A Matter of Life and Death by Djinn

Sovar waited patiently as Spock signed the invoices that the Starbase Six quartermaster had transmitted. "This is the last one, sir," he said, handing over the padd.

Spock read it quickly. "If the Starfleet proctors had arrived on time we would not need to arrange for a shuttle to bring Commander Kettering back to Vulcan."

"Yes, sir," Sovar agreed, trying not to react to Spock's only partially concealed annoyance.

"Testing an untried recruit is reasonable, but I see no logic in these recertifications. For an experienced officer, performance and the evaluation of a superior officer should be sufficient."

"I'm sure Lieutenant Commander Kettering will perform admirably." Sovar knew the captain had been helping the chief engineer prepare.

Spock handed him the padd. "And you may tell Commander Farrell that her request for leave has been approved."

"As well as Lieutenant Ritsuko's?" Sovar prompted. It was not like Spock to miss details.

Spock nodded distractedly. "Yes, hers too. They can share Commander Kettering's shuttle to Vulcan."

"Very well, sir." Sovar turned to go.

"We will be taking on a passenger before we leave Starbase Six, Mr. Sovar."

Sovar looked over at Spock quizzically. He had seen nothing in the correspondence about this. "Sir?"

Spock sighed, seemingly irritated at the question, and Sovar wondered again at the slight break in control. The captain usually strove to be more Vulcan than most full Vulcans, especially in front of Sovar. "I'm sorry, sir. I don't mean to pry if it is a private matter."

"It is a private matter." Spock leaned back in his chair. "But there is no reason not to tell you that it is the Priestess T'Clev who will be going back to Vulcan with us. She will need quarters arranged."

It was unusual for a priestess to be so far from home. Only those from the temple of T'Lyar traveled routinely and they had one role... He looked up at Spock, suddenly understanding why his captain had seemed a bit more emotional of late. "Sir, I beg pardon. If there is anything I can do?"

Spock shook his head. "There is no need. We will be on Vulcan before this becomes an issue."

And if not, Sovar silently finished for him, T'Clev will be here already. He could not fault Spock's planning. "I will see to her quarters, Captain."

"Thank you. She will be arriving in a few hours."

"And our next mission?"

"As yet undetermined. We have a few refits scheduled at Vulcan. I've authorized shore leave for the crew."

Sovar raised an eyebrow. "I've heard it said by other species that shore leave on Vulcan is less than desirable."

Spock seemed amused. "It does lack the basic entertainments." He dismissed the thought. "They will have to find some other way to amuse themselves then." His expression darkened. "Some have no problem with that."

Sovar looked down. This was another lapse due to the burning. They would become more frequent. He would ignore them as was the custom.

"You are dismissed, Mr. Sovar."

Sovar left the bridge and returned to his own office on deck eight. He arranged for quarters in the currently unused VIP section, thinking that the priestess might appreciate some privacy. He supposed a life spent in the intimate fires of Pon Farr might cause one to yearn for more isolated space.

A few hours later, he received a hail. "The Priestess T'Clev requests permission to board, Mr. Sovar," the transporter officer relayed.

"I will be there immediately," Sovar replied as he hurried down to the transporter room. He nodded to the lieutenant on duty and the transporter shimmered. The woman that appeared bowed gracefully. Returning the gesture, he said, "I am Mr. Sovar, Captain Spock's assistant. He asked me to meet you." Sovar suddenly wondered if the priestess would take the captain's absence as an insult.

But she seemed unaffected as she stepped off the platform. "Most kind of you to meet me, Mr. Sovar. I am tired from my journey. It would be agreeable to see my quarters."

"Of course, this way."

Once they were in the corridor, he turned to her. "You have traveled far from our home."

"It is the nature of my work." Neither of them sought to elaborate on that point. "You too travel far from Vulcan's sands. Those of us with the need to wander are ever the mystery to our brothers and sisters that prefer to remain staunchly where they are."

"Indeed. I have traveled most of my career. First with Ambassador Sarek and now with his son."

She nodded thoughtfully. "I have heard much of this Spock. What is he like?"

Sovar considered. "He is an impressive diplomat. And an intriguing man. I give him my respect and loyalty with no reservation."

She nodded. "High praise from one who worked with Sarek."

"He is very different than his father," Sovar said. Except for his strange attraction to human women, he mentally amended.

As if reading his mind, T'Clev asked, "He has no one close to him?"

Sovar did not know how to answer so he remained silent.

"Mr. Sovar?"

"He is unbonded. But surely you know that."

"Your answer will help me to prepare, Sovar." She switched to the personal address easily.

"If there is anyone on board in whom the captain has an interest, they are not in a position to help him."

T'Clev did not respond until they reached her quarters. As Sovar palmed the door open, she said in a low voice, "This is a complication. But one I will deal with. Thank you for your candor."

"Of course."

"If I need discreet assistance in this matter, may I call upon you?"

"Yes."

She nodded and let the door close behind her.

--------------------

Realizing she was going to be late for her own staff meeting if she didn't hurry, Christine saved the report she was working on and turned to Kavall to ask, "You ready?"

The science officer nodded. "Whenever you are."

Christine headed for her office, saying, "Let's use the rear lift. It's closer to medical." They waited for the turbolift to arrive, moving back when the doors opened and Sovar and a Vulcan female that Christine had never seen before got out. Christine wondered who the woman was. Judging from the flowing robes she wore, she didn't look like a new member of the crew.

"Commander. Lieutenant," Sovar said as he led the woman off without introductions.

"Who was that?" Kavall asked when the doors closed.

Christine shook her head.

"She was really beautiful."

Christine had thought the same thing. "Sure, if you like the graceful gorgeous look."

Kavall laughed. "Friend of the captain's?"

"I don't know." Her friend's innocent question hung in the air. Who was the stranger?

--------------------------

Spock looked up as Sovar led in the Priestess T'Clev. She was a classic Vulcan beauty--glossy black hair, patrician features, and a lush figure. He felt completely unmoved. A sense of relief flooded him. The Pon Farr could not be that close if he felt no desire for this graceful creature.

Sovar excused himself and left them alone. Spock offered her a beverage but she declined.

"I would like to see the ship."

He nodded. "I thought we might take the midday meal together. Perhaps a tour before we dine?"

"That would be pleasant." Even her voice was lovely.

"I am grateful that our schedules were able to coincide in this manner."

She seemed slightly amused by his avoidance of the true issue. "I make it my business to be sure my schedule is able to accommodate such coincidences."

"Of course." He looked down.

"Does my profession embarrass you?"

He looked up quickly. "On the contrary, you are an honorable practitioner of an ancient art." He could feel a small smile turning up his lips. "It is my condition that embarrasses me."

"It is a fact of Vulcan nature, Captain Spock. Not one to shout from the rooftops, perhaps, but also not one to hide from in shame." She leaned forward and in a confidential whisper said, "I believe it is no longer a secret from outworlders either."

He nodded, appreciating her veiled humor. "My reaction is not logical. But then what Vulcan male is logical at this time?"

"Indeed."

He stood. "Shall we take that tour?"

She rose and followed him out. He took her first to the diplomatic reception areas, then to some of the recreational facilities and the marine area. He did not realize he was avoiding one area until she said, "Your ship has a dual mission, does it not?"

"It does."

"Then show me the medical section. Or is there a reason to avoid it?"

There was something in her voice that made him turn to look at her. Her expression was bland. "Of course not. This way."

He showed T'Clev the wards and laboratory areas. He was leading her to sickbay when the door to the meeting room opened and Christine backed out, still deep in conversation with Moorehouse and Carpenter. Not knowing he was there, she turned and nearly bumped into him. Looking up in embarrassed amusement, she said, "Sorry, Spock. I'm still working on that 'First, do no harm' principle."

T'Clev made a small gesture of appreciation at the quip and Christine turned toward her. As she did, her arm brushed against him and Spock felt his body react to the touch. He felt flushed and hot, and a sudden rush of lust overcame him. He looked at T'Clev and realized with a start that she was watching him with complete comprehension. Christine, fortunately, seemed unaware of the turmoil she was causing inside him.

She moved away from him, her attention focused on T'Clev. "We haven't met. I'm Commander Christine Chapel, first officer and chief medical officer."

"A pleasure. I am the Priestess T'Clev. Captain Spock was kind enough to offer me a means of transportation home."

"A fortunate coincidence that we were at Starbase Six the same time you were." Christine sounded faintly suspicious.

"Yes, it was."

"I was giving T'Clev a tour. We are going to lunch now."

"You could join us," T'Clev interjected and Spock silently urged his first officer to decline.

She did just that. "I'm afraid I can't. Perhaps another time?"

T'Clev nodded graciously. "Of course." She watched Christine walk off then turned to Spock. "Lunch then?"

He led her to the mess hall, which was relatively deserted at this late hour, and offered a few meal suggestions that he'd programmed into the replicator's databanks. "I'll have whatever you're having," she answered as she walked away from him to a secluded table. When he joined her with the food, she said with just a hint of censure, "You did not mention her, Spock. This will make things more difficult."

"I did not anticipate this reaction to her."

T'Clev raised an eyebrow. "Come now. That type of reaction would only be unanticipated if you were in the final stages of the burning. This early, only the presence of one that has been previously desired can accelerate the process in the manner her touch just did."

"You do not know what I was feeling."

"I am a priestess of T'Lyar. There is not much I do not know about the burning...or what you are feeling. You do realize, don't you, that if you were to be in her company for any extended period, you would bring on the Pon Farr in full force?"

He had not realized that. "I do not plan to be in her company."

"That is wise then. But may I ask why not?"

Spock looked down. "She has chosen another."

"Ah." T'Clev put down her fork. "She does not know how you feel?"

"At this point, she does not believe I am capable of feeling." He made a wry face, then regretted it.

"I'm used to the lapses, Spock. Don't worry that you will offend me."

"You have seen it all."

She nodded. "Many times over." She took a sip of the tea Spock had ordered for her. "Do you wish to speak of this?"

"Not really."

"Do you need to speak of this?"

He couldn't stop the small grin. "You are perceptive."

"It is my duty to be perceptive. She believes you to be indifferent to her?"

"When we first worked together, I was, and there were many years that we did not meet. Then we were brought together for this mission, and I gained a new appreciation for her."

"But you did not tell her this?"

"She knew. But recently a...friend died, and when the commander wanted to help me, I shut her out. And continued to shut her out. So now, when I find I have an overwhelming desire to be with her, it is too late because she has moved on."

T'Clev considered what he had said. "But in the past she was not unmoved by you?"

"In the past, she loved me. It was I who was unmoved by her." He turned back to his food. "It is immaterial. She and I are friends now, nothing more."

T'Clev accepted that he wanted to end the conversation. "As you say." They finished their meal in silence.

------------------------------------------

Christine was sure that Spock was avoiding her. He spent no time with her on the bridge, seeming to prefer to stay in his ready room. She wondered if he was still irritated with her for going around him with the Pesadii. But he hadn't mentioned that since he had dressed her down for it.

She got up, saying absently, "Kimble, you have the conn," and walked up to Spock's ready room waiting for his instruction to enter. When she walked in, he looked up and several emotions she couldn't identify seemed to cross his face.

"Commander, I was just leaving for a meeting with--"

She didn't let him finish, "Have I offended you, Spock?"

He was on his feet and already moving for the rear door. "Of course not, Commander. I have had much to do."

She moved to intercept him, reaching out a hand to stop him. He flinched back.

"This isn't about the Pesadii, is it?"

"Why would it be?" He tried to move around her but she was blocking the door. "Christine, please move aside. I am late." His voice was controlled, but she had the sense that he was tenser than she'd ever seen him.

Although once she'd seen him even more tense. On the Enterprise when he had been going through... Startled, she looked up at him. The presence of the priestess suddenly made perfect sense. "The burning," she whispered.

"Let me pass."

She reached out to him again and as he took a quick step back again his expression became angry. "First, do no harm, Christine. Especially when you are in no position to help."

She dropped her hand, cut by his words. But she knew he was right. What did she think she was doing? With a mumbled, "I'm sorry," she turned and went back to the bridge.

She tried not to think about it for the rest of her shift and failed miserably. When she met Kerr in the marine lounge, he took one look at her face and asked, "What's wrong?"

She started guiltily. "Oh, just a personnel problem."

"Can I help?" he asked.

She shook her head. He moved a little closer, not so close that they looked unprofessional but close enough to affect her. "Can I distract you?"

"Would you?"

"You bet. Drink up, Chapel, and let's get the hell out of here."

She did as he said and they headed to his quarters. As the doors closed behind them, he pulled her into his arms and nuzzled her neck. "One ticket to distraction coming right up, ma'am."

She grinned and pushed him toward the bedroom. Spock's condition is not my concern, she told herself firmly. This is my choice.

And her choice proceeded to distract her until they both dropped into an exhausted sleep.

-----------------------

T'Clev was restless, as she often was in the preliminary phase. There was little for her to do except prepare for what would come, and she had done that all afternoon. She slipped her elaborate outer robes over the simpler under robe she wore during meditation and left her quarters.

She found the lift immediately but was unsure where she wanted to go. While she deliberated, the doors opened again on her floor and a human male stepped in.

"Are you going to pick a floor, my dear, or is it your wish to stand in a motionless lift?" His smile took away any sting that might have been in the words.

"You pick," she finally said. She had done the same thing at lunch, she realized. When had she become so incapable of determining what she wanted?

"Deck three," he ordered. "I'm going to Three-Forward. It's one of our lounges. Some of the crew have formed a jazz band. I'm going to listen, would you like to come with me?"

She considered that. Would she like to? She assessed him, trying to determine his motive.

He seemed to understand her look. "And how remiss am I? Commander Stephen Penhallon, chief of protocol in the diplomatic section." She noticed he did not hold out his hand and her opinion of him rose.

"I like jazz," she said in what she knew was a tentative voice.

He smiled, ignoring her moment of awkwardness. "Excellent, then that's settled." The doors opened and he walked out, "This way, my dear."

She realized she had not introduced herself. "I am the Priestess T'Clev."

"Pleasure." He gestured for her to precede him into the large lounge. She was intrigued with the large viewscreens and he noticed her appreciation of the view. "I imagine once people see what we have here, this type of lounge will become standard Starfleet issue."

"It is breathtaking."

"And yet most of the crew no longer see it. I find it sad that most people allow beauty to become something they take for granted."

She gave him a stern look.

"What? You are allergic to flattery?" His grin was unrepentant.

"Not allergic. Immune."

"Ah. Pity." He led her to a table. "May I get you a drink?'

She almost told him to get her whatever he was going to have, but she forced herself to pick something. "I like red wine."

"Red wine it is."

She watched him walk away. How long had it been since she had interacted with a man that wasn't in some stage of Pon Farr? she wondered. And how long since one had commented on her beauty?

The band finished tuning up just as Penhallon brought their drinks back. She sipped at the wine and allowed herself to relax. As the music washed over her, she determined that yes, she did, in fact, like jazz.

"They're quite good," Penhallon observed as the band took a short break.

"Amateurs bring an enthusiasm to the activity that professionals often lack." She realized he was looking at her quizzically. "I have said something you find strange?"

"No. I was just wondering if that was the voice of experience?"

She was taken aback and found herself in the unusual position of not knowing what to say.

"I'm sorry, that was unpardonably rude of me." He leaned forward. "You see I'm one of those amateurs you speak of. Being intensely interested in anything having to do with the sensual arts, I have undertaken a study of the habits of different cultures. The temple of T'Lyar would certainly not escape my notice. Nor would one of its priestesses."

"I don't recall saying I was from that particular temple?"

He pointed to her ring. "To be good at protocol, one must be observant."

"I see." She sipped her drink and tried to think of how to move him off this subject.

He laughed softly. "Don't worry, dear priestess. I won't pry as to why you're here. It's none of my business."

She realized he was serious. "You are an interesting man."

"Tell that to the first officer," he quipped. Looking toward the entrance, he laughed. "Speak of the devil."

T'Clev followed his gaze and saw that Commander Chapel and a human male had joined another couple at a table. Judging by the proximity and the frequent glances, T'Clev decided this must be the commander's lover. "I have met the commander. Who are the others?"

"Chief Science Officer Lieutenant Nevara Kavall and the head of our biomed laboratories Doctor Leon Redmoon. The man that is so obviously with the commander is Colonel Randall Kerr, our head of security and special forces. He's very tough. Also a remarkably nice guy." Penhallon leaned in. "But enough about them. Let's talk about us."

"There is no us." She raised a single eyebrow, causing him to laugh.

"Not yet, anyway," he said with a wink as the music started up again.

---------------------------

The bridge seemed unusually tense, and Kavall was trying to pinpoint the epicenter of that tension. Much as she had trouble believing it, Captain Spock seemed to be the source. He appeared...distracted. And uncharacteristically on edge.

The lift opened again and Christine stepped out, smiling at Kavall before going straight to her office. Spock glanced in the commander's direction as her door closed, then turned back to the viewscreen.

Kavall busied herself with some diagnostics of the aft sensor array. Something was degrading the resolution on the starboard component and it had been driving her crazy for days now. She had made a few corrections but nothing seemed to improve the performance.

"Have you tried tuning the resonance capacitor?"

She looked up to see Spock leaning over her. "I hadn't considered that it might be the signal recognition." She adjusted some settings and checked the array.

"Not perfect," he noted.

"No, sir. But much closer." She grinned at him, was shocked to see a hint of open amusement color his face for a moment before a more typically stoic expression took over. "Thank you, sir."

"I too sat at this post once," he said and his tone was clearly nostalgic. "On the Enterprise."

"That must have been exciting." She fully expected him to admonish her that Vulcans do not feel excitement.

Instead he said only, "It was."

He straightened abruptly and began to pace around the bridge. Kavall could not remember ever having seen him do that. Normally when he appeared somewhat restless, he would retire to his ready room. Pacing was reserved for Commander Chapel, who made no bones about getting bored from sitting too long.

The lift doors opened and Colonel Kerr stepped out. Spock turned and studied him and his posture became even tenser. "Colonel," he said tonelessly.

"Captain," Kerr answered, not appearing to notice anything amiss. He turned and rang the chime to Christine's office, then disappeared inside.

Kavall worked hard to hide her smile. She and Leon had begun spending time with Christine and Kerr during their off hours. Kavall was pleased that her mentor had finally found someone she could be happy with. And she loved the way Kerr treated her friend. But their relationship was kept to off hours. The only reason he would come up here during the shift was for business.

She looked over at Spock and realized he was staring at Commander Chapel's door, a strange expression on his face. Even more confused, she looked away and saw that Saldusta was watching Spock too. When he finally turned away and resumed pacing, Saldusta looked over and mouthed to Kavall, "What's with him?"

Kavall gave a tiny shrug. Even Myrax was watching the captain, her normally serene expression replaced with curiosity. Saldusta started to mouth something else then her face got the distant look that meant she was getting an incoming signal through the earpiece. "Sir," she called to Spock. "We're being hailed."

He turned and raised an eyebrow. "By whom?"

"A Mr. Dallish. Of Hamash Korelli."

Kavall pulled up the profile of the planet. "A small colony planet, sir. A harsh environment but rich in bentarium, which is currently listed on the Federation's strategic mineral list and is useful for--"

"I am aware of the importance of bentarium, Lieutenant."

She blushed. "Yes, sir. Sorry."

He turned away. "On screen, Lieutenant Saldusta."

An extremely wizened man filled the front viewscreen. "Sorry to disturb you, Ambassador. I'm Roaz Dallish."

"How can I help you, Mr. Dallish?" Spock sounded slightly impatient.

"I know this is a bit out of the ordinary, sir. But we heard the Carter would be nearby and I had to take the chance."

"The chance for what?"

Kavall heard the door open behind her. She glanced back to see Christine and Kerr walk out to listen.

"To ask for your help."

"Do you have a diplomatic issue, Mr. Dallish? Because I have no recollection of any difficulty on your planet."

"No, sir. We're a small mining colony. We export bentarium mainly. It's lucrative. But it's also dangerous. This planet is unstable and getting more so with our operations. We have lost too many people to cave-ins and landslides. We know the Federation has the technology to help us stabilize the geology and we've asked several times but our requests are sitting somewhere, probably buried in red tape at the Federation Department of Minerals."

"I'm sure that is frustrating for you, sir, but I don't see how we can help."

"The Federation needs our bentarium, sir. But unless we can make it less lethal to mine, we'll have to stop producing it. If you could just come down and take a look, I'm sure you'd see the merit of our request. And a nudge from someone of your reputation would go a long way in our search for relief."

Spock seemed to consider. "You wish to show me one of these mines."

"Yes, sir. If you'd like to beam down for a quick tour, I will have my aide meet you at one of our safer mines."

Spock surprised Kavall by nodding suddenly. "I believe fresh air would be beneficial. I will be down shortly." He turned and nodded to Saldusta, who cut the connection. Looking over at Christine, he said briskly, "You have the conn, Commander Chapel."

Kavall was even more surprised to hear her friend say, "I believe it would be short-sighted to go without a medical expert."

Spock turned to look at his first officer. "I am not convinced that a medical presence is necessary."

She didn't back down. "I am."

They stared at each other for several seconds, Christine's expression grimly determined, Spock's unusually annoyed. He looked away first. "Fine. Come if you wish. But as I remember you don't like caves."

Kavall frowned when the commander winced. Christine had told her of the icy caverns on Exo III, where she had found what was left of Roger Korby, the man she'd thought she'd lost forever. Kavall knew Spock had known her then too. She was shocked that he would say something that seemed calculated only to hurt.

"I'll manage," her friend said evenly.

Kerr was watching them with a frown. Spock turned to him and said, "You'll want to come too, Colonel. It might be a trap, after all." The captain raised an eyebrow at Christine. "A security escort might be a good idea."

Her expression darkened but she didn't argue with the captain's bizarre suggestion. Kavall commiserated with Kerr, who only looked more confused. "If you really think it's necessary, then I'm in."

"Fine." Spock looked over at Kavall. "You have the conn, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir," she answered, trying desperately to keep her voice steady.

Christine shot her a weak grin before following Spock and Kerr out. Kavall moved to the captain's chair and sat down gingerly. Please, she prayed, don't let anything go wrong while I'm in charge. And don't let anything be wrong between Christine and the captain either, she added.

----------**--------------------

The president's aide met them just outside a large cave. There were some largish boulders scattered near the entrance. Kerr didn't like the look of them.

"I thought this was a safe area?"

The young woman smiled tightly. "Safer. Not safe."

"There's sort of a difference," Christine said, eying the cave a bit nervously.

"Now you know how we feel," the aide said as she led the way inside. It was deserted. "We've abandoned operations in here for now. We mined all the bentarium that was easily extracted. But this site and many others like it are still rich with the mineral. Once we are more sure of the stability, we can begin blasting deeper."

She handed them portable lights and led them down several tunnels. It was easy to see that a great deal of material had been removed from the rock.

"This is one of our smallest mines," she said as pulled out a tricorder and scanned the area, then handed it to Spock.

His eyebrow lifted severely. "There is this much bentarium still here?"

She nodded. "And that's just one mine. But we can't get at it without risking lives. And we don't want to do that when we know there is help out there."

Spock took the tricorder and walked back into the main cavern and into another tunnel. "This is remarkable," he said softly.

"Then I can tell Roaz that you will help us?"

Spock nodded.

Kerr glanced over at Christine and saw her eye the entrance of the tunnel. "You want out?" he asked softly.

"That'd be nice." She smiled at him and he grinned back.

A sudden rumbling from the main cavern wiped the smiles off both their faces. The aide yelled, "Run!" and fled for the entrance. It took them a moment to realize what was happening and to run, so she had a good lead when the first rocks began to fall. Kerr felt something grab his uniform. He realized it was Spock as both he and Christine jerked to a halt, their momentum nearly pulling Spock off his feet as just a few feet away the rocks fell in a deadly crush. The aide was buried, and so was the entrance.

Kerr tried to hail the ship. There was no answer.

"Bentarium in this quantity will interfere with normal transmissions. To communicate with us, the ship will have to enhance the signal," Spock explained.

"Do they know that?" Christine asked softly.

"It will require experimentation. There is no protocol for it."

"In other words, nobody's ever done it before?" Kerr asked.

Spock gave him an odd look. "I believe that is what I said, Colonel." He turned to Christine. "I guess we will find out just how good your protégé is."

"I guess so."

Kerr frowned. "Meanwhile we are stuck here with no food, no water, and limited air."

Spock scanned the space. "You are correct that we are without food. There is fresh water in small amounts in the third tunnel."

"And the air?" Christine asked.

Spock pointed up. A small amount of light could be seen at the top of the cavern. "Fresh air is available in sufficient amounts."

"But there's no other way out? One of these tunnels doesn't conveniently have an exit?"

Spock turned to look at her. His expression was surprisingly gentle. "There is no way out, Commander." He walked over to the pile of rocks. "Except the way we came in. I suggest we start moving them."

Kerr nodded. "With all due respect, sir. Is that necessary if the Carter is going to find us anyway? Some of these are the size of boulders. There's no way we can move them unassisted. And we have no idea how far out the slide goes. Shouldn't we just wait?"

Spock handed Christine the tricorder. "Tell me, Doctor. Do you think we should just wait?"

She scanned him, then raised her eyes to meet his gaze. Slowly shaking her head, she said, "We need to get out of here."

Kerr moved toward her. "I know you don't like being in here, but there's no reason."

"There is every reason, Colonel," Spock snapped.

Kerr had never heard the captain use that tone. He looked at Christine. "Something you want to tell me?"

"Want? No. Need to tell you. Yes." She looked over at Spock. "I think you better tell him."

Spock closed his eyes briefly as if in defeat. Then with an audible sigh, asked, "How much do you know of Vulcan physiology, Colonel?"

"Not much."

"But you have heard things?" Christine prompted.

Kerr frowned. "Well, yeah."

"Does the figure seven years mean anything to you?" Spock walked deliberately to the rocks and began to move the nearest ones.

Kerr stared at him, then realization seemed to dawn. "Oh. Now?"

"No. But soon."

"Very soon," Christine corrected.

"So that's why T'Clev is here...but she's not here. She's on the Carter." Kerr turned to look at Christine. "She's on the Carter, but you're here." He began to wrestle the stones out of the pile. "We really need to get out of here."

----------------

Spock put the rock he was carrying down and stared at his hands, which had begun to tremble again. No matter how he tried he could not stop thinking about Christine and how close she was standing to him--even though she was across the room at this particular instant.

He heard Kerr's voice as if from a great distance whisper, "He's not okay, is he?"

Christine didn't answer. So Spock replied for her, "Most astute, Colonel."

"How long before you umm..."

"Not long." Spock turned and began to walk toward the closest tunnel. "I must meditate. You will not disturb me."

Christine moved toward him. "Spock--"

He whirled on her and cut off whatever she had been going to say. "You must not involve yourself, Christine." He almost reached out to touch her, wanted to touch her. At the last moment he jerked his hand back. "You must stay away."

"But you'll die."

"I am past the fire of youth. I may be able to buy time with meditation. As the Colonel has noted, the Carter will find a way to get us out eventually. And then T'Clev will be able to help me." Unsure that she was going to cooperate, Spock looked at Kerr. "You must keep Christine away from me."

Kerr nodded, his expression troubled.

"You must stay away too, Colonel. You must consider me extremely dangerous at this point. I will try to block the fact that the two of you are here." He looked at Christine. "That she is here. I will not be able to do that if you approach me. Do you understand what I am saying?"

"I do, sir."

Christine opened her mouth and Spock spoke, more harshly than he intended. "Say nothing, Commander. For your own sake, say absolutely nothing."

She stood in front of him, mouth open and eyes confused. Spock felt an overwhelming need to touch her, to feel her skin under his hands. Stop it! he ordered himself, this is counterproductive. He pointed at the phaser Kerr wore at his hip. "If I come back out here, it will be for her. I strongly suggest you stop me. Use maximum stun. Anything less will probably not subdue me before I get to you."

Kerr frowned but nodded firmly. "Yes, sir."

With a last glance at Christine, Spock turned and quickly walked into the tunnel.

--------------------------------

Kavall sat in the command chair trying not to look as uncomfortable as she felt. Because she answered to both medical and diplomatic, she was frequently off the bridge. As a result, she did not tend to be left in command as often as the others.

"Pssst," she heard from behind her. She turned to see Saldusta grinning. "The chair has a back, Nevara. You can use it."

She made a face at her friend and forced herself to sit back. Just as she was getting comfortable, Saldusta announced, "There's another hail from the planet."

Kavall stood nervously. "On screen."

Dallish appeared. He wasted no time on preliminaries. "There's been a rockslide at the mine. The entrance is blocked."

"The captain and the others?"

"Their condition is unknown. Bentarium blocks our sensors and our communications. If they're in there, we're going to have to dig them out."

Kavall thought furiously. "Can we help?"

"No, it's just a matter of waiting to see if they are ok."

"If?" Saldusta whispered behind her.

Kavall nodded. "Understood. Please keep us informed of your progress."

The screen went blank and she stood for a moment then walked around the command chairs toward her station. "Saldusta, notify sickbay of what's happened. Tell them to have a team on standby." She slid into her chair. "There has to be a way to get past that bentarium," she mused as she began to modify the sensors.

Hours later, she had made a tiny bit of progress. Looking up from her station, she realized that she had been so immersed that she had lost track of time. It was almost shift change. She looked over at Saldusta, who was watching her with interest.

"Are you getting anywhere?" the communications officer asked.

"I think so."

Saldusta nodded, "Good. I notified beta shift to stand down. We're here with you until this is over."

The others nodded agreement.

Spock's office door suddenly opened, startling Kavall until she realized it was Sovar who stood at the door. "Where is the captain?" he asked.

She brought him up to speed and was surprised at the level of open concern the Vulcan showed. She tried to reassure him, "We can't assume they're injured or worse until we know for sure. I think I may be getting somewhere with these modifications."

"Have you informed sickbay?"

"Yes. Doctor Carpenter is standing by with a team."

"A team." He headed for the door. "I'll be in sickbay. Let me know as soon as you can get through."

"Will do," she said as she turned back to her station.

----------------------------------

Christine stared at the tunnel that Spock had disappeared into. Kerr's voice in her ear made her jump.

"How long before he comes out?"

She shrugged. "He may not come out. He may stay in there."

"And then what?"

She turned away, began moving more rocks.

"Christine?"

She didn't answer. A moment later, she felt a hand on her arm gently pulling her around.

"Christine?"

"He'll die."

"Without you, he'll die?"

"It's not me. T'Clev would do. Any woman would. Hell, in a pinch, you might do, Randall." She turned away.

He didn't say anything for a long time as they continued to push the rocks out of the way. Finally he sat down, and looked at her intently. "We're not making any progress."

"So we keep working at it." She wiped sweat off her cheek with the back of her hand. "We keep going until we do make progress. Or until the ship discovers how to get us out."

"What if they don't figure that out in time?"

She looked at him but didn't say anything.

"I mean it. What then?"

She turned on him and asked angrily, "What do you want me to say, Randall?"

He pulled her into his arms and held her tightly against him. "I want you to tell me what you're thinking...what you're feeling."

She tried to pull away, but he held her fast. "I'm not thinking anything except that I don't like caves. I'm not feeling anything except worry for our captain. Now, let me go."

He didn't release her. "I've been asking myself if you could do it. If you could stand by and let him die. And I'm also asking myself if I could let you do that."

"You heard him. He wants me to stay away from him." Feeling Kerr's grip loosen, Christine pulled away from him and sat down a few feet away.

"I heard what he said. But I also have a good idea what he meant. If he didn't want _you_ he wouldn't have been so concerned with my keeping you safe from him."

"That's bull. You don't know what it's like for a Vulcan."

"And you do?"

She turned and glared at him. "I don't. I have never been with him. How many times do I have to say that before you believe it?"

He turned away from her.

She sighed heavily. "I'm sorry. This is just so hard." She got up and walked over to him. Putting a hand on his back, she whispered. "The thought of him dying..."

He turned and pulled her to him. His lips on hers were fierce as he kissed her quickly. Then he pushed her away. "Go. Now. Before I change my mind."

"What?"

"He's my captain, and I respect him. Hell, I like him. I can't let him die. And this is the one way to make sure he doesn't. So go. You have to."

She stared at him.

He kissed her again. "I love you. I don't want you to do this. But you have to. We both know that you do."

"But the rescue?"

"It's been hours, Christine. How long does he have? Are you willing to wait?"

A noise at the far side of the cave startled them. Spock stood staring at them. Kerr pulled out his phaser but didn't fire.

"Christine." Spock's voice was gravelly and harsh. "I burn for you."

She could feel her heart racing as she stared at him. Behind her Kerr said, "Go."

She turned to look at him. "I love you. You know that? I'll come back to you."

He nodded but his eyes told her a different story. Handing her one of the lights, he said, "Go. Before I realize what an idiot I am."

"Christine," Spock said with more urgency as he took a step toward them.

With a last look and a strangled, "I love you," to Kerr she hurried to Spock. He met her half way and caught her up in a fierce embrace. She gasped at how tightly he was holding her.

"Christine," she heard Kerr say.

"Don't. I'm all right." She pushed Spock back toward the tunnel. "I'm here. Shhh."

He let her move him and she felt his hands begin to move over her body. "Christine. I burned for you but you did not come."

"I know," she whispered as they moved deeper into the tunnel. Once they were well out of sight--and hopefully hearing--of Kerr, she managed to get Spock to release her long enough to set the light down. Then he was back, touching her, his body pressed close to hers.

I could be anyone, she reminded herself. This isn't about me. It's about saving him. That's all.

She believed it as he removed his clothing. She believed it when he kissed her ferociously, when his hands touched her in places he'd never touched her before. She believed it when he pushed her to the ground. But when he melded with her and she heard his triumphant *Beloved* in her mind even as his body joined with hers, she could no longer lie to herself. This was about the two of them. Spock and Christine. The way she'd always wanted.

*Spock,* she thought, unsure if he could hear her. Unsure if she even cared. She had dreamed of this moment for so long.

*My Christine,* he sent back, his tone both satisfied and demanding. As he began to move within her with savage purpose, she felt his mind overwhelm hers. *Beloved,* he sent again, even as she lost all sense of who she was or why it even mattered. All that existed was this passion...and the two of them.

-----------------------------

Kerr tried not to think about how many hours had passed since Christine had disappeared down the tunnel he was staring at. He tried not to listen for the faint sounds that every so often carried down the corridor. He tried not to imagine what they were doing.

He failed at all three.

This is ridiculous, he berated himself. He stood up and began to move rocks. He worked hard and fast and tried to exhaust himself to the point where he could no longer think, no longer imagine. Hours later he was sitting in front of the large pile of rocks that he had moved, and looking at the still larger one that remained. He really was getting nowhere.

He thought he heard footsteps behind him and turned, saying, "Christine..."

There was no one there. "Damn," he whispered, looking again toward the tunnel entrance. "Damn, damn, damn--"

"Sovar to landing party," his communicator sounded from across the room.

He rushed to retrieve it. "Kerr here."

"Colonel. You are...safe?" Sovar sounded overly tentative.

Kerr realized that Spock's aide knew exactly what was going on. Was he the only one that hadn't had a clue? "Is this channel secure?"

"No." There was a long silence. Then Sovar came on again. "We are beaming down."

The communicator went dead. A few minutes later, a familiar sparkle filled the chamber. Sovar, T'Clev, and Doctor Carpenter appeared.

T'Clev looked around the chamber. "Captain Spock?"

Kerr nodded toward the tunnel and said, "He and the Commander are pretty much indisposed."

T'Clev gave him a sympathetic look. "This is unfortunate." She shared a look with Sovar. "But not unanticipated."

"And damned hard to explain," Carpenter complained as she headed toward the tunnel. Sovar made a motion to stop her and she scowled at him. "If someone had told me what was going on, we might not be having this conversation now."

"The commander knew," Sovar said firmly. "She is CMO. If she did not see fit to inform you, I'm afraid it was not my place to do so."

Carpenter glared at him, and T'Clev said smoothly. "If this had gone as planned, there would have been no reason for your involvement. The commander would have been in a position to play a medical role if necessary. She was never intended to be a direct participant."

Carpenter nodded. "Fine. We had this argument the first time you told me. I'm just annoyed as hell." She pulled out her tricorder. "Now get out of my way, I won't disturb them. I just want to check her condition."

Reluctantly the two Vulcans moved out of her way.

Kerr watched her go, then he turned back to Sovar. "How did you get through the interference?"

"Lieutenant Kavall found a solution. It was actually quite elegant. It would make a fascinating paper if she chose to present it at the Federation Association--"

"You want to talk presentations at a time like this?" Kerr began to pace. "At the risk of pointing out the obvious, that's the woman I love in there with Spock."

T'Clev's voices was full of compassion. "I believe Mr. Sovar was attempting to distract you."

Kerr stopped pacing. "Well it didn't work." He looked at Sovar. "But thanks for trying."

Sovar was about to say something when Carpenter returned. "Well, it's a cinch they won't be walking out of here. Trying to stop them at this point would be impossible." She turned to Kerr apologetically. "Sorry. But we need to get them back to the ship."

"Beam them up."

"Colonel," Sovar said with some urgency. "They need to be beamed to his cabin. That will look most odd in the record, if you take my meaning."

Kerr thought for a moment. "No problem." He lifted his communicator, "Carter, this is Colonel Kerr. One to beam up."

"Aye, sir. Energizing."

He experienced the familiar few seconds of nothingness before he rematerialized on the ship. He hurried over to the transporter console. "Ensign, what are you cleared to?"

"Sir?"

"What level, Ensign?"

"I was told that info is to be kept in my file and if anyone needs it and is authorized they can downlo--"

"Ensign, I can assure you that the regs may say it works that way, but in real life it plays out a bit differently. I have clearances you've never even heard of. I have clearances the captain's probably never heard of. There is nothing you can tell me that will be a surprise. What level are you cleared to?"

The man gulped. "Uh, B-4, sir."

"Not good enough. You'll have to stand in the corridor while I do this. Make sure nobody comes in unless they're cleared."

"How will I know, sir?"

"They better say BVFH-67--" Kerr made up the code "--or they aren't coming in here. Got that?"

"Got it, sir." The ensign hurried out.

"Computer. Initialize site-to-site transport. Code five four seven sub- rosa."

A blank panel suddenly lit up with the outline of a hand. "Submit for identity scan."

He laid his hand on the panel.

"Identity confirmed. Sub-rosa transport initialized."

Kerr pulled out his communicator. He opened a small panel on the side and flipped a tiny switch. The channel was now very secure. "Kerr to Sovar."

"Go ahead. "

"I'm ready on this end."

"Very well. Do you have a lock?"

Kerr adjusted the targeting sensors until he was satisfied that nothing would go wrong. "Affirmative. Engaging transporter." He set his communicator down as he worked the controls. When he checked the readings, the computer showed two people in Spock's cabin. "Engage privacy locks for Captain Spock's and Commander Chapel's quarters. Standard 'Do Not Disturb' message," he ordered the computer.

"Affirmative."

He picked up his communicator again and told Sovar, "Hang on, I'm going to get the rest of you up here." He adjusted the beam back to the platform and energized. The rescue party appeared on the pad. As they walked over to him, he fiddled with the log record. Then instructed, "Adjust log entry as shown."

"Affirmative. Captain Spock and Commander Chapel were beamed to their respective quarters."

"Excellent."

Sovar looked at the code he had entered into the log record, and said, "What is that code?"

Kerr shrugged. "I'm not really the technical type."

"That algorithm is most advanced."

"Just something I picked up," he said as he instructed the computer to reset. There would be no record of anything out of the ordinary. He turned to Carpenter, "This says that Captain Spock and Commander Chapel were slightly hurt in the rockslide. You treated them on the surface but there was some infection and you recommended they rest. They were beamed to their quarters."

She nodded but her expression was tight. "I don't like this."

"Join the club," he said bitterly.

---------***--------------------

The following day, T'Clev lay on her bed and considered what had happened in the cave. She had been impressed with the colonel's quick thinking, but that didn't mitigate her worry over the situation. The commander was human and there was a good chance that she could be harmed during the Pon Farr. On the other hand, by all appearances she had gone to Spock voluntarily, which would mitigate much of the violence. They were lucky Kerr had not challenged. She wondered how much it had cost the man not to do so.

The door chime broke her out of her reverie. She roused herself to answer it and found Sovar there, displaying a small amount of agitation. "Is there something I should be doing for them?" he asked.

She gave him a sympathetic glance. "You must procure a clean set of clothes for her. You will also need to get a dermal regenerator from Doctor Carpenter."

Sovar looked at her in alarm.

"Even the strongest Vulcan bruises during the burning, Sovar. How do you think a human will fare?"

He nodded. "I understand."

"Do you have a tricorder?"

"At my office."

She walked to her desk console and programmed in some formulas, then sent them to him. As she did so, she explained, "Program the formula I'm sending you into the tricorder. Scan the area before you enter his room. Our temple doctors know that male Vulcans in rut produce a chemical byproduct that is actually dispersed in the air. We believe it is used to warn other males off during the mating time. At any rate, it is easily measured. When the levels fall to the specs I've provided, it will mean that he is sleeping. Then it will be safe to go in and leave the clothing and regenerator."

"What if she is not asleep," he asked with concern.

The prudishness of most Vulcan males mystified T'Clev. "Trust me. When Spock sleeps, she will too."

He nodded gratefully and turned to leave.

She surprised herself by asking, "Where will I find Colonel Kerr, Sovar?"

"His quarters are on deck four."

She thought about what she'd seen of the Colonel. He didn't strike her as a man that would be able to just sit and wait in his quarters. "Where else?"

Sovar thought some more. "Perhaps in his office or the marine lounge. They are both on deck nine. The wall panels will show you how to get to them."

She followed him out and they shared the lift until he got off on deck six to get the regenerator from sickbay. T'Clev tried Kerr's office first, but it was dark. When she walked into the marine lounge, all activity and noise near the entrance dropped off abruptly.

"Can I help you, ma'am?" a young woman asked her.

"I am looking for Colonel Kerr. Is he here?"

"Over there."

T'Clev caught a glimpse of sandy hair behind several other marines and nodded gratefully. Easing her way between the men, she stopped next to Kerr. "May I join you?"

He didn't turn around. "Not looking for company."

She waited but he didn't say more. "I am," she said gently and took the stool next to him.

"And since you're a Vulcan, you get whatever you want, is that it?" he muttered. The words would have been too low for a human to hear.

"It probably seems that way to you right now." She waved to the bartender who came down cautiously. "He will have another of those, and I would like a glass of red wine."

The bartender looked at Kerr but when he got no response from the colonel he began to pour the drinks. "It's on the house, ma'am, if you can cheer him up."

Kerr glanced up, irritation plain on his face. "I told you there's nothing wrong, Corporal."

From the emphasis Kerr put on the word and the dismay on the other man's face, T'Clev decided that his rank was actually a bit higher than corporal. She gave him a sympathetic look.

"You're the boss, sir," the bartender said as he hurried to help another customer.

"This must hurt," she offered.

"Like you'd know about that."

She sighed. "I am not your enemy, Colonel. And I might know about hurting. You really don't know me well enough to judge."

There was a long silence, then he turned to look at her. "I'm sorry. You're right, I don't know you."

"And I don't know you. But I do know that if this had happened as it was supposed to, you would be here with your commander, and I would be the one with Spock."

"Do you love him?"

She shook her head and tasted her wine.

"Then why are you here?"

"That, Colonel, is a long and complicated story."

He downed the last of his original drink, and started on the one she'd bought him. "I seem to have plenty of time on my hands."

"Nevertheless, I don't believe I'll be telling you." She watched his face. "You love her. Very much."

"Yep. I do." He began to methodically tear his napkin into small pieces as he said softly but with great emotion. "Not that it matters now. Just when I've finally found the right woman...even get her for a while. Bam!" His fist on the bar punctuated the word. "She's gone."

"You don't know that." T'Clev leaned in so that there would be no chance that her words would carry. "Yes, she is with him now. Her presence will keep him alive. And yes, this is an experience that they will share only between the two of them. You cannot be a part of it. But, if she loves you, she will not stay with him once this is over."

Kerr frowned in disbelief, "I thought that they'd be bonded once this is over. Isn't that how it works."

She nodded. "Often it is. And he may try. But the act of bonding takes two willing participants. If her emotions lie elsewhere, it won't take."

He stared at her for a long moment. "So there's hope?"

"There is."

He looked away. "But she loved him. For such a long time. How can I compete with that?"

"Maybe you don't have to. Time will tell." She looked around the room. "You should keep occupied till then. Perhaps a game of billiards? I've always wanted to play."

He looked over at the table and his expression darkened. "She likes to play."

"Perhaps another diversion then?"

He drained his drink and stood up. "I appreciate that...and what you said. But I think I'm in the mood to be really miserable. Alone."

"As you wish."

He took a step then turned back. "The really hard part is that I let her do it. I urged her to do it. To save him."

She surprised him and herself by laying a hand on his arm. His emotions were very near the surface...anger, hurt, love. A heady mix. She pulled her hand away. "You are a good man, Colonel. Spock speaks highly of you."

"He damn well should. I just gave him my woman. Doesn't get more generous than that," he said bitterly, then turned and left the bar.

The bartender came by to clear Kerr's glass and smiled at her. "Nice try."

"I believe I owe you for these beverages."

"It's okay. You made a valiant attempt. Drinks are on me."

"Thank you," she said with a small nod. She sipped her drink and turned on the stool slightly so she could watch the people in the lounge. She realized Commander Penhallon was sitting at the other end of the bar. He raised his glass at her and she nodded. With a smile he rose and walked toward her.

"What's a nice girl like you?"

She looked at him quizzically and he laughed. "Doing in a place like this. That's the next part. You're supposed to finish the sentence."

"Oh." She watched as he sat on the stool Kerr had just left. "I could ask you the same thing. Isn't this the marine lounge?"

"It is. And I don't come here very often."

She took a careful sip of her wine. "Yet here you are."

"Well, that's because I followed you."

She raised an eyebrow. "Followed me?"

"Yes." He leaned toward her, his voice low and pitched for her ears only. "I don't imagine you expected to be alone right about now?"

She pulled away. "I don't know what you mean."

"Sure you do. We both know what I mean."

She felt irritation. This man went too far. She rose to go, but his hand on her arm stopped her.

"Don't you get frustrated with never being able to talk about it?"

She pulled away. "That would be an emotion."

"And Vulcans don't have those." He leaned in again. "I imagine the captain and the commander might be experiencing a different take on that theme, right about now."

She sank back down on the stool, studying him carefully.

"Don't say anything. That's fine. But know that I know."

She considered his statement. If he knew, did the rest of the crew?

As if reading her mind, he shook his head and said, "Don't worry, nobody else knows. There's been some suspicion since the captain and the commander haven't been seen for quite a few hours. And I'm afraid the colonel's sulking isn't helping matters. But nobody really knows anything." He took a sip of his drink, then smiled mischievously. "And I've been doing my best to muddy the waters. Did you know that the commander and I had a long breakfast meeting this morning in her quarters? And I saw the captain around the ship several times today. Didn't you?"

"Why would you do this?"

He shrugged. "I admire the captain. And, though it would irritate her no end to hear it--or possibly because it would, I'm actually not quite sure yet--I'm inordinately fond of the commander. She's such a challenge. Really doesn't like me." He grinned at her.

T'Clev knew her eyes were betraying gratitude...and amusement. "You are a good man, Commander."

"For god's sake, call me Stephen. I just shared my deepest darkest secret with you."

"Somehow, Stephen"--she couldn't resist putting extra emphasis on his name-- "I very much doubt that this is your darkest secret."

"Well, you may be right, my dear." He finished his drink and pointed with his chin at hers. "Drink up so we can get out of here."

"We are going somewhere?"

He nodded. "Has Spock shown you the greenhouse?"

"He has not, although he did mention it during our tour."

"It's really quite beautiful. And very romantic."

T'Clev gave him a stern look. "I am not interested in romance."

He slid off his stool and held out his arm. "When was the last time you did something that was just for you?"

She stood up and walked past him. "I do many things for my own pleasure."

"When?" he asked, catching up with her quickly and steering her towards the lift.

"What exactly are we talking about, Commander?"

"Stephen," he corrected gently.

"Stephen."

"I have the utmost respect for why you're here and what you are. I've been to Vulcan and seen the temple you belong to. I know that you give something that makes the difference between life and death for someone you might not even know." He held out his arm again. "I think that's quite the most wonderful thing."

She stared at him.

His expression became serious. "And the most sad. So I ask again. When was the last time you did something...had something that was just for you?"

She looked away. "I am not human. Do not presume that you know what my needs are."

He smiled gently. "Then you do have them?" At her look, he dropped his arm. "It's still a long way to Vulcan, T'Clev. I may charm you yet." The lift opened and he led her into the corridor. "It's just down here."

She followed him to the greenhouse. She would never admit it to him, but Stephen Penhallon had already charmed her. She had no plans to indulge herself in the way he was offering, but deep inside she was illogically pleased that she could if she wanted to.

--------------------------

Christine slowly became aware again of her surroundings. She was somewhere quite warm and dimly lit. Her body ached. She tried to move but someone was curled around her, holding her close. Spock, she remembered. I'm with Spock. The Pon Farr...but they had been in the cave. The surface she was lying on was too soft to be the ground. How did they get here? And how long had they been here?

She didn't think she had voiced the thought, but Spock moved against her and said softly, "For many hours, I think."

"Nothing more exact than that?"

"I confess I have not been in any state to keep track." Spock reached over her for something on his bedside table. She heard a humming, then a feeling of relief along her neck and shoulders. "You are bruised," he explained simply as he moved the dermal regenerator over her skin.

She stretched and groaned involuntarily.

"Where does it hurt?" he asked in concern.

"Everywhere."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I'll deal with being a little...okay a lot sore if it means you aren't dead." She turned awkwardly, her muscles refusing at first to cooperate. "I couldn't let you die."

"I am grateful for that." He continued to work on her, slowly bringing relief to her protesting muscles.

"I did not plan this," he said abruptly.

She smiled. "I know you didn't. You wouldn't have called for the priestess if you had." She was surprised that she felt no awkwardness talking about this or being naked in bed with him. Apparently he felt none with her either. He didn't avert his eyes or seem at all embarrassed. And he seemed to be doing an extremely thorough job of covering every square inch of her with the regenerator.

"Although this is not how I expected my problem to be resolved, I do not regret what has happened," he said as he turned off the machine and leaned over her to put it back on the table. He seemed to linger, his body touching hers. "I am not sure that is an honorable reaction on my part. You belong to another."

The thought brought a pang of guilt and regret. "Yes, I do."

He eased away from her and relaxed on the bed, watching her, his eyes unfathomable. "You love him." It was not a question. "Until this experience, I did not realize how much." He looked away. "Do you remember that I urged you to bond with me?"

"Not really. The experience is a blur."

"I tried to shield you from the ferocity of the Pon Farr with a meld. I had enough rational thought left to do that, at least."

"That was kind of you." She smiled unintentionally. "I remember the meld, sharing your mind. It was...very pleasant." Fragments of memory resurfaced. It had been more than pleasant. She had the sensation that it had been erotic, sensual, loving. But all she could get was the overall impression. No details came to her. "I can hardly remember what we did." She frowned. "Will it always be this hazy?"

"I do not know."

She laughed softly. At his raised eyebrow, she explained, "I wanted this for so long...now I finally get it, and I can't remember it."

His eyes were amused as he nodded. "It is ironic."

"It is, indeed." She smiled at him. "I guess I said no then...to the bond?"

He nodded. "You were quite clearly against the idea. The colonel is a lucky man."

She looked away. "I doubt that he's feeling that way right now."

"This cannot be easy for him," Spock agreed. "And still he let you do this."

"He didn't want you to die."

Spock shifted a bit. "And he trusted that you'd come back to him."

She made a face.

"What?"

"I think perhaps he thought I wouldn't."

"If he knew how much you care for him. That he is burned into your heart. Do you think that would comfort him?"

The question sounded almost rhetorical but she decided to answer it. "No."

"No, I imagine not."

She lay back down on her back and stared at the ceiling. She couldn't talk about Randall. Realized that for right now she didn't want to talk about him. She stretched tentatively and was pleased to feel no pain. "So who brought the regenerator?"

"Sovar or T'Clev probably. I do not remember them being here, but they must have been."

"So they just walked in here while we were..."

"While we were sleeping," he almost smiled. "They would not disturb us otherwise. It was a thoughtful gesture."

"It was." She suddenly rolled to her stomach and stared at him. "Is it over then?"

He looked away as he said, "The danger is gone."

She studied him. "That's not what I asked."

He turned on his side and reached out to brush her hair away from her face. "The danger is gone. The desire is not."

She closed her eyes at his touch. After a long moment, she said softly, "It's the only time we'll ever have."

He moved closer to her. "It is."

"And you want me?" The feel of his lips on her neck made her shudder.

"I do," he said, his breath hot on her skin.

She pulled his face to hers and kissed him gently. When she drew away, she said, "I want to know what it is I'll be missing when I leave here. I want to know what it is I just had that I can't remember. And I think that wanting those things makes me a very bad person."

"I think that wanting you to have those things...wanting to have you again, is not something I should desire either." He began to stroke her skin, his hands moving lower and lower. She gasped and he kissed her. He did not pull away quickly. "I should not say this...but I do not want you to go yet. There is still time." He gave her a look that burned--not with the raw passion of before but with something far more tender. "Christine?" he asked as he touched the meld point and let her know exactly how much he wanted her.

She was lost. As she leaned in for another kiss, she whispered, "Just a while longer."

---------------------------------------

Spock knew exactly when she awoke by the change in her breathing. He realized that such awareness of her was a dangerous thing. He should get up; let her wake alone while he showered. Help her distance herself from him.

He didn't move.

"Mmm," she said as she turned in his arms.

"It is time to get up," he said gently.

She didn't respond, just burrowed deeper into his arms. He knew he should push her away, make her begin the preparation that would culminate with her leaving him alone in his quarters.

He pulled her closer.

They stayed like that a long time. He kissed her hair and stroked her back as she lay silently against him. He knew she was crying. Knew also that she would not want him to notice, so he said nothing.

Finally she looked up at him, her eyes bright with the tears she was trying unsuccessfully to hold back.

"You must go," he said quietly.

She nodded.

They didn't move. He wanted to kiss her, knew that if he did, she might stay for a little while longer. He wondered if he kept doing it, would she stay with him forever? He knew that he must never find out.

She seemed to sense his train of thought because she sighed and gently extricated herself from his arms. She rose and without looking at him, put on the clean set of clothes that was folded neatly on the bench in front of the bed.

He watched her in silence. It took him a moment to realize he was memorizing how she looked, how she moved. He would never forget how she felt.

As she moved toward the door, he whispered, "Thank you, my Christine."

She stopped and without turning to look at him said, "He's not the only one that's burned into my heart, Spock." Then she hurried out of his bedroom.

He heard the door to his quarters open and then close. For a moment, he entertained the notion that she would be unable to bring herself to leave him and would walk back in.

She did not. He waited a few more minutes before rousing himself to take a shower and resume his life.

-----------**--------------------

An alarm went off on the console by the desk in Kerr's quarters, and he shut it off quickly. "Computer, delete program Watch-4."

"Program deleted."

He leaned back in his chair. So. She was in her cabin. If she knew that he had programmed the computer to keep tabs on her door, she would probably be livid. And he felt a small niggling of guilt himself at the thought that he was spying on her. But it was very small.

He had to know. It was that simple.

So now he knew. She was back. But really, what did it mean that her door had opened? It didn't mean she was necessarily coming back to him. It didn't mean that in the time it would take her to shower off the scent of Spock from her skin she'd be at his door. As if nothing had happened. Even though they would both know that something had happened.

His door chimed.

"It's open."

She looked tired. But then he supposed she would be if all she'd been doing was f--. He cut that thought off.

She was watching him. No smile. No frown. Her face was a mask that was almost as complete as the one Spock normally wore. Kerr wished he'd never seen the way the Vulcan had looked at her in the cave.

"How are you?" he asked finally.

She took a few steps into the room. "Okay, I guess."

"He didn't hurt you?"

"Nothing permanent."

He felt himself bristle and saw her react as she hurried to say, "That came out wrong. I'm okay. Really."

He nodded.

There was an uncomfortable silence. She finally sat down on the couch. He took pity on her and moved to the chair across from her. "So, here you are."

It was her turn to nod.

"You want to talk about it?" He couldn't believe he'd just asked that. He wasn't sure he wanted to know. And yet he had to know, no matter how much it hurt.

"Not really," she said, and he was grateful.

"You want a drink?"

She looked confused. "Is it beta shift already?"

"It's been a couple of beta shifts." His tone was more bitter than he intended.

She looked down. He thought he saw a flash of guilt on her face. And suddenly all he felt was anger. Raw, limitless anger. He stood up. "So how was it, Christine? Was it everything you hoped for?"

She looked up at him in surprise. "Randall?"

"Was he good? Did you enjoy it?"

Her voice was very small. "You told me to go."

"Yeah, I sure did, didn't I? And I'm a damned fool too." He paced the small room.

"What do you want me to say?" She gave him a strange look. "What do you want me to do?"

He walked over to her and pulled her to her feet. "I've been having this fantasy that you'd come here and the door would open and you'd throw yourself into my arms. You'd be shaking like a leaf and I would be the only thing that could comfort you."

She didn't move, just stared him down.

He finally looked away. "And if you had done that, you wouldn't be the woman I'm in love with." He walked to the galley and poured himself a drink. "You sure you don't want one?"

She didn't answer. When he turned to see what she was doing, she was walking toward him. She stopped an arms length from him and said, "He didn't die. So yes, it was good for me, Randall." Her voice was even and he realized that the words, though harsh, were really not meant to hurt him.

"I'm glad he's okay."

She stared at him for several seconds, then asked, "When they finally showed up, would there have still been time for the priestess to have helped him?"

He shook his head. "I don't think so."

She seemed to relax. "It was the right thing then. We did what we had to do."

He threw back the whiskey. "No, _you_ did what we had to do. I just waited for it to be over."

She winced. "I'm sorry." He shrugged and reached for the bottle. She grabbed his hand. "Don't."

"Why not, Christine?"

"Because you don't need it." She moved closer. Her expression was suddenly very tender.

He gave up trying to hide the pain he felt. He also decided to abandon discretion. "Did you bond with him?"

She shook her head, her eyes not leaving his.

"Why not?"

She reached up and laid her hand on his cheek. He leaned into it and closed his eyes.

"He wanted to. I didn't." She took the last step toward him and pressed her body against his.

"Why not?"

"Because I'm in love with you," she said simply, as she covered his lips with her own and wrapped her arms around him.

He pulled her closer, relishing the feel of her against him, her mouth on his. He'd convinced himself he'd never have her this way again. When they finally pulled apart, he whispered, "I love you."

She looked up at him and smiled, the look was both sweet and utterly sad. "I chose you before. And I chose you again this time. You need to believe that."

"I do."

"I'll always choose you," she said, then she kissed him almost desperately.

He was having a harder time believing that.

She pulled back and watched him. "What do you want to do?"

He gave her a half-smile. "What I want to do and what we should do are probably two different things."

She smiled and kissed him again, this time more passionately.

"No." He pushed her away gently. "Not tonight."

"But--"

He laid a finger on her lips. "Tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. But not tonight. I need some time."

"Do you want me to go away?"

He pulled her back into his arms. "No, I want you to stay with me. I want to go to the mess hall and get something to eat and then I want to go to sleep...with you." And I want to pretend that you didn't just spend the last two and a half days in another man's arms, he finished silently.

"Okay." She leaned in and kissed him very sweetly. "I'm sorry, Randall. I'm sorry this happened."

He smoothed back her hair, wondered if Spock had done the very same thing. "I know you are." He took her hand in his; dropping it only once they were in the hall. Even though she was walking by his side, without that small contact he felt very much alone.

-------------------

Kavall was relieved to see Christine already sitting in the command chair when she arrived for shift change. She smiled and said, "Good morning, sir," before taking her station.

"Good morning, Lieutenant," Christine replied evenly. "I hear we have you to thank for getting us out of that cave."

"I figured out the solution, that's all."

"Pretty big thing, if you ask me." Christine smiled. "We both know I don't like caves."

"I just wanted to know that you were okay. I mean, all of you."

"Well, you did good."

Kavall grinned. "Thanks."

Christine smiled again, but Kavall wasn't sure that the smile made it all the way to the commander's eyes. She watched Christine as the rest of the crew reported in. Whatever injuries she'd sustained had been healed, but she did seem tired. As they worked through a normal shift, Kavall noticed that the commander never got up to pace.

The captain came in a little later. He sat in his command chair for a few minutes then gave the conn back to Christine and went into his ready room. He only came out for short periods after that. He seemed to have lost the tension he had last displayed, but still seemed more on edge than normal.

When the beta shift started to report in, Christine got up and headed for her office. Kavall waited for her replacement to show up, then rang the door to the commander's office.

"Come." Christine had her head down and she was reading a padd. She looked up and smiled at Kavall.

"I wanted to talk to you Nevara to Christine, not lieutenant to commander."

Christine put down the padd and gestured to her chair. "Come sit."

Kavall did. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah. Just a little tired still."

"I was so worried about you when you were down there. Then Doctor Carpenter said you were going to be fine, that you just needed some rest. And that sounded great, but I saw the colonel, and he looked so glum that I got worried again."

"You could torture Randall all day and he'd never crack, but I get a little scratched up and he comes undone." Christine's laughter sounded a little forced.

"I guess he's just a big softie where you're concerned." Kavall grinned and was relieved to see a more honest smile come to her mentor's face.

"I think he really is."

"I was just surprised that he wasn't with you. It didn't seem like him to leave you alone."

Christine's expression became guarded. "I was sleeping. I asked him to stay away. I really didn't want company."

"Yeah, I know. I came by yesterday to see how you were, but you had the 'Do Not Disturb' on."

Christine sat back in her chair. "I didn't mean to seem unfriendly. But I did need to convalesce, not deal with a bunch of well-wishers. It's why Delynn wanted us in our quarters not in sickbay."

Kavall nodded and an uncomfortable silence fell between them.

Christine leaned forward. "Nevara, I'm sorry. That didn't come out right. I'm just really tired, okay?"

Kavall nodded. She was saved from saying anything else when the door chimed. "I'll be going." She stood and walked with Christine to the door. It opened to Kerr. She was still on the bridge, so she opted for formal address. "Hello, Colonel."

"Lieutenant," he nodded and gave her a tight smile as he let her go by.

As the door closed, she hurried off the bridge and went directly to the biomed lab.

An assistant smiled at her as she entered. "Doctor Redmoon's in his office."

"Thanks." She walked to the door, which he had set on 'open' as usual, and watched him work. A mess of toxicology screens and gas workups lay scattered on the desk in front of him. She marveled that he could thrive in such chaos.

He looked up and a slow grin spread across his face. "I thought we weren't meeting till later."

"We weren't. It's just been a weird day and I needed to see you."

He stood up and drew her into his office, releasing the door and letting it close behind her. "What made it so weird?" he asked as he gave her a quick squeeze.

"Everything. Nothing. You know how sometimes things seem okay on the surface, but you get the feeling they aren't really okay at all."

He nodded.

"It was like that. I just think she was lying to me."

"Who?"

Kavall frowned. "Christine."

Leon shrugged. "If she is, I'm sure she has her reasons."

She glared at him. "That's really not the answer I want to hear."

"Sorry, sweetheart, but it's the only one I'm going to give you. I'm sure that if she is keeping something from you, she'll tell you when she's ready."

"Being reasonable is really annoying," she mock sulked as he kissed her into a better mood.

------------------------------------

Nako took a deep breath and unlocked the door to her quarters. The first step out after the Time was always the hardest. She closed her eyes and moved one foot forward, then the other. There. One complete set. She did it again, and again. It was a short walk to Spock's quarters. It was late, but she could sense that he was up so she rang the chime.

He answered the door promptly and moved aside so she could come in. "Nako. It is over?"

She nodded. "I have made you something." She handed him a robe of a blue so rich it was nearly purple.

He stroked the soft fabric. "It is beautiful." He touched the gold and silver sections that she had woven meticulously into the cloth. They formed the symbols of his house. "So much work."

"I had plenty of time on my hands, Spock." She smiled, and was pleased to feel again the amusement that life normally brought her.

"The color reminds me of the origin cloth you made. The one that hangs in Sarek's study."

She smiled.

"What?"

"Did you know that on your presentation day, Sarek wrapped you in that cloth. I thought T'Pau would have a fit and die on the spot."

"My father did that?"

Nako smiled sadly. "Never underestimate the love your father has for you. The love he has always had for you."

"Where my father is concerned, Nako, you know my judgment is cloudy at best."

"I know, Spock." She patted him on the shoulder. "How are you? I know that you have recently suffered through your own ordeal."

"I am alive."

She shook her head and laughed softly. "Our species are so alike in that respect, slaves to a biological imperative. Only you leave your head and become all heart." She touched his chest to make her point. "I left my heart to live only in my head. I sat thinking, and as I did, I saw how things were."

"Only how they were, Nako? Did you not see how things would be?"

"The future is a big place, Spock. I can think many things. But I cannot choose."

"What do you see then?"

She met his eyes. He did not look away. "I see many things."

"Tell me."

"I see loss."

He turned away. "You say you cannot choose. She can only choose. And not me."

Nako handed him the second item she had made. "Not her, little grandson."

He shook out the robe. It was in the same fabric as the one she had given him, the same inky dark color. But it was more finely detailed with the addition of a design that marked the wearer as one beloved, as t'hy'la. He looked at her askance. "You say not her, but there is no one else to give this to."

"You will understand in time."

He ran a finger over the silver threads. Then he seemed to really look at the combination of symbols. He picked up his robe and compared, then turned back to her in confusion. "These are for the remembrance ceremony?"

She nodded.

"Who?"

"Knowing will not make it easier."

"Who will die?" His voice was rough.

"Your mother."

There was a stunned silence then he didn't try to hide his anger as he asked, "And you said nothing?" He thrust the robes at her. "How long have these been done? You knew and yet you said nothing."

"I can only think and weave during the Time, Spock. I cannot control what I see, nor the fact that I cannot tell those things until it is over...no matter how much I might want to." She gently pushed the robes back toward him. "Is it that different than the Pon Farr?"

He looked down. "Perhaps not."

"I came as soon as I could."

"It is fortunate then that we are already on our way to Vulcan."

"Perhaps a higher speed would be advisable. There may still be time to say goodbye."

"You think that? Or you know that?"

"It is the same thing," she said.

Spock seemed to consider, then put the robes down and hurried out the door. She picked up his robe, folding it carefully. "I am sorry, grandson. You have already suffered a great loss," she said. Then she touched the other robe lovingly. "But you are not alone this time."

She walked into the corridor, deciding to walk the ship and become reacquainted with someplace other than her quarters.

--------------------

Spock hurried to the bridge. It was still several hours before alpha shift would come on duty. The gamma shift commander, Lieutenant Larson, looked up in surprise. "Sir?"

"Increase speed to warp seven."

"Sir?"

Spock fought the anger that threatened to erupt. "That's an order, Lieutenant." He headed to his ready room, stopping only long enough to instruct the comms officer to connect him with his father. "On a private channel," he added.

His father when he appeared on the screen looked more tired than Spock had ever seen him. "When were you going to tell me, father?"

Sarek did not ask him what he meant. He only looked defeated as he said, "Would it have made any difference, Spock?"

"To me. To her. But perhaps not to you."

Sarek closed his eyes as he had often done when Spock was younger and had said something particularly emotional. Spock felt an instant surge of resentment. He knew part of the emotion was due to his recent Pon Farr. But most of it was just the normal frustration of dealing with his father.

"When were you going to tell me, father?" he repeated.

"She has been ailing for some time, as you are already aware. I planned to tell you when I was sure the end was near."

"I could have been too far away by then."

"But you are not. You are on your way here for refits, are you not."

Spock forced himself to remain controlled. "That is immaterial. You should have told me earlier."

"Yes, my son. You do not need to repeat your point."

There was a long silence. Finally, Spock said, "I have increased our speed enough that I will be there by this time tomorrow."

Sarek nodded tiredly. "That is good."

Despite his anger with the man, Spock could see that Sarek was suffering. "You need rest, father."

"I will rest when she is dead, Spock." And the screen went black.

Spock sat for a long time staring at it, trying desperately to gather his control around him. His mother was dying. In and of itself, this was not unexpected. She was a human of advanced years living in an environment that was hostile to her increasingly fragile body. As his father had said, she had been in decline for some time. He should not be surprised that her condition had deteriorated further. Why then did it hurt so much?

His door chimed and he ignored it. It rang again. "Come," he said, his voice flat.

"Spock?" Christine moved into the room, concern showing plainly on her face. "Larson called me. He said you had increased our speed to warp seven. Has something happened?" She took another step toward him, but stopped when he finally looked up at her. "What is it?"

"My mother. She is dying."

Christine looked stricken. "Oh god, Spock. I'm so sorry."

He wanted to reach out to her. Everything in him was telling him to go to her, to pull her close and let her comfort him. But he knew it would be wrong. "It is the way of life, Christine." He strove for a casual tone.

"What?"

"She is human. I have always known that she would go long before my father." She was looking at him with a horrified expression. He had to turn away from her lest his pain betray him.

There was silence in the room, then she said angrily, "Damn you. Not again." And before he could stop her she was at his desk, her hand grabbing his face and dragging it up so that she could see his expression. He tried to hide his pain, but he knew he was failing when she dropped her hand and knelt in front of him. Her hands on his thighs burned; he could feel her compassion and concern. And her love.

"Let me help?" she said softly.

He touched her cheek gently for a few seconds. "I do not know how you can."

"Let me in."

"We both know why I can't do that. We have all made choices, Christine, and there are consequences to them."

"And one of those consequence is for you to suffer alone?"

He felt suddenly very tired. "You are with another. You cannot be with me. By definition, I am alone." He guided her to her feet. "I appreciate your concern. Watch the ship for me while I am gone. That is all the help I can ask of you."

--------------------------------

Christine lay on the grass between the rose bushes. She stared up at the ceiling, blinking away tears. She heard footsteps coming and stayed very still, hoping whoever it was would move on if they didn't see her.

They came closer. She closed her eyes and wished hard for a hull breach. Or a rogue transporter incident.

The footsteps stopped near her head. Then she felt someone lay down next to her on the grass, very close but not actually touching her.

"Go away," she said without opening her eyes to see who it was.

"But you look so appealing, all vulnerable and well...weepy."

"You!" Furious, she started to get up.

With strength that she hadn't supposed he had, Penhallon forced her back down. "I'm not here to harass you."

"No? You just always sneak up on someone and manhandle them in the rose garden?"

"For me to have sneaked up on you, you would have had to have been unaware of me. And I know that you heard me coming. I made sure of that. It's not easy to make that much noise walking on grass, you know."

He had a point. She quit trying to fight him and sank into the grass again.

He lay on his side, watching her. When he realized she wasn't going to run away, he relaxed so that he was on his back too. "Quite the view from here."

"Oh, shut up."

"No, I'm serious, sort of. What is it you see when you stare at the ceiling?"

"The ceiling."

He didn't say anything. They both stared up in silence.

"Ah," he finally said. "Now, I see."

"What?"

"I quit thinking about staring at the ceiling, and started to think about other things, and then it all became sort of black. Like a backdrop for any problem I cared to paint on it."

"Penhallon, it's a ceiling, ok? It's just a ceiling." She started to get up.

This time his words stopped her. "Which one of your problems would you paint up there, I wonder? The captain or the colonel?"

She turned to look at him.

He rolled onto his side again and stared back at her.

"I'm not even going to dignify that with an answer," she said with less force than she intended.

"You're hurting, Christine. Why don't you let someone in?"

"Someone? Or you?" Her laughter was mocking and mean.

"You think I'm shallow, I know that. And maybe I am shallow. But I'm one of the few people on this ship that understands just what you're going through."

"Fine, then what am I going through?"

"You're torn."

She rolled her eyes.

"The problem is that we're only allowed to love one person. Or one at a time anyway. Those that don't, those that want more are either philanderers...or Deltans," he finished with a grin. "So you have to pick one, which you kind of thought you already had done."

She looked at him with more interest.

"Only then you had to choose the other one, but you didn't want to unchoose the one you had."

"There's no such word as unchoose."

He smiled. "Well, there should be. And I'm right about them, aren't I."

She didn't say anything, just lay back down on the grass and stared up at the ceiling.

"So they're both up there?" he pressed.

"Yep," she finally said.

"Hell of a choice, Christine."

"You've got that right, Stephen."

A few seconds later, he asked, "Do you want me to go?"

Her voice was full of resigned defeat. "No, you can stay."

"You've known Spock a long time, haven't you?"

"Seems like forever."

"I had someone like that in my life. Someone I loved for a long time but could never have."

"Is this where you tell me that one day you finally got her, and you found out that you didn't really want her after all, and that in the meantime, you lost the one person who really did love you the way you wanted?"

"No. This is where I tell you that she died before I ever found out."

"Oh. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. She couldn't choose me. No matter what she felt. I knew that. Even sort of respected it. But that didn't make it hurt any less." He sat up and stared down at her. "But you're not in that situation. He does notice you."

She met his gaze. "I know."

"I heard about his mother. He needs you now. Very much."

"I'm not that important to him."

"I think you are. You may be the only one that can help him. The only one he'll let in."

"He didn't the last time," she said, thinking of how he'd shut her out when Kirk had died. "And, sweet goddess, Stephen, are you schilling for the house, or what? If you think I should be with him, just say it."

"I think you should be with the person you most want to be with."

She closed her eyes in frustration. "Oh, yeah, that's helpful." She opened one eye. "This isn't the point where you say that you're that person, is it?"

He laughed. "No, it really isn't."

"Good, because I don't like you."

"Yes, I know. That's what makes this so fun." He stood up. "I'm going to go get some dinner. Are you hungry?"

"No. I'm going to stay here awhile."

"Instead of painting all your problems on that ceiling, why don't you try ignoring them?"

She rolled over, "Huh?"

"Deal with each moment as it comes. Follow your heart, Christine. Don't make a choice."

"No choice?" she asked in confusion.

"No choice. Because if you choose, then you have to lock one of them out. And I think you need both of them, and they need you. Be Kerr's lover and Spock's friend. Or love them both in the way that makes sense to you."

"You're losing me."

"I don't think I am. Figure out what you want and try to get it."

As he was walking away, she called out, "Penhallon, why?"

"Why figure it out? Or why did I come here tonight?"

"Why are you being so nice to me?"

"Because it annoys the hell out of you." He grinned devilishly.

"You're a piece of work."

"Forget me. Just figure out what you want, Christine. It's all downhill from there."

Yeah, Christine thought to herself, but is that downhill as in not having to struggle uphill anymore, or downhill as in without brakes and about to crash?

------------**---------------------

Nako followed Spock to the transporter room. To her eyes, the pain was rolling off of him in waves. To anyone else, she reasoned, he would appear to be the soul of subdued composure. They beamed directly to his home and she followed him inside.

Hearing their arrival, Sarek came out, his every move a study in fatigue. He saw her and his expression lightened just slightly. "Nako. You are here too."

She nodded and went to him, taking the hands he didn't hesitate to offer her. "Old friend," she murmured.

He clasped her hands more tightly. "She is in such pain. Our medics would give her medicine but it makes her sick. I do not want her last hours to be spent this way."

Nako pulled away gently. "I will go to her, Sarek." She looked at Spock and said, "Take care of your father." When she was sure the two men were all right, she turned and walked into Amanda's bedroom.

Nako gasped in surprise at Amanda's appearance. The last time she had seen her, the woman had still been young looking and beautiful. Now she seemed older than Nako herself as she moaned, trying to find a comfortable position on the bed. On the bedside table incense infused with calming perfumes had burned out. Nako walked over and put a new cone in the censer, then lit it. The earthy fragrance began to fill the room, causing Amanda to stir and call out, "Sarek?"

"Hello, granddaughter," Nako soothed, as she sat on the side of the bed.

Amanda peered at her. "Nako?"

"I am here." Nako held her hand to Amanda's forehead. She could feel the pain and stress coming from deep inside the woman. "Shhh," she said, "do not fight it so." She pushed a little more firmly on Amanda's forehead, opening her spirit to the other woman. She closed her eyes, sucking in her breath at the onslaught of pain, then letting it out as the pain receded.

Amanda no longer moaned. She stared up at Nako, and her eyes seemed to look at something in the far distance. In a childlike voice, she said, "Grandmother Spider, I have not seen you for so long. I looked for you in the corn, but I could not find you."

Nako smiled. "That was in another life, child. You must concentrate on this one." She gently tapped Amanda on the temple and the woman focused again on her. "Nako? You came. Sarek will be so pleased. And is Spock with you?"

"He is. I will go get him." Nako rose and walked into the other room, where both men looked at her expectantly. "I have eased her pain. But I cannot stop what is. There is only a little time." She turned to Spock. "She is asking for you."

With a nod of thanks, he hurried in to his mother.

Nako walked to Sarek. "I wish I could ease your pain, old friend, but I cannot."

"It is enough that you have helped her."

"I will always help your family, Sarek."

"Your family, too," he said as he rested his eyes for a few seconds. She leaned down and kissed his forehead. I cannot ease your pain but I can give you strength, she thought to him.

When she backed up, he opened his eyes, his exhaustion diminished by her gift.

"Go to her, Sarek. Go to her while you still can."

She waited for him to do that before requesting return to the ship.

----------------------

Christine was in her office trying not to think about what Spock was going through, when her comm chimed. "Chapel," she answered, leaving it on audio only.

"You okay?" Kerr's voice was worried.

She switched on the video and nodded as he appeared on the screen.

"You're worried about him?"

She could tell he was trying not to sound jealous. She decided not to tell him he was failing miserably. "I remember what it was like. My mom died almost two years ago."

"I remember." His voice was full of sympathy. "But there's not much you can do for him. If it's like last time, he's going to shut down again for a while."

"I know." She took a deep breath. "Can we make it an early evening? Maybe eat in?"

He nodded. "Whatever you want."

"Thanks. I'll see you later."

He smiled gently, then the screen went black.

The rest of her shift seemed to take forever to finish. Worry about Spock was making her too restless to settle down. Finally, she gave up trying to work. Christine took two of the goddesses from the shelves in her office. Carrying them against her, she sat down at her desk and studied them. The Egyptian cat goddess Bastet had been a present from her mother the year before she had died. Christine absently stroked the smooth black stone of the cat as she looked at the other goddess, a small statue of the Vulcan T'Janra. Spock had given her it just before the Carter's launch. He had said that it had been in his family for a long time. She touched the sandstone to her lips and prayed silently, "Help him, my lady."

Suddenly feeling better, she put the statues back and left her office. She had missed shift change; the Beta crew was already at work when she left the bridge. She rode the lift alone to deck two and walked slowly to her cabin. She would need to call Randall when she got in. Sometimes she wished that he hadn't chosen to stay in quarters closer to his marines.

She was rounding the corner to her quarters when she saw Spock approaching from the other end of the corridor. She knew there was only one reason he'd be back on the ship. The vigil was over. She waited for him at his door.

He did not speak when he stopped in front of her. She saw from his eyes that he was tired and entirely beaten, then he looked away from her questioning gaze.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered.

"I cannot talk about it," he said hoarsely as he palmed open his door.

She wasn't sure why she did it, but she followed him into his quarters. He turned to her in angry surprise. "Did you not hear me?"

She faced him down, then pushed past him and walked to the beverage cabinet. "I heard you. Sit down." She found a stout and opening it carefully, poured it into a glass. How long had it been since she had done this? Not since Kirk had died, she decided. When she turned, he was still standing by the door. She pointed with her free hand at the couch. "Sit. Down."

His expression was flat and he sighed audibly but he followed her directions. As he sank into the cushions, she walked over and handed him the stout. He sipped it slowly, not looking at her while she stood in front of him, watching his face.

He set the glass down on the table behind her and looked up at her. "I do not know what you want from me. I cannot talk about it."

"Maybe you need to."

"You are not in a position to dictate what I need."

She raised an eyebrow at him. "You're right. I'm not." She saw something in his expression soften as he looked at her. Reaching out gently, she ran her hand down his cheek. "I remember the pain, Spock, from when my mother died. I remember how it felt to go into her bedroom that morning and have a mother, and leave that night motherless. I remember how it felt to be brave and strong--even though my own heart was breaking--because I didn't want to stop her from getting on with her journey."

Something in him seemed to crack as she talked. His eyes were sadder than she'd ever seen them. "I remember how much it hurt, Spock. How terribly alone I felt. When it was over, I walked into the hall and a friend of hers held me and let me cry. The next day, I realized I didn't even know which friend it had been, all I could remember was a gentle look and arms opening up to me. I still don't know who she was. But I'll never forget her kindness." She smiled at him as gently as she could and held her arms out. "Let me be kind to you."

He stared at her for a moment that seemed to last forever, then he slowly sat up and leaned forward until his head was resting against her stomach. She closed her arms around him and rocked gently. His arms wrapped around her, and she rested her face on his head, from which a faint smell of incense rose. She crooned, "It's all right, Spock. I've got you."

His arms tightened and he pressed his head more firmly against her body. He didn't make a sound as she moved them slowly back and forth. Then suddenly, he pulled away and looked up at her. Confused she let go and watched as he sank back against the cushions. Reaching out to take her hand, he pulled her down slowly enough that she could resist if she wanted to. When she didn't, he guided her down onto his lap. "I can't talk about it," he repeated again, this time in a voice that was almost pleading.

And she understood what he would never say. "Then tell me another way," she replied as she guided his fingers to the meld points.

He resisted for a moment. "It hurts so much."

She smiled and pulled his hand the rest of the way. "I'm strong. Show me."

His fingers were hot against her temple and cheek. She felt his mind seeking entrance and then they were one. She gasped at the grief that assailed her from every direction. It hurt so much. But it was also familiar; she remembered the pain from her own loss. And he was buried under it. The pain from Kirk's death was still there too--the wound hadn't healed so much as crusted closed, and this fresh grief had ripped it open.

*She is gone.* His voice was all around her.

*Yes. She is.* Christine sent him compassion and understanding. She shared the pain she had felt when she had sat at her mother's bedside and watched her die. He opened up to her, giving her permission to go deeper. She was suddenly witnessing what he had just been through. Amanda lay on the bed, her breathing growing more labored. Sarek sat on a chair to one side of the bed, not even trying to hold his normally stoic mask in place. Spock sat on the other side of his mother's bed. He had seen his father take Amanda's hand in his, but did not follow suit.

She could feel his guilt that he had not touched his mother. *Why didn't you?* she asked gently.

*My control was imperfect. I was afraid of what kind of damage my pain might do to her.*

He let her see the long vigil. How he sat for hours, his gaze shifting from his father to his mother and back again. How he waited as the woman who he and his father both loved without reservation left them behind. He was looking at his father when he saw Sarek's expression change to one of broken disbelief. Spock looked back at Amanda but she was gone.

*I missed it,* Spock's mind voice was full of self-loathing. *One tiny moment. And I missed it.*

She sent him forgiveness. *I missed it too, Spock. I looked away. But I think that if we don't see, it's because we aren't meant to...or because we don't need to. Maybe you were meant to see your father's face, to understand how much he loved her.*

*He did love her.*

*Yes, he did. As did you.*

*I did not tell her.*

*You didn't need to. She knew.*

*How can you be so sure?*

She felt his mood becoming more anxious. *Shhh, Spock. She knew. We always know.*

She felt him pull her physically closer. *Do you know? That I love you?*

*I know, Spock.* She felt his emotion flood her, realized she was doing the same thing for him, filling the mental space between them with her own feelings: compassion, respect, sympathy, and love. So much love.

*Stay with me for a while?* he asked.

*Of course,* she answered unhesitatingly.

He deepened the meld and let go of her face, his arms reaching around to steady her as he slowly shifted to the side until they were lying together on the couch. He pulled her tightly against him, wrapping his arms around her. She relaxed against him and let his grief surround her. She did not realize at first that she was weeping. As he wiped her tears from her cheek, she heard his gentle, *Yes, cry for her, my Christine. Give her what I cannot.*

------------------------------

Kerr rang the chime again. Christine should have been back from her shift by now. Where had she gone? He was about to go see if she was in her office, when Nako walked around the corner. She saw him and stopped, then frowned deeply and her eyes seemed to turn inward as if she was in pain. Stepping forward, he said, "Are you all right, Ambassador?"

She let him steady her, glancing for a moment toward Spock's door before she slowly straightened. "You are here to meet, Christine," she said as if that were a bit in doubt.

"That's right."

Nako smiled a strange smile and took his arm. "She was detained. Why don't you eat with me?"

"That's very sweet, ma'am, but I think I'll just wait here."

"It will be a long wait, my dear. Come and make an old woman happy by giving her some of your time."

"Yes, ma'am," he reluctantly agreed.

She smiled at him. "You are a polite one. It's sweet, but my name is Nako." She took his arm and turned him toward the lift. "And I shall call you Randall. We haven't had much of a chance to get to know one another. I think we should remedy that. How fortunate for us that Christine was held up."

He looked at Christine's door helplessly as the small but surprisingly strong woman drew him away. They were in the mess hall before he could put together a logical reason to get out of dinner and find out what Christine was doing that was so important.

Kerr watched as Nako ordered soup from the replicator. "That's all you're having?"

"I don't have much appetite right now. But your concern is touching." Her look was mischievous as she asked, "Do you trust me to order for you?"

"It better be more than just soup. I'm still a growing boy," he teased.

She handed him her tray. "Go find us a table and I will surprise you."

He chose the nearest table. Nako walked over and set a tray in front of him. It held spaghetti and some fruit. He tasted the spaghetti and looked at Nako suspiciously. "This is how my mom makes it, with everything cooked together. I'm sure this recipe isn't in the database."

She shrugged. "You must not have looked hard enough."

He poked through the fruit. There wasn't a single type that he didn't like. "Nako, how did you do this?"

She grinned at him. "Maybe you should spend less time asking how and more time asking why." She took a delicate sip of her soup.

"Well, that's certainly cryptic. Do you ever give a straight answer?"

"Those are overrated. It's the things in life that make you think or that challenge you that really matter. Easy answers or having what you want just handed to you is no way to grow."

He narrowed his eyes. "Why does this sound like a lecture?"

"I don't lecture, Randall. I just think about things."

They ate in companionable silence for a bit. Every now and then the mess door would open and he would look up hopefully, only to realize that it wasn't Christine that had entered. After the fifth time he did this, Nako said gently, "She has been detained. She won't be joining us."

"So you said. So where is she?"

Nako ignored him, seemingly engrossed in her soup. Before he could ask again she asked him, "Have you spent any time in the desert?"

"A bit. Survival training mostly."

Nako seemed very far away. "The desert is the most beautiful place. Have you seen it after a rainstorm?"

He was suddenly back in the Mojave and walking among the flowers that had sprung up everywhere. "I've never seen so much color."

She nodded. "Such a difference. From parched and empty to vibrant and blossoming, all because of a single storm."

"Are we still talking about the desert?"

Her look was utter innocence. "What else would we be talking about?"

They finished the rest of their meal in silence.

------------------------

Christine was floating in a sea of her own tears. She could taste the salt when she turned her face to look at the setting sun.

*You are dreaming.*

She felt Spock shift against her and realized she had fallen asleep. *I'm sorry.*

*There is nothing to be sorry for.* He gently pulled his mind from hers.

She opened her eyes and squinted at how bright the lights were.

"Lights at fifty percent," he said, and the cabin dimmed immediately.

"Thank you."

"You are tired. You should go to sleep." He touched her hand, slowly running his own over it. "It is just a touch. Just skin held to skin. How can it offer such comfort?"

"Because we're mammals. It's instinctive to seek it, to want it." She curled her fingers around his. "In medicine, we know that a touch can ease a restive patient, perhaps even help heal those who are sick or injured."

He considered that. "It must have been hard on Canara Seltax. With the biosuits on, you could not touch anyone."

She nodded, remembering the horrible deaths she had witnessed as the hemorrhagic fever had raged on the planet.

"I did not mean to bring up such unpleasant memories." He let go of her hand.

"You got that from me just then?" she asked in surprise.

He nodded. "Your touch and the meld we just shared, as well as the time we spent together before. Your feelings about our first mission came through quite clearly."

She smiled. "If I want to hide anything from you, I'll have to be more careful."

He nodded seriously. "Yes, you will." He stood, waiting as she got to her feet before walking her to the door. "I do not know how to thank you, Christine."

"I know, Spock. I was in there," she said, pointing at his head.

"Indeed, you were." He stood in the doorway for a moment. "Sleep well."

"You too," she said as he backed up and let the door close. She turned to go to her own quarters, just in time to see Nako and Kerr coming down the corridor.

"Otherwise detained?" Kerr said angrily to Nako.

Nako seemed unaffected by his irritation "I did not say how. Only that she was busy." She turned to look at Christine. "Did I lie, child?"

Christine shook her head.

Nako turned back to Kerr, and gave him a smile rich with understanding. "I think it is time I said goodnight, Randall."

"Nako."

She turned and smiled at Christine. "Goodnight, child."

"Goodnight, Nako. It's good to see you out."

"I told you I'd be fine." Nako disappeared around the corner.

Kerr stared at Christine. His posture was more rigid than she'd ever seen it, and his mouth was set in a tight line. She started to react, felt anger begin to boil. Then she took a good look at his eyes. They were full of betrayal and pain. Her anger evaporated.

"Come in, Randall," she said.

"I don't think that would be a very good idea."

She walked over to him and laced her arm through his. "I'm willing to risk it."

He jerked away. "For god's sake, Christine, I can smell him on you."

She moved deliberately close to him. "Yes, I imagine you can."

His mouth got even tighter.

"And if I were to take my clothes off, you wouldn't smell him at all."

His eyes narrowed.

"Randall, I'm in the hall. I'm not in there." She pointed at Spock's quarters. "That should tell you something."

He let out the breath she hadn't realized he was holding. "Fine, inside." He took her arm and led her none too gently to her own door. She palmed it open and he pushed her in, letting go of her arm once they were inside.

As soon as the door had closed, she turned, stopping him in his tracks. Reaching around to lock the door, she quickly undid her uniform and undressed. She grabbed his head with her hands and pushed it down. "Smell. Am I lying to you?"

He resisted at first, then she could feel his face moving across her skin, could hear as he sniffed at her...all over. She relaxed her grip, gently moving her fingers through his hair in the way he liked. He stood back up slowly. His eyes were no longer as angry. "I thought..."

"I know what you thought," she said as she drew him to her for a long kiss.

When they finally pulled away, he looked down at her, and with a confused half-smile said, "Why would you make me do that?"

She laughed slightly as she said, "Because we're mammals. And you--" she poked him in the chest "--are an extremely territorial one."

"I never used to be." He ran his hands over her possessively. "I'm not sure I like what I'm feeling."

She bent down and picked up her uniform, then taking his hand and leading him to the replicator, said, "Order me something? I'm starved." She went into her bedroom and slipped on some comfortable clothes. As she tossed her uniform into the recycler, she heard him taking dishes off the replicator tray.

He looked up as she walked out. "Did you want to eat at the table?"

"That's fine." She sat and looked up at him. He seemed a bit lost. "Sit down, Randall."

He didn't move.

"Please?"

He sat.

She took a bite and finding it delicious smiled at him in thanks. He knew what she liked.

She watched as he gradually started to relax. When he was no longer clenching his jaw, she said softly, "Spock's mother died today."

She saw several levels of realization hit him at once. Then he looked down. "That never occurred to me."

"Why would it? You were already unhappy with my relationship with him. Then I stood you up and you see me coming out of his quarters. You thought the most logical thing under the circumstances." She smiled faintly. "Or maybe the most emotional thing."

"Is he okay?"

She looked up from her food. "I think so. I helped him." She didn't look away.

Neither did he. "What's going on here, Christine?"

She put her fork down. "Things have changed."

"You think I don't know that?"

"I don't just mean that. I mean that he let me in this time. Emotionally."

Randall rolled his eyes. "Don't you think that's because you slept with him?"

She nodded. "Probably."

"So now that you're his new bedmate, he can let you share his pain?"

It was her turn to roll her eyes. "I'm not his new bedmate." She thought about that. "Well, okay, I was his new bedmate. But that's not a recurring role."

"Isn't it?"

She shook her head. "I don't intend it to be. "

"How can I believe that?"

She reached over and took his hand. Bringing it to her lips, she said, "You have to trust me."

He sighed as her lips touched his skin. "And I should do that why?"

"Because I love you," she said.

"And you know I love you." Kerr suddenly stood up and began to pace.

Christine watched him for a moment, then rose and disposed of her dishes. "Does that help you? Because when I do it, it never really makes me feel any better."

He looked at her. "Is this a joke to you?"

"Of course not." His pacing continued. Finally, she asked, "Why don't you just ask me what you really want to know?"

He stopped in mid-stride. "Maybe I don't want to hear the answer."

"Maybe you don't," she agreed.

"Well, that's certainly the way to reassure me."

"Who says I'm trying to reassure you?"

He turned quickly, walked the few steps to her and grabbed her by the arms. "Goddamn it, Christine, just tell me!"

"Yes," she said quietly, "I love him too."

He let go of her abruptly and stared down at her with disbelieving eyes, seemingly unable to think of what to say.

She continued, "I've loved him for almost half my life, Randall. Do you think that just stops? Do you think that just goes away?"

He took a step back.

She followed him. When she spoke again, her voice was perfectly even. "I'd given up hope, and then the powers whoever they may be paired us up again. Spock and I were headed somewhere together, building something that might have been good, when Kirk died and all hell broke loose. That's when you showed up. That's when you decided to walk into the middle of this. And you knew it when you did it. You knew damn well what you were getting into."

He backed away again, and she made up the distance, putting her hands on his chest. "It wasn't over, even if it had never really begun. But I acted like it was. I chose you and then I wanted to pretend that I'd never been headed down that path with Spock. I know you never asked me to, but I thought I had to. For us. But it was uncomfortable and unnatural. And unfair. To Spock. To me. And to you. Because it was a lie.

"I'm not unaware of him. I can't just pretend that all there is between him and me is a professional relationship." Kerr tried to push her away but she held on tightly. "And he needs me. He needed me in the cave, and he needed me tonight. And he'll no doubt need me again."

"And you'll be there for him?"

She nodded. "This isn't just a 'he'll get over it' moment. This isn't something I can walk away from. Because if he withdraws this time, he's never coming back. He'll be gone and everything we have here will be too. Everything. This ship, this crew that's just starting to come together, the potential to make a truly incredible difference. It'll all go away. Because Spock's a crucial part of that. Without him, this won't be the same for any of us. Without him, we lose everything."

"Fine. I get it. I won't ask you or anyone else to live without him." He jerked his arm away from her and walked to the door.

She ran the other way, stopping him before he could leave.

"Get out of my way, Christine."

"Or you'll what, Randall? Hurt me?" She stepped closer. "You'd never hurt me."

He was furious, his eyes blazing as he tried to move her aside.

It took all her strength to resist. "You're not about that. You're about making my life brighter. And holding me when I cry. And helping me deal with my own grief. And saving me from lustful Ferengi. And dancing with me at a Klingon party. And loving me till I think I want to die of pleasure."

He stopped pushing her and just held on to her arms, his eyes searching hers.

"You're the kindest man I've ever known. And the one I'd most like to have at my back if things got bad. You make me laugh, Randall. That's a gift."

He swallowed hard.

"I love him, I do. I know that's hard for you to hear. And maybe it won't feel good to know that at times I'm going to be telling him that. Going to be trying to reach out to him. But I came back to you after the Pon Farr. I didn't let him bond with me. You're the man, Randall, who I plan to go to sleep with tonight and to wake up with tomorrow. Tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that." She pulled away and backed up several steps. "If you'll have me?"

He blinked hard. She found herself doing the same. The moment stretched out endlessly.

Then he finally spoke, and his voice was an echo of the wise-ass marine she had come to love. "I'm not real clear, Chapel, on what 'reaching out to him' means."

"Well, mostly it means that I want to be his friend. I don't want to avoid him and feel like I can't spend time with him."

"Hmm."

She swallowed. "And I guess, it means that sometimes you may smell him on my clothes."

"But not underneath?"

She thought of the passion she and Spock had shared when the burning had ebbed but the desire had not. Their only time, they had said. Never again. She nodded. "Not underneath."

It took him two steps to reach her and two more to push her up against the wall. "Does this mean I'm going to have to sniff you every time I see you?"

She took a chance and said in her best bedroom voice, "Would that be a hardship?

He kissed her savagely. When he finally let her up for air, he said, "I told you once, I'm not sharing."

"To some extent, you're going to have to."

He sighed. "I guess reminding you that you chose me is a nonstarter at this point?"

She nodded solemnly before letting her expression turn wicked, "Reminding me _why_ I chose you might be a good idea though."

He studied her for several long seconds, then shook his head in defeat. "I really don't like this, Christine."

She smiled sympathetically. "I know."

"I should never have fallen in love with you," he complained, as he turned and dragged her into the bedroom. "Stupidest thing a man can do, falling for a woman like you."

She was going to reply, but he put his hand over his mouth. "For the love of god, Christine, no more talking tonight. Please?"

She took pity on him and answered with a passionate kiss instead.

----------------**---------------------------

Christine hurried off the lift to take her command chair. She and Kerr had overslept, something they never did. They had both been drained from their discussion and its rather stormy if silent aftermath. Christine busied herself with finalizing efficiency reports and didn't look up as she heard the doors to Spock's ready room open. When he walked down to sit beside her, she continued to enter data but asked quietly, "Are you okay?"

"If I am still needed after our refits our completed, Starfleet will allow us to remain in orbit for as long as my presence is required. It appears that the Federation wishes to send proper representation to the memorial service. They are asking us to postpone it until tomorrow in order to prepare some formal speeches. I fear my mother's service is to become a Federation event."

"Did you tell your father?"

"Yes. He is not pleased."

"I wouldn't think so."

"I must go back down and help him with the arrangements."

She looked at him sympathetically. "If you need anything, you know where we are."

"Yes." He stood up and formally gave her the conn. She resolutely turned back to the reports. She would not spend the entire shift worrying about him.

At the end of her shift she was surprised to see Kerr getting off the lift. He gestured to her office and she gave the conn over to Sabuti and followed him into the room. "What is it?"

"Just wanted to see you," he gave her a self-conscious smile. Then he slipped into professional marine mode. "And I want you to take a look at this. May I?" he asked, gesturing to her terminal.

"Be my guest."

He called up a schematic and she leaned over him to see what it was showing. It looked like a map. "What are we looking at?"

"Security plan for tomorrow. Got it from the Vulcan chief security officer." He pointed to several places on the diagram. "These are vulnerable spots that you could drive a shuttlecraft through." He looked up at her. "Of course they sent me this just as they were leaving for a function so there's nothing I can do tonight. But I want to go down early tomorrow and see if I can't get this beefed up."

"Sounds like a good idea. Thank you."

He gave her a wry grin over his shoulder. "Just doing my job, sir."

"I know. It's what I love about you."

He swiveled the chair so that he was facing her. "Did you think I wouldn't look out for him because of all that's happened."

She shook her head. "Actually no. I don't think it would occur to you not to." She smiled gently. "You're not like that."

He put his head back on the chair and studied her. She submitted to his stare, wondering what he was looking for and hoping that she was giving it to him. Finally, he looked away. "I've got to be down there early. And after last night...I think I'll make it an early evening."

She wasn't sure if he was testing her or trying to give her an out. "I'm beat too. Going to bed early sounds great. My place or yours?"

"It can be alone."

"It can be," she agreed. "But I don't want it to be. Do you?"

He seemed to relax. "Not really."

"Good. I'll see you in my quarters when you're done." She touched his shoulder for a moment then, moving aside so he could get up, she followed him out to the bridge.

He stood for a moment studying the shot of Vulcan that was taking up the viewscreen. "It's beautiful from here."

"They all are."

He laughed. "That's true. Pretty marbles hung in space." He gave her a last smile and left.

Beta shift started to trickle in a few moments later. Christine waited till the whole crew had turned over before she left. Ordering some light food to snack on, she sat down at the table and waited for Kerr to arrive. He was there a few minutes later. They finished the food, managing to keep the discussion to only the safest topics. They were both too tired to stray into the deeper territory of last night.

He got up and disposed of the dishes. "Come on, Chapel. You can't keep your eyes open."

She followed him into the bedroom. Undressing quickly, she slid under the covers. He followed her and wrapped his body around her. His whispered, "I love you" was the last thing she heard before morning.

After eating a quick breakfast, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her gently. She sank against him, reminded of how strong his body was as he supported her. "I love you," she told him when they finally pulled away.

He tapped her gently on the nose. "You just keep reminding yourself of that," he said seriously before kissing her again quickly and leaving.

Christine showered and slipped on one of her dress uniforms. She was in the bathroom trying to get her hair into something resembling regulation when the door chimed. She hurried to the other room. "Come," she said and the door opened to reveal Spock, holding a package under one arm.

"I thought you were on Vulcan."

"I was. May I come in?"

He looked around the room and she realized he was looking for Kerr. "He's already gone."

"I see." Spock sat down on the couch, setting the package next to him. "My mother's memorial has turned into a Federation event."

She joined him. "As you predicted."

"Being right is no satisfaction in this case."

"I know. Randall doesn't like it either. It's a security nightmare."

Spock nodded. "He is right." He sighed. "I am not sure I think this kind of..." he searched for the word

"Circus," she offered.

"Yes. That this kind of circus is appropriate."

"But your family is important to the Federation. I think it's natural that those who've benefited from you and your father would want to honor you. But, like many diplomatic events, it's spiraled a bit out of control."

He raised an eyebrow at her.

"I know. It's scary when I'm the logical one."

"It is. But you may be correct. In any case, there is nothing we can do about the memorial. It has taken on a life of its own. We've had to move it to a larger site and a later hour. My father has decided to hold a smaller service beforehand for our family at the house."

She nodded. "That's a good idea. Saying goodbye should be with those you hold dearest."

He met her gaze, his eyes dark and intense. "I agree. That is why I was hoping you would attend."

She was touched. "But I'm not family, Spock."

"I have come to learn over the years that there are those who are family by blood and those who are family by choice." He took her hand in his. "You are more than family to me."

Wondering if she was imagining that she could sense his need to have her with him at the ceremony, she laid her other hand on top of his. The sensation grew stronger and she looked at him in wonder, marveling for a moment at the feeling. "I'd be honored to come. Is there anything I should know?"

He shook his head. "The ritual is a simple one. And only my father will be a participant. But you will need this." He gently withdrew his hands and handed her the package. "It is from Nako," he explained as she shook out the robe. "The color of my house, appropriate to the occasion."

Christine turned to him. "She made this that fast?"

He shook his head. "She made this, and one for me, when she was secluded."

"She knew," Christine said wonderingly. "She knows so much."

"Yes, she does. You should know something before you decide to wear this." He pointed to several designs in the fabric. "These symbols she included announce you have a special significance to me."

"Which is what?"

He did not look away. "That you are my beloved."

She considered. "You mean mate?"

"No. There is a different combination of designs for that. This is for those who are t'hy'la. Do you know the word?"

She nodded. "I had lots of time to read up on things like that back on the Enterprise. Where do you think I got the recipe for plomeek soup?"

He gave her the slight smile that she loved to see. "I had wondered."

"Now you know." She touched the robe gently. "Who am I to argue with Nako's choice of design?"

Appearing a bit relieved, Spock stood up. "The service is in three hours. It might cause less questions to change at the house."

She smiled. "From the crew? Or just one particular member."

"Yes," he answered, and she could hear Kirk in his voice for a moment--it was exactly what the captain would have said.

She laughed as she handed the robe back to him. "Jim rubbed off on you, I think."

For once the name did not cause a shadow to appear between them. Spock just nodded seriously and said, "I believe that was inevitable." He headed for the door. "I am going back down now. Beam to my parent's...my father's house in three hours."

She saw his mask slip as he corrected himself and she walked over to him. "It gets easier."

His look was skeptical. "When?"

"In a few years," she admitted as she lifted her hand to his cheek. "When my father died, it took me that long to stop wanting to ask my mother about him. It's hard to let the ones you love go, Spock. Especially in places that are filled with memories of them, or with people that we associate with them. Your home here and Sarek will always remind you of her."

He put his hand over hers, letting his control drop for a few seconds as he rested his face against her hand. Then the Vulcan mask slipped back into place and he left.

--------------------------------

Kerr was hounding Telev and the Vulcan security chief was beginning to look a little irritated. Kerr didn't care. This memorial was turning into a nightmare and he wasn't going to sit on his hands when he knew he could help. His counterpart could get as annoyed as he wanted. Vulcans were good...hell, they were superior at many things, but imagining what someone determined to cause trouble would do wasn't one of them. "Sir, I cannot stress enough the shortsightedness of this security plan."

"So you have said, Colonel. Repeatedly."

Kerr tried appealing to logic. "What can I do to convince you?"

"I do not see a reason to add personnel at these points you have said are vulnerable. I see no holes in our security approach. They are merely redundant and will be a nuisance to those who have gathered here to mourn the wife of one of our great houses."

"You aren't looking at this in the right way."

Telev raised an elegant eyebrow. His tone was annoyingly superior. "Perhaps it is you who lack the facilities to analyze the problem."

"Hold that thought," Kerr said as he walked into the larger room outside of Telev's office. It was full of representatives from the visiting entourages--some registering their spacecraft, others in search of special accommodation. He searched the crowd till he saw a profile that had a familiar pattern of ridges. Pushing his way through the crowd, he tapped the woman on the shoulder and in his best Klingon said, "I need the services of a warrior."

The woman turned, irritation clearly written on her features, then she howled in pleasure--causing several people to back away anxiously--and slapped Kerr on the back. "Colonel Kerr! You are a sight for bored eyes."

He laughed. "Kehmak, what are you doing here?"

She shrugged. "We were in the neighborhood. Mak'chak wanted to honor the mother of the man who was the architect of peace."

"Uh huh," Kerr said as he led her to Telev's office. "And you hold peace in such high regard."

"Peace no, honor yes," she said easily. "Besides it was this or another trade negotiation and Mak'chak was not going to sit through one of those again if he, or I, could help it. Why do you need a warrior?"

"You'll see in a second," he answered as he marched back into the security office.

Telev's annoyance increased when he saw the Klingon. "What are you doing, Colonel."

Kerr picked up the security plan and handed it to Kehmak. "If you were going to attack somewhere today, where would you do it?"

She glanced at the plan then put it down and began pointing to all the places he had told Telev needed additional security. 'Here, and here, or here. Or possibly here." She looked up at Kerr, "I thought you said you needed a warrior? A Klingon toddler could figure that out."

Kerr had to hide his amusement.

"Very well, Colonel. We will add security as you have advised."

"I'd like to bring some of my own marines down."

"Out of the question."

Kerr leaned forward and said in a reasonable tone. "It would be a symbol of unity. You know, humans and Vulcans working together as we have from the beginning. And we are Captain Spock's own security force. I believe it would mean something to him to have us here."

Telev waved him away. "Fine. But if there are any incidents because of them."

Kehmak said, "I might attack a few Vulcan guards. But a man like him," she grinned at Kerr. "I'd think twice about that."

"I have much work to do. If you'll excuse me." Telev was clearly sick of them.

As they walked out of the building, Kehmak laughed. "I could take you in a matter of minutes. A Vulcan on the other hand."

"True. But would the Vulcan even know where to look?"

"Probably not. So where is Christine?"

He stopped walking, his attention caught by the sight of Spock striding toward him from the direction of the spaceport.

Kehmak made a deprecating sound. "Is she still fixated on that one?"

"Not all the time."

"That sounds promising."

"Not the word I'd use to describe what's going on."

Kehmak shrugged, "Love rarely comes with a star chart, Colonel."

"Yeah, but a few basic rules would be nice." He turned in time to salute Spock. "Sir."

"At ease, Colonel." Spock looked at the Klingon.

She nodded graciously, her prior dislike surprisingly well hidden as she paid her respects. "Captain, my condolences on your loss."

"Most kind." Spock nodded back, then motioned Kerr aside and said, "The Vulcan security chief is a notoriously difficult man to move once he has established a plan, but I think you should try to get reinforcements in certain areas." Spock looked over at the city's main park, one of the areas Kerr had noted as a problem. "There are gaps in his coverage."

Kerr smiled. "Already talked to him, sir. I was just about to call for some of our marines."

"You persuaded him to change his mind?"

Kerr pointed to Kehmak with his chin. "She helped."

"And he is letting our forces assist?"

Kerr nodded.

"Fascinating." Spock seemed to choose his words carefully as he added, "And what I should have expected from you, Colonel, given your resourcefulness in the past. I hope you know that I have never regretted choosing you for this position."

"Never, sir?" Kerr kept his voice as even as he could, but he knew that challenge was rife in his words.

"We have not had a chance to talk since..."

Kerr knew what he was saying. "No, we haven't. Not sure that this is the place to hold that particular conversation."

"You are angry." There was no condemnation in Spock's words. "As you have every right to be."

Kerr chose to say nothing.

Spock added, "She is a vexing woman at times."

"You won't get any argument there, sir."

Spock nodded. "But, as you say, this would be better held at another time and place. I appreciate your efforts on my behalf with security."

"You're my captain. And you don't need a security problem added to your burden."

Spock seemed about to walk away, then he turned back. "Thank you, Randall. I appreciate that."

It took Kerr a moment to realize Spock had called him by his first name.

---------------------------------

In one of the many guest bedrooms in Sarek's house, Christine was changing out of the robe Nako had made and back into her dress uniform. Refastening the hair that had fallen while she'd switched outfits, she thought back to the simple ceremony that had been held in Amanda's honor. Sarek's words honoring his wife had been touching. He had behaved in a manner that was totally Vulcan, yet his love for Amanda had come through anyway. It had made Christine so sad for him...and a little worried. How long had it been since he'd had to fend for himself?

There had been quite a few curious glances at her and the robe she wore. At first she had felt uncomfortable but then Spock had turned to her, leaning in and whispering in her ear, "Ignore them."

And she had done so. This day wasn't about her, nor was about those who didn't approve of her or the role she was playing here. This was about Spock's mother.

Sarek had come up to her after the ceremony. To her surprise, he had clasped her hands tightly. "Commander Chapel. It is good to see you."

"Ambassador. I'm so deeply sorry for your loss."

"Most kind," he had muttered in a way that told her the words had become rote for him.

They had been alone, so she had said softly, "I cannot begin to imagine the depth of your grief, Ambassador. But I lost someone I loved long ago. Spent years searching for him. So in some small way, I do understand the pain you feel."

"Perhaps you do, Commander." He had released her hands in order to touch the robe. "Do I recognize Nako's work here?"

"You do, sir."

His next question had shocked her. "Do her symbols overstate the nature of the relationship you have with my son?"

"I'm not sure I know the exact nature of my relationship with him."

"That is an honest answer. I accept it." He had looked over at Spock. "Take care of my son, Christine. He will need your help in the days to come."

"What of you? Who will help you?"

He had waved her concern away. "I will keep busy. I have my classes to teach, and my wife's flowers to tend."

Christine had remembered how, after her father had died, her mother had tried to book every vacant moment so that there were very few she spent alone. "Busy is good, Ambassador. But you can't always be that way. Sometimes you just have to feel the grief, not run from it."

"Perhaps. Now if you'll excuse me, I must make the rounds. It is required."

She had nodded sympathetically, then made her way to the bedroom to change. Checking the chrono on the bedside table, she had realized they had just enough time to get to the memorial service.

A discreet knock on the door ended her reverie. "Come in."

Spock entered. He had not changed out of his robe. He picked up the one she had worn, stroking it gently then surprising her by holding it to his nose. "It smells of you...warm and comforting."

She walked toward him and took the robe from him to sniff it. "I don't smell anything."

He gave her a half-smile. "You are not a Vulcan male."

Or a human one either, she thought ruefully, as she opened her arms to him. He went in willingly, holding her tightly. As their bodies pressed together, she could feel his pain and sadness. "I'm so sorry," she said as he buried his face in her neck. She felt his lips on her neck for a moment, then he pulled away.

"We must go."

She followed him out to the flitter he'd reserved. Sarek had gone ahead and the two of them rode in silence. As he touched the little ship down in a space that had been reserved for the family, Christine saw the rest of the Carter command staff waiting for them.

Spock opened the door and let her out. He nodded formally to her then went to join his father in the seats reserved for them. She turned and headed toward the crew. She saw Kerr and smiled at him as she approached. He met her halfway and discreetly took her hand in his. "I'm going to be out here, checking on the security. I just wanted to see you before you went in."

She squeezed his hand. "I'm glad."

Kerr turned to watch Spock's progress. Every few steps he was stopped by a diplomat or well-wisher. "How is he?"

"As well as can be expected, I suppose." She looked up at Kerr, wanting suddenly to hold him. "I love you."

"What's that for?" he said, but he looked pleased.

"I just do. I know things are weird. But I do love you." She looked around. They were as alone as they'd ever be in a crowd this large, so she kissed him quickly.

"I love you too." He smiled at her, "Oh and hey, Kehmak's here."

"Really?" Christine smiled fondly. "I can't wait to see her."

"She said she'd find you during the reception."

"I'll look forward to it." Christine saw that Penhallon had doubled back and was making some urgent hand motions. "I have to go. I love you."

"Love you," he said, leaning in for one more quick kiss before hurrying off in the direction of the back entrance.

She caught up with Penhallon and they walked into the hall. "So what's the emergency?"

"Well, I just wanted some quality time with you."

"That was why you made me rush over here?"

He nodded.

"You never give up," she said.

"Ah, but I see you followed my advice." When she ignored him, he continued. "So you didn't choose either of them. Or did you choose both?" He suddenly seemed very interested.

"None of your business, Penhallon."

"Maybe I just want to know if there's room in there for me?" he said with a sarcastic grin.

"Not if you were the last man on Earth."

"We're not on Earth, Christine." He laughed softly. "Or haven't you noticed?"

"I'm aware." She turned away and walked to her seat. The ceremony, for all the hubbub over it, was quite short. In no time, they were spilling out of the auditorium and down to the reception room. She hung back, looking for Kerr.

"Commander?"

She turned and saw the priestess that Spock had brought on board heading for her. "Yes?"

"I wanted to see how you were doing."

Christine felt a momentary embarrassment, then realized that if anyone was going to understand what she had been through, it would be this woman. "I'm fine."

T'Clev did not press her. "I am sorry we did not have any time to get to know one another. I am curious about you."

"I could say the same thing. I guess it wasn't meant to be." She looked down, unsure if she should ask the question she really wanted to.

"Commander?"

"Were you sorry? I mean that it wasn't you?"

"I wasn't. You gave me a rare chance for introspection. I think perhaps I have lost some portion of myself over the years. I was able to find her on board the Carter. In fact, I need to thank someone for that before this is over." T'Clev seemed to search the crowd, her face changing when she found the person she was looking for. She nodded to Christine. "Good luck, Commander."

"Thank you," she said, watching T'Clev walk over to Penhallon, who smiled and made room for her next to him. Christine refused to consider what role he might have played in the priestess's self-discovery.

"Waiting for me?"

"Yes," she said, finally relaxing muscles she hadn't realized were tensed. She felt Kerr's hand circle her waist as he guided her into the line and was happy to let him push her along. "Any trouble?"

"Not much. A couple of Andorian secessionists tried to demonstrate at the front entrance. And we caught a Bolian pickpocket working the crowd." He leaned in so only she could hear. "But I saw at least two people I recognized and that I know recognized me. I have a feeling they were here for a reason other than paying respects. But the tail I assigned to them definitely put a damper on that."

She shuddered, thinking of what someone dedicated to committing mayhem might have accomplished in the crowded venue. She placed her hand over his where it sat on her waist. "I'm glad you were here."

"Me too." He pointed to the veranda beyond the refreshment table. "Kehmak's been asking about you. Why don't you go talk to her?"

She saw her friend looking bored by the open doors as Mak'chak tried animatedly to make small talk with several diplomats that he had cornered. Christine smiled as she saw them cower at each finger-jabbed punctuation. She walked over and Kehmak perked up considerably.

"I wondered if I was going to see you?"

Christine took her arm and led her outside. "Did you think I'd miss a chance to say hello?"

Kehmak shot her a mischievous glance. "I thought perhaps you were too busy with Spock."

Christine rolled her eyes. "So how much did Randall tell you?"

"Quite a lot, actually. Although I don't think he meant to. I get the feeling that other than you, he doesn't have anyone he confides in onboard." Kehmak looked out over the garden and pointed to something. Christine followed her direction and saw Kerr come out of the lower door and go to check in with several of his marines. Christine felt her heart turn over as she watched him.

Christine could feel Kehmak watching her. "I don't understand you, Christine. It is obvious how you feel for him."

Christine finally tore her eyes away from Kerr. "I know."

"If you love him, then why do you still need Spock?" Kehmak turned to look at Mak'chak. "I have been with him for twenty years now. There are other men I find desirable, but I have no need to taste them. Why do you?"

"It's not like that. There's no tasting." Christine sat down on the low ledge surrounding the veranda, looking up at the Klingon, she answered, "And it's not that simple."

Kehmak sighed. "Of course not." She sat down, facing Christine and taking a deep breath before saying, "So why don't you explain to me how it is?"

------------------------------

Kerr finished making the rounds and, satisfied that there were no new security threats to deal with, turned and looked up at the hall. He could see Christine talking with Kehmak on the veranda. To get a better view, he walked into the next section of the garden.

"Her rapport with the Klingon woman is truly remarkable," Spock said just behind him.

Kerr whirled; stunned that he hadn't heard the Vulcan approach. Then he realized that Spock had been sitting there the whole time, Kerr had just been too lost in thought to notice. "I beg your pardon, sir. I didn't mean to intrude on your privacy." He started to turn.

"Colonel, stay."

Kerr turned reluctantly. "I still have some men to check on."

"Sit, Randall. Please?"

Sighing in resignation, Kerr sat at the other end of the bench. "I'm very sorry about your mother."

Spock nodded and surprised Kerr by saying, "I will miss her. Very much." Then he looked up and met Kerr's look with an unexpectedly intense one. "Christine reminds me of her in many ways."

Kerr felt his hackles rise. "Sir, I really don't think now is the time."

"Yes, but when will it be time?" Spock turned his gaze back to Christine. "What is happening with her has the potential to destroy our professional relationship." He looked suddenly at Kerr. "If it hasn't already?"

Kerr shook his head. "It hasn't. Yet."

"I am relieved. You are a fine officer and I trust you, Colonel. I do not easily trust people. In fact, I could probably count those that I have on one hand."

Kerr realized that he could say the same thing about Spock. But he found he didn't want to. "She is very important to me, sir," he blurted, feeling instantly foolish.

But Spock only nodded. "As she should be. She deserves to be loved."

"Yeah, but by which one of us?" Kerr couldn't help it, he laughed. This was surely the oddest conversation he'd ever had with a commanding officer.

"Both of us. One of us. Neither of us." Spock's voice dropped in volume. "Would you transfer off the ship? Make her choose...again?"

Kerr looked down. He wasn't going to admit that the thought had occurred to him. Or that he had decided against it because he already knew the outcome of such an action. "She'd choose you."

He was stunned to hear Spock exhale heavily in what Kerr could only call amusement. "While I, on the other hand, believe she would choose you."

He looked at the Vulcan. "You do?"

Spock met his look and nodded. "But neither of us will really know until that moment comes." He rose, "And it is up to us to choose whether it comes now, later, or never."

"I know." Kerr stood up too. "But the day may come that knowing the answer becomes the most important thing."

"Indeed it may." With a nod of his head, Spock indicated he was going to go back into the building. "But perhaps if you and I make an effort to understand each other better, then the relationships--whatever they may turn out to be--that we are building with her will not sting so greatly. "

"I'm not sure I understand, sir."

Spock looked up at the veranda again. "We may never be friends, Colonel. But she loves you. And I would like to find out why. Can you not say the same? I am merely proposing a truce."

"We aren't at war," Kerr noted sharply.

"Not yet, anyway," Spock agreed. He looked up again, "She has seen us."

Kerr looked up and even from his distance from her he could tell she looked worried. He chuckled, "I bet this conversation is making her very nervous."

"I believe you are correct," Spock agreed.

Kerr turned away from the veranda, his spirits unaccountably lightening as he preceded his captain into the building. "Somehow, sir, that makes me feel better."

Spock followed him back into the jumble of people. As he was about to turn away and begin mingling with the crowd, he said softly, "Somehow, Colonel, I thought it might."

FIN