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) 2000 by T'Eros. This story is Rated NC-17 for sexual situations.

The Road Not Taken

T'Eros

As the blood-green haze of battle cleared from his vision, Spock slowly became aware that something heavy dangled from the long leather strap he clutched in his hands. A heartbeat later, he realized that the something was a body, limp, lifeless ... familiar.

As he began to straighten in horror, the strap was jerked from his grasp and a rough voice ordered, "Get your hands off him, Spock!" And he was shoved to one side while a blue-clad man knelt to examine the body stretched on the sands of the arena.

McCoy. Kirk. Kirk!

The Vulcan's blood ran as cold as Seleya's snows at the realization of what he had done. How could he have done this? Why would he have done this?

McCoy unwrapped the ahn-woon from about Kirk's throat and quickly examined him. Then, sitting back on his heels, he announced with finality, "It's finished. He's dead."

Spock felt the world spin dizzily around him as McCoy's words struck home and he staggered slightly as he made his way to the weapons bearers on the sidelines. He would not faint, he told himself. He must not faint, even though the aftermath of the plak tow and the combat, the blows from Kirk's fists and the blow of Kirk's death threatened to plunge him into blackness.

He gathered himself with determination and straightened. Unwrapping the ceremonial sash from around his waist, he handed it numbly to one of the bearers as McCoy strode across the sand toward him.

"Strange as it may seem, Mr. Spock, you're in command now," the doctor snapped, his tone a challenge and a reproach. "Any orders?"

"Yes," Spock answered slowly. "I will follow you up shortly. You will instruct Mr. Chekov to plot a course for the nearest starbase, where I must surrender myself to the authorities." His voice nearly failed him, his throat so dry as to refuse to form words.

McCoy did not speak, but turned and marched back to where Kirk's body lay. Dimly, Spock noted the sound of the transporter beam taking the two men away.

Drawing a deep breath, he turned and faced the woman who stood regarding him, her expression cool and arrogant. As he looked at her, Spock felt anger building up within him. Anger at her betrayal, anger at his humiliation, anger at the crime she had forced him to commit.

"T'Pring," he commanded forcefully and she took a step toward him, a mockery of the attention a wife should give her husband. "Explain."

"Specify," she answered.

His eyes narrowed. You know what I want explained, he thought to himself. Why do you continue with this game? Out loud, he replied, "Why the challenge? And why you chose my captain as your champion?"

She went into a long, involved response, telling him flatly and plainly that she preferred another man as her mate. Behind her that other man stood stone-faced, his eyes never leaving Spock's. Spock exchanged a hard glare with him before turning his gaze back to T'Pring's haughty features.

"...you would be gone, and I would have your name and your property ... and Stonn would still be there," she finished, a hint of triumph in her voice.

She lifted her chin slightly as she stared at him, expecting praise for her flawless logic. Expecting release. Expecting her plans to play out as she knew they would.

Spock's expression hardened with fury. It was not logical but he could no more prevent what he was feeling than he could shift Seleya with his bare hands. Perhaps the fire of plak tow still burned within him, but what he felt for her was not lust, not mating drive. Instead, he wanted to kill her, to wrap his hands around her slim aristocratic neck and squeeze until the last drop of life burbled out of her crushed throat.

His face darkening, he took a step toward her and T'Pring flinched back against Stonn, suddenly unsure of the man she had scorned. Stonn started to pull her behind him, preparing to meet Spock's challenge.

There was a blur of motion as a bright axe blade flashed down between the two men and T'Pau's voice snapped, "Kroykah!" with absolute authority. Both men stopped in their tracks, glaring at each other.

"Must I kill you as well, Stonn?" Spock murmured in a low, lethal voice. "If that is the case, then retrieve a lirpa from the Holder and we shall begin. I have killed one man already today. A second will not make any difference."

"A puny human is one thing," the other Vulcan replied in a hiss. "If I had fought you, your mother would be lying on you in mourning and I would be lying on my wife."

"I've no doubt you've lain there often enough!" Spock growled, the fire in his blood roaring back into full flame.

"I said kroykah!!" T'Pau snapped again angrily, this time rapping Spock sharply across the ribs with her walking stick. "The Challenge is ended! Stonn, step away from T'Pring! There will be no more blood spilled here today!"

The two tall men towered over the tiny, ancient woman, but her authority was unchallenged. Each continued to glare at the other for another moment, then both backed down. Satisfied, T'Pau leaned once more on her staff and the axeman lifted his weapon from between them and stepped away, still regarding them warily.

T'Pau eyed both men then turned to the young woman. "T'Pring, thee has forfeited thy rights under the law of the kali-fee. Thee are the property of Spock now, his chattel to do with as he wishes. Spock ... what has thee decided? Will thee release her in divorce? Continue with the kali-farr? Give up possession of her to Stonn? Speak."

T'Pring exchanged glances with Stonn, certain that Spock would do the logical thing and release her. There was no way he would take a woman to wife who had dared Challenge him. It was unheard of. She had humiliated him too thoroughly today.

But Spock had seen the quick side glance his betrothed had given her suitor and the rage roared up in him nearly unchecked. In a tight, bitter voice, he ordered, "T'Pring, attend me!"

T'Pring's self-satisfied expression disappeared at the crack of his voice. When she didn't move, Spock reached forward and grasped her upper arm, yanking her to his side. "I said, attend me!" he repeated.

Stonn started to move to her defense, but T'Pau's cold, black eyes and dangerous tone halted him. "Stonn, do not. Spock is within his rights. Do not interfere." The old woman turned to face her great-grandson, her features stony in their lack of expression, but disapproval roiling deep within her eyes. "So, thee will take T'Pring to wife? Despite the kali-fee?"

Spock's face was as hard as granite, his brows tight over his smoldering eyes. He had not released T'Pring's arm. "Do you really think I would marry this ... this ..." And he spat out a seldom-used Vulcan word so harsh that it made all of the bystanders flinch slightly and even caused T'Pau's eyebrow to flick upwards in surprise. Spock paid no attention. "How dare you think me capable of bringing such dishonor on the Family! But I will not leave her here to do as she pleases, taking no responsibility for what she has done today."

He turned his piercing glare on the woman at his side, who now regarded him with the first traces of fear on her lovely features. "What will you--?" she began.

"Silence!" he snapped. "You will not speak without my permission!" Spock looked back at the ancient matriarch. "I will take her back with me. Do not concern yourself any longer with T'Pring. I will deal with her."

T'Pau closed her eyes for a second and allowed her chin to fall in an acknowledging nod. "Very well, Spock. T'Pring is yours. May you live long and prosper."

Spock shook his head. "I shall do neither, T'Pau. I have killed my Captain ... and my friend. And I am taking the reason into hell with me."

He turned and walked to the center of the arena, dragging T'Pring along with him. She threw a frightened glance over her shoulder in Stonn's direction but could do nothing. Spock reached around to his back and retrieved his communicator, flipping it open. "Enterprise, two to beam up." Then he stood rigidly, still clutching T'Pring's arm in an iron grip, as the transporter effect took them both.

* * *

It had never occurred to T'Pring that Spock would react with such anger or that he would exercise his ancient rights as a Vulcan male. As they materialized on the Enterprise's transporter platform, he glared coldly at the crewman behind the console and demanded, "Where have they taken Captain Kirk?"

The blonde human looked startled -- whether at his question or at the sight of the petite Vulcan woman at Spock's side -- and answered quickly, "Sick bay, Mr. Spock. Dr. McCoy ordered a med team to meet him and--"

Spock did not wait for the man to finish his reply. He stepped down off the transporter platform and stalked out the door, his grip still as firm as ever on T'Pring's arm. She was hard pressed to keep up with his long-legged stride and had to nearly run to stay on her feet.

Part of her wanted to look around in curiosity -- she'd never been aboard a starship before, Terran or Vulcan -- but Spock's rapid pace precluded that action. She got quick glimpses of Starfleet crewmembers eyeing them inquisitively as they swept past, but no one spoke. The dark glower on Spock's face sent crew people scurrying to get out of his way.

At the end of the corridor, he marched her into a turbolift and ordered tersely, "Deck 5. First Officer's quarters." Immediately, the elevator moved into motion ... up, then after a moment sideways as it sped around the main body of the ship to the exit nearest its directed destination.

Spock stared rigidly at the door, refusing to look at her. His grip was beginning to exert real pain and T'Pring ineffectually plucked at his fingers. "Spock, please, there's no need for--"

"Kash!" he barked. "I did not give you permission to speak!"

She was getting tired of this. "I didn't ask permission!" she answered angrily. "You are acting most--"

"Computer, halt!" he interrupted abruptly and then swung on her, his other hand bracketing her throat in a blinding fast movement, slamming her up against the wall. "T'Pring, I will say this only once," he hissed close to her startled face. "As of six point two minutes ago, you are no longer my wife. You are not my betrothed. You are my property. My slave. My concubine if I choose you to be so. I may use you or dispose of you as I see fit. It was not I who chose this pathway. It was you. Whatever fate befalls you now, it is of your own doing. Do I make myself clear?"

She didn't answer, too frightened to speak, and he jerked his hand against her throat. "Well?"

"Yes, sai," she answered in a small voice.

Still glaring at her, he removed his hand and addressed the ship. "Computer, resume." The turbolift began moving once more. Spock turned back to face the door.

T'Pring took the scant minute before they reached their destination to compose herself. When the turbolift doors snapped open to reveal a corridor very much like the one they'd just left, she was marginally in control again. Spock stepped out into the hallway and proceeded to repeat his quick march down its curving way.

Abruptly he turned into a nondescript doorway which slid closed behind them with a hiss. She knew immediately that these must be his quarters and it was here that he finally released his hold on her arm. The cabin's two sections were diametric opposites of one another -- the office space spare and utilitarian, the bed chamber draped in wine-rich tapestries and Vulcan artifacts.

She was yanked from her momentary reverie by the click of the doorlock and she swung back around to find him walking past her into his bed chamber, pulling his blue tunic off over his head. Then he sat down on the edge of his bed and began taking off his boots. In mid-action he stopped and peered up at her expectantly.

"I would suggest you remove your clothing yourself," he said, his voice expressionless. "I will not be gentle if you force me to do it."

Stunned, she could only stare at him. "What?" she finally managed to get out.

He dropped his other boot and stood, skinning his black t-shirt off and tossing it onto a chair in the corner. "I believe you understood me," he replied coldly. "Either undress and I will strip you myself."

Catching her breath, T'Pring took a step back. "Surely, you don't mean to... But you just said..."

"That I will do with you what I wish," he answered, glaring at her. "My blood still burns with Fever. What is between us is unfinished. I burn for resolution!" His voice was harsh and deep, his eyes glittering hard and black as obsidian, fire in their depths.

T'Pring managed to stand her ground, but the verdant flush of his skin, his heavier breathing, his obvious state of arousal increased her feeling of terror. Frantically, her mind searched for a means of escape ... and found none. The combat he had endured had only served to tamp down his fever for a short time. It now roared once more like a firestorm through his veins. He had fought and killed to mate her and she had no doubts that he would kill her, too, if she tried to resist him.

Taking a shaky breath, she hesitantly reached behind her back with both hands to unseal the closure of her silver bonding dress. She had difficulty manipulating it. It was not designed to be opened by the wearer, but by the wearer's mate.

Spock waited impatiently for a few seconds, then stepped forward and yanked her around so that her back was to him. Grasping the metallic fabric, he ripped the seal open with force.

The delicate cloth tore and T'Pring gave a small cry at the sound. "No! Don't! It was my mother's--"

Enraged at her protest, Spock wrenched the dress from T'Pring's shoulders, heedless of the fact that the dress split completely along its back seam. He dragged it down her body and hurled it to the floor. Underneath, she was clad in sheer, silvery body hosiery. It accentuated her sexuality and the sight of her lush womanly hips and slender waist stirred the fire within him to a higher degree. Anger and lust roiled inseparably within him, his groin beginning to throb with his physical need for her.

"Finish your disrobing," he ordered her and then rapidly completed his own undressing. Naked, he critically watched as she mechanically moved toward the bed, peeling the body suit from her torso, baring her full breasts. Stepping out of her shoes, she sat down on the edge of the bed to remove her hosiery, leaving it lying on the floor. Then, nude, she sat stiffly with her hands clutched together in her lap, waiting for him to make the next move.

With no warning, he hauled her up onto the bed until he had her stretched flat on her back and was lying above her, his face close to hers once more. "You thought Stonn would be with you now, didn't you?" he said in a soft menacing voice. "You thought it would be his hands and mouth doing this..." He grasped one of her breasts, squeezing it non-too-gently, then bent his head to its full coppery tip, sucking hard enough to make her whimper. He moved to the other and repeated his actions until both breasts were swollen, the nipples and areolae standing firm and full.

"Stop--" she murmured, trying to push him away.

"Quiet!" he ordered and moved back so that he could peer into her face. Shoving his hand between her thighs, his fingers probed into the hot, slick folds, rubbing a little too roughly, a little too hard. "Did he do this when he lay with you? Did you enjoy it when he touched you this way?" He found her clitoris, rolled it beneath his fingertips.

T'Pring squirmed underneath him. "Not so--"

"Silence!" Spock ordered harshly, his eyes fever bright. "Or did you like it when he did this to you?" Slipping his hand further down, he shoved a finger inside her, making her gasp and jump. "Oh, so you do find that pleasing!" He thrust his finger in and out of her tight passage in a hard, quick motion.

"Spock, please, don't--"

"But, most of all, you enjoyed it when he mounted you, didn't you? When he spread you out and entered you like this--" With a quick movement, he was between her wide-stretched thighs, his hands beneath her buttocks, lifting her hips into the proper position for maximum penetration. With unerring precision, the head of his enormous erection slotted into place against her vaginal opening and she couldn't suppress a terrified gasp. He was too big and she wasn't ready for him. He had to wait! He had to listen!

"Spock, stop, please! I can't--"

With a snarl of primal frustration, he gripped her buttocks tightly and heaved himself savagely into her. Despite her fears, the head and half his length was abruptly inside her and, with another powerful lunge of his pelvis, he was buried completely in her tight, nearly unprepared depth.

Spock didn't seem to notice the cry of pain that escaped her throat. He was too intent on his vengeance, on the fever that engulfed him. His mind was deafened by the roar of the flames consuming him, his whole being centered on the blood lust and hunger tearing him apart. And through it all swam the face of the woman who had betrayed him, who had challenged his male rights to own her sexually. Who had allowed another male to taste what was his! His!

The flames of anger roared even higher within him as he slammed into her mercilessly. "How often have you done this, T'Pring?" he hissed through clenched teeth as he pounded into her. "How often have you sprawled yourself out for him knowing you were Bonded to me?! Did you think of me while he rutted you? Do you think of him now?"

She turned her face away from him, tears beginning to leak out from beneath her lashes as her whole body jolted with each impact of his pelvis against hers. She had to stop this, had to get some command over Spock's rage. He was completely losing control and she began to fear that he might seriously injure her in his fury.

In a desperate move, she looked back up at him and reached to touch his face with her fingertips, hoping to calm him with soothing thoughts and images.

He grabbed her wrists and slammed her hands back against the bed. "No!" he ground out, bracing himself and picking up the tempo of his thrusts into her. "The Bond between us is severed. You will not meld with me. Now or ever!"

The sheer physical power of his actions, the excitement of pumping his engorged organ into her over and over again began to lead him inevitably toward climax and he bent over her, his eyes clenching shut, as he worked himself to completion. The fire in his blood demanded satiation and he abandoned himself to the overwhelming sensation of imminent orgasm. He was so close, so ready to explode that all coherent thought disappeared as his entire being focused on the gathering volcano at the base of his groin.

With a growl rumbling out of his throat, he hitched his hips into a frantic, powerful rhythm that was as primeval and animal as anything he'd ever experienced. A half dozen deep, hard drives into her slick, burning depths and his body spasmed in an indescribable explosion of heat and culmination. The intensity of it knocked the breath from his lungs in a guttural grunt and, for a long minute, he held himself rigid as his hot eruption emptied itself into her, pulsing like gouts of lava.

Then it was over.

He collapsed on her, breathing hard, sanity and comprehension slowly coming back to him. As he levered himself up off her, he looked down into her face, crumpled with anguish and pain, her eyes tightly closed. She looked vulnerable and hurt, but all he could feel for her was contempt.

Suddenly awash with revulsion, both at her and himself, Spock pushed himself up and rolled away to sit on the side of the bed. He felt dirty, soiled. His groin was drenched with semen and mucous and the musky odor abruptly sickened him. The idea of what he had just done sickened him. Everything that he had just done...

Rising, he walked away without looking back, going into his bathroom and shutting the door behind him. T'Pring heard the sonic shower come on.

She lay where he had left her, trembling and struggling with the emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. She hurt all over, particularly the bruised and abraded flesh between her legs. Gingerly, she reached down and touched herself, wondering if the wetness she felt leaking out of her was semen or blood. But her fingers came away showing only a thick, cloudy liquid and not the thin dark green that she half expected. She wiped her fingers on the rumpled coverlet beneath her.

She felt completely shattered emotionally. Never had she envisioned that Spock would do this. She had been prepared for carefully controlled anger on his part, but not this full-blown rage or the fact that he might take her sexually and in so brutal a manner. She had truly believed that he would complete the divorce and give her over to Stonn.

At the thought of her lover, T'Pring covered her face with her hands and bit her lip as a fresh flood of tears erupted. Stonn ... oh, Stonn... I promised we would be together...

Spock emerged from the bathroom and retrieved clean undergarments from a drawer in his dresser, ignoring totally the naked woman lying on his bed. After stepping into black briefs and shrugging into the form-hugging black t-shirt, he took a clean uniform from his closet. Quickly and efficiently he dressed, never looking her way. Then, after sitting and pulling on his socks and boots, he checked his appearance in the small mirror over his bureau and started for the door.

Realizing that he was leaving, T'Pring vaulted to her feet. "Wait! Where are you going?"

He turned and regarded her coldly. "I have duties to attend. We are leaving orbit. For the time being, I am still in command of this ship."

"But ... what about me?" she asked. "Aren't you going to send for my things?"

"No," he answered flatly.

"But ... I have nothing with me. No clothing. What will I wear? I can't go out like this." She gestured to her nudity.

Spock's eyes were as hard as onyx. "You may go naked for all I care," he answered, "as you will be going nowhere."

"What?!"

"You will not leave this cabin. This is the extent of your world from now on."

T'Pring's mouth dropped open in shock. He turned his back and proceeded to the door. There he paused and said, "Computer, voice print lock. My authorization only."

"Confirmed," replied the metallic voice.

Spock cast a quick glance at T'Pring and left. She heard the door lock seal behind him.

Stunned, shaken, disbelieving, the young Vulcan woman sank down onto the deck and pulled the ripped silver dress up to cover her torso, heedless of the tears that trickled down her face and soaked into the fine, silver cloth.

* * *

His emotions still a writhing maelstrom within him, Spock paused at a wall intercom and called the bridge, ordering Chekov to plot a course for Starbase 12 and make for their home base at warp four. The navigator had barely acknowledged the order before Spock cut him off and continued down the corridor toward sickbay.

It felt like a death march. It was a death march. The Captain ... Jim ... his best friend was dead. Murdered by his hand in an arcane and archaic ceremony that no sane being should tolerate. The knife in Spock's gut twisted at that thought. No sane being did tolerate it, only those who were insane by virtue of some remnant of genetic coding from a people a thousand years dead. His ancestors. The pre-Reform Vulcans who lived on deep within their descendants and rose like avenging spirits to rip their minds away in total madness every seven years.

Spock's thoughts flitted to his inevitable court martial. "Not guilty by reason of insanity." He could plead that defense. McCoy would certify that he was insane, but then would come the poking and prying and interrogations from the droves of Federation doctors and psychiatrists and investigative officers. Ripping away every shred of dignity he had left, ripping open things so private that Vulcans did not even speak of them to each other, learning things that were so intensely personal a Vulcan would kill an out-worlder for even knowing about them.

No, he would plead guilty. He was guilty. He'd choked the life from Kirk before two dozen witnesses and had done it with satisfaction and triumph screaming in his ears. Because he had not seen Jim, his shield-brother, but simply another male bent on stealing his female, intending to mate with her himself unless Spock killed him first.

The memory made his stomach surge with nausea. He paused outside of sickbay to focus and calm himself, then straightened and marched into McCoy's office.

McCoy and Christine Chapel rose as he entered, exchanging glances with each other. The surgeon started toward him. Spock got right to the point, circumventing anything they would say to him. He stopped with his back to the infirmary, hands clasped behind him, eyes slightly downcast. He couldn't look at McCoy, couldn't bear to see again the hatred and revolt that had been on the doctor's face when Spock had last seen him.

"Doctor, I shall be resigning my commission immediately, of course--"

"Spock--"

"--so I would appreciate your making the final arrangements," Spock said, getting out the speech he had decided on.

McCoy tried to interrupt him once more. "Spock, I--"

"Doctor, please. Let me finish. There can be no excuse for the crime of which I am guilty. I intend to offer no defense," the Vulcan continued doggedly. "Furthermore, I shall order Mr. Scott to take immediate command of this vessel."

"Don't you think you'd better check with me first?" asked a familiar voice behind him.

Spock's heart gave a compulsive leap and he spun, shocked absolutely speechless as Jim Kirk chuckled in delight and walked around him. "Captain!" Spock managed to utter then turned to follow him, dumb-founded, so stunned to see his friend alive that the tentative control he'd had on his battered emotions vanished like a balloon popping.

Without thinking, Spock seized Kirk's shoulders and held him at arm's length, confirming his solidity, his realness. Then the joy that exploded through him burst free. "Jim!!" he cried, his face splitting in an enormous, delighted grin.

The horror of what he'd just done struck him an instant later and Spock immediately released Kirk, quickly gathering his shredded dignity about him and retreating behind a hastily erected mask of Vulcan passivity. It wasn't very convincing and he knew it. He could see McCoy smirking at him from over Kirk's shoulder and Christine grinning happily just behind the surgeon.

The difference in their reactions stabbed at him. McCoy's was a knowing "I told you so" expression, one of victory, of having finally caught Spock completely exposed. Christine on the other hand gazed at him with love radiating from her whole being, adoration shining from her eyes. He felt his heart constrict as her eyes met his. Her warmth enveloped him and suddenly he felt the embers of his dying plak tow burst into spontaneous flame again. As quickly, he forcibly doused it behind rigid control as he turned back to face Kirk.

"I am ... pleased to see you, Captain," he said rather lamely, glancing again at the two medical people. "You seem ... uninjured. I am somewhat at a loss to explain it, however." Why aren't you dead? I killed you. I know I did.

Explanations followed, during which McCoy abruptly dismissed Christine. She looked as if she were about to protest, but then whirled and quickly left the CMO's office, marching out into the corridor. As soon as she was gone, McCoy spun back on the First Officer.

"Spock! What happened down there?! The girl."

"Ah, yes, the girl," Spock replied calmly. He was in control now. He could handle their teasing inquisition with his usual aplomb. Hands clasped loosely behind his back, he lifted his eyebrows delicately and answered, "When I thought I had killed the Captain, I found that I had lost all interest in T'Pring. The madness was gone."

It wasn't a lie. Quite. Not a lie. An exaggeration. The withholding of information was not a lie.

They accepted it and, after a call from Admiral Komack confirming permission for this trip and a final parting shot from McCoy, Kirk happily led his First Officer out of sickbay, eager to return to the bridge.

As they stepped into the corridor, Spock saw Christine peering at him curiously from the door of the medical lab. He faltered. "I shall join you shortly, Captain," he said. "Excuse me, please."

Not waiting for Kirk's answer, Spock turned and started toward Christine. She blinked and then moved out of the doorway to meet him, her heart pounding.

As he stepped up before her, she asked, "Are you all right, Mr. Spock? I ... I sort of thought you ... might be staying on Vulcan." Her eyes searched his, the worry that was not in her voice clouding the blue into gray.

"I am well," he assured her. "I wanted to apologize to you for my actions these past few days."

"Oh, I understand! It's all right--"

"No, it is not. My actions were inexcusable--"

"Really, there's no need!" she insisted.

Passing crewmembers were giving them the eye and barely containing delighted grins. The ship-wide gossip line had been operating at warp speed and absolutely everyone on board had quickly heard that Nurse Chapel had exited the First Officer's cabin an instant ahead of a bowl of soup, and that Spock had followed it at once with a loud, public dressing down in front of the Captain, CMO and a half dozen crew people.

Spock noticed the glances and snickers and frowned in annoyance. "Perhaps we should find someplace more private to continue this discussion. I need very much to explain to you. I have wronged you and hurt you and I do want to make amends for that."

Christine was silent for a moment, stunned, then suggested timidly, "Your quarters?"

"No," Spock answered, a bit too quickly. "No ... I ... I would prefer we go to yours. If that is agreeable with you." She hesitated, searching his face for motive, explanation, clue. "I truly do need to speak with you," he insisted again.

"All right," she finally answered.

He nodded almost in relief and they started down the corridor to the turbolift.

* * *

As she preceded Spock into her quarters, Christine was decidedly apprehensive yet strangely excited. A veritable welter of thoughts and ideas swirled through her head, wondering what he wanted to say that was so private, wild suppositions springing to mind and then as quickly being dismissed--

He was married now. He'd been married all the time. He'd called that Vulcan woman his wife. Now he was going to tell Christine he could never see her again except professionally. Or perhaps he was angry that she'd come into his cabin without permission. It was beyond presumptuous on her part, had violated his privacy, his sanctity...

Yet he hadn't seemed angry. He'd actually seemed contrite and sad, weary. And when he'd called her by her given name -- "Yes, I know, Christine" -- he had not hesitated over it. As if that's what he called her in his thoughts, was familiar with it, was comfortable saying it.

Her speculations were cut short as she heard him step up behind her and the door hiss closed. He was so near she could feel his body heat, hear him breathing. Uncomfortably, she moved away then turned to face him.

"What did you need to speak to me about?" she asked softly.

He moved a step closer and hesitated, seemingly at a loss how to begin. At last he asked, "May we sit? This may take a while."

"Of course." She gestured to the single chair in her cabin and seated herself primly on the edge of her bed. Her cabin was not like the senior officers' cabins. It was a single room containing a bed, desk, chair and bureau, an attached 'fresher and sonic shower which she shared with the adjoining cabin, and not much else. She was just happy that her position in the ship's ranking allowed her private quarters. Lower ranked lieutenants and ensigns shared double quarters and crew were bunked in quads.

Spock seated himself and turned his gaze on the floor, his hands kneading nervously together. Nervously? she thought. Something is wrong!

Finally, he took a deep breath and began softly. "You have been aware of my aberrant behavior over the past days. I cannot tell you how sorry I am that you were forced to experience this. I can only tell you that I am deeply distressed and that the cause of this behavior was out of my control." He rose abruptly and began to pace, hands behind his back. "This is very difficult for me, Miss Chapel. Deeply personal and quite a taboo subject among my people. Only those involved or medical practitioners ever discuss it. But ... but..." He paused and swallowed, too uncomfortable to speak, then managed a hoarse whisper. "...you are involved."

She sat up straighter. "Involved in what, Mr. Spock? I don't understand."

"No, of course, you don't. That is what I must explain to you." He sat back down and gathered his thoughts for a long moment. "You see, when you brought me the soup, I reacted instinctively. In my culture, a woman does not serve a man unless they are Bonded ... married. For an unBonded woman to bring food to a man implies a relationship between them, either sexual or through a life commitment."

"Oh!" She caught her breath, realizing how her actions must have seemed to him. "If I had known, I would never--"

"No, please, let me finish. I became angry because I was being torn in two opposite directions," he interrupted softly. "I was deeply into a physiological phase that Vulcan males endure called the ... the pon farr. The Time of Mating." His face darkened even as he said it and he paused for a few seconds before he could go on. "We are drawn back to Vulcan, sometimes against our wills, when this condition comes upon us. I had no choice but to return and marry."

Christine was getting confused. "But on the bridge, you said that the woman ... Tuh..."

"T'Pring."

"Yes. You said she was your wife." Hurt welled up inside her suddenly. "I wish you'd told me before ... that you were married. I made such a fool of myself--"

"I am not married, Christine. Then or now." He looked up directly into her eyes, his soft deep voice making the breath catch in her throat.

"But ... why? You said..."

"I said she was my wife, but she was not. Not technically. We were betrothed as children by arranged marriage. We established a pledge-bond that kept us inexorably linked until ... this time forced me home. But I had not seen her in years nor had any contact with her. The actual marriage did not take place because of ... complicated reasons. Captain Kirk's injuries were caused by those reasons." He closed his eyes and pain slid over his features. "I cannot speak of that."

Compassion and love overcame her and she sat forward, resting her palm on top of his clasped hands. "Oh, Spock, I understand. I'm so sorry."

Her touch sent a wave of heat through his body, inflaming his soul. He looked back up at her, drinking in her features, her sweet scent, the emotions radiating from her. The embers within him blazed up once more, low but building.

He forced it under control. "I said you were involved," he stated softly. "Because at the very time when I was being pulled to Vulcan to marry T'Pring, you appeared with food for me, offering me comfort and acting as a wife to me." He paused and looked away. "I fully realize that my next statement is so illogical that I can scarcely believe I am saying it, but it is true... Christine, I chased you from my presence because I so desperately wanted you to stay."

She blinked. "What?"

He sighed. "I wanted you to stay with me. I wanted you to continue in the role of wife to me but that was utterly impossible. I already had a wife. One whom I scarcely remembered and did not want, but nevertheless one to whom I would be Bonded for the rest of my life. In my unpredictable emotional state, the contradiction was simply too much to handle. I reacted with irrational anger towards you because I wanted you and could not have you."

There. He'd said it. He rose and walked away, standing with his back to her. "Later ... when you came to me while I was asleep ... I'd had a chance to sort through my thoughts and get them under control. I tried to tell you that I knew what you were trying to do for me by bringing me food, but that I simply could not 'hear' you in my chaotic emotional state. I tried to tell you then that I understood and that I knew it was illogical to deny how we both felt. I was prepared then ... I was prepared to ask you to stay with me, to fill the role you had offered."

Stunned, she rose to her feet and slowly approached him. "When, Spock? I never had a clue!"

He glanced back at her then turned away again. "When I said that it was illogical to protest against our natures... I was trying to reach out to you, to explain."

Her breath came out in a mournful little sigh. "Oh, Spock... If only I'd been able to 'hear' what you were saying!"

"When you reminded me of Vulcan, I knew it was hopeless. I was Bound to T'Pring. I had only a few hours to be with you and I knew you could not accept that arrangement. It would have been cruel and unfair to even place it before you. But still... I couldn't bear to let you go completely. So I asked you to be in the role of caretaker and companion for what little time we had left together."

"What?"

"When I asked you for more soup," he answered quietly. "It was all I could do. But for that short while, those three days..." He turned back to face her, his dark eyes intense and focused on hers. "For those days, Christine, you were mine and I was yours. It was all I had to give you."

Tears welled up in her eyes as comprehension overwhelmed her. "Oh, Spock..." she said again, moving up closer to him. Her throat choked up and no more words came.

They needed none. Neither knew who moved first, but in the next instant they were in each other's arms, their lips crushed together in a devouring kiss. The latent flame within him roared up into full force and she melted into its heat.

What seemed like hours later, she pushed away from him and gasped in a huge gulp of air. Her head spun and she felt light-headed, thankful that his strong arms still supported her. "We can't..." she managed to say. "Not right now. I'm on duty."

She felt him sigh. "As am I. When is your duty shift over?"

"1800 hours."

"I will meet you here at 1830," he said and drew her back into another long, hungry kiss. "Until then, my t'hy'la..." He released her and was gone, leaving Christine feeling as if she had just been sucked into a vortex and deposited in another world entirely.

* * *

How she got through the intervening hours, Christine was never sure. She was so nervous and distracted that she was sure McCoy would trap her and demand to know what was wrong with her. Thankfully, he was busy writing up his report on the incident and had ordered that he didn't want to be disturbed unless the ship was under full scale attack by the Klingons.

He was still in his office with the privacy seal showing when the end of Christine's shift rolled around and the beta shift nursing staff arrived. She didn't wait around to chat, as she usually did, but shoved her shift report into the hands of her relief and hurried from sickbay and down to her cabin, her mind whirling.

What should she wear? Casual or uniform? Hair up or down? Music? Dinner? What would he want to eat? Or would he want to eat? (And she immediately slapped down the lewd thought that maybe he would want to eat her.) But she couldn't get around the nervous, giddy, anxious feeling that the first thing they would do was have sex. Well, maybe not the first thing, but it would definitely be a major part of their evening activities.

That thought sent a chill over her that made her tremble in anticipation. Her hands were shaking as she stripped off her duty uniform and hastily chose a soft, embroidered kimono of teal silk from her closet. As she slipped into it and pulled the belt snug, she tried to ignore the chiding little voice inside that reminded her how easily it would come off.

She damped down the voice and nervously checked her appearance in her 'fresher mirror, deciding to wear her hair down. She quickly pulled the pins out of the French twist she wore on duty and fluffed the blonde mass until it tumbled about her shoulders.

The door buzzer made her jump, startled, and she knew without looking that it was precisely 1830 hours. Barefoot, she went to the door, then stood for a few seconds, taking a deep breath and trying to still her pounding heart. Then she pressed the entry button.

It was he, just as she knew it would be. He was still in uniform, having apparently come directly from the bridge, and his tall, imposing figure and calm demeanor sent her heart leaping again. "Come in, Spock," she said, rather breathlessly.

He stepped inside, taking in her appearance as the door slid closed behind him. Without trying to be too obvious about it, she clicked the privacy lock then turned to him. "Right on time," she smiled, making a valiant effort to keep the quiver out of her voice. "Have you eaten?"

"No," he answered, his deep voice making goosebumps rise on her arms. "I have only just finished my duty shift. I take it from your attire that you would rather not dine in the officer's lounge tonight."

"No..." she whispered. "I ... I thought you might prefer to eat here."

He had not taken his eyes off her and slowly the distance between them was closing. "That would be acceptable," he replied, his deep velvet baritone dropping both in range and volume. He was so close now that she could feel the heat radiating off his body. His very presence was raising her body temperature until she was sure she would soon burst into flame. She swayed toward him then caught herself and moved a step back.

"What would you like to eat?" she managed to ask.

"Would you trust me to order for us?" he asked, the corners of his mouth pulling upward just a bit into a hint of a smile.

"Of course!"

For a long second, it seemed as if they could not move apart, as if some force of the universe held them in position just inches from each other. Then he smiled a little more and turned to the food panel on the wall. It took him only moments to return with a platter of exotic fruits and little bowls of thick liquids.

"A light meal might be preferable to a heavy one," he explained and something in his eyes told her that he definitely had a reason behind that statement. Her heart thudded once more with anticipation. "These are some of the fruits currently in season on Vulcan. These are dipping sauces that traditionally accompany them."

He paused, then suddenly handed her the platter, which she took reflexively with both hands. And then, to her shock, he casually walked over and stretched himself out on her bed, propping himself into a lounging position on his right side, like a Roman aristocrat on a chaise, and gazed at her calmly and expectantly.

Suddenly she understood and couldn't suppress the wide smile that spread over her face. She was his woman; she would bring him food. Slipping into the game, she moved toward him with a slow, sensual sway of her hips and knelt gracefully beside the bed, sliding the tray onto the mattress.

"Is there a particular order that I should follow?" she asked, her blue eyes twinkling.

"No," he answered. "And you may eat as well. The sharing of the food adds to the pleasure of the meal." His eyes had not left hers and his voice was husky.

Christine forced herself to look away from his hypnotic gaze and down to the tray. Picking up one of the little skewers that served as forks on Vulcan, she speared a little cube of yellow fruit and dipped it into a pinkish sauce. It dripped as she brought it up and she instinctively cupped her other hand underneath it to catch the juice as she conveyed it to Spock's lips.

As she lifted it to his mouth, he suddenly caught the wrist of her cupped hand and held it steady, again capturing her eyes with his dark, intense gaze. Then he deliberately leaned forward and delicately pulled the fruit from the skewer with his teeth and into his mouth. As he chewed, he watched her, still holding her hand motionless and, when he had swallowed, he startled her by leaning down and kissing the fruit juice off her fingers, slipping them one by one into his mouth and gently sucking on them.

Christine couldn't breathe for a moment and the unexpectedly sensual action made her whole body flush with excitement. He lifted his head and looked at her meaningfully, then he reached and speared a piece of fruit from the tray. Mimicking her actions, he brought it up to her mouth and fed it to her. The alien fruit was bursting with juice and was absolutely delicious.

Her hands shaking, Christine fumbled the next piece but he caught it in his palm before it hit the bedspread and popped the grape-like fruit into his mouth.

She shook her head. "You should have changed before you came. You're going to ruin your uniform."

"That is easily remedied," he said and suddenly sat up a little, peeling both his blue tunic and black t-shirt off with one graceful motion. He tossed the garments onto the floor and lay back down the way he had been.

Christine felt her breath grow short again and couldn't drag her eyes away from his bare chest. She'd seen him shirtless before, but never like this. The sight of his green-bronze skin and the dark crisp hair covering his finely molded chest and stomach made her feel a little faint. She couldn't stop herself from reaching out and lightly running her fingertips over the alluring sculptured muscles.

He let her explore him for a moment, then prompted her. "I am still hungry."

She looked up at him, realizing that she was failing to carry out her role here. Growing bold, a wicked little smile curled her mouth as she pierced another cube of fruit and dipped it into a sauce, making sure it was coated well. Then, bringing it to his mouth, she allowed the juice to dribble onto his chest as she fed him.

"Oh, dear, look at the mess I've made," she said. "I'll just have to clean that up."

Leaning forward, she trailed the tip of her tongue over the little track of fruit juice working its way through the thicket of chest hair. Then, she brought her lips into full contact with his skin and sucked gently, still teasing him with her tongue. Her nibbling kisses moved down to the flat masculine nipple and she flicked her tongue over that.

He gave a little convulsive gasp and she lifted her head to look up at him. His face seemed a little darker in hue and his eyes a little more intense. "There," she said. "All clean."

"Indeed," he answered roughly.

Taking his turn, he picked up a slice of peach-like fruit with his fingers and swirled it in a red syrup. As he brought it to her lips, he raised it a little above her, forcing her to lift her face and try to catch it with her open mouth. The syrup dripped down her neck and slid into the cleft between her breasts. He allowed her to catch the fruit and bite off about half of it, then he slipped the other half into his own mouth.

Laughing a little, she caught his hand and licked the juice from his fingers, drawing each one into her mouth and sucking it, as he had done to her. He allowed her to do it, his eyes crinkled with delight, then he said, "It seems I too have made a mess. I must clean it up as you did."

Her heart pounded as he grasped her shoulders and pulled her toward him, ducking his head to the base of her throat. She felt his breath against her skin, then his hot tongue swirled against her skin, flicking and laving her.

He followed the sweet, sticky stream lower until he reached the tops of her breasts. Without pausing, his fingers pulled the teal kimono wider apart and his tongue moved down into the cleavage of her bust.

She gasped and clutched at him for support. Undaunted, he continued to kiss and lick her while one hand moved to her waist and plucked at the tie belt of her robe. It came open and he shoved the kimono from her shoulders. The silken garment fell like water and pooled around her torso, her arms still in the sleeves, leaving her upper body bare except for the lacy bra she wore.

He brought his hand up to caress one breast, his palm sliding over the cup that confined her flesh. Lifting his lips from his kisses, he murmured, "Remove this," and dropped his lips to his delicious task once more.

It didn't occur to her to disobey him. He was in charge here. Pulling her arms from the loose sleeves of the robe, she quickly reached behind her and undid the clasp of the bra, allowing it to fall loose, her full breasts surging as they were suddenly free. She stretched herself up on her knees, still on the floor beside the bed, and slipped her arms up over his shoulders, her fingers burying themselves in the black strands of his sleek hair, pressing his face ever-so-lightly into her pillowy bosom.

One of his strong arms going around her, he pulled her closer, his head bent to her lush breasts. With the other, he massaged one firm mound of flesh even as he drew her rosy nipple into his mouth, sucking and working it with his tongue. Then, almost without stopping, he moved to the other and repeated his actions. Lifting his head slightly, he continued to lick and tease her now rigid nipples with his tongue, reveling in the flush of heat radiating from her skin.

She was nearly gasping when he finally ordered, "Move the platter and come to me now."

Almost blindly, she transferred the tray of fruit to her desktop and quickly joined him on the bed, stretched face to face with him. He held her close and dipped his head to hers, their lips coming together in a voracious kiss. She could taste the sweet fruit in his mouth as her tongue pushed between his teeth and danced with his own.

He rolled over onto his back, bringing her with him and she straddled his hips. The rough texture of his trousers scratched the inner surface of her thighs, but what she felt more than anything was the hard shaft of his arousal pressing into the sensitive flesh of her groin. Underneath the robe, she wore only her panties and the thin material allowed her to feel the pulsing of his organ against her.

She loosened the belt the rest of the way and discarded the teal garment, leaving her clad only in the lacy undergarment stretched across her hips. She bent forward and prostrated herself on top of him, her breasts pressing into the hot, firm muscles of his chest.

Running his long fingers up either side of her face and burying them in her golden hair, he drew her back down to his mouth and they seemed to spend a great deal of time then teasing, exploring, devouring each other with lips and tongues. All the time, she could feel him throbbing against her, demanding release from the confinement of his pants.

At long last, he broke a particularly absorbing kiss to demand in a breathless manner, "Christine -- I want you to undress me now. I want to feel your hands removing my clothing."

Already dizzy with the pounding adrenalin of arousal, Christine nevertheless felt a new jolt of desire rush through her at his request. She pushed herself up off his heated, flushed torso and moved to comply.

She withdrew to the end of the bed and paused for a second, provocatively pushing her lace panties from her hips, letting them drop to the floor. She allowed him to look at her for a long moment, then she bent over his left foot and ran her tongue full up the long expanse of his black leather boot. She did the same to his right one and glanced up to see his reaction.

His eyes had widened in surprise and there was a barely contained expression of excitement covering his features. She could almost hear his heart pounding and she turned back to her task with delight. Grasping the heel and toe of his left boot, she slowly pulled and the tall boot slid down his leg and then off, leaving his leg still clad in the knee-high black boot stocking that was worn underneath. She did the same to his right boot.

With deliberate slowness, she ran her hands up his lower leg to his knee and rolled down the stocking, finally pulling it off his foot, then did the same to the other one. "Are you ticklish?" she asked smiling, almost rhetorically because, before he could answer, she took one of his feet between both hands and began to massage the arch with her thumbs.

As a nurse, she'd had experience doing therapeutic massage and now she turned her training to sensual good use. Her strong hands and fingers rubbed and stroked, working from his toes to his ankle and back. He had long, slender feet, as she'd expected from his general build, and she noted that his toenails were as well tended as his fingernails always were.

She did both of his feet, for a while becoming so lost in the pleasure of touching and ministering to him this way that she almost forgot they were in the midst of intense sexual foreplay. Indeed, when she looked up to check his reaction, she found him lying back with his eyes closed, completely relaxed. She also noted that something else was relaxing and decided that he'd had enough foot rubbing for the time being.

Moving away from his feet, she took her massage up one of his legs and then to his thigh. That caused him to raise his head speculatively and gaze down at her, a look of mischief in his dark eyes. "I thought for a moment that you had decided to put me to sleep," he commented.

"Oh, I'll wake you up again," she smiled seductively, continuing her kneading of his leg. "What else would you like me to rub?"

One eyebrow went up. "I shall leave that to your discretion," he answered with a little smile.

"Then perhaps I had better take these off so I can see what needs it," she responded and reached to unseal the fly of his trousers.

Opening his pants, she could see that his erection was swelling back to full size. He lifted his hips off the bed and helped her get his pants down past his hips, then lay back as she drew the garment off his legs and discarded it. He was now clad only in regulation black briefs and she paused to let her gaze sweep over his long slim form, thinking how much the uniform hid. His body was well-muscled and superbly fit, exquisitely masculine.

She found that she couldn't wait any longer to see him in totality and her hands seemed to find their own way to the last barrier between them. Touching for the first time the hard evidence of his excitement, she allowed herself to explore him through the cloth separating them, stroking and teasing him. His breathing increased, his eyes never leaving hers, and when she judged that he was ready, she drew the briefs down off his hips, at long last freeing him and giving her the first sight of his engorged manhood.

Her breath caught in her throat for a second as she gazed at him. Fully erect, he seemed enormous, but her body gave a surge of hunger in response and she knew that she wanted him within her more than she could ever have imagined.

She stretched herself out atop him once more, relishing the wonderful feeling of his hot skin pressing full-length against hers. She let her legs straddle his hips once more, this time able to feel much more closely how aroused he was against her. His rigid organ pulsed against the center of her womanhood, inflaming her further, but he made no move to enter her yet.

He drew her back down to his mouth and their lips came together in sweet and frantic fusion, tongues dueling and tasting each other. Running his large hands up over her smooth, bare back, Spock pulled her hard against him and his whole manner was suddenly more serious, more profound.

When Christine pulled her lips away from his, he slipped his hands along both sides of her face and peered up at her with intensity. "I wish to know you fully," he whispered. "I wish to join with you in every way, but..."

"But you're afraid to ask," Christine finished for him, gazing down into his depthless brown eyes. "You think I would feel violated if you entered my mind..."

He blinked, wondering if she were picking up his thoughts through their skin-to-skin contact. "It is a form of intimacy that humans do not share," he answered softly.

She smiled and stroked her fingertips down one of his sideburns, trailing along his jawline. "I have longed for this, Spock," she whispered against his lips. "I want you ... in every way that I can have you. Please ... I want to meld with you."

His broad hands caressed her face and then his fingers moved into position on her cheeks and temples. As she felt him beginning to make the necessary adjustments, she closed her eyes and opened her mind to him, trembling a little as she waited.

She didn't know what she expected but she caught her breath when suddenly he was there. It felt strange and a little disconcerting, but then she was suffused with the warmth of his presence, as if he had taken up residence inside of her.

Gently he revealed parts of himself to her and in return peered into sections of her psyche that she'd hidden. With infinite care they explored one another, delighting in all the things they had not dared reveal before. And when he cloaked her in the fire and longing that he had kept so deliberately concealed, she felt her whole being spiral upward in a firestorm of desire.

Now, t'hy'la, he said to her, his thoughts conveying his urgency. I must be within you now.

She lifted her hips a little to give him better access and gasped aloud as he was suddenly inside her with one quick, smooth movement. Her body jerked reflexively as his hardness and heat slid into place, seated deep and sure, then she peered down at him in complete understanding, complete unity, and began to move her hips against his. Each movement drove him to the hilt within her and then withdrew slightly to begin the motion anew. Each time was a moment of fresh creation and she cried out as if experiencing such feelings for the first time. She felt the double sensation of her own building orgasm and his, of sensitized flesh moving together, surging in a dance as old as time.

His face mirrored the emotions and physical sensations she was feeling through their meld, his beautiful, angular features gripped with anguish and ecstacy. His emotions still volatile with the last flaring sparks of pon farr, he felt the hearts-blood of his ancestors raging through his veins. He felt one with them - wild, savage men who took their mates with all the passions that burned within them and who defended that mate with blade and spear, prepared to kill to keep her.

Lost in the swirling phantasms of fever and need, Spock closed his eyes and gripped Christine's hips tightly, holding her firmly against him as he began pumping up with redoubled vigor into her hot depths. The strength of his hands and the power of his thrusts were painful but she didn't care. He was pushing her to the very edge of a massive orgasm and she arched back, her hands resting on his corded forearms to steady herself.

Then, through their meld, she felt him explode in climax, like a star going nova, and she followed so closely as to almost erupt with him simultaneously. His hips bucking up hard beneath her, he gave a strangled gasp and she was suddenly filled with fire as his hot essence shot into her very core.

For a long moment, they hung on the razor edge of consciousness, on the pinnacle of sensation, soaring with emotions too intense to fathom. Then the intensity, the fire, began to fade and they came back to themselves in the dim confines of Christine's cabin, holding one another in sated enervation.

Christine lay on his chest, clutching him, her thighs still hugging his hips. His chest rose and fell beneath her as he worked to control his breathing. She made a move to roll off him but his strong arms held her in place.

"No ... remain exactly where you are," he murmured against her ear. "I wish to savor the sensation of your body against mine as we come down from orgasm. I find it most extraordinary."

She raised up a little, nevertheless, so that she could peer down at him, at his beloved face. The familiar features were as she had never seen them -- open and vulnerable, dark eyes soft and filled with wonder. She reached up and lightly traced the line of one upswept eyebrow with her fingertips then bent and kissed him.

The link between them still open, she felt his surprise and then his delight, and then she felt his hunger for her reasserting itself, even before she felt the twitch of reawakening flesh pulse to life deep within her.

* * *

It was very late when Spock returned to his cabin, nearly 0200. Although the corridor lighting was dimmed slightly in deference to the humans' diurnal rhythm that dictated a "night" phase in order to stay healthy, the ship bustled with gamma shift crewmembers going about their business. None thought it unusual that the ship's executive officer should still be up and about. The enigmatic Vulcan sometimes went for days without sleep and often appeared at times and in places where least expected.

However, tonight Spock had no inspections or reports to finish and his mind was occupied with the preceding hours he had spent with Christine Chapel. He acknowledged with a silent nod those who spoke to him in the corridors, but he was still wrapped in the muzzily contented sensation of post-coital fatigue and only wanted to seek his own bed for sleep. He had thoroughly sated any sexual hunger that remained from the pon farr and felt better than he had in weeks.

Reaching his cabin door, he was brought up short for an instant when it failed to slide open automatically for him, then he remembered the voice lock he had placed on it and spoke the code words. Obediently, the door slid aside and he entered his dark cabin, the only light coming from the smoldering firepot in his bedchamber.

T'Pring was asleep in his bed and he paused to stare at her. She must have showered and recovered from the violent sexual episode inflicted on her when he brought her aboard. She was lying on her side, facing him, her long black hair loose and flowing across the pillow, one hand tucked underneath her face. Asleep, her features had lost the haughty expression that had so infuriated him earlier and the hardness had softened.

She looked very much as she had when they were adolescents, as on the night he had told her he was leaving Vulcan for Starfleet Academy and did not know when he would return. The time when they were still young, before the trouble started between them. His thoughts flicked back to that night, when they had touched each others' thoughts and nearly lost themselves in the unfamiliar emotions of ripening sexuality. He had yearned for her then, when she was the promise of his future, his t'pfarri, his pledged mate.

She had felt his arousal through his thoughts and hurriedly pulled from the link. It was not proper, not correct. He had not yet undergone pon farr and, while some couples experimented with sexual joining before the Time, well-brought-up young people did not. It was considered low class and lacking the control so necessary to a Vulcan's every day life. Spock had felt ashamed for feeling as he did and for allowing her to experience those feelings, and she had been embarrassed that, deep down, she had felt the stirring, too.

He tilted his head slightly now as he looked down at the woman who had almost literally been a part of him for thirty years. Now that the pon farr was well and truly over, he found that he could not feel any rancor for her. In point of fact, he felt very little at all for her. She was no more to him now than his lyre or chair. In actuality, his lyre meant a good deal more to him, for he had lovingly carried it with him from the time he had left home, through the Academy and through the ensuing years in Starfleet. It had given him countless hours of pleasure and comfort, unlike T'Pring whom he gave the same level of importance as a stray cat that had taken up residence in his quarters.

He would rather have had a cat, given the choice. He found them intriguing, graceful and beautiful and very much a Vulcan sort of animal.

Instead, he had acquired a kali'kha'am ... something that was very hard indeed to translate. T'Pring had become a "body companion", a position in life as close to slavery as was possible on modern-day Vulcan. It was rooted in the dark mists of the ancient past, tied inexorably with the secret rituals of the kunat'kali'fee and just as immutable. She had known the risks when she had Challenged him, had gambled everything and lost.

As he had told her in the turbolift, he controlled her totally now. He could use her as anything he wished, from concubine to footstool. She had forfeited all of her rights and freedom and was now at the mercy of his whims.

Spock sighed and quietly got undressed. He would have to give further thought to exactly what he was going to do with her, but at the moment he only wished to sleep. Stripping down to his regulation black undershirt and shorts, he slid into bed, being careful not to touch his new bedmate. He had the right to make her sleep on the floor, but it was not in his nature to be deliberately cruel. The pon farr had driven him to near madness and he had done things that he already regretted. For now, though, he would allow her the luxury of her own rest. No doubt she needed it as well.

His body ached from the day's exertions but his mind refused to stop reviewing all that had happened. He hadn't slept in four days as the plak tow grew stronger and stronger within him, tearing his sanity and serenity into shreds. As they had entered Vulcan orbit at mid-day, it had taken every ounce of his strength and control to keep himself upright and moving during the greeting ceremony and the beam down. Once his feet again trod Vulcan soil and his lungs drew in Vulcan air, he felt his controls snapping, giving in to the inferno that burned within him. It was a relief to finally begin to let go, to know that he had to endure only a short while longer before the Bonding would be over and he could finally claim his mate as his own.

He didn't remember anything between T'Pring's cry of "Kali'fee!" and realizing that he was bent over Kirk's lifeless body, the ahn-woon still in his hands, still wrapped around Kirk's neck. There had been no sentient thought, only raw emotion and instinct coursing through him. But his body spoke of fierce combat and livid bruises showed themselves in numerous places.

The emotional excesses of the past few hours had drained him as well, from his murderous anger at T'Pring and the brutal way he had claimed his property, to the shock and blast of joy at finding Jim alive, to the intense sexual activity he had indulged in with Christine. He was too tired even to attempt a meditation trance. Instead, at last, absolute exhaustion overwhelmed him and he fell into a heavy, dreamless sleep.

* * *

At precisely 0600, Spock came awake, his internal chronometer functioning perfectly. For a few minutes, however, he simply lay without moving, his body aching and sluggish with fatigue. It was one of the rare occasions when he preferred to dismiss his duties and fall back asleep, but with the iron discipline born of a lifetime of military service, he flung back the blanket and sat up on the side of the bed, facing away from his office area.

Rising, he went into his bathroom to take care of morning hygiene, his acute mind already beginning to catalog the day's duty schedule and the numerous items that invariably crowded his agenda. He had shared a shower with Christine the night before which culminated in their last frantic session of lovemaking before he dressed and left her. He had no need of another one this morning. As he came out of the sani, he was mentally well down the list of the day's business and opened his closet to retrieve a fresh uniform.

T'Pring was sitting primly at his desk, her hands folded in her lap, waiting. She was dressed in one of his meditation robes, the voluminous cloth enormously oversized on her petite frame. Spock stared at her inquisitively and one eyebrow lifted.

She blinked serenely back at him. "I had to wear something," she answered his unspoken question.

He didn't answer but turned away, getting socks from his dresser, then sat down on the edge of his bed to pull on the knee-high stockings.

"May I know where you were last night?" T'Pring inquired.

"No," Spock answered flatly and stood to don his trousers. He picked up his blue tunic.

"You reeked of her, you know," the woman commented cooly. "I could smell her on you as soon as you entered the room."

Spock whirled and glared at her, his eyes hard as obsidian. "Kash! S'qa'liatu!" he snapped.

T'Pring's expression was cold and defiant. Then she arose gracefully and went down on her knees before him, kow-towing until her forehead touched the floor. "Yes, oh my Master," she murmured. "Thy servant awaits thy bidding."

Spock's eyes narrowed in anger. "Get up!" he growled.

"Yes, oh my Master," she replied and straightened to look up at him, still kneeling at his feet.

"I am not your 'master'," he stated.

"But you are," she answered icily. "I am your kali'kha'am. Bid me serve you and I do so."

"Then do my bidding," he responded, gripping his blue tunic so hard that the soft velour fabric was crushed in his grip. "Get up!"

T'Pring climbed to her feet. Her face still hard, she folded her arms and stared up at him. "What now, Spock?" she asked. "Do you truly intend to keep me locked in your quarters all day every day while you go about your business? And this woman of yours ... does she know that you have me imprisoned here?"

Spock did not intend to answer her charges. "That is none of your concern," he replied tightly. Seeing that the tunic he held was now too wrinkled to wear, he flung it into the laundry chute and pulled a fresh one from his wardrobe, drawing it quickly over his head.

"None of my concern?!" T'Pring shot back. "I should say that it is more my concern than anyone's!"

Spock sat down on the bed to pull on his boots. "It was not I who issued the Challenge, T'Pring. The consequences of your actions are your own doing."

"Your actions are the results of emotion. There is no logic in them," she responded. "The logical thing to do would have been to give me to Stonn. You do not want me any more than I want you. You want your woman here, just as I want Stonn."

Spock stood, imposing in his uniform. "And Stonn is precisely what you shall not have," he retorted. "My purpose in keeping you here is to prevent you from reaping a reward from your treachery. That is the logic of the situation."

He brushed past her and went to his desk, picking up the datapad lying there. As he started for the door, she followed him, her hard demeanor cracking a little. "Do you not want first meal? There is much for us to discuss. I could call for--"

"I shall eat in the Officer's Lounge," he answered, glancing back at her. Standing in the doorway to the bedroom, wrapped in the oversized robe, her long hair hanging loose around her face, he suddenly thought her very child-like, particularly at the expression of faint desperation in her large almond-shaped eyes. "Feel free to use the computer to access the ship's library or entertainment tapes, as well as the food panels. I shall return later." With that, he strode through the door and it snapped and locked behind him.

* * *

Christine stretched luxuriously as her alarm went off, wondering if she had dreamed the glorious evening she had passed the night before. But she knew it had been real. She lay naked in her sheets and her body ached in places that were unaccustomed to frequent use. She closed her eyes and remembered how it had been. The mental vision of Spock's face above hers, so close, lost in a rapturous expression of climax, set her nerves tingling and muscles tightening in reflex. Instantly, she was sexually aroused again. She wanted him desperately, longed to feel his weight atop her and the heat of his hungry manhood pounding into her. It had been so good. Everything she had ever imagined.

Rolling over on her side, she hugged herself and shivered, smiling to herself. What she had never imagined was the power and passion hiding within that stoic, placid exterior. No wonder the Vulcans worked so hard to keep their emotions tightly reined. If the same volcanic energy seethed within all of them, they would be more dangerous than the Klingons and Romulans combined.

The alarm sounded a second time, pulling Christine out of her reverie. "Okay, I hear you," she answered it. "I'm up!" She tossed back the covers and swung her legs over the side of the bed, sitting up. As she stood, bruised and stiff muscles protested and she winced. "Oh, my goodness! Mr. Spock, we're going to have to work on your technique! You're going to incapacitate me if we keep doing it like this!"

She slipped into the sonic shower for a five-minute wave massage and felt better when it was over. Humming to herself, she dressed and pinned her hair up into the French twist she was currently favoring. It had been loose the night before and she could still feel Spock's long fingers buried in the blonde mane.

The humming transformed into snatches of song as she busied herself with morning housekeeping chores. Quickly and efficiently, she stripped the bed and laid down fresh linens, then smoothed on the red coverlet. The used sheets were too large to send down the chute to the ship's laundry, so she stuffed them in a drawstring bag used for that purpose and set it beside the door, ready to be dropped off at the laundry room on her way to sickbay. If she were lucky, she'd snare a crewman going in that direction and get him to take it.

But this morning she didn't care if she had to lug the bag all the way down to Utilities herself. Spock was hers and that was the only thing that mattered!

* * *

Jim Kirk had felt the need to get back in Admiral Komack's good graces regarding the Altair 6 affair and, since Spock now seemed back to normal, the captain had volunteered them for ceremonial escort of ambassadorial ships back home from the inaugurals on that planet. They were assigned the Andorian delegation. Kirk didn't mind that. Although Andorians were frequently confrontational and could be violent, they were no more so than humans and were a highly intelligent and advanced race. He enjoyed their company for the most part.

After the convoy was underway back to Andor, Kirk issued an invitation to the Andorian ambassador, Shras, and his entourage to join the Enterprise officers for dinner.

"I would be delighted, Captain," the blue-skinned diplomat responded in his odd accent. "However, let us make this an informal occasion, shall we? I find five days in full ceremonial attire to be fatiguing. At my age, I prefer something quieter."

"A wonderful suggestion, Ambassador," Kirk answered with a smile. "I shall expect you at 1800 hours. Until then..." He dipped his chin in a farewell salute and signed off.

* * *

Spock went back to his cabin at 1700 hours to change into a fresh uniform and ready himself for the dinner party with the Andorians. As he strode into his quarters, he found T'Pring sitting at his desk with the lamp trained on the pool of silvery fabric in her lap. She looked up in surprise.

"I didn't expect you," she said.

"What are you doing?" he asked, curious.

She held up her right hand slightly in answer and he saw that she had a needle pinched between her thumb and forefinger, a silver thread trailing from it. "I am attempting to repair the damage you caused to my Bonding dress," she replied cooly. "I acquired a sewing kit from the computer." She looked back down at the garment she held and her shoulders slumped minutely. "I am afraid that I am not a seamstress, however. My repair efforts are rather crude."

He walked over and tilted his head as he cast a critical eye on her work. "Adequate," he commented. "You might try smaller stitches, however."

She slammed the dress down on his desk and shot to her feet. "You are an expert tailor now! You never cease to amaze me, Spock! What other talents do you possess?"

His face hardened at her outburst. "Self-control, for one." He turned and walked into the bed chamber.

T'Pring followed him. "Oh, yes, I have had a taste of your self-control. I still have the bruises to show for it."

He swung around to face her, his expression guarded and dangerous. "I do not have time for this, T'Pring," he answered in a low voice. "I have a dinner engagement to attend."

"No doubt with your other woman," she answered icily. "Shall I wait up for you or will you be spending the night with her again?" He glared at her then pulled his tunic over his head and went into the bathroom to drop it into the laundry chute. T'Pring stood in the doorway. "Well, in either case, please shower before you come to bed. I find her scent nauseating."

"You may sleep elsewhere at your convenience," he responded in a hard voice, checking the mirror to ascertain whether or not he needed to shave.

"Oh, then you are releasing me! Your generosity awes me, sir."

"I meant on the floor," he answered. He decided that no shave was necessary tonight. The depilatory he used generally lasted for about a week. He turned to face the petite woman standing like a pillar in the doorway. "Kindly remove yourself from my presence. I told you I do not have time for this useless harangue. I need to take a shower and dress."

"Oh, then perhaps you would permit me to scrub your back or polish your boots with my hair," T'Pring retorted. "How may I serve you, Oh My Master?"

He saw her move to drop to her knees and struck out, seizing her upper arms and yanking her back up, shoving her backwards with the force of his actions. "I instructed you not to do that!" he snapped angrily.

"Let go of me! You're hurting me!" She jerked back away from him, attempting to free herself from his grasp.

He refused to release her. "Stop this at once!" he ordered. Infuriated, she began to fight him, her emotional control frayed by the past few days. "Stop!" he commanded and moved a step closer. She instinctively moved back, still struggling to break his grip.

Suddenly, the back of her knees impacted the edge of the bed and reflexively the joints buckled, catching her off guard. She fell backwards, her momentum carrying him down with her. Spock landed heavily on top of her, stunning them both for a split second, then T'Pring's fury returned.

"Get off me!" she spat, more enraged than ever.

He was now fighting to keep her nails away from his face, gripping her flailing wrists. She brought her bare legs up on either side of his thighs, pounding his legs with her heels. "T'Pring, I shall incapacitate you if necessary!" he warned her furiously. "Cease this behavior immediately!"

She responded by squirming and bucking underneath him, using all her strength to dislodge him to no avail. In the process he suddenly realized that the robe she wore had worked itself up around her waist and that he was lying between her naked, spread legs. His groin grinding into hers during their struggle had generated a massive erection and now, as he became fully aware of his position and hers, the jolt of arousal that exploded through his body took his breath and halted her as well. For an instant, they stared into each other's eyes, then he drew his breath with a growl and released her left wrist to reach down between them to the fly of his pants.

"Did you purposely provoke me?" he asked in a hoarse whisper. "Is this the result you had in mind? Very well, I shall indulge you!"

"No!" she cried in alarm and anger.

"You are my kali'kha'am," he answered roughly, quickly opening his trousers and freeing himself from their confinement. "Fulfill your duty as tradition directs." With that, he shifted into position and shoved himself into her.

Stunned, defeated, she winced and bit her lip, but did not fight him any further. It was useless to resist him as he pounded into her. He was too strong ... and deep down, further into her psyche than she wished to delve, it was ingrained in her that a woman must grant this right to the man who owned her. T'Pring hated herself for submitting, hated him for using her this way, hated Stonn for not killing Spock when he had the chance. Now all she could do was turn her head away and squeeze her eyes shut, enduring the act until it was finished.

* * *

Kirk lifted an eyebrow in surprise and inquiry as Spock walked into the conference room five minutes late. Spock was never late for anything. You could set your chrono by him. Nevertheless, the First Officer nodded in acknowledgment to the gathered guests and said, "Gentlemen, I apologize for my tardiness. I was detained. A personal matter."

"No harm done, Mr. Spock," the Captain said softly, sipping his drink. "We are just having cocktails."

"Thank you, Captain."

McCoy joined them, a glass of amber liquid in his hand. "But, of course, I don't suppose you'll be indulging this evening, will you? Heaven forbid that alcohol should cloud those perfectly aligned brain waves."

Shras, the Andorian ambassador, was standing with a tall fluted glass of pink wine. "Then you will not share toqal with me, Mr. Spock?"

"I shall be delighted to share toqal with you, Mr. Ambassador," Spock answered smoothly. "I look forward to experiencing one of the treasures of Andor."

Shras chuckled and procured another tall glass from an aide, in turn handing it to the Vulcan. "Eloquently said, Mr. Spock. I know that your people do not usually drink such things."

"I am an ambassador's son, sir," Spock replied. "I was attending diplomatic functions with my father from age fourteen. I have been to Andor many times and am well acquainted with its many remarkable attributes." He lifted the glass in salute and took a sip of the pink liquid.

Shras laughed again, gave him a small bow, and moved off to speak with other members of the party.

Kirk and McCoy had watched the exchange with mute delight and now Kirk commented, "Well done, Mr. Spock! I'm impressed!"

"I agree, Spock," McCoy added. "What is that stuff, anyway?"

"A very potent Andorian wine," Spock replied. "You will notice that Shras did not offer you gentlemen a glass. That is because it might prove lethal to humans."

"But not to Vulcans," McCoy interjected.

Spock gave him an appraising look. "You will also notice, Doctor, that I took only the tiniest of sips. A Vulcan can tolerate it but, I assure you, had I taken a large swallow, I would be in sickbay even as we speak!"

Kirk chuckled and the Enterprise officers stepped apart to mingle with their guests.

* * *

Christine had worked late, taking half a shift from Nurse Sherry Abbott. The beta shift nurse had begged her superior for the time off so that she might have supper with her latest beau, one of the junior engineers. Christine, glowing with her own internal happiness, could not find it within herself to deny such joy to another and had agreed to work until 2000 hours.

Sherry showed up on time and relieved her, then the two women had stood and giggled like girls for a few minutes as Sherry related the romantic, candlelit meal she'd just enjoyed. Christine sighed, her thoughts turning inevitably to Spock.

He had told her that he had a meeting that evening and would not be available for supper but she felt certain he should be back in his cabin by now. She decided to drop by his quarters and say good night before turning in. She grinned wickedly to herself; maybe she'd be turning in to his bed this time.

Humming softly to herself, she made her way to the senior officers' section on Deck 5, waiting until the sparse traffic had cleared before approaching his door. She pressed the buzzer, but there was no answer. Maybe he was in the 'fresher, she thought, and pressed the button once more. There was still no answer so she knocked and called softly, "Spock? It's me."

When silence once more answered her, she sighed. Well, maybe his meeting ran longer than expected. She started to turn away, then a thought struck her and she turned back. She'd just leave him a note. He wouldn't mind if she went in for a minute.

Pressing the door's open button, she was startled to find that the door was locked. That was very strange. He almost never locked his door, trusting his rank and his status on board ship to prevent anyone from entering the private sanctuary of his cabin. Well, she had a way around that.

"Computer, medical override on Commander Spock's cabin, authorization Chapel Three Omega Alpha. Open."

"Acknowledged," the computer's metallic voice responded and the door panel obediently slid out of the way.

Christine smiled and strolled into the darkened room.

* * *

The dinner party had broken up a little after 1930, having gone splendidly. Spock had been surprised to hit it off extremely well with the Andorians' chief technologist, Svrek, who had invited the Vulcan back to see their latest advances in cybernetics. Unable to resist such a tempting offer, Spock had beamed over with the Andorians.

His guests gone, Kirk breathed a sigh of relief and stretched a kink out of his back. McCoy glanced over at him with a smile. "ln the mood for a nightcap, Jim?"

"No, I think I'll turn in," the Captain replied. "I've got a deskload of reports to go over and Spock and I have to start bright and early tomorrow morning on personnel reviews." Kirk made a pained expression. "My favorite work in all the world."

The doctor laughed. "I know what you mean. But I'll bet he's already got them stacked, sorted and ready to evaluate."

"Without a doubt," Kirk chuckled. "G'night, Bones. Sleep well."

"You, too." McCoy watched Kirk stroll off down the corridor towards the turbolift, pleased that Kirk had bounced back so quickly after the ordeal on Vulcan. McCoy had cut it pretty fine with that little trick he'd done. Two more minutes and Kirk's brain would have begun to feel the effects of oxygen deprivation.

Spock had recovered quickly, too. McCoy had insisted on running a physical on him the next day, but his readings were as typically enigmatic as always. Total Vulcan norm. Whatever that mating frenzy had done to him, the first officer had come out of it apparently unscathed, physically or psychologically. The CMO hadn't written his official log yet because he wanted to see how Spock did a few days down the line. But there was really nothing to report.

McCoy sighed and knew he couldn't put it off any longer. He started for his cabin, already beginning to word the report in his mind.

* * *

Christine walked quickly to Spock's desk and snapped on the lamp, looking for a padd on which to write a note. A movement in her peripheral vision startled her and she leaped back with a gasp, staring at the figure she now saw standing in the dark of the bed chamber. The figure moved into the light, revealing a petite Vulcan woman wearing an oversized dark red robe.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" Christine stuttered automatically. "I didn't know anyone--"

"Who are you?" the woman asked, her accent cultured and exotic.

"Chapel," the nurse responded, then suddenly recognition hit her. "I know you! You're ... uh ..." The name escaped her. "...Spock's ... wife."

The woman peered cooly up at the taller human. "Once," she answered. She scrutinized Chapel and commented, "And you are his woman."

Christine blinked at that. "What? No! Where did you get an idea like that?"

"Has he not been with you?" The perfect face seemed harder. "He did not lie to me."

This conversation was rapidly becoming a little too bizarre for Christine. She blinked again and shifted her weight. "Now just a minute ... uh, what is your name? I've forgotten."

"I am T'Pring t'cha'Sekal", the Vulcan woman answered.

"T'Pring... Just hold on a minute," Chapel continued, irritated. "I'm confused here. What business is it of yours what I do and what is Spock doing talking about it?"

"He did not have to talk about it," T'Pring responded aloofly. "I knew when he came to bed."

"Bed?!" Christine echoed. "Do you mean that he got out of my bed and went to yours?!" Christine felt her head spinning and wanted to stop this whole scenario and start over again.

"No, of course not," T'Pring answered. "He came to his bed."

"But ... you were in it," Christine guessed.

"Of course."

Chapel turned away, holding her palms against her temples. "Of course..." she muttered to herself. "It's perfectly logical! He spends the evening with his lover and goes home to his wife!" Something occurred to the nurse and she whirled back, demanding accusingly, "Wait a minute! What are you doing here, anyway? I thought Spock left you on Vulcan. He told me he divorced you and that he wasn't married anymore!"

"That is correct," T'Pring replied. "Only it was I who divorced him. We are unBonded."

"Then what...?"

"It is quite a complicated explanation," the Vulcan answered. She broke her direct gaze with Christine and brought her hands up, lacing her fingers together inside the robe's voluminous sleeves. "I doubt that a human would understand it."

The change in her manner did not escape Christine's notice and she took a step closer. "T'Pring, what's going on here? I have a right to know."

"It is a private thing--"

"No, don't start in with that speech! I've heard it often enough from Spock. If he's two-timing both of us, I want to know the lowdown!"

"He would not allow me to speak of it," T'Pring hedged.

"He wouldn't-- Just who died and made him God?" Christine sputtered, becoming angrier by the minute. "What's he gonna do? Keep you locked in a closet?"

"Yes," T'Pring answered quietly and gazed at Christine with as much dignity as she could muster.

For a long moment, Christine was struck speechless. Then a horrible feeling washed over her like a draft of cold air and she whispered, "T'Pring, does anyone on board know that you're here?"

"There was a man in the transporter room when we came aboard and I saw some people in the halls on the way here, but that is all," the Vulcan answered. "Spock has not permitted me to leave this room since then."

Christine closed her eyes and breathed, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph. He's gone absolutely out of his mind!" She opened her eyes and looked back at the other woman. "Get dressed. I'm taking you to the Captain right now!"

T'Pring gestured to the robe. "This is all I have. My dress was torn and I have not been able to mend it properly. He would not allow me to send for my things."

"Well, I can fix that at least," Christine answered and walked over to the wall replicator panel. "Computer, tie into ship's supplies, uniform division."

* * *

Materialization complete, Spock started to step off the transporter platform when the technician behind the console said a bit nervously, "A moment please, Mr. Spock."

The First Officer paused, gazing at him curiously, and the man clicked the intercom. "Transporter room to Captain Kirk."

"Kirk here."

"Mr. Spock is back on board, Captain."

"Very good," Kirk's voice answered. "Have him report to me in Briefing Room 4."

"Aye, sir," the transporter chief answered.

Spock flicked a brow up and stepped over to press the reply switch. "Spock here, Captain. On my way."

Kirk didn't answer but merely cut the connection. Spock marched out into the corridor and to the turbolift. It was a bit late for Kirk to be calling a briefing but logically he would discover its purpose as soon as he reached the conference room. Ship's business was an on-going thing and he often found himself attending to various concerns at odd hours.

It was with a confident step that Spock strode into the conference room ... and stopped dead in his tracks.

Kirk was sitting motionless on the other side of the conference table, his hands laced together before him, the knuckles slightly white from the pressure he was exerting. His eyes were locked unblinking on his First Officer, hard and unyielding as green ice.

He wasn't alone. Next to the Captain sat T'Pring, now clad in a Starfleet uniform without rank stripes, its soft blue fabric clinging to her trim, shapely figure. Her raven-black hair still flowed like ink around her face and shoulders, her almond-shaped eyes like onyx.

"Do you want to explain yourself, mister?" Kirk asked in a voice edged with steel. It wasn't a request.

Spock glanced at T'Pring's expressionless face and straightened to a stiff-backed parade rest, his eyes on the wall above Kirk's head. "No, sir," he answered.

Kirk's eyes narrowed. "Then do it anyway!" he snapped.

"Sir, I respectfully decline," Spock responded.

For a split second, the Vulcan thought Kirk was going to come over the table at him, then the Captain got himself instantly under control. He turned to T'Pring and said politely, "Ma'am, I regret the inconvenience caused you by an officer of this ship. The security guard will escort you to guest quarters."

Kirk flicked a glance at a red-shirted young man who had been standing at rigid attention in one corner. The guard stepped hurriedly forward and waited as T'Pring rose gracefully to her feet. "Thank you, Captain Kirk," she answered regally, giving him a small courteous nod, as if just days before she had not placed him in a lethal situation for her own gain.

She glided out ahead of the guard, giving Spock a cold glance on the way. He did not acknowledge her.

Once they were alone, Kirk's control effectively evaporated. "What in the bloody hell do you think you were doing?!" he exploded, rising to his feet, leaning on his clenched fists across the conference table.

"Sir, respectfully, this matter does not concern you," Spock answered in a hard voice.

"Everything on board this ship concerns me!" the Captain shot back.

"This is a Vulcan matter, sir," Spock replied stubbornly. "I have acted properly and completely within the bounds of Vulcan law and tradition."

"This isn't a Vulcan ship! And as long as you're on board this ship, mister, or wear that uniform, you will act in accordance with Federation laws and Starfleet traditions! Do I make myself clear?!" Kirk's face was red with anger.

Spock's jaw tightened and he stared straight ahead, obstinately refusing to answer.

Kirk leaned farther over the table, seething with rage. "Do I make myself clear?" he repeated in a deadly hiss.

"Sir, I protest the infringement of my cultural rights and duties," Spock stated tightly.

Kirk narrowly stopped himself from uttering a pungent curse. Instead, he sat back down in his chair and pinned his first officer with glacial, unwavering glare. "I am prepared to accept your resignation, Commander."

Spock didn't answer but he blinked and Kirk pressed him. "Which will it be, Mr. Spock? Starfleet or Vulcan? You can't have it both ways."

Spock hesitated then answered carefully, "Sir ... I ... do not wish to resign my commission."

"Then you'd better goddamn well explain what you were doing with a Vulcan civilian locked up in your cabin against her will!"

Spock swallowed but otherwise did not change his stance. "Sir ... an explanation would violate cultural taboos that are protected under Federation Statute 36.001, Section--"

"All right, all right." Kirk waved him to silence, then he skewered the other man once again with his piercing stare. "But you hear this, mister! I don't give a flying fuck if you have to violate some Vulcan taboo or not! Once we deliver those Andorians to their home planet tomorrow afternoon, this ship is turning around and heading back for Vulcan. And that woman is going off this ship as soon as we're within beaming range! I will hold a formal hearing at that point and I will learn what the fuck is going on here!! You're relieved of duty until that time!"

That finally cracked Spock's rigid demeanor and he at last brought his gaze down to meet Kirk's, his eyes haunted and imploring. "Jim--" he said in a whisper.

"That's all, Commander!" Kirk cut him off sharply. "You're dismissed!"

Spock straightened back to attention for a second and then turned smartly and marched from the briefing room.

He was surprised to see Christine Chapel waiting for him as the door hissed closed behind him. He went to her, shaken by his interview with the Captain, and glad to see a friendly face.

Her features were pale, her chin trembling as she fought to control herself. As he reached her, she took a shaky breath and asked, "Are you off duty? Are we on personal time here?"

"Yes," he answered, puzzled by her question.

"Good," she responded then ground out through clenched teeth, "You son of a bitch!" and reared back, slamming a flat-handed smack across his face that nearly knocked him into the wall.

With that, she spun around and fled, leaving him open-mouthed with astonishment and with her handprint burning lividly on his left cheek.

For a long moment Spock stood immobile then he charged after her, his long strides quickly covering the distance between them. She made it to the turbolift first and the door slid closed before he reached it. Impatiently, he waited for the next car to arrive and, when it did, he was angered to find that it was occupied by an engineering technician.

"Out!" he ordered the crewman tersely as he stepped in.

Taken by surprise, the man automatically obeyed with a "Yes, Mr. Spock!", then stood bewildered as the First Officer appropriated the turbolift car and slammed the door close button.

It took Spock only a minute to reach Deck 6 and he vaulted out of the lift car before the doors were fully opened. Marching down the curving corridor, he arrived at Christine's cabin just as the door to her quarters was closing and he shot out a hand to halt it, wrenching the sliding panel back open.

Christine whirled to face him, furious. "Go away!" she ordered him, tears streaming down her face.

He stepped into her cabin and allowed the door to close behind him. "Not until you listen to me," he answered in a harsh voice.

"Get out or I'll call security!"

"No!" He moved toward her and she leaped for the intercom button. With lightning reflexes, he intercepted her hand, seizing her wrist and yanking her back to face him. "I will not go until you listen to what I have to say," he stated. She tried to slap him again and he grabbed her other wrist. "Christine, you must hear me! Stop fighting me!"

"You lied to me!" she cried, sobbing raggedly. "How could you do that to me?! You bastard! You bastard!" Futilely, she tried to hammer her fists into his chest but he still held her firm. She weakened, dissolving into gut-wrenching sobs.

Abruptly, he released her and turned away, his head bowed and his hands clenched at his sides. Christine continued to cry, stating in a broken voice, "How could you do that to me, Spock? After loving me, how could you go to her?"

He sat down on the edge of her bed and buried his face in his hands. He drew a shaky breath and answered, "How can I explain to you what I do not understand myself? How can I possibly explain to you the insanity that has held me in its grip? It has ripped all logic from me and made me do things that only a madman would do."

Still hanging back and gripped by her weeping, Christine nevertheless found herself caught by his words. "What are you talking about, Spock?"

He lifted his head, still not looking at her, and pressed his palms together in an almost prayerful stance. "Do you know what has been wrong with me for the past two weeks, Christine? Why it was so imperative that I reach Vulcan?"

She sniffed and took a breath. "To marry ... that woman," she answered. "Something about a ... mating urge."

He shook his head and snorted. "How simply you say that. And how little you understand." He folded his fingers together and lightly rested his chin against his clenched fists. "The pon farr is much more than a 'mating urge'. It is a primal directive, locked in our genetic codes. It is the essence of our beings, our animal hearts. It consumes us, controls us. When it manifests itself, it is like having every shred of civilization torn from us and then only the most primitive urges rule. It is like rut among many of your animal species or musth in a Terran male elephant."

He took a deep, painful breath. "The rage that builds within us cannot be stopped. There are only three ways in which to deal with it -- frantic mating if the male has a bondmate already, or fighting and killing a rival male in order to take a bondmate so that the frantic mating may be satisfied. Or..." He paused and wet his lips. "...or attempting to meditate through it, a procedure that is usually unsuccessful in which case the male goes completely insane and dies shortly thereafter."

Christine had been standing with her hand to her throat. "Spock ... I didn't realize..."

"No, of course not. Because it is not discussed or found in medical literature. We shield it with our strongest taboos." He looked away, feeling his face flush with embarrassment. "Even now, I find it nearly impossible to talk about."

She approached him slowly then sat down beside him on the bed. Tentatively, she reached out and touched his arm with her fingertips. "If I'd known... But, why did you bring her back with you, Spock? She told me that she divorced you and that you were no longer married."

He hung his head. "That is true. But, when I ... defeated Captain Kirk during the mating battle ... by law, T'Pring became my chattel, almost my slave. Although I had 'won' my female, the mating frenzy had not yet been satisfied. On a higher level of consciousness, I knew that she had deceived me and caused me to murder my best friend over her. I did not want her and I knew that she did not want me. But, deeper down, I could not release her. The thought of turning her over to another rival male set my blood burning once more. I brought her back with me so that he would not have her. And I ... I took her myself ... in a purely vengeful manner. I wanted to hurt her as she had hurt me and force her to recognize the power I held over her."

Tears began to flow afresh down Christine's cheeks. Removing her hand from Spock's arm, she whispered, "Then I was right the first time. I was simply a rebound for you. Nothing you said to me meant anything."

She stood and turned away from him.

"No," he answered and she heard him rise and step close to her. "On the contrary. I meant everything I said to you, Christine. I would never lie to you."

She whirled back. "Maybe not technically, but the fact remains that you had your little love slave locked up in your cabin all the time you were with me! She told me herself that you went straight from me and got in bed with her! How do you suppose that makes me feel?"

He closed his eyes and his brows bunched together in irritation. "It was not as you are making it sound."

She glared at him. "Didn't you have sex with her?" she demanded accusingly.

He stared back for a moment then answered tightly, "Yes."

"And then you had sex with me."

"Yes."

Christine's jaw was trembling as she fought for control. "And did you turn around and have sex with her again?"

"Not that night--"

"Oh, I see! Well, that's all right then! How decent of you! Is it my turn now? Did you come here to have sex with me again?"

"Christine, please let me explain--"

"I think I've had all the explaining I care for," she responded coldly. "I want you out of my cabin and out of my life, Spock. I will work with you in a professional manner for as long as it takes me to get off this ship, but do not ever approach me again off duty unless it is strictly on ship's business."

"Christine--"

"And I'll thank you to address me as 'Lieutenant Chapel' from now on. Now, get out of my cabin or I will call the Captain and have you removed!"

Spock stood rooted to the spot for another moment, then turned and strode angrily from the room. Christine held onto her control for a few seconds more, then broke down into wracking, anguished sobs.

* * *

As soon as the door to his cabin slid closed behind him, Spock slapped the lock and began stripping off any vestige of Terran clothing and thought. Uncharacteristically, he left the garments lying on the floor where he threw them, heedless of anything but cleansing himself of their influence. He had to regain control of himself, had to reassert the Vulcan mastery of his soul.

Naked, he yanked a robe from his closet and drew it over his head and then dropped down on his knees onto the meditation cushion before the shrine to the Ancestors. There, trembling with the roiling emotions raging through him, he closed his eyes and steepled his hands together before him and, in a quavering voice, he began to recite in Vulcan the Tenets of Surak.

The words came easily. He had repeated them countless times since childhood. They were the mantra by which he meditated, the lullaby that sent him to sleep at night, the chant that awoke him in the morning. At the Academy, he had trotted miles in full gear to the rhythm of their cadence while around him other cadets were fainting from fatigue and the grueling physical training. And he had wrestled with the dichotomy of his choice of life and the ways it conflicted his beliefs. He had reached a logical compromise that allowed him serenity and fulfillment. Until, that is, his own heritage came hurtling up from the depths of time to overwhelm the teachings of Surak with primitive, explosive biological imperatives.

Spock took a deep breath and moved into the arie'mnu. As he sank into the mental disciplines of this most intense form of meditation trances, he gave himself over to introspection and honesty. Searching within himself, he sought c'Thia ... Logic. Truth. What Is. Through c'Thia, he should be able to sort out the tangled circumstances that he was experiencing. To understand and take control of them. To master them.

But his emotions refused to be silenced and contained. They clamored raucously for his attention, screaming for retribution against those who had hurt him, justification of his actions, domination of the situation.

At last, in his mind's eye, he raised his head and looked up at the Ancestor, demanding in frustration, "Help me, Grandfather! Tell me what to do. I cannot find the pathway to Logic."

Surak appeared before him, dressed in his simple hand-woven robe, his face placid with the tranquility of reason and logic and the cessation of emotion. "You have the answer within you, Spock," he answered. "I have no need to guide you as if you were a child."

"I find it difficult to find my own way, Elder," Spock replied. "I would welcome counsel."

"Then tell me the steps to peace," Surak responded.

Spock peered up at him. "First, the understanding that the dominance of emotion over reason leads to harm."

"And then?"

"Cast out all emotion," Spock quoted. "Cast out these emotions by using reason to accept them and then move past them. Master your passions."

"What emotions have you identified within yourself?" Surak questioned.

Spock closed his eyes again and concentrated. Anger. Jealousy. Hatred. Lust. Vengeance. Pride. Arrogance. And ... love ... for Christine...

"Love?" demanded Surak, evidently seeing them even as Spock named them over to himself. "Is this not just as destructive as hate?"

Spock shook his head, unwilling to admit it. "It was a source of joy for her."

"And is she joyful now?" Surak prodded. "Is she joyful that she is torn apart because of your love?"

"No..." Spock closed his eyes and turned his face away. "It was not love that tore her apart. It was my ... jealousy. My ... need ... to avenge myself upon T'Pring. The anger and hatred I allowed myself to feel."

"And what else?" Surak continued relentlessly. "Mark them all."

Spock felt his face burn with shame as he hung his head before the Teacher. "I ... enjoyed the feeling of ... power I held over T'Pring," he whispered. "I deliberately hurt her and abused her in order to assert my dominance over her."

"And how did it make you feel?"

Spock was silent for a minute then answered, "Soiled. Cheapened. Sick." He sighed. "I lost control of my emotions. I allowed every dark impulse within me to run free. They have defiled me."

"Then cast them out. Purge yourself of them. Accept that they exist and then discard them." Surak looked down on him. "And when you have done so, go and make things right with those whom you have offended."

"There are so many," Spock whispered, ashamed.

"Then begin with one," Surak answered. "Make peace within yourself and then go and offer peace to those who felt the wrath of your loss of control."

Spock dropped his forehead down against his folded hands and murmured, "I will do as you bid, Elder. I thank you for your counsel and the wisdom of your years."

When he looked up again, Surak was gone and Spock was alone in his cabin, the sputtering of the incense in the firepot the only sound. The arie'mnu was over and resignation had descended upon his soul. Rising stiffly to his feet, Spock glanced at the chronometer built into the bedchamber's storage shelf and was startled to see that it read 0932. He had meditated for over 10 hours.

It was time to take action, to put into practice what he knew must be done. He cleansed himself with a quick shower and then dressed in Vulcan clothing. What he must do next was a Vulcan affair and had nothing to do with Starfleet. His uniform was inappropriate attire.

Once he was ready, he accessed the computer. "Give me the location of passenger T'Pring t'cha'Sekal."

"Passenger T'Pring t'cha'Sekal is in guest quarters, Deck 7, Cabin 7C 43B," replied the monotone female voice.

Without answering, Spock snapped off the connection and strode into the corridor.

* * *

Spock flicked up an eyebrow but did not falter as he approached the guest quarters and saw that a security man stood guard outside the door. The guard, in turn, reacted with some surprise to see the First Officer approaching, dressed in somber black pants and tunic of obvious alien design. Then he remembered his station and straightened to attention.

"I wish to see our guest," Spock announced as he stopped before the guard.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Spock," the guard said, a bit nervously. "The Captain gave orders that you were not to contact her."

"Perhaps you should allow her to decide whether or not she wishes to see me," the Vulcan replied, his face expressionless.

There was no way that the young human was going to win a stare down contest with the implacable science officer and he soon broke visual contact, dipping his head slightly in discomfiture. "Yes, sir."

The guard pressed the buzzer on the door and in a moment, the panel slid open to reveal T'Pring standing in all her cool radiance. For an instant, shock flashed in her black eyes at the sight of Spock, then her attention turned to the security guard. "What is it?"

"Mr. Spock asks if he might speak with you, ma'am," the human answered.

T'Pring shot a hard look at Spock. He was waiting placidly with his hands clasped behind his back and she opened her mouth to refuse him entry.

Before she could utter a sound, however, he abruptly spoke to her in Vulcan. She hesitated, then nodded. "You may come in."

Spock stepped past the guard and followed her into the guest quarters. He noted that T'Pring was dressed in a Vulcan day robe of silk, hearts-blood green shot through with gold. "Your attire suits you," he commented. "May I ask where you acquired that?"

"Your wom-- The nurse ... the tall one with blue eyes ... had it among her possessions," T'Pring answered, turning to face him and looking up at him haughtily. "She was quite generous in sharing with me. Your reaction indicates that you were unaware that she owned any Vulcan clothing."

"That is correct," he replied, coming to a halt and slipping his hands together behind his back.

She stared at him icily for another minute then stated, "If you have come to assert your ownership over me--"

"I have come to offer you dissolution," he interrupted her.

She tilted her head and answered, "Indeed."

He abruptly switched to Vulcan, finding their native language more appropriate for this discussion than an out-worlder tongue. "There is no logic in continuing our association," he went on, his demeanor the epitome of Vulcan control. "I was entirely wrong to bring you here and subject you to sula'qui kali'kha'am. I beg forgiveness for my loss of arie'mnu. I can only plead that the pon farr clouded my judgment and overwhelmed my ability to reason."

"And can you reason now?" she asked coldly.

"Yes. I am quite fully recovered." Spock's cool expression did not change. "Will you accept my offer?"

T'Pring turned and strolled away, obviously in thought. Then she looked back at him. "I expect compensation," she announced.

His eyebrows went up. "Compensation?! I should think my granting you a full divorce and the total dissolution of our Bond would be enough to satisfy you!"

Pleased that she'd gotten a reaction out of him, T'Pring seated herself regally in one of the chairs in the small sitting area. "And do you think you can simply walk out of my life with only that? You owe me for twenty years of humiliation, Spock. Twenty years of spousal support that I did not receive. You owe me for the children I do not have. All because you abandoned me when we were sixteen to run away from your responsibilities like the coward you are! I waited for you. Again and again, I watched my friends and relatives marry and begin to produce families and I waited for you, assuring them that you would indeed return to fulfill your duties. I endured their looks of pity and their whispers until I could endure them no longer."

"You knew I was in Starfleet and on deep space assignment," he responded. "I did not have the luxury of being there."

"No, but you had the luxury of choosing what life you would follow," she replied. "How did you expect to fulfill your obligation to me when your career would carry you so far from Vulcan?"

He looked away. "I ... hoped I would not have to fulfill it," he admitted.

T'Pring rose to her feet once more and moved before him. "And exactly what did you expect me to do?" she demanded. "You did not write or contact me in any manner. Although I knew that our betrothal bond was not dissolved, I had no way of knowing if you would ever return. When Stonn offered me a life with him, I knew that I had to be rid of you! The kali'fee was the only way I had to divorce you. What else could I do?"

Spock swung back to face her. "Why didn't you simply ask me?" he replied softly. "Why did you wait until I was in the throes of pon farr and then force me to undergo the kali'fee? Did you think I would not understand and perhaps feel the same way? And why did you choose my Captain ... my friend ... as your champion? Were you so afraid of losing Stonn that you could not sanction a fair fight?"

"I had to be sure," she whispered. "When I saw you in plak tow ... the madness and anger in you ... I couldn't risk sending him against you. Sometimes sheer rage has won out over physical ability. And ... I did not wish that you would be killed either."

"So you pitted me against a human," Spock retorted in a low voice. "You knew that he could not possibly defeat me, even if I weren't in plak tow. It did not matter to you that he was my closest friend, the one I had asked to stand with me as my s'khal. You pitted my shield-brother against me, knowing I would surely kill him."

She hesitated and blinked. "I didn't think you would grant me p'pil'lay," she replied just as softly. "You were a stranger to me, Spock. How could I be sure otherwise?"

He turned away and walked across the room, head down, hands still clasped behind him, struggling to regain mastery of his anger. "How indeed?" he murmured. "You had to be sure."

"It was logical," she insisted, her voice quivering a bit.

"Completely," he agreed, his back still to her.

T'Pring eyed him defensively and then said haughtily, "I could not fathom that you would actually develop an attachment to one of them. Although I admit I've never understood how you could have lowered yourself to consort with them in the manner you--"

He spun back, his eyes snapping. "My mother is one of them if you will recall," he said in a voice as cold as ice. "I am as much qomi as I am Vulcan."

T'Pring's glare matched his own. "And that, too, is why I divorced you. Do you think I could bear the thought that my children would carry the pollution of qomi blood?"

She saw Spock's jaw clench and for a few seconds he seemed to struggle to control himself. After a long moment of tense silence, he said, "We will be returning to Vulcan in three days' time. Once there, we shall visit a Reader of Law and I shall sign any equitable settlement. I have no wish to prevent your Bonding with Stonn if that is what you desire. I simply want our betrothal bond completely dissolved and you out of my life. I shall provide you with monetary support and maintenance for one standard year or until such time that you are joined with him, if earlier."

She moved over to stand closer to him. "How do you know that I will not simply establish a residence with him and continue to take your support for that year?"

Spock looked back at her, his dark eyes hard. "I do not," he answered quietly. "But it is time to end this destructive bitterness between us and move forward with both our lives. I admit that I have forced you to suffer as a result of my cowardice and obstinance. I deeply regret that. Had I not been so sunk in denial for so many years, I would have realized the futility of our betrothal and released you. Perhaps I was afraid that I would be unBonded when the pon farr finally came upon me and I did not dare release you, lest I be unable to find another."

T'Pring couldn't suppress the hint of a sarcastic smile. "Add blindness to your list of shortcomings then," she said. "Do you think your tall nurse would actually allow you to die unresolved? She is the one you should be bonded with."

Spock lifted one eyebrow in answer. "So I have recently come to realize." He sighed. "I have no desire to part so negatively. I came here to offer peace as well as a resolution to our problems. I free you of any legal restraints I hold on you. When we reach Vulcan, we shall have T'Pau dissolve any remaining bondlinks between us and you will be free to marry Stonn." He held up his right hand, palm out, fingers split in salute. "Despite what you may think of me, I do wish for you a long and prosperous life, T'Pring."

The petite woman hesitated for a moment, then pressed her palm against his. "I accept your gift of dissolution, Spock," she answered. "And may you likewise live long and prosper." Her dark eyes narrowed a bit and she added, "And so, too, I hope, will your qomi woman."

* * *

His interview with T'Pring over and done with, Spock returned to his quarters and changed into his uniform. The next order of business was strictly Starfleet. Knowing the Captain's habits, he surmised that the CO would be addressing ship's business just now and the Vulcan went down the corridor to the Captain's office.

Pressing the door buzzer, he waited until he heard Kirk's voice answer, "Come."

Kirk was at his desk, looking frazzled, with paperwork and data padds spread out before him. The majority of what he was doing was routinely handled by his first officer, but in Spock's relief from duty, it had landed in the Captain's lap instead. Behind him, Yeoman Gates stood with her hands full of even more files, waiting for Kirk's attention.

Spock kept his face rigidly expressionless, trying not to acknowledge the tiny pulse of satisfaction that sparked very deep inside him, glad that this was a by-product of Kirk's actions against him. Instead, he said formally, "Permission to speak with you, Captain."

Kirk frowned. "Is this about last night?" he asked sharply.

"It is, sir."

Kirk tilted his head in the direction of his yeoman. "Gates, go file that stuff. I'll send for you again in a little while."

"Yes, sir." Quickly, the willowy blonde exited the office, not knowing what was going on, but aware of the tension between the ship's two senior officers.

As soon as the door had slid closed behind her, Kirk spoke. "Well?"

"Sir, I apologize for my actions of the past few days and I formally ask to be returned to duty," Spock replied, standing at parade rest.

"It's going to take more than an 'I'm sorry'," Kirk answered, leaning back in his chair, pinning the Vulcan with a hard stare. "Your actions were absolutely outrageous and I will have an explanation before I restore you to duty."

Spock was silent for a moment then dropped his chin, his gaze hooded as if he were gathering himself. When he raised his head once more, he did so with a deep sigh and Kirk could see that the rigid military bearing was gone. He looked away, letting his eyes focus on the far side of the room. "Why do you suppose the males of so many species fight to the death over access to a female?" he asked, almost rhetorically. "Do you think they understand their actions?"

Kirk frowned, irritated. "If this is the fish and eelbird story again, I've heard it. Tell me a new one."

Spock turned away from him, his hands slipping behind his back. "No, of course not. I merely ask if they understand what drives them to do these things? I simply do not think you can understand what it is like to be compelled by forces that you cannot control to do things that would be inconceivable otherwise."

"Sorry. I don't buy that explanation. 'Gotta swim upstream to spawn' won't work this time," the Captain answered stonily.

"I don't ask you to 'buy that explanation'," Spock retorted, himself growing annoyed. He searched for an analogy that would get his point across to Kirk. "In the body, there are autonomic actions over which one has little or no control. The heart pumps blood and you may only partially regulate its rhythm. You may hold your breath until you lose consciousness, but once you do, the lungs draw in air once more, regardless of your desires. For a male human, certain visual or tactile stimulus will generate an automatic sexual response ... an erection ... whether you are awake or asleep and may even cause an ejaculation to occur from the mental impressions that result."

Kirk looked embarrassed and chagrined. "I know that."

"In a male Vulcan, those involuntary actions go a step further when pon farr occurs," Spock continued. "Not only does the male experience all the sexual urgency that a human might feel, but he is absolutely compelled to engage in physical mating. We can no more control it than you could control your hair or nails growing. The adrenalin and other hormones that pump into our systems force us into such a state of sexual tension that it must be relieved with copulation. Even moreso, a Vulcan is so telepathically sensitive at this time that simple physical stimulus will not suffice. We must mind meld with our mates. If that tension is not relieved mentally and physically, we simply die in complete insanity."

"I understand that," Kirk answered, beginning to be caught up in Spock's narrative. "But what has that all got to do with Miss ... uh ... T'Pring?"

"Don't you see, Jim?" Spock demanded, turning back to him with a pleading look. "When I defeated you at combat ... defeated what was to me a rival male and won access to my female ... I was absolutely compelled to mate with her. Although my conscious mind told me it was wrong and that I did not want her anymore than she wanted me, nothing could relieve the biological imperative except physical and mental intercourse. I could not leave her behind on Vulcan. I was powerless to prevent actions that my subconscious mind saw as logical and necessary for survival."

Kirk got up and paced the length of the room and back. "Okay, I understand that part. But I'm very confused. You didn't marry her, but you say she's your mate and you must have her. She's obviously here against her will and, from what I've seen of the two of you together, you're about as compatible as a wildcat and a pit bull! How in the bloody hell do you expect to live with this, Spock?"

"I do not," the Vulcan answered to his Captain's surprise. "As I indicated, it was the pon farr that compelled me to act as I did. That physiological phase is now completely over and I have returned to normal. T'Pring and I have agreed to sever all bonds and I have erased all legal ties between us. Once we undergo the p'pil'lay -- the unbonding> -- ceremony to do away with any lingering mental bonds and we sign the necessary papers, she will be free to go about her life as she wishes."

"But what happens the next time you ... uh ..."

"I hope to be Bonded by then to a mate of my own choosing," Spock replied quietly.

Kirk rubbed his forehead and sat back down at his desk. "Spock ... this whole incident has me between a rock and a hard place," he said. "As your friend, I'd like to say 'no hard feelings' and 'I understand'. I know that what you've told me here has cost you dearly because it's such a taboo subject, and I want to assure you that it will be held in the strictest of confidence. No portion will be entered into my official log nor into any reports submitted to Starfleet. I'll blank it under that cultural and religion statute..."

"Federation Statute 36.001, Section 82(b), paragraph A, subparagraph--"

"Yes, yes, no need to quote it chapter and verse. Like I said, as your friend, I'm willing to let bygones be bygones. I suppose even Vulcans are entitled to go crazy every now and then," Kirk continued. "However, as your commanding officer, I have to address the charges against you. The Book says I have to and you know it."

"Yes, sir."

Kirk straightened and snapped a switch on his desk, then placed his hands flat on the desktop, his face becoming stern and hard. "Computer, record official disciplinary proceedings. Commander Spock," he said formally.

"Sir!" the other officer answered, stiffening to attention.

"You are charged with unlawful confinement of a citizen of a Federation world against her will and transport of that citizen aboard a Starfleet vessel for purposes outside the range of official duties. Further, you are charged with dereliction of duty by failure to report such citizen's presence to the commanding officer and of conduct unbecoming an officer. How do you plead?"

"Guilty as charged, sir."

"So noted. You are hereby sentenced to thirty days' confinement in the ship's brig, bread and water. Sentence suspended, but to remain on your permanent record. Do you have anything to say?"

"No, sir. I accept the punishment as equitable."

"One more thing. You will also report this behavior in full to Dr. McCoy for his medical records and will undergo a thorough physical and psychological evaluation until he is satisfied that the medical condition that was the cause of this aberrant behavior has been completely eradicated." Kirk was staring at him icily once more. "And in the future, Mr. Spock, if you suspect that you are being affected by a condition that influences you to this extent, you will not attempt to keep it secret until the consequences endanger this ship and this crew. Is that clear?"

"Completely, sir." Spock's shoulders and back were a bit too stiff with suppressed tension but he broached no argument.

"Very good." Kirk's stance softened a bit. "I'm sorry, Spock, but I have no choice in this."

"No, sir. Thank you, Captain."

"You're returned to duty, effective immediately. So noted in the Captain's Log." Kirk snapped off the recorder and waved a hand helplessly over the pile of paperwork smothering his desktop. "Now, will you kindly get back to work and get this mess cleared up? How's this place supposed to function with the First Officer lying around his cabin all day, goofing off?"

* * *

There was one more task to perform and it was likely to be the hardest yet. Spock quietly walked into the dispensary and found Christine filling hypospray cylinders, her back to him. It was quiet in sickbay and they were alone.

In a soft, low voice, he said, "Miss Chapel?"

She spun, nearly dropping the container she held. "Spock! I mean, Commander!" She quickly composed herself into a purely professional pose and stood waiting, not smiling at all. "How may I help you, Commander? If you're here to see Dr. McCoy, he's gone--"

"I'm here to see you, Miss Chapel," the Vulcan answered in the same soft tone.

Christine frowned a little, obviously annoyed. "I believe I told you that I had no wish to see you in a personal capacity."

"It is necessary that we speak and I deduced that you were more likely to do so in a semi-public place than in private," Spock answered quietly. "I do prefer that we not have an audience, however. I wish to speak candidly."

Christine crossed her arms and stared back at him with as little expression as she could manage. She wasn't going to make this easy for him.

Spock glanced down then brought his eyes back up to her face. "Miss Chapel ... it is my wish... That is ... I hope we can resolve the ... difficulty between us," he said. "I have found it most distressing."

"I don't see how," she responded, but there was a little tremor in her voice. "Not as long as she is aboard."

"T'Pring will not be aboard much longer. We are in route to Vulcan and she will return to her home there." He looked at her meaningfully. "Her home, Christine. Not mine. Not ours."

The nurse blinked and shifted uncomfortably. "'Ours' you and her or 'ours' you and me?" she asked a little sardonically.

"Either way you wish it," he answered. "She and I never had a home together in any case. I had not seen her since we were sixteen and it is likely that I will never see her again after we depart Vulcan. As for you and me ..." His voice faltered uncertainly and he searched her eyes for any sign to gauge her emotions. "... that ... that remains to be seen. Any future we might have is in your hands, Christine." His voice trailed off into a near whisper.

Chapel stood unable to speak for a long minute, caught by his words, then shook herself and responded, "Well, it doesn't make any difference. I don't get involved with married men."

"I told you -- I am not married. I was never married," he replied forcefully.

"Married. Engaged. Living together. Having an 'understanding'," she snapped and her eyes narrowed angrily. "Owning a concubine! It's all the same. You are taken, Spock, and that means it's over between us!"

He shook his head in a helpless, frustrated gesture. "You are being deliberately obtuse," he answered, fighting anger himself. "Why will you not hear what I am attempting to tell you? It is also over between T'Pring and myself! The only thing that was ever between us was a childhood betrothal that has been broken. Once we reach Vulcan, she and I will go through a formal unbonding ceremony and then we will both be free."

Christine stepped closer to him and placed the palm of her hand against his chest, feeling the heat of his body radiate through his tunic. "Well, listen to what I am saying, Spock," she said sincerely, looking up into his eyes. "Until the time that you are formally and legally divorced from her, you are still 'taken' and that means 'off-limits' in my book. I don't care if you call it 'separated' or 'unbonded' or 'not playing house' anymore! Until that last court order is signed and the judge bangs his gavel, don't even think about looking my way!" She turned her back on him and crossed her arms, breathing heavily. "Even then ... I'm going to have to do a lot of serious thinking. I've never been so humiliated or angry in my life! I feel like I've been kicked in the teeth."

He looked down once more, discomforted by the depths of her anger. When he glanced back up at her, he said quietly, "What would you have me say, Christine? I cannot express to you the extent of my regret that these events occurred. You have every right to feel betrayed and hurt. I am most dreadfully. Had I to do it over again, it would all be different. But, please believe me that there is one thing I would not change. The time we spent together was the most incredible I have ever experienced. And everything I said to you, everything that I ... conveyed to you during our meld, was true."

He paused and glanced around to make sure they were truly alone. Then he went on in a softer voice, "How can you think I could fabricate what I shared with you during our joining? I opened my heart to you, Christine. You felt the depth of the emotions I experienced with you."

"I felt the depth of your desire for me," she answered, her back still to him. "It's not the same thing, Spock. You can get the hot sweats every time you see me and still not love me."

He sighed in exasperation and moved around so that he was standing in front of her, reaching out to take her upper arms in a firm grip. "Christine, love is an emotion that we Vulcans are taught all our lives to renounce. I'm not sure I even know what it is. I cannot say that I have ever experienced it. But I know this..." He paused and she looked up until her eyes met his, her expression wary but not closed. He moved his hands up to cup her face, his gaze intent, his voice a velvet whisper.

"I know that I am incomplete without you. I know that I need you as I have never needed anyone. When I consider the pathway of my life stretching out before me, walking that pathway without you beside me, I have no wish to even begin such a journey. It would be meaningless. I find in you all the qualities I could ever hope for in a mate. Compassion and warmth, strength and loyalty, intelligence and wisdom. You are my heart, Christine. The breath in my lungs. Without you, I will gradually cease to exist. Please do not shut me out of your life, t'hy'la. Please..."

She continued to peer up at him but her eyes had begun to glisten with moisture and she tried valiantly to keep her lower lip from quivering. At last, she squeezed her eyes shut and suddenly fell against him, her arms going around his middle in a tight embrace. Unable to speak, she simply held him as if she would never let him go, and he found himself sliding his arms around her and pulling her hard against him, bending his head to bury his face in her hair.

They stood that way for a long moment, then she pulled away from him, reaching up to wipe tears from her cheek. "Someone will see us," she murmured.

"Indeed," he answered softly, almost not caring whether they did or not. He gazed down at her and determined that she was all right. "May we begin again, Christine? I very much want you to be a part of my life."

"So do I, Spock," she replied, smiling up at him.

"Would you join me for dinner then tonight?"

She shook her head. "No. I meant what I said about your divorce. Until you're truly free, I won't see you."

He tilted his head to look down at her. "But then ...?"

She nodded. "Then... We'll start over."

He reached up to stroke a finger down her cheek and smile at her. "I shall look forward to it. Now, I fear that I must return to my office. The Captain has made a truly astounding mess of the quartermaster's monthly report and I must unravel it."

"All right." She returned his smile and he started toward the door.

Halfway there, he stopped and turned back. "Christine ... would you do something for me? When we have dinner ... would you wear that green Vulcan robe of yours? I would find removing it ... fascinating!" And before she could recover from her astonishment, he had smiled mysteriously and was gone.

THE END

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