We'll Pretend You Love Me

by Djinn

Part Three

Chapel was in an even worse mood when they finally got to the lovely shingled house that Spock said had been in Amanda's family for years. She glared at him before opening the gate of the white picket fence and following the sound of happy children to a back yard filled with hydrangeas, roses, and lush green grass.

She could feel the tension draining out of her as she saw T'Samra look up and smile, then push herself up, bottom first, and toddle over to her, raising her hands up and laughing as Chapel picked her up.

Sarek was holding Sybok. "Hello, Christine. Amanda is upstairs getting your bedroom ready. She seemed to know you and Spock—I assume my son is with you?"

She nodded. "I think he went in the other way."

"Ah." Sarek seemed to fully understand her meaning. "At any rate, my wife anticipated a change in your arrival date. Is everything all right?"

"Not sure. Ask me later." She sat down in the chair next to him, smiled despite her bad mood at the easy way he was holding her son. "You look pretty comfortable with him."

"He is a fine child. I approve."

She sighed. "Even of the name?"

"That was Spock's choice, no doubt?"

"I supported it."

"Ah, you are mad at him, but you defend him. Surely a good sign for the marriage."

"We're not married." Her words came out as a snap.

"You will be." He did not seem at all concerned. "My son is not always astute in matters of the heart."

"Your son is an idiot."

"As I said."

She laughed softly. "Did Amanda fill you in?"

"We have been married a long time. What do you think?" He reached over, touched her hand ever so briefly. "I assure you, she did not mean to frighten you. Taking the children was supposed to give you a respite, not a shock."

"I know. It was Spock's fault."

"It often is." He began to gently dandle the baby on his knee. "Is it not your father's fault, Sybok? Is it not?"

"Stop that," she said, fighting a smile. "I mean it, Sarek."

He stopped the talking but not the dandling. The baby seemed to be eating up having quality time with grandpa. "Give my son, ignorant as he is, a chance, Christine. That is my best advice. I believe he cares for you very much."

"How can you tell?"

"The way my wife tells me he looks at you."

"I never see it."

"Perhaps you have abandoned hope of ever seeing it?"

"Stop being wise." She gave T'Samra a kiss and then let her down when the girl began to fidget. "All right, I know that grass this lush is a new thing. Go play."

"You were lucky to be rescued before she was much older."

"Yes, we were. I don't want to think about what might have happened."

"Nor do I." He nodded solemnly at T'Samra when she brought him a gardening glove. "Thank you. Most kind."

She grinned and toddled off toward what looked like a spade.

Chapel got up and followed her. "The one good thing about living in an enclosure was that there was nothing there you didn't know about. Okay, missy, let's see what you think you're going to do with the sharp, pointed shovel." When T'Samra started to dig into the grass, Chapel found the twin to the first glove and traded her. "Let's not ruin Grandma's lawn our first day here. Why don't you go give that to your grandfather."

She glanced up, saw that Spock was watching her from an upstairs window. She didn't smile at him, and he finally backed away and let the curtains close.

##

Amanda found her in the kitchen a short while later, Spock trailing in her wake, an uncertain expression on his face. Amanda picked up T'Samra, put her in Spock's arms, and said, "Go join your father, Spock. Christine and I are going shopping. And we're having lunch, so you're on your own with the children."

Chapel frowned as he carried their daughter away, but then Amanda winked and said, "Oh, it will be good for Sarek and him. Two fish out of water. Might even bring them closer together. And if anything dire happens, we're only a communicator call away. But you and I need to talk. So come on."

She led Chapel out of the house and down to the main street, and they walked in silence for a while, looking in store windows. Chapel felt overwhelmed by all the things there were—after making due with so little for so long it was strange to have so much...excess around.

"Come in here, dear. They have lovely things."

"Oh, my accounts are still frozen."

"Well, mine aren't. Come on." Amanda's voice was a mixture of silk and steel, and Chapel found herself giving in, probably the way Sarek and Spock did. "Is that the secret to managing them?"

"Well, that's my secret. I think you have your own way of managing Spock. He's quite miserable at the moment. He's afraid he's lost you."

"He hasn't."

Well, don't tell him that." Amanda grinned at her as she started going through the racks of clothing in the front of the store. "It's good for him to think he's lost you. Make him wonder what he could have done better—could have done differently."

"Talking would have been a nice start." Chapel sighed and looked down. "I'm sorry. This is your son I'm complaining about."

"And you need to get it out. Who have you had to talk to for the last two years?"

"No one. Not even him. He...he pretty much shut me out."

"My son is not always the most intuitive boy."

"Boy?" Chapel found herself grinning. "If I weren't a mother, I would not understand you still calling him that."

"But you are a mother. And a wonderful mother from what Spock tells me."

"He said that?"

"He did. He went on at length last night. That conversation you overheard. You missed the part about you. It was very complimentary. He was actually comparing you to T'Pring. That's how she came up."

"I didn't mean to eavesdrop. I'm not usually like that. It's just...I've been so afraid since we got back."

"You really thought he would take the children away that way?"

Chapel nodded.

"He has a lot of things to make up to you. But I can assure you. Getting shed of you, as my grandfather would have said, was the furthest thing from his mind." She moved to another rack, held up a red and white sundress. "This would look lovely on you." She thrust it at her, leaving no room for argument. "Oh and look at this." She pulled out a white halter dress, sheer in a few places, opaque in most others. "Perfect."

"For...?"

"For when you and Spock make up. As I'm sure you will. Go try those on."

"I don't feel like wearing this." She tried to hand the white dress back.

"I'll find you some shorts next. Go get in a room and do what I say." A wink followed the command.

Chapel rolled her eyes and found an open dressing room. Both dresses fit her perfectly. The white one was gorgeous. Casual enough for a beach party but sexy—too sexy for Spock, the mood she was in. But she could imagine it being a hit if he really felt the way Amanda said he did.

Why the hell did her lover's mother know how he felt better than Chapel did? Wasn't something off about that? Even with a Vulcan?

"Christine, I have more things for you?"

Chapel opened the door.

Amanda started to smile. "Oh, my dear. You know, men like to think they like little black dresses, but there's something about white."

"Is that a veiled reference to a wedding dress?"

"No. I mean that dress. Look at it. It's very sexy. Spock will love it. You want it, don't you?"

Chapel closed her eyes and nodded. Damn it all, she did want it.

"Does the other dress work?"

She nodded again.

"Well, good. The rest is more casual. I know you don't have much after being in that place for so long."

Chapel met her eyes, saw no pity, just affection. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. Now, take your time. I'm going to try on some things, too."

They ended up spending an hour in the shop. Amanda kept finding more things for them to try on, and by the time they finished, they had quite the haul. "Can you deliver these to my house, Laura?" Amanda asked the woman behind the counter.

"Don't I always? Peter?"

A teenaged boy poked his head out from the back room.

The woman smiled at him. "Delivery, son."

He came out, took the address, smiled at Amanda and Chapel, and loaded their bags on his bicycle cart. Chapel tried to picture Sybok at that age. It seemed impossible now, but she imagined soon enough she'd be looking back, wondering where the years had gone.

"He'll get them there safe and sound and you can enjoy the rest of your day, Amanda."

"Thank you, dear. See you next time." Amanda took Chapel's arm and said, "A little more shopping, then what would you say to a big, juicy hamburger? Maybe with a bowl of clam chowder to start? I'm so sick of vegetarian food I could scream."

Chapel laughed. "I wouldn't say no to a cheeseburger."

"Wonderful. What our men don't know won't hurt them."

##

Chapel found Spock in the children's bedroom, sitting on the window seat—clearly he'd been watching for her and Amanda—while T'Samra and Sybok napped. She cocked her head toward the hallway, saw him nod and get up to follow her out.

The packages from the store were in the bedroom. She frowned and Spock said, "My father said these were not my mother's size so I brought them up for you."

"But you don't know my size, do you?"

"I do not."

"Why would you? We were naked the whole time we were in the zoo." She closed the door then walked to the window, saw that they had a lovely view of the back yard and if she moved just right, of the water.

She could hear Spock coming up behind her. Before he got too close, he asked, "Is this all right?"

She couldn't remember him ever sounding so tentative. "Depends on what you have in mind."

He moved closer, put his arms around her waist, settled his chin on her shoulder. "Just this."

She relaxed against him. "This is fine."

"I am sorry, Christine."

She nodded.

"I wanted to surprise you."

"Oh, you did that."

"Shock and surprise are two different things." He slowly moved until he was nuzzling her neck. "Is this still all right?"

"Yes."

"I miscalculated. I will not do it again."

"You don't talk to me, Spock. We spent two years not talking. Making babies but not talking."

"We made two beautiful children."

She laughed softly. "You still could have found time to talk to me. The effort of child-making wasn't that tough."

"I will do better from now on." He breathed out slowly, as if holding her was a relief of some kind. "I missed you today. We have not been apart."

"Being apart is healthy."

"I am aware of that. Still, I missed you." He turned her to face him, brushed her cheek with his fingers. "You did not miss me, did you?"

"Not really. But then I had a wonderful time with your mother. I've missed that. Having a friend—another woman to talk to. While you were stuck here with your dad."

"You talk to my father quite easily."

"I can't help that."

He held up his hand. "That was not criticism. More...envy. He and I...even with the children, we do not work."

"He loves our children, though."

"Yes. He does not even seem to mind Sybok's name—did you tell him you chose it?"

She smiled. "No, he guessed you chose it. And I told him I supported your choice."

He pulled her closer. "You defended me to him?"

"Yes. Twice actually."

"Most unexpected given the level of ire you are feeling."

"I love you. Just because I'm hurt and mad as hell at you, doesn't mean he can disrespect you to me." She could feel her smile turn a little bit mean. "Only I get to do that."

"I believe I understand that logic." He was staring at her with the most helpless look she'd ever seen him wear.

"What is it, Spock?"

"We have time before the children wake. Please come to bed."

"You want to have a quickie? After everything that's gone on?"

"We need to reconnect. It has been so long." He leaned in, moving slowly enough that she could pull away at any time.

She didn't pull away, leaned into his kiss, let him draw her away from the window, let him ease her clothes off, reach over and lock the door, then push her down to the bed.

He was gentler than he'd ever been with her, and he took his time despite them not having much of it, making sure she was very happy and relaxed before he moved over her. "I want to meld with you, but we need to wait for that."

"Why?"

"Because you don't trust me yet. And you don't like me. You only love me."

"That's true."

"When we have all three, then we'll meld. In the meantime..." He slid into her and she moaned, heard the sound echoed back to her as he groaned and began to move.

"No one is watching us," he said as he leaned down to kiss her. "Finally, no one is watching us."

"It's only us here." She ran her hands through his hair—it felt so different now that it was short again—and smiled when he closed his eyes at her touch. She wasn't sure how this was any different than the hundreds of times they'd had sex, but it was. He was...present, was the only way she could think of it. In the way he brushed her hair off her face. In the way he met her eyes, how his lips nearly ticked up, how he kissed her and the soft, helpless noises he was making as she kissed and stroked and clenched.

"God help me, Spock. I love you so."

"I love you," he said with no hesitation, then he stopped moving. "I do love you, Christine."

He kissed her, gently at first, then more fiercely, as if telling her that she was his, that he really was afraid, as Amanda had said, that he was losing her. He started to thrust, harder and harder, and Chapel moaned, feeling another climax coming, riding it out as he continued to move, until he too came, burying his face in her hair to muffle his cries.

They lay together, both breathing hard, no appreciative audience making comments or clapping, just the two of them in this beautiful, soft bedroom.

He stirred enough to kiss her cheek, to roll and bring her with him, half lying on her side, half on him. "We needed this."

She nodded and ran her finger down his cheek, saw him close his eyes, his lips turning up in the closest thing she'd seen to a smile. He looked so relaxed, so...happy.

"Ah," he murmured. "Our son awakes."

A moment later, she heard the crying. "Get those clothes back on because naked is not our natural state anymore." She leaned down, kissed him quickly. "That was really nice."

"I concur." He watched as she pulled on her clothes, caught the garments she tossed to him. "My father thinks we should teach the children to swim while we are here."

"Okay."

"You are not going to say they are too young?"

"I learned to swim when I was T'Samra's age. They have no fear at that age. And we'll be with them. They're not going to learn on Vulcan, are they? How many swimming pools are there?"

"Not many. Offworlders are the only ones who have them generally."

"Then teach them while we're here. Then we don't have to worry about them drowning because they can't swim. Drowning for other reasons I'll still obsess over." She smiled at him. "Because that's what mothers do."

"I believe fathers do that too." He got up and pulled on his pants. "I was unduly diligent in following T'Samra around the yard this afternoon. My father told me I was smothering her."

"We're not used to having to worry about all these...hazards. The enclosure was safe. Nothing there but what was always there. Or what the aliens put in. And they were careful—didn't want to damage the merchandise." She followed him into the children's room and picked up Sybok, who stopped crying as soon as he nuzzled his nose into her neck.

"See, he too finds your scent comforting."

"Papa," a little voice sounded from across the room.

Chapel looked at Spock, and they both turned to look at T'Samra. She was sitting up in bed, a big smile on her face, holding her hands up for Spock.

"Did she finally say something?" Chapel asked softly.

"Papa." She stretched out her arms and opened and closed her hands at him.

"Indeed. And it is an order. Like mother, like daughter."

"More like grandmother, like daughter." Chapel laughed and pushed him toward the bed. "Go make the little martinet happy."

He bent down, picked up T'Samra and swung her around with enough restraint to still be within the bounds of Vulcan dignity—but just barely. Chapel had a sneaking suspicion he was thrilled beyond words that she'd called his name first.

Sybok was still happily nuzzling her neck, so she walked over to T'Samra, said, "Little minx, what took you so long? I bet now we won't be able to stop you from talking, will we?" She leaned in and kissed her daughter.

T'Samra reached over, giving Chapel one of the rare caresses on the cheek that always melted her heart. "Mama," she said.

"We might want to rethink Jim as a godfather for this one. She does not need any lessons on how to steal hearts and manipulate people." But she was grinning from ear to ear—she loved the way that "mama" sounded when her daughter said it.

##

She wore a red sweater and khaki shorts that she'd bought with Amanda down to dinner; it felt great to be out of the Starfleet-issued clothing. She caught Spock looking at her as they sat at the table in the back yard, smiled at him, and was surprised when he reached under the tablecloth and let his hand settle on her thigh.

Amanda was too busy trying to get T'Samra to say "Na-na, Na-na" to notice, but Chapel thought she saw Sarek try to hide a flicker of a smile. She met his eyes; one eyebrow went up and then he went back to telling Sybok about his long and storied family history. Chapel admired his ability to eat and hold the baby—neither she nor Spock had managed it with such skill.

"Was he that good with you?" she murmured into Spock's ear.

He shook his head, and she thought she saw both a trace of regret that this was a side of his father he'd never known, as well as pride that his son was so accepted. She reached down, laid her hand on top of his, and rubbed gently.

"So, darling, I was thinking." Amanda turned to look at her. "A friend of mine has a house on Martha's Vineyard that is free this weekend. If you and Spock would like some alone time?"

"My wife..." Sarek glanced quickly at Chapel. "She does not mean to meddle."

"Oh, of course I mean to meddle. Spock's surprise was poorly executed to be sure, but his heart was in the right place. He can't help it if he comes from a long line of idiots when it comes to romantic gestures."

Sarek looked down, and Chapel bit back a smile.

"It's a beautiful house. Very private. Just the thing for...reconnecting."

"You mean sex." Chapel let her own eyebrow go up.

There was a very awkward silence broken by T'Samra suddenly saying "Nana," and hitting Amanda on the arm lightly. "Nana."

"Oh, there you go, my smart girl. Now, what shall we have you call Sarek?"

"She can call me whatever she desires. I see no reason to force my will on the child."

Spock coughed.

Sarek looked at him. "What?"

Chapel took a deep breath and tried not to laugh. She looked at Spock. "Do you want alone time?"

He nodded. No hesitation. No looking at his father to see what he thought. Just yes.

"Okay, then. Martha's Vineyard it is."

"Oh, perfect. I'll comm her and tell her. And pack that white dress, Christine." Amanda gave her a very wicked smile. "I'm sure you're going to need it."

There was another slightly awkward silence. This time T'Samra did nothing to ease it.

##

The house on Martha's Vineyard was a lovely little cottage with a sweet wisteria-covered veranda. Chapel and Spock arrived midday, bummed around town for a bit, then went back to the house to relax before dinner.

She changed into the white dress and came out to where Spock was sitting on the swing on the veranda, and saw something change in his eyes as he took her in. "You approve?"

"Very much so."

She twirled slowly, so he could really take in the dress. "Your mother made me get this."

"My mother has excellent taste." He held his hand out. "What would you like to do tonight?"

She walked over to him. "You want me to take your hand? Right here, in front of whoever might see us?"

He didn't drop his hand. "This is a fairly private house, but yes, I do."

She took his hand and let him pull her down beside him. As she suspected, he drew the line on putting his arm around her, but he did keep a tight hold on her hand as they gently swung back and forth on the veranda. "I'm hungry."

"As am I."

"I'm hungry for something other than vegetables pretending to be meat."

"My mother chooses to be a vegetarian because as the wife of the Vulcan ambassador, being a carnivore would be...awkward. But you are under no such constraint. If you wish to eat meat, eat meat. After this many years around humans, I can assure you that I am no longer squeamish."

"What if I come to bed with meat breath?" She laughed softly.

"Brush your teeth before you come to bed. But you usually do. You are quite diligent about dental hygiene." He squeezed her hand. "You do not have to change for me, Christine. Did you think you did?"

"I did in the zoo. And our children..."

"They are three-quarters human. They will, at some point, express their own preferences. They are our children, after all, and neither of us have difficulty expressing ourselves."

She sighed. "Except with each other." She turned so she could see his face. "Spock, didn't it occur to you that I might be lonely? That I might need someone to talk to in that place?"

"It did. But it also occurred to me that if they took you away from me, you might be in a far worse state than simply lonely. I thought...I thought that if I could connect with you through the sex, it would make up for everything else."

"You thought wrong."

"And I will not make that mistake in the future, I assure you." He let go of her hand, touched her cheek. "I am not sure that I could convey, even through a meld, the level of misery I felt in that situation. I do not mean with you. I mean being observed, the lack of privacy, the humiliation. You were the only thing that kept me grounded. I mean that sincerely. I know you believe my fears of losing you were unfounded, but to me they were very real."

"I was that important to you?"

"You were my world, Christine. You and the children. The fact that I failed to convey that to you is something I will endeavor to make up to you for the foreseeable future."

"On that we are agreed." She smiled, was happy to see his lips tip up slightly. "So, you asked me what I wanted to do. Can we walk until we find a place that looks good?"

"We can do anything you like." He gave her a very slow once over. "You look beautiful. I find I have other things on my mind as well."

"Well, you'll have to wine and dine me before you can have your way with me. Or at least buy me some clams. There's a casual little place by the water your mother said was really good."

"I am quite willing to take you to the finest place in town."

"I know. But I don't need that. I don't need the trappings of a relationship, Spock. I want the relationship." She leaned against him, rested her head on his shoulder without thinking, but he didn't say anything so she kept it there. "I want us to have a nice little beach dinner like any other couple."

"And talk."

"And talk. And enjoy having the kids with your parents. And then come home and make love."

He made a sound—a happy one.

"What was that for?"

"You finally said make love. Rather than having sex or the other word you often use."

She laughed. "That word you'd never say. Have you ever said it? Will your lips melt off if you say it?"

"I can say it. I just choose not to."

She ran her hand up and down his leg, keeping close to his knee in case anyone was watching. "My mistake."

"We should go, Christine, before I decide eating is overrated." The look in his eyes told her he wasn't kidding.

She laughed and pulled him out of the swing, then let go of his hand. They walked into town, talking about what they thought T'Samra and Sybok were getting up to, how many outfits Amanda had probably bought them, and what their daughter would end up calling Sarek now that she'd landed on "Nana" for her grandmother.

It was an easy conversation to have, an easy way to start talking to each other, but Chapel knew they had a lot more they needed to talk about. Like what they were going to do now that they were back. When Jim had mentioned having a place for them on the ship, Spock had seemed...open. She wasn't thrilled at the idea of that, but if that was what Spock needed to do, she would adjust. She wasn't sure she wanted to bring the topic up tonight though.

She was afraid they'd end up in a fight. Even though she was willing to bend—bend so far she might come close to breaking—she was still not feeling sure of him and was pretty sure that picking a fight wasn't beneath her.

She sighed and he looked over at her.

"What is it?"

She shook her head.

"Tell me. Or is it only I who is expected to be more communicative?"

She stopped walking, met his eyes. "That's a little harsh."

"Actually, it is not. What are you thinking about that has you tensing? I can feel your anxiety from here."

"Let's wait till dinner."

He nodded toward a bench that overlooked the water. "I think now would be preferable."

"Fine." She sat down next to him and said, "I'm unsettled because I don't know what we're doing about our next postings. Well, I don't know what you're doing. I'm staying on Earth, obviously, since families don't belong on starships, and even though I don't think it's my responsibility to stay with the kids, I find that I want to."

"Ironic, given that you were uncertain if you would take to motherhood."

"Yeah, yeah. But it's not my damn duty, let's be clear on that. It's my choice. It may not always be, though."

"Understood. I have put out feelers at Starfleet Command. The assumption was that I would wish to rejoin Jim on the Enterprise. Once I made it clear that this was not the case, I have had some interesting conversations."

"When did you find the time to do that?"

"When you were angry at me, when you'd gone shopping with my mother."

She laughed. "I appreciate that. But, Spock, if your best destiny is with Jim, you should be on the ship."

"I am not sure that my best destiny is with him. Or at least not right now. We are in a tentative state and the children are young. When they are older, when you and I are on more solid ground, perhaps then it will be time to move back into space, to again serve at his side." He touched her hand gently. "Have you decided what you will do?"

She nodded. "Starfleet Medical has several interesting billets. Diagnostic or research, my pick. Daycare onsite. It's too good to pass up. So you could join Jim. If you want to."

"Yes, I see that the children will be well cared for during the day. But what of you? What of you and me?"

She shrugged.

"If we had no children, then I would return to the ship if you came too. But that cannot be as you have said, so I will stay here with you. You are important to me, Christine. Jim will understand."

"What if he doesn't? He gave up David for the stars."

"Doctor Marcus forced him to. You are not forcing me to, are you?"

"I'm not. I just need to know how to plan for the future. How much of my heart to give you."

"You will stay with me, though? Even if I were to choose the ship and Jim?"

She nodded.

"But I would have less of you?"

"I think so. I'd have to protect myself."

"Which is precisely why I have to stay. In the future, if you were more secure in my love, would you feel the same way?"

"No. I let Roger go without obsessing—well until he disappeared." She shook her head and laughed softly. "Of course look how well that went." She winked to let him know she wasn't being terribly serious. "Now I feel guilty. Like I'm keeping you from something you want to do."

"Do I appear at all upset that I am not going? Jim has been without me for two years, Christine. It is not as if we disappeared a few weeks ago. He will get over this. I have my mate to put first, my children."

"Your mate." She shook her head. "That used to be a favorite fantasy."

"I would rather you were my wife."

"I'm not ready for that."

"Will you tell me when you are? I do not wish to annoy you by asking repeatedly."

She nodded. "Will you surprise me with some ring I won't like?"

"No, if you wish for us to have rings—and I am agnostic on that—then we will pick them out together."

"You're learning, mister."

His lips ticked up. "And the bond can be done whenever you are ready—it is a private matter between us. There does not have to be a ceremony on Vulcan unless you wish it."

"I don't wish it." She glanced over at him. "Unless you do?"

"I would not be opposed to it, but it is not necessary. Mother will be disappointed. I believe she would love to show off her mostly human family."

Chapel laughed. "That I believe. In the interest of harmony with the rest of the clan, let's not let her do that."

"Agreed." He touched her hand again. "Are you feeling less unsettled?"

She nodded. "Thank you."

"May we go eat now?"

"You just want to get back to the cottage and have sex."

"That may well be. But I am also hungry."

##

Chapel sighed happily as she finished her clam strips and the bucket of steamers. Spock had managed to make a meal out of cold slaw and sweet potato fries, which she had to admit were really good. She'd stolen so many of the fries, he'd had to go back for a second order.

He'd done it with a fond look. Clearly he was of a mind to indulge her tonight. As they left the restaurant, he nodded to a shop across the street. "My mother told me they sell the best ice cream on the island."

"Are you an ice cream fan?"

"No. But you like it."

She bumped up against him. "I'm pleasantly full right now. But if I have dessert, I'll be overly full and I'm afraid I won't want sex."

He took her arm and turned her away from the ice cream shop. She laughed, loudly enough to make several couples turn and look at them, probably wondering what could be so funny coming from a Vulcan.

He did not drop his hand, and she murmured, "You feeling all right?"

"It is not the nature of Vulcans to linger on what might have been, but I find myself wishing I could redo our time in the enclosure. That I could have found a way to make you understand what you mean to me." He finally let go of her arm. "I would like to try something when we get back to the cottage. It may not work, but it will not be dangerous if I fail."

"Will it be dangerous if you succeed?" She grinned at his look. "Well, you left that wide open."

"I did. No, it will not be hazardous. I wish to show you with a meld what I was feeling during our time in the zoo. I am adept at retrieving other people's memories. I have never attempted to show anyone mine before."

"An adventure, then."

He nodded. "An important one, if I can achieve it. I want you to feel, not just take it on faith."

"Ironic coming from a Vulcan."

"Do you think my father does not feel deeply for my mother? Emotions are part of us, even if we seek to master them."

"Mastering them wasn't the problem in the zoo. Sharing them was." She bumped up against him again, trying to show him she wasn't mad. "But I love that you're willing to try this."

She looked up at the sky, a blaze of orange and pink as the sun set, and said softly, "I almost gave up ever seeing a sunset again. Almost thought the only sky we'd ever see was the gray roof of our enclosure. That T'Samra and Sybok would grow up thinking that was normal."

"I know. I felt that way as well."

She stopped and watched as the sky darkened, felt him settle his hand on the small of her back and pressed back against it. "I feel this, Spock. Even if what you want to try doesn't work, I feel us now. And it's different than it was. So it's okay if you can't show me what was. What is and what will be are really all that matter."

He leaned forward, his breath hot on her neck near her ear. "A wonderful attitude. And normally I might agree with something that lets me off the hook so easily. But we both know time is far from linear at its most basic state. The past will forever influence how you feel about us. Therefore I would prefer to change the base variables if possible."

She leaned back. "Isn't science sexy?"

He exhaled quickly, and she realized he had just laughed. "Indeed."

"I do love you, Spock."

"But perhaps you could like me better? Trust me more?"

"Perhaps you can't force that, though? You're always one for the quick path." She took a deep breath. "Okay, I'm done sky gazing."

"I will not force this. I promise you that."

She glanced at him and gave him a knowing smile. "I'm not sure you can help yourself. It's sort of your basic nature." Her smile grew wider. "I imagine you may find yourself in a battle of wills with our daughter when she grows older, but I may have to do some end runs for Sybok."

"You think I will treat him as my father did me?"

"Because no one ever repeats patterns?" She took his arm for a moment. "Yes, I think you might try to run his life."

"He may not mind that, may not fight me the way I did my father. We may, in fact, be quite in sync in our goals and aspirations for him. Moreover, Christine, he is an infant. There is no way you can determine his temperament at maturity from his behavior at this age."

"I disagree. He is a mellow child, and we both know it. I imagine he will grow up to be a peacemaker. Which in this family may be a very good thing—so long as someone looks out for him once in a while. Which I plan to do, so stand warned." She bumped up against him. "Just so you know, I plan to withhold sex if you aggravate me."

He turned a look on her that could only be deemed annoyed. "That is most unfair."

"What? I should withhold my cooking? Please don't try to tell me you enjoyed that soup I made for you ages ago? You never asked me to cook again. No one I have ever cooked for has asked me to repeat the experience."

"It is true. Your skills do not lie in the kitchen."

"So, see. I've got to withhold what's of value to you."

"Your company is of value. The children are of value."

"But I wouldn't deprive you of those things. That would be too mean." She smiled. "Although once the kids become teens, they'll probably deprive you of their company—hell, we may beg them to deprive us of their company." She laughed, saw his eyes lighten. "Life would have been easier with children that were nearly full Vulcan than nearly full Human. You really should have held out for a full Vulcan mate. Let the zookeepers give me to that monster thing."

"I heartily disagree."

She smiled, felt him grab her hand as he pulled her onto the walkway to their cottage. "In a hurry?"

"I find I am."

"Fascinating." She took the steps up the veranda at a run, her skirt flaring out, and he looked back at her as he opened the door.

"I look forward to removing that dress from you, Christine."

She followed him in and shut the door, then pushed him up against the wall and kissed him the way she'd been wanting to all evening. "Promises, promises."

He reached behind her, slowly unfastened the halter and let the top of her dress drop down. He bent and kissed his way down her neck to her chest, pushing her breasts together with his hands and kissing where they met, then moving back and forth, sucking and licking until she moaned and said, "Spock, find us a bed."

"Ours is just here," he said, not letting go, moving back up to kiss her as he turned her so he could push her into the bedroom. He let go of her once her legs hit the bed, reached under her skirt and pulled off her underwear, then eased her onto the bed and followed her down.

"Aren't you overdressed?"

"Shhh." He went back to playing with her chest, then he lifted her skirt up and moved down between her legs. "Do you want me to undress or do you want me to continue with what I am doing?"

"Forget I said anything."

"I thought as much." He kissed her thighs, light glancing touches that tickled as much as they were sensuous, but the way he was digging his fingers into her hips left no doubt that he was serious about what he was doing. He kissed his way up and up and—

"Oh God," she said as she arched her back and lifted her hips to meet him.

He took her to the edge and as she was about to go over, he backed off just enough that she hovered right between coming and not. She tried to push down and find his mouth but he eluded her.

"I can tell where you are, Christine. Exactly where you are."

He had never done this in the zoo. Never teased her this way. She fidgeted under him, trying to bring herself off, and he tightened his hold and said, "Lie still."

She settled, breathing hard, and met his eyes. His were amused—he was enjoying this. He dipped his head down, found her again, brought her closer and closer and then stopped just as she was about to come.

"Spock, damn it." She wrapped her legs around his neck, tried to pull him back down to her, not caring about anything but finishing.

He pried her legs off him—damn Vulcan strength—and held them down as he went in again, barely touching her, not even getting her close enough, and she murmured, "Please, please, please," as he teased her.

He let go of her, moved up and kissed her on the lips, and she pulled him to her, wrapping her legs around him, trying to grind against him, but he slipped away, rolling to the side and whispering, "Not yet."

He smiled—a real smile even if it was minuscule—and said, "Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?"

"I don't care. Just finish me off, please?"

Again the smile and he leaned down and kissed her again, forcing her mouth open, and she wrapped her arms around him and gave herself up to whatever he wanted from her. As he deepened the kiss, his tongue finding hers, she felt him reach down and find the spot, no longer teasing, his touch sure and strong and—

Oh God, yes. She couldn't speak, could barely breathe as she came while they kissed, as her body did exactly what he wanted it to do. He let her go finally, let her catch her breath, and began to take off his clothing as she lay breathing hard and trembling.

He pulled her up, eased the dress off her and tossed it onto the floor, then let her lie back down like a boneless doll. He was on top of her and inside her, moving slowly, as if he was going to subject himself to the same torture he had just put her through.

Then he pushed in deep and stopped moving. "Can you do something for me?"

"I'm not actually sure." She grinned. "But I'll try."

"When you clench—can you do that?"

She smiled. He'd once called it milking after a particularly vigorous session in the zoo.

"I hadn't had two kids back then, Spock. But I'll give it my best shot." He didn't need to know that her workouts to keep boredom away back in the zoo included muscles down there. She pretended like she was doing it, saw his expression cloud a little, then she clenched down with everything she had.

The moan he let go made her grin and pull him down for a kiss. "Guess maybe I still have it."

He nodded.

"You want to see if I can get you off this way, don't you?"

"Yes." But then he pulled away and thrust. "Although it will be hard for me to lie still."

"So I see." She wrapped her legs around him tightly, trying to hold him down. Then proceeded to do her worst—saw she was succeeding by the way his eyes screwed up, the groans that were coming from him, and the way he was clutching at her, and kissing her and calling her name out.

She occasionally let up on her death grip with her legs, let him shift and thrust and then she started again. Until she could tell he couldn't stand it anymore, and she let her legs slide off him, and he moved harder and faster, murmuring things in her ear she wasn't sure Vulcans were supposed to say but that she found exciting. She clenched down one more time, heard him cry out, and then grip her shoulders so hard she was sure she'd have bruises.

He collapsed on top of her, breathing hard and holding her close, snuggling with her, finding her lips once he caught his breath.

They kissed for a long time, and he rolled to his side, pulling her with him, never letting go of her, as if to take his hands off her would be a serious breach.

"My, my," she whispered as she buried her face in his chest and he rubbed her back.

"Indeed. That was extraordinary."

She kissed his neck. "That was your intent, wasn't it? For the meld you want to try?"

He nodded. "But I also enjoyed the sex for its own sake. You are a tremendously sensual partner."

She smiled. "Likewise, mister."

He wrapped her up in a hug so tight it almost hurt and they lay like that for a long time, touching and kissing and just enjoying the lovely summer breeze that blew through the curtains of the open window.

Then he said, "I would like to try now."

"Okay."

He moved his fingers to the meld points, said, "Once I am inside your mind, it will take me some time to find my own memories and to bring you with me to them. Will you be patient?"

She knew that was not a frivolous question. But she had learned patience in that godforsaken zoo. "I will be."

He touched down on her cheek, was in her mind for the first time since they'd initially had sex in the zoo. It felt right to have him there, like finally they were complete. She felt herself relaxing, hadn't realized she'd tensed up, and just let herself drift as his presence in her mind got further away.

She wasn't sure how much time had passed when she felt him gathering her up, felt her mind-self somehow carried into his essence, past memories that she didn't try to read but that seemed to reach out for her anyway. His childhood, his brother, his father, his mother, the Academy and then serving with Captain Pike, and finally Jim.

And then her, one fellow crewmember among many until the Psi 2000 virus. An annoyance, at first. The memory was there and he didn't try to hide it from her but it was not where they were headed and she let it go.

When they hit Gol, she was shocked at how negative the memories were of the place, at how stripped and harsh everything felt. How...wrong. He knew that now. But on the other side, before he'd gone, Gol had shone like a beacon of hope. The chance to be the perfect Vulcan...finally.

And then V'ger. The meld. The emotions. And her. She was...no longer an annoyance. She was confusing to him. Jim hadn't been wrong. The conference—he had been jealous of her quick affair with Handerson and D'Val. And then their captivity.

He finally slowed, let them sink into the memories.

I want you to feel what I felt. He moved them through the experiences in the zoo too fast for her to know what he had been thinking at any given time, but she could feel his emotions.

Misery. Humiliation. Far worse than she had ever felt in the place. The utter lack of privacy. The stripping away of dignity. Every time he fought with her made it worse—an audience to see that, to judge, to enjoy it.

But then she had become pregnant and his emotions changed. He was filled with wonder. Chapel realized he had thought he could not father a child, not without medical intervention. But fear also began to rule him. Fear that the child would not develop naturally, fear that she would be harmed during the pregnancy.

Fear that he would lose one or both of them.

But he had not and she was shocked at the emotion he felt when he delivered their daughter. She remembered meeting his eyes and wondering what he was feeling.

It had been joy. Abject terror during the delivery but joy once it was over. And pride as she lay nursing his daughter. Satisfaction.

And love. He first loved her at that moment when their daughter finally slept, and Chapel had looked over at him exhausted and smiled. Her smile had been the thing to do it.

Such a small thing.

You had gone through hell. And yet you had a smile for me.

And she could feel all through the meld that this was the point he wanted to change, the moment he wished he could go back and redo.

He took her more quickly through the days that followed, as she made a routine for them, as she included him—she realized he'd expected her to keep the child to herself.

She saw him walking with T'Samra, whispering to her in Vulcan, and she tensed.

Ah, again, the things left unsaid—or said in ways you could not understand. I am telling her here, "That is your mother. She is a scientist. You would do well to be as brilliant as she is. She is perhaps more brilliant than I at biochem, but we will not let her know that. She is of vital importance to me, my daughter—and will be to you, too. If we have any happiness here, it is because of her."

She relaxed in his arms.

I am sorry. I told T'Samra everything I was feeling for you and never told you.

She realized as she assessed his feelings that she had been his true north in all this. Despair was always underneath the surface, but he would look over at her and his child playing some silly new game she'd racked her brain to come up with, and peace would fill him. She had been the most important thing in his world, and he'd known that she was completely unaware of that fact. The irony was not lost on him. Her own loneliness was not lost on him. But as he'd said, he'd been too afraid to tell her the truth, to give the aliens that power.

And then when she was pregnant again, his fear returned. Especially as this pregnancy did not progress the way the first had. And as she withheld herself from him. He'd been filled with panic when the aliens had taken her out of the enclosure, sure he would not see her again. But she'd been returned to him. Whole and with his son. And would not have to get pregnant again. His relief had been genuine. He could not hurt her again.

Not that way, at least.

But still she did not want him.

And then they were rescued. And she expected him to shut off the memories but he didn't. He let her see his joy at being reunited with Jim. At being free. But he also let her feel his jealousy over Jim, his unhappiness at how things were with her, his dismay over how he had hurt and still was hurting her.

He let her see what kind of life he foresaw if she left him. It was not a life he wanted.

Now he began to ease her away, out of his mind, and she realized she had started crying at some point, but she wasn't sure if she was crying for him, for herself, for their children, or just for so many lost opportunities.

He let the meld go and wiped the tears from her cheeks. "That is how I felt."

"I had no idea you felt things so profoundly."

"That is the conceit of Vulcan mastery." He buried his face in her hair, as if the sharing had been too much for him. "Living it again was difficult."

"For me, too." She pulled him closer, stroked his hair. "I love you. I love our children. I love our family. I don't want to leave you. I do want to be your wife."

"You do?"

"Yes. Not tonight. Not tomorrow night. But soon. All right?"

He nodded and sighed, a long exhalation of air, as if he was letting go of all the years of captivity. "You have given me beautiful children, Christine. I watch my father look at them, look at you, and I know that having them and being with you are the only things I have ever done that he wholeheartedly approves of. It is ironic, is it not?"

She nuzzled his neck. "Well, he married a human."

"Indeed." He brushed her hair off her face and studied her for a long moment. "I love you, Christine."

"I know," she said. And for the first time, it was absolutely true.

FIN