Toxic

In his quarters, Spock sat lost in thought bombarded by memories of Platonius.

*I'm so ashamed, please make them stop.*

*We have tried.*

*Please, please make them stop.*

*I haven't the power. I am deeply sorry. I have failed you.*

*For so long I've wanted to be close to you. Now all I want to do is crawl away and die.*

Then they had been forced to kiss. A desperate kiss, both struggling to fight the power that was pushing them together. He had been surprised at the time that they had not been made to do more. But it had become clear later that their hosts preferred violence to sex. But for the kironide induced psychokinetic power the Captain had developed, both he and Spock would have tortured the women to who knows what end. Spock fought the anger that again threatened to engulf him. Sought control against the shame that had plagued him during the days that had passed since the encounter.

He was interrupted by the sound of his door chime. "Come."

He looked up and was surprised to see Christine Chapel standing just inside the door, looking very ill at ease. "Can I help you Nurse Chapel?"

She moved into the room a bit. "Am I disturbing you Mr. Spock?"

"I was meditating, Nurse. Is there a reason you are here?" He winced inwardly at the coldness of his tone. But seeing her after spending time thinking about what had happened to them was jarring.

She moved over to the opposite end of the couch, gestured in a *may I?* way. He nodded and she perched on the edge. "I wanted to talk to you, Mr. Spock. About what happened." When he did not react, she continued, "On the planet?"

"What is there to talk about, Miss Chapel?"

"Couldn't you call me Christine in private?" When he didn't react she continued, "What they made us do.I've been thinking about it a lot.and."

Spock interrupted her, "I have tried to *not* think of it, Nurse. I suggest you do the same. It is an unpleasant episode and you should forget it ever happened."

She reached out her hand in protest, then thought better of it. "That's just it. I can't forget. I'm so sorry that you were put through that. I keep thinking that if I didn't have feelings for you, this wouldn't have happened."

Spock rose. "Miss Chapel, if they had not chosen you, they would have picked someone else to bring down for their amusement. Your concern is considerate but illogical. Again, I suggest you put it out of your mind. Was there anything else?"

She followed him to the door. "I just wanted to try to make this right between us."

As the door whooshed open he replied, "There is nothing wrong between us. But if you wish to improve our relationship, do not speak to me about this incident or your feelings again. I have tried to be gentle with you. But my patience is wearing thin."

He watched as her lips tightened. "Fine. Sorry I stopped by. Next time I won't worry about you."

"That would be advisable, Nurse." The door closed behind her. Again Spock felt regret for his words and tone. *She is a complication that I do not need.*

He returned to his meditation and tried not to dwell on the events on Platonius or the conversation that had just taken place. He did not succeed.

**************************

Over the next few months, he did not interact with Christine again. They crossed paths several times but did little more than acknowledge each other's presence. It was not until Star Fleet tasked the Enterprise with helping survey a new Federation colony world that the two of them spent any significant time in each other's company.

Spock was in charge of the away mission. The ship would be out of contact for several weeks delivering vital medical supplies to a nearby planet. But he foresaw no problems for the team of 40 crewmembers that he had pulled from various departments on the ship. Once everyone had beamed down, they divided up and began to catalog the new planet, working with a Federation team that had been stationed there some months ago. Spock made sure Christine was not in his team and they did not run into each other the first week as the teams wandered far afield of each other in their explorations.

At the start of the second week he got an emergency call from Dr. Hallon at the base station. A crewmember had been bitten by a local serpent. The crewmember was Christine.

"You have antivenin of course?" Spock queried.

"It's not quite that simple, Commander. Perhaps you should come back to base."

Spock pushed back irritation at having to leave his work to check on Christine. *She did not do this intentionally.* He took one of the small sleds they were using for local transport and made his way back to base. When he got there he walked to the building the initial team had set up as an infirmary.

Dr. Hallon saw him enter, and left Christine's side immediately. Motioning him to the far side of the room, he lowered his voice as he briefed Spock, "Commander, I'm glad you came. I don't want to talk about it much in front of Christine. This is quite serious. We've lost several members of our team to this toxin."

"I do not understand why you needed me to come in for this. You have given her the antivenin?"

Hallon just shook his head. "There isn't any, Commander. That's the problem. We have had little luck catching the serpents. They are rare first of all, and those we've found are too fast and too vicious to catch."

"How toxic is the venom?"

Hallon sighed heavily. "Not physically toxic enough to kill someone that is not weak already."

Spock raised an eyebrow, "Yet you say you lost teammates to this poison?"

"Lost is a relative term here. They didn't die. But they should have. The venom is a nerve toxin. It basically sets the nerves on fire. Constant fire. The pain is so great that sleep is impossible. It is overwhelming to the victim. They go mad from the agony. Irreversibly insane."

Spock took in what Hallon had said. "There is no pain medicine that will help? No sleeping aid?"

Hallon shook his head. "None of them are strong enough. There's nothing I can do."

Spock nodded slowly. "I see. Can I talk to her?"

"Yes, but don't touch her or cause the bed to move. She is extremely sensitive. She is still lucid, but I don't know for how much longer."

Spock moved across the darkened room and approached the bed. Christine lay still. Her eyes were closed and she was making no sounds. Every now and then he could see a shudder run through her. Otherwise she appeared to be sleeping. "Miss Chapel?"

Her eyes flew open. Her voice was weak. "Spock? Oh god, this was stupid. So stupid. Wasn't watching my feet. Didn't mean to cause problems again for you."

"Shhh. It was an accident. You must rest now."

"Spock, I know how serious this is.the pain is.it's really bad."

"Rest, I need to speak with Dr. Hallon then I will be back."

He moved to the back of the room where Hallon had been watching them. "How much longer before we lose her?"

Hallon shook his head, "Six, maybe eight hours. She's nearing what we've determined to be the critical stage."

Spock thought for a long moment, weighed all the options. "I believe I can help her. Using a Vulcan discipline I may be able to take her pain from her for limited periods. Enough to let her sleep. It may save her."

Hallon nodded. "It's worth a try. I have nothing to give her to help. What do you need from me?"

"We will need privacy and quiet. The nurse can come in to change the IV tag, but other than that I would ask that we be left alone."

"Ok. I'll get on it."

"Also, I will need to eat whenever I can to remain strong. If the kitchen could put vegetarian meals aside for me, that would be most helpful.

Hallon moved to make it happen. "I hope this works. She seems like a fine woman."

"She is an excellent officer," Spock agreed. *I do not know her well enough to judge her personality,* he realized.

He made his way back to the bed. Christine's breathing was faster than it had been. Her eyes were tightly closed but he knew that if they were open he would see the beginning of panic in them. Panic and pain. She was suffering and he had to help her.

"Christine, can you hear me?"

Her blue eyes, normally so clear, were dull with agony. He could barely hear her whisper, "It must be bad if you are using my first name, Spock." As he looked away, unwilling to lie to her, she continued, "I heard Dr. Hallon, Spock. I know the prognosis. Now leave me in what peace I can find."

He leaned in close to her, "I am going to help you, Christine. You are strong and healthy. The toxin in your blood will not kill you. But you cannot tolerate this level of pain for much longer. Your mind will not survive. I intend to take your pain."

She sucked in a quick breath as another shock of agony overtook her. "How?"

"A mind meld. An extremely deep one. I can block what you are feeling. Turn the pain off for a while. So you can sleep. So your mind can rest."

"So I won't go mad?"

"Yes."

She turned away slightly, then whimpered as the motion caused her nerves to scream. "Won't a deep meld be intolerable to you? You have made it clear that you want nothing to do with me."

"I cannot stand by and watch you suffer. I can help you. I am going to help you."

He waited for her approval. Realized she was not going to give it. "Christine, as commander of this mission, I must make this choice for you."

He lay down next to her, saw that the movement on the mattress caused her more pain. "I am sorry. But we must be close so that I can maintain the level of the meld."

He reached for the psi points on her face. Began the meld and opened himself to her. Suddenly overwhelming pain engulfed him. The shock of it caused him to pull away from her. She moaned as his fingers left her face. Spock lay stunned, momentarily horrified at his unwillingness to reenter her mind. *How is she bearing this in such dignity? How can I do less?*

As if she sensed his conflict, Christine tried to move away from him. He pulled her back to him, reinitiated the meld before she could react. Felt the pain rush him again. Felt her in the background, all around him as he gathered up her anguish and pulled it to himself. He moved deeper and deeper, freeing her exhausted mind and watching as she relaxed in the pain- free world he was creating for her. *Sleep now,* he urged her. *I will wake you when it is time to take it back.*

He sensed her gratitude but underneath that emotion he felt her anger and hurt at his earlier behavior. He wanted to try to soothe her more, but his whole concentration was being taken up by managing the pain. It was worse than any torture he had undergone. That she had borne it this long was a testament to her strength and determination.

*Spock?* he heard her mind reach out uncertainly to him.

*Sleep, Christine. You must sleep. Nothing else matters now.*

He felt her mind go slack as she surrendered to the numb blackness he had provided her. Fighting back a mental moan, he wrestled the pain tighter around him, determined to not let even the smallest part of it escape his control and abuse her further.

**************************

For hours Spock fought the poison's effects as Christine slept peacefully. He was tiring badly, but every moment he gave her increased her chances to come out of this whole. Finally he knew he could not hold it much longer. *It will be better to give it back gradually, then overtax myself and lose it all at once.*

Slowly he unraveled the bundle he had created of the pain. He gently allowed it to move back around her consciousness. She groaned as her mind was pulled back to reality.

*Christine, I cannot hold it much longer. You must be strong.* He felt her determination take over. Was again surprised at her ability to withstand. *You are strong, Christine. You can do this.* Slowly he gave her all the pain. He stayed with her as she found a point from which she could hold it back. Then he began to disengage his mind from hers. As he slipped free he released her face. His hand was cramped from staying so long in one position, but he had not been willing to risk losing the pain if he tried the meld without the physical contact. Moving as gently as he could he slipped off the bed and collapsed onto a nearby bed. He barely had time to pull the blanket around him before he was asleep.

**************************

He woke abruptly. Hours had passed. *Christine?*

She was quiet on the bed. He moved over to her. "Christine? Look at me."

Her eyes were once again pain-wracked. He wanted to rush back into her mind to help her but he knew he needed to eat. He would be no good to her if he did not keep his strength up. The nurse had been in to change her IV tags so she at least was getting a constant influx of nutrients and fluids.

"I must go eat. I need nourishment if I am to help you." He saw her understanding as she gave a nearly imperceptible nod. He hurried to the mess hall and quickly ate as much as he could. As he made his way back to her, he fought the urge to run. *She is fine. Undue haste is illogical.* Yet he could not deny that he was worried. *I must hide that from her. She must only feel my confidence in her.* He stopped at the door to her room, took a moment to center his thoughts and prepare for what was to come.

Her eyes followed him as he moved into the room. Her voice was a little stronger than the day before. "You don't have to do this, Spock. I feel much stronger now."

He crossed to the bed, easing himself next to her. His fingers found the meld points as he replied, "I must disagree. I will continue these interventions until you can sleep on your own."

Again he sank into her mind, and again the pain threatened to overwhelm him. Steeling himself against the attack, he began to gather the tendrils of the pain to him. He could feel Christine's mind seeking the still place he was clearing for her. *Yes, sleep,* he urged.

Soon he was alone against the agony. This time he found it easier to manage, or perhaps it was really abating somewhat. He kept a tight hold on the pain, but found his attention splitting between his task and the memories available to him from this deep level of Christine's consciousness. Memories ranging from her childhood to more recent times. Feelings assailed him as he moved closer to some of them. He assessed the impressions he received from each memory without actually experiencing it. As he tasted the tenor of her life up to now he came to a realization. *She has rarely been happy.*

Spock wrapped the pain around him more securely as he moved further into her memories. He saw the grief she had felt at the death of her parents, grief made worse by guilt caused by a strange relief on her part that they were gone. He witnessed her pain when her fiancée had disappeared and the overwhelming barrage of anger and betrayal and grief when she had lost him yet again on Exo III. He moved to an earlier memory, one that held humiliation at her behavior when she was infected with the Psi 200 virus. He experienced her regret and shame. He moved back and forth in time, knowing all along that he should not be invading her privacy this way, yet drawn in a way he barely understood to know her, all of her. He saw his own Pon Farr through her eyes, all the little moments in which they had interacted.

Eventually a picture began to emerge. A woman out of place on the ship. A doctor by training, but forced by circumstances to be a nurse. A woman who in her own way felt as isolated as he was. She held herself so tightly, even her closest friends did not really know her. *What has happened to you?* he thought to himself as he moved to older memories. All through her life a picture emerged of loneliness, isolation. Yet, there was not unhappiness. There was simply the lack of happiness, almost as if she did not expect to ever experience it. He sensed she had given up on life being any other way.

He felt her mind stirring in reaction to his unauthorized plundering of her memories. He moved away from them, letting the experiences settle back into the surrounding space. As she calmed again, he contrasted what he had just discovered against the Christine Chapel that he thought he had known. He added to this the strength he had seen her display in fighting off the pain. He had judged her shallow and flighty. She was none of those things. *I would like to know more.*

Gathering the pain even more tightly around himself, Spock pondered what he had just learned. Hours passed this way as he kept Christine safe from the poison. Eventually, he felt his strength flagging and knew that he had to give the pain back to her again. As he shifted it over he could feel that her mind and spirit were stronger.

*We will beat this, Christine,* he sent her before he left her mind. He just made it to the bed before sleep again claimed him.

**************************

Spock watched as a younger version of himself faced down the children at his school on Vulcan. He tried to reach out to the boy but he could not. Young-Spock held in his hand a drawing that he had pulled down from the door of his storage space. It showed a caricature of him, bleeding from a skinned knee, green fluid mixing with red to make brown. In Vulcan, someone had written, "not Vulcan, never Vulcan." He watched as his memory came to life. The boy screamed at his tormentors, "Which of you did this?" Impassive gazes met his anger. Raised eyebrows mocked his excess of emotion. Soon a teacher came out to take him inside. His outburst would be punished. He would learn.

Then he was no longer on Vulcan. He was in a room where a young dark- haired girl sat reading. Outside in the hall two adults were arguing, screaming at one another. She flinched when their voices rose, but that was the only indication that she even heard. She kept reading to herself, voicing the words when the screams became louder. Finally, when the adults did not stop she covered her ears with her hands, eyes tightly shut, repeating, "Feel nothing, feel nothing, feel nothing." Spock reached out to her even as he woke up.

Disorientation took him over. Spock tried to focus, to remember where he was. He rarely ever had dreams. They always left him feeling uncentered. He turned to Christine. She was watching him solemnly.

"You were calling out in your sleep, Spock. Are you all right?"

"I dreamed." He got up and moved to the bed. Her eyes were brighter, less stricken. Her color was also better. He suddenly realized that his fingers had found her face. Not in a meld position, just to touch her. He pulled back slowly. Looking at her closely, he remembered the face of the little girl.

"Did you have dark hair as a child, Christine?"

She looked at him curiously. "Yes, that is my natural color. Why?"

He shook his head. "Fascinating. I must think about this. I will be back soon, will you be all right in the interim?"

When she nodded he left to eat and clean up. His mind was full of the dream. He saw himself, he saw her. *Curious.* He remembered himself just now, stroking her face with his hand. He did not regret the act. *Even more curious.*

As he made his way back to Christine's room he once again tried to focus his thoughts. This time, however, he found himself unable to let go of the dream's imagery. As he opened the door he had to fight back a feeling of anticipation. He wanted to again ransack her memories, even though he knew it was inappropriate under the circumstances. He fought a silent war as he lay down beside her.

"Spock? Is everything ok?" Her voice was worried as she turned to look at him.

"Everything is fine." He moved closer to her and initiated the meld. The pain was definitely getting less but it was still very intense.

*I would have gone mad by now,* her mind-voice was strong.

*Yes, almost certainly.*

He heard a mental sigh as she felt him begin to lift the pain away. *So tired,* she whispered back.

*Sleep.* As she drifted off he had to fight the urge to return to the memories he had explored yesterday. *It is wrong,* he reminded himself.

*Yes,* another voice seemed to echo in his mind, *Wrong. But it would explain so much.*

For several hours he debated the act. Finally his curiosity overcame his scruples. He found her childhood easily. She was indeed the little brunette. And the scene he had witnessed in his dream was not an aberration. Christine had grown up to the accompaniment of shouting and screaming. The house often pulsated with the raw emotion of her parents as they fought. The little girl had sought solace in thought, in rational exercise. But there was no escape from the deluge of loud abuse. It had taken its toll.

He moved away and found another Christine at medical school. She was a brilliant researcher. Somewhat aloof but always willing to help others with their work. One of her colleagues could not help but respond to her beauty and intellect. And she relished his calm attentions. Roger Korby was deemed cold and unemotional by most. Christine did not mind. She was lonely and he almost filled that part of her that cried out for company. At least he would never upset her world with shouted arguments.

But then Roger disappeared. And the rest Spock knew. He did not invade her privacy any further but retreated just a bit to let the memories again settle. He almost did not notice the pain he was shouldering, he was so engrossed in his thoughts. In his own memories of the child growing up on Vulcan. How disapproving his father would look every time he was sent home with a notification that he had been fighting. His mother would try to comfort him when she could, but over time he had come to fight less and reach out for her less as well. And now he was the near perfect Vulcan. More Vulcan at times than a full Vulcan. And as a result isolated.

*We share that, you and I,* he thought to Christine as he sat vigil inside her mind. It was many hours later that he had to wake her up.

**************************

It took Spock less time to recover from the ordeal than the previous instances. *The pain is indeed lessening.* Christine seemed to be dealing with it more easily as well. But Spock was determined to keep helping her until she fell asleep on her own. When it came time to join with her, she surprised him by moving over and giving him more room on the narrow bed.

"It does not hurt you to move?"

"It is getting easier. I can still feel every movement I make, as if my nerves were on fire. But somehow it is not as acute as before."

He settled in next to her. "The toxin is running its course. I think we are over the worst of it."

"I hope so."

He moved to meld with her. It was becoming almost second nature to join his mind to hers. He found the pain quickly, bundling it away from her. She wasted no time in relaxing her control and slipping into sleep. As Spock settled himself against his burden he studiously ignored her memories that were nestled all around him. *I must not intrude again on her thoughts,* he reminded himself. But several hours later he found himself again moving toward her most private remembrances.

*This is wrong,* the ethical portion of him protested.

*I must know,* some other, less well-known part answered.

He moved back to her university years. She had done well in school and rarely went home. Her mother had often called and urged her to come home, sometimes even using emotional blackmail, "Your father and I aren't getting any younger, Christine. There's more to life than studying." She had remained firm though. She had relished the peace of holidays at the school. So blessedly quiet when everyone was gone. No screaming fights, no emotional outbursts, no sudden bouts of tears. It was calm and cool and she had hated trading it in for duty to family. Until the day that she had received the call from her neighbors. "I don't know how to tell you this, honey. There's been a terrible accident. Your mom and dad." She had gone home for the funeral, but had shed no tears for her lost parents. Grief assailed her but so did a larger emotion. Relief.

*What the hell are you doing, Spock?*

Spock pulled quickly out of the memory. Christine's mental presence was all around him. Livid.

*You have awakened on your own.*

*Yes. To find you rummaging through *my* memories! How long have you been doing this?*

Spock could feel his grip on the pain becoming more tentative as he tried to manage both it and his response to her anger. *Christine, please. Do not become enraged. I cannot focus if you do.*

*Focus?! You were focusing just fine on raping my thoughts, you bastard! You were supposed to be helping me. How many? How many did you look in on? How many!!!*

Her last question came out a scream in his mind. He lost his grip on the pain and it slammed back to her. He tried to grab it as she mentally screamed in response to the sudden resumption of the agony.

*Get out! Leave me to it!*

*Christine, let me help you.* He reached out again.

*Get out!* She was frantic now. *Get out or I'll report this to both Star Fleet and the Vulcan council. How far do you think they will condone mental trespass, Spock?*

*That is not what this is, I.* He could not finish. Because she was right. He had known that what he was doing was wrong. But he had done it anyway. Before she could threaten him again he wrenched himself out of her and rolled off the bed.

Feeling dazed by the sudden loss of connection, he reached out to steady himself on the nightstand. "I am sorry, Christine. What I have done is unpardonable. I cannot explain it."

Feeling unaccustomed shame, he quickly left the room, leaving her to fight the pain and to try to understand what had just happened.

**************************

Hours later he reentered her room. She turned to watch him as he walked across the room. He pulled a chair close to the bed, sat down and turned to her. She met his gaze firmly, her eyes void of any emotion.

"Why?" Her voice too was free of any inflection.

"I cannot justify my actions." He took a deep breath as she continued her relentless stare. "What I did was wrong, but perhaps understandable."

"You wish to offer an excuse?" Her tone was mocking.

*She sounds like the Vulcan children of my childhood, making fun of my attempts to explain my emotions.* He studied her as she lay on the bed. Her hands were clenched, her mouth set firmly. Despite her calm expression, she was breathing quickly. *She is human. She is not Vulcan. She is not my enemy.*

"I offer no excuse. A Vulcan would not need an excuse, for he would never have let curiosity and pain overcome his ethics. But I am, unfortunately in this circumstance, half Human as you well know. I was surrounded by your pain, and touched continuously by your memories. I gave in to the temptation of diverting myself by learning a little about you. And soon I began to resonate with your experiences and could not stop looking deeper. It was wrong, I knew it, but did it anyway. I wanted to understand you. I can offer no other explanation."

"How much did you see?"

"I had many hours to endure. I doubt that there is much I missed."

"You bastard."

"Inaccurate, but understood." He sighed again. "Christine, I would like to try to make you understand why I was so drawn to gaining greater insight into your life. Please let me try?"

She shifted uncomfortably. He reached out to help her, but a warning glance from her stopped him. She held his gaze for some moments before her expression softened somewhat. "Fine. I have nothing but time now. Explain."

Looking down, Spock took a deep breath and began, "I treated you badly after Platonius." Spock stopped, searching for the words. He glanced over at her. Her expression was incredulous. "You disagree with that assessment?"

"You treated me like shit, Spock. Try being honest, why don't you?"

"Of course. I did not mean to.well.I did mean to. But later I was displeased with my treatment of you. But you reminded me of an incredibly uncomfortable incident in my life. I was humiliated by the Platonians. They had spent the day making me perform strange acts that were anathema to my Vulcan nature. Then they brought you in. Made me kiss you. Would have made me hurt you if Jim had not stopped them. And I could not stop it. I was full of shame, and pain. I just wanted to forget it ever happened. And nobody else mentioned it. Nobody but you. You wanted to talk about it. And I just couldn't. So I hurt you to make you go away and let it die."

"Maybe you wish that I had died?"

"I would not have spent the last few days trying to save your sanity if that were the case." Spock pulled his chair closer. "Christine, it is not that I find you repugnant. On the contrary, you are an attractive woman. But I have spent my life fighting my human side, the emotional side. And you represented all that I have spent a lifetime trying to purge from my behavior. You were a threat."

"If it hadn't been for that damn virus you would never have known of my feelings. Things were easier between us before that moment."

"Yes I believed you to be in love with Dr. Korby. I was aware of your search for him."

"Roger." Christine seemed lost in thought.

"You were supposedly looking for him, yet you fell in love with me? Was I a convenient substitute for him?"

Christine looked confused, "Substitute?"

He nodded, "That is what I said. Did you trade in one calm, rational, unemotional man for another? A man that would never force you to feel the pain of love, to weather the storms you watched your parents go through?"

"How dare you! I loved Roger."

"You never really loved him."

Christine's head snapped up, her reply was heated, "I *did* love him!"

Spock shook his head. "I was in your memories, Christine. Why are you lying? You never loved him. And he never made you feel loved, either."

"He never yelled at me."

"An excellent basis for marriage," he responded dryly.

"Sarcasm, Spock?" She shot him an angry look.

"Honesty. Why are you not honest? You did not love this man, yet you dropped everything you cared about in order to find him. Why?"

"You're suddenly the expert on me, Spock. You tell me. Why did I do it?"

"I am trying to determine that. It is a mystery."

She answered defiantly, "No mystery, I loved him."

"Or perhaps you just needed to convince yourself you were capable of love."

"*You* think that *I* am incapable of love? That's a good one, Spock."

He ignored the bitterness in her voice. "Christine, I saw your childhood memories too. I know what it was like."

"You had no right, Spock. How could you invade my privacy in this way?"

"I admit it was wrong. As I said, it may have been the pain combined with being so deep in your consciousness. I do not know. But that is not the point. Your childhood is the point. How painful it was, how distressing. The loneliness of trying to free yourself from the pain. And how much lonelier your life became as you grew up, and cut yourself off from your feelings."

"Again, Spock. You lecturing me on *feelings?* It is just too ludicrous."

"No, it is ironic. I claim to have no emotions and yet feel many things. And you, the human who claims to love me, yet in reality allows herself to feel so little." He rose and moved toward the door. "I am going to get us some food. I shall be back shortly. While I am gone, perhaps you should consider that you chose me because you knew that I would never reciprocate your love. What do you do now that I am intrigued enough by you to commit such a breach of faith as this? I am not the same as Roger Korby. I do not plan to ignore a being in obvious pain. A woman whose soul has been splintered by her own hands over the years. Where do we go from here, Christine? We have both spent a lifetime fighting back our feelings. I have spent the last few years learning that I cannot fight my nature. When do you plan to learn the same thing?"

He walked out of the room, but before the door swung shut he heard her murmur, "You bastard, I hate you."

**************************

When Spock came back with food and water for both of them, Christine was resting quietly with her eyes closed. He watched her for several minutes before he realized she was actually sleeping. *So you no longer need my help.* He felt a mix of relief and disappointment.

He settled back in the chair and ate some of the food. He put the rest aside for Christine. Not feeling tired enough to sleep, he leaned back in his chair and began his meditation. Several hours passed before he heard Christine stir in the bed next to him. Opening his eyes he found her staring at him.

"I am still angry," she said simply.

"Of course," he replied agreeably. "Nothing has changed in the short time that you have slept. I would be surprised if you had a change of attitude at this juncture."

She turned her body, tentatively rearranging limbs that were aching from being in the same position for too long. A grimace was the only indication of any discomfort. She saw him watching her and said irritably, "What?"

"When did you become so impassive? Or have you always been that way and hid it with the friendly mask you wear."

"You make it sound so deceptive. I am friendly to a point. I guess I just don't let people in too close. And, since you visited my childhood yourself, you saw what taught me to not react. I swore when I was growing up that I would never be like them. I would never let emotions run my life."

Spock raised his eyebrow, "And I have been rejecting you all these years for being too human. It truly is ironic."

"You are no longer going to reject me?"

"Not what you wanted to hear I'm sure." Spock noted, "Your failsafe is no longer safe."

She sighed slowly, "I can't believe that you suddenly think you want me, not after all these years."

"It is illogical. But it is true. How does that make you feel?"

She turned her head away from him, stared up at the ceiling. "I think you are exhausted by the continuous melds, Spock. I think you will feel differently after you have had sufficient rest."

"I did not ask what you *think,* Christine. I asked what you *feel.* Can you not tell me that?"

"What I feel, Spock? I feel anger at you for stealing my memories. I feel gratitude that you saved me. I feel guilty for having been bitten by that damn snake. I feel pain. What more do you want to know?"

He leaned forward, "Where is love in all of that? Where is this love I have hid from and run from?"

She met his gaze again. "Love, Spock? Do you want to know what love is? Love is a man and a woman who screech at each other every day, usually more than once. It is anger, and harsh words. It is passionate hatred and later noisy lovemaking that turns again into a fight when enough time has passed. Love hurts and it is loud and ugly. That's what love is to me, Spock."

"That is what I don't understand, Christine. If you despise love so much, why have you sought it? With Roger Korby, with me, why?"

Tears began to fill her eyes. "Because I hoped in my heart that it didn't have to be that way. I wanted it to be something good and honest. Something that you could put your trust in knowing it wouldn't snap back at you the minute you let your guard down. I wanted to believe in what everyone else seemed to believe. That love is a good thing."

"But you still don't believe that?"

"Why should I? Where is the evidence?"

Spock shrugged. "Love is not a science experiment. There are few tangibles to it."

"You know so much about love, Spock?"

"I know little, admittedly. But I do not think you should give up. You are lonely Christine. You need to be loved. You need to let someone love you. Or you will never be whole."

She turned back to her contemplation of the ceiling. "And is that someone you, Spock?"

He was silent for a long moment. He watched her swallow hard. "It could be."

Her gaze did not waver. "I don't think so, Spock."

"Why not?"

"Because you're right. You're absolutely right about me. I want love but I want safety more. I chose you because you would never love me back. I endured the mocking and the sly glances and all the pain, because in the end I was safe in that space I created that was my silly unrequited crush on you. No other men bothered me, no women friends tried very hard to fix me up. I was taken but not taken."

"And you are not willing to leave that place? To give up that safety?"

"I'll have to think on it, Spock. It isn't exactly safe anymore if you are asking me this. I don't know what I will do. I want you to go back to your team now. Leave me in peace to think. I am out of danger."

Spock rose, "I will go. But we must discuss this further when you are fully recovered."

Christine finally turned to look at him. "Yes, when I am fully recovered."

**************************

Spock left base camp the next morning after getting some extended sleep in the visitors' dormitory. He found himself strangely optimistic about his future with Christine. *We are better matched than I ever realized. We could make a life together.*

All the teams had made good progress on their explorations but many had discovered several other areas they wanted to catalog. When the Enterprise returned most groups requested extensions. Kirk sent down some additional manpower and granted them another two weeks of study while the Enterprise rendezvoused with several other ships in the area. Spock elected to work with the team rather than return to the ship. He checked with Dr. Hallon to make sure that Christine had been transported up. Hallon assured him that she had. *She will have plenty of time to think before I get back.*

Two weeks later the Enterprise returned. Spock's team was the first to beam up and after an informal debrief of the captain, Spock made his way to his quarters. He buzzed Christine' room but got no answer, so he left a message that he would like to have dinner with her that night. Satisfied that their relationship was on its way, he cleaned up and rested till his shift began.

The day passed routinely and he returned to his quarters expecting to find a response from Christine. There was nothing. Worried that perhaps her recovery had not been as complete as he had assumed, he made his way to sickbay. The room was empty except for the night nurse and McCoy working in his office. The doctor looked up when Spock approached the door. "Evening, Spock. Something I can do for you?"

"I was looking for Nurse Chapel, Doctor."

"For Christine? She's gone, Spock. Put in for a transfer Earthside. Wants to finish her doctorate, maybe get her MD. Left when we rendezvoused with Carolina. You didn't know?"

The news hit Spock like a sledgehammer across the chest. He found it difficult to breathe. "She is gone?"

Surprised at Spock's reaction, McCoy said, "Well blast it Spock. It's not like she had anything here to stay for, now is it?"

Spock took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders. "No, apparently there was nothing on board she valued enough to remain for."

Ignoring McCoy's curious look, Spock left sickbay and found his way to his quarters. The depth of his reaction surprised him. He felt, pain.real pain.when he thought of her leaving him. His emotions were reaching up through his carefully constructed layers of Vulcan control. Emotions that now had no outlet. All night he fought the pain, just as he had fought Christine's agony. He could not say which suffering was worse.

In the end, in the morning, a new Spock emerged. A Spock that once again had conquered his emotions. And two months later, when the Enterprise's current mission was over and the crews were deciding future assignments, Spock took the battle one step further. Arranging an extended leave of absence from Star Fleet, Spock returned home to Vulcan and embarked on the discipline of Kolinahr. In the pure flame of logic he planned to burn away every last vestige of emotion. And in the end, he would ensure that he would never experience hurt again. But in the meantime he had months of exercises and training to go through to reach that state where only pure logic would drive him. He would let nothing distract him from this goal. Nothing human, anyway.

FIN .