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


JM Lane

"Come on, Spock, we're due in the transporter room in a few minutes to greet the new crew," Captain James Kirk of the Enterprise called over his shoulder to his First and Science Officer as he entered the bridge turbolift at 1500 hours on stardate 1675.3.

"I am right behind you, Captain," the Vulcan's deep voice replied -- as indeed he was. Kirk marveled once again at his alien friend's silent speed and grace of movement. A few minutes later the two entered the transporter room and took their places next to the console, manned by Transporter Chief Kyle.

"Do you have them, Mr. Kyle?" Kirk asked by way of a greeting.

"Standing by, sir." A moment later there was a beep and flashing light from the console. Kyle opened the intercom; a youngish male voice came back.

"The new crew is ready to come aboard, Enterprise."

"Energizing now," Kyle said.

Seconds later four men and two women materialized on the platform. Spock noted that four of the six wore red uniform shirts or dresses. The other man and one woman wore blue, earmarked for either his Science staff or Dr. McCoy's Medical staff. The woman in blue was a tall, slender blonde with eyes the color of Earth's sky. Spock could hardly believe his eyes. Could it be possible? It was all he could do to control his surprise.

James Kirk's sharp eyes noted his Vulcan friend's startlement. "Problem, Spock?"

"Negative," replied the First Officer. Kirk wasn't convinced, but knew he wasn't going to get anything out of Spock about it -- at least not here. For the moment, all he could do was keep an eye on him. It wasn't every day that the sight of a woman startled his unflappable friend. It took only a short time to greet the new crew and send them on their way, until finally only the tall, beautiful blonde was left. Kirk gave her his sunniest smile.

"I'm Captain James Kirk, and this is my First Officer, Commander Spock." Kirk gestured to his alien companion.

Christine Chapel, Ph.D., R.N., smiled back even as she fought to remain professional in the presence of her superior officers ... one of whom was the one she had loved since she was a child. She hardly dared let herself believe that Spock was actually standing before her after almost thirty years of separation. He was tall and slender, with a greenish-gold complexion, wide-shouldered and well-built. The soft brown eyes, adorable elfin ears and well-shaped lips were the same, along with the quasi-Roman nose. The boyish voice had deepened into a velvety baritone. Wait until she wrote her parents about this. She had found Spock again! They had been assigned to the same ship, even though she had originally gone into the Fleet to search for her erstwhile fiance Roger Korby, a space archaeologist. But even if she didn't find him, Spock would be one heckuva consolation prize. The main reason she had become involved with Roger was because he had reminded her so much of her childhood friend and first love.

A thousand questions swirled around in Christine's head, and she had to bite her tongue to keep from bombarding Spock with them. But she couldn't help wondering. Was he still bonded? Had he had his first pon farr yet? What about his pet sehlat, I-Chaya, and how was his mother Amanda? But most importantly, had he ever wondered what had become of her and her parents?

Ann Chapel had kept in touch with Amanda over the years and had kept her daughter up-to-date on the doings of Spock and his mother, including periodic holographs -- until Spock left Vulcan for Starfleet at age seventeen. After that, news was infrequent and holographs sporadic at best, but Ann always sent Christine holos of Spock when they were available.

The last one Christine had was ten years old, when he was around twenty-five Vulcan years of age, but he hadn't changed that much. Not that that came as any surprise to her, since Vulcans aged only about half as fast as Humans. It was one reason she had recognized him so easily. She could only hope that her mother had sent Amanda the holos of her that she had included with some of her own letters and that Amanda had sent at least one on to Spock, but there was no guarantee of that. Nor was there any guarantee that she (or what had happened to her) would even matter to him after all this time.

Still, she couldn't help noting that the grown-up Spock was almost stiff in his formality, no doubt the result of strict Vulcan training -- so different from the Spock she had known as a child. But Christine wasn't surprised to find that he had also joined Starfleet ... or that he had come as far as he had in the organization.

Christine could imagine how Sarek must have reacted -- and wouldn't be surprised if the Vulcan Ambassador and his son were no longer on speaking terms because of it. Not that she cared one way or the other, except for how it might be affecting Spock. He had always respected his father so much. Even now, she remembered their last family outing; both of her parents and herself, Spock and Amanda had been there. They had gone to the parklands outside ShiKahr for a picnic ...

* * *

She and Spock had been running and playing (she had taught him how), even wrestling on the ground, so engrossed that they were unaware of the upcoming hill with a deep downward slope. Both let out a startled cry as they went over, instinctively clutching each other. They came to rest moments later; Spock found himself on top of her. They were looking into each other's eyes as they lay on the grass, and he had his arms around her. She felt his heart-rate increase at their close contact, even as she smiled at him, assuring him that everything was all right.

"I am sorry, Chrissy."

"Don't be, Spock. I don't mind."

"But I must feel quite heavy to you."

"Not too much." She put her arms around his neck to draw his face near hers and kissed his nose, smiling again at his green blush even as his arms gently tightened around her. She wished she could have known how Spock had felt at their contact. Had it been pleasant for him?

Their mothers' calling broke the moment. "Spock! Chrissy! Time to go!" The children disentangled themselves, then headed back to their waiting parents. Once in the back seat of the aircar, they held hands all the way home.

She and her parents had left Vulcan two days later.

* * *

Three months later, the crew was due for a week's leave at Starbase Six. Christine and Spock had encountered each other many times, but there never seemed to be an opportunity for anything but ship's business. Even so, Christine was pleased to see some of the old Spock occasionally peek through his stiff facade. She had long ago learned to look into his eyes or check his body language to discover his true feelings, whatever he might say or do.

She never called him on it, sensing that in spite of his difficulty in maintaining it, Spock was fiercely proud of his Vulcan demeanor and wouldn't have chosen any other way of life. But as many times as she had tried to start a conversation, Spock had always managed to beg off on some pretext or other. It was almost as though he was afraid of her now -- afraid that she might bring up some childhood incident they had shared that he didn't want anyone else to know. She never had, of course, and wouldn't, but there seemed no way to convince Spock of that.

She had also heard that Spock rarely, if ever, took shore leave. Not that that surprised her. Even as a child, he had been a workaholic, often studying while the others were engaged in athletic activities. But even Vulcans had to take R&R sooner or later, Christine reasoned, so she felt certain that he would take it this time around. The nurse was hard-pressed to hide her disappointment upon reporting for leave and not finding Spock among those waiting to be beamed to the starbase. But Christine knew where she intended to go ... on a walk through the parklands there, which she had heard closely resembled the ones on Vulcan, which in turn had been modeled after the ones on Earth.

Several hours went by as she walked through the green grass and trees, letting the breeze ruffle her hair and the sun shine on her face. It was wonderful being here, free of all cares -- except one. It would have been much nicer if Spock could have been here with her, sharing this. They might even have been holding hands while walking along the sun- and shade-dappled paths lined with flowers and blooming trees from various Federation worlds. Only while they were alone, of course, but that didn't matter as long as they did it.

Christine brought herself up short, willing her heart to settle back into a normal rhythm. Snap out of it, Christine. You don't want him lecturing you any more than he already does. She also couldn't help wondering if Spock had any idea how difficult it was for her to be casual around him. She sighed deeply, squared her shoulders and walked briskly down the paved path. She was so intent on her walk that she wasn't watching where she was going, and collided with someone going in the opposite direction ... a male someone with very warm skin. She looked up, and the breath left her body. Spock!

"Excuse me, Miss Chapel," he apologized formally. "I should have been watching where I was going -- but I was checking my tricorder readings..." His voice trailed off, tightly controlled upon realizing the guilty pleasure of close contact with her. If only she could have known how difficult it was for him to deal with the knowledge that she was so close, with the feelings that seeing a grown-up Christine brought out in him.

In fact, the situation was reminiscent of a situation in a 20th-century classic film Spock had once seen -- Casablanca. He particularly identified with the character of Rick, played by Humphrey Bogart, and his own present feelings could be summed up in a paraphrasing of one line by that character, and the love and anguish present in his voice. "Of all the starships in the Fleet, she had to be assigned to mine!"

He and Christine had found each other again at last, and his father couldn't touch them here or interfere in their lives. If only he hadn't been bonded! Spock winced at the very thought. It had been a living nightmare, as he and his mother had feared. T'Pring was cold and distant at worst, condescending at best. The link between her and himself was tenuous, essentially meaningless. They had nothing in common, and shared even less.

Neither had they corresponded or exchanged holographs over the years. The only one he had was the one his father had given him, and he rarely looked at it or thought of it. Even at that, he would be drawn to T'Pring for the koon-ut-kal-if-fee ceremony at his first pon farr. Spock dreaded the thought, just as he dreaded the thought of marriage to her. How could he bear being tied to such a woman for the rest of his life? How could his father have refused his request to bond with the girl of his choice, the same one who now stood before him -- so close, yet light-years away? Christine, why must you be here now, so close, yet so unattainable? he lamented.

Meanwhile, Christine was trying to think of a way to get Spock to sit down and talk to her. He was polite but evasive, trying to walk away, ignore her, put the hurt look on her face out of his mind. "Please control yourself, Miss Chapel. I must return to my work."

The nurse sighed sadly even as she pulled herself together. "Very well, Spock. If you must, you must. Don't mind me."

Christine watched him leave, her heart aching. He had never been far from her thoughts, not in nearly three decades, even though she had done all she could do to relegate her feelings for him to her past. She had even managed a romance with Roger Korby ... but he was gone from her as well. She was truly alone now.

* * *

Some time later, Spock learned that Christine had not reported back from leave. If she did not do so soon, she would be AWOL and he would be forced to tell the Captain. He was sure he knew where she was and why she had not returned. He had plenty of leave time, so he beamed down and began a search for her. He told only Jim what he planned to do, even operating the transporter himself -- but carried a communicator for whenever he wanted to return to the ship.

After a short search, he found her curled up under a tree, asleep but with tear streaks on her cheeks. Tears he had caused and not only not comforted as his mother had taught him, but walked away from. It would have been unVulcan to allow himself to be swayed by an emotional display, but it was equally illogical not to have at least been civil to her. Spock squared his shoulders and went over to Christine, dropping down beside her and touching her, softly speaking her name.

For a time, she made no reaction, then turned toward him. "Spock. Oh, Spock. It's hard to believe you're really here, with me, again. It seemed a dream come true when I realized we had been assigned to the same ship, but when you treated me like a piece of Sickbay furniture -- " Her voice broke off in mid-sentence. "I suppose I'm foolish to expect anything from you now, considering..." Her voice trailed off. "Even so, I had hoped we could at least be friends again."

As she spoke, Spock was unable to help catching the fragrance and silky feel of her hair as it brushed his cheek.

"I'd better go now. Forgive my emotionalism -- sir." She moved to extricate herself from his grip, but the Vulcan found he didn't want her to leave. Not like this.

"Please stay, Christine," he entreated. "Your ... tardiness will be my responsibility." He attempted to atone for his earlier insensitivity.

The Vulcan did not consider the possible repercussions of his own tardiness -- the mere fact of it, much less the knowledge that once it was learned why he had been late, he would never live it down. Especially if the good Doctor heard about it. All that mattered at the moment was that he was with Christine again. His voice held the same pain as when they had parted so long ago.

She even felt brave enough to raise a hand to his cheek and smile. "There's no time now, Spock. I must get back to work, just as I'm sure you must -- but perhaps we could have a picnic tomorrow, here, when we're off-duty? I believe that is 1400 hours. Then we would have plenty of time to bring each other up-to-date."

Spock could do nothing but agree. "And yes, we can be ... friends again. I would -- like that very much," he said quietly as he stood up, then helped Christine to her feet before pulling out his communicator and flipping it open. "Meanwhile, if anyone should question you about our being together, simply say that I happened to encounter you while taking tricorder readings and informed you of the necessity of your return to the ship. There is no need for them to know what has passed between us, either now or in the past."

Christine nodded and smiled, then the transporter beam caught them. The pair went their separate ways upon materializing aboard ship, their manner all business (at least for now), but both looked forward to tomorrow's reunion. And so it began ... again.

* * *

Later that evening, Spock called, "Come," in response to his door buzzer, surprised to see James Kirk step in. What was Jim doing here? The Vulcan recalled that the Captain had told him he was going to have something to eat, then go to bed, so Spock hadn't expected to see him again until the following morning.

"Is there something I can do for you, Jim?" the Vulcan asked as he sat on his bed and tuned his harp. It would never do to make one's best friend feel unwelcome.

Kirk frowned at Spock's inquisitive tone, certain that his friend was being deliberately obtuse when he knew all too well why he was here -- but Spock was genuinely surprised, having somehow forgotten that Kirk had witnessed his startled reaction to seeing Christine again after nearly thirty years apart. As a result, the Vulcan was unprepared for Kirk's exasperated answer.

"Yes, you can," came the reply. "Talk to me."

Spock raised one upswept brow. "About what?"

"About what?" Kirk mimicked. "Come on, Spock. This is me, Jim. You don't have to put on that logical front with me. I saw the way you reacted to the new Head Nurse." The Captain took a deep breath before continuing. "Was there something between you two at one point? Is that why you were so startled upon seeing her?"

Spock sighed, knowing that Jim had called his bluff. Anything he said in denial now would be as close to an outright lie as he had ever told. In spite of himself, he felt his cheeks turn color, ashamed at his weakness, but Kirk didn't seem to notice. Instead, the Captain moved to Spock's side and led his friend back to his bed, where the two sat down. The Vulcan bowed his head, hands clasped in his lap, fighting the emotions churning beneath his serene surface even as he tried to think of a way to explain how and when he had known the Head Nurse before they began serving on the Enterprise. A full five minutes went by before Spock could bring himself to speak.

"I ... knew her as a child," he confessed. "We have -- not seen one another since we were seven years of age."

"Really? How interesting. Tell me about it."

"If you wish. I only ask one thing."

"Name it."

"Do not tell the Doctor. If I wish him to know, I will ... tell him myself."

Provided Christine doesn't do it first, the Captain thought as he smiled inwardly, knowing how good Bones was at prying information out of people. Spock didn't ask him to keep things to himself unless it was of a personal nature. The Vulcan cared about the crusty Chief Surgeon, but was cautious about showing it or fully trusting him because of McCoy's talent for pouncing on any emotional act the Vulcan might commit in his presence. Kirk also knew that McCoy cared about Spock, but was certain that the last thing he would do was admit it ... at least not to Spock.

But whether the Doctor intended it or not, there had been several occasions where his affection for his half-Vulcan colleague came to the surface, such as the time Spock had been attacked by the Deneva parasites on stardate 3287.2 and nearly driven mad with pain. Whenever Kirk had gone to Sickbay to visit Spock, he knew he could expect either Christine or McCoy to be standing a vigil next to the First Officer's bed. Sometimes their resident Vulcan specialist, Dr. M'Benga, was there, but more often than not, it was the Head Nurse or Chief Surgeon.

Now Kirk knew why Christine acted as she did, the extra-tender regard and loving care she gave Spock whenever he was ill or injured. For the most part, she was the epitome of the efficient Head Nurse, but the Captain knew that her actions weren't just bedside manner. He knew a woman in love when he saw one, but did either Spock or McCoy realize this, and how long had it been going on? Neither had ever given any indication that they knew of Christine's feelings, but neither had they ever given any indication that they didn't. Perhaps he would find the answer to that question as Spock's story unfolded.

"You see, her father was once ... assistant to my father in the Federation Diplomatic Corps on Vulcan. We -- met at my family home when she and her parents came for a courtesy visit."

"What was your initial impression of her?"

Spock was silent for a long time, frowning thoughtfully as he searched his memory. Kirk caught a brief smile on his Vulcan friend's lips which was gone as quickly as it came, but didn't bother mentioning it to him, for Spock would have denied it.

"She ... was unlike any female I had ever seen. Humans are still rare on Vulcan, especially ones with such fair skin, light hair and blue eyes." The Vulcan's dark eyes softened, telling Kirk that Spock had been more deeply affected by Christine than he was willing to admit, even to his closest friend.

"When did you see her again?"

"Three days later. We were in school. Three older and most unkind children were tormenting her. They ... called her names, then provoked an argument with her and threw her lunch into the refuse. She began to cry, and that was when I knew I had to help her, whatever the consequences to myself."

"But didn't you usually get in trouble if you confronted them?" Kirk recalled the previous times Spock had discussed his troubled childhood.

The Vulcan nodded. "I warned them not to bother her again, or they would not only answer to me but the Master of the school."

"The Master?" Kirk asked.

"The Vulcan equivalent of a Human principal," Spock explained.

"Did you ever have to carry out your threat?"

The dark alien eyes held a twinkle of amusement. "No. The threat was sufficient." Most of the time, Spock finished silently.

"So how was it between you and Christine after that?"

Spock stiffened and his eyes narrowed, even though he knew that Kirk was merely curious, not prying. "We -- became good friends," he finally said, feeling no need to elaborate. The Vulcan had carefully guarded his feelings for Christine through the years, not allowing even Kirk to glimpse them until now. In fact, Spock couldn't help feeling as though a great weight had been lifted from his heart to share this portion of his childhood with his closest friend.

"What did your ... parents -- hers and yours -- think of your friendship?"

"Mother and Christine's parents were most pleased. Being ... only children as we were, we had both been quite -- isolated from society. Our sharing time together, both in and out of school, was all that made life on Vulcan ... bearable for me, other than Mother's and I-Chaya's presence."

Kirk was glad to hear that, but at the same time was curious to learn what Sarek had thought of the whole affair. The elder Vulcan's name had been conspicuously absent from the previous list. "What did your father think?"

"He was -- tolerant at first, but as the time for my kahs-wan and traditional bonding neared, he ... began searching for Vulcan families with daughters of bonding age. Of course, I had no way of knowing this at the time."

Kirk nodded thoughtfully. "Not surprising. Did he also -- consider Christine as a candidate?" By the Vulcan's silence, the Human knew what Spock was thinking, but couldn't bring himself to say. "I take it that means 'no'."

"Correct. My father wished for me to marry a Vulcan."

"I can ... imagine how Christine reacted to that," the Captain remarked after taking a breath. "Not to mention her parents."

How terrible to have been forced to bond with someone who all but hated you simply to protect the status quo, then see the one you truly cared for walk out of your life forever. Kirk was sure that he himself couldn't have endured it any easier than Spock had.

Spock winced in spite of himself at the memory of the child Chrissy's tear-stained face and swollen, red eyes, as well as his own apprehension upon returning from the kahs-wan, only to learn of the Chapels' imminent departure. "They -- put in for a transfer to another planet, although Christine and I were ... able to continue our friendship until the day of their departure."

The Vulcan's voice had once again become quiet, but Kirk sensed that it wasn't embarrassment but pain affecting him. The Captain reached to squeeze his friend's hand; Spock looked up at him. The latter said nothing, but his eyes spoke volumes of both sadness and gratitude that someone understood -- understood and cared. Kirk could imagine the exchange between his friend and his father, the argument which must have ensued because Spock wanted one thing and Sarek another, but he would respect his friend's privacy and not pressure him. It was best if Spock voluntarily confided it.

He also surmised that Spock was thinking of the day he and Chrissy had parted by his bowed head and closed eyes ... but again, he would wait until (and if) his friend volunteered the information, the details of that day and the feelings he had felt, knowing he would probably never see her again. The silence stretched out so long that Kirk had to break it.

"Spock, are you all right?"

"Yes," was the almost inaudible answer -- but the Captain knew better. With that, he put gentle arms around the Vulcan's shoulders, and Spock found himself resting his suddenly weary head over his friend's heart. Words were unnecessary; each knew how the other felt. All too soon, Spock lifted his head and sat up. Kirk withdrew his arms and sat quietly beside his Vulcan friend.

"Feel better now, Spock?" The Captain's voice was infinitely gentle and caring.

"Yes, Jim. Thank you."

"Enough to get a good night's sleep?" When the Vulcan hesitated to answer, Kirk knew why. "Would you like me to stay until you fall asleep?"

"If you would not mind."

"Of course not."

Spock removed his uniform and got into bed, leaving his underwear and socks on, lying quietly beneath the covers while Kirk sat beside him, holding his hand. Amazing how easy it was to relax when Jim was near ... But even as he began to drift off into a deep sleep-trance, Spock was unable to help wishing that Christine could be with him as well. The heartfelt (if hidden) longing for her presence came out in his subconscious, manifesting itself in a dream involving both Christine and T'Pring.

He would be unable to remember very many details the following morning, but what stood out was the outcome of a confrontation between the two women. At the end of it, T'Pring had dissolved her bond with Spock as agreed and departed, then he and Christine had put their hands to one another's faces and joined minds. Once that had been accomplished, Spock put a hand to her cheek and kissed her tenderly before crossing fingers with her and turning toward T'Pau to be married.

Kirk gradually released his friend's hand and stood up carefully once he was satisfied that Spock was asleep. The Vulcan had been restless for a time, but eventually settled down and dropped into the sleep-trance with a soft smile on his lips. Kirk walked to the doorway of Spock's sleeping alcove and looked back at his slumbering friend, catching the smile and praying that whatever dream the latter was having lasted until Spock awoke.

*Sweet dreams, my friend*, he thought before slipping out. *I'll see you later. *

* * *

"Stardate 3288.6

"Dear Mama and Daddy:

"Life on the Enterprise is going passably well, mainly because I've found Spock again, though no one could have been more surprised than I was. It was the last thing in the universe I ever expected. I'm trying to keep my feelings for him strictly friendly, but it's getting harder with every passing day. But we can speak civilly to each other when we meet, even if mainly on business. As for the personal part, I'm still working on that, but am optimistic.

"I know I don't have the right to expect anything of him, especially now, but would at least like to renew our friendship. That is, as long as I can keep my love for him from getting in the way. I did ask him to a picnic, and made the food and drinks before writing you. I made him some plomeek soup, a Vulcan dish called tirqueen mi Spock once told me he particularly liked -- a mixture of rice and vegetables covered with a sauce similar to sour cream ... then for me, hot dogs and egg salad sandwiches, baked beans, pasta salad and banana bread for dessert. The drinks will be lemonade and the Vulcan drink tulac.

"We're meeting on Starbase Six tomorrow afternoon at 1430. I plan to wear my favorite pair of blue jeans and lacy top, along with my white sandals -- and will try not to forget anything. You know I'd forget my head if it wasn't attached, but I don't intend to this time, if I can help it. I'd planned to wear a sundress, but figured it best not to be too obvious about showing off my legs, shoulders or arms. The top's low neckline and snug jeans are enough.

"We agreed that Spock would beam down alone to offset questions, perhaps even in uniform, and take his tricorder on the pretext of examining the flora before changing into civilian clothes and meeting me for the picnic. Well, I just looked at the chrono and it's 0200. I've got to get to bed so I can get up in time to pack the lunch before going on duty. Will let you know how it turns out.

"Love, your Chrissy"

Christine knew that her parents would read between the lines her hope that she could not only renew her childhood friendship with Spock, but deepen their relationship later on, if Spock was willing -- and not already married. Upon finishing the stargram, She read it over and pronounced it suitable.

After getting the stargram ready for mailing and dropping it off at the mailroom, Christine noted the hour and knew it was best that she get to bed in order to wake up in time to pack the lunch before she went on duty. After showering, she dried her hair and donned a silky, lacy shortie nightgown before sliding into bed and dropping off to sleep, hugging her pillow.

* * *

Christine awakened shortly before her alarm was due to go off, reaching to switch it off before sitting up and swinging out of bed. She showered again but didn't wash her hair. Instead, she put it up in a French twist, which she planned to take down when she was off-duty. After dressing in her duty uniform, she left for the kitchen and busied herself packing the insulated cooler after pouring the drinks into two large thermoses. She took everything to the transporter room, along with the backpack continuing her civilian clothing, toiletries, a holo-novel she had been reading in her portable computer, silverware and her medikit to be on the safe side.

Other crewmembers' belongings were waiting to be beamed down, so hers wouldn't stand out. She had told both Nyota and Leonard she was going to picnic with a friend on Starbase Six ... someone she hadn't seen since she was a child. That was true enough, but what would they have said if they'd known that the "friend" she referred to was the Enterprise's First Officer?

The shift went uneventfully -- so much so that it was almost boring -- but Christine hardly noticed. She was too keyed up with the anticipation of being with Spock, able to catch up on all each had done while separated. Best of all, she would finally be able to get her own questions answered. At shift change, Christine smiled and waved at McCoy as she headed out.

"See you later, Leonard."

McCoy looked up from examining a patient and returned her smile. "Have a good time, Chris."

Upon arrival in the Transporter Room, she had to wait for a dozen other crewmembers to transport down first, but at last she was on the platform herself, the cooler on the adjoining pad, having been lifted there by a young ensign waiting his turn to beam down. She smiled gratefully at him as she began to dematerialize.

Moments later she found herself at the nearest transporter station to her destination, which boasted a men's and ladies' locker room. She went into the latter, changed into her civilian clothing and picked up the heavy cooler after putting the backpack in place, thankful the picnic spot wasn't too far away.

She couldn't help wondering where Spock was. He was supposed to have beamed down an hour before she did. Could he have gotten engrossed in examining the flora and lost track of time? Considering his inborn time sense, that was unlikely, but even though she kept watch for him, she never saw him. Where could he have gotten to?

She was sure he wouldn't stand her up, but couldn't help being concerned, even as she realized she had forgotten a blanket for them to sit on. Her blue jeans held grass stains with all the tenacity of an Aldeberan shellmouth. She could only hope that Spock wasn't wearing light colored pants. She had never known him to do so, but it could still happen, since she had no idea of what kind of civilian clothes he had ... or if he had any at all, and had to get some from ship's stores before coming here. She couldn't resist a smile at the thought of how the Vulcan would explain that to the quartermaster.

She sat down carefully, hoping the stain on the seat of her pants wouldn't be too noticeable before getting the holo-novel and beginning to read. Her wrist chrono said there were still five minutes to go before the appointed time, so she might as well spend it doing something instead of worrying about Spock.

She had scarcely started when she heard someone approach, but didn't look up until the footsteps stopped. Christine lowered the book and raised her head. Spock! Their eyes met and locked for a long moment; the soft look in his dark ones mystified yet thrilled her. She had no idea it was possible for a Vulcan, even one who was half Human -- especially not one who was bonded. It was gone almost as soon as it had come, and his tone was apologetic.

"I am sorry if I caused you undue concern, Christine. It took longer than I anticipated to choose an outfit, then prepare myself."

She noted his black pants, navy blue sweater with Vulcan symbols over a long-sleeved, sky-blue shirt and a pair of ankle-high boots. The Vulcan also carried a backpack, and his tricorder was slung over his shoulder in the usual manner for him but he removed it before dropping to his knees and opening the backpack to withdraw a dark blue blanket with an IDIC in the center of it.

He shook it out and spread it, lifting the cooler onto it and seating himself before putting the tricorder into the backpack and closing it. Christine made herself join him after putting her book and portable computer away. Her heart pounded at his nearness even as she forced herself to open the cooler. Didn't Spock ever forget anything, even occasionally, like any normal person? She had never seen any evidence of it, even when they were children.

"Spock, you're incredible. How could you possibly have known that I'd forgotten a blanket?"

He gave her an enigmatic half-smile. "That is irrelevant. What matters is that I remembered."

"But what if I'd remembered it?" she asked as she brought out the drinks and set them up, the tulac nearest him.

"Then I would not have gotten it out ... but am aware that Humans have a tendency to forget, so I deduced what you were most likely to forget."

Christine smiled and shook her head in affectionate exasperation as she got out the tirqueen mi dish Spock liked best. There was also the tureen of plomeek soup, pasta primavera salad, hot dogs with mustard and onions for herself, along with egg salad sandwiches -- and banana bread for dessert. It took time to dish out everything, and they talked while she did it.

"There are some things I've been wanting to ask you for some time, but there never seemed to be an opportunity until now, our duties have kept us so busy. Here, we don't have to concern ourselves with anything other than right now -- the food, company and conversation."

"What do you wish to know?"

She asked how Amanda was, and what she'd been up to; Spock told her. She also asked if Spock thought his mother would mind her writing her. The latter shook his head, but commented that Sarek probably would. Christine's lips twisted; she frankly didn't care what the older Vulcan's opinion might be. She intended to do as she liked. Spock had to agree.

The Vulcan took a bite of the rice dish, washing it down with the *tulac* before he mentioned the rift with his father over his choice of career. Christine wasn't surprised that they had had a major disagreement. It was bound to happen sooner or later, and the schism had happened when Spock wanted to join Starfleet and Sarek wanted him to attend the Science Academy.

For Spock's sake, Christine felt bad that they were now estranged, but with a part of her was pleased that Spock didn't have to answer to his father any more. Sarek had no right to judge anything Spock did after the way he'd split them up. She didn't think she would ever forgive Sarek for that. *Nor will I,* Spock told himself as he picked up her thought after another swallow of *tulac*.

She then asked how his sehlat I-Chaya was doing.

Spock replied that his pet was healthy, if somewhat elderly (around 135 years; sehlats usually lived around 150) -- and had a family of four cubs.

Christine's face lit up. "That's great! Has your mother sent holographs?"

Spock said he had requested some, but that they hadn't arrived yet. He would let her know when they did. After that, he asked her about her little black dog, Monty. Christine's head bowed and her eyes closed in pain at the thought of her beloved pet, now long deceased. Monty had died shortly before her entrance into the Starfleet Medical program at the Academy. She had studied diligently in order to keep her grief at bay.

Spock noticed how quiet his companion had become, reaching out to gently touch her hand. "Again, I am sorry, Christine. He was a most -- personable little animal. How did it happen?"

She told Spock that the dog had developed heart problems the last year of his life, when he was eighteen Earth years old (nearly a century in dog years). She had asked the vet if she could hold him while he was put to sleep. Monty had wagged his tail and licked her hand one last time before dying in her arms.

"I ... felt him go limp in my arms. After that, I just held him close and cried." She fought off tears. "I had loved him so much that I didn't have the heart to get another pet. None could ever replace him."

Again she fell silent; Spock squeezed her hand in a comforting gesture.

"I wish you could have been there with me, Spock. Monty would have liked to -- say goodbye to you, too. The two of you always got along so well." Christine busied herself eating a hot dog and some baked beans, washing them down with the lemonade. "Forgive my emotionalism, Spock, but it's been years since I've allowed myself to think about him."

"The cause was more than sufficient," the Vulcan gently dismissed.

He then asked what her parents had been up to; she told him they'd gone to Deneb IV after Vulcan and how long they'd stayed, then of how her father had been transferred to Rigel II and they'd stayed there until she graduated from high school. Christine also related how her mother had returned to work after she'd started high school ... and that her father had requested a transfer back to Earth when she'd started her studies at Starfleet Academy -- mainly to be near her.

"I went back to Earth to go to Starfleet Academy and entered the Medical program, majoring in nursing and minoring in biochemistry. In fact, I received a Ph.D. about six years ago. But during the time I was studying, I--" Christine broke off in mid-sentence.

"You what?" Spock prompted as he finished the rice dish, then set the empty container which had held the *tirqueen mi* aside and opened the tureen containing the plomeek soup.

"I ... became involved with someone," she forced out.

"*Romantically* involved?"

He took a drink of *tulac* in order to hide the pain in his eyes when she nodded in reply -- but couldn't blame her, especially considering his own interlude with Leila Kalomi six years ago. The main reason Spock had been attracted to Leila was because she reminded him of Christine. Not in everything, of course, but certain things like her blue eyes, sun-colored hair and tender smile ... but even as deep as their feelings for one another had been, they were not the caliber of those he and Christine shared. She was so warm, caring and attractive; what Humanoid male could help but care deeply for her?

"Yes," Christine confirmed. "Roger even asked me to marry him, and I accepted -- but shortly after our engagement, he left for a mission in space and I haven't heard from him since. I gave up my Ph.D. in order to sign aboard a starship so I could search for him."

"So he is the reason you are here, serving on the Enterprise now." Spock's voice was quiet.

"Yes. I thought it would be the best chance I had of locating him ... then I discovered that you were also serving on the ship. It was almost too good to be true -- so even if I don't find him, this mission won't have been a total loss ... because I have found *you* again."

The tone of her voice made Spock lower his eyes, feeling guilty for wanting to be with Christine because he saw it as a betrayal of his bond with T'Pring, even as tenuous as it was. But one thing he refused to feel guilty about was how good it felt whenever they were together ... and yes, the happiness which always filled him when Christine was near or when he heard her voice. Not to mention the sense of completeness upon feeling her gentle touch on his hand or forehead, usually when he was ill or injured. The Vulcan sternly reminded himself of the old Terran saying: *Be careful what you wish for. You may get it.*

For a time, it seemed as though they were children again as they began reminiscing about the times they had shared on Vulcan. Spock reached for her hand and squeezed it again before raising it to his lips. Christine smiled and returned the squeeze. They didn't eat all the food, but the drink was gone by this time, so Christine re-packed the cooler and set it aside. It was easier to handle now. She felt pleasantly drowsy and yawned deeply, prompting Spock to ask if she was tired.

"Yes, I am, a little. I had to get up quite early this morning, and it's got to be late afternoon by now."

"Early evening. Approximately 1800 hours," he informed her.

"Shouldn't we get back to the ship?" she asked.

"Do you wish to?" His soft eyes mesmerized her.

"Not really. I'd like to stay a little longer. That is, if you don't mind."

"I do not ... but would you like to have a nap before we return to the ship?"

"That sounds nice," Christine agreed as she once again yawned deeply. "Particularly if you let me lie down with my head in your lap."

Spock raised an eyebrow but made no objection. Five minutes later, he leaned against the tree, still sitting on the blanket, with Christine's flaxen head and shoulders pillowed on his thighs. She sighed contentedly. This was the most comfortable pillow she'd ever known. Mmmm ... She could scarcely keep her eyes open. Christine had meant to ask Spock about his relationships with Kirk and McCoy, not to mention T'Pring -- and when he expected his Mating Time to come ... but they hadn't gotten to those subjects this time around. Perhaps next time -- if there *was* a next time.

Spock felt Christine's head become heavy and realized she must have fallen asleep, so he put his hand beneath her head, tenderly cradling it. He was thankful that the picnic area of the starbase was separated from the rest of the parklands by a high, thick hedge with white flowers dotting it. One nice thing was that he would be able to drink in the sight of Christine's face to his heart's content. Her lips were one shade darker than her cheeks, and he watched the gentle rise and fall of her chest as she slept. He relished her perfume as if smelling a savory meal.

The Vulcan even felt brave enough to take her hand again, the one which rested on her belly, and hold it. He lost all track of time as they rested together. All he knew, all that mattered, as that they had been reunited -- and in that event, as he had told his mother as a boy, they would never be separated again. It became dark as they sat there, and Spock knew he would have to return to the ship soon because of his sensitivity to cold ... but Christine looked so peaceful and lovely in repose that he didn't have the heart to wake her.

Spock never knew how he managed to get hold of his communicator, but he did, and flipped it open to contact the ship. "Two to beam back, Mr. Scott. Please stand by."

"Aye, Mr. Spock. Standing by."

Spock had no doubt that the Chief Engineer was wondering what he could possibly be doing and who he was doing it with -- but Spock planned to let the Scot make of it what he would. The Vulcan pulled the cooler within reach with his free hand, along with the two backpacks, somehow managing to stand up with the three articles *and* his sleeping companion in his arms. A deft foot lifting the blanket as he leaned against the tree brought the former within reach.

He draped it around Christine as best he could, then called for beamup. Thankfully only Scott was in the Transporter Room when they materialized; the engineer never said a word about the unusual spectacle before him, which Spock was grateful for. But it was still only a matter of time before the rest of the crew found out. One couldn't keep a secret for long in the isolated community of a starship.

The First Officer was also grateful that Scott took charge of the cooler and backpacks, requesting that he follow him to Christine's quarters as Spock cradled the sleeping woman in his arms, her head on his shoulder, his blanket tucked around her. No one seemed to notice the curious display ... or if they did, they never said anything. Even at that, it wouldn't be long before the news was all over the ship, and McCoy would have a field day with him because of it, but right now, the Science Officer couldn't bring himself to care.

A short time later, they reached the Head Nurse's quarters. Spock gently melded with her to learn her code without waking her, then carried her inside to place her on her bed, slipping her sandals off and pulling the comforter over her, leaving his blanket tucked around her. The Vulcan stood by her bed for some time, having told Scott to place the cooler and backpacks on the table in the living room, then leave.

The First Officer finally reached to touch her cheek, then lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it again before replacing it on her belly. *Christine, precious one. How I wish I could stay with you.* Regret stabbed at him for a moment before Spock brought himself up short and stiffly marched out after retrieving his backpack, glad that Scott had not been present to witness his weakness. The Vulcan would have enough to endure in the coming days and weeks as it was.

* * *

Christine awakened at 0730 the following day, surprised to find herself in her own quarters in her own bed, still dressed as she had been the previous day with the exception of her sandals. Spock must have done it, but how could he have obtained her door code without waking her unless he had melded with her? Not that she minded, but would have preferred to have been awake to appreciate it.

It couldn't have been easy for him to have maneuvered her, the cooler, their two backpacks and the blanket ... which reminded her, its warm folds still surrounded her, as well as her own bedcovers. She got up and straightened the bed, then folded up Spock's blanket in such a way that the IDIC showed, smiling as her hand lingered on it because it represented the one she loved.

It would also have been nice if he had kissed her, if only on the forehead or cheek as they had when children, but she reminded herself that they were grown-up now, and Vulcans were not demonstrative. She had done well to get him to have a picnic with her and talk as much as he had. Particularly when he had allowed her to lie down and sleep with her head in his lap.

Christine clamped down hard on the thoughts brought to mind by that memory. It wasn't right. He belonged to someone else. She was simply a childhood friend with whom Spock was becoming re-acquainted after thirty years apart -- but she had loved him too much and for too long to put her feelings aside 100% of the time.

She would return his blanket after her shift. Meanwhile, she had to shower and change, then report for duty. One could only hope that they hadn't been seen by too many, and wouldn't be questioned too extensively about what they had done yesterday ... but no such luck. At least not for her. She was about five minutes from Sickbay when a young Engineering assistant stopped her.

"Nurse Chapel, may I speak with you?"

She looked the young man over. Twentyish, good-looking with hazel eyes and blond hair, slender and well-built, but not overly muscular -- and considerably shorter than Spock, though he was still a good two inches taller than she. What was his name? Oh, yes, Parker. Gerald Parker. She had seen him only once before, when he had had his prerequisite physical about a month ago.

"Yes, Ensign. What would you like to know?"

"I saw you yesterday evening. Mr. Spock was carrying you, you were both wearing civilian clothes, and Mr. Scott was walking behind you, carrying a cooler and two backpacks."


"May I ask what happened?"

Christine sighed. It wasn't anyone's business what had happened, but she sensed that if she froze Ensign Parker out by saying, "It's none of your business," or "It's personal. I don't care to discuss it," and left him standing there, her reluctance to talk would provoke even more gossip than was already making its rounds throughout the ship.

After all, they didn't have anything to hide, did they? It was a simple picnic, not a romantic rendezvous. Besides, Ensign Parker didn't know either Spock or herself well enough to consciously try to be nosy. It sounded like curiosity more than anything. Even at that, she felt obligated to protect Spock's privacy.

"I can't talk about it now. I'm in a hurry."

The ensign frowned, taken aback. "But I saw the way he looked at you--" His voice broke off. "I thought Vulcans weren't supposed to have emotions."

"I'm not at liberty to discuss that. It's the medical confidentiality thing. You understand."

"If you say so." The young man frowned again, but didn't question her further.

"Now if you don't mind, I'm supposed to be on duty. Good day, Ensign."

With a polite nod, Christine took her leave, congratulating herself for handling the situation so well, but the young crewman's words kept returning to her. She hadn't known that Scotty had accompanied Spock as he was carrying her, nor had she seen the expression on Spock's face when he had looked at her. What could Ensign Parker have been referring to?

"...the way he looked at you..." echoed over and over in her head. Did that mean that Spock's emotions had been so obvious and uncontrolled as to be visible to others? That wasn't like him. Perhaps he thought no one would notice, or just plain didn't care if anyone saw him.

Again, that wasn't like him -- but still within the realm of possibility. *Provided Mr. Parker was telling the truth,* she reminded herself. Meanwhile, she took the time to compose her face into serene lines so that McCoy wouldn't ask questions she was neither ready nor willing to answer. All she could hope for was that Spock had had better luck.

* * *

He hadn't. Later that day, in the Officers' Lounge, around 1800 hours, the Vulcan had decided to have something to eat, hoping for a quiet, solitary meal and time to think about Christine. That hope would not be realized. Spock had barely sat down when another chair on the opposite side was pulled out; a familiar Georgia drawl addressed him.

"Spock! Just the man I want to see. May I join you?"

The First Officer frowned with distaste at the smell of meat from the Doctor's plate. "I suppose so."

"Thanks for the rousing welcome." The Chief Surgeon's tone was wry, on the edge of sarcasm.

Spock suspected that McCoy thought he was reacting to the prospect of his company, when it was the idea of smelling the meat which was unwelcome. Still, he would have preferred to be alone. Oh, well ...

"Not at all," came the bland reply.

McCoy gave the Vulcan a sharp look, but said nothing further -- at least not on that subject. There was another he had come to talk about. "I hear you had a date last night, Spock," the Doctor stated with a straight face.

One winged eyebrow shot up. "A 'date', Doctor? With whom?"

"Don't pull that innocent routine with me, Spock. Christine's too happy for anyone but you to be responsible. She told me she was going on a picnic in the parklands of Starbase Six ... and who else could she want to go with?"

"Lieutenant Uhura," the Vulcan returned coolly. "They are close friends."

McCoy's eyes narrowed. "Don't insult my intelligence, Spock. We both know how Chris feels about you."

"Doctor, we knew each other as children on Vulcan. She was there with her parents for approximately nine point-three months while her father was working as my father's assistant in the Federation Diplomatic Corps. I have not seen her since we were seven years of age. Our so-called 'date' was merely a renewal of our former acquaintance."

McCoy rolled his eyes as he took a swallow of Saurian brandy. "One of my orderlies told me she'd seen you carrying Christine to her quarters with Scotty carrying your picnic gear, following behind like a trained dog."

"She had fallen asleep shortly after the picnic was over. I had no wish to wake her," the Vulcan explained in a controlled voice.

"I also understand that you were looking at her 'with pure love,' to quote my source. That's not like you, Spock."

"Indeed, Doctor. It is not. In addition, your 'source' was over- stating the facts. I was simply concerned for her. Surely that is only logical. Christine is Head Nurse, after all, and must maintain her health in order to best perform her duties."

McCoy gave him a hard, skeptical look.

The Science Officer took a deep breath. "We are *friends*, Dr. McCoy. Friends, and nothing more. I am betrothed. For that reason, I cannot be more than friends with any woman aboard this ship -- even if I desired it."

McCoy sighed, knowing he had been unable to provoke Spock into admitting more than friendship for Christine. If the Vulcan refused to be baited, nothing he could do would reach him. "If you say so." The Doctor conceded defeat ... for the moment.

"I say so." The First Officer's tone indicated that he considered the conversation over and the matter under discussion closed. "Now, if you don't mind, I would like to eat my lunch before it congeals."

McCoy looked down at his plate, forgotten until now. "I guess you're right, at least about that -- this time. But as to the other matter, you haven't heard the last from me. Neither you nor Christine are fooling me for a minute. Mark my words, Spock. You love that woman, betrothal or no betrothal, and by God, I intend to be the one to make you admit it!"

The Doctor's voice was quiet but emphatic ... but both knew that McCoy could keep his mouth shut when it counted, however much he might spout off otherwise, so Spock wasn't too concerned. If nothing else, McCoy was a doctor and respected the doctor/patient confidentiality clause. Spock also doubted the validity of McCoy's claim, but knew the Chief Surgeon was going to do all he could to achieve his goal.

With that, the two men settled down to eat their respective meals in silence. It was more than Vulcan reserve that kept Spock from talking about his bonding, even with Kirk. If he talked about it, he would think about it -- and T'Pring -- as well as the nightmare waiting him should he marry her. He preferred to think about her as little as possible, and few people knew about the bonding anyway. Thinking about Christine was a far more palatable prospect ... and this was the way Spock planned to keep matters.

* * *

After these episodes, the couple made a concerted effort to be more discreet regarding their actions toward one another, especially Spock. To say that it was difficult to keep things between them on a professional basis was the understatement of the century. Nothing had taxed Spock's Vulcan control the way this did.

To have the one he cared so much for so close and be unable to declare himself was comparable to being operated on without anesthesia. But he dared not, lest it get back to Vulcan, and T'Pring (or his father) hear about it. It would be illogical to give either of them ammunition against him or prove their contention that he was not -- and never could be -- truly Vulcan because of his Human blood.

Spock was unaware of T'Pring's faithlessness, her affair with the full-blooded Vulcan, Stonn. That alone would have been grounds for dissolution of the bond had he known, thereby freeing him to pursue Christine. Unfortunately for both of them, Spock did *not* know, so he felt obligated to remain true to the bond.

Of course, some people never let up, determined to prove that the First Officer and Head Nurse of the Enterprise were having an affair. Christine was as aware of the scuttlebutt flying around the ship about herself and Spock as he was, but the truth was far more innocuous than the rumor-mongers would ever believe.

Dr. Leonard McCoy was one of these people, although he meant no harm by it. He had been around long enough to know the difference between friendship and love ... and despite their consistent denials, the Doctor was convinced that his two colleagues were fighting a growing, deepening love for one another. Was it a crime to want them to express it, or at least admit to feeling it? He never knew how much the couple wanted to do just that -- as badly as he wanted them to. There was a very good reason why the couple acted as they did, but neither believed that McCoy would (or could) understand it, so they never told him.

Spock and Christine shared occasional meals together, but were rarely alone after their initial get-together. They usually ate in the Officers' Mess in the midst of their fellow crewmembers, with friends Kirk and Uhura accompanying them as often as their duties allowed. Sometimes McCoy was there too, but never bothered them in public after the conversation with Spock. Partly because the Doctor knew what Kirk and Uhura would do if he did ... but when all was said and done, he cared about Chris and Spock and wanted them to be happy.

It was their prerogative if they wanted to be stubborn and put each other through unnecessary heartache. If they thought that was the best course of action, there was little he could do to change their minds. But he had spoken with Jim about this, and the Captain agreed to talk to Spock and see if he could find out what the Vulcan felt in regards to Christine and his duty bond.

* * *

Kirk did just that upon briefing Spock on their latest mission to Janus VI where miners were dying, and the mining machinery falling apart. The Captain knew that his Science Officer would find the prospect "fascinating," particularly the possibility of discovering a new life-form based on an element other than carbon. But now that that was out of the way, Kirk could get to what he had really come to discuss.

Spock could sense that Jim had something on his mind other than their upcoming mission, but couldn't have said exactly what it was. He *did*, however, intend to find out.

It was hard for Kirk to answer his friend, but he knew he had to ... had to think of a way to bring up the touchy subject of Spock's rumored liaison with Christine without seeming judgmental or critical of the relationship. However, he knew from experience that it wasn't going to be easy.

"I'd like to speak privately with you," the Captain said.


"About you and Christine."

"The Vulcan allowed himself a confused frown. "I have already told you about us."

"I mean about what happened during and after your picnic on Starbase Six."

At the mention of the Head Nurse's name and the memory of what had passed between them, the First Officer's color changed and he bowed his head, embarrassed. "What do you wish to know?" Spock forced his head up to face his Human friend.

"Only how you truly feel about Christine. I know how you *claim* to feel toward her, but if what Bones tells me is true, you feel more than simple friendship for her. Is he right?"

There was a long silence as the Vulcan's color deepened further.

"Spock?" Kirk asked, concerned. "Let me help. Tell me the truth, my friend. Are you in love with her?"

When Spock spoke again, his voice was barely audible. "Yes, Jim." He was unable to speak further.

"Spock, I assure you there's nothing abnormal about falling in love. It happens to the best of us. How long has it been going on?"

The Science Officer forced himself to speak. "I have had ... feelings for her since we were children. I -- even wished to bond with her then, but my father forbade it and forced me to bond with T'Pring. He ... even forced Christine and her parents to leave Vulcan in order to -- ensure my cooperation."

Kirk mentally cursed the older Vulcan when he heard this. "And now Christine's back in your life. You love her, and don't know what to do. Worst of all, you're bonded to someone you *don't* love, and have no idea how to get rid of her. Is that right?"

"You are right." Once again, the Vulcan's voice was barely audible.

"Whenever you need help, I'm here. After all, I've had plenty of experience in this area."

"Yes, I know, but there is little you can do. The bond cannot be broken until it is time for my ... Time of Mating, and I have -- no idea when it will happen."

"So you're between the proverbial rock and a hard place." Kirk's tone was sympathetic as he covered his Vulcan friend's nearest hand with one of his own.

"Indeed." The Vulcan allowed himself a smile at his Human friend.

"Do you still plan to act as you always have?"

Spock could only nod.

"Is this because you don't see that you have any other choice, at least for the time being?"

Spock nodded again, still unable to speak.

"Does Christine know how you feel about her?"

"Not as far as I know," Spock made himself say. "I have never told her."

"Sometimes you don't need to say anything. Even the way you act, talk, or move can give you away. And keep in mind that if it's tough for *you*, as disciplined as you are, then it's doubly tough for her, feeling as she does about you and then having to work with you, doing her utmost to be professional. Especially after finding you again after thirty years apart."

"We will -- help each other. It is all we *can* do."

"Just as Bones and I will help you as much as we can." The Captain smiled warmly.

"And Miss Uhura will help Christine." Spock returned the squeeze of his friend's hand with one of his own. "Thank you, my friend. Your ... assistance will be -- very much appreciated. You may go now. I will contact you if I need either you or the Doctor."

"Take care, Spock. Try to get some sleep. I'll see you later."

"Good night, Jim."

With that, Kirk smiled and slipped through the door which led to their shared bathroom and his own quarters. Spock allowed himself another smile in his Human friend's direction before heading for the shower. After that he retired, but sleep eluded him for a long time ... and even when it did come, it was fitful and sporadic, full of tantalizing images of himself and Christine together. How could he possibly stay away from her, act no more than professional?

It had been too late the moment he had first met her as a child. She was his destiny -- had been even then, and always would be, for now and all time. Both he and his father had been fools to even try to deny it ... but now that he had admitted it (not only to himself but Jim), how in the universe was he going to deal with it? Denial and burying himself in work wasn't "cutting it" any more.

* * *

Spock wasn't the only one for whom denial and burying oneself in work wouldn't cut it any more. Uhura knew when something was bothering her friend Christine, vowing that she was going to get her to talk about it ... whatever she had to do. They were getting together tonight to watch their favorite holovid, and would each bring something to eat or drink. Perfect time for a private talk.

They usually alternated bringing refreshments on get-togethers; this time, it was her turn to bring the drinks -- orange juice and passion-fruit wine coolers. Uhura couldn't help wondering what dish Chris would fix tonight. Would it be the fruit salad with Kaferian apples, or the great egg salad and lettuce sandwiches with both Earth and Vulcan spices in the egg mixture? They were scrumptious. She *had* to get the recipe!

Chris had told her about her childhood, skirting around the time she had known Spock, respectful of his privacy, as well as what happened during their picnic on Starbase Six ... but denied feeling any more than friendship for the Vulcan. Denied it so vehemently, in fact, that the Bantu woman was reminded of the old line, "Methinks the lady doth protest too much."

Uhura had also heard the rumors that the two were having an affair but doubted it because Spock wasn't the kind to openly pursue a woman, even if he was attracted to her -- *especially* not if he was attracted to her! It was likely that he would be even more discreet and business-like than usual, both for his own sake and that of the woman in question.

It didn't seem possible that Spock could have looked at Chris as he had where others could see him do it, nor could Chris confirm or deny it because she had been asleep at the time. All Uhura had to go by was eyewitness testimony ... testimony which she took with several grains of salt. Some of them had vivid imaginations (and dirty minds) as well as a penchant for blowing things out of proportion.

Uhura respected Spock too much and cared too much for Christine to demand (or even request) an explanation for their actions. But for Heaven's sake, she wasn't blind. She had seen the way Christine's eyes lingered on Spock and the way his eyes softened whenever the Head Nurse was in his vicinity. These were *not* the actions of people who were "only" friends, and no one could convince Uhura that they were -- least of all Christine. The Head Nurse was in love, and deeply so, or Uhura missed her guess. Spock as well, whether or not he was willing to admit it. Of course, the only one Spock was likely to confide in regarding that possibility would keep such a secret to himself. Even at that, Uhura had to ask herself the following question: *Who else besides me has noticed?*

* * *

The buzzer brought Christine back to reality. She was putting the finishing touches on herself when it happened, reaching to open the door by pressing the button near her bed.

"Come on in, Nyota," she called.

The casually dressed Communications Officer stepped in and looked around, smiling upon seeing Christine in the sleeping alcove.

Christine saw Uhura at the same time, motioning to her friend to come and join her. They had decided to sit on Christine's bed and talk while they ate.

Uhura wore a fire-engine red, floor-length dress which clung to her, dangly red/gold earrings in her pierced ears and gold slippers on her small feet.

Christine wore a pale blue outfit with IDIC earrings and brown sandals. The nurse noted the six-pack of wine coolers in Uhura's hand, glad that she had set up the trays and ice in glasses beforehand. The plate of sandwiches and one of peanut butter fudge sat on a third tray close by. Christine had made the sandwiches again, the ones Uhura enjoyed so much; the fudge was a mutual weakness of theirs ... a luxury which they allowed themselves only a couple of times a month for that very reason.

Starfleet officers could not allow themselves to become over weight, particularly not women, because the clingy uniforms showed every extra ounce on one's body. But Uhura suspected that Christine's reasons were twofold. If she *was* in love, it would be natural for her to want to look her best for the man she loved, even if he (apparently) took no notice. That was probably also why Chris worked out at the ship's gym twice a week.

Once the women had relaxed enough to kick off their shoes and sit cross-legged on the bed, Uhura decided to ask the question she'd been wanting to ask for over three months. "Chris, there's something that's been bugging me for a long time. Maybe you can help me sort it out."

"Sure, I'll do all I can," replied the unsuspecting Head Nurse, taking a swig of her wine cooler after a bite of sandwich. "What's the problem?"


Christine fought not to choke on her food even as her eyebrows rose in a most Vulcan manner. "What about him?"

"I know what you told me, but I've been watching you whenever I'm with you in the Officers' Mess. You've been looking at Spock in ways which don't seem like those of a friend."

Christine's eyes narrowed; she sounded wary. "What are you getting at?"

"I wasn't born yesterday, Chris. I'm a woman too, you know. I know the difference between friendship and love. You have to share it with someone, and you know I won't tell anyone, so you can be honest with me. Are you in love with Spock?"

Christine's face flamed even as the other woman looked at her in a way which told her she'd been found out. "What if I told you that I was? That I've loved him since I was a child? What would you say then?" This time she was the one to give Uhura a look which went right through her.

"What about the guy you said you were engaged to?" Uhura asked after a long silence. She hadn't expected Chris to give in so easily, not after denying her feelings every time the subject was brought up.

"Roger? I cared for him, but mainly because he was so much like Spock."

It was nearly 2130 before Christine finished; Uhura found herself reaching to squeeze her friend's hand in a comforting manner. "You've certainly had a hell of a time. Especially wanting so much to tell Spock how you feel and not being able to."

"You don't know the half of it. I don't know how much longer I'm going to be able to stand it. But the worst part is that I can't be sure how Spock feels about *me* ... provided he feels anything at all. That's why I don't dare say anything and must act like no more than a friend. I can't, not with that uncertainty hanging over my head. I could never face him again if I told him how I feel and it turned out that he didn't feel the same way."

Uhura nodded in agreement. "I think I can understand that."

The women were silent again for a time, Christine grateful for Nyota's presence, understanding and compassion. Christine's voice was laced with gratitude when she spoke again.

"Thank you for listening and not judging me, Nyota. Feelings like mine are difficult enough to deal with without someone standing in judgment on me and criticizing me for feeling them."

Their blue and brown eyes met, and they exchanged smiles before Uhura reached for another sandwich with one hand and some peanut butter fudge with the other.

"I swear, Chris, you're an artist," she opined upon taking a bite of fudge. "I could eat your sandwiches and fudge until I burst!"

"Don't do *that*," the nurse dead-panned. "How would I ever explain it to the Captain or Starfleet Command?" Then they both laughed.

"You're a character," Uhura chuckled. "Are you sure you didn't miss your calling? You'd have made a great comedian!"

After that, the women concentrated on the remainder of the holovid and finished off the food, their only conversation having to do with the film.

* * *

After Uhura left, Christine saw that it was still only about 2200. Time enough to write her parents again, especially since she didn't have to go on duty until 1130 hours the next day. At the same time, though the Head Nurse was unaware of it, the object of her affections was planning to do the same thing.

Most surprising of all would be the similarity between the two stargrams and the difficulty each was having in concealing their feelings. The ones who knew them best either already knew or suspected that their friends felt more for each other than they allowed themselves to show -- and weren't shy about making their knowledge or suspicions known to the friends in question.

* * *

**Stardate 3290.4


It is becoming more difficult to conceal my feelings for Christine with every passing day. I have had to fight not to tell her of them, fight against taking her in my arms and kissing her. In fact, I would like to do more than that, but dare not allow myself this luxury.

I wish there was a way to dissolve my bond with T'Pring before the pon farr. I have no desire to marry her, just as I am sure she has no desire to marry me. Christine is the one I consider my true bondmate, the one I wish to have beside me for all the days of the rest of my life. She is the one with whom I wish to have children, the one with whom I wish to feel the mind-touch of bonded mates and the physical joining of husband and wife.

If you can manage it, do not allow my father to see this stargram. He would never understand, and believe I was desecrating my heritage by being so emotional.

I wish to spend my life with the one I care most deeply for. She is all I dream of, everything I most cherish -- a part of me, now and always. If you can tell me something which will make my situation easier to endure, please do not hesitate to do so. I have never felt this way toward anyone before, and do not believe I ever will again.

Christine is the one my heart calls to, and I now realize that I have loved her since we were children, even though I was too young to recognize the emotion for what it was at the time. I am a man now, but it has become more difficult to conceal my feelings with time, not easier. I can only hope the pon farr comes soon and that I can rid myself of T'Pring and marry the woman I truly love. Please help me, Mother. Help me to know what to do. I do not know how much longer I can endure this enforced separation.

"With every affection,

Your son,


Spock dared not say any more -- not when there was any chance his father might read the stargram. But surely even Sarek had to know by now how impossible it would be for Spock to marry T'Pring, feeling as he did about Christine. He would only exist, married to a woman who all but hated him. Neither he nor T'Pring could long endure in such a marriage and it would be illogical to even try. The Vulcan acknowledged the fact that this stargram was quite possibly the most emotional thing he had ever written, but it had come from the depths of his heart ... his *half-Human* heart and the corresponding emotions. Mother would understand that, even if his father didn't -- and Spock didn't care what Sarek thought at the moment. Spock was also sure that his father felt the same about his mother as he himself did about Christine, even if the older Vulcan chose not to admit it. What mattered was that Amanda knew it. How Spock wished that he could have told the one he loved how *he* felt! *Christine,* his heart and mind whispered as he prepared the stargram for mailing, then got ready for bed ... but he knew he wouldn't sleep for a long time, if at all. Instead, he lay awake for hours, fighting the desires of both his heart and his body. *Precious one, why can we not be together? You are my destiny, as I am yours -- yet we must endure this torturous separation. May Surak give me the strength to get through this endless night.*

* * *

**Stardate 3290.4

Dear Mama and Daddy:

The picnic on Starbase Six went well. Spock was later than we agreed upon, but still on time. I think it's the first time I've ever seen him out of uniform since I joined the Enterprise crew. He seemed to enjoy the food, especially the Vulcan rice dish I made for him. He ate more than I've ever seen him eat! We talked quite a bit, brought each other up-to-date. Amanda does artwork now and his pet I-Chaya has four cubs. Spock said she had taken holographs and would let me know when they came. After a while I got tired, and Spock actually let me sleep with my head in his lap! The next thing I knew, I woke up in my bed with his blanket tucked around me. Would you believe, I forgot one? Thankfully Spock remembered. I swear, I don't think he forgets anything! It wasn't until the next day that I got the full story. I started for Sickbay after getting up, dressing and making the bed. (I'll stop by Spock's quarters after my shift to return his blanket). Someone stopped me and said he'd seen Spock carrying me and Scotty, our Chief Engineer, carrying the cooler and backpacks. But that wasn't what bothered me. The guy also said that Spock had been looking at me "with pure love," and that he had always thought Vulcans didn't have emotions. I managed to put him off but I think he's still suspicious. I have tried my best to deny it at every opportunity, if only for Spock's sake. Even so, I'm sure the whole crew believes that I not only love Spock but that he loves me ... in spite of our consistent denials. We dare not say how we truly feel because of his bonding, however much we may desire otherwise. But our friends know, I can say that for sure. I just told Nyota how I feel, and Spock has no doubt told Captain Kirk, whom I have deduced is his closest friend. I also wouldn't be surprised if Leonard -- Dr. McCoy -- also knows, and is having a field day with Spock on the subject. He (McCoy) hasn't approached me yet, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time. I'll probably end up telling him, too. He'll keep after me until I do, otherwise ... but I can live with that. I just wish I knew of some way to make the situation easier to bear. I must bite my tongue to keep from saying how much I love Spock. Nyota has said that she has seen me look at him in ways that are -- well -- "not those of a friend," to quote her. I know it's wrong to want someone who belongs to another, but I can't help it. Spock is the one I love, the one I have always loved ... the one I want beside me the rest of my life. I want to be his wife, bear his children, feel the touch of his mind -- and body. He is all I dream of, all I think about, everything I love. A part of me, now and forever. Please help me get through this. I don't know how much longer I can stand it.

Much love,

your "Chrissy"**

There was more Christine wanted to say, but she couldn't find the words. In addition, her parents weren't the ones she wanted to say them to ... but there was nothing she could do to change matters at the moment. She would have to keep them locked in her heart -- but like all prisoners, the time would come when the feelings would fight to be free, clamor to be made known ... and no amount of control and denial would be able to stop them from coming out.

* * *

The following day, after she was off-duty, Christine stopped back at her quarters to pick up Spock's blanket. She believed she had the strength to say a word to him, hand him the blanket, then turn around and leave. She didn't think she could handle anything else ... not if she looked into his eyes for more than a few seconds. She had to force herself to reach out and press the buzzer outside the First Officer's quarters, even after looking around to make sure the corridor was clear. Her legs were wobbly and her heart was pounding. She hoped she could stand up long enough to get out of his sight.

She expected him to come to the door, so she was surprised to hear his voice call out, "Come."

"Spock?" She willed her voice not to sound shaky as she stepped inside, blanket in her arms.

"Christine?" His reply held surprise.

"I -- brought back your blanket. You ... had had it wrapped around me when you took me to my quarters and -- put me in bed."

He frowned for a moment before nodding. "Yes, of course. Thank you."

The Science Officer held out his hands for the blanket, remaining seated on his bed so as to force her to step forward, into the sleeping alcove, to hand it to him. He was wearing a navy blue robe with full sleeves and a rope-like belt, and had removed his regulation boots to pad around his quarters in his socks.

"I ... also wanted to say that I -- had a good time on the picnic, Spock. But there was still a lot I wanted to ask, and didn't get a chance to ask. Do you think it might be ... possible for us to 'get together' again, as it were, to talk about those things?"

"That depends on what you wish to discuss." Spock set the blanket next to him on the bed before looking up at her again.

"It's rather personal," she was forced to admit. Because of this, Christine fully expected him to refuse. Vulcans were reluctant to discuss anything private except with family or close friends.

"Where do you believe would be the best place to ... discuss them?"

"Oh. I quite understand. Maybe later on, we can --" Christine didn't hear Spock's affirmative reply until after he'd said it. "*Yes*? You're willing to talk?"

The Vulcan raised a quizzical eyebrow. "I believe that is what I said. If you cannot decide immediately, think about it for a time, then contact me when you choose *where*, so that we may decide on *when*."

Christine went weak with relief, but fought not to show it in front of Spock. "Than I'll let you get back to whatever you were doing. I'll contact you as soon as I can. Good night." She left quickly, before he had a chance to reply.

"Christine..." he began, but she was already gone. He sighed and got up, picking up his blanket and opening a drawer before placing the blanket inside and closing the drawer again.

* * *

Christine was barely able to make it outside before her knees buckled under her. She leaned against the bulkhead, grateful for its solidity as the strength in her legs returned. How she'd ever managed to sustain a conversation, then get out without making a fool of herself, she'd never know.

Heaven knew what Spock must think of her right now! But better that he think her a little loopy than to get any inkling of how she was feeling, being the telepath he was. At least she had gotten his blanket back to him, said something she'd wanted to say and got an unexpected agreement to a second assignation. That was all that mattered.

It wasn't until later that evening that Christine decided where to have the meeting with Spock -- Rec Room 14 on Deck Seven. Now all that was necessary was to decide *when*. 2100 hours, perhaps. He might even bring his harp, but she wasn't about to mention it. She wanted to see if he would bring it on his own.

She changed into a long, silky, low-cut nightgown with a lace bodice, matching robe and slippers. She combed her slightly more than shoulder-length hair until it was a silken mass framing her face, falling gracefully over her shoulders. If only Spock could have seen her right now ... She clamped down hard ont at thought and sat on her bed after opening the intercom. Spock should still be awake.

"Chapel to Spock."

"Yes, Christine?"

"I've decided to have us meet in Rec Room 14 on Deck Seven. Is 2100 hours tomorrow evening convenient for you? I get off-duty at 1600."

"And I at 1800. I have no objection to meeting you at 2100 hours tomorrow evening. Would you like me to bring my harp?"

Christine was pleased that he had suggested it and felt far more comfortable agreeing. "If you don't mind."

"I would not have asked if I did. I will let you go now, Christine. Sleep well."

"You too, Spock. Chapel out." With that, the connection was cut.

* * *

Spock received an answer to his stargram a week after sending it. He was relieved simply upon recognizing his mother's handwriting, knowing that if there was a way to ease his difficulties, she would know about it -- and tell him, in her gentle and loving way. For the umpteenth time, he wondered how he could have been deemed worthy of such a mother, much less the love of a woman like Christine or his two friends.

They deserved so much more than he felt capable of giving, yet they never complained. He was thankful that he was off-duty, so nothing would be likely to disturb him. He changed into his favorite robe and removed his boots, leaving on only his socks, before reclining on his bed and opening the stargram.

**Stardate 3297.4

"My Dear Son ...

"I'm sorry that things have become so difficult for you, but unfortunately that is often part of being in love. I understand what you're going through all too well, and hope my words will help set your mind at ease. I have always believed that Christine was the best choice for you, and you have proven me right. But now, of all times, my child, you must be strong -- both for her sake and your own.

"I will do my utmost to make sure that your father doesn't see your stargram, for you are all too correct in assuming that he would have difficulty understanding what you are presently enduring and believe that you are 'desecrating your Vulcan heritage.'

"What he always seems to forget is that you are as much Human as Vulcan ... that you have different needs than one such as he. In other words, even though you are physically (and have been raised as) Vulcan, emotionally you are every bit as Human as I am, and it is normal for you to feel as you do. You must not believe that it is something to be ashamed of. True love is something to treasure when it comes to you, because it is so rare.

"For your sake, my child, I hope you will soon be able to have the one you love and share your love with her. It is sad that the two of you have had to wait thirty years to be together, but take heart. However difficult it may be (and believe me, I know), true love is worth the wait. Please let me know how things turn out. I'll be praying for you, my son.

Your Loving Mother**

It was difficult for Christine to keep her mind on her work. It kept wandering ahead to the upcoming meeting with Spock. What would he say about T'Pring? His *pon farr*? His relationships with Kirk and McCoy? Or would he say anything at all? She could only hope for the best, even while expecting the worst. After thirty years' separation, despite their childhood affection, she knew she didn't have the right to ask him anything personal, but cared too much not to. It was unrealistic to expect Spock to accept her back into his life as if no time had passed, but she hoped he would bear with her, give her a chance to make up for all the lost time.

Most of all, she hoped Spock would forgive her for the questions she would ask ... questions which might seem intrusive to him, but which were vital if she was to answer the questions which had plagued her ever since they'd been split up as children -- especially the ones about how he had fared since then. How were they to even begin to make up the thirty-year gap if she *didn't* ask? She truly wished it hadn't been necessary, but not even her mother's ongoing correspondence with *his* mother could cover everything. That choice had been taken from them a long time ago. His privacy would be invaded, and she regretted that, but what else could she do?

Christine changed outfits at least three times before settling on a simple but elegant Greek-style dress ending just below the knee, white with gold trim around the draped bodice and waist. Gold slippers were on her feet and there was a matching band around her upswept hair. A gold armband encircled her right arm and dangly earrings from her pierced ears completed the effect. She put one in mind of Helen of Troy.

*I only hope Spock likes it,* she thought even as she spritzed perfume on strategic places. She finished at 2030 hours, figuring it best to go early instead of climbing the walls with nervousness. Even so, she was unable to control her pounding heart. This wasn't just any man she was going to see ... this was Spock! What happened (or *didn't* happen) could spell the difference between their having a future together and having nothing at all.

She arrived a short time later, standing inside the door for a moment as her eyes swept the large room for a certain someone -- and not finding him. Fighting down her disappointment in spite of the fact that she must have left well before he did (and therefore arrived sooner), Christine was all ready to leave when she heard a quiet voice in her ear, much closer than she expected.


She turned her head to find Spock beside her. Only his gentle touch on her shoulder prevented her from jumping out of her skin. He dropped his hand to his side and did not touch her again, simply gesturing to the far side of the room and most secluded booth. They were silent as they made their way to it; she noted that he placed his harp in the corner where the seat met the wall on his side.

She smiled inwardly. He knew *Beyond Antares*, she'd been told that much, but what other songs did he know? Were there any from Terran history, like Beethoven's *Pastoral Symphony (#6)* or Tchaikovsky's *Nutcracker Suite*, her favorites? It was a foregone conclusion that he would know many songs from his home world and other Federation members and allies. She would have to ask when he'd learned to play the harp. She couldn't recall his ever doing it as a child. Perhaps he had learned it after she'd left Vulcan. Once they had seated themselves, she would ask.

Spock situated himself, then clasped his hands in front of him on the table and looked at her expectantly. "What do you wish to know?"

"First off, when did you learn the harp? I never knew you knew it."

"Shortly after your departure, but it took several years for me to become proficient."

"What kind of songs do you know?"

"Several of the songs from Vulcan and many from Earth, Argelius, Rigel V ... " His voice trailed off.

"Do you know Beethoven's 6th Symphony and Tchaikovsky's *Nutcracker Suite*? They're my favorites."

"The Pastoral? Of course. It is a favorite of mine as well. I also know the *Nutcracker Suite*. Would you like me to play them for you?"

"Would you?" Christine's face lit up. "That would be wonderful. It's been ages since I've had a chance to listen to my recordings of them."

"Then I will do so -- once we are finished with our talk." The Vulcan took a breath before speaking again. "What else do you want to know?"

"I'd ... like to know about T'Pring. What is she like, and what is your relationship like?" Christine could tell she'd said something wrong by the way Spock closed his eyes and stiffened.

"Does it really matter? It is not something I care to discuss."

"If it concerns you, it matters to me, but we can talk about something else if you prefer." Christine lowered her eyes.

Spock sensed her disappointment, and his tone softened. "Perhaps later. Right now, I would appreciate talking about something else."

"Like your relationship with the Captain?"

Spock's eyes narrowed but he began to speak. "He is -- a very close friend, almost a brother. One of the few who has ... accepted me as I am, who does not -- ask me to change or make me feel obligated to ... do certain things in order to gain his approval."

She'd also planned to ask if Spock regarded McCoy in the same light, but decided that she'd observed enough of their interaction over the last few months to have deduced that in spite of their verbal scraps as well as the way Leonard acted whenever Spock was ill or injured), that they indeed cared about each other -- and for this reason, chose to remain silent. Christine intently studied the drink in her glass as she tried to think of something else to ask him.

Spock was the one who finally broke the silence. "What else is there?"

"I can't think of anything else right now. I'll let you know when I have further questions."

There were other things she wanted to ask, of course, and despite the fact that Spock seemed willing to talk, something inside her rebel- led at asking too many personal questions. They were back in each other's lives, so there was time to get to know each other again without making Spock feel obligated to tell her everything at once. It was going to take longer than overnight to make up for thirty years, and they had made a promising start ... but it had to be gradual, so that he could get used to having someone else to talk to besides Kirk (and sometimes McCoy).

By this time, Spock was very uncomfortable with the emotional atmosphere of the conversation -- mainly due to the fact that it was bringing to the forefront all the feelings he'd been doing his utmost to keep suppressed. Spock clamped down hard on these unVulcan thoughts, hating to do it even as he knew he must. He was not free to give to Christine, not free to love her. He closed his eyes tightly even as he felt a gentle hand touch his.

"Spock, are you all right?"

"Christine, please ... " He could hardly bear the tenderness in her voice or her touch.

The nurse was contrite as she withdrew her hand. "Sorry, Spock. I forgot myself." A moment later, she thought of something she hoped would make him feel better. "I think it might be a good idea if you played your harp now."

The Vulcan looked up at her, allowing her to see his gratitude. "Yes. That would be most -- logical. Thank you."

"One does not thank logic, Spock, but if it'll make you feel better, you're welcome."

They got up and moved to a padded bench; she leaned against the nearest bulkhead at the corner where it and the bench intersected while Spock sat a short distance away. His long, slender fingers stroked the strings even as Christine recognized the *Pastoral Symphony*. After about five minutes, she noted that Spock had become more relaxed, his earlier pain apparently forgotten.

She would also have appreciated dinner, but would be able to live without it for one night. A large breakfast was in order, however. The only hunger she had at the moment was for Spock's company. Making him feel better eased her own discomfort, and it was an enjoyable evening for both ... or more accurately, all those in the room.

Both turned their heads at the sound of boisterous applause to find Kirk, McCoy and Uhura sitting nearby, broad smiles on their faces. Christine gave Uhura a dirty look; the Communications Officer returned an apologetic one. Still, the Head Nurse planned some choice words with Uhura when they were alone.

She pretended pleasure at their presence for Spock's sake as all listened to the First Officer play the *Nutcracker Suite*. By the time it was finished, it was nearly 2300, and it was Uhura who suggested they all go to bed since they all had early shifts and needed their sleep.

This went far toward redeeming her in Christine's eyes, but the couple was not to be alone, even on the way to their quarters -- at least not for more than a few minutes. After the others said their good-nights and departed, Spock walked Christine to her door, holding his harp under one arm while reaching for her hand with the other and raising it to his lips.

"It is my hope that you had a pleasant evening, Christine."

She smiled. "I always do when I'm with you."

"But I sensed your displeasure at the presence of the others." He sounded sad.

"Well, I wasn't *too* pleased. We don't often get the chance to be ourselves ... but I can't be too angry, since you were so pleased at seeing them. I told myself I could live with it this once, as long as it doesn't happen too often." She sighed as they reached her quarters. They were standing only a step apart. Spock was temptingly close. She made herself turn toward the door, fighting her strong desire to do otherwise. "Good night, Spock. Sleep well."

"I shall try. I hope you have a restful night."

The Vulcan fought even harder as he turned toward his own quarters. But this night, and the next thirteen weeks, were going to be the longest three and a quarter months of their lives.

* * *

And so it went for the next thirteen weeks, until Leonard had told her what Spock had said when he'd asked the Vulcan to come in for a physical. "You will cease to pry into my personal matters, Doctor, or I shall certainly break your neck!" That didn't sound like Spock at all. Perhaps his irritability was a symptom of his upcoming Mating Time. They had never discussed it, but it wouldn't surprise her.

Christine was considering "dropping by" to see how Spock was at some point, hoping he would be in a good mood and not threaten her as he had McCoy. She had never known him to do such things to a woman. In fact, he seemed protective of the gender (or at least the members he might work with). But all bets were off now, so she told herself to be ready for anything.

She had heard that Spock hadn't eaten for several days, and decided to take some plomeek soup and see if she could coax him to eat. His lack of appetite might be another symptom, but he still needed some kind of nourishment. Keeping in mind how much he had enjoyed the soup, one of the Vulcan dishes she had fixed for their picnic, Christine went to the kitchen and made more. She put some in a covered bowl, along with soda crackers and Altair water, put it all on a tray and headed up to his quarters on Deck Five.

She hoped she wouldn't run into anyone, but wasn't to be granted her wish. As she turned the corner, she saw the Captain and Leonard approaching. She whirled around to leave, but it was too late. McCoy had seen her. She could handle him, but the Captain was something else again. All she could do now, though, was make the best of an awkward situation.

"Miss Chapel." The men nodded and smiled in her direction.

"Dr. McCoy. Captain." She nodded and smiled back even as she fought off a blush.

The Doctor stepped up and removed the top from the soup bowl. "What's this? Oh, plomeek soup. And I bet you made it, too."

McCoy knew how she felt about Spock, so the Doctor wasn't about to tease her in front of the Captain. Each could only hope that Kirk would do the gentlemanly thing and not put her on the spot by asking her why she was doing this, or if Spock had asked her to bring him something to eat. The Chief Surgeon had told Kirk that Spock hadn't eaten for several days, but the Captain hadn't seen it as anything to be concerned about. He had said, "That just sounds like Spock in one of his con- templative phases." Kirk had no reason to think otherwise at the moment, since he didn't know about the *pon farr* yet.

Meanwhile, it was necessary to get through this moment, a moment which seemed an eternity to an embarrassed Head Nurse. "Well -- uh -- Mr. Spock hasn't been eating, and I ... just happened to notice -- "

McCoy smiled. "Of course, Miss Chapel. Carry on."

Christine silently blessed him as she moved to Spock's door and pressed the buzzer. There was no answer, but the door slid open, so she walked through. She had seen the Vulcan in many different moods, but until now she had never seen him angry -- and hoped she never would again. His temper, hidden until this moment, was formidable and terrifying.

"What is this?" he demanded, looking up at her with green fire in his eyes.

"Simply some food," she explained. "You haven't been eating, so I thought you might be hungry."

"I am not. Now get out," he ordered.

"But ... "

This was when he picked up the tray, bowl and all, and threw it out the door to clatter against the outer bulkhead. Christine ran ahead of it with a cry of fright; it missed her by no more than a couple of inches. Kirk and McCoy were standing outside in the corridor when this occurred, their stunned faces a blur as the Head Nurse ducked to one side of the door. Spock appeared seconds later, eyes blazing and his face twisted with anger.

"Poking, prying -- If I want anything from you, I will ask for it!"

The other two Humans were too shocked to speak for a time.

Spock seemed to calm down upon seeing the Captain. "Captain, I request leave on my home planet. On our present course, you can divert to Vulcan with a loss of but two point-eight light-days."

Kirk found his voice. "Spock, what's going on?"

The Vulcan didn't seem to hear him. "I have given you my request, Captain. All I require is that you answer it -- yes or no!"

Spock ducked back into his quarters even as Kirk took a step toward him; the door closed in the Captain's face. Kirk and McCoy exchanged glances with Christine, each having the same question in their eyes -- but neither man had a clue as to how to help Spock. The nurse was the only one who had any idea at all what *might* be wrong, but would have to wait until Spock calmed down before she dared approach him again.

Before she did so, however, she heard that Spock had made an unauthorized course change for Vulcan against the Captain's orders, yet had no memory of having done it. Could his memory lapse be another symptom of whatever was affecting him? Even as she neared the First Officer's quarters, she saw Kirk and Spock enter, guessing that the Captain had learned what the Vulcan had done and was going to have a talk with him.

Heaven knew how long that would be, so Christine would have to postpone her own talk with Spock yet again. *Tomorrow,* she told herself. *I'll try again tomorrow.*

* * *

She was on-shift the following day when McCoy told her about Spock and the physical the former had given him. McCoy had said that there was a growing hormonal imbalance which he couldn't trace with his bio-comps and which Spock wouldn't discuss with him, but if it wasn't stopped, the physical and emotional pressures would kill the Vulcan within a week.

This meant that they could not go to Altair VI if Spock was to survive, despite orders to be there for the inauguration of the planet's new President. If they did, he would surely die, because the Inaugural celebrations were supposed to last a week. Kirk could be busted out of Starfleet if he went against direct orders from Fleet Command, but was willing to risk it because Spock was his friend. She could now understand part of the reason why Spock cared so much for Kirk and would go to such lengths for him.

They didn't go back as far as she and Spock did, but had been close friends for some years prior to serving on the Enterprise. She had been out of touch with Spock for almost thirty years. Maybe not by choice or any fault of her own, but out of touch nonetheless. Kirk had been there when Spock most needed a friend, and for that reason Christine could hardly begrudge him the happiness and sense of belonging that the love and loyalty of a true friend could give. She and Spock were rebuilding their fractured friendship, but thirty years was a long time to make up for.

With luck, however, they would do just that ... and perhaps have love as well. In the meantime, her main concern was keeping Spock alive long enough to accomplish those objectives. Christine had an idea as to how she could do that, but there might be a problem getting Spock to go along with it.

* * *

She was right, though she didn't know it yet. Christine pressed the buzzer at Spock's quarters once, then twice. Nothing. She made sure to wait in order to give him a chance to respond, but he didn't. That was so out of character that she couldn't leave without checking on him. She pressed medical override and entered. The quarters were dimly lit and she smelled sandalwood incense in the air. The Vulcan was lying on his side on his bed, apparently asleep, but with Spock's hearing, he should have heard the buzzer and answered.

She moved to the side of the bed and leaned over him, tentatively reaching out a hand, wanting to touch him more than anything, but stopping in mid-gesture because he was stirring. She had turned and was heading for the doorway when his voice froze her in her tracks.


The nurse turned to face the First Officer, hating the fact that her eyes had filled with treacherous tears. Spock would surely see them and lecture her on her emotionalism. When she turned around, he had rolled over and sat up, tucking one leg beneath him and resting the corresponding arm on his thigh. The other was draped over the side of the bed, his left foot resting on the floor. Christine tried to speak, but couldn't get the words past her throat. The Science Officer looked at her in a manner she'd never seen before he began to speak.

"Christine, I had the strangest dream. You were trying to tell me something, but I could not hear you. What do you suppose that signifies?"

She didn't trust her voice, so she shook her head and shrugged.

He got up and took a couple of steps toward her. She made as if to flee, but his raised hand stopped her. "Forgive me, Christine. I should not expect you to know -- and it would be equally illogical to protest against our natures, would it not?"

She had no idea what he meant and said as much. "I ... don't understand. I -- only came to tell you that the Captain has ordered a course change for Vulcan. We should be there in a few days."

Spock nodded, seeming resigned to the necessity of returning, though Christine was sure he didn't want to. How could he, going to such cold comfort as T'Pring? She cursed Sarek all over again for believing himself right in splitting her and Spock up when his own so-called "logical choice" was so wrong.

To her, it was far more logical to marry for love, to wed the one person one loved most and grow old with them ... not be thrown aside simply because she wasn't Vulcan and loved Spock, for another who *was* Vulcan, but who all but hated him. The nightmares he must have endured! During this time, Christine had been trying to think of a way to bring up the subject she had come to discuss even as Spock spoke again.

"Did you only come to inform me of the course change?"

Christine felt herself flush, but forced herself to speak. "I -- have learned that you will soon experience your ... Mating Time. I would be -- honored to serve you. Please let me help."

Spock knew what she was implying and wished with every fiber of his being that he was free to accept. Had circumstances been different, he would have, in a moment ... but he was being drawn to T'Pring against his will. His mind and heart screamed against it, but his body wanted her. He had no choice but to refuse Christine's altruistic offer of herself, though he would be in as much pain doing it as she would be in receiving it.

"I -- cannot, Christine. My ... affliction demands that I join only with the one to whom I am bonded."

Tears filled her eyes again, knowing a turndown when she heard one, even a gentle one. She wanted to speak, but hurt too much to do so.

Spock forced himself to continue. "I need -- more than a ... physical joining. There must be a -- mental link between the partners."

When Christine spoke again, it was with equal parts bitterness and anguish. "I *wanted* to bond with you. You must have known that when you told me you wanted to bond with me. It wasn't *my* fault I wasn't able to, you know. It was your father's bright idea that screwed things up for us ... your father who forced me and my parents to leave Vulcan."

Her words had the desired effect but his stricken face went straight to her heart. She had to erase that look. It wasn't Spock's fault his father was a jackass. It made no sense to punish him for what Sarek had done. It had been her hurt talking; she hadn't meant it. But would she be able to convince Spock of that? She had to try; she couldn't leave him thinking that she blamed him for what had happened to split them up as children.

"I'm sorry, Spock. I didn't mean it. Please forgive me."

The Vulcan looked up at her with the first real smile Christine had seen from him (or at least the first one she had seen directed at her since their reunion) and she knew she had been forgiven. Spock had always been too forgiving for his own good, but at the moment, she was glad of it.

"Please believe me and try to understand, Christine. If it was up to me, I would be -- honored to accept your most generous offer. I ... am most appreciative of what you wished to do, and want you to know--"

She cut off his impetuous speech with a finger on his lips. "This isn't the time, Spock. But if you need someone later on, you know where to find me."

"I will ... keep that in mind. Now I believe it would be logical for you to depart. I will make certain that you are not seen doing so." He pressed the button next to the door to open it and leaned out, hands on the door frame as he looked in both directions. Christine was one step behind him. "All clear, Christine. I will see you later. Take care."

"You too, Spock. Until later."

She walked out, smiling as she passed him, the doors swishing shut behind her. In spite of her hurt at Spock's gentle but firm refusal, she respected his integrity and loved him all the more. A pity T'Pring was incapable of appreciating what a jewel of a man she had. A senseless waste.

* * *

The next day Christine headed for the Officers' Mess to meet Uhura. On the way, she thought of what had happened when they thought they had found Roger six weeks ago. Spock had told her that the android Kirk had beamed up to the ship and gone through the Captain's command orders. It had made the Vulcan curious, and he had asked what was going on. The android had snapped, "Mind your own business, Mr. Spock! I'm sick of your half-breed interference, do you hear?"

Spock knew that Jim would never have spoken to him like that without a good reason and he had done nothing to warrant it -- so that couldn't be his friend and Commanding Officer. After the fake Kirk had transported back down to the planet, Spock had called two Security men and followed him down. (The real Kirk had implanted the suggestion in the android's mind in an attempt to alert Spock.) In the end, Korby had phasered the huge android Ruk out of existence while Andrea had turned the phaser on herself and the Korby simulacrum. Christine had been too stunned to cry at the horrific sight, even when Spock had appeared with the Security men.

Her face flamed as she recalled the day she had inadvertently blurted her feelings to Spock under the influence of an alien virus from Psi 2000. She had cradled his face in her hands, then raised his hands to her lips and kissed them. He had been stunned into near-speechlessness. But if Spock remembered that incident or what she had said now, he had given no indication of it. She preferred not to think about it, either. She had all but thrown herself at him! How would she ever live it down?

But worst of all was the Deneva incident ... Parasites from another galaxy had attacked Spock and been formidable enough to make even *him* moan with pain, provoking him into trying to take over the ship. She had been working at her desk when Spock had regained consciousness after the operation to remove the "stinger" from his spinal cord, leaving Sickbay after pushing her aside.

She had called the Bridge, then grabbed the hypo of sedative McCoy would need. It had taken four men to subdue the crazed Vulcan before the Doctor injected him with the strong sedative. He was returned to Sickbay and put under restraint. They had found a way to kill the creatures, but it had blinded Spock when the Vulcan had volunteered to be a test subject. Thankfully the blindness had been temporary -- maybe a couple of hours -- but long enough to provoke serious thought as to how the First Officer's life might have gone if he had become *permanently* blind.

These were three of the recent missions in which she or Spock had had a significant role (or at least significant to her) that she recalled as she headed for the Officers' Mess on Deck Three. Upon arrival, the Head Nurse began thinking of how she was going to lecture Uhura. Kirk and McCoy weren't any less guilty, but Spock had been so pleased to see them that she was unable to stay angry. It was Uhura's presence she had questions about.

Christine called up a meal of chicken salad, a slice of cheesecake for dessert and a large glass of ice-cold pink lemonade. She would have to do some extra workouts in the gym, but it would be worth it. She found Uhura halfway across the room with her back to her, engrossed in conversation with Sulu. He got up before Christine reached the table, shooting a surreptitious wink in her direction before taking his leave. The nurse moved up as the helmsman moved off, setting down her tray across from Uhura.

"Chris!" the Bantu exclaimed, giving a smile upon seeing her friend.

"Nyota." The other woman returned the smile.

"You said you wanted to talk to me," Uhura said.

"Yes." Christine took a drink to soothe her dry throat.

"About what?"

"The other night in Rec Room 14 when I was there with Spock."

Uhura smiled again. "I remember. Wasn't he great?"

"Yes," Christine agreed, "but I had *expected* to be *alone* with him." Her tone conveyed her displeasure.

"You weren't pleased, I take it." The dark woman took a bite of her own food, washing it down with Altair water.

"Exactly. Just how long had you three been there before we noticed you?"

"About half an hour. Hey, what's the big deal? We don't get to hear Spock play his harp every day, you know ... and besides, *he* didn't seem to mind our being there. Neither did you, for that matter."

"That was only for his sake. He was so happy to see you all that I didn't feel it right to say anything. It would have been all right if it had been planned, but it wasn't. You get me?" She gave Uhura a hard look.

Uhura sighed. "I read you. Loud and clear. I won't let them talk me into it again. As it was, I thought it might be fun. I never meant to interfere with your privacy." The Communications Officer sounded so penitent that Christine had to forgive her.

"Okay, I'll overlook it this time -- but don't let it happen too often ... at least not without my knowing beforehand."

"Got it." Uhura gave a mock salute. "Now let's get to the serious business of eating. I'm famished!" With that, the women dug into their respective meals with a vengeance.

* * *

They arrived at Vulcan the following morning. After the initial welcome, the viewscreen was activated and T'Pring came on. She and Spock recited the traditional bondmates' greeting in the presence of all the Vulcan's friends and shipmates on the Bridge -- including Christine. Everything went as Spock expected for a time after he had invited Kirk and McCoy to stand with him, but after Spock had reached the gong and was about to strike it a second time, T'Pring hurried over and held her hand in front of it to stop him.

"Kal-if-fee!" she called out.

The marriage bells had rung earlier, when T'Pau had officially begun the ceremony; now they rang again. Spock seemed stunned at T'Pring's outburst, moving away as if in a trance, dropping the mallet in the dust at his feet. He walked to one side of the arena and stood with his fingers entwined, rolling his eyes back so only the whites showed.

"What is it? What happened?" Kirk asked.

"She chooses the challenge," T'Pau said.

"With *him*?" The Doctor gestured toward a large man standing nearby in warrior dress.

"No. He acts only if cowardice is seen. She will choose her champion," the matriarch explained.

Kirk tried to speak to Spock, but T'Pau said, "Do not attempt to speak with him, Kirk. He is deep in the *plak tow*, the blood fever. He will not speak with thee again until he has passed through what is to come." The matriarch took a breath before speaking again. "If thee wishes to depart, thee may leave now."

Kirk and McCoy didn't move. "We'll stay," the Captain said.

T'Pau's face seemed to soften for a moment. "Spock chose his friends well."

McCoy couldn't resist jumping in. "Excuse me, ma'am, but I don't understand. Are you telling us she rejected Spock? That she doesn't want him?"

"He will have to fight for her. It is her right." T'Pau turned toward T'Pring. "T'Pring, thee has chosen the *kal-if-fee*, the chal- lenge. Are thee prepared to become the property of the victor?"

"I am prepared," was the reply.

T'Pau spoke to Spock. "Spock, does thee accept challenge according to our laws and customs?"

Spock gave a barely perceptible nod.

Kirk stage-whispered to McCoy. "Do you think Spock can take him?" The Captain shot a glance in Stonn's direction.

"I doubt it," McCoy whispered back. "Not in his present condition."

T'Pau spoke to T'Pring again. "T'Pring, thee will choose thy champion."

The beautiful young Vulcan woman stepped down from the raised platform where the gong was, hands folded in front of her at chest level. "As it was in the dawn of our days, as it is today, as it will be for all tomorrows, I make my choice." Stonn moved up expectantly, but T'Pring moved past him and pointed to Kirk. "This one!"

Stonn spoke up. "No! I am to be the one. It was agreed."

"Silence!" T ('Pau ordered.

"Hear me. I have made the ancient claim. I claim the right. The woman is--"

"Kroykah!" The matriarch cut him off in mid-sentence.

Stonn hung his head. "I ask forgiveness."

The bells rang until all was silent. T'Pau addressed Kirk again. "Kirk, T'Pring is within her rights, but our laws and customs are not binding on thee. Thee are free to decline with no harm on thyself."

To T'Pau's surprise, Spock moved up to her and began to speak. "T'Pau ... " His voice was a hoarse whisper. "My friend does not -- understand. He does not ... know. I will do -- what I must, T'Pau, but not with him. His blood ... does not burn. He is my friend."

T'Pau was firm. "The choice has been made, Spock. It is up to him now." She paused a moment before speaking again. "It is said thy Vulcan blood is thin. Are thee Vulcan, or are thee Human?" Her voice fairly dripped contempt on the last word.

"I burn, T'Pau," Spock said. "My eyes are flame ... my heart is flame. Thee has the power, T'Pau. In the name of my fathers, forbid. T'Pau, I plead with thee. I beg ... " The entreaty would have melted a heart of stone, but T'Pau was unmoved.

"Thee has prided thyself on thy Vulcan heritage. It is decided." With that, the combat sash was placed around Spock's waist.

Kirk asked, "What happens to Spock if I decline?"

"Another champion will be selected," he was told. "Do not interfere, Kirk. Keep thy place."

"You can't do it, Jim," McCoy protested. "She said their laws are not binding on you."

"And you said Spock might not be able to handle Stonn," Kirk replied. "If I can knock Spock out without hurting him -- "

The Doctor cut in. "In this climate? If the heat doesn't get you, the thin air will."

"Don't worry. If I get in trouble, I'll quit. Spock wins, and honor is satisfied."

McCoy was unconvinced. "Jim, don't do this!"

"Bones, he's my friend. I ('ve already disregarded Starfleet orders to bring him here. Another thing: that's T'Pau of Vulcan. All of Vulcan in one package. How can I back out in front of her?"

The bells rang again for several minutes, then the matriarch spoke as they ended. "It is done. Kirk, decide."

The Captain didn't hesitate. "I accept the challenge."

"Here begins the act of combat for possession of the woman T'Pring. As it was at the time of the beginning, so it is now. Bring forth the *lirpa*."

Each of the combatants were presented with a polished staff with a weighted cudgel on one end and a razor-sharp crescent blade on the other. T'Pau went on, "If both survive the *lirpa*, combat will continue with the *ahn-woon*."

Kirk's eyes widened. "What do you mean, 'if both survive'?"

"This combat is to the death."

Kirk became even more alarmed. "Wait a minute, ma'am. Who said anything about a fight to the death?"

McCoy broke in. "These men are friends! To force them to fight until one of them is killed--"

The Vulcan in warrior dress put his weapon across the Doctor's throat. "I can forgive such a display only once," T'Pau warned. "Challenge was given and lawfully accepted. It has begun; let no one interfere!"

Spock jumped into a defensive stance even as Kirk moved into position facing him ... and the battle began.

* * *

After it was all over and T'Pring had explained herself, Spock released her to Stonn, then beamed up to the ship and went to Sickbay, sick at heart over what he believed he had done to his closest friend. Why had T'Pring chosen Kirk over Stonn? Could she have sensed his affection for the Captain through the bond? Could she hate him so much that she would force him to kill his best friend for her? It was all immaterial now; Jim was gone. Killed at his hands -- and for what? A lying, scheming mercenary who cared for no one but herself. Despite her outer beauty, T'Pring's personality was the polar opposite.

He was unaware that Kirk was still alive, so he approached McCoy and Christine. "Doctor, I shall be resigning my commission immediately, and would appreciate your making the final arrangements."

McCoy tried to explain. "Spock, I ... "

"Doctor, please, let me finish. There can be no excuse for the crime of which I am guilty. I intend to offer no defense."

"Spock, will you shut up a minute and listen to me?"

The Vulcan went on as if McCoy hadn't spoken. "I am ordering Mr. Scott to take command of this vessel, and -- "

Then a welcome but most unexpected voice cut in as Kirk came up behind him. "Don't you think you should check with me first?"

Spock whirled around, unable to believe his ears. "Jim!" he exclaimed with undisguised joy, grabbing his friend's arms in a near- embrace. He stopped upon realizing that McCoy and Christine were watching. "I ... am pleased to see you, Captain. You seem uninjured. I am at a loss to understand it, however."

"Blame McCoy," Kirk said. "That was no tri-ox compound he shot me with. He slipped in a neural paralyzer. Knocked me out. Simulated death."

The Vulcan's upswept brows rose almost into his bangs. "Indeed."

McCoy looked at Christine and asked, "Nurse, would you mind, please?"

Her eyes met Spock's for a moment; he nodded slightly and she turned to leave, knowing they would talk as soon as he felt up to it. Right now, what he needed was quality time with his two closest *male* friends. Spock had been gratified to learn that he had lost interest in T'Pring after the fight was over. The tenuous, meaningless bond with her was broken. He was free!

The Vulcan was too pleased at that thought to consider at any length what T'Pring had done to him -- and when he did, his friends (especially Kirk) and Christine would be there to help him pick up the pieces and start over. Now he could tell her how he felt, let her know that he was now free to love her, and most importantly, accept *her* love.

As soon as he recovered from the broken bond and the *pon farr*, Spock vowed to break his thirty-year enforced silence and do what he had always wanted to do ... bond with and eventually marry the woman he truly loved. The happiness and contentment awaiting them was beyond the ability of words to describe, but what mattered to Spock was that they could now be together as they had always wanted -- and nothing (and no one) could or would stop them. Not his father, not Starfleet Command. No one!

As he excused himself from his friends some time later, the Vulcan was hard-pressed to keep from smiling when he thought of how Christine would react when they met privately still later. How surprised and disbelieving, then profoundly happy, she would be at what he would ask her ... the one he had literally waited all his life to love.

* * *

Two months passed before Spock fully recovered from both the *pon farr* and broken bond, not to mention his near-murder of Kirk, but he had the help of his two friends and Christine to see him through. One might question the logic of Spock waiting an extra day after thirty years without Christine, much less two months -- but after suffering so much emotional abuse in his life, the Vulcan was cautious about declaring himself, even as much as he wanted to. It was necessary for him to have his confidence boosted before he dared approach her with his proposition. And for that, he needed his two closest friends.

It had taken weekly sessions for the last eight weeks with both Kirk and McCoy advising him, but their show of friendship and encouraging words had done wonders for the Vulcan's self-esteem, never high at the best of times. They had just finished a late dinner when Spock looked up at Kirk, sitting neat to him, giving his Human friend a meaningful look. Kirk smiled back.

"Something wrong, Spock?"

The First Officer gave him a half-smile. He didn't want to admit he still had doubts, but there seemed no way of avoiding it. He also knew what McCoy would say and how he would react, but was sure that Jim would "head him off at the pass," as it were, before matters got out of hand. He lowered his head and spoke quietly.

"Yes, but please keep in mind that I -- do appreciate and have taken to heart every word you have said over these last several weeks. Yet I am still ... uncertain. Is there anything you could add to what you have already said which would possibly make it easier for me to speak to Christine?"

The Doctor was exasperated. "For God's sake, Spock, hasn't anything we've said sunk in? What does it take to get through to you?"

Kirk glared at McCoy as Spock closed his eyes in pain. "Stuff it, Bones. You know better than that. How would *you* feel in his situation? Think before you speak, for once." His tone effectively silenced the outspoken Chief Surgeon. Spock gave his Human Captain and friend a grateful look upon raising his head and smiled, if only with his eyes. The Captain turned to speak to his Vulcan friend.

"I can understand your uncertainty, Spock, but you know how Christine feels about you ... and how *you* feel about *her*. If her feelings haven't changed in thirty years, I doubt they ever will. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Tell her everything you've told me -- us -- and you shouldn't have any problem convincing her." The Captain smiled to emphasize his words.

"Thank you, Jim. That is what I needed to hear. Now, if you will excuse me, I must go to speak privately with Christine."

The Vulcan stood up and nodded in the direction of his two friends; they smiled back and simultaneously said, "Good luck, Spock."

He accepted it because his current situation was not logical, and therefore called for the nebulous thing called "luck". But Spock was still hard-pressed to control his nervousness, despite it all. No one could predict the outcome of a situation which hadn't occurred yet, so all he could do was hope for the best.

Once the Vulcan was out of earshot, the Doctor said, "I never thought I'd see the day that Spock would admit to being unsure about anything."

Kirk frowned but said, "This is a romantic situation, Bones. He *hasn't* had much experience with this -- especially not with someone who loves him, like Christine ... and you should know what it would take to get him to admit to having romantic feelings. But he has, and it's our duty as his friends to help in any and every way we can."

The Captain stood up, and McCoy followed suit. "Now it's best for us to get some sleep, since we've got an early day tomorrow, and leave our two friends to their own devices. We can only hope our advice helps him. He's waited so long to be truly happy, and after all he's had to endure, no one deserves it more. Don't you agree?"

McCoy didn't reply but the look the Doctor gave him gave Kirk his answer. Only moments after Spock's departure, they followed him out the door and went their separate ways upon reaching their respective quarters, each thinking their own thoughts. Mainly about what was likely to transpire once Spock told Christine how he really felt about her.

* * *

Christine had just changed into her nightgown, robe and slippers and was combing her hair in preparation for retiring (she had the early shift with McCoy) when there was a knock on her door. If it hadn't been so quiet -- mainly due to the hour -- and she hadn't been listening, she wouldn't have heard it. Who would be calling at this hour, and in such a manner?

She pressed the button near her bed to open the door and said, "Come." Her eyes widened in surprise and pleasure upon seeing Spock step in. Could he be here for their promised talk? If so, why hadn't he rung the buzzer instead of knocking? Not that it mattered. The important thing was that he was here.

The Vulcan looked apologetic upon noting her state of undress. "I regret interrupting your preparations for sleep, Christine." He stayed outside her sleeping alcove, but near the doorway.

"That's okay, Spock. I'm sure you must have a good reason for being here." They looked at each other in silence for a long time until Christine broke it. "You *do*, don't you?"

Spock felt heat come into his cheeks in spite of his best efforts. "Yes. Yes, of course."

"May I know what it is?" She looked at him in such a way that the color in his face deepened, but his voice and manner belied it.

"If you would come to the table and sit down, I will tell you." He moved to the table and seated himself, expecting her to follow. He didn't speak again until she was seated facing him, hands folded in front of her on the table.

"Okay, I'm here. What did you want to say?"

Spock had never expected to reach this moment, but it was here now, and she was so close. "I am sure you recall what happened two months ago," he forced out.

"The *pon farr*? Yes, I remember. What about it?"

"You wanted to know about T'Pring," he reminded her.

"Yes. Are you going to tell me now?"

He nodded.

"Fire away."

He raised an eyebrow but began to speak. "As you have no doubt noticed, she is very beautiful."

Christine nodded. "What else?"

"She is the daughter of Somar, one of my father's colleagues at the Science Academy. She favors her mother in looks and her father in temperament. She is also a member of the second oldest Clan on Vulcan. I am a member of the oldest Clan."

Christine nodded again. "Okay, I understand that much. How did the two of you get along?"

The Vulcan stiffened, but made himself speak. "She was -- tolerant of me at first, but as time went by, our ... relationship -- what there was of it -- deteriorated to the point where we could scarcely bear to be in the same room together for more than a brief time. It ... always rankled her to be mind-linked with someone only -- half-Vulcan. She never ... considered me -- worthy of her. All I could sense was her ... hatred and resentment for having been -- forced into the bonding as much as I was. Incidentally, she could not ... understand my decision to leave Vulcan and join Starfleet any more than my father could. It was a -- relief to get away from her ... them." His expression was so despondent that Christine had to reach and squeeze his hand.

"I'm sorry you had to endure such a nightmare, Spock. I'm glad it's all behind you now." *And because of this, there may even be a chance for *me*,* she couldn't help thinking, even at the risk of his picking it up.

Spock favored her with a rare and beautiful smile. "Thank you, Christine."

He fell silent again and she sensed how difficult it was for him to speak of private things. Well, she wouldn't ask it of him again, if he would only say what she so longed to hear: *I love you.*

"I assume you also know that I am no longer -- bonded with her. It was ... broken after my fight with the Captain. Which means that I am now -- free to join with another." He looked up at her, his dark eyes soft.

Christine knew love when she saw it, and was not afraid to say so. "Spock, are you asking me to ... bond with you?"

He could not answer her, but only nod, since he didn't trust his voice, the depth of his feelings overwhelming him. "And saying that you ... " She hesitated, hardly daring to say it, much less believe, that the one she loved so much actually loved *her*. " ... love *me*, too?"

This was when the Vulcan knew he had to say it, regardless of how hesitant he was. Doing it now would make all the difference, even if he never said it again -- at least not verbally. She needed to hear it from his own lips, and Vulcan reserve be hanged. She meant too much to him ... and both of them had waited far too long for this.

"I -- have always loved you, Christine. Always. Even when I was ... bonded. I -- carried the hope in my heart that we would find each other again every moment of the past thirty years, and when you joined the Enterprise crew six months ago ... " His voice trailed off, then he took a breath and spoke again. "It seemed too good to be true."

"Oh, Spock." She put his hand to her lips and kissed it, then placed it on her cheek and held it there. "I would be honored to bond with you."

He could see her sincerity and deep love for him in her blue eyes. They stood up at the same time and moved to the nearby couch -- which faced her holoviewer -- with two heart-shaped pillows at each end, and seated themselves. It only took ten minutes for them to bond. Spock put his hand on her face in the mind-link position; gentle pressure and intense concentration soon put the couple into mind contact.

*Are you ready, Christine?* his mind spoke.

*Spock, I've waited all my life for this,* Christine replied, lovingly embracing his consciousness and drawing it into her own mind. *Please don't make me wait any longer.*

He took a deep breath before dropping his shields and allowing her into his mind, feeling a warmth and tenderness he had never known with any woman other than his mother until now.

*Never and always touching and touched. Our minds are one, our hearts are one.* Her mind-voice echoed this. *Will thee be my wife, my bondmate ... pledge thy life and love to me, now and forever?*

*Yes, Spock. Yes!*

He sensed both disbelief and happiness in her mind-voice -- a happiness so deep and profound as to be unfathomable ... even as she felt his for a moment -- every bit as intense as hers.

*Just as I pledge my life and love to thee, Christine, now and forever. I intend to be the best husband and bondmate I can possibly be, in an attempt to make up for the pain you have been caused.*

*It was not your fault, beloved ... and I shall be content as long as we're together.* The love in her mind-voice brought tears to his eyes. How could he ever have been deemed worthy of such a woman as this?

*From this moment on, I will cherish thee with every fiber of my being -- as I will any children we may have.*

*Just as I will cherish thee and our children,* her mind responded.

*Finally, it is my wish that the feelings we bear for one another remain as perpetual as the Vulcan sun for as long as we both shall live.*

Upon coming out of the mind-meld which established the bond, Christine could feel the warmth of Spock's presence in her mind and his almost overwhelming love for her, just as she was sure he felt hers. It was only a matter of time until they came together in a long-awaited, mutually desired kiss, but there was something she had to say first. They were sitting together, holding hands, when she spoke.

"Do you remember our last family outing two days before my parents and I left Vulcan?"

Spock frowned. "Not clearly, I'm afraid."

"I do. We were both there, you with your mother and me with my folks. We'd just eaten a picnic lunch in the parklands outside ShiKahr and were playing on the grass, not noticing that we were heading for a hill. When we stopped, you were on top of me. Then I put my arms around your neck and kissed your nose." She smiled at the memory. "You blushed, as I recall ... just as you're doing now."

His color went even deeper, but it didn't stop him from moving closer to her.

"Shortly after that, our mothers called us back and we left the parklands." Christine sighed. "I had always wondered if you'd found our contact pleasant or -- embarrassing. I never got the chance to ask you until now."

Spock had been searching his memory as she spoke, and both the incident and the feelings came back to him with crystal clarity. Christine had been soft, warm and sweet-smelling even then -- and now ... ?

"It hurt me deeply when you acted so -- formal and standoffish on Starbase Six. I was ... sure you ('d forgotten our childhood affection for each other and were rejecting my attempts to renew our friendship. I tried to keep a respectful distance, because that was what I thought you wanted, but it was hard -- so very hard. I couldn't stay away from you. No one had ever made me feel as you did."

He put a finger to her lips to stop her. "I will explain my actions later, Christine. Meanwhile, I wish to say that I found our contact at the incident you mentioned as ... pleasant as you did. But right now -- " He looked into her eyes and she knew she read a kiss in his dark eyes.

She stroked his cheek and smiled, hoping he would take that as an affirmative answer to his unspoken request. He gave her a soft smile and drew her close, put his free hand on her cheek and bent his head forward to tenderly touch her lips with his. Their lips parted, then touched again as the kiss deepened, and the interlude (literally a dream come true for both parties involved) continued.

It was a long time before Spock could bring himself to release her, and even then only reluctantly ... then his lips found their way to her throat and kissed the bare skin he found. He found her to be every bit as warm, soft and sweet-smelling as the first time they had been this close, as children -- but they were children no longer. They were man and woman, bonded mates. She owned his heart and mind, as he owned hers, for now and as long as both of them lived. He nuzzled one of her ears; she shivered at the feel of his warm breath.

"Christine, my precious one. I have waited so long for this ... for *you*. Please do not make me wait any longer." The unmistakable note of passion was in his voice and both were glad that their relationship would not be consummated in the throes of *pon farr*. They would have to face it eventually, but not now. Best of all, Spock hadn't needed *pon farr* to be attracted to her. As he had hoped, Christine got the hint, and they stood up before he swept her into his arms, once again holding a kiss.

"Yes, beloved. *Yes*!" she whispered against his lips.

Within a very short time, what had been only a thirty-year dream was transformed into a rapturous reality. His shadow, her light -- and *their* chaos. Opposite, yet totally compatible. And then the sum of their parts blended into a perfect whole as Spock and Christine came together, body and soul. And the stars sang ...

* * *

Shortly after their bonding and night together, Spock and Christine wrote their parents about the bonding. Their happiness seemed to exude from the stargrams received by their respective parents. Amanda in particular, according to Spock, who had discussed it with Kirk and Chris with Uhura. Their friends could not help noting an almost euphoric air around the couple. The waiting was finally over!

Of course, there were times they shocked even their friends -- like the time McCoy had stepped to his office door in time to see Christine reach her desk, Spock one step behind her. He'd heard the doors open and knew it had to be her, since it was time for her shift. He wanted to ask her something about one of their patients they had seen the previous day. As she was about to sit down, Spock seemed to whisper into her ear and she turned around, stepping into his arms for a kiss.

The Doctor wanted to move but was hypnotized. He watched, thunderstruck, as the kiss lingered a full thirty seconds. At this point, the couple finally separated, but gave each other tender glances, not saying anything verbally but their eyes spoke volumes.

"I will see you at 1600 hours, Christine ... then we can go to dinner in the Officers' Lounge." The Vulcan's deep baritone was a soft purr.

Christine touched his face in the mind-link position; unspoken love flowed through their bond. A minute later she removed her hand and the First Officer turned to leave after crossing fingers with her.

McCoy waited until the doors had closed behind Spock before calling to Christine. Only then could he move again, having been seemingly rooted to the spot in the doorway for the last five minutes. He sat down at his desk and composed his face into as serene a mask as possible, so she wouldn't guess that he had witnessed the interlude between her and Spock.

The nurse appeared in the doorway a moment later. "You wanted to see me, Leonard?"

"Yes. Come in and sit down. I want to ask you something about one of the physicals we gave yesterday."

She raised an eyebrow reminiscent of Spock as she seated herself in the chair facing the Doctor.

"It's about the brain scan we ran on Ensign Parker."

"What about him?"

"Well, it's like this." McCoy proceeded to detail the unusual reading. He had only seen it once before since he'd served aboard the Enterprise -- in Spock. Telepathy. Limited, maybe, but definitely there. "I think he may be telepathic. Do you think you could talk to Spock and see if he would be willing to work with him, determine its limits and if he so desires, develop it to its full potential?"

"I suppose I could ask him," Christine conceded.

"Are you seeing him tonight?" McCoy ventured carefully.

"Yes, as a matter of fact," she confirmed. "I'll mention it to him and see what he says. Anything else?"

The Doctor shook his head. "That covers it. You can go."

Christine stood up, smiled and nodded in McCoy's direction, then left to return to her desk.

* * *

It was a month before their duties and ship's missions permitted them to make arrangements for the wedding. It was like a beautiful dream to Christine, with only the five of them there -- herself and Spock, Kirk to marry them, McCoy as the Vulcan's "best man" and Uhura as her maid of honor.

The men wore their dress uniforms and Uhura a rose-colored, lacy, floor-length dress with silk roses in her dark hair. Christine's dress had a lace bodice and long, fitted sleeves also covered with lace and tapered to a point on her hands, along with a high, scalloped collar.

The rest of the dress was white silk; the skirt flared out just above her hips so she could walk. There was no train, though the hem of the dress brushed the floor. The nurse wore a headband of white silk roses in her blonde hair, which was piled on top of her head with tendrils falling on each side of her face. The band had a short veil attached to it, enough for Spock to lift and fold back when the time came.

She also carried a nosegay of white roses (real, this time) which she tossed to Uhura shortly after Kirk pronounced the First Officer and Head Nurse of the Enterprise husband and wife. After putting a gold band on her wedding finger, the Vulcan gathered his new wife into his arms and kissed her, oblivious to their audience.

Both were flushed with happiness (and something else) upon releasing each other ... then Christine had Spock remove the lacy garter above her right knee before tossing it to McCoy, retrieving it later because she wanted it as a memento. Right after the ceremony, there were the usual well-wishing, hugs and kisses all around; the Vulcan endured it with his usual air of long-suffering patience.

* * *

The day after the Federation wedding ceremony, Spock sent word to Vulcan and requested permission for a Vulcan wedding. He knew the Federation wedding would be enough for Christine, but he himself would not feel complete without the *koon-ut-kal-if-fee* ceremony. But to his dismay, his request was refused -- and knowing how inflexible T'Pau was, it was unlikely that he would be able to change her mind.

It was especially strange, considering the fact that she was the one always so insistent on upholding tradition. He wanted to do just that, but how could he if she would not let him? He felt badly about it but was not surprised. He would have to try to think of a way to persuade her ... if he could.

Perhaps he could write his mother and ask her if she thought that Sarek could temporarily put aside his differences with Spock and be made to speak to T'Pau on their son's behalf. It was a long shot, because there was no guarantee that the stubborn old woman would listen even to Sarek, but it was all he could think of to do. With Spock, to think was to act, and the stargram requesting help was written and transmitted within the next solar day. Now all he and Christine could do was wait. Meanwhile, the more pleasant business of their wedding reception awaited.

* * *

Upon their arrival, Amanda beamed up from Vulcan to join her son, new daughter-in-law and their friends for a visit of two hours, which was all Sarek would allow her. The group walked to the turbolift which would take them to the Officers' Lounge, which had been decorated for the private reception. As they all headed there, Christine wondered how Sarek was right now, how smart he considered himself. He had alienated his only child because of his obstinacy, but fate had favored Spock and Christine, with both Spock and his former bondmate now married to others. The older Vulcan had sabotaged his son's happiness for thirty years; was it any wonder Spock wanted little to do with him? He may have considered it the most "logical" thing to do, but it wasn't worth the emotional price both he and Spock had paid.

All it had done was punish Spock and Christine, and by doing that, Sarek had unwittingly punished himself. He and Spock weren't even on speaking terms, and the cold war between them showed no sign of ending any time soon. Christine felt sorry for Amanda, caught in the middle, torn with love for both husband and son, yet unable to bring her proud and stubborn men back together as father and son. At least Spock had a reasonably good relationship with his mother; that at to be at least *some* consolation to her -- and Christine herself, for that matter.

*Christine, m'chejan.* The warmth of Spock's mind-voice echoed in her head and she turned toward him. Their eyes locked as they mentally communicated.

*Yes, my husband?*

*You have been thinking about my father,* his mind-voice said; it was a statement of fact rather than an accusation.

*I was just wondering how logical Sarek thinks he is now that he has alienated you, and that we are together in spite of his sabotaging us ... and his "logical choice" is married to another.*

*It has no bearing on us now, my wife. We have better things to think about.*

The thoughts he sent her made her blush. *Why, Spock, you're positively lascivious,* Christine teased when they were alone for a moment because the others had turned a corner, having been slightly ahead of them.

*It is unseemly to insult me on our wedding day,* he admonished. *But we will discuss this later. Now we must get through the reception our friends wish to give us.*

The couple came back to reality when Kirk called, "Coming, you two?"

"Yes, Captain."

The Vulcan once again crossed fingers with his wife and followed their commander into the turbolift which would take them to the Officers' Lounge. The others were waiting inside, the Doctor keeping the doors open for the other three. McCoy had to smile at the vision of Spock and Christine feeding each other wedding cake which crossed his mind. The cake was a two-tier white affair with simple floral decorations and small bride-and-groom statuettes on top. It was surrounded by simple fare like mixed nuts, assorted fresh fruit and vegetables and sandwich wedges Amanda had made, along with fruit punch. Within five minutes, they had arrived at the cake table.

The couple was surprised and touched by the number of brightly wrapped gifts stacked on the adjoining table. Christine squeezed her husband's hand and smiled when she realized that his eyes were as misty as her own. "You never had any idea just how much you were loved, did you?"

Spock made no reply, and she looked up to see a large rectangular gift wrapped in rose and wedding-bell paper topped by a big white bow and ribbon. Kirk had bought the gift and paper at Starbase Six during their stopover there three months after the picnic, but the card taped to it was what the Vulcan was looking at. She recognized the distinctive scrawl of James T. Kirk, seeing her husband swallow hard and fight back tears.

To my dear friend Spock and his new wife Christine --

Every happiness to you both, today and always ...


"It's beautiful," Christine said softly, tightening her grip on Spock's hand. Spock could only nod and return the squeeze. She was the one who spotted the gift from McCoy on a small, square-shaped object. His card read:

To my friends Spock and Christine --

The best of everything to you both, always ...

Leonard (Bones) McCoy

"Spock, look," she whispered. He turned his head in her direction and followed her eyes. He seemed to freeze in his tracks upon reading what McCoy wrote, and Christine noted that his eyes again filled with tears.

"I told you Dr. McCoy cared about you."

"I know he does," came the defensive reply.

"But you never really believed it until now."

Again, he didn't answer her and she knew she was right in her assumption. This time, it was Spock who called her attention to a very small gift propped up against a larger one -- possibly a computer tape. Christine smiled as she recognized Nyota's fine hand.

This is a tape of your favorite music as sung and played by me on the Vulcan harp. I hope you both enjoy listening to it as much as I did making it.

Live long and prosper, Spock ...

Happiness always, Chris.

Love, Nyota

"We have some wonderful friends, don't we, Spock?" she asked as she looked over the gifts, catching the signatures of Scotty, Sulu, Chekov -- and Amanda. Her card, taped to a small, rectangular gift, had some hand-drawn roses on it and the following message:

To my beloved son and his lovely wife --

May you both be blessed with all the happiness you so richly deserve, today and always ...

Amanda Grayson

"You have a pretty wonderful mother, too," she remarked.

Spock smiled just for her and nodded in agreement.

Christine was sure the gift from her parents was somewhere in the large pile before them ... and even saw one from Ensign Parker! But there would be time to go through the rest of their gifts later. They couldn't possibly go through them all in one evening. There were just too many. They would just open the ones from their family and friends for now. Spock would enjoy opening and perusing the gifts as much as she, though he would probably never admit it. They also had gifts for each other, and it was hard to keep them secret because of the bond -- at least for her -- but she did her best. She would know whether or not it had worked very soon.

Again, all he could do was nod, and Christine felt how deeply touched Spock was. It was entirely possible that he had never had anything like this before, such an outpouring of love and good wishes ... and all directed at him. What little he had had, his mother had probably showed him in secret and admonished him never to tell his father. (At least that was the impression she got.)

"Would you like to open the gifts now?" She squeezed his hand again.

He didn't answer, merely squeezed her hand again -- but that squeeze spoke volumes. Kirk's voice brought them back to reality. Christine looked up to see their friends and Amanda gathered in front of the cake, waiting expectantly. She stepped in their direction, pulling her husband with her.

"Spock, I think they want us to cut the cake. We'll open the presents after sampling it and the other refreshments."

Her eyes met Kirk's, and he nodded as if confirming her statement. The couple moved behind the table; Christine picked up the decorated knife, placing it on the cake even as she felt Spock's warm hand cover hers. Husband and wife cut the cake together while their friends and Amanda looked on. They laughed and applauded when Christine fed Spock the cake first, then he fed it to her. Both blushed, not from embarrassment but happiness -- a happiness Spock never thought he would ever experience -- and looking into his wife's tender blue eyes, saw his own joy reflected in them. They were together at last ... forever!

After that, Spock and Christine alternated cutting the cake -- Spock for Kirk and McCoy, Christine for Uhura and Amanda. After the cake, they sampled the sandwich wedges, fruit, veggies and mixed nuts, washing them down with the punch.

"Did you make the sandwiches, my wife?" the Vulcan asked her after picking up a second wedge. "They taste like the ones you made for our picnic." He finished off the wedge in four bites.

"They're my recipe, but your mother made them," Christine told him. After finishing the food, they grabbed a couple of chairs and set them behind the empty table next to the table full of gifts.

Kirk noted their actions and called the others to gather around. "Gift-opening time, everybody!"

Other chairs were set up for the four spectators about ten feet away from the table where the newlywed couple sat. One look at her husband's face told Christine which present would be opened first -- and Kirk, too. He walked up to the gift table and picked up his gift, then took it over and handed it to Spock. The Vulcan held it for a moment, as if unsure what to do, until Kirk said, "Open it, Spock."

A couple of minutes later, there was a long silence as the two fixed their eyes on the Captain's gift. It was a painting. And not just any painting ... a portrait of the two of them! Christine was dressed in a draped, white dress with gold trim, her hair on top of her head with a band of silk roses around it and ringlets at the sides of her face. Tiny braided ones crossed her forehead and a long curl peeked around the back of her neck to rest on her half-bared left shoulder. She and Spock were crossing fingers and she was looking up at him with love.

He wore a royal blue, thigh-length Vulcan tunic with lettering down the left side, black pants and knee-high boots. There was also what looked like a long-sleeved, black turtleneck top underneath the tunic. The rendering was so lifelike that one half expected the subjects to speak. Christine sensed that her husband was just one step away from crying, and that only a thread of control kept him from doing it. His emotions were overwhelming him, so it was up to her to do the thank-you -- if she could. She wasn't in much better shape than Spock!

"Oh, Captain ... Jim ... it's beautiful. Thank you so much. We shall treasure it always." She was glad that that seemed to satisfy him, for she couldn't have said another word to save her life.

"I'm glad you like it." Kirk smiled and bowed his head modestly. "It cost me two months' pay, but judging from your reaction, it was worth every credit."

McCoy cut in. "No time for mushiness, people. That isn't the only gift you two are going to receive, you know." He marched over to the gift table and picked up his own gift, then handed it to Christine. Amongst layers of paper and padding, she discovered a delicate porcelain music box with a single hand-painted rose on top. When she looked at McCoy, he said, "Open it."

A moment later, after she had done so, the melody of the popular 20th-century ballad "True Love" flowed through the air. Christine hadn't heard it since she was a teenager, so it took her a few minutes to realize what it was ... but when she did, she mentally told Spock and once again saw his eyes mist with tears at the thoughtfulness of the gift -- and giver. She later learned that the Doctor had had the music box custom-made.

There was a shop at the same starbase where Kirk got his own gift for the couple -- a shop specializing in custom-made antiques with a list of 18th- to 22nd-century melodies to put inside the music box. (Kirk had used a full-length holo of Spock and got one of Christine from Uhura for the artist he commissioned to do the painting of them to work from.)

"Oh, Leonard ... " The lump in her throat made speech difficult, but Christine did her best. "'Thank you' hardly seems like enough. It's lovely."

Uhura had moved over to the gift table and retrieved her own gift, brushing away tears of happiness before turning around and heading for the table where Spock and Chris sat with the two opened gifts displayed near them. "Those gifts are so nice that I almost feel ashamed at giving such a small gift ... but then, you know what they say -- good things come in small packages. Enjoy, you two."

A minute later, Christine was examining the tape, pleased to note the presence of her two favorites as well as "Beyond Antares" and two of Nyota's own compositions. Others she didn't recognize, but perhaps Spock would. She handed it to him. He noted some of his favorite Vulcan instrumental melodies as well as both the old and new Terran pieces.

The beautifully written label listed the name of each piece and its composer, but abbreviated due to the small size of the tape. This time Spock felt brave enough to speak, albeit quietly. "Thank you, Miss Uhura. I am sure that Christine and I will ... enjoy this tape immensely."

Uhura's head bowed as she felt herself blush, even through her dusky skin. Spock didn't often give compliments, and when he did, he meant every word of them. "Thank you, Mr. Spock. It's an honor to serve with you ... an honor to know you. I'm sure you and Chris will be very happy together."

The Vulcan felt himself coloring slightly and busied himself with placing the tape with the other two gifts with one hand while Christine patted his other hand reassuringly. While this was going on, Amanda had made her way to the table and found her own gift to her son and daughter-in-law. One might assume that she would head for Spock, but this was not the case. Her action surprised everyone concerned -- her half-Vulcan son in particular -- but all soon realized why she had done what she did.

Christine looked up at her mother-in-law and smiled. "Thank you, Amanda. This is one of my favorite books. In fact, I was going to have my old copy redone, but I'll hold off on it now that we have this one." It was a well-preserved hardback copy of "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran. The younger woman noted that two spots in the book were carefully marked, and was pretty sure that she knew what they were ... but only now would she be able to share them with Spock -- the passages on "Love" and "Marriage". She smiled as she checked her theory and discovered that she was right.

Spock looked at the book, then his wife, and read in her eyes that now wasn't the time to discuss the book. It was best to discuss it in privacy, as she was sure Amanda had intended. There was also a personal note from her in the front of it, on the flyleaf, but there was no time to read it now. Time enough for that later.

Meanwhile, Kirk and McCoy had gone through the pile of gifts and the Doctor had come up with the large package from Christopher and Ann Chapel. "Got it!" came the triumphant shout. All turned in the direction of the gift table to see the Chief Surgeon with a big grin and a large package in his hands. He stood looking at his newly married friends for a moment as if trying to decide who to give it to. He finally decided on Christine, since it was from her parents.

It took a little longer to open this one, but it was worth the wait. A teal-blue, full-sized comforter was in the large package with a hand-embroidered IDIC on it. It was beautiful but Heaven knew how long it must have taken her mother to do. Upon unfolding it, Christine found two pillowcases with smaller versions of the IDIC on them ... then sheets with an all-over print design of even smaller IDICs, which would have had to have been specially ordered, if not imported.

The pleasure she felt from her husband warmed her. She would have to thank her mother at the first opportunity. In the very bottom, Chris-tine discovered a pale blue, legal-size envelope with her and Spock's names on it. This would be another thing they would discuss in private, she told her husband with her eyes when he noted it and looked at her with question in his dark eyes. The comforter, sheets and pillowcases were displayed with the other gifts.

A short time later, Amanda again made her way over to them. "Spock, Christine, I must go. Sarek is expecting me. Your wedding was lovely, as were the reception and your gifts, and I'll remember it all as long as I live." Her voice was a mixture of happiness and sadness, as was the expression on her still beautiful but careworn face.

Christine went into her mother-in-law's arms and the two women embraced.

"I know you will make Spock very happy, Christine. You're the one I wanted him to bond with in the first place. I told Sarek as much." She turned to her son, shocking him by gathering him into her arms and hugging him fiercely. "Now don't you dare criticize me, Spock! A mother has a right to hug her own son on his wedding day."

The Vulcan was too stunned to react for a moment, then awkwardly returned his mother's embrace. "I am ... not going to criticize you, Mother. The cause was -- more than sufficient."

They went over to Kirk and explained that Amanda had to leave. She also embraced the Captain, then McCoy and Uhura, before Spock and Christine accompanied her to the Transporter Room and beamed her down. After that, Christine expected to return to the Officers' Lounge, but her husband pulled her in the opposite direction, toward their quarters, the look in his eyes telling her what he had in mind.

"But aren't they expecting us back in the Lounge?"

"I told Jim that we wished to be alone now." The purring voice was the soft rumble of a large cat who greatly desired his mate. "They will not miss us."

Christine smiled. "If you say so. Let's go, then."

He returned the smile and they headed for the turbolift which would take them to Deck Five and Spock's quarters -- their honeymoon suite for the duration.

Christine's heart began to pound with anticipation. *If tonight is anything like our first time together ... *

*It will be even better,* her husband assured her as he pulled her into the turbolift after they set their gifts to each other down, then into his arms for a lingering kiss after the doors closed and gave them privacy. The couple did not separate until the doors opened again, then the Vulcan swept his wife off her feet and into his arms, grateful that the crew was either on leave or on duty so no one would see anything. Christine carried both gifts.

The softness in his eyes told Christine that this was what Ensign Parker and the others must have seen when Spock was carrying her to her quarters after the picnic six months ago. Too bad she had been asleep and in no position to appreciate it! No conversation, either mental or verbal, took place between there and the Deck Five quarters.

Spock had adjusted the temperature for Human comfort on the assumption that he and Christine would spend the first night of their married life in his quarters ... and by her smile as she realized the change, he knew she was pleased by it. He would be chilled at first, but anticipated no problems after that.

They reached his (their) quarters a short time later. He told her to open the door, then upon stepping inside, the as-yet-unopened gifts were placed on the dresser before he lowered her onto his bed ... the bed Spock had been certain he would occupy alone until he met Christine and experienced her love -- then shared his own with her. She pulled him down on top of her as they kissed again; within moments it had deepened and become intimate. Soon they were no longer two but *one* ... both physically and mentally.

Such was the way that Spock of Vulcan and his Human wife were initiated into the joys of married love: a wife he truly loved. Loved as Spock had never imagined himself capable of loving ... loved as the Vulcan neither could (nor would) ever love again. He had waited thirty years to be this happy and no one -- but *no one* -- had better try to take it away from him. Not now, not ever!