NOTE: This story is rated NC-R and contains some graphic sexual content. If you are under the age of 18, back out of here right now. Otherwise, please note that the Star Trek characters are copyright by Paramount Studios. The rest of the story is copyright (c) 1999 by T'Eros and may not be reproduced in any form without express written consent of the author. A single copy may be downloaded for personal enjoyment of the reader. Respect the rights of authors and artists!


ADJUSTMENTS

T'Eros

As Christine felt the ship transition past the speed of light into warp space, a tear slipped down her cheek and was hastily wiped away. She didn't know if it was sadness or relief that generated the tight knot inside her, but even the baby seemed to feel it, for it gave a sharp nudge against her ribs. She honestly didn't know if she was running away from something or to it. She had been so confused these past six months, so out of her element, that it had taken her a very long time to sort out what she needed to do and how to do it. Inside her, the baby moved again, obviously not liking the ship's inertial dampening and artificial gravity fields.

Fondly, Christine looked down at her burgeoning stomach and rubbed her palm slowly over the bulge. *It's all right now, little one*, she thought to the child inside her. *We're away from there now and will be home in four days. My home. Our home.*

Not *his* home, though. *Their* home. Those adjectives didn't fit. *She* didn't fit. Not there, anyway. She'd tried so very hard but she was a square peg in a round hole there and, without him by her side to guide her, she had found that no amount of hammering would make her fit into that round hole.

Christine peered out the transparisteel window of the observation lounge and watched the stars streak past like rainbow-hued fireflies. She simply hadn't been able to stand it any longer on Vulcan. No one knew she'd gone except Amanda and only she would have understood her reasons in any case. Christine had just not been able to live in the stifling atmosphere of that world any longer.

Not just stifling in a physical sense, although lord knew that the heat and thin air and heavier gravity had been enough to confine her to a temperature controlled room, using an oxygen mask to supplement the demand her lungs made of her as the baby inside increased in size and weight. The people stifled her, too. She had not anticipated how absolutely maddening it would be to surround herself night and day with unemotional, logic-spouting, tradition-bound automatons. And the family stifled her by coddling her and hardly ever allowing her out of their sight, lest she need something or harm herself accidentally. And all because she carried within her Spock's daughter, a clan daughter, blessed and acknowledged by T'Pau before she was ever born. Without Amanda's help, she would never have made good her escape.

Christine wiped at another tear that threatened to fall. Things had changed too fast, yanking her life around almost 180 degrees from the way she'd been heading. It had started innocently enough, with Spock inviting her to join him for a week's R&R at the captain's mountain cabin. There, he had taken her by surprise by his confession of his need for her and they had spent the week making love in the most glorious circumstances she could imagine, finally forming a mating bond between them. She had melded with him heart and soul, joined herself with him physically and mentally, beginning to understand and know this complex man whom she had loved for so many years.

But at some point during that week, something else had happened, something they hadn't planned. Less than a month after they had returned to duty, Christine discovered that she was pregnant, despite the precautions they had taken. That's when her life began to spiral out of control. It had all happened so fast -- Kirk sending off her transfer orders for a ground assignment per Starfleet regulations; Spock taking her to Vulcan and persuading T'Pau to perform their bonding ceremony to link them together as husband and wife; the trip to Canopus for fetal genetic surgery to correct defects caused by the blending of Vulcan and human genes; then, when she was barely out of the operating room, Spock being forced to leave her as the Enterprise was abruptly called to duty along the Klingon border.

Amanda had stayed with her and brought her home to Vulcan. Amanda's home, that is, for Christine no longer had one of her own. Ten days later, all of her things from the Enterprise arrived, Spock having packed and shipped them back from Starbase 12 before they headed out to the frontier. He kept in touch via subspace message pacts as much as he could and, of course, she was always aware of him through their mental bond, but it wasn't like having him with her. She had been used to seeing him nearly every day on board ship and, in the final weeks, she had spent nearly every night in his arms, crowded onto the too-narrow bed in his cabin. She could close her eyes and vividly imagine the warmth of his body against hers, feel his breath stirring her hair, savor the indescribable ecstasy of lying beneath him and clutching him tightly as he brought them both to the exquisite explosion of orgasm. The taste of his mouth on hers, the clean masculine scent of his skin, the slight roughness of his cheek pressed against hers as he held her...

Now it all seemed to be lost ... Spock, her career, even control over her life. He wanted her to resign her commission in Starfleet and do medical research there on Vulcan, residing at his hereditary estate in the countryside, Keldeen. Meanwhile, he would finish his tour and, once it was over, retire from Starfleet, joining her at his home.

She couldn't bring herself to say "yes". Keldeen was beautiful, but it felt wrong for her. She couldn't live there without Spock, a stranger among people she didn't know and customs she didn't fathom. Nor did she feel comfortable living with his parents in ShiKahr awaiting the baby. She was a guest in another's home and that was almost as awkward as the other option.

And finally she felt a nervousness and restless irritation that took her a while to identify. And then she knew what it was -- she missed her work. One day she'd been a working nurse aboard a starship; the next she'd been yanked away without even time to properly say goodbye. Once she had recovered from the surgery, she was more than ready to go back to work ... but there wasn't any work to go to. Her job on the Enterprise didn't exist for her anymore. She could accept Starfleet's transfer once it came through, but who knew where that would take her? And with childbirth growing steadily closer day by day, she felt certain that staying in the Service was unlikely as well.

And, when she really thought about it, she wasn't sure she wanted to go back to the nursing grind at all. What she wanted to do was medical research, as she'd been trained to do. No, she suddenly realized, what she really wanted to do was become a doctor. A medical doctor, not just a Ph.D., which she already held. Hands-on medicine, healing people. Doing what Dr. McCoy and Dr. M'Benga and the other doctors on staff had done.

As if a window had opened in the dark room in which she'd been imprisoned, Christine saw the way out. Yes, she loved Spock with all her heart and could not imagine a life without the child she carried within her ... *his* child. But she hadn't given her *self* away when she joined with him in marriage. She was still a vital, intelligent woman with a lively curiosity and a burning hunger for knowledge. And being T'Sai Christine aduna'Spock -- she still hadn't decided exactly what her proper title was -- did not change that.

Underneath it all, she was Christine Chapel, Ph.D., R.N., M.D.-to-be.

The passenger liner Stellar Princess was taking her home to Earth, home to Ohio, where she planned to await the birth of her daughter and then enter medical school in the fall. Spock would be away for at least a year and a half in deep space. He would simply have to understand that, in order to stay sane, this was something she had to do.

And if he didn't understand ... well, she'd cross that bridge when she came to it.

* * *

Spock had gone to bed but was not yet asleep when the intercom whistled a bosun's call for his attention. He very nearly groaned in response. It had been a very long, very hard day and he was exhausted. With a sigh, he turned over onto his side and reached to punch the speaker button on his bedside console. "Spock here," he answered.

"I'm sorry to disturb you, Mr. Spock," came the third watch communication officer's voice. "But I have a subspace call for you from Vulcan, coded personal and confidential."

"Pipe it to my cabin," he instructed, coming instantly awake.

"Aye, sir."

Spock switched off the intercom and threw back the blanket, rolling into a sitting position on the side of his bed. He was clad in regulation black t-shirt and shorts, the way he'd slept since his Academy days, and decided not to dress. The desk viewer wouldn't show anything from the waist down and, subconsciously, he wanted the caller to see that they'd gotten him out of bed to answer this call and that he was not happy about it.

Absently combing his fingers through his rumpled hair to smooth it into place, he went to his desk and sat down, switching the viewscreen on as he did so. After a couple of seconds, the picture cleared and he was startled to find himself staring at the face of Amanda Grayson.

"Mother!" he exclaimed in surprise. "Has something happened? What's wrong?"

"Why do you think there's anything wrong?" she answered.

He lifted one eyebrow. "It would be illogical to assume that you have made a subspace call simply to chat. You can do that in your letters and for much less expense."

"So I can," she replied and her face settled into a calm, nearly emotionless mask. Spock knew that look -- it meant she had something unpleasant to say and/or was irritated by something. Amanda came right out with it. "I called to let you know that your wife has left you."

Both dark brows shot up at that and Spock found himself momentarily speechless. "What do you mean?" he finally got out.

"I mean that Christine has had it to the screaming point with Vulcan and has removed herself to Earth."

"But ... why would she do such a thing?" he replied, stunned almost to the point of stammering. "With the baby's birth so near--"

"Because she has an urgent need to be with her loved ones when she gives birth for one thing," Amanda responded, peering hard at him over the parsecs of empty space. "And because she feels useless and out of control for another."

"I see no reason for her to feel such things," he argued. "She has our family to support her. And the other is merely an emotional over-reaction."

Amanda closed her eyes in exasperation and shook her head. "Deliver me from men ... and Vulcan men in particular ... when a woman's emotions are concerned." She gazed back at her son. "You are even more thick-headed and thoughtless than your father can be at times! Spock, when a woman is expecting a child, her hormones and by extension her emotions are in a state of chaos most of the time. She feels helpless, elated, frightened, irritated, confused -- you name the emotion and she has it. Usually in quick succession and very intensely."

Spock looked uncomfortable. "I have felt these things through our mindbond, but I dismissed them as merely symptoms of Christine's adjustment to her new life."

"Perhaps Christine could have more easily adjusted if she'd had the time to do so. But just think what she's been through over the last six months, Spock! It's a wonder she hasn't run away in hysterics before now!"

"But it is illogical for her to feel this way."

"Of course it's illogical," Amanda answered firmly. "Human women aren't logical. You know that -- or you should by now! Christine is a vital, extremely intelligent woman who's used to making her own decisions and living her own life. Suddenly she's yanked out of that and tossed into a world she knows little about and is expected to function. Add the anxiety of a new baby and a new marriage and an absent husband to all that, and you get an explosive mixture!"

"But what can I do, Mother?" Spock answered somewhat helplessly. "I am unable to be with her and I attempted to provide for her and the baby the best I could. I had assumed that being with you would help her cope with these things."

"And they did help, Spock," Amanda responded, her expression softening. "But ultimately what Christine needed wasn't here. She needs to be in the arms of *her* family and her familiar surroundings to give birth. That will make her feel safer and more relaxed. And she needs *you*, Spock. I know you're on deep space assignment and can't come and go as you please, but do everything possible to be with her when the baby is born. It will be the most meaningful thing the two of you will ever share together."

"I had planned on taking leave in order to be there," he answered.

"Do so. She will appreciate it more than you can possibly imagine. Meanwhile, stop being such a Vulcan and be a husband to her." Amanda gave him a piercing, knowing look. "I saw some of your communications to her. Keeping her up on ship's business is all very well, son, but have you told her that you love her and miss her? That you're excited about the baby? Have you two discussed any names yet?" She leaned closer to the screen and pinned him with a stern glare. "Have you made her feel desirable and beautiful and that you want her? Have you sent her a letter that is nothing but sex talk?"

Spock's expression was registering absolute shock that his refined, conservative mother would say such things. "Mother!" he finally managed to get out, then caught himself. "Such things are ... are ... deeply personal--"

"I know. But I'm an old woman, Spock, and old women can speak bluntly to their bone-headed sons when it's necessary! Even when those bone-headed sons are Vulcans who think it's illogical to tell their wives they've got the hot sweats just thinking about them."

"Mother, Vulcan's don't sweat. You know that."

"Oh, for the love of ... Spock, I was being figurative. You just do what I say or you really *will* lose Christine. Now, I can see that you're ready for bed, so I will sign off here. Sweet dreams, darling. Better yet ... erotic dreams! And let Christine know about it! Good night, Spock."

"Good night, Mother," Spock answered numbly and reached to switch off the viewscreen, then sat back in his chair to think. He was still reeling from the abrupt news of Christine's departure from Vulcan and was doubly confused that he had neither anticipated it nor been consulted about it by his wife. Of course, he would have attempted to dissuade her from such an illogical move but, as his mother had pointed out, human women weren't logical. They tended to act on pure emotion. He had already discovered that in the few months since his relationship with Christine had taken a turn to the serious.

And what Amanda had alluded to regarding his physical relationship with his wife had set off reactions that he had successfully kept suppressed since his departure. Now, as he thought about Christine, his body responded with elevated temperature and blood pressure. The image of his mate's beautiful blue eyes sprang to mind and then his mental picture of her slid down her torso, over her full breasts, across her stomach, to the alluring recesses between her thighs. Just thinking of her now made an ache begin to develop in his groin and it increased steadily until it had centered itself in the hard, steady throb at the base of his abdomen.

Getting up, he want back to his bed, but rather than sliding underneath the covers, he settled cross-legged on the mattress. Closing his eyes and steepling his fingers before his face, he sank into a state of deep meditation and turned his thoughts outward, searching through the mindbond for the whereabouts of his wife.

His mind found hers easily and, although he could tell from her thoughts that she was on board a ship, he did not know her exact location. Bound for Earth, but that was all he could feel. It was necessary to attempt something he'd never tried before -- direct communication without being in physical contact. Vulcans were touch telepaths although they could project feelings and emotions directly on occasion. He's never heard of it being done over this distance.

Setting himself, Spock reached out and opened his mind to his bondmate.

* * *

*Christine!*

Christine jerked in surprise and the baby gave a reflexive leap inside her. She raised herself on her elbows and looked around her cabin. She'd heard Spock's voice call her name but a second later realized it must have been a dream. Of course it wasn't Spock. He was half a galaxy away and she was alone in her bed.

As she lay back against her pillow, it happened again.

*Christine!*

This time she was wide awake and knew she'd definitely heard him inside her head. "Spock," she answered, both aloud and in her mind, smiling with love in her voice.

*Where are you? What ship?*

*Stellar Princess*, she thought automatically before she could stop herself. And then abruptly she realized that his presence was gone from within her. Their bond was still there, but the sense of his *being* there had left her.

Sadly, she closed her eyes, her emotions warring over the fact that he had found her. She had planned on calling him once she reached Earth, but she'd been so careful not to alert him beforehand. She couldn't have withstood his attempts to make her stay on Vulcan.

She was just drifting off when her cabin comm unit chimed softly. "Incoming message," the pleasant computer voice announced. With a sinking feeling, she knew who was contacting her and she sat up on the side of the bed, her pregnancy making it a graceless movement. She punched the "accept" button and the screen cleared to show Spock.

She could tell from the background that he was in his bedroom, sitting on his bed and facing the viewer on his dresser console. He was not in uniform, but wore a black t-shirt that clung to his lean, sculptured body and showed every curve of sinew and muscle. It had never failed to set her heart pounding a little harder, but now she only said meekly, "Hello, Spock."

He raised an appraising eyebrow. "Hello, indeed. It appears that 'goodbye' would be a more appropriate greeting. Why are you doing this, Christine?"

"How did you find out?" she asked.

"My mother informed me," he replied. "I immediately searched our bond for you. I could not maintain direct telepathic communications for more than a few seconds, however, thus this call." His expression softened a bit and there was something like hurt hovering behind his eyes. "Christine, there was no need to leave so clandestinely. Why did you not tell me you were so unhappy on Vulcan? I *am* capable of understanding your needs and wishes."

She hung her head and felt tears well up and begin to spill over her lashes. "I didn't know how to tell you," she answered. "I just don't belong there. I'm a stranger there and, with you away... Well, I feel ... feel like I've ... lost you, Spock. I feel like I've lost *everything*. I feel like a widow before I've ever been a wife! I just knew that I had to go back home before I went crazy."

"I had hoped that you would find Vulcan a pleasant place to live and that we could make our home there," he responded, his voice softer.

"Maybe we can," she answered. "Later. But not now. Now I have to be with my own kind." It was not a tactful thing to say and she regretted it immediately. "Oh, Spock, I'm sorry. I just miss you so much."

Through their bondlink, she felt a stirring, a warmth in her mind. On the screen, he was gazing at her with intensity. "I have missed you as well, t'hy'la. I did not realize how much I had grown used to your presence next to me at night. Now my bed seems very cold and empty."

She smiled at him through her tears. "But at least you don't have to fight for bed space now."

"A poor exchange. No matter how crowded, it was pleasant to lie with you so close to me. At night, I think of you and how it felt to touch your body." His voice had lowered to a deep murmur and through their mindlink she could feel the growing arousal he was experiencing. "I remember how soft your skin is and how hot it feels in places. I love to touch you there, t'hy'la. Do you remember as well?"

Her heart was pounding. "Oh, yes, Spock," she answered breathlessly.

"I have a great desire within me to stimulate you this way," he whispered. "To stroke you until you are intensely aroused and then to lie atop you and experience sexual joining with you."

Suddenly she steeled herself and pulled mentally away. "It doesn't do any good to try and seduce me, Spock," she said with dismal resolution. "I've made up my mind about this. I've got to go home and start over. Find myself again. I won't ever know peace until I've sorted this thing out."

"As your husband, I could order you to return to Vulcan," he pointed out solemnly.

"And I would be duty bound to obey," she answered. "If I *chose* to obey. I could divorce you, you know."

"You are married to me under Vulcan law, Christine. Divorce is extremely difficult and you would have to explain it to T'Pau. Considering the effort it took to convince her that we should bond, are you truly that anxious to go before her again?"

She gazed at him in silence for a moment, tears shimmering in her eyes, trying to get her voice steady. "I won't go back to Vulcan, Spock. At least not until I've had the chance to think things over and decide for myself what I want to do with my life."

He was silent, too, gazing down at the floor for a while. Then, when he lifted his head, she was surprised to see how strained he looked, how tired. "What can I do, Christine?" he whispered hoarsely. "I cannot physically retrieve you and take you bodily back to Vulcan. Nor would I, even if I could. I want you to be happy in our marriage, but not at the cost of forcing you to reside where you are miserable." He sighed. "If your wish is to live on Earth and raise our daughter there, so be it. I only ask that you allow me to visit her when I am in the vicinity."

She looked startled. "What do you mean allow you to visit her? You'll be there, won't you?"

Sadly, he shook his head. "No. I shall remain in Starfleet and forego retirement. My plans had been to return and take up residence at Keldeen, using it as a base for research. I had hoped that you could continue your medical research from there as well. I see now that these plans were premature and naive. You cannot live on Vulcan any more than I can live on Earth." He stared at her with a numb and solemn expression. "More than anything I wanted us to form a family unit with our daughter and any other children we might have. I truly regret that this has proven impossible."

Tears were streaming down Christine's face now. She couldn't think of anything in answer and, when she did try to speak, her throat clogged and nothing intelligible would come out. Spock was still gazing at her from the viewscreen, a subtle shading of despair falling over his persona.

"Will you at least tell me your destination?" he asked quietly. "If possible, I would still like to be present for the baby's birth."

She choked on a sob. "I'm going to my sister's house in Prentiss, Ohio. I plan to have the baby at Ohio Valley Medical Center in Cincinnati."

He nodded and his shoulders slumped tiredly. "I shall do my best to be there."

"I would like that," she answered faintly.

He looked back up at her. "And then? What are your plans?"

"I've been accepted into their medical school, their MD program."

"That will be a difficult course with an infant," he commented.

"My sister has agreed to keep the baby while I'm in school."

"So ... you plan to raise her on Earth? Should she not be exposed to her Vulcan heritage as well?"

Christine took a deep breath. "She's three-quarters human. We won't know what Vulcan characteristics she has until she gets older. We can talk about this later."

He nodded again despondently. "Very well. Please keep me posted of your health and any news that you feel I should know. Spock out."

As she saw his hand reaching for the off-switch, she said urgently, "Spock, wait!"

He paused and peered at her from the viewscreen, his face showing no emotion.

She faltered than said softly, "Spock, I *do* love you, but this is something I have to do. Please try to understand."

He didn't answer but merely gazed at her for a long moment, then cut the connection without another word.

* * *

After he had switched off the call, Spock leaned over and put his face into his hands and simply sat in silence for what seemed like a very long time. There were emotions racing through him that he had seldom encountered before and he was at a loss in how to deal with them. After a while, he sighed deeply and stretched out once more on his bed, dragging the blankets up over him and ordering the computer to turn out the lights.

It was impossible to sleep and so he merely lay in the darkness, feeling leaden and numb. How could he have been so wrong about this? he wondered. He had thought it through and made all the logical choices for them, chosen the correct routes, did everything in his power to make things *right*. He felt total responsibility for the baby, for he was, after all, her father. No matter that her conception had been an accident that had resulted from that less than 1% failure rate of current contraceptive methods. That was a moot point. The conception had occurred and after that it would have been illogical to deny his part in it. Once he had taken Christine to his bed and begun regular and intensive sexual relations with her, there was no doubt whatsoever that any pregnancy that resulted was the result of that relationship.

The thought of those times caused a fresh stab of pain to shoot through his heart and the accompanying, rebellious flare of arousal to shoot through his gut. Ruthlessly, he attempted to crush the emotions that made his manhood throb up tightly, but tired as he was, the images continued to flood through his mind ...

He thought about the first time they had made love, standing beneath flowing water in the cabin's shower, his hands splayed beneath her buttocks and supporting her weight, her legs wrapped around his hips, her arms around his neck as he pressed her against the cool tiles and thrust into her with a fervor he didn't know he possessed.

He thought of mind melding with her and taking her to fantastic destinations where he made love to her endlessly, and the glorious ecstacy of joining with her physically as he did so. He thought of what her body's heat felt like wrapped around the core of his masculinity and the delirious frenzy that overtook him on the knife-edge of orgasm.

And he thought of the sweet, quiet times when they simply lay in each other's arms, sometimes too weak to move after the shattering explosion of sensation, and sometimes just enjoying the coziness of cuddling together in companionship. When they murmured to each other in terms no other would understand, half endearments, half friendly talk. There was total openness and honesty between them at those times, their souls interwoven so tightly together that deception would have been unthinkable and impossible. It was at those times that he had let her inside his instinctive barriers, had let her touch and examine the emotions he kept so carefully confined the rest of the time. For she was his t'hy'la and she held his heart in her hands.

Spock closed his eyes against the darkness and felt a strange and unaccustomed sensation tickle his face. Reaching up, his fingertips encountered moisture there and he quickly dashed it away, furious that he had allowed himself so blatant a sign of emotionalism.

He turned over and buried his face in his pillow, angry now. At himself, at Christine, at the way things had suddenly slipped out of his control. And angry at the fact that he was angry. It was illogical! Because deep inside he knew that Christine was behaving in a logical manner by addressing her concerns and attempting to find focus. Did not others make the pilgrimage to the shrine on Mt. Seleya to find that focus within themselves? Had he not journeyed into the desert on occasion to meditate and fast and return peace to his soul?

Why did he think Christine should not have the right to do the same? Because she was human? Because she was his wife? Because she chose Earth, her home, as her destination of pilgrimage?

Or was it truly because she had not seen fit to consult him, to gain his approval before she did so? Because she had not behaved as a traditional Vulcan wife would, deferring to her husband and standing in subservience in his shadow?

Still lying on his stomach, the pillow bunched up beneath his face, Spock turned his head to one side and stared at the low ruddy glow of the firepot that smouldered on the shelf beside the bed. The ancestor figure it represented seemed to gaze back at him with disapproval.

*What must I do, My Father?* Spock found himself directing the thought toward the figure without consciously thinking about doing so. *Am I wrong about this? Or is she? I find that I do not have the wisdom to know my pathway in this.*

*You will know the way when it is laid out before you,* said a soft voice in his head, more an impression than actual verbalization. *Follow the way your heart leads you and you will know.*

*That is not logical,* he answered.

*The heart is not a logical organ, my son. Seek counsel from one who has trod this path before you. You will know the way. Sleep now...*

As if a hand had passed across his eyes, Spock felt his lids falling shut, powerless to stop them, and he knew nothing more until the computer chimed wake-up at 0600 the next morning.

* * *

Christine cried herself to sleep that night and, when she awoke in the morning, she cried some more. She didn't leave her cabin for two days, depressed, emotionally overwrought, and confused by what she should do. She ordered food through the cabin replicators ... and then only picked at her meals. She tried to distract herself by calling up the selection of holovids offered aboard the passenger liner, but always her mind wandered back to Spock and the way he had looked at her as he switched off his call. For a face so set into studied indifference, it was eloquent with the emotions roiling behind the mask. She had never seen such an expression of betrayal, hurt and accusation on any man's face, let alone on one she'd never expected to display it.

On the third morning, Christine awoke feeling strangely calm. Perhaps she had simply burned her way through the torment of the past few days and her soul was incapable of feeling more. But it went deeper than that, for she knew at the core of her being that she was doing the right thing for herself and the baby. She had tortured herself over what she thought she *ought* to be doing rather than what she knew she *must* do. Somehow, she had come to terms with that and felt some measure of peace within. It was still like a knife through her heart that she had been forced to hurt Spock so, but until she got her own life worked out, there was no way she could live with him in harmony and what she thought of as "domestic tranquility."

She rose from bed and spent an hour in the cabin's bathroom. The Stellar Princess offered the luxury of real bathtubs in its staterooms and Christine indulged herself with a good, long soak. She would have liked the water a good deal hotter than she made it, but knew that too hot would be harmful to the baby. Nevertheless, it relaxed her and the child seemed to enjoy it as well, for it bumped and moved with abandon inside its mother's womb. Christine lost herself in the wondrous feel of the tiny life within her, and smoothed bubbles and warm water across her abdomen, rubbing the curve of her body.

For a moment, tears welled back up as she suddenly wished Spock were here with her. She could almost feel the sensation of his big, broad hand resting atop her swollen abdomen, his dark eyes soft with amazement as his unborn child kicked against his palm. She allowed the tears to flow for a few moments, then regained control. She was *not* going to turn tail and go crawling back to Vulcan. He wouldn't be there anyway, so there was no point in going through the hell of returning.

After she had dried off and dressed, Christine made herself leave the sanctuary of her cabin and go up to the lounge. Somewhat to her astonishment, she found herself gazing at the gigantic blue-green body of a planet moving past the lounge viewports.

She stopped a steward. "Excuse me, but where are we now? What planet is that?"

"Neptune, ma'am," the man replied. "We are into the Solar system now and are currently traveling at sublight speed. We should reach Earth tomorrow approximately 1300, ship's time."

"Thank you," she answered and allowed him to go on his way. *Neptune*, she repeated to herself as she absently ate her breakfast. *Almost home now. Just a few more hours and I'll be home.*

Christine stayed in the lounge for a while longer, pondering on the fact that, although she had seen more worlds than she could remember, she had never seen the planets of her home system from space. Neptune slid behind them and dwindled to an aqua point of light in the vast blackness. Consulting the ship's information net, she learned that Uranus was not in an orbital position for viewing on this trip. Jupiter was also on the other side of the sun but Saturn would be visible later that evening. She made a note to see it.

The ship offered numerous recreational diversions and she spent the rest of the day wandering around the ship and investigating them. In her heavily pregnant state, the various sports did not interest her, but she took a refreshing swim in the pool and later enjoyed the dinner show at the cabaret restaurant.

She was back in the lounge in time to peer agog at the immense majesty of Saturn as they approached from behind its orbit. It was far away in its path but still too huge for comprehension, its ethereal rings casting a long shadow across its striated surface pattern of pinks, yellows and greens. Even from this distance it was possible to see that it wasn't a perfect sphere but more oblate, the speed of its rotation flattening its outline. Several of the moons were visible and, as the Stellar Princess passed the orbital trajectory, the full face of the gigantic planet moved into view and the rings turned their silvered, crystalline surface outward.

Christine found herself as speechless as the rest of the watchers in the lounge. The planet was too beautiful to adequately describe. Again, she wished Spock were beside her and again she felt tears sting her eyes. She turned away from the group and resolutely made her way back to her cabin.

Lying in the darkness, attempting to sleep, she instead found herself searching mentally to find him. She was not telepathic, but the kae'farr bond of their mating allowed her to feel his presence at all times, almost as if he were in the same room but standing where she could not see him. It had been disconcerting at first, then comforting as she grew used to the sense of his presence.

Now she realized that she couldn't feel him as clearly. He had blocked her out. Somehow that brought her more pain than their separation had done because it meant that he had turned his back on her, was rejecting her in turn. Foolishly, childishly, a part of her had hoped that he would still be there for her, no matter what she did, ever willing to resume their relationship eagerly.

The realization that she might have truly, completely lost him brought a vast surge of grief welling up within her and it burst from her in harsh, wracking sobs. The day's complacency shattered utterly and she mourned the loss of her beloved Spock as if she had felt his death, made even worse because it was her fault.

"Spock... Oh, Spock... What have I done?" she wailed, burying her face in her hands. "Oh, dear God, what have I done?"

* * *

It was two days after McCoy first noticed Spock's behavior that he finally became curious enough to ask him about it. There was nothing especially overt about the Vulcan's mannerisms that set off the doctor's internal alarms, but he had known Spock for too long not to notice something different about him.

When he really turned his attention to the first officer and observed him closely, he saw that Spock was going through his daily routines with all the animation of a robot. Totally expressionless, rigid as marble, lifeless, speaking only when spoken to and then mostly answering in monosyllables. He appeared faintly distracted, as if his mind were not completely focused on whatever he was doing at the time. Anyone else would have simply attributed these actions to Spock's being a Vulcan, but McCoy knew better. Thus, on the afternoon of the third day, the doctor summoned Spock to sick bay.

Spock dutifully appeared and stood peering down at McCoy, his hands clasped loosely behind his back and his eyes half-lidded. The doctor peered back for a moment then asked amiably, "Well, do you wanna talk about it?"

One eyebrow lifted, the most change of expression McCoy had seen. "I beg your pardon, Doctor?" Spock replied icily. "Talk about what?"

"Whatever's eating at you," the surgeon answered calmly.

"There is nothing 'eating' at me. If that question was the reason you called me here, I will be on my--"

McCoy stood up abruptly. "You've been like this for over two days, Spock. Something's wrong and it's affecting your behavior. Ship's records show that you haven't eaten in 63 hours and the bio monitors in your cabin indicate that you haven't slept for the last two nights. Now, are you going to talk to me willingly or do I have to make it a medical order?"

"This does not concern you, Dr. McCoy," the Vulcan responded in a glacial tone. "This is a personal matter."

Something clicked. "Is this about Christine and the baby?" the doctor speculated. "She must be due pretty soon now. Is it just that you're worried about her?"

McCoy saw a spark of emotion flash through Spock's eyes, then the mask settled back into place. But something was different now. Spock turned away and stood with his back to the medical officer. McCoy could see the visible tension bunching his shoulders.

Spock was silent for a long, long moment, then he asked in a soft, hesitant voice, "Dr. McCoy, may I speak with you professionally? In private?"

McCoy's own brow twitched upward in surprise but then he donned his mantle of complete professionalism and answered, "Of course, Spock. Come on back to my consulting room."

He turned and led the way to the small room away from the main examination area and allowed Spock to enter first, then the doctor followed and closed the door. Seating himself at his desk, he gestured to another chair but Spock remained standing, obviously ill at ease.

"Doctor," he said at last, "I find myself in the unusual position of seeking your advice."

"Oh? In what way, Mr. Spock?" Ordinarily, McCoy would have had an acid-tongued wise crack waiting, but he sensed that Spock was completely serious and he did not wish to interrupt him.

"Doctor ... you have been married, have you not?"

"I have, Mr. Spock. Not successfully, you might recall," McCoy answered. "I have been divorced for a number of years."

"Nevertheless... You are also a father."

"I am."

"And may I assume that you experienced the duration of your wife's pregnancy and the birth of your daughter?"

"Yes. In the early days, my wife and I were very happy. Joanna's birth was the best time we ever had." McCoy cocked his head slightly. "Somehow, I don't think this is just about Christine's pregnancy or your impending fatherhood. Is it?"

Spock didn't answer, but paced restlessly about the small room. "This is very difficult for me to put into words, Doctor. Tell me ... was your wife ... erratic during her pregnancy? Given to impulsive ... one might even say 'illogical' actions?"

"It's not unheard of for a pregnant woman to be that way, but, no, she was not." The doctor leaned forward. "Has Christine done something that has thrown you for a loop? Well, whatever it is, Spock, I'm sure it's not serious."

Spock stopped pacing and turned to stare piercingly at the other man. "I'm afraid it is very serious, Dr. McCoy," he said hoarsely. "She seems to have severed our marital relationship and has returned to Earth."

"I see." Truthfully, McCoy was rather stunned but didn't show it.

Spock resumed his agitated pacing. "You know Christine better than anyone on board. You worked closely with her on a daily basis. Would you say that she was given to behavior of this type?"

"Not normally, but -- for Pete's sake, Spock, sit down! You're giving me the pee-doodles! Now, I don't know too much about Vulcan marriages and I am certainly not privy to your relationship with Christine. But I do know this..." McCoy leaned forward and rested his forearms on his thighs. "No matter how stable or calm the woman, pregnancy can have a devastating effect on her emotions. As a Vulcan, you are not used to dealing with anything like that."

"I deal with emotional humans every day," Spock protested crossly.

"I'm not talking about dealing with humans every day. I'm talking about dealing with a human *wife.* Spock, step back a little and look at this in perspective. First, you yourself are emotionally upset-- No, don't interrupt me! You have been engaged in a rather intense relationship with Christine, one that you no doubt arrived at logically, but nevertheless involved a significant amount of emotional commitment on your part. Next was the unexpected pregnancy and then all that running around ... going to Vulcan to get married, followed immediately by Christine's surgery, and then our shipping out to new duty."

Spock hung his head and laced his fingers together in his lap, more to keep his hands from fidgeting than anything. McCoy continued, "Spock, you have been torn in so many directions that it's a wonder you haven't gone to pieces before now. You have a new bride that you were forced to leave after just a few days of marriage, you left her pregnant and have the burden of knowing that she'll give birth soon, you're way the hell out on the far side of space from her, and you have all your shipboard duties and responsibilities heaped on top of that!"

"I should be able to carry out my duties without interference from my personal life," Spock muttered.

"Well, 'should' and 'can' are two different things, Spock. Do you think you're the only person who's ever been in here with the same problem? Now, let me continue." McCoy shifted and went on, "Christine isn't having it any easier, I'm sure. Don't blame her. And let me tell you something, mister. I don't believe for a minute that she's walked out of her marriage. As you pointed out, I worked next to her for years and I can tell you that she has loved you since the beginning. Christine is not the kind of woman who would make a commitment and then turn her back on it."

"I wish I could agree with you," Spock answered, his comment directed at the floor.

"Okay, let me put it this way. What attracted you to Christine in the first place?"

Spock was silent at that, having never quite thought about it so specifically.

McCoy observed him closely and tossed out a few suggestions. "Strength? Loyalty? Intelligence?"

"Yes," the Vulcan answered softly.

"Do you think she would just up and walk away from a commitment like marriage? Cave in to adversity at the first sign of trouble?"

"No." The response was so quiet that McCoy could scarcely hear it.

"I don't think so either," the doctor replied, sitting back in his chair. "Have you talked to her about this?"

"Only briefly," Spock answered, still looking down. "It did not go well."

"So, you just let it go at that, hmm? What's she feeling right now, Spock? I know you can feel her through your mindbond." The silence stretched out so long that McCoy leaned forward again and peered into Spock's face. "Well?"

"I ... I blocked our bond," the Vulcan whispered, ashamed. "I did not wish to experience her emotional turmoil."

McCoy was speechless at that admission. He had to rein in his natural outrage and sit for a moment regaining his professional calmness, lest he burst out with a sarcastic retort that would have violated the doctor/patient trust he had built here. When he finally did speak, he asked, "And how do you think that makes her feel on her end of the bond?"

"I do not know. Rejected, I would suppose."

"Yes, I would suppose so, too. Spock, I highly recommend that you go back to your cabin and reach out to your wife." McCoy's blue eyes just bordered on hardness. "Nothing ever got settled that didn't get talked about. I think it's time you two talked again." Spock looked up at him frowning and the doctor could see that he was prepared to launch into an argument. "I won't accept any damnable Vulcan philosophies about logic! Christine is in the middle of one of the most vulnerable and dangerous times she'll ever experience and you don't have any right to punish her for whatever it is that you think she's done to you. Your wife is a matter of days away from giving birth to your child, Commander! Don't make it any harder on her than it will be already. Go! Talk to her now!"

Spock blinked at him for a moment, then silently rose and left the consultation room.

* * *

In the privacy of his quarters, Spock wrestled with the unaccustomed dilemma of allowing his emotions to take precedent over logic. And his emotions were chaotic at the moment. Catching himself pacing once more, he sternly forced himself to sit on the edge of his bed and close his eyes in light meditation. One by one, he plucked the swirling emotions from their wild flight within him and examined them thoroughly.

First, he found fear. Fear that Christine was lost to him, that he would never have her back again in his arms or by his side. Fear that their daughter had been snatched from his grasp before he had ever known her. That he never *would* know her now and that she would grow without knowing him or her Vulcan heritage.

Then there was resentment. Anger. Outrage. How dare Christine do this to him? In strictest Vulcan law, a man owned his wife and had full control over her. Modern Vulcan women rarely deferred to their husbands to such an extent and most went through their lives with a practical equality with their mates. But the old laws and traditions were still there. His mother practiced it because her position as an ambassador's wife, and a human one at that, put her in the spotlight in hundreds of situations. She must be the perfect wife.

Calming down, Spock realized that subconsciously he had expected Christine to behave as his mother had always done -- soft-spoken, submissive, in Sarek's shadow. But Christine wasn't Amanda. Christine had backbone and brass and even a bit of bull-headedness at times. He'd discovered that early in their relationship when he found that, unlike most of the women on board, she wasn't afraid of him or of going after what she wanted. She'd proven that by going out after Roger Korby, by taking matters into her own hands. Most women would have quietly accepted that the missing man was dead, lost on an expedition, but not Christine. She changed careers, wangled a billet on a starship, and went out to look for herself.

As he continued to sort through his emotions, Spock pulled guilt from the swirling mass. Guilt that he had bungled things so badly and allowed it to go on. Guilt that he had blocked his mental contact with her when she must surely need reassurance now more than ever. Guilt that he had endangered her by his thoughtlessness.

And he found need for her. If he stretched himself, he even forced himself to acknowledge it as love for her. He'd admitted it to himself before, when he made the decision to let down his barriers and open his heart to her. Why did he find it so difficult now?

Once admitted, then he examined that love in all its aspects. There was the physical aspect, of course, the indescribable pleasure he'd found in the innumerable times he had clutched her hard against him and poured his soul into hers, the bright sweet explosion of fire between them as they both reached the pinnacle of sensation and soared beyond it. He thought of the little things that he had learned to love about their times together -- the flecks of gold in her blue eyes that he could only see when he was nose-to-nose with her, the way her skin smelled when it was warm and flushed with lovemaking, the taste of her tongue against his, the sound of her wild heartbeat as he lay with his cheek against her breast, weak with exertion and climax.

He thought about how he loved her strength and competence as she went about her job. He had watched her hands soothe the sick, bandage the wounded, salve burns. Hold a hand when it was needed. Sometimes to comfort herself as much as the one she cared for. He loved her hands on him, cool and soft, tender and knowledgeable, whether in a clinical setting or at their most intimate moments.

And he thought about her courage and resolution. And it was here that he realized why Christine had taken the steps she had taken. She simply could not be happy unless she was learning and exploring, testing herself and reaching out to new horizons. She would not sit at home and quietly wait for him. Her need to stretch her limits and venture in new directions had led her to return to Earth and begin medical school. Having a baby would not hamper her in that pursuit anymore than it had hampered her ancestors, moving into new lands, working beside their men, exploring space, settling other worlds.

A sense of peace and acceptance settled over Spock and he felt the tension drain away from him. Of course, Christine had taken her life back into her own hands. He had fallen in love with her because of that quality and to expect her to change was not logical. Things would be all right now. They would be one again.

As calm permeated his very being, Spock opened his mind and reached out for his mate.

* * *

Earth and the moon appeared out of the blackness as twin crescents facing into a rapidly growing ball of light -- the sun, already unbearably bright. Again Christine was in the lounge, watching her home world approach, her throat tightening with emotion as the beautiful blue globe grew larger on the viewport.

She remembered something she had read once, an ancient fictional tale from hundreds of years before that described "the cool green hills of Earth." It was supposedly from a poem written by a space traveler returning home and viewing his planet from space. It had been written long before man had ever ventured off Terra and so the fiction writer couldn't have known that from space the Earth was blue, not green. But the sentiment remained the same and it still had the power to move her to tears.

Then, suddenly, as she stood gazing at her approaching planet, Christine clutched at her throat and gasped aloud. She had abruptly been flooded with the almost tangible presence of Spock, as if he had leapt into her skin and taken up dwelling space in the same body she occupied.

Her reaction caused a couple of the people around her to jerk her way in concern and reach to steady her. "Lady, are you all right?" asked a man standing beside her.

"Is it the baby?" asked a woman, jumping to the sensible conclusion that Christine was suffering a sudden contraction. "Are you in pain?"

"No, no, I'm fine," Christine managed to say, smiling shakily at her erstwhile Samaritans. "It's okay. I'm not in pain. Thank you."

"Are you sure?" the woman insisted. "You look a little pale."

"Perhaps I'd better go back to my cabin, after all," Christine conceded, still tingling all over at the eerie feeling she was experiencing.

"I'll just go with you and make sure you get there, all right?" the woman responded.

Still holding her arm, Christine's fellow passenger slowly walked with her all the way back to the stateroom Chapel occupied. As they reached the door, the woman asked, "Now, are you sure you don't want me to call the doctor and have him look in on you?"

"I'm fine, really," Christine smiled warmly at her, now more recovered. "There's no need, I assure you. I'm a medical nurse. If I thought there was anything wrong, I'd be more than agreeable to your calling him. But the baby just gave me a good hard kick, that's all. I'll rest and then I'll be fine."

"Well, if you're sure..." The woman smiled but still looked worried. "If you don't mind my saying so, your husband shouldn't be letting you travel alone when you're so close to having your baby. Is he going to meet you when we arrive?"

"No ... no, he's not on Earth," Christine answered, her smile wavering a little. "He's in Starfleet. I'm going to my sister's home."

"Well, still..."

The woman wasn't really placated but Christine was eager to be alone. She patted her helper's arm and smiled again. "Thank you so much. I do appreciate what you did."

"Not at all, dear. Now you call if you need anything. I'm Dorothy in Stateroom 32B."

"Dorothy. I'll remember. Goodbye." Christine ducked into her cabin and the door slid shut. She quietly clicked the lock into place and then hurried to sit down on her bed. There, she closed her eyes and reached out with her mind.

"Spock! I can feel you here with me! Oh, Spock, where are you, darling?"

He didn't answer in words but she felt a warmth and relief steal over her through their bond. Then it faded away and she waited impatiently as the next long span of minutes crawled past. Then the comm unit lit up and the melodious computer's voice announced, "Incoming call."

Christine leapt to the monitor and hit the "accept" key. Almost immediately, Spock's face appeared on the screen. At the sight of him, she burst into tears. She couldn't help it.

Immediately, his expression changed to one of concern. "What is it? Christine, what's wrong?"

She laughed through her tears. "Nothing, nothing. I'm just so glad to see you! Oh, Spock, it's been just awful, these past couple of days!"

"I know," he said softly, gazing at her as if he could not get enough. "I too have experienced..." He faltered, unable to put it into words.

But she understood. She felt it through their bondlink and knew without saying anything further that the rift between them was healed. He had accepted her decision and would support her in it. The weight she felt lift off her shoulders was almost tangible.

"When will you be able to come?" she asked, trailing her fingertips along the screen, the closest she could come to caressing his face. "I need you with me."

"As soon as I can arrange transportation. It will take approximately two weeks to reach Earth, however. Do you think she will wait that long?" he asked.

Christine smiled and rubbed her bulging stomach. "Well, I'm not due for about 28 days. I'll keep my legs crossed if it will help!"

There was an impish twinkle in Spock's dark eyes. "That is, perhaps, what you should have done in the first place."

"Spock! What a thing to say! Think of all the fun we would have missed!"

"I *am* thinking of it, t'hy'la," he whispered, looking at her intently. "It has proven most difficult to think of anything else since we were parted."

"Oh, my darling, you have no idea how much I've wanted you."

"In fact, I have," he answered. "I have felt everything that you have felt and, at times, it has nearly been my undoing. You once caught me on the bridge and I did not believe I could make it to my cabin before things became ... embarrassing."

She instinctively brought her hand up to her mouth and gasped. "Oh, my God! Do you mean that you felt it when I ... uh ..."

"Yes. When you thought of our times together and stimulated yourself, I experienced everything that you did. It was ... extremely arousing." He peered at her with a smoldering fire deep in his dark eyes. "Were I not due back on duty in only a matter of minutes, I would very much like to experience it now. To watch you."

Again she caught her breath, her heart beating faster as she realized he was very serious. "I think we could manage a quickie," she murmured.

But he shook his head. "I do not want a 'quickie'," he answered. "I want to spend a very long time looking at you and watching you touch yourself as I would touch you if I could. It is very difficult, t'hy'la, to know that I can only touch you through our bond and not in actuality."

"You'll be with me again soon, darling," she whispered.

"But even then I will not be able to be with you as I wish," he answered. "I cannot experience Joining with you for a month either before or after the child is born."

"Do you remember our picnic in the meadow?" she asked softly. "When you melded with me and made love to me in every type of setting we could imagine? It was all in our imagination but it was one of the most magical experiences I've ever had. Think of someplace special to take me, Spock. I'll be waiting for you."

"Soon then, t'hy'la. As quickly as I can reach you." He gazed at her as if memorizing her face then said softly, "Tch'ana, t'hy'la," and ended the transmission.

Christine curled up on her bed, still aglow in his love, knowing that it would be alright between them now. Inside her, the baby responded with a couple of sharp jabs to her mother's ribs. Christine smiled and rubbed her hand soothingly over her distended belly, humming a lullaby until the baby settled back down.

*Soon, little one...* she thought. * Soon you will be with us ... and your father will be back in my arms once again. Soon ... soon...*

* * *

Spock placed both hands flat on his desk and closed his eyes, his breathing strictly controlled. His contact with Christine had produced its usual effect on him and he could not go on duty while in his present condition. With techniques he had practiced all too often during their six month separation, he calmed his heartbeat, lowered his blood pressure, and took command of physiological reactions that thinking of his mate inevitably induced. He had not foreseen that he would react in such a physical manner when his thoughts strayed to his marital partner. At times, it was like being in the early stages of plak tow and he found that it took all of his will power to ignore those urges.

He understood now why human males often spent inordinate amounts of time engaged in strenuous physical activity. The exhaustion such sports produced helped them control the desires that they must be feeling much of the time. He had often observed that human males seemed to go through their adult lives in a permanent state of arousal and in pursuit of sexual intercourse with any females who were willing to accommodate them. He had often been amazed at Captain Kirk's seemingly inexhaustible sexual energy and the fact that the captain seemed to manage to find female companionship wherever their voyages led them.

Spock thought back to his own sexual encounters before he had met Christine. There had not been many and they had all occurred when he was still quite young. The first had been when he was eighteen and still in the Academy. His roommates, upon learning the shocking fact that he was still a virgin, had determined to remedy the situation forthwith and had arranged a social encounter with a female cadet who had made known the fact that she found the tall, quiet Vulcan boy extremely attractive.

Spock had still been exploring the parameters of his life and was not so completely in control of his emotions. He was in the first flush of manhood as well and the attentions of the lovely young girl had definitely aroused his interest. It had been a stimulating evening, to say the least, and the two of them had barely made it back before curfew.

They had not engaged in intercourse that evening, but it had not been many days before the opportunity arose. His roommates had gone to a sports event, something that did not interest him, and he had stayed behind to study. Marisa had come to his quarters a while later, ostensibly to consult him on an astrogation problem, and they had ended up in his bed, wrapped in frantic passion.

It had not surprised him that he instinctively knew what to do but the emotional explosion that blasted through him as he reached climax caught him completely unawares. Never in his life had he experienced anything remotely like it and almost immediately he began the process all over again, his body screaming for more.

After this initial session, he and Marisa sought out other times when they could be together and engage in sexual activity. It went on for three weeks before, in the course of conversation, she learned that he was betrothed and had no intention of carrying their relationship to its romantic conclusion. Afterwards, she refused to see him and he had learned the agony his human roommates often went through when their sexual urges went unquenched. It was a valuable lesson to him in controlling his emotions and physical reactions.

He did not have another relationship for nearly five years. This one was for real. Upon being assigned to the U.S.S. Enterprise as its second officer and science department head, he met a beautiful young Vulcan widow named T'Pris whose husband had been killed a year before in a freak accident. The attraction between the two was immediate and he fell so completely in love with her that he decided to initiate divorce proceedings against T'Pring so that he could marry her.

The relationship they shared was magic, everything that his pledge-bonding to T'Pring was not. The first time he had taken her into his bed and melded his thoughts with hers, he had known for certain that she was the one destiny had meant him to have. Sexual joining flowed naturally from their mindlink and it was so incredibly warm and sweet that he wondered how he could possibly have lived before he found her. Deliriously happy, he envisioned decades -- centuries! -- stretching out before them, their hearts and minds joined in perfect union.

And then she had died. Murdered because she had stumbled upon the solution to a previous slaying on board the ship. Spock had nearly gone mad, nearly killed the man with his bare hands, nearly thrown away all of his Vulcan training and disciplines. The only thing that had prevented him from succumbing to the lust for retribution was the knowledge that T'Pris would not have wanted him to avenge her and damn himself in the process.

He had walked away, but the result was that he had encased himself in an impenetrable shell of non-emotion. He had locked away all his feelings and pain and had become the cool, placid, imperturbable Vulcan that he was today. It was totally logical. If he couldn't feel anything, he couldn't be hurt.

Of course, he couldn't love again either and, when he met Leila Kalomi eight years later, nothing she said or did penetrated that protective armor. Clearly she was in love with him -- he recognized the signs -- and clearly she hungered for him in a more carnal way, but he was incapable of responding to her. Somewhere deep inside there was a tiny flicker of flame aching to burst free, but he ruthlessly tamped it down and would not allow himself to feel for Leila even a tenth of what he had felt for T'Pris.

It had taken Christine Chapel and the Psi 2000 virus to breach his armor. The virus cracked the shell and Christine slowly but surely chipped it away during the three years they had served together. There had been so many small occasions that stood out for him...

During the incident at Deneva, when he had lain drowning in the most intense pain he had ever experienced, Christine had been close by, offering the comfort of her presence, but not interfering with the internal struggle he was waging to control the agony. Later, though, when the creature within him had been destroyed and he sat in sick bay, blind and reeling with shock, he had felt a soft hand on his shoulder and knew instinctively that it was Christine, standing beside him not merely as a nurse, but as a friend, as someone who cared deeply and hurt because he hurt. For a few seconds, he shakily reached his hand up and laid it atop hers, acknowledging the comfort, the warmth of her skin, the tactile sensation of one person touching another. It felt very good and he didn't feel so alone in the universe anymore.

Then, during the intense, torturous trip back to Vulcan during his pon farr, she had reached out to him again, braving the violence that raged within him. That was the first time he had felt sexual hunger for her, when she had come to his cabin the second time. If she had known how close she stood to unadulterated madness, to a man being burned alive with craven lust, she would never have ventured near him. He had appeared so calm, but it was an illusion. The scent of her femininity nearly pushed him over the edge of sanity and he wanted nothing so much as to rip the concealing clothing from her body and let the inferno of plak tow consume him utterly.

On Neural, when he had been felled by the primitive firearm and had put himself into a healing trance, he knew when she was near him, standing watch over him. He knew when she slid her palm along his hand and lifted it to her heart, willing him to live, to come back to her. He couldn't afford to acknowledge her then, not even to twitch his fingers against hers. But her strength poured into him through that contact and he drew on it.

The closest he had come to truly bonding with her was when Sargon had placed her consciousness into her body. Their souls had twined together and she had known him then as no one ever had, save possibly T'Pris. Even so, Christine had surprised him. The depth and strength of her love startled him, left him staggered. Once they had been parted, he was still shaken by it and found that he could not meet her adoring eyes. What he had felt while in such close contact with her threatened to shatter the rest of his armor. She could not hide the sexual attraction she felt for him and he found that he mirrored that desire. He couldn't look at her because he was concentrating on blocking out the immense surge of sheer need that had suddenly blanketed him.

That need didn't go away, not completely, although he managed to convince himself that it had. But in fact not many weeks later he had found himself bearing her down beneath him on a chaise, his lips being forced against hers, as laughter and applause dimly sounded through the pounding blood in his ears. Her skin was hot and flushed with shame and anger, her hands trembling violently as they held him, tears streaking through the heavy makeup around her eyes. But through it all the need resurfaced in him ... the need to protect her, to carry her from this place, to make it right for her. To show her that his lips could kiss away tears, that his hands could soothe her quivering shoulders, that his arms could keep her from harm. Ironically, it was there in the midst of their humiliation and outrage that he knew he loved her, that she had become his t'hy'la, his cherished companion. And that finally he could allow himself to feel that deeply and completely about a woman once more.

* * *

It was raining as the immense bulk of the Stellar Princess settled like a feather onto the landing array at Wright Starport outside of Dayton. As the docking cradle latched and held, the starship seemed to sigh as landing thrusters and fields shut down and the immense steel framework of the dock cupped itself around the hull like spoon holding a gigantic silver egg.

The passenger gangway extended itself out and sealed to the main hatch. There was, of course, no need for pressurization or atmospheric mixing here on Earth, but the covered walkway protected the disembarking passengers from the weather and led into the starport's lounge and luggage areas.

Christine waited until the main rush of people had departed then made her way from the ship, her heavy pregnancy turning her walk into a graceless waddle. But, as she caught sight of the woman who waited for her, her pace quickened and she reached the lounge as fast as she could. There, the slender auburn-haired woman threw her arms around Christine's neck and hugged her fiercely.

"Chrissy! Oh, it's so good to see you!! I thought your ship would never get in!"

Chapel hugged her sister as closely as she could. "Jess! Oh, lord, it's good to be home! Let me look at you!"

"Me?! Let me look at *you*!!" Jessalyn Chapel held her older sibling off at arm's length and scrutinized her. "What -- have you got triplets in there or something? I didn't expect you'd be this big!"

"Thanks a lot! And I was just thinking that I didn't look too bad for being eight months pregnant!"

"I'm kidding! You look fabulous!" Jessie hugged Christine again then said, "Come on, let's go down to the luggage area. With any luck, they've started off-loading by now. I want to get your stuff and get out of here as fast as we can."

"What's the rush?" asked Christine as the two women began the walk to baggage pickup.

"The weather," Jess answered. "It's been raining all day and the newsgrid said that more storms are moving in from the west. I'd like to get home before they hit."

"Good idea. You know, I'd almost forgotten what rain was like. I've been so used to being aboard ship. And it just doesn't rain on Vulcan!"

"Oh, be serious!"

"Well, not much anyway. I think the winter storms are pretty fierce, but I swear it didn't rain a drop the whole six months I was there. Not a cloud in the sky!"

"Well, you're in for a good ol' fashioned toad strangler tonight!"

* * *

Jessie hadn't been exaggerating. They drove through a downpour that slowed their progress to a crawl. Jessie's little speeder pushed doggedly through the storm, wipers clicking back and forth with determination, but the hundred miles from Dayton to Prentiss seemed endless. It was with great relief that the family home finally came into view, an old-fashioned two story house sitting atop a rise, surrounded by ancient trees.

The sudden cessation of rain drumming on the roof of the speeder was startling as Jessie pulled the vehicle into the garage and shut down the engine. "Home again, home again, jiggety-jig," she grinned, reciting an ancient rhyme they'd always said as children.

Christine sighed happily. "You've been off to Dayton to get a fat pig!" she improvised.

Jessie lightly punched her upper arm. "Chris! Shush! Do you need help getting out?"

Christine tried to lever herself out of the passenger seat, shifted and tried again. Finally, she gave up. "Afraid so! Can you give me a pull?"

Laughing, Jessie got out and went around, taking her sister's arms and together the two of them managed to get Christine up and on her feet. "Okay, why don't you go on in and I'll get your bags."

"Oh, I can carry something."

"You will do no such thing!" Jessie shooed her into the house.

Once inside, Christine stopped and looked around, feeling as if she'd suddenly stepped back in time twenty years. The family home looked and smelled just as she remembered it. She felt that she could close her eyes and envision her mother putting supper on the table, and smell the tobacco of her father's pipe, and hear the sound of footsteps thundering down the stairs as she and her sisters raced for the kitchen.

"We're home, little one," she whispered and softly stroked the curve of her belly. "Oh, Spock, hurry home, too! I need you here, my darling! Hurry, I don't think it will be long now!"

* * *

A week went by and the rain didn't stop the entire time. Sometimes it was only a soft, intermittent drizzle, then there would be a rumble of thunder and the heavens would open up again. Inside the house, it was cozy and dark and comforting. Jessie, who taught in the local school, struggled off to work every day, braving the weather, leaving Christine to doze and take it easy.

She hadn't realized how much she would need to. But the stress of the past weeks, the long trip and her developing pregnancy kept her stretched either on her bed or the couch for most of the time that her sister was gone. Actually, it felt wonderful. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, Christine stayed in her gown and robe most of the day, watching old holovids and the newsgrids, reading, snacking and taking naps whenever she felt like it.

If she hadn't been bloated like a balloon, her back aching, having to go to the bathroom every hour or so, experiencing chronic heartburn, and feeling as if the baby was doing its best to push her lungs up her throat ... well, it would be almost hedonistic! Christine couldn't help but laugh at herself. Oh, yes, late third trimester was absolutely a wondrous time! She just wished Spock would get here so that she could 'share' it with him.

Late in the afternoon, Jessie trudged in like a drowned rat to the accompanying peal of thunder. "I think I just saw an ark float by!" she exclaimed. "It's pouring out there again!"

"No sign of it letting up, huh?" Christine asked.

"No. I think it's getting worse. Let me go change and I'll check the weather grids. And what do you want for supper?"

"Oh, let me fix you something tonight, sis," Christine answered. "I won't do anything elaborate, but you're tired and I just lie around here all day."

"That's what you're supposed to be doing," Jessie answered. "But, yeah, why not check the freezer and see what you can find in there."

A bit later, the two sisters sat comfortably ensconced in the overstuffed easy chairs in the living room and finished up the dinners Christine had prepared. Their attention was turned to the local news station, where a handsome young man was giving the weather report.

"The low pressure system stalled over the Ohio Valley will bring us more rain for the next three days, so keep those umbrellas handy! And, in the Gulf of Mexico, we still have our eye on Hurricane Deela, now a category 3 storm. Deela is moving north, northeast at 18 miles per hour and watchers expect it to make landfall in the next 72 hours somewhere near Biloxi, Mississippi. If it continues on that track and collides with the low pressure system here over Ohio and Kentucky, prepare for torrential rains and flooding. Stay tuned to Weather Eye and watch our updated forecast at 10:00."

"That's bad," Jessie commented, changing the channel. "The ground is already saturated from all the rain we've been getting. I heard that the Ohio River is expected to crest tomorrow morning."

"Are we in any danger of flooding here?" Christine asked, rubbing her hand across her belly.

"I don't know. We're on high ground but this is like a hundred year storm or something," her sister replied. She glanced over to see Christine frown and rub her stomach again. "Are you all right?"

Christine glanced at her and smiled. "Yes, just Braxton-Hicks contractions. Nothing to worry about. They're completely normal at this stage."

"Well, if you say so, but I just want to say one thing, Chris, and I'm completely serious here." Jessie leaned closer. "If you start labor, do *not* wait until the pains are three minutes apart to tell me! It's forty miles to your med center and I don't want to get stuck in a flood, having to deliver a baby in a compact speeder, understand? You *tell* me so we'll have plenty of lead time!"

"Okay, don't worry," Christine laughed, then winced again as another constriction tightened her abdomen.

* * *

The Enterprise had put in at Starbase 12 for resupply and Spock had managed to catch a ride on a courier ship on its way to Rigel 4. From there, he switched to a freighter going to Deep Space Station K-3, and from there he went aboard the U.S.S. Nereid, a small patrol craft that did the run between K-3 and Sirius. Sirius was only eight lightyears from Earth and, but more importantly, it was only about five lightyears from Vulcan. He put in a call to his home and requested that one of his family's starships be sent to pick him up.

He cooled his heels impatiently on the orbital station around Sirius 9 for much of that day while a ship was readied and made the journey. Finally, his communicator beeped and he snatched it off his belt, flipping it open. "Spock here."

"Sai Spock, this is Stehn on the Kro'el," replied a voice in Vulcan. "We are ready to transport you aboard."

"Proceed." Spock put away the communicator and stood ready. Almost immediately he felt the unmistakable tingle of dematerialization begin and when it stopped, he was aboard the Vulcan ship.

Kro'el was not a yacht like Alo'oe but was listed as a Class A runabout. It was a large shuttlecraft with warp capability and could comfortably sleep six. There was a two man crew consisting of a pilot and engineer.

It was Stehn, the pilot, who greeted him with upraised palm. "Mene sakkhet ur-seveh, sai," he said in Vulcan.

Spock returned the greeting then stepped down off the platform. "Did you get the heading I relayed to you?" he asked, also switching to Vulcan.

"Earth at fastest possible speed," Stehn replied. He punched the intercom button on the transporter console. "T'Kan, Sai Spock is aboard. Take us out of orbit and go to warp six as soon as we are cleared by Sirius Space Central."

"Yes, sir."

Stehn switched off and looked back up at Spock. "I have your quarters ready for you, sai. May I bring you food or drink from the galley? Saya or hiralin, perhaps? In what way may I serve you?"

Spock picked up his valise and the two men left the transporter alcove and headed toward the cabin area. "Nothing at the moment, Stehn. I am fatigued and wish to rest and meditate for a brief time. I will contact you should I require anything."

"Of course, sai." The two men had stopped before a door marked with a Vulcan letter symbol. "It is good to have you back aboard with us, sai." He gave Spock a brief nod and then turned to go back up to the cockpit.

Spock touched the operation pad beside the doorway and it slid open to reveal a small but comfortable cabin equipped with a bed, desk and tiny but adequate sanitary facility. On a ship this size, none of the cabins had full bathrooms. There was a main head and shower room that was shared by all on board, but this was the captain's cabin and came equipped with a toilet and wash basin. The cabin was about half the size of his quarters on the Enterprise, but was furnished with everything he could need. It was uncluttered and arranged in a clean, logical manner, but decorated with the hint of wealth and luxury that was common in Vulcan decor.

The door slid closed behind him as he came in and dropped his valise beside the bed. He didn't bother to lock the door. Neither Stehn nor T'Kan would even consider violating his privacy. It was as unthinkable to a Vulcan as murder. In addition, Spock was of the aristocracy, Sixteenth Lineal Heir of the House of Ni'ikhirch. The pilot and engineer were employed by the House and, as such, worked for Spock. All of them had slipped effortlessly into their social roles the instant he had been hailed by the pilot. None of them thought about it. It was simply done.

Spock touched the intercom on the bedside console and said, "Stehn."

"Yes, sai."

"Get me a subspace channel through to Earth." He stated the call code where Christine could be reached.

"At once, sai. I will contact you when the channel is clear."

Spock switched off and turned to shed his heavy sweater. Kro'el was kept at a pleasant Vulcan temperature of 130 degrees and there was no need for the extra layers of clothing he had become accustomed to wearing in Earth-normal environments.

While he waited for the call to go through to his wife, Spock busied himself with undressing and settling in. It would take them about four hours at top warp speed to cover the distance between Sirius and Sol, but there was always the acceleration and deceleration phases at either end of the journey while traversing the respective solar systems that added an hour or so to the trip. He estimated that they would arrive at Terra in approximately six-and-a-half to seven hours.

Just a little hop between stars when it came to interstellar travel but Spock could not help but feel every second that ticked by and tried to calm himself for an interminable wait.

Something told him that he needed to get home as quickly as he could.

* * *

When Christine woke up and got out of bed, she noticed something different in the way she felt. Then she identified it -- she could breathe almost normally. No longer was the baby crammed up against her lungs, shortening her breath into quick pants most of the time. For the first time in weeks, she was able to draw her lungs nearly full of air.

Jessie happened to walk by her bedroom as Christine was sitting on the side of the bed, her hands splayed across her belly and an introspective look spread across her face. Immediately, Jessie entered. "Chris? What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Would you get my medical tricorder out of my bag, please?" Christine asked. Her sister promptly fetched the instrument and Christine did a quick scan on herself. "Ahh, just as I suspected. The baby has dropped."

"What does that mean?" asked Jessie.

"It means it won't be long now. She's moving into position for birth." Christine struggled to her feet and went, "Ooof! Oh, yes, she has definitely engaged in my pelvis! Her head is sitting right on my bladder! Pardon me while I visit the necessary!" Hurriedly, she shuffled into the bathroom across the hall and shut the door.

When she emerged a few minutes later, Jessie was still waiting for her, puzzling over the readings on the tricorder's small screen. "What does the rest of this mean?" she asked.

Christine read and interpreted the readings. "That's the baby's heartrate and mine, my blood pressure -- which is too high, by the way -- and the fetal blood pressure here and respiration rate." She changed the setting and did another quick scan across her stomach. "This shows that the baby has settled head down, facing my back, just as she should, and that I am two centimeters dilated."

"Oh, my God, does that mean you're about to go into labor?"

"No. We're still on schedule for about ten days from now. I probably won't dilate anymore until actual labor begins. My cervix is just getting ready to stretch. Nothing to worry about." Christine closed the tricorder and went to put it away. She was interrupted by a growl of thunder and a bluster of wind-blown rain against her window.

"*That's* what I'm really worried about," Jessie commented. "It's getting bad out there, sis, and it's going to get worse. I was up early watching the weather grid. The hurricane made landfall last night and is still on track north. They're predicting that it will collide with this front later tonight and then we'll really be in for it!"

"Do you think we'll be able to make it through to Cincinnati?" Christine asked, becoming worried herself as the rain really began to come down in sheets.

"I don't know. The Ohio is near crest right now and there have already been reports of flooding and roads washed out." Jessie looked grim. "Chris, I think we better start thinking along emergency lines here. If you have to, do you think you can talk me through delivering this baby?"

Christine bit her lip and looked back out at the storm. "I think so. But, you're right. Chances are this will pass on through in the next day or so and things will go just as planned. But maybe we'd better see what supplies you have ... just in case."

* * *

Jessalyn wouldn't let Christine venture down the stairs in her condition but instead brought her breakfast tray up to her. The two sisters sat propped up in the big, old-fashioned bed sharing the breakfast meal, watching the holoscreen and chatting, all the while listening as the wind and rain slowly picked up. Thankfully, it was Saturday and Jessie didn't have to venture out to her job.

However, just before lunch she came back to Christine's room looking pensive. "Chris, I'm going to brave it and go to the store. I've been checking supplies and I want to make sure we're fully stocked just in case we get socked in for a few days. Will you be all right while I'm gone?"

"I'm fine, Jess," Christine assured her from her position in bed. "Believe me, I don't plan on doing anything more strenuous than lying here watching the vid. And maybe getting up to go the bathroom now and again. *You* just be careful!"

"The store's just down the street. On a nice day I can walk it without trouble. Do you want me to bring you anything special?"

Christine looked thoughtful, then glanced up with a sheepish expression on her face. "Double fudge nut ripple ice cream?" she queried.

Jessie laughed. "If they have any! Okay, you just take it easy, big sister. I'll be back as soon as I can. If you need help, call the emergency code."

"Will do." Christine watched her sister leave and listened over the beat of the rain as the little speeder pulled out of the garage below and disappeared into the downpour. Bored, Christine flipped from one channel to the other, then consulted the listing guide and finally settled on a 22nd century classic romance that was a thin remake of "Romeo and Juliet", only involving a Rigellian Romeo and an Andorian Juliet. It wasn't very good. Shakespeare didn't translate into Rigellian very well, she decided.

She had just about made it to the balcony scene when the call announcer cut in over the dialogue. "Incoming subspace call from V.S.S. Kro'el to Dr. Christine Chapel at this call code."

Christine sat up too fast and winced, then quickly clicked off the vid and over to the comm screen. She recognized the ship's name as being one in the Ni'ikhirchi private fleet. "Accept call!" she commanded, her heart pounding with excitement. Then she sighed and said, "Spock! Oh, darling, how wonderful it is to see you!"

On the screen, her husband was looking tired but decidedly pleased. He was once more dressed only in his black undershirt and briefs and she could see that he was sitting on the edge of his bed in the ship's main cabin. "I called to let you know that we are approximately three hours out from Earth. I should be with you within five hours. Are you well? I detect no distress through our bondlink."

"I'm just fine, sweetheart," she smiled. "Jessie is taking good care of me. She's gone to the store right now."

"You are alone there?"

"Yes, but I'm okay. I'm just lying here listening to the rain."

"There in inclement weather then."

"More than that." Christine gave him a brief rundown on weather conditions and how they were expected to worsen over the next 12 hours. "I don't know if you'll be able to land at Dayton field. They'll close the port to traffic if the wind gets above 40 miles per hour or so. It's gusting higher than that now."

"Then I shall beam down as close to your location as I can and make my way to you by speeder."

"Be careful, darling. I don't want anything to happen to you!"

Spock peered calmly at her and almost smiled. "I shall endeavor to reach you unscathed." His dark eyes seemed to deepen in intensity and through their link she could feel the growing emotion he was feeling as he looked at her.

"I long to be with you again, t'hy'la," he said in the low, husky voice that sent shivers up her spine. "I have been thinking of where I can take you through a mind meld to make love to you as you requested. I have considered the Falls of Takanaree in the cloud forest on Onannan Prime. Have you ever been there, t'hy'la?"

"No," she whispered, enchanted.

"The Falls stretch for miles across the top of an escarpment and the mist they generate causes massive forests of ferns and cycads to grow there, filled with tiny flying creatures that look like living crystals. The sunlight through the mist creates spectacular displays of rainbows and cloud glories."

Christine smiled dreamily. "It sounds beautiful ... but a little damp. What else have you come up with?"

"The beaches along the Ziyal Sea on Alpherach. It is an especially popular with the newly bonded, because resonances created by the waves coming across coral reefs there generate an almost orgasmic sensation to anyone lying on the sand."

She shivered. "That sounds wonderful!"

His voice dropped even lower. "Oh, perhaps I could simply hold you in my arms and visualize for you what I feel when I have kissed your body and touched you and brought you near your own peak, how my need for you magnifies until I feel that my heart will burst if you do not take me inside you so that we two may reach orgasm together."

"Spock, you're going to give me an orgasm just talking that way!" she responded.

"Christine, move back from the viewer. I want to see you."

"What? How huge I've become?" But she did as he asked, moving back so that her profile gave him a clearer look at her rounded stomach.

On the screen, she could see the expression on his face light up with wonder. "I wish to really *see* you," he insisted. "Please, Christine ... remove your gown for me."

"Spock!" she exclaimed, reddening, but obediently unsealed the long Vulcan gown she wore and let it slide from her shoulders. She wore no bra but was clad in silky underpants.

"Continue," he encouraged her and she blushed as she shed her panties. At last standing naked before the screen, she turned slightly from one side to the other to give him a better view. Her belly bulged in the ripe fullness of late pregnancy and her breasts, enlarged and with swollen nipples protruding, lay heavily against her stomach. She slid her hands onto the roundness and smiled at him.

"You are so beautiful, t'hy'la," he whispered and, through their link, she could feel the fire of his excitement spreading over her. "If I were there, I would demonstrate my desire for you. I find myself in great need of the sort of release that only you can give me. I want to feel you touch me as well, with your mouth and your hands, until I cannot bear it a moment longer and must be inside you or die."

She felt a familiar throbbing between her legs at his gaze and his words. "Spock, I'm going to have to take a cold shower to stop feeling the way I'm feeling right now!"

"Do not stop feeling that way," he murmured, gazing at her even more intently. "I want you to have those feelings and indulge them." She looked puzzled and he continued, "Do you remember when I told you that it would give me great pleasure to watch you touch yourself as I would, were I there with you? To experience with you all the sensation this would bring you? We did not have time before, t'hy'la." He gazed at her meaningfully, his dark eyes smoldering. "We have the time now, my wife."

She was already being flooded by the growing sexual desire he was feeling and she ran her palms up over her breasts, cupping the taut nipples and relishing the delicious tingle the action caused. She felt it echo back and force between her bondmate and herself.

"Christine," he instructed, his voice a bit hoarse, "lie back on the bed where I can see you."

She did as she was told, beginning to get an idea of what he wanted To see if she were correct, she tweaked and rolled her enlarged nipples between her fingers then slipped her arms back up over her head so that her breasts were displayed to him at their most provocative angle. Inside her mind, she sensed his surge of sexual reaction and felt an answering throb in her own body.

"Does that feel good, Spock?" she asked, smiling seductively. "Just wait until you get here, darling. You can really get your hands on them and do whatever you want to do." His rapt expression and the emotions washing over her through their bond told her all she needed to know.

Using both hands, she stroked and fondled her breasts, knowing he was watching her, and then she let one hand trail down her stomach and slide between her legs. Through their link, she experienced the quake that shuddered through his body and knew that his hand had strayed down to follow her actions. Looking over at the screen, she smiled, "This is going to be a very expensive subspace call if we keep going like this."

"I can afford it," he replied, his eyes never straying from what she was doing to herself with her fingers.

"You know, it isn't fair that you get to watch me and not return the favor," she grinned. "I want *you* to move back so I can see what *you're* doing."

A definite air of pleasure shimmered along their link and he slid back onto his bed until she could see his torso and thighs. Leaning back with his legs slightly spread, she could see that he had a very respectable bulge shoving out the material of his black briefs and that one hand was inside those shorts.

"Keep going," she urged him. "I want to look at you, too. Take 'em off!"

He paused, then pulled his hand from beneath his underwear and caught the hem of his t-shirt in a crossed-arm grip, peeling it up and off. The sight of his well-muscled chest caused her fingers to work a bit faster. "All of it," she insisted breathlessly. "I want to *see* you!"

A little smile lifting the corners of his mouth, he hooked his thumbs into the waistband of his briefs and, lifting his hips, pulled them down and over his legs, kicking them out of sight, then lay back propped on his elbows, in full view of the comm screen.

Christine gasped and her body lurched into a sudden blast of sensation. She'd forgotten what the sight of him, naked and fully erect, could do to her. As she jerked with this first, small orgasm, his penis twitched in response and he reached down to grasp it.

"Oh, yes," she exclaimed as she watched him slowly move his fist along the length of his shaft. "Close your eyes and pretend that it's me touching you. Pretend that I am there with you, and I'm stroking you over and over again, faster and faster until you can't stand it any more."

"And you close your eyes and pretend I am there with *you*," he answered. "*Feel* my fingers touching you ... here ... and here...."

Christine gasped, for she *could* feel the eerie sensation of his hands trailing along her thighs, her stomach, her breasts... And then she could feel even more, for it felt for all the world that he had pushed inside her and was moving deep within her. She closed her eyes and threw her head back with a cry, her fingers moving hard and fast between her legs, feeling the sudden intensity of orgasm grip her whole body, as powerful and explosive as the thunder that cracked and boomed in the ferocity of the storm raging all around.

From the screen, she heard Spock give a strangled gasp for breath and knew that he had echoed her rapturous culmination and reached his climax as well. For a long moment, she lay catching her breath, then she laboriously pushed herself up to a sitting position. He was sitting on the side of his own bed, a crumpled wad of black cloth still pressed against his groin. He'd obviously grabbed the first thing he could find to avoid soiling his bedsheets and his discarded t-shirt was close at hand.

"Oh, Spock, why didn't we do this before?" she asked, still breathing hard.

"It is still a poor substitute for the real experience," he answered, his face flushed. "I long to be with you, t'hy'la. I hunger for you. I can scarcely contain my need to hold you and meld with you."

"Just a few more hours, beloved," she answered. "I will be waiting for you. Just be careful. I can't wait to sleep in your arms tonight. Hurry, my darling! Hurry!"

"As quickly as I can, my wife," he promised, his voice husky and low. "I will be with you *soon*." Still gazing at her as if he could not get enough of the sight of her, Spock reached out and cut the connection.

With a smile of pure, unadulterated adoration, Christine lay back on her bed and hugged herself. She didn't think she'd ever felt happier in her life. She could still feel the wonderful sensation of his hardness filling her, of the glorious aftershocks of orgasm rippling through her. The area between her legs tightened in remembered ecstasy and the ripples of that ecstasy ran up through the muscles stretching across her distended belly.

They stayed tight and then they tightened even more. Within seconds the pleasant ecstacy had constricted into a painful cramp that enveloped her whole abdomen in a vice-like grip. When it finally let up, Christine wasn't smiling anymore but fighting down the note of panic that threatened to overwhelm her. Instinctively she knew that hadn't been a Braxton-Hicks. It had been the real thing.

* * *

Spock grimaced and tossed the soiled t-shirt into the recycler. Self-stimulus was not something he normally did but, on this occasion, it had seemed the logical thing to do. It did not seem that he had simply been masturbating, after all, but that he and Christine had been engaged in mutual manual stimulation. That was common between married couples and this had just been an extreme example of it.

He had found it unexpectedly pleasurable and planned to repeat the experience in the future if he found that he needed sexual release. Christine appeared to have enjoyed it as well, judging from the power of the orgasm he had felt through their bondlink.

He could still feel her through their reopened link. She was still luxuriating in the after images of their stimulations and he had to admit to himself that he had not totally recovered, judging from the tightness in his groin and the slightly erect condition of his penis. Directing a stern thought at his contrary sexual organ to return to its normal condition, he retrieved a washcloth and towel from above the basin and began running warm water in order to clean himself.

He was just reaching for the soap when his gut twisted up into a spectacular cramp. The suddenness of the pain caused him to gasp aloud and double over. Outside of a bout with Kafarian stomach flu, he'd never felt anything quite like it and for a second he wondered if he had somehow come down with the disease again.

Then he knew.

He wasn't the source of the pain. It was Christine. Through their mindlink, he was feeling her have a contraction.

When the pain eased up and he could stand, Spock strode back to the intercom switch and slapped the button. "Stehn! Time to Earth orbit!"

"Two hours, forty-three minutes, sai," the pilot answered.

"Are we at maximum warp?"

"Yes, sai. Warp six."

"I want every ounce of power we can spare. Push this ship for everything she will take!" Switching off the intercom, Spock paused to set mental barriers in place. He had to block any further sensations of pain from Christine or he would not be able to operate. Once that was done, he turned to the clothing he had laid out on his bed and proceeded to dress quickly and efficiently.

* * *

Christine had put her gown back on and then lain back down on her bed, curled on one side. She concentrated on breathing calmly and projecting a relaxing condition to her body. It was a meditation technique that she had learned while on Vulcan and she wanted to see if she could get the contractions to stop. They weren't coming very frequently, although one would hit her about every forty minutes or so. Just when she would think they'd stopped, her abdomen would constrict into another painful seizure.

While she rested, her inner self chided her firmly. *Of all the stupid things to do, Chapel! You know that orgasm can bring on labor this late in pregnancy. What in the hell were you thinking?*

Angrily, she answered herself with brutal frankness, sparing no words. *I wasn't thinking, that's the problem. Or rather I WAS thinking, but it wasn't about having a baby. It was about him fucking the living daylights out of me until I screamed and absolutely exploded!* Her mind filled once more with the image of Spock lying naked on his bed, stroking his erection with enthusiasm while his eyes burned into her. Instantly, she made herself think of something else. *No! No! No! What are you trying to do? Have another orgasm? Soothing, quiet thoughts, Christine. Think the ocean ... clouds ... concentrate on the rain...*

The storm had worsened dramatically and the rain was battering the windows of her bedroom in sheets, the wind screaming around the eaves. The whole house creaked in the force of the wind and the big oak tree outside was thrashing wildly. Christine prayed that Jessie would make it back safely -- and soon! She didn't want to be alone! She couldn't remember ever seeing a storm this bad.

She didn't hear the speeder pull into the garage downstairs but a wave of relief swept over her as the back door opened and closed. She closed her eyes and felt one layer of tension leave her. At least Jess was home.

She waited patiently until she heard her sister come up the stairs and knock softly on the doorframe. Christine turned her head slightly to let Jessie know that she was awake and her sister entered the room cheerfully.

"God almighty!" Jessalyn exclaimed. "You would not *believe* what it's like out there! I thought I was going to float away! The roads are all flooding out and the police are telling people to stay in their homes." She walked around to the side of the bed, for Christine hadn't moved from her near-fetal position. "I'll bet the winds are 50 miles per-- Chris? Are you okay?"

Christine just peered up at her and nodded, but she continued to lie with her hands splayed across her belly, her attention turned inward as another contraction gripped her.

Jessalyn paled and her blue eyes widened in panic. "Chrissy! Oh, God -- no, not now! Oh, oh my God -- I've got to get you to the hospital sommehow!"

"Jessie, calm down," Christine answered, frowning a little. "I'm just having a contraction or two. That doesn't mean labor has started. More than likely, it will stop of its own accord. Just let me rest for a while. Why don't you go make yourself some tea or something? We can't go out in this storm in any case and, if something *should* happen, we'll just call the emergency squad."

The younger woman relaxed just a little but was still a bit wild-eyed. "Are you sure? I'm not kidding, Chris. The roads are closed due to flooding and I heard that several bridges are washed out between here and Cincy."

"Then there's nothing we can do in any case, is there?" Christine looked up at her sister calmly. "So don't get upset. Look, when you see *me* panicking, then *you* can panic, okay? Really, there's nothing to worry about. I talked to Spock while you were gone and he should be here in just a few hours. I'm just going to lie here and take it easy and things will be fine."

"Well ... if you're sure..."

"I'm sure. I'm a nurse, remember? If anything was wrong, I'd know it, wouldn't I?"

Jessie looked uncertain. "I suppose so. Okay, I'll go make some tea, then. Want any?"

"I think that would be great," Christine answered. "My mouth is a little dry." She watched as her sister left the room, then she turned her thoughts back inward, her face settling into a grim mask.

She'd lied to Jess, lied so much that her nose should be growing. Something was *very* wrong here. Because she was a nurse and she knew. Come storm or high water, this baby was coming and it was coming tonight!

* * *

"I'm sorry, sai," said Stehn to Spock who was standing behind him in the cockpit. To anyone else, Spock would have seemed as calm and unemotional as a stone, but to the other two Vulcans present, his agitation was distracting and embarrassing.

Spock was past caring. "If you cannot get clearance at Dayton, what is the nearest port?"

T'Kan checked her readings. "Chicago, Toronto, and Denver are clear. However, there is no guarantee that you would be able to either transport or get a shuttle into Cincinatti. North American Central reports that nearly everything east of the Mississippi River is closed due to the weather system."

Spock's hands clenched momentarily and he shifted his footing, his mind rapidly turning over possibilities. Like most heavily populated space-faring worlds, Earth was rigidly controlled regarding the entry and exit of spacecraft. Not only that, but random transport was forbidden. In the early days of transporter technology, crossing beams had resulted in appalling accidents and now transporter beams were as strictly regulated as physical traffic.

He stood staring down at the vast storm system that blanketed the eastern half of North America, its billowing cloud tops roiling and flashing madly with lightning. "Can you pinpoint the township of Prentiss, Ohio?"

T'Kan did some calculations. "Yes, sai, I have it ... but there is no port there. Also, it is under complete cloud cover. We cannot possibly land there."

"I do not propose taking the Kro'el down. Is there a designated transport site?"

Again the engineer quickly ran her nimble fingers over the board. "Yes. One. It is coded for the local emergency response building."

"Good! Get me clearance to beam down there!"

T'Kan touched the comm board and within a few seconds a static-laden voice answered. "You want to do what?" the voice replied after T'Kan had requested beam clearance. "Are you crazy?"

"I am not demented," the Vulcan replied calmly. "This is an emergency situation. I am locking onto your signal and preparing to transport. Kro'el out."

The engineer and Spock hurried aft to the transporter alcove and Spock stepped up onto the pad. "The storm will engender considerable interference," T'Kan said as she set the coordinates.

"I understand," Spock replied. "Energize."

T'Kan locked in the settings and activated the transporter, dispassionately watching as Spock dissolved into the dematerialization effect.

* * *

When Jessie brought the tray with the tea, she could see immediately that Christine was worse off than before. She was curled up, her face reflecting the inner struggle she was experiencing. Immediately, Jess set down the tray and went to her sister.

"Chris, I'm calling the medics. You've got to get to a hospital!"

"No, not yet," Christine answered in a strained voice. "I still think it may stop if I'm quiet."

"How big an idiot do you think I am, sis? This is labor! Quit fooling yourself!"

Christine's expression smoothed out as the contraction eased. She took a deep breath and relaxed. "Get my tricorder. I want to take a reading." After Jessie handed her the instrument, Chapel did a quick scan of herself. "I've dilated to a four, but that's still okay. Help me up. I need to go to the bathroom."

Jessie assisted Christine to her feet and escorted her across the hall. Waiting outside the closed door, she listened with concern to the screeching wind and battering rain, hoping the roof would hold. This was an old house and it had been built to last, but then this was an unusually powerful storm. Lightning flared and thunder crashed loudly almost immediately, causing Jessie to jump. That one had been close!

After a few minutes, she knocked on the bathroom door. "You okay in there, Chris? Need any help?"

There was silence then Christine's voice answered, "Yes ... I mean, no. Jessie, I need you."

Immediately, Jess shoved open the door to find Christine standing with one hand against the wall for support, her other hand bolstering her heavy abdomen. Around her feet was a puddle of bloody liquid. Christine looked up, her eyes just beginning to show a sign of fear. "My water broke," she said simply.

Jessalyn's first impulse was panic, then she took a deep breath and drew herself up mentally, exhibiting the same sort of fortitude that her older sister was famous for. "Okay," she answered. "First, let's get you cleaned up and back to bed. Then I'm calling the emergency line and get them here. Then I'll clean up this mess."

She helped Christine strip off the wet, soiled gown and Jess dropped it atop the puddle. She'd come back and clean properly and throw the gown in the washer. After fetching a clean gown, she helped Christine wash herself and redress, then assisted her in walking back to bed. No sooner had she lain back down than an especially hard contraction hit. Christine gritted her teeth and rode it through, gripping her sister's hand tightly as she tried to breathe evenly.

After it eased, Jessie hit the "panic button" on the comm unit, a direct call to the town's emergency services. After a few seconds, a woman in a dark uniform appeared on the screen. "EMS. What is your emergency?"

"I have a woman in labor," Jessie told her. "We need an ambulance right away!"

"All of our equipment is currently out on other calls, ma'am," the woman answered in a professional sounding voice, then her tone softened to a more personal one. "How far along is she?"

Christine answered for herself, still curled on the bed. "I'm at 38 weeks. My contractions are about 20 minutes apart now and a medical scan shows that I'm dilated to a 4. My water has broken."

"I'll get someone there as quickly as I can," the emergency dispatcher assured them. "This weather has us meeting ourselves coming and going. Emergencies everywhere! Do you need someone on the line with you?"

Jessie looked down at Christine. "I'm a nurse," the blonde woman responded. "I can tell my sister what to do. But please hurry."

"The calling identification shows your address at 324 Pinehurst Road. Is that correct?"

"Yes," said Jessie.

"As soon as a medical team is free, I'll dispatch them to you."

"Thank you!" Jessie clicked off and turned to Christine. "Okay, what do we do now? Do I need to boil water or something?"

"Get all the clean towels you have," Christine answered softly. "And do you have a waterproof sheet or something? We ought to prepare this bed just in case. I've got to think a minute. It's been a very long time since I assisted at a birth..." She closed her eyes and her face screwed up once more in pain. "Oh ... here comes another one... Jessie, hang onto me!" And she seized her sister's hand once and gripped it tightly.

* Spock! Spock, where are you?* Christine thought frantically, searching through her bondlink for her husband, but he had closed it off again. *Oh, love, I need you! Hurry!!*

* * *

When Spock completed materialization, he found himself facing a human male in a black security forces uniform. The young man was standing with hands on his hips, an incredulous look on his face, brows lowered over gray eyes.

"I don't know who you are, mister, but you better explain yourself! This is a restricted beam site and limited to official use!"

Spock stepped down off the transporter pad. "I am Commander Spock, First Officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise. However, this is emergency business of a personal nature. I must get to 324 Pinehurst Street immediately."

"What do I look like? A taxi pilot?"

"My wife is in labor and must receive medical assistance right away."

Spock's demeanor was impassive, but something about him told the officer that he was absolutely serious and perhaps just a bit desperate. The enforcement officer softened his stance and reached up to touch the comm badge on his chest. "Dispatch ... Have we had a call from 324 Pinehurst?"

"Just a sec. Yeah, woman having a baby. Call is pending."

"Have we got a med crew out there?"

"No, don't have anybody to send," the dispatcher answered. "Everybody's out on that pileup on the Intercontinental Airway. She's up just as soon as somebody reports they're clear."

The officer slapped the badge once more to close the circuit and said to Spock, "Come on, I'll get you out there. Grab one of those weather suits off the hook. You'll need it!"

Both men snatched a bright orange environmental suit from a row of similar suits hanging along one wall and left the room at a run.

* * *

Christine gripped the pillows behind her head and let out a long, keening moan through clenched teeth. Jessie was desperately watching the readings on the medical tricorder she held in her hand. On the small monitor screen, a jagged line had climbed up to a peak and then held at that level. Slowly it started to drop.

"Okay, it's almost over," she told her sister, who was puffing air in and out in an attempt to ease the pain. The thigh-length cotton sleeping shirt Christine was wearing was soaked through with sweat and her blonde hair hung limply across her flushed face. Propped up against a stack of pillows into a semi-sitting position, her bare legs and feet were braced and spread, her heels dug into the mattress.

As the contraction eased off, Christine swallowed and asked, "How far apart are they now? What are the readings?"

"They're five minutes apart now. You're dilated to an 8."

As Christine dropped her head back tiredly, Jessie took a cool wet washcloth and dabbed it lightly against her sister's cheeks and forehead. "I called EMS again, Chris. They say the med crews are still out but there's an enforcement officer on his way."

"I need a med team," Christine answered weakly. "I can't stand it any longer!"

"Yes, you can, Chrissy! Hang on! The officer will have emergency training and he'll help us. Just hang on!"

"I want a drink of water," Christine mumbled.

"I can't give you any water," Jessie answered. "You told me not to let you drink anything. You can suck on a piece of ice if you want to."

"I want ... a drink," Christine moaned, then tears came to her eyes and she murmured in a pitiable tone, "I want Spock! Oh, God, Jessie ... get Spock! I need him!"

Her throat tight, Jessie spared a glance at the window, where rain and wind raged as strong as ever, punctuated by blasts of lightning and answering booms of thunder. Jess answered softly, "Spock isn't here right now, sweetie. He's having some trouble, but he'll be here soon. Just hang on."

"Spock..." Christine moaned again, then her expression clenched up. She grabbed at the pillows again and the long, high-pitched keen began again.

* * *

Officer Jason Gerritt slammed the patrol speeder into a desperate turn as a wind-borne sheet of plastisteel careened across their path. Both Gerritt and his passenger were thrown against the cruiser's crash webbing as the vehicle spun nearly out of control, ending up facing the wrong direction, fetched up against a retaining wall.

For a moment, both men sat dazed from the impact, then Spock looked in concern over at the young officer. "Are you hurt?" he asked, practically having to shout to make himself heard above the roar of the wind and thrashing of the downpour.

"No ... no, I'm alright. You?" Gerritt answered.

"I am uninjured."

"Okay, let's try this again." The officer pulled back on the yoke and the police cruiser lifted on its repulsors once more, dampers fighting to keep it level against the force of the gale that threatened to tumble it out of control.

With determination, Gerritt aimed the cruise down the flooded thoroughfare and they struggled to make headway, all the while assaulted by flying debris, torrential rain and near hurricane strength wind. Darkness had fallen early and the cruiser's high intensity beams barely cut through the torrent.

Straining to see past the nose of his cruiser, Gerritt commented, "Your wife picked a helluva night to have a baby!"

"I'm sure that she had little control over the matter," Spock answered.

"Yeah, I guess babies come when they're ready, regardless." Gerritt concentrated on his driving then said, "324 Pinehurst ... isn't that the Chapel place?"

"Yes. My wife is Christine Chapel. Do you know her?"

"I know Jessie Chapel," the officer replied. "So, you're married to Jessie's sister. Small world." He glanced at Spock. "You're Vulcan, aren't you?"

"Correct."

"Didn't know anyone local had married an off-worlder."

"Christine and I are both in Starfleet. We both served on the Enterprise."

Gerritt nodded. "Love to talk to you sometime. Got a cousin who's an officer on the Yorktown. Whoa! What's this?"

He pulled the cruiser to a stop and turned on the high resolution spotlight, playing it through the sheets of rain ahead of them. Both men struggled to see through the rain and Spock realized they were looking at a wide, fast-running stretch of water blocking their path.

"Creek's flooded and bridge is washed out," Gerritt decided. "We can't get through that way. This cruiser will handle some water but nothing like that. We'll have to go back and try another way across."

Spock said nothing, but felt his fingers clench almost involuntarily in tension. Time was running out for Christine. Though he had blocked the pain he was feeling from her, he could still sense her mind and the desperation and fear he felt from her was nearly overwhelming now.

* * *

Christine couldn't think anymore. Her whole world had shrunk down to the near constant agony in the lower half of her torso and the longing for it just to be over. Jessie hovered over her, wiping her sister's face with one hand because Christine would not let go of the other one. She was bruised and bloodied where Christine's fingers and nails had dug in, but Jessie knew her pain was infinitesimal compared to what her sister was enduring.

"They're coming, Chrissy," she whispered. "Help will get here soon. Just hang on."

Christine's fevered blue eyes snapped over and locked on Jessie's face. "*You* hang on!" she spat in fury. "*You're* not lying here about to die!"

Jessalyn knew better than to argue with her sister. "You're in transition now, Chrissy," she told her. "It won't last much longer. It's almost time to push."

Christine rolled her head on the pillow and looked away, screwing up her eyes again. "I can't push. I don't have the strength. Oh, God, I hurt so much..."

"I know you do, sweetie. I know you do. Just a little while longer..." Jessie glanced at the tiny screen of the tricorder propped on the nightstand and said, "Okay, Chris, hold on. And ... breathe ... even breaths ..."

Christine threw her head back and screamed.

The contraction was easing off when Jessie turned her head abruptly and listened. Then she heard it again -- a banging sound coming from downstairs. Gently but quickly, she disengaged her hand from Christine's grip and said, "I've got to leave you for just a minute, Chris. I'll be right back."

"No! Don't leave me alone!" Christine cried frantically.

"I'll be right back!" Jessie assured her and quickly left the room. Practically running down the stairs, she pelted into the kitchen and threw open the door into the garage.

Spock and Officer Gerritt burst in, dressed in orange emergency environmental suits, and dripping wet. Jessie didn't care. Without thinking, she launched herself into Spock's arms and hugged him fiercely, much to his startlement.

Quickly, he shoved her away. "Where is she?" he demanded.

"Upstairs. Thank God, you're here! Hurry!" Jessie turned and ran back the way she had come.

Rapidly the two men stripped out of the wet enviro suits and followed her, Gerritt carrying an emergency medical pack. Taking the stairs two or three at a time, they reached the top landing in time to see Jessie disappear into an open doorway down the hall.

Her voice reached them instantly. "Oh, my God!! Hurry!! Hurry!!"

* * *

For a second, Spock faltered in the doorway , shocked at the sight of the woman on the bed. She was propped into a semi-sitting position, her face red and sweaty from exertion, her hair hanging in limp strands. Her hands gripped her knees and she was straining. Most shocking of all, she was naked from the waist down, her legs pulled up and spread, her vulva clearly in view. For that second, the propriety and modesty of a Vulcan husband reared up in outrage that others should see his wife in such a position, then he slapped the illogical thought back down. This was no time for prudery.

The contraction let up and Christine fell back against her pillows, exhausted, then an enormous grin lit up her face as her husband strode into the room. "Spock!!" She held out one hand to him, too weak to do more.

He went to her immediately, overwhelmed by his own relief at finally being reunited with her and awash in the surging tide of emotions he was feeling from her. As he sat down beside her on the bed, she pulled him into her arms, tears flowing down her cheeks, hugging him with all her might.

"Oh, my darling! My love!" she murmured through her tears. "You got here! You're safe!"

He pulled away, slightly embarrassed at such an emotional display in front of strangers, but his focus was on the flushed face of his wife. "T'hy'la," he whispered to her. "I apologize for not getting here sooner."

"Oh, Spock, everything's just perfect now," she smiled. "Just perfect -- oh!" She made a convulsive grab for her knees once again, bearing down as another big contraction hit her. Alarmed, Spock slid an arm around her back and supported her through the ordeal. Then, he gently laid her back against the pillows, where she closed her eyes in fatigue.

While Spock and Christine had sat embraced, Officer Gerritt had quickly surveyed the situation and had slapped his combadge. "Dispatch, this is Gerritt. I'm on-scene at 324 Pinehurst. Any sign of that med team? Things are critical here."

"Affirmative," answered the dispatcher. "Unit 82 has just cleared and I've directed them to you. What's the situation there?"

"I have a woman in the final stages of labor. Birth is imminent. Med should be prepared to transport mother and newborn. Unless they arrive within the next ten to fifteen minutes, I will assist at delivery. Gerritt out." He turned to Jessie who was standing by uncertainly. "How long has she been in labor?"

"About six hours now," Jessalyn answered. "She's done well, but is really tired. I don't know how much longer she can hold out."

"Well, I don't think she'll have to hold out much longer," the officer said, retrieving a pair of sterile gloves from the med kit and slipping them on. "From the signs, I think we're going to have a baby here in just a few more minutes."

At that moment, Christine had gone into her latest contraction and Gerritt turned a professional eye to the situation. When the contraction slacked off and Spock had laid Christine back against the pillows once more, the young man stepped up to her on the other side of the bed, his manner completely professional.

"Ms. Chapel, I'm Officer Gerritt. The medical response team is on the way but I'm going to give you a hand here. I am a fully trained Emergency Medical Caregiver and this isn't the first baby I've delivered. With your permission and your husband's, I want to do a very quick examination to confirm the baby's position. Is that alright, Ms. Chapel?"

Christine nodded. "I'm a medical nurse. I know what you need to do. I think the baby crowned that last time."

"That's what I want to confirm. I will insert one finger only to see if I can touch its head. That is all I will do. Is that agreeable?"

"Yes. Hurry, though. My contractions are only about a minute apart now."

Gerritt moved to the foot of the bed. "I understand that this is embarrassing. I will be as gentle as I can."

"Go ahead," Christine said and gripped Spock's hand tightly.

With great care, the officer gently slipped one gloved finger into Christine's vagina. It didn't go very far before it encountered a hard, rounded obstruction. Immediately, he withdrew. "The baby is in position for birth," he reported. "I think three or four real good pushes ought to do it."

Christine didn't answer for her body cramped up tightly once more. This time, Jessie saw the top of the baby's head appear before the contraction eased up and it slipped back out of sight. Christine had endured it with gritted teeth and a vice-like grip on Spock's hand. When it was over, Spock said to her, "I believe that I can ease your pain, Christine. Jessalyn, your assistance, please."

As the younger woman came forward, Spock quickly stood up and kicked off his shoes. Then, still supporting Christine in a semi-sitting position, he directed, "Move those pillows. Hurry."

Jessie raked the pile of sweat-soaked pillows off the bed and Spock immediately took their place, kneeling behind his wife, his knees on either side of her body. Gently, he pulled her back against him, supporting her with his own strength, loving the feel of her warmth against his chest once more, and then he reached up with both hands and touched his fingertips to her temples.

Closing his eyes, he concentrated and easily slipped into her mind through their bondlink. For a second, he was startled to detect two distinct personalities, Christine's and a nebulous but vigorous new one. He forced himself to ignore it and focused on damping the pain that his wife was feeling.

For the first time since labor had begun, Christine felt enveloped in love and safety and a renewed sense of energy. She could finish this now, with Spock at her back, helping her through it. As the next contraction came on, she reached back, groping for his hands. Immediately, he took his fingertips from her face, his mental link now solidly connected to her, and caught her hands in his own.

Christine used Spock as an anchor point and really bore down with the contraction. From the foot of the bed, Jessie was saying excitedly, "Come on, come on, come on, Christine! You nearly did it that time! Push! Push!"

More calmly, Officer Gerritt instructed her, "That was a really good one, Christine. One more great big one like that and we'll have a baby here. Okay, are you ready? Take a deep breath ... and ... *push*!!" Christine set her teeth and bore down again with all her might. "Good! Push, Christine! Push!!"

Christine hung on madly to Spock's steady grip, leaning back into his sturdy torso, and gave a tremendous heave, her immense effort squeezing a high pitched keen from her throat. Suddenly it seemed to her that a small, hard melon had been forced out of her body and the immediate following relief was amazing.

Stunned, she leaned back into Spock's embrace and panted. But it wasn't quite over. Gerritt was working away diligently between her wide-spread legs and, without looking up, said, "One more, Christine! Let's get those shoulders out and it'll be over! Come on, one more good push!"

Obediently, she buckled down one more time and shoved -- and felt the rest of the baby slide out. The abrupt emptiness she felt, mixed with the lingering pain of abused muscles and ligaments, stretched tendons and aching joints, caught her by surprise.

In amazement, she lay back against Spock, watching as Gerritt and Jessie bent over a squirming bluish object at the foot of the bed, wiping birth fluids away and suctioning out the baby's nose and mouth, clearing its airway. And suddenly the baby sucked in a huge breath of air and let it back out again in an angry, protesting squall.

"That's what I want to hear!" Gerritt announced happily. "Get those lungs working, sweetheart!"

Jessie looked up at her sister, tears in her eyes. "It's a girl! Oh, she's beautiful!"

Gerritt took a clean, warmed towel from Jessie and gently wrapped the baby in it, being careful of the still attached umbilical cord. Then he picked the baby up and handed her up into her mother's arms.

Christine didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so she did both as she looked down into her baby's face for the first time. The little face was perfect and bore classic Vulcan features -- petite points on her ears, the wisp of slanted eyebrows, and a shock of thick dark hair.

Christine looked up at her husband and found him gazing in rapt attention at his new child, his expression suffused with wonder. Then he reached out and touched the baby's forehead with two fingers, closing his eyes as his mind reached out to the infant's.

The intellect he found was unformed, chaotic, registering only sensations, but it turned its attention to his presence nevertheless. Spock opened his eyes and said softly, ritually, "Katra of this new being, listen, that thou may know who thou art and by what name thou shalt be called."

He paused and Christine squeezed his hand in assent, looking back down at the now peaceful baby. Spock continued in his soft, deep voice, still touching the baby's mind. "Thou art T'Manda Christina, daughter of Spock, daughter of Christine, of the lineage of Surak, of the House of Ni'ikhirch, cross-bonded to the House of Chapel, child of two worlds. Daughter, I welcome thee."

As Spock finished the naming ritual, the baby opened her eyes and looked up at her father, as if recognizing who and what he was. Christine drew a startled breath and glanced at Spock in time to see his eyebrows go up.

T'Manda's eyes were sky blue.

Spock looked at his wife and asked, "Do you suppose they will stay that color? There is an occasional light-eyed child born on Vulcan, but most are dark-eyed from birth."

"I don't know. Most human children are born with blue eyes but the color usually change quickly," Christine answered, absolutely enchanted by this unusual manifestation of the child's heritage. "I hope they stay blue, though. A blue-eyed Vulcan would be spectacular!"

Spock looked down at his wife and smiled. "She will be spectacular in any case," he whispered, his statement for her ears only. "She is your daughter, after all."

"And yours," Christine whispered back, wishing with all her heart that she could kiss him and express her love, but relieved now of her pain and labor, she knew that he would never allow such an intimate gesture in front of others.

*I know your thoughts, my t'hy'la,* his mind murmured to hers. *Soon we will find a moment to ourselves and then I will thank you properly for this beautiful child.*

She smiled up at him, tears forming in her eyes once more. Just at that moment, Gerritt's combadge beeped and another voice broke in, "This is Unit 82. We're just pulling up to 324 Pinehurst. What's the situation?"

Gerritt tapped the badge. "We've just had a gorgeous little baby girl here. You're too late! Mother's doing fine but she can use your expert help."

"I'll go down and let them in," Jessie said and hurried from the room.

"Well, we practically had to get a boat to get here!" the med team leader responded to Gerritt's last comment. "We'll be there in a moment."

True to their word, the medical response team came upstairs with full medical kits and a stretcher. The med leader, a sturdy young woman who looked exceedingly competent, took over and cut the baby's umbilical cord, sealing it. Then she handed the squalling infant over to an assistant and ordered Spock and Jessie from the room while the med team finished working on Christine.

They didn't go any further than the hallway, however, and stood watching with Gerritt. With efficiency and obvious experience, the med leader delivered Christine of the afterbirth and checked her to make sure that she was clear inside and not bleeding too much. Then they wrapped her in a warm wrap against the chill of the weather, swaddled the baby likewise, and moved their two patients onto the stretcher for transport to the nearest medical facility.

Spock hurried downstairs to retrieve his borrowed environmental suit and accompanied his wife and child in the transport to the hospital.

As Jessie and Officer Gerritt watched the ambulance disappear into the driving rain, the young woman turned and looked up at the tall, sandy-haired man. "I know you, don't I?" she asked. "Didn't you come and speak at Prentiss Intermediary School last year?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I did," he answered, smiling down at her.

"I thought so. And you're name's ... Jason?" At his nod, Jessalyn smiled warmly. "Well, Jason, I think you and I could use a cup of tea before you launch yourself back into that cyclone out there."

He hesitated and then realized that she had beautiful blue eyes and a light sprinkling of freckles across her nose, something he found irresistible. "Well ... I really shouldn't but ... some hot tea would be really nice while I get my things together and call in my report." He smiled warmly, showing even white teeth behind full lips. "Thank you very much ... Jessie."

For a long moment, the two stood immobile, caught by each other's presence, then Jessalyn broke the spell and moved off toward the kitchen, casting a quick smile back at him. Gerritt blinked and went back upstairs, thinking in a bemused manner that more than a new baby had come into being on this dark and stormy night.

* * *

His arms crossed over his chest, Spock stood gazing out the window of Christine's hospital room, bemused at the fact that it was an absolutely beautiful day. The past evening's storms had blown out of the area, leaving a brilliant blue sky washed clean of any dust or pollutants. Spock decided that he could never get used to this planet's volatile weather. He much preferred Vulcan, where the seasons were quiet and orderly and the days marched one after the other in serene changelessness.

Behind him, Christine was propped up in her bed, an absolutely besotted smile on her face as she gazed down at her new daughter feeding purposefully at her breast. After a long and sometimes harrowing ride through the rain and wind the night before, the new family had arrived safely at the local area medcenter, a small facility that served the countryside surrounding Prentiss. There Christine and the baby were checked by the ER physician and declared in good shape, then Christine was moved to a room and the baby to the nursery, where the nurses on duty had fallen over themselves in delight at not only have a baby to tend but such an elfin one in the bargain.

Spock had spent the night in a very uncomfortable chair in Christine's room, meditating as best he could and seeing to his wife when she moved about restlessly in her sleep. She had been awakened at dawn when little T'Manda had been brought in to her for the first time since they had arrived.

Now Spock turned to look at his wife, both amused and bewildered at the bonding taking place between mother and child. Christine's gaze was centered squarely on her baby's face and she was uttering soft, sweet nonsensical things while the baby nursed strongly but kept her sky blue eyes on her mother's matching ones.

He found himself feeling a thread of discomfort at the sight of the child suckling at Christine's breast. He could not help but think of the many times he had kissed and drawn her nipples into his mouth as they engaged in sexual foreplay and he wondered if he could ever do so again without the image of a nursing child entering his mind. Her full, beautiful breasts had always been enticing sex objects to him and now they were in use in their real purpose. Lifting an eyebrow at his introspection, he decided he would have to give the matter further thought.

Christine glanced up at him, absolutely radiant in her happiness, then looked back down at the baby. "I think I'm going to call her Stormy," she announced.

Both eyebrows went up at that profession. "Stormy?" Spock repeated, strolling back to stand beside the bed. "That is not the name we agreed upon."

"Oh, I know," Christine answered serenely. "Officially, she'll still be T'Manda, but I've decided that when we're in human society, she'll be Stormy Chapel."

Spock's eyebrows didn't lower a centimeter. "Indeed? If you had already chosen a name, why bother to consult me at all on the matter?"

"Oh, don't get in a huff! I wouldn't mind using her Vulcan name if anyone other than another Vulcan could pronounce it!"

"My mother can pronounce it," he responded, still sounding offended.

"No, she can't," Christine retorted. "She told me herself that she gave up trying years ago. Vulcan is a hellacious language to speak."

"I do not find it so," he answered icily.

Christine looked up at him, her eyes half lidded. "Of course you don't. It's easy as pie ... for someone born with a Vulcan vocal apparatus that can make all those deep glottal clicks and vowel shifts without swallowing his tongue in the process! If it's so easy, then say T'Manda's full name for me ... in Vulcan."

Spock paused, then in the fluid, completely alien tongue of his people, he answered, "T'Manda Christina t'cha'Spock cha'Sarek aduni'Christine Kh'da'Chapel hei-Kh'da'Ni'ikhirch."

Christine just looked at him for a long beat then answered, "I rest my case." She turned her attention back to the baby. "Are you all done now, little one? My, that was a *good* breakfast you had, wasn't it?"

"She cannot understand you, you know," Spock commented.

Christine was in the process of detaching the baby from her nipple and repositioning her against her shoulder, where she gently rubbed the infant's back. "You're in a bad mood this morning. Didn't you get any sleep last night?"

"Very little. And I am not in a bad mood. I simply find your behavior bewildering."

Christine looked back up at him patiently. "Well, whatever you call it, I don't feel like hearing it. Really, sweetheart, I'm absolutely exhausted and I hurt all over and I want our time together to be happy." She peered at him imploringly.

"I see no difficulty in complying with your request. However, we do need to discuss our plans, now that T'Manda has been born." He peered at her inquiringly. "For instance, now that you have fulfilled your desire to give birth on your home planet, will you be returning to Vulcan?"

"No." She said it flatly, busy at cradling the baby in her other arm and offering her the other breast.

"That sounds rather definite," Spock answered, watching her expression closely.

"It is. I had six months with nothing much to do but sit and think. And I did a *lot* of thinking, Spock." Christine looked back up at her husband. She was silent for a moment, then sighed and took the plunge. "Darling, I love you with all my heart and soul. Even moreso now because I've borne your child. But, when I married you, we hadn't fully discussed what we would be doing with our lives or how we would make a life together."

He was still standing rigidly, silently. She went on. "I want to be with you, Spock. I want to make a home with you and be a wife to you. I want to have your children and raise them to be people we can both be proud of. But I'm not a Vulcan wife, Spock. I'm not like your mother. I cannot walk two steps behind you with my eyes lowered, always jumping to your beck and call.

"Furthermore, I have decided that I am not going to resign my commission in Starfleet. I am, however, going on inactive duty so that I can raise our child properly. I have applied for and been accepted into the medical doctorate program at Ohio Valley MedCenter in Cincinnati. I intend to become an M.D. But, once I complete the program, I will make a bargain with you." She paused to make sure she had his full attention. "I will specialize in Vulcan medicine and I will do my residency on Vulcan. At that point, I am fully willing to move back to Vulcan and live there. Is this acceptable to you?"

Spock didn't answer for a long while then responded softly, "I do not wish to coerce you into a course of action that you will find disagreeable."

Christine looked at him intently. "You have misunderstood me all along, Spock. I do not find living on Vulcan unpleasant, in and of itself. What I cannot tolerate is being smothered by the traditions and unspoken regulations of living within your family's expectations. I am not Vulcan and I cannot live as a Vulcan. And I think that, ultimately, you would become unhappy with me if I *did* try to pretend that I am Vulcan."

He blinked and his stance softened a bit. In a quiet, rough voice, he answered, "I would not wish you other than you are, t'hy'la. From the beginning of our acquaintance, I was attracted to your honesty and strength of self. It would be illogical of me to attempt to change you into something you are not." He took a deep breath. "And I do find your argument completely logical. The course that you propose is acceptable and I believe that it is sound. Very well, for my part, I will continue to follow my intention to retire from Starfleet once our current mission ends. That should coincide closely with the end of your medical studies and, at that point, we can all begin our lives together on Vulcan." He paused and looked at her speculatively. "Are you agreeable to residing at Keldeen?"

Christine smiled warmly. "I think that would be a marvelous place to live and raise a family ... as long as you are there with me." She held out her free hand to him and he moved to grasp it in his own.

She tugged him toward her and he obligingly slid onto the bed beside her. Bending toward her, he brought his lips down on hers in a long, cleansing, healing kiss. Through their bondlink, he caressed her with emotions he could not speak and she responded in kind. When they parted, her eyes were shining with her love for him and he smiled back at her, bringing his fingertips up to caress her face.

"I still owe you the mind meld I promised you," he whispered huskily. "I cannot express my desire for you in a physical manner and I do not believe that you will be recovered enough by the time I must return to the Enterprise. However, I will use the time to find the perfect place in which to demonstrate fully the degree to which I need you."

"I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it!" she answered, her eyes sparkling. "And you'd better build up your strength, because I'm not letting you out of bed for a week!"

His eyebrow twitched up in amusement. "That could become extremely inconvenient after a certain point."

"Oh, I'll work in bathroom breaks every now and then, and I'll have our meals catered, but otherwise, you're gonna think you've gone into pon farr!" She grinned wickedly.

"Indeed? And what do you intend to do with T'Manda during this time?" His eyes shone with humor.

"Oh, Aunt Jessie will get to babysit. I'll work out something! Nothing is going to keep me from catching up on all the time we've missed together," she whispered, her blue eyes hot with desire.

"Meanwhile, perhaps you should follow our daughter's example and get some rest," he responded softly and Christine followed his gaze down to the tiny baby she cradled against her bared breast. T'Manda was asleep, a little trail of milky drool dribbling from one corner of her mouth.

Spock reached out and gently dabbed the drool away with a part of the soft cotton blanket in which his daughter was wrapped. He let his gaze linger on her, still marveling that this tiny creature could be his.

Christine smiled impishly, then suddenly handed the child into his arms. His immediate reaction was to pull back and refuse to take her, but then he capitulated and found himself cradling the warm little bundle against his chest while Christine watched and took the opportunity to seal the front of her gown. The baby yawned and turned her face into the front of her father's shirt, still asleep, but rooting instinctively for food.

"I do not have what you are looking for," Spock said quietly to the infant, bemused with the situation.

"She can't understand you, you know," Christine commented and he looked up to see her eyes twinkling as she mimicked his earlier remark, then her expression softened. "She's not hungry. Babies just do that."

"I see," he answered. "Shall I return her to the bassinet?"

"If you want to. Or you can just hold her for a while longer. Enjoy it while you can. One of these days she'll be too big to hold and you'll wonder how she grew up so fast."

"Indeed," he whispered. "Although holding their children is something that Vulcan fathers seldom do." He looked back down at the little face peeking from the blanket. "I believe they are missing a definite pleasurable experience."

"Some human fathers don't hold their children either," Christine answered softly. "I feel very sorry for them."

The two of them were silent for a while, simply watching their daughter sleep, marveling at her minute, perfectly-formed hands, her button of a nose, her Vulcan features and dark hair as fine as spider silk.

"I cannot help but wonder what lies ahead for her," Spock said after a while.

"Me, too," Christine answered in as quiet a voice. "I suppose parents have been asking that since the dawn of time." She looked up at her tall, handsome husband. "We owe it to her to make sure she has a stable, loving home to grow up in."

Spock returned her gaze then bent to kiss Christine gently on her lips. "What matters is that we are together, my wife. On Earth or Vulcan or on board a starship ... that does not make a difference. As long as you and Stormy are with me and I am with you."

Christine gave him a wide, mischievous grin. "Stormy? That isn't the name we agreed on!"

She was lucky that Spock was still holding the baby.



The End

1