DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of T'Eros and is copyright (c) 2003 by T'Eros. This is the sequel to "Trust" and is rated NC-17 for sexual situations.



As Spock knelt in the sand before the reldai of the Elakil Clan, Christine stood in what shade there was and hoped she wouldn't pass out from the blistering heat. It was high summer on Vulcan, a fact that Spock had neglected to mention when he had asked her to accompany him home to return the katra of T'Kal, the ill-fated young woman with whom he had bonded in the Gorn prison camp.

At first the ceremony, seldom viewed by outworlders, had been interesting to her, but after a while the oppressive heat began to sap her energy and enthusiasm. For over an hour now Spock had been on his knees before the priestess, locked into a mind meld with her, and all the spectators had stood as silent and unmoving as stone, seemingly lending their psychic energy to the proceedings.

Christine had tried to do likewise but had finally wilted as her body frantically poured out perspiration in a desperate effort to cool off. Not wanting to disturb the ceremony, the nurse had edged away until she was outside the ring of family members and under the shade of one of the huge stone pillars that circled the sacred arena. There, she fanned determinedly with a folded paper, generating a minuscule breeze that lasted only as long as she kept up the movement of her hand and wrist. It didn't help much. She decided she'd give just about anything for a climate regulator and a great, big, frosty glass of icy lemonade.

That thought only made her thirstier than she already was and she tried to rid her mind of the image. But the fact was that she was extremely dehydrated as sweat dripped down her face and between her shoulder blades, evaporating almost immediately in the dry heat of the Vulcan desert. Ceremony or no, she was going to have to get some fluid in her soon or she'd have a heat stroke.

There was a stir beyond the ring of people and Christine stepped back up to see Spock disengaging from his meld position with the priestess. He looked a bit disoriented as he got to his feet and family members quickly moved to steady him. The reldai herself rose and faced the people gathered there. She spoke a lilting phrase in Vulcan and clapped her hands together once.

It seemed to signal the end of the ceremony, or at least their part in it, for the Vulcans around her began to mingle among themselves, speaking softly, and the gathering broke up, people going their separate ways.

Christine approached Spock who was standing with a man and a woman, T'Kal's parents. He still looked a bit dazed, but appeared to be regaining his faculties. The man was saying quietly to him, "We are grateful for the service you did our daughter, Spock cha'Sarek, both in life and in death. We would have been sorely distressed if her katra had been irretrievably lost to our Unity."

"It was the logical course of action," Spock answered evenly.

"Indeed, but we shall continue to be in your debt and to the House of Surak for performing those actions," T'Kal's father replied. "Will you now return to your Starfleet ship?"

"I must undertake kae'kh't'kotal first," Spock responded in a quiet voice. "My own katra has been unsettled by the events of the past month and I require the ritual to center myself once again."

"Of course," the other man said. "May your Ancestors guide you on your quest. Live long and prosper, Spock cha'Sarek."

"Peace and long life to you, Selun cha'Shull. And to you, T'Rees aduna'Selun." Spock returned the standard salute and then they parted company.

As he reached her, Christine asked, "Are you all right? You look a little out of it."

Spock glanced her way and quirked up an eyebrow. "Out of it, Miss Chapel?"

"Stunned. Dazed. You know."

"Ah... Perhaps I am still a little 'out of it', as you say. It is a disconcerting experience." He noted her flushed face and limp hair. "May I say that you look a bit 'out of it' as well. Perhaps the heat is too strong for you."

"I could definitely do with some water and cool air," Christine admitted. "You didn't tell me it was going to be 130 degrees."

"One hundred twenty-eight point four degrees to be exact," he corrected her. "That is on the Fahrenheit scale, of course. But we should go indoors. It is warm today, even for me."

Together they walked the short distance to the guesthouse, in reality not much more than a tiny, nondescript cabin of thick, hewn sandstone. It was like most Vulcan buildings -- constructed to block the fierce heat by day and mute the equally fierce desert cold by night. It was plain and utilitarian, yet quite comfortable.

As Christine stepped through the doorway, the relatively cool interior caused her to stop and take a deep breath. She'd fortified herself with Tri-ox compounds but the thinner atmosphere still tended to make her lightheaded if she over-exerted herself. Heat exhaustion and dehydration were adding to that unpleasant feeling.

Spock walked past her and headed immediately for the shelf carved and recessed into one of the sandstone walls. On it stood the ubiquitous pitcher of water and accompanying small cup. The water and cup were part of the Vulcan greeting ritual. Guests were always met with the symbolic offering of water. It had many meanings -- the willingness to share the precious commodity with a guest, the pitcher symbolizing that the household could supply enough water so that its members would not go thirsty, but the small cup showing that the water was not to be wasted but used carefully and with due attention to its overall scarcity in the desert environment.

Spock poured the cup full of water and brought it back to Christine. "Sip it slowly," he instructed her, watching as she did so. Her thirst demanded that she gulp it down -- hell, she could have downed the entire contents of the pitcher without coming up for air! -- but she controlled it and made herself take measured swallows.

It helped. Spock refilled the cup and brought it up to his own lips, taking a long sip of the water before passing it back to Christine. The gesture was strangely intimate, she thought, that he had drunk from the same cup she had. It was almost like something a husband and wife would do, drinking after one another from the same glass. There was a quiet, easy comfort to it.

Her eyes on his, she finished the water and handed the empty cup back to him. "Thanks," she said, caught by his gaze. "I'm feeling better now."

"Are you hungry?" he asked softly. "I will order mid-meal for us if you desire."

"If you like," she replied. "Yes, that would be very nice."

"Then it will be time to rest," he continued, his voice almost a husky whisper. "You may sleep for a while. I believe you will be sufficiently recovered when you awake that you... You will be sufficiently recovered by then." He turned to replace the cup on the shelf next to the pitcher.

His hesitation and near-stammer hadn't escaped her notice. "Finish what you were going to say, Spock," she said. "Recovered for what?"

He stood with his back to her for a minute then turned to look at her with an almost pleading expression in his eyes. "I must make a journey into the desert to meditate and restore myself," he answered softly. "I wish for you to accompany me there."

"The ... uh ... 'kahkuh' ... uh, whatever you said to Selun after the ceremony?"

"The kae'kh't'kotal," Spock responded. "The 'mind realignment'. Bearing the katra of a deceased person is quite difficult. The other's personality and memories tend to blend and conflict with one's own memories. Keeping them separated is tiring and, in the end, the bearer may not be quite sure which memories are actually his and which are not. The ... the ... emotions that have accompanied this experience have stretched my endurance quite thin. I must realign myself before I will be able to resume my duties on board the Enterprise."

"It sounds quite personal and private, Spock," Christine whispered in answer. "Are you sure you want me along?"

"Yes. One is generally accompanied by a friend or family member," Spock replied, again gazing deeply into her eyes. "One who is trusted implicitly to watch over the person in meditation and keep him from harm." He paused. "You have watched over me many times before, Christine. I ask you now... please ... will you do so again?"

* * *

Christine glanced back over her shoulder at the barrier wall surrounding ShiKahr, now tinged orange by the light of the lowering sun. It had always made her a bit uncomfortable that the Vulcans felt it necessary to protect their cities with energy barriers and sentry walls. On a planet as peaceful as this, that indicated there was something ... maybe a lot of 'somethings' ... outside those walls that the Vulcans didn't want getting in. And now she and Spock were heading out on foot to where those 'somethings' lived.

They had waited until the worst of the day's heat was abating before setting out, clad in desert robes and hoods, supply bags on their backs. Spock had intentionally packed his heavier so that she only carried a portion of their supplies. He recognized the fact that she would not have his strength or endurance and that the weight of the pack, combined with the thinner air and heavier gravity, would wear her down long before he felt fatigue.

She turned back and hurried to catch up with him. His long-legged stride had already allowed him to pull ahead of her. "Spock, slow down a little! We won't make it a mile if I have to run to keep up with you."

He slowed his pace. "My apologies, Christine. I am simply anxious to reach our destination before dark. I would prefer that we not be out after nightfall."

"Where are we going? Onto Vulcan's Forge?"

"No, this is not kahs'wan," he answered. "The purpose of this journey is to meditate, not to test our survival skills. I would not have brought you if that were my destination. You would not be able to endure it. The temperature on Sas-a-Shar often rises to over 150 degrees. You would die there."

"Thanks," she said somewhat numbly, trudging beside the tall Vulcan. It was still a bit over 100 degrees but the flowing white desert robes shielded the worst of that heat. "So, where are we heading?"

"Along the edge of the Llangon Hills to the west of ShiKahr. It is two days' journey, but there is a place where we will find solitude and where I will be able to perform the ritual that I must. However, tonight we must reach the shelter of a way house that is four kh'eet from here. There are animals that roam these hills that are extremely dangerous. I have no desire to meet them in the dark."

Christine gulped, trying to imagine what would frighten Spock, who was one of the bravest men she'd ever known, so much that he was willing to push her to collapse to get them into shelter before the light was gone. She decided she didn't want to find out!

She picked up her pace slightly to try and match his without completely winding herself. She'd given herself a shot of Tri-ox before they left and her lungs worked to pull in the thin atmosphere and extract enough oxygen from it. Between that, the heat and the exercise, by the time the way shelter came into sight, Christine's clothes were soaked through with perspiration and she wondered if she could make it.

The sun was down and the eastern sky was already pocked with stars as the two hurried to reach their destination. Somewhere far off to their right came a low chortling growl and Spock's head jerked in that direction. Quickly his eyes scanned the darkness, searching, but his expression did not register any undue alarm, just apprehension. Nevertheless, he urged her forward and she had the feeling that he would have picked her up and carried her the rest of the way if the necessity arose.

He kept glancing back over his shoulder into the darkness, which fueled her fright and gave just enough strength to her tired legs to take her the remaining distance to the shelter.

She fell as she tumbled through the door but Spock made sure the thick wooden door was securely barred before he turned to check on her. It was completely dark in the shelter until, with his superior night vision, he located and activated a small light panel. Then he turned back to find Christine on her knees, gasping desperately for air.

Quickly, he knelt before her and reached for the medical kit in her backpack. Pulling out a hypospray, he injected her with Tri-ox and waited until her breathing had eased. Then he seemed to relax himself.

"You should feel better now," he said, putting the kit away. Then he rose and took her hands in his, pulling her up to her feet.

She was still weak and dizzy and she could not help leaning into him for support. Instinctively, he stiffened at her touch, her closeness, but then he slipped an arm around her shoulders and turned her, taking her other arm to guide her to a small cot across the room.

"Lie down and rest now," he told her, lowering her onto the bed and bringing her legs up onto the cot. "I am sorry that I had to push you so hard to get here, but we simply could not be outside after dark."

"What was that sound you heard?" she asked, her chest heaving as her body gulped in needed oxygen.

"It was what I feared ... a hycal," he explained. "They are large predators. Quite deadly. They hunt in packs and do not hesitate to attack travelers." He began to unfasten her desert robe. "You will be more comfortable with this off."

His fingers spread apart the long white robes to reveal the clothes she wore underneath, a sleeveless khaki undershirt, khaki military pants and sturdy hiking boots. Her hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail but strands had escaped their binding and framed her face with gold. Her eyes were closed tiredly, her dark lashes lying against her cheeks. Warm and tanned, her skin glistened with the moisture that glazed it. She had sweated through her undershirt and the cotton garment was soaked, clinging to her body like a second skin, outlining her full breasts and the protrusions of her nipples underneath the cloth, rising and falling with each breath she took.

The lush scent of her body enveloped him, heat rising from her torso in almost visible waves, and Spock was abruptly jolted by a shock wave of primitive emotion that surged through him like an electric current. For just an instant, the memory of T'Kal and the night of blood fever he had shared with her blinded him to all else. For that instant, he remembered the uncontrollable fire that had gripped him as he had echoed and matched the consuming lust that filled her, remembered the way her body had felt moving beneath his, remembered the way she had tasted, smelled, devoured him...

The same photon blast of unadulterated sexual desire that had gripped him then seized him now as he looked at Christine lying before him, so powerfully female that he nearly reacted to her out of pure instinct. Then he was in control once more.

He forced himself to get to his feet and take a step back. "I will get you some water," he said hoarsely, causing Christine to open her eyes and peer at him curiously as he walked stiffly away from her, his back rigidly straight.

* * *

They were on their way once more as the first light of day broke over the Asagorn Mountains behind them. To the west, the sky was a deep purple that slowly lightened into tangerine as Vulcan's orange sun rose over the volcanic peaks. It was still surprisingly cold as the desert night slowly gave way to the heat of the day.

Spock had barely spoken to her since the evening before and Christine could tell he was troubled. She didn't know whether it was because he was still in the confused state of mind that was driving him into the desert to meditate or whether it had anything to do with the strange expression that had been on his face when she'd opened her eyes and looked up at him the night before. He'd brought her water and then prepared them food, but the slightly haunted look never left his eyes and he'd finally retired to the cot on the other side of the room and slept with his back deliberately turned toward her.

As they walked along now side by side, she looked up at him, attempting to discern his mood. But his face was barely visible behind the desert robe's hood, only his nose, mouth and chin showing. She decided to save her breath for the long road ahead of them and so the morning passed in silence.

By about mid-day, they reached another way shelter and here they stopped to rest and wait out the afternoon heat. This shelter was almost identical to the first -- spartan in furnishings, utilitarian, logical in its layout and location. The temperature had been climbing steadily all morning and now Christine was grateful to be out of the merciless glare of the sun.

Inside the small shelter, she doffed her robes and sat fanning herself, her clothes again soaked with sweat, her hair wet and limp. Spock shed his robe as well and, clad as she was in sleeveless undershirt and military fatigue pants, he went about the business of breaking out rations and water for them, still not speaking.

Finally Christine couldn't stand it any longer. "Spock, what's the matter? You haven't said two words since we left this morning."

"I have nothing to say," he responded without looking at her.

"Have I done something to offend you?" she asked, rising to her feet and going to him. "Are you angry with me?"

"I do not get angry," he answered, pausing in his meal preparations but still avoiding her gaze.

She moved up close to him. "Then what is it?" He didn't reply so she laid a hand on his bare arm.

Immediately, he drew his breath and stepped away from her, turning at last to stare down into her face. "Do you not understand that my emotional control is weak at the moment?" he demanded in a voice more desperate than angry. "I am trying very hard to maintain command of myself. I am finding it more and more difficult to ... I mean, with you here..."

She stepped back a little, too. "Then why did you ask me along if you didn't want me?"

"I do want you here," he answered hoarsely. "But I did not anticipate how strongly your presence would affect me in my current state of mind."

Unable to stop herself, she moved back closer to him, her warm blue eyes intent on his dark ones. "Tell me what you're feeling, Spock," she whispered.

He took a long tormented breath and responded in a like whisper, "I cannot. If I acknowledge it ... give in to it ... Christine, it could be like the plak tow. I could seriously harm you ... You are not strong enough to withstand..."

"Is that what you need, Spock?" she answered. "Is that what's torturing you? Do you need sexual release from this?"

"No!" he cried and jerked away from her, walking to the other side of the room and standing with his back to her.

She hesitated then followed him. "What then? What do you need? What can I do to help you?"

"Leave me alone," he murmured in answer, breathing hard. "Once we reach our destination, I will meditate and then I shall be myself once again. Until then ... simply stay with me ..."

Christine cocked her head a little to one side. "Leave you alone but stay with you? That's going to be hard to do, Spock. I have a better idea. Why don't you rest a bit and I'll take over getting us some food."

He didn't answer and she moved around in front of him, looking up into his face. His eyes were closed tightly and his chin lowered onto his chest. He was trembling. Alarmed, she moved closer and reached up to touch his face lightly with her fingertips. "Spock? Are you sure you're--"

The next thing she knew, she was crushed against him, his lips devouring hers. His body was burning up, searing against her skin, lit from within as his passion flared up out of control. She had never imagined him like this, his cool serenity replaced by the hungry heat of his probing tongue and demanding mouth.

After a startled moment, she managed to get her hands up between them and pushed against him, palms flat on his nearly bare chest, absently noting the feel of his skin and the texture of the crisp hair above the neckline of the khaki undershirt he wore. He resisted for a second, then broke the kiss, lifting his head a few inches from hers, his face flushed and startled, but still not releasing her.

"Christine..." he managed to get out, his voice a dry rasp, and bent toward her again.

"No, Spock," she answered and pushed against him once more. His arms around her were like steel and she could feel the awakening arousal of his body pressed against her. "You don't mean to do this. You just said you're losing control right now." He muffled her with another long, hard kiss and she almost lost herself in the delicious intoxication of it, of his mouth moving insistently upon hers, of the way his arms held her, of the burgeoning desire that pulsed between them. But then she managed to break free. "Spock! Snap out of it! Let me go!"

This time he seemed to come back to himself and blinked in confusion, pulling back and releasing her from his embrace. "I'm sorry," he whispered, stepping away, mortified. "I'm so sorry, Christine."

She wanted desperately to fall back into his arms and comfort him, but didn't dare touch him again right now. "It's all right, Spock. I understand. Come sit down at the table and eat something. You're just not thinking clearly right now."

Numbly, he followed her instructions but propped his elbows on the table and buried his face in his hands for several moments. When he finally lifted his head and looked at her, his expression was distraught. "I am so sorry, Christine," he repeated. "You see why it is necessary that I regain control of my emotions. It is impossible for me to operate in general society at the moment. My loss of control is too volatile."

She sat next to him, fighting the urge to take his hand in hers. "Don't apologize to me, Spock," she answered softly. "If I had thought that you really wanted me like that, I wouldn't have stopped you. But I knew you couldn't help yourself just now and that you'd hate yourself if I let you keep going."

"Thank you," he said meekly, dropping his gaze in embarrassment. "You do understand then why I asked you to come. This was but the first example of it. There may be other times when my control will fray to the breaking point and you must help me regain it. As the meditation goes on, there will be fewer and fewer incidents, but I cannot predict how this time will affect me."

Now she did reach and gently squeeze his hand. "We'll make it, Spock. I know we will." He glanced up at her and she smiled warmly at him. Despite himself, the corners of his mouth twitched in response before he dropped his gaze back out of her sight.

* * *

In late afternoon, not long before the sun sank below the desert peaks, they reached their destination. Christine had expected another cabin and was surprised when Spock turned them off the trail they had been hiking and into a steep-sided canyon. Red rock soared up on either side of them as they followed a gurgling little stream that burbled out of the canyon's mouth and down the slope to finally spill out onto the white salts of the Sas-a-Shar desert. There it formed a small marshy area before ultimately evaporating in the desert's harsh sun.

As they passed the canyon's sentinel rocks, Christine felt a slight tingle race over her body for a split second, enough to give her a chill despite the day's blazing heat.

"What was that?" she demanded, shuddering.

"The force screen," Spock replied. "It keeps out the indigenous wildlife. This canyon is called Kae'suq'khal. It is a place we have held for centuries for just such purposes as meditation and solitude. But long ago it was realized that one cannot reach a full meditative state while always on the alert. Not everyone brings a companion to watch for them, so the force screen was erected for protection."

Christine nodded then caught her breath at the vista before her. As they proceeded deeper into the canyon area, it opened up into a natural amphitheater and, more surprisingly, a hidden garden. At the far end of the canyon, a long, thin waterfall cascaded down the red cliffs in a spray of white, splashing into a wide, shallow pool. It was from the nearer end of this pool that the little stream issued and ran the way the two travelers had been following.

Around the pool grew true trees, similar to weeping willows, but with long thin yellow leaves, bending over the pond and reflecting in it. A carpet of grass covered the ground and smaller bushes sprouted all the way to the canyon walls. On the walls of rock perpetually moistened by the spray from the waterfall, mosses and trailing plants proliferated. Now, in the late afternoon, the canyon was in deep shadow and the temperature was already noticeably cooler.

Christine's gaze swept around the canyon in amazement. "Oh, Spock! It's absolutely beautiful! I had no idea there were such places on Vulcan!"

He too was taking in the sight. "I had forgotten its beauty," he admitted. "I have not been here for a very long time." Then he looked back at her and said, "We should set up camp. It will be dark soon and, while we will not have to contend with animals, it will be cold and we will need to get a fire going."

Rather than making camp in the open, Spock led Christine toward one of the rock walls and there she discovered a shallow cave. It had obviously been used countless times as a shelter, for it was clean and a floor of fine sand softened its contours. A round hearth lay ready to receive wood, which was stacked at the rear of the cave. That surprised Chapel because wood was such a scarce commodity on Vulcan.

Spock saw her curiosity and explained, "The family imports it for this purpose. Long ago, these hills were wooded more heavily than they are now and it was felt that the ambiance of a wood fire was highly desirable to the experience sought here."

He dropped his pack and shed his robe, then quickly and efficiently went about the task of laying and lighting the fire. As it grew dark outside, they prepared travel rations and ate quietly while watching the small fire dance and snap. Christine found herself yawning before long, exhausted from the miles she had walked in the heavier gravity and thinner air.

She discovered that Spock was watching her, the firelight painting his countenance in copper light and burnt umber shadows. It softened his angular face and at the same time accentuated his exotic features. And something about the play of the light and shadow deepened his innate masculinity. Or perhaps it was the way he was looking at her, his midnight dark eyes intent upon her, hungry, longing, commanding.

Her heart thudded and increased its tempo as she found herself inexorably drawn to him. As if obeying his unspoken bidding, she began leaning toward him, lifting her face to his. But then he abruptly turned away and got to his feet, walking to the entry of the cave.

"I must be alone," he said with his back to her. "I must begin focusing myself tonight and then begin the ritual at sunrise. You will be safe here in the canyon. I advise against wandering around after dark, but feel free to indulge yourself during the day."

Christine had also risen to her feet and come up behind him. "Where are you going?"

"Not far tonight," he answered. "You may see me tomorrow evening if I have awakened from the meditation. Do not disturb me otherwise, however. Simply watch and wait. You may bathe or swim in the pool if you like. Nothing will harm you. Also, you will find a small camp toilet on the far side of the large rock formation near here."

He started out into the darkness and Christine followed him just outside the shelter entrance, suddenly feeling very alone and cold as she watched his dim figure disappear into the night.

* * *

She had slept fitfully during the night. Alone in a strange place, she had startled awake at every sound that came out of the darkness. She knew that nothing would harm her, but still the alien noises kept her half-frightened and tense. In addition, she felt abandoned and she missed Spock's presence.

At first she had thought that it was simply having another person's company, but then she realized that it was more than that. His heightened state of arousal was affecting her as well. Her body had begun to experience the incipient little tingle of expected sexual activity whenever she was near him, and now there was an added note of frustration to the quietly building chorus of emotions. Her femininity was demanding union with his intense maleness and he wasn't there to give it.

In her uneasy sleep, she had dreamed of him, of his dark, entrancing eyes, of the hungry, voracious way he had devoured her mouth, of his hot flesh pressing against hers. In the dream he had taken her fully, driving into her with power and fire, as le'matyas prowled around them grumbling and the howling wind off the desert ripped away their last shred of control. He was primal and savage, a growl of growing excitement building in his chest until finally giving way to a full-throated roar as he slammed into her one final time in triumph.

A cry did wake her then, jerking her abruptly from the vivid dream. She was drenched in sweat, her body still shuddering and tense from the climax she had experienced in her mind. She realized that the cry had been her own and, for a moment, she lay back limply in her blankets, trying to catch her breath.

She continued to gasp, however, and finally woke up enough to realize that she needed a Tri-ox injection to help her breathe. Throwing off the blankets, she crawled over to her medkit and found the syringe, injecting herself in the arm. Almost immediately the increased oxygen took effect and her heart began to slow its pounding.

Outside the cave entrance, the sky was beginning to lighten and she got up and went to stand in the opening. It was barely dawn, the canyon still swathed in semi-darkness, but on the canyon rim above her, she could see the rocks blazing an intense orange as the first rays of sun struck them. The air was cool and fresh, the morning promising a beautiful day.

Hugging herself slightly against the chill, Christine started to turn and go back into the cave when movement caught her eye and she turned to look in the direction of the pond. Her breath froze in her throat and she could do nothing more than stare in heart-stopping amazement.

At the far end of the pond, only just visible in the dawn light, too far away to notice that he was being watched, Spock was standing hip-deep in the waters of the pond, washing himself. He must have been nearly finished because, after only a few minutes, he turned and walked toward the shore.

Christine's heart raced as he emerged from the water, naked, dripping, utterly beautiful. His sculptured, muscular body gleamed in the morning light, and her eyes were drawn to his strong shoulders, down over his hard chest and tight stomach to the slim hips and long, sturdy legs. And her gaze centered on the dark patch of hair at the base of his abdomen and what she could only dimly make out in the soft light. But it caused the memory of her dream to slam back into the forefront of her mind and her body jolted in remembered sensation.

Unaware of his observer, he bent and picked up the white desert robe that lay on the bank, slipping into it without drying himself off, covering his nudity. As she watched, he cinched the belt around his slim waist and turned away from the pond, moving out of sight toward the canyon wall. In a few minutes, she saw him again, this time following a steep trail up to the rim and the sunlight. Then he was gone once more.

Christine sank back against the cave entrance and closed her eyes, feeling her knees shake with released tension. Drained, she made her way back to her bedroll and dropped down weakly upon it, trembling with a need for him that was growing by the minute.

* * *

From his perch on the top of the cliff, Spock had an unbroken view of the wide, white expanse of the Sas-a-Shar. The desert known to outworlders as Vulcan's Forge stretched to the horizon, its shifting dunes and blowing dust mimicking the waves and froth of the ocean it had once been countless millennia in the past. Now its salts and gypsum crystals alone remained to testify that sometime, unimaginable ages ago, a sea had washed against these cliffs and creatures long extinct had swum and hunted and died here.

Or had they died? Since boyhood, Spock had heard legends of things that lived in the deepest part of the desert, moving far underground where moisture still existed, swimming through the sea of sand as easily as they had once swum through water. It was said that they had burrowed into the seabed and adapted to that environment and, when the sea was dried to blowing salt above them, the creatures continued to flourish and were there to this day. The only people who ever claimed to have seen one were those who had been lost upon the Forge's merciless expanse and their ravings were dismissed as sun craze.

Spock didn't really believe in the a'Kweth but there was still that hint of a shadow of doubt in the back of his mind. Maybe ... just maybe ...

He dismissed such nonsensical ideas with a toss of his head, allowing the sun to warm his face and the breeze to play through his hair. The feeling was sensuous and the unbidden vision appeared in his mind of slender white fingers sliding through the ebony strands, teasing, tickling, gently tugging.

Beneath the light covering of his robe, he felt his body respond of its own accord. He had thought the early morning swim in the cool water had purged such intrusive feelings but he could not shake the awareness of the woman in the valley below him, nor the telepathic impressions he had unwittingly received from her last night.

She was not Vulcan and they were not bonded, but he had nonetheless picked up the dreams that wound through her mind. They were erotic in the extreme, involving the impassioned joining of two people in the heat of plak tow ... and they were about him. At first he thought he was merely remembering the inadvertent bonding he had shared with T'Kal. The memory of her dark, petite body wrapped about his as they moved together in the blood fire had set his heart racing and made his breath come quick and short. But then he had realized that these were not his memories nor remnants of T'Kal's katra which he had carried within him.

These were emanating from Christine as she thrashed about in a troubled sleep. Through her mind's eye, he saw her tall golden body, bared and glistening with sweat, entwined about his form, her long, clean limbs hugging his pumping hips, her lush breasts crushed against his chest, her elegant throat bared to his lips and teeth.

Awash in her dream thoughts, he had grown enormously aroused and, try as he might, he could not force down the pounding erection that possessed him. At last he had risen from his attempted meditation and made his way silently back to the cave entrance. There he had stood in the entryway and watched her sleep. Trembling he had gazed upon her as she moaned and moved restlessly, the dreams within her mind driving her toward climax.

For a long moment, he had paused there, his body urging him to go to her, his mind demanding that he refuse. At last he knew that he must take action before the raging emotions utterly controlled him and he quickly turned and stumbled toward the pond.

Hurriedly stripping off his clothing, he waded into the pool, the chill of the air and water having the desired effect of cooling his ardor. To assure that the fever did not return, he splashed the cold water onto his chest and let it dribble down his back. Morning was dawning but he didn't trust himself to rejoin her for first meal. He had to be alone, had to meditate until he had trapped the emotions back in their customary prison.

Wading out of the cold water, he relished the icy air of the dawn. Ignoring the rest of his clothing, he threw on the desert robe and tied it about his waist. Then, barefoot, he set off up the trail that led to the canyon rim. He would meditate upon Sas-a-Shar today, upon its changelessness in a chaotic world, upon its eternal ties with his world and heritage. He would meditate upon what made him Vulcan and would purge the forbidden, human emotions that threatened to overwhelm him.

That threatened to take him back down to the valley floor and the woman who hungered for him.

* * *

From the far side of the valley, Christine could see the figure in white atop the canyon rim. Sitting motionless in lotus position, he had been there for hours now. She had eaten her solitary breakfast of rations, gone out to explore the little canyon, then come back as the day grew hotter. He hadn't moved from the trance of deep meditation.

Christine wandered back down beside the pond, enjoying the relative cool of the mist from the waterfall. Something on the ground caught her attention and she realized that it was Spock's clothes, lying where he had dropped them that morning. She glanced back in his direction but couldn't see him from this position. Logically that meant he couldn't see her either and Christine decided that a nice swim would be just the ticket to fend off the oppressive afternoon heat.

As she began to undress, she wrinkled her nose in disgust. Two days of sweaty hiking had taken its toll on her clothing and her skin. More than a swim, she decided to rinse out her clothing. They should dry quickly in this heat. And she would wash Spock's clothing as well. Vulcans didn't sweat the way humans did, their desert-adapted systems having evolved to dissipate internal heat without wasting precious water. But still the garments were dusty and strong with Spock's distinctive spicy odor.

After stripping off, she picked up her bundle of laundry and waded into the water, gritting her teeth for a moment as the first shock of the cool water hit her. But her body adjusted quickly and she found it deliciously refreshing.

She spent some time dunking and wringing out the clothes then laying them across rocks in the sun to dry. Once that was done, she allowed herself to relax and play. The pond wasn't very large or very deep, its deepest part being underneath the waterfall where the action of the water over the years had eroded out a hollow in the rock. Nevertheless, it was about the size of an Olympic sized swimming pool and she did a couple of laps before her lungs demanded more oxygen than the thin air afforded.

Tired, she waded out and stretched her nude body on the short soft grass, allowing the sun's rays to take the chill from her limbs. Mindful not to get too much sun, she enjoyed the decadent feeling of lying naked on the bank.

As she lay there, the sun and the light breeze trailed over her body like lover's fingers and she felt her nipples harden in response. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine that it was Spock's fingers that touched her, teasing and tantalizing. The memory of her dream returned and her body responded with a surge of anticipation. Between her legs, she felt tightness and wetness that had nothing to do with her swim.

The feeling was overwhelming and one hand came up to cup her breast, squeezing and massaging, while the other slipped lower down to the throbbing center of her need. Gasping, she lost herself in the imagined touch of Spock's hands and lips on her body and mouth.

* * *

The thermals rose off Vulcan's Forge in iridescent spirals, winding up to be lost in the shimmering orange sky. It was too hot even for the hunting alo'oe that rode the thermals, searching the hills for prey. Nothing moved on the white expanse, nothing but heat ripples and salt froth.

Spock's eyes were open but he did not see. He had long since passed the point of recognition of the material world around him. He had sunk deep into the recesses of his mind, reliving the events of the past weeks, sorting them, cataloging them, filing them into manageable categories. He had avoided the two subjects that now occupied his mind but had finally come to deal with them.


Christine Chapel.

His bonding with T'Kal had been unplanned and unwanted. Thrown together in the Gorn prison camp, he had discovered that she was deep in the throes of pon farr. Her husband, her mate, had been killed by the Gorn as the blood fever ripped his sanity away and he had attacked them with the ferocity of an animal. But it had left the young woman teetering on the edge. Her emotions shredded by her link to her husband and then sheared in two by his death, she had been functionally insane when Spock found her, dying from the unresolved fire of mating.

He had attempted to help her through it with meditation, but ultimately her sexual madness had transferred to him and drowned him in lust and fury. The ancient instincts were too powerful to control and he took her body and her mind, engulfing them both in the fires of feverish bonding. Afterwards, both of them had been stunned and a bit dismayed by what had occurred but resolved to make the best of it.

And, after a time, Spock began to accept the lovely young woman who was now his wife through Vulcan law and tradition. She was warm and gentle, sensitive and intelligent, the very epitome of Vulcan womanhood, all that he could have hoped for in a wife. Although they could have sought a dissolution to their inadvertent bonding, finally both understood that this was not what they wished.

But T'Kal had been killed in a Gorn ambush as Federation troops took their outpost. She had died in Spock's arms before he could get medical help and he had taken her katra within himself to return it to Vulcan and her family. He had only known her a matter of days but their bonding had fused them together into a single soul and thus part of him had died with her. Literally and figuratively, as it turned out, for their mating had been complete and conception had occurred. Still little more than a microscopic speck, the autopsy scans had nevertheless confirmed both human and Vulcan DNA in the zygote. T'Kal had been pregnant with Spock's child when she had died.

It was a double blow for the Vulcan. He had only just come to accept T'Kal's presence in his life and now she was gone and what would have been his son or daughter as well. The hole that had been ripped in his soul had deepened with the knowledge.

It was into this void that Christine had stepped, offering comfort and understanding. His heart had answered for him before his mind could refuse her. She had been there before when he needed her, and something told him that she always would be. He had accepted T'Kal but she had not stirred the emotion deep within him that Christine did. Logically there was no reason why he should have asked her to come with him to Vulcan nor to accompany him on this quest. But something inside him needed her beside him and that something needed her desperately now.

He thought of the dream images he had received and knew that he did indeed wish it had been reality. His body yearned for her as if she were already his mate. Waves of sexuality seemed to radiate from her even now and the throbbing desire for her permeated him again.

The sun's heat seemed to pound down upon him even harder as his blood surged hotter within his veins and, unbidden, his eyes fluttered and closed against the waves of heat. Trying to slow the beating of his heart, Spock found his breath shallow and quick. The blistering heat made him light-headed, vertigo nearly toppling him over, and, for a moment he fought the blackness that swirled up around him and threatened to take him whole. He couldn't think, couldn't focus. Disorientation engulfed him and he struggled to remain conscious until the feeling passed.

When his head had stopped spinning, he took a deep breath and opened his eyes -- and nearly cried out before he made himself freeze in mid-action.

A huge le'matya was resting on its haunches in front of him, apparently enraptured by the man sitting cross-legged and helpless. The tiger-like beast scrutinized him with its great golden eyes, not threateningly, but merely curious. Its long tail wrapped around its paws, the tip twitching lazily, the poison-tipped claws sheathed.

Spock hardly dared to breathe. He had packed his phaser in his gear but it was with the rest of his things in the cave below. If the creature attacked, there was nothing he could do to defend himself. As he desperately turned over plans of action, he wondered frantically, How did it get past the shields?!

The le'matya twitched its large sharp-tipped ears in his direction. This is my place, it answered calmly. I go where I please.

Spock blinked in surprise. You speak? he couldn't help thinking back.

You are ignorant, man-thing, the le'matya replied in amusement. Why do you sit in the sun? Have you no den? Go to your mate.

I have no mate, Spock responded but still the image of Christine flashed through his mind.

The le'matya kneaded its huge front paws, the scimitar-sharp claws appearing and disappearing from their sheathing. To Spock's startled horror, it suddenly lowered its muzzle and sniffed at his crotch, lifting its lips in a grimace to better taste Spock's scent.

The big cat raised its head and its lips covered the dagger-like teeth. Your man-part is hard. It wants to go in her woman-place. Stop being foolish. Go and mount her.

Shocked senseless by both the message and its deliverer, Spock did nothing. The le'matya's tail lashed in sudden irritation. Can't you smell her? She is ready to mate. I smelled her last night. Her woman-scent was strong in the air. Go down to her now!

Spock swallowed carefully to wet his dry throat. She is not my mate, he thought again. I must not touch her.

The cat rose to its feet and lowered its massive head. You are more foolish than I thought, it responded, ears lying back flat against its head. She hungers for you beside the pond. Do you not know your mate when you see her? Your man-part does! Perhaps I should kill you now if you are so stupid that you cannot recognize your own female.

The le'matya took a step toward him, sinking into a hunting stalk. Spock scrambled back reflexively and the cat sprang at him with a roar.

* * *

The roughness of stone against his face slowly brought Spock to awareness. For a long moment, he wondered where he was. Then he wondered why he wasn't dead. Then he wondered if he were about to be.

He lay perfectly still, listening intently for any movement anywhere around him, any sound, any way to tell where the le'matya was. His body ached all over, muscles cramping painfully, but he dared not move. The cat had but to scratch him with its poisonous claws and he would be dead within minutes.

Time passed and his head pounded with listening but, other than the wind and the far off sound of the waterfall, there was utter silence. Spock decided to risk it and very slowly lifted his head, looking around.

There was no sign of the predator nor any sign for that matter that it had ever been there. No pug marks in the dust, no faint claw marks, not even the faintest whisp of odor. Spock sat up straighter and came to the conclusion that it had been a dream or a hallucination. He must have passed out from the heat.

That was the logical answer. Yes. He had fainted from sitting in the afternoon sun, when it was at its strongest. It was foolish of him. Absolutely nothing exposed itself to the killing strength of the day's harshest heat. Plus he had fasted since mid-day yesterday, no food or water passing his lips. And the deep meditation had left him weakened.

Taking a deep, cleansing breath, Spock stood up, feeling better than he had in days. The kae'kh't'kotal had worked. He was centered, focused, sure of himself once more. It was time to go back down and join Christine.

The thought of the tall blonde woman sent a surge of adrenalin through his body, catching him off-guard. Suddenly the tension and off-center feeling returned full-force and he almost staggered under its power. The le'matya's words echoed through his mind: Do you not know your mate when you see her?

And abruptly Spock understood the purpose of the vision, the purpose of this journey, the purpose of bringing Christine to this place. She was the purpose, his center, the thing that would bring his world back into balance. The bonding with T'Kal had thrown him out of sync. It was wrong, not meant to be. His soul mate was waiting for him below. He had felt her dreams and emotions because already there was a tenuous link between them and it was calling out to him with increasing power.

The time had come to restore balance, to complete the bond. With eagerness and a growing sense of need to have Christine a part of him, Spock started down the trail to the valley floor.

* * *

Although the spot where she lay was now in shade, the afternoon heat was oppressive. Sweat slid down around her breasts and tickled its way across her ribs. She felt agitated and restless, not just from the temperature but from the other thing as well.

Sitting up, Christine hugged her legs up to her chest and rested her forehead on her knees. She wanted Spock, not some pale, fantasy version. She wanted to feel him solid and substantial in her arms, to hear his heart beating within his torso, to know the warmth of his breath on her mouth just before he kissed her. The memory of his lips on hers made her whole body throb. And what made it all even worse was the fact that he was so near and yet impossibly far away. Once he completed his meditation, it would be as it was before. He would be as he was before ... cool, aloof, in complete command of his emotions. He would go back to keeping the careful distance he maintained between them.

Christine didn't think she could stand it. Not now, not after that kiss. Not after the dream vision that still reverberated through her mind. She knew it was his loss of emotional control that triggered it, but her lips still burned from the flame that had possessed him.

Abruptly she got up and splashed into the water. If she didn't work off this tension, she'd go crazy. She simply had to beat it into her head -- she couldn't have him. She would nneveer have him.

Pushing off, she stretched out and swam strongly to the far end of the pool. When she reached the cliff face near the waterfall, she did a graceful turn and began the lap back, diving under just before she reached the shallow end. Getting her feet underneath her, she stood up and, with both hands, slicked her wet hair back out of her face, then opened her eyes -- and fell back with a gasp.

Spock was standing on the bank watching her. Almost instinctively, she crossed her arms over her breasts and stared at him, caught by the expression on his face. Clad in the white desert robe, his lips slightly parted, he was searching her face as if trying to confirm that she was real. His expression was that of a starving man who had come upon a banquet laid out just for him.

The longing in his eyes nearly took her breath away and, before she knew it, she had slowly dropped her arms from her bare breasts and begun to move toward him, her eyes locked on his. Nothing else mattered now, only that he had returned. Something told her that he had returned to her.

Spock had come down to the water's edge to be confronted by the sight of Christine's statuesque creamy body moving effortlessly through the waterfall's sparkling spray. He had watched breathless as she disappeared beneath the ripples and suddenly surfaced with the grace of a sea nymph, her flawless naked skin slick and glistening, her arms raised to push back her hair, water droplets trickling off the taut rosy tips of her breasts.

She was the most beautiful creature he'd ever seen, too perfect to be real, and yet his heart told him she was flesh and blood ... warm flesh, hot blood ... and that she was his. She gazed at him for a long moment, her sapphire blue eyes echoing the need that was in his own. And then she had begun to move toward him, emerging from the deeper water like Venus from the sea.

As if imprisoning chains had fallen free, he stepped into the water and strode to meet her, heedless of the long white robe he still wore. He saw her lips spread in a radiant smile and then she was in his arms and he was crushing his mouth to hers. Frantically, hungrily, they lost themselves in the devouring kiss, tongues pushing and flicking against one another, arms seeking to draw the other closer.

The fabric of the robe annoyed him, forming a barrier that kept him from full contact with her, and, without breaking the kiss, Spock fumbled the tied belt open and stripped off the garment, Christine's hands helping him pushing it from his shoulders, letting it drop into the water, unheeded. And then they had fallen back together, their naked bodies pressed hard against the other, desperate to meld into one. His erection pulsed between them, telegraphing his urgency, and her hands went to his hips, pulling him more firmly against her.

Unable to wait any longer, he suddenly bent and slipped one hand behind her knees and then swung her up into his arms. As she clung to his neck, her heart bursting with joy, he brought her up out of the water and gently laid her on the soft, fragrant grass in the shade of one of the willow-like trees, then stretched himself beside her and again took her in his arms.

As he kissed her mouth, her jawline, her throat, working down to her breasts and back again, Christine murmured, "Spock ... should I be trying to stop you? Are you sure you want this?"

He lifted himself over her, his dark eyes intent with passion. "I am sure. And it is you I want. It is you that I have always wanted," he whispered and bent to capture her mouth once more. He coaxed her legs apart and settled himself into position between them, knowing that he had waited too long already. He nudged himself into her inviting hot folds and there he paused, against the very threshold of her womanhood, gazing long and deep into her eyes. "Is it what you want, Christine? Tell me now while I can still stop myself if this is not something that you desire as well."

In answer, she lifted up her hips and completed the connection between them, unable to suppress a gasp as the head of his velvet shaft penetrated her. Then she looked back up into his eyes and her adoring gaze told him all that needed to be said. He bent and kissed her gently once more, then, his heart pounding, he steadied her with his hands beneath her shoulders and, with a firm lunge, he was buried fully within her.

She cried out, closing her eyes and throwing her head back as she clutched at him. She had waited so long for this, so long to give herself completely to him. Surely this was a dream, a fantasy of wish-fulfillment, something that could not possibly be happening in reality. But as she looked up into his face so close to hers, into his eyes so filled with desire for her, she could not help but know that he was solid and real and that his love for her was equally real.

Christine's happiness radiated out through her skin and into his. Pressed so tightly together, there was no need for Spock to touch her facial contact points to complete the meld between them. He kept the bond deliberately light, not wishing to obscure the physical aspects of their joining. He wanted to experience every nuance of her soft, sensuous body moving against his, every sensation, every delightful facet of her.

He could not stay still and began to move within her, his excitement and arousal building with every stroke. As if striking a match to seasoned tinder, flame ignited between them and suddenly he could not get enough of her, could not heave himself deeply enough into her glorious, engulfing body, could not control the volcanic cauldron verging on eruption. For her part, she matched him wholly in his urgent thrusts, digging her nails onto his toiling back, bringing her legs up to grip and hold his pounding hips.

He felt a grunt being forced from his throat with each impact of his body against hers and she echoed it with a gasping cry of her own. He closed his eyes and bent his face into her hair, giving himself over completely to the need, to the hunger, to the flame, to the imminent explosion building within him.

And then she screamed and arched her back up beneath him as her own orgasm tore loose and it was all that was needed to trigger his own. Lava blasted through his veins and from his soul, pumping fire and fulfillment into her straining body bucking in ecstasy beneath his. He clutched her hard against him as he poured his essence into her, gasping with the unbelievable physical sensations that gripped him.

For a long moment, they shuddered in rapturous climax, then slowly began to relax. Spock lifted his face from her neck and gazed down into her shining eyes, her whole countenance suffused with love for him. Still buried deep within her, feeling the quivering aftershocks of her encasing heat around him, he bent and kissed her, long and gently and thoroughly.

As he lifted his lips from hers, his peripheral vision caught a flicker of movement and he jerked his head up to find it.

A massive le'matya was watching him from the cover of the bushes along the canyon wall. It stood motionless for a moment then seemed to smile knowingly at him before it melted back into the shadows, its orange and green patterns disappearing against the red rock and foliage, so silently and mysteriously that Spock was not fully certain he had seen it at all.

"What's wrong?" Christine asked softly, curious at Spock's surprised expression.

He looked back down at her and felt himself pulse in the confines of her enveloping warmth. "Nothing," he answered in a whisper. "Nothing at all. I have simply recognized my mate after all these years." And he began to move within her once more.