Original story by C Petterson and S Sizemore
Rewritten by Cheryl Petterson

(Standard Year 2250)

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"He's not going to like it."

"Tell me about it."

"Not. your fault, Roy."

"Ha." Sulu turned from the Chief of Science to address the man sitting beside her. "Scotty?"

The Chief Engineer shook his head. "Increasing drills can only do so much."

"Damn it," McCoy thundered, "what’s wrong with this ship has nothing to do with an inefficient crew!"

"A morale problem," Uhura agreed softly.

"But will the numbers show that to our Captain?" Sulu questioned.

"Now?" Scotty asked. "He thinks he's God Almighty."

"It's not so long since he handled problems like this," Ruth reminded the meeting.

"Think he remembers?" McCoy scoffed.

"Bo — "

"My people are certainly working harder," Tara Ryan interrupted before Ruth could get started. "There have been a lot of minor skirmishes; nothing I've had to take to the Captain yet, but it's only a matter of time."

Sulu nodded to the Chief of Security. "I've got to take this report to the Captain and he's not likely to simply sign it and hand it back. I've got to have some recommendations ready for him as well."

McCoy cleared his throat. "Mind if I say a few words, Ruthie?"

The Chief of Science bristled. "As long as they pertain to the subject of this discussion, Dr. McCoy."

"Oh, don't get on a high horse, girl."

"Doctor," Sulu said firmly, "you have a suggestion to make?"

"Shore leave, plain and simple. Get the crew away from the ship for a few days. After all, the last leave was cut short and things haven't settled down to normal since. Leave's a nice, normal, routine activity. It'll help the crew adjust to losin' Captain Kirk."

"If he'll grant it," Scotty reminded.

"That's my medical recommendation," McCoy answered. "It's supposed to carry some weight, and, in exile or not, I can make it."

"Security will second it," Tara put in.

Sulu thought for a moment. "Ruth, can Sciences provide a psychological basis for that; Humans need R&R or something like that?"

"I've got a sociologist who's doing a study of stress in small communities like ours," Ruth told him. "I'm sure he'd be happy to show his statistics to the Captain.”

"I'll take anything you've got."

"Talk to Han," McCoy said. "She's the psychologist."

"Better, let her talk to him," Ruth rejoined.

"Good. That'll save me havin’ to deal with him at all,” McCoy added sourly. “And it'll be more efficient. Spock likes to keep things efficient. It saves him having to deal with people,"

"Bones..."

"Ruth, Doctor, that's enough!" Sulu banged his fist on the table. "I've got enough problems, don't you start!" He calmed himself, then grinned ruefully. "And I won't start either." He glanced around the briefing room table. "Is that it, then?"

"It's the best solution," Uhura said. "Dr. McCoy's right. We need to feel a sense of normalcy again. A leave will help.”

"Aye," Scotty agreed.

"Then I'll recommend it strongly to the Captain." Sulu sighed, keeping his doubts to himself, and said, "Dismissed."

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

In Jade Han's professional opinion, all Captain Spock needed was time. She understood his grief and the reactions caused by it. She knew what he was going through. She was sympathetic in the way a Vulcan needed. What she couldn't understand was why no one else in the senior crew was. Particularly Sulu. Hadn't he felt a measure of what Spock did for James? Couldn't he be a help to the man who had had this unwanted captaincy forced on him? Wasn't that a First Officer's job? Sulu apparently doesn’t think so. He has paranoid delusions and I have no sympathy for him.

She brought her mind abruptly back to the task at hand. Despite his numerous private flaws, Sulu was efficient in his duty. His report to the captain was clear and concise. Why he thought it needed her support she didn't know, but she was willing to give it. The crew did need leave. Spock would concede it in a minute.

Spock listened to Sulu without taking his eyes from the small computer screen on his desk. He didn't look up when he answered. "Recommendation noted. That will be all."

Sulu's eyes flashed at Jade, obviously noticing her surprised expression. She did not appreciate his almost triumphant nod to her before he said, "Medical also wishes to make recommendations, Captain."

Spock said, "Very well;" tonelessly, but Jade detected impatience in the way he held his body. "You are also going to request shore leave?" he said before she had a chance to.

"For medical and psychological reasons, yes, Captain."

"Which are?"

Definitely impatience. "Sir, the crew has suffered a loss, and a drastic change of command structure and mission status. It has been four months since this crew had leave. Humans require rest and recreation in order to function at top efficiency. As Mr. Sulu's statistics show, the efficiency factor of the Enterprise has dropped...."

"Noted, Doctor," Spock broke in. Jade closed her mouth and waited.

And waited. Sulu again flashed a bitter look at her.

"Captain...." she began.

"I said noted, Doctor."

Jade could hardly believe her senses. She and Sulu had just presented a logical case for granting leave. Why wasn't Spock granting it? "Captain," she said again, more sternly, "we require your answer on this matter."

Spock finally looked up. "You will have it when I am ready to give it."

"Sir," Sulu said, "the situation is becoming critical, as the report from Security indicates. I respectfully suggest immediate action."

Spock stared through Sulu for a moment. Jade was taken aback, but remained calm and serene. Vulcan rigidity, she reminded herself. This is unexpected and he is reacting like a Vulcan, not an officer. He'll shift gears as soon as he can.

Abruptly Spock turned back to his terminal. "There is a scientific outpost and Base two light-days distant. It is within our patrol route. We will be able to continue our surveillance of this sector while we are in orbit. I shall authorize three days leave then."

"Three days...?!" Sulu began. Spock shot a steely gaze at him. He bit down on his exclamation. "Yes, sir. So noted, sir."

Jade turned to leave, knowing that to argue or protest was futile.

She turned back at Spock's voice.

"I shall avail myself of the opportunity for private research, Mr. Sulu. You will remain in command of this vessel for that duration."

"Captain...." she broke in hurriedly.

"Dismissed." Spock's tone held a nearly dangerous finality. She had time to see Sulu's stricken, furious eyes before he executed a smart about-face and stormed out of the office.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

"I knew it! God damn him!" Sulu exploded as the door to his quarters shut behind him. "The bastard's out to get me. There's not a damn thing I can do about it short of resigning, either!"

Jilla rose from the desk, immediately putting her work aside. She went to the replicator and got hot water, then went to the jar of green tea Sulu kept on the shelf over the bed. Before he was finished shouting, she was at his side, her hands reaching for his clenched fists, drawing him after her. His helpless anger beat at her and she turned it aside, leading him to sit on the bed.

"No leave?" she asked softly.

"Oh, there's leave, all right," Sulu answered in a growl. "Three days. Not much, but, hell, what more could I expect?" He paused, the anger flaring brightly. "Except I don't get any! The bastard's giving me command!"

Jilla kept her own feelings in check. "Would you expect him to act any differently, my love?"

"Damn him -- and I mean that in every possible sense of the word." He shook his head. "It always surprises me. I don't know why. I need time to be with you. We hardly ever see each other."

"As he intends."

"Damn him!"

Jilla silently agreed, but said nothing as she poured a small cup of tea. She offered it to Sulu, and he took it. "We have nearly half an hour now, my love," she whispered.

His dark eyes went suddenly soft over the tea cup. "That long?"

She nodded, then added, "D’Artagnan." The cup was put aside as Sulu pulled her into an embrace. It was harsher than he meant it to be, she knew, and so responded to the need.

"So long," he murmured at her throat as his hands sought the fastening of her uniform. "Too long..."

She let the emotions wash over her, pulling at his tunic, losing herself in the wild blend of passion, gentleness, and ferocity that defined his tia. His actions because more frantic, more forceful, and she didn't dampen the matching ardor that rose in her. Clothes were pulled aside only as far as was necessary, neither having the patience for more. Sulu's mouth fastened on hers, his hands gripping her hips, positioning, ready...

The intercom whistled shrilly and Spock’s voice followed.

"Mr. Sulu, report to the Bridge immediately."

There was a cry of animal frustration and the tea set went flying as Sulu's fists connected with the bulkhead over the bed. It was quickly followed by the jar of tea and the wooden dragon that was also kept on the shelf. Gasping, Jilla again grabbed for Sulu's hands. When she touched him, he collapsed in her arms, sobbing in furious despair. She held him, fiercely ignoring her own hopeless anguish; soothing, comforting. "Tonight, after duty," she promised. "Wait for me. I will not be late. Tonight, D'Artagnan; tonight, I swear."

He took a deep breath, shaking as he sat up. "Tonight," he said, though his voice was hoarse.

She moved away from him, pulling her uniform properly around her. She bent to pick up what remained of the tea set. "Shall I lock the Buddha in the safe?" she asked as nonchalantly as she could.

He laughed; soft and bitter, but laughter. "Maybe you'd better, hon." A pause. "And I have to run." He went past her, then turned at the door. "I love you, Jilla."

"And I you, Sulu. I am here."

He smiled at her and the door hissed softly shut.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

Word of the coming leave spread quickly, and the two days to Starbase 16 were marked by noticeably improved morale. Sulu's only hope was that no one would point that out to Captain Bastard. He might decide that the idea of leave was enough.

He sat at the Helm, irritably coding his last report for the transmission to Starfleet. He hadn't gotten his promised night with Jilla. The Captain had ordered a full equipment check before officially authorizing leave. Jilla had waited up, and they had made the mistake of holding each other before making love. Neither of them knew who had fallen asleep first.

He glanced up at the Science Station . Ruth was working steadily, trying to clear her department of anything even vaguely pressing. She had hopes that, with Spock taking leave, the hole in her marriage could be repaired. Sulu hoped so too; for her sake, his, the ship's. It was all that made his order to command tolerable.

He shook his head. No, not tolerable. Simply bearable. Maybe with everyone gone, he could clear the Bridge and he and Jilla could enact one of his favorite fantasies — making love over the Helm. Yeah, think of that. Think of anything but how that bastard is screwing you.

"Sulu?"

Ruth's voice startled him and he quickly looked up. "What is it?" he snapped.

"Damn, you're jumpy," she murmured.

"Yeah. Sorry." He took a deep breath. "You've got something for me?"

"Stats on the Base."

He took the statboard from her. "Thanks."

"Let me know when we can take it to the Captain."

He nodded and forced himself to finish his report before checking the Base's facilities. There weren't many. Starbase 16 was a small, basically scientific outpost. Study was being made of the unstable star around which the Base planet orbited. The presence of a Fleet Starbase was necessary because of the proximity of the Klingons. The Base was politically expedient for the same reason. It was at present commanded by a Vulcan, Commodore Starn.

Sulu groaned. Three days on a Vulcan's base. He'd be lucky not to get lynched.

"Better than nothing," Ruth's voice floated to him.

He silently agreed. Who should know better than he?

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

"My husband is taking leave, DelMonde,” Ruth answered tightly.

Del sighed. "All I ask was why we not spend some time off th' ship together."

"And I told you why. I want to spent time with my husband."

"Your husband spend all his time wit’ a computer." Much better companion fo’ him then you, I be t’inkin’, he added silently. "He not gonna — "

"He will!" Ruth cut him off.

Del flinched from the hint of panic in her mind. "You need rest, babe. I jus' tryin’ to help."

"Leave me alone." It was a weary plea.

"Ruth, you need...."

"Leave me alone!"

The angry, frustrated fire built in Del's head. "I wanna help. Why you not let me..."

"My husband!"

"Give not'ing to you! Come wit’ me, cher, I can..."

"I'm staying with Spock!"

Del took a deep breath. "I cannot stand seein’ you like this," he whispered.

"I have to try, Del. I have to!"

"I know. It hurt, babe."

"I know."

She walked away from him down the corridor, clutching the statboard tightly to her. Del fought with the pressure that demanded he go after her. He'd been fighting with it for over a year, but the past four months the battle had escalated. The confusion and pain was a constant pull and he needed to help — maybe more than she needed him to.

He pressed his palms to the sides of his head, trying in vain to stop the thunder, then stumbled to his cabin and sapphire.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

"....pleased to provide leave for your crew, Captain. The Enterprise is well-known, as are you and your family. We would be honored if you would accept an invitation for social repast."

Spock listened to Commodore Starn's words with growing unease. He did not have time for socializing. He needed every precious second to pursue his quest for Jim. He had heard the door open and close while considering what to say to the extroverted, for a Vulcan, commodore. "Sir, while I acknowledge the invitation..." he began.

"Your lady-wife is of course included, Captain. I have also invited Dr. Han, Lieutenant Commander DelMonde, and Lady Vtkrgdantm. Your company will be most welcome. There are matters of import to the Fleet and the scientific community which would profit from discussion."

With Ruth in the room, Spock was unable to disclose that he was engaged in research imperative to Federation security. Any other excuse would sound feeble to another Vulcan. He would have to make an appearance, at least, then excuse himself as soon as possible. Schooling his features, he replied neutrally. "As you wish, Commodore. On behalf of my wife and myself, I accept."

"Excellent. We will expect you at 2300 hours. Will you convey a message to your wife?"

"Affirmative."

"I have been asked to request she bring her guitar."

"I shall inform her of the request. Spock out," he said before Starn could add anything else. Without turning to look at his wife he said, "You heard, I presume?"

"I — yes. I didn't mean — "

Spock nodded, knowing Ruth would fall silent. He said nothing more, listening as Ruth moved quietly around the cabin. The tension grew quickly, as always. He felt her presence behind him and still did not turn.

"Spock?" her voice said finally — hesitantly. He inclined his head a fraction of an inch. "We — we were invited as — as husband and wife, and — since the Commodore is Vulcan, perhaps — we should endeavor to — behave as — "

"We will attend together. That is enough for Vulcan." He tried not to hear her intake of breath, and her answer.

"Am I your wife?"

He swallowed. "The contract is in force for another one point six years."

"Yes. Of course." Her voice was dull. "Uniforms, Captain?"

"As you will."

Spock closed his eyes as Ruth moved away, then purposefully went back to his research.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

Ruth went into the bedroom, trying to control the pain as she blindly searched through the small closet.

I have just been told that our marriage means nothing.

He can't mean that. He can't! It's the grief, it has to be. It's just a matter of time. One point six years? What if he tells me he doesn't want me after one point six years? Don't think about it, that's what! It will be all right. I can't push him. Damn you, Cap — no. Not his fault. Can't revile the dead, as the Alconians would say. They aren't around for you to enjoy it. I just have to accept how strong their tie to each other was. Compared to their friendship, Spock and I are barely acquaintances. In time everything will be all right. Please, Zehara, let everything be all right.

She discovered, to her disgust, that she was leaning against the closet door, quietly sobbing. That she hadn’t realized she was doing it frightened her. She could only hope that it hadn't gone on too long and that Spock hadn't noticed.

She gulped in air, shook her head to try and clear it, then reached into the closet to grab the first thing her fingers touched before fleeing into the bathroom.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

Sulu signed the last shore leave roster and tried not to glare at his yeoman. Sakura Tamura bowed respectfully and Sulu couldn't stop the relenting grin. "Arigato," he said softly. She nodded.

With a sigh he settled back in the con. The regular Bridge crew had already been relieved; its skeletal replacements reporting: Sciences, Communications, Engineering. He glanced up at the empty post to his left. Where was Engineering?

The turbolift door opened and Jilla stepped onto the Bridge. Sulu's eyebrows rose. She'd been specifically invited to dine with Commodore Starn. What was she doing here?

She moved to his side, her skin sparkling. "I informed the Commodore that, due to the fact that my husband has not been granted leave, I would have to decline his offer. A Vulcan understands that a wife's place is first and always with her husband."

A warm feeling of communion spread through Sulu's body. Her voice hadn't wavered on the words. Husband. Wife. "Hon, you could've gone," he said.

"I prefer to stay with you."

"Even when I'm stuck up here for..."

She reached out, gently covering his hand with hers. "I prefer it, Sulu."

He grasped her hand, squeezing, sending his emotions to her. "I love you, Jilla,” he said softly.

She glowed briefly. "And I you, husband."

She went up to her station and Sulu sighed deeply, feeling better than he had in days.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

"A party wit’ Vulcans," Del snorted in disgust. "Jade Han, what th' hell I doin’ here?"

"You know that not all Vulcans are as difficult as our captain?" Jade questioned back.

DelMonde looked at her in surprise. "I not t’ink you t’ink he difficult."

"I think I'm beginning to change my mind."

They had beamed down to the Base together after receiving the Commodore's invitation, and were now waiting in the garden of Starn's private residence for everyone else to arrive. Del had to admit that this was a pleasant, peaceful place; and the young woman who had answered the door had been reserved and quiet but hadn't seemed prim or cold. Not at all what he'd expected a Vulcan female to be. But he was more interested in Jade's last words than in their present surroundings.

"He not wanna grant leave, n'est-ce pas?" he pressed.

She nodded. "Even I can be surprised at times, Del."

"But you be t’inkin’ it jus’ a momentary bit o’ meanness."

"I don't think it's anything. I will not judge him. Not on flimsy.... I wish I'd kept my mouth shut."

Del put his hand comfortingly on her shoulder. He knew what she was going through; a silent, tortured grief that she wouldn't show to the world. She almost gave him as much cause for headaches as Ruth. It was going to be a great evening having to share a room with both of them and Spock. Maybe the presence of a half dozen or so trained-telepath Vulcans would ease the tension.

Before he could think about it anymore, or say anything more to Jade, the door that led from the house into the garden opened and their hostess, T'Pir, appeared once more. Jade said something polite-sounding to her in Vulcan. T'Pir gave off an aura of being pleased, even though her features didn't change a bit.

Nice lady, Del thought, and found himself hoping that he hadn't been overheard as he and Jade accompanied T'Pir into the house.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

"Welcome to my home," Starn said as Spock stepped across the threshold.

"You honor me," he replied, all too aware that Starn would notice the omission of his and Ruth's association. As Ruth followed him silently into the house he introduced her as, "Lieutenant Commander Valley, Science Officer."

Starn's wife was not present to comment on the offense he had just given his hosts, and Spock was grateful. The censure from a diligent matron would be deserved, but most unpleasant. Starn, being a career officer, would let Spock's behavior pass with the excuse of his having associated with Humans for too long. Or even assume it was the result of his half-Human heritage.

As expected, Starn merely nodded to Spock, then turned his attention to Ruth, who was clutching her guitar protectively and pretending not to be humiliated.

"Lady Ruth, I have wished to meet you for many years now," Starn said, much to Spock's surprise.

And Ruth's apparently. "Commodore?" she asked blankly.

Before Starn answered a group of people entered the room, Dr. Han and DelMonde among them. Also in the group were four Vulcans: a boy of about seven, a woman in her early thirties, a woman somewhat younger than Starn, and a man of about Spock's age. Spock was startled to see the insignia of the Minstrel's Guild attached to the man's tunic. The Guild, like Starfleet, was as old as the Federation. And like Starfleet, there were few Vulcan members. Vulcans did not find the Guild's restrictions of giving up one's world easy to accept.

At the sight of the Guild member Ruth's face lit with delight, her puzzlement and discomfort put aside. "Starq!"

"My eldest but no longer heir," Starn said to Spock with more than a touch of pride in his tone. He then indicated the boy. "My heir Stenl. My son's wife, T'Pre." He held up his hand and the elder of the two women came to his side, placing her fingers on his. "She who is my wife, T'Pir."

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

"You two know each other?" Del asked as Ruth put down her guitar and rushed up to Starq. He'd been delighted to meet the famous Vulcan musician when they'd been introduced a few minutes before. It explained why he'd been invited to this little get-together. And he figured being able to talk to Starq would keep his mind off whatever else was going on. He did not need Ruth to get involved in the interaction.

"We met eight point four years ago," Starq said in answer to his question, "while Ruth was teaching at Alterra, and I was still a member of the Vulcan Embassy staff on Terra."

"Before we both decided we looked better in uniforms," Ruth added. "Starq, T'Pre, I'm so glad you joined the Guild."

"I was fortunate in having parents who found a logical way to solve my problem," Starq said, nodding toward his little brother. Stenl, startled at the attention, grinned at Starq, then struggled to get his features under control. Del was surprised that no one seemed to notice the child's lapse. He glared suspiciously at Spock. Maybe it jus’ him.

Ruth, Starq and Del would have disappeared into a conversation about music at this point but T'Pir firmly reminded everyone, "The evening meal has been prepared. Will you please accompany me?"

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

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