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A sharp gust of wind blowing into the crevice woke her. It stirred the pile of leaves where she was lying, and she sat up with a jerk. "What... Ow!" A rock was digging into her hip, and she was sore all over. She rubbed her eyes. "It's freezing!"

Her companion was also awake, and emerging from his own cocoon of leaves. "Dr. Chapel, it is not freezing. I estimate that the temperature is approximately 8 degrees Celsius."

"Close enough to freezing!" She shivered, and noticed how stiffly he was moving. "Are you all right?" An inane question, she thought. Neither of them were all right. "If the cold is getting to me..."

"I am functional. My species tolerates cold less well than yours, but we have a superior ability to ignore bodily discomfort."

She frowned at him. Presumably that was his way of telling her to stop complaining. Damn Vulcan superiority. Medical concern reasserted itself. "Let's get moving. We're stiff enough already, and there's certainly no reason to stay here." She brushed away the leaves and crawled to the front of the crevice. It was the only shelter they had been able to find the night before, and it was inadequate; just a crack between the rocks with no roof. They were lucky it hadn't rained. Or snowed.

They both stretched carefully, unkinking cramped muscles, and surveyed the scene before them. They were at the base of a rocky outcropping near the bottom of a deep valley. Mountains rose on either side and a wide river flowed through the bottom. From the signs, winter was approaching. Most of the vegetation had a bluish cast, but some branches were bare, and there were red and green and brown leaves on the ground beneath them. The sky was blue, but not earth-blue. It was very pale, and the sun seemed small and cold. The landscape looked bleak and unforgiving in the morning light. When Christine had first seen it, three days ago, she had thought it was beautiful, like an alien Switzerland. But that had been when it seemed to be an improvement over their previous situation. Now she wasn't so sure. She counted mentally. Eight days ago she had been on Wrigley's...

* * *

Wrigley's Pleasure Planet. An entire society devoted to hedonism. Actually, that popular impression was incorrect. The natives of Wrigley's were quite uninterested in the exotic diversions which they offered to others. Their passion was not food, entertainment, liquor, drugs, sex, or shopping. Their passion was profits, and they had grown rich catering to every whim and weakness of the other inhabitants of the galaxy. Wrigley's was a neutral planet, open to all who had money, and played host at one time to most of the races of the Federation, Klingons, Gorn, Orions and many others. Only the Romulans disdained it as decadent. Starfleet was uneasy about Wrigley's, but they did not go so far as to forbid it as a shore leave destination. It was just too popular, especially for deep space crews with cabin fever.

The Enterprise had just come off of six months of star-mapping and cataloguing. Boredom and routine can sap morale as badly as tension can. When the time for shore leave finally arrived, James Kirk didn't have to take a poll to find out what his crew wanted. The ship headed for Wrigley's at warp six. Some crew members would transfer to starliners for brief trips to their homes, but most could find everything they wanted on Wrigley's. The exception, of course, was Spock. Spock disapproved thoroughly of Wrigley's, but the rest of the crew would have disapproved even more of Spock's idea of a good shore leave.

* * *

Christine and Uhura wandered slowly through the columned arcades and stone alleys of the main shopping district of Wrigley City. Flowers dripped off balconies and climbed up pillars. Fountains splashed. The city was climate controlled into an eternal June. Other cities and areas were maintained in other climatic conditions, but this was the favorite of most humans.

"Where once it never rained 'til after sundown," said Uhura dreamily, sitting on a bench.

"What's that?"

"An old song. Twentieth century, I think. About a kind of paradise."

The two women were happily exhausted, burdened with parcels. "I must have spent a month's pay today," said Christine unrepentantly.

"Me too. And I don't regret a credit of it."

"Dinner will probably cost us each another month's pay. I hope it's worth it."

"Everyone says the place is fantastic. I made the reservations via sub-space two weeks ago, as soon as I knew we were headed here. I was lucky to get them."

"What are you going to wear?"

"The restaurant is formal. Something I bought today, but I haven't decided what. You're going to wear the long blue silk..."

"You are so right. I haven't owned a dress that beautiful in years. It's totally impractical, and I love it."

"Isn't vacation great?"

They sat in silence for a while, then took off their shoes and rubbed their feet. "I really needed this," Christine said. "I actually caught myself wishing for a medical emergency. Anything that wasn't a sore throat or hemorrhoids."

"Mm. Even the captain was getting bored and jittery. Everyone was, except Spock and a few fanatics in the astrophysics department."

Another silence. "All right, Uhura. Don't look at me out of the corner of your eye. I'm not going to explode or shrivel up just because you mentioned Spock's name. I don't do that any more."

"Sorry. I bet you'd like him to see you in that dress, though."

"Unfortunately for him, he won't get the chance. I'll just have to settle for the admiration of the multitudes."

"We should get back to the ship. We'll just have time to shower and change."

"I'm not going back." Uhura looked at her in surprise. "I've got a hotel room."

Uhura grinned. "Oh? Met someone? Planning to meet someone?"

"No. I just need to get off the ship entirely for a while. Right now I wish I had three years of leave instead of three weeks, but I know that in three weeks I'll want to get back to work. Why don't you change in my room? There's no need for you to beam up."

"Thanks Chris, but the shoes I want to wear are in my closet. I'll meet you at the restaurant."

Christine consulted her map of the city and headed for the hotel. It was an extravagance, but she could afford it. Starfleet didn't pay her that well, but there wasn't much to spend money on in space. It was fun to be self-indulgent on leave. It didn't take her long to change, and she took a moment to admire her dress in the mirror. The silky material felt as good as it looked.

She decided to walk to the restaurant. The temperature here never went below 18 degrees, even at night. And though some parts of Wrigley's were rough, this was the most fashionable area. Anyway, even a Starfleet doctor had enough self-defense training to give the average mugger a nasty surprise. The streets weren't as crowded as they had been during the day. At this rate, she would be there five minutes early. It was her last conscious thought for many hours.

* * *

Spock found most of the pleasures offered on Wrigley's singularly unappealing. In the course of a short walk he had seen every variety of useless merchandise the sector had to offer. He had two tasks to perform down here. When they were completed he would gladly return to the ship for the remainder of this unnecessary leave. He shook his head severely at a purveyor of recreational drugs and wondered, not for the first time, why humans found life so unpleasant that they needed to constantly resort to stimulants and depressants. Reaching his first destination, he picked up the tape which he had asked his mother to send on from Vulcan. It contained the first draft of a new work on field density phenomena by one of his former professors at the Vulcan Science Academy. He would enjoy reading and commenting on it.

Dusk was falling and the lights were coming on. His second errand was to leave his harp for repair. Spock had misgivings about the quality of the craftsmen in this society, but this one came well recommended, and he had little choice. What had begun as a hairline crack had ended by nearly splitting the sounding board. As matters stood it was unplayable, and he missed its calming and focussing effect on his mental processes. He firmly averted his eyes from the naked young women sensuously displayed in one brightly lit window. Their state of undress was undignified, of course, but even worse was the emptiness of their faces. This planet was truly an unpleasant place. He thought again about his harp. He would have preferred to find a Vulcan to repair it, but there were none. Of course not, on this world. And after all, his instrument was simply a well-made modern one, not an heirloom museum piece like his father's. He turned into the alley where the repair shop was located, and reached out to press the door release. He never completed the gesture.

* * *

Uhura sipped her glass of wine. So far the restaurant was living up to its billing. The wine and a tray of tidbits had appeared almost as soon as she sat down. The waiter had suggested that if she was interested in anything not on the menu, they would try to provide it. The dining room was circular, with arches open to the outside all around, located at the top of a graceful stone tower overlooking the city. Uhura felt distinctly mellow and relaxed, so relaxed that she didn't even mind that Christine was forty-five minutes late. But as the forty-five minutes stretched on toward an hour, she began to get irritated. Really, she had been on time. This was very rude of Chris. At that thought, she stopped. Chris wasn't rude. Or unpunctual, certainly not to this extent. Maybe something was wrong. Oh, come on, she chided herself. Wrigley City isn't dangerous, and Chris is a big girl. She can take care of herself. Maybe she got lost. Nevertheless, after another five minutes, she decided to call the hotel. They confirmed that Dr. Chapel had checked in, but was not in her room now. Uhura frowned, and then decided to go ahead and order dinner. It would be a shame to waste the reservation.

Wrigley's Space Control processed an average of 126 ships in and out of orbit every hour. In the space of five minutes on this particular night they gave departure clearances to a Rigellian luxury liner, a Klingon scout ship, a Denebian freighter, three private yachts, and a merchant ship bearing the green and black markings of the Orion Trader's Guild. Once out of orbit, Wrigley's no longer tracked their flight paths. One by one they winked into warp speed and were gone.

* * *

Christine was aware of sounds first, but they made no sense. People were talking, but her brain refused to process the words. Touch came next. The surface she was lying on was hard and cold, and vibrating gently. More sounds of talking. She tried to concentrate. "...been here a month or so."

Been where, Christine wondered. Her head ached, and she felt sick to her stomach. She opened her eyes, saw a forest of legs, and shut them again. She tried hard to think. She was Christine Chapel, M.D., a lieutenant commander in Starfleet. Good, at least she knew her own identity. Now if she didn't know where she was, did she remember where she had been? On the Enterprise? No...? No. Shore leave. On Wrigley's. On her way to dinner... She tried opening her eyes again, and clenched her teeth to keep from retching. What in god's name was wrong with her? Headache, nausea, disorientation. She attempted to move an arm. It didn't work. Phaser stun, said the more analytical part of her mind. Just wearing off.

She drifted back into unconsciousness for a few minutes. When she woke again she found that her muscles were once more connected to her brain. She still felt terrible. She had only been phaser-stunned once before, in a training exercise at the Academy, and it was as bad as she remembered. Sitting up, she swallowed hastily and hoped that she wouldn't vomit all over the floor.

She tried to focus on her surroundings, both as a tactical necessity and to take her mind off her physical condition. Something already told her that she hadn't been the victim of an ordinary robbery attempt. She was sitting on the floor in the corner of a large, low-ceilinged room which was claustrophobically crowded with other humanoids. From her perspective they were a confusing mass, but she didn't feel quite capable of standing yet. As far as she could see, the room was completely featureless, but she supposed that it must have a door somewhere. There was no furniture, and the walls and floor seemed to be solid gray plastisteel. She rapped with her knuckles. Yes. There was definitely a faint vibration coming to her through the floor. It spoke of life support systems, engines, generators. It was familiar. She was on a ship.

* * *

Disr'ta'bilt ha Uldur had not become a master slaver and a rich man by being stupid, and he was not tolerant of stupidity in his subordinates. It angered him almost as much as losing money. Right now, his unfortunate chief guard was the target of his fury.

"But it was safe!" the man protested. "We were still a few under quota, and Wrigley's was our last stop. They looked strong and healthy..."

"Idiot! It was a supply stop! You call this safe!" He looked at some papers on his desk, and waved them furiously under the guard's nose. "There are rules to this profession. I thought I had made them clear to you. Primitives are fair game, and we can hit outposts and colonies if we're careful. But on developed planets it's hands off! If we start taking people who will be missed, we'll be out of business. And you bring me - you couldn't even be content with Wrigley's natives, that would be bad enough. No, you have to grab Starfleet officers, and not even tell me until we're six hours out of orbit. Now just what do you expect me to do with them?"

"But the woman wasn't in uniform," the guard protested. "The other one... It was dark; I couldn't see..."

"Get out! I'll deal with you after I decide what to do with them. And I can promise that you won't like it very much."

* * *

Christine decided to stand up. The nausea had subsided. So far, no one had paid any attention to her. She vaguely remembered hearing a scrap of English while she was coming to, but now she couldn't hear any language she understood. All the beings in the room were humanoid, and most seemed to be human, if not earth-human. They looked apathetic or frightened, certainly not threatening. As she stood, she glanced down at herself. There was a long black streak down the front of her dress, and a jagged tear in the skirt. "Damn!" she said, and then sighed. She had worse things to worry about than her ruined dress.

She looked around the room, and her attention was caught by a worried group about ten meters away, crouched around someone on the floor. She picked her way over to them. There was a woman lying there, her head pillowed on a jacket, shivering intermittently. Christine edged her way into the group. "Does anyone here speak English?" she asked. They all looked at her blankly, and she shook her head in frustration. But when she began to examine the woman gently, no one objected. "She's burning up. Who's in charge around here?" she demanded, not really expecting an answer. She probed the woman's lymph nodes, and she winced.

"Dr. Chapel?" said a deep voice above her.

She covered the woman again, and stood up. That voice was unmistakable. "Mr. Spock!"

An eyebrow lifted. "I was unaware of your presence here."

"So was I until a little while ago. I was out cold. Where are we?"

"As far as I have been able to ascertain, we are on board an Orion slave ship."

"But that's absurd." She knelt again to check the woman's pulse, and he knelt beside her. "Orions wouldn't raid Wrigley's. Or take Starfleet people. Is there anyone else here from the Enterprise..." Her voice died away as the hum of a transporter beam came to her ears.

The men who materialized a short distance away were clearly Orions, with black hair, dark green skin, lithe bodies - and phasers held ready. One of them, apparently the most important from the amount of gold jewelry he was wearing, said, "Where are they?" He glared at another man, who stepped forward and gestured at Christine and Spock with his phaser.

"You two. Over here."

They rose slowly, seeing no option, but Christine said, "This woman is sick. She needs medical attention. I'm a..."

"Shut up."


"I said shut up."

The rest of the prisoners were drawing back, moving as far away from the phasers as possible. He herded Christine and Spock over to the gold-bedecked Orion, who gave them a venomous look. When he spoke, however, it seemed that his anger was directed mainly at the guard. "Of all the imbeciles I have ever had in my crew, you are the worst. Anyone with the intelligence of a slime devil would know better than to bring me a Vulcan in Starfleet uniform. Give me your phaser." The man hesitated. "I said give it to me!" He complied. The head Orion smiled. "Very good. Now go over there." The man stood his ground. The other gave a disgusted sigh and fired. The guard disintegrated with a scream. The Orion calmly said, "Energize," to the air.

The sense of solidifying in a transporter room didn't last long enough for Christine to be sure it existed. When she could orient herself again, she was in another featureless room. This one was small rather than large. Spock was there too, and they both looked around, slightly shaken. The room - no, cell, Christine decided - was only about four meters square, a completely blank box. It had a single light panel in the ceiling, and a round hole in one corner of the floor. There was no door.

"Fascinating," said Spock. "Intra-ship beaming."

"I was looking for the door in the holding area, and I couldn't find it."

"Evidently there are no doors in the portions of the ship which are used for captives. Extremely efficient." He clasped his hands behind his back and considered their cell. Exactly 4.15 meters on a side. 2.3 meters high. Walls... probably a tritanium alloy. He could see no way of getting out at the moment. Rest was in order, then, and would help to clear the residual effects of the stun from his system. "Dr. Chapel? Would you care to sit down?"

She came back out of her thoughts. "Yes. Thank you." Her mouth twitched. "You're being very polite. You wouldn't happen to have anything on you for a headache?"

"You are the doctor, not I."

They settled on the floor, backs against the wall. "Did they pick you up on Wrigley's too? I was meeting Uhura for dinner, walking to the restaurant, and the next thing I knew, I was waking up on this ship."

"My own experience was similar. I was performing an errand..." He frowned. "I must assume that my harp, which I was taking to be repaired, is now in the hands of the Orions. Unfortunate. It is unlikely that any of them know how to play it."

"I'm sorry. My bag is gone... They must have found my I.D., or they wouldn't have known that I was Starfleet." She rubbed her finger absently on the black stain on her skirt. Oil, or grease. She remembered with grim amusement Uhura's teasing words about Spock and the dress. Aloud, she said, "I don't think that they're going to kill us. If they were, the man in charge - the captain? - would have shot us when he shot the guard."

"I am not so sanguine. It is clear that they have not yet decided what to do with us. Murder may still be one of their options. They may simply not have chosen between the alternatives as yet."

"You're very comforting." They were silent for a while, and then Christine said, "I hope he heard what I said about the woman with the fever. She needs attention. At the least, you'd think that they'd want to keep the merchandise in good condition."

"I believe that they may accept a certain amount of... shrinkage... in their inventory as a cost of doing business. Their attitude toward life and death is traditionally rather casual and fatalistic."

"That may explain the intra-ship beaming. It's not usually done, right? Too dangerous."

"It is considered so. However, the Orions probably consider the percentage of transporter accidents acceptable when related to the lowered chance of escape attempts."

"Escape." Christine rubbed her forehead. "I can't think of any clever way out of a box with no openings."

"There are always possibilities. However, I confess that as long as we remain isolated in here the prospects are not good."

"We'll be missed. That's why the Orion captain was so furious. He knows that someone will be looking for us."

"Not immediately."

"Well... Uhura must have been surprised when I didn't show up for dinner. But... I guess you're right. She wouldn't jump to the conclusion that I'd been kidnapped."

"And I had not confided my plans in detail to anyone. Though my absence from the ship will noted eventually."

Christine smiled. "Yes. I don't think that anyone imagines Wrigley's is your kind of place."

"By approximately forty-eight hours after our disappearance someone will begin searching for us."

* * *

Sulu settled comfortably into the command chair and surveyed the skeleton bridge crew. Most of them were, like him, paying the price for having used up their leave time in advance. He had taken a long trip home a few months ago for his brother's wedding. Worth it, on the whole, he mused, remembering the extended festivities which had gathered his entire family together for the first time in years. His parents were settled enough, in their university posts in Kyoto, but his brothers and sisters were all over the place, two in Starfleet, one on Memory Alpha, one at the Vulcan Academy. He had seen them individually from time to time, but in a group hardly since childhood. Not to mention grandparents, cousins... It had been good to go back to his roots, and it was good to return to the stars again.

Wrigley's hovered on the viewscreen, a pretty green bauble of a world. He could see some of the other ships in orbit, holding rigidly to the patterns prescribed by Wrigley's Space Control. He didn't really mind missing Wrigley's. He hadn't been affected by the claustrophobia of the rest of the crew, and a part of him relished being in command of the Enterprise, even under such mundane conditions. He signed a fuel consumption report and allowed himself to imagine for a moment that he was truly in command, that he could order the Enterprise to plunge toward the edge of the galaxy... The thought felt uncomfortably disloyal. It was impossible to think of anyone but James Kirk as captain of the Enterprise. But a ship of his own someday, his own silver lady...

"Sir?" said the ensign at communications. "Sir?" Sulu came out of his reverie. "Yes, Mr. Abada?"

"I have a message from Ms. Uhura. She wants to speak to you."

"Put her on, Ensign."

"Sulu?" Uhura's voice came through the speaker on the arm of his chair. "How are you all doing up there? You're missing a great time."

"You really like to rub it in, right? Did you call just to gloat?"

"No, but I couldn't resist the opportunity." The mischief dropped out of her voice. "Sulu, is Chris Chapel on board?"

"Not that I know. I'll check." He called up the transporter records, and paged her quarters and Sickbay for good measure. "I'm sure she's not. She's signed out planetside for the whole three weeks. If you want to find her, she's registered at..."

"I know. Trouble is, she's not there. She was supposed to meet me for dinner last night, but she never showed up. That's not like her. Today I checked the hotel, and she didn't come back after checking in. I don't know if I should be worried or not."

"Mm. That's strange. Still... maybe she met someone." "I doubt it. With her fixation on..."

"Hey..." Sulu remembered to drop his voice. No use telling the whole bridge. "I just realized. Spock isn't around either, and he's supposed to be. He's got leave coming, but he told me he was spending it on board doing reading and research. You don't think...?"

"God, I never thought of that. It sure doesn't sound likely, the way he avoids her most of the time. For that matter, she avoids him, too. But I will say... it's about the only thing I can think of that would make Chris stand me up like that."

"Could be. Stranger things have happened - though not very often. But what if they're not together? Think I should alert security, or let the captain know?"

"No... not yet. He's gone off camping with an old friend, female variety, I think." There was the barest hint of jealousy in Uhura's voice. "He needs the time off. Anyway, one of the great things about leave is not having to account for where you are every second."

"True enough. We'll let it go for a while."

"Right. Listen, if Chris's dreams have come true, do you think that either she or Spock would appreciate being run down by a bunch of phaser-toting red shirts?"

"If they were, I'd love to see his face. You enjoy yourself down there in the lap of luxury, okay?"

"No problem, sugar. Uhura out."

* * *

Half a dozen light years away, it had occurred to Christine that spending a leave alone with Spock was not all that she had imagined it to be. At this point she would infinitely have preferred her solitary hotel room. Conversation in the cell had petered out when Spock declared further speculation to be useless and illogical. He seemed to be meditating now, sitting cross-legged, head bent and fingers steepled. Christine had gone over and over in her mind everything that had happened since her return to consciousness, but nothing useful had come of it.

She wondered if the woman with the fever would be treated. Probably not. She sighed. The blankness of the cell was unnerving her. Not even a seam where the walls met the floor. She got up and paced it off. Seven paces from end to end. Standing made her aware of a physical problem which couldn't be ignored for much longer. She glanced with distaste at the hole in the corner, and cleared her throat. It was rude to interrupt a meditating Vulcan, but she couldn't help that. "Mr. Spock?" His head came up. "Would you mind turning your back? I need to use the..." She waved her hand at the hole.

"Certainly, Doctor." He faced the opposite corner with his hands behind his back.

"Thank you." This was embarrassing. She squatted awkwardly. Men had it so much easier. After a moment she said, "You can turn around again."

One hour and 27.8 minutes later, according to Spock, there was a transporter shimmer in the center of the cell. When it took form, it proved to be a flimsy paper tray containing what looked like crackers and a paper container of liquid. Christine and Spock each picked up a cracker and sniffed it. It had no particular smell, and when Christine broke hers in half the light brown crispy texture was the same throughout. "Nutribars," she said, "or something similar."

"Almost certainly."

She dipped a finger cautiously in the liquid after smelling it. "Water."

Spock tried some too. "I concur."

"Well then it doesn't look like they're trying to starve us. Or poison us."

"I am intrigued by the Orion's expertise in handling captives. It is evident that they have developed it into an art. The use of the transporter virtually eliminates the possibilities of escape or revolt, since the the contact between prisoners and guards is minimal. Even food can be provided indirectly. And these," he studied a bar, "are easily stored, inexpensive, and capable of providing the nutritional needs of most humanoids almost indefinitely."

Christine sat on the floor by the tray. "A paper tray and a paper two-liter water bottle. No plastic, no metal, no cups or utensils. They don't want us making weapons."

"Evidently not. As I said, a most efficient system." He sat next to her. "Are you recovered sufficiently to eat?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact I am." Her headache persisted, but the nausea had faded, and she was actually hungry. Well it had probably been twenty-four hours now since she had eaten. To her surprise, the cracker wasn't bad at all, though she wouldn't have picked it for a permanent diet. "Sixty-five percent carbohydrates, thirty percent protein, five percent fat," she said. "High fiber, contains all the vitamins and minerals needed by humans, plus enough of vitamins M, O, and X, and enough trace minerals to sustain Andorians, Orions - and Vulcans."

"You can determine this from the taste?" Spock sounded skeptical.

"Not precisely, no, but I can make a good guess based on Starfleet emergency rations. These look identical - for all I know, they were pirated too."

They took turns sipping out of opposite sides of the water container. Two crackers each and a little water: the meal didn't take long to finish. Spock put the tray to one side and prepared to meditate again. Christine rubbed the back of her neck and decided to try to sleep. Maybe that would help her headache. The floor was hard and rather cold, but that couldn't be helped. She wasn't going to ask Spock for the loan of his shoulder, though it would almost be worth it to see his expression. She dozed off.

* * *

Disr'ta'bilt had a headache too. Killing that fool of a guard had been an impulse. Emotionally satisfying, true, but it had done nothing to solve his real problem. The Vulcan and the woman. He went over his options again. He had almost decided, but he wanted to be sure that he hadn't missed anything.

Return them, keep them, kill them, or abandon them. Return them? He was behind schedule and under quota already, and it would cause too many questions. Keep them? Vulcans were useless as slaves. Untrainable, and too intelligent. The woman was fairly attractive, but no real prize. And once again, there might be questions, this time from potential buyers. Kill them? In many ways the most attractive idea. Neat, simple, and final. It was unlikely that they would ever be traced to his ship. He twisted an earring. But if they were... Killing was the one option which couldn't be changed or explained away. It was the one thing which the Federation couldn't overlook. And the Komar and the Trader's Guild would happily throw away Disr'ta'bilt and divide his fortune if they got the chance. He pressed his fingers to his lips and decided. Calling the helm, he ordered a change of course. In three days, if he was lucky, he would be rid of his problem.

* * *

Christine woke up stiff and thirsty, but with her head mercifully clear. Spock was still in the same position, and she wondered if he had slept. It was disconcerting to wake without knowing if it was night or day, or how long she had been asleep. She sat with her arms around her knees. If only the cell weren't so empty. If only there were something to look at besides the walls and Spock. Not that she minded looking at Spock, but he wouldn't enjoy it.

She wondered why she wasn't more frightened. She had a feeling that she still didn't believe the situation. It was too bizarre. And, realistically, it seemed to her that the most reasonable thing the Orions could do was release them with an apology. The Federation, through Starfleet, made sporadic and largely ineffectual attempts to crack down on Orion piracy and slave-trading. The capture of a couple of officers might cause them to step up the campaign. The Orions wouldn't want that. If, of course, anyone figured out that she and Spock had been taken by Orions. That was a chilling thought.

The hours crept by, and slowly stretched into days. Spock meditated. Christine slept and played word games in her head. They politely turned their backs to allow each other use of the toilet facilities. More food arrived. Christine eventually tied up her skirt to avoid tripping and started a series of exercises, as much to pass the time as to use her muscles. To her surprise, Spock joined her,

declaring it an excellent idea, but afterwards he retreated into silence again. It seemed to her that he was uncomfortable. She was probably the last person on the Enterprise who he would have chosen to be incarcerated with. Poor Spock. She imitated his meditative posture and resolved not to bother him unless she was about to go crazy. She didn't have his mental disciplines, but she had a store of good memories to draw on. Childhood, her parents, her sisters, school, the good times with Roger before he disappeared...

Spock was grateful for her silence and yet it was paradoxically making it more difficult to order his thoughts. Her approach to the situation was so calm, so restrained, as to be slightly unnerving. He was accustomed to thinking of her as the most sentimental and emotional of humans (with the possible exception of McCoy). But he now realized that it had been some time - years? - since he had witnessed an impulsive outburst from her. Interesting, he thought. Something - growing older, or getting her medical degree, perhaps - had given her a new serenity.

"Dr. Chapel?" he said after a few more minutes of silence.

"Yes, Mr. Spock?" Christine pulled herself away from her recollections.

"I have reason to believe that we may not be in this cell for much longer."

"Why?" She stretched.

"Approximately 52 seconds ago this ship dropped out of warp speed."

Her eyes widened. "I didn't feel it."

"The change in vibration would have been imperceptible to human senses." He regarded her thoughtfully. "I would like your assurance that when and if we meet our captors again you will follow my orders without arguing. It is still impossible to determine whether negotiation will be possible, or whether confrontation will be necessary. In either case, there will probably not be time to discuss the matter. I am your superior officer, but my acquaintance with Dr. McCoy has made me aware that medical personnel do not always behave according to regulations. Will you agree in advance that you must do as I say without question?"

"Without question?" Christine looked at him coldly. "Commander. It's not surprising that you've had trouble with Leonard. I don't agree to relinquish my right to make medical judgements, nor do Starfleet regs require me to. And I certainly don't agree to stop using my brain in other areas either. I think your attitude is a bit high-handed."

"Doctor, this is exactly the sort of dispute which I was attempting to forestall."

"Well you didn't do a very good job, did you?" Amusement was starting to soften her tone. "Being a nurse for all those years got me used to taking orders. On the other hand, I never liked it, which is one reason I became a doctor. You hit a sore spot there. And you were using the voice I'd expect to hear if you were talking to a five year old. A stupid five year old."

"I did not expect you to take offense."

"The least you can do is talk to me now about your plans. I agree that we won't have time later. Who knows, I might even have some ideas worth hearing."


Christine blinked. Even as he spoke, Spock's body was dissolving in the shimmery hum of a transporter beam. A second later, the cell faded around her as well. A moment of disorientation, the impression of a transporter room, and then she was falling, hard, gracelessly, with no chance to cushion herself. The breath was driven out of her, and for a little while all she could do was gasp. "Ugh," she said finally. "Spock?"

"Here, Doctor."

Christine rolled over cautiously and sat up. Nearby, Spock was doing the same. "Where are we?" she asked. She didn't expect an answer, and she didn't receive one. She noticed that she was bleeding from a scrape on one arm, and Spock had a cut on his forehead. She carefully moved her arms and legs. Good, nothing broken or torn. They were on a rocky, scrubby, hillside and there was a keen wind blowing. She turned onto her hands and knees and got slowly to her feet. "Let me look at that cut. I thought we'd decided that the Orions knew how to use the transporter, with all that intra-ship beaming. That was the roughest beam down I've ever been through."

Spock touched his forehead and looked at the smear of green blood. "I do not require your attention. The wound is not deep, and I can control the bleeding easily." She checked it nonetheless, while he looked patiently impatient. "I assure you, Doctor..."

"Medical judgement, remember? You're all right, though. Stand up. Good. Nothing broken on you, either."

"We are fortunate, considering that we seem to have materialized almost two meters above the planet's surface with no warning."

Christine sighed. "So much for how to deal with the Orions. It looks like we won't have to. Unless they follow us down."

"Unlikely. It seems that they have stranded us."

"Stranded us where?"


He turned, and she followed his gaze. "Wow!" she exclaimed impulsively. She hadn't really looked at the scenery before. "It's beautiful!"

The blue-green heath on which they stood fell away for several hundred meters to soft folds of woodlands. Far below them a series of small lakes, connected by a river, dotted a deep valley. They were on the flank of a mountain, surrounded by other mountains of dark gray stone thrusting toward the pale sky. In the distance, Christine could see a waterfall. Patches of sun and shadow chased each other over the valley floor. The air was very clear and fresh.

"By Terran standards, the scenery has certain esthetic merits," agreed Spock. "However, the availability of water, food and shelter is of more immediate concern."

Chapter Text

Water, food, and shelter. Christine's mind returned abruptly to the present. That had been three days ago. Well, they had found all of them after a fashion. Water was abundant, shelter of a sort could be found among the rocks and trees, and they had found some edible berries and leaves after cautious experimentation. But what she wanted was a cup of hot coffee, a plate of spaghetti, and a bed with a mattress. They had found absolutely no sign yet of intelligent life, only endless, coldly lovely wilderness.

She started to put on her shoes, wincing as she did so. She had raw blisters on her heels and insteps. Thank god the shoes were flat heeled. She bit her lip.

"That footwear is extremely unsuitable for these conditions," remarked Spock, who was watching her.

Anger at what had happened to her in the last week brought her to her feet with a surge of adrenaline. "Damn it, Spock, shut up!" she snapped. "If you can't..." She broke off and took three deep breaths. She unclenched her hands and willed her body to stop trembling. "Forgive me," she said formally.

"Of course."

She turned away from him for a moment, blinking tears from her eyes. She was more frightened now than she cared to admit to him, or even to herself. Tilting her chin up, she said, with an attempt at lightness, "Mr. Spock, next time I'm going out to dinner you can be sure that I'll dress as though I'm going to be captured by slave traders and left in a wilderness."

"I apologize, Doctor. My remark, though true, was insensitive." He studied her. She was behaving as well as could be expected. Their situation was producing a certain tension. He was not immune to it himself.

They spent that day following as closely as possible the course of a river, picking the easiest paths through the woodlands. At times it seemed very like an Earth forest to Christine, and she had to look carefully to remind herself that the trees were not oaks and beeches and pines. At other times, the vegetation was unmistakably alien, nearly blue, with enormous flat leaves and strange knobbly branches.

Darkness came early and quickly, and as the sun dipped toward the mountaintops, they searched for a cave to shelter in. Christine shivered as she looked up. "That sun is so small and pale. It doesn't give any warmth at all."

Spock looked mildly surprised. "From its size and color, I would judge it to be a relatively hot young star. The ambient temperature in this location has little to do with the absolute radiation generated by the sun."

Christine tuned him out. It would be useless, she knew, to explain that she hadn't been speaking literally. She took off her shoes. They were climbing a hill toward a small cliff, and even being barefoot in the cold was preferable to making her blisters worse. "Look!" she said. A few meters further on, there was a dark crack in the rocks. "We might be luckier tonight than we were last night."

"Let us hope that it is unoccupied," said Spock.

They approached the entrance warily, but nothing stirred. They had seen no large or dangerous animals yet, but that didn't mean that there weren't any. Spock picked up a stone, and crouching behind a tree, threw it into the opening. Nothing happened. He repeated the action several times, and when there was still no response, he walked up to the crack.

"Nobody's home," said Christine, joining him.

"Apparently not. However, there may not be sufficient room inside for our purposes." He stepped cautiously through the meter-wide opening, bending his head. After a few seconds, Christine followed. The transition from light to dark blinded her temporarily, and she groped ahead, one hand held out in front of her, until she bumped into Spock. "Adequate," he was saying. "In fact, more than adequate."

As her eyes adjusted she realized that they were standing in a small but genuine cave. The roof was high enough in the center to let Spock stand upright. The floor was dry dirt. It was, she reflected, almost the same size as their cell on the Orion ship. Enough light came in through the opening to let them see that it was completely empty. "We should gather some leaves to serve as bedding before darkness falls," suggested Spock.

By the time they had arranged two large piles of leaves in the back of the cave they could no longer see each other or anything else. Christine groped in the blackness for the small bag she had made out of a torn piece of her skirt. It contained a double handful of berries and something resembling watercress; all that they had found to eat during the day. She handed Spock's share to him, and they ate in silence.

When she was finished, Christine burrowed into her leaf pile and wrapped her arms around herself, shivering. Each night seemed colder than the last. At least this cave was out of the wind. If it was bad for her, it must be worse for Spock, who was cold even on the Enterprise. She would let him shiver tonight, but unless things changed, she would have to suggest that they start sleeping together to conserve warmth, regardless of what that did to his dignity. Or hers. "Mr. Spock?" she said quietly into the darkness.

"Yes, Doctor?"

"I don't think that we can count on being rescued anytime soon."

"I have been reaching the same conclusion."

They both fell silent again, Spock concentrating on regulating his body temperature, Christine fighting a quiver of fear in her stomach. When she was sure that her voice would not betray it, she spoke again. "As I see it, we have to make plans to survive here indefinitely, if we can. So far we've made two assumptions - that the Orions dumped us here because they were being pursued, and so we'd be rescued, or that we could locate and contact an intelligent indigenous life-form. I think we were wrong on both counts."

"You are drawing premature conclusions from insufficient data, Doctor. I still believe that there is a chance of both or either assumption being true. However I agree that we can no longer fail to take into account the possibility of a lengthy stay here."

"This cave is the best shelter we've seen so far."

"Yes. Winter is approaching rapidly. We need food, and we need warmth." He paused to consider. "Do you know how to kindle a fire using flint and tinder?"

"Are you joking? Of course I don't!"

"I am aware of the theory, but I have never made the attempt. Tomorrow I will try to locate a flint deposit."

"We'll have to stockpile as much food as we can. Maybe I can make a bow and arrow, or some snares." She could feel the silent distaste coming through the blackness from the other side of the cave. "Mr. Spock, I'm sorry. But I don't intend to starve to death." She was hungry again already. "I admire your principles, but..."

"There may be alternatives. We will discuss the matter further in the morning. Good night, Doctor." His voice was cool and final.

Christine mentally cursed Vulcan stubbornness. "Good night, Mr. Spock."

* * *

They both slept restlessly in spite of their exhaustion. The ground was white with frost when they awoke. There was no breakfast. A brook came down the hill near the cave, running toward the river. Christine eyed Spock as they drank and splashed their faces. He was moving even more stiffly this morning, and she didn't like his color. They badly need to make a fire.

"I suggest that we spend the day reconnoitering the area around this cave," he said, "searching for food and flint nodules."

Christine nodded. He would be better off if he kept moving. She retreated behind a rock to empty her full bladder before starting. Spock waited, patiently at first, and then wondering what was taking her so long.

Behind the rock, Christine was swearing silently. Damn, oh damn, and likewise shit. Of course this would have to happen. She had forgotten to count the days, but her body hadn't. She would have to find something, dried leaves or grass... As if it wasn't enough that she was already cold, hungry, tired, and dirtier than she could ever remember being in her life. And why did it have to be Spock out there? With any other man she might have been able to make a joke about it. Well there certainly wasn't anything useful back here. She stood up and emerged.

"I recommend that we proceed up the cliff first," said Spock. "Geological formations indicate..."

"I can't go yet, Mr. Spock," said Christine. "I need to look for some things."

"Doctor, I thought we had made our plans for the day. What things?"

Christine ordered herself not to blush like a twelve year old. She said, "Dried grass or moss, something like that."

Spock looked both puzzled and impatient, insofar as he allowed himself either of those emotions. "I fail to see..."

"Mr. Spock." Christine kept her voice flat and clinical. "I am a human female. I am menstruating, and I require something to absorb the flow. Why don't you go ahead without me this morning?"

His eyebrow lifted. "Are you feeling unwell?"

"I feel fine," she snapped, and regretted it. His expression was mildly interested, no more.

"Then I believe that we should proceed with our original plan, after we have dealt with your immediate problem."

He looked around. She could practically see him estimating the absorptive properties of various forms of vegetation. She started to examine the rocks around the cave entrance. There was moss and lichen on them. Before too long, she found a large patch of dried moss on the back of one boulder. The texture was almost spongy. It should work. She turned as Spock came up with some other samples.

He examined the moss curiously. "Interesting. And probably effective. There is quite a large supply of it, as well. It may not be a true moss, as it seems to have gone through a flowering stage."

"Yes." She rubbed it between her fingers. "I only hope that it doesn't give me a terrible rash."

"An unfortunate possibility, Doctor."

His matter of fact attitude was a relief, and she looked at him. "Thank you."

"You located it."

"Thank you for not being embarrassed." At that he looked uncomfortable, and she turned away to hide a smile. The biological fact didn't bother him, but the expression of gratitude did.

* * *

They found no flint that day, or the next day, or the next, but eventually they did stumble upon an enormous patch of bushes covered with bright orange fruit. Unfortunately, the bushes were also covered with inch-long thorns, and they were both scratched and bleeding before they had picked enough for a meal. They waited several hours before eating, having first rubbed the juice into their skins, and sampled tiny bits to test for a reaction. Then they allowed themselves to eat their fill for the first time in days. Each fruit was about two inches in diameter, and there were thousands of them.

Christine said, "By Terran standards, this is an odd mixture. It looks like an apricot, has as many seeds as a kiwi, and tastes like an apple. It's good though, and there are plenty of them. I'm glad they survived the frosts."

"They seem exceptionally hardy," Spock agreed. "It may be possible to dry them, particularly if we succeed in making a fire. In the mean time, I suggest that we carry a supply back to the cave."

They picked as many as they could carry, and Christine also broke off an enormous branch of one of the bushes, wincing as a thorn gouged her cheek. "Oh... shit!" she said, forcing back tears and dabbing the cut with her sleeve.

"Profanity will not improve the situation, Doctor," said Spock, peering at the deep scratch. Christine counted slowly to ten out loud, causing both his eyebrows to go up. "Why are you counting? That seems equally useless."

Christine wiped her face with her other sleeve. It was hard to tell any longer what color her dress had been originally. "Oh no, Mr. Spock," she said very sweetly. "They're both extremely useful reactions, especially from your point of view. Swearing keeps me from crying, which you wouldn't like, and counting very slowly keeps me from trying to strangle you, which you would like even less." She headed off down the hill before he could reply, dragging the branch behind her.

Spock caught up with her in a few strides and took hold of the branch, pulling her to a stop. "Doctor." Christine turned unwillingly, thinking that if he made a reference to women's unbalanced hormones, as a human male might, she probably would try to strangle him. Thereby proving his point. Shit. She looked at him frostily. "Doctor, there is no need for that expression," he said. "If certain vocalizations help you to keep your emotions in check, then they are indeed useful. I appreciate the effort."

Christine considered for a moment saying the dozen filthiest expressions she knew, just to see his reaction, but it wouldn't be fair. He was trying. "I'm glad you appreciate it. As long as we're here, you don't have much choice. Actually, I'm grateful that you haven't..." She broke off. Why bring it up? But his curiosity never knew when to let a subject drop.

"Haven't what?"

She sighed. "You may not be aware of it, Mr. Spock, but most human men cling to various ancient myths about the irrationality of women during certain portions of their menstrual cycle. For the most part they are myths, but men love to refer to them if a woman under stress loses her temper."

"But you have not lost your temper. In fact, you have made a logical attempt not to. I have never heard these myths, but your behavior during the last few days has been no more irrational than usual."

Christine stared at him. Her chin trembled, and she pressed her lips together and clenched her teeth, but she couldn't stop it. She started to laugh helplessly. He stared back at her, nonplussed. "Oh, Spock..." she said finally. She thought, but did not say, 'I love you.' She shook her head. "Was that a compliment or an insult? No, don't say anything. I know, it wasn't either, just an observation. Can you help me with this branch?"

"If you will tell me what it is for. You started off with it before I had the opportunity to ask."

"I thought that we could put it in the mouth of the cave. Just because no animals have visited us yet doesn't mean that they won't as it gets colder."

He nodded. "A sensible precaution. We should be able to get back with it and the fruits before dark." He shivered involuntarily, and Christine looked at him in concern. He had taken off his shirt to carry fruit in, and his undershirt was thin.

"We should get moving," she said. No matter what he thought of the idea - and she wasn't too fond of it herself - neither of them could continue risking hypothermia by sleeping alone. If only they could make a fire.

They were picking their way carefully as the slope became steeper and rockier. The thorn branch was hard to maneuver through the trees, especially while trying to carry the fruit as well. It kept scratching them. Christine was using her energy to keep her balance instead of talk, and she was surprised when Spock spoke. "I had hoped to have a fire by this time. Tomorrow we will search further downstream for flint deposits, but..." he tugged the branch around a rock, "for tonight, Doctor..." The branch was caught between two trees, and Christine helped him yank it loose. "...if you do not object..." He proceeded without looking at her. " would be best if we shared what bodily warmth we produce rather than wasting it."

Christine had an evil impulse to coo, 'Why, Spock, I thought you'd never ask,' but she restrained herself. She was glad that he had suggested it rather than forcing her to. Aloud, she said, "Of course, Mr. Spock. My body temperature isn't as high as yours, but even so, it should be an improvement." Next she would have to take up the question of hunting. Not now, she was too breathless, but soon.

They had reached the place where the slope turned to a rocky scree at the top of the small cliff containing their cave. Spock pointed. "We cannot carry this down the cliff where we came up. We should cut across this scree and descend where it is not so steep."

They began to pick their way across the stones, and Christine winced as the sharp pebbles dug into her bare feet. But even this was better than the raw patches rubbed by her shoes. When they were almost to the trees at the spot where the cliff broke down into a steep slope, she noticed a large patch of flat rock. Their path would take them across it.

Just as they came up to it, the flat rock exploded before their faces. It fragmented, shot up, and became a moving tower, while a deafening shriek filled the air. There was a carrion stench, and Christine was flung violently to one side. Her head struck the ground, and for a moment the world was a red haze of pain. When she could see again, her vision was filled with claws and teeth and ragged gray fur. The creature seemed to have a dozen legs, all swinging powerfully. It nearly trampled her as it turned and tossed Spock like a leaf. Flinging him down, it hit him with its paws, all the while continuing its high-pitched howl. She could see that Spock had managed to get his arms up enough to provide some protection for his head.

She willed herself to move, but her arms and legs wouldn't respond. Spock and the creature were receding from her, fading... She couldn't black out, she thought in panic. She couldn't... The surge of fear-produced adrenaline helped. The animal had its teeth sunk deep into Spock's leg now, but unbelievably, he was still conscious. Christine could see his fingers reaching for the potentially vulnerable spot on its neck. Vulnerable? It must be four meters tall, she thought, her head pounding. Even Vulcan strength... Just as Spock's hand found a grip, the creature shook its head, and his fingers slipped.

She forced herself to her feet, but her legs would not support her. She collapsed immediately. She had to do something, but there was nothing she could do. Fear, and some crazy reserve of strength she had never used before, got her up again, and this time she stayed up. The animal turned, dragging Spock, who was still trying weakly to reach its neck. Dear god, how could he still be conscious? Blood was pooling on the stones beneath him. Christine took two stumbling, pain-filled strides and grabbed the thorny branch which they had been carrying. The thorns seemed insignificant now. She could hardly feel them.

She shoved the branch into the creature's flank as hard as she could, which wasn't very hard, and tried to yell at it. All that came out was a croaking gasp. The creature took no notice of her. She jabbed again and again, swaying dizzily. Finally it turned, dropping Spock, and let out a short howl. Its small eyes and long snout were like a bear's, but its fangs were more like those of a sabre-toothed tiger or a Vulcan sehlat. It advanced, baring its teeth, and Christine retreated a step and fell, still clutching the branch. The animal howled at her again, and made the mistake of darting its head down, only to withdraw from the thorns with a shriek of pain. It lifted a paw. It actually had six legs, she noticed. She instinctively shut her eyes as she rolled away. When that paw came down she would no longer have the strength to move, or even to keep her grip on the branch which was her only defense. But the crushing, tearing impact never came. From somewhere far away Christine heard a series of higher-pitched howls and yelps, and suddenly the shadow looming over her was gone. She heard it crash away into the woods before everything went black.

* * *

Pain and cold brought her back to consciousness. It was still light, so she could not have been out for long. She lifted her head and got carefully onto her hands and knees. A wave of sickness went through her, accompanied by a stab of pain in her head, and she vomited. "Good," said some still-working part of her brain. It would reduce the nausea. She knew that there was some reason that she had to get up, but she couldn't remember what it was. She wanted to lie down and never move again. This was worse than the phaser stun. She wondered hazily if Spock knew what it was that she had to do. Spock. This time the jolt of panic brought her to her feet in half a second.

He was sprawled three meters away, face down, horrifyingly still. The rocks under and around him were splashed and smeared with green. Christine was profoundly grateful for the years of medical discipline which took over her actions. Neither her physical weakness nor her emotional turmoil could be allowed to interfere with her reactions to an emergency. She found the pulse in his neck first, and then checked his head, neck, back, torso, and limbs, before turning him gently over. Her two worst fears, of a broken neck or back, had not been realized. But when she had him on his back she could see the full extent of the damage to his left leg. It was mangled from knee to hip, ripped open almost to the bone. Severed blood vessels oozed in the wounds, but miraculously, the creature's teeth and claws had missed the femoral artery. She could see its unbroken wall deep within the ruin of the muscle. If it had been severed, he would have bled to death while she was unconscious. His femur was also intact, but the muscles and tendons were badly torn.

Christine yanked furiously at the remains of her already tattered skirt, ripping loose a long strip of silk with which to bind the leg. She wrapped it securely. That would have to do for now. The wound would need to be cleaned, and soon. She shuddered at the memory of the rotten stench which had come from the animal. Infection was not only possible, but probable. She checked the rest of his body gently. His ragged uniform had been some protection, but he was covered with superficial cuts and scrapes, and the beginnings of deep bruises. She pulled up his eyelids, and was relieved when his pupils reacted normally to light. He almost certainly had a mild concussion, but then so did she. She pressed his ribs carefully and he groaned. Several of them were broken, and she could only hope that he didn't have a punctured lung. There was no blood on his lips, which was a good sign.

He groaned again, and gagged, and Christine turned his head quickly so that he wouldn't choke on his own vomit. When he stopped retching, he lay back and looked at her. She answered the unspoken questions in his eyes. "The animal - whatever it was - is gone," she said. "I'm not sure why, but I think its young might have been calling it. You've lost some blood, you've got a couple of broken ribs, you're concussed, and your leg is in bad shape where it grabbed you."

He nodded, and visibly gathered his strength. "You?" he asked.

"I'm all right."

"I seriously doubt that, Doctor," he said weakly.

"Can you move?" she inquired, feeling like an ogre. Under normal circumstances she would have forbidden a patient in his condition to stir for at least four days. But they couldn't stay here, and there was less than an hour of light left.

"I... am not sure," said Spock, and that alone told her how badly he was hurt. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, concentrating, and then sat slowly up, his face going dead white. She put her arm around him as he started to stand. An involuntary cry escaped him as his injured leg touched the ground.

"No!" snapped Christine, ignoring the weakness of her own muscles. "Don't even try to use that leg. No weight on it at all. Lean on me." He nodded, his eyes shut again. "It's less than half a kilometer to the cave. We have to make it." Soundless tears of fear and pain and weakness ran down her face as they started out.

The journey back to the cave was a surreal nightmare. Christine knew that they were both feverish, but she almost welcomed the feeling of disassociation. Into the trees, down the steep slope, around the rocks. She didn't know how they were doing it, except that they had to. She knew that Spock was putting weight on his injured leg. When she looked down, she could see that her hasty bandage was soaked through with blood, but she didn't protest. She couldn't bear a kilo more of his weight than she was already. The wood seemed unnaturally quiet, or was it only that the ragged sound of their breathing drowned out all other noises? She didn't allow herself to think of where their attacker might be lurking.

One step, and then another step. By the time they had dragged themselves painfully to the entrance of the cave, the sun had set and it was almost dark. They were both shivering uncontrollably. "Only three more steps," Christine gasped. "Only three more steps." Spock was obviously beyond answering. As soon as they reached the deep drift of leaves he collapsed, slumping down unconscious and pulling her with him. "Water," said her mind. "New bandages." But blackness was calling her, a blackness deeper and more soothing than the darkness of the cave. She no longer had the power to fight it. Sinking into the leaves, she used her last strength to wrap her arms gently around Spock.

* * *

It was full daylight outside the cave when she came back to consciousness. Every part of her body was painful, and her head was agonizing. She made herself get up. So they had survived the night. Christine wondered if that were a good thing, and then repressed the thought savagely. Despair was the way to madness. She was a doctor with a patient to care for, and she couldn't afford the self-indulgence. Spock's leg had stopped bleeding after staining the leaves with sticky green, but he was hot, much too hot even for a Vulcan. The pallor of lost blood had been replaced by an olive flush, and his breathing was raspy.

Christine was thankful that she had a nearby water supply. She tore the remainder of her skirt into strips, wet most of them, and took them back to the cave. She shifted Spock to as clean a spot as she could find, unwrapped the blood-soaked cloth, and as gently as she could, pulled off the remains of his trousers. Fragments of cloth were stuck in the wounds, which started to bleed again as she soaked the pieces loose. It was good, for now, that he was unconscious, she thought. This would be extremely painful. She cleaned the wounds gently but thoroughly, but she knew that it was probably too late. The flesh around them was inflamed, and there was pus in the depths. She bit her lip and bandaged the leg again. In a way, he had been lucky, she reminded herself. The teeth and claws had missed his abdomen and genitals. On the Enterprise, she could have repaired the muscle and tendon damage, prevented the infection, and had him back on his feet in less than a week. Here... Here, she would do her best. What other choice did she have?

She felt Spock's forehead. He was burning, probably almost 43 degrees, she estimated. At that moment, his eyes snapped open. They were slightly unfocussed, bright with fever.

"Dr. Chapel," he said after a minute, as if it had taken time to orient himself. "Would it be possible..." his eyes closed and opened again, "to obtain a drink of water?"

She brought the water in one of the huge flat leaves of a native tree, and tried to help him drink. Half the water spilled down his chest. He started to shake, and made an effort to master the tremors. "It is... freezing, to use your terminology."

Christine nodded, not quite trusting her voice. Pity, she knew, was another indulgence she couldn't afford. It was no use to him. She heaped up the leaves around him, and said, "I'm going to look for your outer shirt and some food. Stay here and don't try to move."

"It does not seem that I have a choice, Doctor. However you are also in no condition for hiking."

"I'm in better condition than you are." She managed to smile. "And I'm relieving you of duty due to medical unfitness, sir. So don't try pulling rank on me."

He gave her the ghost of his familiar affronted Vulcan expression, incongruous and somehow touching on a face smudged with dirt, flushed with fever, and covered with a half-inch stubble of black beard. Impulsively, she reached for the last clean damp cloth and wiped his face with it, turning quickly away and going out before he could see her expression.

* * *

Hampered by fear and weakness, it took her until past midday to reach the spot where they had been attacked. She saw no sign of the creature, though she was very cautious, remembering its skill at camouflage. She gathered up yesterday's spilled fruit and Spock's shirt and headed back, wishing that she had brought them down last night, but knowing that she wouldn't have had the strength. The pain in her head was still sickening, but she noticed that she wasn't as cold as she had been. The day had an Indian summer warmth, in spite of Spock's words.

He was suffering from fever chills again when she got back to the cave, and she pulled the shirt hastily over his head and held him until he stopped shaking.

"My leg is infected," he whispered. It was a statement, not a question.

"Yes," said Christine. "I can't do much beyond what I've already done. Eat something, and then you'd better try a healing trance."

He shook his head slowly. "I fear that may be impossible."

"Why?" She had been counting on the trance.

Another shiver ran through him. "It is difficult for me to judge how cold it is, but if I enter a trance I may be unable to maintain my body temperature."

"I see." She studied the ground, not wanting him to see how worried she was. She gave him several fruits, but he only managed to eat one. "At least try to sleep, please." He nodded, and she cradled his head and shoulders until his breathing became regular.

When she felt that she could leave him, she gathered up the dirty, bloody rags she had used to clean his leg and went to the stream to wash them. She would undoubtedly need them again. It was hard to get them even slightly clean with cold water and no soap, but she scrubbed doggedly. When she was done she hesitated only briefly before stripping off her clothes - underpants, camisole, and the remains of her dress. The water was icy, and stung her cuts and scrapes, but anything was better than staying dirty. For the past few days she had just plain smelled. She rinsed out the clothes and put them back on wet. At least her period was over.

* * *

Three days later, in the evening, she was washing the rags yet again. She was filthy once more, but she no longer cared. She was moving numbly, making gestures which she knew were useless. Spock's leg had swelled to twice its normal size, and he hadn't been lucid for a day and a half. He alternated between fitful sleep and feverish outbursts during which he lectured her in Vulcan. She was still trying to keep the fever down, keep him warm, and get the leg to drain, but her efforts seemed futile. The infection was systemic now, producing bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, and she could barely manage to keep him clean.

Her mind went tiredly over the possibilities again as she returned to the cave and changed the bandages, but they all added up the same way. She lay down beside him and held him close. He was going to die. Sometime in the next two or three days, he would die, and there was nothing she could do about it. A doctor. She had called herself a doctor. She gave a silent, bitter sob. She knew that Spock would say that despair was illogical, but she was sick of pretending to herself that there was any hope in their situation. No one had found them, and no one would. She cried until she fell into an exhausted slumber.

Chapter Text

Dozens of light years away, James Kirk was also sleeping uneasily, though he couldn't have said why. For several days he had had a vague feeling that something was wrong. Several times he had even reached for his communicator to call the Enterprise, but he had always stopped. Sulu was a fine officer, and perfectly capable of taking care of the ship. It wouldn't do to have him think that his captain didn't trust him. And Kirk's location was well known. If anything was wrong, he would have been contacted.

He woke in the morning with a mighty feeling of satisfaction. He dismissed his intangible worry. Bones had been right. This leave was exactly what he needed, and there was still a week and a half of it left. He sniffed appreciatively at the fresh air and woodsmoke smell, and leaned over to kiss Areel Shaw. She made a protesting noise and hid her face in the pillow. Areel wasn't an early riser. He pulled the covers off her and she sat up with an indignant yelp. Before she could grab him, he was out of the tent, laughing.

While they were eating breakfast, the communicator sounded. It was buried in his pack, and it took Kirk a minute to locate it. His worry returned forcefully. His communicator seldom summoned him while he was on leave, and it was never good news. That unease in the back of his mind was called command intuition, and it didn't pay to ignore it. "Kirk here," he said.

"Sulu, here, Captain," came the reply. "I'm sorry to disturb you."

"The ship?"

"The ship is fine, sir. But we've had a couple of puzzling crew disappearances. I think you should know about it."

"Disappearances? Who? Are you certain it's not just a matter of failing to leave destination listings?"

"Yes, sir. It's Mr. Spock and Dr. Chapel. They've been missing for more than a week. Four days ago I asked the Wrigley's authorities to institute a search, but they haven't found anything."

"Spock and Chapel? Where are they supposed to be?"

"Mr. Spock was going to spend his leave on the ship, and Dr. Chapel was registered at a hotel in Wrigley City. She checked in, but never came back. Uhura told me." Sulu sounded faintly embarrassed. "We didn't search right away because... well, sir, they were on leave. We thought they might be together, and if so..."

"Yes, Mr. Sulu, I see your point." Kirk was amused in spite of his concern. No village ever beat a starship for gossip. "However you were right to start a search, and right to contact me. I'll be returning to the ship. I'll call you when I'm ready to beam up."

"Aye, sir." Sulu sounded faintly deflated at the abrupt end of his command. "Enterprise out."

Jim gave Areel a rueful grin. "I'm sorry. This has been the best leave I've had in a long time. But Spock is missing - and he's the last person on the Enterprise to vanish without reason. I've got a gut feeling that something's wrong."

* * *

The Domii moved down the riverbank in a noisy but organized procession. They walked steadily, but not fast, burdened with a heavy weight of fresh and dried meat. When the entire tribe moved, as they always did at this time of year, they could go no faster than the pace of the oldest and youngest members. Domi went at the head, the only member of the tribe who did not carry anything, except, of course his long spear. It was the leader's privilege to walk freely, ready to defend his people if the need arose. Old Aga brought up the rear, also a defender in her own way, the healer and priestess of the Domii.

Between the two, positions shifted constantly, with the stronger taking turns at pulling the sledges and easing them over rough spots. Insects buzzed above the group in hungry clouds, drawn by the strong, gamy odor of ingba meat. Aga saw Bira slap in irritation at the ones around her head and Mara's. Ami, the baby, was asleep in his sling, but Mara, balanced on Bira's other hip, was fretful. Aga sighed. She was so old now, having seen more winter seasons than almost anyone else in the tribe, that she knew enough to value the discomforts of this journey back from the autumn hunting grounds. It was far better to be uncomfortable now than to return easily, but with the assurance of hunger ahead. She sniffed appreciatively. She enjoyed the rich smell. The autumn hunt had been good, that was why they were returning to the cave later than usual. This might be her last winter, but even if the men could not leave the cave to hunt during the worst of it, she would not be too hungry.

Aga wiped her face with the soft gold fur of her forearm, and glanced down at the heavy salar claw hanging between her breasts. It marked her as Adar Doma: priestess, healer, speaker to the wind, guardian of the spirits of the Domii. She frowned. Who would wear the symbol when she was gone? Bira, her daughter, by all right and tradition... but Domi did not wish it, and Aga could not fight him without Bira's help... The worry was familiar; she had gone through these thoughts many times before. Surely even her daughter's stubborn mate must see that it was Bira's duty. She should take an opportunity to remind Domi of the power of the Adar Doma.

* * *

Christine heard them before she saw them. At first she thought the humanoid voices were a hallucination; her mind might be capable of such a trick. That Spock was still alive seemed inexplicable. His periods of unconsciousness were longer now, his delirious outbursts weaker. Maybe she was delirious too. She willed the voices to go away, but they did not. She headed down the stream toward the river. What did she have to lose? Ghosts didn't frighten her, and even cannibals couldn't make them much worse off. Nevertheless, she was shaking slightly as she stepped out of the trees.

They had heard her too, apparently. They had stopped, and a burst of noise and a thicket of raised spears greeted her appearance. She held out her hands cautiously to show that she was weaponless. There was a moment of silence, and the huge crowd facing her resolved itself into no more than thirty stocky, furry adults and maybe the same number of children. They eyed her suspiciously.

"Can you help me?" she asked, knowing that they wouldn't understand, but hoping that the tone of her voice would convey her need.

There was another spate of talking, and one male humanoid stepped forward. Unlike the others, he had no pack or bundle, only a spear and a self-important air of authority. He walked up to her, and she tried not to flinch, even when he grasped her arm and inspected her closely. "I have a companion who is badly injured," Christine said, trying to sound both non-threatening and urgent. "Up there, in a cave." She pointed.

The male looked at her again, said dismissively, "Nai dar ka Domii," and shoved her out of the way with his spear. The group picked up their burdens and started to move on.

Christine felt desperate. Evidently the leader didn't think she was worth bothering with. She didn't know if they could help Spock, but she wouldn't let them go without trying. "Listen to me!" she said, but they walked on. In frustration, she reached out to grab the last one, a small female.

The female whirled and cried out in a commanding voice. Christine released her quickly and stepped back. The rest of the tribe had stopped, and the female was studying her intently with bright brown, penetrating eyes. "Please," said Christine. It was almost a prayer now. "Please." The female asked what sounded like a question, and pointed up the hill into the woods. "Yes. Please. In a cave..."

The female turned away, and Christine's heart sank. But she went to the front, and spoke to the leader. He jerked his spear and answered loudly. Both their voices rose as everyone else watched. The argument, if that was what it was, ended abruptly when the female lifted something hanging around her neck. The next moment, she, the leader, and three others surrounded Christine. The human woman led them toward the cave, praying.

* * *

Domi was furious, but he knew better than to show it. It was demeaning to his position to carry burdens, but he was doing it now, and Aga was to blame. The strange creature found in the cave was on a sledge, and everyone had taken a share of the displaced load. It seemed to him that Aga was doing this simply to show her power, even over him. When they had seen the creature, the color of its blood, even Aga had wanted to leave. But she had not, and in matters of healing, the Adar Doma decided.

Aga walked beside the sledge now. They would be home before the end of the day, and she was glad. She had packed the creature's leg with amar leaves, but boiled claar bark was needed for his fever. He was almost hot enough to burn her sensitive fingertips when she touched him. His mate walked on the other side of the sledge, sometimes checking the wounds as though she too were a healer. Aga regarded her with curiosity and faint disgust. Where had they come from? So strange and pale and hairless, not like the Domii. They were like monsters or spirits, but spirits did not bleed. Even if they were monsters, it had been pleasant to defy Domi. And something in the female's blue eyes had drawn Aga, in spite of her appearance.

* * *

One week later Christine knelt by Spock's side. Her hand on his forehead confirmed what she could already see. The fever had broken. His skin was normally warm and dry. The infection was gone and his leg was healing. He would live. She looked at Aga. "Thank you," she said. "Thank you so much. On this world, you're a far better doctor than I am." It seemed an important acknowledgement to make, even in English. She already knew quite a few words of the native language, but her vocabulary wasn't up to expressing her deep gratitude. Nor was she sure exactly what sort of gratitude was considered appropriate.

There was so much about this culture that she didn't understand. She touched the swollen bruise on her cheek. Obviously there was so much that she didn't understand. She was feeling her way cautiously, knowing how important it was for both herself and Spock, learning from Aga as much as she could. Every day she did a half-dozen things which caused laughter or anger. Still, there were mistakes that she knew not to make again.

When she looked at Aga, the old woman was smiling at her. At least that seemed to have the same meaning to both of them. There were cultures which didn't smile at all, others where it was a sign of aggression or hunger, but luckily this wasn't one of them. Christine smiled back. "Kiiva, Kista," said Aga, getting to her feet. Christine nodded, and Aga looked puzzled. Christine remembered. Nodding wasn't understood here. She gave the quick upward jerk of her chin which served instead. Aga was right, she was tired.

She settled down next to Spock, careful not to bump the healing leg. He was going to live. She closed her eyes and let out a breath she felt as if she'd been holding for weeks. Then she raised her head and studied him. The gaunt face was both familiar and unfamiliar, with its beard and untidy hair. She didn't worry much any more about her love for him. It was a part of her now, like being blue-eyed and right-handed. It didn't even hurt. She knew that in recent years he had come to respect her professionally. He didn't love her as she'd wanted him to, and she no longer expected that. But neither had she tried to forget him and find someone else. Her friends had periodically urged her to, more or less tactfully, depending on their natures. They had even trotted out a string of supposedly eligible men,

most of whom had been as uninterested in Christine as she was in them.

She grinned, momentarily forgetting where she was, as she remembered arguing with Uhura. "Chris, you're not the only woman on this ship who's ever been attracted to him. But everyone else has given up. You haven't, and that's not only stupid, it's undignified! Forget about Spock and find someone who can love you back. Why waste your life?"

"Waste?" Christine had said tartly. "Oh, come off it. Listen to what you just said. I've got a job I love, and friends I love too, even when they tell me I'm stupid. And now you, of all people, are telling me that I've got to have a man, even a second-best sort of man, or I'm wasting my life! Why? I love Spock. I know I'm stubborn about it. Maybe I can't have him, but I certainly don't need a man so badly that I'll settle for less than the one I want."

So here she was, Christine thought, stranded with Spock in the middle of one of her more idiotic fantasies turned nightmare. None of her daydreams had included cold, hunger and filth. They had occasionally included injuries or illnesses which she had treated brilliantly, after which Spock had gazed tenderly into her eyes... Bullshit. This situation was exactly what Chris the romantic idiot deserved. If he gazed tenderly into anyone's eyes, it should be Aga's. "Fine work you did, Christine, nearly letting him die," she muttered. And so she finally got to sleep with him, on the dirt floor of a cave with fifty other people around, under a rancid-smelling skin that didn't even keep out the cold. Eventually she drifted off to sleep, relief at Spock's survival warring in her mind with irritation at her own foolishness.

* * *

Spock returned laboriously to full consciousness. The process was not like the shift from one state to another when emerging from trance or meditation. His mind had not been involved in any discipline, but drifting, unanchored, amid chaotic dreams which he could not quite grasp. He opened his eyes, and his vision slowly cleared.

Christine Chapel was sitting cross-legged next to him. "Doctor," he said amazed that his vocal cords still worked. She looked relieved that he recognized her. He became aware that she was strangely dressed, and that the roof above him was definitely not the ceiling of Sickbay. He concentrated, and remembered. An animal, with an impressive ability to camouflage itself, had attacked them. But where was he now? "This is not the cave we were in previously," he observed.

"No. But don't try to talk yet." She brought him some water in what seemed to be a hollow horn. He drank gratefully, realizing that he was dehydrated. She helped him to sit up with his back to the cave wall, and said, "We're in the home cave of a tribe of native humanoids called, I think, the Domii. We've been here for eight days. Do you remember any of it?"

He shook his head slowly. "No. My last memory is of the creature which attacked us. That was eight days ago?"

"Twelve days. We spent the first four in the other cave." She hesitated. "I'm glad you don't remember. It was pretty bad."

Spock closed his eyes for a moment, gathering his strength, and then examined her. Her hair was stringy and tangled, and there were definite signs of strain in her face. "Were you badly injured, Doctor?"

"No, just banged up a little."

"But your face is still bruised."

"That's something different. I'll tell you about it later. Right now I want you to rest."

Spock looked down at himself. He was dressed in some sort of unpleasant-smelling fur robe, similar to the one Christine was wearing. There were crude bandages on his left leg. The leg throbbed, but not agonizingly.

"It's healing," Christine said. "But no thanks to me." There was a hint of bitterness in her voice. "This time you got cured by a real witch doctor. Beads, rattles and all. Also a very extensive empirical knowledge of the curative powers of the local flora. When she started treating you, you were dying."

She stood abruptly and walked away from him. He had not been mistaken about the strain, but he was not sure what to do about it. She disappeared toward the mouth of the cave, which he could not quite see from his position. He was behind a rocky buttress of the wall, far back in the cavern. He took a moment to survey his surroundings. The light was so dim and the cave so large that it was hard to judge its extent. There was a kind of orderly chaos to what he could see, with heaps of supplies and artifacts piled along the walls. There seemed to be a good deal of activity, with humanoid figures moving about near a fire. He concentrated on controlling the pain in his leg, and then slipped back into sleep.

When he woke, Christine had returned, her face now tranquil. She was accompanied by one of the inhabitants of the cave. The newcomer had an intelligent, wrinkled, elderly face, with very bright brown eyes. She was short, less than five feet tall, stocky and muscular, with soft short golden fur covering her everywhere except her face. She was obviously well-adapted to the climate.

"This is Aga," said Christine, and Aga spoke rapidly to her in a musical language. Christine replied with a few halting words which included his name, and Aga gave Spock a cheerful smile. Then she stripped off his bandages and examined his leg with a surprisingly deft and gentle touch. When she was done, she smiled broadly again, patted his chest, and waited, studying him.

Spock looked gravely back at her. While he was considering an appropriate response, her expression changed and she turned and walked away.

Christine was indignant. "Spock, that was not only rude, it was stupid. Aga saved your life. Not only does she deserve your gratitude, you and I both need her goodwill."

"I was attempting to think of a suitable gesture..."

"Suitable? You could have tried saying thank you. She'd have picked up the intent, she's very good at that. Almost empathic, in fact. You could even have smiled back at her. It wouldn't have cracked your face, and I wouldn't have tattled to the Vulcan High Council."

"Doctor." His voice cut across hers. "I am indeed grateful to her, and also to you. I intended no offense, and I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss the matter. Please sit down."

She complied after a moment, and he raised an eyebrow at her, causing her to smile reluctantly. "All right. I know it's bad form to yell at my patient - at Aga's patient. And it's harder to stay angry when I'm sitting. But you have to realize, if you haven't already, that we're here on sufferance. Aga insisted on rescuing us, for a lot of different reasons, but Domi, the leader, didn't want to, and he still doesn't like having us here."

Spock looked at her thoughtfully. "Does his attitude have anything to do with the bruise on your cheek? Or with the others on your arms?"

Christine looked at the purple marks and instinctively rubbed them. "Yes." She didn't go on.

"Doctor, I would appreciate hearing about it." His tone was unusually gentle. "If I am to understand the situation..."

"I know. You're right. It's just that... Oh well. After we'd been here a few days, a couple of the men got... curious, I suppose. We're freaks to them, you know, very strange-looking, tall and skinny, with no fur to speak of. I didn't mind being stared at, or even laughed at, but when it came to being stripped and examined..."

"Did they harm you?" he asked very quietly.

"If you mean did they rape me, no they didn't. I don't even think that they meant to. Anyway, I didn't give them the chance." There was a certain grim satisfaction in her voice. "Female Starfleet personnel have some training in coping with that sort of thing. I don't think that either of them were interested in a woman again for quite a while."

"I see." His tone was calmly approving. "But how was this... Domi... involved?"

"He hit me afterwards. This is where it gets complicated. He arrived just as I had them both on the ground, and he was furious. First, he picked them up and told them off in what sounded like very abusive terms. Then, while I was breathing a sigh of relief, he turned around, shoved me against the wall, and backhanded me across the face. Before I could react, Aga had gotten in between us and was yelling, first at Domi and then at me."

"A confusing situation."

"It certainly was. Domi backed off, grumbling, and Aga took me away and tried to explain."

"How well do you understand the language?"

"Not very well, but she uses a lot of gestures. As far as I can make out, Domi was angry with them for touching me, and with me for fighting back." Spock tried to shift his leg, wincing a little, and she said, "Here. This may help,"

putting a rolled up skin under it. "We don't have to talk about this now if you're tired."

"I am not tired yet. As you are describing it, Domi's reaction would seem extremely illogical."

"Not really, Mr. Spock. Unfair and absurd, yes, but it does have its own kind of logic. Women here are the property of their mates - or their nearest other male relative. All except Aga, who is a priestess-healer. Her position may be a remnant of an older matriarchal culture. She's certainly the only one, male or female, who tries to stand up to Domi."

"Fortunately for both of us."

"Yes. Apparently Domi was angry with the other two men, not on my behalf, but on yours."

Spock looked blank. "On my behalf?"

"Infringement of your property rights. As far as they're concerned, I belong to you." Under other circumstances, she would have enjoyed his disconcerted expression. "Don't worry, I've tried my best to explain that I don't, but they can't or won't understand me. You see, if you weren't there to protect me, I wasn't supposed to fight. Women don't hit men. Especially not in the places I hit."


"That's not the word I would have used."

"Indeed. I begin to see why you stressed the importance of retaining Aga's goodwill."

Christine nodded. "She's got absolute jurisdiction over you for as long as you're injured. She and Domi seem to be engaged in some sort of power struggle - her daughter is Domi's wife, and I think they're using her as a pawn. One of the reasons Aga insisted on rescuing us, even though she was afraid when she saw your blood, was that Domi didn't want to, but couldn't refuse her."

At that moment, Aga returned, accompanied by her daughter, Bira. She looked at Spock unsmilingly, but softened when he thanked her gravely for her care in both English and Vulcan. Christine was relieved. She didn't doubt Spock's gratitude, but she was pleased that he had made the effort, and that Aga had understood it.

Aga handed Spock a horn filled with an infusion of boiled bark and folded her arms. "Make him drink it," she said to Christine.

"She wants you to drink it," Christine told Spock.

"I had surmised that, Doctor. I also presume that the taste of it is extremely unpleasant. The expression on her face is identical to one used in the past by yourself and Dr. McCoy."

"Then you know that it's useless to argue with her."

When he had finished drinking, Aga felt along the base of his skull, pressed his ribs, and had Bira do the same. Bira's reluctance was evident, especially when Aga forced her to look at Spock's leg. Spock wondered if this were part of the younger woman's training. She wrapped his leg up again clumsily, and he concentrated on controlling the pain. Her roughness seemed due to more than inexperience.

When she left, with Aga lecturing her, Christine sighed, and began to adjust the bandages very gently. "Aga seems to be training Bira to be the next healer, but Domi doesn't want her to, and Bira obviously hates the whole idea anyway. She nearly got sick the first time she saw your leg. Aga shouldn't be pushing her, but I don't have the words to explain it. Is that more comfortable now?"

"Yes." He hesitated. The strain was back in her face. "The best doctors always have a certain aptitude for their work. You and Aga share that quality."

"Aga, maybe. I'm not so sure about me." To his surprise, she turned her back to him and said in a slightly unnatural voice, "If you're to have anything to eat, I have to collect it. Will you be all right if I leave for an hour?" She walked away without waiting for an answer.

Spock lowered himself carefully to lie on his back, feeling a twinge from his ribs, and stared thoughtfully at the roof of the cave. Each time he had made reference to the care she had given him, Dr. Chapel had become upset. He thought he might understand why.

* * *

Christine searched on the hillside above the cave for what she had learned were eldaa, the apricot-colored, apple-flavored fruits which she and Spock had eaten before. She concentrated hard on the task, trying to ignore the bitterness which had periodically threatened to overwhelm her since she had failed to prevent the infection which had threatened Spock's life. She felt like a useless fraud. A doctorate in biochemistry, Starfleet nursing school, medical school, and he had nearly died of something she should have been able to prevent. A part of her mind knew that she was being masochistically hard on herself, but another part insisted that she deserved it. She took a deep breath. She wasn't going to cry, damn it. Even if she was a fraud, she could at least avoid embarrassing Spock and herself. She started back toward the cave, shivering in the icy wind.

While they ate she kept her more depressing thoughts at bay by trying to explain to Spock what she knew about the language of the Domii. "It's called Domin, and apparently that just means speech, just as Domii seems to mean simply people. The feminine ending is 'a' and the masculine is 'i', and they form plurals by repeating the end sound of a word."

"I believe that some of the Rigellian tongues are similar."

"I wish Uhura was here. I'm no linguist. But for instance, one of these is an elda." She held up the fruit.

"And two or more are eldaa?"

"Right." She listed for him all the words she knew. "I still don't speak it much, but I find that I understand about half of what they say."

"It seems to be a fairly simple language."

"It is. I don't think the entire vocabulary can be more than a few thousand words."

The darkness in the cave was deepening, and so was the cold. "Perhaps we should move nearer the fire," suggested Spock.

"We can't. That's one of the first things I found out when we got here. I tried to tell Aga that you needed to be kept warm, but even she wouldn't listen to that. Places in the cave are determined by status in the tribe. That's why we're back in this corner. We've got no status."

"And, it appears, no bedding either."

"Just this one skin, and believe me, it's not enough. I'm sorry."

"It is fortunate that the cold did not affect me more when I was unconscious."

Christine sighed. "Well you did say that it would be best if we shared..."

"Indeed." He took the skin from under his leg and spread it out carefully. "From the activities of the others, it seems that it is time to sleep. Would you care to come to bed, Doctor?"

Christine couldn't see his expression in the dimness. If he had been human, she would have sworn he was teasing her. She lay down and pulled her half of the skin around her, careful not to touch Spock. "Good night," she said. "Kiiva. That's another word for you to learn. Sleep. The imperative form."

"Good night. Kiiva, Doctor."

"Will you stop calling me that!" The unthinking vehemence of her reaction startled even Christine. She rolled over angrily, jarring Spock's leg. She heard his swift intake of breath. "Damn! I'm sorry. I can't do anything right around here."

"That is not true."

"Oh isn't it? Then let me spell it out for you." The words came out in a rush. "My incompetence nearly killed you. If Aga hadn't found us, you would have died within the next day. What do you think of that?"

"I was already aware of it." He sounded undisturbed.

"Then can't you see? I'm not a doctor here. Maybe I never was. Maybe I was just a technician, a pill-pusher. With no machines and no drugs, where are my skills?" She rolled on her back and looked at her hands. "Not in these."

Spock abandoned all hope of getting to sleep quickly. The human fondness for wallowing in guilt never ceased to amaze him. "You got me to shelter despite your own injuries, and kept me alive for four days with no equipment but those hands. You are underrating yourself."

"No I'm not. Any green ensign who stayed half-awake during one of my first aid lectures could have done that much."

"I seriously doubt it. In any case, I have no complaints concerning your treatment of me. Your behavior then seems to have been entirely proper and logical."

"Don't you dare patronize me!"

"Doctor." He continued before she could protest. "I will continue to call you that because you are a doctor, regardless of what you choose to believe while indulging in childish self-pity."

"If you don't want me to act childish, then talk to me like an adult instead of lecturing me!"

"I was doing so, until you became irrational."

There were tears of anger on Christine's cheeks, but the long-suffering pedantic patience in Spock's voice suddenly struck her as funny. She started to laugh. "But I like being irrational!"

"I do not understand you."

"No, you don't." She lowered her voice to avoid disturbing the Domii. "I really am upset about this. But that's no reason to impose it on you when you should be resting. And I guess I was being self-dramatizing. I'll work it out. You can go to sleep now."

"Not just yet. I have several things to say to you. Are you prepared to listen?"

"More lectures? Go ahead." She turned on her side to face him.

"I do not share Dr. McCoy's faith in crude psychological analyses..."

"That's unfair!"

"...but it is not true that you are not a doctor here. You will continue to be a doctor, a healer, if you like, wherever you go. It has always seemed clear to me that medicine is not merely your profession, but your vocation. If the tools to which you are accustomed are not available, you will learn to use different tools. It is a simple matter."

"No it isn't. And that was a nasty crack about Leonard."

"I retract it. He too is a healer."

"It's not just the tools, it's the knowledge. So much of what I know is useless, and there's so much that I don't know."

"Then learn. Learn just as you would learn a new medical technique on the Enterprise. You have never before been lacking in intelligence and enthusiasm. You still have your job, as I still have mine. Until we are rescued, I too must learn to adjust to this culture, and to be a scientist with none of the usual aids."

"The difference is that your ignorance doesn't threaten anyone else's life."

"Oh? If I had had my tricorder, would we have walked into a camouflaged carnivore?"


"Precisely analogous, Doctor. A matter of equipment. In addition, in all your self-flagellation, you have not noted the most important fact. I am quite alive. Would that be true if you had not been with me?"

Christine was silent for a moment, thinking. Then she gave a tired smile. "Thank you, Spock. I feel better."

"I merely pointed out the logic of the situation... Doctor."

"I know. Thank you anyway."

Propping himself on one elbow, he readjusted their covers. "You are welcome, Christine. Good night." She yawned, and fell asleep smiling.

* * *

The atmosphere in the briefing room of the Enterprise was somber. "I don't accept that they've just vanished," said Kirk. "Someone must know something."

"If they do, they're not talking," replied McCoy wearily. "You've been badgering the government for two weeks, Jim. The search parties have been all over the planet, and we don't know a damn bit more than we did in the beginning. You know our leave is over tomorrow. What are you going to do?"

"Sir..." said Uhura and Sulu simultaneously.

Kirk looked at them. "If you two are planning to blame yourselves again, then permission to speak is denied. You can't assume someone's disappeared if they don't come to dinner. If you'd called Wrigley's security any sooner, they'd have laughed at you."

"What have they found out?" asked Sulu.

"Almost nothing. Dr. Chapel checked into her hotel at 1815, left on foot at around 1900, and no one saw her after that. Her luggage is back on board, and there aren't any clues in it. According to the transporter technician, Yeoman Ellis, Spock beamed down to the central plaza in Wrigley City at 1754. They haven't found any witnesses to what he did after that."

"Could someone be lying? Covering up?" asked Uhura.

Kirk shook his head. "I don't think so. Starfleet ships are important to the Wrigley's economy. With Spock and Chapel vanishing, the planet might be put off limits. They don't want that."

There was a silence, and then McCoy said what everyone was thinking. "Are they dead?" he asked bluntly.

"It's a possibility," admitted Kirk. "But damn it, I refuse to accept it with no evidence. If they're not still on Wrigley's, then they must be somewhere else. Uhura, call Wrigley's Space Control and get a list of all the ships that left orbit in the twenty-four hours after Spock and Chapel disappeared."

"Aye, sir."

"There'll be hundreds of them," McCoy protested. "This is the busiest port in the quadrant."

"Then the sooner we start tracking them down, the better."

"I'm a doctor, not a bloodhound!"

"Maybe, Bones. But all I've heard from you since you got back to the ship is how you can't run Sickbay without Christine. Do you want her back or not?" He rubbed his forehead. "Come to think of it, I've been having that feeling myself. I keep wanting to ask Spock what he thinks of this problem."

McCoy grinned. "Okay, then, I'm a bloodhound. I'll help you sniff around for a scent to follow. What are our next orders, Jim?"

"Pick up a scientific team in the Theta Tau system. The star's going to nova."

"Then we have to go."

"No question. But I'm still going to look for them. Every chance I get, and every way I get, until I find them, or find out what happened to them."

Chapter Text

Domi watched from his seat by the fire as the two strangers made their way past him toward their place in the back of the cave. The man leaned heavily on the woman, still unable to bear much weight on his injured leg. Domi supposed that they were man and woman. They seemed to be, in spite of their repulsive appearance. He looked approvingly at Bira's sleek brown fur and white robe as she sat nursing Ami. It was odd that Rali and Tomi had even wanted to touch the woman. She was extremely ugly.

He sighed. This was getting him no nearer to deciding how to treat the strangers. He still wished that they had never been found, or had been left where they were, but they could not be killed now. They were learning speech, so they were not animals, though they did not know civilized behavior. He had not spoken to them himself, though he had had to punish the woman. Could they be spirits, or demons? He frowned, and motioned to Aga. "Does the stranger still bleed green?" he asked.

"He no longer bleeds. His mate and I have cared for him." Her tone was faintly insolent, as always.

He ignored it for now. "They are spirits," he said.

"Spirits do not bleed or sleep or eat." Aga sounded scornful.

Domi was uneasy. "They cannot be... people. No ordinary beings look like that. Have you spoken of them to the wind?" He cursed his own inability to hear the spirit voices. This dependence on Aga was irking.

"I have. They are not demons, and they are not evil. The man's name is... Spock." She formed the word carefully. "Spock. The sound is strange, but I can say it. The woman... her name I cannot say. I call her Kista, which is close enough. You may not harm them."

"If I do not, it is my choice as leader of the Domii. Do not dictate to me, old woman. I decide what is best for the tribe."

"I am Adar Doma, and I say what I must. I am not afraid of you, Domi. Will you accept the strangers into the tribe?"

Domi was secretly pleased. Though her voice and stance were proud, her last words were an admission that this decision was his. "If they are worthy. Or able. The man must prove his strength, and learn to control his mate. She is aggressive and undisciplined."

"You are a fool, Domi. It is true that the strangers are savages, but you would like all the Domii to be children, and only you with a voice. When Bira succeeds me, I will tell her..."

"She will never succeed you. I will not have my wife..."

"It is my right and her duty, Domi! You know that as well as I do. My daughter follows in my place." Aga hid her doubts. Bira was so meek, so quiet. Even now, she was looking wide-eyed from her mate to her mother, as if pleading silently with them to stop.

Domi turned away from Aga. "When this... Spock... is well, he will have a challenge to settle with Rali and Tomi concerning his woman. At that time I will judge whether he and the woman are Domii. Bira will teach her to behave properly." He was satisfied. He would ensure that the strangers knew who was leader here.

* * *

Christine settled Spock back onto the floor in their corner. He had trouble bending his leg. Tendon damage, she thought, as she made her way to the fire to get their dinner. Though the wounds were all but healed, the leg was still appallingly weak. She used thick leaves to grab the chunks of meat and roasting tubers from the edge of the coals. She had waited until the other women had taken their families' share. She was learning the etiquette of the cave. Only the smaller, gristlier pieces were left. Her stomach growled. The meal smelled good to her, but she knew that she was going to have trouble with Spock.

His expression of distaste was clear as soon as she set the food down. "What is this, Doctor?"

"Tindu roots and ingba meat."

"I will not..."

"Yes you will."

"It is barbaric..."

"Be quiet, Spock. Come down off that Vulcan pedestal for a minute and listen to me. I haven't wanted to push the issue, but you're recovered now. I can afford to argue with you. "

"I had not observed that my injuries prevented you from arguing with me."

"Don't change the subject. For the last week, I've been able to find enough wild fruit and vegetables for you to eat, but it's been harder every day. They're almost gone."

"I appreciate your efforts."

"I didn't mind doing it, but it's not possible any more."

Spock picked up a hot tindu and bit into it cautiously. "These are quite palatable. Surely the Domii must store vegetable foods over the winter."

"These, yes, and the eldaa, and a few others, but not enough." She studied the tinduu. "That won't make a complete diet, there's almost no protein at all in them. And before you ask, there don't seem to be any legumes, and of course no dairy products." She stopped for a moment. "I can't force you to eat this, Spock," she said gently. "I wish I didn't have to ask you to. You're right, it is barbaric. But I'm a doctor. You convinced me of that, remember? You've lost weight already; please don't make yourself sick. Where's the logic in that?"

Spock reached out slowly and picked up a chunk of roasted meat. It felt greasy and unpleasant in his fingers. When the smell reached his nostrils, he swallowed hastily and set it down. "There is something to what you say. However, I do not know if I will be able to follow your advice. Even the smell..."

"Try just one bite," suggested Christine. "If you can keep that down, then two bites tomorrow, and so on. The way human children learn to eat cauliflower."

Spock clenched his teeth and complied, concentrating on not gagging. He managed, barely. Christine sighed. Somehow his expression had made the meal less appealing to her as well. "Good," she said, quickly finishing her portion. "After this, we can work on your leg some more."

The exercises she had developed were designed to build up the damaged muscles and enable him to bend the leg again. Christine suspected that he would continue to limp until the damage could be surgically repaired. He sat up straight with his legs in front of him, and she said, "Now lift it without bending the knee and hold it there - one, two, three, four, five - good. Again. Good. Again. Now bring your heel as close as you can to your thigh - one, two, three, four, five..."

* * *

Over the next few weeks Spock's leg gradually strengthened until he could walk unaided. The unevenness in his gait couldn't be corrected. Life in the cave settled into its winter rhythm as snow drifted down outside. Bira had approached Christine, rather timidly at first, with Domi's instructions about proper behavior. Christine already had few illusions about Domi's need to control everyone, but she welcomed the chance to learn. She was tired of making mistakes, speaking at the wrong time, touching things that were forbidden. The restrictions that Bira carefully explained to her were alternately appalling and amusing, but if she occasionally flouted them, she preferred to do so out of choice rather than ignorance. Also, she was curious about Bira. She seemed so quiet, so much a pawn in the conflict between her mother and her husband.

One day Bira asked Christine to join her at her place by the fire. Christine knew enough now to recognize the invitation as a gesture of friendship, and she accepted. Domi was laughing with a group of men in another corner, and Christine risked asking if Spock could come as well. Bira looked startled. Men did not usually socialize with women, though it was not actually forbidden. She agreed, a little reluctantly.

The smoke from the fire fed out through a natural chimney in the roof of the cave. Domi and Bira had a huge pile of furs for themselves and their three children, and Spock and Christine settled into them gratefully. It was the first time since arriving on the planet that they had been really warm. Spock realized with surprise that his stomach no longer heaved at the smell of the skins or the sight of meat roasting at the fire. He was not sure that he approved of his adjustment. No Vulcan ate animal flesh. But he had failed to find any logical alternative. He did not believe that the principles of vegetarianism actually required him to succumb to malnutrition.

He became aware that Christine and Bira were both looking at him in silence. He raised a questioning eyebrow. "Bira can't speak until you give her permission," Christine whispered in English. "Remember what I told you?"

No woman of the Domii, except Aga, could speak to a man without asking first. Bira made the permission gesture, touching her lips and forehead, and Spock returned it, touching his forehead and lips, while mentally sighing at the irrationality of the custom.

Bira relaxed at the indication that her lessons had been passed on, and asked hesitantly, "Your leg is better?"

"Yes." Because of his illness, his command of the language was less sure than Christine's. "Your mother is a skilled healer," he said, searching carefully for the words.

"She is," agreed Bira, an indefinable sadness in her brown eyes. She seemed to want to change the subject. "There are many things you need that you do not have. May I show your mate how to make them?"

"She is not my mate, and you do not need my permission," said Spock patiently. He fought back a feeling of frustration as Bira gave him a totally uncomprehending look.

Christine stifled a smile. Spock had less experience than she did in dealing with this. The Domii simply refused to consider any idea that didn't fit their categories. She had been outraged when she had first learned that she couldn't talk without permission. "I will not do anything so foolish!" she had told Bira when Bira had showed her the sign. "It is not fair." Bira had given her the same blank look which Spock had just received. And Christine had discovered that unless she used the sign, it was as though none of the men could hear her.

She brought her mind back to what Bira was doing. The Domii woman had produced an amazing array of stone knives, spear points, scrapers, awls, even shallow bowls. She began to explain the purpose of each one as Christine and Spock examined them. Some were extraordinarily fine and delicate, covered with incised designs.

"Did you make these?" asked Christine in wonder. "They're beautiful."

"It is a woman's task to make them for her mate," explained Bira. "I made these for Domi. I am the best stone worker in the tribe." There was more pride and confidence in her voice than Christine had heard before. "I will teach you. Spock will need them for the hunt."

"I am not a hunter," said Spock, and Christine sighed. "Don't argue about it now," she said in English.

Bira said calmly, "All men hunt." She picked up a chunk of rough flint and a rounded hammerstone. "Strike with the hammerstone like this." Christine tried, and skinned her knuckles. "No, you are holding it wrong." Bira demonstrated again.

Christine concentrated on getting the angle and force right, but it was very difficult. She struck awkwardly, and the flint fractured instead of flaking. "This is hard," she said.

"Here." Bira sounded amused. She took the tools from Christine, and in a few minutes had produced a razor-sharp hand axe. "Keep this. But you must practice every day, Kista. If you do not, your mate will have no weapons."

"I do not require weapons," said Spock. Bira ignored him. "However, many of these are useful for other purposes. Will you teach me to make them also?"

This time Bira looked at him. "Men do not make tools and weapons. Women make tools and weapons. Men hunt." Her tone clearly indicated that she thought he was mentally deficient.

"But I ..."

"Men of the tribe hunt."

"I am not a member of the tribe."

"Soon you may be," said Bira casually. "If you win the challenge."

"Challenge?" asked Christine, startled.

"With Rali and Tomi. Domi has decided."

"It will be tomorrow," said Domi's voice above them. Bira smiled and moved over to make room for him. He looked intently at Spock and Christine. "You are very strange," he said finally. "Aga says that you are not spirits, or evil. I am not sure of that. But I have seen that you are learning speech and manners. I have spoken with Rali and Tomi. You will fight the challenge tomorrow, and if you win, you will be marked as Domii. I have decided."

"I do not understand this challenge," said Spock levelly. "I do not wish..."

"It is the challenge, and it will be tomorrow. I am the leader, and I have decided. Now leave. You have taken enough of my woman's time."

* * *

During the afternoon, Christine talked to Aga, and even managed to speak briefly to an uneasy-looking Bira. "It's a fight," she reported back to Spock at dinnertime. "Tomi and Rali infringed on your rights, so you have to re-establish your honor by fighting them. It's the custom, like everything else around here."

"I had surmised that. But who are Tomi and Rali? I was not aware that I had a conflict with any of the Domii. I have had little contact with them."

"You've managed to keep out of the way better than I have. Or maybe it's just that there are fewer rules for men. Tomi and Rali are the two who were so interested in what I looked like without my clothes."

"I see. I was under the impression that you had dealt with them."

"So I did, by my standards. But by Domii standards I wasn't the injured party. You were. You're supposed to settle it by fighting them."

"I will refuse, of course."

Christine pushed aside the remains of their meal. "I don't think you can. The normal stake in these challenges is honor and status. The winner gains them, and the loser loses them. In your case - I had a terrible time with this question, Aga and Bira just wouldn't listen when I told them that you probably wouldn't fight - the stake seems to be our acceptance by the tribe. If you don't fight and win, you've rejected the tribe, and we can't stay with them."

"Perhaps that would be best. Our presence here is at least a technical violation of the Prime Directive."

"Very technical. We're not here voluntarily, and we're not interfering."

"The temptation to interfere will be great..."

"It already is, or you wouldn't be talking about refusing to fight. That's unheard of."

"This culture is bound in a net of irrational customs. They live their lives without questioning their traditions..."

Christine couldn't let that one pass. "Unlike some other societies," she interrupted.

Spock looked at her in cool reproof. "Vulcan traditions are based on logic, Doctor."

"Of course. And Vulcans only fight challenges for logical reasons. At least this isn't a fight to the death." She was ashamed as soon as the words were out of her mouth. In the language of combat, that had been below the belt. Not to mention tactless and unprofessional.

"Doctor." She could tell by the icy calm of his voice that Spock was furious. "There are certain aspects of Vulcan life which even your status as a physician does not give you the right to discuss."

Christine thought, "Now talk about irrational..." Aloud, she said, "I'm sorry. I know that. It was unfair, and irrelevant to the point anyway."

"Very well. It is your belief that if I do not participate in this custom we will be expelled from the cave?"

"Yes. Have you been outside today?"

"I have."

"Then you know why you can't refuse."

"I estimated the temperature to be -10.4 degrees."

"It's going to stay that way for months. Prime Directive or no, Vulcan principles or no, the Domii are our only chance to survive here. The Enterprise will catch up with us eventually, but it won't be before tomorrow."

"Vulcan principles." Spock's voice was remote and quiet. He was looking at the loosely tied fur he was wearing and at the bones left from their dinner. "It is unfortunate when logic seems to demand that I abandon logic. I agree with your analysis of the situation, and that... disturbs me."

Christine bit her lip. "It depends on whether you treat logic as a tool or as a set of rules. If it's only rules, you're no better off than the Domii."

"I am aware of that." He pushed his hair wearily out of his eyes. "But I wonder... How many compromises will have seemed logical before we are found?"

"The Domii are... only human, Spock. I mean, I know that they aren't human, but they're very like humans in everything but appearance. You're used to dealing with humans."

"I am accustomed to dealing with humans who will allow me to be Vulcan. There have been times when I have not believed that, but now I can appreciate that it was largely true. You are the only one here who will permit me to be what I am. It has seemed to me that you..." He broke off. "This conversation is illogical."

"You started it," Christine reminded him, disappointed. Self-revelation was foreign to Spock's nature, but there were times when he needed it.

* * *

The challenge was called the next morning. There was much bustling to clear a space for it in the center of the cave, and much jostling for places. Any break in the winter monotony was welcome. Spock stood to one side of the laughing, talking group of Domii, still reluctant to participate in this custom. What would a physical combat prove? Violence was an illogical method of settling a dispute... He thought of the kal-if-fee with an echo of remembered pain. Every culture had its weaknesses. Perhaps he had no right to judge.

"It is time," called Domi, loudly enough to be heard by everyone.

"Good luck," said Christine softly, her blue eyes worried.

"I would prefer that the random factors be favorable," agreed Spock. Feeling a strange need to ease both her tension and his own, he raised an eyebrow at her and got a reluctant grin in return.

"Try not to strain your leg," she said.

He nodded, and turned to face his opponent. Opponents, he saw in surprise. Two stocky Domii had stepped out to meet him. There was a cocky air of confidence about them. The crowd murmured in surprise, and Spock looked at Domi. "Am I to fight them both at once?" he asked.

Voices broke out, and Domi shouted, "Quiet!" When the noise died down, he replied, "This challenge is like no other, because you fight not only for honor, but for a place in the Domii. For that reason you will fight Rali and Tomi together. I must be assured of your worthiness. Does anyone challenge my decision?"

He looked around defiantly. No one spoke. Christine opened her mouth, but shut it again when Spock caught her eye and shook his head. Nothing she could say would help. If she spoke out of place it would only make matters worse.

He turned his attention to the two men opposite him. Black and chestnut furred, they wore only loincloths. His own muscles were almost constantly stiff from the cold; he doubted that they had a similar problem. He studied them, dismissing questions of philosophy and logic from his mind. His task now was to fight and win. They were considerably shorter than he was, but more muscular. They were returning his gaze with broad smiles, a little condescending. He undoubtedly looked unprepossessing to them, though their air of confidence surprised him a little, after their experience with Christine. Perhaps he could use that confidence against them...

"Begin!" cried Domi, thumping a staff on the ground.

Tomi and Rali threw themselves enthusiastically forward. Spock evaded one, but the other clung firmly to his back. He flipped him off fairly easily, but then found himself being overbalanced by a tight grip around his knees. He fell heavily, scraping his elbow, and heard gasps as the scrape began to bleed. "His blood - do you see it? I told you..."

He and his opponents struggled and rolled on the floor, none of them able to gain a distinct advantage. Faces came and went out of the blur of spectators: Domi, frowning fiercely; Aga, thoughtful; two wide-eyed children; excited, smiling adults; Christine, leaning forward, worried, wanting to help.

The two Domii were stronger than he had expected, but he was beginning to understand their style of fighting. It was basically wrestling, punctuated with open-handed slaps, but closed-fist blows seemed to be against the rules. And oddly, he was receiving no impression of malice from them, or from the spectators. They seemed more exhilarated than angry. He pinned Rali securely beneath him, but was dragged off by Tomi. He began to reach a conclusion. Twisting, he broke Tomi's grip, and Tomi gave a surprised cry of pain. Spock knew now that he could probably defeat them, but not without using enough force to injure them, and that he did not want to do. He reached for the vulnerable point on Tomi's shoulder, and squeezed. Nothing happened. The pressure point must be different... Rali clung to his back again, but he managed to grip a spot higher up on Tomi's neck. A moment later, both of them lay unconscious.

The Domii surrounded him with a babble of voices which Spock didn't even try to understand. He concentrated on slowing his breathing and heart rate. "They are only unconscious." He heard Christine's voice beside him, explaining. "They will wake up soon." Slowly the noise level dropped, and Spock became aware that Domi was standing in front of him.

Domi could not believe what he had seen. This ability was surely magic. He was torn between anger, awe, and a shameful fear. He forced himself to look steadily at Spock. "You are the winner," he declared slowly. "You and your woman are now Domii, and the marks will be set on your arms to show it. Rali and Tomi will give you gifts in payment of their honor debt."

Spock turned away, seeming content. His mate was wiping the strange-colored blood from his arm, and speaking in uncouth sounds. Domi was tempted to leave it at that. This Spock was so strange that perhaps he did not know... But the others were gazing at Domi in expectation. "Wait,"

Domi said sternly, masking his fear. "I claim my leader's right." Spock looked back at him, puzzled. "You must now repeat the challenge with me."

"I do not understand."

"It is my right before my people to prove my strength against any man of the tribe. The leader must show his power."

"I do not wish to fight you."

"You must." Domi forced himself to meet the stranger's eyes without flinching. They were very dark, and full of secrets. "It is my right," said Domi to those eyes. He was defending not only his own position, but the ways of the Domii as well. And after a long moment he had an odd feeling that Spock understood.

"I accept," Spock said. The woman, Kista, began to speak - without permission, Domi noted in irritation. Spock replied briefly, and she frowned at him. "I am ready," he said to Domi, and Domi moved to face him, feeling the weight of his leader's responsibilities. Whatever magic strength Spock might possess, Domi needed to win this challenge.

The tribe moved back to give room, Rali and Tomi, rubbing their necks and looking bewildered, among them. Domi glanced at Bira, who smiled proudly at him, and at Aga. He faced Spock squarely. "Begin."

* * *

As Domi and Spock began the fight, Christine tried to understand why Spock had accepted the challenge. Hadn't Domi already said that they were members of the tribe? Surely Spock could have refused... Maybe not? He had said that he would explain later.

They were wrestling in slow motion now, their occasional grunts of exertion almost drowned out by the exclamations of the crowd. Christine winced as Domi grabbed one of Spock's arms and jerked it back and up, but Spock used the gesture to pitch Domi up, over, and to the ground with Spock's weight on top of him. "Damn it, Spock, why are you doing this?" she muttered to herself in English. In all the time she had known him, watched him, loved him, he had never shown the usual male fondness for power games. He had not seemed to feel the need to prove his masculinity to himself or anyone else, and she had liked that. But then what was this struggle about?

They were rolling across the floor now, arms and legs tangled, faces distorted with effort, almost to her feet. She stepped quickly back, her fists tightening with tension, and a feeling of uncomprehending unreality came over her. What were they doing here? They were Starfleet officers, a doctor and a scientist, with long strings of degrees. Highly educated. Civilized. That was Spock, for god's sake, twisting out of Domi's grasp, avoiding a knee in the stomach. Commander Spock of the Enterprise, son of Vulcan's ambassador to the Federation, wrestling in the dirt with the furry leader of a Neolithic-level hunting and gathering tribe. They didn't belong here. And she had been the one urging Spock to adapt, adjust... "I don't like it here!" she said out loud, fighting back tears. She knew that the words sounded childish, were childish, but she wanted to go home.

The Domii nearest her were looking at her curiously. There was a wary hostility in their eyes which had been absent before. Even Aga's expression had changed. Everyone had drawn back a little. In the first challenge there had been sympathy for Spock, or at least an absence of malice. Now they were uneasy and a little afraid. Christine blinked the tears out of her eyes and concentrated on being angry with Spock. What was he proving, anyway?

Spock and Domi were on their feet again, face to face, legs braced. Domi was trying to force Spock off balance, while Spock was reaching inexorably for the vulnerable nerve points on Domi's neck. But just as his fingers found their grip, his bad leg gave way and crumpled under him. He fell off balance, his head striking the ground, and before he could recover, Domi had him in a secure choke hold. Spock said something which Christine couldn't hear, and Domi released him and got to his feet.

There was a silence, and then a palpable wave of relief and an outburst of noise. "I am the winner," proclaimed Domi with satisfaction. "It is as it should be."

The crowd surged around him, offering congratulations, and Christine pushed through them to get to Spock, worry winning out over her anger. "Are you all right?" she asked. "And now will you explain what you thought you were doing?" He was getting carefully to his feet. "Has the leg wound opened up again? How hard did your head hit the ground? Let me look at it."

"Which question do you wish me to answer first, Doctor? I am essentially undamaged. My leg..." He looked past her.

"You fought well," said Domi's voice behind her. She turned. Domi and Spock were looking at each other with thoughtful intensity.

"You defended your honor, your place, and your people," replied Spock quietly, stumbling a little over the words.

"You are now among my people." Domi sounded thoughtful, and unexpectedly pleased. "You and your mate will now receive your tribal marks from the Adar Doma." He waved his hands, and the crowd moved back enough to let Aga through, carrying two sharp stone knives and a bowl of bluish berries.

Christine sighed. All of the adult Domii bore incised colored scars on their upper arms. She had been expecting this, but it wouldn't be fun. "How do you sterilize a stone knife?" she wondered wryly, as Aga began to crush the berries into a thick blue paste.

When it was ready, Aga pulled Spock's arm out straight, and Bira held it while Aga raised the knife and began a high-pitched chant. "The men of the Domii are strong. The men of the Domii are swift. Strong as the brikaa. Swift as the ingbaa. The men of the Domii are brave. The men of the Domii are wise. Brave as the salarr. Wise as the aluoo. The men of the Domii..."

The chant was long, but finally Aga invoked the spirits of all the animals and asked them to give their powers to Spock. She made long, deep, parallel cuts in his upper arm, and once again there were gasps from the watchers at the sight of his blood. It would be a while before they got used to it, thought Christine, but then it had startled her, too, the first time she had seen it. Aga rubbed the blue paste into the wounds, and they stopped bleeding almost immediately. Spock hadn't even flinched, damn him.

Aga turned to Christine, and Bira held her arm immobile while Aga performed another chant, this one, of course, describing the women of the Domii. Christine was glad that it was shorter. She wanted to get this over with. Her mark was concentric circles, and it hurt less than she had expected. The knife was very sharp. The blue dye stung, and then it was done, and Aga and Bira were both smiling at her. Rali and Tomi came forward with two heavy furs which they gave to Spock. Christine gradually relaxed. They were accepted. They had a place here, not the place they wanted or belonged in, but it would do for now. She smiled back at Aga and Bira.

* * *

That evening Spock and Christine discovered that they were now welcome to eat close to the fire, among the others. Unfortunately, they were still expected to sleep in the back corner. "But these should help a lot," Christine said, gratefully patting the new furs, heavier and thicker than the old one. She draped one across Spock's lap. "Now let me take a look at you. Aga gave me some salve for the scrapes and bruises. She used it on you before, so I know that you don't react badly to it." She pulled off his robe gently; in a few places it had stuck to his skin. She patted the ointment on lightly, glad that for once he wasn't protesting. "She's going to show me how to make it. She was surprised that I was interested. It must have natural antiseptic properties."

"I am glad that you are taking my advice."



"Oh." As she reached for more salve, her arm accidentally bumped his. "Ow! Sorry. I forgot about our new marks." She examined them. "Yours looks all right. I want to keep an eye on it, the cuts are deeper than mine. That ceremony..." She shook her head.

"I was grateful that you did not protest at some of the descriptions."

"You noticed that? Men are strong and wise, women are obedient and fertile. And the symbolism of the marks... They're going to be very disappointed in me."

"Symbolism?" He considered it. "I see."

"Never mind, Mr. Spock." She was sorry that she'd mentioned it.

"It is actually an unusually universal concept among sexually dimorphic species," he said thoughtfully. "Some similar designs are found in the anthropological and/or, medical records of most cultures."

"True enough." She thought of the probable origin of the Vulcan IDIC. "That still doesn't make me appreciate having fertility symbols carved into my arm."

"It is a somewhat primitive application of the idea."

Christine rubbed the last of Aga's ointment into a scrape on Spock's ribs. "That's done. Now bend your head forward." She parted his black hair to check his skull. "No damage. It looked like your head hit the ground with an awful crack. Now the leg..." She probed the twisted scar thoughtfully, then looked up at him. "Okay, now for that explanation you owe me. You threw the fight, didn't you? You let Domi win."


"I thought so. There's no reason for your leg to have suddenly given out like that, and you don't even have a bump on your head. You stage-managed that fall."

Spock slid his arms back into his robe. "I expected that you would reach that conclusion."

"Why? I mean why did you accept the challenge in the first place, and why didn't you want to win? With Rali and Tomi, you didn't want to fight, but you did want to win. With Domi, the other way around? It seems... illogical."

"On the contrary. You are the one who persuaded me that the first contest was unavoidable. Unfortunately, the manner of my victory - I wished to avoid injuring my opponents - created a certain amount of fear and anxiety."

"I noticed." Christine frowned. "The balance of power..."

"Exactly. In a culture in which status depends in part on physical strength, I seem to have an unfair advantage. To have refused Domi's challenge would not only have violated custom, but left the situation unresolved. To have won..."

Christine grinned. "Beautiful. Would that have made you the leader? Domi would have been furious, and we'd get to sleep by the fire. Of course you couldn't do it, but it would have been interesting." She spread out the skins. "I don't think much of Domi's style of leadership anyway."

"I disagree."

"You do? He's so damn arrogant. 'I have decided.' He bullies Bira, and he gave me a few bruises that I still haven't forgiven him for, either." Yawning, she curled up between the skins. She had put the soft fur on the inside. "This is much better. Still too hard, but a lot warmer."

"Indeed." He settled down facing her. "Concerning Domi - I do not deny his arrogance, and I do not defend his violence toward you. But he is, nevertheless, an effective leader. He is brave and strong, not negligible qualities in this environment. He was willing to accept us in spite of our strangeness..."

"Because Aga made him!"

"Not after I had recovered. Then it was his decision. And his people respect him. They wanted him to defeat me."

"Maybe because they were afraid of you."

"Not entirely. I believe that even his arrogance is a part of his effectiveness. He desires leadership as I do not, and never have." He paused. "In some ways he is like the captain."

Christine lifted her head and peered at him incredulously. "Oh, come on! James Kirk is not a sexist bully." She thought for a minute, and then laughed. "At least not the way Domi is."

"I did not say that he was. I merely observed that Domi has certain qualities which suit him to lead his tribe, just as the captain has certain qualities which suit him to command the Enterprise. I do not covet either role."

"Mm. You're right, I guess." Christine was getting sleepy. "You usually are. It's an irritating habit."

"I shall endeavor to be wrong more often in the future," said Spock, absolutely deadpan, and she grinned with delight in the darkness.

"Was that a joke?"

"A joke, Christine? Vulcans..."

" not make jokes. I know." She restrained her desire to reach out and hug him. "Good night, Spock. Kiiva."

"Kiiva, Christine."

* * *

"I wish to talk with you, Spock." Spock looked up in surprise. He was sitting near the mouth of the cave, attempting to make a pair of leggings out of a strip cut from the edge of a bedskin. The experiment was not entirely successful, nor were Christine's efforts to make him a bone needle. "Send your woman away. This is not for her to hear." Domi looked down at them unsmilingly.

Spock glanced at Christine. Her mouth had tightened. "Christine, if you do not object, I would like to hear what Domi has to say."

"Of course I object! He's talking about me in the third person. I'll leave all right, but mostly because I like his company even less than he likes mine." She scooped up her supplies and went over to the other side of the cave.

Domi sat down in her place. "Why do you accept such insolence from your wife?" he asked curiously.

They had spoken in English, but Spock realized that Christine's tone and expression had been unmistakable. "She is not my wife." He didn't expect Domi to believe him, and he was right.

"She is your wife," replied Domi impatiently. "What else can she be?"

"She is..." He didn't know the words. "She does not belong to me. She belongs to herself."

"All women of the Domii belong to their men. You should train her better." He dismissed the subject. "She is not important." He looked searchingly at Spock. "I am the leader of the Domii. I defended my leadership against you, and won."

"You are, and you did."

"No." Domi abruptly slapped his hand on his knee. "No. I am not stupid, Spock. Yesterday, in the pride of my victory, I was content, but now I have had time to think. You did not try to win."

"Why do you think that?"

"Do not deny it. To trick me was to rob me of my honor. To speak falsely to me would be worse. Do you deny it?"


"Then why did you do such a thing? I will challenge you again, but first I must know why."

Spock searched his mind for the Domin words which would explain it. He was sorry that Domi had guessed what he had done, but it also confirmed the correctness of his decision. Domi was indeed a capable leader. He said, "Your name, Domi, is almost the same as the name of your people."

"My father was leader before me. He hoped I would follow him. He gave me that name."

"And it is a good name. It tells what you are, what you must be."

"Never before has there been any man of the tribe who could defeat me. I will fight you again, Spock, and I will win, or I am not worthy of my position or my name."

"That is..." Spock realized in frustration that there was no word corresponding to 'illogical.' "You are wrong."

"The leader must be the strongest man of the tribe. If you are strongest..."

"I do not wish to be the leader. If I could defeat you in a challenge, I would still not wish to be the leader."

"But if you are stronger..."

"Domi, it is important for the leader to be strong. But in his mind and..." He searched. No word for 'character.' "...his... spirit, not only his body. I could not lead the Domii as you do."

"Do you refuse my challenge?"

"Yes. Your people need you as their leader. If I let you defeat me, it was because I am not stronger in the ways which are important for them. What are the duties of the leader?"

Spock noticed that the answer came without hesitation. Domi had thought of this before. "To choose the places and seasons of the great hunts. To protect any of the tribe who are in danger. To... judge and decide disputes, or see them settled by challenge. To keep order in the cave, choose places, divide the food in the winter. To listen to the words of the Adar Doma when she speaks of healing or the spirits." Domi didn't sound pleased by that task. "To teach the young boys the ways of the hunt..."

"I could not do those things as you can."

"No." Domi seemed surprised. "You could not." He frowned. "But to refuse the challenge denies me my honor."

"Your honor lies in leading your tribe well. The challenge proves nothing." Spock looked at him steadily. "You have said that Christine - Kista - and I are Domii. As Domii, we accept your leadership." In fact, he was not at all sure about Christine, but he thought it permissible to stretch the point. "Is that not enough?"

"I do not know. Where do you come from, Spock? You are not like the Domii."

"From far away, where there are others like us." It wasn't a good answer, but the truth was not allowable, nor would Domi have believed it.

"From very far away. I wish that you had not come here. You are strange, Spock. Your words are strange, your woman is strange, and I do not understand you." Domi stood up. "But I will not press the challenge. I would like to defeat you in the proper way... but I will think of what you have said." He turned and left. After a moment, Spock picked up his clumsy sewing again.

When Christine was sure that Domi wasn't coming back, she rejoined Spock. "What was that about?" she asked. "Or is it something that women aren't allowed to know?"

"Domi believes that I should train you better. He says that you are insolent."

"Oh he does, does he? Good." Spock raised an inquiring eyebrow at her. "As long as Domi disapproves of me, I know who I am," she explained. "I know I've been saying all along that we should adapt - but I don't want to turn into a Domii woman." She rubbed the healing tribal mark on her arm. "Lieutenant-Commander Christine Chapel, M.D., TL-394687-MC. I don't want to lose that identity, Commander Spock."

"I see. So far you seem in little danger of it."

"I should hope not. But there are some things..." She broke off abruptly. Of course there were, but she wasn't fool enough to talk about them. What was she going to say to Spock? That she wanted nothing more than to be back on the Enterprise with her job and her friends, but that there were moments when she enjoyed having him to herself? That the assumption that she was his property was infuriating, but that there was a faint, shameful tingle of pleasure whenever she was called his wife? That her aching bones longed for a mattress and pillow, but that she liked feeling the warmth of his body near her, even though she was careful to touch him as little as possible? No. She was a bit ashamed of feeling those things; she certainly wasn't going to discuss them. Spock was looking at her curiously. "Was my behavior all Domi was worried about?" she asked, changing the subject quickly.

"No. He had realized that I allowed him to win the challenge."

"He did? I didn't think he was that bright."

"And I still feel that you are underestimating him. He accepted my explanation of the matter, which is significant in itself." He pulled on the thin strip of leather which he was using to lace the leggings, and it broke. He stared at it, looking almost exasperated.

"I've made you a better needle," said Christine sympathetically. "Try this." She pulled out another strip and threaded it for him. "Spock..."

"Yes?" He was concentrating.

"What are the chances of our being rescued? I'm sure you know them."

He put down the needle. "I have estimated... I should say approximately 49.87%."

"Half. That's not bad."

"That is, of course, taking into account the time since our disappearance, our possible location, the efforts of Starfleet Command, and the temperament of Captain Kirk."

"Of course. Don't pull that too tight, or it'll break again."

"You realize," said Spock dispassionately, "that the odds I have quoted leave us with a significant chance of remaining here for the rest of our lives."

"About fifty percent. If I think about it too much... Like I said, I don't want to forget who I am. I'd rather concentrate on the chances of being rescued than the chances of being stuck here."

"You prefer optimism to realism?"

Christine sighed. "To a certain extent, yes. Most of the time. When I'm not too depressed."

"A very human reaction."

"Which means that it's illogical?"

"Perhaps. You have always displayed a certain... emotional tenacity about what you wish to believe." His voice was neutral.

Christine raised her head from the bone tools in her lap. "You noticed? I've got a stubborn streak, Spock." She looked into his eyes for a moment, and then away. "But then so do you. Anyway, I really do think that we'll be found. Jim Kirk's another stubborn human. And he'll be looking for us. Now let's see those leggings."

"They are finished, I believe." He loosened the lacings, and pulled one on cautiously.

"It fits!"

"So it does."

"Good. I want a pair too. Until the Enterprise gets here, I might as well be warm."

Chapter Text

Kirk surveyed the long printout which Uhura had just handed him. They had picked up the scientists, recorded the Theta Tau nova, dropped their passengers off at Starbase XI, and immediately received orders to patrol the Romulan Neutral Zone for two months. The only advantage to the routine assignment was that it left plenty of time for research.

"That's all of it, sir," Uhura said. "It took some... persuasion. The records are theoretically confidential."

"Are they?" Kirk grinned. "Thanks, Uhura. If you had to bribe someone at Wrigley's Space Control, I don't know a thing about it. And if you'll put in a voucher for miscellaneous expenses, I'll approve it right away."

"Thank you. Captain. The listings of all the arrivals and departures weren't too hard to get. We have them now for seventy-two hours after Spock and Chris were last seen. But we also have a complete recording of communications between the controllers and the ships, and all the registration information, passenger lists, and cargo manifests on them." She hesitated. "There are over a thousand ships listed, sir."

"Then the sooner we get to work, the better." He turned to the science station. "Mr. Chekov?"


"Feed all the data through the library computer and check it for anything at all that looks unusual."

"Aye, sir. Captain, what is Starfleet Command doing about this?"

"Ah, Starfleet Command." Kirk's mouth twitched. "They've been notified... The bureaucrats are being coy, and I wish I knew why. The official response is that they are 'concerned' by the disappearances of Commander Spock and Dr. Chapel. They will 'take appropriate action.' I put in an urgent request to have the Enterprise assigned full time to the search. They feel that is 'unnecessary.' Appropriate action, in their view, consists of a standard stargram to their families, issuing a missing persons bulletin on them, stopping their pay, since they're technically AWOL, and making some genteel inquiries. I'm hoping we can do a little better than that."

"Aye, sir."

* * *

Christine gripped the hammerstone tightly and struck. The stone hit her thumb. "Oh... shit!" she said, dropping it and putting her thumb in her mouth.

Spock looked up. "It is fortunate that your clumsiness as a toolmaker does not extend to your abilities as a physician."

"Who are you to talk? That first pair of leggings you made fell to pieces after an hour. Why don't you work on this piece while I ask Bira for help?" Spock was also learning toolmaking, despite Bira's refusal to teach him. Christine handed him the flint and stood.

Bira was in her usual place by the fire, nursing Ami, while Mara played on the floor with a pile of sticks.

Christine's heart sank slightly when she saw that Domi was there too, but she couldn't always avoid him. She made the permission sign distastefully and asked, "May I speak to Bira? I still cannot make a nipa."

Domi looked tolerant. "You must practice. Speak, if you wish. Bira, I will be outside." He touched Bira's nose and smiled at her before strolling off.

"Show me," said Bira, when Christine had explained her problem. Christine demonstrated. "No, Kista. You are still holding the hammerstone too tight. Do not grip it and strike with it; hold it loosely, loosely, and let it fall with its own weight."

"Can you show me again?"

Bira detached Ami, who was almost asleep, and laid him next to her. "Like this." Christine tried again. "Yes. Much better."

"It looks easy when you do it."

"For me it is easy. No... not always easy, but it is as if I can see the shape I want in the stone. You cannot see it?"

"Not at all."

Bira looked shy. "I have made other things. Would you like to see them?"

"Very much."

Bira rummaged, and produced a group of wrapped objects. To Christine's astonishment, they proved to be a whole series of lively little figurines in stone, wood, and bone. Women, men, children, animals... She turned them over and over, and examined them one by one. "These are wonderful, Bira! Even better than the designs you put on the tools." The carving was primitive, but Bira's eye for line and form was true and direct. The stylized expressions were charming, and Christine smiled in delight at a pouting baby figure.

"They are for the festivals," explained Bira, "and for luck, and for the spirits to inhabit. I am glad that you like them. I will give you one."

"Thank you." Christine knew that this obligated her to give a return gift; she would have to think of something. "Don't you need them all?"

"No. Aga and Domi say that I make too many. I will give you the baby. If you hide it in the bedskins, it will help your mate to give you a child."

"Bira, he is not..." Christine gave up in exasperation. She knew already that it was no use. "Thank you. Why do Aga and Domi say that you make too many? You are good at it."

"I have already made more than are needed. Domi says, 'What is the use?' My mother says 'Learn the herbs and barks, that is your duty.'" Ami whimpered, and Bira automatically picked him up and started nursing him again.

Christine sighed. "Bira... has anyone ever asked you what you want to do?"

"Kista?" Bira looked puzzled. "My task is to serve my mate and children."

"To serve..." Christine bit her tongue. This was Bira's culture. The Prime Directive, she reminded herself. Just because she thought it was unfair... But damn it, Bira was talented.

"To serve my husband and children is a pleasure," said Bira wonderingly. "I am luckier than many women. I love Domi. Do you love your mate?"

Christine looked at the fire. She supposed she deserved that. If she asked Bira personal questions, Bira had the right to reciprocate. "Yes," she said quietly.

"Domi says that you are not respectful toward him."

"Well..." Christine grinned. "There are different kinds of respect."

Bira put Ami down again. "Kista, you must keep practicing with the hammerstone." She leaned forward. "Hold it gently... Yes..." Suddenly, urgently, she said, "To serve my husband and my children is both duty and pleasure, but... Kista, I do not want to be Adar Doma. Domi does not wish it either, but my mother says I must, and she is right. The daughter always succeeds the mother, and the tribe cannot be without a healer."

"Why can't your mother train someone else in your place?"

"No. It is my task, my place." Bira had lost her usual placidity. "I should not speak of this, but you... you ask what I want to do..."

"Bira..." Christine was at a loss. She had no right to interfere with Domii traditions even if she could. "I'm sorry. I wish you did not have to do it."

"Quiet. My mother is coming." Bira swept up the figurines and hid them.

"My daughter. Kista." Aga greeted them and sat down stiffly, giving a slight grunt of discomfort when Mara jumped into her lap. Christine mentally diagnosed arthritis, made worse by the winter chill. "Careful, child," said Aga affectionately. "Show respect to the Adar Doma. Are you my granddaughter, or a bad spirit with her shape?"

Mara giggled and squirmed. "A bad spirit, a bad spirit!"

Domii children of both sexes were treated indulgently until puberty, when the rigidity of tribal tradition clamped down on them. Mara continued to use Aga as a climbing pole as Aga looked at Bira. "There are three children already with the winter sickness. We must gather more fallu bark." Bira made an unwilling motion of assent, but did not look at her mother. "You will gather and prepare it by yourself," said Aga firmly. "You know the way; it is time that you used it." Bira, cuddling Ami, did not reply. "It is your duty. I am old, and the tribe must have a healer. Do you hear me, Bira? Even Domi knows it."

"No!" Bira's head jerked up in sudden defiance. "Why must I? Kista says that you could train someone else in my place."

"You are my daughter. There is no other. Kista is ignorant and foolish." Aga looked at Christine with more wonder than anger. "What have you said to Bira, that she talks this way?"

Christine wished that she had kept her mouth shut. "Aga, it was not my place to speak. Your ways are wise. But..." She couldn't quite let it go. "Bira is a..." There seemed to be no word for artist. "A maker of beautiful things. That should be her task. Is there no one who wishes to be a healer, who could do that task instead?"

"Everyone in the tribe has their duty. How can it be otherwise?"

"But if they could choose what they do best..."

"Their duty is their duty." Aga sounded more inflexible than Christine had ever heard her. "Bira, gather and prepare the bark. Kista, you will be silent. You have some knowledge of healing, but sometimes you are even more stupid than Domi."

Christine watched Aga walk stiffly away. Definitely arthritis. She sighed. Bira, eyes downcast, was pulling on leggings and tying double layers of ingba hide around her feet. "Would you like it if I came with you, Bira, or do you want me to go away?"

"Come, Kista. I am not angry with you. We were both equally foolish to question the traditions."

Traditions. Christine thought about it as they stripped bark from the bare twigs. It was very cold, even though the sun was bright. Even the layers of fur Bira had loaned her didn't keep her warm. She stamped her feet, making Bira laugh. Still, it was good to working outside in the fresh air. The cave was stuffy, claustrophobic, smelly, and Christine had hardly been out of it in weeks except to use the women's toilet pit.

Traditions... You will do what I do, simply because you are my daughter... There was a familiar ring to the concept, and it gave Christine an idea.

* * *

"Spock, I want you to talk to Bira." She had decided that a blunt approach would be best.

Spock's eyebrow climbed. "Do you have a reason for this request, or are you merely suggesting general conversation?"

"Oh, I have a reason, but I don't know if you'll agree with it. I don't even know if I agree with it, so maybe I'd better forget the whole thing."

"You are expressing yourself somewhat incoherently."

"I know. Aga told me this morning that I'm stupid; maybe she's right." She frowned. "Bira doesn't want to be Adar Doma, and Aga insists that she has to be, because she's Aga's daughter."

"You have explained this before," he said patiently. "What is it that you wish me to say to her?"

"Does anything about that situation sound familiar to you?"

"Should it?" His voice was cool.

"Don't be difficult, Spock. I never had that kind of problem with my parents. Other problems, yes, but not that one. I know that you did."

"My personal affairs are not..."

"Are, on occasion, the business of the medical staff of the Enterprise!" She stopped. She hadn't intended to start arguing with him. "Please... let's sit down. I'd really like some advice."

"Very well, Doctor."

She noted the offended retreat into formality. Usually, now, he called her Christine. He looked at her gravely. "It's not just that it's unfair," she explained. "Bira just doesn't have... I know this is an illogical way to put it, but medicine here is as much a matter of feel as of knowledge."

"I would not deny that. I observed it in Aga."

"Bira doesn't have that... instinct. Domi hasn't helped. He's so insecure that he doesn't want his meek, adoring wife to have that kind of power."

"I said that he was a good leader, not a perfect one," agreed Spock.

"The three of them are making a real mess of the situation," said Christine, "not only for themselves, but for the tribe. The last thing the Domii need is an incompetent healer. Maybe if you talked to Bira about doing what she needs to do rather than what's expected of her, and I talk to Aga about... No, I guess Aga won't listen to me."

"In any case, the Prime Directive..."

"Oh, to hell with the Prime Directive!"


"Listen, I've been lecturing myself about the Prime Directive for weeks. But we're not coming down here with phasers and food synthesizers and body scanners and changing their way of life. All we'd be doing is talking."

"Ideas are the most potent force in the universe, Christine. We have no right to interfere."


"You are allowing yourself to become too emotionally involved in this."

"Maybe. You know... at first they were just 'the Domii.' A tribe. Hunter-gatherers. Like lots of primitive civilizations the Enterprise has encountered, and left alone. Now, they're people, with personalities and real, individual problems. It makes a difference."

"I am aware of it. But we still have no right to interfere."

* * *

As the weeks went by, Aga ceded more and more of her responsibilities to Bira. Bira went about them grimly. Christine helped, and learned, when and where she could, but she kept quiet about it. She was just a visitor here. Spock was right, but it seemed easier for him to stay detached than it was for her. In part, she supposed, it was her natural, human reaction to the boredom of this life. But when the days were at their shortest, and the nights seemed interminable, the cave took on an air of expectancy.

"It is time for the Festival of Darkness," said Aga, who had been watching the sky. "Now the season will begin to grow toward the light and the warmth."

Extra stores of meat and roots were brought out, and Bira's figurines were set carefully around the fire. "The winter solstice," said Spock thoughtfully. He, too had been taking astronomical observations.

"Saturnalia, Yule, Christmas, New Year," agreed Christine. "Rashashi on Rigel XII, Torgut on Tellar... Look, Tomi has a drum."

She went to help the other women, who were turning the meat over the flames. The dripping fat flared up brightly,

charring the outside of the ingba haunches. The meat was fresh, not dried or smoked, a rare treat in the winter. It had been hidden, frozen, in a deep cache in the rocks since the first snow had fallen. Christine preferred not to think about the time it had spent unrefrigerated before that. When it was done, she returned to Spock with their portions, shifting the leaf-wrapped bundles quickly from hand to hand. "Ow, this is hot."

Aga gave a high-pitched, wavering cry, and everyone slowly settled down. Tomi came forward with the drum, and began a fast, complicated beat. The air of expectancy increased. Aga started to sing. Her voice quavered up and down wordlessly. "Aayowoouii," she sang, and the watchers clapped, stamped, and echoed her.

The tonal qualities were odd to a human ear, but after a few minutes Christine joined in. "Why not?" she said, at Spock's amazed look. This was the first music she had heard from the Domii, and the nearest thing to a party she'd seen.

Spock tried to analyze the scale used in the singing, and thought with regret of his harp, stolen by the Orions.

"Hilii taa, hilii taa," sang Christine cheerfully beside him.

She was, he noted, slightly off-key. "Hilii taa," he corrected her. "You are at least a quarter-tone flat."

"You can tell? Everything about this sounds flat or sharp or just plain off to me."

Spock sang the next set of responses, following the pattern of the music carefully. After a moment Christine started to sing again, and he stopped, self-conscious, when he saw her smile. "You are still flat," he told her.

"And I still don't see how you can tell." Some of the younger children had started a disorganized dance, and they spilled over Christine and Spock, shouting gleefully. Christine laughed, and got up. "There's more than one course to this meal. I'll be right back."

She returned with two round blue globes, hot and wrinkled. "These are special, I gather. Sindiin." She blew on hers to cool it.

Spock, better able to stand hot food, took a bite. "It is sweet," he said. Another bite. "It is, in fact, quite delicious."

"Ouch. Too hot for me. I'll have to wait." She looked toward the mouth of the cave, half blocked by brush and hide screens. "If you want it, you eat mine. There are lots more, they've been saved for this festival."

The singing stopped, and Christine wandered over to talk to Aga. Spock looked around the cave at the noisy, convivial scene. The Domii were indeed very human, he reflected wearily. He felt uncomfortably out of place, a feeling familiar to him from innumerable Starfleet receptions and dinner parties. In this case, he noted, the feeling was intensified by Christine's absence. He was pondering that when he became aware of a shy presence by his side.

Bira knelt next to Spock and made the permission sign, waiting for him to notice her. She was used to Kista now, but Spock's ugliness still frightened her. It was only a little better now that he had more hair, and a decent beard. She had been sure at first that he and Kista were monsters. Now she knew that they were not, but still... He was returning the sign. She could speak. "Domi told me to bring you another sindiin."

"Thank you, but I do not need more."

"Please." She held it out. "It is an honor."

"Then I accept. Thank you."

Bira hesitated, torn between fear, worry, and curiosity. "Spock..."


"You and Kista say such strange things. Kista to me, you to Domi; he has told me. Domi respects you. He says that I may ask you..." She looked down. It was easier to speak to Spock if she didn't look at him. "Should I defy my mother? Such a thing is not done, but I do not wish to be Adar Doma. Domi says I need not be, but he is afraid, and I do not like it when Domi is afraid. Aga says that I must be Adar Doma after her or there will be evil and sickness. I do not know what to do."

"Nor do I, Bira. I cannot tell you what to do. Neither can Aga and Domi. You must decide."

"I must decide? I cannot do that!" Her fear intensified, and she scrambled to her feet.

"Bira. Wait." Trained to respond to male authority, she unwillingly sank down again. "You have a duty to your mother, you have a duty to your tribe, and you have a duty to yourself."

"To myself? I am not a duty."

"You have a right to think of yourself." He paused. "If there is no other to be the healer, then you must do it, but if you can find another, then you can follow your duty to yourself. But only you know where that lies. I cannot help you further."

"I... I do not know." Bira was on the edge of tears.

"To choose one's own life is a frightening thing," said Spock. She still would not look at him, but his voice was gentler.

"I choose..." Bira peeked at him. "I choose to think about choosing." She let out a breath. "I will tell Aga and Domi so." She pulled a figurine from her robe. "This is for you. It is the aluoo, called by the Adar Doma for wisdom."

She thought that she heard Spock sigh as he looked at the carved bird. "It is not my wisdom that can help you, Bira. You must find your own. But the aluoo is well carved, and I am pleased to have it."

When Christine came back, Spock was turning the bird figure over and over in his hands. She watched his long fingers for a moment. "I saw you talking to Bira."

"I told her that she must make her own choices. I too have interfered."

"You interfered in a way when you let Domi beat you. We can't be part of this culture without interfering, Spock."

"We are not part of this culture," he reminded her.

"Just passing through? It gets hard to remember, sometimes. Have you thought about our families? They must think we're dead. Do you suppose they got those stargrams: 'It is with deep sorrow that we inform you...'"

"We would only be listed as missing, Christine."

"I know. I just... This festival... Everyone laughing and singing... I'm enjoying it, and that makes me homesick. I miss my family. Stupid..." She shook her head. "I hardly ever got to see them even when I was on the Enterprise." Aga had begun another song, and Domi joined her, singing in counterpoint. The smoke from the fire curled up toward the chimney. "Does Vulcan have any kind of winter festival?"

"Of a sort. It is observed with considerably more dignity."

"I daresay." Christine reached for a sindiin. "These are good. My family is Christian, you know. It's not that important to me; I've never been devout, but maybe that's why this..." She gestured at the falling snow outside the cave and the firelight within. "I want to put up a Christmas tree."

"An evergreen tree is not, strictly speaking, a Christian symbol," Spock reminded her.

Christine grinned. "Of course not. Who ever said that human customs are logical? Shh, let's listen to Aga."

Aga was half telling, half singing a story. "...and Sheta, the evil spirit of darkness, was jealous. She poisoned the darkness. Each night when the sun went down into the darkness, Maati drank in the poison. He grew weaker and weaker, and he had less and less light to shed on his people. The world grew cold. But Sheta's sister Ala saw this, and she had pity on the cold, dying world and the weakness of Maati. She took his spirit into her and nourished him, that he might be reborn..."

"Fascinating," said Spock softly.

"The dying-rising god theme? There's hardly a religion without it, at least on planets that have seasons. Is it evidence of a basic similarity in humanoid brain patterns, or a glimpse of a higher truth? Who knows? Damn, I'm homesick!" She drew up her knees and rested her cheek on them. "It's probably all just comforting myth, but I miss my own particular myth." She sensed that Spock was uncomfortable. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to inflict this on you. First Bira, now me. Everyone wants to tell you their troubles tonight." Looking into the fire, she began to sing very softly, "Hark, the herald angels sing..."

She stopped midway through the second verse, when she became aware that she was attracting attention. "I did not know that you could sing, Kista," said Aga. "Is that what you were doing? The sound..."

Christine felt foolish. "I did not mean for you to hear me. My singing is not good."

"You were flat again," supplied Spock helpfully in English.

Christine gave him an annoyed look. "It is a song of a winter story of my people," she explained. "The festival reminded me of it." A crowd was slowly gathering, and she was self-conscious.

"Your people have stories? Sing it again," commanded Domi, "and tell us the story in real speech."

Christine made the permission sign and said in English, "You could say please." She switched to Domin. "There was a man named Joseph... um... Josi... once, and he had a wife named... um... Mara."

"Like me?" squealed Mara from Domi's lap.

"Yes, like you," Christine agreed, stifling a smile.

"Christine," said Spock in English. "Is this wise?"

"It's only a story. I'm not trying to convert them, I'm no missionary." Her cheeks were pink. "Besides, it's fun. There's not much that's fun around here." Spock shook his head dubiously. "... and they went from the place where they lived to the place where... uh, Josi had been born..."

Her translating efforts broke down in confusion over the carols, so she taught them phonetically. "Haak ta hald andel siin?" said Aga, astonished. "That is nonsense!" Christine laughed, and Tomi beat the drum faster. She taught them 'Joy to the World' and 'Adeste Fideles' and 'Silent Night,' and Aga, relenting, taught her three Domin chants and the story of Maati the sun spirit.

* * *

The weeks after the festival drifted by slowly. The situation between Bira, Domi, and Aga stayed the same, but Christine and Spock stayed out of it. In gift exchange for the figurines, Christine had given Bira the tattered remains of her blue silk dress, feeling guilty at the inadequacy of it. Bira, however, was delighted. She had never seen or felt anything like it. They continued the tool-making lessons, and Christine tried to pass them on to Spock, whose long fingers were deft at it. He took care not to practice where he would be seen and incur disapproval. It was easy enough. The Domii avoided him for the most part, somehow sensing that he was more fundamentally alien than Christine.

One afternoon she returned from talking to Bira with a triumphant smile. "Look at this, Spock! Be careful, it's sharp." She held out a simple knife. He examined it, brushing his hair out of his eyes. "It's the first good one."

Spock tested the edge with his finger. "Indeed. My congratulations. I presume that you made it?"

"I certainly did. Bira says that it's as good as the ones that Kana and Nida make. Not as good as hers, of course." She looked at him speculatively. "How would you like a haircut?"

"A haircut?" He raised his head, and automatically pushed his hair back again.

"You must do that a hundred times a day. Isn't it driving you crazy? Unless you intend to grow it long and braid it like mine - I wonder what you'd look like in braids?"

"I have no desire to find out. It is somewhat inconvenient at this length. Your suggestion has merit."

"All right, then, sit very still." She knelt beside him. "Since doctors were originally barbers - or was it the other way around? - this is appropriate." She held out a lock of black hair and brought the knife across it. "It works! "

Spock gave a slight grimace. "Unquestionably. The process is, however, not without pain."

"Sorry. I'll concentrate on the bangs; the rest doesn't matter so much." She fell silent, concentrating, aware, as always in the back of her mind, that she enjoyed touching him. It wasn't something that she could lie to herself about, but it made her all the more careful to keep the touch light and impersonal. She assumed that he knew it, but that his telepathic shields were strong enough to filter it out. He had always avoided being touched, but no more by her than by anyone else. That was a compliment to her professionalism, she supposed. Even now, when it was dirty and matted, his hair retained its silky texture. "There. At least it will stay out of your eyes now."

Spock shook his head experimentally. "A great improvement," he agreed.

"I even think that it looks better, but it's probably a good thing you can't see yourself in a mirror. Now what about your beard?"

"You are not proposing that I attempt to shave with a stone knife?"

"No, but if I trim it you'll look less like Rasputin in one of his madder moods." She went back to work, and he winced. "Pain is a thing of the mind, Spock, remember? Don't move... All right. Much better." She brushed her hand through his hair to get out the last of the clippings and frowned, wrinkling her nose. Sitting back on her heels, she swept the clippings aside and sighed. Spock looked at her curiously. "Lye and animal fat," she said after a moment.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Soap, Spock. Soap can be made from lye and animal fat. I think. Have you ever been to those living museums on Earth - I don't know, maybe they have them on Vulcan, too - where they demonstrate how people lived in the fifteenth century, or the nineteenth, or the twenty-first? They made candles, and wove cloth, and they made their own soap, in kettles."

"Not in the twenty-first century, Christine."

"Well, no, I guess not, but earlier they did. Spock, do you know something? I smell, and I'm sick of it. How long since we were on Wrigley's? I've lost count."

"161 days."

"Then my hair hasn't been washed in... let's see... over five months. I wouldn't have believed that was possible."

"A high regard for personal cleanliness is lacking in this culture. Lye and animal fat?" He looked thoughtful.

"You're not going to argue with me about the Prime Directive?"

"Not in this case. The contamination is minor."

"Good, because I wasn't going to listen." Christine grinned. "As a matter of fact, Commander Spock, sir, you stink even worse than I do."

"I am not unaware of it."

"Well as long as we're sleeping together..." She stopped. Why couldn't she learn to keep her mouth shut?

Spock, however, had an expression of severely restrained Vulcan amusement. "Agreed. Given the alternatives, it would be preferable to be both warm and odor-free. I seem to recall that lye can be obtained from wood ashes."

"Let's find out."

* * *

"This batch looks better," said Christine several days later. She stirred it again, and Spock helped her ease the cured, waterproof hide bag off the fire. The smell of the lye was so strong that her eyes were watering.

Bira, watching, said impatiently, "Kista, there is nothing wrong with your smell, or the smell of the cave. The only bad smell here comes from this... sop... you are making."

"I know. I'm sorry, Bira."

"All the food is tasting of it!"

"I think we are finished. I hope we are."

They had thrown out a half-dozen batches already, trying to figure out the proportions. Christine's face was black with soot, and Spock had a burn from the lye on one arm. "It must cool and harden now," he said.

"If this batch doesn't work, I'm about ready to give up. My efforts to clean us up have left us dirtier than ever."

"It is because you have no fur," said Domi disapprovingly.

Christine automatically touched lips and forehead. The gesture no longer bothered her so much, she realized ruefully. She had gotten used to it. "If we could grow fur, Domi, believe me, we would."

When the soap had congealed into a solid brown mass, Spock broke off a piece with a knife. Bira had helped Christine make a stone bowl, which was filled with water. He dipped the soap in the water and rubbed cautiously, then harder. "It's lathering!" exclaimed Christine in delight.

Spock scrubbed his hands. "It is. However, I would recommend caution. It has a tendency to remove skin as well as dirt."

She tried it. "I see what you mean. But at least it's strong."

That evening they rigged a screen of hides around their sleeping corner, to the enormous amusement of everyone else in the cave. "If we gave a public bathing demonstration they'd think it was more fun than the Festival of Darkness," grumbled Christine.

"Indeed," agreed Spock.

The Domii had very little sense of privacy; it would have been difficult in the confines of the cave. Christine knew that a good part of her own modesty was for Spock's sake rather than her own or theirs. It was a long, awkward process - while one of them washed, the other kept refilling their one small bowl - but they both went to bed cleaner than they had been for a long time.

* * *

Spring approached gradually, almost imperceptibly. The days slowly lengthened, and sometimes the air was damp, still cold, but softer. It snowed less often, and the men began to venture out to hunt. Food was growing short in the cave, and tempers were on edge. There were challenge fights over trivial matters, and Domi broke up scuffles almost every day. The irritability was increased by hunger, and what Aga called the winter sickness, a form of bronchitis. "It is always this way," she said sadly, after a small baby died. The body was wrapped carefully and laboriously carried to a burial cave further up the mountain.

Aga could no longer move well enough to gather and prepare most of her medicines. She relied on Bira, who increasingly relied on Christine. Christine was actually grateful; it made her feel useful, and staved off the boredom fostered by the cold and darkness.

"A book," she said to Spock. "If only there were something to read. The trashiest novel, the driest technical journal, anything!" She was worried about Spock. He seemed content enough in his way, meditating, and producing a whole range of tools and several bowls, as well as new robes and leggings for both of them. The skins had been, unexpectedly, furnished by Domi. He was the only one in the tribe who actually sought Spock out to talk to him. But the rest of the time, Spock seemed to her to be even more isolated than he had been on the Enterprise. Despite Christine's resolve not to become a Domii woman, she found herself fitting in more and more easily. Spock, more alien than she, could or would not. And he was much too thin. He had never carried any excess weight, but his distaste for the meat-based winter diet had made him gaunt. He gently but firmly deflected her attempts to probe his feelings, and she didn't dare push. Their relationship was slowly, tentatively becoming comfortable, but there were still parts of him that were off-limits.

Chapter Text

When spring finally arrived the claustrophobia and tension in the cave evaporated. Even Spock relaxed as he found ferns and watercress and wild cabbages to supplement his meals. On the first really warm day, Christine was startled to hear a series of wildly cheerful shouts and splashes. Spock lifted an eyebrow, and they put down the wood they had been collecting and followed the noise down to the river.

Everyone was rushing past them, splashing into the stony shallows, laughing, tossing aside their robes and loincloths to romp into the water. Christine would not have expected the Domii to be swimmers, but they obviously loved it. They looked like a herd of seals. Even Aga was floating happily, a little apart from the others. "Kista," she called, and beckoned.

Christine hesitated. "Oh what the hell," she said, and caught a glimpse of Spock's other eyebrow going up. Turning away from him, she took two steps, dropped her robe, and hit the water in a running dive. She nearly came out as fast as she had gone in. She had never felt anything so cold. "Oh my god," she gasped. The air was warm, but the river was fed by the melting mountain snows. She kicked vigorously to keep her blood moving. "Don't try it," she called to Spock, on the bank. "Your system couldn't take the temperature."

"I had no intention of doing so," he replied, still looking mildly shocked.

Christine supposed that it was too much to expect him to enjoy the view. Not that there was anything much to see now that she was in the water. She had always loved swimming naked; it was one of life's most sensuous experiences. Right behind sex and eating, she thought cheerfully. She gave Mara a ride, towing her and then spinning her around in circles, faster and faster, both of them giggling. She couldn't stay in the water long; she was turning blue. As she climbed out, shivering, Spock fixed his eyes firmly on the opposite bank. Christine hid a smile as she pulled on her robe.

* * *

"You moved your net too soon, Kista," said Bira patiently. "The fish could see it coming." They stood knee-deep in the water, holding loosely woven bark nets attached to poles. "You must stay absolutely still until he almost swims into it. Then you scoop him out."

Christine was learning to fish. Women were allowed to fish, but not to hunt, just as men could make clothing, but not tools. None of it made any sense to her, but most of the time it was easier to go along. On the whole, she was glad that she didn't have to hunt; it was unpleasant enough to bash the fishes' heads in with a stone. Still, she needed the fish, or at least enjoyed eating them. Meat was only shared among the tribe in the winter; in the summer, when game was easy to find, each man hunted for his own family. Spock, of course, didn't. She insisted that he supplement his own low-protein vegetable diet with an occasional piece of fish, but while she admired his vegetarianism in theory, she had no real desire to adopt it. His reluctance to hunt was keeping him isolated from the chief source of camaraderie among the men, as well, but then he didn't seem to have her need for friendships either.

"Watch," said Bira quietly, bringing her attention back to her net.

She saw the silver shadow of a fish moving slowly, lazily... It was just about to swim beyond the net. Christine leaned out a little, hoping she would reach it. A second later she landed on her face in the water. "Oh, damn!" she sputtered, getting to her knees and pushing back her dripping hair. "Kri na vaali!" she added, and Bira laughed. One of the advantages of really knowing the language was learning how to curse. "I thought I could lean just a bit farther without falling in."

Bira rolled her eyes mockingly. "And instead you have frightened every fish for a day's walk around. We can go back now; we will catch no more today."

As they came up to the cave mouth, Christine noticed Spock talking to Domi. She pulled up the loosely wrapped hide around her hips. It was almost midsummer, and none of the Domii wore more than a breechcloth. She tended to follow their example except around Spock. She wondered what they were talking about. Domi had a curious respect for Spock; he was the only one of the men who sought Spock's company.

* * *

Domi was looking at Spock intently. He had the idea that if he stared hard enough, he might begin to understand Spock's strangeness. It had taken him a long time to believe that Spock truly did not want to challenge him for leadership. But once he had accepted that, he found an odd comfort in speaking with Spock. He could ask questions, sometimes even admit doubts which he could never share with any of the other men. "Why do you not hunt?" he asked now.

"I do not eat meat."

"In the winter you ate it."

"There was no choice then." Spock's eyebrows drew together slightly. "Now there is. I do not enjoy killing, Domi. All life is worthy of respect."

"Yes," agreed Domi, surprised that Spock would tell him something so obvious. "We respect all the animals that we hunt. They have great virtues."

"I do not wish to cause unnecessary pain."

Domi frowned. "We do not enjoy pain. We hunt to feed the tribe, to feed our women and children. That is our place, as it is the animals' place to be hunted. You should bring food to your mate, or she will not want to stay with you." Privately he considered that Kista would be small loss, but he sensed that Spock valued her.

"She understands." Spock's voice was almost amused.

Domi sighed. "Perhaps. She is your problem. But the "Summer Festival is approaching. In two mornings we will leave to hunt the brikaa for the festival. You must come, Spock." Spock was silent, looking at him. "You must," Domi repeated. "Every man of the Domii is needed for the brikaa hunt."

"That cannot be true. If you had not found me..."

"You would be dead!" Domi's patience was wearing out. "I have had great patience with you, Spock. I have seen that you insult our ways. You make tools..." At Spock's lifted eyebrow, he said, "Did you think I did not know? I am the leader; it is my task to know. Your mate is too insolent for a woman. She speaks to you without permission, and you allow it. You refuse to hunt. I have permitted these things because at times I like speaking with you. But about this there is no question. You are Domii, and you will hunt the brikaa. It is your duty."

There was a long silence. Domi wondered uneasily what he would do if Spock refused. Spock raised his head. "I will hunt the brikaa," he agreed quietly.

Domi was relieved. "To hunt with the other men is a good thing. It makes closeness in the tribe. You will see."

* * *

Spock moved silently through the waist-high grass, spear in hand. The brika herd, about sixty animals, was upwind of him. Brikaa were, as he had learned and could now see, giant wild cattle, too large and dangerous to be hunted except by a group. His head would come only to their shoulders, and he estimated the average horn span to be 2.3 meters. His job, and that of the dozen hunters near him, was to creep up to the herd and cut out one animal, stampeding it away from the others to where Domi and the rest of the men waited to cut it down. The danger was that the whole herd would panic and trample them.

Spock shifted his spear to the other side. Christine had made the point, and he had bound it on a sturdy shaft, but he felt awkward carrying it. Rali, on his right, and Muti, on his left, moved closer to him.

"There," said Rali softly. "The one with the white patch on her flank." Muti gestured agreement. "Pass it on down the line," said Rali. He looked at Spock, apparently sensing his curiosity. "A female with no calf is the best,"

he explained. "The bulls and the females with young are too unpredictable." He smiled. "Do you remember what I showed you about the spear?"

"To grip tightly with this hand, guide it loosely with the other, and step into the thrust with the opposite foot," repeated Spock dutifully for the twentieth time. His participation in the hunt, reluctant though it was, had broken a barrier. The men were suddenly willing, even eager, to talk to him, to show techniques, discuss tactics, explain customs. The preparation, and now the hunt itself, created a palpable sense of unity among the Domii, a bond which for some reason they wanted him to join. It was more akin to human companionship than to Vulcan loyalty, but Spock admitted the value of it. It seemed that his years among humans had given him a taste for this sort of teamwork.

"Brave hunting, Spock," said Rali, before turning away.

"Good hunting, Rali," Spock replied, realizing that he meant it.

The group moved forward, crouching in the grass, to where the female grazed, a dozen meters away from the other brikaa. They crept to within ten meters of her before she raised her head and snorted uneasily. Rali gave the signal, jumping to his feet with a shrill scream, charging between her and the rest of the herd. Spock ran beside Rali, keeping up in spite of his limp, knowing what he must do.

The brika veered in panic, trying to reach the other animals, but Rali and Spock were there, thrusting with their spears, forcing her in the opposite direction. Spock's spear struck deep in her side and was almost torn from his hands. The brika swept past him, and Rail's spear entered her chest. She bellowed and turned back on Spock, but Rali knocked him clear of her hooves and horns, and the other men drove her off over the plain.

Spock disentangled himself from Rali and they pursued the brika, already bleeding and tiring, into the shallow dip in the ground where she would be trapped. Domi and his group had blocked the far side, and as she turned the first group of hunters closed in behind her. She screamed in fear and pain, but there were too many spears, some thrown, most thrust, entering her body from all sides.

* * *

When the brika was dead, Domi threw back his head and called out, a long piercing cry. It was the signal to the women that the hunt was finished, and in a few minutes they began to stream into the dell, carrying the tools needed to butcher the kill and drag it back to their makeshift camp. This grassy plain was several days journey down river from the cave, but everyone except the very old had made the trip. Aga had stayed behind, so Bira now stepped forward and thanked the spirit of the dead brika, asking its blessing on the tribe.

Christine, standing back a little and watching, held Bira's bag of herbs and salves. Spock, tall and thin among the furry group of hunters, was pale and impassive as Bira dabbed his forehead and cheeks with the blood of the brika. When she had anointed all the men, the butchering began.

"Are you all right?" Christine asked Spock softly as they worked. It was a messy, tiring task, even for so many. No part of the animal would be wasted. Insects buzzed in clouds, and the very air seemed sticky with blood. Spock didn't answer her, simply continued to work efficiently, his arms red almost to the elbows.

By nightfall, only unusable scraps remained at the kill site for the carnivores. All the rest had been packaged and taken back to the camp, where three fires burned in a triangle to ward off predators. The brikaa hunt was the traditional beginning to the eighteen day Summer Festival during which Maati the sun spirit was at the height of his power. Anticipation and glee were running high. The kill ensured that there would be no need to hunt for the duration of the festival. Everyone could gorge themselves, sing, dance, celebrate the marriages that traditionally took place at this time of year...

Bira had explained all this to Christine during the afternoon. She had seemed especially grateful that there had been no injuries during the hunt. As they wrapped slabs of meat in grass, she confided that she was still terrified by the idea of treating wounds and illness. "I am glad that you are here," she said softly. "Even when you do not know what treatment to use, you do not wish to run away as I sometimes do."

"Bira..." Christine sighed. "I will help you as much as I can."

"Thank you." Bira's mood lightened. "Look, the men are bringing up the last of the carcass. I will be able to use some of the bones for carving." A group was slowly dragging a sledge into the camp with the massive dismembered skeleton on it.

* * *

Christine watched Spock carefully during the evening. He was moving among the men, not joining in, but accepting their laughter and jokes. They seemed... She frowned. He had not lost any of his reserve, but the hunt had changed things. The men seemed to want his approval, to want him to like them. Well. It was a feeling she was familiar with, and she had seen it before, among the crew of the Enterprise.

The evening meal was the entrails of the brika, which would not keep well on the journey home. At the height of the meal, Domi stood up and pulled a large roasted mass from the edge of the fire. Peering, Christine could see that it was the huge eight-chambered heart. To her enormous surprise, he scooped it up and carried it to where they were sitting. "A mark of favor, Spock," he said, ignoring Christine. "The heart of the brika, where its spirit lived, in honor of your first hunt."

Spock bent his head. "You do me honor, Domi."

Domi fumbled at his waist for his knife, dropped the heart to the ground, and slashed off a piece. It was one of the right ventricles; Christine could see the valve. The inside was still raw and bloody. He held it out to Spock. Christine saw the muscles of Spock's jaw tense. The blood dripped on his fingers and down his beard as he took it and ate it. Producing his own knife, he offered a piece to Domi.

"He does well," called Domi, and the other men gathered around as Spock methodically cut up the heart and divided it among them. Christine couldn't read his face in the flickering, firelit darkness.

As the hunters slowly drifted away again, and attention turned elsewhere, she looked at him and started to speak. He shook his head, and she heard a sharply indrawn breath. He got quickly to his feet and vanished from the circle of Domii. She looked after him and wiped her hands on the grass. She would wait a few minutes before going after him.

He was reasonably composed when she found him beside the stream near the camp. She had spoken to Bira and made a weak bark tea. She handed him a drinking horn. "It's good for nausea," she said matter-of-factly, and he drank it without comment. She held out a chunk of their homemade soap. "You'll feel better if you wash."

"I daresay. You need not concern yourself with me. Rejoin the others." His voice was remote.

Christine felt both frustrated and irritated. "Listen to me, Spock. This hasn't been exactly your average day. And don't tell me that you haven't just finished puking into the river, because I know you have."

"Doctor, that is not your affair."

"Oh yes it is. As your physician, I'm telling you that first we're going to go upstream and wash, and then we're going to talk. We've only got one skin for a bedroll, and I'm damned if I'm sharing it with you until you're clean. Don't worry, I won't look." Turning her back, she went several meters upstream and stepped into the water. She didn't look at him, but after a moment she heard the soft splash of his entrance.

* * *

As the camp settled down for the night, Christine lay on her back looking at the sky. It was warm enough that she didn't need covers, but Spock, beside her, had pulled a corner of the skin over himself. "What are you thinking about?" she asked. He didn't answer, and she sighed. "Spock... I'm tired of bullying you."

"I do not understand."

"You're unhappy, and you need to talk about it."

"I am not..."

"And the only way I seem to get through your defense mechanisms, most of the time, is by ordering you, arguing with you... bullying you."


"Spock." Her voice was gentle, and she didn't bother to keep the caring out of it. "I'm here, I like you, I respect you, and I want to help. Why is that so hard for you to accept?"

There was a long silence. "I no longer have the right to call myself Vulcan."

"Because of the hunt?"

"Because I was not more repelled by the hunt. Because I saw it as a good thing. I appreciated the unity, the teamwork... The killing did not disturb me until too late."

"Maybe it was a good thing."

"For the Domii perhaps. Not for me."

"Now who's indulging in childish self-pity?"

"I beg your pardon?" He turned his head sharply toward her.

"That's what you said to me when I told you that I wasn't a doctor here."

"The situations are not..."

"I think they are. Life here isn't what either of us want, but it's what we've got, and we have to make the best of it. I was pretty disgusted by the scene today too..." Her voice trailed off uncomfortably. "But I'm seeing some hypocrisy, in both of us. Are our hands so clean in any case? We're military officers, Spock..." She wasn't sure she wanted to finish the thought.

"And I have killed before, and not only animals." Spock completed it for her.

"Yes. Quickly, cleanly, at a distance, but yes. To the extent that I serve on board the Enterprise, so have I. Does seeing the blood make such a difference?"

"I do not know. I have considered the ethics of my position many times. Is violence ever justifiable? The strictest tenets of Vulcan philosophy would say that it is not."

"Not even when it's logical?"

"Perhaps it is never logical."

"Maybe. In Sickbay we see more of the cost of violence than anyone else."

"And yet you have remained in Starfleet."

"So have you. A Vulcan almost-pacifist on board a starship. I guess... To me, Starfleet seems necessary.

Self-defense is a legitimate right. Anyway, our primary job is scientific and exploratory..."

"A point which I have also considered."

"And I like the work, my friends..." and I love you, she added silently.

"At times I have disagreed with the captain's decisions on the use of force," said Spock quietly. Christine lifted her head, startled. Coming from Spock, that was a revelation. "On some of those occasions, I may have been wrong. On others, I believe that I was right... but I have never been so certain of it as to consider resigning. Loyalty is a factor as well."

They both fell silent. "This has come a long way from one dead brika," said Christine after a few minutes.

"Indeed. I thank you."

"What for? I've only muddled up the issue."

"It is not susceptible to easy resolution. I thank you... for offering your help. For pointing out the illogic of self-pity. I have come to value your perspective."

To her infinite surprise, he put his hand on her shoulder. She wanted to turn her head and kiss it. She didn't. "Any time, Spock. Any time." She paused. "In the winter, you said that our chances of being rescued were about 49%?"

"49.87% at that time."

"What are they now?"

"40.38%," he replied after a moment's thought.



"Damn." Needing comfort, she rested her cheek against his hand, and he let it stay there.

* * *

The intercom buzzed, and McCoy hit the switch. "Sickbay."

"Bones, are you going to be in your office for a while?" Kirk's voice sounded discouraged.

"As long as you want me to be, Jim."

"I'll be down in half an hour."

When Kirk arrived, he tossed a message tape unceremoniously on McCoy's desk. "Here it is. The new crew assignments. I couldn't stall them any longer."

McCoy inserted the tape and scanned the contents. "Commander Davis McGowan, first officer. Lt. Rashid Abdar, weapons officer... Weapons officer?"

"Chekov's science officer. Promotion to full commander."

"Dr. Paul Subramijan, assistant chief medical officer. .. University of Calcutta, Alpha Centauri Medical Institute... speciality, surgery." McCoy looked up, outraged. "I don't need another surgeon! I need an internist with a background in alien physiology. That's what I lost!"

"A surgeon's what you're getting, Bones."

"He probably thinks he's God Almighty. Most young surgeons do. What do you think of your two... McGowan and Abdar?"

"Good records, nothing objectionable... except that they're here."


"Sulu's done a damn fine job as acting first officer. God knows, I don't want Spock replaced; I asked Starfleet to leave it open for a while longer, but why couldn't they at least have given it to Sulu instead of dragging in someone new?"

"'Cause Starfleet Command's pissed at you, Jim."

"It's mutual, Bones. The Wrigley's thing..."

"Priorities. They don't want anything to rock the boat with the Wrigley's Council while they're considering membership. Now that the negotiations are public, we know that the Federation wants Wrigley's more than they want to find Chris and Spock. They don't like you asking embarrassing questions."

"Damn it, I don't even think that the Wrigley's Council had anything to do with it!"

"No, but they're hypersensitive. Once they found out that you were nosing around in their records... Bureaucrats!" McCoy snorted. "All alike. Send me a surgeon I don't need. Never met the guy, but I don't like him."

"I feel the same way. Let's not take it out on them. Not their fault."

The two men fell silent, and then McCoy looked at the chronometer. "We're both off duty now." He walked over to the liquor cabinet. "Join me?"

Kirk nodded. "I told them that in my opinion the ship's functioning was not impaired. I asked them for a little more time." McCoy handed him his drink. "This means that when we find them - and we're going to - their jobs on the Enterprise will be filled."

McCoy looked at him sideways. "Still sure we're going to find them, Jim?"

"Yes." But there was more defiance than certainty in it, McCoy thought. "It's a matter of patience, elimination. We'll find out what happened to them."

McCoy held his peace. 'What happened?' That had been a slip. It was the first time that Jim had admitted that the end of their search might not be a success. He changed the subject. "I'm glad they promoted Chekov."

"So am I. He's better suited to sciences than weapons, anyway. And Spock trained him."

"If Spock were here, he'd be insufferably pleased with himself. Starfleet thinks they need two humans to replace him."

"To succeed him, Bones. They can't replace him." McCoy lifted his glass. "To absent friends."

Chapter Text

"What is that?" Christine asked Aga. The old woman was bending over a hollowed out log filled with aromatic yellow mush.

"Matara," said Aga with a sly smile. "For the festival. I made the final preparations while you hunted the brikaa."

They were back at the cave after a tiring two-day journey. Christine's shoulders were rubbed raw by the weight of the brika meat she had carried. "But what is it for, Aga? Food, medicine, paint, curing hides?"


Christine dipped a cautious finger and put it in her mouth. She gasped. "Industrial solvent," she said in English. "Or else a top-secret explosive."

Aga stared at her in bewilderment. "It is made from tinduu that have frozen on the bushes. We mix them with water. It is always in the back of the cave; we add to it from time to time. This portion is ready now; we will drink it tonight."

"All of it?" Christine knew that her face was beet red from just one sample.

"Most of it. Not all; some will be saved to start it again for next Summer Festival. Will you stir it for me, Kista? I must speak to Domi." She bustled off.

Christine stirred the soupy yellow liquid. The day was very hot, and the fumes were overpowering. She wiped sweat off her upper lip and took another cautious taste. It made her eyes water. "The alcohol content must be eighty percent," she muttered. "That's 160 proof."

"Proof?" Spock was looking over her shoulder.

She hadn't heard him coming. She hitched up her slipping wrap. Aga had left a drinking horn on the ground. "Try this," she said, handing it to him. "Maybe you can refine my guess."

Spock drank, and looked startled. "Your estimate is close. Do the Domii intend to drink this?"

"Apparently. If they ignited it, it would be enough to push the planet out of orbit."

"An overstatement, Christine. It would merely shift the orbit 17.89 degrees."

She looked up. The glint in his eyes was giving him away. "The Federation could always use it as an alternate fuel source."

"Undoubtedly. Although the economies of the dilithium mining planets would be most adversely affected if this were widely available." He looked thoughtful. "On the other hand, Dr. McCoy and Mr. Scott would probably be more appreciative of its properties as a beverage."

Christine grinned. He looked good, she thought, relaxed, with that amused expression around his eyes. Their maddeningly inconclusive discussion of the purposes of violence seemed to have helped him. He was sticking to his mostly vegetarian diet, but he was less withdrawn. She studied him. His hair was almost down to his shoulders again. She should trim it for him. The beard wasn't so bad; it grew more slowly. He had even managed to gain back a few kilos since the winter. The day was warm enough even for a Vulcan; he was wearing only the usual Domii breechcloth. An extra wave of blood came to her cheeks, and she became aware that her eyes were travelling slowly down his lean body with more than professional interest. Don't leer at him, she commanded herself sharply, forcing her eyes away. He probably didn't like walking around half-dressed; she didn't have to make it worse. He had taken a step backward, and she turned away, taking another taste of the matara to provide a cover for her red cheeks.

"The consumption of ethyl alcohol and other recreational drugs is highly illogical," Spock reminded her coolly, and annoyance joined her embarrassment.

She snapped, "Just because it doesn't affect you... Don't knock it if you haven't tried it."

* * *

Summer Festival was even more fun than the Festival of Darkness, decided Christine that evening. More singing, more dancing, more stories, more food, and the matara wasn't bad once you got used to it. Of course it did have a few strange properties... She was dancing in a circle with the other women, and she couldn't seem to feel her feet. Not that it mattered; she was sure that she was doing very well.

Spock had been wrong. After her first few swallows, the matara hadn't been hard to drink at all.

"Do not consume any more of that, Christine," he had said sternly when she had refilled her drinking horn.

"Why not?"

"It is inadvisable. You are evidently not in a fit state to understand that, so I must intervene."

"I'll drink what I want," she had said, irritated. "You don't own me, remember?"

Damn him, anyway, giving her orders. He had no right. Look at him standing there, now, disapproving. Forever desirable, forever untouchable... Her stupid wrap was slipping again, and her hands weren't free to pull it up. He probably wouldn't like that either, but she didn't care. He didn't have to look. And if he was so interested in modesty, what was he doing walking around like that, making her remember how much she wanted him...

She woke up the next morning in the cave, in their familiar spot. "Oh, god," she whispered without opening her eyes. She could barely recall the previous night, but to call this a hangover was a vast understatement. What had she been doing? She knew perfectly well that alcohol was a poison, and poisoned was exactly how she felt. Furthermore, she deserved it.

"You are awake," said Spock's voice flatly.

"Yes. Oh, god."

"I doubt that prayer will help."

"I think I'm going to die."

"You are not."

"I wish I were going to die."

"Irrational. Much like your previous behavior. Drink this."

"No! "

"It is linta bark tea. You once described it as effective against nausea."

"I can't. I can't even open my eyes."

"Your condition could be fairly described as your own fault, Doctor. Your behavior was most undignified. However it is not logical to refuse assistance. Drink this."

She complied without opening her eyes, amazed that she kept it down. "Go away, Spock."

"As you wish, Doctor. I suggest that you spend the day sleeping it off." She heard him leave.

She didn't see him again until late in the afternoon, when she emerged from the cave, pale and shaky. She didn't know what she was going to say to him. She had made a complete and total fool of herself, and she knew it. The fact that many of the Domii were in the same condition was no excuse. She was having the uncomfortable experience of being thoroughly ashamed of herself.

Spock was sitting talking to Tomi, Muti, and some of the other less inebriated men. When he saw her, he left them and walked over.

"I'm sorry, Spock. I really am. That was stupid of me."

"Your condition seems to have been its own punishment, Doctor."

"It certainly was. Is."

"Why?" He was looking at her with curiosity. "I have never understood such behavior. Why would a normally rational being choose to deliberately poison herself?"

"You think I'm normally rational? Thank you. As for why..." She thought about it. She had been having fun, yes, but she could have fun without getting drunk. The matara affected humans even more than Domii perhaps... She hadn't liked Spock ordering her not to drink it. And she had been loving him, wanting him... Apparently there were still times when loving him could hurt her. Shit, what an idiot she was. She realized that he was waiting for an answer.


She shook her head. "I couldn't explain it in any way that would make sense to you, Spock."

* * *

By the next afternoon, she felt reasonably well again. It was the climax of the festival; Dariin ha Dirnu, the time of marriages. Domii girls and boys married young, marriages arranged by their parents. "At the first Summer Festival after the girl begins her bleeding," Aga had explained. "They both are given their tribal marks." Christine had looked at the long-healed blue circles on her own arm. "And the girl is made ready for her mate. They are joined at the height of the summer so that their marriage will be fertile."

There would be three marriages at this festival, more than usual. The tribe stood in a rough circle outside the cave for the ceremonies. Christine and Spock were near the back, as befitted their low status. "They must be incredibly inbred," murmured Christine. "Aga has only seen other tribes twice in her lifetime. They do have a brother-sister, parent-child incest taboo, but none on cousins, even double cousins. Their gene pool must be unusually healthy."

Tomi was striking his drum, and Aga began one of her wordless chants as the betrothed couples came forward with their parents. Token ritual gifts were exchanged: a knife, a skin, a fresh-killed jimo. The couples circled each other in a traditional dance. Christine had seen the girls practicing it with each other, giggling, for weeks beforehand. They had been like children, playing, and they still looked like children, their bodies undeveloped, the boys beardless. Too young to be thinking of having babies, only babies themselves. Aga had told her that deaths in childbirth weren't uncommon; this would be one of the reasons. Of course, even if they didn't marry so young, they'd probably start having sex anyway, and since there were no contraceptives it came to the same thing. Celibacy wasn't much fun, she thought wryly; she could testify to that.

The dance was drawing to a close, and she automatically clapped her hands to the rhythm of the drum along with everyone else. Then Aga started the chant which accompanied the giving of the tribal marks, clearly defining the places of men and women in the tribe. Christine felt sorry for the girls. Relatively free during their childhoods, they were now Domii women, shut in by a narrow circle of rules. But to them it was natural, accepted. Their faces were bright with pride. Now what was happening?

The parents had come forward again, and the girls were taking off their wraps and lying on the ground with their legs apart. Oh my. Christine didn't know whether she was shocked or amused. Were they expected to get their initiation into sex with the whole tribe watching? No, it didn't look like it... The parents were holding the girl's hands, one on each side, while their new husbands knelt by their heads.

Aga stood over them. "Thus is the woman prepared for the man, the wife for her husband, that his power may be greater than hers..."

Maybe she was going to rupture their hymens, or the Domii equivalent. It wasn't an uncommon practice... Then Christine saw the knife, and the fear on the girls' faces. No. Not that. Aga wouldn't... Oh, god, no!

Aga, kneeling between the first girl's legs, gave a quick slash, and the girl cried out, as Christine screamed, "No!" and launched herself through the crowd. She grabbed Aga's shoulders and dragged her back. "Aga, you can't, you can't! It's barbaric, it's mutilation! I won't let you!" She realized that she was shouting in English.

Aga tore herself free. "Are you mad, Kista? What are you doing? Get back in your place!"

She remembered to switch to Domin. "No! Aga you cannot do this!" She tried to grab Aga's arms again.

"Keep your place, woman." Domi's voice was ominous.

"This is my place!" She was shaking with anger, sickened.

"Enough!" She had forgotten how strong Domi was, and how fast he could move. The first blow caught her on the side of the head, the second and third in the stomach. The fourth never landed.

"Domi!" Spock had gotten between them.

"Take this mad woman away, Spock." Domi sounded contemptuous. "If you cannot control her, then I must do it for you. Aga, continue."

"No," Christine gasped painfully. "I will not let you!" The parents of the first girl were comforting her now, blotting the blood. She started toward the others, and Domi shoved her back hard, pushing her to the ground.

"Christine, you cannot stop it. Nor can I. You will be beaten senseless if you try." Spock was half-pulling, half-carrying her out of the circle. She was bruised and dizzy, but she nearly broke away from him when she heard the next girl scream.

* * *

She spent the afternoon in the woods, alone, collecting the fungus which she knew could be made into a salve for bruises. Aga had taught her that. Aga. How could Aga do what she had done? Male cultural domination was one thing, but physical mutilation... Christine was still shaking. To think that she'd begun to like these people, to enjoy their company. She never wanted to see another Domii again.

It was dark by the time she returned to the cave. She knew that it was dangerous to be out alone so late, but she didn't care. She went quickly past the feasting outside, averting her eyes. Dropping wearily onto the bedskins, she curled into a tight ball.

"You could not have prevented it, Christine," said Spock's voice above her. He seated himself.

"Do you know what she did? Do you know..." Her voice broke.

"I believe so. Female circumcision is the term, is it not?"

"No!" She was starting to tremble with anger again. "Female circumcision is a goddamn euphemism, invented by male doctors who were trying to make it sound better. The proper term is clitoridectomy."

"I see."

"Circumcision..." She gave a bitter laugh. "That sounds so minor. The closest analogy is castration. Except that castration leaves a man unable to reproduce, and these women still can. Very efficient. It destroys their sexuality, but they can still do their duty to the tribe. God!" She clenched her fists. "Those poor girls."

"The practice is not uncommon among humanoid cultures in certain stages. However I agree that that does not make it acceptable."

"It didn't even die out on Earth until well into the twenty-first century... All these women, here. It's probably been done to all of them."

"Yes." His voice was level. "While you were gone, I approached Domi and Aga on the subject. I attempted to explain that I fully shared your opinions. I pointed out that the practice is both cruel and illogical. They refused to listen. They were most inflexible."

"I couldn't have... I still can't. Maybe I'll try to talk to them tomorrow. Right now I couldn't without attacking them. Those girls may have infections, scarring, obstetrical problems... I've never attended a birth here, or I'd have known. I'm going to check on those girls."

"That may not be wise."

"To hell with wise!" She scrambled to her feet.

* * *

She returned in a half-hour, jaw still clenched in disbelief and horror. No one had objected to her examining the girls; indeed, no one had spoken to her at all. "They're bandaged with amar leaves; at least Aga did that much. If they're lucky they won't get infected and die. But the mutilation..." Aga's knife had cleanly excised both clitoris and labia minora. Domii genitalia were structurally very similar to human, and Christine had been freshly sickened.

"I'm going to stop this." She had curled into fetal position again, easing her bruises. "I don't know how, but I'm going to stop it. You should have let me keep fighting."

"You could not have succeeded, and you would have been seriously injured."

"Well why didn't you do something!" Her anger, needing a target, was turning toward him.

"Christine, if I had thought I could succeed, I would have done something."

"They're in so much pain. They... do you know, they didn't really understand what was going to happen, but they knew enough to be scared. I saw their faces. And now they'll never..." Silent tears were starting down her cheeks. She might be celibate now, but at least she knew how good sex could be. Their culture deliberately forbade Domii women that knowledge. One of her hands twisted tightly in the bedskin, and the knuckles of the other were crammed in her mouth, stifling a sob. "I'm going to stop this," she repeated, hanging on to the idea grimly. The tears were getting out of control. Why didn't Spock just leave?

"Christine." She felt him stir. Putting his hands on her shoulders, he turned her toward him and pulled her into his arms. She clung to him, shocked, but infinitely grateful for the comfort of the contact. He rocked her gently. "You will stop it," he agreed.

"It's cultural tampering. I've tried to be scrupulous about that." Her voice was muffled against him. "But I couldn't live with myself if I didn't try." She gulped, trying to stop crying. It was so good to be held like this, but it must be hell for Spock. She was feeling a bitter mixture of rage, sorrow, pain and determination; the primitive emotions must be battering against his mental shields. The side of his neck was wet with her tears.

"You will be the next healer, after Aga dies."

"Wha... what!" She choked, sniffed, and raised her head, shocked.

"It is unlikely that she will survive the winter."

"I know. She's getting feebler. But Bira..."

"You know yourself that Bira is not capable of being Adar Doma. Aga is beginning to realize it as well. You are the next obvious choice."

"I don't believe it. Not after the way I acted today. And I don't want to be Adar Doma. I don't want anything to do with this culture; I want to get the hell off this planet!" She was starting to cry again, and his arms tightened slightly around her shoulders.

"You also want to stop the clitoridectomies, do you not?"


"Which you can best do from a position of authority."

"Authority? Me? Everyone here thinks I'm demented." She decided that it was time for her to pull away from him.

"Are you uncomfortable?" he asked.

"No, but..."

"Then do not move on my account." She let herself relax. If he really didn't mind... "Aga respects you. She knows how much you have learned." He paused. "Christine, our chances of being found are now dropping measurably every day. They are already less than 40%. If we are not rescue before next Summer Festival, they will be negligible."

"Oh." She tried not to shake. She tried to think. "I thought you should know."

"If we're stuck here forever... Spock, I don't want anything more to do with the Domii. I want to go home. But if I can't..." She was trying hard to examine the problem rationally. "I suppose that I'd like to be able to do some good. And if we can't get out of here, then General Order One doesn't matter much."


"You really think that Aga might want me to succeed her? She knows what I think of a lot of their customs, and today I practically attacked her."

"Nevertheless... She has indicated to me that she wishes to speak to you tomorrow."

"I respect her, Spock. At least I did until today. But how could she mutilate those girls, those children, when she's supposed to be a healer? The first rule: do no harm..."

"It is their tradition." His skin was hot under her cheek. "But tradition is sometimes accorded too much respect. You may have the chance to change it."

She yawned. The trembling was stopping, eased out of her body by the warmth of his. Unexpectedly, her eyes were closing. "I can't decide, can't think about it any more now. I'm so tired."

"You have had a stressful day." Was he stroking her hair?



* * *

"Come with me, Kista." Aga's voice was dour. Christine looked up from slicing fruit for the evening meal. Her jaw tightened. Aga was holding out a collecting bag. "We need pindinuu and lintaa."

Christine put down her knife and took the bag. Whether or not Spock was right, she had a few things to say to Aga. Bira joined them as they made their way down to the river and along its bank. Pindinuu was a water plant; effective against diarrhea. They located a clump and began to tug at the wiry stems.

"You behaved shamefully yesterday, Kista."

Christine straightened up sharply, with a wave of anger. "I did not! What you did was shameful, shameful and wrong!"

"Why?" Aga's voice was irritated, but also curious. "It is always done. It is necessary."

"Necessary! To cut out..." She was hampered by a lack of vocabulary; she didn't know the Domin words for the genitalia. "To destroy what gives a woman pleasure in mating is wrong." She gave a savage yank to a pindinu.

"Mating is not for pleasure. It is for children." "Is it? Your men must find pleasure in it."

"That is different." Aga sounded impatient. "You must see that. The man's pleasure gives life to the child's spirit. The woman gives life to its body. For her to feel pleasure would be too dangerous. It would harm her man and her children. No man would dare take a woman who had not been cut."

Christine stuffed a dripping plant into her bag. "Bullshit. Kri na vaali o baana. None of that is true."

Aga's eyes narrowed. "You have not been..."

"No. That is how I know."

Too late, she saw the flaw in that argument. Aga and Bira both looked at her. "But you have no children, and Spock does not mate with you." Aga said reasonably. "Everyone knows that."

Christine supposed that they did. Her cheeks were red, but she was still angry. "That is not why."

"No?" Their disbelief was evident.

Christine changed her attack. "Your girls are scarred for life by this; you must see that, Aga. It is dangerous. Some of them must die of infections..."

"Not often," interrupted Aga.

"But it does happen. And when they give birth, is the opening sometimes blocked by scarring?"

"Sometimes. But if it were not done, it would be far worse. Their spirits would be too strong, and they might conceive no children. If they did, the children would die or be unhealthy."

"It is even said," Bira joined in, "that if a woman were not cut, she might wish to mate with other men." She looked at Christine, worried.

Christine thought that Domi had probably told her that one. She said, "None of that is true. Where I lived before I became Domii..." She thought of the Enterprise with intense longing. "None of the women there were cut, and they and their men and their children were all strong and happy."

"That is not possible."

"Yes it is." She took a deep breath. "Aga, Bira, you must not ever cut any more of the girls. I will stop you somehow, no matter what you say. It is wrong, wrong, and you must not do it!"

Her voice had risen, and Aga and Bira looked at each other. "That will be your choice."

"Aga?" Had Spock been right?

"How do you prepare the pindinuu?"

Christine was taken aback by the abrupt change of subject. "What does that matter right now?"

"Tell me."

"Well... you scrape the pulp from the leaves and stems and throw away the rest. You mix it with twice as much water, and boil it until only half is left. Leave it for a day, and then do the same again. After two more days it is ready to use."

"For what?"

"Aga, why...?" Aga was looking at her intently. "All right. For loose bowels, according to the size of the person. Why are you asking? You know this."

"You see?" said Bira to Aga.

Aga jerked her chin up in agreement. "I ask because I must hear that you know it. You will follow me as Adar Doma."

Christine was silent for a long time, shredding a pindinu leaf in her fingers. Even half-expecting it, it was still a weighty decision. "I will not cut any of the girls," she said at last, meeting Aga's eyes.

"Kista, I have already said that it will be your decision, and your problem. I think that you are wrong, but I am old. I will not live to another Summer Festival, and the tribe must have a healer."


"I do not want to be Adar Doma, Kista. I have said so again and again."

Aga glanced at her daughter with a mixture of affection and disgust. "Women must obey their mates, but she is too meek. She cannot resist Domi's will in anything."

"No," Bira said stubbornly. "That is not all. I do not disobey my husband, that is true, but that is not the only reason. I choose, for myself. Kista and Spock have said that I can do this. Kista... you were the first to speak to me of what I wished to do. I have thought about it." She bent her head shyly. "You will do well as Adar Doma, even with your strange ideas. I would not."

Christine sighed and closed the top of her collection bag. "You are sure, Bira?"


"And you, Aga?"

"Yes. You have the hands of a healer, and the spirit, and the touch."

The cool river water swirled around Christine's legs. "Then I will be Adar Doma after you, and I will train another to follow after me." Aga and Bira smiled in obvious satisfaction. So much for the Prime Directive, she thought. The Starfleet Surgeon-General would probably have a fit if he knew. But if he wanted to trade places with her, and make her decisions, she'd accept gladly. "I still have much to learn," she said slowly. The responsibility was looming large in her mind.

"You do, but I will teach you."

* * *

That had been an understatement, Christine realized several weeks later. She had thought that she knew most of the Domii healing practices, but she had been wrong. Aga was pouring out centuries - millennia? - of accumulated folk wisdom, making Christine repeat it and repeat it until she was word perfect. It was not all medical. There were the chants, the spells, the rituals... In her concentration on the good she could do as healer, Christine had almost forgotten that she would be a priestess as well.

Sometimes the two were jumbled together. "Claar bark is good for fever and pain," she explained to Spock. "It must contain a natural analgesic - but I have to remember the incantation when I administer it; 'Ala hai binu rahaa claar omi,' or it won't work." Spock raised an eyebrow. "I know what you're thinking. Of course I don't believe it. But I have to know it, and act as though I believe it, or my patients won't trust me. Aga's even trying to teach me to hear the spirit voices in the wind."

"I assume that she has been unsuccessful?"

"What do you think? Luckily, when I told her that I didn't hear a thing, she wasn't upset. She hinted that it was mostly common sense anyway. She's getting so tired, Spock. I think that's why she's trying to cram all this into me at once. I don't know how she'll make it to the autumn hunting grounds."

Chapter Text

It was eight days journey to the autumn hunting grounds. Up the river and through a mountain pass onto the high plateau crossed by the migrating ingbaa. Aga rode on a sledge most of the way. Everyone else who could walk did, from the oldest Domii to the toddlers, so the pace was necessarily slow. In addition, there were supplies to carry, and lookouts had to watch for the salarr, the six-legged carnivores that had attacked Christine and Spock. They usually stayed further up in the mountains, but they were the only really dangerous predators the Domii encountered. The salar claw that Aga wore was considered a symbol of great power.

Aga was coaching Christine constantly, pointing out plants to collect, and practicing the chants with her. Even those which were strings of abstract sounds had to be sung in a certain, precise way. The intonations and intervals were difficult for a human ear and tongue.

"I'm sorry, Aga."

"Listen, Kista. You must listen."

"I am listening. I will try again."

She sang the chants softly to Spock at night, trusting his ability to tell her when she wandered off key. "I really can't hear it. I enjoy music; I always have, but this... I just have a tin ear for it."

"It amazes me that you can go from being sharp to being flat in the space of a few notes."

"I know. It wouldn't be so bad if I were at least consistent."

* * *

Christine gasped when she first saw the size of the ingba herds. Half the plateau was covered with them, their hides rippling brown in the sunlight. She had never seen or imagined so many animals in one place. The tribe would stay here for nearly a month, though the hunt itself would only take a day.

The pit was already dug, had been dug years before. It needed cleaning out and deepening; several days hard work for everyone. It was hard to imagine that winter would be here before long. The sun was hot as they dug and scraped and lined the bottom of the pit with jagged stones. Sweat ran down Christine's sides and between her breasts, and dripped stickily into her eyes. She was grateful for the shallow, stony stream in which everyone swam at night, she with her chunk of soap which the Domii still found incomprehensible. Spock swam too, always a little way off, distancing himself from the immodesty and the noisy hilarity of the scene.

Christine stayed in camp with the other women on the day of the hunt. Spock seemed resigned to his participation. The method was simple. The pit, camouflaged with branches, lay in a ravine where a rocky ridge ran out onto the plateau. The hunters would cut off a portion of the herd and stampede them down the ravine into the pit, where they would be killed by the fall onto the rocks and their own trampling.

The pit was not in sight of the camp, but Christine knew when the hunt was over. She heard the pounding of hooves, the yelling of the men, the crashing and screaming of the terrified animals, and finally Domi's triumphant signalling cry.

The pit was a scene of carnage. Close to three hundred ingbaa lay crushed and twisted. She could see now why it would take so long to butcher, smoke, and dry the meat. This one hunt would provide a large portion of the tribe's winter food supply.

To her surprise, Domi excused her from the butchering after three days. He had reluctantly agreed to her selection as the next Adar Doma, evidently feeling that anyone, even Christine, would be preferable to Bira. He still didn't like her, but he ordered her to spend her time with Aga, learning her new tasks. Aga seemed invigorated by the change of scenery, though her feet and legs swelled if she walked too far, and she tired easily. Christine was starting to feel protective of her, and frustrated. She had mentally diagnosed a heart condition and progressively worsening arthritis, but here there was nothing to be done. Still, Aga was clearly enjoying teaching her, and they went as far onto the plateau as Aga could manage, gathering generous supplies of plants which did not grow in the woodlands.

One morning Aga looked ahead and gave a cry of triumph. "Look, the andelii!" She was pointing to a patch of tall yellow flowers. They shifted in the soft breeze, giving off a faint, sweet scent.

"What are they?" Christine asked. "You have not told me about them before."

Aga grinned, and hobbled toward them. "They grow only on the open plateau, and only in a few places. They are very powerful. Pick the petals only." She began to strip the flowers.

"But what are they for?"

Aga grinned again. "They are for you."

"For me?"

"Dry them, grind them into a fine powder, and put them in Spock's food. Do not tell him." Christine looked at her suspiciously. Aga looked mischievous. "They will make him desire you."

Christine stared at the flowers. "Oh, shit, an aphrodisiac?" she said in English. She knew that her face was getting red. "Aga, it would not work, and even if it would, I could not do that."

"Why not? We do not speak of it to the men, but many women use it if their mate's manhood will not grow."

"That is not... Spock is not... Aga, it is fine for the other women, but not for me."

"But all women wish their men to mate with them. If a man does not, the woman will have no children, and a woman with no children..." Aga shook her head. "You should have children, Kista. How will the people trust you as Adar Doma if you cannot even make your own mate give you a child?"

"No, Aga."

"Kista, I do not believe what you said to me - that a woman should find pleasure in mating. But sometimes you look at Spock, and there is something in your face that I do not understand. Do you truly not want him to mate with you?"

"Oh, Aga." Christine sighed. The wind blew wisps of her hair across her face and cooled her hot cheeks. "I cannot answer you in simple words. Thank you, but no. Not this way. I will collect the flowers and save them for the other women, but not for me."

Aga rolled her eyes in exasperation. "You are foolish, Kista."

Christine thought about Aga's words on and off all afternoon, as other leaves and roots joined the yellow petals in her bag. She didn't even believe the petals worked on Domii, let alone Vulcans. The galaxy was full of supposed aphrodisiacs. And if she'd really wanted to slip Spock a love potion, she'd have had the Enterprise med-comps working on it years ago. But want him? Oh, damn. She probably loved and wanted him more now than she ever had. She'd never before had this kind of chance to be close to him. In a corner of her mind she had wondered sometimes if it would cure her, this constant daily contact. It hadn't. She had discovered just how much she liked him, how much she enjoyed his company. The give and take between them had become easier and easier; he no longer withdrew, and she no longer pushed. They had learned to talk as friends.

She wondered... They had enough skins now so that they no longer needed to sleep together for warmth; certainly not in the summer. But he had never suggested that they break the now-familiar pattern. She thought that maybe he enjoyed the quiet talks in the dark before they slept. She knew that she did.

And lately... She remembered the night after Aga had done the clitoridectomies. She had been so sickened, so horrified, and the contact had been so welcome; the support of his arms around her, her face pressed into the warmth of his bare chest. It had been comforting, not sexual, and he had never held her that way again. But it had broken the unspoken rules which had governed their sleeping habits. They had spent the previous winter staying as close as possible while actually touching as little as possible; a delicate balance. They had both pulled away from too much contact. But since the Summer Festival they had somehow found themselves sleeping curled close together most nights. Christine often woke to find one of his arms draped warmly across her. She did not sense in him any of the sexual tension or response she would have expected from a human male under those conditions. He seemed simply comfortable.

It was harder for her. She liked it all right, it was comfortable. It was also very exciting. Often she went to bed so exhausted that it didn't matter, but there were nights when it took all her willpower not to turn and wrap her arms and legs around him, pulling his mouth hungrily to hers... She shook her head vigorously to clear it. Stop it, Chris, she scolded herself. Thinking like that wasn't going to help. She had been walking so slowly that Aga was far ahead of her. She hurried to catch up.

* * *

Spock straightened wearily. The butchering was finally completed; maybe now he could get away from the sticky, pervasive smell and feel of blood. The smoking of the meat and curing of the hides would continue for several weeks, but the tangle of carcasses could now be left to be picked clean by the scavengers and the weather. He wondered if the site would be excavated by some group of Domii archaeologists far in the future, who would wonder at the efficient savagery of their ancestors. He and Muti had dumped the last load from the pit near one of the fires, where the children stood by with grass brushes to shoo the everpresent, buzzing clouds of insects. Smoke, blood, raw meat, garbage, humanoid sweat... Spock walked abruptly away from the camp. He had accepted the logic of his participation in this culture; certainly he could not condemn the Domii for their adaptations to their environment. They were no more barbaric than his own ancestors. But sometimes he felt an urgent need to get away from them.

He followed a small stream out onto the plateau until the smells and noises of the camp had died away behind him. Then he stopped and washed, wishing that he had brought one of Christine's treasured chunks of soap. He shivered as he dried himself; the air was already too cool for his desertbred physiology. Sitting by the stream, he composed himself for meditation; the orderly cleansing of his mind which was more necessary to him here than almost anywhere else. He steepled his fingers and closed his eyes, but even as he did he was aware of something nagging at his consciousness, something odd. Something in the scene before him... He opened his eyes. The stream ran clear between its banks, edged with short, rubbery-leaved plants which were a brighter green than most of the native foliage. And the soil under the plants was a yellowish clay...

When he got back to the camp, Christine and Aga were already there, sorting out the day's finds from their collecting bags. Among the plants were piles of yellow flower petals. He looked at them curiously, and Christine swept them aside. Aga laughed, and Christine gave her a quelling look.

"What are those?" he inquired.

"Andelii. Nothing important." Her cheeks were slightly flushed. Aga laughed again. Spock was puzzled for a moment and then dismissed the matter. "What's that you've got?" Christine asked, looking at the clay and plants he had collected.

"I am not sure. Perhaps something extremely interesting. What do you make of this plant?"

"I've never seen it before. It's an odd color." She switched back to Domin. "Aga, what is this?"

Aga glanced up and shrugged. "Furuna. Not food, not medicine." She returned to her sorting.

"This society is somewhat lacking in intellectual curiosity," Spock observed dryly.

"They know what they need to know. Intellectual curiosity usually comes when people no longer have to struggle to survive." She picked up a handful of the clay and rubbed it. "It's got a strange texture. Almost greasy."

"Indeed. I have seen similar deposits on Vega IV, in conjunction with similar vegetation. I believe that it may be trichiolite."

Christine frowned, trying to remember. "Trichiolite... Rare and unusual? I don't remember much about it."

"It has no demonstrated commercial value, but it is uncommon, and interesting to geophysicists because its electromagnetic absorption properties are almost identical to those of dilithium crystals."

"Can you test it?"

"Quite easily." He picked up a quantity and walked over to the fire, gathering stares as he tossed it in. "If it is trichiolite it will burn with a blue flame, changing to green, and leaving behind a greenish residue." He watched, permitting himself a small sigh of relief as the sequence he had outlined occurred. "Fascinating."

He saw Christine try and fail to keep from grinning. "Nothing wrong with your intellectual curiosity. But..." She stopped. "Sorry. I'm starting to think like the Domii. I nearly asked 'But what use is it?'"

Spock wiped his hands. "That is not the only question worth asking, but in this instance it has considerable validity. I recently calculated that the odds of our being rescued are now..."

"I'm not sure I want to hear this..."



"I may be able to improve those odds slightly."

"The trichiolite..."

"Exactly. Have you ever calculated the chances of a ship's life sensors picking up a single Vulcan and single human reading on a planetary sweep?"

"I've thought about it. Not good. Not unless they knew we were here."

"Trichiolite, on the other hand, is virtually impossible for the scanners to miss, even in small quantities, since the readings are so close to those of dilithium. All ships routinely check for dilithium deposits."

"But even if they found the trichiolite, it's not near... Wait a minute! We could make a pattern..."


"Like the Nazca lines in Peru, on Earth. Not on that scale, but the same idea, only visible to sensors, not the naked eye."

"It will have to be a pattern which could not be indigenous if it is to serve its purpose."

"How about 'Spock is here' in kilometer-high letters?"

"A symbol would be more appropriate."

* * *

When the tribe began the journey back to the cave, heavily loaded with meat, Christine and Spock carried their share with aching muscles. Behind them, on the plateau, they left the partly completed outline of the enormous pattern they had chosen. They had not been able to do as much as they had hoped; Aga and Domi had been impatiently unsympathetic. Christine shifted the load on her sore shoulders. "At least we left something behind. Maybe we can finish it next year... if we're still here. Have we improved the odds any?"

"To 43.64%"

"Only that much?"

"We have greatly improved the odds of a ship detecting our presence. We have not affected at all the odds of a ship visiting the planet. The probabilities of a random visit are extremely low, and the more time that passes, the more likely it is that we are assumed dead by those who are searching for us. Even Jim."

"Spock..." She shivered. The weather had turned abruptly colder; the leaves were falling. "Jim won't give up." Please, she hoped silently.

"The captain's determination is a factor in all my calculations."

"It's been a year, you know. They found us on this trip last year. You were dying."

"We have discussed this before, Christine. Guilt..."

"Is illogical. I know, and I'm over it. But if you had died... I don't think I could have made it through the last year without you." She didn't look at him, but she could feel his eyes on her.

"Nor I without you," he said quietly. Then, after a moment, "It has been slightly more than a standard year, i fact. The planetary day is 24.85 standard hours, and the planetary year is 378 days..."

* * *

Chekov starred another item on his list of possibilities, and pushed it across the table to Uhura. This was becoming routine. He no longer had much faith in the outcome of this search, and he didn't think that she had either. But she continued to help when she could, feeling a nagging guilt over the disappearances. The captain seemed to be the only one who still had much hope.

The crew replacements were settling in. The new first officer was competent enough, though a bit tense. Kirk probably didn't help by bending over backwards to be fair and friendly to him. The effort showed. Subramijan, the surgeon, was a cheerful, egotistical womanizer, who seemed intent on upholding the hell-raising reputation of fleet surgeons. Chekov was pleased by his own promotion and his performance as science officer - Spock would be satisfied with him, he thought - but he hadn't wanted it this way. After several months he still thought of the bridge science console as Spock's station, and he suspected that the captain did too.

Uhura broke in on his reverie. "This latest batch has some things worth checking on - the Klingon and the Orion."

"That's what I thought, too. But there were three Klingon ships there for R & R, and they're all back inside the Empire now... The Orion was a trader, cargo not registered... probably a slaver, and his registration marks aren't in any other list. The Orions never tell the truth to outsiders if they can help it, so the registration was probably a fake. Wrigley's wouldn't care as long as they paid the fee. Why the Federation wants Wrigley's for a member..."

"So they can clean that kind of thing up, I guess. Not to mention getting their share of the fee. The Orion's worth mentioning to the Captain, don't you think? Maybe he has some contacts he can use. He's got them everywhere else, in places I would never have expected."

"They were in a hurry to leave," said Chekov thoughtfully. "Listen to this." He sorted through a pile of tapes and shoved one into the computer console.

An edgy voice spoke. "...take all night to clear us? We have a schedule to keep!"

"We'll have a departure slot for you in one more orbit." The controller sounded bored.

The Orion's voice rose. "We have better things to do than..."

"You move before I clear you, you'll end up a pile of orbiting junk."

"Our cargo is highly perishable!"

"Your problem, not ours."

Chekov silenced the recording. "Did he sound more nervous than he should have, or was I imagining it?"

The intercom sounded before Uhura could answer him. "Uhura here." She listened. "Yes, sir. I understand. On our way." Chekov looked his inquiry. "New orders from Starfleet. He wants the primary bridge crew up there." She switched off the computer terminal.

"Try to remember about that Orion," Chekov said as they left. "Something about it seems funny..."

Chapter Text

Winter had come early and closed down hard this year. The first snow had fallen before they returned to the cave from the autumn hunt, and now, only a few weeks later, the drifts were already deep. Too deep for the men to hunt in. Christine was conscious, as she had not been the previous year, of the precarious nature of the tribe's existence. Not enough food, not enough medicine, not enough light or warmth... The dark claustrophobia and tension had gripped everyone already, and there were endless months of it still ahead. She took a deep breath, accusing herself of being morbid, and turned back to the task at hand. She and Aga were preparing the fallu bark which was used as a treatment for what Aga called the winter sickness. Christine suspected a severe form of bronchitis. It was endemic in the close quarters of the cave; it had caused two deaths last winter, and Aga predicted that this winter would be worse. They were being watched by Jona, Aga's granddaughter, Bira and Domi's eldest child.

Christine became aware that Aga's hands were moving more and more slowly over the bark, though she continued to observe Christine carefully. Finally she stopped entirely, bent over with weariness. Jona slipped an arm around her.

"Are you all right?" Christine asked sharply.

Aga coughed, then smiled. "As well as I can be when I will not live out the winter. Keep on working, Kista; for the sake of the tribe you must not stop."

Christine continued her job, automatically pounding the bark and separating the valuable inner layer from the outer one. She knew that there was no use in arguing with Aga's diagnosis. In fact, it was true. Aga was already exhibiting symptoms of the winter sickness; she was too old and weak to survive it. "When the snow stops, I will gather more bark. You will need it."

"I will indeed, and not only for others." Aga coughed again, and spat out a thick wad of mucus into the fire.

"Aga, I wish..."

"No. It is not such a bad thing to die." There was a kind of grim humor in her eyes. "Not that I will die just yet. Not today, or tomorrow, or in ten days... but after that. When I am sure that you know what it is to be Adar Doma."

"Do you trust me to follow you, Aga?" Christine asked the question very seriously. She needed to know; in this context Aga's approval was as important as all of her Federation medical training.

"Yes." Aga's assent was unequivocal. "I still do not understand who you are or where you come from, but you have proved yourself worthy. Last winter, I knew that I might die, and I was frightened, for I did not know who would succeed me. Bira..." She glanced at Jona and left the thought unfinished.

"Bira did what was right for her. I am honored by your trust."

"At least you are not frightened of Domi!" Her chuckle was broken by another cough.

"I am not so sure of that! I do not enjoy being hit!"

Jona gave her grandmother some tea, and Aga sighed gratefully. "Kista, who will succeed you? It should be your daughter, but you have none. If you would only give Spock..."

"No, Aga," said Christine hastily.

"Then will you train Jona? I failed with my daughter..."

"That is not fair to Bira..."

"But I would be pleased if my granddaughter were to learn the traditions."

Christine looked at the girl. "Jona? Only if you want to."

"I do." Jona had always seemed as shy as Bira, but this answer sounded sincere.

"Then I am contented," said Aga with satisfaction, and Christine sighed at the finality in her tone. "Now I will rest for the rest of my time."

Aga never got up from her bedskins again. She said she was in no pain, but every time she coughed she grew weaker. Not even the fallu bark which cleared the mucus from congested lungs helped her. Christine tended her for two weeks, trying to repay some of what she felt she owed her.

* * *

"Kista! Kista, wake up!" Before Christine could drag herself out of sleep enough to respond to the shaking, she felt Spock stir beside her.

"Bira?" He turned Christine over. "Christine, you are needed."

"My mother..." Bira's voice was trembling.

Aga was blue when Christine got to her side. Most of the cave was awake now, standing by. Before Christine could begin artificial respiration, Aga's hand came up and pushed her back with weak strength. The hand held the salar claw on its long thong, symbol of the Adar Doma. "Take it," said Aga's eyes, though she could not speak. She kept trying to push Christine away until Christine took the heavy claw in her hands. Then she closed her eyes.

Christine kept up resuscitation for almost half an hour, helped by Spock, but she knew that it was no use. The Domii watched her impassively. Finally she looked at Spock and shook her head in defeat. She closed Aga's eyes and covered her. Bira started to wail, and she felt tears rising in her own eyes. She looked down at the salar claw, and with shaking hands pulled the thong over her head. The Domii stirred and sighed, and she made herself meet the gaze of each of them, from Domi down to the sleepy children. She was their priestess now. Last, she looked at Spock, drawing some needed courage from the deep brown depths of his eyes. Taking a deep breath, she began the chant for the dead.

To carry Aga's body to the burial cave took all of the next day. They were lucky that it had stopped snowing long enough for them to complete the burial rituals. Christine knew that the souls of the Domii were bound to their bodies until the bodies were interred in the cave with the proper ceremonies. She moved through the rituals with dignity, privately blessing Aga for the constant lecturing and repetition which had made them almost automatic. The salar claw was heavy around her neck, a constant reminder of the responsibility which she had assumed.

* * *

The winter was as bad as Aga had feared. The sickness swept through the cave as the snow continued to fall softly and inexorably outside. The drifts were three and four meters deep in places; Christine learned to be careful when the snow stopped long enough for her to gather more bark. She was nearly buried several times, even near the cave, and three men who set out on a hunting trip never came back. Chronic low-grade malnutrition was complicating the illnesses, slowing recoveries, taking its toll of the very young and very old.

Day and night started to blur for Christine as the inevitable deaths took place. She snatched moments of sleep whenever she could. Most of the sick recovered eventually, but only after weeks of care, and there were scarcely enough healthy members of the tribe to nurse them. Spock was an enormous help, putting aside his usual fastidiousness to assist her. Christine suspected him of giving up much of his own share of the food to those who were ill, but when she challenged him he only lifted an eyebrow and said, "My nutritional intake is sufficient for my needs, Doctor."

She moved wearily, continuously, from one task to the next, preparing the medicines, chanting, cleaning fouled bedskins, holding hands, listening to hacking coughs and the struggle for breath. As she closed the eyes of the dead, she prayed to the Domii spirits, the God of her family, and any other deities who might be listening for the strength to continue. The bodies of the dead could not even be taken to the burial cave until the drifts melted, so they were buried, frozen, in the snow. Christine could understand why the Domii believed that their spirits were hovering unhappily nearby.

Winter Festival was subdued. Christine didn't have the heart to sing Christmas carols this year, and there was not enough food to waste on a celebration. As she told the tale of Maati and his victory over Sheta, she realized how necessary was the hope expressed in the chant. Bira was watching her, rocking Ami as he wheezed in her arms. Christine didn't know if Ami would live through the winter. He was growing paler and more listless every day, and there was real desperation in Bira's face. It matched the helplessness in her own.

She and Spock were awakened the following night by Domi. "Kista." His tone was still imperious, but his face was frightened. Christine snapped awake almost instantly in spite of her exhaustion. She had gotten used to these summonses. "Kista, my son has need of the Adar Doma."

She was already dressed; there was no difference between day and night clothes here. Bira held Ami by the fire, wailing softly. The baby was blue from lack of oxygen, but still trying to breathe. A trickle of air might be getting through the mucus plugging his lungs and trachea, but no more. "How long has he been like this?" At least as Adar Doma she no longer had to ask permission before speaking.

"I do not know. I awakened a few minutes ago and found him so." Domi's voice was rough with tension.

Ami's arms and legs jerked spasmodically as he tried to take in air, but the struggle made him worse. His breathing ceased altogether. Christine grabbed him from Bira, turned him upside down and hit his back sharply. He choked, and mucus began to dribble from his nose and mouth, but he still wasn't breathing. Artificial respiration was ineffective against this kind of blockage, she knew that already. In a few minutes Ami would be brain-damaged, and dead soon after. Christine sorted desperately through her memory. "A tube, a hollow tube," she said. "A reed, something like that. Spock?" He was kneeling by her side, and she thanked god for his presence. Bira and Domi looked too frightened to react.

"Understood. I believe there is..." He vanished into the back of the cave, and Christine rhythmically compressed Ami's chest while waiting. It seemed long, but it was less than a minute before he returned with what she needed.

She grabbed the reed and handed Ami to Spock. He steadied the baby's head while she slid the reed as gently as she could down his throat and into his windpipe. She sucked and spat, sucked and spat. No response. She continued, and Ami's body jerked. Pulling out the tube, she flipped Ami over and hit him again. He coughed, mucus spewed from his mouth, and suddenly, incredibly, he gasped, flushed, and began to cry.

"Ami! Ami!" Bira took him back from Christine, incoherent with relief, and she and Domi began wipe his face.

Domi looked at Christine. "The leader of the Domii is in your debt," he said formally.

"I did my duty to the tribe," she replied, too taken aback to think of more than the formal response.

"More than that." He gestured at the reed, and turned to Spock. "Perhaps you are right to permit her arrogance."

"The ability to think independently has a certain value," Spock agreed. When Domi looked back to Ami, he raised an eyebrow at Christine, and she felt like laughing for the first time in too long.

"Keep him warm, and give him the infusion of fallu bark three times in every day," she instructed Domi and Bira. "I think he will be better now."

"We thank you," said Bira, speaking for Domi as well as herself, and Christine noticed that Domi did not object.

When they were back in bed she moved to fit her side comfortably against Spock's. She gave a yawn, feeling simultaneously exhausted and relieved. "I'm so glad that worked. I wish I had thought of it sooner; maybe Aga, or some of the others..."

"Aga was dying in any case, and it will not work on every patient. A remarkable technique, however."

"Not regulation Starfleet medicine. I'd never done it before, barely remembered it was possible. I was terrified that I'd lacerate his trachea... But I didn't..." She was getting drowsy; Vulcan body warmth was better than a thermal blanket.

"Indeed." He turned and they fitted together like spoons. "As I observed to Domi, your ability to think outside of the usual categories is valuable."

"Thank you." Her eyes closed. "It hasn't been good... I get... so tired... so discouraged... five deaths so far, counting Aga... but maybe I am helping a little... I hope..." Her voice was trailing off into a mumble. "Spock... having you here... so good... couldn't... without your help..." She was asleep.

* * *

Spock studied Christine as she slept. It was the limp, boneless sleep of total fatigue; the last weeks had been grueling for her. He doubted that she had been entirely aware of what she was saying, but he was undisturbed by it. Her thoughts mirrored his own; he had come to rely on her presence. Her head was pillowed on his arm, heavy, but not uncomfortably so. Her breath tickled his skin. The feel of her was comfortable, familiar, just as everything about her was coming to be familiar; her thoughts and beliefs, her likes and dislikes... Even her occasional irrational emotions or bursts of temper were in some way comfortable and comforting. She was his friend. The perception came suddenly, surprising him. He could not remember when it had happened.

He recalled something which she had said to him on the night of his first hunt: "I'm tired of bullying you... I'm here, I like you, I respect you, and I want to help." And when he had let her, she had helped, as there were times when he had helped her. They had learned to accept each other, and they had been strengthened by their differences. "Let me help." The words that were better than... Spock found himself wondering, for the first time in quite a while, whether Christine was still... in love... with him. There was not much overt evidence of it; she had schooled the telltale signs out of her behavior years ago. The caring she had showed since their arrival here could be no more than was due a patient and a fellow officer. At times there was an indefinable expression in her blue eyes, almost a yearning, but it was always gone so quickly that it might be only his imagination. She had certainly never spoken of it. And she had been very careful not to invade his physical space... until he had initiated the contact. He became very conscious of the length of her against him. He still did not quite understand his own motives, but... Let me help. That was what he had done, and he did not regret it.

Christine stirred and made a worried noise in her sleep. After a moment Spock dropped his other arm across her and she quieted. What was disturbing her dreams? It would be so easy to find out, to soothe the trouble. So very easy, to drop his shields and slip into her mind. They were already in close physical contact; he wouldn't even need to touch her face. Just reach a little; a natural extension of... What was he thinking! To enter another's mind uninvited was an unthinkable invasion of privacy. Why for a moment had it seemed the logical thing to do? Let me help... He would need time to consider this...

* * *

Christine and Jona were the first ones to notice that spring was coming. Christine was keeping her promise to Aga, and Jona was proving a willing pupil. The task of teaching her also stretched Christine's intellectual muscles a little, and refreshed her own memory. The mental exercise was good to have. They were out scouting for supplies one day when Jona pointed. "Look, Kista."

Christine squinted. "What? Oh! Snowdrops!" Beneath the trees where the snow was thinnest, clusters of tiny white flowers were poking through.

"Tobinaa" said Jona. "Not... snoodop."

"No - but just like snowdrops." As if on cue, the sun suddenly broke through the cloud cover, and a heavy load of snow slid off a branch and showered over Christine and Jona.

They both sputtered and laughed. "We should pick some to show to the others." Jona suggested.

Christine breathed deeply. Had the sight of the flowers made the air seem warmer? It felt like it. "Spring! Spring is coming, Jona, I can feel it now. We should pick a bunch, a big bunch. It will be better than all the medicine we could make."

Chapter Text

Slowly the world came awake again, and the tribe emerged from the cave. They were gaunt and weak, but the sickness was finally over. As soon as they could clear a path up to the burial cave they interred those who had died. As she ritually freed their souls from their bodies, Christine felt her own sorrow and guilt that she had not saved them, but she also felt the relief and lightening of spirits of the gathered Domii. With these ceremonies, winter was behind them.

The men began to hunt again, and there were fresh green shoots and buds to eat. Christine went down to the stream and scrubbed her hair. Jona tagged along and watched, and then experimented with the homemade soap; the first of the Domii who had been willing to do so. She was very pretty, Christine thought, watching her lather and dunk herself, and then she smiled at the thought. Jona was short, muscular, slightly bowlegged and covered with soft gold fur - almost the same color as Aga's had been. Certainly no beauty by human standards, but Christine was starting to see with Domii eyes, and Jona was pretty. She wondered what she would look like to herself if she had a mirror.

Bira came down with Mara and Ami while Jona was still soapy and stared disapprovingly. "Jona! What Kista does is up to her, but that cannot be good for you."

"I want to try," clamored Mara.

"No, child. Hush." Mara started to cry.

"Now look at the ideas you have given your sister!"

"It will not hurt her, Bira," Christine said. "Really it won't." She had slowly gotten used to the smell of the Domii, ignoring it as long as she could keep Spock and herself fairly clean, but she couldn't help thinking occasionally that a scrubbing would be good for all of them.

Jona finished rinsing herself. "You see? I am fine. And I am almost a woman. This summer I will be married. You do not have to tell me what to do any more."

Bira looked exasperated, and Christine would have smiled at the sound of adolescent cockiness, but a wave of dread had tightened her stomach. Summer Festival would come all too soon, and she knew that she would have a fight on her hands. Perhaps literally, a physical fight. But looking at Jona, she knew that she had no choice. If only she could count on the support of anyone other than Spock... She became aware that Bira was looking closely at her. "Bira, the Adar Doma wishes to speak with you." She used the title deliberately, establishing her authority.

Bira's forehead wrinkled and she motioned to Jona. "Take Mara and collect me some ferns for the evening meal."

"I am not..."

"You are still my daughter. Go."

Jona left reluctantly, taking her time drying and dressing. Bira sighed. "They are always so before they marry - impudent. The marriage - that is what you wish to speak about, is it not?"

"Yes. I will not cut Jona."

"I had hoped that you had forgotten."

"No, Bira. I could not forget something like that. I am Adar Doma now, and I refuse. Nor will I let another do it."

"But it has always been done."

"Your mother knew I would refuse and she still thought me worthy. Bira, if you will trust me, you will see that it is better this way, for your women and your men." This was the hard part. "Will you speak to Domi for me? I will fight him if I must, but if you could..."

"I cannot. Domi's word is final."

"Not in matters of healing. I am Adar Doma, Bira." She looked deliberately at Ami, playing with pebbles in the shallows of the stream. If she had to remind Bira of that debt, she would.

Bira was silent, looking at her son. Then she said, "Come, Ami," picked him up, and walked away.

* * *

Jona and her new husband, Rendi, circled in front of Christine in their ritual dance. She could feel the tension in the onlookers; word had spread of what she was planning to do, though no one had spoken to her about it. Bira had been avoiding her, and Domi's face was stormy. The tension had been growing for weeks, through all the preparations; the brikaa hunt, the songs and dances, the making of the matara, and it would soon come to a head. Christine could see Spock out of the corner of her eye. Ignoring status, he had quietly worked his way to the front of the crowd. She became aware that the drumbeat was slowing. The dance was over.

Picking up her knife and lifting it high as Aga had done, she prepared to give the tribal marks. She had decided to bow to tradition in this at least; saving her defiance for later. She had boiled the knife, which was some consolation. She began the chant, concentrating on getting the pitch and rhythm exactly right. It helped to distract her mind from her dislike of the words, and her fear of what would happen next. She made the cuts cleanly; Rendi and Jona hardly flinched.

Domi and Bira stepped forward. Jona and Rendi stood uncertainly, looking at Christine. She had told Jona that she would leave out this part of the ceremony, and Jona had seemed both relieved and nervous. Now, under the pressure of her father's gaze, her hand went slowly to the tie of her wrap. Christine took a deep breath, and, ignoring Domi, started the invocation which ended the wedding. "Rendi and Jona are now joined together. Jona is the woman of Rendi, and Rendi..."

"Stop!" Domi's voice cut her off. "The wedding is not complete."

"It is complete."

"Finish the ceremony, Kista." His voice was getting louder. A murmur ran through the crowd.

"No." This was exactly what she had feared. Domi could be stubborn beyond reason when his pride was at stake. She gripped the salar claw she was wearing, to keep her hands from shaking. "I am Adar Doma, and my word is law in matters of healing, Domi." He made a move toward her, his arm going up, but before he could cross the distance, Spock had stepped swiftly to her side. She shook her head quickly, not wanting him to speak. There had to be a way for Domi to back down without feeling humiliated.

Domi stopped. "My daughter cannot go to her mate unprepared. It is dangerous for both of them."

Christine edged slightly ahead of Spock. She wanted to avoid having it look like Spock was challenging Domi, though she was grateful for his presence. To the extent that she could, she kept her own body language submissive, and her tone meek. "What you would have me do is more dangerous. You are the leader," it was always a good idea to reassure him of that, "but I do not wish to hurt Jona, and I do not think that you wish it either."

Domi drew himself up. "It is the good of Jona and the good of the tribe which I am protecting. You will perform the ceremony now, or I will do it myself."

"The good of the tribe is in my heart too." Domi snatched up a knife, and Christine got between him and Jona, who looked frightened. They froze in that position for long seconds, and then Domi reached out to push her away. She planted her feet and lifted the salar claw, symbol of her power, just as Spock and Bira stepped to her side.

Domi looked astonished as Bira made the permission sign. Christine held her breath. "Domi, I am your woman, but I am also Jona's mother. I do not want to hear her scream as I once did. You owe Kista a debt for the life of our son. Could this be the payment?"

Domi hesitated, not speaking. Christine said, keeping her voice humble - this was no time for pride - "I claim no payment for the life of Ami, but I ask that you think of this: if I knew a new way to save him from the winter sickness, might I not also be right about Jona?" She held her breath, feeling the fear in her stomach. The tribe was murmuring again.

"Domi." Spock spoke for the first time. "You are a wise leader." It was certainly Domi's day to get flattered, thought Christine. "You judge many questions for the Domii. You can be wise and brave enough to accept that the Adar Doma should choose in this matter."

"In all that affects the Domii in every other way you are leader. But this is the judgement of a healer." Christine waited tensely, and was surprised and grateful when Bira took her hand.

"I would speak with Jona and Rendi," said Domi unexpectedly. He paused, looked at Christine, and handed her the knife. She stepped aside slowly, leaving him facing the young couple.

"Jona, do you prefer it this way?" he asked gently. Christine would never have thought that he could bend enough to ask.

Jona, a woman now by tribal law, remembered to make the permission sign before speaking. "Yes. Kista has explained it to me, and I believe her."

"Rendi, will you accept Jona as your wife, though it may make her spirit proud and unruly?"

Rendi shifted uncomfortably, but said, "Jona has told me that she will be an obedient wife. I will accept her."

Domi swung around and looked long and hard at Christine. "Then so be it," he said at last. "They are married." Another pause. "The Adar Doma has decided."

He turned away as a babble of voices broke out around them, but Christine had heard the respect in his tone and his phrasing. "I did it," she said in a whisper. "I convinced him, or he backed down, I don't know which, but I did it." She became aware that her heart was thumping, and that she had been gripping the salar claw so long and so hard that she had a cramp in her fingers. She uncurled them slowly. "I did it."

"Indeed you did." Spock's voice was warm. She realized that she had started to shake with nervous reaction when he put an arm around her. "I would advise that you sit down. For the Adar Doma to collapse after such an impressive display of authority..." Her knees were wobbling as he guided her to a seat by the fire.

Later she sought out Bira to thank her for her support. "I did not want to think of what you said," Bira explained, "but I could not help it. And if you are right... Kista, you are Adar Doma in my place. I would not have had your courage for this..."

"But you did. You stood with me."

"If I had not, I would have been ashamed of myself. I owe you much; for taking my place, for Ami... and for telling me that there is value in what I do. Wait here." She vanished briefly, and when she returned she had a figurine. "I made this for you."

Christine examined it and looked up in delight. "But... Bira, this is me!"

"May it bring you luck, Kista."

* * *

When the noise and heat and smoke became overwhelming she wandered down to the riverbank. She was still holding the figurine, studying it, when Spock found her there. "Am I intruding?" he asked.

"No, not at all... I just needed to get away for a while. I'm glad my part in the Festival is over."

"You have had a somewhat stressful day."

"That's putting it mildly. But it's worth it when I see Jona. And look at what Bira made for me." She handed him the figurine.

He held it up to the golden late afternoon light. "It is very like you. An appropriate gift." He touched the figure's cheek with one finger, very gently, and looked at her.

Christine felt absurdly like crying. She squashed the impulse without examining it. "She gave it to me when I thanked her for standing up to Domi. She said she wanted to thank me... I was right about her; Aga and Domi just never gave her any room to move before."

"You showed her how."

"Maybe. Spock... I've thanked Bira, I've even thanked Jona for believing me when I told her that she'd be better off without a clitoridectomy no matter what tradition demanded... but I haven't thanked you."

"You owe me no thanks for your own courage. My contribution was minor."

"Oh no it wasn't! If you hadn't been there, if I hadn't known, really known, that you would back me up, I don't know if I'd have had the courage..."

"You underestimate yourself, Christine." He looked at the figurine which he still held, laid it on the grass, and touched her face. "I was proud of you today."

"Spock..." She turned her head abruptly away from his hand. His fingers were warm. Odd that a simple touch could still affect her when they had been sleeping together for so long.

"I am sorry." He had dropped his hand. "I have no right to be proud of you. To feel pride is to claim a share in another's deed. I have no right..."

"It wasn't that. Never mind. Actually, I was proud of myself too." She looked at him whimsically. "I'll tell you what. I'll let you be proud of me, if you'll let me thank you. Without interrupting."

"Very well." There was a subdued amusement in his voice.

"Thank you, Spock. Thank you for your support, thank you for listening, thank you for... for teaching Domi how to listen. That's probably the most important. I don't know if he'd admit it, but you've taught him to accept new ideas. And finally, thank you for being proud of me." She grinned at him. "You can relax now. I'm finished."

"You're welcome, Christine. A Vulcan does not thank logic, but a human may." A brief, comfortable silence surrounded them, through which Christine could hear the distant noise of music and laughter from the cave. Spock was sitting cross-legged beside her, the light slanting across him, gilding his shoulders, picking out the highlights in his hair and beard. They needed cutting again...

She looked back at the river before speaking. "Was it logical? What either of us did? We interfered, even though we'll leave this culture a little more compassionate..." She noticed the faint change in his expression. "Our chances...? You said if we weren't found by this time, they'd be negligible. But that was before we found the trichiolite."

"They are slightly better than negligible," Spock agreed.

"What.. .?"


"Oh, damn," said Christine very softly. She picked up the figurine. "Kista. Adar Doma; priestess and healer of the Domii. I guess that's who I am now. Ever since we got here, I've been... assuming rescue. I can't do that anymore. We're Domii now, Spock. Not just pretending, adapting, but the real thing." She put her head in her hands for a moment, and then looked up at him. "Sorry."

"It is not an entirely enjoyable prospect... but there may be compensations."

"Well... You know how Leonard always talks about being an old country doctor? I can see what he means. That's what I am now. There's a challenge here, and I'm really doing some good. I think."

"You know you are. But that is not what I was referring to." His voice was deep, but slightly hesitant. "Christine, I would speak with you..."

"Oh, Spock does it have to be now?" Suddenly she didn't want to hear any more. "You just told me that I'll probably be spending the rest of my life here. Isn't that enough? Can't it wait?"

"Of course," he said quietly. "Would you prefer that I leave?"

"It would probably be easier for you." She looked away. "I'm having an emotional reaction."

"So I see." He shifted his position, but instead of rising he put his hands on her shoulders.

"Please don't do that."

"Very well," he replied softly, but instead of releasing her he pulled her into his arms and covered her mouth gently with his.


It took her a moment to realize that the voice was inside her head. //Sp- Spock? Spock!// Then the mental touch was gone, but he was still holding her firmly. His arms tightened for a moment before he sat back and released her. There was the barest hint of a smile at the corners of his mouth.

"I apologize. I... I wished to ascertain whether you truly wished me to leave."

"Apologize? Wish you to... Spock!" Christine knew that she was a little incoherent. She took a shaky breath. "No, I certainly don't want you to leave." She met his eyes. "Does kissing me have something to do with what you wanted to talk about?"

"Yes. I wished... I wish... to ask you to be my bondmate. It is perhaps illogical, but I did not want to wait to hear your answer."

"Bondmate? Spock, are you asking me... to marry you?"

"No, Christine." He reached for her hands. "I am asking you to bond with me."

"I don't..." Looking down at their hands, she realized what she needed. "Hold me? Please?" She had never asked that before, but he didn't hesitate. That alone told her a great deal. With more confidence than she had expected he pulled her down into the grass, cradling her comfortably against him.

"Is this an improvement?" he asked.

"Definitely. Oh..." She turned and clung to him fiercely for a moment. "Oh, Spock, Spock..." Finally she raised her head and smiled. "Very eloquent, right? But I still don't understand... you said bondmate... but you're not asking me to marry you?"

"I was imprecise. I value you, perhaps more than I will ever be able to express in words. In the increasingly unlikely event that we are found, I will participate in whatever marriage ceremonies you feel are appropriate. But Christine, to a Vulcan even our own rites are only the outer acknowledgement of an inner reality. A true bonding creates a mental link which can only be broken by death." His voice was gentle, but very grave. "We would be a part of each other for the rest of our lives. Compared to that, most human marriages are transitory things."

He suddenly sounded very Vulcan, and Christine sat up, sensing that he needed space, just as a moment earlier she had needed the security of physical contact. They sat facing each other, not touching. "Transitory..."

"Indeed. What percentage of human marriages last for the life of the partners?"

"Oh... about 20%, I think. The rest are term marriages, or end in divorce."

"There is no such option for Vulcans. The bonding can only be broken by the kal-if-fee. It can be a thing of terror as well as of joy. It is not to be entered into lightly." He had become very remote, not looking at her, and she was suddenly chilled.

"Are you trying to frighten me off, Spock?" she asked, with an attempt at lightness which failed.

He must have heard the faint quiver in her voice, because his attention came back to her instantly. He took her hands again. "No. Maybe I am not expressing myself as I should. I was attempting to give you the means to make a decision without emotional pressure. I am sorry if I have caused you pain."

"Spock, from what you've said... are you sure that you want this?" She was on the verge of tears. This wasn't how she'd imagined it.

Spock said something in Vulcan, a word she'd never heard, but unmistakably a curse. A moment later he had pulled her against him again, holding her so tightly that she gave a muffled gasp of protest. "Christine... I need you. There is an empty place in my mind and in my life that I would have you fill. But how can I tell you this without pressuring you?"

"So damned scrupulous. I'm human, Spock. This kind of... pressure... is part of what I need to know to decide. I'm scared... and confused... and happy... and none of this is as simple as it was in my fantasies."

"Life seldom is."

She became very aware of the warm, strong length of his body against hers. She ran her hand down his chest to find his heartbeat. "There are things I have to warn you about too." She turned her head and kissed his shoulder. "I love you." Raising her head, she found his eyes.

"I am aware of it." His eyebrow went up. "I had not viewed it as a problem."

"Oh, Spock... don't be so sure. I'm an emotional being. I can control my feelings on the outside as well as most adult humans - better than some - but on the inside is another matter."

"I know. It is another matter for Vulcans as well."

"But if we're bonded... I've often thought that it must be hard for you even now to shield against some of my emotions. The first thing I have to know is if you can stand being loved, because I can't do this if you can't. Loving you is too much a part of me for me to suppress it, even for the chance to be your wife."

Spock shifted, and looked down at her. "My resiliency may be greater than you suppose. And my greatest struggle recently has not been to shield against your thoughts and feelings, but to resist an overwhelming temptation to enter your mind uninvited. I am not frightened of what I would find there. It would not be the first time that I have touched your thoughts."

"That was different. When Sargon put you in my mind you were there for a reason, and you didn't... look, didn't touch... any more than you needed to. You were impersonal."

"For your own protection as well as mine. The temptation was there, but I had a task to perform. How often have you examined me medically... impersonally?"

"It's not a precise analogy."

"It will do."

"What about... Spock, there are places in my mind that I don't like to look at myself. How can I let you see them? I love you, and I'm scared."

"You need not be."

"It's not that there's anything terrible; not that I'm a mass murderer or a drug smuggler but... It's all the petty things, the little deceits, bits of selfishness and envy. I don't want to show them to you, even though I know they're 'only human.' The way I am."

"Christine, do you think that I am perfect?"

She drew in her breath sharply. "No. Of course not. Sometimes you're... well, never mind. But it's been a long time since I thought you were perfect."

"But it has not changed your feelings toward me."

"No." She could see where this was leading. "If anything... when I got close enough to see your faults, I got close enough to love you all the more."

"I am Vulcan. I have never succumbed to the human romanticism of expecting perfection." Only of himself, thought Christine. "I know you are flawed, just as I am. But I need you, Christine."

His last words suddenly triggered her medical instincts, and she looked at him in sudden concern. "Spock you're not..." But she was already shaking her head as he answered.

"No." His eyes were calm, and his skin no more than normally hot. "But you must also think of that." He looked away from her. "Could you accept the madness when it comes?"

"Yes. That's not so hard for a human as you might think. I love you."

"I hope that you will not regret it." His voice was very soft.

She looked into the dark velvet depths of his eyes. "No, Spock. I've never regretted loving you, even when it was hopeless. I couldn't regret it without rejecting a basic part of what I am. I came to terms with that a long time ago." She buried her face against him. "Spock, I want to bond with you, I want it as much as... well I hope as much as you do. But I'm still scared. I'm not Vulcan. Can you understand that?"

For a moment Spock seemed not to have heard her question. His grip was tightening again, and she realized that he was reacting to her first words. She had given him her answer, unaware that she had made the decision until it was done. Had there ever been any real doubt? She was aware of a surge of incredulous joy flowing out of him, an emotion that he was not even trying to master. //Christine. Bondmate. Wife. T'hy'la.// He took a deep shuddering breath and released her enough to let her see his face. His control was reasserting itself, but there was still a glowing tenderness in his eyes. When he spoke, his voice was slightly husky. "You are sure? You understand what it means?"

"Wasn't that my question to you? Yes, I understand, enough to know that I'm sure. Especially now that I know you're sure." She traced her fingers over his face in wonder, and after a moment let her lips follow, kissing his cheekbones, his eyes, his eyebrows, and finally finding his mouth and lingering there.

His mouth was warm, his beard scratchy-soft against her face. His hands began to move slowly, tentatively over her back. As she lifted her arms around his neck, her wrap started to slip. She never had figured out how to fasten it securely. She automatically reached to hitch it up, but stopped with a soft gasp when his hand brushed against her bare breast. Her own hands were suddenly eager to explore, to caress, but after a moment he caught them and pulled gently away from her. He pulled her wrap back into position and she looked at him in confusion. "What's wrong? Don't you..."

Spock shook his head and brushed her hair out of her face. "Christine. It is not that I do not desire you." Amusement flickered in his eyes. "I fully intend to have intercourse with you very soon." His face grew gravely tender. "But first I would complete our bonding. It will add a deeper meaning to the physical act when we touch in mind as well as body. Are you ready?"

She looked down at their joined hands, then into his eyes, and nodded, calling on trust and love to banish her fear. He took her hands and lifted them to his face before positioning his own fingers gently on her temples. She felt the warmth first, not words, just a presence, closer to her than any physical contact could be. She reached for the presence with her mind, awkwardly, timidly, and felt herself caught and held. //Christine. Let me help.//

//Spock? Is this how it should be? Am I doing it right?//

She could feel the smile in his thoughts. //Yes, my wife. But this is not a matter of right or wrong, but of sharing and learning.// He began to explore, moving through her mind, and she was no longer ashamed or afraid. Joy and acceptance were all that she could feel. No rejection of her humanity came from him. Instead he showed her her own warmth, compassion, tenderness... //This is what you are to me. I rejoice in you.//

She felt an unfilled need in herself then, and reached out to him again. //Can I...?//

//You must. It is the other half of the bond. Come.//

She was timid at first, worried that she would somehow hurt him. His mind was stronger than hers; disciplined, ordered, but she was still afraid that her intrusion could cause him pain. Surely it must cost him more than her to be so open.

He caught the thought. //No. I want you to know me, to see me as I have seen you.//

The intellect first, a crystal precision. It would always be the first thing apparent about him. Then, beneath that, the feelings. Kindness, gentleness, unselfishness, loyalty, integrity, a profound reverence for the universe and everything in it, a deep appreciation of beauty... She explored in happy wonder. She had known this, but to share it so directly... //This is why I have loved you.// But then, more deeply buried, there were darker things. Anger, and shame, and pain, and loneliness. These too she had suspected, and she accepted them. But the loneliness... She reached to comfort it. It had been filled in part by his work, by his friendship with Jim, but there was an emptiness there which needed her as well. She flooded that emptiness with her love and felt how badly he had wanted it.

//You are mine now, and I am yours.// His words burst in her brain. //Wife. Bondmate. Parted from me and never parted; never and always touching and touched.// For a moment she was drowning in the explosion of his triumph as he dissolved the barriers between their minds totally and drove to the center of her being to form the bonding link. Then he caught her gently and helped her to find her own consciousness again. //T'hy'la. Do you see now how I need you?// He carefully showed her the way back up out of the depths of his mind.

She was shaken, but also filled with a deep peace. //Yes. As much as I need you.// Though still strongly linked to him, she was becoming aware of the external world again. //My... husband?//

//Yes.// It was both response and affirmation, underlayed with a current of laughter.

//Is it done? We're bonded now?// Her vision had returned, though until now she hadn't been aware that it was gone. She could see him with her eyes again as well as with her mind. His face was close to hers, and the familiar eyebrow tilted up.

//Yes. You found the experience... insufficient?//

//God, no. You know what I thought of it; you were there too!// Laughter was bubbling up in her as well, out of pure happiness. //What do we do now? To tell the truth, my arms are starting to ache.//

He took her hands from his face and put them back in her lap. "There, Christine."

Her eyes widened. "Talking... feels strange."

"It may take you some time to become accustomed to moving between the two forms of communication."

"Spock... I can't read your thoughts any more, but I can still... I can feel you somehow."

He nodded. "That is the nature of the bond." He took her hands again, and drew her against him. //You see. We can only read each other when we are in contact.//

//Mm.// She kissed the hollow at the base of his throat. //It feels so peaceful. You feel so peaceful. Am I right about that?//

//Yes. The need to be be bonded is a basic part of Vulcan nature. Nothing else can quite take its place. It is perhaps the closest thing we know to what humans call love.//

She sensed a faint anxiety in that thought and offered reassurance. //I don't care what you call it. The feeling is more than enough. My love.//

He relaxed. //The feeling I may comprehend. It is not unknown to Vulcans, though expressed differently. But the word...// He was curious now. //Humans use it so loosely. They love not only their mates, their families, but they say that they love food and items of clothing... My wife, are you thinking of the dress you were wearing when we were captured?//

//Yes. I loved that dress, I remember saying so to Uhura. But really, Spock.// She started to laugh out loud. //I thought that you'd learned not to take humans so literally. I loved the dress and I love you, but there's no risk that I'll confuse the two feelings.//

//I am pleased to hear it. If you did, I might be somewhat disconcerted.//

Christine smiled and settled herself more comfortably. It was getting dark, and she felt Spock give an involuntary shiver. //Should we go back to the cave?// //Certainly not. There are other matters that we have yet to attend to.// There was a sudden, intense wave of desire in his mind, and a quick series of vivid, explicit images.

Christine grinned. //My, my Spock. Such thoughts.// She gave a sigh of pleasure, but as she started to caress him he shivered again, with cold, not arousal, and a discordant flash of discomfort crossed his mind. //You are cold. Let's get some bedskins. I don't need a lover who's got half his mind on regulating his body temperature.//

//It would not require half my mind.//

She sat up. "I don't want it to require any of your mind. I'm selfish, and I intend to give you better things to think about. I'll go get some skins."

"I will go. Your suggestion has merit, and I will be less likely to be noticed... and questioned... than the Adar Doma."

"Point taken. 'Kista, where are you going with your bedskins? Why would you want to sleep outside?' They might even follow me to find out."

"I will return shortly. Without, I trust, an escort." He started to rise, then turned back and kissed her, hard but briefly.

Christine sighed happily and lay down again. Spock. My husband. The peace of the bond was still with her when he vanished. She supposed that now it always would be. My love, my love. Finally. The air felt warm to her, though it had grown chilly to Spock's Vulcan metabolism. Her body felt sleek and open and ready. She put her arms behind her head and watched the stars coming out. Closing her eyes, she tested the warmth of the bond with contentment, and allowed herself a daydream in which they were together on the Enterprise, back among the stars...

* * * ...there was the familiar feel of fur under and over her, and a warm body next to her, but something more, too, something good, a deep happiness and joy... Christine lifted her head, disoriented for a moment, and looked into Spock's amused eyes.

//My wife?//

"I fell asleep!" she gasped aloud.

"Indeed. Very soundly. I told you that you had had a stressful day."

"How long..."

"Five hours, seven minutes."

"Oh, no..." She started to chuckle. "I'm sorry. Maybe you should have tried the traditional Sleeping Beauty approach."

"I did, Christine. You said something which sounded like 'mnffuh' and turned over on your face. That, as I understand it, is not the traditional response."

"I don't believe it. I don't believe me. I've waited..." She counted in her head. "You must know... For ten years I've loved you, wanted you." She shook her head. "And I fell asleep. Very good, Chris. It would serve me right if now you wanted to go to sleep."

"That would be an irrational form of revenge, my wife; no more pleasant for me than for you. I prefer," he turned and his lips moved along her neck, //to concentrate on better pursuits.//


He lifted his head and they looked at each other in the starlight. She studied his familiar and unfamiliar, newly and always beloved face. She pushed the thick black hair back to touch his ears. He had the deepest, wisest eyes she had ever seen, and she lost herself for a moment in their depths. And his mouth... //I always knew that you weren't meant to be celibate. Your mouth is too sensual. Your hands, too.//

//Illogical, Christine.// He was slightly incredulous, but not displeased.

//Oh is it?// She pulled him into a strong kiss, and touched her tongue to his lips. They opened, and his tongue, stronger than hers, began to taste and probe. //You see?// She pulled back to look at his face. She had never seen it before, but the expression of arousal was unmistakable. His eyes were heavy, his lips softened with it, and she knew that she mirrored him. Their clothes, brief as they were, were suddenly an unbearable impediment. //Damn. I can't...//

//Sit up.// They broke apart reluctantly.

"On the other hand," said Christine softly, "this way I can see you." She quickly discarded the always insecure wrap and reached for his hands, wanting to know if the sight of her pleased him. His gaze slid slowly over her, and his reaction was all that she could have hoped. He took her hands and guided them to the knot of his breechcloth, letting them brush first over the jutting hardness beneath. The breechcloth joined her wrap a few seconds later. She caressed him with her eyes first and then her hands, starting at his shoulders and moving down to his erect green penis. He closed his eyes and gasped as she stroked the shaft, and she felt his pleasure through the bond. //It's beautiful. So hard, but the skin is so soft. You're beautiful.//

//You have seen me before.//

//Not like this. I didn't... couldn't... let myself.//

//Professional. Impersonal.// His body was starting to tremble with arousal, and he groaned and pulled her down to lie with him, his hands hot on her breasts. //Let me touch you now.//

//Please...// She lay back and he explored her with his mouth and hands. At first she felt a shyness in him, a fear of doing something wrong; akin to what she had felt when she first touched his mind. But the sweet consuming ache of desire in her mind quickly showed him that he was pleasing her.

//Is this good?// he asked, his mouth teasing her hardened nipples.

//Yes, but...// Her hips arched against him instinctively, and, increasingly confident, he read what she wanted.

He slid a hand down slowly and firmly over her stomach and parted her thighs. His fingers found her clitoris and began to massage it gently. //Here, my wife?// She moaned and pushed against his hand. //Here,// he deduced in satisfaction. He concentrated for a moment on sharing her sensations, and she felt his wonder. //The Domii women will never feel this?//

//No... That's why I had to...// She couldn't concentrate, her whole body was starting to move with the stimulation. She reached hungrily for him again, caressing his erection, sharing the pleasure that she could give to him. The feedback was nearly unbearable. //Now, Spock. Inside me. Now.//

The overwhelming urgency made them both awkward for a moment as he positioned himself between her legs. She guided him to the proper place. It had been a long time since she had done this. //Push now. Thrust.// She lifted to meet him. //Oh, yes. That's right. Yes!// Pressure and stretching at first, then acceptance and exquisite friction, and sharing. //So this is what it's like for a man...//

//And for a woman...//

They moved together in urgent need, no longer able to speak even in their minds, only able to feel. His body was hot inside hers, adding to her pleasure, and paradoxically, she could sense his delight in her coolness. She felt his mind try to prolong the experience but it was no use. A few more thrusts and they exploded into orgasm, crying out in joy.

Afterward he started to move off her, but she held him tightly. //No.//

//I am not heavy?//

//Not in a way that I mind.// He sighed and buried his face against her neck. She rubbed his back happily. //My husband. My love. That was... oh, it was so good. Can you imagine how good we'll be when we've had time to practice?//

//Indeed.// He didn't raise his head, but she could hear the laughter in his mind. //It would seem logical that we take every possible opportunity to... practice.//

//Indeed,// she imitated in amusement, and reached down to stroke his tight buttocks. When he finally sensed that his weight was becoming uncomfortable for her he shifted off and lay by her side, wrapping his arms and legs warmly around her. //This is nice. So secure.// She slid down and pressed her face into the soft hair on his chest. His skin had a faint alien smell of musk and spice. She had noticed it before, but it was sharper and stronger in the aftermath of their love-making. She breathed deeply. //You smell good. I've wanted to tell you that for a long time.//

//You have? The only time I remember the topic arising, you informed me that I stank.//

She laughed. //You did, then. So did I. This is different. Someone ought to figure out a way to bottle it and sell it.//

//Christine!// He was genuinely shocked.

//I didn't mean it. Anyway, it wouldn't be nearly so nice if half the men in the galaxy smelled this way.// She turned her head and experimentally nuzzled at his armpit. //Mmhmm. It's even nice there...//

He jerked and half sat up in protest. "Stop that."

"You're ticklish! I never knew that before, and I can tell with most of my patients. Where else?" He twisted away and she pounced on him. "Ribs... no. But your navel... oh yes, and the backs of your knees..."

"Enough, Christine." He caught her hands and held them away. "Now that you have satisfied your curiosity... It is a reaction which I am perfectly capable of controlling when circumstances warrant it, such as during a medical examination. I was not expecting to be attacked in such a fashion by my bondmate."

"By your illogical human bondmate." She smiled and leaned forward to kiss him.

//Try now.//

Her fingers moved teasingly, but he remained calm. //You're right. You can turn it off. Fascinating.//

//Now that you know that...//

//I can concentrate on doing better things with my hands? And don't you dare try to prove that you can turn these reactions off.//

//I have no intention of doing so.//

Her hands moved lightly down his chest and stomach, tracing the narrow line of hair across his abdomen to the thick dark fur at its base and then stroking the insides of his lean thighs. After a few minutes he realized that she was teasing him. He stopped her hands and pulled them to his penis. //Oh, is that what you wanted?// she asked in mock innocence. //I never thought of that.//

//I trust that now you understand.// Her hands caressed him and he groaned, pelvis shifting involuntarily. He concentrated on doing some tantalizing of his own.

//Yes...// She gave a soft whimper of pleasure and the game dissolved into passion, leaving them peacefully spent again.

* * *

Afterwards they were silent, feeling no need to speak, sharing a wordless contentment. Christine was getting drowsy, eyes closing, but she couldn't drift off unless she could breathe more easily. In addition, one of her legs was numb. //Spock?// There was silence in her mind. She turned her head as far as she could toward where he rested on her shoulder. She peered at him. Eyes closed, mouth open, breathing heavily. "Spock!" No reply. She sighed, kissed his cheek, and shook his shoulder. "Spock, wake up. I'm sorry my love, but you're cutting off the circulation in my leg."

His eyes opened and blinked, and he returned to full consciousness almost instantly. He rolled off her. "I apologize. I did not intend to sleep, but..." He looked slightly shy. "Your body is very soft and comforting, my wife."

"I hated to wake you." She slipped an arm around his shoulders and settled his head against her breasts. //Is this all right?//


//I'm getting good at talking like this.// She slid her free hand down her own body to move in a slow circle over her stomach. He caught the thought even before she had time to verbalize it.

//Unlikely, my wife. Not here.//

//Perfectly likely. Even probable.//

He was startled enough to raise his head. //But I am...//

//Sterile? No you're not. How much do you know about hybrid sterility, and your own genetic structure?//

//I have not... investigated the matter.//

She sensed embarrassment. //Do you mind if I...?//

//Of course not. It is logical, now.//

//Well...// She shifted to speaking aloud. Telepathy was pleasant, but it was easier to organize her thoughts this way. "Most hybrids are sterile because they have an odd number of chromosomes which doesn't match the number of either parent species. Therefore, though they're perfectly capable of mating - a lot of people seem to assume that hybrids are eunuchs, which is obviously not true -"


"Uh huh." She ran a hand down to fondle his testicles. "Where was I... So the chromosomes can't link up properly, and a hybrid is incapable of siring or conceiving a viable fetus. That's always been our most common way of differentiating between species. But in the case of Vulcans and humans, our usual definitions start to break down. Each species has twenty-three pairs of chromosomes, which makes conception perfectly possible, but they're vastly different in other ways. But there's no genetic reason for you to be sterile."

"Agreed. However the other anatomical variances... Do you believe that you could carry such a child? The blood factors..."

"Cause a lot of problems. In most cases, a Vulcan-human hybrid embryo would have to be removed shortly after conception and gestated in vitro. It is - or would be, there haven't been many cases - possible for the baby to develop normally in utero only in about ten percent of such conceptions. It depends on a whole list of things, but the most important is that the mother and baby can tolerate each other's blood type. Sarek and Amanda were lucky."

"My mother's blood is O negative."

"So is mine. And yours is T negative like your father's."

"But there may be other potential problems."

"There could be, but there aren't. Not for us." She kissed him lightly to cover her embarrassment. "I ran our complete medical profiles through the Enterprise med-comps once to check."

His eyebrow lifted in puzzlement. "Why would you have done that?"

Christine knew that her face was red. "Don't be dense, Spock."

"I see." He was amused. "I commend your foresight, my wife."

Christine sighed and held him tighter, remembering how... illogically... pleased she had been to know that they could have children normally. Illogically because at that time it was ridiculous to think that she would ever be in a position to have Spock's child. She had been angry with herself for having checked, but the temptation had been irresistible, and the results a private little pleasure.

Spock had been following her thoughts. //It was harmless then, and the knowledge is useful now,// he reassured her.

//It was unprofessional, but I'm glad I did it. We could still have ordinary problems, like so many other couples. Has your sperm count ever been checked?//

//No.// He sounded uncomfortable with the idea, and Christine laughed.

//You never got sent into an examining room with a container and told to produce? I suppose not. I can't quite imagine anyone asking you. As for me...// //Your menstrual cycle is twenty-nine days, and extremely regular. Your next period is due in nine days, making it possible but unlikely for you to conceive during this cycle.//

"Spock!" She sat up, dislodging him. "You've been keeping track?"

"You called the first one to my attention, and for all your discretion since, our living arrangements do not allow for much privacy. There is nothing to be embarrassed about."

She lay down again. "I'm not embarrassed, just startled. You know the damnedest things." The night sky above them caught her eyes. //It's so clear tonight. Look at all the stars. When I fell asleep before, I was daydreaming that we were together on the Enterprise.//

//There is very little possibility of that. Our positions will have been filled long since.//

//I know. Damn, damn, damn.//

//Calm yourself, my wife. What cannot be changed must be accepted. Logic demands it.//

//If we do have children, this world may be all they'll ever know. Even if we try to explain, they won't believe that we came from those stars. I can hardly believe it myself anymore. You can't recognize any of them, can you?//

//No. I once hoped to find natural crystal deposits, from which I could fashion a prism. I might then have been able to read the spectral patterns of the brighter stars.//

She felt the longing which lay just below the words. It mirrored her own feelings. Even the pervasive contentment of the bond and the satiated limpness of their entwined bodies couldn't quite banish it. Their place was out there, not here. //Oh well. Compensations, you said before...//

//I did. I would prefer not to be here, and yet if we had not been marooned...//

//You wouldn't have let your guard down around me...//

//And we would not now be...//

//In a position to be finishing each other's thoughts...//


Christine laughed, and turned on her side. The longing would always be there when they looked at the stars, but... //If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.//

//I beg your pardon?//

//An old saying. I think it covers our situation.//

He caught her slight ambivalence almost before she was aware of it. //You are not second-best, Christine. Not simply a compensation for being here. Not... lemonade, if I understand your reference. Were we back on the Enterprise right now, I would need and value you no less.// He turned too, so that their bodies nested together.

//Oh, Spock... I didn't even know that was bothering me.// He settled the fur more tightly around them. They had slept like this for most of the past year... but not quite like this. Christine smiled into the darkness and closed her eyes as a warm hand cupped her breast. //I love you, my husband.//

Chapter Text

Christine always had the uncomfortable feeling that the entire tribe had read the change in their relationship in her face. Certainly little else was different. They lived just as before, and if there was a new peace in Spock, he showed it only inwardly, through their marital bond. She was the one who fell into fits of daydreaming and snatches of song. From time to time she was embarrassed to catch herself wearing a wide, idiotic grin.

One evening she sat with the women watching Spock and the other men discuss preparations for the autumn trip to the plateau. The women were, of course, excluded from the planning though they carried their share of the load. Christine's mind was partly on the injustice and mainly on the play of the firelight on Spock's back. She would have a few things to say to him in bed that night, but not until after... She jumped when Bira leaned over and patted her stomach.

"Are you carrying a child yet, Kista?"

"Bira? No! I mean... no."

"Soon, then," said Bira consolingly. "I am glad for you, Kista. I told you that the figure I made would bring you luck."

Christine thought of pretending not to understand, but that would be absurd. Bira was her friend. "Thank you. Maybe in a little while..."

"It is good for the Adar Doma to have children. It will increase your power. Jona is already bearing her first."

Christine turned to smile at Jona, hiding her worry. Good god, she couldn't be more than thirteen. Jona smiled proudly back and said, "Kista was right, Mother. I will have many children." She looked slightly impudent. "And I will enjoy the making of them. Kista was right about that, too."

* * *

When Spock lay down beside her that night she could feel the tension in his shoulders. He had strained a muscle the week before, and it was still stiff. "Let me rub it."

"I am not in pain."

She sat up and pushed him down on his stomach. "And this doesn't feel good, either, right?"

"I must confess..."

She had learned to do this when she was a nurse, and she had never lost the knack. She rubbed strongly until he was totally relaxed, and then changed the motions until his body started to tremble with a different kind of tension. //Feel better? You're not stiff any more?//

He rolled over onto his back and reached for her. //My wife, that is an atrocious attempt at humor. You are simply trying to make me admit that I have traded one sort of... stiffness... for another. Are you satisfied?//

//Very much so.//

After they had made love Christine considered the experience with more detachment than she had mustered before. She felt better than she had in years. The wonder of it was still there, but it was also growing familiar. She had forgotten how good it was to have a lover; how much her body needed the physical release. She stretched luxuriously. //I've never had one with a beard before... Such a long time it was... Three years since that leave at Starbase XI. Jeff Willensky... Nice enough, and we had fun, but so conceited... He was good in bed, but not as good as he thought he was...//

The blast of anger blew through her thoughts, scattering them wildly, followed by a wave of jealous possessiveness. //My wife, attend!// Then it was gone, and there was silence in her mind. She twisted out of Spock's arms, heart pounding, and stared at him in the dark. His face was tight and closed in.


He seemed to make an effort, and his face cleared. "Forgive me. I should not have displayed such a reaction."

He held out two fingers in the ritual position. He had never made that very Vulcan gesture to her before. Still shaken, but sensing that it meant something to him, she returned the touch, and felt him relax. He gave her arm a gentle tug, and she lay down again, almost afraid to touch him. But his thoughts were still shielded from her. "Spock, I'm sorry if you don't like everything in my mind, but I warned you..."

"You did... but it seems that some things are harder to accept than others."

"Listen..." She was starting to get angry now. "That was a long time ago. What did you think, that I'd lived like a nun all those years just because I had the misfortune to be in love with a man who never gave me a second glance? You don't have a claim on my past."

"Christine, I have asked forgiveness. What you say is true."

She calmed down. "All right. I'm sorry, too. I didn't want to hurt you." She felt his mental touch creep slowly back.

//I must teach you to shield. I have been selfish. You have a right to your privacy, but I have enjoyed sharing your thoughts.//

//Can I learn?//

//In time.// There was still turmoil in him.

//But even you can't quite manage it right now.//

//I am a Vulcan male, Christine. You are my wife.//

//Yes, but...//

//You are troubled.//

//Yes.// She gently but firmly detached herself from him. "Please... Don't touch me for a minute. I need to talk about this without worrying about what you might pick up."

"I will not intrude, my wife." He reached for her.

"No! Damn it, I thought Vulcans were the ones who didn't like to touch." She moved back and looked at him. The anger was welling up again. "Don't be so damn possessive! "

He jerked back the hand which he had extended toward her as though she had slapped it. There was a long, long silence. Tears came to Christine's eyes. She was still angry, but she also wanted to throw herself into his arms and apologize. She had not meant to sound so hostile. "Possessive, my wife?" he said at last, very quietly.

"Yes! Do you hear yourself? 'My wife.' Since we've been bonded you've been calling me that all the time." She hadn't realized until now that it had been bothering her. "My name, as I remember saying to you before, is Christine."

"Do you regret our bonding already, my..." He broke off and looked away from her.

"No! God, no, of course I don't. It's just..." She was starting to cry in earnest. She hadn't meant this to turn into a fight.

"Then I fail to comprehend your reactions." His voice was cold.

"Spock, don't do that!" She slid down and put her arms around him. "Don't go all icy on me the first time we don't understand each other." His shoulders were rigid, and for a moment she was sure that he was going to rebuff her. What had happened? Only a half-hour ago their minds and bodies had been locked together in joyful passion. Her thighs were still sticky with semen, and the scent of their love-making still clung to the bedskins. She didn't know if those thoughts leaked past his shields, but his arms finally came around her, and she felt a delicate surface brush of regret and tenderness on her mind.

"I thought you did not wish to touch."

"I changed my mind. Not touching wasn't helping much." They both relaxed as he allowed rueful amusement to show for a moment. "I love you. It will help both of us to remember that."

"I need you, my... Christine. I... It is the way of my people..." He seemed frustrated; at a loss for words. "Do you wish me to maintain my shields?"

"Just for a little while. I need to sort out my thoughts in private." This time she succeeded in thinking rather than simply feeling. "I guess that's one of the things that's bothering me," she said slowly. "I love the bond, love sharing your mind, and having you share mine, but... sometimes it seems so one-sided. I'm not a telepath, so you control the contact. You can reach me, but I can't reach you on my own, or stop you from reading me."

"That will change when you learn to erect your own barriers."

"I know. But that's not the main issue, anyway." She wondered if she wanted to go on with this, but she couldn't let it fester. "It's more basic than that."

"'Don't be so damn possessive'" quoted Spock softly.

"Yes... Oh, Spock, you don't have to shield any longer if you don't want to! Maybe if we can share, it will help."

His blocks slowly dropped, and he moved back into her consciousness, wary, and on some deeper level, hurt. //It is the way of Vulcan. You are my wife.//

She sensed his need for reassurance, and also a fear which he was trying to control; a fear based on his lack of comprehension of her feelings. //Of course I am. But you don't own me. I don't concede that to anyone's customs not Domii ones, not Vulcan ones.//

//It is not ownership, my... you see, I cannot control it entirely, even at your request.//

//I didn't say you had to, my husband. The first time you said it, it was the best thing I'd ever heard. I still love the sound of it. But if I hear it in every sentence, I start to feel... smothered. Like I'm not me, I'm just 'my wife,' an appendage. Like I might as well be, not Christine, but anyone.//

//That is not true. You are Christine, and I do not ever forget that. But this is not just a cultural pattern for Vulcans, as it is for the Domii. I do not claim to own you. It might be more true to say that you own me, for the time will come when you will hold my life in your hands. A Vulcan must know that his bondmate will be there at that time. If she is not...// He was physically shaking.

His fear was back, and also the need to clutch at her, but she did not resist them this time. Now she understood what was at the root of them, and she was furious, but not with Spock. //That bitch, T'Pring!// He had not let her see before how badly that rejection had hurt him. She held him tightly, pouring out all the love and reassurance she had. //Spock, husband, bondmate, love, t'hy'la, I would never... I'll be there when you need me, of course I will, whenever you need me...//

He was no longer blocking the rage and pain, and they poured into her mind with long suppressed bitterness. //Cold, cruel, unfaithful, betrayer... I came to her, and she rejected me, made me...// The memory was agony.

//It's all right now, it's all right...//

//Oh my wife, can you understand?//

//Shh, my husband, my love, I understand, I'll be there, don't worry...// She was rocking him, her face wet with tears. His eyes were dry, the pain all held inside, but his hands were gripping her tightly enough to leave bruises.

He began to reassert control, but a final wave of fear broke through. //There was another man in your thoughts...//

//What...? Oh my god...// She had forgotten how this had started. //Jeff what's his name, on Starbase XI?//

//Jeff Willensky.//

//Spock, if you could see that much, couldn't you see that it was only a memory, and a completely unimportant one? I hadn't thought about him in years.//

//I know that. My reaction was unworthy, but when I shared your memory of the two of you together... And I have glimpsed others... With your... with Roger... I had been betrayed by T'Pring... Christine, forgive me for even thinking such a thing!//

//Spock, you must see how absurd that is. I know that if tradition had worked out for you, you could have expected a virgin Vulcan bride. But I'm neither, and you knew that before today. For that matter...// She stopped verbalizing, but she didn't know how to block the thought. He had been inexperienced, but not a virgin himself, and she had glimpsed those memories in his mind.

//It does not distress you?// He was ashamed.

//No, not in any important way. It's not something to be ashamed of, and it's in the past, the same way that my memories are past. You couldn't... how could you imagine that I would want anyone but you now? You're my husband, and I'm your wife... The possessiveness still bothers me; it probably always will, but I understand it better now. Can't you see that you don't have to own me, to clutch at me? I love you of my own free will, and that's the strongest tie of all.//

//I will try to understand and remember that, my...//

//Go ahead. Say it... think it, if you need to.//

// wife.// He gently caressed her back and arms where he had gripped her before. //You will have contusions. I am sorry.//

//Don't worry about it.// She rotated her shoulders. //Mm, that feels nice... You know, this was our first fight. By human tradition that means that the honeymoon's over.//

//Vulcans do not have honeymoons. Nor do they quarrel, Christine.//

//Bull. It was a good fight, too.//

//An odd concept. A... good fight?//

//Mm hmm. We learned a few things about each other that we didn't know before.//

//I hope so.// He seemed suddenly distracted. Turning her toward him, he held her hard against him, pushing a leg between hers. She felt his surprise at his own urgency. //Christine, I want...//

She kissed him deeply and sensuously, and he gave a low grunt. //Of course you do. Everyone - every human - knows that it's the best way to make up.// Their hands moved over each other and she wrapped her legs around him eagerly. //There... I'm ready, too... Go ahead...//

Chapter Text

Christine walked at the rear of the Domii on the trip up to the plateau this year. It was the traditional place of the Adar Doma, symbolic of her status as spiritual defender of the tribe, and a good place from which to keep an eye on things. She missed Aga sharply, remembering the scolding and lecturing the year before, when she had been trying to learn to sing on key. But now she had Jona, her stomach just beginning to curve, walking beside her and absorbing the lessons which she had learned from Aga. It gave Christine a pleasant feeling of continuity.

Spock was needed for the hunt and the butchering, but Christine spent most of her time teaching Jona and carrying loads of yellow trichiolite ore. The work they had done the year before was partly obliterated, and she repaired it before working on extending the pattern. She almost resented the task. The possibilities of rescue were so slim now that it seemed futile, and it threatened her peace of mind. She had once vowed never to reach this point, but she no longer wanted to remember Lt. Commander Christine Chapel, M.D., Ph.D. That Christine was gone now, she thought, depressed. What good did it do to be reminded of her?

When she got back to camp that evening, she was tired, dirty, and out of sorts. The pervasive smell of roasting meat was nauseating. She went to bed without eating and fell asleep before dark. When Spock finally slipped in beside her she woke enough to give a protesting "Ow." His arm had crushed her breast when he drew her to him. "Can't you be more careful?"

She woke early, still feeling sick. She squinted up at the sky. A beautiful day, so why did she have to feel so rotten? It couldn't be something she'd eaten, because she'd hardly been eating at all. And she was so tired, even after sleeping... Comprehension dawned suddenly, banishing the negative feelings with an upsurge of delight. She started to sit up, and was forcefully reminded of her queasy stomach. How could a doctor be so blind to her own symptoms? Nausea, fatigue, mild depression, breast tenderness... She pushed back the covers and looked at herself. Yes, her breasts were swollen, and her nipples were larger and darker. She counted mentally. As Spock had pointed out, she was very regular, and she was... yes, she was already two days late.

Christine turned cautiously on her side to look at her sleeping bondmate. She was still nauseous, but she no longer minded. Should she tell him, or wait a few more days until she was surer? No, she would tell him. She was learning to shield, just as he had promised, but she doubted that she could do it well enough to hide something which filled her mind like this. Looking back, Christine was irrationally convinced that she had conceived in the passionate reunion after their first quarrel. The dates fit well enough, and she liked the idea. Their bonding had taken a step toward maturity that night, and this seemed like confirmation of it.

When her stomach was a little more settled, she propped herself up on her elbows and looked down at Spock. She brushed his hair back and kissed him gently. "Wake up." She envied his ability to come fully awake almost instantly.

"What is it?" He started to sit up.

"Uh uh. I want to talk to you." She put a hand on the center of his chest and shoved him back. She was trying very hard to shield, and also to keep from grinning. She wasn't succeeding too well.

His eyebrow went up. "An interesting exercise, Christine, but if you truly wish to keep a secret, you will need to try harder than that." A smile was tugging at the corners of his mouth too, and his eyes were soft. //I am pleased, my wife.//

She abandoned the effort and put her head on his chest. //I'm glad. So am I.//

//You are in some discomfort.//

//Absolutely normal, believe me. That's how I made the diagnosis. I even know when it happened. Do you remember the best way of making up?//

//You cannot be sure of that. It is unscientific.//

//And we're both so...// She tried hastily to block the thought, but it escaped her. //horny...// He winced slightly at the crudity. //Well it's the most pithy term. Let me rephrase. Considering the way we act - is that more polite?//


//I could have conceived on any one of a half-dozen nights. But I'm still sure it was then. It feels right.//

//I understand that pregnant women are to be humored, so I shall ignore the total illogic of that statement.//

//But you just pointed it out!// She laughed, then concentrated on leaving herself entirely open. //Spock, can you sense the baby at all?//

//No. That awareness will not come until close to the child's birth.// There was a sudden touch of fear in his mind which had nothing to do with his words. //At this time the fetus is not sufficiently developed to be reached telepathically.//

//What's the matter?//

He brought the emotion under control. //My wife, in this culture women... die in childbirth.// She was relieved and he responded to her relief. //You are not concerned?//

//No. And I have a decent interest in my own survival. Of course it happens here sometimes. I could give you a whole list of reasons, but none of them apply to me. I'm going to be fine, and that's an official medical opinion.//

He stroked her hair. //I am relieved to hear it.//

//I wouldn't even consider dying on you. I want to see what kind of father you're going to be.//

* * *

In spite of her reassurances, Spock refused to let her continue carrying the trichiolite. He became, in fact, rather irritatingly solicitous. Not that Christine much minded being freed from the task, which he finished himself. But her pregnancy had brought out his possessive instincts again. "Don't hover!" she finally snapped at him.

It was probably good that most of the other women were shy around him. As her condition became known they told her every tale of birth and death in Domii legend. She didn't know if Spock could have stood it. Most of it was tall tales and superstition, but she enjoyed the primitive sense of female kinship. She felt accepted in a strange new way. Even Domi, respectful toward her since the Summer Festival, grew almost warm.

Bira and Jona were especially delighted. After they were back at the cave Bira revealed happily that she too was pregnant again. "I had thought that I would not bear another child until Ami was weaned, but he is almost old enough, so I am pleased."

"Our children can play together. I can wipe their noses, and you can make their toys."

"Perhaps they will be married someday."

"Maybe even that, Bira."

* * *

Christine was profoundly relieved that this winter proved to be as mild as the previous one had been severe. The men could get out to hunt from time to time, and the women to forage. They could vary the monotonous winter diet a little, which was lucky, This season there was relatively little sickness, but half the women in the tribe seemed to be pregnant.

"We all take up too much room in the cave. It is a good thing we can go outside this winter," Christine complained to Bira. On a sunny day they had taken their work outside the entrance. They were sitting cross-legged, well wrapped up, with a pile of skins and needles.

Bira grinned. "If you think that we make it crowded now, wait until the babies are all born."

"At least they will have many friends... Bira, do you know that your grandchild will be older than your child?"

"Of course I know." Bira didn't see anything odd about it.

Christine sighed. "My parents and Spock's will never see their grandchildren."

"Is it lonely, Kista? I am sorry. I thought that you were content as Domii."

"Most of the time I am." Another thought struck her. "If our children do marry, yours and mine - can you imagine what their children will look like?" The idea left her somewhere between laughter and tears. She had no idea if it would be genetically possible, but maybe it was just as well that their families wouldn't have to adjust to that shock. She tried to visualize children who would be one-eighth Vulcan, three-eighths human, and half Domii.

"Very ugly," said Bira, echoing her thoughts, and then looked contrite. "I am sorry. You cannot help the way you look."

Christine laughed and patted Bira's furry arm. There was nothing so ethnocentric as standards of beauty. "Thank you for liking me anyway."

"I was afraid of you at first, and even more of Spock. He is even ug- stranger-looking than you are."

Christine spluttered, and her needle slipped, stabbing her. "Ouch. Kri na vaali, I'm bleeding all over this." She put her finger in her mouth. "Bira, what would you say if I told you that I think he is the most beautiful man in the tribe?"

"I would say that it is another of your uncivilized ideas," replied Bira calmly.

Grinning, Christine cleaned the blood off her work with a handful of snow. They were cutting and lacing small, soft jimo skins to make infant slings. These were both clothing and carrier for Domii babies, who spent most of their lives strapped to their mother's hip or back. She tried to lean forward to take another skin, but she couldn't bend far enough. To her embarrassment, she gave a loud burp. Bira laughed, handed her the skin, and Christine sat back with a gasp. She wasn't that big yet, but the round bulge of her abdomen was surprisingly hard and unyielding. She looked at the half-completed sling. "It's awkward now. How is it after the baby is born? It must be so hard carrying them all the time." Women often carried huge loads of wood or food even with one or two children clinging to them.

"At first," admitted Bira. "But we grow used to it." She smiled. "I can hardly remember what it is like to be without a child on me. It may be the same for you."

Christine grimaced at the thought, but it had already occurred to her. Given the choice between abstinence and frequent pregnancies, it seemed like she should expect a large family. There was something else she wanted to ask. It might be different for Domii women, but... "Bira, does it hurt very much to give birth?" She felt silly asking. She was a doctor, she'd studied obstetrics. But she was also a woman who'd never had a child before.

Bira made a face. "Not so much to give birth, Kista. But in the time just before, yes."

"The women manage it with so little help." That had surprised her. "Time after time after time."

"What choice do we have?" asked Bira. "It is the way the tribe continues."

Biology is destiny, thought Christine. She was still repelled by the idea, but it had an elemental validity in this culture. "The tribe continues very well right now. There are six of us who will have children before next Summer Festival."

"That is good," Bira agreed. "Domi is pleased."

Christine concentrated on her work to hide her smile. That was still Bira's highest form of praise, but she didn't resent it as much as she once had. "I'm mellowing," she thought in amusement. Aloud she said, "Is that why he took the men on this hunting trip?" The supply of jimo skins was insufficient, and Domi had led a party into the mountains to get more. They had been gone for six days; the first time that Christine and Spock had been apart since their bonding. She missed him.

"The snow is thin this year, so there is little risk of..." Bira began to answer, but Christine didn't hear her. She was frowning blindly, swept by an intense feeling of unease.

At first she thought it was physical, maybe a recurrence of her vanished nausea. Then she realized that it was mental, but she couldn't localize it, and it was fading already. Was it coming through the bond? It must be, she was telepathically blind in every other way. //Spock?// There was no answer, but she hadn't expected one. The feeling was almost gone now. Maybe she was imagining things, but she didn't really think so. "Something's wrong," she said to Bira.

"Kista! The baby?"

"No, nothing like that." She shut her eyes, trying to concentrate. "But something's wrong."

* * *

Spock, crouched motionless over the main entrance to the jimo burrow, was looking forward to the end of the hunting trip with what he acknowledged to be eagerness. Two of the other burrow entrances had been blocked, and a fire built at the mouth of the third. He held himself absolutely still as the first trickles of smoke emerged. Then, as first one, then two, then three, sleek furry bodies followed, he raised his spear and struck. It was easy, too easy, he thought as the sharp point drove again and again into soft flesh. He picked up the dead animals and headed back to the others.

"These are the last from that burrow," he told Domi.

"Good. We have enough, then. If we start now, we can be back to the cave by tonight. It is time to be back to our women." He grinned. "No man should sleep alone."

Spock turned away without comment and methodically gutted the jimoo before slinging them on his back. Their dead eyes were helpless and accusing, but he ignored them out of logic and necessity. The meat and skins were needed by his bondmate and his unborn child. He was glad the hunt was over - he would never enjoy it - but it had been a long time since the sight and smell of blood had sickened him.

The group of Domii hunters picked their way carefully down the rocky upper slopes of the mountain. Spock was a full head taller than the rest of them, but otherwise so heavily swathed in fur robes and leggings that there was little difference. He shivered, and diverted a portion of his mind to his body temperature. He was grateful that they would be back in the cave tonight. He had barely slept at all while they had been camped on the mountain. The cold, while not as severe as usual for winter, had been too penetrating.

The others, though more resistant to the biting wind, were also eager to return. They had picked up on Domi's earlier comment and were trading ribald jokes and obviously exaggerated stories of their sexual stamina. He ignored their efforts to involve him, with a mixture of tolerance and distaste. He had heard much the same topics discussed on the Enterprise among human males getting ready for shore leave. It was interesting, he reflected, how the attitude of the Domii men had altered after Christine had become pregnant. He had not heard this sort of talk before, but now he seemed to have passed some sort of initiation rite. They had begun to accept him when he hunted with them, but evidently they also required more direct proof of virility. He supposed that it was another part of his duty to the tribe. Searching his mind, he found that he did not truly object. They were not his friends in the way that Jim and McCoy had been, but he was no longer uncomfortable in their company.

He had been changed, he decided, by the security of being bonded. He would never forget his wish to return to space and to the life and friends he had known there, but that need could be dealt with logically. There was, after all, still an 8.74% chance that they would be rescued, and he saw no further steps to take to attain that goal. He could dismiss the matter.

But the bond... He had a brief flash of his wife's blue eyes looking into his. He had not known how profound that need had been until it was filled. An unbonded Vulcan was incomplete, empty in some fundamental way. It was not precisely mental or physical or emotional or cultural, but a mixture of all of them. He had thought for a long time after T'Pring's betrayal that he would never take a bondmate, even if he found it necessary to marry. But that had been a foolish and, he now realized, extremely emotional reaction. He was Vulcan, and the ways of his people were... logical, even when dealing with their emotional needs. That, he knew, would certainly make Christine laugh. But the bonding was logically necessary as the private outlet for those emotions forbidden by Vulcan culture. To bond, and perhaps even to bond with a human who would accept those emotions without difficulty, was indeed a highly logical thing to do. Perhaps when he saw Christine he would tell her that he had finally understood his father's cryptic words.

The laughter and cheerfully smutty conversation of the other hunters swirled around him. Spock pondered the childishness of it with a distinct feeling of superiority, but honesty forced him to reevaluate. Were his thoughts and desires really so different just because he did not express them in that way? He had been surprised by the physical intensity of his relationship with Christine. They were bonded, he reminded himself. It was permissible. But was it only because she was human, or did the answer lie in him as well? She firmly maintained that he had always had an unused reserve of sensuality.

He knew that part of his difficulty in sleeping these past nights had been in missing the familiar feel of her in his arms. He had been... yes, pleased was the word for it, when she had recovered from her early nausea and discomfort and told him that sexual activity would not harm the developing fetus. And she had been equally pleased to discover that he found her pregnant body attractive. His pride in the child she bore was not entirely due to respect for a potential new life. It was more personal than that, and he suspected that it lay in part in a primitive male vanity, one known to human and Domii men. He visualized the firm smooth curve with a certain esthetic satisfaction. It would be illogical to be repelled by the results of their joining. He was caught up in a wave of memories. Her cool, bare skin and responsive mouth, the way she moved against him, the involuntary sounds of pleasure she made when he caressed her... The feel of her hands on his body, and the delight in her mind... Soft pink-brown nipples hardening under his fingers and lips... Now this was illogical. He shook his head slightly to clear it, putting the memories back in their place. Summoning up some elementary body control techniques, he willed away the pressure in his groin. This was neither the time nor the place for such thoughts.

They were almost down to the tree line when Spock heard the sound. It was so faint that even his ears could barely make it out at first; less a noise than a soft, steady vibration. The Domii did not hear it until he stopped and held up a hand. "Quiet." At first they looked bewildered, but the vibration increased, becoming a low rumble.

Domi's head jerked up. "Avalanche!" He stared at the high ridge above them. "Run for the trees!" And with a growing roar the wave of snow poured down after them.

* * *

Christine had been unable to sit still all afternoon. She didn't believe in premonitions, did she? But she hadn't imagined the feeling of distress. She wasn't given to hallucinations. But then she'd never been pregnant before either. But was it really something she'd felt through the bond? Could it work that way? Vulcans were only touch telepaths, and she was no kind of telepath. But what about Spock when the Intrepid... died. No, she wasn't going think like that, it was making her crazy.

She was standing in the entrance of the cave, peering out as she had done every few minutes, when the hunting party came out of the woods. Squinting through the dusk, she could see that they were moving slowly, painfully. Spock and Domi were leaning on each other, each with an arm bound in a crude sling. She ran to them, forgetting that she wasn't wearing outside clothes. "What happened? I knew that something was wrong." All the men were limping and bruised; Rendi and Tomi had dried blood on their faces.

The other women and children crowded out of the cave as the hunters approached. It wasn't until Christine had the men by the fire and had performed a quick triage that she got an answer to her question. "An avalanche," said Domi through gritted teeth as she probed his arm. "We were lucky that your mate heard it before we could. We were able to get into the trees before it caught us. Each man among us owes him an honor debt for that."

"Not you," said Spock quietly. "You would not find a tree to take shelter in until each of the rest of us were safe. It is we who owe a debt to you."

"Not by my judgement. And I am leader of the Domii. You climbed down to pull me into your tree and would not release me."

"Hold your arm still, Domi, or you will injure it worse," said Christine, touched and a little amused. She glanced over at Spock and said in English, "Are you two having a nobility competition?" When he didn't answer, she looked at him more closely, alarmed to notice a trace of sweat on his face. "Spock?" He shook his head slightly, and she cursed him mentally for having insisted that she look at Domi's arm first. She should have known better than to take his word for it, but there was nothing she could do right now. "I am sorry Domi, but your arm is broken. It will heal, but I will have to put a splint on it."

"I was struck by a rock that came down with the snow... Ahh!" He gasped with pain and looked ashamed.

"I will try to be gentle." Once again she blessed Aga's patient training. Two years ago she would have had to guess how to do this. Radiation and plasticasts took care of simple fractures on the Enterprise in three or four days.

Domi's arm would take most of the winter to heal, and she would have to be very careful to keep it immobilized.

"Now," she said, turning to Spock, switching to English. "And don't give me that innocent look. It's bad, isn't it?" She reached to remove the sling, and he stopped her with his other hand.

"I believe that my shoulder is dislocated," he said levelly, but with a faint roughness in his voice.

"Oh, shit. Oh, my love." She could feel the pain now, battering against his shields. "When you were helping Domi, right? You should have told me right away." The pain of a dislocation was much greater than that of a fracture. Using both the mental techniques he had taught her and her own medical training, she controlled the emotional impulses of love and pity. They might be appropriate later; they were an interference now. "Okay, get over there with your back to the wall, and sit as straight as you can."

"You can repair it?"

"Yes, but it'll take a few minutes. And it's going to hurt worse while I do it." No pity, she reminded herself. She looked around and saw Jona wiping Rendi's face. "Come, Jona," she called. "I will need more than my own strength for this, and you must see how it is done."

Jona gave Rendi a pat and joined her, looking apprehensive. "Kista?"

"The bone of his arm is out of place where it joins his shoulder. We will put it back." She realized that this technique hadn't ever changed. If she were back in her familiar sickbay, it would be just the same. "We must straighten the arm out, pull it across and then up, and it will slip back into its socket."

The arm was heavy and the muscles had started to spasm. Even though she had expected it, Christine was shocked at the amount of strength and time it took to pull it straight and then inch the elbow across his chest. Spock sat absolutely motionless, not even breathing as loudly as Jona and Christine, but he was sweating again. Christine blocked as hard as she could against both his feelings and hers, until there was a jolt and a scrunch. "Now push it up. Gently," she said through clenched teeth. Another audible, grating scrunch, and she closed her eyes, trembling for a moment before lowering the arm carefully to his side. The relief was incredible. "Thank you, Jona. You can go now."

"That..." Spock cleared his throat, "was a fascinating experience. The pain is almost gone. Only some soreness remains."

"That's how it works." She put an arm around his uninjured side and rested her forehead against him for a moment. "But I'm going to strap it to your side for a few days just to be sure."

* * *

Domi and Spock had been the most seriously hurt, but it took Christine and Jona most of the evening to clean and bandage the cuts and bruises of the others, and to brew sedatives and painkillers. When they were done Christine joined Spock with a bowl of warm water. "No," she said, as he reached for a rag. "I don't want you moving around tonight. I haven't been a doctor for so long that I've forgotten how to give a sponge bath." He lay back without comment, and she grinned in the semi-darkness as she stripped him. Their sleeping place, tucked behind a buttress, farthest from the fire, lowest status, was also the most private place in the cave. The screens they had made for bathing were now semi-permament fixtures, giving them a cozy, though dim, seclusion.

"It will be pleasant to be clean," said Spock as the rag moved over him. "Christine, did you say when you first saw us that you knew something was wrong?"

"Yes, I did. I mean I did say it, and I did know that something was wrong. It wasn't just ordinary worry either. It was... it came out of nowhere."

"In the late morning?"

"That's right. Was it when you got hurt?"

"I believe so." He looked thoughtful.

"I'm glad pregnancy isn't making me imagine things. I didn't know that the bond could work that way. Especially since I'm not..."

"It does not in every case. However I suspect that we now have the ability to reach each other over distance. Not with words but with feelings, when they are sufficiently intense. It is a sign that the bond is strengthening." He touched her face. //It pleases me, my wife. You please me.//

//Me too. But, my wife again?// But she wasn't really upset this time.


//Better - my husband.// She laughed, and moved the warm damp rag caressingly. "You're clean now. Want me to stop?"

His free hand slid under her robe, and he tried to pull her down against his chest. The movement was unwary, and he gave a soft grunt of pain. "Perhaps you should stop now that the requirements of hygiene have been met." He sounded disgruntled. "Your advice to keep my shoulder immobile will be difficult if you continue."

She looked down at him speculatively, then tossed the rag aside, made sure he was dry, and pulled the furs more closely around him without covering him. "I can take care of that. Just lie still." She let her eyes, adjusted to the darkness, travel slowly and lovingly down his body.

"Christine?" His eyes had widened slightly.

She took off her robe, folded it, and positioned herself so that a beam of light from outside the screen fell on her. Kneeling beside him, she kissed him and ran her tongue along his lips. //I'm going to make love to you. And if you move that shoulder, I'll be very cross.// She ran her fingers over him very lightly from shoulders to groin. He had already come half-erect when she washed him, and he hardened further at the feathery touch. //Are you too tired?//

//I... no...// He was quivering very slightly, startled but definitely pleased, and just a little amused.

//Good.// Her hands left his body and moved to his head, brushing back the hair off his forehead and ears. She outlined his face gently with her fingers, tracing the slant of his brows and the graceful shape of his ears, usually half-hidden by his hair. She ran her fingers through the silky blackness of it. Unlike hers, it hardly tangled even when not brushed. //It's lovely. So soft and fine.//

He reached for her breast. //Unbraid yours.//

//All right. But you promised to lie still.// She shook it free. It was below the middle of her back now, and she had thought of cutting it, but to her surprise Spock had confessed an illogical wish that she leave it long.

He took a handful of it now and tugged gently. //Come here.//

//No. Or yes, but in my own good time.// He raised an eyebrow at her and she kissed it. He put his good arm around her and made a more forceful attempt to pull her against him, but the effort jarred his injured shoulder. //I told you so. Now leave this up to me, or I'll tie you down.// She returned to her leisurely exploration of his face: high cheekbones, velvety eyes, beard, still soft but more wiry than his hair. She saved his mouth for last, carefully outlining it with a finger before brushing it with her lips. She teased him for a moment with a series of gentle pecks before surrendering to the demanding probing of his tongue.

//Just what are you trying to accomplish, Christine?//

//I've wanted to do this for quite a while. Don't be so impatient. You're going to enjoy it.//

//Vulcans do not...// He was teasing her now.

//Of course not. And this doesn't feel good, or this, or this.// Her hands and mouth moved slowly down his body, and he gasped softly. She left no part of him untouched, using fingers and lips everywhere, on his neck and the hollow at the base of his throat, on shoulders, arms, and hands, kissing each long finger individually.

His breathing was ragged and his excitement was growing. //My wife...// It was almost a plea.

She settled a little awkwardly beside him and put a leg across him as she nuzzled into the soft fur on his chest. //Just about the only place a Domii woman would find attractive.//

//Not the only place.// He took her hand and tried to demonstrate.

//Not yet.// Kneeling again, she kissed his nipples, ribs, and worked her way down to his navel. Then as she felt his eagerness, she switched to his legs, rubbing and stroking them, caressing even the twisted scars on his left thigh. She could sense wonder in his mind along with increasing arousal. He had not realized that desire could be so prolonged and varied. //I want to make you want me with every part of you.//

//You are... succeeding.// His body was moving restlessly, the pain in his shoulder receding before pleasure.

Christine sat back and looked at him. She was aching with arousal herself, more than she had expected. She had not been so uninhibited before, not knowing if Spock would be disturbed by it. His reaction reassured her; she could read surprise, but no shame. His penis was fully erect now, standing up proudly, and she knew that he was ready to enter her. Blocking so that he would not read her intention in advance, she bent and took him in her mouth.

//Christine...// The shock trailed off into a groan of pleasure. He had heard of such things, but never experienced them. She brushed the shaft with her lips, feeling it throb. //Christine you must... now...//

//Not yet.// She was reading him carefully. Vulcan males were physiologically incapable of climaxing except during coitus. She did not want to prolong his arousal to the point of pain, but he had not reached that point yet. His pubic hair was thick and soft, warm and musky-smelling when she buried her face in it. Lifting her head again, she used her tongue and teeth on him very gently. His free hand was caressing her everywhere he could reach.

He gasped again, body arching. //Please...// She knew that he had never been so excited before.

//Not yet.// Without stopping, she shifted so that he could reach between her thighs. He rubbed until there was a silky wetness under his hand. Her body began to shake just as his was.

//Now. Please!//

//Yes!// His fingers stayed on her clitoris as she mounted him. She had always found this position a little silly before, though it was certainly practical during her pregnancy. But now she felt proud, even triumphant, as she rose over him. He filled her fully, but without pain, and she pushed against him eagerly as he thrust. //Keep your eyes open. I want us to see each other.//

//Yes.// In this moment nothing else existed in them but desire and the need for fulfillment. She tightened herself around him, increasing the sensations, and then, unable to stop, climaxed with uncontrollable force. As her vagina contracted in waves of pleasure he thrust harder and exploded inside her in a hot flood.

She slumped forward for a moment and then slid off to rest next to him, amazed and a little embarrassed by what had just happened. //Spock?// She was surprised that she could still talk... think... coherently.

//Christine. My wife, that was a somewhat... disconcerting experience.// He was not disapproving, but like her, he was taken aback.

//I know. I didn't quite expect it to be like that. Even though I always knew that you were more... physical than you let yourself be. Did you mind? It was almost a joke when I started. I didn't mean to hurt you.//

//You did not. However... I lost control in a way that I did not believe possible outside the time of mating. I will need to meditate on it.//

//I'm sorry.//

//Do not be.// He turned cautiously toward her on his side, putting his good arm and a leg over her.

//Good. Because, as humans say, I needed that.//

His mood lightened. //I have missed you, too.//

//Be careful of that shoulder.//

//It is not troublesome.//

//Be careful anyway.// She snuggled against him briefly, her abdomen getting in the way. The scent of his skin was warmth and security. //In your arms I am at home.// Sentimental, maybe, but true. She felt his wordless assent and smiled. She pulled the covers over both of them, and turning her back toward him, prepared to sleep.

His hand was resting on her stomach, and she waited, shielding, glad that he couldn't see her grin. It had happened each night he had been away, just as soon as she had settled down. This night was no exception. //Christine, what is that?//

//What do you think it is? Your child is nocturnal.//

//The baby is moving?//

//Certainly is. Turning somersaults, I think.// She covered his hand with her own.

//It is not painful.// He could tell that.

//No, just odd feeling. A little tickly.//

He concentrated. //Yes, I see. This began while I was gone?//

//No. I've had funny sensations for weeks, but I wasn't sure about them, so I didn't let you know. I thought maybe they were just gas, or my stomach growling. The acrobatics started while you were gone. Always at night, too. He - she - wakes up just when I want to go to sleep.//

//Unfortunate.// His hand moved in a caressing circle. //But... fascinating.//

//It makes him or her - it's funny not to know which more real.// She burped unexpectedly. //Someone should tell this child not to kick me in the stomach. Very rude.//

//Unquestionably the result of human blood.//

//Unquestionably.// She kissed his hand and closed her eyes.

Chapter Text

Kirk took the call from Nogura in his quarters. He had been waiting for a week for Nogura's reply to his request, and he was pretty sure that he wouldn't like it. If he was going to have a fight with the Commanding Admiral, he preferred not to do it in front of the bridge crew. He activated the viewer. "Kirk here, sir."

"Hello, Jim. It's good to see you, even if it isn't face to face. It's been too long." Nogura's calm, almost ageless face never gave anything away.

"Yes, sir. Have you reached..."

"I want to compliment you and your crew on the observations you sent back on the Theta Tau nova. Some of the irregularities you recorded are the talk of the Academy."

"I'll pass that along to the crew. Lt. Commander Chekov was in charge of the science team."

"He's your science officer now, isn't he?"

"That's right. Spock's replacement. Heihachiro, did you..." Nogura interrupted smoothly again, and Kirk resigned himself. The Commanding Admiral would get to the point in his own time and in his own way. Both his subtlety and his unflappable courtesy were legendary.

"Now, Jim..." Nogura was finally getting around to it. "I've reviewed the tape you sent me, and I must admit that your reasoning is impressive."

"We've tracked down every lead, and they all point to one of two possibilities."

"I'm glad to see that at least you don't propose to violate Klingon space." There was a slight stress in Nogura's cultured voice on the word Klingon.

"No sir." Kirk knew that he was on thin ice. "I'm not trying to provoke conflict. If Spock and Chapel were taken by the Klingons, they'll have to be gotten out through diplomatic channels. But if they were..." This was his nightmare. "They're almost certainly dead now." Or left vegetables by the mind-sifter... No, dead. The Klingons wouldn't keep them alive past their usefulness... "The Klingons haven't made any attempt to use them for propaganda or as hostages. There's no sign that they gained any knowledge from them." Not that poor Christine had any military secrets to give... And Spock could resist the mind-sifter until it killed him... "So we've concluded that capture by the Klingons is the less likely of the two possibilities."

"I see. As I said, very impressive."

"That's why I've requested permission to pursue the second possibility."

"Ah, yes." Nogura's voice was no louder, no less urbane, but now the iron was showing under the silk. "You are planning to violate Orion space under the pretext of an engine and navigational breakdown, which will require you to be towed to their central shipyards..."

"Where, knowing the Orions, anything is available for a price. Not only repairs, but information."

"Jim, the Orion Council of Traders has assured us, both officially and unofficially, that they do not have your officers. That in fact, they have no Starfleet personnel and no Federation citizens in their hegemony."

"And you believe them?" Kirk's voice was rising.

"Officially, yes. We're on the verge of negotiating a new treaty governing their activities in neutral space." Nogura looked thoughtful. "Unofficially, I don't believe a word they say about anything." His face hardened again. "But that is the opinion of Heihachiro Nogura. It is not, and cannot be, the opinion of the Commanding Admiral of Starfleet. Your request is therefore denied."

"Damn it, Heihachiro..."

"I'm sorry, Jim." The Admiral had turned back into the friend. "I really am."

Maybe he was, thought Kirk a little bitterly. "And what, in that case, does Starfleet intend to do about Spock and Chapel? Their training was expensive; that ought to mean something at least."

"We will continue to pursue every avenue open to us, of course. Perhaps when the political situation is less tense..."

"In a few centuries or so?" Kirk was angry enough to be incautious. "I wonder what Sarek and T'Pau of Vulcan would think of your explanations?"

"They wouldn't approve of rash risks, I'm sure." Nogura stared forbiddingly. "Jim, I wouldn't advise you to get civilians, no matter how influential, in the middle of this."

"Are you threatening me?"

"Are you threatening me?" Something shifted in Nogura's face. "Jim... try to understand." He looked down at something on his desk. "I have your new orders here. I wanted to give them to you directly."

Kirk frowned slightly. Directly? "Yes... sir?"

"As you know, the Federation Assembly has just voted to admit Wrigley's to membership. The Enterprise is to be one of the honor guard of ships at the ceremonies." Kirk opened his mouth, but Nogura didn't give him a chance to break in. "Then... I understand that your Mr. Scott feels that the engines are in need of an overhaul?"

Kirk stared. How had Nogura known that? "Yes. But in fact, I disagree. Scotty is a bit overprotective..."

Nogura cut him off smoothly. "The facilities of Starbase IX are excellent. Proceed there directly from Wrigley's."

"But Starbase IX is..." Kirk's brain started working overtime. "Yes, sir!"

Nogura's face was bland. "Those engines need work. I hope you can keep them in shape until you get there."

"It may be difficult, sir."

"Nevertheless, Starbase IX is definitely the best facility." He looked puzzled, and punched a button on his console. "Oh... Jim, I'm sorry, but the recording apparatus has been malfunctioning. We won't have a transcript of the last few minutes of this conversation."

"That's all right, Heihachiro. I understand."

"I'm glad. Good luck with those engines, Jim."

"Thank you, Admiral."

As soon as Nogura's image had faded, Kirk let out a whoop and slapped his hand on the table. "Well I'll be damned. I'll be damned!"

* * *

Sweat was trickling down her face, and Christine automatically wiped it with a dirty hand. "Get me some more water and clean rags," she said without looking up. The woman on the skins tensed and gave a choked cry. "Pant," said Christine. "Hah, hah, hah, like I showed you. Scream if you need to, but do not push."

"Hah... ahh... I cannot... Ahh!" Her face was contorted with pain.

"Jona, hurry up!" The woman gasped and relaxed. "Good, good. Just a little longer." Not even really a woman, thought Christine. Lusa was one of the girls married by Aga at her last Summer Festival. Still just a girl-child with an enormously swollen belly. She had been in labor for eighteen hours. The skins beneath her were soaked with amniotic fluid and bloody discharge, but the baby refused to emerge.

"Here, Kista." Jona was back at last.

"Hold her hands. Pant, Lusa. Don't push." Christine wiped Lusa's face, and hastily washed her own hands. She had to check before the next contraction started... She eased her hand into the birth canal, remembering vaguely such things as gloves and sterile fields. What a laugh... The baby's head was well down, already past the cervix, but as the next contraction began and Lusa screamed in earnest, Christine could feel the problem. There was no flexibility in Lusa's vagina. It was rigid and tight around her hand instead of stretching as it should. She could feel the baby's head pushing against the immovable ridges of scar tissue. "Damn, damn, damn," she muttered, withdrawing her hand gently. If she had a monitor, she knew that she would see the signs of fetal distress.

"Kista?" Jona's eyes were wide with anxiety, but she continued to hold Lusa's hands. "What is wrong?" Jona's own baby, a healthy girl, had been born two weeks before, so easily that Christine hadn't even attended the birth.

"Give me my sharpest knife. When your grandmother cut Lusa at her marriage, it formed scars which are blocking the baby." Damn Aga and damn Domii custom... The pressure must be deadening the perineal area, so Lusa shouldn't feel too much. Nothing like what she'd endured when Aga did the original clitoridectomy. But it would have to be a deep cut, not just the perineum, but right up into the vaginal wall... Christine hesitated for a moment, but when Lusa screamed and started straining ineffectively, she knew that she had no choice. "Pant, Lusa," she said automatically, and positioned the knife.

It cut cleanly - Christine was still amazed by the sharpness of the flint - and the baby was pushed down against Christine's hands by a strong contraction. She dropped the knife. "Now, Lusa. Push! As hard as you can!"

Lusa obeyed, grunting, clutching convulsively at Jona's hands. "Uhh... Uhh..."

Blood flowed stickily over Christine's fingers as she gently grasped the infant's head. "Push. Push." The shoulders began to rotate, and with a final strong squeeze the body slid out. A boy. Christine hastily cleared mucus from his nose and mouth, and to her enormous relief the baby wailed. His eyes were swollen shut, his head slightly lopsided from the pressure, his gray fur matted, but he would be all right. She cut the cord, handed him to Lusa, whose face was pinched and pale with exhaustion, and was rewarded with a tired smile.

After the placenta had been safely delivered and Lusa bandaged and cleaned up, Christine found that she was literally unable to get back on her feet. She was so huge now that the effort of standing up took a good deal of grunting and gasping. Filthy and tired, she was considering crawling to bed when a strong pair of hands grasped her under her arms and lifted her upright. "Ohh... thank you."

Spock guided her across the cave, and when they were behind their screen put his arms gently around her. "Are you well, my wife?"

"Don't hold me, I'm filthy. I'm all right. Just tired."

He lowered her again. "I have obtained hot water and food. I thought that you might wish to wash and eat."

"Wash, definitely. Not eat, though. I'm so tired that I've got indigestion." She reached gratefully for the water and he helped her sponge herself off.

"Lusa and the child are well?"

"Well enough. Damn it, though. I had to do an episiotomy - no, more than an episiotomy, a deep incision because the birth canal was blocked by scar tissue from the clitoridectomy. I had no choice, and it should heal, but the next time there'll be even more scarring... It's a vicious circle. I'm glad Jona didn't have to go through it."

"I am glad that you will not."

"So am I. I envy Lusa in one way though. I'm so damn - sick - of being pregnant! How long has it been now? I've lost count again."

He raised an eyebrow. "298 days, if I accept your opinion on the date of conception. The average Vulcan gestation period is, I believe..."

"312 days. Don't rub it in, I can't stand it. For humans it's only 280. I wish I knew more about hybrid obstetrics."

"You are worried?" He put his arm around her, and she felt him carefully blocking something, probably his own intermittent fear.

"No, not really. Maybe a little. Just tired of waiting." She looked ruefully down at herself. "I'd like to have my belly button back, and my ankle bones. I'd like to be able to eat and sleep normally, and get up and down without gasping and losing my balance." She shook her head impatiently, and lay down with a groan of relief. "My back hurts, too. Sorry. All I do is complain. I bet Vulcan women suffer stoically."

He held her gently. "I have no experience in the matter." //And I did not choose a Vulcan woman. I chose you.//

//My love.// She shifted uncomfortably. "Help me up again? I have to go to the bathroom." She laughed. "A fine euphemism when there isn't a real bathroom for ten light years around. I'll be right back."

She returned slowly, her back aching worse than ever, and a queer squeezing tightness spreading across her abdomen. Putting her hand against the wall and leaning on it, she looked at Spock. "Spock..." He raised his head, and his eyes narrowed. The tightness became a cramp, and she gasped as an enormous gush of warm fluid burst from her.

"My wife!"

She gasped again and looked down. "I... It's all right." Unexpectedly she started giggling. "I guess the waiting's over. I seem to be in labor. What a mess!"

"Christine, that is unimportant! You must lie down!" He was on the verge of picking her up.

"Don't be ridiculous. Just because the membranes ruptured? It's still early, and I feel better now that I know why I feel so awful." She was a little light-headed. "I'm a fine obstetrician. First I don't recognize the symptoms of pregnancy, then I don't recognize labor when it starts. I guess I was too distracted by Lusa... Let's clean this up while we have the chance." A slow smile spread irresistibly across her face. "You know what? We're going to have a baby."

* * *

Evening turned into night, and night back into day. The day crept on toward afternoon, and Christine no longer had the ability to smile. "I changed my mind," she gasped as a contraction tailed off. "I don't want to have a baby."

It was not quite a joke. She was so tired, and it hurt so damn much...

Spock's hand was on her forehead. "Use the disciplines, my wife."

She was kneeling, hands braced against the wall. It was a little more comfortable than standing or lying; she had tried both on and off. She concentrated on the simple pain-blocking techniques that Spock had taught her, but she couldn't maintain them as the next contraction reached its peak. "Ah... hah... hah... It can't be too much longer. God, I must be dilated by now... Ohh, that one's over... Oh, god, why does it have to hurt so much?" Spock took a breath. "No, don't answer that!" Jona wiped her face. "Thank you, Jona. I wish... ahh... that I were as lucky as you..." Jona's entire labor had taken only a morning. "Help me stand up. I'll try that for a while." She was switching back and forth between Domin and English without much regard for who she was speaking to, but Jona seemed to understand. When Christine could think clearly, between pains, she was surprised and pleased at how well Jona was handling herself and at how natural it seemed to accept her help.

"Do you wish to push yet?" she asked, but Christine, dealing with another contraction, couldn't answer.

"Maintain control," said Spock. "Breathe." He put a hand on the tightly contracted mass of her abdomen. He was blocking strongly, but she could tell that he was tense.

"Don't..." The contraction ended. "Don't you tell me what to do!" She was irrationally angry. She knew that it was a common reaction during labor, but that didn't change the feeling. "You're not going through this, and I am. It's not fair! Why can't men have babies?"

"For a doctor to ask that question..."

"Oh, shut up, Spock! Just shut up!"


"All right, all right, I'm sorry. I know it isn't your fault. Ahh! Hah... hah... hah... hah... " He was shielding more strongly than ever, but she was too caught up in her own pain to worry about it. "Oh, god... I can't - take much - more - of - this!"

"Maintain control." Spock's voice was level.

"It will be time to push soon." Jona was trying to sound consoling.

"Uhh!" More fluid was trickling down her legs. "I think... it's time now... uhh..." Her face was contorted.

"Let me see, Kista."

"Wash your hands first," Christine managed to gasp as the pain began again and she strained. Spock helped her to lie down. His hands were gentle, but her pain-racked consciousness couldn't seem to find his mind any more. "Spock..."

He gave her his hands to hold as Jona checked the position of the baby's head. "Push with the next contraction, my wife."

"I..." She was starting to cry. "Ohh..."

"Christine! For the child's sake, maintain control and push!"

"Uhh..." She bore down with every muscle in her body, holding her breath and then expelling it in a great gasp. The skins she was lying on were soaked. As she gasped, so did Spock, and his hands tightened convulsively for a moment, all but crushing hers. //Spock! What...?// But his shields were like a wall now, and his face was blank.


She had no choice any more. The contractions seemed almost continuous. She knew that Jona was doing the perineal massage which would let the baby be born without tearing, but she could feel nothing except pain and the need to strain, to expel... Her face was locked in a furious grimace.

"The head is coming!" said Jona a few minutes later. "Now, Kista! Push! Push again!"

Christine obeyed, and felt her child slide out into the world. "Ohh..." She raised her head. It was very quiet.

"Kista..." said Jona gently. The newborn baby girl lay limp and unresponsive in her hands.

"No!" Christine sat up, weak and sore. "No!" Jona was cutting and unwrapping the umbilical cord, which had been wound tightly twice around the baby's neck. "Oh, no!"

Pale and limp, no breath or heartbeat... "My baby!" With shaking hands she cleared her daughter's nose and mouth and compressed her chest before starting artificial respiration. There was no response. Spock was kneeling beside her, his face masklike. Christine continued desperately until struck by a new series of contractions.

"Kista, the afterbirth! I must see that it is delivered properly." Spock took over working on the baby while Jona delivered the placenta and set it aside.

"Spock, don't stop!"

"It is no use, my wife."

"No!" Christine resumed resuscitation, but the baby's skin was cool and waxlike, the body flaccid under her hands. "Oh, no, no..." After several minutes her efforts broke down into shuddering sobs. She felt Spock's hands on her shoulders, pulling her back.

"It is not logical to continue. Our child is dead." His voice was toneless.

"No!" She was shaking. //Spock, no, I can't stand it...// It was like trying to reach through a stone wall. "She can't be, it can't be true..."

"You must lie down and rest."

"I want my baby!"

"I grieve with thee."

"T'Shana..." Christine felt sick and frozen. It had been the name they had picked for a girl, after long discussion, as being at once human, Vulcan, and acceptably Domii. "Our baby..." She was being eased back into a pile of clean skins. //Spock where are you? I need you! This can't be true, I won't let it be... Spock!// She couldn't reach him. She tried to sit up again, but he and Jona were gently pushing her back and cleaning her. She began to cry again, deep gasping sobs of agony. "It's not fair... Our daughter... Did you see her?"

"I did." Even in desperate shock it had been impossible to miss the pointed ear tips and delicately slanted brows. "Sleep now, my wife."

//Spock, my husband, please...// "Spock, no, don't go..." But he had already left. She clenched her hands in the soft furs and cried.

* * *

She did sleep, finally, worn out by grief and the strain of being awake for a day and a half. Her mind and body retreated from the pain of reality into an unconsciousness undisturbed even by dreams. She slept for nearly another day, and woke to the awareness of someone holding her hand. //Spock.// She opened her eyes and memory returned in a fresh wave of grief. Our baby is dead. It was Bira who was sitting next to her, holding Christine's hand in both of hers.

"Kista. I am so sorry."

Christine swallowed, feeling the unfamiliar shrunkenness of her body. The tears were coming back to her eyes. "Bira... Where is Spock?"

"I will get him." Bira brushed a strand of hair off Christine's forehead. "It is a hard thing to lose a child. Perhaps you will help each other."

Christine had never, in all the years she had known him, seen Spock's face so totally devoid of expression. It frightened her and she held out her arms. "Hold me." He complied without speaking. For a while the simple contact was enough, but she needed the comfort of the bond. She tried to reach, but his mind was still closed to her.

"Jona and I have prepared the child for burial," he said tonelessly. "If you are recovered sufficiently, the ceremonies should be performed today."

"I can't." The tears were trickling down her cheeks. "Not for our daughter."

"There is no alternative. Are you strong enough to get up?"

"Yes. It's not that, not physical. I just... can't. Spock, don't you see that?"

He moved a little away from her. "I see only the logic of the situation." There was still no expression at all on his face.

"The... logic? Spock, our baby was born dead. I say it to myself, but I can't believe it... but I must believe it or it wouldn't hurt so much."

"Denial is an irrational human reaction. The facts must be accepted."

"I don't want to be rational. I want it not to be true! "

"That is impossible. Calm yourself, my wife, and I will help you to dress."

//Spock...// She buried her face in his shoulder, but he did not respond to the gesture.

* * *

Christine made it through the ceremony as an automaton. How many times had she done this before? Seven? Eight? Her mind chased the figure, trying to avoid thinking about this time. Her detachment stayed intact until it was time to place the small body in the burial cave and cover it with stones. Bira had provided the remains of Christine's blue silk dress as a burial shroud. She pushed back the soft fabric, so unlike anything else on this world, and looked down at the tiny face. T'Shana, my baby. You'll never grow or learn or laugh or cry. We never knew each other, but I love you. How can I leave you here?

She knelt there, motionless, head bent. She couldn't move, couldn't leave. Where is your father? I've lost you, and I can't find him either. Our baby... What is he doing with his pain? She stroked the cold cheek with a finger, unaware of the passage of time. How can I leave you here? You were a part of me for so long.

"Christine." Spock was pulling her upright. She leaned against him with a sob, but he held her away with his hands on her shoulders. "You must finish." And covering T'Shana's face, he began to build the burial cairn.

"Spock!" She could feel the sympathy of the assembled tribe, but she felt totally isolated from Spock.

"You are the Adar Doma, my wife."

Christine could no longer see T'Shana's body. My baby... Wrapping her arms around herself for support, she managed to choke out the final chant, the one which freed the spirit. " fly with the wind in the sky, to join with the stars and the sun..." Oh, God, she prayed silently, if there is a God, and you can hear me, make room in heaven for one little human-Vulcan baby. Take care of her for me... She didn't believe that anyone was listening. How could there be a God in a universe where babies died? She knew the theological answers, but they were no comfort at all. She realized gratefully that the ceremony was over.

* * *

Christine sat by the fire, staring with swollen eyes into the flames.

"Kista, it is so terrible. I know."

"Do you, Bira?" Christine shivered. The warm summer evening could do nothing about the ice inside her.

Bira knelt beside her and held her awkwardly. Her own baby was due at any time. "Yes. My second child died after only two days. I was sick with the pain of it."

"I am sorry." Christine was no longer crying. She didn't have any more tears. The human body could only cry for so long. The mind was another matter.

"Kista." It was Domi, his voice gentler than it had ever been when talking to her. "The grief will grow less. I know that is hard to believe, but it will grow less. In time it will no longer hurt. Not tomorrow, or in a single season, but in time. That is what Bira and I know."

"I know it too. It's just..."

"You must eat."

"Yes," Christine agreed wearily. Life went on. But where was Spock? He had helped her down the steep path after the burial rites, gently but impersonally, and then avoided her attempts to talk to him. Now he had vanished. //Bondmate, husband? Spock, I need you...// But even with his arm around her, earlier, the link had been silent. If only she could hold him and feel his arms around her, share the grief he must be feeling and let him see hers. They could strengthen each other, comfort each other. Our baby... But he was not here.

Across the cave, an infant wailed fretfully. Lusa's three-day-old son, who had been named Hiri, wanted to be fed. It was one of the common, everyday background noises of the cave, but Christine's hands curled convulsively into fists. Her breasts were rock hard, leaking small drops of colostrum, filling themselves for a baby who would never need their nourishment. She pushed away the food in front of her and put her head in her hands. "I cannot eat any more now. I am going outside."

"Shall I come?" asked Bira.

"Or shall I? If the Adar Doma is troubled..."

This was an enormous compliment from Domi, but Christine was not in any shape to appreciate it. "No. Thank you, but no. I only want..." She walked out of the cave. Only Spock. Where was he? She sat down cross-legged, leaning against a rock. She would wait for him here.

It was dark before he came up from the river bank. She had begun to get worried. She scrambled to her feet as he approached, expecting him to stop, but he nodded a silent greeting and headed into the cave. "Spock!" There was a ragged edge to her voice. "Come back here."

He halted and turned. "Yes?"

"Come here. I want... I need to talk to you. Where have you been?"

"In meditation." He turned away again.

"Don't go. We haven't talked... Spock, what's the matter with you?"

"Nothing, my wife." His face was unreadable.

"Then why are you avoiding me? Spock, our baby died." She had thought the tears were all cried, but they were starting again. "I need you, but you're not here."

"I am here."

"No you're not! You stand there..." She choked. She wanted to put her arms around him, to ask him to hold her, but his hands were clasped behind his back. It was the withdrawn, untouchable posture which he had always used to make a barrier between himself and the world. It had been a long time, she realized, since he had used that attitude with her. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "What are you feeling? Why won't you share your grief with me?"

"The situation must be accepted."

"You said that before. It's not an answer. Oh, it's true, I know it's true, but not without time to mourn!"

"Vulcans do not mourn, Christine. We accept what has happened and put it behind us. It would be well if you could do the same."

"No!" She was suddenly furious. "I have to grieve first. And let me tell you something, so do you!"

"Do not try to fit me into your human patterns. Vulcans..."

"And don't give me that 'Vulcans do not' shit!" The anger she had felt toward the universe was now focussed on Spock. "I know you too well for that. You hide behind Vulcan tradition when you can't deal with something! Like our daughter..." She was sobbing again. "...being strangled while she was being born..." She was feeling a terrible mixture of anger, guilt and grief. She brought her tightly clenched fists up to her face.

From far away she heard a voice. "We cannot discuss anything reasonably, my wife, until you are calmer." When she opened her eyes, Spock was gone.

Christine did not speak to him again until he came to bed. She was still in turmoil, but she had calmed herself enough to acknowledge that screaming at Spock was not going to help. It seemed to her that he lay down reluctantly. //I'm sorry, Spock.// There was no answer in her mind. His thoughts had been closed to her since the stress and turmoil of T'Shana's birth. "I'm sorry, Spock."

"Acknowledged." His back was to her, and she moved closer, leaning against him, projecting her desire for closeness. There was no reply, either physical or mental. She swallowed. "Spock, I can't reach you. Why are you shutting me out like this?"

"It is not something that I care to discuss." His voice was not unkind, just very remote. She couldn't see his face.

"I don't understand." She turned on her stomach, and then hastily on her back, avoiding pressure on her swollen breasts.

"I am Vulcan, Christine. You knew that when you bonded with me."

"I knew it. But I thought I knew you. A Vulcan, yes, but not just a Vulcan. I love you, Spock, and you said that you needed me. How can you shut me out at a time like this?"

"What would you have me say?" Was there an undertone of weary pain in the expressionless voice? She couldn't tell.

"I want to know what you're feeling. I already told you that. How can I be your wife - your bondmate - if you turn into a stranger?"

"We are still bonded."

She waited for him to continue, but he was silent. "Is that all you have to say? Spock, please talk to me about it!" He did not speak. "Grief... loss..." Christine continued quietly. "I've dealt with them before. Right now I can't feel anything but the pain. But grief and loss pass, I know they do, they will someday." She took his shoulders and shook them. "But you... I'm your bondmate, I know you too well to think that you don't feel anything. I don't expect you to cry, to mourn the way I can, but you can't pretend that nothing has happened."

"Emotional expressions will change nothing, my wife. It is illogical to dwell on them." His body was rigid, and she released him. "It is time to sleep."

* * *

Bira went into labor the next day, and Christine was freshly shaken by the reminder of her own experience. She had lain awake far into the night, and so had Spock, but they had not spoken again. Time, thought Christine through her pain. We need time, both of us. It will have to get better. She couldn't analyze any more deeply than that. Her mind was still foggy with grief. It will get better in time. She clung to the simple solidity of the idea.

She checked on Bira periodically, but her labor was progressing well. "Do not stay with me all the time, Kista," said Bira sympathetically. "It is too hard for you. Jona and Domi are here."

"Bira..." Christine gave in to the impulse and hugged her tightly. "You are so kind... I will be back soon."

She was bathing in the river when Domi summoned her. "Kista! Kista!" There was raw panic in his voice. "Come!

Bira..." He was incoherent, and Christine snatched up her robe and ran. No... no... Bira...

Bira was hemorrhaging. Rivers of blood, lakes of it. She was unconscious already, but the contractions were continuing. The infant, covered with blood, was just emerging into the world. Christine cut the cord, and shoved him into Domi's hands. "Jona! The kinar root, quickly. Come on, Bira, come on." She massaged Bira's loose abdomen hard. If only the uterus would contract quickly, stop the bleeding... Bira's skin was pale and clammy, her breathing shallow and rapid. The rapid loss of blood had sent her into irreversible shock. Christine knew even as she worked that her efforts were futile. There was no way on this world to halt such massive internal bleeding.

Bira bled to death under Christine's hands, with Domi and Jona beside her, their faces ashen. The baby squalled fretfully in his father's arms, ignored by them all. When Christine finally knew that Bira's life had slipped away, her mind and body revolted. She couldn't speak to Domi and Jona, couldn't even look at them. She barely made it out of the cave before vomiting, retching futilely even after her stomach had emptied itself. Too much death. Too much. She huddled against a rock, her mind trying in vain to escape, running in circles like a trapped animal. She wished she could faint or go mad or even die herself, anything but existing in this reality. My baby... My friend... My gentle friend Bira, with the soft eyes and talented fingers... My baby who died in being born... The worst of it was that her mind and body would not release her from the pain. She was still here, the rock cool and damp under her cheek. Time had not stopped. Life went on. She had a job to do.

She rinsed her mouth with water from the bowl inside the cave, and splashed some on her face. Domi and Jona had not moved, though a small quiet crowd had gathered around them to offer comfort. Christine put her actions on automatic again. She would not let herself think until later. Spock was among the onlookers, but she didn't look at him. That was another thing which she couldn't think about. For now, the infant needed to be checked... T'Shana, my baby... no... She wouldn't remember that. And then Bira's body to be cleaned and prepared, the chant for the dead to be sung... Bira, my friend...

She saw that Domi had laid the baby down by Bira's side, and she went to pick him up, surprised that even in their grief Domi and Jona were ignoring him entirely. Two other women were holding Mara and Ami. Both children were crying softly, even though they probably didn't understand, what had happened.

"No, Kista." Domi grasped her arm as she started to lift the baby. "Leave the child. He will join his mother."

"What?" Christine blinked, sure that she had heard wrong.

"The child cannot live." Domi's voice was rough with suppressed emotion. "Look."

Christine bent over the tiny boy, checking quickly. She looked at Domi. "He will not die from a clubfoot, Domi."

"He has no mother, and he cannot grow to hunt with the tribe. He cannot be allowed to live."

Christine was too emotionally overburdened to react much. "Can you kill your own son, then? Or let him die?"

"For the strength of the tribe. It is necessary." It was a statement of fact, and there was no surprise or dissent from the other Domii.

"I can straighten his foot. He will be able to walk. Jona can raise him for you."

Jona was shaking her head. She made the permission sign and said, "My father is right, Kista. The tribe has no room for the weak."

"Jona will take Mara and Ami," said Domi. "This child has no name, and he is not my son."

Christine looked at them, around at the ring of Domii faces, down at Bira, and she picked up the baby and held him tightly. The gesture might have been dramatic if she had not felt so numb. The situation was dramatic, certainly, but she did not have the energy for emotional display or impassioned argument. "I will take my friend Bira's child for my own. I am the Adar Doma. Do you deny me this?" Her voice was less proud than her words. "I have already seen too much death in these last days."

Domi was silent, his face anguished. He looked down at Bira, and pressed her limp hand to his face. "The child is not my son," he repeated in a whisper.

"Then he is mine," said Christine quietly. Domi opened his mouth, shut it, and did not contradict her. She looked slowly around at the rest of the Domii, and none of them challenged her. Finally she met Spock's eyes in wordless question. Only a few days ago she would have been sure of his support, but now...

He stepped forward and took the baby from her. "The child's life is worthy of respect," he said to Domi. "There are many kinds of strength and many kinds of weakness. You cannot tell what he will become."

"His name is Bri," said Domi suddenly as Spock was turning away. He did not want to speak, but the words were forcing themselves out. "He is not my son... but his name is Bri." He turned his head and did not look at the baby again.

* * *

Christine prepared Bira's body for burial with tender reverence. Hard as it was for her, it would have been harder for Jona, who was dealing with her father's and her sibling's grief as well as her own. When the task was finished, she went slowly over to the fire to check on the evening meal. It was a kind of stew of roots, greens and fish boiled in a hide bag. Spock would probably refuse the fish... It was not quite done yet.

Spock was sitting in their eating place, sewing something. When she sat beside him she saw that it was a set of straps. "You will need them to hold his leg if you try to splint the clubfoot," he said.

"Yes... Thank you." Bri was asleep beside Spock, tiny face puckered. Christine studied him. Dark brown fur and skin, like Bira... He looked less human than the adult Domii; more like an infant monkey. She didn't regret her decision. This was Bira's child. But she didn't yet feel anything for Bri himself. He was wearing one of the jimo skin slings which Christine had painstakingly made for T'Shana. My baby... She rested her forehead on Spock's shoulder, but there was no comfort there. "Spock..."

"He is awakening," said Spock, ignoring the half voiced plea.

Time, Christine reminded herself. She would have to give him time. Bri was making small fretful noises, his mouth moving. She picked him up, and his head turned, blindly seeking. Her aching breasts were leaking again.

Bri's mouth opened and shut, and finally found what it sought, clamping down on her nipple with startling strength. She gave a gasp, half surprise and half pain. Spock looked at her. "He's very strong... He does that a lot harder than you ever did."

Spock's face closed in, rejecting the reminder of intimacy. Tears clouded Christine's eyes, and she concentrated on Bri. She had no way of knowing if human milk would be adequate for a Domii infant. She would just have to hope and watch him carefully. Maybe she could ask Jona to nurse him occasionally... Why had she done this? She might have been able to persuade another woman to take him if she had tried hard enough, using the full weight of her authority. It was as though her body had had a physical craving for a baby to hold and nurse. Was she trying to replace T'Shana, or was Spock's withdrawal so difficult that she needed someone to cling to, even an infant? She couldn't figure it out yet. She would just have to live it, one day at a time.

* * *

The Enterprise floated, apparently dead in space, well inside the borders of the Orion hegemony. Only a handful of her senior officers knew that the engine and navigational troubles which had plagued them ever since leaving for Starbase IX had been deliberately created. Scotty's outrage at being asked to disable his beloved engines had changed to glee when Kirk had explained what was really wanted. His clever cross-circuiting had left the Enterprise able to regain full power immediately if necessary. Kirk studied the starfield, waiting for the Orion patrols to appear. It would cost some pride to ask for a tow, but it would be worth it if his suspicions were correct.

Uhura turned from the communications console. "Receiving a transmission from an Orion vessel, sir. They are challenging our presence in their space."

"Explain our situation, Lieutenant, and request assistance." Kirk could feel waves of disapproval coming from McGowan, who was standing by his side. Kirk was still not comfortable with his first officer. He had been reluctant, in fact, to confide his plans to McGowan, but the second-in-command couldn't be left out.

McGowan had disapproved strenuously of the whole idea. "I can't believe that Admiral Nogura would sanction such a scheme," he had said.

"Oh, but he didn't!" Kirk had grinned. "That's the beauty of it for Starfleet Command. If we're successful, they get two officers back without upsetting the Orions. If we fail... it's our asses, not theirs. Nogura and the command staff didn't know a thing about it."

"It's too risky a plan for such a small chance of finding them."

"It's worth the risk."

"To you maybe. Not to me."

It was not, in fact, physically risky, Kirk thought, his mind returning to the present. No Orion ship would mess with a Federation heavy cruiser. The main danger was to the careers and reputations of the senior officers. If the Orions realized that they had been tricked, Starfleet Command would have a ready group of scapegoats. Kirk wouldn't have gone ahead if the others who knew - Scotty, McCoy, Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu - hadn't been uniformly supportive. Still, McGowan had covered his rear. Kirk had let him log a protest under computer voice lock, to be used only if the plan came out. He was sorry in a way. McGowan wasn't a bad officer, just a bit tense and unimaginative. But after this they could never trust each other completely. He expected that McGowan would be applying for a transfer.

Uhura signalled that the Orion's reply was coming through. "Put it on audio, Lieutenant."

"Enterprise. Prepare to be taken in tow. As a token of our good faith we will not insist on boarding your vessel. However," the silky Orion voice continued, "as a token of your honesty, you must drop your shields, and advance a draft of 300,000 Federation credits from your computer to ours."

There were stifled gasps at the sum from the less experienced members of the bridge crew. 300,000 credits was several months pay for the entire ship's company. They didn't know that Kirk had been assembling a contingency fund in anticipation of this. He dickered just enough to be convincing, refusing to lower the shields, but yielding on the money. He wanted the Orions to feel that they had gotten the better of the bargain. He wanted it known that the Federationers had credits to splash around. It would attract those with information to sell.

There was a gentle tug, and the Enterprise started to move. Scotty, at the bridge engineering station, looked pained at the indignity of it. Kirk winked at him, and said, "If they keep charging us those prices we won't have any money left for dancing girls." The laughter eased the tension a little.

* * *

Christine was sleeping so deeply that it took her several minutes to respond to Spock's shaking. The ceremonial duties of Summer Festival had combined with the care of Bri and still unhealed grief to exhaust her. She was actually grateful. Not only did the sleep benefit her body, it offered an escape. On the whole she preferred it to waking. "What...? Oh." Spock was holding a whimpering Bri. She rubbed her eyes. "Have you changed him?"


"What time is it?" She took Bri, who began to nurse avidly.

"An hour before dawn."

"That's the longest he's ever slept." She yawned. "Good. You can go back to sleep now." Their voices were kept low to avoid disturbing the others, though the cave was never entirely free of activity, even in the night.

"That would be impossible, Christine."


"I have gradually grown accustomed to the noise level of the cave, but I find it impossible to sleep through that." He gestured at Bri.

Christine looked down. Bri was nursing to the accompaniment of loud slurps, gasps and smacks. "I see what you mean."

"I trust that his manners will improve as he grows older." Spock's voice was gently amused, and he bent down to peer at the baby.

It was the most natural he had been in several weeks, and Christine, tired as she was, didn't want to lose the moment. "My husband," she said softly. He transferred his gaze from Bri to her. "Do you remember what today is?"

"It is the final day of Summer Festival. Also the 1,098th day that we have been on this planet. Also the 25th day of Bri's life. I see no particular significance in any of those figures."

"Oh... it's morning now, that's right. But Spock, when I performed those marriages yesterday, I realized that it was a year ago that we bonded."

"I am aware of it." The openness of a moment ago had vanished.

"Well doesn't it mean anything to you?"

"I am..."

"Vulcan," Christine finished bitterly. "Vulcans do not celebrate anniversaries. It is illogical." She shifted Bri to her other breast and stared at him. "Do you regret it that much, then?"

"That is not an issue. The bond exists."

"It's not an answer, either."

"It is the only logical response."

Spock lay down, closed his eyes, and turned his back to her. Christine gave up, too tired to pursue the endlessly repeated circular argument. It had become a pattern. Did the bond still exist? For all the closeness between them now, they might have been back on the Enterprise nearly three years ago. No, worse than that. Spock had gone away into some place that she couldn't reach, and fenced himself in behind logic and Vulcan aphorisms. There were times when she hated him for leaving her alone with her grief. There were times when she cried for him, for the pain that must have driven him to this. But whatever she tried, he would not respond.

* * *

Christine swished Bri's legs through the water and he gave her a wide, not quite toothless smile. Domii babies got their teeth early, and she had had to pull Bri away several times until he learned not to bite her while nursing. He was a sturdy, good-natured baby, and didn't even seem to mind the heavy splints that had been bound to his foot since he was two days old. The shallow stream on the plateau was warmer than the river near the cave, even though the air was getting chilly. Bri loved the water and made valiant efforts to swim in spite of the splints. He nearly squirmed out of Christine's hands, and she grabbed him back and hugged him, laughing.

"He is a fine boy," said a voice next to her, and she turned, startled. Domi had totally avoided Bri since his birth, not even showing the casual interest which all Domii had in children.

"Yes," agreed Christine cautiously. "My son is strong and healthy." She emphasized the 'my' slightly.

"Will he walk?"

"Yes." In honesty she had to add, "But he will probably never run."

There was wistful sadness in Domi's expression. He put out his hand and Bri grabbed at it, looking at him wide-eyed. "What will he do?" murmured Domi. "What will he be?"

"We do not know yet. He may be something very special." She held him tightly and he gave a wail of protest. "Want to swim some more?" She dipped him back in the water. They would leave the autumn hunting grounds in another day or two, and it would be too cold to swim by the time they were back home.

"I hope you are right, Kista. I hope I am right to allow it. But when I see him I am glad that..." Domi paused, "your... son is alive." He waded away before she could answer, but she looked after him in grateful surprise. Maybe her perceptions had changed, but it also seemed to her that Domi had grown a great deal in the last three years. And his grief for Bira was deep and genuine. In his own way he had loved her very much.

"Would Spock mourn if I died?" she asked Bri morbidly. She knew that she was indulging in self-pity, but why shouldn't she? He had denied his sorrow at his daughter's death... or had he felt any at all? She couldn't tell. She hadn't known how much a part of her their bond had become until it was gone. It had been a steady, constant warmth and support in the back of her mind, so constant that she had stopped being consciously aware of it. Now there was a block there, as impossible to reach through with her mind as a stone wall was to see through with her eyes.

At first, hurt as she had been by Spock's withdrawal, she had thought she understood it. Give him time, she had told herself over and over again. But time had passed and he had drawn further and further away from her. The limited camaraderie he had developed with the Domii had vanished too. He was more a stranger now than he had ever been.

Christine dried and dressed herself and Bri. He waved a fist and tried to grab her nose as she bent over him. Chubby and bright-eyed, he no longer looked like a monkey. She was his mother now, and she loved him very much. She hadn't known if that would happen, but it had. She still cried for T'Shana sometimes in the night, but the sorrow was becoming bearable. If only Spock...

Christine glanced down at her own body. Her breasts were enlarged from nursing, but her stomach was flat and firm again, with only a few white stretch marks remaining. It had been easier for her body to recover than her mind. She looked down the stream. Spock had gone down there to wash, apart from the others. She unbraided her hair and ran her fingers through it. Why not?

Slinging Bri on her hip she walked down to him. She would keep on trying. What choice did she have? He was just climbing out, wet hair hanging in his eyes, and he looked surprised and not entirely pleased to see her. "What is it, Christine?" he asked, turning half away as he began to dry himself.

"Nothing. I just wanted to see you." She studied his body, aware of the double meaning, remembering that once he might have made a joke out of it. He had lost weight again. His ribs and hipbones lay too close under his skin. He had eaten little of anything, and no meat or fish at all in several months. But he was still...

"If you do not have a reason to be here, my wife, I would appreciate the opportunity to meditate."

"That's all you do any more." She checked Bri. He was sound asleep, tired out by the swimming. She unhooked the sling and laid him carefully in a hollow in the grass a little way off. Spock, ignoring her, had fastened his breechcloth and seated himself with steepled fingers. "Meditation is all very well, but..."

"I fail to see your purpose here."

"Let me demonstrate." Christine was tired of being subtle. She gave him a firm shove, and he fell backwards, caught off guard. Before he could react, she covered his mouth and body with hers. //I want you.// No answer. Lifting her head, she brushed back his hair. "I want you,

my husband. I've missed this, and I think it can help. Both of us." She slid a hand under the breechcloth.

An instant later, both her hands were imprisoned in an unbreakable grip. "Stop this at once," said Spock coldly. "It is irrational and undignified." He sat up and moved away from her before releasing her hands. "As I said before, I intend to meditate. If you were capable of considering the matter rationally - which is doubtful in a human - you would see that there is no purpose to a resumption of our physical relationship. I will possibly see you at the evening meal, my wife. Until then I wish to be left alone."

He left, and Christine stared after him with anger and humiliation flooding through her. "You bastard," she whispered finally. "You bastard."

* * *

The anger built in her through the next day, and she let it grow, savoring the heat of it, enjoying the primitive strength of the feeling. The anger was burning away her pain, and she welcomed that. She said as little as possible to Spock, occasionally staring at him through narrowed eyes. They were working at their annual task of rebuilding the trichiolite pattern which was their signal to the stars.

Spock brought a fresh load of ore to where Christine was working. This section had evidently been washed away in the spring rains. "Our chances of being rescued are now 5.326%" he said, watching her as she spread the yellow dirt. "They will not decrease appreciably from now on, as long as we keep the pattern in repair."

Christine turned her back and kept on working. She could feel his eyes on her.

"I would appreciate an answer when I speak to you, my wife."

"Oh you would, would you? Well tough shit!"

"Your language is vulgar and your tone unnecessarily hostile."

"Screw you!"

"You are behaving in an entirely inappropriate manner. No Vulcan woman..."

"Screw them, too!"

"No Vulcan woman would address her bondmate in such a fashion, and I forbid you to do so." His voice was glacial.

Christine whirled. "You forbid me? I'll address you any way I damn well please. If your sensitive ears are offended, why don't you just leave?"

Spock tipped a pile of trichiolite off the sledge. "We have a task to perform if we are to retain any chance of getting off this planet."

"Which I for one would love to do!"

"I have told you to moderate your tone." Bri was starting to whimper, and Spock took him from the sling. "You are upsetting the child. Your emotional outbursts are not good for his development."

Christine reached out and took Bri back, carefully soothing him and getting him interested in watching the dance of the grass in the wind. When he was happy she looked back at Spock and said with deadly quiet, "You leave Bri alone. I don't want him to have any chance of growing up like you."

That had gotten through, she saw with satisfaction. "My wife..."

"And don't you ever call me that again! Your wife? That hasn't been true for a long time."

"The bond..."

"The bond, the bond," she mimicked savagely. "What bond? You either ignore me or order me around. You'll hold Bri if he cries, but you won't touch me. I was your wife. What I am now, I don't know, but I don't want any part of it, or you."

"You are my wife. But I am a Vulcan. For too long I had forgotten that."

"Why? Because you let yourself need me? Because you found ways to fit into this culture? Because you found out that you like sex? Because you felt pain and pleasure and pride and shame and joy and sorrow? Is that it, Spock?" He looked away. "Or is it... not just that you felt those things, but that I saw them? Is that why you've cut me off now? Because you can't stand to have someone know you that way?"


"You're a coward, Spock. A coward and a liar. You're afraid of yourself and afraid of me, so you lie to both of us." She stared directly into his eyes. "I've been trying. God knows, I've been trying, but I'm through now. Stay in your Vulcan shell, coward. I'm better off without you." Through the red haze of anger, she found herself wondering how this had happened. His withdrawal had become coldness, and her attempts to reach him were now jabs designed to hurt.

It had worked. The ice in his eyes had changed to fire. "You will not continue to speak to me so. You are my bondmate. Do you wish proof of it?" Without warning he put his hand on her wrist. //Bondmate. There is no choice for either of us.//

An anger which more than matched her own, possessive jealousy, pride, stubbornness, and a pain so deep that her mind tried to pull away in agony. And then it was gone, as was the grip on her wrist, so suddenly that she couldn't tell if she had felt anything after all. "Spock..." she whispered, staring at him.

His eyes were tightly shut for a moment, When they opened they were bleak. "The bond exists."

Christine nodded slowly, her expression matching his. "You had no right to do that. My mind is my own." She rubbed her wrist.

"Not entirely. You agreed to the formation of the bond. You cannot change it now."

"I loved you then." She stopped, hearing the past tense. "But now you're a stranger." Her anger had evaporated. "Oh, Spock, I loved you so much. What we had was so good, not just for me but for you too. Why did that have to die with T'Shana?"

"I am what I am, Christine."

"And that's all you can tell me?"

They looked at each other. The only sound was the endless sweep of the wind across the grass. Spock had no answer for her, and neither did the wind. After a moment he picked up the sledge and went to get more ore. The blowing wind carried away the sound of Christine's tears.

Chapter Text

(The original Kista was published as a 267-page zine by author Jane Land in 1986, with misnumbered chapters. Chapter 13 ended on page 203, and Chapter 15 picked up on 204. To maintain the rest of the chapter numbering of the original print, we're leaving Chapter 14 blank.)

Chapter Text

"Vulcans?" said the Orion slave merchant. It came out more like 'Vucansh.' The Orion was very drunk, and if Kirk had anything to with it, he was going to be drunker still. "Why would anyone want to buy Vulcans?"

Kirk signalled the bartender. "Why not? I hear they're strong and smart."

The Orion belched. "Too smart. You don't want a smart slave. The fewer ideas they have the better. Now let me tell you about..."

Kirk tuned him out for a moment, keeping only enough of his mind on the lengthy description of merchandise to make sure he wouldn't miss anything significant. They had been at the shipyard for a week now, and between bribes and outrageous overcharging for parts and labor, his contingency fund was running low. Not to mention the high cost of plying a procession of greedy merchants with liquor. "What's that you just said?" His attention came back to his companion.

"Absolush - lutey loyal," repeated the Orion. "Give 'm drug, they work twelve hours a day and thank you f'r it. Thirty thoushand credits and worth it." He looked sadly at his empty glass.

Kirk signalled again - this one's capacity was amazing - and said casually, "No, before that. Something about a Vulcan..."

"Told you already. Haven't got Vulcans, don't want any, either. Troublemakers. Disr'ta'bilt had one once, told me. Didn't keep him. Trouble with Fed'ration. You're not from Fed'ration, are you?" There was sudden suspicion in the bleary black eyes.

"No. From a privately owned mining planet. We need workers and foremen." So far no one had connected him, out of uniform and looking dissipated, with the Enterprise. The tangle of bars, shops and bazaars in the city made it easy to disguise himself.

"Fuck the Fed'ration. None of their business." The Orion thumped his glass approvingly on the table. "Come to th'right place. Rigellians, that's what you want. Got a new bunch off a far out colony world - prime shtock, let me tell you..."

* * *

"The next step is to track down this Disr'ta'bilt." Kirk looked around the briefing table. Everyone except Scotty and McGowan was slightly hung over. Even using discretion, they had all consumed quite a bit of liquor in the line of duty. Kirk himself didn't care if he didn't see another bar for a year. Scotty had been supervising the mock repairs to the engines, and McGowan, radiating a constant aura of disapproval, had been in charge of the ship. "It's the best lead we've had so far."

"Well where is he, Jim?" asked McCoy, fretfully rubbing his forehead. "We can't go chasing all over the galaxy looking for an Orion slaver. They don't post schedules."

"The merchant I talked to is apparently one of his best customers. I got some information out of him. In fact he got very chatty once I all but promised to buy a hundred Rigellian mine workers at twenty thousand credits a head." Kirk grinned. "I'm glad we've left orbit. He didn't know who I was, but I'm still happier not to be around. He'll be a bit upset when I don't show up to sign the contract."


Kirk sobered. "From a colony world. As soon as we're out of Orion space, I'm sending a message warning that sector."

"Do you really think that the Vulcan he mentioned could be Mr. Spock?" asked Sulu. "It doesn't seem like much to go on. Did he say anything about Dr. Chapel?"

Kirk shook his head. "I didn't want to push too hard. He was a bit suspicious as it was. Anyway, he wouldn't have remembered. Human slaves are too common."

"But even if we catch up with this other fellow, why should he tell us anything? He won't want to make trouble for himself."

"According to my talkative merchant, Disr'ta'bilt already has trouble. With the Komar and the Trader's Guild. He's too successful, but without having enough powerful friends. That makes enemies, Mr. Sulu. He might not be averse to a deal."

"Sir, in my opinion this whole thing is a wild goose chase," said McGowan, "as well as being contrary to Starfleet policies and plain common sense." There was a heavy silence. Kirk could feel the veteran members of the crew unite in dislike. But he also sensed that in some ways they agreed with McGowan. Spock and Chapel had been missing for more than three years.

"Your opinion is noted, Mr. McGowan," he said finally. "We'll set course for Scarran V, where he's supposed to make regular supply and banking stops." He looked around the table. "Dismissed. All but you, Doctor."

When the door swished closed behind the last of the officers, Kirk sighed. "Am I a fool, Bones?"

"Depends, Jim. In what way?"

"For believing that they're still alive. For going on 'wild goose chases'."

"Maybe. But I don't like to think so. That would make me out to be a fool, too. Not to mention Sarek. You never said anything, but I have my ideas about where some of that contingency fund came from."

Kirk looked at the door "No one else believes it any more. They don't like McGowan, but they're starting to agree with him. How far can I ask them to go on loyalty?"

"At least to Scarran V. No one wants to give up while we have a lead to follow. Don't underestimate your crew, Jim. Or yourself. You're going on your intuition, but it's worked before. Don't give up on it now."

* * *

Hot broth slopped out of the bowl Christine was carrying and spilled over her fingers. "Ow!" she said, dropping the bowl. It shattered on the floor of the cave, and the liquid spattered her feet. "Shit!" She stared down at the mess, jaw clenched in anger, and then sighed. She hadn't really wanted it anyway. She bent to pick up the pieces of the bowl. Maybe she could rework them into scrapers.

"Let me help you, Kista," offered Jona, stooping beside her.

"Leave me alone!" snapped Christine. "I can do it myself."

"Kista! I only wanted to..."

"Well I do not want you to!" She stopped and took a deep breath. "I am sorry, Jona. I really am. I do not know why I am like this." She looked down at the broken bits of stone and threw one violently across the cave into the fire. Jona backed away, wide-eyed.

Christine pressed her fists against her eyes for a minute, and then cleaned up the rest of the mess with careful control. She went and lay down in the dimness of the sleeping place, craving quiet and seclusion. What in god's name was wrong with her lately? It was still early winter, not even time for the Festival of Darkness, and she was already getting stir crazy. She sat up. She didn't want to do anything, but she didn't want to lie still either. What did she want? Putting her hands around her knees, she stared at nothing. Her hands were actually shaking.

Spock had been away for the last few days on a hunting trip. She had been glad to see him go, so why was her mind turning to him now? There was certainly nothing pleasant in the thoughts. Their relationship had degenerated into long silences punctuated by furious quarrels. Furious on her part at least. He withdrew into icy detachment, only occasionally broken by flashes of anger hot enough to frighten her,

Bri was waking up from his nap. He no longer cried immediately on waking. He cooed and babbled happily in his cocoon of furs, waiting for her to pick him up. Christine changed him and carried him over to the fire. After nursing, they were starting to play with solid food. Play was the right word, thought Christine, watching Bri grab at the mashed-up tinduu with both hands. He sucked on his fingers, transferring some of it to his mouth and more to his face. Her medical fastidiousness had been tempered by years of life with the Domii, and she usually didn't mind the sight. But today it was setting her teeth on edge. When he grabbed another handful and his uncoordinated movements sent it into her eye, it was the last straw. "Stop that!" she yelled. She grabbed his hand and slapped it. "Stop it right now!"

Bri stared at her in disbelief and began to wail. She had never hit him before. Everyone was looking at her. She wiped up the tinduu, the tremor in her hands more noticeable than ever. Hugging Bri close, she whispered, "I'm so sorry,

sweetheart. So sorry." She was crying silently. What was wrong with her? And when was Spock coming back?

* * *

The hunting party returned the next morning, dragging a sledge loaded with meat. The first thing Christine noticed was that Spock was not with them. She had been totally unable to sleep the night before. She had paced back and forth. Then she had tried to sew some larger slings for Bri, but her hands had shaken so much that she couldn't hold the awl or needle. Finally she had given up and stared at the ceiling. Now she went over to Domi. "Where...?"

"He is coming. He is..." Domi shrugged and gave a puzzled frown.

Christine went to the entrance of the cave and looked out. Sure enough, Spock was just coming out of the woods. She turned away. Suddenly she didn't want to see him after all. What was the point? She joined the other women by the fire.

* * *

"My wife, I would speak to you. Attend." It was not a request. Spock had shed his outer wrappings and come straight over to her.

"Why?" Her voice was harsh. He didn't answer, but under the pressure of his gaze she felt resentfully compelled to obey.

In the quiet of their corner, he continued to stare at her. After a moment the irritation of the last few days found a focus. "If you want to talk to me, unlikely as that sounds, then talk," she snapped. "Otherwise, let me get back to my child and my friends." He shook his head slightly, the sound of his breathing strained. As she turned away from him, he reached out and grasped her arm.

It was like being given a massive electric shock, or dropped into a volcano. She couldn't breathe. Through a haze of fiery pain and disorientation, she saw him raise his other hand blindly toward her face, and she found the strength to move. As his hand brushed her temple, she jerked violently away. "Keep your hands off me, you son of a bitch!" she gasped.

He recoiled a step, and so did she. Her heart was pounding and she felt sick. The words hung in the air between them. "Christine," he whispered. "My wife..."

"No." Her entire being was recoiling from what she had seen in his mind. She backed away instinctively until her hands touched the rocky wall. "No!"

"I need thee." His voice was low and hoarse.

She shook her head slowly, unable to verbalize her instinctive revulsion. She took a sharp breath, suddenly aware of the musky odor of his skin. The familiar smell had become strong and rank, the animal scent of a male in rut. "You need me?" she whispered finally. "That's a laugh. Where were you when I needed you?"

"You are my bondmate." He took a step forward.

"I know. I should have guessed." The symptoms of the pon farr were glaringly obvious to her now, and they explained her own recent behavior as well.

"You cannot refuse." The fever madness was bright in his eyes, and sweat glistened on his skin even though the air was cool. The fur robe hung loosely - how long had it been since he had eaten? - and glancing down, she realized that he was already fully aroused.

He took another step forward, and she found her voice. "Are you going to rape me, Spock?" She was desperately stalling, knowing that if he touched her again it would throw him into the plak tow.

He stopped. "My wife. It is your duty." It was almost a plea, but she didn't, couldn't respond to it.

"If you want to rape me, you know that you can." Her fingernails were digging into her palms. "I haven't got the strength to fight you, and the Domii won't stop you. Adar Doma or no, most of the men probably think that I - that your property - deserves it. Is that what you want?"

He shut his eyes for a long moment, and she could see him fighting for control. He seemed to achieve some measure of it, temporarily smothering the flames licking at his body and mind. "If we were on Vulcan, you would have the right to challenge. That is not possible here."


"However, my death will free you from the bonding, if that is what you truly wish." She had never heard such bleakness in anyone's voice. "I will not take you against your will. I have not much control left, but enough for that. Consider, my wife. If that is your decision, in one standard hour I will leave the cave. I will be able to get far enough away before my control breaks to prevent my returning." Without another word he seated himself and bent his head in meditation.

Christine snatched up a robe and some leggings, and pulling them on, ran out of the cave. The day was gray and cold, the color of the snow and the color of the sky matching each other, echoing the desolation in her mind. She ran blindly away from the cave until her breath was coming in harsh gasps. "He has no right. No right," she said to the empty woods. "My mind and my body are mine. Mine! He has no right to use me..." But she couldn't let him die. In spite of his words he knew - he must know - did he know? that she wouldn't let him die. Whatever she had said in panic when he had first touched her, she couldn't leave him to that death, the fever burning away his mind, driving him mad before it consumed his body.

She leaned against a tree, hiding her face, trying to gather strength. The bond was pulling at her, urging her to go to him, almost forcing her to. She hated the compulsion, even as her reason agreed with it. Damn Vulcan evolution, forcing this on her. Damn Spock... He had no right! But he did, and she knew it. She had bonded with him. //I am a Vulcan male. You are my wife.// His voice whispered in her memory. //The time will come when you will hold my life in your hands.// T'Pring, she thought, shuddering. T'Pring. I never understood before how you could... I can't let him die. I'm a doctor. I can't let him die. I can't... I... love him? I don't know... Memories crowded her brain.

"I love you, just the way you are. Oh, I love you... I'm sorry... I dreamed that you were trying to tell me something... It would be illogical to protest against our natures... My name is Christine... She is T'Pring, my wife... We shared consciousness..."

And here, with the Domii... "As far as they're concerned, I belong to you... You will always be a healer wherever you go... What are Vulcan precepts, when logic seems to demand that I abandon logic... You let Domi win... What are the odds of our being rescued... The Prime Directive... You stink, Commander Spock... I'm tired of bullying you... I want to help... Aga, you can't do this, it's mutilation... You will be the next healer...

Trichiolite... I couldn't have made it through the last year without you... I was proud of you today... I am asking you to bond with me... We would be a part of each other for the rest of our lives... Could you accept the madness when it comes... It can be a thing of terror as well as of joy... I love you... T'hy'la... You are mine now, and I am yours... Don't be so damn possessive..."

Her own words coming back to her. "That bitch, T'Pring!" And Spock's. "I came to her, and she rejected me..." And hers. "Spock, husband, bondmate, love, t'hy'la, I would never... I'll be there when you need me, of course I will, whenever you need me..."

Her face was wet with tears, cold in the wind. She pounded on the tree trunk with a clenched fist. My husband. .. Where has he gone, the man I made those promises to? Where has she gone, the woman who made them? For better, for worse? Parted from me and never parted... She straightened up, and started grimly back to the cave. I'm coming, my husband. What choice do I have? But I never thought it would be like this.

She went to Jona first. "Jona, I cannot explain, but can you take care of Bri for me?"

"Of course." Jona, like Domi, had an unacknowledged, regretful affection for Bri. "For how long?"

Christine sighed. "I do not know exactly. I must go to Spock, be with him for many days. As I said, I cannot explain. I will come to nurse Bri when I can." She could barely see Spock's bent head in the shadows far back in the cave. "Thank you, Jona."

Conscious of the minutes ticking by, she forced herself to wash and eat. She shook out the bedskins and adjusted the screens for maximum privacy. Already she felt remote from the cave and the Domii. She was no longer fighting the pressure of the bond, and it was drawing her, pulling her into the fever. Flames were licking at her nerve endings. Spock did not look up until she was standing directly over him. Then he rose to his feet without speaking. She held out her paired fingers to him, and he slowly brought his hand up to return the gesture. As their fingers touched, he shuddered, and his mind burst into hers. //My wife!//

//Come, my husband.//

* * *

Christine lay with Spock sprawled half across her. He was asleep now, a restless sleep filled with trembling. Still, it gave them both some chance of rest. Christine felt smothered by the hot weight of his body, but every time she tried to move, he muttered and clutched at her. Finally she gave up. He would wake soon, and it would start all over again. She might as well try to relax while she could. If only he weren't so hot. She automatically estimated his temperature at over 42 degrees.

Her entire body felt sore, and she wiggled cautiously, trying to ease her muscles. As soon as she stirred, Spock's grip tightened painfully. "Can't you leave me alone for a minute, damn you?" she whispered bitterly. He didn't hear her, but she hadn't expected him to. He twisted his head, his beard rubbing harshly on her skin, and subsided. How long had the first mating lasted? Hours, she was sure, though she wished for Spock's automatic time sense.

To take her mind off her discomfort, she reviewed what little medical information she had about the pon farr. Medical writing on the subject was stymied by a total lack of cooperation from Vulcan healers. They took the position that the details were none of any human's business. She wondered wryly what they would say to her now. Her med school textbooks had had very short entries on the subject, full of phrases like "it is believed that" or "it is reported" or "though accurate studies are not available..." She had told Jona that it would be many days. She had probably underestimated. Duration was one to three weeks, she knew, and tended to decrease with age. Spock was not very old for a Vulcan. Just as the pon farr itself was cyclical, the matings within it were also cyclical. Longest, most urgent and most closely spaced at the start, they grew shorter, less intense, and farther apart as the fever waned. It would be a long three weeks, and they were just at the beginning.

At least her mind was temporarily her own again, even if her body was trapped. Physically... well it wasn't pleasant, but she could take it. Which was apparently the female's function, she reflected. Not a participant, but a receptacle. In the beginning she had wished desperately for some lubricant. Her tense body hadn't been ready at all, but at least his first quick series of ejaculations had provided some moisture. But her mind... That was worse, far worse. He had ripped through her feeble attempts to shield as though they were tissue.

Spock began to mutter again, and move rhythmically against her. She involuntarily froze, and then forced herself to relax. There was no point, she told herself wearily, in making this any worse than it had to be. As his eyes opened he gave a cry of pain, and began to thrust helplessly. He gave another cry, this one of relief, as he entered her body and her mind. //My wife... My wife?//

//I'm here. Where else did you think I'd be?// He winced at the anger, and she felt a savage enjoyment of his pain. //So you're hurting? Join the club.//

//Christine, I need...// His thoughts trailed off into incoherence. His body was out of control, demanding relief. He climaxed a few seconds later, but that wouldn't be the end of it. It would continue until he was exhausted.

//How long will you take this time?//

//I am sorry... sorry...// His mind was drenched in shame, even as his body continued to move.

Christine was suddenly ashamed too. Even if their bonding was bitter now, she was still a doctor. She above all people should know that he couldn't help himself. She knew the hormonal changes that forced this on him; she had seen them charted all those years ago in the Enterprise sickbay. And she could feel the agonizing pressure through the link, He wasn't taking any physical or mental pleasure in this either. Pain and humiliation were radiating from him. She had told herself not to make it any worse for herself. Why make it worse for him?

//Thank you...// It was the barest mental whisper, touched with surprised gratitude. He let his head drop to rest against her even as he climaxed again.

She sighed resignedly. //All right...//

* * *

He can't help himself, Christine repeated doggedly over and over again. The incantation helped her through the next few days. She repeated it whenever she wanted to lash out at him, whenever she thought that she would scream or get sick if he needed her one more time.

Gradually both his pain and hers lessened a little, and she could actually drift off to sleep from time to time. Her resentment toward him and this whole mess didn't vanish, but it only hurt both of them when she used it as a weapon against him.

Day and night blended into each other, and one day flowed into the next. Christine barely noticed their passing. Spock slept, and woke, pushing at her, and slept again. She accommodated him and soothed him, passively accepting her role as the focus of his need. She slipped away when she could, to stretch and feed Bri. Avoiding the inquisitive looks of the tribe, she wrapped herself in the dignity of the Adar Doma. It wasn't hard to stay aloof; her entire existence had narrowed to the rhythm of the mating fever.

Domi stopped her one day, and peered at her in concern. She was suddenly aware of how she must look; dirty, hair matted, with bruises on her arms and legs. "Will Spock recover from this?" he asked in a tight voice.

She should have known that his worry wouldn't be for her. No, that wasn't fair. He was as close to Spock as anyone in the tribe. "Yes."

"I am glad of it. Since your child's death he has been even stranger than before, and more in these last days." He paused. "I have sorrowed for you."

His kindness pierced her numbness. "Thank you, Domi. Thank you."

* * *

Christine woke from an exhausted sleep to find that Spock had slipped off her, pinning her only with an arm. He was sleeping deeply. Turning her head, she examined him. He was still erect. She rubbed her eyes impatiently as tears of self-pity started to form. What had she expected? Detumescence between matings would be one of the first signs that the pon farr was waning. Three weeks, she reminded herself. Get used to the idea. She knew that most intelligent species had had a rut cycle at some time in their development. It usually atrophied with increasing intelligence and the establishment of constant sexual capacity. In Vulcans it hadn't. Stupid damned evolutionary oddity, she thought. Stupid damned Vulcans. Stupid damned Spock. I loved you so much...

She moved cautiously, and rolled free of him with a gasp of relief. She needed to get away, to empty her bladder, to check on Bri, to nurse him if she had time. Her breasts were uncomfortably full again, and though she knew that Jona would nurse him for her, she didn't want her milk to dry up. She emerged cautiously from behind the screen. It was the middle of the night. Christine stared around the cave, temporarily disoriented. She should have expected this, but she had been so cut off from everyday reality... At least it would spare her questions.

She tiptoed outside to relieve herself and took several tinduu from the stores on the way back. She should remember to eat while she had the chance. The thought of food was vaguely distasteful. Perhaps that was a transmitted effect of the pon farr, but her system, unlike Spock's, was not geared to go for long periods without nourishment.

Moving as quietly as she could, she bent to take Bri from where he was sleeping in the midst of Rendi and Jona's family. Rendi and the other children didn't stir, but Jona woke up with a mother's ear as Bri made a protesting sound. She looked at Christine for a moment and then followed her to a quiet place among the stored furs.

"I am sorry that I had to wake him. And you," said Christine softly. "But I do not want to lose my milk."

Jona dismissed the apology with a gesture. "Are you all right, Kista?"

"Yes. Of course." Bri was nursing eagerly; it was fortunate that he had a good appetite. "Thank you for taking care of him for me. Jona... It will be a long time yet, longer than I told you before."

"He is no trouble." Jona looked worried. "Kista, what is wrong with Spock?"

Christine took a breath, and then let it out without speaking. Finally she said, "I cannot tell you without his permission. And he is too... I cannot ask him now."

"But if I am to be the next Adar Doma, I should know. What if this sickness spreads?"

"It will not." She forced herself to eat a tindu.

Jona studied her in silence for a while, and then said unexpectedly, "I think that I know how it is. There are animals I have seen. The salarr have a mating season."

"Is it so obvious? Does everyone know?" asked Christine, realizing that she cared less for her own sake than for Spock's.

Jona shrugged. "They are curious. It does not happen in Domii."

"It is not a thing to be talked of. Do you understand that?" She had always thought of the prohibitions as the stupidest form of prudery, but she understood them better now. She was growing hot. Jona looked curious, but Christine wasn't paying attention any more. She was starting to shake, and there was a roaring in her ears. "Jona, please," she whispered. "Take Bri. I must go again."

"What is wrong? Do you need help?"

"No. Just - just to be left alone." There was a groan, whether audible or in her mind she didn't know, and a wave of panic. She shoved a startled Bri blindly at an equally startled Jona, and all but ran across the cave.

//Spock! My husband...// He was on his feet, swaying slightly. She grabbed him as he staggered.

//Bondmate? Where are you? Where?// He clung to her in terror as if she were the only reality in the universe. His mind was in chaos.

//I'm here. All right, I'm here.// She was being crushed.

//You were gone! You must not leave me!//

//I won't, I won't.// This was not the time to offer reasons for her absence. She hadn't even had time to take off her robe again. //I need thee, my wife! I will die without thee!// He was panic-stricken.

//Shh, I'm here...//

//Christine? Oh, my wife, I need...//

//It's all right, I'm here. Don't be afraid. That's right, my husband, that's right...// At this moment, even pinned beneath him, she knew that she was so much stronger. How could she feel such pain and not give comfort?

//Ahh... Christine, t'hy'la, I am sorry. I would not hurt thee. I am sorry.// The terror of her absence was dying away, replaced by gratitude for her presence. //Forgive me.//

//It's not your fault. I know, I know.// For the first time, she put her arms around him, rubbing his back as he moved. //You're not hurting me.//

//Truly?// The anguish was draining out of him.

//Yes.// It was true, and she showed him that it was.

//T'hy'la... Ahh!// This time it was a sigh of relief rather than a gasp of pain.

She felt the ejaculation and held his head against hers, stroking his hair. His body relaxed for a moment. //That's better.//


* * *

The next time she woke it was to find him turned away from her, rigid with strain. She put a hand out. //Spock?//

//Do not touch me!//

//Is it time again?//

//No! No.// He rolled quickly away, though he was trembling. "Your part is done."

"What...? The pon farr can't be over yet. I can tell..." He was still aroused. "There hasn't been enough time. "

"It is not over," he said through clenched teeth. "But I can control now, if you do not touch me." His eyes were closed. "You can go now. I will not die."

She stared at him. His face was set, but glistening with sweat. "But..."

"Leave me, Christine. I thank you for what you have done. "

She didn't move. Wasn't this what she had wanted? Keep your hands off me... He has no right... Her responsibility was over. She could get up and resume her normal life. She reached out. //No, Spock. I can't leave you like this. Come here, my husband.//

//Do not touch... Christine!// She put her arms around him and he abandoned the struggle, pulling her to him with a grateful moan.

//There. I'm not going anywhere. Not until it's over.//

//Ahh!// He thrust with the nearly uncontrollable urgency of the beginning. //Ahh...// He buried his face against her shoulder.

//Isn't this better?//

//Yes, my wife. Forgive me.// There was still a terrible tension in his mind.

//I've told you before. I know you can't help...// Suddenly a wave of confusing images washed over her, and she knew that he was not talking just about the pon farr. She felt him start to shield. //No! I'm your bondmate. If that means anything to you, then this is my right.//

There was an overwhelming confusion in his mind. //Christine...//

//Do you want us to be strangers again when the time of mating is over?// Her anger was returning, and she felt his pain meet it. //Is that what you want? How can you say 'Forgive me' if nothing has changed? How can you call me t'hy'la if you close your mind to me?//

//Stay with me! T'hy'la...//

//I won't leave you. Haven't I just proved that? I'm your wife. Share with me, my husband.// It was a command, not a request, and as his mind and body clung to hers, he yielded to it.

//My wife...// The images and words burst from him, not in his usual order, but crowding on each other, thick with emotion. She had not realized until now how much he had been holding back, even in the fever, and how much that had contributed to his pain. The barriers were down now, released by her command. She saw herself, and much more, living in his memories. //Doctor... healer... friend... I am Vulcan... You are learning to live here, and you force me to learn as well. I kill, I eat animal flesh. You cry in my arms, and the feeling does not repel me. I am Vulcan... You defy custom and I am proud of you. You laugh and weep and talk and argue, and become a part of my life. Wife... bondmate... t'hy'la... Joy. I touch you, and our child grows in your body. I am Vulcan... We are bonded. It is permitted. I am Vulcan... Daughter? The unformed consciousness touches mine. No words, just elemental feelings... Warmth, darkness, security... Pressure, pain... So much pain... Your pain, the child's pain... Struggling to give birth, struggling to be born... The child cries out in pain and fear. She cannot move, cannot breathe. I try to reach her, help her. The pressure is worse, and I share it with her. Terror and blackness, worse and worse. I cannot let you see it. Each contraction tightens the loops, choking the life from her. She must be born now, or it will be too late. Push, Christine... The child weakens. I protect her from the agony, take on the pain. Death rips her from my mind. Pain, sorrow... Emotions! Hers, yours... My own. I am Vulcan. I cannot. What have I let myself become? I am not Domii, I am not human. I am Vulcan. For too long I have forgotten that. Your feelings wash over me, smothering me. The bond exists. I cannot accept them, cannot let myself. I will be Vulcan. I am Vulcan! Grief, pain, anger, pity, tenderness... They are foreign to my nature. Anger. Do you hate me now? That is illogical. The bond exists. I am Vulcan. I need, I burn... I need thee. Will you turn away, reject my pain as I rejected yours? My wife, my wife...//

//I'm here.// She was trembling. His thoughts were so full of long-suppressed anguish. //T'Shana, my baby. Spock, my husband. How could you shut me out for so long? How could you do that to me? How could you do it to yourself? Don't you know better after all this time?//

//Christine, forgive me.// He was still moving on her, his body not yet sated.

//How could you do that to me? How? How?// She pounded clenched fists on his back. //Oh, my love, you made me hate you!//

The ice in him was melting, cracking, dissolving away. //But you did not send me away. After all that, you still accepted me, you comforted my pain.// He shuddered, and a dam burst. He began to cry, deep, awkward, unpracticed sobs that shook his whole body.

Christine held him tightly. Had she ever really stopped loving him? //Spock.// She was crying too, the necessary catharsis that would rid her of bitterness. //Don't you ever, ever, ever do that to me again. I love you so much.//

His face was wet where it was pressed to hers, and she stroked his hair as their tears mingled. It would be all right now. The hurt and anger weren't gone yet, but he had broken through the wall between them. The man in her arms was no longer a stranger. //I must...// He was trying to stop the tears. //Control...// //Later. Later. Cry now, my love.// Their bodies were still linked, and she stroked him gently, urging both physical and mental release. //Cry for all the times you haven't cried in the past, for all the times you won't cry in the future.//

His shoulders heaved, and he surrendered to her. //Hold me. I need thee so. I cannot endure this without thee.//

* * *

The tears lasted until the mating fever left his body. This time he did not sleep as soon as the compulsion was gone. He slumped limply on her for a moment, but then he withdrew and she felt him make an effort not to cling when she moved away. She wiped the tears and sweat from his face with the back of her hand. "I just want some water. I'll be right back."

He pressed her hand against his face and nodded. She scrambled to her feet and took two steps before she heard his voice. "Christine. I would suggest that you get dressed first?"

She looked down at herself in disbelief. Then she began to giggle. "My mind... must be totally gone!"

"I see no deficiency in your mind, my wife. It is your wardrobe which is lacking."

Christine stared at him, relief singing through her. The giggles turned to chuckles and then to helpless laughter. It had been so long since she had laughed, really laughed. It wasn't even especially funny. She tried to tell Spock so, but the words wouldn't come out. His eyebrow went up - and how long had it been since she had seen that expression on his face? - and she laughed harder than ever. So hard that no noise came out, only a faint helpless wheezing. This was catharsis, too, as much as the tears had been. When the laughter finally died away her diaphragm was aching, and her face was as wet as it had been when she cried. She tied a robe around her with a jerk. "I'll be right back... No, don't you dare look at me like that, I'll start again."

"Like what, my wife?" Both eyebrows went up in mock innocence.

"Like... Stop it, Spock!" She fled.

Chapter Text

Christine returned with enough hot water to let them both wash, and some food wrapped in leaves. She also returned full of self-conscious tension. She had cried and laughed, but what now?

Spock was sitting up with a fur wrapped loosely around him. They looked at each other awkwardly. She handed him a damp rag. "I thought you might like to wash."

"Thank you." But instead of using it on himself, he leaned forward and began to gently wipe her face. "I have much to thank you for."

"Oh..." She couldn't think of what to say. "Shouldn't you get some sleep?"

"It is more important that we talk." He laid the rag aside, and traced her face slowly with his fingers. "And... the fever grows less."

She looked at him and realized that he was flaccid for the first time in... in... how long had it been? She asked him.

"Twelve days." Sensing her unspoken question, he said, "The pon farr will last for another five to eight days, but... as I told you, the danger of madness and death is past." He clasped his hands, and the knuckles whitened slightly.

Slowly she reached out and took his hands between hers. //I will be here.//

//My wife.// He relaxed. //But you are still angry?//

//Yes. You've been acting like a real bastard. I love you.//

//That is a contradiction.// He was uncertain again. //May I hold you? Not for sexual purposes...//

//This time.//

//Christine, I am sorry.// He started to pull his hands away.

//No. I'm sorry too. I'd like to be held. It's just that... I am angry. I probably will be for a long time.// He eased backwards, pulling her with him, and she put her head on his chest. //Ohh, it's nice to be the one on top for a change.//

//Christine.// "My bondmate, I ask thy forgiveness. I have behaved improperly toward thee, and thee have repaid me with solace."

The formality of the words, spoken aloud, contrasted oddly with the setting and their position. //Is that a Vulcan formula?//

//Yes.// He was waiting.

"Thee has my forgiveness, my husband."

//You do not say that there is nothing to forgive.// He had caught that thought.

//No. You hurt me pretty badly, Spock. I can forgive...// She turned her head, hiding her face in his warmth, //but I can't act as though nothing happened. Why, Spock? Why did you shut me out when I needed you?//

//If you were Vulcan, you would have understood.//

//I'm not Vulcan. I can't be, and I don't want to be. You knew that I had emotions, strong ones, when we bonded.//

//It was not your emotions that caused the problem. It was my own. I... My life was undisciplined, emotional, irrational. When our child died, I realized how far I had come from the Vulcan way of life. But I did not intend to hurt you.//

//Bullshit, Spock. You blamed me. You were angry with me.// //No.//


He shielded for a moment. //Yes. I am ashamed. It was illogical.//

//You bet it was. Your behavior for the last six months would win prizes for illogic in an asylum.//

//I...// He was trying to be honest. //I felt contaminated.//

//The woman tempted me? I never envisioned myself as an Eve type.//

//I was frightened by how much you had come to mean to me. I needed... I need... you so much. I could not let myself feel that way. I had to withdraw from your emotions... from you... in order to control my own.// Christine was quiet. She could feel him struggling with the thoughts, trying to understand them. //I thought...//

//That if you hadn't wanted me, T'Shana wouldn't have died?//


//When she died you were miserable. And you felt guilty, so you blamed yourself and then transferred the blame to me.//


She continued inexorably. //And you were angry, but you thought that was illogical, so you wouldn't let yourself show it, and you tried not to feel it. But that didn't work. So you froze me out, even though you couldn't break the bond, as a way of protecting yourself and punishing me at the same time. Very neat, Spock.//

//I have asked forgiveness. At the time, it seemed logical.//

//And a man who has just shared his child's death is always thinking clearly?//

//I was not. I have not been. I have misused logic to hide from reality. But... Christine... can you understand my reasons? I would promise you - I wish to promise you that this will never happen again. But I cannot. I am what I am...//

//And I told you long ago that I know you're not perfect. But I love you.//


//If I didn't, I wouldn't be here.//

//From which I can only conclude that you are even more illogical than I am.// His hands and body were starting to move, slowly, rhythmically.

//Time again?// Christine lifted her head to meet his eyes. She saw him flush.

//If it pleases you, my wife.// His breathing was quickening.

//Pleases me?// She found herself smiling. Her own hands slid over him. //Does it please you?//

//Indeed...// He was surprised. The need to mate was still strong, but the pain was gone. //My wife...//

Her arms went around him fully and for the first time in too long he kissed her. //It's been so damn long. I'd almost forgotten. Oh, Spock...//

His hands were knowledgeable again, familiar, caressing rather than clutching. //T'hy'la. I want to... make love with you.//

She knew that he had chosen the human phrase deliberately. They had not made love since well before the end of her pregnancy. The desperate copulation of the past weeks was no substitute. //Yes.// The pleasure grew, washing back and forth between their minds. Her body was alive again, as it had not been for months. The warmth and weight and scent of him were welcome now, and she pressed impatiently against him, laughing delightedly into their kiss.


//I just can't believe... ohh, that feels so good... that after almost two weeks of constant sex, I can want you so much.//

//There is another week yet to come.//

//Now there's an interesting thought.//

* * *

Later they washed thoroughly. "We were both getting pretty ripe," said Christine cheerfully. She was also ravenous. She brought Bri over to nurse him while she ate. Spock even accepted a few bites of food. He estimated that it would now be up to five hours between cycles. There would be time to talk, to eat, to stretch, to gradually return to normal living.

Bri eyed Spock suspiciously as he nursed. He evidently couldn't decide if Spock was really who he was supposed to be. "His memory is rather short."

"No shorter than most human baby's. We can't - I do this too, and it's not fair - compare him to what T'Shana might have been like."

"You are right." Bri, bored with eating, suddenly made up his mind about Spock. He cooed and waved his arms, trying to wiggle toward him.

"Not so short after all." Christine handed him to Spock, and Bri babbled earnestly.

"I believe he is attempting to communicate." He peered into Bri's face.

"Ah ma aaah," said Bri, and pulled vigorously on Spock's beard.

"Child, cease that."

Christine laughed. "He's asking you where you've been. He loves you, too." Spock looked uneasy and made an abortive motion to hand Bri back to her. "Don't. Look, it's not surprising. You've been a lot kinder to him than you've been to me lately." Her voice was suddenly bitter. "Don't you dare try to give him back to me."

"I..." He looked confused and wary.

"Of course he loves you. Adopted or not, you're his father, aren't you? Is this your pattern, Spock? Let us learn to love you, and then pull away because it offends your Vulcan sensibilities?" Her voice had risen.

Bri looked scared, and Spock put him against his shoulder and patted his back. "Quiet, Bri. Christine, there is some validity to what you say, but you are overreacting. I am aware of the child's needs, as I am trying to be aware of yours."

She was silent for a few seconds, and then sighed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to blow up again. But I told you... I'm going to be hypersensitive for a while."

"Yes, my wife. I know." Still holding Bri in one arm, he reached out with the other hand and caressed her face very lightly with his paired fingers.

Her eyes briefly lost their focus, and her lips parted. She had forgotten how exquisitely he could express tenderness through the bond link. //Spock...// She swallowed. "Could you take Bri back to Jona while I shake out the bedskins?" She sensed his mood change before his hand dropped. He was suddenly intensely embarrassed. "Oh... all right, I'll do it. But you're going to have to face everyone again eventually."

When she got back, he was meditating, and she didn't disturb him. She shook out the skins. They would need them again soon. Spock finally raised his head and looked at her. He held out his fingers and she touched them, feeling his contentment with her presence. There was something she wanted to ask him. "Spock, is it always so terrible, the pon farr? You're not in pain now..."


"Is there always pain at the beginning, or is it only because we were angry with each other?"

"I am told that there is always some pain." He looked away. Evidently this was difficult to speak of. "In my own case..." He stopped. She gently put an arm around him. //Christine, I was sure that you would reject me! Even when you did not, I was terrified that you would leave when you saw what it was like. I could not believe... I behaved like an animal...//

She let him continue, spilling out the thoughts, knowing that it was easier for him to say these things through the bond than to speak them aloud. Gradually she realized why, seeing in his mind things that he had known and forgotten. //This is what the bond is for, isn't it?//

//Yes. All the emotions, all the needs...//

//That can never be shown or spoken of out loud, can come out through the bond?//

//Yes, my wife. T'hy'la... A word which is seldom spoken, only felt.//

//My love.//

"The bonding ensures the stability of Vulcan society." He was suddenly pedantic, backing away from the emotional intensity. But the undercurrent of warmth was still there. "It provides a necessary outlet, without involving any public display."

"No wonder it's so much more intense than other species' matings."

"Joined for life..." Their fingers were still touching, and he looked at them. //But the pon farr makes it doubly necessary. It is said that in pre-reform Vulcan society...// He blocked the thought, but drew her closer to him.

//You mean so that a male in rut doesn't go out and rape the first woman he sees?//

//Yes.// The thought appalled him. //Because of the link, a male will only be drawn to his bondmate.//

//But what if she's not available? What if she's sick, or injured?//

//A substitute will be arranged by the family. It is not always effective.//

//But...// It was her turn to shield.


//Well... Do you remember? Spock, when I came to your cabin that day, to tell you that we were going to Vulcan...//

//It was so obvious?// There was a sudden image in his mind, not of what had happened, but of what might have happened.

//Yes. But all the same, I'm glad to be certain that I wasn't imagining it. I've always wondered what would have happened if I'd just stood there and kept my mouth shut. Now I know. I like the picking-me-up-and-carrying-me-tothe-bed part.//

//It was shameful.//

She tested his mind and found no distress to match the words. //Uh huh. It would have been a great shortcut!//

//Indeed.// He was amused, and pulled her back into the nest of furs.

//I didn't sleep for a week afterwards. Half the time I was telling myself that I was crazy to think that you'd wanted me. Especially after I found out about T'Pring. The other half, I was sure that you had, so I consoled myself by admiring my sense of professional ethics.// There was an abrupt flash of anger through her amusement. //You have a history of using me for an emotional punching bag.//


//Sorry. Illogical. You didn't ask me to fall in love with you.//

//I am pleased that you did. You have... completed me. I regret that I did not see it sooner. If I had shared a true bonding with T'Pring, I would not have been drawn to you then. I should have recognized that you filled a need...// He gave a short grunt, and his pelvis shifted.

She kissed him, and lifting her hips, slid her legs around him. //It seems to me that I'm the one getting filled.//

//Do not be crude, my wife. Bondmate... Is it good for you?//


* * *

"I think I'll write an article." Christine stretched several hours later, and looked at the ceiling.

"I beg your pardon?" Spock was thoroughly startled by the announcement.

"Well, only if we get rescued. Which probably means never. But I've just figured out my path to fame and fortune."


"Oh, yes. The fame will come from a scholarly paper entitled 'An Empirical Study of Duration and Frequency of Coital Cycles During the Mating Periods of Vulcanoid Races.' I'll submit it to the Lancet and the FMA Journal of Reproductive Biology. There's been very little work done in the area. The major medical publishers will fight for reprint rights for their textbooks. I'll get invited to conferences..."

"Christine!" Spock had sat up, appalled. "My wife, I forbid..."

She went on without heeding him. "But the money... There's not enough in scholarly work. How much do you think the Galactic Enquirer would pay for 'I Spent Three Weeks as a Vulcan Love Slave: A Personal Story'?"

"That is..."

"You don't like it? How about 'A Torrid Tale of Insatiable Alien Passions'?"

"That is not amusing!"

"Yes, Queen Victoria." She turned her head, and saw his face. "Spock?"

"There are some subjects which are not suitable for jokes, my wife."

"Oh, honestly..." Then, more quietly. "All right. I didn't mean to hurt you." She snuggled close to him, and after a moment he put his arms around her. //Or maybe I did. I'm sorry. Maybe that was anger coming out in a different way.//

//Humor can be cruel.//

//But it was funny. Spock?// He half-reluctantly let her see the thought he had been blocking. //You're right. The expression on your father's face when he read it would be even funnier.//

//'Ambassador's Son Bares All! Reveals Terrible Vulcan Secret'// He stopped, horrified with himself.

//Better and better! Or worse and worse. They'd pay even more for your story than for mine.// He was still shocked. //Spock, there's nothing wrong with being able to laugh at yourself!// He turned her toward him and crushed her to him. //What...?//

//I am... grateful that you can laugh, Christine.// He put her on her back, lifted one of her arms, and ran gentle fingers over the fading bruises.

//It was no picnic for you either. Damn it, why didn't you warn me? You must have known it was coming. If I'd had some time to get used to the idea, the beginning might not have been so bad.//

//I was... ashamed... afraid you would reject me... I hoped that I could overcome it.//



* * *

The Enterprise swung into a slow orbit around Scarren V. The Orion slaver was just visible in the lower left hand corner of the main screen. She was a surprisingly sleek little craft. "Built for speed," said Scotty admiringly. "They're bonny engineers, I'll give them that."

Kirk looked up. "Thinking of defecting, Scotty? They might pay better. On the other hand, they might clap you in irons and make you work for free."

Scotty grinned. "Just sizing up the opposition, sir. She wouldn't beat us in a fight, nor outrun us over distance, but she might give us the slip in a sprint."

"I'm hoping to use other means of persuasion."

As soon as the orbit had been established, Kirk asked Uhura to patch a call in to the Judge Advocate General's office. It took some time to get through, time which Kirk used to good advantage. Starships didn't often call at Scarren V, a barren neutral trading post. The native in charge of the primitive space control facilities turned out to be a friendly chatterbox. She was impressed enough by the Enterprise to offer any information which Kirk wanted. He learned a little more than he needed to know about the history, politics and culture of Scarren V, but he also learned several interesting nuggets about Disr'ta'bilt.

Kirk was in sickbay, going over the information with McCoy, when Uhura called down from the bridge. "J.A.G's office on frequency 38, Captain."

"Thanks, Uhura. I'll take it here." The smiling image formed on the small screen in McCoy's office. "Areel!"

"Hello, Jim. You pop into my life at the oddest times." She wasn't bothered by it. Areel was one of the pleasantest women he'd ever known. "How are you?"

"Fine. You look wonderful."

"Congratulate me." She held up a sleeve to show the full commander's stripes.

"You deserve it."

"From me, too." McCoy moved into range of the pickup.

"Thank you, Doctor." She looked quizzical. "Did you two call just to chat, or is there something I can do for you? Since the doctor's there, I don't suppose you want to set up a romantic assignation, Jim."

"No, worse luck. But you can help us."

"Go ahead." Areel was suddenly all business.

"What is the precise legal status of Orion traders under Federation law?"

"By traders you mean slavers?"


"In Federation space, of course..."

"Outside of Federation space."

"Outside?" She shook her head. "Unless you catch them imprisoning Federation citizens, there's not much that you can do. Is that the problem?" She was alert. "Spock, and the doctor - I've forgotten her name - is that what you think happened to them?"

"It's a pretty good bet at this point."

"A good bet won't be enough, Jim. I know that we're negotiating a new treaty with the Orions right now. If you're thinking of capturing an Orion ship, you'll need ironclad proof that they're holding your officers. If you don't have it, Starfleet will push you out an airlock without a suit."

"I was hoping to avoid that. This particular Orion has problems of his own. I was more looking for a way to apply some discreet pressure. Any ideas?"

"Hmm." Areel looked at something outside the screen. "Jim, I'm a military trial lawyer. This isn't my specialty, but..." She disappeared, and came back with a heavy book. Jim laughed. She looked rueful. "I know. A habit I picked up from Sam Cogley. Does he - your Orion - do any kind of business in Federation territory?"

"I think so."

"Tax evasion."


"The easiest way to catch a crook. The bane of organized crime and drug dealers through the centuries. More of them have gotten indicted for tax evasion than for murder."

"I just learned from someone here that his last stop was Berengaria VII."

"Good enough. Let me see..." Areel was silent for several moments, turning from her book to a terminal and back. "Sales tax, value added tax, income tax, capital gains tax... Did he obtain any medical care, or even food, for his cargo while they were there? If a portion of their value was accrued under Berengaria VII's jurisdiction, he has to file a value added tax return. He's also liable for an employer's tax on the wages of his crew, and a..."

"Whoa! I don't understand." McCoy broke in. "I'm a doctor, not a legal eagle."

"That goes for me too," admitted Kirk.

She started to laugh. "Jim, my dear, neither do I. Neither do the people who write the laws or the tax lawyers who interpret them. Least of all will your Orion understand them, which is an advantage for you!"

"Can you give me some sort of semi-official opinion to wave under his nose? Quoting the relevant statutes? Don't put your name on it. I don't want you to get in trouble."

"No problem, Jim. I can have it to you in an hour. Mind you, I'm probably not right about some of this. It wouldn't look good in court."

"That's not what it's for. Bless you, Areel."

"We haven't talked about my fee yet." She laughed at his expression. "If this works, you owe me a camping trip.

I've still got the hiking boots. I put them away after last time, and haven't had them out since."

Kirk grinned back. "It's a deal. If I don't follow through, sue me for breach of contract."

"You bet. Goodbye, Doctor. Goodbye, Jim." Areel blew him a kiss and signed off.

Chapter Text

Spock awoke to an unfamiliar mixture of sensations. He concentrated for a moment on sorting them out. Hunger was one. Also a full bladder, and muscles which demanded to be stretched. But above all, a lack of tension. His mind and his body felt relaxed but alert. He stood and stretched. Christine was still asleep, breathing noisily. He tucked the covers around her closely and brushed a strand of hair out of her face before heading for the outside.

She woke up while he was eating. He was sorry. He knew that she needed the rest badly. There were still black smudges under her eyes. "That smells good," she said sleepily. Then, more fully awake, "Spock! You're eating! Not just nibbling, really eating." She sat up, rubbing her eyes and pushing back her tangled hair.

"I find that I am hungry." He put the food aside and took her hands. "The pon farr is over."

"You're sure?"

"Yes. I realized it as soon as I woke."

She checked his condition through the bond. He could feel her evaluation. //Yes... no more fever, blood pressure and heart rate back to normal. And if I had the equipment for an analysis, I bet the hormone levels would have dropped back too...// "I'm glad. Glad and sorry. It wasn't fun... most of the time... but..." She kissed one of his hands. "It gave you back to me, my husband."

"Now who is using possessive phrasing?" He deliberately put up an eyebrow.

"It also gave you back your sense of humor," she said unrepentantly.

He wanted to take her in his arms, to let her see again his rediscovered joy in their bonding, but there were proprieties to be observed first. He arranged his fingers in the proper position. "I thank and honor thee for thy service, my wife."

She automatically put her fingers against his. //What? What's my line? Oh...// "I rejoice in my duty and in thy health, my husband." She paused. "The phrasing is very pretty. But I don't really like those lines about service and duty."

"I did not think you would. Humans find the words cold."

"They are." She looked briefly wistful. "I'd like to think that we share something better than duty."

"Christine..." As always, he felt slightly at a loss with the human need for verbal reassurance.

Her mood changed. "But I've decided that it's not worth it to get upset over semantics." She held out her fingers to him again, and this time he did sweep her into his arms.


//You see what I mean?// "Ouch! You're pulling my hair. Don't squeeze me so tight. 'Rejoice in thy health' indeed. How can you be so energetic all of a sudden? You still look terrible." She pushed back his robe. "One, two, three, four..."

"What are you doing?"

"Counting your ribs. You must have lost ten kilos, and you were gaunt before that. Now they could use you for a skeleton in a Vulcan anatomy class."

"The weight loss is normal during the pon farr." He released her and pulled the food toward him again. "It will be regained."

She watched him for a minute. "If you keep eating like that, it certainly will. Save some for me."

Spock took a bite of ingba meat. It was tasty, he admitted to himself, as well as nourishing. He thought of the glossy brown animal from which it had come, feeling an intense regret for the pain and terror which it had suffered. He looked at Christine. "This no longer revolts me. However that does not make it any less barbaric to use living creatures as food. I have been considering creating an alternative to this diet."

"How? And please, not until you're something more than skin and bones."

Spock bit into a dried tindu and spat the seeds out into his hand. "These could be cultivated. As could the sindiin. Over time, we could develop a sufficient steady supply of fresh and dried vegetable foods, enough to eliminate the need to eat meat."

"Agriculture? The Domii won't develop it for thousands of years. We can't..."

He looked at her steadily. "We are Domii, Christine. We have already changed this culture, and it has changed us. Societies are always altered by new ideas from the outside. And we are no longer observers here, but participants."

* * *

To Spock's intense embarrassment, their first reappearance at the communal evening meal caused a dead silence that seemed to last for several minutes. The fire was ringed with bright, curious eyes. When he glanced at Christine he saw that she was red-cheeked, but also, typically, struggling not to laugh. She busied herself with Bri, leaving him at a loss until Domi broke the silence with calm authority. "We are glad that you are well, Spock. Kista, it is time to begin preparations for the Festival of Darkness. You may share my place for this meal and we will speak of the future." There was a slight emphasis on the last word, for which Spock was grateful.

Nevertheless, during the meal almost every member of the tribe made an excuse to come over and talk to him. At first he attributed it only to curiosity, but Christine leaned over to him and said softly, "They've been worried about you." He looked at her incredulously, and she smiled. As the elaborately casual procession continued he pondered the truth of her words. Rali, Tomi, Muti, Jona, Rendi, Lusa, each stopping for a minute, the women shyly making the permission sign before they spoke... "Try this, I have flavored it with losu leaves..." "...the strap on the sledge broke..." "The child grows stronger..." "The snow has grown too deep to hunt..." Little bits of everyday conversation. Some brought small gifts, all were curious, but the curiosity was always underlaid with sympathy.

Domi and Christine had settled into a reasonably amicable discussion of the Festival preparations. Listening to them, Spock realized that the tension and dislike was almost gone from their relationship, tempered by time and a growing understanding. It would be so from now on. With every passing season, the lines between Domii, human and Vulcan would blur and overlap, though they would never vanish entirely. He bent his head, silently acknowledging that he could not function here as a Vulcan could in a Vulcan setting. It was a lesson he would strive to remember. The wisdom of Surak was meaningless if it did not allow for adaptation to diversity. When Domi turned to ask him a question, he leaned forward, picked up a tindu, and began to explain the basic principles of agriculture.

* * *

"Spock, how old is Bri now?" It was the last day of the Festival of Darkness. Maati's light had begun to grow again, just as Christine's chants had promised, and she had ventured outdoors into the bright midday sun, with Bri well wrapped in a sling.

Spock, examining the broken straps of the sledge, looked up. "256 days." She grinned, and he decided not to disappoint her. "Two hours, nine minutes, and... eighteen seconds."

"Are you just making that up? Planetary or standard?" She was laughing.

"Planetary, my wife." She was pleasing to see, he thought involuntarily. Her cheeks were flushed with cold and laughter, and her eyes were bright. She was unwrapping herself and Bri from layer upon layer of furs. "Why did you wish to know?"

Bri was free of the double-layered slings now, and she put him on the floor. He immediately crawled over to Spock, clumsily hauling the splinted foot along, and pulled himself awkwardly up to standing. The splint made it difficult to balance, and he fell with a cry of frustration. "That's why. He wants to stand, even wants to try to walk, and he can't with the splint." She paused. "He's worn it since he was born. It's time to take it off."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes." Christine reached for a knife. "We can put it back on at night, but now he's at the age where he needs to be able to move, to explore... if he can." She peeled away the straps and the wood frame came apart in her hands. He could sense her nervous tension as she manipulated the deformed foot. Bri began to cry, frightened.

"Quiet, child." Spock put his hand lightly on Bri's forehead, projecting reassurance. "Your mother will not hurt you." Christine looked at him gratefully.

"See how the bones have straightened?" she said. She added bitterly, "If I had the instruments, I could repair this, make it totally normal... Oh, forget it, I know, I know."

"It is useless to dwell on what you cannot do." If the setting were less public, he would have held her. As it was, he let his arm brush hers, and felt her gratitude. He took Bri from her and set him down. He searched for a moment and found the hollow gourd filled with pebbles which was one of Bri's toys. He shook it, and Bri, his attention caught, crawled over. Spock held the gourd out of reach, and Bri's face contorted, first with frustration, and then with determination. He gave a tiny grunt, and clambered up, clutching Spock's arm, to stand triumphantly upright.

"He's putting his weight on it," whispered Christine.

"Indeed. It seems to have sufficient strength." Spock held the gourd in his other hand, less than half a meter away from Bri. Bri's face tensed. Still hanging on to Spock's arm, he moved his good foot... and then the lame one... and then the good one... then the lame one... and the gourd was in his hands, just as he tumbled to the floor. Spock looked at his wife. "Sufficient strength."

Christine grabbed the baby. "Oh Bri, you are such a darling, such a good, good boy." Bri babbled and waved the crude rattle vigorously.

Spock held out his fingers to Christine, still Vulcan enough to resist the impulse to gather his family into his arms. "This is pleasing. Without your intervention, he might have been severely crippled, if he had been allowed to survive at all." She touched his fingers lightly and he was relieved to sense that the gesture was no longer meaningless to her. Bri, conscious of the warmth and scent of his mother's skin, dropped the gourd and started to root around, mouth opening and shutting impatiently.

"Greedy!" said Christine. "Don't be so impatient." She wadded up a skin to brace her elbow, and pulled open her robe. "Still, I guess you deserve it after all that hard work." As Bri began to nurse, she stared down at his head in dreamy absorption.

Spock picked up the strap he had been mending, but his attention was not on the task. The firelight was catching in the brown gold tendrils escaping from Christine's braid. He had a sudden wish to unfasten it. Her hair was almost to her waist now when it was down, and she had often threatened to cut it all off. It would certainly have been a logical course... but he had always asked her not to.

He continued to look at her. The sledge could wait. There were many long dark days ahead to fix it in. And she was a pleasant sight. He knew that she did not think of herself as especially attractive. She had always wanted to be smaller and more delicate, but as he studied her, it seemed to him that she was an excellent mixture of sturdiness and softness. Strong where she needed to be, soft where it gave pleasure... Strong enough both physically and mentally to have endured the madness of the pon farr. Soft enough to have offered both compassion and forgiveness. To have, at the end, turned his pain into joy.

She raised her head suddenly and returned his gaze. He wondered if she had sensed his thoughts. He had not touched her... He made a mental correction. More precisely, he had not had sexual relations with her since the end of the pon farr. That had been natural enough. But some time had passed now. He could see the soft white skin on the inner curve of her breast. He knew what it was like to press his lips to that skin. She followed the direction of his eyes, and her own widened slightly. Bri was nursing more and more slowly, his eyes closed, a trickle of milk at the corner of his mouth. Christine gently eased him away from her, and wrapped him warmly up again.

"He will sleep for approximately two hours if he follows his accustomed pattern." said Spock very quietly, conscious of a strong wish that the child not awaken.

Christine nodded, and tucked Bri into a nest in the furs, calling softly to Lusa and a group of other women to let them know he was there. She stood and looked at Spock, blue eyes enormous, opened her mouth as if to speak, and then shut it again. She shook her head, her cheeks suddenly scarlet, and walked sedately to the back of the cave. He followed her.

When they were alone, she started to laugh. "Spock, you of all people! That was embarrassing! I'm glad no one was looking at us."

"I was wondering," he said, honestly curious, "if you were reading my thoughts. You have never showed evidence of that sort of telepathic competence..."

"I wasn't reading your thoughts, just your expression. Human women can do that."

"In future I shall exercise more control over my facial muscles."

"It was flattering," she said, stepping into his arms. As they touched he felt an odd blend of emotions from her. //Spock, are you sure?//

He realized that it was akin to the ambiguity she had felt a week earlier when she had known that, contrary to her expectations, she had not conceived during the pon farr. //Yes. To do otherwise would be to mock our bonding.//

//As you did...//

//Yes. Unless you now find the risks, emotional and physical, too great. I could not blame you if you did.//

Her head, resting on his shoulder, moved in negation. Sturdy, he thought again, but so soft. His fingers were caressing the curve he had admired earlier. //No. What happened to T'Shana was a tragic fluke. I can live with that now. And I love you. But I had to ask.// Now he could hear mental laughter. //Of course if you'd said that you wanted to wait another seven years, I'd have agreed... and gone quietly crazy long before they were over.//

//As would I, my wife.// He slid the robe off her shoulders.

//Oh, you would?// She was delighted with him.

//Assuredly, Christine. As it is, I am content. With you, my bondmate, and with the life we can make here for our children.//


Chapter Text

Disr'ta'bilt's eyes were reptilian, thought Kirk uneasily. Black, flat and opaque; they never seemed to blink. It wasn't hard to understand how he had made so much money. Or so many enemies. He was a palpable force. And he was looking at Kirk with a total lack of interest. "I have no idea what you are talking about... Captain," he said, with enough of a pause before the title to make it an insult.

"I'm talking about my first officer and my assistant chief medical officer. You heard me the first time." Kirk kept his voice as flat and his gaze as steady as the Orion's were. Poker, he thought. This one would be damn good at it. Spock never had been. He could predict instantly the odds of any card appearing - but he never understood how to bluff.

"About whom I have no information whatever. Now, if you will excuse me... Captain..., I am a busy man. My ship will be leaving within three hours."

"To go where?" Kirk leaned casually back in his chair with the attitude of a man who will not move in a hurry.

"That is not your concern... Captain. This is not Federation space."

"Not home," mused Kirk idly. "I seriously doubt that you'll want to go back to any of the Orion systems..."

"And why not?" said Disr'ta'bilt, more sharply than he had intended.

"A small matter of a price on your head, I was told." Kirk studied the ceiling as though it made no difference to him. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Disr'ta'bilt, who had half risen, settle back into his chair. Each time he moved, his elaborate gold jewelry jingled.

"That also is not your concern - even if your information is accurate, which I don't believe."

Kirk leaned forward abruptly, pinning the other man with his gaze. This time Disr'ta'bilt's eyes flickered away for a second. They were facing each other across a table in the all-purpose cafe-restaurant-store-bar-nightclub which was the only entertainment on Scarren V. Neither of them had taken more than a sip of his drink. This was an Orion who didn't risk giving up information when he was drunk. "It seems that the Trader's Guild has taken exception to some of your less savory business practices. In other words, you didn't let them have a big enough share of the pickings."

"In other words, I was not a vassal of the Komar or the Chitar lords!" Kirk had obviously struck a nerve. "They won't accept the success of anyone who wasn't born a member of the great Guild families." It came out in a rush; an old grievance.

Kirk put sympathetic approval in his face. He nodded. "I understand that you've converted your holdings to cash and shifted them out. A smart move."

"The vultures won't have much to pick at. Neither my body nor my wealth." He suddenly seemed to realize that he was talking too freely. "That is, if your wild story were true." He stood. "And now I'm leaving. I didn't meet you to listen to rumors."

"I hear your last stop was Berengaria VII." Keep him off balance.

Disr'ta'bilt was becoming increasingly uneasy with Kirk's changes of subject. "What of it?" he growled, and instantly regretted being put on the defensive.

"Federation space."

"We broke no laws."

"Slavery is illegal in the Federation."

"I wasn't carrying slaves. I was carrying farm equipment . "

"Which, according to records, ate 1500 kilograms of nutribars which were supplied to your ship by the Pure-con Food Company?"

"You have been busy... Captain. But where's your proof? I don't see what you plan to do with your useless knowledge. I'm not under your jurisdiction here, as you well know."

"Not in criminal matters. But there is a small civil problem. Now maybe those nutribars were eaten by robotractors. I'm not saying that they weren't. But surely a man who's spent so much care getting his funds out of reach of his enemies can't have forgotten to file a value added tax return?"

"A what?"

"I was afraid you'd forgotten about it." Kirk sighed regretfully. "An unfortunate error."

"A trivial piece of paperwork!"

"The tax bureau on Berengaria VII won't think so."

"They're a long way from here." Disr'ta'bilt shifted angrily, and his gold chains clinked.

"But I'm not." Kirk produced a tape and tapped it gently on the table. "I can't detain you. But I do have the authority to impound your ship... and cargo... and freeze your bank holdings... pending a settlement of this issue." He was on very shaky ground here, according to Areel's notes. He didn't let it show in his voice.

Disr'ta'bilt looked furious. "I don't accept your authority!"

"It doesn't seem to me that you have much choice."

"My ship and those sl... my cargo, are worth a thousand times what I might owe!"

"Are they? I've been told that you're trying to unload the... cargo. There won't be much of a market outside your usual channels. That sort of live farm equipment isn't welcome everywhere."

Disr'ta'bilt was definitely paying attention now. "You know too much, human," he hissed. "More than is healthy for you." His hand moved, but before it got to his belt, Kirk's foot had lashed out and toppled the table. The jeweled knife went flying as Kirk's boot landed on Disr'ta'bilt's wrist.

"You see what happens when you think with your muscles instead of your brain?" Kirk asked in gentle reproof. He left his boot in place just long enough to emphasize the point. Then he released the Orion and carefully picked up the table, signalling the bored bartender to replace their drinks.

"You owe me ten credits each for the broken glasses," the man warned.

Kirk nodded impatiently. The cheap glassware couldn't cost more than a credit to replace, but he didn't need two arguments at once. "Now," he said to Disr'ta'bilt, "where were we?" He kept his voice bland. "Surely we can discuss this... logically... as my former first officer would have said. Remember him? The one you know nothing about?"

"Get to the point, Captain." The black eyes were still reptilian, still unblinking, but the bored contempt had been replaced by a wary alertness.

"The point? Oh, yes... Those hard-to-dispose-of robotractors and combines. The ones that are powered by nutribars."

"What about them?"

"Memories are very tricky things."

Disr'ta'bilt stared at Kirk and wondered bleakly if he were going insane. The human's constant changing of subjects, attacking from new angles, was maddening. "My memory has nothing wrong with it. I can remember an insult... for a long, long time."

"I'm very glad to hear that. My memory isn't nearly so good. In fact, if your memory got a little better, mine just might get much, much worse."

"And what is it that you might forget?"

"The portions of this tape that mention your ship and your bank holdings might be carelessly erased... If you managed to remember meeting a Vulcan and a human on Wrigley's a few years ago."

"And my cargo?"

Kirk sighed. "No, I'm afraid your cargo is very firmly lodged in my memory. But as I pointed out, they're more of a liability than an asset to you. I might even be willing to take them off your hands - if your memory was only a bit more accurate." His hazel eyes were as innocent as a baby's.

Disr'ta'bilt was playing with his chains. "A Vulcan, you said?" He was wishing now that he hadn't killed that idiot of a guard all those years ago. It would be very pleasant now to subject him to slow exquisite torture. He wondered with a superstitious shudder if the Vulcan had been a jinx. Bad luck had followed him ever since that stupid incident. But to give up his cargo... He had been able to get far less money out than he expected before the Trader's Guild had seized his assets. The human apparently didn't know that. Even selling at cut rates to the few private planets that didn't balk at slavery, he still stood to make half a million credits on them. He couldn't afford to lose that much. Perhaps there was another way. His decision made, he pressed a tiny button hidden in the elaborate chasing of one link of his chains.

* * *

The Orion dissolved in a soft shimmer, and Kirk had his communicator out before the outline was gone. "Enterprise."

"Yes, sir?"

"Beam me up immediately."

"Seventy-five credits!" shouted the bartender, rushing over. "Seventy-five credits you owe me!" Kirk threw the money on the table just as the transporter beam caught him.

He punched the intercom as soon as he stepped off the transporter platform. "Mr. McGowan. Get sensors on that Orion vessel. Go to yellow alert."

When Kirk reached the bridge the tension was palpable. Everyone's eyes swiveled toward him, and McGowan slid quickly out of the command chair. "Sir, power consumption readings have just jumped on the Orion ship," Chekov reported from the science station.

"Uhura, try to raise them."

"No good, Captain. They're not receiving," she reported after a moment.

"Keep trying."

"They've raised their shields!" exclaimed Chekov.

"Get ours up too... There they go." The slaver streaked off the screen. "Full impulse power, Mr. Sulu. He's not as good a poker player as I thought. He doesn't know when to fold."

"They're on a course out of this solar system, headed toward an unexplored sector," reported McGowan. "Sir, may I remind you that we have no authority to pursue, board, or attack them in neutral space unless they attack us?"

"I'm quite aware of that, Mr. McGowan."

"I don't know what you're planning..."

"This is not a committee decision. Uhura, keep those hailing frequencies open."

"We're overtaking him," said Scotty, a note of pride in his voice. "We'll be out of the solar system in eight minutes. Warp drive at your order, sir."

"Wait until we swing around these two gas giants..."

"What's he doing!" exclaimed Sulu. "He's suicidal!"

Looming on the screen were two massive gas giants, the eighth and ninth planets in this system. They were twins, circling each other as they slowly revolved around the star. The Enterprise was on a course that would keep her safely away from their strong gravitational pull, but the Orion ship had abruptly altered its direction and appeared to be diving directly toward them.

Kirk leaned forward, fascinated. "Not suicidal, Mr. Sulu. Just a gambler. If he can steer between them, and go into warp immediately on the other side..."

"Aye," breathed Scotty. "If she'll hold together, he can slip away from us. I told you they were bonny engineers!"

"Bring us in closer, Mr. Sulu. Course 158 mark 7."

"Aye, sir." Sulu's hands moved on the helm, and the Enterprise shuddered.

"Captain!" "Sir!" protested Scotty and McGowan simultaneously.

"The Orion ship is showing signs of stress," said Chekov.

"Warn them of the danger, Uhura."

"Trying, sir. They're still refusing reception."

"He can't do it, sir," reported Chekov. "The gravitational stress is too great. His engines are overloading."

"Get a tractor beam on the ship."

"Our engines, Captain! They canna take this!" Scotty was looking at the levels on the engineering board with alarm.

"The Orion's power output is dead, Captain. He's being dragged toward Scarren VIII."

"Tractor beam activated."

Scarren VIII, the larger of the two planets, filled the screen. "We've got him!" reported Chekov.

"Get us out of here, Mr. Sulu. Full reverse power, course 234 mark 3." The Enterprise shuddered violently.

"Captain, if we don't break free in four minutes, our dilithium crystals'll overload. We're putting too much power through them," warned Scotty. The Enterprise was shaking, holding her own against the pull, and then, slowly, slowly moving away.

"The Orion ship is beginning to break up!" said Chekov. "The strain between our tractor beam and the planet is too much for his hull."

"The stress levels on the dilithium crystals are into the danger zone. We canna hold on to that Orion and still get away ourselves." Scotty's hands moved over his controls, trying to rebalance the energy flow.

"Keep the tractor beam on him!" snapped Kirk. "There are at least two hundred innocent prisoners on board that ship. And one guilty slaver who knows something. I don't plan on losing either. Uhura, send to the Orion. 'Prepare to abandon ship. Repeat, drop your shields and prepare to abandon ship.'"

"Transmitting, sir. No response."

"Continue." He flipped the intercom switch on the arm of his chair. "Three full security teams to the cargo transporters. Phasers on stun." He glanced around the bridge as his ship continued to shake. "Mr. McGowan, we may be having guests. See to it."

"Yes, sir." McGowan left, and even in the midst of his tension Kirk noticed that the absence of that disapproving gaze was a relief.

"Still no reply from the Orion vessel."

"Their hull is cracking... Wait! They have dropped their shields!"

"Energize cargo transporters! Beam over every life form on that vessel."

Kirk heard McGowan's acknowledgement just as Scotty groaned, "One of the crystals is fractured, sir. Power just dropped to 58%. Ye'll have to release the tractor beam."

"We're being pulled toward Scarren VIII again," Sulu confirmed. "Shall I release..."

"Only on my order, Mr. Sulu." Kirk spoke more calmly than he felt. He activated the intercom. "Have you got them Mr. McGowan?"

"Third group just beaming through, sir," His harried voice was backed up by a cacaphony of shouting and struggling. "Yes, we've got them." There was a crash in the background. "Request more security personnel, sir!"

"Right away. Sulu, release the tractor beam, and get us out of here - again. Same course."

"There she goes," said Scotty, a little regretfully, as the Orion ship cracked like an eggshell. As the tractor beam let go, the fragments tumbled toward Scarren VIII.

The Enterprise strained, trembled and climbed out of the swirling planet's gravitational well, slowly at first and then faster and faster until she burst free. Kirk let out a breath that he hadn't known he was holding, and felt the others relax around him. He remembered McGowan's request. "Send all available security personnel to the cargo area. I'm going to have a look at what we've picked up. Scotty, you have the con."

* * *

The cargo transporter bay was a scene of mad confusion. Half the rescued slaves regarded the Enterprise crew as just another set of captors. Several had been stunned while McGowan and the security chief tried in vain to explain to others what had happened. "Get some linguists down here, right away," Kirk said, taking in the scene. All the former captives were humanoids, but few of them seemed to know English.

It took a half hour to get them all calmed down enough to understand that they would be released at a starbase within a week. Many of them remained wary and hostile, and Kirk couldn't blame them. He ordered cots and blankets set up in the recreation areas - the only habitable areas with enough space - and ordered thorough medical exams. The security teams were not dismissed. They were ordered to function as guides and diplomats as well as discreetly keeping order. Kirk didn't envy them.

* * *

Finally he was free to turn his attention to the small group of Orions who had been herded off to the brig. They were sullen, but there wasn't much defiance left in them. Disr'ta'bilt stood in a corner of the cell. Anger and humiliation flared in his eyes for a moment when he saw Kirk, but they were quickly replaced with the unblinking mask. "Bring him to my quarters," said Kirk to the guards.

When they reached his cabin, Kirk told the guards to wait outside. The door swished softly shut, and the two men looked at each other in silence. Finally Disr'ta'bilt said venomously, "You had no right..."

"To keep you from destroying yourself? I think we did."

"I demand compensation for the destruction of my ship!"

Kirk was losing his temper. "Sit down!" he snapped, and to his surprise the Orion obeyed. Kirk stood over him. "You listen to me," he said, "and listen very carefully, because I'm sick of playing games with you. Your options are narrowing very, very fast."

"If you're threatening me, two can play at that game."

"Not now. And I told you that I'm not playing games with you. In four days, we'll reach a starbase. You have three choices. I can contact representatives of the Trader's Guild, and tell them where you are. I can turn you over to Federation authorities and your assets will be frozen. In addition, I'll recommend that they investigate whether you were holding slaves illegally while on Berengaria VII. Either way..."

"No one can prove it!"

"Don't be so sure. The charges won't be pleasant to face. You've lost your ship and your cargo already. If you have the brains of a bloodworm, you'll listen to me." Kirk's eyes narrowed. "On the other hand, if you had the brains of a bloodworm, you'd have listened back on Scarren V."

There was another long silence. Disr'ta'bilt studied the heavy rings on his fingers. "I don't forget an insult, Captain," he said softly. "But I am listening." When he looked up, Kirk could see for the first time the flicker of defeat in the black eyes.

"Help me find my officers and turn over enough money to repatriate those poor devils you were holding, and you're free. The charges will be buried, and you'll still have enough left to start doing some honest trading."

"Why should I believe you?"

"What choice do you have?"

"I refuse to submit to such a humiliation. I won't be left with enough to live on."

"I doubt that. Would you prefer life inside a prison cell? That's even easier to arrange."

"You can erase the charges?" The capitulation was obvious now. The Orion twisted nervously in the chair.

"I can manage. A starship captain has a certain amount of... discretion." Kirk glanced over at Areel's official-looking unofficial report and blessed her advice. "Now. Where are my officers?"

* * *

Many weeks later the Enterprise was cruising slowly through a closely-spaced cluster of solar systems off the main trade route between Wrigley's and the Orion hegemony. The area had been roughly mapped, but never really explored. Disr'ta'bilt claimed not to remember on what planet he had stranded Spock and Chapel, and Kirk was inclined to believe him. The Orion was almost desperately anxious to remember and to get off the Enterprise. Kirk's elation at hearing that they had not been sold into slavery was tempered by worry about their chances of survival and disgust at the arrangement he had had to make. Disr'ta'bilt deserved the full weight of the law, and Kirk had nearly called off the deal every time he had seen the freed but still terrified slaves. But the Orion was his only lead.

They had left the captives at Starbase II, along with the Orion crew, who would be turned over to representatives of their Council. Kirk had kept the Enterprise there long enough to ensure that the draft Disr'ta'bilt drew for the slave's repatriation would clear. He had also made a very carefully worded report to Nogura, and received an even more carefully worded reply. But he had read cautious approval between the lines. And before the Enterprise left orbit, he had sent a bottle of champagne and a dozen roses to Areel.

They had been searching ever since, and that early elation had worn off. Planet after planet had passed in review, carefully scanned, but none of them showing Vulcan or human lifesigns. The crew, originally both excited and chastened by the vindication of Kirk's stubbornness, was getting discouraged again. And he had to face the fact that any of these planets could have been the right one - if Spock and Chapel were dead now. He was under the added strain of running the ship without a first officer. McGowan had requested an immediate transfer at Starbase II, and Kirk had granted it.

"I'm sorry, sir," McGowan had said stiffly. "But I do not feel that I can function at my best under your command."

"I agree," Kirk had said slowly, feeling an odd regret. "I'll put it through right away. Along with a notation that you have performed your duties on the Enterprise with dedication and efficiency."

McGowan had flushed. "Sir, that isn't necessary. I've challenged your decisions, disagreed with your command style..."

"All true. But some of that was within your duties. You think that Spock never...?" Kirk had allowed himself a nostalgic grin. "And I don't want to put a... personality clash on your record."

"Yes sir. Thank you."

"That's all, then." As Kirk had said it, he had thought that it was as good an epitaph as any for a man he had never managed to get to know.

McGowan had paused before going out the door. "Captain, I hope that you're right. I doubt it... but I sincerely hope that you find them. Commander Spock must have been quite... out of the ordinary." And he had left before Kirk could answer.

* * *

Kirk remembered that conversation with a twinge of guilt as he looked at the new planet looming on the screen. Had he been in part responsible for the lack of rapport between himself and McGowan? In part... yes, he decided. It had been a nearly impossible task for any officer to step into Spock's shoes. As McGowan's last comment had made clear, he had been living in Spock's shadow. But even under the best of circumstances, McGowan would still have been rigid and unimaginative. Spock hadn't been. Kirk grinned to himself at the thought of an imaginative Vulcan, and then turned to Chekov. "Report on this planet, Mr. Chekov?"

Chekov rubbed his eyes and swivelled in his chair. It was late in the watch; everyone was tired. "Class M, sir. 40/60 land/water ratio, oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere, gravity 1.08 of Earth's. Abundant vegetation and animal life. The northern hemisphere seems to be entering an ice age."


"Many humanoid readings. No apparent technology."

"Recalibrate the sensors for a more detailed scan."

"Aye, sir."

The bridge was silent as Chekov worked. Kirk no longer allowed himself to get excited about each new planet. There had been too many letdowns. The lift doors opened, and McCoy strolled out. His casual attitude was deceptive. Somehow he always managed to make it up to the bridge when a new planet was being scanned. "Anything, Jim?" he asked. Kirk shook his head with weary impatience.

"No human or Vulcan readings detected, sir," reported Chekov. "Severe electrical storms over parts of the largest continent may be interfering. I will try again."

More silence. McCoy stared at the viewscreen as though he could find something with his naked eyes. "Don't you have something to do, Bones?" snapped Kirk, and regretted it.

He was framing an apology when Chekov said, "Storms are clearing. Captain!"

Kirk turned, trying to keep from leaping up. "Yes, Mr. Chekov?"

Chekov was shaking his head. "No life readings, sir. Sorry. But evidence of substantial dilithium deposits in the same area as the storms. Should we investigate?"

"Check for extent of deposits and purity," ordered Kirk. "Also for proximity to the native humanoids."

"Aye, sir. But there is something about the readings... Not dilithium after all." He shook his head in disappointment. "Trichiolite, sir. It mimics the electromagnetic absorption properties of dilithium. It is only in the..." His voice trailed off in a gasp.

Everyone turned to stare at him, and this time Kirk did jump to his feet. Chekov was staring, mesmerized, at his hooded screen. "Pavel! What is it?" Kirk almost shouted.

"Bozjemoi," whispered Chekov in shock, and then gave a Cossack yell. He hit the switch which transferred his sensor readout to the main viewscreen. "The trichiolite readings are in yellow," he said.

It took a few seconds for everyone to decipher the readings. But then it jumped out at them, the pattern blurred and broken in spots, but unmistakable. A circle pierced by a triangle. An enormous Vulcan IDIC.

Chapter Text

Kirk and McCoy beamed down the next morning. It had taken Chekov the entire night to locate the single Vulcan and human readings hidden in a great mass of plant, animal and humanoid lifeforms. He had recalibrated the sensors for pinpoint accuracy, but that meant searching only a few kilometers at a time. To his surprise, the readings had finally turned up at some distance from the trichiolite deposits.

Just before Kirk left for the transporter room, Chekov turned to him. "It is midday planetary time, Captain," he reported. "The Vulcan reading is now moving, apparently in close association with a group of humanoids. The human reading is stationary, and seems to be alone." He gave an enormous yawn, and looked embarrassed.

"Send those coordinates to the transporter room, and then get some rest, Pavel," said Kirk. "You're off duty for the next thirty-six hours. That's an order. And thank you. "

* * *

Kirk had ordered the smallest possible landing party to reduce the chance of detection by the natives. He and McCoy materialized in a small clearing in a blue-green forest. "Nice," said McCoy softly, looking around and sniffing. The air was very clean, and smelled of growing things and summer. He activated his tricorder. "A hundred meters in that direction, Jim." They looked at each other with sudden tension.

The forest ended in a patch of scrubby bushes, and a meadow sloped down to a wide shallow river in front of them. Only a few meters from the edge of the forest there was a roughly cleared rectangle of ground where a barefoot woman knelt, digging. It was hard to see her bent face, but in those first seconds, Kirk was appallingly sure that there had been a mistake. "Check your tricorder again, Bones," he muttered, while taking in the classic signs of a level V primitive culture. The carelessly wrapped one piece hide, the digging stick, the sleeping baby in its sling, the untidy braid. The woman gave a soft grunt, and reached to rub her back, and he could see that she was in the later stages of pregnancy. He started to inch backwards, but McCoy's hand on his arm stopped him.

They must have made some slight noise then, because the woman scrambled to her feet, and wiped the sweat off her forehead with a dirty hand. She peered curiously at the woods, and for the first time Kirk could see her face. "Good god," he whispered, as they got slowly to their feet.

They stepped out of the bushes, and McCoy said gently, "Christine?"

* * *

It was hot work, digging in the sun, and Christine felt thoroughly grubby. She had promised herself and Bri a long swim after she had finished transplanting the acaraa she had uprooted in the woods. Luckily Bri had fallen asleep, after whining for most of the morning. She was debating the wisdom of taking him out of the sling. It would give her aching back a rest, but he might wake up. She dropped the digging stick and rubbed her back. She would be finished in less than an hour. The baby inside her was kicking vigorously and she grunted. She was just opening her mouth to comment on its behavior, when she heard a noise from the woods. The heavy rustling sound of a large animal. She stood and wiped her face, curious and wary. The salar didn't usually come down this far, but...

"Christine?" said Leonard McCoy.

"Christine!" said James Kirk.

Christine had never fainted in her life, and she wasn't about to start now. But she knew that she was coming close. There was a roaring in her ears, and she felt disconnected from her legs. She breathed deeply and blinked. The haze cleared from her eyes, and they were still there, one on each side of her now, grasping her arms.

"Sit down," said McCoy. "Easy now..."

So they clearly weren't hallucinations. "You found us," she said slowly. She could see the shock in their eyes as they looked at her. "The chances... oh, what were they? 5 point something percent. I've forgotten."

"Are you all right?" McCoy was adjusting his medical tricorder. "Is Spock all right?"

"I'm fine. Of course I am. Spock's fine too. He's out with a hunting party..."

"A hunting party? Spock?"

"Yes." The acaraa, their roots wrapped in wet skins, caught her eye. "I have to get the rest of these into the ground." She picked up the digging stick. "There's never enough food for the winters. We're trying to develop a better supply of plants that preserve well. The tinduu and the sindiin aren't enough, and we only got a twenty percent germination rate on the seed saved from the dried fruit last winter. Most winters the men can't get out to hunt for at least a couple of months. Some are worse, some better, but the winter Aga died..."

"Christine." A firm voice cut her off.

She looked into Kirk's steady eyes. She dropped the stick, and pressed her fingers to her eyelids for a moment. Pull yourself together, Kista. Remember who you are, Dr. Chapel. "Sorry, Captain." She gave a shaky sigh. "I was babbling, and you don't have any idea what I'm talking about. Pure shock." She looked at the acaraa. "I guess these don't matter now."

"You said Spock was hunting?"

"Yes." How could she begin to explain the last... almost four years... to them.

"When will he be back?"

"I'm not sure. They might not have gotten back until tomorrow, but now..." She stopped. Impossible to explain that the shock of seeing them had probably been severe enough to be felt through the bond. "I think he'll be back today. He can't have gone very far; they started less than an hour ago. How did you find us? The trichiolite pattern?"

"In part." Kirk was still looking at her curiously, and McCoy was still taking unobtrusive readings with the tricorder.

Bri was waking up. "Mama," he said, and reached to tug at Christine's hair, his standard way of getting her attention.

She swung the sling around and felt it. "You're soaking, Bri. All right, I'll get you out of there."

"Swim," said Bri. "Dal ka nii."

"Later..." Christine tossed the wet sling to one side, and put Bri down in the grass. She looked at the men, who were staring quizzically, "This is Bri," she said. "His mother was my friend, and when she died in childbirth we adopted him." Bri pushed himself to his feet and tottered a few steps.

McCoy noticed the odd gait, and bent over him. "A clubfoot?"

"Yes. I straightened it some... Now..." it was just beginning to sink in, "it can be fixed."

Bri toddled over to Christine, and gave her wrap a tug. "Minda."

"He's hungry." For the first time in years, she felt self-conscious as she turned half away to get Bri started, Bri settled down to nursing happily, while darting his bright eyes around to peer at the two strangers.

"You've been living with a tribe?"

Christine nodded. "The Domii. Humanoid... Oh, I suppose about Class III, culturally. Hunter-gatherers. My friends," she added softly. "My people..." Her head turned sharply. "Get back in the bushes and don't move! Someone's coming."

From their position in the scrub, Kirk and McCoy could see a figure emerge from a well-defined path on the far side of the meadow. It was an adult version of Christine's furry toddler. "Irinti car belaa nimar, Kista," it called.

Christine rose and went to meet it - her, they could see, now that the figure was closer - and answered in the same language. "Laasii vunal dirtan jinoo ha finu, Jona?" They spoke for a few minutes, and then the short gold-furred female went back the way she had come.

Christine returned to Kirk and McCoy, signalling them to come out. "I told Jona to send Spock down here as soon as he got back. She thinks I'm crazy, but she said she'll watch for him. Then I asked her to go find me more kinar root. She's the only one likely to come down this way. Everyone else thinks we're fools to be trying to get things to grow in a certain place."

In spite of the lightness of her words there was strain in her voice. McCoy, acting on a sudden instinct, reached out and gave her a tight hug. "Damn, but I'm glad we found you."

She hugged him back, and then Kirk claimed an embrace of his own. "I had a hunch that you were out here somewhere. But don't tell Spock I was working off a hunch."

"I won't. We knew you wouldn't give up. I'm glad you didn't give up..."

Kirk heard the ambiguity in her voice. "Chris?"

"I don't know! I always thought that if we were rescued I'd be overjoyed. I am overjoyed, I really am! I never wanted to stay here. I wanted my own life back..."

"But now this is your life, too?"

"Yes. I..." She shot a look at McCoy, and lifted a polished claw hanging on a thong around her neck. "I'm a witch doctor."

"Bet Spock loves that."

She grinned, the strain lightening. "You might be surprised."

McCoy had his tricorder out again. "Why don't you let us beam you up now? You can't be sure that Spock's coming back, and you've had a shock. I want to check you over."

She shook her head. "He's coming, I can tell." She saw the look that Kirk and McCoy exchanged. She was amazed at how Vulcan she felt at this moment, how reluctant she was to discuss the bonding even with them. For god's sake, they weren't blind. So let them draw their own conclusions.

"Christine." Kirk was looking at her. "The baby -" She glanced at Bri. "The one you're expecting. I assume it's..."

"Captain." The deep voice behind them made them all whirl simultaneously. "Jim." There was a strongly repressed quiver in it.

"Spock!" He stood at the edge of the woods, almost as unrecognizable to Kirk as Christine had been. He was carrying a long spear easily in one hand. Heavily bearded, hair shaggy enough to partially hide his ears and eyebrows, he was wearing nothing but a breechcloth and a skin thrown lightly over his shoulders. There were deep, twisted scars running along his left thigh.

"I am both pleased and somewhat surprised to see you. And you as well, Doctor. I had estimated the odds..."

Kirk and McCoy stared at each other for an instant, and then back at Spock. Then, to Christine's enormous delight, they made a simultaneous dive at Spock, each giving him an exuberant bear hug. "Damn Vulcan!" chuckled McCoy. "I can hardly recognize the way you look - but I'd know the way you sound anywhere."

"Indeed, Doctor?" Spock stepped back, pulling together his ruffled dignity. "I can see that neither your appearance nor your behavior has changed, but in spite of it, I find that I am glad that you are here."

McCoy snorted, and an irrepressible grin spread across Kirk's face. Spock's eyes met his, and for a few seconds an answering smile glimmered in his eyes. Then his gaze slid past Kirk to rest on Christine.

He moved over to stand beside her and bent his head in greeting. "My wife," he said, holding out his fingers to her. She returned the gesture, welcoming rather than resenting the phrase. It represented stability in her suddenly topsy-turvy universe. "I sensed that you were severely agitated. I am glad that the cause is so pleasant. I feared..." He glanced at her abdomen, and then turned to Kirk and McCoy. "We are bonded," he said, with calm finality.

"Well that answers that question," muttered McCoy.

Spock shot him a repressive glance. "We are bonded," he repeated. And then, as though that ended the matter, "I assume that the Enterprise is in orbit here?" But his fingers were still touching Christine's.

"The Enterprise. I can't believe it." Christine squinted up into the pale blue sky.

"Believe it."

"How is everyone? Who's been transferred? What's been happening?" The questions spilled over each other in her haste to get them out. It was beginning to sink in. The Enterprise was up there. A communicator signal away. They were going... home? But where was home? "Where are we?" she asked suddenly. "What system is this?"

"Zeta 1328. You're on the fourth planet." Christine was still puzzled, but Spock nodded.

"That is logical, considering the length of our journey here, assuming an average cruising speed."

Kirk nodded. "We had a little help from the Orion who captured you. We can beam up any time now." He reached for his communicator.

"No," said Spock and Christine together.

She reached for his thoughts. //Not yet. There are things... I can't just leave.//

//Understood, Christine.//

"Captain, I believe it would be inadvisable for us to simply vanish. This is a close-knit tribal culture."

"Jim, we can't just disappear without saying goodbye. We belong here now, too."

Kirk considered for a moment, and then took her hand and squeezed it. "Take all the time you need."

"If you will leave us a communicator, we will signal when we are ready to beam up. It should not be more than a few hours." The communicator looked incongruous next to the spear in Spock's hand.

"I hope you're right," said Kirk frankly. "I see your point, but you've given us quite a chase. I'm afraid to let you out of my sight."

"I assure you, Jim, that our ability to send you on another such chase is as slight as our desire to do so." He raised an eyebrow.

* * *

Kirk and McCoy were still grinning when they dissolved in the shimmer of the transporter beam. Christine stared at the spot where they had stood, and then at the communicator in Spock's hand. "If you didn't have that, I'd think that I'd dreamed the whole thing."

"You did not." There was a light in Spock's eyes. "I believe that I may have underestimated the captain's tenacity." He looked around. "We have preparations to make. Where is Bri?"

There was an outburst of babbling behind them, and they turned to see Bri vigorously uprooting the acaraa which Christine had planted. "Bri, no!" She ran over to him. "Naughty!" He dropped the digging stick, and his face puckered. Christine brushed the dirt off him. "Don't touch my plants," she scolded.

"Christine." Spock took Bri from her. "It hardly matters at this juncture, except as an abstract question of discipline." He held Bri at eye level and looked at him seriously. "Do not interfere with your parent's things, child. But as for the acaraa..."

"I know. Up there, just a signal away, food comes at the touch of a button... We have to go explain that we're leaving." She set her jaw and looked around, taking in the sights and smells.

Spock put Bri down and gathered her close. She could feel his pleasure in the knowledge of rescue, and she knew that he could sense her ambivalence, even as she tried to control it. //It will not be easy for you to say goodbye.//

//No, it won't be.//

* * *

And it wasn't. They decided to tell only Jona and Domi, as quietly as possible. Christine left Domi to Spock. Jona was first uncomprehending, then disbelieving, then angry, and finally frightened.

"Kista, you cannot mean this. You must be sick. You cannot just leave the tribe. No one does that."

"You know that we are not like the other Domii. It is time for us to go back to the place we came from. Jona, I cannot tell you any more." They were arguing in the sleeping corner while Christine hastily gathered together the things she couldn't bear to leave behind. Bri, back in his sling, was fretful, picking up on her tension.

"You are not even packing for a journey. What is wrong with you? You may not be like us, but you are real and not spirits. You need food, and supplies... What do you think, Kista, that you will just fly away through the air?"

"Jona!" Christine was failing to control her tears any longer. "I have told you that I cannot explain." She tied up her bundle with a tight jerk. "You... I will miss you, Jona. I will miss..." She looked around, overwhelmed by memories, then forced herself to concentrate on the present. "There is one more thing." She lifted the salar claw off over her head, and held it out. "Take it."


"You must. It is your duty. Your place now. You are to be Adar Doma after me." She realized in shock how Domii she sounded. Place and duty...

"Stay, Kista!" Jona was starting to cry too.

"I cannot. Spock and I do not belong here."

"You do. I cannot be Adar Doma, I am not ready."

In some ways, Christine knew that it was true. But Jona would manage. The births, the winter sickness, the hunting injuries, the cold and hunger, the chants and festivals... No more clitoridectomies. She had stopped that at least. Domi had remarried at Summer Festival a few weeks before. Anda, who was younger even than Jona. He had not said a word about it, and Christine had felt a warm glow of triumph.

Now she kept her voice steady and confident. "You can do it, Jona. I have trained you, and you have the hands of a healer, as your grandmother did." She took the salar claw and slipped it over Jona's head. Jona continued to protest as Christine took a long last look around the sleeping place. Then she picked up her few possessions, steadied Bri on her hip, and walked out of the cave.

Spock and Domi were waiting outside the entrance. Domi looked furious, and Christine held her breath. He could conceivably challenge Spock, try to fight him to keep him from going. She didn't think that he would object to her leaving at all.

"You are a fool, Spock."

"Nevertheless, we are going away. I..." Spock paused. "I would prefer to part from you in friendship."

Domi stared at him. "I am the leader. I can..." He broke off, and his tone changed. "I could forbid you to leave, Spock." He waited. Spock said nothing. "But I will not. You are strange, and I still do not understand you. But I know that I cannot keep you against your will. I, too, would not part in anger. Go, then. But wherever you are," he reached out and touched the marks on Spock's arm, "you will always be Domii."

Spock said quietly, "Yes, Domi. May you and your people live long and prosper."

Domi's attention had turned to Christine. "Kista. You follow your mate, as a woman should." Predictable to the last, thought Christine. "But will you leave the tribe without a healer?"

"The tribe has an Adar Doma." She showed him the salar claw around Jona's neck, and wished that Jona looked a little less scared. But Domi's attention had shifted again.

"The child goes with you." He was looking at Bri, who looked back calmly.

"Yes!" A stab of fear went through her. "He is mine."

"Ours," said Spock in precise correction, standing beside her.

Domi hesitated, and nodded reluctantly. "He is yours."

Suddenly there seemed nothing more to say. Christine was finding it hard to breathe. She would never see them again. They stood in silence for a minute, and then Spock repeated, "Live long and prosper," and he and Christine turned away.

Christine could feel Domi and Jona's eyes on their backs, and after they had gone a few meters, she couldn't stand it. She turned and ran back to them, hugging them tightly. "Jona. Domi. Goodbye. I love you. I will miss you." To her own surprise and his, she gave Domi an extra squeeze. "Even you. Goodbye."

"We..." Domi stepped back, and regained his composure. "Kista. Spock. We will remember you."

Christine didn't look back again. When they were out of sight of the cave, Spock reached for the communicator. She put her hand over his. "One more thing. Please."

He read her easily. "Sentimental, Christine. And illogical."

She wiped her eyes with her hand. "That's right. Just like me. But I can't go without saying goodbye." She wiped her eyes again, and sniffed. "You know, we're going back to a society which has tissues. I'll need a lot of them for a while." They turned into the woods and began the climb up to the burial cave.

* * *

Christine stood outside the burial cave with a small stone clasped tightly in her hand. There would always be a bit of this planet which was a part of her, just as she was a part of it. Far below her she could see the broad curve of the river. There were some specks on the bank: women fishing. She could trace the path from the river back into the woods. She could even see their garden plot in the meadow; the spot where she had been working only a few hours ago. The cave itself was hidden in a fold of the woodlands, but she knew where it was. She tried to fix it in her memory, so that she would never forget.

Her eyes blurred again, and Spock put an arm around her. "Aga," she said. She dug in her bag and pulled out the portrait figurine. "Bira." Finally she looked down at the stone from the burial cairn. "T'Shana." Spock's arm tightened, and she laid her head on his shoulder. "All right," she said after a moment. "I'm through being sentimental and illogical, at least for an hour or two." She sniffed. "I told you I'd need lots of tissues."

"And also a shoulder to cry on?"


"I will try to remember it." He kissed her gently. "The readjustment may not be simple for either of us. But as we have told each other in the past, our life is there, not here."

She nodded and stepped away from him as he opened the communicator. "Spock to Enterprise." She gripped the stone tightly as the world dissolved around her.

Chapter Text

Two days later Christine dropped into a chair in McCoy's office, and sighed. Her back was aching again. "Lt. Palmer's fever is up. I ordered a change to 300 mg. of mirinodol every three hours, okay?"

"Fine." McCoy grinned. "It's good to have you back."

"It's good to be back."

"Really?" His eyes probed her.

She nodded. "Really. In almost every way." She tugged at her white tunic. "Except for this damn uniform. There hasn't been an decent maternity uniform made in history. Something about the idea of a pregnant woman boggles the military mind. This thing pinches and rides up." She gave up the struggle. "I look like the great white whale. I expect people to greet me with shouts of 'Thar she blows!'"

"And how do they greet you?" He was still probing.

She sighed. "You don't want flippant answers, huh? Warm, friendly, happy - but a little awkward, a little cautious, too. The same way I feel."

"I've got the results of the tests I did on all of you. Spock and Bri are in good shape generally. They both need some minor surgery, Bri on his foot, and Spock to fix that tendon damage. As for you, you're anemic, and you've got a serious calcium deficiency. Not surprising, when you kept nursing while you were pregnant. I'm giving you some mineral supplements, and you'd better wean Bri."

"I will. I didn't have much choice before. The diet was so limited. The women have to...." She swallowed. "I miss them."

"I thought you did. Chris, it's natural."

"I couldn't have stayed, wouldn't have wanted to have stayed, but all the same... I hated the culture at first." He nodded. She had told him about it. "But then I got used to it... And the people - I made friends who I'll never see again. Life there is so hard sometimes. I feel like I've abandoned them."

"That's natural too. But don't punish yourself. You didn't belong there."

"That's what Spock says."

"How's he managing? Tell me if it's none of my business, but he doesn't seem to want to talk about it. Are things..."

"He's handling it in his own Vulcan way. That means a lot of meditation. And he's spending a lot of time with Jim. That seems to help. He needs Jim's kind of reassurance right now, though he wouldn't put it that way. Reacquainting himself with the operations of the ship is how he describes it. And we've both sent messages to our parents." She hesitated. "Look, Leonard, on top of the ordinary readjustment shock, it's not easy for him having me walking around like this. Grateful as we both are that this baby will have a better chance than T'Shana did. But he knows that people are gossiping. Everyone is staring a little or more than a little..."

"And no one quite dares to say anything."

"Or if they do, all he says is 'We are bonded' and changes the subject. All I can say is don't push him, and he'll work it out. He's more adaptable than people give him credit for..." Her voice trailed off.

McCoy nodded. "And you should know."

"Yes, I should," agreed Christine softly. "We both changed a lot down there. We had to. And now, all at once,

we're back here, and I'm adjusting Lt. Palmer's medication. Leonard, the things we learned to do - that we had to learn... I can make a burn salve out of pounded boiled roots. I can skin an ingbaa and tan the hide, I can weave a fish net out of bark - and catch a fish in it. I can make a stone bowl, or a knife, or a spearpoint..." Her voice trailed off again. "The skills are so different."

"But you were still a doctor."

"That's another thing that Spock said."

"Sounds like he was practicing psychology without a license."

"He was. He's not bad at it either."

McCoy smiled. "Do you know yet what you're going to do with yourselves?"

Christine shook her head. "Not what I'm going to do. But I know what Spock wants to do. I saw his face when Jim said that the Enterprise doesn't have a first officer." She stopped, not looking at McCoy. "But me... and the children. .. I don't know if I'm that unselfish. I want us all to be together. I just don't know." They sat in silence for a minute.

A message flashed briefly on McCoy's computer screen. He punched a button to acknowledge, and looked at Christine. "That was from the bridge. We've just left orbit."

She studied her folded hands. "Thanks for telling me. And thanks for your chair and your ear." She stood. "I have to go get Bri up, and later I have another interview with that damn anthropologist. I'm glad they stayed to do the survey; the planet is perfect for a no contact ruling. But he irritates the hell out of me all the same. Those people were my friends, not just some Level III culture to be condescended to. How well does he think he'd manage under their conditions? And he treats Bri like a living artifact."

McCoy laughed as she went out the door. She and Spock had been temporarily given a VIP cabin on Deck 5. As she headed for the turbolift she was conscious of the glances following her. The ship had changed very little, and yet it felt strange. It wasn't home yet.

* * *

To her surprise, Spock was in the cabin, and Bri was already up and playing. "I thought you'd be on the bridge."

"Lt. Chanofsky..."

"The mad anthropologist."

"Indeed. He asked me to go over his preliminary report." Christine flopped on her back on the bed, and after a moment he sat on the edge and took her hand. //And I must confess, my wife, that I did not wish to watch as the ship left orbit. An emotional reaction.//

//Me too.// She lifted her hand to his face, rubbing his smooth cheek. "I can't get used to it. I'd almost forgotten what you look like without a beard." She reached up and tugged his head down to kiss him. //It even feels strange.//

//I trust that you do not disapprove? I felt most untidy.//

She laughed, and he sat up again. "It's good to be clean. And to have lots of food easily available, and a real bed to sleep in. But Spock..." The uneasiness she had felt in McCoy's office had returned. "What are we going to do?"

He didn't pretend not to understand her. "I do not know, Christine. We have not had time to investigate all the possibilities."

"I don't like any of them."

"That may simply mean that we have not adequately explored them. We have time, Christine. Starfleet will expect a debriefing."

"And we should visit our parents."

"And we will both get leave when the child is born." He put a hand lightly on her stomach, and studied her. "Come here." He pulled her over to the mirror in the dressing area. "What do you see?"

Christine looked at their reflection. "I see a tolerable looking Vulcan standing next to Moby Dick."

"Be serious, my wife."

She met his eyes in the mirror. She knew what he meant. "All right, then. I see a couple of people who have been through a lot. Enough so that it's... illogical to think that they can't handle this."

"Precisely. You once told me that we are both stubborn. That was at a time when we were in disagreement. I agree with your assessment, and I suggest that if we are stubborn... in unison, so to speak... that there are few problems to which we cannot find a solution."


"Most logical, my wife."

They continued to look at each other, blue eyes against brown, until Bri, bored with his new toys, toddled over and hung onto their legs. "Up," he demanded.

Spock lifted him, and Christine said, "I have another appointment with Chanofsky."

"I will accompany you. There are several major errors in his report." He retrieved the tape.

Christine gave her uniform another tug, and they headed for the door. "We're going to be all right," she said with sudden conviction.

"Indeed." The door swished open, and they stepped out into the corridor, back into the world where they belonged.


The End