DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of M. L. "Steve" Barnes and is copyright (c) 1979 by M. L. "Steve" Barnes. This story is Rated PG-13.

The Price of a Handful of Snowflakes

M. L. "Steve" Barnes

Spock had once said we all make our own purgatories, and I find that once again his sensibilities have served him truly. For I live in one of my own making and the bitterness of it will last me all my days.

Perhaps the answer for what I did lies somewhere in my past. At least I think often of my earlier years now and puzzle over what I might have been had it been different.

I was a big girl, awkward for my age. Tall and thin with a tendency to stoop. Perhaps that is why I found such peace in being with my father. He was so unaware of my lack of graces; he accepted me for what I was. Then all that was changed by his accident.

I can remember the day as if it were happening again this minute. I have relived it a thousand times. I was working in the lab next to his, a summer job to while away the time between years of nurse's training. They came to get me, their faces pale, their eyes unable to meet mine. "An accident ... radiation burns ... horribly disfigured..." I left them at a dead run. I was there when they took him from the chamber where he had been working, alone and against orders. Always a determined man, he had attempted what they told him should not be tried alone; the transference of two volatile radioactive materials. Somehow his sure hands on the Waldo had not been as steady as before. Now he was less than human; a radioactive ash that needed only a whisper to carry him away.

I spent that summer with him, watching the slow return to reason. He would never leave his wheelchair in those few weeks left him and even speaking was an effort for him. It is a terrible thing to see someone you love reduced to their lowest functions, dependent on a nurse for every need. But he was a strong minded man. Even after the accident, he never let me know when he was in pain. I sensed it sometimes, though, and those days left a shadow on my life that I have never been able to shake.

My brother was the same kind of man--quiet, undemonstrative, strong and silent. When he was lost on the first flight to Antares, I knew such grief as only one twin can know for another. And Roger...

Why is it that I have no luck in the men I choose to love? Before Spock, Roger was the one man I found I could love. Once, after he died, I heard one of the crewmen make a joke at my expense... "Poor Nurse Chapel. She seems to fall in love only with 'mechanical men'." The reference to Roger and Spock was obvious. The pain of that remark stayed with me for days.

And now, Spock. He has been called "totally unhuman", a "computer" and other forms of that unflattering genre. But I, more than anyone, know what lies beneath that cool surface. I have made it a point to study him in moments when he is unaware, times when he is under stress. The "human" qualities are there, they are simply buried deeply. Anxiety, love, compassion, most of all, compassion. I wonder if I have returned it in kind.

He sits across the room now, that still face frozen perhaps forever in its stillest mask of all. Once or twice lately I have been aware of something--a look, a depth to those eyes. It has its antecedents in the eyes of an animal caught and held in a trap. He finds my purgatory as unsatisfactory as I. Moreso, in that he had nothing to do with its choosing.

I can no longer determine when the idea first began to grow in my mind. Surely it was not back at the very beginning when the grasp of Gorgon's Planet held us in its grip. I'm sure it wasn't then. I was too terrified to think of anything except that fierce force field with its taint of insanity. Soon we were too busy in sickbay to think of anything but work. One by one, crew members came down with it--delusions, hallucinations, raging madness. And we were yet some distance from the source. What would it be like on the planet's surface, where one came face to face with the Gorgon?

But someone had to go. Personal combat seemed the only way to satisfy the thing. I was there when he made the choice for us.

The usual request--"Captain, I am the logical one to go. Vulcans have more control over their nervous systems." And the usual denial--"I'm still the Captain, Spock. You'll remain here. If anyone's to face that thing, it will be me." Quick hand reaching to that apex of neck and shoulder. The Captain's look of disbelief. Then he was at the transporter console, hands rapidly making adjustments. Then he was on the platform and gone.

Where he found the courage to face what he discovered on that somber plain, I'll never know. It is said that Vulcans can never know the emotion of love. It is not for me to say. All I know is that it was something more than duty that sent him out to meet madness in the dark.

Will I ever forget how they brought him back? Full of victory, the Gorgon defeated, but it no longer seemed to matter. Still and lifeless, limp and pale. Not a sign of response to our instruments. Then faintly, a heartbeat, and shallow rapid respiration. He was nearly gone.

I learned the true meaning of fear that night. I was with them through all those long hours, watching while the doctor tried in vain to improve his condition. A dozen times I saw him check for neural response. There were none. It was as if he had died, all of him, that marvelous brain along with that powerful body.

At last McCoy gave it up with a shake of his head. He called the Captain and gave the order committing Spock to Cestus Two, that reset and rehabilitation center for space fatigued crewmen.

I can remember the angry words Kirk and McCoy had over his still form. The Captain was so upset. I thought he would strike the Doctor in his rage.

"Don't stand there and tell me there is nothing you can do for him, Bones! DON'T TELL ME THAT!" The veins stood out in his neck, his eyes blazed.

"I'm a doctor, Jim, not a miracle worker," McCoy pleaded. "His nervous system has been short-circuited, an overload, so to speak. I find evidence of aphasia, agraphia, organic paralysis. It's as if a right-handed person had suffered a massive stroke in the left cerebrum. I don't even know if his brain is functioning on anything but a primitive survival basis. There might be enough there to retrain him but he's locked that portion deep in his subconscious. To escape the pain and insanity, he's gone down into catatonia. When a Vulcan retreats this far, God alone knows what it takes to reach them. I don't. No medical man does. Face it, Jim. He's through."

Maybe that is when I made up my mind. What was left of him no Star Fleet ship would want. Not even his captain could find a place for what he had become. But I still wanted him. For what was left of his life, I meant to keep as mine.

As McCoy started to leave, I caught him at the door.

"I'm going to Cestus Two with him. I'll resign from the service, do whatever it takes. But I'm going."

"Do you know what you're letting yourself in for? He's little more than a vegetable. I know you love him, but I can't let you do it."

"There's no way you can stop me."

Through all the countless hours while he was in a coma, I was by his side. No longer did I care if he knew I held his hand or not. I was willing him to live. And gradually, I felt some response. Weak at first and hardly credible, but there. A slight pressure on my hand, once the flicker of an eyelid. I knew what he was doing; he was trying to communicate, to tell them he was aware, that McCoy was wrong and his brain was functioning. But the effort cost him dearly--he lapsed back into unconsciousness and did not move again until they were preparing to convey us to the clinic on Cestus.

His eyes were open but unseeing. That blank stare was more horrible than I want to remember. It was as if someone had removed Earth's moon from the night sky. Its absence could have been no more shocking than that blank gaze.

I was close at hand, watching him intently, as McCoy prepared him to be transported. I was the only one who knew his consciousness still functioned. I did not want the others to realize it also.

He rallied then, one last time. His eyes grew intense, his face worked with the effort.

"Christine..." he said. I shall never know if it was entreaty or accusation. But no matter--McCoy had left the room. It took but a brief second to inject him. The sedation took effect almost immediately.

The quickly administered shot made him mine. It was as simple as that. They would never know how under the useless body his brain was still alive, that he was conscious of what went on around him. That, in fact, he knew beyond a doubt what went on around him. How desperate he must have felt, knowing I was the only one who could save him and how little it suddenly mattered to me.

My hand had not even hesitated. My father's last few weeks would come back to torture me, but I would have this man, for all the high price. If I could not have him as he had been--and his actions had so often told me this--I would have him on my own terms, a prisoner, unable to speak or move or even indicate his captivity. But he would be mine, like some prize specimen in a collection, kept in suspended animation for the viewer's entertainment. He could not tell, and I would not. And we would spend all those countless years left to us, side by side.

I know now that was the turning point. All my rationalizing does not excuse what I did. From that time on we were committed--he as well as I.

I almost broke down and revealed the truth when the Captain came to say good-bye. There was such agony on his face. He reached out to touch his old friend's shoulder but did not. I think he knew the pain would be more than he could bear. He turned and almost stumbled from the room.

McCoy had preserved his professional calm, but even he was torn by Kirk's reaction. He looked down into that still face one last time and allowed his regret to show.

"Good-bye, Spock." Then he too was gone.

And so the days have gone. For me they have been, if not happy, content. We were alone at last. What I had schemed for had really happened. And I believed then that I had found what life had always denied me. It is strange how we delude ourselves.

There has been some improvement in his condition which I have been careful to disguise when the doctors here make their rounds. I think he is fully aware almost all the time now. His eyes have lost that vacant look. But I cannot bear to look at them. What I see there will surely drive me as mad as the Gorgon could.

He lacks for nothing. Every waking second I am by his side. Tender care and loving have been what I can give and I have done so, in abundance. At last I have someone of my own--to love and care for, to do the little things one likes to do for a cherished one. But I am overcompensating because I know to him it will never be enough.

I am reminded of a time when I was a very small child. I was walking with my father in the woods. It was dark and still and it had begun to snow. Everything had a muffled, cloaked quality about it. Filtered light slipped through the trees to softly light the way. The first few flakes came down slowly, drifting lazily around in circles. Then, faster and faster, until the world was cold and white about us. I was entranced by the fairy crystals and tried to catch a few on my tongue. Frustrated by this, I held out my hand. Like soft birds, a handful came to nuzzle at my palm. They suddenly burned with an icy coldness that made my hand sting and brought tears to my eyes. When I opened up the fist I had made, there was nothing left to see but a few drops of water.

And so, in holding him, I may find again that I have nothing.

A man once wrote of the beauty of total commitment. But it can be evil, too, and the dream can turn ugly. Nightmare shapes can come to haunt your sleep and drive you to wakefulness in the chilly dawn of reality.

And so at last, driven by the demons I have tried to kill inside me, I did the thing I knew I must, the one thing that may finally break through the last barriers of his mind and set him free. I have contacted the Vulcan healer T'Fava. She will be here tomorrow. If anyone can reach the dark well to which he has retreated, it is she. I have told him what I have done and I know unmistakably there was a gleam of gratitude in those dark eyes. I will consider the consequences of my act in the loneliness of my bed tonight, and when I wake my pillow will be wet. But I cannot betray him further. For what he has become to me through all the years he deserves another chance. A chance to walk again and speak, and hone the fine blade of his logical mind. It will not happen overnight, nor will it be easy. But I have seen the fire of determination those shadowed eyes can hold and I know he will succeed.

...The pleasure is fleeting, the pain lasts long. For whatever satisfaction I may find in serving him, I will be grateful. It may be a transitory thing and his contempt, even dislike, may round on me to drive me away from him. But I do not think so ... Vulcans feel their obligations strongly. When he is himself again, he will owe me. For despite all I have tried to do to him, the one fact remains; without my intervention there would be no T'Fava. And he would be locked forever within the prison of his mind. It will be up to me to decide in what coin his debt is paid--and I have gone beyond pride now. No matter how bitter the price to him, he will never let me know it and I shall accept it, hugging it to me like a miser with his hoard.

I should be apprehensive, but I'm not. My heart has finally found its rest. I know that while he needs me, I will be at his side. For now, that is enough. For what lies ahead in my future only tomorrow will give me my answer--and tomorrow is a light year away.