Absolution by Djinn

Christine fled Spock's chambers, mercifully meeting no other members of the household on her way out. She made her way to the shuttle port, fighting back tears with every step. *I will not cry on Vulcan,* she commanded herself. *Not here. Just hold on.*

As she arrived at the shuttle port she saw the Klingon Bird of Prey standing out in the open, surrounded by her former shipmates. *Oh god, no. Please don't let them see me.* But it was too late. She saw Uhura turn back to look her way. Saw her wave. *You have to do this.* Trying to ignore the pain she felt, Christine walked over to the ship.

"Christine? When did you get here? Have you seen him?" Uhura embraced her tightly as she bombarded her with questions. "Isn't it wonderful? He's really back."

Christine felt herself split into two people. One huddled inside her drowning in sorrow, and the other stood here lying to her friends, "Yes, I just saw him. It's wonderful that you found him."

"Christine?" She turned in time to be hugged fiercely by McCoy. "Did you see him?"

*Would they quit asking me that?* she thought desperately. She looked up to find Kirk studying her. *He knows,* she thought.

"Admiral. How are you, sir?" She faced him down."

"I've been better, Chris. Never expected to be exiled here."

*There's something he's not saying,* Christine wondered. "I have to check on a shuttle back to Earth. Would you come with me, sir, I need to speak with you"

As he agreed, she noticed the dismayed looks on her friends' faces. "I'm sorry, I have to get back. I'll catch up with you when you're back on Earth?"

Uhura was unconvinced. "Christine?! You just got here. What's the matter with you?"

*No tears,* Christine reiterated. She was saved by Kirk. He answered, "I'm sure that Commander Chapel wouldn't leave if it wasn't absolutely necessary. Shall we?" he gestured toward the shuttle port.

As they moved off, he said quietly, "I was hoping it would be different for you. But it wasn't was it?"

"He doesn't remember you either? All the years, the friendship, he doesn't remember that?" She felt his pain as his face tightened, and he shook his head. "I'm so sorry, Jim. And you have to stay here. I at least can run away."

He glanced over at her. "He loved you, Christine, you've got to believe that. He loved you very, very much."

She could hear the disappointment in his voice, could see him fight his own pain. "He loved you too. You were his closest friend. Maybe in time."

"Yes. I'll just have to wait."

She nodded. "But I can't, Jim. It's different. I can't wait for him to remember loving me. I have to go."

He smiled his understanding. "Being director of emergency operations should keep you busy. And it will be a change from what you've been doing for the last year. The research you couldn't talk about."

"I was working on Genesis, Jim."

She felt his shock. "Genesis?" He digested the idea. "My god. You must have gone through hell these last weeks? Not that now isn't bad. I mean.damn, I'm not saying this well."

"I know what you mean. And yes, it was hell. For a number of reasons. But that part is over. Moving on will be the hard part now, I think."

They started walking again to the entrance. The shuttle that had brought her to Vulcan was still on the pad. It took Kirk's assistance before she secured a place on it. He mused philosophically, "May as well throw my name around now, before that fellow realizes that I may be an admiral but I am one that is in total disgrace."

He led Christine to a waiting area. "You must have met Carol and David Marcus?"

"I didn't realize that you knew them, Jim? I worked very closely with David. He was an exceptional young man. So brilliant. I couldn't believe it when I heard he was dead."

"He was my son," Kirk whispered. At her look of shock he explained how David hadn't known the truth till Khan had forced them together. How they had been granted so little time.

She felt guilt overwhelm her again. "You've lost so much, Jim. I'm so sorry, so very sorry." He nodded and took her hand as they sat. She sensed his need to just connect with someone that shared his hurt, someone from whom he could draw some comfort.

The announcement for the shuttle departure came over the speaker. He released her hand and moved to walk her to the shuttle. "Don't come with me, Jim. I need to go the rest of the way alone." At his questioning look she explained, "I will not cry. Not here, not on Vulcan. That's my one resolution right now. But if you see me off, I don't think that I can keep it."

He smiled sadly. "I understand. So, what will you do now?"

She smiled back, just as sadly. "Try to forget. Learn how to go on without him. And you?"

When he shrugged and made a face, she saw a glimmer of the old Kirk. A small chuckle escaped her. "Good luck, Jim."

"Godspeed, Chris."

She turned and made her way alone to the waiting shuttle.

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

High on a hill, unnoticed by those below, Spock watched Christine and Kirk walk to the shuttle port. He had a strange feeling as he looked at them together. He could remember that Kirk was his friend, but could not remember friendship. He knew intellectually that he and Christine had lived together as lovers, but could not remember what it was to love. He could not feel loss, yet he knew that it was there.

"So you just let her go?" Saavik's tone was heavy with recrimination.

"She chose not to stay." He countered evenly.

"No doubt because you gave her no reason to." Saavik paced to the edge of the hill and back. "You are hurting them both, Spock. Does that not even bother you?"

Spock watched her walk, his face betraying nothing. "Your display of emotion is illogical, Saavik. This does not concern you."

"Oh yes it does," she muttered.

"Elaborate." Spock suggested. Then more firmly, "Saavik, if you wish me to understand you will have to explain."

She turned to him then, rage sparkling in her eyes. "I didn't save you, back on the Genesis planet, for you to cast her off, or to throw everything you are away."

"You did not save me. Admiral Kirk did. Your argument is faulty."

Saavik looked away. Only her clenched hands betrayed her emotional state. Watching her, Spock remembered a moment in time. A young Saavik, taunted nearly beyond her ability to withstand it, standing in just such a manner with hands clenched to keep them from flying at her tormentors. Then the memory was gone. He moved to stand in front of her. "Why do you feel such anger?"

"Fine. You wish to hear? Then I will speak of that which is not spoken of! You won't remember, Spock. Your essence was still in McCoy at the time. But your body, on the planet, it was aging. The burning came upon you."

Finally she had surprised him. She went on, "You were dying, Spock, and *I* saved you."

"This is not in the records. I have seen them."

She looked at him bitterly. "No, not in the records, I made sure of that. The only person that knew was David Marcus. And he is in no position to tell."

Spock became more thoughtful. "Then are we mated?"

"No! There is no need. I am not pregnant. And we couldn't bond in any way, your mind really wasn't there. What I saved was the empty shell. I had to do it, for even the chance that I could bring you back to her! And the impossible happened, Spock. I saved your body, McCoy your katra, and Kirk your life. The refusion worked. Everything was supposed to be all right. You weren't supposed to turn away from her."

"Lieutenant, I will always appreciate your action. And I accept your loyalty to Dr. Chapel. You demonstrated exceptional logic and honor in your actions. But your wishes for what will happen are not relevant here."

He paused for a moment, reaching for the words he needed, "If I were to judge from your reaction to me, from my mother's, from Dr. Chapel's, from the Admiral's, I would surmise that I am not the same man that you all lost. It is clear that you wish it were otherwise, but I cannot change what I have become. I could not offer Dr. Chapel something that was not in my power to give."

He watched her reaction, could see he was only making her more unhappy. "I regret if that causes you pain, Lieutenant. And I appreciate you telling my what happened on the Genesis planet. Given the circumstances it is logical that you do not seek permanent joining. It is done then and we will not speak of this again." Spock turned away, watching the figures in the distance again.

Saavik watched him for a moment then went back inside. In her heart she mourned the loss of the man who had rescued her all those years ago. The man who had welcomed her into his life. She wondered if she would ever feel comfortable with this new Spock. As she made her way down the hall she caught sight of Valeris coming to call Spock to a lesson. *I didn't save him for you, ka'fe'era!* Saavik had to reach in her mind for the Romulan expletive. There was no word for "bitch" in Vulcan. She continued down the hall, throwing a vicious look at a startled Valeris as she passed.

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

Christine stayed in her quarters for the duration of her trip back to Earth. She had managed to keep her promise to herself and had not broken down until the shuttle lifted off from Vulcan. Then she began to cry, great heaving sobs that tore at her body and soul. She mourned the loss of Spock, the loss of their future. She blamed herself for the role she had played in bringing this all about, the pain she had caused everyone. She felt that each tear took her further away from the woman she had been. By the time the shuttle docked at Earth, there seemed very little of her left.

She made her way to the transporter pad, trying to forget the last time she had docked here. Tried to wipe out the memory of Spock's voice, and later the feel of him. *Stop it,* she ordered herself. *He's gone, he's never coming back.* She gave the transporter operator the address of her site and stepped up to the platform. Arriving back in San Francisco, she made her way back to her apartment. As she stepped into her place she was assailed again by her grief, by her pain. She had slept little on the shuttle and little in the weeks before that. She knew she was exhausted and that the grieving would make her ill if she continued to indulge herself in weeping. Going through her stock of medicines, she found some sedatives.

*Just to help me sleep,* she promised herself as she administered a liberal dose. As she pulled back the covers of the bed she and Spock had shared she was suddenly overcome with anger. She ripped the sheets off the bed, stuffing them into the disintegrator. Pillowcases and blankets soon followed. She felt tears begin as she ran into the bathroom, found his towels, his personal items. *Go to hell!* she screamed in her mind as she dumped these into the trash. She reeled momentarily as the sedative began to take effect. *Have to lie down,* she thought hazily. Too tired to remake the bed, she grabbed a blanket from the closet and wrapping herself in it, curled up on the bed and let the drug give her peace.

Christine was awakened by light streaming through her curtains. *God, what time is it?* she wondered. Rising unsteadily, she groaned as she felt the beginnings of a major headache pounding just behind her eyelids. Her tongue felt thick and her throat was sore. In the kitchen she made coffee and sat drinking it slowly, trying to work up the energy to move. She was startled out of her reverie by the ringing of her comm unit.

It was Saavik. The girl looked relieved to see Christine. "I tried to get you on the shuttle, but they said you did not want to be disturbed. I have been so worried about you. The way you left."

Christine sighed. "I'm sorry Saavik. I should have told you myself, but I just had to get out of there. I couldn't be on the same planet with him. I don't think I would have survived."

"I know. I am not particularly enjoying my time with him either." Saavik paused, lost in thought. "You worried Sarek and Amanda too. Sarek will no doubt be calling you soon. He is on his way back to Earth. With Valeris."

Christine said bitterly, "I'm surprised she consented to leave Spock. According to her, they've grown quite close."

Saavik gave Christine a dangerous smile, "It wasn't her idea. Someone must have convinced Sarek that she was a less than positive influence on Spock because he insisted she return to her schooling. A pity, no?"

"You shouldn't take it out on her, Saavik." She stopped as Saavik protested. "Oh I think she is an evil little creature, too. But she had nothing to do with what has happened. I really only have myself to blame. We may not like her, but maybe it is time to admit that she is perhaps the best thing now for Spock. He isn't the man we loved, Saavik. He may never be that man again."

"You mean he may never love us again?"

Christine nodded. "It is a possibility we have to accept. Life goes on, and we must too."

"But it hurts. What is the point of loving if it hurts so much?"

Christine looked sadly at the young woman. "Oh Saavik, I don't know. I really don't know."

They were both silent for a while, lost in their own heartache. Then Christine roused herself, "Saavik I have to go. Call me if you want, if you need to talk. We still have each other." Saavik nodded and Christine cut the connection.

For the rest of the day, Christine removed every trace of Spock from the apartment. She packed up the few possessions he had brought with him from Vulcan. Other things she threw away. The things they had bought together she piled on the bare mattress. She examined each item. Most she put into the packages for Spock, but a few she kept for herself. *There is so little from our time together. I can wipe out his existence in just a few short hours.* The chiming of her door interrupted her thoughts. Deciding she could not afford to ignore her life any longer she opened the door. It was Dotura. Christine asked in surprise, "How did you know I was back?"

Her friend frowned at her. "Saavik called me. She's worried about you. Aren't you going to invite me in?" Dotura saw the crates as she walked in. "Purging?"

Christine shrugged, "He won't be coming back. Some of this stuff should go back to him." Her comm unit buzzed. It was the transporter tech from the delivery firm. She gave him the go ahead and went over to stand with Dotura. They watched as the transporter removed the crates. Christine let out a long sigh, felt Dotura's hand on her back.

"Are you hungry?" her friend asked?

Christine realized that it had been some time since she ate. She nodded at Dotura, but added, "I'm not sure I can eat. I don't feel very well."

Dotura picked up the spent case from the sedative Christine had used the night before. "I don't doubt it. This stuff packs quite a wallop. You must feel like hell." She threw it into the trash and walked to the door. "Come on, it'll do you good to get out of here."

They spent a long time lingering over a light lunch in a bakery they both liked. Christine told Dotura everything that had happened on Vulcan. She also found herself telling Dotura as much as she could about her involvement with Genesis and how she and David had introduced protomatter into the experiment. Her friend listened thoughtfully and Christine was surprised to find herself able to talk about it without breaking down.

"So what do you do now?"

"Dotura, did you even hear what I said? It is my fault, what happened." Christine stared at the healer.

"I heard you just fine, Christine. And I recognize that this must weigh on you terribly. But what if things had turned out differently? People would have hailed the two of you for being visionaries that could see the possibilities that lay beyond protomatter's instability. If the experiment had worked, I am willing to bet no one would have said a word of censure. Perhaps my people are more pragmatic about this sort of thing, but I suggest you forgive yourself and move on. You have enough to deal with without adding guilt to the mix." Dotura looked at her intently, challenging Christine to argue with her.

"I've been so busy blaming myself."

"And now it is time to stop. And I repeat my question, what are you going to do now?" Dotura waited for her reply, unwilling to back down.

Christine pursed her lips. "You mean other than cry? " She smiled bitterly, "I have work to do. My new job to distract me. And pain to put behind me, to try to forget."

Dotura frowned at her. "You can't just put it behind you. You have to go through it. Grief is like a disease. It has to run its course. If you don't let it, you just delay it. And possibly make yourself even sicker."

Christine thought about this. "I know I can't erase the pain, Dotura. But I can throw myself into work. I can see if that won't help."

"It's the nights I worry about, my dear. They will be the hardest."

Dotura's words proved prophetic. Christine spent her days familiarizing herself with her new responsibilities. She read the files of past emergencies, studying the steps her predecessors had taken to combat the situations. She met with her staff and her new supervisors. Attended meetings at Starfleet command and spent time in the operations center monitoring the various ongoing crises that Starfleet had to respond to. She could almost forget, during the busy days, her pain and her loneliness.

But at night the darkness found her, enveloped her in its crushing embrace. Sometimes she wandered the apartment, restless and keyed up. Other times she cried all night. Her temper was on edge, little things angered her to the point of tears. She would try to read but her mind wandered. She slept less and less. When she did sleep she had strange dreams. One night she was roused by the feeling of a touch on her face. She turned over still half asleep, *Spock?* she called out in her mind, but it had only been a dream. She hated herself for the hope she had felt.

She began to stay at work longer and longer hours. She came in early, and left late. She only went back to the apartment to get a fresh uniform or to sleep when she grew too exhausted to continue. As a doctor, she knew her behavior was dangerous, but she could not face the nights in the empty apartment. Sometimes she stayed with Dotura when Andrei Zarthakh was off world. Dotura would pamper her, making exotic meals and ordering up vids or insisting she try some alien beauty treatment. Sitting with her friend, covered in some bizarre cosmetic goop or laughing at an Andorian comedy was the closest Christine came to forgetting.

It was with extreme sadness that several weeks later, Christine found out that Dotura had been recalled to Burask. Dotura had been reluctant to tell her. "They need a new head of outworld operations. And I am the most experienced healer they have. Our role as medical emissaries has always been critical. I have to go back. But I'm so worried about you, Christine. Andrei is coming with me, why don't you? There are many people who remember you from the negotiations. The healer college would love to have you there in any capacity."

Christine declined and several days later found herself saying goodbye to Dotura and Andrei at the transporter pad. Both women cried, hugging each other tightly. Christine tried to smile bravely in order to convince Dotura she would be fine. But in the days that followed her friend's departure she realized the importance she had come to place on her friendship with Dotura. There was another hole in her heart now, and without the interaction that Dotura had provided Christine began to turn off her feelings. She ignored her pain, her emptiness. She poured everything she had into work and left no time for nurturing her own fragile soul. After a time, it began to feel normal to feel nothing.

Saavik called her often. She had elected to stay on Vulcan for a while. Christine could tell that in her own way the young woman was also floundering as she tried to find her own future. Through Saavik Christine learned that Spock was progressing well in his studies but did not appear to be changing in his behavior.

"Saavik, you have to accept that he's gone forever. I have."

Saavik looked at her angrily. "You have? You have not! Look at you. You look like death. When was the last time you slept? You have not moved on, you are just hiding."

Christine tried to ignore the sting of the words, "You may be right. I probably am hiding. But that doesn't mean that I am holding out any hope that Spock is going to come back to me." A priority comm from Starfleet operations came through on a separate line. "Saavik, I've got another call. I'll talk to you soon, alright?"

As Saavik nodded, she broke the connection and picked up the other call. She listened to the frantic adjutant explain that they had a critical situation and were prepared to beam her over to save precious time. She moved away from the terminal, "Go ahead."

The transporter deposited her on the ops center pad. The place was in an uproar. She ran to her post and replaced one of her staffers. Christine began to coordinate emergency response to the probe that was headed for Earth, leaving a marooned fleet in its wake. For hours they watched the reports, nothing could stop it. As it entered Earth orbit, the strange signal it was emitting intensified. When nothing answered, the probe began to ionize the oceans. All hell broke loose. Christine had her hands full with incoming calls and panicked department heads. She was very glad to see Sarek arrive. After he talked to the Federation President, he moved over to Christine. They watched together as the President sent the emergency distress call and a few minutes later heard the message came through from Admiral Kirk that he was going to try to find the solution to this problem in the past. Then his transmission was cut off.

Sarek turned to her. "Can I be of assistance?"

"Just being here is a help, Sarek." She gestured to the screens, the people running around. "What do we do now?" She asked him.

"I am not sure there is anything to be done, Christine." His tone was sympathetic.

*So we die here.* She was not surprised to find that she did not care that these might be her final hours. *Saavik's right. I haven't really been living.* She looked at Sarek's dear face, imperturbable to the last. Found herself regretting that he hadn't stayed safe on Vulcan with Amanda. She recognized that it was petty but couldn't help thinking that she was glad he had brought Valeris back with him.

Suddenly Sarek yelled, "Look!"

It was Kirk, returned from the past. They all watched as the bird of prey headed for the bridge, narrowly missing it, then crashed into the water. It was not clear what was happening for some time, until suddenly the probe stopped its signaling. The rain stopped and the clouds began to clear. The room erupted with cheers. Christine smiled up at Sarek. "They've done it again."

He nodded. "So it would seem."

She saw Sarek again the next day at the official inquiry. He introduced her to Dr. Gillian Taylor, the whale specialist and stowaway from the past. She was immersed in the story of the whale rescue when she realized that someone else had walked up to joint their group.

As she turned she heard Spock's voice, more resonant than the last time she had talked to him. "Dr. Chapel. You are well?"

Her heart beat heavily, she felt her face flush. "How could I not be, Captain. We are alive, after all, thanks to you, and the others, " she pointed to Kirk and the rest, who were just filing in.

As the room grew quiet, she led Gillian and Sarek to a seat in the front row next to Janice Rand. Spock elected to stand with his shipmates. The inquiry was brief, and when it was announced that Admiral, no Captain Kirk had been given another starship to command the room erupted into cheers. She ran out to Uhura and the others, embracing them and sharing in their joy. She saw Kirk and Gillian talking quietly till the woman gave Kirk a quick kiss on the cheek before leaving him. Kirk made his way to where Spock was talking with Sarek. Christine watched them for a moment. She felt very out of place. *This isn't my world, anymore,* she realized. *I don't belong here.* She turned and quietly left the room.

She found herself wandering the halls of Starfleet command, then Starfleet medical. Walked past the office that had been hers. Wandered then out of the research section, into the patient wards. She watched a young nurse check on a patient, offering comfort. Moving through the sections of the hospital, Christine began to realize that she was never going to find peace until she could put her mistakes of the past to rest. Until she had paid for them. Until she had been absolved. *This is where I belong. This is where I can make a difference.* But the thought of staying with Starfleet , of running into Spock, into Valeris, it was more than she could bear. I need to get off world.

She went back to her apartment. Placed a priority call to Dotura on Burask. The healer came on at once, a worried look on her face. "Christine, what's wrong?"

"I'm sorry for the priority, Dotura. I didn't mean to scare you. But I need to talk to you before I lose my nerve. That offer you made to me before you left. Did you mean it?"

Dotura was delighted, "You mean about coming to work here? Absolutely I meant it. In fact I need a deputy. With your credentials and your reputation here, you'd be perfect."

Christine smiled. "Then I want the job. I want to come right away."

"Can Starfleet reassign you that fast?"

Christine looked away for a moment, then turned back to the screen. "I'm leaving Starfleet. I can't do this anymore."

Dotura looked startled, but then smiled at her friend. "Starfleet or no Starfleet, I want you here! I'll expect you on the next shuttle?"

Christine agreed and after they talked a few minutes more she had hung up the call. As she went to start packing, her door chimes rang. She opened the doors and was startled to see Spock standing there.

"Doctor Chapel, there is something I must speak to you about. May I come in?"

Christine felt her heart race as she moved aside to let him come in.

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

Spock looked around the apartment. It was familiar and was associated in his mind with intense emotions. He shied away from them instinctively and then reminded himself that he had come here to understand these feelings. And the woman who stood before him.

He studied her critically. She looked tired, much too tired for just this crisis. She had not been sleeping. She had lost weight, so she was probably also not eating. But something else was different about her. He studied her face further. It was her expression. It lacked any emotion at all. *This has been hard on her.*

"So are you going to just stand there? You said you had something you needed to discuss?" Spock was surprised at the bitterness in her voice.

He moved into the room, remembered which of the chairs in the living area he preferred. "Perhaps we could sit for a while?"

"Fine." She sat as far from him as possible.

*She is not going to make this easy.* Spock supposed that he could not blame her. He had found more much during this mission than just whales. Had reconnected with a part of himself that he had not known was missing. It had happened as he had interacted with his shipmates. He started to remember things from their shared past, started to react to them more in his old ways. He had also, as he wandered through the San Francisco of the late twentieth century, begun to remember things from his time with Christine. Experiences they had shared would come back at odd times, such as when he was walking through the park looking for a meditation spot and happened on the area that they had used to hold a picnic. He remembered her crying, and his reaction.

"Spock," she was clearly impatient. "Do you have something to say."

"Yes, I do. I realize that our last meeting was not all that you wished." This was more difficult than he had expected. "I was perhaps harsh in my treatment of you?"

"Harsh?" she looked at him suspiciously. "You mean the way you treated me as a stranger, not as a lover."

"Yes. That is what I meant."

"And you are sorry that you treated me this way?"

Spock answered quickly, "I did not come to apologize for something that I would not change. I acted as I did then because it was the only way I could act." He saw her preparing to get up, "Please let me finish. I did not remember you, and so I treated you as a stranger. Just as I did not remember the others. But during this mission I had time to become reacquainted with our shipmates and I began to experience a closer relationship with them. I believe the same might be true for us."

She looked skeptical. *This is not going well,* he realized.

"Let me get this straight, you think that if we spend time together, then you might.might what exactly?

"I could analyze my reaction to you. Determine if my response to you indicated a potential for deeper interaction."

"Spock, for God's sake. You make it sound like a science experiment. What are you trying to say? That you love me? That you think you could love me? That you want to? I don't understand what you want from me?"

He could sense her emotions. They were raw and dark, anger mixed with hurt. He searched for the right thing to say. "Dr. Chapel, I did not come here to upset you. I have sensed from you and those around me that I should have considered more carefully before I rejected our relationship. Obviously in the past I considered you a suitable mate."

She was on her feet and pacing as she replied. "No, Spock, in the past you loved me. You didn't think about doing it, you just did it. You felt it"

Spock tried to calm her, "Perhaps in time, I could feel these things again."

He watched her stop pacing. Her back was to him so he could not see her face but he sensed that he had again said the wrong thing.

Her voice was barely a whisper, "And what if you couldn't? What about me?" She turned to him and he saw a face filled with pain but also with resolve. "I've spent the last three months trying to forget you. And now you come here and propose whatever it is you're proposing and expect me to risk going through this all over again when you decide that I'm not suitable or that you can't love me after all. Please, Spock, don't insult us both."

"I did not mean to insult you." Spock felt a strange emotion, he recognized it as regret. "I have not presented my case well. Perhaps if I could take a different approach."

"No." She walked to the door, opened it. "Goodbye, Spock." When he did not move, she repeated it. He felt an unaccountable stubbornness. "Spock, if you don't go, I'll call security. Do you really want that?"

He realized that she was serious. He had mishandled this badly. His regret deepened. He rose and made his way to the door. As he passed her he stopped for a moment, met her gaze, calm brown eyes to her angry blue ones. "I did not mean to add to your pain." He moved out into the hall the door closing quickly behind him. He stood in the hall for a moment unsure of his next move and he heard the faint sound of crying. *I cannot keep hurting her,* he realized. *She will not survive it.* As he walked out of her building, Spock was aware of a feeling more powerful than regret. Sadness he realized, and loss.

The feeling of loss, of missing something that was a part of himself intensified until after several days he realized he needed to try again to explain himself to Christine. He returned to the apartment they had shared. Rang the chimes over and over. When she did not answer, he keyed in the code they had used. She had not changed it. He walked into the apartment. It was empty. Everything was gone. He walked to the comm unit, called Starfleet. A young ensign answered.

"Can you tell me the present location of Commander Chapel?"

The ensign checked her records. "That is unknown, sir."

"I do not understand, Ensign. Clearly she has been reassigned?"

"I'm sorry, Captain. Commander Chapel has resigned her commission. Her whereabouts are unknown. Was there anything else, sir?"

"No, Ensign, good day." Spock absorbed this information, unable to fully fit Christine's flight into his plans. *Gone?* he did not understand the depth of sadness he felt at the news. *She has gone.* He knew that he could find her if he wished, but there was no point now. His bungled attempt at a reconciliation had contributed to, if not caused, her desire to leave.

Spock walked around the apartment, went into the bedroom. He stood looking at where the bed had been. *I have memories. Strong memories. I should have told her that.*

There was nothing for him here. He locked the door behind him as he left the apartment.

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

Christine's shuttle arrived at the Buraskii spaceport during the early evening. Dotura and Andrei were there to meet her. Seeing the two of them, she felt her heart lighten. *This will be the new start I wanted.*

"Christine," Dotura ran to embrace her. "It's so good to see you! Andrei can attest that I have been counting the days till you arrived. This will be good for us and good for you." She took Christine's arm, led her down to the waiting transport she had requisitioned from the healer college. "Come, you're staying with us until you find a place of your own."

Christine allowed herself to be overwhelmed with the sensations of being on Burask. The planet was as beautiful as ever. The air was comfortably warm with a slight breeze blowing. The scent of flowers on the air made her remember that night so long ago when she and Spock had danced. The memory was painful now but she didn't push it aside. *I have to start to feel things again. It's the only way I will ever heal.*

She had thought she would die the night Spock came to her apartment. She realized it must have been difficult for him to come, to ask her what he did. But at the same time it had been so counter to the man she remembered seducing her. She would never know now if over time that man would have come back. But she really couldn't afford to have found out that he wouldn't reappear. She knew she had reacted in fear, but also to protect herself. She would not have survived another rejection from him. But to have to send him away, to be the one that ended any possibility of reconciliation, that had been the hardest thing she had ever done. She had let anger carry her. But once Spock had left she had felt the sorrow that seemed to always be with her take over. She had cried the entire night.

Christine realized that Dotura was speaking to her, ".so I suggested that perhaps he could take you to dinner once you were settled in."

"Who? I'm sorry, Dotura, I was lost in thought."

Dotura scowled at her. "I was saying that Healer Marlen was quite interested to find out you were coming back to Burask to live. He wanted to know when it would be appropriate to come calling?"

Christine remembered Marlen. He was about her age, gentle in manner with a wonderful sense of humor and a wealth of medical knowledge. She had been charmed by him and he had been quite taken with her, a fact that McCoy had teased her about frequently during their mission here. "Dotura, I'm not ready for another relationship."

"I'm not saying you have to move in with the man. Just have dinner with him. You are too young to lock yourself away."

Christine sighed, "I suppose there is no point in arguing with you?"

Andrei snorted from the driver's seat. "Argue with *her*? You know she doesn't fight fair, Chris."

"I know Andrei. I guess I'd forgotten how devious she was."

Dotura pretended to be offended. "It's only for your own good."

Christine reached around her seat, hugged Dotura quickly. "It's good to be back."

She stayed with Dotura and Zarthakh for two weeks, then moved to a little house about five minutes from theirs. The house was built in the typical Buraskii fashion. With little variation in climate, the builders designed openness and light into the living spaces. The spacious patio became one of her favorite places. She often rested in a lounging chair near a tree filled with the fragrant white blossoms she loved. They should have made her sad, but in this place she found that they brought her peace. The whole tempo of the planet made her feel calmer. She still missed Spock terribly, but the raw pain of losing him seemed to be subsiding. She started sleeping through the night. Her dreams ceased to be things to be feared. And the work was exhilarating. She was finally making a difference that mattered. Sometimes it was a case brought in from the outside, other times she and Dotura and the other healers traveled off world to help with a medical crisis. But through it all she knew that they were touching people's lives.

Healer Marlen also brought her a sense of peace. When he first approached her after her return she had explained that she was not looking for romance. He had accepted her friendship and had proved a winning companion. They often went to musical events, plays, and out to dinner. His gentle affection was a constant she came to count on. Christine recognized that he hoped that someday she would change her mind, and at times she even considered it. But she knew that it would not be fair to him. He deserved a woman that loved him with all her heart.

Deep down though, Christine was still lonely. She didn't know what was missing until one day, about a year after she came to Burask, Dotura announced that she had a visitor. Christine looked up to see Saavik standing in the doorway of her office.

"Saavik, my god. What are you doing here?" She rushed to her, hugged her tightly, felt Saavik hug her back even tighter. When they separated they both had tears in their eyes. Christine ushered Saavik to a chair. "Tell me everything, my dear."

"Christine, I've left Vulcan. And I've left Starfleet. I was hoping to stay here with you for a while." Saavik looked at her tentatively.

She didn't hesitate, "Of course you can stay with me. I'd be thrilled to have you. But what happened? You had such a promising career?"

Saavik took a deep breath. "I know I did. And I really tried to find my place. But somehow, without Spock there, and when you left." she trailed off unhappily.

"I knew you were having a hard time, that's why I called you as soon as I arrived here. I guess I didn't realize just how unhappy you were."

Saavik shook her head. "No one did. I'm not sure I realized it. It built and built until finally I just couldn't do it anymore. I think when I first joined Starfleet, I did it to please Spock. I wanted him to be proud of me. I knew that in Starfleet I would be able to share a life with him. So I joined. And then I met you. You accepted me when it would have been so easy for you to be jealous of your time with him. You shared him. I don't know if you understand what that meant to me?"

"It wasn't hard to share with you, Saavik, you were a delight to have around."

Saavik laughed, "Unlike another that shall remain nameless? Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I didn't have a family growing up. Spock and you were like the father and mother I never had. I was so happy when I found out you were going to bond. It would have made my dream of a family complete. But then the dream crumbled. Spock came back, but he just is not the same. I have tried to take your advice and accept that the Spock we knew is not coming back. But I miss him. And I can't stand the way that Valeris has taken him over. She is his perfect student now, and he has no time for me. Especially when I remind him of things he would rather forget."

Saavik took a breath. "So I did some soul searching while I was on Vulcan and I realized that I didn't even like it there. I was trying to be the perfect Vulcan and I didn't even enjoy being Vulcan. I tried to remember the last time I was happy and it was the night before we left on the training cruise. It was when I was with you. So I thought that.well I know that I'm not really your daughter.but I thought maybe I could stay with you for a while."

Christine walked over to Saavik, pulled her into another hug. "I may not have given birth to you but I would be touched and honored to consider you my daughter." She felt Saavik sob in her arms. She kissed her hair, "You'll find peace here, darling. We both will." Saavik had broken down then. Christine let her cry out the strain of the last year as she just held her. When she finally quieted, Christine led her to the door. "Come on, kiddo. Let's go home." The joy on Saavik's face melted the last bit of ice Christine had placed around her heart.

Saavik settled in to the swing of Buraskii life quickly. She started helping Christine and Dotura with their duties and soon discovered an aptitude for medicine. It was Dotura that suggested she become a healer, noting that Saavik already had all the prerequisites as a science officer in Starfleet. Saavik took to the study program with an energy that impressed all the Buraskii. The young woman was soon earning top grades. Christine was happy to see how popular she was becoming with her peers. Happy with herself, Saavik had decided not to reject her Romulan half. She learned to meld logic and emotion the way the Buraskii did. And Christine noticed that they were both becoming content in their lives together. Saavik even welcomed Marlen, once urging Christine to give him more of a chance emotionally.

Christine had smiled sadly. "Saavik, I can't do that to him. I still love Spock. Even though at the end I walked away from him, I loved him then and I'll love him till I die. It's just not something you replace. And Marlen is too sweet to make him settle for lukewarm feelings. He will eventually give up on me."

Saavik shook her head. "Spock doesn't deserve you. You know that."

Christine nodded. "It doesn't matter anyway, Saavik. Now don't you have a test to study for or something?"

Several years passed in this way. Saavik finished her schooling and began her field training. She often accompanied Dotura or Christine off world. Christine found herself content and fulfilled. She realized to her surprise that the guilt she had thought would never leave her was gone. Her work here, her love for Saavik, her friendships with the other healers, all of these had allowed her to forgive herself. She hoped that some day she would be able to forgive Spock also.

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

Spock made his way to the briefing room. He was interested in hearing the medical team's report on the problems on Omega Five. Dr. Zarthakh was just beginning his briefing as Spock found a place in the back. The rest of the medical team sat behind Zarthakh. Spock was surprised to see Saavik among them. He had not seen her for several years. When the briefing ended he made his way up to Saavik. He greeted her in the formal Vulcan manner.

She turned when she heard his words. "Spock, I wasn't expecting to see you here."

He realized she had not returned his greeting. She looked different to him. Not just older he realized. Everything from her hair to her clothing was less controlled. less Vulcan. "I did not know that you had become a healer. I take it you are on Burask, now?" When she nodded assent, he pressed on. "With Christine?"

She stiffened. "Yes, with Christine. Spock I have to go, we have another meeting with Starfleet medical."

He stepped aside, then moved to catch her attention again. "Saavik, I would like the opportunity to talk with you. Perhaps you could stop by my office later today?" He saw her formulating an excuse, "Please?"

She was surprised, "Please? All right, Spock. I will stop by after this meeting."

As he made his way back he examined his feelings on seeing his former protégé. He had been surprised to hear that she had quit Starfleet. He had been even more disappointed when she left Vulcan. He had suspected she would go to Christine. He was surprised to feel jealousy that she had picked Christine over him. *Illogical,* he thought.

His office was an oasis of calm in the busy Starfleet headquarters building. He gratefully sank down into his chair, the smell of his favorite incense relaxing him. He looked at the painting hanging opposite the desk. A Chagall, lost for centuries but rediscovered in the late 22nd century. It was a depiction of Adam and Eve, the Expulsion from Paradise. He had bought it shortly after discovering that Christine had left Earth. It reminded him that all things end. Some things prematurely.

A knock on his door disturbed his reverie. "Come."

Saavik entered the room. "You wanted to talk to me?"

"Yes. I am gratified that you came." As Spock went to pour her a beverage, he saw her move to the painting.

"A Chagall? The colors are wonderful. I have never understood his fascination with chickens, though." She raised an eyebrow, "But it is an interesting choice of subject matter. Losing paradise. Do you believe in paradise, Spock?

"I do, Saavik."

She turned toward him, asked bitterly, "Have you experienced it?"

He gave her a resigned glance. "It has been my experience that we do not recognize Paradise until it is lost to us. This painting reminds me of that." He led her to the side couch. "Tell me how things go for you on Burask."

She sat uneasily, watching him. "I am happy there. I believe I have found my calling."

"You did not give Starfleet much of a chance," he chided.

"I am not you, Spock. I found it nearly impossible to sublimate my Romulan nature. To be the Vulcan that you wanted me to be. On Burask they encourage me to embrace both sides of my heritage. They say it is what makes me unique. So I have learned to be at peace with being Romulan, something I was never able to do on Vulcan."

*She is still angry with me,* Spock thought sadly. He had such fondness for this young woman. Lately he had realized she had been like a daughter to him. *I have hurt her too.* "And Christine, how is she?"

"She is wonderful. She excels at her work. She is in great demand for assignments and social occasions. She is an exceptional woman."

Spock remembered the time he had spent with Christine on Burask. "Yes, she is extraordinary. I would like to see her again. Perhaps in time our paths will cross again? All three of us."

Saavik swallowed, "I do not think that would be a good idea."

"I do not intend to hurt her again, Saavik." Spock reached for the words that would comfort Saavik but she interrupted him.

"No, Spock, you will not hurt her again. Because if you do, I swear I will destroy you."

A voice sounded from the doorway, "What a little savage you have become, Saavik." Valeris moved into the room, turned to Spock. "My apologies sir, but we had made arrangements to attend the lecture on the improvements to the transwarp drive. It is time to go." She turned back to Saavik, "I hope you are just here on a visit? I have enjoyed your absence."

"As I have enjoyed not having to put up with you, ka'fe'era."

Spock felt suddenly wearied by their bickering. "Saavik, it has been good to see you again. I wish you Godspeed on your journey." He watched her walk to the door, past a seemingly indifferent Valeris. "Give Christine my best wishes."

Saavik stopped at the door, looked back at him, then at Valeris. "I don't think so, Spock. She is fine without them."

As the door closed, Valeris moved up to stand next to him. "Seeing her troubles you?"

He nodded, "There are memories that I value, memories that include Saavik"

"And Christine?" Valeris queried.

"And Christine. We should go now or we will miss the briefing." Spock led the way to the auditorium, missing completely the tight look that crossed Valeris' face.

*Christine,* he thought, *Of all the things I have handled badly in this life, it will be you I regret the most.* He chose seats for Valeris and himself and sought forgetfulness in the lecture material.

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

Christine looked up as Saavik stumbled into the kitchen. "I didn't hear you come in last night. How was Earth?"

"It was Earth. The briefing went well. Starfleet has agreed to lift the quarantine on Omega Five so the mission was a success."

Christine watched Saavik. She was too absorbed in her breakfast preparations. "Is there something else you want to tell me, Saavik?"

"No."

Christine prompted, "About Spock? That maybe you saw him?"

Saavik turned to her in shock. Christine laughed, "Don't look at me that way. It was inevitable that you run into him eventually. I would never ask you to choose between us, you know. If you can rebuild some sort of relationship with him, I think that would be good."

Saavik said nothing. Christine shook her head, "Saavik, you're upset that he and Valeris have reached an understanding?"

The younger woman whirled around, "How can you be so calm when you say that. It's horrifying, the two of them. I wanted to vomit. No, I wanted to kill her. And then bring her back to life so I could kill her again."

Christine laughed at the imagery. "Calm down, my dear. I've known for some time what was going on with them. I still have friends in Starfleet, you know. It hurts like hell that he's not with me, but I can't deny him the right to find happiness with someone else, even Valeris." She smiled fondly at her surrogate daughter, "After all, I have you, he should have something."

"Gee thanks!" Saavik pretended to be offended. "Comparing the two of us." She came to sit at the table with Christine. "Seriously, why does he not see through her? I know that Amanda shares our opinion of her. And Sarek doesn't seem to care for her. Why is Spock so drawn to her?

Christine was thoughtful for a moment, "I've thought about this a lot. Talked to Uhura quite a bit. She's had a chance to see Valeris in action. The girl is the quintessential Vulcan. Yet she has lived on Earth long enough to know how to maneuver easily around Humans. She is blazing her way through the Academy. And Spock is her sponsor. But more than that she has always worshipped him."

"But that could describe me. I do not understand the difference." Saavik interjected.

"You aren't full Vulcan." Christine tried to make the words less harsh, "You didn't know Spock when he was younger, Saavik. He had so many betrayals and pain. He was always trying to subdue his human half. But no matter what he did it seemed he could not win. T'Pring, his betrothed, humiliated him by challenging because she wanted a full Vulcan. His father never approved of his choice of joining Starfleet. The other Vulcans always treated him with suspicion. And now here is Valeris. She is fully Vulcan yet she desires him. She could be anything she wanted on Vulcan, yet she chooses to follow in his footsteps. She is fierce in protecting her relationship with him. Think how heady that must be for him. It is no wonder he is enchanted."

"I never considered that. So he is blinded to her faults because all he sees is her Vulcan-ness. I do not know if it makes it any easier to take, but I will consider this."

They were silent for a bit. Then Saavik said quietly, "You miss him a lot, don't you?"

"Every day, Saavik. I am not sure if it is a blessing or a curse to find the one meant for you. To have known great love is a wonderful thing. But to lose it. To know that you will never have it back. It hurts sometimes more than I can bear." She felt tears welling up, "And I don't like to think of the two of them together, Saavik, despite my rational words. If I had to see them together, I think I would die."

Saavik reached over and wiped the tears from Christine's cheeks. "I think that sometimes you think that you didn't deserve him and that is why you lost him. But it isn't true, you know. He doesn't deserve you. Perhaps he never has. And I don't care why he chose Valeris, he picked the wrong woman."

Christine smiled at Saavik's fierce loyalty. She pulled her into a tight embrace and heard Saavik whisper, "I hope she hurts him the way he has hurt you."

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

Spock lay meditating in his quarters. Unaccustomed emotions warring inside him. Rage at Valeris' betrayal. Humiliation at having been taken in completely by her. Loss that she was not what she seemed, *I was going to bond with her. Have I been so blind?* It had been a month since disaster was averted and the peace accords signed. But he could not seem to move past the pain.

He thought back to the last time he had seen Saavik. Nearly four years now. *She always hated Valeris. I should have paid attention. But I thought it was just her loyalty to Christine that made her choose to dislike Valeris.* He thought of word reaching Saavik and Christine of the matter. *Saavik has learned to indulge her Romulan nature. She will be enjoying this. But Christine.Christine will probably only feel compassion.* He wasn't sure which made him feel worse.

He looked at the Chagall. When this mission started, Valeris had again questioned the painting's presence in his quarters. She knew that it represented Christine to him even though he had never said so explicitly. She had figured it out long ago. But she would not address it directly, always questioning the subject matter, the colors, the brush strokes. *Saavik questioned the chicken,* his mind provided irrelevantly.

He sought the deeper level of his meditation but could not find his center. He abandoned the pretense and began to pace his quarters. He had taken out his rage on Valeris on the bridge, when Kirk had asked him to meld with her to get the information on the conspiracy. He had enjoyed what he had done. It did him no credit but he had wanted to punish her. His attack on her mind had been savage. Fortunately something had called him back to himself before he had caused irreparable damage. He had been shaken by his violence. As Valeris had looked at him, trembling in pain and shock, he had turned away from her. Left her alone to face the consequences of her crimes. Now in the Starfleet holding facility, she had requested to see him several times, but he would not go. *Let her rot,* he thought angrily.

"Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end." He remembered telling that to Valeris. And to Kirk he had said, "I was prejudiced by her accomplishments as a Vulcan." What was it about Valeris that had made her so appealing to him. He tried to remember his attraction to her, when had it come about. He compared it to how he remembered feeling about Christine. Realized they were not comparable. But Valeris had been a Vulcan. And so he had automatically deemed her more suitable, more valuable.

He stared at the Chagall. *When was the last time I was happy?,* he wondered suddenly. *Have I ever really been happy.* He knew the answer. He had this very expensive painting to remind him daily.

It was suddenly very clear. *I must get her back. I do not know how but I *will* win her back.* For now though, he had to report for duty. Outwardly serene he made his way to the bridge, but his mind was already plotting.

It was nearly three months before the perfect opportunity presented itself. Vamora was one of the worlds loosely allied with the Klingon Empire. Since the disaster at Praxis, Vamora and the worlds like it had found themselves cut off and abandoned. They were suspicious of the Federation, yet they needed its help. Spock, as special envoy was working to extend the first diplomatic overtures to these worlds. Vamora was a special case however. There was an outbreak of Calaxian fever and they did not have the healers necessary to fight it. Normally Starfleet would send in a team of its own medics. But the leaders on Vamora were reluctant to let Federation troops, even of the medical variety, on their soil. They had agreed, however, to allow access to Buraskii healers.

Now Spock had to make sure that Christine would be among the healers. He had not seen her even once in the seven years since she had left Earth. He surmised she was not accepting any assignments that might bring her into contact with him. So Spock had to find a way to make sure Dotura included her. He was glad he knew the healer as well as he did. His plan was simple, but the logic was elegant. He would simply tell the healer *not* to include Christine. The likeliest outcome was that Dotura would be so offended that she would do the opposite; he had noticed that she was a person that let her emotions dictate her response. Of course there was the possibility she would realize that he had anticipated her contrariness. She would comprehend that Spock *wanted* Christine to be included. And in that case her natural matchmaking tendencies would take over. Yes, she would insist that Christine come in either case. His plan was logical. The uncertainty principle was low as it played to both Dotura's strengths and weaknesses. And ethically he need not feel guilty for it. Christine was an excellent physician. The Vamorans could only benefit from her presence. It was perfect.

*I have to play this carefully. I will not get another chance with Christine, even if Saavik doesn't kill me first,* he thought ruefully.

His course decided, Spock began dictating his message to Dotura.

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

Christine looked at Dotura incredulously. "Why are you insisting that I go with you to Vamora? You know that it's a former Klingon world. Spock is the special envoy to the Klingon Empire. The chances of running into him are fairly high."

"Maybe it is time to stop hiding from him?" Dotura challenged her stubbornly.

Christine really couldn't understand her friend's insistence. "You haven't objected in the past to my 'hiding.' What's different this time?"

Dotura scowled at her. "Christine, since we've been working together here have I ever asked you to do anything you didn't want to?" At Christine negative she continued, "You are the best friend I've ever had, Christine. I would never hurt you. You know that?"

Christine nodded, "Dotura you've saved me. Over and over."

"Then I want you to trust me. I want you to come with me to Vamora. Face Spock so that you can move on. He's like a spectre haunting your life. You need to move forward."

Christine felt her pleasant world slipping away, "But I am happy here, Dotura. Why do this?"

Her friend grabbed her shoulders as if to shake her. "You aren't happy. You are content. There is a difference! I think you can be happy again. But not until you quit running from Spock."

"I don't like this," Christine grumbled, knowing she had lost already.

"We'll bring Saavik with us. You know she'll protect you! It'll be fun to see her torment Spock. Won't it." she teased.

Christine couldn't help but laugh. "All right, we take Saavik and if he so much as looks at me funny I'm going to let her kill him."

"Good then. See we already have a plan." Dotura hugged her impulsively. "Just be brave, Christine. It's time to face the bogeyman."

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

Spock prowled the beam down site. He knew his assistant was bemused by his odd agitation, but he could not stand still. The Buraskii healers were due to arrive any time. He did not know if Christine would be among them. Dotura had refused to give him the final complement of the medical contingent, claiming she had not finalized the list.

"Sir," his assistant came up. "The Buraskii are signaling for beam down."

*Finally.* He turned to the young man. "Tell them to proceed when ready, Mr. Dalton."

"Acknowledged, sir."

The familiar hum of the transporter began. Spock watched the team materialize. He scanned quickly and saw her in the front with Dotura. *So. It begins.* He felt satisfaction as he saw her image solidify.

"Welcome to Vamora, doctors. I trust your journey was without incident?"

Dotura replied with a pleasantry of her own. Spock nodded his greetings to the rest of the team as they moved aside so the next group could beam down. He turned to Christine and said, "It is good to see you, Christine. It has been too many years."

"Spock." He could tell she was uncertain what approach to take with him. She hurried after Dotura, obviously eager to escape him.

*There is nowhere to run, Christine.*

He turned to another member of the team. In Vulcan he questioned, "Are you here as healer or as bodyguard?"

Saavik responded in the same tongue, "Whichever is called for, Spock."

He nodded, "I do not doubt that. I am sure that you heard about Valeris."

"Yes. Did her betrayal hurt you?"

He looked at her thoughtfully. "Yes, it hurt a great deal."

She gave him a wicked smile. "Good." She started to walk toward the others, then turned back. "You want Christine back, don't you?"

"You object?"

She considered the question. "I do not know yet. Tread carefully, Spock. I will not see her hurt again."

He accepted her warning, watched her move off. *I do not plan to hurt her again.*

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

Christine worked with the rest of the team to unpack their supplies and equipment. She was irritated that her heart had leapt when she saw Spock. And she had been unaccountably glad that he had made a special effort to greet her. *Gods, it is like I am back on the Enterprise all those years ago. I thought I outgrew this. I've got to get hold of myself.*

She heard Saavik come up. Saw her smug look. *Oh-oh. Saavik the lioness has been here." Amused, despite herself, she smiled at the young woman. "Did you have a nice reunion, dear?"

Saavik glared at her. "Sarcasm doesn't become you, Christine." She began to help with the supplies. After a while she said thoughtfully, "He mentioned Valeris. He admitted that her actions hurt him."

"And I don't suppose you wished you could spare him that sort of pain."

Saavik shot her an amused glance. "Spare him the pain? I'd like to double it! One for you and one for me." At Christine's disapproval, she shrugged, "It's the Romulan way."

Dotura interrupted them. "Ok folks. We have a near epidemic on our hands. We need to get set up as soon as we can. Saavik and Christine, I need you with me. We are going on a tour of the surrounding towns. We need to advise the town leaders on quarantine procedures. The rest of you continue to set up this camp and get the take-away equipment ready. We'll probably be using this as a base camp once we disperse teams to the quarantine areas." She looked at her team. Satisfied that they were ready she continued, "Word is already out that we are here. Spock warned me that even though they are supposed to have formal approval from their town leaders, these people might not wait for it to come before they start beating down our doors." She looked at the tents that had been set up for them. "Well, if we had doors."

While the rest of the healers went about their duties, Dotura led Christine and Saavik toward a waiting shuttle. Christine was dismayed to see Spock and his assistant waiting for them. *Dotura, why are you doing this to me?* She chose a seat near the window. Saavik slid in next to her and Dalton grabbed the outside chair. He nodded to Saavik, "You are Vulcan?"

She snapped, "And Romulan."

"Really?" He smiled, obviously intrigued.

"Does that make you happy for some reason?"

He tried to swallow his smile. "I just find it unique. I guess that explains your vitality."

"My vitality?"

"He means your temper," Dotura shot back from the facing row of seats. "Go easy, Mr. Dalton. Our Saavik's a handful. Do you really think you can tame her?"

Dalton began to stammer in embarrassment. Spock came to his rescue. "They are teasing you, Mr. Dalton. I suggest you make up your own mind about Saavik."

Christine and Saavik both looked at him in surprise. He cocked an eyebrow at them before returning to his conversation with Dotura.

Dalton whispered to Saavik, "I didn't mean to offend you, Dr. Saavik."

He looked so uncomfortable Saavik had to take pity on him. "You didn't. But perhaps we could concentrate on the mission."

Christine watched the two of them together. *Maybe he'll be the one to win her over?* Christine worried that Saavik was alone too much. She had socialized with some of the Buraskii healers, but the relationships always stayed casual. Christine sometimes wondered if her own relationship with Spock had poisoned Saavik's view of love. *Don't judge by us,* she thought sadly.

Christine looked up and met Spock's eyes. He was looking at her intently. For a moment she allowed herself to stare back at him, then broke the connection. *What was that?* she thought frantically. She sneaked another look at him. His gaze had not wavered. As she stared back at him she saw the intent look replaced by another. A look she hadn't expected to see again. It was tenderness.

The shuttle seemed suddenly far too small. She felt the beginning of panic. A small sound must have escaped her because Saavik turned to her. "Christine, are you all right?"

Christine nodded. Saavik studied her. Then she turned to Spock and glared. Christine hissed, "Stop it, Saavik, he didn't do anything." Saavik looked at her confused. *I'm confused too,* Christine thought. *He doesn't have to do more than look at me and it all starts again. I can't let that happen.*

She smiled at the others in the shuttle, offering an excuse. "I'm just tired."

"You should rest." Spock advised. "The days will be long here, better take sleep where you can find it."

"Good idea," Christine agreed. She leaned her head back against the seat. At first she pretended to rest, but the movement of the shuttle and the soft drone of conversation was relaxing. Soon she was fast asleep.

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

Following her friend's lead, Dotura slept in the seat next to him. Saavik and Dalton were deep in an animated discussion. Ignored for now, Spock watched Christine sleep. *I had forgotten how peaceful she looks when she sleeps.* He remembered how he had spent many nights holding her, just watching her. *She was loveliest by moonlight,* he mused.

Christine shifted a bit. He looked away lest she catch him staring. When she appeared to be still asleep he resumed his study of her. *She looks much healthier than when I last saw her.* She was older now but it was not that apparent save for some gray in her hair. He liked that she let it show, sensing it was from comfort with herself rather than disregard for her appearance. She had a vivacity now that he had not seen in her since the time before his death. Obviously her move to Buraskii had agreed with her. He felt momentarily guilty that he planned to disturb her life. *No, we knew great happiness once. We can find it again.*

He felt suddenly that someone was looking at him. He glanced over to see that Saavik had caught him staring at Christine. He expected a sharp word, a warning. Instead her expression softened and she smiled at him. Then she turned back to Dalton. *Unexpected,* Spock thought.

The shuttle soon landed at the first settlement, and the team began the first of many consultations. They met with the town leaders, inspected the existing medical facilities and supplies, made recommendations on the best place for quarantine areas. By the end of the day they had covered three large settlements and six smaller ones. The team gratefully made their way back to the shuttle to fly back to the healer camp.

Spock listened as Dotura and Christine compared notes on the settlements. He was surprised at the way they seemed to operate seamlessly, the perfect team. *Like Jim and myself,* he realized. He watched as they quickly formulated a system for handling these visits. Saavik joined in whenever she had a point to contribute, clearly at ease letting the other two take the lead. Spock was impressed with her, with all of them. *They are doing what they were meant to do.*

The shuttle landed and the team filed out. The healers made their way to their camp, while Spock and Dalton discussed the next day's plan with the pilot. Dalton kept looking over at the camp until Spock finally asked, "Is there something over in the camp that has captured your interest?"

Startled, Dalton looked at his superior. "Mr. Spock?" he asked in confusion.

Spock took a pad from the pilot, copied their agenda for the next day and gave it to Dalton. "I think that Dotura needs this tonight. Perhaps you could take it to her?"

Dalton looked at Spock in surprise. "Yes sir, I'll see that Saavik, I mean Dotura gets it."

Amused, Spock made his way alone to his quarters. He too wanted something in the camp, had to fight his desire to spend more time with Christine. He must play this carefully. Too much too soon and he would spook her. He had to win her over the same way she had won him back on Burask so many years ago. Slowly, nearly unnoticeably, until it was too late to do anything but surrender to the inevitable. *Soon, Christine, soon.*

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

The days began to blur together for Christine. After their initial week of town visits to set up the quarantine areas, the healers had split up, forming small teams to handle each settlement. They drafted the local medical force as well as some of the townspeople who had recovered from the fever to help with the nursing and cleanup duties.

Dotura had stayed at the capital encampment to lead the effort and had kept Christine and Saavik with her. They were working with a large number of patients as well as coordinating supply runs to the other settlements. Spock and Dalton, having little to do in the way of diplomatic duties, pitched in and worked wherever the healers needed them.

Christine was amused to watch Dalton and Saavik together. Saavik seemed irritated by his attention, but Christine suspected this was just pretense. Dalton was an engaging companion. Christine had come to enjoy her interactions with him. He seemed a fine young man. She hoped that Saavik was discovering that too. In any case, Christine admired his tenacity. He would not be budged from his orbit around Saavik.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" Spock's resonant voice sounded close to her ear. "I believe you had some equipment you needed moved?"

She nodded, still uncertain around him. He had treated her with great courtesy, even a gentle affection. But if Dalton was a satellite around Saavik, Spock was like her shadow. She found it difficult to shake him. Yet his behavior was perfectly acceptable, seemingly only concerned with helping her accomplish her mission. *So why does he make me so nervous?*

"Do you think she will accept him?" Spock asked her, looking over at Saavik and Dalton.

"I don't know. He seems like a nice young man." She directed him to carry the heavy monitor over to the far side of the tent. He picked it up as if it weighed nothing. *I'd forgotten how strong he is.* As she watched him move some other boxes, her thoughts drifted to the times he would scoop her up as if she were a child. *Stop it,* she warned, *this isn't helping.*

Spock's voice behind her caused an involuntary shiver. "He is an accomplished staff officer. And I believe that in time he will make an excellent diplomat. He is both clever and highly ethical. I have never regretted selecting him as my assistant. Saavik could do much worse." He looked around, "Was there anything else to be moved?"

She shook her head, replied stiffly, "That's it, Spock. Thank you." She started to gather up the supplies to make her rounds.

"Christine," his voice made her turn around. He moved closer to her. "You do not have to be uncomfortable with me."

"I'm not," Christine snapped. "I'm preoccupied with the enormity of the task here. I'm sorry if my behavior is a bit off."

He raised an eyebrow, "A lie?"

She looked at him for a long moment before replying. "I prefer to think of it as a defense."

"You seek to protect yourself? From me?" Spock looked searchingly at her. "It was not I that ran away, Christine."

Suddenly angry, Christine finished gathering her items together. "I'm really not comfortable with this conversation, Spock. If you'll excuse me."

*Damn him!* Christine fought to control her emotions. Her patients needed a calm, reassuring presence. Not this wreck of warring feeling that she was becoming. *Damn, damn, damn!*

Almost against her will, she looked back at Spock. He had not moved. For several seconds he held her gaze calmly before turning away to see if Dotura needed his assistance.

*Damn him.* Christine repeated. *How can he get to me this way after all these years!*

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

Spock looked back at Christine. *I have upset her.* He studied her for a moment, outwardly she appeared calm enough but he had seen her expression before she had turned away. *Her emotions are volatile. I must be careful.*

As if reading his thoughts, Dotura looked up from her blood samples. "I hope you know what the hell you're doing, Spock?" At his surprised look, she let out an exasperated sigh. "Spock, she's asked me to transfer her to another camp, twice. My guess is this was perhaps not what you were aiming for when you began this little courtship?"

"So you knew?"

She rolled her eyes. "It wasn't really that subtle. Besides, I've known it was just a matter of time before you came to your senses. Some people love for just a short time. Others love for a lifetime and beyond. You and Christine I expect to be the latter variety. But it isn't going to happen, Mr. Diplomat, if you can't get her to stop running away from you!"

He nodded thoughtfully. "She does not trust me. It is hard to get her to slow down enough to talk."

"Well," Dotura said evenly, "maybe if you stopped stalking her she might come to you." She raised an eyebrow in a perfect imitation of his then turned away from him, focused again on her work, "Now, I have to get back to these blood samples before they're ruined."

Spock looked over at the patient beds. Christine was sitting with a young boy. He saw her ruffle the child's hair as she made him laugh. Relaxing him before beginning the exam. *Interesting,* he mused.

Turning away from the healer's tent he made his way to the small break area the Buraskii had set up in the little park beyond the encampment. Several lounging chairs with thick cushions were arranged in the open area. The healers had taken to sleeping in shifts, electing to rest here under the stars and the twin moons rather than back in the hospital tent. There was no one else using the area as Spock chose one of the chairs and began to meditate on what Dotura had said. At first he found it difficult to concentrate as images of Christine kept playing in his head. Her smile, her laugh, her hands as she touched a sick Vamoran. *Stop. Seek the stillness.* Finally he felt himself sinking into the depths of the meditation he sought.

"Oh," he heard at the edges of his consciousness. He brought himself up slowly and looked over to see Christine staring at him. She looked like she was about to flee back to the hospital.

"It is pleasant here," he said casually. "Did you wish to rest?"

She shook her head. "No, it's alright. I didn't realize you were using the area." She turned to go but he was already rising from his chair.

"If it makes you uncomfortable that I am here, I will leave. You stay, Christine. You are exhausted. You need to sleep." He began to walk back to the hospital.

"Spock," her voice was tentative. "Wait. You don't have to leave just because.just because I'm not at ease with you. Please, sit."

He came slowly back. "I will stay if you do." She nodded and they both sat down in a lounger.

"The moons are beautiful, aren't they?"

Spock said evenly, "Christine, you do not need to make small talk with me." He heard her begin to protest. He turned to her, "You need sleep. Rest. I will not disturb you." He turned back to the moons and prepared to resume his meditation posture.

"I am tired." He could sense her gaze on him. Then he heard the cushions shifting as she lay back. He heard her mumble, "So tired."

He glanced over to see her face go slack as exhaustion claimed her. He shifted in the chair until he could comfortably watch her. *Watch over you,* he corrected. For hours he sat there as the light and shadows of the twin moons played on her face.

*So lovely,* he thought as the ache that was his desire for her intensified.

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

Christine felt a gentle touch on her arm. She opened her eyes surprised to find it was morning.

"Good morning," an amused voice said. Saavik looked over at a still sleeping Spock. "I'm surprised you let him get this close?"

"He was meditating when I arrived. I didn't expect him to still be here. Should we wake him?"

Saavik's voice was unaccountably gentle, "No, let him sleep. I think he needs it."

As they made their way back to the healer tent, Christine looked at Saavik curiously. "I'm surprised a little, Saavik. You seem to be mellowing when it comes to Spock?"

Saavik considered this. "For seven years now I have wanted the old Spock back. And been consistently hurt when he did not appear. But here on Vamora I am seeing a man that is closer to the Spock we lost than ever before. It would be illogical to treat him badly when he is finally behaving in the manner that we wish. Do you not agree?"

"Makes sense." Christine stopped as she entered the hospital, entranced by the scene before her. Dalton had assembled a group of children, now well on the road to recovery, and was entertaining them with an impromptu magic show. "Saavik, look."

Saavik nodded, "He asked me if it was all right. The children were a little bored. I saw no harm in it."

"Where did he learn it?"

Saavik explained, "Michael did not have full funding for his education. He supplemented his income during that time by performing magic trips in public and at private parties."

Christine grinned at her. "Michael?"

Saavik raised an eyebrow and gave Christine her best Vulcan look. "It *is* his name."

Christine just smiled at her as they started their rounds.

As the days progressed, the healers finally saw the stream of new cases decreasing. Soon they would only have to deal with treating secondary infections. Not long after that they would be able to leave. Christine found herself ambivalent. While she was tired of living out of a hospital tent and looked forward to returning to her little house on Burask, there was the issue of Spock.

Her gaze found him as he assisted Saavik with rounds on the far side of the tent. Since that night that she had happened upon him at the sleeping area, the night they had both fallen asleep outside in the moonlight, a new ease had grown between them. He no longer seemed to be dogging her every movement, and consequently she no longer felt the need to keep her guard up all the time. They might go a whole day without doing more than stopping to discuss a treatment or therapy, but every night when she settled in for a rest she would find Spock meditating in the chair next to the one she always chose. They would spend a short amount of time in casual conversation. Then he would return to his meditations while she fell asleep. He was usually gone by the time she awoke but occasionally he would fall asleep there. If she woke first she allowed herself the luxury of studying his face.

*So much time has passed. How can I still feel so much for him?* The thought did not panic her any longer. Perhaps she and Spock had arrived at the point where they could be friends.

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

Spock was finding even the fabled Vulcan patience had limits. *I do not seem to be making progress.* While he was gratified that Christine no longer avoided him, the downside of following Dotura's advice was that he did not get to spend much time with her. *At least when she is awake,* he reminded himself. He had made it a point to meditate each night at a time that would put him near her when she retired for the evening. It allowed them some small interaction as well as the opportunity for him to watch her as she slept. The exercise though was adding to his frustration rather than alleviating it. *Perhaps she no longer desires me?* The thought only made Spock feel worse.

On the positive side, his relationship with Saavik was improving daily. He realized that he owed some of that to young Dalton. The young man worshipped Spock. With Saavik allowing him in more and more, she was also allowing Spock in. And Spock was grateful. He regretted having lost her and wanted her back in his life almost as much as he wanted Christine. It would be an elegant solution if she ended up with Mr. Dalton. *He has done better with her than I expected. Perhaps I should get pointers from him?* Spock thought wryly.

He watched as Christine finished her rounds and began to ready some blood samples for study. *Enough inaction.* He moved over to the lab table and waited until she was able to stop for a moment.

"Spock?"

Looking into her eyes, he found that any words he had prepared were rapidly deserting him. "Christine, I am sorry to disturb you. I need to return to my office for a while. There is correspondence I must catch up on."

"Fine. Things are quiet here." She turned back to the samples.

"I am not finished." Surprised, she turned back to him. He fought the need to take a deep breath. "I would like.there are many things unsaid.I would like to have the time to talk to you. Away from here." The panicked look was returning to her face. He continued quickly, "I believe there are things we need to put behind us, Christine. But we cannot do that if we avoid the subject. Would you join me for dinner tonight? In my quarters? It will afford us an opportunity to resolve many things."

She did not seem eager to accept his offer. He found himself looking into her eyes, as if he could sway her decision with sheer will. *Say yes,* he thought intently, *just say yes.*

"Spock, I don't know. We're doing ok here. Aren't we?"

*Perhaps you are,* he thought acerbically. "I have the need for closure. Over the years I have remembered many things about my past, including our life together. I have regrets. I would like the opportunity to discuss them with you."

She was silent for so long he was sure that he had lost. Just as he was preparing to turn away, she said, "All right. I'll come by when I finish my shift."

The relief he felt was overwhelming. He showed none of it when he answered, "Excellent. I anticipate that moment."

She gave him a little half smile and went back to her work. Spock turned away and headed for town. His mind plotting furiously even before he was out of the tent.

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

Christine found herself distracted through the rest of the afternoon. She worked with Saavik as they made their rounds while Dotura rested in the sleeping area. But a good part of her mind was puzzling Spock's invitation. *What does he want with me?* A part of her, even after all these years, had not given up the hope that she would get him back. A larger part of her, however, was terrified of the damage he could do to the peace she had found on Burask, the happiness she had forged out of the rubble of the life they had shared. She sighed heavily.

"Something is bothering you?"

She did not turn away from the sleeping patient she was checking as she replied to Saavik. "No, just tired."

She felt a hand on her arm, looked up into Saavik's sympathetic face. "It is more than just being tired. What is wrong?"

"It's nothing, Saavik, go back to work."

Her friend erupted into a stream of Romulan profanity. "I warned him. What has he done?"

*Spock,* Christine realized, *She means Spock.* She shook her head before Saavik could say more. "He hasn't done anything, yet."

"Yet?" Saavik repeated, clearly confused. "Explain."

"He asked me to join him for dinner tonight." Christine trailed off.

Saavik prompted, "And this upsets you because.?"

Christine sighed in frustration. "I don't know. I'm just afraid. Of what he's going to say. Or what he's not going to say. I've worked so hard to try to put him behind me, Saavik. But just a few weeks with him and the feelings have all come flooding back."

"And the feelings scare you?"

Christine tried to find the words. "The feelings aren't just the good ones, Saavik. I've found peace. Some of that peace has come from avoiding those things that upset me. Spock is one of those things. The feelings he evokes in me, most of them aren't positive. I feel anger and sadness and fear. I can remember the love too, but there are seven years of pain between that and now. I'm not sure that anything he could tell me tonight is worth releasing these feelings again."

Saavik nodded as she digested Christine's words. She looked at Christine searchingly. "If you could have him back in your life. If you could have his love back. Would you want it?"

Christine did not answer at once. "I once thought that I would do anything if only Spock would love me. That younger me would have died for him. I nearly did. I'm not sure that I want to walk through that particular hell again. Even if it meant that he waited at the end of it." She looked helplessly at Saavik. "Does that make me a coward?"

Saavik took reached to pull her into a gentle hug. "Possibly. But I am not sure anyone could blame you for feeling that way." They stood quietly for a moment. Then Saavik whispered, 'I think you should go to him, Christine. I think you have to risk it."

Christine closed her eyes in resignation. "Risk it?" She pulled away from Saavik. "Dotura said I should face the bogeyman. You think so too. Why is it that all I want to do is find the nearest shuttle and get the hell off this planet?"

Saavik laughed softly, "Because you are the one that has to do the facing. We get to just give advice. Now, why not head out? I can handle things here until Dotura wakes up."

Christine felt her heart sink. "I'm not really done with my rounds."

Saavik gave her a stern look, "Christine, I will finish. Now go."

Christine took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and moved off toward town, toward Spock.

"That's right," she heard Saavik murmur encouragingly. She was out of range when Saavik frowned and promised, "If you hurt her, Spock, I'll kill you. I swear it."

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

Spock fought the urge to look again at the chronometer. *She will arrive when she is meant to arrive.* His logical words did nothing to stop the flutters of anticipation he felt. *Tonight this chase must end.*

He tried to bring his attention back to the status reports in front of him. He could smell the aroma of the Vamoran stew he had bought. It was simple but savory and filling. Some fresh bread and fruit sat on the set table. Spock had refused the innkeeper's offer of a bottle of the local wine. *There must be nothing but clear heads tonight.* He remembered the potent latha of Burask and how it had loosened his tongue when he had first decided to pursue Christine. He did not need it this time. Moreover he did not want her to be able to attribute any action he might take tonight to his being intoxicated.

A soft knocking on the doors to his quarters interrupted his musing. *Christine, it begins now.* He opened the door to her, invited her in. As she moved past him he asked if she was hungry.

"Starving," she admitted.

"Then I suggest we eat now. We can talk later." He led her to the small dining table in the corner of the sleeping quarters. He brought them both generous helpings of the stew. A large container of cold water already sat on the table. He filled their glasses and offered her some of the bread and fruit. They ate in an easy silence for a bit.

Christine stopped first. She pushed the bowl away from her. "That was good. I didn't realize how hungry I was until you asked."

"Perhaps you had other things on your mind," he offered.

She shot him a surprised glance, "Medical things you mean?"

He turned to meet her gaze calmly. "No, that is not what I meant. I would think that you would have been as preoccupied with thoughts of this meeting as I have been?"

He saw that he had startled her again. *I am sorry, Christine. The time for subtlety is past.*

"I have been thinking about it," she admitted. "Worrying about it would probably be more accurate," she added honestly.

He rose to clear the table. "Perhaps we could move to the couch? It is more comfortable I believe."

She allowed him to lead her across the room to the living area. He could tell she was deliberately ignoring the bed in the corner. *So, you do care,* he thought with satisfaction. He felt a strong jolt of frustration. *One mind meld would solve this.* But he knew that if he suggested it now while she was still so suspicious of him he would lose her forever. *We will do this the hard way,* he thought in resigned irritation.

She sat at the end of the small couch. He took a seat near the other end. For just a moment he allowed himself to appreciate her attractiveness. He felt himself drawn to her. He realized that he was also sensing her own attraction to him. But overlaying that, he felt her mistrust of him.

"Christine, I wanted to discuss what has happened since circumstances forced us apart."

The soft look on her face changed to one of bitterness. "Circumstances, Spock? Seems to me that it was you and I that bear the blame for destroying our relationship. I, through my actions on Genesis. And you, Spock, for consistently rejecting me."

He felt her anger. "I came back to you. I tried to convince you to give us another chance. You refused."

She was becoming agitated. "You expect me to believe that.that.that the emotionless proposition you put forward was something I was supposed to take seriously? I told you then, I tell you again, we loved. I wanted that back. Not some futile attempt to see if it even existed."

"I admit that my tactics were clumsy. But I came back several days later. You were no longer there. After that I never had the chance again. I looked for you each time I saw a Buraskii medical team. I asked Saavik about you. I did feel something. And over time I felt more and more. But you were not around." He gazed at her accusingly.

She looked away from him. "You had Valeris. Do you think I don't know that you were with her? You say you remembered loving me. Then why was it so easy for you to just forget me and be with her?"

He could feel the pain within her awakening. *She has chained it for too long.* Her anger was also there, an unstable element that could cause her to flee if he was not careful. "I was blinded by Valeris' accomplishments as a Vulcan," he said simply.

Christine seemed to lose some of her anger. "I told Saavik that. All the things you went through as a youth.Valeris was some kind of validation you could only get from a full Vulcan. It still hurt me, Spock."

"I know. I regret all of the pain that I have caused you. As a Vulcan it is not in my nature to wish. But in this case, I do wish that I could take back all of the things I have put you through. I wish that things could have been different."

She looked at him with eyes that no longer believed. "But they aren't different. What has happened, it can't ever be taken back. Not ever. And there really isn't anything more to talk about, is there?" She moved to get up.

*I am losing her,* he realized. He reached out, touched her arm. Felt the overwhelming emotions that were buffeting her. Pain, sorrow, guilt, grief, resentment, anger, fear, and hopelessness. *No!* he thought as she wrenched her arm away.

"Spock, I thought I could do this. But I find that I can't. Thank you for dinner." She started toward the door.

"Christine!" the word came out in a roar. Shocked she turned back to him. He felt as if the ground was slipping away beneath him. *Stop her, hold her, keep her," his heart screamed at him.

"I love you. I desire you. Do not leave me. Do not leave me again."

He stood across from her, chest heaving in his attempt to control the emotions that were threatening to overwhelm him. *Decide, decide now!* He watched her as she stood staring at him. The myriad emotions assailing her were apparent to him.

"Please?" he added miserably. "Please do not go?"

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

Christine stood across from Spock. She felt as though she were being torn apart. *Run,! her mind ordered. *Stay!* another part countermanded. She started to tremble with the strain of her choice.

Spock had not moved. He stood like a statue. Only his clenched hands betrayed him now. That and the expression on his face. It was the most naked yearning she had ever seen on his face.

She stood frozen. Her heart seemed to beat hard enough to explode through her chest. *Want him so bad,* her treasonous mind seemed to whisper. *Need him. Lonely, so lonely without him.* She let out a moan, covered her face with her hands.

"Christine." She looked at him through her fingers. "Christine, come to me. Do not be afraid. I want you. I love you. But this has to be your choice. You have to choose me."

Her hands dropped to her side, she felt her trembling increase. "I'm afraid, Spock. So afraid of you. Of me. Of us." Tears began to well in her eyes. "Let me go, Spock. Please let me go."

He shook his head. "I cannot." He slowly opened his arms to her. "Come to me, Christine. The time for fear's dominion is past. Trust me. Trust yourself."

*So lonely,* she thought again. The tears started to fall freely. *So afraid.*

"T'hy'la, come to me."

The sound of his voice speaking the old endearment broke her. A sob escaped her as she stumbled toward him. His arms caught her up. His lips kissed her hair, her cheek. She could feel his heart beating nearly as loudly as hers. "My love," his hands were everywhere and she was lost.

"Spock, oh god, Spock." She found in herself all the passion she had locked away. Pushing away the fear, the anger, she kissed him back hungrily. She felt his fingers find the meld points. *T'hy'la, do you wish this?*

She felt the effect that she was having on him and the effort he was making not to thrust his mind into hers. He would let her decide. *Yes,* she breathed into their next kiss. *Yes.*

And he was there, everywhere inside her. Dimly aware of being picked up, being carried to the bed, Christine swam in the sensation of their bond. Spock was she; she was Spock. As he undressed her, she watched her body through his eyes. Then he was she, watching him while he undressed. As he moved back to her, moving over her body with his lips, his tongue, his hands, she felt as though their shared pleasure would burst her overstrained heart. His hands found her face again, he deepened the meld as he entered her. They moved together as one, hands clenched, lips frantically locked, bodies joined as their pleasure built and built.

She heard his thoughts and she felt his mind go deeper than he had ever gone before, *Christine, I would never lose you. Never. Let me have you. Become mine. Make me yours. Bond with me, my t'hy'la.*

She felt his love, his desire, and his own fear that he would lose her again. She knew her own passion for him. As they continued to move their entangled bodies, she fell before the onslaught of emotion he sent to her. *My husband,* she sent to him.

Spock's mental cry of triumph was loud as he thrust deeper yet. His touch was fire on her body and on her mind. She felt the bond beginning. It was a sharing like the meld only more so. A closeness she had never dreamed. No lies, no hurts, just love and desire. The fear they had both shared, the anger she had known, the sadness, the betrayals, all still existed. But their voices were silenced in the face of this overwhelming new connection. There was only the bond. There was only the two to them, now made one.

*My wife.* She heard Spock's thoughts. Then, wonderfully, his laugh as he let the bond take them both again into pleasure, to a place more intensely passionate and deeply tender than any they had ever known before.

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

As he watched Christine, Spock felt intense satisfaction. She was his. She would not leave him again. He kissed her softly as she slept. He could feel her reaction to his light touches through the bond. As she awoke slowly he intensified his attentions.

"It is nearly time to get up, my wife." He sent her a pleased smile through the bond. Then desire. She gasped as the emotions reached her.

"I never realized," she whispered as he moved closer.

"Nor I, t'hy'la. It is truly an amazement." He moved over her. Each of his touches brushed back to him as a faint sensation of pleasure. He reached for her face, found the points, had not even begun the bond before he felt her mind break through to his.

*Did I do that?* Christine asked, excited.

*It would seem the bond works both ways,* he thought to her. *Fortuitous,* he said, moving into her even as her mind sought to claim his.

*Love you,* was the last coherent thought either of them shared as they explored the potential of their joining.

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

Later that morning, Christine woke, her back to Spock's chest. She could feel him breathing evenly in sleep. She could also sense his mind, still connected to hers in a comforting hold, but quiet now. She tentatively formed a good morning thought-kiss and sent it down the bond.

An amused mind voice answered. *Good morning, Christine. You are becoming quite proficient at this.*

His arms tightened around her and she luxuriated in the feeling of him pressed against him. The strain of the past seemed very far away from the love they had made here. Yet she felt her body begin to tremble, then to shake as she felt tears threaten. *What is wrong with me?* She tried to pull away from Spock.

"No, Christine. You have kept this sadness hidden away for too long. It is time to let it out." His voice was a whisper in her ear as he turned her into his chest. He stroked her back as he murmured to her. "Let it go. Let me help you."

His kind tone undid her. She felt the tears fall, felt her trembling increase, fought the weeping for a moment then gave in to it. All of the sadness, the grief of the past revisited her, threatened to take her over again, but the calm, tender voice of Spock fought it off. "I am here. Let it go. We will fight it together." She sobbed in his arms until she could cry no more. She knew he could feel the immensity of her pain through the bond, but he did not retreat from the display of emotions. "My love," he soothed her.

After some time where they just held each other, he led her to the small shower. They cleaned each other off, sharing kisses as the water cascaded over them. She could sense his desire for her, yet he did not move to take her again. *We have patients that need us,* his thought answered her.

*And a daughter to see,* she sent to him.

He looked at her affectionately before responding. *Indeed.*

The End.