DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Sharron Powell and is copyright (c) 1999 by Sharron Powell. This story is rated G.



Reflections and Beginnings

Sharron Powell

Act I: Reflections and Overtures

Christine Chapel was working on routine papers detailing the successful completion of an emergency run to Kendera Prime when the call came in. She was needed in a confidential briefing in 20 min. Would she be able to attend?

Signaling her intention to attend to the computer, she wondered why they even bothered to ask. Wasn't very likely that she'd say no, was it? She sat back in her chair to ponder why she had been summoned. No answer jumped out at her.

As the senior member of the cadre of Starfleet officers assigned to provide coordinated assistance to planets in need, she was often called upon to attend high level meetings, but few of them had ever been confidential. She hadn't heard of any new calamities in Federation space...

There was no use speculating on it. She'd better get moving. The meeting started in 15 min and she had to walk through half of the complex to reach the briefing room.

* * *

Reaching her destination, Christine walked in the doors and saw several branches of Starfleet already there. There was Reg Delvin, head of the Corps of Engineers, Sarah McIntyre of Environmental Sciences, and Robert Crabtree of Starfleet Security. She shook her head quizzically. Quite a diverse group. This must be a major operation... She still couldn't think of what that could be...

Nodding to her colleagues as she took a seat near Cmdr. McIntyre, she turned to her friend of almost 10 years. "Sarah... you have any idea of what's going on?"

"None," the blond-haired woman replied. "I was just going to ask you that. I haven't seen you in what ... four years? Since the Whale Probe incident, right?"

Christine nodded an affirmative as she idly fingered the recessed edges of the drop down computer screen embedded in the table before her. "Yes." Christine was about to ask after Sarah's husband and daughter when she heard the door open again.

Turning to see who the next attendee was, she wasn't surprised to see the C&C's Chief of Staff, Taylor Morgan, walk into the room. Only top level brass could convene a confidential meeting. She stood, assuming parade rest with the others automatically. But the person she saw enter behind the Chief of Staff, caused her to widen her eyes in surprise. Spock.

Now she was quickly moving past mild puzzlement into a severe case of curiosity. What was he doing here? Last she'd heard, he was on still on the Enterprise...

Pulling her attention back to the proceedings as an aide called for the meeting to order and reminded the group about the confidentiality of the meeting, Christine decided that she would have to have a talk with Spock later.

"I'm sure that you are all wondering why you are here," Morgan stated with typically dry inflection. "A situation has arisen that will require all of your departments. I'll let Captain Spock explain."

Spock touched the top of the screen in front of him, causing it to rise. "I direct your attention to the monitors," he started with no preamble. "Last month, a Federation Starship monitored an explosion on the Klingon moon, Praxis." A record of the massive explosion floated on the screens in front of them.

A ripple of gasps could be heard around the room as the taped record ran on; the magnitude of the wave displayed giving evidence to the power of the explosion. Then as one, Christine and her assembled colleagues turned back to Spock, who had waited for their initial shock to die down.

"We believe the cause of the explosion to be a result of overmining and insufficient safety precautions. The moon's decimation and the resulting contamination of their ozone layer means that they will have depleted their supply oxygen in approximately 50 Earth years."

"Last month, at the behest of the Vulcan Ambassador, I opened up a dialog with Gorkon, Chancellor of the Klingon High Council. He has indicated a desire for negotiations to commence at once. The Enterprise leaves within the next few hours on her mission to escort the Chancellor to Earth." He again paused to let the collection of scientists process that information.

Morgan took up the narrative, forestalling any questions. "We have called you here to assist Captain Spock and our ambassadors in all of the impending stages of these negotiations which, if successful, will eventually bring about the ending of hostilities between our two civilizations." Another murmur shook the room as the officers looked to each other in surprise.

Christine glanced around the room, eyes grazing over Spock's impassive features and then continuing to meet Sarah McIntyre's surprised look, before she settled her gaze back on Morgan who had started speaking again.

"We expect complex issues from each of your fields to be key points in the coming talks; therefore, as the senior members of your respective teams, you are temporarily being reassigned to Captain Spock's team of experts for the duration of this mission. We have set aside special offices, personnel, and work space for you." He glanced around the room, looking for any dissension.

"Your departments will be receiving your orders within the hour. Let me remind you that this assignment is not to be discussed with anyone outside of this circle, beyond relaying the simple fact that you have been reassigned." He motioned to his aide to start disseminating packets of information to the assembled officers. "The packet of information being given to you contains all we have on the situation."

Christine calmly accepted her folder of information, nodding her thanks, as she turned her attention back to the Chief of Staff, all the while itching to open it and devour it.

Morgan continued speaking, "Time is of the essence, as you can well imagine. The talks are scheduled to begin in a week's time here on Earth. We need assessments from all of your areas by the time the conference begins."

Christine looked at Morgan in disguised consternation, mind churning. A week? He couldn't be serious. Her eyes narrowed as she compared the faces of the Chief of Staff and Spock. Twin expressions of grim expectation were painted on both of their faces. He was serious.

"I don't believe that I have to tell you how important this mission is to the future of the Federation. I expect you to assist Captain Spock in any way possible." Morgan stood to his feet, bringing Christine and the rest of the company with him, ending any thought of questions with a glance as if he hadn't time to consider them. "Dismissed." And with that, Morgan swept out of the room.

Christine watched him leave briskly as if he had already spent too much time on her and her colleagues as it was. And with only a week to go, she could well believe that. She couldn't begin to imagine the number of meetings that Morgan and Spock would have to attend to brief all necessary parties. She watched Sarah and the rest of the new team member's file out of the room behind him, alternatively shaking their heads and whispering softly to each other until only she and Spock remained. She raised an eyebrow at him.

"A week, Spock?" She folded her packet of information over her chest. "You couldn't have given us more advanced warning?" She shook her head in mock disapproval.

Spock folded his arms behind his back. "It could not be helped, Doctor. Chancellor Gorkon indicated his final decision only 48 hours ago. Till then, it was not deemed wise to bring in others." He looked at her placidly, taking in her complaint as a unsurprising development.

She sighed. "Well, I hope that you have cots, a never-ending IV drip of coffee, and enough man-hours to cover around the clock data crunching in those special offices of yours. We'll need it." She cracked, already feeling weary just thinking about what was to come.

He looked at her in barely disguised agreement. "Indeed."

"Seriously, just speaking off of the top of my head from the medical side of the house... The data that we have on Klingon physiology and/or medical methodology wouldn't fill a datapad, much less the database we are sure to need to help treat the myriad of problems that they will face..." She paused to look at Spock who did not seem surprised by her opening observation.

"We are aware of that, Doctor."

"Well, while you are escorting the Chancellor, maybe you could see about getting a comprehensive medical database sent on ahead of you?" She looked at him with little hope in her eyes.

Spock nodded. "I shall endeavor to do so, but there are no guarantees."

Christine laughed shortly. "There never are."

* * *

When Christine walked into the offices Spock had had set aside for the advisory team, she knew that something was wrong. No one was working.

And after reading what little they had on the Klingons, Christine knew that the team had a ton of work to do. Research all of the areas, scientific, medical, environmental, and security-related, that could impact Spock and the ambassadors' negotiations with the Klingons and produce cogent documents on them that non scientific laymen could use during the talks.

All of that work to be done, and she didn't see a person bent over a data pad or dictating into the computerized stenographer. She glanced around the room...Wait, she could hear voices...

Maneuvering around a corner in the main room, she came in to the side room where group meetings were to be held. And here were her colleagues ... but they seemed to be huddled around a viewscreen. She called into the room.

"What's happening?" she asked, her growing feelings of apprehension making her voice sharp.

"Chris," Sarah McIntyre of Environmental Sciences jumped from her seat to greet her as the rest of the team turned to look at Christine. "Pause that tape, Reg... There's been a problem, Chris."

Rob Crabtree of Starfleet Security snorted. "Some problem," he said cynically. "Gorkon's dead."

Christine stared at him. The Chancellor of the High Council, dead? "Dead?"

"Killed in an unprovoked attack on Kronos One, Gorkon's transport ship. According to reports, two men beamed aboard during the attack and shot him."

She shook her head. "I knew that factions of his government were not disposed toward this initiative, but to kill him..." She was cut off.

"Chris ... that's not the situation," Sarah interjected softly, "at least not according to the Klingons. The records show that the Enterprise fired on the ship."

Christine backed up slightly in surprise. "That's ridiculous ... Captain Kirk wouldn't do something like that..."

"The Enterprise's own records say otherwise, Dr. Chapel," Reg Delvin of the Corps of Engineers interjected grimly.

"I don't care if they say that the moon is made of green cheese ... they're wrong. Someone else attacked that ship," Christine replied with equally grim certainty. She had served on the Enterprise for 8 years. She knew Jim Kirk.

Looking around the room at the rest of the senior team she could sense that there was more ... she saw discomfort in their faces towards her...

"There's more, isn't there?" Christine asked of Sarah, "Tell me."

"Chris, Gorkon was still alive when Kirk and his CMO beamed aboard the Klingon vessel to render assistance. Gorkon died after McCoy worked on him ... they're accusing Dr. McCoy of bungling Gorkon's care and the Captain of killing the Chancellor. Or of ordering his men to kill him. They've detained them both, pending a trial on the Homeworld." She looked into Christine's eyes sadly.

Christine's eyes widened. She thought maybe a computer glitch explained the attack ... but this? "That's insane! Leonard McCoy could no more kill a patient than I could. And the Captain..." She stopped herself in mid sentence as she approached the situation from a different tack. "What does Captain Spock say? Or has he been detained as well?"

Rob took on the question. "Captain Spock is in command of the Enterprise. He's waiting for word from the President as to whether we are going to let Kirk and McCoy stand trial."

"He has no choice, surely?" Sarah speculated. "If the peace process is to continue, we can't antagonize the Klingons now, can we?"

"The peace process is dead with the Chancellor," Rob Crabtree responded, "I still say that we can't allow them to be taken ... what Captain Kirk knows about Federation defenses can't be allowed to fall into enemy hands..."

Christine tuned out the overlapping conversations that whirled on around her. Finding a seat in the nearest chair, she sat down, stunned.

Spock would straighten things out. He had to ... Poor Len. She couldn't imagine him standing trial for anything ... especially not on the Klingon Homeworld ... he must be terrified...

Suddenly she raised her head, folding her arms over her chest in defiance. "So what are we doing? Waiting to hear the news of McCoy and Kirk's execution? Waiting to hear news that we are at war with the Klingons?" She stood up. "I'm going back to work."

"What work?" Rob replied hotly, "Gorkon's dead. There will be no peace."

Christine looked at him coldly. "I haven't received any official word to that effect, have you? Wasting time here, speculating in advance of the facts, is pointless. We have our orders." She shifted her gaze to the viewscreen, which she now saw had a paused scene of the torpedoes firing on Kronos One.

Shunting her concerns about Leonard and Jim into the back of her mind, she turned to leave. "Regardless of what happens with the Captain or Dr. McCoy, the Klingons need this peace treaty. I'm going to work on my analysis of the Klingons pressing medical concerns. That wave of radiation from Praxis will have caused mass radiation poisoning ... way more than one planet can handle on its own..."

She left the room and moved to her workstation. Calling up a chart on patterns of radiation sickness, she tilted her head a little to the side as she heard light footsteps approach her from behind.

"Chris?" Sarah called softly as she reached Christine's chair. "I know that Leonard is your friend..."

Christine cut her off, not turning from her screen as she accessed a particular bit of data. "Spock will get to the bottom of this mess; I guarantee it. As for Len..." She paused briefly as she thought of her friend surrounded by hostile Klingon faces. "The Captain will get them out of it ... He always has."

* * *

As Christine had predicted, preparations for the peace conference continued, but now it was to be held on Khitomer, a classified secret as Starfleet tried to prevent any more problems. Christine and the rest of the advisory team was due to leave for the conference the next day to work behind the scenes of the down and dirty talks after the preliminaries between the Federation President and the new Klingon Chancellor, Gorkon's daughter Azetbor, had been concluded.

But her other prediction, that Jim would find a way out for himself and Leonard had not occurred...

Yet, she reminded herself wearily as she sat at her desk finalizing a report for the Chief of Staff, the team's direct superior.

In fact, except for the continuation of the peace conference, the whole situation had spiralled out of control. Len and Jim had been found guilty, she could hardly believe it, and sentenced...

She shuddered as she thought about where they had been sent ... Rura Pente ... the most notorious penal institution in all of known space. She shook her head to clear the horrible thoughts that crept into her mind.

On top of that, Spock and the Enterprise had turned renegade, refusing to obey calls for their return to Earth by Starfleet Command.

She hoped that Spock could find out who really had killed Chancellor Gorkon or there was no telling what could happen on Khitomer...

* * *

As dawn rose on a cold, drab Khitomer landscape, Christine turned from the window out of which she had been staring and walked down the hall to the main chamber where the speeches were to be given.

She would be glad when these speeches were over ... then the real work could begin. She'd had time to think of her own opinions as she worked on the ambassadors' background information. She was under no illusions that the Klingons would accept their terms easily or without tense standoffs on issues great and small.

But while politicians and diplomats argued, somewhere Klingon civilians were suffering. The contamination from the death of Praxis that she'd spoken to the others about had had two months to slowly worm its way into the Klingon populace. There was no telling how many people would be effected. And in a much shorter time than the 50 years that Spock had predicted as the viable expected life of the Klingon homeworld.

Birth defects, outbreaks of cancers, lowered resistance to more common diseases ... all of these things could be expected if there were no concentrated effort at reversing the effects on a cellular level. And soon, before the damage became irreversible.

That meant systematic inoculations of the entire populace effected by the catastrophe ... especially colony worlds close to Praxis. Colony worlds shoved to the bottom of a list of priorities by a Klingon Council caught up in preserving the future of the entire Klingon race. If inoculations by Federation doctors would be allowed in the first place, that is.

She knew that they would be looked upon with suspicion. There were no signs of these problems yet and politicians were not known for taking a long-term view of problems if they didn't involve war or, in this case, the survival of a people as a whole. Potential long-term health problems paled in comparison to the more obvious concerns that her colleagues were grappling with ... finding or terraforming the Klingons a new planet, moving the entire populace, safeguarding Federation interests...

But, if the medical concerns weren't addressed ... there might not be a healthy population to move. She sighed ... it was up to the diplomats. She could only hope that her proposal to go to those colony worlds and treat those people would be included in the humanitarian aid package that was being drawn up. And that the Klingons would accept their help.

She sighed again, that was also assuming that the initial talks would even be successful. She wasn't so sure. She wasn't sure of anything...

Leonard and Jim could be dying ... Spock and the others were still on the run and the odds on the success of these talks were less than stellar. She snorted. Spock could have given her the odds in three-digit decimal place precision. She hoped that they were all right...

After giving the makeshift main chamber a somber glance ... they had done a good job on fashioning a respectable chamber out of nearly nothing, really; Khitomer wasn't exactly the center of Klingon civilization ... she turned quickly to leave and almost ran headlong into Ambassador Sarek, who as one of the President's closest advisors, had accompanied the leader of the Federation to Khitomer for the talks.

"Good Morning, Dr. Chapel," Ambassador Sarek intoned, a slight hint of amusement gracing his features.

Christine had to severely clamp down on her embarrassment, which threatened to spill over her face. "Oh, I'm sorry, Ambassador ... I wasn't watching where I was going..."

"Do not concern yourself, Doctor. I suspect that many others will be too involved with the up-coming proceedings to notice where they are going. Would you care to join me for breakfast?"

Chris smiled at him as she straightened into a more dignified posture. Spock's father was still as charming as ever, even after all of these years. God ... how many years had it been since that Babel conference ... more years than she cared to remember, certainly...

Inclining her head in acceptance of his offer, she fell into step with him as he lead them to the Ambassadorial section of the complex.

"I am gratified to see you again, Dr. Chapel. How many years has it been since we last saw one another? Four years?" He looked at her benevolently.

"Yes, sir. The whale probe incident," she answered. "There's always another crisis, isn't there?"

Sarek nodded in agreement. "There is indeed. Ahh," he held out his hand as they reached his quarters, "here we are. I hope that you don't mind a Vulcan repast. The Klingons have been helpful but their food takes," and here he paused as they crossed over the threshold, "what you humans call, 'a little getting used to'."

Christine laughed. She had tried a Klingon version of porridge yesterday ... she hadn't been able to eat anything for the rest of the day. "I'd be grateful for anything but that," and here she mangled the Klingon name for porridge.

Sarek nodded again in agreement. He waved her to a table as he brought a plate of bread slices and a pitcher of klah, the Vulcan version of coffee. Sitting down across from her he brought their conversation back to the conference.

"I have read your proposal and those of your colleagues, Dr. Chapel. Most impressive."

Christine acknowledged the praise gratefully. "Thank you, Ambassador. Please," she paused, "call me Christine. I don't go on duty at the conference for another two hours." She smiled at him in slight apprehension at her temerity.

"Very well, Christine." He emphasized her name. "I have several points that I wish to clarify, before the talks begin..."

And as they spoke of the specifics of the work and of his general hopes for the conference, she couldn't get over how much she was reminded of Spock. The same voice inflections, the same considered measurement of their words.

" ... and that's why I think that we need to push the medical concerns in the first wave of aid, Ambassador," Christine was explaining to Sarek. "It would show our good faith before we had to implement the much harder tasks, such as helping the Klingons choose a new planet for the Empire."

Sarek inclined his head in thought. "Your proposal has merit, Christine. I will advance the idea in the first round of talks this afternoon."

"Thank you, Ambassador." She hesitated before mentioning her next concern. "Has there been any more word about Spock and the Enterprise?"

His face hardened almost imperceptibly. She was sorry to have asked ... but she had to know. She knew that he must be worried about his son. Though she doubted that he would admit to it. Maybe talking to her would help.

"None." His voice had grown deeper and more terse at that one word. "My son and his compatriots are still listed as non-compliant."

"I'm sure that they are doing all that they can to find the real culprits, Ambassador," Christine said as she tried to soothe her own fears in response to what she heard in his voice.

"Then you do not agree with the Klingons, or some of your own people," he interjected, "that Kirk let his animosity over the death of his son cloud his judgment. And that my son is engaging in a fool's errand in trying to find others that could be responsible."

"No sir, I do not," Christine said, her voice hard with certainty. "James T. Kirk would never do such a thing. And we both know that Spock would never pursue something without a logical reason."

Sarek looked her over with a sage glance. "You will find that not all would agree with your statement, Christine."

"Maybe not, Ambassador," Christine replied. "But I have known Captain Kirk and your son for a long time." She looked at him with conviction.

"Yes, it has been some time." Changing the subject, he continued. "As I recall, you helped my son and me a great deal in that unfortunate instance during the Babel conference. I would thank you for that now."

Christine was surprised at the turn in the conversation. It had been decades since the Babel conference; she was surprised that he even remembered her from that time. Then again, he was a Vulcan. Decades must seems much shorter to him. Indeed, he didn't look so different than he had then.

"There is no need for thanks, Ambassador..."

"Doctor Chapel, I have learned from my wife and my son that thanks are appropriate, even required at times. The fact exists that I am alive to help attend to the Federation's interests in part because of your assistance then. I cannot thank Doctor McCoy at this moment. Please stand in his stead in this matter."

Christine bowed her head slowly, accepting his thanks as tears threatened to well up in her eyes at the thought of McCoy and the Captain.

"You are worried about Dr. McCoy." He voiced his next question as a statement.

"Yes." Christine didn't elaborate ... the cold, the danger. Leonard was not strong enough for prolonged exposure to either of them. Leonard wasn't Jim Kirk ... she had faith that Kirk would survive, whatever happened ... she just wasn't sure that Leonard could as well. He would be seventy-three next month. He deserved a position of authority at Medical when the Enterprise was retired ... not a death sentence of a prison term. Of course, she said nothing of any of her thoughts to the Ambassador.

"There is a human phrase that I think covers the situation that we find ourselves in, Christine. 'Faith Manages'."

Christine smiled at him gratefully. She hadn't needed to explain her mix of faith and fear. "I hope so, Ambassador. I hope so."

* * *

Christine held onto the words that Ambassador Sarek had recited throughout the rest of the day as she shuttled herself and her proposals to whichever ambassador had need of clarifications. As the President stood up to make his speech to officially start the talks, she had almost convinced herself that Faith would indeed manage to hold at bay the pride and prejudice of two vastly different peoples.

Suddenly she heard shouting. Familiar shouting. From her seat near Ambassador Sarek, she started scanning the room ... she saw Uhura ... then Sulu ... what was going on? Wasn't Sulu on the Excelsior?

She was torn between relief that at least some of her friends were safe and confusion as pandemonium reigned. Then she saw a flash of light and a streak of red ...

When the dust had settled, there stood Kirk beside the President, who had barely missed becoming a casualty of peace, speaking to Azetbor about forgiveness and faith. And McCoy ... she smiled in relief when she saw him nearby, looking convincingly in one piece, if not hale and hearty.

But Spock ... as her eyes had found his frame in the chaos, she'd stopped ... she didn't know what to make of his expression ... he'd looked stern, almost angry as he'd confronted Cartwright, who she still could barely believe capable of such treason ... what could have happened on the Enterprise to so break down his control? She had seen Spock stare down all manner of nefarious characters and he had rarely looked angry.

Now, moments later, as her friends basked in the applause that was being offered to them, she had time to truly study their faces. And still, Spock looked the most distressed of the lot.

She glanced back at Sarek curiously and found that he was exhibiting an expression on his face that could have been puzzlement at Spock's mannerisms or surprise at something...

Following the line of Sarek's gaze, Christine noticed a fairly young Vulcan woman being taken from Spock's harsh grasp into custody. Her eyebrows rose. A Vulcan? In on the plot? No wonder both Spock and Sarek had looks of consternation on their faces...

Nyota definitely had some news to spill on this one ... too bad that Chris had to go to the first real session of the summit soon. Time stood still for no one, not even for a witness to history in the making. It was their job to create the history ... and after all of this, they had best get to it.

But first things first... She slowly weeded her way through the crowd to reach McCoy. Finally, she was next to him and she threw her arms around him in relief.

"Leonard, you had us scared within an inch of our lives," she said smilingly into his weathered, dear face.

"You weren't the only one." McCoy replied caustically. "Fortunately, that sneaky Vulcan slapped a Veridium patch on Jim; when Jim managed to get us outside the barrier, Spock beamed us aboard. Just in time to get caught in an attack by a cloaked bird of prey ... God, what a day."

"Are you alright?" Christine worriedly looked him over with a practiced air, reaching for her portable tricorder.

"Now, Christine ... you can put away that dammed machine; I'm fine. Just bruised and battered is all..."

"We are gratified to hear it, Doctor McCoy." Both Christine and McCoy turned to watch as Sarek took a few final steps toward them, Spock in tow.

"A physician of your calibre would be missed; and your colleague," he stopped and nodded toward Christine, "has been most concerned about your predicament."

Sarek turned his attention away from McCoy to address Christine directly. "It is time. The first session convenes shortly."

"Of course, Ambassador," she replied gratefully, "I lost track of the time..." She stopped and smiled slightly, "It must go with that unfortunate human tendency to run into people wherever I go."

"Ah, yes. Quite inconvenient, that." Sarek managed to look amused without moving a muscle of his face.

Christine, who had schooled her expression into one of a properly earnest advisory team member, took in out of the corner of her eye, Spock and McCoy who were listening quizzically to Sarek's uncommon tone of familiarity towards her.

Sarek turned to his son who had taken up a position next to McCoy. "My son, will you not be attending to see the potential fruit of your labors?"

"I must return to the Enterprise, Father. The ship suffered considerable damage during our encounter with General Chang. And we must still rectify the full measure of tampering by Valeris upon ships' systems." Spock's voice still rumbled slightly as he mentioned his protege's betrayal.

"Of course." Sarek nodded his head at his son's words. "One hopes that the retraining will teach the unfortunate young woman the error of her actions."

"Yes," Spock said simply, communicating with his eyes a message to his father, the content of which Christine could only guess at.

Christine looked at McCoy, giving father and son their moment of communion in semi-privacy. "Take care of yourself, Len. We don't want to hear of another crisis on your trip back to Earth." She smiled impishly at Leonard.

"Ha! The way this thing's been going ... I'll be surprised if we reach Spacedock in one piece. I won't feel warm for weeks," he grumbled softly as he responded to her wink. McCoy straightened. "Goodbye, Ambassador. I hope that one day we'll meet when there isn't a crisis."

"You are always welcome on Vulcan, Doctor. My wife would be gratified to see you again."

"I might just take you up on that, Ambassador. God knows that I could use some warm weather after where I've just been..."

Christine smothered back a laugh; usually Leonard was the first to complain of Vulcan's heat. She watched as McCoy just shook his head as if he couldn't believe what had happened to him over the past week.

Then she focused her attention on Spock who was raising his hand in the traditional Vulcan salute. "Peace and long life, Father. Dr. Chapel."

"Live long and prosper, my son," Sarek said sedately, but with a subtle hint of relief at Spock's safe return in his sonorous voice.

"Peace and long life, Spock," Christine echoed softly, "Hopefully, we will have good news for you when we see you next, back on Earth."

"That would be welcome."

* * *

When Christine stepped through the doors separating Spacedock's short-range shuttle from Receiving Room 3, she found one of her oldest friends waiting for her.

"Commander Uhura, as I live and breathe," Chris said as she walked over to her friend. "I wasn't expecting anyone to meet me here."

"We heard you were coming back, so here I am." Uhura shrugged as they turned to leave. "The scuttlebutt also says that you all ship out for the first mission to the Klingons soon?" At Christine's nod, she continued skeptically, "I don't know whether to congratulate you or not."

Christine smiled wryly at that. "Just wish me luck, Ny. Lord knows that we'll need it."

"You got that right." Uhura replied as they reached a transporter room.

"Two to beam down." Chris gave the tech the coordinates to the housing community that surrounded Starfleet Medical where she had kept her primary residence since her residency days. Arriving at the set of neat townhouses, Chris and Uhura took the familiar path to hers.

"But I will say congratulations for the talks. You all did a great job," Uhura continued their conversation as they reached Christine's door.

"It was all Ambassador Sarek's doing. He was brilliant. You should have seen him bullying both the Klingons and the other Ambassadors into accepting what he naturally called, 'the only logical solution'." Christine shook her head, laughingly, as she palmed the door lock and motioned Uhura into her home.

Uhura looked at her mischievously. "Chris ... don't tell me that you've fallen in love with another Vulcan. The first one's father no less."

Christine shot her an annoyed glance as she put her bags down in a corner. "That was not nice, Ny." She continued walking until she had reached the kitchen.

Uhura laughed a full rich laugh as she sat down on the living room sofa. "I'm sorry, Chris. I couldn't resist. You sounded so admiring."

"Well ... I'll think about forgiving you, this time, if you pick up the bill at Del Rino's this evening," Christine quipped as she reached in the refrigerator for some lemonade. "You want any?" she asked, holding up the pitcher for Uhura's inspection. Hearing Uhura's affirmative, she set about pouring two glasses of the sweet, opaque liquid.

"Actually, I was admiring. The Ambassador helped me a great deal when I was worried about you guys and Len." Chris reached over the couch to give Uhura her glass then circled around the couch to sit in the easy chair which she promptly raised to a semi-reclined position. "And speaking of worry, just how long were you all planning to stay away from Earth anyway? I heard the Enterprise didn't get back till five days past her expected arrival time."

Uhura grinned briefly before her face settled into one of mild resignation. "When we heard the order, none of us wanted to believe it. We'd just saved the peace process and what does Fleet do? Tell us to bring the ship home for decommissioning." She shook her head in disgust.

"That's Starfleet for you. Never been known as tactful," Christine opined.

"I know ... it just seemed wrong. Anyway, we were looking at each other, waiting for the Captain to say something when Spock spoke up." Pausing for effect, Uhura grinned madly. "And he said, and I quote, 'If I were human, I believe that the phrase 'Go to Hell' would be appropriate at this moment ... If I were human'. And then he raised that eyebrow of his."

Christine burst out laughing, Uhura joining in gleefully for a moment before returning to her narrative.

"Anyway, after that, what choice did we have? The Captain had us circle the sector and then we headed for home." Uhura sobered at the mention of home. "I don't know Chris, I didn't want to go in the first place ... I had a class to teach at the Academy ... but after it was all over ... I guess we didn't want to let go."

Christine nodded in understanding. "I went through that when the second mission was over. You Bridge Gang never really gave up your ties to the Enterprise like Rand and I did. You went back time and again to serve with the Captain ... Not that I blame you. Sometimes, when I'm in my office, the desire to ship out again is so strong..."

"But not strong enough." Uhura sighed. "I don't think that I will again, Chris. I don't have the fire for it any more. Look at Hikaru ... his face glows when you see him at the helm of the Excelsior. And Rand ... she at the board now. She's welcome to it."

"I'm not sure that Janice fits into the same category as Hikaru. She's ambitious. Whatever assignment will get her the next stripe, that's where she'll be," Christine said with no judgment in her voice, "but Hikaru? He just loves being out there. That center chair and the adventure that goes with it will keep him out there until they force him to retire the field."

Uhura nodded in agreement. "Well, to baldly change the subject a bit, when do you and Spock leave to meet the Excelsior?"

"A week. By all rights, I probably should have had them pick me up at Starbase 28, which isn't too far from Khitomer. It would have been much closer to the colony worlds that we will be going to, but Morgan wanted all of us here, in person, at the briefing tomorrow and since everyone else is higher up than the advisory team is, guess who got to make the extra trip?" Christine smiled cynically. "Besides, it gives me a chance to personally inspect the medical supplies that we will be bringing with us to the rendezvous point at Starbase 30."

"Of course. So," Uhura paused and looked at Christine conspiratorially, "what will you and Spock do with five whole days of travel time to the Excelsior? Nothing to do ... Nowhere to go..."

Christine stood up abruptly, ignoring Uhura's wink and ribald laughter, as she spoke with weary resignation.

"If you plan on teasing me about Spock all night, then you can pay the bar tab at 'Rino's too. Let's go."



Act II: "Reflections and Restorations"

The cargo bay was cavernous. And still the supplies were stacked to the ceiling. And as Christine Chapel surveyed the mix of medical supplies, satellite components, and temporary shelters designed to keep the worst of the radiation at bay till the population of the Klingon colony worlds could be relocated, she felt little pride at getting so far into the process so quickly.

A week had passed since the peace conference had been convened; two weeks since Spock had announced Chancellor Gorkon's desire to negotiate a lasting peace between the Klingons and the Federation. And she had been given the daunting job of coordinating this mission. It had been her recommendation, after all.

But even though she was Starfleet's Senior Disaster Relief Specialist and had handled missions from the Whale Probe to the most recent crisis on Kendera Prime, she knew that the ambassadors had thought her rank of Commander too low and she of little renown for a mission of this importance. Privately, she wasn't sure she disagreed.

She had expected to be relieved of the mission responsibilities all together. But instead they have given her a commander. A person to head the mission and field the political and security problems so that she could concentrate on the medicine. Captain Spock, recently of the Enterprise. The Federation Envoy to the Klingons. It was hoped that his negotiating skills would smooth over any resistance from the local Klingons. He had talked with Gorkon personally. Had commanded Gorkon's respect. Most Klingons could not make that claim...

Christine couldn't have been more relieved. Sulu's Excelsior was the escort to their cargo ship of supplies and medical personnel; and while she believed in Sulu's ability ... Spock was Spock. She trusted him implicitly. She'd trust him with her life and the lives of her people.

Only Jim Kirk would have been better; but at the Enterprise's decommissioning, he had begged off against being assigned to the mission, citing his ordeals to get the peace process commenced in the first place in a plea to have the duty pass him by this time.

The Enterprise and her crew had been through Hell and back in order to get both sides to the table. Now it was her team's turn to advance the cause of peace. The time for talk was over.

She knew that it could all fall apart so quickly. Klingons were a volatile, proud people. Their leaders had made peace, but there was no guarantee that the average, everyday Klingon would want to do anything but spit in their faces...

She shook her head to clear her grim thoughts. Five minutes into a five-day journey to Starbase 30 to meet Excelsior and she was already feeling extremely apprehensive.

Snap out of it, Christine. You're a doctor. They need your help ... whether they want it or not. Nodding grimly to herself, she whirled around to leave and almost ran headlong into Spock who then held out a hand to steady her.

"You know, I really have got to stop doing that," Christine sighed, looking into Spock's face as they both backed away from the other.

Spock's eyebrows crinkled in restrained Vulcan amusement. "I did not realize that you were so prone to colliding with others, Doctor."

Christine spared him a wearied glance as she fluttered her hands toward the mass of supplies. "Just over-thinking the whole mission. Wondering if we will succeed." She sighed again.

"Speculation is futile, Doctor."

Christine made a face of exasperation as she readied a suitably caustic reply but before she could, Spock started speaking again.

"But I will admit to a certain ... trepidation as well. This mission has already cost much. How much more will be required of us before it is completed." Spock glanced over the supplies; his face suddenly clouded over by an expression Christine couldn't place. It had been too long. Once she could have read his every expression like a book. Now ... she could only guess...

"Spock..." She didn't know what to say. Uhura had told her about Valeris. His prized student. Who had held such promise. Who had betrayed all that he had tried to teach her. Christine knew of their final confrontation in front of the bridge and of the mind meld that had seemed horrifying to Uhura. How much more so had it been for him? He would not have been able to shake off the betrayal, or the fact that he had forced himself into the young woman's mind, so quickly; that she knew without question. He would have to deal with the ramifications in his own time. What he needed now was a distraction ...

"Spock ... Would you like to play chess?"

Spock turned his gaze back to her at her unusual request. His face cleared slightly as he rose an eyebrow.

"I was unaware that you played, Doctor." He tilted his head slightly as he studied her.

Christine smiled slightly. "You never asked." She laughed lightly at his expression. "No, seriously. I learned on Zaltan IV." Her own eyes clouded over briefly as she remembered the ill-fated world that had been her first assignment after the completion of the Enterprise's second five year mission. She and Sarah McIntyre had been stuck there for weeks without help from 'Fleet. The chess had been Sarah's idea. A focus for their minds beyond the dying...

"Christine."

Chris looked up at the sound of her name being said softly to see Spock looking at her in sympathetic understanding ... they all had events in their past that they could not control...

"A game would be welcome." He gestured to the door. "After you have eaten, perhaps?"

A smile broke out over her face. "Checking up on me, Spock?"

He shook his head briefly in a negative response. "Not precisely. I did come in search of you to propose dinner, however. The nature of the meals dictates an early seating."

"Or in other words, all of the good food will be gone if we delay much longer?" Christine asked astutely.

Spock turned to leave, indicating for her to walk ahead of him towards the door. "I believe I just said that, Doctor."

"Just trying to clarify the situation, Captain." And with that she walked past him, a small smile gracing her features. It would be good to talk with him. The mission wasn't all bad...

* * *

"Knight to Queen's Bishop Three"

As Spock made his opening move, Christine sat studying him. His face had lost the haunted look of earlier, to be replaced with the more familiar one of concentration.

Christine, on the other hand, opened with a move that required less thought. Not that her face wasn't exhibiting the same level of concentration. It just wasn't about chess moves.

Her board was the room; her pieces, their gameplay and limited bits of conversation. And the goal? To checkmate Spock into relaxing. (It wasn't as if she had any hope of winning the game, after all. Might as well have other motives ... ) She waited for him to say something. And after about ten moves, he did.

"My Father spoke highly of your assistance during the conference." Spock made a move to threaten one of her bishops.

Moving her piece out of danger, Christine responded, "Well, I think highly of him too, Spock. He helped me a great deal."

"Indeed?"

Christine smiled. "He kept me too busy defending the proposal to the other ambassadors to think about anything else."

Spock quirked an eyebrow wryly as he moved an attack board into position. "A known tactic."

"Really." Christine looked at him in open curiosity, playfully delaying her next move. "And just what mischief could a young Spock have gotten into to warrant the 'Idle Hands are the Devil's Instruments' treatment?" She looked uncertainly at the board, then moved one of her rooks.

"Mischief, Christine?" Spock said calmly as he took her rook in a complicated move that made Christine sigh.

"Mischief, Spock. 'An act of minor trouble-making'." She moved her remaining knight to protect her king.

"You speak from experience?" Spock asked mildly as he countered her move, once again placing her king in danger.

Christine smiled mysteriously. "Perhaps." She moved her queen in a desperate attempt to save her king. "But you are trying to change the subject."

"Perhaps," Spock echoed as he captured her queen and poised for the kill. "I trust you will forgive the evasion."

"I'm not sure that I should forgive you anything, Spock," she said wryly, moving her king futilely to what she thought was a less vulnerable position.

"I hope that is not the case, Christine," Spock said smoothly as he moved his knight to her king and tipped the piece over, ending the game. "Check ... and Mate."

Chris raised her gaze from a dismayed examination of the board just in time to see a triumphant twinkle in his eyes.

"And what would you do to make it up to me, Captain Spock?" she asked innocently; the slight smile tracing over her lips the only hint to a teasing spirit behind her question.

Spock sat back, steepling his fingers as he regarded her placidly.

"I will take it under advisement, Dr. Chapel."

* * *

Their chariot was here. Or rather, they had finally arrived to meet her. But Christine couldn't feel overjoyed at the sight of Excelsior that she saw out of the viewport of the Observation Lounge. Even the prospect of seeing Sulu and Rand again didn't lift her spirits. She felt as if something precious was about to slip away from her...

The five-day trip to Starbase 30 where they were now docked had been peaceful, pleasant ones for Chris. By day, she readied more for the mission: trying to memorize Klingon words that pertained to the radiation poisoning the colonists were suffering from, conducting role-playing sessions with her team of doctors and nurses so that if etiquette questions came up with the Klingons, they would be a little more prepared to handle them, and running more tests on the medical samples that the Klingon ambassador had reluctantly given to Sarek to make sure that their Federation antidotes would work with Klingon physiology and not against it.

And at the end of the day, she'd always met Spock for dinner. And then they'd played chess.

It sounded so banal. And it was. But she would miss it, all the same...

Christine folded her arms around herself and shook her head slightly as if denying her own thoughts.

What was she doing? She couldn't go down this road again. They hadn't even talked about anything important outside of the mission, she told herself. It was just chess. A game. It had only been five days...

Five days too long. She had let down her guard in an attempt to draw him out of his melancholy over Valeris; and where had it led her? Back to her first years on the Enterprise...

Damn.

Well, she would put a stop to that. She wasn't a will-o-the wisp any more. She was Commander Christine Chapel, MD. And she had a job to do. And it certainly wasn't to...

No, she wasn't going to say it. She wasn't even going to think it.

Five days or five days past infinity. It didn't matter. She would not go down that road again...

Straightening to her full height, she walked to the wall unit and asked the NCOIC when they would dock. She had to get ready to beam to Excelsior.

* * *

When Christine walked into the transporter room, she found Spock already there waiting for her.

"Good morning, Captain," she told Spock in a business-like tone, so unlike her more friendly greetings in recent days. "Have you spoken to Sulu this morning?"

"Good morning, Doctor," Spock said, a hint of hesitation in his tone at her manner. "Captain Sulu is awaiting our arrival."

Christine turned her gaze away from him after only a moment of interest. "Good. It will be nice to see Hikaru and Janice again. I haven't seen them since Sulu's Change of Command." She looked expectantly at the transporter chief and nodded. The beam took hold of them quickly and then in an instant they were on Excelsior and Rand was standing at the controls.

"Welcome aboard Excelsior, Captain. Commander," Janice Rand said formally, smiling professionally.

"Commander, it is good to see you," Spock said sonorously.

Janice smiled more warmly this time. "It's good to see you, as well. Now that we aren't in a war against terrorists."

Spock nodded, "Indeed."

Christine, who had held back to let the formalities pass, now smiled broadly. "Janice, Nyota says hi."

"Well, tell her I said Hi right back. I'll call her when we get back to Earth," Janice said, sounding more like the yeoman of old than the Lt. Commander that she was now. Then she straightened into a more professional demeanour as she turned back to Spock.

"I'm here to escort you both to your quarters. Captain Sulu's been detained." She motioned her hand towards the door. As Chris and Spock followed behind her down a corridor, Rand continued to brief them. "A communique from Command. He said to have you meet him in the conference room at 1330 hours."

"Anything wrong?" Christine asked with growing trepidation.

Rand shook her head cynically. "No, I don't think so. Just the usual: Brass getting antsy," Rand replied as they reached their first destination, Spock's temporary quarters.

"Thank you for your assistance, Commander. I'll take my leave of you now. Doctor, Commander," Spock said formally as he entered his quarters.

With Spock gone, Chris could let down her guard. She reached over to hug her friend. "It's been a long time. I missed seeing you on Khitomer."

Janice snorted derisively, smiling at Chris to soften her indictment. "Can't say that I'm sorry to have missed it, Chris. I'm still not sure that this peace with the Klingons is a good idea."

"They have no choice, Jan," Christine said seriously, as they both turned again to walk down the hall. "And neither do we. We have to help them. If not for their sake, then for our own."

"I hear what you're saying, but I'm just not convinced. I'll need more proof that a bunch of diplomats talking. They didn't want our help when we first monitored the wave. The Captain offered assistance. They refused."

Christine nodded. She had read their reports when she first started researching the Klingon question for the peace conference.

"I know, Jan. But it's been almost three months. They're hurting ... just the radiation poisoning alone..."

"Well," Janice said, unconvinced. "You know what they say about wounded animals; they're the first to strike out." She stopped at Chris's cabin and followed Chris in. "But let's table that discussion for now. We'll get enough of that at the briefing."

Rand leaned up against the jam of the door and rubbed her hands together. "So, what's the news? The Excelsior has been on deep space assignment for three years. The scuttlebutt gets to us slower out here."

"I'm not sure there's anything to tell," Christine shrugged. "The Khitomer accords involved all of our friends..."

"Well, okay. Then tell me about you ... You and Spock..."

Christine interrupted her wearily. "Not you too. Ny made a big deal out of our coming here together too. What do you all think is going to happen? He's not going to suddenly throw me down on the floor of a turbolift and make passionate love to me. You all need to grow up." Christine walked away angrily towards the center of the room, folding her arms over her chest as she scowled at her friend.

Janice looked at her shrewdly. "That was some speech, Chris. Now what's really going on?"

"There's nothing going on," Chris said with some asperity as she sat stiffly on the bunk of the shelf-like bed that dominated one corner of the room.

"Right," Janice replied, drawling the 'I' and raising herself from the doorframe to stand in front of Christine. "We've been teasing you about Spock for time out of mind. A joke you usually join in on as a paean to our 'Enterprising' past. So why are you being so touchy about it now?"

Christine sighed. "I'm sorry for snapping, Jan ... Look, nothing happened. Truly." She smiled wanly over at her friend whose look of disbelief deepened on her face.

"But you wanted something to happen?" Janice pressed.

"No," Christine said resolutely, her face a mask of forced indifference. "Can we please let this drop? It's been a hundred years since our tours on the Enterprise. I'm just tired of the joke. It's getting old."

"Okay, we'll let it go. For now."

* * *

"So that's all, people," Captain Hikaru Sulu intoned. "The wrist-style universal translators will make it easier to communicate. We've issued them to all of your staff, Christine." He turned his gaze on her. Christine nodded an acknowledgment. She had always enjoyed listening to Hikaru's voice. And now that he was a Captain, it had gained a further layer of command that suited him.

Sulu was continuing, "We'll be at the first colony at 830 hours tomorrow." He looked around the conference room at the mix of his people and Chris and Spock's team. "May fortune smile on our endeavor. Dismissed."

Christine watched most of the room file out, a murmur of comments tailing behind them. She could hear, in particular, Janice's voice saying that she would start praying now ... one benediction wasn't likely to be enough with the Klingons...

Chris started to laugh inwardly at Janice's audacity. As she stood, she looked up to see Sulu laughing openly. She shook her head in camaraderie as she walked towards Sulu, trying not to notice that Spock was still walking beside her, listening quietly to their exchange.

"Sometimes, I don't know why I put up with her," Sulu said in mock disapproval, "but then, she's the best board operator I've seen, except for Uhura."

Changing the subject, Sulu came up and reached for Christine's hands. "It's good to see you, Chris."

"It's good to see you too, Hikaru," Chris said, smiling into his face. "You wear it well." And she didn't need to elaborate on her apparent non sequitur. His command fit him like a glove. She had never seen him so content.

"You too, Chris. You too." Sulu shifted halfway to address Spock who was standing slightly to the right of Chris. "Well, Spock. Are we as ready as I told the staff?"

"As ready as can be expected," Spock said in his best analyzing tone. "The parameters are always shifting. We can only hope for a successful completion to this mission."

Sulu nodded in agreement. "I'd better get back to the bridge. I'll talk to you both later." And with a smile to both of them, the Captain of the Excelsior let go of Chris' hands and walked out of the room, leaving Christine and Spock the last two occupants.

Chris looked at the closing door with approval. "He was born to be Captain," Chris commented softly as she moved to leave.

"Indeed," Spock replied in the same tone of voice. As Christine passed him, he stopped her by calling to her. "Doctor."

"Yes, Spock," Christine replied, affecting calm she didn't feel as she looked up into his eyes.

"I believe that dinner is now being served; would you care to join me?" Spock asked placidly, his face exhibiting its usual neutral demeanor.

Chris shook her head in refusal, meeting his eyes squarely. "I'm sorry, Spock. I need to do some last minute studying before we meet the Klingons tomorrow. Maybe some other time."

She made sure that her face reflected only what she wanted him to see, earnest dedication and a slight apprehension about the mission. All of which was perfectly true, she told herself.

Spock nodded, his face unreadable. If he thought that her manner toward him had changed, he didn't show it. He probably hadn't noticed the difference, Christine thought cynically.

"Then I'll wish you good night," Spock intoned politely.

"Good night, Spock," Christine said softly. She watched as he left the room. Sighing heavily, she sank into the nearest chair. There's no other way, she told herself.

No other way.

* * *

When Christine walked into the transporter room, again Spock was there before her. As were two security guards who wore side arms. She had been unsure about having such obvious security; they could just as well have dressed then in orderly uniforms or something, but Sulu and Spock had explained that open declaration of intent was the wiser course with Klingons. They understood security. Subterfuge, if they found out about concealed security, would be considered an act of aggression.

As she nodded her greetings to Spock and the others, she sighed inwardly. She could only hope that Spock would be accepted by the Klingons as someone who had personally known the late Chancellor. Though, she didn't know how popular Gorkon had been or if Spock's identity would be a detriment instead of an asset...

Bringing up Spock in her mind brought more personal thoughts of him back to the surface, but she quickly squelched them. Now wasn't the time ... there would never be a right time.

Christine turned her head with the others as she heard the transporter room door open and saw Sulu walk in. He walked in front of the transporter console to address them.

"Well, Spock, Christine. I came down to wish you luck. If there's any trouble, the Excelsior's here to back you up," Sulu said purposefully.

Christine smiled at him warmly. "Thank you, Captain. We'll need all of the luck we can get."

"Though we shall endeavor not to need assistance," Spock replied in turn, a determined note in his voice. Sulu smiled at that statement and turned to his transporter chief. "Energize." And as Christine saw Sulu fade away as the beam started transport, she added a silent prayer of agreement to Spock's statement.

* * *

When the transporter released them, they were standing in what looked like an office of some kind, decorated with all manner of weaponry and trophies.

An average in height, but extremely powerful looking Klingon rose from behind a desk to greet them, his face a mask, revealing nothing.

"I am Korn, son of Kordek, Administrator of this Colony," the Klingon stated matter-of-factly in heavily accented Standard. Christine knew that it was probably a struggle for this Klingon to speak Standard. Unlike the Ambassadors and few Captains they had met, the members of this colony had had no cause to learn Standard. But he was trying anyway. That said something for the importance of first impressions.

Spock stepped forward. "qavan, Korn, puqloD vo' Kordek." Christine heard in her ear the translation; the Universal translator on her arm transmitted signals to an earpiece attached to the side of her ear like an earring. Roughly, Spock's greeting meant 'I salute you'.

Switching back to Standard for the benefit of the landing party, Spock continued his opening statement. "I am Spock, son of Sarek."

Korn switched to his native language as well, his voice revealing its full deep richness now that he was speaking in his mother tongue. "You are known to us, son of Sarek."

Spock inclined his head ever so slightly in acknowledgment. He turned to Christine.

"This is the Coordinator for this mission, Dr. Christine Chapel, daughter of Andrew."

As she too inclined her head in a sedate greeting, Christine could feel Korn's gaze cross over her face, appraising her. She straightened to her full height.

Somehow, she got the impression that he wasn't too impressed.

Korn raked his gaze over the security officers. "You bring weapons to our compound. Is this the action of a new ally?" Korn asked disdainfully.

"An ally of strength, Korn," Spock said neutrally, waiting for Korn's answer.

Korn stood still for a moment, then nodded. "An ally of strength is the only kind of ally. The medical facilities are this way. Follow me." And with that he turned towards the door, not waiting to see if they would follow.

* * *

Any relief that Christine may have felt at Korn's acceptance was short-lived when they reached the medical facility. Korn escorted them all to the main medical facility which Christine could see at a glance was overflowing with patients, then left. Without introducing either Spock or Christine to the doctor in charge.

Somehow, she had the feeling that it was some type of test. Korn needed to know that they could work with the colonists on their own terms. Not because he forced them to. She agreed with the premise; she just wasn't sure of success.

Christine watched as Spock approached a group of Klingons. They could have been patients or staff. She knew she couldn't tell; she bet that Spock couldn't either. She silently prayed for cooperation as Spock began to speak in Klingon.

"Greetings," Spock said evenly, "I am Captain Spock. We wish to speak to the head doctor of this facility."

No one spoke, the Klingons ignoring him as if they had not heard him. Christine looked around nervously.

Spock spoke again, reiterating his request to shown to the doctor in charge. Several Klingons looked on with indifference, the rest ignored them altogether. But none spoke.

Chris' mind raced back to what she had read of Klingons from the study tapes. And as she did so, she remembered that hellos were not known and that requests which were too polite were looked upon with suspicion by the average Klingon. A realization struck her. They were testing them ... Spock was being too polite. And it was too late for him to change the tone of his request without seeming two-faced. Someone else had to try...

Knowing that the universal translator would relay her speech in the proper Klingon, Chris stepped up beside Spock, giving him a silent glance that said 'let me try', trying to ignore the eyebrow that was raised in surprise.

"You are wasting our time," Christine began, speaking in a loud, harsh tone to the mass of Klingons who were alternately staring or ignoring them. "If you wish us to let you die in peace, like sheep, we will leave. If not, take us to the head of this medical facility." And with that she turned on her heels and began walking to the door, Spock and the rest of the team reluctantly following her lead.

A harsh voice rose out of the crowd. "Who are you to speak in that manner, Human?"

Christine slowly turned in the direction of the voice. "I am Christine Chapel, physician and coordinator of this mission. We have been sent by the Federation to provide medical assistance to this colony. But as we seem to be unnecessary, we will remove ourselves from your presence."

Out of the silence that followed, a tall, distinguished older Klingon stepped out of the crowd. He looked on Christine with a neutral expression.

"I am Mardek, head of this facility. Come with me." And with that he waded through the sea of bodies toward what looked like an office.

Spock raised his other eyebrow at Christine as they followed Mardek, their security guards bring up the rear. She had to stifle a laugh at his expression, a mixture of irony and respect.

Perhaps this mission could being after all...

* * *

"It galls my people to accept Federation help."

Christine remained silent as she stood and watched Mardek, the head of the colony's medical facility, speak gruffly of the poor reception Spock and she had received at the hands of the other Klingons upon their arrival.

Mardek for his part looked at Christine and Spock with a mixture of suspicion and resignation on his face as he sunk wearily into a chair. She was surprised that he would show what she knew he would consider a weakness to an outsider.

"And yes," he continued cynically, "I would normally be among those suspicious of Federation motives: We colony-dwellers have no great love for authority, whether it be our own Council or your Federation ... But I no longer have the luxury of suspicion." And at this point, he picked up a data disk and threw it on the desk which separated Christine and Spock from him.

"My people have begun to die. Not in battle as is glorious, but in sickness. A fate unworthy of a Klingon."

Christine, worry in her eyes, picked up the disk from the desk. She now spoke up for the first time since Mardek had escorted them to his office. "This is the profile of the victims of the radiation exposure from Praxis so far?" She spoke softly, trying to keep the pity and understanding out of her voice. She knew that Mardek would not appreciate such pity.

"Yes. The old and the young die first." Mardek motioned to the chairs in front of him. "Sit."

Christine and Spock complied, their two security guards standing at their backs.

"If you would tell us the range of symptoms, Mardek," Spock said neutrally, speaking for the first time since the rebuff of his greetings earlier.

Mardek nodded. "It seems to strike at my people in three ways. One: The old and the young get sick from diseases that are usually not fatal to Klingons. Two: All of us have begun to suffer from lesions which have begun to spread across our bodies. They often become infected which only spreads the lesions faster. And three..." He stopped and shook his head in extreme disgust. "Some of the babies born to our women have been deformed. Such children were quickly put out of their misery, but..." He stopped when he saw the flash of unrestrained horror on Christine's face.

Christine herself could not think. Put out of their misery? ... Could they be so cruel? She looked over at Spock in alarm; his face betrayed no surprise or shock at Mardek's pronouncement but his eyes looked briefly into hers in a measure of understanding. She had never been so grateful for his presence.

"You think us barbaric?" Mardek spoke contemptuously to Christine, breaking the brief communion between Christine and Spock. "A typically weak Human response. To be a Klingon demands strength. A deformed child cannot survive. It would weaken ..."

Spock broke into Mardek's matter of fact statement hastily, his gaze drifting between the Klingon and Christine, who was still trying to reign in her disgust. "We are not here to debate differences in our child-rearing approaches, Mardek. It would be best to return to the topic at hand: The radiation sickness."

"Very well, Vulcan. How do you plan to stop the radiation's effects?" Mardek said bluntly.

Christine had finally brought her emotions under control, and so she moved to answer Mardek's question, her eyes looking into the Klingon's squarely. "If the symptoms on the disk confirm what I suspect, our plan of attack will take the following course. We can administer a immuno-stimulant to induce your own immune systems to function more normally. That will give us time to refine the second prong of our medical strategy: gene therapy. DNA is very susceptible to radiation. The damage to your DNA is the ultimate cause of the immune system deficiencies as well as the birth defects."

Mardek looked on her grimly, uncomfortable with the recurring topic of birth defects as well as her diagnosis for treatment. "I will be of small help to you, Doctor. Most Klingons have no need of physicians beyond repairing the wounds of battle. I have no experience with DNA therapy or immuno-stimulants. Those who would have such knowledge are on the Homeworld. Colonists have no need of such research."

Christine nodded in understanding. "That's why we are here, Mardek. This type of research is a specialty among my people as well. But I was trained as a bio-researcher. That's why I pushed to have this mission to your colony worlds and why I was given command of the medical side of things."

Mardek looked on her in surprise. "Why? Why would you wish to help those who have been your enemies? Why not let us die." She knew he was speaking of the whole peace accord as well as her role in it.

"Because I have no quarrel with Klingons, Mardek. Because I have sworn an oath to protect and preserve life. Because it is the right thing to do," Christine said with conviction.

"And you, Vulcan. I know that you first contacted our late leader, Gorkon. Is this your opinion?" Mardek said, now more curious than anything.

Spock replied calmly, "It would be illogical to stand by and watch your deaths. Vulcans believe in Infinite Diversity In Infinite Combinations. We make no distinction between Klingon life and other life. All life is necessary."

Mardek thought about their words for a moment. "Klingons would have been content to let you die." Christine and Spock wisely said nothing to that pronouncement as he turned his attention back to the matter at hand.

"My people will not believe your motives are honorable; they will require proof." Mardek focused his attention on Christine. "I will be the first to receive your treatment. If I survive, my people will follow. Reluctantly," he added sardonically, "but they will follow. But how do we know that the radiation will not re-warp our bodies once your treatment is completed?"

Spock fielded that question. "We intend to construct temporary shield barriers to block the harmful radiation, Mardek. I will be coordinating with Korn on that project while you and Dr. Chapel conduct the medical treatments."

"Then we start tomorrow," Mardek said finally. And with that he rose, signalling that their interview was at an end. They rose in response, watching as Mardek moved to a storage device behind his desk and took out a container of vials.

"These are samples of blood from myself and the dead. Use them to perfect this treatment of yours, Doctor Chapel," Mardek said as he held out the samples for Christine to take.

Chris reached for the vials, knowing that this was a leap of faith on his part. "I will, Mardek. Thank you."

Mardek waved his hand dismissively. "There will be time for thanks after the scourge upon my people is defeated. Our discussion is at an end."

Spock responded by pushing the send button on his communicator. "Spock to Excelsior."

A voice sounding suspiciously like Janice Rand's answered the hail. "Excelsior here."

"Four to beam up."

* * *

When Christine, Spock, and their two security guards beamed aboard the Excelsior, they found Sulu and Rand waiting for them. Chris had to smile at the twin looks of expectant curiosity and apprehension that she saw on both of their faces.

"Well," Sulu asked impatiently, sounding every inch the Captain. "How'd it go?"

Christine smiled at Sulu, her reaction telling the tale. "They accepted our help."

"They didn't have a choice, did they?" Janice said cynically from behind Sulu, looking at them all as if the Klingons accepting their help wasn't all that fine a thing.

"There is always a choice, Commander," Spock said placidly as he stepped from the transport pad. "A choice they did not exercise, thanks to Dr. Chapel."

Christine looked over at Spock in surprise. She still wasn't used to compliments from him. He raised an eyebrow at her in response, as if to say 'I made a logical statement. Why are you surprised?'. Christine smiled at him appreciatively, forgetting for the moment her own resolve to treat him as an colleague only.

"What happened?" Janice said curiously.

"Why don't we all discuss this over dinner?" Sulu asked. "It's well past dinnertime and a formal briefing can come tomorrow after you re-visit the colony. I assume that you will be returning tomorrow?" He asked the question of Christine who had the vials of Klingon blood in her hands.

"Yes," Chris nodded, her face growing serious. "The head of the facility gave these to me. They're from the first victims of the radiation contamination. There's a lot of work to be done. A whole lot."

"Well, you can tell us about what happens next at dinner, Christine," Sulu said, clearly pleased at their progress. Christine watched as he turned to the security guards who were somewhat impatiently awaiting dismissal. "Good work, Thomas and Darren. Report for the same duty tomorrow. Commander Rand will inform you of the report time. Dismissed." The two young men smiled and replied 'yes, sir' in unison before exiting the transporter room.

"I'd better get these samples down to your Sickbay, Hikaru," Christine said, looking at the specimens with a grave look on her face.

"I will accompany you, Doctor," Spock said, again surprising Chris.

"Okay, Spock." She was puzzled by why he would want to walk with her to Sickbay. Sickbay had never been one of his favorite destinations on the Enterprise.

"We'll see you in the Officer's Mess, Chris," Janice said to her friend as all four officers left the transporter room at the same time.

Chris nodded and then she and Spock turned in the opposite direction from Rand and Sulu who were going straight to the mess hall.

As they walked down the hall, Chris glanced over at Spock. "You didn't need to escort me to Sickbay, Spock. I think that I can find it on my own," she said with a smile.

"But would you find your way out again; that is the question, Doctor," Spock replied placidly as he returned her glance, a hint of amusement in his eyes.

"And what does that mean?" Chris asked seriously, not responding to his humor.

"I have observed that physicians often seem to barricade themselves in their labs for long stretches of time when presented with a medical case. You now have the means to test your serums on fresh samples. I surmised that without reminder you would skip dinner and remain at the lab until it was time for us to beam down to the surface again."

"And what's wrong with that?" Christine said somewhat indignantly as they passed through the doors of Excelsior's main sickbay which held a bio-lab. "Klingon blood and DNA factors are still new to me. I need to make sure that everything is as it should be before I administer it to Mardek tomorrow. I should be in the lab." She emphasized the word 'should' as they crossed the threshold to the lab.

"I disagree, Doctor," Spock responded, standing at semi-attention with his hands behind his back. Christine could feel his eyes on her as she quickly turned to re-label the specimens in English and then stored them inside a nearby refrigeration unit. She turned around finally, reluctantly, to meet Spock's gaze, her arms folded across her chest, daring him to present a logical reason why she shouldn't stay at the lab.

Spock obliged. "You have not eaten in 16.64 hours, Doctor. It is time you did."

"Since when did you become my keeper, Spock?" Christine said with some asperity.

"Since I was assigned to command this mission, Doctor," Spock said firmly. "It serves no purpose to have the mission coordinator become weak from hunger or fatigue. May I assume that you also did not sleep for the normal amount of time last night, Doctor?"

Christine glared at him for a few seconds before lowering her eyes to stare at the floor, not wanting to admit that she had been up for most of the night doing last minute reading on Klingon society and culture.

Arms still folded in indignation and still fuming at Spock's apparent exercise in pulling rank, she didn't notice him coming closer until she felt his hand on her shoulder. She refused to look up. Of all the arrogant, hypocritical ... how many times had McCoy had to pull HIM from the science lab when he was researching something ...

"Christine."

She finally looked up. She could never resist responding to the sound of her given name coming from his lips, cursing herself for the weakness even as she looked into his face.

"Christine," Spock repeated in a less commanding tone. "Your serum has been adequately tested; your patients will be waiting for you on the planet surface tomorrow. There is no need for you to remain here. You need food and rest."

Chris stared at him, uncertain as to how to respond to the concern she thought she could see in his eyes. Suddenly afraid of her own response at being so close to him, she pulled away, his hand falling from her shoulder as she did so.

"All right, Captain," Chris said in her most business-like manner. "I'll go eat, like a good little girl."

Spock responded to her acerbic remark with his customary reserve. "Than shall we go, Doctor?"

"We shall."

* * *

When Christine entered the Officer's mess, Spock still dogging her every step as if he expected her to give him the slip on the way, she could smell the heavenly scent of Szechuan Beef. And she acknowledged inwardly that Spock had been right. She was starving. She wasn't about to let him know that, of course.

Taking a small portion of the beef and an equally small portion of rice from the buffet that sat near the door, she scanned the room and found their friends waiting for them. She left Spock at the replicator and moved to join Sulu and Rand.

"Chris. I was just talking to the Captain about the mission. Tell us what happened," Rand said impatiently as soon as Chris had sat down.

"Janice," Sulu said, a tone of light reprimand in his voice. "Christine hasn't even been at the table for two seconds. Let her eat."

Christine smiled at her friends. "It's alright. I'd rather get the 'briefing' out of the way, anyway," she said as she stirred the beef on her plate. "It went fine, really. The Klingons were somewhat hostile, but Mardek, the head of the medical facility, has agreed to test my serum tomorrow. And Korn, the colony's Governor, is going with Spock to set up the shield barriers."

"Doctor Chapel is being too modest," Spock interjected as he sat down with a plate of salad and a bowl of pale green soup in his hands.

"Why, Spock? What happened?" Sulu's voice had taken on the same tone as Rand's had had earlier, and he fought off a smile as Janice smirked at him in pointed response to his curiosity that so mirrored her own.

"When we first arrived at the medical facility, the Klingons in the room ignored my greeting completely. They seemed content to utter no response to our presence. Until the Doctor spoke."

Rand smiled, her voice growing more tinged with curiosity with each passing moment. "What did you say to them, Chris?"

Christine shrugged. "I just employed a little psychology. Nothing major." She plopped a forkful of beef and rice into her mouth to forestall any more questions.

Spock raised his eyebrow at her statement. It was a level of skepticism that neither Rand nor Sulu missed.

"I believe the human expression would be that she 'told them off'," Spock said lightly, before sedately taking a bite of his salad.

Sulu laughed a long, hearty laugh as Rand sat back, momentarily speechless. "You told off a room full of Klingons, Chris?" Sulu laughed again. "I don't know if that was brave or crazy."

Christine sighed as Rand joined in his laughter. "I had no choice. Spock gave them his customarily Vulcan-like polite greeting. And they thought that he was trying to pull a fast one on them. I happened to remember reading that Klingons hate politeness and I knew that I had no choice."

"Indeed. I was remiss. I had forgotten about the tendency. Chancellor Gorkon was very gracious during our talks," Spock said, a note of approval in his voice as he looked across the table at Christine. "I shall have to remember that in our dealings tomorrow."

Janice brought the conversation back on course. "Okay, so you told the Klingons where to go and then what happened?"

Christine shrugged again. "Mardek took us to his office and we talked for a while. That's all really. I think that he was trying to find out if we were sincere before subjecting his people to our medicine. I'm sure that I would be just as wary in his place. He really seems to care for his people. Most of them, anyway." She frowned as she thought again of the Klingons and what they had done to the few deformed infants that had resulted from the radiation poisoning. Abruptly, she lost her appetite.

"I'm sure that Marek does care for his patients, Doctor," Spock interrupted quickly, his expression as he looked at Christine seemed to say to keep silent about that Klingon practice.

Chris nodded almost imperceptibly. She supposed Spock was right. She was certain of how Janice would react if she learned of it. She was sure that Spock would make a full transcript of their conversation with Mardek to Sulu later.

"You're probably right, Spock. Mardek has agreed to be treated, so I guess that's all that matters," Chris replied in a more certain tone than she'd used earlier.

Janice shrugged. "Well, I still haven't changed my mind about them. Maybe I'll believe that they're serious about peace when your mission is completed successfully, Chris." Then changing the subject entirely, Rand looked over at Spock's dinner. "What kind of soup is that, Captain?"

"Plomeek soup, Commander. A Vulcan dish. A conversation that I had recently reminded me of the last time that someone fixed this dish for me." He again fixed his gaze on Christine before returning his attention to his food.

Janice smiled, oblivious to Christine's slight blush. "Comfort food, hmm? Mine was macaroni and cheese. My mother always made that for me. How about you Captain?"

Christine tuned out the rest of Janice's question to Sulu as she pondered the meaning of Spock's remark. She remembered well the time she had fixed Plomeek soup for him ... what was he trying to imply to her? She wasn't sure that she wanted to know...

She managed to eat the rest of the food on her plate and another helping while turning his recent behavior over in her mind. Finally chalking it up to Captainly concern for a subordinate, Christine decided to take any more remarks from Spock at face value and concentrate on the mission. It wasn't like she'd ever been able to discern his thoughts anyway. She wasn't going to waste time trying now...

"Well, all. It's been fun, but I have been ordered to get some sleep." Christine looked pointedly at Spock who calmly sipped a cup of tea and raised an eyebrow at her statement. "Good night."

A chorus of good nights followed her out. Once she reached her room, she was asleep in five minutes.

* * *

The next two weeks went fairly smoothly from Chris's point of view. Mardek had been given the treatments on day two of their orbit around the colony and his lesions had started to disappear by day three. Chris had warned him that neither of the results of the gene therapy or the temporary immuno-stimulants would be noticeable, beyond the fact that his susceptibility to other illnesses would fall back down to the normal range for Klingon physiology. These treatments weren't supposed to be dramatic; they were preventative in nature.

Still, as the Klingon physician had become more energetic overall, Mardek had begun bullying his patients and the contingent of, so far, healthy colonists to let Christine treat them. And so by the time a week had past, Christine and her team of doctors and nurses had found themselves happily up to their necks in Klingons.

Of course, there had been incidents. Poor Nurse Traber had suffered a broken nose from a Klingon mother who had objected to her injecting the serum into the woman's child. And Security Officer Darren who had been permanently assigned to security of the medical personnel had almost been sucked into a duel when a Klingon male had felt that Darren had insulted him. But all in all, Christine couldn't complain...

The other phase of the mission had also gone well; Spock and Sulu had been kept busy directing placement of the shield barrier satellites and fine-tuning for the optimal range of coverage that would ensure that no radiation outside the norm would seep through to re-contaminate the colony.

And in the evenings, Christine and Spock had stayed on planet to solicit opinions from Korn and the various other colony leaders on the long term aspects of Operation Preserve; the prospects and ideas on where to re-locate the Klingon Homeworld, the dismantling of the Starbases and Klingon outposts that bristled along the Neutral Zone ... She knew that Spock relayed these ideas and opinions (with the Klingons full knowledge and consent) to his father for use in the ongoing final status talks between the Federation and the Klingon High Council.

The safe setting, nightly sessions with the Klingons, had given Christine the chance to be around Spock without him being the sole focus. It had made distancing her thoughts and feelings from him that much easier.

And so, by the time that the two weeks at the colony were up and they were ready to move on to the next colony on their list, Christine was congratulating herself on her resolve. She had managed to convince Janice that she no longer had any feelings for Spock beyond simple camaraderie, much to Rand's disappointment. More importantly, she had almost convinced herself.

Spock would always be compelling. She couldn't deny that. But a working relationship based on mutual respect and camaraderie was better than a false love for someone that only gave you grief. She wasn't afraid any more of being swept along by his presence. She was in control...

* * *

From the back of bridge, near the turbolifts, Christine watched Sulu in the center chair. She had come to watch Excelsior break orbit around the colony that had been their first success, silently contemplating her now healed patients. She hoped that the cooperation that had taken place among their peoples would bode well for the rest of the mission. She glanced over at Spock who was standing near her, watching the sight of the colony below on the view screen.

"We done good, Captain," Chris said, her voice containing a definite lilt of satisfaction.

Spock shifted his gaze from the viewscreen to look upon her. "We have indeed, Doctor."

"How about a celebration?" Chris asked with a smile, her eyes reflecting her pride at their work so far and her gratitude for his help. "Janice said that I could commandeer one of the side kitchens for a meal. Have you ever had spinach and eggplant lasagna, Spock?"

"I have not. My mother used to make a vegetarian lasagna but, to my recollection, she never utilized eggplant," Spock replied.

Christine smiled more broadly at the hint of curiosity in his voice. "I think that you would find it palatable."

Spock nodded in agreement. "I have never found fault with your culinary skills, Doctor."

His reference to her cooking for him had caused her discomfort just two weeks earlier; now she laughed and accepted his compliment, inclining her head gracefully.

"Why, thank you, Captain. Would you teach me some chess strategy in return for the meal, Spock? After the trouncing that you gave me the first time we played, not to mention the other times, I could certainly use some lessons."

"An equitable trade. I accept your offer, Doctor," Spock said agreeably.

"Good. Then it's settled."

* * *

They quickly fell into a pattern, much as they had in their first few days on board the transport ship that had ferried them to Excelsior. When in route to a colony, they dealt with mission details and briefings by day; and at night they played chess. Sometimes in the Officer's Mess with Sulu and Rand and some of Sulu's senior staff watching and sometimes in her quarters or his, when he was teaching her a new move or they finished work too late to socialize with the others.

When the Excelsior reached a colony, their relaxed days receded. Christine threw herself into providing whatever medical and humanitarian assistance was required while Spock handled the diplomatic side and shield barrier installation. Sometimes, days would go by when they didn't see each other but at a morning repast or a late night brainstorming session with the local Klingons.

But when a mission was completed, they always fell back into the pattern of dinner and a chess game. And Chris always made Spock some vegetarian dish as a celebratory meal at the end of each successful colony run.

Now five weeks into their mission, they reached a colony that refused their help. The prospect would not have been unexpected at the beginning of their mission, but Christine had hoped that news of their sincere assistance to the three colonies that they had already visited would have prepared the way.

None of Spock's logic or Christine's medical expertise could persuade this group of rigid colony dwellers to accept their assistance and in the end, they had had to leave...

* * *

Christine couldn't see making the now customary vegetarian dish for Spock for dinner tonight. She had planned on making Pasta Primavera...

She sighed. She knew that Spock would understand. She just couldn't do it; there was no cause to celebrate this time. She wasn't hungry anyway. She had skipped the mess hall for the Observation Lounge; the stars a welcome balm to her troubled mind.

She closed her eyes when she thought of the children. This particular colony had contained more young children and adolescents than had the last three colonies. She hadn't seen any children with disabilities...

She snorted. She knew what happened to them...

Christine blocked that thought from her mind, quickly.

... but there had been several young people who were sick with complications of immune system suppression. One little girl had been diagnosed with a particularly virulent case of pneumonia. Her immune system had been so weakened by the radiation, that treatment had been utterly ineffective.

Christine had watched her die today. And then had suffered the just as horrifying experience of watching her parents scream as if to wake the dead. Spock had told her that it was a Klingon ritual to honor the dead. That may have been so, but Christine knew that she would have been screaming just as loudly at the death of a child of hers ... and it wouldn't have been a ritual...

Tears spilled past Christine's cheeks, unheeded. Why wouldn't they let us help them? Why? Do they want more beautiful children like that little girl to die? It's all so senseless ...

The sound of the Observation Lounge's doors opening and closing brought Chris partially out of her fog of helplessness and frustration. Hastily wiping at her tears with the palms of both hands, Christine spoke to the darkness, not wanting whomever was there to see her like this.

"Please, whoever you are. Could you please come back later? I'll be done soon." Her voice sounded unsteady even to her own ears and she hoped that whoever it was would take a hint.

"Doctor Chapel."

It was Spock's voice. Christine cringed inwardly. He was the last person she wanted to see now...

"Please. Spock. I need to be alone ... I'm sorry about the meal, I'll make--"

"I did not come here to reprimand you for missing a meal," Spock said softly, his voice growing closer, despite her injunction.

Soon she felt his presence at her back and she closed her eyes, helpless to stop her tears, hoping that if she ignored him that he would leave her alone...

"Christine."

She didn't look up or turn around. Not even the sound of her name being spoken by him could break the spell of anger and frustration that engulfed her now. Why didn't he just leave?

He didn't leave. Instead, strong, warm fingers moved to grip a hand that had so recently been wiping at her damp cheeks, the moisture from her tears cementing their fingers together as she slowly separated her fingers to allow his to slip into the spaces between hers.

Neither spoke again for a long time. Christine stared into space, never once turning to look at the face of her comforter, her awareness of their entwined fingers and his warm presence at her back not serving to blunt the dark emotions that still forced tears from her eyes. But instead giving her license to mourn for those who would die, unmolested.

Eventually, her tears faded away, leaving her with a sense of calm. She squeezed Spock's hand fiercely before letting it go. She finally turned to face him, looking up into his dark eyes.

"I'm sorry, Spock. I shouldn't have allowed you to subject yourself to my emotions. They must have been hard for you to bear," Christine said, her voice reflecting none of her recent turmoil.

Reaching out to wipe away the remnants of her tears from her cheeks, Spock gazed down on her, his eyes full of understanding and another emotion her brain was too tired to define. Christine closed her eyes at the feel of his hand on her face.

"There is no offence where none is taken, Christine," she heard his beautiful voice say softly. "It is time you slept. Things will look better in the morning." His fingers stroked her cheek once more before returning to his side as he stepped away from her.

Chris opened her eyes again at the absence of his touch from her face, the absence of his nearness from her frame. She smiled tiredly, disbelievingly.

"I'm not sure if that will be the case, but I appreciate the sentiment." Chris smiled one final time, sincerely if somewhat wanly. "Good night, Spock."

"Good night, Christine."

* * *

The now familiar sight of a Klingon colony fading from viewer range greeted Christine as she again stepped onto the Excelsior's bridge. But this time, the familiar sense of pride at their accomplishments was tempered by an even stronger emotion.

Relief. A profound relief and a weariness of soul that seeped from every part of her.

The mission was completed. Completed. She wasn't sure that she had ever heard a word that meant more at that moment.

The colony that was steadily retreating from view had been the last on their list. It had been the closest to Praxis and that fact had made their jobs infinitely more difficult. There had been more sick and dying colonists there than at the first two colonies combined and all of the efficiencies that Chris, Spock and their teams had made in the administration of the required aid had fallen short in the face of such need.

A projected two-week mission to the colony had stretched to three and a half. Nerves on her team had frayed. Tempers had flared. And Christine had found herself dealing with more and more burnt out medical personnel on top of the still pressing needs of the colonists.

Exhaustion had become an integral part of her psyche. She couldn't remember the last time she had slept for over three hours without interruption ...

Christine shook her head as she brought her thoughts back to the present. She sighed. Her brain was in download mode, she supposed.

They had spent over two months on this mission; now all that was left were the mission wrap-up reports for Starfleet. HQ was already clamoring for them. She was sorely tempted to tell Fleet Chief of Staff Morgan where he could go with his impatient demands but the effort would have taken more energy than she currently possessed.

And so with another sigh, Christine turned from her viewscreen gazing and re-entered the bridge turbolift that would take her back to sickbay and the pile of paperwork that awaited her.

* * *

Sometime later, she woke up with a start. Disoriented by the feel of hard lumps under her face and arms, Chris lifted her head and discovered that she was lying amidst a pile of data padds and tapes on top of her desk in Bio-lab 1. Or more precisely, slumped amidst a pile of data padds and tapes.

Groaning, she forced herself into a sitting position, closing her eyes as she stretched in her seat. It took her a whole 30 seconds to realize that she wasn't alone...

Spock sat in a chair beside her desk, a data padd in his hand. He had obviously been reading it. But now, she found him watching her, his face unreadable.

"Spock..." Her voice came out cracking and weak. "Why didn't you wake me up?" She couldn't resist another stretch. Her neck hurt.

"Your body was in rebellion against its stubborn owner. I saw no reason to disabuse it of the idea," Spock replied, unperturbed.

Christine looked at him in shock. Had he just called her stubborn?

"Spock..."

Spock cut her off. "I find it curious, Doctor, that a physician of your calibre would be unable to recognize the signs of exhaustion and take steps to correct the condition."

"Spock..."

He cut her off again. "Your long association with Dr. McCoy has resulted in many fine qualities. An appreciation of when to quit is not one of them."

"Spock!"

The recipient of her exclamation gave her an slightly affronted look as he sat back in his chair, an eyebrow clearly questioning the necessity of her outcry.

"Are you quite finished?" Christine said wearily.

"That depends, Doctor..." He would have started in on another lecture, but she held up her hand to forestall him.

"Just tell me one thing ... is it complete?"

Spock held up the data padd in his hand. "Your report to the Chief of Staff?" Christine nodded slowly.

As she watched his face for signs of approval, she slowly realized that he was teasing her. The corners of his eyes had crinkled upwards and a small smile actually graced his lips.

"Christine, the report is ... fine. I had planned to submit your report along with mine, this morning ... unless, of course, you would like to sleep on it a little longer..."

"That won't be necessary, Spock." She dead-panned. Laying her hands atop the desk, she pushed herself to a standing position.

"That was a nasty crack about Leonard..." Chris began with a smile as Spock echoed her action, also standing to his feet.

"I believe that Dr. McCoy would agree with my analysis, Christine," Spock replied placidly as he indicated with a hand motion for her to precede him out of the lab.

Her smile grew broader. "Maybe." She stopped at the threshold separating the bio-lab from the rest of sickbay and laid a hand on his arm. "Spock..."

"Yes, Christine?" His voice held a mixture of curiosity and good-natured exasperation at her apparent reluctance to leave the lab.

"I want to thank you for all of your help. I don't know what I would have done without you; these last three weeks, especially."

Spock's gaze softened. "Nor I, you."

* * *

On day two of their journey towards Earth and a waiting debriefing at Starfleet Command, Chris was talking to a team doctor in the mess hall when a page rang in from Sulu.

It seemed that the Excelsior had new orders. They'd been diverted to Vulcan to pick up Ambassador Sarek, then to Deneb to pick up a second set of ambassadors for a recently announced set of formal 'final status' talks with the Klingons. This time on Earth.

Christine couldn't help but see this as good news for several reasons. One: It indicated that the Klingons were willing to risk travelling to 'enemy territory' for the first time since Gorkon's death. And two: Spock would get a chance to see his parents again.

She sat back and truly thought about her friend who had been so good to her during this mission.

She knew that she'd been working hard...

In reality, Chris was still sleeping for only a few hours a night. Her team of doctors and nurses, approaching their inevitable separation, had often commandeered her for a series of marathon gab-fests and get-togethers until the wee hours of the morning.

... but Spock ... He had been going non-stop since Praxis had exploded. Negotiating with Gorkon; then that mess with Jim and the others before Khitomer convened; and then straight to this mission with her.

He must be tired, she thought. No matter what he said or didn't say. He could use a vacation. After that first few days in transit, he had never shown any distress of his own ... she wasn't sure that he had ever dealt with Valeris' betrayal, for example. Of course, he could have been meditating on it for the two months of the mission. But still...

He had always been there for her ... she'd been so busy herself she'd let his needs slide to the back burner...

How could she have been so blind? She had monopolized his time ... he had been so attentive to her feelings; more so than she ever would have imagined ... the poor man hadn't had any time to himself ... She knew how important that was to a Vulcan...

Well, she would stop being selfish ... when they reached Vulcan, she would back off ... give him time to rest. To be with his parents. Without having to deal with an emotional human female whose emotions ran all over the map...

She would leave him be ...



Act III: Reflections and Revelations

A week and many more chess games later, Christine looked out of a viewport and saw the planet Vulcan. Figuring that Spock was in preparation to beam down to the surface (they had a three-day stopover while Excelsior was resupplied), Christine decided to see if she could catch Spock in his office before he beamed down.

Reaching his office, Chris rang the door chime and was relieved to hear Spock's voice granting admittance. Good, she hadn't missed him. She and Janice planned to spend the three days shopping and sightseeing, but she couldn't let him beam down without wishing Spock a good vacation and asking him to say hello to his parents...

She found him in the smaller inner office, speaking to his father. He showed no sign of recognizing her presence, but she knew that he must have heard her come in and so she settled by the door jam to wait.

" ... I thank you for your assistance in this matter, Father," Chris heard Spock say.

"One does not thank logic, my son," Sarek replied to Spock. She could just see him on the viewscreen over Spock's shoulder...

She started to feel uncomfortable. Maybe she should wait in the outer office ... She had just turned to go when she heard Spock call out to her.

"Good morning, Christine," Spock said.

"Good morning?" Chris replied, puzzled. It was 12:40 on board ship ... oh. "Oh. It is still morning on Vulcan, isn't it? Well, then. Good morning, Spock. Ambassador." She smiled, inclining her head towards the viewscreen. "Sorry for disturbing you when you are speaking to the Ambassador..."

"You are not intruding, Christine. Father and I were just discussing you," Spock replied amiably as he turned halfway back toward the viewscreen and his father's image.

"Yes, indeed we were. Good morning, Dr. Chapel. Or should I say Christine? You are on leave while you are here, are you not?" Sarek inquired. He looked like he was in an office of some kind himself from the surrounding that Christine could glimpse behind him.

"Yes, sir." Christine smiled at the viewscreen image, inwardly puzzled as to why the two Vulcans would be speaking of her. She turned back to Spock. "You needed me for something, Spock?"

"I was wondering if you would like to beam down with me to my parents' home," Spock told her in response. "You are most welcome."

Christine paused for a second. "I appreciate the thought, Spock. But I really should let you see your parents without any company hanging around. How long has it been since your mother had you all to herself?" Christine was inwardly pleased that Spock wanted to invite her; she would have loved to see where he grew up ... but she had resolved to let him have time with his parents, unmolested.

"It is kind of you to concern yourself with Mother's feelings, Christine," Spock replied, his voice earnest. "But unnecessary. She always enjoys seeing my friends when I am home."

Christine was trying to hide her surprise at him calling her his friend so openly when Sarek interjected.

"My son is quite correct. My wife has been eagerly expecting both of your arrivals for several days. I mentioned to her that you were coordinating the medical portion of Spock's assignment and she well remembers you from our time on the Enterprise as well as my reports from Khitomer. She would be most disappointed at not seeing you both."

Christine alternated her gaze between the viewscreen and Spock's face, trying to gauge their sincerity. She still believed that they were just being nice, considering it their duty to offer Vulcan hospitality, but if they were sure...

"I could scarcely refuse such a welcome, could I?" Christine said, smiling at them both. "I accept your gracious hospitality."

"Then we will expect you for dinner this evening," Sarek replied placidly. He then turned his attention back to Spock. "We will have your room and a guest room for Dr. Chapel prepared for your arrival." He glanced at something off-screen. "I must be going. I am expected in the lecture room in 6.28 minutes. Until tonight, my son, Dr. Chapel." And with that he gave them the Vulcan salute, which Christine hastily returned along with Spock, and then signed off.

Christine turned to Spock. "Rooms? I thought that we were beaming down for dinner?"

Spock raised an eyebrow in confusion. "The Captain and the Doctor," Chris knew that he was speaking of Captain Kirk and Leonard, even though he was a Captain himself, "always stay at my parents' home when we visit Vulcan. Is there a problem in this arrangement?"

"No, no," Chris hastily replied. "I'd love to stay." She smiled. "My appreciation of my room on board has certainly started to wear thin after 2 months. Waking up to a real sunrise would be welcome."

"Indeed. I should remind you that it is early fall on Vulcan. Not as hot as in summer, but the median temperature is still 95.7 degrees Fahrenheit during the day with stark drops at night."

"I'll remember to bring sunscreen and lots of loose clothing," she said, smiling up into his face. "Thank you for inviting me, Spock."

"As my Father stated earlier, there is no reason to thank logic, Christine. We are orbiting Vulcan. There is no logical reason for you to stay elsewhere during the layover."

"Well, thank you anyway," Christine said, her smile turning into a teasing one. "I'll meet you in the transporter room in ... when is dinner?" she asked curiously.

"5 hours, 35 minutes."

"No seconds?" Chris asked, playfully teasing. "Okay then, in 5 hours?"

"Agreed."

* * *

Chris raced to the transporter room. She had been ready with plenty of time to spare but had spent the intervening hour between the time that she had finished packing and her flight now to Transporter Room 2 in conversation with Janice...

Well, a conversation might not be the most precise way of putting it. An interrogation had been more like it.

She sighed. She didn't know why Jan persisted in bringing up Spock and she as if they were some romantic item. They weren't. Just because Spock had invited her to his home, didn't mean that he was planning to seduce her, for goodness sake...

Yes, he had become her friend. Yes, he had been very supportive during this trip. But what of it? It had taken them twenty years and a two-month mission to get to this point...

Christine slowed down her pace, eventually stopping to lean against a bulkhead. She needed to think. Get these annoyingly inconvenient thoughts out of her head...

Spock was her friend. She would have given almost anything back in those days on the Enterprise to have had him treat her as the friend he treated her as now ... she cherished his friendship...

The more they talked; the more they spent time together ... the more his words of comfort, his advice, their interactions meant to her ... that should matter more than some non-existent love affair...

... Yes, she would have loved for there to have been more between them, but ... Chris, why are you doing this to yourself? Repeat after me ... He is your friend. A friend ...

She pulled herself off from the wall as a crewman approached in the opposite direction. She sighed again. She had five minutes to meet Spock. She would have her thoughts in order, by then. She was not going to ruin this trip to his home with irrational yearnings. She would not...

Besides, Spock and his family were just being nice ... they always let Kirk and McCoy stay there, didn't they??? Why wouldn't they do the same for her. It was Vulcan politeness...

* * *

By the time Christine walked into Transporter Room 2 with 30 seconds to spare, she had schooled her thoughts and her facial expression into genuine curiosity to see Spock's home and gratitude at his invitation. Spock, as usual was there before her, talking to the tech in charge of their beam down. Christine smiled at his lack of baggage as she reached his side.

"Does your mother keep clothes at home for you too, Spock? My mother always used to." She smiled wistfully; she missed her mother terribly sometimes. She had died while Christine was in her first doctoral program. She had never met Roger ... she would have liked Spock, Christine thought.

"Yes, Christine," Spock replied, scanning her face as if sensing her melancholy thoughts. "Mother has always done so. I asked her once if I should take all of my belongings with me, but she said the suggestion was illogical ... I was persuaded to her way of thinking," he concluded, a fine thread of amusement and affection running through his voice.

Chris smiled, her mood instantly lifting with Spock's humor. "Of course it's logical, Spock. You don't have to pack, now do you? Your mother is a wise woman."

The corners of Spock's eyes crinkled upward. "Yes. She is. And that woman is undoubtedly waiting for us," he reminded her gently. "Shall we go?"

Christine nodded affirmatively as she moved to her place on the transporter pad. "Let's."

* * *

When the beam released them, Chris found herself on a dusky road in what looked like the less populated end of a suburb. Well, the Vulcan equivalent of a suburb. Houses sporadically lined the street, each one surrounded by a low wall.

She inhaled a deep breath as she turned in place, dropping her duffel bag to her side. The air was thin, but not as oppressive as she remembered it ... Of course, the last time that she was here, it had been the height of summer...

The sky was a pretty, shimmery orange. A series of thin, high clouds streaked through the sun's rays, providing a slight protection against its potentially harsh beams. And the air smelled of flowers, a kind of honeysuckle smell, she decided.

Eventually, she looked at Spock, mildly surprised that he hadn't had them beamed directly to the front door, but not displeased.

"Is your parents' house nearby, Spock?" There were small plaques on the gates that told of the occupants, but her Vulcan was confined to medical terms.

"Yes, around a bend at the end of this street," Spock replied as he picked up her bag and placed it on his shoulder. "I thought that you might like to walk there since you were professing to a case of cabin fever earlier."

Chris smiled warmly at his thoughtfulness as they started to walk toward the house. "I would, Spock. Will it be this cool for the whole time that we'll be here? The last time that I was here, it was sweltering at this time of day."

"I am not sure, but it is not likely. When were you last on Vulcan?" Spock asked curiously as he slowed his natural gait to keep pace with Christine's leisurely stroll.

"About three years ago, there was a symposium on communicable diseases at the Vulcan Science Academy. I didn't get to see too much of the sights, since I had to leave early ... there was a earthquake on Kradir II that we had to send a rescue mission to ... But what I saw of it, I loved. I felt a peace here..."

"'The peace of Vulcan'," Spock quoted. "Yes, it is often commented upon. I did not fully appreciate it when I was young, but now it has come to mean much to me. I believe that the Fal-Tor-Pan has had much to do with this new understanding."

Now it was Chris' turn to ask a question. "Would you tell me about that time, Spock?" She had never had the nerve to ask him before, on the few occasions that she had seen Spock since his re-birth. Maybe now that they had finally developed a friendship...

Spock stopped walking, pausing to think seriously about her request before answering. "The years since my ... death ... have been varied. Sometimes confusing. I do not consider that time to be over. My life is still a thread flowing from it; I have not yet cut the cord."

He turned sideways to face her directly and Christine tried to convey through her returning gaze her sincere desire to listen to whatever he had to say. His eyes bored into hers, seeming to strip away her defenses, her pretences. She found that she couldn't look away...

They stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity, but only a few seconds passed before Spock spoke again.

"I would value your insights," he said; his statement framed as a soft declaration, his voice as deep as she had ever heard it. "Ask me again tomorrow and I will tell you all that you wish to know." He turned his attention back to the road, finally, breaking the connection that had spring up between them as quickly as it had come, leaving Chris to follow him.

They walked the rest of the way in silence; Christine lost in her own thoughts, as Spock seemed to be in his.

She hadn't felt anything like that connection, since ... not since that long ago time when his consciousness was placed in her mind ... no, she was wrong ... she had felt it. Recently. When he had wiped her tears from her cheeks in the Observation Lounge in the hours following the Klingon colony's refusal to accept their help...

Christine mentally went through their time together as they walked, her attention no longer focused on her Vulcan surroundings but on the inner landscape of a certain Vulcan.

By the time that they had travelled the eighth of a mile to Spock's parents' home, Chris' mind was in turmoil, a shifting mass of burgeoning hope and crippling uncertainty.

Could it be? Could Jan be right?

She couldn't ask him ... she couldn't ... Her heart had been broken too many times...

And then she had no time for introspection because they had arrived. Spock was opening a gate and escorting her inside.

Chris's thoughts were shifted, mercifully to her, to the beautiful garden that greeted them. She stopped their advance to the front door to turn in place again, her gaze gratefully soaking up the wide variety of plants which were arranged in a natural but still subtly charming pattern.

She had never known that such beautiful plants could exist in a desert climate such as Vulcan's. Then she thought about the deserts of Earth and the flora that could be found there and knew that she was wrong. They could exist. But she knew that the arrangement could have been no accident. Each plant would have been selected to co-exist with the other in a careful equilibrium. And there was only one person who would have done that much careful planning...

And as Chris' attention returned to the home and its front door, she noticed that the probable landscape artist was walking sedately up the walk to greet them.

The Lady Amanda reached their position a few moments later and Christine watched as she greeted her son with outstretched arms, hands crossed at the wrist, palms facing him in what seemed to be a ritual greeting. After Spock had touched his palms to hers, he stood to one side to let Christine come forward.

Christine moved her hand to form the Vulcan salute but before she could, Amanda took her hands in hers in a warm grasp.

"There's no need to stand on ceremony here, my dear," Amanda said warmly as she squeezed Chris' hands lightly. "Welcome to Vulcan, Dr. Chapel. I'm so glad that you could make it."

"Please, call me Christine," Chris replied, just as warmly. "I'm honored to be here."

Amanda smiled at her and then pulled one of Chris' hands through the crook of one arm as she turned to re-enter the house. Spock took up a position on the other side of his mother as they walked along the short path to the house, his hands folded behind his back in his customary manner.

"Sarek sends his regrets. He's been detained at the Embassy. Something to do with the final status talks, I would imagine," Amanda continued as they reached the front door.

"Is there something wrong?" Christine inquired, concerned.

"Not really. Just the usual last minute things that need to be ironed out before Sarek leaves for Earth." Amanda ushered Chris and Spock into the house and then closed the door behind them. "I have placed dinner in stasis. My husband said that we were welcome to start without him, but I wanted to wait until you arrived before setting the table."

"Are you sure that we shouldn't wait for him?" Christine asked. "I certainly wouldn't mind. Spock?" She turned her head to look at him and saw him removing her bag from his shoulder.

"That's kind of you to suggest, Christine," Amanda replied before Spock could answer. "But there is no telling when my husband will be home. With the time differences between Vulcan, Earth, and Qo'noS, he could be in conference for some time."

"Then could I help you with dinner?" Christine asked.

"I would welcome the assistance. An old lady like myself needs all the help she can get." Amanda said with a laugh. "Spock ... why don't you put Christine's suitcase in her room. We'll be on the verandah."

"Of course, Mother."

* * *

When Christine awoke the next day, the sun's rays were streaming thorough the window opposite her bed. She blinked several times before sitting up in bed.

What time was it? She glanced over at a antique portable clock that stood on one side of the bed she'd slept in. 11:45? She had to be reading it wrong ... she never slept that late...

She looked at it again. Definitely 11:45. Make that 11:46. Christine swung her feet over the side of the bed, groaning softly. She didn't want to get up.

The bed was so comfortable.

She'd been surprised by the bed, an antique four-poster with a mattress which felt like it was filled with down or some other soft material. She'd felt like she'd died and gone to heaven. She wasn't used to ship's bunks any more...

Walking over to her bag, she lifted out two rolled up garments, shaking them out to reveal an ankle length dress and matching jacket. She knew that staying covered up was the best way to avoid sun burns under the fierce Vulcan sun, so all of the clothes she had brought were either long sleeved or came with jackets.

A quick shower soon put her to rights and by the time she had dressed and slipped on a pair of low-heeled boots suitable for walking, she was ready for the day.

Slipping out of her room, Chris quickly heard voices. Wandering toward the voices, she found herself in the living room, a comfortable mix of Vulcan and Terran influences. And she found Ambassador Sarek, whom they hadn't seen the night before, and Spock conversing softly.

"Good morning, Christine," Sarek said as she entered the room. Christine said hello to both men and then sat on a couch, curling one leg up under the other.

"Are you hungry?" Spock asked. "When we reach the ruins, we will have no opportunity to eat. Food is not permitted on the grounds surrounding Mount Seleya."

Christine nodded affirmatively. "Yes, I am rather hungry. I hadn't planned on sleeping for so long." She looked back at Spock, rather sheepishly.

"Humans often sleep for longer periods of time when they are first on Vulcan," Sarek commented. "The combination of heat and gravity seem to produce a natural sleep-aid effect."

"Well, it certainly worked for me," Christine replied, smiling ironically.

Sarek nodded. "I would imagine that sleep was a rare commodity during your aid to the colonies."

"Yes, it was ... It is gratifying to have the mission completed," Spock interjected. "Even though we have to speak before the Council."

Christine looked at Spock suspiciously. "What council?"

Spock glanced over at his father before answering her question. "Father and I were just speaking of it when you came in, Christine. It seems that the Federation Council wants to hear our report in person."

Christine just stared at him for a long moment. "The Federation Council ... I thought that we were dismissed after we briefed HQ next week? When did this happen?"

"Last night," Sarek interjected. "The council would like to hear of conditions on the colony worlds firsthand during its deliberations on final status with the Klingons."

Chris stifled an urge to close her eyes and groan wearily. Would this mission never end? She couldn't resist a soft sigh.

"Then I'm glad that we had a chance to come here," Chris remarked. "I'll need the 'peace of Vulcan' to sustain me through a long, boring Council session." She quickly glanced over at Sarek when she realized what she had said ... he was on the Council ... "I'm sorry, that was rude of me..."

"There is no need for apologies, Christine," Sarek replied. "I have relied on that aspect of my heritage many times during my years as ambassador." He radiated a subtle sense of amusement even though his expression never changed.

He turned to Spock. "My son. Why don't you escort Christine to the kitchen? Perhaps you can assist her in choosing among the various types of Vulcan cuisine available; our supply of human breakfast dishes is rather limited at the moment. I must go. I promised your mother that I would pick her up after her class at the Academy for an early lunch." He rose and inclined his head to both his son and Christine and then left.

Christine inclined her head back in response, also rising, as did Spock. She smiled over at him.

"Spock, I have a question. I know that you told me that we were going sightseeing but you didn't tell me where before now. Is there any reason for going to these particular ruins?" Christine asked curiously. "I know that there are some here, in ShiKahr. Isn't Seleya about two hours from here?"

Spock's expression revealed a quick trace of apprehension before returning to its usual dispassionate state.

"Mount Seleya has been the site of many of the aspects of my life that you expressed an interest in yesterday. I cannot take you to the mountain itself or the immediate grounds; it is forbidden to outworlders. But I can take you to the ruins. And from that vantage point, you will see the mountain." At this point, he hesitated, his face a mask of forced neutrality. "If you still wish to learn of my life."

Christine reached up to touch his face lightly, hesitantly, before pulling away. "I want to learn."

* * *

After eating brunch, Christine and Spock set out, Spock operating his mother's ground car which he had borrowed for the outing. They conversed about everything and nothing. Spock told her of the sights they saw as they passed by and she told him more about the symposium that she had attended on Vulcan years before. But in two hours of travel, the real topic that they were to discuss never came up.

A palpable aura of ... something was in the air between them. But Christine couldn't tell if it was reticence, or excitement, or fear. Or all three. Or none. All she knew was that when Spock was ready to talk to her, she would be ready to listen.

As they came closer to their destination, the sight of Mount Seleya grew more and more overwhelming. It overshadowed all that surrounded it, as if it were the guardian of the people.

And as its shadow grew, the bursts of small talk inside their ground car grew shorter; the silences in between them, more pronounced.

At last, they arrived at their destination, a series of ruins that reminded Christine of a cross between Stonehenge and the ancient Mayan cities of the Americas. Spock left the ground car on the outskirts of the historical site and they walked the rest of the way.

Alone, for there were no other people at the ruins, they walked to and through the various ancient buildings. Eventually, Spock steered Christine to a dusty bench underneath an ancient stone overhang which provided a modicum of shade and from which there was an unobstructed view of Seleya and the dry, cracked earth between them and the mountain. Slowly, as they sat on that bench, he brought their conversation to the topic at hand

"I find it ironic that at one point in my life I sought to separate my human emotions from myself and at another point in my life, my human friends sought to return my katra to myself. Both at this place. On this mountain."

Christine looked at him in silence as Spock gazed at Mount Seleya with a solemn expression bordering on pain.

"Each time, I have struggled to find balance between the Vulcan part of my nature and the human part. Between the logical and the emotional. It has not been easy." Spock tore his gaze from the mountain and fixed it on her face.

Christine responded by pulling one of his hands into both of hers. Her silence seemed to spur him on as he started to tell her of his life, from his childhood, to the first tour on board the Enterprise, to his time as an adept of Kolinahr, to the years beyond.

By the time that he had reached his memories of his death and rebirth, tears were burning behind Christine's eyes. She wished that she could have shielded him from the pain ... but when she told him that, in her first words for several hours, he shook his head in refusal.

"No, Christine. That pain is a part of me. I accept that." He squeezed at her hands with the one she still imprisoned. "But after the Refusion, I had to commence my search for balance, yet again ... I have spent the last four years trying to refine the balance of logic and emotion within myself. And the more that I create that balance, the more I come to realize how much of my life has been spent in barren isolation, devoid of true warmth. I have lived my life through others, too afraid to live myself."

"How can you say that, Spock?" Christine asked, "Your friendship with Jim..."

"My relationship with Jim is a prime example. I did not choose our friendship. He chose me. Our relationship is what it is because he has pushed. Or pulled, as the situation required it. Even in this last mission, I traded on our friendship without bothering to explain my actions to him beforehand, without taking the time to see how the prospect of peace would effect him. That callousness almost cost him and Dr. McCoy their lives..."

"You can't believe that, Spock. You have been there for him, time and again. Friendship doesn't mean that you can spare him his struggles as you told me not five minutes ago. Jim had to find his own peace with the Klingons, you couldn't do it for him," Christine said firmly.

Spock smiled, minutely, at her vehement defence of him. "Perhaps. But I know that I have not always been the active friend that he has deserved..."

Christine would have disputed the point again, but Spock laid a gentle finger to her lips, quieting her.

"Besides Jim, and McCoy, I have had few relationships of any consequence. My students have been perhaps my greatest other link to the world. And in them, again, I have lived vicariously... I knew that my time with the Enterprise was nearing its end and I illogically wanted to go on in some fashion. So I tried to mold my student, Valeris, into my position. Not comprehending that her thoughts would not mirror my own. Nor that she had her own life to live. Whatever she may have done, I cannot escape that fact ... And you..."

He again touched his finger to her lips, tracing them lightly before letting his hand drift from her face.

"You, I have wronged, most of all. I rejected your love of so many years ago. Not out of a sincere lack of interest, but because I was too afraid of the consequences. Too afraid of you breaking through the bonds of my rigid logic. And in my fear, I made you afraid to love as well."

Christine stared at him as the tears that she had held back came streaming forth. She wanted to protest his statement. She wanted to say that of course she wasn't afraid, but she couldn't. She had been afraid. It had paralysed her for most of the last two months...

Spock brushed a hand steadily up the side of her neck to cup the side of her face in his hand. She leaned into his hand, closing her eyes in an attempt to fight her tears.

She felt her face being tilted towards him and then gasped as his lips touched her eyelids gently. His tenderness completely undid her. Her tears flowed even more freely as she heard him continuing with his speech.

"Christine," he whispered, pulling his other hand out of her now loose grasp in order to frame the other side of her face. "Open your eyes ... look at me."

She complied, her tears subsiding slowly as she opened her eyes to meet his gaze. His thumbs moved over her face to wipe away her tears, then he trailed his hands downward to caress her neck before moving to take both of her hands in his.

"When we began this mission and I was still torn over Valeris' betrayal, you immediately began to try to bring me out of myself. And I realized then, that I had another chance. Another chance to live life, not reject it. Not reject you ... But you have been rejecting me." He released her hands and stood up, looking as if he wished to turn away from her but was controlling the urge.

"I do not blame you. I doubt if I would believe my sincerity myself, if I were in your place. All that I can say is that I wish to try. I don't want to turn away any more."

And with that he subsided into silence, standing before her solemnly as if awaiting a judgment.

And she knew then that the next words out of her mouth would impact the rest of their lives forever...

Christine stared at Spock for a full minute before she could trust herself to speak. His eyes compelled her and she wanted to fall into them. So badly ... but she couldn't push aside what she was going to say. It was too important.

"Spock. I love you. I always have. I always will," Chris said matter-of-factly. "But more importantly, I'm in love with you." Spock started towards her but she held up her hand to stop his advance.

"No, please. I need to finish. Do you really see the distinction, Spock? I have to know that you do." Christine continued to hold his gaze with hers, though she had made no move to stand from the bench.

"I wish to understand, Christine," Spock said quietly, his voice betraying his anxiety.

"I've always known that there was a hole in my heart, my soul, that I couldn't fill myself. I've been searching all my life for the person who could fill that void. I thought that I had found that with Roger ... but I realize now that I had convinced myself that he was the one. When he wasn't. I loved him. But not enough. His second death made me realize that.

"Then I met you. And as the months and years went by, I knew that I had found the one. The one whom I could be in love with for the rest of my life; not just for a few weeks or a few years.

"You drew me to you with an almost obscene lack of effort. I wanted to know you. Truly know you. I wanted to hear you talk to me. It didn't matter about what. Just hearing your voice was enough...

"Do you see the difference? I loved Roger. But he could never complete me. Hold me captive the way you do. No other man has ever compelled me the way that you have.

"Even now, after all of these years, all you have to do is look at me for five seconds and I'm under your spell again. I've felt a peace in these last two months that I have never felt before."

Christine got up from the bench suddenly, walking toward him until she was but a few inches from him. Her eyes flashed almost angrily. Spock, taken aback, backed up a step.

"You say that I have been afraid to love. Yes! I have been afraid. I'm terrified. Terrified of learning to feel complete and then having it taken away from me. You say that you want me. How can I be sure of that? I'd rather live alone for the rest of my life than to feel that peace and then have you rip it from me when you are tired of me!" She reached up suddenly and pulled his face to hers. Quickly, she kissed him, hard and full on the lips with all of the love and desire that she possessed. Then she released him, stepping away from him.

"I feel that here." And she laid her hand over her heart. "If you want to love me as an experiment, as a test of how far you will go, then we can just leave now and pretend that this never happened."

Spock grabbed her arms then and pulled her back to him, his eyes flashing as clearly as hers had, his voice as dark and angry as she had ever heard it.

"Do you truly think me capable of such a ... perversion?" he asked, incensed, long past caring about Vulcan decorum. He lifted his hands to her head and tangled them in her hair and about her face. His lips descended upon hers, burning her, possessing her. His tongue forced itself past her lips to blaze a trail along the curves of her mouth before imprisoning her own tongue.

But neither prepared her for the force of his mind. His soul demanded audience with hers and she capitulated. At once, she was back on the Enterprise, in his room telling him that they were bound for Vulcan; then with Sargon who forced them together, their consciousness merging; then on Platonius, kissing him against her will, her fear and shame shaming him; then in her apartment at HQ with him staring at her silk nightgown clad body from the doorway.

On and on, it went, through all of their moments together until they reached their time on the mission; the images slowing to show them playing chess, or talking over a dinner that she had prepared. His thoughts grew less fierce and more tender, caressing her mind as he proved to her how much he had wanted her, needed her at those times. How much he needed her now...

Eventually, though Christine couldn't tell how much time had passed, their minds and mouths separated slowly, reluctantly. She could barely stand; her knees began to buckle, and she felt her body being lifted up and then gently deposited back onto the stone bench that had been their confessional.

Spock sat down beside her and trailed a hand down her face, then past her neck to place his hand on the center of her chest where her heart lay beating wildly in time with his. He smiled.

"Do you believe me now, Christine?" His voice was controlled now, but tinged with humor and desire.

She reached up to encircle his hand with hers and press it closer to her chest.

"Yes."

* * *

"Spock?"

"Yes, Christine," Chris heard Spock answer placidly as they stared at Seleya from their perch on the stone bench; her hand, held firmly in his, the only outward indication of the emotional scene that had taken place between them not 15 minutes ago.

"I'm sorry."

"For what, Christine?" And Chris smiled at the open curiosity and veiled affection that she could hear in Spock's voice.

"For forcing you to prove yourself to me. I should have had more faith..." Spock cut off her apology as he turned towards her.

"No, Christine. You had no reason to believe me. My constant rejections..."

Now it was Chris' turn to stop his response, which she did by placing a finger on his lips as he had done to her earlier, smiling softly.

"Shh, that's in the past. I understand now..." She turned back toward Seleya, laying her head on his shoulder as she did so.

"You needed the reassurance ... a patently 'human' need," Spock agreed, clearly faking an analyzing tone of voice.

Christine poked him in the ribs with one finger. "A need which you share, O Logical One."

"Indeed."

After mountain-watching for some minutes, Christine laughed suddenly, her head still on Spock's shoulder. Then she smiled; she could just feel his eyebrow rising...

"I was just thinking," she said quickly to forestall his inevitable question. "What will the others think? I can just hear Janice saying 'I told you so' when we get back..." She paused, her voice becoming more serious and less certain. "Unless, you want this to be our secret for now..." She moved to raise her head from his shoulder.

"It would be illogical to deny our attachment," Spock replied easily as he gently drew her head back to his shoulder and then pointed, tour guide like, at a flock of birds which flew across the sky. "An exercise in futility in any case."

Christine smiled as she sighed inwardly in relief. She hadn't much relished the idea of trying to keep their new found understanding a secret ... attempting to hide her happiness would have taken more will power than she thought she possessed...

"The amount of time we have spent together during this mission and the fact that I invited you here will have been duly noted," Spock continued. "I submit that between Commander Rand and Commander Uhura ... the news will arrive on Earth before we do."

Christine laughed again. "You're probably right, Spock ... It seems that I was the only one who refused to see ... you've probably been ready to throttle me..."

"Strangling the woman that I wish to be close to would be illogical, Christine," Spock answered mildly. "I will admit to experiencing a certain ... frustration ... with the situation."

"But you persevered," Christine replied, smiling at this further admission of emotion from him, while Spock stood abruptly and extended his hand to her in a clear invitation.

"We should go," Spock said blandly, as if by his actions to pretend that he had not made such an admission. "Mother will undoubtedly be wondering what has become of us."

Christine placed her hand in his and rose from the bench. "Of course, Spock," she replied graciously. "Hang on to your perseverance, though. You'll need it to get you through what is to come." She kept her face schooled in an earnestly serious expression.

Spock, promptly suspecting something, raised an eyebrow in silent question which Christine returned with a look of surprise.

"Don't tell me that you haven't anticipated the problem, Spock," Chris said in mock surprise. She cleared her throat and affected the Southern demeanor of their favorite kindly, friendly doctor.

"'Well, it's about time, you pointy-eared son of a Vulcan. Now, you better be good to her or so help me ... '" She stopped and laughed broadly as she watched Spock close his eyes as if in pain and then sigh as he looked down on her in fond reproach.

"It seems that we will both need the 'peace of Vulcan' in the coming days," he replied somewhat wearily; Christine's laughter the only sound to be heard as they walked to the car and their new lives.

THE END

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