DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Lois Welling and is copyright (c) 2006 by Lois Welling. All rights reserved. Rated NC17.



Covenant

by Lois Welling



Commander Spock stood silent, his back straight, his eyes focused on the wall over Jim Kirk's head while the captain concentrated on his computer screen. "Well, Spock, for once things have worked out; your leave came through. The trip to Vulcan isn't exactly the most direct route; unfortunately, you'll have several layovers, but in three weeks we'll be close enough to Vulcan to swing by and pick you up."

While the First Officer remained quiet as Kirk keyed the sequence into Spock's personal communicator, his thoughts were far from calm. Worked out, thought Spock. No, Captain, things have not worked out. All this has done is placed me in the middle of a dilemma, with a decision I do not wish to make. Being torn between what he should do and what he wanted to do was not new to Spock. He had battled with this problem on more than one occasion, but never more intently as when he had been forced to choose between Starfleet, which he wanted, and the Vulcan Science Academy, which was Sarek's choice. He had chosen Starfleet and the relationship between father and son had suffered immensely.

Jim Kirk looked up at his first officer. "Spock, are you listening to me?"

"Certainly, Captain." Spock knew that Jim was pleased at having been able to arrange this leave for him. If he only knew. Spock had been secretly hoping for just the opposite. It would have been an excellent excuse to avoid this meeting, but now he had no choice. By accepting his orders Spock knew his decision had been made. He recalled the ordeal with T'Pring. It is too soon, his heart despaired. I need more time. I am not ready to face Vulcan. And the thought of having to deal with this female was almost enough to make him ill, but his father had requested he come to Vulcan and meet her, so he would go.

With communication begun during the events on the journey to the Babel conference, the relationship between father and son had improved considerably. While nothing was said of the incident with T'Pring's challenge, Spock sensed it weighed heavily on his father's mind. That Sarek had begun inquiries into another bonding gave evidence of his concern and Spock had only to look in his mother's eyes to see the sorrow and distress she was feeling. There will be no bonding. Who would mate their daughter to me? But he would go to please his father. Perhaps the gesture would put an end to what was left of the animosity between them and accomplish the reconciliation that was so important to him. Spock also knew the twofold reason for Sarek's haste in finding him another mate. The aborted Pon Farr had left him in a very precarious condition. It could reappear at any time and the sooner he was again bonded, the sooner the memories of what had happened would fade from everyone's mind.

* * *

Six days later Spock emerged from the Vulcan spaceport and stood for a minute letting the heat of his home world soak into him. Then he boarded a public transit car and rode it to the city limits noting that the landscape had changed little since his last visit. Always an under populated planet, Vulcan had no need to add to its living spaces with continual building as some worlds did. It was, in fact, something he savored about his home. There was room here to be alone and get lost with one's thoughts.

For the last bit of the ride Spock was alone. Those using this particular mode for their evening trip home from their day's work had already done so and it was too early for those venturing out to evening activities. Spock preferred the solitude, as he had no wish to interact with anyone. To this purpose he had worn an unadorned black tunic for his journey home, keeping his uniforms packed away. He was uneasy enough about seeing his parents without the insulation of Starfleet and the Enterprise to shield him and he certainly had no desire to be recognized. By slowing his usual brisk pace, Spock stretched the usual twenty-minute walk to the desert's edge and home into thirty and entered through the garden entrance. There he found a surprised Amanda staring up at him, the concern still so evident in her eyes.

"Spock, why didn't you let us know your arrival time? We would have met you."

"Mother, I had no wish to interfere with your routine."

Sarek appeared in the doorway. "Since when is meeting our son interference?" With that tone the Starfleet commander was once again reduced to the defiant boy who had gone against his father's wishes. Father and son faced each other as all of Spock's hopes for this visit began to abandon him. After all the years apart, within minutes of his homecoming they had fallen into the same old pattern.

"Had we known your exact arrival time," Sarek continued, "we could have arranged our schedule to be free this evening. As it is now, your mother and I are about to leave for an engagement we cannot reschedule at this late hour."

Before Spock could apologize, Amanda, taking her familiar position of peace maker, said, "Sarek, tomorrow we shall see what can be done about some free time."

Sarek nodded and it seemed to Spock that his father's voice softened when he said, "Son, I regret you will be spending your first evening at home alone." He helped Amanda with her cloak and as they walked toward the door, Sarek paused and turned back to Spock. "Spock, I am gratified that you chose to come for this meeting. You will find the portfolio in my desk computer." With those last words, Sarek replaced his authoritarian tone with one of a concerned parent.

Alone in the house, Spock relaxed somewhat as he went first to his room to unpack, shower and change. Looking around the room as he placed his suitcase on the bed, he noted the furniture: narrow bed, desk and computer terminal. Everything was just as it had been when he left for Starfleet Academy so many years ago. He went to the wall shelf that housed his mineral collection and from the many specimens he picked up a chunk of quartzite and remembered finding it on his first solo trip into the desert. Lightly fingering the rough edge, he continued to study the room. It was a boy's room and no longer suited him, but he knew it pleased his mother to keep it this way, and since he spent almost no time here, he said nothing.

He emerged feeling refreshed and followed an urge to explore the house. It was not a large dwelling by Vulcan standards, just sixteen rooms, but as necessary for telepaths, the rooms were spacious and the connecting hallways wide. Eleven generations had lived here many of them utilizing all the rooms, but of late with only the three of them, a whole wing had been closed off. Walking from room to room he recalled times when he was growing up here. Many things looked the same, others very different, but the house seemed smaller somehow. As he passed the door that led to the old part of the house, unused since before his birth, he remembered himself as a frightened five-year-old, sent to fetch some item. He had told himself that it was illogical to be afraid, yet he had scurried as fast as his long, thin legs would carry him.

Back in the kitchen he programmed himself a light supper and took it out to the garden to eat. It was just dusk and the evening breeze was just beginning to blow in from the desert and it occurred to Spock that he was not at all unhappy about being by himself on his first night home. Alone with his thoughts, there was no pressure to make conversation, but he knew that he would not be able to completely relax until tomorrow's meeting was behind him.

Midway through his meal he caught the movement of his mother's pet lem on the garden wall. When I'Chaya had died, his parents had decided on a pet that required less care then a sehlat. The lem was a good choice. Much like an Earth cat, which Amanda had owned as a child, it was independent and could be left on its own for long periods of time. It had been taught to use a small iris opening in the wall for access in and out of the house and could be trusted to obtain only needed amounts of food by pushing a button with its paw.

As he sat gazing at the familiar sights around him, Spock remembered the countless hours he and Amanda, and even Sarek, had worked here. His mother's often-repeated comment had been of the contrast between keeping a Terran garden weed-free and a Vulcan one sand-free. Spock noticed the bed of ground cover under the hoyac tree where I'Chaya had been buried. Illogical as it might be, he still missed that animal. In his youth there were many days spent with I'Chaya as his faithful, and oftentimes only companion. Often throughout his early childhood, he has felt that the sehlat was the only living thing that really understood him.

Spock watched as the sun began to set over the desert and knew that this place would always be home to him. He roamed space as first officer of the Enterprise and relished the challenge and excitement of his work, but when that was behind him, this would be where he would come to live out his life; this was home. If he had ever doubted it, he could no more; for never had it been shown to him more clearly than when the fever had come upon him, fiercely compelling him to return to the planet of his birth.

These thoughts led him to consider the female's portfolio. He knew he should go and deal with it, but he remained where he was. The lem, which had been stalking and appraising him from a distance, suddenly pounced onto his lap demanding attention. As he sat there stroking the animal, his mind began to re-live the events that were the cause of his dark mood. It had been a fiasco from the very beginning. Mentally, he counted his mistakes. First, you ignored the early signs that the Pon Farr was imminent, even though you had been taught what to expect. McCoy is correct: you do not see that which you do not wish to see. Then you had the effrontery to believe that you could maintain control when no other Vulcan male could. Somehow you would be different. But you weren't different. The control went and there was that disgusting show of emotions in front of the crew. You actually disobeyed orders. When irony that the understanding of humans saved you from the official reprimand you deserved. You caused Jim to risk his career for you and Doctor McCoy feels a great responsibility for your life. They stood by you even when you could not bring yourself to explain your behavior. They took you to Vulcan. Vulcan. Spock gazed past the garden wall at the starlit horizon.

With painful clarity it came back to him -- T'Pring's unspeakable actions. She had planned all along to challenge, to say she would rather be chattel to any man than wife to the half-breed Spock. It was the ultimate insult. But to choose Jim... The vice-grip of pain that always tightened his chest when he recalled the incident did so again. As the memories flooded his mind he let the pain remain as a kind of penance for that deed. He knew that instinct had led, that he had no control--I will do what I must do -- but that was no excuse for the act of taking a life, a special life, that of his captain and his friend. And when the deed was done he had had no fever, no interest in T'Pring, and no interest in life itself.

Back on the ship he had been preparing to surrender to authorities, but there was Jim -- alive and well -- thanks to McCoy's quick thinking. Spock had been so relieved -- another disgraceful display of emotion. He had realized only later what a boomerang effect seeing Jim alive had had on him. He had not killed, had not taken the life of his friend. But as the days passed Spock had been force to deal with all the repercussions of the incident. Odd looks from crewmembers and conversations that fell silent when he entered a room were uncomfortable, and when he considered what must have been happening on Vulcan -- challenge was a rare thing. But what Spock found to be his most difficult task, was to forgive himself. As his mind relived the incident time and time again depression set in and had yet to lift.

Jim had always been there trying in his quiet way to show friendship. The doctor was more vocal in his concern. It had helped some, but what he needed was more time. Yet here he was, about to face the preliminaries of another bonding. It was enough to make him consider the merits of the linger death.

The stretching lem intruded on his thoughts. Staring into the darkness, Spock realized the lateness of the hour. Knowing his parents would arrive home tired, but feel compelled to spend time with him, he decided to retire.

* * *

Knowing he could put it off no longer, Spock rose early and, cup of tea in hand he went to attend to the portfolio. Engaging the proper computer file, the first thing he saw on the screen was the likeness of a young woman. His first uncontrolled emotion was one of relief; this female looked nothing like T'Pring. She was very fair, her hair a light brown with auburn highlights and her eyes appeared to be a very deep blood-green, a very unusual characteristic and assigned by superstition and myth to having exceptional insight and curiosity.

Spock ignored the information containing her education, medical records and family history since Sarek would have already checked them most thoroughly and Spock need only enough information to make intelligent conversation at today's meeting, but curiosity motivated him to check her height, 5'6" and her age. She was just past twenty-five turnings. Her name was T'Ayrian and she was the younger of two daughters of T'Selma and Sigear. Spock recognized the family name; they had been engaged in commerce for several generations.

Spock leaned back and turned off the viewer. What a waste of time this is. With her family's wealth and connections, she would have suitors from all over the planet. Although Vulcan custom stated that all should be equal, facts could not be ignored. On Vulcan the male needed to mate to live, the female did not. This gave her the advantage. While parents made the choice for their children, adults were allowed more freedom in selecting a mate. T'Ayrian's bondmate had been killed before the marriage. This put her between child and adult. How much choice would she be allowed in the selection of a mate? Does it matter? he asked himself. A prestigious family with an intelligent, attractive, virgin female would see no advantage in mating her with an older mixed-breed, employed in Starfleet, who did not even live on Vulcan, and had an unsuccessful bonding in his past. Spock knew his chances were nil. What he could not understand was why his father had even bothered to ask him home for this.

Returning to the viewer, Spock read further. T'Ayrian was a hydro-engineer working at a new water treatment plant just outside the city. He studied the psychological tests both had taken for this process and noted that their compatibility correlations were extremely high. But he knew that families did not choose mates based on that factor alone.

It was time to change for the meeting. At least, he thought, it will soon be over.

* * *

Spock located the building he wanted and took the lift to the third floor. Recognizing the family name next to the door, he then stood waiting for he knew not what. Some part of him wanted to turn and leave, leave this place. But the image of facing Sarek with that news kept him rooted to the spot and brought his hand up to touch the door's signal plate. Thirty seconds later the door opened and he recognized the face he had seen earlier on his father's view screen.

"Enter, Spock," T'Ayrian said, "and be welcome in this dwelling."

Taking a deep breath, he gave the proper response. "May my presence complement the harmony of this home."

She followed with another tradition. "Hast thee thirst from thy journey?"

"No. I am sustained."

"Then if thee would follow me." He walked behind her into the formal gathering room, glancing at the collection of art objects displayed throughout the room. Some were Vulcan in origin, but Spock recognized pieces from several other civilizations and was impressed. The family obviously found that commerce was not the only worthwhile aspect of other cultures.

When they were seated T'Ayrian said, "I trust thy journey was not too tiresome."

"Somewhat, yes. I had to transfer three different times with lengthy layovers. I am grateful that the return trip will be more direct." Then doing what Spock did best, he attempted the direct the topic of conversation away from himself by asking, "Has thee traveled off Vulcan?"

"Yes, my sister and I were allowed to accompany my father on several occasions, and I did find it most interesting. Being able to view other societies and cultures is most fascinating. I should have liked to make more trips, but my parents would not allow too many because of my schooling."

Her behavior was proper, the conversation stilted and forced. But behind that, Spock sensed her very close study of him and wondered why she bothered, curiosity, perhaps? Before her was the Vulcan of the recent Kal-if-Fee. Did she wish to see for herself the person rejected in so public a display?

"Being in Starfleet," she continued, "thee must have the opportunity to see many diverse cultures..."

This Spock could discuss and it would fill the time until her parents arrived and the real reason for this meeting could begin. He was curious as to why they were not here now, unless, they were delayed with work or personal business. Whatever the reason, Spock was forced to admit that this meeting was not progressing as he had expected.

The two continued to talk with Spock describing some of the places he had seen and her pressing for details. He noted that she continued to study him and when their eyes caught for a second, she did not look away. Instead she said, "I have not seen that type of Starfleet uniform before. Is it new?"

"No," he replied, somewhat surprised by the question. "It is the dress uniform and is worn only on formal occasions."

He saw her eyes spark with light at his remark. "I am honored. And the decorations, are they perhaps, awards of merit?"

"Yes," Spock said, but finding this topic uncomfortable, he tried again to change the subject. "I beg pardon for not being in Vulcan dress, but I discovered on my return home that my civilian wardrobe is rather limited."

"Please, do not apologize, Commander Spock. I find the uniform most interesting." Then she began to inquire about Starfleet in general and his position in particular.

After almost an hour, she said, "I have prepared refreshments." She stood and led the way to a small garden balcony. "I believe thee will find it pleasant here," then she excused herself.

Spock took the opportunity to examine what was happening and to admit his confusion. He had predicted a short meeting with the whole family in which they would all live up to the formalities of the situation and excuse his at the first possible opportunity. But to find her alone and apparently in no hurry to dismiss him... Her return with a tray of food put a temporary halt to his thoughts.

He took the tray from her and together they set up the table. Noticing she had places for only two, Spock asked, "Your parents will not be joining us?"

"No, Spock. They are not at home. I realize that this is somewhat irregular, but I asked that we not be disturbed." Noting his raised eyebrow, she added. "These occasions can be most awkward for the two principles involved; the presence of extraneous individuals only increases the discomfort. Does it trouble thee?"

"No. I concur with you reasoning," he stated, but that was not quite true.

As if she sensed that, she said, "Spock, I would assume that thee had read my portfolio, as I have yours." When he nodded she continued. "I wish to know the individual to whom those facts pertain. That can best be accomplished without other present."

Reflecting on her statement as they ate, Spock was forced to admit that he was unnerved by her actions. He had prepared himself to deal primarily with her parents and only secondarily with her. This arrangement was irregular. Watching her, he noted that she seemed very at ease with the situation and he did find that surprisingly pleasant. Then a new thought flashed unbidden into his mind: How many times has she met a prospective mate under these same circumstances, and what does she hope to gain by it?

As he helped her clear the table, he decided to pursue the question on his mind. "How is it that thee has so little difficulty dealing with this situation?"

"I accept it," was her answer and the look in her eyes seemed to confirm that.

Spock took it one step further. "Thee does not feel like a -- commodity?"

This remark caught her off guard, as if, Spock realized, she had never in her life considered such an idea.

"Certainly not!" she stated emphatically. She set down the tray to look him in the eye. "It is a fact that the males of our race must have a mate. Coupled with the telepathy, compatibility is extremely important for a successful match. Therefore, the bonding is a logical answer. While the Vulcan way may not always be the best, it does in most cases lead to suitable matings." Her voice softened. "I remember my amazement upon learning that ours was not the only, or even the most common way of mate selection." Spock remembered his own dismay.

With the air cleared somewhat; the talk flowed a little easier. Trying to do his part in living up to the intent of this interview, Spock asked about her work.

"We have a new facility that is quite impressive. Has thee seen it?"

"No, I only arrived yesterday."

She began describing the plant and the new process being used and within seconds they were immersed in a conversation comparing the merits of different types of water treatment. As the afternoon wore on, neither seemed aware of the sun's position in the summer sky. When they did realize the hour, Spock prepared to take his leave, but as he opened the door T'Selma came into the room and before the introductions were complete Sigear came home. T'Selma suggested refreshments and Spock felt he could not refuse.

* * *

As the door shut on Commander Spock, parents and child faced one another. While T'Selma and Sigear had been more than polite to Spock, now the tension grew. "Well, daughter," Sigear finally said, breaking the unpalatable silence, "Did Commander Spock meet with your approval?"

T'Ayrian took time to formulate her response and met his gaze when she said, "Father, it is not my place, nor is it my intention to approve or disapprove of another sentient being." Their eyes stayed locked on each other.

"You are correct," he said after a strained silence, "my words were ill-chosen and I retract them."

T'Selma interjected herself between father and daughter, "Are you ready to complete your part of our agreement?" This was the "go-between" position the wife and mother often times assumed when she wanted no words spoken for which there was no undoing.

T'Ayrian shifted her gaze. "Yes, Mother, I am. My belongings are packed and I will depart immediately." With that she turned and made for her bed chamber and spent the first several minutes there calming herself. Then taking up her luggage she emerged to find her parents waiting.

As she walked toward the door, her parents approached. "T'Ayrian, we do not wish you to leave with harsh words between us," her father said and his tone of voice conveyed that same message.

"Nor do I, Father." Relief, she felt it in her middle and saw the same in her mother's eyes.

* * *

Spock arrived home in time for the evening meal and found his mother in the kitchen.

"Son, you were gone so long, I was becoming concerned. Did all go well?"

"I have no idea, Mother, can one ever tell?" Spock noted her worried look and wished he could say something to alleviate it, but he had no idea what that might be.

"I guess I don't know. Your father's and my meeting was so very different."

These two, mother and son, studied each other and emotions were very close to the surface. "Excuse me, Mother, I shall change before dinner."

As he changed out of his dress uniform Spock thought about his mother's statement. He had always wondered about how his parents had met. He had even tried many times, without success, to imagine how they had even become well enough acquainted to discuss marriage. He loved and respected his mother and knew that life on Vulcan had not been easy for her. But she had made the transition from human to Vulcan. She had become the mate Sarek wanted and needed. There was no doubt of the love and harmony between them, but it had not always been so. While growing up, Spock had been peripherally aware that there were problems, mostly to do with his upbringing. It had been his mother's ability to adapt that was responsible for the melding his parents now shared. Sarek had been patient, even understanding at times, but it was Amanda who had changed.

During their meal, Spock tried to prepare answers to the questions he knew his father would ask later. After rethinking the events of the afternoon he still had no answers.

The small family moved from the dining room to the garden and Spock braced himself, but he was not prepared for his father to ask, "Son, the captain and the doctor, things are well with them?"

"Yes, Father, very well." Not trusting his good luck to last, he quickly asked, "The Babel proclamations -- are you satisfied with the way they are being administered?"

"On the whole, yes. We took great care to see that a competent individual was placed in charge."

"I read that there was much opposition to Kimmel's having that position."

"They were convinced of the logic of it."

He's not going to ask, Spock finally realized after several minutes had gone by and the conversation stayed away from personal areas. He must feel that I have done my part and now it is out of my hands.

Spock felt himself relax and talk flowed easier as the tension seemed to melt away. Aware of his mother's pleasure at seeing father and son together, it was also obvious to him that Sarek wanted the rift between them healed as much as he did. "I had planned to spend a few days in the desert," Spock said. "Father, I do not suppose it would be possible for you to join me?" he added tentatively.

"No, son, I have duties..." There was a pause as Sarek was obviously evaluating what he would say. "Perhaps some arrangements can be made."

They consulted the map on the study wall and made plans. Spock would leave in the morning and spend two days traveling to Surak's Retreat. Sarek would join him there and they would have two days together.

* * *

T'Ayrian took leave of her parents with all undercurrents of tension dissipated. She was calm and relaxed as she rode the public transport across the city. Her destination was the private cloister her family used when there was need for more than the routine of daily meditation. Using the electronic code sent her when the reservation was confirmed, T'Ayrian let herself into the suite she would occupy for the next few days. As she unpacked, she surveyed her surroundings and was well satisfied. It was a most pleasant place; a serene and spacious suite, excellent foods servitors, hot baths, secluded walking paths, if she desired them, and most critical, the item Vulcans prized most, privacy.

She remembered her one and only trip to a primitive cloister. It had been a most unpleasant experience and she could not comprehend why anyone would consider that type of living arrangement conducive to deep thinking and meditation. In her estimation, extreme fluctuation of temperatures causing the body to overheat during the day and freeze at night, poor food in meager proportion, stone slab beds and coarsely woven robes made for a miserable experience. How, she wondered, could anyone gain any insights into the problem that had brought them to such a place when they were so uncomfortable?

Belongings stored away, T'Ayrian was ready for a relaxing bath. She programmed the holographic room to a peaceful garden scene, set the water and air temperatures and chose the scent and music she preferred. While the tub filled she changed into a robe and brushed out her hair. Then she sank into the deep water and began the process of clearing her mind of extraneous thoughts in preparation for the task ahead.

Emerging from the bath sometime later, T'Ayrian programmed herself a light meal, and as she sat eating she read from her favorite collection of poetry. It was casual reading as she wanted nothing to clutter her mind or trouble her sleep.

Upon waking, T'Ayrian took only water. Setting the holographic room to a sterile setting she settled herself onto a comfortable reclining couch. There would be no music or scents to distract as she spent the day in deep meditation. She would pause only to take needed liquid nourishment. Settling onto the sofa she gave herself over to the task at hand and was soon into deep meditation. It was early evening when she roused in need of nourishment. She passed the evening with more light reading -- the biography of a favorite author. She repeated the bath program before allowing sleep to claim her.

Her second day began with a simple breakfast and a light meditation. Then she prepared for her appointment with Counselor Tulov.

She recalled her genuine surprise at learning that the government not only sanctioned, but was actually sponsoring research on Vulcan bonding practices, and had only agreed to discuss this personal matter because her parents had made it part of their covenant and she felt forced to concede. She did however request a copy of the research proposal and had studied it thoroughly.

T'Ayrian remembered her own interest in the subject, although it had not been important at the actual time of her bonding. At seven years of age her main concern was the ceremony itself. She had, of course, met Whyte several times and, not realizing it, these two were like every other child about to be bonded, in that they had no special feelings for one another. Her interest was in the new garment being prepared for the occasion, and how she would cope with the attention. Vulcan children were raised to be circumspect, to not put themselves forward or call attention to themselves. Then at age seven to be involved in a bonding ceremony where you were to be the center of attention was very disconcerting. To be informed that her parents, counselors and psychological tests had determined that she and Whyte would be a suitable match was an uncomfortable shock, but who was she to argue against parents, tests and centuries of tradition? And since she had no concrete idea of the depth of what that "match" would eventually entail, she concentrated on that which she could understand. What she would wear on this occasion and how to best present herself so not to disgrace her family.

At last, the day had come and T'Ayrian found herself standing next to Whyte staring up at T'Mal. She sensed her parent's presence behind her and blanked her mind of everything except the responses she was to give, not realizing that she had no true understanding of what she was promising. She remembered that her only real feeling had been relief when the whole ordeal was over. Communicator sounded interrupting T'Ayrian's reverie.

"Peace," he said as he entered. "You found matters to your satisfaction, I trust?"

"Peace to you also," T'Ayrian said as she stood facing Counselor Tulon. He was a man of middle years, which for a Vulcan meant he was somewhere between the age of 50 and 100 and average in every way save his intense dark eyes. "Yes," T'Ayrian responded, "everything was most accommodating. May I offer you some tea?"

"Yes, thank you. Then I suggest we begin immediately. I do not wish to delay you return home any longer than necessary." He went straight to the desk and set up his personal data recorder. "Would you mind if we commence with your personal history?"

"No. I expected you would ask," T'Ayrian said as she set a cup of tea on the desk. Taking her own tea she sat in the chair next to the desk and began without preamble. She had been prepared for this, knowing that she had only to tell the counselor her reasoning and not her motivating emotions. "My bondmate was killed when I was sixteen and at that time I had no wish to seek another mate. When several years passed and I had not altered that decision, my parents became concerned."

He looked up from his work and studied her with those piercing, inquisitive eyes. "I am most interested with your change of mind, and what prompted you to decide to seek a mate at this time."

T'Ayrian drew in a deep breath and thought before she spoke. "I believe there are multiple reasons. First, as I matured, I came to know that I did not wish to live my whole life alone, to be without husband or children. Also," here she chose her words carefully, "in the past few years I have come to realize that if I did not mate, I would have to withdraw from public life and live cloistered until I was past child bearing age. I realized that I had no desire to live in that manner."

"Will you share your experience?" he asked, his gaze intensifying. Seeing her reluctance, he continued. "I understand your hesitation to reveal personal experiences, but I consider this research of prime importance..."

T'Ayrian nodded, "I understand, just a moment please," she asked as recent memories sprang to mind. She quickly banished them. "At first it was just the odd look or so. Then people were avoiding me at social gatherings. The decision changing incident happened almost a year ago. A social invitation was rescinded with the claim of a conflicting engagement, but when it was rescheduled with my name eliminated, I knew then that I had to make a decision."

"You felt the social pressure, then?" he asked as if he knew the answer.

T'Ayrian leaned back in her chair. "Oh, yes. I sensed it, it was impossible not to; the rogue female, un-bonded in a bonded society. It was then I realized that I could not continue as such." She paused, deciding what she would say. "I had no wish to abandon my work, my family, my very life. I desired a normal life and it was becoming more and more clear that on Vulcan, that meant taking a mate."

As if he sensed her discomfort, Tulon said, "Before I ask what actions you took in the process, I would like to express my appreciation for your help in my research. I do realize that it is a subject not openly spoken about."

T'Ayrian studied the counselor for a long moment then asked the question she so often wondered about. "Why is that so?" she asked. "It strikes me quite illogical." She noticed his reaction, a change in facial expression and the color of his eyes deepened.

"You know our history, of course," he said, composing himself. "Ancient Vulcans were a highly socialized society; our very survival depended on it in our harsh conditions. Settlements were centered around surface water; the strong hunted and defended the homestead while others built shelters, gathered food stuffs, made clothing... Some anthropologists postulate that the first Vulcans were true telepaths. Think how it would have aided the hunters when stalking their prey or the warriors in warding off enemies. But as civilization grew and technology improved telepathy became a double edged sword. Instead of binding people together, it began to push them apart and the individual who did not project thoughts and emotions became more and more valued." He seemed almost to sigh. "As a people we buried our feelings, suppressed and ritualized all emotion out of everything except where were could not -- Pon Farr... Excuse me," he apologized. "But I consider this a serious problem for Vulcan that must be addressed."

"Of course, I know our history, but what has that to do with your research?"

He did not immediately answer so T'Ayrian remained quiet. "A trend seems to be emerging in our society. I have been studying it for over three decades. The government has finally decided to see what has been evident to many in the field for a long time."

"Do you believe our society is experiencing more incomplete bondings than in the past?"

"Yes, in my estimation we are and it is also my contention that people are no longer willing to stay in an unsatisfactory bonding."

"And to what do you attribute this?"

"I cannot say for sure, off planet influences, perhaps our own evolution. In my counseling work I see couples begin to live separate lives, they build separate social lives and come together only -- when necessary. And many parents are no longer bonding their children at the standard age of seven. They are waiting longer, even into the second decade, and even more profound, they are allowing children more input into the selection of a mate."

"I am in my third decade," T'Ayrian stated.

"Yes, and it is my understanding that you will have total autonomy in that selection. Traditionally that does not happen until individuals are past their fifth or sixth decade. By examining your thought process through the entire procedure I will gain much insight. Your maturity level -- I have interviewed several individuals, but to add data from someone of your maturity level will be very beneficial to my research." As if sensing a needed to reinforce his argument, Tulon continued, "Vulcan's birth rate is on the decline and has been for over six decades. I have tried to make the General Counsel subcommittee on population aware of this fact for some time. Finally, in light of the last census figures, they are listening to me. As you well know, it is not considered a suitable subject for public discussion, but it must be addressed."

T'Ayrian sensed the passion in his voice and busied herself warming up the tea to cover the awkward silence. After they had sipped their tea she began to explain the process she followed in finding a mate.

"The first step was to inform my parents and request they make private inquiries. I also accessed the public data base. There were 34 males listed. After reading every portfolio, I found no one I considered a potential mate. But to satisfy my parents I selected four." T'Ayrian stopped. She had thought she was prepared to answer all the counselors' questions, but was not sure what she wanted to say about this matter. "The three males the private inquiries produced resulted in one I would consider as a potential mate. My parents did not approve, therefore, a covenant was struck. After considering 7 males, I would take time to meditate on my choice, but the final selection would be mine."

Tulon only nodded at this information so T'Ayrian continued.

"Next, I accessed the interactive holographic portfolios of six; there was none for the seventh individual."

"And you reactions?"

"Five neutral, and" she hesitated, "one very negative."

This captured his attention. "Interesting," Tulon said eyeing her closely. "I am most interested in this negative reaction. You know the holographic images are intended to illicit an emotional response. It is considered better to experience such reactions with the image rather than with the person. Will you describe your experience?"

When she did not immediately answer, he added, "It would be valuable information for my research. The bond is critical to the furtherance of our society, yet we know very little about what makes them succeed or fail. Yours is a most unique position." Then he waited.

"The negative feeling was something I have never experienced before. But, as a child I traveled with my father. One odd experience I shall not forget. A small cafe, two human females sitting at the next table when a Korasion male lobbed past. One of the females exhibited a physical reaction; her whole body shivered. 'Makes my skin crawl,' she stated loud enough for those around her to hear. I understood neither her reaction nor her words until it happened to me. That was the exact reaction I had to one of the males. It was a fierce physical reaction, revulsion."

"Did you then meet with this person?"

"I did, and my reaction was exactly the same. I found it very difficult to simply get through the interview and was most relieved when he left."

"Most interesting. What of the other interviews?"

"Five neutral and one positive."

"I see. And it is your opinion that initial positive response is critical to a successful bond?"

"I can only speak for myself, but I could not in good faith enter a bond with any of the males but the one with whom I have a positive interaction."

"It appears that your decision is made then, certainly not based on this positive reaction alone?" he asked.

"Certainly not. I studied each and every individual for compatibility. I also knew that I would have to respect my mate and looked into that aspect and areas of interest, political leanings, and, most importantly the psychological ability to exist as a harmonious bonded couple."

* * *

The morning after the interview Spock hoisted the pack to his back and left the house without waking his parents. Then he began walking, letting the heat of his home world soak into his body. He needed this quiet time alone. Things aboard the Enterprise were either hectic as hell -- as Bones so aptly phrased it -- or deadly routine boring, never anything in-between. Spock admitted to himself that it felt good to be away from it for a time. Here he had no responsibilities and only himself to please. It had been very long time since he had enjoyed that pleasure. He forced all thoughts of problems concerning the ship from his mind. They were routine and would be waiting on his return. And since the matter of a possible bonding with T'Ayrian was out of his hands, he had put that aside as well. Spock continued to walk, and with each step he recalled the historical significance of what had happened here in the desert so many centuries ago and what it had meant to his people. During the evening of the second day he rounded the dune to find his father awaiting him at the agreed upon place.

Sarek was already setting up their camp and Spock pitched in and they shared the chores of their meal, and then the two spent the evening in almost comfortable silence. Spock could see that his father was attempting to relax in preparation for the next day's hike. Remembering his father's heart condition, Spock wondered if perhaps this trip might not be good for Sarek. He cautioned himself to set a leisurely pace and not to cause his father any undue physical stress.

In the following days the two men, alone with each other and away from the pressures of duties began recalling the many days they had spent here in the desert when Spock was young and training for the Kahs'wan. First, at age five, the child was taken to the desert and little by little given more difficult tasks to perform. Then his first series of trip alone at around age six were just for the day; he must return before nightfall. Spock had felt that Sarek would never have enough confidence in him to allow an overnight outing. Finally, on his seventh birthday, the day had come and as he lay in his bedroll, marking his first night in the desert alone he had been grateful for his father's precautions. He would never forget the look of relief on Amanda's face, or the one of pride in Sarek's eyes as he entered the garden the next morning to find them waiting.

It was their last night in the desert, with their evening meal finished and the campsite once more in order they sat quietly before a small fire. "Doctor McCoy was pleased to receive the medical report and to learn how well you are doing," Spock hoped the remarks would be an opening to conversation.

"I asked my healers to correspond with him. His concern was most genuine and I sensed his frustration on the lack of available information. He takes his medical duties most seriously."

"That he does. Sometimes too seriously on my account."

"I can well imagine. He and your mother were huddled together for many hours and I shudder to think of what was discussed."

"I do not believe you need worry yourself about that, Father. Doctor McCoy will be most discrete with whatever information he managed to learn and I think mother needed to be able to discuss your condition."

"I agree. She seems much relieved after her talks with him and she is even better now that you have come home. Our time spend aboard the Enterprise after my surgery has eased her mind a good deal, and mine. Son, I should like to speak more on this subject if you will listen."

"Of course, Father, but I have no wish to cause you distress."

"I have learned that distress can come from not speaking true and not understanding what drives ones actions. The problem with my heart had been a concern for some time and I sought to lay blame everywhere. Primarily, on myself for not being able to heal it." He looked at his son before continuing. "I also gave a share of the blame to you. If I died, you would not be there to aid your mother in what might happen and to handle matters. I blamed Starfleet because it was your choice and because they accepted you. It was most illogical, and I have no excuse for my behavior. But, thankfully, hindsight is an excellent teacher. Spock I have thought much on this and I do not intend to repeat my mistakes."

Spock swallowed hard and was glad for the darkness that shielded his astonishment.

"Your mother has much concern for you, Spock, you know that. And she has always been at odds as to how to express it, trying so hard to balance the Vulcan way I prefer with her Human needs."

"I do understand that, Father." The memory flashed in his mind and instinctively Spock thought to dismiss it. But in light of what his father had just revealed, he decided to share this with his father. "Never was it brought home more clearly then the one time she chose to discipline me physically."

Sarek looked up, eyes bright in the firelight. "Oh, yes, I remember that incident. I could not fault her for that, Spock. I might have done so myself had I come upon that scene and found you jumping off the roof."

"I did not begin there, Father," Spock explained. "I had been practicing my technique for some time beginning low on the garden wall and moving higher as I perfected my ability to land and roll safely. Mother just happened to appear when I had made it to the low roof over the kitchen."

"Son, can you imagine the terror she felt stepping outdoors to see you fling yourself off the roof and fly through the air?"

"I can now. At the time I perceived no danger to myself. Only when I saw the look in her eyes as she ran toward me did I perceive danger."

"Surely you know her actions were more fear then anger driven."

"I did get that message every time her hand connected with my backside and again when she stood me in front of her, her hands locked on my arms. She could not even speak, but I knew her fear. She pulled me tight against her as thoughts of me lying dead in the sand radiated through her."

"Were you aware that she did not sleep well for many weeks after that?"

"Yes, I would wake in the night to find her in my room just watching me." As Spock had hoped it would the sharing seemed to alleviate the strain between them.

"It has not been an easy life for her, but she has bowed to my wishes on almost everything ... and I cannot imagine my life without her."

"Some day I should hope to have such a relationship." Spock was sorry he has said that aloud not because he did not desire it, but because he did not see such a future for himself and because it reminded him of his present situation. "Father, might I ask why you brought me home for this meeting? There is no real chance that T'Ayrian's family will approve of me as a mate for her."

"Spock, if you read the psychological tests, you know the match would be good."

"Father, you avoid the obvious."

"No, son, I do not. But before we discuss a possible new bonding let me have my say on the old."

"No, Father, please... do not..."

"I bear responsibility in this, son, and I should like to share your burden. The one time I did bother to ask your opinion on that bonding, I ignored your answer, thinking I knew better. I remember you standing before me, taking a very long time before you spoke. 'I sense that this is not right, Father.' Those were your words and I did not heed them and we now see the results." Sarek looked across the fire at his only child. "Son, I did not come here just to walk the desert with you. I came to heal the breach between us ... if you will have it. Share the pain with me and by doing so, lessen it." Sarek reach out and placed his hand, palm down, on the sand. Then he waited.

Spock sat, his body still, but his mind racing with emotion caused by his father's words and his own thoughts. To know that his father wanted this breach healed swelled his heart with joy. But to burden his father with the pain he had felt thinking he had killed Jim seemed like deliberate punishment or even revenge. And he did not want his father to know what his plans had been after that event. He has set T'Pring free knowing he would return to the Enterprise and surrender to authorities. But, more importantly, he would not be alive to face trial. He would not put his homeland, his parents, nor Starfleet and his fellow officers through that.

Sarek, his hand still outstretched on the sand, waited. "Spock, I know what you planned, and why you did not accept T'Pring as chattel, but set her free. With your death, the burden of her care would have fallen to your family. You wanted to spare us that and any repercussions from Starfleet."

Spock's head dropped, his shoulders trembled as he tried to control his breathing.

"Son, I am waiting."

Tentatively Spock reached out to place his hand on top of his father's. The agony of that afternoon still so fresh flowed from son to father as each shuddered with the pain.

* * *

The evening stars were long set when Spock withdrew his hand. "It was not my wish that you suffer that experience."

"But it was my need to do so. After seeing you aboard the Enterprise, seeing what a close relationship you share and how protective they are of you, I realized how you must have suffered..."

"You baited them, Jim and McCoy," Spock said in genuine shock. "You purposely provoked them. That's what that whole business was about when you arrived ... your treatment of me. You wished to judge their reaction, but to what purpose?" Spock suppressed the anger that was attempting to surface. He had suffered the humiliation of the insults on that occasion, but to now learn that the act was deliberate...

"To ascertain your position aboard that vessel. To see if the respect you commanded was by rank alone or through personality and character. I wished to know how they perceived you."

"And what did you decide?" Spock managed to keep his tone civil.

"That you are most fortunate to have such people to call friend. Their feelings are genuine and they are very protective of you. I sensed their anger most profoundly. Their professionalism carried both through their duties, but their disapproval of me was quite evident. I believe that at one point the captain would have gladly struck me."

"Jim would never let his personal feelings dictate his actions in that way. But I still do not understand why you felt it necessary to...?"

"I thought I might have to ask you to come to Vulcan and be with your mother if ... I wished to know how you would feel about leaving your position and how the captain would feel about losing your services. The two of you work well together. I was most impressed..."

His anger dissipated as Spock realized he was hearing the thoughts of a man who had been staring death in the face. "Father, if you had asked, I would have come."

"I know that, son, and it pleases me. And it pleases me even more not to have to ask it of you. But enough said on that subject. We can be done with it forever. I will answer your earlier question as to why I called you home to meet with this female. You should know that I did not seek this meeting; it was Sigear who approached me about a possible bonding and we did discuss it at great length. I was not about to bring you home on a fool's errand." Sarek went silent for a second, and then said, "When Sigear informed me that it was T'Ayrian who wished to pursue this, I decided to speak with her directly. I was favorably impressed. What was your impression?"

Still trying to digest all that had passed between them, it took Spock an instant to find his voice. "I was also impressed," he finally said. "But I though it most unusual, we met alone, she did not wish her parents to be there."

"Interesting," Sarek commented. "But after my conversation with her I am not surprised. She is an intelligent one and certainly seems to have a mind of her own. And would you, son, see that as a asset or liability?"

"I should think, Father, that it could be both, a double edge sword, perhaps."

* * *

Arriving home T'Ayrian found her parents waiting. Knowing that there was no reason to delay, she faced them in the gathering room and their very demeanor told her that they already knew her decision. Taking the chair opposite them, she began without preamble. "I would request that you message Sarek and arrange a meeting. It is my intention to go forward with this bonding."

"Is there no argument that will dissuade you?"

"No, Mother. If I am to be bonded it will be with Spock." T'Ayrian watched as her mother sank back into her chair and her father stiffened. Then he relaxed somewhat.

"Very well. You know our position, but have fulfilled your commitment. There is no more to be said. I will message Sarek."

Agreeing with her father, T'Ayrian rose and went to her room and busied herself with unpacking. Then she sat and calmed herself. It was stressful to be at odds with one's parents, especially on so important a matter as a bondmate. But she was the one who would be living with her choice, sharing a life, a home -- and a bed when the time came.

T'Ayrian recalled her meeting with Spock -- his eyes -- when she opened the door. What was it she saw? Hesitation -- it had been an awkward situation, but then, perhaps in response to her look, he appeared to relax. She analyzed her own reaction. Her first impression was positive -- she found him pleasing to the eye. Sometimes she found males overbearing and their attitude pompous. Not so with Spock.

As she did with all potential mates, T'Ayrian made it a practice to imagine them as a bonded couple and then to evaluate her reactions. How would it be to stand next to him in a public gathering, to introduce him to colleagues and acquaintances? One reason she shared food was to assess the experience and envision what it would be like to be with this person day-after-day, year-after-year. Her thoughts always let to the final intimacies. Could she submit to this male's need? Until that afternoon's meeting the answer had always been a most emphatic no.

It was an emotional response and she knew it, but of all the males who presented themselves, there was only one she could allow to touch her in that way, to lay hands on her. She was not certain why this was true, or even how she knew it, but it was purely emotional. And she certainly would not want to try to explain it to anyone, but when she imagined the physical arrangements bondmates shared she knew her choice.

Am I so alien, so different? she wondered. Do others not have such thoughts and concerns? After her sister's marriage T'Ayrian had become consumed with the subject. Her parents had answered her questions, but intimate relations are never mentioned. How could a race that based itself on logic be so illogical in this one important area? When answers were not forthcoming, T'Ayrian accessed age-restricted databases which landed her in trouble with teachers and parents alike. Their explanation was that the information would be given to her at the appropriate time. That only served to frighten her further and, after Whyte's death, was in large part responsible for her decision to not seek another bonding.

But that was then, and time had past and circumstances changed. Now an adult, T'Ayrian had changed her mind and set about finding a desirable bondmate. She had found him and was now ready to get on with planning their life together.

T'Ayrian sighed inwardly as she responded to the light knocking on her bedroom door. "Come," she said, deciding she had no other choice, but having no wish to face another fruitless argument with her parents.

With mild relief T'Ayrian admitted her sister into the room. Despite the three cycle difference in their ages, she and T'Vanda had always shared a close kinship. Still, T'Ayrian had no desire to disagree with her sister either. "If you have come to intercede on our parent's behalf..."

"T'Ayrian, no, not on their behalf. I have concerns of my own about your decision..."

Stiffening with resolve, T'Ayrian made her tone harsh. "Trust me, sister, I know what I'm doing. Your concerns are groundless. My decision is made; there will be no further discussion on this matter."

T'Vanda let those words hang in the air until they dissipated. "Then tell me, T'Ayrian, why the desire to be bonded, why now, after all the years of refusal to even discuss the matter?"

T'Ayrian's determination faded in the face of her sister's genuine concern. "T'Vanda, you are not interested in what motivated my change of heart on this matter..."

T'Vanda's expression relaxed. "You are correct. I was so pleased when Mother told me of your decision. I want you to know the joys of family ... and bondmate..."

My marriage will be better, T'Ayrian thought, but the words remained unspoken as T'Vanda continued.

"...but how can you have those things with an absent mate?"

"...We will build a life." Other words fought for expression, but they died unspoken.

"...How, when? A bonding needs time and togetherness to coalesce..."



"I will put all of my energy into my goal..."

"And if you fail?"

"I do not believe that will happen, but if it should ... then I will end the relationship."

T'Vanda's eyes widened in disbelief. "You wouldn't!"

"Yes, sister, I will. I will have a complete bond or none at all." The silence grew heavy again and T'Ayrian was acutely aware of her sister's eyes on her.

"Why him, sister, after all the interviews, what about him stood out from the others and impressed you?"

T'Ayrian breathed deeply as she attempted to organize her thoughts, deciding what of her feelings she would reveal. "...His attitude about life, he seeks new experiences. To him space exploration is an exciting adventure..."

"Really, sister, and how will all this help in your bonding?"

Now it was T'Ayrian's turn to go quiet.

"Our concern, Mother's, Father's, and mine, it is real," T'Vanda continued. "...his profession, his mixed heritage, and ... his personal history ... you spent a short few hours with him, yet you are willing to defy our parents, to dismiss their concerns to bond with him ... why??"

"Enough!" T'Ayrian stated harshly. Then, seeing the distress in her sister's eyes, she was instantly sorry. "Forgive me, sister, but..."

"T'Ayrian, I know that I trespass on your personal space ... and mine is not a question easily asked of a Vulcan."

"...Nor easily answered," T'Ayrian finished, her voice quivering. They had never spoken as such before. Only the sounds of their breathing could be heard for several minutes as the two regained their composure. Then it was the elder sister who broke the silence.

"T'Ayrian, do you know what you are doing? What kind of a life can you have with him an absent mate, in Star Fleet and living off planet?"

"We will build a life," T'Aryian repeated.

"I will repeat my question. How will you build a life? When will there be time? You know that a bonding required time..."

"You and Calek have had time, over a decade, and still..."

T'Vanda's eyes widened in shock and distress. Stunned by her sister's words, she defended, "Calek cares for me, and our son. He provides a good life for us."

"That may be, but you cannot deny that there is discord in your bond. T'Vanda, it is palatable, your son knows it, mother and father know it, everyone knows it..."

Saddened by the truth, T'Vanda stated, "He is a kind and sensitive person..."

"I do not doubt that, but that does not alter the fact that you do not share a unified bond."

"We are trying, we grow closer every year," the elder sister continued defending her husband and marriage.

"Yet you failed to conceive last cycle...."

The words shocked both sisters silent, especially the one who uttered them. Ashamed, T'Ayrian sunk to her bed as a horrified T'Vanda made for the door.

Not wanting to part on this disturbing note, T'Ayrian recovered her voice, "T'Vanda, please, do not leave. You have my profound apology. I had no right to speak so. Forgive my indecency. I only meant that I will not settle for such a relationship."

T'Vanda turned her eyes wide with shock and distress. "Just what is it you think our relationship is?"

"You were frightened, taken against ... he forced you..."

"Ancient gods, Sister, you speak of our barbaric times. That is not what happened..."

"I saw the haunted look in your eyes, your bruises..."

"What you saw was the shamed look of failure." She turned away. "When he needed me most, I failed my mate. I let panic and fear rule me, and could not keep my head ... all my training failed me."

"I did not know ... when I saw you ... but, still, it was not your fault, our methods, our society ... changes need to be made..." T'Ayrian had no idea what words to use to comfort her sister, but in that instant she knew that she would push for a bonding and a marriage with Spock before he left Vulcan. She and Spock would know intimacy before the fever. She would not suffer her sister's fate.

Her hand still on the door handle, T'Vanda hesitated, bowed her head as the silence grew heavy as the younger sister waited. "I remember your look also, and your questions ..."

"Which were never answered?"

"You were considered too young."

"Not too young to be very frightened and to draw very wrong conclusions."

There was stillness in the room for a long moment. Then T'Vanda finally spoke, obviously choosing to let go of her younger sister's breach of manners. "It is obvious that you have given much consideration to this matter and it is your right to choose. I have no wish for animosity between us."

"You will forgive my words, then?" When no immediate answer was forthcoming, she continued. "T'Vanda. I know your concern for me is genuine, but I will tell you this. In the end it is I alone who will have to live with my decision and I alone who will have to submit to his needs and serve him during cycle. When I consider all of these elements, there is only one choice for me."

The elder sister turned to study the younger for several seconds. "That being the case, the all my wishes for a fulfilled life are with you." T'Vanda held out an upturned hand of peace to her sister and T'Ayrian accepted it.

* * *

Spoke awoke with the sun already above the horizon and let his father sleep on. The events of the previous night had kept them both awake until almost dawn and Spock wanted his father rested. Only when he had their meal prepared did Spock wake his father. "We need to be moving before the heat of the day."

As they packed their gear, Sarek stopped to look up at his son. "Spock, I am most pleased with our excursion. It has turned out as I hoped it would."

"For me also, Father." Both loaded up their packs and began walking toward home.

As they approached the last rise in the terrain, revealing the house in the distance, Spock admitted to himself that he did not want this trip to end. But since it must, he promised himself that he would make more time for his parents now that there was harmony between them.

They entered the garden to find a somewhat flushed Amanda. "Where have you two been?" she stammered. "You were due home early this morning, and I was worried ..."

Sarek's concern showed in his tone. "Is there some problem, Amanda?"

"Problem? No, I don't think we should call this a problem."

Both men stared at her.

"Sigear called last evening and he and I set an appointment for today. We are to be at their home in just over an hour. Hurry and get ready, both of you."

Spock was puzzled as his mother was all but pushing him up the walk. "Why," he asked, "should they want to see us?"

Sarek looked from his son to his wife and said, "He acquired that from your side of the family."

Amanda smiled. "Spock, there is only one reason they would ask to see us."

Sarek grew serious. "Spock, if you do not wish this, now is the time to speak."

Spock's emotions were tumbling from confusion at this request for a meeting to the awe of having his father ask his opinion. And Sarek continued, "We chose for you last time, with poor results. This time the decision must be yours alone. Do you wish this?"

He was at a loss for an answer. Do I wish it? He had not thought much about it; he had not thought there was any chance for a bonding and had only come to please his father. Now it seemed that for some reason T'Ayrian's family, or T'Ayrian herself had chosen him. The thought hit home: She knows -- everything, and it does not matter. To his so recently wounded ego, that went far in her favor. He pushed aside the nagging thought that wondered why? Why had she chosen him?

He would eventually need a mate. With customs as they were on Vulcan, and marriage based on psychological based compatibility -- the real test being the Pon Farr -- did he have the right to refuse? Good matches were difficult to secure. He did find her attractive and enjoyed her company. In fact, when he recalled it, he had found her surprisingly easy to talk too even under the difficult circumstances of their meeting and a sense of comfort in her presence. What were the chances of having that happen again. "Father, I wish it."

"Very well. Let us try not to be late."

* * *

They arrived in time and were ushered into the gathering room to find T'Ayrian, Sigear and T'Selma waiting. All performed the standard greetings and introductions and after several seconds of strained silence Sigear cleared his throat and spoke.

"Spock, we understand that by your presence here you find a bonding between yourself and T'Ayrian suitable."

On the way to this meeting Spock had been thinking of a proper response to this question he knew would be asked. As a child at his first bonding Sarek had done all the talking, but he knew that he and T'Ayrian would be expected to take a major part in this accord. To just agree that T'Ayrian was suitable struck Spock as insufficient, it was almost an insult. He would not want that said of him. He searched for words that might convey the honor and importance this occasion merited. "A bonding is more than suitable, it is desired," he finally said and saw by her eyes that his words had pleased her. In fact, the tension in the whole room seems to dissipate.

"Very well then," Sigear said, "now to the arrangements. Our daughter," Sigear glanced at his wife as if for support, "has a somewhat unusual request. It is our understanding that Spock will be rejoining his ship in twelve days time. Is that correct?"

Spock only nodded, feeling the tension building again as he wondered what this request would be.

"T'Ayrian wished for a bonding and a marriage to take place before Spock leaves Vulcan."

Indrawn breaths followed by silence. It was Amanda who recovered her voice first. "May we ask why?"

There was more silence as T'Ayrian searched her father's eyes. When he nodded she rose from her chair. "Children are bonded so they may become acquainted and will have certain knowledge of each other when -- it is required. Not only have Spock and I not had that time, but I also believe that such knowledge alone is not adequate to build a solid marriage. Spock and I, even bonded, are strangers. As husband and wife, we would be allowed more intimacies and more freedom to be together and to know each other. I believe this to be much better preparation for -- the time." She took a deep breath before continuing. "If I may be so bold as to say so, I do not wish to experience Pon Farr with a stranger." With that she lowered her eyes and sat down.

A very uncomfortable silence filled the room; this was not an acceptable topic of conversation even during preliminary bonding discussions. The diplomat was first to speak, obviously trying to ease the tension. "This is new -- radical thinking, but there is much to be said for it. Many a marriage with such an unfortunate beginning has taken years to recover." He turned to his son. "Spock, do you have any objections to a bonding and a marriage?"

He could think of none, if fact, he could not think at all. Never had anything caught him so unprepared. Later he would not be able to recall if he had agreed verbally or simply by shaking his head, but he would remember his first reaction. It they were married now there could be no challenge later. But overriding that was the nagging thought that kept running through his head. What will this gain her? It wasn't that this arrangement was unheard of. Among the less wealthy there were oftentimes problems; financial, housing, childcare, occupational, that made if feasible for a couple to marry before the next Pon Farr. But none of those reasons applied here.

With the matter settled, planning began in earnest. T'Ayrian stated that she preferred a traditional ceremony for such an occasion. Spock was amused; she wanted to combine an unorthodox act with an ancient and time-honored ceremony.

"Spock has no formal clothes for such a ceremony," Amanda exclaimed. "We must engage a tailor to prepare something ..."

Again T'Ayrian would have her say. "The first time I saw the commander, he was wearing his Starfleet dress uniform. I found the sight most impressive. If there are no rules against it, could he wear it?"

It was decided and as the planning continued Spock noted that she had very definite ideas about this wedding. The usual place for a bonding and marriage outside of Pon Farr was still the male's family lands. As the talk turned to this subject, T'Ayrian interrupted, "I am given to believe that the garden adjoining Spock's home is quite attractive and peaceful. If you think it proper, I should like for Spock and I to be married there."

There being no objections to this, it was decided and Spock felt only relief at not having to face that desert place again. They were now discussing the ceremony itself and Spock did not feel he would be so fortunate on this matter. Since T'Pau was a colleague of Sarek's, Spock assumed she would be asked to officiate. He had no desire to face her either. Suddenly he realized that the individual being discussed was not T'Pau, but someone named T'Mal, who was related to T'Selma. Spock was becoming afraid to trust his good fortune.

With their parents again absorbed in conversation, T'Ayrian asked Spock if he would help her prepare refreshments. He followed her into the kitchen. "You seem unusually quiet this evening, Spock. Do you find the plans unacceptable?"

"I have no objections," he said and as he continued to study her he saw the smile in her eyes fade.

"Is that all, no objections? That will not do, Spock. This is to be our wedding. You must be ..."

Seeing his mistake reflected in her eyes, he interrupted, "You are correct and have my apology. That was an unfortunate choice of words. I am pleased with what is being decided. I know my mother is delighted with the prospects of hosting the ceremony. T'Ayrian, I thank you for suggesting it."

The light sparkled in her eyes again. "Spock, that is the first time you have spoken my name. It is a most pleasant sound."

Realizing she was right he admonished himself for being so remiss. "T'Ayrian is a lovely name and I believe you shall hear me speak it often."

"Spock, I do have another request on a more sensitive matter." Her eyes gave evidence of this as she gazed into his. "Since the Enterprise will be here at the time of our wedding, would you see fit to ask Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy to attend the ceremony?"

He stared at her in disbelief. She knew the facts. That was her right, but to do this ...

"Spock, if I cause offense, I ask forgiveness. But it troubles me that your colleagues should have seen such a negative side of our culture. They must know that we are more then that. I would wish that they might have an opportunity to observe how civilized Vulcans behave. Will you consider it?" Not waiting for an answer she picked up the tray and left the room.

Spock had no wish to rejoin the group, but felt he had no choice. Later, he told himself, he would have time to consider her words.

When it grew late, it was agreed to continue making arrangements the next evening at Sarek and Amanda's home, where T'Ayrian and her parents could see the garden and continue the planning.

* * *

The days were a whirlwind of activity and preparations and left no time for Spock and T'Ayrian to be alone. Between her work and wedding plans, her time was fully occupied. Spock chose to spend his days with Sarek at the Academy. He had been pleased at the invitation to visit the new research project, and when Sarek asked his advice and then his help, he had been flattered and threw himself into the project.

The only time the young couple spent together was in the evenings; making wedding plans. There was little time for private conversation, but Spock was not sure he could have found anything of a personal nature to discuss anyway. The same doubts about this whole matter and her true motives were still swirling in the back of his mind.

On these evenings when they were all together he faded into the background and observed. He was aware of the activities, carefully studying both sets of parents. But, mostly he watched T'Ayrian. She was so open and unguarded. As if, he thought, the world was hers. And why shouldn't it be so? The world has been kind to her. He contrasted his childhood experiences with what he knew of hers. Being full Vulcan, she would not have had to prove herself as he had: she would have had acceptance. Both did have one tragedy in their lives, but how different these two events were. One had been an accidental death, leaving T'Ayrian alone, grieving, yet untouched; the other was conspiracy, betrayal, leaving him cast out, branded. She was unscarred mentally and physically. How will she feel when that is no longer so? he wondered. She says she accepts what is, but that is the voice of inexperience.

When the ceremony was but a few days away, Spock kept an appointment with T'Mal. It was another of the formalities for the bonding of adults. Its purpose was to insure, as much as possible that the two individuals were freely joining for the purpose of serving tradition, each other, and eventually, children. For the bonding between the couple to unify during the Pon Farr, both parties had to be positive in their attitude and commitment.

T'Mal broke mind contact and stepped back from him, staring for a long minute before speaking. "Spock, I must insist on another meeting. As your state of mind is now, I cannot in good conscience conduct this marriage."

Spock was stunned by her reaction and attempted to defend himself, but her tone stopped him. "Do not speak now. Spock, I know thy history and can understand the reasons for the conflict within thee. You wish to believe, but feel only betrayal. Under the circumstances it could hardly be otherwise. But to enter a union with these feelings still unsettled would be disastrous for both you and T'Ayrian. I sense your overwhelming mistrust in this situation. In that area I can offer reassurance. Upon learning both your personal histories, I tested T'Ayrian severely as to her intent. I meant to ascertain if some misguided sense of duty or sympathy might have motivated her. I can assure you that that is not the case. She is committed to this union and I can accept no less from you. Think on these matters, Spock, and decide if this bonding is as right for you as T'Ayrian believes it is for her."

Having no other choice, Spock took T'Mal's advice. He left her and walked, not toward home, but away from it. Somehow, he had to sort this out. It had been a relief to hear that T'Mal was more then satisfied with T'Ayrian's motives. She should know; she deals with these matters as part of her life's work. He needed to know that there was no pity in T'Aryian's heart. He could not have lived with that.

Spock knew that commitment to the union was critical if the bonding and marriage were to be successful. Vulcans were fiercely individualistic, more so then most other races. One reason for the bonding of children was to instill in the individual a sense of the other, of togetherness that would, hopefully, develop after the marriage. Having his doubts laid bear and thrown back at him had confounded Spock, but he could not dispute T'Mal's words. He prided himself on his honesty and integrity and to enter into a relationship under these conditions was not moral; neither was it fair to T'Ayrian. She deserved more, much more.

It was not too late. He could stop the arrangements -- the realization hit, he did not want them stopped. What he wanted was some concrete assurance that he could trust T'Ayrian; that she was all she seemed to be. And what more, he asked himself, would you have her do to prove herself? He had no answer for that question.

T'Mal is correct. I do want to believe. I want a wife, a Vulcan wife and someday children. I cannot hope to find a better choice then T'Ayrian. But to risk ... that was the key, he realized. Risk. Life offers no guarantees and he had always been willing to take whatever risk was required to achieve his goal.

At his second meeting with T'Mal, Spock fared much better.

* * *

Nineteen days after Spock had begun his leave, his communicator beeped and he knew the Enterprise had established orbit around Vulcan. Within a few seconds, he was speaking with the captain.

"Well, Mr. Spock, did you have a pleasant shore leave?" Overlaying the Captain's voice, Spock could hear the familiar sounds of the bridge crew at work. Soon he would be back there and that pleased him, but he also realized that these past days his mind had been on T'Ayrian, and not the Enterprise.

"Yes, Captain, very much so." He paused, "Jim, I should like to request permission to conduct a class three tour of the ship for an ... acquaintance of mine."

"Ah, sure, Spock, no problem," Jim said, granting permission.

Spock knew that Jim had been caught off guard. Crewmembers were always asking permission to show off the big E, but he had never made such a request before.

"I trust this was not too inconvenient for you?" Spock asked T'Ayrian as she came into the garden. "I realize that I did not give you sufficient planning time, but ..."

"No, Spock. I was most pleased with your invitation." She stood next to him. "What am I to do?"

"Have you ever been through a transporter before?"

"No," she confirmed. "I do hope it will not affect me adversely."

"Remain still after materializing. Make sure your head and stomach are settled before moving; that is the key to an uneventful trip." Spock only wished he could make Dr. McCoy understand that. "Take a deep breath before attempting to move. I will be at your side." His last remark earned him that sparkle in her eyes that he had come to identify with pleasing her.

"I shall do as you say. I should not want to miss this chance to see the Enterprise."

Spock watched her as he waited for the technician to complete the procedures. Wearing dark green trousers and jacket that made her eyes appear even more intense, she styled her long hair back from her face, but let if fall full length past her shoulders the way he liked it. He had argued with himself about this tour, knowing that aboard the Enterprise all eyes would be on them. He had weighed that against the pleasure it would bring her and her pleasure had won out.

Following his instructions T'Ayrian stood very still when the transport was completed and took a deep breath. She looked at the hand he held out to her and then up at him. The significance of their first touch was not lost on either of them as she placed her hand in his and they stepped off the platform. Spock's only wish was that he had had the foresight to choose a more auspicious occasion for the event.

They began their tour in engineering and it was Spock's plan to provide a cursory overview of as many of the ship's department as time would allow. As it turned out, they never got out of engineering. Mr. Scott, never one to miss an opportunity to showcase his arena, took over the tour and when T'Ayrian began asking more and more detailed questions, Spock could only follow along as the two engineers did their thing. To inform T'Ayrian that he could answer all her questions never occurred to Spock, he just took the opportunity to observe her as she interacted with Mr. Scott and other crewmembers. When it became obvious that she could spend a week here and still not have all her questions answered, Spock did interrupt. "T'Ayrian, Mr. Scott, we do have another appointment..."

"Aye, certainly, Mr. Spock. I apologize for monopolizing the lady, but she does know her stuff."

As they took their leave T'Ayrian said, "Peace be with you, Mr. Scott," and she flashed him the Vulcan salute.

"And with you also, Lassie." The chief engineer smiled widely as he returned the gesture.

"Spock, you have my apology, I have spoiled your tour. But, it was so fascinating. I have never ..."

"Bridge," Spock said as he guided her into the turbolift. "No, T'Ayrian, you have spoiled nothing. It is just that I wanted you to see command center while the captain is there."

"Oh, yes, I should like very much to meet him." She finished as the turbolift door opened and all eyes turned in their direction. Spock escorted her to each of the positions and introduced her to the crewperson on duty and then gave them the opportunity to explain the job. This time T'Ayrian was careful to not ask too many questions. Their last stop was, of course, in front of Captain Kirk.

When the introduction was complete Kirk said, "Well, Spock, since it is almost lunchtime, would you and the lady be my guests?"

Spock glanced at T'Ayrian and when she nodded, he accepted for them both. As they entered the turbolift he asked, "Jim, do you think it would be possible for the doctor to join us?"

"I think he would like that very much, Spock," Kirk said calling sickbay.

The foursome began a pleasant lunch, keeping the conversation very general, and Spock knew that nothing of a personal nature would be mentioned, but he sensed their curiosity. He must find a way to tell them that tomorrow this woman would become his bondmate and wife. During the meal they found enough to discuss and soon T'Ayrian was firing questions at Jim and the doctor. It seems, Spock thought, that there was nothing that did not hold a fascination for her.

Catching Spock's eye, they shared a moment. "I am doing it again," she apologized. "Asking too many questions. It is just that this is all so interesting ..."

"Now, you make no never mind," McCoy said, "and don't let the bully of a Vulcan here intimidate you. You can ask all the questions you want."

When Spock and T'Ayrian shared another look, McCoy said, "Jim, is it just me, or do you get the feeling that something is going on here?"

"I have to agree with you, Bones. Our usually reticent Vulcans seem to have a secret they are not keeping very well."

"It seems, T'Ayrian, that we have been found out. You are correct; we do have some news to share. We are to be married tomorrow."

Both men sputtered their surprise and congratulations and Jim called for a bottle of champagne to celebrate. When the glasses were poured Kirk stood to toast the couple. "To Spock and T'Ayrian, we wish you all the happiness the universe has to offer." The three reached out to touch glasses and with a nod from Spock, T'Ayrian did the same and four glasses clinked in unison.

Being familiar with human personalities in general, and these two men in particular, Spock knew that the best way to handle this next request was to play it light, but before he could speak, T'Ayrian asked if she might be excused. The room marked "females" was her destination and Spock knew her retreat was to give him time alone with Jim and the doctor and he had to silently compliment her astuteness. When the other two retook their seats Spock remained standing. "Jim, Doctor, T'Ayrian and I would be honored if you would see fit to join us tomorrow. Jim, I believe you will find this time less strenuous and, Doctor, I do not believe you will have need of your medical kit."

Both men smiled saying nothing would keep them away.

* * *

The day of the wedding was hectic, before the sun was even up Spock woke to Sarek's hand touching his shoulder. "Come," he said, "it seems your mother has plans for us."

And she did. The morning was spent setting up for the ceremony. Amanda seemed to be everywhere at once as she supervised the caterers, saw to the decorations and that the garden met with her approval. After several tries at other jobs, Sarek and Spock were relegated to setting up the extra chairs. On one of her many trips through the gathering room Amanda stopped, her arms loaded with fresh cut greens, and proceeded to tell father and son that they had done it wrong. The placement of the rows of chairs, they were informed, should be staggered so as not to block anyone's view. Father and Son looked at the chairs and then at one another and began rearranging the chairs.

One hour before noon parents and son were dressed and began receiving guests. Spock felt he must have answered the same few questions at least two dozen times. He was more than pleased to see Jim and Bones and used them to escape more incoming guests.

He caught sight of T'Ayrian as she stepped from the aircar, her father assisting her. She was a vision in blue; the exact blue of his dress uniform and that brought warmth to his heart. He had only seen her wear shades of green, rusts and brown, colors that did so much for her eyes. There was no doubt that she had chosen that color for her dress as a compliment to him. He has asked himself after his first meeting with T'Mal what more T'Ayrian could do to prove herself. Now he had an answer.

Moving towards her, she looked up to catch his eyes, and he knew she was pleased by his presence. Offering his arm, she accepted it as she surveyed the garden. "Oh, Spock, it is so beautiful, and the perfect setting for a wedding. We must find your parents so I may express my gratitude." She glanced over her shoulder at her parents. "Will you join us, please?" Then her eyes were on Spock, allowing him to escort her.

Soon it was time. T'Mal took her place and the room grew quiet except for the bells that were freed to resonate with the breeze. Spock and T'Ayrian took their positions. The bonding ceremony was the same for children and adults, except that when children were involved, the parents took a position behind their child giving mental and moral support. Now he stood alone as did T'Ayrian, a sign that they were consenting adults and were making this commitment of their own free will.

T'Mal motioned for the two to approach her. As they knelt in front of her, she placed her hand on Spock's temple. He sensed her enter his mind and waited as she repeated the process with T'Ayrian. Their minds were now joined to hers. With a sureness of years of training, T'Mal began to focus their minds onto each other and away from hers. Both felt the joining, but the sense of being bombarded with the whole of another's consciousness tended to blur individual thoughts. The result was a mixture of vague perceptions with neither party having the inclination to go deeper. T'Mal was trained to keep her own mind exiled from this meld; she was simply the conduit. The ritual words were spoken, the ideas planted to grow and be called to the surface when the time was upon them. The meld meeting with her satisfaction, T'Mal withdrew from it and the bonding was complete.

Societies tailor their ceremonies to their own particular needs. For that reason, the Vulcan marriage ceremony was among the shortest and simplest in the known galaxy. The bonding, and all it implied, was conducted when minds were in control. Since it preceded the wedding, either by many years or, as in this case, by just a few minutes, the final ceremony did not need to be long or complicated.

Another set of larger bells were loosed and their deep tone created a solemn mood. Spock approached the gong, a smaller version of the one that stood in the family's desert holdings. He took the mallet from its hanging place and raised it, signifying his intent. At this point the female could stop him, if that was her desire. As he raised the mallet, the fear that T'Ayrian might do so fleetingly crossed his mind.

The low tone of the gong reverberated through the garden. It was done. Spock and T'Ayrian faced each other. He stretched out his hand to her, and as she started toward him, he moved to meet her halfway. It was a subtle gesture, and to all but the humans present it had much significance: this was to be a mating of two equals. Again they approached T'Mal and knelt before her. Taking right hands she placed T'Ayrian's on top of Spock's and recited the words that would seal the commitment these two had agreed to make. "Parted yet never parted; never and always, touching and touched." Few words had never carried so much meaning. As T'Mal stepped back, Spock and T'Ayrian rose and fingers entwined now, they turned to receive the blessing and good wishes of family and friends.

Since this ceremony took place at a time outside the urgency and privacy of Pon Farr, the two families were free to celebrate the joining. Water and food was shared as a gesture of the acceptance of this couples commitment to each other. The gesture was a remnant of ancient times when the marriage of two members of warring clans was used to bring an end to the hostilities.



* * *

It was time for the Enterprise to leave orbit. Spock gave Jim and McCoy his gear and when they departed, he began his farewells. Always before it had been just his parents, but now he had a wife and her whole family, and the leave taking would take longer. He started with T'Ayrian's sister -- no, he must remember that she was his marriage sister now -- and her family. T'Vanda's husband and son were gracious and wished him well, the boy reminding Spock that he had promised him a tour of the Enterprise on the first possible occasion. He approached T'Vanda, and she too wished him well. "Spock, I am most pleased to call you brother. Take care, and come back to us." He nodded, and succeeded in not showing his discomfort.

Spock inwardly braced himself to deal with her parents. They echoed the same message of care and concern, but he doubted the sincerity of their words, instead suspecting that the concern was for their daughter, not for his safe return. He was about to escape when Sigear took him aside.

"Spock, I understand there is a human custom of gift-giving on such occasions. I should like to honor that custom in your mother's name by presenting you with this card. It will allow you passage on any ship in our family's fleet, or any contracted to us. I hope you may find it helpful at some time."

Spock had no idea what to make of this gesture, but he thanked Sigear for the gift.

He was most relaxed saying goodbye to his parents. At least, with them he knew what to expect. "Take care, son, and return soon. Also, if you would put your thoughts on our last discussion on the project in writing, it would be appreciated."

"Of course, Father, at the first opportunity."

Feeling what he later decided was light headed from the events of the day, Spock embraced his mother, he knew it would convey what he felt for her more accurately then mere words.

As was proper, he waited to speak with T'Ayrian until last, taking her into Sarek's study so they might be alone.

"Spock, I wish there was more time ..."

"T'Ayrian, you knew ..."

"Yes, I did, but now that the time is at hand ... it is difficult to have you leave." She held out two fingers and as they touched, she said, "I await your return, husband."

* * *

Life on the Enterprise fell back into the familiar routine that Spock found comfortable, with only one difference: now he had four times the correspondence. His mother messaged more often, he and Sarek were conferring on that research project, T'Ayrian's messages came with regularity and there were occasional messages from her parents, sister and nephew. At one point he considered sending duplicate correspondence.

Away from Vulcan and from T'Ayrian, the doubts that had left him those last few days before the ceremony began to resurface. Spock had believed his misgivings to be behind him, but he found them again seeping into his thoughts. Rather then helping, her correspondence only added to his uneasiness. She is trying too hard, he decided.

Her letters stated that she wished him there, that being married and having him so far away was proving to be more difficult then she had anticipated. Why did she choose me then, why not choose a mate who lived on Vulcan? She also said that without him, there was a large void in her life. He wanted to believe her, but suspected there was more to things then she was saying. What are her true motives? These thoughts continually chewed at him as mild depression set in.

His question was answered in the form of a postscript to another letter, innocently phrased: I have taken separate lodging. Spock was amazed at his own stupidity for not having figured it out for himself. She wanted autonomy. As a married woman, she was no longer under her father's authority, and with an absentee husband she was for all practical purposes a free agent. It became obvious to him why she had chosen a Starfleet officer for a husband. It was certainly a high-risk occupation; perhaps she even held some secret hope that he might be killed, preferably before the next Pon Farr. That would leave her a widow with more then adequate finances. Then she would owe allegiance to no one, unless she so chose. He had been so taken in by her, believing what he wished to believe, not to have seen this sooner.

Ensuing letters were filled with T'Ayrian's moving and decorating plans. She described the apartment in great detail and asked his opinions on several matters. It was her wish that he should be pleased with the dwelling. Spock believed none of this, but knowing he had little recourse, he waited to see just how T'Ayrian would use this new freedom.

Letters continued to arrive. From her parents; T'Ayrian spent the weekend with us; from his parents; T'Ayrian had us over and we were very impressed with the new apartment. She is making many of the furnishings herself. From her sister, T'Ayrian will be visiting us on holiday. Except for the decorating, Spock could not see where she was doing anything that she couldn't have done in her parents' home. But, he asked himself, what are they not telling me? He could not puzzle it out. The correspondence continued but the content did not change, and Spock became more and more apprehensive. The phrase once heard and not understood came back to haunt him: "Like waiting for the other shoe to drop."

* * *

T'Ayrian entered the apartment, closed the door behind her and leaned against it. As she did so, she realized she had done the exact same thing for the past three nights running. Meditate, an inner voice told her, determine the underlying cause of your frustration and find a solution. That same inner voice has given the same suggestion on the two previous nights and T'Ayrian had followed that advice, but to no avail. She had no desire to repeat the meditation; instead she processed a light meal, and then settled down to eat. Clean up complete, she was restless, she knew it, but not how to remedy the situation. Walking the length and width of the apartment, she thought about the hours spent in decorating. That was complete and had been for several weeks now. All the time spent in making this place a pleasing home; all for naught. The main goal of creating this space was not yet realized and T'Ayrian despaired that it ever would be. Her husband and bondmate had not yet visited. She sank heavily into a chair. Meditate, a voice inside her whispered again, but she made no attempt to do so. She was deadly tired of meditation and it no longer served its purpose. T'Ayrian was forced to admit her plans and desires for this marriage were not materializing. Where, she wondered, had she gone wrong? Meditation wasn't helping; neither was sitting around alone in this apartment evening after evening. There was no thought of discussing this with her parents. They had been against the union from the beginning. Admitting her concerns to them would only reinforce their negative attitude toward Spock. No, she could not discuss this with them -- or T'Vanda. Her sister had her own set of problems and T'Ayrian had no wish to add her burdens to them. There was only one person she felt comfortable enough to discuss this with; Amanda. Spock's mother had become a treasured confidant to the young bride. Her mind made up, T'Ayrian went to the computer and sent Amanda a message. Then ignoring the food servitor, she steeped herself a cup of tea. As she sipped the hot drink the computer beeped. "Can you come to dinner tomorrow evening?" the message read and the reply was, yes.

The dinner was pleasant as T'Ayrian expected, with light impersonal talk. When finished, Sarek retreated to his study under the pretext of important work; Amanda suggested they adjourn to a more comfortable place, her sitting room.

Here the young woman felt unconstrained. She was comfortable enough to speak what was on her mind. Not sure how to begin, T'Ayrian reported on the completion of the apartment decorating and answered Amanda's questions about her family's health and matter at work. Finally, she just said what was on her mind. "I had hoped he would visit," she admitted. "It is the reason I took separate lodging. Amanda, where have I erred?"

"You have done nothing wrong -- you must believe that." The mother-in-law sighed heavily as being forced to admit where the problem lay. "The error is Spock's."

"He writes of Star Fleet, seems most dedicated to his duties ..."

"Yes, that is so, but he has other duties now; his bondmate's needs should be primary ... Perhaps I could message him ..."

"Oh, no, please ..."

"Agreed." Amanda raised her hand. "Not a brilliant suggestion, I withdraw it and meant no offense."

"None taken, Amanda. As much as I might wish it, Spock and I must work this out ourselves."

T'Ayrian watched her human mother-in-law, the softening of her features, widening of her eyes, curving mouth -- a smile it was called and T'Ayrian was grateful to see it. "Sarek warned me not to meddle. I should have listened ..."

At that instant there was a light knock on the door, and Sarek entered. He carried a palm reader which he handed to T'Ayrian. "Perhaps you will find some insights to my son's behavior and his relationship with Star Fleet and those he serves with aboard the Enterprise."

T'Ayrian accepted the reader and studied it. It was the autobiography of T'Pol, the first Vulcan to serve with a Human Star Fleet crew. She looked questioningly at the Ambassador.

"T'Pol writes with much understanding of Human friendships and the feelings she came to share with her captain and others in the crew. I found her perceptions most interesting, perhaps you will also." With those words he left them while T'Ayrian and Amanda could only stare at one another.

"Have you read this?" T'Ayrian asked when she could find her voice. "It appears well used; the keypad is quite worn ..."

"No," Amanda admitted. "I did not know of its existence." She looked at the door her husband had just exited and when she turned back T'Ayrian saw something she had never encountered before -- tears.

"I will most certainly read it. Will you thank Sarek for me?" When Amanda could only nod her response T'Ayrian knew it was time to leave.

T'Ayrian did not sleep at all that night -- she read, and then re-read the autobiography. Then for the next several weeks she began to spend all her free time learning about Star Fleet.



* * *

When the other shoe did drop, it was not anything Spock's wildest imaginings would ever have expected. T'Ayrian, it seemed, had applied to and been accepted by Starfleet. Along with a copy of the application and acceptance, there was a letter. "Spock, I beg pardon for not discussing this matter with you beforehand. I had thought my chances of being accepted, and of being allowed to serve with you, not very high. Hydro-engineers, while necessary, are not top priority positions on a starship. Upon reflection, I fear I have mishandled the whole matter, but of late your correspondence has been sparse and the contents most impersonal. It was my thought that this long-distance marriage was not working very well. But if you feel that my presence on your ship would not be in the best interest of your career, you have only to state that. I shall understand."

She had joined Starfleet! They had never discussed this! Dumbfounded, Spock sat and re-read the printout several times. When he finally decided that he had figured out the rationale behind it, he had to compliment this wife of his. She had him boxed into a very neat corner indeed. So, this was how she planned to end their marriage. She had pulled everyone, family and friends, to her side, and was now ready for one grand final gesture. She would give up her homeland to follow him into space. If he rejected the idea, she would be justified in asking for a divorce, blaming him. If he allowed this move, she no doubt already had a speech rehearsed as to how she found it impossible to work among humans. Either way, he again became the villain. He read the letter again, very carefully, studying every nuance, and could find no fault with her. She had laid her plans well, although he still could put no motive to her except freedom. Starfleet would get her off Vulcan; then when she left the fleet, she could do as she pleased. Spock's depression deepened. He should not have agreed to this marriage. Trust must be built and allowed to grow as two individuals come to know and care for each other. He was married to a stranger he could not trust and she was almost half a galaxy away.

T'Ayrian's letter lay on Spock's desk for almost a week. Spock stared at it daily, feeling as though he had been drawn into a chess game and was losing, being outflanked at every turn. Always on the defensive, he could only counter her moves and do nothing decisive himself. He saw no way out of the trap she had laid so carefully. Not knowing what else to do, Spock sought the advice of the two people he called friend.

"Well," McCoy asked surprised when Spock slid his dinner tray onto the table and sat down, "to what do we owe the honor?"

"Yes," Jim chimed in, "it's been weeks since we seen anything of you off duty. All work and no play... I believe that's how the saying goes."

Spock said nothing as he settled himself at the table.

"For whatever reason, Spock, I'm glad to see you," Jim stated as he aimed a warning look at McCoy. Dinner proceeded and, as Spock knew he would, McCoy suggested a little after dinner refreshment in the privacy of his cabin. Always long on patience, Spock waited until the drinks had been passed and all were comfortable.

"If I might," he began, "I should like to ask your advice." Spock paused and waited for the two to catch their breath before he continued. "It seems that T'Ayrian has applied to and been accepted by Starfleet. She is now asking my permission to accept the appointment."

McCoy's opinion was immediate. "Well, I for one think it's a great idea. Separated marriages can be hell, I can vouch for that," he dropped his eyes for a second, and then continued. "Husband and wife belong together."

"I agree," Jim added. "Spock, I'm not sure what you're asking, but you know we have many couples serving together."

"You see no problem then?"

Jim's tone turned serious. "No, Spock, I don't. In fact, in light of your recent moods, I believe it might be for the best."

Spock understood Jim's meaning, and since he could think of no rebuttal, was grateful when McCoy caught Jim's warning look and changed the subject.

Finally realizing that he had no concrete reason to disapprove of her joining Starfleet if that was what she wanted, Spock set to the task of answering T'Ayrian. His return letter was formal, but accepting of her choice. He did, however, feel compelled to counsel her on the commitment she was making and remind her that she would be required to swear her allegiance to the Federation and Starfleet. See how she deals with that, he thought. He would not make her way out of this easy by doing the expected thing. That done, Spock threw himself deeper into his duties and gave very little thought to his personal life; except when T'Ayrian's letters arrived and forced it all to the surface again.

And her letters did continued to arrive, it seemed to Spock that their contents became more and more bizarre. "I am finding the training a challenge," she wrote, "mostly because of the cultural differences. Before coming to the Academy, I had only dealt with humans on a social level. Now I am living with humans, being taught by them, and preparing to enter a career in an organization that is human-dominated." Then T'Ayrian would ask Spock's advice on several matters.

To say that T'Ayrian had a knack for catching Spock off guard was an understatement. She did it again when she wrote of yet another problem. It seemed that except for a few language misunderstandings, she was having very little trouble getting along with humans. "But," she explained, "the engineering department is predominantly male and because of the intensity of the training, the group is spending much time together." All were very friendly to her -- Spock could just bet they were -- and she did try to return these gestures of friendship as best she could, but the continual closeness did become a strain. Her problem, it seemed concerned individual males: at one point they were just a part of the group, and then suddenly one would approach her singly and ask if he might see her alone. It was at these times that she was forced to admit that she had no wish for such an arrangement. It was, she stated in conclusion, most awkward. She had learned of the human custom of "wedding rings" and thought that for humans it showed very good reasoning. With so many of the people free and searching for mates, it seemed a logical idea because it made a very important statement without the need for words, which in and of itself was very unusual for humans. After fighting his way through all that rhetoric, Spock finally got to the crux of the problem. Did he think it possible for her to have such a ring?

Spock sat at his desk staring at the printed message and wished she had taped it. He thought that perhaps hearing her voice would give him a clue as to what this was really all about. When taken at face value, this request made all of his assumptions about her seems incorrect. If she wanted her freedom, she certainly had the chance, yet she did not seem to want to take advantage of it. Or did she think wearing a wedding ring would cover her deceitful actions? Try as he might, Spock could not understand how she planned to use this situation to her advantage. Why, he wondered, should she want a wedding ring if she did not plan to stay married? Her actions made no sense.... Unless she did plan to stay married. Was it possible that he was mistaken about her? This situation could no longer be tolerated. Spock knew he had to do something; he just did not have any idea of what it might be. Perhaps he should again seek out Jim's counsel.

As Spock approached Jim's cabin, he found the door open, and at the sound of voices, he stopped, not sure whether to interrupt. Once he heard the words he could not turn away.

"The man should be with his wife." It was McCoy's voice loud and clear.

"I know that," Jim said. "You know that. But, obviously, Spock doesn't know it."

"Can't you see what's happening to him? Everyone else on this ship can."

"Yes, I see it, Bones." Jim's tone was resigned. "And it's getting worse."

"Give him leave, Jim. If they were together..."

"He hasn't asked for it. Bones, I can't order one of my officers to take leave."

"Well, I can. If I have to make this medical, I will."

"Bones, I'm warning you. Leave this alone. These are not humans; it's a different culture. Didn't you learn that the last time?"

"Jim, I know that, but this is a new beginning. I want them to have a chance." McCoy sounded desperate.

"So do I, but I think he's still bleeding from the last time. I think it's too soon for him."

"Well, if that's true, then it's not very fair to T'Ayrian, is it?"

Spock did not wait to hear more. He knew the Doctor was correct. Realizing he could no longer deal with the uncertainties, Spock knew that the time had come for action. He requested two days leave from his duties to fast and meditate. Then, his mind cleared, he spent the hours going back over his bonding and marriage, incident by incident. Looked at logically, there was nothing in T'Ayrian's behavior with which he could find fault. It was all in how he perceived it, and he realized that his perceptions were colored by his aborted marriage with T'Pring. Jim is correct, I am still bleeding and that is not fair to T'Ayrian. He must judge her actions on their own merit, not on his perceived mistrust.

He had consented to this marriage, as she had, and when looked at logically, T'Ayrian was living up to her commitment. He could do no less. That conclusion reached, Spock put away the questions and doubts and began with a new positive attitude toward his marriage. He knew his letters had been lacking; he would do better, but something more dramatic was called for. Spock wrote T'Ayrian that he was considering her request for a wedding ring. Then he wrote his mother, and within a few weeks a small package arrived.

Six weeks later the Enterprise was ordered to Earth. This was the opportunity Spock had been waiting for and he made plans to visit T'Ayrian at the Academy. Since this was a short stopover, they would only have the better part of one evening together, but Spock was determined to make good use of the time as he told himself that the old doubts were gone, but the very fact that this was a surprise visit made him realize that they were not. Otherwise he would have informed T'Ayrian of his visit.

The beam-down point put Spock on the outer rim of the Academy. He began walking and the closer he got to the residence halls, the more conspicuous he became. As he returned the many salutes from junior officers, he thought about what his marriage to one of that rank was going to mean for both of them. The young female behind the reception desk reacted with flustered surprise as she directed Spock to T'Ayrian's room. He took the stairs hoping they would be less traveled than the lift. As he approached the door, he noted it was open. Inside three females in Starfleet uniforms stood talking, and Spock felt himself drawn to one in particular and was shocked to realize that an actual bonding existed and was strong enough to pull him toward his mate even though they had spent so little time together.

The group went silent as he approached the room. Startled by his appearance, T'Ayrian spoke his name softly while the others came to attention. Seeing their actions, she too assumed the proper military stance.

"As you were. I am not here officially. I have personal business with Lt. T'Ayrian."

When the others had scurried out of the room and closed the door behind them, the two stood awkwardly for several seconds. Finally, T'Ayrian broke the silence. "The grapevine placed the Enterprise in orbit, but since I had no word from you.... I was not expecting to see you."

"I was remiss. I should have sent word." Spock almost finished the statement with, "my wife," but somehow the words would not voice themselves.

"No matter," she said, brightening. "You are here. Have we much time?"

"Until 23:00. I thought we might begin with dinner."

"Yes, of course. I shall require a few minutes to dress."

Spock nodded. "I will wait in the reception area."

When T'Ayrian joined him, Spock was pleased to see her in Vulcan dress. Less attention would be called to them than as a lieutenant with a commander.

Fastening the closures on her jacket she asked, "You have no cloak, will you not be cold?"

"No, after all this time I have adapted to the cooler temperature."

"I found it most uncomfortable at first. Then someone suggested a high-neck shirt that is allowed under the uniform and now I wear that and Lee brought me a pad that I allow to heat before getting in to bed. Then I sleep very well ..."

They continued to talk of inconsequential matters as they walked across the parkway to a restaurant. She seemed pleased to see him, Spock noted as they spoke of her studies and his work. Several people nodded and called to her, but Spock was confused by the name used. He was about to question this when a young man came running up to them.

"Teri, Teri," he called, "we're all going to the Purple Dragon, come join.... Ah, excuse me, sir." The young officer stopped short in front of Spock, came to attention and saluted.

Spock put the lieutenant at ease. He had not been saluted this much in a long time and found it very tiring.

"Commander Spock, this is Lt. Norakowski. He is also in the engineering department. We have several classes together."

Spock nodded and the young lieutenant blushed. "Sorry, sir. I didn't mean to intrude. If you'll excuse me."

Given permission to leave, the lieutenant beat a hasty retreat.

"You allow them to shorten your name?" he said when they were again alone.

"Yes, humans seem to have an affinity for doing that, and I do not see any harm in it. Since joining an organization that is peopled mostly by humans, I feel I will have to relax somewhat, and this seemed a good way. I saw no reason to make people uncomfortable by mentioning it. Does it bother you?"

"No, T'Ayrian, but do not expect me to follow suit. I happen to be quite fond of your name."

Her blushing face and lowered eyes silenced him. Spock knew he had never spoken so personally before and it surprised them both.

Once seated in the restaurant they again found their voices and the conversation was once more on impersonal matters. Spock also found himself with a sense of protectiveness and of wanting to please her. It was a new and curious sensation.

After the meal, the two retraced their steps, with one difference. The parkway was now dark, except for artificial lights on the walkways and sitting areas, and the people were mostly in pairs walking arm in arm, or embracing on park benches and blankets. Several couples were kissing. Spock sighted a recently vacated bench where the shrubbery would afford some privacy and guided T'Ayrian toward it. When they were seated she asked, "Young humans are most open in their affections. Is this also true of their elders?"

"No. As they mature they usually conduct this type of behavior in private. Of course, here at the Academy, there is little privacy to be had." Getting back to the purpose of his visit, Spock reached inside his tunic and took out a small package and handed it to T'Ayrian. Upon opening it, she allowed her pleasure to show, as was permitted between bonded couples.

"Spock, it is exquisite. I had not meant for you to be so extravagant."

"It was my thinking that it might be awkward for you to just appear one morning wearing a wedding ring. This was my grandmother's engagement ring and will serve the same purpose as a wedding ring. It will signify to people that you are betrothed and are to be married. Does it please you?"

"Very much so. Is it worn on the third finger of the left hand also?"

Spock took the ring and slipped it on her finger. She continued to admire it and as she moved her hand the gemstone sparkled under the lights. She stopped to look up at him when his words registered. "Your grandmother ... Amanda's mother, this was hers and I am to have it?"

"Yes, she left the ring to me, and it was her wish that it should go to ... my wife. It is one of a set. There was a matching wedding ring, but it never left her finger. I have commissioned a copy to be made. You shall have it when the time ... later."

"I am most flattered. Thank you." She continued to flash the ring under the lights and then looked into his eyes. "It is very beautiful and I am very proud to wear it."

The lump in Spock throat made speaking impossible at that instant. He stood and when she did they began walking. As they continued making their way across the parkway, they had to side step to avoid bumping into another embracing couple and there was another right on the steps of the residence hall. Upon entering the foyer, T'Ayrian led the way to one of the unoccupied sitting rooms. She walked over to a large window and looked out at the night sky.

Spock followed and stood behind her. "What is it that you find so interesting?"

"The moon. It is so remarkable. Spock, I do believe I envy Earth its moon."

"Some day I shall take you to Varon III. It has nine moons, and they make for a most spectacular display." How easy that was, he thought. He did want to show her Varon III. In fact, he realized, there were many things he would like to share with her.

"I should enjoy that," she said glancing up at him. Then they moved back into the room's shadows to avoid eavesdropping on the couple that had paused outside the window to embrace.

"Spock, this 'kissing', have you ever tried it?"

The question caught him off guard, but he answered with a truthful, "Yes."

Her eyes widened. "Since our marriage?"

"Certainly not!"

"Oh. Did you find it pleasurable?"

Spock was not sure that he did not like where this conversation was heading. "Yes," he confessed, but that ..."

"I should like to try it."

"T'Ayrian, you know why telepathic races do not engage in such activities."

"Yes, I understand that, but we are married, and I should like to experience it." She paused, then added, "But if you do not wish it..."

Spock took her in his arms and pulled her gently to him. There were several awkward seconds when her nose seemed to be in the way and she did not know which way to turn head. Finally, taking her chin in his hand, he tipped her head up to his. Their lips touched lightly for several seconds.

"Surely there is more?"

He tightened his embrace and kissed her harder, allowing his mouth to open slightly. His body could feel her response even as his mind sensed it. These sensations were new to her, but she found them pleasing. She let herself be drawn closer, slipping her arms around his waist, tightening the embrace further. Spock could not help but respond. This was dangerous play for telepaths. Because they were bonded, their minds were reaching to one another and each had little control over what was passing between them. Spock had always found it easy to maintain his defenses with a non-telepath, one to whom he was not bonded, but this was different. Instinct led. Now that Spock had access to T'Ayrian's thoughts, and could see into her mind, he came face to face with a truth that could not be hidden as her feelings revealed one after the other that all his notions about her were in error.

Spock let her thoughts play in his mind as he savored them, and he reveled in the joy they brought. She did not want freedom from this marriage, or from him. She had no desire to be alone, but wanted their marriage to grow, to be a true, complete bonding. And children, some day she wished for their children.

As all this information flowed from her mind to his, Spock became so caught up in these pleasant sensations that he forgot that the reverse was also taking place. All his doubts and accusations were tumbling into her consciousness. There was a flash of ice water in his mind as T'Ayrian jerked free of his embrace. Her voice quivering, she said, "Thee does me an injustice." As she turned to flee, Spock caught her by the arm.

"T'Ayrian, allow me to explain..."

"No! Thee goes too far. I waited on Vulcan, but thee did not visit. I thought thee might find discomfort in the home of my parents, so I took separate lodging, but still thee did not come. I joined Starfleet and came to thee. Now I find thee holds only contempt for our marriage and me. This I will not accept." Jerking her arm free, she fled from the room while Spock stood there stunned.

Having no idea where he was going, Spock stumbled from the building and walked aimlessly trying to understand what had just happened. Visit her? He remembered T'Ayrian's many questions about Starfleet leave procedures, and that pass her father had given him that allowed free passage on any number of ships. He had thought the father of his wife had meant it for emergency use, such as an illness in the family, or perhaps for when the time again came upon him. And the apartment she had taken was meant for them to share, for his comfort. What a dull wit he had been. There had been at least two different occasions during the past year when he had been close enough to Vulcan to have gone home, but it had never crossed his mind. For so long he had thought of himself as single with no reason to go home, not with things as they had been between Sarek and himself. Apparently his mind-set had not changed since his bonding and marriage, and it should have.

Everything she had done was for him and he had repaid her with suspicion and mistrust. He remembered her at their wedding, so beautiful in that blue dress and he recalled the flowers that decorated the garden and tables, blue also. She and his mother had planned that. All to please the one who would not be pleased ... yet still this wife of his had persevered. She had accepted his rejection and tried a new tactic. She followed him into space, leaving home, family and profession behind. And he had repaid that act by suspecting her further. He now knew that he had what could have been a solid marriage, the kind he had always hoped for. Yet it seemed that it was over before it had begun. He knew he could not just walk away and let that happen. He had to try to resolve this situation. He could not loose her now.

Hurrying back through the now deserted parkway to T'Ayrian's residence hall, Spock tried to find words that would make her understand, and felt unequal to the task. Managing to get into the building and up to her floor without being seen, he knocked softly on her door.

"Who is there?" The voice beyond the door was tense.

"Spock."

"Thee should not be here now."

"I would speak with you."

"I do not wish it."

"We cannot leave matters as they now stand."

"We have nothing to say to one another."

Seeing no other recourse, Spock tried his command voice. "T'Ayrian, I will not continue to talk to this door, nor will I leave."

"Thee would create a scene?" Her defiance matched his.

"If I must," he countered. When Spock could think of no more words to say to the door in front of him, he began calculating, out loud, the force it would take to remove the obstruction. He began by multiplying the height of the door by the width and squaring the dimensions. The door opened and she stood facing him. Her street clothes gone, she was wearing a green robe that in the harsh corridor light magnified the depth of emerald fire blazing in her eyes.

"I suppose we should settle this," she stated, standing her ground and allowing him no further than just inside the door. "I shall resign my commission, return to Vulcan and begin divorce proceedings."

"Is there no other way?" Misery etched his words.

"No. Where there is no trust, there can be no true bonding. I will not endure such a marriage. Obviously, thee hast held these doubts from the very beginning. I do not understand how T'Mal failed to detect them."

"She did not fail. We discussed them at length and she did much to reassure me. In the end, she was satisfied."

"She was mistaken." Hurt and anger mixed in T'Ayrian's tone and combined with that in her eyes.

Spock looked away as his determination weakened. He could not argue with her truths. "Will you allow me to explain?"

"There is nothing thee can say to negate the contempt I sensed in thy heart and mind." The look in her eyes dared him to dispute it.

"That is no longer the case," he tried to defend, "I now understand ..."

"I do not!" She fired at him.

"Can you see no way to resolve this?"

"No." It was a flat, simple answer, and Spock sensed his future slipping away.

"Then if you would indulge me by answering one question, I will leave and cause you no further distress."

"Question?"

"Why did you wish a marriage with me? It would not appear to be in your best interest."

"By whose standards?" she demanded.

"You had other suitors?"

"I did."

"Did any belong to Starfleet, or live off Vulcan?"

"No."

"And none would have had a Kal-if-Fee."

"No!" She repeated the word with more force this time.

"Then why me? Why not one of them?"

"Under the circumstances, I see no point to this."

"I need to know." He moved around her to sit at the desk chair and looked up at her. "I drew my own conclusions about these questions, all of them wrong. I need to know your true reasons."

"It will change nothing!"

"That may very well be, but for my own sanity, I must know."

T'Ayrian stared at Spock for several seconds. "Very well." She sighed heavily and began to pace the small room. "When the question of another bonding was put to me, I was forced to deeply examine what I would consider important in a mate." Her eyes fixed on his while her voice gave evidence of the depth of her feeling on this matter. "I did not take this task lightly, for I had been given an opportunity that does not come to most Vulcans."

Her tone softened as she continued. "During the process of attempting to discover what qualities I valued in a mate, I came to a more acute awareness of myself and of my own values. I discovered that I do hold our traditions to be of supreme importance, but I also have individual hopes for my life."

T'Ayrian paused to glance at him again. Spock held her eyes with his, trying to convey some feeling of his regret at their present situation. "I was seeking something more," she finally said, breaking eye contact, "and until we met it was a nameless thing. Then while reading thy portfolio, and later some papers, I caught a hint of that for which I was searching. I noticed it that first day at my parents' home. The eyes, I have learned to look into the eyes because that is where it always appears. Thee has it, a drive to reach out, to go and seek beyond the boundaries, wherever that might be. It was then I knew that thee had the qualities that I wished for in a mate. With thee, I had hoped to combine both duty and personal desire." She stopped to stare up at him again. "Yes, I had other suitors, but they were all old men, even the young ones. Spock, thee are the first Vulcan I have met who dared to dream, and then dared to follow that dream."

The silence was ear-splitting as Spock swallowed the lump in his throat. That was probably his finest compliment coming from one of his own people, and his wife at that, and to have it come now. "And now it is over without even beginning." He had not meant the words to be aloud.

"So it would seem." Her voice now held a sense of hopelessness.

"I would not have it so." He stood and moved a step closer to her only to have her back away.

"Spock, now it is I who no longer trust. The betrayal I feel...Betrayal..." The word slipped out. "Yes. Thee too hast suffered betrayal. Is this perhaps thy revenge on all females? Am I to be used to avenge T'Pring's wrong?"

"No. No..." He jerked back and turned away, unable to face her accusation.

"Surely," T'Ayrian asked, "thee has settled this matter within thyself?"

He waited until he knew his voice would not fail him then turned to again face her. "What is to be settled? She preferred another."

"Thee asked her reason?"

"I did. She said that she preferred..."

"Those words were spoken when emotions were surfacing unchecked. Surely thee followed up later?"

"No..." He eyed her more intently. "Am I to understand that you did?"

"Yes. Spock, as I have said, I did not take my opportunity lightly."

Confused by this news, he had to ask, "What action did you take?"

"First, I studied the personality quotient tests, as I assumed thee had."

"What did you expect to find? The tests were administered when T'Pring and I were children and showed a very high correlation; higher, in fact, than ours."

"I saw those results, but I went further. Spock, did thee not compare thy test as a child with the one administered for our portfolio?"

"I saw no need. There would be no difference. Those tests are reliable to the..."

"I suggest you study them," T'Ayrian interrupted. "There are a great many discrepancies."

"Discrepancies?" Spock questioned, and T'Ayrian nodded.

Spock thought for several seconds. "My human heritage," he concluded.

"I suspect so. At this time, you and T'Pring have very little in common, and I believe if you could compare a recent test with the one from her childhood, you would find no difference. It is you who has changed, not T'Pring." T'Ayrian paused. "Spock, do you recall the self-evaluation you wrote as a child?"

He nodded, wondering at this woman who seemed to know him better than he knew himself. But in the back of his mind he noted that she had reverted to the informal and more personal you when referring to him, and a spark of hope ignited.

"What did you state as your primary goal?"

"A position at the Vulcan Science Academy."

"I found that most enlightening, because when you were offered a chance to study there, and thus prepare for such a position, you chose Starfleet instead."

"I still have that goal," Spock defended. "But there are some things within myself that must be settled first. Someday, I will return to the Academy."

"When? When you are retired from Starfleet and can no longer work in space?"

"Yes," he answered, letting the full impact of his statement sink in.

"Spock, I cannot fault you for the betrayal you feel. I cannot even begin to imagine what prompted T'Pring to choose the Kal-if-Fee. Her actions were most unspeakable and unforgivable, but I am not T'Pring, and I will not live my life in her shadow. I will not be forever faulted for her actions."

There was a chance; Spock sensed it. She did not want this marriage to be over. If only he could say the right thing. What he needed to do now was to court this wife of his and convince her of his sincere feelings, something he had not done before. He must try to make up for that lack, but he had no practice in such behavior. He could only speak the truth. "Everything you have said is correct. I did not trust, though I wanted to. I thought of only one thing, that someday soon I would require a wife."

"Why did you even come home for this interview?" Misery edged her curiosity, and Spock wished to spare her this, but he could only give her the truth; she deserved no less.

"I did not believe there was a chance of a bonding between us. I could find no advantage for any family in such an alliance. I came because my father asked me to come, and I wished to bring the animosities between us to an end."

"You and Sarek are not on good terms?"

"Were not. My visit home changed that." Before she could ask, he volunteered the information. "Sarek was against my joining Starfleet. We have not spoken as father and son since I went against his wishes."

"All that time... with no family close, your mother caught in the middle."

"Yes. That is why I did not visit. I could not bear it for her. I schooled myself not to think of Vulcan as home. My education was so complete that I failed to recognize your invitations for what they were. Such incomprehensibility is difficult to accept in oneself."

"It did not occur to you that I should want to spend time with you other than during the Pon Farr?"

"Never." Spock knew her next question would be to ask why. He began forming his answer. "Through my bonding with T'Pring, I knew that she had no such desires. I had no other experience upon which to draw."

"You think so little of yourself?"

When he gave no answer, she said, "So, once offered, you could not refuse the bonding because it would destroy the new relationship with your father."

"No!" He moved toward her, then stopped. "That is not so. Sarek made no such stipulations of our reconciliation. The decision was entirely mine."

Surprise lit her face as she considered this. "Then I ask you, Spock, as you asked, why choose me?"

Could any man not choose you? The words were in his mind, but he could not voice them. Instead, he began with a more practical explanation. "I too have spent some time thinking about what I desire in a mate."

She eyed him with disbelief.

"Yes, truth will have out," he said, standing now, he moved closer to her. "My meditation on the subject came later than yours; it came after our marriage."

"How long after?" she demanded.

"When your letter requesting a wedding ring arrived."

"The ring?" she asked confused, "Why then?"

"Because I could no longer put devious motives to your actions. Since I could not see a marriage to me as advantageous to any female, I looked for other reasons."

"Spock, in wealth, power, and status, my family is more than equal to yours."

"I am aware of that."

"What motive did you give me then?"

"A desire for freedom."

"Specify." She sank to the edge of the bed, confusion covering her face.

"Freedom; out of your father's house with no husband in residence, you could do as you pleased."

T'Ayrian jerked to her feet and her tone held anger. "It is not for you to give me that which I already have! I have always made my own decisions. Did I not choose my own mate?"

"Yes, you did, and that struck me as most unusual. But your parents did advise you on a choice, did they not?"

"Yes, of course. We talked at length on the subject."

"And they advised that you choose another," he said, already knowing the answer.

Now it was she who turned her eyes away. "Yes," she said softly, "they saw a risk.... But in the end, it was my choice."

"So it was. You have spirit, and I did recognize it that first day, but I interpreted it incorrectly."

"That is what I find so difficult to understand." Slowly, she sat back down.

Spock moved to sit next to her on the bed. "T'Ayrian, there are a few basic rules that govern all activities between sentient beings, no matter the species. One of them is that if something appears too good to be true, it usually is."

"I understand the adage, but not your meaning."

They sat sideways on the bed, facing one another. Spock reached for her hands and pressed them between his own. She allowed the physical touch, but her mind was locked against him.

When she did not pull away he said, "You, my wife, appeared too good to be true. I had to ask myself what a young, attractive, intelligent, spirited, wealthy female, who would be a desired mate for any man, would want with me. Can you understand that?"

Her face softened into a smile which she did not/could not prevent. "You thought that of me?"

"Yes, and you may file that away for future use."

"Future? Is there to be a future for us?" she asked.

"If I have anything to say about it, there is. T'Ayrian, before I came here this evening, I had resolved these matters within myself. The reason for the ring was to show my commitment to our marriage." Both looked down at their entwined hands; the ring sparkled in the room's soft light. "If you would but look deep into my mind, you would see that those doubts are no longer there."

"Seeing into your mind is what first showed me your doubts."

"Yes, they remain as part of my past thoughts," he said and lowered the mind lock that kept his thoughts from hers. "What you did not see was my joy at having been mistaken." He willed those thoughts to her. "Perhaps if we were to meld again, you could see what is truly in my heart. Ours is a strong bonding. Did you not feel that when I first arrived?"

When she nodded he continued. "I was drawn to you, a most amazing feeling. It never happened before. I thought it was only a thing of romantic legends."

"Surely with T'Pring?"

"Never, until the fever."

"Some bondings do not take properly. Perhaps yours and T'Pring's..."

"That is the past; let us not waste our time discussing it when our future is to be settled. Meld with me."

Her eyes widened as her mind acknowledged his thoughts. "To use a meld in such a way is a desperate measure."

"I am a desperate man."

T'Ayrian's cheeks colored, "You wish not to be parted from me?"

"Very much so." Spock reached out his hand to touch her face and thereby join their minds in a complete meld.

"We melded earlier this evening using a different technique." She leaned toward him even before she finished speaking, and then stopped.

"No, do not hesitate." His arms slipped around her, lips touched and their minds were one. Spock leaned back on the bed pulling T'Ayrian full length on top of him. Eyes closed, he pictured her as she had moved toward him, a slight flush to her skin, wanting to be held and kissed.

He filled her mind with his vision of her on their wedding day and the pride he felt standing next to her. He gave her all his joy at the realization that he was the bondmate she wanted to spend her life with.

Their kiss deepened and emotion surged through him and he hugged her in a crushing grip until he realized his strength. When the need to breathe compelled them to break the kiss, Spock began tracing his lips along her cheek. T'Ayrian shivered as her arms found their way around his neck, and she pulled him to her. Every slight movement caused clothing to rub against sensitized skin. Nuzzling her neck, Spock nipped at her ear lobe as he ran his fingers across her back and maneuvered them so they lay on their sides, their bodies touching full length. While pulling her into another kiss, he managed to kick off his boots. One of T'Ayrian's hands traveled to Spock's waist and bare skin where his tunic had pulled up. She removed his communicator, and then her fingers began skimming across his back and around to his abdomen. A moan escaped his lips, followed by a sudden intake of breath. After another quickly caught breath, Spock's mouth captured hers again as his finger traced a line along her chin and down her neck. But her high-necked, long-sleeved robe brought him only frustration as he searched for skin to caress. He could only press her to him as his hands explored the curves and valleys they found beneath the soft silk of the robe. His oral explorations were better rewarded as his tongue probed and parted her lips. There, as the hot moistness combined, Spock paused to see if his actions distressed. At the feel of her tongue sliding over his, he renewed his own pursuit.

When he withdrew so they might catch their breath, he found T'Ayrian staring at him with eyes half closed and cheeks fully flushed with an inner heat. He pulled her back to renew the kiss once again, and her fingers continued to play across his skin. He found the front closing on the robe, but several seconds of fumbling convinced Spock that with only one hand, and no eyes, he was not going to accomplish his objective. Just then T'Ayrian squirmed and placed one leg across his. The hem of her robe was lifted and here Spock found access as his fingers traced over ankle, up the curve of her calf, to knee. Here he lingered, then dared to go further as he slid the robe higher to expose her thigh. He felt the light tremors of her skin as his fingers continued.

"Beep-beep."

The two on the bed continued unnoticing.

"Beep-beep."

Finally Spock realized that the noise was his communicator. Reaching around, he grabbed it from the bedside table. "Spock here." Hearing the sound of his voice, from the bottom of his being and husky with sexual arousal, Spock flushed deeply.

"Ah.... Mr. Spock, sir."

"Yes, Lieutenant," he managed to say.

"Ah... sir, the captain asked me to call you ... ah, sir."

"Yes, Lieutenant," Spock repeated with slight exasperation.

"Sir, he, ah, has a message for you."

"Go on, Lieutenant." Spock could not begin to imagine what had come over the always clear and concise Lieutenant Uhura.

"He, ah, says the he would like to leave orbit at 0100, ah, if that's all right with you, sir."

"Lieutenant," Spock sighed. "We are scheduled to leave orbit at 2300, why the delay?" In the back of his mind, Spock was realizing that this would mean that he would have more time with T'Ayrian.

"Yes, sir. We were supposed to leave at 2300."

"Supposed to?" A sense of panic began to seep into Spock's whole being. "What time is it now, Lieutenant?"

"Ah, sir, it is ah, 2335, sir."

"I am AWOL!" Spock exclaimed.

"Ah, yes, sir, you are ... sir."

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Tell the Captain that I shall return immediately," Spock said closing his communicator and moving off the bed.

"Spock, what have we done?" T'Ayrian's eyes were wide.

"You are not at fault here. This is my doing." He stared at her. "My sense of time completely left me. Not since I was four years old has anything like this happened to me."

"Are you in great trouble?"

"Let us hope not."

"I am sorry ..."

He gathered her back into his arms. "I am not. Having things right between us is the most important thing. I am gladly AWOL, knowing that you and I will remain together."

"Do I really have such an effect on you?"

"The thought of losing you does." Spock tried to kiss her again, but she resisted.

"Spock, no. You must go."

The reminder of his situation sobered Spock and he released her. As he pulled on his boots and straightened his uniform, she said, "I will walk with you."

"No. This is not Vulcan. You cannot walk home alone."

"Yes, I understand," her face contorted. "Only last week someone was assaulted."

She was fussing with her hair, trying to catch all the loose strands that had gone astray. "Soon," she said, staring up at him. "Soon my training will be over and then..." She stopped as Spock kissed her.

"Three months, my wife. They will seem so long, but then we will be together." He kissed her again, one final time, he thought, and did not want to let her go. Just as he was thinking he would be even later, and suffer the consequences, the door jerked open and females voices squealed behind him. Spock tore himself away from T'Ayrian.

"Oh, we're soooo sorry..."

"No matter. I was just leaving."

The door slammed as the two horror-stricken females beat a hasty retreat.

Spock rearranged his clothes again and ran his fingers through his hair, while T'Ayrian retrieved his communicator. He looked at her, wanting to hold her again, but he knew that if he touched her again, the Enterprise would leave orbit without its first officer. "Three months," he said, hooking the communicator to his waistband, and started toward the door.

"Spock, my graduation and commissioning: it would please me if you could come."

He stopped and faced her. "If it is at all possible, I will be there." With that, he turned and was gone.

Once outside, Spock noted that no stars were visible in the now overcast sky. Instead, wind whipped and thunder cracked. Knowing a storm was imminent, Spock hurried, but half way to the transporter station, the sky opened up and drenched him. It was a thoroughly soaked first officer who presented himself to the captain at four minutes after midnight. Spock entered when the captain acknowledged his knock, and stood dripping in front of Jim's desk. Jim sat behind the desk, McCoy to the captain's right. Spock wished he were on the other side of the galaxy; no, he wished he had stayed with T'Ayrian.

The captain looked up at him trying to maintain a stern face; McCoy did not even bother. He was wearing what Spock had come to consider his egg-sucking grin.

"Spock," Jim said, "I have only one question to ask you."

"Yes, Captain." The first officer braced himself.

"Do we toast the bride and groom, or do I put you on report?"

Spock looked down at the desktop and saw the three glasses, each bubbling with liquid Spock knew to be champagne. Without hesitation, he reached over to take the glass nearest him and raised it. The captain and chief medical officer smiled brightly and copied his actions.

"To Spock and T'Ayrian," McCoy said. "May they live long and prosper."

"Hear, hear," Jim added and they drank.

As Spock squished his way to his own quarters, leaving wet footprints and oddly confused crewmen in his wake, he decided that it indeed had been a good day. Things between him and his wife were excellent and soon she would be with him here on the Enterprise, he was not in trouble with Jim or Starfleet, and Mother Nature had provided him with a cold shower when he desperately needed one. In his own cabin, stripping out of his sodden clothes, he sobered. If living with T'Ayrian was anything like tonight, he was going to need a lot of cold showers.

* * *

Lieutenant T'Ayrian was nervous as she exited the lift and began walking toward sickbay. Being Vulcan, she would not have applied that term to her condition. Instead, she told herself she was fatigued. But had she described her symptoms, increased heart rate, moist palms and tenseness in her midsection, any Terran could have told her; she was nervous. The past few weeks had been very demanding. First, there had been final exams at the officers' training branch of Star Fleet Academy, followed by graduation and commissioning ceremonies.

She felt a warm glow when she recalled her commissioning of four weeks ago. Spock had given his word to be there if at all possible, but a message arrived three days prior to the ceremony stating that the Enterprise was headed in the opposite direction. T'Ayrian had not known she could feel such disappointment. He had apologized profusely, and she did understand that the matter was out of his hands, but she did so want him there. To add to her regret, her parents would not be coming either. T'Aryian's grandmother had been injured in a fall and her parents did not want to be away from her. Her sister and nephew were coming and T'Ayrian tried to make herself content with that and made plans for all the places she would show them knowing Calen would be very excited. In just four more weeks her specialized training on the water treatment plants and hydroponics gardens aboard starships such as the Enterprise would be complete and she would be headed for her assignment and Spock.

She had seen her sister and nephew seated, and was about to take her place with her class when Colonel Adams had approached her. "Lieutenant," she said, "If you would not mind, I would request that you be the last to receive your commission."

Confused by the request, T'Ayrian knew she had no choice but to agree. "Yes, Ma'am," she said as she moved to take her place at the end of the line. As the proceedings began T'Ayrian tried not to think overly much of this strange request. She wanted no negative thoughts to further darken her mood on this day.

She explained the Colonel's request to fellow officers who were confused as she went to the end of the line, but stood proudly as the band began to play. They filed in and took their places and saluted through the posting of the colors. Then they were seated for the ceremony.

Finally, the speeches were done, the awards given and the presentations began. The group was called to attention and then began making their way to the podium. One by one the names were announced and the commissions bestowed. Then T'Ayrian stood alone. She almost began moving across the stage, expecting to here her name directly after Lt. Zimora cleared the podium. Something stopped her, as she realized that Colonel Adams was not calling her name. She felt exposed standing there alone and attempted to control her accelerating heartbeat.

"This morning," the colonel began, "you have seen a new group of officers commissioned into Starfleet, and as is our custom, you have seen some presentations by family as our own members welcome their kin into Star Fleet. Today a father receives his daughter, a sister, her brother, but now we have something quite unique. For the first time in Starfleet history, we will have a Vulcan husband and wife team. They will be serving together aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. And here after traveling for the past twenty-four hours, to present his wife her lieutenant's bar is the Enterprise's first officer, Commander Spock." The colonel glanced at her aid, who nodded and there was the whine of a transporter just off stage. Then Spock was there, moving onto the stage to stand next to Colonel Adams. Salutes were exchanged and then T'Ayrian's name was called, but she could not seem to move. Startled, she went toward vaguely aware of vidcameras humming. Then she stood before Spock as he pinned on her bars.

"Lieutenant," he said. "You do Vulcan and your family proud."

She thought her heart might burst as she initiated and he returned a salute. T'Ayrian was about to move back to stand with her class when the colonel motioned her to stay. Colonel Adams made her last few comments and then declared the ceremony at an end. The new lieutenants were dismissed and mass confusion reigned as the newly commissioned move toward family members and vise versa. Spock had a hold on T'Ayrian's arm and pulled her off stage to where they could stand.

"How," she exclaimed, "did you manage this?"

"With Jim's help. He convinced Noreaga of the public relations value. You noticed the vidcams?"

"Yes, I did, but that is not important. That you are here is, how long can you stay..."

"Not long, my wife. The shuttle is waiting. We must leave immediately." He watched her eyes register disappointment. "I am sorry, but ..."

"No, husband. Do not be. You came that great distance just to ..."

"Gladly, and would have come twice as far..."

A reporter interrupted. "Commander Spock, Lieutenant, a photo please for the news services."

"Yes," Spock said, "but we haven't much time." He stood beside his wife with the photographer's camera aimed directly at then and answered the reporter's questions. After several minutes Spock raised his hand. Without a word the reporter and photographer moved on.

Then T'Vanda and Calen were there and T'Ayrian reached out her hand to her sister as Spock acknowledged them. "Sister, nephew, I thank you for being here with my wife. I only wish I could stay."

Initially T'Vanda seemed at a loss for words and Calen was speechless with awe. "We are pleased to see you," T'Vanda finally managed to say, "...and will now leave you two alone for whatever time you have..."

Spock, still holding onto his wife's hand, shook his head. "I have no time..." As if to confirm his words, his communicator bleeped. "They are ready for me." He shook his head. "This is all I can give you for now. Four more weeks, I am sorely tired of repeating that. But then we shall be together." Taking both of her hands in his he raised them to lips and the physical contact initiated its mental counterpart as together they swayed with the rush of sensation. Confusion ruled as desire fought duty and neither seemed to be able to pull away. Duty must dictate. Neither knew the source of the message, but both understood its importance. In what felt like a mind-rip they separated and Spock forced himself to step back from her. He could say nothing, only his eyes conveying the depth of his feelings. Knowing he could do nothing else, he gave the command to energize.

T'Ayrian stood rooted in place for several minutes after he shimmered from view. Finally her sister's concern reached her. "T'Ayrian, are you all right?"

"Oh, yes, more than all right." She turned to her sister and nephew. "Tell me, did that really happen or am I dreaming?"

"Oh, sister, it happened. I had no idea that your husband has such a flair for the dramatic. I believe we shall be seeing much of the two of you on vidnews."

* * *

After leaving the Academy, T'Ayrian had spent four weeks in intense orientation for her new assignment aboard the USS Enterprise. Then, in order to rendezvous with the ship, she had had to travel almost half way across the galaxy. As was usually the case, none of the times had coincided. After ship changes, with layovers from three to nineteen hours, she had arrived on Fairfax at noon ship time to find it late evening there. Before she could adjust to that, she had been awakened in the middle of the night to beam aboard ship where it was now late morning.

There were other causes that contributed to her condition. She and Spock had been married for over a year now, yet they had seen each other only twice since their marriage, and then for only a few short hours and the second time, only minutes. Since that incident with the engagement ring (T'Ayrian twisted the ring on her third finger) and the resulting argument and reconciliation, Spock's correspondence had grown more frequent and much more personal. He had even gone so far as to express frustration at their not being able to spend time together. Several times they had made plans for a visit only to have them fall through. It seemed that when one could find free time, the other could not. Spock had laid the blame on someone named Murphy.

This morning had been her most hectic since that of her wedding. She had beamed aboard to be met by Captain Kirk. He had smiled as he accepted her orders, welcomed her, reassured her, and left her, all in the space of five minutes, explaining about an appointment with Admiral Mendez via subspace radio. Mr. Scott had then stepped from behind the transporter console, re-introduced himself, and rushed her to the hydro department, on the way repeating a message not unlike the Captain's. It seemed a crisis of some sort awaited in engineering.

The second in charge of hydro, at least, had been in no hurry. Ensign Cook had showed T'Ayrian about the department and introduced all the crew on shift. Though everyone was polite and courteous, T'Ayrian sensed how intently she was being watched. There was no doubt that everyone knew to whom the new lieutenant was related. She and Spock had expected this and had discussed it at length in their tapes. It was her plan to put these people at ease and, she hoped, earn their respect and trust.

Although she had dreaded it, T'Ayrian fared quite well with the Chief Medical Officer. Doctor McCoy seemed pleased to see her and welcomed her so warmly that no one, Vulcan or otherwise, could help but respond. He was so gentle with her during the physical exam that her tension just drained away. When it came to his list of questions, he made light of them or supplied his own amusing answers. T'Ayrian was feeling quite at ease until they were joined by the head nurse. The woman tried to be friendly and pleasant, but the young Vulcan knew that something was wrong. It seemed as though her very presence unsettled the human, and T'Ayrian had no clue as to why. She could understand the apprehension of those in the hydro department; they had to work with the wife of the first officer, but what could be upsetting Ms. Chapel? T'Ayrian was trying to puzzle it out when Doctor McCoy excused her.

It had taken several hours to complete the necessary chores required for transfer, but she was finished, and now the rest of the day was hers. She made her way down the corridor to stand in front of the First Officer's quarters, now to be hers also. Today, she and Spock would begin their life together. It was not the usual beginning for a Vulcan marriage. There was no fever calling her to her bondmate, no place waiting in the desert, no urgent need. This was not the beginning for which she had been trained, and she had no idea of what to expect on the other side of that door. The nervousness was back; her moist palms and renewed tension attested to that. She took a deep breath and touched the doorplate. A soft hum reassured her that it was working as it scanned her. She knew Spock was on duty and would remain so for several more hours. The two had planned matters this way so as to call as little attention to themselves as possible. T'Ayrian planned to use the time to put away her belongings and to rest. She wished to be at her best when her husband arrived.

Having tried several times to picture it in her mind, she was anxious to see her new home. She knew the floor plan of these quarters, but how had Spock personalized his private living space? The size of the quarters was also a consideration. On Vulcan, room was not a problem, and large homes with a good deal of personal space were the rule, and, in fact, necessary for telepaths.

The opening door meant that she had permission to enter. Spock would have already programmed the necessary information into the security locking system.

To T'Ayrian's surprise, her husband was seated at the desk. "Spock, I thought you would still be on duty."

His face was serious as he stood and came toward her. "I am scheduled for this shift, but I requested to be excused early so that I might be here when you arrived." His tone of voice and body language negated any pleasure the words might have brought.

T'Ayrian sensed the tension. "Something is wrong."

"No, not wrong. But there is a matter we must discuss ... before you unpack." Her eyes followed his to her personal locker sitting next to the door.

Her throat went suddenly dry. "You have changed your mind and prefer that we not share quarters after all. You prefer that I take separate..."

"No. I do not prefer that," he stressed, his voice a shade too loudly. "But when you have heard me out, you may wish separate lodging."

"I thought it was decided that we share."

"T'Ayrian, there is information you require before you make a final decision."

"But I had thought the decision made," she repeated as her confusion deepened. "After that night at the Academy ..."

"There are facts you do not have ... and although this does not seem the best way to begin our life together, in the long run... I did hope we would have had time to settle this before you arrived..."

"Spock, I do not understand."

"T'Ayrian, I have searched my mind for several months now, and there is no delicate way to put this. When it became obvious that we would not have time together, I even tried to put the information into a tape, but could not bring myself to do so."

"Spock, are you ill?" She stepped toward him.

"No. No... My digressing only makes matters worse. Let me just state the facts and have done with it." He increased the distance between them by another meter and then began. "I am not fully Vulcan, and in this I cannot deny my human heritage." He paused and took a deep breath. "After what we shared that night when I visited you at the Academy, I do not believe it possible for me to occupy this confined space with you as my bondmate and share that bed..." Both eyed the enclosure. "...and not desire, not be compelled to ... to consummate our marriage ... almost immediately..."

"You are able to function sexually as a human male, then?" The words spilled out of her.

"Yes," he replied, surprised at how easily she had asked that question. "And I do not believe that even Vulcan training and control would serve me in this." His eyes would not meet hers.

"You believe I would consider this a problem?"

"Yes, and it would be better for you to make the decision to move now, rather than later."

"You are referring to ship's gossip. If I were to move in here, then leave at a later time, there would be talk."

"Exactly."

"Suppose I were to tell you that I do not find this a problem, but that I prefer it be this way?"

"You do?" he asked, his astonishment deepening.

"Spock, I knew of your heritage from the portfolio. And when I pressed for an immediate marriage, did I not speak of intimacies?"

"I did not believe you meant physical."

"But I did. I had no idea if actual coitus would be possible, but there are ... other things..."

Spock watched her, not quite believing what he was hearing.

"I have been researching the matter."

"Researching?" he questioned incredulously. "And how does one go about researching such a matter?"

T'Ayrian went to her locker, opened it, and from under a pile of clothes she removed some printed matter. Spock took what she handed to him, leafed through it, then stared at his wife.

"Pornography! T'Ayrian, you have been reading pornography."

"You disapprove?"

"No... I should not presume to censor what another reads, but why this?"

"I do not consider this material pornographic."

"Indeed. How then would you classify it?"

"As eroticism. Lee, a friend I made at the Academy, explained the difference. Pornography is that which degrades or exploits one or all sexes. Eroticism is a mutual sharing, the giving and receiving of pleasure. We spent many hours discussing the subject..."

"You discussed our personal lives with..."

"Of course not. We talked in generalities, and for the most part, I listened."

"T'Ayrian, I had expected you to gain new information at the Academy, but I had thought it would be related to engineering."

"Spock, except for specifics related to starships, there is little they could teach me about hydroponics or engineering. But, *this information*, we have nothing of this sort on Vulcan. Have you ever read any such material?"

"Certainly not."

"Yet you recognized it."

"T'Ayrian, one cannot pass through the Academy without learning of the existence of pornography. I find your interest in it most curious, though."

"I am interested because I believe that while the Vulcan way has much to offer; in sexual matters it is sorely deficient."

"I see. The fever, it..."

"I would explain further," she interrupted.

"Please do." Spock pulled the room's other chair next to the desk and he sat, but she remained standing.

"The fever is a biological fact that must be accepted. It is our attitude with which I find fault. It is the chief contradiction of the Vulcan people. In our prehistory, the savage woman was taken during the fever. She thought little of it and bore her children; the planet flourished. Then intelligence and sensitivity grew, but the fever remained unchanged. As a people we choose to ignore it until the last possible moment, to shroud it in mystery and ritual. The modern Vulcan is torn between the concepts of Surak and the madness. Couples know each other first through the fever and through caring and tenderness only much later. Children are conceived in a time of tension and ferocity. Is it any wonder that our miscarriage rate is the galaxy's highest?"

"You would reverse this process?" Spock asked, agreeing with her thinking.

"Yes. I would know you before the fever. This material shows that there are many ways a couple can share pleasure."

After watching her and hearing the intensity in her words, Spock could only ask, "This seems very important to you. Is there some reason ...?"

T'Ayrian shifted in her chair. "Yes, a most serious reason. Spock, I watched my sister go through the process and knew that I wanted something different for myself. Shortly after my own childhood bonding, I helped her prepare to go to her bondmate. And I saw her when she returned. She said nothing, of course, but the look in her eyes.... Spock, she was changed. I did not understand at the time, but later I came to know what they had been through, and what I might expect. To come together as strangers, experience first intimacies, deal with the fever, perhaps conceive a child, all within such a short time; is it not too much to ask, even for Vulcans?"

"So you have had this in mind all along." Spock was again realizing what an extraordinary person he had married, but he had to add, "This is not the usual way for Vulcans. What led you to believe that I would agree to such a relationship?"

"From studying your work I know that you are not shackled by traditional thinking, you reach out to the new and untried and since our marriage, I have visited with your parents. I know they share a bedroom, and that it contains only one bed."

Silence filled the room as Spock organized his thoughts. "Am I to understand, then, that you wish to share these quarters and to initiate a ... physical relationship?"

"Yes. When could we begin?"

"Ah.... Any ... any time we decide."

T'Ayrian was amazed. She never heard a Vulcan stammer before.

"We can begin by unpacking your belongings." Quickly, Spock went to her trunk and lifted it.

He was carrying it to the desk when T'Ayrian asked, "Spock, what does it mean to be horny?"

The trunk crashed to the floor. T'Ayrian ran to her husband. "Spock, are you injured?"

"No," he said picking up the trunk. "It is just that I was unprepared for your question. Where did you hear that word?"

"Lee kept saying it about me. I have not been able to learn its meaning nor can I find it listed in any dictionary."

"I am not surprised. It is an exceedingly archaic reference. Why did you not ask your friend to explain its meaning?"

"I am not sure. They all assumed that I possessed more knowledge than I actually do. They believed me shy, but knowing in these matters. They did not realize that I am a ..."

"Virgin," he finished for her.

"Yes," she said softly lowering her eyes.

There was silence as they spent the next several minutes concentrating on emptying the trunk. T'Ayrian placed a handful of underclothes in a drawer, and then went to stand next to Spock as he made room in the closet.

"I do not wish to do this now."

"Indeed. What is it that you wish to do?"

Their eyes caught and held as she tried to find the correct words. It was unnecessary. Spock reached out and drew her into his arms. "Is this perhaps what you had in mind, my wife?"

Her reply was lost as his mouth covered hers. It was as she remembered, and she pulled him closer, moving against him. The kiss deepened as his lips parted, searching, then she ventured to explore. He picked her up and moved toward the bed. "Spock," she said while nuzzling his neck, "I have thought much of this moment."

"No more than I, my wife."

T'Ayrian could sense his mixture of joy and relief at knowing that she was neither appalled nor frightened by his dual nature. Happiness reverberated through their shared thoughts as the last obstacle that could have stood between them dissolved. As he placed her on the bed she said, "Spock, I would be ... naked with thee." Her skin flushed even brighter and she lowered her eyes. Spock responded by removing his tunic. Before he had it off, T'Ayrian was touching him.

"I believe you said with, my wife."

"Yes, my husband, I did." Without taking her eyes from him, T'Ayrian came up on her knees and began opening the one-piece pant uniform she preferred. She paused. "Perhaps I shall not please you."

"The odds of that cannot even be computed." He was pulling the pins from her hair, and it fell to her shoulders. She squirmed around to remove her boots, and then was on her knees in front of him again running her fingers through the hair on his chest as he slipped the pantsuit from her shoulders. She stood to allow it to fall to the floor and stepped out of it. With a few swift moves, Spock's remaining clothes were gone, and the bed coverlet thrown back.

T'Ayrian was mesmerized by the sight of him. "I have seen holographs, paintings, even sculpture, but this ... compared to the touch of living flesh, they have no substance, no texture..."

Taking his time, Spock began to inch her smooth sand colored chemise downward. Slowly, deliberately, the fitted garment continued its descent. When it reached her thighs, it slipped to the floor and she slid it aside.

They were on the bed side-by-side, as he lingered to kiss and tease each breast into firm buds. Intrigued, she reached out to touch the counterparts on his chest, and was rewarded with the same reaction. His fingers traced the curve of her waist and over her flat belly. He paused at her navel, leisurely tonguing the area until she moaned softly and she began to quiver. He paused long enough to confirm that the cause was excitement, not fear.

They lay together, bodies entwined as mouth sought mouth, and hands investigated, eager to learn, to know the other. Thoughts blended and overlapped, but the physical dominated. Spock's hand slipped between her legs, providing the courage she needed to do the same to him. The sensation of him growing even harder at her touch brought forth simultaneous moans, but for her it built as he massaged her to orgasm. Raking her hands across his back, she dug her fingernails in as the trembling shook her whole body and her breath came in short gasps. Their enjoined minds told him of the trepidation that accompanied her passion, but it was several minutes before either spoke. "T'Ayrian," Spock asked when he could, "are you all right?"

"Oh, Spock, yes," she said between breaths. "Such a mixture of emotions," she continued when her breathing had evened, "but to experience them, one must abandon control. It is somewhat frightening, but worth the price. Have patience, my husband, I shall learn."

"You need have no fear, my wife." He pulled her close to him.

"Abandon control," she said. "Spock, the fever ... that is what it is for the male. Control stripped away, not given up voluntarily." She sat up in her intensity and looked down at him. "Multiply my experience by a factor of thousands, and that must be what you will have to endure." She curled her body next to his and settled down. "I shall remember, when the time comes, I shall remember."

They lay, bodies and minds entwined, content to savor the wonders they had shared. Soon T'Ayrian's hands were roving again, although she seemed drawn to one particular part of Spock's anatomy. Mentally encouraged by his thoughts, she became even bolder. Guided by her Vulcan training, she let her instincts and newly discovered knowledge lead. Her movements were slow, teasing, enticing him as he had done with her. She could see the tremors on the surface of his skin and sense them through their link. Wanting to savor these new-felt sensations, she tried to prolong, but could not. She straddled him Vulcan fashion, both began moving with their passions as he matched her rhythm. Within their minds it was impossible to tell whose release triggered the other's. They were quiet again, drifting in and out of sleep. One or the other would fall into a light sleep only to be awakened and aroused by the movement or touch of the other. Their lovemaking continued. T'Ayrian lay on her back and he entered her. This position allowed for greater penetration, and her body arched and twisted as she encouraged him to thrust deeper.

Neither Spock nor T'Ayrian slept that night, each too conscious of the other's presence to sink into a level of deep sleep. "Try to rest now," Spock said. "In a few hours we must report for duty and..."

"Oh, husband, do not speak of duty now. I would wish that we had no duty to concern us."

"Would that were the case." He hugged her tightly. "To be free of everything but each other... Humans have a custom called a honeymoon. The newly married couple separates themselves from familiar people and surroundings for a time..."

"We should have had such a honeymoon."

Spock turned her face up to his. "Believe me, my wife, had I but known that we would begin our life in this fashion, we would have had a honeymoon."

"Is it too late?"

"No. I shall speak to Jim. Perhaps some time might be arranged after our trip to Rudantor."

"How pleasant, just we two alone somewhere with no responsibilities." She moved against him as she whispered these words.

Spock held her, watching as she slept and giving her an extra few minutes of rest. He enjoyed the sight of her, tucked against him, her long hair sprayed out across the pillow. He still could not believe that she was his bondmate, and even more incredible that she had gone searching for her ideal, and chosen him. He kissed her lips lightly, and when she woke, said, "It is time we were up. We report for duty in forty-seven minutes."

A sigh escaped her lips, but she rolled over and got out of bed. "Spock, I know we have discussed this in our tapes, but I still feel apprehension about my position aboard this vessel."

"T'Ayrian, there is no cause for these emotions. We are Vulcan and professionals. There are no problems with which we cannot deal."

"You make it sound so simple, but you were not there yesterday. Spock, my presence did not escape notice by any of the crew. Everywhere I went, I was given, as Lee calls it, the once-over."

"It happens to every new crew member, and particularly if they are other than human. Now, if you would shower first...."

"We could shower together; in the books it shows..."

"I think not. Some other time surely, but this morning we shall shower separately." Anticipating her next question, he added, "I will not have us late today."

Her eyes widened, as she understood. Everyone on the ship would be watching them. No, they could not be late today of all days.

T'Ayrian emerged from the shower and Spock entered. She dressed and quickly put up her hair, hoping to have a few minutes to begin putting the cabin in order. But before she could leave the bathroom, Spock rushed out of the shower stall. "T'Ayrian, my tricorder, quickly!" She ran to the work area and began rummaging through drawers and scanning shelves. Finally she found it on the desk under a pile of her underclothes. Grabbing for it, she scattered the clothes.

Back in the bathroom, now filled with the most awful smell, she handed Spock the tricorder. "What is that?" she asked.

"Unknown." Naked and dripping, Spock dialed the tricorder and scanned the room. "Non-toxic, I believe." He handed her the instrument and grabbed a towel. "Continue scanning."

She wiped her eyes and changed the setting. "Correct. Irritating, but not dangerous to breathe." She went to the wardrobe and took out a clean uniform for Spock. While he dressed, she went to find his boots. He was ready in less than two minutes, and they went out the door just as a yellow alert sounded.

"Spock, wait." They turned to see the captain coming up on them. The lift arrived and the three entered. "What the hell is it?" Kirk wanted to know.

"Unknown, Captain. But non-toxic," Spock answered while still scanning.

T'Ayrian noticed the captain staring at Spock, or more precisely at the droplets of water trickling down the back of Spock's neck. "Your hair is wet!" There was genuine shock in Kirk's voice.

"Yes, sir. I discovered the problem while in the shower."

"Oh," Kirk said softly, his eyes catching T'Ayrian's, he winked. "With me it was the coffee. I reached for my wake-up cup and almost gagged."

T'Ayrian continued watching these men who shared the lift with her. They were close because of their work, but more than that, they were friends, and she was glad of that. But that they seemed oblivious to her presence as they discussed this situation did not suit her at all. "Excuse me. Excuse me, sir."

Both men turned to stare at her. "I suggest a Code W1 alert."

"A what?" Kirk asked, looking to Spock.

"Usage stop on water until we know what we are dealing with."

"Right. Good idea." He hit the lift's communicator switch. That completed, he turned to T'Ayrian. "Sorry, Lieutenant. Not the best way to begin your tour of duty. Let's hope it's nothing serious."

The lift door slid open and the three moved towards the Enterprise's water treatment plant. The large room was filled with people frantically checking and re-checking gauges and equipment. T'Ayrian was not quite sure of the proper procedure. Under ordinary circumstances, she would assume duties as Day Chief of this department, but this was a crisis. Fancher, Night Crew Chief, responded to the Captain's questions, and Spock was again scanning with his tricorder. T'Ayrian did her own visual scan of the wall gauges. The pH level was low, indicating an increase in acidity. Working her way along the catwalks next to the inner machinery of the plant, she spotted a blinking red light where she suspected she would. "Captain," she called. "Back here."

He came running, followed by Spock and several technicians, just as T'Ayrian raised one of the three charcoal filters from its place in the treatment trough. It was completely saturated. She lowered it and raised another in the same condition.

"So this is the source of the problem," Kirk said.

"Yes, but not the initial cause," Spock added.

"Any idea what is?" Kirk asked, looking to Spock again.

"Only speculation."

"Well?"

"The odor is suggestive of butyric acid." Nodding heads indicated agreement.

"How did it get into the system?" Kirk wanted to know.

"Unknown at present, but sabotage must be considered."

"Or an accident," T'Ayrian volunteered.

"And more likely," Spock agreed.

Kirk pointed to the filter, then turned to Fancher. "You suggest replacing these?"

"We could, sir."

"To what avail?" T'Ayrian asked. "They will become saturated within the hour."

"You're probably right, Lieutenant." Kirk flipped the switch and the filter lowered, settling back into place. "Let's see if we can sort this out. We don't know what's causing this smell, or if it's toxic in the water, but tricorder readings confirm that we are not breathing anything dangerous." Yet another time he looked to Spock.

"Correct, sir."

"Next step is to find the initial cause..."

As the Captain spoke, T'Ayrian felt a sense of relief. Now they would get out of her way so she and her crew could begin their work. She began making mental plans.

" ... Get to it, people," Kirk continued. "Spock, you're in charge here. I'll be on the bridge."

T'Ayrian stood dumbfounded as she watched Kirk turn and move along the catwalk with the others following. Spock in charge! This was her department. "Excuse me, sir," T'Ayrian asked, her voice cutting through the chatter of the crowd, "but are my qualifications in question?"

Kirk stopped dead in his tracks, and the two behind him almost walked into him. He turned to face her while the others hugged the walls and looked away. Kirk's tone was low. "Are my orders, lieutenant?"

"...No, sir," she replied, knowing too late her mistake.

"Then carry them out." He turned and was gone.

With the Captain gone, the rest followed along the catwalk back to the main gauge room. Spock immediately took charge. He assigned the day people to a thorough inspection of the water treatment plant. The night shift remained on duty to collect and analyze air and water samples from all over the ship. To T'Ayrian he said, "I suggest a gas chromatography test to confirm the identity of the substance."

By 1200 hours they had the confirmation; it was butyric acid and at its present concentration of .08 parts per million, was non-toxic, but they had no idea of the origin. The water treatment plant checked out in perfect working order. The next step was to check and crosscheck all the experiments performed in the ship's labs in the past seventy-two hours. It was possible that two unrelated experiments, the results or wastes of which were emptied into the ship's drains, had combined to create the problem. Also in order was a complete check of the Enterprise's water system, not just the treatment plant. Spock went to the bridge to report to the Captain that the "no usage order" on water could be lifted. But since the odor remained, he did not anticipate that anyone would be rushing to the water fountains or for coffee.

By 1600 hours T'Ayrian and crew had isolated the source of the acid: the hydroponic gardens. She did learn, however, that six months ago, the gardens had been refurbished. They now contained ninety-four plants new to the Enterprise, thirty-six of which had never before been used in a closed hydroponic system. She explained these facts to Mr. Scott.

"...It seems logical that we concentrate in this area."

"Aye, lassie, but before you begin, report this information to the captain. He's waiting."

T'Ayrian had no desire to face Kirk. "Mr. Scott, as head of engineering, I should think you would do that."

The look in his eyes let her know that he was on to her, and how could he not be? News of her first-day-on-the-job encounter with the captain had spread through the ship like wildfire. Looks, and non-looks, from fellow crewmembers told T'Ayrian that.

Mr. Scott shook his head. "Hydroponics is your department, lieutenant, you report."

"I do not have bridge clearance." It was her last chance.

"I'll code it in. The captain's awaitin'." The look in his eyes told her that his sympathies went with her. "It'll be all right, lass, now off with ya'."

Not having felt such sensations of dread since she was a small child, T'Ayrian did as she was told. When the lift door opened, Lieutenant Uhura acknowledged T'Ayrian's presence. As she approached the Captain, she noted that Spock was at his station with his back to her. But he felt her presence and a reassuring sense of calm emanating from him.

Kirk's chair swivelled when he noticed her. "Spock," he called over his shoulder and the First Officer joined them. "Well, what have you got for us, lieutenant?" There was no hint of reproach in his voice.

"The butyric acid is coming from the hydroponic gardens." T'Ayrian watched Spock's eyebrow climb at this news.

"Why so long to isolate?" Kirk wanted to know.

"By the time the problem came to our attention, the acid was already in the entire water system. We had no idea as to its origin. Our first theory was that something had been introduced into the system, either accidentally in the drains or on purpose in some other part of the system."

"Sabotage, you mean," was Kirk's statement.

"Precisely," T'Ayrian said before continuing. "We could find nothing to substantiate this. While doing a check of the entire water system, we discovered stronger concentrations at the hydroponic outflow valve." As she spoke, T'Ayrian continued to watch the captain. Nothing in his manner led her to believe he was upset about this morning's incident. T'Ayrian hoped that was the case, but she knew that he would have to speak to her about it, and she prepared herself to accept whatever action he would take.

"That explains the presence of the acid in the air circulation system," Spock commented.

"Then it is getting worse! I'm not imagining it." Kirk emphasized.

"No, sir. I have just completed another test. Concentration is up by .01 parts per million."

"So now what?" Kirk asked.

T'Ayrian continued as his prompting. "The botanists have already begun a systematic check of all plants, giving particular attention to the new ones that were incorporated into the garden at the last refurbishing. We must conduct a physical examination of each plant and take cultures of the water to check for microorganisms. Our first task is to rule out disease."

"Is there any chance of bypassing the gardens?"

"Not without upsetting the entire system, sir. The balance is very finely set."

Kirk shrugged. "I guess we live with it then. Anything to add, Spock?"

"No, sir, but I request permission to begin work on the project we discussed earlier."

"Project?"

"The distillery."

"Oh, yes, for Bones' medications. Permission granted." He turned his attention back to T'Ayrian. "Carry on, lieutenant."

As the two Vulcans left the bridge together, T'Ayrian was aware that all eyes, except the captain's, were on them.

"They will soon tire of staring, my wife," Spock said when the lift door shut and closed them away from prying eyes. "Some would be friend to you, if you would allow it."

T'Ayrian knew that Spock was talking about Lieutenant Uhura, as he had mentioned her in his tapes. Well, she certainly could use a friend. But she could not think about that while her department was in the middle of a crisis.

"Spock," she said turning the topic back to the business at hand, "I do not understand what you are planning. You cannot distill the acid water and hope..."

"I realize that. I plan to add enough sodium hydroxide to neutralize the acid, then I can..."

"...Distill the water. Yes, that should work."

"I am sorry that your first day should be such," Spock said and T'Ayrian was about to comment when the door opened to admit another crewmember. All three rode in silence to their destinations.

* * *

T'Ayrian looked up to see Spock standing just inside the door of her office. He stayed back until she finished speaking with Ensign Ashmul, then he came to take the vacated chair in front of her desk. She stopped her work to look at him. Not having been together long enough to develop a great deal of personal relationship skills, they seemed to fall back on work and military regulations. "There is nothing further to report, Mr. Spock."

"Lieutenant, it is now 0100. You were to have gone off duty at 1600 hours yesterday."

"I am needed here and am not fatigued. As you well know, I could go on for..."

"I know the excuse, lieutenant. I have used it myself on any number of occasions. It is unacceptable under these circumstances. You are suffering from time lag and have not had proper rest for over a week."

"I am needed here," she protested.

"The night crew can manage. You are off duty, lieutenant."

She turned away from him, not acknowledging his words.

"Lieutenant."

"I heard, sir." She put a slight stress on the word to show her displeasure at being ordered off duty. It served to remind her of the incident with the captain, and not wanting to be the cause of two incidents in so short a time, she acquiesced. "I will give instructions, then leave."

The sight of their cabin further distressed T'Ayrian. She did not know where to begin. Absently she grabbed a damp towel lying in the bathroom doorway and threw it into the chute. She had just finished hanging up one of her uniforms when Spock entered with a tray of food. There wasn't even a clear place on the desk for him to set it down. T'Ayrian made room for the tray. "Have you eaten today?"

She shook her head.

"I suspected as much. You will do so now." Spock uncovered the tray and was setting their places when the intercom sounded. T'Ayrian could sense his unspoken sigh when he said, "Spock here."

"Trouble on Deck Five, Section F, sir."

"On my way. Spock out."

He paused at the door and faced T'Ayrian just as she was about to hang up another garment. She could anticipate his remark.

"Spock, this cabin is a disgrace."

"Yes, it is. And that is exactly the condition I expect to find it in when I return. You are here to eat and rest, not clean."

She eyed him coldly. "Do you speak as senior officer or husband?"

"Whichever you prefer."

The garment slipped from her fingers.

"Eat, then rest." He turned and was gone.

Owing to the water problem, T'Ayrian had no appetite and no desire to shower. But it was impossible for her to go to bed without changing the linen. She studied the bed as she stripped it. It did not seem possible to her that just twenty-four hours ago she and Spock had shared this bed with so much joy and passion. That experience seemed like an ancient memory and Spock, so different. What of our relationship? she wondered, and did he think of her as wife or junior officer? Things had changed so drastically in such a short time. She had been so hopeful about her work and her marriage. Now both seemed so muddled.

The bed finished, T'Ayrian disposed of the uneaten food and stacked the dirty dishes on the tray. The chore reminded her that it was her husband who had brought her food. Would he, she wondered, do that for someone who was just a fellow officer? But still, there was no need for him to order her off duty.

T'Ayrian knew that if she allowed these thoughts to continue, sleep would never claim her. She climbed into bed willing herself to rest, then she would be fresh to get back to work on finding and correcting the Enterprise's water problem. After clearing her mind of all stressful thoughts, T'Ayrian fell asleep.

* * *

Absorbed in work, T'Ayrian started when Mr. Scott appeared before her. "Come on, lassie, it's your first command briefing, and ya canna be late."

Collecting her updated report disks, T'Ayrian followed Mr. Scott to Briefing Room C1. The others were already there, and within a few minutes a not-too-pleased-looking captain came in followed by Doctor McCoy and Mr. Spock.

"I see everyone is here, so we'll begin," Kirk said, still moving toward the table. "Mr. Spock, what kind of a night did we have?"

T'Ayrian watched her husband knowing that something was amiss. The way he handled the tricorder was different, almost awkward.

"Not good, sir. As we suspected, crewmembers have taken to imbibing from their private supplies of alcohol. There were eleven separate incidents between 2000 hours yesterday and 0300 this morning. Two of those were personnel drinking on duty." Spock leaned forward to hand Kirk a cassette. "They are awaiting your personal disposition. The other nine were off-duty incidents, and I have placed those people on report."

"Thank you," Kirk said shaking his head. "Bones, how are things in sick bay?"

"The same as yesterday, Captain. Eye irritations, nausea, some dizziness, and fainting spells from people who aren't eating."

"Issue an order. Everyone eats unless you excuse them," Kirk interrupted, "and how is the still working?"

"No problem in that area."

"That's it, then?"

The doctor nodded.

Kirk turned his attention to the Chief Engineer. "Anything new from below?"

"Latest tests show concentrations up by another .001 parts per million. But there is some good news. We have eliminated the tropical and semi-tropical gardens as the source of the problem. The acid is coming from the moderate climate section."

"You think you'll have an answer soon?" Kirk asked hopefully.

"I would like to believe that, sir. But all the plants have Federation approval, which includes stringent testing. I cannot imagine how something that could do this could have gotten past them."

When the dismal briefing ended, Kirk slowly stood. "People, this afternoon we make orbit around Rudantor, and this evening we will be entertaining their ambassadors aboard this ship. We shall be trying to convince them of the merits of Federation membership. Now, that's not going to be easy to do when this ship stinks to high heaven." He slammed his hand on the table for emphasis.

"Now let's get to work and remedy this situation! Mr. Scott, if we're still in this condition at 1600 hours, change those filters and keep changing them until our guests have departed."

"We may be able to do a little better than that, sir. The lieutenant here," he nodded in T'Ayrian's direction, "suggested that ion exchange cartridges would aid the filters. I think we can jury-rig something."

"Good. Do it. Dismissed." Kirk turned his attention to the Doctor and First Officer. "Bones, Spock." The two men stopped at Kirk's words, and T'Ayrian tried to catch the exchange as she moved slowly toward the exit. "What aren't you telling me?"

Yes, she thought, I too would like the answer to that question. She watched as the three men traded glances, then the doctor spoke.

"One of those incidents Spock so casually mentioned was a physical attack on himself." (T'Ayrian almost missed a step.) "...Ensign Miller attacked Spock with a spanner wrench when he stepped in to break up a fight."

"Attacked? Seriously?" Kirk's voice grew louder.

"It could have been," McCoy said, his voice stern.

"However, it was not," Spock emphasized.

"Is this information in here?" Kirk asked, waving the cassettes.

"Yes, sir."

"I'll get back to you after I've reviewed..." At that point, T'Ayrian could no longer hear what was being said.

By hanging back as she had, T'Ayrian found the corridor clear of people. Gratefully, she stood alone as she waited for the lift. Spock was hurt, and she had not been told. Why, she wondered, and how severe was the injury? T'Ayrian also knew that if she had only solved the water problem, this would not have happened.

"T'Ayrian, I would speak with you."

She looked up at her husband. He had called her by her given name, not my wife or lieutenant. She sensed that he was treading a fine line between professionalism and intimacy. "If you wish."

"The briefing room is empty now."

They went back to the room so recently vacated and Spock closed the door. Then he faced his wife. "This morning's accident was not serious, simply a cut hand." He extended the palm of his right hand to her. Bandi-seal covered the already healing wound. Spock responded to the question in her eyes. "I had no wish to disturb your rest. There was nothing you could have done."

"I awoke to find myself alone... I should have been told."

"Doctor McCoy suggested it. I said no."

She continued to stare at him wondering if this was how their marriage was to be. She asked a question that would give her an answer. "Spock, if the situation had been reversed?"

He thought before answering. "...Yes, I see. If anything had happened to you, no matter how slight... I concede. My decision was incorrect. It will not happen again."

"Good. We must share everything, not just the pleasant. Now tell me again, are you sure that the injury is not serious?" T'Ayrian took his hand and inspected it.

"You need not worry. If it were, the good Doctor would have confined me to sickbay."

* * *

T'Ayrian fitted her face filter into place. It was necessary here in the moderate climate garden due to the higher concentration of acid. This done, she strapped herself into a body harness and hooked it to an anti-grav disk commonly known as a skyhook. Flipping the switch, she slowly rose from the floor. Using the remote control in the harness, she guided herself through the acres of metal girders containing the miles of vertical tubes. The garden was in spring cycle, and several thousand plants from all over the galaxy were in bloom. It was a spectacle she had not seen before coming to the Enterprise. Under other circumstances, she would have taken pleasure in the sight, but her concern lay elsewhere: in the physical damage (albeit minor) that she was encountering in many of the plants. The speed of the water circulating through the growing tubes had already been increased to minimize damage.

She surveyed the area from thirty feet above the ground. All these plants and any one of several thousand combinations could be responsible for the problem. Noting the six or so technicians rising from the floor to begin another inspection, T'Ayrian headed back to solid footing and her office. The next batch of computer results should be ready.

At 1805 T'Ayrian looked up to see Spock coming toward her. She sighed inwardly and remembered her first sight of him in that dress uniform, and then when he had worn it at their wedding. She did so like what the sight of him in that uniform did to her. "Your presence is required at the dinner for the ambassadors," he said without preamble.

So much for romance, she quoted her friend Lee under her breath, then said aloud, "Spock, as a junior officer, I have no place there."

"The Captain always includes his junior officers, and as my wife you will accompany me."

From the look on his face, T'Ayrian was sure that he had not meant his words to sound like an order, but they did. "I prefer to continue with my work."

"I prefer you at my side." This time his tone was much softer.

"You prefer... At our marriage you signified that ours would be a union of equals."

"When there is conflict, we must compromise."

"You consider this a compromise?"

Neither was sure how it had happened, but this conversation had begun all wrong, and neither knew how to salvage the situation. From his point, all Spock wanted was for his wife to be at his side for the evening's festivities; for T'Ayrian, she had no wish to face these guests of the Captain's while her department was working overtime to correct the problem.

"Call it what you will," Spock stated. "You cannot, for efficiency's sake, work all three shifts. Leave now and prepare yourself." Spock conveniently ignored the fact that he had not slept a full night through since this whole water problem began.

Conflict surged through T'Ayrian. On one side was a lifetime of training to be a Vulcan wife and bondmate. T'Ayrian was conditioned to respond to her mate's needs and desires. On the other side was a year of freedom; of being on her own at the Academy, and making decisions, small though they might be, without consulting anyone. She had been free of parents, husband, and Vulcan and had found that it could, at times, have advantages. T'Ayrian stared at Spock, weighing her alternatives. A lifetime of training won out, but resentment filled her. She logged out and followed him out of the lab.

When the cabin door closed behind him, Spock turned. "Was it necessary for you to stay exactly two steps behind me all the way from the lab?"

"I thought that is what you wished."

"You know it is not."

"What, then?"

He went to her and took her hands in his. "T'Ayrian, all my adult life I have been alone, without a partner for such occasions as tonight. Now that I have a wife, it pleases me to have her at my side."

She knew he did not have to say that. He could have cited regulations that required she accompany him. But she felt this was not the usual case. "I understand, but what of my feelings in this matter? If I do not make my own place aboard this vessel soon, I shall never do so. I shall forever ride on your coattails, as they say."

"That is not so. You are doing very well."

"Have you no eyes? I was assigned to this ship as hydro expert, yet the Captain ignores me."

"That is not his intention. During an emergency he reacts on instinct and calls on those he knows. You must learn to understand him and the workings of a ship."

"He does not follow standard procedures."

"No, he does not." Spock's tone softened. "And he never will. This you will have to accept. His record speaks for itself."

"I cannot believe these words are coming from you. Aboard this ship I am a junior officer married to the Executive Officer. I belong nowhere, am accepted by neither group. You of all people should understand my position."

"I do understand. But because of the nature of the water problem, progress is slow. Perhaps an evening's diversion will..."

"So, it is for my benefit that you force this on me."

"We will discuss this no further. I must see to some last-minute arrangements. Prepare thyself. I shall return." With those words he left her.

* * *

It was a very nervous group that assembled in the transporter room to greet the visitors. The honor guard took its place. Word came from the surface and Kirk gave the order to energize and the first six of the ten-member party shimmered into existence and then stood silently as the rest beamed aboard.

Kirk, flanked by Spock and McCoy, stepped forward to greet the party. Introductions completed, the group moved into the hall and began their walk to the Captain's Dining Room. As they walked through the corridor, the Rudantorites began sniffing. It was discreet at first, but then all in the party were doing it. The chief spokeswoman stopped and took a deep breath. Kirk stiffened, the crewmembers were afraid to breathe at all.

"Captain," the woman smiled. "You have enriched your air on our account. How thoughtful. We thank you." All the ambassadors smiled while relief flooded the faces of the Enterprise officers. Being Vulcan, T'Ayrian's reaction was outwardly controlled, escaping only through her expressive eyes. She looked at her husband expecting him to match her relief at this news. She was puzzled by his lack of reaction.

From that point on everyone's mood brightened, and the evening's activities proceeded in a more festive atmosphere.

During the meal the crew and their guests were positioned in staggered seating so that T'Ayrian found herself with strangers on either side. So much for being at her husband's side, she thought. She did find, though, that her interest in cultures outside Vulcan and her travels with her father were a great advantage; conversation flowed easily.

This being T'Ayrian's first meal in this special dining room, she also enjoyed the food; it was either fresh or frozen, not reconstituted, and afforded the opportunity to taste some of the fruits and vegetables grown in the ship's garden. They were delicious. It was true what they said about starships; after the Academy, this was an excellent meal, the first she had really noticed since coming aboard, with one thing and another.

After dinner milling and conversation found T'Ayrian sipping an excellent wine and discussing the merits of desalination versus purification to achieve potable water. When the scientist was called away by the group's leader, T'Ayrian stood alone, uncomfortable and not knowing quite what to do. As a junior officer she did not know where she belonged. Looking around, she saw that Spock was deep in conversation with the captain and several of the guests, and knew it was not her place to intrude.

For something to do, she began making her way to the port for a look at the stars. On her way someone called her name softly. T'Ayrian looked around to see that Lieutenant Uhura was motioning her to join a small group of junior officers. "Do you know everyone, lieutenant?" Uhura asked and then went on to point out the members of the group.

T'Ayrian nodded as she committed these names to the corresponding faces: Lieutenant Sulu, Ensign Hogan, Nurse Chapel, and Lieutenant Azor.

Someone refilled the glasses and conversation began. T'Ayrian joined in and felt at ease with this group, except for Nurse Chapel. The Vulcan had sensed the human's uneasiness in sickbay on the day of her arrival, and had noticed it again when the nurse was part of a group that had sat together during lunch one day. Perhaps, T'Ayrian told herself, this woman just does not like Vulcans.

"Yes, I certainly agree with that," Lieutenant Azor was saying. "I am so pleased to have a choice of uniform. The pant suits and those longer skirts..."

"And these floor length dresses for formal occasions such as tonight are so much more elegant." Uhura smoothed the long skirt of her red dress. Made exactly like the shorter version except for a gored skirt that hung to the floor, it made for an attractive uniform.

"I believe we have one of your countrywomen to thank for these options."

T'Ayrian looked up to find Christine Chapel staring at her, and something in the Vulcan knew that her first assessment of the human had been wrong. Christine seemed to be trying to be as casual as the others, but something from deep inside her made the woman not uneasy, but anxious.

"Yes," T'Ayrian replied as she continued to watch the interaction. "I remember discussing it at the Academy. It is difficult to believe that at one time the only uniform allowed females was the short variety."

"You're telling me!" Lieutenant Azor put in. "Try climbing through a Jeffries Tube in one."

"Oh, I don't know," Sulu drawled, "I kind of liked it when all the females..."

"You would!" Uhura interrupted before he could finish. "But we who had to wear them are all glad that T'Nerva had the pluck to fight the issue all the way to Star Fleet High Command. Now we can wear whatever suits the job."

That statement brought agreement from everyone, including Sulu, who admitted that he had on occasion felt sorry for the women trying to do some physical task wearing those short skirts.

The conversation drifted to the black gown of one of the ambassadors and T'Ayrian thought that Christine was beginning to relax. The Vulcan did not stare, but her eyes and thoughts kept drifting back to the nurse and why she might be so put off. T'Ayrian looked up in time to catch a change in Christine's manner, and followed the nurse's gaze. It was focused very intently on Spock. So, T'Ayrian realized, she was not the problem, this is between Nurse Chapel and Spock. Some instinct told the Vulcan that this had nothing to do with being senior and junior officer, but was to do with matters male and female.

* * *

The hydro department's day crew sat around their briefing room table, lunch remnants and the day's collection of coffee cups strewn amid their printouts. All computer screens showed the same diagram, a new lime filter. Running a pointer along the edge of the schematic on the screen, Engineer Hasselberger increased the thickness of the outer edge of the filter. "Need at least that to do the job," he said, then leaned back in his chair and stretched his stiff body.

"Then the filter will not fit the frame." After stating this fact, T'Ayrian also leaned back in her chair, but she did not copy the engineer's stretching motion.

It was now 1730 and they had been at this, non-stop, since before lunch. Considering they had begun with a blank screen, T'Ayrian felt they had done a good afternoon's work. But she realized that the group's mental state was at the point of diminishing return. She was about to call for a break when a coded alert blasted over the intercom.

"What was that?" T'Ayrian demanded as the others around the table sprang into action as twelve hands flew straightening papers and gathering trash.

"Friggin' First alert," Ensign Jamillo said, then stopped dead as did everyone else. All stared wide-eyed at the wife of the Friggin' First.

"Again?" T'Ayrian asked as she began stacking disposable plates. "That is the third time today."

Knowing that all eyes were on her, she looked away and kept busy. This was as far as she could go, it was all she could give her people. A collective sigh of relief was expelled, and then the crew was again in motion.

When First Officer Spock appeared in the doorway, he found the day crew deep in discussion of a new filter that would be needed when the Enterprise's water problem was solved.

Remembering their planned dinner, T'Ayrian rose. "Carry on," she said as she and Spock left the room.

Their plans had been made earlier that morning because the two were spending so little time together. Not since that first day had they found time to really talk or, for that matter, do anything else. After their long days on duty, each working a shift and a half or more, they had gotten into the habit of falling into bed sometimes without even taking the time to eat. McCoy had begun making growling noises, so Spock had warned his wife. "We had better mend our ways or he will have us both in sickbay, in separate rooms." So this evening had been planned to include a quiet, leisurely dinner followed by some private time.

"You are very quiet this evening," Spock said as they seated themselves and settled their trays.

T'Ayrian looked up as she set her tray next to his. "I have something to say and am trying to find the right words."

His eyes took on sadness. "Is that necessary between us?"

"It should not be, I realize, but..."

Spock watched his wife across the table and left his next words unspoken. They sounded, even in his mind, too much like a lecture, and he did not wish to mar their time together. "Just say what is on your mind."

"Very well. Could you not come to the hydro department -- so often? Could you perhaps call instead?"

So that was it. Spock leaned back in his chair to contemplate her words and to relax now that he knew this was not something more personal. "I see. You would have had," he paused as he recalled the day, "three Friggin' First alerts today. Yes, three in one day is a bit excessive."

He knows, she realized, and then wondered why she was surprised. Of course, he knew. She stared at him as her eyes danced with the smile her mouth fought.

Spock stared back, thinking that this was the most pleasant sight he had seen in several days. Wanting to keep this mood, he continued. "Of course, it is better than a GIC alert, don't you agree?"

GIC equaled "God is coming."

"So you and the Captain know. I assumed that to be the case, yet you do nothing. Why?"

"What would you have us do? This is a usual occurrence in an organization such as Starfleet. Sociologically it serves to maintain the separation between command and the rank and file. And it is important that the separation be maintained." Noticing that he was falling into his lecture mode, Spock stopped talking.

"Yes," T'Ayrian said, "and I fit somewhere in between command and rank and file."

"What I am interested in," Spock asked, trying to turn the conversation back to a lighter mode, "is how you handled the situation."

"I did as you suggested in such situations. I tried to keep a middle line. I made no comment when the alert sounded except to ask its meaning. Spock, you should have seen their faces when the answer was blurted out."

"Let me guess. It was Ensign Jamillo, was it not?"

"Yes, and as soon as the words were out of his mouth, he froze along with everyone else. It was difficult to maintain composure."

As their dinner came to an end, Spock suggested a walk in the sky port.

"Can you guarantee that it will be private?" T'Ayrian asked.

"You know I cannot. Rank has its privileges, but they do not extend to private use of ship's common areas."

"Then I suggest we go where we are allowed privacy."

Spock eyed his wife closely. "Only if what you have in mind has nothing whatsoever to do with cleaning our quarters."

Her eyes were dancing again. "I shall see nothing but you as we make our way to the bathroom."

"Bathroom?"

"Yes. I should like a nice hot shower..."

"The odor of the water will not disturb you?"

"Not tonight."



* * *

T'Ayrian looked up to see Captain Kirk striding into her office. "Captain." She stood and came to attention.

Kirk waved her back to her seat as he asked, "Got some time, lieutenant?" When she nodded in the affirmative, he continued. "I'd like to talk to you." He set one of the two cups he was carrying in front of her. T'Ayrian could tell from the aroma that it contained a Vulcan herb tea.

"Yes, sir. I am awaiting some computer results." She took a sip from her cup as he perched on the edge of her desk. The water used to make this tea was acid free. Rank did have some privileges.

"Captain, this seems to be an appropriate time to offer my apology for my remarks the other morning -- and to state that I am prepared to accept any disciplinary action you feel justified in taking."

Her speech finished, T'Ayrian looked at this man who was friend to her husband and, more important, commander of this vessel. Warm hazel eyes stared back at her as if he too was contemplating this female who was wife of his friend and, more importantly, an officer under his command.

"The action I intend to take, lieutenant, is to forget the incident."

"Sir?"

"Lieutenant, it is my policy," he stressed the word to let her know that he was treating her no differently than he would any aboard this ship, "to disregard whenever possible remarks made during a crisis." His point made, Kirk went on to ask, "Do you think you'll have this water problem licked soon?"

"That is my hope, sir," T'Ayrian said with a sigh.

"Is that frustration I detect in your voice, lieutenant?"

"As a Vulcan, I should claim ignorance of such emotion."

He smiled at her. "I'll keep your secret. Now tell me, after you isolate the culprit, will you be able to remove it from the garden?"

"Yes, sir. With all possible haste."

Kirk's smile broadened. "How will you cleanse the closed system of what's already in it?"

T'Ayrian touched several buttons and the computer screen brightened, displaying the diagram of a filter. "We have designed a new lime filter which we shall install in both the water and air system. Then..."

The intercom sounded. "Captain Kirk, to the bridge." Those words ended their conversation.

* * *

"Lieutenant T'Ayrian."

The Vulcan came immediately awake at the sound of her name. She reached over to flip the respond switch. "Here."

"Report to sick bay immediately."

"On my way." The professional-sounding voice belied the fear that was surging through her. Spock! It had to be. Something had happened to him. She made it to the lift and leaned on the call button, knowing that would not hasten its arrival. Once inside, she seemed to stand rooted to the spot for hours while the lift ascended. When the door opened, it took all her years of training and conditioning to keep her from running the last few steps of the corridor to sick bay. She entered and followed the sound of voices. Relief flooded through her as she identified Spock's voice, then saw him sitting on one of the beds. Surely, she told herself, his injuries cannot be too serious if he is awake and alert.

Spock, McCoy, and Nurse Chapel looked up as she entered. Spock's eyes met hers, wordlessly trying to reassure.

The doctor was leaning over his patient. "What I'd like to know is how you could be the last one on the scene and still manage to get the worst of the explosion?" McCoy glanced up as T'Ayrian moved closer. "Acid burns," he said as he tossed aside what was left of Spock's tunic and continued to work. "Splattered all over hell and gone, second-degree burns, more pain than damage. The uniform protected him fairly well, right thigh took the worst of it."

"How did it happen?" T'Ayrian's voice sounded controlled, even to her, but her eyes were traveling over her husband cataloging the blistered skin on his neck and arms.

"One of the widgets on the still clogged and caused the thing to blow."

"Doctor, that is not..."

"Quiet!" McCoy snapped at Spock's interruption, and then turned to T'Ayrian. "May not be technical, but that's the gist of what happened." He finished his task and motioned for Spock to lie down. "Ten minutes, you two," he said as he pulled up the blanket and aimed his piercing blues at Spock. "Then you put yourself under, or I will." He pulled up a chair next to the bed and motioned for T'Ayrian to sit. Then he handed the tray to the nurse. The two were almost to the door when the Captain hurried into the room.

"Spock?"

"Captain, I am not seriously injured..."

"Bones, is he right?"

"Yeah, Jim. Come on, I'll fill you in."

As they left the room, McCoy dimmed the lights. Illogically, T'Ayrian was grateful. Somehow she felt less vulnerable in the dimness.

Spock's uninjured hand slipped from beneath the blanket and formed the two-fingered ritual gesture. "My wife, attend." It was the first time in their marriage that he had made use of this intimacy and T'Ayrian did not respond immediately.

"Spock, I would not expose you to the fears that are running unchecked in my mind."

"We shall share them and dispel them." His hand remained poised.

"I... Spock..." Physical symptoms joined her mental ones as fear of her thoughts being laid bare surged through her.

"My wife." His voice was gentle.

She placed her fingers against his and their bonding link closed. Further efforts at controlling her feelings failed, and humiliation joined the medley of emotions that spilled from her mind to his. T'Ayrian pulled away, but Spock caught her hand. She wanted to run away but knew that Spock was correct. This must be faced. Hand still within his, T'Ayrian leaned against the bed and tried to accept the inevitable. She sensed his mind sorting and evaluating. There was her fear for his safety, accompanied by an illogical desire to lock him in their cabin where no harm could come to him. He saw her frustration at not being able to create an independent place for herself aboard this ship. There were other, deeper emotions, a respect for his abilities, but something hidden even deeper: jealousy.

"Do not be distressed, my wife."

"How can I not be? I am like a child who has yet to learn the disciplines..." She kept her face turned away from him.

"I think not. T'Ayrian, let us examine these emotions. I sense your fear for my well being. It pleases me to find it so strong. I choose to interpret it as affection, and is that not desirable in any bonding? I should be distressed to find you were indifferent. I would use your own words of a few days ago, reverse the situation."

She could understand that. If she were hurt, she would want him concerned. "But the control. I wanted to run all the way here."

"But you did not."

"No." She sat up to look at him. "I would not disgrace you so."

"Then you have control. It is on the outside we build our barriers, my wife, on the inside we cannot.... Let us look at this jealousy."

"No!" Shame rose up in her and she tried to pull away again. "I am ashamed for you to know."

Spock held her hand tightly in his. "It was not so long ago that you took my thoughts, negative as they were."

"But to be jealous... You have been one step ahead of me throughout this whole situation. You even knew that the Rudantorites would not be adversely affected by the acid, while it never occurred to me to check."

"And if I were not one step ahead of you, then you would be the science officer and I, the lieutenant."

"Spock, I know that your experience alone would put you ahead of me, and I would not wish for a mate who offered no challenge. I spent many hours reading your papers before our bonding. It was your thinking and innovative methods of interpretation that intrigued me. Why now, when I could use that intelligence and experience, am I ... envious of it?"

"If our relationship were simply one of junior and senior officer, I suspect this competition would not exist."

"Spock, your words keep coming back to me. 'We are both professionals and Vulcan. There is no problem with which we cannot deal.' But I have failed."

"T'Ayrian, I stated that we would deal with our problems, not that we would not have any. I believe we are doing just that."

Spock paused. "I am also at fault here. In my own narrow thinking, I saw only one problem, and when that did not materialize..."

T'Ayrian knew what he was thinking. "Spock, I knew of your mixed heritage. Why should you believe I would fault you for it?"

McCoy's head appearing around the door told them that their time was up. The two Vulcans looked at one another, and their eyes expressed what could not be put into words before others. With a squeeze of her hand, Spock let her go.

As she left sickbay, T'Ayrian looked up in response to hearing her name called softly. "Yes, Doctor."

"Got a few minutes for a chat?" He motioned her into his office and toward one of the lounge chairs.

When he did not immediately speak, T'Ayrian became alarmed. "Doctor McCoy, is there perhaps something you did not tell me about my husband?"

"No. I told you all there was to know. He is not seriously injured." McCoy paused, and then went to retrieve a bottle and two glasses from a lower desk drawer. He talked as he poured a half-inch of the rich golden liquid in each glass. "I wanted to tell you that I think you are very good for our resident Vulcan. Is that being too personal?"

"No, Doctor, I do not think so. And if you are saying that you approve of our marriage, then I am pleased and flattered." T'Ayrian accepted the offered drink and touched the liquid to her tongue. Her actions brought a broad smile to the Doctor's face. "Have I done something wrong?"

"No. In fact, you've done something right. Spock would have given me a lecture about plying him with alcohol."

"I enjoy new experiences, and I know Spock does. Perhaps he feels the need to always have to challenge you and your actions, as you do his."

"Touché. Now I know that we're going to get along." McCoy toasted her with his drink. "I just want you to know that I am aware of the fine line you have to walk aboard this ship. You're kind of stuck in a no-man's land between the ranks. If you ever need to talk or... Well, you know where to find me."

"Thank you, Doctor McCoy. I shall remember." T'Ayrian took another sip of her drink as they sat in silence for a few seconds, as if contemplating what should come next.

Both began to speak at once, and things sorted themselves out with McCoy saying, "Can I give you something to help you sleep, or am I insulting the Vulcan way?"

"I take no offense, but there is no need for medication. I will sleep. I believe this," she raised her glass, "whatever it is, will accomplish the task."

* * *

They stood staring, all of them. The chemists, botanists, engineers, and top command were surrounding the tank and staring at the odorous offender. "How could something so innocent looking -- I mean, just look at those delicate red-orange blossoms. How could that be the cause of so much trouble?" asked Engineer Hennings.

All eyes turned to T'Ayrian. "That," she pointed to the culprit, "is commonly known as a Klemmer. The mature fruit, I am told, is excellent eating..."

"Slice it, sauté it in butter with mushrooms..." a young woman from chemistry interrupted, "...and you'll never want beefsteak again. Excellent!" She kissed her fingertips with a dramatic flair.

When everyone had stopped salivating, T'Ayrian continued. "During its flowering stage, it emits acetyl butyrate to repel a native parasite. Now as everyone knows, aboard the Enterprise, we allow no parasites." A series of titters and suppressed laughter went around the room. "...To complicate matters, three plants new to the garden; Lessa, a Terratwo tomato; Drayab, a Vulcan citrus; and Makinz, Rigellian cabbage, have evolved the ability to metabolize such esters, unfortunately releasing butyric acid as a by-product. Had that not been the case, the steady-state concentration of acetyl butyrate would have remained insignificant. The Klemmer itself would have inhibited further production when concentrations reached .0006 parts per million."

The gauge room was crowded with anxious crewmembers. The first run-through of the water system since the Klemmer plant had been removed and the lime filters installed was about to be completed. The room grew silent as the digital readouts began jumping numbers and then settled in the normal range. Cheers and applause erupted. "Hurray!" "Thank God!" "Let's eat!" "Where's the coffee!" "Hell with coffee, I want a shower!" But most significant was, "It's over!"

* * *

Kirk and McCoy carefully guided the cart out of the lift and down the corridor. They stopped in front of the first officer's quarters and looked around furtively.

"Let's check this one more time before we go in," McCoy said.

"Bones," Kirk answered impatiently, "we've got everything: supper for two, Vulcan wine, fresh flowers, and a candle. Now come on before they get off the lift and see us."

"All right." Using his medical override, McCoy opened the door and Kirk pushed the cart. Both stopped dead in their tracks as they surveyed the condition of the cabin. With only the light from the corridor to aid them, they could plainly see the mess. Dirty dishes covered the desk except for one corner where a trunk sat at a precarious angle with clothes hanging out of it. More clothes were strewn on the chair and floor. A glance at the bathroom revealed still more clothes and towels on the floor.

"My God! What happened in here?" Kirk exclaimed.

"Looks like a tornado went through," McCoy echoed the captain's astonished tone. "This must be against some regulation."

"Bones, you don't suppose they had a fight -- and threw things... No! Not Spock!"

McCoy reached down, and with thumb and index finger picked up a female's undergarment. "I don't think it was a fight," he said waving it under Kirk's nose.

"Lord! When did they find the time? I mean..."

"I don't know, but they did. Resourceful, these Vulcans. Not let's get out of here before we get caught."

"Jesus, yes! How would we ever explain?"

"Us explain! How about Spock? It's his cabin that looks like a whore house after a raid."

"Here, get the cart, Bones." Kirk pulled, but a wheel was stuck on a boot.

"Leave it, come on." McCoy started out the door.

"No!" Jim hissed, and the Doctor came back to help.

Kirk pulled on one end of the cart, McCoy the other, each in opposite directions.

"Come on, Bones, we have to get it out or they'll know we've been here."

"Yeah, but we can't take it back. We'll get caught."

"Outside. We'll leave it outside the door."

"Good idea. Let's go."

The cart rattled through the opening and the two sighed in relief as the door swished closed.

In the bedroom alcove two Vulcans huddled together beneath the bed covers, one thought swimming from mind to mind: Embarrassment is illogical. Embarrassment is illogical...

* * *

A long time later, when they felt it was safe, the two lovers/culprits climbed out of bed and searched for robes. Then they sneaked to the door, opened it just wide enough, and quickly pulled the cart inside. After staring at the mess on the only flat surface the cabin had to offer, Spock moved the trunk to the floor, then cleared the desk with one wide sweep of his arm while T'Ayrian stared wide-eyed, then joined in the mood by kicking a boot into the corner. Spock set the table while T'Ayrian smelled the flowers. Spock lit the candle and set the room lights on low. Holding the desk chair for his wife, Spock then began looking for the other chair. He found it on its side. Shrugging, he righted it, and T'Ayrian suppressed a giggle, but not for long.

Before he sat down, Spock informed his wife, corkscrew in hand, that he would now demonstrate the James T. Kirk method of wine bottle opening. The cork gave way with a deep belch, and the wine was poured with a flourish. T'Ayrian giggled out loud. They lingered over their dinner, talked, and toasted everything from The Constructs of Surak, to Star Fleet Regulations, to their friends, and finally to each other.

With the last drop of wine wrung from the bottle, Spock went to a drawer and removed a small package. Going back to his wife, he pulled her to her feet; they stood facing each other and looking at the box in Spock's hand.

"You are teasing me, husband."

Opening the box, he took out a ring that matched the one T'Ayrian wore on the third finger of her left hand.

"Oh, Spock, do you mean for me to have it now, not to wait until..."

"It is called a wedding ring, and I do not believe we will ever be more married than we are at this time, so..." He slipped the engagement ring off her finger, slid on the wedding band, and then replaced the other. The two stared at the rings, then each other.

"Should we perhaps repeat our vows, or something?" she asked.

"I have a better idea." Spock stepped backwards, drawing her to the bed.

The next day they cleaned, and organized, and put away; and thus began their married life aboard the Enterprise.

* * *

T'Ayrian, tray in hand, made her way through the crowded cafeteria. She acknowledged Uhura's wave with a nod and headed in the lieutenant's direction. A vacant chair between Uhura and Chekov was pushed back for her. As she set down her tray, T'Ayrian listened to the conversation and noted that the topic of discussion was the high level ambassadorial meeting that was taking place on the planet the Enterprise now orbited.

"I, for one," Uhura said, "am glad they are holding that dinner on the surface, with only top brass invited. Those dinners can be so boring."

T'Ayrian silently agreed. Since leaving Rudantor, the Enterprise had made such visits to three more planets, and twice she had accompanied Spock to dinners. The one on Elbor, at least, was interesting because she was given a peek at that planet, but the other was a very tiresome evening indeed. Even Spock, as he dressed for this evening's event, had not been anticipating it. Aside from not being with her husband, T'Ayrian preferred the company here to that fancy dinner. Although she did not join in the teasing, joking, and laughter, she enjoyed the lively atmosphere of these gatherings. It was so different from anything she had experienced on Vulcan, and even though she did not understand why, she was attracted to this group. She ignored her surprise when a plate containing a piece of pie slid onto her tray. "Much too rich for me," she said, playing along with the crowd, and passing the dish on to the next tray. Secretly, it pleased her to be included in this type of activity. She took it to mean acceptance into the group.

The conversation had turned to a discussion on the merits of the movie that was scheduled for that evening in the recreation room. "Love and romance," Chekov was saying, "I'd rather play handball." Everyone laughed and Uhura challenged Chekov to a match. Within seconds, it was accepted and bets were being placed. Then someone turned the conversation back to romance by swooning and commenting that she had to find her romance at the movies because there sure wasn't any to be had aboard the Enterprise. The hoots, jeers, and laughter that went around the table took several minutes to die down.

"I disagree emphatically," someone was saying, "There's all kinds of juicy romantic intrigues on this ship."

Everyone went silent and T'Ayrian looked up to see all eyes focused intently on her. She located the speaker: Ensign Nyrog. T'Ayrian had been warned about this person; Spock considered her a troublemaker with xenophobic leanings. Since the ensign was looking straight at her, T'Ayrian knew that some piece of gossip was about to be imparted. So far her assignment as a junior officer and wife of a senior officer had elicited no face-to-face confrontations. They consisted only of abrupt silences as she entered a room or titters behind her back. As T'Ayrian faced Ensign Nyrog across the table, she knew that was about to end. The ensign was going to bait her, and T'Ayrian only hoped she could muster the wherewithal to handle this in a Vulcan manner. She knew what was needed here. It was a skill she did not possess, but she had seen it used by an expert: Ambassador Sarek. The idea was, by verbal exchange, to reduce the status of your adversary while increasing your own in the eyes of your audience. T'Ayrian wished to do that now for two reasons. One was the un-Vulcan satisfaction it would bring, but more important, she wanted this to be the first, and the last incident of this sort. To accomplish that, she knew she must succeed on her first attempt.

"What would you say," the ensign drawled, an unflattering smirk twisting her face, "if you knew that someone on this very ship was hopelessly in love with your husband?"

T'Ayrian leaned back in her chair and studied the woman. So that's what she was about. Well aware that Christine was seated next to Uhura, T'Ayrian felt no urge to cast a betraying glance at the nurse. She took the time to form the sentences in her mind, and repeated it to herself getting the emphasis correct. Composedly she said, "I would compliment their good taste; then, I would have the good manners never to broach the subject again." That said, T'Ayrian turned to Chekov and asked, "How does one go about placing a bet? "Honor," she stressed the word, "must be satisfied and demands that I wager on the female side."

The chatter of more challenges and wagers followed sighs of relief. T'Ayrian felt the hand on her lap being squeezed. She looked up to find the lieutenant grinning widely. "Perfect," Uhura mouthed, "just perfect."

"Attention!" The intercom cut through the revelry and the dining room went quiet. "Mr. Chekov, Lt. Uhura, to the bridge immediately. Security Crew One, to the transporter room, Nurse

Chapel to sick bay now, people." Then chairs shuffled and everyone scrambled as a red alert sounded. Essential people made for their posts, non-essential for out-of-the-way, secure positions.

T'Ayrian, being non-essential in this situation, and off-duty, waited until the room cleared, then made her way to her quarters. No one spoke as they passed in the corridors and went to their respective assignments, but T'Ayrian knew that all were thinking the same thing. Something had gone wrong on the surface. There was no other explanation. Spock was down there, and something had gone wrong. T'Ayrian's hand was shaking as she touched the doorplate.

Though it was against orders, T'Ayrian tuned into communications using Spock's access and listened. Her suspicions were confirmed as she listened to the jumble of orders and information going back and forth between the surface, bridge, and transporter room. She paced and listened for only one thing. The bonding they shared remained undisturbed. According to all she had been taught, that was a sure sign that her mate had come to no harm. But, as much as she wanted to, T'Ayrian could not let herself believe it. Then she heard Spock's voice giving an order to energize. Tears filled her eyes, and the icy hand released its hold on her heart. He was alive. Nothing else mattered, because he was alive. She shut off the intercom and fell onto the bed in an attempt to gain control of herself.

Composed somewhat, T'Ayrian busied herself making tea, taking water from the dispenser she used her own Vulcan pot and tea. She was not at all sure that Spock would be fit, or even want, to drink it when he did arrive, but the chore gave her occupy her thoughts for a time. Again T'Ayrian paced, tried to read, listened to the intercom, and paced again. The tea over-steeped to the point of bitterness and had to be discarded.

An eternity later the cabin door slid open; Spock entered, then leaned back against the closed door. T'Ayrian went to him. "Spock," she said, taking his hand and leading him to the bed. "Sit here." When he did, she helped him out of his tunic and removed his boots. He lay back on the bed and she sat next to him. "Was it very bad?" she asked, wondering if she really wanted to know. Her feelings of relief at seeing her husband safe drained all her nervous energy.

When Spock did not respond immediately, T'Ayrian lay next to him and waited quietly. "We lost two security officers," he said in a detached voice. "Lieutenants Magio and Hartwich. They died saving their commanding officers."

T'Ayrian wanted to say something, but could think of nothing that would not sound stupid or patronizing. All she could do was put her arm around her husband's chest and hold on, secretly grateful to those officers for their sacrifice. Not knowing what else to do, T'Ayrian led her husband to a hot shower. She stripped off her clothes and joined him. Not wanting to push conversation he was not ready for, she just held him while the hot water poured over them both. That the physical contact brought no mental counterpart did not surprise T'Ayrian, and she counseled herself not to consider this a rebuff. Surely, she thought, there will be times when I shall desire this same consideration. Using thick, oversized towels, T'Ayrian dried and massaged Spock's back and neck, trying to get the knotted muscles to relax. Leaving him stretched out on the bed, the tension lines no longer so deeply etched in his face, she remade the tea and each drank a cup.

Spock said, his voice still as distant, "There will be a service tomorrow. It will be your first, and you should know that humans mourn their dead differently than we Vulcans."

"Should I attend?"

"Yes, all the crew should pay respects. That is the custom."

"Then I shall go, of course... Will you tell me what happened?" She had not planned to ask that of him, but found she could not contain the question. "No," she immediately said, "I shall not ask..."

His fingers went to her lips to quiet her. "I know what you must have been thinking this whole evening. I am surprised there isn't a path worn in the carpet."

"I was so afraid for you. Such a contrast..." T'Ayrian shook her head. "Before you left we talked of the uninteresting evening you would have, and then... I did not believe life in Starfleet would be such."

"Are you having second thoughts about joining?"

"No. I would not be parted from you, not ever again." She held him tight. "Now that I have been with you, I could not be alone."

"In that we agree, my wife. But there are no guarantees, and the deaths of those two young officers can attest to that fact."

"Spock, were any of the natives killed?"

"No, stunned only. The Captain would never allow more. Sadly, it may work to our advantage, but it will not help Magio and Hartwich."

"I do not understand."

"The Pietrons attacked out of fear and, I am sure, thought their fallen people dead. When those people recover, the leaders will have to rethink their position. That is why we remain in orbit. The captain will contact them again and see if anything can be salvaged from this incident."

"And their deaths might not be in vain." T'Ayrian knew that she would have found no comfort in that thought if Spock had been killed.

T'Ayrian had thought long on this matter as she remembered her academy training for just such incidents as tonight. She knew that remote as the chances were, she might find herself in a position of having to use a weapon. It would be self-defense, and she knew she would be able to defend herself and fellow officers if called upon for such action. Secretly, she hoped it would never happen.

As these memories continued in her mind, T'Ayrian unconsciously found herself with the thought. Spock, have you ever killed? Through their meld she instantly felt his remembered pain and horror at the act. Jim's name rang through their minds as Spock jerked away and fled. Shocked at the depth of his feeling for that incident, T'Ayrian saw it all. Now she understood why Spock's mood had been so dark at their first meeting. This explained his deep feeling of self-loathing and why he considered himself an unfit mate for anyone, unfit to even live. Before he had known that Jim had, in fact, survived the challenge, Spock had been prepared to surrender to Starfleet, and then to end his life. Knowing how inadequate her words of apology would sound, even ones as deeply felt as hers, T'Ayrian could not bring herself to speak.

Feeling his weight on the bed, T'Ayrian looked up. "I cannot begin to find words..."

"Do not try," he said, folding her in his arms. "I know that it was not your intention to remind me of that time. Let us have done with this conversation except to say that living with what I did that day is the most difficult experience I must endure."

* * *

T'Ayrian arrived at their shared quarters to find her husband lighting a candle on the desk which now resembled a dining table. Taking a closer look, she noticed the wine and that the table was set for an intimate meal. "We have something to celebrate?" she asked.

"Indeed we do, my wife."

Her eyes sparkled at the news. "Are we to have our honeymoon on Varon III as you once mentioned?"

A small sigh escaped his lips. "No, unfortunately I have not been able to arrange that yet, but we will have five days on Vulcan to visit family."

"Then the Enterprise tour for the Vulcan High Council has been approved?" T'Ayrian asked in surprise.

"Yes, the High Council seems to have taken a renewed interest in Starfleet. I think your joining has something to do with this. As you know from our family messages, those newsvids of your commissioning did reach Vulcan."

"Spock, I believe it is because we are the first bonded couple to serve together."

"You are probably correct, and we will have to be present for the tour and reception. But when that is behind us we will have our private time, and we will begin our celebration tonight." He pulled out a chair for her and when she was seated he poured the wine.

* * *

Spock arranged for T'Ayrian to spend the day with her parents and then return to the ship for the tour and reception planned for the Vulcan High Council. She was pleased to have this day with her family. Of late the correspondence from her parents had seemed distant and impersonal. T'Ayrian found herself wondering if there was a problem they were not discussing with her. She had asked, but their replies stated that everything, even her grandmother's health, was well.

She arrived home to find her parents waiting and her suspicions were immediately confirmed. There was something wrong; it was in the air and she read it in their faces. "What has happened? Someone is ill..."

"No, we are all well. And you, daughter, you are well also?" Her father's voice was controlled, but he could not seem to disguise his concern. She had not been a dutiful daughter these past years and had been the cause of much worry to them. They had pushed for a bonding shortly after her bondmate's death, but she had adamantly refused saying she would never marry. Upon the advice of a healer they had not broached the subject for over a full turning, but found they fared no better with the subject at that time. T'Ayrian had stated her intention to take the Kolinahr and join the order of celibates and never take a bondmate.

"I am well, more then well..." Sensing his anxiety, she asked, "Is this distress I detect for my welfare?"

"Yes, daughter," Sigear admitted. "We have much apprehension about your life with Spock. We want you to know that you have our full support to dissolve this relationship. We will stand behind you through the divorce."

T'Ayrian could only stare wide-eyed at her parents. "Why," she asked in total confusion, "would you believe I would desire such a thing?"

"This relationship appears -- unnatural. You had been forced to relinquish your sense of self. You have no privacy, no personal space."

"Father, did I not ask for a marriage with Spock, not just a bonding? Did you and my mother not agree?"

"No, T'Ayrian," her mother interjected, "not agree, we accepted your choice, bowed to your will and now we see it was a mistake." At the age of twenty-five she had the right to make her own choice and was determined to have her way. "You knew that your father and I were less than pleased with your choice of bondmate and now we are witnessing our worst fears realized."

"In what way, what is it you think is happening?" she asked.

"The relationship is abnormal. He deprives you of--"

"Father, Spock deprives me of nothing. You saw us married; did you not notice it was a joining of equals?"

The three Vulcans continued to stare at on another. "Everything is fine," T'Ayrian stressed, "just tell me what troubles you both so and I shall allay your fears."

"He forces you to share living space." Sigear's voice rose in what T'Ayrian could only interpret as anger. "After your marriage, when you were here on Vulcan he never once came to see you, even when you took a separate dwelling he did not visit. Then you were forced to leave your home world and join him, and now he deprives you of any solitude--"

"Father, he does no such thing. I was given free choice in living arrangements and it is my wish to share with my husband."

"Your personal messages," her mother put in, "to us and ours to you, he reads them and sometimes alters the content. I have checked with T'Vanda and she had noticed it also."

"Why would you believe such?" T'Ayrian knew that her parents had not fully accepted her choice of Spock as bondmate and husband, but to offer their support in a divorce was evidence of just how strong their distrust went.

Her parents exchanged glances. "Some messages are not delivered to us as written," T'Selma said. "Sections are obliterated. Our messages to you are sometimes rejected and returned in part or in their entirety."

"Oh," T'Ayrian exclaimed, shaking her head. "Is that it? I should have realized. Spock and I share a message address. I shall request a separate--"

"He will allow this?"

"Oh, Mother, of course. This was not something forced on me. Our family had his address and I never bothered to establish one of my own. I did not think--" She waived her hand slightly. "I now see the necessity. You much realize," she said in response to their looks of confusion, "that Spock is second in command on a Federation Battleship. Much of the information he sends and received is classified. If any of our messages are altered, it is Starfleet's doing, not Spock's." Seeing that they were not convinced, she continued. "He is the most kind and caring--"

"You do share living quarters." This from her father.

"Yes, we do, and I would have it no other way." As she watched her parents she could not help but know that their distress was genuine. Knowing that this subject was not generally discussed she did not quite know how to phrase it, but she was determined to make them see that there were no problems between her and her husband. She moved to stand directly in front of her parents. "Mother, Father, Spock and I are married -- in the fullest sense." She held out her left hand to show them the rings she wore. "While at the Academy Spock visited me and presented me with this." Her parents stared at the rings. "This one," using her thumb, she moved the engagement ring forward slightly. "This Humans call a betrothal ring. It belonged to Amanda's mother. It is a family heirloom given to me. And this one--" She twisted the other ring, "--is a wedding band usually given during Human wedding ceremonies."

T'Selma drew herself up and her voice was sharp. "By wearing it you are saying that the marriage has been consummated."

"Yes, Mother, I am."

"With no Pon Farr?" he father asked in disbelief. "Why--"

"Because it was my wish."

"Daughter, how were you to know such a thing was even possible?"

T'Ayrian lowered her head in difference to her father, to collect her thoughts and to choose her words carefully. "I did not at first, I only suspected it might be possible after spending time with Spock's parents."

"Amanda spoke to you of such matters?" T'Selma asked, scandalized.

"No, Mother, of course she did not. It is just that she and Sarek share a kind of relationship I wish to have with my husband. They--"

"You saw something in them you do not find in your own home?" her father accused.

T'Ayrian could only lower her eyes again. "I did not mean -- after all these years together I know that you are very content with each other. But I do not wish to have to wait all that time for such contentment."

"What did you find different in their home?" her mother wanted to know.

"Something I have not been aware of in other Vulcan homes. They share sleeping space--" T'Ayrian became frustrated with herself. "I will just say it. They share a bed always."

"And that is important to you?"

"Yes, the closeness and the intimacy." She swallowed deeply as she looked her parents in the eye. "Do you wish me to be less then truthful on this subject?"

She watched as her parents shared a look. When T'Selma nodded Sigear said. "Since we have begun this, we shall have full truth and then perhaps be done with the matter."

"After watching my sister leave for her Pon Farr and seeing her upon her return visits to us, I became very frightened of the whole thing. Not one of you would discuss the subject with me. I came to fear the Pon Farr and did not want to face such a time. Had Whyte lived I might have suggested a wedding before the Pon Farr." The look her parents shared told her how they would have received that news.

When they said nothing T'Ayrian continued. "Mother, T'Vanda had a bruise on her cheek and her eyes, that haunted look," she shook her head. "It was--"

"That was an accident," her mother defended. "Sometimes these things happen -- certainly you do not believe Calek would harm her intentionally? He was inexperienced and--"

"My point exactly. Why do we send our married couples into such a situation with no experience? In no other facet of Vulcan life would we consider such a thing. We train our people for everything in life. We prepare our children very carefully for the Kahs'wans, we do not simply send seven year olds into the desert and tell them to rely on their mental bonding with their parents to lead him home." T'Ayrian sighed heavily, "It frightened me quite badly and plagued my sleep for several turnings." She looked at her parents determined to voice her feeling as distasteful as they might find her words. "And I am so pleased to not have that fear of the fever with Spock. I know how gentle he can be--"

"And you believe," her mother asked, "that that will change his actions during Pon Farr."

"Perhaps not, but I will have those experiences to recall. I will know what our life will be when that time has passed."

Her father sighed heavily and it was a sound T'Ayrian had not heard before. "This living arrangement with Spock is not -- forced on you then?"

"Most definitely not. Spock offered me separate quarters. He left the decision of living space to me. Outside our quarters we are commander and lieutenant, but inside we are husband and wife." T'Ayrian hesitated, taking a deep breath before she continued. "Father, my husband is coming here tonight and it is my intention that we share my room. If you cannot be comfortable with that, we can stay on the ship or go to his parents. I will not have him insulted." She waited for their response.

"Husband," T'Selma said, "we will not force our child from her home."

"No, Wife, we will not. Daughter, if what you say it true, your husband will be welcome."

* * *

After a mid-day meal T'Ayrian received a message from Spock. It seems he had asked for and received permission for T'Ayrian's family to join the Enterprise tour. She quickly contacted her sister and invited them, knowing Calen would be so very pleased.

At the appointed time the family assembled at the coordinates Spock has specified and T'Ayrian was pleased that her entire family had accepted the invitation. After this morning's conversation, she was not sure how they would react to the idea of a visit to the Enterprise, but when asked, her parents did not hesitate to say they would join the rest of the family for a tour. T'Ayrian, dressed in her Starfleet uniform, gave the same instructions Spock had given her to insure an uneventful experience with the transporter. Aboard the Enterprise T'Ayrian presented her family to Ensign Thompson so they might begin their tour.

She then proceeded to her own department. As each small group of counselors came through she recited her prepared speech on the purpose and functions of the Hydro department and answered specific questions. She was not surprised to see Sarek and Amanda as they came through with several other members of the Vulcan High Council. While they kept their conversation to the business of the Hydro department, T'Ayrian did notice the warm look she received as they passed out of her area. "We look forward to seeing you at home tomorrow," Sarek said when the others had passed before him.

"Spock and I also look forward to our visit with you." She accorded her father-in-law a slight nod of her head.

Then her family was there with Calen leading the way. With them she talked freely, disregarding her prepared lecture. She took them back on the catwalks and showed them to new lime filter as she related the incident at Rudantor.

"T'Ayrian here," she said into her communicator.

"Lieutenant, I understand your family is with us?"

"Yes, Captain, they are."

"I should like you to invite them along when you come to the bridge and then to join us at the reception."

"Certainly, Captain. I believe they will be most pleased."

"The bridge," Calen said unable to control himself any longer. "We are going to see the bridge of the Enterprise."

"Yes, we are, shall we go now, or would you like to visit the hydroponic gardens first?" T'Ayrian teased.

"Please, aunt, we must go now."

"Yes, daughter," Sigear said, "We must go now before this boy implodes with excitement."

On the bridge they found another small group of council members talking with the captain and first officer. Still others were being briefed on the various stations contained in command central. Lt. Black was at Spock's station since Spock was busy with the captain. T'Ayrian began with Mr. Chekov since he was free at the moment and the Russian went out of his way to please her family.

"Sit, sit." His heavy accented invitation was to Calen and the young Vulcan was only too eager to take the chair as the various instruments were described. Then Calen was even given the opportunity to work some of the controls and to see the results.

T'Ayrian looked up to see one of the counselors standing next to her. "Well, Lieutenant, I wish you congratulate you on your commission and to ask how you find your life in Starfleet."

"Most interesting, Counselor Lykar. I have had the opportunity to visit four planetary systems and all so very different from our own Vulcan. Each day seems to bring another interesting phenomenon more interesting than--" As she continued speaking with the counselor she noticed that Captain Kirk had come to Chekov's station and enticed Calen away. Now the boy was sitting in the captain's chair and Kirk was bent over talking quietly to the boy as the rest of her family watched from behind the command chair. The pleasure T'Ayrian felt at that moment was almost a pain in her chest.

"The tour goes well, lieutenant?"

"Yes, Commander Spock, it goes very well." Though the words were formal the look they exchanged was not. "I believe it is time we proceeded to the reception." Together they claimed her family.

The reception room was crowded with small groups milling about in conversation. As they had been instructed to do by the captain, Spock and T'Ayrian circulated and made themselves available to answer questions.

"Captain Kirk," The captain turned from his conversation with Sarek and Amanda to face Chief Counselor Lykar. "I find myself confused, perhaps you can clarify something."

"Certainly, Counselor Lykar, be most happy to."

"Commander Spock is First Officer aboard this vessel. Is that the title given to the chief science officer?"

"No, Counselor, Commander Spock holds two positions aboard the Enterprise. As first officer he is my second in command as well as my chief science officer. And I might add," Kirk continued with a side glance at Sarek, "His is the only such duel position in Starfleet."

Counselor Lykar seemed to ponder this information. "Why is this permitted?"

Kirk smiled. "I guess I would have to say because he is Vulcan and, therefore, can handle the obligations of both jobs."

"Spock has your confidence then, and you rely on his advice and counsel?"

"Absolutely, I find it invaluable. I would have to say, Counselor Lykar, that in command decisions, I consider Spock my right hand."

"His advice has led you to change your decisions then?"

"Yes, at times. But I would say that many times the decisions made are a compromise based on both our knowledge and experience, even though the final decision is mine."

"It then follows, does it not, that Commander Spock could at some time be eligible for a command of his own?" Counselor Lykar stated.

"Most definitely, in fact, Spock has turned down the chance to command on more than one occasion."

The counselor raised both eyebrows at this remark. "I would know why?" he demanded.

"Spock." At the word from Kirk, Spock and T'Ayrian looked in their direction, and when Kirk nodded the two came to stand next to Kirk. "Counselor Lykar had a question for you."

"I wish to know why you would turn down the opportunity to command a ship within Starfleet."

"With all due respect, Counselor Lykar, I have no wish to command. I value my duties as science officer. I plan to garner as much information as possible while I serve and then it is my goal to bring that information back to Vulcan. After I retire from Starfleet, I plan to seek a position at our science academy and disseminate what I have learned."

"A noble goal. You are to be commended, Spock, for it serves you and Vulcan well."

"You honor me, counselor."

Counselor Lykar turned to Ambassador Sarek. "And you, Sarek, you are also to be commended for your foresight in advising your son to pursue such a duel career. I remember the council's mood at the time. It was not positive in regard to Starfleet. There were many isolationists within the counsel who were opposed to another Vulcan joining Starfleet."

"You gratify me, counselor, but you should know that--" Sarek paused as he cast a glance at his son. Always the diplomat, Sarek continued, "that his mother and I have always been proud of Spock's accomplishments.

* * *

Calek stood back against the wall watching the conversation around him. They had just returned to the home of his wife's parents, their tour of the Enterprise over, but the talk was still focused on that subject with T'Ayrian and Spock answering the questions being put to them. Interest in Starfleet was at an all time high on Vulcan with reports and historical perspectives flooding the newsvids and informational programs. Seeing his son engrossed in every word his uncle had to say, Calek was sorry that it would soon be time to end this evening and take the boy home. With his excitement running so high, Calek also knew it would require a lengthy meditation before sleep would claim the boy.

In his almost thirteen years of fatherhood, Calek had never seen the boy happier, more full of joy, and probably more importantly, less tense. As parents, he and T'Vanda were deeply distressed that their son sensed the strain between them. Calen absorbed the problem as something of his own making, trying with all the knowledge of his thirteen turnings to bring harmony where none existed. Father and mother, each in their own way reassuring the boy with everything they could muster, but it was not enough. The discord between them was continually reflected back at them every time they looked into their son's eyes.

Today had been different due to T'Ayrian's message; a tour of the Enterprise for the family has been offered. They had heard, of course, on the newsvids of the reception and tour for the High Council. T'Ayrian and Spock, Vulcan's first bonded couple to serve in Starfleet had stimulated a renewed interest in the organization. Calek had relayed the message to his wife and they discussed it, but neither had any thought of refusing. Calen would be overjoyed and the one thing that caused no disagreement between these parents was their son's welfare and when they could manage it, his happiness. Perhaps, Calek thought, it was because his parents have so little. For that reason he had been allowed to absent himself from his studies and travel with his mother to T'Ayrian's commissioning.

On viewing the newsvids Calen had become very excited saying he would now have the tour of the Enterprise Spock had promised at the wedding. Calek remembered the look he and T'Vanda had exchanged on that occasion. They did not expect that Spock would make good on his word, although T'Vanda's account of the first officer's dramatic arrival at his wife's commissioning ceremony had altered their opinion somewhat. But, Calek had reminded his son that this was an official diplomatic visit for the High Council. Spock may not have the authority to honor his word even if he so desired. The disappointment showed in Calen's young and untrained face.

But the invitation had come and the family had accepted. They were not to be part of the official tour, of course, since none were High Council members. Theirs would be a private tour and Spock had arranged it. This went far in Calek's mind to soften his opinion of the hybrid that had married into their family. The look on his son's face at the news tipped Spock's popularity into the positive end of the scale. As a father, Calek only wished that the hero worship he saw in Calen's eyes was for him.

Returning from his studies to find both parents at home and waiting for him had alarmed the boy. Both sensed it immediately, and T'Vanda, as she always did, bowed to the father. But her softened look brought instant relief to Calen as his eyes traveled from one parent to the other.

So Calek had the pleasure of telling his son to prepare for a trip to his maternal grandparents and then to the Enterprise. His eyes had flown back and forth between parents seeking to confirm this news. Then he had stood rooted seeming unable to move lest he break some spell and find it all a dream. "Son, your mother and I are waiting, make ready, unless," he cast a soft look at his wife, "you wish to remain at home." The boy jerked back to reality and actually ran up the stairs to his room, and the parents shared the joy of it.

Calen talked the entire way to his grandparents, regaling them with facts of Starfleet and the Enterprise and Calek had been impressed at the depth of his son's knowledge on the subject.

The tour had been most impressive. Although neither Spock nor T'Ayrian could be with them, Ensign Thompson had proven more then adequate to the task. Then to be invited to the bridge and to watch as Calen basked in the attention of the Russian navigator and then the captain. The parents had vicariously enjoyed their son's happiness. The emotions he and his wife had quietly shared this evening were the most pleasant of their entire married live save the birth of their son. With all his will, Calek wished to extend the pleasant feelings, if only he knew how.

A glance from T'Vanda and Calek escaped his reverie and went to his son. With a nod to the boy, he said. "It is time, son, we must take our leave."

The boy tore his gaze from his uncle and then turned back to express his gratitude for the evening's experience. While Calen was saying his good byes to his grandparents and aunt, Calek took the opportunity to express his own appreciation. "Spock, on my son's behalf, his mother's and mine, we thank you for this evening. I would also request you advise as to how I might calm Calen's excitement so he may sleep this night."

"I shall be forced to leave that to the experience of his parents," Spock replied. "And you may need all your expertise, given his state." The two men, brothers by marriage now, studied one another. "Your son conducted himself admirably, Calek, he served the family well. Should he someday have a cousin," Spock continued, "I would advise my son or daughter to choose Calen as a model for their own behavior."

"You honor us, Spock." Calek said when he could force the words past his throat constricting with pride. Then he bowed slightly in respect and took his leave.

Again Calen talked the entire trip home. He had gained enough new information to keep him going all night. Once home, Calek asked, "Son, will you require help with meditation to allow sleep?"

The boy looked up, his face still glowing with excitement. "Please, Father, allow me to try for myself."

"Very well, one hour. I will check and if you are not asleep your mother or I will aid you."

"I understand. Good night and thank you for allowing me to go. Did you notice--" His chest puffed out, "I was the only non-adult present?"

"We did, son," T'Vanda said.

"My aunt said it was because she and my uncle knew I would behave appropriately." He went off to his room still clutching the miniature model of the Enterprise that Captain Kirk had given him.

Alone now, with their safe routine disrupted by the out of the ordinary events of this evening, these parents were at a loss for words. Calek searched his mind for something to say, but it was his wife who spoke. "Some Le'Ander tea, Calek, to relax before retiring?"

"Yes," he said a shade too hastily; afraid she might take any hesitation as rejection. He watched as she set about making the tea and set each of them a cup. They spoke of the evening's events and for Calek it was a welcome relief from the forced conversations of household and career conversations that were their daily fare.

As the hour passed Calek said, "We should check Calen." T'Vanda did not miss the slight emphasis he placed on the word. She stood as he did and side-by-side they took the steps to the personal chambers. Quietly Calek opened the door and allowed T'Vanda to precede him into the room. They stood watching their son, his face relaxed in the happiness of his last thoughts before sleep claimed him.

They withdrew to stand in the hallway. "I was very proud of our son tonight, Calek," T'Vanda said, "I believe Captain Kirk was impressed with his knowledge of Starfleet and the Enterprise."

Calek agreed then came silence and awkward tension. After a long pause T'Vanda retreated to the familiar. "I shall clean up after the tea before retiring, she said, but did not instantly move.

"I will help," Calek said. It was an offer he had never made before. "If you would like?" he added. Usually she handled household matters and he had always left her to it, but tonight had been so unusual for the couple.

"If you wish, yes." Together they retraced their steps and in a short time the kitchen was in its normally immaculate condition.

Calek, knowing he was postponing their normal nighttime separation, checked the food tank for the family's two pet lems. It was full, as he knew it would be. T'Vanda ran an organized home and never neglected any duty.

Turning off lights they went up the steps and down the hall to their separate rooms. But tonight Calek had a heightened awareness of his wife next to him. He sensed her breathing; the rustle of her dress as she walked beside him and was so profoundly aware of how beautiful she was. They passed Calen's room and continued down the hall and Calek was suddenly aware of his own rapid heartbeat as his arm brushed the sleeve of her dress. He had to do something; he could not simply end this evening with a formal rest well as he had on so many countless occasions. And it was not just him who did not want this evening to end. He could sense a stirring in her. He stopped short of her room, afraid if they got close to it she might disappear within before he could form his words.

"This evening," he finally said, "has been most pleasant..."

"Yes." She looked at him in the dim light of the hall skylight. "The tour and reception were..."

"Very pleasant," he interrupted, "but what we shared," he swallowed, "your company has been most appreciated."

"I too enjoyed it," she said after a short pause.

Calek searched his mind for words to keep this conversation going, "Your afternoon visit with T'Ayrian, it went well?" He grasped the thought as it flashed through his mind. "From what I observed this evening, your parents seemed less apprehensive about that relationship."

"Yes, I believe you are correct. During our visit T'Ayrian told me that they are reassured." The look she gave him was piercing. "And my visit with my sister was ... most interesting."

"Would it be violating a confidence to share it with me?" he asked, genuinely interested.

"No, Calek, in fact," she paused, having trouble voicing what she wanted to say, "My sister desires that I share her thoughts with you."

Calek's mind raced. She was not going to end this evening just yet. And these thoughts T'Ayrian wished shared, what could they be? They seemed to have a profound effect on his wife that accounted for her changed mood. He had sensed in her upon returning home earlier today. "Now, can we speak of this now?"

"Yes, we could go to the sitting room. I should not want to wake Calen."

"Of course," Calek grew daring, "my room is closer. Would you find comfort there?" he asked knowing she never had before. They only occupied that room together during his time. When she saw to the cleaning or to the care of his garments, she did it alone. Once he had almost encountered her there, but had backed away without entering allowing her to finish her chores uninterrupted. She was silent and Calek feared he had spoken wrong with the invitation.

"Your room, yes, the window alcove is a pleasing place."

He moved quickly to open the door, set the lighting low and followed her across the darkened room to the alcove built into the far wall, knowing she had found solace there during the two Pon Farrs they had shared. His need temporarily satiated, she would retreat to that sanctuary until he again required her. He had never joined her there ... until now.

It was a long bench built deep into the room's wall and above the bench the wall was transparent to offer a wide view of their desert garden and beyond to the horizon. She sat with her back against the wall, and then in a very un-Vulcan manner, pulled up her knees onto the bench so he might sit facing her.

She was intent on her study of him and he felt compelled to break the silence. "Your sister and Spock, tonight I sense contentment in their union. Do you agree?"

Still T'Vanda did not speak. She turned away, her eyes no longer meeting his. "Calek, the matters my sister spoke to me of are most -- personal. I will not proceed if you doo not wish--"

"Please, my wife. I would hear what you sister's thoughts--" He almost said *unless you find it too uncomfortable to discuss.* But he stopped himself, given that reprieve she might take it and that he did not want. It was obvious she was having a very difficult time putting words to these thoughts and he wanted so to help her, but he could only sit and wait.

She turned back to face him. "Did you perhaps notice the adornment T'Ayrian wears on her hand?"

"Yes, the ring," Calek said, "a gift from Spock?"

"Yes, it is a human custom -- there are two rings, a betrothal and a wedding ring. The betrothal for the intent of marriage and the wedding is given by the groom to the bride when they are married."

The point she was making confused Calek. "If I am correct, humans marry and immediately -- consummate the relationship. Then they have already experienced a Pon Farr and are married in the flesh."

"Both true and false," she replied. "There has been no Pon Farr, but they are married -- in the flesh."

The marriage consummated with no fever! Rage surged through him and he was on his feet unable to stay seated. "He forced her!" Calek tried to compare that action with the Vulcan he observed on the Enterprise earlier tonight and whom he spoke with about his son. It would not correlate.

"No, Calek." She reached out and placed her hand on his. "Spock did no such thing."

He stared at her hand on his half expecting her to draw back. "I could not fathom it, or draw a parallel with the serenity I observed in them."

"There was no fever, according to my sister it was a mutual sharing."

"This is possible outside of Pon Farr?" Calek asked, his confusion deepening. "Perhaps Spock's human heritage--"

T'Vanda shook her head. "My sister says differently."

"And your sister permits this? To what purpose?" Calek asked as he sat down, unable to grasp a reason.

"More then permits, Calek, she wishes to have intimacies without the mindless need of the fever. She believes it will help when the time comes. Both will have pleasant memories to draw upon." Her hand still rested on his, their minds still locked against one another. "Even if that does not change the events of the fever, T'Ayrian believes the pleasant memories will sustain her through the time. And she will know that when the fever is past they will share pleasurable times again."

"Am I to conclude that you wish for us to do as your sister and her husband?" He tried to keep the astonishment from his tone.

"I thought we might -- but if you do not wish--" She withdrew her hand.

"T'Vanda, I do not know what is possible, but I am most willing to do anything to make that time less painful for you."

"For us both, Calek. I know you suffer from what you must endure and cannot control."

He lowered his eyes, unable to meet the pity in hers. "I never meant to hurt you," he said remembering the discolored print of his hand on her arm and the dark shadow on her cheek. The shame was as real now as it had been then.

"I know that, but tell me, Calek, where is the logic of suppressing the pleasure we are capable of sharing and only serving the need?"

He shook his head. "It is what we are taught; we accept it thinking there is no other alternative."

"My sister did not accept; she searched for more. Where the idea originated I do not know, but--"

"I know," Calek interrupted. "Do you believe I could ever forget the look I saw in her eyes when she looked at your bruised cheek? Her eyes went immediately to me. I could not even bear my disgrace in private."

"It was a mistake to discuss this. I ask forgiveness--" T'Vanda made to rise.

Defeated, Calek moved to let her go. She stood facing him, his despair a physical presence between them. "It is I who must apologize, my wife, to distress you was not my intent."

"I know that, husband. We have no experience in such exchanges as tonight and I seem to have said things all wrong."

"No, the fault is not with you. I am pleased that you shared this with me."

They were apologizing in circles; both sensed the futility of it.

Calek was compelled to make one more attempt to salvage this situation. He could not let them part with things as there were now. "T'Vanda, did your sister perhaps tell you how we might begin?"

Still face-to-face, she stared for several seconds. "I may know a way." She took hold of his hands and brought them to her lips as she had seen Spock do to her sister. She ran her lips over the back of his hand as a tremor of excitement shook them both. Continuing, she drew his hands along her cheek, enjoying the sensations, knowing he did also as their minds began to open to one another. Aware of his fear of disappointing her, she grew bolder in her attempt to reassure. "There is affection between us, husband. I know it, as do you. Let us experience it without need or fear. Let us try this human custom of kissing." She moved closer and her mouth sought his. Inexperienced, they touched lips softly and were rewarded with a rush of excitement. She brushed her lips against his, moved closer to him, and circled her arms around to hold him as he did her.

They stood quietly in this embrace for several minutes able to enjoy the soothing sensations with no need driving him and no fear paralyzing her. And through their bonding he knew she found this as intriguing as he did.

Kissing, bodies pressed closer now their excitement grew, as did their courage. Lips parted and tongues tentatively explored and their reward was increased pleasure. Minds fully open now, in the rush of emotion they caught breaths where they could. He pulled her tightly to him as her hands kneaded his back then found their way under his tunic to bare skin. His sucked in breath almost took hers away as her fingertips trailed across his back and then slid under his waistband. He held her tighter as he broke the kiss to whisper her name as he nuzzled her neck.

Legs grew weak and threatened to fail them. The bed is near, she thought and he led the way. As they stood facing each other she began to undo the closures on his tunic and run her hands over warm skin. A moan of pleasure escaped as she explored and his nipples hardened under her touch.

She turned her back to him and lifted her hair. "Please," she whispered and he began to open the closures of her dress. As he nudged it forward, he bent to kiss first one shoulder, and then the second trailing more kisses across her back and neck. The dress slipped to the floor and he let her go just long enough for her to step out of it. Then they were embracing, bodies pressed together as hands and mouths explored. Coherent thoughts abandon them as sensations ruled.

He leaned back onto the bed attempting to pull her with him. She hesitated and fear gripped him. "Wife?" he questioned, hoping against hope she did not wish to stop. "No, not yet," she whispered, then sat on the bed and began removing her boots as he stepped back to watch. First one tumbled to the floor, then the other. Next were her stockings; his knees turned to liquid as he watched her inch one down her leg and slip it from her foot. She began the second one and he stepped forward to do the task for her, the smoothness of thigh, calf and ankle sparking through him. Only her chemise remained and when she slid the straps from her shoulders, he wasted no time in removing it. She lay back on the bed, naked in the soft glow of the room's ambient lighting. He gazed, unable to move until she held out her arms to him.

His boots and remaining clothing were quickly gone and he was lying next to her as hands were exploring again. So many sensations flooded their shared thoughts and neither cared for the origin. Nothing was forbidden now as they touched each other as they never had before. Her hand skimmed over his belly and lower and after an instant hesitation she touched him where she never had before and he shuddered with sexual energy. He was losing control in an entirely new way, a pleasurable way never before experienced. His hand slid between her legs and she was open to him. Upon encountering moisture, he stopped. "No," she sighed, "do not stop. The moisture will ease the way." He needed no more invitation than that and found the hot, moist passage welcoming him.

Pleasure never before felt at this level, to be so alive with it and no need controlling his mind or driving his body, he could be aware of her needs and possessed the ability to respond to them. For the first time he could give her pleasure and he reveled in the joy of it. And the other side of the equation, he could enjoy the pleasure she was so willing to give him.

* * *

Calek woke with a start as early morning sunlight brightened the room. Calen, he thought as he realized the boy would be up. He eased himself from the bed without disturbing his wife, but had to take an instant to savor this most pleasant sight. Her face was relaxed in sleep, her hair tossed around her head, but the most amazing thing was that she was actually here, in his room, in his bed. And when he recalled what they had shared, and would again; he went weak in the knees.

He forced himself to leave and went to find his son in the kitchen preparing his own breakfast. "Sorry, Calen, it seems that--"

The boy looked up, a mixture of fear and sorrow on his face. "Mother is gone," he said, "I -- I checked her room, she is not there -- Father -- she left us."

"Calen, your mother is here." Calek moved closer to the boy, responding to the look of desolation he displayed. "Son, your mother is in my room, she has not left us--"

At that moment T'Vanda entered the room. That she was wearing one of her husband's dressing gowns was not lost on father or son. "I seemed to have overslept--" On feeling the tension in the room, she paused. "Calek, Calen, what--"

"I thought you had left us," Calen said misery etching his voice and face.

"Oh, Calen, I could never leave you--" She was looking to her husband for an explanation.

"He woke to find no one about; he even went to your room and found it empty--"

"Oh, Calen, I am sorry that you were frightened. But I could never leave here. This is my home and you and your father are the two most important things in my life."

"Son, your mother was with me. There is no problem. You have no reason to be concerned."

Calen looked from one parent to the other wanting to believe what they were saying. "You will not separate as Sulon's parents have?" he asked, his tone hopeful. "His father has taken separate lodging and Sulon can only visit him -- Sulon is most upset, everyone knows -- his schoolwork suffers." He looked into his mother's eyes, wanting more reassurance. "You are always here when I wake, and when you weren't or in your room--"

"No, son, your father and I will not separate." T'Vanda nodded to her husband and they went to their son, each placing a hand on one shoulder. "Sense the peace and contentment between us and know it to be true." T'Vanda was thinking of what she might say to put her son at ease. "In fact, it would not surprise me in the least if you did not find yourself with the duties of an elder brother within the next few years."

This brought a heavy sigh and a relieved look to Calen's face, as the tension drained from his body. "I would be pleased to assume such duties," he said, his voice croaking with emotion he could not suppress.

"But now," Calek put in, "you should have breakfast and make ready for school." Calek stopped and then added, "And you can be sure that when you return you will find us here." Then he set about making breakfast as his wife joined him.

"Calen," T'Vanda added. "I have plans to shop and visit with your aunt this afternoon, so if I am not home when you return, you know that I will be shortly."

The boy nodded as he heaved another sigh of relief and the remaining tension drained from his slight frame.

* * *

With Calen and his parents gone, the atmosphere in the room grew tense as conversation became awkward and finally died a slow death. T'Ayrian approached her husband, then turned to her parents. "It has been a long day, if you will excuse us, I believe we will retire."

Spock was grateful for the escape as he followed her from the room, but once within the privacy of their bedroom he asked, "How did your morning visit go? There seems to be some tension with your parents."

She looked up from her unpacking chore and sighed uncharacteristically. "Yes, they had some concerns." She paused, "Did you know that some of our messages are altered before they reach their destination?"

"Sensitive and classified materials are censored, you know that, and Starfleet always errs on the conservative side. Has it caused a problem?"

She would not meet his eyes. "Yes. My parents were under the impression that this was your doing, that you were controlling me in that and in ... other ways." She stopped fussing with their luggage and went to stand in front of him and pulled his arms around her. "I convinced them that they were mistaken."

She wanted to be held, and he was pleased to give her that comfort, but he had to speak the truth as he saw it. "I do not believe so, my wife. They were against our marriage, and I sense they still are."

"That, husband, will have to be their problem. If they cannot see how content we are, then what more can I say?"

"If it upsets you to hear me say it, I apologize, but I shall be more comfortable when we leave for my parent's home tomorrow."

"As will I, husband. It may take some time for them to accept our marriage and for that, I apologize." She went back to unpacking their nightwear, both knowing they would not spend a comfortable night under this roof.

* * *

Spock woke to find himself alone in the bed. Apparently T'Ayrian was already up, dressed and having breakfast. Wanting to put distance between this place and himself, he showered and dressed and then, taking a deep breath, went to join the family.

He found mother, father and daughter around the table in what appeared to be pleasant conversation. He bid them a good morning as he helped himself to a cup of tea. They responded in kind and he sensed that there was less tension then he had felt the previous night. He took a seat across from his wife and helped himself to a muffin and some cannaberry preserves. "Very good," he said after a taste. "My complements to the cook."

"Thank you, Spock," T'Selma said, presenting a pleasant face to Spock, but then casting a furtive glance at her husband and daughter. "I do enjoy that chore of preparing them and it is satisfying to have it appreciated."

"Mother," T'Ayrian defended, "you know you are an excellent cook and T'Vanda and Calen do enjoys the preserves, but the taste is not pleasing to me."

"You see, Spock," Sigear responded. "I do not find the taste particularly pleasing to my palate either, and there is, of course, a price to pay for that. You might remember that if ever my daughter should attempt to cook, although I should hope she would not attempt such an endeavor aboard the Enterprise. Results could be more disastrous than they were to our kitchen before the remodeling."

"Father, really!" T'Ayrian said in mock astonishment. "You promised never to reveal that to my husband. Besides it was an old cooker."

As the mood lightened considerably, Spock helped himself to another muffin and loaded on the preserves. "I should like to hear more of this disaster," he said determined to add to the banter. "Upon my first visit here, T'Ayrian did serve a meal which she claimed to have prepared."

"I most certainly did prepare it," T'Ayrian stated emphatically. "I can see there is a conspiracy brewing to besmirch my good reputation. Mother, will you take my side and confirm to these two males that I did indeed prepare the meal served on that occasion?"

"Only," T'Selma said, this time casting Spock a covert look, "if you try the preserves."

"Mother!" This from T'Ayrian as Spock did his best not to choke on a mouthful of muffin and preserves.

"We will drop this subject," T'Ayrian said, but her tone was light and her eyes sparkled as her glanced at her husband. "We will discuss the day's plans," she said in an attempt to be serious. "I shall be shopping with my sister this afternoon and plan to be most extravagant."

Spock and Sigear shared a look. "You see, son-in-law, payment is about to come due."

"So it would seem. I am to be put in financial ruin for seeking the truth?"

"Perhaps next time you will be more cautious about insulting your wife," T'Ayrian said. "Now, I shall be spending the morning showing my former co-workers at the Hydro plant my own department aboard the Enterprise. Then I will meet T'Vanda for lunch and an afternoon of rendering my husband creditless. And what are your plans, husband?"

"I shall be coordinating a number of seminars for Science Academy groups for most of the day and then home for the evening meal where you and your purchases will join us. Is that acceptable?" A Federation Starship in orbit was an occasion not to be wasted and the time was filled with meetings, seminars, demonstrations and tours that would keep the crew busy the entire time.

"To a point, yes. About this evening's concert, Spock I know the group is not a favorite of yours, but I should like to attend."

"Ah, son," this from Sigear, "more payment to be extracted. Not only are you to be put in financial ruin, you must also spend the evening listening to most unpleasant sounds."

"Is it a husband's lot to suffer so?" Spock asked and he had only to look at the man to know he was enjoying this situation. The other thing that was not lost on Spock was the fact that he had gone from being "Spock" to "son-in-law" to "son." He could only hope that this was a good sign and they whatever the early morning conversation was about had allayed their fears and objections to the marriage.

"Really, you two! Mother, will you not aid me in this?"

"You haven't tried the preserves," T'Selma said not even looking up as she poured herself another cup of tea.

"Well, I will not continue to stay here and be insulted. Husband," she said in mock harshness as she stood to take her leave, "we will discuss the later."

"My wife," Spock said, "if it is your wish to attend this concert, we shall attend." While his voice had a very self-sacrificing tone, their eye contact told the real story.

"Thank you, husband," she said gracefully accepting her win. "Oh, Spock, you have nothing proper to wear," T'Ayrian said in real dismay. "Certainly your uniform is not appropriate and I cannot bear that black tunic I saw you pack ... perhaps you could shop with me and T'Vanda ..."

"I should rather face a herd of rabid sehlats," was Spock's comment.

"In that we agree, son," Sigear added to the conversation.

"Well then, husband, what do you suggest ... perhaps I could shop for you?"

"That is an excellent idea," Spock quickly said, hoping for such a reprieve. He disliked shopping to the point of hatred. "If I am going into bankruptcy court, I should have something decent to wear, don't you agree?"

"I will see to it then." T'Ayrian started to leave, then stopped to look back a him. "The luggage, Spock, do you suppose you could see that our luggage is transported to your parent's home?"

"And yet more payment," Sigear muttered under his breath.

"It will be my pleasure, my wife, and if there is anything else I can do to be of service, you have only to ask."

"Thank you, husband." She said it ever so sweetly, but her look warned him of retribution later.

Spock hurried to finish his breakfast, not wanting to linger now that T'Ayrian had gone into the bedroom. Alone with her parents, he waited for the tension to settle back in.

"Spock," Sigear said refilling his cup. "There are some matters I should like to discuss with you."

Spock was extremely sorry he had not left the table with his wife, for now he had no choice but to remain for whatever T'Ayrian's parents had to say. "Certainly, sir," he said.

"First I should like to comment on the tour you arranged for us yesterday. We are all most grateful and I do not believe I have ever seen my grandson more excited. And then to have Captain Kirk include us in the official reception was most unexpected and appreciated. As you know, I am not a member of the High Council, but only serve on the Economic Council."

"But it was as T'Ayrian's parents that you were invited. Captain Kirk would never allow a crewmember's family to be excluded."

"Well, I do approve of his policy and again say how much we learned on our tour."

"And I," T'Selma added, "will rest more easily having seen my daughter's new home and work place. And meeting the people she interacts with on a daily basis is important to a mother."

"Also, I might tell you that Counselor Lykar and I did have a discussion and he suggested I consider an appointment to the High Council when an opening presents itself." He turned his gaze to include his wife. "What do you think, T'Selma, Spock, should I consider such an appointment?"

"If you wish husband.ö She again passed that covert look to Spock. "Perhaps I will join my daughters in this afternoon's shopping. The wife of a member of the High Council should be well dressed, don't you agree, Spock?"

"I have never seen you less than well dressed," Spock managed to say.

"Well, I see that you are your father's son," Sigear stated. "Always to diplomat." Then looking at Spock he said, "Perhaps I will not seek such an appointment, I fear it could be very expensive."

"You could always join me in bankruptcy," Spock added.

"On a more serious note, Spock," Sigear said as he refilled his cup yet again. "I believe this is the appropriate time to speak some truths and have any misunderstanding cleared. T'Selma and I were not in favor of this marriage, but our daughter was determined and, as you may have noticed, she usually manages to have things her way. We have been concerned, but no more."

"T'Ayrian is content in her union with you," T'Selma added, "even more then that." She looked to her husband. "She is happy. And that cannot but please her parents."

"I thank you, for stating it," Spock said, "and would have you know that I share that same contentment."

* * *

Commander Spock entered Deck C recreation room, claimed a vacant table and, between acknowledging greetings from fellow crew members, began setting up the chess set. An inner smile warmed him as he surveyed the scene around him.

Things were good, he decided. Then admonished himself. Good! His language teacher would be appalled. Too long among Humans, she would say.

What was the word he was searching for? Not good. Good was surely what he felt, but why? Because his life was now -- complete. Complete! That was it. His life was complete and he did know why; T'Ayrian -- his true bondmate.

Of course, they could be together and still not have the completeness he knew they both felt. It was the whole of their life that made life truly complete. T'Ayrian's parents had come to accept their bonding and marriage and even the fact that T'Ayrian had left Vulcan for a career in Star Fleet.

Their recent visit to Vulcan had brought that welcomed benefit, the acceptance of their union by his bondmate's parents. From the onset he had known that T'Ayrian's parents were against their bonding and marriage and then he had compounded their concerns by his inattention to details. Again a totally inappropriate choice of words, Spock admitted. Inattention to details, indeed! He had been mistrusting and negligent in his actions and had nearly lost everything. He was very fortunate to have T'Ayrian's understanding and forgiveness.

And he should have insisted that his wife maintain a separate message identity. He was the one with experience aboard a starship, not her, and not doing so had further alienated his in-laws. He could well imagine their apprehension at receiving messages containing large portions of obliterated material. At breakfast Spock had taken the opportunity to apologize for his oversight and was pleased to hear that T'Ayrian had explained the situation to them, and that their tour of the Enterprise had furthered their understanding of the conditions that exist aboard a starship of that caliber. T'Selma had added that their tour had not only educated them on the workings of a starship such as Enterprise, but they now understood the need for security. Spock had left their home that morning with the full confidence of his in-laws and enjoyed the pleasure it gave him and T'Ayrian.

And his own parents were accepting of the match -- the homecoming with his own parents had been joyful. Amanda was thrilled with T'Ayrian and even Sarek admitted pleasure in her company. Spock had arrived home alone to a warm welcome, his mother smiling brightly as she insisted he follow her, luggage in hand, to his room. Of course, she had re-decorated; it required no genius to know that. One Vulcan trait she never bothered to learn was to school her private emotions. Her eyes smiled danced with excitement and happiness and Spock was sure his father secretly enjoyed this aspect of his wife. In gratitude, Spock expressed his pleasure at the newly furnished room. Gone was the narrow bed, replaced by a much larger one, luxuriously dressed. New floor coverings, dressers large enough to hold their belongings and a new, more ornate shelf to hold his mineral collection and a portrait of the two on their wedding day. He set down the luggage and took Amanda's hands in his. "Thank you, Mother, I am as pleased as T'Ayrian will be."

Dinner has been a conversational success, as was the viewing of T'Ayrian's many purchases, the only question being where in their small Enterprise quarters where they going to keep the new acquisitions.

That evening T'Vanda and Calek had joined them for the concert, which turned out to be as disappointing as Spock had predicted. But what was pleasant was to notice the difference in T'Ayrian's sister and her mate. This was a couple clearly in sync with one another, a difference from just the previous evening. Something had changed and Spock had a very good indication of who was behind it. Knowing she had planned time with her sister, Spock had thought to caution her about revealing facts of their private lives, but had not done so. At seeing T'Vanda and Calek the evening, he was relieved he had not said anything. If that conversation had led to the contentment these two now appeared to share, a loss of privacy was a small price to pay.

And T'Ayrian was beginning to make a separate place for herself here aboard the Enterprise. That she was now with the choral group practicing for the upcoming concert gave evidence of that. She was beginning to build relationships -- make friends; he could finally say the word, and admit to the feeling...

The sight of Jim Kirk approaching the table put an end to his reminiscing as he quickly finished setting up the chess pieces.

"Well," Jim said rubbing his hands together, "ready for a proper trouncing, Mr. Spock?"

"You seem quite full of yourself, Captain. That should make my job of winning much easier."

At that the two sat down to play chess.

THE END