his station with no further comment.

Kirk glared at the other Bridge personnel, daring them to say anything. No one did, but they did give him looks of mingled fear and concern. A short time later Kirk swivelled around to face the Communications station. "Uhura, how long until we reach Starbase 12?"

"Two hours until we're in communications range and six until we're in transporter range," she reported.

"Inform them that we've rescued Captain Clarke and his crew once we're in communications range. They can take them once we arrive."

"Yes, sir."

Kirk swivelled around again and pressed the button for Engineering. "Scotty, Captain Clarke has requested your assistance with his new command. If you don't mind, I would consider it a personal favor if you would help him."

"I already told him I'd be glad t' help him."

"I really appreciate it, Scotty."

"Don' mention it, sir. 'Tis a perfect way f'r me t' relax."

"Enjoy yourself, Scotty."

"Thank ye, sir, ah will. Scott out."

Kirk then got up and headed for the Science station. "Spock?"

The Vulcan looked up from his hooded viewer. "Yes?"

"I'm sorry for snapping at you."

"I understand. You were not feeling well, and I was bothering you -- "

"You weren't bothering me. I shouldn't have bitten your head off for being concerned. You know, I was thinking ... "

"What?"

"Let's spend the weekend together on Starbase 12. Get away from the ship for a while."

Spock was quiet for a moment, then nodded with a half-smile. "That would be most enjoyable. Thank you."



SIX



At 0600 the following morning a smiling McCoy made his way to the Bridge, thinking to spend an hour chewing the fat with Jim and Spock -- but was very surprised (to put it mildly) to find them gone and Sulu in the command chair. "Good morning, Doc."

"Yeah."

"Feeling better?"

"Fine. Uh ... where'd everybody go? Even Scotty's gone."

"I understand that Captain Clarke requested Mr. Scott's assistance with his new command, the U.S.S. Nelson. As for the Captain and Mr. Spock, they beamed over to the starbase hours ago. Captain Kirk said not to disturb you since you probably still weren't feeling well."

"How did Jim ever manage to talk Spock into going? He doesn't usually take shore leave."

"The Captain said something about the two of them spending the weekend there, that he and Spock rarely have an opportunity to spend time together as friends and not Starfleet officers."

"You'd think they could have waited for me," McCoy replied petulantly.

"I got the impression that the Captain wanted to grab the opportunity while it was available ... and that they didn't want to be disturbed by anyone. They even left their communicators behind." The Doctor's face fell. "Though I'm sure they never meant that to include you, Doctor."

"I know. It was just such a surprise."

In spite of McCoy's brave words, the catch in his voice indicated to Sulu that the Doctor was deeply hurt to hear that his two closest friends had taken shore leave without him. Shore leave was no fun without friends to share it with. "I really don't think they'd mind if you beamed over and joined them," Sulu suggested.

The Chief Surgeon shook his head. "If they'd wanted me along, they'd have invited me. I'd better get back to Sickbay now; I've got work to catch up on."

McCoy headed back into the turbolift; Sulu noted the older man's drooping shoulders as the doors slid closed behind him. The helmsman's heart went out to the despondent doctor, dark eyes full of sympathy for the latter's pain.

* * *

McCoy strode glumly back into Sickbay. Chapel looked up from her work at his entrance, frowning with concern upon seeing the melancholy expression on his face. "Leonard, what's the matter? I thought you were going up to the Bridge to see the Captain and Spock."

"I did ... but they weren't there. Sulu said they beamed over to the starbase hours ago. Something about spending the weekend there, if I remember correctly."

After thinking a moment, the nurse looked none too happy herself. She had also had the opportunity to beam over for shore leave, but forfeited it because she had assumed Spock wold remain on board as he usually did, and she preferred to be on board with him -- so to speak. But what if Leonard said was true ... Sharp pain stabbed at her, so intense it momentarily took her breath away -- but she forced a smile.

"Leonard, why don't you and I beam over to the starbase and ... "

McCoy shook his head. "It's sweet of you to offer, Chris. Thank you -- but no." He knew, or thought he knew, her motivation for making the offer and wasn't about to take charity from anybody ... not even Christine, whom he loved like a daughter.

"We should at least do some swimming, bowling or something."

"I don't feel up to swimming -- and I'm a lousy bowler."

"You don't have to be good at it to enjoy it. I'll give you some pointers. Come on; you need something to get your mind off your troubles. I'll get M'Benga to cover for us, then we'll go change into civvies and head for the bowling alley."

"Well ... " the Doctor began reluctantly.

Chapel pulled him out the Sickbay doors by the arm after telling M'Benga where they would be in the event of an emergency; McCoy found himself going along with her. It made him feel better knowing there was still one person on board who enjoyed his company, being with him. Within an hour, the pair was thoroughly engrossed in bowling; the Chief Surgeon found that he was actually having fun and playing better than he ever had in his life, thanks to Chapel's coaching.

"This is fun, Chris ... and best of all, I'm actually hitting the pins! All I usually get are gutter balls."

"I told you you'd enjoy it," she reminded him with a smile just before executing a perfect approach and follow-through which ended in yet another strike -- her third so far in this, their third game. Even when she didn't get strikes, she usually got spares ... all of which they hugged each other for. Especially when he managed to get them!

Both went through several glasses of Altair water in the course of play, since McCoy intended to keep a respectful distance away from Saurian brandy for a long time to come after barely surviving his latest hangover. Time flew by before they realized it; it was well past 1700 before they stopped. The Chief Surgeon gave his Head Nurse a grateful kiss for bringing him out of the dumps before they left the bowling alley and returned to their respective quarters for a shower and change of clothes. Christine suggested they play some 3-D chess after showering.

"I'm not the world's greatest, but I think I could give you a run for your money ... or at least try to."

They met half an hour later in Rec Room Six; after each had won two games, McCoy called Sickbay to find out how things were going. "I can handle things here," M'Benga cheerfully replied. "You and Chapel enjoy yourselves and don't worry your heads about me."

The Chief Surgeon and Head Nurse looked questioningly at each other. "Any more bright ideas on what to do to pass the time?"

Chris shrugged and shook her head. "I was hoping you'd come up with something." Fortunately the problem of what else to do was soon rendered academic ...  



SEVEN



At this moment, Kirk and Spock were walking together in the Starbase's Botanical Gardens, listening to the recorded sounds of small animals and birds and smelling simulated fresh air, along with all the natural smells one would expect in such a setting. Both men wore civilian clothing; the Captain threw his head back, relishing the warmth of the simulated sun on his face and manufactured breeze ruffling his sandy hair ... but most of all, he relished the presence of Spock beside him. Kirk sneaked a look at his alien friend, pleased to note that the Vulcan looked as relaxed as he himself felt.

It was good to know that even Spock could let himself go on occasion -- at least when alone with his closest friend. So far he, Jim, was the only one Spock felt comfortable with, though Kirk naturally hoped that his friend would eventually find a woman with whom he could feel equally relaxed and happy ... and yes, one whom he could love. Christine Chapel might be a good choice -- that is, if Spock would only relax and let things happen naturally. The Captain's reverie was broken by an insistent beeping which sounded suspiciously like a communicator signal. But how could that be when they had left their communicators behind?

"Spock, what the hell is that noise?"

"It would seem that the ship is calling us." Kirk glared at his First Officer. "I know you said to leave our communicators behind, but thought it logical to carry my own in the event we were needed."

Unfortunately Kirk couldn't argue with that. He might have known that Spock would do something like this ... "Well then, I suggest we answer it and find out what they want."

The Vulcan flipped his communicator open after the two men stepped behind some tall bushes. "Spock to Enterprise."

"Sulu here, sir. My apologies for disturbing you, but Admiral Komack wishes to speak with the Captain regarding our next mission."

Spock handed Kirk the communicator. "Kirk here. What did he say?"

"I don't know, sir. He won't talk to anyone but you."

Kirk swore under his breath. "Then you might as well lock onto us and beam us back."

"Aye, sir. Bridge out."

The Captain flipped the communicator closed, sighed exasperatedly and returned it to Spock. "So much for our weekend getaway," Kirk remarked wryly.

"A necessary evil, unfortunately," Spock replied sardonically. The pair materialized seconds later in the Transporter room, barely sparing a nod of greeting in Kyle's direction before running out the door to duck into the nearest turbolift. A chorus of 'welcome-back's and 'good to see you, sir's greeted the two senior officers when they entered the Bridge ... still in civilian clothes since there had been no opportunity for them to change back into their duty uniforms. Kirk slid into the command chair seconds after Sulu vacated it.

"Uhura, put the Admiral through."

"Admiral Komack coming on, sir."

"Kirk here, Admiral. What is the nature of our next mission?" Everyone's faces fell at the Admiral's answer; even Spock frowned. Kirk sighed. "I understand, sir. Kirk out." After Uhura closed the channel, the Captain frowned and muttered, "Shit."

His statement brought strange looks from all around the Bridge, even though his attitude was universally shared. No one enjoyed patrolling the Neutral Zone, particularly the Enterprise crew -- especially not after the run-in with the Romulans there a scant day before. In addition, the routine was so monotonous that even a Vulcan could get bored.

"Sir, must we?" Sulu groaned. "We just came from there!"

"I'm afraid so ... Dammit! Komack knows I hate this. Why does he keep doing this to me? I've told him a thousand times -- " Then an idea struck him, a meditative look crossing the Captain's handsome features. "Spock, come with me. Mr. Sulu, the con is yours." Kirk strode easily off the Bridge, the silent Vulcan at his heels. "Oh yes, before I forget -- set a course for the Neutral Zone."

After changing back into their uniforms, the two men walked leisurely to the Briefing Room. Something has to be up if we're being sent to patrol the Neutral Zone again, Kirk reasoned. If only I could know just what. At a time like this, he needed his other good sounding board ... Bones. Upon entering the Briefing Room, the Captain called for lights and headed for the intercom at his place with the intention of calling Sickbay -- but barely took a handful of steps into the room before all hell broke loose.

* * *

Kirk woke up in Sickbay with Spock and McCoy standing on each side of his diagnostic bed. "S-Spock? B-Bones?" He winced at the pain in his head, but tried to sit up. McCoy's hands gently pushed him back down. "Bones, wh-what hit me?"

"You were ambushed, Jim."

"What?"

"It would seem that somebody on board doesn't like you. You activated a small concussion grenade with a voice-activated trigger mechanism when you called for lights in the Briefing Room, according to Security. Thank God Spock was close by; he carried you here. Now stop worrying and relax. Everything's under control. Sulu has the con, the suspects are in the Brig and Spock has questioned them thoroughly."

"But I've got to -- "

"You've 'got to', nothing! You're staying here where you belong -- where I can keep an eye on you. You've got a lump on your head the size of a pigeon's egg, which you sustained when you struck your head on the table as you went down. Lucky for you you've got such a hard head; otherwise you'd have a bad concussion. The way things are, you'll simply have headaches for a few days."

"Bones, I'm giving you a direct order. You must let me -- "

"Forget it, Jim. In this case, my orders supersede yours. Now you either stay willingly or I give you something to put you out for the rest of the day."

"Is that a threat?"

"That's a promise."

"In other words, you have no intention of letting me go any time soon."

"No way."

Kirk sighed in disgust. It was useless to argue with McCoy when he was in a stubborn mood. Doctors had a talent for always getting you in the end ... In any case, the Captain reluctantly lay back and soon fell into a deep sleep.

* * *

Kirk spent the night in Sickbay, mainly to please McCoy. After checking the Captain thoroughly and reluctantly pronouncing him fit, the Doctor gave him a bottle of red pills, admonishing him to take them with meals or as needed for pain. (The lump had stopped swelling but was still painful and very noticeable.)

"For God's sake, will you be more careful after this? You could have been killed!" The Chief Surgeon's voice was stern but held a note of deep affection.

"Aren't I always?" the Captain grinned mischievously, laughing along with Christine at the pained look on McCoy's face. Spock raised an amused eyebrow. "It's not good for you to worry so much, Bones. I'll be fine."

"You'd damn well better be. I'm a doctor, not a mother hen," McCoy grumbled, affectionately exasperated.

"See you both later," Kirk replied with a wave, still chuckling as he left Sickbay with Spock. The latter stepped onto the turbolift going to the Bridge; the Captain ducked into one heading for Deck Five, though he would have preferred to join Spock. Unfortunately McCoy had made him promise to spend the rest of the day in his quarters taking it easy. (In fact the Doctor had made that one of the conditions on which he would release him.) To make matters worse, Kirk suspected that this was one time when Spock agreed with McCoy ... and he couldn't fight both of them.

After the doors of Kirk's quarters closed behind him, he sat down on his bed, removed his boots and reclined, attempting to relax by reading one of his favorite classics Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. The story reminded him of all the separations from loved ones he had had to endure for the sake of his Starfleet duties. He was well into the third chapter when the bedside intercom interrupted. He lay the book face down on his chest and reached to open the intercom. "Kirk here."

"Sulu here, Captain. We'll be arriving at the Neutral Zone within the hour."

"Let me know when we arrive. Anything else I should know?"

"No problems here, sir. Oh yes, Uhura says to ask you how you're feeling."

"Better, thank you. Right now I'm catching up on some reading. Which reminds me, I'd better get back to it before McCoy reads me the riot act. I promised him I'd relax."

"I'll let you get back to your book, then. Bridge out."

Kirk lay back on his bed and resumed reading; moments later his buzzer sounded. He pressed the button to unlock the door. "Come." He smiled upon seeing Spock step in.

"How are you feeling, Captain?"

"Like the laziest bum in the galaxy. I should be on the Bridge." Kirk put the book face down on the bed and gingerly sat up as Spock seated himself near him.

"The Doctor would strongly disapprove."

"Tell me something I don't know," Kirk sighed. A troubled look crossed the Vulcan's normally impassive face. "Come on, Spock, I know that look. What's bothering you?"

"Mr. Scott."

"What about him?"

"Since we had to leave the Starbase so quickly, there was no opportunity to inform him of our departure."

"That's all right. I'm sure he'll understand it was necessary."

"Perhaps. All the same, I suspect that he will not relish the idea of having Mr. DeSalle in charge of Engineering, especially if it should become necessary for us to go into battle."

The Captain looked thoughtful. "You have a point there. Scotty's always been fussy where his precious 'bairns' are concerned. He may never forgive me for leaving him behind." Kirk sighed again. "If necessary, I'll send you down to help DeSalle."

Spock nodded quietly, then stood up and turned toward the door. "I had best return to the Bridge now -- but wished to see you and find out how you were progressing."

"Thank you, Spock."

The First Officer nodded with a half-smile and departed. The Captain went into his bathroom and took one of the red pills with a half-glass of water. It began to take effect as he reached his bed and lay down again. Moments later he was stretched out full-length, sound asleep.



EIGHT



An hour later Kirk was jolted awake, nearly thrown off his bed by a plasma energy blast on the Enterprise's forward deflector shields. He automatically reached for the bedside intercom. "Captain to Bridge. Sulu, what the hell's happening?" He heard the red-alert klaxon wailing as the helmsman explained.

"Sir, the shields snapped on a few minutes ago. Sensors detect a Romulan Bird of Prey, bearing 35 degrees mark 240. Range, about 125,000 kilometers to port."

"Are we violating the Neutral Zone?"

"No, sir. I just can't understand -- " At this point the starship was rocked violently by a phaser attack on her starboard bow.

"What in heaven's name was that?"

"Sensors now picking up a Klingon D-7 battlecruiser, bearing 30 degrees mark 225, approximately 130,000 kilometers to starboard."

"Maintain fore and aft shields at full power, Mr. Sulu. Chekov, lock all phasers on targets and fire on my order," Kirk barked, running over to his desk viewscreen and turning it on. Sharp pain stabbed through his temple as he moved, but he forced himself to ignore it.

The two enemy ships seemed to be hovering after their initial attack, but Kirk knew from long experience that they often did that in an attempt to trick adversaries such as themselves into lowering their shields, thinking the battle over when in reality it had only just begun ... leaving themselves vulnerable to attack. Taking one shot and moving off was not the Klingon way -- unless they intended to destroy. After five minutes of this, Kirk said, "Put phasers on standby, Mr. Chekov, but be ready for anything. Keep me informed of any other unusual behavior on their part."

"Aye, sir."

Kirk closed down the intercom and viewscreen, again wincing with pain as he made his way back to his bed and lay down. This was all he needed, having both the Klingons and Romulans on their tails -- especially when he was incapacitated with his head injury. The explosion which had caused it had been instigated by a pair of what had turned out to be Romulan spies, now held in the maximum security Brig. Thank God for Spock, his best, closest friend ... not to mention the finest First and Science Officer in the entire Federation. Kirk didn't know what he would do without him, frankly hoping he would never have to find out.

As for the Security men, they were often unsung heroes -- unhesitatingly risking their lives on unfamiliar, often hostile, planets or trying to maintain order aboard ship. Worst of all was the way so many had died. It was something every commander had to face sooner or later, the death of one or more crewmen ... but something Kirk doubted he would ever get used to. Death was always tragic, particularly when it happened to the young.

As Spock had once said, no one had ever claimed that starship duty was particularly safe. Kirk knew his Vulcan friend was right, but that didn't make it any less painful to lose them. He felt their loss as keenly as though they had been members of his family -- and in a very real sense, they were. The Captain's eyes snapped open at the sound of his intercom once again beeping insistently. He reached over and opened it, having neither the strength nor inclination to move to his desk monitor.

"Bridge to Captain," Uhura said.

"Yes, Uhura. What is it?"

"I have received calls from the Lafayette and the Lexington, two other Federation ships in this sector. They have been monitoring our situation and are coming to assist. However, Commodore Wesley of the Lexington said not to expect them in less than two hours."

"We should be able to manage until they get here, provided the Klingons and Romulans don't suddenly take it into their heads to fire on us at the same time."

"I'll let you know when they arrive."

"Thank you, Uhura. Captain out." He closed the intercom to the Bridge and opened one to Engineering. "Kirk to Engineering. Come in, Mr. DeSalle." The Frenchman answered immediately, if breathlessly. "DeSalle, what have you been doing?"

"Just got back from checking the intermix chambers."

"How are they holding up?"

"No problems so far, sir -- but I had to make sure, since Scotty would have my hide if anything happened to the engines."

The Captain felt a momentary sympathy for the harried young Assistant Chief Engineer. DeSalle wasn't used to taking over completely, for Scotty rarely left the ship for more than a day or two. In this case, however, Kirk doubted they would be able to get back to Starbase 12 where Scotty was (he had also beamed over for shore leave, going his own way upon arrival ... but they had had to leave so quickly that there was no opportunity to inform him) in less than a week, even at maximum warp and even if all went well. God, how he wished Scotty was here now!

Not that DeSalle wasn't a competent officer; it was only that he was relatively inexperienced at handling the engines during a crisis situation -- and with two enemy ships just itching for a fight with the Enterprise, their present situation definitely qualified. Kirk would have felt infinitely safer with Scotty's experienced hand nursemaiding the engines, but all he could do for the present was pray that some of the Chief Engineer's expertise had rubbed off and DeSalle would be able to keep the Enterprise's engines in running order.

"Then I won't keep you any longer. Keep the engines on-line, Mister. We need every ounce of power we can muster."

"I'll do my best, sir."

"One last thing. Be sure to check the dilithium couplings. See that the crystals don't burn out at a critical moment. Call the Bridge if you need help. Mr. Spock will be glad to help you."

"Aye, sir. Thank you. DeSalle out."

Kirk lay back on his pillow and closed his eyes, covering them with his right arm to block out the light. His head was killing him and he knew he needed another pill, but if he made any move, it hurt all the more ... so he resigned himself to lying quietly and not moving a muscle unless absolutely necessary. If the pain got any worse, he would have to call McCoy or Chapel, have one of them give him a shot of ryphentinal, a potent painkiller that was quick and effective, but which had its share of unpleasant side effects -- among them occasional nightmares and a very metallic taste in his mouth. Be that as it may, he would gladly take his chances if it meant getting rid of the excruciating pain in his head ... even for a little while.

* * *

Eventually the pain subsided long enough for the Captain to take another pill and lie down again. Roughly two hours later he was again awakened by the loud wailing of the red-alert klaxon and Spock announcing, "Red alert. All hands to battle stations. This is no drill ... repeat, this is no drill!"

Kirk jumped up and was out the door before he realized what he was doing, barely remembering to put his boots on before automatically heading for the 'lift which would take him to the Bridge. He still didn't feel too great, but could stand it until the crisis was past. Right now the safety of his ship and her crew was what mattered. Everyone looked up in surprise when the turbolift doors opened to admit Kirk, but their smiles told him how glad they were to see him again. Spock noted his superior's arrival with a raised eyebrow and half-smile.

"Mr. Spock, if I may -- "

"Of course, Captain. It is good to see you on the Bridge again, though I did not expect to see you back so soon. Has the Doctor released you?"

"No." Kirk held up a hand before the First Officer could protest. "Later, Spock. I'm all right." The Vulcan frowned with concern but made no further comment. "Now fill me in on what's been going on."

Moments later Kirk speculated, "Then it would seem that the two Empires are indeed in league against us, as Fleet Command suspected."

"Apparently not, sir," Sulu contradicted.

"What?"

"Sensors show that the Klingons have fired photon torpedoes at the Romulan vessel."

"Visual," Kirk snapped. The Bridge crew watched in amazement as the Bird of Prey engaged in evasive maneuvers, barely managing to move out of the way before Klingon photon torpedoes grazed their starboard underside. For some strange reason, the two enemy ships ignored the Federation starship and attacked each other instead -- at least for the moment.

"Spock." The Vulcan swivelled in his chair at the Science station. "Do you think the Romulans knew that the Klingons were planning to attack them?"

"I would say not, Captain ... just as their so-called 'treaty' seems tenuous at best. Both sides are ready to disregard it whenever it suits them to do so. Most illogical, especially in view of the fact that both races have a 'grudge' against not only the Enterprise, but the Federation as well."

"Then why are they firing on each other instead of us?" the Captain wondered after Chekov reported that the Romulans had returned fire, managing to score a hit to the Klingon ship's engines.

"Unknown. I can offer no logical explanation for their actions."

Kirk grinned to himself once he got over the initial shock of Spock's incredible statement. Bones would love this. I'm sure glad he's down in Sickbay.

As if on cue, the Doctor hopped nimbly out of the turbolift. "Do my ears deceive me or did I just hear our all-wise Vulcan friend actually admit to the all-too-Human vice of ignorance?"

Kirk's voice and look were pained. "Bones, don't. I don't need you and Spock bickering on top of everything else."

McCoy had been addressing his remarks to the Bridge crew in general, but now whirled to face his Captain ... who would have done well to have kept his mouth shut. "Dammit, Jim, I thought I told you to go to your quarters and take it easy!"

"I did, for your information. It nearly drove me up the proverbial wall!"

McCoy didn't even slow down. "I should have known you'd sneak back up here the minute my back was turned."

"For God's sake, Bones, I'm the Captain of this ship! This is where I belong -- "

"Not when you're ill or injured, it isn't," the Doctor retorted. "You belong in bed resting. I knew I should have kept you in Sickbay, even tied you down if necessary."

Spock smoothly interrupted. "Doctor, recriminations will not change the fact that Jim is here. I suggest you return to Sickbay and ... "

McCoy cut the Vulcan off with a furious rejoinder. "You keep out of this, you -- you green-blooded, computerized mongrel! I'm Chief Surgeon on this ship and what I say goes whenever anyone is sick or injured ... even the Captain. So I'd appreciate it if you'd stick to your damn computers and keep your supercilious Vulcan nose the hell out of my business!"

Everyone looked at McCoy in shock and disbelief, but the Doctor didn't give an inch. For a moment Spock looked astonished and hurt, then his face lapsed into its usual serene expression. "As you wish, Doctor."

"Thank you." The surgeon turned on his heel, stepped into the 'lift and was gone with his head held high and a look of triumph on his weathered face. The crew looked at each other in shocked silence after McCoy's departure, then at Kirk and Spock. Uhura looked like she wanted to say something, but clamped her mouth shut after Kirk gave her a hard look and shook his head. Sulu was probably the only one of the Bridge personnel who might have understood the reason for McCoy staging such a scene, but would keep his opinion to himself unless it was asked for.

"Mr. Sulu, change our heading so we again face the two enemy ships. Mr. Chekov, lock photon torpedo banks five and six onto the engines of the Klingon and Romulan vessels, then have them armed and ready to fire at my command. Then once they're fired, I want you to -- Hold it a moment ... Bridge to Engineering. Mr. DeSalle, are you there?"

"Yes, sir," replied the Frenchman.

"Can the engines make warp five immediately if I call for it? And I do mean immediately."

"Shouldn't be any problem. Why?"

"Just have them ready to go on my order. And DeSalle -- "

"Sir?"

"If the engines deliver, there's a bottle of the best Scotch in the Federation for both you and Mr. Scott."

"Yes, sir! Thank you, sir. DeSalle out."

"Spock," Kirk called after closing the intercom to Engineering. No answer. "Spock!"

"Yes, Captain?" The Vulcan was still too stunned from McCoy's unexpected attack to react with his usual alacrity. Worst of all, he still could not come up with a logical explanation for the enemy's actions. There were some things which defied all logic ...

"When this is over, what would you say to our going down to the gym and -- " Suddenly the red-alert klaxon wailed again and the deflector shields snapped on. "What the hell's going ... " the Captain began.

"The Bird of Prey, sir. She's firing atomic missiles," Sulu reported.

"I was wondering when they'd get around to us again. Ready, Sulu, Chekov?"

"Ready," the helmsman and navigator answered as one.

"Go, then!" The Enterprise rocked as the photon torpedoes shot out of the tubes. "Now, Sulu! Lay in a course for Starbase 12, warp five, before they realize what's happened!"

"Aye, sir. Course plotted and laid in."

"Engage!" Kirk snapped. To his delight, the engines responded instantly to the touch of Sulu's finger. Everyone hung on for dear life to whatever was solid and handy as power surged through every inch of the starship's metal frame. "Well done, Mr. DeSalle. Scotty would be proud of you!"

"Thank you, sir." The Assistant Chief Engineer basked in well-deserved praise as his voice filtered through the open intercom.

"Cut speed to warp three, Mr. Sulu," Kirk said once they had gone a safe distance. "Steady as she goes."

Just then the Sickbay intercom button began flashing; Kirk again heard McCoy's angry voice once he opened it. "Just what the hell are you trying to do up there, Jim? You accelerated so abruptly that it caught Christine off-guard and threw her against the bulkhead. Thanks to you, she's been knocked cold!"

Kirk was instantly sorry. "Oh, dear God. Is she all right?"

"She will be ... but she has a bad concussion and sprained wrist. It took the full weight of her body when she collapsed. She's sleeping right now, but Jim, she's not going to be able to work for at least a week -- and we're shorthanded as it is. Oh yes, there's one other thing ... but I can't put it on speakers. I just need to see you and Spock right away."

"On our way, Bones. Kirk out." The Captain stood up and started for the turbolift, beckoning to Spock with a two-fingered motion. The Vulcan followed silently as Sulu automatically assumed the center seat.



Part Three - Spock and Christine



ONE



"She wants what?" Kirk could scarcely fathom what McCoy had just said.

"She wants Spock to be here beside her when she wakes up. This was before she passed out. I told her I couldn't promise he would be there, but she made me promise to try ... so I'm trying."

"But you know how uncomfortable he feels around her, Bones. I can't ask him to do such a thing."

"Dammit, Jim, don't make it sound like a sin! For God's sake, the woman loves him. Is it asking so much to grant her this one small request? It's not as if I'm asking him to marry her."

"I know, but -- "

McCoy glared at the silent Vulcan. "Dammit, Spock, aren't you going to say anything? It is vital to her recovery that you be there with her when she wakes up. It would mean everything to her, and you can certainly stand to be around her a few hours. Christine is an attractive woman, personable and intelligent -- much like Uhura, and you're around her eight hours a day on the Bridge. Christine's only crime is loving you. I hope you aren't going to be so petty as to hold that one Human weakness against her.

"We're going to be severely shorthanded as long as she's laid up, so we need her back on the job as soon as possible. If you can help her get there sooner, I intend to see to it that you do all you possibly can for her -- even if it nearly kills you. At the very least, act like you want to be her friend. I've lost count of all the times she's bent over backwards to take care of you, do things for you. Don't you think it's time she got a little something in return?"

Even Kirk couldn't argue with that kind of logic, though he looked like he wanted to.

"Well, Spock, are you going to do it? Surely you can see the logic of it, of getting Christine back on her feet at the earliest possible time."

Spock sighed and spoke for the first time since his arrival. "Since you put it that way, Doctor, it would be selfish of me to refuse. When is she due to awaken?"

"About 1900 tonight. I'll leave the Sickbay doors unlocked for you if you like -- and don't panic. If you find you can't handle it, you have only to call me and I'll come stay with her. I'll be in my quarters studying my latest medical journals."

The First Officer raised a disdainful eyebrow. He knew a challenge when he heard one -- and let it never be said that a Vulcan ever backed down from a challenge. "That will be sufficient, Doctor. Do not concern yourself with me. I should have no problems ministering to Miss Chapel."

"Oh yes, one other thing." This time both Spock and Kirk frowned. "Don't worry, it's nothing drastic. She simply wants you to call her by her first name. Most women like being called by their first name and Miss Chapel is no exception. It would only be for the duration of her stay in Sickbay and only when you're alone together."

Kirk exploded. "Dammit, Bones, I don't believe you! Isn't it enough that he's agreed to stay with her?"

"For chrissake, Jim, it's not going to hurt him to be civil to her! And this may actually come as a shock to him, but she's really a nice person and not a Typhoid Mary, as he prefers to believe."

"Damn you, Bones ... " Kirk sputtered.

"It is all right, Captain. The Doctor is correct. It is the least I can do for her after all she has done for me."

Kirk sighed. "In that case, Spock, you may do as you think best."

"Thank you, Captain. I will return at 1900, Doctor."

"I trust you'll take good care of her."

"Of course."

"There is also medication she must take for her headaches. See that she takes it." And that, as they say, was that.

* * *

At precisely 1900 Spock was sitting in a chair beside Christine's bed in the convalescent ward of the Enterprise's Sickbay. He watched her sleep, noting her rhythmic breathing, the Cheshire-cat smile on her lips and the pink flush of her cheeks. A bandage was wound around her head, reaching to just above her penciled brows. A wrist brace circled her sprained wrist, her hair looking dark grey in the dim light over the head of the bed.

Spock was somehow reminded of the time he had returned home from school at age ten to inadvertently catch his mother napping on the living room sofa. He had stood and watched her a moment, then continued on to his room. For Vulcan's sake, he hadn't thought of that in years! Very strange how he happened to think of it at this particular moment ... At ten minutes past the hour Christine began to stir, yawning deeply and stretching -- then her eyes opened. For a moment they had a problem focusing, then she was fully awake and looking up at him, softly smiling upon realizing who was beside her.

"Spock ... you are here. It is you. I was sure I was still dreaming."

"Yes. I am here as you requested."

"Thank you. I know how difficult this must be for you, so I really appreciate your thoughtfulness." She sank weakly back on her pillow, wincing with pain.

"Are you in pain, Miss Chap -- Christine? Shall I get your medication? Dr. McCoy said there was some medication you must take."

"It isn't time for my medication yet ... and you don't have to do a thing for me but be here. I wish I could tell you how much it means to me just knowing you're here."

"As long as it pleases you."

Christine closed her eyes for a few moments, then opened them again and sighed deeply. "Spock?"

"Yes?"

"Nothing. I just want to look at you."

He sighed and allowed her to look at him. When he involuntarily shifted in the chair, she frowned with concern. "Did I make you uncomfortable, the way I was looking at you? I won't do it any more if you don't want me to."

"It is all right, Christine. I don't mind," Spock found himself saying.

Her eyes became large and incredulous. "You really mean that, don't you?"

"Vulcans never lie, Christine."

Consequently Spock was surprised when Christine reached up and put her left hand on his right cheek. His heartbeat quickened in spite of himself, face flushed a pale green. He repeated, I must control. I must control, over and over, especially when she began to stroke his lips with a finger. He had not felt this way in her presence since Psi 2000 ... only there was no virus affecting them now. Be that as it may, he dared not relax his control, even for a moment; otherwise he would have been lost beyond recall. If only he could have made them, and her, understand. He avoided her not because she was unexciting, but because she was far too exciting.

At this point in time, he wasn't ready to enter into any kind of romantic involvement with anyone -- but when he was, he was fairly certain he would choose a Human wife as his father had. Vulcans did not enter into casual romantic relationships. When they consented to romance, it usually mentioned marriage.

Dating as such was fairly rare in Vulcan culture; in fact there wasn't even a word for it in their language. The only people on Vulcan who had ever dated (that he was aware of, at any rate) were his parents ... and they had only done so while on Earth. They had been married by the time they returned to Vulcan.

Spock shook his head fiercely. For Vulcan's sake, he had to stop thinking like this! It was illogical, unworthy of a Vulcan. He was here merely as a friend to help Christine return to health -- nothing more. He reached up and gently removed her hand from his face, feeling her warm, silky skin for a brief moment before placing her hand back on the bed.

"Christine, I would prefer it if you did not touch me in that manner." His voice was gentle but firm.

"I'm sorry, Spock. I forgot myself." She yawned deeply and stretched like a cat. "What time is it?"

"Almost 2400." Surprising how fast time had passed ...

"You'd better give me my medication now."

He went into the adjoining bathroom, returning with water for her, placing the pill in her left hand and the half-full glass in her right. Their fingers brushed; the contact was like an electric shock. Both involuntarily jerked their hands back; Christine so quickly that she nearly spilled the water in her lap.

"I am sorry to have startled you. Did you spill any water?"

"No, it's all right."

Spock allowed himself a smile at her nervous trembling. "I am glad to hear that. Is there anything else I could do for you?"

Christine smiled and thought, Plenty, but popped the pill into her mouth along with a swallow of water, leaning her head back so she wouldn't have to look at him. He took the glass and placed it on the bedside table, making sure not to touch her again. "The pill should work in a few minutes, so you'll be free to go after that. Until then, I'd like you to hold my hand."

He raised an eyebrow at her but said, "Very well," picking up her injured hand where it rested on the bedcovers and entwining her fingers with his, feeling her pulse rate increase as his grip gently tightened.



TWO



Christine lay back on her pillow, closing her eyes and sighing contentedly, softly murmuring, "Thank you," before seemingly falling asleep. Spock carefully released her hand and replaced it on the bedcovers once he was satisfied she was asleep. After standing up and stretching, he impulsively leaned down and brushed her lips with his. They felt soft, warm and sweet during the brief contact, but he dared not linger. Spock straightened up and turned to leave, surprised to hear her call to him.

"Spock, will you come back tomorrow?"

"If you wish it."

"I do ... and could you bring your lyrette, too? I'd love to have you play for me. That would put me to sleep without your having to touch me."

Spock detected a note of sadness in Christine's voice, suspecting that she had said it for his benefit. "I suppose I could ... and I assure you that I do not mind touching you. You are not unattractive, and I find you intelligent, enjoyable company -- as long as you make sure to control yourself and your feelings."

"Whatever you say, Spock."

"Go to sleep now. I will return tomorrow after my duty shift."

Spock told the lights to turn off as he departed. Christine lay in the dark, reliving the feel of Spock's hand holding hers ... so warm and strong, but infinitely gentle because of her injured wrist. Not to mention the brief kiss he had given her. His lips were every bit as sweet as she had always imagined they were; it had been all she could do not to respond to the feather-light pressure. It would only have frightened him and that was the last thing she wanted. She must be patient, take things as they came ... go slowly, no matter how difficult that might prove to be.

* * *

Christine woke at ten to McCoy's smiling face. Such a dear, sweet man -- and a marvelous doctor. She loved him like an older brother or father, considering herself fortunate to have his friendship. All the same, the hours seemed endless until 1400, when Spock was due to return. She knew he would keep his word, but was still afraid he might not show up. Her heart ached with the love and desire she dared not show, feeling so full that it threatened to break through the wall of her chest. Oh Spock, please do come. I live only for the moments I spend with you.

At that moment McCoy came by and saw the look on her face. "Don't worry, Chris. He'll be here. You can count on that."

"I know, Leonard. I just get so impatient waiting for him to come."

* * *

Spock arrived at the stroke of two (1400), lyrette tucked under his right arm. He held the exotic instrument in his lap as he sat on the bed beside hers, playing expertly as his long, slender fingers alternately plucked the strings and adjusted the tone dials. Just as expertly as he plays my heartstrings, Christine sighed. Later that night he thrilled her by not only playing, but singing -- at her request. At first he had been reluctant, since he had only shared his songs with Jim, his mother, and occasionally Uhura ... but if there were any other who would understand the loneliness reflected in those songs, it was Christine. He did some in his native language, then in Standard. As beautiful as they were in Vulcan, they were even more so in Standard.

"I know how private your songs are to you, so I am honored that you would share them with me," Christine had told him. Spock had even offered to play some new songs he was writing once they were finished; Christine had smiled and said, "That would be very nice, thank you." He had even asked if there was any song she would particularly like to hear.

Christine thought for a moment, then said she wanted to hear Beyond Antares, a popular love ballad. Uncanny how that was also one of Spock's own favorites; he had always enjoyed hearing Uhura sing it. After adjusting the tone dials and tension in a few of the strings, Spock began to sing, his smooth, rich baritone clear and true. Spock knew he would always remember the way Christine's eyes had misted with tears of happiness, her cheeks glowing when he finished.

"Thank you, Spock. That was beautiful."

He allowed himself to smile at her, surprised to hear appreciative applause behind them. He turned to find Leonard McCoy standing in the doorway, smiling. "Very nice, Spock. I didn't know you had it in you."

"Life is full of surprises, Doctor."

Christine had become a better friend that Spock had imagined or believed possible, though he had always dismissed the notion that one day it could perhaps turn into much more. If it was meant to happen, it would. In the meantime, he was content to simply warm his lonely heart on the hearth of her friendship.

"Could you do something else for me?" Christine asked after McCoy left.

"Like what?"

"Please hold me until I fall asleep." He raised an astonished eyebrow. "I'm sorry. That's probably too much to expect. Forgive me."

Christine looked so sad that Spock's heart melted, though the Vulcan part of him warned that he was treading into dangerous waters. But what harm could it do to grant her this one request? "Very well -- but only until you fall asleep." She smiled and thanked him.

He made no reply, simply motioned her to sit up so he could draw her into his strong but gentle embrace. Her head was cradled on his chest; she closed her eyes and sighed happily. Eventually Christine's head grew heavy; Spock looked down and saw that she had fallen asleep. He was suddenly very reluctant to release her, but knew he must while he still could. Be that as it may, what was so wrong with stroking and kissing her hair before doing so? Plenty, his Vulcan half again warned -- but once again his emotional Human half somehow prevailed.

What was happening to him that he would knowingly do such things? His emotional lapses rarely happened twice a week, much less twice in one day. He would have discontinued his visits but for the fact that two days of his presence had been of more benefit to her than a week of McCoy's treatment. Despite the risk, it was for that reason that he eventually decided it was more logical to continue until she was due to be released. The hand which had held Christine's gently stroked her hair, his lips softly kissing the top of her head, inhaling the scent of honeysuckle from her hair. He then lay her down on her pillow and tucked the covers around her, touching her cheek before quietly telling the lights to go out -- then picked up his lyrette and headed out, unexpectedly running into McCoy. The Chief Surgeon gave the Vulcan a knowing smile.

"Now I know why Chris has been looking like the proverbial cat that got the canary."

"You have a nasty mind, Doctor. It is not like that at all."

"Isn't it? I wasn't born yesterday, Spock. I know what usually makes a woman smile like that."

Spock sighed exasperatedly. "Doctor, I have no time to argue the point with you now. I only want to get some rest before my duty shift begins." The First Officer stepped around the Doctor and out into the corridor, only to run into Kirk. The Captain was coming to have his head checked out, make sure the lump was healing properly. His eyebrows rose upon seeing the lyrette under the Vulcan's arm.

"Playing for Miss Chapel, I take it."

Spock inclined his head. "She asked me to bring it and play for her. It helps her to relax and sleep."

"How's she doing?"

"Quite well. Dr. McCoy has cut her medication to one pill at bedtime."

"I feel so bad for what happened to her." The Captain's voice was filled with regret.

"She understands it was necessary and bears you no ill will. Self-recrimination will not change matters now. Why not stop by and see her sometime? I'm sure she would be pleased to see you."

Kirk shrugged and shook his head. "You're the only person she really wants to see."

"Perhaps," Spock evaded. "But it would do no harm to try."

"Maybe I will. Any idea when she'll be back to work?"

"If all goes well, by the time we return to Starbase 12 to retrieve Mr. Scott."

"And will we ever have a story to tell him!" Kirk sighed. "You know, I think that you've given Miss Chapel a real reason to carry on; helped her recover as much as her medication and stay in Sickbay."

"Captain, I am merely doing what any friend would do," Spock pointed out with cool dignity.

All the same, Kirk was sure he detected something more in the depths of his Vulcan friend's deep brown eyes. If Spock chose not to talk about his time with Christine, he, Jim, must respect his friend's privacy and not pressure him for information. He would give it when he was ready. Of course, it could really be as Spock claimed -- but on the other hand, Spock was an artist at hiding his deepest feelings behind a wall of logic. Countless times the Vulcan had claimed logical reasons for doing blatantly emotional things; Kirk and the others had pretended to accept Spock's logical explanations but usually gave him knowing smiles indicating that they knew otherwise. At any rate, Kirk intended to keep a close but discreet eye on his friend, biding his time and watching to see what turned up.

The Sickbay intercom brought the Captain back to reality. "Sickbay. Kirk here."

Uhura sounded pleased. "I'm glad I caught you, Captain. The Lafayette and Lexington are standing by on hailing frequency. Shall I patch Commodore Wesley through?" Wesley's was the next voice he heard after telling her to go ahead.

"Bob? Jim Kirk here. Glad to hear from you again."

Wesley sounded equally pleased. "Your Communications Officer has related to me how you got out of the battle with the Klingons and Romulans. Does that mean you no longer need my help or that of the Lafayette?"

"I was really glad when I heard you were coming, Bob. At the time, I was sure we would need all the help we could get ... but I managed to figure a way out."

Wesley chuckled. "Now why doesn't that surprise me? If anyone can weasel his way out of a jam, you can."

"You have an unsurpassed talent for backhanded compliments, Bob," Kirk observed wryly. "Oh yes. Could you do me a favor?"

"Name it. I owe you a dozen."

"Get in touch with the Captain of the Lafayette and tell him what happened."

"Consider it done. Anything else?"

"Only that I'm sorry you came all this way for nothing."

"It was worth the trip to hear about how you shocked the hell out of the Roms and Klingons."

"Maybe that's why Starfleet gave me the fancy gold shirt," Kirk teased. "If there's ever anything I can do for you, Bob -- "

"If I ever manage to pay off my debts to you, I'll let you know. Until then, take care of yourself and your crew. All the best. Wesley out." 



THREE



Christine improved with every passing day, gradually able to spend long periods sitting up or short periods on her feet, stepping carefully so as not to jar her head unnecessarily. She had all but shaken the effects of the concussion and her wrist was growing steadily stronger, but she couldn't help feeling a little sad. The hours Spock had spent with her the last several days had been the happiest of her life; she had cherished every moment they spent together. Even as eager as she was to get back to work, she dreaded it because it would likely mean that he wouldn't visit her any more.

She considered extracting a promise from him that their sessions would continue, that he would go on playing his Vulcan lyrette and singing for her. Knowing how much it had helped her during her convalescence, he would be too nice to turn her down. On the other hand, that would be taking unfair advantage of his good nature.

The best thing to do was bide her time, see if he would offer to continue the sessions on his own, without her prompting him. Christine vowed that if she could manage to win Spock's friendship, there would be no scheming or finagling in order to accomplish her objective, which was to eventually win his heart and his love. By all indications she now had that friendship and wasn't about to do anything to jeopardize something she valued so highly and had worked so hard for.

* * *

On Christine's sixth day of convalescence, McCoy told her she would be able to return to light duty the following Monday. She smiled, sat up and began to eat the breakfast on the tray before her. "I'm so glad. I've been wanting to get back to work so badly I can taste it."

"I still want you to take things easy this weekend, though. We've managed this long without you; we can manage a couple more days."

Christine took another bite of egg and toast, washing them down with a swallow of orange juice. "You know, the only thing which has made my stay bearable -- besides you, that is -- is Spock and his visits. I can't thank him enough for being so thoughtful. It meant everything to me, even though I know what you must have had to do to get him to agree to it."

McCoy chuckled. "It wasn't that hard once I convinced him of the logic of it. Jim was the one who made all the fuss."

"Trying to be considerate of Spock's feelings, I imagine."

"Probably. At any rate, what's going to happen now? I've told the Captain, so Spock surely knows by now too."

"If nothing else, I'm hoping to continue the sessions through the weekend."

"I could prescribe that he continue them ... " McCoy offered; Christine shook her head.

"It's sweet of you to offer, Leonard, but I want him to offer to continue of his own free will, because he wants to ... not because it's an order."

"I suppose you're right, though I still think I should -- "

"You think you should what, Doctor?" came the Vulcan's smooth baritone from behind them.

McCoy whirled in surprise. "Spock, I wasn't expecting you here so soon. It's only ten hundred hours. Aren't you supposed to be on duty?"

The First Officer made his way to the adjoining bed and sat down, lyrette in his lap. "Ordinarily, yes ... but there is nothing presently happening on the Bridge which requires my presence or services. There- fore, I thought it logical to come and play for Christine again."

This time Christine's own brows lifted. Spock didn't usually call her by her first name in front of witnesses ... so he must be becoming more relaxed, more at ease around her (and them), which was a good sign.

"Well, I'd better get back to work," McCoy begged off, discreetly disappearing into his office.

Christine busied herself with finishing her meal so she wouldn't have to look at Spock. Those velvety brown eyes of his always mesmerized her. He positioned the lyrette on his lap and began to play. "I understand you are due to be released tomorrow," he said when she least expected it. She nodded in reply since she didn't trust her voice. "When will you be returning to duty?" he persisted, forcing her to speak.

"Monday," Christine managed, doing her utmost to keep tears out of her voice ... but the Vulcan's sensitive hearing detected them. He stopped playing, set the lyrette aside and moved to sit beside her on her bed, lifting her chin with a gentle hand to make her face him. She tried to blink back her tears, closing her eyes in an attempt to conceal them from him, but two slid, inconvenient and unbidden, from beneath her dark lashes to make their way down her cheeks. Christine had always hated crying in front of Spock and this time was no exception. He brushed her tears away with gentle fingers, brown eyes soft with sympathy.

"Christine, what is wrong? Why are you crying?"

The kindness in his voice prompted fresh tears. "I -- I've enjoyed our sessions so much, Spock. I don't -- I can't bear to see them end, even though I know they must."

Spock frowned as he again brushed her tears away. "Who told you they were going to end? I certainly do not recall ever doing so."

"No one -- but since I'm supposed to be released tomorrow, it won't be necessary for you to come any longer. I just ... assumed -- "

"That I was only doing it out of duty, not because I wanted to ... and would quit at the first opportunity. Maybe that was the case at first, but not now." His voice was very quiet. "Christine, you have become a valued friend. If you only knew how much I have needed the friendship of one such as you; how much I have come to treasure it in the few short hours we have spent together these past six days."

She looked at him, eyes as wide as saucers. "Does that mean you would be willing to -- continue our sessions?"

Spock shook his head sadly. "Christine, do you truly believe that I am the kind of person who would use you for my own ends, then discard you when I had no further use for you?"

"Of course not -- "

"Friends do not lie to one another, Christine. Please do not ever lie to me. Despite your denial, I sense that you do indeed feel that way toward me, and it saddens me ... though I can and do understand why." The Vulcan closed his eyes in pain ... pain that she had caused!

"I'm sorry, Spock. Please forgive me. You must know that I never meant -- "

He raised his head and looked deeply into her eyes, as though reading her mind. "Apologies are unnecessary between friends, as is forgiveness." He shocked her again by taking her hand and putting it on his cheek. To Christine's amazement, it was as wet as her own.

"Why, Spock ... you're -- you're crying!" She fully expected him to deny it, declare that Vulcans didn't cry ... but he didn't.

"Does that surprise you? Yes, I sense that it does -- and understand your astonishment. But I can and do cry. I have cried many times in my lifetime, but as a Vulcan, I have been trained never to publicly express emotion ... and only if I am alone, with family or close friends do I privately express it. I may often seem cold, but am in reality just the opposite. I feel things far too deeply for my own good. Because you are my friend, I am certain I can trust you with these, my innermost feelings -- that you will keep them in strictest confidence as Jim, the Doctor and Mother have. They are the only others to whom I have ever confided these things." He moved back to the other bed and picked up the lyrette again. "Now what would you like me to play for you?"

All she wanted was for him to be close to her again, but said, "One of your new songs, if you have one ready." He nodded and began to play, singing in his native language. It was the most beautiful song he'd ever done -- almost a love song -- but that was likely to be wishful thinking on her part, though she enjoyed believing that it was. "That was beautiful, Spock. What is it called?"

"I have not had the opportunity to translate the entire song into Standard, but the meaning of the title -- roughly translated -- is 'beautiful person', which is how I have come to regard you."

Christine blushed with pleasure. "Thank you, Spock."

He shook his head with a half-smile. "Ina. Nemaiyo."

"Does that mean 'you're welcome'?"

"In a manner of speaking ... but the true meaning is 'No. Thank you'."

Their heads turned at a knock on the door. "Come," Christine said.

McCoy stepped in, a smile on his lips. "You know, I'm going to miss your songs, Spock. They really brightened things up around here."

"Thank you, Doctor. I am pleased you enjoyed them."

Christine was surprised but pleased beyond words to hear Spock and McCoy actually having a civil conversation for once. However, she had always suspected that the two men she loved best had an equally high regard for each other despite their almost constant bickering.

"Chris, I've been thinking. If Spock is willing to escort you to your quarters, I could release you tonight instead," McCoy remarked.

"That would be fine -- if Spock is willing," she replied.

"Of course," the Vulcan agreed.

"Then it's settled. You go get dressed. Call if you need help."

"I should be able to manage, thank you."

"If you say so. Come on, Spock, let's give the lady some privacy."

Moments later Christine stepped into McCoy's office where he and Spock were waiting. "I'm ready." The two men looked up, acknowledging her with a smile and nod respectively.

"Good. Continue taking the pills I gave you, at least until Monday -- then I'll check you when you come in. If I know your strong constitution, you won't need them after that."

Christine nodded impatiently. "Leonard, if you don't mind, I'd like to go now."

"Oh yes, of course. Keep a sharp eye on her, Spock." The Vulcan nodded in reply as he and Chris- tine headed for the door leading out into the corridors of Deck Seven.

"I'll see you later, Leonard."

"Take care, Chris." The pair walked silently to the turbolift, ducking inside once the doors opened.

"Deck Five," Spock said. Christine leaned on him once in the privacy of the 'lift, since her head had begun throbbing painfully. He raised an eyebrow but sensed her discomfort and therefore allowed the contact, even putting an arm around her to steady her. "I can carry you if you wish."

She would have loved that, but it would probably embarrass him if they ran into anyone and had to explain why he was carrying her ... or where he was taking her. She could endure a little discomfort if it meant sparing him that. "That isn't necessary, Spock. I can walk."

"Christine ... " he sternly admonished.

"I'm fine, really," she insisted.

He raised a skeptical eyebrow but said nothing more. Once the 'lift stopped at Deck Five, Spock insisted on keeping his arm around Christine despite the stares and raised eyebrows of other crewmembers. She couldn't help blushing, wondering what had possessed him to do such a thing -- especially in public ... though deep down she had to admit she enjoyed feeling his arm around her. They eventually turned down the corridor leading to her quarters; Spock hesitated only a moment when Christine unlocked her door, making sure she was carefully situated on her bed before departing. "Rest now. I will return at the first opportunity to play for you."

"All right, Spock." He stepped outside, making sure the coast was clear before starting down the corridor again in the opposite direction from which he and Christine had come. The intercom beeped a moment after he stepped inside the turbolift again.

"Spock here."

"Are you on your way to the Bridge?" Kirk asked.

"Indeed."

"We're now within communications range of Starbase 12, so I'd appreciate your being here. Scotty will surely want to talk about the engines -- and you know that technical stuff better than I do."

"Of course, Captain."

"See you in a few minutes. Kirk out."

* * *

True to the Captain's prediction, the Scotsman was 'worried sick' about his 'poor bairns,' asking numerous, detailed questions concerning their well-being that only Spock could answer to his satisfaction. "Why th' bloody hell di'n't ye a' least le' me know ye were leavin'?" Scotty's Highland brogue snapped with anger.

The Vulcan's tone was infinitely patient. "There was no opportunity to do so, Mr. Scott."

"An' t' think tha' ye were all involved in a battle wi' th' Klingons an' Romulans withou' me there t' help. Ah swear t' God, if that young jackass DeSalle 'as 'armed m' bairns in any way, I'll -- "

"Mr. Scott, calm yourself. Your 'bairns' are in perfect operating condition, and Mr. DeSalle per- formed superlatively. So well, in fact, that the Captain has promised you both a bottle of the finest Scotch whiskey he can afford as soon as we arrive."

"He has? Well, that's different. But if it's all th' same t' you, Mr. Spock, ah still intend t' give me engines a thorough once-over a' th' first opportunity."

"I understand, Mr. Scott. We should arrive within four hours. Spock out."

* * *

Moments after the Enterprise's arrival at Starbase Twelve, the ever-anxious engineer hurried out the Transporter Room doors after beaming aboard, so preoccupied with getting down to Engineering to check out the engines that he barely spared Kirk and Spock a nod of greeting ... instead, his mind was dominated by the following thought: Despite wha' Mr. Spock said, only God knows in wha' sort o' condition that young upstart DeSalle 'as gotten m' poor darlin's!



FOUR



"Uhura, have McCoy meet us in Briefing Room Two," Kirk said after the two senior officers had returned to the Bridge. "Let's go, Spock. Mr. Chekov, you have the con."

The young Russian looked surprised but said, "Aye, sir," and took his place in the command chair.

Sulu had been even more surprised, having raised an eyebrow much like Spock did ... but said nothing, calmly turning back to his helm console as Chekov's relief navigator Frank Leslie slid into the former's recently vacated chair.

"Captain, why did you not leave Mr. Sulu in command again?" the First Officer wondered as he and the Captain headed for Deck Six in the turbolift. "Mr. Chekov is a competent officer, but is inexperienced in handling the con."

"Then it is most logical that he get some practical experience -- and that Sulu have a rest from the pressures of command. He has had the con quite often of late."

The Vulcan found himself unable to argue with Kirk's logic, nodding in reluctant agreement. They stopped off briefly at Deck Five to get a computer tape from the Captain's quarters -- the one Spock had made while monitoring the Romulans two weeks ago. There had been no opportunity to listen to it, what with all that happened, so Kirk intended to find out what all was on it while things were relatively quiet ... then discuss it with Spock and McCoy.

The Doctor was waiting impatiently when the other two entered. "What do you need me here for, Jim? I have a lot of work to do in Sickbay."

"As a sounding board, Bones. I need your opinion and advice on what the tape Spock made of the Romulans means ... and why they've acted so out of character recently."

McCoy was fit to be tied. "You brought me here for that? As far as I'm concerned, they've never been more in character -- and that goes double for the Klingons! Of all the damn fool -- " The thoroughly disgusted Doctor got up and stalked away.

"Dammit, Bones, I need you here! Come back here and sit down now. You don't leave until I say you can!" Kirk's tone warned the Chief Surgeon that he'd better stay or face the consequences, so he reluctantly turned and came back, resuming his seat.

"All right, let's get on with it ... sir." Kirk handed Spock the tape; soon the familiar sounds of Bridge chatter were heard. However, the language was largely unfamiliar to Kirk and McCoy, both of whom could only catch random words and phrases.

"Spock, what the hell kind of language is that?"

The Vulcan's tone was condescending, as though he was speaking to two green ensigns on their first deep-space assignment. "The language is known as Rihannsu. It is the main language spoken by the inhabit- ants of the planets ch'Havran and ch'Rihan -- otherwise known as 'Romulus' and 'Remus', both of which orbit the G9 star 128 Trianguli."

McCoy sighed in disgust. "It's bad enough that I'm stuck here, but for God's sake, please spare us the lecture, Spock. Just tell us what the hell they're saying!"

"I am coming to that, Doctor."

First there were some unintelligible words, then the sound of a highly agitated female voice shouting: "Llhei (Madam)!"

Another female voice -- obviously the commanding officer of the ship -- snapped something that Spock translated as What do you want?

The first female voice replied, "Ta kreen (Look at this)," then the Romulan Commander impatiently retorted, "Hnafirh'rau (Let me see it, then)." A short conversation followed ... of such rapid Rihannsu that even Spock had trouble keeping up with it.

"They have spotted our ship and have made plans to fire their plasma weapon at full intensity and destroy us -- in one siuren or minute, equal to fifty-point-five of our seconds." There were a few moments of silence after the command, "Hna'h (Fire)!" then a babble of shocked and angry Rihannsu.

"What's going on?" Kirk was thoroughly confused.

"I believe this is where I destroyed their energy plasma with the photon beam from the Interceptor." Spock's reply sounded as though he was actually pleased with himself; Kirk and McCoy gave him strange looks.

"Now what are they saying?" the Doctor inquired.

Spock hesitated a long time before answering, sculptured face and ears turning a deep emerald. It was obvious that he knew what had been said, but was unable (or unwilling) to voice the translation into Federation Standard.

"Is anything wrong, Spock?" McCoy was concerned at the First Officer's uncharacteristic behavior. The Vulcan managed to shake his head but the Doctor knew better. "Is it some kind of insult?"

"The worst kind of insult." Both the Captain and Chief Surgeon sympathized with their Vulcan friend's distress as he fought to regain his composure. It was some time before Spock could bring himself to give even a rough translation of what the insult meant ... and even then his eartips and face flushed green.

"Spock, we can finish the tape later if you like," Kirk offered.

The Science Officer stubbornly shook his head. "I will be all right."

"If you say so. Let's get on with it, then." The three listened in silence except for Spock's occasional translations until the Captain asked, "Spock, what in heaven's name does 'sseikea' mean?"

"I believe it is the name of their ship, Captain. In Rihannsu it translates 'Scavenger'. They are contacting their 'fvillhaih' or Praetorate, which corresponds with our Starfleet Command, boasting of what they have done to us and what they intend to do in the near future. However, it would seem that the Klingons unwittingly saved our lives, since the next conversation is between the Commander of the Scavenger and the Captain of the Klingon vessel. The Romulans are angrily demanding an explanation from the Klingons as to why they interrupted them as they were preparing to fire on us a fourth time and destroy us."

Kirk was all ready to protest but thought better of it when he recalled that the Enterprise's sensors would not pick up a cloaked ship -- and the Klingon vessel obviously had to have been such for it to have gone undetected.

At this moment Scotty called on the intercom. "Sir, could you an' Mr. Spock come down t' Engineerin'?"

"Is something wrong, Scotty? Did the Scotch go bad or something?"

The Scotsman laughed. "Nae, sir, nuthin' like that. Ah would jus' like t' tell ye both wha' all ah did f'r Captain Clarke."

"We have quite a story for you ourselves, Scotty," Kirk laughed. "We'll be there in a few minutes. Kirk out."

McCoy teased his friends with the thickest Southern accent he could muster as the three men rose from their chairs. "Ah surely do hate t' leave sech pleas'nt comp'ny, but ah simply mus' get back t' Sickbay. See y'all later."

Kirk and Spock sighed exasperatedly, heads shaking as they exchanged an 'I'll-never-understand-him-as-long-as-I-live' look when the Chief Surgeon disappeared through the Briefing Room doors.

"Well, Spock, let's get down to Engineering and let the good Doctor inflict his rapier wit on a more receptive audience," the Captain quipped as he and Spock left the Briefing Room.

* * *

The Captain and First Officer listened to the Chief Engineer's exuberant ravings for over four hours. Near the end of that time, Kirk was half-asleep, beginning to dream of faraway places (one of them being his bed) when Scotty prodded him awake. "Sir?"

Kirk yawned deeply. "I'm sorry, Mr. Scott, but if I don't get some sleep soon, I'm liable to fall onto the floor."

Only then did the overzealous engineer notice what time it was. "Saint Andrew preserve us! Ah had no idea 'twas so late. Why didn' ye tell me?"

"It was so fascinating that we did not want to miss a single word." The Captain aimed a sleepy but grateful smile in his First Officer's direction.

"Be that as it may, it's time we all went to bed," Kirk announced. "0600 comes pretty early, you know."

Scott followed them to the door. "Thank ye both f'r bearin' with me. Ah do tend t' run off at th' mouth sometimes."

"Good night, Scotty. We'll see you tomorrow." With that, the two command officers departed for Deck Five and their respective quarters.



FIVE



It was well after one a.m. before they left Scott's office. Kirk yawned deeply and stretched as the pair headed back to Deck Five. "I don't know about you, Spock, but I'm ready to hit the sack right now."

"A logical decision, since it is nearly 0200."

"I didn't think Scotty would ever shut up," Kirk sighed. "He barely let us get a word in edgewise."

"He did become quite verbose, but what matters is that we were also able to get our story told." They stood at the doors of their quarters to finish their conversation.

"Well, I'm going to crash. You?"

"I shall likely 'crash' after an hour of meditation."

"See you at 0600, Spock."

"Good night, Captain."

Kirk nodded and disappeared into his quarters after unlocking his door. In keeping with Vulcan custom, Spock never locked the doors to his own. The lights came on dimly at his quiet command; his keen eyes spotted his lyrette. He moved toward it with the intention of setting it on his bed while he changed clothes in preparation for the promised visit to Christine's quarters. It was quite late, so she might be asleep. In that case, he would return to his quarters and meditate until time to go on duty.

* * *

Christine was propped up in bed, two pillows behind her, clad in a filmy, lacy blue shortie night- gown and reading D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, blushing at the deliciously sexy thoughts the explicit text brought to mind of her and Spock. It had become progressively more difficult to control her desires and feelings when she was with him. For Heaven's sake, how much more did he think she could take? She was only Human ...

At that moment her door buzzer sounded. She slid the book under the bedcovers and grabbed her dressing-gown, hastily shrugging into it and tightening the sash around her slender waist. It was 0215; who would be calling at this ungodly hour? But it was only common courtesy to admit a caller, even a night-owl like her present one. "Come." To her shock, Spock stepped in, lyrette under his arm. "Spock! What are you doing here at this hour? I thought you'd be meditating or something."

"I promised I would come and play for you again," he reminded her. "I regret coming at such a late hour, but Mr. Scott kept the Captain and myself busy until just a few moments ago."

Christine frowned in disbelief. If she hadn't known better, she would have sworn that Spock was babbling. That is, provided it was even possible for Vulcans to babble ... and no matter how much she wanted to, she couldn't be so presumptuous as to think that she or her proximity, manner of dress or perfume could be affecting him. He was supposed to be impervious to all that.

Another shock was seeing the Vulcan out of uniform, in an outfit she'd never seen before -- a navy blue sweater embroidered with Vulcan symbols, socks the same color as the sweater, and black pants reaching to just below his knees. His feet were encased in earthtone sandals. (Up to this point she had always seen Spock in full duty uniform, no matter what the hour.) They stood facing each other in silence until the Vul- can finally said, "Do you want me to play and sing for you or not?"

"Oh ... oh yes, of course."

Spock sat at her desk again, adjusting the string tension and tone dials as he balanced the exotic instrument on his lap. How much she wished that she could have been in his arms, on his lap, feeling his warmth so close to her. How she ached to touch and kiss him! Never had any mortal fought as hard for control as she ...

Snap out of it, Christine. All he's here for is to play his lyrette and sing for you. She straightened her bedcovers and relaxed as much as possible. Spock played and sang several songs he had written, including some new ones. "Would you like some herbal tea so you don't get hoarse?" she asked after about half an hour.

Spock nodded with a half-smile. "That would be very much appreciated, thank you."

"Coming right up." Christine headed for the bathroom to get the tea ready, having set up a small hot plate for heating water there. She smiled as she heard Spock begin to play and sing again. She assumed the song was a new one since she hadn't heard it before. He was singing in his native language; by now she was familiar enough with it to catch certain phrases and sentences. One particularly surprised her.

If memory served, it meant 'I love you.' Of course, he probably only meant it in the context of friendship, since he had made it clear that that was all he was prepared to give. Be that as it may, she had detected a strange tenderness in his voice which hadn't been there before -- but it would do no good to mention it, for he would surely deny any such thing. She sighed as she prepared the tea and took it out to him.

"That was beautiful, Spock. You seem to get better all the time." He nodded with an appreciative smile. "Here's the tea. I hope you like it." Christine quickly moved to sit down on her bed before her treacherously weak knees betrayed her.

He took several swallows, then raised an approving eyebrow. "This is very good. My throat is much better."

"I'm glad it pleases you."

Spock set the cup down, drinking frequently from it after resuming his playing and singing. The time just seemed to fly; it was 0500 before either of them realized it. "I had best return to my quarters for some meditation before going on duty. How are you feeling?"

"Quite well, thank you."

"Are you also on duty?"

"Fortunately, no. This is my day off."

The Vulcan stood up and stretched, tucking the lyrette under his arm again after finishing the tea. "I will return this evening to play for you if you wish it."

"I do ... but only if you really want to do it." Christine walked to the door with him; she put a hand on Spock's arm as he was about to step out. The look in her eyes was hungry, yearning. He could see her whole heart in her eyes, but dared not yield to the unaccustomed feelings she aroused in him -- even as much as every instinct told him it was the right thing to do. "Spock, I -- "

His brown eyes were warm and gentle as they looked upon her ... but it was not yet time. "Not yet, Christine." A cloud came over her eyes, but she managed a smile. He touched her cheek and departed, leaving her standing at her door with her body and heart one large mass of bittersweet pain.

* * *

Spock unexpectedly encountered McCoy coming out of his quarters as he headed back down the corridor to his own. He hoped the Doctor wouldn't see him, but soon heard the other man call to him. "Spock. Just the man I want to see. Can I talk to you?"

"Briefly."

The Doctor's eyebrows shot up at the Vulcan's unusual attire, but he made no comment on that -- simply made his point. "You've been seeing a lot of Chris lately."

"I am merely helping her to convalesce, Doctor."

"Ummmhmmm," the Chief Surgeon murmured skeptically.

"We are friends. That is all," the Science Officer snapped.

"If you say so. I only hope you're aware that Christine has other ideas."

"Of course ... but I have made it clear to her that friendship is all I am prepared to give. Now if you would be so kind as to let me pass, I would like to meditate for a time before going on duty."

McCoy reached out and stopped Spock with a hand on his shoulder. "It wouldn't be any crime if you did have an affair with her, you know. She's a beautiful woman; you wouldn't be the first to feel attracted to her because of it. It happens to the best of us sooner or later ... and for you, it's long overdue. Making love would do you a world of good -- and would, incidentally, make Christine very happy."

The Vulcan looked thoroughly insulted. "If it should happen, Doctor, it will be a private matter between Christine and myself ... and none of your concern."

"In other words, mind my own business."

"Precisely. Now if you'll excuse me -- " With that, the First Officer stepped through the door and was gone. McCoy shook his head hopelessly and stepped into the turbolift for Sickbay.



SIX



A week later the ship was in standard orbit around a newly discovered Class M planet orbiting Proxima, the third star in the Rigel system. Kirk, Spock, McCoy and three Security men had beamed down and were currently engaged in exploration of the immediate area.

"Spock, have you detected anything unusual?"

"Nothing yet, Captain, but it is logical to assume we will before completing our survey of the surrounding territory." The whirring of Spock's Sciences tricorder could be heard as the landing party continued on.

"Bones, any life signs?"

McCoy swept the area with his medical tricorder. "Nothing, Jim ... and that's strange. If we can be here without harm, there's no reason why some form of intelligent life could not evolve and flourish here."

"Perhaps the flora is toxic," Kirk suggested.

"Highly unlikely, Captain. All my tricorder readings indicate edible herbs, berries and other fruits, vegetables and fresh water."

"Then why no sentient life?"

"Unknown, sir -- but I would assume that there must be a logical reason."

"And you intend to find that reason."

"That is part of my duty as Science Officer."

"So it is, Mr. Spock. Carry on."

A half-hour's walk later the party came upon a large lake surrounded by deciduous trees and green grass dotted with blue and yellow flowers, the former edged with orange. The yellow flower resembled a Terran ladies'-slipper, the blue an orchid ... but unlike its Terran counterpart, this flower had a lovely scent to it, similar to a rose.

Kirk leaned his head back, letting the sun caress his face and the wind ruffle his sandy hair. "This reminds me of Garrovick Valley on Centaurus," he commented to no one in particular.

"I know what you mean, Jim," McCoy agreed. "The smell of the blue flower reminds me of the magnolia blossoms I imported from Georgia and have growing around my house in New Athens."

Despite his best efforts, Spock found himself thinking of Christine upon smelling the intoxicating scent of the blue-and-orange flower. It reminded him of her musky-rose perfume. Since he could not men- tion that in front of witnesses, he remained silent and busied himself with tricorder analysis of the two flowers. The party eventually crossed the meadow and walked along the water's edge. It was quiet, restful, even romantic ... an ideal place for a private retreat with a loved one. Suddenly Kirk's communicator began to beep insistently. The small group stopped in their tracks as the Captain reached behind him for the small device, removing it from his belt and flipping it open.

"Kirk to Enterprise. What is it, Scotty?"

"Sir, a young man 'as beamed aboard from a Federation long-range shuttle an' is askin' f'r ye."

"Who is he?"

"'e resembles you mos' strongly, sir. I b'lieve 'e might be y'r nephew Peter."

Kirk looked startled, almost shocked. "But what would Peter be doing here, so far from Earth?"

"I suggest ye ask 'im that y'rself, sir. If ye would beam up -- "

The Captain sighed. "Take over, Spock. Keep me informed of any new developments down here." Into the communicator he said, "Okay, Scotty, beam me up." Moments later Kirk shimmered out of existence.

"I wonder what that was all about," McCoy remarked.

"I have no idea, Doctor. Therefore it would be most prudent to concentrate on the task at hand." The party rested at a large grouping of rocks after neither Spock nor McCoy had detected any sentient life -- at least not within range of their tricorders. "Lieutenants Kelowitz, Osborne and Shea, split up and see if any of you can detect any sentient life."

"Yes, sir," the three Security officers said as one, eventually hidden from view by thick bushes and trees. The two senior officers sat on two large boulders near the water's edge, each savoring the warmth of the sun and cool breeze from the water.

"Now that we're alone, Spock, there's something I want to ask you."

"Specify, Doctor." The Vulcan's upswept eyebrows rose.

"I want to know once and for all -- are you interested in Christine?"

Spock frowned uncomprehendingly. "We are friends, as I have said before. Why?"

"Then why are you spending so much off-duty time with her? She's been back to work for nearly two weeks, so she's certainly not convalescing any more."

Spock sounded bewildered. "I don't know what you mean, Doctor."

"The hell you don't! I want the truth -- not some clever or logical excuse that you think I'll swallow."

The Vulcan sighed exasperatedly. "Doctor, I wouldn't give you anything but the truth."

McCoy again glared at Spock. "Dammit, Spock, are you truly so blind that you can't see what you're doing to Christine by leaving her hanging all the time? I'm beginning to think that you really are a machine ... because only a machine could look into that woman's eyes, then turn around and walk away."

"Doctor, this is neither the time nor place for recriminations."

McCoy continued as though the Science Officer hadn't spoken. "She's been coming to work exhausted, eyes swollen and red from crying herself to sleep -- and it doesn't take a genius to guess why. Lucky thing I know her so well, because I can't pry any explanation from her as to why she's so upset."

"And you think it has something to do with me," the Vulcan finished.

"It has everything to do with you, for God's sake! Why can't you give that poor woman a break and give her what she wants for a change instead of constantly denying her -- and yourself?" The Chief Surgeon's voice was laced with righteous anger.

"Doctor, I really don't think it is your place to -- " Spock's voice was laced with disapproval.

McCoy cut him off. "If it concerns the mental or physical well-being of the Enterprise crew, it damn well is my place ... and don't you forget it! You treat animals better than you treat her, because they don't demand anything from you. They're content with what you're willing to give them -- but Christine isn't an animal; she's a woman. A warm, beautiful, loving woman who happens to be very much in love with you.

"Women need constant attention from the men they love -- and the chance to show love to them. She's literally eating her heart out over you, making herself sick. If this keeps up, she'll be in Sickbay again ... and this time it'll be your fault. Damn it, Spock, no one is worth making oneself sick over -- especially not one of your kind, with your damnable logic and green ice-water for blood! I care too much about Chris to let her waste her love on a flesh-and-blood machine who couldn't begin to appreciate what a jewel she is. You avoid a romantic relationship with her because it would mean actually opening up and admitting you have feelings instead of being half-Human and half-machine."

"Doctor, your tirade is irrelevant and illogical," Spock shot back.

"Because it's the truth and you know it," McCoy retorted.

"Doctor, I do not have to answer to you or anyone else for my conduct, especially where Miss Chapel is concerned," Spock snapped. "I am simply not capable of giving her the love she wants."

"Bull! If your father was capable of loving your mother, that makes you all the more capable of loving Christine. Deny that and I'll know you're trying to hide your feelings behind your well-known wall of logic like you always do."

For once the Vulcan was at a loss for words; a pregnant silence passed between the two. "All right, Doctor, you have made your point. Now what do you want me to do?"

" 'Do'? Only what's best for you both."

"And you believe that my becoming romantically involved with Christine would benefit us both?"

"Definitely," McCoy opined.

"Most interesting. However, there is one flaw in your scenario."

"Which is?"

"It is not yet my Time. I doubt I would be able to consummate a romantic relationship without the strong emotions involved in the mating drive."

"Haven't you ever tried to consummate a relationship without it?"

"Really, Doctor, I must -- " the Vulcan protested.

"Have you ever tried?" McCoy persisted.

"Well, I ... " Spock sounded hesitant.

The Doctor grinned wickedly. "As I recall, you certainly didn't seem to need the mating drive on Omicron Three or Sarpeidon."

Spock refused to rise to the bait. "It really is best to have the mating drive, Doctor ... and in both situations to which you refer, there were extenuating circumstances, so you are 'hitting below the belt,' if I understand the proper usage of that Terran expression."

"But you did enjoy those times," McCoy reminded him.

Spock made no reply, but it wasn't necessary. His actions spoke louder than any words. "Doctor, please ... " The Science Officer's tone was pleading, his face and eartips turning a bright green.

"Why, Spock, I do believe you're blushing!" the Doctor chortled.



SEVEN



McCoy was well aware of the profound embarrassment the Vulcan was currently experiencing ... undoubtedly difficult for him to endure, but hardly comparable to what Christine had been through. He was determined to give that stubborn, opinionated Vulcan some idea of what he'd done to her -- and if in so doing, Spock was embarrassed, so be it.

"Spock, I really don't think Chris would care one way or the other as long as you love her ... or at least make her feel that you do. Women are funny that way. All they want is to be loved, but often have no idea how to make it known to the man they love. You must also try to understand why she makes so many mistakes with you. She's used to Human males; she doesn't know the proper way to go about attracting a Vulcan. Pity she can't sit down and talk with your mother; it would help her a lot.

"All kidding aside, you should have an affair with Christine if you want to. As I said before, it's no crime -- and wouldn't make you any less Vulcan. All it would prove is that you're a normal male. I may not love her in a romantic way, but am certainly not blind to how lovely she is or to the fact that she has brains and plenty of them. She wouldn't be where she is if she didn't. And even you know how well she can handle herself should the situation call for it. She's so coolly dignified and logical sometimes that I'd swear she's part Vulcan. To coin a phrase, she would be a 'logical' choice for any man -- especially a Vulcan like yourself."

"Are you finished, Doctor?"

"Is there something you want to say? ... Well, spit it out, then."

"I cannot deny that I once did as you said, but the time I have spent with Christine has made me realize what an extraordinary woman she is -- very much like Mother."

"Christine would be very happy to hear that; it's high praise coming from you ... but it's not me you have to convince."

"It shouldn't be too difficult," the Vulcan remarked evenly.

"Don't be so sure. After all this time, Christine must be absolutely sure that you mean what you say -- that you have come to the conclusion that she's the right woman for you on your own and not on the basis of something you were told or had read somewhere. Women can usually tell if a man is being himself or merely pretending. Make damn sure you're a hundred percent sincere in whatever you say to her or I swear, I'll hang you by your Vulcan ears!" The Doctor's voice was a warning.

"Unnecessary, Doctor. I have no intention of deceiving Christine in any way." Spock's voice remained cool and unruffled.

"Damn good thing. No sense in starting off a love affair with a lie."

Vulcan brows shot up. "A 'love affair,' Doctor?"

"That's what you want, isn't it?"

Spock's face and ears again flushed green but he didn't deny it.

"Well then, tell her, for God's sake! She can't read your mind -- at least not yet ... and I suggest you do it before you lose your nerve."

Upswept brows lifted again but all Spock said was "I believe I will. Thank you for your advice, Doctor."

"Any time." Who would have thought that he, Leonard McCoy of all people, would be playing Cupid for Spock and Christine ... or that he would actually convince that stubborn, know-it-all Vulcan to confess his true feelings? "I never thought I'd live to see the day that Spock would admit to lovesickness," the Doctor murmured under his breath, momentarily forgetting the Vulcan's sensitive hearing.

"'Lovesickness', Doctor?"

"Something that happens to people in the situation you and Christine currently find yourselves. Consult your library computer if you want to know more."

It was fortunate that the conversation ended when it did, for it was at this precise moment that the three Security personnel returned ... all empty-handed. Spock was more mystified than ever, but told the party that he would recommend the planet as a candidate for colonization. It was possible that life had simply not evolved here ...

Just before the transporter took them, the Doctor marveled that he had actually gotten that crazy computerized half-breed to listen to something a Human said. Maybe there was hope for him after all.

* * *

But Spock didn't see Christine for several days -- at least not for more than a few minutes or to say hello in passing. During this time, she wasn't sure what hurt most ... having been so close, yet so far, from him during their sessions or his seemingly total and final rejection of her and her love. Dammit, she'd tried so hard, so godawful hard to keep her feelings under wraps! Oh God! Harder than any mortal ever has, she sobbed ... but she must have frightened him by letting her guard down those two times. Christine threw herself on her bed and cried, her heart feeling pierced by a thousand knives.

An hour later her intercom beeped. "N-Nurse Chapel's quarters." She hoped she sounded at least halfway normal!

"Christine, this is Spock. May I come see you? I must speak privately with you."
"Of course. You know you're always welcome."

"Thank you. I will arrive shortly. Spock out."

Christine closed her intercom, jumped off her bed and dashed into her bathroom to take the quickest shower on record -- then quickly dried and arranged her hair into a flattering but casual style. She slipped on her prettiest lounging outfit after placing musky-rose perfume on strategic places. The form-fitting jumpsuit was pale blue with a halter top and alluring cleavage; gold glitter was scattered throughout the silky fabric.

Her gold slippers and IDIC bracelet completed her outfit, along with heart-shaped gold earrings in her pierced ears. She was somewhat breathless after finishing her makeup, sitting down at her desk to wait, hoping she could settle down sufficiently before Spock arrived. Her heart pounded anew when the buzzer sounded.

"Come."

"Christine?"

"In here, Spock."

The Vulcan turned his head in the direction of her voice. "Christine, there is something very important we must discuss -- " Spock stopped short when the full impact of her appearance struck him. Being Vulcan, he didn't ordinarily notice such things, but was convinced that she instinctively knew just how to capture his attention and hold it, in spite of what Dr. McCoy had said.

"Yana ainama itisha (You are beautiful)," he said in his native language.

"Nemaiyo (Thank you)," she replied in the same language.

He lifted her chin and looked deeply into her eyes. "Wani-ra yana aisha. Yana isha konusha-ta. (I love you. Do you understand?)"

Christine's face glowed with love, eyes misty with tears of happiness. "Ha, wanimo aisha ... no wani-ra yana aisha (Yes, my love ... and I love you)."

In a matter of seconds he had drawn her into his strong but gentle embrace ... the only thing which kept her upright, since her knees had long since given out. "Yana itisha wanimo kaifa ta. (Will you be my wife? Or Will you marry me?)"

"Oh yes, Spock. Yes!" she exclaimed in Standard.

After gently brushing her tears away, he kissed her wet cheeks, then bestowed a tender, lingering kiss on her waiting lips. His embrace tightened as the kiss deepened, his lips eventually moving to warmly caress the silky, fragrant skin of her throat and neck.

"Wani-ra yana yorosha (I want you)," he murmured against her lips, unable to control a groan of desire as he passionately captured them once again, effortlessly sweeping Christine off her feet and into his arms. He carried her into her sleeping alcove and lowered her onto her bed; her arms locked around his neck and drew him down to the bed with her, so hungry for him -- all of him -- that she was certain she would never get enough of him ... not for as long as she lived!



Part Four - Peter Kirk



"Scotty, what the hell's going on? You've got to be pulling my leg! How could Peter possibly be here -- and in Starfleet uniform, no less?" Kirk demanded upon materializing.

The Chief Engineer was apologetic. "Ah don' know, sir ... but 'e reminded me so much o' you that ah figured it couldna possibly be anyone else."

Kirk sighed. "Where is he?"

"Right here, Uncle Jim." The deep baritone voice came from the direction of the door. Peter James Kirk, now twenty-two years old, stood tall and slender like his father, Jim Kirk's older brother Sam, just inside the door. Peter wore a regulation Starfleet uniform with no rank insignia, indicating his position as an ensign. He had the brown hair and hazel eyes shared by all Kirk men, but his mother's patrician nose and lips. It was all the Captain could do not to gather his young relative into a bear hug right here and now, but he had to remember who and where he was. Old home week would come later.

"It's good to see you, Peter ... but what are you doing here, so far from home?"

"I just graduated from Starfleet Academy. I had intended to enroll in command school upon graduation, but was told it was necessary to take a training course aboard the Enterprise first, so here I am."

Kirk turned back to Scotty. "Tell Spock and Bones to meet me in Briefing Room Two once the landing party returns. I also want you, Sulu, Uhura and Chekov there."

"Aye, sir." The engineer nodded in Kirk's direction and departed.

The Captain made a gesture with his right hand. "You come with me to the Briefing Room, Peter."

* * *

For the next hour the pair busied themselves catching up on all that had happened since they last saw each other -- that is, once they had greeted one another properly. "What made you decide to join Starfleet? I didn't even know you'd enrolled at the Academy."

"I sent you a holovid. Didn't you look at it?"

"I'm afraid I haven't had much opportunity for anything but ship's business for quite some time."

"I suppose I can understand that. Well, to answer your question, Dad rhapsodized so much about the virtues of serving in Starfleet that I decided to follow in your footsteps and become a starship Captain. I've seen blueprints of the new dreadnought-class ships currently on the drawing-boards and intend to command one of them one day. I think it's only natural to have another Kirk in Starfleet. I know I have a long way to go before I can hope to become a legend like you, but -- "

Kirk laughed. "Peter, part of becoming a 'legend,' as you put it, is learning how to stay alive -- knowing how to think or talk your way out of jams. You must also learn how to take and interpret orders before you can expect to give them. Always do your best to follow orders, but also know when it's best not to. If following orders means more lives will be lost, do what is best for the majority of people under your command.

"Even so, expect to lose a few crewmen on occasion. God knows I've certainly lost my share! Every name, face and serial number are indelibly etched on my mind. It's a painful thing for a commander to deal with, but something every commander must face sooner or later. It is also important to believe in yourself and your ability to make the right decisions -- no matter who may oppose you.

"However, no one can be right all the time ... though I have been fortunate enough to have had the advice and assistance of two of the finest officers it has ever been my privilege to serve with -- my second-in-command, Commander Spock, and my CMO, Lt. Commander Leonard McCoy. They also happen to be my closest, dearest friends, though you must also know when and how to keep your personal life separate from your work, not allow private feelings to affect an important command decision.

"There is often a very fine line between them and you can cross that line without realizing it if you aren't careful. You may also find that it works best when you use the system to your advantage, dancing around the letter of the law if necessary -- but never ever break rules simply to satisfy your whims or for the sake of breaking rules.

"The twenty-four Starfleet General Orders are there for a purpose. Overall they are prudent and wise, if not always practical. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you are questioning one of them, particularly the Prime Directive of noninterference with other cultures, make damn sure you have a good solid reason for deciding that it's best for your ship, your crew and the given planet's people to disobey it.

"Your first priority must always be the safety of your ship and the lives of your crew -- but things can and often do go wrong, even when you have the best of intentions. In that event, you must do all you can to right whatever wrong you have done, except when further intervention would only make matters worse.

However, there will also be times when you will have to determine whether or not to take a chance. In these situations, never hesitate to ask the advice of your senior officers ... and take it if you agree with it. That is one reason they are there, to help you make the wisest possible decisions with their input of opinions and ideas.

"The decisions you make will sometimes be very difficult, but you must stand by them and pray that you will be proven right in the end. In conclusion, there will be matters where you will have to rely on your own intuition ... where neither I nor any other superior could advise you as to the best course of action to take."

"I'll make you proud of me, Uncle Jim. I swear it!"

Kirk's eyes misted as he again hugged his young nephew, vowing to do everything in his power to help Peter become everything a starship commander should be. "I know you'll do the Kirk name proud, Peter. I have the utmost confidence in you."

* * *

The Captain rested his clasped hands on the tabletop after they sat down again and waited for the others to arrive. "Peter, I've called a meeting of my senior staff at 1500 so you'll have an opportunity to meet them. It is likely you'll be working closely with all of them at some point during your training period. They are specialists, the best in their fields, and like myself are here to help you -- so whatever questions you may have, feel free to ask them."

At precisely 1500 the other six department heads filed in, taking their places around the table. After Kirk made the proper introductions, each welcomed the young man aboard with either a polite nod or warm smile ... sometimes both.

"Peter has informed me that he intends to become a starship commander one day, so I want you all to do your utmost to help him reach that goal, as I will. At the same time, I want him to receive the exact same treatment as any other new crewmember. Understood?"

There were murmurs of either "Yes, sir," or "Of course, Captain," in response to the Captain's order.

"Now is the time for questions, if anyone has any. Spock?"

The First Officer sighed and rested his elbows on the table, steepling his long, slender fingers. "Peter, is there any particular field you are interested in?"

"I want to learn all I possibly can about everything, Mr. Spock. It is best for a starship commander to be well-informed."

"A most logical attitude, Peter. I am certain that you will eventually achieve your goal."

"Bones?"

"Well, Peter, you seem none the worse for wear after the ordeal on Deneva where you lost your parents and nearly died. Have you had any lingering physical or emotional problems as a result?"

"No, sir. I couldn't be better, thanks to you."

McCoy smiled, blue eyes twinkling. "Now that's just what every doctor appreciates -- a grateful patient. I'm sure we'll get along just fine, son."

"Scotty?"

"Ah was a-thinkin', sir, that ah would gi' th' lad a crash course on th' inner workin's of th' impulse an' warp drive engines."

"It's fine with me, if Peter is willing," Kirk said.

"I would be honored, Mr. Scott. I've heard tell at the Academy that there isn't anything you don't know about what makes a starship tick."

Scotty's cheeks turned pink. "Watch it there, laddie, or else ye'll be a-givin' me a swelled 'ead!"

No one else had specific questions other than designating the time they would each work with Peter. Scotty was first, since he had asked first, then Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura. Each would work with him for a week on the basics of their particular specialty. In the remaining week of the two-month training period, the Captain himself would test Peter in a command situation, giving him the con for a couple of hours in order to observe how he handled the stress of making command decisions. Peter was assured that his uncle, Spock, and the others would be nearby in case of problems.

The young man in turn informed his uncle that as much as he appreciated the insurance, there would be no one to bail him out in case of error in a real command situation. In other words, he intended to take responsibility for his own failures and successes. Kirk beamed with pride at this courageous statement, tears again misting his eyes. With that attitude, Peter would surely make an exceptional starship commander one day. If only Sam and Aurelan could have lived to see this day!

* * *

Scotty started Peter off slowly, explaining thoroughly as they went along. What he couldn't show on the ship herself, he used holovid-tapes or his technical journals. Never had the Chief Engineer had such an attentive pupil; not even his own nephew had been so eager to learn about all aspects of engineering. The impulse engineering section was similar in layout to the warp engineering section, but had additional parts shops and a standby computer system in the event of primary hull separation. A massive impulse deflection crystal dominated the upper center of the room, throwing geometric patterns of light across the compartment. Peter's eyes became as wide as saucers when Scott pointed it out to him.

"What exactly is the function of the deflection crystal?"

"It is connected to th' impulse engines by energy carrier shafts which translate th' intermix power int' forward thrust f'r th' ship."

"What happens in the event of primary hull separation?"

"Th' five nuclear fusion reactors mounted between th' impulse engines take th' place of th' intermix system an' drive their combined energies int' th' deflector crystal."

The engineer became so engrossed in explaining the inner workings of the impulse drive that his pupil had to gently shake him. "Mr. Scott? Mr. Scott!"

Scotty looked as though he had just come out of a trance. "Yes? Wha' is it, lad?"

"When are you going to show me the warp engines?"

"Why, any time ye like, lad. All ye 'ad t' do was tell me."

Peter sighed but did not contradict his instructor. They eventually headed down to Decks 14 and 15 in the turbolift. Peter had no idea how he ever managed to take it all in; he only hoped he would be able to retain enough so he would score well when Mr. Scott tested him. He frowned when he saw the two intermix chambers.

"Why are there two intermix chambers? Seems rather redundant to me."

"Not a' all, lad. Th' vertical chamber provides power f'r th' impulse drive an' furnishes enough additional energy t' power all other shipboard systems. Th' horizontal provides energy f'r th' warp nacelles, photon torpedo and phaser banks."

"How is the matter/antimatter contained?"

"In a series of magnetic bottles housed in pods a' th' base o' th' vertical intermix shaft."

Peter nodded, seeming satisfied with that explanation ... then they made their way to Deck 16, where he asked about the two large rounded devices on each side of the vertical intermix shaft.

"Those be energy converter units. They translate th' raw matter/antimatter power into a form usable by shipboard systems, thus providin' electricity an' field energy f'r daily use."

At that moment one of the junior engineers, Lt. Elliott, told Scotty he had a call on the intercom. "Is Peter with you?" McCoy asked.

"Of course, Doctor."

"Are you finished with him for today? I need to give him a physical."

"Just a moment. Lad, th' Doctor wants t' see ye in Sickbay for a physical. What d' ye say we start again tomorrow, same time?" Peter nodded and Scotty turned back to the intercom.

"'e's on 'is way, Doctor."

"I'll be ready. McCoy out."

* * *

Peter walked through the Sickbay doors ten minutes later. "Dr. McCoy?"

"In here, son." The young man followed the Doctor's voice into the examination room; the latter held up a diagnostic bed at a 45-degree angle, motioning to Peter to get on it, then moved it so he lay flat. "Now relax and lie still, son, so I can get accurate readings of your vital signs." When they stabilized, McCoy called on the nearby intercom. "Christine, could you come in here and take some blood and tissue samples?"

"On my way, Leonard," replied a sultry feminine voice. If that lady looked half as good as she sounded!

"Christine, this is Peter Kirk, the Captain's nephew. He's newly graduated from Starfleet Academy and will be with us for the next few weeks. Do your best to make him feel at home."

"Of course." Peter turned his head to see a lovely brunette woman standing over him. "Hold out your arm so I can get the samples, please." Within a minute Chapel had taken the blood and tissue samples, disappearing into the nearby lab with them.

"Doctor?"

"Yes, son?"

"Who was that lovely lady who was just here?"

"My assistant, Christine Chapel."

"I've heard of her at the Academy. Isn't she supposed to be a doctor in her own right?"

"Both medically and of biochemistry, to be exact. She gave the latter up to sign aboard ship. Why?"

"Just curious."

McCoy moved the diagnostic bed and told Peter to move to another which had what looked like two flat projections coming out of the wall above it. He was then told to lie on his back and put his feet on the projections.

"Okay, start pumping your feet and legs. Keep it up until I tell you to stop." Five minutes later the Chief Surgeon checked Peter's pulse and respiration. "My God, you aren't even breathing hard!"

"I've always done my best to keep in shape, Doctor."

Christine returned with the results of the blood and tissue analysis. "Everything checks out except his vitamin level. It's within normal limits, but he could still do with an injection of stokaline."

"Then give him one."

She pulled a spray hypo from her uniform skirt pocket and pressed it against Peter's arm. "Done."

"You know, Chris, if we had many more like him, we'd be out of business. I can't find a thing wrong with him, and you've already taken care of the vitamin deficiency you found. All in all, he checks out as a prime physical specimen. Peter, have you been assigned quarters yet?"

"No, sir."

"Then we'll have to see what we can do to remedy that situation. Come with me, Peter." The pair walked out after Peter bade Chapel goodbye, the Doctor's left hand resting on Peter's right shoulder. Within an hour the latter was comfortably ensconced in a cabin he would share with Lt. Dickerson, one of the Security men.

* * *

A couple of days later, Peter was on his way to the warp engine room for his third day of instruction under Scotty's tutelage. After first reporting to his uncle on the Bridge and speaking briefly with him, Peter stopped off at Deck 3 for a quick snack of two turkey sandwiches and a large glass of milk, eating hungrily as he headed back to the turbolift. He was about to round the corner when he heard the voices of Dr. Chapel and Mr. Spock. He made sure to keep out of sight until they left, but what he seen and heard while waiting shocked the hell out of him.

The aforementioned couple, unaware that they were being observed or overheard, crossed two extended fingers on their right hands and curled them tightly, smiling (Mr. Spock, smiling?) affectionately at each other. Chapel looked around to make sure there was no one around before she said, "Spock, are you going to spend the night with me again tonight?"

Spock put a finger to her lips, a worried frown on his face. "I will be there -- but you must speak more quietly. Otherwise we might be overheard."

Peter's heart pounded. Did Mr. Spock know of his presence? He'd heard that Vulcans could sense people's presences ...

"Don't worry, Spock. There's no one around -- but I've got to get back to Sickbay now, so I'll see you tonight." The female Doctor put her left hand on the First Officer's right cheek; he reached up and held it a moment.

"And I must return to the Bridge. Until tonight." Spock used his free hand to lift Chapel's chin so she faced him. Peter saw her blue eyes glow with love as she looked up at him before looking around again.

"Spock, please kiss me. That is the only thing that will sustain me until tonight."

The Vulcan's face flushed green. "Christine ... "

"Please." One of the fingers on the Doctor's free hand stroked the Science Officer's lips.

"Very well -- as long as you refrain from doing that again unless we are alone behind closed doors."

Chapel nodded in agreement; the tall, slender Vulcan then drew her close and kissed her lingeringly. That was as much as Peter could stand. They separated after that so he could reach the turbolift without running into either one of them -- for which he was extremely grateful.

Oh my God ... he had had no idea that Mr. Spock returned Dr. Chapel's feelings. All he knew was that she loved him. Upon arrival at his destination, Peter threw himself into the instruction the Chief Engineer was giving him on how to read the intermix monitoring and control consoles with such zeal that the older man was both pleased and alarmed.

"Somethin' wrong, lad?"

Plenty, the young man thought, but said, "Nothing, Mr. Scott. I'm fine."

"If you say so." The engineer looked skeptically at his pupil but didn't pressure him for further information.

* * *

Peter knew he would have to talk to Uncle Jim about what he had seen and heard or burst. In the meantime, he concentrated on the task at hand, the only way to effectively block out the disturbing scene he had so recently witnessed. At 1400 he called the Bridge and asked to speak to his uncle. "This is Uncle Jim, Peter," the Captain said. "What's on your mind?"

The youth sounded extremely agitated. "I must speak privately with you."

"Of course. My quarters at 1415?"

"I'll be there."

"See you then. Bridge out." Kirk locked eyes with Spock; the Vulcan raised a surprised eyebrow. "Zero-G workout another time, Spock?"

"Of course, Captain."

Peter was waiting at the door to his uncle's quarters when the older man arrived. "Okay, what's so urgent?" he asked once the two were behind closed doors. Kirk couldn't help but notice his young nephew's nervous trembling as they sat down together on his bed. "Peter, what's wrong? You're shaking like a leaf."

"D-Doctor Chapel ... M-Mr. Spock ... " he stammered.

"What about them?"

"Uncle Jim, I swear I never meant to eavesdrop or spy on them. You must believe that!"

Kirk frowned uncomprehendingly. "What are you talking about?"

"Forgive my change of subject, but aren't Vulcans not supposed to have emotions?"

"Not quite accurate. They do have them, but they're kept under strict control. Why? What did you see and hear that upset you?"

" 'Upset' is putting it mildly. Uncle Jim, I saw Mr. Spock -- kiss Dr. Chapel ... then heard her invite him to -- spend the night with her in her quarters!"

Oh lord, Kirk thought. No wonder the poor boy's so upset. "Peter, let me explain something to you. In most ways Mr. Spock is totally Vulcan, entirely logical -- but there is another side to him. A Human side."

"A Human side?"

"Yes. You see, Mr. Spock is only half-Vulcan. His father is a full-blooded Vulcan, but his mother is Human. He therefore has a strong tendency toward emotionalism, though he keeps it well in check by submerging it in his dominant Vulcan half. However, should he become emotionally attached to someone -- which is fairly rare -- his Human half takes control. At least privately. Publicly he is all Vulcan, so treat him as such when you work with him.

"Vulcans are a very private people, rarely speaking of their personal lives or background. Ask him anything you wish on computers or anything scientific, but nothing about his involvement with Miss Chapel. It is a fairly recent development, so he hasn't even been able to tell me about it -- and I'm his closest friend. If he should volunteer information about that or an aspect of his background, fine ... but don't pressure him. He is generally a pleasant person to be around, though very businesslike and dedicated to his work. He should be of immense help to you as long as you continue to subscribe to the attitude you told him about.

"As for Miss Chapel, she's been in love with him for some years -- but until recently he avoided her for that very reason."

"But why? She's so smart, beautiful and nice. How could he, or any man, not love her?"

"As I said, he's a Vulcan. They're trained not to notice such things except at a designated time every few years. Outside of that, the thing most likely to attract him is intelligence. It wasn't until Miss Chapel was injured recently and had to spend a week in Sickbay that his attitude toward her began to change. She had asked Dr. McCoy to see if Spock would be willing to spend time with her each day during her convalescence. He eventually brought his lyrette, a Vulcan musical instrument, and played for her. He said it helped her to relax and sleep. Oh yes, this is very personal, so I would appreciate your keeping it to yourself.

"I understand he not only played but sang for her, many of the songs his own compositions. It was during this time that they became close, perhaps even romantically involved. As I've said, I don't know that for sure, though Dr. McCoy is convinced of it. I've only heard a few of Spock's songs myself, but hear that he's written several new ones ... and played them for her.

"One is especially beautiful, according to Dr. McCoy. He suspects that it was written as a love song for Miss Chapel. As far as I know, Spock still plays for her at every opportunity during their off-duty hours. I don't mind crewpeople indulging in romance as long as it doesn't interfere with their duties ... at least I'm assuming there's a romance, from what you've said. As far as your treatment of Miss Chapel is concerned, be friendly and respectful, but don't pry. She is almost as private a person as Mr. Spock, and her new close relationship with him is very special to her -- a very personal, private thing, so she's not going to talk about it to just anybody."

"That reminds me. I also saw them cross two extended fingers on their right hands. Does that mean anything?"

Kirk was taken aback by that statement. Oh my God, if they're doing that, it is serious! That action usually only took place between couples who had been bonded -- which often meant that they had not only joined mentally but physically. If Spock doesn't volunteer the information soon, I'll have to ask him -- even if it invades his privacy. I have to know what his intentions are regarding Christine ... does he intend to marry her or what?

"Yes, it means something. It is a Vulcan gesture indicating that the couple involved is 'bonded,' the Vulcan equivalent of an engagement."

"You mean that Mr. Spock intends to ... marry Miss Chapel?"

"That's what usually happens when a couple is bonded, since Vulcans do not indulge in casual romantic relationships. At any rate, keep all this to yourself until I find out from Mr. Spock one way or the other."

"Count on it. I like Mr. Spock and Miss Chapel a lot. I'm sure they'll be very happy together, because it sounds as though they're a lot alike -- and it's obvious how much they care for each other."

Kirk smiled. "They're both capable of great affection and loyalty. Now is there anything else bothering you?"

"No; I'm fine now," Peter smiled.

"Good. Why don't you clean up now, have something to eat and get some sleep?" The pair embraced warmly, then Peter left. After a sonic shower, the Captain punched up a meal from his autochef and caught up on some overdue 'paperwork'. Upon completion of the 'paperwork', Kirk slipped his boots off and reclined, then reached for his bedside intercom. Spock should be in his quarters by now. "Spock here."

"I need to see you in my quarters so we may speak privately. Do you have anything planned? This may take some time."

"I was preparing to meditate, but that can be postponed if necessary."

"It's important."

"Very well, I will be there in a moment. Spock out."

The Captain lay back on his pillow, attempting to relax as he wracked his brain for a delicate way to bring up the touchy subject of his Vulcan friend's new romantic relationship with Dr. Chapel. Even as close as he and Spock were, there were still some things the latter was hesitant to talk about -- and his private life or feelings was one of them.

"Come." The buzzer sounding made Kirk jump but he managed to sound normal.

"Jim, what is wrong? You sounded distressed." A concerned frown creased the First Officer's forehead.

Kirk tried to laugh but it came out a weak croak. "Am I really that transparent, Spock?"

Spock smiled one of his rare smiles after making himself comfortable on the Captain's bed. "Only to me. Now what did you wish to talk about?"

"Spock, I ... uh -- really don't know how to put this."

"The truth is usually best."

"If you say so. It concerns your relationship with Miss Chapel."

Color rushed to both men's cheeks, making Kirk's a dull red and his Vulcan friend's an emerald green. It was obvious that this wasn't going to be easy for either one of them, but it had to be done.

"Christine and I have become very close in recent days. In fact, I care deeply for her -- what you would call love -- and we have become bonded. All that is left to do is apply for permission to marry, then have it take place at the earliest opportunity. Is that what you wanted to know?"

"Part of it," Kirk said.

"I also sense that you are wondering why I did not confide this to you sooner. I meant to discuss it with you long before now, but it is still such a new experience for me that I am still getting used to it."

Kirk smiled and relaxed on his pillow. "I suppose I can understand that, but there is still something else I need to discuss with you."

"Specify," Spock said.

"You're due to start working with Peter in a few days, right?"

"Two point three-seven-five days, to be exact ... but what has your nephew to do with what we are discussing?"

The Captain took a deep breath. "I'm afraid there's no delicate way of putting this, so I might as well come right out and say it. Spock, Peter left my quarters only moments ago. He said he had to speak privately with me about some things he had seen and statements he had heard which upset him greatly -- exchanges between you and Miss Chapel!"

Spock flushed but his voice was steady. "Does he dislike the idea of our having a romantic relationship?"

"Oh no, he's all for that. What upset him was actually seeing the two of you displaying affection toward each other."

The Science Officer raised an astonished eyebrow. "When was this?"

"This morning."

The Vulcan's lips twisted wryly. "I remember sensing someone's presence nearby. I even mentioned it to Christine, but she assured me there was no one around."

"I gathered that he had had no idea you felt anything for her -- just that she loved you. He said he saw you cross fingers with her, heard you accept her invitation to spend the night with her ... then hold and kiss her. I explained things as best I could, but don't know if I was any help or not."

"Would you like me to speak to him?"

"Only if you think it necessary. He was scared to mention it directly to you because he was sure you would feel he had eavesdropped or spied on you."

"Then it is necessary to set his erroneous assumption right. Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention. I will speak with Peter at the first opportunity."

* * *

Spock began his instruction of the Captain's nephew by explaining the history of the Enterprise's last refit and the new computer system which had been installed at that time. He was amazed at how quickly the young man caught on, how well he understood the detailed explanations of the Enterprise's various computer systems -- how they worked and what they controlled. Only one other person had caught on more quickly ... himself. Peter seemed to have a natural aptitude for mechanics, especially computer mechanics. The First Officer hoped to instruct Peter in depth, but that hope hung on the outcome of the latter's training here aboard ship. Until then, Spock vowed to teach Peter as much as possible in the week allotted to them.

As for the other matter, Peter hadn't mentioned anything personal (the Captain had no doubt admonished him not to) -- even though Spock had given him several openings. All the same, the Vulcan sensed that there was much the young man wanted to know, many questions he wanted to ask. If the boy didn't initiate a personal conversation soon, Spock would be obliged to do it himself -- and he was reluctant to do so, being the intensely private person he was ... but it was also vital that Peter be set straight about what he had seen and heard.

* * *

"That will be all for today, Peter. You have done well; I am very pleased with how quickly you have learned your lessons so far."

The young man blushed with pleasure. "Thank you, Mr. Spock. That's high praise coming from you -- but Uncle Jim said, 'Peter, if you aren't careful, you'll wind up a stack of books with legs like me.'"

"One could do much worse than to take the Captain as a role model ... nor should they apologize for being intelligent, though the Captain -- Jim -- has joked about that on several occasions. Intelligence is a necessary talent in order to be an effective officer aboard the Enterprise. I could quote you the names of many fine officers aboard ship, but the best of the female personnel is our own Dr. Chapel. She is not only highly skilled in every aspect of space medicine, but a doctor of biochemistry as well. Intelligence is the most attractive quality a woman can possess, as far as I'm concerned.

"Looks are secondary; one must beware of women who use their looks to obtain what they desire instead of their minds. Miss Chapel has not. She has used her mind -- her intelligence, if you will -- to obtain her present position, though most male crewmembers consider her very attractive physically."

"What do you think?"

Upswept brows lifted in astonishment, but the Vulcan's voice betrayed none. "As I have said, her intelligence is her most attractive quality, but I am very much aware of her physical attributes, her external beauty. Were I fully Vulcan, it would be extremely rare for me to notice such a thing ... but I am half-Human, so that part of me deeply appreciates her loveliness. However, I am trained not to react to it except at a designated time."

"Uncle Jim says you do indeed have emotions, but that you were trained from childhood to keep them under strict control."

"Correct."

"But I saw you -- " Peter blurted, then flushed red and stopped in mid-sentence.

"What did you see?" Not until Spock quietly but firmly ordered him to respond did Peter do so.

"Well, sir, I ... saw you ... embrace and kiss Dr. Chapel this morning."

"I see."

"I had no idea Vulcans did such things."

"Only with a bondmate or wife -- and then usually in privacy, behind closed doors. Vulcans do not publicly express emotion, nor do they generally make affectionate gestures unless it is the crossing of two extended fingers on the couple's right hands. This indicates that they are bonded or married."

"I saw you do that, too. Does that mean you intend to marry Miss Chapel? Uncle Jim said it did."

"That is what usually happens."

"Have you told him?"

"Of course; he is my friend. He will also perform the Federation ceremony once we have obtained official permission from Starfleet Command."

"That's great. I'm sure you'll be very happy together."

"Thank you, Peter. Will you be attending the ceremony?"

"I hope so."

Spock raised his right hand, fingers automatically parting in the Vulcan salute. "It is my hope that you succeed in all you endeavor. I now suggest that you obtain nourishment and retire early since I will expect to see you on the Bridge promptly at 0600."

The Vulcan was once again all business, so Peter reacted accordingly. "Whatever you say, Mr. Spock." The young man stood up, smiled and attempted an awkward salute. To Peter's surprise, Spock returned his smile and offered to help him learn to part his fingers properly. "Thank you, sir. I'd appreciate that."

"Live long and prosper, Peter. I will see you in the morning."

The younger man nodded and smiled again, disappearing through the sliding doors. The Vulcan stood up and stretched his sleek body, then turned and headed for the bathroom and a sonic shower before his regular hour of meditation ... and after that, the scheduled romantic rendezvous with Christine.

* * *

Once Peter and Spock had had a man-to-man talk, their remaining time together went much easier. As a result the youth couldn't help rhapsodizing to his uncle (and Dr. McCoy, with whom he was now working) about all he had learned from Spock and Scotty. It took all the patience the Chief Surgeon possessed to put up with it.

"Well, Bones, how's Peter doing under your tutelage?" Kirk asked the next time everyone was together in the Officers' Mess. "From what Peter's told me, Spock and Scotty are the greatest things since sliced bread."

"He's doing great, Jim. I may make a doctor of him yet -- but am getting just a wee bit tired of hearing how great Spock and Scotty are. I'd like to hear a few nice things about me for a change."

Kirk laughed. "Give him time, Bones. Your time with him has barely started."

McCoy sighed, his forkful of food halfway to his mouth. "On one condition ... that he tone down his rhapsodizing to a bearable level. There's hardly been any living with Spock and Scotty since Peter worked with them."

"Peter, do you think you could manage to tone down your rhapsodizing? It seems to be giving the good Doctor an inferiority complex."

The young man nodded and smiled, eventually saying that he had decided to sign aboard the Enterprise upon completion of command school. The Captain paled and shifted uncomfortably in his chair; Spock and McCoy both frowned with concern. Peter looked strangely at his uncle, then the other two senior officers.

"What's the matter? Did I say something wrong? Doesn't Uncle Jim want me here?"

"Of course he does, Peter," McCoy explained gently. "He couldn't be more proud to have you aboard. It's just that he's worried something will happen to you -- and he'd never forgive himself for that. After all, you're his only living relative, and he wants you to stay that way."

"For Heaven's sake, I worry just as much about him, believe it or not. He's my only living relative too, you know ... and he'd worry just as much if I were assigned to another ship. If I'm here, he could keep an eye on me -- or failing that, have all of you, his friends, look out for me."

Spock rose an approving eyebrow at such impeccable logic and was about to say something, but McCoy spoke first. "Spock's contaminated this poor boy, Jim. He sounds positively logical!"

"Doctor, there is nothing wrong with being logical." The Vulcan sounded indignant.

"As long as it's not overdone, no -- but you abuse the privilege."

The Science Officer frowned but said, "I am pleased you have finally realized that, Dr. McCoy. A pity you could not have learned it when you were Peter's age."

McCoy gave Peter a pained look. "You had to get him started, didn't you? Now he'll drive me crazy the rest of the day!" Once lunch was over, everyone returned to their stations. Peter accompanied McCoy back to Sickbay to finish his second day of instruction. The first day's instruction had involved indoctrination to the medical instruments and equipment, their functions and use.

The Chief Surgeon was just as amazed as the First Officer had been at how quickly Peter caught on, especially to the use of the medical equipment and the proper dosages of given drugs for the treatment and/or cure of specific diseases. His main interest was in treating heart problems of the higher life-forms, though he expressed interest in virtually every aspect of space medicine. Of course, McCoy suspected that Peter's interest was due as much to the fact that Chapel would work with them on much of it as it was to his eagerness to learn.

But as time passed, it turned out that the ACMO wasn't the only woman the youth had worked his charm on. In fact, Janice Rand, Uhura and virtually every woman Peter Kirk came in contact with had been charmed by the friendly, attractive and eager-to-learn young man. Janice and Uhura were in total agreement that Peter Kirk possessed every bit as much harm as his uncle, the Captain. When that was put to Jim Kirk, he laughed and said, "I guess it just runs in the family."

Eventually Peter was equally proficient in engineering, science and medicine ... though he also did well with Sulu, Chekov and Uhura in their specialties of helm control, navigation/weapons -- not to mention communications. He seemed to absorb information and expertise like the proverbial sponge ... almost literally from thin air. All the same, in the ensuing days Kirk often had to break up discussions between Spock, Scotty and McCoy which invariably turned into shouting and swearing matches (at least on the parts of the latter two; Spock never swore or raised his voice). When the Vulcan was angry or upset, his voice became cold and biting ... even sharp, seeming to cut through the air like a knife.

"For God's sake, Bones, Spock, Scotty ... listen to yourselves. You sound like a bunch of squabbling kids! Peter's young; he doesn't have to pick any particular field in which to specialize -- at least not yet. Let's be thankful he's intelligent and versatile enough to be proficient in engineering, science and medicine at the same time. Just do your best when working one-on-one with him again next week ... and don't try to pressure him into favoring one profession over another, no matter how much of a temptation it might be for you. That choice is Peter's alone. Is that clear?"

"Of course, sir," Scotty returned sheepishly.

McCoy was contrite. "Sorry, Jim ... just got a little carried away."

Spock was coolly dignified. "As you wish, Captain."

As for the subject of all the heated debate, Peter was looking forward to everyone testing him, confident that he would pass each test with flying colors. Which he did -- so much so that many crewmembers swore that they were unable to tell Peter's orders from the Captain's. Everyone who had worked closely with and taught Peter, from Scotty on down, was so proud of him they could have burst. Even Spock allowed himself a feeling of pride at his star pupil's performance, because he knew that only Peter and others like him could preserve the Kirk legend in Starfleet for space travelers yet unborn.

Peter could now easily understand why Uncle Jim thought of his crew as family, because in a very real sense, they were -- and he was certain he would feel the same way once he had a ship and crew of his own. Until then, he intended to do everything in his power to become the best Starfleet officer he could possibly be.



THE END 

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