DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Johanna Cantor and is copyright (c) 1979 by Johanna Cantor. Rated R. Originally printed in Plain Brown Wrapper #1. This story takes place during the events told in "Time of Mating" in Full Moon Rising by Jean Lorrah.



Time of the Hearth

Johanna Cantor



"T'Pril." T'Pey's whisper sounded a warning. "We will finish here."

Still lost in anxious thought T'Pril looked at the younger woman uncomprehendingly.

"Surgehn," T'Pey whispered urgently.

Startled, T'Pril looked at her husband, then barely suppressed an exclamation. Was this how she performed her duty? Worrying about another couple, while her own husband .... Pushing her self-reproach aside, she went to Surgehn. "The others will finish here, my husband," she said pleasantly. "Let us walk out a little."

Surgehn started at her voice, then looked down at her intently. T'Pril gave a slight nod. Wordlessly, he turned, and led the way into the embassy garden.

T'Pril walked behind him, as tradition dictated, until they were out of sight of the windows. Then she stepped up beside him and slid her arm around his waist. His arm went around her, drawing her close, and she led him easily to one of the recessed benches. "Sit down, my husband," she said gently, and Surgehn sat, pulling her toward him. But T'Pril knew she could not help him - not now. She detached her hand. "Wait, please, she said. "I will come to you in a few moments."

His expression tugged at her; never had she left him at such a moment. But then, she reproached herself again, never had she allowed any other duty to conflict with her duty to him at the Time. She took a deep breath, preparing to explain. But Surgehn, already composing himself, nodded, and released her.

T'Pril hurried to the next bench. She must not take too much time. Sitting down, she calmed herself, and swiftly encapsulated her worry. She would deal with that later. Then, more slowly, she worked to make her mind receptive. In careful stages she became the river, the spring, and finally the source, holding out cool arms to welcome the heat-worn traveler. Then she hurried back to Surgehn.

Surgehn did not look up, and a twinge of anxiety shot through T'Pril's calm. Then she realized he was breathing regularly; he had set to work himself. She sat by his side, as a wife should, and took his head between her hands.

Surgehn made no sound, but suddenly he covered his face with his hands. T'Pril almost showed her surprise, but instinctively she put his head on her shoulder, shielding his face. "Rest, my husband," she whispered. "It was a harsh duty, to have to stand at a Koon-ut so close to your own Time. You performed with honor, my husband."

Surgehn turned his head, but did not turn away. "I showed it," he murmured.

"Only to me," she soothed, stroking his forehead and temple while arguing her outraged conscience down. It was wrong to lie, and most especially to lie to Surgehn. But it was a wife's duty to support her husband in every way, particularly at the Time.

T'Pril waited until she was sure her agitation was under control, then placed her fingers to join. Surgehn shook his head, of course, but she had long ago learned how to deal with that. "It is my duty," she whispered, with just a tinge of indignation. Surgehn sighed gently, and submitted.

It was not bad -- not yet. It was only the sudden nervous exhaustion which made the days before the Time so difficult for a man. Surgehn had already discharged much of his tension. Together they gathered the rest of it, and channeled it out of his body, to the stone beneath, and from there, away from them into the ground. Surgehn shied a bit, in sudden strangeness, but T'Pril soothed him, assuring him that this earth, too, would forgive. Together they evoked a familiar desert, and then an oasis where they settled, happily, guarding the seed T'Pril carried in her cupped hands. All discomfort gone, T'Pril sighed in relief.

What troubles you, my wife?

T'Pril gasped. She had underestimated his heightened perception. I am concerned about Sarek and Lady Amanda, she replied honestly. I will deal with it. Rest.

There is nothing we can do.

I know. I will deal with it. Sleep.

T'Pril waited until sleep claimed him, then gently broke the meld. Placing her fingers lightly on his pulse, to be alerted to any change, she searched for the cause of her agitation.

What had almost destroyed her calm? Dereliction of duty? But she had warned Lady Amanda, so explicitly that the memory of their conversation still embarrassed her. Amanda's expression as Sarek had dragged her up the stairs had dismayed T'Pril, who remembered all too well Surgehn's first horrifying transition from gentle bondmate to -- he could not help himself. Enough of that. Every man must suffer, and every woman must endure. Besides, that was not what troubled her. Amanda's expression, yes. But it was her expression when T'Pril had recited the vows.

Strange. Amanda had sworn readily to accept Sarek, and to bear his children. But T'Pril had almost had to force her to swear to become Sarek's property. And stranger still, the Earthwoman's revulsion had struck an answering chord in T'Pril's mind! Maintaining her calm, T'Pril analyzed her reaction. She had never questioned the oath. But she had never liked it either, she now realized. It was odd, T'Pril mused. In a way, the oath made no difference. She was Surgehn's, and she always would be, as she always had been. But why must ownership be involved? For T'Pril -- surely for every woman! -- the oath to serve a man and bear his children would be more than sufficient. Desert a bondmate in the Time? Unthinkable!

Surgehn's pulse sped a little, and T'Pril recalled herself immediately, hoping he had not sensed her thought. It was hard to be sure, during the Time. Holding him tightly, she re-established the meld, and communicated her re-sworn vow. He was hers, as she was his. While she lived, the fire would never consume him.

* * *

Surgehn's energy had returned the next morning -- in more than its usual force, but the staff worked with him willingly, revising schedules, postponing some tasks, discussing others thoroughly. With Sarek incapacitaed and Surgehn and T'Pril soon to be unavailable, the Embassy's always heavy schedule posed a real challenge.

One question hung over them like a cloud. Should they schedule engagements for Sarek and Amanda? Impossible to discuss it, of course. When they finally came to an appointment that had to be confirmed that day, Surgehn assigned that dinner to Sev and T'Pey. T'Pril turned away for a moment, to hide a sudden desolation. But it was, of course, the logical thing to do.

Turning back, she surprised an odd look in T'Pey's eyes. Something was troubling the younger woman, and T'Pril made a mental note to look into this at the first opportunity. Her chance came later in the afternoon, when Sev bore Surgehn off to his office for an examination. Propriety dictated that T'Pril absent herself, so she invited T'Pey to join her for a "coffee break." Both women sipped the Terran beverage slowly. But T'Pril knew she might not have much time. "What troubles you, my daughter?" she asked directly.

Surprised, T'Pey spoke without thinking. "Do you think Lady Amanda might really leave Sa-- that is -- I mean..." She broke off, realizing she was on the verge of a serious breach of decorum.

"I do not know," T'Pril answered quickly, relieved that the girl had caught herself. They sat in silence.

"Is it really so bad?" T'Pey asked finally.

Generalities could be discussed. "It is not pleasant," T'Pril replied. "But when one is sworn to a man, and wishes for children, it is manageable. One's mind is not affected. For the Vulcan woman, at least, the mind can still rule."

T'Pey nodded, obviously relieved, and T'Pril studied her in quiet satisfaction. The child was making plans, was she? Sev, of course. It would be an excellent thing for both of them. T'Pril decided to help out some more. "And it is not only children, of course. There is the companionship. The bond of marriage. On balance, I consider it a small price to pay."

Suddenly the door opened, and in came Sarek and Amanda! Automatically, both women rose.

"Oh, don't go," Amanda said graciously. "Sarek, we're not quarantined or anything, are we?"

T'Pril hardly heard Sarek's answer; she was studying the Earthwoman intently. All signs of rebellion were gone, and T'Pril closed her eyes in thankfulness. The Lady Amanda was Terran, but she had determined to do her duty, for her husband's sake.

"Think twice about marrying a human," said Sarek. "They have the strangest notions. My wife thinks the computer makes food out of vials of chemicals stored somewhere deep inside it!"

"Well, it tastes that way," Amanda replied.

T'Pril's eyes opened wide, and she exchanged a look of astonishment with T'Pey. It was impossible! But the more she studied the couple, the more incontrovertible her observations became. They were enjoying each other! Amanda was glowing with happiness. And in Sarek's eyes, there was an expression of incredulous joy, so naked and intense that T'Pril dropped her eyes before it.

Sarek chose an enormous assortment of food, to which Amanda added omelettes. They sat, eating every scrap, but carrying on a conversation, for all the world as if the Time did not exist! T'Pril set aside the whirling of her mind, in the interests of etiquette. But when Sarek got up from the table, she leaned over, and murmured, "I don't believe you took my advice, my lady."

"Oh, but I did," Amanda replied. "But then ... things happened."

Things happened? "I hope," T'Pril spoke impulsively, "that later you will have some advice for me!"

"Indeed," Amanda smiled.

They were still at the table when Surgehn entered. "T'Pril, I need your help with --" he broke off. "My wife!" he exclaimed. "You must not intrude upon..."

"T'Pril and T'Pey are not intruding," said Sarek. "In fact, we intruded on their conversation."

"It is rather difficult to insure privacy here in the Embassy," Surgehn replied stiffly, in obvious disapproval.

"It's not contagious," Sarek said suddenly, and Amanda giggled. Sarek turned to her -- and smiled!

"My husband, it is time for us to go," she said.

"Indeed," Sarek replied, taking her outstretched hand.

The three Vulcans watched them go, dumb with astonishment. Then, by unspoken consent, they cleared in silence, and returned to their duties. But T'Pril could not push away the picture of Sarek, glowing with vitality, comfortable -- joyful! Could there possibly be such a look, ever, in Surgehn's eyes? Silently, she registered a vow. As soon as the opportunity arose, she would speak with Amanda.

* * *

"Wife!" Surgehn bellowed, boiling into their apartment.

T'Pril hurried toward him, startled. But Surgehn was already pulling himself together. "I beg forgiveness, my wife," he said, before she could speak. T'Pril slowed, but continued toward him, holding out her fingers in the gesture of joining. He returned it sheepishly, so she held the touch for a moment, making sure he understood her acceptance. A man in the Time must never find a cold hearth.

"What disturbs you, my husband?"

"Sarek!" His anger flared again. "They were in the garden! Shameless!"

"Oh, dear," T'Pril commented dutifully, wondering if the breach of manners really accounted for Surgehn's fury.

"Wife! Will you speak to Lady Amanda? Sarek is, of course, in an unstable condition. He will not allow himself to be advised. But Lady Amanda will listen to you."

"Yes, Husband," T'Pril promised. "I will speak to Lady Amanda." Salving her conscience with the argument that she hadn't said what she intended to speak to Lady Amanda about, she held her hands up, offering a calming meld.

"A moment," he said brusquely, turning away.

T'Pril stood silent, hurt, until he turned back to her.

"Forgive me."

She nodded assent, and this time he allowed her to touch his head. She probed curiously, but felt deflection immediately. Very well, Husband, she soothed, trying to convey only her respect for his privacy. But he sensed her chagrin, and turned to praising her patience and devotion to duty in such terms that she actually blushed. My, my. You should be cross more often, she teased, and was happy to sense a lightening of his mood.

But later, after the meld was broken, she began to wonder. Had he seen, in Sarek and Amanda, the joy she had seen? Did he, too, have a sense of some secret solution? Inwardly, she re-registered her vow. She would speak to Lady Amanda.

* * *

T'Pril was relieved when Surgehn fell asleep that night. The strain of encapsulating her conversation with Lady Amanda had been great. And now that first disappointment had passed, she needed to think over what the Earthwoman had said. "Share his pain," Amanda had told her firmly. "And then teach him what women know by instinct." But T'Pril had no instinct for easing the anguish of the Time. The Time was only to be endured. And yet...

Lying awake by Surgehn's side, she looked up, picking out Vulcan's sun, and her mind carried her back to her home. There she had been born; there she had grown, married, and borne her son. There she hoped to die. But the Vulcan way was not the only way.

Share his pain. Tradition dictated that a man break any meld before the mating madness took him. Surgehn had always done that, and she had never thought to question it. But why was it so? Other parts of the tradition were rooted in logic. But where was the logic of breaking a link which could at least comfort at any other time? It spared the woman, T'Pril supposed. Biologically exempt from the madness that dominated the male, the female could maintain control. But was it fair to a man to let him bear the pain of the Time alone? Vulcan men shared the pain of birth. Should not the women share the pain of conception?

Surgehn would never allow it, of course. But there was a way to force him. Every fiber of T'Pril's being rebelled against using that way -- she had never used it, and she had vowed she never would. Still, it was there. And if she could ease the Time for her husband, was it not her duty to do so? She prided herself on the punctilious performance of every duty. But had she really done everything possible for the man she had sworn to serve?

"No. No!" Surgehn tossed, muttering, pleading in his sleep. Quickly T'Pril gathered her forces, and reached for his mind. A mad fear flooded her perceptions, but slowly, she established control, and within the structuring of her mind, Surgehn's fears took form. It was the fire goddess, of course -- that was the form his dreaming anxieties usually took. But this was a bad one. Surgehn was immobilized, totally helpless before a raging flame that was growing within and without. He whimpered, pleading, as T'Pril bent over him. But she could not reach him.

So slowly, deliberately, T'Pril entered the fiery form; and one by one, she stripped away its terrors. The raging flames became arms, held out in warmth. The gaping mouth softened, and the brazen shriek became a gentler call. Finally, the cruel face became her face, and she smiled, calling her husband.

Surgehn looked up, wonderingly, and ran into her arms with a cry of joy. They were together now, and the flame no longer raged, but only burned cheerfully on a hearth, warming a crucible of gold. Together Surgehn and T'Pril tended the fire, rejoicing, and T'Pril leaned forward eagerly to peer into the precious crucible.

But before she could see, a stifled moan brought her attention back to Surgehn. The fire within him still burned, and he writhed as its redness flared. T'Pril put her arms around him, soothing, and cooling, but all her attention could not quench the flame. Finally she reached to grasp the nettle. Her hands found his thighs, and then their joining, and Surgehn whimpered as she encircled the flaming need. Gently, she guided him to a coolness which contained, soothing and salving even as it yielded before the heat. Surgehn writhed, moaning under the growing pressure, but T'Pril moved with him, holding, and reassuring. The fire was glowing brightly now. T'Pril concentrated, locating the very center; then into its glowing heart, she cast a handful of T'ahl. The crystals reddened, then caught, then exploded in a burst of sweetness that surrounded them both, wafting them upward to float together, far above the coals that cooled on the sheltering hearth.

Gradually Surgehn, without having really awakened, sank back into sleep. T'Pril kept her touch with his mind until it slipped from her in the mists. Then she disengaged mind and body, and sat up.

Surgehn slept heavily, sprawled across the bed. T'Pril straightened him, and pulled his robe back over his legs. She rearranged her own robe, and lay down, trying to compose herself to sleep. But desolation crept insidiously toward her, defeating her efforts to reason it away.

"The logic of procreation is procreation." She could almost hear her mother's voice. And there could be no creation now. She had given herself to sterility -- to death. T'Pril pushed away a sob and climbed hastily out of bed. A shower, she thought. That would restore her. She double-checked Surgehn's tranquility, and tiptoed into the bathroom.

The sonics cleansed her quickly, but she remained in the stall, turning them down to their lowest setting. In her imagination, she evoked the gentle beams, running over her body, cleansing and toning. Even thus, T'Pril thought, she had contained her husband's body and mind, soothing his discomfort. And now he was sleeping -- a true sleep that would restore strength and energy. That was logical. Even T'Tut would be clenched by that argument. And soon there would be life. Perhaps a daughter this time, T'Pril thought as she donned a fresh robe. Toes -- a baby's toes pleased the mind. So tiny, and so perfect. She would have to make a different naming robe for a girl, of course. And Surgehn would hold her, and acknowledge her with pride, and T'Pril would look down into large, dark eyes, already lighted with intelligence...

Smiling in the dark, she climbed back into bed. Surgehn moved toward her, shivering a little. So. T'Pril tucked the cover around him, then deliberately pulled him close, and he snuggled instinctively into the warmth of her body. She wrapped her arms and legs around him. The shivering soon stopped.

T'Pril's desolation hovered close, but she pushed it away. Perhaps a daughter this time, she reminded herself, and soon fell asleep.

* * *

Now that the Time was upon them, T'Pril braided her hair tightly, back out of the way, and showered. Oil of T'ahl on neck and breasts, and embarrassment pushed aside. The scent could be helpful, sometimes, in speeding what must be. And she was not a shy bride, but a wife, experienced, and sure. A loose robe completed her preparations. Everything was ready. She sat down to wait, maintaining her calm. It was her duty to be calm now. She must await Surgehn with sustaining warmth, and open arms. Resentment picked at her serenity; firmly, she pushed it away. He would come to her, because he must come to her. And a man must never find a cold hearth.

Idly, she wondered if other men fought the Time so. Probably they did. To feel one's control -- one's very mind! -- slipping, softening... She pushed away that thought too. If he would come to her, she could help. But it was understandable that he struggled not to reveal his loss of control. Most understandable, she assured herself, and set to work to understand.

Wife! T'Pril stiffened, searching. Surgehn was no nearer. But even as he paced in his heroic -- illogical! -- effort, part of him was calling her. Concentrating, she blotted out all agitation and annoyance, until only pity and warmth remained.

Come, she called. I await you.

Footsteps on the stairs mounted, then stopped. Suddenly T'Pril was cold, the decision she had made yammering in her mind. Resolution was all very well. But would she have the courage? What all women know by instinct... But T'Pril did not know. The footsteps sounded again, and she pulled herself together. Now Surgehn was almost running down the hall. She hurried to open the door for him, pulled him in, and shut and locked it.

"T'Pril!" Surgehn whispered hoarsely.

"Yes, Husband," she responded, going to him. But he held up his hands, warding her off.

"T'Pril, help me," he pleaded. "Together we are stronger. If you will help me ..." He held out his hand, reaching for her face, and T'Pril took it, to guide it and stop its trembling. There was only one way she could help him now. Why couldn't he simply accept the situation? But underneath her impatience was a shy pleasure. He had never turned to her this early -- before he was compelled to. She reached to his temple, and joined him in the meld.

A swirling agitation leapt at her. But T'Pril met it squarely, and contained it. Surgehn sighed with relief, relaxing slightly. That is better, she told him.

I have no strength.

You are tired. Let me help, T'Pril probed gently. Behind the agitation there was a growing pressure, its center glowing red. But without the fear, it was manageable. She took him in her arms, imparting calm and comfort.

The pressure increased at her touch, but T'Pril increased her control. Surgehn tried to help, failed, and began to tremble before his own weakness. Again his fear intensified the pressure. Gently, T'Pril drew him toward the bed. Come. Come. Surgehn whimpered apprehensively as she bared him but she reassured him serenely. I will hold you. Come. There, she embraced him as he entered her gratefully. That is correct. Now everything is as it should be.

The pressure was growing now. Still containing it, T'Pril began to rock, soothing him with her strength, and the promise of relief. Surgehn rested his forehead on her neck. Its scent was cool to his burning skin and mind. He was almost helpless now as he began to move with her. But T'Pril's control was sure. She would not even have to make the decision, she thought, sending another cooling wave. She would simply hold him in her mind, until it was all over.

Suddenly the swirling blackness leaped; involuntarily, T'Pril recoiled. The madness! Surgehn cringed. Then, so quickly that T'Pril never even sensed his decision, he broke the meld.

"Surgehn!" T'Pril gasped aloud, shocked by the sudden severing. But her exclamation was drowned in his moan as he fell, unaided, back into his own torment. "Surgehn, let me help," she exclaimed.

He looked at her, astonished, and seemed about to reply. Then he arched back, gripping her shoulders painfully. "Hold still!" he hissed.

Surprised, T'Pril realized she had continued rocking. She stopped, but reached for his face again. "Surgehn, let me --"

"No!"

T'Pril studied him debating. It was wrong -- even dangerous -- to pursue a forbidden meld. But she had been helping. Suddenly, she was convinced that he had wanted her touch, and all doubt vanished. It was impossible for now, for she must be in control. But if she must be cruel to be kind, so be it.

T'Tut had told her exactly what to look for. And as she watched, her moment came. Eyes flaming, breath held -- he was on the very verge. She rocked down on him, this time ignoring his hoarse command. This insane battle must stop!

Suddenly Surgehn groaned in defeat, and began to meet her thrusts. "I must," he whispered, pitifully. Gathering her courage, she thrust hard. Then she pulled away from him, holding him off with her hands.

"T'Pril!" he gasped.

She almost shrank from the hurt in his face. Never had she done such a thing! But she would do what she had set out to do. "Husband, I claim a favor," she said.

"A --? Oh! Anything! Wife!"

Satisfied, she removed her hands, allowing him to do as he must. It no longer hurt, of course. The memory of her first pain and fear was only memory, easily pushed aside. He cannot help himself, she reminded herself unnecessarily. But he had courage, this man of hers. To turn aside her support, and face this alone. And all because of -- what? Perhaps a false chivalry? Perhaps, she thought, even a false assessment. Perhaps a culture which had degraded women to the position of property had also lost sight of a woman's strength. But that was ages past. Her man, she vowed, would never suffer this again.

Sugehn was thrusting wildly now, totally out of control. T'Pril brought herself back to the present. Their second time, she had detached herself from what was happening so thoroughly that his frenzied movement had carried him outside. She could still hear the scream that had ripped from him, to be repeated again and again just in the short time it had taken her to help him. Carefully, now, she raised her knees, planting her feet on the bed to allow deeper thrusts. Surgehn was sobbing, shaking his head from side to side. This agony must end! T'Pril considered, fingering her nails. Sometimes one must be cruel to be kind. She selected the sharpest, and drew it hard down his back, ending with a vicious nip between the pounding buttocks. And her cruelty accomplished its purpose. Surgehn's mouth opened in a soundless scream, but at that moment, his seed burst from him, and he fell across her with a groan of relief.

T'Pril held him as the warm seed bathed her. Perhaps a daughter this time. But even as the brief thought crossed her mind, his fingers bit painfully into her shoulders once again, and he growled an inarticulate command.

"I'm not going anywhere," T'Pril protested mildly, though knowing he could not really understand her. The climax was quicker, this time. And easier, she hoped. A third followed rapidly, and then a fourth, and then at last he lay still.

T'Pril reached for a cloth from the stack she had piled on the bed table, wiping the involuntary tears from his face. Then she pulled his head into a more comfortable position, embracing him. A man in the Time must never find a cold hearth.

"T'Pril?"

T'Pril stiffened. How could she have forgotten that the first thing he always did was ask who she was? In the name of reason, who did he think it might be? Overcoming her anger with a considerable effort, she answered, "Yes."

Surgehn sighed, and relaxed a little. "Breathe deeply, Husband," T'Pril said crisply, and reached to massage his neck and back.

"Thank you," he said, so wearily that she forgave him, touching his face in acknowledgment. But inwardly, she registered an even firmer determination. Melded, Surgehn would at least know who served him! She concentrated, and linked, and Surgehn sighed gratefully, allowing her to do as she would as the strength of her mind wrapped his in cool solace.

But intervals were short at this stage. Already T'Pril felt the pressure growing again, and Surgehn groaned, still helpless before it. Quickly T'Pril tightened the meld, concentrating on her controls. Surgehn's surprise vibrated in her mind, but she ignored it, concentrating, and holding hard.

Wife. I must -- soon! The urge to thrust was darkening his mind; he fought it bravely. Wife, the madness -

Husband, I claim my favor.

Now? T'Pril, please. I must--

Enough of this! The demands of communication were interfering with T'Pril's control as the pressure mounted. Already she was aware of the swirling threat. She must concentrate. I claim my favor, Husband: do not break the meld.

T'Pril!

Hush. Together we are stronger. Work with me.

I cannot.

Then do not hamper me! Ignoring his shock, T'Pril turned all her attention to the growing pressure. She retained her faculties. With the support of her mind, the pain would not overcome him.

Surgehn clung to her, taking hope from her determination. She sensed gratitude and admiration mixed with his apprehension, but she blocked all three firmly. Pain was a thing of the mind. It could be controlled.

They moved together now, working together toward relief. The pressure swirled, black arond a core of flame. But T'Pril protected them. It cannot harm us, she promised him. We will pass through it untouched.

It cannot harm us, Surgehn echoed her, trustingly. Their movement appeased the pressure, and he signed in relief and gratitude.

The pressure increased, but T'Pril concentrated harder, and blocked it. Surgehn was working with her now, and together they held it apart, two minds retaining their sanity in a universe gone mad. But the blackness was growing, and with it, the flame. For the first time, T'Pril began to be afraid. But it surely could not get much worse.

The pressure swirled as the need flared, winning a moan from Surgehn. They thrust desperately; relief must come now! T'Pril's control slipped and still the pressure grew. She fought to re-establish it.

The mind rules. But the swirling chaos was overcoming her mind, even as every nerve screamed for relief from the leaping redness. T'Pril's strength was going; she thrust desperately, setting herself only to endure to the end. Relief must come with the next thrust - the next - now! It did not come, and T'Pril screamed, clutching Surgehn as they fell headlong into the triumphant blackness.

Everything dissolved around her. There was no up or down, no light or dark, only a devouring need which chuckled in cruel delight as they whimpered, begging for mercy - for an end - until at last a red explosion burst like a rocket in the blackness. The sudden relief after the unbearable pressure was overwhelming; for the first time in her life, T'Pril fainted.

* * *

T'Pril lay still and cold, beautiful in the waxen perfection of death.

Somewhere nearby a man was sobbing in stabbing grief and remorse. "I could not help myself!" he moaned to the stone-faced mourners. ButT'Pril was coming to herself now, and in an intuitive flash, she recognized her corpse as the creation of Surgehn's fears. That was why he called her! Swiftly she communicated the beating of her heart, and Surgehn's mind leapt in joy as he caught her in an iron embrace.

Recovery came, but too slowly, and the pressure was already threatening again when Surgehn finally caught his breath. But he could control for a little while still, and he set it aside, reaching for a towel to dry his wife's wet face. Forgive me.

Still profoundly shaken, T'Pril clung to him, as tears beyond her control rolled down her cheeks. Forgive me, Husband. Oh, forgive me.

Wife, it was a noble effort. T'Pril sobbed harder. T'Pril, no one can conquer that madness. Wife! The redness flared, winning a gasp from them both, but Surgehn blocked it bravely, probing her distress. T'Pril. Help me understand.

No! But he was probing deeply, and she was powerless to eject him, or even shield.

I despised your lack of control. Knowing he had seen what she would have given anything to hide, she closed her eyes, awaiting his bitterness.

Sh, he soothed her.

Forgive me!

There is nothing to forgive, my wife. You thought the trained mind could withstand anything. That is what I thought -- what every man thinks, until he has experienced the Time.

I thought it was pain.

And pain can be controlled.

Yes. But the need. The madness!

Sh. Don't think of it. But at that precise moment, the building need shattered their barriers again. T'Pril moaned as her vanquished pride shrank from the victor. Sh, Surgehn soothed her again. You will not experience it.

It is easier now?

Yes, much easier. Rest, now, and allow me to break --

You are lying to me! A flare of pure anger shot through T'Pril, shocking them both.

T'Pril!

A fine opinion you have of me!

T'Pril, do not be angry. I - oh! This time Surgehn cried aloud under the need. Quickly, T'Pril opened herself to him, but she took him firmly both body and mind. Wife?

Sh.

I must. Please do not be angry--



Sh. I am not angry. But we will maintain the meld.

You are sure, my wife?

T'Pril did not even bother to probe. You want it.

Yes, he admitted, ashamed. But I should not allow it. Ah!

T'Pril recoiled as she felt the cruel surge, but then she held him tighter, moving with him. Hold on to me. I am here. Despairingly, she wondered what an Earthwoman could to that she could not. Where was the joy in this raw, savage --

Wife, do not fight it. We cannot. We must try to go with it.

Together, they tried. It was a little easier this time, but their combined fears made it difficult not to fight the mounting need, and it finally overcame them. Still, the relief came sooner this time and they quickly returned to themselves, clinging together. The next few times were easier still, and T'Pril began to hope. Apparently, she was not to learn "what every woman knows." But at least she could help Surgehn endure.

At last an interval came again. Surgehn turned over, but he pulled her to him, and she snuggled against him, grateful for both the comfort and the relief from his weight. In the freedom from the need, she gathered her forces once again. Then, feeling better, she probed gently. Surgehn was still helpless, agitated and exhausted. Tenderly she soothed him, then focused on his legs, back, and shoulders in turn, her mind banishing the tightness, salving the memory of involuntary effort, until he lay relaxed in a true rest. Surgehn sighed in gratitude, but T'Pril reproached herself as she monitored carefully. Why had it never occurred to her that at least she could help him during the intervals? How much of the strain and exhaustion of these early stages had been due to her neglect?

Do not reproach yourself, Wife. I thank you.

At least it is easier together, is it not? Surgehn masked his answer quickly, but not before she'd read it. Of course it is. And I think we are on the right track, my husband.

Yes. We will try again.

There will be ample opportunity to test our method, she agreed. Sergehn laughed at her grim little joke, and buried his face in her shoulder. T'Pril gathered him in, sensing in his gratitude the truth he was still reluctant to utter.

The interval was longer this time, but then the need claimed them again, and again, and agonizingly, still again. Exhaustion made the last one the cruelest, but they rode it out together, and together, tumbled into sleep.

* * *

T'Pril sensed the need before she really woke, and automatically she opened herself and guided Surgehn in. When he woke the need was strong, but he did not gasp aloud, as had sometimes happened, for the instant he became aware of the pressure, he also became aware of the promised relief. They rode it out together once more, and this time they lost orientation only at the moment of relief. The next time the climax, though shattering enough to be almost-agony, came when it had to, leaving them aware.

"We did it!" T'Pril exclaimed aloud.

Surgehn only stared at her, panting.

"We did it!" she said again, giving him a hard hug.

"T'Pril, don't! Oo!"

"Come, that's right," she soothed him as he began to move under the impetus she had created. "Surgehn, we won!"

"For the moment," he agreed shakily.

"We'll do it again," she boasted. And they did.

But this time ... Surgehn! Did you feel --?

Mm?

It was nice!

Mm. Shall we ... test ... this phenomenon, Wife? Wonderingly, T'Pril went with him. The pressure mounted once again, but this time it only sent them higher and higher, until, just on the verge of pain, the release came, leaving them both floating in a scented darkness.

T'Pril! Surgehn murmured lazily through the pleasant haze. You are T'ahl!

It's the scent, silly, T'Pril giggled, between laughter and tears. Oh, Husband. Husband! Once more they met and rose, higher and higher, reaching, searching, and at last finding. And this time T'Pril reached out to him, in gratitude, as they descended back into reality.

Surgehn raised his head to smile down at her, then reached to toy with her braid. "Must your hair be bound?"

"Of course not," she replied lazily. "Why didn't you ever tell me you don't like it that way?"

"It is so pretty," he said, avoiding her question. "Mm. And you are so beautiful."

For some reason, she began to laugh again. "Did I 'turn you on', my Husband?"

"You did. Mm! You do! Wife!" She met him again, eagerly. Then Surgehn sighed happily, and turned over once more, to rest. But T'Pril found she had other ideas. Quickly, without thinking, she drew her fingers lightly down his belly.

"Mnrp!" Instinctively Surgehn curled into a protective ball: "Wife!" He gazed at her a moment and she blushed, covered with confusion. His eyes widened, and he reached for her, toying with her, teasing her, laughing as she gasped and wriggled. Gracious! What was she doing? Naked, in broad daylight... She reached for the sheet to cover herself, but Surgehn captured her hands, shaking his head, and melded. Immediately her embarrassment evaporated before his joy as her desires -- hers! -- stimulated his.

He toyed a little longer, tantalizing her, then drew his fingers down her thighs. She opened to him with an eagerness not born of duty, and thrust down to meet his entrance. Both lay still for a moment, savoring her sense of completion. Then, so suddenly that she could not grasp his thought, he locked thighs with her, and flipped her to the top.

"Surgehn!" she gasped, between delight and shock.

"Then did Sotan raise up T'An," he quoted in Old Vulcan. "It is traditional, my wife."

"Outrageous!" she exclaimed, tickling him for punishment.

"Mrp." He caught her hands. "Wife, why did you never tell me how much my sheer bulk oppressed you during the Time?"

"Surgehn! What would T'Tut say?"

"Beard T'Tut!" he responded undutifully. "Rock."

T'Pril rocked, delighting them both, until the delight hovered close to pain. Quickly they reversed again, thrusting, seeking, and again, at last, finding. They lay together in the drifting warmth for a long and happy time.

Then Surgehn roused. "Hungry?"

"Famished."

Surgehn chuckled. "You never used to be hungry during the Time."

"I always ate with you."

"Yes. Like a dutiful wife."

"Duty. Oh, my husband, if ever I fail so miserably in my duty, tell me!"

He shook his head. "When you talk like that, I could almost be angry with you, my wife. T'Pril, I do not know how you found the courage. But my noblest--"

T'Pril put her hand over his mouth, blushing furiously. He submitted, but the glow in his eyes still spoke. T'Pril dropped her eyes before it, and fled into the bathroom.

She showered swiftly, then tackled her hair -- a longer chore. It had long since been arranged between them at the Time that since she had her hair to cope with, she would bathe first, and leave the bed to him. All desire gone for the moment, she wondered again at herself. Whatever would T'Tut say? But as she turned off the unit, she heard Surgehn humming -- humming! -- as he busied himself around the apartment. "BeardT'Tut," she whispered, quite softly, and slipped into a robe, going out to be with Surgehn while she brushed her hair. "I will not be embarrassed," she vowed. She had eased her husband's agony; it was her duty to do so. How she had done it was nobody's business but theirs!

Surgehn's glowing look stopped her dead on the threshold. She managed to hold her gaze, but she felt her blush start from the heels. And mercifully, he did not speak, but only embraced her lightly as he stepped past her into the bathroom. T'Pril shivered in embarrassment and delight, then absently picked up the T'ahl, to brush it through her hair.

Surgehn came out long before she had finished, and T'Pril paused in surprise. Then she realized that, for the first time during an interval, Surgehn was eager for her company. "Husband --" she said impulsively. How could she have let him suffer such guilt? But the look on his face stopped her, causing her to blush all over again. Surgehn looked from her to the jar of ointment, and then he began to laugh. He was still chuckling in delighted incredulity as they descended the stairs.

Surgehn programed a gargantuan meal, including a large portion of Egabbac, which he set before her. She looked up at him in surprise -- he had never done that before. Then shhe realized that he knew how hungry she was. I will not be embarrassed, she vowed again. For in his eyes was the very look she had once, in the kitchen, wondered if she could ever see in her husband.

Sarek and Amanda came in midway through a companionable meal, and T'Pril shied a bit, knowing their happiness was as obvious as the enormous portions they were still attacking with gusto. But after all, who had a better right to see it? Someday, she must thank Lady Amanda. But now, tactfully blind, the younger couple were simply making pleasant conversation. T'Pril's bashfulness disappeared, until Surgehn turned to her.

"T'Pril?"

"I am quite ready, my husband," she said. And for the first time at such a moment, she spoke the truth.

* * *

T'Pril woke first, and for the first time in days, she awakened naturally, without the nudge of need. What day is it? she wondered; then alone, in privacy, she smiled at herself. Before, she had always known how much of the Time had passed. To the minute.

Her sleeping husband smiled too. Had he sensed her thought, or were his own dream images pleasant? T'Pril reached to find out, then stopped herself. The easy, almost involuntary melding of the Time was passing. It was time to re-establish space.

Surgehn stirred, and burrowed into her arms, T'Pril embraced him, guessing that he still needed the reassurance of body contact. She was going to miss that herself, she realized. Could that be part of the instinct for child bearing? If so, it was fit. A woman should mother her children, not her husband. Except, perhaps, every now and then .... Establishing a light meld, she checked her husband's condition. The waning of the Time could bring problems in some cases, she reminded herself clinically. It was a wife's duty to help her husband be alert to any indications. A slight stiffness of the neck and shoulders, probably due to the unusual sleeping position ... she reached to rub it away.

Surgehn grunted in pleasure, waking from the dream of a loving wife to the reality. "Rotate your shoulders," his loving wife said practically; then: "What's funny about that?"

"You are beautiful," he replied. "Now, what is funny about that?"

"Irrelevant and illogical." But she was pleased.

"Illogical, perhaps," he conceded, sighing as her hands did delightful things to his neck. "Here, I am all right. How are you?" He brought his attention into focus.

"All right."

"Yes, you are, are you not? You used to be so bored by this time as to be almost irritable, my gentle wife. And your shoulders would be so stiff it always took me most of the last day to get you fit to get up."

"I have been a little more active this time," she explained solemnly.

Surgehn chuckled, giving her a hard hug. Then he reached to rub the echoed discomfort in her shoulders. "It is almost over, you know."

She snuggled. "I know. Mn. Maybe one more?"

"One or two," he agreed, moving pleasurably under the gentle impetus. "Oh, do that again. It feels so good ..."

It was two. After the second, they fell asleep again, and slept til dusk. Then Surgehn woke T'Pril. "Wife," he began formally in Middle Vulcan, "I thank thee for the duty which--"

T'Pril shook her head violently, and covered his mouth with her hand. He stopped, looking down at her, then offered his fingers for the touch. As their hands touched, so did their minds, and T'Pril knew that he understood what she was still too shy to say.

Surgehn left her then, excusing himself formally, and went into the other room. He would meditate tonight, and tomorrow all would be as if these ten days had never been. Well, perhaps not all. Maybe a daughter this time, T'Pril thought happily, drifting back to sleep.

* * *

T'Pril crept around her duties with a funereal step she was unable to banish or disguise. Her disappointment would ease in time, she told herself. But it was all she could do to maintain her composure. She wished for Surgehn; he would not be back until evening. Then she scolded herself. It was good he was away. Why should she wish to greet him with failure, and sorrow?

The buzzer sounded. T'Pril took a deep breath and turned to answer it. But T'Pey was already at the communications desk, and T'Pril turned away, relieved that she need not show herself.

"Oh!" T'Pey's exclamation was distress. T'Pril hurried toward her in alarm. It was Sarek. What? "I grieve with thee," T'Pey faltered as the screen darkened.

"What is it?"

"Lady Amanda," T'Pey replied. "She will recover. But she has had a -- a miscarriage."

It was too much. T'Pril choked on a sob, turned, and fled.

* * *

"Wife?"

T'Pril started up. "Surgehn! Forgive me! I did not hear you ... why it is only four o'clock!"

He came toward her. "T'Pey called me. Not -- to my chagrin -- you, my wife."

Her eyes dropped before the accusing hurt in his. "I wished to have myself under the proper--" He shook his head, holding his arms out to her, and she stumbled into them.

Surgehn melded anxiously -- and found the empty hearth. For a moment his disappointment threatened to overwhelm them both. They fought it together. Then, somewhat calmed, Surgehn raised her head, extending his fingers, silently asking permission for a deeper meld. She nodded, making herself receptive to whatever he wished to tell her.

The cold -- barren -- hearth took shape again, and she flinched from it. But Surgehn knelt before it, and to her astonished delight, the dead ashes began to glow! Surgehn reached for her, holding her closely once more. If you wish, my wife, we could try again.

If I wish? Husband! She buried her face in his shoulder, overcome once more. Surgehn tightened his arms, concerned, so she raised her face to his in spite of the tears rolling down her cheeks. Oh, my husband! She smiled up at him. Perhaps a daughter this time?

Either, he said gravely. Mn! I suppose it is too early to try.

T'Pril's eyes opened wide as she sensed the feelings running through him - through them both. Surgehn! She gasped in delight. He stood motionless, awaiting her decision.

We mustn't forget how, T'Pril pointed out, drawing her fingers down his back.

No. It was Surgehn's turn to gasp, as her hands arrived at their destination. Most assuredly, my wife. We must not forget how.

THE END