DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of JM Lane and is copyright (c) 2000 by JM Lane. This story is Rated PG-13.


JM Lane

Christopher Chapel nervously paced his living room, frankly dreading the beep of his personal computer which would indicate that he had received a final answer from the Federation Diplomatic Corps regarding his next assignment. It had been rumored that he would be sent to Vulcan, one of the most inhospitable planets in the Galaxy -- in more ways than one.

He had no idea how life of any kind could have evolved on the planet, much less intelligent Humanoid life. The horrendously hot weather was only one reason he dreaded the idea of going. Another was the fact that Humans were pretty rare on Vulcan, and therefore looked upon with a mixture of tolerance and suspicion, the IDIC philosophy notwithstanding.

It was bad enough that he would have to go, but to uproot his wife and daughter... Not that Ann wouldn't be able to find employment. After all, she was a celebrated research scientist in her own right. If the rumors proved true and they were relocated to Vulcan, she at least would fit in -- more or less -- but what of their small daughter Christine, affectionately known as "Chrissy"?

She had so enjoyed the time on her grandparents' farm, particularly the attentions of a small dog which had attached himself to her and followed her everywhere. One day a horse stepped on him, badly injuring the little animal. Chrissy couldn't bear the thought of having her adorable little friend put to sleep; instead, she was determined to do all she could to save him ... and so she did, with help from her Grandfather Erickson, Ann's father. Once he was out of danger, she begged her parents to let her keep him -- if only to make sure he stayed well. Christopher was reluctant because of their uncertain lifestyle, but between Ann and Chrissy, he found himself giving in.

She had just gotten used to being back at school, where she had begun the first grade ... and was even beginning to make some friends. How could he take her away from them? Being an only child, Chrissy needed all the friends she could get. He and Ann had made a valiant attempt to have more children after their daughter was born, but after three miscarriages and one stillborn son, they had decided not to try any more -- just make the most of the sweet little blonde moppet they already had.

The beep of the computer brought Christopher back to reality with a jolt; a moment later he swung around on his toes and headed purpose fully toward the computer. Upon arriving, he pressed the flashing button to silence the incessant beep and seated himself in the desk chair as an image formed on the small monitor screen in front of him.

"Chris?" came the deep, resonant voice of his immediate superior, Donald Franklin, a career diplomat who had served the Delta region for the last twenty years. "Franklin here. It's confirmed. You're going to Vulcan, effective stardate 0395.2, at 0900 hours, and will serve as assistant to Sarek, the senior Vulcan Ambassador. Report to the Delta III Spaceport; passage has been booked for you and your family on the Federation long-range shuttle Antares. It is due to leave at ten-hundred hours, so please be sure to arrive in plenty of time. You know how hectic and crowded the Spaceport can get. Best of luck to you on your new assignment. You're going to need it. Franklin out." The viewscreen went blank.

*Tell me about it,* Christopher thought wryly. He sighed deeply as he leaned back in the chair. *Thank God they gave me time to get organized this time. Usually I hardly have time to get packed before I have to leave. Now all I have to worry about is breaking the news to Ann and Chrissy.*

* * *

To Christopher's relief, his wife accepted their new assignment without too much fuss -- but little Chrissy objected strenuously. During the two weeks prior to their departure, a day never passed that either he or her mother didn't find their small daughter in tears.If it wasn't over leaving her friends, it was leaving their home and her beloved little pet, "Monty". What would she do with herself on Vulcan? The Vulcan children wouldn't want anything to do with a Human child, so she would be left to herself both during and after school. How would she ever be able to stand it?

* * *

In the end, of course, Chrissy reconciled herself to leaving -- but had talked her parents into taking her little dog with them. Christopher admonished his daughter that her pet had to be put into a cage for transport to Vulcan, and could not be with her during the three-day trip ... though she could visit him occasionally.

Upon arrival, he had to be kept inside during the hottest part of the day, and even when she let him out for his daily run, she had to watch him. Christopher would do his best to rent a house with a walled yard, but couldn't guarantee it, so she would have to do her part if she wanted to keep her small pet. She was also not to go too far lest she become lost and her parents unable to find her.

The next few days before their scheduled departure were a flurry of activity. Christopher marveled at the order Ann had made out of seeming chaos -- and how she had gotten both them and all their possessions, including Chrissy's little Scottie, to the spaceport in plenty of time to make their shuttle flight.

Chrissy was good as gold most of the time, but other times (as is the way of young children) fussed to either go to the bathroom, the cargo hold to see her little dog or have something to eat. Her doting parents indulged her whims as much as they could, but in consideration of the other passengers' sensibilities, imposed limits. The child was warned not to test her parents' (or the other passengers') patience too often lest she be denied access to Monty. It was that which kept her more-or-less in line during the nearly 72 hours it took to arrive at their destination.

Upon arrival at Vulcan, Christopher Chapel contacted the Diplomatic Corps and asked about housing for himself and his family. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Franklin had arranged for a house on the outskirts of ShiKahr, the Sas-A-Shar Province's largest city. He would even be put in contact with Sarek if he had any questions. As it turned out, Sarek lived only a half block away from Christopher and his family, with his wife and son. Chrissy would be in the same grade as Spock since the children were close to the same age, though Spock was a month or so older.

Shortly after they moved in, he and Ann were stunned to learn that Sarek's wife was Human -- a teacher named Amanda Grayson three years older than Ann. Once past the initial shock, they were pleased to know that there was another Human in close proximity. Perhaps they could become friends. Perhaps Chrissy and Spock could as well, since he was half-Human and surely as isolated as their daughter was because of his dual heritage. In addition, both were only children, giving them something else in common. If that happened, it wouldn't be so hard for Chrissy, because she wouldn't have to spend so much time alone.

* * *

There was quite a stir when Ann Chapel took her daughter in to register her for school. Humans were a rarity on Vulcan, particularly ones so fair-skinned and light-haired ... a stark contrast to the olive-skinned, dark-haired Vulcans. Ann Chapel couldn't avoid a shiver of apprehension. Her blonde, blue-eyed baby would stand out like a sore thumb here. She prayed that this wasn't a mistake; after all, there *was* the option of tutoring Chrissy at home. But she was too isolated as it was; it was best for her to be around other children -- even Vulcan children.

At this point, a hard voice reached Ann's ears. She turned to see a Vulcan boy about Chrissy's age with a stoic expression on his face being led by a stern-faced teacher into the Master's office. (She had been told that the Master was the Vulcan equivalent of a principal.) Chrissy heard the teacher and ran to the door to see what was going on; Ann followed her. The child looked up at her mother, a questioning look on her face.

"Mama, why is that teacher so angry?"

The registrar joined them before Ann could answer. Ann asked her what was going on.

"It is simply the half-Human being punished for disrupting his class again. He has a distressing habit of reprogramming his classmates' computers so that their lessons are erased from the machines' memory -- among other things." The middle-aged Vulcan woman's voice was contemptuous.

That was when Ann recognized him. It was Spock! She had met him not too long before on a visit to Sarek's home. Spock seemed to be quiet, respectful and mild-mannered ... incapable of doing what he was being accused of. If he *had* done it, however, he must have had a good reason. She was determined not to judge anyone before knowing all the facts, and had raised Chrissy to feel the same way.

If the other children had been tormenting Spock because of his half-breed status, she couldn't blame him for wanting to retaliate -- even if it was illogical. Of course, that wouldn't help his standing in his class or with his strict, exacting father.

Sarek had been polite when they'd met at his home, but she got along best with Amanda -- a small, lovely and outgoing woman with reddish-brown hair, blue eyes and a warm smile ... as did Chrissy, until she met Spock. As for Spock, he had been in his room studying and did not put in an appearance until near the end of their visit.

The boy was stunned speechless upon seeing Chrissy, particularly when she smiled at him. Her blue eyes seemed to have diamonds sparkling on their surfaces. He had never seen any Vulcan girl as pretty -- mainly because Vulcans never smiled. At least not full-blooded ones. He had been known to do so, but attributed that to his Human blood and the corresponding emotions it visited upon him.

They came back to reality after the door to the Master's office closed behind the boy and his teacher. Ann and the registrar returned to their chairs to finish their business. Within half an hour, Chrissy was registered in first grade at ShiKahr Primary School and would begin classes the following Monday morning. (The Vulcan terms for the days of the week were unpronounceable, so the Terran terms had been borrowed for schools and businesses.)

After leaving the school, Ann headed for the nearest shopping center to buy clothing and school supplies for her daughter, using a map of the city provided by the Diplomatic Corps for new residents. It was late afternoon before they arrived home. Things were working out better than she could have hoped; she prayed they would continue to do so.

* * *

Chrissy's first day at school started out well enough, but when the teacher wasn't around, the Vulcan children started in on her and didn't let up until an icy look from the returning teacher stopped them. But once lunchtime arrived, Chrissy was left to herself ... for which she was thankful.

She was nearly finished with her lunch when three older boys about nine years of age resumed their harangue about the inferiority of Humans to Vulcans and how she didn't belong on Vulcan, much less in the same school as themselves.

And as if this wasn't enough, one provoked an argument with her. Another snatched her remaining lunch away while she was occupied and threw it into the garbage. This was as much as Chrissy could take. She buried her face in her arms while resting them on her datapad and collection of computer cassettes and burst into tears. Her stylus came loose from the datapad and rolled off the table, hitting the floor a couple of seconds later.

It came to rest at the feet of the half-Human Spock, who had heard the commotion and come to investigate. Once he saw who was being tormented, he waded right in with no thought for himself or the further trouble he might get into. He thought only of the lonely little Human girl with big blue eyes and hair the color of Earth's Sun he remembered meeting three days earlier when she and her parents had visited his home.

"Salar, Sopek and Sarel, what do you think you are doing? Leave the girl alone. She has done nothing to you." His voice was as stern as he could muster.

"Stay out of this, half-breed," Salar replied coldly. "This is a matter for true Vulcans."

"No true Vulcan would act as shamefully as you have." Spock's voice was laced with ice. "Now kindly refrain from tormenting her further, or else I will report you to the Master."

That froze Chrissy's antagonists in their tracks. The half-breed may have been a lot of undesirable things, but he was not a liar. If he said he would report them to the Master, he would. It was logical that they refrain from further harassment, at least for now -- but if the half-Human insisted on coming to the Human girl's aid after this, all the better.

He was no better than she was, so they would have great sport with two to torment instead of one. Being children, it did not occur to them that Spock would carry out his threat if they plagued Chrissy again. However, they were also clever enough to twist things around in order to make Spock the villain and thus avoid punishment, at least part of the time.

"Very well, half-breed. You have won ... this time. However, I would advise you not to interfere next time, or else it will not go well for you." Sarel's voice was low and ominous as he and his two cohorts slunk away.

Spock ignored them and sat down by Chrissy, who was still sobbing. He had not had any experience with Human females other than his mother -- particularly not with young ones such as this. However, his mother had taught him never to ignore a female in distress. Of course, as a Vulcan, he had never seen anyone cry ... although he had cried on various occasions in his life -- so Amanda had told her son to look for these telltale signs: tears, swollen, red eyes, puffy cheeks and sobbing.

He was unable to see the girl's face to check for tears, puffy cheeks or swollen eyes, but her shoulders were shaking and she seemed to be sobbing -- if the sounds she was making were any indication. His mother had also mentioned that it was best to gently touch the person in distress and speak softly to them, asking if he could help. He had not made physical contact with anyone other than his parents up to this point, so he was unsure of how the girl would react ... but was also unable to endure the sobbing any longer.

"Please do not cry any more. I have sent your tormentors away. They will no longer trouble you -- at least not today. I have also warned them that they will answer to me if I catch them doing it again." He made his voice as gentle as possible.

Chrissy lifted her head to look into Spock's eyes ... dark, velvet eyes soft with sympathy -- though something told her that the young Vulcan was unaware he was showing any emotion. She gave him a watery smile.

"T-thank you. They've been ... tormenting me all day."

"I can understand how you must feel," Spock confessed. "I have also been the unwilling recipient of their harassment on several occasions."

"I -- just came from Earth with my parents. This is ... my first day here. I've done nothing wrong. Why did they torture me so?"

"Many of my people find it difficult to accept non-Vulcans or a hybrid such as myself into our culture -- although I find their attitude as perplexing as you do."

Chrissy could hardly believe that her companion was only six and a half years old, like herself. He spoke like one much older.

"You're Spock, the son of Ambassador Sarek, aren't you? Daddy told me he'd married a Human woman."

Spock nodded. "My mother. Her name is Amanda, and she is a teacher."

Chrissy brushed her tears away and straightened her clothing. "I think I've met her. Does she have blue eyes and reddish-brown hair?"

"She does," he confirmed.

"Mama says she's very nice. I think so."

"Indeed." Spock's voice had lowered so Chrissy could scarcely hear it. "I can walk you home after school if you like. I am sure you have no wish to cause your mother undue concern. In addition, your tormentors may try to harass you again. If I am with you, they will be less likely to do so. Mother has always told me, 'There is safety in numbers'."

"I'd appreciate that," Chrissy told him with a smile. "My name is Chrissy. It's short for 'Christine'. I was named for my father."

"His name is Christine?" Spock sounded incredulous.

Chrissy laughed. "Oh, no. His name is Christopher. 'Christine' is a girl's name." She watched Spock pick up his own belongings, then stood up and followed suit. "Thank you for helping me."

"It was my duty," he said coolly, but she saw a sparkle of happiness in his dark eyes as they returned to class. An hour later they started their journey home. They spoke little, but exchanged lingering eye contact several times. It was necessary to pass Spock's house to get to Chrissy's, but she didn't realize it until later.

"Thank you for walking me home. It was nice."

Spock's cheeks tinged with green. "It was the least I could do. We should now let your mother know that you have arrived safely home."

He reached for the doorbell and rang it. Classes had ended at 1:30 p.m. Primary school children rarely attended classes longer than four hours a day, and Spock and Chrissy were no exception.

"You don't need to do that," Chrissy said. "I can do it."

"Nonsense. Your mother should know what happened."

Chrissy had no time to reply before Ann Chapel answered the door.

The older woman's eyes widened upon seeing Spock standing next to her small daughter -- the same boy who had been hauled into the Master's office for a reprimand only three days ago. What was he doing here with her?

"Good afternoon, Madam. My name is Spock. As you may recall, I am the son of Ambassador Sarek. Your daughter was tormented by three other very unkind children; I stopped it. If you will permit me, I would like to walk her to and from school from now on to ensure that she will not be harassed further."

Ann Chapel was dumfounded at the boy's ramrod-straight back and matter-of-fact voice. "I -- have no objections," she finally said. "Are you all right, darling?" she directed at her child.

"Yes, thanks to Spock saving me." Chrissy smiled at her companion, who again turned slightly green. "I was crying because three older boys were being mean to me; he sent them away and warned them not to bother me again or he'd report them to the Master of the school."

"You deserve a reward for helping my daughter, young man. Would you come in for a drink of milk and some carrot cake?"

"Thank you for asking, Madam, but I must get to my own home before my mother begins to worry." Spock was as polite and gracious as a six and a half-year-old boy can be.

"We have a vidphone. You can call her from here and ask her permission to stay with us a little while."

Spock sighed, then nodded. "Very well, if that is what you wish."

He followed Chrissy inside after Ann Chapel moved aside to open the door further for them. Chrissy put her things in her room, then came back out to see Spock sitting at the kitchen table, a glass of milk in one hand and a fork in the other with a piece of carrot cake on it. Her mother was putting the plate of cake and duraplastic bottle of milk away in the fridge. Spock gave Chrissy a half-smile when she joined him at the table; another glass of milk and piece of carrot cake was at her place.

"Mother said I could stay long enough to eat the cake and drink the milk," he explained. "But as I surmised earlier, she was beginning to worry. She was pleased that I contacted her to inform her of my whereabouts."

Chrissy merely smiled and nodded in acknowledgment, settling down to enjoy her own cake and milk. Ann Chapel joined the children in the third chair at the table, attempting to engage Spock in conversation. "I understand that you are in the same grade as Chrissy, Spock."

"Yes," he said between bites of cake and swallows of milk.

"Did she tell you that we just arrived from Earth?"

"Yes," he said again.

"Did she tell you that I'm a scientist?"

"No," Spock answered, setting his half-full milk glass down even as one upswept eyebrow rose. He had not been present when Ann had mentioned the kind of work she did, so he was unaware of this fact.

"If you are in need of employment, perhaps I can talk to my father and see if he can find a position for you at the Science Academy. Of course, he may need to speak with you first, so I could have him call you at his earliest convenience."

"That would be very helpful," Ann Chapel smiled. "Thank you, Spock."

"You are welcome," the boy replied quietly before taking another bite of cake and swallow of milk.

"I hear that you've been in trouble at school, Spock. Re-programming your classmates' computers to erase their lessons, things like that."

Spock bowed his head after setting his glass down again. "That is true. I did it to 'get back at' them for harassing me. Vulcans do not approve of violence, so I had to think of a non-violent means of doing so."

"That's right. You're half-Human, aren't you? In which case, you've probably been tormented just as my Chrissy has."

Spock nodded. "My mother is Human."

"I've met her. She's very nice. Her name's Amanda, right?"

"Correct," Spock confirmed.

"I can't understand how the other children could be so nasty to you and Chrissy. You've done nothing to deserve it."

Spock frowned. "We represent an outside influence. Vulcan tradition is not easily changed." Spock finished the last of his milk and cake, then stood up and gathered his things together. "I must leave now. Thank you for the delicious carrot cake and milk."

"You're very welcome," Ann Chapel smiled. "And please keep in mind that any friend of Chrissy's is welcome at our home."

Spock blushed yet again. "Thank you, Madam. I will."

"Call me Mrs. Chapel," Ann Chapel said. "'Madam' is too formal. We're an informal family."

"Very well ... Mrs. Chapel. I must be going now."

"Say hello to your mother for me, okay? And tell her that she is welcome here, too."

Spock nodded with a half-smile and headed for the door. Chrissy got up and followed him, not wanting to let her new (and only) friend disappear so soon.

"I will see you tomorrow, Chrissy. Please be ready when I come for you. I trust you are aware that school begins at nine o'clock in the morning."

Chrissy nodded. "In which case, I will be here at eight thirty, so as to allow us time to walk there. Until tomorrow." He opened the front door and took a step, which put him outside.

"Wait, Spock. I want to thank you again for being so nice to me today."

He raised one upswept eyebrow in astonishment when she pecked him on the cheek, then blushed deeply once again. "I'll see you in the morning."

Spock didn't trust his voice, so he simply nodded in her direction and departed. Chrissy watched until he turned and went into his house, then went back inside and closed the door. She said not a word to her mother, just walked past her and into her room with an enigmatic smile on her face. Ann Chapel didn't think such a look was possible on a child's face -- but the evidence of her own eyes proved otherwise. She must discuss this with Christopher when he came home. Their little Chrissy was experiencing her first crush! And she would have sworn that young Spock shared Chrissy's feelings, simply from the way he had looked at her just before leaving. She had had no idea that that was possible for a Vulcan ... not even one who was half-Human.

* * *

Spock kept a watchful eye on Chrissy -- as much as he could. Fortunately they shared many of the same classes, so the incidents of harassment were kept to a minimum. He even ate lunch with her. Because of this, her former tormentors kept a discreet distance, having reminded themselves of Spock's threat to tell the Master what they had done. It would not go well for them if the Master learned of their behavior because he would tell their parents.

Nowadays their harassment was confined to teasing along the lines of "Spock has a 'chejan '(girlfriend), Spock has a 'chejan'..." It was embarrassing, but far easier to live with than their previous verbal -- and sometimes physical -- attacks.

He was glad to be making his little classmate's life easier (and his own, to a certain extent), but the intense emotion which flowed from her whenever they were together made him very uncomfortable ... and they were together almost constantly. Virtually inseparable, in fact. Chrissy had become Spock's adoring shadow, and he wasn't used to being the object of someone's affection.

One day about a month later, Spock came back from walking Chrissy home. Sarek was away on Federation business, so Amanda was left alone with their son. Like most Vulcans, Spock was aware that he had emotions, but rarely permitted himself to either acknowledge or express them. At the moment, however, it wasn't his own emotions he was concerned with.

Spock found his mother working at her desk in one corner of their living room. "Mother..." he said quietly. Amanda lifted her head to look into her young son's troubled brown eyes. "Mother, I must speak with you."

"Of course, Spock. Let's go sit on the couch." She stood up and put a tentative hand on his right shoulder. The two sat down together upon reaching the couch. "What's on your mind, my son?" She stroked the silky dark hair of his bowed head.

"It is -- Chrissy." His voice was barely audible, hands in tight fists.

"What about her?"

"It is ... becoming progressively more difficult to be around her. She is in need of my protection, so I give it ... but I -- fear that she has developed what you would call a ... 'crush' on me. I am not used to being the object of such deep -- affection."

"And you find that hard to deal with," Amanda concluded. "Understandable. No one's ever felt like that about you before."

"What am I to do, Mother? I ... cannot block out her -- feelings for me."

Amanda opened her arms; Spock hesitated before moving into them to rest his head on her breast. She stroked his silky hair for a time, then kissed it before resting her cheek on it. The bewildered boy clung to his mother as he had never dared to do when his father was around ... but there were times he needed to be held by her and feel her love for him, the warm softness of her body and the smell of her perfume.

"I know this is a lot for a six-year-old to deal with, Spock, but you must. For everyone's sake, including your own. There will be many times in your life when you will have to deal with intense emotions; this is just one of the first. Adult problems are far more complex than those of children, but are easier to endure when you have someone around who cares about you that you can tell your troubles to, like now."

Her arms gently tightened around him, as did his around her. "Chrissy is Human, as I am, Spock, so she cannot shield her emotions. All you can do is have your father start teaching you how to shield at the first opportunity ... but if you think it necessary, I can speak to her mother."

"I would -- appreciate it, Mother. Even so, I have no wish to ... hurt Chrissy. It is not -- every day that someone has ... cared so much for me, and I wish to remain in her -- high regard."

"I'll be careful, Spock," Amanda promised. "Now get busy on your homework." He allowed himself to squeeze her, then smile. She put a hand to his cheek for a moment, then withdrew it to let him go on his way.

* * *

The following morning, after getting Spock off to school, Amanda seated herself at her desk and told the vidphone to turn on. "The Chapel residence, please."

A moment later Ann Chapel's face appeared, her forehead creased with concern. "Amanda? What's wrong?"

"I must speak privately with you, Ann. It concerns Spock and Chrissy."

"Would you like me to come over?"

"It would be appreciated. The children are in school and our husbands are working, so we couldn't have a better opportunity."

"Give me a few minutes to freshen up and I'll be right there," Ann promised.

"I'll see you in a little while, then." Amanda sighed as she cut the connection.

* * *

Fifteen minutes later Ann Chapel rang the doorbell of Sarek's home. Amanda answered immediately, quickly ushering her neighbor inside. The two women went into the kitchen and sat at the table; Amanda got them each a cup of coffee. She took a good long swig before setting her cup down and taking a deep breath.

"I had a talk with Spock yesterday. It seems that he's very disturbed about something."

"Which is?" the other woman prompted.

"He's finding it difficult to deal with ... Chrissy's feelings for him."

"I imagine that would be hard for a Vulcan to deal with," Ann acknowledged. "But Chrissy tells me that Spock's presence is the only thing that makes school bearable for her. I can't deny her the only friend she has here."

Amanda sighed and took another swig of coffee. "Spock also tells me that he -- does like her and doesn't want to hurt her, so we've got to tread lightly, see if we can't reach some sort of compromise which will accommodate both of them. I can see how this has come about; Chrissy's latched onto Spock like a lifeline because he's the only one who has been decent to her. I've tried to raise him so he knows how to deal with someone in distress, care about them before himself ... but this is a lot for a young boy to deal with, especially when he's not used to it."

Ann Chapel put a teaspoon of sugar into her coffee and stirred it, then took a swig. "Maybe it would help if I tutored Chrissy myself at home. I don't need to work; Christopher makes enough to keep us comfortably. That way she wouldn't have to worry about harassment, and could see Spock after he gets out of school. It would make things easier on him, at least where she is concerned."

"But *he* would still be subject to abuse," Amanda finished sadly. "It's hard to know what's right, you know? If there's one thing I know for sure about parenting, it's that it's purely trial and error. All you can do is hope and pray that you're doing the right thing by your children."

"Tell me about it," Ann Chapel returned dryly. "I think I *will* look into the possibility of home tutoring. Chrissy shouldn't object too strenuously to not going to regular school as long as she can still see Spock. I mean, it's hard enough for children to start over in a new place without having to worry about being emotionally or physically abused because they're not of the 'right' race or have the 'correct' beliefs."

"I'll let you know how things work out," Amanda promised. "Keep me posted on your end."

"Will do," Ann assured her. "Catch you later." With that, she finished her coffee and stood up to bid Amanda goodbye, both mothers praying that what they were doing would help and not hurt their children. As in all things where parenting was concerned, neither had any way of knowing one way or the other.

* * *

When Christopher returned, Ann knew that she had to tell her husband what had been going on between their daughter and Spock. However, she didn't get a chance to bring up the subject until they were getting ready for bed that night. Ann had made sure that Chrissy was sound asleep and wouldn't hear them.

"Chris, we've got to talk."

Christopher Chapel's eyebrows shot up and his eyes widened. "About what?" he asked as he began to undress.

She told him what had been going on at Chrissy's school, how she had been treated and that Spock had been acting as her protector. Also that she had spoken with Amanda, who had told her that Spock had confided how uncomfortable he was with the depth of Chrissy's feelings for him.

"That happens with children, Ann. Nothing to worry about." Christopher rummaged through his dresser drawers for his pajama bottoms.

"But Spock is a Vulcan -- or half-Vulcan, at any rate. Vulcans usually bond their children at age seven, and Spock will be seven on his next birthday. And despite the fact that Sarek married a Human woman, that doesn't mean he would countenance his son doing the same thing."

"How do you know that Spock even has feelings for our girl?" Christopher returned skeptically as he pulled on the PJ trousers. "Did he tell you?"

"Not directly. Amanda told me that he'd told her." Ann opened her left top drawer and pulled out a summer nightgown.

"Does Spock want to bond with Chrissy?"

"I don't know. Amanda never mentioned anything in that vein. What'll we do if Spock asks her to bond with him and she says yes?" Ann Chapel sounded almost frightened. "I like the boy, but..." Her voice trailed off as she began to undress.

"It would take more than his asking her and her acceptance to make it so. Chrissy has no concept of what bonding would mean; what child of her age would? It wouldn't surprise me if Spock didn't either. Sarek might not consider it 'logical' to tell him until someone had actually been chosen."

"Has Sarek chosen anyone for Spock that you know of?" Ann's voice was muffled as she pulled her nightgown over her head.

Christopher shook his head. "I'm not privy to Sarek's private doings, but it wouldn't surprise me. As you said, Spock will be seven on his next birthday."

"So will Chrissy," Ann reminded her husband.

"Vulcans don't put as much stock in love as we do, Ann. They do everything logically ... and half-Human or not, I'm pretty sure that Sarek's going to see to it that Spock does everything in the Vulcan way."

"But I wouldn't think that even Sarek would force his son into a bonding he doesn't want." The whole idea seemed scary to Ann. Spock had enough problems; an unwanted bonding would only add to them.

"You'd be surprised at what a Vulcan would do if he considered it logical," Christopher retorted. "Up to and including a forced bonding, as long as it's in keeping with Vulcan tradition." He turned the bedcovers down and slid beneath them.

"How logical can it be to force children into unwanted bondings? How do the parents know that their son or daughter won't fall in love with someone else later on?" Ann asked as she joined her husband in their bed. "The bonding would be a hindrance. It's better if they can choose for themselves."

"It would be a lot better for the children, but Heaven forbid they do the right thing," Christopher observed sarcastically as he moved closer to his wife and drew her into his arms. "But whatever happens with Spock, we certainly intend to do the right thing with our Chrissy." He lifted her chin and kissed her. "Let's get some sleep now. We're not going to help the children by staying awake worrying. Good night, honey."

"Good night, dear."

* * *

A few days later Ann Chapel was surprised to find Sarek standing at her front door after answering the doorbell. "Mrs. Chapel?" the Vulcan Ambassador asked politely. "I understand that you are in need of my assistance."

"Who told you that?"

"My son." Sarek allowed himself a frown. "How would he know?"

Ann Chapel snapped her fingers. "Oh, yes, I remember now. I told Spock that I was a scientist, so he promised to speak to you and see if you could help me get a job at the Science Academy."

"That would depend on what your specialty is, and what experience you have. Then I will see what I can do and contact you once I come up with something."

"Of course, I'm also considering tutoring Chrissy at home because of the difficulty she's been having in regular school." Sarek raised an eyebrow. "No, not academic difficulty. The other children have been tormenting her because she's Terran. She's a very sensitive child and it's rough on her. Children can be cruel, as I'm sure you're aware."

Sarek nodded. "May I come inside to discuss this further? It is quite warm today, even for Vulcan," the Ambassador observed.

"Oh, yes, of course," Ann said. "I wasn't thinking. Would you like something cool to drink?" She moved away from the door and swung it open so Sarek could enter.

"Orange juice would be desirable," he told her as he followed her inside to her kitchen.

"Sit at the table, then, and I'll get it." As she got them both some orange juice, Sarek detected an edge to her voice.

"Is something wrong, Mrs. Chapel?"

"Wrong? What makes you think something's wrong?"

"I can sense your distress. Does it have something to do with your daughter and her treatment by her classmates?"

"Partly ... but mostly it has to do with your son." Ann Chapel knew it would do no good to deny her feelings, since Sarek was a telepath, so she didn't try.

"Spock? What is *his* part in this?" Sarek frowned again.

"For the last month or so, he's been acting as Chrissy's -- protector, as it were. She says that Spock's presence is the only thing that's made school bearable for her these last few weeks."

"Bearable? In what way?"

"Keeping her from being verbally abused and having her lunch thrown in the garbage, things like that. Spock happened by when three older boys began to call her names and provoke an argument with her ... then to top it off, they threw her lunch in the trash. She began to cry, and that's when Spock intervened. She said that he warned them to stop or else he would report them to the Master -- and that if they tried to plague her further, they would answer to him. He's been walking her to and from school and just generally looking out for her ever since."

"Just as he should. It is the duty of the strong to protect the weak ... physically speaking, that is," Sarek amended upon seeing the tightening of Ann Chapel's jaw. "Why should that so concern you? I do not understand."

"I have learned that Chrissy has -- developed strong feelings for Spock. He has been ... almost overwhelmed by the intensity of the emotions he feels from her, and finds himself unable to block them out. He likes her and has no wish to hurt her, but is finding it difficult to be around her because of this. I don't want to deprive my child of the only friend she has here, but I also don't want to make things any harder on Spock than they already are, because he's been so good to her. I thought that Amanda might have discussed the situation with you."

"I have been away; she has not had the opportunity," Sarek told his hostess after taking another swallow of orange juice. "But I agree ... something must be done for the children."

"Do you have any suggestions? I was thinking to take Chrissy out of regular school and tutor her myself, as I said earlier."

"I assumed that you wished to resume your career."

"I would like to, but at the moment my child's welfare is what matters most to me. I can always resume it when she's older, since we live comfortably on what Christopher makes in the Diplomatic Corps."

Sarek was silent for a long moment. Ann Chapel had no idea what he was thinking because his face was expressionless, but she hoped he could figure something which would solve their mutual problem as painlessly as possible.

"It is difficult to think of a solution 'off the top of my head'," he finally said. "I will have to meditate on the matter and see what comes to me. In the meantime, the most logical thing for you to do is take your daughter out of regular school and tutor her at home." His next statement surprised her. "Have you a holograph of your daughter?"

Ann Chapel was very pleased once over her initial shock. "Of course. Wait here a moment." She dashed into the bedroom she shared with her husband and grabbed the recent holo Christopher had taken of their child. She took a deep breath just before entering the kitchen again; Sarek turned his head as she entered. "Here it is. Christopher took it last month." She handed it to him.

Sarek could not help noting the child's uncanny resemblance to her mother as well as her beauty. Understandable that Spock would wish to protect her and be in her company. At the same time, it troubled him because Spock's seventh birthday was approaching. He would need to start looking for families with daughters of bonding age so his son could take a mate in the traditional manner ... but this latest development gave him food for thought.

What if Spock's feelings for this beautiful little Human girl prompted him to ask permission to bond with her? And what if Spock refused to bond with anyone but Chrissy? It was illogical, but because of his son's dual heritage there was that possibility. Although Sarek would discuss the situation with Amanda, he would have the final word on the matter. The Ambassador sighed and stood up, turning for the door.

"I must take my leave of you now. Thank you for the orange juice and your insightful observations. Good day." Ann began to rise but Sarek raised a hand to stop her. "There is no need to see me to the door. If you wish, I can contact you later on what we have discussed, let you know what I have decided to do in that regard."

Ann Chapel smiled and nodded; Sarek saluted and departed.

* * *

Spock's *kahs-wan* (maturity test) would come up shortly before he was due to be bonded -- just after his seventh birthday. He spent most of the next several weeks preparing for it. It involved surviving for a week without food, water or shelter on Vulcan's Forge, the most inhospitable place on the whole planet ... mostly sheer rock cliffs or sand.

It was in a small cave located in a virtually inaccessible (except to a seven-year-old boy) spot that Spock would stay. Most of what little vegetation there was was inedible, and the temperature rose to 45 degrees Celsius (around 113 degrees Fahrenheit), even at the coolest part of the day. And this was in the mountains, most of which had an average elevation of two and a half miles. The average daytime temperature at sea level was 50 degrees Celsius (around 120 degrees Fahrenheit). In addition, it was up to Spock to find edible plants, a way to quench his thirst and keep from freezing during the cold Vulcan nights.

Another thing he would have to do was not allow himself to become injured if he could help it. The whole idea of the *kahs-wan* was to determine if one had sufficient maturity to survive alone, with only intelligence and ingenuity to help them. Most Vulcan boys could fail the test once and there would be no disgrace, but it was imperative that Spock succeed. Otherwise, his father warned, there would be those who would call him a coward the rest of his life ... and blame his failure on his Human blood. It was this warning which made Spock determined to succeed, if only for his parents' sake. It was also a time of decision; Spock would have to choose the path the rest of his life would take.

Sarek had taught him in the Vulcan way ever since he was old enough to attend school, which began at age four, and would expect his son to choose accordingly -- but at the same time, Spock was well aware that his mother was hoping he would choose to follow Human philosophy. He had no wish to disappoint either of them, but it was inevitable that one would be.

Spock was sure his mother would love him regardless of which way he chose, but couldn't have said how his father would react if he chose to embrace the ways of Humans. Their relationship might never be the same again. Sarek would be deeply disappointed if all his training went for nothing ... but Amanda would know that Spock had to follow his heart, do what was best for himself, and let the chips fall where they may.

* * *

Once the *kahs-wan* was behind him, Spock would need to prepare for the bonding ritual which would mentally join him to whoever his future mate was to be for as long as one of them lived. With a part of himself, he was hoping that he would be able to make his own choice, but another part told him that his father was likely to choose a mate for him in the traditional manner.

He personally believed that a Vulcan girl would be unable to understand his moods or deal with the idiosyncrasies which would be part of him because of his dual heritage. He considered it more logical to bond with a Human as his father had, but was sure that Sarek wouldn't see it that way.

Vulcans believed that love was an illogical basis for a marriage, but Spock had seen otherwise in his own home, with his own parents. Of course, Sarek was likely to maintain that the happy marriage between Amanda and himself was the proverbial exception to the rule and therefore no barometer of what Spock's own might be like. His father would probably also say that Humans had no concept of what bonding involved. In addition, how could Spock be sure that Chrissy's feelings would endure? Human emotions were unpredictable at best, and she was just a child.

On the other hand, Spock was also sure that his father would be unable to guarantee that the Vulcan bondmate he chose for his son would still wish to remain bonded with him. Particularly when the time came for his first *pon farr* (the likelihood of such was based on the assumption that it would occur due to the dominance of his Vulcan half) and the *koon-ut-kal-if-fee* ceremony. How could his father be sure that the one he chose wouldn't invoke the *kal-if-fee*, or the challenge? It was very rare, but could still happen.

The general consensus among his classmates (both male and female) was that he was inferior because of his Human blood and therefore not considered a "true" Vulcan. What full-blooded Vulcan girl would countenance a bonding with such as he, and how many Vulcan parents would want a half-Human as their son-in-law, no matter how illustrious his Vulcan bloodline? Of course, even if he managed to get past his father's objections to his bonding with Chrissy, what kind of reaction could he expect from the Chapels? How would they feel about their only daughter marrying a Vulcan, even one who was half-Human?

* * *

Chrissy didn't mind being taken out of regular school, but did fuss about not being able to see Spock -- until her mother assured her that she would be able to see him after he got out of school. Ann almost wished she could have tutored Spock too, if only to please her daughter ... but Sarek would never countenance it. A Vulcan child should have a Vulcan teacher, a Human child a Human one. If Sarek did pull his son out of school, Spock would still get a Vulcan tutor -- she was convinced of that. Meanwhile, she had to figure out a study program for Chrissy, then a curriculum as close as possible to that of the regular school.

* * *

This arrangement worked fairly well for the next few months. Chrissy was fine as long as she could see Spock for at least an hour a day ... but Amanda had eventually told Ann Chapel that Spock would soon go on his *kahs-wan* and be out of touch for a week. Ann had no idea how she would break it to her daughter or make her understand, but had to think of a way since Spock was taking a week off from school -- and usually came over to the Chapel residence each day shortly after school let out. Of course, it might have more impact if Spock could bring himself to tell her.

As for Spock, it was much easier on him to limit their being together to an hour a day; even then he was doing all he could to learn how to shield. It was also a necessity for him at school, since he had lost even what flimsy protection Chrissy offered now that she was being tutored at home. He almost considered himself fortunate to be going out on the *kahs-wan*; at least he wouldn't have to concern himself with his classmates' abuse or his father's disapproval. On Vulcan's Forge, the most important thing was survival.

* * *

The Friday before he was to go out on the maturity test, Spock came to see Chrissy for their daily hour together. He had decided to try to tell her that he would be unable to see her for a week, even though he wasn't looking forward to her likely reaction. The children sat together on the couch in the Chapel living room; Ann hovered within hearing distance but out of sight in case she was needed.

There were two half-empty glasses of milk and two small plates with half-sandwiches on them -- Spock's an egg salad with lettuce and Chrissy's a chicken salad with lettuce. Most of their food had to be imported from Earth, so it was more expensive than usual, especially since it had to be ordered a week in advance to allow time for the order to be filled, then shipped back to Vulcan via freighter in a refrigerated compartment.

"Chrissy, there is something I must tell you." Spock looked up at her, then down again, hands clasped in his lap.

"What is it, Spock?" For now, she only sounded curious -- but he knew that could change at any moment.

"I ... must go away."

"Go away? Why?" Now she sounded frightened.

"Do not be concerned. It is temporary. I will return in one week. It ... involves a -- maturity test, mandatory for young Vulcan males of my age group."

"Does this mean you won't be able to come see me during that week?"

"Yes. I must devote my attention to passing the test. Even so, I will think of you as often as I can. And I would appreciate it if you ... prayed for me." Vulcans did not pray to a Supreme Being, but Spock had been told by his mother that many Humans did in the course of their religion -- and at this point, he needed all the help he could get.

"You know I will, Spock, but why would I need to?"

"Because the test is ... dangerous."

"Dangerous? How?"

Spock sighed and took a bite of his sandwich, washing it down with a swallow of milk. "I must survive alone without food, water or a means of protection -- and there are both predators and poisonous plants I must watch out for."

Chrissy was silent for a time, then Spock heard soft sobs. He looked up to find her crying, reaching to brush her tears away. "Why are you crying?"

"I don't want you to get hurt, Spock. If it's dangerous like you say, you could get hurt. I couldn't stand that."

"I should be able to handle it. Vulcans are ... sturdier than Humans and have -- greater endurance."

Chrissy wasn't convinced. "But you could still get hurt."

Spock reluctantly nodded. "It is possible, but I will be careful, so as to decrease my chances of injury or illness."

He was surprised when Chrissy lifted a hand to his cheek and smiled, looking deeply into his eyes for a moment ... then removed her hand. "Wait here. I want to give you something that'll bring you good luck." She slid off the couch and was gone before he could tell her that Vulcans didn't believe in luck. She returned moments later, clutching something in one small hand. She joined him on the couch again, then opened her hand to reveal a four-leaf clover encased in transparent aluminum.

"Please carry this with you on your -- maturity test. Daddy has told me that Vulcans don't believe in luck, but it's all I have to give. When you carry this, you will also carry my love with you ... and Mama says that love is a great protector." Chrissy pressed the small object into Spock's hand and squeezed the latter gently before withdrawing her own. Spock was touched that Chrissy would give him something so valuable to her; color suffused his cheeks and ears.

"Thank you, Chrissy. I will take good care of it, and return it to you when I see you again."

This time it was Chrissy who blushed. At this point, she was unable to speak; she smiled instead. A short time later Spock had to go, but made sure to finish his sandwich and milk before thanking Ann Chapel for her hospitality. Chrissy followed Spock to the door as usual.

"Please come back safely. I'll miss you." She kissed his cheek again.

Spock's blush deepened, but he managed to sound normal. "Live long and prosper, Chrissy. I will see you next Friday." With a salute and half-smile, he was gone. Chrissy gave her mother a strange look, but Ann Chapel returned a reassuring smile.

"Your father said that that was the way Vulcans greet or say goodbye to people," she explained, noting the sadness in her daughter's large blue eyes, identical to her own. "What's wrong, darling?"

Chrissy moved into her mother's arms. "Spock is so nice, Mama. In fact, he's the boy I want to marry someday." The two moved to the couch.

Ann Chapel managed to hide her surprise even as she stroked her child's silky blonde hair. "You're much too young to talk about marriage, little one. In addition, I'm sure that Spock's father is in the process of choosing the girl he will marry someday. That is how Vulcans do things like that. Besides, we might have to leave Vulcan one day. It's best if you meet Human boys and marry someone of your own kind. You know how hard life is for Spock -- and what you've had to go through."

Chrissy shook her head stubbornly. "I don't want a Human. I want Spock."

"As I said, honey, that may not be possible." Ann made her voice as gentle as possible. "We can't always have something ... or someone ... we want. That may be difficult for you to accept, but it's the way life is. Spock is a very nice boy, and I appreciate the way he's looked after you, been a friend to you -- but it's entirely possible that we will leave here and you'll never see him again. There's no way of knowing what course your lives will take, whether or not you'll meet again in the future. It's fine if you think of Spock as your first love, your first serious crush ... but it's unrealistic to expect any more. Even if Spock likes you enough to want to marry you one day, Vulcan tradition is different from ours. His father might not allow him to marry a Human girl."

"Why not? Spock's mother is Human," Chrissy pointed out.

"Maybe so, but his father is Vulcan and will want his son to do things in the Vulcan way."

"What if that's not what Spock wants?"

"He is but a child and must obey his parents, just as you must obey your father and me. In the meantime, treasure the friendship the two of you share; take things one day at a time. Meanwhile, it's time you had a bath, young lady," Ann Chapel said authoritatively as she got up to steer her daughter toward the bathroom. "After your bath, you're going to take a nap, then we'll have dinner when your father gets home."

* * *

After her bath, Chrissy lay down on her bed in her favorite frilly nightie, wrapped in her favorite fluffy blanket as her little black dog curled up next to her. "How can I make Mama understand, Monty? My feelings for Spock aren't just a childhood crush, even if I am only seven. He's all I want. You understand, don't you?"

Her hand reached to stroke her pet's silky head; he looked up at his small mistress and wagged his tail before licking the aforementioned hand and settling down to sleep. Chrissy looked at the holograph sitting on her nightstand, one of her and Spock taken on a recent family outing, and smiled before falling asleep herself.

* * *

She slept deeply, almost immediately launching into a dream involving their recent introduction to each other's pets. Spock was visiting one day, and Chrissy's little dog Monty came in and jumped up on the couch between them. Chrissy patted her pet on the head; he looked up at her and wagged his tail before settling down again.

Spock was unsure of how to act at first, but was quickly put at ease when the little animal nuzzled his hand, then licked it and wagged his tail at him as well. Spock raised an eyebrow and gave his Human companion a half-smile. "I would assume that that means I meet with his approval." He tentatively patted the dog's head in appreciation.

"Of course, you do. I never had any doubt that you would," Chrissy said with a smile. "Do you have a pet?" Spock frowned at the reference. "An animal friend like Monty," she explained.

"Oh. In that case, yes ... I do."

"What kind of pet? I've never seen any animal around your house."

"I know. He is too large to keep inside the house. He would demolish the interior, so Mother insists on his being kept outside on our patio."

"But I've been on your patio and have never seen any animal there," she reminded him.

"We let him out periodically," Spock told her. "Sometimes he is gone for days on end -- but he always returns to us."

"I'm not surprised. Animals usually know when they're loved."

Spock again raised an eyebrow, but Chrissy gave him a knowing smile, so he didn't try to deny his affection for his pet. "Yes. We are -- *I* am -- very fond of him, though Mother was frightened of him at first. She told me that she was first introduced to Father's pet shortly after they were married and before I was born."

"He used to be your father's pet?" Chrissy seemed surprised. "Whatever kind of animal he is, they must live a long time."

"He is known as a 'sehlat'; we call him 'I-Chaya'. As I have said, he is quite large and has shaggy fur -- rather like a cross between a Terran lion and grizzly bear. He also has two long teeth on each side of his mouth, though one is broken."

"I thought sehlats were wild animals," Chrissy said. "How can you have one for a pet?"

"Most were ... domesticated many centuries ago, though there are a few bands of wild ones who still roam the mountains. The -- wildness was bred out of the majority of them and they may now be likened to your little dog, Monty. A family pet, gentle and loyal. As to their lifespan, sehlats live an average of 150 years.

"My father received him as a ... birthday gift when he was five years of age, as did I. I-Chaya is now approximately 105 years old; he has been a member of our family for over 65 years. The measurements are in Standard years so as not to confuse you. We measure years differently than Earth, and Vulcan days are two hours longer -- each being just over 26 hours in length."

Chrissy nodded in acknowledgment.

"Dogs usually live from 10 to 18 Earth years. Monty was about a year old when I got him. I was visiting my grandparents, and he kind of ... attached himself to me. Then a horse stepped on him and he was badly hurt. Nearly crushed one of his hind legs. He still favors that leg.

"Daddy said we'd have to put him to sleep, but I couldn't bear that, so Grandpa Erickson -- Mama's father -- helped me ... and together, we saved him. Then when Daddy was transferred here, I insisted on bringing Monty along with us so we could be together. I've had him for nearly a year now. Seven months or so, I think ... which reminds me. Do you think it would be possible for me to -- be introduced to ... I-Chaya? It should be all right as long as you're there with me."

Spock nodded. "Very well. I will be prepared to do so on your next visit -- provided I-Chaya is available. As I said, he has a tendency to roam."

She looked up and smiled. "I figured I'd be alone a lot here. I had no idea I would find such a good friend ... meaning you."

"I-Chaya is the only -- friend I have ever known until you arrived," Spock replied quietly, feeling a blush coming on and bowng his head in an attempt to conceal it. "He is the only one on Vulcan other than Mother or you and your family who accepts me as I am and does not consider me inferior or beneath contempt because I am not fully Vulcan."

"If that's the only reason 'your people,' as you call them, have rejected you, that's their loss -- not yours. You'll never be without a friend as long as I'm around ... and I'm sure there will always be someone who cares about you because you're so -- easy to love."

Chrissy squeezed Spock's hand; his blush deepened but he lifted his head and gave her a shy smile. "Thank you. I have ... valued your companionship and -- affection. I ... hope I will always remain worthy of it."

"As long as you stay just the way you are, you will. Now let's go get something to eat. I was going to have an egg salad sandwich and some milk. How about you?" With that, the children slid off the couch and headed for the nearby kitchen.

* * *

Chrissy awakened when her father returned home shortly there- after -- but vowed to tell Spock about her dream at the first opportunity.

* * *

Meanwhile, Spock had prepared as best he could for the *kahs-wan*, and Sarek drove him to Vulcan's Forge, admonishing his son one final time not to disappoint him. This was in the late afternoon, around the Terran time equivalent of four p.m. It was quite hot, but nothing a Vulcan couldn't handle, the boy noted to himself as he watched Sarek's aircar fly away and disappear.

As soon as it was gone, Spock sighed and began to make his way toward the Llangon Mountains. On the way he found a large knife-shaped rock which would serve as a crude weapon. Now all he had to concern himself with was finding shelter, food and a means to quench his thirst -- which was easier said than done on a desert planet such as Vulcan ... but if others could do it, so he could he.

By early evening he had managed to find a cave which would serve as shelter, but still needed to locate something which could keep him warm. For this reason he began to explore, one hand clutching the small good-luck token for a moment before beginning his search. Logical, at least as far as he was concerned.

For a long time he found nothing and was ready to give up when he found what looked like a furry blanket, but what was in reality a wild sehlat fur big enough to serve as both bed and blanket. He surmised that someone else must have left the fur behind from a previous *kahs-wan*, though he couldn't imagine how or why it could have happened. Whatever the case, all the better for him.

Two necessities down, two to go ... but he was getting tired, so it was logical that he sleep before searching for food and water. He laid out the fur flat, then lay down on one half and pulled the other half over him, bunching up some of the fur to serve as a pillow. He woke early, once again setting out in search of something to eat. He memorized the location of his cave shelter, his keen eyes and ears ready to warn him in the event of any and all possible danger. Upon his return to the cave two and a half hours later, laden with every edible plant he could find, he set them near his furry bed.

He was thankful that he hadn't encountered any le-matyas, lion-like animals with poisonous teeth and claws, the carnivorous *d'mallu* plant or wild sehlats -- at least not today -- but one could never tell what would happen during the remainder of the week and for that reason he must remain ever alert and watchful. Now all he had to do was find a source of water ... and knew that many times there were underground streams which led into a cave, so he began to search for one.

If he found one, it would keep him supplied for the entire week. All he would need to concern himself with then was food; he had only been able to gather enough for three days today -- assuming he ate only once a day. A short time later he realized that he was thirsty as well.

But for a seeming eternity Spock's search proved fruitless ... that is, until his sensitive ears caught the sound of running water. But in his uncharacteristic eagerness to reach it, he slipped and fell on his backside. His first thought was that he was glad that neither his father nor disdainful classmates had witnessed his clumsiness.

His next thought was to check what kind of substance it was which had made him slip and fall. Vulcans weren't normally clumsy. He tentatively reached out with one hand to touch the cold wet stone beneath him before touching two fingers to his lips. Recognition was instantaneous. Water.

He got up and carefully made his way toward it. Moments later he came upon another subterranean chamber, through which a small stream was flowing. It was then that he lay on his belly and reached with both hands to scoop up some of the fresh, clean water and bring it to his lips. He repeated the action several times until his thirst had been quenched.

He then stood up and began to walk to his right, finding a small shallow pool with a basin-like formation in the smooth rock. It would serve him well as a place to cleanse himself when the need arose ... and even offered a modicum of privacy. Not that he was likely to meet anyone else; the other boys going through their respective maturity tests were kilometers away from him.

No food or water from home was allowed; only what was found during the course of the test ... but other things like soap or towels -- even datapads -- could be brought if desired ... and Spock had desired. His private journal, in which he had dictated a mixture of diary entries, poetry and personal observations on given subjects, was stored in the memory of the voice-recording datapad he had brought along. He kept one for his schoolwork and another for private use.

Speaking into it would help to alleviate his loneliness for his mother and little friend Chrissy. He allowed himself a smile at the thought of them, once again clutching the small good-luck token and picturing them in his mind: on the last outing they had been on together. They had gone to a large shopping mall in downtown ShiKahr; both Amanda and Ann had gotten more clothing for their growing children, as well as a dress and a pair of earrings apiece for themselves. The four had then had their midday meal at the food court ... then Chrissy had had to go to the bathroom.

She had insisted on going by herself; Spock said he would wait for her in the nearby waiting area while their mothers investigated a new store which had just opened a few days before. Spock hadn't been concerned over their separation at the time because he was sure he could find them again -- but once Chrissy came out and the children began to look for them, the two mothers seemed to have disappeared into thin air.

After an hour of fruitless searching, Chrissy became worried that they would never find them and began to cry; nothing Spock said or did could calm her. He was none too happy himself, but was determined not to show his feelings. He must be strong and brave, if only for her sake.

"Please stop crying, Chrissy. I am sure we will find our mothers very soon." He repeated himself several times, unable to think of anything else to say to calm her.

She glared at him through her tears. "You've been telling me that ever since we started looking. We're lost, I tell you -- lost! We're never going to see our mothers again ... never ... " Her voice broke on the last word.

Passersby began to frown and raise eyebrows, their sharp eyes seeming to stab through Spock. For that reason it was imperative that he get Chrissy out of public view until and if he could manage to quiet her ... or their mothers found them. He finally found a door that led outside; there were bushes close to the building and he was grateful to find a small grotto just big enough for two children. He pulled Chrissy in with him and held her awkwardly but tenderly, just letting her have her grief.

The ground was cool in the dense shade of the grotto and Spock shivered; only the warmth of Chrissy's body sustained him. A short time later he realized she had stopped crying and fallen asleep. He gently brushed her tears away and tightened his embrace, kissing her tousled hair before falling asleep himself. Fortunately he awakened before she did, roughly an hour later, marveling that he could have done such a thing. Perhaps it was due to the emotional overload of having to deal with both her sadness and fear ... he needed to rest and recharge his batteries, so to speak.

One of Chrissy's hands clutched Spock's light jacket, the other his shirt over his heart as she slept. Her head was heavy on his chest, but somehow he didn't mind -- and had found her close proximity very pleasant. The pleasure at the sensation of physical closeness to a specific person, the feeling of tenderness and sympathy upon seeing her in distress, wanting to protect her from any and all danger, the desire to feel the touch of her mind ... Even without the other feelings, that wish was significant in itself. How often did one share that kind of bond with another?

All at once Spock knew who he wanted to bond with. They were already friends, and he knew how Chrissy cared for him. What could be more logical than to take her as bondmate? Being a child, he did not think of how their elders would react. What mattered to him was that he had chosen his own bondmate. And now that he had made his choice, he would have no other.

The next thing he heard was his mother's frantic voice. "Spock! Spock, where are you?"

He was close enough to the opening of the grotto to lean out and call to her. "Here, Mother."

Amanda was at her son's side almost immediately, Ann Chapel a few steps behind. "Spock! Thank God you're all right. I've been worried sick." She looked at the sleeping Chrissy. "Is she okay?"

"Yes. She was quite distressed for a time, but eventually calmed down and fell asleep 2.4 hours ago."

His movements and voice awakened Chrissy; moments later her eye- lids began to flutter. "Spock, what's happened?" She still sounded drowsy.

"We are safe," he told her. "Our mothers have found us."

That last statement brought Chrissy wide awake; she sat bolt up- right and looked around for her mother. "Mama! Mama!"

A visibly relieved Ann Chapel stepped up and knelt down, opening her arms as her daughter ran into them. "My baby, precious baby ... I'm here. You're safe now," she crooned as she lovingly kissed her daughter's hair.

"I was so scared, Mama. I was sure I'd never see you again." Chrissy's words were muffled in her mother's dress as she held her. "But Spock said you'd eventually find us -- and he was right." She turned her head, still hanging onto her mother, looking to see what was going on with Spock and his mother.

Amanda was also kneeling, holding her young son close to her, uncaring of who might see them. Fortunately it was late afternoon, so there weren't too many people around ... and those that were were intent on their own concerns, oblivious to the drama going on a short distance away.

A short time later both mothers stood up, their children's hands held tightly in their own. Amanda then turned toward their nearby air-cart, filled with the day's purchases, and Spock helped her push it to their aircar half a block away in the parking garage. Ann and Chrissy followed. After the purchases had been placed in the rear storage area, the children climbed into the back seat and seat belts locked around them while the seats conformed to their body contours.

"Spock, I'm sorry," Chrissy said quietly as they left the parking garage with Amanda at the wheel of the aircar.

He raised an astonished eyebrow. "For what?"

"Not believing you when you said our mothers would find us. I must have seemed very silly, acting as I did."

"You were distressed at the thought of losing your mother. It was understandable," he gently dismissed as he reached to squeeze her hand. "Most children would be."

"Were you?" she asked to see if he would admit it. He blushed and bowed his head. "You were, I could tell. Don't worry; I won't tell anyone. It'll be a secret just between us."

"And our mothers," he finished. Chrissy smiled and nodded after returning the squeeze, then released her companion's hand. However, when they were halfway home, she felt Spock take her hand again and keep hold of it until they arrived. At one point she looked up at him, surprised, but he seemed unaware of what he was doing.

* * *

Spock was brought back to reality by an icy wind striking him, making him aware that time had passed. Quite a bit of time too, his time sense told him. In fact it must be dark (or nearly so) for it to have turned cold. He had been sitting and leaning against the cave wall, lost in thought and memories -- but it was now time for him to bundle up in the sehlat fur ... after having a final drink. About fifteen minutes later he slid into the heavy fur and wrapped it tightly around his body, willing himself to fall into a deep sleep-trance.

The dream he had while in the sleep-trance would have disturbed an adult, much less a seven-year-old boy. The feelings it brought out were new and frightening to Spock; he was too young to feel or do such things ... but even at that, they had been extremely pleasant. He had also been taught in biology class that most Humanoids matured emotionally before attaining physical (sexual) maturity, and were capable of feeling desire even if unable to perform the sex act until maturity -- particularly in the case of Vulcans, for which a seven- year-old Vulcan male was the equivalent of a teen-age Human of the same gender.

* * *

**Here, both he and Chrissy were grown up, only she now called herself Christine. She still had her beautiful blue eyes and corn-silk hair, only now her childish body had rounded and matured into womanly curves. Her voice was husky, low and melodic, particularly when she spoke to him. He was now tall and wide-shouldered, narrow-hipped and slender but well-muscled with large and strong, but gentle, hands. He was surprised to see a mat of dark hair on his bare chest in the mirror as he dressed, and his voice was a deep, rich baritone as he called to Christine.

He also noticed that they were no longer on Vulcan. In fact, their surroundings seemed quite Earth-like. Had either or both of them moved in the years since they'd last seen each other? She came up behind him and put her arms around him from behind, her lips brushing his left earlobe as she stood on tiptoe.

"Christine, that is not the reason I summoned you." He made himself sound stern. "I merely wished your opinion on what shirt to wear."

"Spoilsport," she teased with a kiss between his shoulder blades. "What fun is that?"

"We must get ready for the engagement party our friends are giving for us," he reminded her.

"That's not for two more hours. We still have time for another -- "

"Hush, my bondmate," he smoothly interrupted with a finger on her lips after turning around, deftly extricating himself from her embrace. "There is a time and place for such things."

"Yes," she purred, nuzzling her nose into his neck and kissing the bare skin she found. "And this is the time and place."

Spock allowed himself a sigh of affectionate exasperation. "Christine, you are insatiable. No matter what I do, you are never satisfied."

Her reply sounded equally exasperated. "Considering all the years you were denied to me because of that disastrous bonding your father forced you into, what do you expect? Now that we're finally together again, I've got a lot of time to make up for."

"I am not ... denying that you give me pleasure, Christine. I simply do not think this is the proper time to initiate further intimacy between us." He sounded quiet but emphatic.

"What is it going to take to make you see things my way?" Her free hand stroked the back of his neck; he shivered.

"Christine, that was deceitful."

She again stood on her tiptoes and kissed his right earlobe. "All's fair in love and war."

"Very well, if you insist." His voice had become husky and his eyes black with passion as he hung up the shirt with one hand and pulled his bondmate close with the other; those eyes were all Christine saw before his lips found hers. Shortly thereafter he swept her off her feet and into his arms, then carried her to bed, still holding the kiss.**

* * *

Spock came instantly awake at this point, thankful it was dark and that he was alone because his cheeks felt like they were on fire. He had always assumed he was incapable of having such dreams at his present age -- momentarily forgetting that Vulcan years were half the length of Standard years and their lifetimes more than twice as long as Terran ones, two hundred fifty Standard years to Earth's one hundred twelve. Consequently he would be at least the equivalent of a thirteen-year-old Earth boy, if not more, because of his Human blood. Age thirteen was the beginning of adolescence, and adolescence was when a boy began to mature into a man.

He had been mistaken as to when it would happen to him ... but knew that he could never tell anyone about his dream, especially not Chrissy. At least not at this point in time. Even if he was the Terran equivalent of a thirteen-year-old boy, she was just seven years old -- even if she seemed older sometimes. She had no concept of what bonding involved ... and there was no guarantee that she and her family would remain on Vulcan.

In fact, Spock wasn't even sure they would stay until the end of the current year -- but knew as well as he knew his own name that he didn't want a Vulcan wife. Chrissy was the girl he wished to bond with. His father could penalize him all he liked, but he would never change his mind ... or his heart.

* * *

By the time his *kahs-wan* ended, Spock was certain that it hadn't been simply a dream he had had -- it was a glimpse into his and Chrissy's future. As soon as he awakened, he went to the small pool near his campsite and bathed. After drying off, he wrapped the large towel he had brought with him around his waist and washed his clothes, then laid them in the sun, knowing it wouldn't take them long to dry. After dressing, Spock ate and drank because it was necessary for him to go out and find more things to eat ... and he needed the energy to go the extra distance necessary to accomplish his objective.

Spock had considered it logical to bring an empty canteen in which he could put a supply of water, which he now carried with him, along with his crude knife and the rest of the food he had gathered the previous day. He also still carried the token Chrissy had given him. Even if Vulcans didn't believe in luck or love, the token seemed to have helped and protected him so far. And if his sojourn continued to go well, he could return to his parents, particularly his father, and be proud of his successful completion of the *kahs-wan*. In the meantime, he had set his mind to the task of finding enough food to sustain him for the rest of his week in solitary.

* * *

Meanwhile, Sarek had selected a girl whom he believed would make Spock a suitable bondmate. Her name was T'Pring; her father was a colleague of Sarek's at the Science Academy. He had even requested a holograph of her in order to show Spock at the proper time -- shortly after his return from the *kahs-wan*, which he fully expected Spock to successfully complete. Of course, he was all too aware that Amanda was against arranged marriages. She believed that Spock should be allowed to make his own choice of mate as they had, but it could not be. It was not the Vulcan way.

If his worst fears were confirmed, Spock would soon come to him and ask permission to bond with Chrissy ... which he could not grant, no matter how much the girl cared for him -- or vice versa. In spite of what he himself had done, he still wanted his son to have a Vulcan wife. T'Pring would be perfect for him. Yet he could not discuss his choice with Amanda until it was nearer the time for Spock to return. However, Amanda began to suspect that something was up -- something which concerned their son's future -- and was determined to find out what it was.

She marched into her husband's study one day without knocking and confronted him. "Sarek, what are you up to?"

Sarek raised an eyebrow at his wife after lifting his head and looking up. "Up to?"

"You've been keeping your mental shields up for days. What are you hiding?"

Sarek allowed himself an uncomprehending frown. "'Hiding'? I am 'hiding' nothing, my wife."

Amanda gave her husband a look which went right through him. "Do you really expect me to believe that?"

"Yes ... because I do not lie. I neither could nor ever would lie to you, Amanda."

"But there's still something you don't want me to know. What is it? Has it anything to do with Spock? I know he just had his seventh birthday -- or at least his seventh in Vulcan years. In Earth years, he's technically equivalent to a thirteen-year-old Human boy, if my calculations are correct."

"That is correct, my wife ... but what is your point?"

"Don't you think it's possible that Spock has already made his choice as far as a bondmate is concerned? Chrissy Chapel would be perfect for him. After all, she adores him -- or at least as much as one of her age *can* care. All that's necessary is to teach her what bonding involves."

"That is out of the question." Sarek's tone was quiet but emphatic.

Amanda seemed stunned for a moment, then her blue eyes grew hard. "Sarek, what have you done?"

"What is best for Spock," was the reply.

"Tearing him away from someone who cares and forcing him to bond with someone who doesn't simply for the sake of tradition is what's best for him? Oh, come now, Sarek!"

"It *is* best," Sarek insisted. "My colleague Somar at the Science Academy has a daughter of bonding age; her name is T'Pring. She would be an ideal wife for Spock. Here, look at her."

He handed the holograph of T'Pring to his wife, who examined it closely. Yes, the girl was Vulcan and very beautiful, but there was something in her eyes that made Amanda distrustful of her. She couldn't have said what, but was unable to countenance the idea of bonding Spock with her. If she and Sarek could bond, why couldn't Spock and Chrissy? Why must he be so insistent that Spock bond with a Vulcan whether he wanted to or not? She handed the holograph back to her husband.

"It takes more than looks and being of the 'proper' race to make a woman a good wife. What if she's not the kind of wife Spock wants? You know how Somar regards me. How do you know he'd treat Spock any better -- or that T'Pring would, for that matter? She's just like him."

Sarek's voice became hard and cold. "It is the Vulcan way, Amanda. You have no say in the matter."

Amanda bristled like an angry cat. "Like hell I don't!" she snapped. "Spock is my son, too, and he would never be happy with a Vulcan girl who couldn't begin to understand him. You forget that you and her parents wouldn't be the ones who would have to live with her. Isn't Spock's life tough enough without your forcing him into a bonding neither he nor the girl in question could possibly want?"

"T'Pring will do her duty," Sarek said. "Somar has assured me of this."

"So Spock is supposed to 'do his duty' too, and follow your orders like a docile little Vulcan robot with no mind or will of his own?" Amanda's voice dripped ice. "Sarek, this is utter madness and you know it. If you don't drop it this instant, I swear I'll leave you and take Spock with me!"

Sarek saw in his wife's eyes that she meant what she said, but had no intention of backing down. "You will do nothing of the sort. I will not allow it."

"You won't be able to stop me. I'm *not* going to stand by while you ruin our son's life for the sake of tradition. I'll do what I have to to stop you -- up to and including divorcing you and never allowing you to see Spock again!"

With that, Amanda swung around and marched out of the room, her reddish-brown head held high, jaw set and her back ramrod-straight. Sarek sighed and turned back to his work, knowing that there was nothing he could say that would change his wife's mind once it was made up. The most logical course of action was to do nothing ... at least for the moment. He would try again after she had had a chance to calm down. He had suspected Amanda might feel as she did. In addition, Spock and Chrissy might be badly hurt if they were suddenly forbidden to see each other having become such close friends.

And certainly the Chapels would be angry and insulted at the rejection of their beautiful little daughter who adored Spock, for someone who didn't care for him, but who was chosen because she was Vulcan and would protect the status quo. Unfortunately those were the risks one took when living one's life based on logic. Emotional beings such as Humans could not -- and would not -- understand Sarek's actions, and he would be wasting his breath trying to explain his motivations to them ... either now or at any time in the foreseeable future.

* * *

It was fortunate that Spock was unaware of what his father was planning; he probably would have chosen the Human way over the Vulcan. As it was, he was proud of the knowledge that he would actually please his father for once. It would be difficult, but determination and discipline should see him through.

Most of the time, the *kahs-wan* was so uneventful as to be almost boring, but on the fifth day all that changed. He had been returning from yet another food search with his backpack roughly half-full, climbing toward his temporary shelter when he heard a sound which chilled his blood -- a cross between a Terran elephant's trumpeting and a lion's roar ... a le-matya cry!

The large green-and-yellow cat with diamond-shaped markings had venom in its claws and fangs. A scratch could temporarily paralyze a victim; a bite could be fatal if left untreated ... similar to snake venom on Earth. There was an antidote, but it had to be administered as soon as possible after the attack and the victim kept warm, quiet and given plenty of liquids.

Spock had no intention of becoming a victim, particularly since he had no antidote with him. It was not allowed; those on the *kahs- wan* had to rely on their wits and intelligence to return from the one-week survival course unscathed. Even at that, he was sure that the le-matya's keen sense of smell had detected him even if its equally sharp hearing had not ... so all he could do was remain where he was and hope the beast would lose interest and leave.

The cavern was only a short distance away, mayble half a kilometer, but the le-matya was closer to it than he was -- and there was no way he could reach safety without its cooperation, which it had no intention of giving. Worst of all, the animal had sensed its prey's fear, even if said prey would not acknowledge such.

Spock wouldn't have been concerned, except for the fact that it was early evening and the temperature was dropping with every passing moment. Vulcans had a low tolerance for cold and could not last long unprotected after dark. He could not see the le-matya, but sensed its presence and knew it was waiting for him to make one desperate move toward safety -- counting on it, in fact. That was precisely why Spock dared not do anything which could provoke an attack.

Close to an hour passed in this way; Spock remained rooted in position, hardly daring to breathe. It was when he dug his hands into the pockets of his hooded robe for warmth that he felt the shape of Chrissy's good-luck token. Once he realized what it was, he clutched it tightly and made a silent plea for the wisdom to think his way out of danger.

* * *

A short time later Spock realized that he no longer sensed the le-matya. Had it gone away or had it simply moved out of his empathic range? If the former was the case, he would (theoretically) be able to reach the safety of the cavern and the only source of warmth around for kilometers -- the thick sehlat fur.

He moved cautiously, foot by foot, shivering in the 35-degree Fahrenheit temperature, until he was within sight of his goal ... the mouth of the cavern. It was too small for the large animal to enter, but big enough for a seven-year-old boy. He kept his ears pricked up, but heard nothing.

Spock mentally calculated how long it would take him to make it to safety, determining that he had a reasonable (at least 75%) chance of success ... provided the le-matya wasn't lying in wait to ambush him somewhere in the surrounding rocks. In that case, all it would take was one leap of the le-matya's powerful hind legs for it to be upon him. He wouldn't have a chance. Even if the le-matya didn't tear him to pieces, it would only have to bite him and wait for the poison to do the job of killing him -- then devour him at its leisure. (Le-matyas were immune to their own venom.)

Spock shook his head violently. He must not think that way. He was going to make it ... he *would* escape the le-matya! Moments later Spock was only three feet away from the cavern. He looked around and didn't see the le-matya, but that didn't mean it had gone. Still, he had to take a chance if he was ever going to be warm again, or pass the *kahs-wan* ... even if it was the last thing he ever did.

He was noted for his jackrabbit starts in track in his third hour physical education class, so if anything would make the difference between life and death, that would. His feet seemed to grow wings as he ran -- but as he feared, the le-matya had not gone. Instead, it had waited for him to make a move, then pounced from the rocks at that moment. Fortunately for Spock, he was that much faster than his pursuer. It just missed him, the claws on its right front paw tearing a large chunk out of his robe. Spock was thankful that only his robe had been damaged as he lay breathing heavily on the floor of the cave.

As the young Vulcan picked himself up and dusted himself off, he heard the angry cry of a predator denied its intended prey ... then located his food pack and made his way to the sehlat fur, wrapping himself from head to foot in its blessed warmth. He only dared to eat and drink once he had "thawed out" sufficiently -- and his teeth ceased chattering.

As it was, he had escaped hypothermia by minutes. A short time later Spock felt himself becoming drowsy. Not long after that he was sound asleep, clutching the token as he drifted off into dreams of Chrissy and his mother greeting him upon his triumphant return. His father would be picking him up upon completion of the *kahs-wan*.

* * *

As for Chrissy, life was going passably well. Her grades were picking up and Ann was sure that her daughter would complete her studies with at least a "B" average. The only problem as far as she could see was that Chrissy was missing Spock ... almost unbearably so. Ann assured her child that Spock would return soon. He had told her so, and Vulcans never lied. Chrissy wasn't convinced, but knew that all she could do was pray that Spock got through the *kahs-wan* successfully (and safely), that the four-leaf clover she had given him was doing its job.

More than once over the course of the week Spock was gone, Ann Chapel had caught Chrissy looking wistfully at the holograph of herself with Spock and clutching it to her small chest. The child never knew of her mother's presence, for Ann had remained silent, merely watching from the doorway like a guardian angel.

Chrissy was still too dependent on Spock; it wasn't good for either of them. On the other hand, the company of the one was all that made life bearable for the other. But if Sarek was doing what Christopher suspected he was doing, there was no way that Spock and Chrissy could ever be more than friends, even if both wished otherwise.

The next thing Ann knew, Chrissy was calling to her. "Mama, is that you?"

"Yes, sweetheart. Is there something I can help you with? You look so sad."

"I miss Spock, Mama."

Ann made her way to her daughter's bedside, then sat down and gathered her despondent child into her arms, lovingly stroking Chrissy's flaxen hair.

"Of course you do, darling -- but you'll be seeing him again soon, you know that. The *kahs-wan* is something he has to do."

"I know, but I still wish he could contact me."

"I'm sure he would if he could, honey. In the meantime, you must be patient. It won't be much longer."

"Do you think he's ... safe out there, Mama? I mean, with all the -- predators that Daddy talks about ..." Chrissy's voice trailed off as she looked up at her mother.

"We must think positive, sweetie. After all, you gave him your four-leaf clover. He'll know you're thinking about him. Don't worry." Ann kissed the top of her daughter's head.

"But Daddy said that Vulcans don't believe in luck or love. How can it work when they don't believe?"

"They don't need to believe. What matters is that *you* do. Your love is what makes it work."

Chrissy looked up at her mother again, large blue eyes wide and pleading. "Mama, could I go stay with Amanda tomorrow? I promise I'll be good."

"I'll have to call her to see if she's free and willing to look after you. If she isn't busy, you could go spend the day with her. I'll tell you what she says when you get up in the morning."

Even as she said this, Ann could only hope that Sarek wouldn't be around. If he was and gave Chrissy disapproving looks, the child would start asking questions that neither she nor Amanda was prepared to answer at this point.

"Now it's time for you to go to bed, young lady. Into your night-gown this instant!" Ann playfully swatted Chrissy on the behind as she jumped off her bed and grabbed her nightie from the half-open top right drawer of her dresser before heading for the nearby bathroom, the small girl giggling every step of the way.

* * *








Upon finishing his journal entry, Spock logged off his datapad and set it aside on top of his pack. He then wrapped himself in the sehlat fur and put himself into a sleep-trance after drinking his fill for what would be his final night on Vulcan's Forge. He would rise early for the hour's hike to where his father would pick him up.

He hoped that his mother would be there too, but it was unlikely for several reasons. In that event, he would have to be content to wait until they arrived home to see her. He also found himself looking forward to seeing Chrissy and his mother again and telling them both what had happened during his *kahs-wan* -- as much as he could bear to, at any rate -- particularly of how he had escaped the le-matya and survived a week alone on Vulcan's Forge.

* * *

Amanda seemed reluctant to have Chrissy come over because Spock was due home today, but gave in when Ann explained how much she wanted to come. Amanda adored the beautiful little girl and wished that Sarek wasn't so stubborn where Spock's bonding with her was concerned. Child or not, she didn't trust T'Pring one inch. She was Somar all over again ... condescending at best, coldly contemptuous otherwise. Her mother T'Sela was no better. If they were like that with her, could she expect Spock to be treated any differently? T'Pring would only cause Spock heartache and anguish -- and he had already been through enough to last him the rest of his life.

Amanda winced with mental pain for her son's sake, wishing more than anything in the world that she had the power to stop what was going to happen to him, the pain Spock would endure because of his father's bull-headed insistence on upholding tradition. She forced back her misgivings and turned to face the monitor where Ann Chapel's face was frozen.

"Continue," Amanda said; the image smoothed out.

"... so, can Chrissy come over, Amanda? I can have her ready in a few minutes. Then when she's ready to come home, you can contact me and I'll come fetch her." Ann Chapel's voice brought Amanda back to reality.

"That's fine," the latter replied absently. "I'll be expecting you."

With that, Amanda cut the connection and leaned back in her chair, thankful that Sarek was gone, having headed out to Vulcan's Forge to pick up Spock. It was quite some distance away, so hopefully Chrissy would be able to spend a couple of hours -- and Sarek need never know she had been present.

She had sensed Sarek's disapproval of Spock's relationship with Chrissy after he had chosen T'Pring, since it would supposedly complicate matters for their son. As far as Amanda was concerned, however, *T'Pring* was the one who didn't belong. She was the usurper to Chrissy's rightful place as Spock's future mate, not vice versa, as her husband believed. Unfortunately for the children, Sarek would have the final word on the matter. About fifteen minutes later, there was a knock on the door. Amanda went to let her callers in.

"Is Sarek here?" was the first thing Ann Chapel said.

"No. He had to run an errand and will be gone for some time."

She decided it was best not to mention that Spock was due home today -- especially in front of Chrissy. After all, he was supposed to see her tomorrow, anyway ... provided Sarek allowed it after today.

"Have a good time, Chrissy. I'll see you later, sweetie."

Ann knelt down and held out her arms; the child went into them to give her mother a farewell hug and kiss on the cheek.

"Goodbye, Mama."

Ann Chapel gave her neighbor a meaningful look.

Amanda said, "I've made some chocolate chip cookies, Chrissy. They're on the kitchen table. Help yourself to some milk to go with them. It's sitting right next to them."

Chrissy's eyes lit up. "My favorite! Thank you, Amanda!"

The older woman smiled and nodded as the child raced on ahead and darted into the kitchen near the end of the hallway. Ann Chapel breathed a grateful sigh and looked back at Amanda.

"Are you sure you're not telepathic? You seemed to know that I wanted to talk to you alone."

Amanda smiled and shook her head. "Merely a logical assumption. Now what was it you wanted to talk to me about?"

"You seemed reluctant to have Chrissy come over. Why? I know how much you adore her ... and she's crazy about you."

"Sarek's chosen a bondmate for Spock," Amanda said in a hushed voice so Chrissy wouldn't overhear.

"What?" Ann Chapel's voice rose an octave. "What?" she repeated in a normal tone. "When?"

"A few days ago. I told him how I felt, that the whole thing was insane and unnecessary when Spock already had someone who adored him -- but he insisted that Spock marry a Vulcan."

"Chrissy's going to have a fit," Ann Chapel opined. "And I can imagine what Spock's opinion's going to be. After all, how do we know he hasn't made his own choice?"

"That's just it," Amanda replied. "I have a feeling he has -- but Sarek would never accept it."

"You mean -- ?" Ann Chapel's voice trailed off.

Amanda merely nodded, not trusting her voice.

"Oh, my God. Chrissy would be thrilled ... but I don't dare tell her now."

"Maybe I could try." Amanda kept her voice low. "I think you'd better go before she gets suspicious. I'll keep you posted, okay?"

Ann Chapel nodded and stepped outside. "Let me know when you want me to come get her."

Amanda inclined her head in acknowledgment, then turned and headed back down the hall toward the kitchen where Chrissy was, dreading the task ahead of her but knowing it had to be done.

* * *

Meanwhile, Sarek had touched down next to where he had seen his small son waiting. Spock climbed in when his father opened the door, setting his pack on the floor beforehand. The door automatically closed behind him, as did the seat belt around him once he was situated.

"Spock. You are well, my son?"

The boy nodded.

"I am pleased that you passed the *kahs-wan*. Did you have any difficulty?" the older Vulcan asked as he took off again, making a 180-degree turn back in the direction of ShiKahr.

"Once, when a le-matya stalked me, but I managed to escape. Even so, my robe was badly damaged."

"As long as you are safe."

Sarek's tone prompted a surprised eyebrow from his son. The younger Vulcan could have sworn it sounded ... affectionate! Spock had never known his father to display emotion -- not to him or his mother, other than the finger-crossing gesture. Mother had once said that his father had held and carried him as a baby and held him on his lap as a very young child. Spock couldn't imagine his father doing such things, but Mother had never lied to him, so he took her at her word. Spock also noted that his father was strangely quiet, even for him ... and asked point-blank what was wrong.

Sarek's upswept brows shot up into his grey-black bangs as he gave his son an astonished look. "Wrong? There is nothing wrong. Nothing whatsoever."

"Father..." Spock's voice was so full of barely controlled exasperation that even Sarek had to sit up and take notice.

The older Vulcan allowed himself a sigh. "Very well." Sarek took a deep breath. "There is something very important I must discuss with you."

"What is it?" His father's silence and expressionless face told Spock more than any words. "You have chosen a wife for me."

"Yes." Spock knew it was serious when Sarek began to speak in a no-nonsense manner.

"Why?" came Spock's question after a long silence.

"It is traditional. You are but a child; you have no concept of what marriage involves. It is logical that I choose a mate for you."

"In other words, you believe I am incapable of choosing my own future mate. Well, this time you are wrong, Father. I have made my own choice."

The moment Sarek had been dreading had arrived, but he merely said, "The Chapels' young daughter Christine, otherwise known as 'Chrissy', I take it."

"Yes, Father."

"That is out of the question." The Vulcan Ambassador's tone was quiet but emphatic.

"Why?" The boy's voice was cold and hard. "You bonded with Mother."

Sarek had a ready reply. "The marriage between your mother and myself is the first-ever Vulcan/Human joining -- and not necessarily an accurate indication of what your own might be like."

The older Vulcan also sensed that his son was every bit as determined to have his way in this matter as he himself was. Sarek was not sanguine about recommending Christopher Chapel's transfer to Rigel V or Deneb II, somewhere far away from Vulcan ... but if that was what was necessary to ensure Spock's cooperation, so be it. The children would be hurt, Amanda would be angry and the Chapels outraged -- but it was logical, and therefore the best course of action.

"Furthermore, it is not for you to question my motives, Spock. You are a Vulcan and my son; therefore you must be mated to a Vulcan. That is why you cannot bond with Chrissy. I have chosen a beautiful little girl named T'Pring for you. Her father Somar is a colleague of mine at the Science Academy. The marriage would be advantageous for both families. Here is a holograph of her."

Sarek reached into his pocket and brought out a small square object, then handed it to his son. Spock didn't give it more than a cursory glance, but even that told him that T'Pring would be exquisitely beautiful upon maturity. However, he had already made his choice and would have no other. With her looks, T'Pring would be able to have her pick of men -- but he would not be one of them.

"I will not bond with anyone but Chrissy, Father," Spock declared. "You can punish me all you like, but you will not change my mind -- or my heart."

"You are not speaking logically, my son."

"Perhaps, but I know what ... and who ... I want," Spock threw back. "A full-blooded Vulcan could never understand me because of my dual heritage. Chrissy accepts me as I am."

"You cannot know what she will be like in adulthood. How can you be certain that her feelings for you will endure? Human emotions are unpredictable at best."

"How do you know what *T'Pring* will be like in adulthood? She may well despise me," Spock countered.

"She may also care for you as much as young Chrissy does. Do you not owe her a chance to prove herself?"

"You say T'Pring is the daughter of Somar?"


"In that case, I cannot do it, Father. You know how Somar and T'Sela regard Mother and myself. I cannot see how, in all honesty, you can assure me that T'Pring will not feel the same as they do. After all, it is not you or they who would be wed to her after the *koon-ut-kal-if-fee*."

"You are being unfair, Spock. You judge the girl without knowing her."

"It is just as unfair to pressure me into a bonding I do not want simply for the sake of tradition." Spock's voice was laced with ice. "You are correct in one sense. I do not know T'Pring -- but if she is anything like her parents, I have no desire to know her, just as I am sure she has no desire to know me, much less bond with me."

Sarek's reply was equally frigid. "Do not take that tone with me, Spock. I am your father; I have your best interests at heart."

"No, you do not. If you did, you would not do what you are doing." Spock's tone was calm and matter-of-fact; it was Sarek who got emotional, whether he had meant to or not.

"Silence!" Sarek thundered, as close to anger as he ever allowed himself to be. "I will hear no more from you!"

Spock didn't seem to hear the command -- or if he did, he chose to ignore it. "I told you who I want as a bondmate, Father. I will have no other. If you attempt to force the issue, I will leave Vulcan with Mother and never return."

"Do not threaten me, Spock. Neither you nor your mother are going anywhere," Sarek almost spat. "You ungrateful, ill-mannered young *piltorr* (whelp)! The most sought-after girl on all of Vulcan, and you discard her as if she were beneath your notice. Your attitude is not only illogical, but an insult to her, her parents and to me!"

"Just as you are insulting Chrissy and her parents," Spock replied. "You can think and say what you like, Father, but I cannot honor your wishes."

"You *can* and *will* honor my wishes, or else I will --"

Spock smoothly interrupted. "You will what, Father? Disown me? Go ahead. I could endure that easier than what you are demanding of me now."

Sarek could no longer trust himself to speak without saying something unforgivable, so he remained silent for the rest of the trip home. As for Spock, he busied himself with thoughts of Chrissy and his mother welcoming him home.

* * *

Even as Spock and his father argued, Amanda was trying to break the news to Chrissy that Spock would soon be bonded and could no longer see her. She had no idea how she could ever explain the situation in terms the child would understand -- but there had to be a way. Amanda also knew that no matter how she phrased it, it would break Chrissy's heart and her parents would be outraged.

Chrissy cared deeply for Spock and would make an ideal bondmate for him ... but Heaven forbid that Sarek do the right thing and give permission for the bonding! He had to be logical, no matter what the cost to his son or the girl who loved him. If either were scarred for life because of this, Amanda would never forgive her husband. How could any father do such a thing to his own flesh and blood, go to such lengths in the name of logic and tradition? To her, that was more illogical than anything Spock had ever done.

"Chrissy?" Amanda forced herself to sound normal.


The child looked up from the holograph picture book she was looking at, the fairy tale of *Cinderella*. The title character's happiness had been sabotaged since she was a child, and she was now being denied the boy she loved, just as Sarek was sabotaging Spock and Chrissy's happiness by denying them permission to bond.

"There's something I have to tell you about Spock ... and it's not good."

Chrissy's eyes became wide and fearful. "Isn't he coming home? Did something happen to him in the *kahs-wan*?"

"Yes, he's coming home; don't worry. What I'm trying to say is that his father has -- chosen a wife for him, and he will soon -- become bonded."

"Bonded? What's that?"

Amanda swallowed hard, feeling very unequal to the task she had taken upon herself to do, but she had started it, so she had to finish it and let the chips fall where they may.

"There's a ... special ceremony Vulcan children go through at age seven. Their -- parents choose a mate for them, then the children ... join minds. This bond creates a mental link between the two which lasts a lifetime. Upon maturity, the male must return to Vulcan in order to go through the *koon-ut-kal-if-fee*, the Vulcan wedding ceremony."

Amanda tried to put it in as simple terms as possible, but even at that, was sure that most of it went over Chrissy's head. All she understood was that it had something to do with Spock.

"What does all that have to do with Spock?" she wondered as she set the picture book aside.

"Shortly after Spock reaches the age of seven, he must -- go through a bonding ceremony which will bind him to his chosen bondmate, who will eventually become his wife. His father will soon be telling Spock of the one he has chosen for him, then things will go from there."

"Does this mean -- that it would not be ... possible for *me* to 'bond', as you say, with Spock? After all, I've known him longer -- and I love him. He's also half-Human, so I think I could understand him better than a Vulcan girl."

The small girl's voice was toneless, no doubt hiding untold pain, but her face was unreadable. Amanda only hoped she could let it out soon. No child should have to go through what Chrissy and Spock were being forced to endure.

"Yes, sweetheart. I'm afraid so. Spock's father believes it best for him to have a Vulcan wife. I'm against the whole thing, but can do nothing to stop it. It's Vulcan tradition ... something that's always been done. And after Spock is bonded, you can't be any more than friends with him."

There was a long, awkward silence; Amanda had no idea what Chrissy must be thinking and was afraid to ask. As it turned out, she didn't need to. A short time later, the child threw herself into Amanda's arms, buried her face in the front of her dress and burst into tears. Amanda made her voice infinitely gentle and sympathetic as she stroked Chrissy's hair.

"I'm sorry, darling. I wish I could have done something to stop it."

She mentally cursed Sarek for not only causing their own child heartache, but Ann and Christopher's as well ... and all because of his insistence on having his own way with no thought of what the consequences might be. It was some time before Chrissy raised her head, her tear-filled eyes meeting Amanda's.

"Why is Sarek denying Spock to me, Amanda? It's not my fault that I'm not Vulcan, but I feel as if I'm being punished for it."

"I don't know, honey. I can't understand it any more than you can."

As soon as Sarek arrived home with Spock and they were alone, Amanda vowed to have some choice words with her husband. *He* had caused this -- this whole mess which was causing needless pain and anguish to two children who had done nothing to warrant it. If Sarek could do this, he was capable of anything! After Chrissy had quieted down and was nestled in Amanda's arms, she lifted the child's chin up to face her.

"Chrissy, would you like me to call your mother? I'm sure you'll feel better in your own home. Besides, Sarek will be home soon."

Chrissy nodded, wiping her tears away with a tissue she fished out of her dress pocket.

"All right, I'll do that ... but I need to move over to my desk in the corner. That's where the vidphone is. You can come with me and sit on my lap if you like."

"Okay." Chrissy's voice was still husky from crying. Her eyes were swollen and red, her face flushed.

After Amanda sat down, Chrissy situated herself in her lap again; Amanda held the child with one arm as she reached to turn on the phone. "Get me the Chapel residence."

"One moment, please."

A couple of minutes later Ann Chapel's face appeared. "Amanda! I wasn't expecting you to call so soon. Has something bad happened?"

"I'm afraid so. I ... told Chrissy about Spock, and she took it quite hard. In fact, she --"

Amanda broke off in mid-sentence, reluctant to continue as she looked down at the child, who seemed to be crying again. Damn Sarek! No amount of logic was worth this. Ann Chapel heard Chrissy's sobs, silently cursing the Vulcan Ambassador for causing her baby pain.

"I'll be right there."

This time she ran instead of walked, arriving in half the time it usually took her. Amanda left Chrissy lying on the couch and went to answer the door. She let her neighbor in without a word; a seething Ann Chapel followed Amanda back to the living room. Sarek would pay for this outrage! Ann rushed to her young daughter's side upon entering the living room and lifted her into her arms.

"Chrissy, Chrissy -- baby, darling ... Mama's here. Everything's going to be all right. Sarek will pay for what he's done to you."

Chrissy could only get out one word -- "Mama" -- before bursting into fresh tears and burying her face in the front of her mother's dress. Ann Chapel stroked her child's hair and kissed it, crooning words of love and comfort as they sat on the couch in Sarek's living room. After a while Chrissy slept, but with no tears this time. Ann Chapel looked up at Amanda with blue fire in her eyes. The other woman smiled apologetically.

"I'm so sorry about this, Ann. I wish with all my heart that it could have been avoided."

"Not half as sorry as Sarek's going to be if I ever get my hands on him," Ann hissed, venom in every word she spoke. "My baby has done nothing to deserve such pain." A moment later her voice lightened. "I'm not blaming you, Amanda ... nor is Spock at fault in any way. He can't possibly be entering into the insanity you mentioned willingly. It's your pointy-eared bastard of a husband who'd better watch out, because I intend to throttle him -- if only verbally -- at the first opportunity!"

"Take a number and stand in line," Amanda returned dryly.

"If he can do something like this to an innocent child, I wouldn't put anything past him. And let me tell you right now, he won't have to arrange a transfer. Once I tell Christopher what's happened, we'll leave on our own. We don't hang around where we're not wanted."

The look in Ann Chapel's eyes told Amanda that she meant every word she said and that nothing would dissuade her. "I'll miss you, Ann ... and the children will be heartbroken -- but I can't see that we have any alternative. Once Sarek's made up his mind, nothing ... and I do mean *nothing* -- can stop him." Amanda sounded sad and apologetic.

"I'll keep in touch, Amanda ... if only for Chrissy's sake. She'll want to know how Spock's doing, if nothing else."

Ann picked up her child and headed for the door. "I'd better leave now. Tell Spock he'll still be welcome at the house for the remainder of our time here."

Amanda nodded solemnly and closed the door behind Ann and Chrissy, tears misting her eyes as she watched their retreating forms out the kitchen window. A short time later she heard the aircar arrive. She brushed her tears away and squared her shoulders as she heard the front door open.

"Mother, I am home," Spock called.

Amanda made her way to the living room where her son was, startling him by taking him in her arms and hugging him fiercely as she affectionately kissed the top of his head.

"Mother, is anything wrong?"

"No, Spock. I'm all right. I'm just so glad to see you, so happy that you're home safe again."

Spock was not convinced, but had been taught to respect his elders, so he didn't pressure his mother for further information.

"I want you to tell me all about what happened during the *kahs-wan*," she said with forced brightness.

"Yes, Mother," he returned dutifully before looking around. "Now may I have a shower, change into clean clothes and eat?"

"Of course, my son." She smiled and touched Spock's cheek, startling the boy once again before he went on his way. She hoped she wouldn't have to be the one to tell him that the Chapels would be leaving soon ... but if she was, she hoped Sarek would be there, if only to glare at. After what he'd done, it was no more than he deserved for ruining two children's lives and driving away the only friends she had on Vulcan. She waited in the kitchen in angry silence until Sarek came in.

"Amanda, where are you?" he called, perplexed at not finding his wife waiting inside the door for him to cross fingers with her as they usually did. She did not often get angry, but he sensed that she was now -- and it was due to more than their recent disagreement. He found Amanda sitting at the kitchen table with an untouched cup of coffee in front of her. "My wife, why did you not answer me?" She didn't seem to hear him, acting as though he wasn't there. "Amanda, what is wrong?" She whirled away from him when he put a hand on her shoulder.

"Damn you, don't touch me," she spat. "You bastard! You selfish bastard, you drove them away!" He heard pain as well as anger in her voice.

"Drove who away? Amanda, what has happened? You must calm yourself and tell me." Sarek didn't touch her again, keeping a respectful distance until she calmed down.

"I hope you're satisfied with yourself. Now there'll be nothing to stand in your way. Ann Chapel just told me that they plan to leave Vulcan as soon as it can be arranged. That should please you immensely, since it means that Spock will have to give in and bond with T'Pring ... do his 'duty' like a good little Vulcan robot -- and never mind who he really wants. Your wishes are all that matters." Her voice was laced with bitter sarcasm.

"As far as that goes, Spock and I may leave *with* them. I still love you, but can't countenance being married to a man who would run roughshod over the feelings of two children -- one of them his own son -- in order to get what he wants. If that's what you call logic, leave me out of it. I want no part of it. By the way, I'll be using the guest room for the foreseeable future. I don't care to have you anywhere near me right now."

Spock had just come out of the bathroom and was heading toward his room when his sensitive ears caught his parents' voices. He made sure to keep out of sight as he situated himself near the kitchen door. He had never heard his mother so angry ... and he was sure that she had cried.

He was only vaguely aware of how difficult life must be for her, being the only Human on Vulcan -- but knew well how happy she had been when a Human family had moved in down the street several months ago. Not to mention when he and Chrissy had become friends; each had made life on Vulcan bearable for the other.

If what Mother said was true, the Chapels would soon be leaving ... and it would be his father's fault. As she had said, he had "driven them away." It would be very difficult for her to forgive him for that. Hurting him and Chrissy was bad enough, but to drive the only other Humans on Vulcan away in order to accomplish his objective was unpardonable.

In which case, he had to see Chrissy as often as he could -- *if* he could. It might be too painful for her to see him again, knowing she would lose him, but he had to let her know he was not entering into the bonding with T'Pring willingly ... that *she* was the one he wanted. He had told his father so.

He was hungry, but perhaps the Chapels would be willing to feed him. He could not bring himself to enter the kitchen in his own home; besides, seeing Chrissy took top priority right now. He crept down the hall and opened the front door, closing it with scarcely a sound after slipping out. Spock tiptoed until he reached the end of the walk which led to and from his house, than took to his heels, vowing to contact his parents later -- that is, if one of them didn't come to fetch him.

* * *

He arrived within moments, apprehensive of the potential reception he would get even as he forced himself to press the doorbell at the Chapel home. This time Christopher Chapel answered, frowning upon seeing Spock.

"I don't think this is a good time for you to see Chrissy, Spock. She's quite overwrought."

Spock bowed his head. "I understand, sir, but I would like to say that I deeply regret your daughter having been caused pain. Her ... friendship has meant a great deal to me, and I would -- very much like to continue that relationship for the remainder of your stay here, if she is willing. I can offer her no more now, since I am to be bonded in the near future ... but assure you that had it been up to me, I would have -- considered it an honor to have *her* as my bondmate instead."

Christopher was touched at the boy's poignant speech and knew that Spock meant every word, because Vulcans did not express their emotions easily ... and when they did, they were a hundred percent sincere. Spock had never intentionally hurt Chrissy; this whole mess was Sarek's fault. It would be wrong to deny the children their friendship.

"You're quite persuasive, Spock. Have you ever considered diplomacy as a career?"

Spock raised an eyebrow, which provoked a chuckle from Christopher.

"Let me speak to Chrissy's mother, okay? If she says it's all right, I'll call Chrissy and you can see her for a little while."

"I would appreciate it, sir."

"Wait here. I'll be back."

Spock nodded; Christopher Chapel closed the door and went in search of his wife.

He found Ann standing at the half-open door of their daughter's room, watching her sleep. Every sob was like a knife in Ann's heart. Damn Sarek! She started slightly when her husband quietly called her name; he then jerked his head toward their kitchen and closed the door to ensure that they wouldn't be overheard.

"Ann, the boy Spock is here and wants to see Chrissy. He feels badly because she has been hurt as a result of what his father has done. He still wants to be her friend, and I saw no point in denying them their friendship for the remainder of their time here."

"How long *do* we have?" Ann Chapel asked.

"Two weeks from the time I send in my request for a transfer," Christopher Chapel replied.

"Chrissy's been through an emotional trauma, Christopher. She's hardly stopped crying, even in her sleep, since I brought her home a little over an hour ago. I don't know if it would be good for her to see Spock right now."

Ann was well aware that she herself had told Amanda only a short time before that Spock was still welcome in the Chapel household, whatever his father had done, and that was still true, but what if Amanda hadn't had the chance to tell Spock yet? Christopher's reply brought the discussion to an abrupt halt.

"Finally, Chrissy would never forgive us if she found out that Spock had been here and we sent him away."

Ann Chapel sighed. "Well, when you put it that way ... Okay, tell Spock he can see her -- as long as we're close by."

Christopher nodded and smiled, then turned on his heel and returned to the front door. Spock's puppy-dog face greeted him when he opened it; the boy had not moved from his original position.

"All right, Spock, you can come in. Chrissy's taking a nap right now, but I'm sure she won't mind losing a little sleep in order to see you. Follow me."

"Yes, sir."

Christopher closed the door behind Spock after the boy stepped inside. The pair then headed down the hall, which opened into the living room. Christopher gestured to a couch. "Wait there."

Spock did as told, feeling even more apprehensive now than when he'd first arrived. How could he make Chrissy understand something he didn't fully understand himself? He wouldn't blame her if she ordered him out of the house and not to darken their door again, but it would be illogical not to at least attempt to make amends for what his father had done -- make the most of the time they had left together. A gentle touch and soft voice brought him back to reality.


Spock looked up to see Chrissy in a quilted pink robe with lace around the collar and sleeves; a bit of flowery fabric with yet more lace peeked out of the "V" at the top of the robe and a sash-belt was securely tied around her waist. Fluffy pink slippers were on her feet.

Her hair was somewhat tousled, though Spock glimpsed a pink ribbon in it -- assuming that she had put it on upon learning of his presence -- but her face was what he wished to see. In spite of himself, he was touched at her flushed cheeks and red, swollen eyes which belied the smile on her face upon seeing him.

"Greetings, Chrissy. It is good to see you again."

"You too," she said. "I was so worried about you during the *kahs-wan*, Spock. I prayed for you every day you were gone."

Spock felt an involuntary rush of heat in his cheeks at this expression of her feelings, mentally cursing his father's thoughtlessness which had caused his little friend pain and prompted her tears. Sarek had backed Spock into a corner, forcing him to hurt someone he cared very much for. Spock doubted he would ever forgive him.

"Thank you, Chrissy. I ... thought of you often, especially when I held your good-luck token in my hand. It may be -- illogical, but I ... felt closer to you whenever I did it. Which reminds me, I promised to return it to you." He fished it out of his pocket and handed it to her.

She took it and placed it in the pocket of her robe. "I told you it would work, didn't I?" Chrissy smiled again and joined him on the couch. It was then that Spock made himself reach for her hands and squeeze them. She looked up at him, wide-eyed.

"Chrissy, I must apologize for what my father has done. I deeply regret the pain it has caused you. I -- had no idea he would go to such lengths to achieve his ends."

Chrissy reached a finger and put it on Spock's lips. "I'm not blaming you, Spock. You had no way of knowing what he was planning."

"I wish you did not have to leave, Chrissy. I will -- miss you." The pain in his voice touched her deeply.

"I ... don't want to leave you either, Spock, but your father has left us no choice. Daddy has requested a transfer to another planet; we'll be leaving in another two weeks, as soon as it comes through."

"Chrissy, I wish to tell you a secret, but you must promise not to tell anyone."

"Not even Mama and Daddy?" She could deny Spock nothing when his brown velvet eyes looked deeply into her blue ones.

"Not even them. It must remain private, just between us."

"All right, Spock, I promise. What's the secret?"

"I am not ... entering into this bonding willingly. My father is -- forcing it upon me. In fact, you are ... my personal choice. Under different circumstances, I would -- have been ... honored if you had consented to be my bondmate." He squeezed her hands tighter; she again looked up at him. "May I kiss *you* this time?"

It was Chrissy's turn to blush now, but she smiled and nodded. "Of course, Spock. Go ahead."

"You are too far away. Please move a little closer."

Chrissy complied; Spock leaned over and brushed his lips against her cheek. Her blush deepened. "Thank you, Spock, but it really wasn't necessary."

"Yes, it was," he insisted as he resumed his previous position. "You have endured much because of my father's thoughtlessness -- so if you would allow me, I would like to continue my daily visits until it is time for you to leave."

"I'd like that." She released one of his hands but retained her hold on the other. "But are you sure your father will let you come?"

"He will not be able to stop me. It is bad enough that I am ... unable to ask you to be my bondmate because of him, but nothing is going to stop me from enjoying your friendship for the time we have left together." Spock's face became hard and determined, and Chrissy knew that he meant every word he said. At that moment, she vowed to make the most of every possible minute in the two weeks left to them.

* * *

A few days later Ann Chapel's anger cooled. After some thought, she felt guilt and remorse, even though she had no idea what kind of actions her words would provoke. She had only been expressing concern for the children. If only for this reason, she had to apologize to Amanda for her tirade, even though she had felt justified in venting her spleen at the time.

She invited Amanda over for coffee the following morning after Spock had gone to school. Chrissy was still asleep; Ann would tutor her in her studies after lunch. A short time later, the two women sat on the Chapels' living room sofa. A plate of turkey sandwich wedges sat on the low table before them, along with the coffee-pot on a hot plate. There was a long silence between them before Ann Chapel forced herself to speak, her voice laced with regret.

"I feel terrible, Amanda. It's like I instigated this whole mess. Sarek came to visit me because Spock had told him I was looking for work and would appreciate his help. Later on, I expressed concern over what was happening with the children; he promised he'd look into it and get back to me. I had no idea he'd do such a thing as this." She bowed her head, contrite. "And I had no right to take my anger at him out on you. Please forgive me."

Amanda placed a soothing hand on Ann's arm after setting her coffee cup down. "There's nothing to forgive. You had no way of knowing what Sarek would do. Even so, you'd do well to remember that Vulcans don't think or do things the way we do -- especially not where child-rearing is concerned." She picked up a sandwich wedge and ate daintily for a time before retrieving her coffee cup and finishing the hot beverage.

"That's for sure," Ann Chapel opined. "All we can hope for now is that Spock and Chrissy won't be scarred for life because of this."

"Only time will tell," Amanda remarked. "Now stop browbeating yourself. It's not going to change anything, nor will it help the children. We'll just have to live with the consequences as best we can." Amanda's quiet voice and gentle wisdom hit home.

Ann reached to squeeze her hand. "Sounds like some Vulcan logic rubbed off."

Amanda chuckled. "Perhaps ... but it's more likely to be simple common sense. In fact, I've deduced that we could help the Vulcans as much as they could help us as far as dealing with our emotions is concerned. The problem is that we could never get them to admit that they *needed* help -- particularly from Humans." She looked up to note the time.

"It's ten o'clock. I have to go. I've got a doctor's appointment at eleven, then it's grocery shopping. I'd ask you along, but I remember you've got to fix lunch, then tutor Chrissy. Which reminds me, give her a hug and kiss for me. I'm going to miss you both." Amanda stood up and the two friends embraced before the latter left to run her errands.

* * *

The next two weeks seemed to fly by after Christopher Chapel's transfer request came through. Their next destination was the Federation port on Deneb V. It harbored a Starfleet training center, extensive naval yards and orbital leave facilities. Most of its population was Humanoid, but there were scattered extraterrestrials, Vulcans included, because of the Federation Science Academy located on Deneb V's main continent. Chrissy's aptitude for medicine, which she had displayed in caring for her critically injured pet several months ago, prompted Christopher and Ann to hope that she would one day pursue that as a career. If not veterinary medicine, maybe nursing.

Perhaps she would even join Starfleet one day -- but that would be up to her. Unlike Sarek, Christopher and Ann would never force their child into something she didn't want to do. They also hoped that Chrissy would be able to forget the pain she had endured on Vulcan and put it behind her, remembering only the good times. Perhaps she would even relegate her feelings for Spock to her past as she should, and find a Human boy to date when she was old enough. In the meantime, however, they had to get through the ordeal of saying goodbye.

* * *

There was every bit as much bustle this time as when they had first moved to Vulcan, but finally everything was packed into their rented aircar for the trip to the Spaceport. They would beam onto the very same shuttle which had brought them here -- the Antares. All that remained was the farewells.

The three Chapels would have preferred to skip them altogether, but cared too much for Spock and Amanda to simply leave without a word. Sarek was discreetly absent for obvious reasons. Amanda embraced Christopher and Ann, but held little Chrissy the longest, hugging and kissing the child she had come to love like her own.

"Goodbye, sweetheart. I'll miss you. I hope you have a long and happy life."

"I'll miss *you*, Amanda," Chrissy assured her. "And I'll never forget you." Shortly after Amanda released her, Chrissy looked up to see Spock standing patiently on the sidelines. She walked over to join him.

"I ... wish you could stay, Chrissy," Spock said so only she could hear. "I will miss you." He forced the words past the painful lump in his throat.

Her face was wet with tears as she kissed him on the cheek. "I wish I could stay too, but your father's made that impossible. I'll miss you, Spock -- and will treasure every moment we've spent together, particularly these last two weeks, as long as I live."

To Chrissy's surprise and pleasure, Spock returned her kiss. Even as he did it, he knew it was illogical, but he didn't care. He might never see her again; the least he could do was give her a beautiful memory of the friend she had made who had been denied the opportunity to be more. A memory he hoped would offset all the painful ones she had accumulated during her stay on Vulcan -- particularly the ones his father had caused.

"Chrissy," Ann called. "We've got to go. Finish your goodbyes to Spock and come get in the car."

"Five more minutes, Mama. Please." Her tone was such that Ann could not deny her.

"Five minutes. No more."

"I promise." She turned back to Spock. "I've got to go, Spock. I wish you all the best in your life, and pray that we will meet again someday -- somewhere where your father can't sabotage us."

Spock was too overcome to speak; all he could do was hold out his arms even as his eyes filled with tears. Chrissy ran into them and clung to him for a moment, then released him. "I'll never stop loving you, Spock. Wherever I go, whatever I do ... I'll always love you."

He could scarcely understand her through her tears, but the sincerity of her feelings came through loud and clear. "T-thank you, Chrissy," he said carefully. "Live long and prosper." He gave her a shaky salute, which she returned ... then he brushed away more errant tears which slid down her cheeks. She smiled and held his hand a moment, then fled.

A moment later Spock went to stand by his mother; together the two of them watched their friends' departure. He managed a brave front until they disappeared into the distance, then turned and stepped into her arms, burying his face in her dress and clinging to her like a lifeline. Amanda held her son close, stroking his silky dark head with a soothing hand. With a part of her she hoped Sarek had been watching and felt guilty, if only a little, over what he had done to prompt the Chapels' departure.

"Someday, Mother," Spock declared after she released him. "Someday Chrissy and I will be together again, and Father will not be able to stop us."

"I hope so, Spock." She squeezed his shoulders before they headed back to the house. "I hope so, for your sake."

"I have said so," he told her. "And we will. I swear in the name of Surak, we will, no matter how long it takes ... and when I find her, nothing and no one will ever separate us again!"