Disclaimer:  Copyright 2006 Mistress V.  Paramount owns the trademark and original characters; any new characters, characterizations of original characters and the universe in which they all live belongs to me, the author.  No infringement intended and no profit made.  Rated PG13.

Winterludes

Mistress V

 

"Holy smoke!" Christine said as she surveyed the bathroom of their accommodation for the next two weeks.

"Is something wrong?"  Spock, ever mindful of his spouse's recently weakened condition, was quick to join her.  He raised an eyebrow as he viewed his wife.

"Is this a bathtub ... or a swimming pool?"  Christine lay back against the smooth surface of the sunken tub.  "I could do laps in this!"

"The interior designer of the penthouse suites was a Deltan," he admitted as he joined his wife in the empty tub.  "It was designed for ... enjoyment, I would surmise.  Worf mentioned luxurious accommodation at this hotel, and now I see what he meant."  He slid an arm around her shoulders.  "It is, as you Terrans say, quite hedonistically decadent."

"That's an understatement.  You could have a Roman orgy in here!"  She flushed.  "Not that I'd want to, though."

"Perhaps a Vulcan orgy?" he replied as he drew body closer against his own.  "With just two participants?"

"Now?  We'll be late for the pre-opening staff meeting.  There's no time."  Christine struggled uselessly, enjoying the fun of their banter, something she'd been afraid of lately.  A hot Vulcan kiss added to her reminiscing.

"There is always time for a snack," Spock replied rather matter of factly.  But the sensual smile on his face said it all.

* * *

 

"Hey guys," Stark said as the two couples, and Sierra, met in the corridor of the penthouse.  "We're all just in time for the staff meeting."

Christine and Spock nodded a greeting, then the doors opened.  The ride down to the lobby was uneventful but for Sierra's sighs.

Stark and T'Lara's hair was noticeably damp, despite the fact it was 10:00.  The couple had a very recognizable look about them ... provided one knew what to look for.

Christine raised an eyebrow.  She definitely knew just where to look.

*What IS it with you Vulcans and water?*

"Chris?  You ok?"  Stark asked a moment later when a strangled "oooh" escaped the doctor's lips.

"I'm ... fine.  Just a muscle spasm, I guess."  Her tone was neutral, her expression as emotionless as possible.

*As I recall, Doctor, that particular contact made for quite an enjoyable ... muscle spasm on Majoricia.*

*Not now ... please?*

*Then most definitely later, my love.*

The elevator doors opened and the group headed off to the winter sports complex and the historical event awaiting everyone there.

* * *

 

Christine's Day

 

Sixty children from across the quadrant were attending the sportscamp.  The age range for participation had been set at 7-10 in order to ensure that any talent discovered had ample years ahead to be refined, should that be the path the child wished to take.  And the participants had been culled from worlds where there was either very little opportunity for winter sports (places like Fuega and Vulcan) or no organized opportunity for the activity.  As a result of Stark and Ambassador Sarek's careful study of the applications, thirty boys and thirty girls were now set for the two weeks of their young lives.

Christine was setting up her office space.  The sports facility had state of the art medical and physical therapy facilities.  Three other healers were also there: a Vulcan, a physician from Polaris who had served during the last winter sports fest, and one of the InterGalactic Sports Union's own staff doctors.  The participants were assured of being in good hands.

At the moment, the youngsters were being put into the groups they would remain in for the camp's duration.  Then everyone would have a medical exam and a preliminary sporting assessment.  The opening ceremony had been quite entertaining.  Ambassador Sarek welcomed everyone on behalf of Vulcan, Stark and T'Lara and Sierra told everyone hello with Sierra and Sierra demonstrated her latest trick, a wave.  Then the T'sai T'Ser spoke as Minister of Sport and Culture with an anecdote from her New York posting, about skating at Rockefeller Plaza with her niece in the early mornings and feeling as free as the birds, though not quite as graceful.  After that, each participant was introduced.  The press recorded it all, as unobtrusively as possible, if that was possible.

"Dr. Chapel?"

Christine turned to regard the speaker, the Vulcan healer.  She was about her own age, in Vulcan years.

"I am T'Safa, a pediatric healer from the Science Institute Medical Center.  Welcome."  The woman gave a ta'al, which Christine did in kind.  "Are you settling in here well?"

"Thank you, T'sai.  Yes, I am.  This will be quite a...fascinating two weeks, I should think."

The Vulcan woman was looking discretely at a large double framed set of holos on her desk.  One showed Christine figure skating on the Enterprise holodeck, the other was a shot of her snowboarding at this very facility during the wedding celebration a few months back.  She raised a questioning eyebrow but not a disdainful one.

"I felt it might be ... logical for the camp participants to know that I also do these types of activities.  Sort of what we call an 'icebreaker'."  Christine felt her face flush a bit.  Vulcans rarely made small talk, but children were children everywhere, you had to bring them out of themselves at times.

"Indeed, that is quite logical."  The healer indicated a large glass jar filled with colorful oval shapes, marked "RX" in large blue letters.  "Does not RX mean prescription?  Are those drugs?"

Christine took the jar down and opened the top.  "In a way," she replied.  "These are Terran jellybeans.  I prescribe them for homesickness.  Kind of a reverse psychology."

"Were you trained in juvenile psychology, then?  A fascinating approach."  T'Safa was definitely intrigued.

"Not exactly, just was a homesick child myself when I was younger."  Christine handed over some tongs and a small paper container.  "Do try some, please."

"Which flavor would you recommend?"

"I like the violet colored ones.  They're plum, and the taste is very similar to the fruit."  Christine pointed out the bean.

A moment later the healer's face registered pleased surprise.  "These are quite an unusual treat.  I ... would hope to try some other varieties during the course of the camp's duration, if that is allowable?"

"Of course," Christine said with a barely suppressed soft laugh.  "There's an old saying, 'Physician, heal thyself,' and I firmly believe in it."

The conversation would have continued had not a small scale pandemonium been heard approaching the medical offices.

"But your worshipful gloriousness," a wheedling voice entreated.

"Ellat."  A youthful tone was firm in its reply.

"Your gloriousness, I do not understand!"

"At this place I am known as Ellat.  Not your highness, your glory, your exalted.  For two weeks I am asking that you address me as such.  I am an ordinary participant of this event, not to be treated differently from any of the others."

Christine and the Vulcan exchanged a mirrored raised eyebrow.  This must be the Dauphin of Troyius.  They scurried to take up their posts.

The Troyian delegation was waiting in the reception area.  Spock was at the rear of the entourage and gave Christine his own special eyebrow raise of the long-suffering variety.  She could almost feel his hrrmph.  Clearly, things were ... trying.

"Your, er, dau, er, El..lat, I do not see why your personal physician cannot perform this examination in the privacy of your own room," the obnoxious voice, belonging to an even more obnoxious looking bodyguard type, continued.  "Must you subject yourself to this humiliation?"

The Dauphin, a surprisingly slight, tall young man of perhaps ten, held his ground.  He looked up at his protector and firmly shook his head.  "I shall be examined by a staff physician.  Then I must be assessed by the hockey coach." He turned to the four doctors.  "This one," he said coolly.

Christine gulped.  Of course he'd choose her.  Finagle's laws and all their variations were in force even here on Vulcan.  She acquiesced graciously and a moment later his holiness was seated on her diagnostic table.  His own personal doctor was left to chafe at the illogic of the situation in the outer offices and proceeded to pour his opinion of the situation into Spock's unfortunate ear.

"You seem to be in good health," Christine said as she ran the scanners over him.  "How would you prefer I address you?"

"I am Ellat, ma'am," he replied, looking at her nametag.  "Dr. Chapel?  You met my mother, did you not?"

"I did," she replied, surprised he would know this.

"Mother has spoken of her days on the Enterprise.  She met many people, including you, a physician named McCoy, and a man called Kirk.  Are they still on the ship?"

"Dr. McCoy is here on Vulcan for a few weeks, and Captain Kirk will be attending the closing ceremonies with the rest of the Enterprise crew.  So you might see them.  And my husband, Spock, also met your mother.  Is she well?"

"She is very well, thank you." Ellat looked over at the photos.  "You partake of sport then?"

"Sometimes," Christine told him.  "Ellat, I would like a copy of the prescription for your eyeglasses, in case we need to get you another pair should these break.  Does your physician have this?  Should we make sports goggles for you?"

The Dauphin looked a trifle embarrassed.  After a long moment, he spoke.  "There is no prescription.  My eyesight is quite prefect."

"Then why do you wear these?"  The glasses were extremely old fashioned, almost archaic in their design.

"I wish to be a physicist someday," the boy answered.  "And in my studies of history, it appears that many famous scientists wore glasses.  Have you seen the old holo 'Independence Day' perhaps?  I wear the same spectacles that the scientist at Area 51 wore, custom made for me."

Christine recalled the film.  She and Spock watched it on occasion, enjoying the early special effects and the rather unusual, though quite illogical, storyline.  What was that actor's name?  Brent Spiner.

The exam concluded, the young man was whisked away by his minders for his hockey assessment and Spock, somewhat reluctantly, brought up the rear.

*Later, dear.*

*Later, indeed.*

* * *

"NuqneH," Christine told the young woman.

"You ... speak Klingonese?"  The girl's voice registered surprise.  She answered in accented but excellent Standard.

"A little bit.  You are Kanou?"  Christine proceeded with the exam, thankful Kala managed to get her some medical holotexts through her father.  So far as she knew, she was the only physician in the area who had even a small handle on Klin anatomy.

"I am."  The girl's eyes watched Christine with undisguised curiosity.

"Your Standard is excellent, Kanou.  Far better than my Klingonese."

"My grandfather, Kluth, insisted I learn.  He said I will go far in my sport and would need to know this language.  But you, how do you know our tongue?"  She watched Christine scan her foot, where a purplish blue bruise showed near her toes.

The hockey coach.  Of course, this was the prodigy she'd heard of.  "My friend Kala's father is Klin.  And have you met Mogh?  He and his parents were at my wedding ceremony.  So I know a few phrases."  She pointed to the injury.  "Your trainer takes very good care of your feet, Kanou.  But is this a stress fracture?"

The girl looked blank for a second, then pulled out the handheld translator all participants had been given.  She recognized the phrase and nodded, speaking in her own language for a moment.  "Yes, for some reason this area of my...foot seems to be injured regularly." The device translated her words instantly for Christine to see.

Christine kicked off her clog and brought her foot up onto the table, making certain her own translator was at the ready.  She touched her top instep and spoke slowly.  "I got fractures here because my arch was so high.  We had to make a special insert for my skate.  It looks like...the back of your foot is more slender than the front and you injure yourself because of that.  The trainers here can hep.  Would you like that?"

"Yes, I would." Kanou had switched back to Standard.  "Did you skate?"

"I still do, for my own enjoyment"  Christine said as the girl prepared to leave.  "But long ago, I competed, just as you will."

"What ... are those?"  Kanou was pointing to the jar of jellybeans.

Christine took the lid off and allowed her to have a sniff.  "A special Terran treat.  Would you like some?"

"May I have enough for my roommate and I to share?  What is the name of this?"

"Of course.  They are called a jellybean.  It is a type of candy."  Christine watched the young woman scoop out a small handful and put it into the paper container.

"Jelly bean."  Kanou rolled her tongue around the word.  Then she gave Christine a smile and headed out the door.

A young Vulcan girl was waiting there for her and Christine watched as Kanou held out the unfamiliar foodstuff.  They both inspected the candies thoroughly, then each took one and tried it.  The reaction was exactly the same, though the Vulcan only smiled with her eyes.  In a moment, nothing remained of the treats but the empty container.

Christine recognized T'Mara.  That was an interesting pairing, she thought, glad she and Spock had discussed this thoroughly when it was known T'Pring's daughter would be attending the camp.

A moment later the two, who appeared to be thick as thieves already, rushed off to their next activity.

* * *

Christine inched her way into the tub with a sigh.  Spock was still at the hockey staff meeting so she had a blissful hour or so to indulge herself in the swimming pool masquerading as their bath.  T'Jen assured her earlier that although it still seldom rained on Vulcan, its scientists now knew how to manufacture enough potable water so that agriculture and tourism no longer suffered as they had years before.  A luxurious bath was no longer viewed as a waste of water.  And this particularly gargantuan bath was half full.

The scent of the herbal salts Kala had sent from her New York spa filled the air enticingly.  Christine lay back against the tub's cool marble rim and lost herself in some vintage 22nd century Terran jazz.  She knew how the day would end -- the way it had begun.  Their link had pulsed with playful sexuality all day.  It was clear her husband would be in fine form this evening and that was very pleasing.  The road to recovery seemed to be building on humor ... and love.

A little while later she heard the door to their suite open.

"In here," she called out, not opening her eyes.  She felt his raised eyebrow even without looking.  "I'm drowning in relaxation."

Her husband disappeared into their bedroom where, Christine presumed, he'd meditate.  But it felt as though he'd already done so.  In that case, what was he up to?

A loud splashing brought her out of her reverie.  Through her almost closed lids she saw Spock slide under the water's surface and begin slithering along the tub's bottom, looking for all the world like a gigantic Vulcan flounder.  He could hold his breath underwater far longer than a human, so he circumnavigated the tub's perimeter, as a shark circles its prey.  Christine willed herself not to react, not even when she felt a nip at her ankle.  How did he do that?  This was going to be too much fun.  His amusement and lustful thoughts were coursing across their bond nonstop.

After a few minutes, she surreptitiously observed as he surfaced and flipped over onto his back.  In a smooth movement he crossed his arms across his chest and started his imitation of a comatose Vulcan.  This was part of their game.  Make me react.  Out Vulcan me.

Christine picked up her vidphone and pretended to dial out.

"Hello, T'Jen?  Dr. Chapel.  There's a problem.  Well, rather unusual, I fear.  It looks as though the Creature from the Sea of Voroth has somehow managed to appear in our suite's bath tub."

The barest shudder coursed across his abs.  Christine continued talking to herself.

"I believe it probably slimed up through the drain."  A pause.  "No, of course I have no idea why it's here.  Maybe the poor thing took a wrong turn at Albuquerque?"

A snort escaped her husband, however quietly.

"Well, I think it has expired.  It looks to be quite dead and I certainly don't want a rotting carcass polluting our living quarters.  Do you think the Science Academy could send a team over to dispose of it?"

Splashes rippled toward her but still no discernible activity.  Christine pulled out all the stops.  She'd missed this playfulness with her husband and was determined to make up for lost time.

"Perhaps it could be stuffed and put on display at the museum."  Another pause, then she moved closer on her knees.  "Distinguishing features?  Hmmm.  Just a shade under two meters in height.  No body fat, quite muscular.  There is a large lovebite just above the creature's left hipbone.  And he's hung like a--"

At this Spock lunged up and captured his wife in a watery embrace.  The forgotten vidphone flew from her grasp to bounce off the bathroom floor.

Fortunately, such items had long ago been made quite indestructible.

* * *

Take My Brother...Please!

 

Ice.  Real ice rink ice, not a holodeck version.  Christine took a deep breath of cool air and skated out.

It was 06:00.  The facilities manager said she could have an hour every morning at this time, after Selek and T'Lea finished their early workout and before coach Daragan started his own hockey runthrough.  The idea of an hour to herself each day, just her and the ice, was something Christine appreciated very much.

She cued "The Wishing Tree" and began to glide across the silence.  Here she could express her true feelings, yes, emote, without having to answer to anyone, not even Spock.  Although Christine knew he genuinely enjoyed watching her workout, and regularly skated with her on the Enterprise holodeck, sometimes she just wanted to do her own thing.  The fact this was now being done on Vulcan seemed a bit of a contradiction in terms, though.

How could a race without visible emotion so readily embrace sport and the arts?  Selek and T'Lea were galactic champion ice dancers, and to get there meant showing a wide range of feelings during their routine, yet off the ice, they quickly slid back into their familiar Vulcan character almost as though a switch was thrown.  The same for the numerous performing artists she'd come to learn of in the past year.  Their passion for their discipline was very apparent when they were performing.  But once the curtain was down, it was business as usual.

Of course, Spock did that on a regular basis with her.  When he was on duty, on board, or in the requisite situation, he was still the Vulcan everyone knew, if just a whisper less ... staid.  Then when they were alone together, he also switched into another mode, one he clearly enjoyed.  She smiled as she remembered last night's game of wits in the bath.  He'd dared her to make him laugh -- and she did, without any fear of remorse later.  Even after hours of fun last night, she'd still had to pull herself out of bed this morning to be here and clearly felt his reluctance to let her leave.

Her husband, however, was hardly the typical Vulcan, and those they'd encountered aboard the Xir Tan, well, that was best forgotten.  Christine looked forward to these weeks on Spock's home planet so she might observe its people on a day to day basis.  And there was plenty of time each morning to mull over her observations.

As she finished her workout, Christine was aware of an audience.  There on the sidelines sat Kanou and T'Mara.  She nodded to them.  An older gentleman, the hockey coach Valeri Daragan, was speaking to both the girls and Kanou appeared to be making an introduction.  Christine busied herself changing out of her skates and quite forgot the matter.  It wasn't until she was leaving that she glanced back at the rink.  The Zamboni was beginning its first cleanup of the day, and there, at the controls, was the hockey coach himself.  Seated next to him were Kanou and T'Mara and both were clearly enjoying the ride.

* * *

"S'haile Spock?"

Spock and his wife looked up from their after midmeal iced mochas to see a group of small girls standing there.  Two were Vulcan, two were humanoid.  One of the Vulcan girls was obviously the spokesperson.

"Yes, ladies?" he replied politely.

"May we ask you something?"

"Certainly.  What do you wish to know?"

"It is about...."  The girl stopped for a moment and looked around.  "Klingons," she said in a low voice.

"Very well, what about Klingons?" Spock's tone was smooth.  He'd been answering cultural questions since the camp began, but this was the first inquiry about things Klin.

"Is it true they live in caves?" asked one girl.

"And are cannibals?" said another.

"They do not bond?  They cannot read nor write?" one of the Vulcans dared to ask.

"Is this so?  We have heard such things ... in passing."  The group's leader was a tad concerned lest she be accused of gossip.

Spock exchanged a Vulcanly amused glance with Christine then began speaking.

"It is not so, no."  He indicated Kanou, who was seated a few tables away, working on her PADD while her roommate T'Mara did the same thing.  "That young woman also has a mother and a father who cherish her.  She resides in a house with them much as you all do, be it in the city or in the country.  And she attends school the same as all of you."

The girls were silent but their curious stares begged for more confirmation.

"Her parents are married, as your own are," Christine continued.  "And while the food eaten on her homeworld may not be the same as you know, no, Klingons are hardly cannibals.  They don't eat other humanoid beings.  Their culture is historied with honor and tradition, as are all of ours, but it too is a bit different to what we know.  Kanou is simply another young girl here to learn about sport."

"But how do you know this?" one of the Vulcans asked.

Spock unobtrusively pointed out Mogh, who was seated with a large chattering group of boys of all races.  "Do you see that Klingon boy, Mogh?  He was at our wedding ceremony not long ago, with both of his parents.  They are agriscientists.  Did you know his favorite game is what the Terrans call 'Frisbee'?"

"Really?"  This was interesting news.

"Yes, really," Christine said with just a hint of a smile.  "Why not go over to introduce yourself to Kanou and ask her about where she is from?  I'm certain she'd tell you."

They watched the small group cautiously make its way towards the unusual pair.

"Let us also seat ourselves nearby," Spock suggested.  "Lest there be any issues that surface."

"Yes, Commander.  Why not just admit it, you're just like your father when it comes to being nosy?"

Spock merely lifted the corner of his mouth as he led them to a seat nearer the impending social interaction.

* * *

"Hello," Kanou said in reply to the greeting she'd been given.  "I am Kanou.  This is T'Mara."  Her Standard had made a quantum leap even in so short a time.  She'd just been calculating how long it would take to get a vidmessage to her mother, via the border intermediary station.

Introductions were made.

"So where are you from?" asked one of the Terran colonists.

"What's it like there?  Do you have a big family?" said another.

Kanou hit some buttons on her PADD and pulled up some images.  "This is my mother," she said slowly as the pictures scrolled past.  "And my grandfather."

"And your papa?" one Vulcan girl timidly asked, using the Terran term.

"My father was a warrior, he died bravely in battle when I was two of your years."  Kanou's expression was sad yet proud.

"Ohhhhhh."  Sighs of sympathy and meaningful glances came from the girls.  They all sat down and continued to watch the slideshow.

"And this is our home in the capital city."  Kanou pointed to more pictures.  "And our garden.  And the rink where I skate."

"Och, who's that?"  Fiona, a sturdy young snowboarder from the Scots-settled colony of New Inverness, indicated the next holopic.  The image was of a young Klingon man, splendidly attired in his hockey uniform, a gold medal adorning his neck.  He held a hockey stick like a bat'leth and gave a serious, proud pout to the camera.

"OOOOH!  He's dishy!" added Ginny, a figure skater from Terra.

The other girls crowded around the PADD, oohing and aahing, or just looking (in the Vulcan way) admiringly.

Kanou was perplexed.  "That is my brother, Kando.  And what means 'dishy'?"

"Your brother?" squealed one girl.  "He's so cute!"

"Cute?  Dishy?"  Kanou repeated the unfamiliar phrases while she stared at her translator, not wanting to believe what she was seeing.  "You think my brother ... my brother is ... pleasing?!"

The group nodded.

*We should leave, Commander.  Kanou is obviously able to take care of this herself.  It's rude to eavesdrop.*

*Patience, my wife.  Let us remain a bit longer.  And I am not eavesdropping, I am perusing my notes for this afternoon's matches.*  Spock returned to his own PADD and studied it intently.

*What are you *up* to?*

*I never had a sister.  This discussion fascinates me.*

"My BROTHER?"  Kanou made a universal face and uttered a word that was familiar in any language.  It meant "yuck."  Then she indicated her translator, invited the others to use theirs, and began a scathing diatribe in Klingonese.

"My brother is a cadet in the defense corps who happens to play on the hockey team.  He is an oafish lout who, when he is not practicing his sport, sits in our home and consumes all the food while playing holovid defense strategy games.  When his friends come to visit, it is worse.  They laugh at me and call me names.  My mother usually takes me for a walk or shopping when this happens.  His living space resembles a ... trash heap!  Why would you think he is ... cute?"

Spock had also turned his translation switch on.  He and Christine read the words silently, but inside, both were amused.

"No!"  Ginny was aghast.  "I always knew it!  My brother's a Klingon!"

Kanou looked at the translation and shook her head.  T'Mara leaned over to say something and a moment later, Kanou's face broke into a smile.  "Is your brother so much like mine?" she asked, curious.

"Worse.  And his friends are slimy slugs."

"My brother refuses to allow me to sit next to the window in our vehicle.  It is illogical to say, but I do not like this."

"My brother tracks manure into the house from the fields and never cleans it up!"

"My brother consumes the last bit of my mother's best plomeek soup before he asks if another would like some."

The conversation was clearly headed in a familiar direction.

"Come along, Commander."  Christine stood up to leave.

"But I was not yet finished with my ... studies."

*If you don't haul your posterior off that chair right now, I will go ask those Vulcan girls if Vulcan boys have cooties!*

*Cooties, Doctor?  I am not familiar with that term.*

*Then I'll go teach them its meaning.  Move it.  NOW.*

They were out the door before the brother bashing session took an interesting turn.

"Wait!" T'Mara looked almost distressed.

"What is wrong?" Kanou asked, worried her friend had been somehow insulted.

"If brothers are such an ilk, then I am not certain I would welcome the one my mother says will join our family in the spring."

"Your mam's having a baby?  Och, that's great news.  You'll be a big sister!  Of course, brothers aren't all that bad.  Mine plays chess with me."

"No one has explained physics so well to me as my own brother."

"Mine takes me for ice cream."

"Kando skates with me sometimes and we speak about things."

At the end of the lunch break, it was decided that while brothers had their bad points, they also had an equal number of good points.  A logical conclusion for all concerned.  T'Mara was given sage bits of wisdom from everyone as to how to assume her special duties as a big sister.

* * *

 

"You certainly do that unobserved observation very well," Christine remarked as they headed back to their duty posts down the still quiet hallway.

"Indeed, I have had a great deal of practice on board the Enterprise."

"You have?  Where, precisely?"

"Here and there."

"Cut the Vulcan doubletalk, mister, where is here and there?"

Spock shook his head.  "That would be telling, Doctor, as you constantly say."

Christine's face turned scarlet as she got a fleeting vision of him at the pool, in the arboretum, in the messhall, at sickbay.  All in the early days of their relationship, before any formal declaration of intent had been made on his part.  In each case he appeared to be blithely going about his duties.  Only now she knew better.

He suddenly found himself being yanked into the medical suite, which, fortunately, was still empty for the lunchbreak.

"You voyeuristic Vulcan pervert!  I always wondered why you were hanging around the pool every time I went swimming!"  Christine's eyes were bright with humor.

"As science officer it is my duty to ascertain the pH level of the pool's water."  Spock held his ground, but was enjoying this as much as she was.

Christine snickered.  "Sure, three times a week at exactly 20:00?  I'm surprised you didn't check the life support in the yoga class."

"I had considered it, but thought perhaps that would be a bit too obvious."  His eyebrow climbed to its usual seductive position.  "I do so enjoy viewing you in your sports attire."

A noise in the outer offices indicated the camp's schedule was about to start up once more.  Spock turned to leave, but not until he'd whispered an earful of promises to her for later.

* * *

 

"The word you were seeking is pronounced 'Ti'a-chu'."

Christine put down the Vulcan medical holotext she'd been studying and looked over at Spock, who was burrowing into the bedcovers next to her.

"What?" she asked.  "Ti'a-chu?"

"You asked if there was a Vulcan equivalent for that quaint Terran term you refer to as a 'cootie.'  It would appear that there is."  He drew his wife close and allowed his amusement to envelop her.

"Vulcan girls think Vulcan boys have cooties?  You're making this up!"

"I assure you, it is fact.  The sexes do not appreciate each other at such a young age and feel the other harbors some heinous pollutant.  You constantly remind me that children are much the same across the galaxy, and this is merely confirmation of the fact.  Now do you believe me when I say that Vulcans are not created in a laboratory fully grown but are born and grow up just as Terrans, and others, do?"  He traced a lock of hair that was determined to stay on her forehead.

"You mean they're allowed to be children?" she said softly.

"Yes, my love.  We play, skin our knees and get into trouble at times with our parents just as you must have."

"So, did the girls say you had ti'a-chu?" Christine giggled at the thought of a Vulcan girl saying the words to Spock.

"Not precisely, no, I never heard the term as a child.  But I do know of its existence."  His reply was rather vague.

"How do you know of its existence?" she asked, knowing this was bait he was dangling in front of her.

"I asked ... T'Lara."  Spock expertly dodged the smack aimed at his head and diffused the situation in a familiar way.

* * *

 

T'Lara looked up from her attempts at teaching Sierra to put her paw on her nose.  "Stark, what precisely is a ... cootie?"

Stark dropped the PADD he was holding and raised an eyebrow.  This was going to be quite a fascinating night.

* * *

 

It's All in the Perception

 

And so the sportscamp continued its wintry curve towards the Christmas break.  The days and nights were filled with so many diversions it was almost hard to keep track of the passage of time.

The morning of December 22, the camp's fourth official day of activity, began like any other.  There was the usual energetic tussle at 05:30, where Spock would do his best to convince her to stay in bed and dispense with her skating.  Christine always pretended to acquiesce, then would bean her husband one and escape to the shower.  His revenge, however, was that he then demanded half of her chocolate spirulina goats milk protein shake (not as disgusting as it sounds!) as a security deposit to ensure she would return to his bed later that evening.  A pleasant compromise.

Skating was her own blissful time and she cherished it.  Selek and T'Lea were usually just finishing up when she'd get to the ice, and watching their fluid grace together was always an inspiration to behold.  Christine's music varied according to her mood; today was Copland's "Appalachian Spring."  The old moves came back easily, but not without her share of crashes and burns.  Halfway through her routine, T'Mara and Kanou would usually appear and watch her, but why, Christine was never sure.  Today, she thought, she'd find out why they rode the Zamboni every morning.

After skating, then breakfast with 60 chattering youngsters, it was time to become doctor on call.  The med facility was active from dawn will dusk with the usual juvenile complaints common to those active in sports keeping all four physicians busy, and the physical therapists were likewise engaged, soothing the knots out of muscles unused to such intense ministrations.  Christine's supply of jellybeans was healthily diminishing, though some of the candies were disappearing during her sessions of kal-toh with T'Safa.  The healer offered to teach her this Vulcan game of logic and Christine was a willing pupil in the hopes of surprising Spock, who never mentioned that he played.

Evenings were as active as the days, with a wide array of entertainments on offer to please the camp's broad spectrum of cultures.  Vid games, holos, and the ever popular arts and crafts hummed with the conversations of many languages as the youngsters learned to understand each other's words.  Spock was still busy answering cultural questions, though the pre-camp informational holovid each participant had received seemed to be working in that no major cross cultural faux pas had yet happened.  Bedtime was painlessly enforced -- all the participants were happily exhausted at day's end.

Jimmy Sanchez, from Christine's hometown area, was an avid kite flyer back in California and had quickly engaged many of the boys in constructing kites that reflected each maker's unique culture.  A grand kite flying session was being planned for Christmas morning, before the festive winter holiday party at the Terran Embassy that afternoon.

Mogh and Loki were blending in very well, as was Kanou.  Christine realized that the discussion about brothers probably was her ticket of entry into that special intergalactic sisterhood which felt the male species was positively horrid.  Oh well, she thought as she botched another double loop attempt, give it a few years.

Benny Childress was indeed the son of Evie and Ben Christine had met during her visit to Fuega, but since then, he'd shot up like the proverbial weed and was reveling in the wintry activities and enthralling his fellow participants with stories about the lava streams on his homeworld.  He informed Christine that his parents would be journeying to Vulcan to collect him and would be at the grand New Year's Eve gala celebration which would close the camp.  That was a pleasant prospect.

Christine did miss her friends.  The Enterprise was due in Christmas Eve afternoon, and they both heard from the ship regularly.  Nyota seemed to be secretive during her last message, wondering if Christine was ready for a very special present that should be arriving soon.  Hmmmm.  Had Spock conspired with her friend in selecting a gift for her?  In that case, maybe she'd better get him something too, even though Vulcans did not have any sort of winter festival they celebrated.  Christine attempted a double lutz and was delighted she landed it, though her form left quite a bit to be desired.  Well, it was time to end her workout anyway.

"Good morning, ladies," she said to her two observers.

"Good morning," they both answered simultaneously.

"Are you finding the insert to your skate comfortable, Kanou?" she asked as she unlaced her centuries old styled traditional boots.

The Klingon girl nodded, not needing her translator.  "My foot does not hurt any longer when I ... land ... my jumps."  She gave a smile.  "Qat'hlo, Doctor," she added.

"You are welcome."  Christine noticed both girls staring at her painted toenails.

"Is that the ... natural coloring ... T'sai?" T'Mara ventured.  "It is ... blue.  Your are perhaps half Bolian?"

"No, I'm all Terran," she replied.  "The women on my home world, and some others too, color the nails on their hands and feet for ... glamour?"

"Ah, as our women..."  Kanou looked down at her translator and spoke to it softly.  "They ... put paint?  On their faces for festive occasions."

"It is called makeup on my world, Kanou.  Terrans also follow this custom."  Christine was astonished at how quickly the girl's Standard was improving.  "And what is on my toes is called nail polish."

"Makeup."  T'Mara was thoughtful.  "Yes, my mother sometimes colors her lips when she and my father must attend a special event.  But this seems most illogical, is it not uncomfortable?"

"When you young maids are a little older, I don't think either of you will find the idea illogical."  Christine gave them both a smile.  T'Mara's eyes smiled back, matching her friend's quirky sideways grin.

"Good morning, ladies!"  An accented male voice interrupted the history of cosmetics lesson.  The hockey coach stood there, his eyes twinkling merrily.  "You are learning well from your teacher, I think!"

Kanou rose and turned to Christine, speaking slowly and carefully.  "Doctor Chapel, may I present his honor, hockey coach Valeri Daragan."

Christine graciously extended her hand, which the coach kissed in the old world style.  "Oochin priyatnya," she murmured.  (Pleased to meet you)

He looked surprised.  "Vooy gavaryetye pa Russki?" he asked.  (You speak Russian?)

"Nyimnozhka.  Mooi droog, Pavel Andreiovich, ohn Ruski."  (A little.  My friend Pavel Andreiovich ... he's Russian)

"Harasho! (Very good!)  I am also honored to make your acquaintance!  Kanou speaks of you."

"His honor and my grandfather are very old friends," Kanou said proudly.  "His honor brought hockey to our world many years ago."

"And I still insist on driving the Zamobni in my old age," Coach Daragan added with a wink.  "Only I can get the ice just the way the players need to have it."

Christine raised an eyebrow.  "He brought hockey to the homeworld?  Kanou, would you tell us about this, perhaps at lunch today?  I very much want to hear the story, as would my husband."

"I will be pleased."  Kanou's smile was positively luminescent.

"Come along, ladies," Coach Daragan said, indicating the Zamboni parked at the edge of the rink.  "You must show my old eyes the places I miss!"

* * *

 

The afternoon hockey session began with a bang...and a whimper.

His Highness Ellat, though he steadfastly refused to be called this, was just getting into his goalie routine when he collided head on with a Silok, a Vulcan, who was trying to sneak the puck into the corner.  He fell to the ice headfirst with a smack.

Despite centuries of improvement of the game and ultra modern safety equipment, hockey, as well as many other sports, still produced its share of rough and tumble injuries, even in the professional ranks.  Ellat's nose began to bleed olive green, which mixed with the blood dripping from a cut on his forehead.  His eyes look dazed.

Spock, who was refereeing the match, swiftly gathered the Dauphin in his arms while Coach Daragan herded the other players away with soothing assurances that such events were extremely normal in the sport.  The cries of Ellat's bodyguards could be heard, but for some reason, they decided to cross the ice at midrink instead of traversing the barrier.  They were almost comically sliding around the ice in their attempts to reach him.

"Ellat?"  Spock's voice was soft as he lifted the young man's right arm and folded it behind his head.  He'd studied the aspects of Troyian/Elasian anatomy at Christine's suggestion and now was extremely glad of that.  Ellat's heart was on his lower right side, where the human stomach normally sat.

"Ellat, look at my hand.  How many fingers do you see?"

"One?" Ellat's voice was calm but Spock could sense his fear.

"Very good.  Now, can you watch my finger as I move it?"  Spock slowly passed his index finger in front of the boy's eyes and was relieved to see him following the movement.

"Am I going to die?" the boy asked.  "My head -- it hurts."

"Of course not, though you have sustained a blow so that is why you have pain.  I am certain you shall spend time in the sickbay this afternoon.  But do not worry."

At this point the Dauphin's personal physician arrived and gave Spock a grateful look as he began talking quietly to his charge.

After a few moments, Ellat spoke.  "I shall walk to the sickbay."

"Your Highness!" one bodyguard began, but the boy's withering look silenced him.  Spock, on the other hand, groaned inwardly, as he knew he would be hearing about this for some hours yet from the two minders.

Ellat rose on shaky legs, assisted by Spock and his physician, and the three of them headed off the ice, followed by the clearly steamed personal bodyguards.

* * *

 

Christine was in the middle of a game of kal-toh with T'Safa, while relating the improbable tale of how hockey came to the Klingon homeworld to the interested healer, when a thought pulsed across her bond to Spock.

*Be prepared, the Dauphin has sustained a minor injury.*

Some moments later the entourage appeared.  Ellat was pale but walking unaided.  His physician quickly guided him into one of the examination rooms and indicated T'Safa and Christine to accompany him.

Fortunately, the young man was not concussed, and his nosebleed was quickly under control.  The Troyian was about to close the wound on the boy's forehead when the sound of squabbling, which had been percolating all along, now threatened to boil completely over.  Christine heard Spock trying to diffuse the situation to no avail.

"Please."  Ellat's voice was softly pleading.  "Make them stop."

"My husband is attempting to do so," Christine replied, holding the boy's hand reassuringly.

"They won't listen to him.  You go."

"Me?"  Christine looked over at the Troyian doctor for an explanation.  "Why me?"

"It is true, the women of our world are warrior like, very strong willed.  Much like Ellat's mother, as the Elasians and the Troyians have many similar traits.  The bodyguards mean well, but will not listen to your husband, doctor.  You must speak to them."  He turned to his patient.  "No scar, you are most fortunate, and I can heal the bruising around your eye as well with no visible marks."

"Really?" Ellat asked.  "No scar?  Could you not allow the bruises to show a bit?"

Christine was about to giggle when the argument in the lobby ratcheted up several notches.  She shrugged.  "OK, I'll go, but what do I say?"

"Be forceful.  Aggressive even?  But be completely stern and accept no excuses.  It is our way, I fear."  The physician obviously knew what he was talking about.

"I can't do that, we're on Vulcan....er..." Christine flushed and looked apologetically over at T'Safa.

"But the situation is not between Vulcans, Doctor, nor are you yourself Vulcan.  Such events may seem illogical, but often happen, and at times, a firm hand is necessary.  These things, they do occur."  T'Safa's tone was neutral but Christine sensed she was giving a tacit approval to her potentially distasteful showing of emotion, and without judgment.

So she prepared to venture into the battle zone but paused to send a thought to her husband.

*Don't say or do anything.*

Stark was just hurrying into the outer offices as Christine rounded on the bodyguards.  She motioned him towards the examination room, then took a deep breath.  Spock was watching her every move even as he was caught between a stereophonic litany of imagined transgressions.

"Such a FLAGRANTLY hostile action against His Glory.  Why, it might even be construed as an act of war," one of the Troyians was blathering.

"KROYKAH!" she hissed venomously.

The minders turned towards the vocal rifle shot.

"This is a medical facility," she continued, folding her arms across her chest like iron bands."and we have patients to attend to here.  I have never seen such blatantly juvenile behavior from grown men in my life.  Ellat is attending a sports camp.  Injuries in sport are common, not the basis for threats of war.  Shame on you both for such ridiculous notions concerning a boy.  Either stop your petty bickering at once, or take it outside.  Must I summon Ambassador Sarek here?  I do not think he would be pleased."

One of the men opened his mouth to continue, but Christine raised her hand.

"I SAID kroykah!  Enough!  Now be silent as the young man needs a quiet place in which to recuperate.  If you behave, you may remain.  Otherwise, you must leave."  And with those words, she turned and strode back into the examination room, wondering what Spock and T'Safa would think of such outrageous behavior.

"Well done," Ellat's physician beamed.  "I must apologize again for those two ... imbeciles.  They truly mean no harm, but were not precisely selected for their intellectual abilities."

Christine reached for her jar of jellybeans.  "I believe we could all use some of these," she said with a smile.

* * *

 

"Was that not your wife?" One of the minders was shaking his head in admiration.

"It was," Spock replied in a bored tone, now realizing what Christine had meant.

"Does she perhaps have some Elysian blood?  What a splendid example of a female."  The second minder gave Spock a knowing look.

"No, she is Terran, although that race does have its emotional moments."  Spock was quite intrigued at the sudden change of moods.

"Let us be seated and await the physician's pronouncement," the first minder entreated.  "After all, the young man needs a restful environment in which to convalesce, as your wife said."

Spock wondered how his father would have handled the situation...or, more correctly, his mother.  Fascinating, he thought.

* * *

 

Upon learning that Ellat would remain at the medical suite for observation until dinnertime, Spock bade his farewells and started back to the ice rink.  He nearly ran into Silok, who was hovering in the doorway.

"S'haile Spock?  May I speak with you?" the boy asked.

"Certainly." Spock led the youth into Christine's office and closed the door.

"Is...Ellat recovering?"

"He is fine and shall be joining you all for endmeal," Spock answered soothingly, noticing the distress which was enveloping the boy.

"That is good." Silok looked down at his hands.  "Am I to be punished?"

"Punished?  Whatever for?"

"I struck a member of the Troyian royal family.  Perhaps such a transgression is a serious offense on his world and I must pay for my crime against Ellat."  Silok was now looking straight at Spock, showing he was unafraid of what lay ahead, yet likely fearful inside.  Spock knew the look well, he'd had it often enough at that age.

"Of course not, Silok.  You are sportsmen and sportsmen have accidents.  It is all part of competition.  You shall not be punished.  In fact, I speculate that Ellat will tell you to forget the matter entirely."

"You are certain?  How do you know this?"

"When I was younger, I also played hockey, for the Starleet Academy team.  I once collided with an Admiral's son, with far worse results, and am here to tell you I was neither punished nor chastised." Spock recalled the headbanging tangle of arms and legs.

"What happened?"

"I broke his nose.  But he cared not a bit, in fact, he claimed the injury was a sure sign of his athletic prowess."  And a magnet for women, Spock thought a bit wryly.

"I felt dismay when I realized I had injured Ellat.  Is that not contrary to Father Surak's teachings?"

At last Spock realized what was really troubling the boy.

"Showing concern for a fellow creature is normal.  It is what makes sentient beings what they uniquely are and should not trouble you.  As you grow older you shall see that to think such a thought is nothing to be ashamed of."  He stood up and indicated the door.  "Shall we return to the ice rink, Silok?  You can then inform your teammates of Ellat's prognosis.  I am certain they, too, are concerned for his welfare."

* * *

 

Some hours later, Ellat's physician decreed the boy fit to return to the camp, and to hockey the next morning.  This greatly relieved Ambassador Sarek, who, along with Leonard McCoy, had stopped by to visit the Dauphin.  Ellat was used to attention but clearly wished he was elsewhere from the look on his face.

Christine wandered out to the waiting area to inform his minders that he would be joining them and stopped short at what she was.  Stark and her husband were sitting on one of the couches surrounded by a group of boys.  She recognized Mogh, Loki, Jimmy Sanchez and Benny Childress as well as several others.  Sierra also held court and was reveling in several simultaneous belly rubs.

"And I flew right off the halfpipe," Stark was recalling.  "Landed flat on my back with the wind knocked out of me."

"What happened?" one of the boys asked.

"I got up, was checked out, and went back down the run again.  You have to do that.  Show the pipe it can't conquer you."

"S'haile Spock," Silok said, "tell us again how your blood and that of the admiral's son froze in a puddle on the ice!"

"Yeah!"

"Gross, yeah!"

Christine cleared her throat discretely.  "I believe Ellat is ready to return to the camp," she announced.

Ellat appeared in the doorway and was descended upon by his fellow group members.

"Hey Ellat, you're better!  Cool!"

"Look at that shiner!  It's GREEN!"

"Ug-lee!  Man, you look cosmic, Ellat!"

"Mogh got the chefs to make some of his special pizza for dinner!  Let's go, you must be starved!"

"Silok has a great new idea for a your kite, you've gotta see it!"

"Hurry up before the girls eat all the pizza!"

Ellat was caught up in the throng and all but carried out the door, followed the adults and the dog.

"Dr. Beaker and I will look after Ellat tonight, Chris," McCoy said.  "Take the night off.  Doctor's orders."  He and the Troyian physician hurried after the departing pack.

"Christine?"

She turned to see her father-in-law standing there.  "Yes, Ambassador?"

"You did well today, from what I hear.  Perhaps you should consider a career in the diplomatic field?"

"Oh, that." Christine was still uncomfortable about the blatant display of public emotion on Vulcan."

"Sometimes, Christine, logic itself demands an occasional act of illogic."  Sarek gave her an astonishingly similar expression to one her husband used at times of amusement.  "You handled the Troyians the only logical way to do so -- in the manner they would best understand.  I commend you."

There's a first time for everything, Christine thought.

* * *

 

Finally, the day was quiet.  Christine was alone and set about closing down the medical offices.  She figured Spock would be busy handling his worship's homecoming so thought ahead to catching up on some reading in the bath.  Len was right, it was still too early to push herself.

"Doctor?" Spock was standing in the reception area.  "May I buy you dinner?  My father recommended an excellent sushi bar down in the diplomatic compound.  Perhaps an evening to ourselves might be pleasing?"

"Yes, Commander, you may buy me dinner.  I would be delighted."  She took his arm and they headed towards the sports complex exit.

"I was not prepared to convince you so easily," he replied.  "I was fully prepared to offer to make you breakfast as well."

"To make me breakfast?  Or to make me for breakfast?"

His ears flushed that delightful shade of chartreuse right on cue.

She was tired, but not that tired.

* * *

 

Breakfast

 

"Let me out of this bed, Commander."

"I plan to do so, Doctor.  Just not at this particular moment."

"But I'll be late!"

"Most assuredly, you will not.  If you would glance at the chronometer?"

04:50.

"You re-set it, didn't you?"

An eyebrow raised seductively.

"You Vulcan ******* machine!  Wasn't last night enough?!"

"Woman, why must you constantly restate the obvious?  Yes!"  (thrust)  "I re-set the chronometer.  Yes!"  (thrust)  "I am a Vulcan ******* machine!  NO!"  (thrust)  "Last night was not nearly enough.  I intend to send you onto the ice with an extremely satisfied expression on your face."

"Sorry, Commander, my human nature is showing."

Spock flipped onto his back, taking his wife with him, still joined.  He grinned up at her as the dance continued.  "Do not apologize for what you are, my love.  That was who I fell in love with in the first place."

"Is there a Vulcan translation for ******** machine?"

"Perhaps there is, yes."

"Tell me?"

"No."

"Please?"

"I shall consider your request."

"Ohmyblessedlord..."

* * *

 

In a New York State of Mind

 

Frisky.

That was how she feLt. Frisky, wanton, still pulsing with sexual energy.  Damn him.  Not only had Spock set the chronometer alarm early by almost an hour, he'd had a second helping of breakfast in the shower and she barely escaped to the ice in time.  Of course, the sight of him, clad in just a towel, convincing her to stay behind and return to bed for some more sexual frolics had been guilt-inducing seh-lat at its best.

But she refused.  She had to hand over almost all of her protein shake to seal the deal, though.

Not that she was complaining, mind you.  The horrific events of the past few weeks had faded into a sealed loop of memory, and the wonderfully healing, amusing nature of their marriage surged back like early spring rains.  Oh yes, things were almost back to normal again.

So her warmup today had been active.  Jumps, spins, step sequences.  Very little emoting, just using up excess energy.  But now it was time to do a routine, and she started to think about what music to select.

New York.  She was wearing a longsleeved black t shirt Kala had sent her, with both the modern and traditional Manhattan skylines etched across it in vibrant fuchsia.  Christine and Nyota missed their friend terribly.  It seemed the third musketeer's absence inflicted a wound slow to heal, though Kala kept in regular contact with both of them via live subspace, never sparing expense.  Her father could afford it, she said.

It was December now in Manhattan.  Kala's last holovid message showed her skating at the new Rockefeller Center, practicing the steps Christine had painstakingly taught her on the holodeck, looking for all the world like a Klingon version of Holly Golightly.  Maybe next year they could get some leave and head there for a visit.  It had been way too long since she'd been to New York, and there were enough museums and science research institutes to fascinate Spock for a month of Sundays.  Somehow, Christine didn't see him taking as readily to a stroll down Seventh Avenue as he'd taken to the Southwest on their honeymoon.

"Computer.  Cue Prelude and Symphonic Dances -- West Side Story."

If any musical piece could allow her to blow off steam and show the entire range of emotions, from passionate to romantic to angry to sad, this was it.  She thought of Kala one more time and started her routine.  Vulcan be damned, though she really didn't mean that precisely.

* * *

 

As she skated back to the sidelines, Christine noticed the filmmakers Somm and T'Annu doing some interviews at rink's edge.  They were speaking to the hockey coach Valeri Daragan and his wife, Liudmilla, who was here as a figure skating instructor.  Selek and T'Lea were also part of the cast.  A little ways further, their daughter, T'Ann, was interviewing Kanou and T'Mara with another camera crew.  A major documentary was planned about this first sportscamp and the crews had been unobtrusively filming all week, much to the consternation of the intergalactic press corps, who had to make do with a daily briefing and limited access to participants, most particularly, Ellat.

She was just heading back out to the hotel when she heard her name called.

"Dr. Chapel?"

Christine turned to see Selek and T'Lea, the Vulcan champion ice dancers, just behind her.

"Would you not join us for some breakfast here in the sports complex lounge?"

* * *

 

"You skated then, in your youth, Christine?" T'Lea asked as they started in on their pain au chocolates.  She was tiny, as competitive skaters were, but far from delicate, and sparkled with positive, though Vulcanly subdued, energy.  Her look was that of a gamine ingenue, like the princess Audrey Hepburn portrayed in that classic "Roman Holiday."  The couple, however, had been skating for nearly twenty years together, and were just now in their competitive prime.

"I did, T'Lea, yes.  Until I was twelve, then the growth spurt kicked in and that was the end of my competition days," Christine admitted.  They'd immediately agreed to address each other by their first names.

"Ah.  The laws of physics still remain stubbornly unalterable," Selek observed.  He was the grounding wire to T'Lea's ethereal energy, the pair's cornerstone.  Taller, more muscular and much more reserved, but behind the image Christine could see an enthusiasm not dissimilar to that of his partner.

"So our chief engineer constantly reminds us."  Christine started to giggle but quickly forced herself to swallow the humor.  "Excuse me, I apologize."

"Why would you apologize?  We do not find your actions offensive," T'Lea told her reassuringly.  "After all, not only do we train most of the year in Canada, we deal with the expression of emotion daily in our routines."

"Though with the opening of this facility, we may now spend more time training here on Vulcan, and perhaps assist with the grooming of the next generation of skaters," Selek said.  "Does Spock also skate with you on occasion? I have seen him most adeptly refereeing the hockey matches."

"He does," Christine replied.  "Very well too, considering most hockey players refer to figure skaters as 'sissy booters' or similar." Spock had made that remark once.  Only once.  "We are planning to attend the event here on Christmas night that Stark and T'Lara are hosting." An adult skate was planned for the holiday.

"We too shall be there."

"So forgive my curiosity, but how did two Vulcans become champion ice dancers?"

The pair traded a slightly amused glance.  "For that we have our parents to thank.  Both of our families were posted to the Vulcan consulate in Ottawa when were but six.  The concept of winter fascinated us both, and we entreated to be allowed to ice skate.  Once we took our first, faltering steps, it would appear our fate was sealed," Selek began.

"Those who recognized talent soon approached our parents," T'Lea continued.  "And asked that we be allowed to learn the ice dancing discipline, since we were quite suited to this, or so they thought.  Their perception was correct.  We remained in Canada once our families returned to Vulcan, with their blessings, and continued training at a sports center in Quebec, at Montreal, where our abilities were refined over the years.  And we completed our studies as well.  Both of us graduated from the University of Quebec, specializing in sports training.  We hope to coach once we retire."

"And we bonded formally just three years ago," Selek added.  "Although it was logically apparent from the first time we skated together we would not only be competitive partners, but life partners as well."

"You have already made quite a reputation for yourselves," Christine said.  "Even if you were robbed at Polaris."  A reference to the pair's last minute change to their free dance, a sexy new number which had costumes so scandalous the judge's deduction for this may well have cost them the gold.

"What can one do?  It is the nature of our sport to push the competitive and artistic envelopes," T'Lea sighed.  "Even if the wrath of the judges is all that you receive in recognition."  For all the improvements over the centuries, the judging of artistic sports still had its problems.

"We are not unlike the Canadian French pair, Isabel and Paul Duchesnay.  Their first major outing at Calgary was groundbreaking, but they, too, paid a price.  Yet from that eighth place finish they continued forward, refining the perception of the sport." Selek obviously admired the pair greatly.

"They were something else," Christine agreed.  "'Missing' is one of my favorite routines of all time.  Such purity of expression of a controversial theme."

"Ours as well, " T'Lea agreed, a shade more enthusiastically than most Vulcans Christine had met, her own husband notwithstanding.  "We strove to emulate them in much of our work, as well as Torvill and Dean and Rakhamo and Kokko, all more...forward thinking in their skating styles."

"OK, I must ask this, so please excuse my impertinence," Christine began.  "How can you come to terms with the fact that your discipline requires the expression of emotion so openly?  How do Vulcan performers balance this with their nature?  It would seem to be almost impossible.  Do you unplug yourselves once you leave the ice?"

"A logical question, one we are asked on a regular basis," Selek said matter of factly.  "And you are not impertinent, Christine.  You are naturally curious, which is a trait Vulcans also possess."

"The coaches told us early on that to succeed, which we wished to do, this would be a necessary part of our competitive routines.  So we discussed it with our parents.  Both of us were perhaps twelve, an age when competitors make a decision about where their future lies.  We wished to compete on an intergalactic stage so knew that there would be issues to overcome."  T'Lea paused.  "And we asked to visit the holy ones at Gol for their counsel."

Christine's face registered surprise.  "Gol?  Is that not for the purging of emotions altogether?  The way of Kolinahr?"  She shivered a bit involuntarily.  Spock had very nearly completed the training.  Had he done so, this scenario would not be taking place.  As illogical as it seemed, she thanked his ancestors for the interruption of his pursuit, feeling they would understand.  And as a second thought, she thanked her own personal saint, Jude, the patron of lost causes, for helping out as well when all seemed surely lost.

"It is," Selek admitted.  "But not always.  The masters met with us and we spoke openly of the fact that to do what we wished meant at least an outward appearance of impropriety.  This concerned us, but the holy ones reassured us.  They stated that father Surak taught the control of one's emotions in favor of logic, but not the obliteration of it altogether.  A performer in any discipline, be it sport, the arts, or even a diplomat, must on occasion show what we are taught not to.  But within the correct parameters, it is entirely logical to do so.  Vulcan has a long, storied tradition of dance, music and drama, so this concept was not so difficult to apply to sport.  After all, sport is a logical channeling of one's energy for a healthful result."

This sounded almost like the logical illogic of pon farr, Christine thought, then wondered about the pair.  They had no children yet, but still they were bonded.  Was it possible that...?

"IDIC embraces the entire range of our people, Christine," T'Lea took up the discussion.  "There are those who seek Kolinahr, who follow father Surak's teachings strictly.  And then there are the Starks of our people, the other end of the spectrum.  IDIC teaches us to accept all of the diversity.  You will meet many types of Vulcans during your visits here.  Do not be surprised at those you may encounter.  Perhaps you have only known the more strict adherents of our philosophy.  There are infinite other personalities among our people.  After all, if we wished to be completely free of emotion, we would have cloned the suitable emotionless few many eons ago and reproduced our race in vitro, without the need for marriage."

"And that would not only be illogical, it would be horrifically boring," Selek finished.

"Most interesting," Christine said.  "But what of the children?  I know that at an early age a Vulcan child is taught the way of your people.  How then can someone like Silok, who felt remorse and sadness at injuring Ellat, not feel he has transgressed what he has learned?  Or T'Mara, who tells me she wants to either be a ballerina or a figure skater.  She is exceptionally talented and would excel in either discipline, but to be at the peak of her art, she also must emote during her performances."

"We have already spent time with both of those youngsters," T'Lea replied.  "When a Vulcan child has an issue with their sport and their emotion, your husband generally brings them to us so we may discuss the matter logically.  After all, we have been experiencing this for nearly twenty years.  But Vulcan children are taught these things first by their parents, so, once again, the diversity of our people ensures the next generation continues the diversity, logically.  Do not concern yourself about the two children you mentioned.  They now understand their unique position, though at first, naturally, it troubled them."

Christine thought of the little Vulcan boy she'd met on their honeymoon, who was being raised on the Martian colonies.  How he'd tried to play peeky boo with her but she at first refused, fearing she'd offend his parents.  And how he -- and his sister -- had been so genuinely animated at the pprospect of a trip to Disneyland that he'd laughed and said "Micka Mousa!"  She'd honestly thought he would be punished in private by his mother and father, or at least sternly reprimanded for his behavior, though he was only two.  Now, at last, she realized that perhaps this was not the case.

"And speaking of emotion, Christine, we must now 'pick your brain' a bit." Selek's voice brought her back to the present.  "As you know, the sportsfest in Lake Tahoe also marks a very special commemoration.  It will be two hundred of your years since the first world figure skating championship was officially held after the devastation your planet suffered in its World War III.  And this happened at the place you call Squaw Valley, which is in the Lake Tahoe region."

"Has it been that long?" Christine recalled the date.  Yes, in 2076, the first ragtag group of international figure skaters assembled in northern California to celebrate the survival of their sport.  Though more of an exhibition than an actual competition, it was a watershed for the discipline, which had not looked back since.

"Do you recall the routine done by Zheng An and Giles Martin?  To the Belinda Carlisle song, 'Summer Rain'? "

"Of course, T'Lea.  It's a landmark.  Stunning, eloquent, moving, yet all done wordlessly on the ice."

The two ice dancers, a Chinese woman and a British man, had lost their partners of many years in the last days of the war.  They somehow connected with each other as the planet was starting to rebuild and began skating together, first on the frozen ponds of North America, where both were trying to start their lives anew.  Once the ice rinks were operational again they settled in San Francisco and decided to appear at Squaw Valley, now as husband and wife.

Their routine was disturbingly beautiful.  The song told a story of two lovers saying goodbye in the summer rain as a military train approached, so they began skating as a couple in love, dressed in the tattered remnants of each of their respective nation's militia.  When the song stated the man waved farewell from the train, Martin left the ice and allowed Zheng to skate a solo during which it was learned the woman's beloved had been killed.  Then he returned to shadow his partner's movements but never made contact with her.  In the last part of the number, Zheng pulled out a worn photo and skated her straight line steps while gazing sorrowfully at the image, then fell to the ice, her hand over her heart, weeping.  Her partner dropped to his knees and reached a hand out to touch her ... almost.  Although there were no awards, their performance went down in the history of the sport ... and of the planet.  The inanity and the terrible cost of war could not have been pictured more clearly.

"We would like to re-visit this routine," Selek said.  "Perhaps done with different costumes, a different theme."

"I was thinking of representing the death of the people, and Selek would be the futility of war," T'Lea outlined.  "Even though some wars brought eventual good, there is always a horrific price to pay.  But the records of that time are still very lacking.  Do you perhaps know of some holo books or vids that might tell a more complete tale, from the survivor's point of view?  We wish to study this in depth that we may create as realistic a story as possible."

"I'll have access to the ship's records in a day or so.  I can easily run a search and get you some materials.  Your idea intrigues me,of course.  And I look forward to seeing you perform this on the ice." Christine let a smile grace her features.

"And we must also offer our most heartfelt thanks," Selek said.

"For what?"

"Our names were also on that list," T'Lea replied softly.  "But for the bravery of you and Spock, who knows where we all would be? Our routine will likewise pay tribute to that day and make its own ... social comment, however subtle."

"As the best skaters always do," Christine told the couple honestly.  "And I appreciate your thoughts ... and your gratitude."

At that, the group realized another day's activities were about to begin and finished their meeting.  As Christine walked back to the sports complex to start her medical day, she realized that perhaps she was only beginning to see the true picture of Vulcan and its unique people.

And that pleased her very much.

* * *

 

"They certainly whacked you a good one," Christine remarked as she ran the healing device over the greenish bruise decorating her husband's ribcage.  "And you say two kids did this to you?"

Spock gave a long suffering sigh, something he often did when he was alone with his personal physician.  "I did not see the second youth, who managed to ambush me with his hockey stick.  Of course, I was not the intended recipient of his wrath.  That would have been the youth I had already managed to subdue, fortunately before he bit me."

Old prejudices seemed to die hard at times.  A fight had broken out between an Andorian and a Tellarite during a hockey match.  Insults led to a headbutting, which led to Spock getting caught in the middle of things.  Fortunately, coach Daragan had quickly brought order, with a blast of the miniature but powerful airhorn he wore around his neck.

Christine continued the healing treatment but her eyes were feasting on the sight of her husband without a shirt, something she enjoyed any time it was presented.  It was lucky the bruising wasn't serious.  Had it been an actual IGHL brawl, all the participants would have been in much worse shape.  Energy was at an all time high, it seemed.  She was glad the camp would break after lunch the next day, Christmas Eve, for a holiday mini vacation, although a wide variety of events were planned for the participants.  The Enterprise was due in tomorrow afternoon as well.  She and Spock would be spending their free time with Sarek and Amanda at their home.

"So ... what happened to culprits?" she asked.  The two youngsters had already been seen to, then escorted by Stark himself out of the medical facility.

"Before they were brought here, Stark, coach Daragan and myself lectured the youths about the usual things.  Coach Daragan was particularly colorful in his anecdote.  He told them that a scant three centuries before, his ancestors grew up thinking Americans had two heads and razor blades for teeth, but now the two nations were cooperative, friendly partners in many things.  And if that could happen, then these two also needed to forget ancient differences which were nearly as old."

Christine laughed.  "In the old days, Americans thought Russians had two heads and razor blades for teeth too," she sighed, remembering her cultural anthropology studies.  "Where was Stark taking them?"

"Stark and the coach mentioned that in the IGHL, the players would have to pay a stiff fine, 5,000 credits apiece.  At this, the youths became apprehensive because they realized they did not have access to such funds.  So in lieu of monetary punishment, they must spend the remainder of the afternoon session in the penalty box.  And then they shall work off those hours assisting with the cleaning of the Zamboni over the next week."

"Yuck."  Christine made a face.  The piles of dirty, icy ick were not anyone's favorite topic of conversation.  "A very just punishment, I think.  Now roll over, let me get your back."

"Uh, Chris?"

Both looked up to see Leonard McCoy standing in the doorway.  He'd been visiting for a lunchtime check up of Ellat, who showed no ill effects from his recent fall, then stayed to help patch up the brawlers.

"Hi, Len, what's up?"

"Special delivery out here, you'd better come see."

"NOW what?" Christine hrrmphed as she handed over her husband's care to her boss, then headed into the reception area with only the slightest of stomps.

Spock gave a good naturedly wary look at the CMO.  "May I remind you, Doctor," he began.

"I'd cover those ears if I were you, Spock," McCoy remarked.

"Why should I cover my--"

"KALAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

"CHRISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!"

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE????????"

By the time Spock and McCoy got into the reception area, a happy reunion was well under way between T'Lara, Kala and Christine.  Spock, who had been thinking about an amorous early start to the Christmas break that night, felt his heart sink when he heard the conversation.

"And of course we'll have to go out tonight," Kala said.  "Once Greg shows up, we won't have another chance like this."

"T'Jen can arrange an activity," T'Lara replied, "and I am certain Jennifer would be pleased to accompany us too."

"Hey, Spock!" Kala looked over at her friend's husband and gave a friendly wave.

"Kala, it is good to see you.  Though somewhat of a surprise, I admit.  What brings you to Vulcan?"

"That is Stark's and my doing, I fear," T'Lara explained.  "Kala did some wonderful activewear designs which incorporated Vulcan traditional ornamentation.  She is here to assist us with the final sample production phase before the line is launched in the spring."

"And, of course, the Enterprise being here," Kala added.  "Greg has no idea.  I told him I'd talk with him on Christmas Eve, but he sure doesn't suspect this.  Of course he'll be very happy, considering."

"Considering?  Considering what?" Christine replied.

"Well, my father's joining me on the 30th.  We leave New Year's Day ... for a three week trip to Qo'noS.  Dad has to check up on the family business, you know, he does it on a regular basis but this is the first time I'm going along.  Ambassador Kl'o'rox arranged our passage, he and my father are old friends.  When I told Greg, he about lost it."

Spock now knew enough slang to realize Lt. Dillon had not misplaced anything.  "I see," he said evenly."Perhaps he fears you shall be ... pursued by some fine Klingon men and he might fall from favor in your heart?"

Kala's own eyebrow raised.  Spock, a sense of humor?

* * *

 

"Hey Spock, I hear you've been dumped too," Stark said as he caught up with the older Vulcan at the end of the day's sporting sessions.

"Indeed, Stark, as I surmise several of our gender might soon realize.  "  He glanced at the champion with a sympathetic eye.  "It happens, I fear.  The dreaded Girls Night Out."

"Yeah, but when that group gets together, look out.  Kala's an evil influence." Stark gave a grin.

"Be glad Nyota Uhura is not with them, else we might not see the ladies again until next year." Spock knew what he was talking about.  The morning, yes morning, after Kala's farewell ladies' night, Christine had staggered in, barefoot, exhausted and horribly hungover from a night of drinking, dancing and who knew what else.  She slept the entire weekend with Spock playing nursemaid, which he didn't really mind.  But still...he wondered exactly what the three of them had gotten up to on the starbase they'd been visiting.  He'd long ago learned she could drink just about anyone under the table, then dance on said table while singing an aria from "Carmen".

"Well, the other guys are meeting up at my office for some pizza, beer and a few hands of poker.  Nothing too wild, we all have to get up early, but what the heck? Otherwise we'll just sit around doing nothing.  You up for that?"

"Indeed, Stark, that sounds like a pleasant evening, I shall see you then."

* * *

 

"Ladies." T'Jen began dealing the cards.  "Welcome to our private suite.  One of the perks of managing this fine hotel."

"Thank you for having us," Christine replied as she eyed her hand.  "Of course, the men probably think we've run off to Delta's Dawn."

"Or the spa," Kala laughed.

"So, tell us about your trip!" Jennifer said to Kala.  "Are you excited?  You've never been to your father's homeworld before?"

"No, Daddy always went by himself.  It's easier, though he has dual citizenship thanks to being married to Mom.  Our clan's been a Tuq of Mech, merchants, for centuries.  Despite all the military bravado, Klingons aren't totally self sufficient and must trade with other worlds, just like any other race.  My dad's clan, they realized that a long time ago and we're sitting quite prettily because of it."

"Do you think Greg will propose before you go?" Christine asked.  "He's applied for a transfer to the Fleet maintenance yards in New York, which made Spock's eyebrow raise.  'I gather the young man is quite serious, then,' were his exact words."

"Young! Bless Spock's heart.  This is Greg's second tour, remember, he was on the Yorktown for his first.  He's 30 to my 25."  Kala gave a wink as she tossed three more chips into the pot and had a sip of her chech'tluth.  "And yes, I think he might pop the question.  Greg says after this tour, it's time to look into the private sector, doing engineering work for one of the big commercial ship builders.  Of course, he insists has to ask my father first, you know.  AND my grandmother is supposed to say I'm eligible to take a mate first. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

"The Klin society is matriarchal, then, as ours?" T'Lara asked thoughtfully, eying her hand with a perfectly emotionless face.  "That would be logical, from what K'a'tya mentioned on their visit last summer."

"I think so," Kala replied.  "I know my mother had to be tested by grandmother before she allowed her and my father to take The Oath.  Thank goodness they'd already been married on Celeba in a Federation ceremony.  Mom says she's tough but underneath it all, she's very family oriented, a real sweetheart.  Of course, I should have met her at 15 to be given my jinaq, which is a necklace an unmarried maid wears to show she's now eligible to ... be pursued with a view to marriage."

"Better late than never," Jennifer agreed as she took another card.  "So, ladies, what do you suppose our better halves are up to this evening?"

"Smoking cigars and watching a dirty vid?" T'Jen asked.  "I am not serious, you realize." The young woman's years on Terra showed now and then, in a pleasant way.

"That is not so far from the truth," T'Lara said a bit darkly.  "Stark and Sean both tried cigars after a recent championship match." She wrinkled her prim little Vulcan nose in obvious distaste.

"Oh?" Kala asked, realizing her hand wasn't as good as she thought.  "What did you do?"

"I took Sierra for a walk and left a large bottle of the disinfectant called Pine-Sol on Stark's pillow.  Jennifer did the same to Sean.  Suffice it to say, cigars have not been seen anywhere remotely near either of them since."

"Then there's the dirty vids.  Well, not exactly dirty..." Jennifer took up the saga and swigged her own chech' tluth as she shook her head.  "Why cockroaches, termites and horrid old Terran TV shows had to survive all the devastation is beyond me.  Some fool recently started marketing this repugnant series on holodisc called 'The Man Show.' Tacky chauvinistic humor at its best, late 20Th century style."

"They both adore it, naturally," T'Lara sighed.

"Naturally," Christine agreed, knowing Spock had a raunchy side too.  It was rarely seen, but oh brother, it could get nasty.  She laid her hand on the table face down.

"She's bluffing," T'Jen suggested, looking at her own four queens.

"I don't think so," Kala said.  "I fold.  Chris has that look.  Trust me."

"Aces rule?" Jennifer suggested.  She showed her hand with an eye to the growing pot.

"Too rich for me." T'Lara folded.

"Royal flush," Christine announced with a satisfied grin.  "One more hand?"

"What time is it?" T'Jen asked.

"21:30," Kala said.  "One more, then I'm out.  Warp lag."

"And you're skating with me in the morning, 06:00," Christine reminded her.  "So we all need out beauty sleep."

The rest of the group quickly agreed on an early night.

"Aren't we a bunch of thrill seekers," Jennifer laughed.  "Old boring married women, or almost married women, the lot of us."

"I shall drink to that," T'Lara said.  "Ladies?"

* * *

 

"So," Sean asked as he took another slice of pizza.  "Do you think they went to Delta's Dawn?"

"Could be, it's ladies' night," Stark replied, frowning slightly at the rapid depletion of chips plaguing him.

"C'mon, Stark, you must have been there.  What goes on at that club?" Sean continued to pepper his friend.

"I've never been, to be honest.  It's pretty tame, from what folks say.  We've seen worse on Terra.  Of course, that was in our bachelor days."

Sean was not through.  "No naked Orion strippers? I heard they did lap dances and everything!"

"No, not in Shi-Kahr, although many are to be found at the Cheetah Club in Las Vegas," S'Rob said as he took two more cards.  He looked up at the amused glances regarding him.  "Of course, while I was at culinary school there, I heard about the establishment from my classmates."

"Sure you did," Stark laughed.  "Don't worry, man, your secret's safe with us."

Spock recalled the Orion archaeologist they'd met in Monument Valley on their honeymoon, then allowed himself the luxury of remembering quite another Orion woman years before...

*Ahem.*

With that he quickly shuffled his hand around and concentrated on the match.  Christine's psi ability meant their link was very strong indeed.

* * *

 

Christine was surprised to find Spock propped up in bed reading a PADD when she got back.  It was 22:30.  Some wild night they both didn't have.  Oh well, it would be morning soon enough.

"Hi," she said as she plonked down next to him.  "I missed you."

"And you," he replied, drawing her close.  "But I surmise we both had an enjoyable evening nonetheless?"

"I guess.  I won sixty credits and donated it to Stark's scholarship fund."

"That was most notable.  I lost twenty credits but learned some ... fascinating things."

Christine recalled the memory he'd found fascinating with a hrrmph.  She reached over for the vidmonitor remote and cued a program.  A moment later, the 2076 World Figure Skating Championships appeared on screen.

"What are you watching?" He made them more comfortable for viewing purposes.

"Just an old history lesson of sorts.  Sometimes it's good to take a look back, just so you can see how far you've really come."

"I would agree with that," Spock replied as he gave his wife a kiss.

* * *

 

I'll be Home for...?

 

"Kala, this is beautiful!" Christine gazed at her image in the locker room mirror.  "But my gosh, it shows everything! What if Spock were out there this morning?"

"Chris, it does not show anything except your left arm and shoulder." Kala adjusted the back zipper of the lycra all in one her friend wore.  "And it has a skirt as well, so there's nothing immodest.  Do you like it? I did the fabric design especially for you, after all those wonderful ocean holos you showed me from your honeymoon.  I call it 'Pictures of the Sea'."

The skating costume was a sleek one piece catsuit, except that the neckline cut diagonally across the top, leaving one arm without a sleeve.  Further down at the waist, a flippy little skirt was attached, also cut diagonally, headed in the opposite direction.  The overall effect was attention-getting, enhanced by the color choices.  The fabric was a deep azure blue, silk screened with images of whitecaps and various forms of marine life, and the fit was perfect, modestly so with the supportive lining throughout the upper body.

"You are sooooo talented, Kala.  No wonder T'Lara has you on board to launch that women's activewear line.  Vulcan bathing suits, though.  That'll be a first!" Christine twirled again, watching the little flounce swirl just right.

"We saw plenty of Vulcan women swimming at Kwil'nor, and the stuff they wore was just sad.  So why not? Besides, it's just not Vulcan bathing suits.  In K'a'tya's last holo from Qo'noS, she says at least twenty of her relatives and friends are lined up for a copy of the bathing suit I made for her! On a world with hardly any water.  Can you believe it?"

"Women are women everywhere, we know that.  And speaking of Klingon activewear, I love your outfit too.  Are those typical designs there?" She pointed to the unusual gold and bronze markings that snaked across her friend's own red and black catsuit.  The cut was the same, though without the bare arm, and Kala's flounce started at a center point on her waist and gracefully draped behind her.

"Uh huh, Daddy and I looked through his art holos.  This whole concept dates from about 500 years ago, a warrior woman's ceremonial wear."

"A knockout.  Let's get on the ice.  You ready to show me how much you've improved?"

"Aye, coach!" Kala saluted, then stopped for a moment, serious.  "Chris, I know what happened.  And no, Nyota didn't blab.  My father heard through the appropriate diplomatic channels, and the lid's still down on the news.  He was very upset, trust me, and when he sat me down, for the first time in my life, I was grateful I got my mom's genetic makeup.  I cried and cried.  But then I saw you yesterday, and the way that husband of yours watches your every move, and I knew things were on the mend."

Christine looked at Kala and realized how lucky she and Nyota were to have such a good friend, even if she was far away in New York now.  She gave Kala a bone crushing hug.  "Qa'thlo," she whispered.  "I promise we'll stay safe, if only to see Greg make an honest woman of you!"

"Please," Kala laughed as the mood lightened.  "How is his mother going to test me? Have me catch, gut and cook a fish?"

"Better watch that old film, 'Giant', my friend," Christine snickered as they headed off to the ice.

* * *

 

"Good morning, ladies," Christine said to her usual audience.  Kanou and T'Mara had begun showing up earlier, to see the last part of Selek and T'Lea's workout, then stayed for her own.  When did they get any sleep, Christine wondered, remembering her own energetic youth.

The girls turned towards her voice.  Kanou's face registered unabashed shock of the pleasant kind.

"This is my friend, Miss Kala.  She lives in New York City on Terra, but used to be on my ship," Christine continued.  "She is visiting Vulcan this week."

"New York? Yes, the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theater and the Dance Theater of Harlem," T'Mara replied succinctly.  "I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Kala." She had obviously applied herself to the study of ballet very thoroughly.

"You are Klin!" Kanou finally said, then was even more shocked when Kala sat down next to her and pulled out her skates to unlace them.  "And you skate?"

"I am Klin, yes, on my father's side.  And I do skate, but only for fun.  Dr. Chapel taught me how, right on the ship's holodeck." Kala was aware of the young woman's gaze.  In particular, she seemed to be fascinated with her Soho-trendy haircut.  Most Klingon women, from what Kala knew, wore their hair long, but hers was a stubborn mix of her father's waves and her mother's baby fine texture, so she now sported a short layered style instead.

"From what tuq do you come?" Kanou asked, now looking at the familiar patterns on Kala's outfit, almost not willing to believe a Klin woman could be quite so chic.

"My tuq is a tuq of mech, the house of Koth."

"Koth? My grandfather knows this house well! It is how the hockey team obtains many of its supplies.  I am honored to meet you!" Kanou was now smiling ear to ear.

"And I you, Kanou.  Shall we talk some more, maybe at breakfast?" Kala stood up and prepared to hit the ice with her friend.  As she left the girls behind, she could hear the Klingon saying to the Vulcan, "Hers is a merchant house, esteemed traders.  But for her family, I would not have my skates."

* * *

 

"Simon Says?" Christine asked after they'd finished warming up.

"You're on."

"Computer, cue The Cars, 'All I Can Do.'" She turned to Kala.  "You've been practicing?"

"Absolutely, with my earphones.  I got some mighty funny looks at Rockefeller Center, I can tell you.  Even from my mom."

The Simon Says routine was one Christine devised early on, once Kala's feet got over the shock of this new activity.  The Cars song had a bouncy cadence and was timed well so that during the main verses, one skater could skate a sequence, stop, and wait for the other to repeat the moves, one measure later, like a delayed mirror image.  During the chorus, both skated in tandem, whether it was in a line series, spins, or the occasional crashed out jump.  It proved a good way to learn both the sport's fundamentals and its intricacies of rhythm.

Kala wasn't lying, she had been practicing, Christine thought, though both of them botched a toe loop and crashed onto the ice, laughing.  They pulled each other up and kept right on going.  At that moment, Christine felt a familiar tickle of presence and sneaked a glance at the sidelines.  Oh no.  There he stood, in all his Vulcan glory, having a conversation with coach Daragan.  But his eyes were only for her.

*E'tum.*

*Flattery will get you everywhere.*

*Perhaps into your...*

*SPOCK!*

The song ended and the two skaters were discussing style points on center ice when an unusual but not entirely unfamiliar sound got everyone's attention.

"RARF!"

"It's Sierra!" Kala said, then waved over at the canine, who clearly remembered her Klingon friend from the previous summer.  "Hi, girl!"

Sierra, who was accompanied by her master and mistress, needed no more encouragement.  She took off like a phaser blast and loped onto the ice.  Her canine features clearly registered dismay as she lost her footing and faltered onto her belly, legs akimbo, and skidded around in a helpless circle.  Kala and Christine dropped to their knees and helped the dog get up, then succumbed to a flurry of canine kisses.

"Sierra, you crazy dog!" Stark hurried after his pet, laughing.  "She always does this, hasn't quite mastered the sport yet." He gave Kala a hug.  "Good to see you, kiddo, though I hear you and I lost big at poker yesterday."

"With a team like Chris and Spock, no one's credits are safe," Kala replied as they watched Stark slip a leash onto Sierra's collar.  They carefully began walking back to the barrier, with Sierra cautiously giving a sniff to the cold beneath her paws.

"Maybe we should make skates for her," Christine ventured.

"Maybe, but for now, we have an ice sled that we drag her around on.  She loves being the center of attention, as you can see." Stark nodded at the two little girls who were now shaking hands with the Alsatian.

"So what brings you two here so bright and early?" Christine accepted a two fingered embrace from her husband graciously, while giving the libidinous Vulcan a mental thwack across his glutes.

*SHAME on you, in front of children!*

*How does one obtain children in the first place, if not with such thoughts?*

*Hrrmph.*

"We're here to make certain Schmelling and Louis over there are fulfilling the terms of their agreement," Stark said as he pointed to the Zamboni, which coach Daragan and Spock were now inspecting.  The brawlers from yesterday had just given it a thorough spit and polish wax job.

"Harasho, harasho," the coach was saying as he escorted the pair of youngsters back to Stark and T'Lara.  "Now you must clean out the waste ice in a few moments, and I shall then see you at practice after breakfast."

"Yes sir," both boys said, somewhat reluctantly.  Then they noticed the dog.

"Sierra!" The Andorian stuck out his hand to the canine, who placed her paw neatly in his grasp.

"Hi, Sierra!" The Tellarite began stroking her head.

"Stark, may I take Sierra for her morning walk?"

"Please? May I walk with her? I have a pet on my homeworld, and I miss it."

"I also have a pet.  Please?"

The two boys stopped for a moment and regarded each other.

"You have a pet?" the Tellarite finally asked.

"Of course.  And you?" The Andorian was also curious.

"Let's all go for a walk," Stark suggested, wondering if he might not change his major to child psychology.  "Sierra and I can use the exercise, and you can tell me about your pets, OK?"

"Maybe he should be a diplomat some day," T'Lara remarked as the little group took off.

"Perhaps, yes," Spock replied thoughtfully.

* * *

 

"There's a mandatory half hour of various exercises every afternoon, after the last sports session," Christine was saying to Kala as she prepared to close up shop till December 26th.  T'Safa and Dr. Randall would be on duty, just in case.  "Spock and I did some yoga the other day, and T'Lara's showed us the basic Kolinahr moves.  There's been tai chi and capoeira and aikido, demonstrated by various participants, all to teach discipline of mind and body."

"But no mok'bara?" Kala helped herself to some jelly beans.

"Nope, for some reason, Mogh and Loki haven't wanted to do this.  I think they're shy."

"Shy? THOSE two?"

"Shy as in Kanou," Christine told her friend.  "She's oblivious to the male species, but they're just a little older.  The Klingon cupid has struck our young knights, I fear."

Kala laughed, remembering the Klingon Defense Corps cadet who pursued her unsuccessfully years ago.  "And you say she knows the sequences?"

Christine nodded.  "T'Lara always spends some extra time with them before bedtime every night, though they're having such a great adventure together, it's largely out of curiosity by now.  One night T'Mara was showing Kanou some basic ballet moves, to help her posture on the ice.  Well, wouldn't you know, the next night, Kanou was instructing her roommate in mok'bara, apparently very well too.  They both meditate before bed, according to T'Lara.  Can you believe that?"

"I sure can.  Klingons also meditate, though maybe not the same way Vulcans or Terrans do.  Helps concentration.  But look, I know mok'bara, men and women both learn it at an early age.  How about Kanou and I take one of the sessions once the camp's back in session?" Kala gracefully demonstrated the ancient Klingon martial art.

"Sounds great, let's ask Stark tomorrow at the embassy party."

"Dr. Chapel?" a young voice asked timidly.

"Well hello, Ginny," Christine replied, holding out the jelly bean jar.  "How's that case of homesickness?"

The tiny skater, only just seven and a native of Arizona, took a handful with a smile.  "It's almost gone, thank you.  But, well, I was wondering.  Could Santa find me on Vulcan if I hung a stocking on my door? I brought one, even though mama says he'll be leaving me presents back in Tuscon while I'm here."

"Why sure," Kala said.  "I live in New York now, but Santa found me on Celeba Colony AND on the Enterprise as well.  He's very good that way."

Ginny looked at the Klingon woman curiously.  "You believe in Santa?" she asked.

"My mom told me about him when I was old enough to talk, so of course I do.  She's from New York.  We don't have Santa on my dad's homeworld, but Klingon children have some special legends they know about, too."

"From what I hear Santa may be making a surprise visit to the big party tomorrow, now that he has that rocket sled of his," Christine added.  "So I'd be hanging a stocking if I was you!"

"Cosmic!" the girl said, using the phrase that was Stark's personal favorite.

"Better tell Stark," Kala remarked after Ginny had left.

"He'll love this! Maybe she can teach the other children how to make a stocking at arts and crafts tonight." Christine looked at the chronometer.  "We'd best get to where Amanda's meeting us.  What time are you contacting the ship?"

"About an hour after she docks.  It's all arranged, even Jim and Scotty are in on it.  Everyone knows I'm here except Greg, according to Ny.  He's been too busy making luminarias and checking on the tamales for tonight, but when he's got a free minute he's asking everyone what he should do.  I think Spock had a really good idea of what that man's thinking."

"Men.  So predictable."

"Amen to that."

* * *

 

"Another half hour and the loaves will be done," Christine told Amanda as she sat down at the kitchen table.  She held up her mug of hot chocolate.  "Thanks for getting me the eggnog and cranberries and walnuts."

Amanda clinked her mug with her daughter in law.  "When you told me all those months ago you'd be here, I ordered it especially.  It sounds heavenly, so I'm glad you made an extra few.  You know how they can be."

"What are those two up to, anyway?" They'd come home from an afternoon of lunch and shopping at the bazaar with Kala to find a mysterious note on the kitchen PADD.  "At Skrav's."

"Skrav is building a new fountain, one that recirculates water and spills it down a wall.  Sarek's been helping over the weeks, but Spock's a real DIY type at heart and probably couldn't wait to put in his two cent's worth."

This was not news to Christine, who knew her husband's proclivity to tinker with things whether or not they needed tinkering with.  "What will they do without us tonight?"

"Who cares?" Amanda said with a laugh.  "Let them sit around and wonder what we're up to.  The last thing I want is Sarek following me around wanting to know what I'm eating or drinking.  So this party must be a big thing, from what you say?"

"More than you could imagine," Christine sighed.  "They start planning it in February.  And everyone contributes to the food and drink, poor Cookie goes nuts from about October on with all the would-be chefs in his galley.  Then he has to store everything in stasis till December."

"And this eggnog bread of yours, that's such a hit?" The baking loaves were starting to send a nice aroma through the kitchen.

"I had no idea, but apparently so.  I hadn't been back on the ship a day last year when someone knocked on my door and said, 'OK, we'll put you down for three loves, all right?' Even after all those months, they still remembered." Christine paused with a smile.  "You'll see, taste and drink it all tonight, believe me.  Everyone goes."

"Everyone?" Amanda asked evilly.

"Not on the first five year mission, of course not.  Mr. Vulcaner than thou stayed in his cabin every year bemoaning the illogic of such a festive event.  Until Jim actually ordered him to attend, the year it was the last party of the mission.  Well, old grumble guts showed up all right with this pious expression on his face.  He stayed precisely twenty minutes, then left." Christine shook her head in amazement.  "Tell me, Amanda, how did I end up married to that?"

The older woman gave her hand a squeeze.  "I don't know, Christine, but we're all glad you did.  Especially Spock."

Christine's communicator beeped.

"Chapel here.  Hey Ny!" Christine looked at the chronometer, as if gaging something.  "Really? Right there on the platform? How long after she beamed aboard?"

She and Amanda traded glances.  "That fast? Someone must have won big in the pool.  Riley, I bet.  What did she say? Good girl! But what about him? Doesn't he want to ask her father first?" A laugh escaped her.  "That's terrific.  Yeah, we're both coming, and tell Lt. Villagarosa I said 'si.' We'll beam aboard around 20:00, that'll give us all plenty of time to get ready.  Oh and tell Cookie I'm bringing an extra loaf of my bread just for him.  See you and Ade under the tiki torches!"

"Tiki torches?" Amanda asked.  "Isn't this a Christmas party?"

"Too difficult to explain.  You'll see." Christine got up to check on her creation.  "By the way, Greg proposed and Kala said yes.  Right there in the transporter room.  After they revived him, I gather."

"That will be a double reason to celebrate this evening.  It was nice of Jim to invite us.  So it's just gone 18:00, we should start getting ready soon, no?"

"Getting ready?" Sarek's voice interrupted.

"Are you going somewhere?" Spock added.

"Er." Christine began rather ungraciously.  Damn those Vulcans and their stealth.  Father and son were lounging idly against the cupboards.

"Yes, we are," Amanda said airily.

"I would speculate to the holiday celebration on board the Enterprise."  Spock looked over at his wife with his version of a smirk.

"Ah, very good, what time are we expected?" Sarek asked innocently.

Christine snapped her head around so fast Spock worried about his wife's neck.

Amanda got there first. "I don't believe you were invited, Sarek," she coyly remarked.

"Nonsense, my son is an officer on board, he invited me.  So, Aduna, what time are we leaving? We must get changed."

"Time out." Christine regained her composure.  "Do you know what goes on at this event? You might not want to attend, you know."

"Why no, Christine.  Will you not tell me?" Sarek's expression was placid enough, but his daughter in law knew the family look.  Something was cooking in addition to the eggnog bread.

"I'm sure Spock could elaborate," she replied smoothly.  Take that, she thought, you sneaky weasel.

"It is ... a party." Spock was maddeningly brief in his description as he looked back at her.

"Oh? Christine, what kind of party?" Sarek was clearly getting a Vulcan kick out of this.

"An outrageously blatant show of emotionalism by all who attend, based on ancient Terran traditions.  Overeating, drunkenness, shameless revelry, dancing, singing, all the usual things.  'The very flower of humanity' if I recall one description." Spock's description.

But Spock caught the bait easily.  "There is always a poker game going, and several fights usually break out.  Too much alcohol is consumed by many, with amusing consequences.  Of course, it is the one night of the year when the entire crew is forcibly given an antitox shot by the medical staff, regardless of whether or not they drink at all.  The celebration goes on until the last participant crawls back to their quarters, or passes out in the shuttle bay."

*Whose side are you ON? And how do you know this? You never went to one.*

*Oh yes I did, Th'yla, but you were so busy bartending last year that you never noticed me.*

*TRAITOR!* She thought he'd been there, then asked herself why.  Now she knew.

"It sounds exactly as my son described it, Christine, a fine evening indeed.  Now, what time will we assemble?"

"Not so fast." Amanda now spoke.  "If you two insist on attending, there have to be some rules."

"Rules?" Spock asked a bit hollowly.

"Yes, Amanda, that's right.  Let's see." Christine tapped her chin with her finger.  "No judgmental looks or comments, either verbal or otherwise.  Not one utterance of 'illogical.' No overimbibing, and that means food OR drink, or gambling for that matter.  I'm not spending my Christmas day babysitting sick Vulcans."

"And don't follow us around the whole night, either, asking for explanations, Sarek.  You always say how intelligent your son is.  Ask him for a change." Amanda added.

Sarek and his son looked at each other.  Clearly, the females had the upper hand in the household.  But perhaps, Sarek mused, this was not so bad a thing.

"Very well, ladies.  We promise to behave accordingly.  What time shall we depart?"

* * *

 

The Enterprise annual winter holiday party had begun out of necessity.  The first year of the mission, in addition to the usual occurrence of Christmas, Kwanzaa and Solstice in the same week, Hanukkah and the end of Ramadan also managed to fall within that same time period.  Rather than have several celebrations, it was decided to have one large multicultural bash in the mess hall on Terran Christmas Eve, with the captain giving a nondenominational speech of blessing at midnight.

The festivities proved so popular that other social groups soon clamored to participate, regardless of the moon's phases.  After the initial success, it was decided to move the celebration to the shuttle deck, the only place able to accommodate the entire crew.  By now, well into the second mission, dozens of cultural organizations set up tables, inviting participants to sample food, drink and their own special camaraderie.  Obscure holidays from millenia past were resurrected and given a place of honor side by side with the old standbys normally associated with the Terran winter.  Talent, fiercely auditioned for over many months, was showcased on a stage at the deck's far end, everything from the Celtic Engineers to a rousing klezmer band.  Several customs were observed throughout the ship on Christmas Eve, despite (or perhaps because of?) the crew's unique diversity.

"You don't HAVE to do this," Christine said to her husband as they waited by the door to their cabin.  "Your mother said she'd accompany me."

"You are my wife, Th'yla," Spock replied as he adjusted her borrowed black lace mantilla and admired her colorful Christmas themed sweater.  "It is my pleasure to abide by your custom.

"Well, it's not precisely my custom," she remarked as the door chime sounded.

The doors whooshed open to reveal Lt. Villagarosa, resplendent in authentic mariachi gear, and holding a guitarron.  Behind him were four traditionally dressed crewmembers, each supporting one end of gaily decorated carrier which held a colorfully painted nativity scene.

"Buenas noches, my lord and my lady," he said with a flourish.  "We are pilgrims seeking refuge on this night.  Perhaps you might offer us shelter?"

"I am sorry, there is not room for your party here," Spock intoned perfectly.  "But we wish you godspeed on your journey."

Lt. Villagarosa bowed and murmured his thanks, then the procession started towards the turbolift.  Christine and Spock joined the rear of the group and were handed battery operated candles by Sarek and Amanda.  The mariachi band played the traditional Posada melody, "En Nombre del Cielo" and everyone sang along.

The group eventually wended its way to the shuttle bay.  Kirk answered the final doorchime and listened intently to the request.

"Welcome, pilgrims," he replied with a smile, "and find comfort here."

And with those words, the festivities began.

* * *

 

The shuttle bay had been transformed into a twinkling, wintry wonderland.  Thousands of lights, a good day's worth of work, had been strung in back and forth overhead.  At one end of the stage was a towering Christmas tree, and at the other stood a large, handsome silvery menorah, fully lit, in honor of Hanukkah, which ended the week before.  Along the walls were numerous informal tables set up, and each was festooned with that particular group's ethnic or cultural decorations.

"Where shall we go first?" Amanda finally asked, after they'd taken in the colorful scene.

"Let's check out the Solstice Club," Christine suggested, guiding them towards a beautiful holographic image of wintry sunrise over the Ring of Brodgar in Scotland's Orkney Islands.

"Most of those here are from cultures whose heritage dates back to the days when the aboriginal peoples of Terra celebrated the rebirth of the year at midwinter," Spock explained to his obviously fascinated father.  "Though they may now practice diverse religious beliefs, the old celebrations are still remembered."

"Indeed," Sarek remarked thoughtfully.  "It would be logical to notice that, just after the darkest time of the circle of seasons, the sun would once again begin to lengthen the days."

"From this eventually came the sciences of astronomy and mathematics," Christine added.

There were perhaps a dozen small groups set up, appropriately costumed, and presiding over a wide range of foods and beverages.  Servings were small and portable, but no matter, whatever was presented ended up consumed long before the party's end.  The group agreed to split up and visit the participants separately.  Logical for Spock and Sarek, but more importantly, freeing the women for some frank discussion when needed.

* * *

 

"How about some Sambucca with your espresso and cookies?"

"Luigi Alberto Rocco!" Christine exclaimed in mock sternness as she regarded the PFT officer.  "What would Father Valpuesta say, a good Catholic boy like you dressed up as Bacchus?" For indeed, the lieutenant was sporting a toga and a realistic headpiece of grapes, vines and branches in honor of the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia.

"Ask him yourself," Rocco laughed, pointing past Christine's shoulder.  "He's right over there, they've already been by for biscotti."

Christine and Amanda turned to see what he meant.  And there, talking with Spock and Sarek, were Commander Valpuesta, the Catholic chaplain and resident pharmacologist, and Commander Morgenstern, a xenoarchaeologist from Jerusalem who also served the ship's Jewish population as its rabbi.

Fascinating.

* * *

 

"Konichiwa," Sulu said to the twosome before him.  "What may I offer you, some udon noodles? Or maybe some sake?" He sported a bright headband and native tunic suit.

"Some sake to go with our noodles," Sarek replied.  "And what holiday might you be celebrating?"

"Two, actually.  Rohatsu, which recalls Buddha's enlightenment, that's in early December.  And the emergence of the goddess Amaterasu from her cave at midwinter, which brings back the sun." Sulu poured out the warm beverage into its special cups.

"Hikaru will be accompanying me on the Japanese drum later," Ensign Ishikawa, from security, added as she served them their udon.  "I'll be doing an odori dance."

"There is a quite fascinating blend of cultures on board your ship," Sarek told his son as they moved on.

"Indeed."

* * *

 

"Good heavens," Amanda told the white robed transporter officer.  "And who are you representing?"

"The Welsh Druids, Lady Amanda," Lt. Jones said with a smile.  "My family's from near Llwyngwril, over Snowdonia way.  We still celebrate Alban Arthuan in our village, then we go to services on Christmas eve over at the tabernacle."

"He means the chapel," Christine said with a laugh.  "Tell me, Wyn, do you run into the reverend at the pub's entrance on Sundays these days, or do you still have to go around back?" A reference to some rather peculiar licensing laws of centuries past.

"The reverend always has a drink in the back room.  He's hidin' from t' missus," the lieutenant replied jokingly, the traditional singsong accent creeping back into his voice.  "Here, ladies, have a Welsh cake.  Good solstice to you."

* * *

 

"Ambassador, Commander, welcome," Lt. Cdr. Reza Partovi said as he handed them small paper cups of pomegranate and walnuts.  "You honor us with your presence."

The physicist, from Sari on the Caspian Sea, was dressed in long traditional Persian robes.

"It is the ancient midwinter feast of Shab-e-Yaladaa which those in my land still observe," he continued.  "On that night families gather around a traditional korsee and celebrate legends in story and poetry."

"A Zoroastrian custom," Spock told his father.  "It preceded Islam, according to the historians, but all faiths celebrate this today."

Sarek's eyebrow raised as a woman joined them.  She was attired as an ancient Egyptian priestess, from her cotton tunic to her beaded collar to her elaborately styled headpiece.  True to the period, her eyes were adorned in the traditional manner of Cleopatra.  "Good evening, gentlemen," she said pleasantly.

"Father, may I present Lt. Athanasia El-Sayed, our ship's librarian, and Lt. Cdr. Partovi's wife."

"I'm from Alexandria in Egypt, so it is no wonder I chose library science as my calling," the woman said with a smile.  "And though my family is now Coptic Christian, we also recall the rebirth of the god Osiris at midwinter."

"And how did you two first meet, if I may be so bold to ask?" Sarek asked, genuinely curious about such an unusual pairing.

"Where else?" The physicist put an affectionate arm around his wife's shoulder.  "In the Academy library."

* * *

 

"Feliz Navidad, senoras," the ensign greeted them.

"Y usted," Christine replied.  "This is one of our resident snowboard experts, Ensign Francisco Amaru," she said to Amanda.  "He's from Cuzco, Peru."

"We Incas have a thing for snow," he replied, colorful in a traditional Andean chulloha stripey cap and an alpaca wool poncho.  "May I offer you a pisco sour, our national drink? Or some picarones, our famous pumpkin doughnuts?"

"So are you looking forward to shooting the snowboard training vid next week?" Christine asked as she and Amanda sampled both items.  Her eyes widened, realizing the drink could be lethal in a deliciously subtle way.  Thank goodness she'd injected all of them with the appropriate anti-everything formulas earlier.

"Absolutely, ma'am, though I hear the Potemkin has quite a hotshot, from South Africa, no less."

"Speaking of the southern hemisphere, ensign, what holiday are you celebrating? It can't be a winter one, can it?" Amanda asked with a sly smile.

"Your husband, ma'am, and your son also pointed that out when they had a drink here.  No, our winter is your summer, but I'm still paying respect to the old Inca feast of Inti Raymi, which falls in the middle of June.  It honors the sun god, Wiracocha."

"Will we see you at the Southern Cross Cabana later?" Christine asked, wondering how many other samples of local hooch her husband and his father had tried.

"Of course."

* * *

 

"A most fascinating group of persons," Sarek said as they met up afterwards.  He gave an amused eyebrow to Lt. Inga Hagtorn, dressed as St. Lucia in a white robe and a headpiece of greens and candles, as she wandered by with a tray of traditional saffron buns.  In her wake came Ensign Wil Milque'tos, attired as her elfin helper.  He was dispensing shots of ice cold Aquavit from the belts of shot glasses crisscrossing his chest.

"I propose we split up again," Christine suggested.  "And meet up just before midnight at the Southern Cross Cabana.  It's 22:00 now.  Captain Kirk will give his speech, and then the Celtic Engineers are on right afterwards.  That's a performance we don't want to miss."

"Where is this cabana?" Sarek asked.

Spock pointed to a Jolly Roger skull and crossbones flag hoisted on a palm tree over near the stage.  "That would be it, there."

Sarek's other eyebrow raised.

* * *

 

"Prettige Feestdagen, ladies." Ensign Schulyer van Zimmerman, a native of Rotterdam, was dressed as St. Nicholas, and was accompanied by a female red devil.  She grinned like the imp she represented and waved a pitchfork.

"Good evening, St. Nicholas," Christine replied.  "We've both been good, what's in your sack?" She indicated the large bag the ensign carried over his shoulder.

"Are you sure? Petra, are they on the list of good little girls?"

The waifish demon nodded with a smile.

"Very well." The Dutch version of Santa handed both of them small parcels filled with an assortment of goodies: coffee candies (hopjes), salty licorice and Droste chocolates.

"I could get used to this," Amanda said in amazement.

"Follow me," Christine began, but the a loud, cheerful song cut her short.

"Who are they?" Amanda pointed to a group of diversely attired crewmembers who were processing by.  The leader held a large golden gwlazdka, or star, mounted on a rod.

"That's Lt. Krol and the Polish contingent.  Let's follow them to the pirogi, shall we? One of my favorite stops, but the guys better watch it, with all that cheese." Christine craned her head around.  "I wonder where they got to?"

The Poles continued singing the lively traditional carol, "Today in Bethlehem" as the group moved forward, with Christine and Amanda (and several others in the know) bringing up the rear.

* * *

 

Eid ul-Fitr, the traditional festive end to the Muslim month of Ramadan had ended in October, but the ship's diverse Islamic community, drawn from places like Addis Ababa and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and Leeds and Kuala Lampur, had laid in a traditional celebratory spread, a popular stop, judging from the crowds there.

"As-Salamu 'Alaykum," Spock greeted Lt.CDr. Nabil Amrani, a native of Tangier, Morocco.

"Alaykum," the chief of cargo replied with a slight bow.  "Welcome, Ambassador, Commander.  Please join us in a repast." He led them over to a well-laid table, presided over by two smiling female crewmembers.

"Father, may I present Lt. Luljeta Pojani, one of the ship's historians.  She is from Brezovicia, in the mountains of the Albanian-Kosovo Republic.  And, I might add, one of the snowboarders who will be filming the training vid this week.  And Lt. Merpati Saiful, an oceanographic geologist from Banda Aceh."

The young Albanian woman was attired in a traditional white costume from her region, covered with a colorful perparese, or apron, woven of bright tapestry.  Her Sumatran counterpart wore a cheerful long sarong skirt and matching kebaya made from her people's famous local batik.

"I am honored," Sarek replied.  "Could you ladies please tell us what delicacies these are?"

"Of course, we have klaicha, a date pastry.  K'ak al-tamar, a sweet.  Ammama bread, called turban bread."

"And lapis legit, a cake.  Fresh apricots.  Baklavah from Turkey.  And roshogolla, sweet cheese balls, from Bangladesh."

"That's my personal favorite," Lt. Amir Mohhiuden, a meteorologist who hailed from Dhaka said.  "Welcome to you both."

"How is your badminton game, lieutenant?" Spock asked as he and his father selected some desserts to try.

"Very good, sir, and I am looking forward to another match with you." The Bangladeshi was the ship's champion in that particular discipline.

"Coffee? We have Mocha and Arabica types," Ensign Abdul El Muhanna, a security guard from Yemen, was overseeing the beverages.  "Or sweet mint tea from North Africa.  Some doogh, perhaps, a minted yogurt beverage?"

Sarek and his son decided on the tea then settled down to try the offerings and enjoy the interesting conversation being presented.

"Now where shall we go?" he asked as they said farewell to the group.

Just then, an ebullient young man sprang in front of them and bowed low.  He carried a fishing pole, on which hung an artificial fish encased in an artificial block of ice.

"Welcome, sirs, to Ice Fisher's Anonymous."

* * *

 

"Those pirogi were a delight," Amanda said as they wandered among the crewmembers.

"Lt. Pulaski actually runs a thriving business on the side.  She makes them for sale, all kinds: cheese, meat, sauerkraut, fruit, you name it.  Everyone adores them."

I'm not surprised."

"Ladies! How are y'all this evenin?" Leonard McCoy's soft drawl was a sure indication he was...enjoying the evening.  "Won't you join the G.R.I.T.S. and mahself for some eggnog an' pecan pie?"

"Who are the GRITS?" Amanda asked as they sat down with the CMO.  There were a large number of female crewmembers present, and all of them wore traditional santa hats, though these were hot pink, not red, and matching sweatshirts printed with their club logo.

"Girls Raised In The South," said Marlie Carruthers, a native of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.  "Welcome, ladies, what's your pleasure?"

* * *

 

The Enterprise now had another Russian.

Well, not precisely a Russian, as he was always reminding Chekov.  Ensign Mikhail Orochon, who joined the crew for the second mission, was a native Siberian, an Evenk, from Yakutia.  His name meant reindeer herder in the Evenk dialect, something his people, a nomadic group that wandered the snowy taigas, had done for centuries.  He was an environmental ecologist and the founder of Icefisher's Anonymous, a very popular club despite the fact the only ice fishing to be done on board was on the holodeck.  Whenever the Enterprise visited a snowy world, the ensign's pronouncement of whether or not any fishing was to be had was eagerly awaited by many crewmembers, mostly male, and not all from cold climates.

"And you say people cheat at these competitions?" Sarek asked in amazement.

"Yes sir," Orochon said authoritatively.  "One competitor was found smuggling frozen fish into the contest area." He shook his head.  "Skandal," he muttered.

The club's table was well attended as mostly male crewmembers stopped to chew the proverbial fat and partake of the wide range of alcoholic beverages on offer.  The only ice to be seen was in the glasses, and there were certainly no fish in the immediate area.

"I suppose we had best start towards the rendezvous point," Sarek admitted a little sadly as he finished his shot of vodka.

"I suppose," Spock agreed, downing his own and then leading his father out into the milling throng of crew.  They barely missed a head on collision with a line of dancing souls, led by Ensign Papadopolis, who was leading a traditional Greek syrtos.  A band of musicians followed, playing a lively tune.

"And you say this happens every year?" Sarek was just beginning to appreciate the wide array of diversity on board his son's starship.

"Every year."

"Fascinating.  Quite simply, fascinating."

* * *

 

"I just love gluhwein," Christine said to Lt. Trixi Pollster, an Austrian communications specialist.  She accepted a steaming mug of the spicy wine punch.

"But how can we choose?" Amanda asked.  "Lubeck marzipan, Dresden stollen, Rhineland pfeffernusse or Nuremburg lebkuchen?"

"Easy," the lieutenant replied as she made up a bag of samples to go.  "There, now you don't have to.  Enjoy, ladies."

"We'd better get over to the cabana," Christine told her mother in law as she had a look at the chronometer.

And with that they began making their way towards the skull and crossbones.

* * *

 

It was just before midnight when Stark and T'Lara began their secret mission.  They gazed in amazement at the floor of the hotel the camp's participants had taken over.

"Ginny must have been quite a teacher," Stark whistled.  "Look at that."

For every door sported two Christmas stockings, made that evening at arts and crafts.  Stark had announced that anyone wanting to learn about the custom was welcome to attend, and, to no one's real surprise, everyone did, even the Vulcans.

"Then it is logical to presume that your idea of teaching youngsters about cultural diversity was sound," T'Lara said with just a bit of a smile for her husband.  "That is good, Stark." She gave him a wink.  "Perhaps you should change your major to child psych, and consider a career in sports counseling?"

Stark held up a piece of mistletoe over his wife's head.  "There's no one here but us," he whispered.  "How about a--"

But T'Lara already knew the custom.

Sierra gave a whine and raised her paw, tapping her master's thigh as if to remind him it was time to go about their duty.  She was wearing a Santa hat.  With reindeer antlers.

T'Lara picked up the box of goodies and they moved slowly down the corridor, leaving an apple, some sweet local cookies S'Rob had made especially, and a Vulcan Heat keychain in each of the children's stockings.

* * *

 

"Well fancy meeting you here," Amanda said to her husband and son.  She and Christine had sampled a few of the local alcoholic beverages and, though they were far from tipsy, now had a decidedly relaxed attitude.

"Indeed, Aduna," Sarek replied, the corner of his mouth turned up.  He surveyed their immediate surroundings curiously.

The Southern Cross Cabana occupied the closest spot to the stage, where the Pan Asian Society was winding up its diverse program with a spirited Chinese lion dance.  Lunar New Year was still a few weeks away, but no matter.  Their booth was serving up sweet moon cakes, fried wontons and fresh mandarin oranges, grown specially for the event in experimental horticulture.

As its name indicated, most of the habitues were from places "Under the Southern Skies," as an old musical number told.  Their countries and religious beliefs were quite varied but they all shared one thing in common.  For them, December was the height of summer, or for, others it was usually warm.  Folks from anywhere even reasonably above freezing usually showed up, sporting tropical attire and lounging in beach chairs on real replicated sand.  Palm trees, borrowed from the arboretum, provided an extra air of authenticity, and a gigantic stuffed fish, similar to a barracuda and caught by someone on the recent shore leave at Majoricia, was mounted high above everything.  The ubiquitous Jolly Roger flag invited all to stop and relax for awhile.

A sensual Colombian dance from the nation's coastal region, known as the cumbia, was being informally attempted by a few revelers.  Nyota Uhura and Ade M'Benga hurried over to welcome their friends.

"You made it!" Nyota smiled as she gave Christine a hug.  She was wearing a bright colorful long African dashiki.

"Just.  We had to drag the guys away from the ice fishing group."

"Why am I not surprised?" Ade said good naturedly.  Although he came from subtropical Africa, he, too, was a charter member of the rather offbeat club.

Spock pointed out the various tropical fruits that experimental horticulture provided for the group's refreshments to his parents.  He raised an amused eyebrow when he glimpsed his trusted assistant, ensign John Pauulu, dancing by with ensign Nyree Paki, from Auckland.  True to her native name, the woman, though a Maori, had naturally fair hair.  Pauulu gave a friendly wave to his boss and Spock responded with a nod.

Sarek and Amanda were soon sharing a bowl of fresh tropical fruit salad and clearly enjoying the atmosphere.  Kirk would be taking the stage soon, but for now, it was almost as though they were lost on a beach, far away from anywhere.

"This is a quite pleasant affair, Aduna.  What a pity our son refused to attend those first five years," Sarek admitted, for Spock had been nothing if not totally honest with his father when describing the event.

"Perhaps he needed a reason to do so," Amanda observed, watching Spock as he watched his wife dancing with Lt. Tatutuputu, a buff native of Samoa.  "And he's certainly letting his human side out to play this evening, isn't he?"

"Indeed, as he should.  This is, after all, his shipmate's party.  So it is logical he should be enjoying himself.  Although he does appear to be a bit jealous, Aduna."

"Like father, like son," Amanda giggled.  Sarek also had a jealous side.

"May I offer you both a mai tai?" Lt. Maria Veldez, a spitfire from Barranquilla, asked.  She was the terror of security ordinarily, running a very tight ship according to her subordinates, but tonight she was just another celebrant.

"That would be appreciated," Sarek replied placidly, just as Spock would have done.

"Hey, mija." Christine tapped her nurse practitioner, Lt. Corazon Jodriguez, on the shoulder.  "Aren't you in the wrong hemisphere?"

The woman, from Cuba, gave a lopsided grin.  "Es la vida.  Any excuse for a party, right? Besides, I brought the rum, best Havana Club."

"Rum? That mineral water?" Her dancing partner, Lt. Cdr. Minar Chatswood, laughed heartily.  "Now if we're going to talk rum, let's start with the Bundy I provided." The Australian, from Surfer's Paradise, was fiercely proud of the locally made dark spirit, Bundaberg.

"But do you not need both types of rum to produce a good mai tai?" Spock, who had cut in awhile before, asked the logical question with just a bit of amusement showing.

"Ladies and gentlemen." Kirk's voice came over the intercom system.  "Let's pause a moment, shall we?"

* * *

 

Kirk's speech was always brief.  His official duties over, he now made his way to the beach party and seated himself next to Sarek and Amanda.  "Are you enjoying yourselves?" he asked pleasantly.

"Very much, Captain," Sarek replied.

"Thanks for having us," Amanda added.

"Always a pleasure." He pointed to the stage where musicians were setting up.  "And we're in for a real treat now, this band is one of the highlights of the evening."

The Celtic Engineers was, naturally, a band composed entirely of engineering and transport crewmembers, all of whom traced a part of their ancestry to somewhere Celtic.  It had been born on the second mission, when two new female crewmembers decided to get creative.

Scotty was on both bagpipes and uillean pipes.  Lt. Riley was the chief percussionist, playing the bodhran and spoons.  Lt. Wyn Jones provided mandolin accompaniment to Ensign Trevor Nelson's guitar, and sang now and then.  Lt. Kyle played the tin whistle very well.  But the band's two ladies were really quite exceptional.

Ensign Tamsyn Cheng, from St. Ives in Cornwall, was lead singer and pianist. Long ago, her ancestors had emigrated from Hong Kong to Britain, settling on the Cornish peninsula where the family still operated a chain of popular restaurants.  The ensign sang like the proverbial angel, though when one first heard her broad Cornish accent, it was always a surprise.

Commander Mary MacFarlane, the band's founder, was from Glasgow.  She played a wicked fiddle and good naturedly bickered with Scotty over the merits of her lowlands to his highlands, an ancient debate.  And most amazing of all, in addition to her engineering duties, she also served as the Enterprise's Protestant minister.

"Good evening, folks," the Reverend Commander MacFarlane said as she rosined up her bow.  "Let's set those feet to tapping, eh?"

With that the band launched into a fast old favorite, "Sweeny's Buttermilk." Their repertoire included traditional tunes from throughout Britain, Ireland and points beyond.  So popular was the group that they were often booked months in advance for special occasions such as the holiday party or the St. David's day bash.

Tonight's program was a mix of holiday and non-holiday both, and the performers blazed through "Christmas Day i' da' Moarnin'," "The Bottom of the Punchbowl," "Petit Aubade," "Da Cold Nights o' Winter," "The Merry Boys of Greenland," "The Swansea Hornpipe," "I Saw Three Ships," and "The Flowers of Edinburgh" without missing a beat.

"Some more yuletide cheer," Commander MacFarlane said as she took a welcome sip of her ale, "and then we'll slow it down for all you romantics, before we start hogmanay a wee bit early."

Ensign Cheng adjusted the mike at her piano and the two women began a lead-in to a medley of numbers.  "Come dance with me, and then you could see, how we could be merry...come sing with me, this new jubilee and we will be merry, yes we will be merry..."

The oft requested "Christmas in Killarney" followed and the dance floor filled up with couples.  Christine glimpsed Kala and Greg, on a break from tamale duty, Lt. Rocco and Ensign Giuliana Carlozzi, who was dressed as the Italian female giftbearer La Befana, and Lt. Singh and Ensign Amaru, all doing their own version of an Irish jig.  She gave Spock a sidelong glance.  The difference in his demeanor from the time he was ordered to attend to now seemed centuries apart, not just a few years.

"OK, folks, some waltzes now," MacFarlane announced.  "You need to recuperate a little."

"Southwind," a beautiful old Irish melody, began, which according to Lt. Riley, was the one song that made all expat Irish think of their home.  Christine, for some odd reason, felt a lump come to her throat as she recalled the last holiday party.  She'd been bartending nonstop at the Cabana, but paused to watch the couples waltzing to the tune, and part of her had wondered if that could ever be her...and if so, with whom.  Now there was a whom, but how close it had all recently come to being lost.  A shiver involuntarily coursed down her spine.  The tune was haunting.  Where had Kyle learned to play the tin whistle so well?

Spock, obviously sensing her thoughts, took her hand and led her onto the dance floor, enfolding her safely against him.

*You don't have to.  Your being here is enough.*

*I insist, if only to show my parents that all the credits they invested on those dance lessons in my youth were well spent.*

*Oh Spock, you continue to slay me.* But through their link she now knew he'd wanted to be doing this last year, too, despite his game of Vulcan now you see me, now you don't.  *I love you.*

*I love you too.*

And so they waltzed, along with dozens of other couples, all of them certain the moment belonged only to them, as untold couples everywhere had thought for thousands of years.

"They make a handsome pair," Kirk said as the band smoothly segued into another beautiful tune, "A Midwinter Waltz", made popular by the old Terran band Boys of the Lough.

"I agree wholeheartedly," Sarek replied.  "Would you not, Aduna?"

* * *

 

"Let's make a final run through," Nyota suggested as the next act, Not Your Bubbie's Klezmer Band, started its offerings.  The Celtic Engineers had finally topped their set off with a rousing "Auld Lang Syne," a week early.  "We can hear the band from anywhere.  I can't believe how good Commander Morgenstern is on the clarinet."

The rabbi had also joined in with the ship's Afro-Caribbean musical entourage, African Reggae, on the whimsical song, "A Party for Santa Claus," which featured Uhura on lead vocals.

"A good idea, I'm starved after that dancing, and besides, you know the hora will go all over the cargo bay so we can join in anytime," Christine replied.  "Are you up for some more eats, Amanda?"

"Sure, but what about them?" Amanda pointed out the bar, where Lt. Chatswood was lining up shots of light and dark rum, called half and halfs, for a waiting audience that included Spock, Sarek, Ade, Kirk and McCoy.

"Leave it to me," Christine said.  She marched over and pulled her husband unobtrusively from the waiting queue then laid down the law, Vulcan, Terran and Federation, about the consequences of a drunken ambassador.  Spock meekly agreed to keep both eyes on his parent, who was starting to enjoy evening just a bit too much despite the medical precautions.  They planned to meet up at the tamale booth in a half hour's time.

"Spock seems sober enough," Nyota remarked as they headed off.

"He's just got his Vulcan face on," Christine laughed.  But her friend was right, Spock was a great deal more sober than his father.  He was probably planning a late night tryst with her, she thought with a smirk.  Good.

"Doctor Chris! Nyota! Namaste!" Yasmine Singh was presiding over the Diwali celebrations, although the Hindu festival of light ended the previous month.  "Welcome!" The booth was alight with tiny lanterns and strung with colorful banners.

"Amanda, this is Lt. Yasmine Singh, one of our computer specialists, our yoga instructor, and a part time aestheticism.  Yasmine, my mother in law, Lady Amanda."

"Such a beautiful henna job," Amanda said, admiring the intricate patterns drawn on the woman's hand.

"Thank you, ma'am.  We are here for another few days, perhaps you might wish one for the New Year? It is an auspicious symbol for luck and prosperity." The lieutenant was distributing welcome glasses of iced Indian tea to many thirsty dancers.

"Perhaps I shall, and we could incorporate some old Vulcan designs as well?"

"Why ever not?"

The hora began snaking up the aisle, led by Commander Rabbi Morgenstern who was playing the wonderful old Dave Koz tune "Eight Candles." Thankfully, none of the present group's male counterparts was among the participants, which was a good thing given the amount of alcohol flowing back at the cabana.

"Shall we?" Christine asked her friend.

"Sure.  Amanda, where shall we meet you?"

To their surprise, the older woman merely took each of their hands and led the way to the dancers.  "L'chaim!" she said.

* * *

 

"I know we're all full, but you must take some of these back with you," Nyota said as she added parcels of her homemade sweet potato and coconut puffs to the basket Christine had wisely decided to bring along.

"You're lucky there are any left," laughed Lt. Thomas Freeman, a relief navigator from Monrovia, Liberia.  "We had to put them aside especially."

"Thanks," Christine replied, knowing she and her husband, and her inlaws, would be eating well for the next week or so.

Amanda, pink faced from their lively hora experience, was enjoying some fresh pineapple juice at the Kwanzaa table.  "I can't believe how diversely wonderful the crew is here.  Too bad Admiral Jackson couldn't make it."

The holiday, started on Terra in the 20th century, was now widely recognized and observed wherever persons of African origin might be living.  It was an extremely popular festivity on board with special crops being planted in the arboretum during the year in readiness for the celebration.

The Admiral, plus some heavies from the Starfleet PFT and operations divisions, had arrived that afternoon to oversee the filming of the snowboard training vid and to give the needed positive face to the Federation.  Christine was surprised he wasn't in attendance, an invitation to the Enterprise holiday bash was far and away one of the most coveted in the fleet.  Oh well, the party wasn't over yet.

* * *

 

"Hi ladies," Greg Dillon said.  "Where are your other halves?" The enticing aroma of fresh tamales filled the air.

Christine looked around, past the dozens of luminarias bordering the booth, over next door to where the Mexican contingent had started the pinata contest, with Commander Father Valpuesta overseeing the fun as he jiggled the colorful star's strings.  "They're not here yet?"

"Nope," Kala replied.  "But don't worry, we have your special cheese and Ortega ones put away." She gave a special grin to her friends, one they knew well, having been through it all with Christine.

"Where do you supposed they could be?" Nyota asked.

"Hmmmm." Christine thought a moment.  It was 02:00 and many revelers, having consumed a bit too much alcohol, were now seeking good solid foods to soak up the stuff.  Sarek and Spock among them, no doubt.  The line for tamales was fairly sizable, but Greg Dillon and his fellow southwesterners had thought ahead and still had plenty of the spicy treats left.  But what else was there between the cabana and here? Food, in particular?

Of course.  "Let's go," Christine instructed.

"Go? Where?" Amanda was puzzled.

A few moments later they pushed their way into a crowd surrounding another popular booth.

"Good evening, ladies," Pavel Chekov said happily.  "Welcome to Just Latkes.  May I get you something?"

"Sure, why the heck not? We can share one.  Right girls?" Christine shrugged, spying her husband and his father deeply in a conversation with the rabbi, about archeology, of course.  All of them were busily consuming the obviously delicious potato pancakes.

"What topping would you like?" Lt. Leah Nasirova, a biologist from Kabul, asked, indicating several bowls of condiments.  Like many of the thousands of displaced Afghan Jews, her family had eventually found its way back to the rebuilt city of Kabul after the war, where the culture was once again thriving.  She wore a traditional Afghan nomad woman's dress and a colorful headscarf.

"Sour cream, apple butter, tofu spread," Ensign Alejandeo Mendel, a stellar cartographer from Santiago, pointed out.  "Or my abuletia's famous Chilean hot sauce, which has been in our family for as long as we've lived in Chile, and that's almost 500 years."

"Hot sauce," the three women agreed.  Their livers needed something extra spicy to start them ticking again.

Christine noticed something.  "What's that?" she asked, looking at a bottle of a clear liquor with plums handpainted on it.

"That's slivowicz," the rabbi said, having joined their group along with the two Vulcans.  "My uncle in Vienna sends me a bottle every year.  It's delicious.  Would you join me in a toast, all of you? This mission, my first, is proving to be more wonderful than I could have ever imagined." With that he poured out some shots for everyone.

"Slivowicz? That's a Russian inwention," Chekov said thoughtfully after the group departed.

"No, it is a Siberian drink," his nemesis, Mikhail Orochon told him.  The Evenk had wandered by to needle his pal.

"What do you know? You're not even Russian!" Chekov rose to the bait as well as Spock and McCoy ever had.

"It is you who are not Russian, my friend.  We were in Siberia long before your ancestors ever set foot in Moscow.  Long before there even was a Moscow!"

"Then you prepared it for us.  Shall we drink to that?"

* * *

 

"Here you go, Commander.  One hot tamale." Greg Dillon handed Spock a plate.

Sarek, who was finding a place for himself and Amanda to sit, wondered why his son's ears had turned a bright shade of green, and why his daughter in law had a peculiar expression on her face.  He decided it must be some logical private joke between them about the foodstuff.

Greg and Kala joined the two couples at a table and watched the goings on over at the pinata competition.  Rabbi Morgenstern, blindfolded, was making a valiant effort to give the large star shaped object a thwack with a baseball bat.  Father Valpuesta was doing everything in his power to move it out of his reach.  He finally succeeded, to much applause, and the crowd scrambled for parcels of traditional Mexican sweet cakes.

"He's good," Amanda noted.

"He should be, he spent most of his summers in Brooklyn when he was younger," Christine informed the group.  "His aunt's the curator of the new Natural History Museum on Staten Island.  He says he played stickball after dinner every day till there was no more light, then took the game back to Jerusalem and played there as well."

"However it must be noted that Commander Valpuesta is a formidable opponent," Spock added.  "He tells me he grew up in the neighborhood of Boyle Heights, near Los Angeles, where he manipulated many a pinata at neighborhood celebrations in his youth." The pharmacologist was obviously a regular visitor to the bio labs in addition to his other duties.

"Are you flying a kite tomorrow?" Greg Dillon asked.  An exhibition was being put on by the sportscamp participants at noon in the city's botanical gardens.

"No, we'll be observing," Sarek said as he took another bite of his third tamale, which sent Amanda's eyebrow skyward.  "And you?"

"When Kala told me this afternoon, I started drawing up a design.  We're going to work on it after the party ends.  It's a blue marlin."

"It is now 03:00, when does this function usually end?" Spock wondered aloud for all of them.  There were still almost as many revelers as when the party began, six hours before.

"The most dedicated partyers go from here right to dawn services," Kala laughed.  "So there's plenty of time left to frolic."

"But I think it's time we moved on," Christine suggested.  "There's one more place we need to go."

* * *

 

The Bistro Noel was set up every year in a cargo bay adjacent to the shuttledeck, right next to the mobile triage unit sickbay had in the next room.  It served French cuisine and was overseen by Lt. Francois St. Pierre, who was affectionately known as Cookie to the crew.  A native of Paris, he made certain there was plenty of hot, strong cafe au lait as well as other delicacies for the revelers who were homeward bound.

"This is a perfect end to a perfect evening," Christine sighed as she and Amanda dug into some decadent chocolate yule log, one of the lieutenant's specialties.  She took a sip of champagne, glad she'd not overindulged at the party.

"Indeed." Spock also took a forkful of the dessert and allowed a small expression of satisfaction to cross his face.

Sarek looked up from his plain coffee and equally plain croissant and silently lamented the fact his son had inherited his mother's genetics when chocolate was concerned.  He, on the other hand, could not risk even a sliver of the dessert, given the amount of alcohol he'd consumed.  It was too bad.  Sarek did so enjoy chocolate, in the right quantities.

Christine, whose father's original family name was La Chapelle, from the Brittany coast of France, proposed a toast to the upcoming new year.  She reflected on the fact that a long ago ancestor, a merchant mariner from what her mother had told her, sailed into Galway Bay on his ship and had been so taken with the daughter of a local trader that he returned to marry her and remain in Ireland, eventually moving his family to England where they prospered as seafarers.  And from there, look where she'd ended up.  Things really weren't that different, all these centuries later.

* * *

 

"Now drink this, Sarek," Amanda ordered.

Her husband needed no more encouragement.  Despite his daughter in law's best efforts, and a second injection of anti everything, his stomach was still painfully reminding him of each and every item he had consumed over the course of the evening.  He drained the glass of bicarbonate soda in warm water without a complaint.  A moment later, a very un-Vulcan belch sounded through the kitchen.

"Is that better?" she asked.

Sarek nodded.  "You always do know the best remedies, Aduna."

After a moment he got up and went into the living room to turn off the Christmas tree's lights, for it was well past time to retire.  His son and daughter and law had long since done so.  Amanda was putting away the goodies they'd brought back from the party when she saw her husband head into the hallway.  The tree's lights were still on.  She followed him to the linen closet, where he was pulling out a warm blanket.

"Sarek?" she said softly.

"They are asleep, Aduna.  Let us not disturb them." He put a finger to his lips and handed the blanket to his wife, then walked back with her to the living room.  There under the tree, were the slumbering figures of their son and his wife, who'd obviously dozed off while talking there some time earlier.  Sarek covered them quietly, but neither one stirred.

"Shall we leave them there?" Amanda touched her husband's shoulder, not having seen this side of him regularly in many, many years.

"Yes, Aduna.  Life is too short to deny them such a simple pleasure.  Were we not like this once ourselves?"

Amanda recalled a long ago Christmas at her parent's home.  "Yes, Sarek.  We were."

* * *

 

Come Rejoice

 

"Come rejoice, queen and beggar, The homeless man and the prince of pride, Saint and vagabond, rich and poor, Rejoice together on Christmas Night." from the Judy Collins song "Come Rejoice".

Shi-Kahr, being at the equator of Vulcan, had days and nights fairly equal in length, but the morning still was preceded by a dawn longer than Terra's.  Christine sensed the sunrise was coming by the first twitter of a bird.  This bird didn't sound like any she'd heard in her garden at home, though.  Where was she? Her bed was hard, but not this hard.

She rolled over and collided with someone.  Half asleep and startled, she tried to get up, only to find her head coming into contact with scratchy branches.  A bell tinkled in her ear, forcing her eyes to open.  In the greyness of predawn, she saw her husband asleep on the floor of his parent's living room.  She'd unintentionally banged into the Christmas tree which was hung with many ornaments.  Including little bells.

Had they slept on the floor all night? Or, more correctly, for the last two hours? They'd all gotten back home around 03:45 and it was now just about 06:00.  Good thing the night before the party had been an early one.  She stroked her husband's shoulder under the blanket that covered them.  Where had that come from? The last thing she remembered was sitting with him under the tree, telling stories from her childhood about spending hours in the glow of Christmas lights, dreaming.

"Spock?"

But he wasn't hearing her.  To be precise, he was sawing logs, though not of the yule variety.

Coffee.  She took a deep breath.  The real stuff, not replicator crap.  Someone else must be up.  Taking special care not to disturb her dreaming spouse, Christine got to her feet and wandered towards the enticing aroma.

"Good morning," Amanda said with a smile.  "Some coffee?"

"Absolutely.  Did we...did...we...?"

"Yep.  You both were dead to the world when Sarek found you, so we decided to let you sleep right there on the floor.  Where's Spock?" She handed her daughter in law a mug gaily patterned with candy canes and holly.  "Cream, right?"

"Rip van Winkle's still having his beauty nap." Christine took a sip of her coffee and looked up at Amanda with a surprised expression.  "This is Bay's Best, from San Francisco! How did you get it?"

"Spock told us it was your favorite back when he said you'd both be here for the holidays.  You weren't allowed to have any before, remember? Leonard said the caffeine would be too taxing to your recovery.  Hopefully that's no longer the case?"

Christine held out her mug for seconds.  "Definitely not.  But he told you, that long ago? Why?"

"Honey." Amanda sat down at the kitchen table and took her daughter in law's hand.  "Maybe now you're seeing the depth of feelings my son has for you? Something as simple as your favorite coffee -- that was a very big deal to him.  He wanted things to be perfect for your visit here."

"And they have been.  Oh Amanda, I can't even begin to express my gratitude...to everyone."

"We're just all glad you both are here.  That's all I'll say, I don't want two boiled owls sitting at the breakfast table." A sound startled her.  "What on earth was that?"

Christine got up, indicating she should follow.  "Sleeping beauty.  He...snores."

Together, they made their way to the living room and stared down at the comatose Vulcan, who was sending up a healthy chorus of zzzzzz's, despite the fact he was lying on his stomach.

"Happens every time he overeats...or overdrinks.  Put the two together and you may as well sleep in the next quadrant for the night.  Oh well.  I'll go do a quick yoga workout on the patio and have a shower.  What time are we due at the Ambassador's house?"

The Terran ambassador, who lived a street over in the tony but unassuming  neighborhood, was hosting a nondenominational Christmas service at his house, followed by breakfast, for anyone wishing to attend.  She and Amanda were going.

"Eight thirty.  You have plenty of time.  Let's walk over, shall we? I'll admit even I tied on the feedbag last night."

"OK.  Where's Sarek?" Christine noticed the absence of her father in law.

"Sawing logs in the bedroom.  Why do you think I'm up so early?" Amanda's smile was mirthful.  "That apple there, he fell right under the tree, trust me."

* * *

 

Spock heard the rustling of a presence nearby.  Despite the fact that, even for a Vulcan, he was exhausted, he opened his eyes and forced them to focus.

"Good morning, my son.  Some coffee perhaps?" Sarek was seated on the couch nearest the Christmas tree.

Uncomfortably aware that he was still in his Terran party clothing, namely jeans and a knit sweater, Spock carefully struggled to a seated position and accepted a holiday patterned mug of the steaming liquid.

"You slept well? Your mother and I did not feel it logical to waken you and Christine, so we let you rest here for the remainder of the night."

"Thank you." Spock took a long, satisfying draught before daring to address his father again.  How illogical would it look, despite his father's comment, for the son of Sarek to be found asleep with his wife under a Terran Christmas tree? "You have not seen Christine, by chance?"

"I have." Sarek took a sip of his own coffee.  "She had just finished her yoga routine when I entered the kitchen, perhaps five minutes ago.  I believe she was going to have a shower before breakfast."

"I see." Spock felt his eartips flush but thought it best not to comment, so he had another slug of his drink, then proceeded to fold up the blanket that had covered them during the night.

"A shower," Sarek repeated, glancing past his son down the hall to their bedroom.

Spock met his father's gaze full on, figuring he was expected to go head to proverbial head with his parent, but he soon found out this was no game.

"A shower," Sarek said for the third time.  Then, as if re-iterating the broad hint, he added, "Given all the dancing you two engaged in last night, would it not be logical to presume you need one as well, my son?"

Sarek had never seen his son sprint the distance down the hall quite that quickly before.  He allowed himself a small, private smile.

"Well, shall I start breakfast? I thought I heard Spock out here.  Is he awake?" Amanda asked from the living room entrance.

Sarek got up and walked over to his wife.  "Let us enjoy our coffee on the patio, Aduna.  It shall be a...while before they are ready for food, I believe."

* * *

 

"Up? Or down?"

Christine thought a moment.  "Down for now, but it'll need it to go up later.  All these events.  It's Christmas, for pete's sake! Our day off!"

Spock continued running a brush through his wife's tresses.  She leaned back, enjoying the sensation.  One of those little things he loved doing for her.

Satisfied with his work, he put the brush down and turned her in his arms, looking her over with a pleased smile.

"Do I pass muster, Spock of Vulcan?" Her eyes were smiling back at him.

"Indeed, I approve, my love." The shopping expedition to the old town had proved very successful.  Christine was wearing a midnight blue Vulcan styled trouser suit, made of a winter weight wool like fabric, and flat Vulcan boots.  The diamond and sapphire earrings Spock had given her on their wedding day sparkled in her ears.

Spock's finger traversed down from the center of Christine's collarbone to the bottom of the v neck of her top.  "But you need something here," he continued with a mysterious twinkle in his eyes.  "Luckily, your Santa Claus stopped by late last night." He pulled out a small wrapped package from the bedside table and held it just out of his wife's reach.  "Although I must admit, given the number you were singing in the shower, it is a wonder he arrived at all."

Christine, sure she was alone, had been heartily belting out "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," while rinsing the shampoo out of her hair, then nearly fainted when her husband's amused face had come peering around the shower door.

"Sorry, Commander."

"On the contrary, a most appropriate lyric for describing my younger self." He smoothed some hair off her forehead but did not hand over the gift just yet.  "Have you not heard the legend of The Vulcan Who Stole Christmas?"

"Uh, no, but maybe you'd care to tell me?"

"It was midway through my first voyage with Captain Pike, and December was fast upon us.  At a staff meeting, the topic of a holiday party was brought up.  Opinions were sought.  Naturally, I voiced mine." Spock's gaze was downright evil in its humor.

"Of course."

"I was...young."

"You were egotistical."

"Unyielding."

"The right word is obstreperous."

"Rule oriented."

"A stubborn Vulcan jackass, more likely."

Spock sighed.  "At any rate, I told the officers present why I felt such a party should not be held."

"Oh? I wish I'd been there, that would have been a sight to see." Christine snickered.  She and her husband now regularly poked fun at his broomstick up the backside former self.

"Perhaps...." Spock said thoughtfully, then released her and crossed his arms rigidly across his chest.  His eyes narrowed and a look of pure egotistical disdain became apparent.  He shook his head forcefully.

"Illogical.  IL-LOGICAL," he moaned, raising his eyes skyward.  "Such a blatant show of favoritism for ancient Terran superstitions has no place aboard a Federation starship.  I shall not attend, and advise the rest of you to do the same.  It would be most improper to do otherwise."

Christine thought she would choke.  She'd never seen him imitate that persona before, though they played out other eras of his life on a regular basis.  Spock hugged her and they laughed merrily together, as they often did in private.

"What happened?" she finally managed to ask.

"Dr. Boyce...invited me to partake of an equally ancient Terran custom."

"A snootful?" Boyce and Len had much in common, she'd learned.

"No, nothing so civilized as that.  'Go soak that Vulcan head of yours,' were his exact words."

"Oh dear."

"Yes, in my time I have been called the Grinch, Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Never to Be and several other, less polite, names.  Thankfully in my sunset years, I have mellowed a bit." He pressed his hips against his wife's with a suggestive thrust.

"Sunset years my eye, shower man.  Now, what's in the box?"

"Ah yes, this." He handed the parcel over and watched as she unwrapped it.

"It's beautiful!" Christine pulled out a platinum like chain on which hung a small, unusual silvery pendant, clearly old Vulcan symbols.  "Does it mean something?"

"Indeed, Th'yla." He traced the first, larger symbol.  "Ni'var, the duality.  The concept of two halves making a unified whole." Then he touched the second symbol which was layered on top of the other.  "T'zaled.  The concept of loyalty, of protection, even unto death."

"Oh." Her voice refused to say anything else.

Spock fastened the chain around her neck and they looked down at how perfectly it graced the front of her tunic.  He raised her chin with one hand and drew her close once more.  "Know this, my vah'ren.  I shall protect our unity with my very katra.  Never doubt that."

"I won't," she whispered, and they stood there for some moments, their love coursing across the bond they shared.  The darkness of the weeks before still glided across the sunshine of their union at times, but together, even this could be overcome.

There was a tap at the door.  "Come in," Spock called as they resumed a normal stance once again.

The door opened and Amanda looked in.  "It's just me.  Oh, Christine, that outfit looks positively beautiful.  Anyway, breakfast is about ready.  I've made papaya and pink grapefruit salad, for all the overeating we did last night.  We'll be leaving in about a half hour for the service, is that OK?"

"Fine, we'll be right along," Christine replied.

When Amanda was gone, she turned back to her husband.  "All right, Commander, we have just enough time.  Lose the trousers."

"I beg your pardon, Doctor?" Spock's eyebrows shot up.

"Time for your present."

* * *

 

"Have you found it?" Sarek asked, peering up at his son's back view as he rummaged in the storage compartment.

"I believe so," Spock replied.  He grasped an object and turned on the ladder, handing it down to his father.  "This is it, is it not?"

"Yes, still in the same container you and I made for it." Sarek looked at the stout cylinder as his son put the ladder away.  "Thankfully your mother's pat rack instincts are strong.  She insisted nothing be discarded for all these years.  Perhaps she is thinking of having a gigantic 'flitterport bazaar' at some point?"

"I believe the term is a 'garage sale,' " Spock told his father as they came back outside.  "Do you think it is still airworthy?"

"There is only one way to find out, my son." Sarek glanced across the road to where Skrav was inspecting the rock garden in his front yard.  "Perhaps neighbor Skrav might be interested in the test flight as well?"

"A very logical suggestion, Father."

They headed down the driveway, Sarek giving his son a discreet sidelong glance.  He wore a traditional Vulcan styled tunic suit, with a slit opening at the front.  When Spock had been setting up the ladder, he'd bent down for a moment and Sarek glimpsed a tiny sliver key on a chain around his son's neck.  This necklace was now invisible from view once more, hidden under clothing, but Sarek's natural curiosity (though Amanda called it quite another thing) was piqued.  A...key? To what? Christine certainly did not sport a matching item, they'd all admired her own necklace at breakfast.  Sarek was thoughtful.  Perhaps a key to...?

He shook his head.  His son could not possibly be that much like him.  Or could he?

* * *

 

"I had no idea there were so many expats here in Shi-Kahr," Christine remarked as they were strolling back home after the Christmas services and breakfast party.

"Not like when I first came here, my dear.  Le-matyas were still to be seen on the city's parameters way back when Sarek dragged me by the hair into his cave."

"Amanda! You're terrible!" Christine gave her mother in law a wicked smile, glad the neighborhood was quiet.

"And I gather my son gets that sense of humor he tries to hide so unsuccessfully from me, then?" The older woman sighed.  "Christine, seeing the two of you together these past weeks has been such a treat for me.  Sarek too, though he'd never admit it, of course.  We were worried for years that Spock would marry a computer if he married at all."

"You're not the only one," Christine agreed, recalling something Len had said during the disastrous M-5 tests.  "But seriously, I was surprised there were a few Vulcans at the event as well.  That woman who sang 'Silent Night' in the Vulcan language? She's quite a talent.  Who is she?"

"That's T'Aria, one of the most renowned sopranos in the Shi-Kahr opera." Amanda saw her daughter in law's curious gaze and continued.  "She trained at La Scala in Italy and learned about Terran culture, including Christmas.  Been a regular guest at this little get together for years, whenever she's not on tour."

"Whoda thunk it?" Christine stopped and pointed skyward towards the end of the cul de sac.  "What's that?" she asked.

Amanda shaded her eyes.  "Oh my!" she gasped.  Then she turned to her daughter in law.  "You're about to see a side of your husband you've likely not seen before.  Come on!"

That's twice in one morning, Christine thought to herself.  Maybe Santa really had visited Shi-Kahr.

* * *

 

"Relax your grip," Spock instructed his wife, his hand on her shoulder.  "Slack, but not too slack.  There, perfect."

They watched the silvery translucent kitelike object soar on the brisk winter breeze.  She and Amanda had come across Spock, Sarek and Skrav giving the item a thorough test flight.  According to Amanda, Spock and his father built this kite when Spock was five and had first flown it in the very place they were now, with Skrav assisting as he was today.  The kite was still in perfect condition and Spock planned to take it to the festivities later that morning.

"What is this supposed to be?" Christine asked, watching the avian shape twist and dive under her husband's expert touch.  His other hand covered her own with contact a bit more suggestive than was really necessary.

"The teresh-ka, the wind riders of our planet.  Supposedly they ride the thermals in the atmosphere all their lives, never touching down on the surface.  According to legends they mate and are born on the wind, and are virtually invisible to the eye.  To see one was considered a very good omen in ancient times." He moved a fraction closer to his wife and dropped his voice.  "I am still wearing your present, doctor.  A most...erotic sensation, I must admit.  Quite delightful.  Arousing, even."

"Spock...put a lid on that libido of yours.  They'll hear you." Where in the galaxy had he gotten such a sex drive? Surely not from his father, given what she'd read in the old medical texts, which hinted that Vulcans mated every seven years, period, and it was definitely not pleasant.  From his mother? No, that wasn't possible, she was too proper a lady.

He gave a glance over to where Skrav, and now T'Glad, were speaking with his parents.  "I think not, Th'yla.  And can a man not express gratitude to his own wife for a gift? You certainly must have thought of the...consequences...when you purchased it?" He moved closer still, just close enough.  Sexual energy was oozing across their link.

"Ice it, commander.  I'll deal with you...later." She handed the string back to her husband with a smoldering look, then wandered over to join the conversation, leaving Spock to bring...several things....down once more.

* * *

 

The old Terran phrase, "Go fly a kite!" had been enthusiastically taken to heart by the sportscamp's participants.  Jimmy Sanchez' casual suggestion that some of the boys get together and fly kites at noon on Christmas quickly became a picnic celebration of outdoor fun.  The weather cooperated by providing a brisk, sunny day with gusts that carried the kites high into the skies above the botanical garden.

Many Vulcan families, out for their own day of relaxation (the holiday this year coincided with the Vulcan concept of a weekend) stopped to take in the colorful spectacle, and Ambassador Sarek pleasantly greeted the spectators and offered an explanation of the unusual sight.  The intergalactic press was invited and freely roamed among the children, filming and conducting interviews.

Vulcan children were no strangers to the idea of kite flying.  In fact, virtually all of the homeworlds represented had some notion of a kite, and the various aspects of the children's heritage were represented in the buoyant creations.  Pismo Beach pelicans, Fuegan lava birds (which resembled the ancient pterodactyl of Terra), the Klingon Cha'bIp (noted for its speed, and Mogh and Loki's aerodynamic model was swift indeed), the Elasian hawk, condors, ospreys and more were soaring against the clear skies.  Side by side with various models of flitters, groundcars, skimmers, ancient flying machines, runabouts, starcruisers, even a magnificently tailed comet, done by the Andorian participant who had recently seen one pass within visual distance of his home planet (this was the subject of much interested conversation as well).  Silok, the would be vehicle designer, had worked with Ellat on a sleek little one seater 'royal flitter' which even bore his coat of arms.  Ellat admitted to Stark he hoped his mother might allow this craft to be built once he reached the requisite age for piloting.

Of course, some adults had also brought kites and were clearly having as much fun as the youngsters in sending them skyward.  Spock's silvery teresh-ka was greatly admired, as was Greg and Kala's blue marlin.  Stark's creation depicted a brightly plumed Deltan bird called a "pappaoogah", who, he insisted, spent its days chattering in the tropical forest preserves on his homeworld, but really preferred to ambush hiking tourists for sweet biscuits.  This made Kanou and T'Mara exchange a pleased glance, and Kanou then described their kite, the Klingon version of a parrot called a qaryog.

Animals had proved to be a common link throughout the camp.  Encouraged by the morning walk with Sierra and the two hockey brawlers, Stark and T'Lara arranged a special early tour of the Shi-Kahr zoo for the campers, and, naturally, everyone clamored to attend.  The director and her husband led the group and took the wide eyed children on a special behind the scenes journey.  At that hour, the animals were being fed, which was a thing most visitors did not chance to view.  Volunteers were sought for helping to dole out breakfast to some of the zoo's more friendly residents.  Benny Childress received a baby giraffe kiss from the facility's newest addition, and T'Mara at last introduced her friend Kanou to the regal birds called swans.

After the kite flying and lunch on the run, the children scattered to play games.  Terran soccer, Vulcan mesya, and dozens of other pastimes that were played across the galaxy.  Stark, Spock and Sarek were watching the participants enjoy being children, recalling their own younger days.

"Look at them," Sarek remarked as they observed some girls playing shav zehl, the Vulcan version of "red rover".  One side had insisted Sierra be called over, so T'Lara obliged by jogging across with the canine, but neither of them were able to break through.  Giggles and shrieks were heard from the young women.  "They are from many different worlds, yet they have so much in common." He turned to Stark.  "You have done a fine thing, Stark, and Vulcan is pleased with your effort."

"Thank you," the champion replied.  Even he had not anticipated just how successful the experimental venture would be.  But all over the quadrant, contributions to the scholarship fund were pouring in, and representatives for other potential camp venues were already beginning to contact his manager with a view to the next winter.  "It's better than I could have imagined.  Sport and children just seems to be a...logical equation."

"Far more than you could realize, Stark." Sarek pulled out a small PADD from his tunic, but this model was not familiar to Stark or Spock.  "This arrived on Vulcan late last night, via a passing spacer delivering supplies to the Klingon diplomatic mission.  Ambassador Kl'o'rox had his aide bring it to me earlier.  Apparently, it passed through many worlds to get to us, and at great personal risk to the one who sent it.  But it is now here and I think you shall find it...quite enlightening.  Shall we view it?"

Stark and Spock nodded in unison.  The younger Vulcan was certain he'd seen the alphabet somewhere before.  It was vaguely familiar yet unfamiliar.  Sarek hit the play button and the tiny screen opened up on an ocean view, a dark blue violet sea whose color was alien to them.  It then panned up the beach to show a town with equally alien architecture, yet there it was, a coastal city much as Kwil'nor or Monterey.

"That is Romulus," Spock finally said.

"Indeed it is, my son." Both he and Spock had managed to study what little was known about the Romulan homeworld and its people.

"Romulus?" Stark almost choked on the words he was so stunned.

The picture now focused on a young woman of perhaps twelve, who was standing on the beach.  She smiled at the camera, something that would take most by surprise, given her people's warlike reputation.  She began to speak in careful, accented Standard.

"S'haile Sarek, S'halie Stark, I am entrusting this message with one who has promised it will eventually reach Vulcan and you both.  My name is Chula, for our valley where my mother's people are from.  This is my home city, on the sea of Apnex, here on Romulus.

"You are no doubt surprised I speak a tongue you understand.  My parents are employed in the ministry of trade and we often meet offworlders.  I have learned your language thus.  These traders bring us news we might not otherwise learn.

"Although we Romulans know that the sports festivals are open to all participants, the government chooses not to permit our attendance.  But we have seen vids of Polaris and watched the snowboarding with much interest.  Here on Romulus, we have both sand and snow.  And so we have built our own way to traverse this."

The girl held up a crude but noteworthy example of a sandboard, colorfully painted with traditional designs.  Then the camera panned with her as she joined a group of other children, about a dozen in all, who held up similar models.

"This is but one town here.  Know that all over our planet, wherever there is the means to enjoy our sport, many participate, though the government does not approve of this.  I know it is not possible for one from our world to attend this special gathering to be held on Vulcan, but perhaps one day in the future, it may.  And so I trust this shall reach you, that you would know of those that admire you even here."

And with this she lifted her hand in a ta'al along with the others.  "Live long and prosper," she intoned in the Vulcan language, which sent the viewer's eyebrows skyward.

"Holy smoke," Stark finally breathed.  "They know about me on Romulus?"

"Indeed they do, Stark.  Enemies are not born, they are made." Sarek pointed over to where Mogh and Loki were teaching some other youths the Klingon game of  qa'vak, with a Terran hula hoop and a broomstick.  "Those boys are from a world where many view us as their blood enemy.  Yet they are here."

"They came to me earlier in the week and asked if it would be permissible to demonstrate this," Spock added.  "Both stated they understood if it was forbidden to partake of an activity used on their planet to train youths for hunting."

"Ambassador Kl'o'rox and I discussed the matter for perhaps five minutes, if that," Sarek continued.  "It was decided that the more traditional articles would not be used, for they were a bit too dangerous, but otherwise, the activity is a logical one.  The game teaches excellent eye-motor coordination, and appears to be quite popular."

They watched as Kanou approached the group.  The two Klingon boys suddenly became shyly quiet, but handed over the stick.  Loki rolled the hoop and a moment later, Kanou's successful effort was soundly rewarded with cheers.  Then the girl primly dusted off her hands and went back to her Vulcan friend and they headed off towards a game of jumprope.

"So...what can I do? The Romulan government would never allow me to send boards to their homeworld." Stark's voice was sad.  "And it wouldn't be...politically correct for me to say anything.  The kids there might suffer.  It's not fair, I want to do something.  But how?"

"Leave that to myself and Ambassador Kl'o'rox," Sarek replied.  "Though the Klingon Romulan alliance is officially no more, there are still ways of getting information...and supplies....to Romulus.  Third party fortuneers are always eager to make a profit off the conflicts of others.  My staff aide, Selak, is friendly with others in the diplomatic service here, those who would have contacts with such persons...willing to deliver a consignment." He looked at the children playing once more.  "It can be done, Stark.  The only question is when, and how."

* * *

 

"Scuse me," Kala said as she covered a yawn.

"Did you get any sleep at all last night? Spock and I managed about two hours, but only because we crashed out under the tree." Christine and her friend were taking a break from the games and watching the vast range of activities happening.

"Not any.  You should have stayed, Chris.  You missed all the fun!"

"Oh? What fun? Didn't we all have enough?"

Kala laughed.  "Admiral Jackson showed up just after you beamed home.  He'd been visiting the other ships and finally got to us.  Kirk's lucky your boss shot him full of antitox because our dear captain had been tossing back every kind of booze there was."

Christine joined her friend's laugh.  Yes, the great and powerful Kirk was known to have a few skinfuls on occasion.  "How was Jackson by that time?"

"About the same, he went straight to the sickbay triage.  Ade says he wanted another injection himself.  Must have been some good parties on the other ships."

"Not as good as ours, of course."

"Of course.  Well, he and Kirk wandered into the shuttlebay and there were still lots of partiers.  Greg and I were having a quiet tamale with the priest and the rabbi when lo and behold, Iya got up on stage."

"Oh no," Christine sighed.  Lt. Iya Dzhugashvili, a warp drive specialist from Tblisi in Georgia, was known for her fiery emotions and equally fiery native sword dance, one usually done by the men of her country.

"Oh yes.  And I'm sure you guessed that her squeeze was dancing right along with her, though he always trips over the swords."

Lt. Dong Sun Kim, a transporter officer from Pyongyang, always joined in the fun.  The two had been a pairing since they met at the start of the second mission, but the difference in their temperaments was a constant source of gossip among the crew, who had dubbed them "oil and water" early on.

"And they called us a peculiar match," Christine sighed, to which Kala nodded in agreement.

"Admiral Jackson saw them jumping over those replicated swords -- thank goodness she left the real ones in her cabin -- and went up on stage.  He knelt down with the other spectators and started clapping and yelling right along with them.  Of course Greg decided he had to get in on the action, too."

"Poor you," Christine told her friend.

"Poor me?" Kala guffawed, but quietly.  "She's not the only warrior woman around.  I went right up after Greg and told Iya we should show the guys how it was done.  And...we did."

"I hope someone made a vid!"

"Absolutely, I'll dupe you a copy.  Say, we're headed over to the diplomatic compound after this, before the embassy bash.  For some coffee over at Starchild's.  Do you and Spock want to sneak off with us?"

Christine sighed.  "We'd love to, but there's...a kind of official function we have to attend." Her face grew somber.

Kala was silent for a moment.  "This is about that day, isn't it?"

"Uh huh." Christine looked straight ahead to where Spock and Stark were trying the Klin game of skill, with Sarek and the two Klingon boys officiating.  "I wish we didn't have to go, I'd just rather forget it ever happened."

Kala gave her friend's hand a squeeze.  "Maybe this event will help you do that," she said quietly.  "Chris, I'm just glad you're both here.  I mean, who else could Greg ask to be his swordbearer?"

Christine was grateful for her friend's uncanny ability to lighten a mood.  "You're right, Kala." She stood up and motioned towards the qa'vak players.  "C'mon, let's go show them how it's done."

* * *

 

The chambers of the Vulcan High Council included a special ceremonial room.  Here, all council members sat on a horseshoe shaped dais, behind which was space for spectators.  High overhead, when the sun was beginning its midafternoon descent, usually around 15:00, its rays hit a beautiful stained glass skylight, patterned with ancient pre-reform styled mosaics.  The marble floor below would be splashed with shimmering colored sunbeams.  It was here that the most special of convocations were held, those with significance of far greater import than mere council debates.

"I still don't know how a case of appendicitis qualifies for anything," Christine grumbled to her superior as he adjusted the neck of her dress uniform.  "And if this was such a dark day in Vulcan's history, why are we here?"

"Chris, to honor the fact we are here.  All of us.  If things had happened differently, who knows where we'd all be today? And as for that appendicitis, trust me, the stress you were under caused it to turn south fast." He gave his ACMO a hug.  "Don't look a gift commendation in the mouth, and that's an order."

"Aye," Christine sighed.

When Sarek had first approached them about the special honors to be bestowed, Christine had been reluctant.  Was it logical to honor such a bad thing? But after discussing it thoroughly with her husband and in-laws, she at last realized that wearing the appropriate medals would not be a constant reminder of something terrible, but rather, a commemoration of the fact that it had been overcome for the greater good of all concerned.

The captain of the Vulcan vessel and her husband, its CMO, were also here, along with the four trusted members of her staff who had been instrumental in re-taking the ship from the would be mutineers.  And herself, Leonard and Spock, of course.  And, surprisingly, Ambassador Sarek himself, who had refused a direct order not to join the mission.  All of them would be decorated, by both Vulcan and Starfleet.  General Stoick and Admiral Jackson were to preside over the ceremony.

A small audience had been invited.  T'Pau sat high above them all in a ceremonial box, regal in her presence.  Amanda, of course.  Jim.  Selek and T'Lea and their families.  Stark and T'Lara and their parents, for the Vulcan sports champions had been listed as ones to be 'removed' from Vulcan society.  But apart from that, not many citizens knew what would happen that day, and that was good.  Life was continuing -- business as usual, in spite of the threat which had nearly become terrifyingly real.

And so the band of heroes was called forth, one by one, to receive the Order of Vulcan and the Starfleet Citation for Conspicuous Gallantry.  Christine, as one who had been injured, also received the special award for those wounded in the line of duty, and Sarek was given an ambassadorial commendation.

From her seat on the council, the new Minister for Sport and Culture, the T'sai T'Ser, observed it all quietly.  An inner smile warmed her heart as she watched Admiral Tom Jackson, the man who had helped her forget her past during their time in New York, and General Stoick, the man who was helping her build a future.

* * *

 

Spock steered his wife into a small antechamber before they joined the others at the formal reception.  He sensed the fact that the last vestiges of the ghosts from that day were still in her heart, and would be until they departed in their own time.

His arms encircled her protectively and they sat on a nearby bench.  Spock said nothing, for there was no need.  To be there with her was all that mattered at the moment.

After awhile, she looked up at him.  "Thank you," she said simply.  "I'm sorry I cried, even here in private.  Forgive me."

"There is no need, my wife.  It is understandable.  No apology is necessary." Spock touched her chin lightly, allowing his feelings for her to course through their link.  He accepted all of her and wished her to realize he was there to protect and comfort, not rebuke.

"OK, should we go be sociable with all the high ups?" she asked, once her heart finally stopped hammering.  A smile found its way back to her face.

"Perhaps," Spock said as he drew her closer once more.  He switched to levity, sensing the time was right.  "Did I tell you I am still wearing your present, my wife? It fits so well, even under these dreadfully cut dress uniforms."

"And, Commander?" Christine took the bait easily, knowing it pained him to see her hurting.

"Perhaps we might...investigate this matter further? Our presence is not immediately required, and this bench seems more than adequate to hold us both comfortably....?"

"SPOCK!" A well aimed smack hit him square on the glutes.

"I made you laugh, did I not?"

"You did, my love, you did.  And as for that investigation, how 'bout I take a rain check for later?"

Spock placed his wife's hand firmly over a familiar part of his anatomy, then covered it with his own for a moment.  "Is that a promise?" he asked, his eyes dark.

"Count on it."

"Why should I wish to count on my..."

"Spock, I am warning you..."

* * *

 

"Look at them," S'Rob sighed, just a little sadly.

From their spot at the end of the rink he, Greg Dillon and Spock watched the line of skaters gracefully snake its way around the ice.  Led by Selek and T'Lea, the group included Christine, T'Jen, Kala, Sean and Jennifer.  All that was needed was the song "Skating" -- and some snowflakes -- and it might have been a 23rd century version of "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

"But you know how to skate," Greg replied.  "You told us when you were growing up in New York that your favorite hangout was the ice at New Rockefeller Center."

"That was in my youth," S'Rob told him.  "I fear I no longer recall how to skate."

The skaters swooshed by once more, neatly circling Nyota and Ade, who had the honor of pulling Sierra on her special sled while her owners took a social break to greet more guests.  The evening skate, for adults only, was proving to be a big hit, in spite of the fact many of them had just come from the big holiday celebration over at the Terran Embassy.  Thankfully, the campers were having a vid night so the grownups could play.

"There is only one way to find out," Spock said logically, eying the approaching whip.  "Greg, if you would assist me?" With that he took one of S'Rob's hands and Dillon grabbed the other, and before the startled hotel manager could protest, they had joined the other skaters.

"Is that not your niece's husband?" General Stoick remarked as the tail end of the line zipped by at a good clip.

"Yes, it is.  Good.  He was an excellent skater in his youth but now believes that such enjoyment might be construed as illogical." T'sai T'Ser had her hand tucked in her beau's elbow and they were gliding slowly along, enjoying the spectacle of adults acting like children.  Even Vulcan adults.  "And you are quite adept at this practice as well, are you not? Tell me, general, where did you learn to ice skate?"

The older man's eyes softened, his way of smiling.  "I learned the necessary tactics for dealing with icy worlds long ago.  But as to this particular diversion, I must tell you a secret.  When I was being tapped for...promotion into my present line of work, some of us were to be sent to a special interfederation conference on internal security, for it was logical to share best practices that all might be safe.  Oh, there were some that claimed this was the beginning of the end for Vulcan, but my superior held firm, and we attended.  The meeting took place at a place of great natural beauty, a resort called St. Moritz, in the Swiss states.  The sessions took place all day, from morning until night.  But the evenings were free for us to do as we wished.  And the Swiss were most efficient in allowing visitors to enjoy...night sports.  I learned to ski and to ice skate there, and have held a fond preference for ice skating to this day.  And I am very pleased to find that I now might be able to partake of this with so comely a companion."

"LOOK OUT!"

The skating conga line, which was attempting to loop under itself, had crashed to the ice in a rugby like scrum.  Its participants were getting back on their feet, laughing, or, at least, showing Vulcan signs of amusement.  They scattered to different parts of the ice, regrouping and strategizing.

"Now that was not so bad, was it, S'Rob?" Spock asked as they brushed the ice off their clothes at the rink's far end.

"No, it was quite exhilarating," the younger Vulcan admitted.  "I believe T'Jen and myself will be regular visitors here in the future.  If anything, it will save on trips back to Terra." T'Jen was apparently quite fond of traveling...and spending credits on occasion, but Spock suspected the woman's husband did not really mind.  In that regard, he was fascinated.  Females seemed to share many common traits, whatever their race.

"Uh oh." Greg Dillon nodded to the other end of the ice, where Kala, Christine and T'Jen were deep in conversation, their hands busily outlining something.  "They're up to something."

"Indeed, they might well be." Spock moved S'Rob closer to the barrier, anticipating what would likely happen next.  Kala and Christine had done this often enough on the holodeck, so it was logical to presume T'Jen, who also skated well, was being drafted into service.

A moment later, the three women began blazing across the ice, criss crossing past other skaters (including an amused Sarek and Amanda) until they reached a point near their partners.  Spock could hear them counting to themselves.

"Now!"

And the trio lifted off and performed a simple toe loop, landing right in front of the men with a flurry of ice shavings.  Although the move was rather elementary, it looked impressive when done in unison, especially when no one fell out of the jump.  And today, perhaps because of Christmas magic, no one did.

"But, my wife..." S'Rob's protest floated past as T'Jen determinedly pulled him back onto the ice.

Christine accepted her husband's hand and they slowly began traversing the rink.

"You seemed to enjoy your role as Santa's helper " Spock observed, recalling the surprise visit of the Terran figure at the party.  "And I did so approve of your costume."

Christine, T'Lara and Kala had all put on cute red and green dresses and assisted the jolly old elf (played by the vice consul) with the distribution of gifts.

"I'm surprised you didn't ask to sit on my lap and tell me what a good boy you'd been, commander." Despite the fact they'd had practically no sleep for way too many hours, both of them knew how their evening would be ending.  Hopefully, soon.

"Speaking of laps, doctor, may I remind you once more that I am wearing your present, and it still feels just as delightful as it did this morning? Perhaps I could convince you to go somewhere and see this?"

"If you don't stop talking like that, I'll yank those jeans down right here so everyone can see your new silk Harley Davidson boxer shorts, geddit?"

Spock gave her one of his famous sulks.  "What fun would that be?"

* * *

 

"Are they ruined?" Spock asked.

Christine reached past her husband out of the tub and picked up his damp Christmas present.  She inspected the fabric.

"Nope, they'll be as good as new once they're dry.  These are made for bikers, remember.  A little water won't melt them."

"That is good." He captured his wife in an embrace and maneuvered her until she was seated astride him in the warm water.

"Really, husband, you could have at least waited till we got out of our underwear," she admonished.

Spock had taken one look at her sheer black all in one, printed with whimsical Christmas symbols, then picked up his wife and headed straight into the bathroom.  Fortunately, he'd started the tub filling as soon as they got back, being the planner he was.  The mock serious underwater tussle had been quite...fun.

"Now, Doctor, you were saying about how good you'd been all year?"

"Did I? That must have been my angelic twin." Her fingers found an eartip to play with.

Oh? And who might you be then?" His hands slid down her hips and cupped her backside possessively.

"I don't know, I must have Christmas amnesia or something Too much eggnog, it has that effect on me.  Who did you say you were?" She giggled against his neck, feeling totally and completely safe.

"Perhaps we should try to restore your memory, then.  Can you think of a logical way of doing so?"

She paused, allowing her hand to begin a lazy journey down his face, his neck, his chest, his abdomen...

"I can, Commander.  But supposing my devilish twin is the real me?"

"Nothing would please me more, Doctor."

There was no need for mistletoe.

* * *

 

Klingon Love Songs

 

The day after Christmas, the sportscamp resumed business as usual.  Christine was very glad they'd gone back to the hotel on Christmas night because 05:30 came early enough at it was.  Spock had suggested that it would be best to do so, though she suspected the mini Olympic sized pool in their bathroom suite was behind his logic.  Quite logical logic, she decided.

The training vid was being shot this week, which meant that the film crew tripled in size.  Strafleet PFT and technical experts swarmed over the set.  Hours were kept separate from the actual camp schedule, but it meant very long days, especially for Spock.  Three visiting starships gave Somm and T'Annu a great selection of athlete-subjects.  The snowboarders came from a wide variety of places, Cuzco, Texas, Albania-Kosovo, Turkey, Polaris, Whistler, Zakopane, Val d' Isere and Canvey Island.  But the star of the halfpipe was Lt. Nikki Martin, an astrophysicist off the Potemkin. Raised in the South African mountain town of Sutherland where her parents were astronomers at a nearby observatory, she quite simply dazzled.

Stark had designed a prototype model for a standard issue snowboard to be use on snowy planets.  Once the techies at Starfleet got through with it, the board could have starred in a James Bond film.  Not only was it lightweight and easily portable, there was a built in navigational beacon, a distress signal, a communication device and various other jazzy extras.

Christine and her boss were summoned to the filming the first afternoon.  McCoy made his usual complaint.  "We're doctors, not actors," he said.

But it turned out the vid needed realistic scenes shot where crewmembers performed emergency first aid on injured colleagues, and who better to supervise than two fleet physicians, one of whom also snowboarded on a regular basis? After the day's action sequences were done, both of them had been interviewed about the injuries unique to the sport as well as helpful advice to avoid accidents and over exertion.

"They did not have you demonstrate how to conserve body heat in cases of hypothermia, did they, Doctor?" Spock asked that night as he crawled gratefully into bed beside his wife.

"That went out with the first Earth-Saturn probe, Commander, if you recall?" Christine continued scrolling through the Vulcan medical holo text.  She'd been asked to give an ob/gyn lecture over at the Science Academy hospital the next afternoon.  How on earth would she discuss human sexual reproduction with a passionless race?

"Passionless race? " Spock's amused voice interrupted her studies.

She tried clipping him one but he expertly dodged the action.  "It's not nice to eavesdrop on you wife's thoughts," she said without looking up.

"Perhaps not, but I feel compelled to defend my father's people against such ridiculous allegations.  I presume you have been speaking with your supervisor again?" He reached over to take the PADD from his wife's grasp and place it on the bedside table.

"But I was reading!" Christine protested.

"About sexual matters, from the look of things.  It would be more logical to give you a personal demonstration than have you peruse an archaic medical text, would it not?" The look on his face was extremely...convincing.

"Let me be the judge of that.  You'll have to put forth your best effort, though." She straddled her husband with a happy smirk.

"Oh, I intend to."

* * *

 

After the next morning's filming, Greg Dillon wandered over to where the first officer was stowing his equipment.  He thought for a moment, took a deep breath, then did something he'd never done, despite being invited to do so.

"Spock?" he asked carefully.  No, Commander, no sir.

"Yes, Greg?" the Vulcan replied pleasantly.

"Do you have a minute for some coffee?" Greg swallowed hard.  This was the first time he'd ever called his first officer by name.  It felt odd but not unpleasant.  "I have something I'd like to discuss with you."

"Certainly, I could use some warming up before the hockey matches begin.  The coach prefers his ice to be very cold."

"It's like this," Greg began after they seated themselves in the sports center's bar.  "I've already spoken with the captain, and everything is approved for my transfer, and for marrying Kala.  She has Terran citizenship -- her mom made sure she was born in New York, though she lived on Celeba most of her life.  So there's no issue with me remaining in Starfleet until my tour is up.  But, there's kind of...a problem."

Spock raised an eyebrow.  "Which is?"

"Er...I already proposed to Kala.  But I know from what she's told me that there are certain rituals and customs about asking for someone's hand in her society.  I...don't want to put a foot wrong, you know.  So, I kind of need to...learn about what to do before her dad arrives.  Do you suppose you could ask your father, I mean, if he could possibly..."

"I am certain my father could arrange a meeting with Ambassador Kl'o'rox, if that is what you are asking?"

Dillon exhaled.  "That'd be great.  Kala says I don't have to do this, but I'd rather ask him formally."

"That is always a wise course of action," Spock replied.  "What shall you do when your current duty tour ends?"

"Probably work for some of the private contractors out at the New Jersey shipyards.  Plenty of commercial ships to be built." He looked over at the Vulcan.  "Thanks, Spock.  I appreciate it."

"I am pleased I could be of assistance, Greg.  Good luck to you and Kala."

* * *

 

Christine's afternoon was enlightening, in more ways than one.  The ob/gyn lecture went reasonably well, with the usual questions being asked afterwards.  The medical personnel seemed interested and willing to learn, which was a bit of a surprise, but she had not known what to expect.  So far, so good.

"Dr. Chapel?" Christine recognized the ICU nurse who'd looked after her a short time ago.  T'Flor.  "Some of us are having our midafternoon tea in the lounge and wondered if you might join us?"

A group of about eight Vulcans was waiting for her, both male and female.  They greeted her warmly and invited her to sit with them at a comfortable table.  For a few moments, they made pleasant small talk, mostly about the sports camp and her impressions of Shi-Kahr.

"We were wondering," T'Flor eventually began, "if we might talk...frankly with you, as a Terran healer?"

"What about?" Christine tried not to sound wary, but given recent events, she was almost a little apprehensive.

The young woman's face turned a delicate shade of lime green.  "We are all...engaged or bonded to humans.  And despite our best efforts to study about...things, we still have certain...questions."

"We do not wish to ask our partners as it might be embarrassing to them.  But asking a healer for advice is logical.  Would you speak with us?" a male healer asked earnestly.

Christine stared back at the little group, absolutely thunderstruck.  Ask Dr. Chris? on Vulcan????

"Of course," she replied.  Eventually.

* * *

 

"Oh Amanda, their precious little innocent faces.  I still can't believe I didn't start laughing, bless their hearts." Christine sipped her martini, trying to figure out if it was some post-holiday hallucination from all that food.  Never mind how she'd face Len, what about Spock?

When Amanda got the call from her daughter in law, she hurried right into town and whisked the confused woman over to a quiet bar in the diplomatic compound.  "Dare I ask what they wanted to know?" she ventured.

"Everything. From a to z and every letter in between.  I had no idea Vulcans applied themselves so thoroughly to the study of...carnal matters.  And these are partnered with humans!"

"Lucky humans," Amanda replied with a wink.  "Christine, you should know by now that it's not mating by rote around here.  Once again, it's a whole range of thought, but the reality is, Vulcans are quite capable of...such things.  And this newer generation is seeing the logic of knowing one's mate well before pon farr.  That's a very wise thing, very brave too."

"I'll say.  Honestly, Amanda.  You name it, they asked.  Premature ejaculation, multiple orgasms, PMS, erectile dysfunction, the human sex drive.  And much more than that." Her face flushed.  Oh yes, much more, but those were one on one questions asked furtively at the end of the break.

"Come on, Christine.  Let's go meet the girls for dinner and see what wonderful designs Kala has done up for the women of Vulcan."

"Deal." They'd arranged have dinner with Kala and T'Lara so they could give opinions on the sample line that was almost ready for production.

* * *

 

Spock was already in bed by the time Christine got back to the hotel.

"How was your afternoon?" he inquired.

Christine turned bright red and ran into the bathroom, where she started laughing uncontrollably.

"Was it something I said?" Spock asked himself, confused.

* * *

 

In the chill air of a wintry Shi-Kahr morning, a triumvirate convened at Starchild's coffee cafe to discuss an important matter.

"We all know why we are here," Selak stated.  "So let us make plans forthwith.  This is an extremely important, delicate affair.  And what is discussed here must stay here."

"Agreed." Ajax and K'e'flex nodded their assent.

"The consignment shall be ready by the Terran New Year's Eve," Selak said.

"And the space cruiser which is arriving with the monthly supplies from the homeworld will take it on board," K'e'flex outlined.  "Once it reaches Qo'noS, a trusted associate shall put it on a friendly neutral trader.  One which will..eventually...call at Romulus.  Perhaps the Ferengi, as they are seeking favored trading nation status both with the Federation and the Empire.  Favors can be bought and sold easily at present.  There is always profit in profit."

"My cousin's husband, Komet, shall take the PADD separately back to Bolarus," Ajax continued.  "And he will dispatch it on another neutral trading vessel, coming to Romulus from the opposite direction.  The PADD shall arrive first, and will be given to the contact in the Romulan Trade Commission, who will secret it until the time is right.  It shall be made to look like a device from whatever nation's flag is being flown onboard, but once it reaches Romulus it can easily revert back to its original design."

"The consignment will thus be safe," Selak noted.  "As the identity of the one who sent it." Spock had figured out how to operate the Romulan PADD and Stark planned to make a recording for Chula, albeit disguised slightly by a hooded cloak in the filming.

"If questioned, the cargo can be explained as something won in a card game at a space station," K'e'flex speculated.  "Or..perhaps...as plunder."

"Excellent, gentlemen.  This calls for a drink," Selak announced, signaling the waitress for another round of coffees.

"Now to more pressing business," Ajax began.  "As you know, the Enterprise is here until the Terran New Year.  And that means the rapscallion Kevin Riley is here as well." The Bolian was still smarting from his "unofficial enlistment" the last time the Enterprise was in town.  He was often saluted as "Yeoman Ajax" at the weekly diplomatic poker game.

"And that must mean he shall return to his usual haunt, the gambling cruiser, which arrives two days before," K'e'flex said thoughtfully.  "Have you a plan, Ajax?"

A sly grin crossed the Bolian's blue features.  "I have, friends, one which is quite fiendish, as the Terrans say.  But I shall need the assistance of Lak'sha." Lak'sha was Ambassador Kl'o'rox's niece and the mother of Loki.  A widow for three years, she was assigned to the mission on Vulcan so her uncle could help give her son a father figure.

"Lak'sha? Whatever for?" Selak asked, surprised.  The woman was friendly and had quite a pleasant demeanor, given Klin women's somewhat brash reputations.

"Riley would like nothing more than to waken in the arms of a comely Orion woman," Ajax said.  "So what would be more fitting, waking in the arms of a fine Klin woman who tells him they took the oath the night before? Or waking in the arms of a fine Klin woman whose warrior husband, long thought to be dead, somehow returns just at that moment?"

"HAH!" K'e'flex laughed out loud and slapped his friend on the back.  "You are evil, Ajax, truly evil! Lak'sha will find it amusing, no doubt, she bemoans the fact she needs to take another mate, if only for her son's sake.  Kala and her intended can assist, she has been visiting much this week.  And we can dig up the ghost of a husband from among the staff if need be."

"Can not the aspects of both scenarios somehow be combined into one even more...devilish?" Selak mused.

"That is pure genius! Another round," Ajax proposed.  "Let us get to work, my friends.  and fine tune this plan."

* * *

 

Admiral Jackson and the three starship captains visited the snowboard set for interviews later that morning.  Now that Vulcan was at last coming out from under the Intrepid's shadow, the Federation was anxious to put on its best face while visiting one of its founding members.  Tours -- in small groups -- were planned for the campers aboard all three ships the next day in an effort to publicize Starfleet as a career option.  Not to be outdone, the Science Academy was giving an open house tour that week as well.

"So, Chris, how are you liking your two week secondment at this intergalactic daycare center?" Kirk joked as they walked past the ice rink where Spock was busily refereeing a match.

"It's great, Jim.  And it's such a PR opportunity for Starfleet.  The kids ask us every day what it's like to serve aboard a starship, about the academy, what kinds of jobs there are.  Those tours tomorrow will be very well attended, I think."

"Are you and Bones coming aboard for that?"

"Uh huh, they're filming some scenes while the kids are offsite, so Spock won't be, though.  I'm leading a group of ten and Len will be putting his sickbay on show.  By the way, he's having a great time over at the hospital here, learning everything he can and teaching the Vulcans everything they want to know." She paused as her husband nodded across the ice at them both, then skated off after a candidate for the penalty box.  "It'll be a bit hard to leave, I think.  But we'll all be glad to get back on board for some real work."

"Don't forget, the Vulcan government is giving you two a weekend's vacation at Kwil'nor after the camp ends.  Ambassador Sarek tells me the shuttle will bring you safely back to us afterwards, so no saying you can't afford the time.  I order you and that husband of yours to take them up on their offer, OK?"

"Aye, Captain."

"Chris," Kirk said softly, "use that time to just be with your husband and get to know him again.  I can only imagine what you both went through.  I was miles away but that didn't stop me worrying." He gave his ACMO a searching look.  "And there'll be plenty of time to start a family, Chris.  Don't make yourself sick over this all."

"I know, Jim.  It gets better every day but sometimes, I just backslide.  Spock tells me it's perfectly all right, normal even.  I just don't like it.  But that's me, you know I'm stubborn." She waved at Ellat, who was skating by.  "Do you know who that is, by the way?" She pointed the boy out to Kirk.

"No, should I?"

"Not exactly, but you must know his mother?"

"THAT'S Elaan's son?" Kirk's eyes followed the youth.  "Well what do you know.  He sure looks like her.  Does he have her temper?"

"When provoked, yes.  But normally, he's very shy and reserved, unless he's playing.  Then he's like any kid his age.  By the way, he looks much older than he is -- just turned eight, but you'd never know it, he's so tall.  And he tells me his mother will be here for the closing festivities.  His widowed mother." Christine winked at Kirk.  "Shall I have Len prepare you some of that antidote?"

Kirk didn't know quite what to say to that prospect.

* * *

 

"So," Ambassador Kl'o'rox said genially as he and the young man settled down to an informal lunch at the diplomatic compound's sushi bar.  "Koth's daughter has caught your eye, has she? A fine young woman, I have seen her at the embassy this week, as she visits my niece and the other females."

"She has, sir.  And her father will arrive her in just about three days." Greg Dillon dipped his Vulcan roll in the pungent local version of wasabi.  "So I was wondering..."

"How to announce your intentions? Of course, a wise thing to seek counsel.  We Klin are very courtly in the ways of love, no matter what you may hear." The ambassador took some more pickled radishes and ginger, which he clearly enjoyed.  "Has she yet received her jinaq?"

Dillon shook his head.  "She will when they visit the homeworld.  Her grandmother will present it, as she has no daughters and Kala is the only granddaughter." He paused.  "Is this a problem? Kala has indicated she...is willing to be my wife."

"She has?" The ambassador's eyes twinkled with glee.  "So she said to me as well! Then you must proceed, yes.  The first thing you do is to meet her father and present your d'k thag and state you wish to take the way of the suitor with regards to his daughter.  Have you a d'k thag?"

"Not precisely, no, sir.  But something similar." Dillon thought of the pearl handled bait knife he owned, his grandfather's.

"Good enough.  Now in a traditional way of the suitor, if he accepts your intentions, you must hunt and capture a fine targ.  Then you would bring it back to the woman's father, who inspects this.  If he approves, you make a gift of its heart, freshly killed, to the lady of the house.  She then gives it to your intended to cook for a meal.  And if this meal passes approval of both parents, and they in turn feel you to be suitable mate, you are free to court and to plan your oath taking.  I brought three targ to my prospective father in law.  He did not feel one who sought a diplomatic career would be as fine a mate as a warrior.  I had to convince him of my worthiness."

"Oh." Dillon's face registered disappointment.  "I don't supposed you have any heart of targ back at the embassy, do you?" He took a sip of tea and brooded.

"Do not worry, young man, for this is not Qo'noS, nor is Kala's father expecting you to behave in that way.  Simply meet with him and ask for his daughter's hand formally.  I have a feeling he will approve of the match.  Of course, presenting some indication of your willingness to support her would not go amiss.  I am certain you shall think of something!" The ambassador helped himself to some more sushi.  "We Klin have a liking for this Japanese specialty, I must admit.  It is delicious when freshly prepared, and these chefs are wizards at their art."

"I like it too.  Down in Texas, where my family is, there's a great little sushi bar in my home town of Rockport, and its specialty is shrimp rolls, made from fresh Gulf Coast shrimp."

"So, I hear that Ajax and his friends are planning a revenge on your shipmate Riley," the Ambassador said conspiratorially.  He'd heard the plan earlier that morning from his aide and both laughed uproariously.  Lak'sha had agreed to be a player.

"Yes sir, they are.  And I'm going to help.  Have you any suggestions for making this...authentic?" Riley had gotten on Greg's nerves once too often lately, time to take him down a notch or two.

"Indeed I do, young man.  I only wish I might be an insect on the wall of the room when the event transpires!"

* * *

 

"How did it go with the ambassador?" Spock asked Dillon at the end of the day's filming.

"Great, except I'm supposed to go hunt and capture a targ to give to Kala's father as a sign of my intent to provide for her.  How am I going to find a targ on Vulcan, unless the Ferengi happen to have one I can play for in a dabo game?" Dillon did not find that prospect an attractive one.

"I am certain Kala's father would not expect you to produce a targ any more than Kala would wish to eat the creature," the Vulcan said after a moment.

"But I'm supposed to show I can take care of Kala.  Klingons take a great stock in showing up with fresh game for their intended, as a way of saying she won't want for anything.  What could I possibly give?"

"Logically, there should be something you might be able to do.  Think on it for awhile.  By the way, did you enjoy the sushi bar? Both my father and the ambassador dine there often, as do many of the diplomatic staff."

"Spock! That's it!" Dillon snapped his fingers.  "You're a genius.  Of course! SUSHI! The ambassador say Klingons like it, and I know how to make it.  Mom and dad just sent me a shipment of fish and shrimp from home as a Christmas gift, and there's that fish I caught on Majoricia that cookie's got in storage for me.  I'll just make it all into a sushi plate."

"A very sound idea, Greg.  I am sure Kala's father will enjoy it immensely, and, as your family are in the fishing business, it is a good indication that Kala will be provided for.  Now, speaking of Kala, shall we go partake of the day's exercise demonstration? Young Kanou and your fiancee will be presenting mok'bara."

* * *

 

"So, Nanook of Shi-Kahr, what polar adventures did you record for posterity this day?" Christine asked as they helped themselves to some of the excellent Deltan chocolate truffles provided by Stark's parents.

"We were shown digging a shelter in the snow while using the board as a tool, which was a bit taxing, given the number of takes required before it looked correct.  The so called experts from Starfleet are worse than any filmmaker when detail is concerned.  Then we pretended to traverse up a snowy hill, again using the board for leverage.  Unfortunately, it was much more difficult then anticipated due to the lights softening the artificial snow." Spock gave a heavy sigh.  "I fear I am not cut out to be a film star, my wife.  Does this disappoint you?"

"Terribly so, I'm afraid.  I suppose I shall have to run off with that Vulcan first officer on the Enterprise instead." Christine laughed and snuggled closer against her husband under the covers, knowing he liked the feel of her favorite old flannel pj's better than any sexy nightie.  "Maybe I can get a word with him tomorrow when I'm taking that tour of campers on board."

"If that is the case, then I must seek out the sexy Terran doctor who is running the camp's medical center.  I am told her bedside manner is quite stimulating." Spock was obviously in great form that evening.  They laughed together, enjoying the humor that was so much a part of their relationship.

"Kanou and T'Mara will be in my tour group," Christine said a few minutes later.  "Both of them asked me to take their pictures together this morning on their vidcameras." She paused.  "Spock...do you think T'Mara even knows who you are? She said her parents are coming to the closing festivities and she wanted me to meet them.  What do I do?"

"It would be illogical for you not to meet them, th'yla.  She is but a child, and it is very clear that her parents have done a good job raising her thus far.  It is not fair to punish one so young for something that is long ago dead." Spock stroked his wife's hair, sensing that she was disturbed.

"But she nearly..."

"And I have since made my peace with that.  From what I have been told by my father, she and Stonn also have made their peace and are trying to lead a normal life in Go'an.  Did you not say T'Mara told the girls her mother is expecting another child and that the family anticipates this event with pleasure?" He touched Christine's face, conveying what his words could not.  "It does not trouble me, my love.  Do not let it trouble you."

"I promise." She kissed his fingertips, sealing her vow with what also was in her heart.  It was over and done with, time to get on with the rest of their lives.  "And I promise when we go to Kwil'nor that I will behave as a proper Vulcan wife and not do anything that would scandalize the servants."

"You do?" Spock's eyebrow raised.  "You greatly disappoint me, then, doctor.  Surely you can think of something quasi-scandalous that might be done? Besides, there are no servants at my parent's beach home.  It is, as you say, self contained, with its own beach."

"Hmmm, I'll have to do some research.  There are a few possibilities that might be defined as quasi-scandalous.  Shall I...demonstrate?"

"That, my wife, is a most logical suggestion."

* * *

 

My Sister, My Friend

 

The second week of sports camp neared its conclusion, and with it, a gala exhibition and closing festivities.  But for now, it was still a time of preparation, fine tuning, final strategies.  The campers were given well-received tours of the visiting starships and of the Science Academy.  Final scenes of the snowboard training vid were shot and interviews conducted.  And plans went forward, full of new year optimism.

* * *

 

On a starliner bound for Vulcan, Evie and Ben Childress had dinner with the captain and his wife, who was also a captain for the carrier.  But on this journey, she was just a happy mother enroute to see a child.  For she and her husband were the parents of Ginny, the little figure skater from Tuscon, and their arrival was to be a surprise.  The two couples chatted amicably about what news they'd had of their children and what their futures might now hold.

* * *

 

In Go'An, T'Pring turned to her husband and asked, yet again, if everything was prepared for their journey to the capital.  T'Mara had sent glowing vidmessages, speaking of the wonderful skating she was learning, the vast array of cultures attending the camp, and of her very special friend, Kanou.

"It is good she has made such a friend," Stonn remarked, for he knew too well how his daughter had suffered at school.  "And a Klin, no less.  It is logical to think that the races of the galaxy are perhaps more alike than they are different." He gave an affectionate pat to his wife's rounding stomach, pleased with the fact a son would be born in the spring.

"Yes, it is good," T'Pring replied.  She knew that her daughter's future was likely in a place far from Vulcan.  "But I have missed her these weeks, my husband."

The Royal Ballet had visited Shi-Kahr in early December, and T'Mara auditioned for the ballet mistress at Tsai T'Pas' request.  The woman was very impressed and invited T'Mara to apply for a studentship in London when she was close to the age of ten.  In the meantime, Stonn and T'Pring were surprised to learn their daughter was being asked to attend the Shi-Kahr School of the Arts in January to further her ballet training.  Perhaps the past truly was in the past, where it belonged, at last.

"She writes that Dr. Chapel, the wife of Spock, has been in attendance at the camp and has been most helpful," Stonn continued.  "Does it trouble you, my wife, that they shall both be there when we attend the closing ceremony?"

T'Pring shook her head and accepted her husband's hand.  "It is over and done, husband.  We attend for our daughter, and if we cross paths with those from the past, we shall behave as logical adults."

Stonn relaxed just a fraction.  "Very good, my wife.  It is also pleasing that we shall have some days to ourselves to wander the capital once more.  Now let us depart so we reach my relative's home in good time."

* * *

 

On the Troyian royal starship, Elaan looked out the window of her cabin's observation deck and contemplated the stars before her.  She had missed her son quite terribly these weeks, yet had been very happy to learn he was enjoying himself so much and that the staff was looking after him especially.  She remembered Spock and the woman who was now his wife.  Ellat spoke of them several times.

And Kirk? Was he, too, now wed? Elaan wondered what kind of meeting, if any, there might be for them.  They'd both been younger then, and she'd been as tempestuous as her nature demanded.  But now, years later, her life's circumstances had changed and time had changed her, for the better.  She had been a widow far too long, and no one suitable had presented themselves as a candidate for her consort.  Perhaps a reunion with an...old friend...might be good for them both.  A smile crossed her still exotic, still lovely features.

* * *

 

The morning of December 30 dawned like any other but it was to be a day of momentous events.

"T'sai Christine, will you not skate your short program for us?" T'Mara asked as she and Kala sat with their faithful audience.

"Please? The one you did when you competed?" Kanou entreated, her Standard now virtually indistinguishable from any other camper's.

"Well, ladies, it's been a long time since I managed to do it all the way through without an error." She grimaced theatrically.  "You know, I am not as young as I was then."

"We should still like to see it, Dr. Chapel," Kanou said.  "Even if there should be errors.  Your -- form? It is very fine to observe."

"OK, tomorrow then," Christine agreed.  "For New Year's Eve, all right?"

"Do you remember it?" Kala asked as they headed off for breakfast.

"I guess I do, just haven't skated it all the way through.  Maybe it's time I did, to prove to myself everything's back to normal.  When does your dad arrive, by the way?"

"Around ten," Kala replied.

"And Greg?" Christine knew Kala's would be fiancee was probably pacing a trench in the facility's locker room right about now.

"He'll be meeting Daddy for lunch at my suite, which he's bringing." She shook her head.  "That poor man was up until three am making sushi in cookie's galley.  He didn't have to do this, Daddy knows he's asked and he really has no issue, but Greg wants to go by the book."

"That's always good, Kala.  Make a great impression on your father.  It sure can't hurt."

"Daddy is about as typical a Klingon as I am," Kala laughed.  "But it's nice to see Greg makes the effort.  He's a good guy and I still can't believe this is happening."

"You just had to believe in yourself," Christine told her friend.  And she realized that that was the same prescription for success she herself had followed.

* * *

 

Kanou and T'Mara were uncertain why they had been summoned to Stark's private offices just after breakfast.  Were they in some sort of trouble, perhaps from their early morning visits to the rink? Stark, T'Lara, Sierra, Selek, T'Lea, Coach Daragan and his wife were all there, and their expressions were pleasant.  The girls were confused.

"Well, ladies, I suppose you are curious why you have been asked here?" Stark began.  The two small visitors nodded silently, their eyes large.

"You know my wife Liudmilla, who has been your figure skating coach these weeks, do you not?" Valery Daragan asked as idly scratched Sierra's head.  The girls nodded again but said nothing.

"I have been observing all the skaters here at the camp and have seen much talent," the woman said with a smile.  "Much talent.  But none as special as that which you both possess."

Kanou and T'Mara dared to exchange a glance.

"Liudmilla and I reside in Germany, in the Alpine town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where we train hockey players and figure skaters the year round at the excellent facility there.  We have skaters from many places and all of them aspire to be champions some day." The older gentleman joined in with his wife.  "They live in dorms and study as well as train.  All their needs are taken care of, and the experience is a very positive one.  In fact, Selek and T'Lea visited us not long ago before a competition and often stay with us in the summer to train."

"And T'Lara and I are there all the time as well during the snowboard circuit," Stark added with a reassuring grin.  "Sierra too."

"We are asking if you two young ladies would honor us by allowing us to train you," Liudmilla told the startled youngsters.  "Your talent is such that you could go very far in this discipline.  Of course, it would mean living much of the year on Terra, and working very hard.  But if you apply yourselves, you could do very well."

"You do not have to answer yet, of course,"T'Lara said soothingly.  "There is time for you to think, to discuss it with your families and come to a logical decision.  It is a very special honor, and we hope you shall contemplate this offer carefully."

"Know we are all there on Terra as well and would be seeing much of you," T'Lea remarked.  "And your parents could visit when they wished.  Selek and I did the same when were your age, and look where we are today?"

Kanou finally found her voice.  "Both of us?" she asked.

"Both of you."

* * *

 

"How do I look?" Greg Dillon asked Spock as he gave his uniform a final once over.

"Like a man about to meet his future father in law," the Vulcan replied logically.  "Relax Greg.  Worry does not become you."

"Sorry, I'm just so nervous.  I mean what if he says no? What if he expects a d'k'tahg and a targ, not a bait knife and sushi?" Dillon paused.  "Look, forgive me, I don't expect you ever faced this kind of dilemma.  I'll shut up and take a deep breath instead."

"On the contrary, I did," Spock said.  "You may find this difficult to believe, but even Vulcans can over-analyze a situation at times.  When I was preparing to ask Christine to marry me, I thought of every conceivable way of proposing, down to the last word in elaborate phraseology.  Then I also formulated every conceivable reply she might give and things threatened to get out of hand.  In the end I did the only logical thing possible."

"You did? What was that?" The lieutenant could not fathom the Vulcan being anything other than unflappable.

"I decided simplicity was best.  And so I used the simplest phrase possible.  As you can see, Christine accepted, and here we are now.  I would suggest you do the same with Kala's father.  Be simple and direct and I believe he shall appreciate this." He paused to hand the younger man's sheathed bait knife over.  "Do not forget your d'k'tahg, lieutenant," he said with just a trace of amusement.

"Aye, sir," Dillon grinned.

* * *

 

Kanou and T'Mara sat in the bleachers at the ice rink after the morning workout, talking.

"You will not come with me?" Kanou asked her friend sadly.

T'Mara shook her head.  "I cannot, Kanou.  My brother shall be born in the spring, and I wish to be there to greet him.  But more importantly, I feel our destinies are on different paths, though similar ones.  You are to be the skater.  I am to be the ballerina.  Both of us shall perform on our stages, you will see."

"But I shall miss you," the Klingon girl replied.  "These weeks you have been as a sister to me, a sister I can never have.  I shall cherish this."

"Yes, you have been as a sister to me too," T'Mara agreed.  "But Germany is not so far from England, and if all goes well, I shall be in London just over a year from now.  So we shall be together again even if we are studying different disciplines." She gave Kanou's hand a squeeze, something she'd seen other Terran girls do with their friends.  "And we shall send vids.  You will keep me informed of your odious brother's hockey progress."

"And you will tell me of your new brother," Kanou declared, "and how you train him to be less a beast and more a person." Then she paused and thought a moment.  "But perhaps there is something yet we may do, to honor our friendship."

* * *

 

Loki looked up from the group of boys at his table.  They'd all been engaged in that timeless pastime, the ugliest face competition.  He nearly choked when he saw Kanou standing there.

"Good day, Loki," the Klin girl said matter of factly, oblivious to the many pairs of eyes watching her.  "I would speak with your uncle briefly later this afternoon, if you might arrange it?"

"S--s--ure," the youth replied, not quite knowing what to say.  "I will let you know the time later." As the young woman left, his tablemates pounced in a familiar way, which Loki didn't even try to discourage.

* * *

 

"I see you have been speaking to Kl'o'rox," Kala's father, Koth, said just a little dryly when Greg presented his bait knife and the sushi later that afternoon.

"Yes sir, I have," he replied firmly.  "I am sorry this is all I have to offer you, but trust me, Kala will not want for anything."

"Not too many targ here on Vulcan, are there?" the older man said with a laugh as he indicated chairs for them both.  He was dressed in a contemporary styled version of traditional Klingon civilian wear, no doubt Kala's design.  His typically wavy hair was tamed into a ponytail and unlike many warriors Greg had come across, he was wiry and tall, but not in any way foreboding.  Dark, friendly eyes regarded him.  "I take it your family is in the fish business?" Koth already knew everything about the young man from his daughter, and approved, but decided if he was making the effort, he would honor his intentions.

"We are, sir.  Please, try some of the sushi.  I made it myself."

"Did you now?" Koth helped himself to some shrimp rolls and gave a smack of satisfaction.  "These are quite delicious.  And did you know the KIub Klin has sushi on the menu?"

"Yes, Kala said that." Greg started to relax.

"Of course, a good supplier of fresh fish is very important for a business," Koth continued as he tried some more of Greg's handiwork.  "And I do so enjoy sea fishing."

"Is that a fact? We fish out on the Gulf but I've been down Florida way and in the Caribbean too, out near Bimini.  Fishing's a great pastime, I think." Greg was warming to the man.

"And Kala says you are transferring to the New York yards, then hope to work out for some of the private contractors in New Jersey once your duty tour ends?" Koth polished off some more of the tuna rolls.  "Texas is not so far from New York, is it?"

Greg was not certain what to say.  So he said nothing.

"I mean, you are planning to marry Kala, are you not? That's all she's spoken of for weeks."

"If you would permit me, sir, yes, I would like to marry your daughter." Greg swallowed his shrimp roll before he choked.  He hadn't even formally asked yet.  "Are there any conditions you need to set for me to meet?"

"None that you have not already expressed, no.  Love, honor, protect and support, that about sums things up as the Terrans say.  It's what my wife and I agreed to all those years ago.  But Kala says you wish a Klin ceremony as well?" Koth was surprised and pleased at this prospect.

"We'd like to do a traditional oath taking, yes.  The Enterprise is in for its midmission overhaul next December on Terra, so she's in spacedock for three weeks of refit.  Maybe a few days after Christmas, to give folks a chance to get to New York from wherever they are?" Greg paused and cleared his throat.  "But there's something I need to know."

"And that might be?"

"Would it be permissible for my Tawi'Yan to be a Vulcan?"

* * *

 

Over at the Klingon embassy, rehearsal for the demise of Kevin Riley was in full swing, much to the amusement of the entire assembly.

"OK, let's try it again," Kala instructed.  "Lak'sha, be slow and seductive like we practiced.  Ajax, please try to stop laughing.  Can't you think of something that makes you even a little...surprised?"

The Bolian, who was lying on the floor covered in a blanket, shrugged.  "All right.  I just keep thinking of poor old Riley."

"Poor old Riley," Greg Dillon said to Koth.  "That man could be a Ferengi, the way he schemes for a profit."

The older Klingon, who had likewise warmed to his prospective son in law, laughed heartily.  If all went to plan, the unfortunate lieutenant would have a New Year's surprise, all right.

"And.  From the top."

Ajax stirred, rolled over, and opened his eyes slowly, enjoying the sensual caresses that woke him.  He sighed happily.

"Hello, my love," Lak'sha purred.

The Bolian jumped several feet, a look of disbelief on his blue face.  "Who -- who are YOU?"

Lak'sha pouted dramatically and tossed her head.  "Who am I? My mate, my fated one, do you not recall last night?" She stroked Ajax's forehead.  "I shall not soon forget!"

"MATE???" Ajax was doing a very good imitation of someone who'd just had the **** shocked out of him.

"We took the Oath last night at midnight.  After you won at tongo and declared that a fine woman was all you now needed to make your life complete." The Klingon widow, still young and comely, posed in her borrowed peignoir set.  "And you asked me to be that woman."

"Oath? Mate? Whazzat?"

Lak'sha tried, unsuccessfully, to put her arms around her struggling would be husband.  "It is our way of marriage, my mated one."

"Marriage? I don't remember any ceremony.  How can we be married?" Ajax was throwing our anything he thought Riley might say.

"There is no need, my fine human lover.  The oath is said between two who are bound to be mated.  No formal ceremony is required.  Our hearts are joined and we are as one now." She paused for effect.  "And soon there shall be three of us.  This I can feel in my soul.  I bear our child.  I hope he shall be a fine warrior as his father surely is."

"I--" Ajax stuttered, then fainted.  It was one possibility they were rehearsing.

Earlier, the scene had segued into the appearance of Kilhur, a staff member only too glad to show off his acting skills, as Lak'sha's long lost husband, thought to be dead, at last returning to his beloved.  Of course, this meant combat between the two males.  To the death.  It transpired that Klingons could be quite the ham when it came to drama.

"CUT!" Kala said.  "I think we've gone through every possibility.  So we'll meet tomorrow evening as planned, as soon as I get word that Riley's...asleep."

"What are they giving him?" Greg asked.

"Ferengi knockout potion," Kala replied.  "One swig and you're out for a good six hours.  Apparently, it's used when someone's getting a little out of hand and they don't want to have a bar fight disrupt the evening's profits.  Chris checked it out, it's harmless.  And the head bartender is just mad enough at Riley for that little poker game he tried to organize last time -- with a stacked deck -- so he's only too glad to help out.  A warning, of sorts, for poor old Kevin."

The troupe of actors and their entourage laughed evilly.

* * *

 

"I have never seen anything so fine.  And you say this is meant to be slept in?" Lak'sha asked as she handed the peignoir set back to Kala.  She looked down at her everyday attire somewhat ruefully.

"Eventually, yes, I suppose one could...sleep in it," Kala admitted, then gave back the garments to Lak'sha.  "It is yours.  One as lovely as you must feel good about herself, even when she sleeps."

"Oh, may I?" The Klingon woman's face registered delight.  "I shall treasure this.  Our own sleepwear is fit only for a dead targ."

"So K'a'tya told me," Kala laughed.  "But tell me, Lak'sha.  You played that character so well...did you ever appear on stage?"

"When I was a maid, just after I received my jinaq, I did consider a career in the opera.  I took part in many a Kot'baval festival.  And then one day, Loki's father happened by, and my heart was lost. A fastwind courtship, the Terrans call it?" The widow sighed wistfully.  "I do miss him so.  But perhaps, as my family tells me, it is time to reconsider my options.  Loki and I return to Qo'noS next year for his rite of accession training and will reside there permanently.  Loki...needs a father figure."

"Shall I ask K'a'tya to make some...discreet inquiries on your behalf when I arrive? I'm certain she might know some suitable candidates." Kala suspected the woman might also wish male companionship for herself.

"Would you?" Lak'sha exhaled.  "The way of the widow is such a traditional one on our world, but those of my generation are realizing that to be alone is not always the best way.  There are many good Klin men who are not necessarily warriors.  Such as your own father."

"My father is...an exception, but thank you.  Now since Greg and I also plan to take the Oath, do you know of any good dressmakers in the capital city? I would enjoy getting ideas for my gown."

"Of course.  There is one who designs Azetbur's finest attire.  Come, let us have some refreshment and discuss what you would like to wear."

Kala couldn't help a smile as she realized, once again, that women were much the same all over the galaxy.

* * *

 

Spock pulled his wife closer and intensified the kiss they were sharing in her office at the medical suite.  After some moments, they reluctantly broke apart.  To breathe.

"So Greg and Kala are having dinner at the embassy this evening?" he asked, watching her adjust her clothing and throw a cloak over her uniform.

"Yes.  Poor things.  Neither of them really has ever tried Klin delicacies.  Fortunately, her father insisted Greg bring the rest of the sushi as a gift, and I guess Ambassador and Lady Kl'o'rox have a penchant for non-Klingon food as well." She accepted her husband's hand as they exited the facility.  "So where are we meeting your parents for dinner?"

"An excellent new cafe which specializes in Tibetan vegetarian cuisine.  It is quite the talk of Shi-Kahr." He stroked his wife's fingers suggestively.  "And then I thought we might indulge in...dessert back in our suite?"

A hand smacked his glutes affectionately.  "Insatiable."

"Must you constantly re-state the obvious?"

* * *

 

In a private ceremonial room at the Klingon embassy, b'oktai incense was heavy in the air.  Kanou and T'Mara, dressed in special vests, stood alone, holding their candles before a much larger pillar of flame.

"Do as I do," Kanou instructed.

T'Mara nodded and they lit their tapers, then moved forward to light three more off of the fire each now held.

"SoS jiH batIh SoH," the Klingon girl intoned reverently.

"SoS jiH batIh SoH," the Vulcan girl repeated, just as reverently.

"It means, 'Mothers, we honor you.' And now you are my sister, and I am yours, and our families and our houses are joined."

T'Mara held out her hand to her friend, who took it.  "Sisters," she said, a pleased look on her face.  Family members were premitted to show emotion in private.

"Sisters."

"I suppose, my sister, I must now warn you," T'Mara said as they prepared to leave the embassy with Kala and T'Lara, who had been waiting for them.

"Of what?" Kanou replied, curious.

"I...believe Loki...finds you to be quite...dishy."

Kanou made a face that was well known across the galaxy.  "Must you tell me just before our evening meal?" She shook her head and made a most unladylike sound.

The two friends linked arms and made their way back towards the sports center.

Kala and T'Lara exchanged a long, amused look.

* * *

 

Kirk's comm unit beeped.

"Priority message, sir, from the Troyian royal flagship," Uhura said, with just a trace of amusement in her tone.

Kirk swallowed hard.

"Hello, James," a long ago familiar voice purred.

* * *

 

Predawn Delights

 

Christine sighed an exasperated sigh.  "We are going to be tired AGAIN, Commander.  Why can't you seduce me at a decent hour?"

"Because every time I appear in the medical facility with that exact proposition, I am routinely shown the door.  By you." Spock trailed his hand down past his wife's hips, heading toward familiar territory.  "And by the feel of things, you are hardly unprepared for this...seduction."

The chronometer said 4am.  4am? They'd gotten to bed around midnight, after a wonderful dinner with Sarek and Amanda that went delightfully on and on.  Then a two hour swimming lesson in the bath.  Both of them were going to miss that tub, Christine realized.

As if reading her thoughts, Spock pulled her astride him and continued his tactile exploration.  "Perhaps I shall have such a...pleasant bath tub installed wherever we decide to live once the mission is over." They had been kicking ideas around last night at dinner.  "And I assure you, once we reach Kwil'nor, I intend to hold you hostage so both of us may catch up on our...needed sleep."

"What will the servants say?" she laughed, then gasped sharply as a Vulcan digit found its mark unerringly.

"There are no servants, my beloved, as I said.  It will be simply you...me...and a bed..."

The man was oversexed.  Definitely oversexed.  And she didn't mind at all.  Come to think of it, neither did he.

"Do you suppose Jim will be seeing Elaan this evening?" Spock switched the topic.  How could he carry on a conversation AND manage to....?

"Mmmmhhhffff," Christine replied, her eyes closed.  And this was just the preliminaries.  "May-beeeee....." One thing was certain.  She would be skating her old short program this morning with an extremely...languid expression on her face.

"I cannot understand you, doctor.  Are you having a problem speaking?"

She looked down at his face, all innocent in its gaze, unless you knew how to read the expression.  Christine knew how to read it all right.

"Shut up and **** me, you Vulcan animal," she whispered.

An eyebrow raised.  "As you wish."

A second later he'd flipped her on her back and was happily obliging her request.

* * *

 

Should Auld Acquaintance...

 

"We have an audience," Kala remarked as they finished their workout.  She glanced over her shoulder at the bleachers.  "Have a look."

Christine saw her usual fans, T'Mara and Kanou.  Spock, Greg, Stark, T'Lara, Sierra.  Selek and T'Lea.  And Coach Daragan and his wife.  A knot started forming in her stomach.  Just the usual people who might be around in the mornings..but...

Nyota shrugged.  "I guess the word got out...." She had joined her friends that morning for a real ice session while Ade did early rounds with McCoy over at the Science Institute Hospital.

"That I was going to fall gracefully on my sagging old posterior, right?"

"But looking fabulous all the while." Kala gave her friend a smile.  "Come on, Chris.  Ny and I have seen you do this number a dozen times on the holodeck.  You know it by rote."

"On the holodeck, ladies.  This is real ice." Christine took a calming yoga breath.  She knew that doing her short program today would be a personal milestone of sorts for her.  At last, she was feeling like her old self, the self before the flu epidemic and the Xir Tan disaster.  Her routine today would be positive proof of this.  "OK, guess I'll make my Shi-Kahr debut."

"That's the spirit." Nyota and Kala linked arms with Christine and they skated back over to the sidelines.  Christine forced herself to concentrate only on Kanou and T'Mara.  After all, they had convinced her to skate this, so she would perform it -- at least in her mind -- just for them.

"Computer." Christine squared her shoulders and pulled herself up to her full height.  Cue 'Deep Space Nine' theme." Breathe she told herself as she took up her position on center rink.

The music began.

* * *

 

As she started her final spin sequence, Christine realized she recalled very little of the routine she'd just done, apart from the fact she somehow had not fallen out of any of her jump combos.  Never mind they were seemingly easy singles and doubles, she landed them on one foot, the same as she'd done decades ago.  On the whole, she was still in one piece, and that was all she'd hoped for.

She came to a stop and threw her arms over her head in a dramatic pose, exhaling mightily.  Yes, it was going to be all right.  Now they could get on with their lives.  And their marriage.

Christine could feel her husband's pride and admiration as she made her way back to the small group waiting for her.  Nyota and Kala grabbed her in an emotional bear hug, glad to see their friend was back to normal at last.

After a few moments of congratulatory small talk, Christine extricated herself from the throng and accepted Spock's fingers in a traditional embrace.  His thoughts pulsed back across their link, quite staggering in their intensity.

*Spectacular.  It was as though you skated just for me.*

*Maybe I did.*

She could have sworn she felt an extremely suggestive embrace...and kiss...just about then.  How did he manage to do that so easily? And so often? She could just barely manage a mental butt slap now and then.

"Well, ladies, what did you think?" Christine sat down with Spock next to her biggest fans.

Kanou and T'Mara's expressions did not deny the fact they had been very impressed with what they'd seen.  Why? Christine wondered.  She was hardly in their league.

"Your..." Kanou began, then spoke a moment with her friend.  "Your arra-besk combination was beautiful, Dr. Chapel.  I enjoyed it very much." It was hard to believe that two weeks ago, Kanou could barely speak a few phrases of Standard.

"Did you ever study ballet?" T'Mara asked.  "As my dance mistress would say, your line is excellent."

Christine smiled, straightened her shoulders and lifted her head in an ages old posture.  "Of course I studied ballet.  Most skaters do.  It's a natural thing, to combine the grace of one discipline with the athletics of another."

"Would...would you show me your arra-besk combination once more?" Kanou said earnestly.  "I...would like to learn this for my own program, perhaps."

"Sure, Kanou." Christine held out her hand to the Klingon girl.  "Let's go."

Spock, who was busy speaking with Stark and Coach Daragan about the afternoon's closing exhibition, watched his wife and the young woman skate onto the rink.  He was touched by her easy, friendly manner which had put the girl at ease when the camp first opened.  Was it only two weeks ago?

Perhaps his parents both were correct.  Sarek remarked the night before that Christine's natural diplomatic abilities were something to consider for a future career.  And his mother, of course, said it was obvious to her Christine would be a good and loving mother.

When the time was right.  And someday on the not too distant future, Spock knew that time would come.  He felt a wave of contentment wash through him.

* * *

 

Kirk shifted his weight uncomfortably.

"Are you sure you want this, Jim? I never established it worked, you know." Leonard McCoy adjusted the hypospray with a skeptical eye, then figured if his friend had beamed down at such an early hour, he meant business.

"I'm sure Bones." He could still hear that seductive voice in his ear.  The spray hissed as it found its mark.

"What exactly did she say?" McCoy remembered the volatile Elaan all too well.

"She...was pleased to hear I was also at Vulcan.  We caught up a bit.  Then she asked me to have dinner aboard the flagship tonight.  With her.  Alone.  Before the New Year's Eve party." Kirk paused as if considering what he'd heard once more.  "She assured me her son would be well taken care of during the course of the evening."

"That sounds like a reasonable invitation, Jim.  Two old friends and all." McCoy raised an eyebrow in a perfect Spockian imitation.  Was his friend getting antsy in his middle age?

"Bones...we last saw each other what, ten years or more ago? It wasn't the best of situations, either.  I've thought about her now and then all this time.  Kind of a, what if things had been different."

"And now they are?"

"Looks that way." The captain exhaled loudly.  "Well, no use speculating.  I'd better get back aboard and into my dress duds for the celebration gala.  See you this afternoon." Kirk reached for his communicator.

As McCoy watched his friend beam back to the Enterprise he mused over the fact that ten years had mellowed all of them.  For better, for worse it was hard to say.  But damn, things were still exciting on the Enterprise.

* * *

 

"Amanda, I don't know how to thank you," Christine told her mother in law as she packed up her supplies to beam back onboard.  "You're sure it was no trouble?"

"Not at all, my dear." The older woman smiled knowingly.  "Both of them adore it, you know, so I've made sure the beach house is well stocked.  Sarek and I will be headed there a week or so after you leave.  I got triple what you suggested."

The medical staff was preparing to depart after the conclusion of the camp.  Back to being regular physicians one more.  But not just yet.  T'Safa and her bondmate had promised a game of dom-jot to Christine and Spock later that evening.  And then Christine and Ade would be tag teaming in the great Kevin Riley follies.

"So, what's it like at Kwil'nor in the winter?" Christine was curious, having missed the trip Stark organized the previous summer.

"Windy and misty and cool.  Even if we are a desert planet, at the shore, things are like they'd be just about anywhere.  Think Monterey or Barcelona in January.  That should be about right."

Christine pictured long walks on a foggy beach and warming up in front of a fireplace with her favorite hot watter bottle.  Nice.

"Jim almost had to force us to take the leave," Christine continued.  "Both of us thought that after two weeks at the sports camp, plus my unexpected rest leave just before, we'd used up all our time off.  But no, Jim wasn't having any of that.  He said we were under orders to relax...and enjoy our marriage.  What does he know about marriage? But we agreed."

Amanda covered her daughter in law's hand protectively.  "I think that's just the ticket.  Things happened so fast..."

"I know." Christine's head dropped and for a second, tears threatened to spill over her lashes.  "And every time I think I'm just fine, I remember.  But Spock, he's been...so wonderful.  He tells me every day things will only get better.  I know that's true, but I just doubt myself sometimes."

"I was the same way with Sarek when I miscarried the first time.  It's pretty clear to me Spock has inherited alot of his father's goodness, as well as his stubbornness.  He'll be there for you.  Just acknowledge that he is and let the rest happen naturally."

Christine embraced her mother in law tightly.  "Thank you, Amanda.  You've been such a strength to me through every step of our relationship.  I promise we'll be the cause of alot of amused stories, not sad ones."

"I know you will.  Speaking of amusing stories, let me tell you about the first time Sarek took me to Kwil'nor," Amanda began as they walked out of the medical facility.  "It was many years ago, a quaint little seaside village in the back of beyond where the fishermen still harvested sea vegetables as their ancestors had for centuries.  Most locals had never seen a Terran, let alone a female one who was married to a Vulcan.  I felt like a monkey in a zoo, even though their stares were unobtrusive.  They still stared."

"Terrific," Christine hrrmphed.  That was the last thing she wanted now, more disapproving glances from hardliners.

"It's not like that now, for heaven's sake!" Amanda stifled a giggle.  "Why it's the same as any other beach resort, well, perhaps not quite like Risa.  A promenade, shops, restaurants, a pier, and lots of holidaymakers, Vulcan and non Vulcan, all year round.  For many of them, it's the first time they have ever seen an ocean.  You'll have a wonderful time, Christine.  Sarek and I are looking forward to our visit there too.  The sea air is wonderfully...rejuvenating."

Christine could have sworn her mother in law blushed.  Rejuvenating...?

* * *

 

The two weeks of sporting activity culminated in a spectacular exhibition by all participants on New Year's Eve afternoon.  Later that evening, there would be a gala party at the sports center, complete with a plasma fireworks display at midnight, courtesy of the combined efforts of General Stoick and the Federation's best munitions experts, engaged in a pleasant duty for once.  And far above Vulcan, a Ferengi gambling cruiser was in orbit, happily catering to the needs of three starship crews who were all too eager to part with their credits.

The intergalactic press was at the exhibition in force, as were visiting dignitaries and parents who had made the trip to collect their offspring.  The youngsters did not disappoint.  The snowboarders attacked the halfpipe as a young Stark must surely have done years before.  Figure skaters performed graceful moves across the ice.  And the hockey players went through a modified version of Coach Daragan's own championship team's warmup.

Stark, Admiral Jackson, T'sai T'Ser and Ambassador Sarek all spoke to the wonderful experience the inaugural camp had provided for youngsters from all over the quadrant, many of whom would be going on to further sport participation.  There would definitely be another camp the following winter, Stark promised, but its exact location was still unknown, due largely to the fact that a dozen potential sites had already been suggested by eager agents.  Hopefully, the champion concluded, one day a camp participant might become an Olympic participant...or even a champion.  No one doubted that possibility.

T'Mara and Kanou exchanged a glance and grasped hands.

As the gala came to a close, the campers gathered with their parents to speak to those who had guided them through the two weeks of learning.  Spock and Coach Daragan found themselves surrounded by a slew of young hockey hopefuls, each eager to make formal introductions.  Including Ellat and his surprisingly low key mother, who mingled with the others without issue...despite the usual entourage of hangers on.  Thankfully, they had finally learned to keep their distance.

"Doctor Chapel?"

Christine looked down to see T'Mara and Kanou, who were by now joined at the hip.  "Hi ladies, what's up?" she asked pleasantly.

"Would you come and greet my parents?" the Vulcan girl asked, indicating where Stonn, T'Pring, the T'sai T'Pas and Liudmilla Daragan were standing, deep in conversation.

A slight wave of uncertainty washed through her and she wondered what to do.  At that moment, she felt her husband's soft supportive touch on her shoulders, almost as though he was standing behind her.

*Go on, my love.  It is all right.  Let the sands of the past settle at last.*

So she followed the two young women, aware that Spock was not only observing her actions, he might well have been there with her.  But the feeling was one of overwhelming calmness and peace, not a whisper of revenge or animosity in sight.

"This is Dr. Chapel," T'Mara said as she made the introductions.  "She has assisted Kanou and myself these two weeks most admirably.  And she not only studied ballet, she skates as well." For a Vulcan, it was clear the young woman was going to do well in the spotlight which would inevitably shine on her in the future.  Even at this young age, nothing seemed to faze her.

"Dr. Chapel also introduced us to jelly beans," Kanou added.  "A most delicious treat."

"Indeed? And what is a jelly bean?" Stonn asked as he stroked his daughter's hair affectionately.  It was clear he was fond of her.

Christine felt herself relax somewhat as she described the Terran candy and promised to give the girls a supply for their homeward journeys.  Then she listened to Liudmilla Daragan and the T'sai T'Pas, who was T'Mara's ballet mistress in Go'An, speak of the exciting times ahead for their two proteges.

She met the gaze of T'Mara's parents and discovered they appeared to be just as curious about her as she was about them.  T'Pring looked to be in her early third trimester and had that unmistakable glow of expectant mothers common to all races.

After a few moments, Ginny, the young skater from Arizona, appeared to whisk her and Liudmilla over to meet her parents, so Christine took her leave.  As she was about to head off, she turned to T'Pring and Stonn.

"Congratulations on your pleasing event," she said, wondering how else Vulcans would describe what ordinarily would be called joyous, blessed or happy.

"Thank you," T'Pring replied smoothly as she stood there with her husband and daughter.  "We look forward to our son's arrival in the spring." She paused for a microsecond, a look of something Christine could not fathom washing across her dark eyes.  "And may your marriage also have much sweetness."

Christine could only say thank you as well.  Ginny began determinedly leading her towards her waiting mother and father just then, but she clearly heard Stonn's voice addressing his feminine entourage.

"It is rumored that there is excellent ice cream to be had nearby," he said, with just a hint of non-Vulcan anticipation.  "If you fine ladies would permit me to accompany you, I propose we have some to celebrate this special day." Pleased female voices, young and old alike, were quick to assent.

From across the ice, Spock and Stonn's gazes met in silent acknowledgment of how their lives had progressed since that day so long ago.  They nodded to each other, then moved on.

* * *

 

He'd glimpsed her earlier but the crowds and official duties had prevented any contact.  Now, as the audience left the arena, Kirk realized the time had come to say hello in person.

She looked older, more refined, more settled.  Still regal, somewhat tempered by sedate, mature dress and hairstyle, a far cry from her appearance years ago.  An empress all right, though today was all about being a devoted mother who was proud of her son.  And who had clearly missed him these past weeks.

He made his way over to where Ellat was standing with Spock, Christine, McCoy and his mother.  Kirk noticed the way her eyes brightened as he approached.

"Your..." he began hesitantly.

The Dowager Empress, for that was her official title now as a widow, raised a hand.  "It is now Elaan to my friends," the former Dohlman of Elas told him.  "And my son, this is Captain Kirk, that you asked about.  It was his ship, the same one you visited, which brought me to our world many years ago."

"I am pleased to meet you, Captain," the Dauphin replied.

Kirk allowed himself to join the conversation, but at the back of his mind he was still contemplating what he'd just heard.  Friends? After the terrible, sad way they'd parted?

"James?"

Kirk realized he and Elaan were now standing alone.  "Where did everyone go?" he managed to ask, aware that the woman had not lost any of her attractiveness.

"My son has been invited by the parents of Benny Childress to partake of some...Mexican food, I believe it is called? And your shipmates have gone off to prepare for this evening's celebration, I believe." She touched Kirk's arm.  I thought you might show me some of Shi-Kahr? I have heard from my son that the botanical gardens are a most pleasing spot for a walk.  " The barest hesitation.  "And since we both must attend the festivities this evening, perhaps you would be amenable to an...early supper and tour of my flagship?"

A moment later, Kirk had offered Elaan his arm and they made their way out towards the mall and the gardens beyond.

Christine, who was being steered by her husband towards their hotel suite, caught a glimpse of the couple leaving the building.  "I wonder what those two are up to?" she asked casually.

"I would surmise the same thing we are," Spock replied without missing a beat.  "Eventually."

* * *

 

"Did meeting Dr. Chapel cause you any discomfort?" Stonn asked his wife as they sat and ate their ice cream in the botanical gardens.

"No, husband.  It is...good she and Spock have found pleasure in their bonding.  And you?" T'Pring glanced over to where her daughter and Kanou were demonstrating mok'bara to the T'sai T'Pas.

"I have spoken with Ambassador Sarek several times in the past months, as our daughter prepared to attend this camp," he replied.  "It is clear that we are at last able to continue with our lives, that the past has been buried." The barest sigh escaped him.  "It pleases me that at least T'Mara shall have the opportunity to escape much of the problems we encountered over these years." He gazed at his wife searchingly.  "It is illogical, perhaps, to ask, but are you pleased with the way our lives have turned out thus far?"

"We have come a long way, my husband, since our foolishly illogical youth.  Yes, Stonn.  I am pleased." T'Pring gave a slight start.  "Oh."

"Is something ailing you?" Stonn was ever aware of his wife's physical state.

"Of course not, my husband.  Our child just made certain I knew of his presence."

* * *

 

Stark allowed himself a moment of un-Vulcan satisfaction.  The camp had been a resounding success and the donations to his scholarship fund were still pouring in.  Next year the camp would expand, perhaps to a hundred participants.  Potential venues were still being proposed.  Vulcan had agreed to host a championship snowboard competition the following winter.  The young Vulcan snowboarders all showed promise; talk was already circulating of Stark leading a truly formidable team into the Lake Tahoe games.

But for right now, Stark sighed happily and pulled his wife onto his lap for a kiss.  Sierra gave a sigh and tapped her master's knee.

"I know, girl, you're here too." The champion gave his faithful canine companion a scratch behind her ears.  "And tonight you'll have all kinds of folks to meet."

The Alsatian was great with crowds.  The more people, the more opportunities to show of her tricks and perhaps get a belly rub.

"So, it'll be like this for quite a few more years, T'Lara.  Are you regretting the fact you threw that snowball at me now?" Stark's face was deadpan, but he was clearly amused.

"Perhaps I should show you just how much I regret my actions," T'Lara purred in his ear as her hand began tracing her husband's corded thigh.

Stark was still amazed how wanton his wife could be.  He was determined to find the moron who started the rumor Vulcan women were as exciting as frozen fish and set him straight once and for all.  For someone half Deltan, no less, he was completely satisfied with his bondmate.  And then some.

Sierra gave another sigh and lay down for a nap.  It was clear to her that her master and mistress were going to mate once more.  What puzzled her, however, was the lack of a litter being produced.  Perhaps that was why they mated so often...surely they would be successful soon?

In a moment, she had drifted into dreamless slumber.

* * *

 

Should Auld Acquaintance aka Hot Stuff!

 

"Was I really so horrendous?"

James Kirk laughed as he let his hands wander over the silken wrap loosely covering Elaan's still shapely body.  He idly wondered how soon he could get her out of it again.

"You were more than horrendous.  You were...incorrigible.  Impossible.  Spoiled. Childish.  Petulant." He paused, a smile playing across his face.  "Shall I go on, or is that enough?"

Elaan returned his caresses and his laugh.  "I must admit, I was quite headstrong in my youth.  But that was the way of our people.  Do you remember the glass of wine I threw at you?"

Kirk feigned incredulity.  "Which one? You must have gone through every glass on the Enterprise before we reached Troyius!"

"Ah but I arrived the very model of decorum as befits a royal bride to be," she replied as she ran a hand through her lover's hair.  "I have much to thank you for, James Kirk."

"Me?" Kirk's lips found the place where silk met skin.

The dowager empress was acting anything but a dowager as her hand now wandered down his chest.  "You taught me how to behave, which allowed the marriage to take place, which eventually joined our peoples in peaceful coexistence.  As you can see today, our worlds live side by side with a view to building a local starbase in the future."

"I did all that?" Kirk was having fun and loving it.  "I'm better than I thought!"

"Of course," Elaan admitted, "that was after came out of my locked quarters, where I had steadfastly remained for three months after the ceremony." She sighed.  "I had to learn that my husband was truly a good man who wanted the best for both our races.  And by the time I realized how wonderful and loving a companion and father he was, he was gone."

Kirk drew her close for a moment, sensing her sadness at the memories.  "But he gave you Ellat, didn't he? That must be some comfort.  I can see you're a devoted mother to him and that he loves you very much."

"Ellat.  Yes, he is the greatest joy I have known, the very picture of his father at times.  A pity he was only four when my husband died.  And now my duty is to him.  I have vowed not to marry again until he is old enough to understand."

"That's always a wise decision.  I take it there are...suitors?" A fleeting vision of a scene from the Odyssey crossed Kirk's mind.

Elaan gave a decidedly ladylike snort.  "Of course.  There are many, from both worlds.  Senators, generals, ministers in the government.  Ambassador Petri's heinous brother, Bunsen.  Oh, I shall have my choice...if I choose at all.  But that is not what I choose at this time.  It is far...better...to meet an old friend now and then, is it not?"

"Now and then?" Kirk was intrigued, even as he felt a hand tickle his hipbones.

"Perhaps our paths may cross again, James.  If so, I would welcome your company.  And Ellat would as well.  We...shall spend part of our summer holidays on Risa this year, at the diplomatic home maintained there.  If you are in the immediate vicinity, perhaps you could also...have a small holiday and join us?" Her smile was still as seductive as ever, but there had been no need for tears this time.  Both of them were adults now, capable of handling the situation far better than the first time they'd met.

"I'll put it on my calendar," Kirk replied.  "But for now, let's rekindle our friendship some more before we have to leave for the party, eh? Ellat's probably wondering where you are."

"He is with his bodyguards and several youngsters from the camp," Elaan replied as she welcomed another kiss from the man she had thought of for so long.  "Let us not worry about him."

* * *

 

"El-LAT! EL-LAT! EL-LAT!"

"MOGH! MOGH! MOGH!"

The other diners at the Mexican restaurant paused to regard the table of youngsters...and some bemused parents.  Although eateries in the diplomatic compound tended to be a bit more lively than most in Shi-Kahr, it was clear something unusual was transpiring.

Ellat gulped at his water.  His throat and tongue were on fire and his eyes were streaming.  But he was determined to prevail.  For Troyius, for his mother...for himself.  He took a very deep breath and started his final assault.

* * *

 

"I thought we were supposed to be taking a nap?" Christine asked in her best martyr's tone.

"As I recall, we did." Spock continued his oral assault of her collarbone, knowing he would leave the mark that branded her as his.

"Forty five minutes is no nap, mister.  Don't forget we'll be up all night with Riley's follies and all." She ran her hands through his hair, marveling at the fact it always fell right back into place no matter how she tousled it.

"At this time tomorrow, we shall be safely at Kwil'nor, my wife, and we should be...sleeping."

"Sleeping? Is that the Vulcan word for it?" She hrrmphed amusedly.  "Sleeping.  Yeah, right.  By the time we get back to the ship, we'll need a vacation to recover from that vacation."

Spock rolled onto his side and drew her close against him.  "But you forget that I shall be leaving almost immediately for a three week scientific mission to the colony on New Kavalla." He sighed overly dramatically.  "Three weeks without your company.  Whatever shall I do?"

"I'm certain the monks will keep you, Ade and the team out of mischief."  Christine snickered and nipped at an eartip.

The colony had been founded by an ancient order of Greek Orthodox monks, whose long standing island monastery finally gave in to the forces of nature and slid from the cliff it had been perched on for centuries.  Rather than seek a new site in Greece, the brethren had been more adventurous, instead heading out into space.  The colony they founded a century before now thrived and produced excellent cheese, honey and wines, but, as the monastery's island had been in the past, it was restricted to males only.

"In that case, I shall take every opportunity before I depart to use our marriage license as it was meant to be used." Spock looked into his wife's eyes.  "And to tell you that I love you."

* * *

 

"You know that Ellat wishes to serve in Starfleet someday?" Elaan remarked as they walked through her impressive royal flagship.  "Perhaps at the starbase we hope to build?"

"Starfleet can always use good physicists.  Tell him to start studying now, and we'll keep in touch as he nears the age for his exams." Kirk felt a sense of pride in the young man's aspirations, much the same as when Leonard James Akaar announced the same thing some months back during his recent visit there.  What if those two ended up as roommates? Kirk shook his head.

"I have thought of you much these past years, James.  And I am so glad we were able to see each other." Elaan paused before a smaller version of the Enterprise's observation deck and slid her arms up around Kirk's neck.  "And I hope you are also glad."

"Very," Kirk began, but his words were lost in another kiss.

* * *

 

"I'm going to miss this bath tub," Christine said a little sadly as Spock rubbed her dry with a big fluffy towel.

"As shall I.  But as I promised, we can have one installed wherever we decide to live after the mission." He wrapped the towel around them both and started kissing his wife with a definite agenda in mind.

"Again?" Where did he charge his batteries overnight, Christine wondered.  Come to think of it, what was in those batteries, anyway?

"Need you ask?"

*BEEP!*

"Oh no!" Christine extricated herself from the terrycloth and hurried towards her communicator.  Although the camp was almost over, she was still a physician on call.

"Chapel here?"

"Oh, Dr. Chapel.  It's T'Safa.  I'm afraid there's a....bit of a situation here at the medical facility and I need your assistance.  Could you come down here right away?"

"Is it serious? I'll just be a few moments." Christine was already starting to throw on the outfit she'd planned to wear that evening.

"That would be fine.  I shall...await you."

Christine turned to her clearly disappointed spouse.  "Spock, maybe I'm so tired I'm hearing things, but...I could swear that woman was about to laugh!" She allowed her husband to zip her jeans and relished the caress he gave her backside.  Kwil'nor here we come, she thought.

"Perhaps she was...amused.  Vulcans do get...amused, you know." Spock's own eyebrow had raised thoughtfully.  "And as you know, our race does encompass the entire spectrum of personalities." Even he was astonished.  The healer's voice registered definite amusement.  Much more than amusement.

* * *

 

"A chili pepper eating contest?" Christine was stunned.

She and Spock had arrived at the medical facility to see a somewhat worried knot of adults in the lobby.  Spock stayed to speak with Evie Childress and Silok's parents while his wife hurried in to see what the emergency was.

T'Safa was definitely...amused as she ushered her colleague into the examination room.  There, for all the galaxy to see, was a group of males in obvious distress, though they tried mightily not to show it.  Ben Childress and the two Troyian bodyguards.  Ellat.  Mogh.  Loki.  Silok.  Benny.  Jimmy Sanchez.  The usual suspects, all right.

"I'm afraid this was all my doing," Ben Childress admitted as Christine examined his blistered lips and tongue.  "There was a big decorative bowl of fresh chilies on our table, and some of the boys asked what they were.  And...one thing...kind of led to another."

"I'll say it did!" Christine and her colleague swiftly administered the correct antidotes for internal and external chili burns.  "But why?" A chili pepper eating contest on Vulcan? This was one for the books.  She imagined Sarek's reaction to the story.

"We wanted to prove we were strong," Mogh said stoutly, then winced as Christine swabbed his burnt mouth.  "Mr. Childress said that eating raw chilies was a sign of strength."

"Especially Rigellian chilies!" Silok added.  "And they are...strong." He looked green.  Green as a Thai chili, which he'd probably eaten as well.

The poor boy, Christine thought.  Most Vulcans didn't take well to spicy foods.  Fortunately, T'Safa seemed to know just what to do in his case.

In due course, the group was cured of what ailed them and given stern warnings about eating foods which caused severe burns when consumed raw and about how, in the old days, the effects would have been felt in...unusual ways for many hours to come.

T'Safa indicated to Christine that she should stay behind.  "I am...sorry to have been so...amused." A non-Vulcan snicker, so soft it might have gone unnoticed to one who was not accustomed to them, escaped the healer's lips.  "But my bondmate and I have spent time working offworld so it is somewhat difficult to control when...the situation merits it."

"I take it there's something you'd like to share with me?"

Christine had gotten to know the healer quite well over the past two weeks and knew the Vulcan woman was just dying to tell her a story.  Probably a very funny one, by the looks of it.  She recalled the conversation with Selek and T'Lea, about the vast diversity of the Vulcan people.  T'Safa was just a few notches above Stark in the personality department from the looks of things, but that was a refreshing change.

"Actually, I would.  If it would not be...inappropriate."

"Of course not." Christine and the Vulcan healer went out into the lobby.  "T'Safa and I are going to have a quick professional New Year's Eve drink, you know, one physician to another." She gave her astonished husband a very subtle smirk.  "So we'll see you a bit later for the party, OK?"

Spock was left to wonder exactly what the emergency had been.  No one was willing to say anything.  Evie could hardly control her laughter when he asked, and even Seron and his bondmate looked rather mirthful.  But no one enlightened him.

Fascinating.

* * *

 

"Two chech'tluths and an order of guacamole and chips," Christine told the Andorian bartender, who raised an eyebrow.  "We're walking home," she added.  When their drinks arrived, she raised her glass.  "To more interesting adventures for us all," she proposed.

T'Safa downed the strong Klingon drink in one gulp, as tradition required, without a blink.  "Agreed."

"So, what's on your mind, T'Safa?"

The healer gave a sigh.  "Well, as you Terrans say, out of bad often comes good, and seeing those poor souls after they ingested so many chilies reminded me of a similar situation in my own family.  You recall our loss, do you not?"

Christine nodded.  T'Safa's eldest brother, a botanist, and his security officer bondmate had perished on board the Intrepid when she was about to begin her first year at the Science Academy.

"I had not yet been bonded, my parents were quite modern in that sense, and the tragedy rather upset things even further.  My family had always been prone to slight displays of semi-emotional behavior, which we controlled perfectly in public.  When we were with each other, however, my mother and father did not disapprove of this.  In the old days, my ancestors were sometimes called Vulcans without logic.  It was from my mother's side of the family, or so my father always claimed.

"Soon after the incident, my mother's father, who was my favorite grandfather, died suddenly of no apparent cause.  This was happening all over the planet, we now know it was a reaction from too much suppressed grief."

"I've heard of this as well," Christine remarked, recalling her seemingly long ago conversation with the T'sai T'Ser.  "It is good that your healers are finally addressing the issue and seeking to help those still affected."

For a second, she also recalled another incident stemming from that terrible loss, one that she was glad never came to fruition.  A look of understanding passed between the women.  T'Safa was all too aware of the price Christine and her husband nearly paid.

"I met my bondmate, S'milar, in my second year and he soon broached the topic of marriage.  Both of us were amenable so he decided to come to endmeal and formally discuss the idea with my family.  You must understand, my grandmother was now living with us -- a woman who used to display some emotion privately when I was younger, with no shame whatsoever.  Since the day her husband died, she had not uttered a single word to anyone, and this disturbed us all.

"Well, S'milar appeared at the appointed time and we sat down to dine.  My mother had made a traditional vegetable stir fry type of dish, one I am certain you and your husband have eaten many times.  Unfortunately, my mother has many talents, but cooking is not one of them."

Christine began to smile.

"S'milar kept asking for more and commented how delicious it was.  By now my father and younger brothers were almost staring at him, for they knew that this could not possibly be the case, they were consuming the very same food and it was...quite less than palatable.  After we finished our meal, S'milar suddenly remembered he had to finish a project due the next day and asked if he might not come over again that weekend for afternoon tea.  Then he departed rather suddenly.  I later learned he went straight to the Academy's student health practitioner with a bad case of indigestion."

The healer's face began to bely the slightest amusement as she helped herself to more guacamole.  It became her, Christine decided.  Perhaps not all Vulcans, but definitely this one.

"My mother and I cleaned up in the kitchen and were discussing the possibility that this person just might ask for permission to be my bondmate when suddenly, my grandmother called to us from the next room.  We hurried in to see what this extraordinary occurrence might be.  She looked straight at me and said, 'T'Safa, that young man is an illogical fool if he believes that he can win favor by complimenting your mother's halfhearted attempts at cuisine.' Then she paused and took my hand and actually smiled.  'And that is not such a bad thing, for your grandfather did the same when he first came to dine at my parent's home.  It appears bad cooking and emotions run in our family, but that is no reason for you not to have a sweet bonding.  I approve of him.' "

Christine hoped she was not staring too openly.  She'd not dared to believe what she had been told recently, but here was actual proof.  Not all Vulcans were emotionless.

"You see, my mother's parents were close friends of Stark's grandparents long ago at the Academy.  Perhaps they were similar in temperament to them, that's why they became friends.  They did not choose the Intrepid, however, though the couple begged them to consider this avenue.  In that sense, the loss of the Intrepid was doubly hard on my grandparents.  Not only did they lose family members, but their friends as well.  We wondered if recovery was possible, as the pain my grandmother must have felt seemed insurmountable.  Then came that fateful dinner.  From that day of humor to this, she has been, how do you say it, her old self.  But the best part was that when I went over to S'milar's rooms the next evening to ask what had happened, he told me...and we both started laughing uncontrollably, and without shame, a release of sorts.  Quietly, though.  You know how Vulcan ears can be."

"Do I ever, remind me to tell you about T'Glad." Christine gave the healer's hand a reassuring pat.

"We bonded that winter and are now both healers.  S'milar specializes in orthopedics.  But Christine, we still laugh with each other in private, when things are amusing to us.  Especially after the year we spent in residency at the Martian Colonies, where, I'm sure you have heard, 'just about anything goes'."

"Let's say I'm familiar with that rumor," Christine replied, remembering the incredible tale Spock recounted from their Vulcan traveling companions during their honeymoon.  It took him a good half an hour to tell the story, however, due to the fact the both of them were laughing so hard coherent speech was nearly impossible.

"But I feel we are betraying our race's basic tenets.  Father Surak stated pure logic was the way, not emotion.  It troubles me greatly at times." T'Safa's lighthearted mood changed to one of somberness.

"I'm not Vulcan, but I am married to one, T'Safa, and I don't think you are betraying anything," Christine said.  "Did your parents look down on this emotion, discourage it completely? It doesn't sound like they did at all.  You and your husband are also of similar temperament and somehow found each other -- seems like a logical match to me.  And from what I read of Vulcan history, your people were warlike and aggressive at the time of Surak's reforms, that was what he sought to control with his teaching.  Surely...a bit of gentle private amusement at times between bondmates would not be so terrible? Though I can hardly be an expert in the matter."

"That is exactly why I wished to speak with you, Christine," T'Safa replied earnestly.  "So many of our people merely accept that teaching at face value, never questioning its own logic.  As a healer, I have too often seen the terrible consequences of a bad pon farr.  Some of my colleagues and I have dared to speculate that this ancient way might now best be controlled, for the betterment of our people.  After all, our miscarriage rate is one of the worst in the Federation, which is hardly surprising given how couples conceive.  Would it not be better to make the cycle more predictable...more conducive to producing offspring? More...logical? There is a medical way, I am certain of it.  Yet if it is discovered, would our people even wish to use this miracle? There is no one I can speak to for advice, other than medical staff.  I am at a loss, Christine.  Can you, an offworlder, see a logical solution?"

Why me? Christine wondered.  Why have so many Vulcans spoken to me of such things openly? Me, a Terran, whose husband may never know another disastrous pon farr, or who might just as easily go off the deep end next time? She signaled the bartender.

"Two comet's tails," she said.  "Extra Aldebaran whiskey."

After they had allowed the fire in their throats to subside, Christine finally spoke.  "You are a fine, logical brave woman, T'Safa.  Of course there is a way and I think you and your colleagues will find it.  But you need guidance about the non physical aspects too.  There is a woman, T'sai T'Ser, who I feel could speak to your questions very well.  Allow me to contact her on your behalf, as I did for another.  What you discuss will be only between you, but somehow, I think it may help your cause greatly.  I firmly agree with your beliefs, though I am not Vulcan.  And I hope that your dreams will become reality.  Such a thing would not be a detriment to your people.  On the contrary, as Vulcan moves forward, for those that would wish it, this may be very...logical.  After all, it would not be forced on anyone, only an option available if the couple so desired this."

"Thank you Christine." T'Safa was no longer distressed.  "I value what you have told me.  And may I say, you and Spock are a perfectly logical match in my eyes.  You temper his impassiveness just the right way.  He is lucky to have found you.  I can see that he cherishes you greatly."

"I...don't know what to say," Christine almost spluttered.  She'd long thought most Vulcans accepted their coupling only grudgingly.

"There is nothing to be said.  And believe me when I say that I shall try to make these things happen if it as all possible.  Though not this night, we must attend the festivities, and there is a game of dom jot to be contested.  Shall we go?"

"By all means," Christine replied, wondering what she would tell Spock about this.

"Now you mentioned a woman named T'Glad?"

"I am certain her heart is in the right place," Christine began.  "But..."

* * *

 

"So, Spock, shall we go rescue my husband and your wife before they injure themselves?" Evie Childress asked with a laugh as she pointed to the couple who were energetically dancing rockabilly style to Elvis Presley''s "Jailhouse Rock."

"No, Evie, they appear to be enjoying themselves.  Ben is quite an exceptional dancer." The Vulcan was enjoying watching his wife move so quickly as it emphasized her firm, shapely bottom covered in tight denim.  This was a fine New Year's Eve party, he decided.

"Oh, well what do you expect? His family's originally from Kentucky, you know, just down the road a bit from where Elvis started his career.  Ben's been dancing since he was old enough to walk, I think." She gave Spock a smile.  "It's good to see you after all this time.  I could hardly believe it when Christine stepped off the shuttle at Fuega all those months ago.  You'd just gotten engaged.  I'm very happy for you both."

"As we are for you and Ben," Spock replied.  "You seem to have made a good life for yourselves on Fuega, and Benny is certainly a fine young man."

"There's another at home just like him," Evie said.  "I guess Harry did me a favor.  Wonder whatever became of that rascal?"

"He was left on his planet with the androids," Spock recalled, "though I somehow doubt he is still there."

"As long as they keep far, far away from us," Evie declared.  "By the way, we're sorry we didn't say anything to you back at the medical center, but I couldn't stop laughing, and poor Silok's parents didn't know how to tell you such a preposterously illogical tale."

"So I surmised," Spock observed as Silok wandered by wearing a paper crown colorfully decorated with chili peppers, followed by an entourage.  He had on a Klingon styled vest and Ellat's glasses as well.

"That one surprised us all." Evie nodded in the Vulcan boy's direction.  "Mogh and Ellat were tied at nine peppers apiece and Ben was counting down on his watch, looked like a draw.  Then, at the last second, Silok gulped down four Rigellian peppers to beat them both.  They tied as runners up."

"Rigellian peppers?" Spock's eyebrow raised in admiration.  "They are extremely hot, if I recall."

"We thought his eyes were going to wash right out of his head, they were streaming so bad, but he just sat there with this impassive look on his face and chewed up one after the other." She laughed again.  "The boys gave him gifts, as you can see."

"But why did the Troyian minders eat peppers as well?" Spock was curious, the two bodyguards had been in agony back at the medical center.

"Ellat ordered them to."

"He ordered them to?" Was he hearing things? Ellat was as meek as a seh-lat cub unless he was on the ice.

"Says it was payback," Evie told the surprised Vulcan.  "I have the darnedest feeling that boy isn't as timid as he looks.  Did you know he and Benny are talking about taking the Starfleet entrance exam as soon as they're old enough?"

Now that would be an interesting pair of cadets, Spock thought.

* * *

 

"And you say you consumed ten chili peppers?" Ambassador Sarek asked Silok, who had stopped with his court at the table.

"Yes sir, I did," Silok replied calmly.

"But why?" Elaan asked, largely rhetorically.  She and Kirk were sitting with Spock's parents and Leonard McCoy, who was accompanied by the attractive ACMO of the Potemkin.  "What possessed you to eat such a food, anyway? It is a condiment."

Silok looked to Ellat for guidance.  He had no idea why they'd started eating the peppers to begin with.  Ellat shrugged.

"When I was about their age, my brother and I ate so many green apples we were sick for a week," Kirk remarked.  "I think it's inherent to the male gene, that you suddenly decide to eat a whole lot of something that may make you feel awful later."

"I, too, overindulged in sweet biscuits one day when my mother was baking," Sarek reminisced.  "My mother told me my stomach complaint was punishment enough."

"Guys! C'mon!" Jimmy Sanchez had run over to the table to round up his friends.  "Stark's gonna teach us dom-jott.  And Spock and Dr. Chapel are supposed to play this other team later, it should be really cosmic." The boys scattered towards the game area.

Sarek watched them go, then his eye was caught by the sight of T'Pring and Stonn chatting pleasantly with Silok's parents while their daughter and her Klingon friend gossiped with some of their fellow female campers.  Time had moved on logically, he thought.  That was indeed very good.

* * *

 

"May I have this dance?" Spock asked as his wife gave a final bow to Ben Childress.

"Of course, Commander," she replied, grateful for a slow number so she could catch her breath.  Benny had clearly inherited his energy from his father.  She glimpsed Evie joining him for a dance as well.

The song began, another Elvis tune, "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You." Christine wondered who the deejay was, the music was certainly classic Terran twentieth century.  She relaxed in her husband's embrace and let the music wash over them both.

*We have an audience.* Spock nodded surreptitiously to a group of campers.

*So, we're dancing.  What's wrong with that? Husbands and wives dance all the time.*

*I believe the young women are very intrigued with the whole courting phenomenon.*

T'Mara and Kanou were observing them curiously and speaking to each other.  A few other girls were doing the same.  Christine could only imagine the conversation.  *Looks that way.*

*But if you look just beyond them, you should see something even more fascinating."

Christine followed Spock's gaze for a second.  Sure enough, there were the usual group of male suspects, watching the girls watch the adults dance.

*Do you think any of them have the nerve to ask?*

*I doubt it, but it should be a topic of conversation for the whole group for some months to come.  I believe, as my mother says, the clock is about to start ticking.*

*Oh? Clock ticking, huh? And just when did your clock start ticking?*

*When I was sixteen, but I had no idea what to do with it.  Then for the second time, when a certain physician signed a supply docket in sickbay one day last winter.*

*And just who is this hussy?*

*I shall not divulge that right now.*

The song ended then and Spock expertly dipped his wife to the ground.  The campers clapped enthusiastically and a few juvenile wolf whistles were heard.

"Good thing we didn't kiss," Christine said as they wandered over to the dom-jott table for their game with T'Safa and S'milar.

"Yes, that would have been a phenomenal turnoff, as you Terrans so fondly say." Spock allowed his hand to support his wife's lower back, though she really didn't need any support.

"A turnoff? I'll remember that at midnight."

"I meant for boys that age.  The full appreciation of kissing comes much later than..." His voice trailed off.  A second later he felt a resounding mental thwack across his glutes.

"Maybe you can explain yourself out of that one later, commander."

* * *

 

High above the skies of Vulcan, the Ferengi gambling cruiser was filed to capacity with celebrating starship crewmembers and others eager to part with their credits.

"He is at the dabo table," K'e'flex reported as he rejoined his party.  "He is winning but not much.  The dealer is making certain Mr.Riley will have a suitable stack of chips at midnight so he is in a celebratory mood."

"Is he sober?" Ambassador Kl'o'rox asked.

"No, Greg's feeding him some new drink, a really potent one called a Deluge, made with this new Ferengi soda as a base." Kala paused to read the label slowly.  "Slugg-O-Cola.  Keeps Your Teeth Sparkling Green." She sniffed the contents of the bottle and made a face.  "I hope the alcohol's stronger than this stuff, else he'd never touch it."

Their drinks arrived and the ambassador proposed a toast with his chech'tluth.  "To family and friends," he began.  "And to a pleasant new year for us all.  To Kala's oath taking in New York next year.  And to the actress Lak'Sha, that she gives a magnificent performance this evening."

Lak'Sha smiled a bit coquettishly.  She was dressed to the nines.  Kala and K'e'flex's wife had transformed the everyday mother into a glamorous woman and she was clearly enjoying her role.  More than a few males had cast glances her way.

"Ahh, New York," Lady Kl'o'rox sighed.  "How I wish we could visit New York some day, just to see the fine shops there."

"And I," K'e'flex agreed sadly.  "So I might take my son to a baseball game."

"To New York." Koth proposed another toast and their glasses clinked.

* * *

 

At midnight, the skies above Shi-Kahr erupted with a spectacular plasma fireworks show.  The party guests at the sports center made their way out onto the balcony to enjoy the sight, an extremely rare one on Vulcan.  The night air was cold as ever but the enthusiasm of the audience helped keep everyone warm.  Oohs and aahs, even subdued Vulcan ones, greeted each burst of color.

Spock held his wife firmly against him.  There was no illogic in the action, it was cold.  But across their link, promises and thoughts pulsed.  He glanced over towards the barrier, where balcony looked over the mall.  Stonn was supporting T'Mara and Kanou as they stood on a bench to better view the fireworks.  The man appeared to be enjoying the spectacle as much as the girls were.  T'Pring was seated on the bench with an older Vulcan woman.  For a second, her head turned and their gazes finally met.  A look of closure passed between them, so fleeting he might have imagined it, then she began chatting with her companion again.  Spock exhaled much more than a breath.

"It is past midnight," he said as the show concluded and the crowd hurried back into the warmth of the sports center.  "And we did not kiss as is the custom.  Were you angry at what I said earlier?"

"Of course not," Christine said as she gave a look around them.  They were alone, and no wonder, it was freezing out there.  Her breath came out in puffs just as it had that morning at the Grand Canyon's north rim.  "I just didn't want to exhibit tasteless human emotion over a Terran custom to the whole of Shi-Kahr."

"I appreciate your logic," Spock replied thoughtfully as they began walking towards the entrance.  "However, we are now alone, and I would not find such a gesture to be tasteless.  In fact, I believe it would be an...appetizer at the moment."

"Spock, are you nuts? You don't have to do this.  I said it before, just being with you right now is more than enough." She tugged at his hand.  It was cold.

"For you, perhaps.  For me, it is not.  And there is no one to see anything untoward.  Can a man not kiss his wife for the new year?

He stopped them just to the side of the doorway, where they were hidden from curious eyes and a second later, a flame sparked in the cold Shi-Kahr night air.

* * *

 

Christine exhaled slowly.  "You've worn me out, Commander," she declared happily.

Spock gathered her against him and stroked the damp tresses from her brow, still his special sign of love for his wife.  "That was the idea, Doctor.  I am pleased you are so exhausted.  I must admit, I am feeling quite the same at this moment.

"Pheew!" Christine wrinkled her nose.  "We're both smelling pretty rank though."

"As we should, given the fact we not only danced for several hours, we have been skating for several more." He began unlacing his boots.

"Only you would suggest an after midnight skating date.  And it was just as good as the first time on the holodeck." She looked around.  "I'll miss this rink.  It has great ice."

"I intend to take you skating any time we encounter a suitable facility and have the time to indulge.  You have taught me what a...pleasurable activity it can be.  And we shall return here for Stark and T'Lara's bonding next year, so the ice will await any time we desire.  Stark has given me the facility's access code." Spock drew his wife's jacket around her lest she get chilled as they walked back to the hotel.  "Let us go, then."

"What time is it, anyway?"

"04:00.  I surmise Lt. Riley should be awakening in another 1.5 hours?"

Christine reached for her communicator.  "I'd better check in with Kala." She spoke with her friend for a moment.  "He's still out, and the embassy physician is watching over him for now.  But we'd better get to Kala's suite soon."

"Soon," Spock agreed as he opened the door to their own suite.  "But not just yet, my wife.  It would be most unseemly for us to show up in our present state."

"Oh?" Christine's mouth turned upward as her husband's hands began divesting her of her outer clothing.  "And what do you have in mind, then?"

"A...swimming lesson."

* * *

 

There was a party in full swing by the time they arrived at Kala's suite.  A poker game was going strong.  Food and drink were in plentiful supply.  The guests laughed and talked, but quietly, lest the sleeping Riley be awakened in the next room.

"Hey guys," Stark said with a wave.  "We wouldn't have missed this." Then he returned to discussing what type of indoor snowboard facility would best be suited to the Klingon homeworld's capital city.

Kala led the seductively attired Lak'Sha over for Christine's inspection.  "What do you think?"

Christine let out a low whistle.  "Lak'Sha, you've missed your calling.  You should have been an actress! You look terrific!"

"I still cannot believe it is me," the widow admitted.  "But it is not an unpleasant sensation.  I rather enjoy this...what do you call it, alter ego?"

"Hi Chris," Greg Dillon said as he came in from the adjoining room.  "Do you want to have a check of our friend?"

"Sure." Christine followed the group into the bedroom.  She ran a scanner quietly over the inert Irishman's form.  "He's out, but his vitals are strong.  That stuff's good, whatever it is.  I can see from his REM sleep that he'll be coming around soon, though." She turned to Lak'Sha.  "You'd better get ready for your big debut, my dear.  We'll be next door if there's a problem, and Ajax set the camera so it will all be captured for posterity."

Riley let out a barking snore.  Lak'Sha covered her mouth to stifle a giggle.  "I see human and Klingon men share at least one characteristic," she observed with a smile.

* * *

 

The skies outside were just beginning to turn grey when a feminine shriek was heard.  A moment later, Lak'Sha came racing into the large living room, to the surprise of all those assembled.  She was clearly horrified.

"What is it?" Kala asked.  Something was wrong.  Very wrong.

"He--" Lak'Sha gestured wildly towards the bedroom.  "He -- he is insane.  He -- he wants to marry me!" She hid herself behind Ambassador Kl'o'rox's ample girth.  "Save me!"

"WHAT?" roared the ambassador.

Riley came staggering through the open doorway.  "My darlin', where did you go?" He paused to hiccup.  "C'mon, lemme take you over th' embassy, we can ge' married thisss mornin', an' then we'll...we'll..." The lieutenant faltered and slid down the wall to sit in an undignified heap on the floor.  "Oooh, musha...mushta...mussa had too muchadrink las'night."

"Easy, Kev." Greg Dillon swiftly knelt beside his friend.  "Let's have Chris look you over, huh?"

But Riley waved him away and clambered to a half standing position.  "A Riley always does the right thin', an' I intend t' make an' honnes' wom'n of you...whasyer name, m' love?"

Lak'Sha peered around the ambassador.  "He is drunk," she announced disdainfully.  "Drunken Terran idiot.  No better than a drunken Klingon idiot."  She stepped forward, hands on her hips.  "I would speak with this inebriated fool."

"Lak'Sha," K'e'flex began, then stopped as she shook her head angrily.  "We can take care of this," he continued lamely.

The Klingon woman strode over to Riley and glared at him.  Riley reached out for one of her hands and began plastering it with kisses as he staggered to his feet.  "Please say you'll marr' meee honn'," he slurred pleadingly.  "We...we kin' go live with my cuzzin' in Da...Dal....Dalee...er...San F'sisco.  I'll trs'fr t' th' Fleet Yards..." He looked at the woman once more blearily.  "Woncha mar'...maree me, sweethar'?"

Lak'Sha thoughtfully contemplated what had just been put to her, to the curiosity of those also in the room.  After long moments, she spoke.  "Loki and I have been alone for far too long.  He needs a father.  And I desire a fine, virile husband.  One such as this." A smile crossed her face.  "Yes, Terran.  Yes, I shall marry you."

"WHAT?" Kl'o'rox roared again, louder this time.  "Lak'Sha, what are you saying? Have you gone mad?"

Riley pulled Lak'Sha into an embrace and planted a passionate kiss on her lips.  He then released her and she dipped into a graceful curtsy as he bowed.  "Fooled you, didn't we?" he finally asked, his eyes twinkling.

Lak'Sha joined him in a smirk.  "I could not resist," she admitted.

It was so quiet that the ice in glasses was heard to meLt. Everyone was thunderstruck.  Then a lone deep laugh was heard, that of the ambassador.  A moment later, more laughter reverberated through the room and the couple moved over to the group to be heartily congratulated on their brazenness.  Champagne was ordered to celebrate such a bold act, worthy of the finest Klingon operatic production.  Even Ajax, once he got over his shock, admitted it was ingenious.

* * *

 

"I knew I was drunk, but not that drunk.  And if I was so drunk, why would a beautiful woman like this find me so irresistible?" Riley explained to the assembled audience as they drank their champagne.  He turned to his partner in crime.  "You should be on stage, darlin'.  Take it from me, you've got a fine talent."

Lak'Sha, who had now changed into one of Kala's daywear creations, blushed and giggled.

"She can also sing," Lady Kl'o'rox informed the group.  "Can't you, my dear? Why not grace us with that song we both like so much? You know the one, you sang it at Delta's Dawn once."

"Oh, I couldn't," Lak'Sha demurred.

"Come now, child.  You are talented.  I am certain we should all enjoy hearing you preform," the ambassador urged, confident the woman would do an aria from "Kahless and Lukara," a favorite of his and so, naturally, of his wife.

"Very well, if you insist." Lak'Sha stood up and took several deep breaths, then began the number to the amazement of all present, but none more so than Ambassador Kl'o'rox himself.

"Midnight...not a sound from the pavement....  Has the moon lost her memory? She is smiling alone.  In the lamplight, the withered leaves collect at my feet And the wind begins to moan.  Memory, all alone in the moonlight..."

* * *

 

"These Klingons never cease to amaze me," Christine remarked to Spock as they packed up their gear for their journey to Kwil'nor.  "Snowboarders, pizza chefs, figure skaters, singers.  Who knew the musical 'Cats' was number one on the Klingon female hit parade? They don't even have cats on the homeworld, according to Lak'Sha."

"As you said, my wife, we are not so very different after all," Spock replied philosophically.  "It has been a fine few weeks here.  I am very glad we were chosen to assist Stark with his venture.  Are you?"

"Absolutely," Christine replied as she allowed her husband to draw her into a comfortable, slightly suggestive embrace.  "I've learned so much about other cultures than I could have on a three month patrol, I think.  Of course," she continued, giving her husband a raised eyebrow, "I've also learned that being a parent will take a great deal of energy and patience."

Spock's finger delicately traced his wife's lips before he gave her a kiss.  "A happy challenge we shall both face in the not too distant future, I hope."

* * *

 

"I wish you a safe journey," T'Mara said to Kanou as they said goodbye before she joined her party at Vulcan Space Central.

"And the same to you," her friend replied.  "I shall send a vidmessage from Terra once I arrive.  The Daragans will attempt to convince my mother to make the trip there with us, so she may satisfy her curiosity about where I am to train."

"That is good," T'Mara agreed.  "And I hope I will soon be in London.  Perhaps in less than two years, when I am ten.  Germany is not far from England, is it?"

"No, the two countries are quite close," Stonn told the girls.  "But a brief shuttle journey apart.  My wife and I also wish you safe journeys, Kanou.  We hope you may visit us again some day in the future, perhaps with your own mother."

"Thank you.  I would like this, so I might meet T'Mara's new brother." Kanou gave T'Mara a special, knowing glance.

The little group said its final farewells and both girls started on the first step of the long, interesting journeys they would travel for much of their lives.

* * *

 

"Good bye, Captain," Ellat said as he shook Kirk's hand.  "I hope I shall someday be able to serve in Starfleet."

"Keep up your studies, Ellat, and you just may.  I'll be in regular contact with you about what you should be learning for the exams.  They're not that far off for you, just seven years or so." He turned to Elaan.  "And it was wonderful to see you as well, your highness."

"Thank you, captain.  Ellat and I hope to see you again some day in the future.  Until then, be well." The empress likewise shook Kirk's hand officially, never indicating the passionate night they'd just spent.  Except with her eyes.

Kirk watched them board their ship.  It had been a fine thing, meeting up again after all those years.  Maybe he was getting mellower as he got older.  Then he shook his head to clear it and prepared to beam back on board the Enterprise.  The ships were warping out of orbit that afternoon, off on their separate missions once more.  Nothing untoward had happened, it was all business as usual here on Vulcan.  The UFP was pleased about that, but still planned to keep close tabs on the planet as a precaution.

His first officer and ACMO had three days leave at the seaside, courtesy of the Vulcan government.  Kirk envied them, but not the reason they had been given the extra vacation.  He'd seen the look in Christine's eyes when he first visited her, and it was clear things had been quite bad.  But over the past week or so, he'd noticed that look get less and less apparent.  Spock had a great deal to do with that, Kirk realized.  For the first time since they became a couple, he realized the depth of feeling the man had for his wife, and that was a good thing.  Heck, he'd give them a month together on Risa if the Chris he knew and loved would come back at the end of the leave.  For now, a weekend at the beach should do just fine.

* * *

 

"Take care, you two," Stark said to the couple as they prepared to board the ambassadorial shuttle to Kwil'nor.  "We'll see you a year next summer for our bonding, if all goes to plan."

"And best wishes to the both of you," Spock replied.  "We were honored to assist at this event.  May the next one be as successful."

"We can only hope," T'Lara told them.  "Thank you for your help, it was invaluable." She patted the dog's head.  "Say good-bye, Sierra."

The Alsatian raised her paw and made a small sound, then shook hands with everyone.

"A most intelligent canine," Ambassador Sarek noted.  "Should she ever have a litter, Lady Amanda and I would desire one of her puppies."

Amanda gave Christine a look of surprise.  Sarek, and a dog? "Have fun at the beach, and we'll see you before you leave for the ship," she ordered the couple good naturedly.  "We'll be headed to Kwil'nor in a few weeks ourselves."

Spock placed his hand on the small of his wife's back to help her make the three step climb into the shuttle.  She did not need the support, but he gave it anyway.  The placement of his palm related to the curve of her hips did not go unnoticed by either of his parents, or by the young Vulcan couple with them.

"Like father, like son," Amanda said to Sarek as they began their flitter journey home.

"As it should be, Aduna," her husband replied.

* * *

 

Winter Daydreams

 

The seaside town of Kwil'nor had changed little over the centuries.  Since the first clans had settled there, its residents made their living harvesting sea vegetables and extracting minerals, used as fertilizer, from the Sea of Voroth's waters.  Agriculture was excellent though limited, given the fact the desert met the ocean all along the coast.  More recently, the local sea mollusks were being farmed and exported to fine restaurants and private interests throughout the quadrant.

As travel became less time consuming, those who lived in cities far distant began coming to the settlement for vacation throughout the year to escape the heat or sandstorms.  Kwil'nor's popularity as a resort began to grow, much as places like Torremolinos, Phuket, and Galveston had done millennia before.  Now the town welcomed tourists both Vulcan and offworld equally.  Its promenade was busy year round and water sports offered a pleasant diversion.  Guest houses, restaurants and shops did a thriving business.

Wintry January was much the same in Kwil'nor as in any non-tropical coastal region, with fog, breezes and chilly evenings.  Sarek and Amanda's holiday residence was located just down from the main town, where it sat on a bluff overlooking the sea below.  Spock and Christine arrived in the early afternoon and set out to explore the resort.

It was obvious that Kwil'nor was still very much a small village in its character.  The residents all seemed to know Spock and spoke pleasantly to them both, inquiring about their starfleet careers and asking after his parents.  Some of the older citizens told interesting stories about when Spock visited in his childhood.  Clearly he must have behaved as any child on a seaside vacation did, given the way his eartips flushed at the tales.

Christine was delighted to find that a vendor she'd met in Shi-Kahr's bazaar, who sold beautiful items fashioned from deep red hand blown glass, had his main shop on the promenade.  He explained the family had been in the region for as long as he could recall and did a brisk trade selling the windchimes first made to frighten away birds from the local crops.  Some of his relatives just returned from the capital, he said, where they'd been busy catering to the holiday needs of the sportscamp participants, starship crews and various other visitors.

"And I understand you both were there at the camp, working with the youngsters?" he asked with a twinkling eye as he wrapped the windchime and frames Christine bought.  "Was it enjoyable?"

"It was," Christine replied as she exchanged a pleased glance with her husband.

"It is always logical to meet those of other cultures," the merchant continued knowingly.  "When I was a youth, I visited many worlds and found their citizens to be much as we are."

"I wonder if that's the one Mogh and Loki told me about that they met last summer," Christine remarked as they made their way down the boardwalk.  "The one who spoke Klingonese."

"Very probably," Spock agreed.  "Long before the Terran's first contact with the Klin, merchants of both our worlds did business, despite our differences.  As the Ferengi are so wont to remind us, profit is profit.  And perhaps someday, such regular trade shall again be established."

Spock introduced his wife to the local sea vegetable salad for an early dinner, then they made their way back to their residence as the sun began to set over the Voroth Sea.  They sat on the deck and watched daylight fade into murky violet twilight, then the darkness of Vulcan's moonless night, lit only by a few stars that managed to shine through the ocean mists.

"It is cold," he said after awhile.  "Shall we go inside, and perhaps relax by the fire?" He stroked his wife's cheek.  "If you are not too fatigued?"

Christine remembered sitting on the patio of his parent's Shi-Kahr home just a scant few weeks ago, feeling lost and alone.  Had only so short a time passed?  The memories of the terror that preceded their visit were almost faded into oblivion.  She felt totally safe and protected in her husband's love and knew he was still concerned over her recovery.

"For you, I'm never tired," she whispered in his ear as she pulled him to his feet.  "And I have a surprise for you."

"A surprise?"

* * *

 

"Open," Spock commanded his wife.  "Wider, my love.  You know how much you enjoy this." He raised his eyebrow in a familiar way.

Christine did as she was told, taking the charred object from her husband's fingers, then licking them clean of any excess residue.  She swallowed happily.  "Mmmmm.  I couldn't believe it when you mother said you and your father both liked toasted marshmallows." They were both sprawled across some cushions in the living room, enjoying the fire and each other.

"We learned to appreciate the treat when visiting my mother's relatives one summer, at the place called Cape Cod.  Unfortunately, my father cannot tolerate too much sugar any more than he can tolerate an excess of chocolate.  It was left to me to indulge."

"In that case," Christine told him with a smile, "you'll really like this." She slid two burnt sweets off a wooden stake and spread them over one of Amanda's brownies, then handed the plate to her husband.  "Bon appetit!"

"You spoil me," Spock sighed through a mouthful of delight.

"That's my wifely prerogative, mister."

* * *

 

"What's the entertainment this evening?" Christine washed the sugar overdose down with some of the champagne Stark and T'Lara's parents gave them.  She tossed Spock a deliberately withering look in fun.  "BeSIDES that," she clarified.

"I have procured two vids from my parent's collection which I think we shall enjoy.  By the Terran director Ray Dennis Steckler." His eyes met hers over his own glass of champagne.  They danced merrily.

"Ray Dennis Steckler? Your parents watch his works? They're terrible!"

"Did you not wonder why I took so readily to viewing bad cinema with you?" Spock held up the films.  "It's in the genes, as you say.  My parents enjoy both bad and good cinema.  Bad in particular.  So what shall it be? 'Rat Pfink a Boo Boo'?" He tried mightily to keep a straight face but it wasn't working.  "Or..." He paused and took a breath.  " 'The Incredibly Strange Creatures who...who...who...' "

Christine watched her husband slowly dissolve into laughter.  She joined him.

"But why is the film named as it is?" Spock finally asked when he'd regained his composure.  It felt so good to laugh with her, and she was genuinely amused.  The recent darkness was finally gone.

"Steckler was weird that way, I guess," she replied matter of factly.  "And the optical effects crew helped with the one film, it's supposed to be 'Rat Pfink AND Boo Boo.' " At that inane sentence, the couple started laughing anew.

"I cannot believe we are having this conversation, doctor.  It is most illogical." Spock pulled her close and began exploring the skin under her top, a diversionary tactic that always worked.

"We could always watch the film, then." She let her hand slide down his abdomen and nipped at the cord on his neck.

"We could.  Later."

* * *

 

"How high is this dune?" Christine was amazed at the sheer size of the red sandy wavelike formation.  "On second thought, let's just say it's high." She and Spock continued trekking towards the summit.  Behind them, similar dunes stretched in a rolling sealike vista to the mountains beyond.

"Worth the hike, my wife, would you not say?" Spock indicated the view of the Voroth sea below.  "When I was young, my father and I would often make this journey.  The view is always different."

The early morning mists were lifting, allowing the sun to paint the sands in every shade of red known, and quite a few that weren't.  The waves crashed on the shore and the odd seabird circled overhead, as such creatures did everywhere, but apart from that, it was still and beautiful.  Farther out on the waters, a few small boats bobbed as their crews threw nets over the side.

"Thank you," Christine finally said after a few moments.  She snuggled closer back against her husband, who held her in a protective embrace as they sat and watched the scenery.

"For what?" He brushed the hair off her face which had escaped her ponytail and danced in the breeze.

"For showing me this.  I doubt many tourists get this far from the town." Kwil'nor was a tiny speck in the distance; they'd made the journey by flitter.

"As I said, there are many beautiful places to explore here on Vulcan.  And given the wonderful journey we had on our honeymoon, I thought you might find this spot particularly nice." Spock kissed her ear just a tad suggestively before he whispered into it.  "A most exceptionally fine place for...nature study."

"Nature study?" Christine knew all too well what kind of nature her husband preferred to study.  "I thought we came here to go sandboarding!"

"It is early." He lay back against the dune and pulled his wife astride him and they kissed.  "There will be ample time for sandboarding.  Then we shall have the pleasant task later of cleaning each other of the sand we acquire during that activity." The vacation home had a well equipped bath with a deep, comfortable tub.

"Speaking of sand, buster," Christine retorted as she felt some of the red grains with her fingers.  "I certainly don't want it somewhere uncomfortable.  No dice." The man was insatiable AND illogical at times where sex was concerned.

Spock merely reached for the daypack he carried and drew out a lightweight blanket, which he arranged on the sand beneath them.  "You were saying, Doctor?" he asked innocently.

Passion swiftly flared between them."I was saying we have too many clothes on," Christine fairly growled.

"Then would it not be logical to remove the aforementioned garments?"

* * *

 

Night fell once more, dark and misty, broken only by the soothing sound of waves.

"Christine?" Spock traced the delicate line of his wife's spine as she lay against him drowsing.

"Yes, my love?"

"In two days, we return to the Enterprise. And I then must leave you." He pulled her more protectively against him and relished the feel of her skin on his own.

A sigh.  "I know.  I--I'll miss you.  Guess I've gotten spoiled these past few weeks.  We have to go back to our real jobs."

Now Spock sighed and turned his wife to face him.  "But so long as we are together, it does not matter.  The mission to New Kavalla shall be over soon.  I will return to you."

"Promise?" She tugged at the key around his neck, the only thing he wore.

"I promise." He kissed her with a hint of more delights to come.  "And Christine?"

"Yes?"

"I love you."

"I love you too, Spock."

* * *

 

A Letter from Qo'noS

 

The weeks rolled by after the sportscamp until it was no more than a pleasant memory for all participants.  One day, about a month after the camp concluded, the interstellar post was particularly busy.

"I wonder what my parcel might be?" T'Mara said to her hallmate, T'Ann as they made their way to the porter's desk at the Shi-Kahr School for the Arts.  She'd been at the institute for two weeks now and was beginning to settle in.  T'Ann, who interviewed her during the sports camp, was helping her adjust.  So far, things had been quite normal, though there were not many ballet students at the school.  It appeared that among those who pursued artistic endeavors, old scandals were of little import.  The students had accepted T'Mara for what she was, another pupil just like them.

"Perhaps your mother has sent something.  I am presuming my parents sent the parcel awaiting me," T'Ann replied pleasantly.  S'omm and T'Annu were now working on a history of the study of astronomy through the quadrant (and so, ultimately, of space travel) which was currently shooting in the Caspian Sea region on Terra.

The young women collected their packages and were just about to look at the return labels when a familiar voice interrupted them.

"And what might my sister have received this day? Some Terran sweets? Would you not be willing to share this with your brother?" T'Ann's brother Strumm stood there with a few of his fellow music classmates.

"No," T'Ann said primly, "I am not.  Come along, T'Mara." Strumm had been sent his own parcel.

T'Mara cast a shy glance in the older boy's direction as they hurried away.  Now he was dishy, she thought.

* * *

 

"Hello, my sister T'Mara," the vid began as it opened on a shot of Kanou and her mother standing in a snowy wonderland with the Daragans.  "Today we visited the town of Neuschwanstein, to see two very beautiful castles built by an ancient Terran king named Ludwig.  They were most impressive." T'Mara agreed, the castles were most finely designed, and might be a good backdrop for a romantic fairytale ballet, perhaps Cinderella.

"My mother leaves tomorrow for Qo'noS and I do not know when she will visit again.  She sends her best wishes to you and hopes that you are successful in your ballet studies.  I know you shall be, and look forward to seeing you when you come to London.  She has found Terra to be fascinating, as you might say." A shot of Kanou and her mother eating a large, bread-like object which they called a pretzel.  Then one of them making a snow-targ.

"The training facility is quite large and the ice is excellent.  I am, naturally, the only Klin, but the other skaters are very curious and friendly.  The coaches say I learn quickly and I enjoy my workouts.  My studies are also important and my teachers on Qo'noS make certain lesson arrive in good time for me to complete.  I hope your classes are proceeding well.  Do please give regards to T'Ann when you see her, I still recall how she interviewed us for her parent's film.  Now, open the parcel."

T'Mara drew out a delicate porcelain cup and saucer, hand painted with beautiful swans, and a small cloth bag of some spicy smelling biscuits.

"The name of this town includes the word swan in the native tongue.  My mother and I found this cup at a small shop near the castles.  I hope you shall think of me when you drink your tea from it.  The biscuits are called gingerbread and are locally produced.  We enjoyed them and I think you might, too.

"I shall say farewell for now, T'Mara, but know we are close in our hearts.  The time shall pass and soon we will see each other once more.

"Your sister, Kanou."

T'Mara was just making a pot of tea before she began her evening's homework when a tap came at the door.  A moment later, T'Ann entered.  "I trust I am not disturbing you, T'Mara, but my parents sent a goodly supply of the Terran nut called pistachio and I thought you might like to try them."

"And Kanou sent some German sweets called gingerbread.  Perhaps we shall have some tea and enjoy these?"

The older girl sat down on a chair and opened the tin.  "That would be most kind.  Thank you.  I trust Kanou is well?"

"Very well, and she sends greetings.  And how is your Terran friend Suzanne?" T'Ann also had a best friend far from Vulcan who she'd met during one of her visits to her parents.  The girl resided in San Francisco.

"She hopes to visit this summer with her parents," T'Ann replied.  "It is hard to be parted from those we cherish, you know, but eventually, one gets used to it.  The time seems to pass quickly after awhile." She paused.  "My brother asked about you this afternoon."

T'Mara's eyes grew wide.  "He did?"

* * *

 

"Chula? Is that you?"

"Yes, mother," the Romulan girl replied as she took off her outer wraps.  It was a cold day at the seashore, which made sandboarding seem all the more like snowboarding.

"Daughter, could you join us, please?" Her father.  Chula frowned.  Was she in trouble? Did her parents disapprove of the music she listened to lately, a bootleg recording of Romo's newest release? She crept timidly into the kitchen.

Her parents were sitting and having a cup of tea.  On the floor next to them was a large packing crate, covered in an unusual writing which looked like Ferengi.

"Come sit, my daughter." Her mother spoke with a smile.  "For it is quite a momentous day for you."

"Indeed, your bravery has been more than amply rewarded.  This shipment was delivered today by a trusted associate.  It crossed through many star systems to get here, Chula.  It is for you." Now her father smiled.

"For me?" Chula's heart began to pound.  No, it could not possibly be...

"And this arrived last week," Chula's father continued as he handed his daughter a familiar looking PADD.  "It was kept separate from the cargo for safety's sake.  There is a very important message for you on it.  Would you share it with us?"

Chula could not speak for a moment.  Her mother embraced her warmly.  "Do not fear, child.  Even here on Romulus, the government does not know everything.  There is already an official explanation for this cargo, that it part of a larger prize won in a tongo game at the nearby border station which was unwanted by the victor.  Naturally, as a supervisory officer, your father merely thought it might be put to good use by the local children.  No one objected, the matter is already forgotten."

"Go on and open the container," Chula's father urged.  "Then we shall listen to the message."

With trembling hands, the girl unsnapped the lid of the large box.  She gasped.  Inside were colorful, wonderful, items that Romulan children only dreamed of.  Snowboards, sandboards, sunglasses, hats, t-shirts and warm outer jackets.  More than enough for all of Chula's friends.  Tears began coursing down her face, for Romulans expressed emotions freely, all kinds of emotions.  Chula hugged both her parents happily and composed herself, then hit the play button on her PADD.

A familiar figure, accompanied by a young Vulcan woman, appeared.  Both wore hooded sweatshirts, but the male would be known anywhere in the galaxy.

"Greetings from Shi-Kahr, Chula," Stark said pleasantly in the Romulan language.

* * *

 

Jim Kirk read some messages with his coffee.  He was up early in anticipation of the away team's return that afternoon from New Kavalla.  Many good things had been accomplished, so it was another feather in the Enterprise crew's cap.  He smiled.  Good thing it was Friday and he could give them all the weekend off, or else his first officer might have done the unprecedented thing and called in sick for a few days.  Kirk could appreciate the Vulcan's philosophy after the time he'd recently spent with Elaan.  Oh, my.

There was a vidmail from his unofficial godson, the Teer of Capella IV.  Leonard James Akaar, who they'd seen a few months back during a planet visit.  The young man was growing quickly and aspired to attend the Academy some day, which Kirk encouraged.  Under Federation assistance, his home planet was no longer the primitive fiefdom it once was, though its culture was still very much intact.  Now, however, its people enjoyed more of a modern existence.

"Greetings to you, Captain Kirk," the vid began.  Leonard was seated with his mother Eleen at a heavy, traditionally carved table in their home.  No more tents, except when the tribes went on summer hunting excursions, but the decor was the same as Kirk remembered from his first visit.

"My mother and I are well and trust you and your people are also prospering.  On the planet here all is peaceful.  My schooling progresses, so I hope you are pleased.  I participate in the games and win often.

"I still plan to apply to the Academy when I am older.  But until then, how best may I learn of other cultures, especially yours? I have studied the things you gave me.  Yet my mother and I feel there might be more I can experience, that it is important I know of other worlds to prepare me for the day I must rule my own.  Our planet is so far from Terra, though." The boy looked almost wistful.

Kirk thought for a moment.  Leonard was not unlike another young royal he'd come to know recently.  Perhaps a trip to Germany for the next sportscamp might not be such a bad idea.  Surely Stark could arrange for the boy to at least apply to the next camp.  Yes, that was it.  Kirk would contact the champion once he received Eleen's consent.  And maybe she could visit with the boy as well.  After all, the Enterprise would be in spacedock for the holidays, so he'd be able to personally welcome the young teer if necessary.  Starfleet certainly would like that.

"Computer, begin reply," Kirk said.  "Greetings to you and your mother Eleen, Leonard James.  I was pleased to receive your message.  Yes, I believe there is an excellent way you can learn of other cultures, provided your mother approves, of course..."

* * *

 

At lunchtime, Christine Chapel gave a stretch and checked her mail.  Spock would be arriving back on board later that afternoon and she was counting the minutes until then.  He'd been gone three weeks to the monastery colony at New Kavalla.  Three long, interminable weeks, the longest separation they'd ever had as a couple.

Oh, there was plenty to keep her busy.  Her desk had been piled high with all the work put on hold in her absence, and she put in long hours to clear the backlog.  The monthly gynecological clinic came and went without incident.  Yoga class, swimming and the gym provided lots of physical activity.  Everyone wanted details about the sportscamp.  The ship dropped off and picked up supplies at several ports of call, necessitating an inventory.  There was an overnight at a remote, extremely boring starbase, but nothing too exciting happened.  She and Spock spoke by vidmessage every night at an appointed time and she slept the contented sleep of one who'd put in a full day, safe in the comfort of their bond.

But tonight...tonight she had a surprise for him.

There was a message from Kala, priority, all the way from the Klingon homeworld.  Her father really must be connected, Christine realized.  She called up to Nyota."Kala sent us a vid, how about bringing your lunch to my office so we can watch it?" She and Nyota missed their third musketeer and looked forward to her wedding in New York the following December.

"I'm on my way.  Can't wait to hear the news!"

The vid began with Kala and her father standing in front of a large, stately looking dwelling on the capital city's outskirts, followed by various scenes from her visit.

"Hi girls,

"This vid will probably reach you after I've arrived home in New York but I wanted to give you a snapshot of my journey.  Getting here is something else! You stop at a border space station and take a neutral ferry ship to the first Klingon outpost.  Then it's usually a Ferengi cruiser (a tub of rusty bolts, if you ask me) to Qo'noS.  Lucky for me, I have a Celeban passport in addition to my Terran one, and Daddy's so well known as a merchant, it wasn't a problem.

"The house is our clan's, it's been in the family for centuries.  Once we got settled, it was quite a new experience for me.  I'd never met my grandmother.  She's very regal and interesting to talk to.  Daddy interpreted, even though she teased him that his accent was odd.  We looked at old holos of my grandfather and three uncles.  All of them died well in battle.  Daddy's the one son left to oversee the business.

"The family business is thriving here under my cousin Kol.  He and his wife, Luawa, have quite the entrepreneur's touch, must come from all those dealings with the Ferengi and other, less savory traders (don't ask).  Don't think there's no interest in offworld things.  Far from it.  The bootleg market is alive and well, and the biggest seller is the Klingonese-Standard holodictionary.  Can you believe it? I must have made a dozen copies for family members alone.  My cousins and their friends practice their Standard on me all the time.  So do my aunts.

"Most of the people I encountered viewed me with curiosity.  Some citizens would just come up to me and ask, "Terra?" and when I said yes, they'd continue, "But are you not also Klin?" It always led to interesting discussions.  Quite a few of them knew more about Terran films and entertainment than I did, and they spoke excellent Standard to boot! Sport is a huge topic of conversation, especially hockey.  The team are treated like gods.  Oh, and my clothes designs had women's head turning, and quite a few men's too.  The family and I spent time at the Great Historical Museum in the capital city and I got some wonderful ideas for my oath taking gown.

"Worf, K'a'tya and the kids are great and say hello.  In fact, Mogh and Kanou made the trip back with us, along with the Daragans.  Mogh's pizza is still in demand and we had it a couple of times, Klingon style.  That guy can cook -- for a nine year old, no less! K'a'tya taught me to make some traditional Klingon dishes and we had a symbolic heart of targ feast one night, since Greg couldn't provide that when he announced his intentions.  It's...an interesting dish, that's all I'll say.  We joked about how Greg's mom would test me before our oath taking, and grandmother offered to find a friend of hers who might be willing to do that before I left.  She was kidding, I hope.

"It was really interesting to spend time with other Klingon women, especially all my aunts and cousins.  Family is just as important as honor, if not more so.  And the love between mates is celebrated in opera, poetry and epics.  Parents love and cherish their children just like most all parents, and the kids misbehave like kids everywhere, especially my cousins.  Not quite what you'd expect, huh, Klingon family values? But then I always thought Worf and K'a'tya were such a neat couple.  Their daughter's cute, looks exactly like K'a'tya, she's just learning to crawl.  I taught her to say 'bye-bye.' Mogh's grown a couple of inches even in these few weeks, I swear.  He's busy at school and plans to snowboard competitively within the Empire, once the new facility is done here in the capital city.  Snowboarding, well, sandboarding for now, is getting very, very popular.  Everyone knows who Stark is.  And all the kids say 'Cosmic!' just like he does.

"Kanou and her mom left for Terra with the Daragans the week after we arrived, for her training.  We spent alot of time talking about her assimilating into a new culture.  That girl learns Standard so quickly it's astonishing.  She's going to go very far, I think.  I drew up some simple costume designs for competition, and when the time comes I can make them for her.  She listened to all my music holos too, for ideas.  Her mom is very nice, given the fact the poor woman runs an unofficial hangout for the hockey team.  They're at the house all the time, and she complains that she sees more of them than their own mothers do.

"Grandfather Kluth is a scream.  When he and coach Daragan started telling stories we were all rolling on the floor.  Kando's OK, I guess.  Kanou's description of him was very accurate: a walking food consumption machine.  His hockey friends, on the other hand, were something else.  Four of them asked my father's permission to court me.  He declined graciously, but sheesh.  They're persistent.  I was presented with books of poetry (real books, no holos for this), local flowers (unusually pretty, I'm incorporating them into my next designs) and all kinds of fresh game, which my aunts appreciated.  I had no idea Klingon men had a romantic side, one even wrote a poem to me about his intentions.  Poor Greg, make sure he knows my heart's still his, OK? Spock was right about my being pursued by the Klingon male species.

"The extra clothes I brought were a huge hit.  K'a'tya and my aunts went absolutely wild for them and want more.  Maybe someday I'll open a boutique here-ha! The women really are like women anywhere, they gossip, they love pretty clothes and nice jewelry, and everyone wanted to know where I had my hair styled.  They complain about their husbands and tell off color jokes too.  I'd sit and talk with them for hours over raktajino, which is delicious, I'm bringing some back with me.  It's a very strong espresso that everyone drinks.  If it dissolves the spoon, it's just right.

"Grandmother gave me my jinaq, so now I am officially of courting status.  I'm sure there'll be another dozen potential mates arriving tomorrow morning, with targs and d'k thags at the ready.  And she said she heard I was being pursued by a fine young warrior my father approved of, so she could not stand in the way of par'mach -- that's the word for love -- even if he wasn't a Klin.  I have a feeling the trade tie in is another factor, must be all those Ferengi merchants coming and going at all hours to discuss profitable ventures.  Grandmother is very pleased we're doing the traditional oath taking and gave me lots of advice as to how the ceremony should be.

"Greg and Captain Kirk coordinated the dates of the Enterprise's midmission overhaul.  It happens in December, all right.  Three weeks at the San Francisco yards.  We know a week in total is taken up with official stuff, once you arrive and before you depart, but there's two weeks leave for everyone.  Since the Klingon hockey team is due to play in the New York New Year's Invitational, we figured a ceremony around December 28th would be best.  After Christmas, before New Year's.  We'll have the oath taking at the Klub in the evening, and a civil ceremony that morning.  You know Greg insists we all take a carriage ride after that through New Central Park, don't you? We've watched the old film 'Barefoot in the Park' too often, I think.  By the way, Spock's being Greg's tawi'yan is certainly a first that anyone knows of, but my dad thinks it's great.  Worf's promised to instruct Spock in the finer points of a Klingon wedding and his duties as the sort of best man.  There are plenty of other male bonding types of activities for the guys before and during the ceremony, it will be...interesting.

"Well, I'd better close this so Daddy can get it started through subspace.  He knows all the right people, you should have it sometime before our first child starts school, I hope.  Say hi to the boys and keep an eye on Greg for me so he doesn't mope around too much.  He's probably driving Spock crazy by now.  Five more months and he'll be at the New York fleet yards, just keep telling him that.

"Lots of love, Kala."

Christine and Nyota contemplated what they'd just seen.  The images were very atypical, and that was an understatement.  Laughing Klingon women -- K'a'tya, Kala's relatives, and their friends -- modeling her Klin inspired clothing with obvious delight.  Kala dressed up in traditional Klingon female attire, standing with her family for a portrait and looking pretty regal herself.  Mogh and his friends sandboarding just as easily as if they'd been on snow.  Worf and K'a'tya holding up their daughter and encouraging her to wave at the camera and say, "bye bye".  Wonderful historical buildings, amazing artwork, everyday citizens doing everyday things.  The zoo, with its unusual collection of animals that Kanou knew by name.  Kanou skating at the small little rink, showing promise of incredible talent yet to be realized, and her mother and grandfather embracing her happily when she finished her workout.  Kando and his hockey teammates strutting proudly for the camera, as though it was some kind of male mate choosing contest.  Kala's father laughing raucously with his family over some tall tale.  Kala not sure quite how to prepare a dish, to the amusement of her female relatives.  An energetic game of Frisbee, Klingon style.  And all throughout there was tradition, warmth, affection and humor.  A far cry from what most people thought of when you said the word Klingon.

"Well, that sure was an eye-opener," Nyota remarked after a minute or two.

"Uh huh.  I remember something coach Daragan told me at the sportscamp, how a few centuries ago the Russians and Americans were growing up thinking the other race had two heads and razor blades for teeth.  Then when his great great great grandfather first met an American, they both realized how similar they really were.  I guess we can say the same about Klingons.  They're really just like we all are, when you come down to it."

"Enemies are made, not born, didn't you say that once?" her friend asked philosophically.  "Ade and I are from different tribes that warred with each other a thousand years ago.  Yet here we are, both citizens of the United African States, and with each other.  No one in either of our families said a thing when we told them we were dating." She paused to give Christine a suggestive smirk.  "So, speaking of romance, lover boy's back tonight.  Got any special plans?"

"Yes, Greg and Scotty helped me re-do a holodeck program.  We'll be there for awhile."

"But won't other people want to use it?" The last thing Nyota wanted was for her friend's romantic tet a tete to be interrupted by someone wanting to run a kayaking program.

Christine smiled evilly.  "That deck's been out of commission since this morning for routine maintenance.  Till tomorrow.  No one will be bothering us, and besides, there are two others they can use.  And how about you? Ade's been gone as well."

"I'm making dinner," Nyota began.

"Oh, Doctor, if you're done with your luncheon, we have patients out here," Leonard McCoy interrupted.  "The sooner we see them, the sooner you can leave, you know."

"Yes, Len," Christine sighed.

It was good to be back, she decided.

* * *

 

The shuttle docked at the appointed time and the away team disembarked for a debriefing with Kirk and the rest of the senior staff.  Christine sensed Spock's presence as soon as he set foot onboard.  She was in the middle of patching up a chemical burn on a ensign from the science division when she could have sworn her husband was standing right behind her, doing very un-Vulcan like things to her rear view.

*I have returned.*

*So I gather.*

Leonard was busy at the briefing so Christine finished seeing the last few patients and then handed over the shift to nurse practitioner Corazon Jodriguez, who encouraged her to leave although it was early.  She accepted the offer happily.

To Spock, the meeting seemed to go on forever.  Details, details, details.  The team had assisted the colonists with the construction of a dam that would help generate power, a drought tolerant variety of grapes had been developed which might grow elsewhere in the quadrant with great success, and new trade agreements for the colony's excellent agricultural products were stacked up for signature.  All in all, a productive, profitable three weeks, Kirk declared as he dismissed the away team for the weekend.

Spock hurried to his quarters and opened the door.  He did not sense his wife's presence, though he knew she was more than ready to greet him.  A soft lamp glowed, but that was all.  His eyesight adjusted to the semi darkness and he noticed the note on the bed.

"Meet me at Thunder Road.  Holodeck two.  Don't forget your key.  XXXOOO."

His eyebrow raised as his hand unconsciously felt for the chain around his neck under his uniform.  Thunder Road? As in Majoricia? Memories began washing over him faster than he could control and he hurtled himself into the shower.  A cold one for now.  He had to get from their cabin to the holodeck without attracting too much attention as it was, and the last thing he needed was...well...that.

The corridor outside holodeck two was deserted, probably due to the large sign hanging there proclaiming it was undergoing routine maintenance until noon the following day.  Spock keyed in the entry code Christine had left for him and entered.  The doors locked themselves as they closed.

It was Thunder Road.  Right down to the dock, the crystal seas beyond, and the patio with its rock pool and daybed.  Warm breezes caressed his face just as they had on the island and moonlight danced across the waters.  A trail of candles led towards the cabana's interior.  Spock knew his wife was waiting for him there, but for a moment his feet refused to budge, as though he could not believe what was being presented to him.  Just like that night on the bridge.

A figure moved seductively to stand in the doorway, framed only by candlelight and the moon.  She was clad in the outfit she'd surprised him with on the last night they'd spent there.  Her hair was damp and tousled, her arms loosely folded across her breasts.  The look on her face could have melted the entire planet of Arctica.

"Hey, handsome," she purred.  "You gonna stand there all night and just gawk? Guess I'll have to do something about that." She moved languidly down the steps and glided to where he was.  One hand slid up around his neck.  The other caressed the erection that was straining against his jeans, seeking to free it from its confines.  Her mouth found her husband's ear and whispered a phrase they both knew well.

Spock seized her hungrily.

* * *

 

"I'm impressed, Commander.  You got me out of my briefs without using your key.  Or your hands!" Christine propped herself up on an elbow and traced the line of hair on her husband's abdomen.  They were happily tangled up in each other at an odd angle to the bed.  The holodeck program was still running perfectly, and there was plenty more night left to frolic in.

"I enjoy a puzzle, Doctor.  The side buckles are an alternate way of divesting you from the garment.  The fact I used...other means brought me a great deal of enjoyment."

Other means.  She'd have to remember that one.  The man's mouth was so talented it needed and NC-17 rating of its own.  "I brought us some sustenance," she said as she reached across him for a small basket.  "We've built up an appetite, wouldn't you say?"

"You spoil me, my wife," he growled as he grasped her naked backside possessively.  "What have you prepared?"

"I just missed my man," Christine sighed.  "I made some fruit bread from the last of what T'Glad gave us.  And..." She opened a stasis pitcher and began to pour out two glasses of a dark liquid.  "Chocolate malts."

"Chocolate malts? Real malts?" Spock asked incredulously.  "How?"

"You mom gave me her recipe, and let's say Cookie and Sulu coughed up the needed ingredients when I asked nicely." She handed him a glass and watched as he started drinking it eagerly.  "Is it palatable?"

"Most assuredly." An eyebrow raised.  "But what possessed you to make this, of all things? I am not complaining, mind you."

"I knew you liked them." She smiled as Spock continued to slug the treat happily.  "And...I always wondered what might have happened if your mother didn't interrupt us that morning."

It was movie-scene classic.  Her husband stopped suddenly, gulping hard.  Christine was certain he was trying not to choke.  A sexually playful look crossed his face as he set the glass down beside the bed.

"Oh, do you, Doctor? Then let us...postulate."

* * *

 

"Madame Amanda?"

Amanda turned from the balcony where she'd been watching twilight descend over Kwil'nor.  A wonderful few days.  Her son was right, it was a most logical place for relaxation.  But then she and Sarek had already known that for years.

Sarek was standing there, a special look she knew very well on his handsome features.  A small key on a chain dangled from one hand.  "Shall we play, my lady?" he asked mischievously.  His other hand then appeared, holding out a pair of silvery handcuffs.

"Yes, my devoted one." Amanda gave him a wicked smile.  "Let us play."

* * *

 

Postscript:  Winterludes -- Find Your Wings

 

It was just over a year and a half after the first sports camp concluded.  The second camp had been held in Germany at Liudmilla and Valery Daragan's training facility -- on real snow -- to much success.  The campers dispersed to their homeworlds and the seasons continued to change.  Autumn was now beginning on Terra; winter would once again follow.  And across much of the quadrant, the buzz over the week's "Galaxy of Sport" was huge.

The Thames Trophy, held annually in London each September, was the unofficial opening of the run up to the Galactic Figure Skating Championships the following February.  Because this particular year marked the midway point before the next SportsFest at Lake Tahoe, the field would be gone over microscopically.  It was tradition that those who would be retiring did so by not making an appearance here.  But what fueled the media circus is that the event also served as a launching platform for new talent, which might shine for the next SportsFest...or beyond.  There already was talk about the Portillo, Chile games to be held in six years.  Skaters had long, interesting careers.

And this year was no exception.  Word of a young Klingon jumper, coached by Liudmilla and Valery Daragan, was running through the ladies' field.  The Ferengi were taking long range bets on this one, so amazing was her ability or so it was rumored.  They were also bouncing the transmission off a nearby neutral border space station so that special places for watching the bootleg broadcast would be available on the homeworld, for a profit of course.  Figure skating was not something the high council's communications division gave a great deal of notice to.  Hockey, yes.  Maids dancing on ice? Oh come now.

All that was about to change forever.

* * *

 

"Representing the Klingon homeworld, Kanou Kluth!"

A small, shy girl skated out onto the ice, saluted the judges, and gave a graceful curtsy.

"She learned well from T'Mara," Spock remarked, recalling the two friends from the first sportscamp.  His father reported that T'Mara had been awarded the ballet studentship in London and would be headed there in the new year, with Vulcan's approval.

"Mmmmmm," Christine and Nyota sighed together.

"Look at that costume," Nyota said, pointing to the screen.  "It has Kala written all over it!" For the skirted all in one, now the norm in women's skating, was a variation on the model Kala first wore on Vulcan, adapted for a younger girl.

"And she helped Kanou choose her music, too," Christine added, realizing how proud they were of their friend.  It wasn't that long ago she'd been a shy young woman on board.  Amazing what friendship (and the love of a good man) could do to to a person.

The music cued, Enya's "Storms in Africa II".  Kanou opened with an impressive triple triple, bobbling only slightly on the second jump.

"That'll be a quad by Portillo," Christine said, mostly to herself.

"Easily a quad combo by Portillo, wouldn't you say?" one commentator asked the other.  Spock's eyebrow raised.

Kanou began another of her elements.  Nyota gasped.  "Chris! That's your arabesque sequence.  I'd know it anywhere!"

"It should be." Christine was quiet but pleased.  "I taught it to her, remember?"

Spock remembered.

The routine continued, ramping up instead of cooling down, with the Klingon girl doing her required leaps with almost no effort.  Then she sliced through her serpentine steps like a hot knife through butter and popped another combo, a triple/double this time.

"Holy smoke, she should be tired by now!" Christine was staring at the monitor.

"At a point where most skaters are tiring, this one is clearly still full of energy," said the commentator.

Spock looked sideways at his wife.  He knew she was a keen follower of this sport -- after all, they'd begun courting duringg the Polaris games -- but her spot on ability to analyze a routine still impressed him.

Kanou began her final required element, a spin combination.

"My lord, she's going to do four." Christine was whispering, her eyes glued to the spinning girl.  Spock was aware of her familiarity with the program, but still wondered exactly what she meant.  Four? Four what?

His wife's prediction was once again accurate.  Kanou began with a camel spin, then straightened up and wrapped her leg around herself while raising an arm, extended the leg high in a Biellman, then dropped it behind for a final extended version, all done perfectly in tandem with each change of tempo in the song's final bars.  She stopped with a flourish, her face bright with a smile.

"Oh," Nyota finally breathed.

"My," Ade M'Benga added.

"Lord!" Christine gasped as she did calculations on her PADD.

Spock watched the three of them, but he was not amused at their reactions, he shared them.  He, too had been astonished at what they'd just seen and was glad his friends did not notice the fact his eyebrows were now resting on the back of his neck.

* * *

 

The London audience, which had been momentarily stunned into silence, finally erupted, virtually blowing the lid off the arena with its enthusiastic welcome to the new potential champion.  Everyone knew it was only a matter of time.

And that was only the reaction to Kanou's short program.  Her long program was also impressive, though it had the the usual lack of fine polish for one so young and inexperienced.  That did not matter.  Her place in the top ten meant this skater was going to be around for a long time and would just get better as she matured.

* * *

 

At the Klub Klin, which had been so still the ice in glasses was heard to melt, an explosion of warrior shouts, chants and songs startled much of the New York Spaceport.  When curious security forces wandered in, Koth was pouring drinks on the house for everyone.  He pointed up at the vid monitor, which showed a view of the Vulcan ice dancers, Selek and T'Lea, themselves gold medalists at this event, flanked by a fashionably attired Klingon woman and her Terran husband.  The four of them were leading a standing ovation for a skater, who was being showered with bouquets on the ice below.

"That is my daughter Kala and her mate," Koth shouted proudly.  "And this day, Kanou is the daughter of us all!"

"Kai Q'apla!" came the answering roar.

* * *

 

On Qo'noS, the hockey team was jumping up and down, smashing into Kando with yells of congratulations.  "But she only finished eighth!" he protested, amazed.

"So? She will win some day.  Just not today! But what a debut for our people!" Coach Kluth made his pronouncement.  Then he turned to his own daughter, Kanou's still shellshocked mother.

"I did not realize just how talented she was," the woman said eventually.

"This is only the beginning, daughter.  You shall see.  Kanou will make us all very proud of her."

"I always was proud of her, my father."

* * *

 

"And she'll be on the platform, I think, by Portillo." The announcer's voice was firm.  He'd seen many skaters come and go.  It was very clear this one was not planning on going anywhere but up.

Mogh gave Loki a Terran high five.  "And perhaps I shall be as well!" His own snowboarding, begun as an amusement, was progressing extremely well.  Mogh's specialty was snowboard cross, the motocross of the sport.  He was the current Qo'noS champion in that discipline -- at eleven.

"You never know," Worf said thoughtfully, recalling the first time he'd ever been on a snowboard himself.  Were Spock and his wife also watching this broadcast somewhere? He presumed so, it being only logical.  After all, they spoke of the skater now and then in their vidmessages.  He looked over at his own wife, who, along with their now toddler aged daughter and Lak'sha, were still transfixed by what they'd just witnessed.

* * *

 

At the Shi-Kahr School for the Arts, where a group of young women viewed the competition with great interest, T'Mara watched her friend sit in front of the cameras with her coaches, bouquets piled high on her lap.  She waved to the audience, first with one hand, then the other.  As her marks came up, a happy smile lit her face.

"One would almost think she is giving a ta'al," T'Ann said thoughtfully as she regarded the young Klingon.

"Coincidence, perhaps," T'Sala replied.  "Though it is most close to the greeting, I must admit."

T'Mara said nothing to her classmates, but inside her heart sang as she realized the promise she and her friend made on that last day of sportscamp was holding true.  Although she knew Kanou could not see her, T'Mara surreptitiously gave a tiny little tug to the bottom of her ear in answer to the special sign of friendship she'd just witnessed.

Soon, T'Mara realized, she would be in London to begin her studies with the Royal Ballet.  Next year she herself would be in the audience at the Thames Trophy, and perhaps the Trophee Lalique over in Paris, and possibly she could convince her parents and baby brother to visit for this.  Germany and England were very close in distance.  She and Kanou would speak by vidphone regularly and without arousing comment; visits would be easy to arrange.  T'Mara's parents had promised their daughter she could see her special friend whenever their training schedules allowed.

T'Mara couldn't wait to leave for Terra.

* * *

 

"And to think were it not for Stark's endeavor, the young woman would never have been afforded this priceless opportunity," Sarek remarked.  "I feel she will go far in this sport.  As will her friend, T'Mara.  Both of them are a credit to their disciplines, from what I am hearing."

"Then hosting the camp was the logical thing for Vulcan to do, was it not?" General Stoick asked as he poured his guests a celebratory brandy.

"Most logical," Amanda agreed.  "Do you not think, T'Ser?"

General Stoick's new bondmate gave a pleased nod.

* * *

 

Late at night at an undisclosed home in a quiet neighborhood, a group of children and adults watched a grainy, poorly transmitted broadcast that had been bounced through several communications systems.

"A Klin.  And she is so talented," one woman said.  "Perhaps it is not as those in the government would say.  Perhaps all truly are welcomed in competition."

Chula held her precious Vulcan Heat sandboard tightly to her chest and smiled so hard it hurt.  "Someday a Romulan shall stand tall as a competitor with all the races of our galaxy.  And someday, perhaps, they might be a champion too."

No one said otherwise, for all those present knew that on a day far in the future, such a thing might indeed happen.

* * *

 

"So why are we going to the holodeck, Commander? Has all this skating given you ideas?" Christine asked as they exited the turbolift later that evening.

"Not precisely," Spock replied non-commitally.  "I have...a surprise of sorts for you."

Surprise? Christine's eyebrow raised in a perfect imitation of her husband.  His surprises usually involved carnal knowledge.  Mmm.  That was a nice prospect, she decided.

"Computer.  Run program Spock, Starbase 74." He turned to his wife with an enigmatic little smile as the doors opened.  The penny dropped.  It was September -- early September.  Two years ago, to the day, she realized, they'd been at Starbase 74.  Just after their honeymoon, en route to extra leave on Majoricia.  But they'd had to spend the night on board while the ship was in spacedock.  Or so her husband always maintained.

"You Vulcan sentimentalist," she laughed as they beheld a perfect recreation of the Enterprise bridge, absolutely deserted.  "You remembered, didn't you?"

"Remembered, doctor? That is a night I shall not soon forget." Spock embraced his wife with a definite agenda in mind.  "Now kindly remove your clothes and take your position in the captain's chair.  Just as you did that night," he growled.

Christine gave a tug to the chain around his neck and returned his kiss with equal ardor.  "Aye, sir," she whispered.  "If you help me remove them."

* * *

 

Kirk wondered why his First Officer looked so tired the next morning.  Surely the skating hadn't been that inspirational? Down in sickbay, Leonard McCoy wondered the same thing about his ACMO, who he'd found dozing in her office during the lunchbreak.

"That Vulcan," he muttered to himself.

* * *

 

Early the next day, Kluth arrived to lead his team through their morning workout and was stunned to find a dozen young ladies and their mothers lined up to inquire about skating lessons.  And a few warriors stopped by later to ask when Kanou might be eligible to seek a mate, on behalf of their sons.

* * *

 

Stark was summoned to Ambassador Sarek's office the first thing next morning.

"Is there a problem?" The champion was thinking ahead to the Vulcan Snowboard Invitational, to be held that weekend in Shi-Kahr.  And the fact Sierra was about to have her first litter, far from Terra, under the supervision of the Shi-Kahr zoo's chief veterinarian.

"Ambassador Kl'o'rox called me late last night after the broadcast. The Klingon government is willing to sponsor a sportscamp on its homeworld next winter if you would deign to be there to lead it."

"COSMIC!"

* * *

 

On a wintry January afternoon, T'Mara and her ballet mistress, T'Pas, made their way down a corridor at the London spaceport.  It had been a long, exciting trip to Terra, another step in an even longer road T'Mara had set upon.  Although apprehension might be deemed illogical, she felt a twinge in her stomach at the thought of being so far from home and among people she did not know.  T'Pas would stay with her for a week to help her settle in, but after that, she would be on her own.

As they entered the arrivals hall, she noticed a sign, hand lettered in her own language reading "Welcome, T'Mara!".  And there holding it was Kanou, waving and grinning happily.  Next to her was her coach, Liudmilla Daragan.  They must have made the quick trip over from Germany for the occasion.  T'Mara looked up questioningly at the older woman who had accompanied her thus far on her journey.

"It is always logical to have good friends, T'Mara," T'Pas said encouragingly.  "And your friend seems to be very good, indeed."

It wasn't exactly logical to feel excitement or joy, either, but T'Mara was bubbling over with both (just under the surface, of course).  She sped up her steps and soon faced her friend, who gave her a ta'al, and a smile.

"So tell me, my sister," Kanou asked curiously as the group began walking towards the subway.  "Who is this Strumm?"

"He is...dishy," T'Mara sighed dreamily.

* * *

 

Loki and Lak'Sha have returned to the homeworld; Loki has reached the Age of Ascension and plans to attend the Klingon Defense Corps Academy (KDCA) and study to be star pilot.

Mogh is snowboarding competitively for the Empire and has become very proficient at the discipline.  He'll attend the KDCA as well but plans to become a fitness specialist, as Coach Daragan once was.  Someone has to keep those warriors in shape!

* * *

 

Almost seven years after the end of the first winter sports camp...

It was a perfect early September San Francisco weekend afternoon.

The fogs so common to the actual summer months had finally dissipated, allowing Indian Summer to come rolling in.  To the residents who knew better, it was easily the best time of the year.

Golden Gate Park was a pleasant mix of autumn color and greenery.  The bike and skate paths swarmed with San Franciscans eager for physical activity.  Far away, the ever present foghorns warned shipping of the bay's rocks, but today there was not a trace of fog to be seen anywhere.  It was so clear that the UC Berkeley belltower was visible from the Golden Gate Bridge.  That was clear.

"Come on, Jim.  There's a good boy.  Straight to me!" Christine Chapel held the vidcamera with one hand as she waved to her son with the other.

The just turned two year old toddler seemed uncertain of how to proceed.  He grasped the handlebars of his training bike but did nothing else.  The sun glinted off his safety helmet.

"Go on, son.  Go to your mother," Spock encouraged from behind, giving the young man the tiniest of parental shoves.  A second later, he was pleased to see his son begin to pedal mightily.

"Very good!" Christine welcomed the future Tour de France champion with a hug and a kiss.  A moment later, her husband joined them and gave his son an affectionate pat on the back.

"Yes, son.  Very good."

But the next Lance Armstrong wasn't accepting compliments just then.  "Eat!" he said.  "I'm hungry!"

"I believe your son would like some lunch, doctor," Spock observed as he began unpacking the container he'd been carrying.

"MY son? Let me explain something to you, captain...."

* * *

 

"A most pleasant afternoon," Spock said as they strolled back to their home, which was in walking distance of the park.  "With the start of the new academic year this Monday, I fear such excursions will be limited for the time being."

"No kidding.  I get to start physicals on the incoming class at 08:00 Monday morning.  At least we have this last weekend to enjoy ourselves." Christine adjusted their sleeping son on her shoulder.

"Speaking of...enjoying ourselves..." Spock raised a now familiar eyebrow.

Christine caught sight of the small key on a chain that he still wore after all this time, resting at the juncture of his collarbone where his ancient cambric shirt was unbuttoned.  Except when...needed, he'd never taken it off since the night she'd given it to him.

"May I remind you, Captain, that I am a pregnant mother married to a Starfleet Academy Dean? And what are you doing in my shirt, anyway, sir?"

"Only if I may remind you, Doctor, of who got you into that predicament in the first place? And as I must routinely tell you, this is my shirt, which you pilfer from my closet on a regular basis."

Game, set, match.  Damn that man, Christine thought to herself, he was still good.  And she wouldn't have it any other way.

Their customary banter was interrupted by the sight of three teenaged youths hurtling down the fast skate path.  Both of them stopped to admire the skater's form, which looked nothing their own skating trips.  Spock had put their son on hockey skates for the first time the week before; rollerblades would be following.

The trio braked to a flashy stop just yards from where they stood and removed their helmets and Vulcan Heat sunglasses.

"Dr. Chapel? Captain?" Benny Childress asked.

"Benny! Ellat! Leonard! What a great surprise! You looked pretty cosmic there," Christine said with a happy smile of recognition.

"Gentlemen! A pleasure, but I was not expecting to see the new first year cadets until Monday morning," Spock replied.  "After all, the Academy is not in session yet, you know."

It was clear Academy protocol was not yet in force.  The boys crowded around, exchanging news and gossip with the couple.

"This is our son, James." Spock indicated the slumbering toddler.

"We call him Jim," Christine clarified.  "So what are you up to this last weekend of freedom, then?"

"Officially we're at the embassy till school starts," Ellat said.  "Mom insisted." He made a face, as did his two friends.

"After she talked to MY mother," Leonard offered.  "I guess she doesn't trust us completely..." It was clear the Dowager Empress of Troyius and the Teer's Regent had much in common where maternal radar was concerned.

"Yeah, remind me to thank you," Benny laughed.  "Then they BOTH talked to MY mom.  You'd think we were six.  It's a miracle we could ditch the minders today, Ellat sent 'em off to a baseball game with some of the embassy staff.  Anyway, we're heading off to Jimmy's loft later to see what he's been painting and hang out for awhile.  We're gonna try to connect with Silok on a subspace vid, too, if we can."

Jimmy Sanchez had been awarded a scholarship to the San Francisco Art Institute where he was doing a degree in fine art.  Silok was now studying aerodynamic design at the Vulcan Science Institute.

"Did you see Kanou skate in Portillo last month?" Ellat whistled.  "A bronze, her second time out.  They say she might be a gold medal contender at Temoria.  And Mogh! A bronze in snowboard cross!" He grinned proudly.  "We knew 'em way back when."

"Yes, we watched the whole sportsfest, from beginning to end." Christine said, resisting the temptation to mentally smack her husband one for rolling his eyes so obviously.  Well, obviously for a Vulcan.

"Kanou will compete here this January, in the Golden Gate Cup, perhaps we could all attend and show our support for her," Spock suggested.  The Klingon girl was a regular visitor when she was in the area, often in the company of her best friend T'Mara.  At almost sixteen, both were maturing into their disciplines very well, in addition to turning adolescent male heads wherever they went.

"How about all that talk about her and Mogh taking the oath? What a load of junk!!! Mogh's already got a girlfriend, anyway," Benny added.  "He starts the KDCA this month, a cadet just like us.  Oh, and Loki's in his third year, the flyboy.  Says it's hard but he likes it.  The food's pretty awful, though, according to him."

A look of distaste passed from teen to teen.  Starfleet Academy food was not rumored to be of any great culinary merit, either.

"Speaking of food, Stark and T'Lara are having dinner with us all tomorrow," Leonard said.  "It'll be cosmic to see them again." The Teer of Capella IV had attended the second sportscamp in Germany with Jim Kirk's encouragement, and excelled in hockey.  He'd also developed a fondness for what his mother refers to as "non nutritional food".

"Now that they've officially retired, they're busier than ever, with the whole Vulcan Heat corporation and all," Ellat continued.  "He and T'Lara are expecting their second baby in April."

"We are in February," Spock said placidly, giving a special look to his wife.

"Be careful or you'll all be godfathers before you know it!" Christine warned happily.

"And I shall expect you at team trials next week, then, gentlemen," Spock intoned with mock seriousness as his future pupils prepared to depart for more skating.  "We need hockey players."

"Aye, sir!" came the chorus.

* * *

 

"Who would have thought all those years ago that we'd get three cadets out of the first few sports camps?" Christine mused later that evening.

"That aspire to be a geologist, a stellar cartographer and a physicist.  Yes, an excellent addition to the entering class." Spock placed an affectionate hand on his wife's small but growing bump.  "And who knows what awaits her?"

"Mmmm.  Maybe a fast talking Starfleet type will sweep her off her feet and show her the galaxy someday."

"Not unless he gets past me.  To quote your former superior, I shall be waiting on the porch with my shotgun." He gave his wife a stern glance, meant to scare off potential Romeos.

"Oh Spock, you still slay me," Christine snickered.

"As I intend to every day of our marriage.  Now about enjoying ourselves before the horrors of another academy year are upon us, Doctor?"

"I believe I have just the prescription, Captain.  A...swimming lesson."

* * *

 

Postscript -- Winterludes -- When You Dream...

 

It's twenty years or so after that first sportscamp....

 

The figure skating grand finale of the Calgary games was about to come to a close, and as reigning ladies's singles gold medalist, Kanou would be the last performer, doing her second and final piece.  Her first number, a farewell of sorts, was a dramatic one done to the old standby that Klin women loved, "Memory." What made it unique was the felinesque costume Kala designed and the song itself.  Lak'Sha had done a special recording of the hit from "Cats" in the Klingon language.  It brought down the house.

As she waited for her next costume, the double champion reflected back on the past few years.  She had fully intended to retire after the Arctica games when she won her first gold medal.  After all, she now had a full set: a bronze from her second games at Portillo in Chile, and a silver from the next at Temoria.  But the Arctica silver medalist, that pest Kristina Se'Peya from the Martian Colonies, had made such a stink about one bobble on her last set of jumps "causing her to lose the gold." Kanou was bothered and left wondering if she was merely the gold medalist by default, not in her own right.

Ms. Se'Peya retired after Arctica to pursue an as yet unsuccessful singing career and Kanou finally took a deep breath to consider her own future.  That meant she now had time to have a break.  Somehow she'd known that handsome Klingon goalie for the Rangers, Thak, would be waiting, and he was.  They fell in love, married both on the homeworld and at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, then took a month's honeymoon to Risa.  Except when they got back and the run up was beginning to the next SportsFest, Kanou felt like she was missing something.  And so she dusted off her skates, as many a quasi retired skater had done before her, and started back onto the ice in earnest.

This time there had been no doubt.  Instead of getting older and softer, she'd become more mature and stronger.  Her quads came almost as a second nature now, leading her coach to wonder if a quint toe loop was in the grasp of the next skating generation.  She blew the field away at Calgary, a field in which the top four competitors skated all out and made not a single noticeable mistake.  Kanou won outright and this time it wasn't because the silver medalist had a bad day.  The press on the homeworld called her "Our Warrior Goddess." There were now a half dozen new talented ladies waiting to show the galaxy what Qo'noS was capable of producing.  That was good.

She'd be retiring soon, because it was time to be thinking about a family.  And coaching, commentary, that training holovid she wanted to do.  Heck, Somm and T'Annu were talking about making a feature film of her life! But all that she really wanted right now was to spend time with her husband, go yell like a Klingon warrior at some hockey games, and plant a garden with him at their Montauk home.

"Kanou?"

She turned to see Kala holding out her dress.  "It really is exactly the same, isn't it?" she asked softly.  For it was the same costume she debuted in, essentially.

"So is the woman who is wearing it.  Just the years have changed."

A few moments later Kanou looked at her image in the locker room mirror.  For a second she saw the timid little girl who had found her wings on the London ice and announced to all who saw her performance that skating was her life.  So long ago, yet it could have been yesterday.

They walked together to the entry tunnel and shared a quick hug.  "Knock 'em dead, my sister," Kala said with a grin.

"Always." Kanou gave her mentor and business partner their special knuckle salute.  Then she skated out to center ice, bobbed a curtsy, and took her position as the music began.

As soon as "Storms in Africa II" started up, the audience went crazy, clapping along to the original short program that was her letter of introduction to the galaxy on that London afternoon.  The only difference was that her jumps now included a quad salchow/quad flip sequence and an equally impressive quad axel/ triple loop/double loop combination.

Kanou began her final spin series, her face glowing with the knowledge that all the years had paid off, the years that really started when another girl had offered her popcorn and friendship.

After she acknowledged her applause with kisses and waves, Kanou skated over to the sidelines and performed another graceful curtsy.  Then she rose and gave a flawless ta'al and accepted a bouquet of Vulcan fire flowers from her best friend in the universe.

T'Mara.

* * *

 

"She's beautiful."

"Yes, she always was, even when she was a tiny little thing." Christine smiled as she recalled that long ago meeting.

"What was she like when you met first her, Mom?" Teresa looked over at her mother, who was gathering up their things.

"Shy, curious, a quick learner.  And so talented we all knew she'd be a champion someday.  I guess we were right!" She stood and put her arm around her daughter's shoulder.  For a fourteen year old, she was tall like both her parents.  Volleyball was her favorite sport, especially the beach variety which she played as often as possible.  Fog or no fog.

"So did you manage to communicate with her when you first met?"

"Yes, we talked about skating injuries and got to know each other.  I gave Kanou her very first taste of jellybeans.  Then I noticed her and T'Mara watching my own skating workout every morning.  So we spoke a little more each day, and practiced our language abilities."

"Quite adequately," Spock added.

"T'Mara's so amazing.  I loved her in 'DragonMine'.  What a talented dancer." Teresa had grown up with both the Vulcan ballerina and the Klingon skater being regular visitors to the family home.

"You'll see her and her husband at the party."

"I can't wait to see Kanou's husband! Or her brother! Two IGHL players in the same room? That is so ultra cosmic." Teresa's brother Jim was full of sixteen year old male energy.  "Let's move it, huh?"

"Relax, son, the celebration will not start for at least an hour yet, Miss Kanou must still meet her press for a final interview.  She has already stated this would be her farewell performance." Spock was as placid as ever, but also looked forward to discussing hockey, still a favorite sport of his, with the two Klingon players.  He'd begun refereeing in his son's junior leagues a few years back and now worked with the academy team when time off from his administrative duties permitted.  Jim was taking the Starfleet entrance exam next month.

They made their way out of the crowded arena into the frosty Alberta twilight.  The sky was a deep lavender blue with a crescent moon hung low amidst the early stars.  A snowball fight between the siblings quickly ensued.  Spock and Christine stood and watched their children scamper across the plaza, pelting each other with the icy spheres.

"Teresa has clearly learned from T'Lara, has she not?" Spock remarked as he watched their daughter's volley hit their son square on the noggin with pinpoint accuracy.  He put an arm comfortably around his wife, despite her being buried in a puffy winter coat.  "This has been a most enjoyable week, my love.  I am so glad we could attend."

"Me, too.  And no cracks about Kala and me sneaking off to skate in the morning, OK? If we get out the door at all it's a miracle, with the kids clamoring to come along as well." Christine giggled.

Their two, Kala and Greg's two, Stark and T'Lara's four plus Sierra III made for an extremely fascinating tribe, ranging in age from sixteen to five.  The party tonight, a grand reunion of sorts, would be quite an event.  Stark, the host, was providing vidgame diversions for the younger members.

"I promise, my wife.  We shall simply endeavor to be awake long before you need to prepare for your skating date." His eyebrow raised up in that special way.

"No sleep again," Christine sighed.  "Some vacation."

"I recall another vacation a bit south of here," Spock began as they started after their offspring before a window was broken.  He took his wife's gloved hand in his.  "We did not get much sleep then either, but it was still extremely enjoyable."

"You are insatiable, you know that?"

"Although you still insist on stating the obvious, yes, I shall agree with that illogically unnecessary statement.  I am always insatiable for you, the woman I love."

They laughed softly together in the dusk, a private moment of shared happiness, then continued across the plaza.

* * *

 

Update:

The progression of the Winter SportsFests has been Polaris (where Stark won the first time, as did the Klingon hockey players, and our couple began courting), Lake Tahoe (where Stark won again and Kanou debuted), Portillo in Chile, Temoria, Arctica and now Calgary.

So.  Who else was at the big reunion party? Here are some updates on folks we've all gotten to know over the, er, years.

T'Mara and her husband Strumm beat Spock and Christine in a highly contested game of dom-jott, by one point.  Strumm, who plays a modern version of the Vulcan harp in a jazz style, claims it was all in the wrist.  Spock was extremely skeptical of this and stated it was purely luck.

S'omm and T'Annu dropped by to visit with everyone.  They were in the midst of filming a documentary about the Vulcan curling teams, Ice Logic.  Their daughter T'Ann, a choreographer, accompanied them and spent time reminiscing with T'Mara and Kanou about some adventure they'd all had in Paris years ago.  T'Ann's brother Strumm was very curious about this adventure, which apparently involved chocolate filled profiteroles, pink champagne, and the Saurian polo team but the ladies refused to divulge any details.  T'Mara will be premiering the role of Odille/Odette in T'Ann's important new production of Swan Lake, to be debuted at the Paris Opera House in the spring.

Thak and Kando discussed (quite vocally) the current intergalactic hockey standings with a group of interested males and females.  Coach Kluth, who refuses to retire (though he is now largely, and happily, in an advisory role) listened attentively but did not give an opinion.  His daughter (Kanou's mother) more than made up for that.  The IGHL stars continued to maintain that the Andorian hockey win at Arctica was a fluke, and that the Klin would once again be atop the podium as champions at the final the next day.  Unfortunately, the Gorn surprised everyone and the Klingons and Andorians finished second and third.  The Gorn were led by their twin captains, BoCla and RobArk.

Mogh and his wife Josta brought pizza for everyone.  Mogh took the bronze medal in snowboard cross at the Portillo games where Kanou won her bronze.  The press on the homeworld went absolutely wild with speculation on whether the couple would take the oath, but Mogh's heart was already with a young woman from his home neighborhood whose father worked as a computer diagnostician at the KDCA.  Mogh is now an assistant winter sports coach of the KDC team and runs a pizza cafe with his wife at the KDCA, which is a very popular hangout.  It's rumored he also caters to some High Council events, though no one will officially comment.  Azetbur is a connoisseur of his pizza, especially when watching hockey games.

Worf and his wife, who were at a large scientific gathering at an Empire colony, could not attend but sent a vidgreeting.  They are still busy agriscientists on the Klingon homeworld, though they look forward to retiring at some point.  Their daughter skated for many years but now aspires to be an actress in the national opera company.  K'a'tya pesters Mogh endlessly as to when she will be a grandmother, though it's all in fun.  She also has a hugely successful side business in the capital city, producing seductive lingerie for a select clientele (word of mouth only, including Azetbur, who obviously appreciates fine things!) and her staff cannot make the styles quickly enough.

Lak'Sha is the dramatics mistress for the national opera company, having semi retired from performing.  She still does character roles on occasion as a mezzo soprano, to great critical acclaim.  Much as she wanted to accompany her son for the festivities, she could not as she was involved in final rehearsals for a new production of "Kahless and Lukara" to be premiered at the next Kot'baval festival.  She did eventually remarry to B'asso, a revered senior member of the company.  The vid of The Seduction of Kevin Riley regularly makes the rounds at celebrations.  K'a'tya's side business received quite a boost a few months back when the main female character in "For the Par'Mach of My Warrior and the Homeworld" sang her pre-oath taking aria while clad in a glamorous nightgown.  Lak'Sha, who played her maid, wore an equally beautiful robe.  K'a'tya, the designer, had to hire two more seamstresses the next day.The first inquiry came from Azetbur herself.

Commander Loki is a flight instructor at the KDCA but managed to get enough time off to make a quick trip to the celebration.  His wife Masht was already in Calgary as a visiting sports journalist. They have a daughter, Kamio.  Masht, now retired from competition, is a sports commentator for the Klingon Empire's media service and was the first ever female halfpipe snowboarder for the KDCA team.  She learned to snowboard at the initial sportscamp on Qo'noS, where Stark claimed the girl would go far.  She did, winning a gold medal at the games on Temoria, which followed her impressive fifth place debut at Portillo.  Loki's friend Mogh encouraged him to ask Masht to a hockey match and the rest was history.  Masht and her fellow competitor Kanou happily serve as role models to the young women of the Empire and beyond.

Commander Ellat is first officer at the starbase in his homeworld's system.  Prior to his assignment, he did a five year tour aboard the USS Yorktown as its physicist.  In addition to his scientific duties, he also gained quite a reputation as an intergalactic ladies' man, something he probably learned from his mentor, James Kirk.  He's been named the galaxy's most eligible bachelor and women from Ferenginar to the Martian Colonies to Qo'noS (and, it's rumored, Romulus) send him fanvids.  His date for the big party was his mother Elaan, who never did remarry.  She claims she is no longer interested in such things, but was seen having a quiet drink with Admiral Kirk, who was also in attendance.

Lt. Cdr. Benny Childress (Retired) now runs the geological research station on the Martian Colonies and takes part in mining survey missions for the private sector.  He's married to a very pretty Vulcan doctor named T'Nicca.  The couple met during his two tours of duty aboard the new USS Intrepid, which has a mixed crew of Vulcans and offworlders.  He requested the assignment specifically.  His wife claims her husband fell in love with all things Vulcan during the first sports camp, and Benny is quick to agree.

Ben and Evie Childress retired to Amelia Island, Florida and made the journey with their son and daughter in law.  Ben spends most days fishing or in his workshop and tending his chili peppers in their garden; he's won awards at the county and state fairs.  Evie teaches at the local community college.  Their other two sons live nearby.  A person resembling Harry Mudd allegedly visited them some time back but no one knows why.  He did not stay long, according to neighbors.

Jimmy Sanchez and his girlfriend Sabine are artists in Berlin.  Jimmy painted the famous portrait of Kanou which graces the ice arena on the Klingon homeworld, and the equally famous one of T'Mara that adorns the main entrance gallery of the new Shi-Kahr Cultural Palace.  They brought that old party standby, Jagermeister.

Despite his mother's misgivings, the Teer of Capella IV, Leonard James Akaar, attended the reunion with his wife Cilshu.  Eleen still worries that her son might overindulge in non nutritional food, something he did on a regular basis while at the Academy and then on board the USS Enterprise during his two tours.  In addition to his duties as Teer (which are largely ceremonial, as the prime minister is the official head of government now), Leonard does research at the large observatory on his planet's moon and coaches hockey during the winter.  Although his mother despairs that he eats the wrong things, Leonard is still lithe and handsome and also turned quite a few heads in his Starfleet days.

Silok works for a private starship design firm in New York City whose owner is Greg Dillon.  His aerodynamic flitters are highly sought after and the company specializes in custom models for celebrities, government officials and the like.  They have pleased, well-heeled customers from across the quadrant, including the Teer of Capella IV and the Dauphin of Troyius.  Silok's not sure when he'll get married.  He was featured in 'Young Designer InterGalactic' a few years back and enjoys all the feminine attention he gets, in particular from the models that grace his designs in ads.  His parents regularly visit with his sister, who is also enamored of New York.  Silok brought a surprise guest to the party.  Special cultural envoy of the Romulan Star Empire, Chula.

Ginny and her husband, Alasdair (Fiona's formerly repugnant brother) flew in along with her sister and brother in law.  Ginny coaches figure skating on New Inverness Colony and weaves beautiful woolen shawls from the fleece of the local highland sheep when she's not piloting starliners for a commercial transport firm.  Fiona and her husband run a bed and breakfast in the highlands there, close to the slopes where they both still snowboard.  Ginny flew them all to the celebration.

Ambassador Sarek and Lady Amanda attended with T'Sai TSer, her bondmate General Stoick, and Ambassador and Lady Ajax of Bolarus.  The Bolian team had a surprise gold medalist in the women's downhill, so Ajax was extremely pleased.  He still plays poker and loses regularly.  Sarek and Amanda divide their time between Vulcan and Terra.  The Ambassador has semi officially retired though Amanda insists he still works too hard.  Sarek, his son and his grandson attended several hockey matches during the sportsfest which they enjoyed very much.

Ambassador Kl'o'rox passed away a few years ago and his widow, Lady Kl'o'rox, was too frail to attend, but she sent a vidgreeting from Qo'noS where she resides with Lak'Sha and her family.  Lady Kl'o'rox still fondly remembers the trip to New York for Kala and Greg's oath taking and is godmother to their son Geoff.  The new, though still as yet unofficial liaison to the Federation is none other than K'e'flex, who finally fulfilled his dream of taking his son to a baseball game during his presentation of ambassadorial credential visit to Terra.  It's rumored the KDCA now has a team of its own.  K'e'flex happily made the long journey in the hopes of seeing a Klingon victory in hockey; he ended up settling for a win -- finally -- at poker.

Valery and Liudmilla Daragan moved to Sochi on the Black Sea, where it almost never snows, but are still active within the coaching community.  Kanou trained for her comeback at the popular resort and taught her husband to windsurf when he visited.  They spent most of the competition observing the skaters with their colleagues Selek and T'Lea, coaches of the Vulcan national team.  All of them agreed the field of competition was now very diverse and subject to many surprises, which was a logical thing.

Kala Dillon runs an activewear business with Kanou, MySport, that produces ethnically inspired sporting clothes for the women of the galaxy.  They recently opened a boutique, with spa, in the Klingon homeworld's capital city which had lines of eager customers queuing around the block.  Kala owns three very successful day spas as well, one attached to Starfleet Headquarters.  She's also still helping her parents with the Klub Klin, now a trendy watering hole despite being the comfortable spaceport dive it always was.  And she and Greg are busy raising their son Geoff and their daughter Katy Christa.  They live in Montauk, just down the road from Kanou and Thak, when they're not in the city at their Chelsea loft.

Assistant Communications Minister of the United African States, Nyota (Theresa) Uhura and her constant companion of the past twenty years, Dr. Ade (Geoff) M'Benga made a surprise visit to the celebrations.  Nyota performed some songs to the accompaniment of Strumm's harp.  The couple reside on the island Republic of Zanzibar, where Ade is chief of staff at the University Hospital.  Nyota also raises exotic carnations, long grown in the region, for the perfume Kala markets exclusively at her spas, African Dreams.

T'Safa and her husband attended then headed off to Hawaii to pick up their son, who had been at a botany study camp there.  For her pioneering research in the area of fertility, T'Safa and her research staff were awarded the Vulcan Scientific Legion of Honor.  They discovered and developed the treatment which helped negate the more unsavory aspects of pon farr and make the cycle more controllable, for those who wished such an aid.  Her clinic at the Science Academy helps couples with fertility issues, especially those of mixed marriages.  She and T'Lara founded the important charity, Silent No Longer, which educates and counsels those who seek the knowledge about all aspects of pon farr.  The T'sai T'Ser is patron of the charity, which, along with the treatment, has raised eyebrows on Vulcan, but is nonetheless accepted as a logical elective option.  S'milar, T'Safa's husband, is busy as an orthopedist, dealing with sports and dance related injuries of all kinds; he regularly travels with Vulcan's sports teams.  T'Safa's grandmother, doing well, was very pleased and yes, proud, of her granddaughter's achievements.  She still refers to her T'Safa's husband as an illogical fool, but only in jest.The couple continue to laugh with each other in private all the time.  Their son is named for TSafa's brother, Savant.  He will be taking the Starfleet entrance exam next month and hopes to serve as a botanist. The trip to Hawaii was his idea, what with all the exotic flora and fauna to be studied.  He is quite Terran in his demeanor (which his parents claim is from watching too many holos) but they are allowing him to find his own way.

Stark and T'Lara have four children, two boys and two girls.  They spend most of their time in Lake Tahoe but visit Vulcan and Delta regularly.  Vulcan Heat still continues to generate millions of credits profit each year, much of which is reinvested in their charity, Sport Belongs to Every Child.  Stark also helped Kala and Kanou launch their activewear line.  He's been approached more than once with a view to the diplomatic service as a career option but feels he's still too young for that, though he might consider it in the future.  In honor of his grandfather, Stark now sports a long ponytail.  With the gradual, cautious thawing of relations between the Romulan Star Empire and the Federation he hopes for a visit to Romulus someday soon, though nothing is guaranteed.  Chula has been instrumental in the establishment of preliminary pre-diplomatic ties, never forgetting the man who sent the shipment of Vulcan Heat items to her homeworld.

Out there in the galaxy's far reaches, the rumors Ambassador Kl'o'rox brought to Kirk and Ambassador Sarek are now thought to be more than rumor.  Spacers tell increasingly more disturbing stories of a people called the Borg, but a new name has caused old enemies to see how foolish their animosities might be.  Cardassia.

That's the summary of the guests at the party.  There's another chapter coming up -- then we'll go back to the present, after the sportscamp.

Enjoy!

* * *

 

Postscript -- Winterludes -- September's Song

 

The following September...

 

"Hey man, can you get the door for me?"

Jim Chapel turned to see a fellow midshipman struggling into the lift with him, his arms piled with luggage.  "Sure." It was moving in Sunday at the academy, and the first year dorm was filled with people.

"Thanks." The new cadet gave his companion a nod.

He was Vulcan.  Jim pondered a minute.  There were six Vulcans due to start with his class, who was this?

"I'm Jim," he said, not sure if he should give a ta'al or a handshake, then realized his Vulcan Heat knit cap was pulled down against the fog which had descended on the campus suddenly.  It was pretty likely the other cadet had no idea of his Vulcan blood.

"Savant." The young man extended a hand and they shook.

"What floor are you on?" Savant? Where'd he heard that name? Jim was certain his mother had mentioned it.

"Eight, I hope the view's nice from there."

Savant certainly didn't sound like any Vulcan Jim had met apart from his father, but that was only when he was teasing his mother in private.

"Me too, looks like we might be neighbors." The elevator doors opened and they exited, trying to determine where their rooms were.

"You from Shi-Kahr?" Jim couldn't resist asking.

"Uh-huh.  Don't suppose you've ever been, have you?" An eyebrow raised curiously.

Jim stopped and took off his cap.  "Yeah, you might say I have.  Actually, I spend part of the summer there every year, have done since I was a kid."

The other cadet's eyebrows shot into his hairline.  "You -- you're not -- Admiral Spock's son, are you?" He flushed lime green.

"Well, there aren't many naturally blonde Vulcans running around the Academy, so I guess I am.  But don't worry, my dad knows to keep his distance.  Mom made sure of that."

"Cool.  Um, look, Jim, you might as well know.  I'm Savant, son of T'Safa.  Pon farr T'Safa." Among much of the youth of Vulcan, now free -- but only if so desired -- from the uncertainty of being bonded at the age of seven, T'Safa was revered very highly, though with a rather colloquial if illogical nickname.

"You are?" Jim was impressed.  Despite opposition from traditionalists, the doctor's pioneering work was assisting Vulcan in many logical ways.  "That's cosmic, man.  Thanks to her, maybe our generation won't suffer through...you know..." He'd heard plenty of horror stories during his visits to Vulcan.  Funny though, his father never seemed to exhibit any of the symptoms.  Maybe that had to do with...never mind, best not to go there.  His parents still acted like a couple of thirteen year olds when they were alone together.  Yuck.

"So everyone says.  Here's my room, 821.  Where are you?" Savant opened the door and unceremoniously threw his things inside.

"Just down the hall, 830.  But Savant, you don't sound or act like most Vulcans I've met.  How come?"

"Let me tell you about my family sometime, that should explain things.  In the old days I guess I'd be a Vulcan without logic, but now, I'm just another Academy type." Savant shrugged as if accepting his fate.  Jim was beginning to like the other cadet.

"Hey, it's early.  How bout we head down to this Moroccan cafe my mom told me about, see if any interesting local talent's there? Uh, sorry, unless you're bonded." Jim was suddenly embarrassed.  He'd forgotten himself for a minute.  Not all Vulcans were embracing the more modern path of thought.

"Are you joking? Me? The women of the galaxy better put on their running shoes.  You're on."

The Cafe Cid was located a few blocks from the Academy.  It was decorated as a traditional Moroccan tea salon, with colorful cushions on the floor and intricately carved wooden tables where patrons could play backgammon while they drank sweet mint tea.  The cafe was one of the more popular spots for studying, socializing or watching members of the opposite sex.  The two new cadets wasted no time in doing just that.

"So, you grew up in Paris? I've heard the Vulcan consulate there is a real architectural marvel." Savant was turning on the charm while Jim mentally scratched his head and wondered just what this guy's family was like.

"Yes, I was born there, actually," T'Sylva replied.  "It was my father's first Terran posting and now his most recent, so the family is there.  Except for my brother and his bondmate, who live in Kwil'nor and manage the Vulcan diplomatic guest house."

"How did your parents meet, if I'm not being rude?" Jim could not help staring, unobtrusively, at the girl's exotic good looks.  Her hair and eyes were Vulcan dark, her ears were delicately pointed, but her complexion was a pale green, as though she was permanently blushing.  She was the daughter of Vice Counsel Selak, who headed the Vulcan diplomatic mission in Paris, and his wife Sylvie.

"Everyone asks.  My mother was a summer guest worker in Shi-Kahr during her university years, a hostess at an extremely popular nightclub called Delta's Dawn." A pause.  "No, not that type of hostess."

The boys exchanged a slightly embarrassed glance.  "Sorry," they mumbled in unison.

"No bother.  My father, a diplomatic aide at the time, was a frequent patron, as the club was a meeting place for those in the service to conduct unofficial business.  When my mother returned for her fourth and final summer's employment, they began seeing each other and eventually bonded.  I am actually half Vulcan, a quarter Rigellian and a quarter Orion.  You might say my parents are rather an unusual pairing, but their marriage seems to be quite logical."

"Speaking of unusual pairings," Savant said in a low voice as he nodded towards the large picture window.

Jim's heart nearly stopped.  There, for all the world to see, were his parents.  They were reading the cafe's specials printed on its blackboard.  His mother's arm was tucked under her father's, but apart from that they were the picture of decorum.  Until his father leaned over and whispered something into his mother's ear.  She laughed a little, but that was not what made Jim flush.  It was the look that passed between them.  Maybe only they knew what it meant, but sheeze.  They were...gross sometimes.

"You have not seen the reaction my parents would get in Shi-Kahr sometimes," T'Sylva sighed.  "Some of the older generation felt that our race was being diluted with all these offworld marriages.  Yet I speak Vulcan, ancient and modern, and have studied all of Father Surak's teaching in both languages.  I aspire to join the diplomatic service after my Starfleet career is through."

"Not as bad a reaction as my parents," Savant offered.  "They still get called V'tosh ka'tur.  You know, Vulcans without logic.  Neither one of them has ever done anything even remotely un Vulcan in public, but some of those old hardliners think my mom betrayed our people.  As for me, well, I'm glad I could run away to Starfleet until things cool down again.  But don't let my, er, Terran style of speech give you the wrong idea.  I made my khas-wan and spent a summer at Gol, learning history and meditation.  At least we can go to Gol now to study, not only for Kolinahr."

"Yeah, I was at Gol one summer too.  IDIC allows everyone to have an opinion, though," Jim mused.  "I'd hate to think what would happen otherwise.  I've done my khas-wan too, and I can quote you poetry in ancient Vulcan, but sometimes the older ones still stare at my blonde hair." He recalled his own father saying he, too, had escaped into Starfleet years ago because he'd been uncomfortable with his mixed heritage.  Thank goodness that changed.  Jim suspected his mother had a great deal to do with the paradigm shift.

At that moment, the older couple passed by as they made their way to an upper alcove.  Not a hint of recognition was offered by either party.

"You don't suppose they're going to spy on us?" Savant asked curiously.

Jim looked after his parents as they climbed the stairs.  Sure enough, his father's hand rested on the small of his mother's back, supporting her during the ascent.  Or so he always claimed.  "Naah," he said, though he decided a hasty exit might be best. "Hey, let's go for a walk in the park while it's still light, huh? Tomorrow will come soon enough, first day of our first term."

From their balcony vantage point, Spock and Christine watched the trio depart the cafe."Why am I not surprised?" Spock asked his wife as she settled back against the cushions to peruse the menu.

"I don't know, Admiral.  But I'm not surprised either."

"All I shall say is that young man will have to deal with me and my shotgun should he decide to court Teresa Callie Chapel."

"Aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself, sir? Savant hasn't even met Teresa yet." Christine gave her husband an amused glance.  Their daughter was already receiving plenty of male attention with her dark Vulcan looks and crystal blue eyes.  Spock's reputation for coolly answering the door to potential male suitors was already a legend in the neighborhood.

"He will.  And I was once his age, Doctor."

"Not precisely.  I believe you had two adolescences.  One when you were sixteen.  The next, when you started..."

Her words were silenced by the kiss Spock gave her in the shadowy alcove, not witnessed by anything except the flicker of the candlelight.  Christine slid her fingers under the neckline of his sweater and gave a small tug to the chain he still wore, eliciting a low growl from her husband.  Tonight was going to be quite special, that she knew.  But then, most nights were.

For them, not much of what really mattered had changed over the years.

 

FIN