DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of J. M. Lane and is copyright (c) 1999 by J. M. Lane. This story is Rated PG-13.

Holiday Surprise

JM Lane

Christmas was coming -- in fact, the holiday was only two weeks away -- and a party had been planned for 1800 hours on Christmas Eve. Various crewmembers had been discussing what gifts to buy and/or make for their friends aboard ship. The Enterprise was on border patrol around the Romulan Neutral Zone, and for that reason, was unable to get to Earth or any starbases, so it was decided to put on the party to help alleviate the tedium of a boring assignment and keep morale up.

Many had grumbled upon learning of the assignment and its unfortunate timing, but were somewhat mollified when news of the upcoming party reached them. Dr. Christine Chapel, however, found it difficult to muster up any Christmas spirit, even though she had gifts for all those whom she cared about aboard ship. She also doubted she would be missed when she decided not to attend the party.

There were only two people aboard ship who gave her the time of day off-shift, however well they might work together on duty. They were the only ones who *might* miss her, but her mood was such that she didn't care one way or the other. The only one who truly mattered to her wouldn't be there. The only trip she would make to the Rec Deck would be to put her presents to her friends under the tree. She would probably hear about the party from Nyota anyway, whether she wanted to or not.

It improved neither her mood nor her appetite to discover Spock and Uhura with their heads together (for the umpteenth time) in the Officers' Mess the day before the party, when Christine went to have a sandwich and coffee for lunch. She wasn't one to eavesdrop, except where Spock was concerned. Despite the guilt she always felt at her actions, she couldn't help it. However, he felt about her, she loved *him*.

Intellectually, Christine knew that the Communications Officer shared a camaraderie with the Vulcan that she herself could not match because of their differing natures and duties aboard ship, and Christine had learned to live with that fact, just as she had learned to live with the extraordinarily close friendship between Spock and the Captain ... a friendship which seemed to matter far more to him than any potential relationship with her. But this conversation between Spock and Uhura did not seem like a professional discussion. In fact, the two involved seemed oblivious to all going on around them, as well as to her presence.

Still uncertain of how Spock regarded her, the doctor couldn't help thinking the worst. It had been like this for the past two weeks, and not even Leonard would tell her anything. She was at her wits' end. If somebody didn't explain themselves soon--! But in the meantime, all Christine could do was sit and nibble half-heartedly at her sandwich, sipping her coffee occasionally while listening to the snatches of conversation which drifted over to her.

She didn't hear much, just something about the party and what plans they had for it. Other than Kirk, Uhura was usually the one able to get Spock to do something when no one else could. The Captain had probably been the one to talk the First Officer into coming to the party, if only to make a token appearance, but Nyota had obviously persuaded him to do something else ... perhaps put up decorations, or even accept a gift from her. There didn't seem to be any man aboard ship that Nyota couldn't wrap around her little finger -- including Spock.

It was bad enough at normal times, but doubly so on holidays like Christmas or Valentine's Day, which only seemed to emphasize the fact that Christine was alone -- and her fear that she would always be such. Even as much as it hurt to feel as she did and have so little chance of ever having Spock, she didn't ... *couldn't* ... blame him. The one she'd like to get her hands on was that selfish, mercenary Vulcan bitch who had so coldly rejected him, thus making Spock leery of any romantic overtures from a woman. If not for T'Pring, things might have been very different between Spock and herself. Well, no sense feeling sorry for herself. It was only upsetting her, and dwelling on it wouldn't change anything.

She was brought back to reality by a gasp from Uhura as the latter spotted her, then a scrape as her chair was hastily pushed back. The dark woman stood up, turned on her heel and scurried away. Christine couldn't see Spock's expression, since his back was to her, but he rose with Uhura and left with her. He didn't even acknowledge the female Doctor's presence, much less react to it.

That was as much as Christine could take. She fled the Officers' Mess a couple of minutes later, not even remembering to dispose of her half-eaten sandwich and now-cold coffee. Uhura's actions didn't disturb her that much; it was Spock's treatment of her which was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. *If that's the way they feel, so be it,* she told herself bitterly. Tears of both anger and hurt burned her eyes as she made her way to the turbolift and back to Sickbay to finish her shift. She had never felt so miserable in her life -- and during the holiday season!

* * *

"Why did we make such a hasty exit, Miss Uhura?" the Vulcan asked as they headed in the opposite direction.

"Didn't you see Christine sitting at the table behind us? I was afraid she'd heard what we were planning for her at the Christmas party," came the reply as the two turned the corner and headed in the general direction of their respective quarters.

"There is no way to be certain of that at the moment, and I am sure you know how it is going to look to her," the Science Officer pointed out.

Uhura nodded with a sad smile. "I know, and I regret it -- but it's necessary, at least for the moment. We'll just have to make it up to her as soon as we can."

"We are going to have a lot of 'making up' to do," Spock remarked. "This was not the first time we have done such a thing. In addition, the party is tomorrow."

"We'll straighten things out then, don't worry. Meanwhile, we'd better get busy wrapping gifts ... then go to bed, since we each have duty in the morning. We'll get ready for the party after that."

"Do you think -- Christine will attend?" The Vulcan sounded uncertain.

"She usually does," was the reply, as encouraging as Uhura could make it. "Though I can't guarantee it this time, considering the way we've treated her these last couple of weeks."

"Do your best," he entreated as they reached her quarters.

Uhura looked up at him, wide-eyed at the urgency in his voice, then smiled. "I will. Good night, Spock."

"Good night," the First Officer replied quietly as he left the Communications Officer at her door and continued on to his own quarters, wrapping his gifts for his friends before retiring, making a mental note to take them and place them under the gaily decorate tree in the center of the large Rec Deck before going on duty the next morning. His special gift to Christine was set up on the Rec Deck already, but it was necessary to get her there before he could give it to her. He had to believe that Uhura could do it, knowing how much they had hurt Christine, hoping for her understanding and forgiveness once they had explained themselves.

* * *

Christine woke, showered and dressed, then went on-shift at 0500 the following morning. Just because it was Christmas Eve didn't mean that the Enterprise crew could shirk their duties. She vowed to act as though it was just another day. No one would see how her heart ached, or how bitterly she wept inside, her loneliness so intense it sickened her. Two weeks of Spock ignoring her while keeping company with Uhura had come to a head.

Who could blame him for preferring her? At least Nyota could act professional around Spock and not chase him -- not to mention the fact that Uhura was as exotically beautiful as Spock was exotically handsome. Christine herself was quite attractive, but more handsome than beautiful, being almost as tall and slender (and reserved) as Spock. Many men had been attracted to her, but almost literally flocked around the small, lovely, and outgoing Uhura.

Upon getting off-duty at 1800 after pulling four hours overtime and side-stepping a question from McCoy as to whether or not she was going to the party, Christine headed back to her quarters and changed into her nightgown, robe and slippers. She lay down on her bed and tried to get interested in the latest novel by her favorite author, but after reading the same page six times, she knew her mind was on the party rather than the novel.

She couldn't have enjoyed herself if she had had to go with Uhura and her current date. Christine was tired of being a third wheel. If she couldn't be with Spock, she didn't care to go at all. After a time, she sighed sadly and set her novel aside on her bedside chair before turning on her side away from it. Tears filled her eyes again, overflowing as she buried her face in her pillow and sobbed her heart out.

* * *

It was 1845 when Uhura showed up at Christine's door. The latter muttered under her breath as she forced herself to get up and wash her ravaged face. Damn it, couldn't anyone even cry in peace any more? She grabbed her robe and tightened the belt around her waist before walking to her door and pressing the button to unlock it.

"Come," she said.

The door swished open; Uhura was bedecked in a clingy, glittery red evening dress with spaghetti straps, a fitted bodice covered with sequins and full-length skirt swirling around her legs. Red silk roses were in her upswept, ebony-black hair. Red, green and gold earrings were in her pierced ears and matching red slippers on her small feet. She looked wonderful, making Christine's heart ache even more. No doubt she would monopolize half the male crew as well as Spock this evening.

Uhura looked surprised upon seeing her friend. "Chris, you're not dressed. Aren't you going to the party?"

The Doctor shook her head. "I'm tired, Ny. I pulled four hours overtime today. I don't feel up to it this year. You go without me."

The dark woman was momentarily hurt before realizing why Chris was acting as she was -- because of the apparent disregard of her feelings by those she felt closest to. Apologies were in order all around, but in the meantime, she had to try to get Chris to change her mind. She'd promised Spock. What would she say to him if she couldn't convince her friend to come to the party?

"I understand," Uhura replied quietly. "But we'll miss you." The Bantu knew it would be useless to try to dissuade Christine once her mind was made up. The latter was as immovable as Spock when it came to stubbornness.

Christine doubted anyone would miss her -- least of all Spock -- but didn't say so, being too busy controlling her temper. How dare Nyota think she could simply renew her acquaintance like nothing had happened after the way she and Spock had treated her the last two weeks?

"Suit yourself," Uhura sighed, in apparent defeat. She sounded sad and resigned. "See you later, Chris. I'll tell you about the party tomorrow."

"Fine. See you then," Christine replied, returning to her sleeping alcove to lie down again, tears of anger and hurt once again blurring her vision. Why couldn't they leave her alone instead of coming here to add insult to injury? How would they feel if the shoe was on the other foot?

* * *

Uhura's frustrated look was not lost on Spock as she approached him, waiting at the refreshment table. "You failed, I take it," he observed.

"I told you I probably would," she reminded him.

"Do you think she would listen to me?" he wondered.

"Consider this, Spock: would *you* listen to you, in her position, after two weeks of what we've put her through?"

Spock had to admit (at least to himself) that he probably wouldn't -- but outwardly, only shook his head. But he had to take the chance that, being fully Human, Christine would feel differently enough to be more tolerant and forgiving in a stressful situation than he himself would have been.

"After the plans we have made for her, it would be illogical not to ... do our utmost to encourage her attendance," he stated carefully.

"Well, I've done *my* utmost," Uhura pointed out. "It's up to you now. I wish you luck. You're going to need it."

She turned to face the refreshment table and poured herself a drink, then moved off to sample the various "finger foods" before joining a group of crewmembers in one corner of the Rec Deck, singing Christmas carols. With that, Spock quietly left the Rec Deck and headed for the nearest turbolift which would take him to the corridor leading to Christine's quarters, hoping all the while that he would succeed where Uhura had failed.

* * *

Christine's door buzzer sounded again an hour later, after she had composed herself. If it was Nyota again... Damn her, why couldn't she take "No" for an answer? "Come," she said again -- but when the door swished open, Christine stood up and started in before her visitor could open their mouth. "Damn it, Nyota, why can't you leave me alone? I told you, I don't--" That was as far as she got. The voice which replied, coolly cutting her off in mid-tirade, was not that of the Bantu communications officer.

"Christine," the deep, velvet voice came back.

The shock of hearing it made the blood leave her face. When their eyes met, he saw all the anger and hurt of the last two weeks in the blue depths of her eyes, as well as sensed her pain.

"I am sorry. I never meant to hurt you."

Silence reigned for a time while Christine digested this, then reveled in Spock's nearness as her anger dissolved. The Vulcan moved to stand before her and reached to touch her wet cheek, wiping away some errant tears. She didn't trust her voice to respond, even as she admired the royal blue and black Vulcan outfit Spock was wearing. It even included a black, long-sleeved, high-necked shirt.

"I can understand your feelings, but Miss Uhura must have told you that we ... missed you there." He swallowed, making himself speak. "We-- I-- had a special gift for you. That is why we wanted you to be there."

He sounded so sincere that she had to believe him, though the pain of the last two weeks was still with her. "So that's why you treated me like I had a communicable disease whenever I got near you."

Spock's eyes softened as he lifted her chin and their eyes met. "Yes. We merely wished to ensure that you did not learn of the surprise before the party ... but as I said, I deeply regret that you have been hurt as a result. I -- came to tell you that the party is still going on. If you are willing, I can ... escort you there after you change. Then we may present you with your gifts."

Christine was silent for a long time; Spock interpreted her silence as refusal. "I do not expect you to overlook our treatment of you, but--" His voice stopped, then he cleared his throat and made himself finish. "Please come, Christine."

She looked up at him; the warmth in his soft eyes rendered her speechless. She couldn't refuse when he looked at her like that. When she regained her voice, it was barely audible, but Spock's sensitive ears caught it. "All right, Spock. Give me half an hour." She touched his nose with a finger, then turned and left, disappearing into the bathroom a short time later.

He waited in the living area for her. All the Vulcan knew upon seeing her again was that she looked like an angel to him. Her dark hair was up, a golden band encircling her head like a halo, gold-and-green earrings in her ears. Her dress was floor-length with a scoop neckline, made of cream-colored gauze with a lacy top and full sleeves.

A gold-braided cord was around her slender waist, the ends dangling nearly to her knees. A cloud of rose-musk perfume surrounded her; gold sandals were on her feet. Spock was so struck by her beauty that he was unable to speak for a time, then his eyes met hers and told her all that his lips could not. She did not seem real; in fact, he half-expected her to sprout wings!

"Are you ready?" he asked, coolness for once coming hard.

Christine nodded and smiled, then they left her quarters for the Rec Deck, where the party, their gifts, food and friends waited.

* * *

They walked onto the Rec Deck a short time later; there were several gasps and wide-eyed stares from those the couple passed, but no one made any tactless comments ... not even McCoy, particularly not when he saw the way the two were looking at each other. He simply said, "Glad to see you, Chris, Spock. Both of you look very nice," when they reached him.

Spock nodded and Christine smiled in McCoy's direction. "Thanks, Leonard."

Holiday music drifted over to the small group of friends as they talked. The female doctor recognized the song as "Winter Wonderland" and hummed along before singing softly:

*In the meadow, we can build a snowman,

And pretend that he is Parson Brown.

He'll say, "Are you married?"

We'll say, "No, man, but you can do the job

when you're in town."*

When the song finished, Kirk and Uhura moved to join them, having just completed their customary dance. The Captain whispered, "Have you asked Christine to dance yet?" to his Vulcan friend.

Spock shook his head even as color stained his cheeks, but only Kirk saw him blush because of the angle at which they stood. Even Christine, next to the Vulcan, was looking in the opposite direction, at Uhura.

"Glad you decided to come, Chris," the dark woman remarked.

"How could I not?" Christine dead-panned. "Especially when you sic Spock on me."

The Bantu looked surprised. "Me? No way! I swear, I'm innocent. Coming to your quarters was *Spock's* idea."

Christine's eyes widened. "Spock?"

Uhura nodded.

"But the way you two have been acting, I thought--"

"You thought what?" Then it hit Uhura, and she laughed. "Oh, Chris! You and your overactive imagination! The reason Spock and I have been together so much recently is because we've been planning a special gift for you." The communications officer shook her head in affectionate exasperation. "Spock and I are *colleagues*, Chris. Colleagues, and nothing more. I would never allow myself to be anything more with someone I knew *you* loved. You know me better than that."

Christine had to admit to feeling silly, but threw back, "All right, how would *you* have felt in my place?"

"I'd probably feel the same way," Uhura reluctantly admitted. "Incidentally, I'm sorry you were hurt because of our actions, too."

Christine smiled in acceptance of her friend's apology. "Now that I know why you were doing it, I can forgive you," she replied. "Only, please don't do it again right away. At least not without giving me a little warning."

"Deal," Uhura smiled. "Now we can concentrate on having fun."

At this moment, Spock turned back from Kirk to Christine. "May I have the honor of this dance, Christine?" His voice was so soft that it was almost a whisper, but the Vulcan was so pleased that she had agreed to accompany him that it could have been a shout, and he wouldn't have cared who saw or heard.

"Of course, Spock. I'd love to." After he led her out onto the dance floor, Spock caught the eye of the leader of the live band of crew-members and they launched into the strains of "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!", one of Christine's favorite Christmas songs. Once she realized what the song was, she was stunned.

She looked up at her partner, but his impassive face betrayed nothing ... nor did Uhura's as they passed her while the latter danced with McCoy -- but how could anyone but Nyota have known that it was one of her favorite songs? Had Nyota actually told someone else ... that "someone else" being Spock? Oh, my God! It seemed incredible, but it was the only way he could have known.

The Vulcan noted his partner's silence. "Is something wrong, Christine?" He sounded concerned.

"Did Nyota tell you that was one of my favorite songs?"

"She did," he replied. "Why? Do you object to its being played? It is part of my gift to you. She assured me that you would like it ... so I requested it be played for you. She also warned me that you might not come to the party, and I had to -- make certain that you did, or else the surprise would have been ... spoiled."

His left arm held her gently but firmly close to him as they danced, his exotic cologne intoxicating her even more than she already was, just being near him. Her head rested on his shoulder, his cheek resting on her hair.

Christine felt like a total idiot. "Spock, I feel so stupid. All this time, I thought you and Nyota were..."

They stopped dancing as his eyebrows shot up. "...romantically involved?" The Vulcan shook his head in affectionate exasperation. "Christine, Christine. When are you going to stop underestimating yourself? Stop thinking the worst?"

"When you give me reason to think otherwise," she countered. "For Heaven's sake, what was I *supposed* to think after two weeks of the two of you treating me like an intruder?"

"As I told you, the reason we did that was because we were planning this surprise for you," he reiterated patiently.

"I assume Dr. McCoy and the Captain were in on it, too."

Spock nodded. "We swore them to secrecy."

"No wonder Leonard wouldn't tell me anything," Christine mused.

"You are one of the reasons I wished to attend the party," the Vulcan admitted quietly. "You know that I do not ... generally care for such Human frivolity, but I--" His voice broke off.

"You what?"

"I sensed your distress and wished...to make it up to you." He took a breath before continuing. "Christine, Miss Uhura is my *colleague*. We have an amiable but *professional* relationship. Nothing more." The Vulcan emphasized the word "professional".

"You mean you haven't noticed how attractive she is?"

"There are many kinds of attractiveness," the First Officer reminded her as they stood facing each other. "I am not -- indifferent to Miss Uhura's physical appearance; it is simply that I have... different preferences." His voice held almost a crooning quality.

"Such as tall, fair, and willowy women as opposed to short, full-bodied, exotic women?"

Spock gave her a half-smile. "There are those who call *Vulcan* women 'exotic,' but I personally consider *Human* females to be such, as my father did." *Particularly females such as you,* he finished in his mind. "They do not have to possess any particular physical qualities." *Though I can see why you would believe otherwise,* the Vulcan thought, recalling the other women he had known: Leila, Zarabeth, Droxine, and the female Romulan Commander.

Christine and his mother Amanda also had blue eyes, as had Droxine and Leila. Only one had been dark-haired (other than Christine, who had once been blonde), and none had been tall, like Christine. Perhaps *that* was a pattern ... but she was short enough to suit him perfectly, with her head coming to his shoulder.

Christine was silent again for a time as they resumed dancing, wondering what Spock was thinking about, and if it was the same as what *she* was thinking about: his other women.

"Height," she muttered under her breath.

"What?" This time Spock did not break their rhythm.

"Height. Most of the women you've known have been short, including your mother."

"But it was not -- only that which influenced me. At least not in your case," he assured her, but the First Officer did not elaborate.

She wanted to ask what had prompted his change of heart (and attitude) toward her, but decided not to pressure him, since she knew how difficult it was for Spock to express his feelings because of his life-long training to do the opposite. Best not to question him; she had waited too long for this moment as it was.

"I won't ask what other things you're talking about, as long as you try your best to let me know what's going on after this. I'm less likely to think the worst that way."

"Agreed," he answered, his voice carrying more feeling than she had ever heard from him before.

Christine looked up at him with love and inquiry, but Spock's eyes pleaded with her not to ask for further explanations of his feelings. It had surely been hard enough for him to say what he'd already said. He was silent for a time after this, holding her close with one hand resting on the small of her back, the other clasping hers as her free hand rested on his opposite shoulder.

"I never knew you could dance so well, Spock," Christine noted with appreciation.

"Mother taught me. She claimed the knowledge might prove useful at some point. I did not understand why she was so insistent that I learn until now."

"I'm glad she was," came the soft voice from the vicinity of his shoulder. "You have made this my best Christmas ever."

* * *

A short time later, the couple danced into a pocket of darkness, where Spock gave Christine yet another present: her first kiss from him -- a long, tenderly passionate interlude which neither wanted to end. The Vulcan could tell by his partner's radiant face and glowing eyes when they moved back into the light and once again circled the floor that she had found it as exciting as he had. But the *piece de resistance* was yet to come.

The couple was oblivious to their friends' eyes upon them; even McCoy was too stunned to do anything but watch. Even when the dance was over, the evening wasn't, for Spock kept hold of Christine's hand and led her to a nearby table, on which sat a bouquet of dark red roses wrapped in florists' paper and in a crystal vase of water to keep them fresh. The vase was wrapped with a large, red bow. She almost fainted from shock and happiness when Spock picked up the vase and presented the fragrant blooms to her.

"For you," he told her, smiling with his eyes.

"Ohh..." Tears of incredulous happiness misted Christine's eyes once she got her voice back. "Spock, my love, thank you so much. They're beautiful."

He felt her pleasure, unable to help a small but genuine smile. "I was told that roses were your favorite flower -- particularly red ones."

The female doctor couldn't help wondering if Spock was aware of what red roses signified ... passionate love -- but even if he didn't, what mattered most was that he had made the gesture ... given her the gift of his company, a romantic dance to one of her favorite songs, a warm, thrilling kiss, and finally a bouquet of a dozen red roses. There was only one other thing she could have asked for, but it would have been both selfish and premature to ask for it at this point. If she played her cards right, Spock would eventually give it to her on his own, without her prompting him. He had already given her so much more than she had ever thought he would (or could) give.

"Oh, they are, but--"

"But what?" The Vulcan frowned at her hesitancy.

"Roses aren't Christmas flowers," Christine forced out.

"I am aware of that, but after what Miss Uhura said, I assumed you would prefer roses. In addition, my ... regard for you is not seasonal."

"Nor is mine for you," she returned so softly that only sensitive Vulcan ears could hear. "And I hope that you -- appreciate the gift I made for you."

It was a tradition for all crewmembers to put their gifts to one another under the tree, then they were distributed to the recipients at the end of the party. Thanks and such usually came the following day. Knowing Spock's sensitivity to cold, Christine had knitted him a pair of heavy socks in black and dark green.

She had also considered giving him a flannel nightshirt, but decided that would be too personal for her to give, so she discussed it with Kirk. He agreed to give the flannel nightshirt while she gave the socks. They had gone together to ship's stores to pick it out, choosing a dark one in a sweatshirt-like design, and she had hand appliqued an IDIC on the front before giving it to Kirk to give to Spock.

Each had come away with at least a handful of gifts at the end of the party, assuring one another that they would let the givers know their opinions of the gifts at the first opportunity. Spock topped off the evening for himself and Christine by walking her to her quarters and asking if they could meet in the Botanical Gardens the next time they were off-duty, which wouldn't be for another three days, for a picnic. He had even offered to bring his harp and play it for her -- perhaps even sing, she hoped, thinking of how Spock had serenaded her and Nyota on Platonius. It should be all right now, since they would be doing it of their own free will.

"Would 1200 hours be convenient?" she asked as she turned to go.

"It is acceptable," he told her. "I will see you then, Christine. Good night."

He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it, shocking her yet again. All she could manage in return was a smile, but that seemed to satisfy him ... for which she was thankful, since she couldn't have spoken if her life had depended on it. Upon getting inside her quarters, Christine again showered and changed into her nightgown and robe before opening her presents from her other friends -- perfume from Kirk, earrings from McCoy and a dress from Uhura. By no coincidence, all of them could be worn together. She was convinced that they had gone together to pick everything out.

As for Spock's dozen roses in the crystal vase, she had placed them where she could admire and smell them often ... then gone to bed and lain there thinking of what a wonderful Christmas it had been, even if it hadn't started out so hot.

Finally, she fell asleep and dreamed of all that had happened this night -- and of all that would happen if she was patient and didn't pressure Spock. Easier said than done, of course, but Christine vowed to find the strength from somewhere. She had gone through too much to want to screw things up now because of her impatience ... now, or ever.

* * *

The female doctor decided to wear her Christmas gifts for the upcoming picnic, also packing some casual clothes because Kirk had mentioned the possibility of playing some touch football -- provided they could talk Spock into joining them. She packed the cooler with several of Spock's and her own favorite foods, and at least one of each of their friends', for when *they* dropped by ... but she hoped that she would be alone with Spock for at least a little while.

Uhura came up to her with her own cooler as she was putting the finishing touches on the lunch. Christine noted the familiar shadow out of the corner of her eye, looking up and smiling at her friend as she reached her.

"Hi, Chris. Finished with the food yet?"

Christine nodded. "Just about."

"Could I help?"

"That's one reason I asked you here. There's too much food for one cooler. Of course, we could always hope for a couple of good Samaritans," Christine said with a sly wink.

"Such as the Captain and Spock?"

"Perhaps," the other woman conceded with an enigmatic smile.

"On the other hand, you don't want Spock to see you before the picnic," the Bantu remarked.

"You have a point there," Christine agreed.

After packing both coolers, the women departed the ship's galley and made their way to the turbolift at the end of the corridor, stepping out on T Deck, where the Botanical Gardens were located. Several male crew did double-takes upon seeing Christine, but only Uhura noticed. Some even offered to assist them, but were politely refused.

They soon entered the large room where plants from many Federation worlds, including Earth and Vulcan, were grown and cared for. The pair went to an enormous, yet beautiful wall of roses with a maple tree in front of it. Uhura and Christine laid out a royal blue blanket beneath the green, leafy branches of the tree, then set up the picnic lunch. Christine carefully seated herself on the blanket and invited Uhura to join her until Spock arrived.

The doctor got out a favorite dish of her friend's, and they sat talking and laughing until Uhura asked, "Did you know that I'd hung mistletoe in the pocket of darkness where Spock kissed you?"

"What?" Both Christine's face and voice betrayed surprise.

"I put mistletoe in the doorway there," Uhura repeated.

"Ah! So *that's* why he chose that place," the Doctor mused.

Uhura's smile widened. "But from what I can tell, you two didn't need it." She gave Christine a penetrating glance, as if daring her to deny it.

Christine didn't; in fact, she nodded and smiled in acknowledgment. A short time later, they heard Spock calling to Christine, his voice carrying several yards.

Uhura stood up and turned to go. "That's my cue to leave. Good luck, Chris."

The women squeezed hands and the communications officer made herself scarce only moments before Spock came into view. He wore a royal blue sweater over a long-sleeved, pale blue shirt, navy blue stocking cap, black pants and boots ... most of which had been gifts from friends aboard ship -- and his mother. Christine was pleased to see that the Vulcan had brought his harp, tucked under one arm. He stopped upon reaching the blanket; she looked up at him. He looked down at her, then their eyes met. For a long time, they just stood there, then Christine smiled and reached out her hand to him.

"It's good to see you, Spock. I'm glad you came, and I hope you enjoy the food I brought."

"I will not know that until the picnic is underway," he replied, taking her hand and seating himself beside her. Within moments, he had made himself comfortable. "Would you mind if I played a song before we eat?"

"Of course not. Perhaps you can do one afterward, as well," she suggested hopefully.

He raised one upswept eyebrow at her.

"Only if you want to, of course," she amended.

Naturally Spock had noticed her right away -- everything about her, especially her perfume. He suspected one reason was because Kirk had given it to her, and the Captain would know better than anyone what attracted and what repelled the Vulcan ... but its spell was made all the more powerful by the fact of Spock's deep feelings for her -- and the fact that it had been imported from Vulcan, the scent a combination of the *t'lerya*, which smelled like honeysuckle, and *t'meer*, a flower from Rigel V with a scent similar to a rose.

"Did you -- enjoy the party?" she asked cautiously as he began to play.

"Very much," he asserted, so quietly that it was almost a whisper.

"May I know what kind of gifts you received?" Christine asked, the melodic strains of the exotic instrument providing appropriate background for the idyllic setting. After Spock finished, she handed him a bowl of vegetable pasta and a glass of tomato juice. A few bites and swallows later, Spock raised both upswept brows at her, silent for so long that she was ready to apologize for prying when he finally answered.

"Before I answer, let me compliment you on the most appetizing vegetable pasta, Christine."

She nodded and smiled modestly, choosing not to mention that she had found the recipe on the computer while researching how to make various Vulcan dishes. "Thank you."

"I also ... liked the pair of socks you made for me. In fact, I am -- wearing them right now." He raised his right pant leg slightly to show her. "They are quite warm and comfortable. You knitted them, you say?"

Christine nodded again, her cheeks turning pink. It wasn't often that Spock complimented her even once, much less twice in the space of ten minutes. Her blush deepened when he reached for her hand to lift it to his lips and kiss it.

"Thank you."

Their eyes met, and unspoken feeling flowed between them. For a long moment, there was a long silence, then she asked, "What other gifts did you receive?"

"The Captain-- Jim -- gave me a warm ... nightshirt, I believe he called it -- but he said you appliqued the IDIC on it for me." The First Officer sounded almost like a small boy on Christmas morning.

The doctor merely smiled and nodded again. "Mother sent me this sweater," he said, pointing to it. "Then Dr. McCoy gave me a ... stocking cap." The Science Officer allowed himself a smile as his memory rewarded him. "And finally, Miss Uhura gave me a tape of some of my -- favorite music played and sung by her on her Vulcan harp."

"They look great, and I'm sure the tape sounds great," Christine remarked.

"What did *you* get?" the Vulcan asked. "That is, if you do not mind my asking."

"Of course not," she assured him. "The Captain gave me the perfume I wear, Dr. McCoy the earrings, and Nyota the dress."

The earrings were a blue-and-gold spiral on a French hook; the dress was a floor-length blue gauze with gold threads running through it and a sweetheart neckline, as well as belled sleeves.

"They are -- most ... becoming," was his reply. "And I -- hope you liked what *I* gave you as well."

She smiled with all her heart. "The most wonderful gifts I've ever received." This time, her hand reached for his nearest one, then raised it to her cheek and held it there after kissing it.

It was at this point that Spock made a suggestion which surprised Christine even more than he already had. "I also wish to try to ... teach you to play my Vulcan harp," he told her, setting down his half-eaten plate of food.

"Me? I'm not musically inclined," she insisted, even as she sat down her own plate.

"To the best of your knowledge," he countered. "But you might surprise yourself."

"I'm a rank amateur. I could ruin it," she protested. "I know how proud you are of it. Only an expert deserves to touch or play it. I could never forgive myself if I wrecked it. I'm sure it would be very hard to replace or repair."

"You must at least try. One never knows what they can or cannot do if they do not try," he gently persisted.

She sighed. "All right, if you say so ... but if something happens to it, don't say I didn't warn you."

Spock placed it in her lap, in the position he usually held it, and placed her hands in the proper positions -- one on the strings, the other near the tone dials.

"Okay, what do I do?" she asked.

"This." He maneuvered behind her and put his hands over hers, making her fingers gently pluck the strings as he did ... but despite his best efforts, what came out was about as far as one could get from recognizable music.

"That was terrible," she pronounced. "Like fingernails on a blackboard." She shivered at the thought.

"Nonsense. You cannot expect to do it correctly the first time. It takes practice."

Despite his reassuring tone, she remarked dully, "Not to mention infinite patience. I'm not Nyota. I'm not a musician. I love to *listen* to music, especially hers and yours -- and even sing ... but I can't *make* music to save my life."

"That is not necessary, Christine. And incidentally, I am a very patient person."

"Why are you doing this, Spock?"

"Because I choose to do so ... and as I believe you know, I do not give up easily. Neither must you."

"Then how am I supposed to improve on what just happened?"

"Adjust this dial here slightly." Spock put her hand on the dial; they moved it slightly to the right. "Now this one." He moved their hands to the dial next to it, also moving it slightly to the right -- the volume dial. There were four dials on a Vulcan harp ... one for tuning, one for volume, and the other two for adjusting the tone. The first one they had moved made the tone lower. "Now try the string again."

Her hand moved hesitantly to follow his direction; to her surprise and pleasure, an actual musical tone came from it. The couple looked at each other and exchanged smiles.

"Did I do that?" she asked, incredulous.

"You did," he confirmed. "Now remember, there are times when you will need to adjust that dial, or one of the others. Often many adjustments will need to be made, even during an individual song ... as well as moving your fingers up and down the strings. But for now, we will concentrate on the simplest musical scales and go from there," he assured her. "Put your hands in the beginning position again."

Christine did so, still wondering why Spock was making her do this, but enjoyed his closeness to her and the touch of his hands over hers too much to protest too strenuously. They learned one note at a time, not going on to the next until she was reasonably confident that she had mastered it -- that is, as confident as anyone could be under the circumstances. He took her through the necessary steps and adjustments, patiently explaining in detail as they went. It was at least two hours before they decided to quit for the day and get back to their meal.

"You have done well for a first-time player," the Vulcan told her, controlled pride in his voice. "We still need to work on the scales, but with practice, I am sure you will eventually master them ... and after that, we can try some simple songs."

"But it tested even *your* patience," she pointed out. "Don't try to deny it. I felt it from you several times."

"I will not," he told her. "But I believe one can do anything he or she sets their mind to, so be certain to give the instrument a fair try before giving up. It took a long time for you to learn medicine, did it not?"

"Twelve years. Four of them just to get my medical degree," she told him. "But remember, I have an aptitude for it. Musical ability isn't an acquired talent. You either have it or you don't."

"Just as it often takes years to master a musical instrument -- *any* instrument -- as well, so do not be discouraged if your progress is slow. Even today, you have come much further than you know. Who knows how far you could get after a week ... a month ... a year?"

Christine held up a hand. "Whoa, there! I'm not thinking that far ahead at the moment. Best to take it one session at a time."

Spock had to agree. "Logical."

"Thanks. Now, let's get on to bigger and better things." After the lyrette had been set aside, she brought his arms the rest of the way around her, from behind ... then moved back to rest her head on his shoulder. He was hesitant at first, then gently tightened his embrace, soon even venturing to nuzzle her neck -- then her ear. Christine sighed happily, her voice almost a purr.

"Mmmm. I love that. Don't stop."

She took a moment to be thankful that they were alone, in an isolated part of the Botanical Gardens, as she felt the warmth of Spock's breath on her ear, then his lips as he kissed it before moving on to her neck and throat. She moved her head to allow him better access, switching to the other side after a time. Then, when she least expected it, she felt him nibbling her ear.

"Oooh. Nice."

A short time later, Christine shivered deliciously, squirming in his arms as Spock's lips brushed the nape of her neck. "That's even nicer."

Not long afterward, he maneuvered her so that she was half-turned toward him. The look in his eyes would have told her he wanted to kiss her, even if his mind-voice hadn't ... and no mistletoe was needed this time.


*Yes, love. Kiss me. I want it as much as you do.*

The first touch of their lips prompted something very much like a supernova in the Vulcan's head, only this one was in a rainbow of colors -- and as the kiss deepened, both wondered how it could be possible for a kiss to be this sweet, yet so passionate. It was at least a minute before the couple could bring themselves to disengage, and as their eyes met, both knew that neither would have minded continuing ... but didn't dare. They were taking too much of a chance as it was.

Christine's next thought prompted both a mental and physical chuckle as she imagined Nyota's reaction once she told her friend that Spock was attempting to teach her the Vulcan harp.

*Then do not tell her until you are more accomplished,* he suggested.

*It won't be easy,* she told him. *We usually tell each other things like that.*

*It will be an even bigger surprise if you wait,* he pointed out.

*I suppose so,* she continued. *But I still think I'd do better to stick to medicine.*

They finished eating forty-five minutes later, then the Vulcan asked with his eyes what he could not say with his lips, though Christine could tell that he was tired. After she nodded and smiled yet again, Spock maneuvered himself so that his head was resting in her lap.

One of her hands lovingly, if tentatively, stroked his hair; he clasped the other, his free hand on his chest. After a time, she saw him put himself into a sleep-trance; his breathing became slow and regular. She feasted her eyes on his sleeping face, cherishing these precious moments alone with him, wishing they never had to end.

* * *

Spock had been asleep for about an hour when Kirk approached, carrying a football and wearing casual clothes, with McCoy beside him, similarly dressed. Both men's eyes widened as they noted Spock's position, and the Chief Surgeon's mouth quirked, but both the Captain's and Christine's warning glances in his direction kept McCoy from commenting on Spock's rare moment of relaxation. Kirk dropped down beside her on the right, giving his friend an affectionate glance before whispering to her as McCoy sat down on her other side.

"How long has he been asleep?" the Captain asked.

"About an hour," was the reply. "By the way, I fixed you both something to eat and drink, Captain, Leonard. You can share it." She gestured toward the nearest cooler.

Kirk moved to it and opened it as quietly as he could, his face lighting up upon seeing the chicken and dumplings inside the first container he removed, just as McCoy's did. They found biscuits and low-fat margarine, along with duraplastic utensils, in another rectangular container. Mashed potatoes with cream gravy was in another ... some of which had already been consumed. Dessert was apple pie with whipped cream.

Kirk served himself and the doctor upon discovering the plates, drinking glasses and utensils. Both had hot coffee as a beverage. After a fairly silent meal, during which Spock only stirred once (and even then, went back to sleep after Christine stroked his temples), Kirk leaned over to whisper to her again.

"The food was great, but now I've got an urge to 'run up and down on green grass'. Do you think Spock would be willing to join me?"

"Depends," the female doctor whispered back.

"On what?" the Captain asked, arching his brows in a Spock-like manner.

"On whether we can keep Leonard in line," she replied.

"Oh, Bones will behave himself if he knows what's good for him." Kirk's voice was quiet, but Christine sensed that he was dead serious. "But we would still have to assure Spock that McCoy won't shoot off his mouth about it later."

"How do you propose to do that?" Christine gave Kirk a skeptical look.

There was a long silence, then the Captain said, "I'll think of something. Now, when do you think Spock will wake up?"

"I couldn't say," was the answer. "But he must need it, so let's let him sleep as long as possible, okay? We'll tell him your suggestion when he awakens, and see what he says."

"Good enough for me," the Captain pronounced. His warning glance checked the protest on the doctor's lips.

Then, for another hour, the other three friends and shipmates communed with each other while the fourth slept peacefully, the Vulcan's dark head cradled in Christine's lap and her right hand entwined with his left, resting on his chest, while Kirk carefully took his friend's other hand in his own so as not to disturb him.

* * *

Just over an hour later, Spock awakened to the feel of Christine stroking his hair and Kirk holding one hand, turning slightly green in embarrassment when he noted the presence of his two friends, deducing that they must have been watching him sleep. He looked apprehensively at the doctor out of the corner of his eye, but like the others, McCoy was simply smiling at him.

The Vulcan could not detect any ulterior motive in McCoy's actions or body language, but suspected that Jim and Christine were mainly responsible for the doctor's good behavior. It still remained to be seen how long it would last, and that depended on how effective their warnings were. Once over his embarrassment, made easier by Christine and Kirk's reassuring smiles, Spock sat up and spoke.

"I am sorry to have slept so long. I meant to play for you again, Christine ... and I hope your legs are not -- asleep. I must have felt ... quite heavy to you." Again, his cheeks colored at the thought that he had allowed himself to relax his control to such an extent.

Christine smiled again. "That's all right; I don't mind. You needed the sleep -- and my legs will recover." She took a breath, then spoke again. "The Captain wants to ask you something."

The Vulcan turned his head in Kirk's direction.

"I was wondering if we could play some ... touch football, Spock."

Spock raised an eyebrow and his eyes widened. "Touch football?"

"A -- recreational game usually performed in a park-like setting by a small group of friends," Kirk explained.

"How many?" came the next question.

"Ordinarily, at least six, but there are only four of us here ... and I don't know if Bones or Christine will want to play, since it can get pretty rough. Better if it's just you and me," the Captain suggested to his Vulcan friend.

"I'd love to play," the female doctor put in before Spock could answer.

The three men looked at her apprehensively.

"Hey, I'm not a porcelain flower. Besides, I played a lot with my father. I can handle it."

"You cannot play in your current outfit," Spock pointed out.

"Don't worry, I brought a change of clothes, like the Captain said." With that, she reached around the tree and brought out a small shoulder bag.

"Very well," the Vulcan conceded.

"In that case, we'd better get to the gym. I ordered it set up for our game, so it should be ready when we get there. You can change there, too, Christine," Kirk told her.

"Fine," she replied. "Now we'd better get the picnic things together and head there before Spock changes his mind."

She aimed a teasing wink in the Vulcan's direction; he again raised an eyebrow at her while the other two Humans chuckled at their friend's astonishment. They then began to gather the picnic things together and re-packed the coolers, both of which were easier to handle now. Spock carried the heaviest one, while Kirk carried the other and McCoy the folded blanket. A short time later, they reached the turbolift which would take them to G Deck and the gym, entering single-file and jockeying for positions once inside the car, which began moving as soon as Kirk said, "G Deck." With that, they were on their way.

* * *

Christine went to change into her casual clothes upon arrival at the gym; the men settled the picnic things in an out-of-the-way, yet easily accessible place. Kirk noted her quick return with an approving smile and nod.

"That was fast," he observed.

"Believe me, I've had to learn, what with working for Dr. Jekyll-Hyde there," she replied, giving McCoy a sly wink.

"I'll get you for that, Dr. Chapel," the Chief Surgeon shot back.

"I can hardly wait," she dead-panned as Kirk grinned and Spock allowed himself an amused smile. "Now let's get the game started."

Just before beginning the game, Kirk addressed McCoy. "Do you want to play, Bones?"

The doctor shook his head. "I'll pass, Jim. Somebody's got to stay in one piece to treat any injuries you two or Chris may sustain as a result of your rough-housing. If it's all right with you, I'll just sit and watch."

Kirk shrugged. "Suit yourself. Ready, Spock, Christine?"

"Ready," came the almost simultaneous answer as McCoy walked over to a spot on the sidelines and made himself comfortable. Play commenced shortly thereafter.

* * *

The game ran for about an hour; Kirk played defensive quarterback, and after a crash course in the basics of the game, Spock ran interference for him. Christine played offensive. Kirk was a football buff from way back, but Christopher Chapel had been even more of one, and taught his daughter all he knew, because several times, the strategies, signals and end runs Kirk and Spock devised came to nothing ... for the female doctor deftly blocked them, thus preventing the two men from scoring twice as often as they otherwise would have.

None of the men could believe how fast or knowledgeable Christine was -- not even McCoy, and he knew what a tomboy his assistant was at heart. At one point, Christine even managed to tackle Spock (he let her, she was sure), but she got the ball away from him by startling him with a kiss on the nose. Another time, just when she was sure he would tackle and flatten her, she was able to move aside a split second before the Vulcan would have captured her. In spite of himself, Spock had to admire her dexterity and cleverness, his look upon her a mixture of astonishment and pride, even as he picked himself up from where he had landed after missing her.

It wasn't until nearly the end of the game that Spock threw a forward pass to Kirk -- but taken by surprise by an unexpected shout from Christine, the Captain fell on his backside in the grass while the ball sailed over his head and into her hands. She turned and took off running, the ball held close to her. She was a good distance runner, but Spock had given chase the moment Kirk had fallen, and the Vulcan was the best athlete on the ship.

Spock wasn't about to let Jim's fumble go unavenged, for he was certain that Christine had deliberately distracted the Captain. She was nearly to her goal line, about ten yards away, when Spock caught up with her and brought her down with a perfectly timed tackle around the waist. The pair tumbled to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs, and he made sure she couldn't get up right away -- at least not before he maneuvered the ball away from her by employing a distraction of his own: kissing her ear.

"That was sneaky, Spock," she complained as he released her and she rolled away from him. "I could call a foul for your blindsiding me like that."

But he knew she wasn't *too* angry, because she smiled when she said it. He held the ball in one arm while helping Christine to her feet with the other. Kirk had already picked himself up and was approaching them. The Vulcan was hard-pressed to keep from smiling as he watched Jim and Christine brush grass out of their hair and off their T-shirts and jeans.

"No worse than your kissing me on the nose," Spock reminded her even as he thought that both she and Jim looked about ten years old as they brushed the grass off themselves.

"You did that on purpose," Kirk gruffly accused her, giving the Assistant Chief Medical Officer a hard look. "Distracting me like that. You're lucky I don't put you on report."

"All's fair in winning and football games," Christine replied, almost smirking.

"At least Spock didn't let you get away with it," the Captain threw back.

"I noticed," Christine returned dryly. "In fact, I'm still aching!"

"Are you hurt?" the Vulcan asked, concern for the two of the four people he cared about most, whom he had "played" with, only lightly masked.

"I'm fine," Kirk said with a chuckle. "Nothing injured but my dignity."

"Just had the wind knocked out of me," Christine told him. "Besides, I know how to fall."

"It seems that *we* both managed to keep from being seriously hurt," Kirk observed. "How about you, Spock?"

"I am unharmed," Spock assured them.

"Not for lack of trying," McCoy cut in after getting to his feet and joining them. "Which reminds me, you're all getting checkups before you go anywhere. Now, all of you, march to the turbolift and up to Sickbay right now. That's a medical order!"

Kirk and Spock sighed, looking at each other and shaking their heads in an I'll-never-understand-him sort of way ... then the picnic things and Christine's belongings were gathered together. The four headed for the turbolift, the Chief Surgeon bringing up the rear to make sure none of them could get away. He would not let them out of his sight, not even to shower and change clothes, until he had examined them.

* * *

Kirk made a face at McCoy's back as the doctor briefly left the room while the Captain and Spock lay on adjoining biobeds in Sickbay. The Vulcan gave him an understanding half-smile when Kirk turned his head toward him. Christine had already been examined and cleared.

After she had joined them, Spock said, "Thank you both for a most enjoyable picnic and afternoon."

"Our pleasure," Kirk assured him; the female doctor heartily concurred.

"Do you think Dr. McCoy will be able to refrain from teasing me?" the First Officer wondered.

"We'll see to it," came the almost simultaneous reply from the other two.

"But neither of you can be with me all the time," Spock pointed out.

"Then we'll do our best to keep it to a minimum," Kirk told him. "Now, quiet. Bones is coming back."

Neither Spock nor Christine could have said just how the Captain knew this, but he was right. Barely a minute later, McCoy walked in. The other were sure the doctor must have heard them talking, but the Chief Surgeon never mentioned it -- though that didn't mean he wouldn't, probably when they least expected it.

"Okay, you're both fine," McCoy announced, with obvious reluctance. "But you were just lucky this time. I can't guarantee you'll stay that way, however, especially if you indulge in one too many games of touch football -- and particularly if I'm not there to keep an eye on you."

"You're just an old mother hen, Bones," Kirk laughed as he and Spock got up from the biobeds. "Come on, Spock, let's get back to work."

"Somebody has to be. *You* two certainly don't seem to care to look after yourselves," McCoy threw back, his words seeming to bounce off the backs of the departing officers, since they made no reaction as they headed for the Sickbay doors.

"Come on, Leonard, they have to be doing something right, or they wouldn't have survived this long," Christine insisted.

"As well as those two born martyrs can, that is," the Doctor groused. "Now let's get back to work."

With that, the two medical officers left the examination room and returned to Medical Supply to finish the inventory they had been doing before the holiday party.

* * *

The day after the picnic, after she had gotten off-duty, Christine received a call from Spock over her holo-vid intercom. "To what do I owe this call, Spock?" she wondered with a smile as she noted his sculptured features on her viewer.

"We must bond soon," he reminded her. "It is logical that the ceremony be performed as soon as possible."

Christine was both elated and apprehensive at the thought. She was very fond of the idea of knowing how Spock was feeling or what he was thinking at any given moment, but recalled that it also enabled him to sense *her* thoughts, know *her* feelings. However, even that didn't stop her from agreeing to meet him in the Officers' Lounge late that night, around 0200, to perform the bonding in as private a spot as possible next to their quarters.

"Do we need any help with the ceremony?" she asked, curious.

"Traditionally, one person's assistance is needed -- usually one familiar with the minds of both prospective bondmates, called *t'hy'r kalah*, or 'bond-witness' -- but since there is none, we would have to settle for the one who is most familiar with mine..." His voice trailed off. "However, since the Captain is presently on duty and therefore unavailable, we will have to manage by ourselves."

"Oh, I think we can handle it if we help each other," she stated with certainty. "Don't you?"

The Vulcan hesitated, but finally agreed. "In that case, I will see you at 0200."

"I'll be there," she assured him.

* * *

And they were right; they *didn't* need help. Spock made sure to take it slowly and carefully, so nothing went wrong. Within twenty minutes, the bonding had been accomplished, and the couple simply sat together in front of a large viewport. Spock had a cautious arm around Christine, her right hand covering his and her head cradled on his shoulder.

*This feels good,* she thought to her bondmate, sighing contentedly as she did so. *I like it.*

*As do I,* Spock thought back, gently tightening his arm. In return, Christine's fingers entwined with his as her perfume reached his nostrils. He couldn't help thinking how warm, soft and sweet-smelling she was as they sat there together, just star-gazing.

*Just wait until we tell our parents and friends,* her mind-voice "said" to him. *They'll be so pleased.*

*Please do not 'speak' any more, m'chejan. I wish only quiet ... and to have you close to me,* he returned.

*Can't argue with that,* Christine thought back before falling silent and positioning her head more comfortably on the Vulcan's shoulder as the couple basked in the warmth of their love. It wasn't until nearly 0400 that they left the Lounge, and Spock walked Christine to her door.

En route, they merely held hands, on the off-chance that they might be seen. Upon reaching her quarters, Spock raised her hand to his lips and kissed it, his dark eyes soft as they looked into her blue ones. She read a kiss there, and sensed how much he wanted to do it -- but they dared not.

"I must go now, Christine. Sleep well. I will contact you tomorrow, after we are both off-duty."

"All right," she replied softly. As he turned to leave, she thought tenderly, *I love you.*

He turned back and allowed himself to smile at her, conveying his deep feelings without words before turning around and walking away toward his own quarters. With that, Christine entered her quarters to shower and wash her hair before slipping on her nightgown, then got into bed and fell asleep within moments.

* * *

For the next several days, the crew were on duty, occupied with practical concerns. Not until the morning of December 30th did anyone mention plans for a New Year's Eve party. All the crew who were either off-duty or could get someone to relieve them would be there. Kirk, McCoy, Uhura, Christine, and even Spock were reportedly planning to go, but the first four were understandably skeptical, knowing the Vulcan's opinion of holiday parties and the season in general.

Of course, considering how well the Christmas party had gone, Spock just might change his opinion ... as long as he knew that those he most cared about wanted him there. Things were different this time, though, on the romantic front -- Spock asked Christine to accompany him at the first opportunity, as Kirk asked Uhura, and McCoy the current Head Nurse, Elizabeth Rogers.

The party would begin rather late, around 2100 hours, but the countdown wouldn't start until 2345. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks would be available, but the aforementioned individuals intended to forego the former for the latter ... the best way in the universe to save themselves the pain, sickness and indignity of hangovers!

The men also learned that the women had their finery for the party all picked out, but none knew just what they planned to wear, not even Spock. He was too honorable to meld with Christine without her permission, but couldn't help wondering, if only he could know what kind of outfit to choose for himself.

*Don't worry, love,* she assured him through their newly completed bond. *You'll find out soon enough.*

He *did* know, however, that Uhura and a handful of other musically inclined crew would play and sing various melodies from many different Federation worlds -- and decided to join them, also planning for Christine to sing along as they did so. Besides, he wanted to spend as much time with her as possible in an attempt to atone for all the years he had kept her at a distance. Only now did he know why he had done it: pure, irrational fear.

Spock could do nothing to bring back those lost years, but simply make the present and future as happy and fulfilling for Christine and himself as possible, since she would return the favor tenfold now that she knew he indeed cared for her and wished to spend his life with her. He had never felt so loved by a woman in his life, romantically speaking, and never would be again. He would need no other woman as long as Christine lived.

* * *

In the days that followed the Christmas party which had changed Spock and Christine's lives forever, the couple began to discover the true depth and intensity of their love for one another. Spock knew he had never really lived, merely existed, until now. Until Christine. Still, he loved his two friends, particularly Kirk, and his mother Amanda inspired a love and loyalty that the Vulcan doubted any son had ever felt toward his mother -- and if she didn't know it now, he would see to it that she did, at the earliest opportunity.

He had never known that being in love could be this wonderful. Their hearts and minds thrilled as one, and even the fire of the Vulcan sun was a cold glacier compared to the mighty love blazing between Spock of Vulcan and Christine of Terra, a love like no other in the universe ... even that of Sarek and Amanda, his parents. Their time together seemed to fly; the time apart seemed an eternity.

The couple became lost in the magic of each moment they shared, knowing the touch of the other's hand, the tender passion of their kisses, the wordless Heaven they found in each other's arms. Their wedding day couldn't come soon enough ... and if their feelings continued to grow by leaps and bounds with every passing day, neither could see how they could possibly contain it all within themselves.

More than once they had told one another such things while wrapped in each other's arms or with his head in her lap (or vice versa). The first time Christine voiced it, Spock had raised her hand to his lips and kissed it -- then their eyes met, and her heart radiated from her gaze. Spock felt overwhelmed by the depth and intensity of it. He could not fathom that he could possibly have been deemed worthy of such a woman or inspire such love, because he had treated Christine so badly for so long. Not intentionally, to be sure, but knowing that didn't make it any easier for her to endure ... or him, to even begin to make up for.

She insisted that nothing before mattered as long as they were together now. "I thank God that we somehow found each other, despite all the untold millions of worlds in the vastness of space," she told him, as his head once again rested in her lap and she stroked his bangs, prompting a tender smile from her bondmate -- then a gentle caress of her cheek by the fingers of his left hand.

"Just as the universe would have had little meaning for me without your presence in it, *m'chejan*," Spock replied.

The feelings between them were so intense as to be almost a tangible thing. There was little the two of them couldn't conquer together. Neither could their love be measured in minutes, hours, days or even years. To them, even one moment together was worth a lifetime ... be it Human or Vulcan.

* * *

Shortly after this interlude, the five principals in the upcoming wedding met on the Rec Deck to discuss the details of the event. Naturally no other choice but Kirk could have been possible as far as officiating at the Federation wedding was concerned. Both sets of parents had been informed and invited; Christine's had already told them via stargram that they wouldn't miss their only child's wedding for anything in the universe. Not even Christine's detailed explanation of the Vulcan aspects of it deterred them.

As for Sarek and Amanda, much would depend on the Vulcan Ambassador's schedule, as Amanda had informed their son -- though she had expressed happiness and congratulations at their joyous news, her and Sarek's wishes for their son and his intended to have a long and happy married life, such as they themselves had shared for nearly five decades.

Both of the couple made sure to apologize for making their parents wait so long; the latter assured them that it had been worth the wait to see their children so happy together now. Spock was also assured that Sarek would speak to the Vulcan High Priestess, T'Lar, just recently elevated to the position because of T'Pau's retirement from her official duties on the Vulcan Science Council and those of Spock's clan, which she had also been in charge of, in order to maintain her health. Even at that, the truly ancient (well over two hundred) matriarch would have only a handful of years left, so she could not have performed the koon-ut-kal-if-fee ceremony, even if she'd wanted to.

Amanda knew how much having a Vulcan wedding would mean to Spock, having been taught and living the Vulcan way all his life. He wouldn't have been true to his dual heritage without it. Even though it had been a difficult, demanding life, he could not and would not have chosen any other kind. However, the stringent demands of the Vulcan way of life had been made easier -- at first, mainly by Amanda, then as a man, Spock had found two loyal, caring friends by the names of James T. Kirk and Leonard H. McCoy.

But it was Kirk who was his "t'hy'la", a brother to him in all but blood. The two held few secrets from each other; even the most private secrets of Vulcan life, such as the pon farr, were known to Kirk because of Spock's love and trust in him. Of course, as a doctor, McCoy also knew about this ... after Spock had given Kirk permission to brief him on the subject -- and the Doctor's being sworn to secrecy.

But even without the doctor/patient confidentiality oath, McCoy would have respected Spock's privacy, as a friend. Still, the Doctor didn't know half as much of Spock's personal background as Kirk did. It could even be said that Christine knew (or sensed) more, because of her long-time love and newly completed matrimonial bond with Spock. None of that troubled any of them at the moment, however. What mattered was that they had each other -- and always would, at least for as long as they all lived. It was time to sit down and plan the wedding ... after a good meal, that is. Once that was out of the way, they could get down to business.

* * *

After the five had called up their meals, the women led the way to a large booth near two equally large viewports. Kirk, Spock and Christine sat on one side, McCoy and Uhura on the other. As the food was served, the Doctor sniffed the air and observed, "Lord, if that food tastes half as good as it smells, I could end up as wide as I am tall."

Kirk laughed when he heard this. "Don't I wish! Bones, even though you have enough of an appetite for two, you still don't gain an ounce."

"Can I help it if I have a high metabolism?" McCoy remarked. "Incidentally, *you* could stand to *lose* a few pounds yourself." He gave Kirk a stern glance, daring him to deny the charge.

Spock laid down his fork and frowned. "Is this recrimination really necessary, Doctor? After all, the Captain has not eaten all day."

"Neither have you, I wager," the Chief Surgeon shot back. "Your metabolism is far higher than any of ours, so you need more food than we do ... yet you hardly eat enough to keep a bird alive."

The Vulcan's reply sounded almost miffed. "I am not a bird, Doctor -- and may I remind you, that birds are large eaters for their size, so your simile is inaccurate," Spock retorted before returning to his food.

Christine sighed in exasperation. "Leonard, Spock...*please*. Argue later. Let's eat before the food gets cold. Besides, Nyota and I are hungry." The female doctor's eyes met those of the communications officer in silent agreement.

Kirk and Uhura had ordered steak Chateaubriand with bearnaise sauce, which contained lemon, cheese, cream and spices -- along with a baked potato topped by sour cream, chives and bacon bits. There were also sauteed carrots, dinner rolls and low-fat margarine to spread on them. Both had orange juice/passion fruit wine coolers as beverages ... and Kirk had apple pie a la mode for dessert.

Uhura had the baked potato, but only with margarine and salt -- and no dessert. She had enough problems keeping her figure as it was. Spock had a fair-sized portion of cheddar-covered broccoli, accompanied by some pasta Alfredo and applesauce. His beverage of choice was "kahlin," a Vulcan drink which was a cross between orange and pineapple juice (or the Vulcan equivalents).

McCoy had a generous helping of jambalaya, rice with shrimp and vegetables with spicy Cajun sauce. He also had a couple of mint juleps to wash it down. Last but not least, Christine had an Italian meal -- chicken fettuccini Alfredo with garlic bread and pink lemonade for a beverage.

The group talked all through dinner, their wedding conversation interspersed with exclamations over how delicious the food was. Everything concerning the upcoming nuptials was covered in detail, from the time, stardate, and place to hold it to how everyone would be dressed ... not to mention what kind of flowers to have, and even what to do for the bridal couple's parents while they were present.

Christine's were due to arrive the day before the wedding, and Ann Chapel had even offered to help out with the necessary preparations. Spock could only "keep his fingers crossed," as it were, and hope that at least his mother would be able to attend, though he would prefer to have Sarek present as well, if at all possible. He and his father were getting along fairly well at the moment, and Spock considered it logical to foster amity between them whenever possible.

His concern over that reached Christine and Kirk at almost the same time; she reacted first with soft, encouraging words in his ear as well as a gentle kiss on it to reinforce them while the Doctor and Uhura were engrossed in their meal, before returning to her own.

She was unable to help noting his ear and cheek turning color -- an actual blush! Kirk gave his friend a reassuring squeeze of the hand and sent him some soothing thoughts; between them, his "t'hy'la" and bondmate's actions had temporarily driven all negative thoughts from the Vulcan's mind.

Spock returned a mental message of gratitude and love to them both, then resumed eating his own meal. Of course, the other two were aware of what had happened between their two friends, but pretended ignorance for the sake of preserving those same friends' privacy. This had happened fairly often, particularly in McCoy's case whenever he was with Spock and Kirk.

The doctor had admitted his fault in constantly badgering Spock about his emotions -- but surely the Vulcan knew that he, McCoy, meant well and was trying to help him, not hurt him. (Spock *had* to know, and even if he couldn't forgive him, he must at least tolerate his teasing and other idiosyncrasies ... or else he wouldn't be associating with him at all!)

Unfortunately, it rarely came out that way, which was part of the reason, Spock gravitated to Kirk far more than to him. The rest of it was the fact that Kirk was just plain far more like Spock than McCoy could ever be, even as hard as he tried ... and would continue to try, in the hope that it would one day be noted and privately appreciated, if not publicly acknowledged.

Not long afterward, the meal ended; McCoy was alone because Liz Rogers was on the late shift. They had become quite an item of late, and rumor even had it that there were wedding bells in *their* future as well, despite the doctor's insistence that he was a confirmed bachelor. But even that wasn't going to stop him from enjoying the company of a woman. He doubted anything could, even if he never remarried.

The women were seen to their doors first, so the most Spock and Christine could do was smile at each other and squeeze hands, then wish each other a good night, as did the women to each other. The three friends went on to their respective quarters, not speaking, each thinking their own thoughts.

They separated upon reaching their quarters and entering them. However, one of them was not destined to have a good night's sleep; in fact, she had a nightmare. *I swear, I'll never eat garlic bread again,* she declared to herself, certain that it had been that which had caused it -- but it was just as likely to have been brought on by her questionable emotional state as anything else.

* * *

The night before the party, Christine fell asleep over her costume as she worked on it, and had a most disturbing dream, which bothered her for a long time ... even well into the party, and everyone wondered what was wrong with her -- but she couldn't bring herself to tell them why. Not until Spock cornered her and gently pressured her into doing so. Perhaps it was silly to worry so much over a dream, but she couldn't help it, especially considering the insecurity she had had to live with during all the years in Kirk's shadow, and treatment like a second-class citizen.

//In her dream, she had needed Spock to help her with something, but couldn't find him. She finally asked McCoy, who told her. "One place they like to go when they need to talk is the Officers' Lounge. You might try there."

She thanked the doctor and got into the nearest turbolift which would take her to the Officers' Lounge, but nothing could have prepared her for what she found there. She didn't see them at first, even though she looked all around the room. It wasn't until she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye on the starboard side of the room that she located them. As McCoy had said, they seemed to be talking, so she didn't disturb them ... but once she realized what they were talking about, her mind changed quickly.

"You can't be serious," Kirk insisted. "Miss Chapel loves you. Loving someone is no crime. Arranging a transfer just to get rid of her is a bit extreme, especially considering her flawless record."

Spock was unmoved. "Not when it interferes with my duties, or embarrasses me in front of the crew. For that reason, it is the most logical course of action for all concerned." The Vulcan sighed. "It is easy for *you* to say such things, Jim. It is not you she is chasing. I have tried to be polite as possible, but nothing I do gets through to her. I am not interested in romance with anyone at the moment. You and your friendship are all I need. I have no wish to hurt her, but how can I get her to leave me alone without doing just that?"

"I don't know, Spock," Kirk returned apologetically. "I wish I did."

Christine moved closer, her heart breaking further with every passing moment. If *that* was the way Spock felt, he wouldn't have to arrange a transfer ... she would do it herself. And transfer as far away as she could get, too! Christine then stepped around the corner and found the Captain with his arms around Spock, the latter's head on the Human's shoulder: something *she* had never dared to do! Now he was stroking Spock's hair ... *and* Spock had his arms around the Captain! But at least for now, she had to pretend she hadn't heard a word of their conversation. She called out to Spock.

"Spock? Spock, are you here? I need you to--"

She froze in her tracks, wincing at the knife-like pain which lanced through her upon seeing Kirk and Spock together in such a manner.

"Oh, I can see you're busy, so I'll get back to you later."

But despite her hurt and anger, she instinctively wanted to comfort him herself. Still, even as she took a tentative step toward them, Spock put out a hand to stop her, holding onto Kirk wth his other arm. "Please leave, Miss Chapel. We wish privacy. You may discuss your business with me at a later time."

She had reached her limit by this time, and by God, intended to see that he -- *they* -- knew it! Her voice came back harsh and bitter, laced with mixed anger, sarcasm and pain.

"No problem, Spock. No problem at all. As of tomorrow, you'll have all the privacy you could ever want, because I'm transferring off this floating hot-house as soon as we reach Deneb V. You'll be rid of me and my unwanted attentions once and for all, for I've had it up to *here* with this place!" She gestured with her hand, waving it over her head. "There's no need to arrange a transfer, either. I'm perfectly capable of doing it myself. I don't hang around where I'm not wanted. And incidentally, I hope you two *friends* will be very happy together. Goodbye and good riddance!"

She turned on her heel and fled, throat aching from the effort of holding back tears ... but now they streamed down her cheeks unchecked.

"Christine -- Miss Chapel -- wait!" they called after her, realizing she must have overheard them and attempting to explain, but she ignored them. A moment later, the lounge doors closed behind her and she was gone.//

The female doctor awakened sobbing, scarcely able to bear the pain inside of her at Spock's actions in her dream. But he wouldn't do that in real life, not now ... not when they'd been so happy! Of course, why kid herself? If it came down to Spock having to choose between her and Kirk, she'd lose out every time. He was the only one truly important to Spock. Leonard was a poor second, but even *he* had it better than she did.

She couldn't help thinking, "All right, if I'm so unacceptable to him, have *them* bond romantically and let the Captain deal with the pon farr!" What kind of person could Spock be, to turn to another man instead of a woman for love, attention and comfort? Perhaps that was part of the reason full-blooded Vulcans were so against interspecies marriages with other races such as Humans.

Some people might say she wasn't worthy of Spock if she could believe that, or force him to make a choice between her and his best friend, but she had never wanted that for him, even though she knew only too well that one couldn't always have both. Even at that, no woman liked playing second fiddle when it came to the man she loved -- especially when the rival for her loved one's attention was another man. How could any woman be expected to put up with that for very long? Just *once*, she'd like to be *first* for a change!

"Let's just *see* him try to walk away from me, walk away from the only woman who's ever truly loved him. See how far he can get without me," she raged in the midst of a flood of tears. All the heartache and neglect she had had to endure because of Spock ... and Kirk. But no more! My God, was it asking so much to be treated decently? If not as a lover, as a friend? Of course, for a Vulcan, maybe it was. Maybe it would be hard enough to show emotions to *one* person, much less two or three.

She, Leonard and the others could simply be necessary evils Spock endured for the sake of staying around Kirk. The Captain seemed to be the only person Spock seemed to want to even *try* to make the effort to be a real friend to, so what did that make her and McCoy if Kirk was the only one Spock considered worthy of his friendship and affection? Also, why did *they* have to be so circumspect when Spock expected them to take *him,* warts and all? If they disappeared tomorrow, the Vulcan wouldn't miss them -- not for long. Not if he had Kirk to fall back on.

Christine was startled by her door buzzer shortly thereafter. "Come," she said.

Uhura stepped in. "Did you finish your dress, Chris?"

Christine nodded. "But I still have to press it before I shower and dress."

There was an edge to her voice which made Uhura frown with concern. "Something wrong, Chris?"

Christine shook her head. "No; I just fell asleep and had a bad dream, that's all."

"That's all? I don't think so. Why don't you tell me about the dream? Maybe between the two of us, we can decipher what it means, if anything."

"What's to tell? It was just a bad dream," she insisted, but Uhura gave her friend a hard, skeptical look, telling her that she didn't swallow that for a minute. Christine sighed, but knew that Nyota wasn't going to budge until she told her.

Uhura was sympathetic upon learning the content of the dream. "How upsetting that must have been for you!"

"Tell me about it," the other woman returned bitterly. "Now I don't know if I can face Spock without his guessing."

"Chris, it was a *dream*. Don't take it so seriously."

The female doctor's eyes blazed with blue fire. "Don't take it seriously? It wasn't *you* Spock trashed, not *you* who was held off with one hand by the man you loved while he was in someone else's arms, and worst of all, asked to leave."

"It didn't actually happen," Uhura pointed out. "And it probably never will."

"I pray not," came the reply. "I don't think I could stand it -- especially now."

* * *

Christine managed to hide her distress, at least for the first couple of hours of the party, but after that, Spock sensed she was upset about something and wasn't shy about voicing his opinions and concerns.

"Christine, what is wrong?"

"Nothing. I'm fine," she insisted. "Now let's dance, eat or something."

She pulled on Spock's hand, but the Vulcan wouldn't budge.

"Something is bothering you," he persisted. "Is it something I have not done when I should have? I know I have not been all I should be to you, but I *am* trying, so please bear with me."

"There's nothing wrong with you," she finally confessed. "It's me. Or rather, a dream I had."

Both Spock's upswept brows climbed into his hairline. "A dream? What kind of dream?"

"An ... unpleasant one," she told him when she saw that the First Officer wasn't going to move until she told him. "More accurately, a nightmare -- or at least what *I* would consider one."

"Was I in it?" he inquired as they headed for a secluded booth on the port side of the room and slipped into it.

"Both you and the Captain ... even Dr. McCoy, to a certain extent. I'd needed you to help me with something and couldn't find you, so I asked Leonard if he had any idea where you might be. He said to check in the Officers' Lounge, because that was one place you and the Captain liked to go to speak privately."

"Do you remember any of the conversation?"

Oh, did she ever! Christine recited verbatim the conversation the Vulcan had had with Kirk in her dream.

"Did you confront us in your dream?" Now that Spock knew why she was so upset, he could hopefully ease her doubts as to her place in his life.

"Yes -- or rather, I had intended to." Her voice almost broke.

"What happened?" he gently pressed, tightening his grip on her hand.

She finally told him, albeit reluctantly. "And all this when you hardly ever let me or Leonard touch you unless absolutely necessary. How do you think that makes us feel? Spock, it's not fair to us," she blurted out before she could stop herself. "We care as much as the Captain does. Are we so inferior, so much less worthy? Is that why you never even tried to be closer to us?"

Again, the Vulcan shook his head in affectionate exasperation. "Did you not hear me earlier? I *am* trying to do just that, but it is going to take time. You and the Doctor must be patient with me."

"We've been patient for eight years. How much more bloody time do you need? I swear, sometimes you could try the patience of a saint!"

"I am sorry if I gave either of you the wrong impression, and that it has been so difficult for the two of you, Christine," Spock explained patiently. "But however Dr. McCoy may feel on the subject, surely *you* must know how deeply I ... care for you. Not even Jim can, or ever will, change that." He was practically whispering, so only she could hear. "I -- also regret that your dream caused you such ... distress, but keep in mind that that is all it was. That does not mean it would ever happen. I do not -- wish you hurt any more than you have already been because of me."

"Spock, we're not asking you to give up anything, particularly your friendship with the Captain. We know how much you value it. All we're asking is that you treat *us* a little more like friends, confide in and trust in *us* more, spend some time with *us* once in a while. We're your friends, too, you know. Whatever our faults, we *do* care. That's what should count most."

Spock's eyes softened and his hands gently squeezed hers. "I know, and I will try harder, if that will please you."

"It would ... but you must please *yourself*, too. Only do as much as you feel -- *able* to do."

Their eyes met, and he lifted her hands to his lips. *Christine, my precious one. I ... love you. I will -- always love you.*

*As I will always love *you*, Spock. I pray the New Year will bring us even more happiness than we have known in this one.*

The couple was brought back to reality by the strains of "Auld Lang Syne" and Kirk's voice. "I wondered where you two had disappeared to! Come on, we're starting the countdown to midnight."

He turned on his heel and hurried off, Spock and Christine following in his wake.

* * *

Drinks were thrust into their hands shortly after they arrived; the pair greeted Uhura, McCoy and Liz Rogers, all of whom were also holding drinks. Christine wore a glittery gold evening dress with gold glitter in her dark hair and gold slippers, even a t'lerya flower in her hair, given to her by Spock. Uhura wore a black glittery evening dress, silver glitter in her hair and silver slippers, along with a white African flower.

Spock wore a black and gold outfit Christine had given him as a bonding gift, which complemented his bondmate's attire perfectly. Kirk wore a red, black and gold outfit; McCoy wore a turquoise-blue and pastel green outfit. The Head Nurse wore a form-fitting, royal blue (and also glittery) evening dress with a matching bow in her upswept auburn hair. All present noted how closely Kirk watched the nearby wall chrono as the last seconds of the old year ticked away.

"Thirty seconds to go now," the Captain announced. "Twenty-nine, twenty-eight..."

A short time later, Spock said, "Twenty, nineteen, eighteen..."

Not long afterward, Uhura joined in. "Fifteen, fourteen, thirteen..."

Christine followed suit. "Twelve, eleven, ten..."

After that, everyone counted down together -- then called out, "*Happy New Year*!" It was loud enough so that Spock was certain everyone in the room had heard it. Then everyone smiled and raised their glasses, toasting the New Year before Kirk pulled Uhura into his arms and McCoy commandeered Liz Rogers. Both women were caught up in bear hugs and soundly kissed. Spock, however, had no intention of treating Christine that way.

Instead, he gently drew her into his arms, lifting her chin with one finger and tenderly touching her lips with his. For a long, blissful moment, they forgot anyone else existed ... then Christine was abruptly pulled out of Spock's arms to be hugged and kissed by both McCoy and Kirk before the three men hugged each other and the three women did the same. Kirk hugged Spock, then McCoy; the Vulcan even allowed the doctor to hug him and vice versa (albeit briefly), while Uhura and Christine hugged each other before each hugged Liz Rogers.

Others came and wished the three couples well, then departed because they had early duty shifts in the morning. At least some of these had had foresight enough to stick to soft drinks or Altair water, but unfortunately some didn't, so McCoy would have his share of patients tomorrow. Still others were lucky enough to have later shifts or an uncanny ability to hold their liquor.

The doctor and Uhura left for their respective quarters first, since their duty shifts were earliest. They all hugged again and wished their friends and shipmates a Happy New Year. Liz Rogers, Spock and Christine left next ... the latter two not so much because they had early shifts (even though they did), as because they wanted to be alone together for a time before retiring. Liz Rogers made it her business to be in sickbay even before McCoy himself was, so everyone knew where *she* was heading.

Kirk tended to be a party animal, so he would remain for a while yet -- but everyone knew he would not shirk his duty. He would be in his chair at the appointed time, even if McCoy had to dope him up in order to get him through his shift. Spock and Christine headed for her quarters, holding hands, sharing a turbolift up to Deck Five ... then upon reaching her door, shared a lingering kiss after making sure no one was about. Upon reluctantly releasing Christine, the Vulcan held her at arm's length so they could speak face-to-face.

"*Now* do you believe that I care for you -- and will always care for you, no matter what?"

The doctor gave her beloved a smile and touch on his cheek. "Yes, Spock. I'm sorry to have ever doubted you. I'll never do it again."

He raised one upswept brow at her.

"Well, at least not if I can help it." She laughed softly. "Would you like to stay with me tonight?" She stroked his lips; the Science Officer gently moved her hand away before kissing it.

He did not reply, but it wasn't necessary. She could feel how much he wanted to stay through their bond, but they had agreed it was best for them to refrain from physical love until after their marriage. That agreement was proving very difficult to live up to, but the pair was determined to stick it out. Even so, both would be glad once their wedding day arrived -- which at this point, was six weeks away ... Valentine's Day.

"I'm sorry for tempting you," she apologized. "I'll try not to do it too often. Meanwhile, we'd better get some sleep. See you later, Spock. I love you."

"And I cherish thee, *m'chejan*," he murmured into her ear as they embraced one last time, then crossed fingers and separated to go into their respective quarters. "I will see you at the earliest possible opportunity."

Christine watched until Spock disappeared into his quarters, then went into her own, showered and changed into her prettiest nightgown before going to bed and dreaming of the love she now shared with Spock -- and the life they would share together in the not-too-distant future.