DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Rhyane and is copyright (c) 2004 by Rhyane. Rated PG.



TROPISM

Rhyane



Upon reflection, there is nothing even vaguely romantic about being stuck in a survival tent with Commander Spock.

Cold.

My toes were cold, my legs were cold, my wrists were cold. It was impossible to move, impossible to sleep, impossible to even think about anything except getting warm.

Unless of course you are exempt from these pesky little human distractions. Which is why I was lying huddled in a cocoon of thermal blankets while Spock, thanks to adaptation and Vulcan meditation techniques, dozed, blissfully toasty, in his mental equivalent of a Risan lagoon.

And the worst part of all is that I had asked for it.

***

"Just get over it, already."

Nyota Uhura propped her legs on my standard issue cabin information terminal and gestured theatrically with a freshly opened bottle of Venuzian Swizzle.

"Get over it? Get over it! I haven't been able to say a word to him, not one word. I feel like an idiot, like the crown princess of idiots and now I have to go on this lousy away mission. How the hell do you conduct a planetary survey when your commanding officer has recently thrown a bowl of soup at your head?"

"Very carefully?"

"Cute, Ny, really cute."

"Seriously Chris," Uhura began to swirl the bottle in a gentle arc, "if anyone should be embarrassed it's Spock. You didn't do anything wrong."

"Oh, only used my medical override to sneak into his quarters..."

"Did you take advantage of him?"

I nearly choked on my swizzle, "Clearly not."

"Look, Chris, so maybe you weren't protocol poster child. But who on Enterprise really follows the rules when a friend's life is on the line? You did what you had to do."

"So why won't he even speak to me?" For a moment it hung there, and then I realized how completely pathetic I sounded. "Gods, why can't I just get over this already?"

"Simple," Uhura reached down into her favorite beaded bag and pulled out the unmistakable lurid packaging of a Romance Classics Vid. "We've been warped by societal expectations of romantic perfection. It's the classic conundrum of women in Starfleet. We're supposed to be models of professionalism and then they put us in these porn-star specials jokingly referred to as uniforms and expect us not to get all ambivalent over our sexuality."

"I'm not ambivalent about sex. I want to have some. Period."

"Then you're barking up the wrong tree, girlfriend."

"Don't I know it. But you might just have a point. I still can't bring myself to give up the fantasy. I can't believe that the signals I'm receiving from Spock don't mean anything."

"Honey, did you ever just think they might?"

I frantically reached down and grabbed another swizzle, "What?"

"Languages, sister. Deep down all languages are translatable. Look hard enough and you can find a key into what anyone is saying, and that key generally lies in the fact that we all want the same things: Food, shelter, life. Ancient scientists taught monkeys sign language and monkeys got those signals. So whose not to say that you aren't picking up on some real frequencies? The question you should be asking is, does it change anything?"

Uhura slid over and placed the vid into my minuscule player. Sure enough the familiar strains of Ice Planet of Doom began to drift across my cabin.

"That's really an unhealthy obsession you've got going there."

"Oh, come on, we had to celebrate your away mission to Markin somehow."

"I absolutely guarantee that Commander Spock and I are not going to be forced to use a survival tent, shed our clothing under the spurious rational of sharing body heat, and engage in wild passionate lovemaking."

Uhura toasted me with her freshly opened swizzle, "What do you know? Stranger things have happened."

Uhura to the contrary, we beamed down into a totally clear, albeit freezing, day. No survival tents in sight. Spock didn't even look at me before he paced off with Lt. Cullen, leaving my sample case to Crewman Adkins and my dignity somewhere back on deck eight.

Our initial planetary survey had revealed one potential source of dilithium, two new quadrupedal life forms resembling ancient earth mammoths and elk respectively, and a fascinating mountain range that had Cullen, our geologist, in a tizzy. Spock was prioritizing the dilithium and I had almost forgotten Spock Rebuff #415 in my eagerness to determine just what two species of four hundred pound plus quadruped were eating on a world that didn't support much more than lichen.

I had gathered samples of three species of lichen and caught my first glimpse of shaggy fur when the communicator chirruped and I found myself back with Spock, Cullen and Adkins. Spock flashed us one of his traditional microglances and then flipped open his communicator.

"Spock to Enterprise."

"Enterprise here, Commander."

Uhura's voice lacked her traditional sparkle, "According to latest planetary scans you're in for some bad weather. It looks like a class three blizzard with lows around -50 degrees. The captain wanted me to remind you that the ETA on the Klingons remains ten hours but the decision to terminate the away mission is yours."

"Understood."

Spock flipped the communicator closed with an unhurried gesture and then proceeded to cross his hands behind his back and adopt "lecture stance."

Adkins almost managed to hide his groan.

"Gentleman, as you well know Markin VII is the latest in a series of contested planets. We have gained the advantage by implementing an initial survey. However, only a completed survey filed with the Klingon ambassador will render inviolate a Federation claim. Continuing our presence on the planet despite the blizzard would be a more secure and efficient, although less comfortable, strategy. I will allow you a moment to consider these options."

I heard what Spock wasn't saying. The latest Klingon ambassador, more belligerent and expansionistic than usual, had taken to contesting Federation territorial claims under the rational that there must be continuous presence on a planet from the time it was "discovered," until the moment Form 108-C landed on his embassy's doorstep.

Beaming back to Enterprise for a cozy, blizzard-free interlude would give the Klingons' claim to Markin a leg to stand on. Something neither Kirk nor Spock was in any mood to do.

Spock asked for a consensus. I added my "Stay, Sir," to Adkins and Cullen. And Uhura's quickly muffled snort when Spock requested Starfleet cold weather survival tents aside, no one blinked an eyelash when we set about arranging Cullen's cave of choice for the blizzard's duration.

Everyone knows that the premise of a survival tent is that two crewmembers provide a much more reliable source of heat when surrounded by the latest thermal fabrics than any generator. A principal which proves great in saving space, maintaining pristine native environments and keeping a low profile. And which, Ice Planet's infamous Tent of Passion scene aside, allows no opportunity for fraternization due to two sleeping bags so small only an omnipotent alien could do anything but sleep without risking frostbite.

Not that you would know it from Adkins, who eyed the tents and then me in a distinctly predatory manner while whispering under his breath to Cullen about "better ways to stay warm." Spock's hearing must have picked out the whole exchange, at which point he stoically announced Cullen and Adkins would share. His bend to retrieve our tent almost hid his controlled sigh, and I did my best to restrain my own answering flush of humiliation as any fantasy I ever harbored concerning Spock's choice of companionship crumbled into so many shards of ice.

Spock and I set up our Tent-of-Passionless-Logic in .25 seconds under allocated time, at which point Spock proceeded to carefully pace off the interior dimensions. His sleeping bag claimed far right, mine far left. His tricorder, my sample case, and a pile of rocks heated on Level 3 phaser blast marked the exact center of the tent.

Our own personal neutral zone: Vulcans to the right, lovesick freezing nurses to the left, and never the twain shall share body heat.

The worst part of it all is that he's right here. Even breathing comforting as a down blanket. Ice Planet of Doom-inspired madness aside, I'm not in love with Spock because I'm secretly wishing he'll turn into Rudolph Vulcantino and sweep me off my feet. It's that breathing, that steady incorruptible strength of him that gets me.

I tried to focus on the cold, on the fifty types of rock clawing permanent scars into my backside, on the band of ice between my thermagloves and parka, but it was still there: That steady strong breath sweeping away any idea I ever had of getting over it already and left: Pathetic me, reveling in the rare privilege of Spock not on death's door and still being able to listen to him sleep.

Even.

Steady...

Was that a moan?

Impossible -- blizzard maybe or the cave...

No, clearly, clearly a moan.

An Ice Planet of Doom breathless, passion-filled moan...

...coming from the other survival tent.

Brawny security recruit with a geosciences interest plus geologist with a quirky sense of humor combined in enclosed tent equals re-enactment of MY ice planet fantasy -- and clearly things were progressing apace.

Leaving me freezing, wide awake, dressed in a parka, while 50% of our landing party was busy getting laid.

This is clearly revenge for some terrible mistake I've made in a former life.

"Nurse Chapel."

Shit. Adkins and Cullen had woken Spock. The sexual Olympics had progressed to unmistakable rustling noises and fraternization was a court-martial offense.

Shit.

"Yes, Mr. Spock?"

"I am detecting unidentified noises in our camp. Perhaps a predator. I will investigate."

"Really, Mr. Spock..." Think fast. Think FAST... "Why don't I investigate with you? You can take the entry while I search the cave."

My whisper was increasing in volume, and I made sure to fumble loudly with my phaser, earning a dirty look from Spock. Sometimes there were advantages in having no pride left to lose... I beat Spock out of the tent and situated myself as inconveniently as possible forcing him to cough loudly in order to get me to move aside. Upon Spock's gentle cough, rustling noise abruptly ceased and, wonder of all wonders, Spock headed directly for the mouth of the cave.

Too close.

I dutifully paced off the cave perimeter, but I knew as well as Spock that any self-respecting predator would have been scared off long since by my little performance. I grimaced in the lovebirds' general direction and headed back for more fun-filled insomniac musings. If I was really lucky, Spock wouldn't mention my "incompetence." Cullen owed me for this -- big time.

Spock finished his scan and followed me back into the tent. Risking a galactic incident, he actually crouched on my side of the neutral zone to make his report.

"I detected no predators in our general vicinity." Tricorder was returned neatly to its allocated position. "The blizzard also appears to be on the wane."

"Excellent." I flashed a quick smile, "I wouldn't mind waking up to a balmy twenty below."

Yeti-parka aside, Fleet issue sub-zero female uniform featured "thermal" tights designed by the same lecherous sadist who came up with the duty uniform. All propaganda to the contrary, I would have preferred pants.

Spock caught my shiver and for the first time brought himself to closely examine my uniform.

Moonlight filtered into the cave, making intense bars of light and shadow ... and Spock was looking at my legs.

I suddenly found I had trouble breathing.

Stupid, stupid, Christine.

"Inefficient."

"Huh?"

"Inefficient. This uniform. I have always thought so. Are you uncomfortable, Nurse?"

"To say the least."

A human male would have taken the opportunity to grumble but Spock merely walked over to his sleeping bag and pulled out his spare uniform pants.

If I hadn't loved him before...

I spun a quick 180 and began to tug the pants over my thermals. Take that Cullen and Adkins-- You may have had wild passionate sex, but I just got in the first officer's pants.

Spock had, of course, pivoted and was staring fixedly at his side of the cave. Sometimes I don't know what I really want. Would it be better if he had looked? Adkins would have. Then again, considering the level of those moans, perhaps it's better that Spock wasn't looking.

Except... He was still there. Standing, facing the cave wall. But there. Clearly something was on his mind, and just as clearly he was busy computing the odds of trusting me with it. And then, suddenly as an indrawn breath, he had turned and was staring at me in the darkness.

Both our eyes had adapted long ago, but while he was merely shadow and movement I knew he could make out every detail of my face.

I concentrated on calm. Vulcan clam. Icy calm. I tried to make myself as cold as the wind, the rock, the air that seemed to grow warmer and warmer the longer I stood there motionless ... and then he was gone. A motion so brisk it shocked me. Like a bird of prey winging its way back over the neutral zone, Spock retreated -- leaving me to the cold, dark ... wondering...

The next thing I registered was Adkins' shout:

"Nurse, Nurse Chapel -- Help!"

I brushed the tent flap aside to find Adkins cradling Cullen's black fingertips in his own shaking hand. Both sets of eyes were panicked.

I grabbed my gear and got to work on Cullen. A little neural stimulant, a dermal regenerator and he was fine. Not a serious enough case of frostbite to necessitate beaming up to sickbay. Which left the real problem -- Spock -- who picked that exact moment to say:

"Illogical."

Cullen and Adkins exchanged guilty looks.

"Thermagloves are field tested to -50 degrees without any evidence of frostbite. After phasering the rocks and once inside the tents the ambient temperature was well over -30 degrees. It should be impossible to conduct frostbite under these conditions."

Impossible, sure -- unless, of course, you had taken off your thermagloves to spend the night hand in hand with your new lover. A possibility I was praying hadn't yet occurred to Spock.

Adkins looked ready to sick up on Spock's boots and Cullen's pulse was starting to climb through the roof. With my patient's health, true love, and two careers on the line, I did the only thing a good nurse could do.

Maneuvering myself between Spock and Cullen, I surreptitiously grabbed a rock from the cave floor. I made sure the rock was concealed before proceeding to hold out my hand commandingly.

"Lt. Cullen, your glove please."

Glove in hand, I razored it over the sharp edge of the rock, while ostentatiously plying the scanner in a series of careful sweeps. Flashing Cullen a wink I put on my best professional voice:

"Mr. Spock. I have detected a puncture in Lt. Cullen's thermaglove. I believe this is the reason for his frostbite."

"Indeed, Nurse Chapel." Spock peered over my shoulder at the readings and nodded in brisk approval.

"I recommend using synth-skin to fashion a patch on the glove. The frostbite is cured, although I want a followup when we get back on board. There is nothing in my medical opinion to necessitate aborting the mission. Unless, of course, Cullen is still experiencing pain..."

Cullen couldn't shake his head fast enough.

Since my report was exactly what Spock wanted to hear, he offered only a brisk, "Proceed," before heading outside to make his morning report to the captain.

I spackled synth-skin and bit my tongue mindful of Vulcan hearing. Cullen looked like a man who had won the lottery and if Adkins didn't stop stroking Cullen's hair their secret was going to fly right out the nearest shuttleport.

I tucked Cullen back into his thermaglove, whispered, "No more holding hands until you're back on board," and flounced away off his shocked stare feeling quite pleased with the universe.

I'd saved the day, Cullen had found romance, it was a balmy fifteen below and the quadrupeds were clearly supplementing their diet, although that didn't explain their mass...

"Nurse Chapel."

I crossed the snowfield to Spock, grateful for an excuse to give the lovebirds a few more minutes of privacy. Spock had taken off his thermaglove and was studying it with an almost rueful expression.

"May I ask you a personal question?"

Personal? Spock? I hadn't forgotten his strange silence from last night and I found myself hard pressed to contain the bubble of emotion which was rising up again despite itself. Vulcan, Christine, calm.

"Of course, Mr. Spock."

"Do you really think me so illogical as to allow the loss of two productive crewmembers over a technicality?"

I sighed. Of course Spock would have figured it out.

"That technicality is a Starfleet regulation," I responded carefully, "I know how much value you place on following proper procedure."

"The needs of the many..."

"Pardon?"

"An old proverb. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Adherence to regulations, while appropriate, could not counterbalance the loss of Adkins and Cullen. Although I wonder... What makes humans so willing to risk their careers for the sake of..."

"Emotion?"

"Contact. Connection. Do humans find themselves so very alone?"

"More than you could imagine." I turned suddenly toward the snowfield. A mammoth-quadruped was moving across the emptiness in a strange, twisting pattern. "Spock, I apologize if this violates Vulcan privacy but ... your telepathic skills..."

I paused; he nodded: permission granted.

"What I read of Vulcan families means that you are never truly alone -- there is always a mental connection, a resonance. Knowledge that your mate is safe, your child well. Humans don't have that privilege. Perhaps that is why we can prioritize the need to reach out, to touch, over all other considerations."

Spock's eyes fell on his fingers and then tracked the quadruped's measured dance. Morning sunlight shimmered on the snowfield, sending waves of reflected heat off the ground.

"But the costs involved..."

"What if your mate dies? What if your connection is lost, severed?" Spock looked up at me for a moment and almost flinched. I continued, relentless, "I'm sure the loss is more profound than the absence of simple human contact. So why do YOU risk it?"

Spock paused for a moment. "An essentially simple calculation. The benefits of the bond far outweigh the potential costs."

I indulged in a small smile, "So I suppose you see how highly humans rate this sort of thing."

Spock returned his gaze to the quadruped. There was something important about that motion, the sunlight...

"Dr. Corby."

"What?" I regained my calm almost instantly. "You mean Roger..."

"Yes, your bondmate. When he left, when he was lost..."

"This is about Vulcan, isn't it?"

Spock compromised only enough to nod, but I knew some, if not all of the truth. The beautiful woman from the viewscreen had not returned to Enterprise and McCoy was muttering about his divorce for two weeks after Altair VI.

"You aren't married?"

Another careful nod. The sunlight broke into shadows at the edge of the snowfield. My quadruped turned, dodging regions of darkness.

"My question is one of ... adaptation; one of control.... When you experience this kind of loss..."

"You survive. You allow things to replace the emptiness."

"Has your strategy been successful?"

Pain hit me again, sharp as the empty space on my left hand. I found I had my own glove off, fingers circling the scar of a ring that three years of sunlight hadn't been able to erase.

"No."

"T'Pring. My bond with her was ... lacking in all respects. And yet I find existence without it to be somewhat unnatural."

I quickly suppressed my small deep glow of satisfaction. Lacking -- so there! And suddenly I felt a fool for all those nights I mourned my own face, convinced I couldn't measure up. Perhaps I really don't know Spock at all, and yet, standing there, united by sunlight and mammoth and snow, I felt close to him.

"I was eighteen when I accepted Roger. At the time I was overwhelmed. I had never been popular, never had love, and all at once this famous, brilliant man chooses me out. After Exo I spent a lot of time thinking about what happened. I could say that thing wasn't Roger but it would only be an excuse. It was Roger. Making his choices, even if they were warped and twisted by what he had become. Youth was always important to Roger -- and being loved was important to me. But I have grown suspicious that, even if he had returned, our relationship would have ended all on its own."

"Or, it might have persisted." Spock was quiet; as if there was a future before him, suddenly, that he didn't like the look of. "Even Vulcans are not always able to see when the logical time has come to terminate a partnership."

I was staring at Spock; Spock was staring at the quadruped. The sun felt almost warm on the back of my hand.

"Phototropism!" I shouted it, elated. "Of course! Look at the way it's moving -- always toward the light like a plant. It must be how these creatures survive on such a meager diet. They use the light for energy and warmth. That creature dances to absorb every last bit of light it possibly can."

All of a sudden I felt a gentle pressure. Embarrassed, I looked down to see that I had grabbed Spock's hand in the rush of my explanation. I knew enough about Vulcans to know that an unbonded psi-nul Earther shouldn't feel anything from the contact, but I would have sworn to an echo, a reciprocated satisfaction in the discovery and something else ... a tenderness...

And then he was carefully sliding the thermaglove back onto my hand. His voice, when he spoke, remained factual and precise.

"A fortunate creature in many respects -- free to turn toward any warmth he finds without fear of the consequences."

It hung there for a moment in the silence and snow.

"We're not talking about the quadruped anymore, are we, Spock?"

He looked at me then, as he slid his own thermaglove on in one smooth motion.

"No, we are not."

The snowfield stretched out below us. My mammoth had found a new source of sunlight and stood still, facing north.

Brightness was overpowering, but when Cullen bounded toward us with the supplies I still shivered.

There was no end to the cold.

THE END

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