DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Trish and is copyright (c) 2001 by Trish. Rated PG.



Bondings

Trish



The blinding white sun sat lower and lower in the cloudless sky with each long hour that passed. The streets of the capital city of ShiKahr were nearly deserted. The only people brave enough to venture out in the oppressive heat of the Vulcan afternoon were either hardy natives or fool-hearty tourists. For some, however, there was no choice. Today there were appointments to be kept, deals to be struck, and futures to be planned.

The Vulcan boy who strode, almost laggingly, behind his father's matter-of-fact footsteps could not have been more than about seven years old.

His trained face did not betray the emotions swirling behind it. Dread, terror, fear, remorse, and many others he could not name, could not even dare to explore, welled up within him. For a moment even hate, hate for his father at what he was being forced to do. How he wished his mother had won the long argument which had lasted weeks over the plans for today. He looked up to her as she walked beside him nervously, her Terran eyes trying desperately to fight back tears, and knew that she longed to hold his hand, but could not. Although, he knew that this terrible thing would certainly occur, he was certain that it was horribly wrong. Although the boy did not know why, he longed for something else, something better, sweeter, and of his own choosing. He knew that somewhere was that thing he desired most of all, although he had no idea what it was or where it could be.

* * *

At first the little girl had not been very pleased about the prospect of spending her all too short spring vacation on a distant and unknown planet. Like most Earth children, a trip to Disney World or even to the moon would have been more to her liking. There was no use for her to argue, though, since her father's business duties were forcing him to Vulcan during this time. Since she and her older sister would have the week off from school, her parents had decided it would be a wonderful opportunity for the family to experience different cultures and learn about other worlds. As far as she was concerned, a vacation from school was not for learning and she protested as they had boarded the star liner that would bring them to this strange place. As they had traveled closer to the large red planet with two moons, something inside her began to feel drawn to it. Almost as if there was something waiting there for her, but she had no idea what it could be.

* * *

Being cooped up inside a hotel room with two young, energetic children and a baby was not what the little girl's mother had thought of when she and her husband had talked about making this a family trip. Today she had decided to brave the elements and venture out to some of the local museums. After all, the heat could not be any worse than summer back home in North America.

Of course, she had been wrong. The heat was far more scorching than anything she was used to and the huge difference in gravity made her feet feel like lead weights. Her eldest daughter had done nothing but complain and her little baby was cranky and miserable as they made their back through the empty streets after managing to see only one exhibit and one gift shop. She gave a short prayer of thanks for her calm and serene middle child. The girl had not complained once the entire time they had been on the planet. She even seemed to enjoy the sweltering day and had helped as best she could with her little sister. The museum had intrigued her and her mother was growing to realize just how inquisitive and eager to learn her second daughter was as the child stared at the ancient artifact and did her best to read the descriptions provided in Federation Standard. She had even begged her mother for a small handmade IDIC pendant she had found in the gift store. It was silver and gold and contained a strange purplish stone from some nearby mine. At first the mother wanted to refuse. She understood that it was of cultural and religious significance to the inhabitants of this planet, and her daughter did not understand its meaning. She relented, however, and purchased it for her. After all someone was trying to make a buck on it. They were selling it in a souvenir store, weren't they? She was also glad that her little girl wanted to learn as much about this place as she could. Perhaps all of this trip would not be wasted.

Now the girl walked a little distance behind the rest of the women of her family. She stared in wonder at the old buildings that lined the plaza in the center of town and wondered just when they had been built, and by whom. She marveled at the strange stone-faced people who lived there as they passed her. She tried to smile at some, and a few times was answered with a thoughtful look, but nothing akin to the lavish praises of her beauty which were usually heaped on her at home, and usually by kindly old ladies. Nevertheless, something in her was growing to like this place, and she hoped that she would return someday. It almost seemed as if something was calling to her here, but she did not know from where.

* * *

As his Vulcan father and Terran mother led him through the plaza in the center of his home town, the young boy wanted to run away, to hide and never come back. He was ashamed of himself for such feelings. He had many times been lectured about duty and honor, and wanted to live by those principles. But a part of him saw no honor in this, and any duty there was in it was not of his own making. He walked somberly with his head down and did not notice the bright and beautiful little Terran girl walking near him with her mother and sisters. She was desperately trying to fasten a necklace around her neck and not lose pace with her family. Just as she reached alongside his traveling party, she gasped and the tiny IDIC pendant slipped from its newly broken chain and hit the ground. He looked up immediately, startled for a moment. He knew it would please his mother for him to help the stranger so he stopped and bent to retrieve her fallen treasure. At the same moment, the little girl did the same. They reached for the shiny piece of metal and clasped it at the same time.

For an instant their fingers touched. For an instant they seemed frozen in time. The little boy looked at the little girl who had brought her eyes up to meet his. He gasped in surprise. Before him was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. She was of Earth, just like his mother, there was no mistaking that. Her hair was the color of the sun. Not the violent white Vulcan sun, but the warm golden sun of earth, which he had seen so many times in his mother's old holos. Then he saw her eyes. They were the brightest shade of blue he had ever seen. They cooled him as they stared at him. Hi cares seemed to leave him and he felt at once content and pleasant. He never wanted to turn away.

The little girl was also staring at her new aquaintance. He was very handsome to her. His dark hair framed his long face. His dark eyes smoldered at her. No one had ever stared at her like this, but for some reason she was not afraid. Somehow he seemed different than the other Vulcans she had encountered that day. There seemed to be vivid strong emotions somewhere within. She wished she could stay there forever.

In that instant the little boy and the little girl felt a stirring across their minds. She was frightened for a moment, but that soon gave way to wonder and contentment. He too was frightened but not for long. For there he saw something, if only for a moment. It was better, and sweet, and good, and of his own choosing. They were lost in that feeling for that brief second, neither knowing or understanding what was happening. Then they forced themselves to break free. He handed her the tiny piece of jewlery he had retrieved for her from the ground, and she took it.

"Thank you," she said, her smile meaning more. Her smile took his breath away.

"You are welcome," he said, not daring to say more.

Realizing they were both taking too long, they each turned back toward their families. His eyes could only follow her as she retreated. Taking a step he suddenly looked down. On the ground was a tiny purple stone. He recognized it as the sort that are usually set in the IDIC pendants the tourists buy. He knew immediately that it had fallen out of her necklace. There was no way of returning it, so he pressed it into his hand and slipped it into the pocket of the ceremonial robe he wore. He felt like he would need it with him today and he knew he would keep it forever.

He looked up at his father's steely gaze, expecting a repremand. Instead the older man simply stated in a plain and unfaltering way, "It was commendable of you to assist that young Terran girl, Spock. We must hurry, though. It would be disrespectful to T'Pring's clan to be late."

* * *

The little girl could only look over her shoulder at the watching eyes of the young retreating stranger. Something in her wanted to follow him, but she knew she could not. As she returned to her mother's side, she looked down at the pendant she clapsed tightly in her hands and noticed the stone was missing. It must have fallen out when it fell. It did not matter to her that her it had been damaged. She knew she would keep it forever.

Her harried mother simply smiled at her when she caught up, having barely noticed the exchange. "Christine Chapel," she laughed. "You surely are the slow poke today."

* * *

Spock was right. It was horrible. He could not remember ever feeling more self conscious or more out of place even on the world that did not fully accept him. The bonding ceremony took place at his clan's sacred site in the hills not far from the city. All had been arranged. Ritual fires were burning, ancient chants echoing through the canyons, and the entire population of two families were present. He had hesitated upon entering the circle, and gave one last look behind him for something that was not there, no ... it was for someone. His father had noticed and the force of his disapproval running through Spock's mind nearly knocked him off his feet. There was no way he could fight. He looked at his mother, who had taken up for him so many times in the past, but his heart sank when he saw the desperation that also hung in her eyes. She wanted nothing more than to take her son away from there, but she knew as well as he did that she could not. They both steeled themselves for what was to come and entered the temple.

The young boy, trying desperately to hide his fear, not even to acknowledged it as such, was led by his parents, Sarek and Amanda, into the center of an earthen pit surrounded by high stones on all sides. He stood there as his family members and faces he did not know engulfed him.

Suddenly bells chimed and a drum beat loudly. The most honored member of his clan was entering the circle. T'Pau rode on a heavy ceremonial chair, carried by lesser members of the clan. She always struck fear into his heart, and she knew it. She found his emotion at her presence detestable, and he knew it. Nevertheless, there would be a joinging that day. The so-called feelings of the participants were of little consequence. T'Pau stepped from her chair to alight on a large rock altar in the middle of the circle. She turned to the families and spoke.

"It will be done that two will be joined here this day," she announced. "As it has been for centuries, so will it be." Her voice seemed to make the ground shake. She then turned to his parents and looked down at them.

"Bring the boy to me," she ordered.

His feet were like weights and his stomach a huge mass of swirling liquid as he was led toward T'Pau. She calmly descended the heights of her podium. Greeting his parents with the ancient gesture, she said nothing, but looked at Spock.

"I will know your thoughts," she said and bent to press her gnarled fingers against his face.

Something like lightening seemed to rush through him. The shock was intense. He felt her in his mind, wanting to know everything. There was nothing secret, not today, there could not be for this bonding to occur. He could sense her displeasure at the conflicting emotions that tore his mind and soul. It surprised him when he knew she was pleased with his steadfast determination to overcome them. He was even more suprised when she calmed him with her thoughts.

They stood locked together for long moments. Eyes staring, minds racing. It took some time, but T'Pau also found something else in his mind. The image of flowing blonde hair and intense blue eyes rushed through her mind. She saw a smile and felt a hope and happiness. She understood immediately and took actions accordingly. Spock also saw with her the picture of the young girl who had so innocently needed his help in the plaza. He felt the coolness of her eyes, saw the shimmer of her hair, and once again the realization struck that something about this Outworlder child called out to him, as did something of him call out to her. To his horror he realized that T'Pau was trying to block this image from his mind, to take it and all that it meant from him.

He fought against her with all his might. She could not take it from him, he would not let her have it. It was of no use, he knew, for he was only a child and seemingly no match for her. He just wanted to keep it to remind himself of good and sweetness. He would not let her have it. The two fought a battle of wills, but in the end Spock felt the image of the girl fading, leaving him, and he felt empty and cried out for it. It was of no use, he could no longer find it. T'Pau had won.

It seemed like an eternity until the bells sounded again. This time they signaled the entry into the shrine of the other member of the bonding. Spock turned to see a tiny, dark Vulcan girl who looked as miserable as he did. T'Pring was quite aesthetically pleasing and seemed to possess and certain intensity, an almost vicious will. When he looked into her dark brown eyes, he saw something rehearsed about her expression, something almost cold in her demeanor. The way she looked at him nearly gave him chills. Something nearly wicked permeated from her core. For an instant she turned from him; he did not see the young male of her clan to whom her longing gaze passed.

Together the families exchanged ritual greetings and ceremonial rites. It was after the prayers had been said to the ancestors that T'Pau began her bonding of the two youngsters. It would not be a full bonding, since they were still too young to understand its sigfinicance, merely a promise. A betrothal. The actual union would not take place for many years. She took their hands and forced them onto each other's faces. Using her own thoughts as a guide, she brought them into each other's minds.

Spock nearly flailed from the venom he found there. He begged T'Pau not to leave, but soon she left them to their own to explore the first layer of each other's minds. The first thing he found in T'Pring was disgust ... for him. He heard her degrade him.

*My family expects me to become one with this half human mutant?* She nearly laughed it in vial contempt. *What do they think they are doing to me? You, Thing, will never own me ... But I will certainly own you.* Again, she nearly laughed.

He searched in vain for some shred of decency in her, something better and sweet and good and something he could choose but found nothing. He felt alone and utterly defenseless. As he reeled, from somewhere he heard a quiet tiny voice like a shimmer of wind across the back of his mind. *Thank you* was all it said. Then he saw blue eyes and brilliant golden hair. His heart wanted to leap. T'Pau had not stolen her from him, his mind had been stronger. He nearly dropped his hands from the Vulcan girl's face at the thought of that and what it could mean. His mind had taken it and hidden it from her where it would be safe. Now as he searched for her, he found her, pretty and innocent, and perfect. He had not meant to show it to T'Pring but was unable to stop it. His mind might have saved his treasured image, but he still had much to learn about controlling it.

*What???* He heard the echo of T'Pring's rage ring through his head as T'Pau separated them.

"This first bonding is complete. These two will someday be one," she said proudly, peering at Spock, seeming to know something.

As he moved back toward his parents, exhausted and reeling from the ordeal, Spock once more heard T'Pring in his head. She stared at him with fire from the safety of her clan. *Hear me now, Spock*, she said. *Whoever this little Terran was that I saw in you mind ... who you have soiled our bonding with ... If I ever find her I will demand my rights ... and I will kill her.*

His blood ran cold at the thought, and he vowed to protect his vision will all that he had.

* * *

Young Christine Chapel fell ill almost immediately upon returning to her hotel room in ShiKahr. At first there was a pounding headache and then her stomach seemed to be tied in knots. It was like the feeling of the first day she had gone to kindergarten, however, the fear and dread seemed a thousand times more intense. All she could do was lie under the thin cover of her bed and cry. Her mother was immediately frantic. She had never seen her little girl this sick. Her husband was certain it was simply that his daughter had gotten too much heat that day and tried to calm his wife. He finally relented when, after several hours of cool cloths and water, Christine did not get better. A human doctor was called to check on the child and he came at once. Finding nothing physically wrong with her, he prescribed rest and liquids and left his number incase she worsened during the night. The family was scheduled to leave for home the next day, and they wondered if they would actually be able to go. They also wondered even if she were still sick in the morning if it would not be better to get Christine home as soon as they could.

The frightened little girl's mind seemed a whirling mass of confusion that she could not understand as she fought against the sudden fever that engulfed her. She heard someone crying out for her but it was not coming from the hotel room. After searching the walls, it cried again and she recognized it. It was the same small voice who had only uttered a tiny curtesy to her that very afternoon. It was the boy who had helped her with her necklace.

"What?" she cried. "What do you want?" Her parents thought she was delirious and summoned the doctor again, who could only prescribe some medication to reduce the fever but still found no physical cause for her ailment. Through it all, she could not stop crying. She felt like someone was trying to rip something from her, but she did not know what. She wanted to hold on to it with all her might, but something was much stronger than she was. She fell into a restless sleep, and her dreams gave her no relief.

She saw terrible images float past her closed eyes. Someone was after her, trying to hurt her. She only knew that it was some other girl. She did not know her, could not even see her face. She kept running across the red stones of Vulcan, her legs aching to stop, her lungs exploding her hot gasps like fire. She was screaming for help, screaming for the only person who could help her, but she did not know his name, and she could not see him.

Finally late in the night, she relaxed. Her fever melted away and she seemed to float. The safety she felt was warm and comfortable, almost familiar. Somewhere in the back of her mind she heard a small exhausted voice. *Rest now. You are safe. I will never let her hurt you.* As if her terror had never occurred, she slept secure in safety. Somewhere in the night her mind locked the ordeal, the voice, and his image away in its deep recesses just as its sender had wished it.

When dawn came, Christine Chapel was well, and healthy, and strong. Her parents were shocked at the change, and gave a prayer of thanks. Later that day as the star liner pulled from its moorings and left Vulcan behind, she was somehow glad to go. She almost felt a strange overwhelming safety in leaving it as if something down there could not get her now. However, there was a stronger feeling as well, somewhere in her mind a small voice cried out, and she felt something from the planet pull at her as if something was there for her waiting and needing her. Somewhere, hidden deep she did not want to leave at all.

* * *

Christine Chapel shivered a little. Although the environmental controls of her quarters on Star Base 4 were functioning properly, they seemed to be set unmovingly on the lower end of the comfort scale. At least for Humans, that is. To her it was more than that, however, there seemed to be a coldness about space that she did not think she could ever get used to. Her thoughts turned uncontrollably to Roger, and how he was lost somewhere in that cold blackness. She had harbored a secret fear on the frontier for as long as she could remember. She had been out there once, to Vulcan when she was little, but it seemed that the events of that trip had faded long ago and left a void. In her mind she always felt that something would be out there, trying to get her. However, she was determined to push that aside and do what she felt was needed to bring her love back to her. Instantly she stopped packing the contents of her stateroom into a couple of small bags and walked numbly over to the window. A few stars played in the distance, but they gave no warm light. Not enough to lead a lost traveler home. She closed her eyes and let her forehead sag against the transparent metal between herself and the vacuum she so feared.

*Please be out there,* she prayed, trying to send her thoughts through space.

There was no answer, just a feeling of a presence in her mind. Certainly that must mean that her fiance was still alive.

She thought in agony about the day the message was received that Roger's ship had been lost. She could not remember much about that time except the intense feeling of emptiness and despair that flooded her soul. Looking back, those weeks of mourning seemed like time in quicksand. There were hot angry tears at the heavens for allowing it, at him for going, and at herself for not trying harder to stop him. She had not wanted him to accompany the expedition and protested as best she could. She knew, though, that he would go. At times she felt his love of the unknown and of exploring ancient civilizations rivaled what he felt for her. She chided herself when she realized that she was jealous of his job.

The time they had spent together before his departure was some of the sweetest Christine had ever known. They were inseparable. It seemed that they were trying to store each other up for the long months of separation. She was certain of his love for her, and she did love him. He was kind, and gentle, and good. He was educated and a leader in his field. A perfect match for an up and coming young bioresearcher just about to finish her Ph.D. studies. It seemed that they had everything a couple could need.

She had been enamored of him. He had been one of her graduate professors and had noticed the beautiful inquisitive blonde who sat in the front row seeming to drink in everything he was saying. During his lectures it seemed to her that he was talking only to her. It also seemed to him that she was the only student in the room. Then, one day, she got up the courage to ask for a private conference. She told herself it was to discuss some questions she had over their current topic of study, but in her heart she knew it was more. He was more than happy to oblige the lovely young Miss Chapel in her quest for knowledge. He felt there was much he could teach her and hoped it would not be just about archeology.

That afternoon she went to his office, having spent the entire morning trying to decide what to wear. She found him alone there and waiting for her. Christine could barely control her nervous trembling and she noticed how his hands were seeming to shake. They greeted each other politely and he offered her a seat. Gradually, they fell into easy conversation, and eventually their talk of scientific theory took a more personal turn. Their meeting turned into dinner, and several more dinners, until finally they were spending nearly every available moment together. Although he was nearly twenty years her senior, she was overjoyed to realize that she had fallen in love with him. She was even more elated to discover that the feeling was returned. Their scientific curiosity became a passionate affair, and then finally, the week before he was scheduled to leave for Exo III, he asked her to marry him. She accepted happily. Although there was no time before he left to buy her a proper engagement ring, he promised that as soon as he returned he would take her to Tiffany's in New York and buy her the biggest diamond they had. She assured him that she needed no diamond, just him back by her side. Then he was gone.

While he was absent, however, something in the back of her mind started to question their upcoming marriage. It almost seemed that she was longing for something else when she looked up into the night sky, imagining that one of those twinkling light was Exo III. It was impossible. What could there be for her out there besides Roger? Still it didn't seem like his presence near her as she slept, or his eyes watching from the heavens. Even as she experienced the momentary sharp pains in the back of her head which she had developed as a child, something and someone seemed to be there feeling them with her, but it was not Roger. Christine chastised herself for being so silly. Of course she loved Roger, who else was there for her? He was a wonderful man, and she dreamed of their happy life together.

It was just that sometimes in the dead of night, such dreams would haunt her sleep and she could not explain them. Some of them threw terror into her soul. Her nightmares were of chasing and trying to escape some killing force. But there were others, of such sweet bliss that she scarcely wanted to awaken from them. Someone with her, someone strong and protective, and meant only for her. Still at other times her dreams held a confusing jumble of emotions almost as if she could not sort them out. If she did not know better she would have sworn that in the dream hours of night, when her mind fully opened itself she was living someone else's life. However, for all the clarity of feeling in the dreams she could never remember images, or faces, or names. It was as though part of her soul was being hidden from her.

"Beep." A loud buzzer noise startled Christine from her thoughts and memories.

"Miss Chapel." A voice called from a speaker on her desk console. "The Enterprise is within docking range. They should be moored and ready to receive you within 24.26 minutes," the young sounding male said through the box. There was an unmistakable Russian accent in his tone.

Christine checked the chronometer on her wrist. She felt she would never get used to all this Star Fleet stuff. The precision of their time drove her crazy converting minutes into decimals. She was certain she would never get used to it. The truth was she had never had any dreams of joining Star Fleet. She had only accepted a position as chief nurse aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise because they were passing by Exo III, and after waiting five years, she had to know for herself if Roger was dead or was stranded there waiting for her as well. It had been through a very influential friend of her father's that she had heard of the position, but it had been her work and talent that had landed her the job. She hoped she was up to it, and would not make a fool out of herself. Today was the day. She would leave Christine Chapel, Ph.D. behind and become Nurse Chapel on board a Constellation class starship. Her quick training course at Starfleet Academy did not seem quite adequate now, and she swallowed hard trying to force down her nerves.

The buzzer rang again. "Miss Chapel?" The voice sounded impatient, not used to having to state something twice.

"I'll be ready." She snapped to, and mentally reprimanded herself. Her first mistake. She could just see the ensign on the other end shaking his head and uttering 'civilians'. For that's what she really was, and how she saw herself. She did not think she would ever be officer material or anything. She just wanted to find Roger, and then to become his wife. She did, however, hope that there would be friends to make on board the Enterprise, and that they would understand her lack of military decorum at least for awhile until it became more easy for her. Anyway, who was to say that something wonderful did not wait for her there as well? For some strange reason she felt hopeful. The future and her mind were open to possibilities.

* * *

Spock knew them instantly, the crystal blue eyes materializing on the pad infront of him. He had seen them in his soul for so long, fought their image from materializing too vividly. At times he had thought her nearly forgotten, but he had only pushed her back into his consiousness where she rested safe behind his armor. The only protection he could provide. Denying her presence was the only way to keep her safe. He had come to accept that his future would be one of a union devoid of caring with a monster he could barely tolerate. T' Pring had made it clear that the only reason she accepted him was for the social standing and priviledges he would bring her. It was even rumored on Vulcan that she had taken a lover.

Spock could only dread the future from a distance. He had no choice, they were bonded and it would be done. His vision forced safely even beyond his own reach, he was sure the treasure of his soul would be safe. He could not let T'Pring find them again, those brilliant eyes that left him near crying out for the girl who had but for a moment seen his true self, and was not afraid or disgusted.

He had come to know T'Pring well enough to know that she would indeed carry out her terrible threat of years ago. Spock comforted himself with the knowledge that while he may never have her, at least his treasure would be safe. She would find a life without him, safe and secure, and probably not even remember him.

Even as the pains in his head persisted, a sign of an unfulfilled bond, he knew he would endure them forever, for her.

He realized quite surprisingly, fearfully that, in the deep dreamstate of night, she felt him too. He saw glorious images pass before his closed eyes. Happy, carefree times when he heard sweet laughter like tiny bells. There were times of confusion that seemed to match his own, and times of horrible sorrow. There had once been such grief in his soul that he fought tears of his own. He was certain that a horrible tragedy had befallen his precious secret. However, when it was over he found her still there, although she was somehow changed. There was an empty longing in his heart that he knew came from her. He longed to comfort her and tried his best to reach out.

It was to no avail. His bond with T'Pring always stood in the way, and he would close his image up once more, lest she discover. It nearly took all the energy he had to hide it from her during their further bonding rituals, and he steeled himself for the final knowing of all things that would occur between them. That she could never know.

Now those eyes, those miraculous eyes stared at him once more framed by hair as golden as the star of his own mother's Earth, not recognizing him. He wanted to to run to her. To put his hands to her face and remind her of what they were together. It had only been later when he learned the ways of his people which the seven year old boy would not have understood that he discovered what had happened to them and why.

In the ancient legends there tales of the Vha'ren, the soulbonded. It was said that these were those who had purposefully be brought to be solely for each other. It was told that when the hearts, minds, and souls knew each other from their deepest cores since before existence that it took but one touch to bond for all of eternity. It was rare, but the legends were still told. On Earth there were also tales told of soulmates, and love at first sight. This went far beyond such simple things. When two were Vha'ren, they had one soul, one mind, one being.

He knew she did not remember him, because he wished it so. That long ago he had forced his memory into the corners of her mind for he felt it was the greatest gift he could give her. He wished that something in her would remember. Yet he was afraid that she would.

The captain did not notice the way Spock's hand grabbed onto the transporter console for support, his knuckles growing white. He did not see the way that his first officer stared at the pretty blonde who would become the ship's new head nurse. He did not see the inner torment that raged in his Vulcan friend, between elation at finding her again, and terror that T'Pring should discover her.

James Kirk covered the distance to the transporter pad in two steps with his hand outstretched and a wide grin on his face. It would certainly be nice to have this face around the Enterprise, he thought to himself. "Let me help you," he said offering his hand. "It can make you pretty shaky if you're not used to transporting."

"Thank you," she said.

Spock straightened. Those words, the only she had ever spoken to him had rung in his heart since that evening long ago.

Kirk helped Christine down the few steps from the metalic round disk on which she stood. "I am Captain James Kirk. Welcome aboard." He knew she was nervous, she tried to hide it but it showed. He also knew that she was not Star Fleet, at least she hadn't been until a few months ago. Her broad smile and gentle way somehow made those things less of an obstacle to his respect, as did the long list of glowing credentials he had already been furnished. He liked her immediately and had every confidence she would carry out her duties well. Leading her over the the console, he introduced her to the tall, exotic Vulcan beside it.

"This Mr. Spock, ship's science officer and second in command. You two will probably be working closely at times. Mr. Spock, this is Christine Chapel, our new chief nurse."

Christine, Spock thought reveling in its sound. That is her name. It played on his tongue and in his thoughts like a beautiful piece of music to be pondered and appreciated. He watched her face, even more beautiful than any of his dreams could do justice.

As he stood stoically searching her for any sign of recognition, a battle raged inside. Finally he spoke and was glad his voice came out in its usual tone. "It is good to meet you, Miss Chapel." Chapel like a pure house of worship, he thought, a place of safety. "Welcome aboard the Enterprise," was all he said.

She recognized him. She thought she was sure of it. But, where? In the instant of exchange that passed between them, she searched her mind, but still could not put her finger on where or if they had met before. However, from somewhere there was a strange feeling growing, something that seemed to cry out to him,something for him. It frightened her a bit and she could not name it. She decided not to mention any past meetings they may or may not have had and simply said, "Thank you, Mr. Spock." She knew that Vulcans did not shake hands so she did not offers hers out of respect.

He noted with thankfulness, touching would surely have brought his mind to hers. He stood, not daring to move as the Captain led her from the transporter room to her quarters. It was with the greatest of struggles that he made it back to his own.

* * *

Spock stood for a moment, clutching the chair of his work station as if it were a life line. She was so near. He could feel her presence in his bones. Almost hear her sweet tones through the walls. All he wanted to do was run to her. He could feel his Vulcan blood damning him for his emotions, but this was one time that he let his Human side win out. He knew that with all his heart, he loved her, and would always love her. She was his Vha'ren. His soulbond. Now that he had seen her, heard her, felt her so close, how could he ever deny her again? It would take the greatest battle of his life to keep his feelings and thoughts from her. It was a battle he knew he must win, for her sake. He feared the day when she would discover it for herself.

Slowly and carefully he walked over to the tiny box which he had always kept by his bedside. Opening it, he removed the contents and clutched it in his powerful hand. It dug sweetly into his flesh. It was a strange purplish stone.

* * *

Christine was exhausted by the end of the day. She had met so many people and traveled just about every inch of the ship. Her duties in sick bay were a happy distraction to the constant overwhelming masses who introduced themselves. She was happy to see, however, that there would indeed be friendships to be forged aboard the ship. Lt. Uhura had greeted her openly and warmly and she felt instantly connected, and Mr. Scott and Mr. Sulu had been so kind to her that she knew they would become good friends. Then there was Dr. McCoy. An old country doctor with the soul of a poet and the temper of a wildcat. He was also one of the most talented doctors she had ever met, they fell into an easy rapport, and she knew she was going to like working with him very much.

As she unpacked the last of her belongings and arranged them around her new cabin, she could not get the image of Mr. Spock out of her mind. Why had he affected her so? Was it because he was so different, or was there something more? Almost unthinkingly she went to the little box that she always kept by her bedside. Opening it, she sifted through its contents until she came to a tiny curiosity. It had been a souvenir from long ago. She did not know why, but she could never bring herself to part with it. It was a small IDIC pendant without a chain that was missing the strange purplish stone it once held.

That night their dreams held bliss, their minds somehow touched in the darkness, and their hearts greeted each other like long lost lovers, each exploring every part of the stranger they had known so long. However, neither remembered in the morning.

* * *

For Spock the next few weeks, with Christine now settled in comfortably aboard the Enterprise, life was a confusing mixture of ecstacy and despair. He had never in his life felt so complete and at peace than now with her so close. He was elated with the few stolen glances he managed to catch of her most days. Spock saw them as the few short moments in life he could spend with her without arousing anyone's suspicions. His eyes followed her as she moved so gracefully in front of him walking down a corridor, unaware of his presence. He found himself passing sickbay as several times a day although it was out of his way simply on the chance of hearing her voice, and was often rewarded with a gentle chorus. He watched her skilled hands working to save their fellow crew member, her every thought transfixed on Dr. McCoy, eager to learn anything the elder surgeon had to teach. He felt her longing for knowledge, and found it captivating. She was so like him in that way.

Casting his eyes down to the side he would watch her without watching her in the Rec Room. He could not let her see how he followed, and studied, and memorized her every move. He was learning as much as he could about her, as much as she would let him see, and he drank in every detail. He noticed how she preferred a certain pair of old demins when not on duty and out of uniform. He marveled at how they fit her form and seemed more alluring to him than even the view of bare shapely legs her uniform afforded him.

Usually a stretched and comfortable looking dark green sweatshirt accompanied the jeans. The name Harvard was stitched on the front, and he felt her long standing disappointment when she explained to several crew members who had inquired about it that while she had applied to the Earth institution and had been accepted, the tuition was beyond her families means so she had gone instead to very good state school in her home state of Texas.

The shirt would often fall seductively over her shoulder exposing the soft inviting space between her collar bone and neck. How he wanted to rest his lips there, to feel her warm skin beneath his, to feel her breathing, and smell the fragrance of her hair. He would watch as she would often slip her small bare feet from the plain white sneakers she wore and sit crossed legged on the sofa laughing and talking with her newly made friends.

Her smile made his world glow, and her laughter was the tiny bells he remembered ringing in his head after their first meeting. He wanted her conversation to be to him and only to him. His Vulcan nature rebuked him for his jealousy, it was a useless and confusing emotion, but there it was nonetheless.

There was no use in denying the fact that he loved her, he had always loved her, and would go to his rest loving her and no other. He did desire her, so much that at times he thought he would go insane with yearning.

Spock noted everything about Christine with growing wonder. The way she wore her hair, the tones she took when she spoke usually soft and caring, the way her nose crinkled when she laughed, and how her hand would go automatically to her mouth whenever anyone said something shocking were etched in his mind. It delighted him when, offered a burger from the ship's food unit, she politely declined under the protests of being a vegetarian. He wanted to chuckle as she joked that she did not eat anything with a face, but held it in.

He listened intently to the music she chose on the entertainment system in the rec room. It was usually a mix of late twentieth century popular music, something called Rock and Roll, and Terran folk music. Usually he had found these forms of expression nearly painful to his sensitive ears, however the selections she chose were most often haunting and poetic with a soft atmospheric quality.

The materials she borrowed from the ships library were so rich and varied that he nearly took the excuse of conversing with her on their topics, but decided that he would be too close to her under such circumstances and feared losing what little control he was managing to sustain over himself. There was most definitely more to her than just being the ship's head nurse. He knew there was much more.

Usually their face to face interactions occurred in passing and somehow he managed to keep them professional and courteous. At times when the duties of the ship were great he could almost manage not to think about her, almost. In the times when their duties and paths crossed they would, of course, greet each other as superior officer and subordinate, for in the eyes of the crew and everyone else in the galaxy that was what they were. Not even Christine suspected the real truth.

It took every ounce of strength and composure he had to maintain his distance from her. At times he tried to avoid her so that their bond would not be relieved. He knew she thought he either did not like her, or did not respect her. The thought shot through him like a thousand knives. He longed to explain the reasons for everything, for all she had known in the deepest parts of her heart. All he wanted was to pull her to him and beg her to remember, to search her mind and let loose the thoughts he had hidden there so long ago.

There was also something that inhibited him from exposing their bond. He had no idea what her reaction would be. She was human, and had no experience with or knowledge of the mysteries of his people. Would she be terrified or worse, repulsed? Would she rage at him that he had somehow taken advantage of her, and demand he remove everything of him from her.

That would certainly kill him, not from the exertion, but from losing her in him as well. He could not cause her distress. He would not be the one to force her into a union with one she may not love. He above all people knew what that was like. He tried to find comfort in the knowledge of their Vha'ren. Of course she would love him, they had so many years ago instantly bonded, each heart searching for the other, each soul finding itself. She just did not know yet that she loved him.

Nearly five months into their journey aboard the ship came the day they found themselves alone together in the turbolift. Spock reveled in Christine's nearness. He would live on that moment forever if need be. He searched her for any sign of remembrance, but through his swirling torrent of thoughts he saw nothing perceptible. He steeled himself.

"What level, Miss Chapel?" he asked, his hand already reaching for the control bar.

"Sickbay," she answered smiling a thank you, as if she would be going anywhere else.

Suddenly a familiar stabbing pain wracked his head. He controlled his reaction as he had learned to do over the years, but he saw her wince.

"Are you alright?" he asked concerned, all but forgetting his own pain, his only link to her.

Her hand went to her temple and she closed her eyes for a moment. Then finding her voice she answered. "Oh ... yes, I'm fine. I just get headaches sometimes. I've had them forever I think, but there's nothing wrong, I've had them check out." She smiled thanking him for his question. He saved that smile in the secret place in his heart to be taken out and pondered later.

Christine visibly relaxed as he felt the vice grip over his own waning. "There, it's gone. Weird, huh?" She smiled, unaccustomed to making small talk with a Vulcan. She could never tell why he looked so strangely at her, and was always certain she must be doing something wrong.

"Very strange, indeed," Spock noted.

Inside his heart leapt. She too was feeling their unfulfilled bond. Her mind and soul had been searching for him all these years just as his had scanned the heavens for her. They felt the pain together, each time was a cry for the other, the missing half of being. They had touched without touching since they had been small children, strangers drawn to each other on the streets of ShiKahr, and their bond was alive and strong and true, never ending. Each of their souls was crying out for the other, and he vowed somehow they would be together, someday.

Spock swore to his ancestors that even as he could feel T'Pring in his mind waiting for that terrible time, forcing him to hide everything, it would be Christine that he would make his T'hy'la, his true heart's bonded wife. No, it would be more than that. They were Vha'ren, the same soul, one being, unpartable even through time and space. Somehow, in this he would not fail. All he wanted at that moment was to take Christine in his arms and tell her everything.

Spock could not risk that, for he was certain of what kind of harm would come to her. It was true that Vulcans valued life over all things and detested violence. However, he had come to realize long ago that T'Pring was very much unlike the rest of her race in that way. She would stop at nothing to get what she wanted. Killing Christine be but a mere inconvenience. He vowed that she would have to kill him first, but he also knew the ancient laws of his planet, and that they had been invoked on more than one occasion. It was through these rites, instituted in the dark and violent days of his people's past that T'Pring, the vicious monster of his forcing, could within her rights, take the life of Christine, the precious spirit of his choosing.

* * *

Not quite a month after Spock and Christine had shared a moment in the turbolift, the planet Exo III loomed ahead of them on the bridge's viewscreen. He stood as close to her as he dared, watching and dreading. She was talking with the captain about her lost fiance Dr. Roger Korby, and Spock noticed that he had never seen her so animated. From somewhere deep within them he could feel her heart racing and sense the hope that filled her being. Although he wanted more than anything that her excitement be directed toward him, he also understood how difficult it must have been for her to live on dreams for so long and now to have them so close. He knew she was terrified that Roger Korby would not be alive on the planet's surface.

For brief moment the thought occurred to Spock that he did not want Korby to be down there for it would surely mean that the brilliant scientist would take his Christine away from him, to somewhere he would never see her again, never be able to protect her, never again be secure in the knowledge that she was just down the hall.

Then he thought himself a fool. What better way to ensure her safety than to have her as far away from himself as possible, and how could he actually want another living being not to be found, especially when it meant so much to Christine? He was ashamed of himself. He would, would have to, let her go if it meant keeping her safe, but how could he ever again live without her so close.

They were contacting the planet. No one would notice how somber and quiet Spock was, he had often taken that stance. It would be assumed that he was simply evaluating the situation. Then he heard it, the voice of Roger Korby. The man was so familiar and loving with Christine, and she was so happy to hear his voice, that Spock was jealous. He should have that place in her life.

He saw her face beam and she fought back tears of joy. Again he wrestled with jealousy, more than anything he wanted her smile and joy for himself and him only. He was powerless as Christine and Captain Kirk stepped into the turbo lift, and announcing their destination disappeared. She was gone.

* * *

Christine rode somberly beside Captain Kirk to the transporter room, her hands clasped together in front of her lest he see her trembling. She did not want him to think that she was flustered, and was grateful for his friendly small talk. It did help to calm her. He understood, and did his best to be supportive and warm.

"I can't imagine how exciting this must be for you," he said, his eyes dancing with happiness for his chief nurse. "I guess you'll be leaving us soon."

Christine drew in her breath at his comment, startled, and barely found her voice. "Uh... Yes. I guess I will ... I haven't really thought that far ahead." She grinned her embarassment at being caught off guard. He realized that she needed to be lost in her thoughts for a while and did not extend conversation any further.

Her mind raced. Of course she would be leaving the Enterprise now. She would become Roger's wife, just as they had planned. That was the reason she was there in the first place. For some reason she did not comprehend, her soul seemed to cry out in mourning at the thought of leaving the Enterprise. She had found a home there among new friends and had grown so much. She was respected for her abilities and her accomplishments, not for who her fiance was.

She thought of the endless faculty functions she had attended with Roger at the University. The discussions had been so fascinating and she had hung on every word. Then often when she would try to join the debate and contribute, she was usually given a pampering smile and sent off to make polite chat with the other ladies. That was the one thing that infuriated her about her relationship with Roger Korby. He valued her beauty, her strength, and her openness. However, he did not value her mind. At times she even thought he viewed her longing for knowledge and need to explore as a passing phase that would end as soon as she became a wife and mother.

Leave the Enterprise to become a trophy wife, Christine thought for a moment, and then was instantly sorry. She loved him and wanted to marry him and make a life with him. She was certain he would realize that her quest for education was no mere fancy. She had told herself that often and overlooked the little platitudes that came her way because underneath it all she knew he loved her too, and was waiting for her with equal anticipation.

The ride to the transporter seemed to take longer than usual, and she was thankful that the captain had noticed her preoccupation and allowed her time to think. Her mind replayed the experiences that she and her colleagues had shared. So soon, too soon, it would all change. How she would miss her late night gab sessions with Nyota when they would talk about anything and giggle like teenagers. Sulu had just promised to begin fencing lessons with her, and she felt as though she was letting Captain Kirk down by vacating her post after he had shown so much confidence in her.

Christine's mind went to Leonard, and she smiled understandingly as she always did when she thought about her friend, probably the best one she had made on the Enterprise. How would he ever run sickbay without her? They had been quite a team researching cures, and saving lives. They had quickly fallen into a patterned rhythm while working together, each one knowing the other's view of the situations they faced. Although he would never admit it, he needed her in sickbay, had come to depend on her and she knew it. It was nice to be the be the bedside manner to his gruff way with the patients. She was going to miss working with him most of all.

No, not most of all. Images of Mr. Spock unexplainably came to Christine's mind, almost as if someone was placing them there. She could not have known that it was the only way he had of begging her not to forget him. She saw him standing like some ancient Roman centurian beside his captain on the bridge, his duty and honor radiating around him. She thought of the times he had been in the rec room when she was there, and she remembered how she was unexplainably glad when she discovered it although it seemed he never even knew she was there. She thought of the times she would watch him in the passageway. She did not know why her heart seemed to skip as she watched him.

He was a glorious physical specimen and that in itself could not go unnoticed, but somehow it seemed more than that. She longed to talk with him on many subjects. She was certain their conversations would have lasted to all hours, and that he had much to teach her. She noticed the way that he tried to show his crewmates that he cared as best he could, and wondered how confused and hurt he must be at the inconsiderateness of the humans who surrounded him. Something deep within her wanted to reach out to him, but she did not know how.

At the thought of him, now, when her life was about to change so much her breath seemed to rush from the her lungs leaving an empty sad void, and her heart ached the way it does when you realize you are in love with someone....

No, she told herself, startled a bit. I'm just confused and a little frightened that's all. I love Roger. She tried to force the thought from mind. Christine told her self that her intrigue for Spock was just the results of his exoticness, and her fear at how much and how quickly her life had changed. Then why did her yearning for him seem to come from so deep in her soul, from a place Roger could never reach. Besides, she told herself as she walked numbly up to the transporter pad. He would never want me.

Her movements seemed to come from a dream as she watched the officer on duty charge the transporter. As the world disappeared in front of her eyes, her mind held onto the last person she had contemplated, the last thought that had settled there. The notion of him seemed to bring her a strange kind of peace. Then from nowhere she heard a pleading voice in her head.

"Christine!" It said in agony.

It was Spock.

* * *

Christine saw images begin to appear before her eyes, a world in sparkling orange and blue. The transporter always had that affect on her. It was like watching yourself from far away. Slowly, piece by piece, she began to reform on the planet's surface. She looked beside her and saw Captain Kirk materializing in the exact position he had left the Enterprise. A jolt told her that the transporting was finished and she was again herself. She looked around excitedly and searched the area for Roger. To her disappointment he was not there.

"He didn't come to meet me?" she thought to herself, a pit of questioning in her stomach.

She saw a look of surprised shock on the captain's face also and hid her embarrassment. She did not hear him think to himself, "If my fiance suddenly found me after five years, you couldn't keep me away." James Kirk wondered just what kind of man this Roger Korby was. For an instant he thought that Miss Chapel deserved better, but decided to withhold judgment.

It was not until they reached the deep interior cavern that had become Korby's makeshift home and laboratory that they found the researcher. Again, Kirk wondered about how anyone could allow the woman he supposedly loved to traverse such dangerous and precarious precipices without seeing to her safety himself. However, Christine was a very independent person. Perhaps she did not mind, he thought as he watched her run to Korby, her eyes shining. The weight of the world seemed to lift from her shoulders.

What the captain did not know was that she had been asking herself the very same question on the journey beneath the planet's surface. "Maybe he doesn't want me anymore." She felt her heart question, but something in her told that she was wanted very desperately and she naturally assumed that it was Roger. Her fears were calmed when she saw his loving face and felt his arms around her.

Together she and Roger retired to his personal quarters. It was there that he let his true love for her show. She felt silly. Of course, he would not have made such a display in front of the others. He was a very private and clinical person. He kissed her with so much passion it took her breath away. He had missed her just as she had him, their agony of separation had been the same.

She laid her face against his chest and let her happy tears touch his heart. It seemed odd though, something was different. He had changed somehow. There was some part of him, much too tiny to be perceived, that did not feel the same. She told herself that certainly it was the result of being marooned on such in isolated place for so long. She could also feel that maybe she had changed.

"I've missed you so," she whispered.

He wiped away the tears and held her face in his hands. "Every moment I've thought of only you. I feared I would never see you again."

"Me, too." She tried to smile.

"Now we're together," Roger said, running his hands down her shoulders and back. "We will always be together."

"Nothing will ever take you from me again," she choked, smiling.

"Nothing." He kissed her long and slow, his mouth moving from her lips, down her throat, to the soft place between her neck and collar bone. She felt a sudden jolt as his lips touched her there. She was certain that at any moment she could collapse from the ecstacy of long awaited passion.

He felt her body go limp against his. Slowly, never taking his lips from her, he gathered her up in his arms and carried her to his bed. Laying her on the worn covers, he worked at the closures of her uniform, as she removed his shirt. Leaning her back, their passion exploded. Their remaining clothes were all but ripped from their bodies, and they made love. The love that each had awaited for so long, it was wonderful and beautiful. She had him back and was certain she would never lose him again.

As they lounged together on the pillows much later, discussing the past the future and their missing 5 years, Christine felt awkward and a little nervous. She had been correct, something did not seem right, but not just about him. As they had proven their love to each other over and over, she

could not get the image of Spock out of her mind. Her heart beat and her breath rushed as it had in the transporter room, but it was not due to the rush of passion that she and Roger were sharing. It was her thoughts of Mr. Spock that affected her. Once that afternoon she had even caught herself imagining that it was he and not Roger touching her and setting her ablaze with desire. Her mind struggled in confusion to make sense of it, but she could not.

As she felt herself drifting off to sleep, Spock's voice once again echoed through her head. This time it seemed more pained and anxious. "Christine!" he nearly screamed at her.

Then she heard her own mind reply in tones equally as anguished, and was powerless to stop herself...

* * *

Spock sat at his workstation in his quarters, his fists clenched on the table. She was down there, and she was with him there on the Enterprise. She was also with Korby, in the way only lovers knew, of that he was certain. He could feel her passion, sense the pleasure in her body. He yearned to share that with her. He wanted to be the object of her desires, though he could never tell her. Despair crept into his soul and his mind screamed out her name without thinking. Then from the part of her soul that only he knew, the part that would feel with him always came the reply he had hope for. Her soft and beautiful voice rang in his head, although it seemed terrified and confused he treasure it...

What? She searched for him. What, my darling? Where are you?

* * *

Later that day Kirk and Christine discovered exactly what kind of man Korby had become, if you could call him that. The day was a swirling blur of horror.

She truly was powerless as she watched the Captain's body spin on the work surface, and the android's body take shape on the other side. She wanted to cry for her fiance to stop but her voice stuck in her throat. Then to sit and converse with Captain Kirk, not realizing it was his android double while the captain was being held prisoner was nearly more than she could withstand. Why was Roger doing this, she had been right, something was different, and horribly wrong. This Roger was not the man she had fallen in love with. What was he going to do to Captain Kirk, and to her.

On board the Enterprise, Spock quickly formed and armed a landing party. Thankfully the Captain had managed to warn him of the danger through his uncharacteristic suggestion implanted in the android's mind. He felt like time was running out. He hoped Jim was still alive down there, and although he would not admit it, more importantly he was terrified of what was happenning to Christine. All he could sense from her was fear and confusion, and somehow he had to get to her.

Christine screamed when she saw the sparking wires inside Roger's hand, the pseudo skin having been flailed off was hangin in sickening shreds. Her stomach lurched and she was glad she had forgone dinner. She was relieved that Captain Kirk, the real Captain Kirk, was nearby. She felt safer knowing she was not alone. How could this be, Roger was not Roger at all. He protested that he was still the same person in his mind and heart, but the thought of what he had done, and what she had done closed in around her. Christine watched in horror as the only thing left of the man she once loved disappeared with a phaser blast. She fought to keep concious as the darkness threatened from all sides.

From somewhere she felt herself being soothed. She found the strength to stand as Spock and the landing party rushed through the door. She still reeled in grief and pain, but somehow it was more bareable knowing he was down there finally with her. She was sure he would protect her.

Spock's relief at finding Christine safe flooded through his soul. All he wanted to do was to gather her up in his protective arms and take her back to the Enterprise where she would be safe. All he could do was try to ask her what had happened. When she did not answer, he realized just how deeply hurt she was. Her sorrow hit him with a force he had never experienced, and he could not stand the thought of her in pain. He wanted to tell her of their bond, and how Roger Korby had never been meant for her. It was they who had been meant to be together. All he could do was watch her beautiful face succumb to greif and guilt. He cursed T'Pring for forcing him from Christine when she needed him, and their bond, most.

* * *

"Jim, what really happened down there?" McCoy asked concerned. "It's been three days and she won't come out of her quarters. She's not eating and she doesn't answer her com unit. I've given her as much time off as she needs, but I'm really worried." The doctor walked beside the captain on their way to sickbay, Spock trailing behind.

The Vulcan seemed to be lost in thought, but he was hanging on Dr. McCoy's every word regarding Christine's current state of health and well being. He had sensed her great distress through their unrevealed bond. Her sorrow was nearly more than he could bare. He was unaccustomed to such greif, but in his quarters alone he allowed it to engulf him. He hoped that by understanding

it, he could help her. Over the past days he had found himself standing outside of her locked door. His sensitive hearing was stung by her uncontrollable sobs from the other side. From her he sensed the loss she felt, and the mourning not only for Roger Korby but for the dreams she held for so long that were now shattered and broken. Finding her fiance had been her only reason for coming aboard the Enterprise. He hoped that Korby's death would not be her reason for leaving, and that having no one to return to would not be her only reason for staying. Spock was certain she felt something now. Perhaps that was a large part of the confusion she was experiencing and he wished he could hold her and calm her and tell her everything, but that would surely be too much even for him to hide from the one who wished to hurt her even worse.

The three officers entered McCoy's office in a somber mood, Kirk and Spock taking their usual seats as McCoy poured whiskey for himself and the captain. He did not even offer one to Spock who always declined, although this day he may have just taken the southern gentleman up on it. For some reason the doctor's private working area had become their favored place for the deep and

sometimes heated conversation in which they often became engrossed. McCoy stretched his legs under his desk as he sat.

"Come on, Jim, tell me so I can help her," McCoy pleaded.

"It's all in my report, Bones," Kirk protested. "Of course she's taking it hard. What do you expect?"

McCoy thought for a moment as Spock eyed him. "Well, I guess I thought she was doing just fine without him."

"She was doing just fine holding on to what little hope she allowed herself," Kirk said. "Now that's gone too. Think about it, Bones. She's lost him twice, and then to discover what he did down on that planet."

McCoy downed the last of his liquir and thought a moment. "Well, you're probably right," he told Jim, looking down at his desk. "Imagine finding out the person you planned to marry and make a life with wasn't who you thought they were at all."

"She's got a lot to deal with right now. Not the least of which is whether she's going to stay on the Enterprise."

"What do you mean?" Bones snapped. "Of course she'll stay. She's a damn good nurse. The finest I've ever worked with." He did not want to admit that it was very likely she would leave.

"I know she is, but don't forget the only reason she came aboard was to find Korby," Kirk reminded him. "She left a very promising research career back on Earth. She was very highly regarded in her field."

McCoy nearly winced at the truth in Kirk's statement. "Yeah, you're right. But I hope she stays."

"That will be for her to decide," Kirk said finishing his drink, also hoping she would stay.

Spock listened to the conversation in agony. They were right. There was every chance she would leave, she had every right to, and he had no right to keep her from her life if that was what she chose. How could he live with her half way across the galaxy? She would move on and forget him. The thought filled him with terror.

It was McCoy who snapped him out of his near trance. "Well, Spock, you're the analytical one, what do you think about all of this?"

It was all Spock could do not to give away more than he meant to. Finally it was his concern that was able to show through in some small way. "I think that perhaps MIss Chapel may need someone to talk to, even if she won't admit it. It has been my experience in dealing with humans that simply 'getting it all out' as you say is often of great help." There he had managed to sound cool and rational as always, not terrified and alone.

"Believe me we've tried," McCoy said. "She won't even talk to Uhura..."

McCoy broke off as an unexpected visitor appeared in the doorway.

"Leonard..." Christine said before she realized the office was full. She was sure the conversation had been about her from the way it was abruptly ended. "Oh, I'm sorry I didn't realize you were busy." She looked apologetically at Kirk and Spock and they could she had been crying for many hours, and her face was thin and pale. Spock could barely stand it.

"That's quite alright, Miss Chapel," Kirk said standing to offer her his chair. She refused but smiled a thank you. "I'm glad to see you're feeling better."

"That makes two of us." McCoy beamed as he stood and crossed the small room. He took her by the shoulders and grinned widely at her.

Three of us, doctor. Spock wanted to say, but did not.

"You had us all pretty worried, Chris," Leonard said.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to. I just needed to some time to think and sort things out in my head." She looked a bit embarrassed and her gaze rested on Spock for a moment. He almost looked as if he knew what she had heard in her mind on the planet.

"Of course you did. That is understandable." Kirk smiled.

"Well, actually I'm glad you're all here. There is something I need to discuss with you, and I suppose now's as good a time as any," Christine announced.

Spock could feel his muscles tense. Would this be the time she would tell him she was walking out of his life? That he would never see her again, that they would never fulfill the bond that even now connected both of them and nearly tore them apart. He steeled himself for her next statement.

"I have decided..." she began. "If it is alright with you." She looked at the Captain. "That I would very much like to stay aboard the Enterprise as Chief Nurse."

"Of course, it's alright with us." Kirk smiled happily. "I'm glad that is your decision. We would have hated to lose you."

"I'll say," McCoy nearly yelled with relief grabbing her and hugging her. "This calls for a celebration. How about a quick toast."

Christine looked a bit uncomfortable at all the commotion, and declined. There was an uncustomary distance in her smile. "Oh, I'll think I'll take a rain check. I have a lot of work to catch up on." She looked around the room once more. "If you'll excuse me." She started to back out of the room.

"Miss Chapel." Spock's voice stopped her. They stared at each other for a moment, each wanting to say more than they knew they could. "I am pleased you have decided to stay" was all he could say, though inside he now knew the feeling of pure joy. She would remain with him, as close as he could allow her for a while longer. He knew that someday he would face separation from her, but he did not have to think about that now. All he need do at this moment was lose himself in her brilliant blue eyes.

Christine looked at the tall dark Vulcan for a moment, unsure whether to smile or be embarrassed. Why had she heard him so strongly in her head as she had left the Enterprise, and then even stronger as she made love to Roger, or at least the thing she thought was Roger? In that moment their eyes met briefly. She lost herself for a instant in his soft brown eyes, and she felt something stir. It was then she was certain. She was deeply and passionately in love with Spock.

* * *

Life returned to its usual pace , although still tinged with hope and longing. Christine resumed her duties and in a while the heaviness left her heart and Spock sensed that it had been replaced by something much different, love. The knowledge that she now loved him as much as he loved her permeated his every waking moment. He went about his work with his usual clarity but

she was always there, in the back of his mind, and he knew that while she did not realize it, he was always with her. Although he could do nothing to declare his deepest intentions, and he knew that she would probably never presume to do so it was somehow enough to know that they were still Vha'ren, and their souls would always be so.

Then came that glorious day when above the planet Psi 2000 he had found her in sickbay. He told himself he had other reasons for going there, but he also knew that she would be there. Perhaps for a few seconds they could declare and explore their true feelings for each other, share a few moments of unfiltered happiness with her. It might be the only chance they would ever have. He could later, if confronted by T'Pring claim the affects of the strange disease, thus allowing Christine's life to be saved.

Spock was right, Christine was there, almost as if she had sensed him coming, and was waiting. When he saw her face, her longing eyes gazing at him, he realized that the chance he was taking could very well cost her life. How could he have been so irresponsible. He made his excuse and turned to leave. Before he knew it, however, she grabbed his hand and fought to hold onto it with all her might. He had to get away, for her sake, but he could not move. Everything he wanted, his entire life of dreams was standing before him pouring out her heart to him and all he could think of was protecting her. It was then that Spock made the awful realization that it was not only from T'Pring that he had to protect Christine. It was from himself as well, from his culture and everything that would allow that monster to take her life. His inner struggle raged, his Vha'ren was there holding his hand, talking to him like sweet music, kissing his fingers. He wanted nothing more than to take her someplace safe and prove his love for her, to show her how he had felt all this time, all these years, even before they had officially met, and before she realized she loved him. He wanted to show her it was so much more than just love. He heard her words as if in a dream...

"You wouldn't, couldn't hurt me...." She was certain.

He fought the words that came to his throat. "No, my love, my darling Vha'ren. I would die before I let anything harm you."

Then she spoke the words he had longed to hear for so many years. "I love you."

His heart felt suddenly free, he was soaring with her above everything above the sickbay, above the Enterprise and the Psi disease, above Vulcan and Earth, and above T'Pring and Roger, and everything that had kept them apart. She felt as he did, and nothing could keep them apart.

However, even as he felt his spirit break from its shackles for a brief moment he could feel a dark and suspicious cloud float between them. It was T'Pring, somehow she was sensing his euphoria, and her jealousy was growing. He forced himself back to the present. How could he have taken such a chance with Christine. He had been a selfish fool, and he fought to break her hold

in order to keep her safe.

"I am sorry." He whispered to her, before disappearing through the door, leaving behind everything of himself. He knew she did not comprehend the true meaning behind his words. The door seemed to shut with a finality that wrenched his heart. He fought himself from returning to her sheltering arms. He fought the comforting feeling she had brought to him, he fought the very thought of her. He had already shown T'Pring too much. He feared what would happen. There were other emotions that tortured him, the effects of the disease with which he had been unknowingly inflicted. Anger, regret, love, guilt, thought of his father and mother tore at him at the same time he longed for Christine. He would control it, he had to. He forced all his training to bare on the swirling haze that pounded him. It was then that Jim had found him, and unceremoniously brought him back to himself. He was grateful but part of him still wanted nothing more than to turn and run back to his beautiful Vha'ren whom he could tell was confused and alone in sickbay. For a moment they were together, although she did not realize how much he felt for her, for a moment they were one. He was afraid it would be as close to her as he would ever get, and his heart mourned.

* * *

The days passed into weeks, and the months into years aboard the Enterprise. New discoveries and adventures awaited both Spock and Christine. Through it all his love and commitment to her never wavered, and her love for him was only strengthened by what she learned of him each day. He knew that she felt bitter disappointment at her love for him seeming to be unrequited, but it was the only way he could protect her. At night, in the privacy of his cabin he would reach out to her and enjoy as much of her as he dared. She would see wonderful dream images of the two of them in her head, but awoke only to think of them as wishful thinking on her part.

Her sweet understanding presence had comforted him during the time of Pon Farr. She was so willing to do whatever she could to help him through something she did not understand. His blood boiled for her, his every action cried out for her, and she was so close. It would have been so easy to go to her, he knew she would have given herself to him. But how could he do that to her, ravage her like that. T'Pring would mean nothing to him, simply a body of convenience. However, he could never imagine the thought of treating Christine like that, as merely an object of sexual need. No, he would make love to her with longing and passion and romance or he would never make love to her at all. Even in that time it would be so very different. She deserved so much more than what would happen. He had only thrown the soup at her to get away from him. He was so desperately afraid that his physical condition would win out over his control, and his love for her. He wanted her more than anything and that yearning was only intensified. He could not allow himself to hurt her. Even that did not keep her from him. She had come to him again, trying somehow to help in anyway that she could, and it was then that he let some of the softness and caring he had for her break free. Although he was still battling the desires within him, he thanked her the only way he could for her tenderness. Oh, how he loved her, how he wanted to love her, and be with her, and be bonded properly to her in the way they should. He wanted it to be her, the one waiting to be joined to him. He wanted to build a life with her and have children with her. It tore him apart to know that she wanted the same thing. It was useless to wish however, for soon he would be joined to another, whom he detested, and it would take all the strength he had to hide his beloved from her.

On the surface of his home planet, deep in blood fever, all he could think of was Christine. He was certain he could not hide her, and certain he could no longer save her. He wondered if he would actually have to kill T'Pring. To protect Christine, he would do just that, he would do anything for her. He did not expect what he would have to do once he reached the surface. The battle with Jim had been one of the most horrifying things he had ever done. He had not believed himself capable of such violence. He watched it almost as a spectator. The feeling of despair and guilt that overwhelmed him at the thought of having killed not only his captain, but his best friend was more

than he could bare. How could he ever present himself to Christine as a cold blooded murderer. He wished Jim had killed him. Then to find Jim alive and well in sickbay was so overwhelming he nearly let down his composure all together. He was glad that Christine had been there to see that, and sensed that she was glad as well. He hoped it showed her how he would be alone with her.

With his bond to T'Pring broken he began to dream of the time he would declare himself to Christine. He wanted her to be his wife, and in his mind he saw their happy life, their children, and their home. He watched her growing more and more in love with him by the day. Each time he thought he had finally worked up the courage to tell her, fear would overtake him and he would withdraw into himself once more. How she would react to him was what kept him from declaring himself to her. It was when his parents had come aboard that he realized it would be best for Christine that he say anything at all.

He watched her tend to his father and even himself in sickbay with such caring that he could scarcely imagine a life without her. She even saw to his mother, bringing her food trays and extra blankets to make her comfortable. He was pleased when she fell into an easy rapore with both Amanda and Sarek. The Vulcan ambassador and his wife seemed to like the pretty young Terran

nurse immensely. Spock saw his mother eye him with a strange little smile one day as she caught him watching Christine, and he diverted his eyes quickly. He could never hide anything from his mother, and he knew she understood.

Then Amanda had taken Christine by the arm and led her to the doorway making certain that Spock heard her comment. "Come with me for a moment my dear. Leave the men to themselves. I'll tell you about Vulcan." Christine obliged although she seemed very confused. Spock realized it was his mother's way of telling him she approved the only way she could at that time.

My mother, the matchmaker. Spock thought to himself amusedly. As my human shipmates say, she does not know the half of it. He surpressed a chuckle, and was nearly startled when Sarek spoke up.

"Miss Chapel has many admirable qualities," he said unmovingly.

Spock's jaw nearly dropped to the floor. This was his father's way of giving consent, and also telling his son that he liked Christine. Spock summoned all the composure he had, for he wanted to leap from the bed and run to Christine. However, he pretended to ponder the statement and finally

answered. "Yes, Father, she does," he said. That seemed enough. It was obvious that his parents had been discussing the issue.

Later when Amanda and Christine returned they were laughing like school girls having begun to forge a real friendship. Christine went to the check the monitors, a smile still playing on her face, while Amanda went to stand by her husband. Spock remembered all the times he had seen his mother try her best to close off the emotions that tore at her, her very natural emotions as a human. He had hated those times, had hated that she was forced to live on a world so very opposite from her nature, and hated the pain it caused her. Then he watched Christine. How could he do that to her, force he to live on a world with no smiles, no laughter, and even no tears. How could he ask her to bring her life to a man who could never show affection for her in public, only in private, not even admit that he felt anything for her in front of others. No, she deserved better than that, as his mother had. He vowed that he would never tell her. That he would live without her rather than see her hurt the way his mother had. Spock could not have known then that the decision would be up to him.

* * *

It was several weeks after the incident with Dr. Lester and the captain on Camus II. The ship was well back to normal expect for the minor coolant problem that was forcing most of the officers to temporarily relocate to more comfortable cabins. Spock was not affected by the higher temperatures on the officers deck, and declined to move. Only Christine, who had been busy in sickbay, was remaining behind to pack up her belongings. With sweat rolling down her neck she grabbed up the little box by her bed and layed it precariously on top of a stack of packing crates. With a short look around to make sure she had everything she turned and started through the door.

Spock was walking down the hallway. He was hoping to see Christine as she left her cabin and perhaps to offer his assistance in her move. A small object was resting in his hand, he had begun to carry it with him since he had made the choice to try live without her. He would often take it from his pocket, as he had today, and feel it just to trying in someway to be close to her.

He heard the woosh of her door open and she nearly bolted from the heat that must have oppressed her inside without looking right nor left. They collided with full force, the contents of the boxes she carried clattering to the floor, and the item he was carrying joining them.

"Uh..." she grunted ungracefully. "Oh, Mr. Spock forgive me," she said embarrassed. "I wasn't watching where I was going. I'm so sorry." Secretly she enjoyed the all too short touch.

He enjoyed it also, and wished it would have lasted longer. "Not at all," he assured her. "Here let me help you."

They both bent down to begin the operation of retrieving her belongings. They were both a bit too bashful to do anything but make small talk. After a while, with nearly everything returned safely but not as neatly to its storage place they each came across objects they did not recognize at first. She studied the strange purplish stone in her hand. That had not been with her things, but she was certain she had seen it somewhere before. He looked at the tiny IDIC pendant that was missing a chain now cradled in his hand. He was certain he had seen it somewhere before.

Instantly Spock and Christine looked at each other, eyes searching, minds filling with images they knew the other was seeing. They moved closer and as they studied the objects that had brought them together so long ago, their fingers touched. The joy was breathtaking, neither had experienced anything like it before. The two halves of one soul finally finding their match. They saw everything, remembered everything. The children who had instantly bonded on the plaza of ShiKahr, the pain at being separated, the feeling of knowing each other and feeling each other all these years and not realizing it. Their love, and their bond surrounded them in joy and happiness. Together they rose to their feet, hands still touching, and stared into each other's eyes which they knew so well.

"It's you," they whispered together. Spock and Christine stood for a moment in disbelief. Neither had ever felt such a wonderful sense of true belonging. Together they placed the strange purplish stone back into the IDIC, it was a perfect fit.

Spock drew Christine to him. His arms enwrapping her like a long lost treasure. He kissed her long and slow, as he had always dreamed of. He felt every part of her being and she his. She melted into his arms. There was so much she did not understand, but she knew she was safe, and that he would teach her. How long each had yearned for this moment, at times not even knowing. Now they were together as they always should have been, their breath and hearts and tears mingling. Now they were one, and no one would ever separate them again.

Neither had ever dreamed of such bliss. Spock and Christine stood there together in the corridor for a moment the only people in the universe. Their minds exploring each other and their love. Here, touching her, feeling her, he could sense her with more depth and clarity than ever before, and he hungered for more. His thoughts drifted for a moment to the time he would know all of her, mind, body, and soul and he felt her contented sigh as she sensed his desires from him. She was living a long held and sweet dream, made even sweeter by the fact that he was feeling it too, and had felt it along with her since they had been small.

As the obligatory informational message came over the ship's intercom, Spock became increasingly aware that they were still standing in the hallway. He wanted private time alone with Christine. Although she knew their bond, and was overjoyed at it, he could still see confusion in her eyes. She did not completely understand and he needed to explain everything to her. Gently, he held her for a few moments and then found breath enough to speak.

"Come, my precious Vha'ren," he said, softly guiding her face up to meet his. "I will tell you all of it."

He quietly led her back into the sanctuary of her quarters, and she followed him willingly. Once inside it was as if all the passion they had denied for so long exploded between them. He took her face in his hands and his lips searched hungrily for hers, finding them soft and sweet and willing. Their breath came in quick loud bursts as their tongues found each other, and their mouths explored the delicious depth of each other. He parted from their kisses only long enough to slide down her neck. She felt as though every nerve in her body were on fire for him, and she gasped in ecstacy as he found the soft inviting place between her collar bone and neck. This time there was no shock, just sweet longing for more. His strong arms wrapped around her like armor, protecting her from all that would dare harm her. She did not want him to ever let go, and he echoed her pleasure through his thoughts.

He realized that there were things he needed to say to her that he could not voice, and things she needed to experience. Without breaking their glorious reunion, he slid his fingers over her face. She did not pull away, but consented with all her heart, what better way to show him how much she loved him. Softly, images began to fill her mind. She felt his fear and joy at finding her so long ago, felt his struggle to hide her away and protect her. She felt his horror at the threat made against her by T'Pring and his determination to keep her safe even if it meant letting her go. The thought that she had been in danger chilled Christine, but not for long. His grip tightened around and she heard his vow never to let anything hurt her, she also felt his exhaustion at keeping that promise for so long.

From somewhere her voice whispered. "Oh, my sweet ... sweet." She was too overcome to finish the sentence, but Spock understood.

More scenes ran through her mind. His pure joy at finding her and being so close to her. The respect and admiration he felt for her, the blessing he had received from his parents. Then she felt the jealously and fear he felt when she had found Roger again, and the happiness when she confessed her love for him. She did not realize that tears were steaming down her face, and wordlessly she gave her mind over to him.

What he found there filled him with awe. Such beauty and gentleness. He saw her eyes as they were that night when they were children, felt with shame the sickness that had engulfed her and knew it was his fault. I would do again in a heartbeat, he heard her sooth him. He felt her longing for something in the stars, and also her fear that something would hurt her out there. She now knew who and what that something was.

Never, Never. My love, he told her. He felt her sorrow that his mind should have been poisoned by that viper. He saw her falling in love with someone else, and then her confusion at realizing she loved him more, much more.

It was always you I sought, she told him. Never had he felt such complete happiness, and it was all because of her.

Oh, my eternal beloved Vha'ren, he whispered dreamily into her mind.

What does that mean my darling? she questioned. Even her thoughts sounded sweet and innocent to him. He explained to her of the Vha'ren, the soulbonded in the ancient myths of his people. That they had been destined for each other since before either of them had drawn breath. How theirs was a bond deeper than love, a true belonging, one soul, one mind, one heart. Her mind

exploded with joy at that thought. She had been so right. He echoed her feeling, he had also been right.

Oh my beloved eternal Vha'ren, she spoke to him through her thoughts and he savored each long awaited syllable. Holding each other close his hand slipped from her face and she caught it hers, bringing it to her lips and kissing it. They had not realized they had slid down the wall and were now huddled together on the floor, each cradling the other.

"I had meant for you never to find out," he confessed.

She looked at him for a moment, and the subtle hurt that played around her eyes was more than he could stand. "W...Why?" She was afraid she was not good enough for him.

He pulled her closer to dispel her fears. "It was because of me. I did not wish to hurt you, or to see you ever distressed," he said.

"But, I'm in no danger anymore, T'Pring's hold on you is gone. How could you ever hurt me?" she answered with a question.

"No, thankfully you are not in danger from her anymore, but it is difficult to the be the wife of a Vulcan, as the life of my mother can attest," he told her.

She pulled her head from where it rested on his chest, and gazed into his eyes with wonder. "Wife?" she questioned joy growing on her face.

He had not meant to be so overt with his desires, he had wanted his proposal to be more romantic. He realized that was how he had always seen her and it was only natural to refer her in that way. "Yes, my Vha'ren. I want you to be my wife, more than anything. I have always wanted it. Please."

Tears overflowed down her cheeks, and he rushed to kiss them away savoring their salt taste in his mouth. Why was she crying? Did she not to become his wife? He could never believe that. All they could do was stare at each other for a moment.

"Bond with me, Christine, and be my wife?" he begged again.

"Oh, Spock," she choked. "It's all I've ever wanted. Of course, oh yes, yes." She was ecstatic at the thought. It was true, more than anything else she wanted to join her life and soul to his. As they kissed, their minds once more flooded with emotion and images, images of the future, of their life, of their children, and of the happy home they would build together.

"I love you," he said to her.

"I love you, too," she answered.

Again passion overtook them. He kissed her with all the gentle force he could find in the deepest corner of his soul, and she met his desired with those of her own making.

His fingers loosened the closures on her uniform and drew it down away from her body as her hands moved in unison along his. Their movements were as synchronized as their thoughts. He followed every inch of her beautiful body as she explored his. Their kisses became more excited and hungry. Silently, gently, he picked her up from where they knelt together. Crossing the room with her in his arms, he wanted to know every inch of her. He laid her softly on the bed and began to explore as she watched him in ecstacy knowing her turn would come soon, and it did. Each one found the other the most beautiful thing they had ever known. He balanced over her, reaching for her mouth with his, as she placed her gentle arms around his waist and drew him down. He touched her face in the same places he had before and their ignited passion exploded time and time again. They reached heights neither had ever thought possible. Their minds equally involved in their love making, writhed in ecstacy. Each feeling what the other felt, becoming one. Such beautiful sweet passion.

When they were exhausted they lay entwined in each other's arms, holding on to each other like a life line. Their hearts beat together, and their minds still touched. They were stronger as one than they had ever been apart, better, complete. There was nothing that could touch them and nothing that could destroy their love. They were secure in each other, and happy, oh so happy.

"Nothing will ever take you from me, my love," Spock told her as he explored the last few inches of her velvet skin.

"Nothing." Christine smiled, certain.

* * *

Christine stood smiling into the mirror in her sweltering quarters teasing the last fallen tendrils of her hair into place around her face.

"I like it better down," Spock said as he tugged his uniform into place and came up behind her. He slipped his arm around her waist. Drawing her close to him he buried his face in her neck, drinking in the smell of her. The sensation was nearly more than she could take and she wanted him instantly.

"That's a privilege I reserve only for you, while on board, my love." She smiled laying her hairbrush back down on the dresser top and, reaching backward, wrapped one arm around his neck, and let the other drape wistfully over his coiled limbs.

"A privilege indeed." He considered for a moment as she rested against him. How wonderful it felt, finally.

Turning her around to face him he unwrapped himself from her embrace and brought her hands up to his mouth. He kissed them and discovered that even they tasted sweet. He looked wistfully into her brilliant blue eyes and sighed. "When?" he said.

"When what?" she giggled enjoying this familiarity between them.

"When shall we be married?" he questioned longingly.

She brought her hand up and caressed his jaw, this time he did not flinch or pull away. "Today. If you'd like." She smiled, knowing that it would take a bit more preparation than that, but she wanted him to know she wished for nothing else.

"Done," he promised, understanding.

Together they held each other, savoring the last few moments of passion before the days duties would force their separation from each other. Her arms felt good around him, holding him so close, and he never wanted to move.

*Beep*, "Christine, where the blazes are you?" Dr. McCoy's voice burst their bubble over her com unit. "You were due in sickbay an hour ago."

She gasped and Spock could feel her tense in his arms. She usually did not ignore her duties. It was only one of the things he admired about her. However, today she had a very special reason.



Without moving from Spock's arms Christine bent over and flipped the button that would allow her to communicate with sickbay. "I'm sorry, Leonard." She stammered a bit. "I..." She gave a wry smile at Spock. "I lost track of time. I'll be right there."

"Oh. That's alright," Dr. McCoy relented, just glad to hear that she was safe. "We don't have any patients right now. I was just worried about you that's all."

Christine gave a sweet smile to his concern, and then squeezed Spock's waist a little harder. "Oh, I've never been better." She tried to hide her laughter and put her hand to his mouth as she heard a chuckle begin in his throat. "Shhh, He'll hear you," she whispered.

Spock kissed her palm and moved his face so that his mouth was clear of her delicate fingers. "Good," he mouthed, and leaned a bit closer to the speaker.

"Dr. McCoy," he announced almost with bursting pride. "Spock, here. I will be accompanying Miss Chapel to sick bay. Please meet us there, we have something we wish to discuss with you. Spock, out."

Spock and Christine did not see Leonard McCoy's reaction several decks below them in sickbay, and it was a good thing. You could have knocked him over with a feather as he stood stunned. That was certainly one voice he had never expected to come from her com unit.

Back in Christine's quarters she stood equally stunned as Spock flipped the com switch once more and requested that Captain Kirk also be present. He could see her wide-eyed surprise as he met her face once more. "What?" he smiled.

"Well, I ... I ... I just didn't think you...?" she stammered.

"Have I made an error." He suddenly caught himself. "You wanted to keep our relationship secret?" he questioned afraid he had done something wrong.

"No, I want to tell everyone," she blurted out. "I guess I just thought it was you who wanted to keep me secret." She had a pained expression on her face. "All these years..."

The look in her eyes stabbed at his heart. "Please, my Vha'ren. I never meant to hurt you, although I know I did." He rushed to explain. "My behavior toward you was inexcusable, and I know I hurt you. Something with which I will live for the rest of my life." He brushed her temples gently with his lips and the charge of love he felt from her made it easier to continue. "Please understand that I only distanced myself from you to keep you safe. I was the hardest thing I have ever done."

She laid her face against his neck and kissed him. The rush of sensation made him want her again. "I do, understand and I love you all the more for it, and now we can be together forever." She smiled raising her face to his.

He took her perfect features in his hands and kissed her. His lips tingled across her eyelids, over her nose, and down to her mouth where he lingered in sweet revelry. "Yes, my darling. Forever," he said surfacing.

Together they walked toward sickbay and the announcement they had each dreamed of for so long.

* * *

James Kirk was not rushing to sickbay but he was not taking his sweet time either. They had not seen an active engagement for several weeks and the computer had reported no problems so he was certain that no one's life was in danger. However, he knew Spock well enough to know that this was important. His first officer would not have summoned him from the bridge if it were not so. With that in mind the captain of the Enterprise kept a steady pace.

Sickbay was closer to the bridge than the officers' quarters and he reached the door just as Spock and Christine disembarked from the turbolift at the other end of the passageway. He noted how strange it was to see of them together, in fact so close together. They were walking only inches apart. Then he also noted what a striking presence they made, Spock's straight dark features contrasting her soft light ones. Their heights and body forms complimented nicely. Almost as if they were made for each other, he thought, unsure why. Spock sure doesn't know what a special woman he's keeping on the string there. Kirk greatly admired Christine Chapel for she had only but proven herself time and time again onboard the ship. He had often wondered why his second in command could not see how good she would be for him. But then again, lately had begun to notice Spock watching her more and more.

"Spock, what's this about?" Kirk asked his interest very much peaked. "Everything alright?"

"Yes, Captain," Spock answered in his usual dry tone. "I did not meant to alarm you. Everything is quite well, in fact it is very well." Spock stole a look at Christine who was struggling to hide a smile. Neither Kirk nor anyone else in the hallway saw the Vulcan run a reassuring soft hand down the back of her forearm.

"Then what's going on?" Kirk was still utterly confused.

"Perhaps we should go inside," Spock said motioning to the sickbay door. "We have asked Dr. McCoy to join us."

"We?" Kirk inquired.

"Yes, Captain. Miss Chapel and I have something very important we wish to discuss with both of you," Spock informed him.

"Miss Chapel?" Kirk looked at her rather shocked.

"Yes," she answered a wide happy smile on her face. He thought that he had never seen her so happy, or more lovely. "It is very important Captain, do you mind?"

"How could I refuse my First Officer and my Head Nurse?" Kirk smiled and offered to let her enter first. Her body language made it clear that she did not wish to leave Spock's side, and so he went ahead. He certainly had never expected Spock to have some kind of ground shattering news involving the chief nurse. It was common knowledge aboard that she was head over heals for him, but it was also rather well known that her feelings were unrequited. Until now, maybe, Kirk thought to himself. Let's hope so. Maybe he's finally gotten some sense knocked into him.

The three entered Leonard McCoy's office still in a bit of a tense silence. The doctor had been pacing in confusion. Why was Spock in Christine's quarters? he thought to himself beginning to boil. If that Vulcan...If he's done anything to upset her I'll show him what a good butt kickin' is like, twice my strength or not. She's taken just about enough from him. He looked up from his vengeful but protective thoughts as Kirk, Christine and the object of his tirade walked through the door.

"Jim?" McCoy questioned. "What are you doin' here?"

"That's what I'd like to know." Captain Kirk answered. "I was asked to join all of you."

"Well, I'm just as in the dark as you are," McCoy went on. "Spock," he bellowed. "What was so urgent and why were you in Christine's quarters?"

Kirk looked up unable to hide his none to mild surprise.

"Gentlemen. Please sit down and we will explain everything." He pulled up a chair for the Captain as McCoy sank into his desk chair keeping a suspicious eye on his Vulcan friend. He had noticed that Christine had remained very silent and he wondered why. She did not look quite herself either.

"Are you alright, Chris?" he asked her. "You can tell me if..." He eyed Spock.

She smiled her daughterly smile at him that always made him melt. "Oh, Leonard. I just fine. Believe me." She smiled.

It was then that Spock drew a second chair to the side of the desk. He had sensed how nervous Christine was, and how she struggled to calm her racing heart. He looked at her as if asking permission. It was granted without hestitation. Then he took her gently by the shoulders and guided her comfortingly into the chair. Kirk and McCoy stared at each other in disbelief.

Spock almost smiled down at Christine but she understood that he was controlling his reaction in public. Underneath she knew he wanted to shout it to the rafters as much as she did. She looked up at him with such unconditional love that his heart wanted to sing.

"Captain, Doctor," he began. "I would ask your congratulations," he said. "Miss Chapel has agreed to do me the indescribable honor of becoming my bride," he announced almost with pride. Christine beamed at the declaration of their plans.

For a moment Kirk and McCoy were so silent that Christine and Spock were unsure if they had actually heard. They all sat staring around the room at each other, the captain and the doctor letting the announcement sink in. It was Dr. McCoy how spoke up?

"What?" he said, in disbelief. For some reason he was also feeling a little angry.

"I do not think it necessary to repeat my last statement, Doctor," Spock said rationally. "However if you find that you..."

"No, I don't need to hear it again." McCoy confirmed. He was not sure his ears or his heart could take it. After all the years of rejection poor Chris had suffered, why now this sudden turn around. It was Jim who broached that subject.

"Wow, you two sure know how to keep a secret." He smiled, trying not to show too much shock. "Has this been going on for a while, or is it a sudden thing?"

Christine smiled at Spock. "Well, actually. It's kind of both." She laughed sharing a private joke with the man she loved.

"Under those circumstances, could you, uh, enlighten us about this seemingly sudden change of events?" McCoy said matter-of-factly. He was not about to leave that room until he got some kind of explanation.

Spock sat down on the arm of Christine's chair ready to relate the long story of their bond. He looked to her first to be sure that she would agree to its telling. She grinned and nodded happily.

"It is rather a long story gentlemen." Spock began. "It started many years ago on the streets of ShiKahr."

"On Vulcan?" Kirk interrupted. He had not known that Miss Chapel had ever been to the planet.

"Yes, sir," Spock continued.

He went on to tell the story of the two wide eyed and innocent children who had touched fingers for but a moment and bonded for life. He told them of the ancient myth of the Vha'ren, and how as they grew the two children had felt each other through the cold distance of space. He related the dreams that both he and Christine had shared, neither knowing why for where they came from. He told them of feeling her emotions, and she of feeling his. He gave the details of seeing those lovely blue eyes once again in the transporter room, and realizing it was Christine who had joined his heart and soul so long ago, and of his anguish over realizing that to protect her he had to close himself from her, and hurt her. Then he related the threat that T'Pring had placed on her life. McCoy visibly tensed at the thought, especially due to the fact that not quite two years before Christine had been with them orbitting Vulcan while Spock went to meet that woman on the surface.

How could he have been so careless with her life? She was more than just his head nurse, she was like a daughter to him. If anything had happened to her he would have turned that planet upside down. Spock seemed to understand McCoy's visible fear and felt as though he had to prove his intentions to him.

"I would have died before I would have let anyone or anything hurt Christine," he said. There was something earnest and declarative in his voice that seemed to please Dr. McCoy and he relaxed a bit. He had learned over the years that Spock was nothing if not true to his word."I regret nothing more than having to hide everything from her, but I felt it was the only way to protect her." He looked at Christine. Kirk and McCoy could almost see the hurt in his eyes.

She tried to comfort him. "I know how hard it was for you. You did what you had to do."

"But to hurt you my Vha'ren," he began to protest.

"Somehow I always knew. Now I'm sure of that." She smiled. She wanted to take his hand so badly, but did not. She knew she would have to learn to keep their private moments private.

McCoy could see the conversation quickly turning into love talk as he and Jim faded into the background. "Okay, you two. Don't make me get the hose." He smiled at Jim. Christine blushed, but Spock was unfazed.

"What would be the reason for needing a garden tool?" He raised an eyebrow.

"It a joke," McCoy laughed. "Christine'll tell you later." He winked at his nurse as she went red.

"Anyway," KIrk interrupted. "You say that Miss Chapel knew nothing of this?"

"Not conciously," Spock answered. "However, our bond lay strong, deep within her mind where I hid it to protect her."

Spock and Christine then reported the events surrounding their recognition of the bond in the corridor. Of course they left out what had happened afterward, but the two men were pretty sure they already knew. Kirk suddenly realized the meaning behind Spock's words and how hard if must have been for his first officer to live only feet from the woman he was somehow bonded to all these years and not be able complete their connection. The fact that he suffered all of that for her told him how much the Vulcan loved Christine, how much he had loved her nearly all their lives. Then for Christine to have fallen in love with him completely unaware of the level of intimacy they shared was only a testament to the strength of their bond. He knew they would be wonderful together, and was suddenly determined to help them.

"What can we do to help the two of you?" Jim asked happily.

"As I said," Spock continued. "We intend to be married, bonded fully. It will require returning to Vulcan." He and Christine had discussed the details while on their way to sick bay. It was uncanny how they agreed on all of it. He went on, "Then of course there will be a Christian ceremony." He had been over the years continually awed by Christine's devout faith. It was only one

of the many things he loved about her, but it made her strong and wise in his eyes. "We wish to celebrate both of our cultures." He looked lovingly and understandingly at Christine, who returned his sentiment.

"We also wish that both of our families be there," she said.

"Of course," Kirk smiled, then paused. "There's only one problem. We aren't scheduled to pass by Vulcan for another eight months. I would love to speed it up, but we have our orders."

"That is perfectly understandable." Spock agreed.

"We certainly don't want to disrupt the ship's business, our neglect our duties," Christine agreed.

"So you think you can wait eight months to get married?" McCoy smiled coming out of his bubble of thought. He saw how happy Christine was, and Spock as well, even though he knew the Vulcan would never admit emotion. To anyone but Christine. He chuckled to himself.

"We've waited this long," Christine said.

"A few more months will only strengthen our bond," Spock agreed.

"There could be dangers between here and there. Do you both think you can take it?" Kirk asked. "Because I will have to send in the necessary reports, and if it looks like your lov...bond may affect your duties, I don't know how Star Fleet will see that."

Spock had lived in constant fear of harm befalling Christine for nearly all his life. He knew that while they were close he could protect her no matter what the danger. "The proximity will not affect our duties, and the duties will not affect our bond." He promised both his captain and his love.

Christine suddenly went pale. "Will I have to be transferred, Captain?" she asked. She could not bare the thought of being separated from Spock, and certainly she would be the one to be moved, not the second in command.

"Well, that is the general procedure," Kirk teased, but when he saw how they both tensed he added. "But, I think I can manage to lose the paperwork for just about eight months or so."

Spock looked thankful as Kirk, McCoy, and Christine dissolved in laughter. As they all stood Kirk took Christine by the elbows. "Congratulations to both of you," he said looking from her to Spock. "May I be the first to kiss the bride?" He laughed.

"Now, just hold on a minute. She's my nurse," McCoy said stepping around his desk and nudging Kirk out of the way. "Get in line." He gave Christine a gigantic hug and kissed her on the cheek. "If you're happy, then I couldn't think of anything I'd rather have for you."

"Oh, Leonard," she said fighting a tear. "Thank you. I am, so happy."

Kirk noticed how Spock seemed totally baffled by the captain and doctor suddenly wanting physical contact with his soon to be wife. "Don't worry, Spock. It's an old Earth tradition."

"Ah." Spock said feigning understanding, but wanting nothing more than to get Christine back in his arms.

* * *

For Christine and Spock life together aboard the Enterprise was pure bliss. Neither had ever been so happy. Their days on duty were spent in each other's minds, their nights in each others. They learned, and explored, and loved. Although their affection was usually not displayed openly in public, they were nearly inseparable when time allowed. In private however, they were one. Their bodies and minds made magic with each other, and their passions were limitless. Often when the opportunity arose they would sneak off to some dark and out of the way corner of the ship for some time together during the day. A spur of the moment picnic in the back of the cargo hold, an impromptu liaison in the storage unit of the biological science lab, or just holding each other in the shadows of a deserted passageway, they craved each other.

One night several weeks after announcing their engagement Spock and Christine lay exhausted in each other's embrace. Only tiny whisps of light from the nighttime illuminators in the ceiling fell across their faces as they caressed. The two lay in the quiet discussing their plans.

"Where shall we live?" he asked realizing they had not yet discussed it, and wondering if that would become the only issue of contention between them.

She rolled over and rested on her elbow, her chin on his chest. "I don't care where I live as long as it's with you," she smiled dreamily.

"I feel the same way my love." He kissed her forehead. "However, we do need to be practical. I do not wish my wife to reside in an unsuitable dwelling."

"The worst shack, in the worst slum, on the worst prison coloy in the universe would be a palace as long as we were together," she continued. Then seeing his face take a rather serious set she looked thoughtfully at the ceiling. He obviously wanted to discuss the issue seriously. "I had just assumed that we would live on Vulcan. If that's what you want," she said.

"It isn't just what I want," he said, stroking her shoulder. "Yes, I would very much like to return to Vulcan after our mission," he continued "but would you be, could you be happy there?"

"Of course. It is your home. I would gladly make it mine. I would like it very much." Christine beamed.

Realizing that the decision had been made, he confirmed it. "It is settled then, we will reside on Vulcan." Spock looked passionately at Christine. "Now, I have been speaking with the Captain and Dr. McCoy..."

"About me?" Christine blushed.

"You could say that," he said. "About the traditions which are important to most Earth women."

"Oh, like what?" she coaxed.

"Mainly regarding the ceremony of the wedding," he began. "I am told that it is not merely the bonding aspect that is important. There are also other items of importance."

"Yeah, the wedding night," Christine grinned at him.

"Oh, that will be taken care of, do not worry." He nearly grinned back.

"What I am referring to are several of the more surface elements of the event," he continued. "For one thing I am told that you will wear a gown of white to signify purity."

Christine blushed. "Yes, it's tradition. After tonight, though, I really don't think I can be considered all that pure anymore." She smiled.

Spock suddenly looked serious. "You are purest, most delicate, untouchable person I have ever known. The fact that we have experienced intimacy together does not change that. You most definitely should wear your white dress."

She looked at him with such love in her eyes he thought she would cry. "Thank you," she said as he pushed a lock of her hair from her eyes.

"Besides if you could not wear white, then your purchase of that copy of Modern Bride Cyberperiodical would have been a waste of money," he joked.

"You know about that?" She blushed again.

He only gave her a sly smile. Spock had seen Christine and Lt. Uhura giggling and fawning over the view screen. Secretly he could not wait to behold the vision of Christine dressed like an angel.

"Well, what else did you discuss about weddings?" she urged.

"They tell me I am to buy you the biggest diamond ring I can find," he declared.

She suddenly went pale as a horrible image flashed in front of her eyes. She had almost forgotten, but not quite, until Spock mentioned it. Christine turned over and bolted upright. "Oh please, Spock," she said, "Don't say that."

Spock followed her to a sitting position, and his arms wrapped around her shoulders as her tears began to flow. "What have I said?" he pleaded. "I did not mean to cause you such distress."

She touched his face and met his eyes. "I know, I know you didn't. It isn't you," she sputtered. "It's just that ... I don't ever want you to give me a diamond..."

"Why? Please tell me," he begged, trying his best to comfort her through his confusion.

"Because," Christine continued. "The last person who promised to give me a diamond went away and never came back." She cupped his face with her soft hands. "Oh, I couldn't bear it if something happened to you. Please, I don't want a diamond, they are bad luck for me," she cried, sinking her face to his chest.

He wrapped her in his arms and held her while sobs shook her slender shoulders. He could feel her fear and knew she was being tortured by thoughts of losing him, just as the thought of losing her tore his heart out. "It is alright, I promise I won't ever give you a diamond," he said.

Then raising her face to his once again he made another vow. "I want you to listen to me, and hear me not just with your ears but with your heart, through our bond." The look in his eyes was so solemn that she felt chilled for a moment. "I will never leave you. Even if I cannot be with you in body, I will always be with you. You will always feel me within you, just as I will always feel you and you will always be with me. We are one, forever."

She collapsed against him. Her sobs were gone, replaced by a quiet wonder. How he amazed her. He stirred her every emotion and calmed her every fear. He was her strength, and her passion, just as she was his.

After a while, she raised her eyes again and found his loving and concerned gaze. He stared into the eyes that had stirred and calmed his soul for so long, and found the only thing he had ever wanted. He wanted to give her everything she desired.



* * *

Several weeks later Christine arrived back at her quarters from a particularly hectic shift in sickbay. She felt a bit wrung out and still a little tense as she walked down the corridor to her cabin rubbing her neck. She hoped Spock would be there, she needed a good hug right now. When she reached the door and it slipped to the side, Christine caught her breath in amazement. The interior of her home away from home was dim except for a faint glow from the bedroom. She could hear Spock moving around, but he was being very quiet. An amused smile crossed her lips as she entered.

"Spock?" Christine called as the door shut behind her.

He stepped from the shadows of the bedroom they now shared and she marveled at how handsome he was in the soft lighting. He was not wearing his uniform, instead he had on a deep wine colored tunic with long pants in the Vulcan style. They fit his form so well that Christine again drew in her breath at the sight of him. He was magnificent.

"I am right here, my dear." He nearly smiled. He was up to something, she could tell that right away. He crossed the room and kissed her gently, wrapping his arms around her waist.

Her suspicious grin got the better of her. "What's going on?" she asked, settling into his embrace.

"Close your eyes," he said.

"Why?" she laughed.

"Just close them." He kissed the lids of her eyes once she finally complied, and she felt him lead her steps toward the bedroom. "This way," he whispered.

She could tell they were standing by the bed when he stopped simply because she knew the layout of her quarters so well. Her smiled widened in anticipation, and he understood. "Later, my darling," he whispered a promise. His lips brushing against her ear sent a little rush of down her neck. "Open your eyes," he said.

Christine gasped. "Oh, Spock," she cried happily.

At the foot of the bed had been set a small and elegant table, just right for two. Tall candles glistened in the center, and a damask tablecloth in a shade that almost matched Spock's tunic draped gracefully to the floor. Fine china, crystal, and silver had been laid with excruciating care and a sumptuous meal of all of Christine's favorites steamed on the table. A bottle of champagne chilled in a bucket of ice beside the one of the chairs. Christine knew that Spock did not much care for the sparkling drink, but he knew how much she enjoyed it. This was to be a very special occasion.

"For you," Spock said.

"When did you find time to do this?" she asked following him as he seated her carefully in one of the chairs. She knew that his day had probably been more stressful than hers.

"I have my ways," he said as he joined her.

"You certainly do." She smiled as he filled her tall flute glass with champagne. She watched him lovingly as he then filled his own.

"A toast," he said. "To you my love. The most beautiful and remarkable woman I have ever known. My second self."

Her eyes glistened as their glasses and hearts touched. Softly they took the first drink together. "...And to you, my dearest," she added. "The most amazing man I have ever known. The only man I have ever, and will ever truly love. My second self." Again their glasses made a musical note and they drank.

Together they ate the wonderful dinner Spock had prepared. He continually amazed Christine. She was always learning something new about him and loving what she learned. They talked again of their future, and of their past, their hearts one. It seemed to both of them that it had always been this way. Almost as if they had never been parted so long ago. As if there had never been the ugly malevolent threat that had kept them apart. They were so truly happy.

When dinner was finished, Spock took Christine's hand across the table and held it. He brought it to his lips and kissed it. "I have something for you," he said.

Pulling a small velvet box from his pocket, he rose from his seat and knelt before her. He could see her tense a bit. "It is not a diamond, however it is a ring," he said.

He opened the box, hoping she would like it, and held it up for her to see. She gasped when she saw an exquisite stone of blue. It was the most brilliant shade of pale blue she had ever seen, and she did not recognize the cut. The stone was held delicately in a platinum band.

"It is called Sha-hir-tu. It is the rarest stone on all of Vulcan. It is only found at the poles and is difficult to cut. It is more rare even than a diamond," he explained. "It is my gift to you, to celebrate our intended bonding. I would be honored if you would wear it." He took it from its velvet pillow and Christine thought she saw his hands shaking as he lifted her weightless left hand and placed it on her ring finger.

She stared at him is disbelief. There was no need for him to ask, of course she would wear it. She could hardly take her eyes from his to study his gift of love, but she knew it was important to him that she liked it, and she did. It was magnificent. "Of course, I will wear it. It's so beautiful," she said crying. "I'll never take it off. Oh, I love you."

He gently pulled her closer to him. "...And I love you," he said kissing her long and slow. She wrapped his arms around his shoulders and he lifted her toward the bed. As he laid her softly on the pillows, there was one more thing he needed to say. "As lovely as the ring is, my dear, there is one thing to which even it pales ... your brilliant blue eyes," he said and did not wait for her to respond. He brought himself down to her, kissing and caressing her skin as she welcomed him.

Later that night as Spock held Christine in his arms, feeling her every breath while she slept, he was finally certain of what it meant to be content.

* * *

The Enterprise was four months away from their scheduled orbit of Vulcan. Spock and Christine were four months away from being fully bonded and wed. They had spoken at length with both his parents and hers about what was to come, informing them of the Vha'ren, and how the two of them had unknowingly bonded years before. Spock was a bit surprised at how readily his family accepted and even welcomed the news. He knew of course that his mother would be ecstatic and she was, happy for Christine to become the daughter she had always wanted. It was his father's reaction that amazed him. Not only did the Vulcan ambassador accept the news, he had heartily given them his blessing and let it be known that he was looking forward to their arrival home. Spock wondered if perhaps the rift was mending, he hoped it was.

Things were a bit more difficult with Christine's parents. Her father, Thomas Chapel, had given them his blessing and welcomed Spock, seeing how happy his daughter was. However, the Vulcan had still sensed a hesitation in the older man's demeanor. Discussing it with Dr. McCoy, he was given an even more troublesome explanation.

"She's his daughter, Spock," McCoy had said. "In Christine's father's eyes, you're stealing his little girl away."

After some protest that he would never stand in the way of Christine's relationship with her father, McCoy quieted him with a declaration.

"Yes, and I'm sure they both know that. You see, to him, no one will ever be good enough for her, not even you," McCoy said thinking fondly of his own daughter. "But that doesn't mean he's against the marriage. To him she will always be about three years old sitting on his lap, calling him Daddy. Just wait, you'll understand when you and Christine have your own children." Dr. McCoy smiled a little, satisfied at Spock's confusion, and left his friend to ponder the situation.

Christine's mother, Elaine, had let her feelings on the announcement be known a bit more harshly. In fact she and Christine had fought over her mother's disapproval. A few days after contacting them with their initial announcement, Spock had found Christine crying in his quarters. Her mother had reached her via subspace transmission, and from the way Christine relayed the events to Spock, it was obvious that things had not gone well. As he tried to calm her she reported the conversation of just an hour before.

"My mother doesn't think our marriage is a good idea. She said she was against it," Christine choked on her tears.

"Did she give a reason?" Spock asked, holding her hands.

"Several," Christine replied. "She completely does not understand Vulcans. She thinks you have absolutely no emotions and could never feel love for me. She said I will end up bitter and unhappy."

"Did you tell her that was not the case, and that I do love you very much?" Spock asked.

Christine smiled at him through her tears. "Yes, I did. I told her about how Vulcans do have emotions, they just control them. I told her how strong and deep our love is, and that you would never do anything to hurt me, nor I you."

"What else did she say?" he urged.

"She's afraid that my becoming your wife would get in the way of my career, as if a woman can't have a job and a family."

Although he could feel his temper rising, Spock remained calm in an effort to comfort Christine. "I most certainly would not hinder your bettering yourself, it would only make me love you more to know you were happy and fulfilled in all ways. Perhaps she is just worried about you."

"Oh, she is, but I don't understand why. There's no need to be worried about me. She should be happy for us," Christine sobbed again.

"It must have come as quite a shock to her when we explained about the Vha'ren. It may have frightened her a bit," he said.

"Yes, maybe it did," Christine agreed. "But, your parents seemed overjoyed about it."

"It is part of Vulcan culture to which they are very familiar," he reminded her. "Your mother has not idea of how strong the bond is."

"No, she doesn't." Christine smiled, touching his face. He took her hand protectively in hers and kissed it.

He was silent for a long moment, and Christine became unsure of what he would say next. Finally, he spoke. "Where does this leave us?" He needed to know.

She stared at him for a moment, surprised he would even ask. "What do you mean?" She said.

"I do not wish to go against the desires of your family. It is important to me that you are comfortable with our plans," he offered.

"Are you asking if I still want to marry you?" Christine clarified.

"Yes," he said. "That is what I am asking."

This time she took his hands in hers and kissed them. She looked deep into his eyes and found her peace and strength. "That is a question you need never ask. I will become you wife, and we will live happily and in love. No one, no one, will ever stand in the way of that. Not our families, not our jobs, not Star Fleet, not the entire Klingon and Romulan Empires combined." She smiled a little. "Of course I still want to marry you. It's all I want in the whole universe," she said. "My mother will just have to live with it."

He exhaled and drew her to him. "You have no idea how relieved I am. I do not know what I would do without you," he said.

"That is something you will never have to find out, my love," she said, just before he kissed her.

They could not have known that Spock's greatest fear was about to become a reality.

* * *

About a week after Christine's disastrous conversation with her mother, the couple received a subspace commincations transmission from Vulcan. It was coded Priority. They were in Spock's quarters when the message came through.

As the vid link cleared the faces of Spock's parents, Amanda and Sarek, appeared. His seemed very much troubled and she was visibly shaken. Spock and Christine greeted them with a raised hand and spread fingers, as they did the same. It was obvious this was a matter of great importance. They did not wait for Spock to begin.

"My son," Sarek began. "There has come to light a matter of the utmost urgency which could require your return home. I fear this emergency is one whic will cause both you and Christine great distress."

"What it is, Father?" Spock asked looking nervously at Christine. She stood by his side and tensed. Beneath the view of the com screen Spock touched her fingers to assure her.

Sarek decided that there was no reason to delay. "News of your plans to wed has reached T'Pring. She has known that you and Christine are Vha'ren."

"Yes, she does. She has known all along. She saw Christine in my mind during our initial bonding," Spock reported. "I have endeavored for years to hide Christine from her and was successful."

"Yes, thankfully you were," Sarek continued. "However, she has now invoked the right of Tur-ok-kali-nor. She intends to challenge Christine for you," he said.

Spock's face drained of all color. He laid one hand on the table to steady himself and this time made no effort to hide his grasp on Christine's fingers. He was shaken to the core.

Christine looked from Spock to Sarek, confusion setting in. "I don't understand what's wrong? Now T'Pring wants you back?" She stared questioningly innocent at Spock. He could not answer.

"Yes, my dear, she does," Amanda's voice came over the com link and Christine turned questioning eyes to her as she continued. "Stonn has tired of her and left her. Her bonding to Spock was always one of social importance to her clan. She now wants to reestablish her claim to him."

"Well, that's just too bad," Christine said haughtily. "Who does she think she is? She gave him up and I have no intention of walking away."

"Oh, my dear..." Amanda said almost in tears.

"What?" Christine asked still confused.

"It's not that simple," Spock whispered coming back to reality.

"Of course, it is. Just tell her...." Christine said her eyes becoming frantic.

"My dear." Sarek called her attention back to the view screen. "Spock is correct. It is not that simple. They're bonding had begun. They were legally betrothed, she has the right to seek his return to her."

Christine's head was spinning. "What about his rights, what about ours? We were actually bonded first. That must count for something."

"Spock and T'Pring's bonding is the legally recognized one. There are some in the High Council who do not believe the ancient stories of the Vha'ren. This is a matter of Vulcan law, not a matter of the heart," Sarek reminded her. "I know you are unfamiliar with our customs.

Spock looked visibly ill and still could not find his voice. He knew what was to come. He listened while Christine continued to plead her case in vane.

"You say she has challenged me. What do you mean?" she asked Sarek.

"It means she intends to fight you to the death for Spock," he said clearly, his voice betraying nothing of the pain that rage inside. He knew how desperately Spock loved Christine, just as desperately as he loved Amanda. It was tearing him apart to think of his family being ripped asunder by the likes of T'Pring. He also knew that it was his fault for demanding that Spock be bonded to her in the first place, and for alliances sake. Now it was Christine who would pay the price.

"Fight me to the death?" Christine grew pale, and sagged a bit against Spock. "I thought Vulcans didn't believe in violence."

"We do not," Spock assured her. "However, the Tur-ok-kali-nor is a vestige of our people's violent past, and remember T'Pring is anything but a typical Vulcan. She threatened to kill you once. Now she sees her chance."

Christine watched Spock. She had never seen him like this, she sensed his fear and knew that he felt hers. His stemmed from the thought of her being harmed, hers from the very idea of losing him. She steeled herself, and with a deep resolute breath asked, "Then what must I do?"

"No." Spock shook his head. "I will not allow it. You cannot fight her. She is much stronger than you by far, and I know you could not hurt anyone. Your very nature would be to your disadvantage."

"Spock is right,Christine," Amanda said. "You cannot fight. She will kill you."

"It will kill me to lose Spock," Christine answered."What happens if I do not accept her challenge?" Christine inquired.

Sarek knew Vulcan law better than Amanda and he answered. "Both you and Spock will be ostracized. Spock will be exiled if he refuses to give you up and his name will virtually be unspeakable within the clan. He would never be allowed to return to Vulcan." Christine saw Amanda shudder at the thought.

"Then it is not only Spock's well being and mine that is at stake, it is the social standing of your entire clan?" she asked.

Sarek did not want to say the truth for fear that Christine would feel pressured, but she had a right to know. "Yes ... that is correct."

"No," Spock repeated. "I will never go back to Vulcan. We will live our lives just as we planned, somewhere else. Somewhere safe for you. I cannot agree to let this thing happen to you." He looked at Christine almost pleading.

"Spock, I ... I must," Christine said. "Do you know what I would have to live with knowing that my cowardice had caused the disgrace of your entire family? I have to, for you, for your standing among your family and the people of Vulcan." She turned to Sarek. "What happens if I lose ... besides ... dying ... I mean."Her stomach turned a bit." I mean to Spock."

"He will retain his full rights as a citizen. It is your accepting the challenge that determines that. However, if you lose he will be forced to fully bond with T'Pring," Sarek informed her.

His final words stung her heart like a whip. The thought of Spock being forcibly bonded to the very person he could not stand, the very person who all these years had kept them apart, was nearly more than she could bare. If she did fight, she would very likely die. He would be forced to join with the very woman who would cause her death. She wanted to run, like Spock has requested. She wanted to go with him anywhere and never hear T'Pring's name again. If she did not fight, he would lose his place among his people. How could she do that to him, to his parents? She would have him, but at what cost? She would watch the slow veil of defeat and despair draw over his eyes, and perhaps one day he would be lost to her as well. That was a fate worse than death and one she could not bear. It was clear to her now, she had to fight, and she had to win, for him.

Spock's hand still on hers, she straightened and looked directly into the viewer. "You may tell T'Pring that I accept her challenge." She felt his grip tighten.

"Your bravery and courage honors us all," Sarek told her. Amanda could only stare at Christine through tears.

"Christine, don't do this," Amanda begged.

"I have to," she answered. "For Spock, for all of you." Christine continued. "Could you tell her this also? Tell her that I do not recognize her bond with Spock. That I am his rightful soulbonded mate, and that I intend to defeat her."

"I most certainly will." She saw Sarek almost smile at the insult he would take to T'Pring and wished she could be there to see the other woman's reaction.

"We will speak more of this," Sarek said reaching for the button on his com screen. He and Amanda bid farewell with the ancient sign. "Live Long and Prosper, my children," they said.

"Live Long and Prosper," Spock and Christine answered, returning the gesture.

Spock switched off his com screen and held Christine for a long time. They were both shaking. He was so close to losing her that he wanted to scream. He wanted to take her and run. He could not have foreseen this. So many years he had protected her, and now it seemed T'Pring had found a way of making good on her terrible threat. How could he let this happen, but he knew Christine's reasons for agreeing to the challenge, and he also knew that he could not stand in her way and could not stop her. She was doing it for him. The thought tore at him like a thousand sabres. Christine began to cry in his arms. He wanted to join her in tears but vowed to be strong for her. Finally, lifting her head, she spoke.

"Teach me how to fight," she whispered, her eyes filled with panic.

His face fell to her shoulder and he held her so tight he feared hurting her himself. He could not help it, somehow Spock thought that if he held her close enough to him, that day would never come. She laid her face against his hair, and this time it was he who shook with sobs.

* * *

"You're gonna what?" Dr. McCoy bellowed. He was seated at the large table in the Enterprise's conference room along with the captain, Spock, and Christine. His face was growing redder by the moment as Spock and Christine explained to he and Captain Kirk about the Tur-ok-kali-nor, and the challenge that left Christine no other option but to battle T'Pring.

"This is most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of," McCoy continued. "You're gonna get her killed," he declared pointing at Spock. "I knew this was trouble from the start."

Spock inwardly recoiled. He entirely agreed with the doctor about getting Christine killed and was also blaming himself. Christine was facing death at it was truly his fault. If only he had managed to hide their bond that day their fingers touched again over the IDIC in the ships's corridor, but it had been so deliriously wonderful and all the feelings they had both hidden for so long had just flowed from one to the other that he would not have stopped it. He could not have bared to keep the beautiful secret from her any long, not when she was so close. He knew he would have never changed that day and he would not have traded this time with her for anything. Their love was too strong, too wonderful, and he would never give it up. Maybe he was being selfish, but he knew that Christine felt the same way or she would not be preparing to fight. He understood her reasons for agreeing to the challenge, and loved her all the more for them, but his fear for her safety was almost immobilizing. One thing was certain, the day of the challenge was fast approaching. Spock would be forced stand by and watch helplessly as Christine set her nature, her very calling aside and went forth to attempt the kill the woman who had kept them apart and threatened her life. His heart shuddered at the thought. He knew that if she did have to kill T'Pring she could never live with herself. He also vowed silently that if the unthinkable happened and T'Pring took Christine's precious life from him, then she would have to kill him as well, because nothing would stop him from destroying her.

McCoy's rasping voice shook him back into reality. "You Vulcans have a strange way of settling arguments. How come everything with you is a fight to the death?" he blurted remembering the day that Spock had nearly killed Jim over an all too similar situation. "Some peace loving race."

"Bones," Captain Kirk reproached. "We have no right to call Vulcan culture into question, here. It is their tradition."

"Bloody barbaric tradition if you ask me," McCoy answered.

"Bones. That's enough," Jim tried to quiet him. He understood that his friend's anger was coming from concern and worry for Christine. For Bones, it would be like watching his own daughter being led to the gallows.

Spock cleared his throat and spoke up. "I must admit that I agree with Doctor McCoy on this issue. It does seem that far too many ancient customs still used on Vulcan involve bloodshed and killing. I regret that it is my fault that Christine faces this now."

Christine looked at him with loving eyes. She wanted to take his hand, but remembered her public demeanor. She had been sitting gravely quiet as the others discussed her fate, but she had to ease his mind. "It is not your fault," she declared. "Don't ever think that. It's her fault," she comforted.

"I had thought it safe for us to be together. I should have known she would have found some way to carry out her threat," Spock apologized.

"How could you have known? She had broken your bonding. You had no more ties to her," Christine answered.

"If only I could kept my feelings hidden, you would not be in danger now," he said to her.

"Are you saying you would give up what we have shared?" She already knew his answer.

He looked at her softly, with caring eyes. "No ... I would not." He smiled her echo of his words.

"Nor would I," she said. "Not for anything."

"Wait a minute," Kirk spoke up. "Aren't we putting the cart before the horse here? Why are we all assuming that Christine is going to lose?" he asked. "She's in excellent physical condition. She's a Star Fleet officer for goodness sake. I'd be willing to bet she can take care of herself."

She smiled at his compliment, and then looked a bit sheepishly at Spock. "I've never thrown a punch at someone in my life," she said.

"I have been training her in the ancient forms of of Vulcan combat," Spock reported. "She is quick and agile and shows some prowess with a few of the weapons."

"However ... " she interrupted him. "I am nowhere near what anyone could call proficient," she said rubbing her shoulder, upon which she had landed only a few hours before in the gym.

Spock had been tirelessly training Christine, teaching her to fight as she had requested of him. They had spent hours on the mats in the gym, him showing her the different stances and uses for the weapons which she could barely hold. She worked herself to exhaustion each day, but it was still obvious that hand to hand combat did not come naturally to her. She was the one who would land unceremoniously on the floor when attempting a throw move. The heavy bag on which she practiced punching and kicking only left her black and blue and the weapons she would have to use were so heavy for her that Spock was afraid she would injure herself with them. However, they persevered. She was showing progress, but it was painfully slow, and his heart ached over each session, as he watched to try to hide tears of frustration and fear.

"Forget that Vulcan stuff,"McCoy said. "You want win against a woman, fight like a man. What you need is a good ole' Georgia right cross. That'll knock her flat before she knows what hit her."

"We are practicing all forms of self defense, Doctor," Spock said, not wanting them to think he was leaving to chance where Christine was concerned.

"Well, I can tell you that being quick and agile won't help her much. That heavy Vulcan atmosphere will take the wind out of your sails before you even step up to fight," Kirk said to Christine.

Spock looked a little embarrassed, understanding what he was referring to. "We are hoping that Christine will be allowed to use the same metabolic drug that Dr. McCoy gave to you, as a means of evening out any unfair advantages," he said.

"Let's hope so," Kirk agreed.

"However. There is one advantage that Christine has which likely also be countered," Spock said.

"What's that?" McCoy urged.

"Her bond to me. They will most likely block it," Spock said, looking at her. He had not wanted to burden her anymore so he had not told her. However, now was the time to discuss all options.

"Can they do that?" she asked, her eyes frightened.

"Yes, an elder and spiritual leader can block a bond. They would most likely see it as unfair. That my very presence in your mind could help you in some way," Spock told her.

"They would be right. Feeling you with me is my strength," Christine said. How could she manage without him?

"I will still be with you and I will fight to break through their mental block and get to you. I will still be with you," he vowed.

"I know," Christine said. The tone of her voice betraying her fear.

Kirk thought for a moment. "What about T'Pau? What does she say about all of this?"

Spock was silent for a moment. "She does not know. My father informs me that she has been off world for nearly a month tending to Federation business. This challenge comes through T'Lon the high priestess of T'Pring's clan."

"Talk about your unfair advantages," McCoy scoffed.

"It is typical that a challenge such as this be handled through the challengers clan."

"You say you have spoken to the Ambassador?" Kirk asked.

"Yes, my mother now tells me that he has gone to attempt to seek T'Pau's intervention in this matter. T'Pau is also very influential in the Vulcan High Council, perhaps she will be able to enlist their aid as well. Neither T'Lon nor her clan is overly popular in the High Council," Spock explained.

"Will they be able to stop it in time?" Kirk asked.

"That is uncertain," Spock said dryly.

Captain Kirk took a long slow breath considering the issue for a moment. "As your Captain, I cannot condone this challenge. Do you understand, Miss Chapel?" He looked at her.

"Yes. I understand," she nodded.

"As your friend, I cannot stand the thought of it," he tried to sound compassionate, but there was a tinge of anger in his voice.

"Thank you," Christine said, comforted by his words.

"When will this occur?" he asked Spock

"It is scheduled for sunrise, one Vulcan week from now, on T'Pring's clan's ceremonial ground," Spock reported.

Kirk again pondered the situation. "I am placing you both on leave until such time as the situation is resolved. We are close enough to Star Base 2, and we have no standing orders at this time. The Enterprise will put into dock for necessary repairs and replenishments. I will accompany you," he said, as Spock started to protest that he was needed on the ship. "As your Captain it is my duty to see to your safety. As your friend, I wish to be there to provide whatever assistance you may require. Is that understood?"

"Yes, sir," Spock and Christine answered together.

"Well, count me in too," McCoy chimed in. "No way am I gonna let that little harlot pound the stuffing out my head nurse."

"Thank you, both," Christine smiled nervously. For some reason the knots in her stomach just would not go away. She and Spock got up to leave, they still had many preparations to make. As they turned to walk through the door. Spock halted, there were no words he could think of to tell his friends how grateful he was for their help and support.

"Jim, Leonard ... Thank you," was all he could say.

* * *

Christine and Spock sat nestled together in the rear compartment of the shuttlecraft Galileo as it sped toward Vulcan. The door that separated the space from the tiny pilot's compartment had been closed and Kirk and McCoy were respecting their privacy. Everyone understood, but did not voice it that they might very well be speeding Christine toward her death. Spock and Christine stretched on the long bench that ran the length of one wall, their arms wrapped around each other. Christine lay with her legs folded beneath her and her face resting on Spock's chest. He had let his chin rest on the top of her hair. For a long while neither had spoken, wanting only to feel the other beside them, to be sure of the other. So many times on board the Enterprise they had lain enfolded in each other's arms wrapped in passionate happiness. Now, their closeness seemed desperate, almost futile. Uncertain of what the next days would bring, they were both terrified.

Spock shifted to sit up and Christine followed. He took both of her hands in his and lifted them to his face. He kissed them and laid them against his cheek, which she realized was damp from the trail of a single tear. "You do not have to do this," he begged.

She maneuvered her graceful fingers around his hands and took them to her face this time. Her lips caressed his knuckles and she laid his warm skin across her cheek, tears falling. Then with one hand she touched his face. "Yes ... my love. I do," she whispered.

"I fear so gravely for your life," he told her, unable to hide the anxiousness he had so tried to keep from her.

She closed her eyes, drinking in his voice. "I am not going to lose you and I am not going to leave you," she vowed. "Do you remember what you told me once about that?" she asked.

He remembered every moment with her, and nodded, understanding what she meant. He still wanted to hear it.

She looked deep into his eyes and spoke the vow he once made to her. "I want you to listen to me, and hear me not just with your ears but with your heart, through our bond." The look in her eyes was so solemn that he felt chilled for a moment. "I will never leave you. Even if I cannot be with you in body, I will always be with you. You will always feel me within you, just as I will always feel you and you will always be with me. We are one, forever."

"Oh my love," he said, his lips against her temple. "I love you so."

"...and I love you, always," she answered, her eyes closed. "Hold me," she pleaded and looked once more into his eyes. "I'm so very frightened."

He clasped her to his body as if he were the shield to protect her from all that would seek to harm her. He knew that it was an illusion, but for a moment, together alone, they could almost believe it.

Their time had been too brief when the captain's voice came over the intercom. "We are beginning our orbit over Vulcan."

Spock held Christine few more fleeting seconds and then looked at her for assurance. She took a deep breath and nodded. He then reached over and flipped the switch on the com plate. "We will be out directly, sir."

* * *

Christine stood by Spock's side and watched as the large red planet came into view through the front windows of the shuttlecraft. She had seen it once before as a child, but had forgotten how immense and beautiful a sight it was. She held her breath for a moment, savoring it. Spock was glad she like it. For a second they forgot the reason they had come, but only for a second.

"Galileo. This is Vulcan Air Traffic Central. You are cleared to enter ShiKahr airspace and dock at shuttleport mooring 5," a very masculine and emotionless voice said over the ship's frequency.

"Understood. Thank you." Kirk sounded equally efficient. "Galileo out."

Once docked the four passengers of the Federation shuttle gathered their things and prepared to disembark. Before heading for the door McCoy took Christine gently by the arm.

"We can turn around and go back if you want. Just say the word," he offered, almost pleading for her to accept.

"I know, Leonard." Christine tried to give a brave smile. "But, I have to do this." She gave him a quick hug. "Thanks," she said. He nodded his understanding. She was not just thanking him for the offer, she was thanking him for everything, in case they had no time later.

Spock led Christine through the small entry hatch and into the main terminal as Kirk and McCoy followed behind. There they found Amanda waiting to greet them. She gave a warm smile and walked quickly over to them.

She wanted to wrap her arms around her son, but decorum prevented it. She did not know that he equally wished he could embrace her. "I am happy to see you, Spock," she said, then her face looked troubled. "I wish it could be under different circumstances.

"As do I," he answered. "However, I am also very pleased to see you and relieved to find you well."

Christine felt a twinge of guilt knowing that everyone's worry was over her, however it did not last long as Amanda warmly hugged her. "Christine, my dear. How are you?" she asked.

Christine returned her greeting equally happy to see her, but her voice held the gravity of the situation she faced. "Well, I guess I've been better," she said.

Amanda held her hands for a long moment. "You poor thing. Please tell me you've changed you mind."

Christine did not answer, but only shook her head, as Amanda closed her eyes for a moment giving up a silent prayer.

When she had finished, she greeted the friends who had accompanied her son and his fiancee on their trip. "Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy," she smiled taking their hands. "I am so thankful that you have come as well. I am sure it means a great deal to Spock and Christine."

"Amanda." They both greeted her together and shook her hand in turn.

"We are here to help in any way we can," Kirk said.

"That is most kind of you," she answered. Then looking around at her son and her future daughter-in-law she motioned for them to follow her. "Come, let's not discuss things here. Let's go home where we can be more comfortable."

* * *

Kirk, McCoy, and Christine were surprised to find that the neighborhood in which Amanda and Sarek's home was located to be rather lush by Vulcan standards. There were large trees, some stands of a plant that appeared to a type of grass, and quite a few well tended gardens. The homes were all one story, but sprawled over about an acre of land each. The oppressive heat would have made building multiple story dwellings inefficient so rooms were arrange on the ground level in different living and public areas. Most were built around courtyards or devoted a good deal of space to patio gardens and nearly all had some sort of water source within those common areas. The building materials were not all indigenous, and Kirk thought he noticed some mid-western field stone from his home part of North America forming the front walls of one of the structures. Most were the sandy red tones of the surrounding mountains, however a few were embellished with bright colored tile mosaic work. Tastes seemed to be as individual on Vulcan as they were on Earth.

McCoy was also scanning the environs from the front passenger seat of Amanda's ground car. He had opted for shotgun, so that Spock and Christine could sit together in the back, and besides he wanted to see the sights.

"This looks like a real oasis in the desert," he smiled.

"Yes, I guess you could say that.," Amanda answered, seeming a bit embarrassed.

McCoy then realized that not all the neighborhoods in ShiKahr were as luxurious. It was obvious the home where Spock grew up was in what would be affectionately termed on Earth a "very nice neighborhood." There was definitely a social structure to Vulcan society.

The Ambassador's residence was at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. It was an impressive structure of light reddish stone and a material that looked like the adobe of old Earth desert dwellings. The windows were deep set into the walls and the front entrance was shaded by a large overhang supported by marble columns. The roof was flat, however the ends of reflective colored tiles could be seen hanging over the edge. A short stone wall surrounded the property and was punctured by heavy wooden gates that looked most accustomed to being left open. Captain Kirk could not see how far the property stretched, however it looked more expansive than those of the neighboring residences, almost as if another home could be constructed on the land.

Amanda drove her large silver colored land car into the circular drive and stopped in front of the few steps leading to the entrance. McCoy jumped out and surveyed the yard, making note of several unusual plant specimens he would like to ask about. Captain Kirk held Amanda's door while she got out of the car, and Spock helped Christine from her seat onto the pavement.

"Everything is so lovely here," Christine commented.

"I'm very glad you like it," Amanda said, casting a beaming eye in Spock's direction. "Come along," she continued taking Christine by the arm. "Let's get inside out of this heat."

The small traveling party followed their hostess to the door and inside the house where they were met by a small middle-aged woman of olive skin and very Vulcan features. "May I take your things?" she offered.

"Yes, thank you, T'Pel," Amanda smiled, removing the thin scarf-like wrap she had worn to protect her from the sun's rays and handing it to the housekeeper. She then turned to Christine, Kirk, and McCoy and introduced them.

"This is T'Pel, she is our housekeeper," she said. "T'Pel, this is Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy, and Miss Chapel." Christine thought she saw a knowing look pass between her future mother-in-law and the housekeeper. Apparently T'Pel had already been told that she would soon be a daughter of the house and was to be treated accordingly. "Please see to whatever they may need."

"Yes, ma'am," T'Pel said.

"It is good to see you again, T'Pel," Spock said. "I am please you seem well."

"Thank you, Sir," T'Pel answered.

"Please have someone see to the bags," Amanda requested.

"Yes, Ma'am," the housekeeper again agreed and hurried about her duties. It was evident that there were other servants in the house to tend to menial jobs. Kirk and McCoy looked at each other, feeling a bit out of place.

Christine, on the other hand, was much more interested in getting to know her future family. She let the thought wash over her for a joyful moment and then she realized that she might very well have no future. She stiffened for a moment and her change in mood did not go unnoticed by either Spock or his mother. He went to her side and steadied her.

"I'm alright," she said with a brave smile.

Amanda was not so sure and hurried to comfort Christine as well. "Let's go into the solarium for some tea," she suggested. "The sun is just beginning to set, there should be a lovely view. Gentlemen, please join us," Amanda said graciously to Kirk and McCoy. She smiled and took Christine by the arm and led her down the main hallway of the house.

Spock gestured for his captain and the doctor to walk ahead of him and he brought up the rear, his gait taking on an atypical ease to be back at home. He watched Christine smile and take in all his mother was telling her. She was equally relaxed, as if something in her recognized everything. She seemed to fit here, like something that had long been missing. He could not wait to bring her home permanently and he vowed he would do just that.

The interior of the home was far more comfortable than the exterior had hinted. Decorated in light, cool fabrics and colors, it was an exquisite mixture of both Vulcan and Earth. Antiques from both planets accentuated the crisp lines of several modern pieces. Ancient Vulcan relics, weapons, and sculpture had been expertly placed alongside French crystal, and Early American and Georgian accessories and furniture. Even an antique English grandfather clock chimed away in the study. Christine instantly loved the sound and remembered that Spock had told her his mother's father was from London. An open floor plan and large windows gave the home a bright and airy feel.

The solarium was just off of the dining room and the table had already been set with a silver service. Spock held out his mother's chair and then seated Christine. Finally, he and the other gentlemen took their places. Amanda poured the tea, which Christine was delighted to find was neither steaming hot as the afternoon climate would have prevented it's enjoyment, nor frigid cold as she was sure Dr. McCoy's southern taste buds would have preferred. Rather it was pleasantly tepid and tasted of a mixture of mints and herbs. It helped to calm her nerves. After some formalities, it was Spock who brought up the subject that was on everyone's mind.

"Has anything been heard from my father, or T'Pau?" he asked.

"I spoke with Sarek just this morning," Amanda began taking a sip of her tea between breathes. "He is still waiting for an audience with T'Pau. She and several other members of the High Council are attending the Federation Peace Talks with the Klingon Empire of Nalos 4."

"Did he tell her how urgent it was?" Kirk asked.

"Yes, of course," Amanda assured him.

"However, T'Pau is not only very busy, she is extremely stubborn and will certainly conclude her government business before tending to matters of the clan," Spock reluctantly agreed.

"What could be more important than this?" McCoy interrupted.

"I very much agree with you, Doctor," Amanda said. "Personally I don't see how anything could be more important than this."

"Well, they can't put the entire Federation on hold, just for me," Christine said, a bit guilty. "I do appreciate all the trouble everyone has gone to."

"Saving your life is not a trouble, my dear," Spock said. "We will stop at nothing."

"Surely there must be someone else we could appeal to," Kirk suggested.

Amanda sighed. "T'Pau is the most powerful member of the High Council, they will listen to her, and I'm afraid that without her approval no one will interfere in the business of other clans. The problem is that, unless Christine changes her mind and refuses to go through with the challenge, I don't see that there is anything we can do." She took Christine's hand. "Please, please don't go through with this."

Christine sighed. She wished she could back out, but it was impossible. "I will not disgrace your clan ... my future clan," she said and tried to give Spock a brave smile. He marveled at her courage, but his heart yearned to take her far away.

"You are very brave my dear." Amanda looked at her.

"No, I'm not," Christine denied. "Just very much in love." She knew that Spock would be a bit embarrassed by her statement, but she wanted to tell his mother how she felt.

"That is evident," Amanda grinned. "...on both your parts." She looked at her son, her grin widening, but was only met with a raised eyebrow. She loved to tease him. Kirk and McCoy could barely contain laughter.

Still smiling the elder woman continued. "We won't talk of it again, at least for tonight. We have a wedding to plan. We'll soon be welcoming a new bride into this house."

Christine's smiled was a little distant. "Yes, I hope it will be me," she said, knowing very well that if she were killed Spock would be forced to bond with T'Pring.

"She will never set foot in this house..." Amanda declared, her eyes glaring.

"...And I will never bond with her," Spock echoed his mother's words.

Christine fought tears as she felt so much a part of her new family. She was being protected and loved, and they were giving no thought to their well being or social standing. "I don't know what to say," she said.

* * *

Christine awoke feeling surprisingly rested. Her sleep had been deep and free from the restlessness that had plagued her aboard the Enterprise. She thought that perhaps simply being in this place that was warm and welcoming to her had done her a world of good. Coming home to somewhere she had never been was soothing her soul. Lying there in the stillness of the morning, her face on Spock's chest, feeling his warmth beside her, she could almost believe that she would defeat T'Pring, almost. She sighed and brought her arm around his waist. He met it with his fingers tips and began to stroke the soft creamy skin.

"I didn't realize you were awake," she smiled dreamily.

"I have been for sometime," he informed her, brushing his lips against her forehead. "I've been watching you sleep." His voice seemed a bit far away. She sighed a bit, and snuggled closer, and was welcomed.

Almost the entire length of one of the bedroom walls was comprised of full length glass doors which opened into the garden. The thin sheer fabric which held the day's hot rays at bay had been drawn the night before for privacy. They lay there in silence for a moment watching the ruffled shadows play on the ceiling. There were so many things they wanted to say, each afraid to voice their fears lest they somehow become reality in the mere telling. There was no need for words, they both knew each other's thoughts, and hearts. They understood how short their time might be together. It was Christine who summoned the courage to speak of their dread.

"We have to talk about it," she ventured.

"I know." He understood.

She raised herself on her elbow and looked into the eyes. Pausing for a moment as if trying to memorize them, she finally said the words neither wanted to hear. "We have to face the fact that there is a very real possibility that she will kill me." Her voice faltered.

He closed his eyes and pulled her to him, holding her for a time. "I know," was all he could say.

"I have tried to resign myself to it," she said bravely. "But, I don't want to leave you," she voiced as a tear traveled down her cheek.

"We will never be parted," he swore to her.

"How can you say that? If I... If I lose and you are forced to bond with ... her." She could not continue. His hand lay gently along her cheek and she leaned her head into the strength of it, kissing his palm.

"As I said yesterday, I will never bond with her." He stared into Christine's eyes, his look so intense that she was fearful of what he might say. "This I swear to you... If your precious life is taken from you, I will follow you into the afterlife in only a matter of seconds. I cannot live without you. I will not."

Christine caught her breath and his hand. She held it tightly almost afraid to move. Her eyes closed and she begged. "Please don't say that."

"It is true, and it is my plan," he said calmly.

"So I will be the cause of your death also," she said tearfully.

"No. You must not think that," he comforted her. "It is I who has brought this all upon you." She shook her head at his acceptance of blame.

"Why is she doing this to us?" Christine sobbed.

"Because, my love," Spock continued. "She is cold and calculating, and dare I say evil. There is nothing to her but position and power. She knows nothing of softness or gentleness. She is everything you could never be, Christine ... and she knows it. Finding you in my mind all those years ago was only a catalyst to her vindictive nature. Her pride and ego were damaged and she has never forgotten it."

"But, she found someone else, even while she was still bonded to you," Christine said.

"Yes, she is used to getting her own way. She is spoiled and manipulative, and I have put you right into the path of her anger," he said regretfully.

She brought her finger to his lips. She would not let him speak any longer of guilt. "It is a path I would gladly cross for you," she vowed.

Spock pulled Christine even closer and they lay together for a long while watching the sun's image climb higher in the sky through the light fabric at the windows. "Come," he said at last. "We have much to do."

* * *

Christine had showered and dressed quickly in light shorts and a knit top. Outside in the garden she was surprised to see that a small table had been set with breakfast under a large old tree. Different types of breads and fruits were laid beside a pitcher of tea. She and Spock ate their meal together and tried to talk of the future. T'Pel, who had come to see if they needed anything, had informed them that Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy had decided to take in the sights of ShiKahr while the weather permitted and that Amanda had gone to finish a few errands and would be returning directly. When they had finished they watched the morning pass a bit more, and then Spock took Christine by the hand and led her to a soft patch of short grassy-type weeds.

"If it is agreeable, I would like for you to practice in the heavier atmosphere, to get used to the conditions which will prevail during the challenge."

Christine could not argue. His plans for the morning made perfect sense. However, the process did not make her feel any more hopeful. She found that it was harder even to lift her arms and block his approaches in the high gravity. She lost her breath more easily and falling took the wind out of her as she crashed down with a greater force. She was feeling quite discouraged when Amanda appeared at the open door of the house.

"Alright, you've had her long enough." Amanda laughed as she walked down the path. When she reached them, Spock helped Christine up from the place on the ground where she had landed in their last move. Christine was breathless and a bit fatigued.

"Besides," Amanda said. "It doesn't look like she can take much more."

Spock looked at Christine who was still trying to catch her breath. He was ashamed to admit that his mother was correct. He had been so intent on her training that he had not noticed how badly she was tiring. "Forgive me, my love," he said, willing to add the endearment in only his mother's presence. "I have worked you too hard."

"I'm alright," Christine smiled at him.

"It was inexcusable. To wear you out now..." He stopped, not wanting to finish the awful thought.

"It probably did me some good," she said, rubbing her leg upon which a bruise was already starting to show. "I need to be tough."

He watched her with great concern and worry. "I have injured you as well," he said nearly horrified.

"No, my own clumsiness has injured me. You were right about the gravity. It's a lot different. I hope I will be able to use something to counteract it," she smiled, wanting to remain hopeful.

"Are you sure you're alright?" Amanda asked.

"Yes. I'm fine. Thank you," Christine reported.

"Then I'm going to steal you for a bit," Amanda smiled. "I have some things I want to discuss with you about the wedding."

Christine looked at Spock with a huge smile. "How can I refuse?" she asked exaggeratedly.

"It appears you cannot," he answered, knowing that his mother would not accept anything else.

Amanda took him by the arm and motioned him toward the house. "Why don't you try to contact your father and see if there's any news?" she suggested.

"Yes, that is a good idea," he said, and turned to Christine. He wanted to kiss her but did not. "I will be in the study." She smiled and nodded before he turned to go.

When Spock was well on his way toward the house, Amanda turned her attentions back to her future daughter-in-law. "Christine, why don't you freshen up and join me in my room? There is something I want to show you," she smiled.

"What is it?" Christine asked, intrigued.

"A surprise," Amanda smiled back coyly.

* * *

Another shower felt nice after the exertion, and Christine took a little extra time to wash and dry her hair. Having dressed again in something a little less athletic this time, she went to find Amanda. A few feet down the hall from the room Christine and Spock shared was the master bedroom. She stood outside the heavy dark wood door for a second. What ever could the surprise be? she thought to herself as she tapped lightly on one of the door panels.

"Come in," Amanda called from inside.

For its weight, the door moved easily as Christine went inside. She was again struck by another exquisitely decorated room. The light cream of the walls and floor were highlighted by rich dark wood furniture, many antiques from both Vulcan and Earth. As in most of the bedrooms, another wall of windows opened to the garden. Although the curtains were drawn, a warm breeze settled into the room through the open glass. She found Amanda sitting at a small writing desk, with a modern writing padd. She turned with a smile.

"Come in dear. I'm just finishing some of my correspondence," she smiled laying the stylus down.

"I could come back, if you're busy," Christine offered.

"Nonsense," Amanda said. "I'm never too busy for my family."

Christine thoroughly enjoyed the compliment and the inclusion.

"Come over here." Amanda said, standing. She led Christine to a small sitting arranagment by the fireplace which was often used at times when the desert chill made the nights uncomfortable. The two women sat together.

"You make him so happy. He loves you so much," the elder woman said.

"If it's only half as much as I love him, then I would still be the luckiest woman in the universe," Christine smiled.

"It will be so good to have you as part of the family," Amanda told her. "You bring a calmness, and at the same time a liveliness that has not been here in a quite a while."

"I am so honored," Christine told her. "I have never felt more welcomed, or more at home anywhere," she said.

"That's because you are home." The elder woman smiled.

Christine looked thoughtful. "Tell me," she began. "How does Sarek feel about all of this?"

"He feels the same as I do," Amanda assured her. "He is very very pleased that you have come to us and into our son's life."

"I will do my best to live up to both of your expectations of me," Christine promised.

"You already have," Amanda smiled. She noticed how Christine seemed relieved at her words but still troubled. "If I may," she began. "You seem preoccupied, and by more than just this horrible challenge."

Christine looked down at her hands. "Yes... It's ... It's something Spock told me this morning." She had told herself she would not cry, but she could not stop the tears as she spoke. "He said that if I should die from this, then he ... he would kill himself." She choked on the last words. "I know he meant it."

Amanda closed her eyes, trying to push the thought from her mind. "Yes, I am very sure he does mean it, and I understand," she confirmed.

"You can't let him. Please tell me you will stop him," Christine begged. "He has too much to live for, too much still to do."

"The only thing he wants is you. If you are gone he sees nothing left," Amanda told her.

"But to give up his life because of me," Christine questioned. "I'm not worth that."

"He obviously thinks you are," Amanda said.

"You can't let him. Please. He'll listen to you," Christine begged.

Amanda of course wanted nothing more than to beg Spock not to even consider what he was planning if the worst happened. Her grief would be overwhelming. She had already struggled to find someway to stop all of it, now she faced not only losing Christine, but also Spock. It was breaking her heart to watch those she loved being put through something so terrible, and by someone so vile. However she knew that there was absolutely nothing she could do.

"This is all so new to you," she told Christine. "Believe me, I know. There are so many things you don't understand yet." She stopped to motherly dab a tear from the younger woman's face. "You are both bonded, and in such a special way. You are Vha'ren. Your death would be his death." She tried to hide her own fear as she spoke.

"Then there is no question," Christine said, her eyes steeled. "I cannot lose." Her voice trembled even as she said the words. Would her body and her strength fail her love and resolve?

Amanda looked at her with such concern that Christine was certain that she considered her a daughter whether she was fully bonded or wed to Spock yet or not. The elder lady also wanted to change the subject and lift Christine's spirits. "Let me show you something." She took the younger woman by the hand and led her to a large armoire along one wall.

Opening it Christine saw that it was filled with cherished things. There were dresses and other clothes hung on one side, while boxes stretched from the top to the bottom along the other. Christine was sure that someday she would know exactly what was in each and every one, but perhaps their discoveries were for other times. She watched intently as Amanda pulled a small garment bag from storage and helped her close the doors. She followed her future mother-in-law toward the bed where Amanda laid the bag down and smoothed it out. Unzipping the leather case she delicately lifted a long flowing gown from it resting place.

"I wore this when Sarek and I bonded," Amanda said, lost for a moment in the memory.

Christine lightly fingered the soft, shimmering folds of the materials. The gown was almost lavender, but hinted at silver with darker purple and light tangerine under ruffles of the same cascading cut. It had a low scooped neckline, long fitted sleeves, and a veil of matching silk, that was touched with silver threads. The cut was hour glass although there seemed to be no seams at all. It looked like something from a storybook.

"It's so beautiful," she said in awe.

"I'm glad you like it." Amanda smiled warmly. "I know that you already have already chosen your gown for the wedding." The holo that Christine had sent her of the angelic white gown she had chosen for the Christian ceremony had been breathtaking and she knew that Spock would find her a vision. "However," she continued. "It would please me a great deal if you would consider wearing this for the bonding." She could not help but bite her lip in anticipation, hoping she had not assumed too much.

Christine could not speak. She was too overwhelmed. There were tears in her eyes and Amanda was afraid for a moment that she indeed had overstepped her bounds. She tried to continue. "It will need some altering. The hem will have to be let out and the waistline perhaps taken in a bit, but the color would suit you so well."

Christine managed to find her voice, and she hugged Amanda gratefully. "Oh, nothing would make me happier than to wear your gown when Spock and I are bonded."

* * *

Kirk and McCoy arrived back the residence in the early afternoon. They both seemed a little worn from the heat, but none the worse for wear. McCoy carried a small bag as he and the captain entered the house. Spock was just emerging from the study.

"Gentlemen. Did you enjoy the sights?" he asked

"Very much, Spock. Thanks," Jim answered. "ShiKahr is a very beautiful city."

"I have always thought so," Spock agreed. "I see you've pick up a souvenir, Doctor."

"Figured I'd give this Vulcan stuff a try," the doctor exclaimed, holding up a dark bottle that obviously contained alcohol.

"I would be careful if I were you. It can be quite potent," Spock warned.

"That's exactly what I'm hopin' for." McCoy drawled, his eyes sparkling.

Kirk laughed a little and then inquired about his chief nurse. "How's Christine?" The challenge was now only three days away.

"She is as well as can be expected," Spock answered, trying to hide his worry.

"Look, let me speak to Star Fleet," Jim offered. "Maybe they can intervene."

"I'm afraid that has already been attempted. I have just spoken with my father, and he offers little hope," Spock reported. "He has still not been able to see T'Pau, and Star Fleet has told him that since Christine is fulfilling a family obligation, it is a matter of private Vulcan law and they will not interfere."

"Damn bureaucrats," McCoy swore.

"Unfortunately, it seems that no one is willing to help," Amanda said standing in the hallway. Christine was standing beside her having come from the master bedroom.

"Oh, excuse me, ma'am," McCoy said. "I didn't see you there."

"That is quite alright, Dr. McCoy," Amanda said. "Believe me, these walls have heard far worse." Spock looked a bit uncomfortable at his mother's indiscrete comment. "Besides, I fully agree, and I must say I am more than a little upset with T'Pau at keeping Sarek waiting so long when I am sure she realizes his business with her is important or he would never ask for a counsel during the peace talks."

"So, there's no hope at all?" Christine's face fell as she went to stand beside Spock.

"There is always hope," he told her trying desperately to revive her spirits. "I have not given up," he declared.

Christine tried to give him a brave smile, but it broke his heart to see that even now she was feeling defeated, and not just by T'Pring. It seemed the entire planet, indeed even the Federation and Star Fleet themselves were against her. She took a long exhausted breath. "Maybe then it's time that I did tell my parents." She had been dreading it.

"You haven't told them?" Amanda asked.

"I just couldn't," Christine said, unable to meet her eyes. "I couldn't."

Amanda looked understandingly at her and took her chin in her hand. "Go and tell them," she urged. "I know that I would want to know. You can use the vidlink in your bedroom."

Christine nodded her head and looked at Spock. "If you would like, I will accompany you." He offered.

Her face showed a bit of relief and she smiled. "Yes, please. I don't want to face them alone."

"Then if you will all excuse us..." Spock said but did not finish, as he and Christine turned to make the long walk down the hall.

As Spock and Christine disappeared into the bedroom, Amanda looked at Kirk and McCoy. "Gentlemen, would you walk with me in the garden?" she asked.

"Of course," they answered.

* * *

Kirk, McCoy, and Amanda strolled along the path of her garden. The air was pleasantly cool for the middle of the Vulcan day, much cooler than had been downtown ShiKahr. They realized that there was not only a welcome difference between the city and this little oasis, but also a temperature differential as well. They walked for sometime and chatted about the difficulties of growing Terran plants in Vulcan soil, and the usual niceties which are spoken of when people are reluctant to bring up certain pressing subjects. Every so often they could Christine raise her stricken voice through the open windows in the bedroom. "Don't you dare blame him..." and "I have to do this..." were just a few bits of conversation they overheard.

Finally Amanda was direct. "I have to be honest about the reason I asked you out here. I did not want to speak of it in the house where Spock and Christine might overhear," she said. Then she took a deep breath. "She won't survive this. T'Pring will kill her," she said, hating the words as they left her mouth. "Just that fact that she is human, and no physical match for T'Pring will be enough, but when you add T'Pring's hatred, the harsh climate, and the fact that they will probably block Spock's bond with Christine..." She could not continue, as tears started to fall. She quickly wiped them away, years of living on Vulcan had taught her to be very guarded with her emotions. "That poor, dear, precious thing."

"Surely Ambassador Sarek can stop this somehow. When he is able to speak with T'Pau..." Kirk began.

"He held out little hope of reaching her in time. She has already made it clear that the Federation business on which she is working must take precedent."

"Over an innocent woman's life?" McCoy was grew angry, especially at T'Pau. "I thought she was part of your family."

"She is, but she is also a very powerful leader. She is needed there," Amanda said. "I can't stand the thought of Christine being harmed, I love her like a daughter already."

"What can we do?" Kirk asked.

"Pray... and be there for Spock," she asked.

"Of course," they answered.

Just then they were interrupted by the sound of footsteps coming down the path. Spock led Christine to where his mother, the captain, and the doctor were talking. Christine's eyes were red from crying, and Spock looked exceedingly upset. "They don't understand," Christine announced. "I knew they wouldn't."

"You cannot blame them. They are worried about you, Vha'ren," Spock said to her.

"I know, but they didn't have to be so awful to you," she apologized.

"They need someone to blame. I accept full responsibility," he said and turned toward his mother. "They are coming to Vulcan and should be here within the week."

"Good. They should be here. They won't be able to see you before the challenge, but they will be able to help you afterward," she comforted Christine, but gave a pained eye to Kirk and McCoy, who could barely stand the scene.

"Yes," Christine said hollowly, knowing what the others were thinking.

Amanda put her arm around Christine. "I know, you need something to cheer you up and take your mind off of things for a while. Can I suggest dinner? I know a wonderful little Terran restaurant on the other side of the city. They serve great pasta and they have dancing." She looked hopefully at them.

"I'm up for that," McCoy grinned clapping his hands together.

"What do you say Christine?" Kirk smiled.

"Well, I suppose it would be nice. Spock?" she asked.

"How can I refuse?" he said realizing he was outnumbered.

* * *

Jake's was on a side street just off of the main thoroughfare in a busy district of ShiKahr. The building was marked by only a simple red neon sign proclaiming the name of the establishment. The structure in which it was housed seemed to have been a warehouse at one time, and the plain industrial facade gave no hint at the type of business now found within. A pair of heavy dark glass doors formed the entrance and, up a flight of metal steps, the interior became open and the atmosphere jovial. If not for the angular features and pointed ears of many of the patrons and the last fleeting shades of dark red mountains through the wall of windows just in front of the long balcony, Kirk, McCoy, and Christine could have imagined they were in the middle of San Francisco.

A long bar dominated one wall and a large dance floor in the middle was crowded with outworlders. Christine noticed that most of the Vulcans were not dancing; she had hoped for a slow turn with Spock, but she understood that such physical closeness in public was taboo. It did, however, seem to be a fun and happy place and she was glad they had come. Out of uniform, it was easier to feel more relaxed. She was certain that the outing would help her take her mind off what was to come.

They were led to a table near the dance floor by a pretty Vulcan girl who looked to be in her late teens by Earth years. Kirk and McCoy both ordered Milwaukee beers, Christine and Amanda decided on wine, while Spock ordered water. The small party soon fell into easy conversation while looking over the menus. Most of the selections were vegetarian in nature to appeal to more Vulcan tastes; however there were a few meat dishes to choose from and McCoy was happy to see that a large t-bone steak was one of the selections. Captain Kirk was tempted to join him, but ever health conscious, finally ordered grilled chicken. Both Amanda and Spock ordered vegetable pastas and Christine was delighted to see a favorite spicy Mexican dish on the menu vid.

After declining desert, McCoy smiled and announced. "Well, I think these ladies could use a dance. What do you think, Spock?" He grinned, teasing.

Spock looked rather apologetically at Christine. "Vulcans do not dance, Doctor," he said.

Christine smiled. "That's alright. It just nice to sit and talk."

"You've gotta be kidding me," Leonard said while an old Earth disco tune blared in the background . "Waste this atmosphere? Can I borrow your bride for a few spins." He smiled at Spock.

Spock looked at Christine. It was clear she did want to dance, although he also knew she would sit with him if he preferred. "I do not have any objections, if Christine would like..." he agreed, knowing it was not solely up to him.

"Well, come on then, Chris." McCoy was up and helping her out of her chair before Spock finished his sentence. "Let's trip the light fantastic."

Christine laughed and turned to Spock. "I'll be back in a bit." He nodded as she followed her friend to dance floor.

Kirk took the doctor's lead and offered his hand to Amanda as he stood. "May I have this dance?" he joked, acting gallant.

"Why certainly," she laughed. "You don't mind do you?" She turned to her son who was raising an eyebrow.

" Of course not, Mother," he said.

Spock did not mind being left alone at the table. It gave him time to think. He watched Christine from across the room being spun in time with the music by Dr. McCoy and marveled at how beautiful she was. The dim lights of the restaurant seemed to engulf her and give her an almost ethereal quality. She took his breath away. For an instant he wanted to join her, to be the one making her laugh, to hold her close as the music played and the other couples disappeared around them. Even as he wished it, he knew that his sense of public decorum could never allow it. For a moment, he cursed his Vulcan heritage that kept him from enjoying so many things with the woman he loved. He wanted to hold her hand as they walked down the street, he wanted to laugh and joke with her and swing her up into his arms in the middle of crowd, he wanted to dance with her right now, and kiss her long and slow in front of everyone. He knew, though, that he could not. Something in him would always stop him. He was both heartened and ashamed by the fact that he knew she understood why he could not display those things publically, and she loved him anyway.

His mind wandered to the torment he had brought upon her. In only one day she would be facing the most desperate challenge of her life, and it was because of him. He should have stopped her anyway her could from accepting the challenge. He knew though that would have meant leaving her and that was one thing he would never do. It would have destroyed them both. He was in awe of her bravery. He knew just how frightened she was and she hid it masterfully. From all but him, he thought. He had seen her nightmares while she slept, felt dread wash over her from out of nowhere, and he would have gladly borne all of it to keep her from harm or distress. He vowed again that one way or another, they would never be parted. He had never known such pure joy, as he experienced with her. He loved her more than his own life, and would give his away without hesitation to save hers. He watched her with a heart bursting with love, and grief.

As Kirk and Amanda returned to the table, Spock saw Christine turn in his direction, a mischievous smile on her face. Dr. McCoy whispered something in her ear and they parted. She walked toward the balcony, peering behind her seductively at Spock from time to time, as the doctor returned to the table.

"She's waiting for you outside," was all McCoy needed to say. Spock understood, and quickly stood up to make his way outside, where she awaited him. If there was a private area, perhaps they would share their dance after all.

"Thank you, Doctor," Spock said and turned toward the glass doors which led to the overlook.

Spock had not taken two steps away from the table when he stopped nearly frozen. He sensed it before he saw it, the overwhelming sense of terror from Christine. He nearly shouted her name and ran for the door. The others raced to follow him in confusion.

* * *

Christine had been standing in a quiet corner of the balcony waiting for Spock. She leaned against the railing enjoying the cool evening breeze playing through her hair. The air was so clean it almost even tasted sweet. The light of the city and moons' light covering the desert beyond looked like some beautiful painting in a museum, almost untouchable. She could have stared at it for hours. She felt relaxed and something in her almost told her that she would stare upon those hills and valleys for many years to come.

Suddenly she was shaken from her thoughts by a female voice from behind her. "Do you know who I am?"

Christine turned with a start and felt her heart nearly stop. Her first thought was to scream for Spock and she knew he must have sensed it, because she felt his rush of concern. However, she did her best to hide her sudden panic. "Yes. I know you," she said cooly. She had seen the woman's face only once before and only for a few seconds on the ship's viewscreen. It was T'Pring.

T'Pring looked at her with something akin to disgust and condescension. "So he brings you to fight me?" she asked rhetorically.

Christine answered anyway. "No, I come of my own free will to fight you." She hoped that her opponent could not detect the rapidness with which her breath was coming, and she hoped Spock would reach them before she fainted.

"You, fight me?" The Vulcan woman almost laughed at the thought. "How do you think you can fight me, Terran? Compared to me, you're as weak as a baby," T'Pring snorted.

"I don't have to be as strong as you," Christine mocked, desperate for anything to use a verbal weapon. "I fight for love, something you could never understand. The only thing that needs to be strong is my heart and it will not fail me," Christine vowed.

"You humans disgust me with your talk of feelings," T'Pring spat.

"What disgusts you is the fact that you never had his heart, nor his mind. It was always saved only for me, and you can't stand that." Christine tried to laugh haughtily, but she knew she conveyed more fear than she wanted.

It was obvious to T'Pring that Christine had the strength of conviction and she could not win in a battle of words. She decided another threat was in order. T'Pring moved closer to Christine, so much so that she felt her back bending over the railing. "Hear me now," T'Pring swore. "I will kill you." Her eyes glistened with coldness of a murderer.

"You're insane," Christine gasped, suddenly realizing that there was no logic in this challenge, just pure hate and jealousy.

Finally, from somewhere, after what had seemed like forever, Christine heard Spock's voice. "Get away from her," he ordered T'Pring.

T'Pring reluctantly stepped backward, and Spock rushed in between the two women, protecting Christine with himself. "How dare you come near her?" he said to the Vulcan woman.

"Your Earth woman fights well with words," she told Spock. "I doubt she will do so well with her fists." She sneered and backed away even more. It was obvious that Spock was about to lose his usual calm demeanor.

He glared at T'Pring, his mind racing with every insult he had ever heard. "She is my Vha'ren. The only one who has ever known my true mind," he said. That should be enough to mock T'Pring . He wanted to end this challenge right there. He wanted to choke the life out of her with his bare hands. Christine felt his rage and discreetly moved her hand atop his arm. The gentle touch washed him in coolness and he calmed a bit. T'Pring noticed immediately and it only enraged her more.

"You've brought her here and her willingness to abide by our laws does speak to her character. But you know that she will never be leaving this planet ... at least not alive." T'Pring looked them both over one last time and turned to depart. She was surprised and a little shaken when her path was blocked by the stony faces of Kirk, McCoy and Amanda.

Amanda looked at T'Pring scornfully. "Christine is the rightful bond of my son and the true daughter of my house. You would never be welcomed. You would be scorned, ridiculed and cast out by every member of our clan." There were a few Vulcan words that humans could say phonetically, enough that the sounds were recognizable anyway and luckily the one Amanda wanted to use was just one of those words. "T'Pla-no," she muttered.

T'Pring was enraged. However, it was obvious that she would make no further progress. She vowed silently to save that hatred for the battle. Stepping aside, she nearly knocked McCoy and Kirk out of the way, but looked back long enough for a little seductive look of memory at Kirk. He turned his back to her.

"What did you call her?" He asked Amanda.

"Well I usually don't like to use such language," Amanda said demurely. "Suffice it to say that on Earth it would translate loosely to ... female dog." Kirk and McCoy trade admiring looks at her.

Spock was too busy tending to Christine to notice the word that his mother used, or its impropriety. Christine was shaking almost violently and fighting to hold back tears. She did not want to cause a scene in public. Her breath was coming in short terrified bursts and her eyes looked lost. She was holding to Spock like a lifeline and he was clutching her hand as if afraid to let go. He did not care who saw or where they were. She needed him. All the strength she had held to for so long was failing her. The confrontation with T'Pring was more than she could bear. He pulled her close and held her protectively.

"Spock," she choked. "Don't let go."

"Never, my Vha'ren," he promised.

Kirk and McCoy looked on nervously, unsure what to do. It was Amanda who took the lead. "Captain, if you could take care of the check..." she said. "...and, Doctor, if you could bring the car around to the back..." She gave him her imprint keys."...we'll get Christine home." They obeyed without question.

Then she turned her attention to Christine and Spock. "Come, let's take her down the back stairs," she said, grabbing her son's arm, consumed with worry. He led Christine to a narrow metal stairway, little more than a fire escape, that ran along the side of the building. She was too upset to make it down on her own so he cradled her in his arms to where Dr. McCoy waited with the car. Amanda helped them get Christine inside the vehicle, as Kirk came outside to meet them.

"How is she?" he asked.

"Not good," Amanda informed him, as she climbed into the back seat beside Spock, who was still holding Christine. Kirk jumped into the front seat and, via Amanda's directions, McCoy brought the car to rest once more outside the Ambassador's residence.

Spock took Christine directly to their bedroom. There were no words that night, they needed none. Only tears, and terror, and silent rage.

* * *

It was still somewhat dark outside when Christine awoke. For a moment it seemed like any other morning, lying by Spock's side. She almost managed to forget for a split second. However, the reality of the day came crashing back in on her as sleep slowly left her brain. The challenge would take place in less than two hours. She cautiously peered out of the opening between two sheer panels at the window, hoping to find a sky as black as midnight. However the soft orange glow of the Vulcan sunrise was begining to paint the sky. It was far off in the distance, but Christine knew it would reach ShiKahr soon. She had tried to sleep as well as she could the night before. Spock had done his best to sooth and calm her, but the fear and worry in her mind found its way to the surface several times and she sprang awake in tears. If he had not been beside her to hold her and kiss her and promise that everything would be alright even thougth she was certain he was afraid too, she surely would have gone mad. The confrontation with T'Pring at the restaurant the previous day still weighed heavy in her mind. The woman's wild eyes, her venomous tone. She had never seen such hatred, or such malevolency. It had chilled her to the core.

There had been no word from Sarek since Spock had spoken to him last. Spirits fell as it was realized that he most likely had no success in securing T'Pau's assistance. It did seem strange to everyone that he had made no attempt to contact them even to inform them that she had declined. Amanda felt a bit worried, however it was not uncommon for his messages to be few and far between while he was away on business. This did seem to her, though, a situation which would call for special consideration and she could not understand why he would neglect to inform them of any news, good or bad. Everyone's nerves were beginning to fray. No one was more on edge than Christine and Spock. They had spent most of the day alone together in their bedroom, while Kirk, McCoy and Amanda nervously paced about the house in conspicuous silence. Within their private sanctuary Spock and Christine had discussed what the next day could bring. They both tried to be brave for the other, but each could feel their shared fear.

Now Christine fought against the sob in her throat as she buried her head closer into Spock's shoulder. He moved to wrap her in his arms, and she began to cry. He held her tighter and ran his hand through her hair, resting his jaw on her forehead. "This could be the last time I wake up in your arms," she whispered, barely able to find her voice.

"That I will not believe," he answered. She could not mistake the shudder in his voice. After a long moment he rose a bit and reached for the bedside table. Opening the drawer he pulled from it a small shiny object. Settling back beside Christine he held it in his palm for her to see. She smiled in spite of herself. It was their tiny IDIC with the strange purplish stone reset to its proper place.

"You fixed it," Christine smiled.

"Yes, it is one now. Just as it always should have been. As we are," he said. She took it from his hand and examined it. At that moment it was the most beautiful thing in the world to her. Spock continued as she admired it, "They will undoubtedly block our bond today," he said, pained. "I want you to keep this with you," he told her. "Do not wear it on a chain. That could be torn away. Pin it inside your garment, close to your heart. This symbol of our bond will be with you, even if I cannot," he said. "Know that every ounce of my energy will be spent trying to reestablish our contact," he assured her.

She looked into his eyes. "I am certain of that, my love," she said, a knowing smile passing over her face. "This will keep you with me, and me with you. However, I am certain of something else," she said touching his face. "Our bond is deeper than anything could signify, and stronger than anyone can stop, or kill. I have known that all my life, my Vha'ren."

He took her face so gently in his hands that she barely felt herself being moved toward him. His lips touched hers with such passion and intensity that she could think of nothing else. For one glorious moment everything disappeared, the room, the day, the challenge, everything. He broke away from her only long enough to whisper. "I love you, my Vha'ren, more than love."

* * *

They arose and dressed slowly. Christine marveled at how regal Spock looked in his ceremonial tunic of dark burgundy hue with golden Vulcan symbols stitched down the front. He wore it to honor her. She was attired in the ritual female dress for such an occasion. The fabric was light and fit her form. The shimmering silver top was something akin to a swimsuit, while the long black pants fit loosely around her legs. Her arms to the shoulder, her middle, and her feet were left bare. She assumed this was to allow greater flexibility. Down the front of the leotard top, Amanda had embroidered the ancient symbol of their clan in gold threads. This was done to show all in attendance which of two opponents was accepted and welcomed by Spock's family. Amanda thought it would be a wonderful insult.

They were not surprised to find Amanda up and ready. Spock remembered how she could not sleep when something was worrying her. She had tried to occupy herself with preparing a huge breakfast, although she knew no one would have an appetite, and she was correct. Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy tried to eat something for the sake of their hostess, however she understood completely when their plates were left half full. Amanda tried to coax Christine to keep her strength up, however the younger woman's stomach was so nervous she could barely look at the food, and Spock also politely declined. As the sun began to appear on the horizon, without a word everyone knew it was time to go.

* * *

It took about a half an hour, Earth time, to reach the ceremonial ground of T'Pring's clan. It was located in a small valley a few kilometers from the other end of the city. The land was of a respectable size and outfitting, but nothing compared to those of the more affluent and powerful citizens such as Spock's clan. Christine was instantly struck by the number of people who had come to watch. There seemed to be over a hundred. They were not all from T'Pring's clan. Nearly every living member of Spock's clan who was able had come to lend their support to Christine and to him. They were both honored by the presence of so many, although Christine felt a little overwhelmed. A defeat would mean disgrace. She and Spock sat in the backseat of Amanda's car, their hands entwined together. This was the last moment they would be able to spend together and the last private time they would enjoy before their bond would be blocked, and he would be taken from her. They shared a long last kiss behind the secrecy of the tinted windows and he reminded her of the IDIC she had pinned next to her heart. It gave her a little strength knowing it was there.

Together, fingers touching, they emerged from the ground car. A hush fell over everyone. Several memebers of his family had never met Christine. They were struck at how beautiful she was and how brave. Stifled whispers ran through T'Pring's people like static. Christine could imagine what they were saying. 'That Earth thing?' , 'She won't last two seconds!' , 'Does she think she has a chance?' tormented her mind. Spock tried to sooth her thoughts, but found that he was equally unnerved.

They were led toward a low rock alter which stood at one side of a sandy circle where a very thin, very frail, very old Vulcan woman was seated on a stone chair. This was T'Lon the leader of the clan. She wore a ceremonial robe which was not even as grand as Spock's. It looked as though it had seen many wearings. Beside her stood two strong looking male attendants, and several thin, but muscular women. Directly next to her T'Pring glared, proud or herself, as if she already won. She could not help but notice the emblem stitched on Christine's garment and it seemed only to enrage her more.

Spock stood beside Christine, tall and strong, and unmoving. He would not budge from her side, they would have to remove him physically. Amanda stood next to him, equally determined. Christine did her best to put up at least a brave front. Kirk and McCoy stood stoically behind them, the place for honored guests.

Seemingly from nowhere, bells began to chime, and chants rang through the air. T'Lon stood shakily and moved toward the edge of the alter. She peered down at Spock and Christine. Then she spoke, her voice had once been powerful and she was used to commanding respect. "Spock, son of Sarek," she addressed him. "Christine daughter of Thomas," Christine's stomach knotted for a moment. How did T'Lon know her father's name? She looked at Spock, who gave no appearance of surprise, this was apparently common knowledge somehow.

T'Lon continued. "The Tur-ok-kali-nor has been declared by T'Pring, daughter of this house. Does thou know what that entails?" she asked.

"We do, T'Lon," Spock answered respectfully. He decided it was better to see her intentions first and not gain Christine any undue enemies at this moment. "I humbly ask for Christine's sake that you recend the challenge, as is in your power," he requested.

She looked down at them over her nose. "Does Christine not wish to fight? She has agreed to the challenge," T'Lon asked.

"It is I who asks for her," Spock informed T'Lon. "She is not acquainted with our ways. It is not logical to expect her to endure the Tur-ok-kali-nor."

"If she does not know of our ways, then why have you chosen her?" T'Lon asked. Spock was fast losing hope that T'Lon would change her mind and he decided to call on history.

"I have chosen Christine, because she is the one I want as my true bonded soulmate. We have chosen each other, and we have been chosen for each other. She is my Vha'ren," he stated as cooly as he could muster, not wishing to sound overly passionate in the present company. A murmer went through the crowd at his calling upon the ancient bond.

T'Lon stared at Christine, and she saw no softness or ease from the old woman. "What are thou reasons for choosing Spock, Christine?" T'Lon asked.

Christine swallowed hard, she wanted to feel Spock's hand around hers, but knew he could not touch her here. "I chose him because he is my true bonded soulmate. My Vha'ren," Christine said and looked over at him with warmth and love. He answered her soft eyes. It was a look reserved only for her. The murmur of the strangers grew even louder at the outworlder calling upon their traditions.

"T'Pring was bonded to you Spock, and still you wanted another?" T'Lon confirmed.

"Yes. That is true," Spock said. "Christine was bonded to me first, through the Vha'ren."

T'Lon looked quizzingly at the daughter of her house. Apparently some information had been left out. "Did thou know this?" T'Lon answered.

T'Pring looked uncomfortable and angered. "He poisoned the first bonding with that ... that ... Terran. He insulted our entire clan with her in his mind. Then he deceived me and hid her from our bond," she seethed.

"Is this true?" T'Lon turned back to Spock.

"I hid Christine to protect her from T'Pring's threat to kill her," he said.

"Which I had every right to make," T'Pring shot back and glared at Christine.

T'Lon silenced her with a raised hand. "Christine. Did you know of this?" she asked.

Christine was unsure of what to do or what to say. She only knew that she could not deny in anyway her bond with Spock. "For years I only sensed something from time to time in the back of my mind. I had headaches, as did Spock. He tells me these were signs of our unfulfilled bond. I did not know consciously that I was bonded to Spock until a few months ago. However, I had fallen in love with him of my own free will long before that. I had always known that something, or someone was waiting for me somewhere." She hoped she had said the right thing.

"You say you did not know that it was Spock you were bonded to," T'Lon began. "Then if you were not conscious of it, by Vulcan law his bond with T'Pring is the recognized union."

Christine winced at the thought. She should have told her that she had known. She looked over at Spock with a look of apology in her eyes, but what she found there was admiration and love. He was proud of her for telling the truth.

"T'Pring does have the right to challenge you," T'Lon declared. "You have the right to accept or decline. Do you know what each will require, and the result of each?" she asked.

Christine stood tall and answered, "I do."

"Than which do you choose?" T'Lon summoned.

Christine looked at Spock, at Amanda, and then at the members of their clan assembled there. This was her future family, and she could not fail them. She took a deep breath and announced. "I accept."

At that T'Lon said something in Vulcan that Christine did not understand and snapped her fingers. Instantly one of the male and one of the female attendants descended the few shallow stone steps. The woman grabbed Christine by the arms, she tried to struggle as the man subdued Spock. Together they were taken to the top of the small alter and sat before T'Lon. "I will have your thoughts," she said, forcibly placing her fingers on both of their faces.

Christine felt her mind being entered, intruded upon. She tried to stop T'Lon but was wrenched away from her own thoughts. Everything personal and beautiful that she and Spock shared was being sifted through by this stranger. She felt Spock fighting her but it did no good, they were open books to the elder Vulcan priestess.

Without removing her fingers T'Lon announced. "There is a bond. It would be an advantage during the challenge. It will be blocked," she said coldly.

What they feared was happening. They were being parted from each other. T'Lon pulled them from each other's mind like she was simply pulling petals from a flower. They were staring into each other's eyes, aware of the other's last few lingering thoughts.

'No, Spock!' Christine screamed in her mind. She felt like she was dying.

Spock fought to keep a hold on her. 'Christine!' His mind searched.

As they fought their last desperate failing attempts he quickly formed the thoughts that would have to keep her strong. 'Remember, only blocked, not broken. Always with you. Together. Always. My Vha'ren.'

'My Vha'ren,' she answered back as he seemed to disappear from her mind. Her breath came in hot bursts and her stomach lurched at the emptiness which consumed her. She knew Spock was there, but she could not feel him. Half of her soul had been ripped away and all she wanted to do was fall to the ground and beg for its return. She had to stay strong, for him. Her eyes watched him from a distance. He looked equally lost, and equally in pain.

As Christine and Spock struggled for find a center for themselves McCoy walked up to the edge of the steps and spoke up. "Speaking of advantages. Doesn't the fact that T'Pring is a native give her an advantage in this climate?"

T'Lon looked down at him as if you were a bug. "Who speaks to me?"

"I am McCoy," The doctor shouted indignantly.

"What is it you think I have overlooked?" T'Lon nearly smirked.

"Christine is a human and not used to the higher gravity of your planet. Please allow me to use this drug, simply to counter the affects of the denser atmosphere. To give her a fighting chance," he pleaded.

T'Lon looked out over the crowd. For a moment McCoy thought she was considering the proposition. Then she dashed his hoped. "They will fight as they stand here. There will be no bonds, nor drugs."

"Please," he begged, but was only dragged back to where Kirk and Amanda stood helplessly to the side. Amanda echoed his cry but was ignored. It was obvious that T'Lon also had some vested interest in the outcome of the challenge.

"She wants social position for her clan. That's why she's stacking the deck against Christine," Amanda informed them, suddenly realizing what was happening. "It all about power," she muttered in disgust. Then she raised her eyes to the sky and let her thougts travel silently. 'Sarek,' she nearly yelled in her mind. 'Where are you?' she asked, angry he was not there.

T'Lon turned her scrutiny back to Spock who beginning to struggle to reach Christine. "Secure him," she ordered.

"No!" Amanda shouted.

The other Vulcan male left his post beside T'Lon, thick ropes in his hands. Together he and the other man led Spock toward two heavy poles in the ground. As he wrestled they managed to tie his upper arms to the poles, thus preventing him from interfering. Cries of outrage went up from the members of his clan, but were ignored.

"Spock!" Christine yelled out in agony. She did not care what happened to her, but to see him this way was more than she could bare. She fought back the hot rush of tears that stung her eyes. She wanted so desperately to be brave, but she felt so small and helpless.

It was then that T'Lon raised her hand. "Let it begin." Her female captor led Christine to the center of the dirt ring and left her to the eyes of the spectators. Her heart was racing with fear. She had never felt so alone. Then she remembered the tiny pendant pinned near her heart, and Spock's word to her, that he was still with her. It helped to calm her terror, but only a bit as she watched her opponent make her way to the battle area. T'Pring made a great show of preparing herself as she removed the cape she wore to reveal an outfit somewhat similar to Christine's but far less embellished. She made ceremonial gestures with her hands and bowed before T'Lon who spoke to her in Vulcan. Then T'Pring walked exaggeratedly down the steps and strode proudly into the ring, sure of victory.

The bells and chanting grew louder, until they pained Christine's ears. The sound ricocheted around the inside of her head like bullets. She could feel her nervous pulse pounding in her neck and desperately tried to ignore the stares that were being heaped upon her by the spectators. She felt like some caged animal in a zoo. Certain that Spock could read the fear on her face, she looked over at him being held from her. He looked more distressed than she had ever seen him, but he was still fighting to break free, his eyes never leaving her. T'Pring stood infront of her, haughty and superior. In her mind Christine was trying to remember the moves and positions that she and Spock had practiced, but she was afraid she would forget every one in the heat of the moment. Kirk, and McCoy looked on from the side, and Amanda was beginning to seeth with anger at what Spock and Christine were being forced to endure.

The two women stood facing each other, one Human the other Vulcan, each with their own reason for being there. T'Pring had challenged for society and power, Christine had accepted for love. Suddenly it grew quiet and still. The crowd seemed almost not to breathe waiting to see who would start the battle. Christine stood like stone. 'She wanted this thing, she'll have to throw the first punch,' she thought to herself. She would let T'Pring start it, however she prayed she would be able to finish it.

There was no warning change in her stance as T'Pring brought her fist up through the air, in almost a lightening flash moment, and sent it sailing for Christine's face. Christine surprised even herself as she quickly ducked out of the way. The miss threw T'Pring off balance and she staggared for a moment. Christine saw her chance and threw her weight against her opponent. T'Pring tripped and fell backwards. Christine was ready to dive on her again the instant she hit the ground, but the opportunity did not present itself. The Vulcan woman quickly regained her balance and recoiled. It took only a second for T'Pring to find her barings and send another punch in Christine's direction.

The clenched fingers slammed against Christine's jaw and sent her to the ground. She had never been hit before in her life and it felt as though her skull had been seperated from her neck. Although he could no longer feel it, Spock physically flinched at the thought of her pain. Christine wanted to grab her cheek to make sure nothing was broken, but she had no time. Glancing up she saw a dark form advancing toward her. Rolling out of the way, she just missed being kicked in the ribs. Christine managed to get to her feet, but was beginning to lose her breath. The Vulcan atmosphere was punishing her harder and ealier than she had expected. She tried to ignore her lung's pleas for oxygen, and faced T'Pring once more.

Her opponent showed no signs of tiring and seemed barely winded. She advanced on Christine again. This time the the human made the first move. When T'Pring was within a few feet of her, Christine pulled her arms back and balled her fist. Within a few inches, she snapped out her arm and closed her eyes. Contact was made just below T'Pring right eye at the side of her nose. Green liquid spurted from her nostril, as she staggered backward a bit. Christine had drawn firstblood that day after all.

"At a girl, Chris!" McCoy cheered. "Show her what you're made of."

It was not long before T'Pring got the upper hand once more. Composing herself quickly, and shoving down the embarrasment of being bloodied by a human female, she grabbed for Christine's throat, her fingers choking off the air. Christine pried at her hands to break free, wrenching and twisting to gain clearance. It did no good. T'Pring threw her hard against a nearby rock. Christine hit with a sickening thud and nearly crumpled. Dazed and having had the wind knocked out of her, she struggled to stand. Her lower left arm was numb and hurt when she moved it. McCoy could tell by the way Christine held her arm to her side, that it was broken.

Spock could also tell that Christine was in pain. He continued to struggle to break free of the ropes. They began to cut into his muscles, but his own pain he did not feel. His efforts now were being spent in trying to reestablish their bond. She needed him. It was as if she was imprisoned behind a great iron door in his mind, and he could not reach her. Mentally he clawed and kicked at the door, screaming her name. Having to stand by helplessly and watch her being brutally cut down was more than he could stand. Although their bond was blocked, he felt each and every blow along with her.

In her mind Christine screamed Spock's name. She felt lost and alone. She had not realized how accustomed she was to having him in her mind. They were not even fully bonded, yet suddenly she knew from where the feeling of belonging and comfort she had known her entire life had come. She kept telling herself to remember the IDIC and their bond, but it felt like he was slipping further and further from her.

Christine barely had time to get her feet beneath her when T'Pring sprang on her again. Another fist crashed against her mouth, drawing deep red blood from the corner of her lip. Somehow Christine reflexively managed to turn from the spin in which she had found herself reeling, and kick her tormentor in the stomach. T'Pring doubled over choking. It had been a good blow. However, once again Christine realized she was tiring. She felt as though she might faint. 'No, stay alert,' she told herself. T'Pring would certainly wring the life out of her if she lost consciousness. She tried to take deep breaths but they only made her more light headed.

As the match continued, Kirk watched two younger women bring out two long sticks and lay them on the ground at opposite ends of the circle. His heart sank when he saw the long sharp blades at each end of both weapons. Christine would not be able to hold one properly, much less make use of it with a broken arm. His stomach began to turn, this was not a fight, it was a massacre.

T'Pring walked confidently over to one of the sticks and picked it up. So confident of victory she was that she stood twirling it in rhythmic patterns around her, as she waited to Christine to retrieve her spear. Christine on the other hand, could barely stand. She tripped on the way over to procure the blade stick and barely got back to her feet. T'Pring smirked and was certain this would not take long.

The spear was heavy, not at all like the ones Christine had practiced with onboard the Enterprise. She realized that it was not the difference in the weapon, but her fatigue which weighed it down so in her hand. She stood ready to absorb another blow. T'Pring approached, blood in her eyes. Without warning she flicked the stick upward and caught Christine under the chin. She sailed backward as T'Pring followed. Another blow to her side sent her to the ground. Her breath came in short bursts and pain shot through her side and back. Christine knew her ribs were broken. Still she could not give up, she kept fighting. The sight of Spock tied to the posts, still struggling to reach her spurred her on. She would not let him down.

Every move was agony. With every step another explosion of pain would rack her bones. Her limbs felt heavy and unmovable. Her vision seemed blurred and darkness swirled around her. She had to stay conscious. Blindly she stabbed the spear in T'Pring's direction. Unbelievably the weapon stuck deep in the other woman's thigh. T'Pring howled in pain, as the deep emerald blood shot from the wound. Her reflexive motion knocked the weapon from Christine's hand. Christine knew from the amount and flow that she had not gotten an artery, but she had done some pretty good damage to a vein. However, with T'Pring's stamina even that loss of that blood would not be effective to weaken her enough so Christine could gain an advantage.

Furious T'Pring threw down her spear and jumped on Christine who was now far beyond strong enough to fight her off. The two women fell to the ground, T'Pring kneeling over Christine, fists flying. Christine managed to block a few, but several crashed down on her face and already fragile ribs. It felt as though everything inside of her chest was on fire. The thrashing of her body fighting against T'Pring ripped at her muscles and took her air. She could not think, all she could do was fight, throw punches and kick, scratch and tear. This fight was for her life.

Outside the circle tears streamed down Amanda's face as she watched Christine's valiant battle, and Spock fight to reach her. She turned toward the alter where T'Lon seemed to be enjoying the bloodshed. "Stop this, T'Lon. Please. This is murder," she screamed, but was ignored.

Christine wanted to give up, but swore she never would. T'Pring would have to kill her. From somewhere she remembered something Spock had taught her. Slowly she brought her knee up between herself and her rival. It hurt her chest, but she doubled her leg tightly on top of her and kick out with all her might, throwing T'Pring off of her in the process. She sat and tried to catch her breath. It seemed like everything was moving in slow motion. She looked over once more at Spock. He was shouting her name, but she could not hear him. In the distance Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy were straining to hold themselves from coming to her rescue, and Amanda was near hysteria.

Again she tried to raise herself. However, before she could make it to her knees something hard and heavy crashed against her temple. She sprawled on the ground, her head reeling. Her terrified thoughts came fast and furious as she tried to understand what was happening. Again, something hit her, hard. Warmth flowed down the side of her face. She realized with panic that she could not see. Darkness was closing in all around her.

"Spock!" she screamed. She was alone and so frightened.

Spock had pulled so hard on the ropes that bound him that they had dug deep green furrows into his arms. How could this be happening? Here was Christine, his beloved Vha'ren was being killed before his very eyes, and there was nothing he could do. His rage was overwhelming. The only emotion that he had ever known that was stronger was his love for Christine. If she were taken from him, all that would be left was dark anger and deep despair. His soul cried for her, his mind reached for her, and his heart longed to save her. She was doing this all for him, and he knew she would do it again if she had to. His guilt tore at him. To see her beautiful face being marred by T'Pring's monstrous fists. To watch her double over in pain. To know that she felt just as alone as he did. He should have taken her and run far from this barbaric place. He should have told them that he did not believe in their ways if this was what they believed. The only thing he knew at that moment was Christine and that he was losing her. He was watching her life being taken from him. It was the first time in his life that he despised Vulcan.

In the same instant the thought passed through his mind, Spock's eyes were blinded by a radiance directly in front of the altar. He had seen the glistening shimmer thousands of times, but it did not register in his memory, his every sense focused on Christine. Amanda's head turned reflexively toward the light, as did Kirk's and McCoy's. Suddenly the translucent haze revealed two figures. Sarek, and T'Pau stood before the stone steps.

Amanda's eyes brightened. "Sarek!" she exclaimed, suddenly heartened.

T'Pau glared at T'Lon. "What is this? Stop this at one!" she demanded. She was much more powerful than the high priestess of T'Pring's clan, but she was too late to stop T'Pring's kinetic energy.

She did not see it coming. Her eyes were shadowed by blood. The long metal spear tore through Christine's middle and protruded through her back. For an instant her entire world was pain. Then she felt nothing. She stared down at the wooden shaft plunged through her, and then her confused eyes went directly for Spock's. She needed his strength. Her mind lost its hold on any thoughts, anything real except for Spock.

"No!" Amanda cried. Kirk and McCoy stood horrified. They could scarcely believe this was happening.

Christine's scream caught in her throat and refused to leave her mouth. Then she felt the spear being pulled through again, reteived by its owner, for another use. She gasped but oxygen would not fill her lungs. She coughed and only tasted blood. Then as if some form of mercy, a sharp blow from the wooden lance sent her to the dirt. Her mind made one last desperate cry for Spock, and then she was silent.

"Christine!" Spock's anguished cry echoed through the canyon.

The canyon was deathly silent. No breeze whistled through the stones, not even the scurrying of animals could be heard. The sun had climbed higher into the midmorning sky and was beginning to heat the land with a vengeance, however, few noticed. It was as if time were standing still. Not even whispers from those gathered around distracted onlookers. The motionless crowd stared at the spectacle in front of them.

Christine lay crumpled on the ground, dark red blood pouring from her wounds. Spock struggled like a mad man to free himself. He had to get to her. He knew he could do nothing, but he needed her to feel his arms around her. That was, if she was still alive. He could not tell with their bond blocked. All he saw was her still and broken form. He strained at the ropes which held him, willing them to break. He was not aware of the movement that had finally begun near the dirt circle.

Kirk and Sarek reached Spock after what seemed like an eternity. Each taking an arm, they managed to free him from the make-shift prison. He barely noticed them. His legs would not carry him fast enough to where Christine had fallen. Amanda and McCoy were already kneeling over her when Spock slid to his knees next to Christine, Sarek and Kirk following close behind. McCoy was working furiously with his small diagnostic tricorder. He had brought it today fearing it would be needed. The lights and dials were spinning out of control and his face was a study in concentration. There was no way he was going to let Christine die, if he had any say in the matter.

Spock gently picked Christine up by the shoulders and pulled her to him. At his touch their Vha'ren bond was instantly reestablished. She was still alive, but barely. Her mind was grasping for anything to hold on to, and even over her injuries, he could feel her joy at sensing him again. She was still in danger. Her thoughts would not form. All she could do was whisper his name in her mind and try to grab hold of the essence of his being which pouring into her.

His entire existence was focused on bringing her back at that moment. He could feel her slipping from him. She was fighting it. He was fighting it, but neither had a choice. Her blood now mingled with his. Her face was so somber and still. Her breath was shallow and quick and, even in the heat of the Vulcan day, she felt cold to the touch.

His heart wrenched, and his soul cried out in anger and agony.

Near the stone alter T'Pau turned on T'Lon with the closest thing to rage a Vulcan would show. "You dare to allow this challenge to a member of my clan?" she questioned. Her tone seemed to make the other woman shrink.

T'Pring, angered by the intrusion and empowered by blood lust, confronted the priestess. "She is not a member of your clan," she corrected.

"She is Spock's Vha'ren. That is as good as any bonding and makes her a rightful member," T'Pau declared, sealing Christine's place within the family.

T'Pring sprang to the altar in anger. "I was his bond. I have the legal right."

T'Pau looked at her with contempt. "He was bonded to Christine first. I saw her in his mind before you and he first joined. I allowed your joining thinking it would be better for him. Hoping he would forget her and be true to his Vulcan heritage. I see how wrong I was." She looked over with compassion at the human woman who had been so willing to give her life for Spock and indeed the entire clan. "I blame myself for this," she relented.

Then T'Pau's eyes became stern. "I also blame both of you. You invoked this bloody ritual, one that has not been spoken for many centuries, to secure your social position and power. You shame your entire and clan and your race. This challenge you wanted was ancient. I can guarantee that your punishment for invoking it will be ancient as well." T'Pau snapped her fingers and two large men from her own clan came forth to subdue both T'Lon and T'Pring. "The High Council will deal with you," T'Pau promised and then turned her attentions to the efforts to save Christine's life.

"Spock!" McCoy yelled. "Spock!" He tried again, but there was no response from his Vulcan friend lost in Christine's mind. Knowing he needed desperate measures, McCoy grabbed the Vulcan by the shoulders and shook him. "Spock!"

Spock looked up at him, his eyes distant and empty. McCoy tried to speak some reason. "She's dying. We've got to get her to a medical center. Now!" he pleaded.

"Yes. Yes," was all Spock could say.

Sarek spoke up. Removing a small commercial communicator from the pocket of his tunic he clicked it on and began to summon parties on the other end. "Vulcan Science Academy, medical ward," he called. "This is Ambassador Sarek. Prepare to beam seven from these coordinates. We will need..." He was unsure what to call for; he was a diplomat not a doctor. He looked at McCoy who finished his sentence with a shout.

"An emergency trauma team standing by," McCoy yelled.

The voice on the other end of the frequency heard and complied. "Yes, sir. Preparing to transport," the young male said.

Within seconds Sarek, Amanda, Kirk, McCoy, T'Pau, and Spock still holding Christine began to flicker and fade. They disappeared from the sight of the bloody battleground to where another battle awaited Christine, that for survival.

* * *

The Vulcan Science Academy was more of a compound of interconnected buildings and resembled many college campuses of old Earth. Christine, Spock, and the others were beamed directly into the oldest building on the site, the medical sciences hall. It was undoubtedly the best hospital in the Vulcan system and employed specialists well trained in the anatomies and physiologies of many species. Sarek's orders had been heeded as there was a team of nearly fifteen physicians, nurses, and technicians waiting in the transporter room when they materialized. Kirk and McCoy realized that he was indeed a very powerful man and anything pertaining to his family was followed very closely.

Spock carried Christine's seemingly lifeless body to the awaiting gurney and laid her delicately across the clean white covering.It was soon soaked in bright red. McCoy followed, barking orders and vital statistics. It was clear that he was used to his role as Chief Medical Officer and wanted to be personally involved in this particular case. For all his fervor, however, he realized that the Science Academy's head surgeon and top specialist in human medicine were part of the team. With reluctance he allowed them to take the lead, although he had every intention of assisting. He knew Christine's medical records after all and that would be of great help. Beside he was her friend. Spock was glad McCoy was there.

A frenzy of activity ensued as Christine was quickly prepared and evaluated. There was no time for her to be taken to the emergency ward. Initial examinations and treatment would have to be done there. Injections and drugs were already being poured into her body and monitors were being set up around her. People were shouting medical terms and orders that Kirk, Amanda, and Sarek did not understand. They stood back helplessly.

T'Pau joined them lost in her own thoughts. Amanda could not hold back her tears. It was obvious that the situation was grim and worsening by the second. Spock stood unmoving by Christine's side. He cared nothing for appearances, he cared nothing for the fact that most of the personal attending Christine were Vulcan, and that he was in public. His despair was evident. He refused to let go of her hand and desperately continued to try to pull her back from the edge of the dark abyss on which she balanced. Through their bond he called for her. He could only hear a shadow of an answer, an echo of her frightened voice. She was trying to reach him but could not.

Suddenly everything was motion. Christine was rushed to the operating room, while Kirk, Sarek, and Amanda were shown to a waiting room where they would begin the agonizing vigil. T'Pau also remained with them, regal and unmoving. She would see the results for herself. It was imperative to her that the medical staff use every available means of saving Christine's life and she felt that her presence would send that message unmistakably. She still blamed herself for not stopping this long ago.

McCoy was allowed to scrub up and assist. He hurried to ready himself. Spock still refused to leave Christine. The Vulcans on the team knew that his connection to her could be of help during the surgery, at least in their keeping her stabilized, and allowed him to sit by her side during the operation. He would be able to touch her face and feel her mind. It would help them both. Someone had retrieved the small IDIC pendant that Christine had pinned inside of her clothing. Spock pressed it into her hand, his hand clenched over hers.

* * *

The surgeons took over six hours to mend Christine's wounds, stop the bleeding, and stabilize her. When he had seen her safely to the intensive care unit along with Spock, McCoy walked exhausted into the waiting room, where the others could see from his drained expression that the surgery had not gone smoothly. Kirk looked at his friend, who was a bit reluctant to announce the news.

"Well?" Jim asked. "How is she?"

"Is she going to be alright?" Amanda interrupted.

McCoy had no news to calm their fears or ease their worries. He sighed deeply and began to report the events that had taken place in the operating room. "Well, she's a fighter. I'll give ya that," he said sadly shaking his head. "I can't remember the last time I've seen so much damage. That damned spear nearly tore her liver in half and it got her lung too. We were able to repair the liver, but it was touch and go." McCoy eyes looked far away for a moment remembering some of the touchy aspects of the surgery. Then he continued to list Christine's injuries.

"Four ribs were broken, one compound. It had punctured the same lung and collapsed it," he said gravely. "We got it fixed and reinflated, but she lost a lot of blood." His face turned angry.

"But, now she's going to be okay? Right?" Kirk asked, thinking of Spock as well.

McCoy wanted to pound his fist against the wall for what had happened to Christine. What kind of place was this? Vulcan claimed to be a peaceful planet, yet they still held to old traditions that would do this to her. He steeled his jaw. "Jim, we almost lost her twice on the table. It's more than just repairing the organs. The loss of blood and the blunt trauma have sent her body into deep shock. Her systems are reacting to it. She is far from out of the woods. There were also some massive head injuries that bi.... that T'Pring inflicted upon her." McCoy had to stop himself from saying anymore he would end up insulting everyone in the room.

"Do you mean brain damage?" Amanda asked urgently.

"It's too early to tell," McCoy said, fearing the same outcome.

"How is Spock?" she asked concerned.

"He's not good. He didn't say a word through the whole thing and wouldn't leave Christine's side."

"If he were attempting to help her and reach her mind, he would not speak. He would spend all his energies on her," Sarek informed them. He too was showing concern for both Spock and Christine.

"But surely your scanners can tell you something more," Kirk said, trying to find some hope.

"They can tell us her vital signs, which are weak and slow right now, but they can't tell us how her injuries will affect her when ... if she regains consciousness," McCoy said clinically.

"Then there is still the possibility that she may die?" Sarek asked.

T'Pau had stood listening to the news, silent and stoic. She evaluated every means of recourse. She interrupted the conversation with a manner obviously used to being heard. "If she dies, I will see to it personally that both T'Pring and T'Lon are charged with her murder. I assure you that crime is not treated lightly on Vulcan."

McCoy looked at the floor. "I'm afraid that may be a very distinct possibility," he said. Then he relayed the final piece of news, one that he had been avoiding. "During the surgery ... Christine slipped into a coma."

* * *

The endless days of waiting passed into a week with still no sign of improvement in Christine's condition. She lay ghostly pale and motionless in the intensive care unit of the Vulcan Science Academy's medical building. A tense watch had been undertaken around her bedside by Amanda, Sarek, McCoy, and Kirk. They waited nervously for any change. Spock looked as bad as Christine. He had been attempting to mind meld with her nearly nonstop. He searched her mind with his, grasping to anything of her he could find. He pressed her face so unintentionally hard that McCoy was afraid he would draw blood. However, just when it appeared his strength would bruise Christine's delicate skin, he would reposition his hands trying to find a new path to her.

He could hear her screams as if they were whispers, calling his name from somewhere deep in an overgrown forest. She could not reach him and she was terrified. He could not reach her. She was slipping away from him and there was nothing he could do.

Deep furrows of concentration cut into Spock's forehead and dark circles cratered his eyes. He had refused food and sleep since Christine was taken from surgery, intent only upon helping her back to consciousness. It was obvious that he was exhausted. It was also obvious that he would not stop. He sat on the edge of her bed, his upper body nearly sprawled over her. He understood that she at least knew he was there and he would never take that security and assurance from her. He was oblivious to everyone else in the room.

T'Pau had gone before the High Council to request the most severe penalty be visited upon T'Pring and T'Lon for what they had done. Her report of their having invoked the Tur-ok-kali-nor was met with gasps and shrouded whispers. She recounted the details of the challenge and, when it was told that the battle had been against an Earth woman, many in the Council chambers were visibly shaken.

She told them of Christine's bravery and willingness to fight for the clan. She told that even now she fought for life as a result of what the pair's treachery had caused. The Council again was troubled; they were also awed by Christine's courage.

T'Pring and T'Lon had been brought before the council and their minds forcibly linked to that of Sental, the eldest member. He was appalled to find such malevolence in member of his race. It was confirmed that there had been nothing of honor, or right, or even jealousy in the challenge. T'Pring and T'Lon had sought only to better the social position of themselves. They had not even thought of their clan as a whole, only their two greedy, power hungry hearts. They were also more than willing to kill for it if need be. T'Pau hoped viciously that was not exactly what they had done.

Four days after Christine had fallen into the coma, T'Pau visited the hospital with news. Her regal gait slowed a bit as she saw the broken woman in the bed and the son of her house fighting desperately to help her. She was again wracked with guilt. If she had acknowledged their Vha'ren bond when she was first aware of it, this would not be happening. For the grief the scene caused her, T'Pau stood firm, unwilling to admit a reaction. She strode regally into the room. Sarek and Amanda stood immediately to show their respect. Kirk and McCoy followed, unsure exactly what to do or say.

"We are honored for you to find the time to visit us," Sarek said, Amanda nodded the same sentiment.

T'Pau held up a hand, as if to stop the rush of formality. She stared at Christine and Spock for a moment. "Has there been any change?" she asked.

"No, Ma'am," McCoy said searching for anything in his vocabulary worthy of calling such a noblewoman. He finally settled on the term his mother had demanded of him to show respect. If it was good enough for Laura McCoy, then it was good enough for T'Pau.

T'Pau looked down at Christine's pale face. Beauty still resonated from the sunken eyes and sallow skin. "She honors us," T'Pau began. "She will l ong have a high place in our clan."

"Thank you," Amanda said bowing her head.

T'Pau continued. "I have come with news of those who caused this travesty." She spoke in Vulcan but the translators implanted behind Kirk's and McCoy's ear allowed them to follow the conversation quite well.

"What is to happen to them? How will they pay for this?" Sarek asked, uncharacteristically vengeful.

T'Pau took a deep breath. "They are to be exiled," she reported. "They will never set foot on this planet or any other again, except for that on which the prison colony of Tobin 6 is located. They will never again cause harm to this clan," she said,almost proudly.

"That is gratifying," Sarek commented.

"Thank goodness," Amanda said relieved. Kirk and McCoy knew about Tobin 6 from their travels. It was one of the highest security prisons in the galaxy, dealing in those of sociopathic nature. T'Pring and T'Lon would not be heard from again.

"What crimes were they charged with?" Kirk asked. He knew very little of Vulcan law.

"Attempted murder, conspiracy, and interfering with an established bond," T'Pau listed.

"Then the High Council recognized Spock and Christine's bond?" Amanda asked, a smile finding its way to her face for the first time in days.

"Yes. There are many who believe in the Vha'ren," T'Pau assured her, giving Amanda a knowing look.

"What of their clan?" Sarek asked.

"They will be ruled by Soron," T'Pau said. "He is fair and just. There were many of them who disliked T'Pring and T'Lon. It will be a good change for them." She sighed.

"Yes. A logical choice," Sarek agreed.

"I must take leave. Please keep me informed of any change in her condition," T'Pau said.

"Certainly," Sarek and Amanda answered together. Then T'Pau turned. Her presence seemed to fill the room long after she was gone.

* * *

It was the third night of the second week since Christine had been admitted to the hospital. Amanda had spent every night in Christine's hospital room, watching Spock try to contact her. This night she had drifted into a fitful and shallow sleep. Sarek was beside her. He too had chosen to stay and often meditated in the quiet hours. Kirk and McCoy had stepped out for a cup of coffee, which was surprisingly good in the cafeteria. They would need to return to this ship soon, as repairs at the star base were nearing completion. In the quiet darkness, suddenly Amanda was awakened by a shout. It was Spock.

"Christine! ... Christine!" he called frantically. He did not realize that his voice was echoing his thoughts. "Christine!" He grew more distressed. Amanda looked at the lights and monitors above her daughter-in-law's, for that is how she now thought of her, bed. They had nearly all fallen. She was dying.

McCoy and Kirk stepped from the tubolift only to greeted by the sound of their friend's frantic yell. They came running into the room. McCoy took one look at the monitors and sprang into action. He pressed the com button by Christine's bed and began nearly screaming his ordered. "This is McCoy, code red, Miss Chapel's room. Stat," he demanded.

In a few moments which seemed like a century, the room was filled with medical personnel, doctors, and nurses all in a frenzy of activity.

McCoy tried to grab Spock by the shoulders and pull him out of the way. "Let them work," he told the Vulcan.

"No!" Spock yelled and threw out his arm attempting to loosen the doctor's grip. He was successful. The force of the lurch was so powerful that McCoy sailed backward, crashing against the wall and losing his breath in the process. He knew Spock did not mean to hurt him. The thought of separating from Christine at that moment had caused reflex violence. He decided to forgive his friend, this once.

"Please let him stay with her," Sarek asked. "He can help. She needs him." He too had begun to think of Christine as a daughter.

McCoy nodded and jumped into the melee of people trying to save Christine's life. Lights flashed, hypos buzzed, and alarms sounded. Hand flew everywhere over her. She was nearly lost in the sea of people swarming over her. Kirk, Amanda, and Sarek stood back nearly crushed against a far wall as the technicians raced in and out of the room. Through it all Spock was unmoving, never budging from Christine's side, his hands still on her.

Finally after nearly an hour Kirk heard McCoy shout, "I think she's stable now." He looked relieved but still worried as he checked the monitors which registered her life signs. The dials had raised a bit, but not to the point they were before this emergency. There was no cause for celebration.

When all the staff medical personal had left, and while McCoy was explaining the specifics of Christine's condition to the captain, Amanda and Sarek walked over to stand by her bed. Spock's hands were still moving furiously around her face. He seemed even more agitated than before.

Finally after days of near silence, he raised his head and looked mournfully at his parents. Amanda had never seen such pain in anyone's eyes and it broke her heart. His eyes traveled down to Christine's face. She looked as if she were merely sleeping, a flush of color from the medication she had just been given playing on her cheeks.

Again he raised his eyes and seemed to plead. "I can't find her," Spock moaned.

* * *

The violent currents and eddys had swirled and pounded at him. Their power and force had taken nearly everything from him. His strength was gone, his reserves spent. He fought to keep his head, as well as hers, above the storm. His struggle had been to somehow get her to safety, to bring her to a quiet harbor. She had done the very best she could to help him but she was too weak and frail, and she finally she could do no more. Her voice, which before could only whisper his name, had stilled in the torrent, unable to battle further. Somehow, against her will, her mind had let go.

He clawed to retrieve her, his screams welled up within him and escaped with fury. Then there was silence. The vortex in which they were falling ended its sickening turn. The siege of the tempest abated and the waves of Christine's mind calmed to an even quiet.

Spock searched for her, again and again submerging into the empty depths. She had slipped from him. She was gone.

He refused to stop. If he gave up, it would only be upon his own death, which he now would welcome without her. She had fought so bravely not only against T'Pring but also for her very life. How could he have failed like this?

The grief and despair was more than he could bare. His soul had never seemed more lifeless or dead. Hopelessly he looked up through the haze. There were faces. He knew them, he knew them well. They would help. He needed their help more than he ever had before. The woman would hold him and comfort him. She would love him as always, but that would not be enough. He wished that it would, but for all of her devotion she could not help him in this. The two men across the distance, he was aware of them on the edge of reality. They stared with such pity but could not help either. They would support him and feel his grief, but that would not bring her back to him.

There was one, one who could help him but he had no right to ask. The years that had passed and all that had gone before had hardened them to each other. Too many words said and unsaid, too many actions done and left undone had built a wall between them, one seemingly impossible to tear down. Surely the figure in the shadows would turn away now, certainly he would refuse. He would walk away, reciprocating an action of so many years ago. Would he let her die, let them both die?

* * *

Spock did not see the aging left hand reach toward his face, he did not feel it come to rest on the familiar points. He was not aware of the right hand that rested upon Christine's lovely features. However, suddenly he knew that a presence now accompanied him on his journey toward wherever it was that his beloved Vha'ren had gone. It was not jolting, it was not harsh, it was not angry. It was soft and compassionate and good. For a moment he relaxed and allowed the energy to find him and to encircle him.

"This way, my son," Sarek's familiar voice said into his mind.

"Father?" Spock questioned, for a moment in disbelief.

"Yes. I will help you find her," Sarek's mind said. There was no time for greetings or sentiment. "Come, there is little time." He could sense through Spock's bond with Christine that she indeed was slipping away.

Spock's mind followed obediently. There was no question. No hesitation. Together they pulled themselves from Spock's mind and entered Christine's thoughts and essence. Spock shivered at the coldness of what was now vast emptiness. What had once been so warm and beautiful. Everything that had been there, that had filled him with such pure joy was gone, hidden from his sights. It was so dark, his soul cried out for her, but she would not answer.

"She is not here," Sarek said, searching the shallow first layers of Christine's mind. "She is trapped much deeper within herself. We must hurry. She needs you," he said, sensing her further on within the walls of her own protection.

The shock her body had sustained had been far too much for her mind to bear, and though she had tried desperately to hold onto the lifeline that Spock provided her, her weakness and pain had taken on a life of its own. It had become a beast that now held her hard in it's clawed grasp, and refused release her. Spock, aided by his father Sarek, would do battle for her.

They journeyed on through her mind. Each layer and barrier they crossed leading them further to the very core of her being, to a place they would either find her waiting, or lost forever. Spock felt his fear well up within him, and then shame as he tried to hide the emotion from his father. Much to his surprise he did not find contempt in his father's reaction.

"There is no need..." Sarek silenced his shame. "There is nothing to hide here." He knew exactly how he would feel if he were the one watching Amanda being torn away.

Spock was grateful and they continued. Slowly, ever so slowly images began to appear to them, images from Christine's own mind. Superficial surface views of her life. Favorite songs, daily activities, routines. All flooded toward them. Spock held onto even the smallest. He could see her, could revel in her sound and her presence. He could also see himself with her. They had become so much a part of one another that his mind seemed now entwined with hers. As it should be.

Onward, into the more meaningful parts of her life they traveled. Memories of family, school, triumphs, and struggles. Passed the joyful and the painful they made their way to her hopes and dreams. Spock stopped for a moment here to realize that they all included him. He saw Christine's imaginings of how their bonding would be, what their children would look like, and of them growing old together. He also felt her fear over the time when she would be called on to be more than a wife for him and to aid him in survival. He also saw her terror that he would somehow be taken from her. His heart ached at that thought and hoped that she could feel him approaching as she was now being taken from him.

Spock and Sarek moved deeper into Christine's mind. It seemed as though the closer they ventured, the further away she became. Through images and pictures they walked. Sarek could feel Spock's strength waning after his long fight to keep Christine with him and he tried to bolster his son with his own mind. Spock understood and thanked him, although his mere expression of thanks felt extremely inadequate.

Then, as her thoughts became a confusing and horrifying jumble of fears, nightmares, and unrealities, they heard it.

"Spock!" Christine's scream came in a whisper.

"I'm here my Vha'ren," Spock answered urgently. "I'm coming."

"Spock!" Christine called again. "I can't see you. Where are you."

Spock remembered the time when they were both children and her confused dreams had come to him with the same question. "I'm here. You must be strong. I'm coming for you. You have to fight a while longer until I reach you. Then you will be safe."

"I'm so very tired," she cried. "I can't fight anymore."

"Christine. You must," Sarek interrupted. "You are much stronger than you know. We will be with you in only a few moments."

She was shocked for a moment and then comforted at Sarek's presence in her mind. "Please hurry," she begged.

"You have fought so long. Just a bit longer, my beloved," Spock called.

"I'll try," Christine said. "For you," and Spock felt her last desperate attempt to gather any strength that still remained within her.

"That's it," he encouraged her.

Finally they reached the final barrier that held her. It seemed tall, thick, and impenetrable. Spock's soul cried out in terror and exhaustion. "Christine!" he screamed.

"Spock!" she answered.

He felt her essence leaving him. She had fought as long as she could, he had fought as long as he could. If she left him, he would follow. He prepared to meet her in some other place. Suddenly he felt a surge of energy flow through himself and her, meeting somewhere above them, and crashing down over them. It came from his father. He was giving all that he had to reunite them. His voice had grown silent in concentration and Spock realized that it would have to be Sarek that brought he and Christine together, neither of them had the strength.

The energy grew larger, thicker, and it felt comforting, warm, and good. It smashed at the barrier with the strength of a thousand armies. It crushed the wall that separated Spock and Christine, crumpling it like dust.

Spock could see her, feel her. She was standing before him so beautiful and precious. His mind enwrapped her still weak essence and brought it to him. He felt the energy wain and was suddenly worried. "Father?" he questioned, unsure.

"I am here," Sarek answered weakly. "I will leave you now." This moment was private between Spock and Christine. He would not intrude. "You can return with her now."

Spock could feel joy from his father and Sarek felt his son's overwhelming gratitude. All that had passed between them was washed away and a new understanding and respect left in its place. Christine understood and was awed. As Sarek pulled back out their minds and into his own consciousness, Spock mentally held Christine in his arms pledging all to her through his thoughts. She gave everything to him and fell exhausted into his mind's arms. Together they made their way back through her mind. At the threshold of consciousness they held for a long moment, being each other. They would be this way forever and to come. He had gotten her back. Their bond,strong and true and deep, had kept them together through everything.

Sarek fell into the chair that Amanda had placed behind him. Returned to his reality he looked up at his wife whose eyes were filled with tears of worry for him, their son, and Christine. Relief painted her face when she realized that he was alright. "They will be coming back to us soon," he said to her and reached up with two fingers. She accepted happily.

A few second later Spock opened his eyes and raised his head to watch Christine's face. He touched her cheek, and almost instantly her eyes flickered awake. Joy spread across her wide smile. "Spock," she whispered dryly.

"Vha'ren," he returned her greeting, taking her hand and holding it to his lips. They stared at each other longingly.

After a few seconds they became aware of the others in the room. Together they both looked at Sarek who was fighting exhaustion beside them. Spock's eye s filled with emotion he could not express. "Father," he said. "There are no words."

"There are none necessary," Sarek protested. "I would not have done any less for my son," he said, and then looked at Christine. "Or my daughter."

She could not hold the tears that brimmed the corners of her eyes. "Thank you," was all she could whisper.

He looked at her with a soft, fatherly expression. "I am deeply gratified that you have come back to us." She understood how heartfelt a sentiment his words were for a Vulcan and the inclusion of her in their family made her heart nearly burst with happiness.

"Christine. Oh, my dear," Amanda gushed, bending to kiss her on the forehead. She brushed the hair from Christine's eyes and held her chin for a few second. "I'm so happy," she smiled in tears. Then she took Spock's hand and held it for a few moments. They needed no words, each knew the other so well that their elation was obvious to them. For a while she looked into his eyes, sharing his happiness with him. Then she returned his hand to Christine and moved back to help Sarek out of the chair.

Kirk looked over and nudged McCoy. This was a private family moment and he felt they should wait outside. Before they could reach the door. "Jim, Dr. McCoy." Spock looked up and stopped them. "I cannot convey to you how much you presence has been appreciated. You honor us more than we could ever say." He was truly grateful that his closest friends had not left him or Christine throughout the entire ordeal.

"We would not have left," Jim assured him with a smile. Spock nodded his understanding.

McCoy walked hurriedly over to the head of the bed and announced, "As for you, young lady. Don't you ever give us a scare like that again." He smiled and bent down to kiss her hair.

She laughed a bit, although she was still sore. "Promise," she said hoarsely.

Within seconds her attentions had turned back to Spock and his to her. "We should go and let you two have some time together," Amanda said. "We'll be back tomorrow."

"Thank you, Mother," Spock said looking gratefully in her direction. Christine smiled her approval.

With that Amanda helped Sarek to the door. His helping Spock find and rescue Christine from her mental prison had left her husband well spent and she was eager to get him home, fed, and rested. They stopped at the door as Sarek looked back at Spock. He held up his hand with fingers parted and spoke the ancient words. "Live Long and Prosper, my son," he bid.

Spock returned the gesture. "Live Long and Prosper, Father," he answered. It had never meant so much to either of them.

Kirk and McCoy followed Spock's mother and father into the hall. McCoy sniffed a little as they walked down the hall and tugged at his cheek. Kirk looked over at him surprised. "You, ole' softy," he joked.

"What? It this damned Vulcan dust. Get's in my eyes," McCoy defended himself.

"Of course," Jim answered, stifling a snicker.

Together at last Spock and Christine spent the night in each other's arms. They pledged their love without words, their thoughts now mingled together like rain drops and rivers. They would have their entire lives for talk. Tonight all there was to do was experience each other. They had been to the edge of worst and had survived it. Together they could face anything. Together they were stronger than they were apart, complete, and whole. Their love and their understanding knew no bounds. Their special ancient bond had held them since they were children, it would hold them until the end of time.

* * *

Christine remained in the hospital for the better part of two weeks after emerging from her coma. Although her health steadily improved Spock still refused to leave her side. His joy was overwhelming as the realization that she would indeed be alright, and they would spend a long and happy life together, swept over him. Each day she regained more of her strength and vitality. Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy had been forced to return to the Enterprise, which was now warping toward the Omega Quadrant. There had been reports of some trouble with a few of the Federation colonies there, and the ship had been assigned to see about it. Christine was touched and grateful James Kirk had allowed Spock stay with her and granted them both an indefinite leave. They would be returning to duty when she was well enough, however it was nice for both of them to know that her recovery would not be rushed.

Christine had been moved from the intensive care unit to a private room that seemed to her luxurious by the standards of Earth hospitals. She suspected that the familial affiliation she now enjoyed had something to do with her room assignment and that other private rooms were a bit more utilitarian. The abrasions and bruises on hers face and arms had been sealed, once again revealing her beauty. Her fractured arm and broken ribs had been set and fused and a plastic surgeon had been brought in to erase the long jagged scars that ran along her upper torso and below her left shoulder blade. Sock had fervently requested that she allow him to also erase the memories of the ordeal from her mind. Her reply was a loving but adamant refusal.

"Why would you want to remember something so painful?" he had asked.

She had smiled warmly, touched his face and simply whispered, "Because I never, ever, want to take you for granted."

Finally released from the medical ward of Vulcan Science Academy, Christine had returned home, for she truly now considered it her home, to Spock's parent's house to recuperate. She and Spock spent every moment together. He waited on her hand and foot. She could scarcely do anything for herself. He, Amanda, and Sarek were making her feel quite spoiled with the way they constantly fawned over her. She was certain that she did not need so much attention, but they would hear none of her protesting. Outnumbered, she relented, their concern and caring warmed her heart and she felt happy and safe. She knew Vulcan was her home now.

This day Christine reclined on the large brown sofa in the study, her satin robed back resting against Spock's chest. Her slippered feet were up and she was covered with a soft blanket. His arms were, as usual, wrapped around her. For the comfort and warmth he always conveyed to her soul, she was extremely tense. Amanda and Sarek had gone to bring her parents from the space port in the city. Christine was bracing herself for a nasty showdown. She had spoken to her mother only a few days before and found little understanding for the reasons she had battled T'Pring and even less for the Vulcan traditions which had caused it. She was not expecting a pleasant visit.

"You are agitated, Vha'ren," Spock noted.

Christine sighed a bit. "I'm scared to death," she answered, her voice noting his understatement.

He understood the motives behind Christine's fears. Her mother had shown herself to be quite formidable. Spock now knew from where Christine got her strength and spirit. Christine was certain the woman would say or do something offensive, leaving her directly in the middle. He decided that although Elaine Chapel was her mother, he would not permit her to cause Christine distress, especially after what she had just endured. He brought her closer into his arm and held her to him.

"I will not allow anyone to hurt you in any way ever again," he vowed. "Anyone."

His statement made her relax a bit and she let out a long relaxed breath closing her eyes for a moment. "Thank you," she smiled. "It might not be that easy. You don't my mother," she relented.

"...And she does not know me," he said. "...Nor does she know my mother for that fact." He was certain that if Elaine decided to make the meeting nasty, Amanda would have a few choice words for her.

Christine chuckled. "That's the truth," she said, thoughtful of the woman who would soon become her second mother. "I wonder if that ground car has exploded in fireworks yet."

"Why should the interior combust?" he asked confused. He still did not understand many of the complexities of Earth slang.

Her laugh was music to him. "Oh, Spock," she said. "It's a figure of speech. I meant, I wonder if they're having a fight right now."

"I certainly hope not," he said.

"Me too." Her worried look returned.

* * *

There had been no war of words within the ground car as Amanda and Sarek had done their best to welcome Christine's parents to Vulcan. There had been very few words at all. It was clear that Elaine Chapel was and had been very upset for quite awhile, and that she blamed just about the entire planet for what had happened to Christine. She was a thin pretty woman, on the petite side, with bright blonde hair like her daughter. She had spent her life living up the ancient Earth tradition of being a lady, however she had a wicked tongue when she needed it, especially where her children were concerned. Her Texas upbringing now forced her to hold that talent in check and be gracious to her hosts, however, all she really wanted to do was scream at them for, as she saw it, allowing her daughter to nearly be killed for some ridiculous ritual. As Amanda uncomfortably tried to make small talk Elaine stared stonily out the window at the planet she only remembered as hot, dry, strange, and miserable.

Thomas Chapel seemed to be of a different cut. Although he presented the polished appearance of someone used to fancy hotels and board rooms he was still obviously tough, having come from generations of hill country cattlemen. He was a tall, stocky man whose Austin drawl was just detectable over his Federation standard. He had, because of family obligation, made his livelihood in business, but had always been more at home in the saddle. The small ranch on which he had raised his family was testament to that. Although Thomas smiled and tried to seem jovial, it was plain to see that he was very worried about his middle daughter. It was not as evident that he had well warned his wife not to make a scene. He doubted she could keep her promise for long. He admitted only to himself that he was more than a bit uncomfortable about his daughter marrying a Vulcan. He did not understand them and was a bit intimidated by them. That in itself was no small admission, as few things ever got to the huge Texan. The thought of his little girl nearly being murdered had been one of those things and the star liner had not traveled fast enough to this mysterious planet for him. Luckily he was used to dealing with beings from all over the galaxy through his business travel. That fact made the short ride a bit more bearable, as he found he could actually carry on quite a polite conversation with Sarek and Amanda, even over his fear for his child.

* * *

Christine drew in her breath, and Spock helped her stand at the sound of the front door opening. Her worry was apparent, and Spock tried to ease her mind through their Vha'ren bond. He could tell it helped her a bit, however her heart still raced in her chest. She looked up at him and took a deep breath.

"Ready?" he asked.

"As I'll ever be." She quivered a little.

Together they walked out into the entrance hall, their fingers touching. Christine was still weak and it was an effort for her to move about. Spock supported her steps and they walked through the door. Thomas and Elaine stood almost apprehensively as their daughter came toward them, the man she loved hovering over her protectively. They understood that it was from them he was protecting her. Christine smiled, truly happy to see them. Spock release her from his overseeing grasp, knowing that she needed to greet her parents.

Elaine stepped forward to meet Christine, not wanting her to exert herself. Mother and daughter stared at each other for a few moments, wordless attachments passing between them. Elaine's heart ached for the pain her little girl had been through and all she wanted to do was take her in her arms the way she had when Christine was little and make everything alright. Suddenly Christine was overwhelmed by the need to feel her mother's arms around her. Tears began to trickle down her cheeks.

"Mommy," she whispered and Elaine ran to her, enclosing her in familiar warmth and security.

Thomas allowed his wife and daughter a few moments and then joined them, wrapping them both in his arms and kissing Christine's temple. "Daddy." She smiled burying her face in his neck.

Thomas held her as she clung to him, laying his cheek on top of her head. "Princess," he said, near tears himself. It was like she was a tiny child again, seeking comfort and finding it.

Spock stood back, in awe of the tender display. He understood at last that the anger Christine's mother had vented was because of her powerful love for her daughter. He was glad that she had been raised with such unconditional caring and acceptance. He could not blame Elaine Chapel for blaming him. The truth was that he would never forgive himself for what his beloved Vha'ren had been put through.

Still standing by the front door, Amanda nudged Sarek with her elbow and nodded her head toward the opposite archway. He understood that she wanted to give Christine and her parents a few moments of privacy, especially as they finally met face to face with Spock. He also knew that Amanda was on the verge of bursting into tears herself at any moment. They walked quietly, almost unnoticed, past the Chapels and their son who stood apprehensively waiting to be noticed, and disappeared into the living room.

Christine lifted her head and smiled joyfully, glad to have her mother and father near her. "I'm so happy to see you."

"That's our line, Baby Girl," her father laughed, the irony of his words not going unnoticed.

Elaine stroked her daughter's hair out of her eyes, a habit which at most times would have annoyed Christine, however today she drank in the loving familiarity of the gesture. "How are you ... really?" She scrutinized her daughter's reaction.

"Really?" Christine asked an amazed grin playing at the corners of her mouth. "I'm wonderful." She smiled, pulling slightly out of her parent's grasp and looking over her shoulder ready to return to Spock. He saw and was at her side instantly, not wanting her to try to walk on her own. His thoughtfulness was reassuring to both Elaine and Thomas, but they would still need more proof.

Christine's outgoing father took the lead. "We finally meet in person, Spock," he smiled, knowing enough about Vulcan custom not to extend his hand.

Thomas had spoken with him a few times over the vidlink, but had mostly been struck by Spock's stoic and quiet manner. The tall dark figure who had mostly stood behind Christine's shoulder had seemed a bit imposing. It had been difficult to read him and that was what made the older man most apprehensive. What he did not know was that each time they had spoken, Spock's demeanor had been less due to his Vulcan persona and more due to his nerves at trying to make a good impression on Christine's father.

"It is good to finally meet, Mr. Chapel," Spock stated genuinely.

"Forget that Mr. Chapel, stuff. It's Tom from now on," he smiled.

Spock responded simply by nodding his head appreciatively and agreeing. "Tom," he repeated. It seemed enough to please, but Spock was certain that his future father-in-law was still regarded him with caution.

"Mother?" Christine ventured nervously.

Elaine's mouth pursed a little and Christine could tell she was aching to say something. Thankfully she was holding it in. "Hello, Spock," was all she said. There was a look of threatening perusal behind her eyes although she gave him a dry smile. There was no invitation to use her first name.

Christine tried to grin and laugh, pretending not to notice the austere greeting, her nerves on edge as she gave Spock a comforting look. She was glad her father was there. His quick wit and easy nature softened any situation, and he was good at handling her mother where she was usually reduced to feeling like a reproached six year old. More than anything, she was glad that Spock had stayed by her side in the entryway. She was not feeling at all up to the more private talk with her mother that she knew would come.

Stepping closer to Spock she gestured toward the archway. "Shall we go into the living room? We don't want to keep Amanda and Sarek waiting ... and I think T'Pel has started the tea," she offered looking at Spock for support.

He took her arm and moved backward a bit allowing Thomas and Elaine to enter first. He could not help but notice that warning look that Elaine threw his way as she passed. She was definitely going to be hard to win over; her dislike and distrust were already evident.

Christine sighed. Even the short few steps to where Sarek and Amanda stood waiting allowed a much needed, if all too brief, respite from her anxiety.

"No fireworks yet," Spock whispered in her ear as he helped her walk.

"Just wait," Christine said with dread.

* * *

The afternoon passed in strained small talk. The tea was served in the formal public space, with a few veiled looks passed from Elaine in Christine's direction. She could just hear her mother muttering, 'servants?', to herself as T'Pel and one of the other house girls poured the tea. She knew her mother would have a comment to her later regarding just about everything. Her father tried his best to forestall any debates at the moment, asking about the Vulcan seasons, inquiring about Sarek's travels, and discussing Christine's and Spock's plans to return to the Enterprise before their wedding. Christine looked at him proudly. She knew he was happy for her even if her mother was not. He had always wanted for her whatever had been her heart's desire, be it a brand new doll in the window, a pony, a little red convertible, or just a hug. He had spoiled her greatly. She had always been Daddy's girl. For moment he caught her staring at him and her wordless look of thanks was answered with a sly wink.

By the time darkness fell and dinner was served, Elaine was practically seething with the unspoken wrath she harbored at the near murder of her daughter. Christine knew it would not be long before she lost control. Thomas was looking decidedly ill at ease with grandness of the occasion. The dining room looked as if it had been prepared for dignitaries. Amanda was determined that the Chapels not find fault with anything. As her mother spoke shortly and glared at her in-laws, the two people Christine felt sorriest for were Spock and his mother. Amanda had been on pins and needles for days making sure everything would be perfect for the arrival of Christine's mother and father. Christine was now mortified that she should be subjected to such rude and inexcusable treatment in her own home.

Almost as if sensing her thoughts, Spock moved his hand, unseen beneath the table, and clasped Christine's fingers reassuringly as they rested on her thigh. She glanced sideways at him with a loving smile. He was baring most of the brunt of her mother's anger. She had barely spoken two words to her daughter's fiancé, and his every attempt at even the smallest nicety was met with stone faced resistance. This day had not been easy for him. She squeezed his fingers a bit and tried to send her thoughts through their Vha'ren bond. She was clumsy and amateurish at what she was attempting, and it seemed to take a great effort.

Nevertheless, she spoke to him in her mind, unsure of whether he would even hear. 'You know I love you. I apologize so deeply for the way she's behaving. I'm so embarrassed. You must believe me that she will never change anything. Even if I must choose...it will be you.'

Almost before the last word left her thoughts, she felt his hand close around hers with gentle security. He had heard. Spock sensed Christine relax and saw her contented sigh as she again glanced at him with so much love in her eyes that it made him weak.

Spock and Christine emerged from their moment of shared silence to hear Amanda's nervous chuckle. "I suppose this is not quite what you're used to in Texas," she said. "You no doubt prefer steak."

"Oh, no." Thomas smiled, humbled at her hospitality. "Everything is just delicious. You shouldn't have gone to so much trouble just for us." He had found that he actually liked the meatless dishes and was anxious to try more Vulcan cuisine.

"It was no trouble at all," she smiled. "Thank you for understanding."

"As a race we chose to abandon the consumption of animal flesh centuries ago. It is part of our belief that all life is precious," Sarek said, starting to give them a history lesson.

At that moment Elaine decided that she could stay silent no long. She slammed down her eating utensils and let her feelings free. "Oh, so Vulcans don't believing in killing animals, but murdering my daughter ... that would have been okay, I suppose?" she asked accusingly.

"Mother!" Christine cried in horror, as the rest of the table sat in shocked silence.

"I'm sorry, Chrissy, but if you think I'm just gonna sit here like some statue and say that what happened to you was alright, and that I understand, then you've got another thing coming," Elaine spouted.

"I know you're upset, Mom," Christine appeased, then took a deep breath. "But you will not sit at this table and act like it was their fault. How dare you?" She glared.

"Don't you use that tone of voice with me, Little Miss." Elaine tried to retreat into the shield of motherly warnings. This time it did not work. Christine let out her breath, aggravated at being treated like a child, but kept coming. Her anger far outweighing her daughterly duties at the moment.

"Spock, and Amanda, and Sarek have done nothing but try to be nice to you and welcome you into their home, and you've treated them like..." She trailed off.

"Well," Elaine choked standing up. "Forgive me if my concern for my own child is a little bit more important to me than trying to be a proper guest." Tears began to come to her eyes. "I guess my worry over you, not knowing if you would live or die, means absolutely nothing."

"Mrs. Chapel," Spock began trying to assist Christine. "I assure you that Christine does care a great deal about you feelings..." He was quickly interrupted.

"Oh, don't you try to tell me what my own daughter is thinking. You must be reading her mind now, too."

"Mother, stop it!" Christine yelled, in tears.

"I thought you would have better sense than to get yourself mixed up with something like that damn fool challenge, Christine Elizabeth Chapel," she reproached.

Thomas stood up to his full height. "Lainey," he said. "I think you've said more than enough."

"Oh, I haven't even begun." Elaine turned on him, but instead of continuing, she threw down her napkin and turned for one of the open glass doors which led to the garden. "Excuse me. I've lost my appetite," she mumbled behind her, heading for fresh air.

Christine sat for a moment fighting sobs. Spock drew closer and tried to comfort her. "I'm sorry," she whispered to him.

"There is no need for you to apologize," he told her.

"She had no right to treat all of you like that." Christine could not look her new family in the eyes. "I am so sorry."

"She is just terrified at the thought of losing you," Amanda assured her. " I can certainly understand." She smiled at Spock.

"It wasn't your fault," Christine continued.

"Perhaps your mother is more upset over the situation and circumstance than with us," Sarek offered. "It could not have been easy for her to be so far from you at this time." After years of living with his emotional human wife, he was well enough versed in irrationality to recognize coping mechanisms, although he did not truly understand them.

Christine tried to be brave and nodded her head in thankful acceptance of the possibility he offered. "I just wish today had gone differently." She tried to stand. "I'd better go talk to her." It was a chore to straighten with her stiff muscles and still healing insides. Spock immediately jumped and took her by the arm.

"I think I can make it," Christine smiled, placing a hand on his arm for support.

"Here," Thomas spoke up. "I'll take over. We probably both should go see about her." He held his hand out to his daughter. "Come on, Princess."

"Thanks, Daddy," Christine said as Spock gave her over to her father's care. Together she and Thomas slowly made their way over to the open door and disappeared outside.

Spock, Amanda, and Sarek sat around the remnants of the ruined dinner. For a while no one spoke, each taking a moment to clear their own thoughts.

"They have much to discuss," Spock finally said.

"Indeed they do," Amanda agreed. "I think there is more going on between them than just the Tur-ok-kali-nor situation."

"That is true," Spock answered. "Christine's mother is a very strong willed person and has often demanded much of her," he said.

"Imagine what her mother must be feeling right now," Amanda said. "She knows very little about Vulcan culture, and I'm sure she is more than a little frightened for Christine."

"I would never allow anything to hurt her," Spock assured his mother.

"I know that and she probably knows that as well." She smiled at him. "It's just hard for a mother to let go."

He answered her with a raised eyebrow.

It was then that Sarek sighed deeply, dabbed at the corners of his mouth with his napkin and leaned back in his chair. Laying the cloth down over his plate, he lamented, "Well ... I suppose dessert is out of the question."

Amanda rolled her eyes, but the hint of familiar laughter played at her cheeks.  

* * *

Outside on the terrace Christine found her mother crying, the woman's back turned toward the house, watching Vulcan's moons rise. Her father helped her walk within reach of the short guarding wall which ran along the outside of the garden. She braced herself with one hand and leaned against the old stones, her father moving off to one side, still very much protective of her should her strength fail. For a moment she said nothing, but simply stood beside her mother in the quiet of the late evening. Finally she could no longer stand the silence.

"Mommy," she whispered timidly.

Her mother turned and Christine was struck by how old she looked. The moonlight made the wrinkles that were appearing around her eyes and mouth stand out, and her blonde hair looked gray. "Mommy, please don't be angry," she asked.

"I'm not angry with you," Elaine said.

"But you're angry with them," Christine whispered her gaze turning back toward the house.

"I'm angry with this whole wretched planet for what it did to you," Elaine clarified. "Do you have any idea how scared I was, how scared I still am?"

"Oh, Mom." Christine laid her hand on top of her mother's arm. "I know. I was angry at times myself, but it wasn't the whole planet and it certainly wasn't them. They tried to get me to refuse the challenge."

"You mean you didn't have to do that awful thing?" Thomas said, taking her shoulders from behind. She did not turn, it would have been a bit too painful, but put her other hand over her father's grasp.

"No. I didn't. I could have refused," Christine said.

"Then why didn't you?" her mother pleaded.

"If I had refused," Christine began, "Spock and his entire clan would have been ridiculed. They would have lost honor and respect. I could never allow that to happen to him. It means so much to him."

"So they expected you to take on the responsibility of their reputation?" Elaine asked.

"It was more than that. If I had lost, Spock would have been forced to bond with T'Pring," Christine explained. "I had to try to win, to stop that. He didn't want it anymore than I did."

"Yes, but darling, you did lose." Her mother reminded her of the battle she had fought for life.

"Not really. I'm not dead," Christine smiled. " Thanks to T'Pau and Sarek, it never went that far."

"But it might have." Elaine shivered.

"Yes." Christine was silent for a moment. "I would do it again," she vowed.

"I know." Elaine looked away.

"I love him, Mother, more than I ever dreamed I could." Christine smiled in amazement.

Elaine sighed. "It scares me, Chrissy. This bonding stuff. I mean what exactly goes on and how can they say you two were bonded when you were children?"

"What goes on is a beautiful sharing of our souls. I can't even really describe it," Christine began. "It's like being everything and nothing at the same time. Truly losing and finding yourself. Truly being one. It's amazing." Christine smiled.

"This Vha'ren thing," Elaine questioned. "How could you have been bonded for life when you were only a child? Are they saying that you were married when you were only five?"

"In a way, yes." Christine smiled reveling in her memories of Spock with her all her life, even before she knew it. "It's more than that. We were born for each other."

"On two different planets?" Elaine was beginning to get frustrated.

"Yes, that's part of it. It means that we have been each other's forever and will be," Christine smiled.

"Honey," Thomas interrupted. "I think I'm gonna have to agree with your mother on this one. We didn't raise you to go chasing off after all this stuff."

"What do you mean?" Christine questioned.

"Now don't get me wrong. I like Spock and think his parents are just fine. But..." Thomas began.

"But what?" Christine asked becoming defensive.

"It's just that ... well ... you were raised with certain beliefs and we thought that you held those a bit closer." Her father cleared his throat.

"You mean, my being a Christian?" Christine asked.

"Well, yeah," he said. "You've got to admit that at the very least it would be hard to reconcile your faith with Spock's Vulcan beliefs."

"Yes, Sweety," Elaine agreed. "...And what about children? How will they be raised?"

"They will be raised to appreciate both of their heritages. He would never try to change my beliefs, just as I would never try to change his," Christine said. "My faith makes me strong to him, just as his makes him strong to me. They are part of us, part of what we love most about each other."

"Love?" Her mother questioned. "We've been here one day and he has barely touched you or even smiled at you. They sit like mannequins. When your father and I were engaged, we could hardly keep our hands off of each other," Elaine said.

"Oooo, Mom." Christine cringed at the image. "As for Spock. He would not display those things in public, nor would I expect him to. They are private, almost sacred to a Vulcan. I can assure that in private he does not let anything stand between us, in any way."

"Oooo. Chrissy." Her father was the one now cringing uncomfortably.

"Sorry Daddy, but it's the truth," she said. "He makes me feel as if I'm the only woman in the universe, beautiful, desirable, and very much loved."

"I know you think you're happy now, but in a few years when the novelty wears off..." her mother warned.

"Novelty?" Christine cried. "What is novel about two people passionate about each other, who want to spend their lives with each other? How can you say that to me?" She began to sob and then yell as she shook almost violently.

Inside Spock, Amanda, and Sarek heard her proclaiming all to her mother. "I love him, Mother. Why can't you accept that? I am going to be his wife. To many I already am. I have been honored and accepted as a daughter of this house, and nothing is going to change that. I love him ... I..." She gasped manically.

The rushing blast of cold night air hit Christine's weak lung like a sledgehammer and her breath jolted from her body. Her shoulders shook with uncontrollable coughing. Suddenly air would not come and she struggled for the smallest bit of oxygen as the muscles surrounding her injured lung tightened in spasms. Elaine grabbed for her arms in terrified horror as she fell back against her father.

"Christine?" Elaine screamed. Thomas scrambled to help her sit on a nearby chaise lounge.

Spock sensed Christine's distress at the moment it began. His face went pale and his body was in motion toward the door as Elaine's fearful scream called out through the night. Amanda and Sarek quickly followed in confusion. Outside in the moonlit darkness, they found Elaine kneeling beside Christine trying to comfort her, unsure of what else to do. Thomas could only hold his daughter by the shoulder and try to will her coughing to stop.

Spock came running out onto the terrace, his mother and father close behind. "Christine!" he yelled, practically shoving her mother and father out of the way as reached her. His knees went to the ground in front of her as he took her hands. Elaine could only sit back and watch as Christine now looked to him with frightened eyes for help.

"Christine!" he said again to call her back to his attention. "It's your lung?" he asked already knowing the answer.

Christine nodded. "I..." she gasped. "I ... can't breath," she choked.

"Has it collapsed again?" he asked desperately.

She shook her head. "The ... coughing," she struggled.

"What's wrong with her?" Elaine demanded, suddenly forgetting her anger.

Spock did not answer. He was too intent on helping Christine. Again, he cared nothing for outward appearances as he ran his hand soothingly over her hair. Her hold on his hand tightened as another fit wracked her lungs. He could tell she was in pain and in danger of losing consciousness. Her eyes searched his gravely for the familiar comfortable refuge and found it. He almost automatically reached up and placed his fingers softly on her face. She closed her eyes understanding and nodded her head. Without knowing, his voice echoed the words he was whispering into her mind.

"My beautiful Vha'ren," he began. "Soul of my soul, my very being. You have only to calm your thoughts. Let me take your worry. Take your breath from me, as I comfort you." He gave her beautiful thoughts of them. He watched her mind see them together and felt the happiness in her heart. With effort he calmed his own tense breathing so she would have a focus for hers.

"That's it. In and out. Slowly," he encouraged.

Elaine was amazed that not only was Christine no longer coughing, she had relaxed so much that she was almost smiling. A few more deep pulls of air to replenish the deficit in her body that the coughing had left and Spock laid Christine back on the soft cushions of the lounge. Reluctantly taking his hand from her face, her weary eyes opened and she smiled.

"You always save me," she whispered, her voice barely audible.

"Always," he promised. "Relax now and rest," he said, keeping hold of her hand, his eyes not leaving hers.

"I'll get you some water, dear," Amanda offered, herself a bit shaken.

"It is cold tonight. I will obtain something to keep you warm," Sarek said hurrying back into the house beside his wife.

Elaine and Thomas could only stand dumbfounded at what they had just witnessed. Christine's mother shivered a little more from guilt and fear than from cold. This had been her fault. She should have known better than to upset Christine. She had not truly realized just how ill her little girl still was. She was also realizing just how deep Spock's love for Christine was. His words to her daughter would not leave her head, 'Soul of my soul, my very being.' She had not expected the way he had come to her aide, or how gentle he had been with her. She stared down at her daughter.

Almost as if she could read her mother's thoughts, Christine smiled up at her. "You see, Mommy," she said. "You see." Then her gaze returned to Spock, who was trying to still his own anger at Elaine for distressing Christine.

Amanda and Sarek returned quickly having retrieved the objects of their searches. Sarek handed a thick blanket to Spock who wrapped it around Christine's legs and shoulders. She protested a bit, but then realized that she was indeed cold.

"Here, dear." Amanda handed a glass of water to Spock who raised it to Christine's lips. She was still shaking and she did not trust herself with it. He was more than willing to help.

When Christine had taken a sip, she looked around a little embarrassed. "I'm sorry for worrying everyone," she smiled sheepishly. "I guess I over did it a bit. Really, I'm feeling much better now. I didn't mean to spoil everyone's evening."

"Nonsense," Amanda smiled. "You are our top priority." She smoothed back a tendril of blond locks that had fallen across Christine's forehead.

"Unquestionably," Sarek agreed.

Christine smiled and held Spock's hand tighter. He reveled in her touch. "Thank you," she said.

"I felt your struggle as I would my own. I will always come to you," he vowed. She smiled knowing to what he was referring. The day only a few weeks ago when he had traversed the perils of her mind and failing life to bring her back to him would be held always close by each of them.

Thomas sat down beside Christine, opposite of Spock. He took his daughter in his arms for moment and then laid her back against the chair. He was still speechless, however, she could read his relief in his eyes. "It's alright, Daddy," she smiled.

Elaine stared at the ground. She had been the one who ruined everyone's evening. Her shame forced her into silence. How could she have been so thoughtless and rude? Then to have caused her own daughter to be weakened so. Her worry for Christine still tormenting her mind, she could not find voice for an apology, so she remained silent.

Christine was unsure if her mother said nothing because she felt guilty or angry. She knew however, that they would talk the following day, but now she felt tired and spent. Spock could feel her fatigue and was anxious for her to rest. "Perhaps the evening has come to an end. If it is agreeable with Christine, I would like for her to rest inside," he announced.

Christine nodded. She did feel like going to bed. "I think I can walk," she offered.

"Not tonight, Vha'ren," Spock said, picking her up effortlessly in his arms.

The others followed him inside as he carried Christine to the door of their bedroom. Her head was already resting on his shoulder. "I will bid you all good night," he said before opening the door.

"Good night," Christine smiled.

"Good night you two, sleep well," Amanda nodded. "If you need anything, just call."

"A pleasant rest," Sarek wished them as they Spock and Christine entered their darkened room and closed the door behind them.

"One room?" Elaine said judgmentally, unable to stop herself. "You let them to sleep together in the same room?" she asked Amanda.

"Of course, they are adults." Amanda looked puzzled.

"They're not married yet," Elaine reminded her. "That would never happen in my house," she said, a bit superior.

"Thankfully, Vulcan does not subscribe to the same antiquated social customs as many people from our planet do," Amanda said shortly to Elaine. Her patience and her temper were wearing thin, and Sarek could tell from the tone of her voice and the set of her jaw that it would be best to separate the two women as quickly as possible.

"Perhaps another topic to be discussed tomorrow," he said, trying to move in between his wife and Christine's mother.

Amanda remembered herself and gave a little self conscious smile. "Yes, that probably would be best," she relented, although still seething. Elaine smirked a half-hearted agreement.

Amanda had just one more thought she wanted Elaine Chapel to contemplate during the night. She summoned all the propriety that years as an ambassador's wife had given her. She was very much used to being civil with people she could not stomach. Amanda turned and faced her son's future mother-in-law with a forced pleasant smile.

"Mrs. Chapel. I cannot tell you how Christine has honored us," Amanda said graciously. "Her very acceptance of the Tur-ok-kali-nor, and her willingness to give her life, humbles us beyond words," she said with solemn appreciation.

Elaine stared at her unable to speak. So far the visit had gone anything but smoothly. Elaine wanted to give Christine and Spock her blessing. She wanted her daughter to be happy, but there still seemed too many differences. She knew that her daughter was still caught up in the euphoria of new love and the excitement of the new and the passionate. Not understanding the depths of the bond that was shared between the couple, she could not imagine the strength of their commitment. She was afraid things would turn out very differently from the way Christine wished.

Before turning toward the master bedroom, Amanda continued to address Christine's mother. "I know that you do not understand much of what has happened. I want to tell you that we are truly happy to welcome and embrace her as a daughter of this house," she nearly glared. "I hope that some day you will be able to welcome Spock as a son of yours." Amanda walked away in silence, leaving Elaine to consider her words.

* * *

It took every ounce of restraint Amanda had left not to slam the huge wooden door of the master bedroom as she and Sarek entered, having left their guests standing a bit unnerved in the hallway. The servants would clean up the leavings of dinner and close the house for the night, and right now there was nothing more she wanted than to be out of everyone's earshot. She was certain that one more moment spent in the presence of Elaine Chapel would have caused her to completely lose control. Her patience was quickly failing, as was her decorum. Never had she been subjected to such an abominable attitude and in her own house for that matter. It was more than she could stand.

Turning toward the interior of the large room, she exhaled loudly almost to the point of an exasperated muffled scream. "Can you believe the absolute nerve of that woman!" she exclaimed to no one in particular. As it were, she was not waiting for a reply.

Amanda's barrage of infuriated ramblings continued as Sarek prepared for bed, understanding that it was better to remain silent. He too had found Elaine unbearable and the day quite exhausting. All he wished was a quiet night's rest with his wife's warmth nestled beside him, for he was sure that the events of this evening's dinner would replay themselves in some form the next day. Amanda, however, continued to pace with nervous energy.

"Who does she think she is?" she raged. "To sit at my table and act like there is something wrong with us. Oh, and did you hear that 'I haven't even begun'?" She contorted her face in mockery and her voice took on an unusually high pitch as she recounted the lines Sarek had heard for himself. He took the momentary lapse in her attention to slip into the sumptuous bathroom for the necessary preslumber routines.

"I'll tell you who hasn't even begun," she nodded to the air. "Me. That's who." She continued to rant, oblivious, while removing the layers of her dress and stacking them across the back of her vanity table chair. She noticed he was not hanging on her every word.

"Are you listening to me?" she called.

"Yes, my wife," his voice automatically returned from behind a partially closed door. Seemingly satisfied she nodded her head and went on.

"If she thinks I'm going to just sit and take it tomorrow, then she's got another thing coming. I can tell you that right now!" She slipped off her shoes and removed her stockings with a bit of a struggle. Wearing only a silk slip she walked nonchalantly into the bathroom with the absent familiarity that only years of marriage gives one. There she found Sarek standing in front of the mirror in only his comfortable pajama bottoms vibing his teeth clean. Luckily, she did not see the slight roll of his eyes.

"How about the way she treated Spock, like he was something to wipe off her shoes?" Amanda's motherly instinct and pride howled in injury."No more Mrs. Nice Girl!" she proclaimed glaring into the mirror, warning an absent enemy, as she joined him and began pouring cleanser into her palm out of a small pink bottle. Working the liquid into the a lather she rubbed it on her face with such angry voracity that Sarek was afraid she would draw blood.

"I am quite certain that Spock can handle the situation," Sarek assured her. "Might I remind you, Amanda, that she is still a guest in this house ... " he said calmly.

"Oh, so that means it's alright for her to treat me, us, like sh..." she began, however he interrupted her.

"She is also Christine's mother," he said plainly.

Amanda splashed water on her face, removing the final traces of foam, and dried it with the thick towel that hung in the nearby rack. "I know," she proclaimed missing his reasoning. "It was horrible the way she treated poor Christine, and you know that awful coughing fit was her fault. That never h appened before she got her."

"Christine is still healing. It is quite likely she will suffer some set backs," he said, trying to be the voice of reason.

"Yes, and that woman won't help her a bit." Amanda scowled, grabbing for her tooth viber. "Just whose side are you on anyway?" She was ready for a fight and at the moment she didn't care who it was with.

"I am on the side of peace in this house," he informed her.

"Which there won't be as long as she's here," Amanda said, sticking the viber in her mouth, its hum obscuring her hearing for a while.

Knowing he should not utter his suspicions, Sarek was never the less confident enough in his diplomatic abilities to handle Amanda's wrath. However, he did find it prudent to be heading for the door as he spoke. "Did it occur to you, my dear," he said reviewing her words. "That in addition to being angry, which you have every right to be, you may also be jealous?" The last word was muffled by the sound of the closing door.

Amanda crossed the bathroom in record time, hard on his heels, the viber still stuck in her hand and mouth. She flung the door open. "Waf!" she choked over the hindrance. "Jewous ob waf?" She moved the viber around to reach the back of her mouth. "Ob vat wittle fing?" Her face was a mask of the absurd.

"Not of her physically," he clarified, pulling down the blankets on the bed. "...Of her relationship with Christine."

"O, cuwm ong." Amanda tried to laugh. Realizing she could not do two things at once, Amanda disappeared into the bathroom for a moment to the sound of running water. She returned a few moments later to the doorway, switched off the light and moved toward her dressing table.

"That's ridiculous, Sarek," she snorted. "Why would I be jealous of her relationship with Christine?" Sitting down she began smearing lotion on her arms and neck.

"It is quite understandable." He looked affectionately at her and a bit regretfully as well. "Christine is about to be bonded with our son. She has become a full and honored member of this house and clan. She ... is the daughter you always wanted."

Amanda stiffened a bit at his remark. "I know she's not my daughter," she said quietly, her eyes going far away for a moment.

"On the contrary, by Vulcan custom, she is," Sarek corrected her. "It is only natural that you would feel a bit out of place with Elaine here."

He was right. Amanda and Christine had grown as close as any mother and daughter over the few weeks they had spent together, and she resented Elaine's interference, although she would never admit it.

"Well, whatever my feelings..." She began lightly dabbing moisturizer on her cheeks. "It's Spock and Christine I'm concerned about. I've never seem him look so uncomfortable and she was positively mortified." She ran her stiff brush roughly through her graying hair a few times.

"Yes, it is a difficult situation for them both," he agreed. "However, I am certain that this is not jeopardizing their relationship or their bond. They share something strong and real," he said reaching out to stroke her face as she finally took her place beside him in their bed. She smiled and touched his fingers for awhile.

"I know. This won't stop them from spending their life together." Her eyes twinkled with the past.

"I seem to recall a very upset Englishman in a tirade about his daughter's new Vulcan husband," Sarek reminded her.

"Oh, that was different. My father was just concerned about me that's all." Amanda smiled warmly, then broke into a smile as she realized his point.

He turned off the lights from his side of the bed and drew her into his arms. Together they reclined against the pillows. "Different?" he asked forming himself around her.

"Alright, understood." She smiled as the familiar yet intense and welcomed passion began to envelop them. His hands found their pleasing spots and she reveled in his nearness that was not close enough.

"She still better watch it," she warmed with grin.

"Silence," he ordered, a slight grin of his own playing on his mouth, as he buried his face in her neck.

* * *

Down the dimly lit hallway, behind a smaller door Thomas Chapel was trying to console his own overwrought wife. Elaine had slumped on the bed of the guest room in tears before he had gotten the lights turned on.

"Oh, Lainey," he exhaled with compassion and sat down softly next to her. She could contain the sobs no longer as he latched his strong arms around her.

"I didn't mean to upset her so much," she choked.

"I know," he comforted in a whisper.

"I've been so scared for her, and now seeing her so weak, and knowing why. I just can't stand it." He said nothing but just let her talk. He knew she needed to get it all out.

"She almost died and I wasn't there. Now, they're, they're ... " She trailed off.

"They're what, darlin'?" he urged her.

"They're taking her away from me," she blurted out.

"What do you mean?" he asked, his eyes worried.

"Didn't you hear what she said...?" Elaine looked desperately into at him. "A daughter of this house," she repeated. After a moment to catch her breath a little she continued. "She's my daughter. They can't have her."

"Oh, hon, they didn't mean it that way," Thomas tried to assure her. "I'm sure they didn't. I think she just wanted to say how happy they were that Chrissy was going to be their daughter-in-law. It was a compliment."

"How am I supposed to take something like that?" Her face turned to exaggerated mockery and she made a quick throwing gesture. "Oh, here's my little girl, it's been great but you take over now." She cried softly, afraid to raise her voice.

"That's not what they want, and it's not what Chrissy would want, you know that." He patted her shoulders comfortingly. "It's their tradition, that's all. Things are just different here."

"Different," Elaine agreed nodding her head. "Too different. It scares me."

Thomas held her closer. "I know, me too," he said, thinking of Christine. "You know though, Chrissy doesn't seem at all frightened."

"No, she doesn't," Elaine sniffed. "She's always been my brave girl."

"That's for sure. When she was little she wasn't scared of anything. I guess she's still not." Thomas laughed, a thousand memories flooding into his brain.

Elaine shifted, sitting back a bit. "I don't understand all of this Vha'ren stuff," she admitted.

"Me neither." Thomas took a deep breath and thought a moment. "Maybe we're not supposed to, and maybe we don't have to. I guess all we have to do is trust Christine and Spock," he said almost thinking out loud, trying to convince himself. "Look at how he helped her through the toughest fight of her life. Then there's the way that all of them have been so protective of her. It's obvious she means a great deal to all of them."

"She does look so happy." Elaine smiled a bit.

"Yes, she does." Thomas took her hand. "She loves him."

" ... And he loves her." Elaine sighed. "As hard as it is to tell sometimes, with what he said to her tonight, I finally realized that he does truly love her."

"I think she's the most important thing in his life," Thomas said relieved.

"Well, she better be ... " She stuck her chin out defiantly.

" ... And you know that Christine wouldn't have accepted that challenge if he didn't mean everything to her. She's got a better head on her shoulders than that," Thomas reminded her proudly.

"I know. It's just ... why is it so hard for me to let go?" Elaine questioned.

"Because she's your little girl and she always will be." He tightened his grip around her shoulders. "That's exactly how it should be."

"It isn't so easy for me either you know." His eyes went soft for a moment. " ... But I trust her, and whatever makes her happy, well, I'm all for it."

Elaine thought for a while. "I shouldn't have been so horrible ... and the way I upset her." Her eyes were pained remembering the terrifying episode Christine had endured only a few minute before. "How can I ever show my face tomorrow?" Elaine conceded.

"Oh, just apologize. They'll understand, and I think Chrissy will be very relieved," he said.

"Yeah, I think I'll try to talk to her first," Elaine said, forming a plan.

"I think that would mean a lot to her." Thomas kissed his wife's forehead, proud of her. "Now, if I remember correctly the last time we were on this planet, we had to share a room with three feuding little girls." He smiled and her face answered his, knowing where he was heading. "What say we try out this heavier atmosphere and see if the rumors are true?"

She could not hold back her pleased laughter as he laid her back on the pillows and explored her neck with his lips.

* * *

Spock held Christine until she had no more tears left to weep. He had carried her across the room and had set her gently on their bed. There his arms wrapped around her like armor and she sagged in heavy sobs against him. He was afraid that her coughing would begin again, but it did not. He let his anger at her mother transform into worry and care for her. He would not move until she was alright.

Finally Christine sniffed a bit and raised her head exhaustedly to meet his gaze. Her eyes were heavy and the dark circles which had marked her weakness were beginning to return. "I'm sorry." She tried to smile, a bit ashamed. She hated to lose herself in such an emotional display around him.

"There is never a need to apologize to me, for anything my Vha'ren." He brushed his lips across her eyelids. "Especially not for being what you are, and most especially when you are in pain." He held her tighter.

" ... And what am I?" She grinned a little taking the bait.

"Irrational human, of course." He allowed himself a little chuckle as her smile crossed her face. He marveled at how much he cherished her laugher.

Her merriment only lasted a short time as she brought herself back to reality. "I thought she would be happy for me, for us," she told him. "I never would have wanted her to come if I'd thought for one second she was going to act like that," she assured him. "She really isn't that way. Usually my mother is the sweetest person in the world."

"What world?" He tried to joke again.

"I'm serious." Christine smiled a little. "I don't know what's gotten into her."

"Fear," Spock informed her.

"But, I'm fine now. Why should she still be afraid?" she wondered aloud.

"She's afraid of what could have happened to you," he told her. "She's afraid of how you are changing, of how you do not need her as you once did, afraid of the new and the different."

"She's not a bigot, Spock," Christine assured him.

"Of that I am sure, no one with an agenda such as that could have raised someone like you, my Vha'ren." He ran his fingers softly through the tendrils around her eyes. "What she is, is a mother watching her daughter move on to another part of life, in a way she did not expect and does not understand."

Christine was silent, contemplating his words. He was right, her discovery of the bond she shared with Spock had been so wondrous and beautiful to her that she was certain everyone would be overjoyed for them. However, now she realized that it would take her mother some time to adjust. Elaine had wanted her daughter to follow the same path she had, marry someone from college, settle down and have children, preferably in Austin. Live a carbon copy of her life. She had not even understood when Christine had decided to go into medicine and certainly not when she had joined Star Fleet to find Roger. Things were changing fast. For Christine, the changes were exciting and wonderful, for her mother they were frightening and threatening. Christine allowed herself to sympathize with Elaine for a moment, her mother had not seen as much of the galaxy as she had, and often Christine found herself taking her experiences for granted.

"I guess you're right?" she admitted. "She always did have a plan for just exactly how our lives were going to go," Christine smiled thinking of her sisters. "She ought to be used to it. The only one of us who did what she wanted was Madeline." Christine's older sister had married her high school sweetheart after they had both graduated from the same college, and now lived in a very good part of their hometown with three beautiful children and all the obligations of a society wife. Her little sister, Nicole, however had proved to be the true rebel of the family. She had steadfastly refused higher education and now made her home in a tiny Greenwich Village loft, chasing her dreams of becoming a celebrity in the music industry complete with purple hair, tattoo, and pierced nose.

"Well, at least Nikki's still the black sheep," Christine smirked a bit.

"I will never understand sibling rivalry," Spock said dryly.

"The most powerful force in the universe," Christine smiled jokingly.

He bent her back, kissing her long and slow. "Are you certain of that?" he asked when he finished, a small smile revealing itself.

"Ohhhh, yeah." She grinned, reminded of another.

"Yeah," he repeated nodding his head in imitation. "How quickly she forgets."

"Well," she cooed, cuddling a bit. "It has been awhile," she reminded him. "Since before the challenge."

"You have not been fit for such exertion," he said.

"I know," she agreed, nestling into his chest. "But I am feeling quite better now."

"After your episode tonight, I would still prefer that we wait," he debated.

"Haven't we waited long enough?" she whined a little.

"I do not wish to be the cause of further injury to you," he continued. "It is better that we wait until you are declared medically sound."

"I'll be fine," she urged. "I want you so much."

"As I desire you, my Vha'ren. However, I fear taking that chance with your health. You know that I am right." He seemed to smile at her persistence. The truth was it was very difficult for him to forego intimacy with her, but he wanted her well so they could both enjoy it.

"Alright." She gave in, a bit defeated. "But you owe me big time." She laughed in feigned seriousness.

"A debt which I will most definitely honor," he promised.

"Good, because I certainly intend to collect." She smiled lovingly, but shivered a little in his arms.

His concern immediately gripped him. "You have gotten chilled in the night air," he confirmed.

"I'm fine," she said, but she was a bit cold.

Not heeding her denials he quickly rose and went into the bathroom. Christine heard the bathtub filling. She relaxed at the soothing sound for a moment. Spock returned carrying her warm terry cloth robe in one arm and went directly to her. Without a word he began unbuttoning the light blouse she had worn to dinner. He too was wearing only a robe.

"Oooo, changed your mind, I guess?" Christine smiled, as he slid the skirt from around her legs.

"No," was all he murmured, enjoying the intrigue as he relieved her of her undergarments as well. He then quickly wrapped her in the soft robe and lifted her off the bed into his strong arms. She noticed he had not taken her hair down, as was his custom and wondered what he could be planning.

"Well, isn't there only one logical conclusion to your current actions?" she teased him trying to sound very Vulcan-like.

"You shall see, my beloved," he promised as they entered the bathroom.

A wide smile found her face as she saw the reason for his subterfuge. "Bubbles?" she laughed. The bathtub had been filled with white foamy suds and water so warm that it steamed up through the soap. The only light in the room came from one small candle on the side of the tub and she had not noticed the hint of soft music that now surrounded them from the other room.

"Only the best for you, my Christine," he said in a low intoxicating tone.

She reveled in his touch as he removed her wrap and knelt to lay her in the calming water. Her head rolled back a bit and an unconscious hum of delight escaped her throat as the sensation over took her. She suddenly wanted only one thing. "Join me," she offered, her hand tracing a warm trail of water down his jaw line.

He pulled up his sleeve and closed his arms around her, drawing her shoulders close to him. "Not this time. I fear that under such circumstances I would not be able to control myself and our previous conversation would be in vain."

"That wouldn't be so bad," she smiled, already anticipating the wondrous feel of his passion.

"No, Christine," he said. "Tonight I will bathe you."

"Bathe me?" she questioned.

"Yes. I will wash water over you and pleasure you as best I can until the time when we can fully experience on another again."

She smiled in delight. "That sounds wonderful." She laid her head to rest against his chest. His robe had come open a bit as he knelt, exposing the steely muscles covered with soft skin and dark hair. She drank in his fragrance, his warmth, and his essence as his hands covered every inch of her body.

"A bit more of this and it won't matter what we decided," she whispered.

"Then I have only one choice," he answered. "I will share it with you." She welcomed the familiar feel of his fingers against her temple. It always filled her with such indescribable joy and longing for him. She closed her eyes and welcomed him. He entered her mind like the soft whisper of wind through spring leaves. She was whole again as was he. During the daytime in public they could only send their love to each other through their bond. It was sometimes very nearly more than either could stand. It had only been mere days before that his heart had shrieked in mourning that he might never hold her again. Now he touched her, caressed her, felt the very breath rise in and out of her body. She was alive, and lively, and vibrant, the joy of his life. He now was certain that they be together. He would never lose her.

Christine shared his joy, felt his elation. She had been so frightened in the darkness, losing her grip on him, the only thing real and true. He had forsaken everything to find her in the depths of herself and bring her back to him. He would have died to be with her. There had been no hesitation, just as there would have been none on her part if he had lain in that hospital bed slowly falling away. There was nothing they would not do for each other, and nothing could separate them.

"I love you," Christine uttered to him, lost in passion and happiness.

"As I cherish thee," Spock whispered, filling her with warmth and adoration.

'Never leave my mind,' she begged in her thoughts.

'When we are fully bonded, then we will never be parted,' he assured her.

'You mean it will get stronger?' she asked hopefully.

'Stronger than you can imagine. We will truly be one.' He nestled into her neck, his lips exploring the soft flesh of her shoulder.

'Then, tomorrow. Why should we wait?' she begged.

'Patience my dearest one.' He soothed her excitement with his thoughts. 'It will be wondrous. We need only wait a little while longer.'

'I would wait forever,' she declared.

'We will not have to,' he promised. 'We will be one soon. For now, we share all of knowing and being with each other during our private time, we shall revel in that.'

Their eyes closed, but still seeing, their lips found each other in the candlelight and their kiss was long and soft. It may have lasted hours or just mere second, neither was certain. Together lost in each other there was no time, no space, no distance, no realm or plane of existence. There was only each other.

Gently, Spock lifted Christine from the still warm water and again wrapped her from the cool air. She clung to him, half conscious, fighting the sleep that loomed in her brain. "Rest, my Vha'ren. I will not leave you tonight, or ever."

He dowsed the candle and carried her into the bedroom. Softly he nestled her into bed, cocooning her in the blankets. Without removing his fingers from her face or his arm from around her shoulders he joined her, drawing her close to his skin. That night they slept joined in mind and spirit. Their dreams were each others, their hearts beat in time, their breath was drawn together. They were one.

* * *

From somewhere far away Christine thought she heard the gentle sounds of ocean waves, the breeze off the sea fluttered at her hair against her lashes. She opened her eyes to find herself standing on a beach of golden sand with the bluest water she had ever seen stretching out before her. She was dressed in a white gown that was more like layers of scarves. It tickled her skin as it caught the soft fragrant wind. The surf around her ankles was cool and inviting and beckoned her to enter. Pausing for a moment she filled her lungs with salty crisp air as her eyes closed instinctively, allowed the newly risen sun to warm her cheeks, and stood there drinking it in like wine.

A soft silky sensation caressed her jaw and began making its way along her neck. Christine opened her eyes to find Spock standing behind her, now embracing her as gently as if she were porcelain. He was stroking her outline with a single perfect red rose. She gasped with delighted surprise as she enfolded his hand in her soft palm and brought his lips to hers, their kiss was sweeter and more precious than any of the images with which he now filled her mind.

Christine's eyes opened slowly savoring the last fleeting remnants of the dream Spock had given her. As the light of the Vulcan morning stirred her senses she found him resting his head on the palm of one hand, leaning his elbow against the pillow. His face, only centimeters from hers, was smiling seductively.

"You did that?" she asked amazed.

He nodded and answered with a husky affirmative emanating from his throat. "Did you like it?" he asked tracing the outline of her face with his finger.

"Oh, yes," she smiled kissing his hand. "There was only one thing wrong."

He looked disappointed for a moment. "I had meant for it to be perfect. Tell me, what did you find displeasing?" he questioned.

Her joking smile shined. "I woke up too soon."

"I will most certainly take that into account the next time," he said.

"Please do," she teased, snuggling against him.

"Did you sleep well?" he asked, tracing patterns on her shoulder that had slipped from the robe with which had covered her the evening before.

"Very well," she informed him. "You?"

"Very well indeed," he agreed.

They lay for a while enjoying the closeness of each other, their hands exploring, their lips enticing each other. It had been a glorious night, perfect except for the fact that because of Christine's still fragile healing, they had not physically made love. However, their minds created beauty together that had rivaled even their most passionate physical experiences. They now basked in the memory.

It was Spock who spoke first. "I have taken the liberty of asking T'Pel to serve our breakfast in here," he told Christine.

She looked over her shoulder and saw a huge tray of delicacies sitting on a small table across the room.

"I thought you might not be up to another family gathering just yet," he continued thoughtfully.

"Thank you," she said, her face revealing just how wonderful she thought he was. "I would like to put it off a little while longer."

"Relax my Vha'ren," he said moving to stand. "I will bring it to you." He padded softly across the thick carpet and retrieved their meal.

Christine sat up a bit and arranged the pillows at her back. "Oh, such service," she laughed. "You'd better watch it or I'll get spoiled."

"It is my pleasure to spoil you," Spock said, setting the tray on the bed and sitting down carefully on the blankets. He cut some bread and spread it with a thick red jam. Then bringing to Christine's lips he fed her the morsel.

"Mmm, strawberry," she smiled, not noticing the bit of sweetness that remained on her upper lip. "My favorite."

Spock leaned forward and kissed the jam off of her lips. "Mmm, Christine's lips. My favorite," he answered. She grinned with delight and, laying her arms around his neck, pulled him closer to her.

"Then by all means. Have some more," she said playfully, as he eagerly accepted the invitation.

Their morning was long and lazy. They finished breakfast in rather erotic fashion and lounged in bed for quite some time. It was only when Spock noticed that the sun was nearly midway through the sky, Vulcan noon, did they manage to drag themselves up. They dressed, or mostly dressed each other, shared a long final kiss and with matching deep breathes opened their bedroom door to whatever the day would bring.

* * *

Christine and Spock entered the study to find both Sarek and Amanda catching up on the work that had been neglected during the ordeal of the past few weeks. There did not seem to be anyone else around, and Christine was relieved that any confrontation with her mother would be postponed for at least a little while longer.

Amanda looked up from her computer screen as they came through the door, and smiled warmly. "Good morning," she greeted.

"Good morning, Mother," Spock returned, allowing a hint of affection in his eyes.

Amanda studied Christine for a moment with a mother's practiced eye, and then satisfied with what she saw happily said, "Oh, Christine, you look quite well today. Much better than I would have expected. How are you feeling?" She stood and crossed the room to where Spock was lightly supporting Christine. She was still unsteady from her injuries and he wanted nothing more than to protect her as much as he could.

"Yes," Sarek added finishing his last thought on the document he was preparing. "I trust you slept well."

"Very well, thank you." Christine smiled and gave Spock a sideways turn of her eyes. He understood and nodded at her for a brief second. He wanted to do much more, but that would be saved for later when they were alone.

"It is very reassuring that you did not suffer any further affects from your difficulty of last night," Sarek said, standing to join his wife.

Christine smiled happily. "I think I'm truly on the mend," she informed them.

Amanda took hold of her wrists gently and pulled them to her. "That is exactly what we want to hear, my dear," she smiled and drew Christine into her arms. The younger woman accepted the embrace happily.

Returning to Spock's supportive arm after a moment, the look on Christine's face turned somber. She could hardly lift her eyes from the floor. "I ... I just wanted you both to know how very sorry I am for the way things went yesterday," she began. "If I had known ... I would never have..." she stammered but could not find the proper words to voice her feelings.

Amanda stopped her with a caring look, putting up her hands to almost physically halt her from continuing. She would hear none of Christine blaming herself. "Now, none of that. It most certainly was not your fault," she comforted.

"That is correct. It is regrettable that yesterday's events caused you such distress. Your health is our greatest concern," Sarek agreed.

"Most definitely. I consider it my personal responsibility," Spock agreed.

"Good," Amanda said to her son with an air of warning, letting him know that he had better take care of Christine or he would hear from her. She was sure that he would do just that with all his might.

Christine smiled, embarrassed by the concern the others had shown her. "I can't tell you how much that means to me. I know now that I am truly part of this family and that I am truly home."

Amanda smiled. "That is the highest compliment you could have given us," she said.

"Most certainly," Spock and Sarek said at once, raising eyebrows in unison at their shared thought. Amanda and Christine dissolved in laughter.

After a moment Christine took a deep breath. "Well, I guess I can't put this off any longer. Is my mother around?" she asked, worry etched on her face.

"I believe she is in the garden with your father." Amanda informed her. "She really hasn't been much for talking this morning."

"Hmm, I'll bet. I'd better go talk to her," Christine conceded. "Come with me?" she asked turning to Spock.

"Perhaps this would best be a private conversation," he offered.

"There is nothing she has to say to me that she can't say to you too," Christine voiced defiantly. "Besides, I need the moral support."

"Very well. I will accompany you by all means," he affirmed. "If you are ready." He offered his arm. "Shall we make our way to the garden?"

"By way of the Neutral Zone?" Christine joked nervously.

Amanda laughed and squeezed Christine's hand once more as she and Spock turned. "If you will excuse us, Mother, Father," he said. They nodded. Once Spock and Christine were out of sight, Sarek who had returned to his work noticed Amanda inching toward the study doorway. "Is there something you need my wife?" he asked.

She feigned innocence. "Hmmm, me, no," she was preoccupied. "I think I'll just go water the hydrangia," she said looking off into space as if the idea had just occurred to her.

"The one in the solarium?" he clarified.

"Um, yes, that one. It's been looking terribly dry," she smiled widely. Almost too widely.

"Your sudden interest in horticulture would not have anything to do with the fact that the solarium offers an extensive view of the garden, would it?" he almost smirked.

"What? Are you suggesting that I would eavesdrop?" She acted shocked and hurt. He simply stared at her, crossing his arms in front of his chest. He almost looked like a judge.

"Oh, come on," she defended herself. "That plant was very expensive and it took a great deal of care bringing it from Earth. I would hate to lose it," she defended herself.

"Very well," he conceded as she flittered off toward the back of the house and the best vantage point. Sometimes she forgot that she could hide nothing from him and it was at those times he remembered just how much he loved her. He went back to his computer screen almost smiling.

* * *

The dense leaves of the few native trees that thrived in the garden filtered the unforgiving radiation from the sun and allowed for a surprisingly pleasant hideaway even in the heat of the Vulcan afternoon. The grounds were very well kept and sheltered many types of flowering plants both from the planet and offworld. The splashing sounds of the manmade fountain pool added to the cool relaxing feeling of nature and gave the area an almost tropical feel. Christine had grown very fond of resting in the garden and found herself happy there.

She walked a bit apprehensively to where her mother and father sat by the water, all the while supported by Spock's protective arm. Thomas and Elaine were deep in conversation as the couple approached. It was Thomas who noticed them first.

"Chrissy. How's my girl this morning?" he said happy to see her up and around as he went to embrace her.

Spock gave Christine over to her father's arms and she accepted the attention happily. "Morning, Daddy. I'm just fine," she smiled as he studied her to assure himself of her state of health.

Satisfied, Thomas turned. "Spock," he greeted.

"Sir," Spock returned.

"It looks live you've taken very good care of my little girl." Thomas smiled at the Vulcan, his arm still wrapped around Christine.

"It is my greatest pleasure to ensure her health and safety," Spock reported.

That seemed to make Thomas very happy and his smile broaden. Turning back to his daughter he asked, "Do you want to sit down?"

"Okay, I wanted to talk to you and Mom," she informed him.

Elaine looked up from her hands as Thomas helped Christine take a place on one of the benches. Her silence had been conspicuous. She watched her daughter's face, so happy and content. Yet there was fear there, her heart felt sick knowing it was fear of her and what she might say. Christine sat almost staring at her willing her to speak, unsure of how to start. Elaine swallowed hard.

"Chrissy," she said, and reached for her daughter's hand. Christine gave it willing, a sign of good faith.

"Mom," was all Christine could say, but her eyes continued to search Elaine's face.

"I had hoped to talk to you privately," Elaine said looking up at Spock.

"Mom, anything you have to..." Christine began.

Elaine continued. "However, I think that it's better that both of you are here. I have things to say to each of you."

Christine nodded a small thank you and motioned for Spock to sit beside her. He complied as Thomas took his place on the other side of Elaine.

"Are you well this morning?" Elaine asked seeming only to see Christine.

"Yes, very," Christine said a little stiffly.

Elaine exhaled from deep in her chest, guilt in her expression. "No thanks to me," she admitted.

"Mom, don't..." Christine began.

"Yes. It's true. That whole fiasco last night was my fault, all of it," Elaine conceded.

"Mommy, please don't blame yourself," Christine begged. "I'm still getting well, and I'm a little weak that's all."

"It certainly didn't help matters to have your own mother badgering you and behaving like a beast." Elaine fell silent for a moment. "You needed me to comfort you and I did everything but..." Her voice began to falter. "Goodness, Precious," Elaine continued. "You know I wouldn't hurt you for anything."

"I know," Christine said over the tears that were forming.

Elaine took another deep breath. "I think that it all just hit me, everything that happened to you, and I was so angry I just didn't know what to do." She gently rubbed Christine's hand in her fingers.

"I guess maybe I didn't expect you to take it so hard, since I'm fine now," Christine said trying to shoulder some of the blame.

"I thought I wouldn't but when we landed, it was like all that fear for you just hit me all over again." Elaine choked on her own tears. "To be so far from you when you were in such danger, and then you were hurt and I couldn't get here fast enough. It was so hard."

"I should have told you sooner, about the challenge. So you could have been here," Christine said.

"I understand why you didn't, you were trying to protect me." Elaine smiled. "...And I had been so awful when you told me about you and Spock. I don't blame you for wanting me far away."

"Mom. It wasn't that," Christine protested.

"Yes, it was, and that's alright. Of course you wouldn't want me around spoiling your time. I should have seen how happy you were and given you my blessing right away. Instead I acted like a spoiled brat who didn't get my way," Elaine said.

Thomas took the opportunity to try to soften some of Elaine's guilt. "You see, Chrissy, it's just a bit rough when parents realize that their kids have their own minds and their own paths to follow. I think maybe your mother just had a bit of a hard time letting go."

"I guess I did," Elaine nodded. "I just want the very best for you and I was afraid that this might not be it."

"Oh, but Mom it is." Christine smiled over at Spock.

Elaine looked at both of them for a moment, her eyes softening. "I know that now." She turned to her future son-in-law. "Watching you with Christine last night, when she was sick, I finally realized just how deeply your feelings are for her," Elaine smiled remembering her amazement. "The things you said to her were words of true love. There was no else in the world but her."

"There is no one, who has ever been or will ever be more important to me than your daughter," Spock assured her. "She is my very soul. My life. The breath that sustains me. I could not continue without her, nor would I wish to do so."

"There is no one who would ever be more worthy of her," Elaine smiled. "I only hope that you can forgive me for the way I acted."

"You need not be forgiven for wishing to protect Christine. I cannot hold you to blame for something I would do myself," he said.

"Yes, but I have behaved despicably. I hope that you can at some point forgive that."

"Of course. It is forgotten," he agreed graciously and solemnly.

"Thank you. I only hope that your parents can forgive my behavior of last night." Elaine looked mortified.

"I think they will understand," he said.

"Well, Spock," Thomas grinned. "Welcome to the family."

"Thank you, Sir," Spock returned. "I am honored."

Christine looked at her mother. "Thanks, Mom," she smiled warmly.

"Thank you, my sweet one," Elaine answered. Drawing her daughter into her arms, they held each other for a moment.

"I love you, Mom," Christine whispered.

"I love you too, Baby," Elaine smiled.

Later that day Elaine had humbly apologized to her hosts, who had heartily forgiven her. They understood that she was concerned and, during a long and much less heated discussion, Amanda did her best to calm her fears. Elaine was glad that Christine would have such a wise and caring woman to help her if needed. She was surprised when she found herself genuinely liking the other woman and Amanda was surprised to find a friend in Christine's mother. The two wasted no time in setting about planning the upcoming wedding. Christine had tried to interject her own tastes and wishes into the conversation but had amusingly found it a waste of time, and retreated to the safety of the study with Spock, Thomas, and Sarek.

Spock looked up from showing holos of Vulcan art to Thomas. He greeted Christine warmly. "My Vha'ren, I thought you were assisting our mothers in planning our wedding ceremony."

"I was," she laughed. "until they decided they didn't need me."

"I do not understand. Should you not be included in the preparations," he asked confused.

Christine looked at Thomas, whose eyes were gleaming with understanding. "It sort of a tradition on Earth that wedding plans are more for the mothers than the bride and groom," he said.

"I shall certainly speak to Mother about this," Spock assured her.

"Oh, don't," Christine said understandingly. "It's alright. They are having so much fun. I wouldn't dream of spoiling it for them."

Spock's eyebrow shot up. Not only did he not understand why Elaine and his mother were excluding Christine from making the plans for her own wedding, he could not fathom her complete and good natured acceptance of the fact. "It seems I have much to learn about Human women." He exclaimed and he could have sworn he heard Sarek snicker.

* * *

Christine stood in front of the full length mirror in the master bedroom. She barely recognized herself. The image that stared back at her seemed like one of those angels from the Renaissance she had seen in paintings on a family trip to Italy, a long time ago. The silken folds of Amanda's heirloom gown enveloped her like a sheer cloud of mist. The floor length veil had been woven to her golden hair with threads of pure silver, and the shimmering lavender of the fabric turned her blue eyes to an almost icy hue. Her skin resembled alabaster. She would be a striking contrast to the deep hot red of the Vulcan desert.

The day had finally arrived for which she had waited so long. The day she and Spock would finally become one. It was their bonding day. To Christine the calendar had moved so slowly. Her heart had skipped beat after beat in the previous months thinking of how wonderful it would be to always have him with her, and be always with him. Nothing would seperate them now.

Following her complete recovery from the injuries she suffered during the Tur-ok-kali-nor, Christine and Spock had returned to duty aboard the Enterprise. It was wonderful working together again, although their respective day's activities did not allow for an extreme amount of interaction between the two. When they did work in close contact, it was glorious, each making the other stronger and more capable. Captain Kirk had been so kind as to keep them on the same duty schedule, so at least they could spend their down time together. In the privacy of their own cabin they found sanctuary together. Open fully to each other, their love, their passion, and their bond knew no bounds.

Of course times onboard were not solely limited to the happy pleasures of lovers. There had been times of worry and terror. The operations of a starship are not always simply routine. There had been the time when Christine had practically driven herself mad with worry when Spock's landing party had been captured by Klingon raiders. They had threatened to kill each member slowly and painfully. A few months later he had been thought lost in a transporter accident, only to be discovered occupying another realm on board the ship. It had been her bond with him that had saved him, for she could feel that he was not gone, and through her the crew was able to determine how to retrieve their first officer. Spock also had cause to fear for Christine's safety. There had been the time when an ionic burst from a dying star had prevented her beaming back to the Enterprise from a ship whose orbit was failing. As it ended, Mr. Scott's genius saved her, the boarding party, and the medical emergencies to which she was tending just in the nick time. Spock had proclaimed that he was forever in the highlander's debt, and he meant it. Over the course of their travels she had been stricken with Naromon Fever, a disease to which Vulcans were naturally immune, but which was deadly to humans. Dr. McCoy had barely managed to make the antidote in time. Together they faced whatever arose, and emerged stronger in each other for the ordeals.

This morning was a confusing whirl of action. Servants and hired help scampered about the house in ordered chaos, last minute alterations and changes where made, and members of both families had to be entertained. Amanda and Elaine seemed to be in friendly competition to see who could accomplish the most. Christine was grateful, for through it all she maintained a peaceful almost detached calm. She smiled to herself when she realized that it was Spock who was soothing her. Their deeper bond was already beginning to form, and he was sending her quiet thoughts. She tried to send him thankful ones, and was certain that he knew.

The ceremony would take place on the sacred ground of Spock's clan. It was a grand piece of land, hidden in a secluded valley. Spock had taken Christine there on several occassions while they were on Vulcan, and she had felt such peace and belonging amid its red ground. It was far from the wretched battleground where she had nearly lost her life, a now familiar place of rest.

The house nearly burst at the seams with guests. Christine's sisters, brother-in-law, and her young nephews had all come for the wedding. There were other members of her family in attendance also, including her grandmother, three sets of aunts and uncles and several assorted close cousins. A few friends from college had even managed to attend, although they had found rooms in nearby hotels. The story was the same on Spock's side as well. Amanda's youngest brother and his wife, had arrived just the day before along with their son and daughter who also brought along their spouses and a total of eight teenaged kids. Her eldest brother had been deceased for several years, however his widow and daughter also managed to attend. Every member of Spock's Vulcan clan were very aware that not only were they graciously welcomed, they were expected to attend. There would be quite a few of Sarek's diplomatic associates in attendance, as well as government officials. Nearly the entire High Council would honor them by witnessing the ceremony, and of course T'Pau herself would initiate the bonding.

The Enterprise was in orbit around Vulcan, and the crew were considered honored guests. Kirk and McCoy had beamed down early to be of assistance and were put directly to work by Amanda on several odd jobs still needing tending. Uhura had accompanied them. She had gleefully accepted Christine's request that she be maid of honor in the Terran ceremony that would take place a few days after the bonding. She took her responsibility very seriously and wanted to see if she could help her friend in anyway. Christine was overjoyed to see her and assured Nyota that she did not even have a case of nerves, but she could still use all the moral support she could get. The other senior officers and several friends would beam directly down to the temple site. It was turning into quite a grand celebration.

The men had departed for the valley only a short while earlier, leaving the house to the women. A bit unlike the Earth tradition, not only was it bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding, it was forbidden. In fact she was to be kept from public view until just before the ceremony when she would be presented to her bondmate. Even her father was not allowed contact with her. The ladies would see to her and give her over to Spock.

Christine longed to see Spock and she could feel his yearning for her. However she realized how powerful tradition was on this planet and she would do nothing jeopardize the day. She contented herself with imagining how wonderful their joining would be and how strong their connection would become. It seemed like a dream. She had loved him for so long and thought he nearly despised her. Discovering his true feelings and their Vha'ren bond had been the most incredible thing that had ever happened to her. Now it was about to get even better. For a moment she almost asked someone to pinch her, but she was afraid she really would wake up.

Coming back to reality Christine saw her mother watching her with dreamy eyes as she made the finishing touches of arranging her gown. There were tears threatening to spill from the corners. "Oh, Mom," Christine said lovingly.

"You look so beautiful," Elaine said, taking her daughter's hands. "Just like a princess."

"I am the luckiest woman in the whole universe," Christine smiled.

"Yes, sweety. I believe that you are," Elaine answered.

"Mom. Thanks ... for everything," Christine whispered, trying not to cry.

"It just fills my heart that you are so happy. I want nothing less for you. You deserve so much joy." Elaine embraced her daughter for a long moment, memories flooding both their minds, and hearts. Then taking one long last look at her beautiful little girl, she stepped back. "Ready?"

"Yes," Christine nodded, taking a deep breath. All of her dreams were waiting for her.

* * *

The day and union had seemed blessed from the moment Christine set foot on the sacred ground. The sun overhead held none of its usual ferocity. Its rays felt warm and pleasing on her face, just like the softness of early spring back home. The red soil almost beckoned her to approach and the mountains of rock that towered above glimmered like crystal. There was even a breeze off the desert which cooled her. For a moment the sky seemed almost blue, instead of its usual stark white. She was struck by how enormous it all seemed. Hundreds of family, friends, and other guests were there watching. She felt both humbled and honored that they had all come to give their support and heartfelt wishes as she and Spock truly began their life together. For a moment the immenseness of the day shook her and she felt frightened. What if she made a mistake? What if she did or said something wrong? What if she forgot something?

Christine also found herself uncontrollably thinking back to another red circle in which she had stood only a few months early. That day had ended in her fighting for her life. She forced the image from her mind. This day was completely the opposite, devoted to love, and sharing, and joining. Christine smiled to herself realizing it was not she who had driven the fear from her mind, but Spock. All she need do was concentrate on her love for him, and enjoy their day.

The ladies encircled Christine, shielding her from view as they made their way to the altar. They walked slowly, protectively. Her sisters held the ends of her veil from dragging along the ground. Her mother and Amanda each held a trembling hand. Uhura followed Christine as honored guest and attendant. She was amazed by the sights and sounds around her.

As Christine was led directly into the circle a quiet, soft chanting began. It was beautiful and helped to soothe her. She compared it to angel's voices. She smiled to herself imagining what Spock must be thinking and then felt him tickle her mind with joy. They were both so very happy, finally their Vha'ren bond would be complete.

The procession stopped and, although she could not see the matriarch, Christine heard T'Pau's commanding voice silence the ceremonial tones. "The course for today was begun long ago," she announced, almost automatically silencing the slight rumble of the crowd. "As was told by the ancient ones, two people were betrothed by forces then beyond their understanding. Today their bond will be fully realized and union will be made complete." Christine's heart raced, not with fear this time but with anticipation. It had begun, she would see him soon.

"Show her," T'Pau ordered the ladies.

The women concealing Christine drew apart at the order, revealing the sight of her to the man who would become her husband. Spock stood framed by the almost golden stone of the alter, surrounded by an entourage of his own. He was robed in long burgundy and looked the very epitome of regalness. Christine's breath failed her. To see him standing so magnificently in front of her was overwhelming. Her eyes followed the form of his body, her mind imagined the feel of his skin, and the taste of his lips. She watched him watching her, both filled with such deep longing for the other, that she was certain it could never be satisfied. She wanted nothing but to run to him, toward the bond that had waited in silence for so long. She wanted to feel his arms wrap around her and know that she belonged. She could feel that he was yearning for the same. The few feet that now separated them seemed as vast as the very universe itself. All they had been through to be together seemed now like so many grains of sand, scattering to the wind. Nothing mattered now, expect to be together.

Sarek stood by Spock's side, he almost looked proud. Kirk and McCoy who had been honored to be his attendants stood respectfully behind them both. In accordance with tradition, the joining that would occur would not only bring together two people, but would also unite two families. Thomas held the laudable title of head of the bride's house. As such he was given a place of honor in the circle and stood on the other side of his soon to be son-in-law. He gulped down tears and swelled with pride as the vision of his beautiful daughter emerged from the sea of her helpers.

Although he had memorized every detail of her long ago, to Spock it was like seeing Christine for the first time. Never had he marveled at something so beautiful. She looked like the angels of Earth legend. The indescribable blue eyes that had held his soul fixed for so many years now stared at him with the love he had always dreamed of, but at times could not admit even to himself. His treasure, his cherished Christine, moved closer, fully and freely ready to become his. How long he had protected her, even to the point of losing her if it would keep her safe. How desperately he had fought to keep her, even against death itself. Perhaps it had all been a test, not only of her but of him as well. A trial to determine his worthiness of her. It was a challenge he had never thought to fail. As he stood there in the scorched desert that had always soothed him, watching his bride, dreaming of the life they were about to begin, he thought he heard his ancestors' voices and they were pleased.

Amanda and Elaine emerged with Christine from the circle of femininity. Her hands rested gently in theirs. They had ceased trembling. The elder women led her to where the men waited. Spock wanted to reach for her, but protocol forbid it. He stared at her in awe.

"Does she suit thee?" T'Pau, asked the question spoken at all bonding ceremonies. She had a glimmer in eyes, knowing already what the answer would be.

"Nothing could ever please me more. She suits me very well indeed," Spock answered almost smiling, never taking his eyes from Christine.

"Does he suit thee?" T'Pau asked of Christine.

"He is everything I could ever dream of. He suits me very well indeed," she repeated, her joy beaming on her face as she looked deep into Spock's dark eyes.

"Do both clans consent to this joining?" T'Pau asked.

"We are honored to give our unquestioning approval," Sarek assured her.

"We are honored to give our daughter to the son of your house and pleased that our family will grow to include all of his," Thomas assured them.

T'Pau nodded her head, pleased with the answers. There was still one more question that demanded asking before the bonding could be completed. She nearly glared out over the crowd, daring them to respond. "Are there any who would challenge this union?" There was not one answer. Spock and Christine could feel nothing but love and support from all assembled.

"As it should be," T'Pau announced. "They shall be joined."

With that Spock held out his hands, forming the first two fingers on each into the ancient sign of affection, ready to accept Christine. Amanda and Elaine guided her hands to his. She smiled with adoration and her fingers met his with an intense wave of love. Their minds were beginning to fill with each other. The two elder women moved to stand beside their respective husbands, as T'Pau began to turn. The actual bonding would not take place in the public arena.

The place of joining was located within the mountain that protected the valley. The access was through a small opening which had been emblazoned with ancient symbols and figures of great significance to the clan. It was their history, their genealogy, their existence written proudly for all to see. Only the very closest members of both families would witness the actual bonding, along with the well chosen attendants. Amanda and Sarek would of course accompany Spock, while Elaine and Thomas would escort Christine. Kirk, McCoy, and Uhura would also attend as witnesses, as would Christine's sisters. However her brother-in-law and nephews would stay behind with the rest of guests.

Spock and Christine followed T'Pau, the fingers on his right hand and her left were not only touching, they were practically clenched together. Slowly, the group made their way along a worn path through he rock. Torches lit their way, illuminating still more symbols and relics. Deep within the mountain, the jagged walls opened into a small chamber. It was like nothing Christine had ever seen before. The walls glistened with mineral deposits, many of the colors she could not even name. The floor had been mosaiced with small tiles. There was even water there. Several cascades in the walls tumbled over the stone into tiny pools which emptied even deeper within the hidden world. Light also found its way into the revered space through a large circular opening in the ceiling. The bright Vulcan sky could be glimpsed, the only link to the outside world.

T'Pau led Spock and Christine to a small alter of red stones and bid them kneel as the others waited further back. "I will have your thoughts," she said touching both their faces simultaneously. She would help them initiate the bond.

Her presence in their minds was reassuring and welcomed. They felt her leading them toward each other. It was like walking down a garden path hand in hand with a loving and gentle grandmother. She searched their minds for the depths she knew were already there, and finding them, laid the hands of their minds together and squeezed. One mind, one soul, one body, one life, she whispered to them, retreating. She was no longer needed and they needed privacy.

Pulling herself from them, she stepped away. Their hands found each other's faces. A breeze from the opening above caressed the couple, catching Christine's veil and wrapping it around them like a cocoon. Paths of connection opened between them, ones they had never found before. They welcomed the lost halves of themselves back home.

Christine was now certain it was a dream, it was far too wonderful to be real. She was also certain that she never wanted to awaken. She could scarcely feel Spock's fingers on her face and was barely aware on her own on his. Were they even still in their bodies? They were together. Their minds touched with more gentle force than their bodies ever had, even during their most passionate moments. They were one, floating, flying, spinning all at once. Never had either of them felt such bliss. Thoughts came together, motion had no meaning, and the entire universe belonged to them. Nothing hidden, nothing secret, all was open, and all accepted and cherished. They had been so long apart, so long separated by cruelty, jealously, and greed. Now, in the hot dry land of their home all of nature and creation seemed their ally. The very wind was their breath, the soil their bodies, the oases of water their blood, and the sky their souls. That which had begun when both were far too young to understand, had begun even before they existed, was coming to fruition. All was right. Souls bared to each other, heart inviting, bodies longing Christine and Spock found passion deeper than they have ever known; love stronger than they could have ever dreamed; commitment that could never be forsaken; promised never to be broken; and truth more real than any they had realized. They reveled in each other. Together, two souls became one.

It could have been moment, hours, or even years. Neither was certain. Slowly almost regretfully they came back to reality. Opening their eyes they realized they had drawn closer. Spock was almost holding her. Their breath came back to them in spurt, as if they were exhausted, however the sensation of calm relaxation pervaded their loving gaze. They never wanted to let go. As slow as they could they eased the physical bond, only to find its mental companion stronger than ever. He was in her mind, she could hear his thoughts, experience the emotions he hid from all others, know everything. His joy at finally having her secure in his mind, strong and sure was beyond even his thought formation. Never had he felt so complete. She was part of him truly and forever now. Knowing that she found the same to be true heightened the pleasure. Christine became aware that she was crying, tears of joy rolled down her cheeks and into his hands. Then for only a moment, a single tear fell from his eye. It kissed her fingertips and made its way down her arm. As her hands trailed slowly from his face, she wiped it away, unseen by the others.

"I cherish thee, my wife," Spock whispered to Christine.

"I cherish thee, my husband," she answered, her eyes shining with love.

Looking at T'Pau, there was a new and vivid fulfillment in their faces. She again placed her fingers atop their skin to check the bond. She found each in the other's mind, truly one. She was amazed to find that although Spock was only half Vulcan, and Christine completely human, their bond was stronger than most others she had ever seen. There had only been one she could remember that could even attempt to rival it. Her eyes sparkled a bit at Sarek and Amanda with the thought. Turning to the witnesses she announced. "As it was promised, so it has come to pass." She motioned for Spock and Christine to rise and he helped her up, their fingers again making the Vulcan sign of marriage.

T'Pau crossed in front of them and began to lead them back to the surface. Elaine and Amanda could no longer hold back tears, their husbands handing them handkerchiefs they had well concealed for just that moment. Christine's sisters also sobbed happily for her as did Uhura, who could not seem to wipe a silly romantic grin from her face. Even Kirk and McCoy looked a bit watery eyed.

"Softy," Kirk whispered to Bones, noticing the difficulty he was having with the familiar Vulcan dust.

"Speak for yourself," McCoy shot back.

On the surface T'Pau presented Spock and Christine to the guests. "The bond is complete, and it is good." She turned to them. "Spock, I congratulate thee and commend thee on thy choice," she said.

"I thank you, T'Pau." He bowed his head.

"Christine, I welcome thee as a daughter of this house," she nodded.

"I thank you, and I am honored." Christine dropped her head in respect, drinking in the compliment.

Together Christine and Spock turned to face the guests, their friends, and family. Christine did her best to control the wide grin of giddiness that wanted to spread across her face. Inside her mind she heard him whisper words of love to her, and she echoed them back. Their eyes holding only each other, fingers touching, hearts and souls entwined they were one with and separate from those around them this day. As if from another world they heard T'Pau's strong voice.

"Go now, children, and celebrate thy union," she ordered them.

* * *

Secluded in the ground car which sped them back to their home, Spock and Christine melted into each other. A curtain of heavy tapestry had been raised between the backseat in which they huddled, allowing privacy and discretion. Kirk and McCoy, as trusted friends, had been given the honor of seeing the couple safely returned. They sat silent in the front. There was to be a grand celebration to honor the bonding. Entertainment of all sorts, feasting, and as much revelry as could be said occurred on Vulcan would be the order of the event. Family members and guests would be housed in luxurious chambers, and the joining of two people and two houses hailed. However, it would not occur at the residence Spock and Christine would now share with Sarek and Amanda, and the guests of honor would not arrive among the festivities until late the following day. The gala would last for days and would be held at the estate home of the clan, current residence of T'Pau. This would allow the newly joined couple a time of privacy and intimacy in which to consummate their bond.

Spock and Christine were hardly waiting for the seclusion and secrecy of their own bedroom. Hungrily they kissed each other behind the shaded windows, their hands following familiar curves and exploring well known turns. There was a difference now, a sweet and wonderful difference. With their connection to each other fully realized it was as if they were loving each other for the first time. Everything seemed new and exotic as it was experienced through, with, and as the other. The taste of their lips had never been so sweet, their breath had never felt so hot, and skin had never quite felt or been sensed so warm and soft. The rapture was glorious.

Then, just as their passion threatened to explode, the signal was given. Kirk dimmed the interior lights telling the couple that they were home. It took all the restraint and force that Spock and Christine had to pull away from each other, although their fingers never parted. As they composed themselves they conversed without words staring intensely into each other's eyes.

Tell them to go away, Christine pleaded. I can't wait for you any longer.

Here? In the car, my love? Spock asked her, a bit intrigued.

In the car, in the driveway, on the roof, I don't care, Christine thought. Just now!

Spock seemed mildly amused. Patience my beautiful Vha'ren, he said stroking her cheek. I assure you it will be worth the wait. She could tell he was just as ready to burst from inhibited passion as she was, but she smiled at his assurance.

I know it will, she smiled enticingly.

With one last kiss, Spock opened the door and climbed out into the hot afternoon sunshine. Reaching inside he helped Christine step onto the driveway. Kirk and McCoy stood outside the door like chauffeurs. They seemed a bit embarrassed, knowing exactly what must have been going on in the back. However, they were extremely happy for their friends and offered their congratulations.

"Now go on," Kirk smiled, thumbing at the front door. "That's an order," he teased.

Christine laughed. "Thank you both so very much. I can't tell you what it meant having you there."

"Wouldn't have missed it for anything," McCoy said giving her a hug.

"I was deeply honored as well. I would have had no others stand with me," Spock assured them.

"It was our honor," Kirk affirmed. Spock answered with a sincere bow of his head.

"Hey!" McCoy whispered to Spock as he began to lead Christine toward the house. "Don't forget to carry her over the threshold." Spock raised an eyebrow quizzically. "Trust me," the doctor grinned.

Kirk and McCoy were already climbing back into the car when Spock and Christine reached the door. As the captain and the doctor drove away, the Vulcan keyed in the entry numbers on the front door lock. He pushed it open and Christine started toward the cool inviting interior, eager for what lay ahead. Still not knowing why, he gently stopped her, caught her up in his strong arms and walked through the doorway carrying her. To his delight, she let out a near squeal of excited laughter. Her face lit up, challenging the sun for brightness.

"How did you know to do that?" she asked him surprise, her arms wrapped around his neck. He was enjoying holding her too much to put her down.

"Dr. McCoy advised me to take this course of action while entering the house," Spock said, at least he could blame the doctor if she found something wrong with the gesture.

"I'm so very glad he did," she beamed.

"Why? What does it mean?" he asked her.

"It's an old Earth tradition, for good luck," Christine informed him.

"Oh. Then I shall not put you down, until we arrive at our destination," Spock said.

"Which is where?" she played with him.

"You shall see," he teased.

Spock carried Christine down the side hallway to their bedroom door, her facing beaming in anticipation. "Close your eyes," he bid her.

She complied quickly and happily, eager to get inside. She felt his wrist stretch to turn the latch, and he nudged the door open with his foot. Walking a few paces inside he stopped. "Al right, you may open your eyes now," he announced.

Christine did as she was told, but was not prepared for the wonder that awaited her. The room that was so familiar to her now, had changed completely. More thick tapestries had been draped across the windows to prevent all outside light from entering. Candles glowed from every space imaginable, and the sensual aroma of flowers hung heavy in the air. Thick, inviting pillows were scattered about the floor in piles. The interior had been purged of all furniture save for one piece. Ahead of them, surrounding their now marriage bed, panels of sheer white silk hung from the ceiling to the floor. The usual spread had been replaced with one of the same white silk, as had the sheets and pillows. Upon the inviting billows of the mattress had been spread perfect petals from the reddest roses. Christine sighed and nestled against Spock.

"Does it please you?" he asked.

"Oh, very much," she smiled. "When did you do this?" she questioned.

"I have my ways," he seemed to smile.

"I think that's becoming your standard answer," she grinned.

"Are you complaining about my surprises, my wife?" He acted shocked.

"Oh, not at all. Please keep them coming," Christine smiled, as he kissed her.

In that time, with her distracted a bit and still clinging to his neck, he reached behind him and retrieved something from a small bucket that had been hung on the door knob. "Your wish is my command." Spock surprised her by holding up a bottle of champagne and two fluted glassed expertly in the same hand.

"I think I'm going to like being married to you," Christine nodded.

"Was there any doubt?" he asked, feigning concern.

"Well..." She searched her memory. "No," she flirted.

"My wife," Spock said.

"Yes, my husband," Christine answered.

"You talk too much." He silenced her with a long, deep, passionate kiss as he carried her toward the bed.

Opening the silken blind he laid her gently on the mattress. He set the wine and glasses on the floor and plied her with more kisses as he softly and carefully removed the silver threads which secured her veil to her golden hair. She watched him intently, finding openings to draw her lips over his neck or hands or caress his face. With the last thread removed he wrapped her in the fabric for a moment and then let it fall seductively around her. Upon its settling lightly around her hips, he began to liberate her lovely form from the confines of her gown.

His gentle sure hands slid the neckline from around her shoulders. The feel of his soft fingers touching her skin was magical. She bent her head back and sighed reflexively from the sensation. As she did, he drew her nearer to him, lightly sliding the closure open along her spine. Shivers of pleasure ran through her body. Lifting her head, she took her cue from him and began working the closures free from the front of his tunic. The long robe he had worn had been discarded in the car and forgotten. She was surprised and happy to find that he wore nothing underneath. She brought her lips to his chest and explored freely. The feel of her cool soft mouth on his skin brought an exhale of contentment from his throat. Christine lightly pushed the garment from around Spock's shoulders following the lean muscles of his arms with her delicate healing hands. His actions mirrored hers as he drew the gown down to her waist. His excitement increased when he realized that she also wore nothing beneath her clothing. He buried his face in her hair, breathing heavily and stoked her creamy white shoulder blades.

She had not moved from him, her hands still searching. The wonderful tingle of her fingers ran back up his arms and over his shoulders once more. She followed the curve of his back with her palms, resting for a moment to sooth unconsciously soothe the scars there. She did not realize that she had begun that habit from the first day they were together. He now showed her how warm and comforting he had always found it. She smiled knowing that they could now hold a pleasurable memory for him, one that she had been responsible for.

He felt her feeling the path of his hands up her back, along her neck, and into her hair. He held her head for a moment, disengaging from their hungry kiss he looked into her eyes and was astonished once more by the depths he found there. Those deep blue pools had always been the very focal point of his soul, and now they were drawing him even further in. He went gladly and willingly. She closed her eyelids as he rested his lips on them for a moment. Then as if he waited a hundred years, he continued his journey down her body.

He found her silky lips once more and parted them gently with his own. Their tongues tasted each other, playing happily for several moments. Then he moved to her neck. His caring lips exploring her throat. The sensation arched her back as she lost herself in the thrill. Further he moved along the alabaster edges of her body, those places kept only for his eyes. She gasped with excitement as he visited the strategic regions he knew gave her the most pleasure. Her hands held his shoulders as if she were afraid he disappear at their removal. For a second he brought his face back to hers, their breath mingled sweet and warm. Their eyes closed, there was no need to keep them open since the images were so vivid in their minds.

"Christine," Spock whispered huskily. "I love you..."he vowed. "...with everything that I am."

Christine smiled dreamily and laid her face against his cheek. "Oh, my darling. I love you," she answered. "You are my life, my everything."

Never had he kissed her so. So intensely, so softly, and full of yearning were his lips. She answered the call with a gentle fire of her own. They found all there was to be in each other. She worked the closure on his trousers as he slowly he laid her back on the pillows, her dress falling unnoticed to the floor. Taking a reluctant moment to strip himself on the unnecessary clothing that stood between them, he stared at her lying on the bed framed in white and rose petals. He sighed in amazement.

"You are so beautiful," he said, leaning over her.

Her hands traced the outline of his chest and grasped his waist. Her eyes following his sculpted body in awe. "My love, I desire thee," she answered.

He softly brought himself down to her, placing his weight along her form careful not to hurt her. He felt her nearly explode in ecstacy at the wonderful pressure of his body on hers. Her hands clasped him even harder and she felt his passion break free with full force. The power in their minds was unbelievable. The fell together, moved and turn in a sensual improvised ballet. Again and again their bodies danced, over and over their souls rivaled the stars for energy. The beauty on wonder of their initial Vha'ren bond which had called them together over parsecs of space and years of time paled in comparison to this extraordinary new alliance. It was now impossible to determine where he stopped and she started, not that would ever want to find out. At last, they were complete, forever.

Finally exhausted Spock and Christine lay back against each other. They had lost all track of time. Whether it was day or night, they did not know. He reached down and retrieved the bottle of champagne with its companion glasses. He unwrapped the foil around the top, and sent the cork flying with a pop and a hiss of bubbles that spilled out of the top and over the sides. The overflowing wine puddled across Christine's thighs. She wriggled a bit from the chill. Spock bent down and tasted the sweetness of the vintage along with salt of her skin. At one time he had not like the concoction, but he was now amazed at the new discoveries he was making with her in his life.

"Mmm, good year," he grinned.

She laughed and held up the glasses. He filled them full and then toasted his bride. "To all that has been, all that is now, and all that will be," he said entwining his arm in hers.

"We will see the future together, as one," she smiled with love. They sipped the bubbly liquid, but soon found each other's lips far sweeter. The champagne gone, their bodies tired from the thrill of their lovemaking, they wrapped each other in the soft spread, and drifted to sleep in a protective embrace. Their dreams formed together, their breathing rose and fell as if from the same lungs. They rested secure and at peace, in love and bonded fully.

* * *

Spock stood in his dress uniform on the raised podium staring at Christine in awe. On their bonding day only two days before he had thought she could never look more beautiful. He was wrong. Then she had seemed an angel sent from the heavens. Now, however, she was positively the essence of ethereal. In purest white, she seemed not of his realm, untouchable. He felt as though he had no right even to lay his eyes upon her. She walked slowly down the aisle on her father's arm, marching to the ancient Earth wedding strains, approaching him. On her face, a look of unbending love and devotion was directed only at him. He could feel it flowing through their bond. Her eyes never left his own, and even from several yards away he could feel the intensity of their blue depths. He had never questioned giving her this wedding. She had embraced his culture. He remembered her diligent practice of the words and processions of their bonding ceremony. She had wanted to know everything so that day would be as perfect for him as he wanted this day to be for her, and it had been. He would never have denied her the traditions of her own culture, nor the rites of her religion. He was fascinated by the story behind her faith and awed by the depth of her commitment to it. She had bonded with him before his ancestors, he would wed her in the eyes of her God.

Christine had chosen a simple and elegant white satin gown in a sleeveless cut with a low neckline. The bodice tapered down to a long skirt made full by crinolines. The design accentuated her tiny waist. She had forgone the typical veil and wore her blonde hair in loose wide curls about her shoulders. The front had been pulled up at her temples and caught into fullness on top. Throughout her tresses were woven tiny rose in shades of white blushed with peach. Baby's breath formed a soft subtle halo. In her hand she carried a large bouquet roses which matched the ones in her hair, accented here and there with tulips, lilies, and blossoms of magnolia, dogwood, and apple. It trailed down the front of her gown and reached nearly to her knees. An antique pair of pearl earrings which had been in her family for generations had become her something old. Tiny satin slippers were something new. Uhura had lent her the silver barrette which held her hair in place for something borrowed. Something blue was the piece of Spock's uniform tunic she had cut and pinned inside her dress, next to her heart.

The procession had gone before her. Kirk and McCoy were dual bestmen. The captain had escorted Nyota, her maid of honor, while the doctor had walked with Christine's older sister Maddy, the matron of honor. Scotty, Chekov, and Sulu completed the list of groomsmen. Christine's little sister Nikki, and two friends from the medical department stood as her bridesmaids. The ladies wore long flowing princess cut dresses in a light and flattering shade of peach and carried small bunches of white roses, while the men looked dashing attired in the different colors of their dress uniforms. For Christine, though, there was only one man in the room. He waited for her only feet away, his eyes and his heart now meshed with her own. She could feel his adoration through their bond. Only days before Christine had become Spock's bondmate and wife through his culture, now she would be his truly through her own.

Christine was surprised to find several Christian churches on Vulcan, the largest and nicest of which was only a few minutes drive from the home she now considered hers. It was built in the style of an old world cathedral, although much smaller than those of Earth. For all its foreignness to the inhabitants of the planet the building was constructed from the red stone of its surroundings and seemed as much at home there as it would have on her planet. The minister they chose was a Vulcan who had converted but who had retained his conviction to logic. Everyday Christine found a new wonder about her adopted planet. Today the church was filled with the same family and friends who had seen her and Spock joined only a few days before.

The colored light through the stained glass windows, played around the room like a friendly specter as Christine and Thomas strode the last few remaining steps to the alter. For a moment she stopped and smiled happily at Amanda and Sarek who were seated in the right front pew. The elder woman grinned ecstatically. The ambassador simply nodded, although his eyes seemed to be turned up at the corner in a warm greeting. Her own mother stood and embraced her daughter for a few second. Then they turned toward the front.

"Who gives this woman to this man?" the minister asked in an impressive voice.

"Her mother and I do," Thomas said proudly. Then turning, he touched Christine's cheek and kissed her forehead. He held her for a moment.

"I love you, Daddy," she whispered before he let her go.

Thomas guided his daughter up the few steps to where her groom waited. Slowly he gave Christine's hand over to Spock. Their fingers touched in the traditional Vulcan sign of a bonded couple. Christine had told him of the traditions of physical contact during the ceremony and had assured him that she did not expect him to do, and in fact would not allow, anything which made him uncomfortable. She had even agreed to give up the ages old ending which involved a kiss to seal the promise. He knew she was disappointed, but was grateful at her understanding. He had promised to make it up to her and give her that kiss when they were alone in private. As he touched her fingers, his gaze not swaying from her eyes, he felt them shake and longed to hold them tight. However, he could already feel several disapproving stares on him from some of the more staunch members of his race for even agreeing to this spectacle. He felt that probably his own father was among those who disapproved. Instead he tried to soothe Christine with his thoughts.

You're trembling, are you frightened? Spock asked her through their bond.

No, just so happy, Christine answered, even her thoughts carried a tremor of joyful tears.

Their inner conversation was interrupted by the minister's booming voice. "Dearly honored," he paraphrased. "We are gathered here today, in the sight of these witnesses and in the presence of Almighty God, to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony." He paused for a moment to look at the couple as the fingers on their other hand met as well.

"Do you both come here today of your own volition, willing to join you lives?" he asked them

"Yes," they answered in unison. Spock was almost proudly defiant. He wanted to show those who disapproved that he had absolutely no misgivings.

The minister looked out over the crowd. "If there is anyone here who has just cause why these two should not be married, let them speak now or forever hold their peace." Christine stiffened a bit at the words. Her mind went for a moment on the one who had tried.

She will never hurt you again. No one will, my Vha'ren, Spock whispered into the mind, and brought his thumbs up around her fingers comfort her.

I know. I will think of it no more, Christine answered back and smiled. Thank you.

When no answer came from the crowd, the minister continued. He spoke of the sanctity of marriage and the blessing of a union by God. He read passages from the Bible which Spock found particularly beautiful. He could feel Christine's heart overwhelmed with love and emotion. For a moment he thought that the happiness and devotion were coming from her, but he soon realized they were all his. He was uncertain what to do for a moment, but when he looked into her calm and serene, loving eyes, everything was clear. Just love her, he said to himself quietly in his mind so that even she could not hear.

He then heard the minister ask the question he had waited for. "Do you, Spock, take Christine to be your lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold, for rich or for poor, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others as long as you both shall live?"

Spock straightened to his full height and answered loudly and clearly, for all to hear. "I do."

The minister then turned to Christine who was lost in Spock's answer. " Do you, Christine, take Spock to be your lawful wedded husband, to have and to hold, for rich or for poor, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others as long as you both shall live?"

A single tear rolled down her cheek as she answered almost too breathless to make the sound. "I do," she smiled.

"Do you have the rings?" the man asked.

Spock turned to McCoy who produced the small circle of platinum instantly. It had been decided to give the doctor the honor of holding the precious object after Jim had lost it three times that morning. He handed the ring to Spock. Christine turned to Uhura, who was keeping her gift, and clasped the shiny object lovingly in her hand. The minister began to speak of the significance of the wedding ring. He told of its symbolic function, and of its allegorical meaning to their union. Spock was glad that he could give this to Christine and he was proud that he would wear hers. They had chosen simple platinum bands, partly due to the fact that Christine's engagement ring, the beautiful blue stone from Spock's planet, had been set in the metal. Inside the rings, they had engraved the intertwined symbols of their houses. His was eons old. For hers they had used a simple house with a cross on the top, an old Earth symbol used to mark where people worshiped, a church ... or chapel. They had also connected the ancient Vulcan symbol for the Vha'ren. These images would be worn next to their skin. Only they would know of them, just one of the hidden and happy secrets they would share.

The clergyman bid Spock to take Christine by the hand and place the ring on her finger. He noticed that she was wearing her engagement ring on her right hand. Elaine had helped Christine move the lovely piece from finger to finger without actually taking it off. She had promised him she would never part it from her body and she never would. Her hand was trembling as he slipped her wedding ring onto her dainty finger.

"Repeat after me," the minister ordered. "With this ring, I thee wed."

"With this ring, I thee wed," Spock complied with pleasure.

When it came her turn Christine placed the larger ring on Spock's left hand and echoed his words. "With this ring, I thee wed." Her face was beaming.

The minister almost smiled. He looked at the couple proudly and began. "With the power vested in me, I now pronounce you man and wife," he said.

Spock looked down at Christine, his wife, her eyes sparkling with the beginnings of happy tears. He looked over at his mother, how he wished she could have had a day such as this. He glanced at his father and was surprised when he did not find the disapproving glare he thought would be there. Turning back to his beautiful Vha'ren, his mind quickly replayed the events of the past months. How happy they had been to discover their bond. How brave she had proven herself in accepting the challenge of the Tur-ok-kali-nor, how terrified he was when he almost lost her. He grasped her hands tight at the thought. Then he thought of his home. This planet that was both approving and disapproving, accepting and yet accepting not. It had given him so much and asked so much in return. It had nearly taken from him the thing the he held dearest. He would always honor his home and its traditions, but he would never have this moment back. Christine would never again have this one special time in which the vows of their union were demonstrated. How could he take it from her for a mere impediment of society. Suddenly there was only thing he knew he must do.

The reverend began to introduce them to the crowd as husband and wife. "Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you..."

"Aren't you forgetting something?" Spock interrupted.

"What?" the minister questioned, taken aback.

Spock looked at Christine. The love in his eyes took her breath away. Without looking up he asked another question. "I may kiss her now, correct?"

"What?" The minister was flabbergasted and then realized what Spock wanted. "Yes, yes. You may kiss your bride."

Spock stepped forward and took Christine in his arms. She gasped, nearly in shock. You don't have to do this, she assured him.

Yes. I do, he answered, passion for her smoldering in his eyes.

He bent his head down and touched his lips to hers. For a second they hovered, then with all the intensity he had saved he pressed their marriage promise into her lips passionately. There in front of everyone, human and Vulcan, he chose. His world had ruled his life, it would continue to rule his life. He would not allow it rule his marriage.

* * *

Late that night, or perhaps it was early the next morning, neither was sure, Spock and Christine lay together, huddled beneath a soft blanket. Their energies spent from their wedding night passions, the couple had strolled out into the darkness of the garden and found a haven together on one of the lounge chairs. He was teaching her of the constellations which surrounded her new home planet and she was listening half intent on his words but more intent on him. Every so often he would raise his arm and point to the sky, telling her of the ancient legends attached to each point of light. She would trail her fingers up his skin and do her best to find the objects of which he spoke.

As the lesson continued Christine sighed contentedly and rested her head on Spock's chest. Her mind happily replayed the events of the day. She would never forget the wonderful surprise of his vow kiss, and how proud he looked escorting her down the aisle as his wife. Together they had joined the celebration at the reception held in their honor. Friends and family danced and dined and were joyously entertained. Christine had of course given the traditional dance to her father. She was moved beyond words by the look of love on his face. He spun around the dance floor just as he had when she was a tiny girl stepping on his feet. Today however it was different, for someone very special waited for her when the dance was over. To her surprise that some special even enjoyed one dance with her, a slow and romantic one. She did not even realize he knew how, but later Amanda had conceded to giving an impromptu lesson at Spock's request the night before.

Christine smiled remembering how Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy had also each demanded to dance with the bride, then of course there were Sulu and Scotty. Chekov had preferred another partner for nearly all the dances, being quite smitten with her little sister Nicole. When they were finished, the captain and doctor had called both Spock and Christine aside to congratulate them personally. Spock had accepted humbly and Christine happily although there was one subject which weighed a little on her mind.

"I suppose I'll be transferring soon?" She commented sadly. "I know Star Fleet doesn't tend to allow married couples to serve on the same ship."

"Well, about that." Jim hid a smile. "I cannot, for the life of me, seem to find that transfer paperwork anywhere." He winked at Christine.

Ever the autocrat and of course knowing exactly where everything on the Enterprise should be, Spock began to correct him. "I believe Captain, that you will find it...." He said missing Jim's little joke.

"Spock!" McCoy nearly yelled. "Don't look a gift captain in the mouth," he said paraphrasing an old Earth cliche.

Spock's eyebrows had nearly met the ceiling with that comment. After a few moments of conversation with Christine he understood the captain's, and the doctor's, meaning perfectly and was grateful. Thanks to Jim's feigned forgetfulness, he and Christine would be able to stay together on the same vessel. They had been certain that any time away from each other would have driven them both insane. Although, there would still be times of anxiety when they would have to force duty before their bond, at least they would face those trials together.

Tonight, however, was not one of those times. Everything, and everyone, even the Enterprise circling the planet above them seemed far away and inconsequential. The only thing that mattered was their love, and commitment to each other. Spock had stopped talking long ago and sat quietly listening to Christine's thoughts. He held her closer as she began to drift off, giving her the images in his mind as well. This was how it was always meant to be. Just before sleep claimed her Christine spoke to him without words.

Are you happy, my love? she asked.

Happiness is an emotion, my Vha'ren... Spock corrected her. ...and the answer is yes. He kissed the bridge of her nose as sleep claimed him as well.

The couple slept, blissfully unaware of their surroundings. The house behind them was quiet and dark. It appeared that not a soul stirred. They did not see the figure silently watching them from the lightless window of the master bedroom. The man startled a little at the touch of his wife's arm around his waist.

"You are proud of him," Amanda said, more a statement than a question.

Sarek pondered her words for a moment. "To be otherwise would be illogical," he answered stoically, as he brought her around to face him and wrapped his arms around her.

"...And I'm proud of you," she smiled, remembering a time when he would not have admitted even that.

"I am simply stating a fact," he said.

Amanda rolled her eyes. She would never get the last word in, especially if it involved anything sentimental. She changed her approach. "Well, at least it's good to know that something besides pointy ears runs in this family," she smiled.

He contemplated her words for a moment. "Yes." He agreed bringing his lips closer to hers. "It is very gratifying ... My Vha'ren," he finished before he kissed her.

* * *

The two beams of brilliant twinkling lights that had illuminated the small covered porch faded almost as quickly as they had begun. In their place two men smiled and checked themselves almost involuntarily. It was a habit of those who transported often to run over a mental checklist of movement and function, just to assure themselves that they had rematerialize in one piece. The thinner and older of the two was far more deliberate and verbal in his inspection than was his spry, athletic looking companion.

"I will never get used to those things if I live to be a hundred and thirty seven," Leonard McCoy vowed loudly.

"Oh, come on, Bones," Jim Kirk smiled. "You know you miss it."

McCoy shook his head. It had been awhile since his molecules had been scrambled and sent out through the void, he had not realized how much he was looking forward to being in space again. However, he would never admit that to his friend.

"Well." McCoy changed the subject. He was never one to discuss his own shortcomings. "I can't believe it's been two years since the Enterprise pulled into space dock."

"That was some five years." Kirk shook his head with a smile on his face, remembering.

"It sure was," McCoy caught his nostalgia. "You know what else I can't believe? That they made you an admiral." He grinned.

"I guess Star Fleet knows quality when they see it," Jim laughed.

"Yeah, that's why they didn't want to let me go." McCoy smiled in self congratulations.

"Oh, brother." Jim rolled his eyes.

"One thing's for sure. This Vulcan heat is another thing I'll never get used to," Bones scowled. "Come on, let's get inside."

Jim walked over to the chime button next to the large wooden door on of the familiar house and pressed. The two friends waited patiently surveying the dry land around them and fingering the satchels they each carried in their hands. "It sure is good to be coming to this planet for happy reasons." he said, remembering the times he been there under more dire circumstances."

"I'll second that," McCoy chimed.

No sooner had his voice left his throat than the door opened, revealing Spock on the other side. "Jim, Dr. McCoy," he greeted as happily as a Vulcan could. "It is good to see you again. I am pleased you could make it," he said genuinely, inviting them inside.

"Are you kidding? We wouldn't have missed this for the world," Bones smiled.

"How are you, Spock?" Jim stood in the entry trying to study his old friend.

"As well as can be expected, I imagine," McCoy answered for him, smiling slyly.

"I am well, however, it is not my health that is of concern at the moment," Spock answered with his usual stoic manner.

"Is there a problem?" McCoy asked concerned.

"No, thankfully there are no problems. I am endeavoring to ensure that there will be none," Spock said. McCoy seemed relieved if not a little amused at the answer.

"It the same throughout the galaxy," Bones smiled.

"How is Christine?" Kirk asked.

"Please follow me, you will be able to determine that for yourself. She will be delighted to see you both." Spock motioned.

He led Kirk and McCoy down the hallway to the bedroom wing of the house. The interior had not changed much from what they remembered, a few new pieces here and their and a new rug in the sitting room that divided the guest quarters from the family sleeping area. They did notice, however, that the room directly across from their destination was now filled nearly to overflowing with items and was being kept bright and cheerful. They could hear Amanda's happy voice seeing to every detail before they entered Spock and Christine's bedroom.

"Captain ... I mean, Admiral. Doctor," Amanda smiled, as she looked up from her vantage point beside the bed. "How nice to see you again." She set down the stack of linens she was carrying and went over to greet them with outstretched arms. They each took her hands in turn and were welcomed to her home. "Please come in."

Sarek, who had been standing at the foot of the bed, also turned to greet them. He had been engaged in operating the brand new holovid recorder he had just purchased, although the project did not seem to be proceeding as planned. "Yes. Welcome both of you," the ambassador said, a bit preoccupied. Amanda reached over and pressed a button on the object. It responded by buzzing loudly and lighting up. Apparently that had been the necessary part of the equation since Sarek now seemed please, if a little baffled at how his wife knew just the step to make the device work. He pointed the small metallic box in the desired direction and began recording feverishly. She rolled her eyes a bit as she turned back to their guests.

"Thank you," they both said in unison and followed her further into the room. Spock trailed a bit behind them, but once inside the room hurriedly veered off on another path.

Kirk and McCoy's eyes brightened as the image they had awaited came into view. Christine was lounging on the bed in front of a mountain of pillows. She was dressed in a light colored silk robe and her legs were covered with a soft quilt, a Chapel family heirloom. Her long hair was caught over one shoulder in a loose ponytail and her face was the very picture of joy. In her arms she cradled a tiny, pink, squirming bundle named Sirel.

Born just a few days before, Christine and Spock had brought their new son home only that morning. Their precious first born had inherited his father's pointed ears, upswept brows, and dark hair although only wisps could be seen of it at the moment. Christine had happily declared that Sirel was the very image of Spock. However, he tended to think that all of the child's other glorious features where those of his mother. It was obvious that the couple found their child perfect in all ways.

"Well, would you just look at that?" McCoy exclaimed, turning a bit mushy. He smiled widely at the baby and offered a finger for the little one to play with, which was readily accepted. "Chris, you done good," he grinned.

"Well, I can only take part of the credit." Christine smiled up at Spock who had joined her. He was standing beside the bed, and if James Kirk had not known better, he would have sworn that his Vulcan friend wore a look of pride.

"The most important part, my wife," Spock corrected Christine.

Christine turned her attention back to cooing over her newborn while the men continued to talk, Amanda continued to hover like a mother hen, and Sarek continued to record every move the child made.

"I have to agree with Dr. McCoy, Christine," Jim said, turning a little mushy himself. "I can't remember when I've seen a finer young man." He tickled the baby's chin a bit and added, "Gitchy, gitchy," much to the delight of the infant's mother.

"Gitchy, Gitchy? Sir?" Spock questioned. "If you don't mind we would like to begin developing his vocabulary properly."

Kirk winked at Christine who grinned slyly back. "Oh, don't mind him," she whispered, knowing that Spock would hear her. "To hear him tell it, Sirel should be starting college in about two weeks."

"I am simply trying to ensure that our son has the best possible start," Spock looked at Christine.

"Oh, I think he already has that. Two parents who obviously adore him." Kirk smiled widely up at Spock. "... And grandparents who can't get enough of him."

"Well, you've certainly got that right," Amanda declared, taking the moment to relieve Christine of her young charge.

"Siwel woves his Grammy Wammy, doesn't he?" Amanda cooed.

"Mother, please," Spock tried to interject, but was thwarted.

"You will not deprive me of the chance to spoil my grandson ... rotten," she informed him, then smiled widely at Christine who was delighting in the scene.

McCoy couldn't help but laugh at the torture both ladies were enjoying inflicting upon Spock. "What about your parents, Chris? I suppose they're as proud as peacocks too?" he asked her.

"Oh, that's an understatement. According to my mother, Daddy's bought out every toy store in Texas. They'll be here at the end of the week." She was interrupted by the sound of Amanda making wooshing noises as she walked Sirel around the room.

"Darling," Christine said to Spock. "You know what that means don't you?" she questioned rhetorically. "Between your mother and my mother ... we'll never get our baby back." She hid a joking grin.

Amanda turned with the same exaggerated seriousness. "Oh, you can visit."

"Mother, I do not think...." Spock began. It was then Christine touched his hand lightly and told him through their bond that they were both just teasing. He looked a bit annoyed and McCoy thought he actually saw relief flash across his eyes. He still couldn't take a joke, the doctor thought to himself, amused.

"Truly, though. I'm so happy to see both of you," Christine declared to Kirk and McCoy. "There is no one we would rather have share this time with us."

"You honor us by coming." Spock agreed.

"It is our most happy pleasure," McCoy said.

"Definitely," Kirk affirmed. "Oh, I almost forgot. I brought something for your new addition." Jim reached into the bag he carried and produced a rather large package wrapped in blue. He handed it to Christine who was pleased at his thoughtfulness.

"Oh, you didn't have to," she said.

"Well, how many welcome to the galaxy gifts can a little boy have?" Jim laughed.

Christine opened it as Amanda brought the baby over to watch. From the box was pulled a full scale model of a starship. "Oh, it's perfect. He'll love it. He can play with it while he listens to all of our stories," Christine smiled.

"You can't start too early," Kirk grinned.

"I am sure he will find great pleasure with it. Thank you for you thoughtfulness," Spock added fingering the toy.

"Well, now wait a minute. You don't think I'd come to see you son without bringing a little something too, do you?" McCoy said as he too brought out a present. His was wrapped in yellow paper with a bright blue bow. "Here, from Uncle Leonard."

Christine ruffled the ribbon a bit and looked at him with wide eyes. She wondered just what could be in the box.

"Open it," McCoy said. "I hope you like it. He won't be able to use it for a little while though."

Christine complied and laughed merily at what was concealed within. She pulled out a deluxe child's medical play set. "You've already got him playing doctor?" she teased.

"Well, there's more to life than starships, you know," McCoy said, bending over to kiss her cheek. They had been as close as father and daughter and he had missed her.

"Oh, Leonard. I love it. Maybe it will put some ideas in his head. You know like mother, like son." Her eyes sparkled.

"A most fitting gift. I am certain Sirel will find it fascinating. Thank you, Doctor."

"You are most welcome," McCoy said with a bow as Amanda took Sirel over and gently set him in his bassinet.

Kirk, McCoy, Spock, and Christine talked for a while. They caught up on news of the rest of the crew, discussed future plans, and mostly sang the praises of the tiny new person only a few feet across the room. Their happy talk continued until they were once again interrupted by a commotion from the general area of the crib.

"Would you get that thing out of that child's face? You're going to scare him." Amanda warned. Sarek was peering down into their grandson's bassinet, the vid recorder pressed against his face. Sirel picked that moment to begin crying.

"See?" Amanda said, exasperated.

The proud new grandpa almost jumped back as if he had been hit. Lowering the recorder, there almost seemed to be a look of worry and hurt on his face. "I was not aware I was doing anything to cause Sirel distress," he justified.

"Oh, you didn't," Christine said understandingly. "I think he just wants his mommy. I know she wants him." She smiled.

Amanda obliged her daughter-in-law immediately by bringing Sirel to her. Snuggled once more in his mother's arms, the baby quieted a little but still was on the verge of fussing.

"Well, I know I'm new at this, but unless I miss my guess he also wants his lunch," Christine smiled at her son.

"Oh, my, yes. It is about that time isn't it?" Amanda said.

"Gentlemen. If you will excuse me..." Christine began and smiled down at Sirel. "...Us."

"Of course," Kirk said, turning to go.

"Alright," McCoy conceded. "But I get first dibs on holding him later."

Christine laughed and agreed as Amanda and Sarek joined her friends at the door.

"Come, Admiral. Doctor. We'll have tea." Amanda smiled warmly and led them into the hallway. As they went Sarek gave her a look that conceitedly avowed, See, I did not do anything. She gently touched his arm, as if do say. Yes dear. I know.

"I will join you presently," Spock said.

"Very well, dear," Amanda smiled as she closed the door. "Take your time."

Alone together with their son at last, Spock sat beside Christine on the bed and gathered his little family up in his arms. He held her while she nursed Sirel. They did not talk with words. There was no need. All their thoughts and feelings were experienced together. In the quiet dim room, watching the living embodiment of their love and their bond, they retreated into each other. Their life and their soul had expanded in a most wondrous way to encompass the tiny being they had created. There seemed no limit to the horizon of the future that stretch in front of them.

After a moment Spock heard Christine's clear and beautiful thoughts in his mind. I was wondering, My Vha'ren... she began.

About what, dearest? he answered wordlessly.

How would you feel about having a doctor in the family? she said, nestling close to him, and pulling their son closer to her.

That, my beloved, would please me greatly. He bent his face to hers and kissed her deeply, solemnly and passionately.

Still fatigued from the exhertion of bringing their son into the world, Christine slipped off to sleep wrapped in Spock's arms. In the quiet of their room he sat with both of them close to his heart. Watching his wife sleep he remembered the day he almost lost her. That had been the darkest time he had ever known, and this the brightest. Looking at Sirel so blissfully unaware of all that had preceeded him, he was certain that their happiness, their love, their bond, they, would go on forever.

* * *

The morning sunlight filtered in through the window of the master bedroom as it had so many times before. This had become Spock's favorite time of day. These few hours between daylight and dawn, when the quiet of night had still not left the house, gave him time alone with his thoughts and with Christine. He could lie in the shifting shadows and watch his beautiful wife cling to the last remnants of her sleep. How often he had marveled at her sighs, the movement of her eyes beneath their silken lids, a slight turn, or the way she would unconsciously seek him in her sleep nestling close to his body. Her touch and her warmth brought a wonderfully familiar sensation, a mix of passion and pleasure, of comfort and contentedness. Spock knew there would come a time when he would wake and she would be gone. His heart wrenched each time he thought of it and he shoved the image far down past his awareness. He would not allow himself to imagine that. There was still much time they would share together and so many new experiences yet to explore.

Today they would travel together once more to the honored ground of their ancestors, to the circle in which they had been bonded so many years ago. They would make the journey deep inside the mountain to the most private and sacred place of their clan. Today T'Pau, still unwilling to pass on the duties of leadership despite her advanced years, would officiate over another momentous event. Today their eldest daughter T'Ana would officially present their first grandchild.

Spock's mind traced the path back through the happiness of the years. Had they truly passed so rapidly? They seemed but moments. Sirel had grown so quickly. It felt as if only yesterday he and Christine were watching Amanda and Elaine's congenial rivalry for the affections of their mutual grandson. Both thought they knew exactly what was best for a week old baby and what had ensued was a comedic clash of wills. Christine had been correct, Thomas had arrived with nearly a wagon load of toys for the child. Everything from something called a stuffed Piglet to an archery set was lavished on their son. It was a wonder to Spock that such extravagance had not completely corrupted the boy. However, he was pleased that his son had grown into a very well adjusted adult.

Sirel had chosen to follow in his mother's footsteps and become a doctor. He had also been accepted with full scholarship to the university Christine had wanted to attend, but had been unable due to financial constraints, Harvard. Spock smiled, remembering to himself the way his wife had proudly exclaimed, "My baby's going to Harvard," at the news. It meant a great deal to her. Sirel was now in his final year of medical school and planned to return to Vulcan to complete his residency. He had also become quite serious about a fellow student, a young Italian girl he had met during his emergency room rotation. His proposal was now more a question of when than if. Christine was looking forward to a wedding soon.

Their life had not always been carefree. Two years after Sirel was born came the time they had both been dreading. Although Spock tried to hide the early stages of his Pon Farr from Christine, she knew. She remembered the symptoms. Besides, secrets were impossible through their bond. Amanda had prepared her daughter-in-law as best she could and Christine felt she was ready. Sarek had also counseled his son to take great care with Christine. She was after all a human and therefore more fragile than Vulcan women. He could very easily injure her gravely. That fact terrified Spock and he vowed that even in the throws of that terrible time, he would never hurt his beloved Christine. Amanda and Sarek took Sirel to visit relatives in the plains city of Tan'ol so that Spock and Christine would have the necessary privacy. It was unspoken of course but everyone knew why the couple had fled their home with their grandchild.

Christine had been so brave and Spock was immensely proud of her. However, when the climax of the fever struck, neither found themselves as prepared as they had thought. It was complete insanity. Spock did his best to shield Christine but she could sense his burning and he could feel her fear. She was determined not to lose her courage. However, it soon became apparent that neither could hide their terror.

Once when he had grabbed her so hard she could nearly feel his fingers digging into bone, she had screamed reflexively. Through their bond she heard his anguished thoughts. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, by beloved. I did not mean to...

"I know. My darling. I know," she soothed, stroking his furrowed brow. "You didn't hurt me. Whatever you need to do. I'm here for you." She kissed him as tenderly as she could.

Days of confusion and fear, ordeal and exhaustion passed without either ever noticing. Finally Amanda received a vid call from her son imploring her to return home to aid in Christine's recovery. Upon their return the older couple found Spock desperately huddled over Christine's motionless body. Her trial was not over. It was days before she awoke and when she did every inch of her body ached. Spock's guilt consumed him, although Christine never imagined blaming him. Sirel was brought to her which eased her a bit and Spock tended to her with all the love and care in his soul. With Amanda's help Christine was soon on her feet again, and it was discovered that the ordeal had provided a joyous result.

Nine months later, Christine and Spock brought lovely little T'Ana home to their own house. Built on the grounds of the family complex and adjoining his parent's home through the garden, the structure soon became a haven of l ove and warmth. It was the perfect place to raise a family. T'Ana was the picture of childish creativity. She would spend her days painting pictures for her parents and grandparent, or making up songs and dances with which to delight them. She found her inspiration in the ancient legends of both Earth and Vulcan, and proved to be quite a gifted writer as well. It was no surprise when she chose to be trained as an artist. She had married a Vulcan priest, which had pleased Spock greatly. Christine and Spock's pride had swelled when she announced to the family that she was expecting.

Seven years and nine months after T'Ana was born, she was followed into the family by her lively little sister T'Lora. Ana and Lora, as they were affectionately called by their mother and grandmother; the T's were only added when there was swift and terrible retribution to follow, were as close as two sisters could be despite the difference in their ages. T'Lora was the epitome of curiosity. She would barrage her ever patient parents with endless questions, always wanting to know exactly how things worked and why. She spent countless hours by her grandfather's side examining parts and pieces of every type of mechanical nature. T'Lora delighted in her father's stories of adventures in the stars. Spock and Christine would often catch her in the garden in the middle of the night staring up into the heavens. They both figured they knew what that meant, and were proven correct when their youngest daughter was accepted into Star Fleet Academy. She had left her home to take up residence in the dorms just a few short months before and was already showing every sign of becoming a skilled leader even in her freshman year.

Christine shifted in her sleep, bringing Spock back to the present for a moment. When he was certain she was still peacefully asleep his mind wandered once again. He saw Christine's graduation from medical school and the beginning of her practice at the Star Fleet wing of the Vulcan Science Academy. He had been so proud of her. She had been so understanding and supportive when he announced to her his intention to undergo the Khol-i-nar discipline. The Pon Farr the had resulted in the birth of T'Lora had been extremely violent and Christine had been injured so severely that it had even adversely affected her pregnancy. Spock's shame overwhelmed him and so determined not to hurt her again that he felt purging himself of all but logic was the only way to ensure that. She was there for him unconditionally when he had failed in that attempt. He should have known, she was his path and nothing else. Together they could face anything.

He remembered when they had both been called back into service by Star Fleet shortly after T'Lora's arrival. They enjoyed teasing each other while working together, her by calling him Mister and him by referring to her as Doctor. Their self control was remarkable. If their colleagues had not known better it would have appeared they were not married at all, at least while they were on duty. It was during Spock's quest for the Kohl-i-nar that Christine had been summoned away from him and the children for the first time. She hated to go, but again duty came before personal desire. She was to become the Chief Medical Officer on board the Enterprise, a very momentous step in her career. She reluctantly left the children in the care of their grandparents and assumed her new commission. She had not even been able to say goodbye to her husband as he was still undergoing the purging of all emotion. It was her presence on the Enterprise that had caused Spock to abandon the total attainment of logic, and sent him in search of the ship the instant he sensed the danger with the V'ger probe. If giving up all feelings meant giving up her, he would have none of it. After his failure in his quest, he needed to be near her and could not bare the thought of harm befalling her. She was elated to see him, and they easily fell back into their routine of passionate professionalism on board the ship.

Spock and Christine chose to remain in Star Fleet after the danger had passed. Spock accepted a position as an instructor at Star Fleet Academy and was promoted to captain. Christine was named Director of Emergency Operations, and awarded the rank of commander. They moved Sirel, T'Ana, and T'Lora into a small and comfortable home in the hills surrounding San Francisco, a close commute to the both the academy and headquarters. Life fell into a wonderful, easy harmony. Except for the times when Spock was forced to leave Christine and the children for training cruises it was a perfect time.

Then came the day that Christine collapsed in the garden. Spock had been away on a mission aboard the Enterprise. It had started as only a training cruise, one which included a young Vulcan friend named Saavik whom Christine thought of as another daughter. The cadet had become very close with the family, and had even stayed at their home on many occasions. It was soon evident that this was more than a routine exercise. The news vids were filled with reports of Khan Noonian Sihng, and his attempts to exact revenge on the Enterprise crew. It was all Christine could do to remain calm, not being able to contact Spock. Luckily, Amanda had been on Earth and had come to stay with her daughter-in-law and grandchildren during the crisis. Through her own pain, Amanda tried valiantly to keep Christine's hold on reality strong. Christine lay unconscious for nearly a day and when she awoke she could only scream for Spock. It lasted two horrifying, agonizing days. The news had already confirmed what Christine sensed, that Spock was gone. His soul ripping from her mind was almost more than she could bare. She had always expected it would be she who leave life first. The family grieved openly, and returned in mourning to Vulcan. During the journey, however, Christine was overcome with a strange sense of peace. She declared outright that Spock was not dead and would return to them. She inexplicably and suddenly vowed that she could still feel him in her mind. It was that very mind that Amanda feared was shattered and lost.

Christine was of course proven correct. She begged Sarek to go in search of the Katra she could still feel and although his grief was great he complied. Christine's soul soared when Spock was bought home and rejuvenated into the man she loved. She could not bare to watch the mysterious ritual that rejoined Spock with his essence. She waited breathlessly for him at home. Their reunion would be private. He recognized her immediately and their bond became stronger than ever. They ran to each other, their minds touching, each lavishing love on the other. Although his other memories returned in time it was Christine who was strongest within him.

He stifled a laugh for a moment. It was about that Christine had been thrown into a near panic by the discovery of a few gray hairs among her golden locks. She had immediately colored her blonde tresses a dark auburn. Although Spock missed the brilliant sunny strands around her face, the change was not entirely unpleasant. It gave her an air of maturity and grace which suited her. A twinge of sadness encroached upon him as his breath stirred several gray strands which could now not be tamed by the dye. Every part of her was beautiful to him, and always would be. However, it was the meaning behind these changes that he regretted. How he wishes he could age with her, then there would not be so much of his life he would be forced to spend without her. Again, he almost physically shook his head willing the thoughts away.

Christine had still had an obligation to Star Fleet after her husband had been restored to her, and Spock had wanted her to return to her duties at Headquarters. It broke her heart to leave him before he was fully recovered, knowing full well that he intended to accept whatever punishment the council deemed fit for the rest of the crew. Unable to argue with him, Christine complied and she and the children returned to Earth along with Sarek who planned to speak on his son's and the crew's behalf before the council. Only a few days after their arrival the planet had been beset with catastrophe from a probe of unknown origin. Christine could feel Spock's fear for her and the children, and even as he journeyed back through time to save their world, their minds were inextricably linked. During the endeavor he had kept to himself. Even Dr. McCoy's probing could not shake his resolve. He had no time to worry about frivolities. All his efforts were focused on saving Earth, his wife, and his children. Upon their return Christine's fears were proven correct when Spock left their small group in the viewing arena and went to stand with his shipmates. Although her pulse raced with dread at the possible outcomes, she had never been more proud of him. To everyone's delight, they were not punished, but hailed as heroes. Again Christine and Spock were reunited, their love outshining disaster.

The couple remained with Star Fleet for several more years after the incident with the whale probe. Spock had assisted Captain Kirk in resolving a hostage situation involving his very own brother, and had been instrumental in initiating relations with Klingon Empire. Christine had developed several new medical procedures for deep space travel. Ultimately their family and their bond had brought them home. They had retired with their children to a quiet life on Vulcan, Spock to his research and the beginnings of a diplomatic career, and Christine to her medical responsibilities.

There had also been other bleak times when all Christine and Spock could do was cling to each other. He had accompanied her back to Texas to bury her father who had succumbed to a unexpected heart attack while riding over his ranch. Although her pain consumed her, Christine took comfort in the fact that Thomas had died doing what he loved best. Several years afterward Christine had held Spock while he wept the night Amanda died, a pain he could only show to her. He had finally been able to tell his mother, on her death bed, how much he loved her. However, the peace found in that moment could not overcome the grief of her loss. Sarek too was inconsolable. His loss was immeasurable. Somehow though, Christine found a way to help him as well, and she could feel his overwhelming gratitude. She had found a strength she never dreamed she possessed as she brought her family through the tremendous struggle of adjustment. Somewhere in the undertaking Christine became the pillar of her family.

Today Christine and Spock would be accompanied by their youngest son Solan. Born when Christine was fifty, he was now slightly over twelve years. He was their wonderful little miracle. There had been complications with T'Lora's birth, and while both mother and daughter had come through the ordeal healthy, Christine and Spock had all but given up expecting to have any more children. They had taken the news with understanding and resigned themselves to the fact. They were not deprived. They had three beautiful children who were the joy of their lives. After Spock's most recent Pon Farr, Christine was overjoyed when she learned of her late life pregnancy. She took every precaution to ensure the baby's safety. She had even bowed to her family's wishes and delivered her last son by caesarean. Solan was the apple of his parent's eye. Except for his ears and upturned eyebrows, he looked exactly like his mother. He had, like his brother Sirel before him, undergone the Khas'wan rite. However, his time had seemed more a duty to his father than an honor as Sirel had deemed it. There was a definite predilection toward his mother's Earth culture in Solan. Spock did not dispute this, but instead chose to respect his uniqueness especially since it made the boy even more like Christine. Solan had even inherited his mother's blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. The boy was Spock's treasure. He was so like Christine even in disposition and sensibilities. Although he would not admit to even thinking it, Spock knew Solan would be his comfort when she was gone.

Christine stirred in the early morning light and opened her eyes. She was greeted by Spock's adoring gaze. She leaned into him and shared their first kiss of the day. "Mmmm," she sighed. "I was dreaming."

"About what, my love?" he asked slyly.

"About us. About everything," she said dreamily.

"Is there anything you would have changed?" he asked.

"Not one thing," she assured him. He wrapped her in his arms as their lips found each other once more. Morning lovemaking had become one of their favorite activities.

When their passions were sufficiently satiated, Spock leaned back on the pillow and Christine wrapped herself around him, resting her head on his chest. "We're going to be late," she said, massaging his shoulder.

"They cannot start without us. We are part of the ceremony," he said.

She smiled. "Come on. Get up. Ana would never forgive us." She lifted herself up on her elbow and pulled at his elbow.

Spock knew she was right, and would never have dreamed of dishonoring either his daughter or his new granddaughter.

* * *

The altar room deep within the mountain of the clan's sacred place was still beautiful in its hidden mystery. Spock and Christine had journeyed there four times since their bonding to present each of their children. Each time Christine had been struck by the solemn majesty of the occasion. Today was no different. She stood with Spock around the stone alter, beside her Solan watched the ritual with wonder. He was learning much about his Vulcan heritage. For all his inclination to human ways, Solan still found the mysteries of his father's people fascinating. Next to them stood Sarek. As the eldest member of Spock's family group, he would have a special place in the ceremony. It would be his duty to bring the new baby to T'Pau, who would administer the ancient rite of acceptance. T'Ana took her place in the middle of the circle, beside her husband. In her arms was her beautiful infant. The little girl, who had instantly become her grandparent's pride and joy, had all the dark coloring and upswept features of her race, for she was five-eighths Vulcan. She had, however, inherited one striking feature from the Human side of her genetic make-up, Christine's deep blue eyes. The baby was the picture of beauty. For T'Ana there could be only one name for her daughter. She dispensed with the tradition of placing a T before the child's name and called her simply, Amanda, to honor her grandmother.

T'Pau was assisted to her place at the altar. Her regal presence had not failed her and she would see no one else bring this new soul into the clan. She bid the family to come closer. Sarek gently took his great-granddaughter from T'Ana and walked toward the altar as Spock and Christine looked on. T'Pau accepted the child without hesitation. Placing her fingers to the baby's temple she uttered the words of welcome and imparted the clan's history into a mind, still far to young to understand. It would come to her in time. The old woman was pleased with the child.

"She will bring you great honor. Go and cherish her," T'Pau said proudly.

As was tradition Spock and Christine stepped up to receive their granddaughter and take the baby back to her mother. Christine's face beamed as she held the continuation of their bond. Spock looked down at the child, unable to hide the look of exceeding pleasure in his eyes, at least from his wife. His mind wondered what life would hold for their precious jewel. He watched the baby, even more Vulcan than he was, sleep in Christine's arms and was now certain their bond and their love would continue. It was also tradition for the grandparents to give the new child a meaningful gift. He looked at his wife, and she nodded. Spock took a small velvet pouch from the pocket of his tunic. He reached inside and clutched it's contents tightly. Together he and Christine spoke to their tiny granddaughter through their bond, as they touched her soft face.

May your life be filled with only good and sweet. May you honor your family, as we honor you. Find a path that is your own and follow it where ever it may lead, but always remember your home. Find a love that is true in the ancient tradition of the Vha'ren, just as we did. Just as our love has given life to you, may yours continue throughout the ages. Know that you are cherished.

Spock looked at Christine who was crying joyful tears. He placed the object he had held in his palm around the baby's neck and fastened the clasp on the new chain which was far too large for her newborn frame. Christine held it up and examined the gift thoughtfully.

It was a tiny IDIC pendant with a strange purplish stone.



The End. Live Long and Prosper!

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