DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Kate Birkel and is copyright (c) 1980 by Kate Birkel. This story is Rated PG13. It was originally published in Starweaver, 1980.



Patterns

Kate Birkel



Mmmmh! This coffee tastes good. And it is sure a relief to get off the feet for a few minutes. This has just been a day and a half. I can't complain that life in Starfleet is boring. These orders to be ready to leave drydock in twelve hours! I thought Will and Scotty were going to need emergency medical treatment on the spot.

That must have been quite a jolt for poor Will -- Kirk walking in and taking over like that. I know how happy Will was with this ship. I'm still not too sure about *that* little maneuver. Sure -- Kirk's had five years' experience on board the Enterprise and years more before that and this is Will's first command. But -- grounded for almost three years and the stress in the Perscan readings... Well, Leonard's back. He knows how to handle obstreperous starship captains. Maybe Kirk'll listen to him. I don't think he'd listen to me.

I could almost feel sorry for those poor Klingons. And Epsilon Nine! Ugh! I still get the willies thinking about that. None of those poor people even knew what hit then. Hah! *We* don't know what hit them. So now, of course, we're heading straight for it. Once more, once more into the breach...

Funny -- Kirk and Leonard back like this. Feels almost like old times again. No -- not old times -- not quite. A lot of things have changed and *he's* not here. C'mon, Christine -- you're a big girl now, remember? Medical degree, Assistant Ship's Doctor? Life's too short to spend the rest of it mooning oven that damn unfeeling Vulcan. He's gone and that's the end of it. Peniod. Final. The End. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Haven't thought about *him* in ages. Too busy I guess. Well, at least it doesn't hurt as much as it used to. Leonard and Kink don't say anything, but I think they miss him too. The ship just doesn't seem night without him sitting at the Science Console. I think we'd all be a little happier if he were up there now. At least we'd have a chance.

Wouldn't it be fantastic if he walked through that door right now? What would you do, Christine? Faint dead away on the spot or play it Vulcan cool? But he won't, though. Face it, lady. He'll never walk through that door again. Twenty some odd years in the Fleet and he decides to go home forever, which for a Vulcan is a long time. They say he's totally repudiated his Human half. I wonder how he can do that? But if anyone can, he can. Poor Amanda -- has he cut her off, too? Enough. He's on Vulcan and you're headed right for a cloud that eats Klingons and Space Stations and never the twain shall meet.

Leonard's been gone for a long time. I suppose he had a real fit when we hit that lousy wormhole. I wish I could have seen the expression on his face. That would have been priceless. I shouldn't laugh at him, though. He'll never be a hundred percent happy out here. No casualties, though. That was a pleasant surprise.

*His* hands were beautiful... Those long, graceful fingers. I could have watched them by the hour. He had beautiful eyes, too. God, I miss him. It just doesn't seem right -- Kink and McCoy back, but not him. Which is worse, having him on board or knowing he's gone forever? At least when he was here...

I don't know who I feel sorrier for -- him on me. Well, it's not my fault he was so, so, so attractive. Maybe someone should have put a box over his head -- BEWARE OF THE VULCAN. Poor guy. Panicked every time he saw me coming. Well, not every time. There toward the end, after Henoch, he started to loosen up a little. I remember a couple of times when he looked...

Uh-oh. Leonard must be back. Sounds like he's in a real uproar. I wonder if they had another fight? I wouldn't doubt it. Well, Well, finish the coffee and then back to the salt mines.

Oh -- damn that intercom. Who wants what now? Leonard's got it. Sounds like Chekov. Why's he hollering like that? I thought we got that worked out of him a long time ago. Now here comes Leonard. Hmmm. I don't remember him being this excited. He's not even making sense now. Babbling like an idiot. Why are we saved? Why do we have to go up to the bridge? Chekov? Shuttlecraft? What pointy-eared computer? Sonak's dead. He knows *that*. The only other Vulcan....

The empty coffee cup slipped from Dr. Chapel's nerveless fingers.

* * *

Wearily, Jim Kirk pushed himself up from the command chair, stretching the kinks out of his back. Damn, it had been a long day. One by one, the other first watch personnel were surrendering their stations to reliefs. There was a subdued murmur of final instructions, questions asked, answers given. Only the Science Station was undisturbed.

Kirk went over to stand by his newly re-instated first Officer. "Quittin' time, Spock. Dr. McCoy has invited us down for a little eye-opener."

The Vulcan glanced up from his console and shook his head. "Please convey my apologies to the Doctor, but I still have several hours of work left here to do."

Kirk grinned. "This ship is not going to fall apart if you leave the Bridge on time for once."

"No, Jim." Firmly, Spock turned back to his work.

Shrugging, Kirk teased him. "Well, that leaves all the more brandy for us."

Spock tore his attention from his console one last time, a pained expression in his eyes. "You know I do not indulge in intoxicants of any type."

"Might help you relax a little if you did, Spock," Kirk said lightly, then turned serious. "Try and knock off a little earlier tonight , would you? You're giving the third watch the heebie jeebies."

* * *

"I thought I invited Spock, too." McCoy frowned as he set the bottle and two glasses out on his desk.

"He sends his apologies." Kirk sank down in a chair and propped his feet on the edge of the desk. "You know him. When he's got a project going, he never gives up."

"I know, I know." McCoy rolled his eyes heavenwards. "Some things never change."

Kirk took a sip of his drink. "You know, Bones, I really haven't noticed much of a change in him at all. When he snapped out of that coma Vejur put him in, I thought he'd finally learned his lesson."

"Well, at least he's not the neurotic mess he was when he first came back!" McCoy snapped. "I'd still love to wring some of those Kolinahr people's necks."

Both men shivered, remembering Spock as he had been during those first two days back on board the Enterprise. Never known for his buoyant, bubbling personality, Spock had positively outdone himself in Vulcan rigidity and boorishness. Whatever strides he had made toward integrating his Vulcan and Human heritages had been totally negated. All that had remained was the cold, aloof Vulcan.

"Oh, come on, Bones," Kirk sighed. "He did it to himself. The Masters just helped him along the way. Face it, Spock can be his own worst enemy at times and that just happened to be one of those times."

McCoy snorted. "I'll drink to that." He raised the glass to his mouth and took a drink, then he stared meditatively into the depths of the brandy. "I wouldn't look for too big a change in him, Jim, at least not just yet. Right now, he's about where he was when he left three years ago, which in itself is a vast improvement. I expect he'll loosen up a little more, now he's realized emotions aren't that dreadful a thing to have. But in the end, he'll still be the same old Spock. We may get a real, honest to god smile out of him once a year, instead of once every five years. He may actually even go so far as to admit the gaping wound in his chest hurts just a little. But there's just no way he's ever going to come out of his shell completely. He was raised to be Vulcan and that's all there is to it. For myself, I'll be delighted to see him as just plain Vulcan instead of the super Vulcan he's been trying to be all his life."

Unhappily, Kirk had to agree with McCoy's prognosis. "That debriefing isn't doing him any good, either. Starfleet could have at least given him some time to readjust back into the swing of things before demanding their report."

"Well, at least they gave in and let him do it by himself here on board. They were getting downright hostile about it there for a few days," McCoy reminded his Captain gently. "That stuff in his head is valuable."

"I know, Bones." Kirk shifted restlessly in his chair. "He's the only one left who really contacted Vejur. What he must have picked up during that meld is beyond belief. I don't think even Spock understands the half of if. I just worry about him pushing himself too hard. He never knows when to quit."

"Don't worry about Spock." McCoy waggled an admonishing finger in Kirk's direction. "I'm keeping a close watch on him. If he runs himself down too far, I'll slap him in Sick Bay so fast his head'll spin." A nasty grin spread over the Doctor's face. "With these new perscans, I don't have to spend two weeks chasing him all over this miserable ship. All I gotta do now is push a button!"

* * *

Precisely ten minutes before the third watch was scheduled to report to the bridge, Spock shut down the science console. The words 'heebie jeebies' meant nothing to him, but he was tired and hungry.

First he made a quick detour through Sickbay, but neither Kirk nor McCoy were to be seen. They must have given up early for once. He went to one of the smaller rec rooms for a late meal and found a few stray souls freshly off the second watch, but no one he cared to dine with. His meal finished, he reluctantly went to his quarters.

* * *

Spock's quarters were strictly Starfleet issue and as such not restful to him at all. He'd sent a message tape to his parents informing them of his decision to remain on board the Enterprise and requested them to forward the boxes stored at home to him. So far there had been no message or boxes. Spock hoped the delay was not to be prolonged indefinitely as a means bf expressing Sarek's displeasure with Spock's return to active duty in Starfleet . He was most uncomfortable in these drab, sterile surroundings.

Spock lay on the bed, unwilling to sleep as yet. He could think of several small tasks possible to complete from the computer terminal built into his work table, but lacked the desire to do so. He began regretting his earlier decision not to join Kirk and McCoy for even a few moments of companionship.

The encounter with Vejur was more than a standard month behind them all, but Spock was still in the midst of the debriefing made necessary by his mind meld with the living machine. At first, the powers that be of Starfleet had wanted Spock to do the debriefing at Fleet Headquarters under their scrutinizingly watchful eyes. Jim Kirk had kicked up such a fuss in his friend's defense, fearing the Vulcan would never be allowed to rejoin the Enterprise. Starfleet had reluctantly relented, allowing Spock to conduct his own debriefing. While Spock was grateful to remain aboard the Enterprise as First Officer, he was beginning to chafe slightly under the double load.

Most of the bugs were finally getting ironed out, but the first few weeks of the shakedown cruise had been especially hectic for Spock. With Jim Kirk still feeling his way back into the Captaincy of this redesigned ship and Will Decker gone, a great deal devolved onto the Vulcan. Once the library computer console was repaired, all the ship's business began being routed through it again. Jim Kirk had to learn this new ship, his First Officer to keep it from falling apart.

For Spock, the pressure was sometimes almost unbearable. His Captain wanted a discussion of some minor detail, Mr. Scott was requesting a consultation down in Engineering, the computer techs were in an uproar because the computer dropped two days work, the sensors developed a blind spot..."Opinion, Mr. Spock!" Then to spend long night after long night setting down on tape in some logical sequence the information assimilated from the meld with Vejur was an extra burden, an extra drain on his already stretched existence.

The worst of it was Spock had no time to explore his own personal being. For forty years, Spock had been trying to live up to an ideal which existed only in his own imagination. Another three years had been devoted to the single minded striving for an even more unobtainable goal. The brief meld with Vejur had demonstrated to Spock the futility of his search for absolute detachment from the world around him. His thinking and habits needed reevaluating in the light of this realization. But Spock had neither the time nor mental energy for that kind of soul shattering task. For the moment it was easier to evade it, to adhere to the patterns of years gone by.

Neither Kirk nor McCoy attempted to confront the Vulcan in this matter, for which Spock was grateful. They would accept whatever decisions he reached, whatever actions he chose to fake, but they would not precipitate this crisis in his life. The Captain might be inclined to probe and question, but the Doctor would restrain him. Together they would watch and wait. It was the measure of their respect for the Vulcan.

Spock was well aware there were others aboard the Enterprise who did not share in this toleration. The presence of a Vulcan on the bridge raised many questions, especially in the minds of the new crew members who hadn't served under Spock previously. Within his own science department, there was fear of this unknown quantity who had so abruptly assumed control of their professional lives. Spock's own achievements created a barrier between him and those under him.

Spock sighed and rolled over on his side. This feeling of isolation was not new to him. He had lived with it all his life. Familiarity did not make it any less onerous.

* * *

"Try it again, Miss Uhura." Spock pulled his long, slender body out of the Communications Station access hatch.

"Yes, Mr. Spock." Uhura obediently keyed in the sequence. A high pitched, squealing feedback pounded against her eardrums. Uhura snatched the phone away from her ear, dropping it like a hot coal. She thumped the heel of her hand against the side of her head, trying to clear the ringing out of her ears. "No go, Mr. Spock." Doggedly, Spock slid back inside the access hatch. "Repeat the sequence, but do not use your earphone, Miss Uhura."

"Yes, sir."

In the darkness of the console interior, Spock's straining eyes caught a faint flicker. His fingers moved quickly through the various components. "Again, Miss Uhura, with the ear phone."

"Yes, sir." Uhura reluctantly replaced the earphone, dreading a reoccurrence of that awful feedback. The only thing she heard, though, was a muted click indicating the signal had reached its proper destination. "Got it, Mr. Spock!" she crowed. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, Miss Uhura." Spock wiggled out of the access panel again to find Jim Kirk watching with an amused grin on his face. "Yes, Captain?" Spock stood up and brushed his uniform off.

"Mr. Scott needs you in Engineering."

Spock stifled a rebellious sigh. "Very well, Captain."

* * *

"Dr. Chapel."

Christine Chapel jumped a good three inches, then glared momentarily at the Vulcan standing in front of her desk. She had been so engrossed in tabulating the results of an experiment she hadn't heard the office door open. "Yes, Commander." She made her voice deliberately neutral, her face expressionless.

"Dr. McCoy left a message to the effect that the diagnostic scanner table has 'a screw loose?' in it. I cannot find him to get a reasonable explanation of this phrase," Spock explained patiently. "Dr. McCoy's terminology leaves something to be desired upon occasion."

Christine set her pen down and stood up. "I believe I know what he was referring to. If you will follow me, please." Coolly professional, Christine moved across the room past Spock to the door.

"Of course, Doctor," Spock agreed smoothly. Indifferent blue eyes met his suddenly puzzled brown ones for the briefest of moments, then passed over him.

As Spock followed Christine down the hall, he tried to define the sudden feeling of unease assailing him. Something was wrong here, something was missing. This indifference was in total contrast to the bright, welcoming smile she had given him that first time on the bridge. Casting his mind back, Spock became aware this was the first time he had seen her since his recovery from the effects of direct contact with Vejur. Even then, there had been some response in her eyes.

Christine began explaining the nature of the scanner table's malfunction. Without appearing to do so, Spock studied her closely and was impressed by what he saw. Three years and a medical degree had matured Christine, giving her an aura of self-confidence and competency she had previously lacked. There was no trace of hesitancy or doubt left in her manner, just a brusqueness that chilled Spock.

Physically, there were changes, too. She had thinned down somewhat from an almost overwhelming curvaceousness to a slenderness of line that nearly took Spock's breath away. Her long brown hair was knotted casually on top of her head, stray tendrils accentuating her fine facial features.

Suddenly Spock turned his full attention back to the table. Christine Chapel was not something he could afford to consider too closely, yet.

* * *

Christine resumed her seat behind the desk and picked up the pencil, intending to continue her interrupted calculations; instead, she leaned back in the chair, staring at the ceiling.

Spock again. Damn him. Christine closed her eyes, remembering the misery of their first tour of duty together. *No*, she resolved, *I will not go through that living hell again. It wasn't worth it then, and it certainly isn't worth it now. He made his feelings plain the first day back.* Innate honesty, however, compelled her to accept the old attraction to him was still there. It would be so easy to slip back into that helpless, one sided love.

"Dr. Chapel."

"Yes, Commander." Christine opened her eyes.

"I believe have corrected the malfunction. Please inform Dr. McCoy I will be on the bridge should he feel the need to question anything."

"Very well, Commander."

"Oh, Doctor."

"Yes, Commander." There was ill-concealed impatience i n Christine's voice.

"May I congratulate you on securing your medical degree."

"Thank you. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a great deal of work to do."

Spock beat a hasty, but dignified retreat before those cold blue eyes.

* * *

The encounter with Christine Chapel remained in the back of Spock's mind when he returned to the bridge. No other emergencies demanding his personal attention arose, so he was able to complete his routine duties quickly and efficiently with a minimum of concentration.

Spock allowed his memory to drift back several years to the time before he'd left Starfleet. It had been common knowledge then that Dr. McCoy's head nurse was hopelessly infatuated with the First Officer. Uncertain of how to deal with the situation, Spock had kept as much distance as possible between them. His own feelings had been mixed. On one hand, Christine Chapel was an extremely attractive woman with a warm generous personality and a sharp, clear mind. On the other hand was Spock's own inability to handle emotional contact with any woman. Bonded to T'Pring at seven years of age, he'd not been at liberty to explore any such relationships. After the Koon-ut-kal-i-fee, his pride had been so wounded he had refused to even think about another woman, Vulcan or Human. Yet, he couldn't deny Christine Chapel was an ideal candidate for marriage when the need should rise again. Contact with the Human woman's mind while she protected him against Henoch had brought him to the realization that here was one woman he could trust to never intentionally do him harm as had T'Pring. After that experience, Spock had allowed himself to relax more in her presence, not to automatically flee from her.

But, then had come the end of the five year mission, Jim Kirk's promotion off the Enterprise, and Spock's own decision to return home to Vulcan. Sarek had made gentle hints, then flat out demands, that it was time for his son to choose another bondmate. Firmly, but inexorably, Spock had rejected these parental urgings. He couldn't face the prospect of a second debacle at the hands of another cold and unresponsive Vulcan woman. Somewhere, buried deep within Spock's soul, was the need for something more than what such a marriage would provide. Yet, he could not admit, especially to himself, such an irrational, unVulcan desire. The pain of the conflict, along with the turmoil of his mixed heritage had finally driven Spock to Gol, to excise the emotions he saw as threats to his Vulcan fortifications. Even Sarek had been troubled with this decision. He informed his son that while controlling emotion was the cornerstone of the Vulcan Tradition, it was possible to lead a pleasant, satisfying existence within those parameters--witness his own marriage to a Human woman. Not for the first time, Spock turned a deaf ear to his father's logic and went in search of his own.

Contact with Vejur's infinitely superior, yet infinitely barren logic had brought home to Spock the wisdom of his father's words. To be Vulcan was not to reject emotion on all fronts, but simply to control it. Forty-three years of thinking had to be examined and the flaws rejected. Tied down by the demands of his duties, Spock was unable to conduct that self examination.

"Spock, you aren't listening." Jim Kirk's annoyed voice jerked the Vulcan back to the bridge.

"My apologies, Captain. What were you saying?" Once more, Spock thrust his personal existence back into its niche until a more appropriate time.

Neither man noticed Uhura's eyes on them, a slight frown creasing her forehead. She'd worked alongside the Vulcan for many years and had come to admire and respect him more, almost, than even the Captain. For him to be caught daydreaming on the bridge by the Captain was out of character and she was worried.

"Mr. Spock, must I remind you that wool gathering will not be tolerated on this bridge?" Kirk berated the First Officer, his eyes twinkling. Opportunities of this sort did not can his way often, so he tended to milk them for what they were worth. "You of all people."

"Wool gathering, Captain?" Automatically, the response came out, the eyebrows rising. The old game was comfortable. It required no conscious effort.

* * *

Halfheartedly, Christine pushed the remains of her supper around on the tray. Despite earlier resolutions, her mind slipped back Into the old track -- Spock. *Why? What makes him so special out of all the men I've known. Sure -- he's tall, dark and handsome -- the answer to any maiden's prayer. He's a genius. His professional reputation both within and beyond Starfleet is growing daily. What about Spock the person -- the gentleness, the humor, the compassion, the pain? But are those real or am I projecting them onto him because I want to see them?*

"Solved the galaxy's problems, yet?" Uhura stood there, tray in hand, a cheerful smile on her face.

"Not really." Christine sighed. Absentmindedly, she stabbed a piece of carrot.

Uhura put her tray down opposite Christine and slid into the cha i r. "You look like you could use some company. What's up?"

Without thinking, Christine replied. "Spock." Her next attack left the guilty carrot quite dead.

"Hoo-ee, sister, you are a glutton for punishment!" Uhura observed tartly.

"Tell me about it." Christine mumbled.

"I thought you got him out of your system a long time ago." Uhura began eating her dinner.

"So did I." Christine smiled bleakly. "Up until about a month ago." The smile faded. "I feel like seven kinds of an idiot."

"What brought this on?" Uhura asked gently. "He's been back for over a month now, and this is the first time you've even mentioned him."

"Oh, he stopped by Sickbay earlier today to fix the scanner table. wasn't expecting him and it surprised me. don't know why I'm letting it bother me now."

Uhura put her fork down, an appraising look in her eyes. "Spock was in Sickbay this afternoon?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Oh, no real reason." Uhura went back to eating, her mind rapidly adding two and two. "He's been pretty busy lately," she said conversationally. "Seems like he's the only one who knows how to keep this ship going."

"Umn." Christine nodded, her mind elsewhere. "It just doesn't make sense, Uhura!" she suddenly burst out. "I'm not nineteen years old anymore. I'm thirty-five, and too old to be playing this game again. I have a Ph.D. and an M.D. I can go anywhere -- do anything want. But that damn Vulcan -- he's like a millstone around my neck."

"Speaking of millstones." Uhura warned her gently.

Christine resisted the impulse to look up, her face freezing over. Uhura shook her head. Few things escaped the Communication's Officer's sharp eyes. Years ago, she had drawn her own conclusions concerning the First Officer and the Head Nurse.

"Pardon me for disturbing your meal, Miss Uhura." Spock paused by the two women. "I will only take a moment of your time, if you can spare it."

"Of course, Mr. Spock." Uhura flashed a smile at him.

"Earlier I neglected to ask whether the relay sequence was giving you any more problems." Spock had both hands behind his back, only a faint flicker of eye movement betraying him to the Communications Officer.

Uhura nearly choked on the mouthful of food she'd been chewing. *Sure you did, sugar*, she thought gleefully. "Not to worry, Mr. Spock." Uhura's bland voice hid her delight at the present situation. "That adjustment you made this morning seems to have done the trick."

"Dr. Chapel." Spock spoke in his flattest voice.

"Yes, Commander," Christine replied in kind, her eyes glued to her tray.

Uhura rolled her eyes in disgust. Suddenly her foot lashed out and kicked Christine smartly on the shin.

Christine nearly jumped out of her skin. "Uhura!" she protested hotly. "That was..." Aware of Spock's eyes on her face, she flushed and looked back darn at the tray again.

*At least you lifted your head*, Uhura thought smugly. "Sorry, Chris, my foot must have slipped. You were saying, Mr. Spock." Two pairs of eyes regarded her suspiciously.

Spock cleared his throat. "I merely wished to inquire whether the scanner table repairs met with Dr. McCoy's approval. I have had no word from him."

"I haven't spoken with Dr. McCoy about it yet. I was down in the pathology lab this afternoon." Christine risked a slow, cold look at Spock. "I believe Dr. M'Benga had occasion to use the table a little while ago. You might check with him."

"Thank you. I shall do so. Excuse me." Spock nodded stiffly, then moved away from their table.

Christine waited until she was sure the First Officer was out of hearing range, then shot Uhura a murderous glance, "What were you trying to prove, Uhura?" she demanded harshly. "That kick was deliberate. You made me look like a fool!"

Uhura shrugged. "You were being rude. He is the First Officer, you know. Just because you have a pet grudge against him doesn't mean you have to treat him like dirt."

"Uhura, I wasn't being rude," Christine explained slowly. "And I don't have a grudge against him. It's really not his fault. He tried to warn me off before. I'm just trying to keep myself out of trouble. I've cried enough tears over him. No more. I will not do that to myself again." Her voice hardened. "I'm not going to make an ass out of myself over some man who thinks love is a dirty word."

Uhura said nothing, but her eyes darkened. Christine had definitely *not* gotten the Vulcan out of her system, and Spock? Spock was the unknown factor in this standoff. It was obvious something was going on behind his Vulcan facade. Daydreaming on the bridge; deliberately seeking Christine out. Had he actually reached a point where he could accept the implications of his actions?

Christine misinterpreted her friend's concern. She drew a shaky breath. "Don't worry, Uhura. It's nothing. I'll be okay in a couple of days. It's just that I got a job offer a while back from a pharmaceutical company that started me thinking about what I want to do with the rest of my life." Christine managed a wan smile.

"What kind of a job offer?" Uhura asked casually.

"They need a director of research. With my bioresearch background, medical degree, and experience in alien physiology, it's a natural for me. One of my professors gave them my name and a high recommendation. I hadn't really given it much thought. This afternoon, when I ran into Spock again, I started to question why I didn't want to leave the Enterprise." Christine toyed with her fork.

"Have you spoken with Dr. McCoy?" Uhura asked.

"I mentioned it to him." Christine nodded. "He thinks it's a good offer and he likes the company. But he thought I might get bored with it after gallivanting all over the galaxy for ten years."

"And?" Uhura prompted.

"And, I just don't know." Christine shrugged. "I don't know if would get bored with it or not. I might meet a nice guy and settle down. I know I'd like that. And of course there's always the possibility of transferring to another ship as Chief Medical Officer. Leonard would give me the recommendation with no trouble. But I like it here on the Enterprise. Now that Leonard is back, I can spend a lot more time in the labs. I get to practice basic medicine, which I wouldn't be able to do with the drug company." There was pain in Christine's eyes. "I just don't know what I want."

* * *

Spock spent the evening in his quarters. A cargo shuttle carrying his boxes from Amanda had reached the Enterprise right after his conversation with Uhura and Christine. Without a moment's hesitation, Spock had decided to skip the debriefing chore for the night in favor of making his quarters livable. He tossed the message tape from his father on one side of his desk, reluctant to hear those paternal opinions yet again, and set to work.

After two and a half hour's intensive work, Spock stood in the middle of his quarters, enjoying the fruits of his labors. Bare walls had been covered by heavy red tapestries and Spock's antique weapon collection again hung against their backdrop. The fire pot flickered in its familiar location. The ancient iron warriors stood once more on their pedestals and niches. Even the tri-D chess game was back on the shelf. Most importantly, the lyrette resided in its place of honor.

Momentarily at peace with himself and his universe, Spock removed the lyrette from its hanger and sat down in the carved wooden chair, drawing his fingers across the strings, meticulously tuning the instrument. He tried again, grimacing when his fingers responded stiffly, having not touched the instrument in over three years.

Softly, he began singing one of the old songs, reveling in the touch and sound of the instrument. His fingers gradually lost some of their stiffness, which pleased him. The one song led imperceptibly into another and yet another. Soon Spock drifted off into a dream world, the message tape forgotten.

* * *

Pure unmitigated frustration filled Christine as she peered into the viewer of the microscope. Something or someone must have contaminated the culture medium. Those lousy staphylococci had no business being in that slide at all.

Disgusted, Christine snapped the viewer off. Three days work down the drain because some fumble fingered tech didn't do his job properly. "Damn!"

"You seem somewhat upset, Dr. Chapel," a deep voice said behind her.



Christine barely controlled the urge to jump. *If he doesn't quit sneaking up on me!* "My sample has been contaminated," she said calmly. "I'll have to check with the technician about it."

"May I see?" Spock asked.

"Of course, Commander." Christine turned the viewer back on. "As you can see, the M. markettia ruberi have been infiltrated by a strain of staphylococci. I'll have to draw another blood sample from Ensign Tarthil and start over again. Maybe this time those idiots down..." Christine's voice trailed of f as she stared anew at the slide. "That's it!" she said excitedly. "No wonder Tarthil isn't recovering!"

"Please explain." Spock stood back from the viewer, a quizzical look on his face.

"He has a secondary staph infection inhibiting the aldrathone!" Christine swept up the file from beside the 'scope. "Excuse me, I've got to get back to Sickbay." Suddenly she froze. "Did you want something in particular, Commander?"

Spock's eyes narrowed. "No, Doctor. I was merely passing by and heard you say 'damn'. I thought you might require some assistance."

"Thank you for your concern," Christine replied coldly. "But I am perfectly capable of handling my job."

"Doctor, I did not mean to imply..." Spock began but Christine was already out the door. He stared after her in frank amazement. Her chilly aloofness was beginning to disturb him more than he cared to admit. It was as if the woman was deliberately shutting herself away from him and he did not understand why.

* * *

The rest of the day drug itself out for Spock. Grimly, he remained at his station at the conclusion of the watch, determined to spend several hours on the debriefing. Instead, he found himself unable to concentrate after only two and a half hours. Finally, he shut down the Library Computer and retreated to the comfort of his quarters, intending to return later.

* * *

"Live long and prosper, Spock." Sarek's strong face appeared in Spock's personal viewer. "Your mother sends her greetings and a request that you write home sometime during the next ten turns." Spock winced. Sarek was a past master in the art of getting under his son's skin, which was one of the reasons Spock had delayed viewing the message tape. He sometimes wondered what was worse -- the eighteen years of estranged silence or the past five years of parental discourse.

"Your decision to leave Gol was rather hasty, but proper feel. I trust you managed to learn some wisdom there even though you did not attain complete mastery of the Kolinahr." Spock gritted his teeth. "Your decision to rejoin Starfleet, however, leaves some doubt of this in my mind." Spock resisted an illogical urge to say a word his Captain used quite frequently. "Since you are aware of my opinion on that matter, I will not discuss it further at this time. Suffice it to say, am not pleased.

"Now that you have partially regained your senses, it is time for you to fulfill your familial duty. This attitude of yours is completely irrational and unbecoming to one reared in Tradition. Our family would not have survived as long as it has if all of us were of your mind. Not only are you determined to risk your life needlessly on any and every occasion, you refuse to return home and provide yourself with the heir necessary for the continuation of our line. T'Pau and I have conferred in this matter, but do not wish to coerce you in your decision. Therefore, T'Pau has selected several unbonded women as suitable to be joined to our family. If you will indicate your preference..."

Trembling with rage, Spock slammed the viewer off. Would his father never cease to meddle in his affairs? First the prodding back on Vulcan, and now this insulting, demeaning command to chose a life partner from a list of names.

"I will not be forced!" Spock snarled at his absent father. "It is my life, my choice. I have to live with her -- not you. You made your choice freely, give me the same opportunity!"

Spock paused, his mind diverted elsewhere. Sarek and Amanda. Ever since he was old enough to grasp the incongruity of the situation, his parents' marriage had fascinated Spock. In proper Vulcan fashion, he had never questioned either parent. It would have been an unforgivable breach of privacy. But the questions were still there. Why at the age of sixty-three had Sarek been unbonded and thus free to wed Amanda? Why had Sarek, most diligent upholder of Vulcan Tradition, seen fit to marry a Human female? Why had Amanda, an intelligent, warm Human woman, chosen the Vulcan, Sarek? And above all, how had that ill-matched pair managed to survive forty-five years of marriage? The one time Spock had so far forgotten to guard his tongue as to question his father, the answer had been an enigmatic "at the time, it seemed the logical thing to do."

There was an undercurrent of affection between the Vulcan and Human impossible to overlook. How many times had Spock seen a special look pass between his parents and turned from them, embarrassed? Sarek did not hesitate to touch his wife, if only for the briefest moment. He did squirm a trifle when his wife openly spoke of her love for him, an action which did not faze Amanda in the least. As a matter of fact, Amanda, in her own gentle way, ran roughshod over Sarek's Vulcan staidness and Sarek accepted it with only an occasional protest. Spock had come to suspect of late that Sarek's protests arose more from form than from a genuine wish to deter his wife. Spock suddenly thought -- *my father actually enjoys my mother's teasing.*

And what of Amanda herself? Warm, generous, openly affectionate; Amanda had accepted and adjusted to a way of life diametrically opposed to her own. Withal, she fiercely held on to the essential core of her Humanness, refusing to bend completely to the Vulcan. And on those occasions, Sarek gave way, gaining victory from seeming defeat.

*Two who are truly one*, Spock thought with envy. *What one feels is known to the other without words. When one hurts, the other reaches out to comfort.*

"I was in pain and I reached out to brush away the tears of one who cried for my pain."

Something crystallized in Spock's mind at that moment -- the nebulous feeling of discontent which had been troubling him for the past two days. The image of Christine Chapel came to him -- face composed, eyes cold and distant, looking through him as if he didn't exist.

*Once she cried for me.*

Another image of Christine rose to haunt him -- Christine hurrying across the bridge toward him, eyes shining, a smile on her face. The eyes faded and the smile died under his own obvious disinterest.

Spock clenched his hands till the knuckles whitened.

* * *

Spock walked into Sickbay, his eyes seeking the tall, slender woman with brown hair. What he found instead were Drs. McCoy and M'Benga conferring over coffee.

"Have a seat, Spock." McCoy waved a hand to an empty chair. "Anything wrong?"

"No, thank you, Doctor." Spock politely refused to be seated. "No, there is nothing wrong. I was merely checking to see if the scanner table repairs met with your approval."

McCoy's eyes widened the merest fraction. "No complaints here, Spock.'' He managed to shrug casually. "M'Benga?"

"It works fine, now, Mr. Spock." M'Benga smiled.

"Thank you, gentlemen." Spock turned and left.

McCoy's eyebrows shot up. "M'Benga, what was that all about?"

"What do you mean, Leonard?" M'Benga asked placidly. "Spock was just checking his work."

"That's the third time he's been in here today." McCoy shook his head. "The first two times, he just walked in, looked at the table and walked out again. He can't be that concerned about some dumb table."

M'Benga smiled. "If Spock feels it's necessary, he'll tell you, Leonard. I learned many years ago not to speculate on Vulcan behavior. Their logic can give any Human a headache."

McCoy was not satisfied. "That particular Vulcan specializes in giving humans headaches!" he barked irritably.

"Only because you let him." M'Benga retorted slyly. "If you and the Captain didn't spend an excessive amount of time analyzing him every time he lifts an eyebrow..."

McCoy did a double take. "M'Benga, there are times when I think you're part Vulcan, too!"

* * *

Christine felt, rather than heard, a presence behind her. "May help you?" she asked carefully.

"I understand you had occasion to reprimand Yeoman Fields this morning," Spock's voice said.

Christine turned away from the microscope viewer. "Yes, I did," she said slowly, twisting the lab stool, to look at him. "Why?"

"Yeoman Fields' job performance has been questioned before." Spock's face was neutral, his eyes watchful. "What was the nature of the reprimand?"

"Carelessness, Commander," Christine replied. "I don't think it was serious enough to warrant any further action."

"I am the Science Officer and as such will decide that," Spock said evenly. "As I said, this is not the first incident. I will not tolerate such inefficiency in my department."

Christine nodded stiffly. "Very well, Commander."

Spock hesitated a moment, then spoke again, a note of diffidence in his voice. "Dr. Chapel, this defensiveness of yours is not necessary."

"I am not being defensive," Christine snapped. "I was unaware of Yeoman Fields' prior record and felt that a verbal reprimand was sufficient."

"That's not what was referring to," Spock explained quietly.

Christine stood up, hands clenched at her sides. "I don't know what game it is you're playing, Commander, but leave me out." Cold fury sparkled from her eyes. "I have work to do."

"Doctor, I am not playing a game," Spock's mouth tightened. "I simply do not understand why you feel you have to act so..." The shrill beep of the intercom stopped him.

Christine spun around to hit the button. "Chapel, here," she said crisply.

"M'Benga, Sickbay. Ensign Tarthil is going into crisis."

"On my way." Spock stepped aside as Christine flashed pest him.

* * *

Trembling in spite of herself, Christine sank into the chair behind her desk. Tarthil was dead -- plain and simple. She and M'Benga had thrown everything but the auxiliary engine at him, but he still slipped away from them.

The office door opened and McCoy cam in holding a bottle and two glasses. Wordlessly, he filled one of them and forced it into Christine's hand. She looked at i t for a moment, then abruptly took a gulp. The fiery liquid burned her throat and she coughed.

"Good for what ails you." McCoy smiled briefly, then pulled a chair over to the side of the desk and poured himself a drink. "Chris, you did all you could, all anyone could do." There was compassion in his voice and face.

Christine suppressed a shudder. "I know, Leonard, but I just keep thinking that if had caught that staph in time..." Her voice trailed off in defeat.

"Don' t be an idiot!" McCoy growled. "Look, Chris -- you've been a nurse and a doctor too long to let this bother you. We've all seen it -- too often. That one case in a thousand when it goes sour from the beginning. Tarthil was an Airanian. He shouldn't have had staph in the first place. God only knows how he managed to succumb to it. Secondly, you know as well as I do how sneaky staph is. Beat if down with one drug and it pops up in another form. Chris -- we all lose patients. It's the nature of our profession."

Christine managed half a smile. "Is that why you keep the bottle in your office?"

McCoy chuckled. "Atta girl, get your chi n back up."

Christine relaxed hack into the chair and took another sip of her drink. "Thank you, Leonard," she mumbled.

"Actually, you should feel sorry for me." McCoy heaved an exaggerated sigh. "You get the easy ones -- I 'm stuck with those two medical nightmares -- the Captain and his First Officer. Hell ain't after death -- it's on this ship -- trying to get my hands on those two."

Christine giggled, remembering five years of interrupted physicals, half completed procedures and rushed emergency treatment.

" I don't know which of them is the worst," McCoy complained happily. "Jim at least has the common decency to pass out cold after a certain point, but not Spock. Hell, no! He drips green blood all over the place, then insists it's just a scratch. I tell you, that pair has given me more grief over the years than I care to think about. I really believe they live just to scare me to death."

A genuine smile lit Christine's face. "I thought for sure we'd lost Spock to Vejur."

"That's when I knew I was really back." McCoy grinned appreciatively. "That damn Vulcan was dyin' on me again. Like none of us had ever been away."

"Remember the time we had both Spock and the Captain *and* Ambassador Sarek in Sickbay at one time?" Christine snickered.

"How could I forget?" McCoy rolled his eyes. "All three of them trying their damnedest to sneak out."

The two doctors settled down for some serious reminiscing as the level in the bottle sank.

* * *

A few days later, McCoy wandered into the main rec deck to find Kirk sitting with a cup of coffee. McCoy sat down with one of his own. "How s business?" Kirk asked idly.

"Kinda slow since Tarthil died." McCoy sighed. "Chris took it pretty hard for a couple of days, but she's cheered up a little today. She and M'Benga did the autopsy and they're up to their ears in slides right now. They don't want a repeat."

"Well, I think things are settling down all over the ship now." Kirk sighed. "I didn't think so many things could go so damn wrong on one ship."

"Not everything is calmed down." McCoy grumbled, taking a sip of his coffee.

''What's your problem?'' Kirk queried. "I thought you just got done saying things were slow down there."

"Spock." McCoy groaned. "He's been running in and out of Sickbay every five minutes for the past week or so. I can't move without tripping over him. He's adjusted every piece of equipment in there ten times and I'm about ready to heave him out on his oversized ears!"



Kirk laughed. "Why the sudden interest in Sickbay? *I* can't keep him on the bridge for more than two minutes at a time."

"Beats me." McCoy shook his head. "That's what I was going to ask you. I thought maybe he'd said something to you."

"Nope. He's been about as talkative as a rock lately." Kirk frowned. "He's been absent minded, too. I've never had to remind him about anything before, but lately I've had to get after him about half a dozen things."

"He's probably going through one of his phases," McCoy said wryly. "After ail that uproar with Vejur, I'd be surprised if he didn't get upset. I know did and I didn't get that close to the damn thing. Now that things are getting back to normal and some of the pressure's off him, he's reacting to it. Remember -- we talked about it a while back. He's probably got a lot of thinking to do. I just wish to hell he'd quit doing it in Sickbay." The doctor made an exasperated sound. "Christine's getting jumpier than..." McCoy's voice trailed off.

"Huh?" Kirk asked.

"I think I just hit pay dirt." McCoy's face lit up.

"Oh?" There was a wary look on Kirk's face.

"I just realized something I should have noticed six days ago. Jim, the only time Spock plays with the equipment is when Chris is in Sickbay. Otherwise -- it's just in and out."

Kirk didn't like the turn the conversation had just taken. "You're not implying..."

"It makes sense."

"Ridiculous!"

"Why? Because it's Spock?"

"Well, yes," Kirk admitted honestly.

McCoy took a deep breath. "Jim, Spock's just been through one hell of an experience. Vejur almost turned him inside out. He knows he can turn to us, but maybe that's not enough this time. A woman's arms can be a nice, safe place to be. And why not Christine? He knows she loves him --always has, always will. After that rotten experience with T'Pring, he's going to be careful. Besides, he always did have a soft spot for Chris. He just wouldn't admit it -- even to himself."

"But Bones. That's not Spock!" Kirk protested. "It took pon farr to even get him to go near T'Pring."

"How old is Spock?" McCoy demanded.

"Forty-three," Kirk replied, reluctantly.

"By our standards, he's middle aged," McCoy lectured. "But by Vulcan standards, he's still wet behind the ears. That pon farr of his was unusually early for a Vulcan. M'Benga and I think his human genes screwed up the works. Be that as it may, it just might be time for Spock to discover the female of the species. Or else, he might have decided to quit fighting Mother Nature. Whatever it is," McCoy's voice hardened, "keep out of his way. The last thing he's going to want right now is the pair of us poking into his affairs."

McCoy suddenly cracked a smile. "Just settle down and watch the show. This ought to be fairly interesting. I've never seen a Vulcan mating dance before."

* * *

That same night, Uhura brought her Vulcan lyrette into one of the smaller rec halls. Spock had taught her the rudiments years ago, and Uhura'd stuck with it. She was aware she would never come close to Spock's mastery of the alien instrument, but she derived considerable enjoyment from what she was able to play on it.

Uhura spotted Christine using a viewer in an isolated corner and hurried over to her. "Forget that stuff for a while, Chris. Let's sing." She smiled enticingly.

Without hesitation, Christine snapped the viewer off. She, too, enjoyed the lyrette's sound, and the two of them had worked out several duets. "Let's do that Antarian ballad."

As the two voices harmonized, others began drifting toward their corner.

"Hey, think I started something!" Uhura exclaimed happily. "Chris, remember that song we heard on Dares II?"

* * *

Passing the rec room, Spock's attention was arrested by the sound of the lyrette and two voices, one a true, strong soprano, the other a softer contralto. Unnoticed, he drifted to the knot of people, and then realized the contralto belonged to Christine.

Spock took the opportunity to study the human woman unawares. She was clearly enjoying herself, blue eyes sparkling, an excited flush on her cheeks. Spock sighed. The few times he'd managed to speak with her, Christine had been withdrawn and unresponsive. *As if she were deliberately shutting me out,* Spock thought to himself. Since his abortive attempt to speak with her about it down in the pathology lab, she'd kept out of his way altogether and Spock was beginning to feel frustrated.

Amid sounds of appreciation, the song ended. Uhura looked up to say something and spotted the Vulcan. "Mr. Spock!"

"You have been practicing, Miss Uhura," Spock commented approvingly. "Your performance does you credit." As he watched, some of the light died in Christine's face. His folded hands tightened.

"Flattery will get you everywhere!" Uhura smiled and stood up. "I haven't heard you play in over three years. Would you be so kind as to give me the pleasure of your expertise?"

"I have not been practicing," Spock demurred.

"You can still beat the pants off me any day!" Uhura exclaimed in mock despair.

Spock hesitated another few seconds, then shrugged. "Very well, Miss Uhura. As you say, flattery will get you everywhere." He moved to her side and, taking the instrument from her, sat down where she had been sitting, close to Christine. Christine stiffened a little, but didn't shift her position, not wishing to draw attention to herself.

Spock brushed his fingers over the strings once. Almost imperceptibly, he tightened two of the strings. He looked to Uhura. "What would you like to hear, Miss Uhura?"

"Anything!" Uhura responded eagerly. She sat dawn next to Christine, absently nudging her friend closer to the Vulcan. Christine drew a deep breath.

"I will play T'Prane's Lament," Spock decided. "It is a pre-Reform ballad of great beauty. T'Prane sang this at the time of her bondmate, Solek's, death in battle before taking her own life." As Spock plucked the opening chords, an amazed look traveled through the audience except for the few old hands who remembered the Vulcan's rare talent. Spock's soft, liquid bass began to interweave with the eerie, alien chords.

Christine felt her throat constrict. The song was beautiful, compelling. Against her will, she found herself drawn into it, forgetting to be wary of the man creating it.

Noticing Christine's rapt expression and loath to break the spell, Spock shifted indiscernibly from the end of T'Prane's Lament to one of Vulcan's oldest songs, the Kun Lothsin. His voice picked up a new strength and clarity. Christine's guard went down completely and she leaned toward him, her eyes shining softly.

Uhura's eyes widened to their fullest as the import of the first chords sank in. Spock had played that particular song for her once, merely as a demonstration, explaining its ritual significance. She glanced from Spock to Christine, an impish smile twitching the corners of her mouth. She hadn't started the evening with this aim in mind, but was quite satisfied with the results.

The last chord died away and Christine suddenly became aware of the intent brown eyes holding her own. "No," she whispered to herself, turning away from the Vulcan, her face frozen. As Spock started another song, Christine got to her feet and slipped away from the group, blinking the stinging tears back. "No, I will not be hurt again."

* * *

On an impulse, Uhura stopped off at Christine's quarters instead of returning directly to her own. Christine's red, puffy eyes spoke volumes to the Communications Officer.

"Christine, that wasn't very nice of you to leave like that," Uhura chided her friend gently.

"I-I couldn't stay," Christine explained dully.

"What are you afraid of?"

"Him." Christine turned away. "Me." Her shoulders slumped inside the loose robe she wore. "I'm not going to waste the rest of my life crying over him. I can't do it. It would be so easy for me to fall back in love with him. And for what? Nothing, that's what."

Wisely, Uhura forbore to comment that the damage had already been done. "Things could be different this time, Chris," she suggested gently.

Christine shook her head. "I'm not a little girl any more, Uhura. Yes, once I thought there could be a chance. But I'm older and wiser now. I know better than to go chasing rainbows. Vulcan Is Vulcan and Human is Human, and never the twain shall meet." Cuttingly, Christine paraphrased the ancient quotation.

"Sarek and Amanda did."

''That's different," Christine protested harshly, her hands twisting. "Sarek is a full Vulcan. Spock is only half Vulcan and determined to prove he's better than any of them. No matter how much I hope, Spock will never change."

"But he's changed a lot, Chris." Uhura smiled. "He's not the same person he was when he came back."

"No -- but he's the same person he was when he left," Christine insisted.

"How do you know? Have you talked with him?"

"No, Uhura !" Christine's mouth tightened. "I will not go through it again."

Uhura felt an urge to give Christine a thorough shaking. The woman had taken such a defensive stance, she was blind to what was happening. "Chris, give it a chance. You might be surprised."

"I can't!" Christine took a deep breath. "After he left the Enterprise, I cried for a solid month. Then I went back to school for my M.D. I even started going out with men -- nice men. And the whole time I was with one of them, I compared him to Spock. One laughed too much. One wasn't intelligent enough. For god's sake -- one wasn't tall enough!" Christine began to pace the room. "They never had a chance. *I* never had a chance. One of those men even asked me to marry him. Do you know why I turned him down? He talked too much!" Christine put one hand to her forehead. "Right now I could be married with a baby. Safe and secure -- never have to be alone again."

Uhura put her arms around Christine's heaving shoulders. "Chrissy -- calm down," she crooned. "Hush, Chrissy -- it'll be okay.''

Christine calmed down a little. "Now do you see why I'm afraid of him?"

"Yes, honey,'' Uhura said soothingly.

"I don't know what to do." Christine sagged into a nearby chair. "I love the Enterprise. This is home to me. I couldn't ask for a better bunch of people to work with. But, if I stay here. I'll lose whatever chances I have. You're not like me, Uhura. I don't think you'll ever settle down. I love my work and I would never leave it. But I want a home and a family, too." Christine buried her face in her hands. "I don't know what to do!"

* * *

CHAPEL, CHRISTINE, M.D., SERIAL NUMBER LS,159373CH, LIEUTENANT COMMANDER, CURRENT ASSIGNMENT: ASSISTANT SHIP'S DOCTOR, USS ENTERPRISE, EDUCATION: BS-MICROBIOLOGY; COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, MS-XENOBIOLOGY, UCLA, PH.D. ...

Spock glanced quickly over the bare bones of Christine's service record, most of which he already knew. He stopped the viewer when it reached FAMILY HISTORY:

FATHER: CHAPEL, JOHN TEMPLETON III, C.F. TERRAN WHO'S WHO IN BUSINESS

MOTHER: CHAPEL, ELIZABETH MARGARET GRAHAM, C.F. TERRAN NEW YORK SOCIAL REGISTRY

BROTHER: CHAPEL, JOHN TEMPLETON IV, C.F. TERRAN WHO'S WHO IN BUSINESS

SISTER: WELLESLEY, LADY CAROLINE ELIZABETH CHAPEL, BARONESS, C.F. TERRAN BURKE'S PEERAGE

Spock's fingers moved rapidly over his personal computer terminal as he made more and more use of esoteric reference material. WALL STREET, DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, SPERRY RAND CORP, 10 DOWNING STREET, ROOSEVELT, MAYFLOWER, DUKE OF WELLINGTON, TERRAN DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY, BOSTON TEA PARTY, TERRAN UNITED NATIONS CABINET, EDWARD III, FORTUNE 500, MITSUBISHI, XEROX, PARK AVENUE ...

Bemused, Spock finally shut off the terminal. He rested his arms on the table top, fingers steepled. He had not been aware Christine's family was as prominent and well connected on Terra as his own on Vulcan. Somehow, the knowledge brought Christine into clearer focus. It explained the air of quiet good breeding she wore like a cloak, her ability to attend the most prestigious colleges and universities in the universe, her lack of awe when faced with the Ambassador of all Vulcan as a patient. What it did not explain was why Christine was serving as a Doctor on board the Enterprise many lightyears from Terra.

The knowledge also served to make Spock's path a little easier. Christine's heritage might make her more palatable to his own family, who had already had one Terran forced down their throats.

The thought of his family had been nagging at the back of Spock's brain for several days, since he had determined what course of action he would follow in this situation. Christine must be shielded from the censure of his family. The ancient forms and traditions had to be followed explicitly, even in the absence of the marriage broker.

The first step had been taken tonight with the formal declaration of intent, the song Kun Lothsin. Even though Christine had not been aware of its significance, it had ensnared her.

Spock bit his lower lip, remembering Christine as she had surrendered to the lure of the Kun Lothsin. He had wanted so desperately to reach out and touch her, to convey to her the meaning of his actions. But, surrounded by so many curious eyes, he had held back, and she had fled, terror in her eyes.

No. It was better this way. To follow the correct procedure was the only logical course. Later, once the proper ceremonies and rites had been fulfilled, would come the time for explanations. With her own social background, Christine would understand the need for propriety.

With renewed determination, Spock flicked the terminal beck on.

MEDICAL HISTORY...

* * *

Casually, Spock strolled into Sickbay, checking the lay of the land. McCoy was not in his office, or anywhere else to be seen in Sickbay. M'Benga was not in evidence, either. He found Christine in minor surgery, putting the final touches on a split lip.

Attracted by the sudden movement out of the corner of her eye, Christine looked up from her work and frowned.

"I wish to speak with you," Spock spoke abruptly.

"I'll be through here in a moment, Commander."

"Please take your time."

Christine turned back to her patient. "Okay, McMasters, I'm done. Come back in three days and I'll take another look at it. Meanwhile, watch your step, not Ensign Parker." There was a twinkle in her eyes.

"You bet, Doc," McMasters grinned back. "But Parker is just built..." Suddenly, he remembered who was standing behind him and scuttled away.

Christine squared her shoulders, the animation fading from her face. "What can I do for you, Commander?"

*Why do you keep shutting me out?* Spock asked silently, unaware of his own wooden expression. "May I speak to you in your office?"

Christine shrugged. "Of course."

Christine sat down behind her desk and picked up a pen. Holding it in both hands, she tilted the chair back and looted up at Spock, her thoughts unreadable. "You wished to say something, Commander?"

Goaded by her neutrality, Spock retorted, "I have a name." He frowned. That wasn't the proper way to start.

"So you do, Commander," Christine said evenly, refusing to rise to the bait as she had almost done the night before.

Spock nearly panicked. This was not going according to plan. "Uh," he said, unable to meet her level stare. Suddenly he wondered how Sarek had handled this delicate situation.

Christine's eye s narrowed. *What is he up to now?* The suspicious thought ran through her mind. *He looks nervous, if that's possible for him.*

Spock put his hands behind his back, Vulcan mask sliding into place. He found a spot just above Christine's head to stare at. "Dr. Chapel," he began firmly. "I am sure you remember five point seven three years ago I severed the marriage bond with T'Pring under rather uncomfortable circumstances. My father informs me and I concur with his opinion is time I select another bondmate."

Christine froze, not believing what her ears were hearing. *He's got to be joking*, she thought wildly. *How could I forget THAT?*

Spock clenched his teeth and launched into the formal statement of eligibility. "My family is highly respected on Vulcan. Our lineage stretches back into pre-Reform times with no shame attached to any of its members. My father is quite wealthy and of course I am his only heir." Totally bemused, Christine stared at him. *This is right out of the Middle Ages.* "In the absence of a proper marriage broker I have conducted my own research into your social and genetic background. I find your family's social standing to be equal to my own, thus a point of possible friction eliminated. I found no trace of genetic disease in your medical history that would conflict with anything I have inherited from my mother. I believe we will be able to produce healthy offspring." The pen in Christine's hands shattered. Spock ignored it, doggedly pursuing his course. "We are both scientists which should provide a bas i s for daily communication. You have been trained in the scientific method making if easier for you to assimilate the Vulcan Tradition and Way. I of course have a Human mother and thus am able to comprehend..."

"Commander, are you asking me to marry you?" Christine interrupted the flow of words.

"Yes." Spock finally lowered his gaze to watch her reaction.

Christine leaned forward, her empty hands finding the paper weight on the desk top. Absently, she flipped it over and began tracing the caduceus cut into it with her fingertips. *Well, Christine*, she thought, *you've always wanted him and now you can have him with one word. Do you want him badly enough to take him on those terms -- social, genetic, and professional compatibility? Can you live the rest of your life like that? Or are you going to shoot for the big time -- a man who loves you as much as you love him? Do you have enough self-respect to say "No"?*

Slowly Christine looked up at Spock, her face deathly white, eyes blazing with hatred. "Leonard was right all along," she said quietly, inconsequentially. "You do have green ice water in your veins instead of blood."

Spock tensed. "Doctor, I assure you, I do not say this lightly. I gave the matter considerable thought before approaching you."

"I'm sure you did, Commander." Christine's hands tightened on the paperweight. "That little speech of yours was the vilest piece of garbage I have ever heard in my life. Get out of here -- now. You make me sick!"

Spock was aghast. "Doctor, you do not understand!"

"Oh, I understand all right, Commander." Christine's voice was silken in rage. "You need a wife, so why not Chapel? She'll be thrilled to tears with the idea and go along with anything." Her frail hold on control began slipping and her voice rose. "But you're wrong -- dead wrong. Get out of here!"

His carefully formulated plans shredded, Spock fought to maintain some grasp on the situation. "Doctor, you have lost control of your emotions. I will try to explain this to you later when you are able to listen with an open mind." Rigidly, he went to the door.

Christine stood up as the door opened. "If you ever come near me again, I'll kill you!" Without thinking, she hurled the paperweight at his head.

Spock bolted out the door to see Jim Kirk and Leonard McCoy standing in the corridor, mouths hanging open, eyes wide with surprise. Spock closed his eyes and froze. He opened them again, hoping against hope. No. They were still there.

Kirk found his voice first. "Spock, what happened?"

"I don't wish to discuss it." Spock forced the words out between stiff lips. "Excuse me." He turned and fled the scene.

McCoy looked down at the shattered paperweight, a dreamy expression on his face. "Deja vu," he commented softly. "Five and a half years ago. Only then, I think the roles were reversed." He sighed. "I better go calm Chris down. Spock must have really upset her bad."

"Chris?" Kirk questioned sharply. "Did you see the look on Spock's face? He's upset, too!"

"He's hurt her again, damnit!" McCoy's temper flared in defense of Christine. "I'm getting sick and tired of this stuff. Christine is a person, a woman -- not a toy for that Vulcan to play around with!"

"Doctor, Spock is my best friend. I will not tolerate your abuse of him!"

Christine appeared in the doorway, hands pressed against her ears. ''Don't -- please don't!'' she begged.

McCoy shot his Captain a venomous glance, then hurried to Christine's side. He took her by the arm and led her back into the office, the door hissing shut behind them. He forced her into the chair. "Chris, what happened?"

"Nothing." Christine clenched her jaw. "Leave me alone."

"I'm not leaving till you tell me what happened." McCoy planted himself on a corner of the desk. "C'mon, Chris, 'fess up."

Christine's eyes were bright with the tears she was too proud to shed. " I should have realized years ago Spock wasn't for me. He's too Vulcan, too alien. I thought I'd learned my lesson, but no, I had to do it again. I had to keep on hoping." Abruptly, the dam broke. "I hate him, do you hear me, I HATE HIM!!" Sobbing uncontrollably, Christine buried her face in her arms.

In his quarters, Spock was also fighting a losing battle with his emotions. *What went wrong?* he asked himself over and over again. *How did I misjudge her so badly?*

* * *

Within hours, a garbled account had spread like wildfire through the ship. A young nurse in Sickbay told a tech in pathology, who told a friend in the computer room, who told a pal in Engineering, who told..

Uhura paled when she heard and hurried straight to Christine's quarters as soon as her duty shift was over. It took several impatient buzzes before Christine opened the door. Uhura stomped into the room and faced Christine belligerently, hands on her hips.

"Please don't, Uhura," Christine mumbled helplessly.

"I want to know what happened!" Uhura scolded.

"You and four hundred twenty eight other people," Christine sighed.

"Would you be interested in hearing the version *I* heard?" Uhura asked dangerously.

"Oh, god." Christine sank wearily into a convenient chair. "I suppose it's all over the ship by now."

"When the Assistant Ship's Doctor kicks the First Officer out of her office threatening to kill him, then throws a paperweight at him, you bet it's going to be all over the ship," Uhura said forcefully. "Now, what really happened?"

Christine shrugged. "That's what really happened."

All the wind went out of Uhura's sails. She gazed at Christine for a long moment, then suddenly began giggling. "You didn't!" she finally managed to gasp.

Christine's face flushed and she shifted uneasily in her chair. "Yes, I did." There was the merest hint of defiance in her voice. "And it isn't funny in the least."

Instantly contrite, Uhura stopped laughing. She perched herself on one corner of the desk. "Why?"

Christine looked away for a moment. "He asked me to marry him," she said in a small voice.

"Let me get this straight." Uhura's face was solemn, her tone doubting. "Spock asked you to marry him, right?" Christine nodded. "And you tried to kill him with a paperweight?" Again Christine nodded. Uhura paused for a second, then remarked, "I think something got lost in the translation, cause I surely do not understand."

Christine sprang to her feet and began pacing up and down. "Uhura, had no other choice." Her voice was pleading. "I can't marry him -- not the way he wants. I can't live like that."

"What exactly did he say?" Uhura demanded.

Haltingly, the words sticking in her throat, Christine repeated Spock' s incredible proposal. "Now do you see why I couldn't accept, why I got angry?" she asked tiredly. "It's not me he wants, but my family's social position, my chances of producing healthy children. What about me?"

Uhura remained silent, one leg swinging idly. *Spock blew it*, was all she could think. *He really blew it.*

* * *

Christine read the lab report, anger settling over her like a cloud. This was the second time Fields had sloughed over a test. The situation was becoming intolerable.

Christine stalked into the Pathology lab, heading directly for Fields' station. "Yeoman Fields!"

The woman looked up at Christine, barely concealed insolence in her face. "Yes, Doctor?"

"This lab report is unacceptable!" Christine slapped the report down next to Fields' microscope. This is the second time I have had to speak to you about your carelessness. I will not tolerate such slipshod work from you or anyone else. I want a decent work-up done this time and I expect it on my desk in twenty-four hours. Do you read me?"

"Yes, Doctor." Fields' eyes widened, then fell.

Angrily, Christine spun around, only to walk right into Spock's chest.

"May I be of assistance, Doctor?" Spock asked pleasantly, keeping a wary eye on Christine's hands.

"No, thank you, Commander," Christine replied coldly, stepping back from him. "I believe the matter is settled." Head held high, she marched out of the lab.

Spock kept himself from watching Christine leave by staring frostily at Fields. "Yeoman, you are on report." He picked up the offending report and glanced over it. "I quite understand Dr. Chapel's displeasure."

* * *

Jim Kirk faced his First Officer, frustration written all over his face. "Spock, what the hell is the problem? For three days you have been out in your own private dreamland. You're driving me crazy!"

Hands loosely clasped behind his back, Spock shook his head. "There is no problem, Jim. I have told you that before."

Kirk held his breath and slowly counted to ten. "Bullshit."

Spock stubbornly held his ground, refusing to react.

"Explain to me, then," Kirk's voice was dangerously even, "why we went starboard instead of port during the Reichsmitter maneuver. We damn near split every seam on this ship!

Spock stared at a point just to the left of Kirk's shoulder, not speaking.

Again, Kirk counted to ten, reconsidered, then twenty. "Explain why we dropped a thousand meters during the Kearney maneuver. I nearly lost my breakfast! You programmed both those new maneuvers yourself!"

"There were only two such incidents," Spock explained uncomfortably.

"Two in three years, I will accept from you." Kirk glared at the Vulcan. "Two in three days I will not. Added to the fact I have to yell in your ear to get your attention."

"My apologies, Captain," Spock said formally. "I shall endeavor to correct the situation."

"Do so."

* * *

"Doctor, I have a headache." Kirk stood in front of McCoy's desk.

"Don't tell me. It has pointed ears and says 'fascinating," McCoy said sourly.

The two men eyed each other warily, then grinned. "Truce?" Kirk asked.

"Truce," McCoy agreed. "Here, have an aspirin." He fished around in his desk drawer as Kirk sank into a chair. "Sickbay's been no Garden of Delights either."

Kirk swallowed the aspirin, then complained. "I don't understand what's going on. Why can't they get this thing organized?"

"Because Spock's Vulcan and Chris doesn't trust him." McCoy sighed. "Once bit, twice shy. She's so scared of him right now, it's pathetic. I can't blame her much though. Spock was pretty brutal to her in the past."

Kirk made a face. "Name me one person he hasn't been brutal to when he's in the right mood. I can think of several occasions when you were ready to kill him on the spot."

''That's different." McCoy waved a negligent hand. "Chris' basic self esteem is involved here. She's so ashamed of loving him, because of his past indifference, she's bending over backwards. And of course, the rumor mill has been at it again."

"Oh, great," Kirk groaned. "Now what?"

"It's pretty vicious," McCoy said wearily. He paused to take a breath. "With a few minor variations, it seems to be this: Christine and Spock were lovers during the first trip out. Chris got pregnant and Spock forced her into an abortion. Now that he's back, he wants her back in his bed, but she's holding out for marriage."

Kirk's blood pressure nearly spurted out his ears. "That's the filthiest thing I've ever heard!"

"Look Jim, you, me, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov -- we know better. But this is virtually a whole new crew we have here. Spock is the First Officer. Chris is the Assistant Ship's Doctor. It's human nature -- people love to hear dirt about those over them. It cuts them down to their level. Christine isn't helping matters herself, either. She's so openly antagonistic toward Spock, people can't help but think something's there. Throwing that paperweight at him was just the frosting on the cake. And, of course, Spock's walking around looking like he just got cross circuited."

"I wish there was something I could do!" Kirk snarled in frustration. "Spock's tearing himself up over this thing and won't admit it. If he would at least talk about it!"

"Jim -- there's not a single thing any of us can do," McCoy said heavily. "It's their problem and they're going to have to solve it themselves." Sudden ly, McCoy brightened. "I know what I'd like to do, though."

"What?" Kirk asked eagerly, grasping at any straw.

McCoy leered. "Lock 'em up in a little room with a bed and let Mother Nature take care of it."

Dumbfounded, Kirk could only stare at the Doctor. Then both of them went off into gales of laughter.

* * *

Meticulously, Christine adjusted the microscope, one eye on the viewer, the other on Fields' rewritten report. On the surface, the report seemed correct, but Christine wanted to double check.

Satisfied with the results, Christine picked up the report and turned to leave the pathology lab. She stopped, hearing a conversation issuing from a side room.

"...actually put me on report for making a little mistake." Recognizing Fields' brassy voice, Christine tensed, ears straining.

There was an indistinguishable murmur, then Fields' voice again, "Chapel called him down on me. She's so dumb she couldn't handle it herself. Had to bring in lover boy to do the actual dirty -- damn whore!" The other person laughed.

Christine felt as if she had just been kicked in the stomach. Blindly, she reached for a nearby console to steady herself.

"Can you imagine going to bed with that iceberg?" Fields continued. "She must be pretty desperate to sink that far. 'Course, she's no ball of fire herself. Too good for the rest of us."

Christine fled, blacking out the raucous laughter behind her.

* * *

*Had to call in lover boy to do the actual dirty work.* The words rang in Christine's mind. "No!" Christine leaned her head against her office wall, choking on the bitter taste in her mouth.

*Spock must have put Fields on report after I told him I'd already taken care of it. It wasn't right. He shouldn't have undercut me like that. I can't go back down there. They all think I can't handle responsibility on my own. I didn't call him. I didn't. He's the last person in the galaxy I'd call in to help. I took care of it. Why did he have to do it? I'll never be able to face those people again. I'm ruined here. My word means nothing now. He's taken all my authority from me.*

Christine found her way to the desk and collapsed into the chair.

*She called me a whore -- ME! I've never touched him and she says I'm sleeping with him. Is this what they're saying all over the Enterprise? Is that what people think -- Christine Chapel is Spock's whore?*

Christine drew a shuddering breath, then started rummaging through her desk drawers.

* * *

"Leonard, I have something for you to sign." Dry eyed and wan, Christine entered McCoy's office.

McCoy looked up, eyes narrowing. "What's wrong, Chris? You're white as a sheet!"

Silently, Christine handed him the clipboard she was holding. McCoy skimmed over it, then glanced up at her, stricken. "Why, Chris? I thought you were happy here."

"I can no longer function properly on board this ship or in Starfleet," Chris replied woodenly. "I want out before it's too late."

McCoy did a mental leap. "It's Spock, isn't it?" he demanded angrily. "He's done something."

"He's totally undermined my authority as a doctor and an officer." Christine's hands tightened. "I can't stay here any longer -- not under these conditions. I've already sent my acceptance to Fedpharmco. I wish to leave the Enterprise as soon as possible."

"You won't reconsider, will you?" McCoy asked wistfully. "I really need you here and these things have a habit of dying down. Once we really get going, people are going to be too busy to bother with cheap gossip."

Christine flinched. "You've heard it, too!"

"Yes."

"No, I can't stay. I've got to get out of here!" Christine trembled. "Spock'll be here forever and people will always believe we're having an affair. And now, it's even worse." Christine's voice hardened. "He deliberately sabotaged me down in the labs. I'll never get anything out of them after this."

* * *

Kirk and Spock both looked up as the conference room door slid open and McCoy entered the room. The angry doctor stomped over to Kirk and thrust a clipboard at him. "Here -- I have something for you to sign -- courtesy of our First Officer!"

Uncomprehending, Spock looked at McCoy. "Doctor, I do not quite understand." He spoke softly.

Kirk glanced at the offending slate. His shoulders sagged, "Oh, no, Bones."

"Oh, yes!" McCoy snarled. "Sign, I already did."

Automatically, Kirk scribbled his signature in the blank space. "There's no chance...?"

McCoy shook his head violently. "I already tried."

Still at a complete loss, Spock looked from Kirk's unhappy face to McCoy's angry one and then back again. "May I?" He held his hand out. Wordlessly, Kirk passed him the board.

As Spock read the resignation, a lead weight settled in his stomach. "Satisfied now, Spock?" McCoy's jeering voice seemed to cone from a great distance.

Face and eyes frozen, the Vulcan handed the clipboard back to his Captain. "I assure you, Doctor, I have spoken with Dr. Chapel only once since the incident with the paperweight." He kept his voice toneless. "It was strictly within the sphere of duty. Nothing more."

"Well, you must have done something, Spock!" McCoy raged. "Chris says you've totally undermined her authority as a doctor and an officer."

"That's enough, Bones!" Kirk slammed his fist down on the table, glaring hotly at the doctor. "I thought we were going to keep out of this mess. It's their problem -- not ours." Kirk suddenly realized what he was saying. He looked at the Vulcan, stricken. "I'm sorry, Spock."

Rigidly controlled, Spock stood up. "There is no problem, gentlemen," he said with icy calm. "Now if you will excuse me."

"No, Spock!" McCoy's words cracked in the room like a whip. "You're not running out now -- not until I'm done."

"Bones," Kirk said warningly.

"No, Captain." Spock held his hand up. "Let the Doctor speak."

McCoy moved to stand in front of the Vulcan and took a deep breath. "Christine Chapel was the finest nurse I ever had the pleasure to work with. She is one hell of a good doctor and the warmest, kindest, most decent human being I have ever known." McCoy's voice shook. "Spock, I will never forgive you for this."

"Enough!" Aghast, Kirk and McCoy stared at Spock, whose Vulcan mask shattered, leaving his anger and pain in open view.

"I will not accept sole responsibility for Dr. Chapel's decision to leave Starfleet. Did she tell you why she threw that paperweight at me?" Mutely, McCoy shook his head. "THAT was her reply to my offer of marriage."

There were several long moments of silence before Spock turned on his heel and strode from the room.

McCoy turned to Kirk, a sick look on his face. "Jim, I swear, Chris never said 'boo' about that."

"I suggest, Doctor, you check your facts a little closer next time," Kirk replied idly, brushing past McCoy and out of the room.

* * *

Straight as an arrow, Spock headed for Sickbay. He stood outside Christine's office, taking a moment to rearrange his features in the familiar emotionless mask. Some measure of self control restored, he entered the room.

Christine looked up from the papers she was sorting for final disposition. "Get out." There was no inflection in her voice.

"Dr. McCoy just informed me of your decision to leave Starfleet," Spock said quietly.

"Get out," Christine repeated, in the same dead monotone.

"Dr. Chapel, I would like an explanation of this," Spock insisted doggedly, resisting the urge to grab her.

Christine stared at him her eyes like flint. "Dr. McCoy is aware of my reasons and has signed the resignation. Get out."

"I am not leaving until I get a reasonable explanation."

Wordlessly, Christine stood up and walked past him out the door.

* * *

Impatiently, Kirk leaned on the buzzer to Spock's quarters. When the door finally slid open, he nearly fainted. Spock looked as cold and withdrawn as he had on that first day back. "May I come in, Spock?"

Spock stood back from the door. "Of course, Captain."

Cursing the day Christine Chapel had been born, Kirk stepped into Spock's dimly lit quarters. He watched as the Vulcan returned to sit at his desk.

"I don't suppose you want to talk about it?"

"No."

"Spock, it's not the end of the universe." Kirk tried anyway. "There are other women out there."

''Like T'Pring?'' Spock jibed harshly.

Kirk winced. This was bad. "Ah, look, Spock. So you've gotten burnt a couple of times. These things happen to the best of us. You've got a whole lifetime ahead of you." Mentally, Kirk kicked himself. He had never heard a triter speech in his whole life. He cast around for another way to approach the subject.

"Captain, I appreciate your concern but there is no need for it," Spock stated woodenly. "It appears to be a simple case of misunderstanding. Now please go. I would like to be alone."

Sick at heart, Kirk left the room.

Wearily, Spock pillowed his head in his arms. *I should not have done that*, he thought. *Jim was only trying to help. Why do I keep repeating the old patterns? It is not only illogical but painful*.

* * *

The following morning, Spock got to the bridge and relieved the third watch science officer several minutes before Kirk arrived. He contrived to look thoroughly engaged in his duties when Kirk did enter the bridge.

Kirk recognized Spock's apparent busyness for what it was and sighed. There would be no budging the Vulcan from the stance he had taken. Damn that woman anyway! Just when Spock was beginning to get his head out of the Vulcan sand, this had to happen. No telling how long it would take for him to pull out of it.

"Mister Sulu, change course for Starbase IX." Kirk's voice was louder than he intended.

"Aye, sir," Sulu responded.

"Miss Uhura, notify Starbase IX we need supplies and will be dropping Dr. Chapel off."

"Yes, sir." Uhura reluctantly complied.

"Course laid in, Captain," Sulu reported. "ETA 0750 hours tomorrow."

Spock clenched his teeth. *So soon?* He bent over the consoles so no one could see his face.

As the morning wore on, Spock remained at the science station, face and posture immobile, forcing himself to perform his duties. He never saw the concerned glances coming at him from all sides. His mind kept straying off down to Sickbay. Several times, he had to be spoken to twice before recalling himself enough to respond.

Half-way through the morning, Kirk shot out of the command chair. "Mr. Spock, take the con. I'll be in Sickbay."

"Yes, Captain."

* * *

McCoy looked up at the Captain, his eyes bleary from lack of sleep. "I know, Jim, I know," he said softly.

Kirk collapsed into a chair. "I could just wring somebody's neck!"

"Mine, Chris', or Spock's?" McCoy asked dryly.

"All three of you really," Kirk muttered. He subsided momentarily, buried in his own thoughts. Suddenly he exclaimed, "It isn't fair, Bones! Chris' leaving, Spock falling apart right in front of my eyes -- what went wrong?"

McCoy made a rude sound. "How the hell should I know what went wrong? I'd've bet my last credit Chris would accept a marriage proposal from him. You could've knocked me over with a feather."

"Well, maybe it's for the best," Kirk grumped. "This is Starship, not a damn honeymoon hotel. Marriage is hell on a ship, especially in the higher ranks."

"No, Jim, it's not for the best," McCoy said forcefully. "He needs Chris more than you realize, more than I realized until thought it out last night. You know -- we've always been so concerned about his Human half, we've neglected his Vulcan half. It isn't just his Human half hurting right now -- his Vulcan half is in even bigger trouble."

"I thought it was his Vulcan half that was the trouble!" Kirk argued.

"That's what I mean, Jim. We've lost the trees for the forest. Remember Spock's bonding with T'Pring?"

Kirk sighed heavily. "How could I forget?"

"Spock was bonded to T'Pring for thirty years. That fight, the Koon-ut-kal-i-fee, destroyed the bond. For the past five years, Spock has been running around with a great big gaping hole in his psyche. He needs someone to plug it up. That bond is an integral part of the Vulcan psyche. You and I -- we don't need wives. We can survive without them. They're nice to have, but not totally necessary." McCoy smiled bleakly. "But a Vulcan needs a 'bondmate' the way we need air, and in another couple of years or so, we're going to have even more grief on our hands."

Kirk's stomach sank. "That's right. I forgot about that part of it." He took a deep breath. "What are we going to do?"

"Nothing." McCoy leaned back in his chair. "They've still got about twenty hours left. Five'll get you ten, one of 'em is going to reach the end of the rope."

"I sincerely hope so!" Kirk growled. "That bridge is becoming a disaster area. If Spock screws up one more thing, I'm going to bust him!"

* * *

Somewhat cheered by McCoy's optimism, Kirk returned to the bridge. Spock surrendered the command chair and hurried back to the science consoles.

"Captain," Uhura called quietly.

"Yes, Uhura." Kirk went to stand by the communications station.

"I've organized a farewell party for Chris tonight," Uhura said softly, hoping Spock wouldn't pick up on it. "Nothing much -- just the old officers. 1700 hours, third rec deck. Can you get a replacement for Pavel so he can come?"

"I will take the shift," Spock's voice sounded behind them.

Kirk swung around, ready to deny the offer, then nodded. "Of course, Spock. Call a replacement for the rest of this shift, then report back later."

"Thank you, Captain."

* * *

Just as Uhura bounced into her office, Christine finished the last report.

"C'mon, Chris!" Uhura grinned mischievously

"I've got the rest of my packing to do." Christine hung back.

"I'll help you later."

"Okay," Christine sighed.

In the doorway, Christine paused for one last look around. Abruptly, she gave herself a mental shake. Fedpharmco would have a lot to offer, too. It was time to grow up.

* * *

''Surprise!''

Christine stopped, an accusatory look on her face directed at Uhura. "You shouldn't have," she mumbled.

"Couldn't let the prettiest doctor in Starfleet leave without a good bye party." Kirk came over and gave Christine a quick hug.

"Well, get in here!" McCoy ordered testily.

Uhura gave Christine a nudge from behind.

Christine looked around, a lump in her throat. They were all here -- Kirk, McCoy, Sulu, Chekov, Kyle, Rand, Uhura and a few of the lower ranks. Only one person was missing. Resolutely, Christine shut off that line of thought.

"Look Chris!" Uhura led her to the table in the center of the room. There was a cake shaped like a Starfleet command logo with "Good Luck, Chris" written on it. A small package sat next to it.

Christine's eyes filled. "Thank you, every one of you."

"Aren't ye goin' t' open it?" Scotty's brogue urged.

A hand picked the package up and handed it to Chris. With shaking fingers, Christine tore the wrapping off. A chorus of oh's and ah's swept around the room at the sight of the crystal pendant shaped like the Enterprise. Scotty beamed proudly. It had taken him most of the afternoon to program it.

* * *

Dazedly, Spock left the turbolift and headed for the haven of his quarters. He knew rest would be unattainable, but at least he would be safe from prying eyes.

"Mr. Spock?" A soft, concerned voice spoke.

Spock stopped. Uhura was standing beside him, a hand on his arm.

"Yes, Miss Uhura."

Uhura took a deep breath. "Mr. Spock, I think it's time you and I had a nice long talk."

Spock drew back hurriedly. "I assure you, Miss Uhura, I don't wish to speak with anyone."

Uhura drew herself up and glared at the stiff-necked man in front of her. "Mr. Spock." Determination blazed in her eyes. "Christine is leaving in less than eight hours. Now -- you have two choices. You can either straighten this mess out or you can watch her leave."

Spock's eyes narrowed. Following his own course had led him into this agonizing impasse. Maybe it was time, even past time, to seek advice from a third party. Spock made his decision.

"Please come into my quarters, Miss Uhura."

* * *

"Somehow or another, you and Chris are not communicating on the same channel." Uhura took a firm stance in the center of the room, sternly eyeing her superior officer.

"How can I communicate on any channel when she won't even listen to me?" Spock retorted bitterly, then stopped. "My apologies, Miss Uhura," he said stiffly. "I should not have spoken to you in that manner."

Uhura cocked her head to one side. "Why not? You're hurt and angry. It was a normal reaction, even for a Vulcan. And that's part of the problem right there. You want to do or say something, but you just don't know how to do it. You spent so many years trying not to show your emotions, trying not to react, that now when you need to, you can't." Spock's mouth tightened as the truth of Uhura's words sank in. She continued, "Chris' part of the problem is just the opposite. After years of wearing her heart on her sleeve, she's afraid to show anything anymore. In sheer self defense, she's trying to out Vulcan you."

" I don't understand what you mean," Spock whispered.

"Christine Chapel loves you more than anything else in this galaxy. She has for years and you know it." Uhura was brutally frank. "But long ago, you set up a pattern of denial. To be Vulcan is to be above emotions of any sort -- yours or anyone else's. So you ran from Chris and the love she had for you, and it hurt her. You hurt right now after one good kick in the head. Imagine how she feels after years of it."

"But I asked her to become my wife," Spock blurted out. "I wasn't trying to hurt her."

Uhura rolled her eyes in mock despair. "Spock, if your father had proposed to your mother the way you proposed to Christine, you wouldn't be standing here right now."

Spock tensed. "It was a perfectly proper proposal," he stated flatly.

"To a Vulcan, maybe," Uhura retorted. "Not to Christine. It sounded more like a business merger than a marriage."

Spock's angry expression faded. He took a few quick, nervous steps away from Uhura, then swung back again to her. "Uhura, my people do not marry from choice." His voice was constricted. "We are bonded at the age of seven years. It is arranged by our families. If a marriage bond is severed for whatever reason, it is again the family who arranges for a new bonding. The matter is handled by a marriage broker."

"Was there a marriage broker for Sarek and Amanda?" Uhura demanded.

Spock's gaze fell. "No." There was a short pause then he tried to explain. "I--I wanted to save Christine from embarrassment. I did not wish to tell my family the bonding was improper."

"But Christine doesn't know that," Uhura explained quietly. "Nor does she know why you asked her in the first place. She thinks she was the handiest female with the right credentials."

"No, that is not the case!" Spock protested.

"Did you tell her that?"

Spock hesitated, then shook his head.

"Mr. Spock, do you know why you asked Christine?" There as steel underlying Uhura's calm voice.

"I--I..." Spock's voice faltered, unable to say the words.

Uhura moved to stand directly in front of the tongue-tied Vulcan, her eyes hard. "I'm going to ask you one more question. Can you go to Christine and tell her you love her? Because, Mister, that is the only thing which'll keep her on board this ship."

Spock spun away from Uhura, his eyes dull and lifeless. "I have never said 'I love you' to anyone."

"You better learn how to before 0750 hours."

Spock remained silent.

Deciding she had made her point, Uhura laid a gentle had a his arm. Spock flinched, but forced himself not to pull away. "A child does not suddenly stand up and run in a day, Spock. As a baby, it learns to walk one step at a time. That baby may stumble and fall, but the day comes when it can run. In the past few weeks you've fallen several times, but had the determination to keep on trying. If you stop now, you'll never walk, much less run."

Spock straightened his shoulders. "What should I do?" His voice was steady.

"Go talk to Chris one more time. It won't be easy for you. You've hurt her bad, Spock. Right now she hates you more than anyone else in the galaxy. Let her work the anger out. Once it is gone, she will listen to reason. But if you love Chris enough to do it, you'll be running before you know it."

* * *

Uhura's words chased themselves through Spock's overwrought mind.* Imagine how she feels after years of it ... watch her leave ... the only thing that is going to keep her on board this ship ... trying to out-Vulcan you ...* And his own words. *I have never said "I love you" to anyone ...*

*I cannot go this far this fast. I need time to adjust, time to learn. I cannot rethink, reshape forty-three years in one night. Eight hours that are now four point five.*

Spock halted, realizing he had can to the end of his logic. He could either find within himself the ability to say those three words or spend the rest of his life alone.

*I have been alone for too many years. I cannot exist separate and apart any longer.*

* * *

Dully, Christine shoved the few remaining articles of clothing into the trunk and snapped it shut. She straightened up, hands pushing some wisps of freshly washed and dried hair from her face. All that remained now were the little knick-knacks collected during her years of rattling around the galaxy; then she would be done. In another four hours, this particular chapter of Christine Chapel's life would close and another begin.

Christine drifted over to the shelf where she displayed those souvenirs. She stared at them, remembering. The cut crystal music box from Catha, the exquisite porcelain bowl made on Thebes II, the inlaid brass bell from...

*Stop it!* she told herself. *You have the future ahead of you. Crying over what's done isn't going to solve anything. There will be no more tears.*

Christine picked up the crystal music box with both hands. She held it briefly, feeling its cool smoothness. Then reluctantly, she began wrapping it carefully in a length of material.

The sound of the buzzer interrupted her. *It's after four in the morning*, she thought with sore surprise. *Who could...* Curiosity rampant, Christine crossed the room and pressed the communicator button. "Who's there?"

"Spock."

Christine stiffened. "Go away. Leave me alone."

"Please, I must speak with you."

"No. Go away!" Christine removed her hand from the button.

* * *

Spock's shoulders slumped. It hadn't occurred to him that Christine would turn a deaf ear to him this final time. He didn't notice McCoy turn the corner, stop dead, then hurry back behind the corner to watch.

Spock started to walk away in defeat, then paused. *No, I have not come this far to be stopped now. I must speak to her before it is truly too late.* Using the First Officer's authority, Spock overrode the locking mechanism on the door.

Lurking behind his corner, McCoy whistled to himself. *My, my -- this is something new and exciting.* Hearing another crew member approaching, he rushed away, hoping to give Spock a chance to escape notice.

* * *

At the sound of the door opening, Christine whirled around. Her loosely tied robe fluttered about her, affording Spock a momentary glimpse of long, slender legs and the gentle curve of a breast. He caught his breath, temporarily distracted.

"I might have known," Christine snapped, "you would do something like that."

Spock took a step into the room, the door closing behind him. "Doctor -- Christine, I must talk to you," he said urgently. "Please."

"I said I didn't want to listen and I meant i t." Deliberately, Christine turned her back to him and resumed wrapping the music box with shaking hands. "Get out of here right this minute or I will call Security and have you thrown out. You have no right to break into my quarters!"

Spock took in the room's emptiness and clenched his fists. "Christine, you must listen to me." His voice was low and strained.

Christine froze at the use of her first name again. Awkwardly, Spock blurted, "I love you."

Slowly, Christine set the half wrapped music box down, her mind reeling from the impact of the Vulcan's declaration. For so many years she had waited to hear them and now they were ashes in her hands. She drew a deep breath, then gradually exhaled it.

"How isn't that just marvelous, Commander." Her voice was heavy with sarcasm. "Isn't that just bloody well marvelous. You love me. I am so glad you told me, because I sure wouldn't have known, otherwise." The strain of the last few days took its toll; something in Christine's mind cracked. "Singlehandedly, you have managed to make me the laughing stock of this whole ship and probably half the galaxy besides. And then you have the gall to stand there and say you love me! Do you honestly expect me to believe that?" Her voice began to rise.

Behind her, Spock's face paled. He took half a step toward the ranting woman, then stopped. Uhura's words sounded in his memory. *It won't be easy. You've hurt her bad, Spock. Right now she hates you more than anyone else in the galaxy. Let her work the anger out. Once it is gone, she will listen to reason.* Grimly he prepared for whatever was to come.

Christine's rage continued to build with the awareness that the Vulcan had apparently elected not to leave. After years of nearly unbearable misery, the opportunity to strike back at him had finally arisen. "You've forced me off the Enterprise and even out of Starfleet. My friends, my work -- they're all here. But you destroyed it for me and I have no other choice but to leave. That should make you happy, if anything can. You don't have to worry about Chapel invading your private little Vulcan world anymore." Savagely, uncaring, Christine began stuffing the rest of the knick-knacks helter skelter into the box. "You've played too many games with me for too many years. Good old Christine, just hanging around wafting to get kicked in the teeth. Well, good old Christine is getting out while the getting's good, while there's still a chance left for her. Maybe someone out there in that great big wide galaxy hasn't heard about Spock's whore. Maybe there's a man out there who can love and respect me for myself -- not my genetic superiority or my scientifically trained mind. He'd love me."

The Vulcan was rooted to the floor, white as a sheet, her words striking him almost like physical blows. *Spock's whore ... Spock's whore...*

"Of course, you wouldn't understand things like that, would you?" Christine laughed brittlely, a note of hysteria in her voice. "Vulcans, especially half Vulcans, don't have feelings, do they? Vulcans don't laugh, they don't cry, they don't hurt, and above all they don't love. Vulcans are logical. Well, I'll give you some of your stinking Vulcan logic, Commander!" Christine spun to face the appalled Vulcan. "You're forty-three years old and you have at least another hundred and fifty years to go. I don't. In another eight or ten years, it'll be too late for me. You've already taken too many of my years. I won't give you the rest of them while you go on your merry Vulcan way." Christine ran out of breath. She paused for a moment, breathing heavily. A glimmer of sanity pierced the clouds of anger.

*What was she saying?* Christine asked herself, horrified by her lack of control. Wide eyed, Christine slowly lifted a hand and pressed it against a hot cheek.

Spock closed his eyes for a brief moment. "Christine." The words came from the agony he had been experiencing since her resignation. "I'm sorry."

For an endless moment, Christine stared at him. "No, you don't know what those words mean, Spock." There was a deadly finality in her voice. "You say them, but you don't feel them. You can't feel anything."

"Christine, you're hurting me now!" Spock ground the words out, naked pain transforming his face and eyes.

Some recognition of the Vulcan's suffering filtered through to Christine. She turned from him to hide her confusion. Restlessly, she picked up another trinket and began wrapping it. *What's happening here?* she asked herself. *This is not Spock as I have seen him before.*

Spock sensed her confusion and leaped in to take advantage of it. "I want to marry you."

Christine bit her lip. "Why Spock? You offered me a cold marriage before. Is this any different?"

"Yes," Spock replied softly. "This time can say I love you."

Again, Christine turned. "You should have said that a month ago, or even a week ago," she said sadly. "It's too late for it now. I'm leaving in few hours."

The words rocked Spock back. "Christine, I have said I love you," he began reasonably. "I have said I am sorry for the pain I caused you. I have asked you to marry me." He paused, then swung around and crashed his fist through the computer terminal on her desk. "Christine, what the hell do you want from me?" It was a cry of pure despair.

Christine blinked. *He'd dead serious this time*, she mused. *He isn't playing a game at all.* Detached, she allowed her eyes to catch his for a brief moment. Then slowly she walked over to the intercom.

Horror stricken, Spock watched her, knowing he had gambled and lost. She was calling Security to have him removed from her quarters. There was nothing left for him to say or do.

"Personnel. Harper here."

Spock sagged against the desk, his mind reeling.

"This is Dr. Chapel. Cancel my resignation."

"Yes, Doctor. Reason?"

Christine considered the question for a few seconds. "Let's just say I changed my mind. Chapel out." She took her finger off the button.

"Why?" Spock asked quietly.

Christine faced him. "I to you, Spock, and I lied to myself. No other man could possibly measure up to you." She smiled bleakly. "God knows, I've tried hard enough to find one. But he just doesn't exist. There's only you, Vulcan idiosyncrasies and all." She hesitated for a moment. "You asked -- what do I want from you. I want you to say 'I love you' without embarrassment. I want you to be able to touch me without being ashamed. But above all, I want you to keep your self respect. I love you too much to take that away from you and I nearly did."

Spock straightened back up. He looked at Christine steadily. "Christine, I do love you." There was no restraint, no hesitation as he reached out to her. Willingly, eagerly, Christine came to stand in his arms. Spock held her tightly for a moment, then tipped her chin back. His lips brushed lightly over her forehead, then found hers.

It was a long, slow kiss, both reveling in the taste and touch of the other. Unerringly, Spock retraced the old path into her consciousness. *This is the Vulcan way. May I?* he asked wordlessly.

Assent was given, equally wordless.

With infinite gentleness, Spock moved a short way into Christine's mind. He met with no resistance, only a quiet joy. Gradually, he exposed some of his own delight to her, careful not to overwhelm her. He had the necessary time now. Patiently, he would lead her to full realization and completion.

*This is the first step of many*, Spock explained, an aura of yearning surrounding his thoughts.

Instinctively, Christine pressed her body closer to his lean, hard one. Spock found the tie to her robe and loosened it. He slipped his hands around her naked waist, finding an unashamed pleasure in doing so. He pulled her closer yet. Christine trembled.

*Spock?*

Softly his presence in her mind reassured her. *There is no hurry, We will take the time to learn.*

Spock stepped back from her and brushed the robe away completely. Her shoulders clasped in his strong hands, he stared hungrily at Christine, then easily caught her under the knees and carried her over to the bed.

Unmoving from where he had laid her down, Christine watched as he locked the door to her quarters, then casually ripped the wiring from the intercom. Christine smothered a grin, but was unable to conceal the dancing light in her eyes.

"The Captain and Dr. McCoy will understand," Spock explained simply, kneeling down by the bedside.

"I hope so," Christine sighed.

Christine reached out to touch one wing swept eyebrow. Spock's hand caught hers in a tight grip. His other began stroking the length of her body. Christine squeezed her eyes shut as she felt him reenter her mind. *There are advantages to being Vulcan*, she projected, elated.

Abruptly, Spock stood up. Quickly, he stripped his uniform off, then slipped into the bed next to her. Suddenly afraid, Christine pulled back from him. "No, not yet."

Spock touched her face. "We still have much to discover in each other," he said, and Christine



burrowed happily against his bare chest.

* * *

*That's odd*, Jim Kirk thought. It was nearly fifteen minutes into the watch and Spock was still not on the bridge. Starbase IX was a bare half hour away and he would be needed.

"Miss Uhura, call Mr. Spock's quarters and see if he's all right." Kirk swivelled his chair to face the Communications Officer.

"He's not there, Captain," Uhura reported without touching her console.

"Well, page him, then," Kirk ordered irritably.

"I wouldn't suggest that, sir." Uhura kept her voice carefully neutral, still not using the console.

"What?" Kirk shot out of his chair to stand beside her. "First Spock, now you! Why are you disobeying a direct order?"

"As of 0450 hours, Dr. Chapel canceled her resignation, sir." Uhura spoke so softly only Kirk caught her words. "The intercom in her quarters has been totally disabled." Uhura broke into an impish grin. "Would you like me to call a replacement to the bridge, Captain? I don't think we're going to see much of Mr. Spock for the next couple of days."

"But..." Kirk sputtered. "He has a responsibility to this ship, to me!" He caught the adamant expression in Uhura's eyes. "Call the replacement," he sighed, capitulating. "And then take the con. I'm going to Sickbay."

* * *

McCoy looked up from the file he was writing in. "Hi, Jim. C'mon in," he called cheerfully.

Kirk dropped into a chair. "I have news for you."

"Oh, no, you don't." Chuckling, McCoy held the file in hand up. CHAPEL, CHRISTINE, M.D. "I saw Spock break into her quarters about 4:00 this morning."

Kirk's eyes widened and he grinned evilly. "Break into her quarters Doctor? Spock?"

"Yup," McCoy nodded. "I think he finally reached the end of his rope."

"Good," Kirk grumbled. "Now maybe we can get some work done around here."

"I wouldn't count on it." McCoy leaned back in his chair. "After the hell they've been through, I don't expect much out of either of them for a while. They're going to be too busy with each other to be bothered with such mundane things as Starships." Abruptly, he switched subjects. "What're we going to get them for a wedding present? And speaking of that, since you'll have to marry them, I get to give the bride away. I suppose Uhura'll get to be the bridesmaid. Scotty can be the best man."

Kirk fled.

* * *

Lazily, Christine stretched, then snuggled closer to the dozing Vulcan. With one finger, she traced the firm jaw line. Spock's eyes opened and smiled down at her. Tenderly, he brushed her disheveled hair back from her face.

"Spock."

"Yes, beloved.''

"The whole ship probably knows by now."

"Yes." Spock sighed. "But there is no help for it."

"Spock." Christine reached around to run a hand along his spine.

"Yes." The Vulcan raised himself on one elbow.

"I don't care anymore." Christine's hand caressed the hard leanness of his ribcage.

"I find myself in complete agreement with that." Spock gathered the woman to himself in a fierce embrace.

* * *

Strong, insistent fingers dug into Christine's ribs. Moaning in faint protest, Christine wriggled away, pulling a pillow up over her head to shut out the light. Medical emergencies were no respecters of Doctor's sleep, and it seemed only moments since she had closed her eyes for some much needed sleep.

Ruthlessly, the pillow was ripped away from her. "You are going to be late for the wedding," a cool, amused voice announced.

"I don't care," Christine muttered rebelliously.

"Dr. McCoy would never forgive you."

Christine finally cracked her eyes open. "I know." She sighed. "You'd think it was his own wedding, instead of mine."

Christine smiled up at the tall, lanky figure standing by the side of the bed. "Okay, you win this time."

Spock nodded gravely, only his eyes betraying his amusement with the present situation. "I must return to the bridge for a few moments. Then, I shall come back to get dressed. You will be ready?"

"I will be gone," Christine said tartly. "The groom isn't supposed to set eyes on the bride the day of the wedding until the ceremony.''

"THAT would be extremely difficult to arrange in this case." Spock's tone was faintly censorious.

Christine's eyes sparkled with mirth. "Yes, I agree with that." She threw back the light coverlet, preparatory to getting out of bed. "We can pretend, though." A sudden thought occurred to her. "Call Uhura for me, would you? I'm going to need some help with the dress."

"I am capable of helping you with the dress."

"That isn't the way it's done," Christine retorted. "Now, shoo and let me get ready."

Spock shook his head. Christine couldn't tell whether it was over Human irrationality or female logic.

* * *

"Oh, you look beautiful!" Uhura breathed, stepping back to scrutinize her handiwork.

Christine smiled proudly. The full length white gown with its bouffant skirt was a family heirloom. Generations of Chapel brides had been married in it. She'd delayed her own wedding until the heavily protected and insured antique reached the Enterprise.

Reverently, Uhura reached into the closet and brought out the veil. Christine bent her head so the tiny Communications Officer could place it upon the carefully arranged hair. Together, the two women shook out the lacy folds, draping it carefully over Christine's shoulders. Finally, Uhura pressed the cascading bridal bouquet into Christine's hands.

"There," Uhura said with satisfaction. "That ought to knock 'em dead."

"You too, Uhura," Christine smiled in reply.

The black woman had chosen a simply cut, floor length gown of a light blue shade that set off her exquisite beauty to perfection.

*Uhura always holds herself like a queen*, Christine thought suddenly.

"Let's go before Spock gets back," Uhura grinned. "Won't do to have the groom see the bride before the wedding."

"We've already been through that," Christine said absently, casting a doubtful look at the toilet articles and feminine wearing apparel strewn all over the normally immaculate quarters.

Uhura caught the look and her eyes crinkled impishly. "He'll survive."

* * *

The strains of the processional march filled the tiny anteroom. For one brief moment, Christine panicked. Was this really what she wanted -- to spend the rest of her life married to the alien she had loved from afar for so many years? Uhura reached over and squeezed her arm sympathetically, then took her place at the doorway. A few seconds later, she began her graceful march down the center aisle of the chapel.

Christine took a deep breath and laid one hand lightly on Leonard McCoy's formally clad waiting arm. Together they stepped out in cadence with the music.

* * *

"We are gathered here ... by the authority granted me..." Jim Kirk could barely control his voice to say the words. It was extremely rare he was called upon in this capacity and Spock was the last person in the universe he had ever thought to be saying them for. "Do you, Spock, take..."

"I do," The Vulcan said firmly.

"Do you, Christine, take..."

"I do." The woman's reply was subdued.

Scotty handed the ring to Spock.

"With this ring I thee wed..."

Spock turned to face Christine and held his hand up. Christine placed her own hand against his. Trustingly, Christine gazed into the dark depths of the Vulcan's eyes. This was the culmination of two months learning and exploring, the forging of that one final, indissoluble link. It took less than one standard moment, yet Christine was left with a sense of permanence. They dropped hands.

"I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."

Diffidently, Christine held her face up to her husband, expecting a dutiful peck on the cheek. Instead, Spock swept her into a firm embrace, giving her a full kiss on the lips. Christine blushed.

* * *

Hours later, Christine and Spock stood in the entranceway to the main rec deck where the reception had been held. Spock had had enough of the partying and was ready to slip off to the privacy of their quarters. Christine was in total agreement with him. But there was one last ceremony.

Christine drew her arm back and threw the bouquet with all her might. The flowers arced gracefully through the air, coming to land in Uhura's surprised hands.

* * *

"Here, let me help you with that." Spock's long fingers tugged gently at the antique zipper. Christine held her arms up as Spock carefully lifted the dress up over her head. "It is a beautiful dress, Christine. I am not sorry you delayed the wedding waiting for it."

Christine nodded briefly, smoothing the dress away into its special box. Slowly, she placed the veil on top of it. She began struggling out of the underclothing.

Spock came up to her and touched her gently on the side of the face. "What is the matter?"

Christine placed her own hand on top of his. "I don't know," she replied vaguely. "Nerves, maybe. If Just seems so unreal." Her hand swept out to encompass the First Officer's quarters, which had also been her own for nearly two months. She leaned against Spock's chest. "I've wanted this for so long and now that I have it, I don't know what to do with it."

An understanding smile lit up Spock's eyes. "Wife, you are being illogical," he teased her gently, savoring the sound of the word 'wife'.

"Don't you start that!" Christine made to pull away in mock displeasure.

Spock forestalled her by putting his arms around her, pinning her to him. "I too feel the same way," he admitted quietly. "Having is not always the same as wanting." His hold on Christine tightened as he remembered the last time he had spoken those words.

Christine sensed his discomfort in a way she had never sensed before. "The bond?" she asked hesitantly.

"Yes." Spock nodded. "You will adjust to it and find it comfortable after a while. That is why I did it over a long period of time -- the shock of a complete bonding would have been too much for you to handle."

Christine forced herself to relax against him. "It is not unbearable."

"Good." Spock nodded again, then released his hold on her. "Now, I must change my apparel and return to the lab. I had an experiment in progress which I was forced to delay."

Christine pulled away from him. "Spock! Not on our wedding night!" she protested bitterly. Then she saw the soft twinkling in his eyes. 'Who said Vulcans don't have a sense of humor?" she sighed disparagingly.

Spock arched both his eyebrows into his hairline. "Surely, not I."

Christine traced one of the indignant brows with a fingertip. "No, of course not."

"See, you are already learning how to be a proper Vulcan wife," Spock smiled down at her. "A wife always agrees with her husband. Now if I can only teach you to walk the required three steps behind me."

"Over my dead and bleeding body," Christine said deliberately.

"Somehow I thought that would be your reaction." He grabbed her nearly nude body. "But there are other wifely duties you do not seem to find quite so onerous."

Christine had to agree with that statement wholeheartedly.



THE END

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