DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of JM Lane and is copyright (c) 200w by JM Lane. This story is Rated NC17.



Unexpected Gifts

(aka Two Slices of Cheesecake, Please)

J. M. Lane



Christmas was coming up soon, and Dr. Christine Chapel was wracking her brain as to what to do in the way of a gift for Spock. She knew the tastes of her other friends aboard ship, but could never be sure what a Vulcan -- even a half-Human one -- would like. And in spite of all the times he had claimed that Vulcans did not give or accept gifts, she was also sure that he had enjoyed what the Captain (even Leonard and Nyota occasionally) had given him in the past…if not for Christmas, for his birthday. If they could give him gifts, why couldn't she? Especially now that they were bonded.

After a time she decided to give him what most men would like from the woman they loved -- a "cheesecake" holophoto of her in either a skimpy bathing suit, sexy clothes or lingerie. But even though she knew that Spock would probably not totally understand the gift, he would surely be man enough to appreciate the picture of her in sexy lingerie or clothing and/or a provocative pose, done with him in mind -- and for his eyes only.

She would have to enlist Nyota's help, deciding it was worth the risk of her friend's teasing her, even with the chance that some of the teasing would be at least somewhat risqué. What mattered was making sure that this would be a gift that Spock would never forget.

She wasn't sure what Spock was going to do in the way of something for her, but knew what she'd like to have -- a beefcake picture of him, most likely taken by the Captain. Not that she was likely to get one, but it was fun to speculate on the possibility nevertheless.

She reached for her desk intercom and contacted Uhura on the Bridge.

"Ny, could you drop by my quarters after you get off-duty? I need to discuss something important with you."

Uhura knew her friend well enough to know exactly what "something important" Chris was referring to. "Sure, Chris. See you then."

"I'll be waiting."

Christine closed her intercom and got up from her desk to head for her dresser to go through her prettiest and sexiest clothing to see what she could figure out. If not a clingy dress or bathing suit, maybe a silky, lacy teddy with an equally lacy garter belt, silky hose and high-heel slippers. (Maybe she could even put a brief speech with it -- "This is how I'll be dressed on our wedding night. Merry Christmas, my darling…") Now, about her hair…

* * *

"Wow, Chris! That's got to be one of your more spaced-out ideas," Uhura opined upon finding out what kind of gift Christine planned for Spock.

"Maybe so, but you have to admit, it'll be memorable," the other woman pointed out with a sly wink.

"That's for sure," Uhura returned with a laugh. "So, have you decided what you're going to wear?"

"I've narrowed it down to two outfits. I'll model both, then you tell me which one you think Spock would like best."

Privately, Uhura didn't think she could truly judge. A thing like this needed a man's opinion ... but she also knew that if this was supposed to be a surprise for Spock, she couldn't mention it to him, and it wouldn't be proper to ask any other man for his opinion -- unless perhaps it was Dr. McCoy or the Captain. It might be even better if just one of them knew…but which one?

The Captain was the one Spock was closest to, as well as a connoisseur of women -- but Spock might not appreciate even his closest, most trusted friend seeing his bondmate so scantily clad and in such a provocative pose. He might like it even less if McCoy saw her that way, but they were the only ones either of the couple involved trusted even marginally other than herself.

In the end, Uhura decided to show both pictures to both men and ask their opinion on which was most attractive. In the event of a tie, she would have to cast the deciding vote, and it wouldn't be easy, to put it mildly.

* * *

An hour later the modeling/holophoto session was over and Uhura had just left Christine's quarters. It had been a bit of a chore convincing her friend to go along with it at first, but she had finally managed to talk her around. Now all she had to do was see which man she could catch first.

Christine still didn't like the idea of either the Captain or Leonard seeing her dressed and posed so provocatively. She meant the pictures for Spock's eyes alone. She had even argued that since Nyota couldn't decide between the two cheesecake pictures, to simply give Spock both of them.

Nyota had sounded as logical as any Vulcan, however, when she had countered with the fact that it was imperative to have a man's opinion in this kind of situation and that the Captain and McCoy were Spock's two closest friends. If they didn't know the Vulcan's likes and dislikes, no one did.

Just the same, Christine had persisted in pointing out that, as a Vulcan, Spock wouldn't be pleased at any other man seeing his intended mate in such a manner if he found out they had seen it -- or figured out who had showed it to them. Uhura had assured her that she would swear Kirk and McCoy to secrecy…and neither would she herself ever mention it to him.

The most she would admit to would be to taking the holopictures. She would also be the only one who had truly seen Christine so provocatively dressed besides himself. He didn't need to know about the others (unless it happened to slip out, that is), but all intended to make sure it didn't -- for as long as possible, anyway.

* * *

Of course, Christine would have been even more stunned (albeit pleasantly surprised) at the gift Spock was planning for her. He had never done anything like this before; it was most unVulcan, not to mention immodest, despite the fact that he would be [almost] completely dressed.

The most provocative thing he would do (not that Christine needed any provocation) would be to have an open shirt and tight pants. Perhaps he would even pose provocatively, though Spock was most reluctant to do such a thing, even for Christine. The only reason he had agreed was that Jim had told him that to be partially covered was even sexier than bare skin. Even at that, he would allow only Jim to take the picture.

The Vulcan could only hope that Christine's reaction would be worth the embarrassment it would cause him to dress and pose that way, even if only he, Jim and Christine would know about it. He would never live it down if Miss Uhura or Dr. McCoy ever learned of it, knowing how outspoken each was.

Spock would have had the Vulcan equivalent of a "fit" if he had known that Kirk was even considering showing the picture to Uhura, if only to get a woman's opinion (she was the only woman Spock came anywhere near trusting other than Christine -- and perhaps his mother). The Captain told himself to make sure she kept it a secret, however, if only to keep from embarrassing Spock or Christine in front of the rest of the crew.

Yet both Kirk and Uhura could imagine what would happen when each saw those provocative pictures…and could only hope to be present when they were opened. At the moment, however, each had more pressing concerns.

* * *

Uhura tried the Captain's quarters first; Kirk's eyebrows lifted in surprise upon seeing Uhura. "Uhura? What can I do for you?"

"I need you to answer a question for me."

"Sure, if I can. What is it?"

"Can I come in first? It's kind of personal."

Kirk couldn't imagine what kind of personal question Uhura could want (or need) to ask him, but didn't question her, assuming she would tell him what she was there for at the earliest opportunity. Once she was inside and the doors were closed behind her, he motioned her to sit down at his desk as he moved to seat himself behind it. Once he had sat down, Kirk rested clasped hands on top of the desk and looked up at his visitor with an inquisitive smile.

"What can I do for you?"

"Tell me which of these pictures you like best," she told him, handing over the pictures for his perusal. "Since I can't decide, I finally came to the conclusion that a man's opinion was necessary."

This was when Kirk looked closely at the pictures -- and all the blood left his face. He was stunned speechless for an unusually long time before he finally managed to speak again. "But -- this is Christine… Dr. Chapel!"

"Yes," Uhura acknowledged.

"Why are you asking my opinion?"

"Christine asked me to take these, and we thought you could decide which one Spock would like best. She intends to give him one for Christmas."

"Oh, my God…" Kirk breathed. He had seen many women like this, but not Christine. He had never dared to think of any of the women aboard like this, not even the senior female officers: and now this. Christine was beautiful and alluring, even sexy, of course; that wasn't the point. Most of the female Enterprise personnel were. But most importantly, she was Spock's bondmate -- and how would he react if he knew that even his closest friend had seen his future mate in such a state of undress and provocative pose?

"They're both very beautiful," he finally made himself say. "I'm sure Spock would like either one very much."

"But which one do you think is the best?" Uhura persisted. "If you can't decide, I'll have to go to Dr. McCoy. I didn't want to go to anyone else if I could avoid it, since you two are the closest to Spock -- and Christine …and as such, know how to keep things like this to yourselves. If any others saw these, it'd be all over the ship in a week -- and neither Spock nor Christine would ever live it down."

"You have a point," Kirk conceded. "Let's see…if I put myself in Spock's shoes, so to speak -- which one would I pick?" He studied the pictures for a while longer, then looked up at his visitor and said, "I'd love the one of her in the lacy French-cut teddy with one strap off her shoulder, her hair in long ringlets held up with a ribbon and one hand, then a lacy garter belt with white hose and sexy high-heeled slippers."

He could still see Carol that way when she had posed for just such a "glamour" or "cheesecake" shot for him, in the same kind of outfit, not too long before she had become pregnant and they had decided to break up shortly before he'd made Captain. But that was one thing; this was something else again.

He fought off a blush even as he recalled Spock once confessing to him a secret liking for the same thing - -but even as well as he knew the Vulcan, he couldn't be sure that he still felt that way, since that had been some time ago, shortly after his mind-meld with V'ger, in fact.

How could he dare to presume to second-guess Spock, particularly where a sexy holo of Christine was concerned? He certainly knew how he would feel if such a thing happened to him

"I'm sorry if this embarrasses you, Captain, but I couldn't go to Spock with this. Chris wants to surprise him."

"I understand that, Uhura…and you can be assured that I won't mention this to him. It's just that I've never presumed to second-guess him on anything like this before. I just hope I've not only made the right choice, but been of some help to you." He handed the holophotos back to her.

"Somewhat. Thanks." Uhura stood up, holos in hand, and turned to leave.

"Wait, Uhura. Which one did you like best? You never said," Kirk reminded her.

"I personally lean toward the teddy one myself," she told him.

"Then you still intend to show them to Bones?" the Captain wondered.

"I was considering it. Do you happen to know where he is now?"

"If he's not in his office, try the Officers' Lounge or his quarters," Kirk suggested. "By the way, it might be a good idea if you warned him to sit down first -- if he isn't already, that is."

Uhura smiled. "Will do. Thanks again."

"Let me know how things turn out after Christmas if you can, okay? How they each react?"

"If I can." Since Christmas was still about a week away, Uhura could make only a tentative promise. With that, she disappeared out the door.

Once she was gone, Kirk buried his burning face in his hands, forcing himself to think of other things than the cheesecake holos, like what he had promised to help Spock with. It was no less embarrassing, but at least it was something he could live with and wouldn't be having erotic dreams about. It was best if he went and did that -- then work on some overdue paperwork, if not read for the rest of the night.

After this night, he'd have to make sure he was tired enough so he didn't dream … whatever he had to do. Even at that, it'd be a while before he could get those holos of his ACMO as he had never seen her before (and probably never would again) out of his mind.

* * *

Uhura discovered that McCoy had left Sickbay twenty minutes before for a late dinner in the Officers' Lounge. With luck, there wouldn't be anyone else around to eavesdrop, though she would have preferred to meet with the Doctor in his quarters, if only to be on the safe side. On the other hand, she might not get another chance -- at least not before Christmas -- so she'd better talk to him while she could.

She found him eating in a secluded booth in the darkened Lounge, the only other people in it clear over on the port side of the room. The only light in this area was directly over him, putting his craggy face in shadow.

"Dr. McCoy?" she asked softly once she stood next to him.

McCoy looked up, almost choking on his drink. "Uhura? What are you doing here?" he asked, clearly startled.

"I need to talk to you," she replied, sliding into the seat facing him.

"May I ask what about?" the Doctor inquired as he set his drink down.

"Chris's Christmas present for Spock."

"What about it?" He looked intently at her.

"I need you to answer a question for me."

"Of course. What is it?"

She handed him the two pictures of Christine. "Which one of these pictures do you think Spock would like best?"

The Doctor's eyes widened once he realized what they were…and who the subject was. He fought off a blush upon seeing them, because of the thoughts they had prompted, just as Kirk had, but without much success. Fortunately, Uhura didn't seem to notice. "You're asking me something like this? Wouldn't you do better to go to Jim -- or even Spock, for that matter?"

"I can't go to Spock; this is supposed to be a surprise for him…and I've already gone to the Captain."

"What did he say?" McCoy asked, taking another bite of food before washing it down with another swig of his drink.

"He said he liked the one with the teddy best," Uhura told him.

"What about you?"

"So do I," the dark woman replied.

The CMO looked more closely at each picture, then back to Uhura. "The one with the teddy is beautiful, make no mistake -- but then, Chris is a beautiful woman. She'd look good in anything."

"So which one do you prefer?"

"It's hard to say -- but if I were Spock and had to choose, I would prefer the one with the clingy dress. At least she's more covered that way…and as we both know, Vulcans are usually quite conservative."

"In public, maybe -- but who can tell what they're like in private?" Uhura smiled wickedly. "Probably the only ones who know…that we know, that is -- are Amanda and Chris, and out of respect for Sarek and Spock's privacy, wouldn't tell us."

"You're right, I'm afraid," the Doctor sighed as he continued to eat and drink.

"One last thing -- please keep this to yourself. Neither Chris nor Spock would be pleased if they knew I'd done this. I had to twist her arm as it was to get her to agree to my seeing the Captain, much less you," Uhura warned.

"It won't be easy, but I'll do my best," McCoy promised. "At least within the bounds of patient/doctor confidentiality…if not friendship." He grinned, then suddenly became serious. "Don't worry. Neither of them will ever hear it from me -- though I'd raise the roof if my daughter ever posed like that."

"How do you know she hasn't?" Uhura teased. At the Doctor's shocked look, she smiled and said, "Don't worry. I was kidding. See you later …and if you like, I'll try to let you know what the final choice is -- and how things turn out after Christmas."

"Fine." With that, McCoy resumed his meal and Uhura left the Lounge, carefully maneuvering around chairs, tables and such before reaching the door, then going about the rest of her business.

* * *

Spock opened the left bottom drawer of his desk, where he kept things he rarely used, pulling out gift wrap, tape and tags, including laser scissors, carefully cutting the exact amount he needed to completely cover this, one of the bare handful of gifts he ever allowed himself to give to the few close friends he had made aboard ship. Only now, however, had he considered it logical to give a gift to Christine -- or at least the first time he would give her this particular kind of gift. It probably wouldn't be the last, either…not if her reaction was what Jim had promised it would be. He fervently hoped so; it was the only way it would make the embarrassment he had experienced by making such a picture even passably worthwhile.

Certainly the picture was more covered than he had been… The Vulcan fought off a blush but despite his best efforts, chartreuse color spread all over his face from forehead to chin. He put the last strip of tape on the wrapping, then wrote out the tag. In keeping with Vulcan custom, he did not put any ribbons or bows -- any unnecessary decoration or undue sentiment was frowned upon. The most he allowed himself was "To M'chejan, Christine…Your Bondmate, Spock."

When Jim had originally suggested this, the First Officer had at first been appalled…then mortified. It took several days for Spock to accustom himself to the idea, but he eventually resigned himself to going along with it, mainly because he had been unable to come up with another acceptable alternative -- even though he knew that Christine would have loved any one of them. This "beefcake" picture had been the least objectionable of the few alternatives left to him.

Even Jim had no idea why the pictures were called such; all either of them knew was that it was the male equivalent of "cheesecake", which involved women in "glamour" or provocative poses, usually in either what Humans commonly called "sexy" clothing or lingerie, usually for the men in their lives -- such as boyfriends, lovers and/or husbands. It was for that reason that he assumed he would be expected to do the same.

If it had been for anyone but Christine, he would not have done it, no matter what Jim said. As it was, he knew it would take a long time for him to get over the embarrassment of doing such a thing, dressing in such a way…even for her. "Now have you any kind of civilian clothes that might be considered 'sexy'? Anything with buttons, tight pants, anything like that?" the Captain had asked upon first coming to his Vulcan friend's quarters the day of the Christmas party, scheduled for 1900 hours on the evening of December 18 -- this evening.

Spock declared with all the dignity he could muster. "Vulcans would not own any such clothes. We do not show our bodies in such a provocative manner."

"What about that outfit I got you on our last shore leave? I seem to recall that it was just as I described. Why wouldn't it work?" Kirk suggested.

"I have never understood why you bought those clothes for me. You should have known I would not wear them."

"I knew no such thing," came the reply. "Besides, isn't it logical to have at least one appropriate outfit on hand for just such an incident as this?" Kirk pointedly reminded him. "After all, you never know when you'll need one."

After a long silence, the Vulcan sighed in resignation. "Very well. If you will allow me time to find them…"

"No problem," Kirk returned easily.

* * *

If Spock thought it was embarrassing simply discussing a possible outfit for the picture, that was nothing compared to what he felt preparing for the actual photo session. Kirk frowned at him when he came out dressed in the aforementioned outfit with the royal blue silk shirt buttoned all the way up to his throat; the matching hip hugger pants the same…that is, buttoned all the way up. Spock raised an eyebrow at his friend's reaction. "Is something wrong?"

"You can't have the picture taken like that, Spock."

"Why not?"

"It's not appropriate, for one thing. The purpose of a `beefcake' photo is to show as much of your body to your lady as possible. Since I knew you'd never go for a nude photo -- even though Christine has seen you that way many times in the course of her work, I thought this would be an acceptable compromise. A 'beefcake' photo is meant to be seen by your lady alone, purely for her enjoyment…so you can dress in ways for her that you ordinarily wouldn't," Kirk explained. "Such as unbuttoning that shirt and the first couple buttons on the pants…"

"Jim!" Spock exclaimed, blushing before he could manage to control it, holding up a hand to keep Kirk from unbuttoning the shirt himself.

"If you don't do it, I will," Kirk threatened softly. "Come on, Spock -- you know that only you and I and Christine will see the picture." Kirk didn't dare mention that he planned to show Uhura for the token woman's opinion; she was no doubt waiting in his quarters right now. Spock would likely refuse outright to do the picture if he knew that.

The Vulcan once again sighed in resignation, the reluctantly reached to unbutton the shirt and the top two buttons on the pants.

"You can tuck in the shirt if you like, Spock," Kirk directed. The First Officer saw little point but did it anyway. Once he finished, he called to Kirk again.

"Is this any better?"

Kirk smiled approvingly. "Much. However, if you put your hands like this, it'll be even better…" He placed the Vulcan's thumbs between the pants and shirt, pulling the former down slightly, then moved at least one shoulder of the shirt so that one smooth, greenish-bronze shoulder was exposed…and that shoulder slightly higher than the other even as the majority of his bare chest was also exposed. The left shoulder was also half-exposed. "Now, pose with your legs apart and one knee bent slightly, with part of your body weight on the ball of that foot and your upper torso turned slightly to the right -- then lastly, your lower torso and chest should be thrust forward, with your hands on your hips."

"Why?"

"You'll see. Trust me; Christine will love it."

Spock had serious doubts about the whole matter but didn't object. Even at that, the session seemed to last forever -- and he knew that he would be glad, exceedingly so, when it was finally over.

"Also, how about a smile, if only a slight one? Pretend that Christine has just entered the room and you caught her looking you over as you stood before the mirror."

It took several tries before Spock could do it without either closing his eyes, blushing or both -- but when he finally did, Kirk smiled again and gave him the thumbs-up after taking the picture.

"Great, Spock. Perfect!" All that was necessary now (at least for Spock)…other than getting into proper clothing again, that is…was wrapping his last gift and placing it under the tree in the Rec Room.

Half an hour later, after Spock had changed into his regular clothes again, Kirk had given him the holophoto in a frame with IDICs at each corner. "Here you go, Spock. Could you let me know what Christine thinks of the picture?" the Captain asked before turning to depart for his own quarters.

"If you like," was the reply.

"I would," Kirk said -- then "I'll see you at the Christmas party tonight, then."

Spock nodded in Kirk's direction, then the latter left him to his task of wrapping. The Vulcan was still too embarrassed to look at the picture to see what he looked like, fortunately for Christine. After that was done and the gift had been placed under the tree, Spock planned to spend the time between his return to his quarters and the time to meet Christine at hers -- roughly three hours -- in meditation in order to build up his emotional control so that he could face everyone with his mask once again intact: and the way he felt at this point, he was going to need every moment of it!

* * *

Uhura had been waiting in Kirk's quarters, sitting patiently on his bed with her hands folded in her lap, when the Captain came back from Spock's quarters after the photo session to find the frame and put the holo into it. He silently handed it to her, then turned for his desk, where he had put the frame in the top right drawer. While his back was turned, she moved it so she could see it -- and her eyes widened in a mixture of stunned surprise and strong physical attraction.

Oh my God, she had never seen Spock look so totally hot, not even on Platonius! It wouldn't surprise her if Chris felt exactly the same way upon seeing it. In spite of herself, her heart began pounding and her face flushed. She was thankful for her dusky skin when the Captain turned back to her, but even then, she was hard-pressed to hide her reaction to it.

"Uhura, are you all right?" Kirk asked, his tone a mixture of concern and question.

"Uh…yes, I'm all right. I'm -- just not used to seeing Spock like he is in this picture," she confessed quietly, hoping Kirk could not detect the shakiness she still felt even as she handed the holo back to him.

"Do you think Christine will like the picture?" the Captain inquired as he placed the holo into the frame.

"Most definitely," Uhura assured him, privately thinking that any woman with an ounce of hormones would love it, herself included -- but she would have to keep her knowledge and feelings to herself. This was one thing she definitely couldn't tell Chris about, not if she wanted to keep the other woman's friendship. No woman liked to think that other women not only saw their intended mate in such a state of dress (or undress, as it were), but had fantasies about him to boot. [Not that the Vulcan had ever needed to dress like in the holo to have that happen, of course…]

It would be difficult enough to have to put the memory of it -- and the way seeing it had made her feel -- out of her mind as it was, particularly when she was anywhere near Spock for a long time to come after this. All she could do was pray for strength to endure and that she would be able to keep it a secret from him as well, though that would be no mean trick, owing to the fact that he was a strong telepath.

"Remember, we have to keep this a secret between us," Kirk warned. "Neither Spock nor Christine would ever forgive us if these sexy holos became public knowledge."

"I assure you, neither of them will ever hear a peep out of me on the subject," Uhura declared emphatically. Not unless I'm asked, that is, she told herself, smiling wickedly -- although keeping her thoughts regulation would be no mean trick either, particularly if she was alone in her quarters … at least until she could manage to assert control over her baser instincts.

Generally it wasn't that hard -- but this was going to be a real challenge! Of course, Uhura had always thrived on challenges, and had never been one to give up easily, so she had every confidence that she would be able to master her desires eventually. It was the time between now and then that was in question …

* * *

It was 18:45 when Spock arrived at Christine's door to collect her for the party; the couple crossed fingers and exchanged warm smiles before turning to head for the nearest turbolift which would take them to the Rec Deck. It wasn't until they had entered the car and turned around, their backs to the rear of it, that their hands joined, fingers intricately intertwined, and the doors closed, leaving them in privacy.

It was then that Christine half turned to her future husband and gently pulled him down to brush her lips against his. "Beloved," she whispered.

He allowed himself to project love for her both through their bond and the warm brown velvet of his eyes. M'chejan.

"I'm so lucky," she continued. "Simply the happiest woman in the universe!"

It is I who am the fortunate one -- so very fortunate indeed to have found you and your love. Please do not ever leave me, his mind-voice entreated.

"Never," she declared feelingly.

This time he spoke aloud. "While there is time, I wish to say that you are very beautiful," the Vulcan commented, his deep, rich baritone holding almost a crooning quality as he looked her over appreciatively.

"Thank you, my love," she smiled, looking him over in an equally appreciative manner, from the top of his silky dark head and elegantly pointed ears to the bottom of his long, elegant feet. She would have told him how handsome he was, but it was at this point that they reached the Rec Room doors upon stepping out of the 'lift. Behind those doors were food and drink, music and gifts, gaiety and friends.

No one noticed them at first, so they had a moment to themselves, where Spock raised Christine's hands to his lips and kissed them before she caught his hand and held it to her cheek, only reluctantly releasing it when Kirk and Uhura looked up from where they were engaged in a conversation next to the refreshment table and spotted them.

"I was beginning to wonder if you two had decided not to come," the Captain teased gently.

Spock raised an eyebrow at his Human friend but made no comment; Christine looked questioningly at Uhura, expecting an explanation for Kirk's comment -- but her Bantu friend simply smiled apologetically, then shook her head and shrugged.

"You look great…both of you," Kirk opined then, making sure not to look overlong at Christine in an attempt not to jog his memory of how she had looked and posed in the sexy holo Uhura had showed him.

It was the same with Uhura where Spock was concerned, particularly since Christine was right there standing next to the Vulcan, and it would never do to let her friend see the lingering looks she directed at him. So far the only way she'd been able to put it out of her mind was by immersing herself in work -- and even then the mental picture came back unbidden when she least expected it, prompting yet another blush at the thoughts that followed. If she couldn't banish it to its proper place at the back of her mind within a reasonable amount of time, she would need a selective memory-wipe or something, if not self-hypnosis.

"What do you say we all sing together?" Uhura suggested.

Spock wasn't fond of the idea, particularly since it not only called unwanted attention to him, it brought back unpleasant memories of the only time he had ever sung in public -- under duress, no less -- on Platonius, sitting at Christine and Uhura's feet as he did so. He could still recall having seen tears in Christine's eyes before she closed them in pain, hating the idea of having to be part of his humiliation.

"Vulcans do not sing in public, particularly during Human holidays," Spock stated matter-of-factly.

"Come on, Spock. This only happens once a year. You can make an exception once a year, can't you?" McCoy entreated, coming to join the others, having heard Uhura's suggestion.

The Vulcan had hoped that Christine and Jim wouldn't back him into the proverbial corner by agreeing with the Doctor and Uhura, but that hope was not to be realized. "Come on, Spock. I don't get to sing that often," Kirk said.

"I haven't sung in ages either, Spock. Please say you'll join us," Christine entreated, meeting his dark eyes with her blue ones.

The Vulcan sighed, convinced it was a conspiracy -- albeit a kindly one -- to contaminate him with their emotionalism once and for all…but there seemed little he could do about it, so he reluctantly agreed. "Very well," he conceded.

With that, Uhura tucked her arm into the Captain's and turned on her heel to head for one corner of the room from where Christmas music was emanating; Christine followed suit with Spock and McCoy brought up the rear with his date, the current Head Nurse, Liz Rogers, who had just joined him.

She was as much a Southern girl as McCoy was a Southern gentleman, having been born and raised in Alabama. She had only gotten off-planet upon joining Starfleet ten years before, having first been assigned to the Yorktown and Lexington as a Registered Nurse before having been re-assigned to the Enterprise shortly after the V'ger mission and Christine's becoming a doctor.

A short time later the three couples had joined about two dozen other musically inclined crew; all were singing by then -- even Spock, as quietly as possible. Some of the songs were religious in nature, such as "O Holy Night" and "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing", but there were also were many more secular in nature -- some even romantic to a degree, such as "All I Want for Christmas is You" and "Let It Snow!" …two of Christine's favorites.

Her eyes had locked with his for the duration of the first, in fact, and soon the couple found themselves singing only to each other, seemingly oblivious to the crowd around them. All that mattered was the other's presence, their physical and mental touch. Once they finished, the others clapped boisterously, prompting the couple to come back to reality and both to blush in spite of themselves because of the love which had been detected in every word during the impromptu duet.

"I don't want a lot for Christmas

There's just one thing I need

I don't care about presents

Underneath the Christmas tree

I just want you for my own

More than you could ever know

Make my wish come true ...

All I want for Christmas Is you ...

I don't want a lot for Christmas

There is just one thing I need

I don't care about presents

Underneath the Christmas tree

I don't need to hang my stocking

There upon the fireplace

Santa Claus won't make me happy

With a toy on Christmas Day

I just want you for my own

More than you could ever know

Make my wish come true

All I want for Christmas is you ...

You, baby

I won't ask for much this Christmas

I won't even wish for snow

I'm just gonna keep on waiting

Underneath the mistletoe

I won't make a list and send it

To the North Pole for Saint Nick

I won't even stay awake to

Hear those magic reindeer click

'Cause I just want you here tonight

Holding on to me so tight

What more can I do

Baby all I want for Christmas is you

You ...

All the lights are shining

So brightly everywhere

And the sound of children's

Laughter fills the air

And everyone is singing

I hear those sleigh bells ringing

Santa won't you bring me the one

I really need won't you please bring my baby to me ...

Oh I don't want a lot for Christmas

This is all I'm asking for

I just want to see my baby

Standing right outside my door

Oh, I just want him/her for my own

More than you could ever know

Make my wish come true

Baby, all I want for Christmas is

You ..."

It was their friends' reassuring smiles which eased their embarrassment even as Kirk suggested, "Let's open -- or at least distribute--the gifts now."

Again, Spock wasn't fond of the idea, but reinforced his mental shields as they headed for the beautifully decorated Christmas tree in the center of the large room. It was piled three feet high with at least one present for every crewmember. Some would be lucky and get more than one -- but no one could have said just which ones since the lucky ones tended to vary from year to year.

However, it was naturally assumed that Kirk would get at least two, if not more, gifts; Spock at least three; McCoy at least three as well -- and Uhura and Christine were both likely to receive at least four apiece from those closest to them.

It took considerable time to distribute the various gifts, but at last they were all in the possession of their intended recipients. The Vulcan was all ready to make his goodbyes and depart with his "loot", as his Human friends usually described gifts, but when he least expected it, Christine planted herself beneath the mistletoe hanging in the nearby doorway leading into the next room and quietly cleared her throat to get her bondmate's attention.

A part of Spock did not appreciate being put on display by having to publicly kiss her, but a larger part was unable to resist the combination of her soft lips and fond, eloquent eyes…not to mention her intoxicating perfume. Even at that, he preferred to confine his displays of romantic emotion to the times he and Christine were alone, with no prying eyes upon them. But for the time being, he had little choice in the matter.

He moved to join Christine and lifted her chin up before finding her lips in a warm, lingering kiss. He could sense she wanted to do it again, but he mentally told her, gently but firmly, We may do it again when we are alone, m'chejan; I have already indulged in enough public emotionalism for one night.

He released her and they discreetly moved away from the mistletoe…but not in time, since McCoy suddenly materialized beside them. "I've got dibs on Chris next, Spock -- with your permission, of course."

The Vulcan nodded and the CMO gave his assistant a bear hug and kiss on the cheek. Next came Kirk, who did the same, as did Scotty. After that, Spock whisked his lady away as politely and quickly as he could, leaving the Humans to their frivolity. He was particularly glad to have escaped since he had caught Uhura's eye as they slipped out, the latter having looked as though she had intended to give him a kiss just before the doors closed between them. With all due respect, he had another female's kiss in mind.

Once they were safely out of the Rec Room, the couple headed for the 'lift at the end of the corridor. "I think you disappointed Nyota," Christine observed teasingly. "I could tell she wanted to catch you under the mistletoe as well. In which case, don't be surprised if she corners you sometime when you least expect it in order to collect it."

"With all due respect to Miss Uhura, I had another lady to kiss at that point," the Vulcan commented with an almost provocative note in his voice. "All the same, I shall do my best to be ready for her." He continued briefly once they entered the turbolift. "In addition, when we are alone, we have no need of mistletoe." He lifted a hand to stroke her lips with one finger.

Christine thrilled to his touch and smiled tenderly before reaching up to stroke the back of his neck, pleased when he shivered at her touch. She sensed his arousal through their bond but he said, "Do not tempt me, m'chejan. I have an early shift. We will 'make up for lost time' after I am off-shift tomorrow."

Christine was disappointed but had to agree. "I've got an early shift too, love," she lamented. "But as you say, we can get together once I've had some sleep. How about dinner together -- and maybe some 'hot loves' afterward?" He raised an eyebrow at her unfamiliar slang term; she simply smiled and said, "That simply means we'll be making love after dinner tomorrow."

"In that case, I will see you then. Please let me know what you think of my gift to you."

"I'll also be waiting to hear what you think of mine," she returned, her heart rate speeding up at the mere thought of Spock's possible reaction to her provocative holo…and in anticipation of finding out what he had given her. After a final kiss and embrace, the First Officer headed for his own quarters, planning for the next rendezvous between himself and Christine to take place there.

He could only speculate on what Christine's reaction would be to seeing his atypically provocative mode of dress and pose in the holo he had given her. If it was anywhere near what Jim promised, however, he could look forward to a very stimulating evening, indeed…

* * *

Once Christine got inside her quarters, she changed out of her party finery and into a robe and slippers, taking her hair down in preparation for a shower before going to bed -- but before that, she would take a look at what Spock had given her. She couldn't imagine what it could be, but didn't think she would be able to get to sleep without looking at it.

After her shower, and with her hair wrapped turban-style, Christine sat down on her bed upon leaving her bathroom and picked up the gaily wrapped gift, which she had placed on her bed earlier. She smiled when she noted no ribbons or bows, simply a tag which read, "To M'chejan Christine…Your Bondmate, Spock."

It took her only a few moments to remove the wrapping -- and her eyes widened in a mixture of shock and pleasure. As she gazed upon the provocative holo, the ACMO felt her cheeks flush and her heart pound … among other things. Spock was posed, hands on hips, with his lower torso and chest thrust forward. His upper torso was turned slightly to the right and his legs were apart, his right knee bent, part of his body weight on the ball of that foot…and most surprisingly, he was barefoot. But that wasn't the only surprise. His thumbs were hooked over the waistband of the pants so they were pulled down slightly. She was both pleased and surprised to note that the top two buttons were undone. One shoulder of the shirt was such so that one smooth, greenish-bronze shoulder was exposed…and that shoulder slightly higher than the other, even as the majority of his chest was exposed -- and the left shoulder half-exposed.

She ached to stroke, kiss and caress that bare skin and furred chest covered with dusky hair, a thin trail ending just above his navel. She had never seen Spock look so thoroughly sexy, so totally HOT. Just wait until she had him alone tomorrow night. He wasn't going to know what hit him! She fought to keep from both salivating and hyperventilating at the delectable sight. One thing was for sure -- this would be perfect for the nights they couldn't be together. It wouldn't be quite the same, but was certainly the next best thing.

Upon calming down, she began to think of how difficult it must have been for him to have both dressed and posed like that…but she fully intended to show him her deep appreciation and assure him that his embarrassment and gallant efforts had not been in vain. She set the holo on her nightstand facing her bed and lay down after removing her robe; a moment later the fingers of her right hand began to rub and knead her nipples until they were painfully hard -- which didn't take much.

She closed her eyes and pretended it was Spock's lips and tongue gently licking and suckling her breasts, gasping and squirming at the pleasurable sensations the combination of her erotic thoughts and physical ministrations were prompting. Meanwhile, the other hand was wandering south until it reached the dark triangle between her slender legs.

She shot a glance back at the sexy holo of her half-Vulcan lover, lingering on the slight but noticeable bulge at his groin and his soft, brown velvet eyes, pretending he was watching her before spreading her legs wider and sliding her fingers between the soft folds of her labia and seeking the painfully sensitive nub of flesh located there.

Erotic memories of their past intimacies soon brought Christine to a fever pitch. She neared the brink even as her fingers, which she imagined to be Spock's lips and tongue pleasuring her almost beyond endurance, lightly massaged her most secret place.

She remembered vividly how his hands had felt intimately caressing her body and how incredible it felt to feel his body next to hers and his delicious, throbbing hardness filling her, moving inside her as their intricately entwined bodies thrashed in frantic passion. How she wished she could have felt her beloved's lips, hands and body even as she felt her orgasm start. Her writhing increased geometrically as she softly moaned once again -- then cried out at the intensity of the next sensation, reminiscent of an immense tidal wave crashing over her.

Her thoughts trailed off into slumber as her body quieted down, momentarily sated -- but she couldn't help wondering if Spock had felt the same sensations via their bond or if he had even opened her gift to him yet. She could just imagine his reaction when he saw it…or how seeing her so scantily clad and in such a provocative pose, much less the message she had included with it, would affect him. Her last waking thought was what she would do if Nyota (or anyone else) asked her what kind of gift she had received from Spock, much less exactly what it was…

* * *

As for Spock, he had also showered upon changing out of his party clothes, putting on his favorite meditation robe before leaving his bathroom and heading for his bedchamber, intending to sit on his bed and meditate for a time before taking a look at the gift Christine had given him. What prompted him to reach for his gift from her instead, the Vulcan couldn't have said -- at least not openly. All he knew for certain was that he had to see what she had given him, even if it was only to give her his opinion of it.

It took but a few moments to open it and set the wrappings aside; his reaction upon seeing the sexy holo of her was much the same as Christine's had been upon seeing the holo of him. He had rarely seen her in anything but her duty uniforms with her hair up; this was definitely a novelty to him…and a very aesthetically pleasing one at that.

Had circumstances been different, he could have allowed himself to fully appreciate how fetching she had looked in the blue silk and lace dress she had worn on Platonius -- a dress with thigh-high slit on the right side, and gold-and-diamond earrings dangling from her ears…not to mention the pseudo-Vulcan makeup and hairstyle. As it was, his overriding concern at the time was finding a means to escape the Platonians' sadism and mind-control, as well as the torturous things he, Jim and the women had been forced to perform for their amusement.

Particularly difficult to endure was the time when he and Christine had been in uncomfortably close proximity, his inability to shield his thoughts and emotions from her because of Parmen's control of him being especially distressing. They had then been made to kiss and caress each other, unable to stop themselves however hard they tried.

He was thankful that Jim had done what he did when he did; had it been him, he was certain he would have taken the action one step further and allowed the long suffering Alexander to actually kill Parmen. Ironically, it was precisely this incident which had prompted him to begin a romantic/sexual relationship with Christine…but only after each had helped the other recover from the physical and emotional trauma of it. It had taken several months before either had been able to relax enough in the other's presence to allow their romance to blossom.

Fortunately all that was behind them now -- and only last month they had fully bonded, which had only enhanced their feelings whenever they were together, especially when they shared physical intimacy. Neither had ever experienced anything like it before and probably never would again…at least not with anyone else. But even if only to himself, Spock had to admit to feeling it again upon feasting his eyes on the holo of his bondmate, the feelings intensifying when he heard her sultry, husky voice saying, "This is how I'll look on our wedding night. Merry Christmas, my darling…" upon activating the small voice recording device included with the holo.

He couldn't help noticing how her light golden-brown skin contrasted with the pure white silk and lace of the brief, French-cut `teddy' she was wearing, not to mention the lace garters, silk hose and clear, high-heeled slippers decorated with something light and feathery she had once called 'marabou'. But he was most surprised at the action he took a moment later -- his fingers traced the one smooth, golden shoulder left bare by the one strap which had fallen down onto her arm.

How much he wished she were here so he could really touch and hold her, kiss and caress her silky, fragrant skin… He forced the erotic thoughts aside even as his eyes were once again drawn to the holo. The thoughts returned despite his best efforts when he saw her heavy-lidded, blue-shadowed and long-lashed eyes, along with the provocative smile on her soft, deeply pink lips. He was also reminded of how silky and fragrant her hair had felt and smelled when he had caressed it… It was at this point that his body began to react to the sight and non-regulation thoughts of his beautiful bondmate. Nothing he did could make it quiet down, either -- at least not immediately. He felt his groin tighten and his member harden, all the while wishing that self-manipulation did as much for him as it did for Humans, but even more of Vulcan sexuality was mind-related than Human…and he was too Vulcan for Human methods to truly satisfy him. However, they would have to do. He could not see her again until tomorrow evening, since their duties prevented it.

As Christine had done, he set the holo of her on his night table and slipped off his robe so that he lay naked on his bed facing it. He then kneaded his nipples until they were as painfully hard as his cock, pretending that Christine was watching him and wished that she could be here to lick and suck them both. He could not control a deep flush at that thought, but refused to feel ashamed at his desire for her. It was natural and normal -- and even logical -- to feel such things for one's intended mate.

He eventually took his iron-hard member in his hands and gently manipulated it, methodically pulling, tugging and stroking it until he could lie still no longer, all the while pretending it was her lips, tongue and fingers fondling him. The Vulcan moaned softly and writhed as he neared the brink, feeling the sweet pain of approaching orgasm wash over him -- then he came, without warning and unable to stop for a long time.

When he finally did, Spock knew he would soon have to have his bedclothes washed and replaced, but it would be worth it. Christine had obviously thought to give him the same kind of gift he had given her. As the Human saying went, "Great minds think alike."

He had naturally felt her feelings and sensations in his mind through their bond while showering, but managed to block and control them until now. It was definitely in order to properly express his appreciation for her gift when he saw her again…and he would learn everything she had felt upon first seeing his "beefcake" holo as well.

For the time being, however, it was logical that he put himself into a sleep-trance in order to be fresh for his next morning's duties. There would be sufficient time to open and peruse the rest of his gifts from Jim, the Doctor and Miss Uhura before keeping his rendezvous with Christine at 1900 hours the following evening.

Perhaps they would share a meal together before their mental and physical joining and thanking one another properly for their most appropriate (and memorable) gifts. He could only hope that the Doctor and Miss Uhura would not ask what kind of gift he had received from Christine or just what the gift had been…

* * *

Christine was still on duty by the time Spock was off-shift, so he decided to have what Humans called a "snack" with his friends Kirk and Uhura while waiting for her. He had opened his gifts from them shortly before going on duty and told himself to tell them how much he appreciated their thoughtfulness, both in giving him a gift and their mindfulness of his tastes.

He fully intended to put the "Friendship" plaque on the wall of his quarters near his personal computer so he could see it often. The section from the ancient book "The Prophet" by the Indian poet Kahlil Gibran had been written on parchment in calligraphy and then glued onto it via a method called "decoupage" in order to preserve it. He could not hold back a slight smile at the thought of how Jim had personalized it: at the beginning, "To My Dear Friend Spock" and at the end, "I love you, my brother. Jim."

He had also played the tape Uhura had given him, a mixture of Vulcan and Terran classics, while he had prepared for duty that morning. He had been especially pleased to note that she had both sung and played her Vulcan harp. He also intended to ask them how they had liked the gifts he had given them. The Vulcan was not experienced in gift giving, so Jim had helped by making several suggestions as to what he, McCoy or Uhura might like.

Spock had ultimately decided on Iowa and Georgia flag afghans respectively for his two closest male friends and a tape of classic African music from Kenya, Uhura's native country, for the Communications Officer -- and what's more, done in Swahili!

He also intended to thank McCoy the first chance he got (once he realized that McCoy wasn't with Kirk and Uhura upon spotting them after entering the Officers' Mess) for the century-old bottle of non-alcoholic Vulcan wine, a vintage which had surely cost the Doctor a small fortune…but he had obviously considered him worth the expense or he would not have done it. It warmed his heart in spite of his control, and the Vulcan hoped the CMO liked the afghan he had given him. Meanwhile, he intended to enjoy the company and conversation as much as possible within the limits of his Vulcan sensibilities.

* * *

The First Officer managed to get up to the food service computers and order his meal before Kirk spotted him and called him over. "Spock! Over here!" The Captain smiled and waved his Vulcan friend to join him and Uhura. Upon receiving his drink, some Vulcan herbal tea, he made his way over to the table where the pair sat and seated himself across from Kirk.

Once the Vulcan was settled in, Kirk asked, "Well, what did you think of the party last night, Spock?"

"It was an…interesting experience," Spock returned carefully. "But I felt -- somewhat uncomfortable since I do not often…attend such gatherings."

"Understandable," came the reply. "Things like that can take getting used to." The Captain took a bite of his own food and a swallow of his coffee before speaking again. "What did you think of the gifts you received?"

"Your gift was -- most touching," the Vulcan remarked quietly. "I intend to find a place for it on my wall at the earliest opportunity."

Kirk bowed his head, cheeks turning slightly pink. "I'm glad you liked it, Spock. I'm never sure just what you'll like, so I have to take a guess lots of times." His voice was only loud enough for Spock to hear.

"It is fortunate that you usually guess correctly," the Vulcan replied equally quietly. He then turned to Uhura. "And I am…most grateful for the music tape you gave me, Miss Uhura. I found it -- very enjoyable."

Vulcans did not often give compliments, so Uhura knew Spock was one hundred percent sincere in his gratitude. "I know you -- enjoy music as much as I do, Mr. Spock, so I figured it was the best thing to give you." She felt herself blush and was grateful for her dusky skin so a blush wasn't as noticeable as it was on her fairer-skinned sisters like Christine.

"What did Bones give you?" Kirk wondered. "It was hard to tell from the shape of the gift."

"A bottle of one hundred-year-old Vulcan wine," the First Officer informed him. "I intend to thank him at the first opportunity."

"If you like, I can do it for you," the Captain offered. "I know it's not easy for you to deal with him when it comes to anything personal."

"Thank you, Jim, but I will do it myself. It is the least I can do after the expense he engendered purchasing it for me."

Kirk shrugged. "Suit yourself. By the way, just how much is a bottle of Vulcan wine?"

"Ordinarily two thousand credits, but the value increases accordingly with every five years of age the beverage accumulates…on the average two hundred credits each time."

"So that would mean it cost roughly…" Kirk did some rapid mental calculating. "Good Lord, how could Bones ever afford to spend that much on one gift? He must have come into a fortune at some point. CMOs are well-paid, but not that well-paid."

"I have no idea how he could have afforded it," Spock replied. "All I know is that I am now in possession of a bottle of century-old Vulcan wine because of him."

"If you wish to know, I suggest you ask him at your first opportunity."

"I think I will. Would you like me to let you know what I find out?"

"If you wish," the Vulcan returned absently as he returned to his meal and resumed eating.

"Have you opened Christine's gift yet?" Kirk asked.

Just the mention of it made Spock fight off a blush, but he managed to say, "It was a most…memorable, not to mention unexpected, gift."

That's putting it mildly! Kirk chuckled inwardly. "Has she told you what she thought of yours yet?"

"No. I intend to ask her once she joins me for dinner at 2200 hours."

The Vulcan paused to take a breath before speaking again. "Would you like me to tell you her opinion?"

"Only if you want to, Spock. I won't demand it," the Captain assured him.

The Vulcan's dark eyes met the hazel eyes of his Human friend with gratitude at letting him off the hook, as it were, even as he said, "I will tell you at the first opportunity."

"By the way, Uhura, has Christine told you what she thinks of the gift Spock gave her yet?" Kirk directed toward their female companion.

"Not yet. If she doesn't tell me soon, I'll probably ask her at some point. Meanwhile, I'm not pressuring her." Uhura took a bite of her own meal and a good long swallow of her cold drink since the meal was somewhat spicy, an authentic African dish from her native country of Kenya.

She was also certain that Spock was withholding his full opinion of Christine's gift until he could tell it to her (or Jim) alone, but said nothing at this point in time. With any luck, she would soon learn how both of them felt about the sexy holos, so she would simply bide her time until she saw Chris alone again.

In the meantime, both Christine and Spock had made mental notes to ask the other how they had reacted to their gift -- but at the time, neither was aware of this fact…and one can but imagine what happened when they acted on these thoughts!

Spock both anticipated and dreaded the upcoming dinner with Christine because at some point he knew she would ask his opinion of her gift -- and how would he ever tell her? It might have been easier had he known that his betrothed was feeling the same way about the prospect of telling him her own opinion of his gift to her. As it was, he had no idea that she was just as embarrassed yet pleased as he was.

* * *

As things turned out, Uhura found out the latter's opinion first -- mainly because she had deliberately set out to discover whether or not her friend's reaction to the sexy holo of Spock was as she had surmised…and once Uhura made up her mind, nothing…but nothing…could stop her until she had accomplished what she set out to do.

Christine had gotten off-duty earlier than expected and decided to go to the Officers' Mess for a quick cup of apple-cinnamon tea and a large bowl of New England clam chowder, which she had been craving for the longest time. She had then planned to return to her quarters and prepare for her rendezvous with Spock.

Since she might not be hungry when the time came, she intended to tell him as much -- but still insist that he himself eat, since he still didn't eat enough (nor did he weigh enough) for a Vulcan of his age, height and lifestyle. It took her just a few minutes to reach the Officers' Mess, order her meal and sit down to enjoy it. She was nearly through when she heard Uhura call to her.

"Chris!"

Christine turned to see the dark woman heading in her direction, carrying her own tray of food. She turned back to her own food and finished the last of it so as not to waste any; fortunately it took Uhura a few minutes to weave her way around and through the maze of tables and chairs in the large room to reach the table where Christine sat, set her tray down across from her and then seat herself. Once she did, however, the Communications Officer wasted no time.

"Chris, I've been wanting to talk to you since the Christmas party three days ago. Where have you been keeping yourself?"

Christine gave her friend a wry grin. "You mean, other than work? You know that it generally takes three days to catch up on `paperwork' after a holiday because the Captain gives us both the day before and the day after said holiday off. It's a very thoughtful thing to do -- particularly for those of us who can't hold our liquor-but it also makes it that much harder to return to duty when the holiday's over."

"Don't I know it," Uhura agreed, beginning to eat. "I'm just now catching up on mine."

Christine prepared to leave after making sure she had all her things and was starting to rise when Uhura looked up from her plate. "Don't leave, Chris. I need to talk to you, and this is the first chance I've had since the party last Saturday."

The other woman smiled tolerantly but said, "I'm kind of pressed for time, Ny. I'm meeting Spock for dinner in a couple of hours and need to get ready."

"What I want to say won't take long. Surely you can spare a few minutes for me." Her voice held such pleading that Christine felt guilty about wanting to leave.

"A few minutes. No more," her friend warned.

"I guarantee it," Uhura promised -- but it didn't turn out that way. In fact, nearly an hour passed before Christine realized it. As it was, she was lucky to be able to get ready in time for her date, even though she was certain she had taken the quickest shower on record. She'd had no idea that she herself had wanted…no, needed… to talk to someone as badly as Nyota wanted to talk to her -- and if anyone was appropriate to talk to about private things (other than Leonard or maybe Spock, depending on the subject matter), it was Uhura.

She'd also had no idea how Nyota had so cleverly manipulated her into discussing her opinion of the gift Spock had given her, the sexy hologram…but then, the Bantu seemed to have a positive genius for it. For now, however, Christine was too relieved at being able to get it off her chest to mind.

"So, do you know how Spock feels about your gift to him?" Uhura asked, sounding as casual as she could muster while leading up to what she really wanted to ask.

"Not yet. That's one thing I intend to ask him at some point during our date. That is, if I can muster up the courage." Just mentioning the prospect of doing this prompted a picture of how totally hot and gorgeous Spock had looked in the holo and Christine felt her cheeks burn, attempting to conceal it by taking a long final swig of her now-cold tea, so she wouldn't have to look into Nyota's knowing eyes.

"What did you think of the holo he gave you, then?"

Christine looked up at the other woman, both surprised and suspicious, her eyes narrowing to slits. "How did you know that?"

"The Captain happened to mention it to me on the Bridge the day after we had returned to duty -- but not in Spock's hearing, of course. Don't worry; he just said what it was…not what it looked like." Uhura tried to reassure her friend even as she fought not to think of the holo of Spock herself.

Christine sighed in relief and smiled, seeming to relax -- but it remained to be seen whether or not she was relaxed enough to actually discuss the subject. Uhura waited with bated breath until her friend spoke again.

"It was beautiful, Ny," the other woman confessed. "Spock looked so totally gorgeous, so very…hot, for lack of a better term. I'm thrilled with it, just surprised that he would ever do anything like that -- even for me, even for Christmas. I'd also like to think that he liked the holo I gave him, but he hasn't mentioned it and I haven't had the nerve to ask…although the other night, just before I went to bed, I felt the most incredible sexual desire wash over me -- not long after my own little episode was over. It nearly drove me crazy before it passed, especially since Spock and I could not be together that night because of early duty shifts. Only after it was over was I able to get to sleep."

Just then Christine looked up and saw it was 1800 hours. Her date with Spock was coming up in barely an hour! "Oh my God, is it that late? I've got to go! There's only an hour until my date with Spock and no matter how fast I go, I feel sure that I'm going to be late. I shouldn't have let myself be coerced into staying, even though I feel better for having done it. Please throw my stuff away for me, will you, Ny? Thanks. See you later!"

With that, she got up and made a hasty retreat, carefully maneuvering as rapidly as possible around people and tables before the doors opened at her approach, then closed behind her. Uhura then returned to her own repast, smiling wickedly as she speculated on what Christine had likely done during her "little episode" to relieve her sexual frustration…not to mention Spock! She frankly wished she could be a fly on the wall so she could hear them discuss the holos, since it was bound to be most illuminating -- and exciting!

* * *

Christine knew that she had never moved so fast in her life. Even at that, she was dead certain that she was going to be late for her date with Spock, even if only for a few minutes. But she had needed to get certain things off her chest and was sure that Spock would forgive her once she explained why. That is, once she had finally managed to tell him how she had reacted to his most unexpected but most…well… thrilling gift to her.

She managed to leave her quarters at the exact time she was supposed to have met Spock, but it would still take several minutes to reach him where he would be at their now-regular table in the Officers' Lounge. She was somewhat breathless when she arrived; the Vulcan allowed himself a smile in her direction as he held out two fingers to cross with hers in their customary betrothal gesture.

"Sorry I'm late, Spock. Nyota kept me talking until just an hour ago. I did the best I could, but--"

The Vulcan held up a hand to stop her torrent of words. "It is… unnecessary to apologize, Christine. I -- understand that it…occasionally occurs with Humans, particularly Human women, once they begin -- speaking privately to one another." He could also well guess what Christine and Uhura had talked about.

Christine breathed a sigh of relief; coincidentally at the exact same time her respiration settled back to normal. "I'm glad to hear that, Spock; even so, I don't like being late…especially if we have a date."

He again allowed himself a smile and nod -- but only for her. "I would now like you to tell me what you thought of my gift to you."

Christine felt her cheeks turning color but made herself speak. "It was…great, Spock. You really looked great. I didn't think you would do anything like that, which makes me appreciate it all the more."

"I would -- only do it for you," he assured her, reaching to squeeze her hand.

She smiled and returned the squeeze. "Just as I would only do such things for you. Which reminds me…what did you think of my gift?"

The Vulcan fought off a blush at the thought of his reaction to seeing Christine in the brief, lacy teddy, garter belt and silk stockings with high-heel slippers, but knew she could sense it since they were touching. "I'm glad you enjoyed my gift as much as I -- enjoyed yours, Spock. And there's no need to be embarrassed. It's a normal reaction when lovers see one another in such a manner."

"Nor is there any need for you to be embarrassed, m'chejan," he assured her. "As you have sensed, I found you most…alluring, even-exciting. It makes me look forward with even more…anticipation to our upcoming wedding night."

"I'm -- glad, Spock. I wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do at first," she confessed.

"Well, now that you know it was, let us put that behind us and get on with our meal…and consequently, the rest of the evening," the Vulcan decreed with a final squeeze of his bondmate's hand before he withdrew it and got up to retrieve their meals from the food service computers.

* * *

Of course, the couple did discuss other things during their meal, and although Spock ordinarily didn't do such things by Vulcan custom, he made exceptions in certain special circumstances…such as private conversations with either his bondmate or closest friends. Among the subjects they discussed was the possibility of telling at least one of each of their parents (specifically, their respective mothers) about the holos.

Spock was hesitant to do so, even though he was fairly sure that Amanda would understand what Christine had done, being a Human woman herself. She probably wouldn't be too surprised either if she learned his reaction to Christine's provocative mode of dress.

Christine, on the other hand, was sure she knew exactly how her mother would react. "Mama will probably playfully scold me for doing such things, then tease me in a somewhat risqué manner as she speculates about how you must have reacted to it. After all, I remember her mentioning once how she did something like this for Daddy when they got engaged."

Spock raised a quizzical, somewhat disapproving eyebrow. "I doubt Mother would do a thing like that for my father, even if she wished to."

"How do you know she wouldn't?" Christine teased, then laughed at her Vulcan lover's shocked expression. "Your folks don`t generally discuss their private lives with you, do they?"

"No…at least not in any great detail," the Vulcan confessed.

"Then it's entirely possible that your mother has done for your father exactly what I did for you -- or at least something similar," Christine returned matter-of-factly.

Spock forced himself to speak. "I…suppose it is -- possible."

"Why don't you ask her about it sometime, Spock?" Christine suggested with a sly wink.

His stony look back told her his opinion of that suggestion better than any words.

"Okay, forget I said that. I'll ask her. Don't worry; I'll keep what she tells me to myself and only tell you if you specifically ask me to."

"Unlikely," the Vulcan replied stiffly, his voice tightly controlled.

"Well, you never know," his companion remarked. "If nothing else, I'll tell both our mothers what happened."

Spock was very tempted to take Christine up on her offer but shook his head. "Unnecessary, m'chejan. I owe her a stargram anyway, so I will tell her."

"In which case, will you tell me what she says?"

Spock forced himself to nod.

"And will you at least listen to what Mama says when I hear from her again?"

Again the Vulcan made himself nod, unwilling to speak further; Christine sighed in affectionate exasperation and returned to her meal. Within the next half hour, both had finished, then departed the Officers' Lounge to continue their evening…and considering the memories each still had of their rather risqué gifts, it was likely to prove most -- unforgettable, not to mention stimulating…which it very definitely was!

* * *

At the first opportunity thereafter, Christine wrote a long, chatty stargram to her future mother-in-law, asking her about whether or not she had ever posed for Sarek in a provocative manner, telling her what she had done for Spock for Christmas -- even offering her opinion regarding what he had done for her, and asking her to please tell her what he said to her at the first opportunity, but to keep it between themselves. "Don't let Sarek know about it," she warned. "Or else he'll never let Spock live it down."

With that out of the way, Christine wrote her own mother a post-Christmas greeting, giving her the highlights of what had happened on the ship on Christmas Day…and how she and Spock had reacted to one another's gifts. She had already decided to give him the other picture as a gift for his birthday…or maybe as a wedding present, even. She hadn't decided for certain either way.

Christine had even managed to remember to ask Spock if he had ever thanked McCoy for his expensive gift to him -- the hundred-year-old Vulcan wine. The First Officer's customary eyebrow had risen and he had given her the most logically affronted look he could muster. "Of course I did," he assured her. "It would be most illogical not to. He was most appreciative of my expression of gratitude. Why?"

"Well, you hadn't said one way or the other before now, so I thought I'd better ask, just to be on the safe side," she explained patiently. "Which reminds me -- did you write your mother yet?"

"I just transmitted the stargram less than an hour ago," he informed her. "Now all we can do is wait for our mothers to reply."

"Another thing…did you ever find out how Dr. McCoy was able to afford to spend so much on your gift?" she wondered.

"I seem to recall his saying that he had cashed in a small life insurance policy," the Vulcan replied. "He said he had used those credits for our Christmas gifts."

Christine's lips twisted wryly. "Well, that explains that. Now how about a late snack, then we go to bed?"

"What would you suggest we have?"

"Whatever we like -- within reason, of course," she explained. "Now let's go."

She held out a hand to the Vulcan, which he took, and the pair left her station where he had dropped by to pick her up and they had begun talking some moments earlier to head for the nearest Rec Room for their snack…then he planned to take her back to her quarters for the night. (Of course, it was just as likely that he would share her quarters, just as she had shared his in the past, but whether that would happen tonight remained to be seen.)

* * *

Roughly a week later a stargram from Vulcan caught up with the ship, as did one from Earth some days after that. After Spock had read it, what his mother had said regarding whether or not she had ever had a cheesecake photo of herself taken for his father, he was strangely reluctant to tell Christine -- particularly since it had turned out that she was right.

Amanda had done what might be termed a "cheesecake" photo for Sarek, but it had been done many years ago, shortly after their marriage, and was fairly tame compared to what Christine had done for Spock. The only similarity to Christine's was the hair style chosen.

Amanda had described the photo as one of her in a clingy one-piece strapless bathing suit the same color as her eyes. She had also had it taken lying on her side facing him, posed in a manner which accented the curves of her hips and waist. Her one hand held up her head while the other had been placed in front of her.

She had even said that his father still had that photo, and in fact, always carried it with him on his trips whenever she could not accompany him. What's more, she had even informed her son that Sarek himself had taken it, that it had actually been done at his own request!

"How do you think we have managed to keep the spice in our marriage, my son?" she had teased in her stargram; he could almost see her wicked smile and sly wink. "That's only one of many things we have done. Remember that even though your father is Vulcan, he is also very much a man, just as you are.

"I also think it's great that you and Christine have done the same thing for each other, particularly if you end up using the pictures to help you endure the inevitable separations which can occur throughout even a regular marriage, much less one between Starfleet officers such as yourselves," she had written. "Please do try to keep me informed on this score, but if you can't or won't, I've told Christine in my letter to her that I want her to do it." He had neared the end of her stargram when his buzzer sounded. "Come," he called; Christine came in, a sheaf of papers in her own hand.

"Spock? I've heard from my mother," she called to him upon seeing the Vulcan in his sleeping alcove, then joining him there a moment later.

"Just as I have heard from my mother," he told her. He was sitting cross-legged on his bed; she sat down a short distance away.

They were silent for a time, then Christine said, "Well, which of us is going to go first?"

"It makes no difference to me. You may go first if you wish," he told her.

Christine sighed. "If you say so. Well, I was right in my prediction as to how she would react to my news -- but deep down I can sense that she's very happy for us and sends her warmest wishes."

Spock was somewhat surprised to hear this; it sounded strangely familiar. "My mother said something similar," he informed her -- and he made himself tell her about the cheesecake photo Amanda had done for her husband shortly after their marriage. "What is more, Mother reports that my father still takes the picture of Mother with him on his travels whenever she cannot accompany him. She even claims that it is one of the ways that they maintain what she called `the spice' in their marriage."

"Sounds like our mothers are far more alike than we imagined," Christine laughed. "They'll probably be great friends, in fact. By the way, do you think that your mother would mind if I put her in touch with mine?"

Spock shook his head. "We are going to be married, so it would be logical for our mothers to be on friendly terms."

"We must simply make sure to do our utmost not to discuss anything like that in your father's presence," his bondmate laughed. "If he knew, he'd probably deny he does any such thing ... and he'd never let you live it down."

"No doubt," the Vulcan had to agree. "Meanwhile, we had best get to what we originally planned to do this evening."

Christine gave her lover a wicked smile. "Why, Spock, you're becoming positively hedonistic -- but I love it…and don't you ever change!" With that, the ACMO moved into her bondmate's arms and proceeded to show him exactly how appreciative she was of his thoughtfulness of her and her desires.

Spock was unable to express verbally how much he appreciated her; the best he could do was express it through their bond -- a bond which had only taken ten minutes to establish but which would last for the rest of their lives and which only death could break. Thus began a long, tenderly passionate night for the lovers…and it would be just one of many similar nights throughout their lives together.

* * *

It was when Spock first awakened in the morning that he was literally stunned speechless -- at least for a time…after stretching carefully so as not to wake Christine. He turned over carefully and opened his eyes, intending to get up and head for the bathroom to take his daily shower before reporting for his duty shift; it was just as he opened his eyes that he saw it -- really, actually, saw the holo of himself he had given Christine.

He was too stunned to even think for a while. Once he could, he was both appalled and embarrassed. For Vulcan's sake, how could he ever have done such a thing, even for a holiday gift…even for Christine? What could have possessed him to have ever allowed Jim to talk him into doing it? He knew he could not ask for it back, of course; she would surely refuse to do so. Still, he found it difficult to understand how even Human women could enjoy such things.

Only in the Pre-Reform days had any male Vulcan done such a thing… and then, only for his mate. Even then, she would never have had it out in plain sight. He would have to suggest as diplomatically as possible that Christine keep it hidden unless she was alone in her quarters. That would be the only way he would allow her to keep it. He also intended to sternly admonish her not to show it to anyone unless he OKed it. But even at that, just the thought of how he'd looked in it made him turn seventeen shades of green. Almost like someone had attacked him and attempted to tear his clothing off or something of that nature!

If he hadn't been in such a hurry, he would have looked at it beforehand…and in that event, it was unlikely that she would have gotten it. It was simply fortuitous for her that he hadn't had the chance to really look at it, really see how he looked. Worst of all, he had been unable to help observing that he had actually been sexually aroused when the picture was taken! The bulge at his groin in the holograph was slight but still noticeable, particularly to his sharp eyes.

He could only imagine how Christine must have reacted to it -- and even then, hardly dared to think of it for long. Mainly because it prompted him to think of how he himself had reacted to the provocative holo of Christine with her 'come-hither' smile, provocative pose and tantalizingly brief mode of dress. Of course, he had no intention of letting her know that he had not known what he looked like in the holo before giving it to her. He would simply act as though he did know and leave it at that.

* * *

Christine was just waking up when Spock came out of the bathroom, this time fully dressed. She sat up, yawned and stretched, standing up to give him a good-morning kiss as he reached her side -- then he casually (or at least as casually as he could) noted the angle and position the holo had been placed, raising an eyebrow and making sure she could see it.

"Oh, so you've noticed where I keep the holo you gave me," she returned with a knowing smile. "I assume it's all right to keep it there, as long as no one sees it but the two of us -- at least while in here?"

He nodded slightly. "If anyone besides us or our closest friends happens to be in your quarters for any length of time, however, make sure they cannot see it. I meant it to be seen by you alone."

"Of course, Spock. I know. You may trust me." She gave him another smile and a sly wink, but he knew she was sincere, just the same. "Just as I meant the holo I gave you for your eyes alone." She raised her right hand to touch his left cheek; he covered her hand with his.

"I know. I keep it in a special place so that only I may see it," he assured her.

"Would you show me sometime?" she asked carefully, stroking his cheek with a finger, then moved it to his lips, which promptly kissed it.

"Perhaps," he half-promised, lowering his hand and turning in the direction of the door. "I must leave now. I am on duty in 5.75 minutes."

"Is our dinner engagement and songfest with the Captain and Nyota still on for 1900 hours?" she asked as he reached the door.

"As far as I know. If anything changes, I will contact you." With that, the First Officer stepped to open up the door, then slid through and was gone.

Christine smiled affectionately at the closed door, then turned for the bathroom herself, programming the synthesizer to have a fresh uniform ready upon her finishing her shower, then she would dress and head out for her own duty shift.

* * *

It was roughly halfway through the following week before Christine heard back from her mother that she had heard from Amanda. The younger woman couldn't help but smile at the memory of what Ann Chapel had said:

The last thing I ever expected was to get any kind of communication from the wife of the senior Federation Ambassador to Vulcan. I mean, it was a shock, to say the least, for her to come right out and introduce herself as Spock's mother and your future mother-in-law! Amanda is so warm and gracious, but at the same time, such a character. I enjoyed her immensely. I'm sure we'll get along famously, darling. Thank you so very much for introducing us!

Christine sincerely hoped so; sometimes the respective mothers of a given married couple were like two strange cats, fighting whenever within hissing, spitting or clawing distance of each other -- but with luck, that would never happen with her mother and Amanda.

Of course, it still remained to be seen how her father and Sarek would get along…but she would have to wait until the shipboard wedding to find out one way or the other. For the time being, they would simply have to bide their time and hope for the best -- then she would make sure to ask Spock what his mother had told him about how she regarded Ann Chapel at the first opportunity.

* * *

It was several days (three, in fact) before Spock heard from his mother on this subject -- and he was pleased to note that it went along much the same lines as that of Christine's mother, which he had heard about shortly after the former had received the communication from her. It was worded somewhat differently but said basically the same thing.

I really don't think she was expecting to hear from me, Amanda told her son. Not this soon, at least. Sounds to me like neither you nor Christine thought to tell her of the Vulcan tradition of treating anyone marrying into our family like blood relations, even before the official wedding -- starting with the letter of welcome shortly after the engagement is announced.

I thought your father and I taught you better than that, she teased. Oh well, what matters is that I've made a new friend and you'll be marrying into a family who will love you as much as Christine does…I feel sure of it! Ann Chapel is a lovely person and I can see where Christine got both her beauty and her manners. I'm also sure that I'll get along just as well with her father. I can hardly wait to meet them!

Spock planned to show Christine his mother's stargram when they met for their now regular dinner date every evening after each was off duty. However, this time it was she who was late getting off-duty. She had warned him of her late shift beforehand, so he had accepted Jim and McCoy's invitation in order to have company until she arrived.

Unfortunately, about halfway through the meal, one of the Humans made an inadvertent remark which made the Vulcan react as he had never reacted before. He knew his friends meant no harm by doing what they had done, but even at that, it went very much against his Vulcan sensibilities and it would be a long time before he got over it.

"I can imagine how Spock must have reacted to the holo Christine gave him," Kirk remarked. "I once had Carol make one of those cheesecake-type things for me, and she looked really hot -- but not even she looked as good as Christine did."

"And let me tell you, it wasn't easy to keep my reactions to myself," the Doctor replied. "Chris has always been like a daughter to me, but after I saw those holos…whew! I had to have some ice water to cool off!"

"Doctor. Jim. That will be quite enough." The two Human males looked up, stunned at the iciness of Spock's tone.

"Oh, sorry, Spock," Kirk apologized. "We just got carried away reminiscing."

The frigid expression on the Vulcan's face did not change, his eyes as hard, sharp and black as obsidian. "Christine is my bondmate. I would appreciate it very much if both of you would kindly refrain from any further vulgar recollections regarding her."

"Come on, Spock, lighten up. It was unavoidable. Christine needed a male opinion as to which holo of her you would like best, and since it was supposed to be a surprise for you, she couldn't show you. You know that. Besides, we thought you already knew," Kirk tried to mollify his extremely ticked-off friend.

"I suppose Miss Uhura has even seen that holograph of me," the First Officer shot back, his tone unchanged. "A holograph I meant for Christine's eyes only."

"Don't be upset with her, Spock. Uhura seeing the holo was my idea," Kirk explained. "We meant no harm by it, you should know that. I simply needed a woman's opinion regarding the holo I took of you, and since it was supposed to be just as much a surprise for Christine as hers was for you, I couldn't very well show it to her.

"In addition, if you and Christine can't trust me, Bones and Uhura, who can you trust? I mean, it's not as if any of us have been bragging about it all over the ship or made copies for the whole crew. It's just between us friends…and that's the way it'll stay."

This last made Spock lift his head to see the sincerity in Kirk and McCoy's eyes, even though he still wasn't pleased with the subterfuge employed in order to accomplish their ends.

"Well -- I suppose it can be…overlooked this time," the Vulcan reluctantly conceded. "But after this, if at all possible, please inform me beforehand or as soon as possible afterward."

"Deal," both Humans agreed almost simultaneously. But even at that, Spock still intended to discuss the matter with Christine right after their meal -- that is, if he still felt compelled to make an issue of it by then. And luckily for everyone most concerned, he didn't; he simply decided to enjoy both her company and that of his friends -- and in fact, all ended up discussing more of the plans for the upcoming dual weddings, leaving out only the matters commonly reserved for the one who wasn't present at this point.

They even speculated on the possibilities of what might happen if the holo-negatives somehow fell into the wrong hands…an unlikely scenario, since only Kirk and Uhura had them and kept them in a safe (and secret) place. What's more, neither had any intention of making any further copies until and unless something happened to the original gifts themselves.

Of course, it was the Vulcan who brought up the possibility of their being careless and/or forgetful, leaving the wrong people alone with the potentially (if only figuratively) explosive materials. "I still say it's most unlikely, Spock. If it's ever necessary to replace your holos, I'll do it myself without help -- and will not leave them alone without locking my door behind me."

Spock was only slightly mollified. "I still believe it would be most logical to give the negatives to me. You would still have access to them, and it would ease my -- and Christine's -- minds considerably."

Kirk sighed. "If it'll make you feel better. I'll talk to Uhura and get the negatives of Christine, then give them to you at the first opportunity."

"Thank you, Jim. I will be expecting them." Christine felt Spock's relief through their bond and in spite of herself, soon breathed easier just knowing their sexy holos were to be even safer than they already were. The First Officer's quarters were even more sacrosanct than those of the Captain; if the former was comparable to a locked safe-deposit box in a bank, the latter was comparable to Fort Knox: virtually impregnable.

Besides, to even attempt to break into either one was a court-martial offense, particularly if the party or parties involved were caught. Not to mention the fact that the computer sensors aboard ship could record the DNA of and/or photograph any potential intruder or intruders, especially if they touched anything in the room -- particularly the negatives themselves.

Despite the extensive background checks of potential crewmembers, it was still possible for a heretofore unknown thief or voyeur to slip through the cracks and allow them to be assigned to a starship. This was the main thing that our people were most concerned about and intended to do everything they could to prevent that occurrence of… and henceforth the likelihood of part of their private lives falling into the wrong hands.

All believed that with the handing over of the holo-negatives to Spock, there was less likelihood than ever of that happening. Unfortunately, all also forgot the old saying about the "best-laid plans of mice and men"…

* * *

The trouble started most innocently, three days later, when the shipboard wedding invitations arrived. Christine called Uhura and the two women got together in the Officers' Mess to address them together. The envelope with the negatives was in with the things Christine carried; she had gotten them from Spock, promising him she would be very careful of them since they had each planned to give them to the Captain and have copies made -- one of each, in the event something happened to the originals -- and keep the copies with the negatives until and unless they were needed. He had been reluctant to hand them over, but had trusted her to take care of them for obvious reasons…yet gently admonished her to make sure they were returned to him intact.

[Indeed, that was what would happen…but not at all in the way they had intended and something for which Christine didn't think she could ever do enough penance for to make up for her carelessness. Even if it wasn't deliberate, as Spock pointedly reminded her later, that wasn't the point, she argued. It was her fault that they were being teased and harassed endlessly, and even if they managed to get the negatives back, copies were still out there, being circulated. How would either ever face their parents -- Spock, especially -- once Sarek found out what had happened? They could hope for compassion and understanding, but were realistic enough not to count on it, particularly where the older Vulcan was concerned.

But fortunately for them, they would have enough friends in high enough places that (as unexpected, but equally welcome, as it was) it would be kept to a minimum. It wouldn't be stopped before their parents found out, but Kirk would personally contact them and explain the situation, also assuring them that he had seen to it that the perpetrators were severely punished for what they had done.

For one thing, it would go on their record and dog them for the rest of their lives and make it difficult, if not impossible, for anyone else to want to have them as a member of their ship's crew. It might even force them out of Starfleet eventually, which would be no more than they deserved, as far as those most directly involved were concerned.]

The women had a quick snack as they addressed the invitations and to keep them from being stained by food or drink, placed them on the seat next to them. Once they'd finished the food and drink, Uhura had reached to hand Christine the invitations she had so carefully addressed, but let go of them a little too soon and they were scattered everywhere. Both of them dropped to their knees to retrieve them, and within moments had them all safely in hand -- or so they thought.

(The envelope with the negatives in it had slid off Christine's small pile of invitations and into the small crevice between the seat cushions of the booth located next to her…but she had not noticed that it had done so, and wouldn't until she was heading to Kirk's quarters, where she had intended to drop off the negatives so he could copy the holos for them.)

Assuming they had all the necessary envelopes, the women separated once outside the door of the Officers' Mess and said their goodnights, making a date to see each other again the next time they were off-duty. With that, Christine headed for the nearest turbolift and stepped inside, saying, "Deck Five," to return to both Kirk's quarters and Spock's -- but for different reasons.

While she was in the 'lift, Christine began going through the envelopes in her hands, intending to put the one with the negatives on top so all she would have to do was hand them to the Captain for copying. He would then return everything to Spock once finished with them. But to her dismay, the envelope was nowhere to be found. At first she thought she might have inadvertently overlooked it, so she went carefully through the envelopes in her hands, but again she did not find the one she was looking for. Still, she remained calm, telling herself that Nyota might have picked them up, so she called her friend on the 'lift intercom.

"Ny, I need to ask you something," she told her friend once the other woman answered.

"Sure, Chris. What is it?"

"Do you have the envelope of holo-negatives? Did you inadvertently pick it up? I just looked through the ones I have and didn't find it."

The answer came all too soon…and it was the one Christine most dreaded. "I'm afraid not, Chris. What I picked up, I gave to you. You know that. Besides, I thought you already had the negatives; I remember you said that Spock had given them to you so you could give them to the Captain for copying."

"Oh my God, Ny! Do you know what that means? The envelope must still be in the Officers' Mess! I've got to go back and find it, whatever it takes. If anyone else finds it, neither Spock nor I will ever be allowed to live it down!"

"Calm down, Chris. I'm sure it'll be there, just waiting for you to come back and get it," Uhura tried to soothe her agitated friend. "Probably on the seat of the booth where we sat."

"I hope so, Ny. Oh lord, I hope so. I don't know how I'll ever explain to Spock otherwise." With that, she abruptly told the `lift to reverse direction to head back to the Officers' Mess…but neither of the women could have known that they were already too late.

* * *

Randi Williamson, former Lieutenant, now Yeoman (and Ensign) was furious -- totally and thoroughly furious. What amounted to a minor infraction on her part had been blown totally out of proportion (at least as far as she was concerned) so that she had been forced to do the most demeaning duties possible -- maid's work -- and all because of Spock. She had never known anyone so nitpicky in her life and vowed to get even with him for demoting her and assigning her to such distasteful duty in whatever way she could, whichever way presented itself to her.

Unfortunately, if she didn't do what he told her, things would go even worse for her, and that she needed even less … so however much she hated the work or the one who had inflicted it upon her (or so she told herself), she did it to the best of her ability in order that she not get into any more trouble than she already was. For the time being, at least.

She soon reached the furthest booth on the starboard side and leaned over the table to wipe it off; when she did, something sticking out of a crevice in the seat cushion caught her eye. She set her cleaning materials aside and went to retrieve it.

It was an envelope roughly five inches in breadth and three inches in height -- and there was something bulky in it. Several somethings, in fact … and curiosity (not to mention the desire for revenge) got the better of her and she decided to investigate the contents.

Her eyes became as wide as saucers when she realized what the somethings were -- negatives for holographs … and not just any holographs, sexy holographs, of both Spock and Christine Chapel, his bondmate or whatever Vulcans called the ones they intended to marry. Not that she cared; he had never given her more than the time of day before now and there was little reason to expect that that would change any time soon, if ever. Oh gods, why did Vulcans have to be so attractive, yet so damnably cold and aloof, so infuriatingly logical?

Just the same, what was it about that witch that made her so desirable in Spock's eyes? Surely he knew that Christine wasn't the only woman aboard ship who wanted him; she was simply the one who had been the most obvious about it. Almost pathetically so, as far as Randi was concerned. From what she knew about Vulcans, she wouldn't have thought that he could possibly be attracted to Christine because overt emotionalism was supposed to be anathema to them -- but not to him, obviously. Perhaps his mixed blood had something to do with it; that was the only explanation she could think of at this point.

But she could think more about that later … that is, if she chose to do so. Right now, she had better things to do. She sat down in the booth and withdrew the three bulky holo-negatives and studied them all avidly. Upon realizing who the subjects of the holographs were, she knew that this was the perfect means to blackmail them. If they wanted the negatives back, they would have to cave in to her demands.

At this point, Randi knew that she could dictate any terms she wanted and Spock would have no choice but to grant them once he learned she had the negatives of the infamous holos, particularly if he wanted them back without her having made copies of them to post on the ship's computerized bulletin board, accessible to every crewmember aboard ship. Come to think of it, that might be an even better way to blackmail him.

If he didn't reinstate her original rank of Lieutenant, she would make the sexy photos public -- or better yet, promote her to Lieutenant Commander so she could get off this floating hothouse and away from all these self-righteous, superior types who thought themselves better than anyone else simply because they served on the Enterprise. She had once heard that a Klingon officer during the Tribbles incident and the first five-year mission had once called Kirk a swaggering, tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood.

Randi knew one thing for sure … Spock was just as much a swaggering, tin-plated dictator as the Captain was -- not to mention so arrogant and full of himself that he seemed to think that he was the next thing to a god, if not better than Humans simply because of his Vulcan blood, conveniently forgetting his own Human blood. Well, guess who was going to take that proud, self-righteous Vulcan down a peg … or several … very soon! When she got through with them, neither Spock nor Christine were going to be able to hold up their heads or ever face anyone on this ship ever again -- and she didn't intend to stop there.

She had thought of something even more diabolical while lustfully perusing the beefcake picture of Spock. He couldn't possibly be as cold as he seemed if he would do something like this. If he persisted in denying her what she believed was rightfully hers, she would send copies of these holos to Starfleet Command and every other public media she could think of.

She just happened to be a photography buff and had the same kind of setup in her quarters that Kirk did for copying holographs. She also intended to scan the holograph negatives into her personal photo files in her quarters computer to use as her trump card in the event the Vulcan was reluctant to give in to her demands -- and wouldn't be at all surprised if he was. Christine, too, for that matter.

She was too wrapped up in her nefarious plans to hear the doors of the Officers' Mess open and footsteps approach the booth. Only a movement out of the corner of her eye, barely in time for her to hide her treasure, alerted her to the presence of another person in the room.

Christine's eyes widened when she recognized the person sitting in the booth where she and Nyota had been only an hour earlier … the very one which Spock had demoted for gross insubordination roughly two weeks ago. From what she understood to have happened, it was no more than she deserved to have to do such menial chores now. In fact, she was lucky to still be aboard the ship. This was all she needed, if the girl had found the negatives of the private photos that she and Spock had given each other for Christmas which she had inadvertently left behind.

It would be a perfect way for her to exact revenge on him -- on both of them, for that matter, since Christine had also heard that this girl, one Randi Williamson, had been giving Spock the eye for some time -- ever since she had come aboard, which had been approximately two months ago.

Not even the public announcement of their engagement had stopped her.

It was for this reason that Christine didn't trust her an inch; if she would stoop to blackmail, she was capable of anything. Yet she looked so deceptively innocent when she had looked up and noticed her. Christine scowled at the thought for a moment before rearranging her finely chiseled features into more pleasant lines.

"Yeoman…Williamson, isn't it? What are you doing here?"

"Just resting for a minute in the booth," she returned. "It's a lot of work to clean this whole big room, you know." She couldn't resist an inward and very evil smirk before returning her gaze to the older woman. "And with all due respect, I might ask you the same thing."

"I'm sure I left something in this booth when I was here earlier with Lt. Commander Uhura making out my wedding invitations roughly an hour ago. Did you happen to run across anything that looked like a bulky envelope anywhere in this booth?" Christine stared hard at the girl before her, but Randi didn't flinch.

"I'm afraid not, ma'am," the latter replied innocently. "Why? Was there anything important in the envelope?"

"You might say that," Christine opined evasively.

"May I ask what was in it?" the girl inquired carefully, hoping her question wouldn't prompt Dr. Chapel to report her to her Vulcan paramour and their superior.

"Some private things involving Commander Spock and myself," was the enigmatic reply.

Randi waited but Christine said nothing more, and something told her that the latter had no intention of speaking further -- probably for Spock's sake, no doubt, she thought bitterly.

"I see," the younger woman rejoined neutrally. "As I said, I haven't found anything like what you're looking for, but if I do, I'll surely let you know. After all, I'm not done cleaning the room yet."

Christine didn't trust her or believe her, but couldn't show it, so she had to act like she believed her and try to figure a way to tell Spock what had happened … if she could. After promising to be so careful with those negatives, she had gone and left them for someone with a grudge against them to find -- and someone in that frame of mind was capable of anything and everything in order to get their revenge.

She didn't want to think what might happen if whoever found it decided to make the pictures public ... or if they managed to become published in a widespread enough way that not only their parents but everyone else in Starfleet and the inhabited Galaxy would see them. If that happened, Christine swore with every ounce of her being that both she and Spock would make it hotter than Hell for the perpetrator of such a monstrous deed tout suite.

That is, once they found out who was responsible for it. If it were this girl before her who turned out to be the culprit, she would soon regret ever meeting Spock or Christine, or for that matter, ever setting foot on the Enterprise.

"Very well," the latter returned as coolly as she could. "You know where to contact me if you find it."

"Yes, ma'am," the girl returned respectfully. "I'd better return to work now. Good night."

"Good night, Yeoman," Christine replied before turning on her heel, her heart heavy because of the possible repercussions of what she had done. How would she ever convince Spock that she hadn't meant to do what she did, that it had not been deliberate? He might even believe that she herself had done it in order to exact revenge on him for taking so long to have a change of heart regarding her and act accordingly.

Please, God, don't let that happen, she prayed silently as she made her way back to the 'lift and Spock's quarters. I couldn't stand to lose him -- especially over something like this. If I do, I swear I'll take that little tart apart, piece by stinking piece, and take pleasure in doing it! I've waited far too long to have him to lose him now because of her!

* * *

It wasn't until she heard the doors close behind Christine that Randi dared to bring out the envelope and tuck it into the pocket of her jeans. Her baggy sweatshirt concealed the bulge it made so no one would know that she had it until it was too late.

She finished her work as soon as she could and returned to her quarters, planning to scan the holophotos in, then post them to the bulletin board with a blackmail demand directed toward those most concerned, particularly Spock, and see how long it took them to respond once they realized that someone other than themselves had possession of copies of their private pictures. Randi also made a mental note to carefully conceal her identity, then intended to sit back and watch the fun … making sure that there would be plenty of it!

* * *

When Christine didn't show up, Kirk contacted her and asked her why. She hardly knew what to say. If she couldn't make the Captain believe her, what chance did she have of convincing Spock?

"Christine, why didn't you come and drop off the negatives? Did you change your mind or something?"

"No," she returned morosely, setting off a mental alarm in Kirk's head.

"Has anything happened to them?" he asked.

She told him everything that had happened in the Officers' Mess, including her return to it and the encounter with Yeoman Williamson as well as her worry that Spock would be upset with her for being so careless. "He was reluctant to give them to me as it was. How am I ever going to tell him what happened? What if his relationship with his father is set back to square one because of this? They've just resumed their father-son relationship. What if my carelessness has ruined it forever?"

Kirk tried to reassure her. "I'm sure he'll know that you didn't do it deliberately."

"That's not the issue," she countered. "What if Yeoman Williamson lied to me and now has the negatives in her possession? After Spock demoted her a while back, getting hold of the negatives and making the holos public -- or threatening to do so unless we cave in to her demands -- would be the perfect way to exact revenge on him … us. How will we ever be able to face the crew, or anyone else, if those pictures get circulated all over the Galaxy?"

"Whoa there, lady. Aren't you jumping the gun just a little? Simply because you couldn't find them when you went back to check and she was there and acted suspicious, doesn't necessarily mean she was hiding anything from you. It could just as easily be a matter of circumstantial evidence."

"But I think that even you have to admit that she's the prime suspect," the ACMO opined. "Do you think there's any way of stopping her -- or whoever -- from making the pictures ppuublic before both Spock and myself are publicly humiliated in front of not only Starfleet but the entire inhabited Galaxy?"

"I hope so," the Captain returned soothingly. "But if there's to be any hope of doing that, I'm afraid Spock will have to know. He's the only one we know with sufficient expertise to smoke out this person trying to get revenge on the two of you. If you like, I can go with you when you tell him and offer some moral support, if nothing else."

"I'd appreciate anything you could do, but there are times he hasn't even listened to you, much less anyone else … especially not in the heat of the moment."

"That doesn't mean it will happen this time. Try to think positive, Christine." Kirk made his voice as soothing as possible. "Why don't we call him right now and see if he has time to discuss it with us?"

Christine was still fearful but had to agree. "All right, let's go do it before I lose my nerve."

* * *

But even as the two were heading down to the Science Lab where the Vulcan was working on a pet experiment in his off-hours, Randi Williamson was sitting down to her computer and preparing to launch her vendetta and blackmail threat. It took only a moment to scan in the pictures to her personal hard drive, then log into the ship's public bulletin board and post the sexy holographs under her personal, private user name which only she and a handful of close associates knew.

Once they knew of the existence of the holos, they would tell others, and those still others, and so on. Before long, the whole ship would know, and neither Spock nor Christine would be able to show their faces outside their quarters without being bombarded with ribald questions, vulgar teasing and crude innuendo -- which would suit Randi just fine. It was a perfect way to give them a taste of their own medicine ... or more specifically, Spock.

However, it might be best to wait a few days before making her blackmail threat public, watch the bulletin board to see if one or the other posted an open letter to the perpetrator. That was, if they got desperate enough -- which they just might -- particularly if there was any danger of this incident reaching the ears of Spock's father, the renowned (and very strait-laced) senior Vulcan Ambassador Sarek.

She would only offer to withdraw the pictures from public view if they satisfactorily reimbursed her for not only her "emotional distress" but the "cruel and unusual punishment" she had been subjected to since her demotion. And since she held the trump card, she could ask for virtually anything and get it … particularly if she left copies with one of her "partners in crime" in order to ensure the success of her vendetta if they managed to collar her and she couldn't talk her way out of it.

But neither did she know what was transpiring in Science Lab #3 on Deck 3 at this very moment, the secret meeting between Kirk, Spock and Christine to tell him what had happened to the negatives and how best to minimize the fallout which might result from their becoming public. If the trio had their way, the culprit responsible for the pilfering of the holograph negatives would be in their hands before the week was out.

All were aware how much could happen in a week, particularly these days, but that would be the best they could do. Christine also needed reassurance that Spock still considered her trustworthy in order to keep her from eating herself up with guilt because of her carelessness which had inadvertently caused this whole mess. Kirk couldn't be sure if anything even he could say would sway Spock, particularly if the Vulcan's mind were made up. Once it was, it was next to impossible to change it -- and they both had to be prepared for that … or at least as prepared as they could possibly be.

* * *

Spock was surprised and -- for once -- even showed it by raising both eyebrows upon noticing Christine and Jim coming in together. "You said you needed to discuss something very important with me, Christine. What is it?" he asked her when she reached him.

"Before I do, please try to understand how sorry I am that this has happened and that I'm willing to accept any dressing-down you deem appropriate. My carelessness was inexcusable, and I won't blame you if you never forgive me for the humiliation we're both going to suffer because of it."

This time Spock frowned openly. "Kindly elucidate, Christine. I do not appreciate those who speak in riddles when I ask them a direct question."

Christine sighed and began, telling Spock all she had told the Captain. By the time she finished, he knew that she was already beating herself up far more than he ever could, so punishment of any kind for her carelessness would be pointless; it would not change what had happened: or what was likely to occur now that the pictures were likely to be made public. What was most important was ferreting out just who had the negatives and stop them, if possible.

"Christine, please calm yourself. I know it was not deliberate, and am not going to punish you. Mainly because you are already punishing yourself far more than I ever could." Even at that, the Vulcan could understand why she would have Jim accompany her; he had been told more than once how intimidating he was when he chose to be … particularly in situations like this, when it involved private situations and private possessions. "What is most important is doing everything we possibly can to minimize the effect that the pictures' becoming public is going to have on not only us, but everyone else in the Galaxy should they see them."

"What can we possibly do now? Even if we manage to get the negatives back, there's no guarantee that the person trying to take revenge on us hasn't already made copies," Christine opined gloomily.

"That is a chance we will have to take," Spock told her. "In addition, I believe it would be most logical for us not to react to anyone inquiring about the pictures. We have nothing to be ashamed of; they were simply the kind of Christmas gifts we chose to give one another.

"Also, we are consenting adults as well as bonded mates, so it is a fairly typical sort of gift to give on a holiday such as Christmas -- at least among Humans, as far as I am aware. We must do our best to defuse any potential damage to our reputations by refusing to dignify the vulgarities with an answer, be it confirmation or denial. If we speak at all, we speak only to an official media source and make one official statement, then leave it at that."

"That's not going to be easy, Spock, particularly if your father hears about all this," Kirk gently but firmly reminded his friend.

The younger Vulcan had to agree with Kirk's assessment, at least for the moment, but intended to stand by his decision, whatever its potential outcome.

"I am an adult; I cannot concern myself overmuch with my father's opinion. It would be the height of hypocrisy for him to judge me, considering the picture similar to Christine's which Mother did for him and which he uses as I use Christine's when she cannot be with me.

"There are other, more important things, to consider -- such as the … love Christine and I share and our upcoming marriage. We must continue with the wedding arrangements as if nothing has happened. I believe the furor will eventually die down if it has no fuel to sustain itself -- and we must not be the ones to supply that fuel, however difficult it may be for us. If we `stick together,' as you say, we should be able to come out ahead … and what is more, capture the one or ones responsible and see to their punishment."

"I hope you're right, Spock: more than anything -- but things don't always happen in such a cut-and-dried manner. Some people are very tenacious as well as vindictive when there is enough hatred involved. You should know that better than anyone," the Captain gently pointed out.

"We have done nothing that anyone should `hate' us for," the Vulcan insisted. "We are simply attempting to live our lives. If certain others object to that, that is their problem, not ours ... and nothing they do is going to change that fact."

"Maybe not, but it's not necessarily going to stop them from doing all they can to make you two look bad in the eyes of as many people as possible," Kirk continued.

"Be that as it may, I still believe my original idea is the most logical course of action. We behave as if nothing has happened, continue to make and finalize whatever wedding plans and arrangements it is still necessary to make. We must not allow ourselves to become easy targets for someone else's vindictiveness, especially if it means assuming the blame for something we are not responsible for, but instead, something which the person involved has done to themselves via their own illogical, if not illegal, actions."

Both Kirk and Christine still had reservations, but knew that arguing with Spock was a lost cause at a time like this, so they both resolved to go along with his plans as best they could -- and see to it that the Doctor and Uhura complied as well. Their efforts had to be unanimous if the plan was going to have any chance of success whatsoever, particularly if there were more than one person involved in the useless, even senseless (but nonetheless very real) vendetta being launched against Spock and Christine.

* * *

As Christine had feared, it didn't take long for the word to spread, and it was becoming progressively more difficult with every passing day to ignore the sly looks shot in her direction, the whispering and/or furtive conversations which usually ended as if cut off with a knife when she entered a room. She had even begun hearing things like "Hey, Doctor, how was your night with Spock? The two of you must really be hot stuff in the sack!" and "So much for Vulcans being cold," as one sniggered. "How about us having a threesome sometime, Doctor?" If this was what she was getting, Christine didn't want to imagine what Spock was probably enduring…and worst of all, because of her!

For the moment, it sufficed to give them either the proverbial cold shoulder, ignoring them entirely and not dignifying their crude, tasteless and vulgar remarks with even the semblance of an answer … but she didn't know how long she could keep it up. She could stand whatever they said about her, but would have done literally anything to keep Spock from having to endure them for even a moment.

And she was certain that they would be even worse with him, if only to see if they could get a rise out of him. She winced in sympathetic pain at the very thought of what they would say to him -- and his Vulcan demeanor would prevent him from reacting to them, no matter how coarse, ribald or even obscene they became. Oh, my love, I'm so sorry to put you through this, she berated herself even as tears filled her eyes for all her beloved would endure.

She could only hope that at some point either the Captain or Leonard would put their foot down and take steps to put a stop to the vulgarities … or at least keep them to a minimum, if possible. She could still recall what Spock had told her about the time early in the first five-year mission when one crewman had suspected him of being a Romulan spy once they had found out what the Romulans looked like -- and of how the Captain had chewed him out at least twice for his bigotry.

That was bad enough, but after he had accidentally given their position away to the Romulans by inadvertently activating a button at his station (which anybody could have done) when he reached to pull himself up from where he had been lying in order to repair a shorted-out transfer coil, the crewman, one Lt. Stiles, had acted as though it were unforgivable.

But worst of all was when he had gone down to the one operational Phaser Room and asked if he could offer assistance -- then Stiles had snapped at him, "This time we'll handle things without your help, Vulcan." Only she and his closest friends knew how much that had hurt Spock, for he had not reacted to the remark, simply walked out.

Shortly thereafter, the Romulans had launched a plasma weapon against them and caused a coolant leak in the Phaser Room, which had rendered both Tomlinson, who was manning the Phaser Room with him, and Stiles unconscious. Spock had risked his own life to save the ship and the men, but despite his heroic actions, Tomlinson -- who had been due to get married earlier that day -- died because of prolonged inhalation of the deadly coolant gas. Both Spock and Stiles had had to be treated for it as well, but managed to survive because their exposure had not been as long.

She was glad to know that Stiles had at least appreciated Spock's saving him, but to her, that showed who the better man was, particularly after the treatment Spock had endured at his hands. It was a cinch that Stiles would have enjoyed every moment of what was going on now, she was convinced of that; if only for that reason, she was glad he had long since transferred off the ship.

Even before she had come aboard, which had been about a month or so before the Psi 2000 incident, where she had inadvertently blurted out her feelings to Spock and regretted it ever since, even though neither of them had been themselves at a time because of the virus and were technically not responsible for their actions.

Spock had avoided her assiduously for several months afterward, being in her company only when absolutely necessary -- and then only on ship's business or if he were ill or injured. Christine could hardly blame him, considering how wantonly she had acted (at least by comparison to their other encounters) … putting her hands on his face, then kissing his hand passionately and declaring her love for him.

Fortunately, from all indications, all he remembered from that early encounter was the fact she had said she loved him just the way he was -- both sides of him, Vulcan and HHuuman. It was nothing short of a miracle that he hadn't been frightened away for all time, but she was happy beyond words that he hadn't been … and now they were to be married. She vowed that no amount of vulgar innuendo or crude remarks because of this latest incident was going to prevent that from taking place -- not if she had anything to say about it!

* * *

But she had no way of stopping what happened next … and had to admit that no one could have stopped it. All that was possible for anyone to do was make sure the perpetrator paid dearly for it, in one way or another. If it hadn't been for Spock, she would have gone after the person herself -- at least once she had found out who it was. With Spock's talent with computers, it wouldn't take long to ferret them out: not to mention whoever else the perpetrator decided to include in their diabolical scheme.

She had walked in on Spock at the computer the following day and he had the darkest, blackest and most dangerous look she had ever seen on his usually serene and impassive face. He did not react even as she stepped up to stand beside him, which told her how preoccupied he was with what was on the screen.

"Spock? I'm here …" she said, repeating herself several times -- then finally reaching out and gently shaking his shoulder. "Spock!"

That was what finally made him lift his head and acknowledge her presence. "Oh, Christine. I am sorry. I did not notice you." The couple crossed fingers, then shared a brief but tender kiss.

"Obviously," she noted with a soft laugh. "What's wrong?"

He gestured to the screen; there seemed to be about two paragraphs of text on it -- but it was what the text said that burned her up. And she could just imagine what Spock's reaction to it had been for him to have looked as he had when she came in.

The screen read as follows:

Mr. Spock and Dr. Christine Chapel…

By now you must be aware of the fact that I am in possession of the missing holograph negatives. If you want me to both return the negatives and withdraw the pictures from circulation, you must do the following, and within the next 48 hours, or else with one click of a button, copies of them will be sent throughout the known Galaxy -- and neither of you will ever be able to hold up your heads again … either aboard this ship or anywhere else.

I know you have the power to change matters if you choose to do so, Mr. Spock -- all you need do is simply reinstate my rightful rank of Lieutenant as well as reimburse me monetarily for the emotional distress my demotion has caused me and the cruel and unusual punishment the demotion was in the first place. Otherwise it will be as I have said, and both you and your paramour will be sorry you ever tangled with me.

I will expect your reply within the allotted time, and if either of you know what's good for you, you'll grant my request.

The first thing Christine noted upon finishing the threatening missive was that it was unsigned, obviously a blatant attempt to disguise the author's identity … but it wouldn't work for long, and both of the couple knew it. But their antagonist obviously didn't know it, and it was that which would be his or her downfall -- or so the couple believed.

"You're not going to grant the request, are you?" she asked, hoping he wasn't even considering that, much less intending to do it.

"Of course not," he assured her. "I do not demote anyone without a logical reason."

"How many have you done that to lately?" she wondered.

"Not very many. One or two, perhaps, in the last two point-one months," he told her.

"May I ask why you demoted them?"

"One, for gross insubordination and the other for both that and incompetence … but they did not become official until after the Captain approved them."

The reasons he gave sounded reasonable enough to her, despite many crewmen's contentions that Spock was too fussy, nit picky, or simply too much of a perfectionist. But most anyone who knew him knew that that was the way he was and eventually learned to live with it. As far as she could tell -- especially in his own Science Department -- the Vulcan's exacting standards had made his subordinates all the more conscientious and markedly improved the Department's overall efficiency rating.

The impeccable English the letter-writer had used indicated they were very intelligent, at least in one sense … but very stupid, if not ignorant, in another. They had obviously not been aboard ship for very long, either, or else they would have known Spock's methods well enough to know that he could not be bought -- or blackmailed. And this message was nothing less than blackmail, pure and simple!

That would make the search easier than expected, for there hadn't been that many who had been aboard less than a year … but if she remembered correctly, at least one of the ones Spock had recently demoted had only been aboard ship about three months or so. Perhaps this person was the one who had found the negatives -- perhaps it was even Yeoman Williamson, whom she had caught in the Officers' Mess (and in the very booth she and Nyota had sat in) shortly after she had discovered the negatives missing and acted so suspiciously when she'd asked her about them. In fact, it wouldn't surprise her one bit if it was!

"Have you conducted a computer search yet?" she asked then.

"I was planning to do so when you came in," he claimed … although Christine had her doubts, considering how she had found him -- but didn't argue the point.

"Then no sense waiting," she remarked. "You may as well get started now."

The Vulcan looked up at his paramour with a raised eyebrow, then gave her a smile. "A most logical course of action." He then put the computer into sophisticated search mode and said, "Computer, check all databanks and relay to me the origin of all messages sent to me from all crewmembers. Then check databanks and relay to me the origin of all messages sent to others aboard ship from crew quarters."

"Working," came the computer's pleasant feminine voice. Christine stood by Spock, one hand on his shoulder and his free hand covering hers, as they waited for the computer to deliver the desired information.

* * *

Christine wasn't at all surprised when her suspicions were proved right; their main concern now was proving Yeoman Williamson's nefarious intentions and allowing the proper authorities rather than themselves to punish her, even as tempting as it was. Once the proper, necessary information had been relayed to the Captain, it was only a matter of time until she was out of their hair for good.

Spock had told him to wait a few days before bringing formal charges of trying to blackmail not only one but two superior officers -- if only to give her time to incriminate herself further as well as make her think they intended to give in … and she wouldn't realize the truth until it was too late.

"I thought she was lying to me," she remarked, a trace of sadness in her voice. "So unfortunate, too. With her intelligence, she could have gone far."

Spock nodded in agreement. "It was not easy to demote her, but her actions left me with little choice."

"But it will take more than simply punishing her to erase the effects of what she's done to us," Christine pointed out. "Remember what she plans to do if we don't give in."

"You are correct, I'm afraid. But a lot of necessary things are unpleasant -- and this happens to be one of them."

"What are you going to do now?" was his companion's next question.

"I will reply to her question on behalf of both of us," the Vulcan told her. "However, this time, her reply and the location it is coming from will be relayed not only to the Captain but Starfleet Command."

"With any luck, this should teach her that she can't get away with blackmailing her superiors," Christine opined. "I just wish we didn't have to do this."

"I share your regret, m'chejan, but we cannot allow this action to go unpunished," the Vulcan reminded her. "In addition, what happens between two consenting adults in the privacy of their quarters-including the gifts they choose to give one another -- is their business and theirs alone … and anyone who tries to profit from it will be severely punished."

"But not before putting us through the proverbial wringer," Christine returned gloomily. "I can just imagine how your parents are going to react -- not to mention all the other members of Starfleet and those at Command."

"We can only hope that we will be able to manage to convince my father to help us," the First Officer replied hopefully, squeezing his bondmate's hand reassuringly.

"Mine, too," Christine added. "He's retired now, but Mama tells me that Daddy still keeps in touch with several old friends he made while he was a diplomat."

"That may work in our favor … particularly if my father proves unwilling to assist us," Spock finished. "For now, we must compose my reply to our blackmailer."

With that, the Vulcan put the computer in `send intership message' mode and began dictating.

This is Commander Spock.

My bondmate and I have received your note and agree to your terms, with the following condition: you must also agree to turn over to us any and all copies of the holographs you may have in your possession as well as the negatives. We await your reply.

After finishing the reply and sending it, Christine frowned thoughtfully, then commented, "Isn't there a Commodore Williamson at Command? Isn't he even a member of Admiral Nogura's personal staff?"

"I believe so," Spock agreed. "Why? Do you think he might be related to Yeoman Williamson?"

"It's a distinct possibility," she answered. "And what if he's just as sneaky and underhanded as she is?"

"A risk we will have to take," the Vulcan insisted. "We cannot allow subordinates to blackmail us and expect to get away with it, no matter how many friends or relatives they may have in high places."

"I hope we won't have to bring Admiral Nogura into this in order to straighten everything out," Christine worried.

"Neither do I, but we may have to," Spock opined, not fond of the idea -- mainly because of what was likely to happen in that event, but knowing it just might be necessary in order to see that justice was done.

"Let me know what our little blackmailer says," she finally said, lifting his hand to her lips and kissing it in farewell. "I've got to get ready for bed now. See you in the morning, love."

"As you wish," the Vulcan replied, smiling just for her. "I will join you shortly."

Christine winked provocatively at her alien lover. "I'll be waiting."

* * *

Randi was delighted to find a concession message from Spock in her in-box. She was somewhat reluctant to give back her bargaining chips, but if that was what it took for him to restore her rightful rank, then those were the breaks. Even at that, she still intended to have her cohorts keep their own copies just in case he tried to renege on the deal. If she had had any idea it was this easy (or enjoyable) to blackmail a superior, she would have tried it long ago.

She doubted she would ever be punished or even reprimanded for her action, mainly due to Uncle Ben's influence in Admiral Nogura's hierarchy. According to him, he had Nogura in his vest pocket -- or so he claimed. It had been partly his influence and partly her own intelligence which had gotten her a place on the Enterprise in the first place … and she was confident that his influence with Admiral Nogura would get her out of trouble this time as well.

She had no idea of what Spock had done or the plans he had set in motion, and because of his computer expertise, would continue to be ignorant of same until it was too late. He and Christine hated to do such a thing to such a promising young officer, but it was necessary to show that underlings could not expect to blackmail their superiors and expect to get away with it simply because of family connections or money.

The formal charges would not be brought against Yeoman Williamson until they had gotten sufficient evidence against her and they had gotten their private property back. Once it was back in their hands, Spock and Christine would put it in a secret place which only they knew of in their private quarters.

But as before, other than themselves, only Kirk would have access to the negatives -- and that was the way it would remain after this. All they could do now was wait ... but they could well imagine how interesting life was going to be once their own plans came to fruition in the not-too-distant future.

Neither did Yeoman Williamson have any idea that Spock also knew of the copies of the pictures in the hands of several of her other friends, and that was just the way he wanted it. It was the trump card he would play at her court-martial, the main reason he would give for not honoring his word. In most instances, the Vulcan willingly and gladly honored any word he gave as to doing a given thing…but in this case, he had no intention of doing so, despite what he had told his blackmailer.

No one blackmailed a superior, particularly a Vulcan, and got away with it! Because of what she'd done, what she had put him and Christine through, he was not obligated to honor his word, although she no doubt believed she had him "over a barrel," as it were -- when the reverse was actually the case.

He intended to lull her and her cohorts into a false sense of security even while making plans that would punish them as they deserved. Once the arrangements had been made, he would send her a message ostensibly to reinstate her former rank but it would in reality be a court-martial board awaiting her, of which Kirk and Nogura would be a part.

Once the threatening message had reached Nogura's office, the octogenarian Fleet Admiral was furious, declaring that he would punish Commodore Williamson within an inch of his miserable life for bragging about his so-called influence. His heavily accented Standard was cold and clipped as he had declared to Kirk in his reply that he was no one's puppet and intended to see that Williamson knew it -- and that if he had anything to do with it, the man would never see the inside of the Command building ever again. In fact, he would be lucky if he were allowed to remain in the Federation after what he'd done!

* * *

Meanwhile, however, only our heroes knew exactly what was transpiring behind the scenes. Three days later, while they were on duty and Yeoman Williamson was off-duty, she made her way to Deck Five and the senior officers' domain. Upon arrival at Spock's quarters, she slipped the negatives and the copies she had into the original envelope she had found in the Officers' Mess through the slot in the quarters door.

Once that was accomplished, she carefully looked around to make sure no one had seen her do it, then made her way back to the turbolift and her own quarters to report to her uncle what she had done. He probably wouldn't be too pleased when he heard, but it should mollify him once he learned that she had left some copies with some friends in the event of an emergency in order to ensure that Spock would not back out of the deal at the last minute.

Upon changing out of her uniform into her favorite lounging outfit, she sat down at her computer and called up the number for her uncle's office, but this was his private line, which was above and beyond the one he used for all public business. In fact, Randi was one of the few who knew this line even existed…and the fact that it could reach him when nothing else did.

She smiled upon seeing the face of her father's only (and older) brother appear on her computer's viewscreen. "Uncle Ben," she acknowledged affectionately. "It's so good to see you again."

"You too, Pooh Bear," he crooned back, using her favorite childhood nickname which only he had ever called her (and by the way, it was the name she went by on her private account, the name only her five closest friends knew -- or so she believed). "How are things going?"

"Great," she reported with a wicked smile. "I've got this Commander Spock you told me about over a barrel. I feel sure that I'm going to be a Lieutenant again any day now."

"Be careful, honey," the older man cautioned. "Vulcans can be very shrewd and dangerously clever when they choose to be…and they very much dislike being blackmailed! Don't count on anything for sure until and unless it happens in a public and official manner."

"Don't worry, Uncle," she assured him. "Even though I returned the original holo-negatives and my own personal copies, I left some with a few of my friends so I have something to fall back on in the event Spock tries to back out of the deal."

As Randi had predicted, her uncle was not pleased to hear this, but felt better knowing she had prepared for the worst. "I still think you should have made copies of the negatives," he admonished her. "Another thing Vulcans are notorious for is remembering literally everything that we Humans forget."

"As I said, don't worry, Uncle. I have a setup where I can make negatives from an original print if necessary. All I have to do is have one of my friends send me a copy from their files."

Benedict Arnold Williamson's weathered but still handsome face, framed by thick silver hair, broke into a smile at his beloved niece's cleverness but because he knew what Vulcans were capable of -- especially when they were cornered -- he was still concerned about the possible outcome of this risky venture. He wouldn't feel safe until and unless he had actually heard from Randi that her former rank had been restored to her.

Even as powerful as the Vulcan was, he couldn't restore her rank by himself. He would need the approval of his own superior, one Captain James T. Kirk, then it would be necessary for the request to be sent to Nogura's office for final approval. And he knew his own position would be in jeopardy if Nogura ever learned how he had been throwing his name around in order to obtain personal favors.

But Ben Williamson loved Randi like the daughter he had never had, and had promised his brother Matt when he and his wife died (Randi was ten years old at the time) that he would do his best to look after her as if she were his own. And he had kept his word…to a degree, anyway. Matt and Ruth would never have approved of his methods regarding his raising of their only child -- but they were dead, so they would never know.

"All right, if you say so," Ben Williamson returned dubiously. "But be careful and ready for anything, Pooh Bear. Don't put anything past Vulcans, particularly in a situation like this. He has powerful friends too -- not to mention family," he warned, thinking of Sarek, Spock's illustrious father, the senior Federation Ambassador to Vulcan. He wasn't as concerned about the Vulcan's father-in-law, retired diplomat Christopher Chapel, but the latter could still have contacts in the diplomatic arena, so as he had told Pooh Bear, it was best to be prepared for anything.

"I'll be fine, Uncle," Randi assured him. "And I'll keep you informed. I've got to go now and have something to eat. Talk to you later. I love you."

"I love you, Pooh Bear. Contact me again as soon as you can." With a final smile, Ben Williamson cut the connection and the screen went dark. Randi smiled at the thought of him as she prepared to go the Officers' Mess for something to eat, knowing it was only a matter of time before Spock and his paramour discovered the return of the negatives and copies -- then he would take steps to restore her rank. That is, if he knew what was good for him…and Christine. Otherwise she would take steps to see to it that neither of them would ever be able to hold up their heads again, be it on the Enterprise or anywhere in the Federation, for that matter.

* * *

While waiting for the return for the negatives and copies, both Spock and Christine contacted their parents to see if they would be willing to help them and make sure that their blackmailer (not to mention her partners in crime) was properly punished. But even in the midst of all this, preparations continued for their shipboard wedding, which by now was only a month away and they still had a lot to do in order to bring it off on schedule. It would likely take all of them working together to do it, but it would be worth it. It wasn't often they had something like this to make their lives worthwhile, above and beyond their regular duties.

On this night, Spock was the one who happened to arrive back at their quarters first, pleased to note the bulky envelope waiting for him on the floor just inside the door to the quarters. He carefully picked it up and deposited it on the desk he and Christine shared, intending to discuss their next move with her as soon as she had arrived and was settled in.

He checked to see if all was intact and present, and while he was pleased to discover all the negatives present, not all the copies were…as he had fully expected, supposedly to ensure his cooperation. He sat down at his computer and sent off a simultaneous message to Jim and Fleet Command, informing Nogura of the negatives' (but not all of the copies) return.

He knew that upon receipt of this note, the individuals involved would take the steps necessary to both punish the wayward Yeoman and her positively dishonest relative who had assisted her. He would then inform her of the place and time she was to report to, ostensibly for her re-promotion, but which in reality would be her court-martial -- among other things.

* * *

He was waiting at the computer when Christine walked in, smiling upon seeing him. "Any news, Spock?" she asked upon greeting him with their customary finger-crossing and kiss.

"I am pleased to report the return of the negatives and some of the copies," he told her.

Christine was pleased but still concerned. "Then she could still blackmail us."

The Vulcan shook his head. "I have taken steps to ensure that that is not possible. We are now the only ones who have any actual copies, since I recently sent out a coded message to all the places she sent copies to which will destroy any copies of our holographs that it finds in any and all computers other than our own."

Christine smiled. "If it wasn't for what Yeoman Williamson has tried to do to us, I would call that positively diabolical."

"Not diabolical, m'chejan -- logical," the Vulcan corrected, allowing himself a smile. "This will prove as a warning to anyone else who contemplates doing such a thing themselves not to underestimate one's opponent, particularly when that opponent is Vulcan…and Yeoman Williamson has seriously underestimated me." He looked up at her and added, "Us -- particularly if our parents are willing to assist us."

"Which reminds me…Nyota sent me a personal message via my workstation computer from my folks earlier today. Daddy has contacted and alerted an old friend of his who now works in Fleet Command alongside the suspect Commodore Williamson, and told me to let his friend know right away once things hit the fan, as it were, giving me his holocom address for use at the proper time. He will be glad to testify in our behalf as to the culpability of both our suspects."

"That is good to hear," Spock returned quietly.

"Have you heard from your father yet?" she asked.

"I heard from Mother," he told her. "But she assures me that my father is taking steps in our behalf, although she could not say precisely what he is doing. That is why he could not contact us directly."

"What matters is that they're helping us," Christine replied. "Which reminds me, have any arrangements been made for the Vulcan wedding?"

"Mother has promised that my father will begin those upon completing the arrangements to eliminate our current…problem."

"That's good. Now all we've got to worry about is the shipboard wedding. Do you know when the court-martial will be held yet?"

"Jim should inform me within the next 72 hours," he assured her. "As soon as I know, I will inform you and we can act accordingly."

* * *

Once Spock found out the date and time of the court-martial, however, he informed not only Christine but their blackmailer … and in a cleverly edited message so that she would unknowingly walk right into their cleverly laid trap. With a part of her, Christine would enjoy watching her squirm, as she and her partners in crime had made them squirm -- and what's more, see them get their just punishment for what they had done (or attempted to do). Still, it was sad that Randi Williamson had chosen to do such a thing. She was such a gifted young woman … yet she had thrown it all away in an attempt to exact revenge on those superiors whom she had believed had persecuted and unfairly punished her.

The court-martial board would meet on Starbase 9 shortly after their arrival on stardate 7924.3 at 1430 hours and in formal dress; all they could do now was wait to arrive, since they were still roughly two days away, even at maximum warp. She, Spock and their friends all intended to go and testify, and she had already sent a message to her father's friend informing him so he should be there in their behalf as well. Both she and Spock were still unaware of what Sarek was up to, and could only hope the results of his efforts would manifest themselves soon.

* * *

The two days passed more rapidly than any of them could have imagined possible; almost literally the next thing they knew, they had arrived at Starbase 9 and had gathered for the court-martial. Even Yeoman Williamson and her uncle were there, although they hadn't seen them yet. Were they ever in for a surprise when they did show, however!

Yet they were still waiting for Nogura to show, although her father's old friend, one Commodore William Thomas Jefferson (yes, a descendant of the Revolutionary War patriot, third US President and Declaration of Independence author, Thomas Jefferson) assured her that his superior was simply running a little late, as those of his age often did.

"I hope so, Commodore Jefferson," Christine opined, standing with Spock and their friends as she spoke to him. "Things have been very difficult for Spock and myself since this blackmail has been going on. We need all the help we can get."

The older man smiled reassuringly. "No need to worry any more, Christine. Malcontents like this need to be made examples of. When your father contacted me and told me what was going on, I jumped at the chance to help."

"Did you know of Commodore Williamson's tendency to name-drop?"

"Oh yes," Commodore Jefferson laughed. "Ben has always had a positive talent for that -- but I've spoken with Admiral Nogura, and he assures me that Ben is going to be put in his place…very soon." Just then, a commotion at the nearby VIP turbolift told them that Nogura would soon join them. When he did, everyone greeted one another warmly and filed into the room where the court-martial would be held.

Upon seating themselves, Nogura took his place in the judgment seat, between Kirk and Jefferson, and told his aide, one Commander Johnston -- a thirtyish black male -- to bring in the Williamsons. McCoy, Spock and Christine sat in the visitors' section; the couple held hands as they sat there and the Vulcan squeezed his bondmate's hand reassuringly when the two smug and almost cocky-seeming suspects were brought in.

The female Doctor couldn't help thinking of how quickly those expressions would be completely and totally gone once they learned the real purpose of this meeting, unable to keep from inwardly smirking. Spock raised an eyebrow at her but understood why she had done what she did; had he been fully Human, he might have done the same thing.

The looks on the suspects' faces were priceless once they realized what they were truly there for…but couldn't leave without being officially arrested. Once Randi found her voice again, she accused Spock of reneging on their deal. The Vulcan coolly retorted, "I make no deals with blackmailers. In addition, you did not honor your end of the 'deal,' as you put it."

"I did so," Randi insisted. "You got your negatives back, didn't you, and all the copies I had?"

"Yes, the negatives and all the copies you had…but not all the copies, as I stipulated. You see, I knew you had sent copies to several of your friends, thinking you would still be able to force me to do your bidding. I am afraid you underestimated me, Yeoman… seriously underestimated me. Even now, there are those in this room who will be glad to tell this board of your and your uncle's clandestine, not to mention illegal, activities. What is more, they have documented proof, so you will be unable to deny what you have done."

The young woman's face was a mixture of fury and frustration but she could not refute anything the Vulcan said. "In addition, it does not really matter that you did not return all the copies. I have taken steps to eliminate any remaining copies from any and all computers you have sent them to." He didn't say how long it would take the coded message program to do so, but the Yeoman didn't need to know that. All that was important that she know that the program was in operation.

Once Spock had finished, Christine began to speak. "Even though my father is retired, he still has friends who are active -- and high up -- in the diplomatic hierarchy, such as Commodore Jefferson, whom you may know as your long-time colleague, Commodore Williamson." She emphasized the title, knowing the man would not have it for much longer. "Not to mention the fact that even now, Spock's father, the senior Vulcan Ambassador to the Federation, is working on our behalf to prevent people like you from ever being able to blackmail their superiors ever again."

Shortly afterward, Nogura addressed himself to Williamson. "As of this moment, you are no longer a Commodore, Ben. You know how I abhor anyone using my name to obtain favors -- or exaggerating their level of influence where I am concerned. I tell you again, I am no one's puppet, least of all yours. I never have been, and never will be." The level of cold anger in Nogura's voice told Williamson he had been found out and that it would do no good to deny his culpability in the matter because his antagonists literally had him dead to rights.

"As for you, Yeoman Miranda Williamson, you are no longer a member of either the Enterprise crew or of Starfleet. You will be dishonorably discharged, as will your uncle, Benedict Arnold Williamson -- with all the loss of rank and privilege which that entails because of your attempt to blackmail not only one, but two, senior officers in order to forcefully rescind a rightfully given demotion."

Spock, Christine and their friends all exchanged stunned looks upon learning the ex-Commodore's full name…but Christine was the one to regain her voice first. "Can't say I'm surprised at that," she opined wryly.

"An all-too-appropriate name, unfortunately," Kirk agreed; Spock and McCoy couldn't do anything but agree. "Especially since Benedict Arnold was a Revolutionary-era traitor, working for the British even while claiming to be a patriot."

"Jim, I shall never understand why people who have obviously worked hard to gain what they have would so willingly throw that away, as you say, in a fruitless attempt at revenge for a rightfully given punishment."

"Neither do I, Spock. It's not only illogical, as you say, it's totally and thoroughly foolish," Kirk opined.

"Not to mention ridiculous and needless," McCoy added. "The only good thing about all this is that we won't have to ever worry about something like this happening again."

We can but hope, the Captain thought even as the group watched Starfleet Security take the two suspects into custody, subduing them with energy cuffs after Williamson had been obliged to return all his rank and years-in-service pins. "Well, that's done now, so we'd best get back to what we're really here at Starbase 9 for: some long-overdue and well-deserved shore leave!" the Captain declared.

All that was necessary now was to contact Uhura since she had been invited to join them on the starbase after the unpleasant but necessary business of the court-martial had been taken care of. Now they could finally concentrate on the plans and arrangements for the upcoming dual weddings without anything else getting in the way.

* * *

After all their legal business had been taken care of and the two culprits taken into custody for due punishment according to law, the bridal couple-to-be and their friends settled down to enjoy their long-overdue leave. The first thing they did was have a late lunch together, then each separated to go their own ways.

Spock was rather reluctant, but at the same time, curious enough to go along with Christine when she suggested checking out the numerous bridal shops on the starbase which catered to virtually all sorts of Humanoid pairings, beginning with their own. There were even several wedding chapels which held ethnically correct weddings for the given species (provided both of the couple were of the same race): or at least as ethnically correct as they could get without actually being on the couple's actual homeworld.

At one point Christine was pleased to see one place even offering an authentically Vulcan wedding, although she was certain that Spock wouldn't be satisfied unless they actually went to Vulcan for that. There were also several spots which offered a combination of Vulcan and Terran; she told herself to at least mention them to him at some point to see if he would like to be married on the starbase or on the ship. Either way their friends would be there, so Christine believed that Spock would at least consider it. Meanwhile, of course, she took him by one arm and steered him into a bridal shop offering everything from personalized glasses to wedding holophotos with virtually every kind of special effect imaginable. The proprietor was a very surprised Native American Terran/Vulcan mix, a man roughly about Spock's age, in his 40s. Christine could scarcely take her eyes off him.

If she weren't already insanely in love with another Terran/Vulcan hybrid, she would have gone after this guy tout suite… but with her luck, he was probably already married with a whole bunch of kids. And I'll just bet they're each as beautiful as he is, she couldn't help thinking. Spock caught her thought and raised both eyebrows at her.

Really, m'chejan. Is that an appropriate thing to think at a time like this? His mind-voice was affectionately scolding.

Christine returned a reassuring reply. Don't worry, love. I'm simply making an observation. I'm very much in love with you, yes, but am still Human, so I'm going to notice other men. That doesn't mean I'd ever go after anyone else, though. You're all I want…and all I'll ever want!

Spock was momentarily mollified, his expression relaxing into its usual serene expression as the shop owner approached.

"Greetings, ma'am, sir. Welcome to the Never and Always Touching and Touched Bridal Shop. I am Selan Red Wolf. How may I help you?"

"We'd like to take a look around and see what you have, if that's all right," Christine returned tentatively.

"Of course," the shop owner told them, making a sweeping hand gesture toward his merchandise.

"Thank you. Let's go, Spock."

* * *

The variety of items in the shop were scarcely believable to either of the couple, including some things they frankly didn't believe were possible to make: but neither were surprised to see that the price of same usually reflected their rarity. At one point, Spock and Christine were browsing over a display which offered a life-size holophoto of the bridal couple, which even included a small recording device upon which the wedding vows could be placed -- and for a nominal fee, the holo could seemingly come to life, if only for as long as it took to say the words ... and if the couple desired, the wedding kiss.

"Wouldn't this be great, Spock? To have a life-size holo of us made when we get married, and a recording of our wedding vows to show our children later on?"

Christine seemed very enthused about the idea, and Spock couldn't deny being intrigued himself, but couldn't help being at least somewhat concerned about the price of the item. He wasn't poor by any means, not between his combined inheritances on Vulcan and Earth, in addition to his Starfleet Commander's pay, but neither was he what one might call "filthy rich", either, in spite of his aristocratic background.

Nor did he believe in spending unnecessarily large amounts of credits for frivolous things. He would not say that to Christine, of course, but something as sophisticated as this surely had to be what Humans called a "luxury" item. On the other hand, their wedding was a once-in-a-lifetime event. If only for that reason, it just might be worth the expense. Not to mention the fact that it would please Christine immensely to have it.

At this point, the Vulcan made one of the most illogical, yet most rewarding decisions of his life. "What is the price of this item, sir?"

The owner stepped up to them, having been hovering nearby since just after Spock and Christine had reached the display. "Seven thousand, five hundred credits," he replied.

Spock's expression didn't change (at least not noticeably), but Christine turned pale at the amount. "Does that include tax?"

"No, sir. There is an 10.5% sales tax, which would bring the price to eight thousand, two hundred and fifty credits," the owner rapidly calculated.

"What exactly is involved in making this holophoto?" the Vulcan inquired.

"Some of the workings are quite intricate, sir, but the holophoto itself is made from a small holophoto taken at your wedding and the wedding vows recorded in the small device included with the large, animated version."

"Can the holophoto be replaced if necessary?"

"Yes, sir. We keep detailed records of every transaction and negatives of every holophoto taken."

"Would there be an additional replacement charge?"

"One-tenth of the original purchase price," was the reply.

Spock frowned thoughtfully; that sounded reasonable enough. "In that case, my … fiancée and I wish to purchase this item."

Christine was stunned, hardly believing what she was hearing. "Spock, what are you doing?"

"I am purchasing this item for us," he informed her. "Is that not what you wish?"

"Of course, but…" Her voice trailed off.

"But what?" he prompted.

"It's so expensive," she pointed out.

"Do not concern yourself, m'chejan. I can afford it, as long as it is only a one-time gift," he assured her. "Consider it one of my… wedding presents to you."

Christine knew one thing for sure -- this was one wedding gift she could never top, no matter what she did. "I …appreciate it, beloved; I surely do appreciate it. But--"

"Now what?" His voice held a touch of impatience.

"I was … just wondering. Would we be able to transport it to the ship once our leave's over?"

The owner's sharp ears caught her stage-whisper. "Do you wish to have the components shipped to you, ma'am?"

"That might be a good idea," Christine replied; after a moment's thought Spock had to agree. He certainly had enough technical expertise to be able to put it together once it arrived on the ship. However, he surmised that it would be necessary to wait to do so until after the wedding, in order that the small holophoto could be included with the other components. "How much would it cost for shipping? We are Starfleet officers; we serve on the Enterprise," Christine informed him.

"Indeed? What are your titles?" the owner asked curiously.

"I am the Assistant CMO and my … fiancé is the First and Science Officer," Christine told him.

"Then you are -- Spock and Christine Chapel?" The man sounded incredulous, as if he couldn't believe the two Fleet icons could ever have shown up in person in his small shop, much less buy something from him.

"You've heard of us?" she returned, equally incredulous.

"By reputation only," Selan Red Wolf replied. "Still, I cannot help but be curious about your background, Commander," he remarked, addressing Spock.

"What are you curious about?" Spock wondered.

"Your mother's birthplace," he answered. "I am assuming that she is your Human parent."

"You assume correctly. My mother is a Caucasian Human; she was born in New York City, in the state of New York, in the Earth country of the United States of America."

"My mother is Vulcan," Selan told them. "My father is a full-blooded Lakota Sioux. They met in 2230 when she visited my grandfather's tribe on a cultural exchange project. My father is now head of the tribe."

"You are the son of a chief?" Spock prompted.

"As is my father," Selan admitted.

"Fascinating," Spock opined, his token eyebrow shooting up to hide in his bangs. "My father is the senior Vulcan Ambassador to Earth."

Shortly after this, however, small talk was put aside in favor of completing the aforementioned transaction. Arrangements were also made for a photographer who specialized in holographs to take the picture which would be made into the life-size holograph. Once all had been finalized, the couple left the shop after thanking Selan Red Wolf for both his time and family information. Christine could hardly wait to tell Nyota of the man they had met and the item Spock had bought her. She'd probably never believe it in a million years… and neither would the Captain or Leonard!

After a time, the couple discovered a place where one could rent swimming time -- virtually anywhere on any planet could be duplicated, for a nominal fee. Both knew that that would likely be expensive, but not nearly as much as what Spock had shelled out for the life- size wedding holograph. Spock had told her of one vacation spot on Vulcan which was like a desert oasis; she had never seen it, but it sounded wonderful when he described it to the owner of the swimming outfit. They were told it would take approximately two hours to set up; could they return then?

Spock merely nodded and they left; Christine then mentally asked him what they were going to do in the meantime. He told her that if she wished, they could go to a 'movie', as Humans once called present-day entertainment tapes. They usually lasted an average of two hours.

"That's fine, if we can find one we can both live with, as it were," she remarked dubiously: and out loud.

"We will not know unless we inquire -- so may I assume you wish to do so?"

Christine simply nodded, and the couple went off to find a 'movie theater'.

* * *

To their (at least momentary) dismay, all the theaters that had anything they would have cared to see were sold out and the ones who weren't did not have any movies they cared to watch. After a time, however, they did manage to locate a theater where they could watch a film of their choice by themselves. Christine marveled at their seeming talent at finding the most expensive forms of entertainment, but the prices didn't seem to faze Spock. Nothing seemed to faze him!

Christine was by no means poor, either, but even at that, she had to work for every credit she made and didn't have anywhere near the kind of money Spock and his family did, so she could only get "luxury" items maybe once a year or so. He had already paid over eight thousand credits for the animated, life-sized wedding holograph, not to mention nearly a thousand for the simulated swimming area on his home planet.

Now this -- this "private screening", as it were, would cost at least two hundred fifty credits! Spock would have to have one heck of a high credit line, that was for sure, to be able to hand over his Intergalactic Express "credit card" so easily … and for such high-end purchases, too.

The clerk was standing impatiently yet politely in front of the indecisive couple, until Spock finally spoke and told her which film they cared to view, then directed them to where they could watch it. "Great choice," she enthused. "That's one of my favorites too," she opined as he handed over his credit card once again and she processed it, withdrawing the necessary funds from his account. "Enjoy the show," she called after them.

Spock merely nodded in acknowledgment and the pair disappeared around the corner from where the clerk's cubicle was to the private screening room. They had been told that the film was being set up and to wait ten minutes before pressing the red button on the device. [There would be a wireless remote-control type device attached to the chair where the Vulcan would sit; he had simply to push the button to alert them and begin the film].

Once the couple made themselves comfortable, Spock quickly located the device and held it in his hand for the required amount of time, then pressed the red button. Within thirty seconds the room darkened and the screen lit up; soon the title frame and opening credits began. The pair then settled back to enjoy the show.

* * *

"Truly a marvelous film," Christine opined as they left the room arm-in-arm. "I don't think I would ever get tired of watching it."

"Indeed," Spock found himself agreeing, marveling at how he had been so enthralled with the film that he had merely put his arms around Christine and she had rested her head on his shoulder while they had watched it; the seating was such that she could curl up comfortably next to him, reminiscent of the setup in both their individual planetside apartments on Earth as well as their personal shipboard quarters.

The customized private screening rooms were billed as "the next thing to home," and both of the couple had to admit that the outfit did a very good job at making it seem such, even providing a self-service food computer programmed to their personal tastes. [They had to answer many detailed questions beforehand but it was worth it.]

They were surprised but pleased to run into their friends as they were leaving. Uhura gave her friend a knowing look and smile, but Christine vowed not to tell her anything until they were back on the ship. Uhura knew Christine well enough not to pressure her, but remained curious as to what she and Spock had been up to while they were apart.

"Fancy meeting you here, Spock," McCoy returned with a knowing smile.

"I am here on Christine's behalf," he claimed coolly.

"What did you watch?" Kirk interjected next.

"The classic 1944 film version of the book Jane Eyre," his alien friend informed him. "It was -- most enjoyable. In fact, at one point, it seemed as though the character of Jane and her paramour Rochester had a mental bond as Christine and I do, the way he called to her and she heard him, even though they were many miles apart at the time."

"Hmmm. Sounds good. I may watch that -- that is, if Uhura doesn't mind," the Captain remarked, shooting a look out of the corner of his eye at his lovely companion.

"Of course not," Uhura returned agreeably, although she would have privately preferred to watch her favorite Broadway show, Porgy and Bess. Still, she did have a holovid of it in her quarters, so she would simply have to watch it the first chance she got after returning to the ship.

"Where are you guys going next?" the Bantu asked the departing couple.

"A place where they simulate any of your favorite spots on your home planet," Christine explained, but did not elaborate. Uhura was most curious as to what that involved, but told herself to ask the next time they got together by themselves aboard ship after their leave.

"Sounds like fun," she opined.

"Oh, I'm sure it will be," Christine agreed, giving Spock a wicked smile, which prompted him to once again raise an eyebrow. "See you later."

"Later," Uhura called after them before rejoining Kirk and the other couple at the cashier's cubicle.

* * *

The Vulcan and his lady were ushered into a private changing area shortly after they arrived back, pleased to find swimwear in their size and tailored to their tastes -- then they were told to leave through a door which was labeled Enter Simulation Here. Spock was especially pleased to see that the label was in Vulcan script as well as Standard.

"They think of everything, don't they?" Christine remarked after they stepped through the door and closed it behind them.

Spock allowed himself a nod and half-smile in his bondmate's direction, privately noting the feel of the white sand beneath his feet, convinced that it had to have been imported from the Vulcan oasis itself, it was so similar. And the water was so clear that one could see the bottom of the pond area and about the ideal temperature for Human comfort, roughly 80º F, although it had felt somewhat cool to him the first time he had been there … which, unfortunately, also turned out to be the only time he had been there. It seemed so real that he would almost have sworn they had somehow been instantaneously transported over sixty light-years to Vulcan.

They walked about ten yards (roughly three meters) to the water's edge, then Christine slipped off her sandals and dove in after releasing Spock's arm -- almost before he realized she had moved. "Come on in, Spock, the water's fine," she called out with a smile upon surfacing, her wet hair slicked back and clinging to her head and neck, the water droplets glistening on her wet skin in the simulated Vulcan sunshine.

In spite of himself, he couldn't help wondering what it would be like to lick every one of them off, prompting a tightening of his groin at the thought. He forced the thought away for the time being as he slipped off his own sandals and gingerly eased himself into the water to join her; it took only a few moments for his body to adapt to the water temperature.

He only moved out deep enough to be able to sit in the water up to his shoulders, simply watching Christine as she alternately did the backstroke and breaststroke. He had heard of the Human term "swim like a fish," but had never saw any concrete example of it until now. He could swim fairly well, having taken private lessons with his mother as a boy, but had not had much opportunity to swim since.

Either way, Christine could literally swim rings around him, which didn't really surprise him. Three-quarters of Earth's surface was covered in water -- only one quarter was dry land. Other than the occasional fresh-water pond, the main bodies of water on Vulcan were fresh-water seas used strictly for irrigation and drinking ... no swimming allowed. The rest of their water needs were served by importation.

Vulcan's continents were made up of three types of land -- farmland, desert and forest, the care of which was strictly regulated. No logging had been allowed on Vulcan for centuries; instead, the forest was preserved for vacation spots only -- one of which was the oasis area he had once visited.

At the same time, he was again almost convinced that the trees and shrubbery had been imported from Vulcan, it was so authentic-looking. After a time Christine called to him from the center of the pool where she was treading water. "Are you going to sit there the whole time we're here, Spock? Why don't you swim while you have the chance?"

"I … do not swim very well," he confessed. "At least not nearly as well as you do. There was very little cause for swimming on Vulcan; as you know, water is scarce there and the majority has to be imported. The rest of the time, there has been no -- opportunity for swimming, even though my mother taught me how as a boy."

"Then it's logical that you get some practice," she invited, holding out her hand. "Come on, Spock. Swim out to me."

He was seemingly rooted to the spot for a minute or two longer, then slowly, carefully, made his way out to her. Her smile widened when he reached her, then she opened her arms to him … and he went into them, carefully drawing her delightfully wet, slick body into his arms, hands gently resting on the small of her back before pressing her close as he tentatively licked the droplets off her nose.

Christine was hardly given the chance to recover from the surprise of his doing that before she felt his lips exploring the wildly pulsing spot beneath her left ear. "Spock…" she murmured provocatively, shivering deliciously at his action before reaching one hand up to lightly stroke the back of his neck. Her companion moaned softly in spite of himself as his hands found her gently rounded buttocks and his groin tightened further.

"Christine, we must not do this here…" he whispered, his tone one of distress mixed with arousal.

"Why not? A lot of people do," she retorted softly. "Come on, love. You know you want it as much as I do. Besides, no one will ever know about this except the two of us." She stroked the back of his neck again, then both hands down his bare back.

He moaned louder this time and buried his face in her throat, then his lips moved to rest between her breasts and feel her pounding heart before his hands moved to remove her bathing suit. He knew he should not be doing this, but at this point in time didn't care. All he wanted was to feel his hardness moving deliciously within her tight, wet slickness, feel her nipples in his mouth, kiss his way down to the triangle between her long, lovely legs…

He gasped against her throat as he felt her hands reach to pull his trunks off and discard them, but his desire was such that the sensation only lasted a split second before he returned to her wet, delectable and gloriously naked body. "My love, my love… I want you so much…"

Her sultry, husky voice, laced with tender passion, inflamed him almost beyond control -- and certainly beyond all reason or sanity as his mouth found one of her breasts, then the other, suckling and teasing the nipples with tongue and teeth until they were almost painfully hard and sensitive. It was all she could do not to hold his head there while he was doing it.

It wasn't long before Christine felt herself being lifted into her bondmate's arms and carried out of the water to lie on the sand; the Vulcan resumed his sexy ministrations upon placing her on the small beach. She spread her legs invitingly before pulling him down on top of her, soon moving her hands to cup his sweetly rounded butt in her own hands as she relished the feel of his insistent thrusts and delicious hardness seeking to bury itself fully within her.

Once again, it didn't take long for her to be granted her wish; she was soon moaning and writhing beneath her Vulcan lover in ecstasy, kissing him passionately over and over again, clinging to him as if it meant her life even as she prayed this incredible moment would never end…

* * *

But it did, all too soon. Still, what followed made up for it. Spock then lay prone and directed his Human bondmate to straddle him; in almost no time at all, she felt him once again moving deliciously within her tight slickness, gently holding her hips as he began to move more rapidly within her, making her gasp in pleasure time and again as he rubbed against her exquisitely sensitive center.

"Oh … oh… ohhh …" she softly moaned as she felt the telltale sweet pain which signaled imminent release. "Spock, my love, I can't wait much longer …"

I know, m'chejan, his passionate mind-voice replied. It is the same for me. Almost before they knew it, a virtual tidal wave of ecstasy swept over the bonded mates -- esctasy almost too intense to bear. Both cried out almost simultaneously before Christine collapsed, momentarily spent, next to her equally enervated lover.

After a time he drew her close, cradling her head on his chest; Christine rested her left hand over his still-pounding heart. Beloved, that was so incredible--almost too wonderful to be real, her mind-voice communicated to him since she didn't yet have the energy to speak. I wish we never had to leave this place.

I am aware of that, Spock returned mentally. However, we must … at least for the time being -- but if you like, I will consider taking you to the real oasis while we are on our honeymoon.

That would be wonderful, she opined.

Then I will consider it, he told her. As soon as we have rested, however, we must leave here and rejoin our friends.

I can just imagine what they're probably thinking, she laughed mentally, lifting her head to kiss him deeply before replacing her head on his chest.

That is irrelevant, he declared, gently tightening his arms around her. We do not inquire as to their private lives. They should `butt out', as you say, of ours.

They mean well, Spock, she reminded him.

I know, he replied. There are simply times that I -- would prefer that they not ask.

Tell me about it, Christine concurred, thinking of the questions Nyota was likely to ask. Oh well, I suppose we should be thankful that they don't do a lot worse things … such as what Yeoman Williamson tried to do.

Spock did not reply to this, although Christine felt him nod in agreement. "Let us get up now and dress," he directed out loud as he released her, retrieving their still-wet bathing suits from where they were lying beside them on the sand within moments and returning to the dressing rooms, where they dressed in their street clothes again and Christine was able to dry her hair quickly via a wall- mounted dryer, then comb it into place before they left the establishment through the momentarily-deserted lobby.

It turned out that they met their friends just as the latter were coming out of the private screening rooms, the group agreeing en masse to go have dinner since it was about 1800 hours ship's time. The others chattered on and on about what they had done during their first day of leave, not to mention what restaurant they wanted to go to for dinner. Spock and Christine simply walked hand-in-hand behind their friends, remaining silent as they thought with Christmas-morning smiles of the two wonderful, tenderly passionate hours they had spent together in the simulated oasis.

It was a good thing that there were still several days of leave before either Spock or Christine would have to worry about one of their friends grilling them as to what they had done. At least that way they would have a chance to savor those memorable moments, if not relive them in one way or another, for a time before having to "spill the beans," as it were. In the meantime, the only thing they needed to do was simply choose their dinner menu -- then after that, just enjoy their leave.

Which they did. There was even one day they devoted to a picnic, which everybody contributed to, food-wise, in one way or another -- and during it, the friends discussed what else they would like to do for the upcoming Federation wedding. Christine mentioned that there were some great wedding chapels among the attractions on the starbase, but Spock vetoed the idea because it would mean that Jim would be unable to marry them and he was counting on being able to do that.

"I think that he would prefer to be your best man," she countered. "Wouldn't you, Captain?" She met Kirk's eyes as she asked the question; he could do nothing but agree with that.

"You've got me there, I'm afraid, Christine," Kirk had to admit. "But I seem to recall that Bones was counting on being best man. If you guys have the Federation wedding on the starbase, what do you propose to have him do if I'm best man?"

"I still plan on having him give me away," Christine reminded him. "Especially if it turns out that my folks can't make it after all."

"What will you do if they do make it?" came Kirk's pointed inquiry.

"I'll have Daddy on one side of me and Leonard on the other," she informed him, meeting McCoy's eyes this time as she said it. "I figure that's the best way to make sure that neither loses the chance to 'give me away'."

"If I remember correctly, Christine, the minimum requirement for a starbase wedding is two attendants apiece for the bridal couple," Spock pointed out. "At the moment, you only have one --Miss Uhura. Who else do you propose to attend you?"

"I was thinking I could have my mother as Matron of Honor," Christine replied. "And Leonard could also attend you, as well as the Captain, in addition to giving me away." She gave her intended a hard look, as if daring him to contradict her.

When she looked at him like that, the Vulcan knew better than to argue with Christine, so he didn't. "That… seems logical to me."

"I figured you'd end up seeing it my way," Christine smiled. "If only to have peace and quiet." She gave him a sly wink before resuming eating.

"When are your parents due, Chris?" Uhura asked before taking a drink.

"A couple of days," Christine told her.

"We'll still be on leave then, I think," her friend remarked.

"That's right. That way there will be time to show them around the starbase… and then I can ask Mama to attend me at some point."

"Spock, have you any idea when your parents are coming?" Kirk put in even as he prepared to take a bite of his fried chicken leg.

"If all goes well, they should arrive shortly after Christine's parents do, according to Mother's last stargram." The Vulcan took another bite of the vegetable pasta Christine had made for him, then a swallow of his favorite Terran cold drink, pink lemonade, which Christine had introduced him to.

"Are they coming here to the starbase or the ship?" Kirk wondered.

"I told Mother we were on leave, so I believe they will be coming to the starbase by shuttle. She has promised to inform me of the flight number and their arrival time at the earliest opportunity. In fact, it is likely that she has already done so, so I will check my messages upon our return to our room. It is also likely that your parents have left a similar message. Do you not think so, Christine?" He looked pointedly at Christine as he said it, for once unconcerned at the others having overheard the fact that the two of them were sharing a room.

"Of course, Spock," she returned coolly just before taking another bite of her own meal. "Then once we know when they're coming, we can arrange matters accordingly. After all, there isn't much time left until our wedding day, you know."

"I am well aware of that," the Vulcan returned with equal coolness. "It is fortunate that you and Miss Uhura have your dresses and flowers ready. All that is necessary now is for you to help your mother choose hers."

"Have you decided what you and your attendants are to wear yet, Spock?" she threw back.

"I intend to, at the first opportunity," he informed her. "Do you know if everyone has bought and wrapped the wedding presents they intend to give?"

"As far as I know," was the reply.

"Does that include your parents?" he wondered.

"It does," she confirmed. "What about yours?"

"Of course. I have also been thinking that it would be a logical course of action to visit the wedding chapel we intend to use and make the necessary arrangements for the wedding." This time the Vulcan gave his bondmate a hard look, daring her to argue with him. They had already discussed having the Vulcan wedding on the starbase too, but as Christine had surmised, Spock had definitively vetoed the idea, declaring that it would be on Vulcan, as was traditional - and proper.

"Then you've decided to have the Federation wedding on the starbase?"

He nodded before once again resuming eating. "Then after that, Jim, the Doctor and I are going to choose our wedding attire," he informed her.

This time Christine merely nodded and remarked, "Then I'd better ask Daddy what he intends to wear the first chance I get." She also made a mental note to tell the florist on the starbase where she and Spock had placed an order for flowers - a mixture of Vulcan t'lerya and Terran white roses - some days ago, shortly after arriving on the starbase for leave… where to deliver them and set them up the first chance she got.

After that, there was no more talk regarding the wedding plans; they had done all they could do for the moment. The group simply finished their picnic and policed the area before departing the parklands for their next planned destination: their rooms, to freshen up and change clothes -- not to mention check messages -- before meeting again for their now-regular dinner together (at least while on leave).

* * *

Once they had done that, the couple perused the various holocom sites for a place to hold their wedding, hoping to find one that wasn't too fussy about having a lot of advance notice. Which they did… and it wasn't even too far away from the suite of rooms they and their friends had been given. Of course, one usually pays for such convenience -- and even Spock raised an eyebrow at the price asked. But it was also the best they could expect under the circumstances, so they couldn't protest too much, mainly because they didn't have a whole lot of choice in the matter.

"I still think that fee is highway robbery, Spock," Christine groused even as the Vulcan gave all the necessary information to schedule a wedding online in the designated chapel on the day the couple had chosen. The price had been even steeper once they saw the chapel's holiday rates, but again they didn't have any choice in the matter.

"Agreed, m'chejan, but we have neither the time nor the choice to do otherwise," he reminded her. "But what matters is that we will be married." He lifted her nearest hand to his lips and kissed it warmly, his beautiful sable eyes soft with unspoken love.

"You're right, of course, beloved," she had to agree. "I'm just glad you can afford it."

Now that the most important event was scheduled, Spock brought up their room's message board -- and true to his prediction, there were messages from both sets of parents, one from the florist and one Roland Black Fox …who, as it turned out, was the photographer from Selan Red Wolf's bridal shop assigned to take the photo for their animated holograph. He simply wanted to know just when and where the wedding was going to be, so Christine had Spock drop him a note. Roland Black Fox acknowledged almost immediately, assuring his customers that he would be there to take the picture and record the vows at the proper time, just as his friend and employer had promised.

The next order of business was to tell the florist where to deliver and set up the flowers for the wedding; Spock opened that message and Christine gave him the necessary information before sending it and confirming the order for the chosen flowers. He noted the t'lerya with a mixture of surprise and pleasure, but only showed it outwardly with a raised eyebrow. "Thank you, m'chejan," he told her, once again kissing her hand -- in gratitude, this time.

"You're most welcome, beloved," came the quiet but pleased reply.

Spock then opened the message from his parents and was greeted by his mother's beautiful, smiling face. "Hello, my son. This is just a note to let you know when your father and I will be arriving at the starbase." She then gave the time and stardate of their arrival, followed by their shuttle's flight number and arrival gate. "Give Christine our best. We'll see you both very soon." She then blew him a kiss and the screen went back to the message board.

Christine couldn't help smiling, well able to imagine what Sarek's reaction must have been to his wife's doing that -- probably just as priceless as the look that was on Spock's face now. He looked like he'd just been hit by a "heavy stun" phaser beam! For a moment, however, his face softened and he smiled, then almost before she realized it, his expression lapsed into its usual serenity.

Still, he didn't move for several moments, and she was all ready to prompt him to do so when he reached to open the message from her parents. This time, it was Christine who looked like she had been hit with a "heavy stun" phaser blast. The arrival time and stardate was identical to that of Sarek and Amanda. Only the shuttle flight number and arrival gate was different. "Oh my God," she finally said after a lengthy silence. "You know what this means, Spock?"

"For one thing, it means that our parents will be arriving at the same time," he replied.

"Not only that -- but that we'll be unable to greet them together as we'd planned, since you'll have to go meet your parents at one gate and I'll have to meet mine at another." After another silence, a short one this time, Christine asked, "How are we going to do this? Do we bring both sets of parents here, to our room, or what?"

The Vulcan held up a hand to silence her. "One moment." But in fact, several moments passed before he spoke again. "Do you know where the vegetarian restaurant on this level of the starbase is?"

"'For Veggie Lovers Only'? Yes. Why?"

"I was thinking it might be logical to take our parents to have a meal before bringing them here for a time. That would give them a chance to 'get acquainted,' as you put it, as well as 'rest up' from their flights before going to their rooms."

"That's fine with me, but how close is it to the spaceport arrival and departure lounge?"

"I believe it's a fifteen-minute walk, if memory serves me," Spock told her.

"So whoever gets to the restaurant with their parents first will watch for the other, I take it," she returned blandly.

"Yes. Is that satisfactory to you?" His tone was somewhat skeptical.

"It's fine," she assured him. "Now we'd better enjoy ourselves as much as possible over the next few days; after that we'll be too busy with our parents and getting ready for the wedding."

"Logical," he finally said after a fairly long silence. "I believe it is time to rejoin our friends for dinner now."

Christine checked the chrono, not at all surprised to note that he was right. One could usually set one's chronos by Spock's time sense; she could count the times he had been inaccurate on the fingers of one hand and have fingers left, in fact. "Let's go, then." Spock powered down the computer and they gathered their jackets before heading for the door of their suite.

Once the door was closed behind them, she commented, "Come to think of it, we could have our friends go with us to meet our parents if we like."

"Not all of them like vegetarian fare," Spock pointed out. "And I must remind you that if we have them accompany us, we will likely feel obligated to ask them to join us at the restaurant as well...and I, for one, dislike excluding either of my friends. In addition, there should be sufficient time for all of us to engage in 'small talk' after we have the midday meal."

"I suppose you're right," his bondmate concurred, somewhat reluctantly. "All right, we'll meet them by ourselves and get back together at the restaurant as originally agreed."

With that, the couple went into the turbolift which would take them to the restaurant where they were meeting their friends -- not the vegetarian one but "Olive Garden," a famous Italian eatery which had been in business almost literally forever. The prices were high but the excellent food and exceptional service made up for it. Both were engaged in their own separate sets of thoughts, each making a mental note to tell their friends of their parents' virtually simultaneous arrivals in two more days and the arrangements they had made for the wedding once they rejoined them. The rest of the time, however, they spent figuring their luncheon menus.

* * *

Neither Spock nor Christine could have imagined that time could pass so quickly, yet almost before they realized it, it had -- and it was time for both of them to go meet their parents at their respective arrival gates. However, Spock did manage to wake them both up in time to make it there with roughly five minutes to spare for each of them.

Sarek and Amanda were among the first dozen passengers to disembark, and this time, it was the latter's eyebrows that went up upon seeing Spock waiting for them alone. "Spock?" she asked, even as she greeted him with a smile and brief hug. "Where's Christine? I thought she'd be with you."

"As it turned out, she had to go meet her parents at another gate at the same time as I am here meeting the two of you, Mother," Spock explained. "Do not concern yourself. We will meet them shortly." He swung around on his heel and headed for the baggage claim area. "Now let us claim your luggage and get you settled into your room."

Within fifteen minutes the luggage had been claimed and Spock was leading his parents to their room. Once they had settled in, he judged that enough time had elapsed since Christine's own parents had arrived that he could safely take them to the restaurant for lunch. "They are going to meet us for lunch," he told them, "so it is logical that we go there without further delay. They are surely waiting for us by now." He was already waiting by the door; the older couple didn't question him, simply exchanged glances and followed their son out.

* * *

In Christine's case, it was her father who greeted her first, asking the same question Amanda had. "Chrissy? Where's your intended? We thought he would be here with you to meet us."

"He had intended to, Daddy, but it turned out that his parents were coming in on another shuttle from Vulcan at the exact same time you and Mama were arriving here," Christine explained. "He had to go meet them first. We have arranged lunch, and they will meet us there…but we've got to get your luggage and have you guys freshen up in your room before we go."

Christine and her parents missed Spock and his parents by less than five minutes; in fact, she wouldn't have been surprised if they'd passed each other on the way and didn't realize it -- but she wasn't too worried. They'd meet at the restaurant soon enough. Upon retrieving the luggage, she led them to their room and allowed them to freshen up before taking them to the restaurant. Their reservations were for three o'clock (1500 hours), so they would likely be waiting outside and the six of them could all go in together.

* * *

Spock was having difficulty concealing his concern that Christine and her parents hadn't shown up yet; they should have been here by now. The arrival lounge wasn't that far away; neither were the suites they had procured for their parents. What could possibly have happened to delay them?

Being a telepath himself, Sarek naturally picked up on it, although for once he didn't berate his son for his emotionalism, because he had felt the same way while waiting to meet Amanda's parents for the first time. It was Amanda that gently assured Spock that they were most likely on their way here by now. He was sure his mother was right, but it was nearly 1500 hours and if they didn't show up soon, they would have to go in without them.

He was all ready to go search for them when they finally appeared, Christine in the center between her parents, who each had an arm around her. He noted that her father even kissed her on the forehead shortly before noticing them, but dismissed it since it was a normal Human thing to do. Sarek and Amanda hadn't noticed the others yet, so Spock went to meet them.

Christine spotted him immediately and broke away from her parents to greet her fiancé and bondmate. "Sorry we're late, Spock, but it took longer for my parents to freshen up than we anticipated. I hope we didn't worry you too much."

The couple shared the ritual Vulcan crossing of fingers and unspoken love flowed between them for the moments their fingers were joined, then Christine linked her arm through Spock's and turned to her waiting parents. "Daddy, Mama, this is Spock, my fiancé. Spock, these are my parents, Christopher and Ann Chapel."

The two older Humans nodded and smiled in the Vulcan's direction, while Spock greeted them in the Vulcan manner. "Live long and prosper, Mr. and Mrs. Chapel. I am pleased to meet you both."

"Just as we are pleased to meet you, Mr. Spock," Christopher Chapel returned diplomatically. "But where are your parents? We would like to meet them as well."

"This way, sir," Spock returned politely, once again crossing fingers with Christine as he turned in their direction to lead the newcomers back to where Sarek and Amanda were waiting. Spock spoke when they were a few steps away. "Father, Mother, Christine and her parents have arrived," he said as the other four stepped up to them.

It was Amanda who greeted them first. "So you're Christine's parents. I can certainly see where she got her looks from. We are most pleased to meet you, and I hope there will be time for us to get properly acquainted."

"Just as we can see where your son got his expressive eyes," Ann Chapel replied with a smile…and the Humans shook hands all around. It was only when Sarek stepped up to greet the other older couple that Christine's mother expressed another opinion regarding Spock. "I can also see where he got his looks."

"Live long and prosper, Mr. and Mrs. Chapel," Sarek returned politely. "I hope you had a pleasant trip."

"It was," Christopher Chapel assured the older Vulcan, the most famous diplomat in the history of the Federation … but what was most important to him was the fact that this man would be his daughter's father-in-law. "Whoever thought we would ever meet, much less be related to, the great Sarek of Vulcan and his equally famous wife Amanda?" he quipped. "Of course, who would have thought that our girl would ever manage to attract their son, either?" Christine gave her father a hard look; he returned an apologetic one. "No offense, baby. It's just that it's pretty rare for a Vulcan to want to marry a Human."

"It helps if the Vulcan is half-Human," Christine pointed out tartly.

"And if he is able to spend enough time around Humans to learn to appreciate what they have to offer," Spock finished, darting a look in his father's direction to ensure that Sarek didn't contradict him. "Let us go inside now." He turned for the door of the restaurant, still crossing fingers with Christine; Sarek and Amanda followed suit, while Christopher and Ann brought up the rear. The hostess greeted them warmly and led them to their table, took their drink orders and then left them alone.

"Have you gotten all your wedding arrangements finalized?" Amanda wondered, deciding to start a conversation herself since it didn't seem that the others intended to do so.

"Almost, Mother," Spock replied. "It is still necessary for Jim, the Doctor and myself to choose our wedding attire. In addition, Christine still needs to choose an additional attendant."

"Where do you intend to have the wedding?" Christopher asked.

"Right here on the starbase," Christine explained. "We thought now would be a good time to have it, since the Enterprise crew is all on leave for a week."

Christopher couldn't argue with that, and was glad he had been able to make it in time to give his daughter away. "I think Ann -- Christine's mother -- would be more than happy to attend her," he suggested before his wife could draw breath for a reply.

"Of course," Ann assured the others. "Who else is attending you, darling?" she asked her daughter.

"My best friend, Nyota Uhura, the Communications Officer on the Enterprise," Christine informed her mother. "The main thing we need to do is choose a dress and flowers for you to wear for the wedding, Mama. Nyota and I are all ready."

"What kind of wedding is it going to be?" Christopher asked. "Vulcan or regular Federation?"

"For the moment, regular Federation," Christine explained. "We won't have the Vulcan wedding until there is time to return to Vulcan, which there won't be for some weeks following this leave."

"If I remember correctly, this starbase offers different ethnically correct weddings," Christopher put in. "Why couldn't you have it here?"

"Because it must be performed at a set time. In addition, it is traditionally performed on the Vulcan partner's family grounds," Sarek explained.

"Is that where you and your wife were married, Ambassador?" Ann inquired.

"Affirmative," Sarek confirmed.

"Am I to assume that was the only wedding you had?" she asked.

"It was. At the time, Vulcan-Human weddings were virtually unheard-of, so there were no ethnically correct wedding facilities available then -- at least not outside of Vulcan itself--to accommodate us."

Amanda took a drink of her ice water, and Ann was surprised to note that she wore no wedding ring. "Amanda, may I ask you something?"

Amanda turned her head to her new friend and her son's almost-mother-in-law. "Of course. What is it?"

"Why don't you wear a wedding ring? You and Sarek are married, aren't you? Chrissy said you were."

"Of course we are," Amanda assured her questioner. "We have been for almost forty years. The explanation is simple -- Vulcans don't believe in wearing wedding rings. They believe that the mental bond between the couple is sufficient without any outward decoration."

"But Chrissy is wearing an engagement ring," Ann pointed out.

"Spock did that to please her," Amanda explained. "Just as he intends to give her a wedding ring to wear at the proper time."

The conversation stopped temporarily as the hostess returned to distribute the drinks, then resumed after she left since the group hadn't decided what food they wanted yet.

"But I would think that he would be more likely to follow Vulcan tradition, since Chrissy told me that he has lived his entire life in the Vulcan manner," Ann remarked.

"Even at that, there are times when exceptions must be made, Mrs. Chapel," Spock put in. "This was one of them … and it was done for Christine's sake, since she wished to have an outward manifestation of our relationship."

"I always thought that Vulcans didn't make exceptions for anyone, not even their mates," Ann returned, somewhat incredulously.

"There is no need for you to be concerned that I will shortchange Christine in any way," Spock assured her. "I … value her highly and will see to it that she gets everything she needs."

"Does that include emotional--and physical--satisfaction?" Ann asked, needing confirmation, since she had been somewhat leery of her highly sensitive, loving and gentle daughter marrying a member of a race purported to have no emotions…or at least not to show any emotions, when Christine had first informed her of her intentions to marry a Vulcan.

"Everything," Spock declared. "Vulcans may not believe in public demonstrations of emotion, but I can assure you that Christine receives many private ones." He reached for his bondmate's hand and squeezed it. "And marriage will not change that." The younger Vulcan noted out of the corner of his eye that his father's eyebrows were hidden in his bangs, but Spock didn't care. At this point, it was more important to assure his future in-laws that they need not worry for their only child's happiness -- he would treat their daughter just as such a special lady deserved.

"I hope not," Ann returned quietly, exchanging a dubious look with her husband. "Chrissy went through a terrible trauma when she lost Roger, her first fiancé. We don't want to see that happen to her again."

"I am aware of Christine's relationship with her former fiancé -- and it will not," Spock again assured them. "I will not allow it. She is too much a part of me for that. Nor will I allow anyone else to cause her pain if I can prevent it … for I feel her pain as my own, because of the mental bond we share."

"Just the same, Mr. Spock, I hope you will understand if we still feel a need to sit down and have a long, private talk with the two of you," Christopher Chapel remarked carefully. "This is necessary for our own peace of mind. We will not be able to give Christine to you in good conscience otherwise. We must be assured beyond all doubt that you will love our daughter and care for her as much as we have."

"I understand, sir," Spock returned patiently. "I will do all in my power to convince you of my sincerity. Meanwhile, I believe it is logical that we choose our meals now, since the hostess is waiting to take our orders."

All were slightly embarrassed at the possibility that a stranger had overheard them discussing private things, but the woman showed no indication she had heard anything, being friendly but thoroughly professional. It took several minutes, but eventually everyone had ordered and the hostess departed to see that the orders were filled. Within half an hour they were, and once served, everyone simply dug in and there was no further conversation until the meal was over.

* * *

After they were finished eating, it was still only about five o'clock (1700 hours), so the women and men decided to go their separate ways in order to finish the preparations for the upcoming wedding. Christine contacted Uhura and told her to meet her and the two mothers outside the starbase's most noted wedding attire store, a 23rd century version of "David's Bridals", which now featured wedding attire from dozens of Federation worlds, not to mention all the necessary accessories. It catered mostly to women, but there were some things for men as well.

Christine told both mothers all about her friend while they were waiting for Uhura to join them, when they had first met and all they had shared during their relationship (as long as it wasn't too private). It didn't take long for either to realize why Christine had chosen Uhura as one of her honor attendants. A short time later Uhura appeared and greeted her friend with a hug and smile.

"I was beginning to wonder when you were going to call me, Chris," Uhura commented.

"Well, you know Spock and I had to meet our parents first and have a get-acquainted meal," Christine reminded her. "Since we've done that, it's time to help the mothers choose their own wedding attire, since we've already chosen our own. I thought you'd want to join us."

"Of course," Uhura assured her friend. "It's not every day I get to meet your or Spock's mother, you know."

"That's right, you never did get the chance to meet Amanda when she was aboard ship a while back, did you? Nor did we ever have a chance to get back to my home town so you could meet my parents either," Christine acknowledged apologetically. "Well, now that's about to be remedied. Mama, Amanda, this is my dear friend Nyota Uhura, my Maid of Honor."

Both older women smiled and greeted Uhura warmly.

Uhura smiled and said, "I can see where Chris got her looks. Where are the guys, by the way?"

"They're off choosing their own wedding clothes," her friend explained. "We'll get back together with them later on."

"I hope so," Uhura remarked. "I want to have a chance to meet your father too, Chris -- not to mention Sarek."

"Well, if we can possibly manage it, it'll happen," Christine tried to reassure her. "Meanwhile, we've got to get busy and find wedding stuff for Mama and Amanda."

* * *

It didn't take as long as anticipated for the women to choose proper wedding attire for either the mother of the bride or the mother of the groom -- mainly because they had roughly the same coloring and the same favorite color. The main differences were in height and measurements; Ann was tall and slender, like Christine, while Amanda was short and full-bodied like Uhura.

Ann finally chose a long blue silk, Empire-waisted and scoop-necked dress with a lacy jacket and matching shoes, along with a pale blue hat decorated with white roses; Amanda chose a dress in a slightly darker color of blue, including the shoes, but instead of a hat, chose a circlet of blue silk roses to go around her upswept silver hair. However, Ann also chose white kid gloves, while Amanda chose not to wear any.

"What about jewelry?" Uhura finally asked. "I'm loaded with earrings. I'm sure I could find some appropriate for both of you," she assured the two mothers.

"Thank you, Uhura. That's most thoughtful of you," Ann returned; Amanda heartily concurred. (Christine already planned to wear the IDIC earrings Spock had given her for an engagement present.)

"I wonder how the guys are doing?" Uhura asked. "You know, we generally take longer to choose things than they do."

"If I know Spock, he's already got everything planned to the last detail," Christine remarked dryly. "Which reminds me -- Mama, do you know if Daddy has picked out what he plans to wear?"

"As far as I know," Ann told her. "You know that as a diplomat, he's had to learn, and I don't think he's going to lose the knowledge overnight."

"That's fine, but what is he going to wear? I want to make sure it's not going to clash with everything else."

"I don't think it will," Ann remarked. "He's going to wear his favorite silver-grey suit with a white bow tie."

Christine sighed with relief. "That's good. One less thing to worry about. How about Sarek, Amanda?"

"I believe he plans to wear his most elaborate Ambassadorial robes," came the reply.

"Now all we have to worry about is the upcoming talk," Christine groused. She could understand her parents' concern, at least to a degree, but if they knew anything about Vulcans at all, they would know that they were as honest and forthright as they were logical and unemotional. For heaven's sake, if you couldn't trust a Vulcan, you couldn't trust anyone!

"Don't worry, honey," Ann assured her. "I trust your judgment. I agreed to it mainly to pacify your father. You know that all too often, when a man's only child is a daughter, he's ten times fussier about any man she may choose to either date or marry than most fathers. Hardly anyone can live up to his exacting standards. At a time like this, even a Vulcan isn't above suspicion, and Spock is going to have to prove himself … but if what I've already seen is any indication, he shouldn't have too much of a problem."

"I hope not, because I'm going to marry Spock, regardless. I've waited too long for this, and no one's going to stop me, not even Daddy. I'm a big girl; I know what I'm doing and what I'm getting into. It won't be easy, but I love Spock and he loves me -- and that's all that matters to me."

"I know, darling, and I'll do all I can to help," Ann assured her daughter. "Now, let's go find our men and see what they've been up to." With that, the older woman linked arms with Christine; Uhura claimed her other arm, and Amanda walked beside her as the group went in search of Spock and the two fathers.

* * *

Naturally Sarek objected when Spock informed him that he had chosen to wear Terran clothing for the Federation wedding, but Spock assured his father that he would wear proper Vulcan robes for the Vulcan wedding -- and that was all he intended to say on the subject. His mind was made up, and Sarek knew that his son was enough like him to be aware that once his mind was made up, it was virtually impossible to change it.

Fortunately, with the help of his future father-in-law and two friends, the younger Vulcan was able to find appropriate attire which would complement Christine's own, if not match it. The only Vulcan thing he would wear at that time was some IDIC cufflinks in the tuxedo shirt. Now all he needed to concern himself with was the upcoming talk with Christine's parents…

* * *

As it turned out, both sets of parents were present at the aforementioned talk, held (of all places) in the suite the younger betrothed couple shared. Sarek was dubious as to what good his and Amanda's presence would do either of them, but since she had insisted so strongly, he gave in--if only to have peace and quiet again. The two sets of parents sat across from their grown children at the table in the room as the latter sat together, hands linked.

I wish we didn't have to do this, Spock, she thought to him. I wish my parents could simply trust my judgment and not put us through the third degree like this.

I know, m'chejan, but I can understand your parents' uncertainty. I would feel the same way in their situation. The younger Vulcan's mind-voice was as warm, tender and reassuring as he could make it.

Out loud, Spock said, addressing his fiancée's parents, "What do you still have questions about?"

"For one thing, why did you not kiss Christine when you greeted her earlier?" Christopher Chapel inquired. "Most any other man engaged to her would have."

"Most any other Human," Spock pointed out. "Vulcans do not believe in public demonstrations of emotion, as I said before. However, that does not prevent us from showing it in private…nor does it mean we do not feel it every bit as deeply as any Human. I can only assure you again that she has never, and will never, lack for any physical or emotional attention of mine."

"Mr. Spock, I know this must seem illogical to you, even superfluous, but we are very protective of Christine, and have been from the moment she was born. We make no apologies for that. After all, my wife nearly died having her -- and our doctor told us not to try for any more children, since it would have likely cost Ann her life. We must be absolutely certain that any man Christine contemplates marrying understands how infinitely precious she is to us, more precious than any earthly treasure. Her happiness has always been our paramount consideration and we will not allow her to marry anyone who does not consider her every bit as precious a treasure as we do."

"Mr. and Mrs. Chapel, although you may not believe this, I understand exactly how you feel. Vulcans do not often confess their private feelings, but in this case, I am obligated to do so -- so please listen carefully to what I say, for confessing it is very difficult for me and it is therefore unlikely that I will be able to say it again. Christine is the greatest treasure of my life, her love the most precious gift I could ever receive. To this day, I do not understand how she can love me as she does, but I am … happy beyond words that she does. I -- love her with every beat of my heart, every fiber of my being, and will for every moment of the rest of my life. In addition, because of our mental bond, should anything happen to her, I would be … literally unable to live without her."

The Vulcan's eyes were soft brown pools as he gazed upon his betrothed, the tenderness there almost palpable -- and at this point he didn't care who saw him, not even his father. He was foregoing all he had ever been taught of the Vulcan way for this one moment in time in order to convince Christine's parents that his feelings for her were deep, sincere and lasting, allowing his whole heart to speak through his lips, so if they didn't believe him now, they never would.

Christine felt such love for Spock at that moment, such profound, indescribable happiness, that she was hard-pressed not to cry. She knew that Spock loved her, but not exactly how much -- until now. Oh, my love…that goes double for me! She raised his hand to her lips and kissed it, then held it to her cheek, every bit as uncaring of anyone who saw them as Spock was at this moment in time. All that mattered was showing him how his loving words had affected her.

But then Christopher did something none of them expected -- he point-blank asked Sarek, "Is that how you feel about your wife even now, Mr. Ambassador?"

There was dead silence for a long time, then Sarek spoke -- almost too quietly for the Humans to hear … and it was just one word -- but it seemed that that was all Christopher needed to be convinced once and for all that a Vulcan was indeed worthy of his precious and treasured only daughter. "Yes."

Unlike Christine, however, Amanda wasn't really surprised at this revelation. She had known all along that Sarek truly loved her, not to mention how much. She could only pray that Spock would still feel for Christine every bit as much as his father did for her, his mother, even after forty years together.

"Are you … convinced now?" the younger Vulcan asked.

"Yes," Christopher assured him with a smile. "Mr. Ambassador, please forgive us for -- forcing the issue, but we … had to be sure you and your son were worthy before we could allow our daughter to marry into your family."

"As long as it never leaves this room," Sarek stipulated, respecting Spock for his courage in confessing his feelings for Christine, even in front of him, now more certain than ever that Spock was indeed doing the right thing by marrying Christine if he could do that -- that his son's choice of wife was every bit as "logical" as his own in marrying Amanda … and that their marriage would prove every bit as loving and lasting.

"Agreed," Christopher concurred. "Now let's all go out and celebrate!"

The Vulcans naturally thought the whole idea illogical, but were caught up in the Humans' enthusiasm and were therefore obliged to go along with it in order to please their family members-to-be. Thankfully the Federation wedding was to be the next step…

* * *

As before, time literally seemed to fly; almost literally the next thing the couple knew, it was their wedding day. The Humans had done their best to explain to the Vulcans the former race's wedding customs, but even now, they still didn't understand several major aspects of it -- such as it supposedly being bad luck for the bridal couple to see each other before the wedding on the wedding day. Because they didn't believe in luck, they were convinced that it made no difference when the bridal couple saw each other on the wedding day, for it would not affect the length or solidity of the marriage.

Even so, there was no time to argue, and the women informed their menfolk as much -- so the Vulcans sighed with affectionate exasperation and simply joined their Human counterparts to prepare for the wedding. Spock wore a black suit with gold trim, a matching gold shirt and dark gold bow tie, along with his IDIC cufflinks. His friends and attendants' suits were identical; the only difference was the color of the shirts. Kirk wore cufflinks with the Starfleet command insignia on them in gold, while the Doctor wore simple gold cufflinks. In contrast, Christopher Chapel was decked out in his silver-grey suit with white shoes, shirt and bow tie. As Amanda had predicted, Sarek was in his most elaborate Vulcan Ambassadorial robes, not black but navy blue with all the appropriate decorations of his office.

Spock did his best to pretend that he wasn't nervous, although neither of his friends were fooled -- but neither did they blame him. Each remembered all too well how it felt to be getting married themselves and did all they could to reassure him that everything would be fine, that it would be a perfectly beautiful and unforgettable wedding. He still had his doubts, but understood what his friends were trying to do and greatly appreciated their efforts. He only wished he could know what was going on with Christine and the other women…

Christine was just as much a bundle of nerves as her bridegroom and was unable to remain calm for long, no matter how often her mother, Nyota and Amanda tried to reassure her. The main reason she felt such was because Spock did; she was convinced that both of them would be very relieved once the starbase wedding was over and they were officially married -- at least in the eyes of the Federation.

She wore a pale blue dress with lace on the top half and white roses in her dark hair, along with the IDIC earrings Spock had given her, her bouquet a mixture of white roses and Vulcan t'lerya. The floor-length skirt fell gracefully and draped in just the right places to accent her curves; the lace top fit her like a second skin, including the long sleeves. The two mothers had already been dressed and ready upon arrival at Uhura's quarters, where Christine had gone to prepare for the wedding, and Uhura was just putting the finishing touches on her own hair. A short time later, she picked up her own bouquet and told the others to wait while she checked on the men's progress.

"You do have Spock's ring, don't you, Ny?" Christine asked anxiously.

"Of course, Chris. It's right here." Uhura held up her right hand; the plain gold band with a stylized IDIC, complete with tiny diamond, carved into it gleamed on her right thumb.

"Thank God. Sorry I'm such a worrywart," she apologized.

"I understand, Chris," Uhura smiled. "I'll be right back." With that, she took her leave; once the door had closed behind her, Ann Chapel approached her nervous but ecstatically happy daughter and kissed her on the cheek after giving her a brief but warm hug.

"Darling, you look lovely. Spock won't be able to take his eyes off you."

"And as we've said before, Christine, everything's going to be fine," Amanda reiterated as she stepped up to join the other two. "You must try to remember that the anticipation is almost always far worse than the reality." Amanda then copied her counterpart's actions.

"I know you're both right, Mama, Amanda -- and this day is everything I've ever dreamed of. Bear with me; I'm just the proverbial nervous, blushing bride. It just seems like time is passing so slowly, that's all. I don't know how much longer I can stand the wait." She was about to say something more when the door swooshed open and Uhura re-entered the room, her own face radiant.

"Come on, ladies. It's time. We mustn't keep everyone else waiting … especially not Spock!" the dark woman teased her friend affectionately.

"Lucky for you that I don't have time to get you for that right now," Christine laughed even as she blinked back tears of happiness and anticipation. All the women laughed in response to this and departed the quarters, the door locking automatically behind them.

* * *

In the flower-bedecked chapel, the fathers, friends and bridegroom all waited anxiously for their ladies to arrive; Roland Black Fox, the photographer, had also arrived and set up, remaining quietly in the background until he was needed … for both the regular holos and the life-size animated one. Christine had been raised a Protestant and henceforth, a minister of that religious persuasion had been procured with the help of Christopher Chapel and Spock's two friends. He was now waiting patiently behind the altar in a straight backed but soft-seated chair, although his Bible and wedding ceremony book were already open to their designated spots on the altar.

McCoy was the one who noticed the door at the rear of the church opening and the others slipping in, discreetly moving to join them. Amanda came up the side aisle to join her husband, while Ann waited with her own husband and Christine, McCoy and Uhura until the wedding march began. Once the minister was satisfied everyone was ready and in their proper place, he said, "Music."

With that, the traditional wedding march began; Uhura began to slowly make her way up the aisle, one step at a time. Ann followed her daughter; Christine's right hand rested lightly on her father's left arm and the left hand on the Doctor's right arm, her bouquet resting on her father's arm while the white ribbons holding it together dangled scarcely a foot above the floor. Shortly before Christine reached where her even more nervous but equally happy bridegroom waited, McCoy moved to join Kirk while Christopher Chapel seated himself in the proper pew after the latter had given his daughter over to her husband-to-be.

It seemed that everyone's eyes were misty with tears, even Spock's -- and for once, Sarek didn't even think of berating his son, since he himself had felt every bit as happy at his own marriage to Amanda.

Ann and Uhura were now standing slightly to one side behind Christine, as were Kirk and McCoy behind Spock, as the couple turned to face the minister, one Reverend Jean-Claude Rosemond. It was so quiet in the room that one could have heard a pin drop; the only sound heard was the minister's voice as he began the ceremony.

"Dearly beloved," his soft, faintly accented and cultured voice began. "We are gathered here today in the sight of God and this company to unite this man and this woman in the bonds of holy matrimony. However, if there is anyone here who can show just cause why this wedding should not take place, let them speak now or forever hold their peace."

The Humans couldn't help but smile at the Vulcans' rolling their eyes at the emotionalism present in the minister's words but vowed to 'grin and bear it,' as it were, for the sake of their Human loved ones and friends. When no answer was forthcoming, the minister smiled and said, "Who gives this woman to be married to this man?"

He looked at Christine's parents, just as she and Spock -- and McCoy -- did. It was the Doctor who finally spoke. "Her parents and I do."

All present surmised that he had looked at the Chapels to ensure that it was all right for him to speak for them; Christopher had met McCoy's eyes, then smiled and nodded. Rosemond then did the same and said, "So be it. Do you, Christine, take Spock as your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse -- for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish until death do you part?"

"I do." Christine's eyes met those of her bridegroom and sent him infinite unspoken love through their bond; he was unable to help doing the same even as he returned a cautious smile in her direction.

"And do you, Spock, take Christine as your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, to love and cherish until death do you part?"

"I do." Spock's face was expressionless except for his eyes, which almost literally glowed with the joy of this moment, conveyed to him via Christine.

A moment later Rosemond said, "The ring, please."

Kirk smiled and handed Spock the ring; Christine held out her hand so it could be slipped on her finger. Spock fought to keep his hand steady as he prepared to do so; it was one of the most difficult things he had ever tried in his life … and even at that, he was sure that both his friends and Christine had noticed it. But what mattered was that they did not call attention to it.

"Repeat after me -- with this ring, I thee wed…" Rev. Rosemond began; Spock dutifully repeated the words. He then asked, "Is it a double-ring ceremony?"

"Oh, yes," Christine assured him. "Nyota, if you would be so kind…"

"Of course." Uhura slipped the larger but otherwise identical ring off her thumb and handed it to her friend.

This time it was Spock who held out his proper hand while his bride then recited "With this ring, I thee wed," as he himself had done.

"Now by the authority vested in me by Commodore Jensen of Starbase 69 and the United Federation of Planets, I now pronounce you husband and wife," the blue-eyed, silver-haired and portly minister finished with a smile. "You may now kiss your bride, Spock."

Roland Black Fox had been quietly recording the vows and prepared to take the holograph which would be made into the animated hologram. Within moments it had been accomplished, as the Vulcan had gathered his new wife into his arms and kissed her soundly, uncaring of the eyes upon them. All that mattered to either of them at the moment was the touch and kiss of the other.

Upon reluctantly separating, both of the couple's eyes found those of Spock's parents and crossed fingers as they turned to make their way down the aisle. The small group followed the newly married couple to the foyer of the small chapel and prepared to congratulate them, including Rev. Rosemond and Roland Black Fox.

Both of the couple found themselves virtually smothered in hugs and kisses, tears of happiness and warm wishes from friends and family alike; after a time both began to wonder when they were going to get the chance to breathe freely again. There was insufficient time for a proper honeymoon at the moment; they would have to make the remainder of their leave suffice -- but all had agreed to have a reception the day before the parents were due to return home, the next-to-last day of leave for the Enterprise crew. It would also be held on the starbase … then once everyone was back aboard ship, plans could be made to arrange for the Vulcan wedding.

Of course, all the newlyweds wanted was to be alone to begin their honeymoon, but knew that they had to accommodate their friends and family by having a wedding dinner. Both insisted on changing out of their wedding finery, however, before joining the others for the dinner, once again at Olive Garden. Ann and Uhura helped her, while Amanda waited with her own husband to see what kind of going-away outfits the younger couple had chosen.

This was as much a surprise to the others, including their friends, as to both sets of parents, when Spock and Christine showed up in identical cream-colored outfits. The darkness of his complexion set off the light color superbly, as did Christine's light golden-brown tan -- and besides her, Spock was the only onee who knew where those lines both began and ended…that is, where there were lines to begin with! The wedding night was now only hours away -- but for the time being, it was necessary to have dinner, if only to have sufficient energy to make their wedding night a memorable one.

* * *

Naturally it seemed an eternity before the newlyweds were finally alone, but when it finally happened, it was well worth the wait. As promised, Christine wore the very same outfit for Spock as she had in the sexy holo she had given him for Christmas. She was even lovelier and more alluring modeling it in person than in the holograph; so much so that he could scarcely believe she was real -- and best of all, she was his wife now!

Best of all, to Christine's surprise, Spock came out attired in the black silk shirt and tight pants he had worn in his sexy holograph. The shirt was only buttoned halfway up, as were the pants; he told himself to suggest that she undo them the rest of the way. He couldn't help blushing at the thought, even as he felt himself becoming aroused at the thought of his wife's warm and gentle, yet very talented hands removing his clothing and then her lips joining her hands in intimately kissing and caressing his bare skin.

Of course, he had no intention of letting her have all the fun; in fact, he even intended to try a technique his mother had mentioned to him privately in one of her last stargrams. She claimed it brought both Sarek and herself considerable mutual pleasure, so Spock considered it logical to try it at least once -- not to mention one that Jim had told him about which his former lover Carol had always enjoyed when he did it to her.

He could hardly wait to begin kissing and caressing her even as he deftly undressed her, slipping her teddy's straps off her shoulders, then unhooking it to release her lush, beautiful breasts and pleasure her within an inch of her life there before kissing and caressing his way down her silken, fragrant body while removing the teddy, and in the process, the white silk stockings and slippers…

"Well, what are we waiting for, my husband?" Christine's husky voice brought her husband back to reality. "I want to get started on our wedding night!"

"Have no fear, m'chejan; we shall do so without further delay." He strode over to her, pulled her close and kissed her passionately even as he lifted his wife into his arms and carried her to their marriage bed, then gently lowered her to it, his body following hers down to begin their honeymoon in earnest, doing just what he had visualized earlier -- and then some! This night would be only the beginning of many tenderly passionate nights…

He was unable to help a gasp of astonished pleasure as she unbuttoned and removed his pants and shirt, one hand deftly spreading her long, beautiful legs to accommodate him even as he moved into the proper position above her, then between her legs. Her long, slender arms pulled him down to once again kiss him passionately even as her legs wrapped around his hips, pulling him hard against her, wanting to take him completely into herself and keep him there--at the very least, for the duration of their honeymoon! After waiting so long for them to belong completely to each other, Christine intended to see to it that it happened as often as she could realistically manage it.

Spock, beloved, how could we ever have waited so long for this? she asked through their bond. We've missed out on so much!

Agreed -- but that will never be the case again, he declared. I intend to give you any and every kind of physical pleasure I can devise as often as possible. We have a lot of lost time to make up for.

You're telling me, she emphatically agreed. I also hope that we can have a child as soon as possible. After all, I'm not getting any younger.

Your wish is my command, my wife, the Vulcan assured her, and even though privately he shielded his reservations at her becoming pregnant so soon after their marriage, he wasn't about to suggest that she have anything like contraception. He could only hope that it would not occur until after the official Vulcan wedding. Otherwise he would probably never hear the end of it from his father for not controlling himself any better than that.

The younger Vulcan was frankly tired of controlling himself so tightly all the time and had no intention of doing so after this if he didn't absolutely have to, such as his times in public or on duty. Otherwise he was going to be as uncontrolled as he damn well pleased, allow his Human half free rein … at least while alone with his wife, intending for her to be unable to say that he had ever denied her anything whatsoever in the way of emotional happiness or physical/sexual satisfaction!

He never intended to do that, ever again -- either to her or himself. He had denied them both for far too long -- but that would never be the case again. Not if he could help it, anyway … nor would Christine allow him to do so. Once they had finished their first lovemaking session of the night and she was snuggled close to him, her head on his chest and one hand over his heart, Spock was already planning what to do with her during not only the next one, but all of them -- at least for the coming week, at any rate. He intended to take matters one week at a time so as not to completely wear his wife (or himself) out. After all, they did have other matters which they needed energy for, you know! But for the time being, they would simply enjoy the idea of being married and feast on each other as often as they could realistically manage it, both now and as long as they lived.

THE END

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