DISCLAIMER: The characters and events in this story are based on Star Trek. I do not own them or Star Trek, they belong to the estate and heirs of Gene Roddenberry. This story is copyright (c) 2001 by Trish. This story is rated PG.



After All

Trish



Dr. Christine Chapel wasted no time extricating herself from the duty ridden confines of her uniform. Throwing it over the chair of her vanity table, she thought a moment how she really did not like the clingy neutral fabric that Star Fleet had instituted just the year before. Still it was better than the ultra mini-skirt of her old uniform, in which she always felt a bit like a show girl. Wrapping herself in the thick pink terry cloth robe that always chased the world away, she padded barefoot into the bathroom of her small San Francisco loft.

Her mind was still racing after the events of her first voyage as the Enterprise's Chief Medical Officer. At least it was supposed to be her first time in charge of sickbay, that was until her old friend Leonard McCoy showed up, grumbling about being drafted. She was forced to share her responsibilities as Co-Chief. Christine had not minded one bit. It had seemed like ages since she had seen McCoy, instead of only two and a half years. She was happy to share sickbay once again with her mentor, and if the truth be told a little relieved. Being CMO was, next the Captain, perhaps the biggest job on a starship. It was her charge to see to the health and well being of everyone on the ship, even when they did not want it seen to. She smiled a little thinking of all the times she and Leonard had practically had to drag Spock into the examine rooms, Captain Kirk had been little different. Yes, it had been a welcome comfort to ease into her new position under the supervision of her old friend.

Luckily, the crew had been given a week of leave time, after their near fatal confrontation with the V'ger probe. The refitted ship needed to be evaluated, and Star Fleet had been so grateful to the crew that they had felt it only proper to allow them some time to recuperate. Christine planned to spend the time reviewing sickbay and crew records, updating her personal files, and possibly enjoying a little shopping and dinner with Nyota and Janice if their schedules permitted. Janice had not seen her husband and two daughters in over a month, and Christine rather doubted she would be free. Why her friend had chosen to keep her maiden name after she had married the president of a small speeder company Christine would never know. It did not really matter, Janice was happy and content. Nyota on the other hand was still as single as Christine and would probably be up for some female carousing.

After removing her make-up and brushing out her hair Christine walked groggily into the bedroom and collapsed exhausted on the bed, exhaling loudly. She did not even bother to turn down the covers. Slowly her mind began to relax and sleep was just finding her when the comm buzzer next to her bed startled her back to awareness. For a moment she covered her eyes with her arm. "No-o-o-o," she whimpered.

After the signal had chimed two more times, Christine decided she had better answer it. Reaching over she slammed her hand down on the button. "What?" she sputtered annoyed.

"Chris. It's Ny." Uhura's familiar voice sounded rather formally through the speaker. "Star Fleet is recalling all crew members to the Enterprise. You need to be on board by 2300 hours."

"Why?" Christine's voice registered her irritation.

"They didn't say. The briefing will be at 2330 hours on the ship. All senior staff is expected to be there."

Christine lay there for a moment enjoying being called senior staff. Then she rolled over and closed her eyes. "Tell them to get McCoy," she grumbled.

"No good. They want you both," Uhura explained.

"Both of us. This must be pretty serious." Christine sat up immediately.

"It sounded very official and I don't understand all the secrecy. I'd say wherever we're heading, it's pretty important." The soft strains of Nyota's tone were warily serious.

"All right," Christine complied, rousting herself to a standing position. "I'll be there shortly. Chapel out." She clicked off the button, still wondering what they would be getting into. Whatever it was, she hoped it was not as dangerous as the V'ger situation. Christine sighed and headed again to the bathroom. At least she would have time for a real water shower.

* * *

The redesigned conference room of the U.S.S. Enterprise could only be called luxurious compared the utilitarian space they had used for five years. Carpet, tinted glass dividers, leather chairs, and a state of the art media and communications systems provided any information an officer could require at the touch of a button, or the voice of a command. Christine was one of the first members of the crew to arrive. Several junior crewmen were milling about in the corridor trying to get some indication of what was happening, but they would all be briefed later. This was senior question and answer time.

Dr. Chapel sat back in her chair allowing herself a moment of pride and satisfaction. She had almost never been involved in these briefings during their first five year mission. She had not been a senior officer, nor a department head, all her information had come through McCoy. Now, it was her turn. It was already obvious from the sour look on Leonard's face as he sat next to her that he had no desire to be there. She had been honored that during the V'ger mission, he had allowed her to take the lead in the medical situations that arose. He had even told her that he felt as though he were intruding. That was her sickbay, not his. He was used to the old Enterprise and she had been consulted on every facet of the new design in her department. The computers and diagnostics tables, the scopes and scanners and hypos, the entire place fit her like a glove and he could sense it. He was happy to take an advisory position, and proud to watch his protege in the role that suited her better than that of a nurse. From the looks of things, that was all that Star Fleet was going get out of him this time as well. They had backed him into a corner by forcibly reactivating his commission. If there was one thing about the good old doctor Christine was sure of, it was that when cornered he came out swinging like a prize fighter. No, she would most probably be in charge again.

Across the table Uhura sat pensively. Her communication relays were still not functioning properly and her mind was running diagnostics even as they sat there. Scotty too was absorbed in a schematic of the warp engines, anxious to avoid another wormhole once they were engaged. Chekov and Sulu were taking things in stride as usual, and talking quietly together at the end of the long shiny surfaced table. Admiral Kirk and Mr. Spock were the last to enter the conference room.

Christine looked up respectfully at the Admiral. There had been no time for Star Fleet to replace him, and since he knew the crew better then anyone it was decided that he remain in his temporary Captain's duties. Whatever they were to face it was good to know that James T. Kirk would be in the command chair. He had brought them through much worse than the V'ger scare. Spock stood dutifully and waited for his commanding officer to sit before taking his seat. In his hands he carried several computer tapes and charts.

Christine watched him, trying to look as though she were not. He was still devastatingly handsome, his body still long and lean, his mind still focused. Oh, how she had loved him. There had been a time she would have done anything to make him return her attraction. She lowered her eyes a bit in embarrassment recalling the way she used to almost follow him around, hoping for some shred of acknowledgment. That had not been so long ago, only a few years, but it felt more like a lifetime when she had been much younger. That was back when she had been so destroyed by the loss of Roger Korby, her fiance, that she had hidden herself away on a starship focusing every feeling imaginable into love for another man, one who could not return her emotions. Christine had pondered it over the years, tried to decide just what it was that made her love Spock. She thought at first that it was because he was the most wonderful and intriguing man she had ever known. Then she decided it could have been a longing for something different than she had known with Roger. It was not until she watched him again only a few short days before that she realized it was because of the things he shared in common with her lost fiance, the man she knew before Exo III. Spock's goodness, his dedication, his devotion to life, and his quest for knowledge had all been the qualities that had first attracted her to Roger as well. She finally understood that Roger Korby had been the love of her life, and that his loss had sent her searching for some replacement to fill the void. That had been Spock. Not to say that her feelings for the Vulcan were not strong and genuine, she felt them deeply and her hurt at his rejection was real.

Now, however, Christine had discovered a strength within herself. Her newfound confidence felt wonderful. Making the decision to become a doctor had been the first step, actually earning her degree had brought her a self sufficiency she never knew she possessed. As she stood in her sickbay for the first time, Lt. Commander's stripes on her shoulder, Christine finally knew. She did not need someone to make her worthy, she was worthy and deserving all on her own. Nobody had gotten her where she was now except Christine Chapel. The man to whom she had spent so much time silently devoted sat comfortably across the table from her, and her mind was filled only with concerns for the upcoming mission. It was not that she did not still care deeply for him, they had been through too much together to simply resign him to apathy. Christine honestly was not sure if she still loved Spock. What she was certain of, however, was that she no longer needed to.

"I'm sure you're all wondering why we were called back to the ship so soon," Kirk began. He seemed to be only one who was the least bit thrilled about it.

"Oh, no. Doesn't everyone take ten minute vacations?" McCoy said angrily, sitting back and folding his arms over his chest. Kirk ignored him.

"I appreciate your understanding," Kirk said to the rest of the crew. "Spock and I have just come from a briefing with Admiral Nogura and several high ranking Federation intelligence officers." That was enough to pique everyone's interest. Almost at once the staff sat forward hanging on his every word. "The information you are about to hear is not to leave this room. That's an order. We will announce those details of the mission to the junior officers that concern them." This was big, usually Kirk kept nothing from his crew.

"Several scouting reports have indicated that the Romulans have been making forays into Federation space for quite some time. They have in effect breached the neutral zone in defiance of the treaty," Kirk announced.

"An invasion, sir?" Sulu questioned nervously.

"The subtlety of their operations and the length of time they have been entering our space undetected would seem to evidence otherwise," Spock said calmly.

Kirk continued. "Star Fleet Intelligence believes that the Romulans have established some sort of operations base within Federation territory. Perhaps this is their first step in launching some sort of infiltration, we really don't know. However, the extent of their facilities seem to indicate that they've been working in that sector for years."

"Which sector, Admiral?" Uhura questioned.

Kirk motioned to Spock who immediately pressed a button on the table top module in front of him. The screen behind the Admiral suddenly turned to a star map of the particular area of space which was of concern. It was close to the Romulan border, but far enough away from the most densely populated areas of the Federation that it would be possible for clandestine activities to go unchecked there for some time. There were several inhabited planets, but mostly the sector consisted of long dead worlds and asteroids.

"This is the region, we believe to have been infiltrated by the Romulans," Spock informed them.

"Their base is believed to be located here..." Kirk pointed to a jagged shaped mass closest to the border. "On this asteroid."

"It is also believed that the Romulan may be holding Federation hostages at that location," Spock continued.

"Where would they get hostages, and why would we have never heard anything?" Scotty questioned.

"We have had reports of freighters and other civilian ships having been lost in that area," Spock noted. "It could possibly be a mining operation. The Romulan ships need great quantities of fuel for their cloaking devices. Perhaps more than their own empire could offer."

"...And hostages would provide a captive labor force." Christine felt a chill run down her spine at the thought.

"Precisely, Dr. Chapel," Spock agreed, his eyes meeting hers. Why did he watch her so intently, she wondered.

"Starfleet has already plotted our course as close to the base as we dare take the ship. They will no doubt have patrols in the area." Kirk noted the orange line running from Earth to a planet near the asteroid. He also studied Christine as realization slowly dawned on her.

Christine's eyes traveled along the course line until it reached the far away planet they would essentially hide behind. Her heart constricted in her chest. Uhura reached across the table, trying to clasp onto her hands for support, but Christine had already dropped them numbly to her lap. McCoy nearly jumped out of his chair in anger, but then gently wrapped his arm around his dear friend. Everyone watched uncertain what to do or how she would react. Everyone understood. Christine knew that planet, knew it well. She had seen in her nightmares.

It was Exo III.

* * *

"Hey. How about a break?" Leonard McCoy playfully knocked on the side of the door frame as he poked his head into Christine's office. His best southern sunshine smiled was painted widely across his lined face.

She did not even look up. "I'm kind of busy," she replied from behind her desk.

He wondered what she could possibly be working on. They were only three days out from Earth and there had been no major problems. There were not even any patients in sickbay. He suspected that as was typical Christine, she was finding work for herself to hide in because something was obviously bothering her. McCoy was pretty sure he knew what that something was.

"Ah, come on. Let's get some lunch," McCoy grinned.

"Thanks, but I'm not really hungry," Christine answered, this time trying to give him a smile to make him go away. She loved Leonard dearly, but she just wanted to be alone.

"Humor me. It'll give us a chance to talk," McCoy pressed on against his better judgment.

"What would I need to talk about?" she questioned, her eyes again focused on the screen in front of her.

"Dammit, Chris. I don't know, the weather, the new computer systems, the fact that in less than a week we're going to practically be orbiting the same planet where your fiance died." He had not meant to be so abrupt, but he was getting nowhere and wanted to draw her out. He needed to know how to help her.

Christine carefully laid down the stylus pad on which she had been making notations and stiffly raised her head. Her jaw was set and McCoy knew that he was treading shaky ground. She took a deep breath, trying to control herself.

"That isn't bothering me in the least," she said, stone faced.

"I think it is," he returned.

"What makes you say that?" Christine wondered aloud.

"You've been cooped up in here doing God knows what for two days now. You've hardly eaten, and I'd be willing to bet you've barely slept. I know you, Christine. When something's wrong, you dive into your work, just like me." McCoy's voice was compassionate.

"No. You dive into a bottle," she answered curtly.

"You don't have to be that way." McCoy was a little hurt but let it slide. Now he was certain she was in pain.

Christine looked down and calmed herself with another breath. "I'm sorry, Leonard. That was out of line."

"You don't have to apologize." He moved closer and sat on the edge of her desk. "I'm just worried about you, that's all."

She took his hand appreciatively and smiled. "Really. You don't need to be."

He continued, "I know this must be hard for you. You're bound be reliving some old memories right now."

"I think I'm handling it pretty well," she lied.

"I just want you to know that I'm here if you need to talk." McCoy squeezed her palm.

"Thanks. But really I'm fine. You don't have to worry about me," Christine assured him. Rising to her feet she let his hand drop. She did not wish for the conversation to continue. "I got over Roger a long time ago. We have a job to do. That's all Exo means to me now."

She gave him a brave smile and then edged past the old doctor. Still sitting on the corner of her desk, he watched her as she left her office. He had never realized she was such a good liar.

* * *

Christine did not realize that she was fairly storming down the corridor on route to her cabin. It had been two days since her talk with Leonard and he had been walking on eggshells around her ever since. In fact, everywhere she went on the ship it seemed people were staring at her. She had never felt so much like a goldfish in a glass bowl in all of her life. Uhura talked to her as though she were a child. Scotty hung on her every word, almost waiting for the tears to start. Even Admiral Kirk had offered his proverbial shoulder to cry on should the need arise. She assured him it would not. She understood their concern, but their care was beginning to suffocate her.

She could no longer stand McCoy's hovering in sickbay and had decided to retreat to the solitude of her cabin. Turning a corner she walked right past Spock who was working on an electrical conduit behind a wall panel. She was mumbling something to herself about being a grown woman and very capable of dealing with her past when he looked up rather shocked.

"Doctor Chapel," he called.

Christine stopped and sighed in exasperation. "Not you, too," he heard her whisper to herself. He let the remark go by, realizing it had not been meant for his ears.

"You seem troubled. Is there anything I can do?" Spock inquired.

"Yes. You can tell everyone on this ship that I'm not glass and I'm not going to break," she blurted out.

Spock stood for a moment in confusion. Watching her face, understanding flashed into his mind. "I am sure that your friends are merely concerned about you," he said calmly.

Her posture relented a bit. "I know. It isn't that I'm not grateful for their support. It's just that I would like to be able to forget it and..."

"...and each time they bring up your past you are forced to relive it again," he continued for her, hoping he was correct.

Christine was shocked at his perception, and his candor. "Exactly." She allowed herself a genuine smile. "When did you become such an expert on..."

"Human behavior?" he interrupted her again almost smiling. "I can only deduce that any knowledge I may have of the motives of your race comes from working so closely with them or such a long period of time."

"I suppose that would have something to do with it." Christine grinned back. It was good to be able to talk with him as a friend.

"You look as though a diversion would suite you," Spock ventured.

"Well, I guess something to take my mind off the prying eyes would be nice," she answered as a young yeoman passed her with a sympathetic brow. Apparently her past was now common knowledge.

"Would dinner tonight be agreeable?" he asked.

Christine relaxed and nodded. "That would be nice. We could catch up."

Spock returned her nod. "I too would enjoy that. Shall we say twenty hundred hours in the officer's mess?" he suggested.

"I'll meet you there," she agreed.

"Very well then. As you humans say, it is a date," he confirmed. "If you will excuse me, I must report these readings to the Admiral."

"Of course." She smiled warmly and watched him go.

Christine stood for a moment in the passageway. That was odd. Never before had he been so at ease with her, so friendly. It was a welcome change from the cold distance at which he used to keep her, but she wondered why all of a sudden. She had heard that he had attempted and failed a ritual on Vulcan to purge himself of all emotion. Perhaps he was embracing more of his human side. His experience with V'ger had also changed him to a degree. It would be interesting to observe this new Spock in action.

She turned in the direction of her cabin and took a few steps. There would probably be enough time for a nap and a shower before dinner. Smiling to herself and wondering how the evening would go, his words suddenly stuck in her mind. Christine whirled around to face the direction he had taken. However, he was already gone. For a moment she did not know what to think, as she replayed their conversation in her thoughts.

"A date?" she repeated to herself in wide-eyed confusion.

* * *

Christine entered the mess hall to find that Spock was already waiting for her. He had chosen a quiet table in the corner, for which she was grateful as it kept her being the center of everyone's attention. Smiling she walked through the dinner crowd. It seemed that Spock had just come from the bridge. He was still in uniform. She had chosen her favorite pair of khakis and a burgundy sweater top, the same as she would wear to enjoy dinner with any one of her friends. He stood as she approached the table.

"Sorry I'm a little late," she smiled, as he stepped over and pulled back her chair. He thought it would be more comfortable for her to sit with her back to the room; he was correct.

"Not at all. Please," he said motioning for her to take a seat. "I hope you do not mind, I have taken the liberty of selecting a first course."

Christine looked at the bowl resting on the table in front of her and broke out in laughter as recognition found her mind. It was plomeek soup. "An excellent choice," she smiled remembering another bowl of the same concoction.

"I though you would like it. It is most probably inferior to your recipe, but I'm sure it is adequate," Spock said enjoying his little joke.

"I'm sure this one will be fine." Christine's eyes sparkled. "I must admit that I was a little surprised by your invitation," Christine said, taking a sip of the mineral water he had also brought for her.

"Yes. I regret that we did not often get the chance to dine together during out first mission," Spock said.

"Well, to tell you the truth, back them I probably would have taken this as a sign of your eternal love for me," Christine laughed. Spock looked at her a bit shocked.

"I must have been truly terrible back then," she continued.

"Not at all, you were most professional and understanding," Spock comforted her worry.

"Yes, well, still I'm sure I made you uncomfortable on more than one occasion." Christine looked up at him, true regret in her eyes. "I honestly never meant to hurt you," she said.

Spock was silent for a moment, watching this new Christine Chapel in front of him. "Nor I, you," he said softly.

Christine let her eyes drop to the table, using the nervous energy she felt to bring the first spoonful of soup to her mouth. "Mmm, that is good," she said. "I've done a lot of thinking about that these past few years," she said.

"As have I," Spock answered plainly.

It was Christine's turn to be shocked. She assumed that she had been long forgotten by the Vulcan. Was she, even in some small way, part of the reason he had chosen to undergo the Vulcan purging ritual? She could not find words to answer. Luckily she did not have to.

"My treatment of you was reprehensible and I deeply regret my actions in the past." Christine began to shake her head in disagreement, but he gave her no opening to object. "When you needed understanding, I gave you only rejection and contempt. It can never be enough, but I hope that you will accept my apology."

"You don't owe me any apology. It was I who made it difficult for you." Christine took another sip of water. She could not speak of this with anyone else. "When I lost Roger, I thought my world would end. There were even times I truly wanted to die." Spock shifted uncomfortably at the thought but let her continue.

"Then there you were. So brave and fearless. You were kind and decent, dedicated and honorable. I fell in love with everything in you that reminded me of him." Christine could finally admit that, even to herself. "In a way I suppose it was my way of remaining faithful to my true love. I had an excuse. You couldn't love me, so I didn't have to get involved with someone who could, someone to challenge Roger's place in my heart. I guess I even compared you two. Thinking of all the things that he would do that you never would. It was my way of keeping him alive. I did love you then..." she said. "...maybe somewhere a part me always will, but I never stopped loving him and I'm certain now that will never end." Her face turned upward to meet his. "I used you and for that I am so deeply ashamed and truly sorry."

Spock regarded her. The look of honesty on her face, unfettered by the unconditional devotion he once saw there struck him. He had never truly known her. What a remarkable woman she was. He marveled at her courage and her self awareness. He doubted he could be as honest with himself as she was in her own heart.

"Then you understand why it could never be?" he asked. He had wanted to explain, but she apparently had already come to that conclusion.

Christine nodded. "Yes. I understand. I see now that it would never have been right. For you, or for me." She smiled.

"There is one way in which I would greatly like our relationship to continue," he ventured.

"What is that?" She thought she already knew.

"As friends. It seems that I have missed much and I would consider it an honor to be regarded as such by you."

Christine smiled warmly. "Oh, I would like that very much," she agreed, using the same words she had spoken once before to signify her commitment to him. Now she saw him only as a cherished and dear old friend. He almost smiled back.

"Shall we enjoy an entree, Dr. Chapel? Perhaps salads," he offered.

"On one condition." Christine stopped him. "Now that we're friends and all. Would you please, finally, call me Christine?" dhe requested.

"It would be my pleasure, Christine," Spock agreed.

* * *

The planet Exo III loomed ahead of them, growing larger on the ship's viewer screen with each passing minute. Those on the bridge who had seen it before tried to ignore the cold chills that ran down their spine at the thought of what had happened there. James Kirk busied himself with orbiting procedures, attempting to bury the memory of having been in essence cloned as an android against his will all those years ago. McCoy had come up from sickbay, but found that his mind was mostly focused on what Christine Chapel must be going through. Unlike their original visit to the frozen planet, she was not on the bridge now. The one time nurse, now Doctor Chapel, was below in her office trying desperately to make herself forget where they were.

"Scanners?" Kirk called.

"Admiral. I'm reading energy fluctuations all over this quadrant," Chekov informed him, sitting at his familiar navigator's station.

"Romulan ships?" Kirk asked, alarmed.

"Most probably, Admiral," Spock confirmed peering into the viewer at his own station.

"Let's hope they would expect a Federation ship to be patrolling on this side of border and not take our presence as an invitation for hostility," Kirk voiced.

"Hmph." McCoy puffed up. "Since it is our side of the neutral zone," he chimed.

"Admiral, we are being scanned," Spock reported.

"Then they know we're here," Kirk voiced aloud, rubbing his chin.

"Yes, and undoubtedly they know that we are also aware of their ships, or at least the space anomalies created by their cloaking devices," Spock answered.

"Begin standard orbit, Mr. Sulu. Let them think we're just checking out the planet," Kirk ordered.

"Aye, sir," Sulu said automatically, his hands punching the buttons in front of him. "Commencing standard orbit of Exo III."

"Now what?" McCoy questioned.

"We wait," Kirk said.

For two days they waited, orbiting the barren ice planet below. Everyone on board had been informed that there were possible enemy vessels in the area, but that they were to go about business as usual. Tensions began to run high, until on the morning of the third day, long range scans detected no other ships in the area.

"They have just left?" Pavel wondered.

"High-tailed it would be more likely," Kirk speculated.

"It would be highly questionable should a Romulan warbird be caught on this side of the Neutral Zone," Spock explained. "Perhaps their operation is less valuable to them than the possibility of an interstellar incident is threatening."

"Perhaps," Kirk mumbled, still suspicious. "Long range scans. Home in on that asteroid. Let's see if they've left anything behind."

"Scanning," Sulu's baritone obeyed.

It took a few moments. The asteroid was still quite a distance away. A few hours at warp speed. The readings were not as clear as the Admiral would have preferred, but one thing was obvious. Something was burning, something big. The realization struck just as McCoy stepped from the turbolift. He could tell something was about to happen.

Both Spock and Chekov calibrated their viewers, trying for a better look at whatever was occurring on the asteroid. The sensitive equipment took only seconds to respond. "Scanners indicate that a fire of immense size is burning unchecked on the southern portion of the asteroid," Spock reported.

"A fire, on an asteroid?" McCoy questioned.

"More precisely, a structure on the asteroid is ablaze," Spock corrected.

"I bet it was no accident." Kirk's jaw tensed.

"Captain. I am receiving emergency transmission from the asteroid," Uhura interrupted.

"On screen," the Admiral ordered. In the thick of the action, years seemed to melt away.

Suddenly the front viewer turned chaotic. Screaming could be heard, fire was approaching the room from which the transmission originated, its eerie glow could be seen on the wall. In front of them a beleaguered and worn man stood frantically working all the controls at once. Through his thick matted beard and several layers of dirt, it was difficult to tell whether he was young or old. His clothes hung in filthy shards from his emaciated body and his hands shook. His voice screamed over the ships speakers. It was hoarse and gravelly from lack of use.

"Please! Help us! Any Federation ships! We are Federation citizens! ... Fire!... No time!... Left us to die!" The screen crackled. His words came in short interrupted bursts from the heavy smoke which was beginning to envelope him. "I am ... I am ... Jared! Hurry!" With that the screen went dark and the transmission ended.

James T. Kirk jumped to action. "Plot a course for the asteroid, Mr. Chekov."

"Course plotted and laid in, sir." The Russian had served under Kirk long enough to anticipate his next move. Of course the Enterprise would help.

"Engage, Mr. Sulu. Warp factor six," Kirk ordered.

"Warp Six, Sir." Sulu did as he was told and the Enterprise streaked toward whatever awaited them on the distant mass of rock.

* * *

"Hold position, Mr. Sulu," Kirk ordered as the asteroid filled the front view screen.

"Holding position, sir," Hikaru confirmed.

"Landing party, in fire gear, report to the transporter room," Kirk called over the intercom, jumping up from his seat.

He had not yet reached the steps when Chekov's cry of alarm stopped him in his tracks. "Romulan warbird decloaking off the port nacelle." There was no time to react before the ship was rocked by a phaser blast.

A few decks below in sickbay, nearly barricaded in her office behind a mountain of work, Christine Chapel was thrown to the floor by the force of the blast.

"What the...?" she yelled, coming to herself. She frantically reached up to hit the intercom button, listening to the reports flowing into the bridge from every deck and division she waited anxiously for news of the injured.

Luckily, the human damage sustained in the blast was minimal and could be handled by her staff. She stood and nearly flew through the door on her way to the bridge, calling orders to her junior officers as she went. "I'm going to find out what in the world's going on," she told them.

Back on the bridge the orders were flying fast and furious. "Shields," Kirk yelled. "Hard about, Mr. Sulu."

"Hard about," was the answer and stars flew past the viewer at an alarming rate.

"Target enemy vessel," Kirk ordered.

"Enemy vessel locked on target, sir," Chekov answered.

"Fire!" Kirk yelled.

Two blue lines of light shot out from under the ship and hit the Romulan vessel dead center. It was not enough to stop them. Again the Enterprise was fired upon. This time the engineering decks were the unlucky recipient of the phaser blasts.

Scotty's voice shouted over the comm seconds later. "Admiral, we've lost warp. Phasers are out."

"Photon torpedoes," Kirk rallied.

"Photon torpedoes armed," Chekov answered.

"Fire!" Kirk once again shouted.

"Torpedoes away," Chekov confirmed.

Two dots of light streaked across the screen, as Chapel stepped from the turbolift and joined McCoy against the wall. They traded worried glances. Again, a direct hit exploded against the warbird's hull. This time, their engines went up with the blast, taking the rest of the ship with it. A blinding white light filled the bridge and then nothing.

After a moment silence was broken. "I read no Romulan ships in the area, no energy fluctuations, and no Romulan presence on the asteroid below. It looks like they're all gone," Sulu reported.

Kirk wasted no time. "There are hostages down there," he called out as Chapel looked up almost surprised. "Spock, you're with me," he yelled taking the steps in one leap as the Vulcan rushed over to join them. "Assemble a medical team," he said to McCoy and Chapel.

"How about your two CMO's?" McCoy offered, Chapel nodded eagerly.

"We just might need the both of you down there. Let's go!" Kirk agreed. The four officers rushed into the turbolift.

* * *

Kirk, Spock, Chapel, and McCoy, along with the large landing party beamed down into the main hall of what appeared to be some type of ore processing facility. There was little time to take in the surroundings. Thick smoked grabbed at their lungs, and at once they maneuvered their breathing units over their faces. It gave them oxygen, but did not clear the blinding black cinders from the air. Humans, at least they appeared to be humanoid, were running panicked in every direction. Some lay on the ground already dead, others attempted to assist with wounded and those who had been overcome. The scene was like the end of the world.

Suddenly the same face they had seen on the Enterprise came running toward them. "Are you Federation?" he asked.

"Admiral Kirk, U.S.S Enterprise," Kirk confirmed.

"Star Fleet? Thank God. Hurry, there isn't much time. The main refining mechanism could blow any minute." He motioned for the officers to follow him.

"Where's your medical facility?" Chapel yelled.

"We have none. They had no time for the sick. They just killed them," Jared informed them quickly as they walked.

"They?" Spock questioned.

"The Romulans. Our captors," Jared said, barely looking over this shoulder. "This way."

He led them through a long tunnel into a cavernous room, where hundreds of people lay in various states on harm. Some were badly burned, some had broken limbs, others could hardly breath, and still more seemed too weak to lift themselves from the rock floor. Men and women of all ages huddled together. There were frightened children and some of the women were pregnant. Many were choking for air and some appeared to be suffering from the affects of something other than the fire. Chapel, McCoy, and the other medical personnel in the landing party rushed to begin evaluating and treating the worst of the injured. Kirk ordered his men with fire fighting equipment toward the area where the blaze was centered. He was just about to take the lead in his own heat resistant gear when a bone-thin woman came rushing down the tunnel at Jared.

"They're trapped. We can't get to them," she cried frantically as Chapel, McCoy, and Spock looked on.

"Who?" Jared questioned, taking the frightened woman by the shoulders.

"The others below, in the labs. We can't get to them," she yelled. "They're hurt."

"Where are these labs?" Spock asked, sealing the closure on his own silver protective suit.

"This way?" The woman motioned.

"Dr. McCoy, who can you spare?" Spock yelled.

"I'll go," Christine volunteered and was at Spock's side before McCoy could object. Spock ordered members of several members landing party to follow them and the group sprinted back down the tunnel.

Christine was sure they had descended at least twenty flights of steps into the darkness all at a run. They were old and rickety and she pictured herself falling through to the hard rock floor beneath. Somehow they made it to the place the woman had called the labs. Christine could see why. They had once been fully equipped experimental facilities. Now, they lay in ruin, whether deliberate or accidental she did not know.

A blaze was still raging on the far side of the large room cut out of the rock, and Spock and the others hurried off to douse it while she began her evaluations of the injured. There must have been thirty lying around her, people, all suffering. The less seriously wounded were trying in their weakened state to assist those who could not help themselves. Christine quickly went to the aid of those nearest her. She about halfway through a large group and exhausted when Spock and the others returned, now smudged, dirty, and wreaking of smoke. She was so intent on her job that she hardly noticed them.

Bending over a sickeningly thin man, she poured some water from the container she carried over a rag and stroked it along the grimy face. He stirred a little. The only evidence that there was a human somewhere under the matted hair and beard and the years of filth was the dried blood caked on his face and hands. It appeared that under the dirt his hair was silver or white. Painfully he opened his eyes slightly to her. She could hardly make them out, so sunken in shadows they were, but they appeared to have been blue at one time. The sallow tone of the pupils told her it had been a long time since this man had seen daylight. He touched her hands and tried to move.

"Shhh," she comforted him. "You are alright now. I'm Doctor Chapel of the U.S.S. Enterprise. We've come to help you."

The man smiled a bit. It was distant and ghostly. "Chapel ... Doctor?" he almost questioned, his voice also a whisper from years of silence.

"Yes. My name is..." she began.

With that the man opened his eyes wide, forced his head up and reached for her face. His fingers left streaks of dirt and blood on the side her cheek just behind her oxygen mask as he finished her sentence for her. "...Christine!" he said, frantic and elated.

Chapel stared at him, at once understanding. Spock saw her from a distance. He was uncertain whether she was in distress or in ecstasy. Her voice filled the air as he made his way over to her. Her face could only register an overjoyed shock. Her hands shaking, she cradled the man's head, as tears fell from her eyes onto his skin. Yes, she knew this man...

"Roger?" Christine screamed.

* * *

The fire in the vacated Romulan stronghold continued to burn for three full days. Numerous landing teams were sent down to relieve their exhausted fellow crew members. The brigades would return to the ship blackened and choking, would rest a while, and then be sent back down to the asteroid's surface once more. The Enterprise held position at a safe distance should the main processing facility blow. That would have surely disintegrated the huge mass of rock as well as anything near. Luckily the blaze had finally been brought under control with the refinery damaged but still salvageable. The Federation would send in specialists to gather evidence against the Romulans. It was clear that the Empire was indeed using the structure to prepare dilithium for transport to their ships. The precious fuel had been plundered from uninhabited worlds all over the quadrant including Exo III, and was brought here where Federation citizens who had been taken prisoner were given the dirty and laborious job of making the stones usable. That apparently was not all. The presence of the labs indicated that those of scientific backgrounds had been forced against their will to lend their skills to the Romulan's quest for power.

The hundreds of wounded and other prisoners either had been transported to waiting Enterprise, or to the U.S.S. Innsbruk and the U.S.S. Annapolis who had joined the fleet flagship in the rescue operation. Because the Enterprise had aboard her two of the service's best physicians, the most critical of the patients were sent there for treatment, including Roger Korby.

It came as a total surprise when Christine spent her days trying to avoid her former fiance. She of course supervised his recovery from overwork, starvation, disease and smoke inhalation. However, as much as she could assign to junior staff, she did so. She nearly isolated herself working on the more seriously wounded. McCoy was worried. This was not the reaction he would have expected, but then he reminded himself that after her experience with the android version of her lover, Christine's apprehension was probably normal, especially considering the time that had passed. After all, how much of the changed being she found had been transformed before Korby had been taken prisoner, and how much of the man she loved was left after his long ordeal?

Roger also noticed the distance in Christine's reaction to him. Once he had tried to reach for her hand, only to have it pulled away as if she had been burned. She had tearfully and regretfully excused herself from his bedside retreating from his weary calls of her name. McCoy had tried to talk to her about it, but had been silenced by assurances that she was just tired and that, as much as she would like to spend the day caring for Roger, he was not the only patient in sickbay. McCoy saw her reasoning, but he also saw her fear and pain. He would take matters into his own hands.

McCoy slyly made his way through sickbay after spending a sleepless night deciding just how he could help Christine without her getting too angry at him. He was careful not to be detected, which was difficult. She knew everything that went on under her command. He had taught her too well. In his hand he carried a single computer disk, borrowed from Jim with whom he had discussed the matter the evening before. He found Korby sitting up in bed and healing well. He checked the patient's vital signs and tried to make small talk, working up the courage to present his evidence.

"It appears that you are the one responsible for encouraging Christine to advance her career and earn her medical degree. I would certainly have never expected to see her in a Star Fleet uniform. It seems to suit her, the position I mean," Korby smiled.

"Maybe I encouraged her a little," McCoy joked, eager to take the credit for such a fine officer as Christine. "Anyway, you're the whole reason she joined Starfleet in the first place."

Roger looked stunned. "Did she join to try to forget me?" he asked.

"No. To find you," McCoy informed him. "She didn't tell you."

"She has not had the time to say much of anything to me." Korby looked down mournfully.

"It must have been about five years after your last transmission was made. You should have seen her. This beautiful young blonde steps into my sickbay as Head Nurse. She was a special commission. I thought, 'Oh great some Admiral's brat wants to play doctor for while.' Boy, was I wrong." McCoy laughed to himself at the memory. "Well, after awhile she confides to me that she had a fiance who was lost in space and she was certain she was going to find him. I have never in all my years seen such determination or faith."

"I had no idea," Roger whispered.

"Not only did she never give up, I couldn't haven't run this place without her," McCoy continued. "She's kept me sane all these years."

"She does have a calming nature," Roger's said thoughtfully,

"Yeah, she's best darn medic I've ever worked with. She's one in a million," McCoy boasted.

"That she most certainly is," the other man agreed. "I am happy that she seems to have finally found the confidence she used to lack. I always told her that she was more than what she believed herself to be."

"Yeah. I guess a lot of things have changed," McCoy answered.

"It seems that one things has. Her feelings for me," Korby voiced sadly.

"Look. I'm not sure how Christine still feels about you," McCoy began. "She won't even talk to me about it and I like to consider myself her best friend. I can tell you one thing though, she's in shock."

"I can only imagine what she must have gone through," Roger shuttered.

McCoy turned deadly serious. "No, you can't." He handed the once great scientist the disk he had prepared.

Roger Korby sat unmoving through the whole report. It was all there, every detail of the Enterprise's first visit to Exo III. The androids, the manipulation, his alter ego's use of the Captain, and of Christine. He felt sick. Even Christine's report had been included. It was vague, she had done her best to be true to his memory even she could no longer be true to the man. His heart broke to see her beautiful face of all those years ago. She had not changed that much and he looked like a totally different person, work worn and hopeless. Her eyes on the computer screen were so filled with hurt. The betrayal and confusion he was sure she had felt must have been overwhelming.

"Now do you see why this is so difficult for her?" McCoy said softly.

"She has to know that wasn't me," Korby said frantically.

"To her it was. What other information did she have?" the doctor returned. "She was devastated."

"I have to speak with her," Roger pleaded.

It was then that Admiral Kirk and Mr. Spock entered sickbay and headed toward Korby and McCoy. "I see you've beat us to it," Kirk said to Bones, knowing his friend was planning to speak with their passenger.

"How are you feeling today, Doctor?" Kirk asked Korby with a chill running down his spine. He would never forget the humiliation of being copied or the strange horror of staring into his own face.

"Better, thank you, Captain," Korby answered. "Dr. McCoy has just informed of what occurred during your mission of Exo III all those years ago." He looked ashamed.

"Unfortunately, that is what we are here about." Kirk looked solemn. "I know this is soon, but Star Fleet wants a full briefing from you on what occurred there. They think it could possibly have something to do with the Romulan presence in this sectors. They want answers and quite frankly so do I." At that moment Christine came into the room carrying a tray of medications. She caught the topic of conversation immediately and froze, white as a ghost.

"How soon, Jim?" McCoy questioned, his medical concern taking over.

"Now, if possible. I would prefer the officer's briefing room, it is more private. Can he be moved?" Kirk returned in his best official tone.

"I am fine," Korby answered without taking his eyes off Christine. "I will help in whatever way I can." Kirk tilted his head in a stiff nod of thanks.

Spock turned and saw Christine standing behind him. "Chr... Dr. Chapel. Since you were also a member of the original landing party, Star Fleet would appreciate your presence at the briefing as well." Something in his tone was soft and understanding. It did not escape Korby's notice.

"Very well. Thank you, Mr. Spock," Christine answered. Roger saw the caring glance that was exchanged between her and the Vulcan, and how the tall first officer seemed to hold her in his sight for longer than he thought was appropriate. He wondered if this Mr. Spock had anything to do with Christine's guarded demeanor toward him. He certainly intended to find out.

* * *

Christine sat across the table from the man with whom she had once expected to spend the rest of her life. In her thoughts she relived every memory of him, some joyous and romantic, others terrifying and confusing. She wondered which was the true manifestation of the real man, but was afraid to find out. Of all the images that floated through her mind, the one that kept returning was of Roger on Exo III standing in an android embrace with the female he had created, the false skin flailed from his hand to reveal the machinery beneath. How could she ever look at him the same way again? As it was she could barely look at him at all, her eyes were cast upon the table between them.

She knew he was staring at her. His gaze nearly bore a hole right through her. Roger Korby studied the woman whose memory was the only real thing he had been able to hold on to throughout his years of captivity. He had long since lost everything else, had given up even the hope of ever seeing her again. It was the thought of her that brought light into the dark underground misery his life had become. She was the only thing that reminded him that he was human and now she remembered him as something far different.

"Christine," he whispered trying to reach across the table. He wanted simply to touch her hand, but stopped himself when she saw the pain in her eyes as she finally looked at him. He would have given his life to wipe it from their blue depths.

"I am assuming that none of us, needs a review of why we are here," Kirk said, waiving the usual briefing procedure.

"No," everyone voiced.

McCoy had come under the title of Korby's physician, but was actually there to support his dear friend, Christine. He sat beside her and squeezed her hand for comfort. In answer to the Captain, Christine merely shook her head, her answer barely audible. Someone did hear her, though.

Spock sat in his usual and fitting place, at Kirk's right. He had also watched Christine. The change in her over the last few days troubled him. He recalled how vibrant and outgoing she had been during their dinner together. Now, she seemed lost and defeated. Whatever was happening within her secret self, he could not even begin to imagine. She was in pain and he searched for some way he could help her, frustrated at his lack of skills in that area. This briefing was going to be extremely hard for her. If she needed him, he would be there for her.

"Dr. Korby. Star Fleet would like you to explain, for the record, exactly what happened during your time on Exo III," Kirk began formally, switching on the recorder.

"I am glad to help in anyway that I can," Roger answered.

"Very well, you can start with the time directly following your last transmission." Kirk's tone sounded like he was issuing a direct order.

"As you know, we had just begun exploration of the underground tunnels," Korby began. "The expedition was not going well. The extreme cold had destroyed our communications equipment and most of our supplies." He looked at Christine, trying to explain. "That is why we could not contact anyone for assistance." Her eyes remained downcast. He continued, "We decided to move our operations base below the planet's surface. It was warm and we found that the caves actually provided sufficient nourishment. Thermal sources there had allowed certain edible native fauna to grow. We had been mapping the lower tunnels for about a week when we found ... Ruk." He paused for a moment. Something in his tone seemed chilling.

"What was the android's demeanor toward you?" Kirk inquired.

"At first he hardly noticed us," Korby answered. "He was like some mechanical toy mindlessly going about his duties tending to the machines. As he became aware of our presence and his buried memory patterns of the Old Ones were accessed by his data storage units, he began to serve us."

"What use did you make of this device?" Spock asked.

"Mostly as a tool. At first his superior strength made him ideal for the heavy and more tedious aspects of excavation. Then, when we realized his potential for learning, we began to allow him to catalog and record for us. He was most eager to please."

"Go on," Kirk prodded.

"It was about that time that Dr. Brown fell to his death in one of the tunnels." Roger was silent for a moment, thinking of his lost colleague and friend. Christine also seemed saddened.

"We were able to retrieve the body and after we buried him, we returned to find that Ruk had created an android version of our friend. He thought it would please us," Korby informed them.

"Did it?" McCoy wondered aloud.

"Certainly not." Roger was shocked. "I demanded to see the machinery on which the android had been created. That is when we discovered the true nature of the facilities that Ruk tended. It is also when we realized that he was more than just a piece of technology. He was also extremely calculating and manipulative. He was determined to carry out his orders from the Old Ones no matter what the cost."

"In what ways?" Spock questioned.

"We forbade him to ever use the machines again and ordered him to dismantle the Dr. Brown figure he had created."

"...And apparently he did not," Kirk assumed.

"No, quite the contrary. He began building more androids," Korby said.

"Like Andrea?" Christine finally spoke. Her tone was ice.

Roger looked at her, his eyes soft with compassion. "No, my darling," he told her. "You."

Stunned silence filled the room. "Me?" Christine asked horrified. "But ... there was no..." She stammered.

"No. I made him dismantle the copy of you he had created." Roger looked grief stricken. Christine's jaw set in insult.

"It seems you wanted something else," she said matter of factly.

"Yes. I did, but not in the way that you think," he assured her.

"Oh, please enlighten us." Her voice was venom. Spock could tell that she had been holding onto her rage and indignation for years.

"Ruk had used my holos and vids of you to create an almost perfect copy," Roger explained. "The android looked exactly like you in every detail, even the birth mark on your..." He stopped himself, sensing her embarrassment. He cleared his throat and continued. "She was so beautiful. I wanted to make believe she was you. By that time, years had passed. I had given up all hope. I was certain you had met someone else and gone on with your life, and I hoped that you had for your sake. I tried to make her you, I even tried to teach her to act like you and do the things you would do. However, she was not you. Nothing of you was in her. She had none of your warmth, your passion, your humor, not even your intelligence. She was not you."

He paused for a moment and then bolted to the edge of his seat suddenly realizing why she was so hurt. "Please believe me, Christine," he begged. "I never touched her, never even kissed her. I couldn't. I couldn't love some kind of a mechanical geisha." Christine jolted to hear those words again. "She wasn't you. I made Ruk dismantle her, I couldn't even watch as he did, it would have been like seeing you ... it would have torn me apart. You were all I had to hold onto," he cried.

Tears were streaming down Christine's face. A tiny fissure had been pierced in her armor, but there were still unanswered questions. "Then why Andrea?" she yelled.

"Is that what you think?" Roger asked. "Oh, Christine." His eyes were soft as they studied her. "I never actually knew this Andrea," he told her. "When it was obvious that I was not going to let Ruk carry out his programming and that all of his attempts to please me had failed, he decided to create a more pliant leader. I was next."

"Are you saying that Ruk created the android of you on his own?" Kirk was amazed.

"That's right, Admiral. He needed someone who would let him take care of them. You saw his size and strength, I couldn't stop him. He created a copy of me, although he changed a few things. Oh, he left my memories intact, such as Christine, for instance, but he created a Roger Korby who was less demanding. He programmed certain events into the android's mind, including a very different scenario for what had taken place on that planet. I don't think even the poor android ever realized he had not at one time been a human. The device totally believed he was me."

Roger looked over at Christine. "Because I had forced him to destroy the copy he had made of you he assumed, very much in error, that I was somehow displeased with you. Since the android had a human's normal desires, he apparently created a female for it, from the computer memory banks. You see, Andrea had nothing to do with me, and I certainly would never have had anything to do with her."

"How did you end up on the asteroid?" Christine asked, her manner softening.

"I was no longer useful. Ruk had someone to serve and protect, and he was carrying out his programming. I was taken above and left to die." Christine tensed at the thought, but Roger continued, "What Ruk did not realize was that the Romulans had already discovered the riches of his planet and I was found soon afterward. I was half frozen, but still alive and once mended made an excellent worker."

"Then you willingly worked for the Romulans?" Kirk pressed on.

"No, everything they forced me to do was against my will, I assure you," the scientist answered. "Once they realized who they had and what I could do for them. I was put to work creating even more powerful fuels and weapons for them," Korby reported. "That place was nightmare. All we did was work." His eyes went distant and cold. "The sick and the weak were butchered. The moment you stepped out of line you were punished." He rubbed his neck remembering something he did not recount. His gaze washed over Christine. "You were the only thing that kept me alive." Her only answer was the breath that caught in her throat.

"What kinds of weapons did you create for the Romulans?" Kirk asked quietly regretting his interruption, but Star Fleet would want to know.

"Mostly advanced phaser technologies. I can give you detailed schematics," he offered.

"That would be most helpful," Kirk agreed.

"As long as you tell Star Fleet never to actually use them." A sly smiled played on the haggard man's face.

"Why?" Kirk searched, his suspicion returning.

"Because they don't work," Korby allowed himself a full smile.

"If the Romulans had thoroughly dissected the devices, they would have found small traces of dilithium ore compressed into the access wires. As you know dilithium is extremely volatile and unless properly contained..." Korby began.

"When heated by a phaser coil the substance would explode," Spock finished for him.

"They never figured it out," Roger laughed.

"But it also affects human tissue. How did you manage to get it in the phasers without harming yourself?" McCoy questioned.

"We lived by it, Doctor, we figured out ways. It's really quite simple. Some protective metal, even certain types of hollowed out rocks will do," Korby answered.

"Roger," Christine interrupted. It was the first time she said his name and his attentions were focused on her. "If they had discovered what you were doing, they would surely have killed you," she said, worried. She could barely believe the brave risk he had taken.

He looked at her lovingly. "Christine," he said, "I already was dead." Again his hands inched across the table toward hers. This time she allowed it. His palms rested atop her fingers and she stared at him through a haze of tears.

The other men were silent, realizing the immense nature of what was passing between Korby and Christine. They also saw something in Christine's eyes, something that told them maybe she was still in love with Roger, and maybe she was beginning to give him a chance. She was not, however, fully ready to invite him back into her life. After a few moments she lightly pulled her hands away. He smiled at her grateful for the touch she had allowed.

Kirk used the opportunity to interject some more protocol into the proceedings. "I think that will do for now. Dr. Korby..." he called the man's attention. "It seems that you had nothing to do with the events on Exo III, after all, and that you have spent the last years of your life as a prisoner of the Romulans' unlawful presence in this sector." Kirk spoke formally for the record, knowing his word would carry much weight. "Further more, it appears that your covert efforts while under this enforced domination illustrates the highest degree of loyalty to the Federation. I will send my report to Star Fleet. I am sure they will agree. Please consider yourself an honored guest of this vessel and do not hesitate to let me know if you need anything at all." The Admiral ended with a wide and relieved smiled, the past forgiven.

Korby looked at Christine. She was all he wanted. "Thank you, Admiral," was all he said.

"Now, if you will excuse me..." Kirk stood and his officers snapped to attention. Roger rose weakly and slowly to show his respect. "I have an urgent transmission to relay to Headquarters." Kirk grinned heading for the door.

"Admiral," Spock acknowledged.

For a moment the Vulcan, the CMO's, and the rescued scientist stared at each other in silence. Christine felt like some sort of side show. They were all waiting to see what she would do. Roger was undoubtedly holding his breath hoping she would rush into his arms. Spock and McCoy had stayed behind should she need help, no matter her decision or her reaction to the news. It was Korby who spoke, first his reserve overcome by his own eagerness.

"Christine?"

She took a step back and looked at him, although there was more compassion in her eyes than had been there before. "Please, I need to think," she said, her voice choked by the sobs that clawed at her throat.

He backed away, if this was what she needed he would not rush her. "Of course. Whatever you need," he said slowly.

Christine nodded and fairly burst from the room. Spock followed her urgently, an action which was not lost on either of the men still standing at the table.

"Give her some time," McCoy advised Korby.

"I hope that is all it will take, Doctor. I hope..." Roger looked mournfully at the closed door.

* * *

Christine had reached the door of her cabin before Spock caught up with her. She had been able to fight the tears that stung her eyes while she had nearly sprinted through the passageways from the briefing room, but it was no longer of any use to try. She hastily keyed in her security code and stood impatiently waiting for the door to open.

"Christine," Spock called, coming to stop at her side just before she entered.

It was too late, the tears were flowing down her cheeks. "Please, not now." She tried to hide her face.

"You are upset," he noted. "You need to talk to someone." His voice was low and compassionate.

"I just ... I'm not..." sShe began, trying desperately to reign in the thoughts swirling through her mind. "I don't know what to do," she sobbed.

"Come, let us go inside," Spock offered, noticing several crew members staring questioningly at their Chief Medical Officer. Christine nodded and complied.

He led her gently to a chair at her work station and knelt in front of her as she sat. For a few moments, which tore at his heart, he let her cry. Then he remembered something he had seen humans do before. He quickly walked over to the food unit and ordered water. Bringing it over to Christine, he resumed his concerned stance.

Her hands were trembling as she took a few sips. "Thank you." She tried to smile at his kindness. "I don't understand why I'm like this. You'd think I would be happy." She shook her head, and closed her eyes in shame.

"I was wondering why the return of Dr. Korby seems to be so traumatic for you. I realize it was shocking, but after our discussion of a few evenings ago I would think you would be relieved," Spock told her.

"I know. I don't know why I am so worried," Christine said. "There's this sick pit in my stomach and I just can't make myself get close to him."

"Is it because of your experience with the android?" Spock asked her. Humans often held onto such barriers that blocked them mentally from progressing.

"No. I don't think so. I know that wasn't him. It still shakes me up, but you heard his explanation. Of course, it could have happened that way and he was so sincere." She looked at Spock gravely. "He was telling the truth, I'm sure of it."

"Are you afraid of him? His time with the Romulans could have changed him," Spock suggested trying to help her sort out her thoughts.

"No." Christine was certain. "Roger would never hurt me." She took another drink of the cool water.

Spock took a deep breath almost afraid of the next possibility that played on his mind. "Is it because you still have feelings..."

Christine silenced him. "We talked about that the other night. I told you that is in the past. A very nice past, but over just the same," she assured him. "I realized something, sitting across the table from him just now, staring into his eyes," she ventured. "I still love him. I think I always have. I want him back so much it hurts." She looked at Spock, pleading with him to help her. "Then why am I so afraid of it?"

He took the glass from her and sat on the table. Ignoring the charge he felt through the physical contact, Spock took both of her hands in his and held them tight. She needed someone's support. "If I may be candid?" he asked.

Confusion showed plainly on Christine's face, but she nodded voicelessly.

He began, choosing his words carefully. "The Christine Chapel who came aboard this ship all those years ago searching for her lost fiance was a very different person than the woman who now sits in front of me," he said. "What was the focus of her life then?" he asked her.

Christine's face softened a little. "Roger," she answered.

"And a few years later, what drove you then?" Spock questioned her, knowing her answer already.

Christine smiled thoughtfully. "You," she confessed.

He nodded understandingly. "What about now? Who guides you actions and determines your course now?"

Christine thought a moment. Then realization dawned in her eyes. "Me!" she said in astonishment.

Spock nodded. "Could it be that you do not wish to go back to being just a pretty face with a ring on your finger?"

"Yes," Christine nodded. "Yes, that's it completely. I want Roger back so badly, but more than that I don't want to give up myself."

Spock was silent for a moment letting the feeling of strength and self-trust fill Christine. He watched her revel in it. Then he gave her one more piece of advice. "Go to him. Tell him how you feel. If he understands, he will undoubtedly want to see you reach you fullest potential."

"And if he doesn't?" Her face fell a bit in dread.

"Then perhaps he never deserved you at all," Spock told her.

He rose quietly and let go of her hands. "I will leave you to your thoughts," he said softly.

Christine looked up at him, genuine admiration in her eyes. She remembered why she had fallen in love with him all those years ago and why she now considered him one of her most cherished friends. "Thank you." He nodded silently and headed toward the door.

"Spock." Her voice halted his footsteps. He turned to see her smiling. "For someone, who claims to be confounded by us humans, I'd say you know us pretty well," Christine grinned.

He stood a moment considering her words. "After all this time among those of your species, it is only logical that they would be a bad influence upon me," he almost grinned back. The sound of her laughter as he left her room told him that she would be alright.

* * *

"I guess ... there's a lot to catch up on." Christine smiled softly and nervously from the doorway.

Roger Korby, who had been studying years of scientific and historical advances over the sickbay computer looked up hopefully from the monitor. "Yes. The advances in xenobiology alone are mind boggling," he answered, a self conscious grin finding his face. Was this the olive branch for which he hoped? Attempting to stand as she entered, he was halted.

"Oh, please that's alright," Christine smiled. He was still weak and his eyes thanked her as he eased back comfortably into his seat.

Christine made her way over to the edge of one of the empty beds and sat down stiffly, still trying to smile. "I see the Romulans didn't dampen your curiosity," she offered.

"No." Roger chuckled a bit. "I've spent the better part of the day discovering what has been occurring in my absence. It is remarkable."

"I guess I haven't really thought of it. Seeing it all at once must be shocking." She continued to make small talk.

"I have also noticed that your name is on quite a few of those breakthroughs," he said proudly.

Christine looked away shyly. "Well, I had a lot of opportunity on board the Enterprise."

"Yes, but not everyone would have had the insight or the brilliance to know what to do with the opportunities which presented themselves. I am so proud of you." He beamed.

"Roger." Christine laughed, embarrassed at his praise.

"It's true," he continued, enjoying the easy rapport they were finding once more.

"Well, I had a good teacher," Christine credited.

"Oh, no," Roger said. "Don't you give me any of the credit for these works. You did that all on your own."

Christine thought a moment. Roger was right. All of the advances she had contributed to the scientific world had been through her own blood, sweat, and tears. It felt good and she allowed herself a moment of pride. Remembering her conversation with Spock the day before she began to work up the courage to introduce to the new Christine Chapel to the man who had dreamed so many years of the old.

"Roger," she began. "We need to talk."

He nodded his head in silent agreement. They had once shared too much to continue as they had been for the last several days, as virtual strangers. He braced himself and rose from the chair, quieting her protests with a raised hand and assurances that he was alright. Slowly he moved toward the bed and sat lightly beside her.

A shudder of excitement ran through Christine at his nearness. For a moment all she wanted was to take him in her arms, kiss him, and never let him go. She hoped he would understand. Clearing her tightening throat she began.

"I need to apologize to you," she said. "For days I've been walking around here treating you like some kind of leper."

"Christine, no..." Roger began to protest.

"Yes. Yes, I have," she went on. "You deserve better than that, especially from me. The truth is I wasn't sure why I was so apprehensive about finding you at last after all these years. I suppose at first it was memories of Exo III, but I see now that wasn't you. I should have known you would have never done anything like that."

"Then you've figured out why seeing me again was so disturbing to you?" he asked softly.

"Yes. I talked with Mr. Spock yesterday and he helped me to sort things out," Christine told him.

"Oh, Mr. Spock. It seems he has been a great comfort to you," Roger said unable to hide the jealousy in his voice.

"Yes. He has." Christine looked at him sternly. "I won't lie to you, Roger," she said. "There was a time when I was very deeply in love with him." She watched Korby grow tense beside her.

"I thought there was something more between the two of you than just official courtesy." Roger looked down, feeling his heart crashing to the floor.

"I consider him one of my dearest friends. We have been through a lot together," Christine said, unwilling to hear a word against the Vulcan. "Now, he has helped me realize why I was so hesitant about our relationship, yours and mine."

"Why is that?" Korby asked her coldly.

"It's because I was afraid," Christine admitted.

"Yes. You had every right to be after the experience with Ruk...." Roger began.

"No, not about that," Christine corrected. "When I was with you, I was so happy just to be your lover and to be in love with you. I couldn't believe anyone like you would ever be interested in me, and then you were."

"But, Christine..." he tried to interject.

"No. Let me finish." She stopped him. "I'm so different from the woman I used to be. Everything I have, I've gotten on my own. I somehow survived losing you and I've built a life for myself. I have a career, respect, independence. I'm self sufficient, and now I don't want to lose that either."

Roger smiled, almost in self congratulations. "Maybe now you see what I always tried to tell you. You never thought enough of yourself. You think you were weak, but do you understand how much courage it took to let go of a promising research career, join Star Fleet for heaven's sake, and go off into the unknown? I cannot believe that you did that all for me. I am humbled and grateful."

"I knew you were out there somewhere?" she whispered.

"And you were correct. Then when it looked like I was gone forever, did you collapse and die?" he asked her.

"I wanted to," she said.

"But you didn't. No, you went on. You made a name for yourself and built a life on your own. Not many people could have done what you have. Don't you see, that strength was always in you, I always knew that. It was one of the things I found most exciting about you," Roger pleaded with her to understand his point of view. "No, you're right. The woman who I see before me now is not like the one I left all those years ago." He choked back his regret and the memory of her tears long ago as they said goodbye. "Finally she believes in herself as I did. Even if you don't want me anymore, I never would wish you to be so fragile again."

"Not want you?" Christine questioned.

"As you have said, you have had feelings for Spock some time." Roger could barely say the words. "If it is him you want, I cannot stand in your way."

Christine looked at him compassionately. "There was a time I thought I couldn't live without him," Christine explained. "However, he didn't want me."

"He's a fool," Roger said disbelieving that anyone would not give everything they had to be with her.

"No. I was," Christine went on. "You see, I didn't even realize it myself until sometime after our first mission had ended. What I loved about him was everything that reminded me of you. I couldn't have you, so I focused on someone who wouldn't have me. I didn't really have to give you up." She took his hand and smiled warmly at him. "Don't you see, I never got over you," she confessed. "Spock also helped me see something else the other day."

"What was that?" Roger looked up at her, once more hopeful.

Christine held onto his hand and stoked his face. Her eyes softened and a tear ran down her cheek. "I still love you," she sputtered. "I always have."

Roger took her gently by the shoulders and his somberness turned to bliss. "Do you mean ... you want me back?"

Christine was nearly sobbing with joy now. She nodded emphatically. "If you'll have me."

"If I'll have you?" he practically howled with shock. "There's nothing else I want in the whole universe."

He took her slowly in his arms, almost afraid she would disappear. She fell into his embrace without hesitation. At last their lips met, melting away the stolen years, Christine felt passions burst forth within her she thought long dead. For Roger it was like being reborn, finally holding her in his arms once more.

"I love you," he vowed.

"I love you too," she answered.

After a long moment of passion she leaned away smiling. "I have something for you," Christine said. She reached into the pocket of her uniform tunic and produced a tiny object neither had seen in a very long time.

"I've kept this in my safe all these years." Christine held up the shining gold band with the princess cut diamond for him to see.

"You did keep it." He was astounded.

"I want you to put it back on my finger," she invited.

He wasted no time. Without hesitation he took her trembling hand in his and noticed that he was shaking as well. Slipping it lightly over her elegant knuckle, they found it still fit perfectly. Their eyes met and joy was all that could be found there.

"Will you marry me, Christine?" Roger asked clasping her hands, restating the words of so long ago.

Christine studied him with love and pride. "Oh, yes!" she answered just as she had when he had first proposed. This time their kiss seemed sweeter and more full of promise.

When they were finally able to pull themselves apart, Christine had a request of her fiance. "Would you have dinner in my cabin tonight?" she asked.

"I would love to," he beamed, and then looked thoughtfully as her. "As I recall I was the one who asked you out for the first time before." He held her close.

"Yes, I think you were," she smiled.

"How intriguing. I think I like this new confident Christine." He grinned just before he found her lips once more.

That evening, Roger went to Christine's quarters as she had asked. He was pleased to find that her culinary skills were still very much tuned. She made all of his favorites. What he enjoyed most, however, was dessert, which they shared together beneath the covers of her bed. He never returned to sickbay.

* * *

The change in Christine was remarkable. Not only did everyone notice how happy and hopeful she looked, but she truly felt that way. For the first time in a long time there was a future for her, one that she had given up so long ago and had now found again. A future that included the man she now realized she had always loved.

She and Roger were inseparable. They acted like teenagers, and neither cared how it looked. They laughed, teased, planned, and mostly loved. Everyday was a gift. She stood by his side as he testified about the Romulan presence within Federation space. The threat was so immediate and presented such a possibility for disaster that a special panel had been convened and Roger was among many of the former inmates who spoke to the diplomats over a secured communications link as the Enterprise sped back toward Earth. He had told all that he knew and had experienced. He gave Star Fleet detailed renderings of the faulty technology he had gotten past the Romulans. He also helped to create a list of the inmates who had not been lucky enough to be rescued over the years, hoping that their families would at least have the comfort of closure.

After the formalities were over, it was Roger's turn to support Christine as she sent her transfer request to Star Fleet. She had told him how desperately she would hate to leave the service and how much at home she felt there. However, she could not bear the thought of being separated from him on long deep space missions. He had understood and wanted her to remain in Star Fleet if that would make her happy. The very day that Roger received notification of his appointment to a Chairperson's position at Berkeley, Christine contacted Headquarters. She was overjoyed when they granted her a commission to the Star Fleet medical facilities in San Francisco almost immediately. Christine and Roger had already begun plans for their long overdue wedding. They were determined to be married before the Enterprise reached Earth. Too much time had been lost already.

Christine was too happy and too busy to notice the way that Spock avoided her when he could and gazed almost longingly at her when she was near. The Vulcan almost seemed depressed. Everyone assumed that it was just the aftermath of his failure at the Kohl-i-nar. Surely Christine's plans would not have created such a reaction in him.

This day, Spock could not avoid Christine. She and Roger had asked him to be member of their wedding and he had accepted. He stood in the front of the ship's chapel alongside the nervous groom, a squirming Mr. Scott who was already tugging at the collar of his dress uniform, a stiff Chekov who hated ceremony almost as much the Scotsman, and a dreamy eyed Sulu who was remembering his own wedding day only a few months before. Captain Kirk would officiate and Dr. McCoy would pull double duty as acting father of the bride and best man.

Spock stood in his place silently, his mind racing with events of the past few weeks. He remembered seeing Christine's happy smiling face beaming at him as she came running onto the bridge with Doctor McCoy when word of his arrival during the V'ger mission had filtered around the ship. She had looked so radiant, all he could do was study her. There was something different about her, a confidence and self assurance one could only find within themselves. Then he again saw her face smiling down at him as he awoke from his mind meld with the probe, more friendship and professional worry in her eyes than love. Perhaps that was the part that most troubled him. He had expected the wide-eyed adoring devotion with which she had regarded him during their first five years. He had found that had somehow changed, replaced by a deep caring and understanding.

Only a few short days before, when he had asked her to dine with him, he had hoped that it could be the beginnings of something more than he had ever allowed between them. During his time of Vulcan he truly had thought of her often. During the very worst of his trial, she would come to him, her loving smile again his, her gentle hand again stroking his face, her soft voice soothing him. He should have known he could not so easily give her up. He should have realized that if anything stood in the way of fully achieving the Kohl-i-nar, it would be his feelings for her, the very ones he had always hidden even from himself. Seeing her again, he was certain he loved her. His experience with the V'ger probe had allowed him to realize that he could let himself to show her that love, he could build a life with her.

At dinner together, he saw once again the new Christine. She spoke of her newfound self-esteem and of finally defeating demons in her past which had kept her from realizing she was worthy. It was then that he realized he was one of those forces who had tarnished her image of her very self. Desperately he hoped to make it up to her. However, then she had declared that she realized there could never be anything between them. His heart had shattered. What had he expected? He thought she had been miserable, pining for him all those years. Instead she had found herself. He could not take that away from her, could not ask her to return to the feelings that had caused her so much pain. He knew that it was now him who must love her from afar. Perhaps it was only right. It was Christine's turn now, to experience everything she could be. He could not bring himself then to confess his feelings for her, but hoped hers would again find their way to the surface. He had planned to help them along. Then they had found Roger, and Spock had lost what she had first offered him and had realized too late.

The sounds of the traditional Earth wedding march stirred him from his lament. He looked up to see Uhura walking down the aisle to her place as Maid of Honor. He noted that, as usual, she presented the very epitome of style. Christine had chosen for the members of her bridal party to wear their dress uniforms instead of asking them to purchase, as she put it, some hideous monstrosity they would never wear again. Behind Nyota, Janice Rand, who had already notified Star Fleet of her plans to take a ground assignment in order to spend more time with her husband and daughters, beamed happily for her friend. Several member of the medical staff followed, looking equally lovely. There was no way to tell Christine now.

For a moment, the music stopped. The room stood and turned as Christine, escorted by Doctor McCoy, stood in the doorway. She looked radiant. Spock had to force himself not to smile at her beauty. The Assistant CMO had proclaimed, to the protests of her friends, that she was too old to don the usual billowing white lace gown, and that she it was not really her style anyway. She looked glorious in a tailored champagne colored suit. The fitted ankle length skirt, and peplum jacket highlighted her hourglass figure. Her hair was flawless in an upswept style reminiscent of the early twentieth century, and she carried a small bouquet of light peach toned tea roses. The particular hue she had chosen for her dress made her seem to glow. Spock realized that perhaps it was her happiness that gave her such radiance.

The music began and a proud old southern gentleman escorted the woman who might as well have been his own daughter toward the man who would share her life. For a moment, Spock allowed himself to pretend that Christine was coming to him. He was brought back to reality as an enraptured Roger Korby took a step forward. The look on Christine's face as she watched him said everything. She was in love with him.

McCoy reached Korby and turned to lightly kiss Christine on the cheek. She smiled widely at him as he placed her hand in that of the man who would soon become her husband. "Who gives this woman to this man?" Kirk smiled.

"Her parents and I do," McCoy shouted to the delight of the room. Christine grinned, her gaze fixed solely on Roger.

From the angle she stood, Spock could see Christine's face plainly. However, he doubted she saw him at all. He would not have taken the joy from her eyes for anything, even his own contentment. He would never to be close to her, never touch her, never know joy with her. He had lost his chance, and the only thing he could do now was wish her all the love and happiness that she so richly deserved.

The time passed in a blur. Spock barely heard Christine and Roger vow their love to each other. Her eyes held him captive, along with the desire for those brilliant depths to be focused completely on him. Before he knew it Captain Kirk made the final declaration.

"I now pronounce you husband and wife." He smiled and Spock watched the couple seal their pledge with a kiss. She was gone. Christine was now Mrs. Roger Korby. She was so happy.

A short time later Spock found himself in the ship's recreation room, celebrating Christine's wedding reception with the rest of the crew. The occasion was festive and joyous, much in contrast to the Vulcan's mood. He stood motionless as the Roger led Christine to the area that had been cleared for a dance floor. Could he have ever made her that happy? It was pointless to speculate.

Uhura had gained the bride's permission to pick the music for the couple's dance. She had also refused to tell either of them the song she had chosen. "Just listen to words ... if you can manage," she smiled at them.

As the bride and groom made their way to the middle of the dance floor surrounded by smiling friends and well wishers, the music began. The song was old, with instrumental qualities of the late twentieth century. Neither of them had ever heard it before. It was soft but contained a bit of a flourish, much like the excitement Christine was feeling at that very moment. Roger took her in his arms and they began to lose themselves in the rhythmic sway of the dance. It was not long before they understood why Nyota had chosen that piece especially for them, as the chorus echoed Christine rested her head against her husband's chest and reveled in the words.

"...After all the stops and starts,

we keep comin' back to these two hearts.

Two angels who've been rescued from the fall.

...And after all that we've been through,

It all comes down to me and you.

I guess it's meant to be,

Forever you and me...

...After all."

Later that evening, the shuttle craft that would take Christine and Roger to the transport ship which waited at a nearby starbase departed from the Enterprise. From the observation deck, Spock watched the tiny dot of light disappear into the blackness. He thought of Christine being taken so far away, to a new life of which he was not a part, and wished her well.

* * *

Spock was still trying to come to terms with the death of his brother Sybok when McCoy burst onto the bridge sporting a wide smile on his face. "May I have everyone's attention?" the doctor requested, rubbing his hands with delight.

The bridge crew turned to note the twinkle in his eye. "What is it Bones?" Kirk grinned. Usually when McCoy was this jubilant, it was very good news. Uhura, Scotty, Chekov, and Sulu leaned forward eager to hear whatever was the cause the old doctor's jolly mood.

"I have the great pleasure of announcing that my former Head Nurse, your former co-CMO, and our perpetual good friend, Dr. Mrs. Christine Chapel hyphen Korby--whatever--has just given birth to a bouncing baby boy!" McCoy smiled as if his own daughter had just presented him with the grandson he had always dreamed of.

A cheer rose up from the bridge at Christine's happy news. Uhura began making plans to visit her friend and her friend's bundle of joy on their next shore leave. She hoped Christine would not mind a trip to the baby store so she could spoil the little guy a bit.

"That is wonderful!" Kirk agreed.

"Yep," McCoy agreed. "Roger William Korby Junior, born last night, seven pounds six ounces, twenty-one inches long, and full head of hair," he reported. "Mother and Baby are doing just fine," McCoy smiled, as if anything less could be expected from Christine. "I'm told Father needed sedation, though."

Everyone laughed and began composing their congratulations messages to the new family. Spock sat quietly and turned toward his monitor. His internal calendar told him that it had been about eight months since he had last seen Christine. It had been at the hearing just after the whale probe incident. She had said nothing about it at the time, perhaps she had not even known herself that she was expecting. He comforted himself with the knowledge of the joy that she must be feeling, and reached for his comm button.

The message Christine would receive read: "Allow me to express my sincerest congratulations on the birth of your son. The announcement has brought great happiness to all of us who have known over the years. May your child bring you immeasurable joy, and may his future as well as yours be blessed. Your friend, Spock."

He of course did not add what was truly in his heart, that he wished he was the father of Christine's child.

* * *

Spock walked slowly along the deck, the stars outside the transparent metal windows were so familiar to him that he hardly noticed them. Even the bustling activity around him did not stir the Vulcan from his thoughts. Today his mind recounted the events of his life so far. He relived every triumph and every defeat. He saw the face of every enemy and every friend, all of those who had been so dear to him, and those he had lost. For the first time, he felt very very old.

"Ambassador Spock," the deep voice of the space station's commanding officer called from behind him.

The Vulcan turned toward the tall stately African man, who seemed to part the crowds of Bajorans and Star Fleet personnel as he strode through the promenade of Deep Space Nine. Benjamin Sisko had a commanding presence that suited his position. He had earned the respect of his subordinates and his superiors alike. His dedication, his sense of honor and duty, and his passion for justice reminded Spock in many of ways of his friend, Jim Kirk. The thought stopped the Vulcan for a moment; he had not seen his dear friend in over a hundred years. How quickly the time had passed and how heavily it weighed upon him now. He shoved grief and regret to the back of his mind, to be contemplated later, and focused on the tall gallant gentleman who beckoned him.

"Commander Sisko. I trust I have not overstepped my bounds by touring your station. I find I am woefully lacking in my current knowledge of Star Fleet technology," Spock offered.

"Not at all, Ambassador," Sisko smiled. "I wish you had told me you desired a tour, I could have arranged personnel to accompany you."

"That is quite alright. I preferred the solitude just now," Spock answered, realizing how odd his statement must have sounded on the crowded deck. Sisko seemed to understand.

"We are honored to have you as our guest. Please let me know if there is anything you require while you are here," the Commander offered, a bit in awe of the legendary officer. He remembered hearing tales of Spock, Kirk and the Enterprise when he was only a child.

"That is most kind of you," Spock thanked him.

Sisko had been waiting for a opportunity to talk with Spock all morning and was not going to pass up this chance to learn. "If you don't mind my asking? How long were you on Romulus?" Sisko questioned.

"For more years than I care to remember," Spock sighed heavily, thinking of the friends he had lost there, as well as his own father who had died while he had been away.

"Forgive me. I don't mean to pry," Sisko apologized. "It seems I have found myself in a rather unusual diplomatic position with the Bajorans and I thought you..."

"You thought I could offer some insights into the role of an Ambassador," Spock almost smiled.

"I must admit, the thought did cross my mind," Sisko said with a regal laugh.

"Commander, I have learned throughout my life that nothing is ever typical. Each situation brings its own reasons and consequences. How you deal with what is presented to you is based upon your perceptions and your background." Spock could have given him a hundred examples, but did not. "What I can tell you is that the best thing you can do is to always be true to what you believe to be right, and ... follow your own heart."

A strange sentiment from a Vulcan, however, Sisko understood Spock's meaning quite well. "Thank you..." he began, but the beep of his comm badge forced an end to their conversation.

"O'Brien to Sisko," the metal disk on his chest sounded.

"Sisko here. What is it?" the commanding officer tapped his chest and answered. Spock was instantly nostalgic for his days in the service.

"We're picking up an unidentified ship requesting emergency docking," the Irishman answered. "You'd better come to Ops."

"I'm on my way. Sisko out," Benjamin answered, then turned to Spock. "Ambassador, how about a personal tour of Ops? I can't promise I'll be able to show you everything, but I think you may find it interesting.

Spock tried not to look too eager, but jumped at the chance. "I would appreciate that Commander." The two men walked quickly to the turboshaft.

The station's personnel had already fallen into their customary routine when Sisko and Spock arrived at the structure's central hub. "What have we got out there?" the Commander asked his people. Spock felt strangely out of place yet exhilarated just to watch the energy he had once known so well.

"Medical freighter, Earth registry," a dark and slender Trill woman answered. "I'm reading immense energy fall off."

"Open a hailing frequency," Sisko ordered.

"Aye, sir. Hailing frequency open," the striking woman complied.

"Commander, medical transport. This is Commander Benjamin Sisko of Deep Space Nine. What assistance do you require?" the officer bellowed.

A screen just ahead of them came to life with the face of a worried and sleep deprived man on the bridge of the space vehicle. "Commander, my name is Albertson. We have lost all energy reserves. We are carrying stasis chambers, terminal patients en route to Federation science storage facility. Request permission to dock and transfer power to your reserves."

"You have cryogenically frozen patients on your ship?" Sisko clarified.

"That's right. We're taking them to Kalnar 10, we keep the older ones there," the man said. Spock bristled at how the patients on board the freighter seemed more like cargo to him.

"Are any of these people contagious?" Sisko inquired, fearing an epidemic on his station should something go wrong.

"Negative. Mostly accident victims and a few Selendan Syndrome," Albertson answered. "Please, Commander, yes or no. They don't have much time."

"Of course. Stand by for our tractor beam," Sisko assured him. "Chief..." he began.

"Already got him," the man called O'Brien answered.

Sisko tapped his comm badge. "Bashir to docking bay with medical team. Prepare to assist in transfer of cryogenics patients."

"Bashir here. On my way," the voice was heard on the other end of the link.

Spock watched the flow of duty. It was effortless. He yearned for the days when it was him giving the orders and making the decisions. He longed to be back on the bridge of the Enterprise. Even in the heat of battle or facing down death, those had been the most wonderful days he had ever known. They were gone to him now. All of it was gone. He had to forge another path.

A frantic British accent broke his self indulgent thoughts. "Bashir to Sisko. Power drain on the ship was too rapid. Life support was gone. Commanding officer is dead and the containment fields for the stasis chambers are failing."

Sisko's face turned mournful and grim. "Save as many as you can," he ordered.

A few moments of tense silence passed on the Operations deck as the crew passed worried looks. Finally the voice was heard again. "Commander. We could only save two before the power failed completely."

Sisko lowered his head for a moment, as did Spock who mourned for the unknown lives. "The two, names, conditions?" Sisko asked.

"Aye, sir," Bashir answered and read off the outside markings of the first chamber over the comm. "Fuan deLaPar, Tarrus 4, Organ failure," the physician reported. "His chamber was the worst damaged of the two, I don't know how long it will last."

"Understood. The other?" Sisko demanded.

Bashir again read the information. Spock's face registered shock too great to hide or control as he heard the name.

"Dr. Christine Chapel-Korby, Earth, Selendan Syndrome."

* * *

Spock stared down at the eerie blue light that filtered through the observation glass of the stasis tube which held Christine's motionless form.

Because of his background with Starfleet, his diplomatic credentials, and the fact that he was the only person on the space station the last time the two patients had been animated, he was allowed special access to the medical facilities. His mind reeled in disbelief. He had thought of her so many times over the long span of years, had never really gotten over her. There had been several women since he had watched her leave his life, most of them only a necessity of biology. However, she was the reason he never chosen to bond with another female. None of them could ever be her.

He had read the background file on her case from the memory banks of the medical transport ship. Christine had been diagnosed with Selendan Syndrome nearly twenty years after she had left the Enterprise. She had been in her late fifties at the time. Spock had to remind himself that she actually still was, as he read the accompanying report on her disease. The syndrome caused rapid drastic muscular and nervous system deterioration and was characterized by a loss of motor control and intense pain. Much like the cancers of centuries ago, there had been very little technology available to prevent her from developing the disease or even diagnosing a predisposition to it. Also like the cancers, until the vaccines were found, there were no cures. Some treatments had been effective, but even those temporary measures had come too late to help Christine. Even now in the twenty-fourth century, medical advances had not yet broken the complexities of the syndrome. They had come close, but a cure always seemed to allude the medical profession.

Spock shuddered to think of what Christine had gone through and gave up a silent thank you to whomever had the foresight to chose cryogenics for her. He knew it was probably her husband Roger Korby. Spock knew that if it had been him, he could not have beared to see her life ended so early either. He tried to stop himself from imagining that they would now have the future together he had once hope for, but he also knew he would never let her go again.

Spock was shocked at the etherealness of Christine's beauty. For a century only his memories of her had sustained him. Now again looking into her angelic face, which had changed remarkably little since he had last seen her enthralled in Roger Korby, he remembered why he had felt it necessary to travel to Gol seeking relief from the very un-Vulcan emotions he held for her. They had been so strong that he had failed the most important test of his life. He was glad of it, he would sooner give up all of his home, than one moment of the memories of Christine which had fortified him over the years. Now, so many decades later, and with the blessing of hindsight Spock wondered why he had ever rejected her in the first place. He cursed himself for it, and for he pain he had caused her. Standing by her side now, none of their differences mattered. He had her back in his life, if only in a suspended form. He would protect her now, for the rest of his days even if she never awakened to him again. At that moment he could only stare at her, enraptured. He loved her so.

Forgetting about the doctor, the commander, and the other personnel who surrounded him, and not truly caring, Spock's hand touched the glass as gently as it had touched her face so long ago. "Christine..." he whispered.

"Do you know her, Ambassador?" Sisko's voice jolted Spock back to the present. The Vulcan nearly physically jumped.

After a few moments Spock found his voice, although it was still quiet and hoarse. "Yes. We... We served together aboard the Enterprise."

"I am sorry. This must be a great shock to you, to see your friend like this after so long," Sisko apologized, noting what incredible odds should have placed Spock on the station at the exact moment Dr. Chapel's ship had malfunctioned. He also noticed the look in the Ambassador's eyes as he regarded the sleeping woman. Perhaps there had been more between them than just friendship.

"Were you close?" the commander asked.

Spock pondered the question for a moment. Close? How could he answer that? How could he explain that no one, with the possible exception of his own mother, had ever been closer to his heart? How could he expect this human to understand the complex battle within him that had kept them apart against his will, and in disregard of hers? How does one explain a lover they had never been able to love.

"Yes," was Spock's whispered answer.

Sisko sensed that his presence no longer registered to the Vulcan. Spock was lost somewhere in the past and he was intruding. "I will leave you alone for a while," the stately officer said quietly.

"Thank you," Spock replied, his focus locked on Christine's eyes, almost as if he expected her to open them. He was imagining the blue depths behind the silken closed lids.

How much time had passed while he had stood vigil in the near darkness of the station's sickbay, even Spock did not know. The only thing that roused him from his dreams of Christine was the sharp scream of an alarm. His glance shot upward toward the door. He was certain that the signal was dire. It was not a second later that the illumination in Christine's stasis chamber flickered twice, and went out.

Suddenly the tiny room that held Christine's stasis chamber became a locus of frenzied activity. Spock could only stand helplessly watching, hoping that he would not lose her again. The station's Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Julian Bashir rushed in, his adrenalin already at full force, nearly screaming orders at his staff.

"Switch to emergency power." He called. "Notify Ops. We going to need technicians down here."

"This is Sisko, what's going on down there, Doctor?" the commander's voice sounded over the thin dark man's comm badge.

"It's the chambers, sir. Their power stabilizers must have been damaged in the transport emergency. They're out," Bashir answered, already maneuvering above the tube which had held the other survivor of the disaster. It was all Spock could do not to demand he see to Christine first.

Bashir's face turned grim. "Commander, we've lost deLaPar. The damage to his tube was just too extensive."

"Doctor," a young nurse who had been checking Christine's chamber cried. "No power on Dr. Chapel's tube. The control override is malfunctioning. I can't start it again."

Bashir crossed the room in one stride. After a millisecond to examine the useless equipment, he looked up at Spock almost as if the Vulcan were some kind of next of kin to the human woman. "We have no choice. We have to try to revive her, or she'll die."

Spock nodded his understanding and approval. There was nothing else to do. He certainly would not stand by and watch her life expire before his eyes. For a moment his heart leapt at the prospect of having her brought back to consciousness again. Then he realized that the extent to which her disease had progressed might make death a more preferable option, at least from her point of view. He hoped he was doing the right thing and that she would understand.

"Prepare for reanimation," Bashir announced to his medical staff. He tried to hide the quiver in his voice. He had never actually brought someone around from a century of cryogenic sleep and certainly never someone with such a dreadful illness. He prayed that the confidence which so often alluded him would not fail. Bashir was sure her condition would be grave.

It took nearly a full day. Spock watched somberly as Christine was quickly removed from the stasis chamber to a waiting med table. It was then that the flurry of activity reached a fever pitch. Hypos pumped medication and stimulants into her weak body in an attempt to start her organs once more. Her reading fluctuated and faltered only to stabilize and then dive again. Electric current started her heart, while her brain waves were monitored closely. She was given painkillers for the agony she was certain to feel as a result of the Selendan Syndrome. Slowly, finally her heart rate reached a resting normal and her breathing strengthened. She was alive, but still in great danger. There was no more they could do but wait.

Spock kept a sleepless vigil at Christine's bedside. He never let go of her hand, realizing with shame that there had once been a time between them when that action would have been unthinkable. Only a gesture, a small acknowledgment of her devotion to him was all she had wanted. It would have meant so much to her and might have changed both their lives. It was also the one thing he could not allow. Now, it was the only thing he could give her. Perhaps she knew somehow, the same way he had known through his sleep that she had stood crying at his bedside all those years ago. He sent all the love and courage he had saved for her through their touch and desperately hoped she understood.

Spock had gone days without rest or food, willing Christine awake. It was beginning to take its toll when he thought he felt something. Not on his skin, but in his mind. He concentrated on it as if it were the essence of his very life. It was faint, small, and weak but it was there. Through his touch he could feel her spirit crying out. He could not tell if she called for him, for Roger Korby, or simply for life itself. However it was something he could grasp and hopefully pull her back to him. He did so with all his might.

Slowly, awkwardly, painfully, her eyes fluttered open revealing the blue wonderland Spock had dreamed of for so long. It took a few minutes for her to grow accustomed to even the dim light of the intensive care unit. Christine's gaze never wavered from Spock's face. She was studying him, sizing him up. Did she even remember him? His calm dark eyes held her gentle light ones fixed, refusing to look away or even to blink. His hand tightened around hers and he felt her squeeze his fingers.

Christine tried her best to lick her parched lips with her dry tongue, the movement strange and stiff after so long a time. Spock could tell she was taking inventory of her body. He watched a limb twitch here, or a muscle flex there. A few breaths came slow and deep and were then evaluated. She opened her mouth, but no sound came. Frustrated she closed her eyes and tried again.

"Do not try to speak, please," Spock told her, concerned. "It has been sometime since you were last awake, your body will need to adjust. You are on a Federation space station and you are safe. Do you understand?" She nodded a bit and he was relieved.

Spock watched her watching him for several more minutes. He could not believe her beauty or her bravery. Finally he could stand it no longer, he had to know.

"Do you remember me?" he asked her quietly.

Christine peered at him as through a veil of time. Spock could not tell if it were memories, or fears that played within her mind. He allowed her all the time she needed. Then her eyes softened and she sighed lightly. Although her atrophied throat could not form sound, she mouthed the words she wanted him to hear.

"Spock..." was all she could silently manage.

Spock fought the smile that played at the corners of his mouth. Christine did remember him. After all these years his was the first name she had spoken. Even if it were only in answer to his question, he allowed himself a moment of sheer enjoyment at her recognition. He had wondered through the years if she might have forgotten all about him. Her life with Roger Korby following his rescue from the Romulans had been filled with joy. For that he was glad. She had known happiness before her disease had disabled her, a happiness he could not give her, then. The last he had heard of the woman who once loved him was the day McCoy had announced the birth of her son to the crew on the bridge, and he had sent his congratulations to the new mother. She had not written back. He had not expected her to.

Spock had not even been aware that she had been afflicted with Selendan Syndrome nearly twenty years later. If the news had been made known to him he certainly would have at least called upon Christine and her family to see if there was anything he could have done. Perhaps it was better that opportunity had not been granted him. He was unsure how he would have reacted then, how she would taken the visit. Spock knew, however, that he could not have bared to look into the same blue eyes which stared up at him now, knowing that she was going to die. At least for a moment, here so many years from then, there was some tiny piece of hope he could hold to even if it were only sound of her breathing.

That was the only sound Christine could make. The air felt hard and cold against her throat. Her mind could not find a focus. She did not know where she was, how she got there, or why Spock of all people was sitting at her bedside holding her hand. So many questions and worries flooded into her thoughts. A single tear fell from the corner of her eye and Spock realized she was afraid. He caught the moisture and pressed it into his fingers the way he had long ago.

"Don't be afraid," he told her softly with kind and gentle eyes. "I will not let anything hurt you."

It was then that Dr. Bashir came into the intensive care room where Christine had just found consciousness. "Well, you're awake," he smiled warmly. "My name is Dr. Julian Bashir. We've been waiting for you regain consciousness. We're going to take very good care of you, so all you need to do is relax and get your strength back."

Christine forced her voice to come and the dry croak that emanated from her throat nearly froze her with terror. She continued, however, her query was far too important to her. "My son?" she questioned.

Bashir looked at Spock uncertain how to answer. Christine's son had surely passed away long ago. She did not realize that a full century had passed since her cryogenic stasis had begun. How could he tell her that she had outlived her child? Luckily, Spock took over.

"Christine, there will be time for all of your questions," Spock told her calmly. "For now you must rest and grow strong."

Christine barely heard his last words, she was already losing the battle against the fatigue that even these few minutes had caused. Her eyes grew heavy and closed. Her breathing became regular and deep with sleep. Before the comfortable darkness enclosed around her, Christine called out another name. This one brought a sadness to Spock and tinged his hope with fear. Would she even want him now?

In a whisper that was barely audible, Christine searched once more for another ghost. "Roger?" she said.

* * *

"Ambassador. May I speak with you outside?" Bashir asked Spock after checking the dials above Christine's bed. Spock looked hesitantly at the sleeping woman. She seemed peaceful and he would only be in the corridor if she awakened. He would make certain he was not gone for long. The Vulcan nodded and rose quietly following the doctor to the door.

Once outside, Bashir turned worried eyes in Spock's direction. "I wanted to be sure that you understand..." he began. "Dr. Chapel is still a very sick woman."

Spock nodded once more and eyed the floor. "How long?" he asked gravely.

"A few weeks, perhaps. No more." It was obvious to Bashir that this woman was much more than merely an old friend to the ambassador and he respected what the Vulcan must be enduring at watching her now.

"Her disease had progressed to the critical stage. I'm surprised she was even allowed to attempt cryogenic suspension. Usually patients in her situation were not even considered," Bashir told him.

"Her ... husband was very well known in the scientific community. I assume that special allowances were made in her case," Spock informed him in a near whisper.

"That would explain it. If you don't mind my asking, who was her husband?" Bashir's curiosity got the better of him.

"Roger Korby," Spock said, emotion undetectable in his voice.

"Well known is an understatement. His work is legendary." Bashir thought for a moment. "If I'm not mistaken I believe I read something he had written on Selendan Syndrome in my med-school days. I will try to find the article, perhaps it could shed some insight into Dr. Chapel's case."

"Yes, that would be a most logical place to begin," Spock agreed.

"Begin what?" Bashir stared in confusion.

"The search for a cure," Spock said, a bit shocked that the idea was not clear to the doctor.

"A cure?" Julian questioned, a slight shake of his head evidencing his self doubt.

"Of course. There is extensive research into this disease. I see no reason why this work cannot be expanded upon. I have an extensive scientific background and would be most appreciative if you would allow me to assist you in your endeavor?" There was no way Spock was going to let Christine go without a fight this time. Hopefully, now it was one he could win.

"Me?" Bashir could not believe his ears. "I haven't the background, nor the knowledge..."

"You are a medical doctor. More than that, you are a Star Fleet officer. Just as Christine once was. I have every confidence in your abilities," Spock assured him.

"We don't have adequate research facilities." Julian did not want the role that was being thrust upon him.

Spock drew closer to the scientist. He had no time to argue. If this human could not do it then he would. "I will not allow her to die. If you cannot help me than I will find a cure for her myself," he vowed sternly.

Bashir could almost feel rage seething beneath the Vulcan's facade. "Others have tried. Others much more capable than I."

Spock calmed for a moment. "I would greatly benefit from your knowledge. I believe that you possess an ability greater than you believe." He had watched the young Euro/Indian man with Christine and was certain this doctor was more than up to the task of curing her. He had not seen skill such as his in a long time. Still, although, he would have never believed it, Spock found himself wishing that Leonard McCoy were there to help Christine. That, however, was not an option and Bashir would simply have to do.

"I can't promise anything. All I can do is try," Bashir said meekly.

"That is all I ask," Spock agreed.

"Very well. If you will excuse me. I'll go look at the research in the computer banks." Bashir backed away.

"Certainly. That is exactly where I would begin," the Vulcan said gratefully.

The doctor disappeared into his office, his shoulders hung low with responsibility. Spock returned to the cubicle in which Christine was sleeping, his step invigorated with hope. He believed that there was every chance she would be with him for many years to come. That is, if she chose to be. He watched her sleeping for a long while, and then turned to the monitor at the side of her bed.

"Computer..." he beckoned. The machine signaled its response. "Data, Roger Korby and Roger William Korby, Jr.," he ordered. Spock knew that Christine would ask when she awakened.

* * *

The darkness that surrounded her was heavy and thick. As awareness slowly returned to Christine, she was unsure whether she was alive or dead. She must have been dreaming he had been there. Vaguely from some quiet corner of her thoughts she remembered waking. She pictured his deep concerned eyes studying her. She felt his warm fingers pressed against the cool flesh of her hand. It had brought comfort. Christine was certain it had all been some illusion conjured by her unconscious to ease the panic that was beginning to grow. But why him? Why not the husband she had loved so dearly? Why not the child she had cherished? Where were they? She had not seen him in so long, had not thought he would even remember her. This had to be a trick of her mind. She forced herself to calm and lay without stirring, allowing the world to slowly form around her. She wondered if he would still be there. He was.

"I am relieved that you are awake. I was becoming quite worried. You have slept for many hours." Christine thought she saw an anxious smile cross Spock's face, but only for a moment.

From somewhere she found the voice that had alluded her before, although it still ground like gravel in her throat. "Spock? Where am I? How...?"

He placed an steady hand on her shoulder and tried to quiet her as she attempted to sit up. He was afraid she would become too upset. "Shhh," he told her. "I will answer all of your questions. However, please allow me to explain first. I do not wish for you to become overwhelmed." Christine nodded her compliance with fearful eyes.

"You have been in a state of cryogenic sleep for nearly a century. You were being transported to a Federation facility when the ship in which you were riding suffered a power failure. This is the Federation space station, Deep Space Nine. It is Star Fleet. There is no need for you to worry."

Christine allowed his words to sink into her being. What he said seemed strange and unreal. Cryogenics? A century? Power failure? Star Fleet, finally something to hold on to. Just the sound of the words brought her peace. Then she remembered... "He did it. He said he would. He couldn't bare the thought of me dying..." She trailed off.

Spock understood and nodded in agreement. "I have checked the records and Dr. Korby's signature was on the consent documents for your cryogenic suspension."

"My disease had progressed so quickly and so extremely that we had little time to plan," Christine recounted, her thoughts far from this place. The memories were as fresh as if they had happened only days before. For her, they had. "Roger said that it would only be a few months. He was working on a treatment. He was obsessed with it. I wasn't sure."

"You did not wish to be placed in cryogenics?" Spock questioned, understanding the motivation behind her husband's decision. He feared he would have done the same had be been faced with losing her, anything just to keep her with him.

"It just frightened me, that's all," Christine said, lost in thought. "By that time I would have done anything. I just wanted the pain to stop."

Spock was silent listening to Christine trying to sort through the path that had been chosen for her. There was so much he needed to tell her, but he did not wish to add to her already growing confusion. It was she who demanded more.

"My son?" Christine pleaded. "He's dead now, isn't he?" Tears filled her eyes as she realized she had outlived her child.

"Yes," Spock said solemnly.

"When?" She asked, not really wanting to know.

"Forty years ago. Of natural causes." The news grieved him as he watched her reaction.

"I wasn't there for most of his life. What happened to him? He was only twenty when I got sick," she requested fighting the lump in her throat, and losing.

"He lived a long, full, and rich life, Christine," Spock told her. "He became a successful author and was well respected in his field.

Christine's eyes closed as she reveled in her memories. "He always wanted to be a writer," she smiled. "He had such a wonderful imagination."

"I thought you might like to see this," Spock said, bringing the bedside view screen up to her eye level. "Viewer on," he ordered.

The screen lit with an image of a printed page. "It is the dedication page of his first novel," Spock informed her.

Christine wept as she read her son's sentiments. "To my mother," it read. "I hope that someday she will know how much I loved her."

"I did know," Christine whispered through her tears, talking to a ghost. "I did know."

They sat in silence for a moment until she could continue. "What else?" she asked.

"He married a lovely girl. They had three children," Spock told her. He wondered how she would react to this next piece of news. "You have ten great-great-grandchildren and one very young great-great-great-grandchild."

Christine's eyes stared at him with wonder as he continued. "I have taken the liberty of trying to contact them. I hope that was not a presumption on my part."

"No, it wasn't. Thank you." Christine's head reeled at the thought of meeting her own descendants.

"I have only been able to find one of them at this time. A young woman, a teacher on Alpha Centauri. She is eager to meet you," he told her. "Her name is Christine."

"A namesake," Christine smiled.

"It seems that your name has become a tradition in your family," Spock said.

For a moment Christine let the feelings of pride and belonging wash over her. Her life had meant something. She had created a legacy. Then she wondered about the other half of that accomplishment. "What about Roger?"

"Dr. Korby devoted the rest of his life to finding a cure for Selendan Syndrome. The patient records at the hospital facility on Earth in which you were kept suspended show that Dr. Korby visited you everyday until his death some thirty years after placing you there."

Fresh tears found Christine's cheeks. "Oh, Roger..." she whispered to the air. Spock longed to comfort her. He chose, instead, to continue to recount the events of her unknown past.

"Your son came often during the first years of your time there. Then, it seems he visited each year ... on your birthday," Spock said. Christine covered her face with her hand and sobbed.

Spock was unsure what to do. Christine's pain and trauma was almost more than he could stand. He longed to take her in his arms and promise that everything would be alright. He wanted to tell her that she was with him now, that he loved her and would never let anything harm her again. All he could do was sit close to her and try to be the strong one. It was not enough.

"I did not wish to sadden you," he apologized.

"You didn't make me sad. I wanted to know. I'm glad you told me," she assure him. "I just wanted to see them again."

Before Spock could answer her their conversation was interrupted by Dr. Bashir. The young doctor entered the intensive care unit looking disheveled and unrested. He had been spending nearly every moment searching for a cure for the disease that threatened to claim Christine once more. Despite his own weariness, Julian gave Christine a bright smile.

"Doctor Chapel," he said cordially. "I'm very glad to see you're awake."

"Doctor Bashir?" Christine remembered.

"That's right." He grinned. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm alright, I guess," she answered.

"Any pain?" he asked clinically. That was when Christine noticed the intravenous hypo attached to her upper arm. Apparently she needed strong medication. Her medical instincts coupled with her strong powers of deduction, and the doctor's question, told her that it was a strong pain killer.

"No. Nothing." She'd been far too engrossed in her conversation with Spock to even noticed if she felt badly.

"Well, if you begin to feel any discomfort, please let us know," Julian said as she adjusted a few dials next to the bed.

"Thank you. I will." She tried to smile and wondered how long it would be before she needed to take him up on that offer.

Julian nodded and then turned to Spock. "Ambassador. I would like to consult with you on some of my findings. I will be in my office when you are ready."

"I shall be there shortly," Spock answered, reluctant to leave Christine.

"Thank you." Julian smiled at both of them before disappearing through the door.

"Don't let me keep you," Christine offered.

"I will sit with you a while longer," Spock declared.

After a short time Christine looked over her old friend, and one time love. "Spock?"

"Yes," he said.

"Roger?" she continued. "He never found a cure ... did he?" she asked.

Spock's heart wrenched with his reply. "No, Christine. He did not."

* * *

Over the next few days Christine's condition began to deteriorate. The disease which had forced her into cryogenic suspension continued to ravage her body. Even the strong pain killer which was being continuously administered began to pale in comparison to the spasms that rocked her body. Spock could scarcely stand to watch as she tried to hide her agony. The only time he allowed himself to be away from her was a few moments to check on Dr. Bashir's progress. He would then hurry back to her side only to find her, in his estimation, much worse than when he left.

So thick was Christine's haze of pain that it never occurred to her to wonder why Spock of all people had taken such an interest in her case, why he was the source of so much comfort, or why he remained so close to her. There were many times she would awaken to find him holding her hand, or with a look of such concern on his face that she could hardly believe this was really the Vulcan she had known so long ago. At times she was certain he was some creation of her own imagination. Then he would speak to her and sooth her so that any suspicion or doubt would leave her. The pain, however, did not leave her nor did the syndrome that was claiming her life.

It was late in the evening a few days after she had awakened when Spock returned to her from monitoring a preliminary test of a serum which Dr. Bashir hoped would provide Christine at least some relief. He found her lying so rigidly and with her eyes closed so tightly that at first he feared his worst nightmare had come true. He rushed to her side.

"Christine!" he nearly screamed.

Slowly and painfully her eyes opened and the vague hint of a smile played on her lips. "You don't have to shout," she joked.

Relief overcoming even his ability to stand, Spock melted down into the chair which he kept ready at her beside. "Forgive me ... I thought..." he began.

"I was dead." She finished his sentence in a whisper. He did not answer, could not bare to give it voice.

"I don't think it will be long," she continued bravely.

"Don't say that," he pleaded. His look was so forlorn that for an instant she felt the need to soothe him. She lifted her hand to his brow as if to stroke it, but the effort was too great and her thin frail fingers fell back down toward the mattress. They did not reach their destination. Spock caught Christine's hand in his and cushioned her delicate skin. He wanted to kiss the pale cream of her palm but did not dare. Not now, not yet.

Speaking pained her, but she ignored it. "It's true. I can feel it. Everything is stopping."

"We will find a cure. I swear it," Spock proclaimed.

Again a smile found Christine's face. "I almost believe you."

"Believe it. With everything you have left. Hold on to that, and to me," he offered, squeezing her hand so tightly and sending her such strength that for a moment she did feel as though she could fight a little longer. For a brief and fleeting second she was young again and it was she who took his hand and held it tight as she swore her undying love for him. Was this...? Surely not.

"I know you're trying everything." Her face grimaced as the pain once more enveloped her. She fought through it with a resolve that awed him.

"Christine. There is a possibility that we have not discussed." Spock's eyes held the awful reality that Christine did not want to contemplate.

"No." She stopped him. "Please don't let them put me in cryogenics again."

"If it could give you some more time while we find the cure," Spock protested.

"And do what? Let them put me on a shelf in some holding pen somewhere?" Christine countered.

"I would not allow that to happen," Spock vowed.

"What else could happen? I have no one to see to me." Christine's throat constricted at the thought of her long gone husband and son.

"I would take care of you," Spock told her.

Her eyes softened and she relaxed. "You are so dear, but I could not ask that of you. I could not be a burden on you. You owe me nothing."

"I owe you my life many times over," he said, thinking of the days aboard the Enterprise when she had saved his life on more than one occasion.

Again she looked at him with loving friendship in her eyes also remembering the times they had shared. "Please promise me that when the time comes, you won't let it happen to me again. Just let me go," she begged.

A tear fell upon Christine's cheek the way it had so long ago in a different time and a different circumstance. Again, Spock brushed it away as if to save it. "That is something I can never do again, T'hy'la," he whispered.

She stared at him with unfathomed questions in her eyes. What did he mean? What had he called her? Why was he being so caring? Christine was about to continue when their tender moment was interrupted by a beaming Doctor Bashir.

"Dr. Chapel. We believe we may have a breakthrough," he smiled. "With your permission I would like to test the serum."

* * *

It seemed almost too small to be of any use. Completely transparent, it could have been water that was entering Christine's veins through the intravenous injector. The serum which held so much hope for her was being delivered directly into her blood stream at ten minute intervals. If Dr. Bashir was right, they should see some change after just this initial treatment. Christine watched as the drip fell into the small holding pool and then drained through the tubing into her arm. What if it did not work?

"Are you hungry?" Spock asked from her bedside, anxious for anything to take Christine's mind off of the treatment she was undergoing.

"Don't leave me," she answered, never taking her eyes from the medication.

"What?" he questioned, unsure he had heard correctly.

She turned slowly to meet his eyes. "When I..." she began. "At the end ... don't leave me alone. Please stay with me until it's all over." She could not veil her terror. Even her declaration of adoration to him all those years before had not tortured him as did the hopelessness in her voice.

"There will be no need," Spock told her. "You are going to recover."

"I don't feel any better." Christine's eyes moistened.

"Give it a short time," Spock pleaded.

"I'm so afraid it won't work." She closed her eyes against the thought. "But I think I'm more afraid that it will."

"Why should you be afraid of recovery?" Spock was shocked.

"Why am I recovering? Everything I knew is gone. My husband is dead, my son is gone. I don't even know my own family. There's nothing for me here. Not now." Christine sobbed.

He couldn't bear it. The look in her eyes was like that of a woman already dead. The light that he once found there now shone so dimly that he was afraid it would extinguish completely. He wanted to give her something to keep, something that was hers in this strange and confusing time. Perhaps there was a selfishness in it as well. He would not let her go, would not even dare to imagine the possibility. Everything was changed now, the time, the place, him. Everything except her, she was still everything to him. Before it had been impossible, now it was all he could do.

Not attempting to hide the emotion that clutched as his own throat, Spock took Christine's hand once more in his. With tears in his own eyes he brought her cool weak fingers to his lips. He let his mouth explore the soft skin of her palm, and them traveled down to her wrist.

"You have me," he exclaimed. "I was a fool before." He swore with eyes closed enjoying the pleasure of her sensation. "A stupid, stubborn, fool."

Christine watched in frightened confusion. "What?" she uttered.

"So long ago you offered me ... such bliss," he continued, this time staring deep into her soul. "I ran from it like a scared child. You don't know how I wanted to go back to you. I wanted to turn and fly back to you in sickbay, to escape everything in your arms, but I couldn't."

"Spock." Christine tried to stop him, but he would not be halted, a century of despair and longing formed his words.

"Everyday I watched you, watching me. I hurt for you knowing that you loved someone so unworthy of you. Everything was struggling to bring us together. Our friends, nature, even Sargon and Parmen knew. I tried to drive you from my mind on Gol," he confessed. "It was no good. You are a part of me. Then I saw you again. So fresh and confident and alive. You even told me that..."

"That I wanted only to be your friend," Christine finished his thoughts, her tears now mingling with his. Spock nodded.

"If I hadn't been such a coward, you would have been mine. Our life would have been lived together. Your child would have been mine," he lamented. "And Roger Korby would have never taken you from me." Bitterness echoed in those words.

With all the strength she had left Christine stroked his brow. "I never knew. Never dreamed...."

"I wanted that you never should," Spock told her.

"Why didn't you tell me that night we had dinner?" Christine whispered.

"I was going to, but you had found a new life and a new way. I couldn't take from you the person you had become and ask you to regress into what was once so painful for you," he said regretfully.

"It wouldn't have been painful if you lo...." She couldn't finish.

"If I loved you," Spock continued. "Christine, I do love you. I love you," he vowed. "I have never known anything so deep and true. I love you with all that I am. By the souls of my ancestors, I always have, and I always will." Christine could barely breathe. The words she had longed for were hers, but so much had happened. There was a part of her that had never given him up, but so much still belonged Roger. So much of her life had been with him. She had loved him, lost him, fallen in love with another, given up that hopeless devotion, and had found her Roger again. They had built a new life together, had a child together. He had seen her through her illness and then still had refused to give her up, just as Spock was doing now. The man she once loved so desperately now held her fast to her very life. She felt his hot flesh against her skin begging her to love him. The question that she could not answer plagued Christine. Even if the treatment did work, could she ever love Spock again?

* * *

They sat in silence for hours. At times Christine stared so intently at Spock that he thought her eyes would bore a hole through him. At time he watched her so closely she felt self conscious and nervous. Then Christine would seem a million miles, and a hundred years away. There were moments when he was the same. Inside he chastised himself, certain he had frightened her beyond reason and damaged any hope he may have had with her beyond repair. How could he have lost control in such an improper manner. He would not blame her if she sent him away wishing never to see him again, and feared what it would be like if she did just that.

The feverish race of her thoughts kept Christine's mind off of her body's pain so much that she did not feel it ease a bit a few hours after Doctor Bashir's treatment was begun. He had spoken then, the words she had so wanted to hear long ago. Then, they would have been the answer to her prayers. Why did they fill her with such fear now? She imagined every possible scenario. At first she thought it would be impossible for her to even consider loving him again, much less to build some semblance of a life with him. That is, what little scrap of life she might have left. She thought it was the stress of her illness that caused her to be so afraid of the thought of being with him. Christine tried to imagine what kind of wife she could be to him, and what kind of life he could offer her. She knew that he would be a caring and dedicated husband. Spock would be loyal and devoted to her. She now knew that he did indeed love her.

It was the part of the pairing that would be hers which frightened Christine the most. In her mind, even though her husband was long since dead, she was still married to Roger Korby. She half expected him to walk through the door at any moment and save her the way she had saved him in the Romulan prison camp. She knew it was absurd, but somehow she just could not let go of him.

Yet, somewhere in the back of her mind, and buried deep within her heart, Christine remembered something. It was not so much an incident, but a feeling. Perhaps it was an amalgamation of feelings and impressions all beginning to bombard her at once. Her mind's eye watched as scenes from the past, from the Enterprise, played themselves out. She recalled the giddy elation of the day she realized that she loved Spock. The desperate longing, and the struggle to keep her affections secret. Once again, she was back in sickbay struck by a different disease, nervous and excited and hoping he would find her. Then he did and she could not help but reveal herself to him. She felt the pain as she watched him walk away.

There were many more days of pain, watching him and waiting for some small sign, anything. She felt her heart jump when she would see him in the corridor and pray that he would just look at her. She again reveled in his distant nearness when they would work together, and tasted the forced kiss that she lived on for so long. Then Christine was visited by harsh reality, watching him go as they departed from their five year mission, never once looking back. Had he forced his gaze to remain forward for fear he would never go? She swallowed hard just as she had forced down her love for him to the point where it was nearly forgotten and it was replaced by a new love, one for life and for the life she had created for herself. She had removed him from her, forcibly.

Now, he was here. One the only person she wanted now the only person she had. No, it was not familiar comfort and safety that caused her heart to edge toward him once more. She had loved Roger so dearly. Their life together had been a joyous blessing, one which Christine would never give up for anything. As she replayed Spock's declaration in her head she realized that for the first time since she had been revived, she was allowing herself to think of the possibility of a future, and it was with him. She also realized that she did still love him. The part of her heart where she had buried him had burst open with his words, and was filling her soul once more. She had walked away from him once, she would not make the same mistake again.

From across the room Spock's hushed voice brought Christine from her thoughts. "Forgive me. I did not mean to speak unguardedly, or to frighten you." He hung his head.

"You didn't frighten me," she soothed. "You just gave me a lot to think about."

"I had no right to burden you with matters of my ... emotions," he apologized. The word did not stick in his throat anymore. "Not now. There is much weighing upon you presently."

"Please..." She motioned. "Sit." He crossed the room and took his place beside her. He looked like a child consumed by guilt. This time it was she who took his hand.

"You simply told me what I have been waiting to hear for so long." Christine veiled a smile.

Spock could not force his gaze upward to meet hers. He was ashamed and embarrassed. "It was my hope that those words would not be unwelcome."

She could no longer hide her grin. "They were not ... unwelcome," she answered.

He allowed himself to raise his field of vision and was met with the shining blue eyes he had dreamed of forever. It seemed that at once, their souls met with the meeting of their eyes. They could not control their happiness. "You're too far away," Christine suggested.

"A situation I will remedy," Spock announced and quickly found a new position on the bed beside her. Tentatively he took Christine in his arms.

"I will not rush you," he promised understandingly. "When you are ready to accept me. I shall be here."

A cloud found her face and she stared down at the blankets covering her weakened body. "We may not have that time." The pain in her voice was nearly more than Spock could stand.

As if on cue, Julian Bashir burst into the room, a wide smile painted on his face. "Dr. Chapel. I have wonderful news," he beamed. "Your last blood scan has come back completely negative."

"It's gone?" she questioned in disbelief.

"There are no traces of Selendan Syndrome left in your system." Julian wanted to jump with joy. Not only had he been able to cure a patient he had truly come to regard, he had found a cure for one of the universe's most dreaded diseases, and he had proven a great deal to himself.

Christine looked at Spock. "It's gone," she repeated in whispered exhilaration. He could not control his smile as he watched the life returning to her face.

"Your fatigue is residual and you should be regaining your strength in a matter of days," Bashir assured her.

Her head foggy with a million thoughts, Christine could barely form a sentence. "How?" she wondered.

Bashir's expression turned thoughtful. "Actually, it was a notation in one of Dr. Korby's notebooks. A compound he wanted to try. He died before he got the chance. It would have worked. So it seems that all the credit goes to your ... late husband."

"He did it," Christine whispered as Spock gave up a silent thank you to the man who had once taken Christine from him.

"There is one side affect, however," Julian added.

Christine's face fell as did Spock's. "What?" she stammered in fear.

"It seems that the compound which cured you has caused the regeneration rate of your cells to slow to approximately twenty-eight percent of normal."

Her brain still as agile as ever, and her scientific and medical skills still intact, Christine understood very well what this meant. "I'm not aging anymore?"

"Technically, you are aging, but at a much slower rate than is normal for a human," Julian reported. "It should be approximately seventy years before you notice any appreciable aging. At your current age, the closest thing I can compare your projected life span to is that of a Vulcan at nearly the same chronological development." He smiled at the comparison. "You have a very long and healthy life ahead of you."

Christine turned in wonder to Spock. For a moment neither could form words. Thoughts would barely gel. It was obvious that more was passing between them than just the relief of friends. Julian could almost feel the electricity in the air. He pardoned himself. "If you will both excuse me. Doctor, Ambassador, I'm sure you have much to discuss." Bashir gave Christine an amused look of understanding. "I will let you get back to your conversation and check in on you a bit later." He nodded at Christine and turned to go.

"Doctor. Julian." Christine halted his steps. It seemed so inadequate. "Thank you," she said behind happy tears.

"It was my most exceeding pleasure," he answered behind exhausted eyes.

"I too owe you a debt of gratitude which I can never repay," Spock told him. Julian understood what he meant. "I knew my trust in you was not misplaced."

"I am honored." Julian acknowledged the appreciation with humbleness and backed out of the room quietly.

Spock and Christine were alone together. The silence of the sickbay sounded wonderful as they sat for a moment, simply enjoying each other and the news. Unable to wait any longer, Spock pulled Christine tighter into his embrace. "It seems we have been given that time, you feared would be denied us," he told her.

"I guess we have." She smiled.

"I will be forever in Dr. Korby's debt," Spock said, hoping the mention of his name would not cause Christine to change her mind.

"Spock," Christine began timidly. He froze, half in anticipation and half in dread of what she might say. She continued. "About Roger..." His breath refused to leave his lungs.

"I owe him so much. I owe him my life," She went on. "I loved him. There is a part of me that always will."

"That is only natural. You had a life with him, a family," Spock allowed.

"Yes. I did." Christine looked away, a blush on her face. "I will never forget it. But..." She stumbled. "He wanted me to have a life and live that life, whether it was with him or without him. He wanted me to go on. Maybe in some way a part of him will go on with me." She was unsure how to continue but somehow found the words. "I know him. He wouldn't want me to shut myself away from the chances I have been given. He would want me to be happy."

Spock nodded. "That is a logical assumption." He chose to hide behind the comfortable for a moment rather than face the unthinkable. Christine smiled at the old and familiar.

Christine found herself looking deeply into Spock's eyes. "What I'm trying to say," she told him, "is that just as there is a part of me that will always love him. There is a part of me that has always loved you. It still does."

Christine took his face gently in her hands. "I love you. I always have, and I always will."

Spock could wait no longer. His calm exterior shielded his racing heart, however, Christine could feel it beating in time with her own. He took her lips softly to his and she melted in his embrace. Passionately they pledged their devotion without words.

Pulling away in reluctance, only to replenish starving lungs, Spock whispered to Christine, "I must return to Vulcan in five days' time. I wish to celebrate my homecoming with you as my wife and bondmate." He hesitated for a moment, "if that is agreeable to you."

Christine smiled and kissed him once more. "Oh yes. That is agreeable. Nothing in this universe would make me happier."

"You have given me everything, T'hy'la," Spock declared.

"You've called me that before. What that mean?" Christine wondered.

"It means that you are mine, and I am yours. That our souls are as one, never to be separated. It means that I am you and you are me. It means that I love you," Spock whispered against her temple.

Christine's strength returned at a surprising pace. The very next day she and Spock were bonded, fully and completely. They returned to Vulcan as husband and wife. Life quickly fell into a glorious utopia for the couple. Christine soon found the responsibilities of being an ambassador's wife much to her liking and very suited to her abilities. It was different from when she and Spock had both been scientists, however, it provided its own challenges and excitements. Happiness and love radiated through their bond every moment, and they could not bear to be parted from one another even for a short while. Christine soon became acquainted with her descendants and was eagerly accepted into her own family. However, it was her new family to which she was unswervingly devoted. Through the miracles of twenty-fourth century medicine, during the second year of their marriage, Christine presented Spock with a son. Saram was named by combining the names of his father's parents and was his own parents' pride and joy. Someday Christine would tell him about his brother. One night, entwined in each other's arms as they watched their child sleep, Christine sighed contentedly against Spock's shoulder.

"I guess it turns out that we truly were destined to be together..." Christine began.

"After all." Spock finished for her, before he kissed her.



The End

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