DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of J. M. Lane and is copyright (c) 2002 by J. M. Lane. This story is rated PG.


by JM Lane

Leonard McCoy was angry. Of course, that would come as no surprise to those who knew him best, for he was easily provoked--but this time, things were different. It was those he cared about most who had hurt him…not just provoked, but hurt him. For their sake, he had endured it without complaint for years, but this latest incident had pushed him to the limits of his endurance and patience. He was sick and tired of being consistently shunted aside, taken for granted, rarely being trusted with their personal feelings, even more rarely invited along with them on shore leave, made to leave if they wanted to talk privately…

Whether they "meant" to or not, they did these things, and he wasn't going to take it any more. Okay, so he had his faults, but so did they. Why did he have to be the one constantly penalized for them, sit in sackcloth and ashes because he wasn't precisely as they thought he should be? Jim he could handle; it was Spock that he was upset with at the moment. Not that it was so much something the Vulcan had done to him as to Christine--but his hurt and anger toward him were as great as if it had been done to him. He was determined that they be treated more fairly and decently, or else he and Christine would leave…and go as far away as they could, see just how long those two, superior, self-righteous bastards could last without them. This was the last straw!

It was bad enough that Spock ignored Christine, consistently rebuffing any attempts by her at closer contact, but now he was making her feel incompetent and useless on top of everything else. It made him see red, and it was going to change, even if he had to tie Spock down and make him listen. He'd had it up to here with their neglect and mistreatment of not only himself, but Christine. A lot of the time they were treated as though they either weren't there or had no feelings--simply expected to take their abuse and not squawk, all supposedly in the name of "friendship" or "professionalism."

Spock, of all people, should have known better, because he knew what it was like to be mistreated, rejected and rebuffed…but it seemed that all his manners, not to mention basic gentleness and decency, were reserved for Kirk. Otherwise, they went totally out the window. The Captain seemed to be the only one the Vulcan considered deserving of his attention, consideration or affection; he and Christine seemed to be merely necessary evils that Spock endured for the sake of staying around Kirk. If their medical expertise wasn't needed, they didn't exist. Even now, he could recount the events of five days ago as if they'd happened an hour ago.

He had come in for his shift around 1430 to find Christine with her head down on her desk, quietly sobbing as if her heart would break. She was usually almost Vulcan when it came to hiding her feelings; it had to be traumatic for her to end up in tears--and he had a pretty good idea who had caused them. He approached her and gently touched her shoulder, speaking in his softest, most compassionate voice.

"Chris, what's wrong?" As if I need to ask, the Doctor thought bitterly. It's Spock. When isn't it?

She lifted her head to face him, her vision blurred through tear-filled eyes, which were red and swollen from crying, her face flushed as though she had a high fever. "Leonard? Oh, it's nothing. The usual."

"The usual? Come on, I need more than that if I'm going to help you."

The nurse sighed, blew her nose with a tissue from the nearby dispenser, then wiped her eyes with another and threw them both away before standing up and turning toward McCoy's office. "Let's go to your office. I don't want anyone to overhear this."

He followed her there; the doors swished shut behind them. They seated themselves and called up cups of hot coffee, sipping intermittently as they talked.

"Well, you know that Spock has been in Sickbay for the last couple of days because you wanted to see that he got the drug which will get his blood production rate back to normal."

McCoy nodded. "Go on."

Christine sighed and continued. "Well, I gave it to him a couple of hours ago, and noticed that he seemed tense. I could tell he needed a back and shoulder rub to relax, and even offered to give him one, but he refused. I didn't force the issue; you know how he is if you do that. About an hour ago, the Captain came to visit him and noticed the same thing. I moved as close as I dared, where I could see and hear them, but they couldn't see me--then the Captain said, 'You look tense, Spock. Is there something I can do to help?'

"Spock says, 'I would appreciate a back rub.' " She fought back tears as she went on. "The words went through me like a knife, you know? Then he turns on his belly and the Captain begins the rubdown. A little while later, Spock went all but limp with relaxation. I even saw him smile and squeeze the Captain's hand after turning over. 'Thank you, Jim,' he says. 'I feel much better.'

"'I'm glad,' the Captain replies, then moves to the door before turning back. 'But wasn't there anyone on duty here who could have done the back rub?'

"Spock looked uncomfortable for a second, then reluctantly admits, 'Yes. Nurse Chapel is on duty.'

"'Couldn't she have done it?' the Captain asks.

"'I suppose so,' Spock replies. 'But I prefer the way you do it. You seem to know how to do it just right.'

"'But the personnel here are professionally trained. Why experience any more discomfort than you have to?'

"'Because I…prefer your touch,' Spock retorts. 'Now, please leave me. I wish to sleep.'

"'All right, if you say so. See you later,' the Captain says, then leaves, sensing that Spock was in no mood for further conversation. The Captain didn't seem to notice me, and that was good, because I couldn't have explained why I was there if he had." She once again began sobbing.

The Doctor got up, came around his desk and gathered his Head Nurse close, holding her in comforting arms. "I'm sorry you had to hear that, Chris."

"I wanted to help him, but he wouldn't let me," she said, voice barely audible.

"Does that surprise you?"

"No, but it hurts. It hurts like hell." She clung to him like a lifeline. "He doesn't want my help or my touch." Her voice almost broke as she buried her wet face in the Doctor's uniform shirt. "He wouldn't care if you or I died or disappeared tomorrow…but if it was the Captain--" Her voice broke off. "Leonard, why do I bother, why do I try? He never notices, it never matters. I might as well not even exist." Her sobbing increased. "Why couldn't he at least have let me make the attempt?"

McCoy couldn't find any words which would ease her pain, so he merely held her and let her have her grief. This time it wasn't a case of over-reaction, not an isolated incident--but one of far too many times that Christine had been shunted aside, taken for granted, ignored and/or for-gotten…and not only by Spock. This stupidity was going to end…and soon…whatever he had to do!

* * *

It was that evening that McCoy decided to confront Spock and have it out with him once and for all. The Vulcan was reading something on the bedside monitor when the Doctor walked in. He raised an eyebrow at the grim look on the latter's face.

"Is something wrong, Doctor?" he asked conversationally, unaware of what was coming--and for that reason, was unprepared for it.

"I want to talk to you, Spock." McCoy's voice was deceptively quiet.

"What about?" The Vulcan's voice was infuriatingly calm, and McCoy made sure that Spock knew how he felt about it.

"Your treatment of Christine a few hours ago."

"That is not your concern," Spock retorted stiffly. "My conduct is my own affair." Let it never be said that a Vulcan cannot rise to the occasion.

McCoy's fists clenched and unclenched behind his back as he fought for control. "Not when it affects the smooth running of Sickbay," the Doctor shot back. "You had a rubdown a few hours ago, right?"

"Yes. Why?" The First Officer allowed himself a frown.

"Who gave it to you--or need I ask?"

"What is that supposed to mean, Doctor?" Spock's tone was suspicious.

"Did Christine offer to do it?"

"She did," the Vulcan reluctantly admitted.

"And you refused it," McCoy finished coldly.

"I did not require it at that point," the Science Officer claimed, dignity fully intact.

"That's strange, since Christine told me that you seemed quite tense and restless," McCoy informed him. "And I'm inclined to believe her."

"Are you accusing me of lying, Doctor?" Spock almost visibly bristled as he pushed the monitor aside.

"Not at all," the Doctor replied evenly. "Only that you didn't allow her to do her job. What do you think Christine was in Sickbay for, decoration?"

The two stared at each other with equally frigid gazes.

"Since then, Christine has been fumbling around, dropping things, making mistakes she hasn't made in years…"

"…and you believe I am the cause," the Vulcan finished, eyes as hard, black and cold as obsidian.

"I know you are," McCoy snapped. "Damn it, Spock, even if you don't consider me a friend, Christine certainly deserves better after all she's done for you."

"Doctor, I assure you it was not a reflection on her competency. I merely did not wish a rubdown at that point."

"But you did when Jim came in an hour later," the Doctor said, his voice sounding too much like an accusation for Spock not to notice it.

"Is there something wrong with that?" Spock flared.

"Not to your way of thinking," McCoy retorted. "But the least you could have done was let her do her job--or at least attempt it--instead of making her feel useless. But you didn't even let her try, from what I understand. Just where did you think she was after Jim came? Did you even care? I doubt it very much. She heard everything you said…that you were tense, needed a rubdown and hadn't gotten one, so Jim gave it to you. I have to give him credit for one thing, though--he confronted you about it, asked you why you didn't let Christine do it if you needed it and she was available. You said you preferred him doing it, even though she is equally capable of doing it. But that didn't matter one damn bit to you, did it? She didn't matter one damn bit… though that doesn't surprise me. She never has mattered to you." Any more than I have, the Doctor finished sadly in his mind.

There was so much bitterness in McCoy's voice that Spock sensed that the Doctor wasn't only protesting Christine's treatment, but his own. "Is there something you are not telling me, Doctor?"

"A lot," McCoy remarked. "But there's no sense mentioning it, because we'd be up all night arguing about it--and even then, probably wouldn't resolve anything. It's hard to resolve problems when one person's mind is already made up beforehand and unwilling to give the other person the benefit of the doubt…in essence, a chance to prove themselves."

His voice was a mixture of pain and bitterness. "It's a mistake for one person to be the be-all and end-all of another's existence. That can often be as hard on the latter as the former if the dependent one has no one else to turn to in the event something happens to the one they depend on."

Spock gave him a funny look. "What do you mean, Doctor?"

"Suffice it to say that it's a pretty poor life that only has room for one other person in it, when a person won't give anyone else a chance to be their friend--can't forgive them their faults when he should know they care about him and mean well, yet expects others to accept him without reservation. Nor are they responsible or should be penalized for whatever trauma he went through in his childhood." McCoy turned away, all talked out for the moment. "Good night, Spock. I'll leave now so as not to impose my odious presence on you any longer. I know you don't care to be around me any more than absolutely necessary." With that, the Doctor left, leaving Spock to ponder his words and the emotions behind them.

* * *

Upon his release from Sickbay, Spock called Kirk to his quarters to discuss what McCoy had said--none of which he had been able to figure out, and which he had decided not to mention until he and Kirk could discuss it privately.

"What's so urgent, Spock? You sounded troubled when you called." Kirk sounded concerned.

"It is…about Dr. McCoy," the Vulcan confessed quietly as the two went to sit on his bed in the sleeping alcove.

"Bones? What about him?" The Captain's brows raised in a most Vulcan manner.

"I had a most--unusual conversation with him some days ago." The Vulcan stepped to the auto-chef to get himself and Kirk a drink, handing Kirk's Saurian brandy to him upon his return.

Kirk took a swallow before answering. "What did he say?"

Spock related everything McCoy had said and finally confessed, "I have been unable to deduce what he meant by those statements, though I did detect sadness and bitterness in his voice."

Kirk smiled. "Not really surprising, considering that we've been pretty much spending time together without including him. It wouldn't surprise me if he felt left out or excluded."

Spock didn't want to admit it, even to Kirk, but he felt more comfortable when it was just the two of them as opposed to having the Doctor with them. "But I only… feel comfortable when we are alone."

"That's probably something else that's been bothering him, judging from what you said. No one likes to feel like they're 'on the outside looking in,' like they can't join people they consider friends if they so choose. He must feel hesitant at joining us whenever he sees us together, even if he wants to be with us--because he doesn't want to intrude. Perhaps he even feels like we don't consider him as much of a friend as we do each other. Remember, he has feelings as much as we do. We must try and make him feel as welcome as possible when he spends time with us, and I think I may invited him to dinner with us next time, if you don't mind. It shouldn't be too much of a hardship to be polite to him for a couple of hours. After all, you should know better than anyone how it feels to be left out and excluded because you feel or believe differently about things than your peers.

"I'm afraid I must also agree with his statement that it's best for a person to have more than one friend they can turn to, not build their whole world around one person. It can be devastating if something happens to that person, and you know how easily that can happen in Starfleet. I know it's not easy for you to make friends, but I can help you if you have problems approaching either Bones or Christine, though I can certainly understand your wanting us to spend some time alone as friends. That's natural…but I'm not the only one who cares about you.

Give them a chance, Spock. You might be surprised.

"You should also try to keep in mind that although Bones is very outspoken, he is basically a decent, caring person, as is Christine. They couldn't be as good at what they do if they weren't. Both of them were only children, as you were, so neither ever had any siblings. For Christine, Uhura is a surrogate sister; for Bones, we are surrogate brothers, so it's up to us to fill those roles as best we can. You should also include Christine occasionally, even spend some time alone with her once in a while. It should be your decision how much to share with me--or Bones, if you so choose--of what happens at those times. Don't worry; I'll try to keep his teasing and such to a minimum.

"Another thing about Christine: if she wants to give you a back rub or something and you're confined to bed in Sickbay, especially if I'm not around to do it, let her do it. It's her job, and it won't hurt you. You might even like it. If nothing else, at least be civil to her…acknowledge her existence, or say hello to her if you happen to see her. That shouldn't be too much to ask." Kirk took a breath and another swallow of his drink after his lengthy diatribe.

"Is that an order?" the Vulcan asked quietly.

"Take it as you will--but it's meant as a request."

"I will…attempt to do so," Spock promised. "If it will please you."

"You should want to do it for your own sake, Spock, not just to please me--or them, though they don't ask much of you, so it shouldn't be too hard to have a friendly conversation with them once in a while," Kirk admonished. "Or spend an evening with them…if not alone, with all of us together." Kirk thought a moment. "In fact, I have an idea. How about your asking Christine to join the three of us in the Rec Room tonight at 1930 hours, then we can go to my quarters and watch that holovid you said your mother sent you for your birthday and that you wanted me to see? I'm sure Bones and Christine would enjoy it as well. What better opportunity to do so--and 'cement relationships,' as it were, at the same time?" Kirk could see that Spock looked both dubious and not too pleased at the prospect of sharing his time with Kirk, even to make Christine and McCoy feel better. "Don't worry. We can still watch it ourselves later," Kirk assured him.

The Vulcan sighed. "Very well. I will speak to Miss Chapel."

"And I'll get hold of Bones. Now, let's get cracking. On the double, Mister!"

Kirk used his command voice, but Spock detected a mischievous twinkle in his eye, which lightened the mood of the moment…even though he privately would have preferred to view the holo with Jim alone first before inviting anyone to join them. The main positive thing to come out of their conversation was that he now knew why McCoy had spoken as he had, and what to do about it. And deep down, Spock knew the Captain was right about the Doctor and Christine. They indeed deserved better treatment than they'd been getting lately, so it was the least he could do to please them by spending time with both them and Jim, at least for tonight, if not other times in the future. That possibility would depend on the outcome of tonight's excursion.

* * *

But between this time and the time of the get-together, McCoy--now off-duty--was in the midst of a dream born of his feelings of uselessness, neglect and hurt…a dream rapidly turning into a nightmare, complete with a darkly-robed, ghostly figure with no face that the Doctor could see: only a disembodied voice, a voice which somehow sounded like both Jim and Spock's put together, if that was possible. He was convinced that his friends and family would have been better off if he'd never been born. As it was, he was constantly in Jim and Spock's way, always underfoot, and had alienated his precious Jo. She barely spoke to him, having still not quite for-given him for breaking up their family and running off to Starfleet.

Without her, all he had was his work and friends aboard the Enterprise--but even they seemed to prefer each other's company to his. Most of the time, he might as well not even have been around for all the attention they paid him. They probably wouldn't even notice if he were gone, nor would it matter too much unless they needed medical help. That's all he was good for any more, as far as they were concerned…or so it seemed to him. He wasn't a friend, he was a necessary evil. In fact, he was even considering asking Christine, a fellow "necessary evil", to set up a medical practice with him after they'd resigned from Starfleet, which he was seriously considering doing and wouldn't be surprised if she were as well, leaving Jim and Spock to themselves and their lives aboard ship.

Dr. Leonard McCoy, do you truly wish you had never been born? the disembodied voice inquired.

I do, the Doctor replied glumly. I'm no good to anyone; I'm just in Jim and Spock's way, my daughter hates me…what have I got to live for? Chris is the only one who understands me any more--and that's only because she's in the same boat as I am.

Very well, Leonard McCoy. As of this moment, you have never been born, never married or had a child, never joined Starfleet or met your friends Kirk and Spock. Would you like to see what their lives would be like without you? The voice was ominously quiet.

For a time McCoy wondered why, then put it aside for the time being.

Who would you like to see first?

My parents, David and Jo-Ellen McCoy. Did they have another child--a daughter, perhaps?

The scene shifted to the living room of a small farmhouse in rural Georgia, one of the few farmhouses left in the 23rd century. It was late at night, a woman with dark brown hair and a care-worn face, looking to be in her mid to late twenties, sat in a rocking chair, knitting baby bootees.

Is she pregnant? McCoy asked, asking the reason for the baby bootees.

Not any more, the voice said. She had a miscarriage six months ago, and the complications left her unable to bear further children. Instead, she now babysits for children and grandchildren of various friends, making sweaters, bonnets and bootees for them when the necessity arises.

Was her lost child…would it have been--me? McCoy asked.

Yes, came the one-word reply.

Didn't she ever try to adopt? he wondered.

No. She believed it could never be the same as having her own.

McCoy smiled sadly. Mama always was like that. What about Daddy? How did he feel about it?

He could not accept her attitude, and so ended their marriage shortly after her recovery from the miscarriage. He re-married, but remained childless. He is still a doctor, however, and finds some solace in his work--but his heart and home will be forever empty. The son he so longed for is gone, never to be replaced.

May I see him? McCoy asked.

This time the scene turned into a Doctor's office; a despondent-looking man with salt-and-pepper hair, in his early forties but looking far older, sat at a desk cluttered with papers and computer tape cassettes. There were deep lines and dark circles around his bloodshot eyes. McCoy noted a bottle of Tennessee whiskey with a half-full glass next to it on the desk at the elder McCoy's elbow. The text of one cassette had been called up on the computer and was on the monitor screen. The title--all McCoy could make out--read:



By David A. McCoy, M.D.

That was all Leonard McCoy could see, but it was enough. After a time, the man reached out and turned off the computer, the text on the screen winking out. As the screen faded, he laid his head down on his cluttered desk and wept.

But Daddy never wrote anything like that, the Chief Surgeon protested.

Correct. Originally, he never did--but in this case, he did, because you were never born. He did all he could to save his unborn child…you…but failed. Jo-Ellen McCoy miscarried in her third month of pregnancy.

Is that why he's crying? Because he feels like a failure, totally useless because all his medical skill could not save his child?

Yes, the voice responded.

McCoy couldn't stand to see his father cry, so he asked to see how Christine's life had gone. The voice did not speak, but the scene changed to one the Doctor knew well: the Starfleet Medical Building at the Academy on Earth.

Is Chris here? McCoy asked.


Where is she? What is she? Is she Head of Starfleet Medical or what?

Indeed. This time the voice sounded more like Spock's.

That's great! Did she ever get married? What happened to her?

Patience. You will soon see.

The scene switched to another Doctor's office--and he saw a familiar face busily working at a medical computer.

Chris! That's Chris! I always knew she could accomplish anything she set her mind to. Is she happy in her job?

She spends many hours at it, was the ambiguous reply.

Doesn't she have a life outside of her work? he wondered.

She has friends, was the answer.

But no husband or children? What happened to Spock? There was no reply for so long that McCoy became angry. Dammit, answer me! What happened to him?

Observe, the voice said.

While McCoy watched, Christine stopped working and opened her desk drawer, pulling out a holograph--of Spock, he noted…and the Vulcan was smiling! No doubt only for her, but what counted was that he was doing it. She hugged the holograph to her chest, then gazed lovingly at it, tears brimming in her eyes. "Spock--oh, Spock, my love. It wasn't your fault. It wasn't your fault at all! I don't blame you for what happened. No matter what, I would gladly have married you. Why did you leave me? Why?" Her voice broke and she began sobbing, hugging the holo to her chest again after kissing it tenderly. That was as much as McCoy could take.

In the next moment, the scene shifted to a cell-like room, where an emaciated and shaggy-haired figure dressed in prison clothes languished on a cot in the far corner, and seemed to be trembling. There was food on a nearby tray, but it hadn't been touched. It wasn't until the figure's head turned that McCoy recognized him. The upswept brows, elegant ears and dark eyes were unmistakable. Spock! When the Doctor looked closer, he noted that the eyes were haunted and green-rimmed, the skeletal face tear-streaked. The Vulcan had been crying. McCoy almost had a coronary from the shock.

Spock! Oh, my God! What happened to him? Why is he in prison?

He recently had his pon farr and was challenged by his betrothed. Captain Kirk went down to stand with him, the voice explained.

Jim? Where is he? What happened to him?

Can you not guess?

Then a realization hit McCoy--a realization too terrible for him to voice--but the owner of the voice had no such reservations.

Because you were not there to prevent it, Spock killed the Captain in his madness. Since then, Spock has resigned from Starfleet, turned himself in to the authorities and has been sentenced to life in prison for the killing.

What? That's insane! They couldn't possibly hold him responsible for his actions while under the influence of pon farr!

But they did--because you were not there to intercede for him.

Oh, dear God… McCoy's thought-voice was filled with horror and grief.

In addition, he has stopped eating and drinks little, sleeping even less. His grief will eventually kill him, long before his time.

Did he ever become involved with Christine?

Yes, shortly before the ill-fated trip to Vulcan. In fact, they had planned to bond once his previous one with T'Pring had been nullified. They had even decided to have the Captain marry them. Upon Captain Kirk's death, that all changed. Spock canceled their bonding and marriage plans, unable to believe that Christine could still want him because of his actions, no matter how much she tried to persuade him otherwise…and even though he forbade her to come see him, he still loves her. This pain is in addition to his grief for the Captain, so Spock will not live much longer. He was only strong because of the love and friendship you, Christine and the Captain bore for him. Now he has nothing to live for, not even the woman he loves.

Poor Spock, McCoy wept inwardly for his Vulcan friend. He doesn't deserve that. T'Pring is the one who should pay, not him.

Can you not see now, Leonard McCoy? You are necessary; you are loved, you are needed. Your friends love you, your daughter loves you. If you don't believe me, wait and see. Before the day is out, things will change drastically--I promise you.

McCoy barely heard the voice, his head spinning with all he had seen and heard…so wrapped up in Spock's pain that he had forgotten it wasn't really happening, as well as to ask about his former wife. But that was all academic now. The next thing he knew, he found himself stretched out on his bed, boots and uniform shirt off, and heard Kirk's voice, accompanied by pounding on his door.

"Bones, open up! Let me in! If you're there and all right, let me in. I've got to talk to you!"

The Doctor made himself get up and press the button to unlock his door.

Kirk burst in, flushed with exertion, his voice full of concern. "Bones! Are you all right? I've been trying to get hold of you for the last hour!"

"I'm fine, Jim," McCoy said warmly. "In fact, I couldn't be better." He was hard-pressed not to cry, just seeing Jim and knowing he was alive, coming over to his startled friend and hugging him fiercely, almost literally leaving the Captain breathless.

"Bones, what happened? You're acting funny," Kirk observed upon regaining his breath.

"I'm just happy to see you, that's all," McCoy replied with an enigmatic smile. I can't tell you how happy, he finished in his mind. Especially to see you alive!

Kirk knew him too well to be fooled for long, however, and the Doctor finally said, "Had a bad dream. I'll tell you about it the next time we both have an off-duty day. Right now, I need to sort things out, make some sense of the dream before I could possibly explain it to you. Incidentally, why are you here?"

"I came to invite you to dinner with me and Spock."

"Are you sure he won't mind? He might see it as an intrusion on his time with you," the Chief Surgeon asked warily.

"Not at all," Kirk assured him, deciding it was best that he not tell McCoy that he had practically ordered Spock to accept the Doctor's presence with them. "In fact, I even told him to go invite Christine to join us."

McCoy had to laugh as he envisioned the look that must have been on the Vulcan's face at Kirk's request--or was it an order? "Is that what he's doing now?"

"I would assume so," Kirk replied.

:"It's going to shock the hell out of Christine, that's for sure," McCoy laughed. "But it'll be a nice shock."

"Well, I'm ready if you are," Kirk smiled warmly at his second-best friend.

"I couldn't be more ready," McCoy declared, glad that his bad dream was just that--a bad dream--but the feelings it inspired were very real. Feelings he intended to act upon at the first opportunity.

"Let's go, then," Kirk told him, leading the way out into the Deck Five corridor, where to their pleasant surprise, they found Spock and Christine waiting for them. The four greeted each other with smiles and nods, then turned en masse to the nearest turbolift, the one at the end of the corridor, which would take them to Deck Seven, the Rec Room, their evening meal… and closer friendships.

* * *

The evening passed pleasantly for all concerned; Uhura even joined them for a time--then begged off because she had an early shift, at 0530. Christine made a date to get together with her later in the week, then the dark woman departed with a smile and wave before disappearing through the Rec Room door. The Humans smiled and nodded in her direction; the Vulcan merely nodded.

Near the end of their meal, Kirk looked around at everyone and said, giving Spock a meaningful look, "I'd like to invite everyone to my quarters to watch a holovid Spock's mother sent him recently."

McCoy and Christine brightened at the prospect; it was a rare opportunity. Usually only Kirk ever knew what Spock's mother sent him, so the Doctor and Christine suspected that Spock was going along merely to please Kirk--but the latter was doing it in order that neither of them felt excluded, at least not this time around.

"Then let's get to it. I'm anxious to see what Amanda sent," McCoy remarked as the four stood up and headed for the Rec Room doors, then into a turbolift which would take them to Deck Five and the senior officers' quarters. Upon reaching Deck Five, Spock said, "I must retrieve the holovid from my quarters. I will rejoin you in a moment." He ostensibly addressed everyone, but kept his eyes on Kirk as he spoke. A short time later, he ducked into his quarters; the others continued on to Kirk's. The two medical officers sat on the chairs from Kirk's desk; he and Spock would sit on the Captain's bed. His viewer was on a swivel base, positioned so all could see from where they were sitting.

Once the others were settled, Kirk (ever the thoughtful host) asked, "Would either of you like a drink?"

"Saurian brandy, Jim," the Doctor said.

"Altair water," Christine told him.

"Coming up." Going over to his personal wet-bar, Kirk poured drinks for everyone, including himself and Spock. He kept a supply of the Vulcan's favorite drink, tulac, in his small refrigerator/freezer, situated on a shelf below where he kept his stash of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks from various Federation planets.

Spock returned as Kirk was distributing drinks to the others.

"You don't usually take this long, Spock," Kirk remarked upon noting the Vulcan's presence. "Was there a problem?"

"I merely thought it logical to re-wind the holovid," came the cool reply. "It took longer than I anticipated."

Kirk looked at him skeptically. Spock was usually painstaking in seeing to it that any holovid he (or they) might watch was re-wound immediately after viewing--but the Captain didn't comment further. At least not in front of McCoy and Christine. "As long as it's ready now. Let's get started."

Spock inserted the holovid, then seated himself beside Kirk on his bed and waited for it to begin.

* * *

All were surprised when the holovid began, and turned to Spock. McCoy spoke first. "How did your mother ever get hold of the Walt Disney movie Fantasia, Spock?" the Doctor wondered. "That's one of the rarest holovids around!"

"It was not easy, Doctor," the Vulcan replied, taking a drink of tulac before continuing. "But when she heard that my father knew someone who dealt in location of rare holovids of classic films from the last three centuries, she asked if it would be possible for him to locate a copy of Fantasia."

"Connections, always connections," the Captain chuckled. "But I'm glad he was able to find it. I haven't seen it since I was a child."

"I haven't seen it for five years," Christine said. "I always loved the music in it, particularly Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite and Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony."

In spite of himself, Spock was surprised at her statements. Those two pieces were also his personal favorites from the film. Uncanny… As the film progressed, the Vulcan found himself nurturing a new respect for her musical taste, if nothing else. When the Dance of the Snowflakes piece played, Spock stole a look at her face; it was radiant, with an almost rapturous look. He looked at Kirk and McCoy; their faces wore similar looks. After that, he himself became lost in the music; no one spoke again until the part in Beethoven's symphony where the female centaurs were parading before the males.

"I especially like this female centaur," Christine said as one with a particularly long tail decorated with roses appeared on screen. "Her tail is so beautiful."

The others smiled and nodded, but made no comment.

A short time later, when one pair sat on the edge of the pond, the male swinging his front hooves over the water, the female snuggled close to him and he put an arm around her, Christine was unable to resist sneaking a wistful look at Spock. If only it could have been them doing that…

Another time was when the cherubs noticed that one of the young males was "odd man out" and decided to see if they could find a young female for him--which they did, a cute little blonde with pigtails and flowers on her bosom and around her waist. Christine couldn't help but be reminded of Spock and herself, nonetheless surprised to catch a look of longing on Spock's face as the two were brought together…sighing as the young male kissed the girl's hand, then gestured to a private spot, where they settled down together a short time later. She also couldn't help wondering if anyone else had noticed that even Spock had been caught up in both the magic of the music and the budding romance on-screen. After the scene faded, she stole a look at the others, who seemed to be enjoying it as much as herself and Spock.

Another thing they had in common! Who would have thought that Spock, of all people, was a closet romantic? Maybe at some point she could show him some sketches she had made of some of the characters from that part of the film. Strictly amateurish, but they still looked pretty good--at least to her. That was unusual, since she hadn't even showed them to Nyota or Leonard …yet she was actually considering showing a "logical" Vulcan an emotional thing! Luckily for her that Spock was one of the few Vulcans likely to appreciate even a few Human things, particularly classical music or art. Even so, she was hesitant to even mention it to him, as much as she wanted to.

She was brought back to reality by a burst of laughter from Kirk and McCoy; she looked at the screen, which showed that the head ostrich ballet dancer had just fallen on her backside. She had to chuckle at that herself, but what was funniest to her was when the female hippo tried to jump into the alligator's arms and nearly flattened him. She had no idea how anyone could have thought that plausible--but then, what was impossible in reality was commonplace in animation. She wasn't too fond of the first of the last two pieces, Night on Bald Mountain, depicting the Devil and dead or evil things. She much preferred the second and last piece, Ave Maria, featuring pastoral scenes and people carrying torches as they walked to a chapel in the forest. Once again, she carefully looked at Spock out of the corner of her eye. He seemed to prefer it as well.

Just as the holo was ending, the intercom sounded. Kirk reached to open it. "Kirk here."

"Communication for Dr. McCoy, sir," Uhura's voice came back. "It's his daughter, from Centaurus. She wishes to speak with him."

The Doctor seemed stunned for a moment, then his face lit up. "In that case, I'd better get back to my quarters. I haven't spoken to Jo in a long time. Thank you for having me, Jim; thank you for sharing the holovid, Spock. See you later." He nodded and smiled in everyone's direction, then departed.

Kirk seemed just as surprised, commenting, "How's that for coming out of the blue? Bones hasn't talked with, much less about, his daughter for as long as I can remember."

"I'm just glad they're going to get a chance to talk and hopefully straighten things out between themselves," Christine opined.

"It'll probably take more than just one talk for that to happen," Kirk replied. "They've been estranged for some years."

"As long as it happens one day," the nurse concluded.

Kirk had to nod in agreement as he told the viewer to re-wind upon the holo's reaching the end of the film credits. "It was great, Spock," he said with a smile. "I loved every minute of it."

Spock gave his Human friend a half-smile and nodded in his direction, then to Christine's surprise, offered to walk her back to her quarters. "Of course, Spock. I wouldn't mind that at all, if you don't."

"I would not ask if I did," he rejoined coolly. "I will rejoin you shortly, Captain."

Christine moved to the door; Spock joined her there a moment later. After the door closed behind them, Kirk smiled and shook his head in wonder. Whatever had possessed Spock to do a thing like that? He supposed it was possible that the Vulcan was doing it simply to please him, but then again, he could also be doing it to please both himself and Christine. Oh, well…what did it matter what Spock's reasons were, as long as he did it? After the holo had finished re-winding, he then removed it from the viewer and replaced it in its case, then set it on top of the viewer and turned to head for the shower, grabbing his pajamas on the way.

* * *

As for Christine, she was certain that she had to be dreaming, to actually be walking beside Spock on the way to her quarters. He had never done this before, ever--but she didn't care why he was doing it as long as he was doing it. Certainly this was the last thing she'd ever expected, to actually be alone with him, even for a moment (and best of all, he had suggested it!), deciding to mention the possibility of showing him her sketches from the film. The worst he could say was "no," so she didn't have anything to lose by suggesting it.

Her quarters weren't far away, just at the other end of the corridor, so it didn't take long for them to reach her door. "Please be sure to thank the Captain for inviting me," she told him as they momentarily lingered at the door.

"I invited you," the Vulcan softly reminded her.

"Because the Captain told you to, no doubt," she gently countered. "I'm not stupid, Spock. I could sense that you didn't really want either me or Leonard there, that you felt we were intruding on what you considered your private time with the Captain." She held up a hand to stop his reply. "It's all right; I'm not holding it against you…but I truly enjoyed tonight. I haven't seen Fantasia in years. Which reminds me--I've done some sketches from the film, if you'd care to see them. It's all right if you don't, of course, but since you seemed to be enjoying the film as much as I was, I thought I'd make the attempt."

Spock was both touched and ashamed; had his displeasure been that obvious? "I am sorry…Christine. I never meant for it to show. But I must say that it was only in the beginning. Once the film began, I was even--glad that you were present."

"You're not just saying that?"

"I do not lie," he reminded her. "After a time, I even noticed that the Doctor was enjoying the film. Best of all, he never teased me once."

"That's just one of the ways he shows affection, Spock. If he didn't like you, he wouldn't bother," she reminded him. "Sometimes that's hard to remember, but whatever Leonard's faults, he does care about you and the Captain…more than anyone else on the ship, and it hurts him that he's so rarely invited to join the two of you. Of course, he'd never forgive me if he knew I'd told you, so keep it to yourself. I don't want to get in trouble."

Spock nodded with a half-smile. "I would--also like to see your sketches at the earliest opportunity."

Christine was stunned almost speechless, then smiled once the shock wore off. "That's great, Spock. You're due to come in for a physical day after tomorrow, right?"

"I believe so," he agreed.

"I can show you the sketches then, if you like. I'll have to remember to bring them. That is, if you don't mind Leonard seeing them, too. I haven't had a chance to show them to him, either."

Spock wasn't comfortable with the idea of McCoy being there, but did his best to conceal it. "Of course not, Christine. I will be looking forward to seeing them."

"Even with Dr. McCoy there?"

"Even with Dr. McCoy there," he assured her. "I will see you then. Now I must return to the Captain's quarters. Good night."

"Good night, Spock." She smiled and opened her door, turning to go inside.

"Christine, wait." He didn't know why he'd called to her, but somehow he couldn't let her leave without doing one last thing, however illogical…and this time, he wasn't doing it just to please Jim. He was doing it because he wanted to, for both himself and Christine.

"Yes?" She lifted her head to face him, stunned when he reached for her hand, raised it to his lips and kissed it. "Spock?"

He lifted his head slowly, not wanting to meet her eyes. "Do you mind?" he asked, so quietly that she had to strain to hear him.

"Of course not," she assured him. "It was just such a surprise. And don't worry; I won't tell anyone you did it."

"Thank you," he said, favoring her with a half-smile. "Good night."

"Good night."

With that, the Vulcan turned and headed back in the general direction of Kirk's quarters; she watched until he disappeared around the corner, then went into her own and prepared for bed after showering and washing her hair. Something told her that he wasn't just thanking her for her promise to keep what he had done a secret, but for all she had done for him, though she wouldn't call him on it…simply respect his privacy and not mention it again unless he did.

* * *

Spock thought he was hiding it, but Kirk could see that whatever had happened during his time with Christine had affected the Vulcan more deeply than he was willing to admit, even to him--at least for the time being. "Anything wrong, Spock?" the Captain asked when his alien friend stepped into his quarters again as he was working on the next day's duty roster on his computer.

Spock felt a mixture of affection and annoyance; Jim was entirely too perceptive for his comfort. At times like this, he wished his friend couldn't read him so well, because he didn't feel like discussing it before having a chance to sort out his mixed-up emotions regarding Christine--and McCoy, too, especially after what Christine had said about him.

"Don't worry, Spock; I won't pry," Kirk assured him. "But I can't help thinking that you've had a revelation about Christine and Bones tonight, and it's very disturbing to you. That's not surprising…but when you want to talk, you know where to find me."

"Thank you, Jim. I think I will retire after an hour of meditation." Already the Vulcan was headed for the direction of the bathroom he and Kirk shared, which connected their respective quarters and which both used when they wished to talk privately and didn't want anyone else to know about it.

Kirk couldn't help thinking that it was probably going to be difficult for Spock to meditate tonight; it usually was after an unusual occurrence, particularly if it prompted a revelation about someone the Vulcan hadn't considered before. "Spock?" he called as the First Officer reached the bathroom door.

"Yes?" Spock half-turned back to him.

"I had a great time tonight. I loved seeing Fantasia again. Thank you."

"I am…pleased to have been able to show it to you, my friend. And to Miss Chapel and the Doctor as well."

"You mean that? You're not just saying that because it's what you think I want to hear?"

Again, the Vulcan felt the mixture of affection and annoyance, but said, "That was the case at first, but now I am--gratified that you enabled me to share it with them as well."

"Glad to help. Do you think you'll be able to invite them on your own after this?"

"I…believe I will still need your help, at least for a while longer. Remember, it was not--easy for me to…develop a friendship with you. It will--take longer than overnight for me to even begin to…feel anywhere near as--comfortable with them as I do with you." Spock was embarrassed to feel heat coming into his cheeks and ears, grateful that his face was in shadow so Jim couldn't see it. "But I intend to--try, because you are…right. It is logical that I have--other friends to turn to. I must go now." With that, the First Officer disappeared through the bathroom door.

Kirk smiled after him for a time, vowing to have a talk with Spock as soon as his friend gave him an opening, then turned back to finish the duty roster and post it before retiring. * * *

All the while this was going on, McCoy was experiencing a revelation or two of his own. Upon reaching his quarters, he told Uhura to open the channel to Centaurus and pipe it down to his quarters. The next thing he heard was his daughter's voice--without anger or bitterness, as he was unfortunately all too used to . . . and usually deserved. Even so, McCoy had never intended to alienate either his wife or his daughter--and hoped that Joanna knew that, even if "J.J." (as he had always called his ex-wife) hadn't.

"Daddy, are you there? It's me, Joanna."

She was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen, as beautiful as J.J. had been when he'd first met her 25 years ago . . . and Jo's voice was equally beautiful. Soft, husky, melodic, with just a touch of his Southern accent.

"Yes, baby. I'm here." His voice held warmth and tenderness.

"You haven't called me 'baby' since I was one, I don't think," Joanna remarked with a laugh.

"Nope," McCoy disagreed. "When you were a baby, I called you either 'Pumpkin' or 'Precious.' I didn't start calling you 'baby' until you were a teenager. Which reminds me, that was probably the last time you talked to me with anything resembling affection," the Doctor recalled, his voice a mixture of sadness and self-recrimination. "I'm sorry I was such a coward, baby. I never meant to make you feel abandoned," he told her regretfully. "Nor did I ever mean to make it seem as though my work was more important than you. Honey, nothing is more important to me than you are. I've lost your mother through my bone-headed stupidity; I don't want to lose you, too. Please forgive me, baby. I know I haven't done right by you, but I've never stopped thinking about you--and most importantly, never stopped loving you."

McCoy paused, letting his words and sincerity sink in. He looked at his daughter's face for a time and could have sworn he saw tears in her eyes: blue eyes identical to his own.

"I love you too, Daddy. I'm sorry it took me so long to grow up enough to see your side of the situation. For a long time I saw only Mama's and hated you for what you did to us, but not any more. I realize now that you couldn't have meant to do it. Life's too short and uncertain to hold grudges. Especially now." She smiled enigmatically.

McCoy raised a Vulcan-like eyebrow. "What are you saying?"

"I'm going to be married." Joanna's smile widened. "And I want you to give me away." Her face was radiant with happiness.

"I'd be honored, baby. When's the wedding?"

"Another three months, until Michael's and my duties allow time for a honeymoon. Then we're planning to come see you, wherever you are, so you can meet him."

"Is this what this call is about?" the Doctor inquired.

"Partly that, and partly my attempt to mend fences between us. I never want us to be out of touch again. It's been far too long as it is."

"Amen to that," the Chief Surgeon concurred. "Especially since I'll want you to keep me informed of everything concerning my grandchildren."

"Don't worry, I will," Joanna laughed. "I'd better go now, Daddy. I need to be up again in a few hours to go to work."

"What does your intended--Michael--do for a living?"

Joanna laughed again. "He owns a restaurant in New Athens, which specializes . . . get this--in authentic Southern cuisine!"

"Fantastic," the Doctor pronounced. "You must take me there sometime."

"Oh, I will," came the assurance. "It's on the edge of town, just a few blocks from the Medical Complex. We usually have dinner there after I get off. I've really got to go now, Daddy. We'll talk again. I love you."

"I love you, baby. Congratulations, and all the best to you and Michael. Take care."

She smiled and blew him a kiss, then the transmission ended.

McCoy now knew that even as late as it was, he would be too keyed up to sleep--for the dual facts of his daughter's most unexpected yet most welcome contact (the ghostly voice in his dream had been right on the money) and the even more joyous news of her upcoming marriage. Best of all, Jo wanted him to give her away! Now all he could do was hope and pray nothing would come up to prevent his presence at her wedding. It wasn't every day that a father had the chance to give his daughter away in marriage. He could only hope that this Michael would treat her right, make her happy; he hadn't had the chance to find out anything else about him--like what he was like, personality-wise; what he looked like physically or how old he was. Oh well, he'd probably find all that out next time . . . and it was wonderful beyond words to know that there would be a next time. Wait until he told Jim and the others!

McCoy talked with Christine during their break the following day, telling her all about his talk with his daughter and the news that she was to be married and wanted him to give her away.

"That's great, Leonard. I'm so glad that you and Joanna have mended fences--and that she wants you to give her away."

McCoy nodded and smiled. "She even said they were going to come here so I can meet her intended."

"That's even better. I'd love to meet her."

"I'm sure she'd like you, too," the Doctor opined. "Which reminds me, if we should leave Starfleet one day, I would be honored if you would go into practice with me."

"The honor would be mine," Christine smiled. "Oh, did I ever tell you that I've done sketches of the centaurs from Fantasia?"

"No. I'd love to see them," McCoy told her.

"I'll be bringing them in tomorrow," Christine informed him. "Incidentally, I also invited Spock to look at them. Remember, he's supposed to get a checkup tomorrow."

The Chief Surgeon nodded in acknowledgment. "Yeah. So what?"

"I know you mean well, but I must ask you to remain on your best behavior while Spock is with us. If you expect him to even begin to feel comfortable around you, you cannot react as you normally do whenever he inadvertently shows his emotions. Remember, he's been schooled to believe that showing emotion is bad--but sometimes can't help showing his feelings because of his Human half, whether he means to or not. Just act as you would if it was the Captain or I doing it."

"That won't be easy," the Doctor confessed.

"I know, but I think you'll find that the results will convince you that I'm right," Christine finished. "Now, I think we'd better get back to work. Break time is over."

With that, the two Medical Officers left the Chief Surgeon's office and resumed the crew physicals they had been doing before the break. Spock was due to come in for his around 1630, near the end of Christine's shift. Surely the timing was only coincidence, but Spock was always a great one for timely arrivals. What if he planned to walk her to the Officers' Lounge for an early dinner after she got off and his physical had been completed? If nothing else, she could show him the sketches before they ate… and show them to Leonard at a later date. It was probably just wishful thinking, but she liked the idea that now this scenario wasn't as impossible as she had once believed. Not to mention the fact that she was anxious to learn both Spock and Leonard's opinion of her artwork.

* * *

She found out--and was pleasantly surprised, particularly at Spock's opinion. She enjoyed drawing as a hobby, especially animated characters, but didn't consider herself that good an artist. Even so, she was warmed and encouraged by their praise, though as expected, Spock kept his low-key. McCoy, on the other hand, was lavish in his accolades to her ability. She was pleasantly surprised to note that the Doctor was indeed on his best behavior in Spock's presence, which no doubt surprised the Vulcan as much as it did her.

After Spock had checked out as being in perfect health, as expected, she led the two men to her desk, where she had stashed her sketchbook in the center right drawer, but even as she reached to open the drawer and get out the sketchbook, she felt an inexplicable rush of shyness. She wanted them to see her work, but had never shown it to anyone before--even Uhura--so she was apprehensive about letting it be seen. Spock would no doubt be honest, as would Leonard, but the latter was more likely to wax poetic… say what she wanted to hear rather than the truth, in order to make her feel better.

Spock was the first to notice her hesitancy and comment on it. "Is anything wrong, Miss Chapel?"

She noticed that he was back to formality in McCoy's presence, but that didn't bother her as long as he called her by her first name when they were alone. "Oh no, Spock. I'm fine. Just a little--unsure. I've never shown my sketches to anyone before."

"Understandable," he said gently. "But we still wish to see them, if you would not mind."

He exchanged glances with McCoy; the latter's eyes conveyed agreement and a reassuring smile in Christine's direction when she looked up at him for confirmation.

"Well… all right," she acquiesced, reluctantly placing the sketchbook on her desk and opening it to the first page, then on through about ten more pages, pausing for a minute to let them peruse each one before going on to the next. There was silence for a long time, and with every passing moment, Christine became more uneasy.

Spock finally broke the silence. "You drew these freehand?"

"Yes," she admitted. "I did these, working from the screen, the last time I saw Fantasia."

"How long ago was that?" McCoy put in.

"About five years."

"My God, they're great! If I didn't know better, I'd swear that you were the original artist!" McCoy couldn't believe how well done they were--the shading, the perspective, was near-perfect. He half-expected the figures to move, they were that good. Not that he was any kind of art critic, but he knew good work when he saw it.

"The good Doctor exaggerates slightly," the Vulcan remarked, "but his observations are essentially correct. The sketches are quite good, particularly the ones of the centaur couples."

Christine blushed slightly. "I'm glad you both think so, but I never thought of myself as an artist. It was always just a hobby with me, a way to pass the time if I wasn't doing anything else."

"A hobby you should continue," the First Officer said so just Christine could hear.

"You have real talent," McCoy assured her. "Keep up the good work."

At that point McCoy looked up at the chrono on Christine's desk and noted the time. "It's 1700, Chris. Your shift is over. What do you intend to do now?"

"Oh, probably have an early dinner and a shower… then maybe listen to some music and do some reading," she tossed back airily.

"I'll see you tomorrow, then," McCoy smiled. "Thanks for letting me see your sketches, Chris. They are really good, no kidding."

"Thanks." Christine returned his smile. "See you later."

She got up and left the room with the intention of going to the Officers' Lounge for a solitary dinner--or what she had assumed would be a solitary dinner. Spock followed her out, yet she was so preoccupied with figuring her dinner menu that she never noticed him until she was nearly to the doors of the Lounge. They had even shared a turbolift from Deck Seven to Deck Three, where the Officers' Lounge was, and she'd never realized it. That didn't happen very often!

She could usually sense his presence, even if he'd just entered the room or was all the way across it. What made his presence even more surprising was that he asked to join her for dinner. Christine was naturally pleased, but still couldn't help thinking that he had to be doing this in order to please Kirk, not because he really wanted to do it. Of course, that didn't stop her from accepting his offer… that is, once she had recovered from the shock of both his asking her and of his touching her to let her know of his presence.

"May I join you, Christine?" he asked quietly.

She was pleased to hear him again calling her by her first name, glad that her original theory had been correct. "Sure, if you like," she replied. "May I ask why?"

"I am curious as to what inspired you to do the centaur sketches," he informed her.

"It might bore you," she warned. "My reasons were… quite emotional, to put it mildly."

"Allow me to determine that," he countered. "I wish to know, or I would not ask."

She sighed and shrugged. "Okay, if you say so. But don't say I didn't warn you."

The two then entered the Officers' Lounge, a discreet distance apart the whole time except for when they sat down together in a booth near one of the viewports after calling up some food. To Christine's surprise, Spock called up a largely Terran meal; the only thing Vulcan about it was the drink--kahlin, to the taste, a cross between apple and tangerine juice. He couldn't help but notice her astonishment at his choice of meal, calmly explaining that there were many Terran foods that he enjoyed, because his mother had introduced them to him while he was growing up and he had never stopped liking them.

This time he ordered a helping of broccoli casserole, potatoes au gratin and applesauce; all portions were larger than Christine had ever seen him eat and she felt sure that he wouldn't be able to eat them all. "That explains it, then," she remarked with a sigh of relief. "You usually eat Vulcan dishes--or at least you did whenever I happened to see you eating."

"Even I wish a change once in a while," he informed her with a half-smile and quirk of one upswept eyebrow.

"In other words, even you occasionally get… cravings for certain types of food," she observed with a smile. For her own meal, Christine had chosen chicken a la king, with a steaming bowl of New England clam chowder and hot, buttered corn on the cob. A slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream served as dessert and an orange juice/passion fruit wine cooler was her beverage of choice, served in a large goblet "on the rocks".

"Is that not a large amount of food for you?" the Vulcan inquired.

"Oh no," she assured him. "I'm quite hungry. Haven't eaten all day. Been too busy with the crew physicals." After a bite of chicken, she took a swallow of wine cooler, then said, "Incidentally, that's the most food I've seen on your plate in quite some time." She gave him a penetrating glance, but Spock was unruffled.

"As you say, I happened to have a--craving for these particular foods at this moment in time." With that, they both attacked their meals with relish, deciding not to talk about her artwork until after they'd finished eating.

* * *

The talk began almost immediately upon finishing the meals, and the drinks were replenished so neither would get hoarse or a dry mouth. Even as open as Christine had been with him, the Vulcan could sense that she was still holding something back, but would not invade her privacy by asking what it was. If she'd wanted him to know, she would have told him… and he couldn't blame her for being reticent, considering the fact that he had rarely wanted to spend any substantial amount of time with her until and unless duty necessitated it--and certainly had never asked her to speak of personal things, because usually all they did was make him uncomfortable.

Not this time; he had been genuinely interested in knowing why she had done the sketches the way she had, with the couples holding and kissing each other. He was also pleased to notice that she had not pressured him to tell her why he was so curious, making a note to show her his appreciation in subtle ways over the next several days and weeks. And not only because it would please Jim, but because he wanted to do it.

* * *

The following day, after Christine had gotten off-duty, she was stunned to find Spock waiting for her a short distance down the Deck Seven corridor from the Sickbay doors. "Is there something you want to see me about, Spock?" she asked, though she couldn't imagine what he could possibly want, once they fell into step together further down the corridor.

"I…am planning a private concert this evening and would like you to attend, if you are available," he replied, his voice controlled but edged with both sincerity and uncertainty.

The Vulcan could only hope that Christine would sense his sincerity and trust him enough to come to the concert without asking too many questions. He had even asked Uhura (after swearing her to secrecy) what Christine's favorite song was. He had checked its origin, lyrics and melody, uncomfortable with the blatant emotionalism evident in the words, the longing for love and for someone to love--though the melody was hauntingly beautiful, reminiscent of some of his own instrumental compositions.

If he had been an emotional being, he himself might have written such words; as it was, deep down, he identified with the feelings expressed in the song…though he would not have readily admitted it to anyone, except perhaps Jim, and the Captain was the kind who would know without his saying anything. There were times that Spock would have sworn that Jim could read his mind, even without a mind-meld. Another source of discomfort was the fact that the feelings of desire and cautious affection which had begun at the dinner and movie of three nights before--which he had been fighting to suppress ever since--were once again at the forefront of his mind.

It would take all the control he possessed to keep the relationship between himself and Christine platonic, as his logic told him he must, despite the voice of his oft-denied Humanity which screamed at him to take the woman who loved him and make her his own. The emotions of his disparate halves were pulling him in two different directions until Spock was certain he would go mad. He had found it necessary to use all the Vulcan mental disciplines at his command to keep both Christine and the feelings she inspired in him at arms' length, both literally and figuratively.

But in spite of all he could do, it was becoming progressively more difficult to do this with every passing day…and before too much more time had passed, it would be all but impossible, particularly if he was around her very much (especially if they were alone for any length

of time), which seemed necessary at this point if he and Jim were going to convince her and Dr. McCoy to stay with the ship--and them. Even so, Spock found himself having to fight a strong desire to pull her close and kiss her. If he did that, he didn't think he would be able to stop himself for a long time.

He had not wanted a woman so much since his time with Zarabeth, since the time he had reverted to the ways of his pre-logic ancestors, who allowed their emotions and physical needs to dictate their actions…actions which had prompted him at that time to kiss, caress, then make passionate love to the woman from five millennia in the past. He felt those same feelings as he gazed upon Christine now, felt her nearness and smelled both her perfume and womanly scent, the combination of which was intensely arousing to him.

How he would control his desires, he had no idea, but control them, he must. At least during the Sarpeidon affair, he had the excuse of going through the atavachron to explain away his atypical behavior, but there was no such excuse here--not with Christine.

Her voice brought him back to reality. "Spock?…Spock!" Her tone indicated that she had repeated herself several times and was becoming impatient.

"I am sorry, Christine. I--was preoccupied. What did you wish to know?"

"Where and when is this concert going to be?" she asked.

"In the Captain's quarters at 1900 hours this evening," he replied, having decided that it was logical to allow her some time to "freshen up".

"Will Leonard…Dr. McCoy…be there?"

"The Captain is likely asking the Doctor even as we speak," he informed her.

She nodded and smiled in agreement. "I'll need some time to shower and change," she told him. "Would you mind waiting?"

"No," he said.

With that, the pair turned and headed to the turbolift at the end of the corridor, which would take them to Deck Five and the senior officers' quarters, which included those of the Head Nurse.

* * *

As for Kirk, he had barely managed to intercept McCoy as the Doctor prepared to leave his Sickbay office and go to his quarters to have a shower and fall into bed. He wasn't thinking beyond anything more than that when the Captain entered.

"Bones, can I talk to you a minute?"

"A minute," the Chief Surgeon replied. "What do you want, Jim?"

"I want to invite you to a concert in my quarters," the Captain told him.

McCoy looked right through him. "I'm tired, Jim. It's been a rough day. All I want is to have a shower and go to bed."

"This won't take long," Kirk entreated, sensing McCoy's reluctance. "Besides, Christine is likely to be there. I sent Spock to ask her, and have you ever known her to turn him down for any reason?"

"No," the Doctor had to admit. "All right, when is this concert?"

"Another hour," was the reply.

McCoy sighed. "I suppose I could go, if Christine's going. Just let me shower and change first."

"No problem," Kirk assured him.

"Spock's going to be playing his harp, I take it," McCoy remarked.


In spite of himself, the Doctor was impressed. Jim and Spock seemed to be doing their utmost to see that he and Chris felt more like friends and less like "necessary evils", and he had to give them credit for that, but it still remained to be seen whether or not they could keep it up long enough to convince them.

"Do you think Spock knows Dixie?" McCoy wondered. "I haven't heard it for ages."

"I don't know, Bones," Kirk answered. "You'll have to ask him."

"I'll do that," was the matter-of-fact reply. "Now, let's get the hell out of here and leave things to the Gamma shift people."

The Captain smiled and turned for the door. "Sounds good to me," he opined. Moments later, the pair departed Sickbay and headed for the Doctor's quarters, where--like Spock--Kirk would wait while Bones showered and changed. All the while, he hoped Spock had been able to convince Christine to accompany him, as he had convinced Bones. It was possible that they would decide to stay with the ship if he and Spock could keep this up long enough…but he and Spock had to do their utmost to make it convincing, since both McCoy and Christine could usually see through them as if they were transparent aluminum.

* * *

Half an hour later, the four were all gathered in Kirk's quarters. The Captain again called up drinks for everyone and distributed them. Spock had obviously stopped by his quarters on the way back from Christine's to pick up his Vulcan harp and was sitting on the foot of Kirk's bed, Christine nearby in one of the two chairs from the Captain's work area. The First Officer's long, slender fingers alternately stroked the strings and adjusted the tone dials as he prepared the instrument for playing.

"Are you all ready?" he finally asked, looking around at everyone after they had seated themselves.

The others all smiled and nodded. With that, Spock began--and within the first couple of minutes, Christine looked up at Spock, eyes wide with mixed pleasure and surprise. "How did you know that that was my favorite song, Spock?"

The Vulcan gave her an enigmatic half-smile. "I have my ways," he said, and resumed playing.

"Spock?" the Doctor called quietly.

"Yes, Doctor?" The Vulcan turned his head in McCoy's direction.

"Do you know the song Dixie? It's from the South, as I am," the Chief Surgeon explained.

"I am afraid not, Doctor," Spock apologized. "But I believe I could play it if you hummed a few bars for me." He gave Christine a lingering look. "As soon as I am finished with the song for Christine."

Christine's eyes warned McCoy not to comment on that; all speakers fell silent as Spock resumed playing Where is Love? for her. Neither Kirk nor the Doctor could help but notice that the Vulcan's eyes remained locked with hers for the duration of the song, and he played with such feeling that she couldn't help blushing. Spock had never looked at her like that before… She had never felt so happy in her life, and prayed it would never end, but knew even as she wished it that it had to.

Moments afterward, Spock's eyes found McCoy's, prompting him to begin humming the tune of Dixie. A few minutes later, the Doctor was pleased to hear a very creditable rendition of the aforementioned song. "Great, Spock. Keep it up," he encouraged," moving his hands and feet in time to the music. The Chief Surgeon's enthusiasm was contagious, and both Christine and Kirk joined him in keeping time.

When it was over, McCoy gave the Vulcan a warm smile. "Thank you, Spock. I enjoyed it."

"I…am pleased," the First Officer replied quietly, lowering his eyes modestly even while accepting the well-deserved (though unexpected) compliment.

"While I am 'taking requests,' as it were, is there anything you would care to hear, Jim?" Spock asked, fixing his eyes on Kirk.

"Would you happen to know Travelin' Man, by a 20th-century singer named Rick Nelson?" the Captain asked hopefully. "I heard it once, years ago, and it's stuck in my mind ever since."

It was fortunate that Spock had made it his business to learn as many Terran songs as he could, from the 18th to 23rd centuries; otherwise, the Vulcan might not have been able to accommodate his Captain and friend. "It sounds…somewhat familiar," was the reply. "Does it go like this?" He played a few bars.

Kirk's face lit up as he recognized the tune. "Yes, that's it," he confirmed. For the next few minutes, the Captain was enthralled by the unusual (but very good) rendition of the three hundred-year-old song, which--despite its age--seemed to almost have been written for him.

Upon finishing the Captain's request, Spock looked around at everyone and said, "Now, if no one minds, I would like to play my own choice."

When no one objected, the Science Officer began to play--and Christine was stunned upon learning that the song was not only a current popular ballad, but a favorite of hers as well as Spock's: Beyond Antares. Kirk and McCoy seemed to like it, too…then after Spock had finished, he played whatever came into his head. Time got away from them; none looked up to check the chrono for some time, and when they did, they couldn't believe it.

"Good Lord," Kirk asserted after yawning deeply and stretching in his chair. "I thought it was getting late, and I was right. It's past 2400. We've got to get to bed!"

Christine yawned and stretched, preparing to stand up. "That's for sure. I've got to be up at 0530!"

McCoy stood up and stretched. "Tell me about it. I've got to be up at 0430!"

Spock got to his feet, still seemingly as fresh as a daisy even after several hours of playing. "Which reminds me, I also have an early shift…so it would be logical that we all retire as soon as possible."

The two Medical Officers made sure to thank the others for inviting them to the concert; Christine reached the door first. Spock was one step behind her. He surreptitiously raised her hand to his lips and kissed it, hoping neither of his friends could see him do it. "Thank you for coming, Christine. Your presence was most--pleasing to me. I would…also like to share dinner with you again, if you do not mind," the Vulcan said, voice lowered so only Christine could hear.

"Of course," the Head Nurse replied. "Just let me know when."

"I will," came the reply. "Good night."

"Good night, Spock." With that, she touched his cheek and departed.

A short time later, the other two men moved to the door; Spock waited patiently for McCoy to leave. "Thank you for a most enjoyable evening, Spock. I haven't heard Dixie in ages." The Doctor again smiled warmly at the Vulcan just before stepping so the door opened.

"My pleasure, Doctor," was the soft-spoken answer. "Good night."

"Good night, Spock." With another smile in Kirk's direction, McCoy departed.

The remaining two moved to the door of their shared bathroom. "I think I'll be spending my next off-duty day with Bones, if you don't mind, Spock," Kirk informed him.

The First Officer shook his head. "Not at all, Jim. I have…already made plans to spend mine with Christine."

"After that, though, let's get together, just the two of us, if possible. Otherwise, we'll figure on getting together again and doing something, the four of us."

"Very well," the Vulcan acknowledged. "Good night, Jim. I will see you tomorrow--or more accurately, later today."

Kirk smiled before chuckling softly. "See you then, Spock. Sleep well."

"I will endeavor to do so. Good night." With a nod, the Science Officer stepped through the bathroom door and was gone.

The Captain turned on his heel and headed for his sleeping alcove, retiring after changing into pajamas and using the bathroom. Once in bed, he lay thinking of what he and Bones could do together that neither Christine nor Spock would be interested in. Too tired to think extensively, he told himself to ask McCoy for ideas at the first opportunity, then fell into a deep sleep a short time later.

* * *

For obvious reasons, Kirk wasn't used to trying to think of anything for himself and Bones to do together, but upon awakening and stepping into his shower, began wracking his brain trying to figure something. By the time he was ready to leave his quarters, the Captain still hadn't thought of anything, and berated himself once again. If he couldn't think of any-thing, it had indeed been too long since he and Bones had done anything together as friends, just the two of them.

He couldn't help regretting letting so much time pass between their get-togethers, though he had enjoyed his times with Spock, too…always had, always would…but McCoy was his friend, too, even if they couldn't be as close as himself and Spock--and it was high time he showed it. His closeness to Spock notwithstanding, Kirk knew he (and Spock) also needed the Doctor's companionship… and was truly sorry not to have been more thoughtful and considerate of McCoy's feelings long before this.

It was wrong to take someone for granted, particularly people like McCoy and Christine …but that was just what he and Spock had done, telling themselves that the others would be there if either of them had nothing better to do. They always seemed to, however, but with each other--not Bones or Christine. It was just a tad selfish, if not cruel…even if it was unintentional. God knew neither had ever meant to take McCoy or Christine for granted, and it would have served him and Spock right if the others hadn't been there, at least once, if only to remind them that they had other people they could spend time with if he and Spock didn't want to be with them. Neither had they meant to brush them aside or slight them, but due to their own carelessness and thoughtlessness, things had gotten terribly out of hand.

If the two Medical Officers hadn't been the kind of people they were, Kirk was sure they would have left the ship a long time ago--and he wouldn't have blamed them one bit. After all, each had been alone for a long time; the last thing they needed were so-called friends or shipmates who neglected them. That wouldn't do much for anyone's ego. Kirk certainly knew how he would feel in that situation, so he could understand their skepticism after being treated as second-class citizens for so long…and could only hope they could be patient and bear with them a little longer, even if they didn't deserve it.

Of course, Bones and Christine wouldn't want him or Spock forcing themselves to spend time with them if they'd rather be with each other--or hold them in emotional bondage in order to keep them on the ship, Kirk was sure of that. They weren't that kind of people…but it seemed that whether they had intended it or not, he and Spock had become "that kind of people". As a result, it was their duty to see that each was assured of their necessity to not only the ship but himself and Spock, and not just as Medical Officers but friends--and in Christine's case, regarding her feelings for Spock, possibly more.

On the other hand, neither would want a "mercy" date (particularly not Christine) or either spending time with them simply out of guilt, in an attempt to salve their consciences rather than having sincere regret for their neglect of them…not because their company was truly desired. Both deserved better than that after what they had been made to endure, and worse yet, endure so patiently and quietly.

He doubted that either he or Spock could have endured it as well, yet they had expected McCoy and Christine to do so. Unfortunately, what was done could not be undone; all they could do was try their best to make sure it didn't happen again--or at least keep it to a minimum. With that, Kirk finished dressing and left his quarters to head for the Bridge and his duty shift. Hopefully at some point, he would think of something he and McCoy could do together. If not, he would have to see if Bones had come up with anything.

* * *

It was a routine shift (which usually meant boring), where the most interesting thing that happened was that Uhura sent some subspace messages to both Starfleet Command and a sister ship, the Potemkin, now in the Epsilon Indi system on a diplomatic mission for the Andorians. The Enterprise was supposed to join them there, along with the Lexington, which was already on its way there after completing its last mission of delivering food and medical supplies to the Federation colony on Vega IX, who would share their bounty with the original settlement of people from Delta III. Kirk was ready to climb the wall with boredom. Not even McCoy had called to break the monotony. At this point, the Captain would have welcomed even a skirmish with the Klingons or Romulans!

Kirk almost envied Uhura, who at least had something to do. He and the other Bridge personnel (with the possible exceptions of Sulu and Chekov, who manned the helm and navigation stations and were thus flying the ship) had little to do but wait at their stations. He was glad when the time came for shift change and he could go down to Sickbay to pick up Bones. He had finally decided they would have dinner, then they could figure something else to do after that while eating.

* * *

Once the two were on their way there, Kirk confessed to McCoy that he had found it difficult to figure something they could do together.

"Not surprising, Jim," the Doctor observed as they walked toward the turbolift, then entered. "But we don't have to do anything special. I'm content if we can have dinner and talk. We haven't done even that for a long time."

"I know, and I'm sorry. I wouldn't blame you if you didn't believe me, but I never meant to neglect you or take you for granted. You are still my friend, and you always will be, as long as you're willing to put up with me and my idiosyncrasies--"

McCoy raised a hand to stop the Captain's apology. "Did I ever say that you weren't still my friend? Don't apologize, Jim. I can understand. You and Spock have a lot more in common than you and I do; as a result, you feel a lot closer to each other than to me. Chris and I don't mind that. What we hope is that you two know that you can trust and confide in us as well as each other, feel free to discuss whatever the two of you might do with us. You know it won't go any further, especially if it involves a certain half-Vulcan and his emotions."

Kirk smiled as the Doctor's voice conveyed his sincerity, but it remained to be seen whether or not Spock would believe it, considering the Chief Surgeon's propensity for pouncing on any emotion the Vulcan might show like a hungry cat on a plump mouse. Kirk knew that Spock was extraordinarily sensitive about any teasing because of what he had been made to endure while growing up, even the good-natured variety, which McCoy was a master of, so that made the First Officer wary of being around the Doctor very much without having Jim around to "head him off at the pass".

Not that Spock couldn't handle himself in a verbal battle if necessary, but even though the Vulcan had recently confided to him that he had a closet affection for the Doctor, there had rarely been an opportunity to show it…at least not in a way that wouldn't violate his Vulcan sensibilities. Which was probably one reason why Bones thought Spock didn't care about him. Even so, both he and Spock had been surprised but pleased that McCoy was being so circumspect--essentially on his best behavior. Of course, how long that would last was a matter for debate. Meanwhile, both were silent for the rest of the trip to the Officers' Lounge, mentally figuring their dinner menus.

McCoy was also figuring how to tell Jim that Jo was to be married and that he would give her away…and best of all, that she was going to come visit him with her intended shortly before their wedding. Certainly would be the last thing Jim would expect to hear!

* * *

Once the two friends had settled down to eat, McCoy decided to tell Kirk what all had transpired when he had talked to Joanna, which saved the Captain from wracking his brain any further--for which he silently blessed the Doctor. Bones had "saved his bacon", at least in a sense, once again. It was when Kirk lifted his head after taking a bite of his chicken sandwich and a swallow of coffee that McCoy dropped his bombshell.

"Guess what, Jim?" The Chief Surgeon's voice had the air of a small boy who had just received the birthday gift he had always wanted.

"What, Bones?" the Captain returned, a touch of impatience in his voice, even though he had detected the excitement in the Doctor's voice.

"You won't believe what Jo told me," McCoy returned with a Mona Lisa-type smile.

"What did she tell you?" Kirk almost demanded after taking a swallow of coffee and setting down his coffee cup.

"She's getting married," came the pleased reply.

Kirk almost choked on the coffee in his surprise. "Say what?"

"Jo's getting married…and best of all, she wants me to give her away. Not only that, she and her intended are coming here to visit me!"

For his friend's sake, Kirk was pleased; he hadn't seen the Doctor so happy in a long time. "That's great, Bones. I'm very happy for you. When's she coming?"

"In another three months. That's when she and her intended will have enough time for a honeymoon."

"I have no idea where we'll be in three months," the Captain warned.

"I know, Jim," the Doctor said. "Don't worry; I'll keep her informed, so she'll know where to come."

"Did she tell you anything about him?" Kirk wondered after swallowing his coffee and regaining his composure.

"Only his name and the fact that he owns a restaurant in New Athens which specializes--you won't believe this--in Southern cuisine!"

Kirk chuckled. "You should love it, then," he opined before taking another bite of his sandwich.

"I've already made her promise to take me there one day," McCoy assured him.

"Nothing like having a son-in-law who owns a Southern restaurant," the Captain observed. "I wonder how their business is? I would think you would want her to marry someone who's a good provider."

"I want her to marry someone she'll be happy with," the Doctor countered. "If she's not happy, the rest isn't going to make any difference."

"Do you think she's going to be happy with this guy?" Kirk inquired after swallowing.

"I think so. She seemed almost radiant when she talked about him…but I'll be better able to determine that after I meet him."

"Then I don't see anything to worry about," the Captain returned with a smile. "Sounds like she chose well."

"It would seem so," the Doctor agreed, though Kirk seemed to detect an element of doubt--but he chose not to point it out. "It'll be good to see her again. It's been ages since we've been together."

"And what better occasion to get together than a wedding? Which reminds me…if they haven't made a final decision, what would you say to my marrying them?"

"That would be great, Jim--but I can't speak for them. You'll have to put it to them once they arrive."

"I'll do that," Kirk assured him. "Be sure to tell me as soon as you know when they're coming."

"Sure thing," was the answer as the Chief Surgeon continued eating, which he had been doing to a certain extent all through their conversation. "I've also made her promise to keep me informed about my grandchildren…once she has them, that is."

Kirk chuckled again. "Are you sure she even plans to have children, Bones?"

"She didn't say she didn't," McCoy told him.

"That may have been simply to pacify you," Kirk warned. "I'd ask her again when she gets here if I were you. Between now and then, she and her intended will no doubt discuss that very thing."

"Among others," the Doctor returned, taking the last bite of his meal and washing it down with a swallow of mint julep.

"What do you want to do now? As I've said, I've wracked my brain, but can't think of anything," Kirk reminded him as he finished his own meal.

"Would you object to watching Gone With The Wind with me?" McCoy wondered. "I know it's kind of long, not to mention old, but it's my favorite film about the old South. I'd love to be able to share it with someone for a change."

"I'd have to tell Uhura where I'm going to be, but other than that, I don't think I'd be averse to it," Kirk told his friend, which made the Doctor's blue eyes light up with happiness.

"Great, Jim. I'll set it up. Come on down as soon as you're ready," McCoy told him.

"I'll be there," Kirk said. "See you in half an hour."

After showering and changing into casual clothes, the Captain told Uhura where he was going to be, then made his way to the Chief Surgeon's quarters. McCoy greeted him warmly upon arrival, offering him a place beside him on his own bed in front of his holovid viewer. Kirk was pleased to note that Bones had also made a drink of Saurian brandy for him, all iced and ready, waiting on a coaster on the nightstand at the head of the bed. As soon as they were settled, McCoy told the voice-operated viewer to turn on, then they settled back to enjoy the film.

* * *

Even though the film was almost four hours long, it seemed to go by all too rapidly for the two watching it. Kirk had never known that Bones' ex-wife was anything like the character of Melanie in the film, but the Doctor assured him that she was. "Jo got her looks and my personality," McCoy laughed. "It's a wonder she ever landed a guy."

Kirk laughed. "I once heard that the female lead in this film wasn't even American, much less Southern, Bones. Is that true?"

"That's true, Jim. She was British."

"Then how could she possibly pull off a Southern accent?"

"I don't know, but she did. Quite well, too, I might add," the Doctor opined…and so it began.

The pair spent almost as much time discussing the film after viewing it as they had watching it. In spite of himself, the Captain knew he hadn't enjoyed himself so much since all four of them had watched Fantasia, having to ask how he could ever have taken so long to spend an evening with McCoy. With all due respect to Spock, the Vulcan could never have comprehended the emotionalism of one kind or another throughout the film.

Only full-blooded Humans could even begin to understand the motivations of both the characters and author, Margaret Mitchell. It was the only book she'd ever written which had garnered any serious attention, and had taken her ten years to write. Both McCoy and Kirk agreed that it seemed to be semi-autobiographical, particularly when Kirk commented that the character of Rhett Butler, Scarlett's third husband, was supposed to have been based upon Margaret Mitchell's own second husband… though they also both did their share of disagreeing.

It was almost 0400 by the time the two came back to reality. "Oh my God, I've got to get to bed!" Kirk exclaimed. "Even at that, I'll probably only get about four hours of sleep, since I have to be on the Bridge at 0900--provided I get to sleep at all, I'm so keyed up."

"I can always give you one of my little red pills, Jim," McCoy offered, picking up the bottle from his nightstand.

Kirk smiled but shook his head, holding up his hands. "No way, Bones. The last time I took one of those, it knocked me out for twelve hours."

"As I recall, you needed the sleep," McCoy reminded him with a knowing smile.

"Just as I need sleep now. See you later, Bones. I really enjoyed tonight." The Captain moved toward the door.

"So did I. I hope we can do it again sometime. Good night, Jim."

Kirk turned back, smiled and nodded in McCoy's direction, then departed. "I'll let you know. Good night."

The Doctor hated to see his friend go, but knew he had to, though he had enjoyed this evening with Jim immensely. It had been so long since they'd sat down and had a good long discussion! He didn't kid himself that it would happen again any time soon, but vowed to enjoy what time he could have with Jim. When they were together, it was easy to forget that they were Starfleet officers--almost too easy. Unfortunately, he wasn't going to get much sleep himself, since he had to be in Sickbay by 0700, but it had been worth it. It would be a long time before he forgot this night!

* * *

For both Spock and Christine, it was the following evening when they went to dinner, after she had gotten off-duty at 2300. She met him there, having the meal she had designated waiting for her. As for his own, it was spinach soufflé with cheddar cheese sauce, along with cottage cheese covered with applesauce. This time, his beverage of choice was Altair water, similar to Terran mineral water.

He noticed her reaction at his again choosing a Terran meal, though she tried to pretend she hadn't noticed, but decided not to comment on it. It wasn't often that they had a meal together--this was only the second time since they had known each other, in fact--so he had to make allowances for her. Jim would not have shown surprise, but Spock thought it best to put his friend out of his mind for the time being and concentrate on developing a friendship with Christine. She deserved his full attention whenever he was with her.

She had told him she wanted an Italian meal this time…chicken cacciatore with garlic bread and a small Caesar salad with garlic ranch dressing, croutons, hard-boiled eggs and bacon bits for garnish. Pink lemonade was her beverage of choice. A few minutes after the meal began, Christine noticed that soft instrumental music was playing in the background--the very song that was her favorite!

"Thank you, Spock," she told him with a smile; he raised one upswept brow at her. "Thank you for the meal, the music you did for me the other night…everything. It's wonderful."

He inclined his head with a half-smile upon feeling her sincerity, eyes half-closed. "It was the least I could do for you, Christine."

After that, the meal was mostly silent, though their eyes met and held many times--and she smiled at least twice more in the course of it…as did Spock, but only with his eyes. Near the end of the meal, she noticed that a piece she'd never heard before was playing. It was beautiful, but didn't sound like anything from Earth. Could it actually be--Vulcan?

"It is," Spock said quietly, as if reading her mind. "I composed it."

For a moment the nurse was stunned speechless, eyes wide with astonishment, then she fairly beamed at him, her face radiant. She wanted to ask him if he'd done it for her, but considered that too presumptuous, especially this early in the game.

"Indeed," she made herself say, with a calmness she didn't feel. "May I…hear some others? That is, if you don't mind sharing them with me."

He lifted his head to stare at her intently--not speaking verbally, but his dark eyes spoke volumes…volumes of emotion that even she hadn't thought him capable of expressing with just a glance. "If that is what you wish, Christine," he finally said, voice soft and low, having almost a crooning quality.

"I do--but only if you wish it, too. If you don't, I'll understand, and we can listen to some other music."

Part of the Vulcan was relieved to hear this, letting him off the hook if he so chose, but another part wanted to share his music with her. Not that he would have admitted that, of course--not publicly, at any rate. "I do not mind," he assured her. "We will go to my quarters, and I will play it for you after we finish our meal."

A short time later, the meal was over, and the two carried their trays over to the disposal bin, dumping the contents into the recycler before departing. It was late enough so that no one they knew spotted them together, especially not going into his quarters, for which Christine was thankful. Once they were inside, he got a chair and drink for her, sitting on his bed and placing his harp in his lap, his long, slender fingers alternately stroking and plucking the strings as the music required.

The nurse replenished her drink at least twice in the course of the next couple of hours, although neither she nor Spock was aware of the passage of time until she looked up and noted the hour on the Vulcan's wall chrono, which he kept in his quarters for his Human friends and shipmates. As a Vulcan, Spock rarely needed to consult a timepiece, due to his inborn time sense.

Again, there was little spoken verbally, but a lot visually; if their eyes hadn't met and held, or they didn't smile at each other, Christine was surreptitiously looking around at the interior of the Vulcan's quarters, a quarters which heretofore had been off-limits to her. She marveled that she was actually here with him; it was hard to believe it wasn't all a dream, having to discreetly close her eyes and open them again to make sure it didn't all disappear. But each time, he was still before her, sitting on his bed, playing his harp, and she was still sitting in a chair at the end of the bed, listening.

It was immaculately clean, as she expected; in the bedchamber, there were burgundy-colored drapes on the walls and a flame-pot with a lion-like statue, its mouth open and the flickering flames playing on the First Officer's lean, angular face; once she had even caught the flames reflecting in his eyes as he looked at her. The bed seemed to be covered with a royal blue bedspread and emerald-green pillows.

In the living area, his personal computer was situated at a right angle against one wall, and the other held a large IDIC wall hanging and a darkened, recessed area that could only have been his meditation chamber. Next to the work station was his holo-viewer and a cabinet which obviously held his collection of musical, motion picture and scientific holo-cassettes. In the corner facing the viewer, there was a small sofa just large enough for two, with one IDIC pillow at one end and a t'lerya-flower appliquéd pillow at the other, a blue and gold afghan draped over the back of the sofa.

She was reluctant to leave, but knew she had to once she realized what time it was. "I've enjoyed every moment of tonight," she assured Spock as she stood up. "But it's late and I've got to get to bed."

He nodded understandingly as he got up from the bed and followed her to the door after laying the harp on the bed. "I…must admit that I have found your company--most pleasant, Christine," he found himself confessing as they lingered at the door. "One suggestion, however," he informed her as she was about to step and open the door in preparation for departure. "We must schedule the next evening before an off-duty day in order that it…may last longer." The last was said so quietly that she was sure he hadn't meant her to hear it, but she did.

"That's fine by me, Spock. Just let me know when so that I may check my schedule and plan accordingly."

What happened next surprised them both, especially Spock. "One moment, Christine." He moved to stand before her, then took her hands in his and raised them to his lips to kiss them. "Thank you for accepting my invitation. Sleep well." Then, after a moment of looking deeply into each other's eyes, his dark head bent and his lips found hers. The touching of their lips was light and tentative at first, his kiss only deepening when he realized she had no objections to his action.

It had been a long time since the Vulcan had had the desire to kiss a woman or hold her in his arms, and the first time had been with Leila Kalomi on Omicron Ceti III as the result of the spores which had released his long-leashed emotions. But in this case, he had not needed any spores--only the scent of Christine's perfume. Her lips were amazingly warm and sweet, and the Vulcan found himself unable to keep from putting his arms around her to hold her firmly but gently close to him.

At the first touch of his lips on hers, a supernova exploded in Christine's head. How could this really be happening? How could Spock really be holding and kissing her? His lips were every bit as sweet and warm as she had always imagined they were, his arms strong yet gentle, and she wished the embrace and his kiss never had to end…but like all heavenly things, they did, all too soon. "Thank you for inviting me, Spock," she whispered after they parted. "Good night." With that, she stepped through the door and was gone.

After she left, Spock made himself go to his shower and set it as cold as he could stand it, then change into a black knee-length nightshirt with an IDIC appliquéd on it, which Jim had given him for his last birthday, upon getting out and drying off. He couldn't help wondering if Christine had done that, for he had never seen the clothing come that way originally--and made a note to ask Jim about it at the first opportunity. He also slipped on some heavy, black socks his mother had knitted for him and sent to him as her birthday gift, then got into bed and lay there for a time, thinking over the evening with Christine…the dinner they had shared, the music he had played for her both there and in his quarters--but most of all, their tender, lingering embrace and kiss just prior to her departure.

It was probably the most illogical, unVulcan thing he had ever done, but Spock couldn't bring himself to feel guilt or shame for it--either for doing it or for feeling pleasure while doing it, savoring the memory of the warmth and sweetness of her lips and the scented softness of her body as he had held her close to him. The visions that had plagued him earlier came back with a vengeance and made his sleep fitful and sporadic.

How much longer he could pretend indifference around her (or anyone else), he had no idea, especially now that he had actually held and kissed her, but for the present, he had to try …for it was far too soon to even consider any serious relationship with her. They were barely friends, for Vulcan's sake! What could have possessed him to have done such a thing? He didn't know, and doubted that he ever would, even if he managed to discuss it with Jim and his friend was able to come up with a possible reason.

* * *

It was the following evening that Kirk and Spock got together as friends for the first time in nearly a week--to compare notes on what each had done with Bones and Christine respectively. They decided to meet in Kirk's quarters after he had gotten off-duty, which wasn't until 2030 hours. The Captain had been on the Beta shift and Spock on the Gamma shift, from 2400 to 0800. Their hours would change in a couple of days, however, so both were preparing themselves for that.

Meanwhile, the Vulcan was alternating between computer busy-work and attempts at meditation while waiting for Kirk…attempts which always failed, because he kept seeing tantalizing visions of himself with Christine. If he'd had any idea that one kiss could prompt such visions, he wouldn't have done it--but it was too late to change what had happened. All he could do was deal with it as best he could, which wasn't saying much. Spock had just come out of his last unsuccessful attempt at meditation when he heard Jim's voice attempting to get his attention.


He looked up to find Kirk standing over him, a mixture of concern and annoyance on his handsome face.

"Spock, where have you been? I've been trying to get your attention for the last fifteen minutes!" the Captain declared.

"I--am sorry, Jim. I have been…attempting to meditate," Spock explained.

"And not having any luck," Kirk finished. "Care to talk about it?"

"Not at present," came the almost-too-quiet reply. "For the moment, I would prefer to--speak of something else."

Kirk didn't pressure his friend, because he knew what Spock's reluctance to talk usually signified, and that Spock would eventually get around to telling him what was bothering him without prodding. "Then would you like to hear what all I've been doing with Bones?" he asked, instead.

The First Officer felt a mixture of gratitude and relief at Jim's change of subject…one of the main reasons he felt more comfortable with Kirk. Jim never pressured him to talk when he was reluctant to do so. The one time that he had was out of necessity, to save Spock from the pon farr, so the latter discounted that. For the most part, Jim knew enough to wait until Spock had approached him, rather than vice versa.

"Of course," the Vulcan returned with a polite half-smile. "What did you do?"

"We had lunch once, then dinner the day before yesterday--and watched a holovid of his favorite film, the 20th-century classic, Gone With The Wind. After watching it, we discussed it …and other things. Among them, his daughter's impending visit."

The Science Officer's brows climbed into his hairline. "She is coming here?"

"Because she is to be married, and has asked Bones to give her away. Another reason is because she wants him to meet her intended."

"When are they coming?" Spock inquired.

"As soon as her schedule--and that of her fiancé--allows," Kirk informed him. "Approximately three months."

"We do not know where we will be in three months," the First Officer pointed out.

"I know. I told Bones that myself," Kirk told him. "He'll keep her posted as to where we are, so they'll know where to come."

"Logical," came the answer.

"What have you and Christine been up to?" the Captain ventured carefully.

"We have…been to dinner twice, and last night I played my harp for her in my quarters."

Kirk fought to hide his surprise at Spock's actually having invited Christine to his quarters, but he had noted a touch of uneasiness in the Vulcan's voice--enough for him to feel obliged to ask if anything was wrong.

"Did something bad happen?" The Captain made his voice as gentle as possible.

"No…not really. Simply something which I believe I should not have done."

"Like what? And why shouldn't you have done it?"

"I--kissed her," the Vulcan confessed, ears and cheeks turning emerald-green with embarrassment. "But it was far too soon. I…cannot get it out of my mind."

"Is that why you can't meditate?" Kirk asked.

The First Officer nodded, unable to bring himself to speak for a long time. When he did, his voice was filled with self-recrimination and shame. "Jim, why did I do it? What could possibly have motivated me? No self-respecting Vulcan would knowingly do such a thing, especially this early in a relationship."

No self-respecting full-blooded Vulcan, at any rate, Kirk chuckled inwardly. Spock is something else again. "Sounds to me like keep down, you wanted to kiss her, or else you wouldn't have done it," the Captain observed with a knowing smile.

"Not consciously," the Vulcan countered.

"Well, consciously or not, you did it," Kirk pointed out. "It also strikes me that you must have enjoyed it. Other-wise, you wouldn't be so embarrassed about it."

"But I am a Vulcan. Vulcans do not do such things."

"Ordinarily, no, but you aren't an ordinary Vulcan," was the matter-of-fact reply.

"Then you believe that is why I did it?" Spock questioned.

"Only reason I can think of," Kirk told his friend. "But I wouldn't dwell on it. You're hardly the first man--or Vulcan, for that matter--that this has happened to. It's normal for a man to want to kiss a beautiful woman, particularly if he enjoys her company."

"But I have no wish to 'lead her on,' as you say…or allow her to expect something I cannot give."

Not at the moment, at least, the Captain told himself. Out loud, he affirmed in a soothing voice, "Of course not, and I'm sure she knows that. Just take it one day at a time. There's no rush. If you're meant to be together, it'll happen one day--when you're both ready."

It was at this point that Spock made himself voice something else he wanted to do, but was unsure if he could do alone. "I--was also considering speaking privately to Dr. McCoy regarding our…personal relationship, but would feel better if you--could be there to…help me should I--have need of it. Do not join us until and unless I give you a sign."

"A sign?" Kirk asked, his own brows arching Vulcan-fashion.

"A…mind-touch," Spock responded.

"When were you planning to do this?" Kirk inquired.

"Possibly--tomorrow evening. We…all three of us… have off-duty days the following day, at least partial ones, so we may speak late into the night if necessary."

"Does Bones know about this?"

"Not yet," the Vulcan confessed quietly. "I was planning to--contact him after we had finished our talk."

"Will this interfere with anything you may have planned with Christine?"

Spock shook his head. "I have made certain it will not."

Kirk nodded and smiled. "Good. Now, you'd better call and let McCoy know you're… we're… coming."

The Science Officer looked at his Human friend apprehensively.

"Don't worry. I'll stay here and help you through it."

Spock nodded in acknowledgment and gratitude before reaching to open the intercom for Sickbay. "Spock to Sickbay," he stated hesitantly.

"Sickbay. McCoy here. Is there something I can do for you, Spock?" The Doctor's voice was laced with inquiry and concern.

"I--would like to speak privately with you, Doctor," was the soft-voiced reply.

"Of course. I assume that my office would be too public," McCoy surmised.

"I would prefer it to…take place in your quarters," Spock affirmed.

"Fine. When?"

"Would 1930 hours tomorrow evening be convenient for you?"

"No problem. See you then."

"Thank you, Doctor. I will be there. Spock out."

After the Vulcan closed the channel he looked over at Kirk again; the Captain was smiling reassuringly at him. "See, that wasn't so hard. I'm sure the talk will go just fine," the Human told his alien friend.

I--am assuming so, Spock thought. Out loud, he said, "I hope you are right."

"I also notice that you didn't tell him I was coming, too," Kirk pointed out.

"What I was thinking was that you could perhaps…wait outside the Doctor's door or in the unoccupied quarters across the hall, then if I need help, I will touch your mind and--invite you in. Would that be…agreeable to you?" The First Officer looked up again at his Captain and friend, question in his dark eyes.

"It's all right with me," was the answer. "As I said, don't worry. I'll be there to help if you need it. Now, I'd better hit the hay. I've got a shift at 0500--and if memory serves, so do you. See you in the morning, Spock."

"Good night, Jim," the Vulcan said, then watched his friend leave, feeling very fortunate to have him--and the other two as well, even if he wasn't quite as comfortable with McCoy (though he was working on that), and perhaps becoming just a little more than friends with Christine. But at the moment, what Spock was concerned with was the upcoming talk with McCoy. At best, it was difficult for him to speak of personal things with the Doctor, but however difficult, it had to be done if he was to remain aboard ship…and his (and Jim's) friend.

He was glad that he wouldn't have to face McCoy alone--at least, not totally. The Vulcan didn't like to admit this, even to himself, but still didn't feel brave enough for that, despite their recurrent verbal sparring matches, both good-natured and otherwise. All he could hope for was that McCoy would sense his discomfort and act accordingly. Meanwhile, it was time for him to retire…and at least try to sleep, even if he couldn't meditate. There were times when it could relax him, if nothing else could, but this wasn't one of those times. Oh well, enough of these unVulcan thoughts, Spock told himself. It was best that he put himself into a sleep-trance now--or at least attempt it.

* * *

It was precisely 1930 hours when Spock went to the Doctor's quarters; Kirk was to stay in the quarters across from McCoy's, presently unoccupied, where he would remain until Spock needed him, which could be either within the first half-hour, not at all…or somewhere in between. Spock made sure to press the door buzzer only when the corridor was clear, unable to help hoping that he wouldn't be kept waiting too long--which he wasn't. Almost immediately, McCoy's answer came back. "Come on in, Spock. The door's open." The door slid open and the Vulcan stepped inside; the door then slid closed behind him.

Spock couldn't help thinking that it was almost like facing a lion (or in Spock's case, a le-matya) in its den, for it took nearly as much courage for Spock to be doing this as it would for him to face either of the aforementioned predators. He was unexpectedly put at ease by what Jim referred to as McCoy's "Southern charm". The First Officer had only seen it in action once, on Holberg 917-G, the small planet where they had detected ryetalyn, the one substance that could cure Rigellian fever, an illness related to bubonic plague. In so doing, they had met the owner of the planet, the mysterious Mr. Flint, and his equally mysterious ward, Rayna. When she had said, "You're the only other men I've ever seen," the Doctor had replied, "The misfortune of men everywhere…and our privilege."

Even Kirk had been surprised by McCoy's gallantry at the time, but had explained to his Vulcan friend later on that it had been a prime example of "Southern charm", just as disarming now as it had been then.

"Good to see you, Spock. I don't think you've ever come to my quarters before--and certainly not alone," the Chief Surgeon pointed out. "But what matters is that you're here. What did you want to talk privately with me about, if I may ask?"

McCoy offered his unexpected but welcome guest a chair at the table in the living quarters, choosing not to notice that the other man had not answered him; the Vulcan nodded gratefully in the Human's direction and seated himself. "Would you like a drink, Spock?" the Doctor asked.

"Altair water, thank you, Doctor," was the quiet reply, laced with appreciation.

"Coming up." McCoy turned to his own stash of drinks and small refrigerator/freezer, getting out the ingredients for his own drink, a mint julep, and the large bottle of Altair water for Spock's after getting out the ice for them and putting it in glasses which each held five ice cubes. "Straw, Spock?" he asked as he put the bottle and other drink ingredients away, then reached to pick up the drinks.

"No, thank you, Doctor."

A moment later, McCoy had joined the First Officer at the table, placing their drinks on it before seating himself. "First off, I must apologize for 'jumping down your throat' about Christine the other day. It just upset me when I came on duty and found her crying, especially when she told me why."

The Vulcan held up a hand. "No need to apologize, Doctor. You were merely concerned for her feelings…and I assure you that I will do my utmost never to hurt her like that again."

McCoy was both pleased and surprised to hear Spock admit to wrongdoing and regret that he had hurt Christine's feelings by refusing her offer to give him a rubdown.

"I now realize that Jim and I have been--neglecting you and Christine, and cannot blame you for feeling anger and hurt as a result…even threatening to transfer off the Enterprise if matters did not improve. Please be patient with us; we are attempting to make amends, but it will take time."

McCoy smiled at his Vulcan companion. "I know you are, and we appreciate it." It was all the Doctor could do not to choke on his drink when Spock actually returned the smile.

Spock sighed deeply and took a long swig of his own drink. "However, you also need to be apprised of a few facts. Even though matters have--indeed gotten out of hand regarding Jim's and my treatment of you and Christine, there will still be times that I will wish to be with Jim alone and choose not to tell you what we talk about…or what we do. We have never intentionally 'shut you out' or excluded you, though I am aware that it must seem that way to you. As I said, we regret that and are attempting to make up for it, but you must understand that we all must have our secrets. That does not mean we care any less for our friends.

"Jim has his; I have mine; the two of us have ours. You and Jim surely have yours, as do Christine and I. We do agree, however, that you and Christine deserve to be included more often--and will make…every attempt to confide in the two of you more often. However, I believe you know as well as I do that there are also times that I have shared with both you and Jim."

"Pretty rare," the Doctor opined carefully, taking a swig of his mint julep.

"I know, and that will be remedied--but there are also times when you and I have shared things, certain moments alone."

"That's even more rare," McCoy pointed out, taking another swig of his drink before adding a little more sugar.

"I am aware of that, but they have happened…such as the time we ended up in the planet Sarpeidon's past, five millennia ago." The two men were silent as each thought of the mission they had shared and how they had ended up in Sarpeidon's last Ice Age while attempting to find Jim after he had accidentally gone through the atavachron. They had missed each other; Kirk had ended up in a time period of Sarpeidon's past which resembled medieval Earth, while Spock and McCoy had found themselves in the planet's last Ice Age, complete with numbing cold, blowing winds and blizzard conditions.

The Doctor recalled how Spock had refused to leave him alone, even though the Vulcan had risked both exposure and frostbite, not to mention hypothermia. Had it not been for Zarabeth's discovering them and leading them to her cave, both would surely have died in the cold.

"I--appreciate your risking exposure and hypothermia to save me, Spock," the Chief Surgeon remarked quietly. "And I suppose I deserved your attacking me later on when I goaded you about not caring about finding Jim and your attentions toward Zarabeth."

"Neither of us were ourselves then, Doctor," the First Officer replied. "I no longer hold it against you…and I hope you have forgiven me for my actions against you at the time."

"Of course, Spock. A long time ago." McCoy smiled again, even though he couldn't help wondering if Spock would have attacked Kirk in the same situation, if Jim had been the one who ended up in the past with him and goaded the Vulcan about the same things he himself had. Come to think of it, there had been a time when Spock had attacked Jim for calling him names and hurling insults at him about his relationship with Leila Kalomi, then his background and ancestry (all in an attempt to bring his Vulcan friend back to normal and overcome the effects of the Omicron Ceti III spores), until Spock couldn't take it any more and had started knocking the Captain around, throwing him against the bulkheads in the Transporter Room. Jim had told him that he had fallen to the floor and Spock had stood over him, holding a phaser rack over his head, ready to swing it at him and strike him with it, when the Vulcan's anger had suddenly drained out of him and he had frozen in mid-swing, the spores' effects gone.

Jim hadn't been too much the worse for wear as a result, even though the Human had been sore and bruised for several days afterward…and in spite of the lecture he had given his friend, McCoy also recalled Jim's declaration that it had been worth the risk to himself to have brought Spock back to normal. Just the same, Kirk had vowed never to deliberately anger Spock again if he could help it; he might not survive a second encounter. After a time, he had forgiven Spock for it, though it had taken the Vulcan considerably longer to forgive himself for what he had nearly done to his closest friend--and once that occurred, the Science Officer also privately lectured his friend for his illogic, putting himself at such risk…even if it meant getting him back to normal.

McCoy was silent for so long that Spock felt obligated to break the silence. "Doctor?"

"Sorry, Spock," was the apologetic reply as the CMO set down his drink. "Just thinking."

"About what?" Spock prompted.

"The time you attacked Jim after he goaded you," the Doctor replied. "We're even on that score, at least. After all, not every Human can be attacked by an angry Vulcan and live to tell the tale."

"As I have said, at neither of those times was I myself, Doctor," the First Officer reminded him, his voice laced with annoyance. "Had I been myself, I would never have injured either of you."

"I know, I know. Don't worry. Just teasing. I won't do it again, Scout's honor," McCoy assured him, holding up his hands in a peacemaking gesture. "Now, let's get off that subject and back to the matter at hand."

Satisfied, the Vulcan reinforced his emotional controls and resumed his previous train of thought. "I am also aware that the three of us do not spend nearly enough time together as friends, but the simple fact that we have shows that Jim and I do value you. You and Jim are the two people of my own gender aboard ship whom I trust the most with my feelings."

I hope Christine is another, McCoy thought.

"Just as Miss Chapel is the only woman I trust," Spock admitted, in a telltale flat voice which the Doctor knew meant that the Vulcan was tightly controlling his feelings. "She is--patient, kind and understanding. Often far more so than I feel…deserving of." The Science Officer sounded somewhat self-deprecating.

"But you must be. Christine doesn't fall in love easily--but when she does, it's deep, true and unselfish." Almost too much so, sometimes, McCoy mused silently.

"Thank you, Doctor. I…appreciate the compliment--for both myself and Christine," Spock returned quietly, favoring McCoy with a rare smile.

"Finally, I wish to say that Jim and I will endeavor to tell you more about what we do together and talk about…as long as you endeavor to keep in mind that we do care about you and Christine, even if we do not always show it as we should. Nor do we ever mean to slight you, exclude you or shunt you aside. You and Christine are our friends; you always--have been…and always--will be," the Vulcan made himself say, his eyes and voice lowering simultaneously, only the strength of his bond with Kirk allowing him to voice his feelings for McCoy. "Please do not…ever leave the ship--or us. We need you both…now and for all time."

The openness of Spock's confession couldn't help but touch the Doctor, and he said as much. "Thank you, Spock. I--needed to hear that." His voice was quiet and filled with gratitude that Spock had thought enough of him and Christine that he would come here and discuss such a private matter with him, particularly without Jim as insurance.

"I'll also try not to…tease you so much, now that I know how much it bothers you--as long as you don't use my feelings against me. Jim told you, he said."

Spock again favored his Human companion with a smile which seemed to begin and end in his eyes. "I assure you, I would never do that to you, Doctor, any more than Jim would."

Spock's sincerity was so evident that even McCoy had to believe him, and the CMO smiled at the Science Officer again: the warmest smile he had ever bestowed on anyone other than Jim or Christine…and Spock fairly basked in that warmth, certain as he could be (at least at this moment in time) that he would never doubt McCoy's affection for him again, especially if the Doctor respected his dignity as a Vulcan and his feelings for Jim, not pressuring him to show his emotions unless he chose to do so, like now.

Now their relationship would be friendly as well as professional, with the private affection they bore for one another but rarely admitted to kept in its proper place--submerged and controlled--until and unless they were alone. It wouldn't be as easy for McCoy to do it, being an emotional Human, but Spock vowed to bear with the Doctor's idiosyncrasies, such as teasing, just as he did with Jim's, intending to do his best to remember that teasing was one of the ways McCoy showed affection.

At least they had each acknowledged and expressed it here, each in their own way, and outside this room, would do the same…as long as it did not violate their sense of dignity or personal sensibilities. By the time the talk ended, both Spock and McCoy considered themselves enlightened as to the depth of the friendship between them. Even if it could never be the caliber of the one between Kirk and Spock, it was special, highly valued by both, as well as real, lasting and true--if unspoken (after this, at least).

* * *

It was 2045 hours by the time the Doctor yawned and stretched. "That was a good talk…and long overdue. I'm glad we had it. If nothing else, it proves that miracles can happen. We can have a civil conversation."

"Indeed, Doctor," the Vulcan agreed, even as he raised an affectionately exasperated eyebrow at McCoy. "Have you had dinner yet?"

"Are you actually inviting me to dinner with you, Spock?" The CMO was surprised and touched.

"If you wish to come. That is why I asked," the First Officer returned coolly, but with an undercurrent of warmth.

"Will Jim be there?" McCoy wondered.

"I had intended to ask him," the Science Officer informed his companion. "If that meets with your approval." His tone held a touch of mischief and teasing, something he usually reserved for Kirk.

"Of course it does," the Doctor returned. "I never mind spending time with Jim--or you, when I can…but I've not done very much of it lately."

"I know, and we are doing our best to change that," Spock assured him. "Now, let us go find Jim and have dinner." The First Officer also made a mental note to invite McCoy to breakfast with him and Kirk sometimes--or perhaps just the two of them… once he felt brave enough, that is.

"Will Christine be there this time?" the Doctor asked as they left the latter's quarters.

"I contacted her; she told me that she plans to spend the evening with Miss Uhura--but is willing for us to spend tomorrow evening together."

"Any specific plans with her, if I may ask?" McCoy asked carefully.

"Not at the moment," the Vulcan returned cryptically. "We have not decided what we wish to do yet."

To their surprise and pleasure (or at least McCoy's), they found Kirk waiting for them a short distance down the corridor, leaning against the bulkhead, when they emerged.

"Have a good talk, gentlemen?" the Captain asked pleasantly as he joined them, both surprised and pleased that Spock had not found it necessary to call him for assistance in talking with McCoy…at least not this time around.

"Most assuredly," the First Officer replied with a half-smile.

"Very good," McCoy concurred. "Best we've ever had, in fact."

"Glad to hear it. Ready for dinner now, you two? My treat," Kirk offered with a smile.

"Thank you, Jim," Spock said.

"I never turn down a free meal," said McCoy. "Let's go."

With that, the three friends linked arms; Kirk was in the middle, flanked by Spock on the right and McCoy on the left, all heading for the turbolift which would take them to the Officers' Lounge and their evening meal--as well as a possible discussion of the talk between the Enterprise's resident Vulcan and Chief Medical Officer.

* * *

While that was going on, Christine and Uhura were having a little get-together of their own in the latter's quarters. She had even cooked up an authentic African meal, typical of what her family ate on a given day. Of course, there was no guarantee that Chris would like it, but if she could just get her to try it, it'd be worth all the work she'd put in, especially after having had her mother send all the instructions (and ingredients)!

It wasn't every day they had a non-synthetic meal, so it would be a refreshing change, if nothing else. Even the drink Chris was bringing was non-synthetic, something she'd been saving since their last leave together. She had bought a rare bottle of vintage wine (or at least the equivalent) from a merchant on Deneb V--at least that was where she'd found it. According to the Tellarite dealer she'd bought it from, it was purported to actually be from Vulcan, though how that could be possible (much less believable), neither she nor Chris could have said. He could have simply told her that in order to intrigue her enough to make a sale.

There were bars and such on Vulcan, particularly in the areas of the large cities which catered to Humans and other off-worlders, but even they usually drank their own or drinks imported from Earth or Earth colonies, if not allied worlds like Sauria, from where the fabled brandy favored by so many Starfleet personnel came. Vulcans themselves rarely imbibed, choosing to eschew the "dubious benefits of alcohol," as a noted native had once said.

Christine had been stunned to learn from Leonard that Spock had actually joined him and the Captain in sampling some century-old Saurian brandy on Holberg 917-G, courtesy of the enigmatic Mr. Flint. Of course, that was far from a common occurrence, since the Vulcan usually preferred herbal tea or Altair water, other than Vulcan drinks like tulac or kahlin, over the numerous alcoholic drinks available from either the Captain's or McCoy's personal stashes, much less the meal service computers in the Officers' Mess. It was more likely that he had done it simply to surprise them. Still, the fact that he had done it at all made the idea plausible, if not possible.

Chekov usually preferred vodka, and Scott his Scotch whiskey; if one wanted variety, it was generally found in Kirk's or McCoy's personal collection. Saurian brandy was one of the more innocuous drinks, in fact. There had been times that Leonard had even been able to get hold of some Romulan ale, though it wasn't exactly legal because the stuff had to be imported from across the Neutral Zone…but the Doctor didn't seem to care. If he craved a certain kind of drink badly enough, he would figure a way to get it. To paraphrase something McCoy had often said: "Beware of senior officers bearing gifts." Wherever the wine was from, it was bound to be good with the African meal--or at least Christine hoped so, because she'd certainly paid enough for it. Well, they would soon find out.

* * *

And it was good, both the meal and the drink. The latter had supposedly been made from the choicest grapes in a ShanaiKahr vineyard, and only the highest Vulcan officials had access to it…and even then, only on the most formal state occasions--all of which made the women wonder how a Tellarite could ever have gotten hold of even one bottle, much less a dozen, as he had claimed.

Christine had only been able to afford one bottle, and even then, it had cost her a month's pay…two thousand Federation credits, or 5,200 Vulcan drina. The drina was the official Vulcan unit of currency, one drina being equal to 2.6 Federation credits, although the businesses on Vulcan accepted both. She had used Federation credits to purchase the non-alcoholic wine, and it was lucky that she had been meticulously saving so much of her Starfleet Head Nurse's salary for the past year or so, otherwise she could never have gotten both the wine and been able to do anything else on leave.

The label on the bottle even sported the Vulcan IDIC symbol and the words Product of ShanaiKahr's Finest Vineyards, as well as a picture of the greenish-gold liquid in a rectangular Vulcan glass. All genuinely Vulcan-made products bore the IDIC symbol, the words Product of… and a given planetside location somewhere on them. She would have asked Spock about it, for he could have told her if it was authentic or not, but was scared to mention it since she was sure she would discover it was contraband, something never meant to be sold off-planet. She didn't want to get in trouble; all she wanted was to own a rare bottle of wine, even if she never sampled it. For the moment, however, she put it out of her mind and settled down to spend a quiet evening with her closest friend.

"So what have you been up to, Chris?" the Bantu woman asked shortly after they'd finished their meal and were talking over glasses of the rare wine.

"Before I answer, I must tell you that that was the most marvelous meal I've ever had--and you say that's a typical family meal where you come from?" The nurse's voice was laced with wonder and incredulity.

Uhura nodded and smiled.

"Almost makes me wish I'd been born there. Scrumptious, if a bit spicy. Good thing I had the wine chilling for the last few hours in the fridge."

"Do you really think it's from Vulcan?" the Communications Officer remarked after taking a swig. "I have to admit it's very good, but the Vulcans don't generally drink, at least not alcoholic beverages."

"I'd like to think it is," Christine replied, taking a swig of her own drink. "The label certainly looks authentic, what with the IDIC and all, but there are a lot of talented forgers out there, so I could easily have been taken for a very expensive ride by a very clever crook," she concluded.

"Why not ask Spock about it? If anyone would know about it, he would, with his father being a top Ambassador and all," Uhura suggested.

"I don't want to get in trouble," the Head Nurse confessed.

"How could you get in trouble by asking a simple question?" The other woman's voice was edged with astonishment.

"What if it's contraband, illegal and never meant to be sold off-planet? Spock might feel duty-bound to report me, and in that case, I'd either be court-martialed or prosecuted by the Vulcan authorities, if not both. You know that buying anything on the black market is a court-martial offense. Hell, even if I didn't get drummed out of the service, Spock would probably never speak to me again."

"You might be worrying over nothing, Chris. It could be all above-board, with the Vulcan authorities having given permission to sell a limited supply of the wine to the public or something."

"I hope so," came the worried reply.

"When do you see Spock again?" Uhura asked.

Christine blushed, but her voice was steady as she replied. "Tomorrow, if something doesn't come up. Why?"

"It might be a good idea to have the bottle on hand, then show it to him--after swearing him to secrecy, to be on the safe side--and find out whether or not the stuff is authentic. Perhaps you might even serve him a glass and see if he recognizes it…the taste, I mean. Then go from there. Which reminds me, how are things going between you two?" The dark woman gave her friend a sly wink.

"Not too bad," the nurse returned coolly, recounting to Uhura the details of all her recent meetings with Spock. "Spock told me later that he hadn't been too pleased at first, mainly going along with it to please the Captain, but after the film, he was glad we'd come. I even showed him and Leonard the sketches I did of some of the Fantasia characters a few years ago."

Uhura wasn't surprised, since she had also seen them by now and shared the others' opinion as to the quality of the artwork, though she wasn't yet aware of that fact. "What did they think?"

"Leonard said they were 'great,' to quote him. Spock said, 'Very good' and that I should continue my hobby because I showed 'considerable' art talent."

"Anything to report on the romantic front?" the Bantu inquired, taking another swallow of wine.

Christine gave her companion a sharp look, but said, "Some…though there was one time that he--" Her voice broke off as her eyes softened and she smiled enigmatically at the memory. The touch of Spock's lips had been so sweet; she had never wanted the kiss to end, and the feel of his arms around her, strong yet gentle, and the warmth of his body close to hers gave her a feeling of all-encompassing happiness and security--as if nothing could harm her as long as he was there.

"He what?" Uhura prompted. "Did he kiss you, or what?"

The nurse's blush deepened, even as she nodded in assent.

"Do you think he'll do it when you see him again tomorrow?" the other woman wondered.

"I don't know. I certainly wouldn't mind, though I'm not going to force the issue. It's up to him."

Spock wasn't easy to deal with, even in the best of circumstances…and being in love with the man didn't make them any better or easier to deal with. Things seemed to be improving for them as far as potential romance was concerned, at least for the present, but who could say how long it would last? Certainly not her. She was sure of only one thing: Spock wasn't one for casual relationships and never had been. He must have had a good reason for staring a relationship with her, but as far as she knew, his next pon farr was still some years away, so that couldn't be it--but nothing else made any sense. It would be unusual, if not wholly atypical, for him to allow his Human half expression at this late date, especially when he'd spent his whole life trying to hide it.

* * *

Christine left her friend's quarters an hour later, showering and preparing for bed. She was lying on top of her covers in nightgown, robe and slippers, her hair loose, reading her favorite late-night book, Lady Chatterley's Lover. She was halfway through the third chapter shortly after 2400, when she heard her door buzzer, wondering who could be calling on her at this hour. She knew who she would like it to be, but wishing wouldn't make it so. After so many years of being kept at a distance, it wasn't realistic to assume that, even given his recent behavior.

She had reached a particularly tantalizing part and was reluctant to lay the book down, but she finally did and went to answer the door, both surprised and pleased to find Spock there, Vulcan harp in hand and also out of uniform, in a dark blue Vulcan robe and slippers. "Did I wake you, Christine?" he asked upon seeing her.

"No, I couldn't sleep, so I've been reading. It's good to see you, but something of a surprise. I wasn't expecting you until later today."

"Do you wish me to leave?" His voice was laced with bewilderment and hurt. "I said I would come to see you tomorrow yesterday, and this is tomorrow--or rather, today," he pointed out.

"No, of course not," she denied. "You know you're always welcome here."

The Vulcan allowed himself a relieved smile in her direction. "Thank you. Now, may I come in? I have no wish to be seen by anyone."

"Come on in," she invited, turning and walking away. He followed her; the door swished closed and automatically locked behind the Vulcan, though he didn't seem to notice. She then motioned him to the extra chair near her desk, which she had moved to the foot of her bed; a glass of the Vulcan wine waited on the dresser. He sat down and positioned the harp on his lap, long, slender fingers tuning it almost absently, then began to play after taking a swallow. She could have sworn that his eyes had widened in recognition upon tasting it, but he didn't say anything until after he'd finished the first song.

"Is this what I think it is?" he asked her, picking up the glass again after setting his harp down at his side.

"That depends on what you think it is," she returned evenly even as her heart began to pound in fear, so hard and loud in her ears that she was sure Spock could hear it as well.

"If I may see the bottle this came from…" he requested, voice quiet--almost ominously so.

"Just a moment." She went to retrieve the bottle, her feet suddenly becoming leaden as she began to make her way toward him, but she forced herself to keep moving, and eventually handed him the bottle so he could examine it.

He was silent for so long, just turning it in every conceivable direction, sharp eyes taking in every detail; the longer the silence, the more frightened Christine became. After a seeming eternity, the Vulcan looked up to meet her eyes. "Where did you get this?"

"On Deneb V, during my last leave, from a Tellarite merchant. He was selling rare beverages, and said he had a dozen bottles of this--but I could only afford one. As it was, it cost me a month's pay. He also told me it was from Vulcan. I didn't believe it possible. Is that true?"

Spock nodded. "But quite rare. It has been many years since I have tasted this, and even then, I was only able to do so because my father once had a bottle of it. It is very good-tasting--so good, in fact, that its use is severely limited. Only the highest Vulcan authorities have had access to it for decades, and then only on the most formal occasions; the family of grapes it comes from was genetically engineered, the only fruit of its kind on Vulcan. The vineyard is meticulously cared for and the grapes picked at the peak of their flavor. It is seldom that any is sold off-planet, though in recent years, it has been known to happen…and when it does, the price is high."

"How well I know," Christine agreed. "I paid two thousand credits for this bottle."

"Which translates into over five thousand drina in Vulcan currency," he informed her before handing the bottle back to her.

"Then it's all right for me to have it. I won't get into any trouble with Starfleet or your planet's authorities," she said, her voice heavily laced with relief.

"Is something distressing you?" Spock wondered, sensing her apprehension mixed with relief.

"Not any more, thank God," she sighed. "I've been so afraid that I'd been ripped off or somehow gotten contraband, something never meant to leave Vulcan. I never wanted trouble; I only wanted to own a rare beverage…and when I heard that there was some supposedly from Vulcan, I was curious and wanted to see what it was like."

She sounded too apologetic for Spock not to notice it. "There is nothing to apologize for, Christine. I assure you, you were not cheated. The drink is indeed authentic, simply little-known outside of Vulcan."

"I'm sure glad to hear that. I've been so worried."

"You need worry no longer," he assured her. "I merely request that you not speak of this to others if you can help it, since the beverage is so rare and…special to us that we--Vulcans--wish to keep as many bottles as possible to ourselves. If it became too widely known, the consequences could be disastrous. I can also assure you that I will not mention this to my father, because I know how he would react."

"But who knows how many people that Tellarite merchant has already told?" she asked worriedly.

"Chances are that others who hear his claim will be as skeptical as you were and believe that if could not possibly be authentic. Also, the high price should discourage other would-be buyers."

"Nyota was with me when I bought it. Is it all right if she knows about it? I let her sample it, too."

"As long as she remains silent about it and the beverage is saved for special occasions," he reminded her.

"She fixed a special dinner last night, so I thought I'd try and see how the drink went with it," she told him.

"What kind of dinner?" he inquired.

"African. She said her mother had sent her all the necessary instructions and ingredients for a typical meal. It was quite good, simply a bit spicy."

Spock nodded absently and returned to his playing.

* * *

Both of them seemed to have lost track of time by the time the Vulcan decided to stop playing the harp. He had alternated playing a song he particularly liked, then one Christine liked, and back and forth until nearly 0400. It was fortunate that both had a later duty shift, in order that they would be able to get some sleep…but as it turned out, neither would, not this night.

They finished their drinks and he prepared to leave; Christine followed him to the door. "Good night, Spock. I--enjoyed it very much."

"As did I," the Vulcan returned quietly, looking deeply into her eyes, which prompted the inevitable trembling and pounding heart whenever he was near her…especially this close. It was all she could do not to throw herself into his arms and let him do as he wished with her, but she dared not, having vowed that she would not do anything that Spock didn't do, however difficult it might be to restrain herself.

How I wish you would stay, Spock, she thought, unable to help thinking it, even at the risk of his picking it up.

His reply told her that he had, though he did not condemn her for her feelings. Could it possibly be because he was fighting similar feelings? "I am sorry, Christine. I cannot--but find myself unable to resist doing what I did the other night…" His voice trailed off. "That is, if you would not object."

"Spock, you know better than that," she said softly, taking a step toward him and tentatively holding out her arms--which he hesitantly but willingly stepped into. A short time later, the couple came together in a lingering, tenderly passionate kiss, unwilling to stop for any reason short of death itself.

Long moments later, the two reluctantly tore themselves apart. Spock apologized profusely for not controlling himself. "I am sorry, Christine. I do not know--what came over me."

Christine was sure that she knew, all too well, but refrained from telling this to her companion, because he would surely deny it and she could not bear to hear it, even if she knew he was covering up his feelings with logic. She simply told him what he needed to hear: "It's all right, Spock. It happens to the best of us. You'd better go now. Good night."

"Good night, Christine," he returned quietly, putting his hand to her cheek for a few moments, then withdrawing it. "I will see you later."

She hated to see him go, even as she knew he must, even though she had known that he wanted her as much as she wanted him, all during their kiss when she had felt his arms tighten around her until she was almost breathless and his lips become hungry, even dangerously exciting, as if each was famished for the other. A moment longer, and the nurse was certain that Spock would have literally swept her off her feet and carried her to bed. If they saw each other again, she was convinced that they would be unable to end their en-counter with just a kiss. They had barely managed to tear themselves apart, as it was! Should that happen, she knew that she wouldn't regret a moment of it and hoped he wouldn't, either... because she--they--had waited far too long to come together.

* * *

James Kirk was not surprised to discover Spock waiting for him in his quarters that evening when he got off-duty, but was surprised when he learned a short time later that the Vulcan had disregarded his (own) earlier advice. Spock had always prided himself on following the rules, be they Starfleet regulations or Vulcan philosophy, both of which he knew like the back of his hand--but this situation involved something the First Officer knew little about: relationships with the opposite sex, particularly when the person of the opposite sex was in love with him.

Kirk, on the other hand, was quite knowledgeable on the subject; had, in fact, had more than his share of romances with women on various planets since his Captaincy began. He had even married one, but his luck in making a relationship last with a flesh-and-blood woman was dismal at best, since his heart and soul already belonged to a mechanical one: the Enterprise. It had from the first moment he had laid eyes on her and continued to this day, and he was certain that it would last until the day he died.

But the Captain shelved that idea for the moment and brought his attention back to Spock, who at the moment was sitting patiently in one of the chairs at the table in his living area, hands clasped and resting on the top of it…an untouched cup of herbal tea (which was surely cold by now) before him on the table. Kirk simply stood and watched his alien friend in silence for a time, noting that Spock's forehead occasionally wrinkled up in a frown--but one of deep thought or apprehension?

Those were the only two possibilities he could think of at the moment, especially considering the Science Officer's fast-deepening relationship with the Head Nurse. He knew the Vulcan well enough to feel certain that Spock had never intended to become emotionally involved with her, much less fall in love with her, when they had first agreed to spend more time with McCoy and Christine in order to ensure that they did not leave the ship…or them.

But now, it seemed that Spock had bitten off more than he could chew, whether he had intended to or not. That was the most likely reason for his being here now, so Kirk's duty to his friend was clear: help Spock all he could, give him the best possible (if not logical) advice in order to help him deal with his new-found, and no doubt distressing, emotions--even if he felt both extremely inadequate to the task and highly unworthy of the Vulcan's implicit trust in him.

Kirk moved quietly to the table and stood there for a moment before announcing himself. "Spock? Is there a problem?"

"Not with the ship," came the soft, almost mumbled, reply…which usually indicated embarrassment on the First Officer's part, something he rarely admitted to except with friends like Kirk.

Spock could only nod, and the Captain could see that his friend was blushing, but knew enough not to call attention to the fact.

"Let me get some coffee, then, and we can discuss it. Would you like me to get you some fresh tea while I'm at it?" he offered.

The Science Officer's color deepened, but he nodded, giving Kirk a grateful half-smile. "Yes, Jim. I would--appreciate that. I have been far too…preoccupied to drink it before now."

"One fresh cup of tea and one cup of coffee, coming up," Kirk teased gently. "Would you like anything to eat? I was thinking of getting myself a chicken cordon bleu sandwich. Haven't had anything all day."

"No, thank you, Jim. Just the tea," Spock assured him.

Kirk took the cold tea and disposed of it, returning a few minutes later with a fresh cup, along with some hot coffee with a touch of creamer in it and the desired chicken sandwich. He placed the tea in front of Spock and set the plate with the sandwich and coffee at his own place, then seated himself facing his Vulcan friend. After taking a bite of sandwich and washing it down with his coffee, Kirk sat both down and squarely met the other man's eyes.

"All right, what's wrong?"

Spock found it hard to hold Jim's gaze, but forced himself to do so, knowing he would not have the strength to speak otherwise. "I--went to see Christine last night as promised."

Kirk nodded thoughtfully, taking another swig of coffee. "So you went to see Christine. What happened?"

The Vulcan found it easy to relate nearly everything that had happened during his last encounter with the Head Nurse in her quarters the previous night…finding it progressively more difficult to continue as he got closer to the end of the evening, which the Captain knew signaled the most probable source of the problem: saying good night to her. Ordinarily, that wouldn't be a problem, especially for Spock, but was fast becoming one, mainly due to the fact that the Vulcan's feelings for her had been steadily (if unconsciously) growing within him from the day the four of them (himself, Bones, Spock and Christine) had spent an evening in the Captain's quarters watching the holovid of a rare, classic animated Walt Disney film which Amanda had sent Spock for his birthday, and now had come to a head.

Not even Kirk had known that there was any such thing as Vulcan wine--mainly because the subject had never come up between them, much less that it had ever been sold off-planet to anyone…and according to Spock, its planetside use was limited to the most formal state affairs and even then, only imbibed by the highest Vulcan officials at those affairs, as well as the fact that off-world sales were limited to a set number of bottles per year and even then, the price was steep. Christine could vouch for that, having spent two thousand credits for a bottle of the rare vintage. The Captain made a mental note to try some of it at some point, while at the same time, vowing to keep his silence about its existence (if only for Spock's sake) before speaking again.

"Do you think that having a glass of the wine might have caused you to act as you did at the end of the evening?" Kirk wondered, speaking carefully. "I remember you saying that imbibing was strictly limited because the stuff tasted so good. Besides, you haven't had any since you sampled some of it out of the bottle your father had."

"It may--have had something to do with it," the First Officer forced out, blushing again, taking a long, deep swig of his tea in order to avoid Kirk's eyes. "But I am…convinced that there is--much more to it than that."

"Such as?" the Captain prompted after taking another bite of his sandwich and another swig of coffee.

"We were…standing at her door, when I--found myself wanting not only to…kiss her, but--" Spock's voice trailed off and his face colored a deep, emerald green while he took another long swig of his herbal tea.

Kirk knew what his alien friend was unable to say, and so finished for him. "You wanted to…spend the night with her--and make love to her," the Human stated quietly.

Spock merely nodded, too embarrassed to speak or even look at His Human friend.

"But you didn't, did you?" the Captain asked.

The Vulcan's reply was almost too quiet for Kirk to hear. "I…did not."

"Do you think Christine realized how you were feeling?" was the latter's next question.

"I--do not know," Spock confessed, again forcing himself to speak. "But I…got the impression that she did."

"What did she say?" the Human inquired carefully.

"That there was no need to blame myself; it 'happened to the best of us'."

"And she's right," Kirk assured his thoroughly mortified companion. "It's a normal reaction; it wouldn't have made you any less Vulcan, even if you had done it."

Spock bowed his head, face burning as he studied the golden-brown liquid in his teacup. "Then--you… believe I should have-spent the night…and indulged in--physical love with her?" He spoke without looking up.

"Of course not; that's a matter of personal choice…between you and your potential partner, not a thing for me or anyone else to dictate to you. I'm merely saying that it's normal to feel that way when one is in a romantic situation with an attractive person of the opposite sex."

"Even if the 'one' is a Vulcan?" Spock made himself say.

"Even if one is Vulcan," Kirk assured him. "Particularly if the Vulcan is also half-Human."

"But I am not…yet ready," came the quiet reply.

"I'm sure Christine knows that, which is probably why she didn't pressure you. But once both you and she feel it's the right time--" The Captain's voice broke off in mid-sentence.

This time, it was Spock who knew (or at least believed that he knew) what Jim had not said. "I will…consider it," he told his Human friend, picking up his teacup and finishing it before setting it down and lifting it to favor Kirk with a rare smile. 'Thank you for bearing with me, Jim--but most of all, thank you for your…help."

"That's what friends are for," Kirk said, returning the smile. "Anything else on your mind?" He finished the sandwich and coffee. "If not, I'd like to get to bed." He stood up and turned for the sleeping alcove.

"No. That is all, for now." The Vulcan stood up and moved to the door of the shared bathroom. "Thank you again. Good night, Jim." He once again favored his closest friend with a smile.

"Good night, Spock." With that, the First Officer disappeared through the door; Kirk headed for his bathroom to shower and change into his sleeping-clothes, chuckling and shaking his head with affectionate exasperation. Upon finishing his shower and changing for bed, he selected a book from his bookshelf and took it back to his bed, placing it on his nightstand while he got settled, then reached for it, opened it and began to read--but for a time, he found it difficult to concentrate on the text before him because he was so concerned about his Vulcan friend. Again, Kirk couldn't be sure that he had done Spock any good; he could only hope everything would work out for the best, telling himself to check back with Spock in a few days to see if there had been any new developments.

* * *

It was two days later that something did develop…and only the day before they were scheduled to reach Andor for the diplomatic mission. Spock knew he would be likely to go on the mission, along with Jim and possibly McCoy, as well as some Security men. The other two ships present there would send their own representatives. Because of his new-found feelings for the Head Nurse, the First Officer found himself disliking the idea of being away from her for very long, but he would not be likely to have any choice in the matter--and there was no way of knowing how long the mission would take.

In which case, both of them would have to make the best of it, do all they could to make the time pass as quickly as possible. Only the previous day, there had been briefings as to what would be covered during the mission and the subsequent discussions involved, so it was unnecessary to concern himself overmuch with how it might turn out. He planned to ask Christine to dinner yet again, then they would return to one of their quarters (his, perhaps) and go from there.

Upon finishing some overdue paperwork, the Vulcan closed down his computer and reached for the intercom to her quarters, his inborn time sense telling him that it was 1800 hours…a good time to call for a "date" to share the evening meal. "Spock to Nurse Chapel," he said briskly.

"Chapel here," her voice came back. "To what do I owe this call, Spock?"

"Are you available to--have dinner with me again?" he asked quietly, both hopeful and apprehensive as to what her answer might be.

"I'd love to," she assured him. "When?"

"In an hour," he told her. "I will meet you in the Officers' Lounge at 1900 hours."

"See you then," she returned. "Chapel out."

* * *

Spock was waiting for her when she arrived; he stood up to indicate his location, then they went together to the food service computers and called up their desired meals. He called up one of his mother's specialties and a favorite of his (again, it just happened to be Terran…but even his father liked the meal, so he and Amanda kept the secret to themselves, at least for the time being) a casserole with the name of "Green Bean Bake," made with cream of mushroom soup, soy sauce, green beans and french-fried onions--with pepper thrown in for seasoning. Chilled apple juice was the beverage of choice.

Christine decided to have a Mexican meal this time, ordering two chicken fajitas, loaded with rice, chicken, and two kinds of peppers, along with onions. Her choice of drink was a non-alcoholic version of a strawberry margarita, in a short, fat goblet over ice. Dessert was something she herself had made…a combination of cheesecake and fudge which she had baked into brownies and cut into one and a quarter-inch squares.

He surprised her by perusing her from head to foot, then giving her a warm glance. "You…look very attractive this evening, Christine."

She bowed her head, blushing attractively at his compliment after seating herself. 'Thank you, Spock. I--hoped you would like it."

The bottle of Vulcan wine hadn't been the only import Christine had purchased during her leave with Uhura; she had also bought a mint-green dress with filmy sleeves and an overlay of the same material on the floor-length skirt. It bore a modest V-neck, and there were imitation diamonds and emeralds crisscrossing in an "x" shape, with one large emerald-like gem at the bottom of the V between her breasts. The bodice was covered with a lace-like fabric. It looked both simple and elegant, which was just the impression she wanted to convey. Neither was it lost on Spock; with one look, he could tell that her dress was as Vulcan as the drink she'd bought, for his mother had one just like it, except that it was in a color which matched her eyes.

The earrings were a gold-and-emerald version of the IDIC, dangling from her pierced ears, another purchase while on leave, as was the Vulcan perfume, marketed under the name Ainama Ratahll, or "Beautiful Flowers". It combined the smell of the Vulcan t'lerya flower, which had a scent like honeysuckle, and one from Rigel V, where an offshoot of the Vulcan race lived, whose botanists had developed a flower with a scent similar to a rose, called t'meer. Her hair was even pulled up with a gold-and-emerald hairband, into a short, fluffed-up ponytail on the top of her head.

His companion looked and smelled so good, so inviting, that the First Officer had to force himself to continue eating and drinking. If the evening ended as he suspected it might, he would need all the energy he could muster…and if only for that reason, he had to eat. He had also noticed the small, covered pan she had carried with her and couldn't help wondering what she had brought. No doubt he would find out once the meal was over.

Spock's outfit was a heavy, wool-like, long-sleeved top with a dark blue-and-black print, with black pants and ankle-height boots. He did not have any kind of men's cologne to use, at least not one that was made on Vulcan. Vulcan males did not usually wear scents of any kind--mainly because they believed only women should do so. Humans obviously believed otherwise, because Jim had told him that both Human females and males wore scents.

It was usually a matter of choice; the Captain himself had two favorites: English Leather and Brut, both Terran in origin, which were the ones he used most frequently, though he had about half a dozen others from various other Federation worlds, including Argelius II, a musky fragrance which smelled different on every individual, interacting with their body chemistry.

Once, when Spock had stopped by the Captain's quarters prior to their duty shifts, he had witnessed his friend applying some, asking about the scents and if he could smell (if not try) them, Jim had laughed and said, "Spock, you have enough personal magnetism that you don't need a scent to attract women. There are even times that I would swear that your people give off automatic pheremones which attract the opposite sex, just like Deltans."

The Vulcan had to agree, even as he fought off a blush at his friend's knowing smile, though he couldn't help thinking that Jim hardly needed a scent, either…and the one time he had voiced that opinion, his Human friend had said, "It's a nice thought, Spock. It's too bad that a lot of the women I've been attracted to don't share that opinion. It's almost too bad that you weren't born a woman; we'd make a wonderful team, both in business and personal relationships."

"We do already, Jim," he pointed out, unable to fathom the Human's meaning.

"I meant that if you had been born a woman, we could…be romantically involved," Kirk stated quietly--too quietly for anyone but sensitive Vulcan ears to detect it.

Both had heard the rumors which alluded to a possible homosexual relationship between the two of them, but for Spock's sake, the Captain saw to it that gossip was kept to a minimum--mainly because the idea was so preposterous, at least to them. They were close, but not that way. Never had been, never intended to be…in fact, they were like brothers, which in fact was what they were, in all but blood. A lot of blood brothers weren't as close, and two Humans could not have had a telepathic bond between them, as Spock and Kirk did.

Such a bond was rare even among Vulcans, much less a Vulcan and Human--but such an extraordinary friendship was only natural between two such extraordinary men. Both had also been able to note the attractiveness of certain other men, even of each other…but that didn't mean there was any romantic love or sexual desire involved. They loved each other, certainly, but as brothers, nothing more. If others couldn't accept that, and chose to believe otherwise, that was their problem. He, Spock, and all those who really knew them (such as McCoy and Christine) knew better.

"That is interesting speculation," the Vulcan admitted. "But we are not like that; we both prefer females."

"Of course, I've heard that some 'gay' men tend to be attracted to men who prefer women," Kirk remarked.

"Illogical," the Vulcan pronounced.

"The whole 'gay' premise is illogical," Kirk agreed, "But that doesn't lessen their value as members of the Fleet. Sexual preference is no barrier to intelligence or efficiency."

"I have even heard of women who are like that," Spock returned. "That is the most illogical premise of all in the 'gay' philosophy. I cannot conceive of Christine ever--" He broke off, knowing the ridiculousness of the idea even as he voiced it.

"Neither can I," Kirk declared. "I don't think I've ever seen a woman more in love with a man than she is with you."

"Just as I saw in your mind how much your…wife Miramanee had--loved you, how… happy she had made you," Spock had replied quietly, speaking carefully because he was all too aware of how painful the episode had been (and still was) for his Human friend.

Kirk gave the Vulcan a sad smile. "I…was happier than I'd ever been in my life," he confessed. "Spock, why must I always lose every woman I've ever truly loved? It's not fair. I don't think I've done anything so terrible that would merit such punishment."

"You have done nothing," Spock assured him gently, his affection controlled but nonetheless evident. "There must be other factors involved."

"I wish I could know what they were," the Captain opined. "Sometimes I get so tired of being alone, without a wife or family to return to."

"Perhaps it is not yet the proper time for you," the Vulcan suggested. "It may be that you are not meant to have a wife or family until you retire from Starfleet."

"The problem with that is that I can't see myself ever retiring, though one can never tell about the future. I've learned to never say 'never,' because just when you don't think a given thing will ever happen, that's just when it does. Life is strange that way." Then Kirk looked up and noted the time. "Time for us to get up to the Bridge and mind the store. Let's go."

* * *

Indeed, Spock thought to himself. Life is most strange sometimes, especially in matters of the heart. He was brought back to reality by a gentle touch on his left hand.

"Spock, is there anything wrong?" Christine's voice was soft, her blue eyes dark with concern.

Spock looked up and favored her with a half-smile. "Do not worry, Christine. I--was simply…thinking."

"About what, if I may ask?" she inquired as she withdrew her hand and prepared to resume eating.

"Something Jim once said, about how strange life can be sometimes," he replied after taking another swallow of his drink and another bite of casserole. "That often just when you do not think a given situation will ever occur, that is just when it does."

"True--so true," Christine concurred, mirroring his actions except for taking another bite of one of the fajitas before taking another swallow of her own drink. "Our own situation is a classic example."

Spock raised an astonished eyebrow at her; she laughed, then explained.

"The last thing I ever dreamed was that you would ever want to spend any of your off-duty time with me or Leonard…anyone but the Captain. I used to think that what we're doing now was always going to be an impossible dream."

"I--am pleased that that is no longer the case," he ventured carefully.

Her eyes widened, then she smiled, once again covering his left hand with her right. "So am I."

"So what would you like to do after dinner?" he wondered.

"Go to one of our quarters, perhaps, listen to music--and have some dessert," she then suggested, gesturing to the small pan on a nearby vacant table.

"May I ask what you have prepared?" he inquired cautiously.

"If you don't mind, I would prefer it to remain a surprise until we get there," she returned. "But I can assure you, it will be worth the wait."

"Very well," he conceded, sighing softly and returning to his meal, as did Christine.

* * *

They departed the Lounge an hour later, having decided to go to his quarters after picking up a musical tape from hers that she wanted him to hear. Upon arrival, she settled onto his couch and handed him the tape.

"Do you wish any refreshment, Christine?" asked her host.

"No, thank you. I'm stuffed," she informed him. "All I want is to sit with you and listen to music."

"Very well," the First Officer acquiesced, inserting the tape into the deck and returning to join Christine on the couch.

For a time, the couple simply sat quietly and listened, then Christine yawned and stretched. "May I lay my head on your shoulder?" she asked. "I'm a little tired."

The Vulcan raised an eyebrow, but did not object when she moved close and positioned her head on his shoulder. Not too long afterward, he found himself slipping one arm around her waist. Unseen by him, her eyes widened, then she smiled and settled closer, resting one hand over his. He tensed momentarily at the contact, then allowed himself to relax as their fingers entwined. In spite of him-self, Spock eventually rested his cheek on the top of her head. They remained thus for about half an hour, then he lifted his head and spoke softly.


"Mmm?" Her voice sounded relaxed and content.

"Could you do something for me?"

"Like what?" she queried, turning and lifting her head to meet his eyes.

"I…find myself most--tense and restless," he confessed. "It would be…appreciated if you would--rub my shoulders."

There was stunned silence for a while, then Christine said, "I'd be glad to, but are you sure you want me to do it? The last time I offered, you turned me down flat and had the Captain do it, saying that he did it more to your satisfaction than I did."

"I know," the Vulcan acknowledged, his voice tinged with regret. "In retrospect, I realize that that was…wrong of me. I should have at least--allowed you to do your job."

The First Officer's penitence was so real that she had to believe him…and forgive him. A moment later, Christine positioned herself behind Spock on the couch; he turned his back to her. She tentatively raised her hands to begin to knead his shoulders. He wasn't kidding; the muscles were taut and hard, but with time and persistence, she eventually loosened them up. It took about fifteen minutes of concentrated effort, but at the end of that time, he was every bit as relaxed as he had been when Kirk had given him the back and shoulder rub.

The Vulcan flexed his shoulders, muscles feeling rested and loose once again. To think that what he had just experienced was what he had once turned down! Even as good as Jim was at rubdowns, Christine could give him some heavy competition--at least where shoulder rubs were concerned, anyway. "Thank you, Christine. That feels…much better."

"Glad to be of service," she acceded, a smile in her voice. "Now, can we get back to what we were doing before this?"

"Of course," Spock assented--and within the next five minutes, they had resumed their former position…but this time he kept his head up. Now that he was "loosened up", the First Officer was seriously considering the possibility of kissing her--then if that went well, he would consider taking matters further. Ten minutes passed before he got up the nerve to ask, and judging from her reaction, he was right to have done so. "Christine, could I ask you something?"

He felt her sigh. "Like what?"

"If you would not…object, I would like--very much to…kiss you."

More stunned silence, then she looked up at him after he'd turned his head to face her, her smile radiant. "Yes, Spock. Yes." She raised her hands once again to cradle his face; this time, instead of looking at her with a mixture of confusion and terror, as he had during the Psi 2000 mission, he felt only a sense of anticipation. She smiled again, prompting him to bend his head down to meet hers. She withdrew her hands, and within moments, the couple came together in a tender, lingering kiss.

* * *

It was over an hour before Christine remembered her cheesecake brownies and that she had promised Spock he could sample them. She had placed them on the table in the living area, and while he waited, she went to fetch them. It was only when she returned that the Vulcan favored her with a rare, private smile.

She returned his smile. "Would you like the dessert now?"

He raised a quizzical eyebrow at her. "Have you not had enough?"

She gave him a funny look, then realized that Spock was actually teasing her. "I mean the dessert that I brought to dinner and that we didn't get to," she explained, with affectionate exasperation.

"Oh--of course," he allowed, dark eyes twinkling with mischief, although his voice was normal. "Yes, I would like to have some."

She removed the top of the duraplastic container, removed one of the small squares of brown-and-yellow fudge and handed it to him. He leaned on his couch pillow while eating, as did she. After giving him one, Christine took one for herself and they sat there for a time, simply eating the fudge. Each had two, and only after finishing the second one did Spock give her his opinion.

"Very good," he pronounced. "I do not normally indulge in consumption of 'dessert', as you put it, but in this case, I am… pleased that I made an exception this time."

"Then you think it was worth waiting for?" she questioned after replacing the top on the container and setting it on the table beside her.

"Indeed," he affirmed. "Both of the dessert you made and what we just shared."

She looked at her companion and saw that he was very serious, his voice laced with deep feeling, his brown velvet eyes warm as they looked upon her. "I'm glad I could make you happy, Spock."

He reached for her hand and raised it to his lips. "There is very little you do that does not make me 'happy', Christine--even if I cannot show it as I would like." Still keeping hold of her left hand, he raised his right to her cheek and leaned over to share another kiss.

When they parted, she smiled at him again. "I hate to spoil the mood, Spock, but when do you have to go on the Andorian mission?"

"At 1400 hours tomorrow," he informed her. "It is now 2130."

"Who's going besides you?" she inquired.

"The Captain, Dr. McCoy, and three Security officers," he replied.

"How long do you think the mission will last?" Her voice held both concern and apprehension.

"Missions of this sort can last anywhere from one day to a month, depending on the difficulty of the negotiations or discussions involved," was the answer.

"I hope everything will go well, that you won't have to be gone long. Now that we're together, I'm not fond of anything that keeps us apart for an extended time. Our duty shifts are one thing; I can live with that. It's missions like this that bother me; anything and everything can go wrong."

"It is a risk we must take in order to maintain peaceful relations with our allies," he reminded her.

"I know, but that doesn't mean I have to like it," she retorted.

"Then I will give you something to look forward to," he assured her.

This time, it was Christine who did the teasing. "You mean something more like what we just had?"

"That, among other things," he told her, knowing that they were even now as far as teasing each other was concerned…but also knowing that it would only take place when they were alone. "Would you be averse to our--bonding upon my return?"

"You really need to ask?" she countered, once again affectionately exasperated.

"Simply answer the question, Christine," came the equally exasperated reply.

"Of course I wouldn't be averse to our bonding, Spock. That's fine. I'll be looking forward to it," she told her companion, which satisfied him.

"Then I will be prepared to do so upon my return," he acknowledged, once again giving her a rare, private smile…then the couple separated to retire, to get up the following morning, shower and dress, the two of them spending the rest of the time until Spock had to get ready to go in his work area (after Christine had returned to his quarters), working on a speech he was to give to the Andorian High Council in the event it became necessary to smooth a few ruffled feathers, as it were, and settle things down enough to resume the talks.

* * *

It was 1300 hours when Kirk called to remind Spock to be in the Transporter Room at the appointed time. "Captain to Spock."

"Spock here."

"You'd better start getting ready, Spock. We're due at the Council chamber in less than an hour," Kirk told him.

"I know. I will be ready," the Vulcan assured his superior and friend.

"Oh, before I forget. Bones just called me and said he's so bogged down with medical paperwork that he doesn't think he's going to be able to get out from under it for some time…so do you think Christine would mind going in his place?" The Captain's voice held uncertainty.

Spock and Christine looked at each other, then the First Officer responded, "She has been here helping me with my speech. I cannot speak for her, so I suggest you ask her yourself."

"Would you be willing, Christine?" Kirk asked. "Bones would really appreciate it, as would I." The Captain gave her a warm smile.

"It's a little short notice, but I suppose I could," she acquiesced, returning the smile. Especially if it means that Spock and I can be together, she finished silently, getting up.

"Good. Then we'd better all get moving. I'll see you both in the Transporter Room at 1400. Oh, and Spock, I want to talk privately with you at the first opportunity," Kirk informed him--and the Vulcan was sure that he knew what about. He could only do his best to be ready to answer Jim's inevitable questions.

"Very well," Spock returned. "Spock out."

"Kirk out," the Captain responded, then the screen went dark.

The First Officer stood up and followed Christine to the door of his quarters. "Do you wish me to come for you at your quarters?" he asked as she was about to leave.

The nurse was about to say that she was perfectly capable of finding her way to the Transporter Room when she looked into the brown eyes she loved and realized why Spock had asked; he wanted to spend a little more time alone with her before they had to go to work. "I'll be expecting you," she acknowledged with a smile, touching his cheek before rising up on her tiptoes to kiss his nose before leaving.

After she left, the Science Officer turned on his heel to head for his sleeping alcove and closet to retrieve his dress uniform. As he changed, he considered the fact that McCoy was not going on the mission after all, and in spite of himself was pleaded that Christine was going in the Doctor's place. They would be able to have at least some time together instead of having to wait until the mission was over. Perhaps there would even be time for them to bond at some point, and if Jim wasn't needed somewhere, the Captain could join them as the traditional t'hy'r kalah, or bond-witness, to help him in the event he had trouble with the bonding ceremony. Spock decided to tell Jim during their private talk--and intended to give Christine permission to tell the Doctor and Uhura at the first opportunity.

Forty-five minutes later, he dropped by Christine's quarters and found her ready to go, in full duty uniform, with medikit, mini-medical tricorder and all. "Ready, Christine?"

"Ready as I'll ever be," she replied, moving to join him.

"Then let us go. The others are waiting."

Together, they made their way to the end of the corridor, where a turbolift would take them to Deck Seven and the Transporter Room, where the rest of the landing party was waiting.

* * *

Upon arrival, the others were already standing on the transporter platform and Scotty was waiting to beam everyone down. Kirk acknowledged the presence of his First Officer and Head Nurse with a nod and smile in their direction. "Oh, Christine," he said. "Bones also wanted me to tell you to be sure to fill him in on everything that happened once we get back." Kirk also suspected that Christine had done more than help the Vulcan with his speech to the Andorian Council, intending to ask his friend about how the previous night had gone at the first opportunity.

"No problem," she assented as she took her place on the platform next to one of the Security officers and across from Spock.

"Let's go, then. Ready, Scotty." The Captain finally met the eyes of the Chief Engineer. "Energize."

"Aye, Captain." With that, the necessary buttons and levers were pushed, and the party of six soon dematerialized and were gone.

* * *

Since Kirk had been told that there was no real urgency, the Captain had seen no need to get the Enterprise and her crew to Andor immediately; as a result, they were the last of the traditional triad of ships to arrive for the diplomatic discussions. It was Shras, the senior Andorian Ambassador, who met the Enterprise party, giving Kirk a concerned look as he recalled how badly the Captain had been injured by a member of his staff, who had turned out to be a surgically altered Orion, during the last Babel mission. He had carried a measure of guilt ever since that he had (if unintentionally) put Kirk's life in danger.

His warrior instinct was usually able to tell him if any of those he associated with had homicidal tendencies, but at the time he had been completely taken in by Thelev's overly solicitous attitude toward him, which had put him off his guard. Never again, he had vowed. Not if it was the last thing he ever did! As he had told Spock, he and his people had no quarrel with Kirk, and no desire to see him come to harm. The Human Captain seemed fit, and had ostensibly healed well from the wound Thelev had inflicted, for which Shras was thankful, but Humans took longer to heal from serious wounds than Andorians, so Shras couldn't help but be concerned.

"It's good to see you looking so fit, Captain Kirk," Shras said in greeting. "I regret that you came to harm during our last meeting aboard your ship. I assure you, if I had had any idea whatsoever who Thelev really was or what he planned to do, I would have--"

Kirk detected the regret in the older man's voice, holding up a hand to stop him. "It's all right, Shras, just as I am. Dr. McCoy assures me that I'm fully recovered from my wound. It wasn't your fault that Thelev did what he did, and I don't hold you responsible for it."

"I am glad to hear that, but still feel a measure of responsibility, since Thelev was a member of my staff," the Andorian Ambassador persisted.

"It's all behind us now, and I think it's best to leave it there," Kirk returned reassuringly. "What I'd like to know is why we've been called here."

"We have been contacted by a representative of the Romulan Praetor, who claims the Romulan Empire is interested in pursuing a deténte with the Federation," Shras told him. "My instincts tell me that I should be skeptical, but I also believe we should give them every chance to prove themselves, so we are holding these preliminary talks to determine their sincerity, although my aides and colleagues warn me to proceed with caution in dealing with them."

"That would seem to be the most logical course of action, Mr. Ambassador," Spock put in. "On the other hand, it is also logical to pursue a deténte with the Romulans, if only to lessen the possibility of their attacking Federation vessels, planets or outposts and putting Starfleet personnel or private citizens in danger."

"That is essentially the aim of the talks, Mr. Spock," Shras informed him. "In fact, the Romulan representative is still here, though he remains in contact with the Praetor to keep him informed of the progress--or lack thereof--of the discussions. Since you are a telepath, perhaps your abilities would be of assistance to us in determining his sincerity."

"I will do what I can, Mr. Ambassador," the Vulcan assured him. "But it will be necessary for me to hear the Romulan proposal before I can make any determination as to his sincerity."

Spock was sure that both he and Jim were thinking of the Romulan they had battled in the Neutral Zone toward the beginning of the five-year mission, the only one who had ever been reluctant to battle them, and who had told Jim shortly before blowing up his heavily damaged ship that if circumstances had been different, they could have been friends: a most atypical confession from a Romulan, whose people had been lifelong enemies of the Federation…but if this Romulan representative also felt as that Romulan Commander had, there was a good chance for peaceful interaction with them. All the same, his own instincts told him that it was best to proceed with caution throughout the talks. He turned his head and met Kirk's eyes, reading the same cautious optimism there, as he did in Christine's when he turned his head in her direction and met her eyes. He didn't turn to look at the Security officers, but was sure they felt the same as their superiors. (At least that was what he preferred to believe.)

"At the moment, the talks are temporarily recessed, so I have come to show you to your temporary quarters," the Ambassador said. "It would be best for you all to be thoroughly rested, so you'll all be at your best before you join us."

"Logical," Spock affirmed as he, Jim, Christine and the others began to follow the elderly Andorian to an elevator, which took them up three floors to the visitors' quarters. The Security officers had their own quarters, as did Kirk and Spock, and Christine's adjoined theirs, so they could all keep in close touch during their stay.

Christine had noted Shras' unusual tiredness and commented on it; he assured her that he was all right, that it was most likely caused by overwork--which was a distinct possibility, but her medical instinct told her that something else had to be causing the weariness. Shras' Andorian physiology was similar to that of Humans, though Andorian life-spans were somewhat longer than those of Humans. Shras was 120 years old, elderly for an Andorian male, though he seemed fit for his age…at least at the moment.

How long that would last, the Head Nurse was unable to say--for she would have to examine him before she could make even a preliminary diagnosis or prognosis. Even then, she would have to discuss her findings with Leonard before she dared even consider telling Shras what they had discovered. He had the right to know, but she saw no sense in worrying him or his family unnecessarily should the diagnosis turn out to be wrong. In fact, it would probably be best that Shras' own personal physician check him out and she and McCoy consult with him, comparing notes on what they had found, before telling him…preferably together. He was more likely to comply with their recommendations that way.

It might also be a good idea to speak with his closest aides and see if they had noted anything unusual in the older Andorian's behavior. For the moment, all she could do was keep an eye on him, for he would surely insist on being present for at least the majority of the talks. If his weariness was caused by what she thought it was, it could well turn out to be his last mission. He had also seemed to be walking with unusual care, which usually indicated pain in bones and joints.

Sometimes it was simple arthritis, which still tended to plague older Andorians as well as elderly Humans, despite the 23rd century's medical advances prolonging not only life but the quality of that life for older Humans and Humanoids--but she was convinced that there was more to Shras' weariness and unusual walk than he was admitting to, and became more concerned with every moment she observed him. She managed to keep her concern ot herself for at least the first day of talks, but both Spock and Kirk had noticed her frequent looks in Shras' direction, and told themselves to ask her about it at the earliest opportunity.

* * *

After they had gone to dinner at a restaurant recommended by Shras that evening which offered both meat-filled and vegetarian fare (Spock had even had vegetarian pizza!), the two commanding officers decided to have a talk with Christine and find out just why she was so interested in Shras' well-being. Kirk believed it made the most sense for Spock to be the one to approach her first, so once they had arrived back at her assigned quarters, the Vulcan mentioned that he would like to discuss something with her.

"Like what?" she asked, wary of his ominously quiet voice.

"Jim and I have noticed your frequent and lengthy observations of the Andorian Ambassador during the deténte talks earlier this afternoon," the First Officer began. "Do you believe there is something physically wrong with him?"

Christine looked up at him in surprise, then nodded. "As a matter of fact, I do. He seems quite weary, and walks with unusual care. I'm aware of his age, which could account for part of it, but my instincts tell me that more is wrong with him than he has admitted to me. Of course, I can't be positive until and unless I give him an examination, and when Andorians get to be his age, they tend toward stubbornness which rivals even that of Vulcans."

At Spock's raised eyebrow, she decided it was necessary to reassure him. "No offense, Spock; I'm just using them as a basis for comparison. My maternal grandmother showed these same symptoms shortly before her death eight years ago. She was in her eighties, which had something to do with it, but bone cancer-like diseases tend to progress more rapidly in the elderly, and she died within six months."

"So you believe that Shras has such a malady?" the Vulcan inquired.

"As I said, I can't be certain unless I have the chance to give him a physical, but from the preliminary symptoms I've seen, it wouldn't surprise me," she replied. "Just the same, I am certain that he'd insist on completing this mission in spite of his ill health. He may even feel obligated to complete what could turn out to be his last diplomatic duties."

"Just as my father would," Spock revealed. When do you intend to approach him on the possibility of a physical?"

"As soon as I can," Christine assured him. "But even once I examine him, I wouldn't dare tell him my findings without having them corroborated by both Dr. McCoy and the Ambassador's own personal physician."

Kirk had approached them during the Vulcan's last comment, listening silently as the other two talked, for the most part agreeing with what they said, but in the absence of Sarek, Shras was the Ambassador most likely to bring about a positive outcome to the preliminary deténte talks, so he would certainly understand the Andorian's desire to see them through, whatever the cost to his health. Of course, Shras might also accept his possible impending demise without argument and feel it best to retire from the Ambassadorship in order to prolong his life

as long as possible, but considering what he knew of Andorians, the Captain felt as sure as Christine did that the Ambassador would want to stick with the talks as long as he could, and if necessary, employ his top aide to act in his behalf.

"Do you think that Shras has any idea what's wrong with him?" Kirk interjected, making his first contribution to the conversation.

"His evasiveness with me makes me all but certain of it," Christine confirmed. "But there's no guarantee that he'd listen to me, Dr. McCoy, or even his own doctor once we confirm it…as I'm pretty sure we will."

"Which means that his likely insistence on staying here and participating in the discussions will only hasten his death," the Captain opined.

"From my dealings with Ambassador Shras during the Babel mission, I received the impression that he is much like my father in unhesitatingly risking his life if he believes his input will make any difference in the outcome of a diplomatic mission," Spock recalled. "In fact, I even recall my father commenting after the Babel mission prior to his and Mother's departure for Vulcan, that Shras' views seem to be the closest to his own, of all the Federation Ambassadors he has dealt with," the Science Officer informed his two companions.

"Then it's quite possible that Shras will literally go until he drops before he seeks help," Kirk contended with noticeable regret in his voice.

"Unfortunately, we cannot tell him how to live or do his job," Spock declared quietly. "All we can do is inform him of his illness and make recommendations which we believe will help him--but it is up to him whether or not he follows them."

"If he keeps going the way he went today, I intend to insist on examining him once the talks are over," Christine disclosed, determination evident in her voice. "Even if I have to drag him bodily to the Council's Infirmary!"

"I trust that will not be necessary," Spock returned.

"If he's anything like your father, as you've said, it probably will be," she retorted. "And even though he's older, that doesn't necessarily mean that he's not still stronger than I am. I'll probably need help."

"Let's hope the threat will be sufficient," Kirk put in with a chuckle. "I don't think it would do much for his ego to be dictated to by anyone, even if they're a medical expert."

"I'm hoping that once the seriousness of the illness sinks in, he'll care more about prolonging his life--if only for his family's sake--than insisting on risking his health by remaining here and participating in the deténte talks," the Head Nurse articulated, becoming so vehement in her declarations that Spock felt it necessary to whisper in her ear and suggest a quiet walk under the stars before they retired for the night.

At this point the Captain noted the time on the wall chrono, which showed not only Andorian but Standard time, and said, 'I think we'd better get to bed soon. It's getting late, and the talks resume at 0600 tomorrow morning."

"Logical, Jim, but I have promised Christine that we would take a walk together so she can relax," the Vulcan told his friend, his voice low enough so that only Kirk could hear. "We will not be long, but I believe it necessary for her so that she will be able to sleep and thus be at her best for the coming day."

Kirk smiled knowingly at him, then nodded in acknowledgment. "All right, Spock. I'm going to bed, then. See you in the morning…that is, if I'm not awake when you get back."

The First Officer favored his Human friend with a small smile of his own. "Thank you, Jim. Good night."

"Good night, Spock," Kirk said, nodding in his and Christine's direction. "Good night, Miss Chapel."

"Good night, Captain," she replied with a smile; they watched Kirk disappear through the door which connected their respective suites, then turned for the door which would eventually take them outside. Once they were on their way, she tucked her right hand into his left arm. "How did you know that I needed to relax, Spock?"

The Vulcan gently patted her hand in response. "It was obvious by simply observing you and listening to the vehemence of your speech that you needed to relax and get your mind off your work, if only temporarily, so that you will be able to sleep tonight and be fresh for tomorrow."

"You're too good to me," she commented, her feelings for him obvious in her voice. He stopped and turned toward her, both eyebrows raised. She laughed and finished, "And don't you ever change!"

After that, there was only silence until they reached the door which would put them outside once they stepped through it and into the park-like surroundings of the Andorian Council Building.

* * *

Once outside, the couple was quiet for some time, simply content in the knowledge of the other's nearness and warmth, not really aware of their surroundings other than to make sure they stayed on the paved paths. After about fifteen minutes' walk, they discovered a wooden bridge which extended over a small stream. The two decided to stop there and stargaze for a while, even as Christine reveled in the feel of Spock's closeness and the gentle strength of his arm around her, not to mention the solidity of his shoulder supporting her head. Christine also couldn't help wishing that Andor had a moon. It would have been even more romantic than it already was.

Spock was the one to break the silence. "How do you feel, Christine?"

"I feel…like Cinderella with her Prince Charming," she confessed. "It was my favorite story as a child, and I still enjoy reading it occasionally, even now."

Unseen by her, Spock allowed himself a smile. "It was also one of mine; Mother read it to me many times. I rarely read it myself as an adult, but do recall enough to understand why you would compare it to our present situation."

"Especially because whenever we're together, I still seem to feel like I'm living a dream--a dream that will end at midnight, as Cinderella's did. It's almost too good to be really happening."

"What will it take to convince you that it is real?" the Vulcan asked quietly, tightening his arm around her.

"Probably only time, and your continued attentions toward me," Christine informed her companion. "After waiting so long for this, it's going to take longer than overnight for me to get used to finally having it."

She began to feel him shivering despite their sharing of body heat, and sensed that they had better go inside soon, because Vulcans could not handle cold even as well as Humans. Still, she was enjoying their quiet time alone together so much that she was loathe to end it. "But don't worry; your 'relaxation therapy' was most effective on me. How do you feel?"

"It is…relaxing to me simply to be with you," he confessed, his voice quiet but laced with deep feeling. "Of course, that also applies to Jim, and even Dr. McCoy to a certain extent. How much would depend on what kind of situation we were in at the time."

"Thank you," she returned softly, smiling and snuggling her head more comfortably on her escort's shoulder. "That's good to hear."

They fell silent again, just star-gazing for another ten minutes or so, until she yawned. "I'm getting tired, so we'd better head back to our suites now," she suggested. "You must also be starting to feel the cold."

"Indeed," he concurred.

They turned and headed back to the building the way they had come, once again content simply to feel the other's warmth and nearness, until they had reached her door. "Thank you for helping me unwind, Spock," Christine smiled, raising a hand to his cheek. "Sleep well. I'll see you in the morning."

"I will endeavor to do so," he said, favoring her with a rare smile after taking her hand and raising it to his lips. "Good night, Christine."

But just when she least expected it, the nurse found herself enveloped in a strong but gentle embrace, held close to a warm, beloved body, while equally warm, sweet lips found and clung to hers in a tender, lingering kiss. She was always reluctant to end her time with Spock, but particularly at times like this, with his lips and body pressed so sweetly close to hers. In fact, she wouldn't have minded spending the night with him, but managed to refrain from mentioning it because they had to rise early and needed to get as much sleep as possible…and she knew that it would be all but impossible if they were together.

After a blissful but all-too-brief interlude, the couple reluctantly separated and repeated their good-nights. Once the Vulcan had disappeared into the suite he shared with the Captain, Christine entered her own, locking it carefully behind her. Within half an hour, she had showered, washed her hair and dried it, then donned her long, silky and lacy nightgown before climbing into bed and falling asleep, arms around her pillow as she drifted off into romantic yet erotic dreams.

* * *

As for Spock, he discovered that Jim had retired, having obviously fallen asleep while waiting up for him to return, since the bedroom light was still on. The Vulcan allowed himself a smile in his Human friend's direction at Jim's obvious but reined concern for his and Christine's happiness and safety, retrieving his sleeping-clothes from his travel bag and heading for the bathroom to shower and change before retiring himself. It wasn't until Spock had turned out the light and settled into his bed, one of two twin beds in the room, that he allowed himself to think about Christine and their time alone--especially of their tenderly passionate kiss and lingering embrace at her door.

It had been extremely difficult to release her and return to his own suite when he had wanted so much to stay with her, but for the time being it was necessary, in order to ensure the most successful outcome possible for the Romulan deténte discussions. There would surely be time for romance at some point if it was planned properly, but now was not that time. With that thought, the Vulcan made himself settle into a sleep-trance and eventually succeeded, though it took nearly twice as long as it normally did.

* * *

All of the Enterprise party awakened early, and thus were ready to go when called to the Council chambers, sitting in the visitors' seats along with contingents from both the Lexington and Potemkin, all of whom were observing the proceedings, technically able to participate if they so chose--but for at least the first couple of hours, they chose to remain silent because the discussions seemed to be going fairly smoothly. Just the same, one look at the Romulan representative, sitting a short distance away, made Kirk suspicious.

He had much the same look about him as the perpetrator of a sabotage mission on Space Station K-7 in the Klingon Neutral Zone during the second year of their mission, who had turned out to be a disguised Klingon masquerading as a Human and who had poisoned a shipment of grain destined for Sherman's Planet, a planet ravaged by famine, which had needed the shipment in order to offset starvation for its inhabitants.

He looked shifty-eyed and untrustworthy, unwilling to meet anyone's gaze, and Kirk wouldn't have put it past him to do or say something in an attempt to sabotage the preliminary peace talks, in spite of the fact that he was ostensibly here to work out an agreement with the Federation…but so far the Romulan had neither done nor said anything which might be construed as suspicious, so it would make little sense for Kirk to voice his suspicions. It was just a gut feeling he had, so it was likely that even Spock would consider him illogical to act so suspicious when there was so little objective evidence to prove it. But the suspicions and uneasiness persisted within him, becoming so obvious that Spock sensed it and turned to check on his Human friend.

"Is there something wrong, Jim?" the Vulcan asked.

Kirk tried to give him a reassuring smile, but Spock wasn't fooled. "I don't trust him--that Romulan--and I can't say why. He's just a little too slick, too good to be true. He gives me the creeps, like he's the kind who would sell his own mother, wife and children into slavery to make a credit. What could have possessed the Praetor to even begin to think that we would trust him for a minute, much less negotiate any kind of agreement with him?"

The Vulcan didn't trust the Romulan any more than Jim did, but felt obligated to say, "Has he done or said anything which might be considered suspicious?"

"No; it's just a feeling I have. I know it's not much to go on, but…"

"…sometimes a 'feeling' is all one has to go on," the First Officer finished for him, remembering the last time Kirk had used those words. "I agree. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that we would be able to convince anyone else here of that."

Christine, continuing her observation of the Andorian Ambassador, finally became distracted by their voices and turned her head in their direction. "Is something bothering you?" She ostensibly addressed them both, but directed her question toward Spock.

The other two could no more hide the truth from her than they could from themselves, so they didn't try. "It--is about the Romulan. There is…something about him we do not trust. I--cannot say…exactly what, but we--Jim and I--both…feel certain that it would be--dangerous for us to attempt any kind of…agreement with him." That was as much as the Vulcan dared say in this public setting, so close to the Council proceedings. They were only some of the visitors currently observing same, so Spock made sure to keep his voice down, Andorian hearing being nearly as sensitive as his own, and the Council members (including Shras) might hear them, since they were the nearest to them.

"Have you--mentioned this to the Ambassador?" she whispered; Spock frowned and shook his head. "Don't you think we should?"

The First Officer frowned again and mouthed the words, "Not now." He looked to where the Romulan had been sitting, but the seat was vacant.

Just then, Shras' loud, resonant voice (no doubt magnified, for most Andorian voices were quiet) announced, "Attention, Council members and visitors! Our honored guest from the Romulan Empire, Imperial Aide Julianus Rosarius, is going to speak. Please pay close attention to his words, for he is about to lay out their proposal for a peace treaty with us. We must do everything possible to see that this comes about for the sake of establishing a lasting peace between us and the Empire."

After his introduction to thunderous applause, Julianus Rosarius smiled and bowed in feigned deference to the assemblage of Andorian officials and visitors in the Council chambers and stepped to the podium to begin his cleverly worded speech, which seemingly conceded everything yet actually yielded nothing…but all those present would believe it, and that's what mattered. But he hadn't reckoned with the Enterprise visitors, who were also listening. He had noticed (and recognized) them, but was sure his speech was going to be convincing enough to sway the Council over to his way of thinking and thus make their arguments worthless.

People who so obviously wanted peace would grasp at any straws to get it, and thus weren't about to listen to outsiders' warnings of a possibly untrustworthy representative or "gut feelings" of apprehension regarding him. He thought it best to mention the presence of the Enterprise contingent to the Praetor during his next transmission, however, despite his certainty that they could do nothing to stop him. With that belief in mind, the Imperial Aide began to speak.

The Enterprise visitors became increasingly suspicious with every passing moment, with every cleverly worded statement of the aforementioned speech, but also knew with increasing certainty that the rest of those in the Council chambers were swallowing it hook, line and sinker. Even if it (seemingly) did no good, they considered it a great necessity, for the sake of not only the Andorians but all Federation citizens, to voice their concerns.

Surely Shras had to be more perceptive than he seemed, to seemingly embrace all the dangerous hyperbole the Romulan was espousing, hyberbole which would benefit no one but the Romulans. Perhaps his illness was affecting his judgment; that was the only reason any of them could see why he wasn't objecting to any of the unilateral proposals. It was all they could do not to shout loud and vocal objections to each and every one, for who would listen to them? At least not here--but as soon as they possibly could, they had to seek an audience with Shras and speak to him.

* * *

Once the Council had recessed again, the Enterprise party tried to catch up to Shras, but upon their arrival at his quarters, his top aide told them that the Ambassador was resting in his quarters and not to be disturbed.

"May I speak to you about that, then?" Christine asked.

"About what?" Sherez, the aide, a middle-aged Andorian male, threw back warily.

"About his illness," the Head Nurse returned, her tone matter-of-fact and leaving no room for either denial or argument. "He's developed some kind of cancer-like disease, hasn't he?"

Sherez looked at her sharply, but didn't refute her statement. "Yes. At his last physical, his physician determined that he was suffering from a rare disease which resembles bone cancer. At best, he has three months to live."

"Yet he insisted on coming here and being part of the talks," Christine remarked, her voice ominously quiet. "Doesn't he realize that that could kill him all the sooner?"

"So could being forced to retire," Sherez pointed out. "Shras is not used to inactivity. If he could not work any more, it would be every bit as fatal to him as his disease."

"Isn't he even going to seek treatment to prolong his life, if only for his family's sake?" Christine was incredulous.

"Nurse Christine, your concern for the Ambassador is much appreciated, but Andorians are a warrior people; we do not believe in coddling our ill or elderly, even if they are near death. The only honorable death is to die as one has lived--in the Ambassador's case, serving his people in the Federation and Andorian Council. That is what he wishes; that is what his family wishes."

Christine was still upset, but had become resigned, sensing that nothing she said was going to move wither Sherez, Shras himself, or the latter's family. "So what's going to happen when he does finally die?"

"It will be handled in accordance with Andorian custom and with all appropriate honors, Nurse Christine," Sherez assured her. "Even now, steps are being taken to choose his successor. You need not be concerned."

Not about that, at least, she told herself. "Did you hear the speech the Romulan representative gave?"

"I did," came the quiet reply.

"Did you believe any of it?" Kirk put in.

The middle-aged Andorian cocked his head in the Captain's direction before turning to face him. "Of course not, Captain Kirk. The Romulans are notoriously untrustworthy."

"Are you aware that the majority of the Council, including the Ambassador himself, do believe it?" the Human pointed out. "This so-called 'treaty' cannot be allowed to come to fruition."

"Oh? And why not?" Sherez responded.

"Because despite its clever wording, the only ones who would benefit are the Romulans. While seeming to concede everything, they're actually yielding nothing," Kirk insisted.

"I had no idea you were so skilled in diplomacy, Captain," Sherez returned dryly.

"I'm not," Kirk admitted, a touch of exasperation in his voice. "But I do know the Romulans. They're not about to concede any-thing which might weaken their position, especially if that position is one of control over others…so I feel certain that any so-called 'treaty' we might negotiate with them would ultimately benefit them far more than it would us."

"Then you believe it would be too dangerous for us to negotiate any kind of agreement with them," Sherez concluded.

"We do," Spock interjected, finally getting into the conversation. "You must speak to the Ambassador, attempt to make him realize this. I can assure you that we would not tell you any of this if we did not believe there was ample cause for concern."

There was a long silence, then Sherez's face softened. "Mr. Spock, the Ambassador will be informed of your concerns. How-ever, I can make no guarantee that he will be persuaded to change his mind."

"That is all we could ask," Spock rejoined smoothly. "Thank you for your time."

The Andorian aide nodded in acknowledgment and said, "Thank you for your concern. I must return to my work now." With that, he turned and went back to his desk to resume the work he had been doing before the Council session.

The Enterprise contingent followed suit, moving en masse to the door and departing for their assigned quarters.

"Do you really think the Ambassador will be told what we said?" Kirk questioned dubiously as they headed for the elevator at the end of the hall.

"Andorians are not in the habit of prevarication, any more than Vulcans are," Spock responded, trying to reassure his companion. "I am sure that Sherez will inform the Ambassador at his earliest opportunity."

"We don't have a lot of time to play around," Kirk reminded him.

"I am aware of that, Jim, but we have done all we can do, at least for the moment. The next move is up to the Ambassador," the Vulcan informed him gently but firmly.

Since that line of conversation had been terminated, the Captain turned to Christine. "It would seem that the Ambassador is all too aware of his illness, but doesn't intend to let it stop him," Kirk remarked as they entered the elevator and jockeyed for position, giving the Security team quiet orders to return to their own quarters and come for them again in the morning. Lieutenant Dickerson, the head of the team, nodded in acknowledgment and whispered to the others.

"So it would seem," Christine acknowledged morosely.

Her tone alerted him. "I take it you're not fond of that idea."

"No health care professional would be," she countered. "But at least I know that he is aware of his illness, even if he doesn't intend to do anything about it or change his lifestyle. I don't like that idea, either, but there isn't much I can do to change it."

"Do you intend to mention it to Bones?" Kirk wondered as the elevator neared their floor.

"I promised him I would," she reminded him. "Meanwhile, let's put this day behind us and discuss something a lot more pleasant." She gave Spock a meaningful look.

The Vulcan returned it, directing a half-smile of reassurance at his Human friend as the turbolift came to a stop and the doors slid open. "We wish to discuss a private matter with you, Jim." Their quarters were just a short distance down the hall, and the First Officer did not elaborate until those doors were closed and locked behind them; once that happened, the Security officers returned to their own quarters.

The doors had barely closed behind the three when Kirk confronted the other two about what they could possibly have meant by what they'd said earlier. "Precisely what you think we meant," the Vulcan returned coolly, but with a sparkle of mischief in his dark eyes.

"You mean you two want to--?" Kirk was too dumfounded to finish the question.

"We do," Christine assured him.

"I'm…happy for you, of course, but isn't this just a little…sudden? After all, you haven't been seeing each other that long," he pointed out.

"We have known each other for some years," Spock reminded him. "And we wish for you to marry us when the time comes, Jim," the First Officer told his Human friend. "In the meantime, it is necessary to engage in a bonding ceremony, in order to formally...and fully… bond. It is traditional to have one other person with us during the ceremony, one who is familiar with the mind of at least one of the bonding couple. We want you to be that person--referred to on Vulcan as a t'hy'r kalah, or 'bond-witness'," Spock explained.

Kirk was still having a problem taking in all this, but managed to make the proper responses. "I'd be honored, my friend," he assured his alien companion. "Both to marry the two of you and be your 'bond-witness'," the Human finished. "When did you want to perform the bonding ceremony?"

"If you would not object, within the next hour, in order that we each have time to prepare--for, like most Vulcan ceremonies, it is formal," the Vulcan told him.

"Of course not," the Captain responded. "I'm glad I thought to bring my dress uniform."

"Just as we each brought an appropriate outfit," Spock informed him, shooting a sidelong glance at Christine and allowing him-self a smile in her direction. With that, the three separated into their respective quarters, agreeing to meet back in Spock and Kirk's living room within the hour.

* * *

When Christine returned forty-five minutes later, clad in sky-blue, simple but elegant Vulcan-style gown, with a modest V-neck and full, filmy sleeves, gold trim around the neck, on the sleeves and bodice of the dress, her hair up in the simplest and least elaborate Vulcan style that she could find, her only jewelry IDIC earrings and a silk t'lerya flower in her upswept curls, she found Spock waiting for her in a knee-length black Vulcan-style robe with white symbols on the right side and full sleeves, similar to his meditation robe but more elaborate, having silver trim around the square collar, designs on the sleeves and the wrist openings of the sleeves. The pants also had silver trim on the sides and he was wearing knee-high boots. She was sure she had never seen him look more handsome, allowing her gaze upon him to reflect that.

"I'm ready, Spock," she said quietly, giving him a tender smile as she approached where he sat on the sofa in the living room of the suite assigned to him and Kirk.

"That is good, Christine," he returned. "Now all we must do is--" His reply was abruptly cut off as he lifted his head and gazed upon her. He had never seen a Terran "angel," even though Jim had once described one to him…but the way his intended bondmate looked to him at the moment reminded him very much of how an "angel" must look. The only things she lacked were a set of wings sprouting from her back and a halo around her head, but it was easy to superimpose those things upon her.

"Jim will be here soon," he made himself say. Barely five minutes later, Kirk walked in, looking even handsomer than usual in his olive-green dress tunic with gold trim and the medals he had won, black pants and knee-high boots. She noted that he was wearing English Leather cologne, but Spock was not. He had never needed it, and as far as she was concerned, he never would.

"Is everybody ready?" he asked, eyes seeking out his Vulcan friend and giving him a concerned look.

"As ready as I'll ever be," Christine replied.

"Yes, Jim," Spock assured him.

"Then let's get started," the Captain suggested.

Christine joined Spock on the sofa; Kirk sat beside him as he put his hand on her face in the mind-meld position, and the ceremony began.

* * *

Spock felt Christine's mind open to him almost immediately, the warmth and love she projected embracing his consciousness.

I'm ready, Spock.

As am I, Christine. Now let us begin. Never and always touching and touched. Our minds are one, our hearts are one… Her mind-voice echoed his. Will you be--my wife, my bondmate… share your life, your love--and build a family with me?

Yes, Spock. Yes, yes, yes…

He sensed both disbelief and happiness in her mind-voice, a happiness so deep and profound as to be unfathomable.

Just as I will cherish thee from this day forward, share my life and love with you--be the best husband and bondmate I can possibly be…in an attempt to make up for all the pain I have caused you.

I will be content as long as we're together, she assured him.

May the feelings that I, Spock of Vulcan, and you, Christine of Terra, bear for each other remain as perpetual as the Vulcan sun--and may only death sever the strong bond we now share.

The Vulcan felt Jim's consciousness on the fringes of his own, mentally monitoring their progress and remaining within reach should his help be needed, making sure that Spock brought himself and Christine out of the link slowly and carefully, for too many times the Captain had seen his friend get so involved in a mind-link that he was unable to break it without help. Not this time; he would see to that. Not with the most important mind-meld of his life. Spock deserved to have it be perfect--and with the Human's help, it was. Once the link had been broken, the couple found themselves weakened and disoriented from the intense emotion that had flowed between not only the two of them but themselves and Kirk for the several minutes they had been mentally joined.

Spock noted that Christine looked pale and asked, "Christine, are you all right? Perhaps you were not yet ready for the bonding ceremony. The intensity of emotion experienced in the ritual can be draining on both the couple's minds and bodies, particularly if one of them is Human."

"I'm all right, Spock. I just need a few minutes to compose myself. I don't think I've ever felt closer to you than I do right now." She raised a hand to his cheek. "Most importantly, are you all right? You look a little pale yourself. I know that you aren't used to expressing such deep emotion."

"Occasional…expressions of emotion are--acceptable, at times even desirable…as long as they are expressed--in private, with one's family, close friends or life-mate." He held Christine as he spoke; she held him, and Kirk rested his head and hands on his friend's shoulders. Time passed (none of them were sure how much) before they reached each other and moved a discreet distance apart.

Once they had sat up again, Kirk smiled warmly at the newly bonded couple. "I don't think I've ever experienced a more beautiful or profound ceremony," he opined. "Thank you for inviting me to share in it."

"Who has more right than you, Jim?" the Vulcan returned quietly, affection glowing in his dark eyes as they gazed upon his closest friend. "All the same, we must inform the Doctor, also our close friend, and Miss Uhura upon our return to the ship, since she is Christine's closest friend," Spock informed the others, neither of whom had any objections to his suggestion. "But for the moment, our time is open. What would the two of you like to do? I will go along with whatever you wish." Even as he said it, Spock knew it was a daring thing to say, because he had no idea what Jim and Christine would suggest, but felt sure he would be able to endure it, if only for their sake…but hadn't reckoned with their deference toward him and his tastes.

"Since none of us have eaten since this morning, what do you say we go have dinner and then come back here and engage in a songfest?--that is, if you wouldn't mind furnishing the musical accompaniment, Spock," Kirk decided, giving the Vulcan a questioning look.

"Not at all, Jim," came the reassuring reply.

"Do you think we should change out of our nice clothes to go out to dinner?" the Captain wondered.

"I don't think so, Captain…Jim. This is a special occasion, and people usually get dressed up for a special occasion," Christine responded with a warm smile in Kirk's direction.

"Then there's no reason to wait. Let's go," the latter said, herding the couple toward the door.

* * *

Once again, they went to the restaurant the Andorian Ambassador had suggested. It was somewhat expensive, but the food was excellent, so the three decided the expense was worth it because of the occasion. Kirk decided on an Italian dinner of lasagna, garlic bread and some Saurian brandy; Christine a chef's salad with Altair water, and Spock even managed to find some vegetarian lasagna and decided to try the garlic bread as well, finding it every bit as appetizing as Jim did. This was a very special occasion in his life--perhaps the most special, aside from the official Vulcan wedding or the eventual birth of his and Christine's first child. But all that was

in the future. For the time being, he concentrated on the emotions of his closest friend and bondmate, basking in their warmth and happiness, returning the feelings in kind.

After the meal was over, Christine found herself drowsy, leaning on Spock as they returned to their suite, but still insisted on the songfest. It was somewhat reminiscent of the ones they had shared aboard ship, with Spock playing many of the Humans' favorites, but also a few of his own. Two hours later, he escorted her back to her suite and kissed her goodnight at the door (inside, of course), deciding it was best for him to return to the suite he shared with Jim despite the strong temptation to stay with her.

But as the two friends prepared for bed, Kirk could sense that Spock was preoccupied with something, and wasn't shy about voicing his concerns. "Is something bothering you, Spock?"

The Vulcan wished he could have denied it, but knew it would be futile, particularly with Jim. "Yes," he confirmed quietly, unable to control a blush.

The blush deepened when Kirk smiled knowingly at him and commented, "You wanted to…spend the night with Christine, even engage in--physical love with her, didn't you?" Only a friend as close as himself would dare to make such a suggestion to the Vulcan. "If you want to, I certainly won't stand in your way. Lord knows how many times I've done the same thing on our shore leaves, and you never seemed to mind," Kirk recalled.

"You are Human, Jim. It is a--normal thing with Humans. As for myself, I have been… indulging my Human half entirely too much in recent weeks. It would be--illogical to continue doing so," the other man protested.

"But illogical or not, you still want to," came the reply, accompanied by a knowing but affectionate smile.

The Vulcan bowed his head, this time turning emerald green, too embarrassed to even speak or do anything but nod--and that was difficult enough.

"I would think it would be…permissible now, since you and Christine are bonded," Kirk pointed out, putting a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder after sitting beside the Vulcan on his bed.

"Technically, it is," Spock made himself admit. "But it is--also preferable to refrain from physical love until after…the official ceremony," he finished.

"That might work, if you don't have to wait too long. How long does it usually take for that to be arranged?" Kirk inquired.

"It--cannot take place until I am within at least a week of my Mating Time," Spock told him.

"And that won't be for another five years, if my calculations are correct," the Human responded. "I doubt that either of you could wait that long. You've both waited long enough as it is."

The Vulcan hated to admit it, but knew he couldn't deny it. "I…must concur," he confessed.

Kirk moved to put an arm around his friend's shoulders and squeezed them encouragingly. "I assure you, my friend, it's nothing to be ashamed of. It's normal for a man to want to…make love to the woman he loves," the Captain said, choosing his words carefully, making sure his tone was infinitely soothing.

"Perhaps so, but--I am Vulcan. I should be…stronger," Spock countered, berating himself for his unVulcan weakness.

"You are also of age and in love," the Human gently persisted. "It won't make you any less Vulcan if you give in to a normal desire. Surely your ancestors--on both sides--had these very same desires."

Spock knew his friend was right, but never had his two halves warred so much as they were warring within him now. He wanted to do the right thing and wait to physically join with Christine until after the dual wedding ceremonies, as his logic told him he should, but the physical yearnings of both halves also smoldered within his body, so strong that they were almost impossible to resist. It would take all the mental disciplines he knew to make it through the night…but what about tomorrow night and all the nights after that, between now and his Mating Time? If it was this difficult to get through one night, how could he logically expect to get through five years?

The Vulcan's shoulders slumped despondently. "I--am sorry, Jim. I…know you are right, but even as much as I--want to, I cannot. Not tonight. Please forgive me."

"It's not my forgiveness you need worry about," Kirk assured him. "It's your own…and Christine's. I just don't like the idea of your making things harder on yourself--and her--than they have to be, especially when it's so unnecessary. If you choose not to go to her tonight, that's your prerogative, but how long do you think you can hold out?"

"I…do not know, Jim, but I must. As long as I can," Spock insisted. "Please help me."

"I'll do what I can, Spock, but sooner or later, you'll have to give in. You know that."

The Vulcan nodded in acknowledgment, then the two friends fell silent. After a time, Kirk broke the silence. "We'd better get ready for bed now," he suggested.

"Yes, Jim," the Vulcan replied, standing up and gathering his sleeping-clothes before heading for the bathroom to change.

Kirk changed while waiting for Spock to return, able to guess why the Vulcan had gone into the bathroom instead of changing in his presence as he usually did, but telling himself not to mention it to his friend. Spock was feeling bad enough without that.

* * *

The Human was in bed, the light still on, pretending to be asleep when his alien friend returned and got into bed after an unusually long stint in the bathroom. He caught a glimpse of the latter's face just before the light went out, concerned at how deeply flushed it was, as if Spock was feverish, reminiscent of pon farr. To the Vulcan, this must be nearly as bad, as well as embarrassing. He hoped Spock would eventually take his advice and not be so hard on himself and Christine, but there was no guarantee of that. The First Officer's stubbornness was deeply ingrained, especially since he had a double dose of it, from each of his parents.

Kirk lay awake half the night, listening with increasing empathy as his friend restlessly tossed and turned in his bed, even catching an occasional soft moan. He forced himself to remain in his own bed, knowing this was something Spock would have to get through himself, even though the Captain was all too aware of how tough it was for a man once his physical desires had been awakened. Especially if he couldn't (or wouldn't allow himself to) satisfy those desires. Everything he had told his friend was true, but it wouldn't do Spock any good unless he took the advice…and (at least for the time being) the Vulcan chose not to do so.

* * *

It wasn't much better for Christine, but at least she didn't have to worry about anyone seeing her in her pain, both emotional and physical. Her tossing and turning was all but constant, both her love and need smoldering inside her (mainly due to what she was feeling from Spock through their bond) to such an extent that her body felt as though it was on fire, and her heart was pounding almost double. Not even the cold shower she had had did her much good; its effects had only lasted a few minutes. Eventually she threw her covers off, burying her face in her pillow and sobbing, wanting more than anything to either go to him or have him come to her…but it didn't seem that that was going to happen, so she would have to get through this night as best she could, though it seemed to stretch endlessly before her, every moment an eternity. How would she ever stand it?

* * *

It was approximately 0300 when Spock finally gave up the fight and threw his bedcovers off, knowing he had to do something to obtain relief. It wasn't any easier for his bondmate in the adjoining room, either; he could feel that through their bond. He had to go to her; they had to soothe their need for each other, at least temporarily. He moved quietly but swiftly through the darkened apartment, slipping through the door to the adjoining suite. I am coming, m'chejan, he told her soothingly, hoping she could perceive it so that her pain could be eased, if only for a moment.

* * *

Spock, my love, I need you so, the nurse thought with a mixture of love and pain as she tossed and turned on her bed. Why are you denying that need, that pleasure, to both of us? We're bonded now, so it can't be too wrong for us to be together. At this point, she felt a momentary sense of peace and an easing of her pain, not sure just where it came from, but nonetheless grateful for it. Perhaps she would be able to get through this night, after all.

A moment later she felt a gentle, tentative touch on her shoulder and heard a soft voice in her ear. "Christine?"

Christine lifted her head, sure that she had imagined the voice. "Spock?"

"I am here," he assured her, allowing her to turn over and face him.

She was ashamed that she had allowed her libido to get the better of her, but her conscience was eased by the certainty that Spock had to be feeling the same thing. Why else would he be here? But she felt the need to apologize for her weakness, nonetheless.

"I'm sorry. I never meant to disturb you."

"It is all right, Christine," he assured her. "I do not hold you responsible." He lifted her into his arms and held her, simply allowing her to rest her tousled head on his shoulder as he stroked her hair with one hand, then gently kissed it and rested his cheek on it. It eased the burning inside her simply to have him hold her, but her (and his) aroused bodies would soon demand more. They simply sat quietly in each other's arms for a time, then he released her and lifted her face to his, bending his head to find her lips.

As the kiss deepened, he held her tighter and closer, unable to stop, craving the sweetness of her lips as a chocolate addict craves chocolate, savoring the feel of her silky skin beneath his hands, reluctantly tearing his lips from hers after a time to kiss her neck and throat…then moved to caress her, so hungry for her that he was sure he would never get enough of her. He felt the same shame as she did, but his need for her was greater--and he told her so…but not so much in words as in actions. Her hands moved up to his shoulders and lightly traced their way down his chest even as the couple resumed kissing; he squirmed restlessly at her touch.

"Just lie back and relax, my love. You'll feel better in no time," she assured him, her voice tender and loving, but at the same time laced with the most intense desire she had ever felt for any man, including Roger…but he and all others were forgotten in the perfection of this moment of intimacy with her beloved.

The feel of her caressing hands was like no other sensation the Vulcan had ever felt before; he had never known such pleasure. But most importantly, this was something Spock never wanted to give up now that he had experienced it. "Christine…m'chejan, wani-ra aisha yana. Wani-ra yorosha yana," he crooned, lapsing into his native language.

Christine knew enough Vulcan to know that he was not only telling her he loved her, but wanted her--just as much as she loved and wanted him. "My pleasure lies in giving you pleasure, beloved," she crooned in return.

Once Spock had recovered, he instructed his bondmate to lie down beside him. After the lovers kissed and caressed for a time, he proceeded to turn her beneath him, covering her body with his own, passionately possessing her at last. And so it was, throughout the remainder of the night, until the pleasantly exhausted couple had fallen into a deep, refreshing sleep in each other's arms.

* * *

Kirk awoke at approximately 0500 to go to the bathroom, noting with a smile that his friend's bed was empty, hoping Spock would pass a memorable night in the arms of his bondmate. He had waited so long for such happiness; no one deserved it more, but neither had anyone been denied more of it than the Vulcan. Now he would be able to make up for lost time, and best of all, in the arms of someone who truly loved him. Kirk himself could only hope to find someone even half as good, and once he did, he prayed he wouldn't lose her as he had lost Miramanee and Edith.

* * *

The lovers awakened around 0900, intricately entwined, with Christine's head cradled on Spock's chest, his left hand cradling her head and her hand over his upper right abdomen to feel the rapid but steady beat of his heart. She was so content that she wouldn't have minded staying right where she was for the rest of the day, and then some--but knew that was out of the question, at least for the time being. It wasn't until she felt a gentle kiss on the top of her head that she realized he was awake. She lifted her head into a tender, lingering kiss on her lips.

"Good morning, my love."

"M'chejan." His voice was laced with as much warmth as hers. "Did you sleep well?"

"Never better," she assured him. "But then, I always do whenever you're with me."

She smiled at the green blush which pervaded his cheeks and ears, leaning close to kiss his nose. "It's nice to see that you can still blush, even though it's a little late for modesty," she teased gently. "What time is it?"

"It is 0900 hours," he informed her. "It is best that I return to my own suite now, however."

"Why?" she questioned.

"For one thing, I would like to dress. For another, I need to explain to Jim where I have been."

Christine's smile widened. "I don't think he needs any explanation. Just seeing your bed empty probably told him all he needed to know."

The green blush deepened; this time she laughed. "I've never met a man who's more a mass of contradictions than you, Spock. One moment passionate, the next, blushing and shy." She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him affectionately; he raised both upswept brows at her in astonishment before lapsing into a private smile.

"I might say the same for you, Christine," he returned, sitting up and watching as she followed suit. "For the most part, you have seemed almost Vulcan in your control of your emotions where I am concerned…but last night--" He broke off, face softening at the memory of the tenderly passionate evening he and Christine had shared together. "It was almost as if you had never heard of a thing called self-control."

"You minded that?" she asked warily.

"Certainly not," he assured her. "I am simply making an observation. Now, if you would not mind, I would like to shower, then return to my suite."

"Go ahead," she invited.

He touched her cheek and smiled before swinging out of bed and heading to the bathroom. He grabbed his discarded sleeping-clothes before standing up, covering himself with them until he reached the bathroom door and closed it behind him. Christine couldn't help laughing again and shaking her head in affectionate exasperation before donning her nightgown and making the bed before selecting a book from the collection she had brought with her to pass the time until Spock came out and she could shower herself.

* * *

Upon returning to the suite he shared with Jim, the Vulcan could only hope that his friend would still be asleep, for he didn't think he would be able to face him without blushing, especially if Christine's statement about him was correct--that the Human would need no explanation to guess where his Vulcan friend had gone last night and what he had done when he got there. To his relief, he noted that Jim was indeed still asleep. That would give him a chance to get back to bed, even if he could not pretend that he had been here all night when Jim would know otherwise.

About an hour passed while Spock lay quietly in bed on his back, hands clasped and resting on his chest, before Kirk awakened, turning over to face Spock's bed. "Spock?"

"Yes, Jim?" He forced himself to sound normal.

"How long have you been awake?"

"One hour, thirty point-five seconds," the Vulcan informed him.

"Did you…pass a--pleasant night?" Kirk's voice told his alien friend that he would do well not to try to deny where he had been.

"Most pleasant, thank you, Jim," Spock responded, refusing to be embarrassed. "I…feel much better now."

"I'm glad you finally took my advice," the Captain remarked, voice both stern and affectionate. "See, we Humans know a few things, too."

"I have never denied that," Spock declared, and Kirk knew that it was true. "Which reminds me--have you heard anything from the ship? I am expecting a communication from my parents regarding a recent request I made."

"Would it have anything to do with a Vulcan wedding?" Kirk teased with a sly wink.

"Partially, but mostly it is regarding a…special present which I wish to give to Christine," Spock informed his Human friend as he sat up in bed.

"A special present? Something Vulcan, I take it," Kirk guessed, also sitting up in bed.

"Yes. What you would call an 'heirloom', passed down though the family for several centuries, if not millennia, and only given to those one is especially close to, such as a bondmate …or bond-brother, such as you. In fact, you already possess one example of such an 'heirloom'," the Vulcan reminded him.

Kirk drew a blank as to what Spock was referring to for a moment, then his memory rewarded him. "Do you mean you've found another pair of--t'hy'vala?"

"I believe so," Spock returned. "You are aware of how they work, as a sort of psychic conductor, allowing us to see a…visual manifestation of our bond when the large gems on them touch. I have always hoped to be able to find another pair to--share with Christine…at least I have, since becoming--emotionally involved…with her. Now that we are--bonded, I wish to see…how my bond with her will manifest itself."

"I'm sure it'll be every bit as beautiful as ours," Kirk assured him.

"I am sure it will," Spock agreed. "Now, have you heard from the ship?"

"Yes. Everything's going fine; they're expecting us back tomorrow. And oh, yes, there was a message from your parents. I told Sulu before we left that if a message came in for you from Vulcan, to have Uhura scramble it and send it to your personal computer in your quarters. I didn't think you'd care to have the whole Bridge crew know it."

"Thank you, Jim. I appreciate that," the Vulcan intoned softly. "What about the Andorian Ambassador?"

"A message was left on our room computer at 0515 this morning," Kirk told him. "Shras was told of our concerns, and after due consideration, decided against a treaty at this time. The Imperial Aide probably suspected that we had something to do with his refusal, but didn't argue, and departed for the Empire late last night."

"Was anything mentioned regarding…the Ambassador's illness?"

"Only that his physician was willing to consult with Christine and Bones about it if we so wished," Kirk responded. "I thought that would be acceptable to them, since we're going to remain in orbit here for another day or so."

"I think Christine and Dr. McCoy will wish to do so, if only to know what to do should we encounter similar cases in the future," Spock opined.

"Logical, as always," the Captain chuckled. "What would you like to do now?"

"Get dressed, then contact Christine and have breakfast," the First Officer decided. "Do you think it would be safe enough to have the Security officers beam up, now that the preliminary--and presumably final…talks, considering the Imperial Aide's departure--are over?"

"Already done," Kirk informed him. "They beamed back to the ship early this morning. I told them to before I went back to bed around 0530. Lieutenant Dickerson usually stays in cases like this, but I told him to return as well."

"So we only need to…concern ourselves with each other," the Vulcan observed, satisfied.

"That's it," Kirk confirmed. With that, the two friends got up and dressed after Kirk had showered; they picked up Christine and the three went to have their breakfast, then a farewell visit to the Andorian Ambassador, during which the Head Nurse insisted on examining him. This time there was no argument from him or his Chief Aide, and the results confirmed her original hypothesis.

She was saddened. Shras had been a force for peace, almost as much as Sarek himself, for nearly as long, at least fifty years. His expertise and counsel would be sorely missed, the latter by his fellow Ambassadors in particular.

* * *

The Enterprise party decided to return to the ship that afternoon, around 1530 hours, checking in with McCoy and Sulu at the first opportunity. Christine told the Chief Surgeon what she had discovered about the Andorian Ambassador, that he was in all likelihood terminally ill, which he agreed with upon consulting the Ambassador's physician and perusing the results of Christine's impromptu examination before they departed Andor.

While Kirk checked in with Sulu to find out the details of what all had transpired aboard ship while they were away and Christine was in medical consultation with McCoy, Spock then decided to go to his quarters and call up the message from his parents--or more accurately, his mother. It was all he could do to control his pleasure upon learning that the t'hy'vala once used by the Vulcan philosopher Surak and his wife T'Syath had been found after centuries of searching …but due to their age and immense value, they could not be sent through the mail; he and Christine would have to come to Vulcan to retrieve them.

Amanda had informed him that there had been a tough fight to even allow Spock and Christine to have the rare t'hy'vala at all, much less take them off-planet, but she had managed to talk Sarek into interceding with T'Pau on their son's behalf regarding the two millennia-old Vulcan "heirlooms", especially since the set of jeweled wristbands had been found in a long-unused room, carefully wrapped in an old strip of carpet, in an ancient chest in 'T'Pau's fortress-like home outside of ShiKahr, near the koon-ut-kal-if-fee monoliths and arena, which the Vulcan matriarch owned, having inherited it from her parents.

Spock had not been surprised to hear this, simply pleased that things had managed to work out in their favor, telling himself to make sure that he and Christine would care for them as such priceless artifacts desired. What mattered was that they had been found, and that he would be able to present her with one of them (after their marriage would probably be the best time, particularly since they would have to go to Vulcan for the koon-ut-kal-if-fee ceremony, anyway).

Then they would be able to see the visual manifestation of their matrimonial bond, as he and Jim had seen the manifestation of their fraternal bond last time they had worn the original pair of t'hy'vala, which had been given to him as a gift by his mother some years before, having originally belonged to his paternal grandparents, shortly before his departure for Starfleet Academy. Spock had had no one he either could (or wanted to) share them with until he met Kirk and their friendship had blossomed into the extraordinary near-symbiosis that it was.

With Jim's help, he had become closer to McCoy than he had ever believed possible, and now that each knew how the other truly felt, the Vulcan felt certain that they would always be close, even if their relationship wasn't (and never could be) the same caliber as that of himself and Kirk. What mattered was that he had two such loyal, caring friends and a woman who truly loved him…as well as a mother such as Amanda. Not too many could have been as blessed as he--or at least, that was what Spock personally believed.

* * *

It was that evening that the five friends (this time Uhura joined them, and not just for a short time) got together in the Rec Room to bring each other up-to-date on what each of them had been up to, any news they might have, deciding they might as well have dinner and drinks while they were at it. The women told the men what they wanted, and while they were waiting for their meal to be served, Christine gave Uhura the latest news of her and Spock, that they had bonded while on Andor, with the Captain acting as witness.

The dark woman's eyes and smile could have lit up the entire room. "That's fantastic, Chris. Congratulations and every happiness to you both." She squeezed her friend's hands affectionately.

"Thanks," Christine returned softly, blushing slightly and bowing her head. "It was the last thing I expected, but now I'm the happiest woman in the Galaxy, if not in the universe!"

"Understandable," Uhura responded warmly. "Have you decided when you're getting married, and are you going to have both Federation and Vulcan weddings?"

"We haven't set a date yet, but we've already asked the Captain to marry us, and he's agreed, so the Federation wedding is a foregone conclusion. We'll have to wait on the Vulcan wedding for the time being. It's also a foregone conclusion that I must have you in my wedding," the nurse informed her friend. "It wouldn't be the same without you."

"I'd be honored, Chris," the Communications Officer assured her. "What about Dr. McCoy? What is his role going to be, since the Captain will be officiating?"

Christine was also considering asking McCoy to give her away, to act as surrogate father, since her parents would be unable to attend--but she had promised them that she would try to get a holovid of the proceedings. She didn't tell Uhura any of this at this point, particularly not the part about McCoy, since she hadn't had the chance to ask him yet.

The next voice answered Uhura's question, but it wasn't the Doctor's. "He will be attending me, Miss Uhura. I have already asked him, and he was kind enough to accept."

The Bantu looked up to find Spock standing next to her, holding both his own and Christine's dinner tray in his hands, but it was the nurse who answered him. "I'm glad to hear that," she opined.

"As you say, it was a 'foregone conclusion,' since the Captain could not officiate and attend me as well," the Vulcan remarked as he served his bondmate, then placed his own meal next to hers on the table. Kirk followed suit with his own and Uhura's, while McCoy placed his next to Kirk's. They had to sit in a corner group with a large table that would accommodate up to six people, one of a handful on the large Rec Deck.

The conversation got underway once everyone had seated themselves and gotten comfortable. "What have you heard from your daughter, Bones?" Kirk wondered. "Did you find out anything more about her intended, and did you think to ask if they would mind my marrying them as well?"

The Doctor took a drink of his Saurian brandy before answering. "I got another communication from Jo yesterday. This time she had her fiancé with her, and I spoke to him. The impression I got was that he truly loves Jo, which is the most important requirement. He also has brown eyes and brownish-blond hair, is six feet two, five years older than she, around thirty, originally from Earth as we are, but having grown up on Deneb V, moving to Centaurus a couple of years ago to open his own business, that Southern restaurant I mentioned earlier," he informed Kirk and everyone else at the table.

"They also intend to have children, but not for at least a couple of years--and want at least two. In the meantime, however, they intend to take each day as it comes... and told me to tell you that they would be honored if you would marry them once they arrive."

Kirk and the others smiled and nodded, offering good wishes and expressing the hope that they would get to meet Joanna and her intended. "Don't worry, I've planned that all along," the Doctor assured the group. "Everybody will get to meet her and Michael--his last name is Davidson, incidentally--at the little get-together I'm planning to welcome them, which will be in the VIP Lounge the evening of their arrival. The wedding will be two days after that, then they'll leave for their honeymoon. They haven't told me where they plan to go, but Jo promised me that she would tell me about it in her next communication once they return, in ten days, which will give them just enough time to get back settled in on Centaurus before returning to work."

"Did she have any idea when they're coming here? I mean, did she give you a stardate and ETA?" Kirk put in when McCoy took a breath after his lengthy explanation.

"They're still working on that," came the reply. "But as I've said, once she gives me an exact date and time, I'll be sure to tell you."

"That is, if she doesn't decide to surprise you," Kirk contended. "Do you think there's any chance of that?"

"It's possible," the Doctor admitted after taking a bite of each of the three kinds of food on his plate and swallowing them. "But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

The Vulcan's hand stopped halfway to his mouth, brows hidden in his bangs, and Kirk knew he had to explain the Doctor's last statement. "That is, we'll deal with it when the time comes."

Spock's face relaxed, and he resumed eating after mentally communicating with Christine. I have heard from my parents about the . . .special present from Vulcan I wish to give you, he told her. But I will not be able to present it to you until we go there for the official wedding. It is--too valuable to entrust to the regular postal system. I will tell you about it in more detail when we are alone, he assured her.

That's good, Christine's mind-voice opined. I'll be looking forward to hearing all about it. She also resumed eating once the communication was over.

"When are we going to start making plans for the shipboard wedding?" Uhura wondered. "Once you two have set a date, or what?" Her voice was tinged with impatience.

"That could begin any time," Christine told her friend. "It may take us a while to decide on what would be the best time to get married. If possible, we hope to figure it so the two weddings can be performed back-to-back, but if not, we'll do the Federation wedding first, since it doesn't have to be done at any set time, as the official Vulcan wedding does. Spock has to discuss the arrangements with his parents before we can make any concrete plans on that score. Now, would you please let us all finish eating?" The Head Nurse's own voice was laced with impatience.

"Sorry, Chris," Uhura apologized. "It's just that we don't often have a wedding aboard ship. The last one we had ended in tragedy, you know." Everyone was silent for a time, thinking of the aborted wedding of two young crewmembers, Lieutenant Robert Tomlinson and Ensign Angela Martine, during the first year of the five-year mission, which had been interrupted when Romulans attacked the Enterprise on stardate 1709.2. . . the first attack on a Federation ship in over a century.

By the time it was over, the would-be groom had been killed by a coolant leak in the only operable Phaser Room aboard ship shortly before the end of the mission. He had been the only casualty, but even one death was one too many for Kirk--and he would see to it that nothing went wrong during Spock and Christine's wedding (or the one between Joanna and Michael, for that matter) . . .whatever he had to do.

"That's not going to happen this time," the Captain declared. "Not if I can help it, anyway."

After that, the only conversation exchanged had to do with the meals themselves; the five decided to hold off on any discussions regarding the upcoming weddings (and presents, the reception, their attire, color scheme, and so on) until a more propitious time.

* * *

It hardly seemed possible that three months could pass so quickly, but it did--and almost before anyone had the chance to turn around, McCoy had heard from his daughter again, this time to tell him when she and her intended would arrive for their reunion and the wedding. At this point, the Enterprise was on her way to Starbase 27 for refueling and routine maintenance, as well as a week's shore leave for the crew. Joanna and Michael would meet them there, according to Bones, and all concerned could hardly wait for the ship to arrive...the Doctor most of all.

A message came in from the Starbase only an hour before the Enterprise was due to dock there: Joanna and Michael had arrived, settled into their assigned quarters, and were waiting in the VIP Lounge. McCoy's excitement upon hearing this was reminiscent of a small boy expecting a visit from his favorite relative, which was exactly the case, and every moment of the remaining hour seemed an eternity to him. It was all Kirk and the others could do to keep him settled down sufficiently until they arrived. A half hour before their scheduled arrival, the Captain contacted Spock and Christine and told them to be ready, as he would be, and they would all go to meet Joanna and Michael together.

* * *

The small group, which consisted of Kirk, McCoy, Spock, Christine and Uhura, who had asked permission to accompany them, gathered in the Transporter Room and situated themselves on the platform. Scotty was once again manning the console, as he usually did whenever any of the senior officers were leaving the ship. He had also been caught up in the excitement of the upcoming weddings and reunion, but could not be spared from his duties aboard ship because of the others' departure. Perhaps he would be able to meet the Doctor's daughter and her intended should they come aboard ship, if not be at their wedding.

"Take care of my lady, Scotty. See you later," Kirk told him with a smile. "Energize."

"Count on it, sir. Have a bonnie trip," he replied, returning the smile. "Energizing."

* * *

The VIP Lounge aboard the Starbase was just a short walk from the Transporter Room, but it seemed like miles to the anxious McCoy. It was all the Doctor could do to control himself until they reached the doors, which they did a few minutes later, then the doors swished open to admit them. The five stood, seemingly frozen, for a moment--then McCoy called out, "Joanna? Baby, are you here?"

"Daddy, is that you?" came a soft, feminine, slightly Southern-accented voice from the other side of the room, where several rows of chairs were situated.

"Yes, it's me," the Doctor returned, his voice shaky. The next thing he knew, his daughter was in his arms and they were both crying, hugging and kissing each other repeatedly. "Baby, baby. It's so good to see you--and hold you--again. I've missed you so," the Chief Surgeon whispered in his daughter's ear.

"Just as I've missed you, Daddy," she declared, the two of them reluctant to release each other for a long time, for fear the other would disappear. But when they finally did, Joanna's fiancé stepped up to stand beside her. "This is Michael."

The ruggedly handsome, thirtyish man smiled and held out a hand for McCoy to shake. "I'm pleased to meet you, Doctor McCoy. Jo's told me so much about you, that I feel as if I know you already." He gave a tender look in the latter's direction, which his fiancée's doting father was pleased to note.

"She's told me just as much about you, and I was very glad to be able to speak to you at least once before we met," McCoy assured him. "Now I know that I'm not losing a daughter so much as gaining a son." He gave his future son-in-law a warm smile. "Especially if you make my Jo as happy as she deserves."

"Oh, I will, sir, I assure you," Michael Davidson declared. "And thank you for the good wishes. I swear, I'll do all I can to be worthy of your trust in me--but most importantly, of Joanna's love."

"Then that's all I could ask," McCoy said. "Oh, I brought some friends of mine along who wanted to meet you." He gestured to the others, who came forward and stood next to him, each waiting patiently to be introduced.

"First, this is my long-time friend and Captain, James Kirk of the Enterprise."

Kirk smiled and held out his hand to them both. "It's great to finally meet you, Joanna," Kirk told her. "Your father has told me so much about you that when he told me that you were coming to see him, I decided that I just had to come with him to meet you. He also told me that you two wouldn't mind my marrying you and Michael." He shot a gaze toward the younger man, shaking his hand after exchanging smiles with McCoy's daughter.

"As long as we're married, we're not particular about where it's held or who does it, as long as they have the proper credentials," Michael assured him, looking to his fiancée for confirmation; she nodded and smiled in agreement. "We finally agreed that who would be better than Jo's father's closest friend, who just happens to be the Captain of the finest starship in the Fleet?"

Kirk found it difficult to control a blush, but the Captain rose to the occasion magnificently, managing to nod and smile in return without looking foolish. "Thank you. You've decided when you want to have the wedding?"

"At 1500 hours, on stardate 5950.1, which is two days from now, if memory serves," said the prospective bridegroom. "Is that convenient for you?"

"That's fine, since we're all on leave for a week," Kirk assured him. "Now let's finish the introductions. Spock, Christine, Uhura?" The other three nodded and smiled in the young couple's direction.

"This is Commander Spock, my second-in-command and also a close friend," the Captain said, indicating the Vulcan. "Next to him, is his fiancée and my Head Nurse, Christine Chapel. And last but not least, this is the Enterprise's Chief Communications Officer, the lovely and talented Lieutenant Nyota Uhura." The Bantu couldn't help blushing at Kirk's extravagant gallantry, but it managed to pass unnoticed because of her dusky skin.

"We are all most honored to meet you, Ms. McCoy and Mr. Davidson," Spock said formally, speaking for himself and the two women.

"Just as we are to meet you all, Mr. Spock, Nurse Chapel and Lt. Uhura," Joanna asserted with a smile as disarming as her father's.

Spock and Christine exchanged glances and mentally communicated; finally, Christine said, "We plan to be married within the next four months or so."

"Oh yes, that's right, I remember now. Daddy told me during our last communication. He also told me that you're half-Human, Mr. Spock, and that your mother is Human, as is your… fiancée," she stated carefully.

"Correct," Spock confirmed, deciding to overlook the Doctor's minor invasion of his privacy--at least, this time.

"What do you say we all adjourn to the Starbase VIP Lounge and hash out all the details?" McCoy suggested. When no one objected, he smiled and turned toward the doors which led out of the VIP Lounge. "Let's go, then." Joanna moved to his right and linked her arm through her father's; Michael claimed her other arm. Kirk and Spock linked arms while Christine claimed that of her bondmate, and lastly, Uhura linked her arm through that of her closest friend.

Of course, in the turbolift to Level Three, where the Starbase's Officers' Lounge was, they had to separate, but that was temporary. They resumed their previous positions upon reaching Level Three, even though they had to separate again upon reaching the Lounge--at least for a time. Fortunately they were able to share one long table, especially when McCoy said that this was a special occasion, sort of a cross between a family reunion and a wedding, for two of the couples present planned to marry in the near future. The hostess and manager offered congratulations to both couples, who accepted them with gracious nods and smiles; Spock and Christine even crossed fingers, one of the few Vulcan gestures allowed in public between bonded mates. Upon seating themselves, the group ordered only drinks, at least for the time being, telling the hostess that they would probably eat later. For the moment, all they intended to do was talk.

* * *

They arranged to have the Starbase Chapel reserved for the wedding two days hence after Kirk pulled a few strings and called in a few favors the Starbase's Commander, Commodore Marion Donaldson, owed him. Both McCoy and the young engaged couple protested, but Kirk said it was the least he could do for the daughter of one of his closest friends.

Joanna smiled and blushed; Michael merely smiled and nodded gratefully in Kirk's direction, as did the Doctor himself. It was also arranged that Christine and Uhura would attend Joanna, and that the Doctor and Spock would attend Michael. Joanna told her father she had her wedding dress and all the necessary accessories all packed in her luggage; Christine and Uhura asked if they could go to her quarters and see it, along with the accessories she planned to use...including the traditional "something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue" items. Joanna consented, and they left the Lounge temporarily. While the menfolk sat out in the living room of the quarters and chewed the fat, the women went with her to the master bedroom to see the dress and its accouterments.

Both Christine and Uhura agreed that it was one of the most beautiful wedding gowns they had ever seen, with lace and pearls all over the off-white silk bodice and fitted waistline, tapering to a point just below the waist; a high, scalloped collar and long, fitted sleeves which would also taper to a point on Joanna's slender hands. The rest of the dress was a full skirt, which fell gracefully to the ground, with a special seam-like zipper in the back. The veil was cathedral-length, with alternate magnolias and pink silk roses on the headdress, in keeping with the bride's Southern background--and also to pacify her father, no doubt, the older women couldn't help thinking, inwardly chuckling.

"It's lovely, Joanna, all of it," Christine, another future bride, declared. "But I would think a younger woman would prefer a scoop-necked, or even an off-the-shoulders wedding gown."

"Are you kidding?" the younger woman threw back. "Daddy would have my hide if I tried to wear a thing like that! I can almost hear him now: 'It's a wedding, not a skin show! No daughter of mine is going to wear a thing like that. I won't have it!'"

"Shouldn't the choice of wedding dress be the bride's?" Uhura put in, incredulous.

"Technically, yes, but I thought it would save a lot of grief if I chose a dress like this to begin with. Besides, Mama once told me that it was the same kind of dress she wore when she married Daddy," Joanna related to her two companions.

"Where is your mother?" Christine asked.

"Mama died five years ago of Rigellian fever on Earth Colony Four," Joanna revealed sadly, tears misting her eyes. "Maybe now you can understand why I decided I'd better try to mend fences with Daddy while there was still time."

"I'm sorry. I didn't know," came the apologetic reply. "And yes, I can understand why you'd want to reconcile with him."

"I'll show you the rest of the accessories now," Joanna said, changing the subject. "Give me a few minutes." She retrieved one of her suitcases and opened it to reveal, one by one, a lace handkerchief (the "something old" that her mother had once given her; she had received it from her mother, Joanna's maternal grandmother). The "something new" was a small, lace-covered prayer book, which Joanna would carry along with her bouquet (which consisted of pink roses and magnolias, held together with pink ribbons), and the "something borrowed" was the wedding ring McCoy had received from his wife at their wedding, and which he had loaned to his daughter for her husband-to-be.

Also, there were two "somethings blue"--one a lacy camisole, which she would wear under her wedding dress, the other a ruffled lace garter with miniature wedding bells dangling from it, which Joanna would put just above her right knee. She also showed the other two women the almost-transparent negligée she planned to wear (at least for a time) on her wedding night, little more than two pieces of white nylon about two feet long, sewn with pink ribbons in the front to hold up the bosom, lavishly trimmed with lace, along with a halter-type collar, the back plunging to the waist. Just looking at it, Christine knew that Leonard would have had a coronary if he'd seen it . . .but Michael would probably love it. Spock didn't need anything special, however; she could simply wear her prettiest, silkiest and laciest nightgown, and it would suit him just fine. In fact, that was probably what she would do on their wedding night.

Joanna also showed them her engagement ring, a ¼-carat square-cut diamond in a yellow gold Tiffany setting (half of an engagement/wedding set, she said) ; after the older women had "oohed" and "ahhed" over how beautiful it was, the younger woman asked why Christine was not wearing an engagement ring.

"Spock says that Vulcans don't believe in wearing engagement or wedding rings; they believe the bonding shows enough of a commitment without any outward sign," Christine explained.

Joanna twisted her lips wryly. "Sounds like something a people devoted to logic would come up with," she deadpanned.

"There must be something to it, since divorce is rare and most Vulcan marriages are usually long and happy, so I figured, what the heck. To each his own...and what matters to me is that we're together. I'm not going to insist on having all the Terran things--some, maybe, but not all--when married to a Vulcan. Spock is half-Human, so he's pretty tolerant of such things, and is quite good about making allowances for my 'Human' idiosyncrasies when necessary, but for the most part, I get the impression that I'll be expected to conform to the Vulcan way...at least publicly. Privately, of course, we'll do as we please, so I think I can live with it as long as I don't have to have it stuffed down my throat twenty-four hours a day."

"Yes, he's definitely gotten to you," Joanna asserted, sounding exactly like her father. "But as long as you're happy, that's what matters." Both Christine and Uhura agreed that Joanna also looked very much like him, though her nose and lips were not his...but she did have his bone structure and blue eyes. She also shared much of his height, being around 5' 7", tall for a woman and slender, but still an inch shorter than Christine herself.

At this point, a knock came on the door; Michael's voice came through it. "Are you ladies finished yet? We guys would like to go back to the Lounge to have something to eat."

"We'll be right out, honey," Joanna called back, replacing the things in the small suitcase and closing the trunk which held her wedding gown, veil and ivory-colored ballet pumps. Just before reaching the bedroom door, she turned back to Christine. "Are you at least going to have a traditional wedding dress?"

"For the shipboard wedding, yes," the nurse explained. "There can't be anything fancy for the Vulcan one, though...but Spock said that his mother is willing to help me on that score, so I shouldn't have too much of a problem."

Joanna nodded in acknowledgment and smiled, then the three women left the bedroom to rejoin their menfolk and head back to the Starbase VIP Lounge to have a special dinner to commemorate the presence of the Doctor's daughter and her intended husband, but to not only celebrate their upcoming marriage but the one of Spock and Christine.

* * *

The next two days seemed to fly by; almost before anyone knew it, they were all making preparations to either participate in or assist with bringing the wedding off successfully. While Christine and Uhura were busily helping a nervous but very happy Joanna change (they themselves had changed prior to coming to her quarters), while Spock and Kirk spent half their time trying to calm their jittery friend, and the other half helping him and the bridegroom change. Michael seemed to be taking it fairly well, but Leonard McCoy--well, one would have thought he was the bridegroom. The three Starfleet officers had decided to wear their dress uniforms, while Michael wore a pale blue suit with a white ruffled shirt, bow tie and white boots.

When Kirk tried to soothe him, the Doctor shot back, "That's easy for you to say, Jim. You're not the father of the bride! Next to being the bridegroom, that's the thing that makes a guy the most nervous about a wedding."

This effectively silenced the Captain, at least as far as trying to soothe Bones was concerned. He could still recall how nervous he himself had been preparing for the Native American wedding to Miramanee. Spock also had to agree, although he probably wouldn't have admitted it…not even to Kirk. He himself was kept too busy controlling his own mixture of concern and apprehension regarding his own upcoming set of weddings, both the Federation/Starfleet ceremony and the official Vulcan one. At least with the latter, he knew what to expect; the former he was still learning about from both his bondmate and best friend, but still knew appallingly little about Human wedding customs. Perhaps if he asked his mother about them, she might be of some help as well.

The Doctor had also been chosen to be Michael's "best man", since the latter's closest friend was in Starfleet and his ship currently halfway across the Galaxy, so he couldn't ask him. (Spock would be what is commonly known as a "groomsman.") Michael's friend Scott had sent his best wishes, however, along with those of his wife and family, but that's all he could do. In fact, Michael had gotten the holovid from Scott only the day before arriving at Starbase 27. The almost impossibly small wedding ring that Joanna would wear, which would "join" with her engagement ring, was on the Doctor's right pinky, though considering how uptight his friend was, Kirk was strongly tempted to handle it himself and only return it to him when it was time for Michael to put it on her finger.

On the other hand, Christine (who was to be Maid of Honor, since Joanna's closest friend Cynthia didn't have the financial wherewithal to participate, though she had also sent a wedding gift and her best wishes, along with those of her husband and family) had the ring Joanna would give to Michael, originally Leonard's ring, on the middle finger of her right hand for safekeeping, making sure that she would be able to get it off when she needed to. Uhura would be a "regular" bridesmaid.

* * *

An hour later, the Captain noticed the time and said to his three companions, "We'd better get going; the wedding's in less than half an hour."

"A most logical course of action," Spock agreed.

"Definitely," Michael put in.

"Spock, please, no unnecessary logic today," McCoy moaned. "I've got enough to worry about!"

Spock allowed this to roll off him since he knew how upset the Doctor was, having empathy enough to know that he would probably feel the same way if he himself had been the father of the bride . . .and now that he thought about it, if he and Christine had a daughter, that was exactly what he would be one day. For the time being, however, his duty was to help Jim help their high-strung friend make it through his daughter's wedding.

* * *

It was Uhura who noted the time while waiting with Christine and Joanna. (The Doctor would not join his daughter until everyone was at the Chapel.) "We'd better go now, people," the Bantu woman told the bride and Maid of Honor.

Christine stood up from where she had been sitting next to Joanna on the latter's bed. "Time to go, Joanna." The latter didn't move. "Joanna, are you all right?" she asked, concerned.

"Huh? What? Oh, sorry, Christine. Yes, I'm ready." She rose slowly, almost reluctantly, and the two older women followed the white lace-and-silk-clad bride to the door, the latter swishing closed behind them as they exited.

* * *

At 0700, it was early enough that most people were either asleep or getting ready for work and thus not too many would notice the unusual spectacle of a young woman in a white lace wedding dress and veil, accompanied by two older women in pale blue lace, empire-waisted, long-sleeved and floor-length dresses. The Captain met them at the door, along with Spock and McCoy. They made sure that Michael would not see his bride until the proper time, since it was supposed to be bad luck for the bridal couple to see each other before the wedding on the wedding day. But for the Doctor and his daughter, all they saw was each other. His nervousness seemed to drop from him like a discarded shirt with his first sight of her. "Baby, you're beautiful."

Joanna smiled through misty eyes. "Thank you, Daddy. You look very handsome, too."

"Are you ready?" he asked her, offering his arm.

"As ready as I'll ever be," she returned, taking it.

"We'd better take our places, then, Spock," Kirk suggested. With that, they headed back up the aisle. Christine and Uhura took their places in front of Joanna and McCoy, then waited for the Wedding March to begin.

* * *

Within five minutes, the strains of the traditional music (taped) began, playing on a pre-programmed tape deck. Christine went first, then Uhura; waiting at the altar with Kirk and Michael, the Vulcan took in everything, telling himself it was the "logical thing to do", so he would have at least some idea what to expect during his shipboard, Terran wedding with Christine. When Joanna appeared on her father's arm, her face radiant and her slender, well-proportioned body outlined by the fitted bodice and waistline of the off-white wedding gown, Spock preferred to think that that was how Christine might look coming down the aisle at their wedding, with the Doctor once again escorting a bride down the aisle, this time acting as a surrogate father . . .but it wouldn't surprise him if McCoy acted just as nervous then as he had with his real daughter.

A short time later, Christine took her place on the left, then Uhura moved up to stand behind her. She looked at her future husband out of the corner of her eye and mentally communicated with him.

We'll be having our own wedding, just like this, very soon, my love, she reminded him. I can hardly wait.

Will it be "just like" this one? he couldn't help asking.

If you want it to be, she told him.

I want it to be all you have always dreamed of, he declared.

It will be, she assured him. I'll be marrying you.

He couldn't help a tinge of green in his cheeks, deciding to make her blush, too--but for the nicest of reasons. I am sure that you will look even more beautiful on our wedding day, he asserted.

Thank you, my love. I hope I will, too. Her reaction was all he could have expected; she blushed attractively, then they turned to face Kirk.

A minute later, McCoy and Joanna reached them; after relinquishing her to Michael, the Doctor took his place beside his almost-son-in-law.

"Everybody ready?" Kirk asked; everyone smiled and nodded. With that, the ceremony began.

* * *

To everyone's delight and surprise, the wedding went off without a hitch. McCoy was able to get Joanna's wedding ring off his pinky at the proper time to hand it to Michael, then Christine got the plain gold band off her middle right finger for Joanna to give her new husband. Kirk talked them through the traditional vows, rings were exchanged, then he smiled and said, "Michael, you may kiss your bride."

Michael Davidson smiled at his new wife and raised her veil, folding it back before taking her into his arms for a tender, lingering kiss. When they reluctantly separated roughly a minute later, the couple linked arms and stood facing the small company, wearing broad smiles and their cheeks glowing.

"My friends, I give you Mr. and Mrs. Michael Davidson!" Kirk called out grandly. A moment later, there was boisterous applause, even a standing ovation. Once the applause had died down, McCoy moved to embrace and kiss his daughter, as was his right.

"God bless you, baby. Every happiness to you and Michael."

"Thank you, Daddy," she whispered, more tears of happiness sliding down her cheeks.

The Doctor reached up to brush them away and kiss his daughter's wet cheeks, giving her a tender smile before moving away to allow the others to congratulate the newlyweds. This time, he moved to embrace his new son-in-law. "Congratulations, Michael. Y'all make sure to take real good care of my baby girl now."

"You may be certain of it, sir," was the misty-eyed reply as Michael returned his new father-in-law's embrace.

Kirk was the next to claim an embrace and kiss from the new bride. "You looked lovely, Joanna. All the best to you and Michael, always."

"Thank you, Captain," she replied, misty-eyed but not crying. Just as he was about to leave, she put out a hand to stop him.

Kirk turned back toward her.

"Take care of Daddy," she whispered. "I don't want anything to happen to him. Other than Michael, he's all I've got left."

"Don't worry, Joanna. He's in good hands. Spock, Christine and I will take good care of him."

This time, she only smiled at him, then Christine and Spock moved up to congratulate her. The older woman warmly kissed and hugged the younger, her own eyes as misty as those of the bride. "May you and Michael have a long and happy life together," she whispered in Joanna's ear.

"You and Mr. Spock, too," Joanna whispered back. "And thank you for attending me."

"I'm sure we will," Christine assured her. "And I was glad to help."

Spock did not hug her, but did salute her. "May you have peace, happiness and long life together with your new husband." Since only Christine was looking, he surprised both her and Joanna by leaning down to kiss her on the cheek.

Joanna was too stunned to speak for a moment, then blushed. "Thank you, Mr. Spock."

The Vulcan nodded in acknowledgment with a half-smile. "Live long and prosper."

Finally, Uhura gave her own hug and kiss to the newly-married daughter of the Enterprise's Chief Surgeon, whispering her own wish for the newlyweds to have a long and happy marriage with as many children as God chose to bless them with. "Thank you for all your help," Joanna replied.

"My pleasure," Uhura acknowledged before releasing the younger woman and allowing her to join her new husband; she herself went to join her shipmates and friends. Most of the guests had gone, but those who wanted to see (or meet) the newlyweds remained behind with the wedding party, Scotty among them. They were all gathered around McCoy, watching the new husband and wife head for the door.

When Christine least expected it, she heard Joanna's voice call out from the door, "Christine, catch!"

The next thing she knew, the bouquet of roses and magnolias landed exactly where Joanna had aimed it-squarely in the arms of the woman who was the next to be married, then Michael took the garter off Joanna's leg and threw it straight at the Doctor. All laughed and applauded, except, of course, for Spock, though the Vulcan did allow himself a smile. Once the newlyweds had departed and both Christine and McCoy had recovered from the shock, she looked up at Spock. "You know what this means, don't you, Spock?"

He raised an eyebrow at her and shook his head.

"You mean none of us told you? How careless. Well, I'm telling you now. This means that we'll definitely be married. That's the idea behind the Human tradition of throwing the bridal bouquet."

"We are going to marry, regardless of whether or not you caught the bouquet," the Vulcan coolly informed his bondmate.

Kirk and the others had watched this exchange, chuckling inwardly the whole time. What Christine had said wasn't precisely true, but close enough. Now that Joanna's wedding was behind them, they could concentrate on the two for Spock and Christine...that is, after they once again assured their ever-skeptical Chief Surgeon of something he should have known all too well--but because of their carelessness, he had managed to lose sight of: their deep and lasting feelings of friendship for him.

The Doctor continued to watch the door through which his daughter and her husband had disappeared a short time before, his eyes holding both sadness and happiness. "You all right, Bones?" Kirk asked, his voice laced with concern. Spock, Christine and Uhura followed him to where McCoy stood.

"What? Oh, Jim. Yeah. It's just that I'm going to miss Jo so much. I just get her back, and then had to give her away again."

"As you said earlier, don't think of it so much as losing a daughter as gaining a son . . .and grandchildren."

That thought brought a smile to the Doctor's lips--a sad smile, but a smile, nonetheless.

"One last thing: I don't want you to ever doubt the feelings that Spock and I have for you and Christine, ever again. You're far too important to us, both professionally and personally, for us to ever want to lose either of you." Kirk's obvious sincerity couldn't help but convince even the skeptical McCoy, but he did need to check with the First Officer for reassurance.

"Does that go for you, too, Spock?" the Doctor asked quietly.

"Indeed," Spock asserted with a half-smile before reaching to cross fingers with Christine.

"Okay, I believe you," McCoy admitted, this time with a real smile. "But if you ever find yourselves getting careless again, remember that I meant what I said about leaving the ship if Chris and I aren't treated as we deserve."

"We won't forget, Bones, be assured of that," the Captain assured him firmly, giving his friend a bear hug and laughing as he affectionately patted the Doctor on the back.

McCoy returned the bear hug and affectionate pats. "Is everybody ready to get back to the ship now?" he inquired after releasing Kirk. "First one who isn't gets a complete . . .and I do mean complete. . .physical!"

"I am all too ready, Doctor," the Vulcan stated with conviction.

"I'm ready, too, Bones, I assure you," Kirk declared.

"So am I," Christine asserted.

"Me too," Uhura contended.

"Then let's get back to the ship," the Chief Surgeon announced to everyone. "After all, we've got better things to do than stand around here jawing!" With that, he led the way out of the Chapel and down the wide corridor, the five friends and shipmates linking arms once in the corridor again as they headed for the turbolift which would take them back to the Starbase Transporter Room and then the Enterprise herself to resume their regular (but nevermore mundane) duties.