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 PG.



Reflections and Commitments

Sharron Powell

Christine Chapel couldn't remember a time when she had felt happier.

And as she leaned over the verandah railing of Sarek and Amanda's home, watching a flock of birds pierce the morning sky, she knew that she would never be able to think of Vulcan without also thinking of love. The two words would forever be linked in her mind...

She laughed at herself. Her reaction would have seemed strange to most of the humans that visited the hot, dry, but still beautiful world. To most, Vulcan symbolized sterile beauty; the fierceness of the Vulcan sun, a crucible that had burned away the passions of the flesh and soul until only the logic of the mind was left.

She knew that her thoughts would have been deemed 'illogical' by the Vulcans that populated this world; their profession of emotion's inherent illogical nature precluding the acknowledgment of her sentimental view. But, still ... she thought that they might have understood her feelings; they of the outer coolness and inner fire...

That fire in one of Vulcan's sons had consumed her fears, her doubts. Spock had professed his need of her, his longing for her... she still had a hard time believing...

After twenty years, two tours on the Enterprise, scenes of death and rebirth, and now a grueling two-month mission to a set of Klingon colonies, she had finally come home ... home to his, now welcoming, arms.

And so she blessed Vulcan, the birthplace of her love, the site of his confession, as the birthplace of their new life.

* * *

They'd spent the rest of their time on Vulcan after their emotional first day at the ruins of Seleya with Spock's parents...

Spock spent time with his mother, helping her garden or just talking while Sarek had decided that Chris could use some pointers in making a formal report to the Federation Council. She and Spock's father had spent the last two days holding mock debating sessions in case she had to field questions. Spock had said that she would do fine ... but informal talks with the ambassadors at Khitomer was still vastly different than a formal session and she admitted to a growing nervousness and was quite grateful for Sarek's help.

She'd also taken the time to ask Amanda about the latest updates to the Universal Translator that the committee, of which Amanda was a member, would be taking up soon, regaling her with the usefulness of the wrist-models that they had used with the Klingons.

And she'd listened intently to Amanda's advice on living with and loving a Vulcan which was dispensed along with recipes for Vulcan sweet rolls or braised carrots.

All in all, she had felt so at home with Sarek and Amanda that she truly hated to leave ... her mother had died when she was in college, her father when she was a child. The ... yes, she would say it ... loving atmosphere that she felt at his parents' home was something she had never anticipated.

It was just like Sunday dinner or Christmas gatherings where, after dinner, you played Scrabble or listened to music together... She smiled. Except that you had to substitute debating techniques and Council tips for the Scrabble and the Vulcan harp (which Sarek and Spock had both played during the two days and three nights that they had spent on Vulcan) for a Mozart concerto...

In all the activities that whirled around them and for them, she and Spock had still managed to find time to spend alone together, whether it stargazing on the terrace at night or watching the dawn in the morning or her fixing him lunch.

They both would've liked to have done more, been more open, physically as well as emotionally. (At least, that's the impression that she picked up from Spock and the one that she was experiencing herself.) But she couldn't see making love (as much as she wanted to) in his parents' house ... it was just too embarrassing (she felt like a 17-year-old again ... especially when one of the parents had the Vulcan hearing of Spock's father.)

So they'd contented themselves with him holding her, her head on his shoulder, as they watched the dawn, and goodnight kisses at the end of day... And his caresses.

Spock hadn't said anything too emotional, verbally, since their long day at the ruins, but his kisses and his touches told her how much he wanted her. She shivered at their last truly intense 'goodnight kiss'. It had seemed to encompass their entire bodies, and he had brushed his hand across her face and let her feel his emotions through their connected minds.

She couldn't wait to get back to the ship ...

* * *

Christine knew she was being set up for an interrogation as soon as she, Spock, and Sarek beamed aboard the Excelsior. Sulu and Rand had come to meet them and properly greet the Ambassador; and while Spock, Sarek, and Sulu quickly gravitated into a conversation in the Officer's Lounge about the upcoming final status talks, Chris found herself being half-dragged by Janice to the nearest corner table.

"Well??" Janice said, cutting to the chase as they sat down.

"Hello, nice to see you too, Janice," Chris said ironically. "How was shopping?"

"Don't even think of trying to change the subject, Chris. I want the details. I have strict orders from Nyota to get the scoop. By any means necessary."

Chris had to laugh in spite of herself. "Jan, how do you know that there is something to tell?"

"Come off it, Christine. You haven't lost eye contact with Spock since you beamed up."

"We've only been back five minutes," Chris pointed out reasonably.

"Don't make me ask Spock; you know I'll do it," Jan said warningly.

Christine sighed. "Alright, Jan. Tell the grapevine that we have come to an 'understanding'."

"An understanding? That's all you plan on saying??" Rand said in disbelief, raising her voice slightly. Christine shushed at her.

"Keep your voice down! ... You know that Spock and his father can hear you ..." Christine's face grew unyielding as Rand looked at her, unrepentant.

"That's all Jan. I will not dishonor Spock by speaking of it further."

Janice sighed. She knew when Chris got that look in her eye that she was deadly serious. "You're being so touchy about it is certainly proof that something happened," Janice pointed out, emphasizing the word 'something'. " ... Or you wouldn't have anything to say that could 'dishonor him'." She smiled impishly. "But I'll be a good girl and change the subject ... what are Spock's parents like in private?"

Christine folded her arms over her chest and shook her head at Jan's audaciousness. "Janice Rand, you are incorrigible."

"I know. It's a gift," Janice dead-panned. And Chris laughed as she settled down to relate how Sarek was helping her prepare for the Council meeting on Earth in a week's time and how Amanda had been truly kind to her, leaving out any real details, of course.

As she talked and then coaxed Rand into talking about her sightseeing and shopping expeditions, Christine's eyes made contact with Spock's across the room and she smiled surreptitiously. She could almost feel his feelings brush up against hers...

* * *

By the time Spock and Christine reached her quarters, she felt a palpable sense of relief.

"We haven't been alone all day," Christine said wearily as soon as they had crossed the threshold into her room.

"That will become an ever more common occurrence as we get back to Earth," Spock replied as Chris grimaced at his mention of Earth, which was quickly becoming synonymous with the words 'Federation Council' and 'report' in her mind.

"You are still nervous about the Council session," Spock said matter-of-factly.

"I know that it's illogical," Chris began, "but when you mentioned Earth, that's what I thought of. You're the Special Envoy; I'm just a doctor..." She turned away from him, sighing in apprehension.

"You will do fine. Or should I tell Father that you have no faith in his instruction?"

Chris whirled back around to face him. "Spock! Of course not! Your father..." Her voice trailed off as she saw the humorous gleam in his eyes.

"You're teasing me," she said accusingly before smiling somewhat reluctantly and sheepishly. "I guess I was being self-indulgent, wasn't I? 'I'm a doctor, not an ambassador'." She sighed. "I have known Leonard too long ..." She shook her head ruefully, sinking into a chair at her desk and dropping her head into her hands.

"The good doctor would tell you the same thing that I have, Christine," Spock replied logically as he came up behind her and reached for the clip that pulled back her shoulder-length hair, stroking her face as he rhythmically drew her hair back from her forehead. Chris tilted her head back in pleasure, relaxing into his ministrations with a grateful sigh.

"I know. I just think that we need a break. Two months is no small chunk of time ... and you've been working on this for much longer than I have. We both need time..."

Her voice trailed off as his hands began to move down the sides of her face to her base of her neck, one hand plucking at the fasteners of her uniform jacket, while the other moved lower to swirl sensuously over one breast.

"Spock..." His name a low moan upon her lips as her body surrendered to his touch.

"There is tonight..." he whispered, his voice a deep, hypnotic enchantment she couldn't resist.

And as she rose from the chair, her jacket falling away as it was coaxed from her shoulders, her senses reeling from the warm hands that compelled her against their owner, one word escaped from her lips.

"Yes..."

* * *

When Chris woke up the next morning, she was alone. Some women might have been insulted by that; the old 'he left me the next morning' thing that had somehow survived through the ages. But she wasn't. Spock was a Vulcan. The whole idea of such an insult would have been foreign to him, she thought, for all that he had lived among humans. As for her ... it gave her time to think.

A chance to luxuriate, stretch, and reminisce about last night without worrying about Vulcan sensibilities. She smiled. She wondered what he would think of her continued appreciation ... she stretched again, arching her back languidly ... oh yes, deep appreciation ... of his efforts last night.

She smiled again. She should have known how it would be ... in all her fantasies over the years, she had left out a crucial point...

He had made love to her in the same manner the he conducted the rest of his life. Slowly, and with a single-mindedness of purpose that had left her gasping and incoherent. Methodically finding all of her secret places with the same intensity that he might have brought to bear in a search for an enemy vessel or a mathematical theorem.

His research had lasted ... well, to be honest, she couldn't remember exactly ... she had been rather occupied, after all ...

She had teased him that he should leave something to be discovered for next time ... and he had said, his eyebrow raised in mock reproach, that he couldn't possibly leave his work unfinished. That would be poor scholarship. And she had quickly ceded his point as his research pulled her to another plane of existence yet again.

Besides, he had said later, when she was able to listen (and think) once more ... a true scientist never bases a study on the results from one test ... further trials were necessary to collect accurate data. And that even after one study was complete, ongoing research was indicated if one was to strive for full mastery of the subject. The search for knowledge was never-ending, after all...

And so, as they had settled down finally to sleep and (for her) much needed rest, Chris' last thought had been that she would willingly be the subject of his research for the rest of her days ...

* * *

When Chris finally made her appearance in Rec Room 2 where Spock usually did his morning meditation, she found his father with him. And them sparring in what seemed to be a modified Tai Chi 'push hands' style.

Curious, she slipped into the nearest chair to watch them, unobserved. Their match continued for another ten minutes as Chris watched, fascinated by the intricacies of the movements and the coiled, controlled power behind them.

Eventually, Sarek bowed to his son. "I concede the match." Spock bowed in return, before reaching to the side of them for two towels, one of which he handed to his father respectfully.

"I see that I have been neglecting my studies ... and that you, my son, obviously, have not," the ambassador continued, dryly. "The last attack was unfamiliar."

"A Klingon gambit," Spock replied as they walked toward Chris' table. "At our second stop, I happened upon a group of Klingons practicing an exercise that had much in common with the old forms. After expressing an interest in their Mok'bara, as it is called, I was allowed to join in the most basic of the forms. I believe that their advanced moves are restricted from outsiders until worth is proven."

Sarek nodded in understanding. "As ours would be. Continue."

"I then demonstrated a few of the Vulcan forms. Nothing was said. But the classes became more involved thereafter," Spock finished.

"That was well done, my son," Sarek said approvingly as he sat down to one side of Christine. "Most well done. An exchange of like interests is essential if we are to truly achieve detente with the Klingons." He then turned unexpectedly to Christine, who had been waiting patiently for the two Vulcans to be finished. She knew that Vulcan curiosity, once engaged, was hard to dissuade. And she had no desire to interrupt them in any case ... they deserved to enjoy themselves ...

"Good morning, Dr. Chapel. I trust that you slept well?" Sarek said pleasantly, in what was becoming his standard greeting, a subtle teasing reminder of how she had overslept when she had first arrived on Vulcan.

"Yes, Ambassador. Very well," Christine replied in a like manner, inwardly laughing at her double meaning as she flicked a glance at Spock who had sat down next to his father, facing her.

Sarek raised an eyebrow slightly as he glanced between his son and Christine and Spock, seemingly unperturbed by the silent comment/observation, nevertheless smoothly brought their conversation to a more staid topic, the upcoming talks.

Christine sighed inwardly, laughing at herself and at her two favorite Vulcans, particularly Sarek. The man missed nothing. Oh, well. She couldn't be hiding her contentment too well, in any case...

* * *

A week later, the Excelsior docked at McKinley Station. Christine had never been happier to see the blue-green hues of Earth. Two months was quite sufficient to be away from home, nowadays. She had spent ten years in space with the Enterprise, and while that ship had felt like home, no other starship had ever felt the same. She didn't miss space assignments much any more. The Excelsior, as magnificent as she was, had never felt like more than the temporary assignment it truly was.

She wondered how Spock felt about it ... he had never had time to come to terms with the inevitability of the Enterprise's decommissioning and grounding. She knew that it had been the only true home he had ever known ... 20+ years aboard that vessel. Through life, and death, and then life again.

She would welcome him to her home, but she doubted if he would ever feel like more than a guest there. His parents would welcome him to Vulcan, and indeed held most of his things in storage for his return. But his early hard years there had prevented him from acquiring a permanent home on Vulcan, before now. She didn't know what he planned to do in the future. He hadn't spoken of it. And she was determined to wait until he was ready to broach the subject.

In the meantime, they had more immediate concerns. Their twin reports to HQ and the Federation Council. And while she fully believed that she would be released to return to her job as Head of Emergency Services, and her office in HQ, after her reports were given, she was certain that Spock would not.

He had made several favorable acquaintances during their mission to the Klingon colony worlds. Klingons who had friends. Friends who might prove useful during the selling of whatever permanent treaty resulted from the final status talks on Earth. She fully expected the Council to send Spock, along with his father, to Qo'noS with the results of the talks for face to face meetings with Chancellor Azetbor and the still covertly hostile Klingon High Council.

Only the Klingon High Council had the power to ratify treaties and while they had reluctantly approved the Khitomer Accords, those were stop-gap, one-day at a time type agreements. Only the ratification of the Final Status treaty, if indeed one was reached, would ensure the normalization of relations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire for future generations.

They wouldn't even have time to relax once they docked. Starfleet Chief of Staff Morgan had scheduled their de-briefing at 15:30. Only two hours from now.

And so it was that Christine and Spock were on their way through standard Station security when she saw them ...

Captain Kirk, Uhura, and ... she sighed ... Leonard were all waiting for them on the other side of the glass doors. Christine glanced over at Spock. He looked unperturbed at the prospect of the well and true grilling that no doubt awaited them.

"Well, the whole Inquisition Board seems to have convened," Christine said, sotto voce, to Spock, who had her favorite travel bag slung over his shoulder.

He had arranged, quite logically, to have his things beamed directly to her home on the outskirts of HQ.

She had approached him hesitantly with the suggestion, thinking that he might have objected to the impression of 'living together' that some would draw from the arrangements. But he had reminded her that, as he had told her at Seleya's ruins: he had no desire to try to hide their understanding. Besides, he planned on seeing her most nights till their new assignments came through; it would be illogical to procure temporary quarters at HQ when he would rarely be in them ...

"Maybe we should have beamed directly from Excelsior to my house, like your father did to the Presidential Compound," she continued.

"Illogical, Christine," Spock began calmly. "We do not have the proper diplomatic clearance."

Christine glanced at him quickly, recognizing a joke when she heard one. She smiled at him, barely holding back laughter, and he returned her mirth with an quirked eyebrow.

"You're right, as always, Spock," she dead-panned as they walked through the doors. Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Time to face the music."

"Indeed."

Uhura rushed to greet them, giving Spock a cheerful hello and Christine a big hug, while Jim and Leonard lagged behind. Leonard, in particular, looking as if he was studying them for any outward changes.

"Christine. The wires said that the mission was a complete success. I take back all my misgivings. You done good, girl," Uhura said, wrapping one arm around Christine's waist as she accepted Chris' thanks and they turned to watch Spock greet his best friend.

"Spock. Congratulations. Nogura has been regaling me with preliminary reports from your mission. I think that he wants the Enterprise to take your father to Qo'noS once the final status talks are completed."

"Indeed? I was not aware of that. May I ask what you have decided, Jim?" Spock replied, his voice giving away his restrained, but surprised, pleasure at the prospect of one more mission with the man who would forever be his Captain as well as his friend.

"I haven't told him yes or no yet. The Excelsior and Sulu could just as easily handle ferrying the envoy. You think you'll be dragged along? I know that you haven't had a break since this all started."

Spock nodded. "I estimate the odds to be in the 80th percentile or higher."

"That means he's sure; he just wants to seem humble about it," McCoy interjected in his typically caustic manner. "Y'all can talk shop till the cows come home. Later. I have more important fish to fry." He glanced meaningfully from Spock to Christine, his voice a sly drawl. "I understand that congratulations are in order ..."

"Congratulations, Doctor?" Spock asked quizzically. Christine knew that he was affecting his usual 'Vulcan' manner to tease their long-time friend. "The Captain and Commander Uhura have already expressed satisfaction at the completion of our mission. Do you wish to add your opinion to theirs? Christine and I will certainly accept it. It has been a long mission."

Christine barely could contain herself at the look of not so restrained vexation on her mentor's face. She shook her head as she looked over at Uhura. Spock could still pull Len's chain like no other. And vice versa.

"I'm not talking about the dammed mission, and you know it. I'm talking about you and 'Christine' here," emphasizing her name as he stared Spock down. Eventually, he whirled to Christine as he realized that he would get no satisfaction from his long-time sparring partner.

"Well, Chris? How about you? You plan on tellin' your favorite doctor the good news?" His voice had turned honey-sweet, the Southern charm oozing from every pore.

Christine made a show of thinking about it. "Well, I do think that I'll get some time off after our briefings ... do you want me to visit you in Atlanta? See the clinic?"

Leonard was about to erupt when Kirk interrupted him. "Enough, Bones. Enough," he said grinning. "They get de-briefed in two hours. They don't need you grilling them." He turned his attention to Spock.

"Spock, I know that you usually stay in temporary housing ... I've never understood why you haven't just bought a place ... but you are welcome at the apartment. You need to contact Excelsior?"

"That will not be necessary, Jim. My travel items have already been beamed to their destination. Thank you for your concern."

Kirk looked at him in momentary confusion before realization set in. His face took on a mischievous aspect as if he couldn't resist asking his friend the obvious follow-up question and knew that Spock would accommodate him. "Where?"

Spock hesitated only briefly; a fact which amused and delighted Chris immensely. "At Christine's residence. It seemed the logical solution." His face reflected no concern that the arrangement was anything out of the ordinary.

Their friends reflected somewhat different reactions, however, ranging from Nyota's serene smile and subtle squeezing of the arm which was still wrapped around Chris' waist, to Kirk's wide grin.

Leonard just looked from Spock and Christine with an unreadable expression as Spock and Kirk turned to leave the spaceport and they all followed. He brought up the rear and his mutterings made Christine want to laugh out loud ...

"Damn Vulcan ... Can't tell a man straight out the good news. Gotta wait for his Captain to ask him ..."

* * *

Their pow-wow with their friends in a conveniently placed officer's lounge near Chief of Staff Morgan's office was the only pleasant conversation they had that day.

After promising to meet them all the next evening for dinner, Christine and Spock left for their meeting. When they arrived, they were promptly separated and Christine was stuck facing Morgan and a panel of 10 other high-ranking officials all by herself.

She had been through these de-briefings many times before, of course, but rescue missions were usually straight-forward ... not so a mission to the Klingons, as evidenced by the length of time they questioned her. Three hours.

She had to relate the precise actions and reactions of her staff and the colony dwellers for each colony they had visited.

They paid special attention to her initial contact with the Klingons at the first colony when she had spoken up to tell the Klingons off after they had left Spock and their team stranded in a sea of silence; the panel grilled her and grilled her on whether she thought that her actions were standard procedure ...

Then they had harped on her reactions when she had learned of the Klingon practice of killing deformed newborns ... she was extremely uncomfortable with the topic, as could be imagined. She relayed and relayed her reactions and personal opinions while emphasizing that she hadn't expressed her dissenting views and that they had not effected the outcome of their mission to that colony or her working relationship with the Klingon medical director for the colony.

After that, they had moved on to the one colony that had refused treatment. They hinted that maybe it had been her inadequate or incompetent skills at diplomacy and persuasion that had caused that colony to refuse help. She bristled inwardly as she calmly responded that she had done the best she could and that they had left medical supplies with another colony for the colony's use if they changed their mind.

But when they insinuated that the likely future deaths at the colony would be on her head, she lashed out in self defense. The colony's rejection had been heart-wrenching to her ... especially the prospect of juvenile deaths ... and to hear these bunch of ... bureaucratic bastards ... blame her for their deaths ... she couldn't take it.

"With all due respect, gentlemen." There were no women on the panel, a fact that she was not surprised at ... "You weren't there. I was. And I reject your insinuations. We offered them help. They refused it. If you feel that I have been negligent in any way, take it up with the Surgeon General.

"We've spent two months on this mission. Two months of 25 hour days and more work and death than you can imagine. My team did a hell of job out there and I demand that they receive the respect and commendations that are due them. Regardless of what you may think of my performance."

Silence reigned as she calmly stared down the men that had the fate of her career, and more importantly, of the officers under her command, in their hands.

"That will be all, Dr. Chapel," Morgan said finally. "You may go."

* * *

When she and Spock finally reached her apartment, Christine knew that something was wrong. Spock had had a closed look on his face ever since his de-briefing with Morgan. She knew that he wouldn't tell her what was wrong; his designation as the Special Envoy meant that he was given information that few others could know ... especially some Commander that the panel apparently held in low esteem.

The saboteurs of Khitomer still had friends. Some in high places, who would like nothing better than to kill the fragile peace between the Federation and the Klingons. So, security was paramount ...

She couldn't help him deal with that burden directly; but she could give him her unqualified support and have faith that all would go right in the end ...

"Spock?" Chris said hesitantly as she let him into her apartment and called for lights. "How about we go out to dinner? We haven't had any time to do something just for us since we docked. I could change into something less ... 'Fleet, and we could go. You have to be starving. I know that you didn't eat lunch."

"Vulcans do not eat lunch, Christine," Spock said, somewhat distantly.

Christine made a face at his statement. "Yes, yes, I know. All the more reason to eat now ... I'll only be a minute," she said, moving past him toward her bedroom.

She had just removed her jacket when she felt a presence behind her. "Spock? What is it? Is something wrong?"

"I'm not hungry, Christine," Spock replied, his voice close to her ear and pitched in a way that made her shiver. "Could we not stay here for now?"

Christine smiled to herself. "I suppose so ... what do you have in mind?" she said, her voice laden with subtle innuendo and modulated to match his soft, dulcet tones.

Chris couldn't see him ... he stayed behind her as his arms moved to surround her, his lips on her ear and the side of her neck, his hands busy on her body. Her clothes seemed to melt to the floor but before she could turn around to help him shed his clothes, she found herself being lifted and placed gently on her bed, his mouth on her neck ... and his mind calling out to hers as he gently placed his fingers to lay atop her psi points ...

* * *

When Christine awoke early the next morning, she turned over to find Spock propped up on one elbow, staring at her as if studying her. It was the first time that he had still been in bed when she woke up. She wondered why he wasn't meditating.

"Good morning," Chris said sleepily as she stretched slightly.

"Good morning. I trust that you slept well?" Spock returned, copying his father's greeting to her with a faint hint of a smile on his lips.

"Very well," Chris replied, "You are welcome to use the living room to meditate if you wish ... or in here. I'll try not to disturb you," she said solicitously, knowing that he wasn't used to her apartment.

"I decided to forgo the disciplines, today." He paused, uncertainty just discernible in his eyes. "I would like to speak to you."

Christine pulled herself up to a sitting position, wrapping her half of the sheet around herself as she settled back against the headboard. "Okay. I'm ready to listen. Is something wrong?"

"Not ... wrong ..." Spock began hesitantly. He took a breath, seemingly to order his thoughts. "I have been thinking about ... us," and he nodded towards her, "and I find that I have been remiss."

Christine tilted her head, quizzically. "In what way?"

"I told you of my life, of some of my thoughts, when we were on Vulcan. I would say that you know me. Not completely, of course. No one knows another completely ... but, I find that I don't know you."

Christine smiled, touched by the sentiment he seemed to be displaying. "Is that why you touched my mind last night? To be closer?" She knew that he had accessed her surface thoughts and feelings (mostly flashes of desire and fulfilment) during their lovemaking. "You haven't done that since Vulcan."

Spock nodded, his expression a mix of tenderness and self-consciousness. "I should apologize ... my actions have not been regular ..."

Christine shook her head. "I love feeling your mind touch mine ... Spock, I never forgot the time we shared consciousness ... it's one of my most precious memories ..." Spock looked relieved by her statement as he nodded in acknowledgment of her words.

"I reached for your mind in anger, that day at the ruins, Christine. Since then, I've wanted to ... share your joy. Your responses. I often feel your emotions when I touch you." He paused to caress her forehead and brush back her hair. "But lately, I have become too ... eager ... to access your thoughts. A Vulcan would understand ..."

"I'm not Vulcan ... but I do understand ... the true melding of minds is a natural option for you." Christine reached for his hand that had lingered in her hair and held it to her cheek.

"Do you wish to fully meld with me? Explore my thoughts?" Christine asked seriously, an undertone of acceptance and love in her voice.

Spock shook his head ruefully, as if tempted, and gently removed his hand from her face. "No, Christine. I've relied too much on the ability to sense your thoughts, your emotions ... I must be able hear your words and truly understand the thoughts behind them ..."

"Alright," she replied softly. "So, what do you want to know?"

"Anything that you are willing to tell me," Spock replied. "I have seen glimpses of it when I've touched your mind; your inner life that I was always too ... afraid ... to learn of when we were aboard the Enterprise." He stared deeply into her eyes. "Tell me of your life, Christine."

And so she did. They spent the early morning hours in bed (they had the day off to rest up before the council session the next day) with Christine talking of her childhood with her parents and her feelings when her father died so early in her life. She continued with her bioresearch degree experience and her mother's death. And then she reached Roger Korby ...

Spock asked her questions throughout. Thoughtful, gentle questions which nevertheless seemed designed to draw her out more. Christine began to get the distinct impression that there was an urgency in his questions, as if he thought that he wouldn't be able to ask her later ...

And so, after speaking of her life, and answering his questions, for several hours, Christine finally got around to asking her question.

"Spock?" Christine murmured softly as she lay entwined in his arms, her head on his chest. "Why are you asking me this today?? Why not last week? Or later, when we get some time off after the council session?"

She could feel him hesitate beneath her as if contemplating a safe answer to her question.

"Must there be a reason, Christine? You deserve the same interest in your existence that you have always shown toward mine." He tilted his head down and kissed the top of her head, an act which Christine found made her eyes fill up with tears, such was its still surprisingly open tenderness. His voice became softer as he continued.

"I would have you with me, Christine ... ever and always ..."

Startled, Christine turned over to look at him, her hands on his chest, her eyes searching his face. She said nothing, preferring to wait for him to finish.

"But I cannot ask that of you, not if I do not take the time to know you. It would not be fair ... to either of us. I saw your caring, your ... highs and lows, your humor, your unselfish heart, every day during our mission ... your stubborn dedication when your help is needed ... even when you should be asleep or gaining sustenance ..." A smile lit up his eyes as he touched her nose with one finger.

"Your anger when a life is threatened or pushed aside. Your ... willingness to argue when you believe that you are right ... not that I have ever been the recipient of such a tirade," he dead-panned.

Christine laughed at the expression of long suffering that he affected, while inwardly being close to tears by his words ...

"I know that I should have responded to those qualities, long ago, when we first knew each other ... but I was not ready. I value you, Christine. I said as much at the ruins of Seleya. I wish for you to be with me ... but I need time to become worthy of that honor ..."

Reaching up to cradle his face in her hands, Christine sighed, profoundly moved. "You are worthy ... Spock, you are the noblest, kindest person that I have ever known ... I love you ... and we have the rest of our lives. There's no need to rush things."

Spock's face, still held in her hands, suddenly clouded over as if he silently disagreed with her statement. Christine slowly lowered her hands as she noticed the change ...

"There is something wrong, isn't there?" Christine asked apprehensively. "Something you aren't telling me ..." Her eyes searched his face, but he had closed himself off. He moved to get out of the bed, but Christine grabbed his arm, swiftly moving to a sitting position. Her voice trembled.

"Spock, please ... we have to deal with the bad as well as the good if we are to be together ... don't shut me out ..."

He turned back, slowly sitting on the edge of the bed.

"Christine, I cannot speak of it ... just know that my ... fear ... exists and that I am attempting to master it." He paused, dark eyes boring into hers. "Can you accept that answer?"

"I accept anything and everything that you are willing to give, Spock," she replied, deliberately letting the sheet, which had covered her body, fall to her waist.

He smiled, ever so minutely, as he reached for her. "Perhaps we can conquer it, together ..."

* * *

The rest of the day was uneventful. Spock had been summoned to HQ for another meeting, so Chris had called Nyota and they'd met for lunch at 'Rino's. And beyond a opening teasing comment from Uhura that she looked more rested than she had ever looked before, lunch was mercifully clear of pumping for information about Spock and her.

They spent the day talking about nothing, really, just content to sit and watch the ships sail in and out of 'Frisco bay from the large picture windows that dominated the restaurant's layout.

Christine had no interest in speaking of her de-briefing, even if she had had clearance to speak and Nyota, who knew her better than almost anyone, let her brood in companionable silence and light chatter.

And so it was that they both were quite surprised to see Spock and Jim rush into the restaurant and approach their table.

Spock opened the dialogue with little preamble. "An emergency session of the Council has been convened for 20 minutes from now. Our reports are required. We must meet with my father as soon as possible."

Christine stood up, startled, Uhura close on her heels. She opened her mouth to ask him why and thought better of it at the closed expression on Spock's face. This probably had to do with the news he had received from his de-briefing ... the one he couldn't tell her about ... the one that made him afraid. She looked over at Jim Kirk. His face was as grim as Spock's.

She nodded in acknowledgment. "It's a good thing that I wore my uniform, then. I had planned to visit my office at HQ later." Why hadn't they just paged her??

"Indeed." Spock turned to Nyota. "I apologize for stealing away your lunch companion, Commander."

"Oh, that's alright," Uhura replied. "Duty calls." She shifted her attention to Christine. "I'll stay and pay for lunch, Chris. You go on."

"But you paid last time," Chris protested.

"Consider it a welcome home lunch." Uhura wrapped her arms around Chris in a brief hug. "Call me later, if you can."

"I will," Christine replied. As Uhura left to pay the bill, Spock and Jim who had been looking increasingly impatient (it would have been quite funny seeing their twin looks if the situation hadn't been so urgent), both turned to leave with Spock's hand coming to rest surreptitiously at her elbow as they walked out.

Ten minutes later, they were standing outside the Federation Council chamber. Sarek stood waiting for them, dressed in his usual, somber but elegant, Ambassadorial robes.

"Spock, I see that you have found her. Good," Sarek commented as they reached him. "The session convenes shortly. I must take you in now as they wish to hear your testimony first, my son, with Dr. Chapel's next." He turned his attention to Christine.

"You and the Captain must wait here. Someone will come for you when the Council is ready to see you." He shifted his attention back to his son. "The time has come. We must go." And with that, Sarek turned and left, his robes trailing behind him. Spock paused briefly to fix Christine with an intense stare and then followed his father into the chamber.

Christine spent the next hour in tense non-conversation with Jim Kirk. He knew something about what was going on, but he obviously couldn't speak to her of it any more than Spock could. They talked instead of his latest sailing expedition and McCoy's new clinic in Atlanta, with Christine's anxiety mounting by the minute.

Eventually, a tall, thin, messenger in a Starfleet uniform came to tell her that the Council was ready for her. And with an encouraging grin and hand wave from Jim, Christine followed the messenger, suddenly glad that the wait was over.

* * *

When Christine entered the room, the only sound she heard was the echoing sound of her own footsteps. For half a second, she wondered why this was so ... the Council chamber was usually alive with the buzz of whispers and talking delegates. Then she realized why. There were only 8 people in the room.

There before her sat the seven members of the Federation Security Council, the august body made up of the ambassadors from the founding members of the United Federation of Planets: Smythe of Terra, Sarek of Vulcan, Kiran of Alpha Centauri, Grimwald of Tellar, and Llars of Andor as well as the Commander in Chief of Starfleet, and as mediator, guide, and deciding vote if necessary, the President of the UFP. And one other ... the Klingon Ambassador, Kamarang.

Reaching the front, center of the room, she stood at attention, arms folded behind her back. "Dr. Christine Chapel, reporting as instructed."

The President spoke first, his gentle voice washing over her, putting her somewhat at ease. "We apologize for the suddenness of this session, Dr. Chapel. But certain ... events," he glanced over at the Klingon Ambassador, "have necessitated this action. Your testimony is appreciated." He hit his gavel on the table behind which all of the ambassadors sat.

Turning back to the Klingon Ambassador, he signaled his willingness for the questioning to begin. Kamarang stood and approached Christine, coming close enough to her that she could feel his breath on her face.

"Doctor," he began, and he made the word 'doctor' seem like an curse, "why did you advocate the mission to our colony worlds? Were you interesting in seeing Klingons grovel for treatment? Maybe you were interested in experimenting of the Klingon race, perhaps?"

"No, sir," Christine replied calmly. It was funny how, now that she was here, she felt almost no apprehension. She could answer these questions.

"I am a doctor and there is no more sacred tenant to a doctor than this: 'Life must be preserved'. When I was assigned to an advisory team for the Khitomer Conference, I studied the medical issues for the ambassadors. And it became readily apparent that your colony worlds would need medical attention to counteract the effects of Praxis' explosion. Medical attention that the physicians on those colony worlds, fine field medics and general practitioners all, were not trained to provide. Attention that The Powers That Be weren't likely to consider of immediate importance."

Kamarang's eyes narrowed at her words with the veiled accusation of negligence on the part of the Klingon High Council. Christine didn't respond to his ire, but inwardly she responded. Think on that, Mr. Klingon Ambassador, sir. You know that your precious High Council would have left them to die. Casualties of a tragic accident. They weren't on the Homeworld ... of little strategic importance ... dissidents and troublemakers all, weren't they??

"They needed help, quite simply. They deserved help. And as a doctor, I wanted to make sure that they received that help."

Kamarang stepped back slightly to look into her eyes. She felt as if she was being weighed for sincerity. She stared back. From her mission experience, she knew that Klingons considered looking away at such times a sign of weakness.

He continued to question her, mostly questions about her working relationships with the Klingons she'd met, though he had asked her to explain her treatment methods in some detail. She started to get the impression that he was genuinely curious about her. She wondered if he'd ever, in all the years that he'd been the Klingon Ambassador to the Federation, actually spoken with an average Federation citizen, which although she was a Starfleet officer, she still considered herself to be.

She respected the ambassadors that she had met and worked with, such as Sarek, but she knew that they would have always had an agenda, whenever they would have talked. No conversation could have been completely free of intrigue. She wondered if Kamarang was tired of it; the distrust...

Eventually, he finished and, miraculously, he nodded his head slightly in her direction before he gifted the Security Council with his usual distrustful glare and walked out of the chamber. He had asked few questions of any real import. She hoped that her honor had been found worthy ...

Now that she was alone with the Council, the questions shifted to the more familiar mix of pointed questions and veiled insinuations, Sarek asking her only a few questions. She had little time to wonder about his uncustomary silence as the questions flew fast and furious.

She found herself actually grateful for Morgan's treatment of her yesterday ... maybe he had been trying to prepare her ... she would have to ask him about it. Later.

The focus of the questions was different than her de-briefing at HQ, though. She found the emphasis to be more on whether she had inadvertently promised the Klingons she had treated Federation action on other fronts; whether she had practiced diplomacy without a license, as it were. Been indiscreet. She assured them that she had not. She was a doctor. That's all. No more. No less.

After another hour of questioning, she found herself abruptly being dismissed as the Security Council rose as one. She felt disoriented. Had she missed some silent signal.. The secret handshake ... where was her decoder ring when she needed it ...

"We thank you for your testimony, Dr. Chapel," the President said sincerely. "Please wait in the conference area." He paused to look at the Starfleet's CIC. "I believe that our Starfleet colleagues will wish to speak to you further. This meeting is adjourned." And with that he struck down his gavel one more time, the council members filed out, and she was left alone.

Why would 'Fleet talk with her here? Couldn't they talk to her back at HQ? She sighed ... she was getting tired of innuendo and evasions. She hoped that this one last meeting would provide the answers ...

* * *

When Christine walked into the small conference room adjoining the Council chamber she found several of her favorite men already there.

Seeing Spock and Jim there wasn't a particular surprise; but Sulu was there too. Her brow wrinkled in puzzlement as they rose at her entrance. She spoke first.

"May I assume that I passed whatever test was being conducted out there since I'm in here with you three?" Christine asked, her voice a mix of exasperation and resignation.

Spock raised an eyebrow at her question and its tone, while Jim looked as if he was going to make a tension-breaking joke. But before either of them could speak, she heard the familiar voice of her second favorite Vulcan issue forth from behind her.

"I would say so, Dr. Chapel."

Sarek walked in, Fleet Chief of Staff Morgan at his heels, and motioned to the room's complement to sit down. She took a seat opposite Spock and next to Sulu.

"The Ambassador is right," Morgan replied as he sat at one end of the conference table while Sarek took his place at the other end. "Sorry for the shoddy treatment. But we had to be sure."

Christine spoke up at that vague statement. "Sure of what, sir?" She was growing more confused by the minute.

"All in due time, Doctor. The background first. The terraforming team which has been quietly working on the new Klingon Homeworld has been experiencing 'accidents'-- spontaneous detonations of materials, accidents among the staff, both Klingon and human, etc." Christine gasped slightly, a reaction that did not escape Morgan or the rest of the men in the room. He turned the full force of his gaze upon her. "I think that you know some of the principals involved, Doctor ..."

"Yes, sir. Most of the members of the Khitomer Advisory team that I was originally assigned to are there in some capacity." Including Sarah McIntrye, Environmental Sciences, head of the terraforming effort; Reg Delvin, Corp of Engineers, who took care of the physical aspects of the projects while McIntyre handled the molecular conditioning of the soils, etc; and Robert Crabtree of Starfleet Security, assigned to provide security. Security that obviously wasn't enough ...

Morgan was continuing. "Problems are to be expected on a project of this magnitude, the reconditioning of an entire planet. But the frequency of these setbacks cannot be coincidence."

"I'm sorry if I'm being dense, sir," Christine began, made hesitant by the lack of questions being raised by the others. "But what do I have to do with any of this?" Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Spock and Jim Kirk exchange glances.

"I'll come right to the point. We want to send you to the planet as the new doctor on staff for the terraforming mission. Their doctor was killed in one of the 'accidents'. While there, you will stay on planet with the rest of the team, mingle with them, draw them out, and report any suspicious activity to your liaison with Starfleet."

"You want me to spy on them?" Christine stared at Morgan for a second before scanning the faces of her friends and her lover. No expression of an opinion could be gleaned from any of their faces. She could hardly believe it ... she wasn't a spy ... where was Leonard to say that she was a doctor, not an operative ...

"We understand your apprehension, Doctor," Sarek interjected for the first time since Morgan's briefing had begun. "But we believe that your working knowledge of the members of the Advisory team will be invaluable in apprehending the culprits."

Christine turned her attention to the ambassador, trying to gain confidence from his matter-of-fact tone. "Then you believe that one of them is responsible." It wasn't a question.

"Yes," Sarek replied simply. "The odds of the sabotage being the work of one of the three department heads, McIntyre, Delvin, or Crabtree, or allies of theirs, are in the 75th percentile based on the access needed to stage some of the mishaps. We must find the culprit or culprits. Time is of the essence."

"Indeed." All heads turned to look at Spock as he elaborated on his interjection. "The timing of these attacks could not have come at a worse time, as the saboteurs surely know. The Final Status treaty is nearly complete. But the Klingons have been made aware of the mishaps at the terraforming project and are understandably suspicious. They do not believe that these problems are accidents any more than we do. The mistrust created by these 'accidents' could well scuttle the treaty."

Morgan took up the explanation again, moving to conclude their explanation. "It would take Starfleet Security too long to infiltrate the team with an operative and have that operative be accepted and trusted in the group dynamic. And to be honest, with Crabtree's connections in the Security branch, we couldn't guarantee that an operative would be free of bias, in any case. We need someone who is already an insider. That insider is you, Dr. Chapel."

Christine looked around the room. None of the others seemed surprised at this news. They'd obviously been briefed about this before her. She said nothing for a long moment and no one else spoke as they waited her decision.

Finally, she sighed, barely audibly. "You mentioned a liaison to report to, while I'm there?" She knew that she was indicating that she would accept the assignment ... but there was no reason to pretend that their persuasion wasn't working ...

"That would be me," Sulu said, from beside her. "The Excelsior has been assigned to a joint patrol mission with the Klingons ... we will be within range of the communications equipment that you will be provided with at all times. You won't be alone."

She tried to smile at him, to convey her confidence in him, but she felt rather numb. All she could manage was a slight grimace before turning her attention back to Morgan.

"Captains Kirk and Spock, and Ambassador Sarek will be headed to Qo'noS within the hour for the face to face talks with Chancellor Azetbor and the Klingon High Council. The Excelsior will be leaving for the terraforming station in the same time frame. Your mission will be a vital link to the success of the talks on Qo'noS.

"But rest assured, Dr. Chapel ... you aren't just a plant. Your knowledge as a medical doctor is needed. The Klingons brought only limited medical supplies on their end and you are the most qualified doctor available to handle the medical needs of both the Klingon and human staff members on the terraforming team.

"We just want you to ... pump the grapevine. Be observant. If you find anything out of kilter, you are to immediately report it to Captain Sulu. No heroics will be required of you. Know that in either capacity, you will be serving the cause of peace." Morgan paused at this point to fix her with a piercing glance.

"So, for the record, Doctor Chapel. Your decision?" Morgan asked, in a tone that was supremely confident of her answer. Christine returned his gaze steadily.

"I accept."

* * *

"You will be careful, I trust."

Christine nodded to Spock, surreptitiously smiling at the tone of his voice which was half a request, half a command as they stood in a transporter room which was set to beam her to Excelsior. He and the Enterprise would be leaving within the hour for Qo'noS in order to escort his father and his staff to the final status talks.

"I'll be careful," she replied, raising her head to look in his eyes, affecting a calm she didn't feel.

"Remember that heroics are not required." Spock stared down at her sternly, as if lecturing a cadet on procedure. Christine would have been offended at his authoritarian tone, but she knew that he only acted this controlled when he was concerned, and in truth she loved that he was concerned for her.

"Don't you trust me, Spock?" she asked in mock affront, straightening to full attention. "I promise to carry out this mission to the best of my ability. No unnecessary actions. Sir."

She gave him a crisp salute, her face betraying a small smile as she indicated with her eyes her intention to provoke him out of his Captain mode. Her smile grew as she saw his face register a mixture of mild annoyance at her actions as well as barely restrained affection.

"Trust in you is not the issue, Christine. As well you know." And his voice, which had modulated to a more gentle tone, softened the chiding nature of his words.

Christine face grew serious again. She was afraid for him as well. "I know, Spock." She sighed, rubbing her forehead lightly in agitation. "Don't you think that I am worried about you too?"

She stopped before mentioning the word sabotage to reference to his mission or hers. They weren't alone. A transporter tech stood waiting (impatiently) for them to finish.

"Dissent can take many forms. I think we both remember Khitomer," she finished matter-of-factly. "So you be careful yourself. Or you'll have an angry doctor on your hands when we meet again." She smiled wanly, briefly reaching out to touch his arm for reassurance before she thought better of it.

She had never touched him in public during the weeks since their understanding. She didn't want to embarrass him or fly in the face of Vulcan sensibilities as it applied to men and women.

Spock took care of her dilemma by turning his body slightly to better shield them from the transporter tech's gaze and then running a finger against the back of her hand. She shivered imperceptibly at the light touch.

"I would not wish to invoke your 'righteous' anger, so clearly learned at the feet of our good Dr. McCoy," he dead-panned softly, his eyes expressing his regard for her. "So I will be vigilant, if you will do the same. And when we meet again, I shall expect a more ... pleasant ... greeting than anger."

Christine smiled. "You've got a deal." Pulling away reluctantly, she kept her eyes on him as she backed up to the dias. "I guess I'd better go. I never have been good with goodbyes."

"Not a goodbye," Spock answered firmly as he raised his hand into the Vulcan salute. "I expect to be greeting you soon. Live long and prosper, Christine."

"Peace and long life to you, Spock," she replied, adding the words I love you in her mind.

* * *

Spock's words reverberated in her mind in the long days spent on Excelsior hurtling to their destination.

Be careful. She damn well would be careful. She only wished she felt as much confidence as she had tried to project to Spock. She knew that he had seen through her.

She read and re-read the reports of the various acts of sabotage at the terraforming site where she would be assuming CMO duties. Her brain was working overtime, trying to interpret cold, impersonal reports with the real human beings that she had come to know during the Khitomer negotiations ...

She had known Sarah McIntrye, head of the terraforming effort, for over ten years ... they had both been part of a bio-research team on the planet of Zaltan IV when upheaval in the earth's crust beneath them had swept over the city and their small research facility. The death and destruction had been massive. And they had been stuck without help from Starfleet for several weeks before being rescued by the Enterprise which had dropped her off there in the first place for her first post-second-five-year-mission assignment. She and Sarah had grown close in the aftermath, taking care of the few survivors with the minimal medical supplies and food stores that had survived; cheering each other through the times when they had doubted whether anyone would come back in time to save them ...

She just couldn't believe that Sarah would sabotage her own terraforming mission. But she had to put aside her personal feelings... Sarah had the expertise to have carried off the sabotage ... and the reports said that she had been unaccounted for in some of the accidents. But not all, Christine thought to herself. That counted in her favor. And she had seemed to interested in the peace process with the Klingons during Khitomer. There were certainly other suspects...

Reg Delvin, Corp of Engineers, who took care of the physical aspects of the projects had just as much knowledge as Sarah ...

He was a quiet sort of man, unobtrusive. He did his job, then went home. He had rarely socialized with the rest of the team during the weeks leading up to Khitomer. And it was always said that the quiet ones bore watching ... but being content with your own company was no sure-fire sign of a criminal mind. If it was, Spock would have been locked up years ago... She smiled briefly at the thought of a stiff First Officer of the Enterprise being placed in the brig for preferring meditation to a team sport ...

She sighed. Thinking about Spock made her feel empty as if something was missing from her heart. How quickly he had meshed into her life ... she missed him already. She sighed again. She'd better get back to reviewing the reports ...

The prime suspect in her mind had to be Robert Crabtree of Starfleet Security ... he had been openly hostile and cynical about the peace process from the first meeting of the team ... but that could just as well be a candid honesty ... Janice Rand felt like he did and she supposed that if he had wanted to sabotage the process he would have been more circumspect in his feelings, preferring stealth. But nevertheless, he was trained in all aspects of security, trained in both covert and overt actions. He had the wherewithal to pull off these 'accidents' efficiently and remain unseen. He too had not been accounted for during all of the events.

Her head was starting to spin. They all had opportunity to carry out the sabotage ... and she hadn't even looked over the key Klingon members of the terraforming team. It was quite possible that the Klingon co-head of the mission or one of his aides didn't like being beholden to Starfleet for their new world and would have liked to have taken one instead ...

But Starfleet was fairly certain from looking at the patterns of absences during the accidents (the Klingons, to a man, had been sighted with someone from the Federation team when attacks took place), as well as fact that the Klingon members of the team had been given only limited access to key systems since most were non-scientists advising on needs for the new homeworld, that one of her former team members had the most means and opportunity. That didn't mean that the Klingons weren't behind it.

She rubbed her forehead in consternation. It would be easy to just pass this off as the work of a Klingon malcontent faction. And the Enterprises' dealings with Klingons in the past had shown that Klingons could be devious and crafty when required. But the Klingons she had met had been honorable and straightforward with their beliefs and opinions. If they didn't like something, they said so straight out. They didn't sneak around. They went right after you ...

Ah, it was hopeless ... she couldn't get any ideas from these reports. She would have to wait till she was there in person ... they would arrive at the planet being terraformed in another day. And she couldn't afford preconceived notions. She had to observe their actions, not what she expected to see ...

She snorted. How logical. Spock would be proud ... . She hoped that his trip to Qo'noS would be less of a bear than she knew her mission would be. But she seriously doubted it.

And as she settled down to a fitful night's sleep (Vulcan warmth had been better than a sleep aid), she thought a silent entreaty of protection for the man who had quickly established himself as the most important person in her life as well as a plea for strength for herself.

She would take all of the help she could get ...

* * *

It was mid-morning when the Excelsior reached the planet known as Zeta 5, soon to be the new Klingon Homeworld, which was situated deep inside Klingon space, far away from the catastrophe on Praxis.

And as she and Sulu beamed down to meet the terraforming team, Christine couldn't help feeling let down at the desolate vistas that stretched out before her. She hadn't considered the Klingon colonies she had visited to be examples of paradise, certainly, but now she found herself wishing for such a high level of civilization.

Dust rose from the land beneath their feet. There was a modest stand of trees that surrounded the compound. Certainly no forest. And she could see a lake in the background, apparently held back by a dam of some kind. But beyond the natural surrounding, there was nothing. Hardly any buildings. There was a series of one story, utilitarian trailers that seemed to house the team as evidenced by the few bits of decoration: a Federation flag and its Klingon counterpart as well as another set of buildings a little bit away that Christine immediately recognized as science labs from her many years as a bio-researcher.

Suddenly she heard a familiar voice beside her. "Home Sweet Home."

Christine and Sulu turned quickly to see the welcoming face of Sarah McIntyre, head of the terraforming mission. Christine smiled, laughing at her friend's characteristic subtle humor.

"Says you," Christine replied, just as playfully. "I would have preferred to stay home ... on Earth."

"Well, you're stuck with us now." Sarah said matter-of-factly.

Christine turned again to indicate Sulu who had been waiting patiently for them to complete their hellos. "I'm being rude ... this is Captain Sulu of the Excelsior."

Sulu shook hands with the doctor then held back as Christine brought up the next topic.

"So what's this about accidents, Sarah?" Chris asked curiously as they walked into the compound.

Christine had talked over with Spock and Morgan how to approach the subject of the sabotage at the terraforming site and the two men had suggested that she just be straight-forward about it. She would be expected to have been briefed on the current situation about the mission, just not that it was deliberate subversion.

Sarah sighed wearily. "You heard about that? We've had some ... problems ... not too major. We are still on schedule to finish the first stage of terraforming by mid-fall with the major additions of the lakes and rivers to be completed in about two weeks."

Christine hid her surprise. Not major? One death and numerous explosions? It wasn't like Sarah to misrepresent the facts.

"Well, except for poor Dr. Dyanon. His death was a tragedy. We will miss him. But to be honest, he wasn't up to treating our Klingon friends. We are grateful for your arrival, Chris. I know that your assignment is only temporary till another doctor can be trained in Klingon medicine, but I'm glad you're here." Sarah smiled again. "Come on, let me show you around."

Christine silently complied, her bag of personal belongings as well as Sulu's transmitter slung over her shoulder.

Sarah led Chris and Sulu to the first set of buildings that housed the terraforming team. Ushering them through a long, thin corridor, she opened a second door to reveal a small sitting room with a bedroom beyond.

"Here's where you'll be staying, Chris. It was Doctor Dyanon's room. I'm sorry to put you here, where he stayed, but I really have no choice. We didn't allot for extra living quarters. The personal supplies had to be streamlined as much as possible in order to bring as much scientific equipment as possible."

Christine smiled reassuringly. "Don't trouble yourself with me, Sarah. This is fine. I've been on board ship for two months. A room on the ground is welcome."

"Hey, I should be offended by that, Christine," Sulu said facetiously.

"Sorry, Hikaru," Christine relied quickly. Turning her attention back to the head terraformer, she asked, "Where is the medical facility?"

"Oh, just over in the next set of offices. You want to put your bag down here?"

"No," Christine replied nonchalantly. "I want to bring a few things to my new office. If it's going to be 'home' as you said, I'd like to personalize it a bit." She also didn't want leave her bag with the transmitter unprotected until she could set it up properly so that it blended in with the rest of her stuff. She was under no illusion that her privacy would be respected if the reports on the sabotage were true.

"Well, if you two ladies will be fine, I think that I'll be returning to the ship." He fixed a steady gaze on Christine, one she returned as their eyes met. "Call me if you need anything, Christine," Sulu interjected. "We'll be around."

Christine nodded. He had briefed her fully on his whereabouts and the times that he would be in transmitter range in the coming weeks before they had left Excelsior. There would be times when they were blacked out from the other. But he would be expecting a report from her during each period of close proximity. If she missed two check-ins (one could be just a period of inconvenience), he was to beam in a team to look for her.

"Thanks, Hikaru," Christine said gratefully, her cheerful demeanor hiding a real sense of foreboding. Sarah's mis-representation of the seriousness of the sabotage experienced on the planet had done nothing to calm her nerves. "I'll be fine."

And as they walked back outdoors and she and Sarah watched him beam up, Christine sighed inwardly.

Now she was alone ...

* * *

The next few days were uneventful. She'd seen Reg Delvin and Rob Crabtree and said her 'hello, how are you's'. Their manners hadn't changed in the two months since she'd seen them. Delvin was still withdrawn from the group, preferring to stay at his engineering lab while Crabtree was more outgoing, organizing team sports among the terraforming lab techs and junior scientists. He had always been the 'all-American boy' type of person. Gregarious to his colleagues, open with his praise or criticism. But when one of the Klingon contingent walked by, his manner visibly changed and he became stiffer, more wary, the quintessential security officer. He still didn't trust Klingons.

Besides Delvin and Crabtree, Christine had been introduced to the Klingon contingent, as she came to think of them, headed by Kar. His job was to represent the wishes of the High Council, the needs of the Klingon people. He provided specifications for the composition of bodies of water that were to be created and the topography of the land. He barely said two words to Christine. He spoke mostly with Sarah or Delvin. A mere doctor wasn't worthy of his interest, she supposed. She couldn't say that she was too heart-broken by this fact.

Each morning a communal breakfast area brought the Klingon and human scientists together each morning, but in the two mornings that she had joined the group for breakfast, she never saw a Klingons sit or converse with a human. Or vice versa. The two groups seemed to interact only in the line of duty.

Chris decided to change that, both because it was silly not to interact with half of the terraforming team and because she was curious to see the reactions of her colleagues. Walking up to the buffet that held Klingon breakfast food, she ladled out a small (very small) amount of the only Klingon breakfast food that she had tried (and survived) before, porridge, and sat down next to the Klingon's chief botanist, Grimka, the first Klingon female in any authority that Christine had seen.

Chris didn't attempt to start a conversation right away. Klingons didn't have a word for 'good morning' as far as she knew, so she started in on her porridge instead and smiled in surprise. The porridge was actually good ... they should have had the cook who made this at Khitomer ... it was edible and she didn't feel as if her stomach was going to reject the contents ...

"You have eaten our food before?"

Christine shifted her attention from her food to the female scientist who had asked her the question in a slightly guttural voice. Nodding an affirmative, Chris hid her surprise that her breakfast companion had decided to speak.

The female scientist had been watching her for some time in wary silence.

"On Khitomer, at the Accords," Christine replied.

Grimka looked at her with surprise. "You were at Khitomer?"

"Yes, along with Drs. McIntyre, Delvin and Security Chief Crabtree. We were all part of the Federation Envoy's advisory team."

A deep, male voice intruded on their conversation as a tall, imposing Klingon sat next to Grimka.

"She also treated our colonies near Praxis for the radiation sickness. She seems to be making a study of us," the Klingon relayed, his voice holding a cynical note. "If you paid as much attention to the world around you as your experiments, you would know that."

"That is your job, Marloth," Grimka replied harshly. "I serve my people in my own way."

Christine watched the interplay between the two. It seemed to be an old argument. She knew that scientists weren't held in the greatest regard unless they were in weapons research.

"Dr. Grimka?" Christine began, "Would it be too much trouble to visit your lab? You are altering the nutritional content of the native plants to suit your people's needs, aren't you? That sounds very interesting."

"Why do you wish to see her lab, human?" Marloth cut in. "Our people can do their jobs without outside interference. Or is your study of us incomplete?"

Christine looked at him squarely. "I wasn't aware that we were on different teams, Marloth. I thought we were all working on this terraforming project together."

Marloth seemed ready to respond to her matter-of-fact statement, but his female colleague interrupted them both.

"Enough, Marloth!" Grimka snapped impatiently. "It is my lab. I say who goes and who stays." She turned her attention back to Christine. "You may see the lab, Dr. Chapel." Grimka abruptly rose from the table. "I believe that now would be a good time."

Christine nodded her head as she rose to her feet. "Let's go."

As they walked out of the breakfast area, Christine passed Robert Crabtree near the door and felt herself being pulled to the side by him. She hastily waved Grimka on, saying that she would meet her at the lab.

"You could have just called me over, Rob," Christine began, "I don't appreciate being dragged around ..."

"Going native, Chris?" Crabtree interrupted, his hand tightening around her arm.

"I wasn't aware that eating breakfast was a characteristic of going native. Or are you talking about me sitting with the Klingons? Last I checked, holding a conversation was not against the law. What are you so afraid of, Rob?" Christine challenged softly, not wanting to create a loud scene.

"My problems are with people who forget where their loyalties lie," he hissed.

Christine wrenched her arm from his grip. "The Federation has a treaty with the Klingons. I'm here to contribute to this joint effort. What are you here for, Rob?"

And with that she walked away. Walking across the dusty square toward the botanist lab, Christine had just reached the halfway point when the lab exploded into fire.

* * *

"Grimka!!"

Christine heard a cry from behind her. Turning briefly toward the sound, she saw Marloth run past her towards the burning building. Christine broke into a run as she quickly followed, knowing that whoever was still in there would need her help.

She called to Sarah, who with Kar and the rest of the teams came running out of the cafeteria. Rob and members of his security team went to get fire extinguishers.

"Sarah, get my med-kit!" Christine yelled over the din of the fire. "I'm going in there."

The lab was engulfed in flames, shingles from the roof dropping in fiery heaps. The main set of doors lay lopsidedly open on their hinges and smoke poured from the lab. Tearing off a piece of her shirt to make a makeshift mask, Christine cautiously stepped through the door to the lab.

Smoke hung thick and heavy and Chris coughed fitfully behind the bit of cloth covering her nose and mouth.

"Grimka! Marloth!" She tried to navigate the rooms as fast as she could, but she wasn't familiar with the layout and overturned lab desks littered her path. She had just managed to reach a central corridor when she saw a somewhat charred Marloth holding a badly injured Grimka in his arms.

"Marloth! Have you seen anyone else?" Christine asked frantically.

"No. She was the first to arrive each day. She was the only one here." He looked down at Grimka's still, bloody body with a fiercely tender expression.

Christine laid a hand over Grimka's carotid artery. "She's alive. But her pulse is very weak. We need to get her out of here."

Leading him back the way they had come, she suddenly heard a loud crash coming from in front of them. She looked into the main vestibule and saw a smoldering pile of debris blocking the way back. Christine rubbed a dirty hand against her forehead. "We can't get back out the way we came. Is there another way out??"

"Through there," Marloth said grimly, his head indicating a corridor which was surrounded by flames and falling debris.

Christine thought furiously. "We have no choice. I have to get her to the medical facility." Christine took off her lab coat and draped it over her head and face as a shield. "Let's go before the whole building collapses."

They moved quickly through the corridor, ignoring the heat and flames that licked at them. As they reached the back door, Christine wrapped her hands with her lab coat and pushed at the door release. Nothing happened.

"The door won't budge," Christine said grimly, as she looked back to see flames moving quickly toward their position.

"Take her," Marloth growled roughly. Christine braced herself as Marloth leaned Grimka's body against her. Chris wrapped her arms around Grimka's body to keep her from slumping to the floor, inwardly wincing at the burns that she knew were getting aggravated on Grimka's body by their hurried handling.

With a loud, guttural cry, Marloth rushed at the door. Once. Twice. At the third try, the door snapped open and they were suddenly blinded by the bright light of mid-morning. With Marloth taking Grimka's feet while Chris held onto her upper torso, they finally brought out the female scientist to a waiting stretcher.

Christine immediately grabbed her med-kit out of Sarah's hand and started to scan her patient. Ignoring Marloth, who stood beside her, Christine looked into the faces of two of her nurses who awaited orders.

"Is the operating room ready?" Christine asked grimly of one nurse. At the nurse's nod, she continued. "Pull up her records and cross-correlate with the Klingons here. We are going to need massive amounts of blood. Start arranging blood donations immediately."

"Yes, Doctor." The nurse hurried off quickly. Christine turned to four people to were ready to carry the stretcher. "Take her to the infirmary." She fell into step besides the stretcher.

"Will she recover?"

Christine stopped to look at Marloth who was standing with his hands clenched into fists at his side. "I won't know until we get her cleaned up and into surgery."

Resuming her brisk walk toward the medical facility, Chris looked him up and down and noticed his injuries for the first time. "You need to have those gashes fixed." At his look which foretold his refusal to accept treatment, Christine cut off his response with a wave of her hand. "That isn't a request, Marloth. Besides ... I thought that you may wish to wait in case you can provide blood." And with that she shut off her awareness of him as she focused her attention to the surgery to come ... it would be close ...

* * *

"We have another bleeder here." Christine's voice was steady, quiet. She had no need to raise her voice. Her staff, as new to her as they were, could see her skill as she methodically repaired the damage done to their patient's body.

The operating room was a concert of controlled chaos as one nurse assisted Christine while another, more junior, nurse was meticulously cleaning each third degree burn which bubbled from extensive portions of the Klingon scientist's body.

To be honest, there was more burn than skin at the moment as the areas of charred flesh spanned almost two thirds of the upper torso of the patient and over one third of the lower extremities. The threat of infection was high, but the medical team was working as fast as they could.

"We seem to have gotten them all. Closing," Christine remarked grimly, not at all relieved at the successful repair of the damage to her patient's internal organs. The patient's blood loss coupled with the extent of the burns still could cause death. They weren't out of the woods yet. "How are those skin graft cultures coming along?"

"The grafts are 60% complete, Doctor," Chris' third and last nurse, dressed in lab clothes, replied as she laid down a set of skin grafts.

Christine shook her head. "Not enough." She looked up at the nurse who had answered her. "Jacks, go back to the lab and start another graft culture. I need that other 40%."

"Yes, Doctor."

"Tarsen, we'll start on her arms first." Christine looked over at the monitors and shook her head. Grimka was still losing blood and her vitals had stabilized at a dangerously low level. And she couldn't risk a blood production stimulant, not in her condition. Fortunately, Grimka's blood type was fairly common and several members of the Klingon contingent had already donated blood. "Wait, Tarsen." Christine stopped her surgical assistant. "Go ask Dr. McIntyre to announce another round of blood donations. We'll need more blood."

"Of course, Doctor."

Chris' youngest nurse, the one who was still peeling away charred fabric from inside charred, gaping wounds, raised her head from her work. "Do you need me to assist you, Doctor?"

"No, Jensen. I'll do fine till Tarsen returns. Continue cleaning the lower extremities." Christine focused on the nurse for a moment. She was so young ... she looked frightened. This assignment must have seemed a relatively boring one when the teams had first arrived ... and now look at them. Their first physician died instantly in the explosion that killed him and now this ... a particularly grisly second victim.

"You're doing fine work, Jensen. Keep it up."

Jensen flushed. "Thank you, Doctor." She then quickly got back to her work and Christine couldn't help briefly smiling at the dichotomy of the nurse's flush then immediate return to total professionalism. These were good people.

Bending back to her own work, Christine frowned again at the extent of the nerve damage. But that would have to be addressed later in the regen treatments. She only hoped Grimka would last long enough to begin those treatments.

"Hang on, Grimka. Fight for me. Show me that Klingon will ..."

* * *

Ten hours later, Christine walked into the corridor which led to the waiting room. Pulling the surgical cap from her head, she leaned against the wall of the corridor for a moment, wearied beyond belief. Grimka would live. She would be in pain for awhile. But pain was good. That would mean that the nerve damage that Grimka was currently undergoing regen treatments had been reversed to a large extent.

Closing her eyes, Christine soaked up the peace in the hall. The peace was short lived as she began to hear shouting coming from the waiting area. With a sigh, Christine pushed off from the wall and walked swiftly toward the voices.

"I should kill you where you stand, p'tak. Your failure has cost enough ..." A deep growling voice left Chris in no doubt to the identity of one of the combatants.

"You want a piece of me ... come and get me." And the swaggering voice she heard just then left no doubt as to the other.

Christine rounded the last corner and walked into the waiting room where she found Marloth posed with a knife in one hand circling Crabtree, looking for an opening while Crabtree was moving in an evasive but provoking manner.

She heard Reg Delvin's voice calling for them to stop from further into the room but she knew that he would not interfere directly .

Christine pushed herself between them, shoving Robert Crabtree back as she stared at Marloth who she considered the looser cannon at this point. "Stop it! Both of you!"

"Stand aside, healer. He must pay for his negligence."

"This isn't your concern, Christine," Crabtree echoed, though he made no move to push her out of the way.

Christine ignored Crabtree and continued to stare into the Klingon's security officer's eyes. "No," she said forcefully. "We have more important problems here, 'gentlemen'," and she turned halfway to look at Crabtree with equal disdain, "than your egos. If you want to kill each other instead of performing your duties, which may I remind you, is to find out what happened at that lab, then so be it. But not on my watch or in my infirmary."

Both men stared at her for a long moment as if weighing her words. Then Robert Crabtree stepped from behind her to walk to the door.

"Inform me when she's awake, Christine," Crabtree said briskly as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. "She's the only one who can tell us exactly what happened." He nodded to Delvin who moved rather sedately to join him at the door. "And, Klingon ... whenever you want to continue our 'conversation' ... you know where to find me."

"Yes, cowering behind the skirt of a women, no doubt."

Crabtree face turned to stone but he left with Delvin without further incident. That left Marloth who looked as if he wanted to go after the human security officer. Christine quickly spoke before he could decide to leave.

"Who's more important to you, Marloth? Crabtree or Grimka?" Christine asked softly but firmly. "You decide. I have to get back to my patient." And with that, she turned to walk out the door.

"Take me to her."

Christine stopped and smiled to herself, laughing inwardly at his mix of bravado, command, and concern.

"Then come with me."

* * *

Christine knew one thing as she sat in her cabin, waiting to report to Sulu: she just wasn't cut out to be a spy. Her suspicions were starting to pile up on top of themselves. And she had no hard evidence to support any of them.

When she had had time to think, after the surgery on Grimka, the suspect had leaped out at her. Who had prevented her from walking to the lab just seconds before it exploded? Crabtree. And his antagonism towards Klingons was well known. It fit well; as head of security, he had access to all sites. And it was certainly easier to disguise the sabotage as accidents or negligence if you were running the investigation.

So she had gone to the briefing on the explosion with suspicions waiting to be confirmed. And to compare his explanation or lack of same for the explosion with the one piece of evidence that she was sure of, the one she'd gleaned from Grimka's body.

* * *

"It was an accident," a soft male voice explained patiently as if talking to a child.

"An accident! We have had too many such 'accidents'. Where is your proof, Doctor?" an angry Marloth demanded, none too convinced by Reg Delvin's calm manner. At the Klingons' request, Crabtree had been removed as head of the investigation and had been replaced by the next person of command grade and security access, Delvin.

"Yes, Reg," Sarah interjected grimly, "I've wanted to believe that these incidents were just a string of ill fortune, but five accidents. It strains credulity. And we almost had our second death. One death is too many. How can this explosion have been an accident?"

Delvin folded his hands on the table around which they all sat. "We analyzed the room thoroughly. And we found traces of hydrogen, which as you may remember from your basic chemistry classes is a highly flammable gas."

"Why would there be pure hydrogen in the lab?" Christine asked. "I wouldn't believe that Grimka would need the substance as part of her plant research." Delvin's mention of a hydrogen-induced fire did not surprise her, though she did not mention that to the group. She'd found large concentrations of the gas in Grimka's blood.

"She doesn't. But she does utilize hydrochloric acid to isolate selenium, one of the essential nutrients that she is trying to engineer into the native plants. And we found a bottle of hydrochloric acid near the worktable. We believe that she accidentally exposed this hydrochloric acid to another of her experiments involving the metal magnesium, which is needed by plants for photosynthesis.

"Hydrochloric acid and a metal of any kind will produce hydrogen in a violent chemical reaction. And since she was apparently using the Bunsen burner to refine the magnesium at the time, the hydrogen was ignited."

Sarah McIntyre frowned. "Reg, she couldn't have been working with a large amount of magnesium. The amount of hydrogen produced couldn't have been that much. Wouldn't a larger amount of hydrogen have been required to produce a fire of that magnitude that quickly? The whole building exploded within a minute. And why would Grimka have two such hazardous substances in the same room?"

"Hydrogen is extremely flammable, Sarah. Even a small trace can cause a flashpoint of immense intensity. The fire would have spread quickly. As for why two such substances were in the same room, your guess is as good as mine. A mislabeled bottle; a lapse in concentration ..."

"Are you accusing Grimka of negligence?" Marloth questioned, incensed by the suggestion.

Delvin sighed a sigh of long suffering. "No. I'm only stating the facts. Hydrochloric acid, magnesium, and trace amounts of hydrogen were found at the scene. Take the evidence any way you wish."

Christine frowned inwardly again. Delvin was mistaken. He had to be. Or lying. Hydrochloric acid was highly corrosive and Grimka showed no sign of exposure to the substance, which causes severe burns on contact with flesh. And she hadn't been wearing gloves.

Grimka had had burns caused by fire, not chemical burns. And the level of hydrogen found in Grimka's lung tissue and blood stream couldn't have been produced by a chemical reaction of such a small scale. The levels of hydrogen build-up in her blood suggested exposure to hydrogen gas for some minutes before the explosion took place.

Rob Crabtree spoke up for the first time since the meeting began. He had been sitting, with his hands across his chest, watching the proceedings with a bored expression on his face.

"What about you, Christine? Does Grimka show evidence of exposure to hydrogen? And what's the ETA on her awakening? Most of the answers will have to come from her."

Christine chose her words carefully. She didn't want to let on that she was suspicious of the teams findings since the saboteur was one of the people in this room.

"She did show signs of exposure. It's all there in my report." She pointed to the computer that dominated one portion of the conference room table. "As for Grimka, she may awaken at any time, or not for some time. The next 24 hours are critical. If she wakes up in the next 24 hours, I expect a full recovery. If she doesn't ..." Christine hesitated as she glanced over at Marloth, a sympathetic expression on her face. "She may sink into a coma of long duration. And our questions would remain unanswered."

"That would be unfortunate," Delvin interjected, a strange note of coldness in his manner.

Christine looked over at Delvin. "Yes, it would."

At that the meeting adjourned and Christine had hurried back to her room to access her computer. She had research to do. Where would you find pure hydrogen is a small facility like this? If she found the answer to that question she would be very close to the identity of the saboteur ...

* * *

And so now she sat at her desk, ready to use the concealed communication system to contact Sulu on the Excelsior. Her research concluded, she was chilled by the results and their implications.

"Lamb to Shepherd."

A crackle of static greeted her ears before giving way to Sulu's deep, arresting voice.

"Shepherd here."

Sulu's voice was terse, his manner direct. But Chris wasn't offended. Only short transmissions were relatively safe from detection. They had no time for pleasantries.

"I have a present for you." Sulu had taught her how to upload data messages through the transmission signal. It was much more secure than talking openly about sensitive issues. If their signal was traced, she could claim that it was a harmless call to an old friend.

Silence followed as Chris imagined Sulu reading her information.

"Hmmm. Sounds interesting. I can be there in 5 hours. Give it to me then."

Christine paused, "I'm not sure that that will be soon enough, Shepherd. A lamb might be stolen from us by then. I'm afraid for her. Only she knows the way ..."

Christine hoped that her cryptic message could be understood by Sulu after reading her report. In her estimation, Grimka was in great danger. The fact that the Klingon woman was alive was a loose end to the saboteur, in Christine's mind. He would have expected Grimka to die in the explosion, another casualty to a doomed project.

Now he had a potential witness. One who could wake up at any time. Christine knew what she had to do ...

Sulu's voice lost its measured terseness as her statement registered. Christine could imagine him furrowing his brow as his voice took on a worried tone. "We'll be there in 5 hours. Don't play shepherd."

Christine didn't acknowledge to his statement directly as she responded. "Has there been any word from ..."

"He's fine," Sulu's voice interjected. "And you know what he'd say. No heroics."

Christine tried to make her voice sound sure and steady, with no worry in it. "I better go. No rest for the weary. Talk to you later." And with that she cut the connection.

Yes, she knew where she had to go. There wasn't much time ...

* * *

The light from the medical diagnostic board above the bio-bed shone a faint green, haloing the Klingon woman sleeping in it with a soft glow. The rest of the room was shrouded in darkness. The only sounds to be heard were the beeping of monitors and the sound of the woman's breathing.

Then slowly, a door was opened, letting in the light from the hallway and the form of a black clad male who approached the bed silently, a syringe in his hand ...

"Hello, Reg."

Christine's voice was soft but commanding as she called for lights and moved, phaser in hand, to face the would be assailant who turned from the bed to face her.

Chris waved her phaser at him, indicating that he should move away from the still sleeping Klingon.

"I take it that you know," Delvin said wearily as he sat in the chair that she motioned him to.

Christine nodded. "That there wasn't a chemical accident in that lab? Yes." She walked to the nearest terminal. Pressing the button that would like her into the communication system, she called to security.

"Chapel to Security." She waited for someone to answer, keeping her eyes and her phaser trained on Delvin. After a few seconds, she heard an unfamiliar voice answer the link.

"Lt. Craig here. What can I do for you, Doctor? It's three in the morning ..."

"I have an emergency here. Bring two security guards. Reg Delvin has just tried to silence my patient." She cut off the link, too impatient to wait for the guards's response.

"What made you realize that I was involved, Chris?" Delvin said, his voice now revealing no emotion whatsoever.

"The concentration of hydrogen in Grimka's blood. Grimka didn't accidentally mix the acid with the magnesium, did she? That reaction wouldn't have produced the amount of hydrogen I found, though it could have caused the fire. She had to have been exposed to a goodly amount of the gas for some minutes. You exposed the room to a steady stream of pure hydrogen. Then when Grimka came into the lab, she did the one thing that she did every morning, she prepared a container of plants to render and turned on the heating unit. The room exploded instantly."

Delvin sat stone-faced. "But anyone could have rigged up a hydrogen leak."

Christine shook her head, "I checked the computer. There's only one source of hydrogen in this entire facility. In the fuel cells of your water turbine. And you are the only one with the expertise to siphon off the hydrogen from the pre-fab power units. You had to be involved." She pushed herself off from the table she had been perched on. "Get up. We'll wait for security in the waiting room. I don't want the commotion in here, near my patient."

Delvin offered no resistance, moving from his chair silently and opening the door to the hallway. Stepping closer behind him, Christine led him down the hallway.

When they reached the room, Christine followed Delvin into the room and promptly found herself grabbed by her hair from behind and her phaser torn from her. Flung to the ground by a rough hand, she looked up to see Rob Crabtree standing over her with her phaser in his hand and a clearly relieved Delvin standing close to him.

Delvin moved closer to Crabtree to rub his hand on the man's arm. "I knew that you wouldn't let me be..."

"Shut up. I told you that this wasn't necessary," Crabtree hissed harshly as he shook Delvin's hand away from his arm then motioned a rising Christine to a chair.

Delvin moved away from him, a hurt expression on his face. "I only thought to remove the threat, Robert. You know that."

"You didn't think. What does she have?" Crabtree pointed to Christine. "Circumstantial evidence at best. And that Klingon whore? Even if she woke up, what could she say? That she didn't cause the accident? That's no proof. She could just as easily be trying to justify a mistake on her part. But now..." He waved his hand with the phaser at Christine.

"Now, she's caught you in the act. I have to move fast. I told my man that I would take care of it. But he will have notified that bitch McIntyre by now. We could be swarming with people any minute now."

Christine spoke then. "Yes. We will. And you won't get away with this."

"Shut up. I don't recall asking for your input," Crabtree spit out.

Delvin moved closer to Crabtree again. "What's to think about? Just kill her and the Klingon female. We can leave together. Take your shuttle away from here. We can still be together ..."

"You stupid fool. They'll just come after us. And this accursed project would just continue. And I can't have that." Crabtree made an adjustment to the weapon and pointed it at Delvin. "Step over next to the good doctor, Reg."

Delvin didn't move. "What are you doing, Robert?!! We're in this together.. I love you ..."

Crabtree laughed harshly. "You don't think that I would jeopardize this mission for you, do you? You're even more deluded than I thought. I won't ask you again. Step over to the good doctor." He waved his phaser at Christine again.

Delvin moved reluctantly as if toward Christine, but then switched in mid stream to lunge at Crabtree. Watching the commotion, Christine jumped up from her seat and started for the door but stopped when she heard the sound of a phaser firing behind her and a cold voice call to her.

"Hold it right there, Doctor."

Christine turned slowly around to see Reg sprawled on the floor, clearly dead. Chris was chilled even more. The phaser had been set to kill.

"What now, Rob? Someone must have heard the phaser fire. There's nowhere to go. Just stop this now."

"You're wrong. There is somewhere." He looked once at Delvin's dead body before gesturing her over to the door. "Let's go. There's one more thing that I have to do before I leave this cursed planet."

* * *

The sound of rapidly moving water rose to greet Christine as she was prodded by her captor to move faster towards the dam that had been Delvin's pride and joy.

Poor Delvin ... she knew now that he had been a pawn in this game of espionage and sabotage. Crabtree was the true mastermind. She had no doubt that he was behind the other attacks.

Christine stopped walking and slowed turned around as she attempted to stall for time. She had no doubt that he was leading her to the dam to kill her. Though she wasn't sure why he just hadn't killed her back at the infirmary.

"Why, Rob? Why are you doing this?" she asked plaintively. "You were on our side. A valued member of the team that negotiated the peace. Why would you want it to be destroyed now?"

She looked past him toward the path that lead back to the compound ... why didn't someone come? Someone must have heard the phaser blast that had killed Delvin? What about Crabtree's own security detail? Weren't they wondering why the prisoner hadn't arrived?

"I never wanted peace with those animals," Crabtree spat at her. "My brother was killed in a Klingon attack. Slaughtered without mercy. I want them all to die."

"Then why did you join the team? I don't understand."

Crabtree laughed. "What better way to let my friends get the inside information on the Federation's efforts? How do you think that they knew about Khitomer? Too bad the accords went through. I had hoped that the attacks on this hellhole would drive a wedge between the Federation and the pigs. No such luck. But I can stop this project from being completed, once and for all."

He reached into his pocket with the hand that wasn't holding the phaser and pulled out a small metal box that had glowing lights.

Christine's eyes grew wide ... she was no munitions expert but it looked like it had a timer.

"A little device I've been saving for a rainy day." He laughed at her look of fear. "It will take out the dam quite nicely."

"You can't do that!" Christine nearly yelled as she shook her head violently from side to side. "If the dam goes, the water will flood the entire valley! Everyone will be killed!" She closed her eyes for a second . She had to calm down. "You don't want to kill all of our Federation colleagues, Rob. You can't. Or you would have blown up the dam long ago."

Crabtree slid the device into his pocket and pointed the phaser at her once again. "Enough talk. Start walking."

"Rob, please. You can't do this," Christine stood her ground, refusing to move. You can't."

"I mean it, Chris. Start walking. Or I'll cut you down here and now. And I'd hate to have to kill such a pretty insurance policy. Now move!"

Christine reluctantly turned back toward the dam and began walking. She hadn't seen anyone behind him ... she was on her own. Think, Christine ... think ...

It took only a few more minutes to reach the dam. As they stood on the top of the massive structure, the roar of the water filled the air and Crabtree had to shout to be heard. Christine found herself roughly pushed towards the concrete edge. Reaching out to steady herself, she couldn't help looking down at the water that rushed out just beneath them.

Turning again to face him, she saw him reach once again into his pocket and pull out the explosive device.

Attaching the magnetized device to the nearest metal support beam, Crabtree kept up a running dialogue, keeping an eye (and the phaser) sighted on her.

"There. That should do it." He looked over at her and grinned at her horrified expression. "Oh, don't worry, Christine. There's a 20-minute timer. More than enough time for us to get away to my private shuttle. I plan to take you with me, as insurance, in case someone decides to come after us. That's if anyone is still alive to chase me, of course."

"Robert, please. You can't do this. At least, tell them to evacuate. You can't let those people die, you can't!"

"I can and I will. Sarah and the others obviously prefer the Klingons to me. They can die with their new friends. Now let's go."

Christine thought furiously. If she got into the shuttle with him, there was no doubt that she would die at some point. On the other hand, she had no way of warning the others without a communicator. And he had one as a security officer. She didn't, as a normal planetside crewmember. She had to get that communicator away from him or contact them from the shuttle ... So she decided not to protest for the moment, hoping against hope that she would be able to surprise him at some point...

Uneasily, she set off toward a clearing that he indicated lay beyond a short wooded area, Crabtree still at her back. The trees and brush were dense and thick, a situation that Christine began to think might work to her advantage.

Passing through a particularly dense stand of trees and brush, Christine pushed back a branch to let herself through and then let go of it suddenly, letting the branch whip back into Crabtree's face.

As he stumbled, temporarily blinded by the stinging branch, Christine assisted him in falling by pushing him further off balance. With him on the ground, she kicked the phaser loose from his hand, too afraid of his grabbing her to wrestle him for it directly.

The phaser spun out of her reach into the brush and with Crabtree cursing and yelling as he lunged towards her, Christine had no time to find the weapon.

Instead, she kicked wildly at his lurching body, managing to catch him in the genitals hard enough to stun him. Amid his momentary bout of cursing and writhing, Christine bent quickly and grabbed the communicator that of hung on his belt and then bolted out of the woods back onto the path that lead towards the compound.

Knowing that she needed to hide from the man that she could hear yelling for her long enough to signal Sarah and the rest at the compound, Christine returned to the one landmark she knew, the dam, quickly flipping open the stolen communicator as soon as she found a hiding place behind a turbine, in sight of the detonator.

"Hello! Can anyone here me?? Please, answer me!" Christine whispered fiercely into the hand sized box."

"Christine?"

Sarah McIntyre's voice squawked out over the com line. "Is that you? My God, where are you? Delvin's --"

"I don't have much time, Sarah," Christine interrupted. "Crabtree has planted a bomb on the dam." She peered cautiously towards the explosive device, stopping to look for signs of Crabtree, and looked at the display screen. "There's maybe twelve minutes left. I need help, STAT. I managed to get away from him temporarily, but I don't know how much longer I have before he finds me ... please ..."

Christine was brought up short as she was wrenched up by her hair and a strong muscular arm snaked around her neck, the communicator sliding from her hand to clang on the concrete landing.

"You bitch!" Crabtree yelled into her ear as his arm tightened around her neck, all while Christine struggled against his grip. He shook her around by the neck in fury before slamming her into the nearest wall. Christine slumped to the ground.

Lifting her head, groaning, Christine looked into Crabtree's face, which was a mask of anger. "I knew that I should have killed you earlier. A mistake that I can remedy now," he said coldly but calmly as he pointed the phaser towards her and poised to fire. "They won't find much of a body to bury, with you so near the bomb blast. A splattered piece of brain perhaps. When I am flying above you in my shuttle, I'll wave to your remains."

Christine sat silently, knowing that there was no running away this time. Her eyes closed as she prepared herself for the flash of fire that would end her life ... her last thought was of Spock...

A blast sounded, but it never reached her. Opening her eyes, she was shocked to find Marloth holding a smoking disrupter, Sulu and Sarah at his side, and the smoldering body of Crabtree sprawled on the ground in front of her.

Christine stared at Crabtree's body for a moment, thanking God silently for her life, before suddenly remembering ... the detonator. It said 8 minutes.

Scrambling to her feet, she ran towards the others, fairly stumbling into Sulu's outstretched arms.

"We have to get out of here." Christine wrenched herself from Sulu's arms. "He rigged a bomb. It's set to go off in 8 more minutes," Christine cried, her voice a harsh whisper from the beating her throat had taken earlier. No one moved.

"Why are you just standing there? Did you here me?"

"Relax, Chris. It's over. My people are on it..." Sulu said soothingly as he directed her attention to the bomb in question which was currently being backed away from by a team of men in red. A glittering light surrounded the small bundle of explosives and the whole apparatus disappeared. "They've just beamed it into space."

Christine stared ahead, the shock from her ordeal beginning to fall on her at last, as she looked dully at the empty space where a bomb had once been. Her energy spent, the last rush of fear-induced adrenaline drained from her body, Chris spoke five short words before she slipped into a faint.

"What took you so long?"

She never heard the relieved laughter that broke out all around her or felt the beam that carried her away.

* * *

When Christine woke up from her extended sleep (her dead faint having modified into a natural sleep, after a time), she found herself in a familiar place. The sickbay of the Excelsior. How long have I been asleep?

She didn't remember coming here at all ... the last she could recall, she had just seen Sulu's explosives team transport the bomb into space ... Christine sighed. I don't want to think about that yet...

Looking down at herself, she noticed that they had dressed her in one of her own nightgowns. (A nice touch, she thought.) Then as she turned her attention outward, into the room, her eyes landed on a figure slumped in a chair next to her.

"Sarah," Chris called softly. "Sarah, wake up." Getting no response from her friend, Christine pulled herself to a sitting position, swung her feet over the side of the bio-bed and then poked her friend in the leg with her foot.

With a start, Sarah McIntyre groaned and stretched in her seat and then opened her eyes and looked at Chris's now smiling face.

"You aren't allowed to be chipper, you know," Sarah began, rapidly coming back to full awareness. "Not after the stunt you pulled." She sat up straight in her chair.

"I'm sure that I don't know what you are talking about," Christine replied serenely, though inwardly she did feel a bit silly. And also thankful to be alive. Very thankful. "How long have I been asleep?"

Sarah snorted in disbelief. "Don't try to change the subject, Chris Chapel. You almost got yourself killed. Trying to play security officer. If you had suspicions, you should have come to me first."

Christine sighed, her face reflecting the serious tone in Sarah's voice as she sighed inwardly at Sarah's desire to come straight to the point. "I know. But I wasn't sure that I was right. If no-one came to Grimka's room, then you would have considered my accusations just empty words, the saboteur would have found out about my fears, and my ..."

Christine halted. She had come very close to letting Sarah know about her assignment ...

"Your cover?" Sarah replied gently, leaning her arm on an arm of the chair and leaning her head on her hand. "While you were unconscious and the excitement was past ... they've put Crabtree in the maximum security section of their brig, by the way ... your Captain Sulu is there now, interrogating him... I really started to wonder why you had acted like you did. It wasn't like you. And why your Captain chose the exact right moment to show up. It wasn't likely to be a coincidence either. So I tried to bully him into admitting it. And while he said nothing, his stonewalling told me that I was right. I am right, aren't I?" Sarah concluded.

Christine fell silent. If Sulu hadn't told her, she couldn't either ...

"Yes, you are."

Christine and Sarah turned in the direction of the deep voice that rang from the doorway. The voice of Hikaru Sulu.

"Nice to see you up, Chris," Sulu commented as he sat on the edge of Christine's bed. Then he turned his attention to the co-head of the terraforming project. "I have been given permission to speak of our mission to the relevant parties, you being among them."

"Thank you, Captain" Sarah replied, somewhat ironically. "A bit overdue, perhaps, but I will take it."

Christine watched them silently as Sulu explained to Sarah the particulars of their assignment. After awhile, Chris retreated inward to think of her own role. I'm the one who should be explaining this to her. I am her friend. Not Hikaru ... but I'm glad that he is doing it. I'm sure that I will have to answer to TPTB soon enough ... She sighed imperceptibly, her mind a jumble of guilt at having to deceive her friend, sorrow over Reg Delvin's death, anger at Crabtree for hurting them all, and worry over two main points ...

"How's Grimka?" Christine interjected suddenly, interrupting their conference to ask about one of her worries.

Both Sarah and Sulu smiled at her, Sarah taking up the question.

"I was wondering when you would ask about her, Chris," Sarah said. "She woke up about the same time that Crabtree fired the shots, as I understand it. According to your nurses, the phaser shots seemed to have registered in her brain as fighting. And her Klingon soul couldn't resist a fight that seemed so close to her. When she woke up, the alarms went off in the nurses quarters ... you know, Christine, you shouldn't have sent them away ... they could have helped you ..."

"You know that I couldn't put them in danger, Sarah," Christine said grimly. "But I didn't want to sacrifice her care, so I had the alarm set up in their wing. It was too bad that they were too far away to hear the shot. To be honest, I fully expected Crabtree's security guards to bring you after my report ..."

Sarah sighed. "No, I never got that report. Crabtree had told his men that he would bring the prisoner in and tell me himself. When he didn't come back in a timely manner, they finally did call me, but by then he had killed Delvin and run off with you ... We arrived at the same time as your nurses to find Grimka ranting about phasers, Delvin dead, and you gone ..."

As Sarah continued to talk, Christine again turned inward, shuddering as she thought about that hour of terror with a crazed but calm Crabtree. He would have killed everyone ... and it would have been my fault for not warning them ... Damn! How could I have been so stupid?

Christine tuned her two friends out totally as she continued to berate herself for her stupidity and thought of the one she had let down most of all. ... oh, Spock. I knew that I was not cut out for this. What you must think of me, I don't know. I thought that I had gotten past this impetuous streak in my nature ... I guess not ...

"Chris?"

Christine pulled her thoughts away from Spock's likely reaction just long enough to answer the concerned looks on Sarah and Sulu's face.

"Hmmm? I'm sorry," Christine said apologetically. "Could we talk about this later? I don't really feel up to it."

Sulu answered her. "Of course, Christine. But we will have to have the talk soon. We are scheduled to leave for the Klingon Homeworld in two hours and I need to give you a full debrief before we leave so that I can send it on ahead of us to the negotiating team and Starfleet Command."

Christine perked up for the first time since they had started talking about the horrible events of the last 24 hours. "Are Spock and the others all right?"

Sulu smiled slightly, laughing inwardly, Christine knew, at her eagerness. She didn't care...

"Since the news that we found the culprit ... Crabtree confessed with no problem ... he seemed more concerned that we record his diatribe against the Klingons ... the talks have sped up considerably. It was the last sticking point. By the time we get there, the treaty should be ratified, if Spock's report is accurate. And before you say anything, Christine," Sulu interjected, obviously noticing her look of disbelief at his apparent doubt at Spock's report, "Spock was the one that cast doubt on his timetable. Not I. 'The unpredictable nature of the Klingon Council precludes precise estimates', he said."

Christine smiled and shook her head at Sulu's impression of Spock. "Hikaru ... did he say anything about ..." She cut off her sentence and cringed inwardly as Sulu's expression became more serious.

"All I can say is that I've already been grilled on the results of our mission. In a thoroughly polite manner, of course, as befits an exchange between two captains, one of whom is a Vulcan." Sulu laughed. "Don't look so worried. He was just concerned about you."

Christine looked upon Sulu's smiling face, unconvinced by his words of encouragement, sighed, and then glanced over at Sarah, who was laughing openly at her. "If you both will excuse me," Christine began in a serious tone, designed to nip their mirth at her expense in the bud, "I need to get dressed. If we leave in two hours, I need to see my patient ... we are taking her with us, aren't we? She needs at least another week of treatment. And then a series of rehab. A Klingon doctor on the Homeworld should be able to provide that better than we could. I did the best that I could, but I am no expert, certainly ..."

A sigh from Sarah silenced Chris for a moment as she looked at her friend of ten years.

"Dr. Chapel is on the case, Captain," Sarah jokingly said. "I used to have to drag her from the infirmary when we were on Zaltan IV. You won't get anything out of her until she sees Grimka for herself."

Sulu spoke. "Then we should leave her alone," he replied with a smile to the terraformer. Then he turned his attention back to Christine. "Come see me in one hour in my office, Chris, and we'll get this initial debriefing over with."

Christine nodded. As she watched, he stood up and held out his hand to Sarah. "Dr. Crabtree, if you will come with me. I'd like to finish our talk before you beam back down to the surface."

"Of course, Captain," Sarah McIntyre replied as she accepted his help. "Chris ..."

"Yes, Sarah," Chris said with some impatience. She was eager to see Grimka and get this debrief over with. God, she was tired of debriefings ... I need a vacation.

"I'm glad that you're all right ... Who else can I beat at chess so easily?" Sarah replied facetiously.

Christine laughed. "I'll get you for that, missy. A rematch when you get back to Earth?" At McIntyre's nod, Christine continued, looking at them both fondly.

"And I'm glad that we are all safe, too. There's light at the end of the tunnel. Lord knows, it's been long in coming." Christine shook her head before suddenly smiled broadly at them both. "Now get out of here. I have a patient to see."

* * *

Fifteen minutes later, a freshly showered and dressed Christine Chapel made her way to a fellow patient's room to begin her work as Doctor once again. Christine still felt guilty about what had happened and her less than brilliant solution to the problem, but when push came to shove, the day was won. The culprits found. And most importantly, her patient was still alive.

That's what had tipped the scales for Chris in the minutes since Sulu and Sarah had left her to the joys of a new day. The fact that Grimka was alive and seemingly well. (She wouldn't be too jubilant until she saw the Klingon woman for herself, but until the 30 seconds from now when she would see her patient, it was enough to have been told of Grimka's progress.)

Another, darker part of Christine knew that she hadn't dealt with the terrible fear that she had experienced down on the planet at Crabtree's hands, that she was just pushing it aside as she had seen Spock, Leonard, and Captain Kirk do so many times in sickbay. As she herself had done after that fiasco with Roger on Exo III. She knew that the shaking would come later. Hopefully in Spock's arms. If he had forgiven her for being so stupid. What was the one thing that he had told her before going on this mission? No heroics.

And what had she done? Not listened ... Oh, well. Since when did doctors follow orders? Not often. Or if they did, not without a fight, if someone else's life was at stake. Not a protege of Leonard McCoy's, certainly. That's for sure ...

And as Christine peeked her head and upper torso into Grimka's private room in sickbay and saw an obviously smitten Marloth at Grimka's side successfully ducking a data pad that ended up smashed on the opposite wall, one thought ran through Christine's mind:

It was worth it.

* * *

"You know, you really should refrain from throwing breakable objects until you're fully healed."

Christine smiled to herself before quickly folding her arms over her chest and affecting a stern pose as her patient and savior both looked up from their confrontation to respond to her statement.

Grimka's voice was still abnormally raspy as she spoke first.

"This ... p'tak ... says that I am not returning to the planet! I have work to do. A lab to rebuild. Tell him that he is wrong, Doctor." Her voice was a growl of indignation and anger.

"Yes, tell her Doctor," Marloth said, smugly confident as only a Klingon male could be.

"You're wrong, Marloth," Christine replied serenely, wanting to laugh at the explosion about to erupt from the Klingon warrior.

"What! ... What are you talking about? I have it on good authority that we are all going to the Homeworld and that this ... ungrateful wench ... will be under the thumb of some doctor for weeks!" Marloth was half off of his perch on the edge of Grimka's bed, by this time while Grimka was starting to look smug as only a Klingon female could look.

They really are made for each other, Christine thought, her romantic side coming to the fore for a split second.

"Now, I never said that we weren't all going to the Homeworld, Marloth," Christine replied just as serenely, now laughing at the eruption that was beginning to blossom on Grimka's face.

"Explain yourself, Doctor!" Grimka demanded. "I--"

Christine held up a hand and amazingly both subsided.

"You asked me to tell Marloth that you would be returning to the planet to continue your work. I think that you will. Once," and Christine emphasized the word 'once', "you get the proper treatment from your home physicians. I see no reason why you wouldn't."

Grimka grimaced at Christine's words while Marloth just glared at them both.

"You are splitting hairs, Doctor Chapel," Grimka said, more quietly, still sitting up in her bed as if ready to bolt.

"Yes." Marloth drew out the 's' in the word as he sat back down on the bed. "You are. Why should she go back? Botany is not a worthy pursuit for a Klingon. Nor is that place."

Grimka looked ready to pounce on Marloth, literally as well as figuratively but Christine interrupted her again as she came further into the room and stood next to the bio-bed readout, reaching for the pad that held Grimka's chart.

"Marloth," Christine began, not looking at either of them, but instead beginning to annotate the chart with her own comments. "You just saved that place and, not incidentally, both of our lives ... of which I am truly thankful, by the way. Thank you. If that doesn't indicate worthiness, I don't know what does. You don't defend something meaningless."

Christine turned to see what her pronouncement had wrought. Marloth had turned his face down to stare at the bed. He was seething. But, he was still listening intently. Chris decided to twist the knife a bit.

"In fact, it seems to me that you will be known as the savior of that planet, its protector, even. The one who recognized and stood up to the evil machinations of the spineless saboteur."

Grimka laughed out loud and then winced as her laughter strained the bandages around her mid-section.

"Let that be a lesson, Grimka," Christine interjected. "Be still. Ready to be examined now?" Christine asked as if Marloth had completely exited her mind, his scowling, just a blip on the landscape.

Grimka snickered again, but nodded quite seriously. "Yes, Doctor Chapel." She lowered her blanket around her hips so that Christine could begin peeking under the dressing gown at the synthoskin beneath.

"Wait!"

Christine and Grimka both looked up at Marloth, as if confused by his continued presence and outburst.

"We have not finished."

Christine lifted her hands from Grimka's gown and crossed her hands over her chest. "Really, I thought that we had."

"You are trying to foist this ignominious result on to me, Doctor. I did not find the saboteur scum, you did. I was not defending that sorry excuse for a planet. I do not believe in cooperation between the Federation and our people."

Christine just looked at him as if he had gone crazy. "Forgive me, Marloth, but who shot whom? You were the one who shot Crabtree, thus preventing him from setting off the bomb that would have destroyed the valley and the whole terraforming project. Not me. There's a human saying that I believe sums it up. 'To the victor goes the spoils'. So, as I see it, the terraforming project owes its continued existence to you. I'm sure that Grimka would join me in saying thank you for saving the means to do her work." Christine looked at Grimka, who was grinning madly.

"Klingons rarely thank anyone, but in this case, I will make an exception. Thank you, Marloth." Grimka nodded her head in Marloth's direction. "Now go. I want to get this examination over with as soon as possible so that we can talk about the work that we will have when I am fully recovered."

Marloth looked at both Christine and Grimka, lingering on his Klingon love, of course, as if they were both sorceresses before stalking out of the room.

Christine burst into laughter as the door closed behind the tall, powerful Klingon male. Grimka too started to laugh. A loud belly laugh, but her still bruised body again protested against the strain. A groan escaped her.

"Now what did I tell you about that?" Christine said, in a mock chiding tone of voice. "I'll be done with this in a moment. Then I want you to sleep." She fully expected Grimka to give her a hard time, but her patient quickly subsided and lay on the bed placidly.

"For what you have just forced Marloth to admit to himself, Doctor Chapel, I will follow your commands to the letter," Grimka said, smiling.

Christine smiled. "Logic ... learned it from a Vulcan I know."

* * *

Christine chuckled all the way to Sulu's office and was still chuckling, albeit somewhat more forced as she left his office an hour later. His debriefing had been gentle, but thorough and Chris felt drained as she hadn't when she left Grimka's side. So she tried to think of the Klingon botanist and her potential paramour instead of the events she had been forced to relieve.

Turning down the corridor to what now seemed to be her permanent, 'temporary' quarters aboard the Excelsior, Christine seemed to feel heavier and heavier. Talking it out with Hikaru had been somewhat therapeutic, but there was only one person she really wanted to talk to about the experience. And she wouldn't see him for another three days. It seemed like an eternity.

Finally, after what seemed to be a long walk but was really a short trip, Christine walked into her cabin, through the bedroom opening and immediately flopped down on the firm bed. God, she was tired.

She decided to take the same advice she had given Grimka. Sleep.

Sleep would be a welcome respite to her unwelcome remembrances.

* * *

The scream that pierced the silence of Christine's room belied her confident assertion to herself three days before that sleep would be welcome. It had been so ... for about twenty minutes. Then the dreams had come. Or to be more precise, nightmares.

Nightmares of Crabtree strangling her or worse. This last one had Crabtree tying Spock up next to the bomb and then setting it off in front of Christine's eyes.

Christine shivered in her bed as she sat straight up, her chest heaving in the effort to calm down. It was just a dream ... a dream. Get a grip on yourself, Christine Chapel. You're a doctor. You've seem some horrible things. You can get through this.

Damn!

She hadn't slept more than an hour at a time in three days. She wouldn't get back to sleep tonight. That she knew.

Throwing off her covers in frustration, Christine strode to her bathroom and showered, even through it was 0330. Letting the hot spray, as hot as she could stand, warm her body which seemed perpetually cold.

After dressing, she sat down at her desk and pulled up the latest word from the conference. They, Sulu, Marloth, and she, would be beaming down for the signing ceremony in an annex to the Klingon Council chambers. Outworlders were not allowed in the chambers themselves. That was reserved for Klingon matters only.

The conference and seeing Spock again was the lifeline that Chris had been holding on to in the days since they had left the terraforming station. She hadn't talked with Hikaru again about herself since her debriefing, though she knew that he had been looking at her in concern these last three days. She hadn't talked with Janice either.

Hiding from yourself was never a good idea, she knew. But she knew that she couldn't get through this alone. And as much as she loved Hikaru and Janice, they weren't the ones that she needed. Spock and Leonard were the ones her mind cried out for ...

* * *

When the transporter beam released her, Christine found herself in a big hall, decorated in all manner of Klingon art, with an emphasis on leatherwork or paintings showing heroic battles or death scenes. Leaving Sulu and Marloth behind, Christine started to wander the large cavernous space.

The art was grim but beautiful, Chris thought as she started to scan the room for the men in her life. She wasn't having much luck however. Hordes of tall, powerful specimens of Klingon manhood and womanhood made it hard for Christine to see the central dais where she could picture Spock's father and Azetbor being seated or standing to receive guests.

She hoped that if she could find the Ambassador, she would find Spock, Leonard, and the Captain.

Unfortunately, she didn't get to search further as she was waylaid by a familiar deep voice.

"Well, Doctor. I should have suspected that you would be here. You do not seem to be able to escape us Klingons, do you?"

Christine whirled around in a circle, looking for the source of the voice. Eventually, her eyes landed on a tall, older Klingon. She smiled a smile of surprise and pleasure.

"Mardek!" She cried. "What are you doing here? The colony let you leave?" Mardek was the first Klingon doctor Christine and Spock had met during their mission to the Klingon colonies devastated by the radiation from Praxis' destruction. He had been leery of them, understandably, but in time, Chris and he had come to an understanding. Both fought to save lives.

"I could ask you the same. I am here on parole, as it were. Learning about new medical techniques to help my people. If I wait for the Council to provide, I would see Stovokor before I would see the help."

Christine laughed. "Just as enamored with authority as ever, I see."

"And you, Healer, I assume that you are here to see your paramour."

Christine frowned. "My paramour?"

"These old eyes are not blind yet," Mardek replied, dryly. "Your Vulcan, who is here with his father as a good son should be. May I assume that you decided not to fight him any longer?"

She shook her head. Even a Klingon that she had only known for two weeks had noticed her love for Spock and her fear of rejection that had kept she and Spock apart for the whole of the mission to the colonies. She had been so blind ...

"One has to accept surrender eventually, Mardek," Christine said finally, a hint of color coming to her cheeks. "I really should go and find 'my Vulcan' now, Mardek. I have not seen him in some time."

Christine inclined her head at him and he did the same, and she moved to start her search again, but before she had gone two steps, she stopped as another familiar deep voice cut into their goodbye.

"How have you managed to interrogate the Doctor, Old One? Her hide has always been too thick for my arrows."

"Treat your adversary with respect, Marloth. Study them. Youngsters always have trouble with that concept," Mardek replied, his eyes laughing as he saw Christine's amazed look.

Christine could hardly believe what her eyes were relaying to her. With her medical colleague and her young savior standing side by side, she could plainly see the resemblance. Marloth, was a younger, taller, version of Mardek; their eyes were of the same piercing nature and their voices were the same deep rumble.

Christine started to laugh. She couldn't stop laughing.

"That's how you knew who I was." She gasped through her tears of laughter at the younger Klingon. "Your father told you." Straightening up to her full height and wiping her tears, Christine turned her attention to the older Klingon, quickly settling back into her natural state, a serious sincerity.

"Your son is a credit to you," Christine said . "He saved my life and the lives of over 80 of our colleagues. The House of Mardek is indeed a house of great honor. I am in your debt."

The older Klingon's eyes softened at the traditional Klingon formula that Christine was trying to approximate; thanks to the Head of House for a member's service.

"No, Healer. We are now in balance. My life for yours. Your cures saved my people. It is only fitting that my offspring be instrumental in your continued well-being." Mardek clapped his son on the shoulder. "He is an adequate warrior," His look of pride into his son's eyes belied the measured nature of his words, "when his head rules his wild nature."

Marloth shook his head, his affection for his father shining in his own eyes even as he moved to protest his father's words. "Wildness is at the core of the Klingon heart, old one. I follow the Way."

Christine shook her head at their words. They reminded her of another father and son, she knew. The tug and pull of a uniquely male power struggle which overlaid the familial love and respect on both sides.

"Well, I think that he did a marvelous job ..." She looked over at Marloth. "And so does Grimka." She wanted to laugh as the interrogating look came back into Mardek's eye as he noticed his son stiffen in an attempt to hide his embarrassment. "We both thank the House of Mardek very much ..."

"As do we."

Christine's heart melted as she heard the most familiar deep voice of all caress her from behind. Turning slowly as to not give in to the urge to throw her arms around him or cry uncontrollably, she looked up and saw the eyes that she most wanted to see staring back down at her for a long moment before returning to the Klingon pair.

She didn't hear what he said to her friends. She didn't speak either. She just stared at him. His weathered, dear face with its slight green tinge topped by the sleek dark hair that she so wanted to smooth her hands over before caressing his delicate ears.

Reluctantly, she shook herself from her trance and turned back to her Klingon friends. And that's when she noticed that Leonard was there too.

Smiling, Christine left Spock's side to hug her mentor and friend fiercely. She hadn't had time to say goodbye to him before she had left for the terraforming station and by the strong grip that he gave her, she knew that he must have worried about her. His complaints lashed into her, though his voice was as soft as possible.

"Dammit, Chris. You know how to scare a man. How you let that dammed Vulcan ... No, both of those damn Vulcans and 'Fleet talk you into that fiasco of a mission, I'll never know." McCoy shook her gently as their embrace ended. "You could have been killed."

Christine could hardly hold back the tears that threatened to escape. "Sometimes, I hardly know myself, Len."

McCoy's eyes narrowed at her and Chris knew that he was sizing her up in his discerning fashion. "You had a rough time of it, didn't you?" he asked softly.

She lowered her eyes for a moment to steady herself and her reactions before raising her head in a brave, professional front. "It wasn't a picnic. But I survived. Nothing that you wouldn't have done in the old five year mission days."

A snort was McCoy's reaction to her statement and her false bravado. "I don't think so, missy. I'm a Doctor, not a secret agent. And if you think that you are fooling me, you have another think coming."

McCoy leaned in, forestalling her weak attempt at a protest with a whisper in her ear. "You even had Spock worried. When we read the report of what happened, he closed up like an Aldebaran shellmouth. Had to break out some of the old insults to get a rise out of him."

Christine turned back to look at the subject of their discussion as McCoy talked. He looked handsome and compelling as he talked to the delegates who had replaced her Klingon friends; Mardek and Marloth must have walked off while she had been occupied with McCoy, she thought.

"He looks at home, doesn't he?" she said softly, fondly, as she watched him react and speak in confident tones to all who wished to speak to him with the same diplomatic aplomb that Sarek commanded.

"He does, doesn't he? Looks like we might have a diplomat on our hands permanently. Even Jim's convinced of it after this mission."

Christine smiled, not taking her eyes off of Spock as she listened to Leonard's words coming to her from beside her. "He got them to see reason? To sign the accords?"

"You bet your sweet Vulcan salute, he did. He ran rings around them. The Klingon Council never knew what hit 'em. Oh, Sarek provided the polish, the experience. But Spock provided the spark. You should have seen the Ambassador. Almost bursting with that reserved Vulcan pride of his."

She laughed. "They are just alike, aren't they? 'Our Vulcan's', as a Klingon friend of mine would say. Come on. Let's join them."

By this time, Sarek had arrived to stand next to his son, and again Christine marveled at the inherent similarities between Mardek and Marloth and her two favorite Vulcans in the long moment she and Leonard spent wading through the throngs who naturally gravitated to Spock and Sarek.

"Ah, Dr. Chapel." Sarek's smooth baritone rang out as her spotted her. "It is most gratifying to see you."

Christine smiled fondly at him before schooling her features into a more dignified expression. "And you as well, Ambassador. Congratulations on the success of the talks."

Sarek bowed slightly. "I was one of many. My son being chief among them. And I understand that congratulations are in order for you as well, Doctor."

Christine started to shake her head and explain that young Mardek was the real hero when Spock interrupted them.

"Indeed." And his eyes seemed to bore through Christine to her very soul. "Dr. Chapel is to be commended for completing her mission, fully intact. Despite rumors to the contrary."

Christine inwardly flinched at his tone which hinted of dark emotion and angry concern. It was a good thing that he had not seen her when they had first beamed her on board Excelsior after Crabtree's standoff. Her healing was almost complete. There were a few bruised places still to be healed, but you couldn't tell by looking at her face.

She had the feeling as he continued to stare at her that he could see those bruises that hid beneath her clothes.

"Yes. Quite," Sarek replied dryly. "Although the important thing is that she is here now. Would you not agree, my son?"

Spock let his gaze become less intense as he responded to his father. "Of course, Father."

Christine started to say something, but a loud gong interrupted. The Ambassador looked relieved. As relieved as a Vulcan could look, of course.

"I believe that it is time to begin the signing ceremony. Doctor Chapel, after you." Sarek inclined his head and waited for her to pass him.

Christine felt as though she had been given a reprieve. Momentarily. But they had to talk. And soon.

* * *

For Christine, the signing of the final status accords between the Federation and the Klingon Empire should have been an intensely exciting occasion. She had done her small part for peace. She had been there at the beginning on Khitomer and she was now here at the end of the beginning. How many people could say that?

But all she could think about was Spock. Whenever she glanced over at him, he was staring straight ahead at the ceremony unfolding before them. He hadn't looked at her since before the signing ceremony began ...

She had to talk to him. She needed to touch him, to assure herself that she was really here and that the worst was over. For the moment, of course. The cause of peace never runs smoothly. Finally, Azetbor, Sarek, and the other signers of the Accords finished, and as the applause began, Christine forced her thoughts on the significance of the occasion. She suspected that those signatures would become as famous as Hancock, Jefferson, and Franklin's had been. And she was glad to have done her bit to help.

* * *

Christine found herself wandering the expansive hall again, after the official ceremony was over. Spotting Sulu finally, talking to what seemed to be Klingon Council member, she waved surreptitiously to him before continuing on her way before he could wave her over to him.

She didn't want to talk to anyone. Spock, Sarek, and the Captain were busy talking to the Chancellor and her staff and Christine had no place in that conversation.

Nor did she want it. She was just a doctor. Not a diplomat. Or a secret agent, as Leonard had said. And she would be glad to go back to her job.

She was also ready to go back to the ship. She had hoped to have Spock walk her to her room so that they could talk, but it didn't seem likely. She shrugged.

Time to move.

* * *

When she reached her quarters, Christine tore off her dress uniform that had felt so confining and slipped on the most comfortable set of pyjamas that she had.

She couldn't sleep. But she could be comfortable while she was forced to be awake. Taking a recent medical journal that she had been meaning to read since Spock and she had been assigned to the medical mission, Christine was soon engrossed in the medical paper, 'Homeopathic Therapies for the Non-Human Patient."

For all of 3 minutes.

She sighed. The paper was no substitute for talking with Spock. But she couldn't expect his responsibilities to end, just because she needed him, either. She sighed again. Okay, Christine. Time for drastic measures. The one thing guaranteed to distract you ... work. Even if it was someone else's baby right now.

She called up the computer and asked it for status reports for the ongoing and recently completed emergency relief missions that she had occurred during in their two month mission to the colonies and this latest mission.

There had been an outbreak of Tarellian flu on Beta 7; a series of earthquakes on Alpha Hydra; and their mission to the Klingons. Not a bad few months, she thought to herself. Usually there were many more incidents than that in a two-month period. The Federation was vast, after all.

But just as she was truly starting to forget her troubles in the work that her people had done in her absence, the door chimed.

Christine closed her eyes and centered herself for a moment before rising to answer the door. Spock stood there in his uniform, still looking every bit the Captain, although his eyes were soft. The hard look they had held earlier was gone. She wondered what had happened. His voice was mild-spoken as he spoke first.

"May I come in?"

Christine nodded, willing her heart to calm down as she let in her lover ... had that been only two weeks ago? It seemed like a lifetime ...

"Would you like some juice?" she asked, affecting a calm she didn't feel as she led him into the small seating area.

Spock sat down on the couch in the room and shook his head. "No, thank you."

"Or something to eat. I bet that you haven't eaten anything," Christine continued nervously. It was funny, now that he was here, she didn't want to talk about the mission. She continued her delaying tactics, instead. "You never seem to eat enough ... I don't know how many times Leonard or I ..."

"Christine," Spock quietly interrupted, holding out his hand out to her as he stared at her. "I did not come here for 'small talk' ... Please, come sit down."

Chris looked down at his hand and slowly reached for it. He was right. They needed to get this over with. With him gently pulling her by the hand, Christine sat down beside him and started to speak.

"Spock, I'm sorry to have worried you ... I did the best I could ..."

She was stopped by a finger on her lips and the tenderness that shone in his eyes.

"Yes, you did as your conscience and courage led you. I could ask for no more." Spock moved his hand around to cup her cheek. "I am the one who must apologize for making you feel uneasy about your actions. I am proud of you, Christine. You uncovered a dangerous criminal and took away the last barrier to peace."

Christine shook her head sadly as she looked down at her lap, "No ... I almost got everyone else killed ... if Marloth and Sulu hadn't shown up ..."

"You alerted the others of the situation. You protected the female scientist," Spock replied, the forcefulness in his voice contrasting with the gentleness of his touch as he compelled her to look at him again. "Your guilt is unwarranted. If anyone has reason to feel guilt, it is I."

A confused look crossed her face as she protested. "What are you talking about?"

"I let them draft you for a dangerous situation that you were not trained for. You could have died ... and I would have been responsible."

It was Christine's turn to look forceful as grabbed the hand on her cheek and held it in her hands, squeezing it hard. "You're being illogical, Spock," she said harshly. "You didn't let me do anything. I volunteered. If I had died, it would have been Crabtree's fault."

Spock raised one eyebrow. "Indeed? Then how could it have been your fault if the others had been killed at his hands?"

Christine just stared at him, registering his statement as his eyebrow lowered and he looked on her with a sense of fond regard.

"Dr. McCoy informed me of my illogical behavior this evening with one of his many human expressions. I believe his words were to stop being a 'macho jerk'."

Spock smiled just slightly at her subdued, sympathetic laugh. "I could no more protect you than you could have prevented Crabtree's treachery from manifesting itself."

Christine raised a hand to his shoulder and stroked his uniform gently as she stared into his eyes. "Then I guess we both have to learn that we can't fix everything."

"And that anger and guilt are illogical." His arm moved to encircle her waist as her hand continued its path around his neck.

"And what about love?" Christine asked as she pulled herself to him. "Is it illogical too?"

"Of course," he replied, slipping his free hand into her dark, shoulder-length hair. "But I will overlook that fact, if you will."

"I will."

And with that she proceeded to show him just how seriously she took her vow.

THE END

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