An Accident of Diplomacy by Djinn

CRASH! The vase of Dorelian orchids went flying past Christine's head. *Dammit!* she thought frantically, *when I said I wanted him to be more emotional, this is not quite what I had in mind.*

Ducking to avoid a poorly thrown wineglass, Christine scooted behind one of the pillars in the living area she was sharing with Spock. She peeked around the corner, only to find herself in danger from a bunch of roasted kaspaki tubers.

"Spock, for god's sake. Calm down! And stop throwing things."

Her request was met with heavy breathing but mercifully no more projectiles. She moved cautiously out from her hiding place. Spock was sitting on the floor, knees drawn up to his chin, arms wrapped around them. He was rocking back and forth, muttering.

*This is not good.* Christine thought desperately back over the past few days on the planet trying to pinpoint the cause for this outburst. It had been nothing more than a routine diplomatic stop for the Enterprise. She had not even planned to be part of the landing party. She remembered McCoy finagling his way out of the trip..

"Christine, m'dear, tell your old friend Leonard that you'd love to take his place on this courtesy call to yet another "we just got warp capability and we want to be your friend" planet. Please?"

She looked at him puzzled. "You usually love these things. You always bitch and moan about going, but you invariably come back relaxed and smiling. So why don't you want to go?"

"I just think it would be good if you had the chance, that's all."

Christine racked her brain for an explanation as to why McCoy would prefer to stay on the ship. She started to chuckle as she visualized about 5 foot 4 inches of red-haired reason. "You finally got a date with Carol Sauers didn't you? For tonight, you sly devil!"

McCoy spread his hands in innocent defeat. "You got me, Chris. She said yes, after weeks of resisting my not inconsiderable charms I might add. And it just so happens that our schedules work best tonight. Please say you'll go. Jim needs a medical representative on the delegation, but it doesn't have to be me. It'll be a nice break for you."

"I don't know, Leonard. I don't really enjoy these things."

McCoy nodded in defeat, but continued to wheedle as he said, "Ok. If you don't want to. I don't suppose it will sway you in the least to say that Mr. Spock is leading the mission? Three days on a planet, with him?"

"With him and about 10 other people, you relentless jerk!" A smile softened her words. "All right, I'll go. But for you and Carol. Not because Spock is going. He won't even know I'm there. Or at least he'll never show he knows I'm there. Just once I'd like to see him express some emotion!"

"Wouldn't we all, darlin'." McCoy steered her toward the door. "You have some packing to do, I believe?"

She mock scowled at him. "Yeah. And don't think you don't owe me, buster!"

He stood beaming at her as the doors closed behind her. *Well,* she thought, *at least one of us should get lucky once in a while!*

Squaring her shoulders she made her way to her quarters. She wasted little time in packing her dress uniform, some off-duty apparel, and the few toiletries she would need. She assessed her satchel, *This is a dull assortment of clothing.* Mentally shrugging she closed up the bag and made her way to the transporter room.

As the door opened she saw that most of the landing party had already assembled but the First Officer had not arrived yet. She smiled at several other members of the team then turned as the door opened. Kirk and Spock walked in. Kirk looked puzzled at seeing Christine there.

"I was expecting Dr. McCoy to be on this mission, Miss Chapel. I trust he isn't ill?"

"No sir. He was kind enough to give me this opportunity. Unless you object?" She knew he wouldn't and his hasty assurances ended the matter. The landing party split into two groups for beam down. Christine found herself in the first one, standing next to Spock.

"Mr. Spock," she deliberately caught his gaze.

"Nurse," he acknowledged, then turned away.

*Like I don't even exist,* she inwardly fumed, even as she kept her expression even. *What would it take to break through that wall of Vulcan control?*

As the Captain wished them a safe trip and gave the command to transport them to the planet surface, Christine snuck another look at Spock. *What would it take?* she wondered again.

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

"What the hell is this?"

Christine's turned her gaze from Spock to see a human female striding angrily toward their landing party. Glancing at Spock she saw momentary confusion in his expression. The woman walked up to Christine, barely sparing a look at the others in the party.

"What the hell were you thinking? Bringing all these men? And why are you in your uniform. I told you to wear pants or robes. Didn't you even read my reports?"

Christine knew her mouth was open but she was unsure how to respond to the woman. Spock saved her the trouble.

"I am in charge of this delegation, ma'am. I assume you are Ambassador Mara Wilcox? I am Commander Spock, first officer of the USS Enterprise."

"*You* are in charge? Oh this is great. Just great. I can't believe this! They didn't even read my reports did they? And none of you have a clue what I'm going on about, right? Stupid, bureaucratic, stuffed shirts wouldn't know a cultural specificity report from a stick up their ass. God I am so sick of this."

*Wow,* Christine thought, impressed with the woman's ability to rant. She could see Spock readying a response. Knowing from experience the effect his words of reason could have, she decided to act before he could say anything. He gave her a startled look as she took the Ambassador's arm and moved her away from the landing party. She stopped once she was out of range of everyone's hearing but Spock's.

"Mara? I can call you Mara, right? I'm Christine Chapel. I'm second in command on this mission," from out of the corner of her eye she saw Spock react to this exaggeration. "You're absolutely right. Those idiots at Command didn't give us the full poop. But we can work this. Just tell us what we need to do."

The ambassador sighed heavily. "Christine, I sent four volumes worth of material on the Dorelian social structure. I have spent two years observing this planet's culture, researching their customs. I sent it all in. I can't believe they didn't even read it."

*This is going nowhere, fast,* Christine realized. She motioned Spock over. His look when he came up to stand next to her was uncertain. *Well, at least I surprised him. Surprise is an emotion, right?*

"Mara," Christine brought the Ambassador's attention back to the matter at hand. "Tell us what we need to do to make this work?"

"First off, this is a matriarchal culture. You are no longer second in command, Christine, you're in charge. Commander, I'm demoting you. And secondly, all these other men, they just won't do. I want them sent back up to the ship."

"Ambassador," Spock protested. "They are all professionals, they will conduct themselves in a seemly way I assure you."

"No." Wilcox said firmly. "I'll have my hands full bringing you and Christine up to speed. They must go."

"I don't think."

She interrupted his argument. "Either they go, or I go. It's that simple."

Christine watched as the two appeared to have an old fashioned stare-down. Then Spock reached for his communicator.

"Enterprise?"

"Enterprise here."

"This is Commander Spock, Ensign Ward. Do not send down the second part of the team. And beam up all members of the first team except for Miss Chapel and myself."

"Sir?"

"You have your orders, ensign."

"Aye aye, sir." The familiar hum of the transporter sounded as the rest of the landing party disappeared.

Christine could have sworn she heard sarcasm in Spock's voice as he said, "Is there anything else required before we proceed, Ambassador?"

She shot him an irritated look. "Yes, her uniform is completely wrong."

"What precisely is *wrong* with it?" Spock sounded annoyed now.

"Four frigging volumes of information," Wilcox muttered. "There is nothing really wrong with the uniform itself. It is the fact that it shows so much of her body and yours shows so little of yours, which makes it appear that you have more power. That will never do. The two of you need to be similarly attired. It will show you are equals. So either she changes into pants, or you both wear robes, or *you* could try wearing that short skirt, Commander Spock?"

Christine laughed out loud before she could stop herself. A half glare from Spock only set her off more. "I think you'd look lovely in high heels, Mr. Spock."

"Somehow, I doubt that, Nurse." He spoke into his communicator. "Prepare to beam up Miss Chapel."

She looked at him uncertainly, *Is he sending me to the woodshed?* she thought irreverently.

"Go and procure a standard male officer's uniform, Miss Chapel. Make sure to put Commander's insignia on it. And please hurry."

The Ambassador interjected, "You better get used to calling her Christine, Spock. The Dorelians aren't big on titles. And while you're at it, call me Mara."

"As you wish." Spock was stiff as he turned to Christine. "*Christine,* you are ready?"

She nodded and he gave the order. Once back on board she rushed off the transporter pad and made her way to ship's stores. The confused yeoman helped her find a uniform that would fit her and outfit it to be a duplicate of Spock's. As she made her way to the changing room, the young man said, "I don't understand, ma'am."

"I'm sorry, yeoman, I don't have time to explain."

She rushed back to the transporter room and ordered the bewildered Ensign Ward to send her back to the planet. Ambassador Wilcox nodded approval when she saw her. She motioned them toward the buildings in the distance. As they set off, she began to brief them, "Christine, you're going to have to really be in charge for this to work. Don't look at Spock for approval, or you'll give the whole thing away. There won't be any major decisions required. You are purely representational so you only have to get through three days of feasting and ceremonies. Just watch how the Dorelians treat each other. Take your cue from them. And Spock, loosen up a bit." At his sound of protest, she continued, "I know you're a Vulcan, but just try, ok?"

Christine looked at Spock in sympathy. He visibly sighed. "I shall try, *Mara.*"

"That's good, Spock, it almost sounded natural." Christine tried to encourage him. She got a severe look for her trouble.

The ambassador ignored them as she continued, "Oh and just one more thing. The Dorelians are very strict about interactions between women and men. To allow you to attend all the ceremonies, Spock, you and Christine will have to pretend to be married."

Wilcox kept walking, oblivious to Spock and Christine who had both stopped dead in their tracks.

"Married?" Christine gulped.

"*How* married?" Spock asked.

The ambassador looked at him incredulously, "Well for god's sake, Spock, I don't mean you have to make a baby while the two of you are down here. You'll just have to share a room, which tend to be enormous here, so you probably won't even have to lay eyes on each other if you don't want to. Just make sure that the morning and evening maids don't see any evidence that you two aren't sleeping together. The Dorelians place a premium on intimacy, they won't trust you two if they think you sleep apart."

Both Spock and Christine still looked somewhat shell-shocked. Wilcox urged them impatiently, "Come on. You two are Starfleet professionals. You are trained to deal with difficult situations. Well this is one, so deal with it. Now let's go!"

The ambassador set off. Christine looked at Spock. "Say something?" she asked somewhat desperately.

He took a deep breath. "We will get through this, Christine. We will do fine. And, it could be worse."

"Yeah," Christine offered helpfully, "I could be McCoy."

She could have sworn that Spock's eyes glimmered for a moment with humor before a stern look took over his features. "Yes, that would be worse. Now, I suggest we catch up with the Ambassador."

They both jogged up to Wilcox. "All set then?" she asked quietly.

"As set as we're gonna be," Christine muttered as the gates of the Dorelian capital approached. A group of people stepped out from the doorway of the nearest building. A woman of indeterminate age and regal bearing began to speak.

"Mara, you bring us the federation delegation? We are honored. But we are surprised to see only two people?"

The ambassador struck a tone halfway between conciliatory and imperious. "May I present, Christine Chapel of Earth, commander of this delegation and noted healer and her spouse, Spock of Vulcan, skilled science officer and second in command to his wife. Christine, Spock, may I present Herlama, head of the Dorelian ruling council. Herlama, the delegation is small in number because between them Christine and Spock have the talents of scores of lesser Federation officers. I have faith that you will find them more than sufficient as representatives of the Federation."

Herlama stepped closer to Christine, who forced herself to present a relaxed and confident demeanor. Her eyes met Herlama's and she concentrated on not looking away from the other woman's powerful gaze. *I'm in charge, I'm in charge, I'm in charge,* she repeated as if it were a mantra. Finally, satisfied, Herlama put her hand on Christine's shoulder.

"It is a pleasure to welcome you and your spouse to our planet. I would be pleased to show you to your rooms where you can rest for a bit before the official ceremony of welcoming begins."

Christine nodded her assent and they followed Herlama and the group through several levels of the building until they finally were led into a huge room, luxuriously furnished and filled with food and drinks.

Herlama after a cursory check to make sure the arrangements met with her approval turned back to Christine and the ambassador. "Christine, Mara, I will see you at the ceremony." Completely ignoring Spock she left the room, her retinue following after her.

*Now it's as if *he* doesn't exist,* Christine thought gleefully. Then felt guilty for the sentiment.

Mara seemed to read her mind. "It's natural for them to ignore the husbands. While they serve varied roles in the home, in public men are largely decorative and are rarely acknowledged when there are no other spouses present." She turned to Spock, "It's their way."

"I find it somewhat difficult to accept being irrelevant," Spock admitted.

*You'll get used to it,* Christine thought somewhat bitterly. *I did.*

Mara nodded. "I'll leave you then. You have roughly three hours to rest up. Don't try to find your way around the building at first. It's a total maze. Ring this bell about five minutes before you are ready to leave. A maid will come up to escort you to the festival site. I'll be waiting there for you."

She considered them, "It would help if you two could try to look at each other every now and then. Christine you have the power here, you should make an effort to touch him to show that you are including him in your activities. And try to look.I don't know. more like you two like each other."

Both Christine and Spock looked uncomfortable with her suggestion. "Look, I know this is tough. But just watch Herlama and her spouse, Mantim. She is quite fond of him and will be a good person to mimic. And while you're at it, check out the outfits people are wearing here. There will be time to go shopping tomorrow before the second ceremony. I think it might be more comfortable for the Dorelians and for you if you were dressed in their fashions." She saw the skepticism in both sets of eyes, "Just observe tonight, ok? Maybe you'll feel perfectly comfortable in the clothes you have on. But maybe, just maybe, I'm right. Observe, yes?"

They both nodded obediently as she left the room. Christine marveled at the woman's ability to make Spock mind. *I wonder if she gives lessons?*

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

Christine started to explore the room they had been assigned. Mara had not been kidding. They could have slept at least twenty people in the space given to the two of them. The luxury was unexpected and Christine found herself looking forward to relaxing in the room. She glanced over at Spock, who was still standing where Mara had left them.

"Spock, we've got three hours to kill before the ceremony. You might want to rest or something?"

"I am fine, Nurse. You do not need to give me orders in private."

"I wasn't aware I had given you *any* orders yet, Spock? And call me Christine. You heard what Mara said?"

"Indeed." Spock seemed to gather his thoughts, then moved to join her. "I apologize Christine. I am finding this situation more difficult than I originally anticipated. I am not completely sure why."

"From what I understand of Vulcan culture.the role of women, I mean.this must be asking you to act completely counter to what you know?"

He looked at her puzzled, "I do not see the logic in your statement. T'Pau is the leader of our house. I am quite accustomed to deferring to the directions of a woman."

"Yes, but if I understand correctly, T'Pring should have become your property? You gave her to Stonn, right? As property. And I have observed Sarek and Amanda, she defers to him. So I think you take that for granted. That in most situations you will be the one in charge."

"This is a very personal subject, Christine. I prefer not to discuss it further."

She shrugged, "Fine. I was just trying to say that I understand if this is hard for you."

She moved toward the sleeping area of the room. A huge mattress was covered with soft blankets and more pillows than Christine had ever seen in one place. She sat down on the bed and yelped as she felt it move underneath her. Spock moved quickly to help her but stopped short when she started to laugh.

"You've got to try this, Spock! Sit down!"

He moved gingerly to the edge of the bed nearest him. His finger pushed down on the mattress. His eyebrow raised as the mattress rolled at his action. "Curious."

"Sit down, Spock. It is the strangest sensation."

He turned and lowered himself onto the bed. "Fascinating."

Christine started to bounce up and down. She saw him react as his side of the bed started to move. "It's water, Spock. A *water* bed." She threw herself backward, laughing as the waves began again. She looked up and was shocked to see someone on the ceiling. *Oh my god.*

"Spock?"

He was still sitting on the edge of the bed. Bouncing slightly to test the wave patterns.

"Why would you put a mirror on the ceiling? I mean hypothetically?"

He turned to look at her. Then followed her glance to the ceiling. "I imagine it is covered somewhere in the Ambassador's four volumes. I admit, I am at a loss to explain it."

"It's somewhat disconcerting, actually. I mean staring at your self like this. Watching everything that goes on in bed.oh."

Spock had gone back to bouncing lightly. "You have arrived at a conclusion?"

Christine sat up and slid off the bed. "You don't want to know, Spock."

She ignored his raised eyebrow and moved to the other side of the room. There was a simple bathroom off to the side, but the bulk of the space was dominated by a sunken bath. A fountain in the middle kept the water fresh and provided a soothing sound. Ledges submerged at different heights rimmed the edge of the pool. *Somehow I doubt this is strictly for bathing.*

She heard Spock's footsteps as he approached. "We will have no difficulty staying clean," he noted. "It would appear that the Dorelians do not require much privacy."

"Spock, I have a feeling there is usually more than one person in this bath."

He appeared to give it some thought. Suddenly he looked back at the mirror over the bed. She thought his complexion darkened slightly. "I see."

"Mara said the Dorelians were into intimacy. I guess this is just evidence of that." His look was forbidding. Eager to change the subject, she turned to the table laden with food. "So who's hungry, huh?"

With a last glance at the bath, Spock joined her at the table. It was spread with delicacies. The smell of the food made Christine's mouth water. She hadn't realized she was hungry. She pulled out her medical tricorder and gave the food a quick scan. She took a plate for herself and handed one to Spock. "We may as well eat something. Who knows if this ceremony includes food."

She began to load up her plate. She was halfway down the table when she realized Spock was staring at her with alarm. "What?"

"You have not eaten in a while?"

She snorted in derision. "Of course I have. I like to eat, Spock. Get used to it."

Wisely he decided not to pursue the topic and began to help himself to the vegetarian offerings on the table. He protested as she poured herself a glass of the local wine. "I do not think it is wise to drink an intoxicant, Christine. We could have a long night ahead of us."

"I scanned it, Spock. It is only slightly intoxicating. Besides I need to relax. Maybe you should think about having some too?"

"I think I will meditate after I finish this meal. That will help me far more than that wine."

"As you wish, Spock." She took her food over to one of the many couches scattered around the room. He sat across from her and they ate in silence. Christine found the food incredibly good, and pondered the wisdom of going back for seconds. Looking at Spock's spartan selection of food, she decided to forego another trip to the table. She settled back against the pillows and studied Spock for a minute.

*This is too strange,* she thought as she let her eyes close. "Wake me when it's time to go, Spock?"

She heard his assent as she drifted off.

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

Christine heard a voice calling her name. She groaned and turned to the pillows, snuggling deeper into the couch.

"Christine, it is time to get ready."

"Just a few more minutes, Mom," she mumbled.

"Miss Chapel. I must insist you wake up."

She opened her eyes to see Spock leaning over her, a severely displeased look on his face. "Five more minutes?" she pleaded.

"Now." His tone brooked no argument.

Muttering, Christine got off of the couch, grabbed her toiletries kit from her carryall, and went into the bathroom. Staring into the mirror she did a quick assessment. Her hair hadn't become too mussed, she touched the back of her head and confirmed that she had avoided bed hair. *Good job, Chapel. But the face.argghh.* In about five minutes she had repaired the makeup that sleep had smeared and was ready to go.

Spock was standing near the door. "I took the liberty of ringing for the maid."

"Good thinking." The doorbell rang and she moved to follow Spock out as they let the young Dorelian lead them to the festivities. Christine found herself grateful for the young man's assistance, she and Spock would never have found their way out of the building in time. He left them at the entrance to the grounds, bowing slightly as they thanked him.

"Right on time. Excellent." Mara walked up to them. Christine felt her mouth drop open as she took in the other woman's appearance. The ambassador was wearing an extremely short skirt, flat leather sandals, and a top that left considerably more uncovered than covered. Judging from her tan, and the lack of any lines, Christine surmised that she normally wore much less. Wilcox caught her inspection and grinned. "I told you that you were gonna want some new clothes before this was over."

Spock was maintaining an air of disinterest. "Ambassador Wilcox." she moved to correct him and he continued before she could say anything, "Mara. I fail to see why it is appropriate for you to wear such abbreviated attire when you made Christine change out of a uniform that was the same length and was considerably more modest."

Mara sighed, "I never said these people were prudes, Spock. If you thought that was what I meant, then you weren't listening. I just said you two needed to be dressed alike, or at least needed to be showing the same amount of skin. The fashions here tend to be quite scanty. Your current dress will be considered extremely dowdy and may be construed as a gesture of mistrust that you will not "bare" your skin with your hosts."

Spock continued undaunted. "Herlama was wearing robes earlier, as was her retinue. There was little that could be seen of them this morning. Are we to believe these same people will be dressed as you are now?"

"This planet has frequent afternoon dust storms during this time of year. They wear the hooded robes so they can keep the dust off. Underneath, I assure you they were much less prudishly dressed. Anyway, it will soon be a moot point. Here comes Herlama now."

Christine and Spock turned to meet their hostess. She felt Spock stiffen in surprise and barely managed to restrain an exclamation herself. Both Herlama and her mate, Mantim, wore short kilts of some very sheer white fabric. They had the same sandals on that Mara favored, only theirs laced up nearly to their hips. Similar lacing served as what could only jokingly be called covering on their torsos. Herlama's long hair partially covered her breasts, in much the same way that the kilts only partially concealed what she and Mantim were not wearing underneath.

*Eyes up,* she thought desperately.

Herlama leaned forward to embrace her. "Christine I thought perhaps you would have changed out of those rather comprehensive uniforms. But perhaps you are not comfortable sharing your man with us just yet. We will make allowances, as you are still strangers here. I am sure that you can learn to be as comfortable as Mara here is with our dress code."

*Or lack thereof.* Christine nodded gamely at Herlama. "Mara offered to take us shopping tomorrow. We look forward to trying some Dorelian fashions."

"We do?" she could hear the shock in Spock's voice even as he tried to maintain his dignity.

"We do," she said firmly. *God help us both.*

"Wonderful," Herlama clapped her hands together with pleasure. "And let me introduce my spouse, Mantim. He is the father of my four children and a wonderful husband. I would be lost without him." Herlama touched him on the cheek.

Mara looked meaningfully at Christine then at Spock.

*He's going to kill me when this is over,* she thought as she reached out and stroked Spock's arm. "Mantim this is Spock, my beloved mate. I am sure the two of you will have much to talk about."

Spock did not pull away from her hand as he nodded to the other man and said coolly, "A pleasure." But she could feel his annoyance.

*He may kill me *before* this is over,* she realized as Herlama led them to a tent set up in front of a cleared area. Three large chairs were laid out for them. Mantim directed Spock to some cushions set up behind the chairs. Christine nearly giggled at the look on Spock's face as he was led to the back of the tent.

"I trust your room is comfortable?" Herlama asked politely.

Christine rushed to assure her that it was very much to her liking.

Mara leaned forward conspiratorially. "The room you have is really quite restrained, shall we say. Herlama didn't want to overwhelm you."

*Our room is restrained? Good god.* Christine let her thoughts go for a moment then decided that was too dangerous. She peeked around her chair to check on Spock. He was sitting with Mantim and another Dorelian male.

"Yours?" she asked Mara, who nodded happily.

Christine studied the three of them. *Could Spock look any more bored?* The Dorelians were in an animated discussion but were talking too quietly for her to hear the topic. Whatever it was, it wasn't anything that interested a Vulcan apparently. She wanted to invite him up with them but could see from Mara's expression that it would not be a good idea. *Oh well, this won't kill him,* she thought unhappily.

Mara called to the newcomer. "Kiloma, why don't you pour some Casca wine for Spock. I think he would enjoy it."

"I am quite fine, Mara."

"Nonsense," she gave him a stern look. "You *really* should drink some. It is very relaxing."

*He's looking really stiff,* Christine realized as she watched him. *Maybe some wine would be good.* She tried to make her tone gentle as she ordered, "Humor Mara's young man, Spock. Drink the wine."

He looked at her in surprise. She saw rebellion in his eyes as she tried to send him a message in hers. *Don't fight me on this, Spock. We can hash this out later, just don't fight me.*

Gratefully she saw him concede. He looked at Kiloma, "I would be pleased to try some Casca wine."

As Mara turned back to Herlama, who had been largely ignoring what was going on with the men, the ambassador whispered, "Well done, Christine. Just keep this up and we'll be fine."

Christine glanced at Spock before turning around. His expression was neutral but his eyes burned into hers. *This is not going to be pretty,* she thought uneasily.

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

Three hours and fifteen dancing and singing acts later, Christine was beginning to wonder if she should just kill herself and save Spock the trouble. She reached for her glass of Casca wine and drank deeply. *This is the best stuff. It is almost worth sitting through this torture. Almost.*

She glanced back at Spock. He was sitting quietly listening to the duo singing Dorelian folk songs. He seemed much more mellow than earlier. She found herself grinning stupidly at him. *He's so handsome. I can't wait to see him in one of these outfits.* Her grin got wider as she tried to stifle a laugh. He caught her gaze and she realized his mellowness was more contrived than real.

*Uh-oh,* she thought, draining her glass. *Someone's in trouble.*

She looked over at Mara. The ambassador had Kiloma leaned up against the front of her chair and she was absentmindedly running her fingers through his hair as she listened to the music. Herlama had allowed Mantim to sit next to her chair and rest his head on her legs. Their hands were intertwined. Christine looked back at Spock and almost motioned him to come sit in front of her until she looked in his eyes again. *Don't push your luck, Chapel.*

When the duo finished, Herlama turned to her and said, "I think that is enough for tonight? You have enjoyed yourself yes?"

Christine mustered enthusiasm as she lied, "It was most interesting. I really enjoyed myself."

Herlama beamed at her. "Tomorrow should be even more interesting. First thing in the morning we will have a tour of the city. Then you and your mate can shop for clothing. I'll expect you back to join Mara and myself for lunch. Then your time is free," at this point she smirked somewhat, "to spend together until the dancing begins tomorrow evening."

"Dancing?" Christine asked, trying to hide her dismay. *One more folk dance and I'll scream.*

Mara interjected, "A dance. You know the kind where everyone dances. You do like to dance, right?" She included Spock in her warning glance.

"I love to dance, and so does Spock."

Christine wouldn't have thought it was possible for Spock's expression to get any darker, but it did. *Ok then, if you can't be nice, there will be no dancing for you, mister. So there.*

Rising out of her chair, Christine found herself swaying. She put her hand out to steady herself only to find that Spock had moved up behind her and had a firm grasp on her shoulder. Very firm. Too firm. *Hey, that hurts!*

He leaned into her and she thought for a moment that he was going to nuzzle her ear. Instead he growled, "Say goodnight, Christine."

Christine felt him turn her toward Herlama. "Well, we're going to go now, Herlama. Spock and I. To our room." She laughed conspiratorially and leaned toward the other woman. "I really like the waterbed, but I think I might get seasick."

"Excuse me?" Herlama asked puzzled.

Mara laughed out loud. "Casca wine, dear. Remember how long it took me to get used to it?"

Herlama smiled. "It does pack quite a punch." She looked at Spock for a moment. "Make sure she gets plenty of water before she falls asleep. Dehydration leads to a nasty morning."

He nodded firmly. "I will make sure she gets exactly what she needs."

Herlama smiled approval and led the rest of the group off.

"Spock, why is the ground spinning?" She felt his hand tighten and he pulled her toward their building. "Ooooh, slow down, Spock."

The maid from earlier emerged and showed them to their room. Spock thanked him and closed the door firmly. Christine took the opportunity to move away and pour herself a big glass of water. She drank it down and then nearly fell as the room started to spin. Spock's hands on her arms kept her upright.

He led her to the bed and dropped her unceremoniously onto the mattress. The waterbed bounced roughly. "Ohh god, make it stop." She struggled to a sitting position.

He thrust another glass of water in her face. "Drink this."

She took a big gulp as he sat down next to her. "Don't want a hangover. That would be," she leaned into Spock, "very bad."

He glared at her.

"You're really mad at me, aren't you?" She poked him in the chest. "Spock doesn't like being ignored. No sirree. He likes to have everything his way."

"Drink your water, then we will talk."

She drank some more. "We don't talk, Spock. We never talk. Talk is baaaadd. Cuz then you might have to hear me say "I love you," and that makes you so nervous."

"Christine please, you are intoxicated."

"Yes I am. And if you would let me finish, I'd say that maybe you wouldn't hear me say that. Cuz maybe I don't love you anymore, mister! Didya think of that, huh? Maybe I'm sick and tired of always hanging around waiting for you to notice me. Well not anymore, fella. This is a new Christine Chapel you're looking at."

"Yes, a drunk one."

"That wasn't very nice, Spock." She lifted the glass, noticed it was empty. "Could I have some more water?"

She watched him walk over to the table to refill the glass. It was suddenly too much effort to sit up so she curled up on the mattress. Letting her eyes close she felt blackness descend. She barely heard Spock calling her name before she passed out.

Spock stood over her and watched her for some time. Then he moved her away from the edge of the bed, took off her boots, and covered her up with a blanket. Sighing slightly he grabbed another blanket off the bed and made himself comfortable on one of the couches. It was some time before he slept.

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

The sound of a communicator woke Christine. The previous night came rushing back to her. She opened her eyes cautiously, expecting the light to be far too bright but it seemed fine. Gingerly she lifted her head off the pillow and waited for the throbbing hangover headache to set in. She was pleasantly surprised to find herself feeling normal. No nausea, no headache, no fuzzy tongue. *McCoy would kill for this stuff. I've got to bring him back a case.*

"You're sure you don't want another team to come down, Spock?" The captain sounded concerned.

"No, Captain. Additional personnel would undoubtedly complicate matters. Miss Chapel is doing fine as team lead."

Spock glanced at her as she made her way to the table that had been laid out for their breakfast. *The maid has already been here. I didn't even hear him.* She wasn't sure where Spock had slept, there was no sign that he had stayed on one of the couches. She glanced back at the bed. She was normally a restless sleeper and last night had been no different. The covers were all over the place. It looked like they had been very busy.

"Well then I'll leave you to your day. We are doing some overdue diagnostics while we wait for you. I was hoping to approve shore leave, but from what you've said, this isn't the kind of planet that the crew would enjoy."

*Well the women would,* Christine laughed as she helped herself to a hearty breakfast.

"A wise decision, Captain. Spock out." He turned to study her as she made her way to the couch opposite his and began to eat hungrily. "You appear to be fully recovered if your appetite is any indication?"

"I told you, I like to eat. And yes, I feel fine. I guess as long as you drink lots of water, Casca leaves very little in the way of morning after traces."

"Physical traces in this case. I remember quite well your behavior last night, as I am sure you do?"

She shifted uncomfortably, "You heard Mara. The Casca wine just takes some getting used to. I'll pace myself better tonight."

"Perhaps you should abstain tonight?"

She remembered how liberally Herlama and Mara had imbibed. "I'll try, Spock. But it might not be possible. I think drinking is a national pastime here."

"Among other things," Spock observed wryly.

She looked at him in shock. His only reaction was to raise an eyebrow. Neither of them said anything more as she finished her breakfast. As she ate she noticed a smell in the room that had not been there before. It was a sweet odor, strong but not unpleasant. She saw vases of small white and yellow flowers scattered around the room. "Did those come with breakfast?"

Spock nodded. "They are Dorelian orchids. A gift from Herlama. The smell is quite strong."

"Does it bother you?"

"No, but I am intensely aware of it. An unusual sensation."

"I can smell them. And it's nice. But I can't say they are overwhelming. I haven't seen them displayed with any of the other flowers that we've been around. Perhaps they are rare?"

"Perhaps. I'm sure Ambassador Wilcox can tell us. And it will shortly be time to join her for the tour, I assume I am to be included?"

"That was my understanding, Spock. I guess we wear the same thing until we get a chance to get something else."

"Yes. About that. You are not seriously considering dressing in the fashions of this planet are you?"

"Not just me, Spock. Both of us. Our uniforms are simply not suitable. I'm sure we can find something that won't be too bad."

"I am not convinced of that."

She sighed as she rose to take a quick shower. "We have to try, Spock. I don't think Herlama will accept us wearing these tonight. Especially for dancing."

As she reached the bathroom she heard him say, "I do not dance, Christine."

She poked her head out, "Naturally, Spock. To be honest I can't see you on the dance floor."

As she closed the door she could have sworn she heard him mutter, "I didn't say that I couldn't dance."

*I'm losing it. I've got to go easy on the Casca tonight.*

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

The tour was interesting at first. But after the fifth building, Christine found herself wishing it would end sooner rather than later.

"It does get rather repetitive," the Ambassador whispered.

Nodding, Christine glanced at Spock. He too seemed to be distracted. *Probably worried I'm going to make him wear a loincloth.*

"Mara, we got some flowers from Herlama this morning. Orchids I think?"

"Really? She must like you. They are extremely dear. The smell is considered a mild aphrodisiac by the Dorelians, although I've never noticed them being that. Did you find them arousing?"

Christine shook her head. "I mean they smell heavenly. Sort of like the tuberoses my grandma used to grow in her greenhouse. But they don't *do* anything for me."

Mara laughed as she looked over at Spock. "Well it's certain they aren't turning him on. How did you sleep?"

Christine groaned. "Fine if you consider passing out like a light sleeping well? I took Herlama's advice and had a bunch of water and felt fine. Hard to imagine being that inebriated and not paying for it the next day."

"You actually didn't seem that affected."

Christine gave a bitter laugh, "Oh my dear, you should have been in our room last night. I said some really stupid things before I hit the wall."

Mara smiled gently, "To Spock, I take it? You have feelings for him?"

"I used to," Christine said resolutely.

"Uh-huh." Mara studied her. "Take my advice, Christine. Tonight at the dance, hook up with one of the local boys. They are wonderfully sweet. Just the thing to take your mind off things that.well.aren't so sweet."

Christine smiled at her. "Maybe I will."

Mercifully the tour ended at the next building. Mara led Spock and Christine off to the merchant area. Entering a small building she explained, "This is my favorite designer. Her stuff is so original."

Spock interjected, "We are trying to blend in, Ambassador, not win a fashion award."

"You, Spock, are a stick in the mud. Live a little. Here, what about these?"

Christine looked aghast at the matching outfits Mara was holding up. She glanced at Spock who was getting a steely look in his eyes.

"Those are not clothing, they are handkerchiefs. We require something that provides more coverage."

"This is the latest thing, Spock. Christine would look fabulous in it."

Spock took the items from her and put them back on the rack. "No doubt she would. However the universe will have to live without seeing her in it."

Christine spotted some items on the far wall that appeared to have more substance. *Perfect,* she thought, as she held up the soft fabrics. They were matching his and hers as so many of the outfits seemed to be. She handed the ensemble to Spock, who looked approvingly at her choice. "This might do, Spock. Let's try it on."

The shopkeeper had come over to greet Mara and offered to show them to the dressing room. *She said room,* Christine thought, *Singular.*

She managed not to react as the shopkeeper opened the door to the fitting room and motioned them both in. Momentary confusion showed in Spock's expression. Christine pushed him into the room, "I know you want to look at all the other things, but we really don't have time, dear. In we go."

The door shut behind them. Christine looked around the small space. There were mirrors on every side. *Great, just great!*

"How do you suggest we change?" Spock asked reasonably. "In this case it will do no good to face the other way."

"Elementary, Spock. I'll go first." She scowled as he looked confused. "Close your damn eyes and we won't have a problem."

He did as she said and she quickly stripped off the uniform and pulled the dark red fabric over her head and let it fall around her. It was very simple but the effect was incredible. The fabric managed to hang elegantly while at the same time clinging to curves she had not even known she had. "Wow," she couldn't help but exclaim.

Spock opened his eyes and inspected her. His eyes held hers for a long moment before she allowed her eyelids to close.

"Your turn," She prompted and heard the sounds of him getting out of his uniform and then the same shiver of the soft fabric being pulled on.

"This is acceptable."

She opened her eyes and admired the sight of him. The soft fabric hung just as nicely when cut into loose trousers and a tight shirt. *Wow again.*

They stood awkwardly for a moment then she said, "Well that was easy."

He nodded, holding the fabric up, "This is the color of my House on Vulcan. We call it Sun's Blood. My mother called it Claret."

"It is beautiful." A knock on the door surprised them both.

Christine cracked the door open and a hand thrust another set of outfits, this time in a subdued print, and some sandals at them.

"You'll need something for tomorrow's events," Mara's voice came from outside the door, "This is what everyone will be wearing. . And try the sandals. Your boots would look ridiculous."

Christine looked at Spock, "It's just a robe, we can try it on over these."

"Logical," he agreed as they both slipped the garments on. They fit well and the colors flattered them both.. The sandals also proved comfortable.

"Fine. We're done then." Christine found herself unaccountably relieved to have this over with. They both pulled off the robes and sandals and she waited for Spock to close his eyes so she could finish getting undressed.

His eyes met hers steadily and for a moment she was uncertain what he was thinking.

"Spock," she said somewhat unsteadily, "Close your eyes."

He looked at her for several more seconds and then shut his eyes.

*What the hell was that?* Christine wasted no time shedding the outfit and putting her uniform back on.

"Ok, you can open them." She closed her eyes quickly and listened for the sound of him changing. There was only the sound of her heart beating unnaturally loud in her ears. She nearly jumped when something touched her. She felt his fingers arranging her hair, mussed from her quick change, back into order. *This isn't happening,* she repeated to herself as she kept her eyes tightly shut. She felt his fingers leave and then heard the sounds of him changing.

"I am ready." His voice was even. She almost believed that she had imagined his soft touch. *It's got to be the Casca. It must have some hallucinogenic properties.*

She grabbed their items and shouldered him aside to get out of the suddenly too small space. "These are perfect," she announced to Mara and the shopkeeper.

Mara came up with a bottle and handed it to Christine. "Smell this. It's a scent made from the orchids. For the room or for your skin. It's what makes this shop always smell so good. You should buy it, Christine. A souvenir of the planet."

"I think the outfits will be enough." Christine put it back on the display.

"I will buy it for her," both women turned with astonishment to look at Spock as he handed the bottle to the shopkeeper.

"What's with him?" Mara mouthed to Christine.

Looking mystified, Christine mouthed back, "I don't know."

Spock for his part stood impassively waiting for their purchases to be wrapped. The shopkeeper handed them over and the three of them walked back to the building that Spock and Christine were staying in. Mara led them to their room, saw Spock settled, and got ready to take Christine off to lunch with Herlama.

Christine looked at Spock. "You'll be alright?"

He looked at her evenly, "Of course. Enjoy your lunch."

*Like nothing happened. It's got to be the wine. I'm going to do a full analysis when I get back.*

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

Lunch was a relaxed affair. Herlama had invited a few other women to eat with them. The conversation was congenial and Christine enjoyed herself to the point that she didn't notice the hours roll by. She was pleasantly full by the end of the lunch, having found the food delicious, especially a vegetable dish that had been roasted in a savory oil until soft.

"You like the kaspaki?" Mara helped herself to more. "It's my favorite thing about eating at Herlama's. Nobody else fixes it the way she does. She's noticed that you like it. A dish of it will probably show up in your room before you know it."

"I'll look forward to it." Christine became more serious, "Mara, I have a question about Casca. Have you ever found yourself hallucinating after you drank too much of it?"

"Hallucinating?" The other woman was puzzled.

"Thinking you saw or felt something that really wasn't there, or really didn't happen?" Mara shook her head. "Maybe it only happened when you first started drinking the wine. Try to think back."

Mara shook her head again, "That's one of the great things about Casca, Christine. As long as you drink lots of water there are no side effects, no hangovers, no nasty mornings. And the longer you drink it the less wallop it packs. I hardly ever get drunk on it now, and you've seen how much I drink."

Christine looked troubled.

"Why do you ask about it?"

She sighed. "Just some things that have been going on that didn't seem real to me. I assumed it was an aftereffect of the wine. But maybe not." Christine noticed the rest of the guests were preparing to leave. *I'm still going to analyze the wine as soon as I get back.*

After they thanked Herlama for the meal and promised to see her in a short while at the dance, Mara walked Christine back to the room. "I can't wait to see the two of you in those clothes! Herlama will be so pleased. Till later, Christine." She gave her hand a squeeze then was gone.

As Christine opened the door the smell of orchids hit her full force. "What the hell?" The number of vases had tripled. "Where did they all come from?"

Spock's voice sounded from the far corner. "I took the liberty of asking the maid to bring some more if they were available. This is all he could find."

Christine looked around the room, but could not locate Spock. "You really like the smell, don't you?"

"I do."

Christine followed his voice. *He's in the bath?*

He looked up at her from where he sat on one of the lower ledges. The water completely covered him. It was all that did. "Oh god, I'm sorry, Spock. I didn't realize." She turned around to walk away.

"Why are you sorry, Christine?"

"I didn't realize that you were in there. Like you are. In that state of dress. Which is to say not dressed. At all."

"Ah. I am naked."

"Yes, thanks Spock. That's what I was trying not to say."

She could hear a slight splashing. His voice suddenly sounded closer. "Christine? You can turn around now."

He had moved to the near side of the bath and was leaning up against the wall. He had successfully hidden the front of his body from her. The back however, was another story. "Why don't you come in for a while?"

"In there? With you?"

"Yes."

"With you naked? That wouldn't bother you?"

He seemed to ponder this. "I assume you would be naked too. I have not seen you in that state. I must confess to some curiosity. So no, it would not bother me."

*This isn't happening.* She turned away from the bath, stomped to the food table, grabbed some Casca and furiously began analyzing it.

"Christine, what are you doing?"

"I'm working, Spock."

"Hmm. I believe that bathing would be a better use of your time."

He began to paddle around the pool. She did her best to ignore him as the tricorder read out data. *Nothing here. The wine is perfectly harmless.* She looked over at Spock who was at the moment more out of the water than in. *This is really happening then. Unless I've gone crazy. Maybe this is all a dream and we never really came here.* She poured herself a glass of the wine, grabbed her new outfit, and headed for the bathroom.

"Christine, come and swim with me."

"I don't think so, Spock. I'm going to shower and change. I suggest you get ready as well. We need to leave in an hour."

"You do not wish to share my bath?" He actually sounded sad to her.

"Spock, believe me, it's nothing personal." She fled into the bathroom. She stood for a moment in front of the mirror, then turned around and locked the door. *What is going on here.? And did I just turn down an offer to take a bath with Spock? I really have gone crazy.*

Drinking deeply from the Casca, Christine stripped off her uniform and stepped into the shower, hoping that the warm steam would clear her head.

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

Christine finished her makeup and hair and studied her reflection in the bathroom mirror. *Nice, even if I do say so myself.* She reached for the dress, luxuriating in the whisper of the silky fabric as she pulled it over her head. Her full length reflection from the mirror on the door showed her looking sleek and feminine. *I love this dress.*

Not sure if Spock had ever left the pool, she opened the door and peeked out. He was standing by the food table, fully clothed in the new outfit. *He looks great.* As he turned toward her she realized he also looked angry.

"Spock? What's wrong?"

"Nothing." His voice was clipped. He indicated a plate of Kaspaki. "Herlama's servant brought this by."

"That was nice. Did you try it? It's wonderful."

"I am not hungry."

She walked toward him but stopped midway when she realized he was staring at her. His look was incredibly intense. "Spock?"

"You are beautiful. The dress is perfect on you." He moved to the table, picked up the bottle of orchid fragrance. "I want you to wear this."

"Spock, I can't. I'm sorry, I know you like the flowers. I just really don't feel like it tonight."

"You will not wear it? But I bought it for you. For you to wear."

She looked down, "I'm sorry. I don't want to wear it. If you must know I'm utterly sick of the smell of those orchids."

CRASH! A vase of Dorelian orchids went flying past Christine's head. *Dammit!* she thought frantically, *when I said I wanted him to be more emotional, this is not quite what I had in mind.*

Ducking to avoid a poorly thrown wineglass, Christine scooted behind one of the pillars in the room. She peeked around the corner, only to find herself in danger from a bunch of roasted kaspaki tubers.

"Spock, for god's sake. Calm down! And stop throwing things."

Her request was met with heavy breathing but mercifully no more projectiles. She moved cautiously out from her hiding place. Spock was sitting on the floor, knees drawn up to his chin, arms wrapped around them. He was rocking back and forth, muttering.

*This is not good.* Christine thought desperately back over the past few days on the planet trying to pinpoint the cause for this outburst.

She moved to Spock's side. "Spock? Please talk to me."

His voice was so low she could barely make out the words. "You reject me."

"What?"

He looked up at her. "You won't share my bath, you won't wear the perfume, you tell me that you don't love me anymore. I feel such emotion. Such pain."

Christine thought furiously. This could not be the Pon Farr, they had just been through that last year. And she didn't think it was alien possession. *I am such an idiot!* She glanced at the orchids. *Mara said aphrodisiac. Must be his Vulcan physiology.*

"Spock, listen to me. You are not yourself. I think you are being affected by these orchids. We need to get you out of this room." Christine knew that what Spock really needed was to be sedated and observed aboard the Enterprise. But she also knew he would never forgive her for humiliating him in that manner. *I guess this is my problem.*

"Spock?" She grabbed his shoulders, shook him hard enough to make him look at her. Before she could speak he reached out for her, rested his palm on her cheek.

"So beautiful.and I've lost you." He began to caress her hair and neck.

"Spock you can't lose me. I'm right here. Ok?"

"Mmmmm," he murmured as he pulled her close into a slow kiss.

"No!" she pushed away from him. *What are you doing?* part of her screamed. *I'm sorry,* the other part replied. "Spock, no. Kissing is bad. Very bad. We need to get up now. We need to get outside. Fresh air is good. It's our friend. Let's go outside, ok?"

Spock pouted, "You don't love me here, you won't love me there." But he let her pull him to his feet. He tried to catch her up in his arms but she slipped away.

"Let's go outside, huh? Let's go dance."

"You will dance with me??" When she nodded he smiled smugly. "I will hold you close and make you love me. That is a secret weapon of men, you know." He actually leered at her. "I shall use the dance floor. And my secret weapon. That's what Jim says."

She rang for the maid then turned back to him. "The Captain says the dance floor is a secret weapon?"

"No," he stalked up to her and pulled her close to him. Leaned her back into a tango dip, then pulled her back up. "The floor is the arena, the body is the weapon." He pulled her even closer. "Can you not feel it?"

*Where is that damn maid?* Christine thought desperately as she noticed that Spock was indeed well armed. *Why can't I just be a bad person? I could have so much fun with him this way.* She pushed him away as a knock on the door sounded.

Opening the door she shoved Spock into the hallway and turned to the maid. "My mate is having an allergic reaction to your wonderful orchids. I do not wish to offend anyone, because I know how precious they are, but I need every single one of them removed from this room and the entire place aired out. If you can't get rid of the smell totally, then we need to be moved to a new room. I am sorry to put you out like this, but he is going to get very sick if they aren't removed."

"Of course, ma'am. But there's no use in trying to air out the place. The smell is pervasive. I believe a new room would be the easiest answer. I will move your things while you are at the dance. It's a shame, he seemed to really like the orchids." The young man turned to enter the room to begin collecting their things.

"Oh and get rid of that perfume while you're at it," she hissed.

"Yes, ma'am." He nodded.

Spock was staring at her mournfully. "I heard that, Christine. You hate my gift."

"I don't hate it, Spock. It's just bad for you. You remember the spores on Omicron Ceti III? The orchids are like that." Christine led Spock down the stairs to the dance.

"I remember that planet. And Leila," he sighed "Leila loved me. Do you remember Leila, Christine? She was so nice."

*The bitch deliberately exposes you to the spores, and you call her nice?* But Christine just nodded agreeably.

"I didn't love her like you, Christine. Those plants made me do things I wouldn't have done otherwise. But I really, really love you." He pulled her into his arms again, tried to kiss her.

*Sure you do.* Christine tried to get away from him but he was too strong. "Spock, let me go."

His lips met hers and for just a moment she gave in. *I don't care if I burn in hell for this,* she thought as she kissed him back passionately.

His arms relaxed as he felt her response. He pulled away to look at her, his finger tracing her cheek.

"I do love you," she whispered as she spun away from him, out of his reach, "I always have and I always will. Now let's go dance before the orchids wear off completely."

She held out her hand and he quickly grasped it. His hand was warm and the unaccustomed feeling of this simple contact made her shiver. *I may be good, but I'm not a saint.*

They walked slowly to the clearing where Herlama had told Christine the dance would be held. While part of her mind worked on determining how long the orchids' effect would last, another part reveled in just touching Spock. His grip was firm and at times he would swing their arms in a whimsical way that she would never have suspected he was capable of. *You're just full of surprises, Spock. What a shame that none of them are real.*

"You are quiet tonight, Christine."

"I am preoccupied with the orchids, Spock." She gave his hand a little squeeze, felt him return the action.

"Why worry about them now? You have taken steps to negate their effect. Can you not try to concentrate on me for tonight?"

*This is so unfair,* she thought as he swung their arms again and pulled her faster toward the music that was becoming louder. *But at least the fresh air seems to be doing him good.*

"Hey, wait up!" Christine and Spock turned to see Ambassador Wilcox and Kiloma rushing to join them. The ambassador and her chosen looked gorgeous in matching, and very skimpy, outfits.

Christine heard some of the normal Vulcan dignity in Spock's voice as he greeted the pair. The effect was somewhat negated by the fact that he was still holding tightly to her hand and had pulled her in closely next to him.

The ambassador's eyes widened as she watched the two of them. "Are you feeling all right, Spock?"

"Fine, Ambassador, why do you ask?"

In answer she glanced down at their clasped hands. "I don't know Spock.you just seem a bit more tactile tonight than usual?"

His answer was calm. "Oh that. It is simple. I am in love with Christine."

Wilcox's jaw dropped open. "You are?"

Christine rushed to explain, "And he also is having a major reaction to those orchids. You remember how we weren't affected?" She laughed bitterly at Mara's look of understanding, "Yeah. Vulcans aren't so lucky, it would seem."

"Oh my."

Spock pulled Christine toward the dance area. "I am functioning perfectly. I do not know why you are so worried about this, Christine." He stopped at a refreshment table and handed her a glass of Casca. "Drink some. We *know* it will make you relax."

Christine desperately wanted to drain about three glasses, but refused his offer. "I think one of us should have a clear head tonight, Spock."

"There is nothing wrong with my head, Christine." He pulled her toward the dance floor. "We must dance now. You will excuse us Mara? Kiloma?"

The other couple nodded, the ambassador mouthing "Good luck," to Christine before turning to get some Casca.

With Spock pulling her to the dance floor, Christine barely had a chance to register Herlama and Mantim standing near the edge of the group of dancers. She tried to get him to stop to say hello but he was intent on making it into the mass of swaying couples. Herlama took in their outfits and smiled her approval as Christine disappeared after Spock into the dance.

"I thought you didn't dance, Spock?" Christine couldn't help teasing him. "What's your rush?"

He cocked an eyebrow at her, "You said you wanted to get here before the orchids wore off. Since you have not fully calculated the duration of their effect, I thought haste would be prudent."

*Well, at least he's starting to sound like his old self.* She gasped as he pulled her very tightly against his body. The thin fabric of their clothes was little barrier to the feeling of his body against hers. *Well, not quite like his old self.*

"I am fully capable of dancing, Christine. I just prefer to not engage in the practice because physical contact is required."

"That being a bad thing."

He nodded, "Yes. Until now. I find that physical contact with you is something to be desired." He moved her around the dance floor with some skill. Then began to twirl her forcefully, and repeatedly. "Is my technique having an effect on you?"

*Yeah,* she thought as dizziness began to take her, *I'm going to throw up.*

Mercifully he stopped and pulled her back into his arms. His voice was low, "I'm sorry. I can sense your distress. That was perhaps not a move I should repeat."

*Good call.* She allowed her head to rest on his chest as the dizziness abated. She could feel the heat radiating off of him, smell the spiciness of his skin. *I could stay like this forever.*

*Yes, it would be pleasant.*

She pulled away in reaction to the sound of his mind-voice in hers. "Spock! What the hell do you think you're doing?"

He looked at her in some confusion. "I wish to be close to you. As close as I can be. I have two options open to me and you have indicated that physical intimacy is unacceptable to you at this time. And we are in public. I thought it more seemly to seek mental intimacy. You did not like the sensation?"

*I liked it too much.* She allowed her body to relax. "Just don't do that again without asking, ok?"

He nodded. "As you wish." He pulled her back into his arms. "I am at somewhat of a loss, Christine?"

"What do you mean?"

She could feel him sigh. "I have spent most of the time that I have known you avoiding you and the way you felt about me. It was the simplest thing to do."

"Yes, I imagine it was." She could hear the bitterness in her voice.

"But now I find that when I want you more than anything, you are impossible to catch. It is not what I would have expected."

*Not what I would have expected either, Sherlock!* Christine wanted to throttle him but knew that she shouldn't blame him for the things the orchids made him say or do. No matter how much they hurt. "Life is funny that way, Spock. Nothing ever goes as planned."

He thought about this for a while. Then he turned his concentration back to her. "Next time I will just have to plan better."

He swayed gently with her. She could feel his hand at the small of her back, the other was tangled in her hair. He seemed to be respecting her request for no more kisses. But his touches were making her shiver in a not unpleasant way. *It's going to be a very long night. So unfair.*

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

The night was indeed long. Dancing gave way to dinner and conversation with Herlama. "Your dress is gorgeous! I knew you would look beautiful in our fashions. And it is obvious your very handsome mate approves as well." She favored them both with a fond smile. "It is nice to see two people so in love. Reminds me of how Mantim and I were when we were younger." She squeezed her husband's hand and he smiled back at her.

*You couldn't get more wrong,* Christine thought sadly.

As if sensing her thoughts, Spock began to gently caress her neck.

Herlama continued, "If you know love as we have and for as long, you will be lucky. Now shall we return to dancing?"

They all rose and made their way back to the floor. Spock pulled her to him but not as close as before. He reached down and tilted her chin so their eyes would meet. "You are sad now. Very sad. Have I done something wrong?"

She found herself blinking back sudden tears. "No, Spock. You haven't done anything wrong." He pulled her in close again. She relaxed against him. "This just isn't real. And that's sad to me. Because it feels so right. And I've wanted it for so long."

"I could show you that my feelings are real. If you would let me touch your mind."

She shook her head. "I don't doubt that you believe that you feel these things. Or that you maybe really do feel them right now. I'm not sure how far the orchids' effects go. The only thing I do know is that either tonight, or tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that you'll come to your senses and this will all end and everything will be like it was."

"It doesn't have to be."

She didn't answer him. Just hugged him a little closer and tried not to cry.

"I am serious, Christine. It does not have to be. We could bond. Tonight. Then, no matter what happened, we would be together. Really together. Forever. We would not be alone anymore."

She stiffened in his arms, stopped dancing altogether. "You can't be serious, Spock?"

"I am."

She pushed him away angrily. "This has gone far enough," she hissed. Grabbing his hand she dragged him off the dance floor. And ran right into the ambassador and Kiloma.

"Christine, what's wrong?"

"Spock isn't feeling well. He needs to go back to our room. Our new room not the old one. Can Kiloma see that he gets there?" She felt anger war with sorrow. *I have to stay here. I don't have the strength to be around him like this.*

"Christine. Do not send me away. We should discuss my proposal. It has merit."

"Go to bed, Spock. You're sick. You need rest."

He tried to argue. She didn't give him a chance. "Commander Spock. Your judgment is impaired. I am taking medical command of this mission. You *will* return to our room, and you *will* rest. We will not discuss your proposal again tonight, is that clear?"

His face became stony. He stubbornly stared at her and did not move.

"That was an order, Spock. Go to our room. Stay there. I will see you when I get back."

He stared at her for a few minutes then turned on his heel and started back angrily toward their building. Kiloma ran to catch up with him.

Mara moved close to Christine. "Are you ok?"

Christine turned back to her. She fought back tears but still managed to give a credible imitation of a Vulcan. "I am fine."

Mara touched her arm, "You're sure?"

She nodded and headed for the table of Casca wine. Grabbing a glass she downed it in one gulp. *How can it hurt this bad?*

She reached for another glass but Mara stopped her. "That's not the answer, Christine."

She glared at the ambassador. "Oh I think it is the answer, Mara. I just did the most noble thing I've ever done. And I will probably hate myself for it for the rest of my life. I think this is exactly what I need."

Mara shrugged and let go of her hand. "Fine, but don't blame me for what happens."

"Nothing will happen, Mara. I've seen to that." *Nothing will happen ever again.*

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

The Casca was not the solution. Despite her best intentions, Christine could not bring herself to get drunk. *Just don't trust myself not to go to him.* She sat for hours watching the dancers and sipping at the wine, occasionally talking to Herlama or Mara but mostly just trying to forget that Spock was waiting for her in their room.

The dancing didn't break up till the early morning hours and she almost asked Mara if she could stay with her as they approached the split in the trails that would take them their separate ways. *No, you can do this.*

She found the maid, and he led her to their new room. It was dark and quiet when she opened the door. Only a few candles lit the way through the unfamiliar surroundings. Spock was sitting on a couch, meditating. He looked up at her as she came in. His expression was even as he noted the time.

"I'm going to bed," she announced and hurried into the bathroom.

When she emerged, Spock was still sitting on the couch. "We should talk about this, Christine."

She did not turn to look at him as she made her way to the bed. "We are not going to talk about this, Spock."

"But I wish to discuss this."

"No!" she fairly screamed at him. He recoiled at her reaction. "You want to discuss this. Fine. Discuss it with me when you aren't stoned out of your mind on chemicals. Discuss it with me when we are back on the Enterprise and you are feeling normal. Discuss it with me then, Spock. For now, I don't want to hear another word about it. I just want to sleep."

"As you wish, Nurse."

Wincing at the title she pulled the covers down and climbed into bed. *This is how it will be from now on. This is how it will always be.* She lay in bed and tried not to cry. Sleep abandoned her and she tossed and turned all night. She was intensely aware of Spock, who had not left his place on the couch and did not appear to be even trying to sleep.

When full morning finally came, Christine got out of bed and fled to the bathroom. Changing into a set of the casual clothes that she had brought she went for a long walk. It was hours before she returned to the room. The maid had delivered breakfast so she fixed a small plate and ate it in silence, barely looking at Spock who was standing by the window.

When he turned around his face was the normal Vulcan mask she was used to. *So, he is gone, this Spock that loved me.* She finished her meal, went into the shower and changed into the robe they had bought for today's event. Spock used the shower when she finished and also emerged in his robe. He did not say anything to her as they left the room and made their way to a large meeting room.

The ambassador met them at the door. "Well, this is the last of it. You'll be out of here in just a few hours." She took in Spock's blank expression and Christine's exhausted look. "I imagine it can't be too soon for either of you?" Christine closed her eyes and sighed, Spock did not react to her statement. "Well, let's go in then."

The final ceremony was thankfully very brief. Christine fought to keep her eyes open. Several times she became lost in thought. Spock was seated behind her but she did not turn to look at him as she had the first night. When it was over, he made his way to her side and they bid Herlama and Mantim goodbye.

"Will you ever make it back to our planet? We would be pleased to see you and your mate again." Herlama asked politely.

"It is doubtful, Herlama. But thank you. I will never forget the days I have spent on your world." *That at least is not a lie.*

Mara gave Christine a quick hug. "It'll be all right, Christine. You'll see." She nodded at Spock, who opened his communicator.

"Enterprise, two to beam up."

Christine smiled goodbye at Mara before the transporter beam took her away. When the transporter room solidified around her she was surprised to see Kirk and McCoy waiting for them.

Kirk walked forward, taking in the matching robes they had not had time to change out of. "Welcome back. I was told by Ambassador Wilcox that the mission was a success and we're free to go."

Spock nodded. "I will have a complete report for you." He started to move toward the door and Christine followed a little behind him.

McCoy smirked as he shot back. "Very complete I hope. I'd like to know the story behind those outfits."

Christine turned around, gave him a hard look.

He tried to play innocent, "What? I'm interested in cultural things like clothing.and other rituals." Again he smirked.

"Oh go to hell." Ignoring the shock on both his and Kirk's face, Christine turned around and made her way to her quarters.

Kirk looked at Spock. "Do you have anything to add to that, Spock? Or should I wait for the report?"

Spock appeared to give the matter some thought. "No sir, I believe Miss Chapel summed it up quite adequately."

With that he turned on his heel and exited the room, leaving behind a stunned captain and chief medical officer.

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

As soon as Christine was out of sight of the transporter room she hurried back to her room. Stopping only to set the lock on her door, she fell into bed and slept for eight straight hours. When she got up her console light was flashing. There was a message from Spock.

"Miss Chapel. I presume you are getting some much-needed rest? I have drafted a report but would like your input as you were the true lead on most of the mission. Please annotate the draft I have attached and send it back to me at your earliest convenience."

Christine opened the report, thinking to herself sarcastically, *This ought to be fun reading.* To her surprise, Spock was fulsome in his praise of her handling of the mission. He gave her high marks on judgment, initiative, flexibility, adaptability, creativity, and integrity. She raised an eyebrow at the last one but decided not to contest it. Let the readers try to figure out what that meant. She added her information to the report and sent it back to Spock.

For the next few weeks she went out of her way to avoid him. He did not frequent sick bay so her work hours were uncomplicated by sightings of him. But during her free time she was constantly trying to not meet up with him in the mess hall, in the rec lounge, or in the corridors. Twice she went in to eat and left when she saw him sitting there. And several times she saw him coming down the corridor and fled back the other way to keep from running into him. She knew it was stupid, but for now she really could not face seeing him.

McCoy had at first treated her gingerly but she had told him she had been hung over and he had accepted that explanation. She filled him in on the mission as much as she could. Leaving out the more interesting bits of course. And he filled her in on how his courtship of Carol Sauers had fizzled after what had seemed a promising start. Their relationship quickly returned to normal.

She was just about to end her shift one night when she saw Spock enter the sick bay. He ignored Dr. M'Benga and headed straight for her. "Mr. Spock," she greeted him cautiously.

"Miss Chapel," he replied. His face gave nothing away.

*What the hell does he want?* Mentally shrugging, she went back to finishing the report in front of her.

A cough made her look up. "Did you want something, Spock?"

He nodded slightly. "I need to speak to you."

"Well M'Benga's here, wouldn't you rather speak to him?"

He seemed to shift a bit uncomfortably. "This is not a medical issue. It is you I wish to speak to. In private. I was hoping you could come to my quarters tonight. If you do not already have plans?"

*Yeah, right. My social calendar is just full to the brim.* She studied him. He seemed quite serious. The Spock she had always known. "Can't you just tell me now? M'Benga can't hear us from his office."

"I believe it might take some time. I shall expect you in thirty minutes. Feel free to change to off duty clothing if you wish. I shall." Without waiting for her assent, he turned and left sick bay.

*It would serve him right if I didn't show up.* She closed the report and said goodnight to M'Benga. Once back in her quarters she took a quick shower and changed into pants and a loose top. Her hand brushed the red dress she had worn to the dance. *I don't know why I'm keeping this. I really should get rid of it.*

She made her way to Spock's cabin. Ringing the chime she heard him tell her to enter. The lights were dimmed and the temperature was up, as she knew he preferred. He had put some food and wine out on the small table near his couch. Mimicking him, she raised her eyebrow, "Wine, Spock?"

"It is not Casca. But I hope it will do."

"If I remember correctly, Spock, you didn't like what wine *did* to me." She sat where he indicated and accepted a glass from him.

"That would depend on which day you are referring to. I remember urging you to have some of the wine on one of the days."

She looked at him in surprise. She had thought he would want to avoid any mention of their experience down on the planet.

He noticed her reaction. "Do you think that just because I am somewhat embarrassed by my own behavior, I would pretend as if the whole thing had not happened?"

"Yes. That's precisely what I thought you would do."

He poured himself a glass of wine. "You do not know me very well."

She chose to say nothing, just drank from her glass.

He turned on the couch so he was facing her. "I asked you here because I wish to discuss what happened."

She nodded uncertainly.

"First. I wish to tell you how I admire your behavior throughout the mission."

"Casca incident notwithstanding?" Christine found herself smiling at him.

His expression lightened, " Casca notwithstanding. And I also wanted to say that I admire you for your integrity, for the way you did not take advantage of the situation."

She kept her expression carefully neutral. "Of course, Spock. What else would I have done?"

He shifted uncomfortably, "Yes. Indeed." He appeared to be lost in thought for a moment, then he met her eyes with a very intense gaze. "Do you not love me anymore?"

She felt herself rooted in place. *Careful how you answer this.* She took a sip of wine before answering. "I don't understand your question."

"It is a simple query. I fail to see how its meaning could be lost on you. You stated during the Casca incident that you did *not* love me. You stated that you *did* when you were trying to get me away from the orchids. Neither time were you exactly in a normal frame of mind. So I want to know, do you love me?"

"Why does it matter?" She knew the words came out more bitterly than she intended but she could not help it.

He searched for the correct answer. Finally he said, "You turned down the opportunity to bond with me. I wish to know if it was because you were not interested, in which case turning it down was an easy and inconsequential decision to you. Or if you still are interested, in which case you turned down that which you want most in this life. That is why I want to know. Now please answer my question."

Christine sat for a long time looking into her wineglass. He did not hurry her. A thousand answers ran through her mind. A thousand things to say to him. Finally she chose simplicity.and honesty. "Yes, I still love you."

He leaned back in his chair. Did not say anything for some time. "It was difficult, then, what I put you through?"

*See nothing changes.* She drank some more wine. "Yes, Spock. It was very difficult."

He nodded. "I remember everything that happened. I remember you telling me that I would feel differently once the orchids wore off. You were correct. I do feel differently."

She put down her glass and walked quickly to the door. "Well that's great, Spock. I'm so glad we had this little talk." She wanted to say more but she felt the tears coming. *I will not break down in front of you, you cold-hearted bastard!*

"You did not let me finish. I feel differently because I am no longer.how did you put it.stoned out of my mind on chemicals."

"Good for you, Spock, glad you're back in control."

Before she could take another step he was in front of her. "You would run away?"

"Oh go to hell, Spock!" She tried to go around him. "Just go to hell!"

"It is getting crowded there. I prefer to stay here. With you." He pulled her into his arms.

"Damn you! I hate you!"

She was struggling wildly, and her emotion made her strong. If Spock had not been Vulcan, she would have broken away. As it was he had a hard time holding her. Finally she gave up, slumped in his arms and repeated brokenly, "I hate you. I hate you. I hate you."

His hands held her tightly as he whispered, "That is too bad, Christine. Because I believe I love you."

She got very quiet and stiff in his arms as he continued, "I don't know when I started to feel for you. But I have always had a great fondness for you. It was impossible though for me to indulge those feelings. I was promised to T'Pring. I had to honor that commitment. And you deserved better than what little I could give you. So I avoided you. And even after I was free I still was unsure. I admired you, but you were human. I was not sure that I wanted to be involved with a human."

She spoke so low he barely heard her, "But that's changed?"

He pulled away from her, made sure she was looking at him. "Down on the planet. I had the chance to really see you. I found many more things to admire about you. And I could finally tell you. That night of the Casca," he half smiled at her, "I stood over you as you slept. And later, I spent many hours considering, thinking. But before I could do anything the orchids arrived. I stopped thinking and started feeling. I acted out of character, but I did not lie to you."

She waited as he paused. His fingers found her face, traced her features. She closed her eyes and shivered at his light touch. "You could have had me, Christine. I would have been yours forever. But you turned that down. Why?"

"It would have been wrong. It would have been cheating. And I would never have known if you really loved me."

"Let me show you." He leaned in but stopped when his lips were just shy of hers. "Is kissing still bad?"

She laughed. "No, it's our friend."

"One can never have too many friends," he teased as his lips found hers in a gentle kiss. His arms pulled her close as his kiss became more insistent. His fingers found her face but he did not force the meld. "You said to ask first? Let me show you how I feel? Let me know how you feel?"

She kissed him again and whispered through the kiss, "Yes." She felt the same shock of presence as when they had been dancing. Then he opened up his mind to hers. She felt everything that had happened, on the planet, and before that on the ship. Saw how he had tried to spare her. Experienced his regard, his fondness, his lust. She sensed his questions for her. Sent him all the things he needed to know. Sent him her love. Felt his own come back to her.

*Do we wait?* she heard him ask.

*What would be the point?* she replied.

*Logical,* he commended as he scooped her up and carried her into the bedroom.

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

The next morning, after much loving and very little sleep, Spock and Christine ran into McCoy as they came out of Spock's room.

McCoy stopped in astonishment. "Well this is a surprise. Anything you two kids want to tell me?"

Spock looked at Christine and she nodded, grinning evilly.

"Yes, Doctor," Spock said evenly. "Go to hell."

Fin